On a beautiful June day, I married the love of my life amidst the hills of Western Wisconsin. I never knew I could be overwhelmed by so much love.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have not been keeping my house. Instead, I have been housekeeping. At this moment, I am glancing over my snow covered garden across the gravel drive and at the back door of the little brick house where Teresa lives, heart in my throat, waiting for the back door to open and let me know she made the perilous daily journey down her stairs and into the kitchen of her little brick house. The door opens, my breath eases, my morning begins again.
I have been taking care of Teresa for two and half years now.
For the first two years, I was alone in this task. Introduced to her by a neighbor, I walked into a home that smelled so strongly of incontinence, neglect, and filth that it was all I could do to stay for five minutes. For the first several months, when I returned from Teresa’s house my husband made me strip off my clothes at the door, bag them up in plastic, and shower off before I touched the baby. There was so much to do to remedy the slow slide her house had taken over the years from an immaculate Polish home to a stinking hovel that I had no idea where to start. “I just need you to do a little laundry now and then.” said Teresa, in her quavering accented English. I started with the sheets, stripping the stiff yellow fabric unwashed for years, bleaching them, and stretching them out on the line in my backyard to let the sun burn away the stains and wind billow away the lingering scent. Slowly, surely, the sheets turned white. Slowly, Teresa began to trust me, to let me wash her hands, her hair.
Progress was slow, and there were setbacks- the one period of several months she refused to let me in, a fall on the kitchen floor, an ambulance trip and a hospital stay. Still, with time, I could see the house becoming a home again. After bleach and vinegar and sweat and tears it was clean enough that I began to bring my toddler with me when I went to care for her, and Teresa stopped telling me daily that she welcomed death, and instead waited in eager anticipation for my second child to be born. In the last trimester of my pregnancy, after another fall and stay in the hospital, we finally hired another helper to help with Teresa. It was a godsend. Not only was I relieved to know that someone would be taking care of Teresa so that I could go to the hospital and deliver my baby, but the lovely young woman who we hired managed to work a miracle and convince Teresa to rip out my nemesis- the stained and stinking carpet that was far beyond saving, no matter how many times I scrubbed it on my hands and knees- and replace it with a fresh, clean, new carpet that was the final step in transforming the home back to the order and serenity that her mother had created decades before and left in place when she left Teresa alone by dying.
Two weeks ago a shooting in the rough neighborhood where my co-worker lived created shock waves in her life and sent her out of town abruptly and likely on a permanent basis. Just after she left, a violent stomach flu hit Teresa and my two year old at exactly the same time, deep in the middle of the night. It was a long and sleepless night and the weeks following as a solo caretaker have been tough too. Teresa’s home remains serene and ordered while across our yards and the gravel drive that divides us my laundry is heaped in drifts like the aftermath of a blizzard on a windswept prairie plain, dishes are piled in the sink, and sometimes I stand in the middle of the room and cry.
I never planned on being a housekeeper, though it amuses me to think that I am following in the footsteps of my father’s grandmother, an Irish immigrant who came over at a young age to work as a maid in the great houses of Chicago at the turn of the century. In America roles are fluid, and there are days when I am a maid in the morning and harpist in pearls and velvet playing underneath a chandelier after sunset. Meanwhile, all the while, I am a mother. Being the mother of two in diapers, one 75 year old is not so much to add, and I can take my children with me when I care for her. That said, bundling up two little ones at the beck and call of an elderly woman four times a day is often challenging and occasionally seems impossible. So does keeping my own house.
Ten minutes ago the cheerful woman I hired two days ago to help with Teresa waved to me across the yard. She started this morning, and I am eager to hear how it goes. Meanwhile, my sister Mary just arrived at my home after a grueling 24 hour trip involving a train, a snowstorm, and a Greyhound bus. She is in the kitchen making cocoa and unpacking a cardboard box of heirloom China and ballgowns that (mostly) survived the trip. Mary is here for a week, and during that week I fully intend to scour my home from top to bottom sorting, dusting, organizing, keeping, and throwing things away. Mary is great at that sort of project. In fact, my housekeeping officially begins here on this blog, where I just re-posted two entries that Mary accidentally deleted in a well intentioned but unfortunate organization and cleanup effort on our blog. She has also in the past jettisoned my late season garden and the internet line into my parent’s home. However, I believe that this time her powers will work for good.
We will keep you posted.
More on Teresa- or harp playing!- can be found here:
“Perhaps there is a distance that is the optimum distance for seeing ones father, further than across the supper table or across the room, somewhere in the middle distance. He is dwarfed by the trees or the sweep of the hill, but his features are still visible, his body language still distinct.”
Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres
My father is a proud farmer, and believes that tending a bit of land and producing good food will feed the soul and change the world. He believes that ones work should be real and important and worthy, and that my mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.
My father is a reluctant patriarch. I believe his nine children will change the world along with his annual bounteous crops of root crops and greens.
My father is an inveterate reader who attends sporting events and choir practice in the church loft with a stack of magazines and newspaper a foot high.
My father has informed, infuriated, and formed me. I hear him in the voices of my siblings, and see the way his huge and calloused hands have formed the way that they venture out into the world to work, to struggle and to love.
Today is my father’s birthday. I meant to buy him a great book, but I didn’t manage to do it in time. Instead, I am offering my gratitude to my father, to that familiar far off figure silhouetted on a ridge, hoe in hand. Thanks for producing such a fine crop of sons and daughters, Dad, and for the passion for life that you have instilled in us all.
The fall is my favorite season and every time the leaves start to change and the Slattery’s start harvesting squash, my heart beams. My mind will always wander back to two falls ago when Rob asked me to marry him.
Once upon a time…
I didn’t know that this was probably Rob testing my ability to get my hands dirty and work with his family because the next day came the big question…
He woke me up at five thirty in the morning for our breakfast sunrise date. I didn’t know what was going on or where we were going but I did know that this guy was not a morning person and he was dressed and smelled like cologne before six am so something was up….
He took me to a cabin in the country where he set up a breakfast complete with yogurt and granola for me and shrimp cocktail for himself ( YUUUUCK )
So my favorite season will now always take me back to one of my most cherished memories. The day was almost flawless… except for the part where I may or may not have forgotten to say yes before I snatched the ring. I guess Rob wanted to put it on my hand… Whoops.
In a week and a day, a Blue Moon approaches, and so does the birth of my baby boy. This pregnancy seems to have stolen the words from the tip of my tongue and severed the link between my thoughts and my fingertips. In general, my writing tumbles out in a rush and posts compose themselves. These days, I struggle to compose a grocery list, or to remember the name of the daily objects around me. Sentences begin and fade away, and blog posts don’t begin at all.
During the last months of pregnancy, it is hard to believe that being pregnant is not eternal but temporal in nature. I have faith that my ability to speak, and write, and leap will return in due course- but it is the sort of faith that seems faint and far off. On a daily basis, it really does feel like I will be pregnant forever. Perhaps this is part of the reason that I have almost no pictures of my previous pregnancies. During my first pregnancy, I did pour out my soul in words as often as possible. Knowing that I would be giving my first child up for adoption meant that I clung fiercely to every moment of that pregnancy, and the journal that I kept is vivid and powerful. However, I wasn’t posing for pretty pregnancy shots. Thankfully in the final week of my pregnancy I asked a friend to take one quick picture. I was in the middle of tearing down kitchen cabinets as we redid the kitchen in my parents home. I am wearing beat up mens cargo pants, a thin blue t shirt, and an awkward grin. I am so grateful to have that picture. For years, that picture tucked into the journal of my pregnancy served as a touchstone for me to look back and see that time, that pregnancy, that motherhood really did happen.
During my second pregnancy, I was struggling to adjust to a new marriage, new city, and entirely new life. It was winter and hard to keep moving when everything in my life had shifted so drastically, although thanks to my husband I kept dancing and through dancing found a new balance, even as the shape of my body dramatically shifted. Still I was submerged in myself somehow, and shy of the camera during that pregnancy as well. Again, at the last moment, I decided it was important to document my pregnancy. On the stone steps of an old church on Easter morning, less than 24 hours before giving birth, I posed for an awkward but beautiful shot of my belly in full bloom, complete with high heels and an Easter hat. Again, I am so glad I did. I have looked back at that picture many times, as the beginning of an incredibly joyful time in my life with my daughter Olympia. She loves the picture too.
And here I am, in the midst of the last week (or two) of my third pregnancy. Between running after my exuberant daughter and caring for my elderly neighbor, I have spent a great deal of this pregnancy profoundly exhausted. Thankfully I had enough energy to be sewn into a sparkling dress for a Samba performance at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall in my second trimester, but in general I have felt wan and weak and tired and without words to write or a hint of the creativity needed to set up a photo shoot. But! Lately I have been inspired by the beautiful pictures taken by the lovely blogger Jenna, who is a radiantly beautiful pregnant woman. I look at her pictures and think dang it, I want some of that. Pregnancy seems eternal but is fleeting, and I know that in a few months and in the years to come I will want a record of this time with this child within.
I wasn’t planning on doing a photo shoot when I headed out the door hand in hand with my two year old yesterday afternoon, but I had just bought some huge bright turquoise colored earrings, and the shadows of late summer afternoon were slanting into evening in an alluring manner, and so I grabbed my camera and called my friend Christina and headed towards the old brick warehouses on the edge of the Allegheny River. I am a big believer in taking pictures in beautiful places while the light is doing interesting things. This makes up for my lack of actual understanding of how cameras actually work. I am just too lazy to figure that out, at least so far. For this Blue Moon Baby to be photoshoot, I thought that the former loading dock of a red brick former icehouse converted into studio space down near the river would be a great start. This space has caught my attention and held it every time I’ve walked by for the past three years.
It was perfect. If you, like me, feel shy and awkward about a third trimester photo shoot, I recommend: an enchanted spot. Find one that works for you. For me, adding huge earrings and heavy eye makeup was essential.
A rambunctious small child is optional, but will definitely help to keep the mood from getting too serious. At least, she will try.
You also want a kind, compassionate, and creative photographer to work with, like my lovely friend Christina.
Christina was a joy to work with. After we climbed down off the back dock, she agreed to slide down the gravel path to the rocky shore of the Allegheny, where the water laps against slabs of broken concrete and rusty nails- and that was where the light and the view became really magical.
This picture is worth a thousand words. I am so grateful to have captured that moment of water and light. It has reminded me that this waiting time is beautiful, and it lifts me out of the fatigue and the aches and swelling I feel and reminds me of the incredible beauty of pregnancy. For that, I am grateful.
For more pictures, click here.
Three years ago, I married a mariachi.
That is, I married a half Mexican schoolteacher in a custom made Mariachi suit, on a windy Wisconsin ridgetop, in the church across the road from Sweet Ridge Farm.
I wore my Grandmother’s vintage satin wedding dress and my mother’s veil.
My mother had worn this wedding dress as well. I had been dreaming of wearing this dress since I was a little girl, and was thrilled to carry on a tradition in the third generation.I am guessing that my grandmother wore very high heels when she was married in this dress.
The day was full of blooming peonies in the beautiful bouquets designed and created by my sister Mary…
and the air was full of rose petals.
The celebration on my brother’s organic dairy farm was exuberant, as was famous moment in which the hoop skirted bridesmaids in ballgowns climbed the silo.
Granted, the hoop skirts did have to be left behind for this stunt to work.
A moment which, to be honest, horrified my brand new big city raised husband, who was gesturing with all his might for me to climb back down, preferably in a ladylike manner. I did come down….. eventually.
It was a gorgeous day for grand sweeping gestures and great romance and castles (or silos) in the sky.
Three years later, our feet are on the ground, and our life is taking root here in a city far from the rolling ridgetops where I was raised. I am less a blushing bride and shaped more like a vast ship at sail at sea….
but our married life is deeper, and (mostly!) smoother, and overall much easier than it was in the whirlwind of wedding and moving and getting to know each other and settling in to new roles and a new joint life. Happy Third Anniversary to my husband! Thanks for putting on that mariachi suit, and letting me leap down off the silo and into this new life.
There are lots more posts about our weddings here:
Once upon a time, my brother Rob met a very tall young man from far away California who read the poems of Pablo Neruda in Spanish, played the electric guitar, talked a blue streak, and went to mass on a regular basis.
Hmmn, thought Rob. I know a tall harp playing fast talking girl that this guy might want to meet.
And so, flagrantly violating the Guy Code, Rob introduced his new friend to his big sister… and the rest was history.
Obviously, Rob approved of this tall young man. In fact all five of my brothers approve of my now husband far more than they approve of me. But that didn’t mean that they went entirely easy on him.
Oh, testosterone. It’s a strange and potent thing. It was definitely testosterone that prompted my husband-to-be to challenge my oldest brother Gabe, who had been bodybuilding as a hobby for years, to a wrestling match at his bachelor party two nights before our wedding. To prepare for this epic and dangerous match, my future husband began to dabble in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a couple months before the wedding arrived. Now, two months of jiu jitsu is not really ample preparation for a slender musician to grapple with a testosterone crazed former bar brawler with the physique of a young ox, but somehow he made it through the fight alive, though narrowly escaping with both eyes, as Gabe wasn’t adequately prepared for the relatively civilized world of MMA, where eye gouging is not allowed. In the end, my now husband survived the fight, got the girl, and went on to pursue a serious study of Jiu Jitsu, earning his blue belt last year.
and ensuring that his brother-in-laws now have no interest in grappling with him, ever again. That’s ok. He’s got lots of other guys to grapple with.
The reason I’m telling you this story today is that my husband is not only a great husband, father, musician, teacher and blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu- he’s also a talented aspiring film-maker, and today marks the debut of his recent short film about a local MMA fighter named Mark Cherico. Mixed martial arts may not be your favorite subject in the world, and it’s certainly not mine, but I found this piece beautiful and strangely engrossing. It’s also a great homage to the Italian neighborhood of Bloomfield, where I spend much of my time at an amazing dance studio. If you’ve got 8 minutes to spare, do yourself a favor and watch Casey’s debut film. You won’t regret it. Without further ado, here is the link:
Two summers ago Patrick brought home a tiny squirming Australian Shepherd puppy from Iowa that quickly won my affection and became the perfect canine companion for me. In my eyes he could do no wrong, and I told him so on a daily basis. Right before Christmas, my dog was hit by a car and died of internal injuries.
After he died, I vowed that I would never get another dog again. Even the sight of dogs bothered me. I was well aware that the family dog, Bounder, was expecting his offspring.
But I was convinced that having another dog would be too hard. While I was away in New York, Bounder disappeared under the porch into a little den like space that nobody could get to. It was evident that she had given birth judging from the sounds of a yelping puppy. A month went by with her hidden in her hole, only coming out for food and water. I came back home still adamant that I had no interest in whatever was business going on under the porch. Finally the yelping stopped and we wondered if she had died. Indeed, this was not hard too imagine as she is 11 years old in dog years which means about 70 in people years. Last Sunday morning I took the time to investigate and checked the doghouse that my brother, Robert had procured out of an old broken freezer.
As you can see, it’s a pretty hard scramble house with a camping mat draped over the top for extra insulation. Personally, I call it the dog trailer house. Although I disdain it, Bounder must not, for I discovered that she was contentedly sprawled in it with just one lone puppy. For all we know, she may have had more, please do remember though that she is 70-something in dog years. 70 year old animals and people have every right to eat their new offspring I suppose. So if she did pack in a bit of extra puppy protein, please don’t judge her.
After collective communal agreement, the puppy is now named Fig. Fig is a funny little guy, and has a curved spine. My brother, Patrick took him to the local vets house and found out that he has scoliosis. Patrick said that when he was at the vets house Fig was yapping away with bravado at the vet’s big dogs. That’s just what his dad would have done too.
Scoliosis doesn’t stop him from scampering about though!
I still think about Fig’s dad a lot. Sometimes I dream about him dying, and once in awhile thoughts of him still make me cry. But when I see Fig I forget about never wanting a dog again. He makes me squeal with delight, and I am thinking that maybe eventually we are going to be friends….
For more of Sweet Ridge dog tales, check out:
Dominic Kieltyka was the first boy I ever kissed, in the midst of a early Northern thaw. Winter still held sway and would for months, but a warm wind rushed over the deep snow and icy snow melt surged down ravines tearing down the sides of ridges and filling the valley creeks under the bright sunny sky. At night though, the fleeting warmth fled under the bright stars and the world froze again, with rough ruts and channels of ice and frozen mud everywhere.
I was visiting close friends and fellow home-schoolers in a rambling owner built home in a beautiful valley about an hour from my ridgetop home. I was 14 years old, and restless and reckless like that snow melt tumbling down the hills, looking for an adventure. I wanted to get that first kiss out of the way. According to my friends, Dominic was a perfect match for this first kiss business. At 14, Dominic was tall, slender, and gangly, with a shock of white blonde hair, kind blue eyes, a prominent beaked nose that would take years to grow into, and with both gentlemanly manners and courage beyond his years. I took a deep breath, and agreed to the match. A quick phone call was made to set up the details, and late that night I slipped down a pair of creaking back steps with my intrepid friend, guide, and amateur matchmaker, and we wheeled a pair of bikes over the frozen ruts of the gravel driveway and onto the lonely country road. I vividly remember that late night ride in that still, silent, frozen night under a sky full of stars burning brightly. My breath froze and trailed in clouds behind my bicycle as I pedaled to the rendezvous point miles away, full of mingled anticipation and horror.
We met under a tiny bridge on the sandy slope above a small creek. Dominic slipped under the bridge and joined me on the cold sand, and we were both frozen with nerves. My friend helpfully struck up a tune from her perch a discreet distance away, launching into country crooner Garth Brooks melancholy love songs. We sat in silence until Dominic quietly asked “May I have permission to kiss you?” His manners were impeccable, which somehow made me even more mortified, but I acquiesced. Our kiss was awkward and fleeting, and to our mutual relief the deed was done.
I was too embarrassed to talk much to Dominic for a year or two, and tended to flee if I happened to see him. Our kiss had clearly not fated us to a great romance, or any romance at all. I do remember attending a performance of Russian Folk dancing in which Dominic had a starring role. He leapt nimbly and with grace. It was impressive, but in Western Wisconsin in the early 1990’s Russian Folk Dancing was far from the epitome of cool. Dominic was on his way to becoming very cool, however, along with my brother Gabe and their best friend Hansel. In their mid to late teens, these three were quite the trio of juvenile delinquents, running the ridges on motorcycles with bandannas on their heads, cigarettes in their lips, and often policemen in close pursuit. Dominic was famous for the great cornfield chase, with cops shining bright lights into the dense seven foot leafy rows as he silently sweated to push his bike further and further into the deep concealment of the corn. He got away that night, at least that’s how the story goes, but a series of such adventures and mishaps in his late teens led to some furious fights at home, and eventually Dominic ended up staying at the Slattery household for extended periods of time, and slowly becoming the sixth Slattery brother.
The year that we turned 21 (an extremely exciting event for Dominic, and in fact an epic tale for another time) we both ended up living in the big battered farmhouse with my parents and the seven younger kids who were all being home-schooled at the time. We were both working through some disgrace, as Dominic had just been discharged from the county jail for a series of infractions and I was pregnant and planning to place my child for adoption. That winter, my Dad invited another large family of home-schoolers to come over for pizza and help us tear off the back of our house, leaving a heap of rubble in the wake of the party. I suppose it makes sense, as children do make an effective if messy demolition crew. The entire rear section of the house was ripped off in preparation for an addition project to enlarge the space. The rear section of the house included the one and only bathroom, so for the rest of the winter and early spring while Dominic quietly and competently worked on building the addition we all used a bucket and sawdust for a low tech composting toilet. Mary Brigid also rescued a tiny baby goat that winter, bringing her into the house to warm her up and save her life. Bella was a lively and charming house guest for a solid couple months, and added to the already high level of excitement in our home. Dominic had some wild nights on the ridge that spring, but mostly I remember him speaking quietly of the future, dreaming of building an airplane and learning to fly, laughing, wielding a hammer, and helping to build our home. Without Dominic our farmhouse would never have expanded to offer so much hospitality and beauty to so many people.
After helping to build the Slattery home, Dominic was part of the great migration south, where several northern Slattery sibling seekers in their early twenties headed to North Carolina to search for jobs and adventure in a warmer climate. For my brother Robert and cousin Cale, Dominic was an extra big brother who did the practical work of finding a place to live and work. For me, Dominic was a sweet and reliable friend who not only stopped by to chop my firewood on a regular basis, but amazingly agreed to be my partner so I could take a tango class. I told him that perhaps a bit of ballroom dance would sweep the women off their feet, and so once a week after a rough day of chewing tobacco and building houses he would put on a clean shirt and comb his hair and show up for class. Sadly, I was clumsy and deeply lacking talent for tango. I also insisted on wearing an ancient and disreputable pair of cowboy boots with the soles worn clean away, and one night they slipped right out from under me. I pulled Dominic down on top of me in a loud and awkward crash. I don’t think that is what he imagined when I promised he would sweep women off their feet.
Dominic Kieltyka was the first friend I ever lost. The season turned too quickly, and the mild March spring of Eastern North Carolina blossomed into hazy heat and burning blue skies. Dominic headed out onto a lake with an old canoe and my brother Rob, with no life preservers on board. Far, far from shore the canoe overturned and the two were submerged in the icy waters of early spring. They swam for their life, but that cold water took Dominic and there was nothing Rob could do but keep swimming, and start screaming when after an eternity he reached the shore.
Dominic was fearless. He wasn’t afraid to take wild risks, ride wild horses, race fast cars off cliffs. He was fearlessly generous and gentle in his love for his friends and for his family. He wasn’t afraid of living, and he was the least afraid of dying of anyone I knew. I don’t think Dominic was scared to go on ahead, but I know that for a long time we were all scared to keep living without him.
Dominic Kieltyka died on March 6th, 2004, in the early spring. His season ended far too soon.