17 December 2017

The Holiday Drop-In : Gates Or Doors

By: Jon Katz

The Holidays

The country's broken political system was a gate for me, not a door, And it has also brought me the gift of finally grasping what the holidays can mean for me. Maria is on her own path, but came to the same place on our own.

Our long conflicts with family are mostly over, they are either dead or have moved along. Both of us – especially Maria – have worked hard to build social networks and communities in their place that we cherish and wish to celebrate.

My work with the group I call The Army Of Good has transformed much of my life. I still write books – my next one, Gus and The Big And Small Lessons Of Bedlam Farm, will be published next fall by Simon & Schuster.

I am very proud of my book, it details the things I have learned on the farm, my response to the anger and polarization of the country by focusing on the good things I could accomplish with my blog, rather than the bad things or arguments I could promote and encourage.

The dogs are part of almost everything I do. Fare snuck into the kitchen and ate half of the cooked lamb plate sitting on the stove (for the Lambs On Sweaters, Pigs In Blankets)  hors d'oeuvres we were planning to make at night.

On the first Bedlam Farm in Hebron, I was alone for much of six years, just like Luke Skywalker on his island, pouting and raging. I  had no friends or community to speak of.  I have little memory of my life there,  I lived in delusion, the people I thought were my friends were not.

Maria and I were quite alone when we came together. Neither of us is alone now.

She has made many good friends, and is, I see a wonderful friend, available, supportive, open and loving. Her lives just keeps deepening and unfolding, as does my life with her.

She has learned more about friendship than I have, I am still struggling with it, lasting friendship is complex for me. I am working on it, doing better.

I have more work to do.

Maria and i both always struggled with the holidays. But as our lives have changed, so has that. Neither of us is religious or moving much in that direction, but we do look for meaning in our lives, for connection,  for a simpler life. We have fallen in love with the natural world, and it's flowers, trails, forests  animals, birds, flowers and trees.

We chose to find community and we are finding it, and to see our good friends gathered in our bright old farmhouse was a great pleasure, even an honor. If lifted my heart to see so many of the people we love sitting in our living room, coming together.

Tomorrow, I will distribute some of the clothes I have been getting for the Mansion residents at local thrift stores. That will feel good also, the idea of helping clothe this vulnerable people.

I hope our first holiday drop-by enriched them, it certainly enriched me.

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Gus Thinks Of Starting A Blog (It Won’t Happen)

By: Jon Katz

Bedlam Blogger

Gus is taking an inordinate interest in the Internet in the past few days, it seems to me that he is thinking of starting a blog. He keeps sitting on Maria's lap at night and studying the internet closely while she blogs.

I warned him that I will consider a Gus blog to be competition. First off, I said, he's just a baby, eight months old. Secondly, I pointed out that he is functionally illiterate and I will certainly not type for him.

Plus, he can't take photos and I will not give him permission to use a single one of mine. I have no intentions of competing with Gus online, I am many things, but cute is not one of them.

Imagine his reports from inside the life of a spoiled rotten Boston Terrier. That's gratitude for you.

I did love the photo, though I thought it captured Gus's spirit and personality. He is the Dog Of Entitlement, he appears and disappears, goes where he wants whenever he wants.

But he's not getting a blog. There are limits.

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The Spread. Deconstructing A Drop-In Party

By: Jon Katz

The Spread

We got the Lambs In A Sweater (and Pigs In Blankets) and the shrimp on the dining room table just before 2 p.m., when the first guests arrived. Several people brought cookies to add to our party, the first gather like that that we had ever launched.

Maria and I were both freaking out before the party. Would anyone come? Would the food be any good? Would people talk to each other? We stopped worrying pretty soon, everyone we invited arrived (one couple was out of town, another couple we invited was working, another had other plans.)

We just didn't have much experience with this kind of socializing.

It was different from the intimate little dinner party we hosted the other night to welcome our friend Susan Popper, who is thinking of moving up here from Long Island, or what we call downstate. This was hard work, lots of preparation and thought, lots of moving around, monitoring things, bringing out food, cleaning up plates and glasses.

Maria's long dormant and brutally suppressed domestic skills came roaring to the surface, there is really nothing much that she can't do, once she chooses to do it. It was a great spread and a really lovely afternoon for us.

I wasn't too shabby either, we made the shrimp perfectly, and the pigs and lamb in blankets came out beautifully, they were the food hit of the day, they  vanished almost instantly. I liked rolling and cutting the tough and watching it rise in the oven.

Half the Egg Nog went, as did a lot of cheese, wine, crackers and cookies.

Everybody settled in and just about everyone stayed to the end, three hours late. I wasn't a guest, so I can't say, but the gathering had a lovely, soft and warm feeling to it. People talked to each other, introduced one another, traded stories and ideas and the feeling was comfortable and open, the essence of a community.

We figured out that it is good to have people sitting in one room, with the food in another. People can then have reasons for moving around, mingling, talking to new faces. It wasn't Buckhingham Palace, but it was pretty neat.

Maria and I are somewhat about bringing people together,and we are also about being as positive an encouraging as we can be. We also wanted to celebrate our (relatively) new community in our small town. We feel we have come home here, even in the winter, which is already upon us.

We were pleased with it, our instinct is to do more small dinners throughout the year, but over the holidays, have some bigger drop-ins. Communities, like people, need nurturing.

At the party we saw good friends meeting one another, finding common interest, talking to each other. How simple, how nice.

At 5 p.m., most people left. Maria and I were exhausted, but also happy. It was a very good day for friendship and community, and for the life we have been working hard to put together.

By evening, Maria had reverted to her art-centered self, and her brief but spectacular domesticity.  I think she just reverted to her work-obsessed self her head full of quilt designs.

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Distractions And The Power Of Focus

By: Jon Katz

The Power Of Focus

(Jesse from England sent us this Angel with "Wellie" – Wellington boots from England, she saw a photo on my blog of Maria's boots and thought of her.)Thanks Jesse.

I am reminded every day in our very distracted world of the power of focus. Sometimes, in the morning, I am drawn to look at the news, and one thing or another is always upsetting. In the writer's world, mood is everything and if I am distracted, I am easily thrown off my track.

In the morning, not arguments for me, no phone calls, e-mail, chores or obligations. In the morning, I focus on my work. When people ask to buy me a cup of coffee at 10 a.m. in the morning, or "wave" to me on Facebook in mid-morning, I am offended, not just because I am being intruded on, I am offended because it is disrespectful to my work.

I am offended on behalf of my work, a discipline for me that is nearly sacred.

I work, just like everyone else and have worked just about every morning of my adult life, I do not schedule things or take walks in the woods or have long lunches with friends.

There are so many easy distractions in our world, just look at our cell phones, political arguments, weather forecasts, social media messages. I have been working for years on learning how to focus, it is some of the most important work I have done on myself. Lack of focus, not time, is the problem for so many people.

I think in so many ways it is has been the major spiritual problem I face.

How I spend my time is precious, especially in the morning, but all day.

I focus on my work, on my writing, on the blog, on my photographs, on my work with the Army of Good. Watching the news, doing side chores, paying bills at those time is a distraction, I can so easily lose my focus.

I am getting better and better at it. The philosopher Herman Hesse wrote that life is all about choices and focus. When I meet a person who is unhappy, whining, frustrated, I usually come to see that he or her has trouble focusing on what it is they really want to do.

The philosopher Herman Hesse wrote that is was not for him to judge another man's life, that is the essence of loss of focus. "I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself alone."

This has come to be the centerpiece of my own life. I have to act and think and believe, purely for myself, even if the choice for me is to help others. One does not preclude the other.

This year, the choice for me is to find a way to honor Christmas in the spirit of the man whose birth we celebrate. I don't come to this as a Christian worshipping God, but as a human being celebrating the work of a compassionate and empathetic human being whose forgotten teaches pushed the world towards light and goodness

This is my focus now and for every other day. My focus is strong, and I don't have room in my life for drama, anger, argument, suspicion,  and hypocrisy, even though I have often been guilty of all of those things.

My focus is my own narrative, my own track, my own meaning in life. This Christmas, my focus is on doing what the inspiration for this season:

"And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Bless are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you…"

It is not for me to judge another person's life, only to remain calm, take some deep breaths and shift my focus to something that does good. I am not alone any longer, I am never alone.


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Sunday Journal: Lamb In A Sweater: Party Starts At Two

By: Jon Katz

Lamb In A Sweater

Maria calls this "Lamb In A Sweater," we bought some lamb sausage at the town Farmer's Market (the last one for the season), cooked it up in the oven, and sliced it this afternoon. In an hour or so, we baked the croissant dough and make what  Maria calls "Lamb In A Sweater."

We expect between 12 and 14 people, between 2 and 5.

The shrimp cocktail are cooked and will sit on some fresh lettuce, Maria is making her Guacamole dip with corn chips, there's a bowl of fresh cashews. We have four bottles of wine, Godiva chocolates, grapes, cheese, crackers and olives, and cookies.

We've never done this before, so it's a learning experience and feels exotic. We realized this year that we know some very nice and good people and we wanted to celebrate our community as part of our Christmas observation.

I see that Maria brings her artistry to everything she does. The house  is radiant in lights and colors, and I'm eager to see how this all works. I am not good at cocktail party small talk, I just like talk. And there is a difference.

I'll be busy washing dishes and taking coats and ferrying food around, but I hope there is a chance to sit and talk. Time to put out the glasses, I think we are almost set.

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