5 Questions with Entrepreneur Laurie Nickerson

I’ve adored Laurie Nickerson since our very first interaction and I’ll tell you why. Her enthusiasm is INFECTIOUS. Laurie is one of the most authentic and passionate business owners that I know (and most the business owners that I know LOVE what they do.) She is a breath of fresh air. Don’t we all need a breath of fresh air in our lives?

JMK: We all know that the best shops tend to run on caffeine, good vibes and great music. Would you please share with us what your go to’s are in each of these categories? 

LN: Oh our shop is definitely run on music. We are musical theater nuts so there is always a soundtrack of something playing. If Pandora is shuffling, you will hear a weird mix of show tunes, Queen, Big Band era stuff, film scores, and the occasional Christmas song that accidentally plays because the station wasn’t removed from the shuffle in January. We are fueled on iced tea and brownies, though there is much debate if the brownies are better with walnuts or without. Cindy says yes, I say no. 

JMK: You and your mother run Puppet Peltz together which is my mothers dream come true. If you could name one famous mother and daughter duo that you most emulate, who are they and why? 

LN: Julie Andrews and Emma Watson Hamilton. First of all, Julie is such a class act, even if she wasn’t in a dynamic duo, I would want to emulate her. But, her and her daughter Emma have written a few children’s books together, I just love the vibe they put out into the universe. The books have great story lines and encourage kids to be different. Whenever I see Julie and Emma in interviews, I get the impression they genuinely like being around each other. In the clutter and noise of today’s social media and smear campaigns, these two are always positive and charming. 

JMK: Part of the reason being a puppet builder is so fun, is that you’re constantly calling upon your skills to invent and innovate your way through a challenge. Anyone who follows you on Instagram knows that you are an HGTV superstar in the making. What home renovation project have you found yourself doing the most innovating with.

LN: Haha. Oh lord. My house. Such a work in progress. This is super nerdy, but I am a huge vintage/antique nut. I don’t like to “buy new” when I can “find old.” So my house is filled with weird flea market finds. I am also blessed with the “I’m not afraid of color” gene so I have very loud colors throughout. The most challenging project so far has been putting in vinyl flooring in my bathroom. I was so excited to find deeply discounted vinyl tiles with this loud black and white print. Perfect for my house. Perfect for my budget. I figured they were discounted because no one else would want such a loud print on their floor. Come to find out, they were discounted because the pattern didn’t line up correctly. So instead of just lining up the tiles edge to edge, I had to visually offset them to try to get the pattern to line up as best I could. But, cheap is cheap, right? So the pattern is definitely still a little off, but I ended up distracting everyone by painting the walls bright pink and adding a crazy flamingo picture. When you walk in there now, there is so much “look” going on that no one is focusing on how the floor titles are slightly off. 

JMK: Love that. If you were to give on piece of advice to someone about to open their own business, what would it be? 

LN: Zig Zag. If you are so set in your “vision” there’s no room for you to grow. When we started this business, it was a completely different plan. We were going to give workshops and classes to teach people various arts and crafts. We did that for about a year and realized that there was so much hustle that had to go into it. Constantly creating new classes, constantly promoting to get people interested in the classes, constantly thinking about what’s next. It was so stressful. But, Puppet Pelts only happened because I already had a studio space. I already had an Etsy shop. It was much easier to transition to dyeing and selling fabrics because all the hard business groundwork already took place. 

JMK: That is such good advice. You’re a brilliant business woman and creative mind and a very generous human. Outside of work, what are you wildly passionate about? 

LN: Theater, dance, and typefaces. A few years ago, I took an inventory of things that I really enjoy/enjoyed doing at one point in my life. I grew up doing community theater, and stopped when I went to college. So, I got back into it. It has been such a joy to be a part of shows and learn new music. 

I also loved dance when I was a kid. So, I signed up for tap lessons again. Now, I am a full-figured, plus size lady, and I can rock it out on the tap floor. You are never too old, or too fat, or too weird to do something that makes you happy. 

I also am a total nerd for typefaces and letterforms. That is left over from my past-life career. Before Puppet Pelts I was an art director at an advertising agency so typefaces were part of my everyday life. Now, I enjoy finding posters, packaging, books, old ads, etc with really beautiful typefaces or hand painted letters. 

JMK: You’re awesome. THANK YOU!

ABOUT PUPPET PELTS: If you are a puppet builder—large or small—you have come to the right place. We supply builders with quality products that are streamlined for this unique art form, including Fuzzelle™ and Nylafleece™ which replaced Antron Muppet Fleece.

Puppet supplies are a mix of textiles, craft, art, and woodworking so rarely can you buy from one shop. We are bridging the gap. So whether you are making your first puppet, or are building a fleet of giant mascots, we’ve got you covered. 

We are based in the United States but ship all over the world. Orders placed through our website will typically ship the next business day.

5 Questions with Activist and Actor Sofiya Cheyenne

Sofiya Cheyenne was introduced to me through my then collaborator, Deb Hertzberg.  An instructor in the Brooklyn College Theater Department and a wonderful puppet artist and director in her own right, Deb met Sofiya in school and brought her on to a project that we were developing at the time.  I have been a Sofiya Cheyenne fan ever since.  She and her friends have been such kind and generous teachers to us. And Sofiya, frankly, she’s just a kind, talented badass woman who I love to be around.  Here’s 5 Questions with Sofiya Cheyenne.

JMK: Sofiya, we had such a wonderful time with you collaborating with the creative teams of Zwerge.  (Wouldn’t you love to be able to bring that show back?)  Your perspective on race and disability was obviously essential to our process.  How do you bring these powers to other projects?

SC: I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to bring “Zwerge” back! And honestly I should thank you for that experience… because it is truly the beginning of my advocacy and artistry journey. See, at the time I didn’t realize it… but much later when reflecting back on the experience we had working on “Zwerge” and creating the historical icon of Perla Ovitz. I was truly gifted with the opportunity to tell this woman’s story from a very authentic place. I felt empowered like never before. Through this true story of resilient people just like myself, I found a new found love of myself, performing and my dwarfism. I would say that Perla is a big reason why I do what I do today.

As far as other projects, I feel it is so important to always speak on the importance of self worth. Perla and the Ovitz family were a family that didn’t let the close minded world dictate how they saw themselves. The Ovitz family (a family of dwarf entertainers) always carried themselves with grace and dignity. Something that was very hard to do during WWII. And I carry that with me in all the work that I do. 

JMK: Wow. You’re going to make me cry.  To be honest, your comments make me want to call my collaborators and get back to the work of shining light through theater. It was a true honor for all of us to work with you on that material. 

You have a wonderfully expressive singing voice.  What music inspires you the most and why? 

SC: Thank you so much!! I truly love to sing, although sometimes I wish I felt more confident in my own voice. I think my favorite music to sing is soulful or jazzlike. I have a true alto voice, that is my sweet spot. Give me an Alicia Keys or Oleta Adams song … and I’ll be going at it! 

JMK: These days, even though life has supposedly “slowed”, everyone seems so drained.  What do you do to recharge?

SC: I breathe. So often we forget to breathe. Especially someone like me who’s a GO GO GO kinda person. (I will be embarrassed to say that some days my apple watch reminds me) but hey!! It’s important. When I breathe and take some time to meditate and be mindful of my body I feel very re-energized after. 

JMK: You’re a new mom!  CONGRATS!  How has this change in your life impacted your approach to your work and activism?

SC: Well, quite simply. Everything is about Logan now. It still feels really hard to understand what this balance of mommy and work will look like. It changes everyday. But what I do know is … my mission, just like before, has been to bring awareness to the world about dwarfism through my art. And now more than ever do I feel that is so important. I have brought another person of short stature into this world. So for Logan…. I will do anything and work really hard to make the world hear me now! To make the world a better place for someone like Logan. 

JMK: Well, you know that you’ve got allies in our team. When you look to the future, what will you do to be part of making the changes that you want to see in the world come to fruition?

SC: Perfect segue from my last response! haha. I’d say that as an artist I am really excited and motivated to create, support and be a part of projects that are disabled led and intended for disabled audiences. I want to tell stories that really impact the footprint or wheelprint that is ours. And I feel like the only way to do that is to be really intentional about our work. Little people for centuries have been begging the industry to see us as whole human beings. I think it’s about time we own our space, we own our narratives, we own our bodies and invite these audiences in and show them how beautiful we are. 

Sofiya Cheyenne is a Performing Artist, Teaching Artist, and Disability Advocate/Consultant. She is the Inclusion Director of Little People of America, Co-Chair of The Dwarf Artist Coalition and part of the Access Advisory Council for ART NY and Disability Working Group with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers. In all of her work she continually advocates for people of short stature and disabilities on and off the stage. She has appeared on TV shows such as TrueTV’s “At Home With Amy Sedaris”, Netflix’s “StartUP” and Amazon’s “Loudermilk.” Her favorite theatre credits include The Briefly Dead at 59E59, Other World at Bucks County Playhouse, and Guys and Dolls at Theater Under The Stars. Sofiya is a passionate educator and public speaker, she has been teaching theatre arts throughout New York City for over 10 years. Through sharing her artistry, her story and educating others, she encourages the power of community, storytelling and social change.

More at www.sofiyacheyenne.com/

On a promotional note, Sofiya Cheyenne will take part in Little Shadow Productions’ Lil’ Talks’ “Share The Mic” Series on September 13th.  Time TBD.  Get on the registrant list here. 

Gratitude for Amy Oes

Did you ever want to write something so badly, but put it off for days? Weeks even? That’s what happened here. I have survivors guilt. I don’t know what else to call it. Two weeks go the incredible creative soul and thought leader, Amy Oestreicher, passed on. Her last social media post was about a talk that we were planning to have on Monday, April 5th. We spoke a few days earlier and our conversation was beautiful, generous and inspiring. It was also filled with fear. Fear for ourselves for a varying reasons. Fear for our country, because wtf. Really. What the actual… Fear that we couldn’t help effect change fast enough and that the art that we were creating to save ourselves might not help as many people as we hoped it could. But also, our conversation kept coming back to one theme. The evergreen tool that both of use to get through each and every day. Gratitude.

So, while I choose to keep our last conversation private, I will say this. AMY OESTREICHER WAS A MAVERICK. A WOMAN BEYOND HER TIME. A TRUTH TELLER AND A BEACON OF LIGHT. Amy Oestreicher learned the lessons that we most of us strive to learn. She taught them through her unique voice and then continued to learn some more. Amy was joy, hope, fear, vulnerability, creativity and gratitude. May we all be just a little more Amy. Google her. Keep googling her. It doesn’t end. While she is not longer here to talk to, her words, her art, her spirit live on. Thank you Amy. I hope that I just started to learn from you and that I can pay your lessons forward.

BUY HER ART & WRITINGS: https://www.amyoes.com/

HERE’S ONE OF AMY’S TALKS THAT I REALLY LOVE:

THE MESSAGE FROM OUR EVENT THAT REMAINS “TO BE RESCHEDULED” UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN:

Amy & Jean Marie start and end their days in gratitude. In between, they both try to make art, make a living and love the lives they’ve been given. This evening will start with a 20 minute teaching by Amy, followed by 25 minutes of the two women in conversation. The evening will close with a brief Q&A. https://littleshadowproductions.com/lil-talks-programming-soon/

Are Monday Holidays for Menu Making?

I don’t know about you, but I think that three day weekends are a gift.  If I don’t have plans outside of my home on the Monday, I like to use it to get back on track with the routines that serve me best.  It’s a great time to put everything away, shop for the things that you really need while they are sale and do some menu planning!  We may still be living in a time of Covid, but this Labor Day weekend is no different to me.  (With the exception of being socially distanced from friends and wearing masks all weekend of course). Today has become a get it done and plan your menu Monday

For the get it done portion of the day, I visited GrabYourWallet.org to make sure that stores I want to shop at still meet my ethos.  Then, off to Wayfair to consider their 70% off mattress flash sale.  (I still haven’t decided…) Then, Lord & Taylor to get sandals for next year while taking advantage of a gift card before they go out business. Now I can discard my sandals from the past 3 years that literally have holes in them and are in barely glued together pieces.  A great Labor Day clean out item!

Next, let’s menu plan! Before hitting the grocery, I think about how I want to eat, what food is on sale or can be pulled from my fridge and window garden.  A friend recently recommended Cookie + Kate, and her Broccoli, Spinach and Cheddar frittata uses ingredients already in my fridge and freezer while excluding the quiche crust I often crave, but don’t need.  This with a little side salad will be a great daily lunch for this week.  Thanks for the recommendation Katie Tredway!  Dishing Out Health has a great Greek Shrimp Bowl that will also take advantage of many things already in my fridge.  It’s easy to to prep and will be fantastic to have ready for the rest of the week.  I can’t wait to try it. 

Recently I have found that working from home, while a luxury, also means that I sometimes I get a bit disorganized.  I am grateful that on this Labor Day, I have left time to clean and organize my home, my calendar, my kitchen and my heart.  While the support for labor is strange in this country at the moment, I am grateful for a day to recalibrate for this weeks work.  This prep will also help to ensure that there is time for daily rejuvenation, and of course, mask making.  Being kind to future self is rarely regrettable. 

5 Questions with Puppet Artist and Spectacle lover, Raymond Carr

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Do you know those people that you want to meet, and you’re in the same room with, but by the time you get to where they were just standing, they’re gone?  Those people that you know online and have corresponded with on the most tangential level, but have never said anything meaningful to?  Those people that you know, but you don’t at all know, and you are acutely aware that you should know to the point that it’s maddening?  That is my relationship with Raymond Carr.  We have orbited around each other for years.  I have read his bios and applications for projects, but yet never worked with him directly.  Oh that silly universe. So, a few years ago at the Center for Puppetry Arts, when I saw Raymond across the room, I quickly excused myself from the conversation that I was in with a colleague and brusquely busted in on the conversation that he was in.  We only spoke for a few seconds as the event was about to begin.  But, the in-person introduction was accomplished.  Ever since that momentary encounter, we’ve again been dancing around each other again and fanning each others work from afar.  It took Covid-19 to bring us back in touch directly.  I reached out to Raymond directly about one month ago and we’ve been looking for a way to collaborate since.  Who knew it took a global pandemic to bring artists together?  But that’s what it took.  I’ve really enjoyed my conversations with Raymond Carr. He has an interesting perspective things, is a total puppet nerd and frankly, a good guy.  So, I’ve asked this veteran puppeteer, artist and filmmaker to participate in “5 Questions Fridays”, so that you could be a fly on the wall.
JMK: Raymond, I know that you are a puppeteer and obviously, I believe that this is a badass career choice.  If you weren’t a puppet artist, what would you want to be instead and why? 
RC: I’d probably focus on filmmaking. I went to film school in college but dropped out because I got a job on Lazytown for Nick, Jr. But honestly, the most filmmaking education I got was from just making movies with my friends. I stood out from that group of friends because I always made the puppet movies. 
 
JMK:  My friends and I used to make a lot movies together as well.  They weren’t puppet movies though.  You were lucky to discover that in your youth. In challenging times like these, many turn to or begin a spiritual practice.  What tools do you use to keep yourself moving forward, or heck, depending on the day, functioning?
RC: I try to keep a lot of projects on my plate to keep me going. Whenever I feel bored or discouraged with one project, I have others to keep my interest. I think I have creative ADD because I always have to jump between projects to keep my interest. I try to go to my shop quite a bit just to get my body moving, so i’m not just working on projects at home. I also have several screenwriting and filmmaking podcast I listen to weekly, so I sometimes go on walks to listen to them.
JMK: Who has been the most influential presence in your life and how so?
RC: I have a handful of very tight friends whose opinions I value. We all came up together as artists and know where we’ve been and where we’re going. Some of them are filmmakers some are puppeteers and some are improv comics. But there are only a handful who I go to with my problems. That being said I try to get information and influence from a lot of different voices. My mom always said “chew the meat and spit out the bones”. Meaning that you can get words of wisdom from a lot of conversations even if you don’t agree with a lot of what a person is saying. I try to find the value of any advice or criticism. And also my amazing girlfriend influences me a lot.
 
JMK: I love that.  Where I come from it was, “take what you like and leave the rest.  As an artist, you are likely acutely aware of how design influences you.  Can you share a moment where design, a piece of art or maybe a piece of music deeply moved you and shifted your perspective?
RC: Being on Walking With Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular made me realize how powerful giant spectacle can be. Seeing audiences be completely blown away by all the dinosaurs helped me witness the power of spectacle first hand. 
Also we use to do monthly puppet slams for like 11 years at a local improv theater in Atlanta called Dad’s Garage. Writing that many sketches really opened my mind up to be inspired by a lot of random things in the world. I find that inspiration is a muscle that you have to exercise.
JMK: It would be irresponsible of me not to address the current discussions around diversity and lack of equality in this country today.  I’d like to say that the discussions and charging.  They’re moving in the right direction.  I hope and pray that they are. But, depending on the day, I’m just not sure. Would you please share positive influences that you are following that may be of use to others?  And, where appropriate, would you please share why they are moving you?
JMK: In the past year I’ve met more Puppeteers of Color than ever. I think the fact that we’re all connecting virtually these days opens doors to realize how diverse our community really is. In the past year or so I’ve been on multiple puppet shoots that were more diverse relatively, which is saying a lot. I think black people and people of color are allowing themselves to get weird and try new stuff. I truly believe the next generation will be more diverse than ever before.

Raymond Carr is a Jim Henson Company trained puppeteer who has been performing for more than 20 years. He has traveled to every major city in North America and parts of Europe working on multi-million dollar productions. He is skilled in state of the art animatronics, Muppet-style puppetry, motion capture digital puppetry, and traditional theatrical puppetry. In addition he serves on the board of Film Impact Georgia which is a non profit organization designed to empower independent filmmakers. 

Joyriders
IG: @joyridersmovie
**On a personal note, I really enjoyed Raymond’s interview on the new “Puppeteers of Color Podcast”.  Check it out here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncaY81Q6Pkw

5 Questions with Activist, Artist and NYC Poll Worker, Lindsey Briggs

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Lindsey “Z” Briggs is most known, internationally and domestically, for her work in the world of puppetry.  But for me, the most interesting thing about Z has always been her passion for activism.  I can’t think of a conversation that I’ve had with Z, where she didn’t talk about service, doing something for others, or what she thinks could be done to make the world a better place.  In trying times like these, seemingly small acts of volunteerism, like becoming a poll worker, makes Z a role model for me, and so many others.  Anyone who walks the walk, and talks the talk, is always worth my time and consideration.  (A side note: We had a different blog lined up for this week, but after the specific acts of hate that took place in my own borough last night, I decided we needed to take it up a notch.  Thank you to Z for making time at the last possible minute).  Here are “5 Questions” for advocate and activist, Lindsey Briggs.

JMK:  At this moment in time, it is impossible not to see how crucial it is to vote.  As a young voting citizen of this country, what made you volunteer to be a poll worker, and what have you learned from the experience?

LB: Following the 2016 election I wanted to be more involved.  Because I have two young kids at home, I can’t show up to meetings or rally’s in the same way that I could before kids.  It occurred to me that helping with the election might be a good fit, and I looked into being a poll worker.  I want to be a friendly face that can help to make the voting process a positive one.  I have learned quite a bit about the election process, and the work that goes into being a poll worker.  I had no idea that all New York state poll workers must arrive at the polling site at 5am and are not dismissed until at least 10pm, but sometimes much later.  We receive two, one hour breaks throughout the day, but it is a very long day.  If you see a poll worker, be sure to say thank you.

JMK:  Z, when I think of you, I think of you as an activist first.  How are you giving your time to your current primary cause?

LB: There are many causes that are very important to me.  Black lives matter and educating others about institutional racism and common sense gun legislation are both topics that I feel very strongly about.  As I said above I don’t have time to attend the meetings and rally’s that I wish I could be at, but instead I make sure to have conversations with people about these topics and do small things in my own way to help promote positive change.

JMK: You are a parent of two young, beautiful and imaginative boys in NYC.  What active measures are you engaging in to teach them compassion?

LB: We talk a lot about empathy and trying to see things from others perspectives.  Everyone’s feelings are important.  I feel very lucky to be raising a family in New York City, as it is so diverse and a wonderful example of so many different people living and working together.

JMK: Anti-Semitism is on the rise again globally and in this country.  Just last night, a synagogue in Brooklyn was vandalized with disgusting graffiti.  The words written on the interior walls of that house of worship makes one’s chest tighten and heart sink.  As an artist and activist, what do you do when you hear of such horrific hate crimes?

LB: I think about what must have happened in that person’s life to make them feel such anger against others.  It makes me sad.  I have hope that the next generation will be an example of understanding, peace and tolerance.

JMK: Agreed!  We must keep hope alive for our children.  On a lighter note, at this time of year, families are gathering around the table to share time together.  They’re also sharing food!  Would you please share what your favorite family dish is and how it makes you feel?  

LB: We have spaghetti and meatballs every single Monday night.  You are all welcome to come.  It is everyone’s favorite meal, and we will likely still be making it every Monday night in 20+ years.

JMK:  You’re awesome.  Thanks for this.  I now officially feel hopeful for Tuesday’s vote. 

Lindsey “Z.” Briggs is the Foundation Manager of The Jim Henson Foundation.  She has been working as a professional puppeteer since 2004 and has had many opportunities to perform in television, internet shorts, pilots, live theater, and independent films.  She studied at the University of Connecticut Puppet Arts masters program for 3 years and has attended and worked as staff for the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.  Z. lives in Astoria, Queens with her husband and 2 children, and performs live puppet theater for families throughout New York City as co-artistic director of WonderSpark Puppets.

5 Questions with “Sesame Street” Puppeteer, Tau Bennett

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Tau Bennett is a wonderfully creative, humble kid.  He also happens to be a professional puppeteer.  While this blog was partly created to give be a reason to engage with people other than puppeteers that I was curious about, this week is different.  With Caroll Spinney’s departure from “Sesame Street” taking place just yesterday, it is unmistakeable for those of us in this industry to take notice of another shift in the tide.  It is bitter sweet.  The sweet part isn’t simply because the community was blessed enough to be abel to shower Carroll with the love that he himself shed on the world as both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.  That is a huge part of it of course!  But, it is also sweet because the youngest generation of budding professional puppeteers include kind souls like to Tau to give us hope.  Here’s 5 Questions with Tau Bennett.

JMK:  This week the unspeakably beautiful soul, Caroll Spinney, Big Bird himself, is retiring.Would you please share a bit about how Caroll has effected you?

TB: Caroll has always been a huge inspiration to me in many ways. First of all, he’s proven that you can do just about anything if you’re willing. Inside that giant, somewhat cumbersome Big Bird costume, he’s ridden roller skates, unicycles, horses, he’s even jumped from one moving vehicle onto another. He’s a real daredevil of a puppeteer and I respect that greatly. Whatever effect was supposed to be achieved, he did it and it looked amazing. He’s also shown me how sweet and compassionate a person could be. Even before meeting him, I’d see him as Big Bird and I knew he was a genuinely lovely person.

JMK: You’ve been involved in puppetry as professional since you were very young.  You still are very young!  What would you like to share with kids who know what they want to be at a young age?

TB: If you know what you want to do with your life, do it. Nothing should stop you from doing what you want with your life, because it’s your life. Do what makes you happy.

JMK:  Topics of racial and gender equality are ones that sadden me deeply to the core.  That said, I have used this rage and concern as a point of activation in my art and political endeavors.  What are some of your ideas for overcoming or eliminating the racial barriers that plague this nation?

TB: I think artists have the power to send whatever social or political message they need to, for example, by holding up a mirror to the world; showing the world the problems that are plaguing it, either through symbolism or satire or whatever. That seems to be a primary method of choice for artists, I think because it’s probably the most accessible and effective. Bringing about awareness of the issues is the first step to correcting them.

JMK:  Tau, you’re a quiet but seriously fun person.  Would you please tell us what you do for fun?

TB: Some things I like to do for fun are draw, which I’d say I probably do the most, I listen to a lot of music, collect records, watch movies and TV shows.

JMK:   It is not unusual for puppeteers to also be visual artists and this is certainly true in your case.  Who is your favorite artist and what have you garnered from experiencing their work?

TB:  One of my favorite artists include Bob Ross, from whom I’ve learned that it doesn’t really take much to make a painting look good. He can make the most realistic-looking paintings with the simplest of brush strokes. I’m also a fan of Ralph Steadman, who has a similar interest for the simple approach to art. He would fling one good splatter of ink or paint onto a piece of paper and from there, he could see a shape of some creature and build on that. I think my favorite artist is Ralph Bakshi, a cartoonist whose movies have inspired many of my recent puppet designs. I also find it kind of cool that he graduated from the same high school as me, the High School of Art and Design. His work has this sort of ratty, grungy look that I really love.

Bio:  I was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 11, 1999. I was exposed to the Muppets at a very young age and immediately fell in love with the art of puppetry, partially through sheer curiosity of how the puppets were built and how they worked, and partially from a performance perspective- wanting to have fun with all those other puppeteers on TV and wanting to play funny, outlandish characters alongside them. After meeting Leslie Carrara-Rudolph at the age of ten, she got me in touch with Kevin Clash, who was working on his documentary, “Being Elmo” at the time. After getting to be in the doc with him, he continued to train me as a puppeteer and treated me like a son. After all that controversy in 2012, Kevin disappeared for a while and I kinda lost contact with the rest of the Muppeteers,  but I was determined to find my way back in that circle. So while I was away, I started acting in theater shows, so I could build confidence as a performer. I started getting more serious about building and performing puppet characters of my own. I also started taking improv classes and formed a sketch comedy group. I did all these things and more, to hone my skills, in hopes of working up to the ranks of my heroes. So when I was 16, and could legally to start working, I sent Matt Vogel a message, asking if there were any workshops or auditions happening. There just happened to be a workshop that fall. He invited me to that, I got through it and I’ve been working on Sesame Street ever since. I still continue to do sketch comedy, stand-up, and I’m always working on new stuff with my characters who I call The Rumble Ensemble.

Instagram: @rumble.ensemble 

Facebook: Tau Bennett

YouTube: The Rumble Ensemble

The Party of Regal Krusaders (P.O.R.K.)

5 Questions with Singer/Songwriter and Fiber Artist, Jocelyn MacKenzie

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To many, Jocelyn MacKenzie is one third of the indie-pop band Pearl and the Beard.  And that’s true.  But, that’s just one piece of this versatile artist’s story.  When we recently spoke, Jocelyn and I were musing about the many lives that one lives while on this planet. Some pieces of our past selves feel so distant, while others feel like they were just yesterday.  For a storyteller like Jocelyn, finding newfangled ways to express herself never stops.  Her fiber arts and styling speak to the wearer or viewer in a complete and wonderfully fresh way.  Her music, whether utilizing words or not, always feels like a complete narrative.  She has a new EP which will be released tomorrow and some fantastic new projects in the pipeline. Where does her endless inspiration come from? Let’s find out, with these “5 Questions”…

JMK: Jocelyn, as we all know, girls are sorely robbed of proper educations worldwide.  In this country the education gap is slowly decreasing.  (And if we didn’t know this, we should educate ourselves about the disparity).  You teach music to young girls.  Would you please share a bit about this experience?

JM: Volunteering at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I’m not able to do it every year, but when I can’t be there in person I try to raise money or awareness for their organization. They give girls a voice, and seeing it happen in real time is the root of why I make music. I believe that music, especially singing and songwriting, is a language, a birth right for all people. It’s part of how we process intense emotions, including trauma and joy, and it’s part of how we relate to one another as fellow humans. Without relating to each other, we don’t have a society, and without music, our society lacks humanity. Yet with arts education dwindling, and the gender gap widening in terms of expectations of what it means to be a “proper boy” or a “proper girl,” it’s harder and harder to provide a platform where students of any gender can feel that connection to their deeper human selves, their raw animalness that needs to howl when it can’t describe what it’s feeling in mere words. Giving these young musicians space and tools to express themselves through writing and performing original music is something I hope gives them agency, autonomy, and freedom into their adulthood. We play music. Play is the operative word here. And it is important that young girls know they are valuable, able, and capable at this act of self-love at a young age so that they carry the strength of that practice with them as they grow. It helps everyone when one person learns they are free to sing.

JMK: Publicly, you are known as a musician and a fiber artist, which I love!  You are clearly called to the work that you do.  It feels so authentic.  If you weren’t answering that call, what other career do you think you might find fulfilling, and why?

JM: Thank you for noticing that! I am called to make music and to work with my hands, and that’s a great question that I do think about sometimes! I’ve always been fascinated with languages and how people communicate, so in another life, I might become a linguist and try to learn as many languages as possible. I’m especially interested in tonal languages like Japanese, or sound-based languages such as the whistling language of Northern Turkey. Alternately, I am obsessed with the deep sea and with deep space, so perhaps a marine biologist or an astrologer. That said, I am a mermaid, so I’d probably explore the ocean before outer space, but both feel appealing.

JMK: What does the phrase “you’re enough” mean to you?

JM: Isn’t it funny how something that sounds so simple can be so thick? “You’re enough” means you don’t have to try to be yourself, you already are. You don’t have to try to be loved, you already are. I think we face a huge challenge today with so many outlandish expectations on what it means to do things “properly” in society (be female, be successful, be American…). My work is to strip away which messages are being spoken from my own inner voice and which ones are not. The voices that say, “You would be more attractive if you lost some weight… you’re not as talented as this other musician so why don’t you just make music your hobby… one day you’ll give up this dream of being an artist and get a real job… you’re not successful unless you’re earning a certain amount of money… you’re too loud / outgoing / sexual / colorful / confident / excitable / sensitive…” These are not my voices. These are all statements I have actually heard directly from other people in my life, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t even include all of the passive messages we receive every day from countless sources. And I don’t believe any of that. None of it resonates with the core of my being. And yet, I’m human, so I’m permeable. It’s very easy for me to absorb these messages, and when that happens my brain can lose track of the source material and begins to believe that these ideas are true, and are mine. Imagine saying all of that to a newborn infant? No one would do such a thing. “You are enough” means my body is already perfect, my passions are part of me, my whole self is already a perfectly imperfect whole. My worth is not definable or quantifiable. I don’t have to try to be better, I have to try to do less work to impress everyone who thinks their opinion of me matters more than my inner sense of self. “You’re enough” reminds me to separate the truth from the noise, separate my self love from others’ fears. I was born enough, and so were you.

JMK: (Wipes tears from her eyes…) As someone who omits a spunky sense of calm, what do you do to center yourself?

JM: For the last four years I’ve had a daily morning meditation practice that is invaluable to me. I change it up, and am pretty casual about it, but without it my default state of nervous energy comes back very quickly. In the last two years I’ve also incorporated a process of daily journaling called Morning Pages as outlined in Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” which has been a life enhancing practice for me. It’s three pages of stream of consciousness writing every morning, which allows me to clear away the noise and the nonsense and get down to the brass tacks of my emotional state. Music and singing also center me throughout the day… I often sing what I would say. It lifts my spirits, tunes me into my inner core, and gives me a laugh. I also try not to take myself too seriously. It’s work, but it’s worthwhile work! Even in the darkest times I try to find humor and humility in my situation, and in the face of adversity for others I try my best to see and feel all sides of the story. That work helps me break down barriers and come back to where I truly stand on any issue, rather than allowing intense anger, grief, elation, or joy to pull me in any particular direction. Also, I am putting “spunky sense of calm” on my business card now.

JMK: How does your favorite color make you feel and why?

JM: My favorite color is Robin’s Egg Blue or Sea Foam Green, depending on who you ask, and the closes paint swatch to match is Martha Stewart’s Batter Bowl Green. I have loved this color since childhood when Crayola introduced new shades into their box and had a “Name that Color” contest. I submitted the name “Mermaid Blue,” and it was not accepted. That color brings me home, as I am a mermaid and it returns me back to the sea. It gives me a spunky sense of calm I suppose! Guess I know what color to make those business cards now.

Website:  http://www.jocelynmackenzie.com/

Instagram: @jocelynmcknz

Photo credit:  Ester Segretto

Jocelyn Mackenzie is a Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, percussionist, stylist, artist, and songwriting coach. Best known as the singing drummer from indie-pop trio Pearl and the Beard, she has a rich national and international touring history and has written for film, television, and theater. She is also a devising member of Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, Music Curator of Puppet Playlist Cabaret, and contributing member of freak folk band The Peggy’s and sock puppet rock band Uncle Monsterface. 

5 Questions with Holistic Nutritionist, Tatiana Ridley

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Tatiana Ridley is an intelligent, sensitive, human who strives to live a meaningful life teaching healthy and holistic life practices.

I met Tatiana on an island 30 miles out to sea,  when we were both on creative and healthy living, personal and professional explorations.  I observed a focused, kind woman who was infinity curious about the world around her.  Additionally, I saw a person who uses her knowledge to make a difference in people’s live.  Here’s 5 questions with entrepreneur, holistic nutritionist,  and speaker, Healthylicious Bliss’s, Tatiana Ridley.

JMK: As someone who eats a very balanced diet, what do you recommend to people as the winter, carb heavy months creep up on us?

TR: Let’s get real here, while I try to eat a very balanced diet, I have my moments, (ehem, brick-oven pizza and chocolate!). I espouse to the 80/20 Diet. Basically, I eat healthy around 80% of the time and indulge in my not so healthy desires around 20% of the time, (yes, I’m talking about food here). I’m only human after all! For me, that’s eating mostly organic meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthy fats, and fermented foods. And for drinks, it’s water, coffee (love Bullteproof!), kombucha, and fresh green juice! As we transition from Summer into Fall, I recommend that my clients incorporate seasonal foods into their diets. Back in the day, our ancestors ate seasonally, because they had no choice. Today, we have access to all foods year round, but that doesn’t mean that we should consume those foods 365 days a year. For fall, focus on grounding, warming foods to prepare and protect your body for the cold winter weather. Examples of this include winter squash (acorn, butternut, delicata), apples, beets, Belgian endive, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, figs, mushrooms, parsnips, pears, pumpkin (yay for pumpkin season!), sweet potatoes, and Swiss chard. One of my favorite fall go-to recipes is a healthified spinoff of a childhood favorite that my parents made me – my grilled goat cheese + tomato soup recipe! 

Get the recipe HERE! 

JMK:  How has your role model inspired you?

TR: My role model, my mom, Bettina Ridley, aka Momasita, inspires me every day in every way. Since I was a child I have looked up to her, literally, borrowing her heels to play dress up and aspiring to be her when I grew up. A grown up now, I still look up to her, standing at 5’3” and she at 5’5 1/2”. She has always courageously beat to the tune of her own drum and supported my individuality and interests. She inspires me to strive to be the best version of myself (and not to be so hard on myself) whilst being grateful for all that I have been blessed with. In this world it can be difficult not to get caught up in the comparison game, but it’s important to recognize that the grass is not always greener and one can get distracted admiring someone else’s garden only to lose sight of their own garden. Water your garden, people! Her dedication to self-improvement, her family, God, and giving back to the community through her volunteer work at soup kitchens and churches throughout New York has inspired me. While she insists that she’s not perfect, she always seems to have the right words of wisdom to share with me at any given moment. Like, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly” or “Be a warrior not a worrier.” My mom is my hero.

JMK:  That’s gorgeous.  I would consider you a seeker as you are someone who asks probing, intentional questions.  For some, this quality can be anxiety inducing.  Do you have a spiritual practice that guides you?

TR: Why thank you, Jean Marie! I appreciate that moniker! Funny story, ever since I was a wee child, I’ve been asking questions, my parents tell me that I would stroll around (by stroller or on foot) pointing at this and that and asking “What’s this?” Yes, I have several spiritual practices that guide me and reel me back in when I’m heading out into the deep end of discouragement or overwhelm. Meditation has become a spiritual source for me. I especially enjoy lighting a scented candle, dimming the lights, and listening to Kundalini meditation music, closing my eyes, and allowing my mind to drift away.

JMK: In the age of #MeToo, how do you feel your voice and role in the world has changed?

In the age of #MeToo, I think that it’s important to offer support to women who have been victims of sexual abuse and to empower them to find the strength, support, and salvation to move forward from their experience from victim to victor. Let’s empowHER!

JMK:  What are you most happy about these days?

TR: I am happy to be alive and well, but lately, I have been feeling very grateful for the opportunities that I have been aligned with at Healthylicious Bliss, offering my corporate and school wellness programming, attending conferences, and connecting with people! One of my favorite quotes comes to mind when I consider where I am today:

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” ~ Joseph Campbell.

One of my clients mailed me a bookmark years ago with this very quote emblazoned on it.

Tatiana Ridley is the Founder of Healthylicious Bliss™ , your go-to resource for a Happy, Healthy & Hot lifestyle. She’s a Fempreneur, Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher, Speaker, and Writer based in New York City. Tatiana’s services include corporate and school wellness programs, yoga classes, private and group holistic nutrition coaching (via phone and online), events, speaking, and retreats. Tatiana launched her business in 2010, and has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, Well+Good, Rise, Everyday Health, and more. She is a graduate of Fordham University and the Institute For Integrative Nutrition. When she’s not doing her Fempreneur thang, you can find her galavanting around NYC and beyond, hanging with her pup, learning new things and sharing them on Instagram.

Website:  www.healthyliciousbliss.com

Instagram: @TatianaRidley

Why Do We Crave Hearty Foods When It Gets Cold?

Meat Pie
A meat pie c/o my mother.***

As the weather gets cooler here in the northeast, one is inclined to eat rich hearty foods.  The soup lists on menus are getting longer and the warm food trays at buffets are looking better and better.  I am craving mashed potatoes.  (That probably has nothing to do with the weather).  As someone who tries to eat whole foods and fresh vegetables as much as possible, the cold weather is a challenge for me.  I don’t care for salads in the cold weather, no matter how savory they may appear to be.  I crave warm foods, starch and calories.  But alas, the whole food edict is helpful in assuaging these desires and leading me down the road of roasted vegetables.  As I approached the starch filled lunch line at work today, the question on my mind today was, “Why do we crave hearty foods in the cold”?

 

My first impulse is to say that we need to insulate ourselves. To some extent, depending on where you live, this is certainly true.  But after a bit of research,* this hypothesis does not satisfy me.

chipmunk

However, it did lead me to find some data on another thought I had. “What if we’re stockpiling for winter”? It turns out that there is research that, while not conclusive, suggests that as it begins to get darker sooner, we begin to eat more.  Whether that’s out of boredom or a natural hibernation instinct, I can’t say.

But it is third and most soulful possible conclusion that I relate to the most.  As it gets cooler, we lead into the holiday season where memories quite often collide with food.  In my family, there are a few favorites.  Turkey dinners for my mother.  Shepard’s pie, a stew or a roast for my father.  And for my brother… Aunt Peggy’s legendary meat pie.**  I confess that I don’t have one food that is my go to. I just like food.  Really well made, preferably healthy, food.  But whole foods and vegetable diet be damned, for the past week, I have been craving that meat pie like a lion craves an antelope.  Bring it on!

Putting aside the irrational arguments for the health content of the meat pie that my family often makes, I know that our communal craving is not just the taste.  It’s the activity.  Meat pies are made with love.  The meat is seasoned and slowly cooked.  The crust is laid into the very specifically chosen pan with great focus and care.  When cooked and drained, the meat is poured into its shell with such anticipation.  As a child, helping to break the pieces of cheddar cheese and carefully laying it on top of the meat, making sure that the entire surface was coated with cheese was a very pleasing task for me.  And of course, we would now lay on the top blanket, the soon to be crust , by artfully placing the croissant dough triangles on top, while trying to keep aside a reserve of dough.  But the best part, truly, to this day, is deciding what to “draw” on the top crust with the leftover dough.  When the pie hits the table, everyone looks to see what the lovingly drawn image is before cutting into the pie.  Memories.  So many beautiful memories.  Often, after the meal was through and the leftover pie was placed carefully in the fridge (the leftovers are even better), my mother would call my aunt and tell her the tale of the evening’s meal.  My sweet, funny, loving aunt would go on about how it is always a crowd pleaser and how now she would have to make one.  Family.  It’s not just about taste.  It’s about family.

I guess in the end, for regular, everyday people, it does not matter why we crave more calories in the winter.  It matters that we do so healthfully and mindfully.  Roasting vegetables.  Limiting gravy and fatty contents.  Keeping a holistic approach to eating while allowing ourselves a few of the treats that the cold weather traditions bring.  And when we are dining with loved ones, that we eat up the very special gift that we have with them, time.

*https://www.npr.org/2011/12/19/143938954/winter-munchies-do-we-eat-more-in-colder-months

**If this recipe is really owned by Pillsbury.  Sorry.  We’re giving Aunt Peggy the credit.)

***Check out some of my mother’s blog entries at https://diaryofadedicateddiabetic.wordpress.com. 

(This is the video of the chipmunk in the photo above:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTjGNhuPl2c)