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Resolution

By Kate

Today is New Year’s Eve. Last year on this day, for the first time in a long time, I sat down with a notebook and a pen and wrote out resolutions in longhand script. One of them was to make music with my family. When I met my husband, music was a constant part of our courtship. I played the harp for him in a courtyard with blossoms falling down. He built a guitar and carved my name into it. Then, we got married and had three children and began to build a life and a home together. Our music fell by the wayside. He stopped playing entirely, and I played less and less.

I didn’t know what playing music as a family would mean. Piano lessons for the kids? A Von Trapp scenario of some sort? For a long time, nothing happened. Then, on a Saturday morning in the late summer, in the middle of the kitchen, I asked my husband if he wanted to play music with me. I’d never done that. We’d never done that! In the entire time we knew each other, we’d played for each other occasionally, but never once played together. As a classically trained musician, I’ve always had a horror of jam sessions. But that morning, that is what we did. We were sitting in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by coffee and newspapers and goldfish, with the baby climbing on my instrument and the big kids watching cartoons in the living room. We started to play, and it was amazing.

I didn’t expect our musical instruments and styles to fit together so perfectly. When love is new, everything seems to join and shimmer. Time brings out the rough edges and discord. But the music we made together? Not only did it flow, it was beautiful. It was compelling. It was different than everything either of us had heard before. We realized we had to pursue it. Suddenly, I wasn’t just playing music with my family- I was working on an amazing album with my talented husband.

That morning, we began a journey that has already taken us in unexpected directions. We turned the attic room into a simple studio space. We’ve been swept upon a historical journey, traveling through the centuries in our own neighborhood, which is rich in history dating back to the Civil War. It’s been a great adventure, and not just because we still have a baby at our feet and two other children building forts in the next room.

My New Year’s resolution has turned into a voyage to explore the resolution of so many others. The resolution of a young immigrant mother with her baby in her arms, crossing the stormy sea. The resolution of a farm boy turned Civil War Soldier. And the resolution of married couples who fall in love and then, after the fireworks and the fairytale wedding, grapple with the grit and the pain and the beauty and the grace of building a real life, and all that entails.

This New Years, on the Eve of 2016, we’re working on our first album, Ballads and Battles, featuring songs of civil and marital strife. We hope to release the album this spring. If you’re interested, you can sign up for our mailing list here and see our brand new website here. We believe that the album will be a good one, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

What is your resolution for 2016?

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Re: Letting Go

By: Clare

I never write blog posts. I have sworn off blog posts for the rest of my life. And yet here I am, writing this, and there you are, reading this, and somewhere 3 sisters of mine are sitting behind a screen grinning gleefully because I promised “By: Clare” would never appear on the sweetridgesisters page again. But Kate was right, she has inspired me to do many things, including write a blog post, You got the oldest’s view, now you can have mine, which is valued at a higher price than Donald Trump.

All my life I’ve undergone The Interview. Meaning, I meet a person. Person learns I am the youngest child. Wait, I am the youngest of how many? Eyebrows shoot up. Eyes scrunch together. Then I hear The Question: “Sooo, do you like being the youngest?” My answer is always, “Well, there are pros and cons.” Then I give a soft chuckle and sprint walk away in the politest way possible.

It’s true, there are many, many pros and cons. But by far the biggest con has always been the niggling knowledge in the back of my head that whispered in my ear yearly and told me that I would always be left behind. And I was. The truth unfolded quietly and slyly; I never knew things were changing until it had already happened, like a rug being pulled out from under my feet.Six-year-old Clare discovered her siblings didn’t like playing Blind Man’s Bluff on the trampoline anymore.

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Eight-year-old Clare accepted the fact that her siblings would never agree to play tag again.

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Ten-year-old Clare saw Raph leave for college and knew the indoor games Raph directed would cease. At 14 her best friend/sister left, at 16 her worst enemy/brother. My siblings grew up so fast, and I was so eager to join them. I puffed up my chest and tripped over my feet to get there, but somehow always felt like I was lagging behind.

In a day I leave the cocoon of my home, where I have tracked my siblings’ adventures and dreamed up my own. In a day I will stand at the door and receive a final blessing and cross the threshold into adventure. It seems almost surreal, because I’ve seen it done so many times before, but always with me in the background. I thought I had my whole life planned, but I only just realized that goodbyes can be so hard, and the future can seem so vast, so mysterious, and so lonely.

Yes, there are perks to being the youngest, but there is always a gentle, yet unrelenting burden pressing on my shoulders. There are pages and pages of stories my siblings have written in our Slattery Book of Life, and mine has always and will always come last, just before the “The End.”  Everywhere I go, I leave a wreckage of red stamps that read “Finished.” Everything I do is carried on a wind of nostalgia and is narrated as “the end of an era.” Because of this, in some ways, it feels like I let down the family just by growing up.

My hands hold my childhood tightly tucked inside my heart. There you can find me sailing through the stormy seas of the English Channel on a trusty ship greatly resembling our hammock, or me carrying three antique schoolbooks down our dirt lane to a one-room schoolhouse greatly resembling our chicken shed, or me winning an Olympic gold medal after my killer serve was left unreturned by my Russian opponent, who greatly resembles the side of our white farmhouse.

For me, letting go means giving back. I want every other child to feel the innocence and love I was blessed with as a child. I want to dedicate my life to that cause and follow God blindly and humbly. I just have a lot of work to do on my way.

Like packing. Lots of packing.

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Letting Go

By Kate

My littlest sister leaves home this week. She’s leaving behind the cool green ridges of Western Wisconsin for the heat and the hustle and the dust of Dallas, Texas.

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Texas is a long way from Wisconsin, and the University of Dallas is a long way from a tiny high school in a farm town complete with hitching posts outside the hardware store. Not a lot of Amish people in Dallas, I imagine. Not a lot of Wisconsin farm girls either. It’s a long journey and a huge leap, but I know that my bold, beautiful, and surprisingly sophisticated sister will do just fine. In fact, she will shine, as she always has and always will.

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Clare has been beautiful since she was born. I was 17 when that happened, and part of the reason I put off leaving for college for an extra year was the fact that I couldn’t bear to disappear without holding her (and all the rest of my littlest siblings) for as long as I could. I read them stories and sang them to sleep and cried because I was terrified that they would grow up without having me be a real presence in their lives.

It turns out that my personality is strong enough to make a significant mark in the life of my family even from thousands of miles away. That’s a good thing, since my path has taken me further from home than I could have imagined. Before I left home when I was Clare’s age I fought fiercely to hold my family and my land in my heart, and there they remain. I let go, and I held on. I’m pretty sure I still managed to form Clare’s childhood quite a bit. If nothing else, I imparted the importance of wandering out of the farmhouse barefoot and dressed like a gypsy or a wood nymph or a queen, carrying a book about any of those type of characters, headed for the woods to dream under a tree. Dramatic makeup and a super amazing photographer like my sister Nicole on hand? Even better.

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Here is what is hard. Clare leaving for college is not just the end of her childhood. It’s the end of all of ours. As the ninth and last sibling to leave the nest, her departure means that we are raised, at least officially speaking. Granted, the height of the clamor and the chaos died down years ago. It’s been a long time since we played our particular version of tag, which at one point regularly included climbing out the third floor windows and scrambling around the roof while whooping and howling. We’ve ceased causing near heart attacks for our farmer neighbors and some of us are selling them corn or life insurance instead. We’re growing up and settling down and beginning to raise another generation of children, and that’s a wonderful thing. The past is gone, but the future is bright, particularly for my bright eyed, flame haired, college bound baby sister Clare.

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I’m far away from home and soon Clare will be too, but I’m holding her in my heart as she leaps out into the future.

Colleen, Joe and Jolly Roger

By Mary

My little sister and her new husband drove off in the early morning light last week to start their life anew in Washington DC. Before leaving they spent a considerable amount of time packing the little bubble shaped black Mazda car that they now share. From the hatchback to the front, the compact car was packed with wedding gifts as well as the remnants of what the two of them have been lugging about while essentially living out of a suitcase for the last two months following graduations, wedding, honeymoon and then the last few weeks with family here in Wisconsin. When gathering together the vast pile of wedding gifts to fit into the car, Colleen took our dad’s wheel barrow and wheeled load after load from the barn to the car. I know she was excited to pack and leave and I know her heart is now bursting and breaking in Washington D.C. as she begins a new life. She will be a wife and a school teacher far from both Wisconsin and Dallas which have been the foundation of her formation and existence the last 22 years.

Colleen has taught me so much about life. She is such a special and beautiful person both inside and out. Her compassion, loyalty and optimism never cease to amaze me. Her new husband, Joe, has also taught me a lot recently. The main lesson I have come to know through him is that the expansion of family and sharing someone who you love so dearly is not a compromise. It’s simply a growth in the love, generosity and loyalty that only makes life more rich and full.

The day after Colleen and Joe packed up their wedding bounty I mulled over missing my sister and Joe while cleaning out the barn apartment that they stayed in for two weeks after the honeymoon. After washing the last few dishes and gathering together of load of towels and wash clothes I went out to check on my goats. Seeing the goats made me really miss Colleen. Yes, that’s right, tending goats makes me think of Colleen and Joe, and this is why:

For some odd reason Colleen and Joe are just about the most interested in my sheep and goats of all the family. I don’t really expect anyone to care about them, although I always appreciate people feigning interest. However, the two of them act like preschoolers at a petting zoo around my livestock and that REALLY humors me. In fact, I delight in it! Right after they came back from their honeymoon, the first thing they did was take a walk and discover a 2 day old baby goat that was born while they were away.

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While Colleen may insist that she is not naturally maternal, she and Joe literally flocked to the cute (but not overly intelligent) billy kid that was dubbed by Colleen as  “Jolly Roger”.

They spent two weeks holding him like a baby.

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All he had to do was give a bleat and they would head out to check on him just to see if he was okay.

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To be honest it’s really funny to see them looking enthusiastically preppy while cuddling a Boer goat of all things.

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But it was a great sight to behold. I look forward to seeing them again, and in the meantime we will stay in contact. That reminds me, Colleen texted me the other day. I forgot to respond. The text read, “I miss you, how is Roger?

Patched Up

By Mary

While June may be a busy time of year, it wouldn’t seem complete without the annual round-up that is held over at the ranch. The round-up consists of a busy Saturday with a full crew of help to gather cows from the hills that are covered in mist early on summer mornings. This year my sister in law Nicole showed up as an amazing addition to the crew, to document the event in photographs. Nicole is an amazing photographer and you can find more info about her work here.

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After riders bring the cows and their calves in they get sorted into corrals that hold groups of the mama cows and isolated pens of nursing calves.

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Every cow is given a series of shots

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and some are freeze branded with the classic ranch’s D symbol.

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If the calves are bulls they get castrated and their testicles are thrown into a heaping bucket that sits out in the sun all day. Later on in the evening rocky mountain oysters are served along with a big cowboy supper for all the people who spend the day helping out. Need I mention exactly how fresh and local this entré is? Ick, is makes my stomach sick to think about. The brief description above is more or less the general outline of what happens each and every year at the round-up. This year there was a funny addition to the day though.

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If you are wondering why in the world there is a big patch on the eye of a calf that has essentially a get well card scrawled across the denim patching, that’s a totally reasonable question! To fully understand why there is even a patch on the eye of the cow, I should clarify that the beef herd has been dealing with a flare up of pink eye which is a common problem in cows. Cows with pink eye need treatment to get better. The treatment can be done by administration of medication, and at times an eye patch that is put on with a square of rubber cement glue. The day before the round-up I had been over at the ranch working moving cattle. Just before leaving, I asked my sister-in-law, Aurora if she needed any help with anything before I went home for the night. Now I will clarify that Aurora is super pregnant and super exhausted these days, so she was more than happy to get any help she could to aid in the craziness of pulling of the round-up which is to be honest a ton of work and productive chaos.

Aurora handed me a heap of Patrick’s old work pants that have been destroyed from thousands of hours of farm labor and asked if I could cut out patches for the next day. I joked that I wanted to turn the task into a quilting job and that I just so happened to have fabric markers in my car. This joke tuned into serious business when kids started flocking over to “help”. I sent one to my car to get the markers and before I knew it I had a circle of kids around me who turned the task into a crafting activity and were fighting over scissors, markets and ideas.

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I am a huge proponent of creativity and find great joy in sharing it with kids so it was a humorous blessing to watch them delight in drawing pictures

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and sympathy cards on the patches.

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Each kid has was proud of their work

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and their aunty was pretty amused with the entire unexpected project the next day when watching calves burst out of the chute.

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It put a smile on my face just to sit on my horse and watch patched up calves with art on their eyes charging about bellowing!

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Predictions

By Mary

It’s a universal fact that sister’s love to talk.Conversations between sisters usually go far beyond the weather and what’s for dinner. Speaking on behalf of my sister’s and myself, we are known to share all sorts of eventful, sometimes zany, often times dramatic stories. Once in awhile we even are known to swap predictions.

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Colleen recently reminded me of a prediction that I made years ago that went something like this:

ME: Colleen, when you grow up, you are going to marry a guy from the East Coast. He is going to be both preppy and dorky and wear sweaters and be from the city, and you are going to leave to marry him and live somewhere over on the East Coast.

COLLEEN: “Mary, you are crazy, that is never going to happen.

ME: “Oh yeah, just wait and see!”

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While Colleen may have nixed my thoughts at the time when they were initially mentioned, she is now delighted to marry the love of her life who just so happens to frequently wear sweaters that are topped off with a bow tie which may just have been a preppy trend that he got from being raised on the East Coast where he will continue to live with Colleen.

In less than two weeks, Colleen will become the wife of Joe.

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The blog here will follow the wedding work and festivities that will be a joy to celebrate. It is an exciting blessing to welcome Joe into the Slattery family. He is a perfect fit for my sister. So perfect in fact, that Joe has always just seemed to make sense as her mate, even before the two of them met!

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Live a Life Less Ordinary

By Kate

My sister Colleen has always been extraordinary.

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Colleen is an athlete, an actress, a scholar, and a musician. She excels at everything she does. She is also officially the sweetest of the four Slattery sisters.

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In addition to her sweetness and competence, Colleen has always possessed a certain sophistication. She wears tweed jackets and pearls as though she were born in them.

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She was not. Colleen grew up barefoot and dressed in hand me downs, like the rest of the nine kids on our ridge top farm. She was usually smiling, often curled up reading, loved to play music on our hundred year old piano, and directed plays starring the youngest of the Slattery children.

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Four years ago, Colleen left the ridge to attend college. She had a plan- she always does. She was going to become a teacher, to continue to excel at running track and cross country. She was also going to find a boy who liked to listen to Carbon Leaf, a slightly obscure band she’d heard about from her big sister. Being a Carbon Leaf fan in Cashton, Wisconsin was a little lonely. Things at the University of Dallas, she thought, would be different.

She was right. In the autumn of her sophomore year, she was asked to attend the Symphony by a tall, handsome young man from a family even larger than her own. A tall, handsome, young man who just happened to be an avid fan not only of the symphony, but of Carbon Leaf.

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After the symphony, Colleen sent me this picture, snapped during the first moments of their first date, and from clear across the country in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I immediately predicted that they would marry. They looked so unusually well suited for each other. Their dress, their height, their body language, their general mien- there was a harmony about it.

Joe wooed Colleen well, wisely allowing himself to be directed by her in a collegiate theatrical production. He wooed her while wearing a mustache. Ridiculous? Romantic? You be the judge.

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In any case, it worked. Even from afar, it was a delight to watch their relationship deepen, and to witness the unusual level of rapport these two clearly share.

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Of course, they attended several live Carbon Leaf concerts along the way.

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Colleen and Joe are a unique couple, combining an energetic and youthful vivacity with a true enjoyment of the sort of activities more often enjoyed by people of a more advanced age. Strolling hand in hand? Picnicking? Perusing the newspaper? Attending the symphony? These two are all over it.

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Eventually, Joe traveled to Wisconsin, braving the fierce heat and crowded farmhouse far from the genteel Washington suburb where he was raised, to meet the Slattery clan. He wore a bow tie, of course.

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It is impossible to miss the joy in Colleen’s face when she is with Joe, a joy that has only deepened over the past few years of their relationship, and so it came as no surprise last summer when Joe proposed, and Colleen accepted.

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The year of their engagement flew by, and in a few days Joe and Colleen will become man and wife. I am sure that their life will be not only less ordinary, but extraordinary- like my sister, Colleen.

We’ll be posting more of the wedding story as it unfolds. A huge country wedding means lots of pictures and lots of stories. Keep visiting us for details. In the meantime, here are some of our past wedding stories to keep you busy.

Taking the Leap

Wedding Work

Nicole’s Story

Cale Plus Katelyn

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Queen of the Garlic

By Mary

Doc Menn loves to collect things. He collects circles of family members and friends. He collects farm houses, land and decrepit rental units, he also collects old cars, well bred horses and western memorabilia. And he is notorious for collecting new business ventures and projects.

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I think that it is more than fair to say that I have been collected by him. I’m his daughter’s best friend, his son-in-laws sister, his extra hand working cattle on Saturdays at the ranch, and now I am The Queen of Garlic, or so I am labeled under the contact list on his cell phone.

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The title as a Queen of Garlic has come from one of the most recent projects that Jeff brainstormed. The history behind it goes back several years to a specific piece of land that Jeff bought about 7 years ago and has been interested in using to grow produce on. Last August we decided that we wanted to put the piece of ridge-land into something sustainable that has the potential for a solid profit. After about a month of research, spreadsheets, and phone calls, I decided that garlic was indeed the right pick for the project. In October I shelled about 300 pounds of hard neck cooking garlic that got dropped into cold furrows of ground before the snow came. Those planting days were busy ones with I felt like were too short and too cold. However, in November the last of the seed garlic was dropped into the earth and covered.

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After lying dormant all winter the garlic is up. It’s a vast project to say the least because it spans over an acre of ridge soil under layers of old mulch.

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I have been out weeding this last week while juggling the care of my sister-in-laws 5 kids as she takes a three day vacation which she does about once every 11 years. It’s been a delight to spend hours weeding, thinning, and uncovered shoots of garlic from thick heaps of mulch. The neighbor kids who live next to the field like to come out and help.

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They don’t weed nearly as much as they talk, but all the same they are enjoyable company while I work.

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Spending so much time outside gives me time and space to watch the sights that surround me. Sometimes I see Amish horses and buggies pass, at other times I catch a glimpse of brightly colored birds swooping about, or a vole and a dog playing cat and mouse. My mind tends to wander a lot as I muse of internal thoughts, ideas and questions that I often reflect on.

The other day I came up with a question that I will have to ask Jeff: If I am really the queen of garlic, doesn’t that mean I should have an legion of servants to carry out my work?!

Until next time!

Mary

Once Upon a Time…

By: Colleen

Once upon a time…there was a little girl who grew up barefoot among the hills of Western Wisconsin.

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And, 1000 miles away, there was a little blond boy, growing up near the bustling metropolis of Washington, D. C.

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The little girl and the little boy grew up, each growing taller and taller by the year. By high school, they each thought they were pretty cool…

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But, mostly, they loved to laugh and smile.

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The boy was named Joe, and he liked bow ties.

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And the little girl? Well, her name is Colleen, and she liked wearing pretty dresses.

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Joe and Colleen both liked to run.

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And when it came time to choose a college, the Midwestern girl and the East Coast boy both looked to the South…

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Freshman year of college came and went. Joe played chess.

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And Colleen studied and went to dances.

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He played Frisbee.

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And she just kept on running.

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And on one fateful autumn night of their sophomore year, Colleen took Joe’s hand and taught him to polka. And he didn’t let go. They danced the night away. They suddenly realized that they happened to like each other…

Time passed, and there were symphonies to be seen.

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And soon, without really realizing it, this boy and girl had become a part of each other’s lives.

He made her laugh. And she really loved to laugh.

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And so when he pulled out a ring and asked her to be his wife, heart beating fast up on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, she said yes.

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“June is a beautiful time of year for love,” they thought. And so, the next June, they were married, the ridge girl and the adventurous city boy.

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They left Wisconsin in a tiny black car, piled high and higher with love and wedding gifts, to start their life together in the big city.

She’s a teacher now, and he’s the most charming accountant you’ll ever meet. And their story is far from over, despite her lack of blogging on the subject.

This Saturday marks the third anniversary since Joe turned Colleen’s claddagh ring out under the big Texas sky, and what better way to celebrate than to return to the place where it all began? Tomorrow we board the plane Dallas, and I am so thankful to have this man by my side.

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