Monthly Archives: September 2011

Murder in the House of Horrors

By: Clare

It’s a rainy, windy, wet and gray day in Wisconsin. Mary insisted that is was going to be sunny today. That obviously didn’t turn out. But I love days like these, and they’re actually the perfect kind of days to write a post, which I haven’t done in forever. I should have written this a few days ago, but the Internet’s been down, and I’ve been very “laid-back” about the blog recently. But no more! Here goes nothing-

Since the beginning of July, I have been working on my school’s high school play, “Murder in the House of Horrors”. It sounds scary, but it’s actually a Murder Mystery/ Comedy that involves some audience interaction. This led me to believe that the play was going to be a flop, as people in Cashton are kind of not really-semi-not-at-all-interested in the arts. But I knew even if the play wasn’t a huge hit, it would be super fun to be in anyway. I also didn’t expect it to turn out well because the director isn’t the best, and was gone for a lot of the summer practice. Colleen actually supervised practices a few times. You can read about it somewhere. I’d put a link, but I don’t really know how to do that yet, and I haven’t tried to find out. So, Kate that’s your cue, you’re the only one who know’s how to do that.

Thursday night’s play went very smoothly, and then came Saturday night’s show. Cale had promised he was going to come wearing a handmade shirt saying something about a Clare Bear instead of Care Bears. Thankfully, he didn’t keep on that promise. But he came anyway, along with Mary, Aurora and all the kids. Needless to say, the kids got very restless during the performance (along with Mary, who can’t sit through one play to save her life). They had to go to the cafeteria a few times to pick out which cupcakes they were going to eat at intermission.

At one point the audience was allowed to ask questions directed toward the suspects. Not to my surprise, Little Claire got a question in. It wasn’t a bad question, but when I was seven years old, I would have been terrified of doing such a thing. But this was coming from the same little girl who had decided to participate in a talent show when she was about three or four, and had proudly gone up and sang, horserides, horserides, horserides, horserides, over an over again until the kind older lady running the little show stopped her. And everyone there knew exactly who we were. It was a pretty laughable experience. Cale also got a question in, as he told me he would. He decided to ask if I had someone killed the victim. I was playing a police officer, so this was not even a possibility, and it was extremely hard for me to sit onstage without bursting out in laughter. Cale’s a great guy to have at a play. I’m not really sure if he enjoyed the performance, but he came anyway.

To clarify- the giant flower bursting forth from my shirt is from our garden. It was brought as my “bouquet” and is not a ridiculous part of my costume.

All in all, it was a great experience, and if ever you get the chance to be a drama production, I’d encourage you to take it. If you’ve already participated in one, you know what I mean.

Also, Claire someone came away with one of the props from the play. Who knows how this happened, but hey, she’s a Slattery isn’t she?

Enough

by Kate

Several times a day I push open an old wooden gate with my hip and slip through an old fashioned garden, dodging brambles and an antique clothesline pole. I climb a set of stone grey steps and open the white screen door, calling out a greeting to Teresa.

Teresa is in her mid seventies, white haired with bright blue eyes, half her teeth, and a thick Polish accent. She was born on a prosperous farm in Poland just before the Germans arrived. Her family fled when she was a toddler, following a path of Polish refugees from Russia to France to England and evetually to settle here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her only sister died during their journey. Her parents died ten years ago. A few years later she was on her way to church and slipped on the icy stone steps behind her house and broke her knee. She moves with difficulty and heavy dependence on a walker these days. She spends a great deal of time sitting still, often with a rosary moving through her fingers.

Teresa loves cheeseburgers, and so several times a week I head down the hill and across the intersection choked with rush hour traffic to fetch her a meal from Wendy’s. This is very good for combating my tendency towards pride, because I am mildly mortified by the thought that my neighbors believe that I deign to eat fast food. I am hardly lacking in vices, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that every clerk in the wine store around the corner knows my daughter’s name, but my organic family farming roots make me cringe as I head into the Wendy’s with the baby for the third day in a row.

Last week I was standing in line engrossed in watching the soap operatic drama of the restaurant staff unfold before me and reeling off the regular order of a small cheeseburger to go. After I’d finished, the cashier automatically asked me if I would be interested in giving a dollar for adoption and getting ten free frosties. I think I narrowed my eyes a little as I silently shook my head no. In my mind, I was thinking: I gave up my first child for adoption. Isn’t that enough?

It wasn’t a rational response at all. It was a deep in the gut, knee jerk reaction. As my husband (who is incredibly supportive of me and of my experience with adoption) pointed out, I was so wrapped up in my own story that I ignored the prospect of ten free frosties, which is a crazy thing to do. He was pretty sad about the lost frosties.

 I think it is great that Wendy’s supports adoption, and also great that they are handing out free frosties. The thing about supporting adoption, though, is that the story of the birthmother is so often missing. I was silent, that day. A tall silent woman with a baby in a sling and a handsome husband at home. There was no chance that the cashier at Wendy’s would even consider that the woman standing in front of her had given a daughter up for adoption ten years ago. Placing a child for adoption shapes and shifts your life forever, but leaves no visible scars or signs on the outside of your body.

Ten and a half years ago, I took a train to visit the couple who would become the parents of my child. I stared out the window and bit my lip, racking my brains in an effort to figure out what I wanted to ask them, what I wanted to learn from them. After an hour or two I was struck with the realization that what I really wanted was for them to see me as a person- an intelligent, college educated, passionate, loving person who was a whole lot like them. I wanted to fight the hazy conception of a birth mother that pervaded even my conception of the term. I was afraid that they would assume that because I was placing my child for adoption, I was a failure, or a drug addict, or lacking in love. I wanted them to know that I was like them. I needed them to know this, so that someday they could tell this to my child.

Ten years later, I am at ease with the amazing couple who adopted my child, and with the way that placing my first child for adoption shaped my life. I am not at ease with the way that adoption is often discussed. I believe that the story of  the birth mother is one that should be discussed more openly, with a greater complexity and compassion. I have been inspired by the great eloquence and intelligence of bloggers like Adoption in the CityThe Happiest Sad, Chronicles of Munchkinland, and Lia-Not Juno, all of who share their stories as birth mothers. I could never write a blog entirely about adoption- I could never write a blog entirely about anything, I’m far too flighty and far flung in my interests- but I do believe that it is important that I share my story, and find my voice as a birth mother. And for now, that will be enough.

Confessions of a Homeschooled Cook

By: Mary

This past Sunday when making the traditional Sunday noon meal that all family who live here in Wisconsin come over for, I thought about why I like to cook and bake so much, and why it is something that I can do with ease. I realized that what it boils down to is that when growing up I was homeschooled for 10 years. There are two highlighted areas that I came to excel at from this time in my life. I can’t say that I came out of as a science wiz, or that I became an educated Shakespearian pro. As far as the study of math is concerned uh, I will confess to having learned that if I burned my undone math sheets in the wood stove, then well, they would be gone forever!

What I really got good at doing were 2 things: I learned to compose stellar book reports. Doing book reports meant that I could read books. My gosh, I think that I used to crank out like 2- 3 of those reports a week.

The other thing that I got really good at was learning escape from the food that was always staple in the house and make things that I liked instead. We always seemed to have 3 things around besides my Mom’s great homemade bread. One was spaghetti. It’s been years since those homeschool days, but I still cannot tolerate pasta. We also made tons of brownies. (I still do like brownies but have found a recipe of my own.)  And last but not least, chicken. Chicken was a very, very usual staple at the Slattery table. While my Dad was still a full-time journalist, he was also experimenting with farming ventures that involved raising, butchering and selling home-grown meatbirds. Because my Dad is a gregarious marketing kind of person, he decided to go one step further than simply growing, and selling chickens. He ended up collecting recipes from farm wives and old church ladies that he would encounter while out on story assignments. His cookbook  ” Fifty Thrifty Ways To Cook Homegrown Chicken” still makes me laugh every time I see it collecting dust on a shelf. My laughter is caused by the sheer fact that the cover model for the book is a scrawny highschool girl named Kate Slattery!! On the cover, Kate is beaming at the camera while holding a huge roaster pan full of Home Grown Chicken. Needless to say, it is far less flattering to hold roasters of meat in an old apron, than to be a glamorous harpist in full costume….

Anyhow, yes, I do know a thing or two about putting together some good recipes. Thank you homeschool education. In the future I would like to share more of my favorite recipes with you Readers. Be prepared to use lots of vegetables and sugar. I LOVE produce and unfortunately, I also love to bake. Perhaps one day I can have my own recipe book floating around the house like my Dad’s with Kate beaming from the cover and a dish in her hand. Just kidding! Before I close my laptop though, I will include the current favorite cookie that I have been making this fall. It has oats, nuts and apples in it, so just tell yourself that it is healthy and enjoy the goodness of using freshly ripened apples just like the ones in the photo below from one of my favorite trees.

Apple Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 Cup  Butter, 1 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar, 1 Large Egg, 1/4 Cup Milk, 1 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla, 1 Cup Flour, 1 1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon, 1/2 Teaspoon Salt, 1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg, 3 Cups Oats, 3 Apples or so diced, 3/4 Cup Raisins or Chocolate Chips, 3/4 Cup Walnuts.

Preheat Oven to 375. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar, egg, milk,and vanilla. Combine melted butter next. In separate small bowl add dry ingredients together. Alternate the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Stir in oats, nuts and chocolate chips or raisins last. Drop rounded Tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet with about 2 inch spacing. Bake 13 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes then move onto a rack. When cookies are cool, put onto plate.

I hope you like this recipe. Also, if you ever want to read a good book report….I am more than willing to share….!

Sincerely, Mare

Bread and Circus

by Kate

A few days ago my brother Rob and his lovely bride Nicole set off from the green ridges of Wisconsin to visit the sooty city of Steubenville, Ohio where they went to college, played basketball, and fell in love. Yesterday they came in to spend Sunday in the city. It was a spectacular September afternoon- bright blue sky, warm breeze, leaves just beginning to turn.

After mass at the Pittsburgh Oratory we set off to explore the Oakland neighborhood. Olympia particularly enjoyed her perch on Rob’s shoulders. She kept flinging her arms open to embrace the wind.

We were joined by Nicole’s friends Maura and Paul. I was totally jealous of Maura’s outfit, which I am pretty certain would have looked hideous on me and perhaps also on every other woman that I know. But on Maura the dress worked perfectly.

 

 

Our first stop was the Carnegie Library Main Branch, which is in my opinion one of the best places in Pittsburgh to spend a Sunday afternoon. The architecture is beautiful, baroque and marble and full of intricate detail. Here is a glancing shot of the ceiling of the marble staircase which reminded Rob of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.

Every Sunday there is live music or dance in the Silent Reading Room at the Carnegie Library. This Sunday there were a group of Indian Bhangra dancers from Carnegie Mellon. We have been watching a lot of bhangra on youtube in our home lately, so Olympia was thrilled.

 

We tramped up and down staircases and in and out of the stacks and made our way out of the library on the other side, near the entrance to the Carnegie Natural History and Art Museums. I rarely visit this calm and contemplative space, but always vow to do so more often. I find it a particularly restful sort of beautiful.

After tearing Olympia away from her headlong rush towards the fountain, we wound around the library building, skirting the deep ravine where an entire power station rumbles and hisses and emits billowing plumes of steam. Rob pointed to a peeling tower reaching high into the sky on top of the ravine and said “Hey look, there’s guys up there painting it!”

The painters were taking a break- and giving us a peace sign, which I would never have known without the zoom feature on my camera.

Coming back around the library, we wandered into a group of people in front of the Carnegie Main Library setting up tightropes between the trees as vintage circus music played softly in the background. Drawing closer, we discovered that the tightropes were actually slacklines- AND that you are allowed to get up and try them.

Rob immediately pulled off his boots and leapt on.

To the surprise of the slackrope organizers, he made it all the way across after about a minute. They asked if he had any experience, and he said no, he’s just from the country. Then he gracefully dismounted and started to juggle three balls high in the air. Of course this meant that I had to attempt the slackline- disregarding the fact that I was still wearing my Sunday church dress.

It took me three minutes to make it across. I did pull of some interesting unintentional arabesques though. Meanwhile, Olympia grabbed two golden hoops and began dancing with them.

I looked around at my brother and my daughter and realized I didn’t need to run away and join the circus. I already grew up in one. I am pretty sure Olympia will, too.

After our brief stint as circus performers, we headed across the green, past a live jazz concert, to find “Pittsburgh food” to eat, at Rob’s request. This meant that we soon ended up at Primanti Brothers.

The restaurants, located only in the Pittsburgh area, also offer an authentic coating of grease and grime and lots of beer on tap. As for food, it’s all about that Primanti Chees Steak “No.2 Best Seller”

The Pittsburgh Cheesesteak is  a massive stacked sandwich consisting of thick Italian bread…

and cheese, steak, tomato, coleslaw, and french fries….

prepared as you watch on the open grill.

It is a pretty spectacular sandwich.

Plus, there is an unlimited amount of hot sauce to pour on it.

 It might be a tiny bit awkward to actually fit the thing in your mouth….

but Nicole looks just like the painting on the wall, which must mean she was doing it right.

After we finished our massive sandwiches, we headed back across the green campus towards our car. Thankfully it was a long walk, because we needed it.

It was a beautiful afternoon in the city. Bread and circuses and water towers- those Romans knew what they were doing with city living, didn’t they?

What did you do with your weekend?

A Saturday Morning Ramble

By: Mary

On Saturday in the early morning fog, I drove about an hour south to Gays Mills, Wisconsin. Now, Gays Mills is in the midst of the steep and rolling ground that Fernando came to know years ago. Every year when the trees are heavily laden with ripe apples, the town of Gays Mills holds a festival that is appropriately called Apple Fest. Before all the weekend festivities begin, a 2 mile and 5 mile race is hosted. Since last year I ran the 5 mile race, I decided to change things up and give the 2 mile race a try. All runners get to stretch their legs along a gorgeous local winding road.

After the race was over, I had time to kill before the awards were to be given out. So I wandered down main street with a bundle of dried pussy willow that I purchased in my bag, and a cup of hot coffee in my hand from a nice woman at the local natural foods co-op. Perhaps, the best part of the entire morning was meandering down the street looking at the wares that venders were exibiting. I lost track of time while making conversation with vendors while admiring their goods. At one stand, I met and elderly lady who sells jars and jars of preserves and spreads that she cans. She was as sweet as the lemon curd spread that she had me sample. I confessed to her that is was very good, but that I wasn’t going to buy it because I was inspired to try to make my own. By the time I left, she had stocked me with good canning tips, and given me her secret recipe for the lemon curd scrawled on a paper towel with directions on how to make a dozen pints of the wonderful spread that goes on toast, bagels and cakes.

My last and most lengthy stop was at the stand of an extremely eccentric and blunt artist. I dropped in to tell her that I am on an diet this month. (I have a serious earring addiction that I am trying to curb!) Susan, the artist expressed to me that she thought my diet is a stupid one, but that didn’t stop us from conversing and looking over her entire display…sigh. Maybe someday I will share some link to her work. She makes her jewelry out of polymer clay and paints it with masterful taste, last of all she adds beading. With getting caught up in earring lover banter, I lost track of time and almost missed out on getting my award for being the first female finisher in the two-mile.  I didn’t want to miss this because I had on a high school track shirt of Colleen’s that she left behind by accident when packing from UD. Now, Colleen is my running sister soul mate, and I know that she misses running the windy local roads of Wisconsin in this cool fall weather. With my strange sense of humor, I thought it humorous to run it in her name. Literally.

After the little town’s newspaper’s photographer took a picture of the trophy winners from the 2 and 5 mile races…

 the fog was no longer hanging thickly over the valley, so it was time to drive back home. Along the way, I did make a stop at an old apple tree. At this time in the season, I have come to regard the apple trees as free vending machines. Wow, are they ever good! Once again, I enjoyed the apple in honor of Colleen and then ascended back towards the ridge.

Until next time,

mary

How I Became a Slattery- A Love Story

by Aurora E. Slattery

I am the only Slattery sister who hasn’t written on the blog. Now this could have something to do with the fact that I am married to the eldest Slattery son Gabriel (he was born after Kate).  We have four beautiful children Claire, Adeline, Thaddeus and Antonia that keep me quite occupied.  But the other day my sister in law and best friend Mary happen to “mention” that if I wanted to ever contribute to the blog Kate had decided my love story would be perfect (hint taken).  Since my fourth anniversary is fast approaching I’ve decided to begin the tale of how I became a Slattery.


Once upon a time there was a rather unhappy and unwed mother of a one year old, that would be me.  Now the last few years had not been easy and so I must admit to not having the best opinion of men in general.  But sometimes bad decisions can produce good outcomes as we shall see here.  Mary had befriended me a few years earlier, and our older sisters Emily and Kate had been (very dramatic) friends for years. 

Mary had helped me get a job at a little cafe called The Driftless Cafe in my hometown after Claire (my one year old daughter) and I had moved back in with my family.  The Driftless lead to many things, most importantly to me that of friendship and love.  Mary happen to live above the cafe, the year it opened, which lead to me meeting her legendary brothers, Gabe and Rob.

Mary always talked about them and one night in Mary’s apartment I finally got to meet them.  It wasn’t love at first sight but though the summer I figured out that I really liked Gabriel.  There was something about him a delightful twinkling of the eye and kindness I had grown unaccustomed.  However by the end of summer Gabriel was gone and I was back in my bad situation which lead to a second pregnancy which led to me finally realize that God had me destined in a very different path.
After moving back in with my parents in early 2006 and permanently ending a failed relationship I returned to my Catholic roots.  I started to think about Gabriel (Mary and I had already started a joke about how if things didn’t work out with the other guy I could always marry Gabriel).  When summer came round I decided to have Gabriel rebuild some fence at my family’s ranch since he is a carpenter. 

We ended up talking a lot and I realized that I had met a real man who was hardworking, spiritual, intelligent and incredibly good looking.  I must admit to never feeling so magnetized to someone, I felt respected and comforted by his very presence.  One day as my boss Lars ( a very dear friend of our to this day) and I were washing dishes and he blurted out that I should marry Gabe Slattery.  I informed him that Gabriel had a girlfriend and he responded that perhaps the fact I was almost nine months pregnant was more of a problem.  But it wasn’t a problem and neither was the girlfriend  because at Lars’s wedding a few weeks later Gabriel and I were inseparable.  We watched fireworks at the wedding that night. Gabriel put our daughter Claire  up on his shoulders and as I watched them I remember thinking this is what it feels like to have a real family.  We danced, we talked, he drank, I didn’t (very pregnant remember).  I even drove him back to my parents where, we did not even kiss, he slept on the couch. 

After that night I felt so clear about him and knew that I had to trust God and offer up my insecurities ( freshly out of a bad relationship and almost two kids) I felt intuitively that everything would work out.  Soon I became a mother again.  The day Adeline Grace was born somehow most of my future family showed up.  Maybe most importantly my future mother in law Terese who was in the hospital after her mother fell that day and popped in to see me in the maternity ward.  It is a great joy to bring a child into the world even as a single parent and the void of father was somewhat filled by family and friends.  Now things had been brewing between Gabriel and me throughout the summer and other people knew it.  Lars had mentioned to Gabe that he should marry Aurora Menn and Gabriel said it wasn’t a bad idea.  When Adeline was two weeks old the day before Gabriel was leaving to return to Corpus Christi Texas ( a very very long long way from Wisconsin) to finish his last year of college we had our first kiss.  And I think we knew that somethings big was happening because thirteen and a half months later we were married, dairy farming and pregnant…… but that is another story.

A note from the bossy big sister editor Kate: There is more of Aurora and Gabe’s love story to come, including some coverage of their extravagent fairytale wedding. In the meantime, if you are in the mood for more romance, check out our brother Rob’s story here:

The Engagement, Mary’s Letter, Wedding Part One, Wedding Part Two, Wedding Part Three, Wedding Part Four, Nicole’s story

Canterbury Castle in the Sky

by Kate

 I read too much. I know the current emphasis is all on coaxing and bribing kids to read more, as though reading is an unalloyed virtue in and of itself. It isn’t. There are lots of trashy and downright awful books out there along with the good ones, and then there are the reams of  pure fluff. Sometimes I compare and contrast the current vogue for praising any and all reading with the stern Victorian admonitions against novels and wonder which school of thought is more realistic.  In any case, reading is an incredibly effective escapist past-time, which comes in really handy when you are growing up in a howling mob of nine children. My father, who never attends a sports event without a stack of magazines and library books, can attest to this.

The exorbitant amount of time that I spent reading while growing up fed an equally extravagent imagination.  I ran through the woods in torn silk remnents of bridesmaids dresses which caught on brambles and burrs but didn’t deter me from the palace grounds of my imagination. When I was 15, I became enamoured of donning a long thick cloak and wafting about the ridgetops in the mist, singing little ballads and pretending I was in Ireland. My brothers, who milked cows and had actual social interactions with our neighbors, were deeply humiliated and begged me to stop.

Luckily for me, I have been able to take this penchant for bringing the drama of novels into ordinary life and channel it into my work as a harpist. When I play the harp in public I make sure to dress the part. Voluminous ballgowns, pearls, hair flowing down the middle of my back- it adds much more depth to the performance, in my opinion, and also makes up for my rather mediocre skills and repertoire. I really think it works. I may not be a virtouso, but I am confident that I bring joy to the audiences I play for. These audiences are often made up of senior citizens, at retirement homes. Many of them are partially deaf. In that case the costume is more than half of the performance.

Recently I have begun playing often at Canterbury Place, a huge rambling stone and glass structure at the top of the steep hill running up my street. The original building was an Episcopal Church Home built 150 years ago as a home for orphans and elderly women living in genteel poverty. In the 1980’s, a massive addition was completed, with a glass walled aerie six floors up overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.

The only picture that I have that shows the size of the whole building is this one, with Canterbury Place in the background.

Yesterday, I was asked to play for the cocktail hour preceding a candlelight dinner for the residents. My harp was already there, tucked in a corner of the tiny historic 150 year old chapel, so I threw on a (wrinkled) hot pink 1940’s style ballgown and billowed up the street. I took the elevator up to the sixth floor, somehow managing to cart my harp, music stand, two large bags, and a camera.

I set the harp up in a large room with a fireplace, plate glass windows, and an ice sculpture.

I set the harp next to a massive antique grand piano, towering potted plant, and fantastic view. I apologize for the low quality of the pictoral evidence, as I was busy playing the harp and negotiating the swirling folds of my dress.

After playing, I wandered through the library.

And looked out the windows, trying and failing to capture the beauty of the view.

Here is a little story for you. A few years ago I worked in an office. At night, I curled up in an old armchair and drank wine and read the entire works of Jane Austen. I’d only read Pride and Prejudice growing up, and due to an unfortunate Christmas present that you can ask Colleen about, I happened to possess several of the rest of her novels. I spent a full month or two wandering through the mansions of Austen’s world, and at work I would stare past my computer and into space, dreaming about living in a huge rambling old mansion, wandering through the corridors into the library, reading and playing the harp, having genteel conversations and taking walks in the rain. (Here I go again with the walking in the rain. I blame the books entirely.) I couldn’t imagine an existence wherein those were my only responsibilities. I still can’t, although I have been startled in the past couple years by how often the pattern of my life has taken those rough forms, much more than it resembles my time in an office. However, I am thrilled by the fact that by dint of my side job as a harpist at a genteel senior citizens community, I regularly wander through unknown corriders into libraries with sweeping views of the city, play upon the harp in salons with large chandeliers, and perhaps best of all sweep down the staircase in a trailing ballgown. Even if it is wrinkled.

I am constantly amazed and amused by the manner in which dreams turn to reality.