Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Run to Remember

My editor Kate called me yesterday morning, and what did she want? I’m sure what she really wanted to do was the catch up with her little sister that she only sees about twice a year, but somehow the conversation ended up being centered around this blog (big surprise!) and how my “authorship has waned this summer”. I was told to write a blog post ASAP and even told what to write it about. How nice.

I crankily acquisced. Crankily, because I had not been out for a run yet and it was already 10 or 11 o’clock. I’m a morning runner, and I’ve found that if I don’t get out on the road then, my whole day is off until I do. So, although I had a fairly productive day yesterday, swimming, baking little French bready things, continuing my quest to make the perfect brownie, reading some of my book for college this fall, and attending mass, my day felt incomplete until I headed out the door for a very late run at 6:35 pm.

(Check out my sweet running shirt.  Yes, that’s right-it’s an old Pep Band T-shirt from Cashton high school.  I ripped off the sleeves.  I’m cool like that.)

I’d decided on a whim to run to my brother Gabriel’s former farm, St. Brigid’s Meadows, where my little brother, James, was working that night. The run was beautiful, the weather finally cool enough after the hot spell we had all week. The crankiness I’d been tinged with all day lifted, and I arrived at the farm just in time to see James on the 4-wheeler, taking the cows out to pasture.

(This is Gabe at St. Brigid’s when he lived there a few years ago.  See the cows in the background?  Most of those are the same ones I saw yesterday and have lots of names ending in the same vowel sound: Jolly, Andy, Melancholy-okay, I made up that last one, but you get the picture.)

My welcome was warm: “What time is it? Why are you here so early?”

“Well, I thought I’d be slower getting here, okay. Can I have a ride?” I replied. We have never had a 4-wheeler at Sweet Ridge Farm, and I’ve always jumped at the chance to ride one.

“Sure, hop on.”

A problem presented itself as soon as I climbed on. I just bought new running shoes last week. And let’s just say that they aren’t exactly barnyard, taking cows out to pasture on a manure covered 4-wheeler.

(Yes, white is a dumb color for shoes.  But hey, I’m going down to Texas and running cross country there this fall.  I’ve gotta keep my feet cool.  White reflects the light!  Okay, yes, I did kind of decide to get them just because they are pretty.)

“Those are not going to work,” James stated bluntly as he vainly tried to wipe off a speck of manure on the toe of one shoe with an already dirty hand.

I promptly shucked my shoes and socks.

The cows were slow, and the fact they they only would walk in single file out to the pasture made the whole operation even slower. I didn’t mind. Watching a long row of cows, tails swishing flies away in unison was a sight that I don’t think I’ll see very much in the next four years at college.

James, on the other hand was not as captivated by a sight that he sees twice a week every week. He was so bored in fact that he let me drive the 4-wheeler. Having never driven one before, I was a little bit hesitant.

“Ummm, so how does this work?” I asked.

“You’ll figure it out,” came the helpful reply.

I fiddled around, pressing handles. “Well, you found the brake, ” he noted. Eventually though I found the gas, and drove us all the way out to the pasture. James of course drove us back, with me holding on for dear life and holding in screams of fear and euphoria as he took insane turns and flew over straight stretches of bumpy ground at crazy 16-year-old -boy speeds.

It was the perfect end to an imperfect day. I’m going to miss you, little brother. Thanks for letting your boring big sister tag along.

Fine Feathers

by Kate

I don’t usually mind fads. In fact, I often enjoy them. Huge earrings, bright ethnic prints, flats, heels, pearls, wooden bangles- I am generally ready to jump on the bandwagon and take a ride. However, the recent feather hair extension trend has me a bit, um, fluttered.

Suddenly, they are everywhere. After seeing several people sporting tufts I realized that seeing people with tufts of feathers in their hair left me feeling a sense of deep unease. Why was that? I wondered. I like feather earrings. I love feather pillows and down comforters. No, there was something specific bothering me. And then, gazing at a beautiful girl with a white tuft in her hair, it hit me.

I don’t like feather hair extensions because they vividly remind me of chicken butchering. Between the hot water and steam and heat and blood and downy tufts of feathers everywhere, getting feathers in your hair is pretty much inevitable. Now, the free range chickens on Sweet Ridge Farm have a good life.

Even as a teenaged vegetarian, I helped my parents butcher chickens. They are healthy birds fed lots of greens and good food, cared for well and killed quickly and without cruelty. Even so, it is not a process for the faint of heart, as my amazing friends discovered when they helped butcher 100 chickens to prepare for my wedding two years ago.

Downy feathers! Just like the hair extensions! That is, they are downy until the are soaked and tossed in the plucker…

And even then, tufts of feathers remain. I have to say, it was the most beautiful butchering crew I have ever seen, though it was not our most stylish moment.

I am fairly certain that by the end of the day, we all had feathers in our hair.

What really bothers me about feather hair extensions, though, is the factory farming of exotic feathered birds. After doing some research on the issue, I discovered that the feathers popularly used for extensions were originally marketed to fly fisherman. The roosters raised for their tailfeather plumage live about a year before the feathers are harvested- a process that the bird does not survive. In many cases the rest of the bird is simply tossed out, which seems grossly wasteful to me. With the explosion of demand for feather extensions, it disturbs me to think of the possible farming practices used for production of cosmetic feathers. It reminds me again of the importance of understanding the path a product takes before it ends up in your mouth or on your body. It is important to understand where our food and our clothing and our household goods come from, so that we can make conscious decisions to support ethical farming, marketing, and labor practices.

And that is why you will never catch me with a feather in my hair- unless you happen to be around before the next wedding, on butchering day.

Fire Knives, Fountains, Steel Mills and Spectacle

by Kate

My husband is an aspiring Samoan fire knife dancer.

He learned the art of dancing with a spinning, flaming blade from an old Hawaaiian priest when they were together in a monastery in California. Over the past couple years his knives became a bit shaky, which is terrifying when you are relying on them to whirl smoothly around your body in a hiss and rush of flame. After searching for a year or so, he found a Polynesian performing family here in Pittsburgh. The whole family performs together in a three generation spectacular show featuring dance forms from all over the Polynesian Islands from hula to fire knives. Casey contacted Tuika, the patriarch of the family, and commissioned him to make him a new fire knife. Tuika designed and created an incredible knife, and also invited us to a full Polynesian style barbeque at his ranch house  somewhat incongrously and very adventurously located in the hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The barbeque was lively, full of wild haired beauiful people of all ages,a nd with elaborate platters of ham and pineapple and taro root set up in the studio where Tuika creates fireknives and presumably rehearses the songs and dances that make up his travelling show. I have been wanting to try taro root since I read James Michenor’s Hawaii, so for that reason alone I was thrilled to attend the barbeque.

 It is a great gift to be able to spend time with people from distinctly different cultures, and I am so grateful that we are able to make connections and friends from all over the world. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, we were lucky to have a great connection with the Hmong community from Laos. My Dad sponsored one family, and sold chickens to the community at large. Traditionally, the food provider is invited to the feast, so I have vivid memories of attending parties with platters of food in vivid colors- plates of raw meat and intensely spicy fish sauce, totally foreign to my farm raised Wisconsin tongue. I particularly remember Dad standing a head and a half above the shoulders of the rest of the crowd. I am grateful to be married to a man who also possesses a wide variety of passionate interests and the ability to reach out and connect with interesting people and events.

This past weekend we attended the South Side Works Festival, where Tuika and his family were setting up to perform their show.

The South Side Works used to be a steel mill- in fact, at one point it was part of the second largest steep producer in the US. In the mid 1980’s the mill was driven out of business by cheap foreign imports, high labor costs, and outdated equipment. These days, after a great deal of public private wheeling and dealing and some serious environmental cleanup, the former mill is the site of a massive multi-million dollar office/retail/condo/entertainment complex in the New Urban style.

 There is a massive sports medicine complex with Steelers slipping in and out surrepticiously, American Eagle worldwide headquarters, wide walkeable streets full of chic boutiques and glossy chain restaurants. At night the streets are packed with men in striped pink shirts and women with stick straight blowouts and high heels. If you are dating and in Pittsburgh (and not too intensely hipstery) it is highly likely that you will find yourself at the South Side Works. Perhaps you would like to see a movie? Or just contemplate the transition of shining steel in the life of Pittsburgh.

We were there to see the Polynesians, but it was a blazingly hot day for a festival, and first we needed to cool off. What new urban development is complete without a gelato shop?

After the Italian ice cream, we headed for the spray park fountain in the middle of the square.


Olympia was a bit dubious about the rushing jets of water at first…

But quickly transitioned into a state of wild glee.

We dried the baby off in the last fierce rays of the sun, and as the light began to fade the Polynesian Show began. There were huge drums.

There were grass skirts of exorbitant size, feather headdress, and coconut shell costumes.

The dancers were lovely, and had many and fascinating costume changes.

I loved the huge bright flowers in the costuming.

The finale of the show was the Samoan fire knife dancing. Tuika is a great showman.

He says he is semi-retired, now that he is in his 50’s.

I say it looks like firedancing up until your 50’s has a pretty beneficial effect. I plan on heavily encouraging Casey to start working with his fireknife again. Then I will learn to play the drums and we will train our children and put a show on the road. Between bellydance and firedancing and musical instruments and maybe some acrobatics here and there I figure we have quite a potential future as a travelling show.



Catching Clare

By: Mary 

My little sisters and I have a running joke that Kate is our editor. This is due to the frequent calls and emails we receive directing us to “write a (or) “that” blog. When Kate was home earlier this summer, she saw some photos that I took of Clare, and directed me to post them. Well, it’s been awhile since she has been reminding me, so today is the day to finally put them up.

These pictures were taken one evening when I convinced Clare to ride over to check on my horse with me. We ended up going on a ride before a storm hit.

Riding double with her is not as easy as it used to be when she was 4, but it’s still good fun…and good photo shoot material.

 There is nothing quite like a 14-year-old, a tractor, a horse, and an approaching storm to attract good lighting and a sweet portrait.

Sunday at Sparta Farm

by Kate

When I was growing up, my family visited Amish friends once a month or so. These days, my Dad spends more time than ever with his Amish brethren. The Organic Valley vegetable co-op is full of Amish families, so Dad has lots of business meetings in Amish kitchens and backyards. He has always loved the simplicity and order of the Amish lifestyle, and in fact when he picked me up on my visit home last month we made a pit stop to watch a family with 16 children (at least) packaging asparagus in bare feet on a cold June afternoon. I loved visiting our Amish friends and climbing the haymow, riding horses and galloping through the pasture, trying to ride cows now and then. I have no idea how close the nearest Amish settlements are here in Pennsylania, but we are lucky in that we do have very good friends on a farm an hour and a half outside of Pittsburgh. Although they are not Amish, they do have a beautiful (and very erudite) outhouse.

I met my friend Rebecca long ago at Ave Maria College in Michigan. It was her first teaching job out of grad school. The first day I met her she was dressed in chic impeccable black with sleek short bottle blond hair. She held out a hand with manicured blood red nails and announced that she understood my desire to be a farmer and a philosopher. I secretly scoffed, having trouble imagining anyone so sophisticated and manicured being a real farmer. I was wrong. It turned out she grew up with back to the lander parents like mine, with similar interludes without running water. Today, Rebecca teaches Literature and Philosophy at the University of Steubenville and runs a full scale organic farm on her parent’s land along with her husband Brendan and her two (and a half!) children. Here they are, contemplating their bright future. Ha.

Luckily for me, her parent’s farm is only an hour and a half from Pittsburgh- perfect for a Sunday afternoon visit. This past Sunday was hot and humid and beautiful- a gorgeous day to be out on the farm.

The front porch is very reminiscent of the Slattery farm- broom, garlic, scales, beat up boards and all.

If the garlic looks familiar, it is in fact originally Pat Slattery garlic from my Dad. He has been cultivating a variety for years that is huge and flavorful at the same time. Amazing stuff. Rebecca had lots of it drying on the porch.

She and Brendan have done incredible work farming together. This year they built a greenhouse, which allowed them to expand their growing season and production.

They also have really beautiful children. I love this shot of Avila, looking like a little farmer princess.

We brought a drum full of castanets, tambourine, rattles, and a plastic trumpet as a present for the kids, who loved it. I figure they can use it in out at the farm and then when the winter comes Rebecca can hide the noisemakers so she doesn’t go insane.

It was a lovely afternoon. We had beer and brats on the cool shaded porch. In fact, a super secret family recipe for Sheboygan beer brats is coming to this blog soon. I was able to document my 92 year old Grandmother making a batch during my Wisconsin visit this summer. During our Sunday visit I tried the recipe myself for the first time.

After the beer and the brats and all the fresh organic produce we could eat, we headed down to the field where Brendan and Rebecca have set up a stock tank swimming pool for the kids. The cold water was perfect on a hot day.

 We left in the twilight and drove the long hour and a half back towards town. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon to spend visiting.

A Whole New World

by Kate

Three and a half months ago our computers crashed- two of them, on the same day. Since then we have cobbled together computer time and internet access, generally using the Carnegie library computers as Olympia fought to break free and run barefoot across the marble floor, howling. I am beyond grateful for the library internet access, but I admit I much prefer to spend my time at the library reading Vanity Fair and Martha Stewart magazines. This allows me to walk while reading, trailing my child and keeping at least half an eye on her most of the time.

Thanks to my amazing in-laws, a new computer is humming smoothly on an old plank table in our music room. The computer has been set up for a couple weeks, but as soon as we got it running we realized that our intermittent completely unreliable Verizon internet connection had gone totally dead. This was not a great surprise, as our Verizon experience has been a complete nightmare start to finish. I have never experienced such terrible customer service in my entire life. I stubbornly clung to the knowledge that Verizon was the cheapest game in town for almost a year, until I finally realized that paying for nonexistant service was no bargain at all. For the past three months, we have had flickers of snail slow service once or twice a day, generally in the early morning. This is consistent with the beginning, middle, and end of our Verizon experience. My fingers are stumbling over the keys as I attempt to find the words to describe how truly horrible our service (or lack thereof) was. First, the internet didn’t work- either for days, or weeks. Eventually I would steel myself for a long overseas phone call beginning with 25 minutes of call waiting with earsplitting staticky muzak finially leading me to a conversation with a very kind customer service representative in with a thick Indian accent and no power to help me beyond requesting that I turn on and off the modem, the computer, pull out and plug in the phone line. At this point I was already doing all of this 25 times a day out of habit. After we had established that the line was, in fact, not working the Indian man or woman would schedule me a service technician who could come see me in a week and a half. This took at least an hour every time. Generally at some point before the technician appeared the internet would flicker on for two minutes and I would promptely recieve an automated call from Verizon informing me that they had noticed that the problem with my line was fixed and that they had courteously cancelled the technician for me in order to save me a call! Back to the horrible hold music, India, and THE SAME CHAT with the customer service representative. For two hours. At one point, on the verge of exploding with frustration, I asked in a crazed tone, “How is this level of beaurocratic torture possible? Are your offices actually located somewhere on the borderground of hell?” There was a brief pause and then the sound of a throat being cleared nervously. “No ma’am. We are in India.”

Several times these torturous conversations eventually yielded a visit from a technician. I think we had six or seven in all, some multiple times. None of them were able to ascertain what the problem actually was. Sometimes jiggling every line in the house had a beneficial effect and for a month or so we had consistent (albeit choppy snail speed) internet access. For the last three weeks though, no technician, no internet, just a monthly bill. Casey finally put his foot down and ordered Comcast. A human being from Pittsburgh promptly contacted him, and several more competent and apparently empowered human beings have continued to provide excellent service ever since. Yesterday a man called and installed the internet, piped straight and quick and smoothly providing access to the great wide world.

Having a new computer AND  internet at home is an amazing thing. In the past day we have both caught up with various work emails and contracts. Casey has learned a judo throw and spent an hour following instructions on how to play the tabla, so that he can start accompanying my bellydance performances. I found an incredible Portugeuse Fado song to use for a fan veil performance this weekend at a fancy Gala benefit event in downtown Pittsburgh. We mapped out our schedule for the harp/baby/babysitter/martial arts class/bellydance performance Friday night, locating addresses and timetables. We saw pictures of three new babies born in the past few weeks. Olympia danced to sea shanties. We skyped with Casey’s parents in Texas. I sorted through 500 pictures from the past month and planned several blog posts… and I wrote this one. It is so very good to be back online, and back to regular posting here.

Meanwhile I still have not been able to technically quit Verizon. I called yesterday to try, and a real live person pretended to be a recording. She said in a quick and panicked manner, “Hello and thank you for choosing Verizon! At this time all computer systems are down and we are unable to access your accounts or provide any information to you at this time. Please call back later.” I began to gargle and howl incoherently. She recited her spiel again, a little more quickly, and then hung up.


Fourth of July Fun

By: Clare

(Note: I know this is a while after the Fourth of July, but I didn’t get around to writing this until now due to my being quite busy/lazy lately.)

Our family has never been the All-American type. But as we celebrated Independece Day, we got pretty close. And so the Slattery family (minus Gabe and Aurora’s family, who were visiting family in Sheboyghan) made their way down to Coon Valley Park for a picnic and some swimming to cool off from the heat. The ride down was a test of patience thanks to Dad’s very  “cautious” driving we were all going insane and just  about ready to strangle someone.

When we finally got there, we immediately ran for the creek, a cool relief from the hot, crowded car. Coon Creek has been the Slattery’s personal swimming pool for as long as I can remember. It’s free, refreshingly cool, and open to the public.

After a while we hopped out long enough to get a bite to eat in the shade.

Rob manned the grill…

and Mom  and Colleen made everything else.  I don’t do kitchen work. We don’t get along.

We played horshoes for a little while…

Swam some more…

And then it was time to leave. I know what you’re thinking. What about the fireworks? It is the Fourth of July they’re celebrating, right?The Slattery family has never really been the firework kind. As a child I was very upset by our delaying the buying of fireworks until the day before the Fourth, and always disappointed at the flimsy display that was bought. But this year I found myself actually not even caring whether we had fireworks or not. We did end up having a few, thanks to Cale, and they were actually pretty nice. I learned this Independence Day that not only do I not care about fireworks anymore, but that it’s really hard to take pictures of fireworks. The one that I did end up getting that I thought was adequate was just a picture of a sparkler anyway, and also not uploaded on the computer, so I guess this is all there is to see.

Hope you had a great Fourth of July!