Its fall ya'll! My favorite time of year! Not because of the leaves or any of that shit, though. It's all about being able to cover myself completely with fabric again without dying of heat stroke or looking weirdly religious (but without the whole face-freezing cold of the impending winter). It truly is the most magical time of year. 

Fall also comes with one mandatory activity that every US family is required to undertake or risk being referred to their local committee for un-American activities. And anyone with kids reading this knows exactly what I'm referring to: the local orchard of course! 

Fall is the one time of the year the entire nation schleps out to the country, picks their own apples, selects a pumpkin (preferably off the vine), drinks hot cider and bad coffee from styrofoam cups and jumps in a bounce house. It is so fun that we don't do it again for another 12 months. 

In case you are new to this country, or maybe are a first-time parent this fall, I've included a handy list of all the activities that must be completed before you can officially check the orchard visit off your to-do list. Make sure to complete them all, or you'll have to go back when all the fruit is starting to look suspect and its just a bit too cold to be outside. 

- Wear flannel:  Despite what your brain might be telling you, temperature has nothing to do with this one. I don't care if its 85 degrees and you will be sitting in the blazing sun all day, you better be wearing your flannel shirt and boots or the Ghost of Autumn will haunt you until the day you die. 

- Get stressed out by bees: Although these insects are necessary for the pollination of many crops, they are still annoying as fuck when you are covered with apple cider donut sugar and hauling a bag of over-ripe apples around in the bottom of your stroller. These aggressive bees will always land on the baby, and if you are really lucky (like I was), even sting them on their throat. If you are a true American, one will also be flying around the inside of your car on the way home.

- Play on a decrepit wooden play structure: I don't know who is in charge of building these things but every orchard must have one. Necessary components include a yellow slide, splintering wood, exposed rusty nails, dangerous drop offs and some sort of tractor tire feature. Bonus points if the kids can jump into a pit of corn. 

- Feed miserable animals: There is nothing more sad than orchard livestock that are forced to eat pellets through a fence from the hands of jumpy toddlers. If it's just rained, be prepared to feel immense guilt watching the animals slog around in mud inside their minuscule enclosures. Briefly wonder if by participating in this you are contributing to their inhumane confinement before pushing that thought deep, deep down while handing your kids more quarters. 

- Take pictures of your children on a tractor and/or a pile of pumpkins: This is NOT optional people! I'm not messing around. You should take one or both of these shots and post to all your social media accounts lest a neighbor think you did not complete your orchard visit this year and inform on you. If that does happen, you'll also need these photos for proof of your patriotism.

- Pick apples: It may seem like a hassle given that there are literally hundreds of bags of pre-picked apples for sale in the store that always looks like a rundown Cracker Barrel, but this is truly an experience not to be missed. First, you'll wait 30 minutes to ride in a tractor wagon crammed with other eager families. You will be driven to your appointed rows of trees by a bored teenager or someone who I always imagine is some sort of harmless drifter. If you are lucky, you will be allowed to pick a variety of apples you actually want to eat, but don't count on it (this is why Jesus invented apple crisp). Allow your children to pick all the lowest hanging, smallest and wormiest looking apples because you want them to "know where their food comes from." 

- Buy your Halloween pumpkin way too early: Is it really Halloween if by the end of October you don't have at least one rotting orchard pumpkin that you ripped from the vine yourself back in September? Last year my husband and I played a game of chicken to try and avoid taking our liquid pumpkin up the hill to our garbage can. It went on through the fall and the entire winter. By the spring the pumpkin was reduced to a dehydrated flat disk with a consistency similar to tissue paper. I tossed it in the yard bag at the same time we took down the Christmas lights. Easy peasy! 

- Buy every seasonal treat and consume within 24 hours: A dozen apple cider donuts sitting on the kitchen counter, staring you in the face? That sounds like a balanced breakfast for one. A gallon of spiced apple cider taking up space in the fridge? Just replace your water intake until its gone. A two-foot-long bag of kettle corn? A satisfying afternoon snack. If you don't feel sick for days after visiting an orchard you are not doing it right. (Note: This does not include all the apples you picked. Those should sit in the crisper drawer of your fridge where you will forget about them until they go bad.) Without this tradition, our collective national stomach would never be prepared for the Halloween candy binge or Thanksgiving gluttony to come. Imagine all the food that would be wasted? *shudder* 

- Complete a corn maze: Corn mazes may seem like a fun activity for the whole family but some orchards get a little over-zealous with this attraction. Be prepared to navigate the maze while managing your own creeping panic as you mutter "this activity is designed for children" over and over again until the words loose all meaning. If you are also leading small children through the maze, jump straight to asking random teenagers to help you find the exit. 

Once you have completed this obligatory seasonal visit you can rest easy knowing you are truly prepared for the holidays. Even better, your children now have a simplistic and idealized vision of rural life. You can forget about the existence of rural America, guilt free, until the farmers market starts back up in the Spring. USA! USA! USA! USA!