something about waking up to the throaty bellow of a pasture full of brown cows
that reminds you you're city folk. There you are, startled out from under the
covers, squinting at the window to see what the heck is making all that racket
when, before you know it, you're stretching joyfully toward the sun just like on
a coffee commercial and witnessing livestock right there in (almost your own)
backyard. Voila! Nature's alarm clock.
Speaking of nature, we find there's a whole lot of it on a farm stay vacation.
IN the air, on your shoes, under your fingernails. As the saying goes 'not
everything that's brown is dirt.' Indeed.
We decide to overlook the preponderance of brown
for the greater good of our quest: to spend some time away from the bright
lights and a little more in the low-key heartland. My husband and I, urbanites
by stock, take to the road with our three- and one-year old girls to two farm
stays and prepare, as best we can, to officially Rough It.
Weatherbury Farm in Avella, just 45 minutes south
of Pittsburgh, is first on the docket. We roll in around 10 p.m., pretty late by
farm standards and farmer Dale Tudor greets us with a flashlight in the
We're staying in the Carriage House, one of three
two-story suites in the newly renovated guest barn that's perfect for the four
of us. First is a living room with two sleeper sofas, a gas fireplace and plenty
of running-around room. Up in the old hayloft area, the bedroom boasts one queen
and one single bed -- which our three-year old immediately claims as her
'big-girl farm bed' -- covered in charming, worn-soft lines of red-and-cream
ticking and Laura Ashley florals. An ancient trunk hold extra pillows and
blankets, while the bathroom has a real claw foot tub and a pull-chain toilet (a
big winner with our recently potty-trained preschooler).
By morning, we discover that this B&B has most
definitely prepared for our junior farmers. The Weatherbury Farm Kid's Packet, a
folder full of worksheets, stickers and book-report fodder, is loaded and
waiting for our eager farm hands to begin the morning chores.
To start things properly, we report for breakfast
at the reassuringly normal hour of 8:30 a.m. (a concession to the aforementioned
city slickers, no doubt) in Livery Hall, a few steps around the bend from our
suite. Inside, are long wooden tables set with mixed Fiestaware (the factory is
just down the pike), flea market salt & pepper shakers and jelly jar glasses. A
copper steamer hold s the morning's banana pancakes on a red breakfront, a
casserole offers eggs and potatoes, while a caddy of self-serve canisters holds
The buffet-style service is laid back, and no one
minds when our girls buzz back and forth to the Kids Corner, the bright nook
loaded with farm-themed puzzles, Brio trains, farm board games and farm videos.
I big gas fireplace keeps things cozy while we nosh.
An hour later, Farmer Dale announces that chores
start in five minutes, our cue to pack up the trains, get the kids' boots on and
line up at the door. Giddy, we mosey over the hill toward the farmhouse, a
two-story blue beauty where the Tudor family lives (including wife Marcy and son
Nigel), and each of our girls is dispensed a baby bottle full of special
formula. The task? Breakfast delivery service for goats.
The goats (black, white or rust-colored and
shaggy) cram their heads through the whitewashed fence like they've never eaten
before. Hansel and Grethel, baby goats with little horn buds, suckle
voraciouisly, then practice jumping off the hay rolls and nibbling on our
Now it's time for the sheep. Their bleating is
loud and comical, like a sound-effects machine. There's a bluee of curly white
wool as they fight to get to the front at the fence. The underdogs (undersheep?)
try a vacant stretch of fence in hopes that we're feeling democratic. Our
youngest daughter cups her hands so that we can fill them with feed, then
giggles at the dozens of slurping, pink sheep tongues. Meanwhile, Farmer Dale
has commissioned my husband Steve, to pitchfork a giant roll of hay loose so
that the girls and I can grab handfuls to offer the bigger goats.
We even get to pluck still-warm eggs -- tinted
the palest blue, pink and green by the famed Aracauna hens -- from the chicken
coop for tomorrow's breakfast.
Chores complete, we have the day to ourselves and
look forward to relaxation and togetherness. Should we attempt a min relay race
with the kids on the grassy hills? Borrow a blanket, grab a ball and settle down
in the sun? While away a few hours by the pool? Since it's a bit chilly for a
swim and the animals are off-limits (for our safety) while our hosts are tending
to other farm business, we think an impromptu soccer game sounds good to enjoy
the farm's wide-open spaces. It might even tire the girls out for a nap so that
Steve and I can enjoy that rarity at this time in our lives -- adult
A few hours later, refreshed, we head into the
nearby town of Washington (nearby is defined a little differently out
here -- the town is easily a half-hour away) for some takeout, and spread out a
blanket for a nice picnic dinner as the sun sets. We decide that the slow pace
of farm life might just agree with us. In fact, maybe next time, we'll come back
with friends. The Tudors have plans for a Sheepfest at Weatherbury Farm
(September 10 and 11) including fiber crafts workshops, folk concerts and
demonstrations. Steve and I talk about it as we drift off later that night.
Funny how soundly we sleep when we've spent a glourisou day doing...almost
DOWN TIME ON THE FARM
Unfamiliar with unscheduled time? On a farm vacation, you might find plenty to
go around. There are books, card games and, yes, conversation to fill the spot.
But when you want to go 'off-farm' near Weatherbury Farm, try the homemade
chocolates and ice cream sundaes at old-fashioned Sarris Candies in Canonsburg
or the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life in Avella for a reenactment of early
American lifestyles. For a more urban detour, consider Pittsburgh for the
amazing Warhol Museum , Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater or the Pennsylvania
Brewing Company for a tasty pint.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A FARM STAY
Boots: Leave the sandals at home ... the barnyard is squishy, if you catch my
Camera: When will the next time be that your kids get licked by a sheep?
Cooler: Terrific for vino -- or moo juice, depending on your birthday.
Flashlight: It's just you and the stars out there.
Jeans: Or anything you're willing to get mucky.