In Pittsburgh

On Friday afternoon I sat with my harp in a small second floor chapel in a former orphanage that has become a personal care, skilled nursing, and hospice home. The chapel is serene, scented with a hundred years of beeswax. There are honey colored wooden floors. Light streams through windows that overlook a beautiful courtyard.

I was there to play for a memorial service for the residents who have died at Canterbury Place during the past year. The service was woven together with prayers from the Anglican, Catholic, and Jewish traditions, to reflect the dominant faith traditions of the people who live and die there. Candles were lit. Stones were placed. Lilies were given.

Pittsburgh was once called the City of Churches. In every neighborhood, churches and chapels and synagogues stand. The faith of the men and women who built this city is written in stone and glass, rooted in faith and reaching for the heavens.

Pittsburgh was born out of fire and water. A city of three rivers, where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the Ohio, the site initially offered settlers smooth transport for glass, born in fire and shipped down river. Later, the white hot transformation of iron ore into steel heated the economy to a fever pitch and created a massive demand for men to work the mills. Immigrants from Eastern Europe streamed into the city. Economic migrants, these men and women brought with them their traditions, their faith, and the hope that this new world would offer them a better life. In this new world, they gathered together to celebrate their faith.

The very first Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh was the Tree of Life Synagogue.

On Saturday morning I sat in the cavernous basement of a massive Presbyterian Cathedral while my daughter danced in a studio above. The church is located in the heart of a struggling and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, and offers a vibrant array of arts programs in music, dance, and theater to the wider community. Slowly the news passed through the large and echoing room, in whispers. An active shooter, a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a mile away. Four dead, and they haven’t caught him yet. It was like a game of telephone but with nothing lost, every detail distinct. You watched the person at the next table freeze in horror at the whispered truth.

A child at the next table said “Many of my friends are Jewish and they live in Squirrel Hill and go to synagogue there. What will happen to them?”

Later, walking out into the cold rain with my eight year old daughter, I’m searching for the words to answer her questions. Is this really happening? Is this happening here?

When I was young I wanted to save the world. I tried to imagine my role on the world stage, what it would contain. I wondered how I would possibly develop a philosophy brilliant enough to change the whole world. The older I get the more that I realize how much humble my role is. So much of the work I have been given is simply to serve my family, and the people that I encounter in my daily life. To wash diapers and wash the feet of an elderly woman. To visit the lonely. To offer the widow and the orphan a space in my own home. To protect the innocence of my children in the face of the darkness in the world, and to nurture the light of their faith.

I have had the privilege to work with people who are close to death. To teach classes and play music for people facing their final years with dignity and grace. I have sung at a deathbed while holding a newborn child. I have entered a room just as a soul was leaving it. The more time I spend with those who are dying the more confidant I am in the truth that the dead are not gone, but remain in communion with us.

It is not death of the body that we should fear, it is despair. Despair that causes us to live in darkness, to lash out in darkness, to unleash evil into the world.

We are called to believe in the grace of God in the face of suffering. To trust in the grace of God in the face of horror. To preserve the life of grace within the soul, and with that still small light to light the world around us. To root our lives in faith.

On Saturday night the people of Pittsburgh spilled into the streets for a candlelit vigil around the Tree of Life synagogue to gather together and light the darkness.

In Pittsburgh there are candles. There are lilies. There are stones.

In Pittsburgh there is mourning.

In Pittsburgh there is faith.

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Flowers and Frost

By Mary

This month my sister Kate came for a delightful visit to our new home. A hard frost was right around the corner, so we brought many flowers in for an impromptu photo shoot with our sister in law Nicole.

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Harvesting the last flowers of the season gave me time to reflect on what a blur this growing season has been.

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Last winter I paged through a seed catalog in delight, reveling at the many colors and textures and heights that I intended on planting for the 2018 season. The seeds arrived before spring did, just before our move in date for our new, tiny rehabbed farmhouse, which was scheduled on the same day as my due date for our first baby.

I used the last of my last paycheck to order berry canes, which arrived in a snowstorm. To say I was a little overwhelmed would be a large exaggeration. However, I took inspiration from Native American women, who would bring their papooses along as they worked and gathered. I also come from a line of capable women, and I clung to the advice my sister in law Aurora gave me, which was that babies sleep a LOT.

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Bit by bit the tiny flower seeds became 35 flats of flowers, were transplanted, and became bouquets which I delivered weekly to the Viroqua Food Coop and People’s Food Coop for sale. All the berries got put in. And our son now sleeps substantially less and is much harder to wrangle while I am working.

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This season has been bountiful in so many ways. I failed a lot, learned a lot, and am so grateful for all that has bloomed.

 

Taking Stock

By Kate

Once upon a time I was a food writer. I was writing for Freedom Farms magazine and it was a rich and rewarding experience. I was working with a sustainable farming operation that I deeply believed in, I was able to drive out of the city and ride tractors and climb hay bales and get my boots muddy on a regular basis, and my children had the chance to spend time on a farm. Each month I listened to Lisa King, mother of ten children and incredibly talented cook, explain her philosophy of creating simple, nourishing, and unbelievably great tasting meals.

At the same time, I was struggling to balance my writing and my own household. I was regularly hyperventilating over a deadline about a farm fresh meal while tossing cold hot dogs to my own children, who were constantly in the midst of tearing the house to pieces. Eventually I had to take stock of my life, and to step back from writing and shift my focus to doing different work that allowed us to create a different, deeper family rhythm. (Literally, because we started a family band, but that’s a different story.)

It took years for me to begin to put into place the lessons I learned from Lisa King. At the heart of the message was to keep food preparation simple. Farm fresh, seasonal ingredients. One pot meals. Meal plans that please an entire household and automatically yield leftovers that do the same. Like so many seemingly simple things, the simplicity is deceptive in that it is refined by years of hard won experience.

Today I am making chicken stock. The simple recipe flows from the heart of the meal plan I’ve developed over the past few years. Once a week I roast a chicken. After it is carved and served and cooled, I save the entire carcass and the juice by placing it in a gallon size freezer bag, and sticking it into the freezer. I don’t roast chickens or make soup often in the summer, but now that the autumn frost and cold and flu season has arrived, I’m pulling out those frozen bags and turning them into stock.

Sometimes there is a great deal of meat left on it and sometimes it is almost picked bare, which is really the only thing that determines whether I’m technically making stock or broth. Technically, stock is made with roasted and simmered bones, while broth is made with both bones and meat. In either case, the end result is a nutrient rich, immune boosting, culinary staple that can be used as a simple soup or as the base for soups, risotto, pasta, dumplings, and a wide variety of other recipes.

Here is the recipe for my simple chicken stock.

SIMPLE STOCK

You will need:

-Chicken Carcass

-1 Onion

-6 cloves Garlic

-1 Celery Heart

-1 bunch Green Onion

-1 Ginger Root

-1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

-1 tsp Salt

-1 tsp Pepper

I use a crock pot because it allows me to simmer the stock slowly and safely without being tied to the stove all day. In the crock pot I place a chicken carcass, generally frozen and straight out of the freezer. (Keep the gallon bag handy, you can use it again to store and freeze stock!)

Roughly chop 1 onion, 6 cloves of garlic, and 1 celery heart.

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Grate 1 knuckle of ginger root and slice green onions.

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Add to crock pot, along with 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp of black pepper.

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Add water to 2 inches below top of crock pot. Bring to a boil and stir. Check intermittently for pieces of skin, which will rise to surface. Remove and discard. After boiling mixture for ½ hour, lower heat and simmer for an additional 4-6 hours. At this point, pour the mixture through a metal colander. Discard all of the solids and allow the liquid to cool.

Store in an airtight container. Homemade chicken stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Depending on the size of the batch, I generally freeze some in freezer bags to use at a later date.

Stock serving suggestions: I like to drink broth for a light midday meal. I add red pepper flakes, thyme from my garden, and garlic powder. Some of my kids really enjoy homemade bread dipped into plain, heated chicken stock- but some of them will only eat chicken soup, which is another recipe for another day.

A Vagabond Song

In October I leave home, headed home. Seven hundred and forty one and a half miles lie between my yellow brick house on a hill in this city and the white farmhouse which still holds my roots and my heart. In October the leaves begin turn to flame and in the dark before the dawn I load my children into the van and set off, bound on a vagabond journey back to where I began.

As we drive across the green rolling hills of Ohio as they begin to turn golden, we read this poem:

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood-

Touch of manner, hint of mood;

And my heart is like a rhyme,

With the yellow and the crimson and the purple keeping time.

 

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry

Of bugles going by.

And my lonely spirit thrills

To see the smoke of asters like a frost upon the hills.

 

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

We must rise and follow her,

When from every hill of flame

She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

-Carman Bliss 1861-1929

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Out of Dormancy

Today is the birthday of my sister Mary. Last week, she wove a crown of flowers for me to wear on her farm on Wildflower Ridge.

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My sister is a flower farmer and a shepherdess. She tends the land. She sows beauty. Eight years ago, she planted the idea of this blog. She believed that the story of four sisters who grew up together in a big white farmhouse in the Driftless hills of Southwestern Wisconsin dreaming of a greater world and venturing forth in it was something worth writing about. She believed that people would want to read about life in the big city of Pittsburgh PA, trips to Paris, mud on the farm, running and baking bread and heading off to college and wearing babies in city streets and farmers fields.

She was right but all that living of life was fairly time consuming and for almost four years this blog fell by the wayside while the adventures continued.

In the time since I’ve last written, I released an album with my husband.

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We’ve toured across the East Coast, South, and Midwest, including two tours with a newborn this summer after our fourth child was born. We’re currently recording a Christmas carol which will be released next month.

Mary was married to our sister-in-law Aurora’s brother Austin on a rainy windswept day in May.

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Since then they have had the most beautiful baby AND moved to one of the most beautiful farms on God’s green earth, complete with sheep, goats, horses, wildflowers, and Great Pyrenees.

Colleen continues to love running, and was married to the tall, handsome young accounting major she met in college.

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Their son Finn just turned two years old.

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Clare, youngest of four sisters and nine children, had a spectacular semester abroad in Rome and is a senior in college, and the Student Government President of the University of Dallas. This comes as no surprise to any of her elder siblings who noticed early on her desire to run the whole wide world.

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Our (now double) sister in law Aurora is now the mother of eight gorgeous children, and has simultaneously been breeding extraordinary horses at Devils Hole Ranch.

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If you look closely at that last photo you’ll notice that it was taken by Nicole Elizabeth Photography, which brings me to our second sister in law, Nicole, who in the years since the blog went dormant has become a famous photographer. We’re both very proud to be related to her and grateful for all the photos, which include every single one in this post except for Mary’s wedding picture.

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What with all the weddings and music and world travel and babies we’ve been busy but lately I’ve found myself with many things to say, and I do believe this is the place to say some of them.

So hello again! And happy birthday to my beautiful sister Mary, who plants flowers and blogs and creates beauty in this world. Here’s a link to a birthday post I wrote to her seven years ago today. I’m so happy we made it to the present day, flower crowns and all.

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.

 

Easter in Paris

By Mary

Last October my friend Havilah called to announce not only that I was to be the godmother of her child, but also that I was to come to Paris to where she and her family live to visit and attend the baptism. In response to her invitation/command (you have to know Havilah to know exactly how direct she is, and how she makes things happen-big time!), I said I would think about it which proceeded in such a manner that I thought about it, got excited about the concept, then completely forgot about all travel plans before revisiting the option and putting it into my prayer intentions and just letting the trip form as it should. Nor only did the trip manifest, but it turned out to be a trip of exceptional blessings that was filled to the brim with good humor, wonderful company, amazing food, and more importantly than amazing food, amazing cheap wonderful wine.There was also beautiful sights especially when seeing the heart of Paris with my friends, and than the sea when my French friend Morgane took me on a ride alongside the English Channel as a special surprise on a rainy spring morning.

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During the few days in Paris I saw many sights.

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Some reminded me of home like the bucket filled with sauerkraut at the farmers market…

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The piles of fresh vegetables…

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And the pasture full of horses that Morgane took me to visit.

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Other sights were totally distinct and bore no resemblance to home.

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After seeing some of Paris and the surrounding countryside, it was time for the baptism of my Godson, baby Gabriel.

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And his big brother Anton.

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The baptism was a long formal affair followed by another long formal affair- a 7 course meal with an abundance of amazing food.

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Despite all the wonders of the day by the end of the night I was starting to think about home and by Tuesday I was happy to depart back to Wisconsin via a long flight back that took us to Helsinki Finland overnight, then to Rome, then Chicago and finally Madison. All in all, it was a wonderful adventure. Upon getting back I had many people ask me about my trip which made me reflect about what stood out to me the most during my eight days away. What I realized was that the very best part of the trip had nothing to do with the majestic atmosphere that France is so elegantly shrouded in. Far more wonderful than any sights I saw or wonderful food I consumed was the time I got to spend with those that I shared the trip with.

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The laughter and the memories shared were epic and for that simple fact I am grateful.

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