From Chef to CHEF

Mandi note:  I met Sean Ragusa on Match.com in 2010 while living in Chicago. We’ve been great friends ever since!  We would cook together, visit local restaurants and I can definitely say that Chef is solely responsible for my love and appreciation of craft beer.  I think we even cooked our first Boeuf Bourginon together!  Soon,  I gave him the nickname ‘Chef’ and he responded with ‘Cupcake’ and the nicknames have always stuck.  🙂

Chef and Cupcake at the opening of Magnolia Bakery in downtown, Chicago. A few years later, I would be the General Manager there.

Chef and Cupcake at the opening of Magnolia Bakery in downtown, Chicago. A few years later, in a weird twist of fate, I would be the General Manager there.

I’m so happy to share Chef’s story with all of you because:  A) It’s his birthday today!!!  Give him lots of love!!!  And B) It is so rare in our society to hear about a major career change so late in life.  Fear is such a driving factor that keeps us from risking anything.  We play it safe in the name of our families, in the name of financial security… While Chef didn’t have children to worry about, he still had a lot at stake to pursue his dream.  But he did!  And in the meantime, he found a new career, a new passion for life and a new and beautiful love.  I couldn’t be happier for him!!  🙂

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My name is Sean, and I am a career changer.
Here is a brief history about who I am and how I got here.

I was born in a decade where ‘men were men’ and women drank scotch while they were pregnant. A decade that introduced us to music’s worst genre, disco, and all of the awful fashion trends and dance moves that went along with it. I mean let’s face it, I had to get past that to move forward into the greatest decade of Bachrach sweatshirts, tight rolled acid wash jeans, and mullets.

The ethnic make up of my family contributed to my love of food, although my taste buds were still typical of my young age. My Father’s side was Sicilian and Milanese. My Mother’s side was a melting pot of culture, Southern (first and foremost), then Dutch, Welsh, and Scottish. But the aromas and food that came out of the kitchens of our house as well as other family members were very memorable, comforting, and pleasant, for the most part. Everything from stuffed peppers and braciole to fried chicken and sweet potato pie.

I can remember visiting my Grandmother on the west side of Chicago, and when we walked into her kitchen there was always a pot of stuffed peppers ready for us to eat. The smell of garlic filled the air. Her simple sauce and a loaf of Milano bread from Butera to go along with it. Oh, and I can not forget her iceburg, tomato, and cucumber salad.

Getting past the 70’s and moving into the 80’s brought musical changes, fashion changes, and taste bud changes. We listened to the Cure, Motley Crue, and Run DMC. We wore college sweatshirts, MC Hammer pants, one white glove, and Reeboks. Foods of convenience took over our lives, Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Rax, Taco John’s, Arby’s, and KFC. We were fed Hungry Man, Fox Deluxe, Gino’s, and Banquet. But there was still home cooking going on. I remember quite a bit of grilling at our house. And late into the 80’s, I started to dabble, just a bit, but couldn’t quite live up to the standards of Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) or Justin Wilson (The Cajun Cook).

And then there was the 90’s and college, albeit short lived, but I did go. It was a year of boxed mac and cheese, hamburger helper, frozen pizza, ramen and cheap cuts of meat, cooked on a hibachi and marinated in beer. It was bad, but an experience that I had to have. I longed for my visits home, for good home cooking.

It was in the 90’s that things began to change for me. On what was supposed to be my Summer break, I decided, thanks to some family friends, that maybe college wasn’t for me. I was meant to do more with my life than to be radio air talent. That’s when I enrolled in EMT classes and joined the Volunteer Fire Department. With less than one year as a volunteer firefighter/emt, I left the VFD to pursue a career as a firefighter/emt.

Sean Ragusa as a bad ass Central Illinois firefighter.

Sean Ragusa as a bad ass Central Illinois firefighter.

This decision spanned a period of 23 years, starting in Central Illinois and slowly moved my way north, ending in Chicago. It was during that 23 years I immersed myself in a culture unknown to civilians. It was a Brotherhood like no other. And what keeps a Brotherhood happy and healthy? Good food! Yes, during my 23 years, I was able to hone my culinary skills. This was in between running calls and watching the Food Network (when they actually had cooking programs).

Long before my time and his nickname 'Chef.'

Long before my time and his nickname ‘Chef.’

 

Every shift, even after taking a position as a Lieutenant, after doing our busy work and training, I manned the kitchen. The guys were my guinea pigs and they didn’t mind because it was food, it was better than ordering out, and they didn’t have to cook it. And we dined on everything from comfort food (roasts, stews, etc) to some not so successful meals. One that still haunts me to this day was a lemon chicken incident that tasted very much like Pledge furniture polish.

During the last 10 years of my career, I toyed around with the idea of attending culinary school, but did not want to commit to a daily regimen. Arranging that with my job, seemed impossible. So, instead I took some cooking classes at Sur La Table and The Wooden Spoon. They were fun, interesting, and I did learn a few things. Then I met a girl, Mindy, and she mentioned something about attending culinary school. Once again, I tossed around the idea, but that’s about it. We then took a vacation, where we spent some time in Tuscany. We also took a cooking class together there, and I made the decision that when I got home, I would figure out a way to go to school.

The next thing I knew, I found myself at Le Cordon Bleu, learning knife cuts, braising, breaking down whole animals, and making croissants (not by popping open a can). That year was a whirlwind, until it was time for my externship. That’s when it got real, because I was going to spend 3 months cooking, in Italy!

Chef: The nickname, the real deal and the legend. This is Chef in Italy. My favorite picture of him, EVERRRRR!!!!

Nickname Chef becomes the real Chef!  Sean in Italy. My favorite picture of him, EVERRRRR!!!!

Two years later, I find myself writing this bio for Mandi, whom by the way, I met in Chicago, but that will also come out later. Sitting here, in my office, at home, in Nashville. My days off are different now, working at a restaurant will do that to a person. And since my move here, I’ve worked at three different restaurants, as well as started my own personal/private chef business.

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Who knows what the future will bring, however I think part of my future will include guest blogging for Mandicakes.

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Mandi Note: HELLS YEAH!!!!!  🙂 🙂 🙂  Also, that ‘Mindy chick’ is now his beautiful wife!!!  You can find this husband and wife duo hard at work on their business:  Let Us Feed You, Nashville.   I think a visit might be in order… I’m suddenly hungry. 

The happy couple in Nashville.

The happy couple in Nashville.

My Own Shame

After reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir ‘Love Warrior,’ I’ve been thinking a lot about honesty, shame and vulnerability.  In her book, she speaks to the idea that we have these impossible societal constructs within which to live and rather than be our vulnerable selves, we send our ‘representatives’ into the world.  They laugh on cue, they look the part, they diminish their voice, check out and hide, or fall in line.  It becomes a life of survival rather than a life of authenticity, and instead of thriving, we suffer and cope.  We find a pulse in various comforting addictions and the secret knowledge of these habits, fill us with guilt and shame. 

 

Late to the Glennon Doyle Melton party...

Late to the Glennon Doyle Melton party…

When Edward Snowden announced that the government had been spying on us and other countries, invading our personal freedoms and privacy in the name of terrorism, we didn’t take to the streets.  There was no rioting.  We rolled over, scratched our bellies and said, ‘Yeah, not surprised,’ and went back to sleep feeling powerless.  In the same way, we’re not surprised by Glennon’s truth telling.  ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah… We all know we live in guilt and shame.  Sweet Lord, don’t make me think about it.’  

The thing is, I want to think about it because I crave healing.  I want to be healed because I want to live a life that is powerful and full.  I want to be so full that I’m able to offer something to the world.  I want these things for all of us because… imagine that world.

There are many reasons, we send out our representatives but for me, my shame and guilt, pain and grief, all stems from my weight.  It’s so incredibly… painful. It is such a deep river within that when I think of my wedding day– my wedding day!— the feeling that first comes to mind is: FAT.  I had gained a ton of weight, was so uncomfortable and wanted to crawl back in bed for a do over because this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  This wasn’t my soul’s wedding.  This was the wedding of a fucked up, embarrassed and guilt-ridden failure.  (Thanks to family and friends, it was also a day I’ve never felt so loved, a testament to what love can do).  

My representative wants to tell you about my mountain life, my adorable cats, manifesting a life of creativity and having a wonderful sweetie. These things are all very true.  I feel absolutely blessed and my life, oftentimes, divinely inspired.  But, truth be told, it is not the story in my head, the underlying programs; these are the voices I wake up to every day and the ones that scream me to sleep at night.   

These voices require that I live the ‘Walk of Atonement’ on Game of Thrones daily.  I am both the observer and the observed. I am an overweight, short, guilt-ridden and shamed, Cersei, naked and vulnerable, making my way through King’s Landing.  I am mocked.  I am hated.  I am covered in spit and garbage.  A man exposes himself to me? I’m sure I deserved it.  I question the people in my life that love me and what is wrong with them. I am also the one throwing the garbage. I detest myself. I spit and spew. My fat is nauseating and I hate looking at it.  This is how the standards I have set for myself, after being an A+ student in bullshit, make me feel every day of my life.

For anyone that has ever tried to lose weight and failed, it is because it is almost impossible to will one’s self into perfection.  And if you do have that sort of panicked will power, a neurotic workout and diet regimen is just another hamster wheel.  On a diet, there is good and bad. There is right and wrong.  It isn’t a matter of health or listening to your body. We are programmed to believe that to be thin and lose weight at any cost is a success and to be fat for any reason means you’re a failure. From doctors we hear, “Eat 4oz. of skinless chicken with one cup of steamed broccoli and brown rice.” From society we hear, “Eat less and work out, fat fucks.  It’s not rocket science.”  

There are problems with this… 

  • It speaks nothing to the holes within us that cause us to eat in the first place.
  • It speaks nothing to the shame and guilt that we feel toward ourselves on a daily basis.
  • It speaks nothing to the programming that thin equals success and fat equals failure.
  • It speaks nothing to how women view each other and how we’re taught to view each other.
  • It speaks nothing to the spirituality of our bodies.
  • It speaks nothing to the indoctrinated mindset of society that fat people are allowed to be the butt of a joke and are incompetent, nauseating, ignorant, unworthy of existence, etc.
  • It speaks nothing to how our feelings as individuals, regardless of the reasons for our shame, cause us all to exist in society.

It’s FUCKED UP!  And it’s not just about weight.  

To me it feels heartless, calloused, superficial and just plain wrong that as a society we don’t allow ourselves to talk about our feelings.  It’s only after we’re thin, fixed, have gotten sober or lost the addiction, that we’re allowed to admit to our issues and how we felt ‘less than.’  Only after the fact do you get to write the memoir, because to mention in everyday life that you are sad, alone, addicted, fearful, anxious, depressed, frustrated or angry makes society really uncomfortable.  It’s just not the American way.

I also learned in church that this was God’s ideal. To be without joy, was to be separate from God.  You’re either in the dark or you’re in the light. I was a determined and sensitive kid that took to heart God’s satisfaction and dissatisfaction with all of my thoughts and feelings. Not only did I feel God’s disapproval and judgment every moment of the day, but on top of my own, it was too great a burden to bare.  It caused so much guilt and shame, you could have tattooed the word ‘grace’ on my forehead and I still wouldn’t be able to look at myself. So, the best I could do was play the part and if I could never be good enough, hopefully, at the very least I could trick my community.  Proverbs 31 woman? No pressure.

Inner trauma is everywhere.  We all have it. It’s called being human.  Society wants to fix it.  I am absolutely guilty of wanting to fix it and my Christian upbringing required that I always had answers. It’s a trait that I’ve had a difficult time shedding and I know I’ve hurt people in the process. We hate to see people in pain, especially people closest to us, but I dare say, we need to start seeing people feeling their feelings.  We need snot, tears, laughter, hand holding and not just at our therapist’s office, but also at our therapist’s office. Not just with our close friends but especially with our close friends.  

I’m realizing the timeliness and imperative value of diving into this shame because it is such a disservice– not to the idea of this woman with the mountain life, the baker with adorable cats, but to the perfect and vibrant soul that was born joyfully into this world.  Our world! The skin sacks we choose don’t make us who we are, that soul we were created to be is everything.  I am learning that taking care of my soul is my biggest priority right now.  And personally?  My soul wants a healthy skin bag. I’m also learning that self care can mean more than a bubble bath.  It could mean spending time on the elliptical, spending less money, laughing more, going to therapy or taking photos and connecting with someone.  It’s different for everyone. 

On 9/11 we accepted each other’s pain because we were all in pain. That pain was beautiful because it was honest, heart wrenching, vulnerable and true.  Each face in front of us was our own. It united us. Do we have the guts to do this everyday? Can we tell our very honest stories and see ourselves in each other without ego or judgement?  Can we just sit in each other’s messiness without an answer to be had? 

What is our shame? Let’s start with what is true… 

The Power of Choice

I just got back from a trip to Los Angeles where I was working on my very first photography project.  It was also my best friend’s 40th.  Between the two, I was so overwhelmed with activities– heavy photoshoots mixed with Universal Studio Theme Park butterbeer nausea, I had a headache and was in a fog a majority of the time I was there.  One afternoon, driving home from a shoot, my right arm and mouth went numb.  I was so overly exhausted, my body was literally not having it.  I’m not gonna lie– it was scary.  I felt completely out of control the entire trip. 

I have learned in my later years just how effected I am by the energy around me.  As much as I adore my friends to the moon and back, I am a gal that needs her downtime– especially when I’m shooting.  I have to be able to decompress, meditate, be alone and tap into the solitude.  I’m not sure that a lot of people understand this as it demands a lot more time than you’d think.  Clearly, I need to find better solutions for my next trip.

Chaos is also just in the air right now.  I blew out a tire on my way down and broke a timing belt on the way back.   According to the Power Path, April is a month of intensity and I can’t help but agree. Hannah Honda is now in a shop in Roseburg, Oregon and will be there for the next week or two until she is fixed and we can pick her up.   

After two weeks of being on the road with nothing to ground me, with only one morning of alone time where I had nothing to accomplish, to break down in the middle of Oregon felt like I was floating off into space.  I was so outside of my body, I didn’t even know what I was feeling!  I was angry, sad, confused, grateful, relaxed and totally zen like a ferris wheel of emotions in constant rotation.  

Thankfully, prior to breaking down, I was listening to Pete Holmes ‘You Made It Weird’ podcast featuring Elizabeth Gilbert.  In the episode she talks about her Grandma and how she is a woman that very sincerely finds the joy in everything.  Her letters are filled with exclamation points and she’s always excited about what she’s doing.  So much so, that when she tells Liz she has cancer she says, “Isn’t that interesting, Liz?  I’m getting to learn all about my body and about our cells and I’ve been meeting all of these fascinating doctors…”  

It sounds like a load of crap but Liz said the woman is unquestionably sincere as the day is long.  So I tried it.  Rather than freak out about money, be a victim or try to control the situation with a white knuckle grip, I just decided to be fascinated and amazed and present by the whole thing as best I could.  My tow truck driver was a sweetheart and my mechanic went above and beyond for me, even driving me to a local hotel with a car full of shit.  I was soooo taken care of, how could I not be grateful?  

Humanity snuck in for a brief moment when I couldn’t get a rental car on a Friday night.  All of the unknowns undid me until– again– I realized, there was nothing to control here. It was entirely out of my hands.  Miraculously, my photography class in Seattle is going to be rescheduled, I got my money back for the two nights that I booked a hotel in Seattle and I was able to get a rental car first thing Saturday morning.  These are all miraculous things! There were times my old habitual, ‘responsible’ mind almost felt guilty for not being more stressed about money but it also felt… powerful.

My honey picked me up in Wenatchee that night and a day later?  I’m shocked to be as cool as a cucumber with not an ailment, headache or overwhelmed thought to be had.  In fact, I came home and ideas for my pilot and my children’s book just started coming out of me. There is a lesson here and I have a lot of gratitude.

With that said, the trip was chaotic but amazing.  Working on this project is an honor and fills me to the brim.  The project involves actors and the bittersweet, joyful stories that come with being creative people– and human beings.  Artistic survival may only be familiar to artists but the struggle of humanity in our creatively blocked nature is a commonality that can be recognized in all of us. We all cope and survive in our own ways.

Below are three photos of my ‘BF,’ Sarah Welborn. (I can’t decide which one I like the most.  Each one has its strengths and weaknesses). She isn’t a part of my photography project but I wanted to share these photos because I think her story is inspiring and in its own way ties up my experience. 

BF 1

She moved to Chicago to take part in the Steppenwolf Theater summer program for actors.  After the program ended she stayed in Chicago to pursue acting and started writing a web series. When filming plans fell through and she couldn’t find anyone to film, she decided to go to film school to learn the skill set to tell her own stories.  Soon voice and vision will also have eyes and hands. She is removing obstacles and excuses that keep her from being powerful.  She now lives in Los Angeles with her partner Lou.  This fierce, brave, mindful, queer and spirited woman is going to tell fierce, brave, mindful, queer and spirited stories and I am PSYCHED for the world!   

BF 2 copy

I mean, look at that no bullshit ‘TUDE!!!  God, I love it.  

BF 3

Anyway, as I step into my own creative projects and my jazz shoes (I danced for the first time today– at over 200 pounds, it’s gonna be a ‘thing’), I wanted you all to be encouraged and am feeling this on my heart today.  The world needs your voice not your excuses. It needs your driven heart not your victim mentality. Tell your stories.  Live your life.  Be powerful.  

 

 

 

 

Why I Marched…

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for two months now.  At first, I just didn’t have the time.  I wrote a quick column for our local paper and then the more I pushed it aside, the weightier it felt. I know at this juncture, there’s really nothing I can do or say to persuade anyone to a particular side.  Thankfully, it’s not about that.  But for the girl I once was and for who I am today, paying homage to the heart and soul that has resided in my skin for the past 38 years, there is something in me that needs to put these thoughts into words.  

Womens March-2

To understand why I marched is also to understand my background.  I was raised a born again conservative Christian.  I attended pro-life rallies as a kid, wore the ‘Life Is Short Pray Hard’ t-shirts in high school, cried over friends who were ‘unsaved,’ and worked in various positions of leadership at a Christian college.  Christianity was the defining factor of my life but I always had questions.  I won’t go into my spiritual journey taking me out of Christianity today but if you’d like to read more about my ‘coming out’ as a non-believer, you can do so here.  I would like to think this gives me a fair and balanced perspective with the potential to bring people together but more often than not, it really just gets me into trouble on both sides.  Ha!  Also, please excuse my tendency to lump all conservatives into a Christian category– it’s just my own personal history. 

Womens March-3

I need to first explain that due to my conservative Christian upbringing, marching for women’s rights isn’t necessarily a natural or easy choice for me.  To this day, when I hear the phrase ‘women’s rights,’ my eye twitches, and in the back of my mind I see angry, screaming feminists, bare-chested, wearing black electrical tape across their nipples and reveling in the ‘murder of innocent babies.’  This idea of women’s rights is painful for many reasons.

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One, it’s programming.  Like a rat and a bell, even after all of these years, that image is what my mind goes to immediately when I hear the words ‘women’s rights.’  I am currently watching Leah Remini’s show on Scientology and I can’t help but see my reflection in her.  Whether consciously or subconsciously through my family, the party, the media, the church, Mickey Mouse, whoever– I was indoctrinated to believe that to be a feminist meant you had to be an angry, vulgar, man-hating and pro-abortion activist.  You may have heard Rush Limbaugh refer to these women as ‘feminazis.’  To be truthful, I resent that false narrative of my upbringing.

One reason I marched was to take back that idea and decide for myself what it means to be a feminist.  As you can see from these pictures, there are so many faces– each with a different story.  It is a detriment, on either side, to ever put anyone into a box.  

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My old self would have seen the ‘feminazi’ women in that mental picture and judged it, “You know, that’s just not helping anything.” But to think back on that mental picture, what was actually being said about women underneath it all?  Be quiet, be pretty, be wholesome, you’re opinion only matters if you express it in a way that makes me comfortable, makes my group of people comfortable, don’t make mistakes, be perfect, men are the head of the household are all examples of underlying currents brought about by these kinds of sentiments.  

This kind of thinking requires women to be a cookie cutter, bible belt Carrie Underwood versions of ourselves forced to live up to impossible standards.  In my opinion, we learn nothing by hiding our messes or humanity. It’s a gateway mentality to self righteousness and judgment.   I would much rather be karaoke Carrie Underwood at the gay bar but that’s just me.  😉

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It potentially pits women against each other and makes any life outside the box, full of messy life choices, threatening and ‘bad.’ My personal teachers are the Cheryl Strayed’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s of the world, women who have made big mistakes or choices not easily understood by most, and whose lives have been incredibly messy.  Making choices unbecoming to society and having to sit with the consequences of those actions, to see your own reflection in the mirror everyday and live to tell the story, teaches you compassion and empathy. It allows you to sit across the table from someone and connect without judgement or condemnation, and with a full heart.  It teaches you how to make better choices for next time and live an integral life.

I find that people that have made only perfect life choices have a really difficult time seeing their reflection in people different than them.  I did.  I’ve learned a hell of a lot more about myself from people that have fucked up than I have from mega-church preachers.   I am so grateful for my own mistakes and appreciate the bravery it takes when others share their own. My mistakes allowed me to see myself for the first time and I continue to scratch at the surface. There is so much to learn from each other. 

Womens March-15

It also never occurred to me as a conservative Christian to ask why women were angry or to think, even worse, that they had a right to be. Everyone’s journey is different and each story is worthy and legitimate.  Maybe they were raped or sexually assaulted.  Maybe they were beaten by an ex-husband. Maybe vulgarity and nudity, is a way to speak to these things and ‘take back’ what has happened to them.  You don’t have to understand it. No one is ever completely understood.  We all get to be human.

I read an article recently about a woman who voted for Trump speaking to the vulgarity of the ‘pussy hats’ and signage at the March.  I had to scratch my head.  For many, it was a way to take Donald Trump’s own vulgarity, completely accepted as ‘locker room talk,’ and find a way to own them in an empowering way.  Interestingly, the woman in this particular story didn’t mind Trump’s personal vulgarity enough not to vote for him but found the women at the march offensive. She, too, has a story. 

I marched because everyone has a story and all stories are worthy.

Womens March-17

Second, and this took a long time to allow myself… But who the fuck cares?  You don’t have to be a loud mouth, angry, vulgar, man-hating, pro-abortion woman to be a feminist, but why is it so threatening that some are?  And what is profanity anyway? In comedy school, I learned that words are funny.  Resonance, tone, inflection– from their noise to their meaning–  can create comedy.  I also learned that our culture and the acceptance of these words change.  In the 50’s during ‘I Love Lucy,’ the writers weren’t allowed to say the word ‘pregnant’ on television.  Ha!  Can you imagine?

Womens March-18

Then, take a look at someone like Sarah Silverman, a comedian whose parents never mentioned that words like ‘vagina’ and ‘dick’ were taboo to most of society.  She’s living to the tell the story and the earth is still turning.  Do we really want to live in a world were you can’t say ‘pregnant’ on tv?  Where married men and women have to sleep in separate beds?  That’s just a lie for everything it means to be human.  Sex is what creates life!  Does anyone seriously want to go back to that?  

Someone is always going to push buttons and someone is always going to be offended by it.  ‘Cockwaffle’ will probably be the stuff of nursery school rhymes 5o years from now and we’ll all have a good laugh.  It is a fabulous word. So is fairywiggins!  See?  I’m not always profane. #ItsCalledBalance.
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My point is… at the end of the day, we all survive this world in different ways.  As citizens of this country, people get to be whoever they want to be and live their lives accordingly.  If you want to judge it, that’s a choice you get to make. Granted, I am never going to tape my nipples. You’re welcome. And quite frankly, I’m not even sure I understand it, but I don’t need to.  Go be your own human, people.  It doesn’t scare me or offend me.  And if you need some electrical tape?  It’s in the cabinet in the mudroom. 

Womens March-19

Finally, as a conservative Christian, women’s rights were solely synonymous with abortion.  Abortion was ‘women’s rights.’  The topic of  ‘women’s rights’ was abortion.  It was the ONLY issue. This idea is troublesome because women’s rights encompass so much more than abortion. To make it solely about abortion and to cause– what I believe to be, a purposeful divide for the sake of selling a side, is not only playing into the hands of the powers that be but it also takes away the voice women could have on other topics that pertain to them.  

Womens March-7

Abortion is a very personal and sensitive discussion. Like what I’ve previously mentioned above, you truly can never know what is going on in someone’s life.  Despite the stories I had heard from friends that have had abortions, while I no longer judged it, for the longest time I just couldn’t relate and it was something I wanted to understand.  You shut your legs.  You use condoms.  You do whatever you gotta do is what I told myself.

Womens March-8

One week, years ago, however, I found myself in a situation I couldn’t have dreamed to be in. I can’t go into details but for the first time in my life, I was terrified in a very real and sincere way because, as I learned, its not always about you.  It was the first time I had ever, EVER been able to understand.  While I don’t think personally I would have made that choice (not that I should have to say that), I am actually amazingly grateful for that situation.  It taught me empathy and compassion.  It helped me to realize it’s virtually impossible to understand if you don’t experience it yourself.  It made me wonder what else I had assumed my whole life.  

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I consider myself pro-choice.  I feel that we should do everything in our power to limit the number of abortions that happen not through legislation but through responsible contraception and education. I’m always going to be of the camp– the fewer the number of abortions, the better.  However, I also feel that to have the option out there for women that want to make that choice is the right compromise for this country and that counseling afterward should be readily available.  I believe in people making their own choices, not the beliefs of others making choices for people.  To be pro-choice, doesn’t mean you ever have to have an abortion.  But to remove it completely, takes the choice away for women who do which involves zero compromise.

I marched because I believe in compromise.

Womens March-10

The last thing that I’ll say about this idea of ‘women’s rights’ is that I was taught that women and men aren’t equal, we’re complimentary.  I understand the sentiment because as male and female, we do have different strengths and weaknesses.  However, it always felt to me that ‘complimentary’ was used in the church as a discussion that still allowed the man to maintain his ‘head of the household’ status biblically.  It always irked me.

Especially after learning that women in the past, in some other cultures, were the ones worshipped and idolized.  It wasn’t always like this! We just grew up in an American, Christian culture where men run the household.  It’s the spoon we were fed. It’s normal to us.  Can you imagine a world run by women?  We have babies.  Women are fierce and strong. I totally can!  I like to joke that if women just held sex from men for a year, the world would be entirely different.  (Relax, it’s a joke.  A very true joke.) 

Whatever your belief system at home, the truth of the matter is that in society, both men and women are human beings.  When rights are involved, our constitution guarantees equality.  That means equal pay and equal opportunities. Until I see as many women in Congress representing us or in as many positions of leadership as men, women receiving equal pay for equal work, I will always see the lack. (That doesn’t even begin to speak to the lack of voice for minorities).

Womens March-28

So 1800 words in, why did I march?  Because it felt right in my soul. I wanted to march for the things that I believe in.  

The only reason I gave a rip about this year’s election was because of Bernie Sanders.  Typically to me, politics are politics and nothing much ever changes.  Bernie was the first politician in all of my years that I believed really wanted to be of service to everyday people. You may not agree with his ideas, but his legacy has been fighting for the working class. He also helped educate and wake up a sleeping nation that hadn’t realized the grand scale to which we play puppets to corporate greed. Also, how desperately we need politicians that will be in office fighting tooth and nail to make that happen.  

I  marched to remember that I have a voice.  

Womens March-29

When Sanders didn’t work out and Trump was still on the scene, I began watching Trump’s actions.  I truly thought it was a big joke and he was in on it. Given his history with democrats and movie stars, I thought for sure, it was a stunt, crossing more and more lines just to see what the American public would swallow.  I remember thinking that a real presidential candidate could never make fun of a disabled person on national television and not be disqualified immediately for the presidency.  But he never was… This had to be a joke. Then the whole ‘grabbing women by the pussy.’  Suddenly every conservative I knew that was disdainful for my use of foul language was totally okay disregarding the word pussy AND, even worse, okay with the context enough to vote for him.  “Because Hilary was that bad.”  (I’ll save that conversation for my second novel).

Womens March-30

I consider myself to be middle of the road politically.   While I consider our current president to be a cockwaffle (or a fairywiggins based on your level of offended), I’m also not in the camp of putting Obama’s presidency on a pedestal.  Obama was just another president to me.  I think he tried hard and I greatly respect his position in office, the man as a father and husband, positions on gay marriage and climate change but I definitely had my disagreements.  I was also not a huge Hiliary fan. With all that said, you couldn’t pay me to vote for someone so disrespectful to the office.  

I marched because I believe leadership involves, first and foremost, maturity, respect for others and belief in the golden rule.

Womens March-33

This administration is entirely different, however, in that republican conservatism no longer had its roots in fiscal responsibility. It suddenly became about this warped idea of white Christian patriotism and media conspiracy.  You were either in or you were out. Conservative news, as well, became a propoganda machine. I had never seen anything like it before in my life but Republicans I have respected for years suddenly went from ‘tough love’ to ruthless.  It’s new indoctrination.  And yet, when you have Bush’s daughter, raising money for Planned Parenthood, you have to feel the apocalypse is coming.  You know it is insane.  

I marched because fiscal responsibility is a formidable opponent.  Indoctrinated propaganda, fear mongering and a disregard for journalism is not.  

Womens March-12

Conservatives tend to say that they suffered under Obama and we need to get over it and liberals can’t fathom why conservatives would vote for Trump.  Clearly, there are huge disconnects.  At the march, I was reminded of this HW Bush quote below.  As a person that has spent more years conservative than not, the Republican party has always had a ‘tough love’ mentality about hand outs.  The current ‘drain the swamp’ administration  is a gross stretch from the ‘kinder, gentler nation’ of the Bush legacy.  Even though I disagreed with the Bushes as well, I believed everyone, for the most part, was welcome to eat at the barbecue.  Trump does take-out. When liberals are misty eyed about the Bush administration, you know serious lines have been crossed.

I marched because I believe in an inclusive kinder and gentler nation.

Womens March-32

Looking back, one of the biggest disconnects as a Christian is this idea that God cares about what other people do.  Biblically speaking, he  doesn’t. God only cares what YOU do and the choices YOU make.  You’re not going to be judged for the choices of someone else.  You’re going to be judged for your own choices.  Per the constitution, if you are a human being in our country, you are to be considered equal.  That means my gay friends should be able to marry and have equal rights as such.  Their marriage truly does not effect you.  You have no reason to be threatened.  You still get to live your life as perfectly Christian or conservative as you want.  

Before I go further, I also want to clarify that I know a lot of wonderful Christians that are sincere and loving people. I also know a lot of blinded, misguided people whose faith has become political rather than spiritual, whose love has become judgment over compassion.  In my opinion, the need to feel safe with God politically rather than safe with God internally is leading people astray.  The water is awfully muddy. This really concerns me.   

If you believe that gay marriage will lead to a pandora’s box of sin and the world going to hell in a hand basket, I would kindly ask that you– pardon the franchise–  wake the fuck up.  What has been done in the name of Christianity has literally brought hell to earth and massacred millions of people through war for ‘God’s glory.’  And that’s just one religion.  Religious judgement alone would be the Guinness World’s Record of hand baskets.

I would also like to ask how many involved in the decision making process have gay friends?  Not gay friends like the one guy you know at work or the gay uncle you ‘love’ and tolerate but really pray for from a distance.  Do you know any of their guts?  Here’s the secret… they’re just people.  And literally, the most welcoming group of people I’ve ever met.  When you are constantly judged and told you’re not supposed to exist, you’re worthless in the eyes of your family and God, or that you’re welcome but still going to hell, it makes you a hell of a welcoming motherfucker to other people because you know how it feels.  God bless this community and everything they have been and have meant to me.  

Womens March-13

I am blessed to know a bunch of married gays. Two couples that have adopted and not one of them teaches their children to fuck goats!  Amazing!  They are wonderful parents and families.  Because the gay community is truly a community, these kids are raised by a village of people that love them.  It’s beautiful.  It’s the most un-detrimental thing that could happen to a kid!  And to say otherwise, means you really don’t know what you’re talking about.  That’s not to negate anyone’s opinion, it just means you have no real history with these very real people.  Because if you did, you would clearly say otherwise for your friends.  Every day of the week.

I will march for my gay friends and these families until the day I die.  Even the goat fuckers. 😉

 

Womens March-34

I am so grateful to live in a place where people appreciate the land.  I live in the swiss alps of the United States and whether or not people are Republican or Democrat, people want to protect the beauty.  As a Christian, I never understood why conservatives fought so hard against climate change and protecting the environment.  I heard all the time about God being an artist and creating the planet and yet we were constantly fighting so hard to shit on the artwork.  Aside from God, common sense says don’t you want to live someplace beautiful?  Don’t you want your kids to experience wildlife?  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate beauty or a crisp, clean breath of fresh air… but we have to be right.

It’s just so heartbreakingly obvious that our need to be right trumps common sense.  In our valley, for the most part, we agree on this.  There is probably so much more we could agree on if we weren’t so white knuckled to talk to each other.  The idea that Trump has gotten rid of laws protecting the environment or the partial dismantling of the EPA is just a level of non-sensical I can’t comprehend. It is dumbfounding.

I will always march to protect the beauty of this earth.  To be out in nature is to be in church.

Womens March-35

I am proud that I have a great mix of friends– colors, shapes, nationalities, religions.  I’m sure living in Los Angeles, I worked with illegal immigrants.  I have been lucky enough to travel and meet people different than me.  At the end of the day, we all want to be with our families, worship who/what we want, put food on our table and laugh together.  It is our government leaders and how were were raised that tell us we’re different and pit us against each other.  

Womens March-38

The metaphor of building a wall is so obvious and unoriginal and yet here we are.  We can do better than building walls.  We can do better than ripping apart families.  We can do better than allowing a rise in white supremacy, racism and prejudice.  When it takes your president too long to say those hateful acts are vile and disgraceful, you’ve no reason to believe him when he finally gets around to saying it. 

I marched for the interracial couples I know whose children have seen an increase in hateful acts and no one is protecting them.  No one is even saying its wrong.

I marched because I believe reform doesn’t need to be ruthless.

Womens March-36

When I lived in Chicago, I would meet my positive and amazing friend ‘BF’ at a local cafe every Friday night to talk about our week. It was an incredibly challenging time of transition for both of us but that is what made the friendship so special.  Like mad magicians, we would always energize each other into manifesting amazing things in our lives despite the scariness of the unknown.  
 
On one particular occasion, however, we both showed up in a funk. The details have been wiped from my memory as to why we felt this way but it was such an unusual thing for us that it is a day I will never forget.  After commiserating for a bit, BF suggested we take a walk.  Despite the repulsively hot and sticky summer day, notorious to Chicago, I agreed.  
 
We left the house and walked down the street.  We talked.  We were silent.  We talked again. My make up fell down my face and my hair pasted itself to my forehead.  My clothes stuck to my body like unwelcome bandaids, necessary and annoying.  With each step, however, I began to feel relief.  Something was changing as we made our way out of Lincoln Park. Unbeknownst to me, we were setting an intention. The cliche became painfully obvious.  We were taking steps forward in action and literally walking away from feelings we couldn’t control. 
 
I marched because sometimes it just feels good to take a step away from how you’re feeling.
 
 

Womens March-37

 

Our local paper ran an article about the upcoming march and the organizers quickly responded with a letter to the editor that read:

Dear Editor:
As organizers of the Women’s March in Twisp on Saturday (Jan. 21), we have to disagree with the first sentence of the article covering the marches in last week’s Methow Valley News. Actually, it is the first five words that are in our view incorrect: “Motivated by fear and anger … .” Our march and rally are explicitly to celebrate and support our highest values.
We firmly believe that the tenor of national politics has been dominated by extreme voices outshouting moderate viewpoints. There are many reasons for this, among them that it is so much fun to be outrageous, to violate — at no personal cost — the norms of respectful communication and, for far too many of us, to be willing consumers of the outrageous. So much more fun and entertaining than the thoughtful exchange of ideas. But it is also threatening our society and nation.
There is reason to be optimistic. In this valley we have a wide array of viewpoints and political alignments — but for the most part we generally like and respect each other. We get along; we treat each other as individuals, and do not take disagreements as equating to enmity; we help our neighbors regardless of their politics. We just had a local election that was positive, respectful and based on ideas for the right way forward in Okanogan County. Many communities across the country similarly share the values of decency and respect towards their neighbors.
Our march is a first step in bringing people together to work on extending that decency to national issues. It is based on the idea that the majority of Americans share values that we can — and will — come together to uphold. The rally will include compiling ideas on positive actions we can take to do our part to achieve a “more perfect union.” Every generation before us has faced this challenge; many of us believe that it is now our turn.
Finally, we want to emphasize that everyone is welcome to join our celebration of the ideals that make our country great. Hope to see you out there.
Lois Caswell, Linda Du Lac, Jane Hill, Gina McCoy, Pat Leigh, Monica Pettelle, Antonia Van Bueren

I marched because this letter, its optimism and inclusion, inspired me. 

Womens March-40

Shannon Huffman Polson was one of our speakers at the march.  One of the things that struck me was when she said “This is a room full of people easy to love.”  The sentiment is that to fight for love is to be loving to all people and not just those we agree with.

I marched because I believe in this kind of love.

Womens March-39

Our march rallied 600 people, which is pretty incredible for our little valley. It was a joyful and an exhilarating day.  I am so honored to be a part of it.  It was a celebration of our stories and lives that have so much value.  We’re humans first.  

Womens March-41

Quite frankly, this blog has taken months to write and the entire day to finish up. It isn’t polished, it is wordy, scattered and all over the place.  I’m not even sure I’m saying what I want to but don’t think I’ll ever get it to where I want it to be. So if anyone would like to nitpick it– good luck with that!  😉  I’m still going to post it in honor of Womens International Day.  Thank you to all of the beautiful people in my life that have made me who I am and to the community that came out that day and continues to come out for the rights of people everywhere.

I will not live in fear.  I feel called to tell stories.  I am just one of many stories.  I’d love to hear yours.  xoxo. 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Every year I set intentions for what I’d like to bring into my life.  Some years I am more excited than others.  This year I’m over the moon about them, so I thought I would share.  🙂

  1. FINISH PROJECTS

A ‘Lightbulb Moment’ is an exhilarating and humiliating cocktail to choke down, isn’t it?  “I’m so excited for my life now!!!” mixed with a splash of “How could I be such a dumb ass for not recognizing something so common sense before?!”   Truly, a mixed martini of life realization. 

Six months ago my life felt entirely different.  I was a workaholic.  I wasn’t happy.  I was depressed.  And although I was planning a wedding and had my whole life to look forward to, I wasn’t living my life.  I found myself, again (AGAIN???), surviving it.  

I chose to leave my job and people I loved– people that treated me insanely well (in a valley where jobs are sparse mind you), to step out in faith.  I wasn’t sure what was next but I needed the Universe to know that this workaholic lifestyle wasn’t in line with my life’s purpose and no longer served me anymore. In my heart, I’m a creative and an artist. This is when I feel I have something to offer the world.

I wrote a description of what I wanted my new life to be and what that would look like on a daily and yearly basis. In my grandiose, gold colored ‘impossible’ dreams, I am making my living as an artist and I am actively participating in a variety of creative things that give me joy. Basically, a life full of rich and lush, creative experiences.

In my heart, I am a comedian, a writer, a baker, a photographer and a singer.  I’m also a blogger, a dancer, a professional poker player, an activist and a treasure hunter!  Not to mention– whatever the hell else I want to be! I know how ridiculous that sounds;  I would need 26 lives to make that happen.  

A majority of creative and artistic people that I know making their living creatively ‘double down’ constantly. They are theater directors and poets, producers and bloggers, magicians and novelists.  So the big question became ‘How do I go from being MandiCrocker, recovering food industry workaholic, to MandiCrocker, creative powerhouse?  How does one tap into a life full of lush, rich and creative experiences?   Then, the lightbulb.

“Oh.  I should finish something.”

How can I make my living at any of these things if I have nothing to pitch?  I have no finished book, no finished screenplay, no framed and printed photography to sell… It just seemed SO FLIPPING OBVIOUS. Over the years, I have probably started a novel twelve times.  I have started a television series, twice. I choreograph countless dances in my head waiting to be the size of Julianne Hough before I dance again.  In hindsight, it seems like ‘the definition of insanity,’ as they say.  Action is required.  

GOAL #1:  FINISH &$%ING PROJECTS.  🙂

2.  BECOME A GOOD LISTENER

I am a really horrible listener.  The other day I asked one of our local girls, home on break, how she was liking being overseas.  Before she even completely finished her answer, I cut her off with an assumption and another question.  I care about this girl and as a person that loves traveling, I am over the moon she is overseas at such a young age.  Why do I do this??? 

My Aunt Amy is an incredible conversationalist.  You can tell she is genuinely interested in people, asks questions, listens and is always super enthusiastic about what you’re doing.  It’s a gift I really admire! I think it’s a mix of my shy and insecure Virgo ascendent (completely uncomfortable with small talk) mixed with the creative, spiritual tendency to self examine to a narcissistic degree.  I’m also a Libra, so I hear something and run it through a filter of how that has happened in my life.  It’s meant to relate but while that filter is running, I often miss everything. 

I do this to my poor honey, too.  I’ll say something, pause and ask, “Is that what you just said?”  IT’S SO HORRIBLE!!!  I’m always in my head.  I am always dreaming. I talk way too much.  Whatever the reason, I don’t like it!  I love people. I’m fascinated with stories.  I think being present and a good listener will help.  PLEASE FIX ME IN THE COMMENTS BELOW SO I DON’T HAVE TO PAY A THERAPIST.  🙂

3.  BECOME STRONGER

Sarah Connor.  Maggie.  Princess Leia. The Stark Girls.  The Mother of Dragons.  Katniss. Ripley. Sydney Bristow.  All the Clones. I love strong women.  I love powerful women.  I love women that kick ass.

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When I first moved here, I lived with my aunt and uncle. To say the least, they are ‘outdoor sports people’ and that summer I stayed with them I was hiking, biking and rock climbing almost every day.  I can be insanely determined.  I think I lost 20 pounds in three weeks. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  Ha! It was very emotional.  In hindsight, I still have stress fractures in my feet that have never healed from pushing myself way too hard, too soon.  It was aaaaall me!  So stupid!   BUT! At the end of the summer, I felt STRONG.  I loved and appreciated everything about that feeling.

Three and a half years later, wedding planning under depression and anxiety, I have not felt strong. If anything, the path I’ve been on has literally scared me physically. Thankfully this new path, putting my creative self first feels so selfish and wonderful, it also makes me want to put my physical self first.  The snapshot of our world inspires me to be strong. So, I’m focusing on joining the kick ass list of fictional characters above to manifest a very real one for myself. 

It’s not– and can’t be– about numbers, ‘exercise,’ or ‘losing weight.’  Instead, it is about being my own princess and being my own superhero.  The desire to run to and away from whatever the hell I want is very strong in this one.  🙂

So that’s it, folks!!  My News Year’s Resolutions! Anybody else feel inspired this year to set resolutions? Maybe a resolution to set no resolutions? Ha! I always love how everyone’s resolutions are different!  🙂 Happy January 22nd, everyone!  xoxo

 

When You Get What You Want

 

Yesterday I came home in a panic.  I had a deadline for the paper and a million hours of work to put into it.  For a brief second, out of total anxiety, I thought, “Ugh! This is so much work!  Why do I have to do this?!!”

A few seconds later, I stopped myself.  It was like I’d been hit on the head. My inner voice, like the mother in the movie ‘Nebraska,’ screamed at me, ” THIS IS THE LIFE YOU WANTED, YOU BIG IDIOT.” 

Just that very morning I got up early to interview a local climber for the paper which was fun, intriguing and inspiring.  I came home to my super cute desk (that is FINALLY set-up) with a warm cup of coffee in hand, all perfectly dreamy.  I Marie Kondo-ed my house so everything feels comforting and lovely.  When I think about making my living as an artist, my romantic, cinematic visions always included a safe quiet space for writing.  

When I left the bakery last year, I made a list of what I wanted my life to look like moving forward.  I wanted to feel rested. I wanted to inspire and be inspired. I wanted to bring other artists into my life.  I wanted to make my living as an artist so that I no longer had to work on my feet in the food industry.  I want to be able to write pilots and movies, develop recipes at leisure.  I want to shoot projects that are important to me and a myriad of other things.  

I couldn’t believe I was living my dream that day, with cute space included, and I was about to complain about it! WHO DOES THAT???

Needless to say, I flipped a switch and suddenly I was relishing every moment. I couldn’t believe I was a writer!  The day I was living was everything I had ever asked for!  I felt like the end of a Lifetime movie and my happiness had a million likes on instagram. 

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I thought I would share this little artistic life lesson in case anyone else was about to start complaining about their dreams coming true or letting anxiety win.  😉  

What do want your life to look like?  Are you living that dream?  If yes, do you recognize it? And if not, why?  There’s always room in the day for a baby step.  

Deep thoughts for us artists on Monday afternoon… xoxo.

 

The Mess Series

Most people that know my mom know that she spent over 20 years in the mental health field.  It took her to the brink of sanity on many occasions.  Especially the last five years, I could just tell that my mom was soooo very unhappy. I would always ask her if it was really worth it to wait it out. She just kept her eyes on the prize of retirement.  

What most people don’t know is that my mom is an artist.  She draws. She sings. She painted a beach scene on my sister’s wall when I was little that I’ve never forgotten.  She likes to put all of her kids’ creative success solely on their fathers.  She is such a creative person, but to raise four kids, lived in art-less, uninspired ‘mom-survival mode.’  So many moms I know do this!  She not only downplayed her artist instinct but she almost squelched it like a bad memory.  You would never know by the way she lived her life.  Now that she is in retirement she seems happy as a little clammy jay bird! She has redecorated and repainted parts of the house.  She’s actually taking the time to breathe and think about herself for once, a relief to all of her kids.

mess-series-5056

I Relaxed the Day After Christmas.

 

I’m on the phone with her this week and she tells me she took a ‘sip and paint’ class– one of those classes where you get to paint a picture and drink wine.  She thought it was so  much fun but was slightly annoyed that there were lines on the canvas to stay within, and that she couldn’t paint her tree the way she wanted.  Finally, she just resolved that she was was just going to paint her tree the way she wanted anyway!  There was a hint of law-breaking rebel in her voice that I adored.  HELLO, ARTIST MUCH!!??? Most people are SO content to stay within the lines and do it ‘right’ so that they have a pretty picture to instagram.  Just the idea that my mom got out of the house to do something creative made me soooo very happy (and happy for the other folks there creating, too!) She said it inspired her to buy some paints and a canvas. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!!!

Can you imagine if my mom locked herself in a room once a day and actually did something creative for herself the past 20 years?  How much happier she probably would have been?  

mess-series-0581

I Planted My Garden

 

This Inspiration tab is for sharing stories that I find  courageous, brave and inspirational, for sure, but I also created this page for the Artists, Creatives and Creators.   I believe wholeheartedly that there is an artist in all of us.  Maybe we’re not all Picassos but who cares!?  That is the point.   We all are uniquely creative and have a muse inside us that loves to create for the joy of it.  If you watch ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ you realize even a career in raw fish can be inspiring. 

I believe our culture has trained us to look at creativity and artistry as frivolous, totally selfish, unpractical and unnecessary, an utter tragedy in my mind.  How many mid life panic attacks do we have to have, second homes do we have to buy to keep ourselves happy and socially ‘okay?’  What if part of that hole that needs filling is creation?  The joys of childhood that were stifled with words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘logic’ and ‘career’ and ‘success.’  Most of us, myself included, are perfectionists… “If I can’t do it perfectly, what’s the point?” or “If it’s not amazing art, I shouldn’t share it.” What about the tried and true-less: “It’s just too late to start that now.”

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I Self-Cared In a Warm Bath of Epsom Salts.

 

Creating art isn’t about finding self worth in our ‘likes’ or in the money we make as artists.  It is about the joy that it brings us– which is far from frivolous, if anything it helps maintain our balance as humans.  We also can’t wait for everything to be perfect before we begin. How can we ever become great artists if we aren’t creating regularly?  For every photo I like, I’ve taken 200 photos I’ve hated.  Get me? Maybe in ten years, I’ll have one great photo.  But I am so happy to live for that one great photo. 

Take a moment to think about how amazing this planet would be if more people concerned themselves less with clean houses, making money, being martyrs to their families, letting fear rule, <insert a million other excuses here>, and just created?  Shared it fearlessly and without expectation? Art, music, books, photos, gardens, trifles, pottery, drum lessons, landscaping, dance classes, etc, etc, etc… 

mess-series-7706

I Took Photos of Our Kittens Rather Than Murder Them For the Mess They Made

 

This year I started working on a series of photos I’ve titled ‘The Mess Series.’  It occurred to me just how much time I spend cleaning each day and how little time I spent doing something creative.  The clutter constrains me, I say.  Well, bullshit.  I decided I wasn’t going to do that to myself anymore.  Out of self and creative care, it was no longer allowed.  Rather than clean, I take a picture of the mess and the title becomes what I’ve done instead.  It is a work in progress but a series that has really helped me to put my inner artist first, find peace in the chaos (a great practice for life anyway!) and kick my excuses to the curb. 

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I Hiked Maple Pass

These photos are some of the un-award winning pictures I’ve been taking.  It also helps me deal with being comfortable in my own skin as messes are personal, can be judged and posting them can feel vulnerable.  A statement for how we live our lives really.  I hope they inspire you to put aside your own excuses and create. This series is a work in progress so most of these won’t end up in the final project, I would imagine.  But because they mean something to me as an artist, they are worth sharing for now to make a point.  THINGS THAT MEAN SOMETHING TO US ARE WORTH SHARING, HOMIES!!! 

At the very least, CREATE.  Okay, rant over.  🙂  

I have a HUGE fire under my butt this upcoming year– not to accomplish but to create.  For the JOY of it!  I have projects I want to start, things I want to say, feelings that need to come out in a healthy way.  I really hope you’ll join me.  Please share your thoughts in the comments below! I’d love to hear what you’re working on! xoxo.

Mandi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are the Small Things Worth?

Today’s inspiration comes all the way from Alwar, India.  I am so honored to have Andy Lepper write for us this week.  Andy runs a non-profit called No Longer Orphans and is ‘Papa’ to 35 boys at Shiloh Children’s Home in Alwar.  I had the pleasure of meeting Andy and his wife Susan while traveling in India with friends.  We got to stay at the boys home, they fed us, took care of us and we watched 35 happy, rambunctious, well-adjusted boys play, laugh and take care of each other.  They are truly memories and people I will never forget. Today’s post is about the little things… 

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If you didn’t know, I live in India. My wife and I run a children’s home. Some might call it an orphanage. We have 35 boys. I see some pretty amazing things. Some of them make me laugh. Some of them make me cry. Some of them make me think.

Today was a thinking kind of day. I encountered a few things worth writing about.  I will share one experience with you.

I was having a nice leisurely ride on my motorcycle when I passed him. At first I didn’t catch what he was doing. He was slumped over on his hands and knees on the asphalt picking something up. That something was grains of wheat.

As I became aware of what he was doing I got a wider look. And don’t judge me, but I stopped to watch and didnt help. About 20 feet ahead was his motorcycle with a 50 pound bag of wheat on it. Something had happened and the bag had lost some of its content. But not much. Maybe a pound of grain at the most.

But here was this man on his hands and knees picking up one pound of wheat that was spread out over 20 feet. I repeat, On his hands and knees. WHY? Was he so poor that this was his family’s rations for the month and that 1 pound meant a day that his children wouldn’t eat? Or was he afraid of what his boss might say if he found out a mistake had happened? I will never know the reason he was so intent on rescuing a pound of wheat, one grain at a time.

But what strikes me the most is his intensity for such a little thing. The truth is that he probably could ration the remainder and stretch it so the loss is minimal to his family. The truth is also that his boss probably would never actually know that some was missing if that was the reason.

This smallest of things mattered to him. You could tell that each grain had value to him.

Seeing this turned my thoughts to my 35 boys, my 35 Indian men in training. You see, life is made up of thousands of small events that get overshadowed by the handful of major events. These small events make up our days, our weeks, our years. It’s these little things that make us who we are. I will have thousands of encounters with each one of my boys. So the question I pose to myself is whether I see the value in these small events as they happen. Do I cherish the tiny things that make up the whole of our lives? Do I recognize the importance of one of my little ones who slips his hand in mine when he wants comfort? Do I enjoy the times where they look at me searching for affirmation? These moments are building my young boys into men. Do I value the moments I have with each boy, even if no one will ever know? 

What are the small things worth to you? Even if no one would ever find out, do you value the insignificant things like this Indian man?

Luke 16:10   One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.

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MandiCrocker note:  Please consider donating to No Longer Orphans.  Having been there, I have seen these donations in action.  Every dollar goes to these boys, I promise you that, and the need is great. Money also stretches in India so even small contributions help! Below are some pictures I took of the trip.

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Stacy showing the boys the pictures of them on her camera.

Stacy showing the boys the pictures of them on her camera.

 

One of the boys showing me his coloring.

One of the boys showing me his coloring.

 

Little shoes.

Little shoes.

 

Chickens outside the orphanage.

Chickens outside the orphanage.

 

Some of the sweet boys.

Some of the sweet boys.

 

The boys have shoes but much prefer being without them!

The boys have shoes but much prefer being without them!

 

Boys being boys!

Boys being boys!

 

One good kick!

One good kick!

 

Playing.

Playing.

 

This little cutie was constantly being taken care of, picked up and dragged around by all of the other boys. They watch out for each other.

This little cutie was constantly being taken care of, picked up and dragged around by all of the other boys. They watch out for each other.

 

More playing!

More playing!

 

This little guy was everywhere!

This little guy was everywhere!

 

And fast as lightening!

And fast as lightening!

 

Homework time

Homework time

 

Too fascinated with my cell phone to study- ha!

Too fascinated with my cell phone to study- ha!

 

Drying clothes.

Drying clothes.

 

What the boys home looks like inside. Huge big room, and old British construction.

What the boys home looks like inside. Huge big room, and old British construction.

 

Love these kids.

Love these kids.

 

More drying clothes... 35 boys currently there!

More drying clothes… 35 boys currently there!

 

The "kitchen."

The “kitchen.”

 

Bible school time

Bible school time

 

The boys were so excited to have apples, an expensive fruit in India.

The boys were so excited to have apples, an expensive fruit in India.

 

My friend, and Stacy's husband Lucas, playing with the kids.

My friend, and Stacy’s husband Lucas, playing with the kids.

 

New flip flops for the boys thanks to The Jamie Sheth Foundation.

New flip flops for the boys thanks to The Jamie Sheth Foundation.

 

The boys just got some but grew out of them so fast!

The boys just got some but grew out of them so fast!

Young & Sick: Coming to Terms With Being Chronically Ill

Today’s inspiration is written by my friend and guest blogger, Jenn Heater.  “Jennifer Love Heater” and I met at a little comedy school in Los Angeles.  She is incredibly smart, has a great sarcastic sense of humor and has a huge heart for politics.  I knew vaguely of a sickness a bit after we met but I never expected my good friend to be chronically ill and/or bedridden, etc. a majority of the years I would know her. I find her strength to be dumbfounding and courageous, and motivates me personally to remember how good I have it.  Be sure to send her lots of love in the comments. Read more

December 4th, 2016 Inspiration

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“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about… Say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe.” -Jalai Ud-Din Rumi

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