18 January 2018

The Soccer Refugee Kids Retreat. An Affirmation Journey.

By: Jon Katz

The Retreat: Everyone in this photo is coming.

This weekend, The RISSE soccer team is coming to my county and to my farm and Pompanuck Farm Institute for a two day retreat – Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

There will be 14 kids, two counselors – Ali, center, and Molly, bottom. They will be staying in the beautiful old Round House, sleeping on mats and sleeping bags in the big gathering room on the second floor.

I've been negotiating with Pompanuck all week about the cost and food. We will pay $800 for the retreat space –  a substantial discount for the refugees. Pompanuck will prepare dinner,  and breakfast Saturday and Sunday. Maria, Ali and I will prepare lunch Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday night, I'm taking the kids out to a buffet dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby. The Pompanuck Farm Institute and Retreat Center occupies 90 beautiful acres and adjoins a 900 acre state park.

I bought 7 plastic sleds for the team to sled on ($9 apiece). I've purchased 16 copies of the best-selling book "Outcasts United," which tells the very uplifting story of a group of refugee kids who formed a soccer team in Georgia and helped turn their small town around.

In the book, there is a remarkable woman who coaches and guides them, she reminds me much of Ali. And she will remind the soccer kids of Ali, they both devoted themselves to the welfare of these refugee children.

Soccer transforms and shapes the difficult lives of the children in the book in much the way Ali and the team shape the kids who are coming to Pompanuck. I got the books from Battenkill Books, they were $9 apiece and we got a 40 per cent discount.

I have a book for each person attending, and I've got to notes ready, we hope to all read some of the book and talk about it. I also got a CD called McFarlane, USA about some refugees and immigrants who turn to running as their way of acclimating to America.

I'm thinking of getting two small goldfish (and tanks) and  offering them as prizes to the two kids who have the most interesting things to say about the book. Bribery yes, but in a good cause. And they love to care for animals.

Saturday morning, Ali and I will go food shopping for the lunches we are preparing. We're thinking turkey sandwiches with fruit and chips and an apple pie.

Saturday or Sunday, we'll go and see a movie of the team's choosing at a nearby cinema which has agreed to charge $5 for a matinee performance. The Chinese restaurant has agreed to charge $10 per person. Thanks to these kids, I am getting lots of chances to do something I always loved to do in my other life – negotiate. And I think I'm still pretty good at it.

Some people in Washington and elsewhere might not care for refugees, but many ordinary people and businesses want to welcome them in every possible way.

Maria and Fate have offered to take the kids on some snow hikes in the woods – Fate is a guide and tracker. Gus will guard the warm fire with Red, who will be with me. The kids always want me to tell scary stories at bedtime, but I don't think they really need scary stories, they have enough of their own.

Still, they will persist, and I will cave, and just in case, i have a collection of Edgar Allen Poe's scariest stories with me. The Tell-Tale Heart and the Cask of Amontillado should do the trick. They say they want the scariest possible stories.

Maria and I will be there much of the weekend – the kids are screaming for Gus, Fate and Red to come also. Red is the official team mascot. If I don't bring the dogs, there will be a rebellion.

Fate loves to chase the soccer ball – we will be cooking, and cleaning up and keeping an eye on things.

This time together, in a safe and beautiful place, is so important for them, their lives are often harsh and spare, and they face considerable indifference, poverty, trauma and hostility. A woman on Facebook today wrote that with our refugee work, we are "building a cathedral," and I love that idea.

At Pompanuck, they will be free, a heady thing for all of them. No hostile taunts, no acclimation struggles, no homework in a foreign tongue.

For these hard-pressed and very sweet and caring children, a window into the true America, a generous and loving place, and a chance to be free and unguarded and support. I am so lucky to be able to participate in this, and fortunate as well to have a wife and a partner who loves this kind of work as much as I do.

And on behalf of these kids, thanks, thanks, thanks, for your support and encouragement. The Army of Good is…well…good.

If you wish to support this work, you can do so by contributing via my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge,N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, [email protected]

I will of course, be taking photos and will write about the weekend. I'm very excited. I hope this will be a special weekend for these worthy people, I will do everything in my power to make it memorable and soothing and uplifting.


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Fate…Of All The Dogs

By: Jon Katz

Of All The Dogs

Of all the dogs I have had, I can think of only two that could thrive and survive in the wild, and would love to be there, those two are Rose and Fate, two border collies I have been lucky to live with.

Both were/are remarkable dogs. Fate always wants to be outside, she never gets cold or restless. She loves her wild and long walks in the woods with Maria, she is an intuitive dog, perhaps (and along with Rose) the smartest dog I have had.

There is a Jack London kind of wildness about her, as there was with Rose, and Maria loves that part of her, she has some of that herself. Rose was much  more serious than Fate, Rose worked, but was not into fun, and she needed and tolerated no cuddling or baby-talk.

Fate has a sense of humor, unlike Rose, she loves to play, wrestle and engage in mischief. I cannot imagine Rose ever stealing food off of a counter when no one was looking. It would have been a breach of loyalty in her mind.

In the bitter cold, even Red rushes to the door after his work is done, Gus is not interested in plowing through the snow. Fate never wants to come, she loves to be around the sheep, and she has figured out how to open the door if we are not careful about shutting it.

We often look out the window to see her sitting by the pasture gate, rain or shine. Yesterday, we are out digging out the cars for a long time, and when I looked up, Fate was sitting out in the snow, head turned back towards the sheep. She misses nothing.

Fate is the only one of my dogs who could live in nature if she had to. She finds creeks and pockets of rain, hears mice and chipmunks from far away, and finds roots and nuts and berries. She is like a deer  in that way, and I've seen her dig small shelters for herself.

Like Rose, Fate reminds me of what dogs once were, and are supposed to be, and can be if left along to live their lives.

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Storm Dogs, The Bedlam Posse

By: Jon Katz

Storm Dogs, The Bedlam Posse

The Bedlam template is ever-changing. We have three quite remarkable and utterly different dogs, they get along wonderfully and are tested during this winter of the sub-zero temperature.

Red is a calm, steady dog, responsive and obedient, I cannot recall him ever causing me a moment's trouble.

Fate is Satan's Spawn, she is forever pushing the boundaries, obedient only when it suits her interests. A piece of breaded chicken cutlet disappeared from a kitchen  counter yesterday without a trace, it has to be Satan's child.

Gus is a riot, a loving and perpetual motion machine. He is always up for fun, he makes us smsile.

Each handles the cold in different ways. Gus loves to walk in the snow for a few minutes and then come inside, he also loves to chase Fate through the snow. He does not seem to get cold or need boots or a sweater.

Red does his work, he doesn't seem to notice the weather but I do not when the temperature falls well below zero, that he isn't all that interested in staying outside. He loves the fire.

This weekend, just in time for the Refugee Soccer kids to come here for a weekend retreat, the temperature will edge up into the 40's, a heat wave this winter. Then on Monday, another snow storm. Our storm dogs are ready for anything, they got through this winter so far without a hitch, they can handle whatever is coming.

These dogs are great together, each compliments the other, I love having such a wide range of dogs in terms of behavior and training and life.

This afternoon, we take Gus to the vet to talk about his illness. He's had three good days, yesterday afternoon was no so good – repeated vomiting on and off for hours. We did let him outside in the storm – I thought it was safe – and I did see him digging through the snow and eating some sheep pellets. My bad.

After the vet, I go in search of a larger bird cage for the Mansion parakeets. One of the residents is convinced the current cage is too small and keeps letting the birds out. So  am getting a bigger and more secure cage.

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17 January 2018

The Building Of Self, The Fractured Ego

By: Jon Katz

The Building Of Self


The ultimate aim of the ego, I think, is not to see something, but to be something. The ego fails me when I become obsessed with someone who does not love me, and cannot see those who do love me.

Like many wounded, troubled, abused or marginalized children, I always believed it was my fault when I was uncomfortable around people, or when someone didn't like me, or when someone took offense at me, or ignored me, or went away.

I was broken in some ways, saved in other ways, but I have never, in my mind, been whole, and am running out of time.

Later in life, when I sought help for my fractured mind, I learned a different lesson. When people make me uncomfortable, I understand that it is not necessarily my fault. That it is not about me, the bane of ego.

In fact, the older I get, the more I see that very little of life is about me, I am definitely a bump on the road.

When people hurt me, or diminish me,  I do not run to them for mercy or relief. I get away, I run away. If I do not love myself, no one will ever love me. And if I turn to those who hurt me, I will just be hurt and hurt and hurt.

Relationships ought to be affirming, encouraging, nourishing. If they don't feel good, they are not good.

Rainer Maria Rilke suggested that we make our egos porous. Will is of little importance, he said,  complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. "Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything," he wrote.

This was good advice, I thought. Our lives are not defined by the people who like us or don't or who abandon us or stay by our side.

No relationship – no life –  is perfect or without troubles, but troubled children have what Anna Freud called "fractured egos," they did not receive the encouragement or support or safety or affirmation that goes into the building of a strong ego. A healthy ego is not something one can just go out and buy, or some doctor can implant in our brains. We have to put it together, one piece at a time, for all of our lives. This is work that never ends.

But this is not hopeless work, at least not for me.

Egos can be structured, shored up, repaired and strengthened.  They can be rebuilt, at least partly.

That is, in fact, the work of the therapist, the point of therapy, to repair the damage that keeps a person from doing what they wish to do, of being the person they were meant to be. A good therapist specializes in ego reconstruction and repair. I don't know this, but I think the odds are long. Most people do not or cannot do the hard grinding work of change.

I have always had a strong ego about my work, and my writing. My mother gave me that, while gnawing on the rest of me.  I have never had a strong ego about self. I have been working steadily to construct an ego. Sons who are estranged from their fathers or mothers have to define strength and value for themselves, they are never taught or shown it and it and have way of emulating it. In a sense, we are refugees for life.

My work often centers around the force that is called intuition. The magic that attracts the right people and the right opportunities and the right passions into one's life. Intuition is the inner spirit that gives us hope or optimism every day of our lives. Intuition, I think, is the foundation of ego.

Intuition is knowledge obtained from an  ability to know or understand something based on your feelings rather than facts. Every great writer or artist was intuitive, every leader, politician, actor or great political leader. Lincoln often said intuition was his faith and his sword, he could never trust the facts  presented to him.

Intuition is the will and the drive to seek more and more out of life than money and argument or power. In my case, the search for a healthy ego has led me to authenticity. I am learning to be honest with myself and I am honest with others. This does not always make everyone else happy, and it is harder than lying, because I can no longer tell people what they would like to hear, but what I believe.

It's a different world.

But it makes me happy. My ego is a bit like Frankenstein, patched up, I think, with bolts and bones sticking out all over the place. Sometimes people run in  horror or fear. I fight fiercely for the right to speak my mind freely, to make my own successes and mistakes, and to stand in my truth, and I am willing to suffer and sacrifice for that freedom.

It is everything to me, it is my way back.

Ice Storm, Midnight: Iphone X Update

By: Jon Katz

Ice Storm, Midnight

I woke up to the sound of ice bouncing off the roof and windows,and I went outside with my Iphone Xcamera, the only light was the sensor light on the back porch. The phone camera picked up the shot and caught the ice and snow as well, captured the eerily feeling of the night.

I am very happy with the iphone X or Ten, as it is also called. It is easily the best piece of technology I have ever owned, and the best smart phone, although the 8 Plus Maria has is just about is also great.

I have had no serious problems at all with the new phone, it is quite easy to use, and I am delighted and fascinated by the AI elements in the phone, it does grow and change and adapt to me. The Face ID works instantly and every time, even in the dark, and I am addicted to the animated Emoji, it may save my relationship with my granddaughter, who lives in New York and now thinks her grandfather is a cute puppy.

Well, whatever works..

I am grasping the future of Artificial Intelligence, the phone is growing along with me, and reacting to me.  The next step up with be a SmartPhone Robot, this practically is one. It took only a few hours to figure out how to navigate the phone comfortably and without interruption.

.The phone X is very fast, the image quality is outstanding. I seem able to pull in a cell signal from anywhere, and the battery lasts at least several hours longer than the Iphone 6 plus.

Siri is easier and more efficient, and I do not miss the home button for a second. The wireless charging is great, it is so easy to charge the phone, I just put it down on a small black circular pad and it charges. No cables.

People groan when I tell them the cost – just over $1,000 – but I use it many times each day for work and photos and monitoring my finances, e-mail and messages.

I do not believe it is overpriced in any way. I just don't have anything negative to say about it, and for me, that is a bit shocking. I am still not using one tenth of all the new features, I use it mostly for the basics. This is the phone for me, and I have not regretted getting it for one second.

The new camera is affecting my photography – especially the portrait lens. This is a $3,000 camera they have in there, there are still things my big full frame Canon can do that the X can't, but I am using the phone for many of my portraits, and I am very  happy with the photos.

The phone is changing my understanding of photography. All in all, I have only wonderful things to say about this phone. Maria is just as happy with her Iphone 8, people have to sniff around and see what works for them. The Iphone X works for me.


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