EPPING – Katie Graycar Ricciardi loves putting together Christmas stockings.
“I appreciate it more than I like buying the ‘big’ gifts,” she said with a smile. “I still have a theme.”
Ricciardi has extended her Christmas stockings to a new business, Cheeky Marie, where she fills and sends female-inspired gift boxes to young girls around the world. The Epping resident and Stratham Memorial School teacher is bringing up a whole new group of girls, most of whom she will never meet, and she’s having fun doing it.
Cheeky Marie started when Ricciardi was home last summer dealing with the effects of COVID-19 on his world. Her daughters, Selah, 8, and Elodie, 5, couldn’t make it to summer camp, and she started looking for fun alternatives online.
“Subscription boxes are very ‘trendy’ right now,” she said.
She studied programs such as Creation Crate and Little Passports, and eventually ordered a kitchen box for Selah, who is interested in cooking.
“There were recipes, kitchen utensils,” she said.
It was more difficult to find suitable boxes for Elodie.
“With the ones I found, I should have done most of the activities for her,” Ricciardi recalls.
So Ricciardi made his own.
Elodie is interested in nature, animals and the outdoors, so Ricciardi has 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 provided “boxes” on Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson and Eugenie Clark, a woman who has 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 the interests of her older daughters, including art (Frida Kahlo) and dance (Misty Copeland). Selah is also interested in science, so Ricciardi collected items for a Marie Curie box.
The more she researched, the more ideas she triggered. But the concept would have stayed with her, had it not been for the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“I was heartbroken,” Ricciardi recalled of the pioneer’s death. To educate her daughters about RBG’s legacy, she created a Ginsburg collection for her daughters. “They needed to know why mom was so sad and why it was so bad,” she recalls. They read books on Ginsburg, put on beads, and learned.
Ricciardi posted their activities on Facebook, just to share and inspire. “And,” she said, “we started to get traction. People started to place orders.
Ricciardi knew she was on to something, but she also knew she had to change brands. She had called Elodie’s boxes “Not Your Average Barbie” and she knew the name “Barbie” was a registered trademark. So she immersed herself in her own life and came with Cheeky Marie. “Cheeky” was his grandmother and “Marie” his stepmother. “I have decided to celebrate the powerful women in our family,” she explained.
Parents and grandparents were hungry for these models for their daughters, and Ricciardi sent orders for 100 boxes to 15 states in two weeks. “I shipped a box to Germany, and it was exciting,” she said.
She has developed 11 boxes, with books and related material on the following topics: Carson, Copeland, Clark, Curie, Goodall, Kahlo, mathematician Katherine Johnson, chef Julia Child, climate activist Greta Thunberg, activist for the Temple Grandin autism and the famous RBG.
At present, Cheeky Marie is a one-woman operation, with Ricciardi taking care of the conservation, packaging, shipping and logo design. Her husband Peter is developing a website for her, but at the moment her main outlet is Facebook.
She’s a full-time teacher, mom and entrepreneur and Ricciardi admitted that it can be exhausting. “There are a lot of late nights,” she said, explaining that she couldn’t display the components of 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 clubs. “I love Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife,” she said, noting that Eliza Hamilton was a powerful person in her own right and created orphanages. “There are so many amazing women who have gone unnoticed, especially in history,” she said.
But for now, she’s focusing on the 11 notables, the collections she’s curated, and the inspiring maidens.
The boxes are a natural outgrowth of his teaching in fourth grade, Ricciardi said. “As far as my teaching goes, I have a solid background in social and emotional learning,” she said. “I like teaching my students to be their own activists, whether it is climate change, women’s equality, the fight against racism. I want to teach them to stand up for their beliefs, to stand up for themselves. Express.”
Ricciardi doesn’t know where Cheeky Marie will go next. “If he grows up, fine,” she said. “If he stays at my dining table, that’s fine too.”
And she will continue to have fun with, with her daughters or with other people’s children.
“One of my best friends just had a baby girl and I needed a shower gift,” she recalls. “I made a box on Audrey Hepburn with a cute teal bib, a hardcover book on Audrey – and a ‘chew toy’ that looked like a pearl necklace.”
Boxes cost $ 35 plus shipping and handling, and payment is through Venmo. For more information and a list of available boxes visit the Facebook Cheeky Marie page.