Monthly Archives: May 2012

Voting Gratitude

By Mary
On a grey afternoon last week, my mother and I made a quick afternoon jaunt to the Washington Township voting polls located just three miles down the road from Sweet Ridge Farm. Hustling into the tiny town hall kept me dry from the speckles of spring rain that had been coming on and off on an intermittent basis. Once inside the dry town hall I was loosely surrounded by a few people from the local community. Living in a rural area lends to everyone knowing everybody- at least by name. When given my ballot, I didn’t need to show an I.D. or even to verbally identify myself. The lady behind a fold-up table filled with a generous stack of ballots simply said “Mary” and gave me one.

At this moment, my mind was not on the ballot, or who I was to vote for in the state recall elections. Nor was I contemplating on who those familiar faces at the poll would vote for. My thoughts were diverted to Immaculee, and my heart was brimming with gratitude for the security that I have experienced on a day to day basis. To all of you who don’t know Immaculee’s story, I urge you to either watch her movie The Diary of Immaculee. I happen to own her documentary. Because I’ve watched it several times, I am well aware of the difficulties she faced. Immaculee grew up in Rwanda, a country she loved, and was surrounded by a loving family. However, in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart by genocide. Culmination of competition and tension between the Tutsi and Hutu people exploded into neighboring Hutus and Tutsis going to war with each other. This resulted in the murder of 800,000 people. Neighbors killed neighbors. Immaculee’s family was attacked by their neighbors, which led to their deaths. Immaculee’s own survival can be attributed to being harbored in a secret bathroom space with seven other women for 91 days. Previous to her time spent in hiding, Immaculee was a vibrant 21 year old University student weighing 115 lbs. She emerged from her silent 3 months of terrified hiding weighing 65 lbs, only to discover most of her family members had been brutally murdered by machete wielding locals.

Looking around the township hall, I realized how blessed I am to be a young American woman. Of course my vote mattered, but did it matter in the sense of my immediate survival? No. Not at all. Those neighborly faces at the polls may vote differently than me, but I live in a democratic society. Thus, unlike in Rwanda, I have the privilege to cast my vote peacefully, as does my neighbor. There are no Hutus or Tutsis at war with each other, so regardless of my vote, family, and tribe my life isn’t in danger. After exchanging my ballot in the voting machine, I nearly skipped outside into the rain, reveling in the goodness of my own idyllic and privileged American life. Thank you, Immaculee, for sharing your story and making me aware of all that I’ve taken for granted in my life and nation. Thanks to the rain for the abundance it will create this year within the farmer’s field. Thank you to my neighbors, for despite political or cultural opinions we all live in a powerful sense of unity. I’ll never have to fear for my life, or even the life of my highly bothersome and obnoxious dog for that matter. Last of all, thank you America for the gift of living in a free and democratic society.

More thoughts about voting from Mary:

Post Noting Nostalgia

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An Unconventional Alphabet

by Kate

No one has ever described my family as conventional. While my parents didn’t believe in television, regular hair brushing, or (to be honest) a great deal of rigorous discipline, my father did teach me that it is totally appropriate to bring a toddler along as an assistant when, say, taking photos of a dancer at a fancy art opening. So last Friday evening I pulled out my trusty pleather leggings, put my toddler on my hip and my camera around my neck….

and headed downtown.

Granted, there was a bit of a tense moment with the security guard when Olympia headed with wide eyes toward some fascinating and fragile paper dancers.

In fact, that moment convinced me that next time I headed to a fancy art gallery, I would do so alone. There are limits to the toddler as photographic assistant. But overall, Olympia was extremely well behaved. She was very interested in the exhibits…

and this view from this corner of the gallery.

It is a great view of the Pittsburgh Downtown.

She hung out with us in the pre-performance backstage glamour familiar to every bellydancer, ie the ladies room….

And watched Janim’s gorgeous performance with wide eyes and complete stillness, crouched on the floor by my feet.

I am totally unfamiliar with shooting dancers, let alone taking photos in dim spaces awash with multimedia art presentations flickering on multiple screens, and I was unable to capture the startling beauty of the veil performance, but I did get this great shot which I think captures some of the great joy my good friend Jen radiates when she dances.

After the performance, we gathered up silk veils and toddler and slipped through the crowds of sophisticates and out the door.  Outside the SPACE gallery, we took time for an impromptu alphabet lesson.

I don’t let Olympia watch television at home, and so far she has missed out on the glories of Sesame Street…

…but we are definitely working on the whole alphabet thing, in our own way.

When The Roommate is Away…

By Colleen

It’s the end of finals week here at the University of Dallas, and consequently, the end of the school year.  I must admit that I’m excited to go home to the cool green hills of Wisconsin (escaping the humid hotness that has begun to make the mosquitoes dance and the air waver in the afternoon sun).  But right now, I’m all about enjoying the present.

Recently, my roommate reminded me that we have no pictures together.  “What?” I gasped, “How could part of my life have been undocumented by pictures??  That’s just barbaric!”  …Okay, so maybe I didn’t say that.  But I was kind of surprised.  I happen to have had a wonderful roommate this year.  I realized this when I came home for Christmas break and heard horror stories from my friends about control freak girls who regulate mealtimes and friend time, not to mention the ones who have “gentleman callers” come by every other night.  Becca, on the other hand, is pretty much perfect.  She studies way more than I, thus guilt-tripping me into actually working on homework once in a while, and likes sleep almost as much as I do.  I say almost because there is no one I know who insists on 8 hours of sleep a night more strongly than I.  It doesn’t matter WHAT time I go to bed-I get those 8 hours in.  Otherwise, Collen is NOT happy.

There are just some things you don’t subject your roommate to,even one  as sweet and kind as Becca.  Like talk radio.  And one’s newest obsession to a Belarussian pop singer.  And garlic (but to be fair, I put the jar of garlic bulbs into the fridge when it started making our room smell a little pungent).  But these things are necessary to life.  So, when Becca has gone home for weekend or break, I take full advantage of the situation, and it’s party time!  That’s right, I pull up my pop music and play it loud!  But more often, I get out the radio and tune it to NPR, lie on my bed, and listen away.  I might even dance around the room in my pajamas, the ratty ones that I brought from home but am too proud to wear here. I know, I know- I am one crazy college student.

This past school year has been wonderful.  I have achieved far more than I ever thought I could, musically, academically, and even (surprise!) athletically.  I came into the second semester with a feeling of “This semester, I’m going to change!”  For some reason, I felt that it was time for little old Colleen Slattery to become more exciting and crazy; in short, I wanted to push myself and see if I truly do like the person I’ve become over these 19 years on the planet.  And you know what?  I know who that is.  And I happen to really like her.  She’s the girl who writes poetry during class and maps out runs in her head when she wakes up in the morning, the girl who will always laugh at a pun and defend her family’s honor at all costs, the girl who won’t drink at a party and will most likely head home early (hey! I’ve gotta get that 8 hours in!), the girl who lies on her bed listening to NPR for fun.  That’s me.  Yup, that’s me.

So long UD!  I’m heading home 🙂

Fine Feathers at Carnegie Hall

by Kate

I spent yesterday in a red feather headdress and sparkling gold high heels, dancing samba with an orchestra and a full chorus onstage at Carnegie Hall.

Granted, we’re talking the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, not the larger and vastly more prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Of course, if you have ever seen the movie Flashdance you may recognize this as the home of the fictional Pittsburgh Ballet School the heroine is longing to attend… and be even more impressed that I had a chance to perform within this marble temple of the arts.

Although the Carnegie Music Hall itself is tiny inside, it is also a spectacularly opulent space.

I loved this staircase.

And these murals.

The opportunity to dance at the music hall came about due to the  Brazilian dancer and choreographer, Luciana Brussi, who is not only an amazing samba group director, but also a model for how to look amazing while in the middle of the sixth month of pregnancy.

Luciana was approached by the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, who happened to be performing an entire concert of Latin and South American music, culminating with a samba piece entitled Brazil.

We spent the afternoon watching the Symphony rehearse, and waiting for our turn to take the stage. It was delightful. Sitting in a deep red theatre seat wearing dancing shoes, with a bag of sequined and feathered costuming next to me, is definitely one of my favorite places in the world to be.

On the other hand, I have to admit that being backstage with an entire Youth Symphony is something you MIGHT want to avoid at all costs. The experience brings a new meaning to the term pandemonium.

In our dressing room, the Pittsburgh Samba Group was experiencing pandemonium of a different sort- involving lots of feathers, glitter, and sequins.

Perhaps most dramatically, the zipper on my dress finally broke under the strain of my five month pregnant frame, and I had to be sewn into my dress.

Luckily, Luciana had a needle and stitched me up in no time, so I was ready for our Carnegie Hall debut.

The Youth Symphony was great. I can’t recommend their concerts highly enough. If you live in Pittsburgh, make time to attend one these concerts- especially if you’ve got kids. The concerts are free, there are tons of kids running around, and the atmosphere is simultaneously sophisticated and relaxed enough for toddlers. Also, you never know- you may happen to see an entire samba troupe, with red feather headdresses, front stage and center. I sure hope so.

For more pictures of my Carnegie Hall adventure, click here.

Fungus Among Us (In Black Garbage Bags That Is)

By: Mary

My appreciation of working in the garden and fields results in a creative exploration of gardening. From Apples to Baby’s Breath to Carrots, I am a devoted grower of produce, flowers, and fruits. What I’m not so excited about is growing fungus. Yes, that’s right: fungus comes in many forms and that includes in the form of mushrooms.

The term mushroom describes a variety of gilled fungi, with or without stems, and the term is used even more generally, to describe both the fleshy fruiting bodies of some Ascomycota and the woody or leathery fruiting bodies of some Basidomycota, depending upon the context of the word. Here at Sweet Ridge Farm this springs plantings have included Yellow Oyster mushrooms. Though I have no expressed interest in this experiment, my brother’s Robert and James have taken up interest in this project. Resulting from a few hours of their work, a collection of ever-so-mysterious looking black garbage bags are now behind the house. After a few months of marination, the 25 units of spawn spore will inoculate and decompose. Come fall, a bountiful harvest of fungus should be upon us.

A visual tutorial on the Slattery Fungus experiment begins like this. To start with the spawns are needed. They came to us via mail and are packaged in block sized units and packed in sawdust.

The next thing needed to plant mushrooms is a place. See what I told you? There is nothing pretty or cute about planting mushrooms. What could be a duller surface than a log to plant the spawn on? But hey, it is what they require, and unlike a garden, it needs no tillage.

After you have the spawn and log in order a brother is needed to plant them. Here is James: unlike his sister’s- blogs or being photographed in the said blog is something that my Baby Brother has no time for…but really, covering this topic isn’t all so fascinating so I thought I would add this photograph to spruce up the post a bit, you know?

Here is Ja- I mean 40 Hustle, and our sweet neighbor girl, Leah tying up the project.

I make the statement of tying things up literally. The process of planting the spawns starts with them being placed on a log, then being covered with newspaper and secured with a twist tie or two. Using a right wing conspiracy laden publication to cover them is optional. My father is a former journalist, and our home is full of publications with vastly differing viewpoints, but I believe this particular paper belonged to our good friend and resident, Peter Drake.

Lastly the log is placed in a garbage bag.

As previously stated, by fall the “fruit” of the spawns will be revealed. While the fungi slowly starts to flourish in the bags, I will continue to stick to my own choice of planting on surfaces complete with earth and weeds. I guess I am just not a fungus type of person. But that doesn’t keep me from being amused by the heap of mysterious garbage bags and my fungus care-taking brothers.

Ice Cream and Time Travel

by Kate

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette tells me that temperatures may reach the upper 80’s today. I am sipping coffee and pondering the fact that in this first week of May I haven’t seriously approached my garden yet this year, other than to grab handfuls of garlic greens and chase my child through the miniature field of flowery arugula- but I am considering pulling out our tiny plastic swimming pool later this afternoon.  Maybe I will sort through seeds and make it to the nursery today, and maybe not.  I regularly peruse the latest issue of Martha Stewart at our local library and sigh over the clarity and organization of her monthly calendar, but my own time management is and has always been scattershot and lacking in focus. I do, however, make time for the important things- like ice cream, and time travel. Luckily for me, both are available right around the corner and down the street at Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor in the Strip District.

Klavon’s is a real 1920’s style ice cream parlor and soda shop, complete with a long marble counter, Art Deco Decor, and amazing malts, sundaes and shakes made with vintage equipment.

Here is the soda, ready and waiting.

There are high stools at the counter, tables, and tiny wooden booths to slide into.

And there is a tiny table near a case full of vintage toys, which captured the imagination of my wild toddler for a surprisingly long time.

Of course, she was already pretty happy with her ice cream sundae, complimentary pretzels, and the cold water provided by the friendly, knowledgeable, and kind woman behind the counter.

She informed us that there are three flavors of homemade fresh whipped cream, and let us try them all. That alone won the heart of this Wisconsin girl. I’m glad we stopped for ice cream, and time travel, on a hot late April day. I recommend both to all of you would be gardeners and spring dreamers out there, as well as the Marathoners pouring into town for the Pittsburgh Marathon this weekend. In this strange and hazy heat of early spring, steal some time from the lazy days of summer and take time for ice cream.

Art All Night

By Kate

Post industrial Pittsburgh is rich in space. There are cavernous warehouses, former steel mills, abandoned houses of man and God, all solidly built in a past full of prosperity and American steel.

Pittsburgh is also rich in possessing a populations of artists and dreamers eager to re-imagine those spaces, and inhabit them in a new way.

Last Saturday we attended Art All Night, a 24 hour celebration of local visual and performing art that takes place at a new location in our neighborhood every year. The event is free, and the entire community is encouraged to attend and to participate in creating art during the event.

Along with a whole host of talented professionals and amateurs from all over the region.

There was a whole section of children’s events, but this year our two year old was more interested in clinging firmly to her father and gazing at wide variety of art on display.

There was live music….

There were massive puppets…

There were robots, fitting enough considering that we were a stones throw away from the Carnegie Robotics Institute…

But Casey’s favorite piece of art was definitely this practical and attractive coffee table with a cribbage table built in.

My favorite art was the juxtaposition of the entire event within the skeleton of the factory.

It is hard to describe the sheer scope of the space that housed the event this year, but wandering through it and gazing up at the massive remnants of industry was extraordinarily interesting- particularly for a girl who spent a couple ill advised years swooning over Ayn Rand.Like the work of Ayn Rand, however, it is clear that working in this factory had a dangerous side. I thought this safety measure was appropriate for an art show.

Luckily, I had no need for an emergency eye bath. I enjoyed the work of the artists, especially those working hard on collaborative immediate pieces.

It was cold on that concrete floor, and I was shivering watching them work.

Of course I have always imagined that being a painter involves a lot of shivering. In garrets, while stained with paint in an aesthetically pleasing manner, and being gaunt and interesting. The artists at work all looked just like the artists in my imagination.

And the outfits and demeanor of the artists seemed to match the paintings, which I found fascinating.

Speaking of outfits, I am thrilled to say that this event, which involved high and low art and frigid temperatures, was a perfect opportunity to pull out the pleather pants. And what five month pregnant woman doesn’t love to wear pleather pants?

Not to mention almost every brightly colored plastic bracelet I own. That was my great contribution to the world of visual art.

Want more? Read about my adventures in post-industrial Pittsburgh here:

Frumpiness and Pleather

After Atlas Shrugged

Painting Pittsburgh

A City Morning

Pittsburgh in my Paris (A Bibliophile’s Dream)

Snowstorm in July

Hot Times, Summer in the City

Fire Knives, Fountains, Steel Mills, and Spectacle