Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

28 November

Photo Journal, Monday, November 28, 2022. A Beautiful Walk-A-Bout On My Wonderful Farm On A Beautiful Day

by Jon Katz

The weather went up and down today. I was busy all morning and tired after lunch; my cold faded, but it still had some bite. I read today that 90 percent of all the Covid deaths in America were people over 65. Whew. I have a lot to be grateful for.

 

Maria went for a walk in our woods with Zinnia and Fate, I can’t go now because of my surgical boot. The dogs were happy to see me. They love the woods.

 

Robin rushed over and ate some of their hay when the donkeys weren’t looking. Then Lulu came and chased him away.

 

The sun came in and out, but I liked how the late afternoon sun silhouetted the animals at the feeders. Lesson for one for me: always know where the sun is.

The farm has 17 acres; we have our own forest, small as it is. Maria knows every tree and bush.


Maria is methodical with the hay. First, she drops it in the donkey’s feeders, then she shakes it up and spreads it around. The animals love the seeds that fall out of the hay. They eat those first; they always fall to the bottom of the feeder.

The donkeys are always conspiring with one another. Or so it seems.

Bud is a sun worshipper. He always finds it.

28 November

Spirituality And Honesty: A Personal Challenge. Freedom from Judging. Freedom For Mercy. Can I Do That?

by Jon Katz

I thought a lot over the past week, and it seems it has opened me up. I’m in a bind.

In the past decade, I’ve taken on several severe personal challenges and shared them as openly and honestly as possible.

I realized today that they’ve all been successful; I have shared a lot of spiritual and personal successes ranging from fear to anger to panic. I felt confident about these things; I knew that if I confronted them seriously, I would prevail or at least come close.

Perhaps I got a little cocky.

This week, I read an essay from one of my favorite philosophers and inspirations, Henri Nouwen. I read his book Bread For The Journey often and use it in my weekly Mansion Meditation Class.

One thing I read from his daily reflections during the holiday week got me spinning. I can’t quite get it out of my head.

The essay is called Freedom from Judging, Freedom for Mercy. 

Trading judgment for mercy is a powerful idea, so powerful it’s hard for me to even think about it.

Scanning the news, I see that we are becoming a nation of judges and victims. I don’t want to join that party.

This essay rattled me. Not only did I not assume that I could accomplish this by working hard and focusing on it, but it sent some chills up and down my spine.

I am not at all confident that I can do that. I’m fiercely debating whether it would be authentic or realistic.

I grew up among people who fiercely judged everyone around them, and I’m afraid I picked up the habit, although I’ve mellowed considerably as I’ve grown older. I don’t think of people all day, online or in real life, but I am undoubtedly judgemental.

It’s one of those spiritual ideas that are easy to say but very difficult to do. How much can I change?

As is evident, I am no saint, no priest, but sometimes it’s worth trying to see what happens. I’ve at least learned not to judge people out loud or too much in my writing anymore.

I practice acceptance and empathy and have friends who differ from me in many radical ways, politically, personally, and socially. Like most people, I see myself as being open-minded. I’m not sure I am.

Nouwen is talking about something a lot deeper.

We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people,” he writes. “Not a day goes by without something doing or saying something that evokes the need to form an opinion about them. We hear a lot, see a lot, know a lot.”

The feeling that we have to sort it out in our minds and make judgments about it, he writes, is oppressive.

The desert mystics all wrote that judging other people is a heavy burden while being judged by others is much lighter. I’ve found this to be true in my life and work.

When we let go of our need to judge others, we can experience immense personal freedom. That’s the idea. Once we are free from judging, we are also free for mercy. What a better world that could be.

Really? Can I do that genuinely and sincerely?

This is an enormous order and challenge for me; it asks and calls me to put my money where my mouth is, face some hard truths about myself, and even change my DNA.

A psychoanalyst once told me I had undertaken more change this late in life than any other patient he had ever seen. Can I change this much?

I don’t know if this is possible, and I certainly don’t know whether or not I can do it, to be honest. In all of my childhood,  until I found a Quaker Meeting, I’m not sure I ever knew or was around people who weren’t judgemental of me, my sister, and everyone in the world around them.

It seems worth trying.

It also frightens me. It’s so easy to fake this. I won’t do that.

I’ve been careful in the tasks I’ve taken on and always had the help of people who know me and care about me. This is one I have to do alone. I think it’s possible to get less judgemental and practice more mercy. I bet I could do that.

If I take it on, I’ll share it and be honest. I’m not particularly eager to fail, and admitting failure is no fun, especially for me. Other people have pointed out this flaw in me, and I would be proud to work through it as I get older and will eventually run out of time for self-improvement.

It would be a worthwhile thing to do. And I know it would make me lighter and freeer.

I have a good role model living with me in Maria, who shows mercy to all living things and does not have a habit of judging other people. She has shown great mercy to me and taught me the power of it. I have a therapist I trust who would help insofar as she can.

When I test this in my mind, to be honest, I think of Donald Trump. I’m sick of him. I want him to go away. I’m not a hater; I don’t hate this hateful man. But can I exchange my dislike for him for mercy?

This is a person I do not hate – I can’t think of any human being I hate – but he is distasteful to me, and I have judged him harshly in my mind and my writing. That would be an excellent place to start. It doesn’t mean I have to love him or agree with him. It means I have to be merciful and leave the judging to others.

I have sworn to myself and my readers to be authentic, which means being honest, and if I fail to do this, I feel morally bound to admit it.

That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would mark a significant personal defeat for the person I would like to be and for me. I have changed my life more than I imagined and learned to work hard at self-transformation.

I don’t seek to be a different person, which I don’t believe is possible, but I know I can be a better one. Would this make me a better one?

I don’t believe I need to be a saint to be good and do good.

I don’t need to give up my beliefs or work to support and advance them. You don’t need to be St. Augustine or Sister Terese. Judgment is a reflex, I think, like hatred or fear. The idea is to change the reflex as I have done with panic and delusion.

While working with the Mansion residents and refugees, I have learned to trade judgment for mercy and empathy. It would be easy enough to judge some of them. I don’t.

A piece of me thinks I can do this rationally and honestly, and a big chunk of me says I can’t.

I am learning to show mercy for the people who assault or criticize me on my blog. I know that they need and deserve compassion, so often, their lives are empty and disconnected. There was a lot to be learned from that.

I get the idea and the value of what Nouwen is suggesting.

Donald Trump is a good test case.

Can I feel mercy for a ruthless and dishonest billionaire who has so callously undermined our democracy for personal gain?

Can I be merciful to people who commit treason and lie, promote hatred for others, and even beat them to death or shoot them? Can I feel mercy for the people blindly supporting his lies and bigotry?

Wow, a mind-blower.

I’d like to, honestly. I would love to be that person. I admire people who can do that. I’ve never been able to do it thoroughly. It’s not a reflex for me.

Nouwen is right in my mind; how light it would be to put aside the judgment and make space for mercy instead. It would certainly feel better.

If I believed in prayer, this would be a good thing to pray on.

I’d love to have an all-knowing God I could ask. I’m the one who has to say yes.

I have worked at being thoughtful about this Trump man and the trouble he has caused our world. I understand how harsh his upbringing was and how damaged his identity and psyche are.

I have no trouble seeing the awful need in him. I wonder if he ever finds a moment of peace. I’m not sure exactly who or what my God is, but whatever they are, they can do the judging. I’m not running for God.

I’m not a stranger to mercy. I understand even the people who shoot innocents on the streets and children in their schools.

I know they are sick and broken, no longer able to make rational judgments about themselves.

I would dearly love to be that kind of person and give up judgment for mercy, but it is a more ambitious task than I’ve taken on in my continuing effort to heal myself and be a better and more meaningful human being.

Helping the Mansion residents and those beautiful refugee children seems like a walk in the park compared to a task like this.

Am I strong enough to do this? Is there time for me to do this? Do I need to do this to be whole?

It would take hard and serious work every day, a sea of meditation, contemplation, repetition, thought, discipline, and change.

I want to think about it more. Maria says that even if I get halfway, that’s an accomplishment. She says I’ve changed more challenging things than that.

Writing has made a significant part of me want to say yes, try it. I’ve always liked a challenge.

28 November

Bud Goes To The Vet, Dog Support Cranks Up Again

by Jon Katz

Two dog events this morning. Bud went to see Dr. Fariello for his annual check-up (he is six years old now), and my Dog Support Program resumes after a brief holiday hiatus. You can check it out or sign up for some dog help here.

There was no bad news in the check-up. I was pleased to see Dr. Fariello face-to-face again, but I couldn’t speak to her for more than two years due to the pandemic. It was great to catch up.

It’s always an emotional experience for me to go to the Cambridge Valley Clinic. Dr. Fariello put down Orson, Rose, Izzy, Lenore, Frieda, Gus  and Red. She could not have been more supportive or open, or more sensitive.

But there are a lot of echoes for me in that building. She could not have been more loving, considerate or sensitive.

 

We both had Covid; we talked about how it feels when children go off to college. One of her daughters went away in September.

The good news was that Bud was in “perfect” health, she said, a very long way from when she first saw him three years ago. But trembled a bit, but he is no stranger to veterinary clinics; he stayed calm and patient through a heart room test, two shots, and a nail trimming.

Dr. Fariello saw Bud the day after he arrived from Arkansas, and she has happily followed his return to health. His heart and lungs were great; his blood test was negative, and his weight was perfect. That was great to hear.

 

 

(After enduring a lot of poking and prodding, Gus gets his nails clipped. He was uncomplaining.)

It was also great to be able to talk to Dr. Fariello and her staff – Lisa, Cassandra, Nicole, and Sam.  I missed her.

My dogs are very fortunate to have these people right down the road, and I’m happy to say that all three have been checked out,  are taking their heartworm pills, have their tick and flea collars on, and are all in excellent health.

As their steward, that is good to hear.

My Dog Support program is off to a good and meaningful start. A lot of people need some help and guidance with their dogs. So far, I’ve been able to help everyone who asked. I charge $50 per half hour, which will soon go up to $64 per half hour. If you need some help with your dog, register  here. I’ll get back to you with details.

 

28 November

Photo Journal, Monday Morning 11/28/22: Sacred Skies, Maria’s Video Post Production. Starting The Week

by Jon Katz

I looked out the window just before breakfast, saw the skies, and ran off to get my camera. I’m suspicious. I believe Monday morning sets the tone for

Monday mornings are special for us, the beginning of a new week to love, think, do some good and focus on the many good things in life, not just the bad.

I see every day as a chance to begin something and an opportunity to grow, change, and learn.

At first, I thought the skies were angry, but the clouds were so beautiful today that there almost had to be some sacred message.

I imagined it: “get going; you have another week at least to live and do some good.”

Ok.

 

That’s the way I decided to look at it. My day begins with Bud going to the dentist (photos coming). There is a lot to do as I make the transition from a quiet week to a busier one.

A beautiful sky is a good omen for the day and the week.

It’s a busy week. The Mansion tomorrow, a Ukulele lesson in the afternoon, and Bishop Gibbons later in the week. I hope you all had as sweet a Thanksgiving as we did.

I’m in a surgical boot for at least a week and a half, and on Friday, I have my foot measured for a special brace that will hopefully give my foot more support and fend off the dread callouses.

 

The lobster tails we had for Thanksgiving dinner were delicious, and so was the Butternut Squash pudding Maria put together for our dessert. We made three bars of felted soap, a first.

I loved the sky this morning; a perfect launch and inspiration for the new week. When I came in, Maria sat at the table editing her Monday Morning Video, a creative way to start every week.

I always think of her as being in post-production, a term I learned while working in television. Now, I don’t even own one. Below is Maria in Post Production. Here’s her Monday Morning Video.

27 November

Photo Journal, Sunday, November 27, 2022: Soap Felting Lessons. My First Felted Bar. I Had Some Help

by Jon Katz

After dinner, we had some choices.

I’m still recovering from my head cold but getting better, and I’m still required to wear a surgical boot and walk as little as possible for another week or so, so our options were limited as we ended our Peaceable Week.

We liked it a lot, and from now on, we will meditate together every morning and make sure we find some silence every day. I did a lot of good thinking.

We’ll watch some streaming later tonight  – “Reservation Dogs” and the first two parts of the “Chippendale” series (both on Hulu), which we found surprisingly compelling.

Yesterday we watched the final episode of “Derry Girls,” which we both loved very much and consider one of the best series we’ve ever seen on Netflix. “Derry Girls” was genius, mixing humor and pathos brilliantly.

I’m almost done with the novel “This Is Not The Time To Panic” by Kevin Wilson, and I like it very much. I highly recommend it.

 

 

(Our two bars of soap, soon to be felted. One from a goat farm, one bar of Ivory.)

My idea tonight was for Maria to teach me how to make some felted soap with the remains of her wool roving. She graciously agreed; she is kind and generous. I wasn’t up for Monopoly. Maria likes Bird Monopoly, where bird names are substituted for street names.

I started my reporting career in Atlantic City; I’m a purist.

So we sat at the dining room table and began melting two bars of soap.

This is labor-intensive work, so we limited it to two bars. Maria made it clear she had no intention of ever making or selling felted soap.

 

We chose strings of roving (the dogs ate the longer strips, we left them out one afternoon. The idea is to wrap the roving around the soap, including the corners. Above, we covered the roving all around the soap.

 

 

We put the felted soap in knee-high nylon stockings made known, soaked them in water for five minutes, and then rubbed them all around intensely and thoroughly.

 

 

We pulled the soap carefully out of the stockings they were wrapped in.

Finished.

We soaked them again in water and pulled them out of the knee-high nylons. We’ll leave them to dry overnight. They feel great. I’m anxious to use them. Maria is out of roving, so no more felted soap until late next Spring, if ever.

I did okay with some help. My bar is on the left above; Maria’s is on the right.

The soap foams up when you use the bar, and it’s like soap with a soft towel.

We’ll put the bars to work quickly. Maria is a good and patient teacher, I messed up the wrapping (and the rubbing) of soap, but she straightened it out.

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