Friday, January 6, 2012

The Door to Endless Summer Days

If it is true that our pets are a reflection of us….in some form, then I am a multi dimensional being. I have survived this much of my life (almost 50) as a spaz, a rascal, a lovey, a munchkin, being stinky, and at times being a “bad dog."

I have had my share of pets…all varieties. From the time I was young I can remember them all. My first really emotional experience with a pet leaving us because it was his time…would be our German Shepherd, Rex. He was an adopted dog (sort of)….one that used to be a guard dog.  We were told to be careful around him that he was trained to attack. I have no idea why my father would 1. Bring a dog into the family with 6 kids that was an attack dog and 2. Give us his secret attack word. I will tell you that it was all bunk. I used to look in Rex’s eyes when I was around 8 years old…close enough for him to eat me alive and say the secret word….”WATCH."  Nothing ever happened. I did get a few licks. My older brother really became Rex’s keeper and they were inseparable. Rex found his way home through that door to endless  summer days after hours of seizures. We buried him in this old Indian blanket…one that we’d all cuddled with at one time or another. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Fast forward to yesterday….our half mix Chihuahua, Fox Terrier, Nana, found a door to endless  summers. Fourteen years ago...Nana was never expected to live. Some little kid in a town not far from here was trying to give her away in a supermarket parking lot.  He came up to my open car window one April afternoon and said (in a classic southern drawl), “You want a Chawawa?”  Of course, I said no….but within 5 minutes the dog was on my lap and we were heading back to the Ranch. I drove about one mile and the dog started vomiting. I just assumed it was car sickness. She was so small. I thought she was about 8 weeks. Turns out she was several months old and she had Parvovirus…the intestinal variety and it wasn’t pretty. The Vet told us she probably wouldn’t make it since she had started bleeding at this point. I called Jorma, who was on tour, crying my eyes out and telling him that we had to name this little puppy, because she couldn’t die without a name. We always seem to name our pets after some influential person so Jorma said we should call her Nana….after his Grandmother. I told the Vet to try whatever he could…that she must have come into my life for a reason….that I had to at least give her a chance. Even so…I felt like Nana could leave this world having been named. But she wasn’t ready to leave. She survived intravenous meds for 3 days, bleeding from every orifice and a few other unpleasant symptoms. When they called me to come get her…I thought they meant come get the body. I picked up Nana and it was as if nothing was ever wrong with her.

As these things go…..many years passed and she started showing complications with her intestines and kidneys. She experienced rapid weight loss, loss of appetite and excessive drinking of water. We always managed to get her back on track for a time but it was short lived.  In the midst of all of this, my allergies to dog hair and dander had taken it’s toll on me. My sister offered to take Nana in and although it was sad….my sis an her family loved Nana like their own. I am forever grateful to them. When she called me to tell me that Nana was sick again I came by to take her to my trusted Vet. The Meigs County Vet Clinic Docs and staff are angels. They have seen me through so many pets, made house calls and held vigils with me when our animals were either hurt or leaving us. They rose to the occasion in Nana’s and my hour of need once again. This time…..the decision to play G-d was a joint one. I could have fought for Nana’s life and in all reality…it may have given her a little more time but this time….she was ready or at least that’s what my Vet told me.

I held her little face in my hands and I told her how much I loved her and how sorry I was to have made this decision. At one point she looked away and I told her to not look at the room but to look at me… that I would stay with her….and she did. I believe with all of my heart that she understood what was in my heart. When she took her last breath, I had the sense that a dog we lost last year….Hazel….was there. I could see the two of them running through that door to endless summer days, green fields, sunny days and love, love, love all around.

That is the story of Nana. I could have just told only the happy parts of her life and there were many….but I think she wanted me to tell her story. Her story…is that she was loved so deeply by so many but mostly by me………………………………………………………………

With gratitude…..

Sunday, December 25, 2011

We laughed, we wept and we continue to dream…………………

Happy Holidays everyone. It’s Christmas morning….still Hanukkah for the next few days and Jorma and I sit across from each other, cappuccino in hand, glancing up occasionally  to acknowledge our love and gratitude for this amazing life. Truly…this has been a blessed year.  Both kids are still sleeping and Eli, our newest family member (Yorkshire Terrorist…I mean Terrier)  is  running around cuter than words can describe this morning.

2011 has to have been one of our best. It was filled with so many life lessons, grace and challenges that we had to wonder what it would be like had we not moved to Ohio 20 years ago. We don’t spend time thinking of the what ifs….but we do express our gratitude often.  Zach (age 14) continues to be an amazing young man. As you know he lives with his Mom in Virginia but we have seen him here ion the farm and on the road with Jorma a lot this year. Jorma bought him a Yamaha  TTR230 for his 14th birthday. As excited as I was for him, I was a little nervous. Jorma bought him all of the proper body gear like the padded jacket, boots, gloves,  full face helmet, etc. He looks like Robo Cop when he rides. Well, my worries were for naught. This kid got on the bike and just rode it. He sat on it as it idled, Jorma doing his flight check, calmly explaining everything that could happen…with a positive spin. Zach replying, “OK, OK, OK”. Then he pulled in the clutch, put it in first gear and that was it. We saw him a few hours later…periodically riding by us at the Ranch never taking his eyes off the road in front of him. To say that Jorma was proud…well…does not truly express Jorma’s feelings.  If you don’t know this about  Jorma, motorcycles and guitars are his two favorite things in this old world. Of course, Jorma will tell you different…that those are just “things”, but I know he found his freedom holding one and riding the other so to see his son with that same look on his face………….nuff said.

Izze started kindergarten this year and it has transformed her. I know we all say this….but she is a really smart little girl. We have never spoke to her in baby  talk so her vocabulary is amazing. My favorite of all her comments is when we think the same thing at that same time and she comments, “You’re clairvoyant. ” She received her yellow belt in Tai Kwon Do this year after an hour long test with the entire class. When she broke a board in two without hesitation and spared with another student trying to land as many moves as she could before the timer went off, there was a sense of pride in her stance. We will move on to the next level after the holidays. She also completed here first semester of piano classes that ended with a recital last week. My mom, my sis, Izze’s cousin, Montana and Jorma and I were all there as she performed in a group song  with classmates, Oliver and Sam. Each of them took turns playing a song without the tab in front of them…from memory. Izze performed the song in perfect time flawlessly. She is pretty tall for her age so to look at her she does not look like a five year old. But that was just my eyes. I saw her in a full concert recital on stage in front of 2,000 people. We were in a room with 10 or so other parents at the School of Music at Ohio University.  Sigh…….

OK… all I talked about was our kids.  I have to say, that the love we feel because of their existence is unlike anything I would have thought possible in this world. There is more…….

I celebrated 18 years of sobriety this year, Jorma celebrated 15. The Fur Peace Ranch is celebrating 15 years in operation and it continues to be the beating heart that sustains us much of the time. We recently shifted gears with the Ranch and have a created the Fur Peace Ranch Center for Art and Culture. It is a non profit leg of what we do and more will certainly be reveled with where it takes us.  We have plans for a Lecture Series, a museum, yoga and art classes and more On the Road Music sessions. The Allman Bros will be hosting their annual music festival called the Wanee Fest in Florida in April of 2012. The promoters have asked us to be a part of it all and we will…providing workshops, Q&A lectures and more. When we opened the Ranch 14 years ago we had no idea where it would take us. I am happy to say that the life force behind the Ranch has strengthened my body, mind and spirit. It has provided a continual interaction between souls through the language of music that inspires spiritual and emotional growth.

Jorma continues to write beautiful songs and he will be traveling far and wide this year. We will be in Maui teaching for 2 weeks in late January and he will be in Japan and China in the early part of this year. More touring for Hot Tuna as they continue to promote their latest CD, Steady As She Goes.

I had the extreme honor of marrying my friends David and Lindsay this year on the Vineyard. It was life changing and after it was all over I realized that I must be living my life well because that experience was a gift for just that. I have never been to a wedding more beautiful and honest and the love shared that day among all that were present was life transforming.  I am attempting to go back to school (on line) and finally get my degree. When I left Connecticut in 1988, I left behind an unfinished degree in Civil Engineering. Though I have no plans to complete that program…I am moving toward a degree in business and the arts. I keep telling myself, “I must be crazy”. We’ll see how this all plays out….I am really excited about it.

So…there you have it. We laughed, we wept and we continue to dream…..

Love you all….Happy Holiday and have a blessed New Year


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ten Years After

Ten years ago this week, the New York Times came to Fur Peace to spend a weekend. Writer, Woody Hochswender came as a student along with his wife and his Father-in-law, who happened to be a retired editor from Playboy Magazine (he was very popular with the male students around the dinner table telling tales of Hugh Hefner...or Huge as he was known). Anyhow....we were thrilled to host Woody and felt so blessed by the interest of the Times. We had only been open for 5 years and were still finding our way around making it work.  If you are interested, you can read the archived article here: Picking the Blues In Southeast Ohio.
We really jumped in with everything we had, physically and spiritually and decided what worked as things presented themselves. No one had done what we were doing at that point. There were many facilities at that time that had taught workshops and they were all good.....but Fur Peace was different and our first year(s) students can attest to that. As it magically did we. The staff evolved as did the classes, the buildings, the grounds and the overall feeling....a feeling that you could not see. It was life changing.

So here we are, looking at our 15th season that we are now selling classes to. We recently created a new branch of Fur Peace called, The Fur Peace Ranch Center for Art and Culture in the hopes that we could present unique classes and opportunities outside of the music. Our first event under the new Center will be part of our lecture series with Writer and Publicist, Dennis McNally. Dennis McNally holds a significant place in contemporary culture. His book on Jack Kerouac and the Grateful Dead have been well read and he will dig deeper when he visits us at Fur Peace.  Look for the class... 
"What A Long Strange Trip It's Been", Dennis McNally reflects on life from Kerouac to the Dead.  So, if you have you ever wanted to attend the Fur Peace Ranch but don't play guitar or bass or sing, this is the class for you.

As the years have passed we have had many visions.....some worked, some we left behind. One of the more adventurous was our line of food products. The salad dressings were the first....we left those behind but not entirely. Dressings are a tricky thing to bottle. Having to use the winter oils really changed the flavor so we offered a cook book instead. I will say that Paul Newman and Newmans Own really has the market cornered. I felt that if I could get the dressings to taste like they did when we made them fresh, the competition was just too weighty and the marketing dollars needed back then were not available. That's not to say I won't try it again some day. We have splendid dressings that we serve at every meal.....with a new one  that was just created in house. But you have to come to the Ranch to try them. After one of our great meals, you can relax on the porch with a cup of one of our teas. We have three of them and they are all beyond delicious. I am partial to Earl Grey myself and rarely drink anything else. As distinct as Earl Grey tea is, ours hold true to that distinct taste. Jorma's Rhyhtm Tonic has a wonderful blend of Rooibus, Hibiscus Flowers, Rosemary, Cinnamon, and Star Anise. It is rich in anti-oxidants and great iced in the summer. John Hurlbut's Ras Hurl's  Blessings Tea is great for warming the soul. Our Ranch Manager, John Hurlbut, has been a long time fan of Reggae music and Jamaican culture. On one of his trips to Jamaica he brought back a wonderful Jamaican tea that you could only get on the island. So....he decided to get our tea lady, Maureen Burns from Herbal Sage Tea to make a blend that would capture the taste of this truly Jamaican herbal tea. John's love of Jamaica and the taste of his many trips there are the result of its unique favor. This Ital (natural) tea has no caffeine and is a very nice blend of Jamaican Sorrel and Ginger.

I think our most adventurous tea though has to be Israel Love's Super Girl Power Tea.
We wanted to market a tea that would appeal to kids but would not be exclusive to their taste buds. We really nailed this one as it is one of Jorma's favorites. Jorma recently posted on our Fur Peace Facebook page that  on Tuesday nights right before Sons of Anarchy comes on, a relaxing cup of this fine blend sets him up for an evening of male TV watching. So there you have....bikers/guitarists/Dads love it!

I think my musings here are reflective of  what it was like, what happened and what it is like today. I know...that's recovery speak but it is my life. Everything we have done and continue to pursue at Fur Peace is a gift of a life well lived, as Jorma is fond of saying. 

Go out and buy some of our tea and let me know if it get's that fire in your belly roaring so you can reflect on your own Ten Years After....... 


Monday, September 19, 2011

Bound For Glory

Well we got fiery fingers, Lord
And we got fiery hands
Gonna get up in heaven
And play in that fiery band……………….

Just as long as I'm in this world
I am the light of this world
Just as long as I'm in this world
I am the light of this world………………..

I called Jorma this passed Friday night, right before he went on stage to tell him that our dear friend Don Ruben had passed this earth. As I cried thru the news…Jorma new why I was calling. “Please play a song for Donnie tonight. I think he’ll hear it,” I said., “We all know  that Death Don’t Have No Mercy….please play something that speaks of Donnie, “ I added. Jorma said….I’ll sing him I Am The Light Of This World.” We both were quiet. Our hearts were heavy.

Donnie truly was the light of this world. As his close friend and one of his Rabbi’s....said, "Donnie was a righteous man and as a lawyer who worked for civil rights and all things righteous, he had such disdain for scoundrels." There was no place in his world or this world for scoundrels in the legal profession. I know what you thinking…..sounds like a joke. It wasn’t for Donnie. In fact with as many friends as I have, 30% of my friends are righteous attorney’s. I am happy to say they do exist despite what seems to be the norm.

My friend Donnie fought for equality and for your rights and he was legend. When he practiced, he never lost a case. As with any situation when battling the legal system, things don’t always go the way of  righteousness. I found myself in a situation a few years ago when the first  person I could think to call was Don. The story is too long to tell really and sometimes when I do tell it I feel my blood boil…but that is not productive as that lies in the past now. It was several years ago now that I encountered a situation with a Dr. . This was one of my daughter Israel’s  Dr.’s. Not a regular but an allergist whom I had to seek out because she was breaking out in hives and no one knew why. Long story short…before the examination ever got under way, the Dr. inquired as to why I named my daughter Israel. Knowing the reason was to deep at that moment and certainly not why I was there, I simply said, “I always liked the name.”. He proceeded to say, “Let’s hope Israel does not live up to her name....struggles with God and all.” I have to tell you, I wasn’t sure whether I should leap over the examination table and clean his clock or run screaming or worse, weep for his ignorance. I chose the unexpected. I said nothing. I waited about 20 minutes  and then when the allergy test was over (which was awful by the way) , I gave my daughter a lollipop to distract her and then gave him  a piece of my mind...and I kept it clean. I am not proud of the fact that I curse like a sailor or a good day…this was not that day. My job is to protect my daughter and to be her champion when needed but it is also to  honor my faith and to speak intelligently about what I know when it comes to being Jewish. 

After an immediate complaint was filed with the medical facility and putting them all on notice that this was not over, I left the building, got in my car and called Donnie.  After some initial comments (and I won't repeat what we both thought about this Dr.) he suggested that I write a letter of complaint to the Ohio State Medical Board.  He also suggested contacting the ADL.  This Dr.'s office falls under the public accommodation section of the civil rights act and so a complaint to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission would be in order.

Several months  ensued and politics being what they are, this Dr., and I believe for Director of the facility, never really acknowledge what he said and how damaging it was. And despite Don’s great counsel we (Don, myself and my Rabbi who was also hugely helpful and supportive) all thought it important that we not focus on the problem but find a solution to this.

We proposed  some sort of sensitivity training for this facilities staff and more specifically , for this Dr.

That’s pretty much the end of that story…..but for me, Don rose to the occasion as my friend and as a professional. He helped me champion for Israel…my daughter. And the lessons I learned from him about being righteous in my life will forever stay with me. Countless people out there that knew Don Ruben will say the same thing…….we say….he is a mensch.  And as Jorma wrote in his latest blog about Don, The things of this world will be inevitably consigned to the dustbin of history. They will just be stories. The true test of one’s ‘legacy’ will be if your friends and family can always see you as a mensch when they call up your image.

When the procession of cars pulled into the cemetery having had a full police motorcycle escort, one of the policemen got off his bike and saluted the hertz that was carrying Donnie and stayed at attention as the rest of us followed. As the casket was lowered into the grave and Don’s family and friends helped to shovel dirt , there was a faint whistle of train in the distance as the last shovel of earth was laid on Donnie……his train is bound for glory.

I will miss him…………………

Vanessa Lillian

Monday, May 30, 2011

I found myself in that place again where I feel stuck to actually write something. It cannot be that I am not inspired by my surroundings… I am. Honestly I think it is that I am over-inspired. What a grateful place to be. I am on overload of late. Everything I see, witness, feel and the people that I am in contact with on daily basis are part of this overload. It started with floods about a month ago. I ran to Pomeroy to try and capture some of it on film and it was overwhelming. I could feel the energy of that water underneath my skin and it stayed with me for about one week.

Then it was this project I am working on for the Kennedy Museum of Arts. The events committee that I am working with, are a force to be reckoned with. They come from all walks of
life; a master chef, a real estate genius, a choreographer, and events manager, a retired
professor, a vice president of a world renown business and a public relations maven. They all inspire me to be the best I can be for the Kennedy Museum of Arts.

Still…it is the day to day wanderings throughout my life at the Ranch that move me the most. We are surrounded by 126 acres of prime forest. I don’t often walk the woods as much as I used to but I have been conscious of their roll at the Ranch lately. Jeroch, one of my staff members and soul flower, recently found and old mom and pop coal mine on the hillside past Jorma’s studio. When we bought the land, we were told there used to be one….but I never thought we would actually find it. Me, John and Brett followed Jeroch to the site and watched him as he ventured into this little hole to find a chimney, anchors and a pretty good size space that was in fact the old mine. What a treasure……

Everything is in bloom right now and it is not even summer. The green of the trees is electric and the wildlife sings out daily. I have seen more coyote’s than ever before and the little things most people don’t get to stumble upon are right outside my office. A few days ago as I was pulling into the property, I saw this little bundle of fur in the field and realized it was a fawn. I put the car in gear and walked right up to it. I have never been that close to a deer outside of the Catskills Game Farm. This fawn couldn’t have been more than 3 weeks old. The mother… nowhere to be found. I knelt down and reached out to pat it’s leg but decided that probably wouldn’t be a good idea if the mother was around. I did not want to put my scent on this little wonder for fear that she might be rejected and really left alone. The next day, the deer was still there and Izze got to see it and for that…we were both so grateful. I called the game warden to see if they would come get her. They told me to let nature take it’s course and leave it alone. I didn’t like that answer but knew they were probably right.

I love that I am aware of all of this beauty in people and their work…and in nature. When what they do and who they are wraps me in their motherly arms and quiets the worry of my own struggles to be my best.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year Everyone….

From backstage at the Beacon Theatre celebrating Jorma’s 70th birthday, to the hills of Jerusalem…it was an amazing year. We started our year in the shadows of an unstable economy and though everyone including us, continue to weather this unpredictable storm…for me… this year… I felt more blessed than ever. Time seemed to slow down for me when classes were in session and I was able to enjoy the company of our students around some great meals and great music. Couple’s weekend was the most emotional though. My staff and me made a huge decision to change the way the Couples weekends will be hosted. What we hoped would be an exciting look into what could be….it was sad for many of the woman who attend that weekend who are so dear to me. I can only say I wanted them to embrace this journey with every cell of their body. Though change gets such a bad wrap…It is the bumpiness of change that I am appreciating. Those bumps are absolutely all about the love and compassion for the woman of Fur Peace. Before we made the choice to change the face of Couple’s weekend, I saw a glimpse of what was coming if I didn’t take a leap of faith. Like many times in my life, the universe whispered to me and I can't describe that experience with words, but I know I am not the only one that this happens to. This year has been about liberating myself from something. A few times the answer to that “something” happened in my dreams but mostly the universe spoke to me thru others. It has been intense yet subtle but most definitely an undeniable message. Even though I know the changes are probably permanent they are profound and the movement is as the music is…gentle and beautiful!!! The woman of Fur Peace do not know this...but they brought me here without consciously knowing it!

I feel like 2010 was such a success for so many despite what CNN tells us. I believe that our success is about who we are. To obtain success, whether professional or personally, one does it with hard work and conscious thought. The "what ifs " are what keeps us going anyway. Success is not difficult to accomplish nor to understand because we are the only one that knows what it means for us. No one can tell us actually what success is...we have to feel it to know it...and I know that
I accomplished a lot because of the Ranch and the students and staff that make it Fur Peace.

We…meaning people in general… are stronger, the Ranch in stronger, the love is more powerful and the music continues to move us and inspire us to be better.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Seventeen years ago today….I was not the woman who I had envisioned becoming. At the age of 16 for whatever reason and who knows what the motivation was….I started the long, painful task of dismantling my life. So from 16 to the age of 33 I was a runaway train. I know today that I have a penchant for anything I can obsess over….they call it addiction. Anyhow, what the last seventeen years of soul searching have taught me is not to judge or suppose, someone else by their looks or their clothes or even their addiction. I have no idea of knowing what their lifestyle is or how they got there or what their pains are. They way they maneuver through their life is their business as was mine albeit mine was destructive. It is not easy to arrest my display of judgment of others, but I make it a conscious effort daily to keep my own side of the street clean. There is no magic in how my mind fact I am fond of saying, “My head is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go in there alone.” I am human so I am flawed. But where I am is mandatory if I am to walk in the light. It’s all about self-respect and honor. I respect and honor the life I was given and the work I do.

The Ranch is the big gift I think, for the light that I have allowed to come into my life. The students are all extensions of that light and a power greater than me, speaks through them. That light shines through Jorma too and always has, even through his darkest days. When I met Jorma, he told me that we were part of a bigger picture and to trust that more would be revealed. I thought I knew what he was talking about...but then my life took an ugly path. I moved to Ohio and I thought, “Oh, this is what he meant.”. But it wasn’t. Then I chose a sober life and I thought, “Oh, this is what he meant.” But it wasn’t. Then the Ranch presented itself to us and I thought, “Oh, this is what he meant.” But it wasn’t. Then Jorma gave me a son (long story...too long to tell here), and I thought, “Oh, this is what he meant.” But it wasn’t. Then I went to China to find my daughter and I thought, “Oh, this is what he meant.” But it wasn’t. Now, even though I think it is a clearer message it probably isn’t. To simplify all of this...I can say that I find comfort in knowing that I have always been watched over and that the path behind me and the one ahead is all about doing good work , being kind, honoring my life and the lives of those around me.

I would be denying my own truth if I did not say that I think Jorma is one of G-d’s greatest gift to me and to those who he inspires. He is a force...and those that know him, know what I am saying here. Today we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. I much to celebrate and to be grateful for. Every year he writes me a beautiful letter on this day and our growth is evident is his words. I’d love to post his entire letter...especially the part where he says...How I am without a doubt one of the most singular, amazing, purposeful and loving people that I have ever met and how I am more beautiful today than I ever was and Oh I’m hot too...but I won’t. (oops). I’ll just post the beginning because it is what I am speaking is the healing that fills us, what motivates us and what keeps me sober.

From Jorma...On This Day……

Twenty Two years and some five months ago, you and I met under the strangest and most fortuitous circumstances. Strange because given our paths at the time our journeys would not seemed to have decreed such a meeting, but meet we did. One wonders after all is said and done what fate the Hand Of G_d had in store for any of us, but indeed I believe that there are no coincidences. There was a purpose in our meeting and though I’m sure more is yet to be revealed, in the journey there have been uncounted gifts.

Beyond sweet...right? I am living a full life today because of true acceptance for all things and a singular inner command that permeates my true path.......