9 December 2017

The Mansion Table: Christmas Breakfast

Christmas Breakfast

We had a sweet start to the weekend, we bought a table for the Mansion residents at the annual Christmas Breakfast sponsored by the Hubbard Hall Arts Center and hundreds of local people. This is a pure and remarkable grass roots event, begun 22 years ago as a way of giving the community a way to celebrate Christmas with local children.

The Hubbard Hall volunteers prepare and serve the food, but almost everything else is done by people in the community and their families. It is always a sell out, and the children dance and sing and perform Christmas scenes and stories.

We took six of the residents, including Art (who told me he wants to discuss the fact that grace was not said) and it was great for them to get out and into the community. The tickets for everyone – Maria and I came too – cost $90. Money well spent.

It is beautiful to see so many people in a community pitch into do something like this. It was a rich and warm way to enter the Christmas season. Afterwards,Maria and I went Thrift store shopping get to more winter clothes for the Mansion residents, and some for the refugees as well.

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Gus And Sweaters: Who Says Small Dogs Don’t Love Snow and Cold?

Who Says Small Dogs Don't Like Snow And Cold?

The Gus-Sweater issue has confounded me from the first. Dog lovers – especially dog lovers on social media – tend to be very certain in their opinions about what small dogs need in the winter, I was bombarded with e-mails telling me Gus must have a sweater in the cold, because he is a Boston Terrier.

I was huffing and puffing about my feeling that no dog of mine, big or small, would ever wear a sweater, let alone booties. I had to stand down on that pledge.

Even my vet said that Gus would need a sweater, so I readily agreed, bowed to superior wisdom, and bought two sweaters. Seems I was not all that  correct this time around either, Gus absolutely loves the snow and the cold, I took a photo of him tonight with my phone as he and Fate tore around the yard so fast even my fast camera couldn't get a clear image at night.

Gus has been outside in single digit cold, and high winter winds, and today, several inches of snow and plunging temperatures. He has not yet shivered once, and just loves tearing back and forth int the snow like a Lab. The farmers who have Boston Terriers tell me they have never put sweaters on their dogs, but farmers are usually much more hardass than I am.

So far, I put a sweater on his once, and that was because I thought he must be cold, but he didn't seem to know what. It didn't stay on long.

The moral is dogs are not all the same, and our responses to them are not all the same. They are unique and often quite unpredictable. We just think we know them inside and out.

So we'll see. So far, Gus has no interest in a sweater, he loves to go outside, eat gross things and race about with Fate, who also loves being out in the snow and would happily live outside if she could all year round.

I have my sweaters and am ready and willing to put them on, and maybe the deep February winter will be different, or huge snowfalls. So far, Gus is a happy and hardy winter dog. I can't wait to see  how this all turns out.

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India Meets New Mexico In An 1803 Farmhouse

India Meets New Mexico In An Old 1803 Farmhouse

Maria keeps working on the colors in the farm house, and in the New Mexico kitchen. She found a fabric from India and brought it into the newly painted kitchen. She loves it so much she sometimes just stands and stared at it.

For me, the fabric really blends well with the colors (and my carousel carving). It just works. She has transformed one of the drab rooms of an old farmhouse into something bright and cheerful. In the dark days of winter – the sun goes down around 4:30 now, these colors matter.

For color and light people like us, this lifts us up. Off to the Christmas Breakfast at the Hubbard Hall Arts Center, we are bringing a group of Mansion residents to have a hearty breakfast and see kids sing Christmas songs.

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8 December 2017

Where Jeans Go To Live Again. “Do You Need Those Jeans You Are Wearing?..”

Where Jeans Go To Live Again

One of the recurring mysteries in my life with a fiber artist is that, from time to time, my jeans vanish.

It is true that I sometimes throw them out when they get worn – you will undoubtedly hear that this is where they go –  but it is also true that the question "do you need those jeans you are wearing now?" while I am still wearing them suggests something now raises alarms.

"Of course," I huff, "I"m wearing them?" Oh, she says, eyeing them hungrily, the way she looks at an ice cream cone in the summer. I know they are doomed.

I have a stack of jeans in my dresser and it will be no surprise to any of you that I have no idea how many jeans I have or where they go when they disappear. Today I had some insight, Maria invited me into her studio to see a beautiful and very creative quilt (it is already sold) and pointed out proudly that my jeans play a prominent role in the quilt, especially around the center.

The worn out parts around the center and below, she said, were the knee parts of my jeans, they are worn in a particular way that adds to the colors in her quilt. There is no sign of the rest of the jeans, although they may well pop up in a different quilt.

I am proud to see my jeans again, and used in so creative a way. I am happy they have been reborn and will live. I am uneasy about keeping the rest of them intact, art is a hungry enterprise, it is never really fed.

To be honest, I didn't even know the jeans were gone. All of the knee parts of my jeans are worn.

A fair number of my articles of clothing – jeans, shirts, undershirts, even socks – have also vanished in this manner, and sometimes I see where they live now and wish them well, and sometimes I don't.

As to my wife, she expresses shock and dismay when I ask how she got these jeans or shirts or underwear. She has no idea, she says,  showing me a mask of perfect innocence.

they just seem to show up in her studio. I wonder if I could get a commission for my jeans.

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Great Refugee News – Clothes, Uniforms, Visit’s ,Girl’s BB Team

Clothes, Visit, GIrl's Team. Ali Is the coach of the new girl's basketball team.

The refugees have had a tough year in so many ways, it is a pleasure to pass along a chunk of good news.

First, Cheryl Lasser, the RISSE Development Director, told me today that the Army Of Good's Winter Clothing drive for the refugees and immigrants in and around Albany has been a big success. She said they have received many shipments of clothing from all over the country  in great quantity, excellent condition and lots of variety.

And the clothes are still coming. They are, she says, of the highest quality.

She wanted me to thank those of  you donating both used and new winter clothes. She asked me to remind people that in addition to clothes, people can also donate gift cards to affordable department stories and outlets like Amazon, Target or Wal Mart so the refugees can also purchase food or household items.

I am urging RISSE to set up an Amazon gift page so people can see the items that are needed and choose the ones they wish to donate. You can also donate directly to RISSE here. And thanks, the clothes continue to flood in, and are so appreciated and needed.

This was an important step in my efforts to engage with the immigrants and refugees at RISSE, many are wary of outside help, especially in this culture.

The RISSE address is 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208.

Also, nice news. Ali called today to report that the young RISSE women met and decided they wish to form a girl's basketball team in 2018. Ali is tickled – only one woman wanted to play soccer this past year – she was the goalie – and he will coach the team. I saw firsthand how complex and difficult this process was for him. Good for him for sticking it out.

The team's first meeting will be right after Christmas and I'll be there to take some photos.

I know they will need uniforms, just like the boys, but we'll wait on that. The girls also chose to name their basketball team "The Bedlam Farm Warriors," on the front of their jerseys and "RISSE" on the back,  again despite my protests. The boy's uniforms cost $1,000 all told, but we can wait and deal with that after the holidays.

Word is the girls want more color than the black-and-white uniforms of the boys. And obviously, I need to do as well for them as we did for the boys.

Several people have expressed displeasure that they have not seen more photos and activities of the RISSE girls, but people who know this culture understand that dealing with the young women of RISSE is quite different from dealing with the men, especially for male strangers from the outside who are new to this country. These people have been through a lot and have suffered greatly, I respect their caution and will never pressure them.

The United States is very different in many of its customs and traditions.

I have met and spoken with a number of these girls and women now and am earning their trust and also learning to respect and understand the culture they come from. Taking their pictures is a very big deal sometimes.

One complexity is Red, who is universally adored in his therapy work but who terrifies so many of the refugees and immigrants when they see him. Many run and hide to get away from, or leave a room that he is in.

This is very new to him and also to me, and I am trying to figure out how to work through it. I think it puzzles Red to see people running from him, in many of the origin countries, where people starve all the time, it is inconceivable to feed and shelter a dog, or make one a pet.

As with the Mansion, I respect the boundaries of the institutions I work with, and I do not ever tell administrators or staff what to do, make decisions for them,  impose my values, lecture them about   our own cultural traditions or politics, or make choices about what activities are being offered.

And Ali is a saint, he works tirelessly with all of the children at RISSE seven days a week, day and night, all year-long. They are so lucky to have him, and they love him dearly. He cares for them as a mother or father would.  He is a brother to me.

It took months for me to get permission to talk to these boys and photograph them, none of it would have happened without Ali.

It has been compelling for me to see the cultural differences among the refugees and immigrants. Many girls do not wish to play with or around boys, some don't want to be photographed, they have rejected dance programs and some other activities. Some parents are terrified of the Internet, and have never seen a blog.

Many of their parents object to American style competitive sports, there is no equivalent in their original countries.

So this is exciting and an opportunity for me.

Ali works closely with the girls as well as the boys, and brings the same spirit and devotion to them. Some of these kids are shy, but they love to win and compete with courage and determination.

The girl's basketball beam will offer another neat thing for me to photograph and write about it.

I'll have to work to earn some trust. The boys soccer team was my way into this tight and sometimes closed world, and they are in great need of support. I will continue to support them in any way I can.

Other good news:

Ali wants to take the boys on the soccer team for a one day trip to New York City, mostly to see Times Square and ride an Open Decker tour bust around Manhattan. This trip will be over the Xmas break. He will need some help in funding that trip, I'll start making inquiries about the cost – mostly parking food and tickets for the busses.

Beyond that, on their holiday break from school, it looks like the RISSE soccer team will be coming to the Mansion to meet with the residents, talk with them.

Mansion Director Morgan Jones is enthusiastic about this idea – I have to say she is great to work with – and wants to offer the boys a fudge sundae festival when they come. They will get to make their own fudge sundaes.

Ali is thrilled with the idea, so I am working with both of them to make it happen. How wonderful that would be.

They are excited on both sides, and it will be a powerful thing for these two groups to come together. The Army Of Good has supported both of them faithfully and generously. This will happen after Christmas.

So this is a great and successful work for this work, not and for the future. I feel we are just getting started on this idea of doing good, learning how best to do it, picking our movements thoughtfully and with restraint.

I am excited about 2018. I wish all of you great success and I wish us great and good work together.

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