Tag Archives: City

Where the Wild Things Are

by Kate

Growing up, I was a wild child. All nine of us were fairly savage, often found barefoot in trees with uncombed hair, and it would be fair to say that we were a bit uncouth. My mother often said that her goal was to raise children who were free, and in that she most definitely succeeded. So have her free children, as they make their way into the world. Somehow the time we spent running wild though woods and pastures and the pages of a thousand books formed thoughtful, articulate, and hardworking adults.

I often think about raising free children, ideally with brushed and braided hair and decent table manners. So far, I am excelling at the freedom part, with a pretty spotty hair brushing record and a plan to implement better table manners very, very soon. My husband suggests that I learn some first, and I suspect he may be right.

Of course, unlike my parents, I do not live on a high ridge falling into a woods and a valley, with a huge willow sheltering a junkyard crick. I live in the heart of a city and glimpse skyscrapers through a canopy of branches. But I do live in a city of hills, ravines, and rivers, and when I have trouble breathing remembering the free feeling of running through the back pastures and hills of home, I head out to find the wildness hidden only minutes from my front door.

Outstretched arms and muddy hands and feet are not off limits for city children.

river girl pittsburgh

And a river anywhere is full of wildness and cannot be tamed. Ours is a gift full of mystery and wonder- along with some industrial debris, Canadian geese, and pairs of hungry ducks.

river adventure

I am working out a theory that the most important thing is not living in the city or the country, but to open the eyes of your children to the wonder and the wildness of the world around them…

city walk

wherever that might be.

For here we are, and here we shall remain, looking for the wild places and trying to tame the tangles in our hair.

kate stapleton sweet ridge sisters

Country Girl in the City, Part One

by Kate

I was born and bred on a farm. I climbed a grain bin barefoot on my wedding day.

farmgirl bride

And then I moved into the heart of a great grey city of steel and iron and statues and stone.

urbanpittsburgh

But I am still a barefoot country girl, although I also have a pretty fabulous collection of sky high heels. I think that many people assume that simple sustainable living is a country thing. I know I did. I was wrong. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and I want to share some of them with you. These are some of the things that I do that remind me of home and have helped me to create a beautiful and sustainable life here.

I hang my clothes on the line.

laundry hanging on line

I’ve got a bed of strawberries under the laundry line too. I grow garlic, enough to last all year.

bed of garlic urban farming

I use cloth diapers as much as I can. These cheerful ones were a gift from a blog reader. (Thanks again, by the way. I love them.)

cloth diapers

I bake bread, and cookies, and cake, and I teach my children to bake too.

baking

These are some of the things that make me feel at home. Bake bread, grow garlic, hang clothes. Keep a compost pile. It turns out that some of the things that made country living enjoyable for me weren’t contingent on living in the country. I plan to keep sharing these things in an occasional series. Kick your shoes off, and join me on my country girl in the city adventures!

City Girl, Country Girl

By: Colleen

It is the small, quiet moments in life that truly call out to my poetic soul.  The quiet and chill of an early morning run, an undercurrent of vibrant excitement caught in the trill of the birds.  The silence that comes (every once in awhile!) out in the fields, the summer sun setting, the dirt deep and dark underneath my hands.  And last week, I found that quiet as I sat upon the banks of the Potomac, in milky, early Spring sun.  The boats slipped by quietly, I could see away and off into Maryland across the shore; and life was beautiful.

For Spring Break, I traveled to the Washington, DC area to visit friends and explore a bit of the East coast.  I grew up dreaming of boarding school on the East coast, my dreamy little head filled with images of school uniforms and dormitories, curled up with a book of the same subject  in a patch of sunlight in our roomy, white farmhouse.  As I grew up, that dream faded into the background, and I found myself in school way down in Dallas, TX, just about one of the least romantic places I could think of.  So, when I got the opportunity to spend a week on the East coast for break, I jumped on the chance.

My absolute favorite day was the one spent in Alexandria, Virginia, just off the blue line of the Metro.  I headed out in the morning, bought my metro pass, and navigated my way down into the depths of the metro station.  There was something so freeing about taking the metro by myself.  And yet, standing on the platform and waiting for the train in my deep green pea coat and tall blacks boots, I felt so very far away from home.  The rush and bustle of the metro and the city excite me, but also makes me recess farther into myself, my iPod in my ears and the far away look in my eyes that I recently learned to adopt.  And so, it was with a small sigh of relief that I exited the metro at King Street Station, and headed down historic King Street in old Town Alexandria.  immediately, I was in love.

The street was lined with coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants.  It was as if the town knew me, my likes and dislikes, a simple girl from Wisconsin with an avid love of all things Francais.

fromage

american in paris(I actually did end up going into this one, and was promptly frightened out by the saleswoman who told me that you weren’t allowed to touch the clothing in the store except by the hangers and had a genuine witch’s cackle.  You can’t win them all, I suppose.)

baguette

I grabbed lunch at this little French bistro, filled to the brim with breads and cheeses, and headed down to the river, swinging my baguette sandwich by my hand.  After lunch, I wandered into the side streets, house hunting.  Since I had fallen in love with the town, I needed to find a place to live other than the cafes. There are shutters on almost every house in the town, and mysterious, hidden gardens behind curved gates, colored red, green, and blue.  This house was a little too small:

house

My friends and I agreed: this is a little more my size:

big house

I’ll admit that I was a little worried that the real owners of the house might come out and ask me what I was doing posing on their front steps  so we smiled quickly.  The house was absolutely lovely, as was the town.   I could see myself there, taking early morning runs next to the river, finding a private high school to teach at, and coming home to a (small) apartment with green shutters on the windows.

But, the Midwestern, Slattery girl in me knows that she would and could also be completely content in a house more like this, filled with family and love.

farm house

I peeked into a courtyard in Alexandria and found this gem.  And I was back home in an instant.  No matter how far you go, you’re never really far from home.  My feet will always be bare and dirty, I’ll always defend raw milk, and I’ll always love the country, where one can breath and live and be.

After Atlas Shrugged

by Kate

Sometimes a long low haze descends upon Pittsburgh and it seems as if I could almost slip into an alley and into the past.

I can vividly imagine the great grey city, twice as populous as it is now, in its filthy and glorious industrial prime.

There is an evocative beauty in these post industrial remnants of the past, and in the symmetry of red brick, wires, soot, and glass.

I suspect that some of my fascination with Pittsburgh’s past stems from an ill advised early infatuation with the works on Ayn Rand, particularly Atlas Shrugged. Her characters may be cartoons and caricatures, but her scenes of American Industry are sweeping and powerful and romantic. Ayn Rand is definitely the reason I climbed upon a steep embankment yesterday while waiting for the bus. I’m glad I did.

I was surveying the grey rugged skyline with chin held high and the wind in my hair, feeling fiercely individualistic and Dagny Taggert like (albeit Dagny with a baby in a sling, clearly so unlikely as to be impossible) when to my great delight a railroad engine appeared.

If you have not read Atlas Shrugged, suffice it to say that nothing could have transported me into the realm of that novel than a railroad. Never has so much lavish prose been expended upon the engines of industry or the engines and tracks and fate of the railroads. The train rattled and rushed into the city skyline, and I reveled in the fleeting vision of a novel come to life.

I am glad that literature impels me to embark upon adventures, and slip into the past. Living in a dream world of books and of the past often makes me climb embankments of every sort and realize the beauty of the present.

Hot Times, Summer in the City

by Kate

After a month of daily rain on the grey stones of Pittsburgh, a heat wave rolled in shimmering on the gritty concrete.

Scores of university students still in town for the summer worshipped the sun in the shadow of the Tower of Learning (which Casey calls the Tower of Sauron) but on a recent expedition to the great Carnegie Libary in Oakland, we were more interested in seeking shade in a tree lined avenue.

I love these red doors on the Heinz Chapel- appropriate color for the ketchup dynasy, I suppose.

They have organ concerts at the chapel almost every weekend. Someday I will go, and I will write about it.

The chapel and green were beautiful, but the real highlight of our wandering walk was this fountain.

Fountains are definitely one of my favorite things about cities. I love the water in the midst of stone, the playfulness inherent in the art form. I love the fact that people build fountains. It makes me feel connected to and proud of the sweep and scope of civilization. I particularly love this fountain, because it is so beautiful.

Very inviting, on a hot summer day.

All right, so it didn’t take that long before we started teaching Olympia the proper response to a cool fountain on a hot summer day. Thankfully, we weren’t alone. The fountain was full of kids.

There are times when I really do love being in the city- and I think Olympia does, too.

Field Trip and Foreign Exchange

by Colleen

It seems to me that I do have the misfortune of being too city for the country and too country for the city, as Kate has said of herself as well.  This fact was made even more apparent to me this past weekend when I traveled to Wisconsin’s capitol, the great and liberal city of Madison,  for the State Forensics competition (for those who think I am talking about cutting up bodies and analyzing remains, forensics is basically speech/debate competition).


A busload of Cashton kids was unleashed on the city for a day under iron gray clouds, spitting out bits of cold rain and occasional hail. (Ah!  Beautiful Wisconsin spring weather….but wait ,that is another issue entirely.)  My beautiful Ukrainian friend, Kseniya, was along for the trip, and throughout the day, she was to prove to me just how country I was.

Kseniya is from a large city in Ukraine, and despite being in a place where she is not a native speaker, she can get around better than I can.  Several times throughout the day when we didn’t know where to go, she would simply walk up to the nearest person and ask where something was or how to get into a place, absolutely confident, despite her accent.  This was amazing to me.  Here I was, a person who’s lived in Wisconsin all her life, unable to sum up the courage to ask which way up even was.  Kseniya was astounded, saying, “That’s the reason I love cities!  You can ask anyone a question and they will tell you what you need to know,” and, “Don’t you love being able to smile at random people on the street?” Ummmm, no, because I live on top of a ridge where the main population is Slatterys.

Although I wasn’t used to not being able to jaywalk across the streets and the sheer amount of people all around me, I did love the city.  I loved walking down the street and looking in shop windows, filled with everything from popcorn to high fashion.  Cafes populated almost every corner and spread warm light and the luscious scents of rich coffee and sugary pastries into the rain darkened afternoon, a sore temptation for a Catholic girl with a coffee and bakery fetish in the throes of Lent.

I ultimately returned home late that night with a gold medal for solo acting in Forensics, a severely lightened wallet, and a new appreciation for the braveness of my city friend, Kseniya. I liked the glimpse into city life, but I still don’t know what I am.  Country?  City?  Can I have both?

The Downtown Department Store

by Kate

The presence of a downtown department store in Pittsburgh has always been one of things that makes me feel as though I live in a Big City.

Growing up in the middle of dairy country without a tv made it tough to imagine what a life in City would be like, but plenty of old fashioned books and catching half of Miracle on 31st Street at a holiday party assured me that it definitely involved catching a streetcar and going downtown for the afternoon to visit the Department Store and have a milkshake at the soda fountain. Last Friday, that is (more or less) what we did.

In the absence of streetcars, we went around the corner to catch the bus. It was a glorious sunny spring day, meaning it was time for me to pull out my sunhat.

About the hat. A couple years ago, when I still lived down south, it occurred to me that my Irish skin and the searing summer sun didn’t mix.The problem was that I have an an aversion to the various heavy and nostril assailing sunblock concoctions out there. This did not faze the southern beau I had at the time one bit. “Git you a hat, woman!” said he, and so I did. It was surprisingly good advice. Do I look like an idiot? Yes. A picturesque one, though. It keeps the sun off and the sunblock too.

Today, The Downtown Department store (and our destination) is Macy’s.

This has only been true for a few years. From 1877 until 2006, it was the flagship operation of the famous Kaufmann’s Department store chain. With 12 retail floors, spanning an entire city block,  referred to simply as “The Big Store”. This remains an apt description.

Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned by Edgar Kaufmann to design the executive offices on the top floor. The exterior of the building is a striking Neoclassical Style Revival. Perhaps the most iconic detail is a huge ornamental clock. This clock has been a popular downtown meeting place  for almost a hundred years.

It is the clock that really makes me feel like I have stepped into the storybooks I read growing up, the clock that makes a trip to the department store seem magical.

The clock was much more alluring than the window displays, which hinted that perhaps I would not find my magic inside as they promised. Certainly there seemed to be no chance of finding my magic in knits.

Trenches did not seem promising, either.

Spring 2011 appears to be all about neutrals.

Pale neutrals are a lovely concept, but the sad fact of the matter is that they dramatically reveal coffee stains. This is a deal breaker for me. Also my aforementioned Irish skin is pale enough without being swathed in shades of oatmeal. This color palette tends to make me into a sort of six foot pale neutral person.

The window displays inspired in me the usual terror and qualms that I experience every time I am in or near a department store. I love the idea of these stores, in books, but the reality makes me feel like an awkward ungainly impoverished coffee stained wild haired country bumpkin. Perhaps this is because I am. Taking a deep breath, I bumbled my way through the revolving doors and into a vast expanse of mirrored glass, marble, gleaming surfaces, and a spectacular amount of pink.

There is a wedding coming up (in case you missed it, read more here) and this means that I have given myself permission to go to a real live makeup counter. Due to a mixture of shy terror and complete poverty, I only purchase department store makeup when an upcoming nuptial event gives me the excuse. The last time I bought eyeliner was just before my own wedding two years ago. As a bellydancer who paints on vast quantities every other week, I recently decided to face the fact that my paint pot was drying up and decided this wedding was the perfect excuse to invest in a whopping $21.50 in real makeup, thus earning a Clinique gift bag which would instantly transform me into a chic, clean, classy person ready to attend a wedding.

I am scared of the fancy ladies at the makeup counters, and the men too. The first time I gathered up the courage to visit one and have my face done I was 23 and I will never forget my makeup artist, Bruno, telling me that indeed it was crucial that I wax my eyebrows or I would look like, well, him. His thick black eyebrows were impeccably waxed but that did not disguise the fact that without intervention they would clearly have taken up at least 1/3 of his forehead.

This time, the fancy lady who finally found time to fuss and flutter and dab my lips with various lipsticks was very sweet, and kind. No mention of eyebrows. There were various experiments in the world of color.

I have to be honest and say I am not quite sure how I walked away from the counter with a lipstick called Ginger Flower. It is… bright pink. Very bright reddish pink. Perhaps the word coral is appropriate. Coral lipstick is another thing that sounds great in books, but is a bit challenging to pull off in real life. However, the makeup counter lady assured me that it was stunning. I decided that a springtime wedding would be a great time to look stunning even as I (accurately) predicted that my husband would instead choose to describe the effect as “clown-like”.

My secondary goal on this trip was to sample Chanel No. 5. I recently read a book chronicling the history of this perfume. It was a great book, and a fascinating history full of passion, monasteries, nazis, great escapes, espionage, chic, and luxury. I realized while reading it that I had no idea what the scent born and causing such drama smelled like, so it was imperative that I try it.

Not bad, is my verdict, though I liked the book better than the perfume. Thankfully my husband who was not raised in a free range manner on a farm recently taught me how to sample perfume while loking civilized and avoid spraying it heavily on my body and random passerby while sort of jerking spasmodically in an attempt to wave the scent around. As a result this scent sampling session was almost entirely unembarrassing. I liked the Issey Miyake featured in the picture, too.

The cosmetics and perfume counter is only the beginning of the first floor of eleven at the downtown Macy’s. Although my eyes were already beginning to gloss over and my breath come short at some point, I decided that I must make some attempt to dig deeper into the retail jungle. This meant taking the escalators up to the fifth floor to glance over the 2011 crop of prom dresses. As a harpist, I am always on the lookout for extravagent poufy formal dresses. You never know when they’ll come in handy for an upcoming gig. Sadly, my research revealed that the current model of prom dresses are absolutely useless for a harpist.

Or for someone who would like to sit down at any point while wearing one.

Or for thousands of young women who will deeply regret their prom photos years hence.

Ah well. There are plenty of other formal dresses with skirts in the world, and I almost never buy them till they get to the thrift store anyway.

The prom dresses were more than enough to round out my department store adventure, and I decided it was time to make my way down the escalators, past the soda fountain, and out the revolving doors. The directory reminded me that there are far more mysteries to be explored at a future date- including the Fur Vault, which I definitely don’t have the courage to broach at this point.

Just before I left the store, I spotted a man in a fedora at the bus stop across the street. Just for a second I saw the past juxtaposed on the present, and I felt less lonely in my sunhat.

I am sure that I will return to the downtown department store again someday in the future. Will you meet me at the clock?

Till we meet again,

-Kate