Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good (Psalm 106:1a NRSV).

What should have been a lovely autumn morning began with grumbles.

Trying to get out the door for a family outing to Sky Top Apple Orchard, I quickly swept up several ladybugs from ledges before throwing them out the window.

Like clockwork, these orangish insects always arrive in mid-October and remain until spring, no matter how many times I threaten with the vacuum or call Terminix.

“Blast these bugs!” I heard myself complain.


Later, I again found myself grumbling.

Though happy to see the once much-less populated small business thriving, we typically steer clear of large crowds and long lines on Saturdays, and Sky Top had both.

We’ve visited this particular orchard, nestled atop a mountain in Flat Rock, NC, since the children were littles. We’d pull right up, and they’d scamper out before proclaiming “Cheese!” in front of the iconic How Tall This Fall sign, and we’d ooo and ahhh at the difference a year had made.

Allie at Sky Top in 2018

Once upon a time, there were no lines, and we’d grab our hot apple donuts and frozen cider slushies in two seconds flat, then watch the kids play on the playground, each piece of equipment left unchanged from years prior, except for a possible fresh coat of paint or some new screws.

Our visits were as reliable as the rising sun, though we never went until the sun was high in the sky–often having to remove jackets and sweaters in the late September or early October heat. Joyfully, we’d chase children through the bamboo forest just below acres of apple trees.

Our first visit was more than two decades ago, while we were still living near Greenville, SC, and we’ve visited almost (almost!) every year since. So it only made sense that our oldest would want to take his daughters to Sky Top too, allowing them to experience the joys of this orchard with their family.

This year, however–upon ascending the mountain in anticipation of a nostalgic day trip with the grands–we were met with more traffic than the lots could hold. Vehicles spilling out in every direction were like Granny Smiths from an overturned bushel basket, making me just as sour. Gone are the days of pulling up and scampering out.

Once a parking space is found, there’s likely a hike ahead just to get to the orchard’s entrance. And that’s when the lines really begin–for apples, pumpkins, donuts, and cider. Why, we even encountered several lines for the playground equipment, boys and girls waiting their turns to soar on the swings or slide down slides.

Heavens to Betsy!

Now, don’t get me wrong. As mentioned, we’re indeed thankful for the orchard’s success, but man on man. (Maybe next year we’ll go on a weekday rather than visit on the weekend.)

Still, the girls enjoyed themselves, and that’s why we’d gone. Just like her daddy, Lila loved the apple and pumpkin houses, clamoring up the steps to check out the walkway connecting the two.

Emory, with the help of Auntie Allie, loved the slide, and both girls enjoyed a couple turns on the bumblebee train–something that wasn’t there when our children were young.

While standing in line for the tractor tour, a 40-something man took a spill, and Bill was there to help him gather his bearings, taking his pulse and making sure he was hydrated.

Then, on the ride, Bill and I each held a girl on our laps–pointing out things that neither probably understood, but they smiled just the same, adding joy to the memory.

And that’s what it’s all about. Making memories. Helping others. Discovering joy.




Despite lines and crowds, we left with much more than simply several bushels of apples–most of which have been cooked down, seasoned just so, for apple butter.

Indeed, we descended the mountain with memories of a day well-spent, where smiles were as abundant as the rays of sunshine through autumn leaves, our chasing little girls a sort of dance–a 1-2-3 waltz among shifting shadows on hard packed earth.

Lila and Emory won’t likely remember much, as they’re still too young. But their daddy will, and so will their Papaw, their Mosie, and Baby (aka Ian’s wife Jordan), not to mention Auntie Allie and her pal Madi, who was adventurous enough to come along.

In fact, with all this joy, complaints were whittled down to nothing more than a core. They’ve been tossed and will soon be forgotten, though we can pray that any seeds scattered will grow good things in time. What remains are lovely memories of those moments spent atop a mountain at an orchard in October.


Having returned home, I prepared the house for evening, and I noticed. In only the half a dozen hours we’d been gone, the ladybugs were, once again, lining my window ledges, creeping up the panes. But in that span of time, I’d learned something.

A gathering of ladybugs is called a “loveliness.” (Yes, you read that right!) And this new perspective, mixed with the beauty of the day, makes for a delicious batch of thanksgiving.

And gone are the grumbles, replaced, instead, with gratitude!

Our son Ian with Lila, Jordan, and Emory!

Here are two recipes for you to enjoy…


Crockpot Apple Butter

20 lbs. of firm apples (variety is best, sweet and sour)–peeled and sliced

3/4 c. brown sugar

3/4 c. white sugar

2 T. cinnamon

1 T. Vanilla extract

1-1/2 t. ground nutmeg

1-1/2 t. ground cloves

1-1/2 t. salt

3/4 t. ground ginger

Several squirts lemon juice

Place all in a crockpot and cook on high for 7-10 hours, then reduce to low, stirring occasionally. Cook to desired texture (can even blend if you like a more smooth consistency).

Spoon into prepared pint jars and follow directions for water bathing.

Store in a cool, dry location.


Beer Bread Minis

Prepare a muffin pan by spraying nonstick spray or lining with paper liners.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix thoroughly until well blended:

1 8-oz. can of beer

3 c. self-rising flour

3 T. sugar

Pour batter into prepared muffin pan and bake until golden brown, approx. 25 min. (Test with toothpick for doneness!)

Thank you, Jesus, for all the goodness of heaven on earth! Help us hold on to such lovely memories, because, when bad times come, reflecting on them brings joy. Joy births gratitude, and gratitude kills grumbles when our complaints threaten to persist. Oh, and thank you for the blessings bestowed on the many visitors of Sky Top for bushels of years now. Thank you for the owners. Please bless them in return. Amen.

For a chance to win a copy of my latest collaborative Radical Abundance, please share a gratitude memory in the “comments” section. My contribution to this devotional is the story of Lila’s and Emory’s daddy–how God brought him to us almost a quarter of a century ago. I hope you’ll be blessed! I’ll draw a winner from those who participate next Wednesday, Nov. 9th.