Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

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.

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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.

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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…

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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

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.

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She loves sunlight.

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She loves solitude and silence.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

City Chick Chick

By Kate

I spend a lot of time with a crown of bright blue plumage on my head.

pittsburgh samba group pittsburgh dance center

Dancing with the Pittsburgh Samba group has given me the opportunity to wear these feathers performing at the Carnegie Music Hall, the spectacular Point State Park Fountain, and the rollercoasters at Kennywood. Let’s face it. I’m a girl who has always wanted to wear a two and a half foot high feather crown in public as often as possible, and every time I put that costume on I am grateful I live in Pittsburgh. Not only is Pittsburgh stunningly beautiful, it’s full of interesting people from all over the world who are teaching samba, learning aerial silks, composing music, designing robots, and raising chickens.

Oh, chickens. I may wear golden heels and a feather crown, but at heart I am still a barefoot country girl. Last weekend a big truck pulled up in my driveway to deliver a little chicken coop and three chickens to my backyard.

city chickens coop design pittsburgh

Due to a recent change in Pittsburgh’s Urban Agriculture Code, residents on a 2000 square foot lot are allowed to keep up to 3 chickens. This change in ordinance has allowed me to feel truly at home here in the heart of the city, minutes from downtown. We moved into this house in part because of the generous (for a city!) backyard, which allows me to grow giant sunflowers…

sunflowers in the city

and tiny strawberries, a variety that bears from spring through fall to the delight of my three year old.

strawberry picking

It is important to me that my children run barefoot, hunt for berries, experience both the wildness and inherent in the natural world. There is a fence in my backyard, but there is a lush profusion of blossoming spearmint growing against it.

spearmint and bee, city chickens urban agriculture

There are bees pollinating on a daily basis. There is room, in this small space, for these small kids, to live like farm kids.

urban agriculture chicken coop

Especially now that there are chickens to take care of.

chicken coop urban agriculture

We are all happy about that.

urban farming

More about the blue feathers, you say? See my posts on dancing here:

Fine Feathers at Carnegie Hall

Finding Balance

A Teenage Dream…The One Direction Way

By: Clare

Believe it or not, there’s not a whole lot of large social activities in Middle Ridge, Wisconsin, my home sweet home. That being the case, its been a joy for me to be able to spend time in Pittsburgh, which for a country-grown girl like me seems a bit like the land of opportunity. The street aren’t exactly paved with gold – those are just 19th century cobblestones – but I’ve been able to experience things that I never thought I’d get a chance to do.

If you’re not a teenage girl, you may have no idea who these guys are:

1D

If you were a teenage girl your heart would have just skipped a beat. You would’ve let out a girlish squeal, because, who can’t resist those suspenders, those too tight jeans, their styled hair and sultry stares? No? This is having no effect on you? It’s okay, I’ll pretend it doesn’t affect me either.

The hints are all there in the above picture. Those five boys have made up their own British boy band they call One Direction, which has quickly developed a LARGE cult of teen and tween girls, and has become the first British band to ever break through to the top of the American music charts with their two first albums. Ah, the power of teen love.

For a teenage girl, the pull to become a fan, or a “Directioner” as they call themselves, is strong. Imagine yourself swimming in  large river, and suddenly a huge wave comes barreling towards you. The current is strong, and suddenly you’re pulled under by the mighty force of the rushing river, and there’s no hope of escape. Can you blame me? Hey, I’m no Olympic swimmer, but I do draw the line when it comes to calling myself a made-up noun.

When my trip in Pittsburgh was prolonged and I realized I would be in town at the same time as One Direction I, being the determined young lady  that I am, decided I was going to latch on to this opportunity. And so our search for a concert ticket began. After several days of searching we finally found a reasonable ticket to purchase two days before the concert. Now that’s what I call cutting it close – Slattery style.

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The day of the concert soon arrived. Kate and Francisco came with to drop me off, dressed in style of course.

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I was ready. I could face all the hordes of teen girls, right? Maybe. The girls were a bit vexing, because where I come from, in the small country area that I traverse upon, I’m usually one of the most stylish people. In the big city of Pittsburgh, EVERYONE had cute clothes. Every other girl was wearing a crop top, the latest trend, but I was happy to be wearing stripes, which seemed pretty fashionable and classy next to what looked like the lacy bras the other girls were wearing.

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This was before I had to stand in line for about 45 minutes all by myself. Well, except for the all the cliquey girls in front and behind me.

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It was a looooonngg line.

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For the record, if I had previously thought of myself as a fan of One Direction, these girls blew me out of the park. Their conversation of how often they listen to the songs, how many of the words they know, and just why THEY LOVE THEM SO MUCH made me feel like…

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Ack!

Almost there. Just stand and smile.

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When we were finally ushered in a semi-organized fashion and I found my seat, I waited for another 45 minutes. After this relocation I sat down and tried to make friends. Attempt failed. Grrrrr girls. I decided I would much rather be hanging out with a bunch of boys at a Miami Heat game.

But I waited.

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The stadium slowly filled up.

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I passed the time by listening to the surrounding girls’ conversations. My reaction was this.

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After a few attempts at conversation, I gave up.

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I couldn’t do this. Can’t we just talk about something a little more interesting? Like basketball? Or the most historic battles of the Civil War?

Finally, the introductory band came out…a band who I had no idea even existed. The other girls did though, and my ears, which were not yet accustomed to the feverish screams that would go on for almost four more hours, suffered dearly. And so did my mood. Of course, I was seated next to the loudest screamers in the stadium, not to mention the girl who would regularly start weeping at the mere sound of her favorite member of the band’s voice.

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When One Direction came out, I finally got interested.

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The wait was definitely worth it.

I had a clear view of the stage, even if I was pretty far away.

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The band did their best to include the whole audience, no matter how far away you were, and eventually made their way to a small stage in the middle of the stadium.

They all boarded a platform that carried them over the masses of crazed girls begging to be acknowledged by one of the famous boys and through the air towards the back and then back to the front.

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The show presented some pretty impressive light effects

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and throughout the 22 songs that were played the fans remained the same: extremely loud and devoted as always.

In the end, if you weren’t a teenage girl, the show wouldn’t have been for. Of this I am certain, because the two moms I saw seated around me did not look very happy as they covered their ears and watched their young daughters try to catch their breath as they jumped up and down and sang along to the poppy music that was almost completely foreign to the women.

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As for me, coming from having five older brothers and tons of guy friends myself, I had trouble dealing with the thousands of girls standing in masses around, and would have much rather have hung out with boy band members and not their screaming girl fans (a girl can dream right?) but all in all, I think it was pretty darn worth it for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing One Direction.

Thank you Pittsburgh, for all the fun you’ve given me, and thank you, Kate, for hosting me.

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.

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!