Tag Archives: work

On Wisconsin


It has been a slow descent into the world of coffee for me over these past few years. My sister-in-law, Nicole, will tease me about the “coffee milk”, I used to drink when she first met me, as I drink down a huge cup of the lovely stuff on her living room couch. It was indeed just coffee and milk that I used to drink, the sweetness of the raw milk blending with just a dash of coffee in a mason jar mug.

And so, it was a no-brainer when I came to college: I was determined to get a job at the coffee shop on campus. I have been working at the Cappuccino Bar, or “Capp Bar” as most people fondly call it, for almost two years now, and I absolutely love it. Sometimes I feel that the smell of espresso has been soaked into my skin, under the fingernails and lingering on my palms.

One of my favorite parts of the job is creating new drinks. Everyone at the Capp Bar is encouraged to experiment, make some unique, make something your own. I have created a few drinks over the past two years, but recently I may have struck gold with the dawn of what a co-worker and I call the “On Wisconsin”. My co-worker, Christian, is also from Wisconsin, and one day, as we were ruminating on the glories and downfalls of the state, a friend suggested that we make an official drink for Wisconsin. We gladly accepted the challenge.

After much discussion, we agreed that the drink had to incorporate these two things: lots and lots of dairy and something German. Those are the two trademarks of Wisconsin, right? The fact that everyone and their grandma is at least a quarter German and probably drinks and eats a startling amount of dairy products. Thus, the “On Wisconsin” was born, a milky, German chocolate mocha cappuccino. And it’s dang good, if you ask me.

The ingredient that really makes this drink would have to be the (surprising) coconut syrup006,

paired with a pump of chocolate and a shot of espresso, and finally drowned in the creamy goodness of steamed whole milk.  And voila!


As the snow falls gently and deep in Wisconsin, I am under the clouds of Dallas today, threatening a thunderstorm with temperatures in the 70s.  Perhaps I’m not so far from home, though, as I serve up “On Wisconsins” to these unenlightened Texans, bringing a little bit of comfort to my Mid-western soul.


Grocery Girl

by Colleen


This past summer I was lucky enough to land a job at the People’s Food Co-op in nearby La Crosse, WI, due to the the fact that I am what they call there a “Co-op Baby”.  Sweet Ridge Farm has sold produce on and off to this organic food store for years, and apparently the management has watched me and my siblings grow from toddlers to teens, wending our way through aisles of dried fruit and organic cereals, eating their legendary malted milk balls straight from the bag, and taking more than our fair share of the many free samples of chips and dips they offer in the deli section.  If there is free food anywhere within 30 miles, the Slattery children will find it.

In any case, they noticed my last name on my application, and I was in.  I spent this past summer working part time as a grocery girl, stocking the shelves with an assortment of odd goods, such as seaweed snacks and hemp milk, and chatting with the only other girl in the department, Natalya, from Russia.  When I came back home for break, they immediately offered my job back to me.  Unfortunately, my days of gossip with Natalya are gone, as she has now returned to Russia, and I have now taken the role of Only Girl in the Grocery and Produce Department.  It’s not so bad, really.  Growing up with 5 brothers has made me quite comfortable with guys, and in most cases I actually prefer it.  So now I mostly spend my days talking about Russian literature to my boss, Ed, and directing people to the chia seeds (aisle 2, on the top right).

But what really lights up my day is a visit from the sisters.  Clare and Mary decided to pop in the other day and document my job.  Mary was particularly interested in our wine selection…


Knowing absolutely nothing about our wine, I immediately suggested a French one.  You can’t go wrong with French wine, non?


Needless to say, Mary did not take my suggestion   Some people just have no taste (or lack an obsession with French things).  But Mary and I do share some things in common.  While she dreams of bikinis, sunshine, and flowers, I dream of the green fields of France and baguettes and berets.  So, don’t be disturbed if you wander into the People’s Food Co-op to buy some dried aduki beans and hear the shelf stocker muttering to herself  in French-it’s just a harmless, dreaming grocery girl.

Gary Elson: Son of Middle Ridge Soil

By Patrick Slattery

Not many farmers are fortunate enough to have a silent sidekick. I do in the personage of Gerard (Gary) Elson. Gary is a genuine farm article. Born and raised just over the hill west of Middle Ridge, he has had a lifelong love of all things agricultural. Unfortunately, in later times his farming life unraveled: he suffered a stroke about 12 years ago. As a result, his dairy herd went down the road.

The farm which had been in the Elson family for four generations was sold to a childless cohabitating couple, and Gary moved into a subsidized senior citizen housing complex in West Salem, Wi which is about 12 miles away from his home farm.

Gary is not the kind to sit and do nothing. I tried to help him though his divorce, and when it was clear that the subsidized housing complex was where he would reside, I suggested he come and help out here in the neighborhood if it were to his liking.

It has proven to be an option to his liking, and most days Monday through Friday, Gary can be found here. A senior citizen bus provides very convenient transportation to my house. In previous times,  he drove a Polaris ATV 12 miles back and forth from West Salem, but alas! The sheriff’s office pulled him over and put an end to the 5 times a week drive.

Let me state emphatically that I am a big beneficiary of Gary’s regular visitations. Gary is a true farmer and has helped fill some of my knowledge gaps especially when it comes to mechanical understandings. Gary pays attention to the likes of dipsticks and tires, things that don’t seem to capture my attention. He has saved my neck more than a few times. I especially enjoy Gary’s company because we don’t have to talk too much.

Gary’s stroke impeded his speech. I can understand him most of the time, but most people cannot. Hence, I do a lot of his business transactions. A lot of his sentences end with oh, sheete…. There are times that I am glad that he can’t talk because then he can’t say oh shit, I told you so!

Gary has settled into his own groove, and has ended up on his own two feet pretty well considering the life blows that he has taken. He likes livestock and the first thing that he does when he arrives each morning around 8:15 is to feed the chickens. He had got a real nose for finding egg nests in the strangest of places. Whatever the undertaking, Gary has a practical knowledge of how to set up work and get it done. He did a masterful job of organizing my barn’s basement, and spends many a happy hour down there, hammering, sawing and chopping things.

It is a wonderful male domain. The only point of contention is that Gary loves country western music. This doesn’t sit well with my wife. She turns it off when working with us packing produce in the basement of my barn. Detoured, Gary turns the Cow Country station right back on when she isn’t around. To be truthful, I have developed a whole new appreciation of  the socio-economic observations provided by county music artists.

Gary and I often times work on projects together in the morning. Things always go better when you have two sets of hands. Gary is a chow hound and is quite appreciative of good fresh food. He communicates thanks to the chef. Afterwards, a half hour nap on our tv room couch is in order, then it’s time for more work.

I knew Gary’s parents who were really beautiful people. His Dad had the kindest look about him and a gentle soul. Gary has much of that in him too. He comes from good stock. I trust that Gary and I have a mutually beneficial relationship. I know that I am grateful for anything that he does. He may not live on the Ridge any longer, but he is and always will be a son of the soil of Middle Ridge.

This article is part of an occasional series written by Patrick J. Slattery, patriarch of the Slattery clan. Pat was a journalist for over 30 years, writing about faith, farming, and family. For the past few years he has stepped away from the keyboard and into the fields as a full time farmer. The first articles in his series is available here:

Cute Tractor


Up on the Rooftop

by Kate

The slate roofs on the houses surrounding mine were supposed to last a hundred years. Some of them are still going strong after sixty five, but my neighbor Teresa recently recieved the news that she had some patches where only tarpaper protected her from the coming snow. I suppose it is impressive the slate lasted as long as it did, considering the level of pollution here in Pittsburgh when the house was built.

The roofers showed up, and the slate started coming down.

There is something very romantic and free about the sight of a figure balanced high above the earth and silhouetted against the sky.

Now, two of my brothers do roofs for a living, along with building barns that are works of art (see here, it is worth the trip) as well as the occasional house, addition, or whatever else needs doing. All five of the Slattery boys have worked on a roof at some point or another, and as far as I know none of the girls ever have and I certainly haven’t.  I am wary of waxing overly rhapsodic on the topic of roofing because I am afraid of hearing them laugh at me from five hundred or a thousand miles away.

I still think roofing, like many types of manual labor, is compelling.

I love ladders, and heights, for one thing.

There are lots of ladders and heights involved in roofing.

And I’ve done just enough traditionally male manual labor jobs- as a (terrible) landscaper, seasonal orchard worker, booted produce person tossing crates on the back dock- that I do remember what it feels like to show up raggedly sipping coffee and smoking early in the morning, pondering the job at hand, and then work in the cold grey mist or hot searing sun all day. There is a certain satisfaction in surveying a clear physical task and then bending to it, working through it, and finishing it. The mind is free while the body is at work.

That said, I will never, ever be hired by my brothers for a roofing project.

I talk way, way, way too much.

Working in Season

by Kate

In Wisconsin, my sister is climbing the boughs of apple trees in the orchard and pulling berries from the raspberry patch. She is cutting and preserving fruit and making jam and applesauce. Her hands are busy with this work. Here in the city the peaches have fallen from the tree behind my house. They are heavy and ripe, hit the ground with a thud and roll underfoot as I rush by. Last year I spent weeks on my back porch peeling and preserving peaches, baking peach crisps and pies and tarts. I was dizzy with the abundance of sweetness and wanted to capture every single peach to last through the long winter. This year, most of the peach season has slipped away. I am passing by fallen peaches every day, pushing through and old wooden gate and down another garden path and into the home of an elderly Polish woman who needs cleaning and cooking and conversation more than I need a freezer full of peaches.

Somehow without seeking I have slipped into a season of service to the elderly. When I came to Pittsburgh, I dreamed that I would play the harp in a ballgown at society weddings- and I have. What I didn’t expect was that I would play the harp with a baby on my lap in a locked down Memory Unit. What I didn’t expect was how much I would come to love playing for these people- some sleeping, some dreaming, some with faces alive and alight with joy as the songs and poetry bring memories of love and joy and sorrow back to life. I had no idea that I would learn so much about flexibility in mind and body from men and women in wheelchairs in my Gentle Stretch class. Living so far from home and from family, I never imagined that my daughter would be given so many generous and loving acting grandparents.

Yesterday someone asked me if I had always planned to work with old people. I laughed, and said not at all. I married and moved to this home, on this street, with peach trees and Polish ladies in the backyard and a huge old mansion turned multimillion dollar old folks home at the top of the hill five minutes up the street. Somehow the harp playing and dancing and eldest of nine children cooking and cleaning and farm strength all combined to make me the right person to reach out and pick an old man up off the floor, make a fresh bed for a shut-in woman, cajole a group of arthritic and depressed people to stretch a bit more than they think they can, and play a song that reminds a bright eyed woman beset with Alzheimers that she sang it at her son’s wedding.

A few years ago, I worked in the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina. I lived in a one room cabin and drove over twisting mountain passes meeting farmers, taking pictures, and working with restaurants and grocery chains and schools and hospitals to connect  local produce to local markets. It was great work, spreading the message that supporting farmers and eating fresh local food in season is important for the health of the individual, the community, and the land. I believe that food should be local, and seasonal. I believe that in many ways work should be seasonal too. The work on a farm is not static and unchanging. Some of the work is entirely physical, with calloused hands hard at work while the mind is free to reflect, and some of the work involves intricate planning.  Tasks shift along with the seasons.  There are days of hard labor from dawn to dusk and frozen winters when the soil is buried deep and resting, and the farmer is forced to rest as well.

For me, the concept of working in seasons means being open to using the talents that I have been given in different ways at many different times. The variety of  my work has made it far more joyful. These days I miss my farmers, but I love my old people. This year the peaches have fallen unpicked, but next year they will come again. Next year, perhaps I will have a season full of time to preserve them.

The Proverbial Woman

by Kate

It is often when we are feeling the most vulnerable that we begin to toss spears. This seems to me to be the cause of so many of the sharp words hurled back and forth between the encampments of working women and stay at home mothers. Our culture does not seem to support women in a way that allows them to grow gracefully into the role of woman and mother. Instead, so many of the women I know seem to be struggling to create a precarious balance in their lives.

My mother “didn’t work”. She was home with nine children, feeding them and clothing them and keeping the house from burning down- a very real possibility when the two year old set the pile of papers on the top of the piano on fire and then locked himself in the bathroom. She line dried all our laundry, grew a huge garden full of vegetables and flowers, and supported my father in his many entrepreneurial adventures. These were various in scope- hog raising, bee keeping, guiding tours of devout elderly people down to Alabama to visit Mother Angelica when the southern spring had settled into full on glory and the eager pilgrims could escape the icy death grip of neverending late Wisconsin winter. Between the farm and the nine kids and my father’s dreams, it was clear that my mother had a full time job on her hands. These days, she is subbing as a schoolteacher in the tiny rural Catholic elementary and public schools that my siblings who are still at home attend. She often uses the time at work to catch up on the reading and correspondence she fell behind on during the past 30 years. I often receive letters that begin “Dear Kate, I’m at school, and it’s so lovely and quiet I thought I would finally write!”

Though she is teaching much of the school year, my mother is passionate about the importance of the wife and mother as the heart and hearth of the home. She feels that it is vital for a family to have the mother creating a home, in the home. We often have heated discussions on this matter as I attempt to speak for the working women of my generation. So many women that I know are working split shifts with their husbands to avoid daycare, working all night so that they can be with their kids when they wake up. These are not selfish women, they are far tougher than I am and they are fiercely dedicated to their families. They work to pay the mortgage, to gain access to increasingly insanely expensive health insurance programs, to pay off crushing debt. They forego sleep and they pump milk on every break, receiving a level of raised eyebrows that no smoker I know has experienced, and fighting to keep their milk supply so that they can continue nursing.

In my early twenties I thought a lot about the kind of mother I wanted to be someday. I wanted to be able to be at home with my kids, but it was important to me that I be able to contribute to the financial wellbeing of my family. As my father would tell you, with a great and gusty sigh and a shake of his head, it is a tough to raise a big family on one income in this day and age, and getting tougher on a regular basis. It was tough, for him. Still is. I spent a lot of time in the past ten years working to acquire skills that I could use to earn income for my family without working in a conventional 40 hour a week job. I am grateful that I am able to play the harp in fancy ballrooms and gritty nursing homes and fancy ballrooms in fancy nursing homes. The bulk of the marketing and practicing occurs within my home, and the baby is often a bonus at the job instead of a detraction. This is also true in many ways of teaching and performing dance. My childhood as the eldest of a homeschooling back-to-the-lander gave me a great deal of experience in living thriftily, hanging out my laundry, baking my bread, and growing my own food. All these things help pay our bills. They also help me define myself. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a harpist, a dancer, and I am sure that I will someday again be a person who works with farmers.

While I felt that it was important that I stay home with my children, I have always had a hard time with the idea that when you stay at home, you are a Mother and a Wife. Period. It seems to me that this is often a defensive response to the dismissive attitudes of women who are in the workplace. Conversely, I think that women in the workplace feel the weight of tight lipped disapproval from the “full time mothers” at home. I recently read a book that helped me a great deal in broadening my concept of what it means to be a wife, mother, and worker. The book is titled Women’s Work and does a fascinating job of viewing the early years of human history through the roles of women in making cloth. This book revolutionized my view of women and working by pointing out the obvious fact that women have always worked. Not only did they care for children and do a great deal of work in maintaining and creating literal hearths and homes, they spent a vast amount of time creating practical and surprisingly complex and beautiful cloths and garments.

Women were able to do the work of creating cloth from rotting weeds, which contributed not only to the home but to society at large, because it was something they could safely do while caring for their children. In the many thousands of years before formula, women’s work was integrated into their motherhood. Reading this book led me to think a great deal about the concept of work, and the fact that in our present society there is a great divide between Work and Home. This segregation of work as something that almost always happens away from home is a great deal of the reason that work is tearing women apart. I believe that it is crucial to expand the idea of what work means in the life of a woman and mother, and to expand opportunities for women to contribute to their families through their work.

It is embarrassing to admit, but before reading this book I always wrinkled my nose at the idea of the virtuous woman of Proverbs, she whose worth is above rubies. What a boring woman! I thought, imagining her sitting in a corner somewhere while her mean patriarchal husband gloated over possessing such a prize. How wrong I was. It would probably be a good idea to read the bible more often, but in the meantime it was amazing to stumble over this passage in a scholarly work, illuminating my concept of this Proverbial Woman:

“Who can find a virtous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her… She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard… She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hand to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself converings of tapestry; her clothing is fine linen and purple…. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. Proverbs (31.10-25)

This woman is amazing. She considereth a field and buyeth it! I love the strength of this portrayal. She is a businesswoman, an artist, a farmer, a wife. She gives generously to the poor. She provides for her household in so many ways. She is confident and strong. For me, spending time with this passage was exhilarating. I felt free to continue working to use the gifts that God has given me in my life as woman, life, and mother. I want to be a Proverbial Woman.