Pro-Am Spotlight: Suki Kramer – How Dance Impacts the Entrepreneurial Mind

 I recently saw an interview with a one-legged Olympic skier.

She lost her leg when she was a child, and reflected on the day her mother casually handed her a pamphlet for ski camp. It was moment that changed her self-concept forever, and helped her begin to envision a future beyond recovery and the limits of her “condition.” Her mother planted quite a seed that day– enough for her to see herself not as a, “one-legged woman” but as someone who could ski…and eventually become a champion.

Her story was an inspiring reminder to me of the power of our minds to shape our reality. When we have a clear and detailed vision of what we want, we have the ability to create anything we wish for ourselves. It’s a truth I’ve always believed, that has largely shaped where I am today. What we believe about ourselves is…the…truth…and we can change those closely held beliefs if we make the decision to do so.suki dance 2

Not that I’m not suggesting forced positivity or some daily affirmations will do the trick! I mean, who can seriously maintain a positive attitude all the time? It’s not authentic. Sometimes being justifiably pissed off can be more motivating than any mantra, and we all need a little down time here and there. Growth doesn’t happen smoothly or quickly—even when we are purposefully seeking change, we stubbornly cling to our comfortable, familiar patterns. Eventually, though, with mountains of hard work, sacrifice and risk…the seemingly impossible becomes possible. When our vision for ourselves is fluid, when we sit down and plan out, in annoyingly infinitesimal detail, exactly what we want for ourselves, it’s pretty amazing – suddenly we start getting “lucky,” guides and teachers show up to help us, our fears slowly fall away as our confidence grows…and new possibilities open up.

My life revolved around work until about 7-years ago, when I was fortunate enough to discover ballroom dancing. I quickly went from a casual student to a 14-lesson a week addict. Much like my “ideal vision” for my products and my business, I soon developed a clear image of what I wanted to look like in my favorite style, International. I had another impossible dream to chase. What I found in the studio was a place where I could shut everything else out, and where I always left in a good mood.

As I’ve improved under the direction of my amazing teacher and incredible coaches, my body is starting to feel like it can do the things I’m asking of it…suddenly, the process of learning has gone from frustrating to interesting. In my business, I’m always experiencing new things: chemistry knowledge was first, then came the far more challenging 20-year task of learning to run a business. Learning American Smooth is showing me again, that I need to have a vision for myself as a dancer that is different, this time, “emotional,” rather than purely technical…a big challenge for me. This process of learning offers so many opportunities to discover and overcome mental and emotional blocks, which is why I often say learning to dance is better than therapy! It has given me the courage to put myself out there, even if that means I could potentially embarrass myself in front of an audience or a judge or just the mirror! Of course, that’s what it was like starting my business, but this often feelsriskier because it’s so personal.

The risk, though is part of what is great about this process. There will always be new ways to improve and old ways to discard. Working through pain, fear, frustration, and lack of control, and actually reaching the goals that can temporarily feel very far away is produces authentic confidence. But, a successful entrepreneur, like a dancer, can’t be flighty. The commitment is the important thing.

My remarkable teacher helps me grow in ways I could have never imagined. He creates a world for me to experience the successes that create confidence, that in turn create more successes. I’ve also benefited from the knowledge of the very best coaches who have further accelerated my education and skills, and unlocked the many puzzles I’ve struggled with. Starting my company, I had to learn through trial and error, often on my own, how to survive in a very competitive world. The pro-am relationship is a fantastic advantage that ensures we aren’t devastated from a “failure” or a fall. They are there to give us a pep talk or talking down, if necessary. I mean, they actually make us look good…pro-am is a sweet deal, no?

suki dance 3In a way, a great teacher is almost like a great parent! I recently had an “aha” moment in dance that helped me realize I needed to see myself as a leader in business. You would assume I’d have nailed that after almost 20-years, right? But not so…I’ve struggled with the concept all along. Again, I had to change my self-concept since I’d only ever seen myself as a, “worker,” rather than a, “mentor.” So I started to visualize what a leader in my own company might look like. Sure I owned the business, but that is different than seeing myself as a leader who needed to perform at work much like at a competition. I also realized how lucky I was to have built a brand with principles other people believed in and wanted to be a part of.When I started my business, I seemed insane by any “normal” standards (and believe me, my friends and family told me so!). I should never have made it past year one! In my “early days” starting suki® skincare, I was a freelance writer and waitress with no experience running a business. I had no start-up capital and little understanding of the chemistry necessary to formulate my ideal product – 100% pure and truly effective for hardcore skin problems. What I did know was that for people like me, who struggled with a lifetime of severe skin issues, who couldn’t tolerate chemicals, and didn’t find any relief in “naturals” or pharmaceuticals, there was nothing that really worked. If I could figure out how to create solutions that were both strong and safe, so many people who knew the pain and stigma of severe skin problems, like me, would benefit. And, being fiercely independent, the idea of committing my life to someone else’s vision, including taking on a business partner to influence my ideals, didn’t match who I am.

So, with no resources or experience, and armed with no more than my ideas, I set out to build a business, and I learned, step by little step…and by investing a whole lot of “sweat equity.” I sought out mentors to help me learn things like how to write business plans, run projections, build a website, and market my products. I read books on how to solicit magazines for exposure. Heck, back then I didn’t even know what the term “branding” meant, much less doing the actual branding! I recall when I first presented my ideas to chemists for help, so many turned me away because they said what I was setting out to do was going to be impossible. But, I continued until I finally found two mentors in the industry who would go on to generously answer all my questions and teach me the principles of formulation science, as I discovered innovativeingredients and new technologies. After 2-years of experimentation in my kitchen, my “impossible idea” became a brand new way of looking at and treating skin problems. At that point, I got in my car and started selling my very badly self-designed and bottled, but fabulous formula around town, then nationally, then globally…

The reason I was able to succeed, despite my total lack of experience at the time, was that vision I had for myself and for my product. I wanted to help people, including myself, feel and look better. But I also knew there had to be a way to develop something better than what was on the market. Sure, I could have seen my daily experiments as failures, but I chose the word, “experimentation.” I took notes, and every day I would ask my chemist questions, do research…throw away my “experiments,” get up and do it again…for 2 years…while I learned the “other things” I needed to know until I had what I was looking for. I also studied with a very generous designer who schooled me on all things marketing. suki dance 4I never forget my business has afforded my the opportunity to dance, which I’m so grateful for…

At the end of the day, when I leave my office and go to dance practice, I’m happy, I’m present – and I don’t have to remind myself to breathe…and that’s more than enough…well…now that I think about it, there are a few competitions I really would love to win (or as my teacher would say, we have to get to the finals first, lol)…yes, I think I’m just going to settle on the totally unrealistic vision of myself on that top step…

THE NATURE RX: WINTER WONDERLAND EDITION

there’s nothing like a dose of sunshine, unscreened, unblocked, vitamin D absorbing (yes, morning & / or afternoon sunshine)…so healthy &…so energizing! when I saw this video I wanted to share it…cause it’s also too true, how many chronic diseases (that we’ve given all our new names too – chronic fatique, fibromyalgia too) could be prevented, treated…by some outdoor exercise, relaxation & sun exposure (which will not cause skin cancer or….aging for that matter…in moderation!).

however, I can’t help but notice how warm & green those woods in the video look. right now it’s 27 degrees in Massachusetts & one of the last things I want to do is go outside! however, research continues to show that vitamin d from sun exposure is linked to better mood & health. but my natural inclination is still to hibernate…in Norway they even have a word, “koseling”, for that winter cozying-up with plenty of blankets, tea, maybe a roaring fire.

but too much coziness can lead to less pleasant feelings like laziness, idleness & restlessness, especially after an excess of holiday cheer. if you work in an office all day, then come home in the darkness, it’s easy to become disconnected from the outside world for months at a time, spending only enough time outdoors to take the dog for a quick walk or shovel the driveway—last year, Massachusetts got a whopping 108 inches of snow, so can you blame us?

to cite a more serious scientific review of research on the health benefits of natural environments, exposure to outdoor green spaces is associated with lower levels of stress & anxiety, it helps kids with ADHD focus & even improves symptoms of depression. there are many hypotheses as to why this is, but these researchers suggest it’s partly due to “soft fascination”, or a scene that captures attention while it also soothes—as opposed to the “hard fascination” of urban life…attending to not getting run over by a reckless Uber driver or sending a regrettable email, for example.

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now, there isn’t much green to be had outdoors this time of year, but if you head to a local nature reserve or wildlife sanctuary, there’s a little bit in the form of evergreens peeking through the snow. & more restoring still is the sense of quiet contemplation, the bare, somber trees against the sky, the scurry of wildlife foraging for nuts & berries, the general sense of peace & solitude that’s hard to come by on a slushy winter commute, or staring all day at a computer screen only to emerge into a world that’s already dark at 5 p.m. I take ballroom dance all year & many people swear by hot yoga in the winter, but getting outside offers a kind of restoration that you can’t find in an artificially heated & lighted gym. (of course, enjoying this frozen wonderland is tough on the complexion, so check out my winter skin care tips if you want rosy cheeks rather than winter sandpaper skin!)

so bundle up & get outside! even if your parka won’t allow for much vitamin-d exposure, just the sight of the sun glinting on the snow or the scent of pine needles will refresh your spirits—& if you happen to live somewhere warm where there’s plenty of sun & maybe even water that’s warm enough for swimming…congratulations, I’m officially jealous of your life choices  just kidding…you don’t find views like this in sunny California:

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do you have a favorite way to get in your prescription for nature in the not-so-green months?

xo
—Suki

BADASS WOMEN: CARRIE FISHER

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in her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, the then twenty-five-year old Carrie Fisher was a role model for a whole generation of young girls (yup, till they put her in a bikini! – she protested guys…as many of us knows). in 1977, feminism wasn’t exactly a care for movie directors, all male you think (more on this later? so, any surprise the character of Leia had to swoon & act as if, though the future of the universe was in fact, leaning directly on her shoulders as well as Luke’s (she’s a Jedi too, damnit!) she needed rescuing (cue the “kiss for luck” & being carried via rope on Luke across the inside of the Death Star). &, although she managed to get in a few great shots at Storm Troopers, did you know Fisher (revealing in her memoir Shockaholic,) was cast under the strict condition that she lose 10 pounds – putting her weight at the time an anorexic 95 pounds! this really should embarrass Hollywood…but it won’t.

Fisher’s memoir also reveals that since her role in Star Wars, she continued to struggle with her weight (cue a small eating disorder) & a severe mood disorder that required the last resort measure of electro-convulsive therapy. sure, depression & bipolar disorder have a DNA basis, but I have to wonder if those experiences also contributed…oh wait, I don’t actually have to wonder because it’s so OBVIOUS. it’s an industry that uses people & discards them when they’ve passed their too-brief “prime”…but it’s worse because of the lack of females in charge. I’m thinking of Maggie Gyllenhaal revealing that at age 37, she was considered too “old” to be cast as the love interest of a 55-year-old man.

some fun facts. in 1979, the later Emmy-award winning TV director Victoria Hochberg & five other female directors began collecting data on the numbers of women working in the industry. known as the “Original Six,” they found that of all the assignments in both television & motion pictures, 1/2 of one percent of all those jobs were going to women. they partnered with the DGA & the EEOC to file a gender discrimination lawsuit against the studios…quickly thrown out…things started to look a bit better, in TV anyway, from 1980-1995, where stats for female directors jumped from one-half of one percent to sixteen. but, never happened in movies, & only got up to three point five percent, where they remain this day. &…in studio diversity agreements, ethnic minority men & women of all ethnicities are clumped together in one category, meaning, when studio reps need to hire a minority for diversity’s sake, the job almost always goes to a minority male. the numbers confirm this — men of color make up 18 percent of the population & 17 percent of TV director jobs, while women make up 51 percent of the population, but make up 14 percent of TV director jobs. (me, shaking my head…)

after Twilight, which earned 400 million & was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, people were excited about Divergent as well as The Hunger Games. they show there’s an audience! you see a brave, badass girl out there…lo & behold…people will go see the movie. but, even though a female director directed the first Twilight — none of the other Twilights, or The Hunger Games, or Divergent…all books written by a woman & starring a woman…not one of them was directed by a woman.

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back to Carrie Fisher’s return to the big screen…apparently the cave-dwellers at THE NEW YORK POST (!) or those lurking on her Twitter feed could only focus on the fact that the actress, at 59, was no longer the waif in the infamous bagel buns & bikini, but a distinguished & accomplished author, actress, comedian playing a military general…who by the way, looks awesome! Fischer looked by FAR & ABOVE the least weathered of all (& she went through drug & alcohol addiction & recovery, a childhood with Debbie Reynolds, dating John Belushi & being married to Paul Simon…geesh! need I continue?! 🙂 I mean the woman is a warrior in real life!) &, I mean, if you are going to point out such silly, trivial things like how an actor has aged, where are the Mark Hammil posts? looking like he came off a 3-month bender & years of Krispy Kreme runs while Harrison Ford…watching the man ”run?” can we call it that(?) with jowls wobbling, was it really cute? who cares! good god & come on guys?! the very least you can do is get with the times & play it equal here! I actually liked ALL of them! I cared not at all about their age. I enjoyed seeing them again…but, while MEN criticize, women admire. women seem to have daddy issues & men have insecurities, so (& I’m talking generalities here 🙂 men seemingly see only girls as sexy & girls see dads as sexy. hmmmm. on the topic, while Fischer has to deal with the nonsense of being body/age shamed online, females are now furthering their own cause so well…making the “dad look” popular…what is the “dad look”? a “kinda in shape but not too in shape guy who isn’t super cut, plus we’ve got leading feminist, Mindy Kailing leading thousands, hell maybe millions of mindless women settlers who are furthering their own cause on a personal level by decreeing the 73 year-old actor is, “still mega bangable on all planets.” are you fricking kidding me here!?

well, here for you too, to become nauseated over, are some of the low points of the dialogue:

SurferJoe ‏@surfJoeMalibu  29 Dec 2015

YOU DIDNT AGE WELL AND U SUCKED IN STAR WARS. IT WAS A REST HOME FLICK. WANT MY MONEY BACK  @Variety @carrieffisher #StarWars @badrobot

Tom Roberts ‏@TomRoberts983a  29 Dec 2015

@carrieffisher So you want the money & adulation that comes with being a famous actor but not the criticism. Whoever told you life was fair?

never beaten down, the quick-witted Fisher has been retorting since & here is one:

“Please stop debating about whether OR not [I] aged well. unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us!”

you go woman!

Bette Midler chimed in (& so many others have as well): Brava to Carrie for standing up for the radical notion that women have the right to get older! Youth is temporary, diva is forever!

this is of course a topic close to my heart, & not just because I am a woman, not just because I am a 49-year-old woman, & not just because I am a 49-year-old woman in the skincare industry (a truly insidious industry that often longs to make women feel awful about themselves in an effort to sell products! I mean, have YOU been looking a bit “crepy” lately? a brand new word recently heard in skin “care” ads created by those awesome marketing “geniuses” to make us race out to buy the latest & greatest bullshit product that will NEVER “turn back the clock” – ahhhhhh.

yes, I make skincare products. but, I refuse to use the term “anti-aging”, I refuse to make people feel bad about themselves! it’s about nurturing HEALTHY aging, it’s about working with the underlying causes of skin problems to make us feel & look better of course, the best we can feel & find OUR TRUE SELVES, not change & plasticize & fill & alter who we are, including the smile, stress & life lines we have earned through our experiences & histories…in an effort to become more “youthful.” I wouldn’t, for all the money in the world, wish to return to my twenties, or my thirties, or actually to any age! I love who I am now & in fact, how I look & feel now more than at any time in my past & I SO wish the same for everyone out there!

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we have it so backwards with regards to enjoying life & self. we work so hard for monetary gain & pick ourselves to pieces over the smallest wrinkle & blemish. I do have a mission to help people avoid toxic synthetics & get real results, solving problems that, like my lifelong struggle with whole body eczema (which landed me nicknames & bullying & loss of self-esteem – now THAT is a real goal to help solve I believe), staying off fabulous pills like Accutane which, forgive me but if you tell me you can’t take something if you are even thinking about getting pregnant, I say no thank you! I endeavor to get folks to see for themselves that a properly formulated product, with 21st century science at its core, utilizing 100% pure actives from botanicals, highly-potent yet stabilized & safe, in 100% pure formulations that penetrate the skin will actually stop a toxic cycle of imbalance in the system (the same sort of things we talk about with food & lifestyle nowadays). it’s all about systemic imbalances & treating the whole body, not symptoms. &, it’s NEVER about promising something that is impossible, such as getting rid of wrinkles, an impossibility for ANY product!

know your beauty is my philosophy & it means so many things. the foundation behind suki® skincare, it means accepting ourselves for who we really are, never punishing ourselves for being “less than perfect” or needing to live up to an outside definition of beauty, & acknowledging we must always take & own our power, including the power over our health & well-being.

I applaud Fisher for surviving addiction & depression, for writing about it so well, so comically & in such an inspiring way in one of my favorite books & movies, Postcards from the Edge. I thank her for being an awesome part, in a classic movie I waited in line with my mom to see when I was 12, & kind of saw again at 49! not only that, but for being a fabulously funny character in one of my other faves, When Harry Met Sally!

&, thanks to her & JJ Abrams, for moving Leia beyond the damsel in distress role to offer a strong role model to a new generation of fans.

@ Carrie Fisher: you are what “know your beauty” is all about. looking forward to seeing you as the badass GENERAL Leia Organa Solo again in the next episode of Star Wars!

xo

—Suki

 

BADASS WOMEN: OPRAH!

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Oprah never stops moving in her external persona as our Oprah Winfrey, inspiration, talk show host (seems so trite to even write this one), ever changeable television / movie producer, book & script finder, & indeed, host & inspirational “speaker” in our homes). she is not just inspirational but truly aspirational & I think this is what she would like most of all, getting us off our asses & thinking/doing for ourselves rather than against ourselves…since 1983.

unlike many sensationalist daytime talk shows of her era (here’s looking at you, Jerry Springer, even with your “maudlin endings”), Oprah used much of her airtime to promote reading itself (a lost pastime in our age of 140 word limits & big graphics that say it without words, heck, we are graduating kids who actually CANNOT read or write – I’m telling you…they allow phonetic writing, OMG can you believe it, & I personally have proof of this guys!), self-improvement & empowerment, spirituality (not necessarily religion) & charitable giving, & hopefully bringing out that impetus in people. Oprah was also Academy Award nominated for her role in The Color Purple, not to mention her involvement, production, finding amazing stories & acting in several other movies including Selma, The Hundred Foot Journey, Precious, Beloved, Nine & too many TV shows, specials & movies to name.

cited as the richest African American of the 20th century & born Orpah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, a former maid, & Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner, barber, & city councilman. she was raised by a single, teenaged mother in the city of Milwaukee, & shortly after her birth, her mother left & Oprah to be raised by her grandmother, Hatti Mae Lee in terrible conditions. her only friends? farm animals. however, even at that age Oprah had a very imaginative mind & would frequently give the animals dramatic parts & include them in games. due to her grandmother teaching her to read & write before the age of three, she was often promoted several grades ahead of her age in school. (sorry, but suck it Waldorf “we wait till our kids express the desire to learn” theory…ugh).

sadly, at nine she was raped by her nineteen year-old cousin, & this wouldn’t be the only sexual abuse she experienced. her cousin, a family friend, her mother’s boyfriend & her uncle during her stay in Milwaukee rack up the list of the core challenges that made her not only the strong woman she is today, but the empathetic one. like many of us who have had such experiences, she never told a soul because the predators swore her to silence. at thirteen, Oprah ran away from home & at the age of fourteen became pregnant with an ill son who died shortly after birth. she took the death as a second chance in life, but was sent to live once again with her father in Nashville. Oprah’s father was very strict & made education the number-one priority.

in high school, she began reading news on the radio & later, during college, was offered a job as a co-anchor on the CBS television station, declining several times before being convinced by her speech professor that it could be the ultimate step to launch her career. Oprah wanted to find work outside of Nashville & was soon offered a job in Baltimore. the job offer came a few months before graduation, so she had to make a choice between taking it & finishing her degree. she turned out to be not the best reporter & was shortly fired…just going to show that even immensely talented people sometimes take a while to find their niche. however, in 1981, Oprah sent recorded tapes of her show to a talk show in Chicago called “A.M. Chicago”.

during this time, I actually met Oprah filming an interview at my high school! this was a performing & visual arts “fame school” as folks called it, where famous folks came & went to inspire us “future creative types”. I have to say, Oprah is one of those people who burned an image in my mind that I still see clearly. she was, even then, totally in charge. I remember her as the lone woman on set, demanding & directing the men to get it done & moving around like a hurricane. I’d literally never seen anything like it. I watched intently, & little did I know then that it would be a reminder to me during dark times to stick to my instincts & vision to matter what. needless to say, she sunk in…& I am privileged for the seeds planted early on which I have tried to manifest, & continue to! 🙂 I’ve been lucky enough to have others pick up where my vision left off, but Oprah was one of my first images of what a woman can do when she puts her mind to it, throws outside constructs to the wind & holds her vision & goals as most important. I’m quite sure Oprah’s goals have shifted multiple times over the years to where she is today, & they will continue to shift, but her role is clear to all of us.

in September 1985, she changed the name of her show to “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, which ran ‘til 2011, sweeping 47 Emmy awards & inspiring millions. Oprah has published numerous books & her magazine “O” reaches over 2 million people each year. in 2006, Oprah held her Legends ball—the first of its kind—honoring African-American women, including Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Toni Morrison & so many more, including women from all ethnicities, all inspirational for what they offer the world. & now her “Master Class” which includes topics from A to Z has broken barriers & continues to inspire in new ways we’ve never seen on TV.

the real take away from Oprah is not her fame, her money, her largess…to me, anyway. it is how she rose like a phoenix from the atrocities in her childhood & utilized her past to recreate herself anew, for the purpose of helping others. she isn’t hiding her story in the shadows, it’s right out there for all of us who can identify with so much of it. we know we can do so much more than “make it through.” we can thrive, achieve, succeed, struggle through our relative challenges & come out the other side incorporating the totality of all our experiences. I see them as our histories, that make each of us, indeed, who we really are. none of us are perfect, nope, not even Oprah herself…but like her, we can use our experiences to show empathy to others, show them they aren’t alone & so importantly, be inspirational ourselves, saying with our actions…anything IS truly possible! through aggressive effort, through love, through assertiveness, through not “guilting” or “shoulding” ourselves, but going after our deepest desires for our lives & being in our own corner! I think Oprah has lived that example – & I’m grateful for that aspect of her bigger-than-life icon status & the chance to look deeper into the person she actually is.

xo

—Suki

WINTER SKIN BLUES?

even though the snow hasn’t yet settled in New England, it’s still officially winter folks, & I know all too well how awful this season can be for skin—especially if you’re prone eczema, allergies, dryness, sensitivities & immunity issues…like me. stale air, cold air, heat of all kinds, lack of sunshine (for those of us who get that the sun is actually a healing force rather than a force of evil J)…I hate the feeling of dry, rough hands on my favorite silk shirt, or looking in my magnifying mirror at a flaky face (which in turn promotes blemishing…it’s all a crazy cycle)! &, don’t get me starting on that tight feeling when you stretch your lips into too big a smile & it actually causes a tear in the flesh! worst of all? thinking you’d solved your eczema problem, when bam! it returns as if to the scene of the crime…like it was waiting under the surface all along…for you to get comfy…

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& then, of course, there’s the great shower lie. the hot water & steam feels great while you’re in it, but the minute you dry off, you’re actually more dehydrated than before. huh?

it’s not all gloom & doom & darkness by 4:30 though—if you add a few simple steps to your daily & weekly routine, you really can have smooth & hydrated skin all year long. so without further ado, here are my top 10 tried & true maintenance points for winter skincare:

1. apply a pure body oil right out of the shower, while your skin is still damp (in fact, all moisturizers are best applied while damp from bathing, washing, wetting the skin – water / toner brings moisture into the skin)

2. use a thick, dense, synthetic-free body balm on top of that for sublimely smooth, dryness-free, eczema-free (if you are good & use your body scrub…skin! yes, on top of your oil—sounds decadent, but it’s not overkill, I promise, when you use a completely absorbable oil that matches your skin chemistry & really forms that base of moisture you need.

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3. use your hand lotion & lip balm all day long—keep a bottle & tube on your desk at work & another on your bedside table.

4. don’t think a facial cream applied once a day is gonna cut it. in winter especially, a reapplication is key to great looking, feeling & BEING skin. a touch of toner or even mineral water spray helps it absorb without the need to massage in & smear your makeup.

5. use an exfoliate on your lips once a week, then follow up with lip butter to kiss cracked, peeling lips goodbye. (a dry toothbrush can work too, but I’d use both for best results).

6. speaking of which: exfoliate. exfoliate. & exfoliate some more! slough those dead cells to make room for the fresh new flesh, then moisturize it like crazy to a baby soft smooth texture.

7. take a steam or sauna now & then. it’s great for detoxifying the body, your overall circulation & boosting your immune system. adding essential oils gives added glow to your skin & mood. lavender is great here as both stimulant & relaxant!

8. it’s a fallacy that you have to wash your face day & night. once daily (end of the day is most important for this reason…) with a moisturizing cleanser is fine, unless your work or hobbies expose you to lots of grit & grime. in winter, you want to do all you can to retain that moisture layer.

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9. don’t use super-hot water in the shower—it’ll seriously dry out your skin, & substitute a body oil every other day for soap. oils are wonderful cleansers that lift the dirt from your body without removing essential oils. you don’t have to have a squeaky rinse to be clean, I swear.

10. look for body products that contain coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter & other truly natural ingredients. stay away from synthetics like parabens & sodium lauryl sulfate because they are impostors! they only ACT like they are thick & moisturizing, but in reality strip your skin rather than nourishing it.

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I can honestly report that since adopting this regimen (especially scrub & moisturize), my skin stays well-hydrated & so soft all year. I may occasionally have a touch of tight feeling hands (‘cause I never wear gloves!), but I never have rough skin, chapped lips, scaling, bumps, or blemishes throughout whatever harsh winter weather my hometown of Chicago & my adopted home state of Massachusetts throw at me… & you can too.

so let it snow! please?

xo

—Suki

BADASS WOMEN: GWENDOLYN BROOKS

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Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (1917 –2000) was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950 for Annie Allen, the tale of an African American girl’s transition from child to woman as she faces racism, war, death & ultimately falling in love.

Brooks was, like me, a Chicago native. she always wanted to be a poet & didn’t bother going to college because she thought it was unnecessary—to be a writer, she believed (& proved) all you have to do is write. she was already published at thirteen & as a young woman, she created poetry workshops for African American woman in Chicago’s South Side. Brooks helped lead a whole generation of black woman (& white male poets & reviewers) to realize that great poetry is universal & not restricted to any race, gender, age or class.

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“we are each other’s harvest” reminds me, this holiday season, to be grateful for more than any material possessions I’ve accumulated—it’s the loved ones in my life who are my greatest wealth & bounty.

xo

—Suki

LAST MINUTE “eco” LUXURY!

last week, I posted on fair trade/sustainable/organic gifts for all ages. today, I’m featuring some items with heart, soul & responsibility that are actually cool too (!) & will make this a memorable holiday (they don’t have to know it was last minute! 🙂 & I’m thinking new years is a time of these sorts of luxury items…but today, grab your overnight gift & be a hero!

  1. Brilliant Earth Jewelry

this brand of gemstone jewelry is “beyond conflict free”, meaning it’s responsibly-sourced to help fuel economic change & growth in developing countries, often mined for their resources with only a tiny fraction of profits going to local individuals & businesses. diamonds, colored gemstones & vintage jewelry (oh my!) to cater to every style, like this elegant sapphire pendant & unique art deco ring. since the ethics of Brilliant Earth shine as bright as their jewels, you can feel good as well as gorgeous while wearing them! get on it men & women 🙂

artdecoring   sapphirependant

  1. Breville espresso maker

a trip to the coffee shop can be a comforting part of the daily routine…but sometimes, a day in the home office doesn’t have to be interrupted by the hassle & paper waste…not to mention the questionable ethics & sourcing of Starbucks & other chains (& hey, your daily routine could use a change up too!). with this espresso maker, you can make café-quality java in your own home using your own fair trade organic beans…& what better way to maximize on the antioxidant health benefits of pure, unsweetened coffee?

espresso

  1. Vitality sauna system

the toasty warmth of a sauna is the ultimate winter treat (& toxin releaser!) when living in a cold climate like New England, like I do (blah)! with its low emf emissions, reasonable water / electricity usage (less than the average shower can you believe) & wood sourcing from sustainable forests, this home sauna offers luxury without wastefulness. plus, regular sauna use has health benefits similar to exercise (this woke me up immediately…not that we should skip the gym & bask like a lizard all day, oh noooooo! but boosting the impact of our workouts with a 20 minute session sounds good – or hey, they OCCASSIONAL okay…sauna instead of the daily pounding J might be ok every once in a while! :)—or…slip inside for a few minutes to warm up your muscles for a yoga class, or your workout itself!

vitalitysauna

  1. Eco Spa Vacation

what better way to unwind from holiday stress than a week at a full service resort? this list features green spas from around the world. some locations are no surprise, like the Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, California and La Clairière Bio Hotel in Alsace, France, but there’s green gorgeous luxury to be had in less expected climates, too, from Alaska’s Chena Hot Springs Resort (run on geothermal energy, featuring the stunning Aurora Ice Museum) to the Lied Lodge (conservation land & Arbor Day education center plus a full-scale luxury spa) in Nebraska. they’re all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, so the hardest part is choosing which gorgeous locale to check out first! I’m just trying to figure out what year I might be able to get away….hmmmmm…..

  1. Tesla model S

let’s face it, there’s nothing cooler than a new car. This is luxury at its finest…the ultimate dream gift & the Tesla’s a dream for the planet, too—way ahead of the curve, the first totally electric sports car, & can travel on one battery like, 2-3 hours, which means zero fossil fuel emissions…& did I mention it can do the ol’ zero to sixty in about seconds?! I’m waiting for the convertible, but yea, Tesla is way cool! (& they do have a totally plexi roof model).

tesla

I’ve gotta say, though, if I had to choose just one thing from this list…that vacation is looking pretty good (hey, it’s only been a few years since I took one! 🙂 I’m going to go fantasize with that list now).

so, hurry hurry! oh, &…what’s on your wish list to Santa this year?

xo

—Suki

SHOWDOWN: LOCAL VS. ORGANIC

imagine this: you’re at your local co-op & you see a package of organic celery from California on sale—but wait, right next to it there’s a pile of leafy, elastic-bound bunches from a local farm, but they’re not organic. which do you choose?

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for many of us who are trying hard to make healthy & ethical purchases, it’s a common dilemma. for those of you still shopping at Whole Foods, it’s a massive one since they are still not labeling their GMO foods! yikes!

it’s only heightened this time of year, when many of us have the pressure of cooking for a big holiday meal, & when buying locally, we aren’t getting the cornucopia of foods we do in summer (ahhhh summer, I should really live in California, you know!). should we pre-order our turkey from that farm on the other side of town, grab an organic one from the Co-op, or just use that coupon for the conventional Butterball the local grocery chain sent out? does it really make a difference? oh yes, it does! if only the sake of the animals’ well-being, & I for one think if you’re gonna eat it, you owe it to the animals to visit both a commercial & a real down home slaughterhouse to see the difference in the treatment of animals. trust me, it will effect what you buy forever, unless you don’t have feelings of course 😉

but seriously, as far as meat goes, “organic, free range, etc.” these terms are totally meaningless on the shelves of your grocery store. there is actually no legal definition for free range eggs in the U.S.! the chickens must have “some” access to the outdoors, but this could mean time on a screened porch for as little as an hour a day! how is that “free” in any way? small, local farms with animals you can see grazing in front of you…that is the way to go for anything animal & that’s a fact.

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in this PBS article & video on local vs. organic, the experts weigh in on the side of local. in one way, it’s all about carbon. when you buy local, you are cutting down on carbon emissions. same with organic, but maybe less so if your produce has crossed more U.S. states than your last road trip.

on the other hand, it’s just possible your neighbor selling tomatoes from his front porch is spraying them with heavy-duty pesticides. knowledge is always the best policy. most farmers or small producers are happy to tell you about their methods—in fact, they are probably proud of the effort they put into their products & will tell you more about homemade compost or crop rotation than you ever wanted to know!

even so, the benefits of organic over conventional are huge. if all tillable acreage in the United States began to be farmed using organic methods, this would be the same as taking 216 million automobiles off the road, which amounts to 25% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions!

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so, according to this, the answer is simple: should you buy local or buy organic? yes!

both options usually cost more than the conventional produce you find in the aisles of a big chain grocery—but not always. farmers might cut you a deal for buying in bulk, & those organic sweet potatoes might go on sale just in time for you to whip up a batch of your signature holiday casserole. in choosing organic, you also avoid the hidden costs to your health & planet.

did you know that studies have found that organic produce contains up to 69% more antioxidants than conventional & is 4x less likely to contain toxic pesticide residues that have been linked to cancer & neurodevelopmental problems? yikes! that’s got to be worth the extra $2 for a carton of organic blackberries!

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if the product you need isn’t grown in your region (you’re not gonna find any Massachusetts oranges, for example!) go organic. given the choice between certified organic & a reputable local farmer who hasn’t sought that label, support your community & buy right from the farmer’s market or the farm itself. also look into CSA shares in your area—you might be able to bring your very own sweet peas & strawberries from farm to table. many CSA farms also have winter shares, which are great for cooking big, sustainable holiday meals.

xo

—Suki

ECO-FRIENDLY GIFTS FOR ALL AGES

‘tis the season for stressing out about finding the perfect presents for people I know. but this year I’ve decided that rather than trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends or gadget craze—that slicing & dicing thing you saw on the home shopping network & bought for EVERYONE you know last year…how’s that working out for people? ;)—I’m going look for unique items that help out the environment or give back to great causes.

so in the spirit of a green Christmas (but I still hope it snows!), here’s a fun gift idea or two for every generation …

for babies:

giftideas_animaltote

this sweet gift tote has an assortment of organic animal plushies & wooden toys in a cotton canvas bag. I kind of want that owl for myself, though…

for preschoolers:

giftideas_fruitcart

kids will love playing farmer’s market with this adorable toy fruit & veggie cart. one pound of bananas, please—do you accept Monopoly money?

for older kids:

giftideas_aqua_farm

do you know a child who is begging for a pony that’s not quite in the budget? indulge a young animal-lover on a smaller scale with this self-cleaning fish tank that also grows edible plants like wheatgrass & basil.

for teens:

help your fave adolescent peace out & protect what’s no doubt their prized possession with this bamboo cellphone case.

giftideas_cellcase

for college students:

anyone would become a campus style icon sporting this elephant laptop case, made from 100% recycled cement bags.

giftideas_elephant

decomposition books made from recycled paper are a great way to motivate note-taking & they’ve got cover options ranging from whimsical to lovely.

giftideas_decompositionbooks

for adults:

beautiful bamboo coasters with a whale design support Seafood Watch, an organization dedicated to sustainable fishing.

giftideas_whalecoaster

what’s a prettier winter sight than a flock of twittering cardinals & chickadees in the snow? let your feathered friends dine in style with this natural cedar pagoda bird feeder.

giftideas_birdfeeder

if you’re looking for a quick host/hostess gift, Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10% of its profits to conservation causes, & they’ve got a variety of yummy fruit/nut blends.

giftideas_endangeredspecies

…& don’t forget the pets in your life!

most cats are pretty well entertained by wrapping paper alone, but these sushi roll catnip toys by Whimsily Ever After are too cute to pass up.

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or if you’ve got a tail-wagger in the house, an organic Betty Woof hemp tug-of-war toy.

giftideas_dogtoy

what are your most inspired green gift ideas this holiday season?

xo

—Suki

FRAGRANCE FACT & FICTION

perfume1scents surround us every day, from that less-than-refreshing lemony bleach smell of a public restroom to a coworker’s unfortunate obsession with Axe body spray. there’s even a trend toward scented jewelry!

we can’t avoid scent in public spaces (short of wearing a gas mask to the office or the mall in protest!) but what about the products we bring into our own home? learn the surprising truth (& industry lies) about your favorite berry-scented lip balm or “summer breeze” in a spray bottle…

FACT: perfumery is as old as civilization

“…the Graces bathed [Aphrodite] with heavenly oil such as blooms upon the bodies of the eternal gods—oil divinely sweet, which she had by her, filled with fragrance.”

Homeric hymn, 7th century BCE. 

aromatic substances like rose oil, labdanum, myrrh & ambergris were symbols of status & wealth from ancient China to Rome. many also had sacred uses. back then, all the raw materials came from plant or animal sources. today, 90% of fragrances are synthetic, created in laboratories to mimic natural aromatics at lower cost.

ancient perfume

(perfume making in ancient Egypt)

FICTION: fragrance is regulated for safety & quality.

there is no governing agency that regulates scent in commercial products, & little monitoring of the few standards that exist. companies don’t have to disclose specific ingredients in these formulas, hence the generic term “fragrance” you see on many ingredient lists. allergy testing before marketing is not required, & when testing occurs, it’s often on animals who are doused with toxic levels of the fragrance in question. (check out this list of companies that—still, in 2015!—test on animals.)

FACT: fragrance can have powerful physical & psychological effects.

fragrant botanicals contain active ingredients that can alter mood, memory, appetite & arousal. also, some fragrances are allergens, irritants, carcinogens & hormone disruptors (often synthetics, but some natural essential oils, too!). strong fragrance can also make some people feel ill—hence those signs in gyms, yoga studios, etc. requesting a “fragrance free zone”.

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FICTION: natural fragrance = safe.

whether a product is natural or synthetic is not itself an indication of safety. natural essential oils have longer histories of use, but processing methods can vary widely. for example, essential oils are often extracted with toxic hexane gas. there’s also no legal definition of “natural”, so perfume marketers (like many other industries) often use this term misleadingly.

aromaptherapy1

pure essential oils have a 2,000+ year history of helping people with conditions from anxiety to hormonal imbalances, so there’s no need to totally fear fragrance—I use a natural, gentle citrus aroma in many of my skincare products. look for organically sourced oils & consult a trained aromatherapist or do your own research. respect your allergies & follow usage instructions carefully, especially when oils are used topically rather than diffused.

so what scents inspire you & which make you want to rush for the nearest window?

xo

—Suki