Monthly Archives: January 2012

Sisters in The City (NYC Edition)

by Colleen

I’ve always dreamed of going to the East Coast.  Too snobby for the Midwest in high school, I thought it was the epitome of class in comparison.  Over Christmas break, I had the privilege of traveling to that famed area of the United States to test my dreams and theories.

After a short flight, a few metro rides, and a long bus ride, I finally arrived in Princeton, New Jersey at the home of my friend, Emma, filled to the brim with children.  She’s the oldest of nine-typical Catholic family, I suppose.  We spent a few glorious days, wandering around the town and drinking copious amounts of coffee.  I completely fell in love with Princeton.  The college campus was literally a manifestation of my dreams.  The stone buildings, peaceful and studded with towers and turrets, in late afternoon sun took my breath away.

After the Princeton stay, Emma and I set off to New York City and met up with Mary.  I’m still amazed at life; the coincidence of Mary working in New York at that particular time that I visited?  Crazy.  I was SO happy to see her.  After the initial hugging and talking session, we were off!

Emma acted as tour guide because Mary and I are NOT city girls.  In fact, I had serious concerns about being able to get on a metro before I left home.   By the time we got to NYC, though, I was an old hand, and we felt very comfortable in Grand Central Station.

Of course we did a little shopping, as Mary was determined to find rainboots.  I cringe.  Rainboots are definitely not my idea of fashion, but they make Mary happy-very happy.

While she bought boots, I bought a scarf.  To each her own.  We proudly displayed our new wares.

Then we hit up the really big stores, like Saks 5th Avenue, a place that I literally had only ever read about.

Emma and I tried our best to cover our muddy boots as well went up, floor by floor, seeing dresses like the one above, and being scared to touch anything.  On our way to drop Mary off at her bus stop, we passed by another store…Anthropologie keeps trying to knock the Slattery family off, it would seem.  We’ve been using those blueish square cartons to harvest and sell raspberries for years.

I loved traipsing about the city and looking up and seeing things like this:

But, I must admit, I am not a city girl.  It was a great realization to me that I absolutely love where I’m from.  The hills and valleys which make up the landscape at home are far more beautiful to me then anything I saw in New York City.  That is not to say that I don’t see the beauty in cities-I do, but it’s just a different kind.  Cities are beautiful and awe-inspiring in that I am amazed at the skills of mankind to create them.  But there is no replacement for the beauty of the earth and its infinite multiplicity of geography.  That beauty comes straight from God.  How could a metal structure ever compete?

More adventures of the Slattery Sisters in the City here:

anthropologie, slatterie style

Sister in the City

Farmers in the City

Country Girl, Big Sisters, Big City Style

Learning from the Land Baroness

By Mary

Looking at the header on this blog, you may note that there are a more than just the Slattery sister’ gracing the top of grain bin on Kate’s glorious late June wedding day. The maid in the hot pink dress is Emily Menn. Emily was Kate’s Maid of Honor, and is the older sister of our Sister-In-Law, Aurora. Emily was educated as a lawyer but in more recent times has found herself owning 8 rental properties in Troy, New York. All of her property was constructed in Victorian times. Some apartments were once huge brownstone private family homes. One was built for use as a coach house, another was made to be filled with nuns as a convent. Each have an individual story behind them. The 54 tenants that rent from Em might refer to her as a landlady. Personally, I like to call her a land baroness.

For months I have known that I needed to take time away, and go out into the world. Time and distance away from the quiet frozen ground back home has been a much needed desire. In October or November, Emily and I started co-conspiring for me to come to Troy to vacation, or as I like to approach it, work-cation. A few months have passed since the conspiring to take the trip north on the train was presented, and I am happy to report that I have taken the opportunity to come to New York and keep up with Emily’s workaholic stride.

One of the big focuses while I am here is to completely caulk, plaster and paint a large three bedroom apartment. With the past history as my carpenter brother’s semi-useful assistant, I am really enjoying my time learning home improvement skills. There is nothing like a knife, drill, caulk gun, and a bucket full of tools to make a woman feel useful!

Most days are filled with paint splatters and caulk. Some days have a different twist though- such as on a  recent Saturday. After spending the morning craning my neck sanding down a ceiling , Em and I headed 2 blocks down the street to a rental property. Our task at the apartment there had nothing to do with home improvement skills. Nope. The job there was to attempt to bag and discard of whatever we could. The former occupants had moved out of the house in a hurry. This could have had something to do with a team of US Marshal’s breaking down the door to look for the husband who was on the run due to involvement in illegal sales of certain substances. The past occupants of the apartment left behind 2 floors of things. The most humorous finds of the cleanup effort were very different from each other. The first find was a tiny scale that we could say was,uh, a marketing scale. The other find was the collapsed remnants of a baby grand piano in a dark scary corner. Ah, the exciting life of a Property Baroness!

When Emily I are not working , sleeping , watching wretched reality tv, or eating (we haven’t wasted the time to turn on burners, so coffee, cereal, ice cream, and microwaved marshmallows are our main substance), we have been known to change our clothes and self renovate.

Dressing up and going out for the evening are a rare occasion. More likely than not, my days have been filled with the goodness of busy pleasing labor, and little outside conversation with the exception of the guys on Emily’s payroll who tend to the electrical and craftsman tasks.

Recently, Em and I have gone thru a phase of watching reality tv on netflix at night. It’s fun to do while Emily keeps herself busy making a chandelier, and I have thrown myself into a fixation of making copious amounts of jewelry thanks to a bead gallery down the street feeding into my jewelry addiction. The two of us have watched so many episodes of Say Yes To The Dress, that I never want to see a white dress again. Our newest reality tv show marathon has been keeping up with the clicky tattoo artists on LA Ink. I giggle as I watch the trendy culture displayed and copy the “rad” way the washed out Cali stars talk. My joke is that I am going to go home speaking like the stars of the show from the East Coast.

That’s hardly likely. For no matter where I am- at heart I’m a mid-western girl. Whether climbing up Sioux grain bins, or on top of a ladder, or standing on 3 inch heels, my roots are within the Wisconsin earth, and so are Em’s. It’s a special gift to share this time and laughter with a kindred sister from the Badger state.

When Bach and I Bake

By: Clare

Unlike all the rest of my sisters, who are all wonderful and imaginative bakers and cooks, I myself am quite helpless when it comes to concocting a dish in the kitchen. This is probably one of the effects of being the youngest kid and therefore always having an older sister to do the work instead of you. Which I didn’t have a problem with. I’ve got the basics down-cake, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, grilled cheese…toast…Ramen noodles….

And it just so happens that last Saturday my mother had me make some oatmeal bars as a dessert. The house was empty when I got to work the recipe. It was just me, Peter, and Grandma left at home which was quite peaceful. I wasn’t really too excited to start baking, so I got out my iPod to motivate me. I find that blasting music that only you can hear makes every situation a little more fun. Especially when your parents are calling you to come set the table and you can’t hear them at all. But I didn’t choose any rock or pop song to listen to. Surprising even myself, I decided I was in quite the mood for some classical piano. There  were only two Bach songs on the iPod, so I actually ended up listening to the same two songs for about half an hour.

Donning my apron I got to work.

It ended up taking a bit of time to make the bars because I was dancing around the kitchen pretending I was a ballerina. Also because I was doubling the recipe.

When I bake I do it in the most inconvenient ways possible. I don’t have any smart tactics that make baking so much easier and faster of a job. The fact that we’re usually missing one or two things in the recipe doesn’t help either. Or they’re just misplaced. I once found some maple syrup in the refrigerator. And James’ electric toothbrush was put in the baking utensil’s drawer for about a week by our grandmother. I never read the instructions on how to do the recipe correctly, either. Do you really need those? I’ve never taken the time to check and see if those are helpful or not. And I do not like measuring ingredients…

And do most people really stir the ingredients every time after they add an ingredient? Cause I don’t. I always, always, always forget to until all the ingredients are in and then it takes forever to mix it all up. I usually just try in vain for approximately thirty seconds, then run to Mom and have her mix it up. But  couldn’t do that this time, because she was gone. This time when I mixed it all I lost my patience, as I so often do when baking, and just stopped mixing after a while. There were quite a few lumps of non-mixed ingredients in the batch.

I shoved the whole doubled recipe into a pan, and quickly threw it into the oven. Done.

Then I promptly forgot about it, until a while later when I realized with horror I was in charge of taking the dang thing out of the oven too. Thankfully, it wasn’t burnt. But it did end up to be the hardest, most unappetizing bars I have ever eaten.

This baking catastrophe again came to mind this morning, as I was again forced to bake. Mom wanted some chocolate chip cookies for the Sunday dinner dessert. The recipe I was going to follow on the back of the chocolate chip bag was cut off, so I couldn’t see what we needed. But, alas, Mom found another cookie recipe for me to follow, one that I had never used before. I tried to finish the baking job as fast as possible, with little care of how it tasted or looked. It didn’t look so good. It was dry and crumbly and, not surprisingly, all the ingredients were poorly mixed together. But I didn’t care. I was sick and tired of baking.

There are so many mysteries to baking. Can’t we all just eat ice cream instead? So much less preparation time.

I think it’ll be a while before Mom asks me to bake again.

The Valiant Ben

by Mary

Blogging has become a long lost art in the more recent time of my life. The valid excuse that I have to offer, though, is that my laptop came to a viral demise the same week that I considered going into the emergency room due to my own viral ailments.

After I was finally well enough to care about the computer, I did what I do typically when faced with a problem that I am non interested in dealing with. I went and whined to my brother Patrick. (You may remember Patrick from his Sweet Ridge Sisters Parody.)

“What am I going to do with this thing, Pat?” I asked. His response was “Duh- Ben.” Relief came from his problem solving answer.

Ben is a friend of my brother Robert’s, and has become a valiant friend to the entire family.

As a matter of fact, he actually lived in my parent’s house the summer following his graduation from college. Though his degree is in philosophy and his employment is in the IT field, he learned some down home country and Slattery survival skills from us while in Wisconsin.

Ben also discovered how much fun it is to roar around a twisted ridge road in his loud Bronco with a gaggle of Slattery brothers and one Slattery sister (me) along for the ride on late summer nights. Another discovery Ben hit upon was the reward of plunking a few coins into the Jukebox at Leo and Leona’s for the return satisfaction of having the bar come alive to the vintage melodies of none other than Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. In the past I’ve implored Ben’s help with numerous car problems and various other issues. He’s even helped me plant broccoli. When I called him about the laptop, he told me to ship it to him in Washington, and he’d take care of it. Sure enough, he has. Hence, I’m writing this post in gratification to Ben today. My grand bill for the repairs? A few drinks at Leo and Leona’s when he makes his next annual summer visit. Oh and some baking that includes banana bread and cookies. Talk about a sweet deal! I can do that, and heck- I’ll throw a few coins in the jukebox to play some Nelson and Jennings. Thank you Ben, for helping me out.

Also, readers, I’m back again from abandoning the blog. I’ve enjoyed my sabbatical from the computer, got in a lot of good reading, and am looking forward to using my new and improved laptop to bring a little bit of my world into your world again.

The View From Above

by Colleen

It’s hard to believe that I’ll already be leaving home next Tuesday.  It seems like I’ve barely touched the frozen ground, and now I’ll be off to the sunny state of Texas before I know it.  But first, I’ll be taking a detour to New Jersey to visit Emma at Princeton and spend some time in New York City.  I’m sure there will be much to report on when I return to Dallas about that.

In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying being home.  Catching up with family and friends…

Holding my beautiful God-daughter…

And watching my little brother play basketball…

Those three things pretty much summed up my winter existence in the years past.  Plus running of course.  It’s been lovely to run the familiar roads of home again, despite the colder weather.  But now, I feel that I am running them with a different attitude.

As I went out for a typical run at home the other week, I looked up at the hills surrounding me.  We live on a ridge, and so everywhere I run I must descend into the valleys and brave the hills to get back home again.  But never once had I thought about those hills; never once had I thought to climb them.  It doesn’t sound like a very important fact, but the obviousness of the thought struck me.  I’ve been living in this place for 18 years and never even tried to scale those hills, to reach the breath-taking top.

And so, I stopped, stepped off the cold concrete of the road, and began to climb.  Slowly at first, picking my way cautiously through the brush and brambles, but then picking up speed.  Suddenly it was imperative that I reach the top, that I see what was there where the gray sky met the pale brown winter ridgeline.  And when I reached the top, I looked down.  The road I had run for so many years looked tiny, and I imagined a tiny Colleen running there, oblivious to the beauty of the view from above.

Being home is wonderful.

Singing and Stones

by Kate

I have been singing a strange tune. Twice a month I play the harp in a large sunlit room in the locked down Memory Care Unit for Alzheimer and Dementia patients up the street from my home. They are a kind and appreciative audience, especially when my toddler daughter twirls and spins to the music, claps, and opens her mouth to sing joyfully along. I haven’t been feeling joyful this month. The toddler has been sick and clinging close for weeks on end, kicking me wildly during long and restless nights. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, the elderly neighbor for whom I am caretaker and de facto nurse fell ill with pneumonia just before Christmas, and has just returned from an extended stint in the hospital and in Rehab. My responsibility to the young and the old has left me feeling unusually drained and weary, and as though I have little left to give.

So I am singing a lullaby. I’ve been learning lots of lullabies on the harp lately, as the toddler and the elderly audience are equally appreciative of them. When my daughter was born my mother gave me a beautiful illustrated book of lullabies from all over the world, and I’ve slowly been discovering new and beautiful songs. The one I stumbled across yesterday and have been singing ever since is from Scotland. It’s a strange little song, with a raw honesty to the lyrics and a bit of a bleat of despair in the melody that struck a chord in me. Here are the lyrics:

O Can Ye Sew Curtains

O Can Ye Sew Cushions? And can ye sew sheets?
And can ye sing ballooloo when the bairn greets?
And hee and haw birdie, and hee and haw lamb;
And hee and haw, birdie, my bonnie wee lamb!

Hey-o, way-o, what will I do wi’ ye?
Black’s the life that I lead wi’ ye;
Many o’ ye, Little for to gie ye.
Hey-o, way-o, what will I do wi’ you?

Now hush a baw lammie, and hush a baw dear,
Now hush a baw lammie, thy minnie is here.
The wild wind is ravin’, thy minnie’s heart sair,
The wild wind is ravin’, but ye dinna care.

Somehow, singing this song is a great relief. It seems to lessen the weight of the toddler who is even now clinging to my neck. All of this has made me think about my father and the stone. Unlike many men his age, my father is not retired and living a peaceful life with the prospect of grandchildren to brighten his days. Instead, he is a full time farmer tilling the soil and toiling to turn organic produce into profits. With two children still in high school, a rotating cast of  twentysomethings camping out in the attic, and two elderly people living in the back rooms the big white farmhouse is still bursting at the seams. Still, I know that my father is grateful for his life- for his good work, his land, his home, perhaps especially his wife. I asked him over Christmas if he was grateful for his children as well. He hesitated. and said “My children are a stone upon my chest.”

I know that my father loves us, but he has a lot in common with the Scottish mother sewing curtains long ago. Raising nine children has always been hard,  and doing so on one income is a Herculean feat in this day and age. The prospect of launching nine lives successfully into the world is a daunting one. As my father would tell you, his battle is not finished by any means. He is still carrying that weight. And so, the day before Christmas, I headed down to the barn and pulled up a heavy slab of sandstone. I took it into the house and inscribed a message on the front, and then turned it over and had all of my siblings sign the back. We wrapped it, left it under the tree, and dragged it out to present to my father on Christmas morning.

My father loves that stone. Mom says he lays on the couch now and then with it balanced across his broad chest, just to feel the weight. He says it feels right. I believe that it feels like singing that Scottish lullaby. There is a powerful release in singing out the darkness- and in doing so, there is room for new hope.