AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
The Best Summer Vacation Ever: One That Yields More Than Just Good Memories

They reeked.

We tried plain soap . . . dish detergent . . . baking soda . . . vinegar . . .

Only an enzyme-based deodorizer took the smell of swine off our hands.

But that's what you get for wrestling four 150 lb. pigs back into their muddy pen.

See, they'd taken advantage of our negligence. We'd gone for a bike ride and hadn't checked the electric fence. Earth and bracken the pigs had piled up on the edge of their pen had robbed the fence of its charge. It didn't take long for these smart creatures to follow their snouts between the wires to find rich digging humus just beyond their usual confines.

And when a pig finds good rooting ground, they don't want to leave.

We tried everything to tempt them back in: Melon scraps . . . fresh sumac leaves . . . Even the soft shakeree sound of a bucket full of feed wouldn't pull them away from the enticing grubs and roots they were digging into.

Our last recourse was pure might and a good rope.

I pulled. My husband pushed. The pig squealed bloody murder. The rest of the pigs trotted even further into the woods.

Inch by inch we moved the first one back into the pen (which of course was 4 inches deep in mud and other unmentionable stuff right near the gate). Exhausted, the pig lay panting. Grimacing, I thrust my hand into the mud, took the rope off its foreleg and went back for the other three.

Evening came and finally four tired pigs relaxed in their cozy barn. Electricity flowed smoothly through the now-cleared fence. And inside the house, we furiously sorted through all the cleaners under the kitchen sink, trying to rid ourselves of today's unwanted nose-wrinkling souvenir.

Now this may not sound like your ideal summer vacation. But we're old school here. We've circled back to the original reasoning behind summer vacation – kids let out of school to help out during the busy season on a farm. And when summer hits, our quiet homestead certainly gets busy: Several flocks of chickens (for meat and laying) turkeys, pigs, and goats. The garden requires weeding, mulching, harvesting and planting again. Manure needs to be schlepped. Watering containers need to be filled.

I slow my copywriting business down as the pace outside picks up. Computer-time gets replaced with compost. Editing gets replaced with butchering. And instead of days trying to find the right word, I'm busy looking for blackberries in the brambles.

But lest it sound like only drudgery, consider this. We live life on our own terms with the simplest yet most priceless of experiences:

A day on the mountain picking blueberries as clouds roll over the surrounding hills . . .

Watching chicks hatch and then watching my children as they continue to watch these downy creatures develop . . . They guess at which hen is the mother, try to figure out who's a rooster and spend hours up in the barn "training" the new chicks in chicken lore only kids can come up with.

My kids spend their summer learning responsibility. They learn the art of deduction and scientific inquiry through common sense application.

They get to meander through the backyard while their minds meander into those reaches beyond school-imposed borders. I watch them invent and muse as boredom transforms into a well of creativity.

And we also get to indulge like royalty. Afternoons lounging under the cherry trees or grape vines, picking and eating until our bellies are full. Bike rides to swim in the local lake. Evenings enjoying grilled hamburgers from our neighbor's Angus herd. And Ambrosia corn that pops with sweetness as you systematically chomp back and forth along the cob like a typewriter.

All this accompanied by an exquisite suite of tunes provided by crickets, frogs, catbirds and roosters.

I haven't reached the six-figure income (yet) but copywriting has given me a rich life that is hard to price in terms of dollars. I have the flexibility to adjust my work with the rhythms of our little homestead farm. I can spend a random morning in the garden discussing our turkeys' funny behavior with my daughter and get to my desk when I get to it . . . or wrestle with a pig if need be.

Copywriting has helped make this life possible . . . But it gets even better. . .

For when the freezer is filled with summer "vacation's" ham and chicken, blueberries and broccoli . . .the root cellar filled with potatoes and cabbage and jars of canned peaches and raspberry jam . . . We grab our snowboards and skis and put our other harvest – the copywriting paychecks – to good use with a well-deserved winter vacation!

Now that's the farming writer's life for you.

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Published: July 30, 2009

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