Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Perfect Fit- Happy Father’s Day!

by Colleen

Today is the first day in my life that I can remember not being at home on Father’s Day-well, at least not on Father’s Day morning.  Currently, I am visiting my aunt in a suburb of Madison with Clare and two of my other cousins.  We are heading back home sometime this afternoon, after a weekend  girly things like chocolate cream pie, the movie Pride and Prejudice, running 10ks….oh wait, that wasn’t so girly of me.   But, this post isn’t about me.  It’s about my dad.

My dad is wonderful, simply put, and as is the case with most fathers, he rarely gets to hear it.  I don’t know what it is about fathers, but it is frankly a lot harder to tell one’s father,  “I love you,” on a regular basis as compared to telling that to one’s mother.  I wish I said it more often-not just on Father’s Day.  From our previous posts, and even my dad’s post on this blog, you probably know that he is a man of many talents and interests.  That is a very mild way of describing my father.

He is a tall man, solid and comforting as I know from years ago when I would curl up on his lap while he smoked a pipe, sending wafts of sweet tobacco scent around the room from his mouth in perfect smoke rings while my childish eyes watched in delighted amazement.

He is a brilliant writer, thinker, and the fastest reader I have ever seen.  I’ve always been so proud to be able to tell my friends that my dad used to be a journalist.  When I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of his past writings, I am always so impressed with his writing.  He made every story a unique an interesting one, and I could read his article for hours.  He is by far the best writer of us all.

He is a man of the land, heading out to the fields at 6 in the morning whistling cheerfully, with a hoe in hand.  He works in the fields from morning to evening because of the joy it brings him, not just out of a sense of duty.  He has infused his children with a true appreciation for wholesome, local, and just plain good food.  A lesson pounded home in humorous ways such as the memorization of phrases like, “Feel good-eat garlic,” and, “Family farms yes-factory farms no!” by us younger children.  And I love it.

My father is not a perfect man, and I am not a perfect daughter.  But, I know that there is no other father in the world who could ever take his place or that I could love more.  Together, we are the perfect fit.  I love you, Dad.  Thank you for all you are and all you’ve given me.  Happy Father’s Day!

Bikram Yoga in the Strip

by Kate

The first time I fell in love with Pittsburgh was in the Strip District. Engaged and head over heels in love with my future husband, I was still apprehensive about leaving the blue ridge mountains behind for a gritty grey post industrial city still stained with soot. Casey took on the challenge, and spent a long visit showing me how amazing the city could be. Last week I wrote about our first trip to the Carnegie Library in Oakland. The next morning, he surpassed that by taking me to the Strip. The Strip District is a blur of authentic ethnic food shops, restaurants, street vendors selling cheap pashminas and huge bright earrings, coffee roasters, street musicians, fresh flowers, a fish market with huge tanks of lobsters and other marine life, a gorgeous Polish church, nightclubs, gritty industrial warehouses, and a produce terminal six blocks long. The produce terminal is at the heart of the Strip. The loading docks and laborers smoking in between loading bins of melons made my produce girl heart sing. The hustle and bustling streets and the availability of an incredible marketplace of affordable and beautiful items from all over the world amazed me. Casey looked at me with my mouth and eyes wide open and shook his head. He couldn’t believe that produce vendors were what finally won my heart.

There are also a couple yoga studios in the Strip District- of course. I always noticed the people toting designer yoga mats and glowing with virtuous sweat floating past the many stalls of Steeler merchandise and tables of cream horns and whoopie pies. To be honest, I wanted to join them. What could be more urban than riding a bicycle along back alleys (a la Flashdance) to attend a yoga class in the Strip District?

This summer, this dream has become a reality- thanks to my husband, who brought my Grandfather’s Schwinn bike up from the basement and oiled it and filled up the tires, found an incredible Groupon coupon for Bikram yoga classes, picked up the baby in his arms, and sent me on my way. This has been an incredible gift to me. It is so powerful to fly along on that bicycle with the blue sky above and the wind rushing past me, to park beside the most beautiful Polish church I have ever seen, and to walk past the Mexican food street vendors and up the stairs into a space where for 90 minutes all that I need to do is get on a yoga mat and breathe. Well- breathe while stretching, balancing, and sweating through 26 poses in a 104 degree room with 40% humidity.

I love Bikram yoga. I love the intensity of the environment. I love the peace that I feel after sweating for 90 minutes, and the lessons I am learning about humility and tranquility. I am amazed anew at the beauty and intricacy of the body that God created, and the possibility for healing and release through movement. We hold on to so much tension in our bodies- in the set of our shoulders, our jaws, deep in our abdomen. In my work teaching dance and gentle stretching at a nursing home, I have been struck again and again by the power of breathing, and stretching, and using these simple and powerful things to ease tension, increase range of movement, and open up lives.

And so I love Bikram yoga, but I love it far more because it is in the Strip District, and when the windows are open the strains of mariachi music and the scent of fresh tortillas drift up from the Mexican street stand beneath. Last weekend a marching band struck up a jaunty tune outside and our teacher informed us that it was the Procession of St. Anthony being paraded around the block and back into the Polish church, which was full of Italians that day. I left the class and was delighted to wander into a street carnival with sharp dressed Italian men in black and white suits, beer tents, street food, and white haired old women bustling about in full Medieval Italian garb with lace headresses. It was spectacular. So was the morning when I pedaled away from class, yoga mat on my back, wind in my hair, and turned to glance back across the loading docks of the produce terminal. The downtown shimmered in a slight haze against the deep blue sky, and to the right the blue and white striped tents of the Cirque du Soleil swept up to the heavens promising carnival and spectacle. I loved the fact that the downtown and the circus were there as I pedaled away and back home, breathing deeply and full of love for the Strip, the yoga, my husband and the baby, and the city of Pittsburgh.

A Republican Singing

by Mary

This past Sunday evening my Parent’s hosted a barn party. The focus of this event was to meet and discuss topics with our local state representative, who is currently dealing with some particularly contentious issues.

Personally, I coveted an apathetic attitude towards this gathering. This is the third Sunday in a row that something has been going on at the Slattery household. First it was a senior recital, then Colleen’s graduation party, and  last but not least, this party for the representative that I am referring who’s last name is: Kapanke. Besides baking for it and promising my mother that I would change out of my spandex leggings, t- shirt, rain boots, and ditch the hot pink baseball cap, I wasn’t altogether too charged up about this function.

By 7:00 though, we had a parking lot full of cars and a barn full of republicans. unfortunately, what we didn’t have was Kapanke!

 You may think that all of what I stated above would have put a damper on last night.  One would assume that my Mom and Dad are downcast over the glitch, but let me confirm that they certainly are not!

Recently, my Father has had a fetish with singings. You see, it is an Amish thing. Though I will not go into detailed explanation about Amish singings, I will include the fact that my Dad’s barn party ended up incorporating a “singing” session in.

With Kapanke being a no -show, he was able to capture Colleen and 6 of her friend’s who were over for an International Picnic that Colleen was holding on the porch. Within no time; this cultured ” International Picnic Club”  was out in the barn leading the singing ( AKA, patriotic American hymns).

After they escaped, Republican conversation ensued. I think everyone had a good time.

 The die hards got to carry on their one-sided conversation.

The International Picnic gang got to leave and talk about whatever High Schoolers talk about.

And I got to watch the NBA championship.

Am I forgetting somebody? Yes, I am! Kapanke. Well, according to Mom, he told her he was so upset over getting her messages inquiring about his whereabouts late last night, that he was unable to sleep more than a few hours… oh well, it’s his loss. After all he missed out on one heck of a good old Amish style singing!


The Library Blues

by Kate

At the hundred year old Carnegie Library of Lawrenceville, about to stand on the stone steps in the searing 95 degree heat and deliver the following speech as part of an event kicking off a voter initiative to raise funds to keep the library going…

My husband moved to Lawrenceville after college because he had the blues. A guitar player from California, he’d attended shows at the Thunderbird and was drawn to the rough at the edges, smoky, bluesy urban scene that Pittsburgh, and specifically Lawrenceville, offered. I fell in love with him and left the deep blue ridges of North Carolina to join him. One of his first and most powerful persuasions to entice me to move was a trip through the Carnegie Main Library in the middle of the winter. He watched my eyes widen in wonder in the stacks and laughed.
Our first year as newlyweds was spent in classic poverty, living on love and little else. His meagre schoolteacher’s paycheck (a career in blues having been set aside) was barely enough to pay the rent for our dingy loft above a bar with a thumping bass. We couldn’t even afford to pay for the internet. Meanwhile I was struggling to adjust to a new city, married life, and the new baby on the way at the end of the year.
There were so many things that drew me to the Carnegie Library branch up the street. As a voracious reader, I needed constant piles of books to get through that year. The amazingly free internet access allowed me to pour out my thoughts to friends across the country, work on developing my career as a musician and dancer in Pittsburgh, learn about my new community, and research important information on a daily basis. The staff was gracious, friendly, and welcoming. Finally the building itself is an architectural gem and a delight to spend time in- high ceilings, marble floors, elegant scrollwork, hissing radiators billowing heat in the winter and fans creating cool breezes in the hot summer.
As the due date for our daughter drew closer, we spent a great deal of time deciding where to settle. We discovered that not only did Lawrenceville have a great music scene, it was full of young families, parks, a farmer’s market, a local church, and groceries within walking distance. Finally, and crucially, it had this amazing library complete with huge beautiful children’s room. The threatened closure of the library almost caused us to settle in another neighborhood. I couldn’t imagine having a baby in the city without having a library within walking distance.
The library is open, and we are here almost every day that the library is open. My daughter, at 14 months, is pretty sure she is an employee. I check out books, order them from other branches, buy them from the sale rack, use the internet, take home dvds. My husband uses movies from the library in his teaching work and has worked his way through almost the entire Carnegie selection of martial arts books. Our baby attends storytime, baby yoga, and beams upon sight of the librarians, who take the time to walk with her hand in hand as they sort and stack the books. The library has helped me to settle into this city and into my life as a harpist, dancer, wife, and mother here. I cannot imagine our life in this city without this library- and I hope I won’t have to in the future.

Hot Times, Summer in the City

by Kate

After a month of daily rain on the grey stones of Pittsburgh, a heat wave rolled in shimmering on the gritty concrete.

Scores of university students still in town for the summer worshipped the sun in the shadow of the Tower of Learning (which Casey calls the Tower of Sauron) but on a recent expedition to the great Carnegie Libary in Oakland, we were more interested in seeking shade in a tree lined avenue.

I love these red doors on the Heinz Chapel- appropriate color for the ketchup dynasy, I suppose.

They have organ concerts at the chapel almost every weekend. Someday I will go, and I will write about it.

The chapel and green were beautiful, but the real highlight of our wandering walk was this fountain.

Fountains are definitely one of my favorite things about cities. I love the water in the midst of stone, the playfulness inherent in the art form. I love the fact that people build fountains. It makes me feel connected to and proud of the sweep and scope of civilization. I particularly love this fountain, because it is so beautiful.

Very inviting, on a hot summer day.

All right, so it didn’t take that long before we started teaching Olympia the proper response to a cool fountain on a hot summer day. Thankfully, we weren’t alone. The fountain was full of kids.

There are times when I really do love being in the city- and I think Olympia does, too.

America on Parade

by Kate

On Monday morning, the fair skinned Irish part of our family donned hats, and we all headed down the hill and around the corner for the annual Lawrenceville Memorial Day Parade.

Though it could be argued that we look fairly hip and urban here, let me assure you that this parade was endearingly small town and about as Americana as you can get. We attempted to dress appropriately, right down to Olympia’s stylish patriotic red white and blue boots.

There was a general sense of timelessness. Horses provided classic excitement.

This motorbike and cannon conjured up my lazy hazy knowledge the Lawrenceville was crucial in making cannons during the civil war, and then in sending many many young men off to WWI. I promise to learn the history by next year and share it with you.

I do know that Lawrenceville is famous for two things- the fact that the famous composer Stephan Foster was born here, and the Doughboy Statue. This statue was commissioned with funds originally raised to help out the many locals overseas fighting WWI, but the war ended before the funds could be sent out to help them. Here are Stephen and the Doughboy themselves.

They were followed by a group that completely delighted me- the Pittsburgh Letter Carriers’s Marching Band. I loved everything about them.

I fervently hope that this tradition continues. There was something really wonderful about seeing mailmen marching along playing musical instruments.

In contrast to the discipline of the Letter Carriers, there was a large group of men ambling along and stopping in a random manner to fire off blanks now and then. This was more painful and less endearing, but not entirely out of charactor for the Lawrenceville neighborhood. On the bright side, they really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The Civil War re-enacters were far more disciplined. Of course.

There was an army of bagpipers, also very disciplined.

They were very dignified and impressive.

There were vintage fast cars, going slow.

A truck that I coveted.

There were Masons on parade.

And of course, an American parade wouldn’t be complete without a pretty girl waving  from a red convertible.

It was a great celebration of American history and community- even if I didn’t manage to catch any candy.

Mary’s Memorial Day Weekend Half Marathon

This Memorial Day weekend started off early for me as I rose before 5AM to drive to Black River Falls. For several weeks now, I have been feeling like I need to be challenging myself more. I decided a good way to do this was to run a half marathon.
Though, I have not been physically preparing myself to run such a distance, my mind has been doing a lot of wandering lately. Maybe it is in part because of the social media. Sometimes I feel  frustrated because often times I see pictures or get updates of others immersed in adventures of striving towards accomplishments.
Sometimes I can’t help but feel like I am just here. Just here signifies that there isn’t too much of a cultural aspect to the local quilt that is tucking me in. There is nothing wrong with that, but when I see photos of friends in far away places connecting with others of different cultures, it can sometimes make me feel smothered. Oddly enough, driving the hour to Black River Falls was just the medicine I needed for rejuvenation.
You see, the race I ran is on the Ho-Chunk Reservation. The reason for the race is that it is held in honor of a local Rez girl killed in “99. She died in a drunk driving accident. This young lady found healing through running and was able to turn her life around after she started training to run marathons. There was talk about her running for the US Olympic team someday. Coming home after prom though, she and 3 classmates were all killed by a repeat drunk driver late one May night.
Seeing all the Ho-Chunks that gathered to run was an inspiration to me. Memories started flooding me of my time living on a Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota. There is such a distinctive beauty in the Native American people.
Right before the race started, a drum circle provided the rhythm and chanting of a song for Indians while training to run longer and longer distances. It was SO beautiful. The circle drummed mid-race and was at the 12 mile mark too.
While running I ended up striking up some good conversations. The first was with a man who was here in the States to see his daughter graduate. She has been over here as an exchange student for the past year. He answered questions about his geographic realm of the world (Northern Italy). Talking to him was very interesting, as was a conversation that I had with an older Sioux Indian from South Dakota who had made the trip here for a powwow that is held. He has been working towards regaining his health. When training for this race, he’s lost 20 lbs. I found this so inspirational! I told him about North Dakota, the Turtle Mountains, the people there, and how much I hated the meth problems that the people there suffer from.
Talking distracted me from running, as did watching the Natives as I ran past. I had so much fun waving at the locals, many of whom drove past in ancient beater cars that reminded me once again of the Reservation in the Turtle Mountains. There is such a simultaneous goodness and sadness to those people.
How glad I am that I can drive just an hour away and see new sights, heat the beat of drums, strike up random conversations like the one with the man from Italy in way too tight of spandex running leggings (sorry, I am a descriptive writer, so there you have it).
The end of the race was disorganized. Though they thought that my time was 1:48, they didn’t know for sure. Because of this mix up they were unsure if I placed 2nd or 3rd. Regardless of this it doesn’t really matter to me.
I feel like I won just because I woke up early and forced myself to do something that I was scared of, and because I saw and conversed with especially unique people from different segments of this world….just an early morning hour away from home.