Thinking Boutique by alicia

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Bringing the Wold Home: Portugal

Alicia ElatassiComment

🎶  Summer Summer Summertime, time to sit back and unwind 🎶

Most asked question: How can you leave your boutique behind when you travel?

I swear leaving my boutique is so hard, but my husband and I made a commitment long ago to travel to get away from the stresses of life.  There have been times I've cried because I don't want to leave my shop, he says I live here thus I must go!  He's right, when I go I come back reinvigorated and happy.  Yes it can be exhausting catching flights and buses at crazy hours while lugging suitcases kids and parents..still I wouldn't have it any other way.  Not complaining. We've been a world traveling family for the last 17 years, it was something we said we would always do no matter how far or close we traveled we would always be exploring. Thankfully I've found people I trust to take care of my baby. 

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We first thought about going to Portugal when I discovered my family name Araujo is actually Portuguese from Galicia formerly a northern area of Spain.  As I realized this, I began to research more things about this country.  The name is pronounced with the "j" sounding like a hard g or x,  almost ch. The name is much more popular in Brazil than in Mexico, which makes me think about how we are all interconnected in this world.  So Cool!

Upon arriving in Lisbon I realize this was so reminiscent of Italy, the city streets are bustling and there is a clean fresh quality to it.   It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and its architecture has a distinct Arabic influence due to the invasion of the Moors during the middle ages.  I wanted to stop at the artsy spots to take photos annoying my kids along the way.  The Graffiti culture is also quite prevalent, numerous Portuguese artists are commissioned to do walls in the center of Lisbon. 

Mural by Portuguese Artist Joana Vasconcelos in Parque Da Cidade do Porto

Mural by Portuguese Artist Joana Vasconcelos in Parque Da Cidade do Porto

Portugal happens to be a very colorful country, multi colored tiles embody the fun and artistry of the people.  Painted ceramic tile work or Azulejos are found on the inside and outside of churches, palaces, ordinary houses, restaurants, bars and even subway stations.

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Much of the jewelry I brought back I found in a small artisan market in Lisbon, and it consists of fun mini tiles, cork and porcelain.  

PORTO AND WINE COUNTRY PART II

Peso de Regua Portugal Duoro Wine Country 

Peso de Regua Portugal Duoro Wine Country 

Bringing the World Home: China

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To say that I was mesmerized by this amazing country is an understatement.  Never In my life did I think I would be so captivated by this ancient country.  Again, I embark on a 14 hour flight from Houston to Beijing on Air China.  Rusk upgraded our seats to business class so that I could manage to at least sleep most of the time, of course I didn't complain : )

There is a surreal feeling when you arrive 14 hours later and you're in a completely different world...yes its our planet but the cultural shock can be halting.  We lost a whole day on our flight there, we were welcomed into the country at 4 am in the morning by a sweet tour guide who spoke a little English.  

Our tour started in Beijing an ancient city that hosted the Olympics in 2008, a city with 22 million inhabitants.  Despite the alarms people set in my head, I did not encounter nasty pollution, dirty people peeing in the streets or wild food on a nondescript corner.  The food and art scene were vibrant, the people extremely polite and welcoming and the system for transporting 22 million people quite organized and clean.  I'm so glad Rusk and I don't listen to the distractors, most of the time they follow alarmist media and only hear one side of a story.

Off we go on a guided walking tour through Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

Off we go on a guided walking tour through Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

We first imagined taking this trip in August of  2016 when Rusk read that there was a tour exclusive for DEPARTURES readers, The Wonders of China Tour!  American Express was inviting its card members on a journey through the magnificent sights of China with Peninsula Hotels.  Rusk was especially hooked by the idea of having dinner on the Great Wall which we did have and enjoyed immensely!!

Once in a lifetime climb up the Great Wall. 

Once in a lifetime climb up the Great Wall. 

After an exhausting walk along the ancient walkways of the historic Great Wall of China, Rusk and I enjoyed an exclusive private alfresco dinner prepared by Peninsula culinary team atop the Great Wall.

After an exhausting walk along the ancient walkways of the historic Great Wall of China, Rusk and I enjoyed an exclusive private alfresco dinner prepared by Peninsula culinary team atop the Great Wall.

Following our journey we ventured off to Shanghai, my favorite of the three cities we visited.  Shanghai has an indescribable energy that was exhilarating.  I couldn't catch my breath at the magnificent modern buildings, it felt like walking into a scene of The Jetsons cartoon.  I wanted to remember this place so badly, I never wanted to forget that feeling of wonder.  The city is huge, but it has a very unique mixture of old buildings and new modern ones literally next to each other. Shanghai is considered new and modern more youthful in comparison to Beijing.  There is a crazy amount of wealth in the city, prices for small apartments can go as high as in the millions.  Young Shaghai Boys and Shanghai Girls are very savvy in business and investments, they have a level of education that we could only wish for here in the states.  I was super impressed! 

Sir Elly’s Terrace, enjoying cocktails and canapés on the roof of The Peninsula Shanghai. 

Sir Elly’s Terrace, enjoying cocktails and canapés on the roof of The Peninsula Shanghai. 

Of course par for the course is shopping for my boutique.  I headed out to the local markets to look for freshwater pearl necklaces and silk scarves!  The locals were thrilled to share the process for making each of their products. They are so proud of their craft and that in turns makes me so excited to share it with my customers in Houston.  I can't imagine a better thing than to support local business when you travel and taking an interest in what they do and how they do it. I always say handcrafted items have a story and you take a little piece of it with you on your return! 

 

Following our tradition of trying new things we headed to Hong Kong and decided on a detour to Macau.  A Portuguese town that boasts as being bigger and better than Las Vegas, it was a real treat for me.  The lights, the action and the energy was intoxicating. You can tell the the players come to PLAY!  We spent half a day there and tried local Portuguese cuisine..so amazing! 

Heading back to the states was tough.  I wanted to stay longer, much to my surprise it was a wonderful trip for the ages.  I'm thankful that I get to go all over the world but I never forget how much I love my city of Houston! 

 

Bringing the World Home: India

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Arriving in India at midnight was surreal. Suddenly your senses are alerted, the constant honks, the chaos of the city and the stillness of the night was a strange mix, highly unexplainable.  

I could feel my heart beating at an accelerated rate, what the hell? I have traveled all over the world but this was different, this was special.

Our sweet travel guide Sunny had mapped out areas he thought we would enjoy, since we did say we wanted the opposite of a tourist visit. Urgh, that’s our pet peeve as travelers we don’t want to go where all the tourists go, we ask for the unbeaten path. He laughed,  Ha!! Ok!!

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Our stops included ancient  monuments, and temples.  I submitted wholeheartedly attempting to understand the differences in Muslim and Hindu practices.  What I had perceived India to be turned out to be so different.  My immediate takeaways were.

1.  Despite the poverty and chaos, Indians live quite peacefully and content.

2.  Never take what you have for granted, in India I learned to be grateful and take my self less seriously.  There is so much more to life than work.

3. Follow the directives of the astrologer I met in Jaipur.  I came home determined that I would look to the top of the mountain with hope and determination and not look back with regret. 

Shopping in the markets of India is the most dautnting thing I've ever done.  Negotiating prices while finding hidden treasures turned out to be super stressful.

I did manage to find bangles, colorful earrings, decorative pillows and one a kind gems that included a letter of authenticity for each pair of earrings.  I was so impressed with the customer service and the trustful nature of our salesperson.  One vendor mentioned the code of conduct amongst the sellers and buyers as one of mutual trust and respect. They don't lock up their pricey gems because they live by the code of honesty, what goes around comes around.  

Five book Recommendations for all #ThinkingGirls

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I. LOVE. TO. READ!!!   So I'm sharing 5 books that made me #think!  This is not a comprehensive list because I've read so many more but here are 5 that rocked my brain and set it on fire.  In the past 15 years I  have founded three book clubs and I loved discussing thinking books with the women.  There are so many books in my kindle that I catch up when I'm on a plane or a taxi ride when I travel.  I take my kindle everywhere!

NOTE: I love recommendations too, so please send them over! If you have read one of these I want to hear from you, if you plan to read it tell me what you thought.  

NOTE: Excuse the quality of the photos. Due to copyright I have to re-create the covers ; (

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Henrietta's cancerous cells were taken without her knowledge to study the life of the cells and it lead to amazing scientific discoveries.  Neither she nor her family were ever acknowledged or compensated. Her contributions went unnoticed for a long time until this author brings it to light. A fascinating read!

2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This book I read twice. The first time I read it, I didn't understand so many of the beautiful messages within. The second time I read this book I was going through a moment of indecision about writing my own book, however when I finished reading The Alchemist I felt like the book pushed me towards finishing my project. This book is about enjoying the journey,  it's about figuring out that obstacles are part of that journey and that giving up is not an option. It pushed me to finish what I started!

3. Life After Death Eighteen Brutal Years on Death Row by Damien Echols

An inside look at people living on death row. Damien Echols was falsely convicted of killing three boys in a small town in Arkansas his book tells us about the Witch Hunt to get him and his friends imprisoned.  Small town people and their biases prevailed in court hearings. He details the backstory to his release but it also gives us the grueling details of living in a 6x6 cell. I  realized that "Justice" is not blind and that if you are poor or if you come from a small town or have overburdened lawyers, you will lose. I was disgusted to see that the people who are meant to be fair only seek personal recognition based on a conviction whether you committed the crime or not. Justice means nothing to these career politicians and judges. 

 

4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

One of the hardest books that I ever read only because it was very difficult for me to understand how innocent children could live in some of the worst slums in the world. It made me think about why some people are lucky enough to be born in places such as America or in Europe and other children are born in Mumbai India into extreme poverty and extreme filth. Having to get out and look for scraps at the age of 3 or 4 years old, having to take care of a family when your parents send you off into the streets and place that responsibility upon you. It made me really wonder how something so horrible could happen to some of the most beautiful most innocent children in the world. world. It really got me thinking about the existence of goodness and evil.

5.  Middlesex By Jeffrey Eugenides

The first time I read a book about to being born with both male and female sex organs. The journey that the person takes as they reach adolescence and then upon reaching adulthood. How do they maneuver their way around the world? How do they tell those people they love about their circumstance and how do they explain to themselves why they were born that way. This book is about some of those questions and conversations we would not normally have.

 

 

Mini Travel Treasure Story: Costa Rican Ring

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Bringing little treasures from around the world

When I travel I bring back more than memories and experiences I bring back little tokens that remind me of the places I've seen.  My love for all things local has taken me to so many amazing stores and small boutiques in small and big cities all over the world.

In 2010 we visited this adorable Central American country and it was the paradise I knew it would be. We like to go to a warm places in March for spring break, and upon our arrival to Jaco, I knew I would fall in love with this quaint little town.

As we entered the center of the town, I noticed that there were vendors in small carts and one older gentlemen was selling cute handmade wooden rings. The vendor began to tell me how me makes his wooden rings, I was hooked to the story! It's that labor of love that sometimes we don't get to see when we see a finished product in a store, how amazing that I was getting the backstory. 

Within minutes I saw my little treasure,  a wooden ring with a golden sun. It was perfect!

 My zodiac sign is Leo and the sun rules the Leo heart, It was a sign that this little token had been waiting for me to come along.  Kismet? Maybe.  

I've learned to never underestimate how something small and inexpensive can make you so happy. 

I learned to look for treasures from the best!

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Growing up I always knew that Saturday morning meant we would get in our car with my mom and drive to garage sales.

Going to the garage sales was something I hated doing, of course my mom loved it.  She mostly loved the thrill of finding a treasure amongst the old things that the old ladies would put out for sale on their lawns or obviously garage.

One particular house we visited on a consistent basis had a huge array of vintage items like jewelry in crates and dusty glassware that needed wiping.  This lady’s house smelled of old perfume and rancid food, but my mom loved going there every chance she got because she'd find that next purse or pair of shoes she loved.

I mostly figured we took this outing because my mom couldn't afford to buy new shoes and she couldn't afford fine jewelry so she searched high and low for something cheap yet pretty.  More often than not she'd find something really special.

Unbeknownst to me I was learning, despite all the griping to my mom about going with her,  I learned to find treasures.

Years later as I matured, I seriously implemented this idea. In college my sister and I would head over to the Salvation Army for those elusive Levi’s jeans and they'd last us years.  When we needed something for rodeo we would always find to coolest boots and belt buckles at various garage sales in the Heights area.

As I became older I took my treasure hunting skills all over the world. Now my boutique gets unique items that I find in some of the most remote places.  Wooden rings from street vendors, turquoise earrings from Native American communities, wooly boots from a Peruvian mom and pop boutique.  

I’m really grateful that my mom took me on her treasure hunts.

I always make sure she always gets one of my findings when I return.

Alicia Araujo-Elatassi is the proud owner of  Thinking Girls Boutique & Studio, a global contemporary boutique in West Houston.  She brings the world home with one of a kind artisan items and promotes learning with classes and books!  Alicia is also the author of a bilingual book that educates fathers on how to support their daughter's education. She would love you to share the post, like her Facebook page and follow on Instagram!

A Thank You to those who Shop Small and Local!

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I've been a small business owner for over 15 months now, I'm still just as excited about my boutique as that first day of opening.  It hasn't been easy at all but despite the challenges I still get super excited when I walk in my door.

3 Things I discovered as a small business owner.

One. I discovered that sweat equity is a real thing. I was used to working hard, but boy does this work you harder!

Two. I discovered that what you say you will do, doesn't always pan out to what actually happens.  That worse case scenarios are real and you better be ready for them.

Three. I also discovered that I've come to appreciate my customers so much because I too once was like them looking for something special.

This is why shopping local means so much more to me now.

My small boutique business doesn’t have a big marketing budget so I can't afford the big campaigns.  My organic campaigns happen in social media, I have to construct my own taglines and devise catchy promos and execute them without any help. However my local small shoppers get it! They get the message and appreciate my effort.  Thank you!

In my small business I can’t hire consultants to help me analyze local demographics and target prospective customers. I analyze my own data and that happens to be mostly anecdotal and from our point of sales system. Which by the way works quite well...for now.  Those “shop-smallers” know this and in return for my boutique service they refer me! Thank you!

We support our creative endeavors with that first local customer base that sees our vision and supports it because they know that what we are trying to do is different and special. My locals also know that it’s not easy and that taking a leap to do something different takes guts, they know that eccentric concepts take a fan following, so for that thank you!

Our business endeavors are not always easily articulated.  I mean how do you explain to someone that you see your boutique as a learning and thinking center? A place for gatherings of the intellectual kind, a place that offers classes you would normally take in a community college.  

I often wonder if I properly convey the vision that my place transcends what a boutique should be?  

My local shoppers see it! My small shoppers get it!

Now I just need everyone else to get it too!

Alicia Araujo-Elatassi is the proud owner of Thinking Girls Boutique & Studio, a global contemporary boutique in West Houston.  She brings the world home with one of a kind artisan items and promotes learning with classes and books!

Bringing the World Home: Russia

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Who would have ever thought that a girl from the Northside of Houston would ever see Russia? Not Me!

To visit this country was a long shot expectation, it was actually my husband Rusk's idea.  He being the lover of history and student of government had wanted to see this particular country for a long time.  I of course, always go along for me any visit to any place is an opportunity to buy for my boutique.  

I've taken long flights before but this one just felt longer and more tiresome.  We flew Singapore airlines a direct flight Houston to Moscow for 12 hours.  Adjusting to this huge time zone change was hard, it took me a while longer while my boys adjusted much quicker.. by now those two are seasoned travelers.  

First Impressions:  it's a very clean organized country, the people are really serious  (no smiling) and it gets very cold very fast!

Shopping for my boutique was on my mind so we headed by subway to Ismailovo Market, the subway ride was actually very interesting because although a lot of people are on it it is extremely quiet inside.  I had so much fun finding little treasures and locating specialty gifts, this is where i truly enjoy a trip! 

Shopping for my boutique was on my mind so we headed by subway to Ismailovo Market, the subway ride was actually very interesting because although a lot of people are on it it is extremely quiet inside.  I had so much fun finding little treasures and locating specialty gifts, this is where i truly enjoy a trip! 

First place we visited was the Kremlin, which is a fortified complex at the heart of Moscow.  We entered St. Basils Cathedral and the Red Square.  Seeing this part of the world brought back memories of the Cold War and how as a girl of the 80's we would never even consider going to The Soviet Union, it was like going behind enemy lines.  However, it is a much different place now, we noticed plenty of great shopping, tourism and amazing food. 

 The language is completely different since the alphabet is cyrillic, there is almost nothing you can understand. Most people around the world speak English, but it became evident that in Russia we didn't find many who did.  Thankfully we had arranged to have tour guides who led us to the most important sights. 

Subway station. 

Subway station. 

On arrival in St. Petersburg, which is also known as the Venice of the North, where the days were long and nights were short we visited Catherine and Peter the Great's summer and winter palaces. Here we were able see the 18th century Amber room, arguably a Wonder of the World. We were also able to partake in some unique cuisines from the Caucuses, most specifically the country of Georgia.  

St. Petersburg is more Western European in its architectural design due to French influence during the Romanov period. One of the world's most important museums; The Hermitage which rivals the Louvre in Paris, is a testament to this particular architectural theme. 

This unique nation with a unique mix of European and Asian heritage is at the cultural axis between the West and the East. A true center of rich culture mixed with some grit and a penchant for survival. 

Russia now has a special place in my heart!

Our First Father's Day Celebration!

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Blog post by Dariana Velazquez, Thinking Girl Ambassador

Una experiencia diferente para mí y mi padre, por un momento esa mañana me sentí nerviosa y pensé que yo no era capaz de realizar la actividad que Alicia nos había preparado, una vez que llegamos al taller mecánico, nos encontramos con un ambiente familiar, alegre y orgulloso de celebrar al padre hispano. Nos ofrecieron un almuerzo delicioso, y bebidas refrescantes. La mañana se fue como agua entre las manos, jugando lotería, los padres compartiendo anécdotas e intercambiando diferentes puntos de vista del libro “Querido Papá”. Una vez que llego el momento de cambiar el aceite a nuestros carros, aún estaba nerviosa pero el ver a mi papá tan contento y disfrutando de su día me dio ánimos, y fue mucho más fácil de lo que creía. Mi papá me explico cada paso, con la ayuda de uno de los mecánicos hicimos las cosas correctamente.

La experiencia fue totalmente sorprendente, y totalmente satisfactoria, puedo decir que esta celebración nos acercó más como padre e hija, estoy muy agradecida con Alicia al darnos esta oportunidad para convivir de una manera diferente, y sobre todo del apoyo que ella y su padre brindan día a día con sus consejos. Gracias a Topo Chico que nos dio los medios para hacer esta increíble celebración,  a Pollo Tropical por el almuerzo delicioso que tuvimos la oportunidad de disfrutar.         

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Moms Who Care: Dr. Lisa Graham Garza

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MOMS WHO CARE SERIES BY GUEST BLOGGER DARIANA VELASQUEZ, AAMA STUDENT

Dr. Lisa Graham-Garza is the Founder and President of Autism Rescue Angels/ Dentist.  Dr. Lisa has taken time off from dentistry to be able to meet the needs of her two sons, both with special needs. Her younger and more severe son was diagnosed with autism in 2004 at the age of 20 months. Her older son had delays as well and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD and currently attends the Briarwood school.

DR LISA, HOW DO YOU FEEL AS A MOTHER?

-I feel stress, most of the time stress but happy. 

DID YOUR LEVEL OF EDUCATION HELP YOU TO BETTER UNDERSTAND AND PREPARE TO MEET THE NEEDS OF YOUR TWO SONS.

-Yes, it helped me a lot. My education its based on health. So, yes it helped me to understand that part of it. 

HOW DID YOU START YOUR ORGANIZATION? 

-I did a lot of research, asked questions, met people, take notes, researched about non-profit organizations, this took two years. I also worked with a lawyer to learn more. 

SINCE YOU STARTED THIS MISSION, IS IT HARD TO FOR OTHER MOTHERS TO UNDERSTAND THESE CONDITIONS? 

-Yes, because they feel stress, and sometimes they don’t understand what's going on. But we support each other with advice, and talking. 

ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT US TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION. 

Autism Rescue Angels is here to provide real help right now right here in the Houston, Texas area.

We are keeping it local and our board consists entirely of special needs parents and a professional development director volunteering her time so we know the real struggles autism families face and how to best use the funds we raise.

We have very little overhead and intend to keep it that way so that more families can be helped.

We are here to make it possible for people with autism to get the medical and educational help they need and families to have access to these services.

If you’re so inclined, follow us on Facebook and share our story with your network. Sharing our story is how we grow and help more families.

The support is very important to local communities.

YOU can donate online HERE!