Friday, December 25, 2009

Well, as much as I prayed for it not to come…the snow is here. Not a lot, but enough for me to sigh big. The trees are coated with a heavy wet snow which took down some nondescript tree in our front field and ripped out a power line that had a direct feed to the neighboring transformer. The line lay over our driveway just low enough to not be able to get out. Of course we did get out due to the ingenuity of my husband Jorma. I won’t reveal how he did it for fear that someone from AEP might be reading. Not sure if it was our tree that was the culprit but 160 families near us were without power all day. Thankfully a few years ago we were smart enough to buy a generator. The praying for no snow, the praying for electricity became obsessive at first, and then I remembered what a friend of mine said years ago to me. Little prayers are over loading the circuits to God. So, I moved on and tried to be grateful…and I was. I made it out, took my daughter to dance class, managed to grab a bite to eat with her at our favorite eatery, then spent the rest of the afternoon in a salon chair before heading back to the farm. The power was out until 8pm…

It got me thinking about all of the little prayers that are out there, floating around, perhaps not being answered the way that we would like. I was always told that you get what you need, not necessarily what you want. This, for the most, part has settled well with me over the years. But there are people that need our that neighbors, friends and strangers can offer. Every year like most companies, it was time to set the date for our holiday/year end get together at the ranch. Once we set the date and make sure everyone knows it’s a potluck, someone (usually me) decides what the gift giving procedures would be for this year. I always say, ”no gifts... I have everything that I need." There is always an exchange of gifts though. We just can’t help ourselves. I really wanted this year to be different. I wanted all of us to experience giving in a different way. The moment we set the date, we put all of our employee’s names, including mine and Jorma’s on little pieces of paper. Then, Brett, John and Kelly helped me organize the list as the names were picked. We went down the list of everyone who works at the ranch, then picked a name randomly from the little pieces of paper. It was unanimously decided that each person (the giver) who got another (the receiver) as their vehicle for giving, could choose any organization to give to however near or far. We set a specific price limit and then waited for December 16th to share.

When everyone gets together at the ranch the food exchange is something else. Kelly’s noodles, John’s famous beans and more. This year we had potatoes, spiral ham, salmon, oriental salad, green beans, kale, pies, homemade candy, appetizers and more. Truly, more food than we could eat. And to top it all off, the organizations that everyone gave to in honor of another employee were just so creative and meaningful. Collectively, we gave to, Wounded Warriors, Alzheimer’s Foundation, American Farmers Association, Guitars in the Classroom, My Sister’s Place , Passionworks, Hillel Foundation of Athens, Ohio, American Jewish Federation to save Darfur, Norml, and local food banks in our area. I hope I remembered all of the organizations....

A big salute of gratitude goes out to my staff for agreeing to give in a special way this year……Happy Holidays everyone, may all of your wises come true.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Well.....I left the ranch the day before Thanksgiving and have been traveling with Izze for the last week. We had a great Thanksgiving before Jorma's tour started. We ate at Rod's Steak & Seafood Grille in Morristown, NJ ( We reserved the 19th century train car attached to the restaurant and it could not have been nicer. It was like dining in the parlor car owned by James know....from The Wild Wild West? There was only five of us....Izze, the star made it so special.
I had the imported penne pasta and lobster with fresh tomatoes, basil and light cream. The guys (Jorma, Myron and our bus driver Brent) had one of their famous steaks and Izze had the turkey dinner. She ended up eating my pasta. It was all superb...truly!!!

We left the next day and drove to the southern shores of Maine. It really is a great time to visit Maine despite the fact that there could have been a blizzard. You just never know in that part of the world. There was no snow just some rain and when the sun shined it was magnificent. We walked Ferry Beach with my sisters dog Lucy who became fast friends with Izze. We ate great food because my sister is the best cook I know and I just got to be me for a few days. Sometimes it is hit or miss with family...this was a big hit. Just what the Dr. ordered. I even looked at a piece of property while I was that would be perfect for a Fur Peace Annex. But that's what I do when I travel. I look at real estate and think, "I can make that work". But really, at least for now, there is only one Fur Peace Ranch. As much as I would love to have another facility....we just can't be there on the porch with a cup of coffee Friday mornings greeting our students and be in Ohio doing the same thing. The Fur Peace Ranch is a one of kind treasure. I will leave Maine for long walks with my sister...the place where I can shut out the world if just for a week.

Izze and I drove to Philly today....another long drive. We will meet up with Hot Tuna at the Keswick...squish Jorma for a day, then head back to the hills of southeast Ohio, renewed and ready to welcome what I hope is a mild Ohio winter.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just a very quick note here today everyone.....I am on the road for the holiday and looking forward to the break. I wanted to acknowledge how thankful I am since 'tis the season to do so. Being grateful is something I try to be everyday. Sometimes I fall short but for the most part, I try to recognize all of the good things around me.

This year we/the band/Jorma had the pleasure of working with Skoota Warner. Hot Tuna's new drummer...yeah!!!! Skoota came to us through Jorma's agent, Seth Rappaport. A phone call about how great Skoota was and then a phone call to Skoota. Sight unseen for the band and Skoota, they decided to work together. For us it was a match made in heaven. Not only is Skoota a fantastic musician but he is a great soul. His gratitude is evident and he spreads it around like the wind. The moment we met....I felt his divine grace. If that wasn't a drummer, he is the best I have seen play with Hot Tuna.

This is going to be a great tour ( on the 4th and 5th of December Skoota will join the band along with another Master, G.E Smith. G.E is one of Jorma's favorite guitar players...and mine too! We are grateful to Seth for hooking us up with Skoota and to G.E. for all that he has given us over the years. G.E. has been teaching at the ranch since the beginning and now he and Jorma are going to perform a weeks worth of dates out west in February ( Can you tell I am grateful? I hope so....there are so many people in my life that are responsible for the gifts I keep receiving......a simple thank you doesn't seem enough....but thank you....and a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. May you be surrounded with the people you love and if that is not possible, then may you find joy in giving back........



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You know, there’s no denying that time are tough. Jobs…good jobs are hard to come by and the resources to find them are sleeping giants. I found one of those sleeping giants right here in my own neighborhood when I wasn’t looking. It came about through jewelry oddly enough. I was asked to host a Silpada jewelry party by Jorma’s long time production assistant’s (Myron Hart) sister. I kept putting her off because I just didn’t think I could find the time. Well…a year and a half later, I saw an opportunity come in a very small window of time this past October. I found a day that I could host a party. Still feeling uncomfortable about how these parties work…you host….you gain (as sales are accrued) points towards free merchandise. Now I have a lot of jewelry and it did not seem right that I collect more as others spent their hard earned money helping me collect what I could easily afford to buy. So I thought it was better to give away whatever I earned. Not as gifts, but as a donation to something or someone. And as it goes in my life…all the stars aligned and that something just came to me through a conversation and turned about to be a sleeping giant.

The giant is called The Work Station ( An organization here in southeast Ohio, that works through Human Resources. Their prime objective is to provide residents and employers with No Cost employment education and training in a one-stop service center. I was overwhelmed with the services they provide…everything from basic literacy skills, GED preparation, job training, access to a community computer lab to providing interview sites, resume application screening, providing perfect match job leads and more. The further I looked into what they did, I saw that they had Veteran Services and Mature Services for the 55 and older set looking to work. Providing job searches in every field, from Home Health Care to Food Prep to Legal Secretaries, Sales Reps, Medical & Health Services, Farmers and Ranchers, Elementary School Teachers, Supervisors, Tellers, Bookkeepers and Carpenters. They cover the needs for youth, adult and dislocated workers. Then I saw something they offered that I could directly contribute to. They have a service (the sleeping giant) that offers professional attire for those who cannot afford it. I mean it when I say, for some; it is tough out there. With as many people that are out of work and just trying to still manage their household obligations, the last thing they may have, is money for a new outfit….one that fits a specific job interview. Nor do they have accessories like a pair of earrings or a belt that pulls it all together. I know that part of pounding the pavement looking for work seems trivial to most. But when you pull it all together, it can really help with the confidence factor. Nobody likes losing a job when they gave it their all. You start to feel like you are not worthy or qualified and then your self- esteem attacked. How do I know this? I have been there. A long time ago I lost a really good job with benefits and the college opportunities that went along with it. I had $700 to my name, a car with a payment and I was homeless essentially. I did seek shelter with a brother in my home state then a sister who lived three states away. Within one month I found a job. But not without the help of my sister who lent me an outfit and a pair earrings and I borrowed a very nice briefcase from a friend. I sold myself because I was qualified. I believe I made it to the second interview because I looked the part. That job brought me from Maine to Key West where a few years later I met the love of my life…Jorma. So you never know.

There are thousands of communities out there filled with people that want to work and only so many jobs to go around. Having the confidence to get one of those jobs is everything. Being an employer myself that has the staff of the G-ds…I know about both sides of that reality. I was so happy that I was able to host this party and give the $900 worth of Silpada jewelry I earned for hosting it…hoping that it might lead someone else to find a decent job or the love of their life.

Please…give back, whenever you have the time. It can mean everything to someone less fortunate than you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inspired to write

Being inspired to write comes in waves for me. I mean, I am truly inspired everyday by the world around me. In my head I write masterpieces about it. To actually formulate them into something readable, that’s another thing. My web technician mentioned to me yesterday, “How’s your blog coming”? I said, “Good”. He looked at me sideways. I said, “I have blogged three times already”! His look was enough. Apparently I am supposed to write more than that. I told him how I have to be inspired since what I write about is the stuff you cannot see at the FPR…but rather the grace that comes to the ranch thorough human contact. I don’t think he bought it. I suddenly felt this urgency to be inspired by….anything….and write about it. Well, it did not happen so I was feeling sloth like. I had nothing to say, nothing to share. Sigh……………..

Well it hit me this morning as I was feeling full of gratitude for, well, everything. We just had this incredible weekend at the ranch. The students were amazing. Lots of new folks that brought with them, these great songs and great stories about their life and their families. As I sat in the Fur Peace Station on Sunday watching their student performance workshop I was overcome with just how good they were….and how lucky I was to be able to witness it. I never tire of the gratitude they express before they sit down to sing. The joy and laughter that comes out of me is sometimes embarrassing. I have a big laugh. I always have. And I am not afraid to express it. Well…it was just so plain how big my world has become because of them and because of the ranch. I have actually never been busier in my life. It takes so much to prepare for one camp. But when I sit there and take in their moment on stage….it is huge! I hope they all know that. I am not the only one moved by them…John and Jorma are as well. It is what we talk about for days after they leave.

I guess this “being inspired” thing is really working me overtime. As my world has become so much brighter because of my students….our daughter Izze had me feeling the same sensations this morning. You know, when I brought her home from China…I was feeling very lonely. That my world had become so small. I wanted her so badly yet I was concerned that maybe I was not qualified for this…maybe I was too old. I had so much freedom in my life before she what? Well, three years have passed and my world is so much bigger because of her. It’s not the play dates, the endless running around, the new, politically correct way to explain myself…..the lack of colorful language…..Oh fiddlesticks! It is her. It’s the way she is able to bring what she sees into my view. The way she learns things and the way she explains them. Today I watched her sing the Ting Tings, Happy Birthday song. She sang every verse and danced. She was so proud of herself and I was crying watching my sweet pea turn into me at that age. How did this all happen. How did all of this hard work make me feel so grateful, so inspired. Thank you Fur Peace Ranch students…..all of you and Izze… all fill my heart so much that it hurts. It makes me weep tears of……inspiration. Remember the Grinch on top of the mountain looking down at Hooville after he had just robbed them all of their holiday joy? His heart gets so big that it busts through it’s gate……that’s me! Well not the Grinch…his heart.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Unexpected joy......

I’d like to pay tribute in this blog entry to a man I did not know very well. His name was Franklin Morgan. Father of 8 amazing individuals, husband to a beautiful woman named Maureen. Franklin was the father of Kevin Morgan. Kevin, you could say, is our artist in residence at the Ranch. He is responsible for the look of all of our t–shirt designs, our website design, our signage, logos and so much more. He has helped to create our brand recognition in the last twelve years and before that designed Jorma’s CD covers, various poster art and ad mats for promoters on behalf of Jorma and Hot Tuna. His talents run deep. I think it is safe to say that his gift came hardwired when Franklin and Maureen created him. I could go on and on about Kevin…or the rest of his siblings but what moves me at this moment is the spirit of Franklin. Jorma, John and myself just got back from his wake…an Irish wake. No, there was not Irish whiskey but rather a room filled with more people than this little funeral home could hold. There were children, cousins, a local historian, Ohio University employees and friends that had come from all over Ohio. After we waded through the wall of guests, Kevin and his wife Janet, who were standing by two photo books that were filled with pictures dating back to, I think, the 1930’s, met us. I was taken by a series of photographs of Kevin’s father as a very young cheerleader. A man who loved sports who was too small to play so he was one of the first male cheerleaders in his area. He ended up being a sports writer for the majority of his career and made a huge impact at O.U. at a time when O.U’s football team actually won more games than they lost. It was clear that this was a celebration of his life and his legacy.

While we were waiting in the receiving line to give our condolences to Maureen and his daughters and sons, Kevin stood by us and was recapping the last few days. Franklin has been sick for some time. It had been touch and go for months. The last few days were counted in hours. He was in his hospital room, the OU game was on, and Maureen was by his side. She said to her beloved, “You were the only man for me, and I was the only woman for you”. O.U. scored a touch down and Franklin was finally at peace.

I make it to the casket and look at this peaceful soul and I look over at Maureen sitting there consoling those who should be consoling her and she is glowing. She is beautiful as are her daughters. The spirit of this family runs so deep. I admire Franklin and Maureen for everything they did and continue to do for their children. It is something to model my own life after, as a parent to Israel Love. Some times I feel like all I do is run around. From home to the ranch to Izze’s school, back to the ranch, back home, to the library for Izze’s weekly visits, to play dates, to the grocery store, to her music classes, back to the ranch…blah, blah, blah. I only have one child and I am tired. How did Kevin’s parent do it? How did my parents (who had six kids) do it? What am I missing? Maybe nothing. Perhaps everyone who is a parent feels this way but we don’t want to admit it. Like I said, I did not know Franklin but I know he gave of himself to his children, his wife, his career and the community. For me, he leaves behind the desire to be good at everything I do, even if I am tired. To love my family unconditionally and to trust that what the universe puts in my path is what I need to see for whatever reason….even when I question why…because everything has a purpose. Then, if I look at all my running around as precious moments that make up my life, I realize how special this life is. Like watching Izze's reaction to a beautiful Monarch hatch from it's chrysalis or watching Jorma's spirit grow just a little bit more when he plays me the new song he just wrote or to be part of this unique experience at The Ranch when 42 new students gather for the first time not knowing each other, then watching them leave as friends. That's what this life is showing me.

Long may you run Franklin

Friday, September 11, 2009

There's a Fairy in my Labyrinth


Some of you may be wondering why I chose to call my blog Labyrinth. For me it was simple. We are all on a path...exactly where we need to be. I like to think this is true for me too. The Labyrinth is a model of that path.

A Labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of a circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth (and especially for me) represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world...this world. Labyrinths have been used for more years than I can count, as meditation and prayer tools. At its most basic level the Labyrinth is a metaphor for this journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a heightened and broadened understanding of who you are. I say a metaphor.... because; can we really learn all of this by taking one pass through the Labyrinth? Maybe not.

My experience with walking the Labyrinth here at the Fur Peace Ranch has been a work in progress.... like me and like the ranch itself. In the twelve years we have been hosting workshops and special retreats, it always starts out looking very different. We prepare for each camp or retreat with cleaning out of the old, celebrating the event prior to the new one, refreshing the grounds and walking an unknown path to meet new guests that will become part of our lives. Then you come and you offer a new path for us that present another way to define the way we live and work and how we will treat the guests that come after you have left. Each master instructor and student presents a new twist, turn and perhaps a blind alley. It becomes a left- brain task that requires logical, sequential, rational activity to find the correct path into the Labyrinth and out. Sound a bit heavy? Well, for me it has been and in only the best way. You see, many years ago I wasn't living my life very well. I wasn't honoring my body and wasn't honoring the gift of my life. The ranch became a place to live again, to experience that great universal love.... I choose to call it G-ds love. It is so simple...I just became willing. Willing to listen, to work hard and to appreciate your gift of you. The Labyrinth is very much me...because of you.

I said in my earlier and very brief blog posting that I was not sure how long I would blog. But I thought I might have something to share. Today I am simply saying "thank you." Thank you to our instructors, our students, our guests that drive miles into the hills to take in a rare concert performance and to my incredible staff who are fearless. They have walked this wild dream with us and they all work harder than anyone I have every worked with. My gratitude cannot be described in words. How about this.....You all rock!

May you all be blessed with a safe journey,

Vanessa Lillian

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I'm blogging????

Hi everyone,

I am attempting to be a blogger. I cannot promise how long this will last but for now I think I have a lot to share about things that you cannot see at The Fur Peace Ranch. Sound strange? Tune it for more where that came from....