LIFE & STYLE

A Business That Celebrates Amazing Women

Kathleen D. Bailey Portsmouth Herald, N.H. WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  “Cheeky Marie” sells gift boxes that inspire young people by teaching about POWERFUL women who have shaped the world.  Epping Katie Graycar Ricciardi loves putting Christmas stockings together. “I enjoy it more than I enjoy buying the ‘big’ gifts,” she said with a smile. “I always have a theme.” Ricciardi has expanded her stocking-stuffing to a new business, Cheeky Marie, where she stuffs and sends gift boxes focused on inspiring women to young girls all over the world. The Epping resident and Stratham Memorial School teacher is educating a whole new group of girls, most of which she will never meet, and she’s having fun doing it. Cheeky Marie began when Ricciardi was home last summer and dealing with the effects of COVID-19 on her world. Her daughters, Selah, 8, and Elodie, 5, weren’t able to go to summer camp, and she began searching for fun alternatives online. “Subscription boxes are very ‘in’ right now,” she said. She surveyed programs such as Creation Crate and Little Passports, and finally ordered a cooking box for Selah, who is interested in cooking. “It had some recipes, some cooking tools,” she said. It was harder to find boxes suitable for Elodie. “With the ones I found, I would have had to do most of the activities for her,” Ricciardi recalled. So Ricciardi made her own. Elodie is interested in nature, animals and outdoor life, so Ricciardi scoured the web and local stores for books, educational toys and other materials to make a box. She made good use of her teacher resource sites and came up with “boxes” on Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson and Eugenie Clark, a woman who studied sharks. Each box included toys, books, stickers and other materials related to the theme, and Elodie loved them. Selah was “a little jealous,” Ricciardi said, so she developed boxes around her older daughters’ interests, including art (Frida Kahlo) and dance (Misty Copeland). Selah is also interested in science, so Ricciardi gathered items for a Marie Curie box. The more research she did, the more ideas she triggered. But the concept would have stayed in her home, if not for the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “I was heartbroken,” Ricciardi recalled of the trailblazer’s death. To educate her girls on RBG’s legacy, she put together a Ginsburg collection for her girls. “They needed to know why Mommy was so sad, and why this was such a big deal,” she recalled. They read books on Ginsburg, put on pearls and learned. Ricciardi posted their activities on Facebook, just to share and inspire. “And,” she said, “we began to get traction.” People began placing orders. Ricciardi knew she was on to something, but she also knew she had to change her brand. She had called Elodie’s boxes “Not Your Average Barbie,” and she knew the name “Barbie” was trademarked. So she delved into her own life and came up with Cheeky Marie. “Cheeky” was her grandmother and “Marie” her mother-in-law. “I decided to celebrate the powerful women in our family,” she explained. Parents and grandparents were hungry for these role models for their girls, and Ricciardi fielded orders for 100 boxes to 15 states over two weeks. “I shipped a box to Germany, and that was exciting,” she said. She has developed 11 boxes, with books and related material on the following: Carson, Copeland, Clark, Curie, Goodall, Kahlo, mathematician Katherine Johnson, chef Julia Child, climate activist Greta Thunberg, autism activist Temple Grandin, and the notorious RBG. Right now Cheeky Marie is a one-woman operation, with Ricciardi doing all the curating, packing, shipping and logo design. Her husband Peter is developing a website for her, but right now her main outlet is Facebook. She’s a full-time teacher, a mom and an entrepreneur and Ricciardi admitted it can be exhausting. “There are a lot of late nights,” she said, explaining that she can’t spread out the components for a box in front of her curious young daughters. She’s playing with the idea of a few more inspiring women and a few more boxes. “I like Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife,” she said, noting that Eliza Hamilton was a powerful person in her own right and started orphanages. “There are so many amazing women who flew under the radar, especially in history,” she said. But for now, she’s focusing on the 11 notables, the collections she’s curated, and inspiring young girls. The boxes are a natural outgrowth of her teaching fourth grade, Ricciardi said. “When it comes to my teaching, I have a strong background in social and emotional learning,” she said. “I like to teach my students to be their own activists, whether it’s climate change, women’s equality, fighting racism. I want to teach them to stand up for their convictions, to speak their minds.” Ricciardi isn’t sure where Cheeky Marie will go next. “If it grows, fine,” she said. “If it stays at my dining room table, that’s fine too.” And she’ll continue to have fun with it, with her girls or with other people’s children. “One of my best friends just had a little girl, and I needed a shower gift,” she recalled. “I did a box on Audrey Hepburn with a pretty teal baby bib, a board book about Audrey — and a ‘chew toy’ that looked like a string of pearls.” Boxes are $35 plus shipping and handling and payment is through Venmo. For more information and a list of available boxes visit the Cheeky Marie Facebook page. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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