The Creative Romantic

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. I’m a lover, but this holiday has always annoyed me a little because it feels somewhat forced and predictable.  I’ve never liked doing something just because everyone else is, and I guess that’s why the expectation of this day gets to me. (I’m working on that)

There are the obvious gifts: a dozen roses, jewelry, perhaps a nice tie.

And then there are the creative gifts that one remembers long after the flowers wilt and the tie goes out of style.  These are the gifts that have their story told over and over and leave an impression.

Anyone can give a card, but how about a card that turns into a beautiful plant to remember the person by? Botanical PaperWorks is one of many companies that offer biodegradable cards made with seeds that can be planted afterwards. Recycling just got a lot more romantic!

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If your gift is for someone you’ve had in your life at least a year, gather all the photographs that chronicle your time together and make a calendar. Attach a memory to each month, like birthdays, holidays, vacations, or even just fun times together. Upload the photos to Shutterfly and then follow the easy instructions on how to make a personalized calendar.

If you live together, consider ordering custom-made fortune cookies with your own personalized messages that you can leave on his or her plate after dinner. There are several places that offer this service, including Fancy Fortune Cookies. Prices vary depending on how many and what kind you order.

Think of a bunch of words that describe your partner. Write them on postcards and mail them at random. It will be a nice surprise amidst the bills and other junk mail.

Lastly, sometimes it’s not the grand overtures that make the biggest impression, but the little things that come in unexpected packages. For example, send your partner to get a massage or see a movie with a friend. While they are gone clean the house or complete a nagging task. They will come home already feeling grateful, and then to see the entire place has been cleaned or something fixed will put them over the top. For other ideas check out The Romantic.

Being romantic doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag, just a little imagination!

Plastic vs. Poppy

Every Christmas my mom bakes poppy seed cakes, a family tradition passed down from my father’s Polish roots. Poppy seeds are oilseeds that come from the poppy plant and are packed with nutrients. They’re also gnarly little buggers when they get caught in your teeth.  These tiny black seeds, however, might be the answer to a problem much larger than not having floss or a toothpick on hand.

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A few years ago a friend was visiting from out of town and brought a product I’d never used before.  It was called Clean & Clear Morning Burst Facial Cleanser by Johnson & Johnson.  I loved it.  The last thing I’m doing in the morning is bursting, and this product lived up to it’s name. It had these tiny beads that exfoliated my skin and smelled amazing.  They had a new customer.

So you can imagine my surprise a few years later when I learned what those beads actually were and how they’re damaging our environment. I went from bursting to deflated. 

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Example of plastics found in ocean

In short, microbeads are tiny particles of plastic that are used in numerous beauty products. They flow down the drain after we wash our face and since they’re so small, wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them. They’re also not biodegradable and once they enter the ocean they’re impossible to remove.  Fish and other marine life ingest them and they’re essentially passed along the food chain and could likely end up back with us on our dinner plates. If this toxic cycle keeps repeating who knows how it will impact our health and the health of the planet in years to come.

I was a Johnson & Johnson baby and grew up using their products, always believing that such a large reputable company would be ethical and responsible. I trusted them. I no longer use their products or any others that contain microbeads. You’d be surprised how many do (a pdf list here) and can find more information at Beat the Microbead and 5Gyres.

This brings me back to my mom’s poppy seed cakes.  Despite my disappointment with companies like Johnson & Johnson for bursting my bubble by using microbeads, I was relieved to find that others have come up with alternatives.

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One such brand is Jillian Wright Skincare.  She offers an exfoliating scrub that uses poppy seeds instead of microbeads, which achieves the same desired effect without using plastics. Not only is her product biodegradable, so is her packaging. Each box contains wildflower seeds that can be planted after use. Now that’s the kind of stuff I’d rather be putting back into the environment. Flowers, a better morning burst! 

The Art of the Gift

We’ve all wanted to find that perfect gift for someone. The kind that causes eyes to widen, jaws to drop, and arms to reach out.

I’ll never forget the Christmas my father made me a sailboat out of a walnut shell, toothpick and a little piece of paper folded into a triangle. He put it in a glass jar with some sand, pebbles and shells we collected at the beach that summer. The beach was a sentimental place for us and I had a lot of fond memories exploring the shoreline and sailing with him. They were our treasure hunts and ocean adventures.

That was the Christmas there wasn’t too much under the tree, but his gift taught me it’s not what’s in the box that makes something special, it’s the person handing you the box. It also sparked my imagination and I started thinking about capturing the essence of expression through the creative process.
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When I became an adult and friends started having babies, I didn’t want to just give them typical baby clothes. I wanted my gifts to reflect something more personal and intimate, connecting them to their own childhood. So I started reconstructing baby clothes after their favorite books from when they were growing up.
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I also started writing and illustrating books to help their kids with various issues they were trying to overcome, be it a fear of the dark and monsters under the bed, to bullying at school. I realized the “art of the gift” could be anything, it just had to come from my hands.

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In a world overcome with the latest gadgetry and multiple media distractions, it’s important to slow down and live in real time. Making something from scratch forces us to do that. It requires thought, time and creative energy. It’s not instant like clicking “purchase” in an online checkout. It says, “I’m making time for you,” which so many of us take for granted in our busy lives.

My father took the time to make that tiny sailboat which beautifully captured our cherished memories, and I remembered it long after I outgrew my childhood toys.

The Indie Beauty Expo “Best In Show” Awards

The inaugural Indie Beauty Expo (IBE) last summer in NYC featured 80 incredible brands.  I had less than two hours to visit as many as possible. It was like being on that game show where you’re given ten minutes and a shopping cart.  Limited time and so many options!  Afterwards, as I emptied the goodie bag on my living room floor, I felt like a kid on Halloween as numerous samples poured out. Despite having a sweet tooth for products, I didn’t know where to begin.

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That’s why the Best in Show awards was so helpful. The panel of judges, comprised of six beauty industry experts, brought my attention to the winners among the winners. Everyone at iBE was worthy of recognition, but these brands earned special top honors. I had the opportunity to speak with Marie Watkinson, chairperson of the evaluation committee, to find out why.

She said all the finalists had so much passion it was hard to choose.  There were really no losers, just those that were able to better captivate the judges, either with their backstory, creative solution to a problem, or overall enthusiasm and demonstrated understanding of the indie brand philosophy.

Watkinson, founder of Spa Chicks on the Go, has more than 20 years of experience in the beauty, spa and wellness industry.  The other judges that made up the “dream team” included, Jeannie Jarnot of Beauty Heroes, Cheryl Kramer Kaye of Shape Magazine, Andrea Nagel of CEW, Jessica Richards of Shen Beauty and celebrity makeup artist, Cynde Watson.

So what made the winners stand out?

Vegan Meets Luxury

Watkinson explained how sometimes natural products aren’t viewed as luxury, which is why vegan nail polish line, LVX, won for best nail lacquer.  It defied assumptions by impressing the judges in both performance and packaging. “It looks luxurious, the color palate is sophisticated, and even the bottles themselves are chic.” She added that she was pleasantly surprised the 5-free line (free of the five toxic ingredients common in mainstream brands) held up to the chip test against its more toxic competitors.

Awakening Our Senses

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Strange Invisible won in the fragrance category. Watkinson, who never cared for perfume, described being mesmerized by this line. During the expo she was drawn to the mysterious booth and started sampling. “The scent is absolutely intriguing. They sourced natural ingredients from all over the world.” Her experience had only been with synthetic scents, so this brand resonated with her. She said finding Strange Invisible was the cherry on the iBE cake and made her fall in love with perfume.

Masks Making a Difference

NUGG, one of the winners in the face mask category, solves the problem of your products going bad. Since we don’t use face masks every day, or even every week, months can pass and, just like food, the ingredients spoil. NUGG is single use so each mask is fresh. Watkinson points out another problem NUGG solves is that our skin is constantly changing depending on the time of year or what’s going on in our lives. You can purchase them singularly or in multi-packs that offer a variety of options that cater to different skin care needs. This convenience made them winners, but they also earned points for charity. A portion of the proceeds go to Cancer and Careers, which strives to eliminate fear and uncertainty for working people with cancer.

An Indie Classic

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Farmaesthetics is an example of a well-developed and mature indie brand that has perfected the simple basics. In fact, they are so good at what they do, they almost make it look easy. With a wealth of experience in the category (they launched in 1999), they have worked hard to carefully develop their collection in a way that is compelling, consistent and well executed. From their packaging to the way they source their ingredients, their whole platform is a commitment to clean and green beauty. It’s no wonder they were nominated in numerous categories and won for sustainability.

Break-Out Brand

EU2BE, enrich + emolliate oil, won in the body category. The packaging doesn’t necessarily stand out, but the founder does. Charla Jones is her brand. She’s got a great back story and after visiting her website and blog you can’t help but be inspired and curious to try her products. Her brand is named after her aunt Eugenia and she’s traveled the world exploring numerous cultures to source her ingredients, things you wouldn’t imagine, like broccoli seed oil… another way to get your veggies!

Watkinson said a lot of brands claim they’re all-natural, but do they really work on your skin?  After using EU2BE she now has it in her shower. She introduced it to a friend with sensitive skin and chronic fatigue syndrome and said it made a noticeable impact. “EU2BE embodies everything that indie is and we welcome this newcomer to our growing community.”

Future of Indie Beauty

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I asked Watkinson where she sees the indie beauty industry headed: Temporary trend or trailblazer? “It’s in a renaissance period and people like Jillian Wright, one of the founders, are leaders of that renaissance educating and inspiring others with their brand stories.”

She pointed out that IBE was more than an expo, but rather a movement that’s gaining momentum.  People are becoming more aware about what they’re putting on their skin, how exposure to chemicals in mainstream brands are getting into the bloodstream, how ingredients are sourced and extracted, and what sustainable packaging means for the environment. In other words, people are learning how indie brands can improve our lives and community.

Mentioned are just a few of the brands that won Best in Show. There were a total of 15 winners and we’ll be doing profiles on more of them in the months leading up to the next IBE.

Happy, Healthy Pampering!

Feathers and Fiber: Organic and Original

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Peacock and Guinea Hen Bow Ties

Peacock feather bow ties, Alpaca neck cowls and Guinea Hen earrings are just a few of the unique handcrafted items that artists Benjie Randall and Bret Kropp have created from the various animals and fowl on their farm, Feathers and Fiber.

“It’s farm to fashion!” exclaimed Benjie, holding up an intricately detailed and piercing blue bow tie. “We’re animal lovers with a passion for repurposing nature,” added Bret, describing how walks on the property are like treasure hunts.

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“We’ve always loved the creativity in the bucolic setting of our farm. From the changing seasons, to the light through the trees at various times of day, to the chorus of our animals, there is so much beauty and our designs are an attempt to capture some of that in the products we craft.”

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You can experience some of the magic of Feathers and Fiber on their website. There you will find beautiful photos of the farm, including their three lovable Alpacas — Bristow, Busby and Beau — who, I might add, are coming out with a children’s book soon!  In the photo on this post Benjie is showing the fury fella’s the results of their last sheering, of which I benefited from by way of a gorgeous neck cowl (also seen) that is super cozy, not to mention stylish. You can also find them on Esty.

Beautiful Death

Trees ablaze
Fire colors
Radiant pallet
An artist’s muse

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Nature’s confetti
Fall from branches
Collect, mix, blend
A kaleidoscope
Changed by wind
Moving daylight
Reflected sunsets

Leaves crackle
like fireplace logs
Under feet that kick embers and ashes
into life one more time.

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City of Saints: The Mod Mom & Pop

A new kind of coffee shop has emerged: the Millennial’s version of mom and pop. After a Starbucks Star-Bellied Sneetches-type takeover the past couple decades, it’s refreshing to see the return of unique coffee shops.

City of Saints, which just opened on my street (10th St. in the East Village) has that individual quality you won’t find on the next block, or the next block, or the next… Don’t get me wrong, I love a creamy Starbucks latte and for years I’ve been runnin’ on Dunkin’, but I appreciate the one-of-a-kind cafe that’s making a comeback.

City of Saints feels like you’re in someone’s tricked-out garage. It’s modern and simple, but cool. The vibe is easy-going and friendly.

They’re also keeping it close to home.
The coffee is brewed in Brooklyn.
The guy who designed the space (AndrewCoslow) is based in New Jersey.
And even the juice and other treats are locally made.

Lately, they’ve been collaborating with graffiti artists on their packaging, like Mr. Nerds and Dasic Fernandez. Who knew drinking coffee could also support the arts? Bonus buzz!

So the next time you find yourself in the East Village jonesing for some Joe, check ’em out.

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The Best Baby Gift Ever!

A few years ago as my best friend was opening her baby shower gifts — items everyone has seen a dozen times in the predictable pink, blue or yellow — she came to mine and suddenly the room was silent.  Her eyes filled with tears and everyone strained to see beyond the tissue paper.  For the remainder of the shower my gift was slowly passed around the room and I was repeatedly approached with all kinds of questions.  I realized it was the best gift I had ever given and it didn’t come from the registry.

BIt all started from a conversation several months into her pregnancy.  She was in her mid-thirties and this was her first child.  Her only regret in waiting to start a family was that her grandparents were not going to be around much longer and her child would never know them.  This made her incredibly sad, but it gave me an idea.

The next day I got in touch with everyone in her and her husband’s family and extended family.  I asked them to think of something they’d like to tell her baby: advice, wisdom, humor, a famous quote, anything, and email me the responses along with a photo that captured who they are.  A month later I had dozens of notes and photos.  I uploaded them onto the website Shutterfly and started creating a book.

Each page had a photo and entry addressed to her baby.  I asked my friend and her husband to do this as well (but I didn’t tell them what it was for).  She wrote a beautiful letter, which I put on the first page of the book, along with a picture of her ultrasound.  I dug up some childhood artwork of hers, scanned it, and made that the cover art.

Shutterfly gives you a lot of layout and theme options.  I had her parents send me baby photos of her.  They even found some black and whites of her grandparents as children.  I put these in the back of the book along with famous quotes about family and love that I pulled from the internet.  The book became a modern-day version of a family tree, a way her child could learn about his/her family and put faces with names.  In the end the total cost of producing the book was $75, but since her grandparents passed away a year after her child was born, it became priceless.