30 March

John Halloran And The Story Of His English Bulldog. He Should Have A Dog

by Jon Katz
John Halloran

John Halloran is a big, strapping Irishman, he moved to the country after he returned from the New York City Police Department’s Water Unit and started a company called J& H Mechanical, he  fixes, installs and maintains wood stoves and fireplaces. Yesterday, the farmhouse filled with smoke, one of the chimneys attached to the wood stove got clogged there was no draft.

It was a bit hairy getting the smoldering logs out of the fireplaces and out into the snow. I called John and he showed up this morning, he is a warm, conscientious and very good man. He climbed up on the roof and saw that the cap was clogged, he cleaned it out checked the bolts on the stove door, and we had our wood stove fire doing.

John is one of the people you really need to know if you live up her and want a wood stove.

He is a genuinely nice man, he always comes when there is trouble. If I’m not home, I just tell him to come in and do his work, he will live a bill.

I admire the lives of these  traveling workers, they live out of their big  trucks and ride all day long.  They never know what the day willl bring, but whatever it is,  they can handle it.

They live outdoors, are their own bosses, and avoid the corporate lifestyle. In a sense, they are a way of life.

I see John once or twice a year, it is always a pleasure to see him and he always does a great job, he is funny and good to talk to. When I met him a few years ago, I saw that he was crying. It turns out his English bulldog had just died. He loved the dog dearly, he spent most evenings on the floor with her wrestling. He took her everywhere in his truck as he drove all over upstate New York. I have him some of my books, but I don’t know if he ever read them.

Every time we meet, we talk about his getting another dog, his wife is resisting, the kids are out of the house and they are free to travel. We know this story. But John is pining away for another dog, either a French Bulldog or an English Bulldog. He loves wiping their faces every day – they often have respiratory problems – and he especially misses her at night.

Up here in the country, I have noticed that the big men in trucks often have small dogs that ride around with them in their big trucks. These are tough people, their dogs just melt their hearts, the dogs reveal their soft hearts.

John will talk about that Bulldog forever, but it is never tiresome, it is uplifting. He sure loved that dog.

I told John he needs a dog. He asked me to keep a lookout for an English Bulldog. I will do that.

People who love dogs as much as you, I told John, should have a dog.

30 March

Lighting Up The Room

by Jon Katz
Lighting Up A Room

I’ve said several times that Kelly Nolan, who I photograph often, has a smile that can light up a room, and this photograph reminds me of it. I took my manual focus Petzval 58 lens to the Bog, and I had a lot of trouble with it, I couldn’t seem to get  it adjusted to the lights in the tavern at night.

The photos were way too light or way too dark. When I got it on the computer, I played with the brightness and detail and bit, and there was Kelly, lighting up the room.

I played with the ISO and moved around and I got this dazzle of light and color, which I actually ended up liking.  A different kind of portrait, but a portrait still. To me, it captured Kelly’s radiance, the power of her smile to light up a room. The Petzvan lens is challenging me look at the world differently and think differently about what photograph is. In a sense, this one captures  Kelly’s spirit as well as any conventional portrait. In a way, it is Kelly’s spirit.

30 March

Art Kits For Refugee Children. We Are Closing In. $800 To Go

by Jon Katz
Closing In

We are closing in on the money artist Rachel Barlow needs to assemble 80 art kits for refugee children.  Some are new to America, some have been here for months or years. All attend day care or classes at the Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, (RISSE), whose main offices were burned to the ground by arsonists a year ago, and all of the tires on their vans were slashed.

RISSE was founded in 2007 by the United Methodist Church in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany, more than 100 children attend after school and day programs at the church so their mothers and fathers can work. Some of the children are trauma and abuse victims, Rachel’s kits are carefully designed to promote confidence, healing, voice and creativity.

Since RISSE was founded, the refugee community has grown dramatically. RISSE offers school programs that focus on English language learning and  homework help. They also provide assistance with job searches, housing, Medicaid, medical appointments, childcare, temporary assistance certification and immigration paperwork.

Their work has outpaced their resources, they are getting serious about fund-raising.

Barlow conceived the idea of the art kit for refugee children, many of whom are also trauma victims. Her kits light the creative spark. RISSE’s classrooms are crowded into a second floor space above the church sanctuary. They need everything at RISSE, fences for the playground, a new can, supplies and teachers and volunteers. And donations.

I hope to help with some of these things, RISSE is the only place many of the new immigrants can go for help, training, English language class, day care, legal aid and financial counseling. I’d love to be help, the art kits – we need between 80 and 90 – are a great place to start.

Rachel  Barlow is an author, illustrator and artist who lives in Vermont. Her beautiful Vermont landscapes are enormously popular. Rachel has experienced abuse, depression, and bi-polar disorder. She knows what children need.

So we got more than $500 yesterday, we need $800. It costs about $15 to assemble a kit.

Rachel’s creativity kits are already a big hit, she hopes to expand the program to other refugee communities, and to other children in foster care. Thanks for thinking about it. You can donate here,  in any amount that is comfortable for you.

30 March

Meet Francis Sengabo, RISSE. $800 To Go For Art Kits

by Jon Katz
From Rwanda

I meet Francis Sendago Monday at RISSE, the Refugee Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus. Sendago is the Operations Director of RISSE, he came to the United States  from Rwanda, where he survived the horrific Rwandan genocide, one of the worst in modern times.

In just 100 days in 1994, some 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists targeting members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents. Before he came to the United States, Sendago was in a refugee camp for nearly ten years.

He says he was fortunate, he was one of the very few people to make it out alive to America, which was a beacon of hope and safety to him and so many others, most of whom never made it here.

Sendago is a quiet and soft-spoken man, I will be working with him at RISSE to meet some of the refugees getting assistance there and writing about the organization. We are beginning out relationship by seeking $1,200 to put together 80-90 art kits for the children in their arts and English and after school program.

Yesterday, we raised $500, we have $800 to go to put together the kits we need.

Talking to Francis Sendago, I realize how much we take for granted in America, I can’t imagine what he saw and felt. It is difficult for me to see that we are turning our backs on people like Sendago, when we have always welcomed them. It is cruel and dishonest to suggest that immigrants and refugees are criminals or terrorists. It will cost many innocent people their lives.

RiSSE is overwhelmed by the refugees need for classes, support and child care and education. The art kits are powerful way to connect these children from America, a strange country to them. Creativity is empowering, the kits give the children to express themselves, to find their voices and build their confidence.

Many refugees mourn their friends and family members who suddenly cannot get into the United States. I want to write about the refugees and immigrants so that other people can see what I see: these are people, just like us. The art kids are a good way to start, to show these children the real heart and soul of America.

Francis is not her to harm anyone, take their jobs or hurt people. America saved his life, and he is repaying this debt with hard work and good deeds every day.  I look forward to getting to know him.

If you can help with the art kids, you can click here. And thank you.

30 March

First Reviews: “Talking To Animals” – Pre-Order Soon And Get Free Stuff!

by Jon Katz

First Reviews: “Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us.”


Today, the first trade reviews of “Talking To Animals” came in. They are good, with some squawks.

Booklist is enthusiastic, it says “Katz tells illuminating stories about why he chose each animal and what the animal taught him…his honest, straightforward and sometimes searing prose will speak to those who love animals, and might well convert some who do not.” Kirkus said I am a “soft-hearted, warm advocate for animals of all kinds,” and that the book “chronicles many affecting encounters with animals.” They also said I was, at times, “cloying” and “woo-woo,” two adjectives never before attached to me. I think, in all honestly, I have become a bit woo-woo as I ripen.

Publishers Weekly says “Bestseller Katz fills his latest book with moving essays on what he has learned from different animals…Katz is most successful when relating the sometimes heartbreaking stories of animals or urging readers to consider how animals perceive the world.” The reviewer said I was less successful detailing precisely how I communicate with animals.

All told, good stuff, the book looks to be both warm-hearted and provocative to reviewers, and that is a good place for a book of mine to be. There are many fewer reviews of books than there used to be, and sadly, they don’t count for as much.

Trade reviews are for the industry – bookstores, libraries. Mainstream reviews come later, when the book is published. The worst thing is to not get reviewed.

You win if you are  reviewed at all these days, and if you get at least one blurb  out of every review that is very good. You also want there to be talking points for media, and it looks like my writing on the New York Carriage Horses and challenging the animal rights movement to broaden it’s approach to animal’s and their future is creating some.

A reviewer for the Bark Magazine in San Francisco – an interesting and lively magazine,  they are very close to the animal rights movement –  was so outraged by the book that the magazine refused to review it all.  “Absolutely not!” To me, that would make a great blurb for the jacket.

They do not traffic in differing points of view there.

I actually expected more of that, I have never seen myself as a controversial figure, but it seems I am. I’m okay with it.  If you poke the bear, you should expect the bear to poke back.

And it’s very good for a book, especially these days, when many authors and their books have been drowned out, their books disappearing amidst the furor over  Trump. It is very difficult to get noticed. Trump is a media-sucking machine, you can’t imagine how many books die that way.

The book is due out May 5, if you pre-order it from Battenkill Books, my local bookstore, you can win a very classy-tote bag (see above). I believe the book offers some strong anecdotes but also argues for a new and wiser way to understand animals. I think that is the core of it, and I don’t know if people will get that or not. But I’m proud to have written it.

You can also pre-order the book by phoning Battenkill at 518 677-2515.

If you do pre-order the book – there are 500 tote-bags left, I will also sign and personalize them for you. Connie Brooks takes Paypal and major credit cards.

Thanks for your support. Someone at the Mansion asked me if it was exciting to have a book published. Yes, it is.

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