Category Archives: Kate

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

 

 

Fame, Farming, and Family- An Interview with Pete King

by Kate

Last weekend the Sweet Ridge Sisters got a chance to talk to local farmer Pete King from Freedom Farms.

Pete King GAC Country Freedom Farms

Pete and his siblings star in Farm Kings, a nationally broadcast reality show about farming. The second season of their show is premiering April 11th on the GAC channel. The King brothers are perhaps best known for their rippling torsos, but they also have a striking optimism about the future of agriculture, a great work ethic, a deep sense of family loyalty, and a whole lot of high quality local food to offer to the Pittsburgh community. You can find more information about Freedom Farms including retail locations and the new 2013 CSA Program here.

Kate: What is it like to be a famous farmer?

Pete: Well, the farming is still the same! There’s a lot more recognition when you leave the farm, which can slow you down. The schedule can get busy and there’s lots of extra stress- but it’s entertaining.

K: What are your cash crops?

P: Corn, definitely corn. Tomatoes, and peppers. This year we’re trying something new and flash freezing our corn and vacuum packaging it. We just bought a fancy new machine so we’ll see how that goes.

K: What varieties of tomatoes do you grow?

P: Mountain Fresh, Mountain Glory, and we just started doing heirlooms with a Cherokee Purple. You’ve really got to get those sold!

K: There are 10 kids farming together in your family. What are the challenges of family farming?

P: There are different ideas about how to do things, and it is easy to butt heads- but having a family is useful on the farm. There are lots of extra hands, and we need them all to harvest the crops. My 12 year old brother has Downs Syndrome, and he’s right out in the field with us. It’s just what we do, As far back as we remember we’ve been working. I like creating. Farming is creating.

K: What is the future of farming?

P: Everybody getting their hands in it. Everybody learning how things are grown and farming is done. These days, people take their food for granted and think it came out of the back room of the grocery store. The future of farming is everybody getting involved and getting their hands dirty.

K: What is your least favorite crop?

P: (laughs) Tomatoes. Don’t like picking or eating tomatoes.

K: How about throwing them at your siblings?

P: Throwing them at my brothers is ok, yeah. But keep ’em in the field!

Thanks so much to Pete King for taking the time to do a great interview. Any readers in the Pittsburgh area should make sure to stop by the Freedom Farms Market or Bakery in Butler or the Cafe and Carry-Out in New Kensington. Locations and contact information are available here, Freedom Farms will also be selling at several farmer’s markets in the city this summer.

For the full story of our encounter with Pete King: Cabbages and Kings, Galoshes and Spring

For more of our own Sweet Ridge Farm stories, click here.

For more of Kate’s urban adventures in Pittsburgh, click here.

Castles and Kings, Galoshes and Spring

By Kate

At midnight, my sister Mary will board a train.

arched door wrought iron gate pittsburgh cathedral of learning

Like Cinderella she will vanish from this city of stone castles, though she’s not likely to leave a glass slipper behind. No, I’m sure the galoshes she liberated from my closet will be firmly laced up on her feet, headed back to the muddy fields of Wisconsin in the spring.

heinz chapel red coat red door

I promised Mary spring in Pittsburgh, a respite from the long shivering wait for warmth to thaw the frozen Wisconsin soil and the pipes in her renovated barn apartment. Snow fell to herald her arrival and snow is falling on the city this morning of her departure. Still, Mary has brought so much warmth and brightness into this cold grey city during her visit this past week.

cold spring bright style

She carried spring with her and gave it to me.

babywearing spring sling

Heading out into the city with two small children in the cold is so much easier with a sister to share the journey.

jogging stroller indy bookshop pittsburgh urban

As you can see, we wore bright colors and dramatic prints to combat the cold.

urban pittsburgh garfield mural

We explored the city, ate Indian and Vietnamese food, perused the spring 2013 offerings at Anthropologie, and attended a Brazilian carnival. I’m pretty sure Mary had plenty of urban living, and is ready to return to her free spirited rural life on Wisconsin soil. However, we did have one city adventure perfect for a farmgirl in the big city. On Saturday, we visited the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. We loved this installation of pink ribbons cascading from the high domed ceiling….

pink ribbon installation children's museum pittsburgh

…but as an added bonus, we found farmers on display as well.  A number of local farmers had set up shop near the restaurant of the museum, offering CSA shares for the upcoming season. The event was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, which is a great resource for farmers and consumers in Pittsburgh and all across the state. If you are living in or near Pittsburgh and still looking for a CSA, you can still contact the participating farmers from the CSA Fair here.

I have an urban garden complete with strawberry patch in my backyard and I wasn’t in the market for a CSA this year, but Mary quickly realized that the fair had something else to offer- a chance to meet a bona fide King of the farming world.

pete king GAC country farm king freedom farms

As you may remember, Mary is the Queen of Brussels Sprouts, so meeting Peter King was a real highlight of her urban Pittsburgh trip.

Pete King is one of the (many) famous King brothers from Freedom Farms. I was unaware of this fact, and I’m pretty sure that the most of the people milling about the Children’s Museum were too. I’m not sure how many Pittsburghers watch the Great American Country network on cable, so they may be unaware of the bronzed shirtless young men gleaming like sun gods under a deep blue sky. The second season of their show is premiering April 11th on GAC. The King brothers are perhaps best known for their torsos, but they also have a striking optimism about the future of agriculture, a great work ethic, a deep sense of family loyalty, and a whole lot of high quality local food to offer to the Pittsburgh community.

We had the opportunity to do a brief interview Peter King about fame, family, and farming. I’ll post the interview tomorrow. In the meantime, you can learn more about Freedom Farms on their website here.

For more stories about our farming adventures at Sweet Ridge Farm, check out these links:

My Garden, My Canvas

The Queen of Brussel Sprouts

The King and Queen of Brussels

The Red Vegetable from Hell

Waiting for Spring

by Kate

She’s standing in the window on the radiator dancing, singing, and telling stories.

ballerina baby in the window

Snow is falling softly.

There is a park across the street and this morning she asked me to take her there. It is cold though, a raw wet dismal damp last day of February cold with snow falling like frozen drops of spittle from a bedraggled old white haired witch in the sky.

I didn’t take her to the park. It was all I could do to push the stroller up the hill this morning with a heavy baby in the sling and a huge bag of sheet music slung over my shoulder, headed to play harp for the old folks who have lost track of time. I haven’t.  I am ready for spring.

So I will let her dance on the radiator on this long grey afternoon, while we dream of spring.

Greetings From Texas

by Kate

Greetings from Texas, where the skies are so blue.

texas blue sky

Where the breeze is warm…

wpid-20130217_130301.jpg

Where the sugar is sweet….

naegelins bakery new braunfels texas

And the meat plentiful.

texas sausage

Where the hands of a 92 year old great grandmother are soft and strong.

abuelita's hands

Greetings from Texas, where there are snakes, and snake farms too.

texas snake farm zoo

In Pittsburgh the snow is falling but on this last day, greetings from Texas! From me….

mural mother child

To you.

Housekeeping

By Kate

I have not been keeping my house. Instead, I have been housekeeping. At this moment, I am glancing over my snow covered garden across the gravel drive and at the back door of the little brick house where Teresa lives, heart in my throat, waiting for the back door to open and let me know she made the perilous daily journey down her stairs and into the kitchen of her little brick house. The door opens, my breath eases, my morning begins again.

I have been taking care of Teresa for two and half years now.

teresa polish wwII stories

For the first two years, I was alone in this task. Introduced to her by a neighbor, I walked into a home that smelled so strongly of incontinence, neglect, and filth that it was all I could do to stay for five minutes. For the first several months, when I returned from Teresa’s house my husband made me strip off my clothes at the door, bag them up in plastic, and shower off before I touched the baby. There was so much to do to remedy the slow slide her house had taken over the years from an immaculate Polish home to a stinking hovel that I had no idea where to start. “I just need you to do a little laundry now and then.” said Teresa, in her quavering accented English.  I started with the sheets, stripping the stiff yellow fabric unwashed for years, bleaching them, and stretching them out on the line in my backyard to let the sun burn away the stains and wind billow away the lingering scent. Slowly, surely, the sheets turned white. Slowly, Teresa began to trust me, to let me wash her hands, her hair.

Progress was slow, and there were setbacks- the one period of several months she refused to let me in, a fall on the kitchen floor, an ambulance trip and a hospital stay. Still, with time, I could see the house becoming a home again. After bleach and vinegar and sweat and tears it was clean enough that I began to bring my toddler with me when I went to care for her, and Teresa stopped telling me daily that she welcomed death, and instead waited in eager anticipation for my second child to be born. In the last trimester of my pregnancy, after another fall and stay in the hospital, we finally hired another helper to help with Teresa. It was a godsend. Not only was I relieved to know that someone would be taking care of Teresa so that I could go to the hospital and deliver my baby, but the lovely young woman who we hired managed to work a miracle and convince Teresa to rip out my nemesis- the stained and stinking carpet that was far beyond saving, no matter how many times I scrubbed it on my hands and knees- and replace it with a fresh, clean, new carpet that was the final step in transforming the home back to the order and serenity that her mother had created decades before and left in place when she left Teresa alone by dying.

Two weeks ago a shooting in the rough neighborhood where my co-worker lived created shock waves in her life and sent her out of town abruptly and likely on a permanent basis. Just after she left, a violent stomach flu hit Teresa and my two year old at exactly the same time, deep in the middle of the night. It was a long and sleepless night and the weeks following as a solo caretaker have been tough too. Teresa’s home remains serene and ordered while across our yards and the gravel drive that divides us my laundry is heaped in drifts like the aftermath of a blizzard on a windswept prairie plain, dishes are piled in the sink, and sometimes I stand in the middle of the room and cry.

I never planned on being a housekeeper, though it amuses me to think that I am following in the footsteps of my father’s grandmother, an Irish immigrant who came over at a young age to work as a maid in the great houses of Chicago at the turn of the century. In America roles are fluid, and there are days when I am a maid in the morning and harpist in pearls and velvet playing underneath a chandelier after sunset. Meanwhile, all the while, I am a mother. Being the mother of two in diapers, one 75 year old is not so much to add, and I can take my children with me when I care for her. That said, bundling up two little ones at the beck and call of an elderly woman four times a day is often challenging and occasionally seems impossible. So does keeping my own house.

Ten minutes ago the cheerful woman I hired two days ago to help with Teresa waved to me across the yard. She started this morning, and I am eager to hear how it goes. Meanwhile, my sister Mary just arrived at my home after a grueling 24 hour trip involving a train, a snowstorm, and a Greyhound bus. She is in the kitchen making cocoa and unpacking a cardboard box of heirloom China and ballgowns that (mostly) survived the trip. Mary is here for a week, and during that week I fully intend to scour my home from top to bottom sorting, dusting, organizing, keeping, and throwing things away. Mary is great at that sort of project. In fact, my housekeeping officially begins here on this blog, where I just re-posted two entries that Mary accidentally deleted in a well intentioned but unfortunate organization and cleanup effort on our blog. She has also in the past jettisoned my late season garden and the internet line into my parent’s home. However, I believe that this time her powers will work for good.

We will keep you posted.

More on Teresa- or harp playing!- can be found here:

Enough

Winter Harpist

Finding Balance

by Kate

I cannot do everything at once. Lets start with laundry. I have not been caught up on laundry since Francisco was born. It has prevented me from using cloth diapers which triggered a whole heap of guilt in my country girl in the city soul. I am happy to report that I started using cloth diapers again yesterday and (so far) it is going splendidly. My theory is that now I will be forced to do laundry more often.  Also it is almost spring and in the spring I hang all the laundry on the line. I am much, much better at getting the laundry done when half the job involves stretching my limbs under an open sky.

But more to the point, there is this rise and fall, depths of desperation and peak of elation pattern to my life of late. Let me paint a couple brief pictures for you.

I am pushing a jogging stroller (with Olympia in it wearing a velvet party dress and a blanket tucked over her coat and hat and boots and with my bags containing sheet music and library books etc. precariously stacked above her) up a steep city street one handed, using the other hand to boost up and nurse the baby in the sling under my winter coat. I am sweating because it is quite the climb and because I overstayed a tiny bit at Teresa’s house to do one last thing for her after making her breakfast this morning and as a result I am running late (again) to punch into the Memory Care Unit at Canterbury Place and spend half an hour playing the harp. I am trying to get F to nurse as much as he can so he will be relaxed and happy and I won’t have to awkwardly play the harp for the dementia patients WHILE wearing him in the sling and nursing him and using a pashmina to (hopefully) cover my breast while doing so. There is another block uphill to go and I feel like it is too much.

Then.

I am in the sunny room overlooking an enclosed garden, in the Memory Care Unit. I am wearing jeans and boots and long dangling earrings and playing the harp, to the delight of some of the lined familiar faces in the room. There are others I suspect enjoy the harp as well, though their heads are bowed. Francisco is being held in the arms of the beautiful stylish black aide who has 3 year old twins herself, and he is cooing at all the old people and just won a smile from a man who hasn’t smiled all week. Olympia is in the middle of the room, twirling like Shirley Temple. She has been sitting still with apple juice and graham crackers that she knows to expect, looking at my books of music, and now she is dancing. I am proud of her.  There is so much peace and joy in the room, and in this moment, for me.

Or…

Maybe it is the hills. The hills and the stuff, the big bursting bags of badly packed stuff that I carry around with me, the stuff that is not goldfish or wipes or diapers, those I either don’t carry or don’t have enough of. The thought of the drive up the hill to the Dance Studio after loading a toddler and a baby and my overflowing bag of fringed dresses and huge carimbo skirts and hair flowers and a sequined hat and ballroom shoes and the spiked silver five inch heels, and carrying them all up the steep steps after crossing the icy parking lot with a shrill winter wind whipping across the street feels like too, too much. I feel fat and tired and am castigating myself for trying too hard and not staying home and doing my laundry.

Then.

There are flamenco dancers pounding patterns on the other side of the long studio, samba drums on the stereo on our side. Francisco is asleep in the midst of heaps of costuming after a long conversation consisting of much cooing with a beautiful Brazilian woman. I am sweeping a skirt through the air and spinning through a swirl of rose and gold. Olympia is underfoot at my right side in the midst of the dancers, grinning and leaping joyfully but so far I haven’t knocked her over. I strap on the five inch heels I will wear for a Fat Tuesday samba performance at a nursing home, the one at the top of the hill, the one where my harp is, shaking my head at the ridiculous nature of my life.

I am trying to find balance. True to my nature, for me this means samba dancing in platform heels for elderly people, accompanied by a toddler and a fat five month baby. It’s not wonder this involves so much lurching wildly from despair to elation.

And now, I really must do a load of laundry.