Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

8 August

The Best Meal On My Birthday: Spatzle W/Crab

by Jon Katz

Maria said she had a surprise for my birthday, she wouldn’t tell me where it was or what it was. She gave me directions, and I drive about a half-hour north of Bennington until I figured out where we were doing and what for.

I figured it out at the last minute when I remembered we had crab cakes at a friend’s house last week and I asked our host where she got it. I forget the name, she remembered it, she knows how much I love crab meat.

She had called ahead to order some jumbo lump meat crab from a seafood market called  Earth and Sea.

Jumbo lump crabmeat is as rare and precious as gold these days around here, and the can of crabmeat – among my very favorite foods – cost more than $30. I love crabmeat in almost any form – especially jumbo lump – and I said I wanted to cook my birthday dinner myself.

I fell in love with crabmeat when I lived in Baltimore, I used to haunt the great old crab houses there – hundreds of people sitting at long, paper draped tables with hammers going to down on crabs just in from the Chesapeake Bay. I loved those crabs.

It was a messy and chaotic and deafening crab riot in there.

I wanted to mix the lump crabmeat – gorgeous white chunks of crab – with some Vermont Spatzle.

The Spatzle, created over seven hard years by Julz Irion of Arlington, is nothing like the Spatzle my grandmother used to make, heavy german pretzel-shaped dough.

It is light, think, gluten-free and delicious.

It cooks to a crisp coating quickly.

It goes well with all kinds of goods, and the spatzle soaks up some of the flavors of whatever it is being cooked with. Jules and her husband Martin have been wildly successful with this new Spatzle, it’s being sold all over the Northeast.

It is often sold out whenever I go looking for it.

I love to cook (no one else in my house does) and I’ve cooked Spatzle with beef, fish, vegetables, clams, and a half dozen other things. People rave about it every day, Julz makes me look good.

I usually can’t find it in the stores, it sells out quickly, and Maria has to call Julz and ask her to bring some to belly dancing.

I have to say that tonight I cooked perhaps the best meal I’ve ever cooked, a birthday celebration that was delightful.

I cooked the spatzle in one iron pan and the lump crabmeat in another. (Lump crabmeat is composed of smaller or broken pieces of jumbo lump, along with other small pieces of body meat. It has a delicate flavor and is used for the best crab cakes or seafood salads.)

When the spatzle was crisp, I added some pesto and parmesan cheese.

Then I mixed in some kale, fresh from our vegetable garden. Then I put in the crabmeat and stirred it all. I added some pine nuts for crunchiness and flavor.

Maria and I both agreed it was one of the best meals either of us had had in memory. I’ve got more spatzle and more lump crabmeat, we’ll do it again tomorrow or Monday.

The more I do it, the more I love cooking. Especially if I can eat like this. Thanks, Maria,  you couldn’t have found me a better gift. And thanks Julz, and congratulations on your success.

While at the store we got some King Alaskan crab legs. I like this new place, it’s now a part of my shopping itinerary.

8 August

One Man’s Truth: Election 2020, Keeping My Pants On

by Jon Katz

There is no need for me to repeat President Trump’s boasting, posturing, alarming, lying, and dividing campaign, his erratic and sometimes frightening disruptions now a daily occurrence 87 days before the election.

Mr. Trump has become a fast-moving storm,  a kind of cultural tornado that just keeps going in circles. This has worked for him before,  in fact his whole life, it is not working for him now, and he is too damaged to understand it.

He will blow out a lot of windows,  and do a lot of damage before he moves away or be blown away by strong winds he has called into being.

His inner gyroscope has broken, exploded really, into many pieces. He can’t win, and he can’t lose. Chaos is the goal, while his country bleeds.

Remember, it is so much better to fear and suffer Trump than to be Trump or even to support him. Think of the toll of that.

I don’t think the question any longer is whether or not he will prevail; the more urgent problem is how can his deep and growing list of challengers and opponents and victims can survive the election in a healthy and grounded way.

I can only share my own experience. I am no pollyanna or wishful thinker; I know where I am, and I see what is happening.

I have written before that pain is inevitable in our world, but suffering is a choice. Being afraid doesn’t accomplish much, being angry and arguing with strangers accomplishes even less. That is not a calling, it is the worst kind of work.

If you believe in change, you have to do something, not just say something.

How has fear and argument worked for you?

After Donald Trump was elected President, I was shocked as many people were. His election told me that if so many millions of people could vote for someone like him, our country was sick.

For the first time, I felt out of touch, disconnected from my own country. I feel that way still. I want to be part of the process that brings my country back.

Donald Trump is not the source of all of our pain; he is the symptom. I needed to respond in a way that was healthy for me, and perhaps beneficial to people who are needy and vulnerable.

Oddly for a Jew turned Quaker, I chose to follow Jesus Christ’s example – practice love and empathy. In so doing, I came to admire him much, even as our current Christian leaders and political patrons post photos of themselves on yachts with their pants pulled down and liquor in their hands.

Jesus never looked better, poor man. I hope he isn’t watching.

For years, our government has served the rich and the few, it has abandoned its mission to make lives better for all of us. We have confused a booming stock market for prosperity, vast riches for the few justice.

We are reaping what we have sown.

Most of us have not had to work for their freedom in our country for a long time; we just took it for granted.

I woke up in a hurry in 2016, but years of therapy helped me to see the dangers for me and the misery. I suffered from extreme anxiety for most of my life.

I resolved to respond positively.  I decided to make things better by being better. I was joined by hundreds, even thousands of good people who feel the same way.

And we have done more good than I could recount in any single blog post.

I saw and still see Mr. Trump as an inspiration for awakening, for doing good, for working towards a kinder and gentler America.

I realized that the country my grandparents fled to so gratefully had become cruel, selfish, lazy, and greedy.  We are no longer the best country in the world to live in. We have taught our own needy to hate their government and turn their rage against themselves and their own families.

It didn’t escape my notice that Donald Trump mirrored each one of those traits – cruelty, selfishness, self-pity,  greed, and laziness. He lobbied openly for these and made them an ideology called Trumpism, and he fights still and in every way for us to stay that way.

It occurred to me that the proper response to this was not to argue but do good, making my politics my life.

I helped launch the Army of Good, and since that time, we have done good every single day since the Presidential Election of 2016, and me and hundreds of good people are doing good every day now.

Speaking for me, I chose this path instead of succumbing to obsession, hatred, fear, and self-interest. As we come down to this pivotal moment in the life of our country, I decided to change course a bit and write in what I hope is a helpful way about what is happening.

I also don’t care to be a wuss. Whining turns my stomach. In the past years, I’ve come to meet, know and love hundreds of refugee children who have suffered every horror the world has to offer – genocide,  rape, murder, civil war, indifference, starvation, and cruelty.

I have never heard one of these children complain as loudly or as often as Americans do on the left and the right every single day, on social media, in public gathers, in their exchanges with friends and family.

I don’t want to be that way. It takes almost everyone to make a big mess like this one, but it’s hard to find anyone who takes responsibility for it amid all the finger-pointing and brainwashing. The right has the left, and the left has the right. There are lots of Trumps out there happy to hate and pass out blame.

I am surprised to see what we have, in many ways, become a weak-minded people following whichever herd they follow.

First, I decided in 2016 not to argue my politics with anyone, especially strangers in my town or people online. I do not have to agree to be labeled by others, or stereotyped by others or insulted by anyone. People are free to disagree with me as often and enthusiastically as they wish, and many people do every day.

They are not free to come into my blog – an extension of my home – and be rude to me or cruel to others. They can start their blogs if they don’t like mine, and say what they wish like I do.

Until they come and haul me out of here, that is my stand and the point of my life.

I consider this part of the new emerging Compassionate Nation, a soft revolution, a social movement of compassion and empathy. That is my politics; I don’t care who is President as long as they are truthful, caring, and empathetic.

We are a gentle and kind nation underneath it all. I’ve seen it every day for years now. I ‘ve never once asked for the resources to help people in need – the refugees and the elderly in assisted care – when it didn’t come.

The pandemic has shown me and many others the cost of my laziness, indifference, and narcissism.  It’s so easy to blame everyone but ourselves.

I forgot about my country, which gave my family and me nothing less than life and freedom. In this sense, I have awakened.

This struggle can be won if it becomes a struggle of good and love versus callousness and greed.

It will not be won by argument and posts on Twitter and Facebook.

I will not try to or succeed in talking his wounded and fervent followers into seeing to the reality of him – they will come to see it themselves as one broken promise and lie after another will rain down on them like hail.

There is no joy in that for anyone. We all live in our truth and believe in it.

They should see it for themselves.

I will not give into hating anyone; it is not who I want to be or how I wish to live. There are many glorious victories over cruelty and tyranny that have been won in that way.

Donald Trump is just as damaged and shattered as the people I’ve been trying to help, and working to see him in that way is an extraordinary spiritual experience for me, sometimes possible, sometimes not.

When I wake up in the morning, I ask myself what good I can do today, and there is so much need and suffering in our country – I have no right to feel superior to any other country right now –  and I set out to do it.

I wanted to share last week’s great acts of small kindness, as I call them.

This morning, I arranged for a Vermont artist to teach the refugees at Bishop Maginn High School collage when they return to school in September. This will cost pennies, and the Army Of Goodwill pays for the virtual lessons and the supplies.

Yesterday, while on my birthday vacation, I ordered a pair of sneakers for a refugee teenager whose shoes came apart and had been wearing sandals in Albany. It took seconds.

Thursday, I brought two supermarket gift cards to Sue Silverstein, a teacher in Albany who the refugee families come to when they need help. Two families are suffering from food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. We have been helping them eat well for several months now.

Wednesday, I brought skateboarding safety equipment for the son of a Mansion health care aide; they are woefully underpaid for the work they do. She is a single mother of two young children and was worried sick about her son’s safety.

We are also helping her with food gift cards.

Monday, we purchased two laptops so that two refugee children can share in the virtual elements of their school work, not a part of every day teaching in a world with no direct contact.

Tuesday, I arranged to cater a nutritious and delicious lunch for the residents of the Mansion, a Medicaid assisted care facility. That evening, I had pizza sent to the aides on the night shift.

The Mansion has been in lockdown since March. We bought a $3,000 disinfectant fogger to help keep the Mansion safe, and no one in the Mansion has gotten sick a small miracle.

Monday, I went to a consignment shop to buy clothes for a newly admitted Mansion resident who came with only the clothes on her back. We bought socks, pants, underwear, shoes, and a sweater. It cost $65.

A week ago Sunday we launched a successful Amazon Wist for Bishop Maginn High School, the school – which has never turned a poor or refugee child away for lack of tuition- needed $900 in safety equipment so that they could open legally in September and keep the students and teachers safe.

I got the money in a few hours.

The school has everything they need to open up. Also Sunday, I gave $400 gift cards to a farmworker who is struggling to feed herself and her brother, who work hard and in the hot sun six days a week. I don’t discuss her immigration status, for her protection, and I suppose, for mine.

She came by one day because she heard I sometimes help people. We agreed on a secret location where I can leave some food cards every week or so.

We have never met or spoken beyond our first brief and halting conversation, but the cards are always gone, and one day last week, there was an unsigned “thank you” card.

This work is the most selfish work I have ever undertaken; I feel good every time I do good. This work has kept me grounded and positive for four years now; it truly works.

I don’t tell other people what to do, smart people don’t need advice, and fools won’t take it. Doing something is critical to me.

The need in our country is deep and getting deeper, and our government does not believe in helping the poor and the needy, they blame them for being weak and are hoping to drive them away.

My dog Zinnia and I do therapy work in both places – the Mansion and Bishop Maginn – Zinnia makes people smile everywhere she goes. If she lived in the White House, our world would be different.

I always surprise myself when I say this, but I like the Jesus route. I wish I could accept him as the son of God, but admiring him will have to do.

And oh yes, I am rarely anxious anymore.

I will never soil myself or my work by posing on a yacht with a beautiful young woman with my pants and hers down.

Through all this, my life is full of meaning, love, and hope. My new motto is, “Do Something.” There is always something to do.

I would never consider being photographed in that way with my pants down – or being in that way publicly. I would see it as immoral,  a betrayal, not only of my wife but of the good and trusting people who have supported my work and permitted me to feel so needed and valuable.

I’ll leave that to the Christian leaders and supporters of Donald Trump.

Our humanity is defined by our empathy and compassion for those in need, not by our arguing on Facebook or denigrating other people. Or taking our pants off on a yacht and posing.

It is possible to rise about all that poison, I know, I have done it almost every day for four years.

“Little Girl” Collage by Emily Gold

 

 

8 August

Emily’s Virtual Collage Classes- Bishop Maginn Is In

by Jon Katz

I went to Bennington Farmer’s Market today to buy a collage notecard for my granddaughter Robin from Emily Gold, a Vermont artist who has started offering virtual collage classes online.

Her recent students are people who want to learn collage and teachers looking for fresh and original kinds of art for their returning students. These collages are a lot of fun.

Bishop Maginn High School can’t use materials immediately because of the pandemic but hopes to be allowed to use them in October. My idea is for Emily to teach Sue about collage and Sue will figure out what the students will need.

Sue, like teachers everywhere, is looking for new things to help stimulate her students as they return to school after a long interruption.

I love Emily’s collage and artwork – I brought “Little Women” for Robin’s card. Emily is also a baker, she makes pastries, cookies, cakes, and scones. This seems a perfect fit to me.

I’ve seen some of the refugee artwork in Sue’s class, many of these kids learned to work with paper art in the refugee camps where they spent much of their lives.

Emily’s art centers right now on using collage – disparate papers with colored pencils, crayons, and pastels to make images in colors and texture.  She has a young daughter who’s been out of school since March with no end in sight.

She also makes beautiful paper books, work she shows in museums and libraries. She told me about the teachers – and a famous Vermont author – who have taken her class, and a bulb went off in my head.

You can contact Emily here.

This would be perfect for the Army of Good and Bishop Maginn.

We’ll pay the fee, which is modest, and also pay for the materials Sue Silverstein will need for her art class. She didn’t want to charge at all, but I told her we don’t work that way.

I have the feeling this is the perfect thing for Sue’s Bishop Maginn art class to be studying right now, Emily’s collages are bright, colorful, and full of joy and laughter.

She keeps a bowl of paper eyeballs in her kitchen.

She also sends students and teachers a recording of the class so they can refer back to it.

These two very artistic people will talk to each other and work it out. The Army Of Goodwill take it from there. I think any student of Sue Silverstein is fortunate. I have the same feeling about Emily.

8 August

Empowering Robin: Watch Out

by Jon Katz

I’m getting the feeling that we won’t need to worry about Robin being empowered, she’s off to a pretty good start. Psychologists say that girls are often strong until they come to adolescence, where they can be undermined by the cruelty of peers.

Robin is off to a pretty wonderful start. Emma and Jay praise her, support her, give her every chance int the world to succeed, and feel proud of herself.  We praise Emma to the rooftop, but I can’t imagine her climbing upon an elephant in a park and tossing out a start that could cut steel.

I was hoping to see Robin in the next few weeks, but it seems that won’t be possible nowâ

I’m proud of her though, we seem to have a lot in common and we love to shout and roar when we talk. Robin feels pretty good about herself.

We do seem to have a connection with one another.

This photo was taken by Emma Span in Brooklyn.

8 August

The Greatest Gift Of All, It Comes Every Day

by Jon Katz

Today is my birthday. I’m not deeply into birthdays; I think they signify nothing but a milepost as to how long I’ve been around.

No one around me has ever made a big deal out of it. I do sometimes gauge where my life is on those days.

Maria took me to an inn in Vermont for quite a sweet day and night together. This year, I focus on all of the things I do, not the things I can’t do.

I have very few close friends, which is just the way it turned out to be in my life, but they are very good friends and they tend to make light of my birthday, sending me fun and silly stuff sometimes.

On this day, I think of the greatest gift I have ever received or will receive, and that is Maria. She loves to celebrate my birthday, and she is creative about it, of course.

It is sometimes hard for me to say what I feel out loud. It is never hard for me to write how I feel.

After ten years, we still can surprise one another with the dimensions and depth of our love. On her blog the other day, she wrote about the power of seeing how much nature has meant to both of us and our relationship.

She points out quite truthfully in her piece that I am not able to run around in the woods like I love to do, especially in the extreme heat and cold. I am no invalid, but the pills I take react to temperature, and my knees are fussy about where they go, so Maria often goes off into the woods by herself, with the dogs, who love to walk with her.

I don’t want to slow her down.

I moved here in significant part because I wanted to be in nature, although I don’t write or talk about it as much as I would like.

I grew up as a city boy, far removed from nature.

I don’t know the names of most of the things I see, and my appreciation is as an observer and admirer, Maria is of nature, she is a friend to the bigs, animals, trees, and flowers.

Even the rocks.

Bud stays home with me, two old souls who are happy to hang out together.  I look forward to the Fall when we can walk together again. I miss that very much.

When Maria gets home, things switch around. Zinnia hangs around with me, she respects the writing process. Bud and Fate like to sit with Maria in her studio.

This is painful for me, sometimes, as I love the life and rhythm of the farm, every minute of it. I’m still up to my neck in it, but it’s different. It always stings me to see how much Maria does, and how much I don’t do. Yet I am grateful for it, it keeps the farm-rich and special, a dream come true for me, as is she.

I guess my farm is like the Magic Kingdom. Dreams come true here.

When I feel sorry for myself, Maria reminds me that I do a lot – cook, shop, pays bills, get solar panels,  get toilet paper, and alcohol-based disinfectants. There is plenty to do here.

When I feel old, she yells at me to take it back, you are, she says, one of the youngest people that I know. I am her unofficial cheerleader here on the farm. I think she is quite wonderful, and I tell her so every chance I get.

I used to fear what would happen to Maria when if I died first, I’m not afraid of that anymore. She can take care of herself, and if it comes down to it, she will and can take care of me as well.

We’re not there yet.

We balance each other, zig where the other zags, move, and adjust. The center holds and only gets stronger.  But we never forget to love one another or encourage and support each other.

We are honest with each other, we speak our truth without fear or regret.

The greatest gift on my birthday, on any day,  is a love that never flags, slows, or tires. It only grows and deepens.

The odd thing is that Maria and I are very different people, yet as close as two people can be, and very much alike when it matters.

We have our separate lives and passions.

Sometimes, Zinnia and I disappear into my office at odd times and will emerge hours later, though dinner time and dusk. Sometimes she disappears into her studio.

We understand this about one another and respect it. Neither of us has ever made the other feel guilty or distracted about our work. What a gift that is.

This could be a source of great conflict and tension – it would have been in the family I grew up in back in Providence – but it only inspires love and appreciation.

I’ll bring her some food; she’ll bring me some tea or water. Neither of us even knows the other is there.

Our creativity anchors us. Each cherishes our independence, but we both know how much we have given to the other.

I appreciate the birthday gifts I get.

At some point, my daughter will remember my birthday and call. My sister rarely calls me, I might call her. Other friends sent things that make me smile. I get e-messages and some of those strange and timeless Jackie Lawson cards.

But what more fabulous gift could there possibly be on my birthday than the knowledge that just when I gave up on it, I found a rich and deepening love, and someone so full of love to share it with?

This is a gift that keeps on giving, every minute, every your, every day.

It is just dawn on my birthday now,   I woke up early, as I usually do, and came down to my study to write this in peace before the dogs are up, the donkeys are braying, and the chores need doing.

When I finish, I will go upstairs and crawl back into bed, a dog at my legs, Maria still asleep. She is a deep sleeper. I am not, nighttime all my life has been a time of restlessness and fear.

I will lie down next to her; she will roll her head on my shoulder and sleep some more.

In a half-hour or so, she will sit up straight as if stunned, recount an endless, labyrinthine and circuitous dream at great length, announce a birthday itinerary she has been working on for days, and hop up out of bed to let the dogs out and start feeding the animals.

It usually takes me more time to put my socks on than it takes her to feed the cats, open the chicken roost, and give some snacks to her beloved donkeys. She speaks to every creature on the farm – the birds, the cats, the hens, the donkeys, each sheep.

She wishes them good morning, asks how they are, scolds them for misbehaving, or being greedy.

I get outside to join her as soon as I can. I take some photos. She takes some videos. We are aware of each other, and step carefully out the other’s line of sight. We understand images and their importance in our lives.

We both blog and share our lives, but in very different ways.

This is something else we have learned to do differently, yet very much together. We take photos of different things, quite naturally and without the need for words.

It is not one conversation, but many, our journey together, and with life, nature and animals and creativity. We share every bit of it, whether we are together at that moment or not.

In the grand scheme of things, it is more true every day that this farm and I live here. That may be the greatest gift of all, to each of us, the passage of life itself.

 

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