Any advice columnist would have said my family
really needed a vacation. Over the past year, we spent far too much time at The
Home Depot and U-Haul storage centers (we were renovating a house), as well as
hospital rooms (too many reasons to explain). My children, Arjun and Araxi, are
9 and 7 years old--beyond the sandbox but not yet concerned about the fine line
between cool and not cool. While trying to imagine what they'd most enjoy, I
thought back to lessons learned from previous vacations, including the fact that
spectacular scenery is for grownups. My kids love fun, hands-on activities and
time to hang out together, and absolutely hate waiting in lines. For their sake
and to preserve my sanity, I wished for all of these things, too. A farm with
cute animals and a place to swim seemed like the perfect simple solution. The
idea apparently appealed to another generation, as my parents wound up joining
Through the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association I found Weatherbury
Farm, a B&B and working farm where guests help with the animals (1061 Sugar Run
Rd., Avella, 724/587-3763,
$138 for a family of four). Owners Dale and Marcy Tudor decided after staying in
various European pensions with their son Nigel that they wanted to run a B&B.
While many B&Bs are filled with antiques and seek rich couples rather than
families for guests, the Tudors decided they'd rather open an establishment that
would appeal to children. They opened Weatherbury Farm, with a pool and six
guest rooms, in 1992.
Our quarters, Mother's Sewing Room, had a
black-and-gold foot-pedaled Singer machine as part of the decor, drawing Arjun
and Araxi's attention for hours. They also inspected the steamer trunk, which
stored extra bedding, and admired the claw-foot bathtub. I swear they never
noticed the room had no TV.
After a delicious breakfast of apple pancakes
and a bacon-and-egg casserole, Farmer Dale--everyone calls him that--guided us
through the morning chores. We started by priming the hand pump. Anyone under 50
pounds had to put his or her entire body into this job. Araxi dangled from the
handle a few times, and we managed to pump enough to give the animals their
water. As we lugged buckets to the barn, my kids started talking about how hard
farmers work. Geese, ducks, and guinea hens hung around in the background, and
cats and kittens were everywhere. Farmer Dale showed us how to unroll a hay
bale, and we fed the sheep and goats. The sheep ate out of our hands, which
tickled. Arjun and Araxi used a baby bottle to give milk to a kid--the goat
kind, with tiny hoofs and cute little teeth. It drained the bottle in less than
a minute, and my kids were beyond thrilled.
Up at the henhouse, Farmer Dale opened the
bird-size door, and chickens paraded out. We walked in the people-size door to
deliver feed and water, and to gather beautiful pastel blue and green eggs. We
didn't hang around long. 'It smells worse than Yellowstone Park in there,' Arjun
Once each morning's chores were finished, we
had nothing in particular scheduled, though the children were given a packet of
farm-related games and puzzles. We were free to explore the farm, which was
always full of important lessons: On our way to the cow pasture, Farmer Marcy
cheerily called out, 'Remember, everything that's brown isn't dirt.'
I also learned that as long as there were
enough kittens to go around, everyone was happy. My kids found the side porch
where more than a dozen cats and kittens gathered on drizzly days. They fell in
love with Frankie, a six-week-old tabby with blue eyes who was small enough to
curl up in their hands.
The hard part was getting my kids to leave the
farm--and particularly, the porch with all the cats--for lunch and dinner.
Pretty much every activity that took us off the farm, including a trip to an
old-fashioned soda fountain, ended with the kids begging to go back.
At the end of our stay, Arjun and Araxi were
given certificates that declared them Official Weatherbury Farm Kids. My parents
were delighted with all the time they spent with their grandchildren. I was so
relaxed I felt like I'd been to a spa.
When school started, Araxi had to do a report
about what she had done over the summer. She drew a map of Pennsylvania
decorated with kittens, along with an X in the southwest corner marking the
farm. At the bottom of the page, she wrote: 'We got to do chores!'