Category Archives: Clare

First Time Driver

By: Clare

Learning to drive is a real milestone in a teenagers life, and is greeted with an incredible amount of excitement and joy when the time finally comes for you to hop behind the wheel for the first time. Although, when you live in the farming community of Cashton, chances are most every kid has already been driving the tractor, the four-wheeler, the snowmobile, or the big, rumbling Ford F150 for quite some time already. I, on the other hand, had experienced neither the joy of learning to drive (legally), or the exhilaration of driving at a young age (illegally). I was just fine with being driven around by my parents or eight other siblings at any point in time. Riding in a moving vehicle gives me time to listen to music, to think, and to quietly read in the passenger’s seat. Although, yes, I did have to admit it would be nice to have the ability to get out of the house a little more often, where the average age of residents’ is around 683 years of age.

And, so, I found myself sitting in a windowless room for the first few weeks of winter, listening to my driving instructor go on, and on, and on, and on about “the good old days”. Wahhhoo. I would say the two weeks of driving instruction passed by about as fast as a sloth runs a marathon. Or as fast as I could run a marathon.

Anyway, the time has finally come for me to begin the actual driving stage. I reluctantly went to the DMV and retrieved my permit. At least I think its mine. I mean, the name on it is right and everything, but the girl in the picture looks it little more like a brainwashed cow or something…

My very first time driving was on a road I had traveled countless times before, with who but my mother in the passenger seat beside me. My mother makes first-time driving quite interesting. I’ve watched my Mom coach five siblings through first time driving, starting with Mary. And Mary was the worst of them, which as a five-year-old in the back seat was quite entertaining. So I know by now how my Mom will react when, say, I get too close to the yellow lines, or, say, I get too close to the white lines. Most of the time I don’t purposely drive badly when I’m around her, but sometimes it can’t be helped. Mind you, I don’t do anything extremely dangerous on the road. I’m not that stupid, but when I’m the road I do tend to get a little ADD.

Of course, as a beginner driver you have to practice your driving basics with the driving instructor. I must note that our driving instructor is a very talkative person, and I also happen to be a very talkative person. Also, when I get behind the wheel I suddenly become an incompetent fool who finds it necessary to note every single thing you pass. When driving through a  town I hadn’t been in before, I began to rate each large house we passed in my head, and decide whether or not I would want to live there. My driving instructor also found this a fun thing to do, so for a while our conversation was something like this.

Me: “OH! I really like that house! Its so pretty and big!

Driving Instructor: “Ohhh, that is a nice one.”

Me: “OH! That house would be nice, but I don’t really like the color scheme. Its just too much.”

Driving Instructor: “Yeah..oh! There’s a stop sign there. There’s a stop sign there! What do you do at a stop sign, Clare?

Me: “You stop. I just forgot to, but you have a brake over on your side of the car, so I figured you could do it.”

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This might not go over well in the real world, but you know, right now I’m all “c’est la vie” when it comes to driving. At this point, I’m waaay more into thinking about Christmas than driving our old minivan. And who wants to drive around in the snow? Oh wait, there isn’t any snow around here! Ahhhh, Wisconsin, you’re failing me!

To Grandmother’s House We Go

By: Clare

I distinctly remember squeezing into the very back of a suburban along with my brother Raphael, wearing my puffy maroon winter coat and itchy, white hat whizzing down the interstate on Christmas day. By “very back of a suburban” I do not mean the last seat of a suburban, I mean the small space behind the last seat, right in between the seat and the back door. Suburbans can hold a lot of people, but they can’t quite fit all nine of the Slattery kids, plus a mother and father. I spent four hours lying on the cold floor of the that rusty car with my mopey older brother. Even though I was cold and totally uncomfortable, I was lovin’ life. I was on my way to Grandma Slattery’s, a land of clean carpeted floors, endless candy and cookies, brats & burgers, and cable TV. It was my haven, where I could eat junk food and watch Disney channel all day long without a care in the world. As the years rolled along, annual trips to Grandma’s house were a little less crowded, but just as enjoyable. It didn’t matter if it was the middle of summer, or the middle of winter, Grandma Slattery was always ready to welcome us. A lover of road trips and extreme laziness (this being my only job at Grandma’s house) I jumped at the chance to visit Grandma anytime there was an opportunity. I’m so glad I was able to spend the time with her that I did, as our grandmother passed away last week.

The trip we made exactly one week ago for the funeral to stay at her house one last time was extremely bittersweet for me. This time, several vehicles were taken, and I (being the sweet, sweet, youngest child that I am) chose to go with my parents. With Dad charging down the interstate at a  good 50 mph , I had plenty of time to contemplate. I realized that the trip alone to Grandma’s house was something I had cherished about her. So, I’d like to take you along. Virtually, of course. I’m not going to kidnap you and drag you there. As a matter of fact, I don’t even have my permit yet, thanks to my mother conveniently losing my birth certificate. But that’s another story.

Well…ONWARD HO!

We are here:

We need to travel across the land of milk and cheese to Sheboygan. This is a good four hour trip, so I would stock up on the Corn Nuts and bring along some good books. Be sure to have a small fleece blanket and a pillow. I like to stretch out in the back seat and get really paranoid and imagine the cops pulling us over and fining me for not wearing a seat belt and/or us getting into a serious accident and me dying tragically because I wasn’t wearing a seat belt. But that’s just me. You can take off your seat belt and think like a sane person if you would like.

Traveling with the Slattery  parents means if you want the radio turned on, it will be on one station and one station only- NPR, where they speak of intelligent things in very whimsical, intelligent voices. BUT, if you’re lucky and you’re traveling on the right day, you may just catch a Garrison Kiellor show! This I can enjoy. BUT, if you’re traveling on a Sunday in the fall, and you’re in Wisconsin, you’ll be stuck listening to the Packers game. At this point, I think I would have preferred actually getting into a car accident/being pulled over to having to listen to the game. I am seriously anti-football, anti-Packers, and in most cases, just plain anti-Wisconsin.

Eventually, you’ll make it out of the winding back roads and onto the Interstate. On the interstate, you’ll enjoy watching every single car behind you pass you, as Patrick Slattery obliviously drives on. Don’t look at the speedometer, whatever you do. It’s really frustrating watching someone drive a car as if it is a tractor. Sometimes I have to roll the window down and stick my face outside for a good minute or two to calm myself down.

The small town of Montello marks the halfway point.

Congratulations, you’re halfway there!

I have always loved Montello. Every single time I’ve gone to Sheboygan, we’ve never failed to stop and take a quick break at the local Kwik Trip. Kwik Trip is nothing special. Its just a gas stop- there are plenty of them scattered all over the state. Its what’s outside that certain Kwik Trip.

This little beaut’s the only waterfall I’ve seen in my life. The big hole that the gushing water’s filling up used to be a granite quarry, I believe. They made the best granite around. It was so good in fact, that granite was taken from this quarry to be made into the tomb for Ulysses S. Grant. I think I got those facts right…I haven’t ever really read the tourist sign very closely. In the summer, a few swans are released into the enclosed area, and make that their home. I used to love to throw chips at the big hissing birds, and watch their ugly black feet paddle beneath the glassy surface. I’ll miss those swans.

Continue on to Ripon-birthplace of the Republican party.

My father lived in Ripon for several years working as editor of the local newspaper as a young twenty-something. He was even voted “most eligible bachelor” of the small town.

Now on to Fond du Lac. As an easily embarrassed pre-teen, I used to dread this town. Every time we passed through, we had to stop, find a place right by the road where my dad would cajole us all into doing jumping jacks while shouting “BEAT FONDI BEAT FONDI!” This was an old tradition from his high school days, when Fond du Lac and his South Sheboygan High School had some kind of rivalry. Over the years, somehow this tradition had died down, and I, in the midst of a melancholic state, had decided we needed to bring it back one last time. So, we found a little field with a small set of bleachers, conveniently set back from the main road…

Ready?

“BEAT FONDI! BEAT FONDI!”

Hey, guess what? Fondi was our last stop! You’ve made it across the state!

I doubt any of you will be making this trip in reality any time soon, if ever, but I hope you enjoyed coming along for ours.

Sheboygan really is a neat place, and if you’re ever near it, be sure to take a look around. If there’s one thing you want to do, check out the magnificent Lake Michigan, a Slattery tourist spot favorite.

Whether summer..

..or winter..

We always take the time to stop and stare out across the big blue expanse.

Ah, Sheboygan travels, how I will miss thee..

Adventures in Pittsburgh

By: Clare

Its been two weeks, and I can’t procrastinate any longer.

Two weeks since my trip to Pittsburgh to see my biggest, baddest sister have the biggest, fattest baby ever. But I didn’t really watch her have the baby. Yuck. Aaand I’m pretty sure half of the words I used to describe Kate and the baby aren’t really legit words.

Two days after I started a new school year as a sophmore, I was already plain tuckered out and sick of high school, so it was real relief to be able to hop on a plane (for my very first time!) and head out to Pittsburgh to wait for the baby boy to arrive.

But first was the bus…

Which meant..waiting..for the bus. And arriving..at the wrong bus stop.

And waiting at the airport…

and walking. I.hate.walking.

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city, and there was so much to see and do. Due to the fact I kept forgetting to bring along my camera, I was able to really sightsee and enjoy everything.

Like getting a birds-eye view of the expansive, intricate city.

And getting the view through  a child’s eye.

Dear little Princess Olympia is like no other.

She’s makes for some great photo ops.

Yes, we went up, down, and all around Pittsburgh. Everything was an adventure.

Like the park-where you can ride ducks like they’re bucking broncos.

and fly through the air like you’re Superman!

Speaking of flying through the air, Kate got me involved her awesome dance studio’s newest class-aerial silks.

As a farm kid who grew up climbing trees, ropes, and anything else that I could fall from and break bones/scratch me up and leave scars, aerial silks was almost second nature.

Almost.

Until I woke up the following morning, and was seriously soar. Which would have been okay, had my older sister decided to lend a helping hand, literally, and give a back massage. But being two weeks overdue at the time, she wasn’t feeling too hospitable.

Yes, that baby just didn’t want to be born. Which meant my mother and I elongated our trip, and I got to miss another week of school. Which was fine by me. Until I came back and collected all my homework.

But the baby was born! Late, very late. And not on his own time. Because his own time, probably would have involved him being born walking.

Welcome, Francisco!

Red Hair & A Bucket List

By: Clare

Bucket lists. When googling this term, you’ll be led to the urban dictionary, where bucket list is described as:

1. A list of things you want to do before you die.

and

2. A really bad movie where a lot of money was wasted on unnecessary CG work that is unconvincing and you can tell the actors were in front of green screens during most of the shoot.

The first definition I know for a fact is true, the second one I can’t honestly say is totally true, because I haven’t yet watched the whole movie through, but I’m assuming is really a lot like its description.

For some inexplicable reason this picture does not make me want to run to the library and rent the movie. Not a very thrilling picture, but maaaaybe a sweet plot?

Anyway I’m sure not many people are willing to sit down and write out a list of things they would like to do before they die.  And I’m not one of those people either. If I did attempt to write a list of all the things I wanted to do, I would probably end up with about 340,009,876,452,843,749,830 things on that list, and would then be held accountable for the murder of several hundred innocent trees.

Boo. Go hug a tree.

In any case. In my mind I assembled two things I really, really wanted to do:

1. Lose five pounds. Because every teenage girl in the world wants this, and who am I to pretend I’m not one of them. The only problem is I would never be able to tell whether or not I had accomplished this, the reason being that scales are the devil. I avoid scales as studiously as I avoid doing any kind of field/farm work around our home. Except being one of the two people in my house who isn’t over the age of fifty, sometimes my plans are foiled. No matter where you are, they will find you.

2. Dye my hair red! Yesterday, my dream came true.

After debating the topic of red hair with my mother for a long, long time, Mom finally gave in. Ah, the powers of youngest child persuasion!

At the moment, my mother and I are in Pittsburgh, waiting (a bit impatiently) for another member of the family to be born. In the meantime, we’ve been busy perusing Pittsburgh, experimenting in the art of aerial silks, and eating greasy foods. More on that later.

Of course, I used henna instead of real hair dye.

After applying The Gunk, we had to wait a few hours. Once it came time to wash all of the brown icky henna, my new hair was revealed, and it was….

well, it was a bit orange.

The sunbleached streaks of my hair had turned bright orange! I had to spend about an hour continually washing my hair/moping around the house mourning my lost beauty.

Now my hair looks like this.

Which is much better. This is pretty much my dream hair color.

Because after all, what’s a girl with light skin and green eyes supposed to do with dirty blonde hair?

Just dye it red of course!

Well, that’s half of my bucket list already. Now I’m invincible.

What do you want to do before you die?

Getting There

By: Clare

Warm summer sunlight soaked into the pavement a few feet in front of my feet, while I happily sat in the shadows, trying to keep cool while I waited. I watched from the old brick train station as my fellow passengers milled about. I am an avid people watcher; it keeps me busy. There are so many people on this earth, with so many complexities, that your guaranteed almost infinite entertainment.

My mother sat next to me, calm and collected.

One grim-faced woman walks back and forth, obviously ready to be on her way. Her poor red rolling suitcase is getting a serious workout, being forcefully dragged about as the woman waits. Five feet away stands her polar opposite: a tall, slender woman making polite conversation with the three men surrounding her. She’s in no hurry, and even from ten feet away I can see the wrinkles around her eyes caused from years of smiles. And right next to me stands this ordinary man, who for some reason I find is a person who has a story behind him. Or maybe I’m just imagining. After all, I’m anxious to get on the train, too.

I’m on my way to Chicago, at the request of my eldest sister Kate. In Chicago, waits my eleven-year-old niece, Brigid. I hadn’t seen Brigid since she was about eight years old, so I was excited, and at the same time quite nervous, to see her.

I had arrived at the train station an hour earlier than my train was schedule to arrive, where, my mother and I were told that the train was going to be four hours later. ” Sorry, you’ll have to come back later!”, they said. Thanks. Four hours later, there I was. I was traveling alone on the train, and because I was fifteen ( a minor), Amtrak had several regulations and precautions they take about that. The train finally rumbled into the station, and I was personally led to a seat, plopped down right next to a girl who looked my age. Oh, goodness. Dear Lord, you know I’m not good at making conversation with people my age who I do not know at all. I should have just sat down and asked, “Hey, so what’s your name?”, in a peppy, I’m-so-excited-to-get-know-you voice. Instead, I cautiously set my bag down, and carefully unzipped the first compartment of the bag to get out my book. So. I had my historical fiction book in hand, and she had her phone. Alright. I’ll just read and you can text away. For five hours. This plan didn’t work out too well, because my book held me for about three minutes, and then I needed something else to do. So back to people-watching I went. A little girl clutching a teddy bear walked by, with teenager in black, black, black right behind her. The anxious lady from the station storms past. Hey, lady, you’re on the train now, chill out! The train passes through a tunnel, and suddenly day turns to night. While traveling for a few seconds in the dark I think of how unfair it was that I got the aisle seat and she’s got the window, and all she does is stare at her phone. Darn.

It takes me several more long minutes to muster up the courage to say something. Who knows what it was, but after a while I found that I could comfortably talk to this girl, and she wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I thought she was. I learned her name was Sammy, and she was coming home from a month in Colorado that she had spent in a tiny little town with her grandmother, and great-grandmother. Sounded miserable to me. She had been riding the train since 6 o’clock the night before, and was happy to finally have someone her age to talk to. She told me stories of her adventures in Colorado, and back home, and I soon realized that the girl I was sitting next to was a bit of a druggy, who’s idea of good clean fun was going out on the town to smoke and drink and study graffiti. I decided we would be friends none the less. After five long hours of sitting in a chair that only got less comfortable as the time went on, a train attendant came to lead me through winding mini hallways and passageways down to a room meant for the staff. There I waited and watched as the train barreled into Chicago. Two train workers who were obviously pretty high up the train worker ladder sat with me, and I listened to them talk dirt about their fellow workers.

Then finally, we were there! I was the first one off the train, and immediately picked out my tall, and extremely pregnant sister out of the crowd, waiting for me with Brigid in tow.  We walked through the magnificent Union Station,  marveling at the high ceilings and expansive rooms.

Yes, indeed, this trip was definitely worth it.

When Good Shall Triumph Evil

By: Clare

Lice is a bit of a problem. I don’t like lice. I’ve never had lice, and I most certainly do not want lice. Ever. So when I was informed quite abruptly last weekend that my dear nieces and nephew have been dealing with this problem for the last couple of weeks, I was a bit conflicted. I always look forward to spending Sunday afternoon playing with them…but who wants to tell your freshman class you’re out of school because you have…lice? Not me. Thankfully, I was informed that the kids had been treated again, and they should be done with the pesky bugs. But I was still wary. Oh, was I ever.

As I slowly made my way downstairs, I was immediately caught in a circle of possible-lice candidates. And was it just me, or were they being more friendly than usual just to make me uncomfortable? Poor little Antonia wanted desperately for me to pick her up.

All of the kids were enjoying running outside in the semi-warm weather. I say semi because it definitely was not…well, not exactly leotard-wearing weather…as demonstrated by little Adeline.

Adeline has cut her own hair into an expertly styled mullet. She is almost a professional hair stylist at this point. Ask her dolls.

Speaking of hair we had our own little hair cutting party in the front yard. Complete with barking dogs and screaming children.

But when all the madness dies down, and the fear of lice subsides, order and elegance are left. In the form of tea parties.

We’re lucky enough to grown our own lemonbalm in our garden, meaning homemade lemonbalm tea!

So away Little Claire and I went, on our way to the garden to retrieve some fresh lemonbalm. Claire was fully equipped with her vintage white and purple apron to hold the lemonbalm…

Up through the garden path she paraded with her apron full of green..

From there on the lemonbalm was given a place on our long, Amish-made dinner table to be sorted through by a pair of small, determined hands..

while I set out my great-grandmother’s dainty china.

Within 15 minutes our tea was served, along with some raisin bread, and of course, cream and sugar.

Three scoops of sugar? Yes, indeed.

Cheers to elegance overcoming…lice.

See, good always triumphs over evil, sometimes it just takes a bit..

Chinese Ping-Pong Torture

By: Clare

As the weather warms, outdoor activity becomes tolerable again, and each family member finds their own amusement in the outdoors. Mary is usually in the garden, or in her room having her daily “Heartland” marathon. Have any of you ever watched Heartland?

If “yes”, oh boy, please, Mary would delight in hearing your opinion. If “no”, please, don’t start. Because you will never stop. You’ll quickly become engrossed  in Amy and Ty’s complicated relationship (which Mary and I, serious anti-hopless romantics unlike some certain other two Slattery sisters, can not stand). You’ll laugh with Malorie, the spunky, silly neighbor, and you’ll laugh AT Lou, the dramatic, ridiculous, city sister. Oh, wow, whaddya know? I think I know someone who matches that city sister description quite well. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Anyway, you’ll hear more on Heartland later, I’m sure.

My personal  favorite outdoor activity would be violently thwacking a tennis ball against the front of the house. This is torture to all those inside the house, but I hear screams and shouts of frustration and intensity coming from the back of the house…what could this be? Only one thing. Ping-pong.

Summer is fast approaching. Meaning ping-pong mania. Crazy ping-pong mania. In which my mother mysteriously disappears from the kitchen and is found in the barn….lured there by none other than one of her very own sons.

Visitors are frequent to the Slattery farm, and believe me, the screams don’t stop for guests. I’ve never actually heard this, but I can imagine. Upon hearing the screams over and over they might ask, “Pray, tell me, what IS going on behind your house??” Dad answers. “Oh, just a ping-pong match. It’s pretty popular in our family. Almost as popular as it is in China.” Visitor: “Chinese, you say? Sounds like some kind of torture to me…we prefer Chinese water torture at our house…” Because that’s the kind of visitors who come to our house. Just innocent organic farmers..or are they?

Mom is a huge ping-pong fan, and she’s quite good at it, as is our father. They’ve successfully passed that trait onto their sons. Oh, yes they have daughters too, who together make up the Sweetridgesisters. As far as I know, none of us girls have developed much of that ping-pong talent.

Actually, I’m lying, I could be quite decent if I tried, it’s just the learning process of ping-pong that I can’t take. Unlike my brothers, I don’t have the patience to practice the spins of the paddle and the twists of the wrist. I am not a patient person, and I don’t practice until I get right. I get it right the first time, or the second, or the third, and if not I am done. Yes. I am occasinally a spoiled brat. Youngest of nine kids. At least I admit it.

But when I do occasionally trudge out to the barn behind our house for a game, I am then left to play against “the masters”, a.k.a, the people have taken the time to work on their skills and are now going to completely crush me. This is where the innocent little game becomes torture for me.

I am a sore loser. This is true. Extremely. I cannot stand to lose. And that’s the whole deep dark secret behind why I abstain from ping-pong. Because of what happens when I lose. When its 20-10 I hit the tiny, round, hollow, plastic ball harder. And then I lose control. The ball rolls away, across the floor. I chase it, but I just can’t catch it! Away it rolls and then STOMP! I smash my foot, hard, and stop the ball. Well, R.I.P. ping-pong ball, you’re squashed. This has happened several times. Torture, it is.

I can just imagine, one day they’ll have a news article on this newfangled type of torture, and they’ll interview me.  And I’ll say, ” There I was, with the barn doors shutting me in. I’m down, 20-12. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but then the ball rolled off the table and down the barn stairs. The stairs.” Hopefully I’ll get some sympathy.

And so the next time I go out to the barn, I’ll see that ping-pong ball rolling away, floating effortlessly across the floor, laughing at me. It’s saying, “Come catch me, Clare, come and get me! You can’t! You can’t catch up with me! I’m just like that mean old gingerbread boy you hated so much in the storybook when you were young. I’m mean!”

And I’ll say, “Yes, Little Ping-Pong Ball, you are.”