Tag Archives: Photography

To the Ocean

By Colleen

When did I first see the ocean? Well, to be honest, I feel a bit foolish, because I was 21 years old before I finally actually saw it. Before you make your exclamations, let me tell you that I’ve heard them all: “What?! No way! How in the world have you not seen the OCEAN?” Yeah, they’re all the same. But give me a break; I’m an Irish farm girl, and I grew up in very landlocked country in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We had a river (thirty miles away) and we had plenty of ice-cold creeks to splash around in, snapping turtles and leeches and all. But, far away, way across the state, we had a lake, a GREAT lake.

When I was little, the trip across the state to visit my grandmother who lived exotically close to that lake seemed an eternity. The packing of the car itself was an ordeal. Do you realize how hard it is to pack seven to nine children (depending on age and willingness to make the trip) into one car? And we didn’t make it a “light” trip. My two younger siblings, James and Clare,, and I had an ongoing contest of who could pack the heaviest bag for the (at the longest) weekend trip.

We would hold our breath as we each placed our bags on the scale, normally used to weigh squash and asparagus. “Ha! Mine’s twenty pounds!” James would exclaim, Clare and I would clamber over each other to check the verity of his proud statement. “No way!”we’d groan in dismay. James was the victor most often, but that’s only because he packed the most books. We should have just done away the books to even the playing field. There’s no way he could have won if we’d only weighed our clothing. I swear that boy wore the same, striped red t-shirt and tan, cargo shorts for the first ten years of his life, along with the same bowl cut for his sandy, stick-straight blond hair.

After the bags and children were packed, we finally settled down to read all of those books that we packed. The average number of books finished on our way to Grandma’s was 2.3, but if you were a big kid, it was more like 3.2. When we did eventually get to our destination, hands sticky with laffy-taffy and corn nuts, successfully begged from our parents at gas stations along the way, the first order of business (after the dreaded hug from Grandma and awkward hellos, directed more at our shoes than at Grandma) was to go down to the lake.

“Mom! Dad! Can we go to the lake? Can we take a walk ALL the way out to the lighthouse? Please, please, please!” We would dance around mom and dad’s feet in anticipation of an adventure. More often than not, an older sibling would take us down the four blocks or so to the lakefront. Mom and Dad would stay back home with Grandma in her quiet and intimidatingly clean house.

We always wondered how Dad with his knack for making messes came from such an ordered home. How did the man who regularly hacked and slashed away at mysterious cuts of beef and pork on our dining room table (so much so that I was determined to never sit at the first right hand spot from the head of the table ever again), blood dripping down to the floor in rivulets and flecks of fats and gristle flying every which way, grow up on white carpets and sit down to eat in that spotless kitchen? The spaces in between the pink and white linoleum on her floor never even had any dirt in them. I know because I’d seen marveled at it as I bent to hastily pick up piece of chocolate chip cookie, stolen from her cookie jar one time. And nothing ever changed at Grandma’s. It was a rule.

Anyhow, we would sprint down the street and finally, finally see the “ocean”, Lake Michigan, right there before our astonished eyes. The path down to the beach in front of the azure mass of clear, fresh water was perilous, and up until you were about twelve, you’d need an older sibling’s hand to cling to if you wanted to avoid tumbling down the sharp embankment, through the briars and burrs, and onto the cold, white sands before the foaming water.

But once you were down there, down on the beach, it was pure magic. I always thought I was looking at the ocean. I couldn’t imagine anything as beautiful and grand not being what all those writers talk about in books. It was enormous! And I was so small! When I got old enough to realize the reality of the “smallness” of Lake Michigan, I persisted in calling it the ocean. It was. It was my ocean. The water hit the sky at the horizon, perfectly flat and still, and stretched out and out and out. It was my ocean. The waves were always cold.

The blue-green water prickled my skin into a thousand goosebumps, and made me and James and Clare scream when we jumped in. Slipping underneath the waves and into a shock of cold, my hands numb, my hair flowing about my face, I was in my ocean. And then I would resurface with a scream of success.

And so, if you ask when I first saw the ocean, the answer is that, technically, I first saw it after a nineteen hour road trip in college, off the coast of the Atlantic, in Charleston, South Carolina. Really, it was too dark to see much when we finally arrived at the waterfront around two A.M; the air smelled different, though; there was something wilder in it, something raw. The water was quiet that night, and it shone blue-black under a waning moon, all the way out past human sight. I whooped and hollered, and truly, I loved the air, the night sky, the ocean. But some part of my heart asked, “Haven’t I been here before?” It wasn’t my ocean.

 

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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

Happy Campers

By: Colleen

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I am not what you would call a happy camper.  (And in fact, I take issue with that phrase.  When is it ever even used positively?  Nowhere, that’s where.  No one says, “Boy, she’s such a happy camper!”)  But, despite that, last week I just couldn’t take the city anymore, and I grabbed some friends and took to the hills, errr rolling plains, ummm, okay, well there was a lake.  C’mon, it’s Texas! We did the best we could.

It’s been a long and hot “fall” here in Texas.  Each year around September I realize that I have been secretly expecting the weather to be like it is at home, to wake up to crisp, cool mornings, and that my 6 am cross country practice will not be sticky and grossly warm.  But, it always is.  Texas is in the South, and Texas is hot, at least up until mid-to-late October.  And so, when the weather did finally clear and cool within the last two weeks here, my Northern, countrygirl nostalgia kicked in, full force.  And I just wanted to be outside.

Last week, we had a day off of school for “Fall Reading Day”, and so I proposed a camping trip to anywhere reasonably pretty and wild and full of nature.  Luckily, I have a very competent boyfriend, Joe, who did all the sensible things like look up campsites for the guys and the girls and arrange car rides, and look too good after a night of very little sleep and a lot of dirt (alright, that is not really that sensible, but hey, he pulled it off).

Joe

And so, on Thursday afternoon, the first in the caravan of cars to come set off to Cedar Hill State Park, just 30 minutes away from the UD campus.

We arrived just in time to see the sunset.

sunset two sunset clare

Expert camper and former Boy Scout, Hermes, built the fire with a little help from my good friend, Clare.

fire

And of course, we then realized that our tent did not have any poles to hold it up.  Although Mary and I have a one for one record of putting up tents successfully (see this post for details), I did not quite have the skills to magically pull poles out of thin air.  And so it was tarps and blankets and a night under the stars for all.

Later on, my friend Anthony arrived with his bagpipes, and as he played, we all danced around the fire, leaping over it and clapping to the inexorable sound of pipes.  There is something so compelling about bagpipes; one cannot help but to want to dance.  Life needs to be more of firelight and music and laughter and stars.

We all woke up early the next day to a gray dawn.  Anthony, who had slept on the roof of the little metal shelter at the campsite, pondered the dawn.

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And as we headed back to campus, there was the lingering smell of woodsmoke and the musty-clean scent of earth.  And for once, I truly was a happy camper.

Wild Places

by Kate

My sister Mary loves her horse.

portrait of mary and horse by nicole slattery

 

She loves our family, and the big white farmhouse high on a ridge where we grew up.

slattery farmhouse sweet ridge farm

She loves sunlight.

autumn horse back ride sweet ridge sisters

She loves solitude and silence.

nicole slattery photography portrait horse wisconsin

These pictures were taken a week ago by my lovely and talented sister in law Nicole, as Mary soaked up some of the last autumn sunlight in Wisconsin before boarding a train to the big city of Pittsburgh. The light of autumn is pouring down upon this city too, but the buildings are packed together and reach toward the sky, and the traffic roars down city streets.

pittsburgh cathedral saint paul

For my solitude and silence loving farm girl sister, it’s a bit of an adjustment- even with an enthusiastic city bred niece ready and willing to show her how to embrace the world of the city.

carnegie library trees pittsburgh

I’ve worked hard to raise my daughter as a confident city child who is equally comfortable running wild in the country.

running the hay bales

I know that Mary will never be a city girl, and I wouldn’t want her to be. But it is my hope that during her stay here (no matter how long or how brief) she can find in this stone city the wild places she needs to feed her soul.

morning glories and a castle pittsburgh

Whereabouts

by Kate

This morning felt like fall. The air was chilly, the leaves scarlet and swirling down against a grey sky, and the park was full of small children in brightly colored sweaters.

autumn arsenal park

It’s been a long hot entry into autumn here in Pittsburgh, but this morning it was clear that the seasons have shifted. I am adding extra blankets to the beds, drinking more coffee in the morning, taking more time to curl up on the couch and read to the kids while across the street an avenue of trees blaze into fiery color. There may even be more time to blog. Somehow this is preferable to other time consuming possibilities, including but not limited to catching up with the laundry. The laundry situation has hurtled out of control here in my home. Browsing through the photographic record of the past month or two, I begin to see why.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There was samba dancing at Kennywood Amusement Park.

kennywood samba dancer

There was the addition of a brand new chicken coop and three elderly laying hens to our urban backyard, bringing a sweet peace to my farmgirl soul.

urban chicken coop pittsburgh pa

Speaking of farming, I’ve spent a lot of time with a camera around my neck…

farmer's market northside pittsburgh

at the farmer’s market and way out in the country, taking notes and photographing the Farm Kings for their new magazine, which you should head right over and subscribe to. They’ve been shooting the new season of their reality show, which makes things particularly interesting in their neck of the woods.

farm kings behind the scenes

The day of the Farm Kings tomato field shoot, I sprinted across those hay bales to get some shots, jumped down, drove back into town, and got all gussied up in red lipstick and rhinestones to play the harp…

rhinestones and red lipstick

for a spectacular, high society style Downton Abbey fundraiser at the WQED Studios here in Pittsburgh. It was pretty stunning.

downton abbey fundraiser WQED

Watching young ballerinas from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre rehearse quietly before the madding crowds arrived, dripping with jewels and sophistication, was one of my favorite moments of the night.

pittsburgh ballet theatre school

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to dance myself at a huge party comprising the entire Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh, to welcome the Giant Rubber Duck to the city.

Pittsburgh Downtown big rubber duck sunset

It was a fantastic evening. The kids got to have a dance party in Katz plaza and see one of the largest Rubber Ducks in the whole wide world, and I got to work with some truly lovely women on a bellydance flash mob, and also had an excuse to wear bright red harem pants in public.

harem pants style downtown urban chic

Here in my own neighborhood, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon in my neighbor’s sunlit garden, playing the harp for the Lawrenceville House Tour.

pittsburgh harpist kate stapleton

I am both exhausted and exhilarated by the various gigs I’ve had in the past few months, but it is possible that the most tiring thing I did was go on vacation for three days, with four women and six (small! loud!) children. Here is a picture of the sweet peace and sunlight that actually eluded us for the entire three days we spent laughing and snorting, occasionally crying, staying up far too late, and shivering because those were the only FRIGID three days of the entire fall. Holy cow was it cold.

lake trip rowboat

Also? I am shockingly inept with a rowboat. It was still great though. And I saw Lake Erie, and heard the thunder of waves upon the sandy shore.

lake erie

Back in Pittsburgh, there have been impromptu picnics….

pittsburgh picnic pirate's umbrella

many wagon rides…

wagon ride

and a lot of walks.

out for a walk

Back in the park with the leaves swirling down, something about the change in the season makes me realize I am ready to sit down on my wooden stool and spend a bit more of my time here, on this blog. Come on over- you may just find me here. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get started on that laundry.

Capturing the Kings

By: Clare

As you may already know I am currently visiting my oldest sister, Kate, in Pittsburgh for several weeks. The city is full of places I want to go and people I want to see. On the list of people I decided I must see were the Farm Kings, who star in a GAC reality TV series that follows their big family’s farming life. The Farm Kings just happen to live in the country outside of Pittsburgh, and even better, Kate happens to have a job writing and taking pictures for their new magazine.

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Calling me a fan of a reality show about farming (because we all know how much I love farming) would definitely be stretching the truth, as in, stretching the truth about, say, as wide as the Grand Canyon, but I was excited to see how the Farm Kings live their life when the cameras aren’t around.

So one early morning Kate and I hopped into her city car for a jaunt in the country. And although I love the city, I must say that it was fantastic to be out in the country for a while.

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I stood by holding a grinning (but heavy!) baby Francisco

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while Kate questioned the King brothers on the current topic – chicken butchering.

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While I watched Francisco, I also observed the Farm Kings’ system of butchering which I found to be much more organized that any Slattery chicken butchering system has ever been. Kate and I noted that the six-year-old present was playing in the dirt instead of participating in the chicken butchering process, whereas I began chicken butchering as a four-year-old. But it can be noted that I have always been a chicken butchering pro.

Then, being the expert assistant that I am, I read through her notes and found that Kate is a journalist through and through, because she’s really mastered the journalist scribble, which is only legible by the writer’s eyes.

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More pictures of the farm were needed for the magazine, so Kate and I set out to capture the best shots of Freedom Farms. I was even able to use my photography skills to take some pictures, two of which will be included in the next issue.

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Kate went into super-mom mode, climbing a steep hill with a thirty pound baby weighing her down, while taking pictures.

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While everything was beautiful and organized, we did note that the King brothers’ carpentry skills weren’t as high end as the Slattery brothers’.

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We had a great time capturing the Farm Kings. To get the full story and the pictures, you should definitely go ahead and subscribe to the Freedom Farms Magazine. You can sign up here.

A Wish To The Moon

By: Mary

Cold rain battered down in intermittent frigid cycles all of yesterday. This morning the white powder of snow has been layering the ground as it falls from a grey and windy sky. Everybody is talking about the weather as it continues to become more difficult with week after week of dismal conditions. My laughing line that I have shared with friends, family and even cashiers at my favorite food co-op is “well, I am starting to understand why they drink all the time in Russia.”

russian park

Laugh as I may when sharing my observation, I have been thinking back upon my time in Vladivostok.

me!

Vladivostok is a sea city. It’s a big city with about 5 million people getting through life in the commotion of it’s city boarders. The city is next to the sea. Because of the proximity to fresh water, many fish are sold at markets, or even on street corners heaped upon a pallet.

fish

One dear sight to me was on Saturdays when a man would come to the orphanage with a black gym bag packed with presumably fresh fish to sell to the nurses on duty.

The city of Vladivostok is many things other than just a sea city: It’s cosmopolitan in part, and impoverished in part, and it’s also very sad.

park

The parks in Vlad confirm this. I do believe that I took these pictures on a random weekday afternoon. Drinking in the parks during daylight hours is common as it is even on a bus or sidewalk or in a grocery store.

grocery

Sunlight is strained and smiles are seldom, but there are still so many beautiful faces.

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Sunny skies and the beginning of fresh growth can’t solve all problems.

beer and plant

However, it’s one heck of a good jump-start into positivity and production. I wish to the moon for sunlight and the freshness of spring brightness in both Russia and here, in the Midwestern states.