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Frank’s House

by Kate

This is the story of a man named Frank, a man who was generous and gentle and kind and possessed an extraordinary collection of fine ties. This is Frank’s birthday week. Frank’s birthday fell just before St. Patrick’s Day. I always thought this fitting for this man who loved to celebrate life with good food and song and conversation, a man whose blue Polish eyes welled up with tears at the sound of an old ballad. Four years on St. Patrick’s Day I put my tiny baby Olympia in a sling and hauled my harp across the gravel driveway and up the steps into Frank’s home and played a private concert for him as a birthday present. He wasn’t well, had battled heart trouble and cancer and lung problems for years, but he cried at all the ballads and laughed at all my jokes and somehow from his battered leather armchair he made me feel like the much more important artists he had hosted in his early days, when he was a dashing young bachelor managing the Stanley Theater in downtown Pittsburgh, the theater that would later become the Benedum.

Frank and his wife Catherine loved Olympia. They married late in life, well into their 50’s and 60’s.They met when Catherine moved in with her aging mother two doors down from the home Frank had shared with his mother, and somehow Frank the eternal bachelor was finally induced to take the plunge into matrimony. Of course, they had no children of their own. We met Frank and Catherine in a miraculous manner just before Olympia was born. We were living in an apartment above a loud and smoky bar and our baby was due in two and a half months. A chance meeting led us to tour the house they had for rent just behind theirs, with two bedrooms and a washer and dryer and a huge yard with space for a garden and a clothesline. It was a perfect home for newlyweds and a new baby. The new baby was a great source of delight for Frank and Catherine, who were delighted to have the unexpected chance to act as Grandparents after all.

Olympia was a constant presence and joy for Frank in the last year and a half of his life, as his health declined. When he died, I stood with Catherine beside his bed, holding his hand. Olympia slept quietly in the sling while Frank’s wife and I sang Old Man River one more time, told stories, laughed a little and cried a little more as his life slipped away. It was a quiet passing and a peaceful one. A few days later Frank was buried on a high windy hill while a long bagpipe keened a haunting and beautiful lament, but his great generosity has remained a powerful force in our lives.

First of all, there are the ties. The hundreds of designer ties and finely woven, sharply cut collection of dress shirts and suit coats and overcoats too. At six five, my husband couldn’t quite fit into this finery, so at Catherine’s request, the bulk of his collection was delivered to the farmhouse at Sweet Ridge Farm and distributed there to all the men in the family, from my father down to my youngest brother James. These days, weddings, holidays, and formal gatherings of any sort guarantee that Frank’s finery will be sported by one if not all of the Slattery men.

For my family here in Pittsburgh, ties are the tip of the iceberg. Last August, Casey and I bought Frank’s house. For fifty years, Frank lived in a stately yellow brick house high up on a hill, overlooking the hundred year old trees of Arsenal Park and through them the glimmering skyline of downtown Pittsburgh and beyond that Mount Washington, the Incline, and the famous Bayer sign. It’s a beautiful house, but it had been cut up into apartments and after Frank’s devoted (and very business savvy) mother died, it was quite the bachelor pad. Frank lived on the second floor, and his devout and good tempered but untidy hoarder friend occupied the first in a dark, dingy warren full of dusty heaps of books and high unsteady piles of videocassettes, DVDs, and CDs.

Frank always wanted us to have his house. He thought it would be a perfect place to raise a family, something that for one reason or another had never happened in the hundred year history of the house. He loved the idea of Olympia growing up in his home, but when Casey and I stopped in to check the house out we were overwhelmed by the vast size of the place, the filth of the first floor, the pink tiles of the 1950 time capsule kitchen, the amount of money it would take to buy and renovate the house and the amount of work that needed to be done. Once and then twice we looked at Frank’s house, then literally ran down the hill to our safe, solid, 950 square foot apartment and there we stayed, perfectly content until the day suddenly arrived when our cozy little home seemed far too small for a growing family with a legacy of great height and wildly enthusiastic movements. After long months of conversation with Catherine and many requests for aid and counsel sent heavenward to Frank, we took a deep breath and worked out a deal to purchase Frank’s house.

This February in the icy wind and driving snow, exactly four years after moving into the perfect little house behind Frank and Catherine under the same conditions, we moved a block and a half up the street and into a different world. Frank’s house is a strong, sturdy, and stately home. It’s a lifetime kind of home- a place to settle into and live from.

frank's house

This house is a comfort and a joy, and I can’t express the gratitude I feel for the fact that we were able to move in here.

Both Casey and I believe that Frank was directly involved. I know that he would be glad that we are here- and in fact, Olympia has inherited his room and the antique bed his mother purchased for him long ago.

This is a hundred year old house, but instead of ghosts I believe it is full of the communion of saints. I am daily reminded that our stories continue long after we are gone, that death is not the end of life, and that love lives on beyond the grave.

Happy birthday, Frank. Thanks for giving us a new beginning.

On Wisconsin

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It has been a slow descent into the world of coffee for me over these past few years. My sister-in-law, Nicole, will tease me about the “coffee milk”, I used to drink when she first met me, as I drink down a huge cup of the lovely stuff on her living room couch. It was indeed just coffee and milk that I used to drink, the sweetness of the raw milk blending with just a dash of coffee in a mason jar mug.

And so, it was a no-brainer when I came to college: I was determined to get a job at the coffee shop on campus. I have been working at the Cappuccino Bar, or “Capp Bar” as most people fondly call it, for almost two years now, and I absolutely love it. Sometimes I feel that the smell of espresso has been soaked into my skin, under the fingernails and lingering on my palms.

One of my favorite parts of the job is creating new drinks. Everyone at the Capp Bar is encouraged to experiment, make some unique, make something your own. I have created a few drinks over the past two years, but recently I may have struck gold with the dawn of what a co-worker and I call the “On Wisconsin”. My co-worker, Christian, is also from Wisconsin, and one day, as we were ruminating on the glories and downfalls of the state, a friend suggested that we make an official drink for Wisconsin. We gladly accepted the challenge.

After much discussion, we agreed that the drink had to incorporate these two things: lots and lots of dairy and something German. Those are the two trademarks of Wisconsin, right? The fact that everyone and their grandma is at least a quarter German and probably drinks and eats a startling amount of dairy products. Thus, the “On Wisconsin” was born, a milky, German chocolate mocha cappuccino. And it’s dang good, if you ask me.

The ingredient that really makes this drink would have to be the (surprising) coconut syrup006,

paired with a pump of chocolate and a shot of espresso, and finally drowned in the creamy goodness of steamed whole milk.  And voila!

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As the snow falls gently and deep in Wisconsin, I am under the clouds of Dallas today, threatening a thunderstorm with temperatures in the 70s.  Perhaps I’m not so far from home, though, as I serve up “On Wisconsins” to these unenlightened Texans, bringing a little bit of comfort to my Mid-western soul.

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The Great Barn Adventure: Part 2

By Mary

The Great Barn Adventure has been an adventure set in slow motion. The pace of its progress has inched along for months through peaks of drama, disputes, and communal efforts. As the project inched along I was lucky enough to be able to get involved. Perhaps its my carpenter brothers that instilled an enjoyment for construction in me. Nail guns and paint make me happy so it’s a blessing that I was able to help with random tasks. In reality I was way more involved in helping my Uncle Dave…

Uncle Dave

and our mathematical genius and master carpenter friend Peter Krump,

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by picking up supplies and rolling them cigarettes. But hey, I can still say that I got to get my hands sticky with plumbing glue and learned all about toggle bolts, drilling out homemade pegs and putting up walls.

My Uncle David and Peter put an immense amount of effort into the job and I am so proud of their work, They have been good company to keep with in the midst of the scream of a saw or the background of the radio. (Sidenote: Who doesn’t want to work to the tune of Johnny Cash and U2?)

Peter is more of an artist than a carpenter so he put thoughtful consideration into all of his work. This past fall he vanished for a period of time. It was only when he came back that I was informed as to why. While at home he got wrapped up in making risers for the stairs into which he hand carved a poem into each riser. These stairs are beyond sweet. I love them! He told me that if I didn’t like them, he would just flip them to the plain wood side of the boards. What a crazy alternative for such beautiful work.

All of the wood work is milled by Peter at his farm in Ettrick, WI. The boards have been created from local lumber which has been specially milled and grooved by Peter and my Uncle David on cold snowy days.

As previously stated, this project has been a maddeningly slow one, but worth the wait. As my Uncle likes to tell me “Mary Brigid, you don’t have a barn apartment, this place has the detail that they put into churches, you got yourself a chapel!”

Whatever the space may be refered to it’s one of beauty, love, and sunlight. I am looking forward to sharing more pictures in the near future. Keep checking in and I will keep you all updated!

In cased you missed it, here is a link to The Great Barn Adventure, Part 1

Grocery Girl

by Colleen

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This past summer I was lucky enough to land a job at the People’s Food Co-op in nearby La Crosse, WI, due to the the fact that I am what they call there a “Co-op Baby”.  Sweet Ridge Farm has sold produce on and off to this organic food store for years, and apparently the management has watched me and my siblings grow from toddlers to teens, wending our way through aisles of dried fruit and organic cereals, eating their legendary malted milk balls straight from the bag, and taking more than our fair share of the many free samples of chips and dips they offer in the deli section.  If there is free food anywhere within 30 miles, the Slattery children will find it.

In any case, they noticed my last name on my application, and I was in.  I spent this past summer working part time as a grocery girl, stocking the shelves with an assortment of odd goods, such as seaweed snacks and hemp milk, and chatting with the only other girl in the department, Natalya, from Russia.  When I came back home for break, they immediately offered my job back to me.  Unfortunately, my days of gossip with Natalya are gone, as she has now returned to Russia, and I have now taken the role of Only Girl in the Grocery and Produce Department.  It’s not so bad, really.  Growing up with 5 brothers has made me quite comfortable with guys, and in most cases I actually prefer it.  So now I mostly spend my days talking about Russian literature to my boss, Ed, and directing people to the chia seeds (aisle 2, on the top right).

But what really lights up my day is a visit from the sisters.  Clare and Mary decided to pop in the other day and document my job.  Mary was particularly interested in our wine selection…

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Knowing absolutely nothing about our wine, I immediately suggested a French one.  You can’t go wrong with French wine, non?

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Needless to say, Mary did not take my suggestion   Some people just have no taste (or lack an obsession with French things).  But Mary and I do share some things in common.  While she dreams of bikinis, sunshine, and flowers, I dream of the green fields of France and baguettes and berets.  So, don’t be disturbed if you wander into the People’s Food Co-op to buy some dried aduki beans and hear the shelf stocker muttering to herself  in French-it’s just a harmless, dreaming grocery girl.

Christmas, Children, and Snow: Who could ask for more?

Christmas has come and gone now.  The snow lingers on and so do I.  Whether I am running out in the cold air or curled up on my bed reading, I’m enjoying every moment at home.   One of the greatest gifts of being at home this winter has been getting to know my nieces and nephews better.

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I’m known as “the baby-hater” (thanks for the nickname, Raph) in our family.  It’s not that I dislike children, really.  It’s that I think they tend to dislike me.  Besides, when it comes to being an aunt, I feel a bit inadequate in comparison.  Auntie Mary and Auntie Clare not only sounds better than Auntie Colleen, but those two really have a passion for children.  Clare and Mary can and do spend entire days with our nieces and nephews and come out beaming, with children clinging to them, laughing and begging for more time spent with them.  I’m the aunt who comes and visits and plays…for about 10 minutes,   I can run 10 miles and be chipper by the end, but playing tag with a group of small children makes me want to take a nap.

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I really do love my nieces and nephews, even though I don’t have the endurance to keep up with them for long.  Yesterday, Gabriel and Aurora and company visited for Christmas Day.  It was so easy for me to run up to my darling god-daughter, Antonia.  With her huge smile and indiscriminate love, she is so easy to love.  I sometimes struggle with the older ones, Claire, Adeline, and Thaddeus, who aren’t content to just sit in my lap and smile and laugh as I bump them up and down.  But yesterday, I found myself snuggled up on my bed with Claire and Thaddeus watching Downton Abbey.  The afternoon sunlight glinted off of Thaddeus’ eyelashes as hes lowly started to drift off into sleep and Claire was warm and solid next to me.  And I realized that I love these kids so very much.  I may not be the best aunt in the world, but I’m trying.

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That was one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received, just spending time with the little ones.  I’ll do my best to be there for you, little nieces and nephews, but please excuse me if I sneak off for a break every now and then.

 

Apples

by Colleen

It had been a particularly gray and drizzly fall day, and I was in a foul mood. It was my senior year of high school, and the monotony of classes had settled in.  Not even cross country could keep me entirely occupied, and my mind was increasingly far away from Cashton High School.  I’d day-dream in English class about sunny Texas, while the temperatures dropped faster than the sun set each day.

On this particular day I remember looking forward to eating the last of the applesauce that Mary had made.  Mary is  a particularly masterful craftsman applesauce, simmering the a pot of hand-picked apples from our little orchard for hours and then add in just the right amount of cinnamon, sugar, and magic.  I anticipated the crisp sweetness of the late fall apples as I rode home from cross country practice.  Upon arrival, I walked into the kitchen to find that the last mason jar of applesauce was gone!  In a fit of childish rage, I berated my family for “stealing the only food I like!” ,as if it were a personal attack on my happiness.  My mother especially got the brunt of my anger.  I ran upstairs to lament, taking solace in the iron gray skies outside my window and burying my head in a hoodie.

A few minutes later, there was a soft rapping on the door, and my mom entered, bearing the gift of the last few apples of the season from the apple tree in the front yard.  Knobby, twisted, and broken from years of children swinging on it’s branches and Dad’s voracious prunings, this tree had always held a special place in my heart.  In a flash, I imagined the trouble Mom had gone through to procure those little fruits; pulling down the branches and holding on to reeeeeaaacchhh for the last apples at the very top of the tree, gathering them into the skirt of her dress, and carrying them up to the room of her sullen daughter, who just moments ago had been striking out at her in vitriolic words over a mundane matter.  And here she was, holding out to me, not just apples, but unconditional love.  In that moment, I realized what I wanted to be in life: I want to be just like my mom.  I want to have her love and her patience.  I want to have her faith and trust in God.  And most of  all, I want her capacity to give and give of herself, even when it’s hard-especially when it’s hard.

Most people groan when they say they’re becoming just like their mom.  I take it as the highest compliment.

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Creek Jumpin’

by Colleen

While Kate may have been busy with her sophisticated city adventures, I was busy showing my friends a good time in the country. Once the snow melted and we had all already tromped a few miles up and up and eventually down the hills surrounding our home in Middle Ridge, WI, it was time to come up with something more daring to do. And so I proposed the idea of a little Polar Bear Swim in the creek. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my Southern friends, but to my happy surprise they did not look at me like I was a crazy idiot and walk away shaking their heads. “Haha, suckers,” I thought to myself. “You don’t know what you’ve been swindled into.”

What we had in store were the icy waters of Coon Creek, the little swimming hole which my family has populated every summer for as long as I can remember. Spring fed with a surprisingly strong current, the deep green waters have chilled me on even the hottest summer days. Luckily, I was the only one with this knowledge, and not wanting to scare my friends off, I kept it that way. And so, on a sunny but brisk 35 degree day, we made the ten mile drive down to Coon Valley and to the creek.

The troops and I made the walk down the path to the creekside.

Layers were shed.

And consultations about the the intelligence of this move were made.

“Okay guys, now how the heck are we gonna do this??”  Selena, Hermes, and Killian, weaklings all, were worried about the rocks.  Pffffttt, come on!  There was no choice but a heroic leap.  And so we all lined up for the Olympian feat.

Too impatient to listen to their dither, I ran on headlong and leapt into the icy waters, followed closely by the rest.

And it was cold, oh so very cold.  To my utter humiliation, it was noted by everyone that I screamed loudest upon breaking surface.  Texas-what have you done to my Midwestern toughness??  But to climb out of the water was amazing.  The cold penetrated everything but in a way, I was the most awake and alive then I’d ever been.  From my purple feet to my blue lips, I tingled and shook.  And it was lovely.  I looked into the pale noonday sun and just smiled with joy.

I was so proud of my friends, each of which fared as well or better than I in our creek jumpin’ excursion.  To finally find people as crazy as me, what a blessing!  I think I have the toughest Southern friends ever.  And I think that maybe, just maybe, next time I’ll take them to the creek when it’s oh, say 50 degrees?, hotter.  But I don’t think it will be nearly the same.