encouragement

cristinas tortina shopWalk into Cristina’s Tortina Shop in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and right away you’ll notice there’s something special.

It’s not just the lively pink-with-brown-polka-dots décor.

It’s not just the picture frames along the east wall that showcase the staff and their dreams.

It’s not just the stunning selection of scrumptious cupcakes (if you happen to get there before they’re sold out!).

What you’ll notice above all else is the atmosphere.

Because the people on both sides of the counter can’t help but be excited about what owner Mary Iusso and her daughter Cristina helped launch just a few short months ago.

When Cristina was born, doctors were surprised to discover she had Down syndrome. They approached Mary and her husband with a list of things she would not be able to do.

Fortunately, in the true spirit of Things that are Excellent, Cristina’s family instead chose to focus on what she could do.

This led, just a few years later, to the opening of Mary’s brainchild: a cupcakery that “creates equal employment opportunities for people with Down syndrome, Autism and other Special Needs.”

Cristina’s Tortina Shop is so much more than a place that makes and sells outstanding desserts.

It is a place that, as their tagline suggests, showcases capabilities.

There has been quite a buzz about the shop on local media, and the word is spreading. When I visited a couple of Sundays ago, Mary shared that they were getting emails from around the world.

In the early days, they donated leftovers to a local women’s shelter. But these days there aren’t any leftovers. Cristina’s now regularly sells out of cupcakes long before closing.

The cupcakes are incredibly good (the Cioccolata is Cristina’s favorite and mine too!), but you’ll want to make the trip just to see what a difference the right attitude can make.

For more of the story and a quick peek in the shop, enjoy this video:

Yes, Cristina’s Tortina Shop is doing more than just serving up delicious desserts. They’re changing the world, one cupcake at a time.

Click here to link with them on Twitter and Facebook.

What is your favorite cupcake flavor?

Things that are Excellent is a regular feature that celebrates “what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). If you have a feature idea or a guest post that you would like to submit, let us know in the comments below or email your ideas to: excellent@larryhehn.com

{ 7 comments }

How To Be a Rock Star

by Larry Hehn on February 11, 2014

rock starBack in January I became a rock star. For about 35 minutes.

When told that I’d be making my singing debut in front of roughly 400 people, my friend Dan had the best reaction.

“Wow,” he said, “I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Fact is, I don’t, really.

There are no delusions of grandeur here. I would never make it beyond the judge’s table of American Idol. Heck, who am I kidding? The producers would screen me out long before that, and not just because I’m too old.

Still, a friend was in a bind and needed a vocalist. He knew I had been on stage before, and thought maybe I could help.

Sure, Andy. Invite the hard-of-hearing introvert to be your lead singer.

But hey, when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this presents itself, I figured I’d be crazy not to jump at the chance. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a rock star for one night?

I let the band know that I’d come out to one rehearsal and give it a try. They could choose not to invite me back, and I would not be offended.

To my surprise, I was invited to the next rehearsal.

When it became clear that I was going to be the lead vocalist, I decided to make the most of it. I ordered some online voice lessons to help me with my range and overall comfort level. I practiced and experimented. I reviewed other performers to see what worked, and what didn’t.

I got a good, healthy assessment of my own limitations.

And you know what?

It was a blast!

The band was very gracious, encouraging, and lots of fun. The audience, even more so. The gig was a big success.

And, of course, I came away with some tips about how to be a rock star:

  1. Seize the opportunity. Every once in a while, something is going to come up that will stretch you well beyond your comfort zone. Will you take the plunge, or politely decline?
  2. Give it your all. The singers I enjoy most aren’t necessarily the ones who hit each note perfectly. They’re the ones who exude joy and passion when they sing, and connect with their audience. It’s not always about your skill level. It’s about how much “you” you bring to the table.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. We knew we weren’t the greatest band. But the audience loved us in spite of it. Actually, because of it. How could someone refuse when you say to them, “I may never be a pro at this. But here’s my best, and I’m giving it to you, warts and all.”

Whatever you do, why not be a rock star with it?

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. – Colossians 3:23

{ 13 comments }

2013 Beard of the Year – Results!

by Larry Hehn on January 9, 2014

beard of the yearWell, the results are in. And I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been awarded the honor of The Bearded Idealist‘s 2013 Beard of the Year!

Over the past week, 12 Beard of the Month honorees duked it out for the title of Beard of the Year by raising donations to help Live58 combat human trafficking.

It was a tremendous back-and-forth battle between February 2013 Beard of the Month Tim Bordeaux’s team and Team Larry, with the lead changing hands several times over the last few hours of the campaign.

In the end, thanks to many supporters and generous donors, Team Larry raised $300 and Team Tim raised $270. In total, the competition raised a healthy $805 toward this worthy cause.

Many thanks to Stephen Haggerty (The Bearded Idealist himself and creator of the sweet graphic you see here), for creating the forum and assembling such a quality group of bearded gents. A big shout out to Team Tim for making such a huge contribution and providing a lot of excitement to the finish. And a sincere thank you to all who offered their encouraging words and financial support to this entire campaign.

Finally, I’d like to send special thanks to Ken “The Barba” Hagerman, winner of 2012 Beard of the Year honors, whose victory last year inspired me to join this year’s competition.

I love what Stephen said in his 2013 Beard of the Year Winner post: “Any beard can look good, but it takes a special beard to actually do good.”

Hmm…I wonder what else this beard can do…

{ 4 comments }