12 April

Treasure At The Open House

by Jon Katz
At The Open House

Our friend Treasure Wilkinson is going to help out at our Spring Open House, which is scheduled for June 10-11 here at Bedlam Farm.

This is perhaps our loveliest tradition, a twice-yearly opening up of our lives and our farms to the good people who read our blogs and books, share our creativity and lives. The first open houses were pretty wild affairs, huge crowds of people, all kinds of people coming for very different reasons.

Things have settled down somewhat. Mostly it’s a chance to see the farm and meet the animals and people you have been following. Even more than that, it is a celebration both of creativity and farm life. Maria’s studio is crammed full of wonderful and inexpensive art made by her and some of the most gifted and interesting artists in the area.

We open up the pasture so people can meet Fanny and Lulu and the sheep and see Red and Fate work with the sheep in the side pasture. I do this at least once every hour and by the day’s end, man and dogs are wiped out. Treasure is going to help out and do some donkey and pasture tours, also help us with the crowds.

She is one of my favorite portrait subjects, she has one of the most expressive faces I have ever seen. And she has a big, huge heart.

The biggest crowd was in Hebron, at the first Bedlam Farm,  that was about 1,500 people. In recent years it’s been closer to seven or eight hundred people over two days, which is plenty of people, about the perfect size for our small farm now. We don’t do any advertising or promotion apart from the blog.

The first Open House of every year is in June, the second is in October, on Columbus Day Weekend. All are welcome (no dogs please.)

Treasure is a great addition to the Open Houses, she loves animals and loves to talk about them. We are happy to have her and lucky to have her. The animals love people, I love to show Red and Fate off, and Maria’s art is very popular, fiber art is a growing theme of the open houses. Maria sells a lot of art that weekend that people love.

Creativity and living a meaningful life are also themes. I will also be reading from my next book, Talking To Animals and signing copies. It will be just coming out. (you can pre-order a book here, have it personalized and get free stuff. You can also call the bookstore at 518 677-2515.)

Hope to see you in June.

12 April

At The Mansion, Spring And Gratitude

by Jon Katz
Spring And Gratitude

At the Mansion, Spring and gratitude. The warmer weather is felt there, older bodies sensitive to the warmth and the heat, it seems things are quieter, life has slowed down a bit. There is enormous gratitude here for what you, the Army of Good, has done.

Your generosity, letters, gifts and support have somewhat transformed the place. They are painting on drawing on the pads and with the brushes and colors you sent them, your letters are stacked by their bedside, they listen to the boombox you sent them, they knit and sew with the yarn you gave them, they work the puzzles that came in the mail and trace on the tracing paper they received.

The stuffed animals that arrived in packages are on beds and bedstands, so are the statues and carvings and skeins of yarn.

On Friday, they will all gather to open letters and envelopes and await the gifts in the special bags given them, full of things to touch, open and see. They pass by the flowers that have arrived, eat the cookies and chocolate that came in, the stop by the bulletin boards to read your messages and look at your photographs.

I hope you know what you have done, I hope I have found the words to tell you how much appreciated you are. Friday, another party, an Easter celebration and because of you, it will be exciting and festive. They do not feel invisible and unknown and forgotten now, and that is your greatest gift to them.

You are the true heart and soul of America, generous and welcoming. If you  care to write the residents, here is an updated list of names of residents who wish to receive letters from the outside world. A few would rather not: Jane, Charlotte, Bruce, Allan, Sylvie, Jean G., John Z., John B., Alanna, Peggie, Ellen, Joan, Brenda, Connie, Alice, Madeline, Mary, Barbara, William, Brother Peter, Diane, Helen, Jean A, Tim R., Gerry,  Dennis, Anita, Richard.

just look at what you have done. People are good, given the chance, that is the big story, the true story, the real news.

12 April

Connie’s Standstill

by Jon Katz
Connie’s Standstill

We went to see Connie this afternoon, she said she sent off her 50 baby caps to Albany Medical Center, the staff there says what they most need are caps for the Dialysis patients, we are trying to get more details about size and perhaps a pattern. Connie looked tired, she said she was at a standstill. Her room is warm now, and the Mansion can’t turn the heat off by law unless the temperature is high for a certain number of days.

She says in the heat, she doesn’t always have the energy to knit, her breathing becomes somewhat more labored.  She has to watch conserve her breathing, she has some heart issues. She has to pay for any extra oxygen she uses, her insurance plan only covers so much.

She was very happy to see Red, and he was happy to see her. They talked and cuddled, and he just lay down at Connie’s feet, he is so at ease with her. In the warm weather, Red slows down as well, he has a lot of fur and has already been working the sheep twice today.

Connie had already heard that Christy left the India River Rehabilitation Center and returned to the hospital, she suffered a relapse of some issues that had been troubling her. it is a setback for her, for sure. Thanks for all of the cards and letters you have been sending her, I’d  hole up on them for a bit until I get some more information and perhaps see her.

I think Connie will be waiting for some cooler weather before she resumes her work. She enjoys your letters, if you wish to write her, you can do so c/o Connie, The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816

12 April

The Mansion Art Show

by Jon Katz
The Mansion Art Show: Barbara’s painting

The Mansion residents are hard at work creating their art for the Mansion Art Show, to be held in a couple of weeks. Some of the paintings were out in the hallway to dry, there were beautiful landscapes and seascapes. I think the show will be quite  remarkable, the three judges are Maria, Scott Carrino and me. There will be a lot of winners.

The staff says they are receiving lots of Easter stuff – flowers came yesterday, along with gifts, cookies, and hundreds of cards and messages. Thank you, thank you. The Mansion Easter celebration will be held on Friday at 2:30 p.m, unfortunately I will be out of town for the afternoon.

If you wish to contact the Mansion residents,  you can write them at 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Jane told me she got a slew of letters from people who loved her art and encouraged her to keep on drawing and painting. She said the letters meant the world to her.

12 April

Next Winter

by Jon Katz
Learning To Live: Stacking Wood

In what I call my other life, I shunted responsibility for my life onto others. I spent lavishly, had others pay my bills.  I never made appointments or went to the back or looked at month statements or had any idea how much money I was spending or how much I had left.

When I got divorce, I was stunned to see  how much money I owed, how many loans we had taken out, how thoughtless and oblivious I was. Like many abused children, I once soothed myself by spending money. Now, i feel good by saving money and taking responsibility for it. When the recession came, and I got divorced, and publishing as I knew it collapsed (all pretty much in the same week), my world came crashing down on me.

I have been working hard to put the pieces back and am getting closer all of the time.

Several years ago, we filed for bankruptcy. This week, we will pay off our final debt from that period. I used to be afraid to check my bank balance, now I check it twice a day. I used to never know how much money I had in the bank, now I know it to the penny.

It feels good to manage one’s life, to take responsibility for it, to be broke but debt-free. Maria and I have done this together, but she did not have the problems I had, Maria does not buy things for herself, ever, unless they can be found in a thrift store or consignment shop.

We have been good for one another, I encourage her to be more generous with herself, while I am learning to be thoughtful about money. I love Spring for many reasons, but one reason is that it gives me the change to think ahead for the winter.  I love the four seasons, but if you have a farm, the big one is always winter, unless you plant crops, which I don’t.

Now is when I have to manage it, to think ahead, to order what I need, to be prepared. I love the feeling that comes when the leaves start to turn and I have a woodshed full of wood, and barn full of hay. You better be prepared for winter by October, or you will regret it  until May.

Last week I called Greg Burch and ordered 7 cords of wood for the winter. One and a half cords are already delivered and we started stacking them this weekend. Maria and I are both obsessives, but i love being obsessive about winter. This morning, I called Sandy Adams and ordered 100 bales of hay for delivery by October. Sandy and Brian can bring the square bales in in small batches, or all at once.

We’ll figure a price later, we trust each other, if I’m not home, they can put the hay in the barn and I’ll send them a check. I am proud to be taking responsibility for life and managing money. It was a lifelong ambition for me to learn  how to handle money.

But order the things for winter is only one part of it. Each cord had to dry out in the sun for a month or do, and then be carefully stacked, so it won’t fall over or stay moist. Maria is a whiz at stacking, I’m a bit sloppy. We have to move the old hay up front so we can use it first, and separate the first cut from the more nutritious and fattening second cut for the bitter cold nights of winter.

There is no pony now, so my calculations are different, we won’t need as much hay. As the winters warm, we may need less firewood, but not yet. I love that it isn’t even May and our orders for the winter of 2018 are in. I feel tough and sharp and for good measure, I called the dentist and gently asked for a discount on a bill for work that took too long and was a bit messed up. To my surprise, they agreed.

I’m on a roll. If this keeps up, I might even have some money in the bank one day. But truthfully, I doubt it.

This year, we will do all of our own stacking, of the wood and the hay. I can’t do as much of that as Maria with my heart angina, but I can do a lot.

Responsibility is important. It is healing. It makes me strong. It connects me to the world and the people who make it work. It helps me shed the fear and trauma of past years.

I am grateful to the farm, because no one else can really run it but me and Maria. I can’t run away from it, or not know every part of it. Soon I will call Jay Bridge to do some work on the roof, always roughed up by winter. I did hard work in therapy, but the farm is a wonderful teacher. You have no choice but to learn and grow.

And when October comes, I have my own ritual. I stand in the yard, look at the hay in the barn, look at the roof, looked at a woodshed stuff with dry wood and I puff up my chest, and say, good work, you are learning how to live.

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