Category Archives: Kate

Wild Places

by Kate

My sister Mary loves her horse.

portrait of mary and horse by nicole slattery

 

She loves our family, and the big white farmhouse high on a ridge where we grew up.

slattery farmhouse sweet ridge farm

She loves sunlight.

autumn horse back ride sweet ridge sisters

She loves solitude and silence.

nicole slattery photography portrait horse wisconsin

These pictures were taken a week ago by my lovely and talented sister in law Nicole, as Mary soaked up some of the last autumn sunlight in Wisconsin before boarding a train to the big city of Pittsburgh. The light of autumn is pouring down upon this city too, but the buildings are packed together and reach toward the sky, and the traffic roars down city streets.

pittsburgh cathedral saint paul

For my solitude and silence loving farm girl sister, it’s a bit of an adjustment- even with an enthusiastic city bred niece ready and willing to show her how to embrace the world of the city.

carnegie library trees pittsburgh

I’ve worked hard to raise my daughter as a confident city child who is equally comfortable running wild in the country.

running the hay bales

I know that Mary will never be a city girl, and I wouldn’t want her to be. But it is my hope that during her stay here (no matter how long or how brief) she can find in this stone city the wild places she needs to feed her soul.

morning glories and a castle pittsburgh

Whereabouts

by Kate

This morning felt like fall. The air was chilly, the leaves scarlet and swirling down against a grey sky, and the park was full of small children in brightly colored sweaters.

autumn arsenal park

It’s been a long hot entry into autumn here in Pittsburgh, but this morning it was clear that the seasons have shifted. I am adding extra blankets to the beds, drinking more coffee in the morning, taking more time to curl up on the couch and read to the kids while across the street an avenue of trees blaze into fiery color. There may even be more time to blog. Somehow this is preferable to other time consuming possibilities, including but not limited to catching up with the laundry. The laundry situation has hurtled out of control here in my home. Browsing through the photographic record of the past month or two, I begin to see why.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There was samba dancing at Kennywood Amusement Park.

kennywood samba dancer

There was the addition of a brand new chicken coop and three elderly laying hens to our urban backyard, bringing a sweet peace to my farmgirl soul.

urban chicken coop pittsburgh pa

Speaking of farming, I’ve spent a lot of time with a camera around my neck…

farmer's market northside pittsburgh

at the farmer’s market and way out in the country, taking notes and photographing the Farm Kings for their new magazine, which you should head right over and subscribe to. They’ve been shooting the new season of their reality show, which makes things particularly interesting in their neck of the woods.

farm kings behind the scenes

The day of the Farm Kings tomato field shoot, I sprinted across those hay bales to get some shots, jumped down, drove back into town, and got all gussied up in red lipstick and rhinestones to play the harp…

rhinestones and red lipstick

for a spectacular, high society style Downton Abbey fundraiser at the WQED Studios here in Pittsburgh. It was pretty stunning.

downton abbey fundraiser WQED

Watching young ballerinas from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre rehearse quietly before the madding crowds arrived, dripping with jewels and sophistication, was one of my favorite moments of the night.

pittsburgh ballet theatre school

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to dance myself at a huge party comprising the entire Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh, to welcome the Giant Rubber Duck to the city.

Pittsburgh Downtown big rubber duck sunset

It was a fantastic evening. The kids got to have a dance party in Katz plaza and see one of the largest Rubber Ducks in the whole wide world, and I got to work with some truly lovely women on a bellydance flash mob, and also had an excuse to wear bright red harem pants in public.

harem pants style downtown urban chic

Here in my own neighborhood, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon in my neighbor’s sunlit garden, playing the harp for the Lawrenceville House Tour.

pittsburgh harpist kate stapleton

I am both exhausted and exhilarated by the various gigs I’ve had in the past few months, but it is possible that the most tiring thing I did was go on vacation for three days, with four women and six (small! loud!) children. Here is a picture of the sweet peace and sunlight that actually eluded us for the entire three days we spent laughing and snorting, occasionally crying, staying up far too late, and shivering because those were the only FRIGID three days of the entire fall. Holy cow was it cold.

lake trip rowboat

Also? I am shockingly inept with a rowboat. It was still great though. And I saw Lake Erie, and heard the thunder of waves upon the sandy shore.

lake erie

Back in Pittsburgh, there have been impromptu picnics….

pittsburgh picnic pirate's umbrella

many wagon rides…

wagon ride

and a lot of walks.

out for a walk

Back in the park with the leaves swirling down, something about the change in the season makes me realize I am ready to sit down on my wooden stool and spend a bit more of my time here, on this blog. Come on over- you may just find me here. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get started on that laundry.

City Chick Chick

By Kate

I spend a lot of time with a crown of bright blue plumage on my head.

pittsburgh samba group pittsburgh dance center

Dancing with the Pittsburgh Samba group has given me the opportunity to wear these feathers performing at the Carnegie Music Hall, the spectacular Point State Park Fountain, and the rollercoasters at Kennywood. Let’s face it. I’m a girl who has always wanted to wear a two and a half foot high feather crown in public as often as possible, and every time I put that costume on I am grateful I live in Pittsburgh. Not only is Pittsburgh stunningly beautiful, it’s full of interesting people from all over the world who are teaching samba, learning aerial silks, composing music, designing robots, and raising chickens.

Oh, chickens. I may wear golden heels and a feather crown, but at heart I am still a barefoot country girl. Last weekend a big truck pulled up in my driveway to deliver a little chicken coop and three chickens to my backyard.

city chickens coop design pittsburgh

Due to a recent change in Pittsburgh’s Urban Agriculture Code, residents on a 2000 square foot lot are allowed to keep up to 3 chickens. This change in ordinance has allowed me to feel truly at home here in the heart of the city, minutes from downtown. We moved into this house in part because of the generous (for a city!) backyard, which allows me to grow giant sunflowers…

sunflowers in the city

and tiny strawberries, a variety that bears from spring through fall to the delight of my three year old.

strawberry picking

It is important to me that my children run barefoot, hunt for berries, experience both the wildness and inherent in the natural world. There is a fence in my backyard, but there is a lush profusion of blossoming spearmint growing against it.

spearmint and bee, city chickens urban agriculture

There are bees pollinating on a daily basis. There is room, in this small space, for these small kids, to live like farm kids.

urban agriculture chicken coop

Especially now that there are chickens to take care of.

chicken coop urban agriculture

We are all happy about that.

urban farming

More about the blue feathers, you say? See my posts on dancing here:

Fine Feathers at Carnegie Hall

Finding Balance

Sparkling Stones

by Kate

I lost the diamond from my engagement ring. There was a loose prong and, I think, a long stranded sweater involved. Returning from a dinner party I brushed my ring finger and gasped to discover only the sharp spikes of the setting, the stone long gone. It was an interesting moment of soul searching, there in the car in the early darkness of late winter. I knew that the diamond was gone, and that another would not be forthcoming. I couldn’t imagine wanting one. We have so many dreams for our young family- a bicycle carriage, a bigger home, an old piano to put in it. I’ve never dreamed of diamonds.

I didn’t miss the diamond that night. What I missed was the wild exhilaration of the young pizza delivery driver who worked at a little Italian hole in the wall in Pittsburgh and courted a girl far away in the mountains of North Carolina.

By chance, we were passing by the pizza shop in question when I discovered the gaping hole in my engagement ring, the ring that he had purchased on that spot after putting out the word that he was looking for a diamond. A legless obese man who passed most of his time in the shop scratched his head a bit and mentioned that he had a divorced daughter who had a no need for her beautiful ring, but did need some cash. Soon, the deal was done. On a high ridge overlooking the Ohio river, that young delivery driver asked for my hand. When I accepted, he put the ring on it.

The moments of our courtship and engagement were enchanted, and I am grateful for every second, but what I realized that night was that losing the ring didn’t mean losing any of those memories. I still have them all, along with the thin gold band that my husband put on my finger four years ago today, when I became his wife.

vintage gown mariachi wedding suit

The engagement ring was beautiful. The diamond was shaped like a teardrop, which sadly suited the storms of tears that I am prone to on a regular basis. The setting was high and the ring was pointed and oh, it was sharp. So was I. I was a headstrong, highstrung newlywed with a sharp tongue and a chip on my shoulder. I hope and believe that in the past four years, I have become softer, smoother, gentler, and stronger- just like my plain gold wedding band. Wearing it alone reminds me of what I want to be as a wife.

Deep life lessons aside, just this week I made a fantastic discovery. Shopping with my sister Clare in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, we came upon a case of faux engagement rings for the fantastic price of five dollars a piece. Suddenly it hit me. Losing my engagement stone gave me free rein to wear any size and style of engagement ring I wanted. I walked out of that shop looking like a MUCH more affluent woman.

engagement ring

I love simplicity, and I love costume jewelry. I love pretending I am a high society lady at the entirely UNpretentious public pool up the street.

black one piece white hat summer 13

Most of all I love my husband, who is still wild, and still exhilarating. Thanks for the ring- but much more than that, thanks for the marriage.

Wedding Work

by Kate

Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. It was a beautiful wedding, but today I’m not thinking about that. What I am remembering, with longing, is the week spent with women who had flown in from all over the world to stay in a tiny 100 year old Norwegian cabin in the valley below our farm.

norskedalen cabin

A cabin full of wine and laughter was the least I could provide for those girls, who had been swept into a full scale Wisconsin ridgetop wedding. In case you’ve never been involved with one of these, let me tell you a couple things. They’re large- we had at least 250 people at our mass and the reception in the pole shed turned ballroom- and they involve lots (and lots, and lots) of work.

butcher buckets

For instance, we grew the food for the wedding. The morning of the wedding, I was in the field picking lettuce early in the morning and headed off to top strawberries before donning my bridal gown…

strawberry picking wedding morning

But before all that, we raised the chickens. Then, just after my bridesmaids arrived, we butchered them. So romantic!

bridesmaids butchering chickens

After photographing the King brothers at work butchering chickens last week, I have been thinking a lot about our bridal butchering party. Granted, it was quite a bit more chaotic than the serene process at Freedom Farms. Our knives were dull, our crew was inexperienced, and I may have been a bit out of practice myself. Still, this is still my favorite photo of my engagement ring.

chicken buchering diamond ring

The chickens were plucked and cleaned and cooled and eventually cooked and served, but in the meantime there were flowers to pick. This meant a month of picking and wrapping peonies, storing them in newspaper to save them for late June. It also meant a trip deep into Amish country…

amish country drive

where an abandoned kitchen garden ran riot, with hundreds of roses and a profusion of other blooms that needed to be gathered.

flower picking wedding

I have rarely felt as free and deeply happy as I did that morning, gathering flowers with great friends.

amish farm windmill

Back at the pole shed, there were lights and banners to hang, and ladders to climb.

pole shed wedding

It took some power washing, the remover of a rotochopper, and about 10 people working 12 hours a day…

pole shed wedding preparation

but by the night before the wedding, the pole shed looked fantastic. I think that if I could time travel, that is where I would return, with a cold beer in hand, to spend another evening with Julia, Maqui, Susannah, Lisa, Adrienne, Emily, my siblings, and the rest of the hardworking crew who made our homegrown ridgetop wedding so beautiful. It wouldn’t have happened without all of them, and I am more grateful than words can say.

mariachi pole shed

For pictures of the wedding, see this post:

Taking the Leap

Country Girl in the City, Part One

by Kate

I was born and bred on a farm. I climbed a grain bin barefoot on my wedding day.

farmgirl bride

And then I moved into the heart of a great grey city of steel and iron and statues and stone.

urbanpittsburgh

But I am still a barefoot country girl, although I also have a pretty fabulous collection of sky high heels. I think that many people assume that simple sustainable living is a country thing. I know I did. I was wrong. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and I want to share some of them with you. These are some of the things that I do that remind me of home and have helped me to create a beautiful and sustainable life here.

I hang my clothes on the line.

laundry hanging on line

I’ve got a bed of strawberries under the laundry line too. I grow garlic, enough to last all year.

bed of garlic urban farming

I use cloth diapers as much as I can. These cheerful ones were a gift from a blog reader. (Thanks again, by the way. I love them.)

cloth diapers

I bake bread, and cookies, and cake, and I teach my children to bake too.

baking

These are some of the things that make me feel at home. Bake bread, grow garlic, hang clothes. Keep a compost pile. It turns out that some of the things that made country living enjoyable for me weren’t contingent on living in the country. I plan to keep sharing these things in an occasional series. Kick your shoes off, and join me on my country girl in the city adventures!

Sunlight and Forsythia

by Kate

In this grey stone city, the forsythia has burst forth into belated flame.

forsythia

It’s difficult to trust the thaw after such a slow and frozen spring, but if the peach blossoms can open to the new warmth so can I.

branch and blossom, garden, pittsburgh

Goodbye, socks. Hello, swing.

baby swing arsenal park

Hello, sun. So good to see you again.

sunglasses 2013

Thank goodness we can leave the huge heaps of coats and sweaters at home when we head out into the city.

exploring the city pittsburgh

The sunlight opens wide the great world outside our tiny home. I can’t wait to explore it.

red doors heinz chapel pittsburgh