7 December

What I’ve Learned in 2017. There Is No Other Land Than This….

by Jon Katz
What I’ve Learned

There is no other land, no other life than this..”  – Thoreau

I always frown a bit when I see one of those gaseous pundits on the news say that it is ridiculous to think that Donald Trump could ever change. “After all,” said one recently, “he’s 71, he is not capable of ever-changing.” In another other context, this cold be  seen as insensitive, or racist or bigoted comment.

I think the elderly are the last social sub-set in America that people feel free to diminish and slur so thoughtlessly. Why couldn’t Donald Trump change if he wanted to? He isn’t dead or paralyzed, he hasn’t had a stroke or been injured.

I change almost every day of my life. I don’t believe I will or should or have become a different person – that is a creepy idea to me. But I can certainly change.

In the past few years, almost everything in my life has changed. My wife changed, my farm changed, my idea of dogs changed, my writing changed, my love changed, my politics changed, my idea of friendship changed, my sense of self changed, my health care and ideas about health changed, my publisher changed, my notions of being a man changed,   my blog changed, my photography changed,  relationship with my daughter changed.

In fact, my very heart changed.

After last year’s election, my life changed again. I didn’t wish to spend any of my remaining years online fighting with people, raging about politics, eating my heart out, being swept into the whirlpool of rage and resentment.

So I decided to do good, simple as that.

I’ve learned some big lessons – to move steadily in the direction of my dreams, and live the life I have always imagined.

I focused on the refugees and the Mansion residents. I don’t even know how much money I dispersed, they tell me the Mansion is a very different place since the Army of Good appeared on the horizon like a holy spirit to them.

They still can’t figure out where all of this help and attention came from.

I learned from Connie Martell that help and compassion can transform a live at any age. If Connie changed at 82, and focused her life on helping people, then any 71-year-old man can change any way he wishes.

I learned that a blog or social media account can be a powerful force for good, not just for division and argument.

I learned to experiment with my photography and grow to another level, using old and abandoned lenses that forced me to learn about the true soul of photography, not just push a button to take a photo.

I learned to take a plunge and explore the world of Artificial Technology by buying an Iphone what I was told would frighten and stymie people like me, especially at my age. I’ve had no troubles, and am learning from it every day.

I learned to be patient and earn the trust of Ali and the refugee kids, and thus gain access to their complex and embattled world. You will hear a lot more about them from me.

I learned to not just hide behind a therapy dog and get to know and love people at the edge of life, and let them learn to love me.

I learned to open my soul to generosity and encouragement and celebrate, not hinder, the spectacular creative and personal growth of Maria, the source of so much love and light for me.

I learned to listen to Red and know that he is not ready to leave the world, he and I have so much good to do.

I learned that contrary to what we see on the news, people are good, given the chance to be good.

And that is is a miracle when people and I can do good together,  when we find the trust and heart and better angels inside of ourselves.

And I’ve learned this from Henry David Thoreau:

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

I’ve learned that there is no other land, no other life but this.

7 December

The Jesus Bench. The Winter Clothes Campaign At RISSE

by Jon Katz


The Clothes Ben At RISSE

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor..”  – Jesus, The New Testament.

For me, Christ has always been an inspirational, not necessarily a religious figure. He is invoked so often and in so many exploitive ways it is simple enough to forget what he was truly about. It seems everyone uses Christ for their own purposes.

More than anything, he was about giving comfort to the poor and the vulnerable.

I feel close to him at this bench.

In my head, I refer to the clothing bench at RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center in Albany as a Jesus Bench, in that it is where RISSE places your daily donations of winter clothing for the refugees and immigrants who need them.  People come by all day.

Yesterday, Mawulidi the carver, stopped at the bench, he found a pair of pants for one of his sons, and another refugee found a sweater for her daughter. Mawulidi folded the pants carefully and placed it in his backpack.

At the beginning of the day the Jesus bench is full of clothes, at the end of the day there are not many clothes left.

Refugees and immigrants are not the same thing, refugees are fleeing persecution, violence and disaster, immigrants have chosen to move to America in a more orderly and less urgent process.

Both are needy when they arrive but refugees are especially needy, most often they have lost everything, and arrive with little more than they are wearing. After a few weeks, they receive no support from our government, and even that is being cut.

Many are coming to terms with a Northeast U.S. winter. They need jackets, sweaters, snow pants, (kids in local school districts must have snow pants to go outside in the winter) winter socks and boots.

You can sent new clothes or used clothes in good condition to RISSE as part of the blog’s Winter Refugee Clothing drive, your donated clothes are arriving and sparking much excitement and appreciation. I brought three bags yesterday, I am becoming expert at exploring Thrift Stores and finding bargains online.

You can send clothes to RISSE, 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208. You can also donate money directly to RISSE, they offer every kind of support to refugees and immigrants.

I have been conducting a quiet clothing drive for the Mansion residents, only a few need winter clothes, but they have them now.

The refugees I know almost never ask for help, but they are especially needy. They almost never have cars, they can’t afford insurance, they are learning English and work in minimum wage jobs, the only ones they can find at first. They struggle to have kitchen utensils, blankets and household fixtures.

They have no clothes for our winters and quite often walk long distances to busses and work. They are needy and vulnerable.

Your support of them is appreciated. I am inspired by the Jesus Bench, I spent an hour there yesterday, helping some  of the refugees sort through the piles of clothing. There is a lot of good and useful clothing there, thank you, I keep telling them that this is the true heart and soul of America. I know most of the can’t quite understand my words, but they do understand the meaning of the clothes.

I think this is where Jesus would be if he were alive today, and what do I know perhaps he is right in front of me, watching the bench also.

7 December

Approved, The Mansion Geranium Garden

by Jon Katz
The Mansion Community Geranium Garden

I met with the new Mansion Director Morgan Jones (she is quite wonderful, smart, competent, available and especially loving) and gave her my idea for a permanent Mansion Community Geranium Garden, to be located in the Great Room of the Mansion building.

She loved the idea, after grilling me a bit about how it would work.

It’s a simple plan (thanks to Supreme Town Gardener Bliss McIntosh for her advice), we’ll start with Geranium cuttings, put them in seedling box – in the Great Room.

Plant lights may not be necessary all the time, and the residents and the staff will water the Geraniums until the grow up and can be kept in their boxes or transplanted to the residents rooms.

I’m not a plant person, but I have loved watching Maria fill out home with growing things, it enriches our home greatly.

I was thinking of ways to bring some living things into the Mansion for the residents to nurture and grow, and as they grow, they can migrate into individual rooms if people want them.

From dogs to fish to parakeets, it is essential to have living things in assisted care facilities, they speak of love and life and nurture. Sometimes, it feels gray and dry in there, color and life really matter.

Geraniums are relatively easy plants to grow indoors, they do need six to eight hours of sunlight (I might get some smaller boxes for individual rooms) and moist soil. The staff will figure out the best places, Bliss McIntosh has agreed to come and speak to the residents about Geranium care and check out the lighting and advise me on getting the necessary planting boxes.

She suggests cuttings rather than seeds, they don’t require artificial light.

The Geraniums will come under the collective care of the residents, just like the two fat and happy parakeets the residents dote over. I already received a welcome donation for some small and safe LED plant lights, if we need them. A number of gardeners wrote me to urge me to go ahead with the Geranium garden, she says she often sends flowers to the Mansions, but hates the idea that they are gone in a few days.

They want to support the garden, I welcome the guidance and help.

The next phase for me is to find cuttings (Bliss McIntosh has some) and get an inexpensive soil box that can go on a table. And then, some good soil.

I think this will be great for the residents, they so love taking care of the parakeets, and they need living things around them. I’ll talk to Bliss this weekend and get moving, it would be wonderful to have it up and running by Christmas, another gift to the residents, one that will keep on giving back.

7 December

For Red, A Balanced Preventive Treatment

by Jon Katz
For Red, A Balanced Treatment

I took Red to see Dr. Suzanne Fariello at the Cambridge Valley Vet this afternoon, she wanted to administer some acupuncture treatment for mobility and immune system support and she wanted to talk to me about looking ahead and agreeing on what kind of preventative treatment might benefit Red and keep him healthy.

Red has had two severe bouts of tick-borne infections, he recorded four separate tick-borne infections, the highest Dr. Fariello has ever seen. They are, we both know, very likely to recur. Each time they do recur, Red suffers another blow to his immune system, eventually one of those attacks could kill him.

Dr. Fariello concedes that there is a lot vets don’t know about the tick-borne diseases, which are epidemic now in many place and difficult to treat.

I appreciate Dr. Fariello’s balanced approach to veterinary medicine, she mixes traditional and holistic and non-traditional medications. She is recommending a balanced approach to keep Red limber and support his immune system, which has, she believes, been weakened by this infectious recurrences of the tick diseases.

She also has noticed a cataract spreading in one eye, and said there is a highly regarded veterinary eye specialist near Albany. I said I don’t believe in taking dogs to specialists for complex surgeries, it seems unethical and extreme to me. She said he would be able to see find with one good eye and one slightly impaired eye.

We both agreed that I should start red on a Chinese medicine called Wei Qi Booster, a herbal blend that would help stabilize him, she said. And we will continue the acupuncture treatments every 4 to 6 weeks. I think preventative medicine – laser treatments, massage, acupuncture, and now, herbal medications, has helped Red stay strong and healthy, and I feel he has many good years ahead of him and much important work to do.

I like the idea of balanced treatment, Dr. Fariello knows her science, but it open to new ideas. She is one of the many reasons I do not look for veterinary advice or diagnoses online, she has worked hard to learn what she knows, and I’ve been the results of her approach more than once.

It’s a gift to be so in sync with a vet, it is so important for the welfare of the animals, and I know consider her a friend. From Rose to Frieda to Izzy to Lenore and Fate and Frieda and Red, we have been to the fire many times.

Besides, she is smart and funny and fun. I always remember not to forget having fun, even with a vet.

7 December

Curating The Christmas Breakfast At Hubbard Hall

by Jon Katz
Curating The Christmas Breakfast

Every year, the Hubbard Hall Arts Center in our town holds a very popular Christmas Breakfast – 9 a.m. this Saturday – where the old hall is jammed with people seeing students perform different elements of the Christmas Story. Volunteers prepare the food and high school students serve it.

The breakfast is hugely popular and always sold out. This year, we bought tickets for 8 people from the Mansion to come and attend the breakfast. Some Mansion aides are coming, and Maria and I are also coming to help out. This morning, Maria and Bliss McIntosh, a community organizer in Cambridge and a well -known gardener and environmentalist, met at Hubbard Hall to hang the art for the breakfast, it is different every year.

The residents are excited, it’s the first time any of them have gone to this unique community holiday celebration. Photos to come on Saturday.

Maria loves to curate  anything to do with art, she and Bliss were a great team. Bliss also gave me some great advice about our plans to start a Geranium Community Garden at the Mansion, but that’s another story.

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