Monthly Archives: March 2011

anthropologie, slatterie style

by Kate

One of the benefits of living in a densely populated city is that you can walk out your door and keep walking till you come to a fancy store, the kind that exists only as a catalogue that you curl up with near the woodstove in the middle of the winter when you are living on a far flung farm. Granted, it may take an hour to get to said store on foot, which is about what it takes to drive into a real town where I’m from, but unlike my middle sisters I am not a runner. I am a rambling walker, meandering along as I gaze upon the world around me. I love walking in the city for the same reasons I love walking in the country- there is always a new story, new vista, new adventure to see.  A few days ago I bundled up the baby against the bitter chill of early spring, slung her in the sling, and headed out to peruse the wares at Anthropologie.

The dress in the front window display reminded me a great deal of the shipwreck dress that my incredibly talented friend Rebecca created for our North Carolina production of Twelfth Night. I am pretty sure that given lots of fabric and old hangars she could create a frock similar to this one.

Anthropologie is a high end retail chain that started here in Pennsylvania back in 1992 and has expanded rapidly. The stores specialize in high class bright bohemian shabby chic elegant and inordinately expensive household items and women’s clothing. The store received a great deal of press a couple years ago when Michelle Obama ordered some of their furniture for the White House. Some decorators were in an uproar at the proletarian nature of this move, but the store is anything but cheap, though presumably more accessible than your average White House furniture dealer. Here is the  bench that awaits customers in the entrance, inviting you to sit down at your peril and quite possibly snap it in two.

Let’s take a closer look at that pricetag, shall we?

Why yes, it is a wooden painted bench from Belgium, circa 1900. Yes, it is $1,300 dollars. Hmmmmn. I have a peeling painted rocking chair from Pittsburgh, circa 1900ish, with very similar (and probably arsenic based) peeling paint on it. Casey threatens to throw it out the window on a regular basis. Perhaps I should see if this high end retailer will take it off my hands?

It was at this point, pondering the bench, when I began to see the store through new eyes. I stepped back outside to view the other window display, a ramshackle weathered grey green structure that looked like it had been designed and implemented by none other than my father.

I kept the parking sign in lest you be led astray and think this was actually a scene from Sweet Ridge Farm. It does look eerily like something my father would build. It reminded me so much of home that from that point on, I made mental notes to have Clare photograph the flawlessly stylish high end anthropologie aspects lurking in plain sight back home at the farm. I think you will agree that the goat shed on the farm is significantly sleeker than the urban version. The sleekness is due entirely to the fact that my brother Robert, and not my father, built it.

Moving inside the store, the rustic rural motif continued with a full sized wheelbarrow- unlabeled and not priced as far as I could see but it looked as though it may have experienced hauling work during the French Revolutioin.

Of course Clare was able to locate a similar scene, minus the candles, out in the still snow covered fields.  Note the artistic nature of the apple trees, which my father has brutally attacked with his spring fervor of pruning. There are few things harder on my parent’s marriage than my father and his love of excessive pruning.

Back inside the tasteful, softly scented, flawlessly decorated interior of the store, I realized that the brilliant and tasteful designers had some serious common ground with my mother when it came to shelving and the kitchen/dining area. Here we have the store:

And here is the far less rickety version created by my farmwife mother. Well, it is less rickety now after Robert came and secured it into the wall. Having a son grow up to be a carpenter really allowed my mother to realize many of her dreams. It just took twenty five years or so.

As for aprons, well, if you saw the post Mary and Colleen did on Sunday baking, you’ll know we’ve got that covered.

The folks at the store had a huge wooden table and bench.

Which also looked strikingly familiar to our Amish built dining room table.

Ah but the store did have some pretty beautiful china, like this

whereupon the resourceful photographer/stylist  Clare brought out our Great Grandmother’s wedding china.

I loved wandering through the sophisticated big city store and viewing it through the prism of my Wisconsin ridgetop home, and to realize that you don’t need to pay two thousand dollars for a beat up cupboard from India in order to have beautiful style in your house. I’d go for the amish built table myself in a heartbeat. I found a great deal of inspiration in Anthropologie, which I think is a significant part of what they peddle- style and inspiration. I also have a newfound level of respect for my mother and her farmhouse decorating style. Who knows- perhaps she will be asked to consult in decorating the White House. I can see my father gleefully hoeing up the lawn to expand the White House garden, or perhaps volunteering to teach them a few lessons about pruning.

 

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Birthday and a Bunny

Today is Clare’s birthday.

Although she will always be the baby of our family it is becoming increasingly clear that she is growing into a beautiful young woman. Happy birthday, little sister!

Birthday Bunny– by Clare

Today being my birthday, I figured I would share one of my most prominent birthday memories.

On my 4th birthday, I received what I consider out of all the birthday presents I’ve ever gotten, to be the best one.

My birthday was usually on the same date as The Swap, an event our family had been going to for a few years, where people mainly from around central Wisconsin brought various kinds of animals to trade or sell. Because I was only 4, I was considered “too young” to go, and was left at home with my mom. But all my unhappiness faded when my dad and older siblings returned, and I found that, to my delight, my brother Raphael had bought me a gray bunny for my birthday. I named the rabbit Hoppy Gray, a step up from Warm Belly, the name I had wanted to give Mary’s pony. I’m still teased about the Warm Belly name, but hey, I was only 4 and that pony did have a warm belly.

Hoppy Gray first lived in a cage outside, and then when the colder weather set in, was moved to the woodbox inside our house, where he was soon joined by Bella, Mary’s goat. Bella and Hoppy Gray got along quite well, and I always liked to consider them as best friends. There are lots of great memories surrounding that gray rabbit, and he was part of the whole family’s life. Mostly because they all had to deal with his droppings on the floor and having to watch where they stepped so as not to step on him. I’m not very responsible when it comes to taking care of animals, and I was just a little kid, so I never really had to care for him, but this did not keep me from making sure everyone knew that he was mine, and so I got to hold him the most, and he had to love me best. So of course I was very unhappy when my cousins would come over, take him out of his cage, and either try to squeeze him to death, or chase him around our downstairs. I remember crying as about 7 of my screaming cousins herded him into a tiny space behind our sink.

Sadly, after a year or so, Hoppy Gray escaped from the cage we had left him in outside. After that, I did see him once or twice , hopping around in our fields, and I still think of him whenever I see a gray rabbit, and wonder whatever happened to him after he ventured out into the great outdoors.

 

Kate’s note: After reading this I rummaged around in my old journal and found an entry about Hoppy Grey. I thought I would share the entry as well.

April 8th, 2001

Colleen has lost her voice and brought a kitten to bed. We have had Mary’s baby goat, Bella, living in the house for a month and a half. Bella finally moved out the day that Dad and the kids came back from the swap meet with a rabbit, a pigeon, another goat, 4 muscovie ducks, and a mallard. Four of the ducks flew away and were lost forever immediately upon arrival. The pigeon temporarily lived inside until Mom discovered the catastrophic mess under the makeshift birdcage consisting of chicken crates stacked upon each other. The rabbit- Hoppy Grey, name courtesy of Clare- has been given the goat’s former crate in a corner of the living room. Now we have a kitten. It is a general menagerie.

 

Sunbonnet Style

by Mary

At the catholic school that I work at I see hats. Lots and lots of hats. For I am a Wisconsin resident which means that even in late March one still needs to cover his or her ears more often times than not. Blah! Typically, kids playing on the playground during outdoor recess wear black hats, or hats with penguins or flowers…you get my drift.

But a few weeks ago out came Little Claire  (not my sister, but my niece), who I have adored since the hot July day she was born nearly 7 years ago, wearing a sunbonnet. Yup, that’s right. No penguins or flowered patterns for her. A big floppy sunbonnet with red flowers that completely contrasted with her hot pink jacket was her self created genius 6 year old look.

Memories came to me as I looked at her in amusement, taking me back to my own childhood. She reminded me of a photo we have buried somewhere in a crammed tin can of old, old pictures. In the photo Kate, Colleen and I are standing in front of the woodstove. Like Little Claire, Kate’s imagination was busy at work. She had us dressed in frumpy dresses and we have head coverings over our hair. I would like to think that the white material on our hair is muslin or cheesecloth, but I am afraid that it most likely is cloth dipers. I am relieved that unlike our niece, we were all homeschooled at this point, thus meaning that “our look” remained more of a secret than my nieces, though Kate did manage to publicize the look through creating a photo shoot session.

I guess you could say that Little Claire has a bit of her Aunty Kate’s blood in her. I am grateful to be in a family of strong girls and women who cherish and uphold unique individuality….even if it means freezing ones ears off in a sunbonnet or wearing cloth diapers on your head.

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.

Sunday Sugar Doughnuts

by Mary and Colleen

This Sunday morning, two bakers set out to saturate the kitchen at Sweet Ridge Farm in sugar and butter.  Due to a lack of sugar intake on typical weekdays in Lent, and a huge family gathering and meal after mass, Sunday is the day to bake! Later we run several miles to work off the sugar and catch up on the weekly happenings.

Mary decided on doughnuts for her Sunday contribution, and Colleen settled for the unbeatable allure of chocolate chip banana bread (loved by all Slattery boys). What did these stylish bakers wear?

Mary sported a daring apron, created in a dual effort of Mom’s sewing power and Mary’s design and cussword creativity.

And Colleen went with her favorite apron, a donation from her musical aunt. Mary does not like said apron. Colleen has no shame, and will probably be taking it with her to college.

Mary got the doughnuts frying in no time at all.

Main ingredient? We live in Wisconsin, duh! Butter!! Not just any butter- this is a bucket of pure ghee from Organic Valley.

As per Slattery tradition, Colleen shook the newly fried doughnuts in paper bags filled with powdered sugar and a cinnamon sugar mixture. (This part is always the most fun)


The doughnuts were a great success.

Of course, one can’t go to mass looking like an apron clad pajama princess! Let me assure you, we  know how to clean up.

Here is the recipe for our Lenten Sunday sugar doughnut feast.

Sunday Sugar Doughnuts

2/3 cup white sugar
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg

in a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients:
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup raw milk
1/4 cup organic valley melted butter

Gently fold together wet and dry ingredients. If you are not too impatient, chill for two hours. (We are always too impatient and have never actually done this, but we hear it is helpful.) Drop spoonfuls into a cast iron pan full of heated butter (or cooking oil if you are not from Wisconsin and don’t have a bucket of butter handy) and fry over medium heat. When bottom is nicely browned, flip and fry remaining side. Shake with powdered sugar in a brown bag from the food co-op.

Running on the Ridge

by Colleen

The weekend is coming up, and to normal people that means relaxation. To me, it means freedom from a school that I am growing less attached to with each successively boring day and running out on the Ridge. I am currently in track at my high school and although I love my running friend, Amelia, dearly, there is nothing better than a long run on the roads around home, either all alone or with Mary (I thank God that she is a runner, too!). The hills are steep and the routes may be dangerous, but I love every minute of it. I have a feeling that Ridge running will be one of the (few) things I miss most when I head out to Dallas this fall.

Here’s a little poem I composed about one of my favorite Sunday Runs recently. This was a day when Wisconsin was still mired in Winter, but a hint of Spring had appeared to tease us.

Sunday Runs

The pavement beneath my feet
is cool and dry-and clear of that wretched snow!-
as I run down the road.
The sun is shining, and
the air kisses, rather than bites, my cheeks.
And I beam bright as those sweet rays.

The road is warming
beneath this miraculous winter sun,
and the familiar smell
of musky tar and dry snow plow sand
greets me again for the first time in months.

I could go on like this forever-
just the road, my legs propelling me forward in smooth motion
and an open horizon-
polished and sparkling under a crystal sun.

My own Sunday run under winter sun.

Kindling

Kate

This morning is cold with the threat of snow, though the grass is greener after a thunderstorm last night. Hail fell from the sky rattling and clattering onto city streets and battering the rush hour traffic as I watched from the window of a cafe. It looked like a sky full of ice-hens had laid frozen eggs in the clouds and the whole eerie enchanted crop had fallen to earth. I wonder how my gambled patch of early greens fared through the hailstorm and cold snap. I take comfort in the parable of the Biblical sower, who seemed to have classic farmer style disastrous luck what with all the brambles and rocky ground and weeds choking out most of his crop. I can’t possibly do worse than that with my garden this year.

On mornings such as these it is clear that spring still has a tenuous grip upon the world. I am grateful for the radiator hissing and humming beside me, pulsating with the kind of heat that comforts the soul of a girl raised with a roaring wood stove. I remember visiting friends with forced air and baseboard heating in the midst of a Wisconsin winter and shivering, wondering where the warmth came from and why there wasn’t more of it. It gave me a strangely lonely sensation.

On the topic of parables, I have been thinking about wood stoves lately, and love, and marriage. I recently read a piece by my good friend at Little Bird Songs discussing the thrill of romance and the roaring flames of passion vs the lasting hearth fire of domesticity and marriage. I was struck by the image of the hearth fire. My parents, after 32 years of marriage and 9 children, are very much in love. I often attribute this to the fact that after marrying they moved to an old farmhouse with five foster kids, then began to produce nine children of their own. As a result they have not had a chance to tire of each other in any way, and in a sense have maintained a perpetual honeymoon delight in each others company. However, after reading about the hearth fire and considering the matter, I began to think about my mother kindling the stove. Every morning from early fall to late spring my mother, who is not a morning person, wakes up to a cold house, bundles up in a thick robe, and heads downstairs in the dark to search for the dull embers buried under the ashes of the previous night. She gathers twisted paper and dry wood and begins to carefully rebuild the fire. Sometimes the wood is wet and the house remains cold and gloomy for hours, and sometimes the fire leaps brightly almost at once, but all winter long that fire provides heat and warmth to our entire household, and every single morning it must be rebuilt.

The parable of kindling is important to me, as someone fairly newlywed, because it reminds me that it takes work to blow life into sleeping embers and sustain the fire and thrills of marriage. It also inspires me as an artist to remember that to begin again each day is essential, and also that to begin each day is possible.