On a beautiful June day, I married the love of my life amidst the hills of Western Wisconsin. I never knew I could be overwhelmed by so much love.
I lost the diamond from my engagement ring. There was a loose prong and, I think, a long stranded sweater involved. Returning from a dinner party I brushed my ring finger and gasped to discover only the sharp spikes of the setting, the stone long gone. It was an interesting moment of soul searching, there in the car in the early darkness of late winter. I knew that the diamond was gone, and that another would not be forthcoming. I couldn’t imagine wanting one. We have so many dreams for our young family- a bicycle carriage, a bigger home, an old piano to put in it. I’ve never dreamed of diamonds.
I didn’t miss the diamond that night. What I missed was the wild exhilaration of the young pizza delivery driver who worked at a little Italian hole in the wall in Pittsburgh and courted a girl far away in the mountains of North Carolina.
By chance, we were passing by the pizza shop in question when I discovered the gaping hole in my engagement ring, the ring that he had purchased on that spot after putting out the word that he was looking for a diamond. A legless obese man who passed most of his time in the shop scratched his head a bit and mentioned that he had a divorced daughter who had a no need for her beautiful ring, but did need some cash. Soon, the deal was done. On a high ridge overlooking the Ohio river, that young delivery driver asked for my hand. When I accepted, he put the ring on it.
The moments of our courtship and engagement were enchanted, and I am grateful for every second, but what I realized that night was that losing the ring didn’t mean losing any of those memories. I still have them all, along with the thin gold band that my husband put on my finger four years ago today, when I became his wife.
The engagement ring was beautiful. The diamond was shaped like a teardrop, which sadly suited the storms of tears that I am prone to on a regular basis. The setting was high and the ring was pointed and oh, it was sharp. So was I. I was a headstrong, highstrung newlywed with a sharp tongue and a chip on my shoulder. I hope and believe that in the past four years, I have become softer, smoother, gentler, and stronger- just like my plain gold wedding band. Wearing it alone reminds me of what I want to be as a wife.
Deep life lessons aside, just this week I made a fantastic discovery. Shopping with my sister Clare in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, we came upon a case of faux engagement rings for the fantastic price of five dollars a piece. Suddenly it hit me. Losing my engagement stone gave me free rein to wear any size and style of engagement ring I wanted. I walked out of that shop looking like a MUCH more affluent woman.
I love simplicity, and I love costume jewelry. I love pretending I am a high society lady at the entirely UNpretentious public pool up the street.
Most of all I love my husband, who is still wild, and still exhilarating. Thanks for the ring- but much more than that, thanks for the marriage.
I have not been keeping my house. Instead, I have been housekeeping. At this moment, I am glancing over my snow covered garden across the gravel drive and at the back door of the little brick house where Teresa lives, heart in my throat, waiting for the back door to open and let me know she made the perilous daily journey down her stairs and into the kitchen of her little brick house. The door opens, my breath eases, my morning begins again.
I have been taking care of Teresa for two and half years now.
For the first two years, I was alone in this task. Introduced to her by a neighbor, I walked into a home that smelled so strongly of incontinence, neglect, and filth that it was all I could do to stay for five minutes. For the first several months, when I returned from Teresa’s house my husband made me strip off my clothes at the door, bag them up in plastic, and shower off before I touched the baby. There was so much to do to remedy the slow slide her house had taken over the years from an immaculate Polish home to a stinking hovel that I had no idea where to start. “I just need you to do a little laundry now and then.” said Teresa, in her quavering accented English. I started with the sheets, stripping the stiff yellow fabric unwashed for years, bleaching them, and stretching them out on the line in my backyard to let the sun burn away the stains and wind billow away the lingering scent. Slowly, surely, the sheets turned white. Slowly, Teresa began to trust me, to let me wash her hands, her hair.
Progress was slow, and there were setbacks- the one period of several months she refused to let me in, a fall on the kitchen floor, an ambulance trip and a hospital stay. Still, with time, I could see the house becoming a home again. After bleach and vinegar and sweat and tears it was clean enough that I began to bring my toddler with me when I went to care for her, and Teresa stopped telling me daily that she welcomed death, and instead waited in eager anticipation for my second child to be born. In the last trimester of my pregnancy, after another fall and stay in the hospital, we finally hired another helper to help with Teresa. It was a godsend. Not only was I relieved to know that someone would be taking care of Teresa so that I could go to the hospital and deliver my baby, but the lovely young woman who we hired managed to work a miracle and convince Teresa to rip out my nemesis- the stained and stinking carpet that was far beyond saving, no matter how many times I scrubbed it on my hands and knees- and replace it with a fresh, clean, new carpet that was the final step in transforming the home back to the order and serenity that her mother had created decades before and left in place when she left Teresa alone by dying.
Two weeks ago a shooting in the rough neighborhood where my co-worker lived created shock waves in her life and sent her out of town abruptly and likely on a permanent basis. Just after she left, a violent stomach flu hit Teresa and my two year old at exactly the same time, deep in the middle of the night. It was a long and sleepless night and the weeks following as a solo caretaker have been tough too. Teresa’s home remains serene and ordered while across our yards and the gravel drive that divides us my laundry is heaped in drifts like the aftermath of a blizzard on a windswept prairie plain, dishes are piled in the sink, and sometimes I stand in the middle of the room and cry.
I never planned on being a housekeeper, though it amuses me to think that I am following in the footsteps of my father’s grandmother, an Irish immigrant who came over at a young age to work as a maid in the great houses of Chicago at the turn of the century. In America roles are fluid, and there are days when I am a maid in the morning and harpist in pearls and velvet playing underneath a chandelier after sunset. Meanwhile, all the while, I am a mother. Being the mother of two in diapers, one 75 year old is not so much to add, and I can take my children with me when I care for her. That said, bundling up two little ones at the beck and call of an elderly woman four times a day is often challenging and occasionally seems impossible. So does keeping my own house.
Ten minutes ago the cheerful woman I hired two days ago to help with Teresa waved to me across the yard. She started this morning, and I am eager to hear how it goes. Meanwhile, my sister Mary just arrived at my home after a grueling 24 hour trip involving a train, a snowstorm, and a Greyhound bus. She is in the kitchen making cocoa and unpacking a cardboard box of heirloom China and ballgowns that (mostly) survived the trip. Mary is here for a week, and during that week I fully intend to scour my home from top to bottom sorting, dusting, organizing, keeping, and throwing things away. Mary is great at that sort of project. In fact, my housekeeping officially begins here on this blog, where I just re-posted two entries that Mary accidentally deleted in a well intentioned but unfortunate organization and cleanup effort on our blog. She has also in the past jettisoned my late season garden and the internet line into my parent’s home. However, I believe that this time her powers will work for good.
We will keep you posted.
More on Teresa- or harp playing!- can be found here:
“Perhaps there is a distance that is the optimum distance for seeing ones father, further than across the supper table or across the room, somewhere in the middle distance. He is dwarfed by the trees or the sweep of the hill, but his features are still visible, his body language still distinct.”
Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres
My father is a proud farmer, and believes that tending a bit of land and producing good food will feed the soul and change the world. He believes that ones work should be real and important and worthy, and that my mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.
My father is a reluctant patriarch. I believe his nine children will change the world along with his annual bounteous crops of root crops and greens.
My father is an inveterate reader who attends sporting events and choir practice in the church loft with a stack of magazines and newspaper a foot high.
My father has informed, infuriated, and formed me. I hear him in the voices of my siblings, and see the way his huge and calloused hands have formed the way that they venture out into the world to work, to struggle and to love.
Today is my father’s birthday. I meant to buy him a great book, but I didn’t manage to do it in time. Instead, I am offering my gratitude to my father, to that familiar far off figure silhouetted on a ridge, hoe in hand. Thanks for producing such a fine crop of sons and daughters, Dad, and for the passion for life that you have instilled in us all.
The fall is my favorite season and every time the leaves start to change and the Slattery’s start harvesting squash, my heart beams. My mind will always wander back to two falls ago when Rob asked me to marry him.
Once upon a time…
I didn’t know that this was probably Rob testing my ability to get my hands dirty and work with his family because the next day came the big question…
He woke me up at five thirty in the morning for our breakfast sunrise date. I didn’t know what was going on or where we were going but I did know that this guy was not a morning person and he was dressed and smelled like cologne before six am so something was up….
He took me to a cabin in the country where he set up a breakfast complete with yogurt and granola for me and shrimp cocktail for himself ( YUUUUCK )
So my favorite season will now always take me back to one of my most cherished memories. The day was almost flawless… except for the part where I may or may not have forgotten to say yes before I snatched the ring. I guess Rob wanted to put it on my hand… Whoops.
In a week and a day, a Blue Moon approaches, and so does the birth of my baby boy. This pregnancy seems to have stolen the words from the tip of my tongue and severed the link between my thoughts and my fingertips. In general, my writing tumbles out in a rush and posts compose themselves. These days, I struggle to compose a grocery list, or to remember the name of the daily objects around me. Sentences begin and fade away, and blog posts don’t begin at all.
During the last months of pregnancy, it is hard to believe that being pregnant is not eternal but temporal in nature. I have faith that my ability to speak, and write, and leap will return in due course- but it is the sort of faith that seems faint and far off. On a daily basis, it really does feel like I will be pregnant forever. Perhaps this is part of the reason that I have almost no pictures of my previous pregnancies. During my first pregnancy, I did pour out my soul in words as often as possible. Knowing that I would be giving my first child up for adoption meant that I clung fiercely to every moment of that pregnancy, and the journal that I kept is vivid and powerful. However, I wasn’t posing for pretty pregnancy shots. Thankfully in the final week of my pregnancy I asked a friend to take one quick picture. I was in the middle of tearing down kitchen cabinets as we redid the kitchen in my parents home. I am wearing beat up mens cargo pants, a thin blue t shirt, and an awkward grin. I am so grateful to have that picture. For years, that picture tucked into the journal of my pregnancy served as a touchstone for me to look back and see that time, that pregnancy, that motherhood really did happen.
During my second pregnancy, I was struggling to adjust to a new marriage, new city, and entirely new life. It was winter and hard to keep moving when everything in my life had shifted so drastically, although thanks to my husband I kept dancing and through dancing found a new balance, even as the shape of my body dramatically shifted. Still I was submerged in myself somehow, and shy of the camera during that pregnancy as well. Again, at the last moment, I decided it was important to document my pregnancy. On the stone steps of an old church on Easter morning, less than 24 hours before giving birth, I posed for an awkward but beautiful shot of my belly in full bloom, complete with high heels and an Easter hat. Again, I am so glad I did. I have looked back at that picture many times, as the beginning of an incredibly joyful time in my life with my daughter Olympia. She loves the picture too.
And here I am, in the midst of the last week (or two) of my third pregnancy. Between running after my exuberant daughter and caring for my elderly neighbor, I have spent a great deal of this pregnancy profoundly exhausted. Thankfully I had enough energy to be sewn into a sparkling dress for a Samba performance at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall in my second trimester, but in general I have felt wan and weak and tired and without words to write or a hint of the creativity needed to set up a photo shoot. But! Lately I have been inspired by the beautiful pictures taken by the lovely blogger Jenna, who is a radiantly beautiful pregnant woman. I look at her pictures and think dang it, I want some of that. Pregnancy seems eternal but is fleeting, and I know that in a few months and in the years to come I will want a record of this time with this child within.
I wasn’t planning on doing a photo shoot when I headed out the door hand in hand with my two year old yesterday afternoon, but I had just bought some huge bright turquoise colored earrings, and the shadows of late summer afternoon were slanting into evening in an alluring manner, and so I grabbed my camera and called my friend Christina and headed towards the old brick warehouses on the edge of the Allegheny River. I am a big believer in taking pictures in beautiful places while the light is doing interesting things. This makes up for my lack of actual understanding of how cameras actually work. I am just too lazy to figure that out, at least so far. For this Blue Moon Baby to be photoshoot, I thought that the former loading dock of a red brick former icehouse converted into studio space down near the river would be a great start. This space has caught my attention and held it every time I’ve walked by for the past three years.
It was perfect. If you, like me, feel shy and awkward about a third trimester photo shoot, I recommend: an enchanted spot. Find one that works for you. For me, adding huge earrings and heavy eye makeup was essential.
A rambunctious small child is optional, but will definitely help to keep the mood from getting too serious. At least, she will try.
You also want a kind, compassionate, and creative photographer to work with, like my lovely friend Christina.
Christina was a joy to work with. After we climbed down off the back dock, she agreed to slide down the gravel path to the rocky shore of the Allegheny, where the water laps against slabs of broken concrete and rusty nails- and that was where the light and the view became really magical.
This picture is worth a thousand words. I am so grateful to have captured that moment of water and light. It has reminded me that this waiting time is beautiful, and it lifts me out of the fatigue and the aches and swelling I feel and reminds me of the incredible beauty of pregnancy. For that, I am grateful.
For more pictures, click here.
Three years ago, I married a mariachi.
That is, I married a half Mexican schoolteacher in a custom made Mariachi suit, on a windy Wisconsin ridgetop, in the church across the road from Sweet Ridge Farm.
I wore my Grandmother’s vintage satin wedding dress and my mother’s veil.
My mother had worn this wedding dress as well. I had been dreaming of wearing this dress since I was a little girl, and was thrilled to carry on a tradition in the third generation.I am guessing that my grandmother wore very high heels when she was married in this dress.
The day was full of blooming peonies in the beautiful bouquets designed and created by my sister Mary…
and the air was full of rose petals.
The celebration on my brother’s organic dairy farm was exuberant, as was famous moment in which the hoop skirted bridesmaids in ballgowns climbed the silo.
Granted, the hoop skirts did have to be left behind for this stunt to work.
A moment which, to be honest, horrified my brand new big city raised husband, who was gesturing with all his might for me to climb back down, preferably in a ladylike manner. I did come down….. eventually.
It was a gorgeous day for grand sweeping gestures and great romance and castles (or silos) in the sky.
Three years later, our feet are on the ground, and our life is taking root here in a city far from the rolling ridgetops where I was raised. I am less a blushing bride and shaped more like a vast ship at sail at sea….
but our married life is deeper, and (mostly!) smoother, and overall much easier than it was in the whirlwind of wedding and moving and getting to know each other and settling in to new roles and a new joint life. Happy Third Anniversary to my husband! Thanks for putting on that mariachi suit, and letting me leap down off the silo and into this new life.
There are lots more posts about our weddings here: