Monthly Archives: November 2012

Colleen’s Musings


It is my firm belief that all the Texas sun has warped my sense of reality, for in the past few weeks, all my poems have been about snow and cold.  Which of course, does not exist here.  While I know realistically that I used to curse Winter regularly at home in Wisconsin, I now fondly reminisce about brisk days and snow piled in perfect waves across the fields, with cornstalks peeking out underneath here and there. Ah, there I go again, romanticizing the whole 5 month long affair up there.

Luckily, I got to live out a bit of that poetic strain in me on my recent trip to Lake Placid, NY with the University of Dallas Cross Country Team for the USCAA National Championships.  There was cold, there was snow, and best of all, there were mountains!

Country girl that I am, I’d never seen these magnificent things before, and I fell in love.  This is the view from the street outside our hotel.  The first time I realized that those things weren’t clouds but actual mountains, I literally gasped.   The whole little town was pure delight, filled with coffee shops, candy stores, and boutiques full of boots and winter gear.  This tiny church, nestled up above the street on a steep hill was a particular gem.

I spent time wandering the streets with my teammates, drinking coffee that I did not make myself, and of course: running! Lake Placid was smaller than I expected, considering the fact that it has hosted the Winter Olympics  twice, in 1932 and 1980.  Our race was even held on the Olympic Biathlon Range.  What the heck is the Biathlon?  Obviously it’s cross country skiing mixed with shooting targets.  Obviously.  In the end, my team ended up placing 5th out of 29 girls’ teams; not bad for a school that prides itself on horrible athletics.

Over my time in Lake Placid, I kept being stuck with such a sense of gratitude: for cold, fresh air, for mountains, for my teammates, and most surprisingly for not being in Rome right now.  As you know from a previous post, I was supposed to be in Rome this semester for the University’s Rome program.  I applied for every scholarship and grant that I could, and in the end, received nothing for my efforts.  At first, I was disappointed  and by the time that the pictures and posts of Rome and weekend trips to Paris and Prague can pouring in on facebook, I was thoroughly annoyed.  But, this semester has turned out to be so entirely wonderful.  I know that God didn’t mess up when He prevented me from going.  And as I stared up at the blue-gray peaks of the Adirondacks,  I could not have been happier with His choice.

Today, I am thankful for being right where I am, where He wants me to be.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone!

The King and Queen of Brussels

by Kate

Tis the day before Thanksgiving, and I am seated calmly upon a wooden stool at home, sipping coffee and still pondering my grocery list for the meal I am hosting tomorrow for my husband’s family.  I am amazed to find myself here- not because I am preparing a large meal tomorrow, since my role as the eldest of 9 in a farm family meant that every Sunday afternoon involved a Thanksgiving like meal- but because I spent a good portion of my life working in the produce section of the grocery store. In the grocery world, Thanksgiving is a grand crescendo of madness. It is hurried and harried and glorious. One year a wild eyed woman threatened to have the head of my boss if he did not produce the proper organic free range precisely weighted heirloom turkey she wanted. It was a wild whirlwind of a week, and I miss it…. but I am glad to be here, pondering my grocery list.

Thankfully, my family is still deeply rooted in the world of produce. Last year, I wrote this post about Mary, farm photography, and memories of my mountain farmers. This year, the autumn harvest is pouring in again and out onto the shelves of our local food coops, and it was time for another photo shoot. This time Clare took over my father’s duties as photographer and followed Mary and Dad out into the field.

Clare may not be the most natural farmer in the family (who could forget the Red Vegetable From Hell), but she does have a great eye for photos.

Although I’m a little unsure what my father is doing with that machete there. Perhaps illustrating the cutthroat world of organic farming and marketing? The close and yet sometimes sharp relationship he shares with his daughter Mary? These two are quite the pair. Lone wolves, both of them- but then so many farmers are. I love this next picture, and think it is worth a thousand words on farming, freedom, harvest, solitude, and peace.

Back when my Dad was a part time farmer and full time journalist, he carried a big photo bag everywhere he went and took pictures for the paper, and he often let one of the kids take the picture and get a published photo credit. He often advised us to get down on one knee. Mary said during this shoot he gave this advice to Clare again, and then he and Mary knelt too. I think it may be the best shot, and I’ll bet it’s the one that will end up in the ads or on a big produce section wall somewhere.

I took a look at that photo and then went back to that post I mentioned earlier, the one about my own brief and lovely career meeting farmers in the mountains and taking their pictures, and sure enough- there I was on one knee. On this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for the way that my father taught me and formed my life, for bountiful harvests and sharp and rusty blades, and all.

Off to the produce section to find some brussel sprouts of my own- Happy Thanksgiving!

By a Hairsbreadth

by Kate

Last Friday, Francisco nearly lost a toe. That morning, I was hosting playgroup for the very first time. After a flurry of slightly wild eyed dusting and mopping and stacking and scrubbing on my part, the house was swept clean and more or less orderly. There was Bach playing, coffee brewing, cream and sugar in cut glass and a freshly baked coffeecake and molasses cookies on the counter. Only one mother, Jen, had arrived. I am pretty sure she was sent straight from heaven. Jen is a nurse, and a really great one. This meant that when I pulled off Francisco’s pajamas to change his diaper and discovered a blue purple, swollen, horribly blistered toe with two strands of my hair that had been wrapped around it all night, touched it, felt the skin on the back come off in my hand leaving the back of the toe entirely raw, and gasped in utter horror, she could speak to me calmly, tell me it was going to be all right, and to call the clinic while she removed the hair. She quietly and competently removed all of the hair from the two toes affected by the hair tourniquet and described the situation on the phone to the nurse and then to my husband, who happened to call as I was heading out the door. There were three mothers there at one point, and none of us had a car. Thank God, I live a five minute walk from a world class children’s hospital.

I put the baby in the sling and headed up the hill. The playgroup moms watched Olympia. We were seen almost immediately. They called in a plastic surgeon with a jewelers loupe who said the hair was gone and they were all “cautiously optimistic” about the toe. They sent me home telling me to bathe it in soapy water and wrap it loosely in gauze and wait for the body to heal.

It is healing beautifully, thank God.

I have never been so grateful to live in this neighborhood, in this city.

Every night I pray that God will keep my family healthy, happy, holy, and whole. Holding my ten toed baby, I am so glad that He did.

Freedom isn’t Free

By Mary

Up until March I had never given much thought to Veterans Day. It’s not that I don’t think about the grotesque consequences that war creates. In the past though, I have thought about the consequential tragedy of war only in terms of death. However, one early spring evening I gained a whole new perspective of the damages war causes when visiting the Veteran’s Hospital.

After what I jokingly dubbed “a tussle with a bus” because it sounds way better than saying an attempted suicide on a busy street, a friend of mine was admitted to the closest Veterans hospital psychward.

At the time my friend was just 25. Most of the residents on his wing in the hospital were much older. Their seemingly vacant eyes scarred me, and the sight of so many tired bodies made me initially want to run out of the hospital. One Vietnam vet offered to buy me a coffee. I sat with him while he told me about his boyhood in Iowa, and how he first went to Korea and then on to Vietnam. Lastly he told me about how he returned to his hometown. As he put it ” the town had to get rid of me, or I was going to get rid of it.” He explained that he has PSTD and gets extremely angry.

After drinking the coffee, my friend, my cousin Cale and I went to a smokeshack to visit. The smokeshacks at the hospital are heavily used tent-like structures filled with stale second-hand smoke and packed with the bodies of vets congregating. I was given a cigarette by my friend but it and the environment were starting to make me sick so I placed it in an ashtray by my feet. An old vet with a walker shuffled over and picked the hand rolled top up. He moved to a corner of the shack with the cigarette in his mouth never glancing our way again. My friend told so many stories about the vets there. Those men all experienced such pain. One story that I remember in particular was the one in which he explained how his roommate had lost his hand because he had chopped it off as a preventive from being sent back to Vietnam.

On the ride home that night I had a lot of thinking to do. That cold March night I realized that war doesn’t just cause death. It creates death within the living too. In mass today I heard an excellent quote on freedom by Monsignor Hirsch.

“Freedom isn’t free, there is always a price”.

Thank you to all the Vets for paying a price for our freedom. As I discovered at the Veterans Hospital, sometimes the cost of freedom is very high. For that, we as a nation should be very, very grateful.

18 Going On 8: James, My Baby Brother

By: Mary

The other day I was attempting to get James to come with me for a haircut at a Salon in Lacrosse. ” I can’t go with you Mare, I’m a man” was his response. My response was ” No, you are not, you are my Baby Brother.” I am quite certain of this fact. However I do tend to forget that James is 18 now. What I remember more than his age is that he still can’t fry a pancake (but he has finally mastered buttering his own toast!). In a family as big as ours the birth order of each child really molds them permanently as the family grownups, middle children, and the babies. James is the 8th child and youngest boy.

To me he’s still one of the babies. Maybe that’s why I cut him slack even with his slightly marred track record of crashing my car, ruining my computer and lighting my hair on fire all in a years time. He’s not a bad kid at all. The mohawk he usually has in the summer time doesn’t really go with his persona. But it’s something that he does every year once school lets out. I must say, it’s quite becoming on him.

Recently James came home from school and informed me that he was voted best dressed for his high school senior class. This confused me because I am well accustomed to his home version of clothing that can range from trying a scarf on his head to raid a nest of bees like he did the other night, or wandering around doing field work with barefoot with an Amish hat on his head, or spending time outside in a most peculiar state such as this.

Don’t worry, the kid cleans up well. He doesn’t actually tend to wander about in capes. I think the general majority vote from his senior class would agree.

Although James is the shortest of the boys, he’s just as scrappy of a basketball player as any ot the rest of his brothers.

This is his last year of high school basketball and we are all rooting for him (even if his team doesn’t win a game all season which is highly probable).

In May he will graduate from Cashton high school. Maybe than I will start to believe that he’s not my baby brother anymore. What he will choose to do thereafter is still a mystery. Regardless of what he does and where he goes, I am positive that he will achieve great things that far surpass mastering frying his own pancakes and being the best dressed baby brother in the district.


by Kate

The Greatest Show on Earth swept into town last week on the heels of the hurricane. Pittsburgh was spared but sodden by storm Sandy. We have almost forgotten what the sun looks like after rain set in to stay, whipping down the bright leaves and leaving bare branches under dull grey skies. In the midst of a long dark afternoon last week, I was sipping coffee in an attempt to revive my spirits and buried in the newspaper when I came across a cheerful article about a man on fire being shot out of a cannon at 65 mph. The circus was coming to town!

In this weather, the frenetic brightness of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was a welcome change. Speaking of change, the newspaper article also informed me that on opening night, relatively inexpensive tickets were available. I was immediately sold. I called my husband, packed up the toddler and the baby, and headed off to the circus. I’m so glad we did.

I have always wholeheartedly loved the circus- the pageantry, acrobatics, the absolutely fantastic costuming…

The dust and the danger and steel cables and spotlights, the lions and tigers and musk and mystery of vast elephants appearing from behind the curtain. An elephant in America is always unexpected, and always awe inspiring.

I am fascinated by aerialists spinning through space in a beautiful juxtaposition of great control and wild freedom.

And I am amused and intrigued by occasional glimpses of ennui and internal dramas in the faces and interactions of the circus folk.

Thank goodness for that newspaper article, though. The electricity and energy of the circus was the perfect antidote to the long dark rainy days of autumn.

When I was younger, I yearned to join the circus. Thankfully, there are feathers and glitz and glitter on adventures like this one  right here in Pittsburgh, and even aerial silks classes available at the dance studio where I teach, as Clare wrote about here. I don’t need to join the circus right now- but I’m so glad that I could go see it and share that experience with my family.

A night at the circus is a beautiful thing.