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 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 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 cafĂ© 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 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 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 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.