Resolution

By Kate

Today is New Year’s Eve. Last year on this day, for the first time in a long time, I sat down with a notebook and a pen and wrote out resolutions in longhand script. One of them was to make music with my family. When I met my husband, music was a constant part of our courtship. I played the harp for him in a courtyard with blossoms falling down. He built a guitar and carved my name into it. Then, we got married and had three children and began to build a life and a home together. Our music fell by the wayside. He stopped playing entirely, and I played less and less.

I didn’t know what playing music as a family would mean. Piano lessons for the kids? A Von Trapp scenario of some sort? For a long time, nothing happened. Then, on a Saturday morning in the late summer, in the middle of the kitchen, I asked my husband if he wanted to play music with me. I’d never done that. We’d never done that! In the entire time we knew each other, we’d played for each other occasionally, but never once played together. As a classically trained musician, I’ve always had a horror of jam sessions. But that morning, that is what we did. We were sitting in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by coffee and newspapers and goldfish, with the baby climbing on my instrument and the big kids watching cartoons in the living room. We started to play, and it was amazing.

I didn’t expect our musical instruments and styles to fit together so perfectly. When love is new, everything seems to join and shimmer. Time brings out the rough edges and discord. But the music we made together? Not only did it flow, it was beautiful. It was compelling. It was different than everything either of us had heard before. We realized we had to pursue it. Suddenly, I wasn’t just playing music with my family- I was working on an amazing album with my talented husband.

That morning, we began a journey that has already taken us in unexpected directions. We turned the attic room into a simple studio space. We’ve been swept upon a historical journey, traveling through the centuries in our own neighborhood, which is rich in history dating back to the Civil War. It’s been a great adventure, and not just because we still have a baby at our feet and two other children building forts in the next room.

My New Year’s resolution has turned into a voyage to explore the resolution of so many others. The resolution of a young immigrant mother with her baby in her arms, crossing the stormy sea. The resolution of a farm boy turned Civil War Soldier. And the resolution of married couples who fall in love and then, after the fireworks and the fairytale wedding, grapple with the grit and the pain and the beauty and the grace of building a real life, and all that entails.

This New Years, on the Eve of 2016, we’re working on our first album, Ballads and Battles, featuring songs of civil and marital strife. We hope to release the album this spring. If you’re interested, you can sign up for our mailing list here and see our brand new website here. We believe that the album will be a good one, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

What is your resolution for 2016?

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Fall Colors

By Mary

The beauty of colors is a bold sight to behold. It’s a true gift of joy to notice how colors encompass so much and are in constant transition. Now that it’s October the colors here in Wisconsin have changed. In June I would wake up in a stream of pale and beautiful early morning sunlight, Now when I open my eyes I see black or gray. On some days of fall I feel like the sunlight in the evening seems dim, on others it seems amber. My sister-in-law Nicole came upon amber sunlight and captured it with her camera in a valley out at the ranch.

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Nicole always seems to find breathtaking beauty with her camera. The other day I came back in from picking raspberries and she was out in the yard with her boys and camera. She managed to capture some of the last blooms of fall out by the picket fence in the garden.

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Another great shot Nicole got was from the fall roundup a few weeks back at the ranch. It was a busy weekend but by the end of the day all the horses got to get turned out and their halters were left at the gate to catch them for another day of work the next morning.

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To see more of Nicole’s amazing work (or to book her for a family portrait, because she is amazing at them!) click here.

While Cale and I are not nearly as photogenic as the rest of Nicole’s great shots, here is a picture of us post round-up. The two of us cousins are 11 months apart and both celebrate our birthdays in the autumn.

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One of my very favorite colors of autumn comes from the sharp red flower pods of chinese lantern flowers I cut and dry before selling in bundles. They have such a intense color and when their pods turn from orange to red, I know fall is here.

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Raspberries are also one of my very favorite things/ colors of fall. The ones I grow are called Autumn Bliss and they certainly do live up to their name.

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I like the leaves too that fall that with reckless abandon. They are the polar opposite of a spring shower but they have a similar way of cascading about.

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Come sprin, the leaves will get raked up upon muddy ground. But for now they can blow about. After all it’s fall and they world is full of new kinds of color and autumn excitement. Keep warm everybody and happy fall!

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Re: Letting Go

By: Clare

I never write blog posts. I have sworn off blog posts for the rest of my life. And yet here I am, writing this, and there you are, reading this, and somewhere 3 sisters of mine are sitting behind a screen grinning gleefully because I promised “By: Clare” would never appear on the sweetridgesisters page again. But Kate was right, she has inspired me to do many things, including write a blog post, You got the oldest’s view, now you can have mine, which is valued at a higher price than Donald Trump.

All my life I’ve undergone The Interview. Meaning, I meet a person. Person learns I am the youngest child. Wait, I am the youngest of how many? Eyebrows shoot up. Eyes scrunch together. Then I hear The Question: “Sooo, do you like being the youngest?” My answer is always, “Well, there are pros and cons.” Then I give a soft chuckle and sprint walk away in the politest way possible.

It’s true, there are many, many pros and cons. But by far the biggest con has always been the niggling knowledge in the back of my head that whispered in my ear yearly and told me that I would always be left behind. And I was. The truth unfolded quietly and slyly; I never knew things were changing until it had already happened, like a rug being pulled out from under my feet.Six-year-old Clare discovered her siblings didn’t like playing Blind Man’s Bluff on the trampoline anymore.

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Eight-year-old Clare accepted the fact that her siblings would never agree to play tag again.

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Ten-year-old Clare saw Raph leave for college and knew the indoor games Raph directed would cease. At 14 her best friend/sister left, at 16 her worst enemy/brother. My siblings grew up so fast, and I was so eager to join them. I puffed up my chest and tripped over my feet to get there, but somehow always felt like I was lagging behind.

In a day I leave the cocoon of my home, where I have tracked my siblings’ adventures and dreamed up my own. In a day I will stand at the door and receive a final blessing and cross the threshold into adventure. It seems almost surreal, because I’ve seen it done so many times before, but always with me in the background. I thought I had my whole life planned, but I only just realized that goodbyes can be so hard, and the future can seem so vast, so mysterious, and so lonely.

Yes, there are perks to being the youngest, but there is always a gentle, yet unrelenting burden pressing on my shoulders. There are pages and pages of stories my siblings have written in our Slattery Book of Life, and mine has always and will always come last, just before the “The End.”  Everywhere I go, I leave a wreckage of red stamps that read “Finished.” Everything I do is carried on a wind of nostalgia and is narrated as “the end of an era.” Because of this, in some ways, it feels like I let down the family just by growing up.

My hands hold my childhood tightly tucked inside my heart. There you can find me sailing through the stormy seas of the English Channel on a trusty ship greatly resembling our hammock, or me carrying three antique schoolbooks down our dirt lane to a one-room schoolhouse greatly resembling our chicken shed, or me winning an Olympic gold medal after my killer serve was left unreturned by my Russian opponent, who greatly resembles the side of our white farmhouse.

For me, letting go means giving back. I want every other child to feel the innocence and love I was blessed with as a child. I want to dedicate my life to that cause and follow God blindly and humbly. I just have a lot of work to do on my way.

Like packing. Lots of packing.

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Letting Go

By Kate

My littlest sister leaves home this week. She’s leaving behind the cool green ridges of Western Wisconsin for the heat and the hustle and the dust of Dallas, Texas.

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Texas is a long way from Wisconsin, and the University of Dallas is a long way from a tiny high school in a farm town complete with hitching posts outside the hardware store. Not a lot of Amish people in Dallas, I imagine. Not a lot of Wisconsin farm girls either. It’s a long journey and a huge leap, but I know that my bold, beautiful, and surprisingly sophisticated sister will do just fine. In fact, she will shine, as she always has and always will.

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Clare has been beautiful since she was born. I was 17 when that happened, and part of the reason I put off leaving for college for an extra year was the fact that I couldn’t bear to disappear without holding her (and all the rest of my littlest siblings) for as long as I could. I read them stories and sang them to sleep and cried because I was terrified that they would grow up without having me be a real presence in their lives.

It turns out that my personality is strong enough to make a significant mark in the life of my family even from thousands of miles away. That’s a good thing, since my path has taken me further from home than I could have imagined. Before I left home when I was Clare’s age I fought fiercely to hold my family and my land in my heart, and there they remain. I let go, and I held on. I’m pretty sure I still managed to form Clare’s childhood quite a bit. If nothing else, I imparted the importance of wandering out of the farmhouse barefoot and dressed like a gypsy or a wood nymph or a queen, carrying a book about any of those type of characters, headed for the woods to dream under a tree. Dramatic makeup and a super amazing photographer like my sister Nicole on hand? Even better.

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Here is what is hard. Clare leaving for college is not just the end of her childhood. It’s the end of all of ours. As the ninth and last sibling to leave the nest, her departure means that we are raised, at least officially speaking. Granted, the height of the clamor and the chaos died down years ago. It’s been a long time since we played our particular version of tag, which at one point regularly included climbing out the third floor windows and scrambling around the roof while whooping and howling. We’ve ceased causing near heart attacks for our farmer neighbors and some of us are selling them corn or life insurance instead. We’re growing up and settling down and beginning to raise another generation of children, and that’s a wonderful thing. The past is gone, but the future is bright, particularly for my bright eyed, flame haired, college bound baby sister Clare.

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I’m far away from home and soon Clare will be too, but I’m holding her in my heart as she leaps out into the future.

Colleen, Joe and Jolly Roger

By Mary

My little sister and her new husband drove off in the early morning light last week to start their life anew in Washington DC. Before leaving they spent a considerable amount of time packing the little bubble shaped black Mazda car that they now share. From the hatchback to the front, the compact car was packed with wedding gifts as well as the remnants of what the two of them have been lugging about while essentially living out of a suitcase for the last two months following graduations, wedding, honeymoon and then the last few weeks with family here in Wisconsin. When gathering together the vast pile of wedding gifts to fit into the car, Colleen took our dad’s wheel barrow and wheeled load after load from the barn to the car. I know she was excited to pack and leave and I know her heart is now bursting and breaking in Washington D.C. as she begins a new life. She will be a wife and a school teacher far from both Wisconsin and Dallas which have been the foundation of her formation and existence the last 22 years.

Colleen has taught me so much about life. She is such a special and beautiful person both inside and out. Her compassion, loyalty and optimism never cease to amaze me. Her new husband, Joe, has also taught me a lot recently. The main lesson I have come to know through him is that the expansion of family and sharing someone who you love so dearly is not a compromise. It’s simply a growth in the love, generosity and loyalty that only makes life more rich and full.

The day after Colleen and Joe packed up their wedding bounty I mulled over missing my sister and Joe while cleaning out the barn apartment that they stayed in for two weeks after the honeymoon. After washing the last few dishes and gathering together of load of towels and wash clothes I went out to check on my goats. Seeing the goats made me really miss Colleen. Yes, that’s right, tending goats makes me think of Colleen and Joe, and this is why:

For some odd reason Colleen and Joe are just about the most interested in my sheep and goats of all the family. I don’t really expect anyone to care about them, although I always appreciate people feigning interest. However, the two of them act like preschoolers at a petting zoo around my livestock and that REALLY humors me. In fact, I delight in it! Right after they came back from their honeymoon, the first thing they did was take a walk and discover a 2 day old baby goat that was born while they were away.

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While Colleen may insist that she is not naturally maternal, she and Joe literally flocked to the cute (but not overly intelligent) billy kid that was dubbed by Colleen as  “Jolly Roger”.

They spent two weeks holding him like a baby.

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All he had to do was give a bleat and they would head out to check on him just to see if he was okay.

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To be honest it’s really funny to see them looking enthusiastically preppy while cuddling a Boer goat of all things.

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But it was a great sight to behold. I look forward to seeing them again, and in the meantime we will stay in contact. That reminds me, Colleen texted me the other day. I forgot to respond. The text read, “I miss you, how is Roger?

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Patched Up

By Mary

While June may be a busy time of year, it wouldn’t seem complete without the annual round-up that is held over at the ranch. The round-up consists of a busy Saturday with a full crew of help to gather cows from the hills that are covered in mist early on summer mornings. This year my sister in law Nicole showed up as an amazing addition to the crew, to document the event in photographs. Nicole is an amazing photographer and you can find more info about her work here.

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After riders bring the cows and their calves in they get sorted into corrals that hold groups of the mama cows and isolated pens of nursing calves.

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Every cow is given a series of shots

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and some are freeze branded with the classic ranch’s D symbol.

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If the calves are bulls they get castrated and their testicles are thrown into a heaping bucket that sits out in the sun all day. Later on in the evening rocky mountain oysters are served along with a big cowboy supper for all the people who spend the day helping out. Need I mention exactly how fresh and local this entré is? Ick, is makes my stomach sick to think about. The brief description above is more or less the general outline of what happens each and every year at the round-up. This year there was a funny addition to the day though.

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If you are wondering why in the world there is a big patch on the eye of a calf that has essentially a get well card scrawled across the denim patching, that’s a totally reasonable question! To fully understand why there is even a patch on the eye of the cow, I should clarify that the beef herd has been dealing with a flare up of pink eye which is a common problem in cows. Cows with pink eye need treatment to get better. The treatment can be done by administration of medication, and at times an eye patch that is put on with a square of rubber cement glue. The day before the round-up I had been over at the ranch working moving cattle. Just before leaving, I asked my sister-in-law, Aurora if she needed any help with anything before I went home for the night. Now I will clarify that Aurora is super pregnant and super exhausted these days, so she was more than happy to get any help she could to aid in the craziness of pulling of the round-up which is to be honest a ton of work and productive chaos.

Aurora handed me a heap of Patrick’s old work pants that have been destroyed from thousands of hours of farm labor and asked if I could cut out patches for the next day. I joked that I wanted to turn the task into a quilting job and that I just so happened to have fabric markers in my car. This joke tuned into serious business when kids started flocking over to “help”. I sent one to my car to get the markers and before I knew it I had a circle of kids around me who turned the task into a crafting activity and were fighting over scissors, markets and ideas.

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I am a huge proponent of creativity and find great joy in sharing it with kids so it was a humorous blessing to watch them delight in drawing pictures

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and sympathy cards on the patches.

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Each kid has was proud of their work

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and their aunty was pretty amused with the entire unexpected project the next day when watching calves burst out of the chute.

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It put a smile on my face just to sit on my horse and watch patched up calves with art on their eyes charging about bellowing!

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