20 March 2017

Portrait: Treasure, Woman Of A Thousand Faces

Woman Of A Thousand Faces

When you see Treasure with an animal, you think every animal in the world should live with her. She has an instant connection with them, I think it has to do with the emotions that are so close to the surface in her, and show up so clearly in her face. She is the woman of a thousand faces, not portrait of her is ever the same, each one is full of feeling. Some day, perhaps I'll get to do a Treasure photo show.

Or a Treasure and Kelly and Maria photo show. Women Of My World.

I took this portrait with my new Petzval 58 lens, I am in love with it, I love the way it blurs the background.

Most people today are used to digital photography, which is instant,  and it is difficult to get someone like Treasure to stand still long enough for me to adjust the gear focus, insert the right metal plate,  get the correct ISO setting, adjust the bokeh (background blur).

The Petzval was made recently in Russia with Russian glass, but has kept almost all of the original structure. No electronics of any kind.

I keep mine on high bokeh, no. 7, I love the way the Russian glass focuses the photo on the subject and forces the viewer to look there.

The lens teaches me about the great portrait era in photography (it was made in 1840) when the photographer really had to think about the picture. Patience is important, and patience is nearly extinct in our world.

I had to move Treasure around five times so she wouldn't squint and then yell at her to be still. I think she is used to crazy men.

Sunday, she and her partner Donna will get to live with Chloe, a farmer is driving her to their farm in his trailer. We both will miss Chloe, she is quite a presence, but I don't think an animal can do much better than living with Treasure, who will be working at the Bedlam Farm Spring Open House on June 10 and 11, helping to give tours of the pasture and visits with donkeys and sheep.

We just realized that my next book, Talking to Animals, which Treasure does all the time, will be out in May and I will give readings at the Open House and sign books there. You can pre-order the books via Battenkill Books and get a classy, custom-designed Tote-Bag if you are one of the first 1,000 to pre-order.

I will sign and personalize each copy bought from Battenkill, my wonderful, local, independent bookstore. We are so lucky to have it here. There are several hundred spots to go for the Tote-Bag, and if we hit 1,000, we'll order more.

Treasure is a valuable addition to the Open House, she will be here on both days. She's worth a trip all on her own. Treasure came by to get our phone numbers, her cell phone disintegrated. Treasure's life is full of mishaps and drama, she always arrives with great stories to tell.

Posted in General

Walking With John At The Mansion

Walking With John

I've grown fond of John, as has Red. Often, when I pull up at the Mansion, he is out for a walk, having his daily cigarette. He is a warm and generous man, he always shakes my hand, he seems especially helpful and attentive to the other residents. Sometimes, Red and I walk with John.

I first sat with him on a bitter cold February day out in front of the Mansion, we sat and watched the cars drive by. Mostly, we sat in silence, but talked when we felt like it. I know very little about him, I hope to learn more.

The Mansion has been a breakthrough experience for me, I've done hospice and therapy work for some years, but always moving from one institution to another. I let Red or another dog do the work, I kept my distance, I was just the man who brought the dog in.

I decided to change that, and stay with one place, get to know the residents, understand the people I was working with, not just leave it to the dog. He is the primary spark, but sometimes, I matter also, and I wasn't sure I knew that or perhaps, I was afraid to know it.

I can help also, the one limit of therapy dogs is that they can't really talk. Or truly listen.

This change has truly paid off. I am getting to know the residents and their needs, and I am getting to know the staff, a rich and gratifying experience for me, they are some of the most loving people I have know. To know the staff at the Mansion is to have faith in the goodness of people affirmed, again and again.

There are people who care about others, they really care.  The staff demonstrates the great difference between empathy and sympathy (see Brene Brown on the subject). They practice empathy, not pity or sympathy, they do not patronize or diminish. I have learned a lot from watching them.

I believe in empathy, it has become part of my faith, I see it's disappearance in so much of the country, and especially among our political leaders.

Empathy requires that you step outside of your own emotions to view things from the perspective of the other person, as completely as you can. It asks us to identify with and understand the situation, feelings and motives of others.

It is sometimes easy to feel sympathy, empathy is  more complex. The term was first used in Europe to denote the connection between an artists and someone who feels and loves their work, each steps into the shoes and soul of the other. It means something broader now.

Empathy is what I most often feel at the Mansion, as the residents open their hearts to me and help me to understand their feelings and emotions. In an odd way, they understand me more than many people who know me. They gift me the gift of practicing empathy. When that happens, we each become a part of the other, it is profoundly gratifying work. It stretches me as a human being and opens me to a new kind of spirituality.

It is, I suppose,  a selfish gift to me, but one of the most important things for me to learn.

I celebrate empathy as the hallmark of a noble spirit, the mark of social justice, and a path to the highest human potential.

I thank John for walking with me.

Posted in General

Mansion Notebook: Kindle Fire, Wall Art, Art Show In April

Mansion Notebook:

Lots of Mansion news.

Connie's ll-year-old Apple computer broke down and can't be fixed, and i wrote about this and suggested that people not try to fix this problem, it would be too expensive and complicated. Of course, Kristen ignored me and shipped Connie a new Kindle Fire pad, which plays the games she loves to help her sleep at night.

It does a bunch of other things as well. When Connie saw it, she cried, she can  hardly believe people care about her this much. She said she didn't want any help with this, but I can see how grateful she is.

The Kindle Fire is perfect for her, easy to use, lightweight, portable,  and easy to see. "Hi, Connie,' wrote Kristen, "I hope you can use this to play games, please enjoy it, it would make me very happy to give you back that ability and the fun you had playing them! I hope someone can help you set it up."

It is set up, Kristen, and it does make her happy, she is playing games  on it already. Made me happy to see it, also, thanks for your generosity and for not listening to me.

-The Mansion is organizing an April Art Show. The residents will be visited by local artists during the month of April – Maria is going to show them how to make drawings from her free-form sewing techniques, Rachel Barlow and other regional artists are also coming by to teach drawing and painting and watercolor and talk about their work.

Maria and I and a yet to be named artist will judge the art work and pick some winners, their art will be shown at the Mansion.

Some of you have already sent some art supplies, thanks.

I have a list of the additional things some of the residents will need for the show – Canvas Board, 11 x 14, watercolor paper, card stock (heavy paper), acrylic paints and stamp pads are needed. I can get the canvas board, the other items are inexpensive and easily available, and if you can help the address is "The Mansion Art Show, c/o Julie Smith, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816." Thanks.

They are excited.

-The bare wall art project is moving along. We've identified about eight rooms with bare walls, we've put art and photographs up on four of them already. I'll put up a couple of photos. Today we put up art work in Peggie's room and Joan's room.

-Herman's family is grateful for your love and support. He died on Saturday.  I am giving the beautiful tin goat sculpture that was sent anonymously to me to give to Herman to Mandi Mulready of the Mansion staff. She was so good to Herman in his last days, it turns out her grandparents had goats and she grew up with them. Herman raised goats and loved them.

-Today, they received the Deluxe Scrabble game they hoped to have in the Activity Room.

-I discovered today that Madeline, a Mansion resident who was raised in a Bronx orphanage, who traveled the world as a military wife and who is 94 years old, loves crossword puzzles. I saw a pile of them in her room, and she says she loves doing them, she often works on the New York Times Puzzle.. I got hold of several to give her (one has large type), she says she can handle all but the toughest ones. Something to keep in mind, you can write her c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

-The van you so generously helped to purchase is due to arrive at the Mansion tomorrow afternoon, I hope to go over and take a photo to show what you did, and thank you. I am thinking ahead to Easter, it is not far a way and an important day in the lives of the Mansion residents, a day that speaks of family and faith.

Please feel no pressure to do this work or sent letters and gifts, many of you have asked to be notified about what people need, but I am mindful of your limits,you have done so much, and there are not many wealthy people reading the blog I don't think. But there are a lot of angels.

And it is difficult to even describe the importance of the work you are doing.

Posted in General

Christy’s Journey: Pain And Disappointment, Furry Angels

Furry Angels

Christy wanted me to share the news that she learned Monday afternoon that she will not be going to the Pines Rehabilitation Center in Glens Falls, N.Y., after all, they have no available beds for her. She and her family and the hospital are looking at other possibilities.

"I am so disappointed," she wrote. "I want to get going. Yesterday was a great day but today not so good. I pulled my back out again. There is great pain when I move. So I am trying to stay still and rest my back. They are giving me a strong med, so I am sleepy."

Then she went to sleep.

Earlier, she thanked me for writing about her and she said she trusted me with her story because I am treating the Mansion residents well.  She said it has been difficult for her to trust people. I am humbled by that and will try to be deserving. "I am going to look forward from now on and take care of myself."

Christy and I have talked about the importance of dogs in her life, I believe it is really Red, not me who has made a powerful connection and opened her up, I've seen it before. She told me about her dog Cinni, who lived to be 17 years old. "I read once," she wrote,"that dogs are Gods furry angels sent to watch over us. I believe that."

I believe in spirit dogs, as many of you know from my books and blogs, and Red is a spirit dog. They enter our lives for a reason, they leave when their work is done. If there is such a thing as furry angels – why not? – then I believe Red is one of them, and perhaps he has come to help Christy give rebirth to her life, as she is trying to do.

I have learned in my therapy work not to try and cheer people up or give them false hope. I don't ever try to do God's work.

I have to meet them where they are, not where I wish them to be. I told Christy that while this might be a disappointing delay, it need not change her conviction to get well and get home to the Mansion. Nothing has changed but the location of her rehab.

It will just happen in a different place. That is easy for me to say, but I believe it. I believe in rebirth and resurrection, at any point in life. But that is up to Christy, not me. I feel our communication is important, for both of us, and I will keep going as long as she wishes.

Thanks for your messages and concern for her there is obviously no point in writing to her at the Pines. But if you write her c/o The Mansion, they will get your letters to her: 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. When I found out where she is, I will pass the information along, and thanks for caring.

Posted in General

How Do I Love Thee? With the breath, smiles, and tears of life.

Let Me Count The Ways


How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)


"How Do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth

and height my soul can reach,

when feeling out of sight.

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day's

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

smiles, tears, of all my life; and if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death."


  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861

If you love someone, tell them. A cashier in a supermarket asked me eight years ago why I was spending $3.50 for an Asian pear, she had never seen me buy one (this is the country, cashiers know you).  I said it was for my girlfriend, I wanted to show her how much I loved her. Good for you, she said, as several women in the line joined in to guide me and praise me for buying the pear. Don't forget the small things, they said. Don't forget to tell  her every day that you love her.

I have not forgotten, even when we quarrel, not for a single day.

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