Author Archives: sweetridgesisters

About sweetridgesisters

Kate grew up composing soap operatic dramas while hanging laundry on the line. She has consistently found herself barefoot in the big city and wearing four inch heels in the barnyard. She spent several years in the heat of North Carolina running a theatre company, unloading trucks of produce, getting lost in the mountains on the way to photograph farmers with secret stores of moonshine, and living in a cabin with no plumbing. To her surprise, she currently loves living in the big city of Pittsburgh. She is a harpist, bellydancer, wife, mother, and composer of soap operas while hanging laundry on the line. Kate can be reached at kathleen.slattery(at)gmail(dot)com. Mary Brigid is the second sister in the family and the fourth of 9 kids. Riding her horse, gardening, running and reading are pretty much crucial for her. She loves drinking too much coffee, rain boots, quiet time at 6AM, and is slightly obsessed with sunshine. The most important things in her life are the Catholic faith, agriculture, her flower garden, and horse and dog. Mary is interested in psychology, traveling, geography, health/health food, reading, baking, colors, locating lost hairclips to lose in her hair again, chronic journaling, owning too many pairs of earrings, laughing with (and at) loved ones, sarcastic humor, and stubborn people. Colleen Rose is strangely serene for a Slattery girl, runs dozens of miles a week, loves poetry and music, and is ready to leave the farm and head to college next year. Clare is the youngest Slattery, and is reluctant to participate in the blog project. However, she's also an amazing photographer and her work is sure to show up soon, even if her words don't appear on the page quite yet.

The Switch

By Mary Slattery

Last month I called my brother, Patrick at about 6:30 in the morning in tears and told him that I thought my 4Runner was totaled. In the middle of me wailing and explaining that my car had slid over a rock wall, off an embankment, and into the woods he interrupted me and said “Praise be to God the piece of junk is wrecked. You are a Subaru girl. Get one.”

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Patrick is a pretty direct guy who I lean on a lot. He is the one who told me nearly 2 years ago that we should both sell our cars and get something cheap. Both of us ended up doing so. He got a jeep and I ended up the owner of a 22 year old 4Runner. Ironically, we then went into competition over who could have the highest SUV. After 2 tries at purchasing lift kits he won, and proceeded to win because his jeep has been for the most part problem free.

Unfortunately, the 4Runner has kept my life exciting in a chaotic messy way that makes for many stories, but has not been such a fun trial.

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Within the first week of owning a rear tire randomly detached from the entire wheel well. Since then the problems have continued at a steady clip.

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That solid stubborn streak that flows in my veins campaigned for the thing even though it sucked up gas like a suburban, was extremely difficult to shift and in more recent times it needed a lot of yanking at the wheel because it leaked power steering fluid on a regular basis. Most recently it became stuck in 4 wheel high on a daily basis which drove me crazy but I was informed by my brother that it was a “safe gear” for me to be in constantly. Drive I did, often and slowly with at least one rosary hanging off the rear view mirror and endless amounts off coffee that fuels my energy throughout the day.

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There were a lot of things that I really liked about my white mess of a SUV. I liked how it was 22 years old, rust free, and still running with a good engine. I liked how I could off road in it at the ranch and not car how banged up it got. This summer my brother smashed into it with a gooseneck trailor full of horses and the dent didn’t phase me in the least. I liked how much space I had in the back of it to store whatever I had on hand like saddles and flats of plants, or buckets bursting with beautiful flowers blooms and splashing water all over the interior. There were a few times that I was able to move sheep, goats and my huge Akbash sheep dog from point A to point B.

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However, the novelty of my rugged and ancient vehicle really wore off this winter after the back door and window stopped working completely which put a kibaosh on my eccentric transportation endeavors. Worst of all the heater that runs off a light switch (I kid you not!) has never really worked which makes driving in my both cold and radio-less car pretty grim at this time of the year.

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Yesterday I got a Subaru. How I hate letting things go. But I think it’s time to switch things up… and let go of my old heater switch.

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Tomorrow I need to pick up a buck to breed my goats. I promise I won’t try to put him in my new car’s trunk because after all, this car is not that kind of car. That’s okay, I’m a Subaru girl now!

The Ditzy Shepherdess

By Mary Slattery

Holy cow! It’s been awhile since that fateful winter day when I decided to become a blogger after pondering ways to use some creative energy in the middle of a winter onslaught of dark days and boredom. Initially, when we sisters began the endeavor of blogging, I was reluctant to dive into the ambiguity of writing about my life.

If my memory serves me right the initial post that I made was about lambs and Kate called me up to tell me that it was pretty bad. I do believe her exact words went something like.

“Mary, you sound like a ditzy shepherdess. Are we really going to publish what you wrote?”

Fast forward to going on 4 years, and not much has changed. I am still writing, my sisters are still writing, and I still have a solid appreciation for all things sheep and wool related as well as an attention span that can only prevail for about 20 seconds on any matter.

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The blog has been going through a dormant phase in recent times so we are hoping to revive it. Today I will share a few things that I have learned about sheep because, after all, I do have a solid devotion to my title of  “ditzy shepherdess.”

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Here is what I have learned about sheep:

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To start off with, they are pretty sweet animals. Especially as babies. That’s when they need a lot of TLC. I love my bottle lambs.

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Their intelligence is low. BUT their wool is beautiful and soft, which makes up for a lack of brains.

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Crafting with sheep wool is fun and colorful and beautiful. As a side note, I must confess I don’t knit. Knitting makes me swear. Honest to God, I am really a terrible knitter. Perhaps someday I will become a knitter and knit beautiful things, but at the present time it just makes me cuss and create odd wads of yard entangled in a messy way.

Sheep love to be taken care off. They just wait and wait for somebody to show up and  feed them.

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I want to become more sheep-like in my own life. The main lesson that my flock has taught me is  that if you are gentle and patient and trusting all is well. My sheep are well taken care of. They are fed well and kept warm and I never forget about making sure their sheeply needs are met. I want to be like that in my own life. We all need to remember that good things happen when we trust in goodness.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is why I love my sheep and consider it a privilege to be a ditzy shepherdess.

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A Prayer for my Mother

By Kate

When did you become your mother? For me, it was yesterday, in the dark, with stained glass windows above spilling gospel stories into the silent night.

It was the feast of the Immaculate Conception and I had missed every other mass in town. Just past what should have been supper time I was late, and hurrying up the hill for the 6:30 mass. The December wind blew cold against my soaking wet hair. A long and complicated series of events resulted in the hair being washed and combed just before I flew out the door to church, but the chilly winter air was foiled by my extraordinary coat. This coat, a gift from my husband’s grandmother, enveloped me from hood to shin in expensive, extremely dowdy, goose downed splendor. Against the coat I spread the fingers of one hand protectively against the tiny infant swaddled in a blanket against my chest. My other hand was wrapped tightly around the small hand of my four year old daughter, and I turned to show her the light shining into the darkness, to ponder for a brief moment the simple beauty and mystery of Advent and our church at the night.

Up the hill and around the corner, we ducked into the back door and the very back pew where, when settled, I had plenty of time to ponder her outfit. My four year old was wearing a sparkling party dress, appropriate for a feast but layered over a mismatched outfit, and her curly hair formed a rather fantastic halo due to the fact that it clearly hadn’t been brushed for days. As she quietly played in the pew next to me, I noticed that her cheek and palms had been decorated with markers, and her fingernails were dirty.

The choir sang, the mass proceeded, the four year old behaved beautifully (dirty fingers and all) and the baby nursed. After communion the four year old leaned over and said “Mama, this wasn’t very exciting!”, so I told her that after we sang Salve Regina and the mass ended we’d head to the side altar and light a candle at the Black Madonna who is bejeweled and beautiful. And so we did, and I said a prayer for my mother, whom I realized I’d just become.

Hope Springs

 

By Mary

Spring is here after a long and very cold winter. When I first felt that balmy spring winds stir up and circle around me, I let them blow through my hair. It was freeing to feel the gusts of wind as they blew over the brown landscape and danced with me near brush and upturned soil on a warm March afternoon.

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Ever since the first spring winds came upon me many more have come. Spring brings such a wonderful feeling of new life along with colors and noise that have been absent for so long. There is a certain harvest that comes with spring, and it’s much different than a summer or fall harvest. Spring’s bountiful harvest is one of hope.

Hope springs from beauty and spring is full of beauty. Getting outside and into the spring sunshine is an amazing gift full of welcome sights and tasks. Below are some of my favorite things to do and see in the spring.

Who doesn’t love daffodils in the spring? There is nothing quite like the first blooms of the season.

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Before most blossoms come though, there is much work to be done. Unbeknownst to me, Clare took this picture while I was working on getting a bed ready for snapdragons and statice. I encouraged her to come help me…but her interest in digging up mounds of dirt seemed to be surprisingly lacking.

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Spring coincides with lambing. I love lambs and am known for my habit of collecting orphan ones. This little guy is named Paschal. That seemed like the right name for the ram lamb that I picked up on Holy Saturday.

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Easter is a glorious time of year. Here is Paschal on Easter Sunday with a cousin and my nephew and niece. I swear to God he isn’t dead in my nephews exuberant arms. The level of commotion may not have thrilled him though. Doesn’t Thaddeus look like a perfect shepherd boy?

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The cows at the ranch have started calving this spring. My brothers and I were out moving them with the horses the other week. It’s amazing to be out riding my horse again. He’s on the comeback from a major injury that he suffered last August. But he seems to be as able and athletic as ever. Patrick enjoyed his morning coffee before cows got checked for pregnancy. I bet he felt very office-like and corporate during this coffee break.

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I could make mention of so many other things that I Iove about spring. But really, why do so when I can go outside and let the balmy winds of springs toss my hair into the air? Happy Spring to all of you reader. Enjoy it to the fullest!

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Homespun

Mary

Words are interesting to think about. Definitions and sentences hold a lot of power. They can build a person or vision up, or break it down. Recently I realized how much I like a word and how it applies to my life. The word is this: homespun.

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To some this word may sound grungy or outdated. I don’t think so though! I feel like this word reflects simplicity and sincerity, thriftiness and creativity. And also much trial and error.

I love living a homespun life.

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I like sharing that life with others.

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I like making homespun things.

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I especially like sharing homespun projects with children. Cultivating creativity in kids is so important.

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And of course, I like eating homespun food.

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Going at homespun projects is a great way to use energy and creativity. And at the end of a project, there is always another idea for a new project looming in site. Speaking of that, I REALLY need to figure out how to tan a sheep fleece. That and learning how to make homemade ice cream and braid my own rugs all are on my homespun bucket list, but first I should complete the roughly 12 undone projects I have half done. Speaking of that-why don’t I just start completing a project by posting this blog post. Check.

Frank’s House

by Kate

This is the story of a man named Frank, a man who was generous and gentle and kind and possessed an extraordinary collection of fine ties. This is Frank’s birthday week. Frank’s birthday fell just before St. Patrick’s Day. I always thought this fitting for this man who loved to celebrate life with good food and song and conversation, a man whose blue Polish eyes welled up with tears at the sound of an old ballad. Four years on St. Patrick’s Day I put my tiny baby Olympia in a sling and hauled my harp across the gravel driveway and up the steps into Frank’s home and played a private concert for him as a birthday present. He wasn’t well, had battled heart trouble and cancer and lung problems for years, but he cried at all the ballads and laughed at all my jokes and somehow from his battered leather armchair he made me feel like the much more important artists he had hosted in his early days, when he was a dashing young bachelor managing the Stanley Theater in downtown Pittsburgh, the theater that would later become the Benedum.

Frank and his wife Catherine loved Olympia. They married late in life, well into their 50’s and 60’s.They met when Catherine moved in with her aging mother two doors down from the home Frank had shared with his mother, and somehow Frank the eternal bachelor was finally induced to take the plunge into matrimony. Of course, they had no children of their own. We met Frank and Catherine in a miraculous manner just before Olympia was born. We were living in an apartment above a loud and smoky bar and our baby was due in two and a half months. A chance meeting led us to tour the house they had for rent just behind theirs, with two bedrooms and a washer and dryer and a huge yard with space for a garden and a clothesline. It was a perfect home for newlyweds and a new baby. The new baby was a great source of delight for Frank and Catherine, who were delighted to have the unexpected chance to act as Grandparents after all.

Olympia was a constant presence and joy for Frank in the last year and a half of his life, as his health declined. When he died, I stood with Catherine beside his bed, holding his hand. Olympia slept quietly in the sling while Frank’s wife and I sang Old Man River one more time, told stories, laughed a little and cried a little more as his life slipped away. It was a quiet passing and a peaceful one. A few days later Frank was buried on a high windy hill while a long bagpipe keened a haunting and beautiful lament, but his great generosity has remained a powerful force in our lives.

First of all, there are the ties. The hundreds of designer ties and finely woven, sharply cut collection of dress shirts and suit coats and overcoats too. At six five, my husband couldn’t quite fit into this finery, so at Catherine’s request, the bulk of his collection was delivered to the farmhouse at Sweet Ridge Farm and distributed there to all the men in the family, from my father down to my youngest brother James. These days, weddings, holidays, and formal gatherings of any sort guarantee that Frank’s finery will be sported by one if not all of the Slattery men.

For my family here in Pittsburgh, ties are the tip of the iceberg. Last August, Casey and I bought Frank’s house. For fifty years, Frank lived in a stately yellow brick house high up on a hill, overlooking the hundred year old trees of Arsenal Park and through them the glimmering skyline of downtown Pittsburgh and beyond that Mount Washington, the Incline, and the famous Bayer sign. It’s a beautiful house, but it had been cut up into apartments and after Frank’s devoted (and very business savvy) mother died, it was quite the bachelor pad. Frank lived on the second floor, and his devout and good tempered but untidy hoarder friend occupied the first in a dark, dingy warren full of dusty heaps of books and high unsteady piles of videocassettes, DVDs, and CDs.

Frank always wanted us to have his house. He thought it would be a perfect place to raise a family, something that for one reason or another had never happened in the hundred year history of the house. He loved the idea of Olympia growing up in his home, but when Casey and I stopped in to check the house out we were overwhelmed by the vast size of the place, the filth of the first floor, the pink tiles of the 1950 time capsule kitchen, the amount of money it would take to buy and renovate the house and the amount of work that needed to be done. Once and then twice we looked at Frank’s house, then literally ran down the hill to our safe, solid, 950 square foot apartment and there we stayed, perfectly content until the day suddenly arrived when our cozy little home seemed far too small for a growing family with a legacy of great height and wildly enthusiastic movements. After long months of conversation with Catherine and many requests for aid and counsel sent heavenward to Frank, we took a deep breath and worked out a deal to purchase Frank’s house.

This February in the icy wind and driving snow, exactly four years after moving into the perfect little house behind Frank and Catherine under the same conditions, we moved a block and a half up the street and into a different world. Frank’s house is a strong, sturdy, and stately home. It’s a lifetime kind of home- a place to settle into and live from.

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This house is a comfort and a joy, and I can’t express the gratitude I feel for the fact that we were able to move in here.

Both Casey and I believe that Frank was directly involved. I know that he would be glad that we are here- and in fact, Olympia has inherited his room and the antique bed his mother purchased for him long ago.

This is a hundred year old house, but instead of ghosts I believe it is full of the communion of saints. I am daily reminded that our stories continue long after we are gone, that death is not the end of life, and that love lives on beyond the grave.

Happy birthday, Frank. Thanks for giving us a new beginning.