Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cleanse Cravings

By Mary

After having just completed a 5 day Holy Week cleanse in which I abstained from food, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the importance of food and the gift of energy that comes with eating. Swallowing supplements every hour and a half did a great job of cleansing my body’s intestinal system and suppressing my appetite, but all the while, I knew exactly what I wanted.

Here at Sweet Ridge Farm, Dad grows about 12,000 crowns of this wonderful plant which is in my opinion is both delicious and a fantastic crop, as it grows for an average of 50 years. From April or May to the third week of June, harvesting the tender stalks is as much a part of of the morning as the suns rising is.

I love harvesting asparagus because it’s such a serene experience. At a quarter to 6 or so, the world is still so peaceful and seemingly immaculate. Being in the field (generally in my pajama pants) with dew beneath my rain boots and and in an environment of complete gentle, silence minus the serenade of birds singing, is a pretty fantastic way to start ones day. You could say that harvesting asparagus is my form of farmer yoga! Snapping the succulent stalks requires a lot of bending and stretching. This harvest is not particularly heavy nor dirty nor hard work. It’s just the right kind of work that’s perfect to be done at 6 in the morning as the sun rises further into the sky and the birds become more vocal.

The land on which most of the asparagus is grown has more of a familiarity to me than from the acquaintance of harvests. Memories of digging the trenches to plant the crowns, and later racing a mare of mine in between the rows without a saddle or bridle, truly united me to the beauty and bounty of the field.

After the asparagus had been brought into the house, it is culled, cut and weighed to be sold to Organic Valley and the Viroqua Food Coop. Not all of it goes from being processed on my parent’s gigantic Amish-made table to being sold.

A large frying pan here at the Slattery house gets daily use during asparagus season as it’s used to fry up daily portions of the harvest. Fried with bacon grease, and often times with a bowl of rice and sour cream, I am known to eat asparagus so regularly that at times I’ll have a bowl for breakfast.

Speaking of eating- I am hungry! Perhaps it is time to locate the frying pan, and fill it with a bit of bacon grease, and tender asparagus…..


Want to read more agricultural related posts? Check out:

Thunderstorm Morning

An I Love Post

Working in Season

Exuberant Daughter

by Kate

The peach blossoms have fallen, the tulips are blooming, and today my daughter turns two years old.

Long limbed, curly haired, and exuberant, this child runs so fast that her feet barely skim the ground.

I have to run to keep up with this child- because she is so fast, because the world delights her so much and she is chasing it with open arms.

We catch her and hold her safe between her wild leaps of faith…

And give her a place to rest.

This year has been full of good things. Lots of books…

And music,

And dancing.

Lots of mischief…

And lots of beauty.

You are blooming, Olympia Julianna. Happy second birthday to you!

And now I’m off to make the chocolate cake I wrote one year ago. You can find the recipe and the story of Olympia’s very first birthday here:

Kate’s Chocolate Cake

Letters To Thailand

By Mary

11 years ago my friendship with Ericka began in a most fitting manor for both of us fun loving, free spirited girls. Ericka then 14, and myself one year older, met at the fair and proceeded  to seek out the most adventurous rides that could procure shrieking screams, sick stomachs, and the melody of teenage laughter.

Since becoming friends with Ericka, years have passed by, but a stable friendship has remained. Both of us live by the flow of a low maintenance friendship. Like me, Ericka can be pretty hard to track down at times. However when visits do happen, adventure does too. The two of us friends are usually up for anything which has led to trips to Canada and DC, crashing weddings, rock climbing, hysterical square dances, and a memorable Thanksgiving trip up north which did involve a hot tub, Wisconsin weather (snow) and stocking caps with frozen hair underneath as we sat both freezing and boiling to death with the same youthful attitude that we possessed so many years ago at the fair.

Though Ericka has traveled extensively, and did spend a summer volunteering at an orphanage in Peru, her longstanding dreams of dedicating herself as a Catholic missionary took some time to get to.  However, last March, after much planning and preparation the time had come for Ericka to live out her dream. While searching for the right organization, Ericka discovered her the ideal fit: Heart’s Home.  Hearts Home is an international Catholic non-profit organization that has a global network of volunteers who assist and form deep per­sonal bonds with troubled, dis­ad­van­taged and socially iso­lated indi­vid­uals in some of the world’s most desperate areas. Heart’s Home is active on five con­ti­nents, with 41 centers in 21 countries.

Before making the final commitment with this organization, Ericka traveled to Heart’s Home retreat center and headquarters which is located near the Bronx, in New York. After her time with active members of the community and daily interactions with those in the Bronx, Ericka felt confident the she was with the right nonprofit.  Because Ericka is skilled at learning languages, she was asked to go to Thailand. In Bangkok, Ericka has worked towards learning to speak Thai.  Her living conditions are difficult as she lives in a slum, but she has found great joy in meeting and caring for the local woman and children that she encounters on a daily basis.

Before Erika left for her 15 month stint, I promised I would write her, not email, but authentic snail mail that takes a long time to receive and is filled with the ups and downs of life, misspelled words and blotted out lines. Sarcasm, melodramatic narratives, embarrassment, and humor jotted on a most random assortment of paper have migrated to Bangkok via airmail.

The monthly exchange of my letters will soon be over, as Ericka will be back in June. Though June is a few months away, I already am looking forward to a non- paper communicated visit with my friend followed by a weekend trip with her and her boyfriend, Ryan to Devil’s Lake for a day or two of rock climbing. Devil’s Lake may lack the foreign wonder that surrounds Ericka right now.

I know that when my friend went on the climb pictured below, she was able to see monkeys and had all sorts of unusual encounters. However, the wonder of traveling cannot beat how wonderful it is to have friendship on nearby terrain. Hoorah for for June, and the melody of laughter.

A Dream and a Plea

By Colleen

The world is vast.  Even I could tell that as a young child, staring out into the valley behind my home.  I would wonder at the facts that I had been told: that the world is so much larger and more varied and fantastic than that tiny green valley, that there are millions of people out there, with different faces and languages.  This inspired in me a great desire to travel, experience the world, and see if what I had been told really was true.  That desire has stayed with me, and now I have the opportunity to actually live out my dream through the University of Dallas’ Rome Program.

Why Rome, one might ask?  While Italy may not seem to be an English major’s first choice of place to study abroad, I know that it truly is important for my education. I want to challenge myself. I also really desire to gain a larger world perspective.  Having never left the country, I feel very close-minded and ignorant of other countries and cultures-I want that to change.  I have so many questions to ask the world!  How do other cultures view Americans?  And how do I view them, or rather, how should I view them?  There is so much to be learned from other cultures and the vast, vast number of people on this earth; how can I begin to understand them?  Well, I’m planning on starting by going to Italy. The University of Dallas is a liberal arts school, and the texts read here are completely steeped in the Western tradition. During the Rome semester, I will be able to visit the places in which many of these authors lived and wrote about.  To not only be able to read and comprehend these texts, but to be able to actually be physically present in the environment in which they were conceived will be amazing.  In Rome, I will be studying the ancient Greek comedies and tragedies, reading Antigone and Oedipus Rex in the theater in Epidauros where they were performed, reciting the lines of the Orestae on the site of Agamememnon’s palace in Mycenae.

The University of Dallas’ Rome Program is a full semester long, focused on learning the truths of the tradition of the Western world.  Daily, I will be immersed in Italian history and culture, as I study the great works of art and literature surrounding me.  I will be able to read about Michelangelo and then go out and see exactly what I just learned about.  Also, as a Catholic university, it is essential that the program is located in Rome, the epicenter of the Catholic world.  This nearness to the church is another, personal, reason that I have chosen the Rome Program.  As a strong Roman Catholic, it will be life changing to be so close to the center of the Church.  My personal faith life is sure to deepen, and I know that I will grow as a person.  Being surrounded by the awesome beauty and the sanctity of the basilicas and shrines that populate Rome cannot go without a personal effect.  In Rome I will be given a clear picture of the Catholic Church in its very essence, and I will be able to truly embrace my faith.

Italy is very far away from my home on a small organic vegetable farm in western Wisconsin.  The step to leave the area and go to a school a thousand miles away in Texas was large enough and almost impossible.  I am the seventh of nine children, and money has never been abundant in our home.  My father is a small-scale organic farmer and does his best with our small acreage.  My mother works as a substitute teacher at the local schools. Their combined income does not do much against the rising costs of living, and just recently my grandmother moved in with us.  It’s a happy life, but one can never be sure if the phone bill will be paid on time.  Luckily, I have been instilled with a strong work ethic, and I worked hard throughout high school.  I graduated from my small public school as the salutatorian of my class, and I scored well on my ACT exam.  These two factors are the only reasons that I am able to attend the University of Dallas.  I could never afford to go here otherwise.  The Pell Grant that I receive from the government is a huge help as well, but with the added costs of the Rome Program, there is no way I can cover all the expenses next semester.  My parents are not able to help me pay for college at all, and I have been working all throughout this year in addition to school to pay my own tuition.  Even if I work a job all summer, it will be well nigh impossible for me to get to Rome without help.

And so, I end this with a plea.  Please help me get to Rome.  I will not only be fulfilling a little girl’s dream, I will be furthering my education and the formation of myself.  I will be more equipped to handle to world with a global view, not stuck in the small bubble of localism.  I want to know the world and understand what lies beyond that small green valley- and to share what I learn with the readers of this blog.

If you are able to help in any way, please contact me at

Thank you so much, Colleen

Windmill and Dreamers

by Kate

This is my friend Sia.

Sia is a potter and a painter and a mother of four. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where the rocks drip with moss and the rocky land looks entirely enchanted, but her family is settled here, high on a green hill on a historic ridge deep in the Ohio hills. When you head way out, up, and over Hanover Ridge and toward her family’s homestead, the first sign you’ve reached it is a windmill high on the hill. At this time of year, it’s framed by an orchard full of apple blossoms.

Sia’s family hasn’t always lived on this high Ohio Ridge. They have deeply urban East and West Coast roots. They settled on this ridge as part of the homeschooling, homesteading, back to the lander movement. In fact, they are Catholic artist back to the landers. This is a infinitesimally small segment of the general population, but a familiar one for me as I grew up immersed in this culture as well.

Sia’s parents are artists and intellectuals, and their love of beauty is evident in the lines and light streaming through their home, built by her father and younger brother. After reading my recent post on the farmhouse chic of Anthropologie, Sia was eager to show me the real life beauty of the home her family has created. I brought my camera, so I could bring all of you along as well.

Inside the green screen door, there were many familiar elements of back to the land living, reminding me of home. In the kitchen is a beautiful wood cookstove, with the most artistic compost bucket I have ever seen perched atop it:

And a big wooden table with long benches.

Notice the bouquet of apple blossoms- simple, and beautiful.

I loved this kitchen and dining area, where the light pours in…

and there is beauty from every angle.

I especially appreciated this coat rack, which has an enviable simplicity and order to it. Remind me to tell you of my mutant rebel collapsing coat rack some time.

Sia made French press coffee….

and served it in a mug that she made, years ago.

Then, coffee in hand, we continued with our tour.

If you are a back to the lander, having a carpenter father for a home-builder is a definite plus. Check out this enviable wall of built in bookshelves.

The house is full of appealing angles.

And ingenious storage solutions.

Speaking of storage, Sia is particularly impressed with her mothers drying rack and laundry table.

There are icons and flowers tucked into corners…

Icons, homemade pottery, and apple blossoms.

And on one wall this picture, of Sia’s grandmother. Look at those eyes! It is clear where some of the great creativity and passion in this family comes from.

This is a beautiful house for dreams.

Speaking of dreams, across from the main house is a partially finished structure with a fully completed music studio, complete with a grand piano.

As we visited, the strains of Bach’s cello concerto drifted across the ridge. Sia’s siblings play the piano, violin, harp, and cello. I am in awe of Sia’s mother, who homeschooled five children and drove many of them an hour and a half into the city of Pittsburgh so that they could study and perform this music.

I am in awe, but I can’t imagine making that drive on a regular basis- which brings me to the topic of my own dreams and quandries. There is a great part of my soul that longs to be settled in an owner built home high atop a green hill. However, a greater part of me realizes that my husband is neither a carpenter nor a farmer, but instead a teacher who loves to live in the city. And living in the city is what is allowing me to spend my time learning and working as a harpist, dancer, and artist.

I visited Sia at Hanover Ridge along with my good friend Rebecca and her three children.

All three of us grew up with Catholic back to the lander parents. In fact, all of our parents read, wrote for, and worked to bring to life the words in the short lived but deeply influential magazine Caelum Et Terra. You can find out more about the history of the magazine if you follow the previous link to the website about it, or you can check out the current blog here.

These days, Sia is one of the editors of a print journal entitled Soul Gardening. Rebecca just published her first novel, and I am writing for the blog you are reading right now. At the moment, all of us live in town- although Rebecca commutes out to her organic farm on her parent’s property. We are all working on finding balance as women and wives and mothers and dreamers. And although we may not be living on a high ridge, we are all still tilting at windmills.

For more photos of my day at Hanover Ridge, view the facebook album here. Enjoy!