Tag Archives: library

The Library Blues

by Kate

At the hundred year old Carnegie Library of Lawrenceville, about to stand on the stone steps in the searing 95 degree heat and deliver the following speech as part of an event kicking off a voter initiative to raise funds to keep the library going…

My husband moved to Lawrenceville after college because he had the blues. A guitar player from California, he’d attended shows at the Thunderbird and was drawn to the rough at the edges, smoky, bluesy urban scene that Pittsburgh, and specifically Lawrenceville, offered. I fell in love with him and left the deep blue ridges of North Carolina to join him. One of his first and most powerful persuasions to entice me to move was a trip through the Carnegie Main Library in the middle of the winter. He watched my eyes widen in wonder in the stacks and laughed.
Our first year as newlyweds was spent in classic poverty, living on love and little else. His meagre schoolteacher’s paycheck (a career in blues having been set aside) was barely enough to pay the rent for our dingy loft above a bar with a thumping bass. We couldn’t even afford to pay for the internet. Meanwhile I was struggling to adjust to a new city, married life, and the new baby on the way at the end of the year.
There were so many things that drew me to the Carnegie Library branch up the street. As a voracious reader, I needed constant piles of books to get through that year. The amazingly free internet access allowed me to pour out my thoughts to friends across the country, work on developing my career as a musician and dancer in Pittsburgh, learn about my new community, and research important information on a daily basis. The staff was gracious, friendly, and welcoming. Finally the building itself is an architectural gem and a delight to spend time in- high ceilings, marble floors, elegant scrollwork, hissing radiators billowing heat in the winter and fans creating cool breezes in the hot summer.
As the due date for our daughter drew closer, we spent a great deal of time deciding where to settle. We discovered that not only did Lawrenceville have a great music scene, it was full of young families, parks, a farmer’s market, a local church, and groceries within walking distance. Finally, and crucially, it had this amazing library complete with huge beautiful children’s room. The threatened closure of the library almost caused us to settle in another neighborhood. I couldn’t imagine having a baby in the city without having a library within walking distance.
The library is open, and we are here almost every day that the library is open. My daughter, at 14 months, is pretty sure she is an employee. I check out books, order them from other branches, buy them from the sale rack, use the internet, take home dvds. My husband uses movies from the library in his teaching work and has worked his way through almost the entire Carnegie selection of martial arts books. Our baby attends storytime, baby yoga, and beams upon sight of the librarians, who take the time to walk with her hand in hand as they sort and stack the books. The library has helped me to settle into this city and into my life as a harpist, dancer, wife, and mother here. I cannot imagine our life in this city without this library- and I hope I won’t have to in the future.

Lines from the Library

by Kate

It has been a whirlwind of a couple weeks, and a fairly silent one here on the blog.  In my defense, the two computers in our household crashed just before the red dirt wedding. I am generally the moderater and editor of this sister project blog, meaning that I call home, stalk, and harangue my younger sisters into sending me pieces on a regular basis. However, with no home computer I have been reliant on the local Lawrenceville public library for internet access and the entire blogging system has broken down.

I love the library. I love the stacks of books, the antique iron scrollwork on the shelves, the sunny children’s room, the friendly librarians, the access to reams of books and racks of dvds and internet access and shiny magazines. Back in Wisconsin, the Slattery family has always been deeply devoted to libraries across the Coulee Region in Wisconsin. This library hopping was likely connected to our rolling fines, which grew to staggering proportions as we cleared one card at a time and then lined up with stacks of books three feet high and higher. This perhaps explains my surprise that the librarians here are so universally cheerful and friendly. My young childhood memories of librarians are fearful ones of tight lipped and often furious custodians of a quiet space. This may be connected to the fact that we were allowed to run wild and free within that space, sometimes shattering that quiet. In fact I particularly remember about five of us being ordered out of the delightful fountain in the public square outside the library in LaCrosse. I believe my father was calmly settled in the magazine section, with a stack of magazines half a foot high.

The love of libraries has already been firmly established with my 13 month old daughter. Her eyes light up at the prospect of our daily trip up the hill, around the corner, and up the marble steps into our local library. She waves her arms wildly at the librarians and bats her eyelashes, holding out her hand for a tour of the stacks. In fact, she loves the library all too much. She does not love being trapped in a sling while I settle in at a computer and check my email, attempt to keep up with online business. The possibility of settling in to write an entire blog post has never even been a possibility before now. The child kicks, howls, and begs to be let down to run wild and free. As soon as her feet hit the floor she makes a beeline behind the circulation desks to join her favorite librarians. So far, they are still friendly, but the time it takes to write a blog just might be the same amount of time it takes to turn a friendly librarian into a furious frowning one. I don’t want to find out.

Today, the baby is sleeping and I am typing as fast as I can here at the library. And guess what? The computer next to me just went down. With a virus.

I miss the blog, and all of you readers. There are plenty of stories for you from here in the city, and from the farm. Colleen is graduating from high school, and Clare is graduating from 8th grade. My father is harvesting vast swathes of asparagus every morning. Here in the city, we are close to having a working computer again. Keep your fingers crossed, and hopefully we’ll be back to regular postings soon.


Post Voting Nostalgia

by Mary

One evening last week I drove the three miles down Hwy 33 to our local Town Hall to vote. Before going inside, I halted and knocked mud off my boots. Not that it really mattered, but I had been euthanizing a bed of dreadfully ugly graveyard flowers (aka, day lilies), and I didn’t want to track mud into the building. When I entered my local town hall, I took a second to reflect on what the environment would look like from a 3rd party perspective.
The hall is very small and always warm. The heat is generated by a old cast iron wood burning stove that even in April was still being utilized. The curtains which hover over the three or four voter booths must have once been white, but are yellow from age. Looking at them made me wonder if a farm wife had sewn them in the 60’s or 70’s? What is most famous to me about the place is the ballot machine that I swear is bulimic! In goes my vote, out it is spit. After one regurgitation, my vote went through, and I was back in my car processing things. From an outsiders view, my world must appear so small.
However, I don’t look at it that way at all. The best way of going about explaining this, would be to start off by stating the I am the daughter of a former journalist. In a sense, my father gave me the world and simultaneously brought it to our door. He did this in many different ways. First off, he introduced us kids to the key that brings the world to life anywhere and everywhere. It’s free (well actually, I have had up to a $40 fine on mine), is less than an inch in length and plastic-a library card. All of my life, I have followed my parents example and read and read and read, That very morning, I had risen at 5:30 with the addiction to squeeze time into my day for a fantastic novel on Nepal and it’s civil war. Through pages of books, the world has been introduced to me in such a raw way.
Being a reporter enabled my Dad to take us kids out into the world with him. Growing up, I attended meetings, conventions, long masses that I had had a notorious time sitting through, and other assignments with Dad. Typically, a few of us kids would pile into a falling apart car with him. We would bring our substance of survival-books, and hope that the place or places we were going would have good food to rush at (Slattery kids are always first in food lines, it’s like a survival thing I think), and that we wouldn’t get into too many scrapes from frowning adults while we “free ranged it” for the day.
My parents exhibit a certain charisma that welcomes the world to their very own doorstep. A quick list of a few of our more cultured (and less crazy) guests would include: My Dad’s best friend, a former American resident, who has been serving overseas with the Peace Corps for the last 20 some years, many Muslims and Hmong families have frequented our farm. Also, Dad has a ton of priest friends who have come from all over. India, Africa, and Mexico are the places of which most would tell you is their home origin. One of my favorite group of guests ever, were 4 Landless Peasants from South America, who came to the States to protest Monsanto. Talk about a learning experience under your very own roof! In the days before my birth, Dad and Mom had somehow befriended a Polish refugee who lived with our family. After Robert was born, he moved out, so I never really got to learn much about his country until later on when my Dad started inviting over Victor Lugalis. Victor was a Orthodox Priest from Lithuania who had wife and three children. The Lugallis family taught my family a whole lot about Soviet History and Mom and Kate even performed in a play that he wrote on Poland.
As a young girl, I was uncomfortable and even resentful due to the level of “weirdness” that I was constantly exposed to. I didn’t get why I had to spend time traversing about the diocese or beyond with my Dad, lugging his camera case and having what seemed like every Priest in the area know my family’s name. I was absolutely confident that knowing poultry words in Hmong and being the only white kid at their celebrations save my brothers, was not fun, nor anything to be proud of.
As the years have ebbed by, I am increasingly grateful for the gift of the world given to me by my Father. I am proud of being able to vote at a tiny town hall that has an ample supply of firewood and a certain peace to it. My roots are here in Wisconsin, I am not and never will be a city person. I hate elevators, can’t drive in city traffic and am in a general state of confusion over how to cross a street in a busy city. But the world as a whole is something that I hold a sacred reverence for…it’s a beautiful puzzle, and I am not afraid of it. Thank you Dad!

A City Walk

by Kate

Unlike my two middle sisters, I am not a runner. They both glory in pounding the pavement of  the rough ridge roads, spinning gravel and leaping across the ridge leaving a trail of dust in their wake while breathing far more easily than should be possible and catching up on all the latest ridge gossip in a breathy chat back and forth as the wind whips by. I have always preferred to take it more slowly, and am a huge fan of the walk. I love the idea that I am setting out on a meandering adventure with a whole world to discover. I will admit that as a home schooled teenager reading Tolkein, this did sometimes involve wearing a cape and setting out with some sort of walking stick and a bag of bread and cheese. Passing farmers shook their heads and my brothers begged me to stop pretending that I was in Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Ireland and to please remember that I was firmly located on a ridgetop in dairy country in a solidly German settlement in Middle Ridge, Wisconsin.

Now I am living halfway up a ridge in the midst of a solidly Polish block in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and I love walking through the city. City walking offers not only scope for the imagination, but the practical benefit of running errands while walking. I have left my cloak far behind (in fact it is located in the dress up bin at my parents farm) and exchanged it for a new accessory- my 20 lb baby slung in a sling.

That sling has been the most amazing child rearing tool in the world, making it possible for me to hang laundry, make breakfast, nurse the baby on the go, and accomplish innumerable things while walking about the city. I fear the day when I must succumb to the stroller. I am so not a stroller person, and can’t figure out how to become one. We have a big, beautiful, capacious stroller that has the storage space to provision a team hiking the Appalachian Trail for a month. Last year I hauled it out of the basement to take it to the farmers market so I could use it to purchase and transport a bushel of apples. I was wearing the baby in the sling, and as I twisted to lock the front door I accidentally let go of the stroller which hurtled down our steep set of stone steps and flipped end over end before settling on the sidewalk in front of the street full of horrified rush hour commuters in cars. I waved at them, pointing at the baby who was safe on my body, and contemplated the fact that I really shouldn’t use the stroller to transport a living creature until I was a bit better at it.

Let us continue on our walk, with no stroller in sight. I live across from Arsenal Park, a fact which delighted my sister Clare when she visited last year. Her class had just been studying the role of the Pittsburgh Arsenal in the Civil War.

I fully intend to learn more about the Arsenal and the great explosion there, and to share it with you. In the meantime, you can learn more at the Carnegie Street House Restoration blog which has some great pictures of the historical Arsenal. These days the old Arsenal spot is a park with soccer fields, play sets teeming with children, and a baseball diamond. Looking across the partk you can see the spires of St. Augustine’s Church, a beautiful red brick German edifice.

The red brick church and ball diamond soothe me and remind me of home every day, since I grew up on a ridge across from the red brick St. Peter’s church with a baseball diamond on our side of the road. Granted, the basketball courts here are flat and even. My brothers played and still play on the bottom of a hillside, with the ball bouncing crazily down into the pasture regularly.

Onward and up the hill! Just around the corner is the Carnegie Library of Lawrenceville.

This library opened with great fanfare in May, 1898, as the first branch of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library system. It narrowly averted being closed last year due to severe budget shortfall. The residents of Lawrenceville fought hard to keep the library. It is an incredibly beautiful building, rich with history. There are soaring high ceilings, marble floors, decorative iron curlicues on the stacks. There is also an amazing children’s room.

We spend a lot of time here. In fact, Olympia is convinced that she is actually the Library Assistant.






Maybe Olympia could help (un)shelve something for you?

Oh dear. This is tiring. Time for a rest.

Moving along away from the libary and up the hill, we leave behind the Polish people of Lawrenceville and enter the gloriously Italian neighborhood of Bloomfield. This is where I holy cards, pasta, coffee beans, and homemade doughnuts. Well, no doughnuts during Lent, but it is still a great adventure. Casey is a religion teacher, and now and then for some reason he needs holy cards, a holy water font, or an obscure book of some sort. Luckily, I can pop into the Sacred Heart of Jesus store where there is always a pot of coffee and a heap of religious items to face any conceivable needs.

I always enjoy talking to the two sweet and surprisingly energetic ladies who run this store. I was surprised to learn that one of them was a bellydancer in her youth, before she became a nun. She makes undulating hand movements at Olympia and Olympia dances back while I browse through the holy cards.

There are heaps of obscure and useful books in the Sacred Heart of Jesus store.

They are musty and beautiful and besides inspiring me to step up my Spiritual Life, they remind me of the fact that Ikea and Anthropologie keep sending me catalogs full of stacks and stacks of hardcover books. They also remind me that we badly more bookcases at home. The nuns are not particularly orderly bookkeepers, but they have my current system beat.

Onwards to Donatelli’s, the little Italian grocery where I buy my anchovies, my pasta, and my coffee beans.

I always have a strange desire to buy the dried fish, but have no idea what to do with it. The little old Italian lady  with the black kerchief, camel coat, and white tennis shes does, though.

They have the cheapest and some of the best bulk coffee in town tucked in the tight aisles. After procuring my groceries, it is time to head down the hill and back home. I like to explore the allies, many of which are still cobblestoned. They have beautiful names. Here is one of my current favorites:

Bowery Way! These street names always conjure up visions of romance for me, especially as everything begins to blossom. I love finding bits of wildness in the midst of the city and cobblestoned history in the midst of the present. I also love that the dramatic ridges of my neighborhood remind me of the ridges of my Wisconsin home.

And so, down the hill with my bag full of coffee and sling full of baby, I reach my front door and my adventure is over for the morning. Thank you for virtually coming along  on this walk with me. Until next time,