Posts

MONEY. The four letter word so bad it’s five letters. Money fears are always the f*ckers to our authenticity and manifestation, aren’t they?

This has been an educating and eye opening transition for me being a stay at home mom.  On one hand, I’m always with my daughter which is exhausting but wonderful.  I would absolutely hate being away from her, having to work full time right now.  On the other hand, not having an income– especially not having my own income, has been challenging and scary. Then, the third part of my current conundrum is having this intense desire to create. I have 1,249,823 projects I want to work on that require time, energy and money.  No big!  😉  

I’ll be frank, I zero percent want to go back to work right now.  My body still feels wrecked (which I’m working on), I’m up with our daughter all night (four month sleep regression is a THANG), I’m exhausted all the time, and I know to work on weekends will totally wipe out all reserves.  

I don’t ‘sleep when the baby sleeps,’  I ‘hustle when the baby sleeps.’  I bake, I take photos, write blogs, edit photos, watch tutorials… I am always working.  I am always learning.  I’m not creating because of all of this magical downtime I have, I am MAKING. IT. HAPPEN. in between burps and diaper changes, or at midnight after she’s asleep.

So to spend my ‘hustle time’ working for someone else at an unfulfilling job means I won’t have the time or energy to create (which in itself is a life force sucker), and that– truth be told–  scares the shit out of me. Not because I think my inner artist will shrivel up and die, turning quickly into a depress case (though been there, done that) but because if I don’t start these projects now, will I ever have the perfect circumstances to start them?  Time is a commodity. It’s like paying rent versus the investment of a mortgage.  People that are successful food bloggers are successful now because they put in years of blogging.  Most YouTubers are able to monetize because they have years of videos under their belt winning subscribers not because they have five.  I don’t want to be 65 just having started things. The sooner I start, the sooner the pay off.  Hence, the hustle. You get what I’m putting down?

I know society can be a judgmental, know-it-all biotch.  “If you can’t pay your bills, suck it up and get a job. It’s called being an adult. You do what you have to do for your children. You made the choice to have kids.”  And to an extent, there is totally truth to that!  Sometimes, a person might need to get a job that feels like dying (our grocery store is hiring) to remind yourself that you’re responsible and capable of making money.  It feels good to pay your bills and to be able to afford things.  This makes sense to me as I’ve been spending beyond my means (the whole no income thing).  Money is a karmic lesson I get a lot because I continue to spend.  So, maybe we’re relearning a little somethin’ somethin’ here…

On the flip side, sometimes you have to say no to certain money making opportunities (our grocery store is hiring) because it’s time to believe you’re worth more than a job you hate. That idea is part of an old program or your history. You’ve paid your dues and learned your lessons. Your back doesn’t have to break anymore. You CAN have a job you love. Believe in YOU. Or as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says: “At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you.”

Sometimes ‘suck it up’ individuals are exceptional at paying bills but can kinda, sorta, really, totally suck at life. Ha! They can sometimes be lifeless or totally unhappy, martyr-and-victim parental units that are dying inside thinking there’s only one way to do life. I promised myself at the start of this child rearing shindig, that I was going to do this different. I don’t believe my life’s purpose is to solely raise my daughter. I believe my life’s purpose is to create, live an authentic life and brings something decent and lovely to the planet as best I can.  It is what makes me feel energized– whole and complete, nurtured and nurturing. And in part FOR my daughter, she’ll hopefully learn through my example she is allowed a fullfulling life as well, and that good things don’t just happen to other people.

So what do you do when your heart and intuition are telling you to create and start these projects but your bank account is saying get a part time job and do the responsible thing? It’s a confusing spiritual merry go round. Personally, for reasons of my own doing, I have both been burned and blessed by stepping out in faith. 

I have waited too long to do the responsible karmic thing and gone into debt without being grounded in reality.  I’ve also passed up lucrative jobs, only to have my aunt email me randomly about a job in the mountains that finally felt right.  I had to borrow money from my sister to move to Mazama to start a life I know I was destined to live.  Hardly responsible. Totally in line with everything I am. And let me tell you, the fine line between those two situations for me right now is the confusing reality between getting knocked on the head in Kansas and having the courage to walk the Yellow Brick Road.  Ha! One is a black and white reality. The other is a vibrant and colorful dream.  And neither is necessarily right or wrong.

This week I dropped my sis off at the bus station down the mountain in San Bernardino.  I was angry and frustrated that I’ve been feeling in limbo.  I felt utterly hopeless, confused. There were some tears.  Did I mention angry?  Anyway, I stopped at one of the turnoffs to have some words with my guides and angels.  For whatever reason, my honesty and the view felt empowering.  The ‘in between’ of manifestation can totally suck (hello, we’re human after all!) but there has always been something incredible on the other end of it when I commit to it.  The mountains reminded me of that.  

The current state of affairs:  I will not apply at the grocery store but I did apply at the local movie theater.  I will reach out to the local tavern about working weekends but specifically for karaoke night (y’all I love my karaoke). I reached out to local photographers to see if they needed weekend help during wedding season because I’ve been dying to have the opportunity to start shooting weddings.  (At the very least, to see if I’d like it).  I’ve reached out to LA headshot photographers to see if they’d be willing to take on apprentices because I would be sooo happy to learn new things.  

I’ve continued to upload images to Shutterstock for some down the road chump change.  I’ve been baking and blogging. I submitted to the Food Network for their baking championship shows. I look for interesting jobs on Craigslist.  I will reach out to local businesses to see if they need food photographs for their websites or menus (which also means I’m working on a photography website).  Our house is on the market in Mazama and I remind myself without attachment to outcome, it could sell at any time.  Weaving, what feels in my soul, like a positive and healthy tapestry… 

I have no idea how this all plays out but I know that it does.  The ‘in between’ is hard, scary and feels impossible but it’s my choice. I know I get to decide to take forty steps back into an old box of possibility or stick to what feels good in an exciting and responsible way.  I know it’ll be in perfect timing and can imagine how utterly grateful and ecstatic I’ll feel later as I can see how the stars aligned.  

And when I am on the other side of this… as a current basket case with sleepless rage tendencies?  I’ll be sure to laugh when people say things just work out for me because I’m a naturally positive person.  Ummm… yeah.  The earful the mountains got would say I’m a total Florence Henderson right here.  😉

We get a choice, friends. Here’s hoping the mountains remind you, too.  xoxo

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Yesterday, I got to teach three workshops of kids at our local elementary school’s Young Writer’s Conference.  While I was terrified at the start, I left feeling exhilarated! 

To teach the kids that everyone has their own unique voice and it’s good to think outside the box, I had the younger kids draw ‘abstract apples.’  They were a hoot.  🙂

 

I decided to talk about Living Creatively:

“Living Creatively’ is a workshop that helps provide a solid foundation for a lifetime of  creating.  In this workshop, you’ll learn some myths about what it means to be an artist and come up with your own goals and intentions that will last a lifetime.”

I asked all of my artist friends what they wished they knew in 5th and 6th grade.  With their amazing help, I came up with a ‘Top Ten List’ of how these kids could live a creative, artistic life and do so in a healthy way.  Reading the students feedback I was grateful to know that maybe– to a choice few, we really made a difference. 

While some of them were completing the task at hand because that is what proper students do and some were providing feedback in the way of winning Teacher’s Pet, I was grateful to find a few that were more thoughtful and sincere.

 

I could tell the class meant something to this one. She left with a big smile and walked with a bit more confidence. Gutted me.  

 The day kinda broke me in the best way.  It was amazing to watch these kids. Can you imagine being able to redo the start of your life to know that rejection is something to be excited about?  Or that if it looks like fun, you should try it?  Or that art is worth creating not for cultural success but because our voices are unique and important????

As adults, we learn these things too late.  We wonder why our goals haven’t worked out and one of those reasons, I believe, is because we never created art in our lives in a healthy way.  Watching some of these kids take it all in, was a balm that healed a bit of me in the process.  

This girl is totally an artist. She drank everything in.  I could see the determination in her eyes by the end of class that read, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna do this and no one’s gonna stop me.”  Bring beauty to the world, sweet girl!

 

Getting to teach these Top Ten Tips reminded me of how I want to create as an artist so I thought I would share them below.  Thank you to all of my friends for your brilliant suggestions.  So much that resonates in life is so painfully simple and yet we miss it.  It feels good to be reminded. 🙂

 

I got to read part of my children’s story at the start of each workshop.  I was so nervous but totally psyched to see them into it and paying attention.  Lots of them raised their hands and asked if it would be published.  Bless their little hearts… Makes me want to keep writing!

 

 1.  IF IT LOOKS LIKE FUN, TRY IT!

Myth:  “You can only be one thing.”

           “You don’t have the build of a ballerina.”

           “Focus on what you’re good at.”

           “It’s your brother’s thing.  You should try something else.” 

Example:  In my family, I was the dancer.  My older sister was the singer and my other sister was the artist.  I was scared to sing because it was my sister’s thing.  It was my childhood best friend’s thing.  It was my roommate’s thing.  When I finally decided to start singing, it gave me such joy.  I no longer wanted to put myself in a box or limit what I could do.  An accountant can be a writer, a poet can be a mathematician.  There is a little bit of everything in all of us.  These things need nurturing and give us balance.  

Intention:  “I am grateful that I have a mind, body and soul that is interested in so many things!  Trying new things enriches my life and excites me.”

 

2.      YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT!

Myth:  “It’s already been done before. Why bother?”

           “I’ll never be J.K. Rowling.”

           “What makes you so special?”

Example:  If I asked everyone in the room to write a story about an apple, every story would be different, wouldn’t it?  One might write a fairy tale about a poison apple, one might write a story about a farmer’s market, and still another might write a crazy abstract poem.  How cool is that?(It turns out, 3rd & 4th graders write about a lot of death and destruction by apples, apple cannibals, etc.)  Our voices are unique and important because there is only one you.  How cool is that!?  

Intention:  “My voice brings something to the world because it is unique.  There is only one me!  Whatever I do creatively, no one will ever do it like me.”

 

I love that she quoted the intention like a mantra.  *swoon*

 

3)  CREATE FOR THE LOVE OF IT/ CREATE CONSTANTLY!

Myth:  “If I’m not making money at it, what’s the point?”

               “I’m only a real artist if I sell something.”

               “People won’t respect what I do unless I’m famous.” 

Example:  Lots of artists in the world create to get somewhere rather than for the joy of it.  Why do you think that is? How many people here play basketball?  Would you consider yourself a basketball player? So clearly you don’t need to be Michael Jordan to be a basketball player, right?  And yet, playing more and more makes us better.  

Intention:  “I am a successful artist because I am always creating constantly.  The process is valuable and brings me joy!  My art brings beauty to the world and gives me balance. I am always creating new things!”

4)  MAKE THINGS YOU LIKE!

Myth:  “This person I admire doesn’t like it.  It must not be very good.”

           “What I do isn’t popular!”

           “People don’t understand my art.”

Example:  I was listening to a podcast recently about a girl that spent her life writing poetry.  When the time came, she applied to 12 graduate programs for poetry.  She was rejected from all twelve!!! She respected those opinions as they were amazing schools.  Can you imagine her disappointment?  Can you imagine what she must have thought about herself as artist?  Eventually she started writing poems again and while I’m not sure what became of her, I know that it brought joy to her life and those around her.  While constructive criticism is important, YOUR opinion is the only one that matters.  Not everyone may understand what you’re doing.  And that’s okay.  They’re not your audience. 

Intention:  “I love what I create and I understand what I do.  I create for me because I think what I make is fun and super cool!”

5)  DO WHAT SCARES YOU!

Myth: “You can’t possibly do that.  That would be insane.”

             “It’s irresponsible to trust your gut.” 

             “I was born this way.  I can’t change how I am.”

Example:  Sometimes in our lives, we pigeonhole ourselves into one thing.  We forget that we’re capable of more than we realize.  Sometimes doing what scares you means swimming with sharks but sometimes it can be a conversation.  It can mean being honest about your feelings and being vulnerable.  Not many of us have gone swimming with sharks and yet we all know what anxiety and fear feels like, right?  Sometimes even being a shy person can make us afraid to step out of our comfort zones. Powering through anxiety, worry and fear, makes us stronger.  It makes us more confident and it’s so rewarding. Whether it’s our families, society or our own inner voice, don’t ever tell yourself you can’t do something.  You have it in you!  Go beyond your fear!  

Intention:  “I do what scares me!  I am capable of more than I realize.  I do not allow myself or others to put me in a box.  Being brave stretches my limits and makes me stronger!”

6)  HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF

Myth:  “I’m going to fail.”

              “I could never call myself an artist.”

              “They probably have somebody else that can do it better.”

Example:  What we tell ourselves on a daily basis can be really negative sometimes.  We see others succeed and we get jealous.  Maybe we think someone has all the luck or more talent than we do.  Having confidence in yourself is everything!  Trust your instincts and trust your gut.  Let your muse lead the way and stay on track to accomplishing your goals.    

Intention:  “I am proud to call myself an artist.  I am passionate about creativity and what I create!  I believe in my ideas and myself with enthusiasm and excite those around me.”

7)  BE EXCITED ABOUT NO’S!

 Myth:  “They didn’t want me. My work is terrible.”

               “It’s a sign.  I should give up.”

               “I just think you need to be more realistic.”

              “It’ll never become anything.”

Example:  My friend Dena is an independent filmmaker.  When she has to get funding for movies, she makes hundreds of calls. To not get down about rejection, she takes a sticky pad of notes and sticks them to her wall.  On every post-it is written the word ‘NO!’ and only on one post-it is the word ‘YES!’  Every time she is rejected, she pulls a ‘NO!’ off of her wall.  She gets so excited because she gets closer and closer to that ‘YES!’  What a great way to think about life, huh? How many of us get down after just being rejected once and she does this all of the time!  You can, too!  

Intention:  “I am grateful for all responses to my work!  I get excited by hearing a ‘no!’  It means I’m one step closer to getting a yes!”

8)  BE CURIOUS AND INSPIRED BY EVERYTHING AROUND YOU!

Myth:  “Get your head out of the clouds.”

                “Stop dilly dally-ing.”

                “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

  Example:  My husband and I go for walks everyday.  When I’m out for a walk my mind is on a hamster wheel thinking of everything I need to get done.  I just want to get home so I can start checking things off of my list.  He, on the other hand, is incredibly observant and curious.  When I’m thinking about laundry, he will pick up a cool looking stone and say, “Look at this cool purple streak, hon!”  It always reminds me to take time to stop and smell the roses and to be grateful for the world around me.  Not to mention that purple streak could be inspiration for a painting!  You never know… 

Future psychologist, maybe? The next Ernest Hemingway? I never mentioned creating due to poetic things like ‘tragic moments’ but dang, if that doesn’t work as well.  

9)  MAKE TIME TO BE ALONE/ TAKE YOURSELF ON ARTIST DATES

Myth:  “You never hang out with us anymore.”

               “It’s weird to spend time by yourself.” 

                “You went to a gallery alone?”

Example:  As a creative person, you might need more alone time than most and that’s totally okay!  Being alone can help get us out of our heads.  It’s a time to play!  Being alone can help us connect with our muse and let’s our imagination run wild.  It’s also great to read all sorts of books, watch movies, reach poetry, paint, draw– things that you’re not entirely interested in!  It enriches our lives and you never know where you’ll find inspiration! 

Intention:  “I am so grateful for my alone time.  I make this quiet time for myself to get in touch with my muse and create ideas.  It allows me to chill out and be open to inspiration.”  

10)  BE PASSIONATE 

Myth:  “It’s really hard to make a living at that, you know.”

           “You should go to school for that first.”

           “She’s been singing for years. You’re only getting started now?”

Example:   When you’re passionate about something, people want what you have.  Imagine if I came in here today like Eeyore to tell you all about living creatively.  But if I’m excited and passionate because I believe in myself and creativity, it’s way more exciting isn’t it?  When you’re passionate about something people want to support you and get behind you.  Use that passion in life to propel you forward.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a living creatively or that you have to do your life a certain way.    

Intention:  “I am passionate about creating and open to being a successful artist. I even inspire others to create!”

 

There are self portraits included in this post that are of me messing around for my lighting class and a couple of shots I did for a different homework series about shame.  They’re not specifically about this post but I thought I would share them for the sake of the topic. –MC

****************************************************************************************

At the lowest of my lows, I was living in Los Angeles, very much in debt and super depressed.  Each day I would pray for God to get me through another day.  I was clearly living in ‘survival mode.’  Psychologically, spiritually, emotionally– you are surviving, and anything more than that feels like an impossibility.  

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but bare with me… I began to take classes that taught you to examine your thoughts and feelings.  By becoming aware of those thoughts and feelings, you could see your unhealthy patterns and change them in a loving way.  My mind was blown.  I was waiting for my life to begin when God was whispering, “I already gave you the skills. Take responsibility. YOU got this.” With this new set of keys, my life did change drastically.  Some might call this mindful or positive thinking. 

When you are a student of life, however, truth is like an onion. There is always another layer.  You work up the courage to peel off a layer and you feel great.  Then you dig deeper and you realize there’s more.  It isn’t easy but you do the work, feel great and dig deeper again, peeling off another layer in the name of awareness.  There is always more work and more truth and more bliss– a teacher in everyone and everything. 

Me?  I’m a digger.  Since that class, I’ve always got a shovel.  I know the deeper I go, the more is revealed and the happier I am.  I’ve seen my life change… More of that please, thank you!  However, there are so many people in this world that hate digging.  It’s such a scary thing!  Their journey hasn’t taken them to a place where they can hear that they have the power to dig.  They don’t yet have the tools. 

So here’s the thing… I’m seeing a lot of this idea on social media, first of all, is that to have feelings is a negative thing.  It means your not ‘being positive.’  Ex:  Me posting these photos could potentially be viewed as uncomfortable, negative, sad, depressing.  “Poor Mandi, etc.”  Do some of these photos make you uncomfortable?  Why?

My response to that idea is remember you’re human.  To say you don’t have moments of fear, worry, anxiety, etc. in life is a lie.  Through photography, I’ve learned to linger with them.  It’s all beautiful because it is all truth.  It is what we have in common.  The more it is embraced, the more we’re able to accept each other and relate. 

Let me be clear… I think ‘positive thinking’ is GREAT.  Yes, you can go through life much happier and lighter by being aware and examining your thoughts.  Joy is absolutely a choice and mantras are terrific.  But what about deep fucking trauma?  Indoctrination?  Societal constructs?  It’s like people being told to eat healthier when what a person might need is  major hospitalization for a triple bypass.  Years of therapy might be required for them to recognize what a shovel even is and their existence is just as valid as yours.

The second thing I’m noticing is that to be negative means you are a toxic person and “I can’t have that kind of negativity in my life.”  These folks make me laugh.  Let’s get real… There are soul suckers, for sure.  People that you truly cannot be around.  I am all for cutting out unhealthy people from your life.  But a majority of this toxicity is an unwillingness to allow for humanity.  It’s grounded in fear and judgment rather than love.  We don’t want to get our hands dirty with a fellow human being because it makes us uncomfortable.  This usually comes from people that have found their answer and if you’re not not the same brand of bandwagon, you’re icky.  It’s positive thinking at its most baby-spiritual. 

Like any good intentioned person, there will always be those telling you you’re doing it wrong.  Out of ‘awareness’ will tell you, what you’re doing is something else.  There might be those on a bandwagon that can’t handle your honesty or reality– or even worse, view it as negativity. Everyone’s story is different and trauma is trauma, folks.  People that don’t understand aren’t meant to be around for your journey and that’s okay.  Feel free to set aside anyone’s rules about what it means to be spiritual.  Feel free to set aside people that want to put out the fire in your soul that you know to be true.  Honesty is integral.

Also, if you’re not big on shoveling, feel free to listen.  More often than not we are very stubborn people and our fear is so deep rooted we can’t see our own programs.  We believe a mantra is doing it differently but we make demands about how our life should be.  It is a limiting ruse. Fear feels good and right because it is comfortable.  It is what we know and allows us to maintain the status quo out of survival rather than take part in real change.  Cheating yourself only leads to more misery.  (Also, being open is a hell of  a lot easier than kicking and screaming). 

We are all on our own journey and hear things in our own timing.  If you have you eyes to see, be grateful.  Have compassion for those who aren’t where you are.  And keep your eyes open. There’s probably more going on in the mirror than you might be willing to admit. xoxo

 

 

 

 

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!!  🙂

******************************************************************************************

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.

16244064_10211791690767293_869812652_n

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

******************************************************************************************

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.

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… 

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.  

 

 

 

 

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.

16114017_10210854101616016_4175251123125935626_n

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

 

 

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. 

joanna-bastian-5791

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.