Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Dump Truck Limo

By: Mary

After spending an hour or so pulling burrs out of my horse’s mane and tail with the aid of my own personal hair products to attack the massive wads of burdock, I drove back to Middle Ridge and was caught by a surprising sight in the driveway. This sight was a huge old dump truck that was hogging up parking space.


 Getting out of my car, I was greeted by my brothers Patrick and Gabe who had just unloaded an enormous load of firewood as a random pre-winter gift to my Dad. Soon enough my brothers and I were sitting around the table shooting the breeze with my parents. Clare happened to appear at this time decked out in a hot pink shirt and black skinny jeans with her nails painted to match her top. On Saturdays my little sister never generally strays much further than the library in Lacrosse. Today though, it just so happened that she was getting glammed up to go to a Halloween party that her entire class had been invited to at a fellow classmates house.

It also just so happened that Gabe was heading home to the ranch in his Father-In-Laws wood delivering dump truck. Patrick saw the logistical connection in the geographic proximity of Gabe heading home, and Clare needing to get to the party. The suggestion was made that she get dropped off by Gabe. Like my little brother Patrick, I too thought this plan brilliant!

Clare however was not quiet so excited….

May I introduce to you the dump truck?  Well…it’s huge and super loud, and has a bed on it that can fit 12 loads. Basically, even if you are semi deaf you can hear its roar, for it has no exhaust system. And yeah, there are totally mice living in its heating system and glove box. When the heat gets turned on the cab reaks of the mice, and flipping open the glove box takes you streight to a nest,

Oddly enough after the shortest tantrum, Clare decided it was “cool” to show up at her class party in the dump truck with Gabe and I.

Personally, I am used to driving around with Gabe. I find it very important for both my sense of humor and sanity to hangout with my oldest brother. Sometimes it’s in a truck or tractor that I visit with him in while running errands or bailing hay. Generally, we don’t catchup in a dump truck though. Trust me, it’s a bit tough to carry on a conversation when you have to scream over the noise volume of the nonexistent exhaust system to hear one another. Clare seemed to be ok with this sibling visiting session. She got very strategic on figuring out her exit when nearing the scene of the class party though. However, the kid found that it’s tough to vacate without notice. You see, the party destination was at the end of a deadend lane. EVERYBODY noticed us when we came racing up the road at the great speed of 42 mph which is as fast as the beast can accelerate. Clare couldn’t actually open up her door. Slight functions like that don’t work on the dump truck. So Gabe just hopped out of the cabs door, like the gentleman eldest brother that he is, and got the passengers door open. Clare slid to the ground which is a bit of a way down from the cab, and told the 20 people or so that were staring at us that her personal Halloween theme was Gwen Stefani, as in, a piece of garbage to suit the dump truck.

I must say that I was pretty impressed with her entrance. The other kids must have been too because they invited us to take some free food for the road. Gabe did just that. We ended up with some pizza and a can of Coors that was left under the dump trucks seat, and Clare/Gwen Stefani- Slattery was left at her high school party with her dump truck limo heading back to the ranch.

The Red Vegetable From Hell

By: Clare

Today I went to hell and back, riding on a red vegetable. I’m serious. I think its going to go down in history as one of the worst days of my life.

For who knows what reason, we don’t have school today. For most kids, this is a good thing, but in our family it means spending the day doing fieldwork. Sure enough, Mom woke me up at the break of dawn (it was actually around 8:30 or so) to head out to the field for a “quick, easy job”. Then I found myself heading out to the field a mile away to pick swiss chard in the freezing cold. It had actually frosted over, and stupid me had decided I would be just fine in my Adidas sandals, no socks necessary. After all, its supposed to be a quick job, right? Wrong. When Dad says a quick job, its gonna take you at least 45 minutes. Give or take a little. My feet went numb after approximately two seconds, and we were out there for forever. But I didn’t complain once, which I was very proud of, because some certain people in the family (everyone) is convinced I’m not the best field hand. I am when I want to be. Which isn’t often. Then, just when I thought we were done, we went home with a whole wagonful of swiss chard and were told to start bunching it. This is the bad part. This is the part where Gary plays his country music and I decide to rip my brain out of my head. Well, we didn’t have the right ties for the swiss chard, so Dad got upset and started yelling and sighing and mumbling incoherent phrases, then just went ahead and started bunching them with the wrong ties. This doubled our work because once we had the right ties we had to take off the wrong ties and put on the right ones and do everything else that you do when working with swiss chard. In the freezing cold. Soaking the vegetables in really, really cold water. Not to mention how disorganized the whole system was, because, hey, my dad’s Irish, not German. He doesn’t always make up the most organized plans.

Have I mentioned how much I hate this vegetable? I’ve actually decided that its stalk is so red because they grow it in hell. In the middle of all this work I figured we were just harvesting all the chard so the devil could feast on it.

At one point James and Patrick got into a fight, because Pat is a big bully. He beat James up pretty badly, and managed to hurt to his shoulder quite a bit. James’ shoulder is already in pretty bad condition, and Pat should have known better to hurt someone’s shoulder, because he himself had to get surgery on both his shoulders, and his faulty shoulders actually pretty much ended his basketball career. This halted the swiss chard bunching, because Mom had to come in and give Pat a piece of her mind, with Mary telling her that she shouldn’t have to deal with all that boy stuff, and where was Dad when you need him? I innocently suggested we should go to the library today, because that always calms down our book-loving family.

I myself had to do twice the work my brother had to, because James and Gary got to run off and pick something up for Dad, leaving me in the barn, freezing, deeply contemplating whether or not I should stab myself with the knife I was using on the chard. That poor swiss chard. I was viciously twisting and crunching and cutting it up. Better to take my anger out on a vegetable than a family member, eh?

Then James got back and got to lolligag around listening to his iPod, and I didn’t get to listen to any music being that I do not own an iPod. At that moment, I would have preferred listening to country than listening to nothing. Then I could have turned my rage towards the singers who thought singing about beer and barns, and lowering their intelligence level made them country.

I will never marry, or even like an organic farmer. They’re all idiots.

Now, I’m off to the library. Maybe that’ll stop the smoke pouring out of my ears.

Painting Pittsburgh

by Kate

Saturday was the seventh annual Lawrenceville Artists’ Studio Tour in my neighborhood.

The Studio Tour is a great chance to walk down familiar streets and open doors into houses full of painters, potters, metalworkers, sculptors, and weavers. Of course this is precisely the point of the tour. It is amazing to realize the vitality of the art community living and working in Lawrenceville. It is also fascinating to see what these people are doing with the spaces they inhabit. I particularly wanted Casey to see the studio of the painter Ron Donoughe. The space is worth seeing- his studio takes up the entire second floor of a huge brick building on Butler Street. A tightly winding staircase opens into a space full of scaffolding and light. The air feels alive with history.

Layers of wallpaper from the past hundred years are preserved next to exposed brick.

I think it is a beautiful studio.

I wanted Casey to see the space, but I also really wanted him to see the paintings.

I love them.

They are strong and striking and capture the past and present Pittsburgh so powerfully.

I am glad his work is out there.

Actually I am glad to know that he is working right here, around the corner from me, only a couple blocks away.

I am grateful to Ron Donoughe and the artists of Lawrenceville for welcoming the public in for an intimate glimpse of studio space and creative process.

I am also grateful to my long suffering husband for reluctantly accompanying me on my artistic adventure. He would like me to document the fact that he does, indeed “do things like this” with me. Here he is, looking artistically glum.

I am pretty sure his reluctance was due in part to the fact that after the Studio Tour, the rest of the day included hauling me and my harp to play for a wedding reception, taking care of the baby, then waiting until I applied false eyelashes and finally picking up the baby in one arm and a drum in the other and playing Drum Solo for me at a bellydance show that night. The solo actually turned into more of a duet with Olympia, but that’s another story. Casey is an amazing husband, is what I am trying to say.

If you are interested in seeing more of the work of Ron Donoughe- and you should be, because it is great stuff- check out his website here:

And don’t forget that history and mystery and beauty and great art are often just around the corner.

A Saturday Away

By Clare

Yesterday I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to head down to Iowa for a relative’s wedding. I figured it would be more interesting than staying at home all day with only three other people wandering around the house, helpless without Mom to make food. Plus, I’d have to do the cooking with her gone, and when is that ever good? So I threw on some dressy clothing, made myself presentable for a special occasion, and we were off. That is, after everyone was found, all the vegetables to be delivered along the way were shoved into the van along with Grandma’s heavy suitcases (we were dropping her off at her aunt’s on the way back), and we were all uncomfortable enough for it to qualify as a Slattery roadtrip. After dropping off the vegetables, we all settled in a little better, and braced ourselves for three more hours in the car. We eventually made it to the 1 o’clock wedding (on time too!) and were escorted into the small church.

We arrived at the reception hall with some time to kill before the dinner, so Mary and I wandered off to stretch our legs. Mary had a lot of leg showing to stretch, wearing a dress that Mom deemed immodest (it’s really not that bad, just a horrible choice for a traveling outfit).

Still, she tromped across the grass in her heels, while I ran ahead in my smart footwear choice of gold sandals, courtesy of Colleen’s “clothes left behind before moving to Dallas for college”. Upon seeing a pond in the near distance I immediately ran ahead. I’m naturally attracted to water, while Mary thinks its something like the devil’s spit. Crazy woman. Squatting down by the water, a frog jumped and caught me by surprise.

Mary, remembering fairy stories where the princess kisses the frog and the frog turns into a prince out of the blue (woohoo), decided if she kissed it the same would happen to her.

Don’t worry, she didn’t end up kissing it. She’s too squeamish. We did have a little impromptu photoshoot though. It gave some entertainment to the golfers watching nearby. I took a picture of them, just to get back at them, but it’s not that interesting. Golfers, generally aren’t that interesting, are they? With the exception of Tiger Woods’ scandal of course. Again, this is just another one of my opinions.

We headed back to the reception hall where I stayed for several more hours surrounded in a moody cloud. There was no one my age there.  I realized that the building was perfectly equipped for six-year-old me to run around with James, Colleen, and Raph and make all kinds of mischief. But instead, I was left all by myself, grown up, bored out of my mind, when, if I had been younger, I would have been in heaven. I had to drink the free pop all by  myself, without the entertainment of seeing James and Raph down 10 cans or so until they felt like throwing up. Dad did provide momentary entertainment (and embarrassment) when he started doling out our homegrown garlic on the tables as decorations and for people to take home.

I did do a lot of people-watching, and found that Iowans like country music even more than Wisconsinites. We eventually left. After a long, long, long time. The ride home was long too, but thanks to Cale’s phone, I was able to text the dearly missed sister of mine, Colleen.

Until next time, when I stare deeply into more people’s souls, give them cold, moody looks, and form critical words in my head,


Then and Now-One Year


Part-time Field Worker Colleen (I say part-time because if I said that I actually worked in the fields a lot my brothers and sisters would die laughing)


I spend time with my roommate and friends out of the field and in the city of cement, Dallas.


I ran with this special bunch of girls in the mud and cold of late Wisconsin fall as we miraculously earned ourselves a trip to state competition as a team (and went mud-sliding in celebration as you can see).


I run with this lovely group of girls and am no longer the giant of the team!


Let’s just say that layers were required back home at this point in the year.


The pool closed just last week.  Weather in the mid-80s must be too chilly for Texans.

So much is different in my life already!  Let’s see what more this year has to come….

A Simple American Girl

By Mary

Though there are few things that please me about the seasonal progression of colder temperatures and gray skies that are  the daily expectation around this time every year, I must admit that I do like being able to bundle up into a warm coat. In October 2009, I was especially focused on finding just the right coat to purchase to keep me warm(er) in Russia. I looked and looked until I settled on a practical brown snowboarders coat that got me thru the winter. Did I ever hate that coat! In my simple girl American eyes, it seemed like every woman and daughter had a incredibly beautiful coat. I can remember a mental game I played to see if I could match one coat with another. It seemed like every coat was unique, like there was not an exact replica of any style.

One morning I found myself in a shack with no plumbing and almost no heating. The warmest place was on the kitchen floor, so the people living there were sleeping on the it. Because we were company and because Russians are pretty much the most hospitable people ever once you set foot in their home and they decide they like you, the house was warmed up for the visit I made with a priest. Of course the first thing that my eyes and brain sought out was-do really poor people still wear coats with dead animals on them? The answer is: indeed they sure do!

Long walks in Vladivostok were so much more interesting because of my acquired coat obsession.

When I came back to the States, I made many resolutions. One of my least important resolutions was to get a serious coat with lots of character. It had to be unique, nothing like the snowboarders coat that got me thru in Vlad. I looked and looked in stores here. Nothing caught my eye. So I turned to ebay, and spent many a night browsing for the perfect Russian inspired winter wear. I did all this coat browsing while talking to a guy that I had no interest in on the phone. He would tell me about wanting to ice fish and snowboard with me, and I would half way listen while focusing on my pursuit of coat happiness. I finally settled on a designer coat that I wanted to order from China.Unsure if I should buy a size medium or small I asked my mom. She used the Chinese sizing chart to measure me. It’s a good thing she did before I sent in my purchase, because by their standards I am a size XL. Global coat buying is a complicated matter!

Gratitude is one of the most priceless things one can conceive within their heart. Though I hate the cold outside, I am contented to have a coat that I am grateful for. The gratitude extends far beyond the material properties of the coat. It goes all the way back to Russia where I learned so much about the beauty and weight of love, and the legitimacy of a coat with some character.

P.S. Perhaps I should note that my Chinese coat with “character” looks more like something that Sherlock Homes would wear then something that a tiny Russian lady would own. It is by no means offensive to PETA and is lacking of the dramatic tone that the coats in Russia flourished. What can I say? I guess I am just a simple American girl.

Everybody Loves Italian Men

By Kate

The other morning I headed down to Pittsburgh’s Strip District. I was looking for a package of Egyptian henna, and the maze of street vendors and ethnic shops in the Strip is the best place to find henna- or saffron, Peruvian panpipes, knockoff designer sunglasses, or a cheap pashmina.

The Strip District is also a great place to eat and drink. For a few bucks your taste buds can be transported all over the globe. The men gathered on the sidewalk in front of La Prima Espresso were definitely experiencing Italy.

Judging from their accents, it is safe to say many of them were recently living in Italy. This was easy for me to determine because their voices were raising at a precipitous rate.

I love the details of this series of images- the tiny cups of espresso, the loafers, the cigar, the newspaper, the sunlight. The expressions on the faces of these men.

I was so glad to have captured a few moments of that sunny Italian moment on the sidewalk in the Strip. I also picked up a package of henna with Arabic accolades scrolled inscrutably across the box and a couple pairs of pretty fantastic earrings. On my way home I saw this sign, and laughed.

I do enjoy the Strip District.

You may not have time to sit on the sidewalk and have a pitched battle with Italian men this morning, but here are some more pictures and stories of the Strip District to peruse with your coffee:

After Atlas Shrugged

Farmers in the City

Bikram Yoga in the Strip

Gary Elson: Son of Middle Ridge Soil

By Patrick Slattery

Not many farmers are fortunate enough to have a silent sidekick. I do in the personage of Gerard (Gary) Elson. Gary is a genuine farm article. Born and raised just over the hill west of Middle Ridge, he has had a lifelong love of all things agricultural. Unfortunately, in later times his farming life unraveled: he suffered a stroke about 12 years ago. As a result, his dairy herd went down the road.

The farm which had been in the Elson family for four generations was sold to a childless cohabitating couple, and Gary moved into a subsidized senior citizen housing complex in West Salem, Wi which is about 12 miles away from his home farm.

Gary is not the kind to sit and do nothing. I tried to help him though his divorce, and when it was clear that the subsidized housing complex was where he would reside, I suggested he come and help out here in the neighborhood if it were to his liking.

It has proven to be an option to his liking, and most days Monday through Friday, Gary can be found here. A senior citizen bus provides very convenient transportation to my house. In previous times,  he drove a Polaris ATV 12 miles back and forth from West Salem, but alas! The sheriff’s office pulled him over and put an end to the 5 times a week drive.

Let me state emphatically that I am a big beneficiary of Gary’s regular visitations. Gary is a true farmer and has helped fill some of my knowledge gaps especially when it comes to mechanical understandings. Gary pays attention to the likes of dipsticks and tires, things that don’t seem to capture my attention. He has saved my neck more than a few times. I especially enjoy Gary’s company because we don’t have to talk too much.

Gary’s stroke impeded his speech. I can understand him most of the time, but most people cannot. Hence, I do a lot of his business transactions. A lot of his sentences end with oh, sheete…. There are times that I am glad that he can’t talk because then he can’t say oh shit, I told you so!

Gary has settled into his own groove, and has ended up on his own two feet pretty well considering the life blows that he has taken. He likes livestock and the first thing that he does when he arrives each morning around 8:15 is to feed the chickens. He had got a real nose for finding egg nests in the strangest of places. Whatever the undertaking, Gary has a practical knowledge of how to set up work and get it done. He did a masterful job of organizing my barn’s basement, and spends many a happy hour down there, hammering, sawing and chopping things.

It is a wonderful male domain. The only point of contention is that Gary loves country western music. This doesn’t sit well with my wife. She turns it off when working with us packing produce in the basement of my barn. Detoured, Gary turns the Cow Country station right back on when she isn’t around. To be truthful, I have developed a whole new appreciation of  the socio-economic observations provided by county music artists.

Gary and I often times work on projects together in the morning. Things always go better when you have two sets of hands. Gary is a chow hound and is quite appreciative of good fresh food. He communicates thanks to the chef. Afterwards, a half hour nap on our tv room couch is in order, then it’s time for more work.

I knew Gary’s parents who were really beautiful people. His Dad had the kindest look about him and a gentle soul. Gary has much of that in him too. He comes from good stock. I trust that Gary and I have a mutually beneficial relationship. I know that I am grateful for anything that he does. He may not live on the Ridge any longer, but he is and always will be a son of the soil of Middle Ridge.

This article is part of an occasional series written by Patrick J. Slattery, patriarch of the Slattery clan. Pat was a journalist for over 30 years, writing about faith, farming, and family. For the past few years he has stepped away from the keyboard and into the fields as a full time farmer. The first articles in his series is available here:

Cute Tractor


Back on the (Organist’s) Bench

By Colleen

I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh, it will be such a nice to change to not have to play organ for mass anymore, and to be able to just sing!” upon leaving home in August.  I have been playing the organ for Sunday mass at the “Jewel on the Ridge”, St. Peter’s Parish Church since I was 14.  And while I do admit that it was the best job in the world, I was looking forward to a change.  It takes a lot of concentration to accompany a mass, and I never was able to just sink into the beautiful rhythm of the words and form of the mass, always waiting for a cue, signaling the start to the Alleluia, Sanctus, or the communion hymn.

So, it came as a big surprise even to me when I heard the words slip out of my mouth, volunteering to play organ for mass at the Dominican priory here on campus.  It was a natural reaction to the situation.  My brothers, Raphael and Patrick, had invited to me to go to mass with them that Sunday.  The mass took place in a large room, complete with a lecturn, alter, and to my surprise, an organ in the far back corner.  Windows dot the wall behind the alter, letting in little bits of the Dallas skyline, set into plain, stone walls .  In other words, it was the complete opposite of St. Peter’s.  Except for that organ.

The priest who does the mass normally is 97 years old, and  there was no music.  What could I do?  I went up to the priest after mass and volunteered with Emma, who is now doing all the cantoring with me.  The familiar pattern of Sundays in now back in place for me: get up, pick out music (typically I call Mom for this-we have the same book here as back home), practice, and walk over to mass.  Now of course I have to walk much farther than across the road, and the way is so much different, studded with small, twisted trees and sidewalks, in place of oaks and maples, and grass and gravel scraping my Sunday heels.  But at least I’ve found some equilibrium.  I’m back on the bench, and here to stay.

Climbing the Silo

By: Mary

For years now I have been eyeing up a lone silo nestled within the woodsy swell of a quiet valley, when running or driving by on  the county road that curves into the said valley. The abandoned image of the silo has enchanted me, and fed into a desire to explore the location instead of simply passing by.

 Recently, I mentioned my hope of climbing the silo to Cale. His response was  “set a date.” Last Saturday, Cale and Clare did just that. Initially, I was reserved to embark on the adventure because of a past track record of adventures with Cale that ended up being a little too much of an adventure. The two of us have had to find out the hard way that police really do show up when offroading….

Putting my apprehension (or logic) aside, I was eager to hop out of my cousins 4-runner and start making my way thru the tall browning weeds.

Clare and I took a moment to pretend that we were Southern. We blew cotton pods into the wind. Pretend is a key word! There was nothing southern about the landscape and us ridge folk adventuring about in the late afternoon sunlight.

Eventually we came to a little winding crick. Cale came up with a way for all of us to cross. He has been saying recently that he wants to get all into being  self sufficient and outdoorsy, so this was  perfect practice. My rain boots are leaky because I have worn them out this season, so I counted on his innovation to get across the water without soaked feet and legs.

After cresting a slope, we hit snarled brambles. Clare did not like this at all. My  wise advice was for her to pretend to be Sacagawea. My little sister didn’t like my wisdom at all.

Finally, we reached the silo which I have come to associate as a fortress. I crawled into the base of it. There I surveyed the plant life and empty beer cans and bottles that are embedded within its dark crevice.

Clare looked at the ladder and vetoed the climb. I was relieved because well… she is my baby sister. I am too possessive of her to think it a good idea for her to climb on an old dangerous ladder just because. But Cale is a carpenter, and spends much of his time on the top of roofs. He had no hesitations about skimming up to the top after me to reach the platform that covers the top of the silo.

From the elevated rim of the little lone silo/tower, the valley view was spectacular.

 The pre-dusk trek and climb was also spectacular. Sacagawea would have been proud.

Until next time,