Category Archives: Colleen

To the Ocean

By Colleen

When did I first see the ocean? Well, to be honest, I feel a bit foolish, because I was 21 years old before I finally actually saw it. Before you make your exclamations, let me tell you that I’ve heard them all: “What?! No way! How in the world have you not seen the OCEAN?” Yeah, they’re all the same. But give me a break; I’m an Irish farm girl, and I grew up in very landlocked country in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We had a river (thirty miles away) and we had plenty of ice-cold creeks to splash around in, snapping turtles and leeches and all. But, far away, way across the state, we had a lake, a GREAT lake.

When I was little, the trip across the state to visit my grandmother who lived exotically close to that lake seemed an eternity. The packing of the car itself was an ordeal. Do you realize how hard it is to pack seven to nine children (depending on age and willingness to make the trip) into one car? And we didn’t make it a “light” trip. My two younger siblings, James and Clare,, and I had an ongoing contest of who could pack the heaviest bag for the (at the longest) weekend trip.

We would hold our breath as we each placed our bags on the scale, normally used to weigh squash and asparagus. “Ha! Mine’s twenty pounds!” James would exclaim, Clare and I would clamber over each other to check the verity of his proud statement. “No way!”we’d groan in dismay. James was the victor most often, but that’s only because he packed the most books. We should have just done away the books to even the playing field. There’s no way he could have won if we’d only weighed our clothing. I swear that boy wore the same, striped red t-shirt and tan, cargo shorts for the first ten years of his life, along with the same bowl cut for his sandy, stick-straight blond hair.

After the bags and children were packed, we finally settled down to read all of those books that we packed. The average number of books finished on our way to Grandma’s was 2.3, but if you were a big kid, it was more like 3.2. When we did eventually get to our destination, hands sticky with laffy-taffy and corn nuts, successfully begged from our parents at gas stations along the way, the first order of business (after the dreaded hug from Grandma and awkward hellos, directed more at our shoes than at Grandma) was to go down to the lake.

“Mom! Dad! Can we go to the lake? Can we take a walk ALL the way out to the lighthouse? Please, please, please!” We would dance around mom and dad’s feet in anticipation of an adventure. More often than not, an older sibling would take us down the four blocks or so to the lakefront. Mom and Dad would stay back home with Grandma in her quiet and intimidatingly clean house.

We always wondered how Dad with his knack for making messes came from such an ordered home. How did the man who regularly hacked and slashed away at mysterious cuts of beef and pork on our dining room table (so much so that I was determined to never sit at the first right hand spot from the head of the table ever again), blood dripping down to the floor in rivulets and flecks of fats and gristle flying every which way, grow up on white carpets and sit down to eat in that spotless kitchen? The spaces in between the pink and white linoleum on her floor never even had any dirt in them. I know because I’d seen marveled at it as I bent to hastily pick up piece of chocolate chip cookie, stolen from her cookie jar one time. And nothing ever changed at Grandma’s. It was a rule.

Anyhow, we would sprint down the street and finally, finally see the “ocean”, Lake Michigan, right there before our astonished eyes. The path down to the beach in front of the azure mass of clear, fresh water was perilous, and up until you were about twelve, you’d need an older sibling’s hand to cling to if you wanted to avoid tumbling down the sharp embankment, through the briars and burrs, and onto the cold, white sands before the foaming water.

But once you were down there, down on the beach, it was pure magic. I always thought I was looking at the ocean. I couldn’t imagine anything as beautiful and grand not being what all those writers talk about in books. It was enormous! And I was so small! When I got old enough to realize the reality of the “smallness” of Lake Michigan, I persisted in calling it the ocean. It was. It was my ocean. The water hit the sky at the horizon, perfectly flat and still, and stretched out and out and out. It was my ocean. The waves were always cold.

The blue-green water prickled my skin into a thousand goosebumps, and made me and James and Clare scream when we jumped in. Slipping underneath the waves and into a shock of cold, my hands numb, my hair flowing about my face, I was in my ocean. And then I would resurface with a scream of success.

And so, if you ask when I first saw the ocean, the answer is that, technically, I first saw it after a nineteen hour road trip in college, off the coast of the Atlantic, in Charleston, South Carolina. Really, it was too dark to see much when we finally arrived at the waterfront around two A.M; the air smelled different, though; there was something wilder in it, something raw. The water was quiet that night, and it shone blue-black under a waning moon, all the way out past human sight. I whooped and hollered, and truly, I loved the air, the night sky, the ocean. But some part of my heart asked, “Haven’t I been here before?” It wasn’t my ocean.

 

Happy Campers

By: Colleen

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I am not what you would call a happy camper.  (And in fact, I take issue with that phrase.  When is it ever even used positively?  Nowhere, that’s where.  No one says, “Boy, she’s such a happy camper!”)  But, despite that, last week I just couldn’t take the city anymore, and I grabbed some friends and took to the hills, errr rolling plains, ummm, okay, well there was a lake.  C’mon, it’s Texas! We did the best we could.

It’s been a long and hot “fall” here in Texas.  Each year around September I realize that I have been secretly expecting the weather to be like it is at home, to wake up to crisp, cool mornings, and that my 6 am cross country practice will not be sticky and grossly warm.  But, it always is.  Texas is in the South, and Texas is hot, at least up until mid-to-late October.  And so, when the weather did finally clear and cool within the last two weeks here, my Northern, countrygirl nostalgia kicked in, full force.  And I just wanted to be outside.

Last week, we had a day off of school for “Fall Reading Day”, and so I proposed a camping trip to anywhere reasonably pretty and wild and full of nature.  Luckily, I have a very competent boyfriend, Joe, who did all the sensible things like look up campsites for the guys and the girls and arrange car rides, and look too good after a night of very little sleep and a lot of dirt (alright, that is not really that sensible, but hey, he pulled it off).

Joe

And so, on Thursday afternoon, the first in the caravan of cars to come set off to Cedar Hill State Park, just 30 minutes away from the UD campus.

We arrived just in time to see the sunset.

sunset two sunset clare

Expert camper and former Boy Scout, Hermes, built the fire with a little help from my good friend, Clare.

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And of course, we then realized that our tent did not have any poles to hold it up.  Although Mary and I have a one for one record of putting up tents successfully (see this post for details), I did not quite have the skills to magically pull poles out of thin air.  And so it was tarps and blankets and a night under the stars for all.

Later on, my friend Anthony arrived with his bagpipes, and as he played, we all danced around the fire, leaping over it and clapping to the inexorable sound of pipes.  There is something so compelling about bagpipes; one cannot help but to want to dance.  Life needs to be more of firelight and music and laughter and stars.

We all woke up early the next day to a gray dawn.  Anthony, who had slept on the roof of the little metal shelter at the campsite, pondered the dawn.

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And as we headed back to campus, there was the lingering smell of woodsmoke and the musty-clean scent of earth.  And for once, I truly was a happy camper.

The Magnificent Mile

By: Colleen

You readers may not know this, but I just returned to the farm again from a 7 week stay in Chicago, mentoring and teaching inner city girl in 7th and 8th grade.  It was a wonderful experience, being able to get teaching experience and to touch the lives of some very wonderful girls.  I would just like to put in a plug for 7th and 8th graders in general. They are FUN! I never thought I would say that, but it is so true.  After they get over being “too cool” and just start to be themselves, they are so sweet and hilarious.

One of the most interesting parts of being in Chicago was experiencing city life.  At one point, I had considered living in the city of Chicago, finding a teaching job, getting an apartment, and living happily ever after, just five hours from home.  Hah, about that…it would work if I didn’t hate the city, which, after my recent stay there, I have realized is how I feel about it.  I felt smothered by the concrete from day one, as I stayed just four blocks from Union Station, very close to downtown.  On the third day, I went to a park down the street and realized that I had not sat on grass for three days.  The farm girl in me was starving for beauty, beauty that I could not find in the spires of the Sears Tower.

Lake Michigan was my saving grace, and as often as I could stomach wading through the crowds and past the homeless people all along the way, I would run the mile and a half down to the lake and run out my frustrations on the lakefront.  The bobbing boats and ever-changing, blue-green water meeting the horizon would calm me down, and prepare me for another day in the concrete jungle.

One of my very favorite memories from my stay in Chicago was when I got a visit from my very dear friend, Katie Hand.  Katie and I run track and cross country together at the University of Dallas, and she hopped on a bus to ride overnight to Chicago to cheer up my last days in the city.  She came to work with me for a day, and we got the question all day from the girls: “Are you two sisters?”

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We might as well be.  This girl and I have been on enough runs together to bond us for a lifetime.  And this is where the story of our Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago starts.

Katie is not the greatest at organization.  There have been many times where I have come to her room to get her to come to track practice to find her asleep or just plain missing.  And so when it came time for her to catch her bus out of Chicago, things got interesting.  She was supposed to leave at 11:30 pm from Union Station.  And somehow she, our friend Monica, and I were a good mile away from there by 11:10 pm.  We were on the train, one stop away from where we wanted to get off, and of course, it was having technical difficulties.  We all looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped of the train.  What else was there to do but run through downtown Chicago at 11 at night for a mile?  Two of us were in dresses, and I was sporting low-heeled sandals and carrying my purse and Katie’s backpack on my back.  I strapped it down tightly on my shoulders and just ran.

There was a moment where the hilarity of our situation hit us as we ran through intersections, ignoring the stoplights and stares of the few people out on the streets with us.  Panting and laughing, we arrived at Union Station with 8 minutes to spare.  Adventures are sure to happen when Katie Hand is around.  Monica and I managed to walk the 4 blocks back to our place of residence without being bothered by the local homeless with a story to tell upon our smiling lips.

Chicago, I may not like you at all, but thank you for the Magnificent Mile.

My Fresh Farmhand Friend

By: Colleen

There’s a new member of the motley crew that sleeps under the roof of the Slattery homestead in Middle Ridge, Wisconsin.  My good friend and compatriot, Killian Beeler, recently drove up from hot and dusty Texas to dig in the muddy Wisconsin fields (and believe me, with all of the recent rain, mud is all we have!) with me for the month of June.  I sat down with him after day one on the farm to get his initial impressions of life on the farm.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself!

A: Well, I’m a handsome, young…ha, ha, I’m just kidding, just kidding!  I’m a 20 year old, Catholic male, single (playful laugh).  But seriously, I’m from Texas, and I go to the University of Dallas with Colleen.  I like a nice pair of slacks (another laugh).  I enjoy history, politics, music, and playing bass guitar.

Q: Why did you choose to come to work on Sweet Ridge Farm?

A: Well, I really like the area; I think it’s very pretty.  I enjoy the Amish culture that permeates the area.  I am very interested in the idea of a society based on agriculture, so I came here to get a small idea of what it is like.

Q: What has your initial impression been of life on the farm, Slattery style?

A: It’s great!  I have already managed to meet Amish families, trim blackberry bushes, and plant and learn about shallots.  The experience really does go beyond my expectations so far.

Q: Why are you interested in farming?

A: I believe that a healthy, ordered society should make and know, to some degree at least, the food that it consumes.  When it becomes disconnected from the complex process behind the production of what it comes into contact every day, there are real problems.  In other words, Monsanto sucks!

Q: What are your expectations for your stay?

A: To enjoy the summer, work out in the fields, and enjoy evenings spent reading in the company of great people.

Well, Killian, I am quite certain that you will enjoy your stay on Sweet Ridge Farm, if I have anything to say about it.  Welcome to the great State of Wisconsin, my friend!

Killeen

Hooligans and Shenanigans

By: Colleen

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I was woken by the sound of voices, a group of boisterous male voices, outside my window.  I blearily groped around the windowsill next to my bed, searching for my cell phone to check the time.  3:30 am? What the heck? The voices grew louder.  “Okay guys, let’s keep this short and sweet.  Just verses one and three..,”  Promptly a chorus of male voices began to sing  the popular Irish tune, “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?”  And true to form, they sang verses one and three.  The harmonizing and pure volume of the song informed me that this was no random group of college boys.  Theses were the Stillwater Hobos.

The University of Dallas is no ordinary place.  As a Catholic, liberal arts school, it is dominated by children from huge, Irish Catholic families.  Being one of nine from a family that is Irish to the hilt is nothing unique for me anymore.  And I am now only one out of at least three Colleens at the school.  In any case, the Irish heritage is much celebrated here, and especially through song.  Every Friday night, there is an open invitation to any and all to head out to the woods near campus for a rosary, campfire, and good ole Irish folk tunes.  From this tradition, a group of boys formed their own group, The Stillwater Hobos, and play on the streets of Ashville, NC all summer long.

And so, I found it hard to be annoyed as the boys belted out their two verses and ran off into the underbrush.  The campus security officers were hot in pursuit of the 3 am trouble-makers, and I smiled sleepily as I heard the scuffling and muffled shouts of “This way!” and “No! This way!”  They’re just carrying on an old tradition of Irish shenanigans   And I may not be out there, jumping in rosebushes and hiding from authorities   But there is a little part of me that will always want to.

 

City Girl, Country Girl

By: Colleen

It is the small, quiet moments in life that truly call out to my poetic soul.  The quiet and chill of an early morning run, an undercurrent of vibrant excitement caught in the trill of the birds.  The silence that comes (every once in awhile!) out in the fields, the summer sun setting, the dirt deep and dark underneath my hands.  And last week, I found that quiet as I sat upon the banks of the Potomac, in milky, early Spring sun.  The boats slipped by quietly, I could see away and off into Maryland across the shore; and life was beautiful.

For Spring Break, I traveled to the Washington, DC area to visit friends and explore a bit of the East coast.  I grew up dreaming of boarding school on the East coast, my dreamy little head filled with images of school uniforms and dormitories, curled up with a book of the same subject  in a patch of sunlight in our roomy, white farmhouse.  As I grew up, that dream faded into the background, and I found myself in school way down in Dallas, TX, just about one of the least romantic places I could think of.  So, when I got the opportunity to spend a week on the East coast for break, I jumped on the chance.

My absolute favorite day was the one spent in Alexandria, Virginia, just off the blue line of the Metro.  I headed out in the morning, bought my metro pass, and navigated my way down into the depths of the metro station.  There was something so freeing about taking the metro by myself.  And yet, standing on the platform and waiting for the train in my deep green pea coat and tall blacks boots, I felt so very far away from home.  The rush and bustle of the metro and the city excite me, but also makes me recess farther into myself, my iPod in my ears and the far away look in my eyes that I recently learned to adopt.  And so, it was with a small sigh of relief that I exited the metro at King Street Station, and headed down historic King Street in old Town Alexandria.  immediately, I was in love.

The street was lined with coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants.  It was as if the town knew me, my likes and dislikes, a simple girl from Wisconsin with an avid love of all things Francais.

fromage

american in paris(I actually did end up going into this one, and was promptly frightened out by the saleswoman who told me that you weren’t allowed to touch the clothing in the store except by the hangers and had a genuine witch’s cackle.  You can’t win them all, I suppose.)

baguette

I grabbed lunch at this little French bistro, filled to the brim with breads and cheeses, and headed down to the river, swinging my baguette sandwich by my hand.  After lunch, I wandered into the side streets, house hunting.  Since I had fallen in love with the town, I needed to find a place to live other than the cafes. There are shutters on almost every house in the town, and mysterious, hidden gardens behind curved gates, colored red, green, and blue.  This house was a little too small:

house

My friends and I agreed: this is a little more my size:

big house

I’ll admit that I was a little worried that the real owners of the house might come out and ask me what I was doing posing on their front steps  so we smiled quickly.  The house was absolutely lovely, as was the town.   I could see myself there, taking early morning runs next to the river, finding a private high school to teach at, and coming home to a (small) apartment with green shutters on the windows.

But, the Midwestern, Slattery girl in me knows that she would and could also be completely content in a house more like this, filled with family and love.

farm house

I peeked into a courtyard in Alexandria and found this gem.  And I was back home in an instant.  No matter how far you go, you’re never really far from home.  My feet will always be bare and dirty, I’ll always defend raw milk, and I’ll always love the country, where one can breath and live and be.

On Wisconsin

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It has been a slow descent into the world of coffee for me over these past few years. My sister-in-law, Nicole, will tease me about the “coffee milk”, I used to drink when she first met me, as I drink down a huge cup of the lovely stuff on her living room couch. It was indeed just coffee and milk that I used to drink, the sweetness of the raw milk blending with just a dash of coffee in a mason jar mug.

And so, it was a no-brainer when I came to college: I was determined to get a job at the coffee shop on campus. I have been working at the Cappuccino Bar, or “Capp Bar” as most people fondly call it, for almost two years now, and I absolutely love it. Sometimes I feel that the smell of espresso has been soaked into my skin, under the fingernails and lingering on my palms.

One of my favorite parts of the job is creating new drinks. Everyone at the Capp Bar is encouraged to experiment, make some unique, make something your own. I have created a few drinks over the past two years, but recently I may have struck gold with the dawn of what a co-worker and I call the “On Wisconsin”. My co-worker, Christian, is also from Wisconsin, and one day, as we were ruminating on the glories and downfalls of the state, a friend suggested that we make an official drink for Wisconsin. We gladly accepted the challenge.

After much discussion, we agreed that the drink had to incorporate these two things: lots and lots of dairy and something German. Those are the two trademarks of Wisconsin, right? The fact that everyone and their grandma is at least a quarter German and probably drinks and eats a startling amount of dairy products. Thus, the “On Wisconsin” was born, a milky, German chocolate mocha cappuccino. And it’s dang good, if you ask me.

The ingredient that really makes this drink would have to be the (surprising) coconut syrup006,

paired with a pump of chocolate and a shot of espresso, and finally drowned in the creamy goodness of steamed whole milk.  And voila!

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As the snow falls gently and deep in Wisconsin, I am under the clouds of Dallas today, threatening a thunderstorm with temperatures in the 70s.  Perhaps I’m not so far from home, though, as I serve up “On Wisconsins” to these unenlightened Texans, bringing a little bit of comfort to my Mid-western soul.

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A Phone Call From Rome

by Colleen

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On Monday morning, I was woken from my slumber by a call from Rome.  I confusedly stared at my caller ID while my phone jingled and jangled.  “Rome!”, it said.  As my mind slowly unclouded on the 3rd or 4th ring, I realized that my best friend, Killian, was calling me from Rome, and immediately flipped open my phone, attempting to make my “Hello” sound less than groggy and tired.  Killian and many of my closest friends are studying on the University of Dallas’ Rome campus this semester, and I hastily programmed the campus telephone number into my phone as “Rome!” just last week.

Killian was calling to tell me the latest news, news which is by now old: that Pope Benedict is retiring.  Due to the early hour, I refused to take him seriously the first few times he told me the news.  “Ha ha, very funny, Killian.  You’re not fooling me, even if  I did just wake up,” I replied to his assertions.  Soon, though, I realized that he was not fooling around.  The gravity of the situation hit me, and I sat up in bed.

“It hasn’t been done in 800 or so years!” Killian exclaimed.  It struck me that this truly is a momentous event in church history  and it is amazing that all of us are alive to witness it, especially all of my friends who will  be there to watch and wait in the courtyard outside of the Vatican at the end of this month, searching the sky for traces of white smoke.  The future is uncertain, but the church is not.  It will always be here.  And, from Killian’s phone call, I was reminded of those I miss in Rome, They may not be  physically be near me, but I know they are with me in spirit, and I with them.  Apparently, I can’t get away from them making me miss out on sleep, even a continent away!

 

Italian Dreams and Dallas Streets

by Colleen

On Saturday, I called home for an update.  I miss the goings-on of our big family in our big, rambling farmhouse while down here in Dallas, and calling and skyping home is one of my favorite things to do on a lazy Saturday morning.  To my surprise, I found out that it is still winter back home, complete with 16 degree high temperatures and a foot of snow.  The sunny, 65 degree weather outside my window had fooled me into thinking it was March or even April, and classes already seem to be interminable.

Despite the glorious weather, this semester has been off to an uncharacteristic start.  Many of my closest friends are away across the ocean this semester, studying on the University of Dallas’ Rome campus, and while seeing gorgeous pictures of them traipsing across Italy on Facebook is fun, I’d much rather they were still living down the hall from me.  In an attempt to become more cultured and not just sit in front of our computer screens, scrolling through pictures, a few of my friends from here (who are also never going to Rome) and I decided to get out into Dallas and attend a concert last Sunday night.

After a frantic day of studying, my friends Joe, Monica, and I headed out to the light rail station in the Dallas dusk, ready for some music and time away from campus.  We alighted at Mockingbird station, and wandered around looking for a place to eat that was nowhere even close to cafeteria food.  We found what we were looking for at Izmir’s Market and Deli.  The Iranian man behind the counter was charming  the falafal was fresh and flavorful, and for just a moment, we could pretend we weren’t in Dallas, TX.  Satisfied, we headed to the concert, and spent the night enveloped in the music of the Punch Brothers, a folksy, Mumford and Sons-esque band that filled the Granada Theater with glorious sound.

We headed back to campus that night content and tired, our minds, not lost in contemplation of the streets of Rome, but centered on the present here and now, which suddenly seemed a lot less lonely.

Punch Brothers

Leaving the Little Ones

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by Colleen

Every time I leave home, there are two things that I know I will miss: my family and the land.  Missing my family is the obvious one.  I especially miss my little siblings, Clare and James.  Growing up, we were “the little kids”, a trio of troublemakers, covered in mud and smiles most of the time (when we weren’t fighting over what show to watch on PBS or who got the front seat).  Raphael was the big brother who was fun, deigning to play with monopoly with us for hours or tag, but when he decided that he was too grown up for all that, we were left to our little group of three.  (Note: Raph really isn’t very grown up still, but he refuses to play Monopoly.)

Little Raphie

As I leave home, one of the worst things is to say good-bye to Clare and James.  I attempted to hug James before heading out the door, and he shouted. “No me tocas!”  And wriggled and elbowed his way out of my arms.  Typical.   Clare on the other hand, the professed hug hater, gave me a long and hard hug.  I hate the fact that they are left at home, growing up and doing all the things I used to do with them, without me.  One of my greatest joys over break was going to James’ basketball games. The ride to and from the game with Clare in our musty, rattling van is something I’ve always loved.  And watching my little brother charge up the court really makes me the proudest I’ve ever been.  James happened to get injured in one of the games I went to this break, and I was so mad.  I was just so angry that some bug loaf hurt him.  I was ready to charge out and kick him in the shins til he cried-and that is not a normal Colleen emotion.  James and I are tight, alright?

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Everything changes.  My little siblings are growing up, my older siblings’ families are expanding, and me?  Well, the love for my family is growing, even as the distance between us does, too.

Little Sister