Tag Archives: Family

Where the Wild Things Are

by Kate

Growing up, I was a wild child. All nine of us were fairly savage, often found barefoot in trees with uncombed hair, and it would be fair to say that we were a bit uncouth. My mother often said that her goal was to raise children who were free, and in that she most definitely succeeded. So have her free children, as they make their way into the world. Somehow the time we spent running wild though woods and pastures and the pages of a thousand books formed thoughtful, articulate, and hardworking adults.

I often think about raising free children, ideally with brushed and braided hair and decent table manners. So far, I am excelling at the freedom part, with a pretty spotty hair brushing record and a plan to implement better table manners very, very soon. My husband suggests that I learn some first, and I suspect he may be right.

Of course, unlike my parents, I do not live on a high ridge falling into a woods and a valley, with a huge willow sheltering a junkyard crick. I live in the heart of a city and glimpse skyscrapers through a canopy of branches. But I do live in a city of hills, ravines, and rivers, and when I have trouble breathing remembering the free feeling of running through the back pastures and hills of home, I head out to find the wildness hidden only minutes from my front door.

Outstretched arms and muddy hands and feet are not off limits for city children.

river girl pittsburgh

And a river anywhere is full of wildness and cannot be tamed. Ours is a gift full of mystery and wonder- along with some industrial debris, Canadian geese, and pairs of hungry ducks.

river adventure

I am working out a theory that the most important thing is not living in the city or the country, but to open the eyes of your children to the wonder and the wildness of the world around them…

city walk

wherever that might be.

For here we are, and here we shall remain, looking for the wild places and trying to tame the tangles in our hair.

kate stapleton sweet ridge sisters

Change

by Kate

Tonight my sister is leaving on a midnight train. She’ll leave the bright city lights far behind and head for the hills of home. After two weeks in the city she’s ready to see her horse and her apartment tucked into the corner of a barn and to gather her arms full of nieces and nephews and to experience some blessed solitude under Wisconsin skies.

wisconsin ranching

She’ll be back though. She has to. I’ve got a magazine to write, and I need her to help me do it. My sister is a farmer and she belongs to the land of southwestern Wisconsin in a deep and abiding way, but November has come and soon a blanket of snow will cover her fields. This gives her the freedom to pack up her ancient yet impeccable 4Runner and head to Pittsburgh for the winter.

I hope it will be exhilarating. I know it will be terrifying.

Change is hard. I know this. I’ve moved across the country alone more than once in the past, and the culture shock of a different place can be overwhelming. The city is different than the country. One state is different from another. Perhaps most importantly, when one grows up in a large loud family with a culture all it’s own and then steps outside its boisterous confines, the silence can be deafening. It’s startling to have time and space and silence in which to define the self as a separate entity outside the clan.

It will be challenging for my sister to spend time on her own here in the city, and yet of course she is not entirely alone. I am here too. There is still a sister to explore the city with, to fight with, to drink wine with, to tend the children of. I am alternately sweetly encouraging and bossily berating in my attempts to support Mary in her move, and she is returning the favor as she attempts to make some order in my home. My life is very full, and so is my laundry bin. In fact, when Mary arrived there was less of a bin, and more of a vast all encompassing heap. My days often consist of a breathless rush between farmers and sequined dancing and elderly ladies, all with two extremely energetic young children in tow. Mary waded into the chaos and ruthlessly cleaned and culled and created order. Change is hard. Sisters are good. Mary’s house cleaning was painful and necessary and in the end it was freeing. I hope that her winter in the city will be too.

 

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.

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.

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

 

 

Comfort and Calamity

By: Mary

In a matter of hours my connecting train from Pittsburgh to Chicago’s Union Station will take me back home. Home may only be 5 hours away from the busy city of Chicago, but to my county girl heart this layover in the city makes me feel both foreign and lost. The streets are full of slow moving traffic caught in jams, and the sidewalks offer little space as they accommodate the congestion of pedestrians moving at many different paces, most of whom are dressed in darker colors, and all of whom wear thick winter clothing to combat the cold and sharp wind that blows.

I have heard that in Wisconsin there has been a terrible storm raging away. It has been said that this is one of the worst of the year which means it must really be a beast of a storm as it has been an exceptionally cold and snowy winter.

Surely when I get home the snow will be deep and the pipes in my recently completed apartment will still be frozen. Grh!

Despite these obstacles, I am ready to return to my roots.

middle ridge

I don’t have a place in this busy city traffic. When in Pittsburgh, I ended up in a conversation with someone at a Brazilian Carnival. He tried to sell me the concept of moving to Pittsburgh. I laughed and told him I gladly would move to the city with the requirement that my closest neighbor would have to live at least a mile away.

I love the silence and life that living on a ridgetop offers.

mars

I love the comfort

sun

and calamity

poking patrick

that comes from being surrounded by open space and family.

The richness that rural life provides challenges me as I balance (not only on my horse’s back!)

fall, mars

I love the roulette of farming.

I am thankful for knowing what contents and captivates me. Also, I am very excited to welcome the goodness of spring under the sphere of its golden sunshine.

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

Putting the Lug in Luggage

By: Mary

When looking for a means of transporting an entire set of china that was left to Kate after the passing of my grandmother, I decided to find a new use for a sturdy cardboard box that is used to pack pie pumpkins and cabbage when shipping organic produce to Organic Valley.  Okay, I know that lugging about a produce box is not exactly the most hip (or practical) way to travel, but I formulated a plan that included getting two boxes of china, to my sister along with a few fur coats, some blackberry jam I made that is a fleeting commodity at this time of the year, a few purses, and of course a  ballgown that Kate wanted back after an extended loan back to the farm so it could be used as a prom dress.

As you may remember, Kate is quite comfortable with train travel in an heirloom fur…

vintage fur coat train travel lacrosse depot

though in my opinion it makes her look a bit like a gigantic mother hen.

Because I was traveling on the train, I hoped with optimism that my plan of checking the two boxes could go off without a hitch. Well, the plan did work… but only with a LOT of lugging. The first setback was that I was told I couldn’t check the boxes because they were not fully sealed. I knew that the only way I could handle taking Kate her “stuff” was to just start consolidating as much as I could into only one box. When boarding the train, the not so hip me ended up with my luggage bag checked under the train, and a roughly 75 pound produce box bruising my hip, which was beginning to strongly resemble the blackberry jam.

Due to an early spring snowstorm from the never-ending winter I was trying to flee, my train got into Chicago several hours late. I missed my connecting train to Pittsburgh, but got in plenty of exercise lugging that heavy box through Union Station, into a cab, onto a Greyhound bus, and through the bus terminal in Pittsburgh the next morning.

image

Thankfully, my farmgirl strength and a winter full of kickboxing classes had me in fine form for heaving produce- or China and ballgowns. Still, I was happy to arrive her for some much needed Porch Time with my sister.
image

For more about the fur coats and recent and past travels, check out these links:

Furs on the Farm

Train Travel

The Slattery Oklahoma Suburb Rush

A Saturday Away