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 works...in 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 know...so 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 of...it 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.......


Friday, November 5, 2010

Feeling young again.......

Where did the time go? I think it went with my memory. Time and memory are a strange pair. They travel together like lovers throughout ones life. Then like most couples who've been together for a while, they start to look at things differently. The time says, "It was only yesterday." while the memory says, "That was ages ago and honey, it didn't happen exactly that way." Memory inadvertently rewrites history while time shows us no mercy. Or vice versa. What's a girl to do?

Then just when I think I can handle the fact that 50 is around the corner, age begins to gnaw at my beautiful life. Without missing a beat - unwavering and with a steady rhythm I see one more wrinkle...no two and more silver threads among the black, gold and brown hair; leftovers from 4 colors ago. Sigh........

It really feels like it was yesterday that we opened the Ranch and now, in less than a month we are about to close out our 13th season. Where did the time go? A student was just telling me this past weekend that when we opened our doors he remembers how emotional it was for me when I told the story of how the Ranch came to be. Well.... he noted nothing had changed and that my tears of gratitude were as heartfelt for him and the other students now as they were in 1998. It felt good to hear that my gratitude was still in tact.

So what's a few gray hairs? Wrinkles....I've earned those. Where I am today both personally and professionally is honestly the best place I've ever been. The first half of my life was spent being ridiculously opinionated without much to back it up. Though still embracing my right to speak freely, I am less concerned with being right and more willing to say when I am wrong. My best days are when I open myself up to learning a better way to look at things. I have a great staff that work side by side with me at the Ranch. I learn more from them about efficiency and professionalism than I have ever learned at any other job. Years ago I ran the ranch with 17 staff members, today we do a better job with a fraction of that. We are a community working in sync. They are great and they make me feel great about what I do regardless of the fact that my body doesn't feel as young as it used to.

I saw my Dr today. After months of physical therapy for a disc issue he said, "Your neck moves like a 20 year old". I felt young again................

Sunday, September 12, 2010

For Lucy Marie with honor and love

And through these gates you shall pass........

Already, three of us at the Ranch have used the new gate entrance picture. This gate was a long time coming and it is just so much more beautiful then what I originally envisioned. Despite the fact that the gate takes a nice picture, it holds such a special meaning for us ....... for me. In the last 17 years I have been in a state of transition. This transition is all good. I actually prefer to say that I am on a path of enlightenment. Every day I am blessed with new experiences, new ways to look at the world and such blessings that it is almost embarrassing to talk about. This gate is a metaphor for what was on this side of where I was so many years ago. The other side has been nothing short of glorious.

The gates went up during a very emotional few weeks. My dear friend John was experiencing the declining health of his Mom and my dear friend, Lucy. I also am the Vice Chair on the Board of an organization called The Cause. The Cause and the people involved, help people in Appalachia who need food, clothing, medical care, water and simple things to live that most of us take for granted. I have learned so much about need in this area that my own existence has experienced a rebirth of sorts. It has affected my family in a profound way. In fact during these past few weeks, our daughter had a great birthday party with all her friends who brought her a lot of gifts. Our daughter told us that she wanted to give 1/2 of her presents to the children who are sick in the hospital. She is 4. Her and I made the trek to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus and she handed off her presents like it was her duty. To say that I was moved by this event.....does not give her selfless act justice. Now I can tell you, that at the end of this ten day period that all of this took place, I am feelin' the love. I had so much to reflect upon during Rosh Hoshanah this past week as a result.

Now comes last night and this morning........

We had the honor of hosting the Infamous Stringdusters at the Ranch for a Benefit Concert for The American Red Cross on the 9/11 anniversary. It doesn't get more soul moving than that. The Benefit was not sold out, though the community that came dug deep and helped to fulfill our mission for that night. The Stringdusters were nonpareil. There music reaffirmed celestial determination. We headed back to the Ranch early this morning to have breakfast with the band and then up north to see Lucy. Lucy Marie DeFebio Hurlbut...she was still with us but her life was faint. Life is just so honest..... It takes all you have to face it's truth. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Kubler Ross. She was the pioneer of Hospice Care. While reading one of her many articles on dying I was directed to some comforting verse. I quote Henry Van Dyke:

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!" "Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: 'Here she comes!"

And through these gates you shall cross..........


Friday, August 13, 2010

After a short but productive summer break, we are getting ready to open back up for our annual couples weekend at the Ranch. This summer was hotter than most but still the Ranch and our lush gardens seem to thrive in the heat. Our new flower garden is just beautiful. Our friend and neighbor Gordon Gilmore and his wife Wanda are responsible for the beauty there. Zinnia's, sun flowers, four o'clocks , holly hocks and more just exploding with color. Jeroch, our staff landscaper and soul flower has been maintaining everything else. He too has a way with the rooted beings. I have seen him from time to time whispering poetry to them. Jeroch is responsible for the amazing flower arrangements and I do believe that his soul and the flowers souls are related in some way.

This is our big Couple's Weekend at FPR. The week before we open for couples weekend is always very busy. It's not like we save it all to the last minute.... some things just have to be done a few days before like the flowers, the picking up of the fresh Blocks Bagels, the rearranging of classrooms, landscaping, food prep, travel arrangements for musicians and more. I'm not sure why, but this year there is less stress associated with the last minute details.

On Wednesday John showed up with our new replacement flags for the flag pole that Jorma's Mom bought for the Ranch when we first we opened. These weren't ordinary run of the mill flags, they're embroidered and made of a thick wind resistant fabric. One POW flag and one American flag. And what's more they were hand picked by John's father, Ray Hurlbut who served in the Navy in World War II. Ray is like my father. He is a member of that ever diminishing Greatest Generation. Jorma's father and his 2 uncle's were in that great company. They are gone now but Ray is still here keeping the faith on a daily basis. I feel compelled to mention that one of our daughters names is Lucy after John's Mom. They are just as much a part of the Ranch as the staff that works for us today. I fly our new flags for them this weekend. Long may they wave.

I'll close this very brief blog this morning (students are arriving) to just say that is the great people in my life like Ray and Lucy, their son John, my amazing staff, Jorma and I could go on, that have carried me when I could not carry myself. I am forever grateful for their love and guidance. They all Rock The House!!!!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I write about doing service work from time to time. I actually don’t write about it as often as I should. It is a life choice that Jorma and I feel strongly about though. Were it not for the service work that directly affected the two of us, we might not have the Ranch today.

The world is filled with humanitarians and people who really walk the walk. Jorma and I have had the esteem pleasure of seeing service work in action with our friend Art Gish. Art Gish has been active in peace and social justice work for some fifty years, beginning with work as a conscientious objector in Europe in the late 50’s . He also worked in the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, and has actively opposed U. S. involvement in wars since his youth. Art and his wife have been actively working with Peacemaker Teams in the Middle East since 1995. He has authored several books but one in particular that I am more familiar with is Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking . I may not have agreed with some of the things that he stands for but I have the utmost respect for his work. He was a world renowned peacemaker and my heart is heavy today for the world’s loss. He died in a tractor accident on his farm not far from here.

I have to admit that some of my fondest memories of Art are not conversations about peace but rather the celebration of life and the opportunity to rest on Friday’s nights when we sat side by side at Shabbat services. I don’t even know if he was Jewish and it really does not matter. He honored everyone. He actually stood down an Israeli tank in the West Bank city of Hebron as Israeli bulldozers leveled a market. Like I said, I may not have agreed with everything he stood for but I think he was a modern day prophet and he never waivered from his non-violent values. He put himself on the front lines (literally). Thank you Art for your support of peace....as Jorma would say, Long May You Run My Brother...Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bearing fruits of juicy grace

You cannot walk down any street or drive down any road without seeing passersby scrolling through their smart phones to check emails or texting instead of talking. It never fails when Jorma and I go out to eat...as I glance around the restaurant at the other tables there’s always a table where one of the two at the table is sitting in silence while their dinner mate is emailing. For everything that technology has given us, we have lost something so personal in the trade. I’m not advocating throwing out our computers...I love my Mac and my IPhone. I just bought Jorma an IPad for Fathers Dad...secretly hoping that he would want me to have one to. It worked. I am anxiously awaiting mine, which should be here according to Apple in
7 – 10 days. As much as I love these tools, I miss the simple ways of communicating.

As most of you know, we live and run the Ranch in one of the most stunning places in this country...the foothills of Appalachia. I write a lot about the land because it really brought me back to a simple and realistic place that I had long left behind. The things that really please me today are wrap around front porches on an old farm house or hillsides dotted with a variety of cows. A traffic jam on my country road is when my neighbors kids are walking the cows across the road to give them a new day in a neon green pasture. You cannot help but live in that moment.

This past spring I decided to grow a garden and not just a few tomatoes. In a 30 x 40 fenced in area in our back yard (or lower 40 as Jorma calls our yard) I constructed 7 5x5 raised beds, filled them with organic dirt and the best local manure around. I looked at other gardens in magazines and books and finally decided to made a home for the next 6 months to a few varieties of tomatoes, red and green peppers, silver queen corn, radishes, beets, cucumbers. eggplant, green leaf lettuce, dill, coriander, basil, parsley and oregano, a few garden angels and old stained glass windows hanging from the fence. My garden brought me to a place where there were no phones, no one Facebooking me and no one texting me. A garden is such a meditative place and I cherish mine and the undemanding relationship with it.

Last night I went out to see how the tomatoes were doing and it was like Hanukkah. Every bed was filled with almost ripe or ripe vegetables that Izze and I grew. My peppers were the size of a 4 years old forearm. My tomatoes were red an plump. My cucumbers fat and falling off the vine. My corn sadly stopped developing after the 10th row of kernels but my two new eggplants made it all better. I have a new crop of lettuce and more herbs than I will use. Anything I cannot eat or family won’t take I will bring to the shelter before it goes bad. My whole garden experience this year was so fulfilling. Early on I took pictures of Izze helping me with the seedlings and it gave me such joy. I planted seeds for food and I ended up with baskets of peace, thyme away from my computer and a recipe for real communication with the universe. Now let me grab my IPhone and take a great picture to send to everyone.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Let me be a clear channel and an instrument of your love

Good morning everyone...I just had to write about this morning. It’s been typical Catskills weather, hot , a little muggy, some days an afternoon shower...but this morning the air wasn’t so hazy and the breeze is constant. I can hear every creature chirping in the surrounding woods. I went to the main lodge (Valley View House), got my coffee and stood out on the sprawling front deck taking it all in. I called to Johnny with my secret whistle. If he was awake I would hear the whistle off in the distance. He was awake. I walked to the end of the drive to meet him. We cheered with our coffees and agreed this morning was magical.

We are finishing up our week at The Full Moon Resort teaching with Tommy Emmanuel and Jorma and it has by far, been one of the most amazing weeks. These mountains have an amazing wealth of talent in them right now. When you have teachers like Jorma and Tommy, we see poets of the guitar in our students. I think Tommy played with every one of his students and the pieces the students chose were great. Having Tommy sit in as accompaniment must have been the thrill of a lifetime. I know it would be for me. Tommy is such and amazing human being. He is a true lover of life and he’s never not completely grateful for his life and the ability to do what he does for others.

A big up to Jorma too. A few days before we started , he was in Winnipeg performing with Hot Tuna. He flew in Monday afternoon and started teaching right after dinner. With Marjorie Thompson by his side as his teaching assistant, his students got the kind of music lessons you can only find at The Fur Peace Ranch.

One of the things we never wanted to do when we opened the Ranch was to get financial assistance from the state (because we are a school) or from inventors. Because when the economy is not up to par, the first thing to go is the arts. We couldn’t risk the possibility of someone else saying, “Sorry, this isn’t working anymore…time to call it a day.” If we couldn’t do this with just Jorma’s and my income and savvy, then maybe we wouldn’t work as hard to keep it alive. We had no idea that it would be the students that fed the spirit of The Ranch. The Ranch is an amazing place….but whether we are in Ohio or off-site like here at Full Moon, when the students show up….it becomes The Fur Peace Ranch. We’ll be back in 2011. Next year David Bromberg and Jorma will be here. We just posted our 2011 schedule late last night. It will be another impressive year thanks to all of the instructors and of course….our blessed students.

I’m heading up to breakfast now...then a Coffee Break Concert after that with John Hurlbut & friends will close out this stellar week. Tommy just stopped by on his way to the lodge...he told us about the prayer he offers to his students before he always plays... Lord make me a hollow reed from which the pith of self has been blown so that I may be a clear channel and an instrument of your love.

Amen brothers & sisters

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two blogs in one day is rare, I know. If you actually read any of these you can tell that it takes me while to write, but blogs do happen and usually I am moved by the great spirit and then I write. Well, the great food G-d moved me tonight so I must tell. I had made plans before I left Ohio to take everyone out for dinner after the long ride to upstate NY. I told everyone in an email..."If you make it by dinnertime I will treat you to a great Italian meal." We have a fondness for all things Italian at The Ranch and in our home so to find a good place would be really special. I wasn’t even sure about this one because I had never eaten there and everything I found out about it was done through the internet. So, everyone arrived around the same and off we drove to Frank Guido’s Little Italy in Kingston, NY. Their motto is Chi Mangia bene, vive bene. Who eats well, lives well.

The location of Little Italy was great. Tucked into a corner on a sharp turn in one of Kingston’s historical neighborhoods, sat a picturesque restaurant with burgundy awnings and matching café style tables just outside the entrance. It looked like a movie set. When you come through the front door the walls are peppered with black and white autographed pictures of Al Pacino, James Gandolfini, Robert De Niro, Danny Aiello and Tony Bennett. That was a good sign.

We were not disappointed. The food was fantastic... served family style and the service was great. I had the seafood risotto which is one of my favorite Italian foods. John had the classic brasciole. It was a tender piece of sirloin stuffed with prosciutto, provolone, roasted egg and garlic. You could smell the garlic throughout the entire restaurant. Jill ordered the brasciole too but with a side of pasta and clam sauce. Brett sat next to me and he ordered a four cheese ravioli. The marinara was so dark in color and the flavor reminded me of a marinara I had in Calabria a few years back. Our waiter Kyle, was a real pro. Izze was with us and you just never know how a four year old will act when you go out to eat...especially at a nice place. Kyle gave her a lot of attention and didn’t miss a beat with the adults. I could go on and on but it’s getting late and we start teaching tomorrow so I want to get to bed in a few. I just want to say that service...customer service is a big deal to us at The Fur Peace Ranch. No one does it better than we do. When we find a business that really puts it out there...they deserve a big up!

Grazie per una meravigliosa esperienza

I made the long haul to upstate NY yesterday. We are teaching at The Full Moon Resort in Big Indian. Truly a Fur Peace from my home and The Ranch. I wasn't planning on making the drive in one day being that it's about 11 hours. Once my foot hit the gas petal...I didn't want to stop. It ended up being a beautiful trip. I cannot remember the route I took being so green. The foothills of West Virginia and Maryland I do get to see a lot but I rarely drive thru PA. We used to take the route I took when we first started coming to our place in Ohio from Woodstock. Everything looked so idyllic...even from 81. I drove through areas filled with forests, lakes and mountains on all sides. Not that driving is relaxing....but what was laid out before me; the winding roads, the thunderstorm off in the distance, the lush greenery...it was a chance to naturally unwind.

The PA mountains were once inhabited by the Delaware, Iroquois, Minisink, Lenape, Shawnee, and Paupack Indians. As much as I pay attention to the road before me when I am driving, my mind, like when I was a kid, sometimes plays tricks on me. We traveled the roads of New England every summer when we were young. Playing road games was something we always did. When we got bored with that, I remember we would look to the tops of the pines as we entered the White Mountains and imagine that the very tops of the trees from far away looked like Indians. We pretended they were watching us come into their land. I showed Izze the Indians at the tops of the trees when we were coming into Wilkes-Barre. She got really quiet and looked as we entered their home land. Finally she said, "Your just joking, right Mom?" It brought me back to a time when the only thing I had to worry about was if the boy next door to my Grandparents place at the foot of Mt. Whiteface was going to like me this summer or pine for my sister Cynthia again.

The drive to the Catskills that I was dreading actually got my mind right for the boss man....as Cool Hand Luke would say. We arrived after 9pm, dropped our bags in our room and headed to the Olympia Diner. It's one of my favorite upstate diners. It was late but I felt like I needed food since I hadn't really eaten much on the drive. I ordered a tuna melt and Izze ordered a pancake. Her pancake was bigger than my dog and my tuna melt could have fed the staff at The Ranch. It didn't matter.....I kept staring at Izze and remembering my own youth and I felt such calm and gratitude. Not so much gratitude for the vacations I was lucky enough to go on as a kid....because, to be completely honest they weren't always great (another story for another time). The gratitude was for that moment looking over at Izze and feeling so lucky that my life has been filled with laughter and joy and lots of love despite some of the shit. The stuff I hold on to today is the good stuff and I can give that to Izze...like the Indians. I took her to see Toy Story 3 today, before the classes start tomorrow and she enters my world for a week. It was great! I cried thru the silliest parts but like I told her...they were happy tears!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Blow your horn......

Getting involved on whatever level is so necessary. It’s the little things about being part of your community that add up. We get to see a lot of that here in the middle of America. It’s not that it’s not happening in cities like NY or LA, it’s just that we actually get to see it because our population is so small . I learned that when I first moved to Ohio from New York. A local 80 year old woman, Jesse Curtis, who’s family had owed our property for over one hundred years, said to me when I moved out here, she said, “I hope you like small towns, cause folks do a lot of neighboring around here”. She was so right. The flip side of people knowing what you had for dinner is that they know when you need help even if you are not inclined to ask for help.

In my life I have seen 2 wars, said goodbye to friends who perished in 9/11 and watched a community crumble from hurricane Katrina. Disaster and heartache can also come from poverty. Poverty is one disaster that the nightly news doesn’t necessarily pick a powerful type font for when they are telling it story. The one thread however that they all share is the response of the American Red Cross. They are second responders to most disasters. Since its founding in the late 1800’s by visionary leader Clara Barton (who I did my first ever book report on in third grade), the Red Cross has been the nation's premier emergency response organization and on a global level, they offer neutral humanitarian care to the victims of war. They distinguish themselves by also aiding victims of devastating natural disasters. Their aim is to prevent and relieve suffering, offer compassionate services that help the needy, support and comfort for military members and their families, collect and distribute goods, process and distribute lifesaving blood and blood products, educate communities through programs that promote health and safety and provide international relief and development programs. I know that's a mouthful.....and here’s the part that gets me; an average of 92 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency (probably why is still functions as well as it does), it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

We just hosted a luncheon here at the Ranch for our local Red Cross. We met the local Director, Pamela Martino a few years ago . She’s been our local Director for a few years and yet our local county hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her. Our local office has only 2 paid employees. They count on the response from volunteers and for the most part we have quite a few. Our goal was to bridge a gap and I think we accomplished that over a simple but delicious lunch. Chris and the rest of the kitchen staff prepared turkey cobb wraps, a local garden green salad, watermelon gazpacho and Ranch made ice cream. The conversation flowed like water over the common interest of everyone present to make sure we act like a community. That means taking care of the people that live here. It felt good. Extraordinary measures were not taken to pull it off, just a desire to help.

When I started this blog I was apprehensive about where it might go. I didn’t want it to be political and I didn’t want to write about what I think is wrong with the world. I hope in the few entries that I’ve shared I have steered clear of that. I will say this though, I think because of my life...the gift of my life...I have the responsibility to live it well and to pass on any goodness that was passed on to me. Today I was feeling the love. Everyone who attended our luncheon were members of a community that has seen it share of change, both good and bad. For the most part they were the working class. What I mean by that is that despite the money and riches they may have, they have all worked hard for it. I sat next to a gentlemen I have known for years. He is in his 80’s now and has is serving his sixth term on the Wildlife Council. With a farming background, he has a love for the land and everything that grows and lives on it. I am a better person today because of the people that the universe has put in my path. I’ll close out this lengthy post a few days before the 4th of July and just put it out there to get involved, help your neighbors, do service work and don’t forget to floss.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I just got back from a week away on the coast of Maine. I have family there and spent my summers not far from there in the mountains of New Hampshire. My brother came up from Connecticut with all of his kids, their kids and their families that included grand nieces, grand nephews, second cousins and in-laws. It was an unexpected melding of personalities and hearts. We played in the waves, took long barefoot walks on the beach, enjoyed meals together and laughed like we were kids. It was so good to see Izze playing with cousins she had never met. They were instant family....especially when it came time to share buckets and shells and the best piece of driftwood on the beach. The search for hermit crabs on the rocks by all the young kids was so sweet to watch. It was brilliant innocence. No tears.....no fear...just safe...calm and sincere. I felt like I was dreaming at one point...trying to capture it on my IPhone...then just standing there with my heart full. That moment alone was worth the airport travel, standing in line for a rental car and the stress of leaving the comfort of your space for a week.

I have another family at the Fur Peace Ranch....not relatives....but a close group of people nonetheless. I know that for some it is probably just a job but it was never that for me and Jorma. Sometimes I think it is an art to maneuver your way around everyone's like and dislikes. But it all good. In some ways, I love them like I love my own family. Maybe that's why it all works. I don't really know. I know that when we are all there working together on whatever project, I stand back and feel that same full heart like I did on the beach.

It's good to leave my comfort zone every once in awhile. To put myself out there away from my own reality. What emails? What schedule? These unexpected moments are the stuff that matters. The time I have spent scheduling my "human doings" has probably resulted in me missing some of this. My own reality today is filled with joy. Joy for it all as it touches my heart.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Social change is often a topic of conversation here at the Ranch and in our home. What needs changing, how to make it happen and how to keep the momentum going. Years ago when our country got involved in this mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, we made a collective decision to change our youth scholarship program to now provide scholarships for returning Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. We believe that music heals the soul and we could not think of more deserving individuals . All of our poster sales, private donations and matching donations from Jorma and I, built a credible fund. The Vets were slow in answering the call so Hot Tuna went to Walter Reed to visit as many Vets as they could and let them know that we had a network started and it was there’s to take advantage of. The politics to get Hot Tuna in the doors was typical but all in all we were grateful for the help of one soldier who helped make it all happen. I am not sure if I can use his name or not, so I am intentionally leaving it out. Our men and woman are still over there and we are still here offering a chance to come and experience what the Fur Peace Ranch is all about.

Fast forward to last weekend…..I got a call from Freddy Hahne, Board member of the Rex Foundation. It was an unexpected call and surprise to say the least. Freddy wanted me to know that he had been thinking about Jorma and the Ranch and everything that we have been doing here in the last 13 years. He was calling to inform me that he was going to bring up Jorma and the Ranch at the Board Meeting the next day and nominate us/Jorma to be the recipient of the Ralph J. Gleason award. This award is in memory of music journalist Ralph J. Gleason, a major figure in the advancement of music in America in the 1960s, whose openness to new music and ideas transcended differences between generations and styles. I listened on the other end of the phone stunned and grateful of course. He said he’d be in touch after the meeting. Well……as these things go, they awarded Jorma this special fund to offer music instruction to youth in Appalachia. I held on to this news for a few day and announced it to Jorma and the rest of the staff and students at last weeks at orientation. We’ve had a chance to let it settle in and now the work begins.

Appalachia runs from parts of Mississippi to Maine. Where do we start? Who will benefit from this gift? How do we find the kids? Lots of questions and already lots of progress. I am in the process of contacting students and instructors along this Appalachian trail and paving a plan to offer music instruction in many forms. Lectures, lessons and guitars will be offered to as many kids as we can find. When the money runs out….we’ll find a way to keep it going. A big up to The Rex Foundation for choosing us to fulfill their mission. In these ways, together, as participants in the Rex Foundation community, we are helping to foster the power of community, service and the arts to help generate positive social change toward health, happiness and prosperity for all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

I've taken a few days off from the Ranch to come to NYC to see Jorma play the City Winery and to have a few adventures with Izze. I have experienced one evacuation of Time Square and a traffic tie up that left us inching our way four blocks that took about 45 minutes. Ahhh New York....always an adventure. Makes me wonder just a little why I leave my heaven on earth in Ohio. Traveling isn't always this way....but it is challenging now a days. I know I sound like my parents...but it's true. You get older and those simple things in life just seem so much more necessary. I will always love traveling but I just don't need all of the bells and whistles anymore. Just a simple trip will do.

It got me thinking about how I am today and how I have been in the past....not just me but with Jorma too. There's so much you see in each other when you are cooped up in a hotel room or tour bus. I decided to write down all of things things you might not know about him.....I'll get to me later. So, I'll bet you didn't know that:

1. Jorma always gets choked up over the National Anthem....no matter who is singing it
2. When Jorma's electronics like phones, computers, etc. don't work....he doesn't work very well.
3. Jorma loves burgers....but only with lettuce and pickles....NO KETCHUP!!!
4. He has to take a nap every day otherwise.....well....you don't want to know.....
5. He loves Hershey Chocolate bars....but really likes M&M's with Peanuts
6. He will drink hotel room coffee.....
7. He eats really fast
8. He changes the strings on his guitar every day
9. He likes a good sappy country song
10. War...any war....makes him weep but he still watches television shows about them because he is a history buff

I thought about listing a whole bunch of things about me...and I did, but then deleted them. I'll just say that I'm a work in progress and if I can just keep my side of the street clean...I'll be alright someday.....

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy to be me

When I was young, we moved a lot. My father was always looking for a better home, a better job and with 6 kids in tow, it could not have been easy for him. I know it was not easy for us. I never really had an opportunity to make lifelong friends, or to grow up in one school or to call a community mine. It was my life and it was all I knew. With that life...comes stresses for adults and for the kids who must endure. It wasn’t always peaceful in our home for a lot of reasons but there was one saving grace for me and that was music. Back then it was the radio because we were not allowed to touch any record players. The radio was good and I listened to it every single day. Nixon was president and I was afraid that my older brother Keith would get called up. My parents were fighting all the time. Still no matter was happening, it was the music that saved me.

The songs that found me were songs that filled my heart. I never really knew what some of the lyrics meant but the tones, the guitar, the vocals, filled me at times to the point of tears. I was seven...and I knew that someday music would be a part of my life outside of the radio. The most radio popular song at the time was Jonathan Edwards, Sunshine. The first time I heard it played, it changed me deep inside. I grew in ways that are hard to explain but the song did something to me. I started to understand what boundaries were, how lies hurt and for the first time I heard a generation speak about human rights and civic freedoms. I became the “us” and my parents and anyone their age were the “them”.

I wish I could say that my life at that time was shaped so that the rest of this story would be about the great things I did in the name of humanity. It didn’t exactly go that way. I spent the next twenty years getting into a lot of trouble, abusing myself and not living well at all. I didn’t search out to hurt anyone but when you don’t treat yourself very well, the after shocks can affect those closest to you. Music never left me though and that song has stayed with me all these years along with other songs that moved me through challenging times. I could name them all but it would be a lot of songs and there is not enough room in this entry to list them all.

Fast forward to this past weekend. We hosted a camp with Steve Kaufman, a fantastic Flat Picker and Jonathan Edwards who was teaching a songwriting course titled, "Performance, and the Art of Avoiding a Real Job". The songs he writes are about his life...what's going on in his life, heart and spirit, and mind. It’s hard not to gush and to be honest, I tried to keep it together this weekend, but I did gush. I told the audience a little piece of this story from the stage before Steve and Jonathan went on. That it felt like, after many life challenges and single handedly dismantling my own life 16 years ago, I had been living my life well over the last decade. This concert was the reward for that. Ohio saved me and in a weird way Jonathan saved me, the audience had saved me, Jorma had saved me, my amazing staff continues to save me and my gratitude was overflowing. It is so important that I live in the now and that I am continually grateful for these amazing gifts. I am sharing a picture here of me and Jonathan. To say that I was happy to have a picture with him is just not saying how I really felt. I sent it to my sister in Maine and said, “Do I look happy?” She said I looked like I had just had sex. I had to laugh…..my face shows my joy not so much for standing there with someone whom I admire musically, but it is that I am ultimately satisfied with where I am.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I have written about this before as has John, but it just must be written again. This past weekend our good friend Rick Adams and a hand full of Fur Peace Ranch staff and a few good friends headed out to pick up the trash on our Fur Peace Ranch Adopted Highway. It’s a small stretch of road on Route 681 that enters into Meigs County. It’s the back way to the Ranch on a beautiful winding country road that hugs the rolling hills. When we started doing this some six years ago, the amount of the first trash pick up was staggering. Eighty Five (85) bags of trash. Some Verizon phone company garbage, a water heater, prescriptions, take out bags from the local carry out, cigarettes, diapers and more all thrown into the grass and trees just outside and to the edge of this winding road. It’s seems so hard to imagine that in this era of “green” living that folks would discard their trash on the road side. Regardless of if we are living in the age of green or not . It’s just wrong. We cannot do anything about the people out there that don’t think it’s wrong. It shows such lack of pride…. all I can do is show by example. I am not from here but I love this land and me and my staff and our friends will continue to do this. I actually enjoy the time spent with good friends. No matter if it is over trash duty or not. It is service work and anyone who wants to do service work on behalf of the land...well, I’ll stand side by side with them. I think they feel the same way.

I will say this...over the years the amount of trash picked up is less and less. This past weekend we only had about 12 bags of trash, a muffler, a cooler and a tire tube and some building material. Still, as grateful as we were, there should be no trash. But the real story here…..the lesson that keeps revealing itself to me is that I am in this world to do good work. I am not here to complain about others. I am no one’s judge or jury. I actually had a really good time this week. I must have laughed 100 times! I love the people I work with and looking on the bright side of picking up what others have so carelessly thrown out of the cars...I think...is essential. I am looking forward to five bags of trash on our next scheduled pick up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If you are lucky in your life…..special people will be a part of your world. They are the fabric and the thread that binds it all together…the guidance, the stories and the love that keep us going. I am so blessed to have had many special folks come in and out of my life. They always seem to be put there when I need them most. It is a subtle placement by the universe of just the right person to guide me when I struggled to find my way for whatever reason. One of those people in my life just passed on. His name was Charles Picket. His family owned the original parcel of land that is now the Fur Peace Ranch. They were farmers and had a unique relationship with the land and passed that on to us. Farming, for them, was a way of life and it helped build the state, give sustenance to it’s communities and provide them with a special sense of place.
And despite some of the difficult economic circumstances in the last century, agriculture is still a significant part of the state economy. Agriculture took on a whole new meaning in the 60’s around here….and farmers became….well……growers….of all things green. That’s all I’ll say about that.

All the old timers around here seemed to have sprouted from the earth and they know things about the signs of winter months before it happens. It borders on magical. Charles and his family were and continue to be part of that history. He and his wife Anna raised four boys….a lot like him, rugged, kind and terribly funny. Charles’ land (the piece they kept) has a million dollar view. He and his wife over the years have allowed Pete Huttlinger and some of Pete’s students who like to fish like him….catch and release anything that was in his pond. They always come back with great stories….and like boys…covered in mud, fishing poles slung over their shoulders.

There is a hole in my heart right now for this loss…..but like all things…it will pass. When we met him twenty years ago…he insisted we call him Uncle Charles. So today, I honor his memory and the gifts he gave us through his stories and his neighborin’. Long may you run Uncle Charles……

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thank God I have John Hurlbut to hip me to such cool music. My music library it very diverse and of course I have some great Reggae because of Hurl. Believe it or not...Jorma and I listen to much different music. Jorma’s got some great stuff but I go to John when I want something new to listen to. I just read John’s blog to see what he was listening to...so... now I am listening to it.

It occurred to me that my world of music outside the Fur Peace Ranch is all about the world seen through the eyes of Israel, my four year old. She has great taste in her music. It is kids music though so I have had to get used to laughing all the way through a song. Some of our favorites are Randy Kaplan’s, "Shampoo Me" and "The Ladybug Without Spots". In case you are not familiar with him, Randy Kaplan blends folk, American roots, alternative, and pop music in his songs for kids…..and anyone who can stand it. He also adapts Tin Pan Alley gems, Broadway numbers, Rock classics, and Delta Blues songs. They are all catchy tunes and many of his folk songs for kids are honest and pure and they brighten my world when I am driving Izze around town. One of the funniest songs that I have heard on her kids radio channel (Kids Place Live on Sirius) is The Folsom Day Care Blues. Sung to the tune of Johnny’s Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues ...

When I was just a baby, my mamma told me son….
play nice with other children share your toys with everyone.
Well, I pushed a toddler over just to watch him fall.
Well, I’m here in Folsom Daycare ...
and it’s no fun at all.
I hear the teacher comin’ and I hang my head an cry...
and there’s more but I think you get the idea. Izze didn’t think it was as funny as I did.

On a more serious note, Israel really loves all kinds of music and since she’s with me all of the time….she gets to hear some great stuff. She loves Bob Marley and thinks that Gregory Issacs has the most beautiful voice. Good taste! The good news is that it is all joyful. I am so lucky to have been brought up with music as part of my life all day every day. My father was a country western singer and I got to hear some of the great old country music from the 30’s and 40’s….crooners really...so I have a thing for voices. I learned how to yodel at a very young age (no I won’t yodel for you if you ask) and my Dad taught me how to break a falsetto at the age of 6. We struggled to find a common meeting ground as parent and child. He passed several years ago and we still had not become close but I owe everything to him for exposing me to the guitar before I could walk. So, it was because of him that the Ranch even exists. I am continually reminded of the blessings that have been bestowed on me...

If you are wondering about the picture....my father is the cowboy in the top left.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Good luck is a strange phenomenon. Is it random? Are there only a certain number of people on this planet that are subject to constant good luck? Are there people that are unlucky? I am not sure that I have the answers to any of those queries. I myself have experienced life like the rest of us. Sometimes I felt like I had fallen on bad luck and then there were times in my life that it seemed the luck came my way...in small doses…. but I think I recognized it as luck. The fortunate situations that have come our way at the Ranch always come with sign. John and I are fond of saying, “Ahhhhh, an auspicious sign.” They are little things, like someone showing up just when we needed them. Luck for me personally, has shown itself in many ways. It can be good or bad fortune in my life caused by accident or by chance that (gasp) is out of my control. I have been fortunate enough to know when my struggles come with a challenge, the lessons are always rewarding. You know, the universe doing for me what I could not do for myself. A gentle nudge in other in other words.

When I was 21, I couldn’t get out of my own way. I was is a less than savory situation at home but around every corner was an opportunity to change. I remember I was sitting on a grassy hill starring out into space lost in thought and unable to see the change that must occur. I actually heard my name being called and looked down (I still don’t know why I did not look up) and a four leaf clover was looking at me. I couldn’t believe it because I always thought that was for someone who was lucky and I was not feeling lucky. My head stayed down and I proceeded to find 16 more four leaf clovers. As small as that was…..it gave me hope. I did change my life and have been changing ever since. For the record…..I have hundreds of four leaf clovers. Turns out, my grandmother used to find them and I have sisters that can find them. There is a scientific method to finding them but I choose to believe that every time I find one….it is an auspicious sign. Am I lucky? Or do I need all of the luck I can get? Who knows…………………

I found my first four leave clover of 2010. I was walking back to my office and I heard someone whisper my name. I looked down (I still don’t know why I don’t not look up) and a four leaf clover was looking at me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thirteen years have passed since we opened the doors to the ranch for the first time. Without missing a beat...we opened up the Ranch a few weekends ago to one of Jorma's specialty workshops. Though small in numbers, the group was over the top in the spirit they brought to our little piece of heaven. Winter seems to be gone (hopefully) and despite the overcast sky, everything about the light that shines through the hearts of musicians broke through that platinum ceiling. The mix of students came from all over the U.S. They came in from Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Delaware, Mexico City, North Carolina, Florida and South Carolina. Some of them were repeat offenders and others were new to the Ranch. By the time Saturday rolled around it was as if we’d all known each other for years. That is the magic of the Fur Peace Ranch. We are doing it again this weekend with Stefan Grossman, Larry Coryell and Jorma. This time the group is large and though we’ve just gotten underway...the magic is clear. The students have all been here over the last 13 years at one time or another. Some of them know each other and some are just meeting for the first time. Four are new to the Ranch but have been taken in by others and they are all off playing guitar after an amazing lunch prepared by Chef Chris. Pot roast taco's with Chipoltle brownies for dessert!

Years ago when we had the idea to open the Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp, we were moved by the land to build something. It did not happen over night. I was still in the throws of my life choices at that time. Eventually as I became healthier my eyes opened, my heart grew and I was able to see that it was the land that brought us here and it was time to learn some unknown lesson. It was in 1991 shortly after we first moved here...I went for a drive trying to escape my misery, but there I was, stuck with me trying to get a way from me. Every turn, around every corner of the winding roads that is my home, was more stunning than the last. The puffy white clouds, the rolling hills, the cows, the grass so green it hurt my eyes...and this voice that kept at me so lovingly. I heard, “Look at this beauty. Get out of your hurt and look at what is yours.” I finally gave in. Instead of fighting this internal struggle, I started to sail around the corners. I was laughing and gasping for air at the beauty that is this land that kept showing itself to me. When I reached the end of the road I was on, I turned back around and sailed back the way I came to be sure I wasn’t having a mental break down. I wasn’t having a break down. I believe that I had become so sick and tired of being sick and tired with myself, that there was no where else to turn except into the arms of these hills that were wrapping themselves around me like a mothers love.

Everything is connected. The land, the Ranch, the dream, the students, the music, the food, the land...and the circle keeps swirling every session...every year. Onward............

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One of the great things about traveling is that you are forced to live your life one day at a time. It is a rare opportunity for someone like me to live in the moment. When I am at home, I am busy at the ranch every day. Then there’s the running Izze back and forth to preschool (which is 25 miles away), taking Chinese lessons twice a week and dance class one a week. Reading a book has become a luxury of late.
I did get to slow it down a bit when we were hit with one of the worse winters I have seen in Ohio in all the years I have been there. The snow and frigid temps allowed me not only to take it all in but to stop running. At my age if I fall on the ice, well….that would be bad. Honestly, I am not a fan of winter. I am from the east coast and figure that I have done my time in the snow and ice and that gave me the right to complain about any winter, whether it was snowy or just cold. But I can’t stand to hear myself complain (because I am so good at it). So last year, I vowed to not complain about the weather…..the cold weather. This year was the true test. And I think I passed. At the end of the day when I came back to the farm and got out of my car, I looked passed the mounds of snow piled high from Jorma’s deluxe plowing. I ducked every time I entered the door to the house, as to be sure I would not get decapitated from the foot long ice sickles that had formed out and over our gutters…and when it came time to walk my dog , I just said, “let’s go Nana, it so beautiful out.” I made walking trails for myself and the dog and shoveled every day and somewhere along the way, I stopped faking it. It was beautiful and I had become grateful for the opportunity to not complain.

The middle of February came and we were ready to head to Palm Springs to teach our winter workshops. I tried not to gloat to my friends about where I was heading. I have to say, it was nice. It was 80 degrees the entire time we were there. We made our annual pilgrimage with some of our students to the Coachella Valley View Point to watch the sun come up over the Salton Sea and I took it all in. I laid in the sun, read a book (wow!!!!) and tried not to talk about how I escaped the winter back home.

I am winding my trip up….just a few more days in California. I am on my second book and unfortunately have come down with a little cold causing me to feel a bit vulnerable. I am home sick. I miss my office, my home, my friends and the snow (yikes). What I have discovered is that one of the beauties of this life is that I don’t have to go far to experience nature in all her glory. Out here I have seen scenic vista’s, water views, majestic trees, dirt paths and picturesque landscaping. I have all of that and more in my little neck of the woods in southeast Ohio… not to mention the homelike warmth around every corner in the rolling foothills that is my refuge.

Snow or no snow, cold or no cold, I celebrate the fact that that today…..there are no ripple’s in my pond.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saving the world over soup….

This winter, southeast Ohio experienced some frigid temps. I am from New England and have seen my share of cold and ice and snow so I feel like I have the right to complain. I have done my time in the cold. But complaining doesn’t get me anywhere. Then all you do is whine. No one likes a whiner. So, I took a completely different approach….a grateful approach and instead, embraced the beauty of all of the snow. I even started running in the cold my dog Nana. I surprised myself actually. Could it be that I actually like winter? I wouldn’t go that far. I found though that if I dress really warm and greet people like I am actually happy that it is colder than my body can handle, it is not so bad. I have also started cooking hearty soups. It is all psychological but you know…it’s working. Especially the cooking and then there’s the sharing of the soup bounty.

Ask anyone I know…who has eaten my soup…I make great soup! I would put my soup up against anyone’s. I always make sure my attitude is in check when I cook for anyone. I wouldn’t want a sour attitude to get in to anyone’s belly. So, once I know I am in a good place I pull down my largest pot to make a soup that would serve a village. For the most part, I don’t follow a recipe. My soups are in my heart and they just happen. Sometimes I see my self cooking and my hands are just cutting and pouring and adding and sipping and then….it’s soup. I eat a bowl then I pack it up and bring it to the Ranch to share with everyone. I always reserve a small container for my Mom because I want her to know that I was paying attention to her and my grandmother when they were cooking.

From December to early March, there are no sessions at the Ranch so our Chef Chris isn’t feeding us. Lunches are usually missed. Not this winter though. Every week since the first of January I have provided soup. Brett, my assistant, has made the bread; John has made some specialty of his and Kelly too. We all sit down and enjoy the food, the season and the conversation. The conversation is the real key to this story. Between the 6 of us, John, Treva, Kelly, Aly, Brett and myself, we have found all of the answers to all of the world’s problems. We have balanced the budget by hiring local accountants, we have found a way to start the healing and rebuilding in Haiti, we have found answers thru sensitivity training for the prejudice in this country and have found the secret to feeding the hungry and just about every problem that exists today. It just amazes me how easy some of it is. The question always comes down to…Why? or What were they thinking? If soup is how we found the answers, I encourage all of you to start cooking. Remember, start with a grateful heart and you too can fix what needs fixing in this world. Then, share your bounty with your co-workers. It will bring you together to do good in ways you never imagined. To close...it was my corn chowder that stopped the prejudice, my roasted root vegetable soup that balanced the budget, my yellow split pea soup that figured out a way to bring practical education on drug use in the elementary schools to the teachers, my tomato bisque that stopped the hunger in this world and my creamy fennel soup that inspired us all to take a look at how we should treat each other. Bon appétit!