Tag Archives: Faith

Easter!

by Kate

Happy Easter from Pittsburgh!

On the night before Easter, my (gorgeous) sister in law Nicole lamented her fate as she attempted to find the best Easter dress to put on a nine month pregnant body. As someone who once attended Easter Mass the day before delivering a baby, I definitely sympathized. I told her my theory involved very high heels and very bright prints. Ideally, a dramatic hat finishes the outfit nicely. Sadly, none of my hats matched the brightly printed dress I chose for my four month pregnant frame this year, but I like to think that my fuchsia heels made up for the missing hat.

Olympia was brightly dressed as well, though somewhat less than perfectly behaved. Suffice it to say we sat in the back pew.

Oh, the excitement of attending a long mass with a child who has just turned two, and then been given an Easter Basket.

It was a beautiful mass however, as I told my husband who missed most of it during a long chocolate fueled ramble through the neighborhood. And it was a beautiful Easter. We were invited to a party full of sunlight and champagne…

Argentinian empanadas and red wine…

Lots and lots of children….

And extremely photogenic babies.

The parents were pretty photographic as well.

I hope that your holiday was joyful, and peaceful, and bright. I’m off to steal more chocolate from my child’s Easter basket. It’s the right thing to do…. right?

-Kate

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Letters To Thailand

By Mary

11 years ago my friendship with Ericka began in a most fitting manor for both of us fun loving, free spirited girls. Ericka then 14, and myself one year older, met at the fair and proceeded  to seek out the most adventurous rides that could procure shrieking screams, sick stomachs, and the melody of teenage laughter.

Since becoming friends with Ericka, years have passed by, but a stable friendship has remained. Both of us live by the flow of a low maintenance friendship. Like me, Ericka can be pretty hard to track down at times. However when visits do happen, adventure does too. The two of us friends are usually up for anything which has led to trips to Canada and DC, crashing weddings, rock climbing, hysterical square dances, and a memorable Thanksgiving trip up north which did involve a hot tub, Wisconsin weather (snow) and stocking caps with frozen hair underneath as we sat both freezing and boiling to death with the same youthful attitude that we possessed so many years ago at the fair.

Though Ericka has traveled extensively, and did spend a summer volunteering at an orphanage in Peru, her longstanding dreams of dedicating herself as a Catholic missionary took some time to get to.  However, last March, after much planning and preparation the time had come for Ericka to live out her dream. While searching for the right organization, Ericka discovered her the ideal fit: Heart’s Home.  Hearts Home is an international Catholic non-profit organization that has a global network of volunteers who assist and form deep per­sonal bonds with troubled, dis­ad­van­taged and socially iso­lated indi­vid­uals in some of the world’s most desperate areas. Heart’s Home is active on five con­ti­nents, with 41 centers in 21 countries.

Before making the final commitment with this organization, Ericka traveled to Heart’s Home retreat center and headquarters which is located near the Bronx, in New York. After her time with active members of the community and daily interactions with those in the Bronx, Ericka felt confident the she was with the right nonprofit.  Because Ericka is skilled at learning languages, she was asked to go to Thailand. In Bangkok, Ericka has worked towards learning to speak Thai.  Her living conditions are difficult as she lives in a slum, but she has found great joy in meeting and caring for the local woman and children that she encounters on a daily basis.

Before Erika left for her 15 month stint, I promised I would write her, not email, but authentic snail mail that takes a long time to receive and is filled with the ups and downs of life, misspelled words and blotted out lines. Sarcasm, melodramatic narratives, embarrassment, and humor jotted on a most random assortment of paper have migrated to Bangkok via airmail.

The monthly exchange of my letters will soon be over, as Ericka will be back in June. Though June is a few months away, I already am looking forward to a non- paper communicated visit with my friend followed by a weekend trip with her and her boyfriend, Ryan to Devil’s Lake for a day or two of rock climbing. Devil’s Lake may lack the foreign wonder that surrounds Ericka right now.

I know that when my friend went on the climb pictured below, she was able to see monkeys and had all sorts of unusual encounters. However, the wonder of traveling cannot beat how wonderful it is to have friendship on nearby terrain. Hoorah for for June, and the melody of laughter.

Windmill and Dreamers

by Kate

This is my friend Sia.

Sia is a potter and a painter and a mother of four. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where the rocks drip with moss and the rocky land looks entirely enchanted, but her family is settled here, high on a green hill on a historic ridge deep in the Ohio hills. When you head way out, up, and over Hanover Ridge and toward her family’s homestead, the first sign you’ve reached it is a windmill high on the hill. At this time of year, it’s framed by an orchard full of apple blossoms.

Sia’s family hasn’t always lived on this high Ohio Ridge. They have deeply urban East and West Coast roots. They settled on this ridge as part of the homeschooling, homesteading, back to the lander movement. In fact, they are Catholic artist back to the landers. This is a infinitesimally small segment of the general population, but a familiar one for me as I grew up immersed in this culture as well.

Sia’s parents are artists and intellectuals, and their love of beauty is evident in the lines and light streaming through their home, built by her father and younger brother. After reading my recent post on the farmhouse chic of Anthropologie, Sia was eager to show me the real life beauty of the home her family has created. I brought my camera, so I could bring all of you along as well.

Inside the green screen door, there were many familiar elements of back to the land living, reminding me of home. In the kitchen is a beautiful wood cookstove, with the most artistic compost bucket I have ever seen perched atop it:

And a big wooden table with long benches.

Notice the bouquet of apple blossoms- simple, and beautiful.

I loved this kitchen and dining area, where the light pours in…

and there is beauty from every angle.

I especially appreciated this coat rack, which has an enviable simplicity and order to it. Remind me to tell you of my mutant rebel collapsing coat rack some time.

Sia made French press coffee….

and served it in a mug that she made, years ago.

Then, coffee in hand, we continued with our tour.

If you are a back to the lander, having a carpenter father for a home-builder is a definite plus. Check out this enviable wall of built in bookshelves.

The house is full of appealing angles.

And ingenious storage solutions.

Speaking of storage, Sia is particularly impressed with her mothers drying rack and laundry table.

There are icons and flowers tucked into corners…

Icons, homemade pottery, and apple blossoms.

And on one wall this picture, of Sia’s grandmother. Look at those eyes! It is clear where some of the great creativity and passion in this family comes from.

This is a beautiful house for dreams.

Speaking of dreams, across from the main house is a partially finished structure with a fully completed music studio, complete with a grand piano.

As we visited, the strains of Bach’s cello concerto drifted across the ridge. Sia’s siblings play the piano, violin, harp, and cello. I am in awe of Sia’s mother, who homeschooled five children and drove many of them an hour and a half into the city of Pittsburgh so that they could study and perform this music.

I am in awe, but I can’t imagine making that drive on a regular basis- which brings me to the topic of my own dreams and quandries. There is a great part of my soul that longs to be settled in an owner built home high atop a green hill. However, a greater part of me realizes that my husband is neither a carpenter nor a farmer, but instead a teacher who loves to live in the city. And living in the city is what is allowing me to spend my time learning and working as a harpist, dancer, and artist.

I visited Sia at Hanover Ridge along with my good friend Rebecca and her three children.

All three of us grew up with Catholic back to the lander parents. In fact, all of our parents read, wrote for, and worked to bring to life the words in the short lived but deeply influential magazine Caelum Et Terra. You can find out more about the history of the magazine if you follow the previous link to the website about it, or you can check out the current blog here.

These days, Sia is one of the editors of a print journal entitled Soul Gardening. Rebecca just published her first novel, and I am writing for the blog you are reading right now. At the moment, all of us live in town- although Rebecca commutes out to her organic farm on her parent’s property. We are all working on finding balance as women and wives and mothers and dreamers. And although we may not be living on a high ridge, we are all still tilting at windmills.

For more photos of my day at Hanover Ridge, view the facebook album here. Enjoy!

Gary Elson: Son of Middle Ridge Soil

By Patrick Slattery

Not many farmers are fortunate enough to have a silent sidekick. I do in the personage of Gerard (Gary) Elson. Gary is a genuine farm article. Born and raised just over the hill west of Middle Ridge, he has had a lifelong love of all things agricultural. Unfortunately, in later times his farming life unraveled: he suffered a stroke about 12 years ago. As a result, his dairy herd went down the road.

The farm which had been in the Elson family for four generations was sold to a childless cohabitating couple, and Gary moved into a subsidized senior citizen housing complex in West Salem, Wi which is about 12 miles away from his home farm.

Gary is not the kind to sit and do nothing. I tried to help him though his divorce, and when it was clear that the subsidized housing complex was where he would reside, I suggested he come and help out here in the neighborhood if it were to his liking.

It has proven to be an option to his liking, and most days Monday through Friday, Gary can be found here. A senior citizen bus provides very convenient transportation to my house. In previous times,  he drove a Polaris ATV 12 miles back and forth from West Salem, but alas! The sheriff’s office pulled him over and put an end to the 5 times a week drive.

Let me state emphatically that I am a big beneficiary of Gary’s regular visitations. Gary is a true farmer and has helped fill some of my knowledge gaps especially when it comes to mechanical understandings. Gary pays attention to the likes of dipsticks and tires, things that don’t seem to capture my attention. He has saved my neck more than a few times. I especially enjoy Gary’s company because we don’t have to talk too much.

Gary’s stroke impeded his speech. I can understand him most of the time, but most people cannot. Hence, I do a lot of his business transactions. A lot of his sentences end with oh, sheete…. There are times that I am glad that he can’t talk because then he can’t say oh shit, I told you so!

Gary has settled into his own groove, and has ended up on his own two feet pretty well considering the life blows that he has taken. He likes livestock and the first thing that he does when he arrives each morning around 8:15 is to feed the chickens. He had got a real nose for finding egg nests in the strangest of places. Whatever the undertaking, Gary has a practical knowledge of how to set up work and get it done. He did a masterful job of organizing my barn’s basement, and spends many a happy hour down there, hammering, sawing and chopping things.

It is a wonderful male domain. The only point of contention is that Gary loves country western music. This doesn’t sit well with my wife. She turns it off when working with us packing produce in the basement of my barn. Detoured, Gary turns the Cow Country station right back on when she isn’t around. To be truthful, I have developed a whole new appreciation of  the socio-economic observations provided by county music artists.

Gary and I often times work on projects together in the morning. Things always go better when you have two sets of hands. Gary is a chow hound and is quite appreciative of good fresh food. He communicates thanks to the chef. Afterwards, a half hour nap on our tv room couch is in order, then it’s time for more work.

I knew Gary’s parents who were really beautiful people. His Dad had the kindest look about him and a gentle soul. Gary has much of that in him too. He comes from good stock. I trust that Gary and I have a mutually beneficial relationship. I know that I am grateful for anything that he does. He may not live on the Ridge any longer, but he is and always will be a son of the soil of Middle Ridge.

This article is part of an occasional series written by Patrick J. Slattery, patriarch of the Slattery clan. Pat was a journalist for over 30 years, writing about faith, farming, and family. For the past few years he has stepped away from the keyboard and into the fields as a full time farmer. The first articles in his series is available here:

Cute Tractor

Christopher