Candles, Plants + Serendipity

December 22, 2016 0 Comments

My bio reads; president of the Lip Smacker club in second grade; and it's true. I started the club with an old cigar box from my Godfather that I etched with black crayon over a rainbow of colors and then bedazzled.

Invited members put their lip balms in the box; and lucky me took them home after school for safe keeping. The club was started out of necessity. My mom would only allow me one lip balm purchase a month, my little sister wouldn't share (some things never change) and I wanted all the flavors. Like Veruca Salt, "I Want It Now". Patience is not my virtue. 

We grew up and moved on to other 80's favorites like Village Lip Balm Tins, Kissing Potions + Sticks, Bain de Terr, Zink, Sun In, Indian Earth Powder + Love's Baby Soft. Ah, I can literally smell the 80's.

Fast forward to high school and the holy grail, Beverly Hills perfume, lipstick and  summers slathered in baby oil with iodine and colorful Zinka. It wasn't enough to have a deep, dark tan in the 80s. We wanted our hair to look sun-ravaged as well. Enter Sun-In

A good student, not sporty or overly academic, I preferred creative arts and spent most of my free time making things. From DIY projects like hand painted barrettes and banana clips to sewing clothes and a million and one scrunchies, I was always busy. That summer, I wanted a car. My parents agreed, but I needed a job. My first position, hostess with the mostess.

Well, not quite, I was actually delegated to polishing the brass at the W
alker Brothers, The Original Pancake House. Serving the Northshore of Chicago, the restaurant is filled with miles of gleaming brass, stained glass windows and lamps. Their Apple Cinnamon Pancakes are fast favorite among generations. Recently the quaint space was featured on the Food Networks Show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" for their Bacon Cheddar Omelette. It's so good, in fact, most days you can find a line out the door, but don't be scared off by this - the line moves very fast. 

From there I moved on to Fashionation, which featured the latest trends and styles from famous brands. The Limited of the mid-80s was THE place to shop. Were you a Forenza girl or an Outback Red girl? The store was filled to the brim; stocked with oodles of famous maker brands at discounted prices. My love for fast fashion was born. Everyday was something new. I thrived in the fast-paced environment and rose up the ranks to assistant manager. We sold out of items faster than you can say Guess jeans, Forenza v-neck cable knit sweater, which by the way were not reversible, but were worn backwards + Reeboks.

I worked every minute of my spare time; weekends and late nights jumping from store to store, wherever they needed me. I remember my parents waiting for me in the parking lot, well after midnight to close the store on a school night. 

Burnt out from the long hours, my high school home economics teacher, Mrs. Stanley suggested I try something different and suggested a small boutique in Wilmette called The Rams. Odd name, I thought, it took me years to decipher the meaning.

The owner, Albert "Bud" Markley, was a conservative, refined and openly gay grandpa type. His much younger, Mexican lover was wild and flamboyant. They were juxtaposed opposites, both equally fascinating. 

The Rams was a rare find. D
eviating from the monotony of big-box stores, it provided a sense of community, bringing togetherness in the care taken to serve customers with a friendly smile and, oftentimes, a personalized greeting upon arrival.

Homegrown character oozed through out the shop, inviting visitors to explore the world through new eyes. There was something new to discover in every inch.

Offerings ran the gamut, every inch of the vintage space was jam-packed. Jewelry : thousands of earrings, necklaces of every kind, vintage finds (each with a fascinating tale), clothing from small, independent designers and globally-sourced offerings including ceramics, crystals, and, of course, trinkets. These wonderful , one-of-a-kind pieces were brought back from Puerto Vallarta Bud + Ron's second home in Mexico. The shop embodied the heart and soul of it's owners. To build something special takes time, a keen eye, and, sometimes, a major restoration to make what was old new again. 

The Rams was an early proponent of fair-trade and responsibly-sourced goods, an ethos stuck with over the decade. They created what we would now call "experiential shopping" far before that was a trendy buzzword.

I vividly remember one day, on a whim, Ron had dressed all the mannequins in the windows in nothing more than black plastic trash bags he carefully crafted into scantily clad outfits. It caused quite a stir in our conservative, peppy town. Everyday at this special space brought something new and exciting. It was always an adventure, the wares and the people inside were never boring. 

Marla the manager, a sweet hippie type with long dark hair that flickered with slivers of silver, smelled of patchouli and always had a sweet smile became a dear friend. She took me under her wing and showed me the ropes of how to run a boutique. I learned how to deal with customers, how to know what to buy and when and everything in between. I found it fascinating. We had reps popping in and out of the boutique and customers in droves everyday. There was never a dull moment working here.

Marla's best friend, Jill had two husbands - at the same time- was utterly cool. One part disco wild child and one part witch, she was like the cool, alternative older sister I never had. She did things on her own terms; and didn't care what anyone thought. In this respect, I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

She taught me advanced jewelry techniques like wire wrapping, hand stamping and the meanings and healing properties of crystals and gemstones in every color of the rainbow. Did you know moonstone binds the ties between star-crossed lovers, as an amulet of hope and charisma and a tonic for insomnia?   

We ordered mystical elements from far-flung places around the world: mala beads from India, Dacian spirals from Transvania, charms from Mozambique in Africa and loads more from other equally interesting locals.

We waited for the shipments to arrive for months on end, curiosity getting the best of us. Opening the parcels was similar to the delight of Christmas morning magic. We spent countless hours talking and scouring the earth for beads, talismans and charms; conjuring them into into whimsical pieces filled with wanderlust in between helping customers.

I cherish every moment I spent at the Rams. I'd rather be working than spending time doing crazy high school stuff. Not that I missed out on much because I had some wild and crazy times. But The Rams kept me out of trouble. My jobs taught me discipline, the value of hard work and the independence money brings. It also fostered good habits such as focusing, staying motivated, and finishing tasks; lessons I'm grateful for today. 

After learning how to make jewelry, I soon realized I could make a hundred dollars in a day vs the $3.35 an hour I was earning. Preuvian beads were all the rage. I made 100 pair; and we sold them all within a week! I can still picture them all hanging on the spinner rack in their colorful glory. A proud moment; and the first five hundred dollars I ever earned.

I continued making jewelry of all kinds, from beaded earrings that took hours to make, causing me to squint because of the tiny seed beads were so small to loads more Peruvian earrings. I didn't know it at the time, but I was learning a valuable lesson: weigh the time it takes to make something vs. your ability to sell them at a profit. 

I worked at Rams all through high school and college; coming back to work during breaks from school and summer vacation. They welcomed me with open arms, like I never missed a beat. These were my quirky people and being surround by them made me happy. 

My junior year in college brought me to London. I loved the gloomy weather. Summers are short, comfortable, and partly cloudy and the winters are long, brisk, windy, and mostly cloudy with drizzle more often than not. I'd imagine vampires lurking on every street corner. 

In a city as old as London, you can't escape reminders of London's horrifying history. It's survived mad monarchs, plagues and the Great Fire of London. Explore London's spooky side with these 12 scary things to do in London.

Pulling up to my flat in London, a pre-war doorman co-op built in 1930 that housed all college kids. Four to a two bedroom apartment with one bathroom. It was tight. I grew acustomed quickly; and learned city dwellers washed their clothes in the kitchen -- in a tiny washer and dryer all in one unit. 

On the first floor of our building was retail. A picturesque coffee shop, Saint Espresso on the left and to the right, a solarium or tanning salon as we called it in the US. The kid who owned it was 25 and drove a flashy red Ferrari. It was open twenty fours and always seems like a party was about to break out any minute. We became fast friends. 

My flat was located near Marble Arch, off Marylebone High Street. Nestled between the tranquil green lawns of Regent's Park and the marvel of Mayfair, this delightful district is a favorite with West London locals, but remains largely unknown to tourists.

As a result, Marylebone Village retains a decidedly charming small-town feel, despite its proximity to bustling Oxford Street. Marylebone Village is a collection of boutique shops, luxury stores, cafes and restaurants located in and around Marylebone High Street.

The heart of the village runs through Marylebone High Street, a dapper thoroughfare brimming with photo-worthy facades. Occupying the high street’s prim and proper storefronts is a wonderful mix of boutiques, shops and dining choices ranging from quaint British pubs to healthy modern fare.

A short walk to Giles High Street, you'll find a quaint, welcoming spot steeped in history; my favorite pub and frequent haunt called The Angel. The classic traditional wood panelled three-bar (with a 'snug') is always open. It's rumored a tavern has stood on this site since the 16th century. 

The term ‘falling off the wagon’ can be traced back to this historic tavern, once a staging post midway between Newgate prison and the gallows at Marble Arch. It was here that condemned criminals were allowed down from the tumbrel to have ‘one for the road’, their last sup of ale before their appointment with the noose.

These days, ‘hanging out’ is a less gory affair and the pleasingly refurbished ramble of dark saloons with its patterned tiles and damson gold wallpaper is just the ticket to take a load off.

The reasonably priced Yorkshire brews are on display, eschews visual and aural techno-mayhem in favor of darts and chess sets, plus unpretentious wines, populist pub grub, like bangers and mash, fish and chips and the mysterious mince meat pie. It features a patio for that ‘one for the road’ ciggie & a sneaky swift half.

London's Italian-restaurant scene is as varied as the food-loving country itself, from old-school trattorias to new-wave small-plates, and, of course, the best home-made pasta. I ate at some of the best Italian restaurants in London, on a mission to find the best pizza in London.

Tuck into black pizzas made from charcoal at vampire-themed Lost Boys Pizza, which regularly screens horror and cult vampire movies. Make sure to try one of its killer cocktails, you’ll give us fangs for it later…

If you want to avoid vampires altogether, and who would blame you, go to Garlic and Shots. With garlic in everything, it’s the only venue in London guaranteed to be 100% vampire free! 

A below ground scare, frozen, waiting for trains that will never arrive: ghost stations in London (abandoned underground railway stations) offer an eerie glimpse into the city's past. Go on a Hidden London Tour, which takes in hidden and disused stations such as Aldwych, which has featured in films the Darkest House, Sherlock and Atonement, and Churchill's wartime bunker, Down Street. Learn more at the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London: The Exhibition.

Some things haven't changed since the late 80's: I still crave Scalini in the heart of Chelsea. It features classic Italian cooking with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The the daily fresh market fish is delish, but my personal fav is the Fettuccine Al Ragu Bianco & Tartufo Nero. 

I've been told, Bocconcino in Mayfair is equally wonderful. The Antipasti includes soft-as-a-cloud burrata with pesto and juicy tomatoes, and slow-cooked, lemony artichokes. Get them to share along with a basket of rosemary flatbread, served hot from the woodfire oven.

The cheese wheel pasta (a.k.a. Pasta alla Ruota) is theatrically prepared table side by mixing freshly cooked pasta in a hollowed cheese wheel. A layer of cheese is scraped inside the wheel so it melts when the hot pasta is mixed in. Wash it all down with whichever Italian wine the sommelier suggests. 

By day, I studied architecture. Classes went from Monday through Thursday, giving me plenty of time to explore. At night and the long weekends, I toured local popular tourist attractions from Piccadilly Circus to Covent Garden and Kings Cross to Westminister. 

The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a medieval castle that holds the crown jewels. Situated on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, it's spectacular. 

If you love creepy, t
ravel through more than 1,000 years of London’s horrible history at The London Dungeon, one of the most surreal of London's scary attractions. Jump out of your skin at live actors, spine-tingling rides and alarmingly realistic models, which bring London's dark past to life. Terrifying surprises lurk in every corner.

For more bone-chilling immersive experiences, avoid walls dripping with blood, creepy clowns and menacing spiders, and even become a zombie for the day at The London Tombs, part of The London Bridge Experience.

By day, Brompton Cemetery and Kensal Green are two of London's most beautiful Victorian garden cemeteries. Amid the stunning gothic mausoleums, you'll find headless angels guarding unmarked and crumbling tombstones. Take an official guided tour to find out the secrets of the cemeteries and look out for special events throughout the year.

Touristy things that you shouldn't miss: The British Museum. Big Ben and Parliament. National Gallery. The Victoria and Albert Museum. Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. The Gardens: both Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Kensington Gardens are a must-see for budding horticulturists. 

Delve into human anatomy as you try not to let your stomach turn at the thought of Victorian surgery once performed at the Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret.

Find weird and wonderful exhibits at some of London’s quirkiest museums. The Grant Museum of Zoology holds a collection of more than 68,000 preserved animal specimens, including a brain collection. Visit The Wellcome Collection for shrunken heads and a Peruvian mummy. Or set foot in the curious Viktor Wynd Museum, where a two-headed kitten is among the odd items.

If you love to people watch; markets are the best place for shopping and fun. The best, IMHO is Camden Market. It's actually a cluster of markets that are all dotted around the same area and lock in Camden itself. The neighborhood is filled with everything you can imagine. It's busy and swarming with people. I went twice and on both occasions literally ran into someone from my high school. It really is a small world!  

If you want something a little less crowded, head over to Greenwich Market. The best days to go are Wednesday-Sunday when more stalls fill this historic market spot. Best of all, you won’t get soaked to the bone if that London drizzle appears. Greenwich Market is mainly inside. 

I was lucky to explore many hidden gems that most tourists never see. If you're like me and looking for scary, gross and downright odd things, follow the guide to the weirdest things to see in London or discover more unusual museums. Also, check out top tips on quirky London attractions, restaurants and hidden spots.

The long weekends brought more time to adventure outside the city. I went to Brussels, Belgium. I remember the awestruck architecture of the Grand Place, the abundant and intricately detailed fountains; and of course, the chocolate.

Thanksgiving weekend, I took a ferry, an actual hovercraft from London to Amsterdam. I was sad to spend my first Thanksgiving away from my family, but excited to eat a traditional meal. The sea was so rough, no one could eat. I have never been so sea sick in my life. We staying up all night too sick to sleep. 

We were supposed to go straight to our room at the Intercontinental Amstel, Amsterdam. Located on the bank of one of Amsterdam’s major canals,it's stunning with it's French Renaissance Revival decor—think a grand staircase, elegant chandeliers, and marble columns. 

Instead my roommates and I snuck away from the group to visit a cafe. I'd heard rumors that in Netherlands, cafes sold marijuana that was easily ordered up with your coffee. Our bud tender / barista arrived table side with a case of weed,a ll neatly organized by variety, some with red hair, purple spouts and every shade of green. We were too scared to order anything, so we settled on a round of flat whites and fresh Stroopwafel (aka, the BEST cookies ever).

Getting back to the hotel was a mess, all the roads were blaocked and traffic was shut down in all directions. Odd we thought. Our teacher was looking for us and freaking out, we hoped the chaos wasn't because of us. Thankfully it wasn't.

The hotel was on lock down because Queen Elizabeth was visiting and due to enter. We got in a bit of trouble and were banished to our room for the rest of the night; so much for the highly anticipated space cake and pot brownies. The next day was packed with a whirlwind of sightseeing from the Van Gogh Museum, the red light district (which wasn't lit by red lights), took a canal ride and the highlight: visited the home of Anne Frank.

The next morning we headed see windmills, fields of tulips and the countryside. The Netherlands is famous for it's cheeses. We ate cheese from sunup to sundown. We also drank glug and learned all about the famous clogs. I still own the pair I purchased.

I toured half a dozen historic castles that date back to the 14th century; Sham Castle, Farleigh Hungerford Castle and Old Wardour Castle. My favorite, Tintagel Castle is set high on Cornwall's rugged north coast. Inextricably linked with the legend of King Arthur, for centuries this dramatic castle and coastline has fired the imaginations of writers and artists for centuries.

I toured the cobbled stone streets of the Cottswolds, meeting many locals and shop keepers. A rural area of south central England covering parts of 6 counties, notably Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Its rolling hills and grassland harbour thatched medieval villages, churches and stately homes built of distinctive local yellow limestone. The 102-mile Cotswold Way walking trail follows the Cotswold Edge escarpment from Bath in the south to Chipping Campden in the north. 

I stood in the scared natural thermal spring waters in the unique city of Bath. It's famous for its hot springs, Roman period baths, Medieval heritage and stately Georgian architecture.

Memories abound from my time in London. I had many firsts in London. I turned 18. I was away from friends and family for an extended period of time. I missed everyone immensely, especially my high school boyfriend, Steven. London instilled a sense of fierce independence and fed my inquisitive nature. 

I remember walking to the red phone booth, close to midnight, with a pocket full of quarters every Sunday to call home. My family would be eating, laughing and having fun. Steven would be over. I'd usually cry all the way back to my flat. I wonder if technology were like it is today, if I'd still be there?

London instilled a sense of fierce independence and fed my inquisitive nature. 

Steven came to visit for summer vacation. We went to Paris, stood in front of the Effel Tower. Together we had serier of adventure that would last a lifetime; some fun, some scary.

We walked for miles on end with our huge backpacks, talked and stayed in hostels dotted across Europe. Who knew they had co-ed bathrooms and showers.

We traveled by eurorail at night so we'd have a place to sleep on the cheap. More than once, we awoke in the middle of the night trying to figure out where we were. 

We ate odd foods we could pronounce. Everyone to Spain including Barcelona which was getting ready for the 1990 Olympics. Spain from Bordeaux to Itlay, Switerland for a day. Onto Germany, where I was determined to find Scezoc. glss beads; and never did. 

London instilled a sense of fierce independence and fed my inquisitive nature. 

My affinity for natural beauty, starts as a quiet whisper
As a former owner of an American Salon 'top 250' salon + spa for two plus decades and one of the OG ecommerce beauty websites, dating back to 1990 I was always smitten with scent, color and the dramatically different, unusual products. You know the type, the ones that 

Take a step back in time to the early 1990's. A period characterized by music — grunge, the rave scene and hip hop — and technology, including cable television and the World Wide Web. The Cold War was over and the dot-com bubble brought wealth. It was a diverse period, and fashion followed suit.

The ’90s were extreme — classic, cool, chic and preppy — moving from all denim to grunge, and everything in-between. It was marked by a vibrant pop culture starting with Seinfeld, Spice Girls and the magical Harry Potter. It ended with Nokia’s first mobile phone, the emergence of Google and the creation of Amazon. 

At my the salon, we burned candles all day, everyday. We also sold them by the thousands; both online and off.  I like to think of myself as a tried-and-true fragrance aficionado

What's that smell? '90s fragrances we love! Que the classic Bath & Body Works scents in Plumeria and Sun-Ripened Raspberry, staples like Cucumber Melon, Juniper Breeze, and Sheer Freesia. Demeter Dirt, which smells exactly like wet soil after the rain, and serves as the perfect grunge-inspired touch to an over-sized flannel. Another oldie but goodie: Love's Baby Soft which launched back in 1974 and continued to be a staple for decades thanks to its light-as-air blend of lavender, rose, and vanilla, against a musk base. We swear, if we close our eyes, something still smells like Teen Spirit in here... 

One of the first brands we retailed was Votivo, circa 1994. I had to call and beg the owner to let me sell them. Finally, he relented. I remember unboxing my first order of ten dozen candles; each hand-wrapped in tissue paper with hand-pressed seal glass vessel and packaged in a signature kraft boxes with a colorful, yet simple text labels. I was smitten. 

Receiving an unprecedented reception upon its launch decades ago, Votivo’s Red Currant created shock-waves in the home fragrance realm seemingly overnight. An aromatic masterpiece, customers purchased by them by the dozen. Traversing generations, Red Currant is cherished by long-standing followers and new fans alike.

Fun fact: Madonna + several other high profile celebs (I still have few autographs in my lab) purchased candles from us!  A big thank you to Tony Hsieh, who taught me the benefit of SEO way back in the day. We met via LinkExchange in 1996. He was answering support emails at 11 pm on a Saturday night; and I was stuck. He gave me a few pointers. When he circled back a few days later; an immediate friendship formed. Over the years, he morphed into mentor; graciously responding to every question I sent his way. 

Now envision stark white ceilings + crisp walls in our salon. Twice a year we had to have the entire space painted because they'd end up covered in a very fine haze of black soot. This was no easy feat because back in those days we had textured ceilings, popcorn that resembled cottage cheese because of the treatment that leaves a bumpy look. Unfortunately, those seemingly harmless candles could have been filling the air with carcinogenic soot and lead emissions.

And I had no idea.

It took an unannounced visit (while we were touching up the salon no less) from our Aveda rep and a subsequent phone call from legendary Horst Rechelbacher, Aveda founder, to convince me about the hazards of toxins in the beauty industry. This serendipitous meeting forever changed the course of my life. 

Shortly thereafter, I became an Aveda concept salon. Aveda was dramatically different; and opened my eyes to a new world. Topics like biodiversity, the impact of deforestation, plant based ingredients and self-care, a now fluent term that no one in the early 1990's was using.

I learned by making smart choices daily, even small ones like your personal care products and candles can make a big impact on your wellness  the environment. We only have one earth. Shouldn't everyday be earth day? 

We explored aromaology practices and the benefits of essential oils through the use of essential oils. We created our own aroma blends -- on the spot-- mixing custom creations like soaks, scrubs, bath bombs and body lotions. As time went on, we formulated more complex mixtures, color shampoos and conditioners, whipped soaps and even hair color.

Obsessed was an understatement. 

Horst whipped up his first batch of pure plant shampoo in his kitchen. Aveda grew from a shampoo made in a kitchen into an industry and international-leader. 

What does this all have to do with: makeup, fragrance and candles? Aveda opened me to a world of plant based, good-for-you ingredients without compromise to the earth and a world of possibilities. The wellness + clean beauty philosophies are a leading force in every one of my brands.

Would you moisturize with petroleum? Enjoy the sweet smell of methyl-octine-carbonate? Accentuate your eyes with a coat of tar?

That's just what you do with many mainstream beauty products.

Orglamix products are grown from a simple premise: what you put on your body should be as healthy and natural as what you'd put into it.

That's why we use plant-derived ingredients, organically grown whenever possible. With the active energy of plants--with the natural ability to soothe, invigorate and refresh. That's something no synthetic can imitate.

From the very first custom blend fragrance to the first candle I poured, I was hooked. The possibilities rocked my stressed-out, soot-stained hands and my world. This became Wicked Good. 

In my opinion, the biggest issue with candles are toxic wax and, in the case of older candles, toxic wicks.

Over the years. I researched. I tested. On the hunt for a truly sustainable option I settled on a lesser-known alternative: coconut wax. 

In my opinion, the biggest issue with candles are toxic wax and, in the case of older candles, toxic wicks.

I look forward to the future. I am still small batch, with grpwing these brands. When I compare myself to the big world, I invite you to experience a gmlipse of wrold. 

thank you.

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