Category Archives: Kate

Dressing Up

by Kate

Once upon a time I had a billowing red ball gown.

sophisticated city couch woman ballgown

And as I am a harpist, and Valentine’s Day is drawing near, just the other day I began to wonder where that billowing gown had gone.

The mystery was solved this morning, when my sister Mary sent me an email containing pictures from my niece Claire’s visit to the farm last weekend. Due to heavy snow, a planned ice skating outing turned into an afternoon of dress up with the everpresent collection of assorted evening gowns and bedraggled finery.

dress up farmhouse

Nature, or nurture? I’m not sure. I certainly wasn’t that poised when I was in second grade. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that poised till I was about 27.

socialite sophisticate dress up

On that note, I have to wonder if Claire is actually studying my photos for tips…. or if I should start to study hers.

dress up

In any case, I’m clearly not going to get that gown back for Valentine’s Day.

In the Rain

By Kate

It’s a grey day, a warm day, with rivulets of snowmelt running down alleys of rugged cobblestone.

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The warmth and a striped pair of rain boots make for a perfect walk.

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There is a great wet world to discover, and in the light of low looming clouds every door leads to wonder.

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Walking slowly hand in hand we seek beauty in stone and branch and shingle and sky.

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I am grateful for my new galoshes…

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For this warm wet winter walk, and for our destination. Of course we are at our local Carnegie Library branch, and I’m heading home with a copy of Singing In The Rain.

The Perfect Cardigan

By Kate

Once, briefly, I possessed the perfect cardigan. Two deep pockets, soft thin fabric perfect for layering, in a deep and soothing blue. The cardigan fell perfectly about the body and made every outfit I had work. The cardigan cost $7.99 at Forever 21, but was definitely the most valuable part of my wardrobe. I was engaged to be married, it was spring, the world was new, and my cardigan was perfect. The world was beautiful.

Kate Casey Engagement Hat

Sadly, my time with the perfect cardigan was brief.

I don’t know if you have sisters, or if any of them steal your clothes, but I doubt that any sisters out there hold a candle to my sister Mary when it comes to blatant sartorial thievery.

sisters spring

Oh, Mary. She looks sweet and speaks softly. She wears flowers in her hair and cares for small children and bakes pies and cookies for the whole world- but when it comes to her sister’s clothing, that girl is entirely cold blooded. When I am visiting, Mary will upend and sort through all my clothing, deriding and ridiculing the pieces she does not approve of, and making mental notes on the ones she is interested in. Shortly before I leave she will creep in and liberate those pieces, stealing them so smoothly that I am 500 miles away before I notice. She has no shame, and a total belief that any item of clothing that belongs to her sisters should belong to her if she wants it, AND she is infuriated if you borrow any of her clothing without telling her. But the perfect cardigan brought Mary’s unfortunate clothing habits to a new level.

First, she stole it. Then she took it with her on a missionary trip to Vladivostok, Russia. THEN SHE DONATED IT TO ORPHANS. Might I add at this point that though the cardigan was perfect for me (and apparently for Mary as well) it was cheap and thin and not warm at all. NOT the perfect item of clothing for a Russian orphan in the winter, at ALL. The final touch, adding insult to injury, is that every time this topic comes up Mary sniffs and says sweetly that she can’t imagine why I am SO selfish and materialistic and unwilling to help the poor.

I have been searching for a new perfect cardigan ever since. It has been a long, futile hunt and I now possess a ripped blue cardigan sweater, a short sleeved long green cardigan, a fuzzy black hideous but extremely useful cardigan, and a red australian wool cardigan that I meant to take home to Wisconsin this winter so Mary could steal it because it is pretty and well made but has no pockets. However, all my searching has been in vain. Nothing could replace that blue cardigan.

Until, last weekend, I went looking for an air mattress at Target and took a slight detour to the clothing section of the store.

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It turns out my new perfect cardigan isn’t blue after all. It’s somewhere between citrine and chartreuse.
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And since I’m not planning to see Mary for several months, maybe I can keep it for awhile.

Winter’s Mantle

by Kate

In the city, snow subsumes stone. Winter has stolen softly and shifted the surfaces of the world.
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Yesterday I wrapped my baby in warm wool and wandered through the snowscape to the nearby Allegheny Cemetery, which is part castle…

part postcard…
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and part Narnia.
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The statues of the cemetery are stark and stone, blackened by the ages and bespeaking grief…
winter's mantle
But winter had wrapped her icy mantle around them, quite literally in this case, imparting a strange sense of warmth and a definite flair for couture.
winter's mantle cemetery statues

There is a softness and an elegance and flair about these wintry stoles that I imagine makes it much more comfortable for this young woman eternally reading high in the sky.

reading statue

And an amusing jauntiness about Justice’s new hat.
justice with a hat
All in all, I wouldn’t mind possessing a few items designed by the icy hand of winter…
winter couture
but for all their soft elegance they may be a bit chilly… so I’ll stick to my warm woolens and downy furs.

Defining Style

by Kate

Oh, the rocky road to personal style. These days, I live in a real live city.

pittsburgh portrait style

Pittsburgh may not be quite like Paris (though it does look like it sometimes!) but it does boast a real fashion scene full of very sophisticated and stylish people. I am not one of them, but I do appreciate the fact that I can walk down the street in bright mustard yellow or pleather leggings and a sweeping cape and (sort of) generally blend into traffic. I am pretty sure this would not be the case in the streets of the small towns near the dairy country from whence I came, although it IS possible to drive a tractor to the grocery store, or tie an Amish buggy up at the hitching post without drawing a second glance.

Granted, even in Pittsburgh the hat I wore to the recent baptism of my son may have gotten a second glance or two.

baptism hat

Still, there is a part of me that measures the success or failure of my personal style not by the outfits I wear in the city. Somehow a part of me will always believe the essence of my personal style is measured by what I wear on Christmas Eve in the choir loft of the old German Catholic parish church across the country road from my parent’s farmhouse. The theoretical opinion of that congregation of familiar farm families kneeling in the candlelit stillness means more to me than any urban fashionista ever could.

This year I won’t be there.

In Wisconsin, my family is beginning to gather, with the college kids returning and the wood stove burning. I’ll see them soon, at a big wedding coming up after the holidays, but I’ll miss them on Christmas Eve, and I’ll miss my own great fashion moment of the year. I’ll be waiting for pictures of my sisters, arriving at church in style.

You can find our Christmas stories here:

Christmas in the Clamor and the Chaos

We’ll All be Home for Christmas

Christmas and Coming Home

The Spirit of Christmas

and more urban style adventures here:

Frumpiness and Pleather

Pittsburgh is my Paris (A Bibliophile’s Dream)

Winter Harpist

by Kate

I play the harp.

harpist fantastic hat

My harp is a Troubadour. It’s a lever harp about five feet tall. Tall enough to make a dramatic statement- but small enough for a six foot tall farm girl harpist to heft and carry hither and yon.

troubadour harp red barn asparagus

After the golden fronds of asparagus have bowed beneath the frost and autumn turns to early winter is my favorite time to play the harp. Advent, Hanukkah, and Christmas music is made for the harp. This is quite literally true, as much of the music I am playing was written with harps or similar instruments in mind. The pieces I am playing are haunting and holy and lovely.

christmas harpist pittsburgh kate stapleton

Of course I rarely (er, never) really play my harp in a frosty field or forest full of holly berries. This year, with a three month old and two year old and demanding schedule of dancing and caring for elderly people and maaaybe doing my laundry someday, I purposely avoided taking any additional Christmas gigs beyond my regular bimonthly visit to the Alzheimers and Dementia unit up the hill. However, a couple grocery store gigs fell into my lap, and I took them. I’m glad I did.

I love grocery store harp gigs. After spending a good ten years of my life in or directly around the grocery business, the aisles of a grocery store feel like home, but to be honest I prefer to descend upon those aisles in a sweeping ballgown with a harp. My favorite thing about grocery store harp gigs, though, is the reaction of the customers. No one expects to see a harpist when they trudge into a grocery store, so there is often a magical sense of wonder when they come around a corner and find one.

Giant Eagle harpist Pittsburgh, PA

And so in this early winter season I was to be found with my Troubadour harp playing haunting, regal, holy harp music… right next to a huge display of Steelers Merchandise near a pharmacy at a local Giant Eagle Grocery store. And it was lovely.

Farmer Father

by Kate

“Perhaps there is a distance that is the optimum distance for seeing ones father, further than across the supper table or across the room, somewhere in the middle distance.  He is dwarfed by the trees or the sweep of the hill, but his features are still visible, his body language still distinct.”

Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

farmer father

My father is a proud farmer, and believes that tending a bit of land and producing good food will feed the soul and change the world. He believes that ones work should be real and important and worthy, and that my mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.

My father is a reluctant patriarch. I believe his nine children will change the world along with his annual bounteous crops of root crops and greens.

My father is an inveterate reader who attends sporting events and choir practice in the church loft with a stack of magazines and newspaper a foot high.

My father has informed, infuriated, and formed me. I hear him in the voices of my siblings, and see the way his huge and calloused hands have formed the way that they venture out into the world to work, to struggle and to love.

Today is my father’s birthday. I meant to buy him a great book, but I didn’t manage to do it in time. Instead, I am offering my gratitude to my father, to that familiar far off figure silhouetted on a ridge, hoe in hand. Thanks for producing such a fine crop of sons and daughters, Dad, and for the passion for life that you have instilled in us all.

Your eldest,

Kate