19 January

The Cage In Its New Home

by Jon Katz
The Cage In Its New Home

We got the birds into their new home in the activity room without too much drama, the white one did fly out in the wrong direction and race across the room before landing on Activity Director Julie Smith’s hand. Julie just eased her inside the new cage, which they seemed to love immediately, riding the swings and staring in the new mirror.

Maria came with me and helped set up the new cage, the old one, on the right, has outlived its time an was a bit cramped and shabby.

The birds – named “frick” and “frack” at the moment, are important to the Mansion residents, they watch them, talk about them, sing to them and sit with them. They are a metaphor for the life they sometimes miss.

The cage moves around the Mansion, sometimes it stays in the Activity Room, sometimes it migrates into the hallways. The cage is part of my life project – the Geranium garden also – the people in the Mansion love to nurture and the animals keep a channel in their  hearts open.

I’m still talking with the residents about fish, but the negotiations are bogged down at the moment, everyone wants to see them but nobody is rushing to take care of them, and the staff has enough to do. We’ll keep talking. Maria and I got a second goldfish for her – they are named Frida and Diego. More later, we are off soon to meet the refugee soccer team coming to Pompanuck for the weekend.

19 January

At The Mansion: The New Parakeet Cage Is A Hit

by Jon Katz
The New Parakeet Cage

I delivered the new multi-level parakeet cage to the Mansion residents at lunch time, they were shocked and delighted. The new cage is a kind of Magic Kingdom for parakeets, it has mirrors, ladders, perches and high seats with great views

Barb, sitting on the other side of the table in a white sweater, is the voluntary caretaker of the birds. Her biggest problem is a couple of residents who sometimes let the birds out. This cage has some special opening gates that will make it difficult to let them out by mistake, or even knowingly.

They were very excited, this was fun to do. I’m learning about thrift shops, women’s underwear and bras, birds, fish, carpeting and chairs. The Mansion is making me a renaissance man.

19 January

Dance With Me: Jean and Red At The Mansion

by Jon Katz
“Dance With Me”

Jean misses three things in particular about her other life – her late husband, and housework and dancing. She loves doing housework and is always vacuuming and dusting and straightening out at the Mansion. She loves to dance with Red, and it is sweet to see the ballet that evolves between them.

Jean hums a tune in her head, sometimes out loud, the two sway back and forth a bit. Then Jean goes back to cleaning.

“Hello Red,” Jean says, “will you dance with me?” Red always puts his ears back and holds out a paw, and he and Jean dance. It is quite a beautiful thing to see, wordless and full of feeling. My time at the Mansion is always filled with moments that stick.

Red has such a wonderful sense of what people want and need from him. He never fails them.

19 January

Here Come The Refugee Kids. Retreat!

by Jon Katz


Getting Ready

Fourteen refugee children from Africa and Asia are coming to the Pompanuck Farm Institute and Retreat this weekend to rest, sled, eat, talk and feel safe and at ease. Most, but not all, are members of the RISSE soccer team, which is based in Albany, N.Y.

It seems that Maria and I are hosting the retreat, and we are happy to do it. I’ve spent a good chunk of the week getting ready. And I think we are as ready as we can be for such an active and interesting group. Many of the kids are getting used to the reality of an upstate New York winter – this one a doozy – and have learned that flip-flops and socks don’t cut it.

They’ll arrive here around 8 p.m. and head straight to very beautiful Pompanauck, where they will have a dinner of Lasagna – meat and vegetarian – and salad and cake and cookies. After dinner, I’ll read from my Edgar Allen Poe collection of horror stories, they are the best ones I know about.

The kids are always taunting me to come up with scary bedtime stories, the ones I wrote didn’t impress them. We’ll give Poe a try, he gave me some sleepless nights when I first heard them.

My friend Ali is coming, of course, and Molly, a friend of the refugees who often comes to help out. They will all sleep on mats and sleeping bags in the big room of the Round House building alongside a roaring fire.

I’m handing out books – “Outcasts United” – the story of a refugee/immigrant soccer team in Georgia who taught themselves and their new town a few things, to everybody. I also got a CD – McFarland, U.S.A. –  starring Kevin Costner, a story about a down-on-his-luck football coach who comes to a poor California town and helps some lost kids form one of the country’s best cross-country track teams.

We’ll either get to that tonight or Saturday night. Tomorrow, the day will start with breakfast, then sledding and possibly, snowball hikes. Maria and Fate will lead hikes into the frozen woods to those with boots.  Fate is the pathfinder on these walks, she never gets lost.

Maria and I and Ali will cook, serve and clean-up after lunch. I much enjoy cooking for these kids, they are appreciative and excellent eaters. They also help clean up.

I’ve negotiated a great deal with a local movie theater – $5 a person for a matinée movie – and another good deal with a nearby Chinese Restaurant, which hosts a buffet – $10 a person.

Sunday, breakfast, free time – they need and love free time as much as anything. I’m also going to surprise them by showing up with two live fish – Betas, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish – to give away (I have bowls and food, etc.) to the two kids who have the most interesting things to say about “Outcast United” and their own refugee experience.

Perhaps more sledding, I think they will love. I got seven shiny new colorful plastic sleds. We might have some races, Fate and Gus love to run after sleds and jump aboard.

Red, Gus and Fate will be present during the weekend, the kids are crazy about all three of them, and vice versa. They have all gotten to know one another well.

My goal and Ali’s goal is for these kids, whose lives are filled with pressure, challenge, and sometimes hostility – get a chance to relax. I don’t ever talk politics unless they do, but Ali says some are disturbed about the politics raging around refugees and immigration.

If they want to talk about it, we’ll talk about it. The refugee experience is close to me, and I hope through weekends like this, the kids will come to understand that Americans are an open and generous people, for the most part. They certainly are very welcome in my town.

I’m excited about the weekend, it feels good to do this and participate in this. It helps Maria and I to feel grounded in this sometimes disheartening times.

19 January

Gus In The Sun

by Jon Katz
Gus In The Sun

Gus’s new soft muzzle arrives today, courtesy of our vet. This will hopefully enable him to be outside as much as he wants, but unable to scarf up the animal and other leavings that may be contributing to his gastrointestinal difficulties. Gus, we are learning, has become  a sun worshipper in the cold weeks of this winter.

He follows the sunbeams around the house as they move through the day, he is one place, then the other. Small dogs move more frequently than big dogs, and you very often do not see them do it. Gus is a mystical dog, sometimes, he appears here, and then there.

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