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.
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.
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.
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.
To be honest it’s really funny to see them looking enthusiastically preppy while cuddling a Boer goat of all things.
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?
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.
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.
Every cow is given a series of shots
and some are freeze branded with the classic ranch’s D symbol.
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.
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.
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
and sympathy cards on the patches.
Each kid has was proud of their work
and their aunty was pretty amused with the entire unexpected project the next day when watching calves burst out of the chute.
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!
It’s a universal fact that sister’s love to talk.Conversations between sisters usually go far beyond the weather and what’s for dinner. Speaking on behalf of my sister’s and myself, we are known to share all sorts of eventful, sometimes zany, often times dramatic stories. Once in awhile we even are known to swap predictions.
Colleen recently reminded me of a prediction that I made years ago that went something like this:
ME: Colleen, when you grow up, you are going to marry a guy from the East Coast. He is going to be both preppy and dorky and wear sweaters and be from the city, and you are going to leave to marry him and live somewhere over on the East Coast.
COLLEEN: “Mary, you are crazy, that is never going to happen.
ME: “Oh yeah, just wait and see!”
While Colleen may have nixed my thoughts at the time when they were initially mentioned, she is now delighted to marry the love of her life who just so happens to frequently wear sweaters that are topped off with a bow tie which may just have been a preppy trend that he got from being raised on the East Coast where he will continue to live with Colleen.
In less than two weeks, Colleen will become the wife of Joe.
The blog here will follow the wedding work and festivities that will be a joy to celebrate. It is an exciting blessing to welcome Joe into the Slattery family. He is a perfect fit for my sister. So perfect in fact, that Joe has always just seemed to make sense as her mate, even before the two of them met!
My sister Colleen has always been extraordinary.
Colleen is an athlete, an actress, a scholar, and a musician. She excels at everything she does. She is also officially the sweetest of the four Slattery sisters.
In addition to her sweetness and competence, Colleen has always possessed a certain sophistication. She wears tweed jackets and pearls as though she were born in them.
She was not. Colleen grew up barefoot and dressed in hand me downs, like the rest of the nine kids on our ridge top farm. She was usually smiling, often curled up reading, loved to play music on our hundred year old piano, and directed plays starring the youngest of the Slattery children.
Four years ago, Colleen left the ridge to attend college. She had a plan- she always does. She was going to become a teacher, to continue to excel at running track and cross country. She was also going to find a boy who liked to listen to Carbon Leaf, a slightly obscure band she’d heard about from her big sister. Being a Carbon Leaf fan in Cashton, Wisconsin was a little lonely. Things at the University of Dallas, she thought, would be different.
She was right. In the autumn of her sophomore year, she was asked to attend the Symphony by a tall, handsome young man from a family even larger than her own. A tall, handsome, young man who just happened to be an avid fan not only of the symphony, but of Carbon Leaf.
After the symphony, Colleen sent me this picture, snapped during the first moments of their first date, and from clear across the country in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I immediately predicted that they would marry. They looked so unusually well suited for each other. Their dress, their height, their body language, their general mien- there was a harmony about it.
Joe wooed Colleen well, wisely allowing himself to be directed by her in a collegiate theatrical production. He wooed her while wearing a mustache. Ridiculous? Romantic? You be the judge.
In any case, it worked. Even from afar, it was a delight to watch their relationship deepen, and to witness the unusual level of rapport these two clearly share.
Of course, they attended several live Carbon Leaf concerts along the way.
Colleen and Joe are a unique couple, combining an energetic and youthful vivacity with a true enjoyment of the sort of activities more often enjoyed by people of a more advanced age. Strolling hand in hand? Picnicking? Perusing the newspaper? Attending the symphony? These two are all over it.
Eventually, Joe traveled to Wisconsin, braving the fierce heat and crowded farmhouse far from the genteel Washington suburb where he was raised, to meet the Slattery clan. He wore a bow tie, of course.
It is impossible to miss the joy in Colleen’s face when she is with Joe, a joy that has only deepened over the past few years of their relationship, and so it came as no surprise last summer when Joe proposed, and Colleen accepted.
The year of their engagement flew by, and in a few days Joe and Colleen will become man and wife. I am sure that their life will be not only less ordinary, but extraordinary- like my sister, Colleen.
We’ll be posting more of the wedding story as it unfolds. A huge country wedding means lots of pictures and lots of stories. Keep visiting us for details. In the meantime, here are some of our past wedding stories to keep you busy.
Doc Menn loves to collect things. He collects circles of family members and friends. He collects farm houses, land and decrepit rental units, he also collects old cars, well bred horses and western memorabilia. And he is notorious for collecting new business ventures and projects.
I think that it is more than fair to say that I have been collected by him. I’m his daughter’s best friend, his son-in-laws sister, his extra hand working cattle on Saturdays at the ranch, and now I am The Queen of Garlic, or so I am labeled under the contact list on his cell phone.
The title as a Queen of Garlic has come from one of the most recent projects that Jeff brainstormed. The history behind it goes back several years to a specific piece of land that Jeff bought about 7 years ago and has been interested in using to grow produce on. Last August we decided that we wanted to put the piece of ridge-land into something sustainable that has the potential for a solid profit. After about a month of research, spreadsheets, and phone calls, I decided that garlic was indeed the right pick for the project. In October I shelled about 300 pounds of hard neck cooking garlic that got dropped into cold furrows of ground before the snow came. Those planting days were busy ones with I felt like were too short and too cold. However, in November the last of the seed garlic was dropped into the earth and covered.
After lying dormant all winter the garlic is up. It’s a vast project to say the least because it spans over an acre of ridge soil under layers of old mulch.
I have been out weeding this last week while juggling the care of my sister-in-laws 5 kids as she takes a three day vacation which she does about once every 11 years. It’s been a delight to spend hours weeding, thinning, and uncovered shoots of garlic from thick heaps of mulch. The neighbor kids who live next to the field like to come out and help.
They don’t weed nearly as much as they talk, but all the same they are enjoyable company while I work.
Spending so much time outside gives me time and space to watch the sights that surround me. Sometimes I see Amish horses and buggies pass, at other times I catch a glimpse of brightly colored birds swooping about, or a vole and a dog playing cat and mouse. My mind tends to wander a lot as I muse of internal thoughts, ideas and questions that I often reflect on.
The other day I came up with a question that I will have to ask Jeff: If I am really the queen of garlic, doesn’t that mean I should have an legion of servants to carry out my work?!
Until next time!
I sat beneath an apple tree in bloom the last time I nursed my firstborn daughter. Sunlight streamed through petals and tears streamed down my face. In May, in Wisconsin, the world is in bloom. Spring comes with a particular force and sweetness after the long harsh winter. That year I feared the shift in seasons, watching the snow melt away and knowing that the beginning of spring meant the end of my pregnancy and the arrival of the parents who would adopt my baby.
I wanted to stay pregnant for as long as I could, holding tight to the intense intimacy and ability to care completely for my child within. I sang lullabies, read aloud and cried. I prayed. I played music. I spoke to the child within constantly, telling her how much I loved her and the reasons I had decided that adoption was the best, albeit hardest, decision. I asked her to forgive me. My due date meant the end of my pregnancy and felt like the end of the world.
On my due date, I was weeding peas on the hillside of my parent’s ridgetop farm when I went into labor. I gave birth to a baby girl that night. She was perfect, of course, in the way all beloved children are. I was raw, stunned, and in awe.
The adoptive parents flew across the country to meet their new daughter. We, the birth parents, had one week to meet her and to say goodbye. I stared hard into my child’s eyes as I nursed her, pondering the mystery between us.
The adoptive couple, who were and are extraordinary people, gave me space and brought me roses. They walked hand in hand with my youngest siblings across the farm fields, broke bread with us, gave my parents a tree to plant. We didn’t know what open adoption meant, exactly, but we knew that we were doing something new, planting the seeds for a new and different relationship. Our lives were growing intertwined, tentative and soft like the tendrils of pea vines.
A week passed and the court date arrived. We stood up, birth mother and birth father with baby between us, and spoke the words that renounced all claim upon our child, removed forever our legal role as parents in her life. We fought hard to speak clearly, to keep tears at bay. We wanted so badly to retain our dignity. We left the courthouse and drove to the concrete block office where we would give our daughter to her legal parents.
Outside the office was an apple tree, where I sat in sunlight on the deep green grass, with apple blossoms cascading as I nursed one more time.
Then we went underground, to a basement office which was dull and stuffy and so prosaic a place to do something as vast as handing your child to another couple. There are pictures of that moment. They are hopeful and strong, joyful and united. We are broken. We all clearly, fiercely, love that child.
We climbed those stairs back into the light without a baby, bereft. We walked away somehow, and kept climbing. We found the highest hill we could. Somehow it was still spring. The world was still beautiful, still in bloom. It seemed impossible. We looked out over the town and the world, feeling a vast emptiness. The enormity of our grief was beyond believing and yet, we shared a strong conviction that we had done the right thing. We had passed the test. We simply could not offer our child the life we wanted, so badly, for her to have- and those hopeful, faithful, and incredibly generous people holding our daughter at that moment? They could. They did.
The first year after the adoption was a blur of grief and darkness. Light returned slowly to my life. At first it was like the visible beams of light you see streaming down from dark clouds, sun piercing through shadow. My daughter was a constant presence in my mind and in my life. There were pictures, letters, and eventually visits. I saw their home, their family growing, and the trees they tended in the desert. They returned to my parent’s farm, braving a blizzard to do so. We gathered with our whole extended family around the table. I watched my daughter- our daughter- singing in the choir of our country church, snow falling softly outside. The roots of the relationship we were building, the family we were created, continued to grow.
Time passed and light poured in. I fell in love with tall and handsome man with an extraordinary soul. We met in the beginning of May. Our romance quickly blossomed, and a year later we were wed in the country church on the ridge. As we emerged onto the stone steps outside the church a group of girls threw blossoms in the air. My daughter, attending the wedding with her family, was one of them.
I believe in grace. The story of my adoption is beautiful. It’s also a huge part of who I am, intertwined with my life and being. The presence of this part of my life has become much more natural over the years. My husband and I have three beautiful children. The couple who adopted my daughter have seven. They are a continual inspiration to me.
In an adoption, something is rent, and mended in a way beautiful beyond imagining- but oh, there are still moments where you feel the tearing. The thing about grief, though, is that you can’t outrun it, or hide from it. A wise woman once told me that sometimes, you just have to be sad.
Each May when the world is in bloom, the world celebrates Mother’s Day, and I celebrate the birth day of the daughter that I gave away. Each year, I struggle.
This year, I was sad. Then a gift arrived- a picture of a beautiful girl, with blossoms in her hair, dressed for the May crowning of Mary. She is graduating from eighth grade and full of grace, suddenly blossoming into a beautiful young woman.
The picture was a reminder that the story of my adoption is not about what was lost but what has been made whole, in a manner beautiful beyond my wildest dreams. It filled me with gratitude for the blessing and generosity of God who made the blossoms and the fruit trees, gnarled roots and spreading branches.