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Moon Rivers Naturals: Faith, Hope, Love…and Soap!

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By Johnny Griffith

Yes, Soap. If you’re like most people, it’s something you use multiple times a day yet never stop to think about where it came from, who made it, and what’s in it. In fact, if you ask the clerks at most “big box” stores, even they couldn’t answer those questions for you. Luckily, Stefanie, Stephen, and the rest of the crew over at Moon Rivers Naturals (MRN) can answer all three of those questions for you, and more. MRN is a local business here in East Texas that makes natural soaps, oils, scrubs, and moisturizers.

A regular at local farmer’s markets for several years, MRN has persevered through hard work, sacrifice, and commitment to a product made with more than just a little love. What started out as a hobby has turned into a national adventure with five current employees, and the story is still writing itself into everything they make.

We caught up with Stefanie to get the full scoop on the wholesale soap and everything else going on at MRN:

Johnny: Give us some history on your background and how you came to found Moon Rivers Naturals.

Stefanie: I grew up in Florida, near Tampa, and Stephen grew up in East Texas, not far from where we live now. We met when we were 15, dated long distance, and married when we were 19 and 20. Moving away from home was pretty hard on me, so I started to make soap while we were in college nine years ago as a hobby. It was a connection with a close family friend in Florida who made soaps and was a bit of a role model for me. I made soaps on and off for a few years for personal use but never thought of it as a business opportunity. We were both finishing school at UT Tyler at the time and were planning to be teachers: math for me and English/Lit for Stephen.

In 2012 we had our first baby, Rivers Emerson. When he was around a year old, I wanted to contribute financially and be able to stay at home and be a mom. Stephen really encouraged me to start back with soap making and expanding into other products after I made him a beard balm for his birthday. We started super small, dragging Rivers around to the farmer’s markets in Tyler and selling a bit here and there through our website. The first year of the company was riddled with personal trials, which made it difficult to focus completely on growing the company, but in the end, I believe made us stronger and more resilient.

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Johnny: What is your guiding philosophy with the company and product you offer?

Stefanie: When starting MRN, we really wanted to stress the importance of family, community, and natural ingredients. Stephen works a lot behind the scenes with graphic design and copy, and I develop the recipes and vision, and Rivers keeps us laughing. As we grow and add employees we never want to lose touch with that family aspect: everyone working together to achieve our goals.

Small batching our products is one of the most important aspects of MRN. Since we work with ingredients like freshly roasted Porch Culture Coffee, herbs, and essential oils, we want to ensure that our customers and retailers get their apothecary at their peak. They don’t necessarily have a short shelf-life (soap can continue curing into eternity), but there is something intangible yet unmistakable in receiving products a day or two after it’s been produced and packaged.

Johnny: How has the response been so far to the business?

Stefanie: Amazing. Every day I look at Stephen and tell him how proud of this little company I am. We have accomplished so much in the 2-3 years of being in business all while going through various trials, growing a family, and being broke. We have had to take risks that don’t always go the way you’d like, and we have taken some that have really benefitted the business and allowed us to grow. We’ve grown our wholesales to more than 120 retailers and being in two nationwide stores, and expanding internationally. It’s been pretty exciting and terrifying.

Johnny: What have been some of your biggest challenges?

Stefanie: Juggling everything. I really struggle with juggling life, business, mom, and wife. It’s hard. I go through a lot of mom guilt now that the business has grown. Stephen is my rock and he is continually encouraging me that I’m not completely failing at everything I’m doing, and I’m sure he gets tired of it. Stephen works full time with the business now, and I don’t think I would be able to do it without him. Another big struggle would be growing pains. Keeping up with inventory has become an issue since we moved into the brick and mortar. It’s a good problem to have, though!

Johnny: What have been your most memorable successes?

Stefanie: Oh man. When we first started Moon Rivers and we were hand cutting our labels and gluing them onto our glass jars with glue sticks, I created this “bucket list” for us. One of them was to do a certain show in New York City and get the attention of some big time buyers. We worked our butts off last year and used every penny we made and then some into going to that show. It was emotionally exhausting to put so much pressure on something like that, but we made it there, and I couldn’t stop smiling. We received orders with Free People, Madewell, and a bunch of amazing small retail store owners. I left New York totally drained but full of hope. (It was actually nice to get back into the east Texas country, for once!) That show really helped us get to a new level, and I’m still so proud of us for working so hard to get there. We were actually able to do the follow-up show in September, which was another bucket list checked off for the company.

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Johnny: Artisan products have become increasingly popular with the growth of farmer’s markets and a renewed interest in natural products. What sets Moon Rivers Naturals apart from other options in the market?

Stefanie: I love how people are becoming more aware of what they use and where it comes from. I have met so many people through farmers markets and social media that do what we do. They have a passion for it, and they work hard too. Thankfully there’s enough business to go around, and we love the growing “artisan” community. Small businesses are what gives our town culture, uniqueness, and puts food on our plate. What sets us apart from other apothecary companies? That’s always a tough question for me to answer. I know that we don’t do everything right, but I do believe that our products are unique. The scent profiles are different. The ingredients are fresh and sustainably sourced. Most importantly, each product has a little bit of us in it. Our culture. Our brand is pretty transparent. We are just putting ourselves out there with things that we like and we are hoping some other folks will see the benefits as well.

Johnny: What products do you currently offer?

Stefanie: Oye! I believe we have around 50 products, which include 11-12 different soap types, sugar scrubs, bath soaks, face masks, and more.

Johnny: Where can Moon Rivers Naturals products currently be found?

Stefanie: Locally, we have a storefront in downtown Tyler next to the Austin Bank Building, El Guapo Records, and near The Foundry Coffee House. You can also find our products at Moss in south Tyler. We are in about 120 retail stores nationwide and you can find us at any Madewell stores. Check out our website moonriversnaturals.com for a full list of locations or to do some shopping.

Johnny: What is next on the horizon for MRN?

Stefanie: We are extending our Moon Rivers family with a new addition in January. Little Baby Rhodes! We are beyond excited to have another team member, but other than that, we just want to keep moving forward, to keep developing our brand, and to keep growing our retailers. One big goal of our’s is to really connect with our community. We have an open studio downtown where we want people to come in and see us making our products, shipping our products, seeing Rivers throw temper tantrums, and also where you can purchase our products in our retail area. We are also starting to carry other brands in our studio that we have really connected with over the years. They are all an inspiration to us.

Johnny: What do you hope the legacy of MRN will be?

Stefanie: We want the legacy of MRN to be one that people see as a company that values family, simplicity, nature, and the importance of how we interact with the people around us day to day.

I also want my kids to grow up and see how hard their parents work toward those ends: not striving for financial success, but seeking fulfillment in life.

For more info and to purchase Moon Rivers Naturals online go to moonriversnaturals.com or facebook.com/moonriversnaturals.

Moon Rivers Naturals is located at 265 S. Broadway, Tyler.

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Downtown

Dinosaurs are Back at Discovery Science Place!

Return of the Dinosaurs This Summer at Discovery Science Place

Discovery Science Place (DSP) is located at 308 N. Broadway Ave., Downtown Tyler. DSP is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1-5pm, and closed on Mondays. Summer Hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day) are Monday-Saturday: 10am-5pm, and Sunday 1-5pm.

Tickets are $8 for adults (ages 13 and up), $6 for children (ages 2-12), $6 per person for seniors (65 and up), $5 per person for active military (must provide ID), and children under 2 are free. For more info call (903)533-8011 or go to discoveryscienceplace.org.

Return of the Dinosaurs, Coming This Summer!

Come walk among the dinosaurs again as DSP’s celebrates its 25th anniversary! Take your picture riding a Triceratops or braving the jaws of a T-Rex. See two Protoceratops guarding their nest or view the long-necked Apatosaurus. View actual fossils along with animatronic models of the “terrible lizards” of long ago.

“Return of the Dinosaurs” is featured in the DSP Annex building next door to the main museum building. Tickets are purchased at the main museum front desk (under the green portico) and exhibit entry is on Broadway under the blue awning.

“Return of the Dinosaurs” is a separately ticketed exhibit. Ticket prices are: $8 for adults ages: 13 and up, and $6 for children ages: 2-12. Current DSP members get in for 1/2 price ($4 and $3). Children under 2 are free.

You can view actual fossils along with animatronic models of the “terrible lizards” of long ago. The exhibit runs June 9th-August 19th.

Summer Camps at Discovery Science Place

8 weeks of camps are planned, from June 11th-August 10th. Each week has a different theme, and campers are divided into two age groups based on school grade: entering 1st-3rd grade, or for students entering 4th-6th grades. Every camper this summer will also be able to tour the exciting summer 2018 traveling exhibit. Camps are from 10am-4pm each day, and extended programming is available from 7:30am-5:30pm.

The cost is $175 per week per camper with a 10% discount for DSP museum members. Cost includes a snack and all camp materials each day, but campers will need to bring a sack lunch. Camps are:

June 11th-15th: Vex Robotics 1

The Discovery Science Place will fill with the sounds of whirling wheels and motors during this robotics camp. They have upgraded to Vex Robotics and are excited to see campers build claw bots and tackle new challenges! This camp is limited to 15 per class.

June 18th-22nd: Make: Create

Curious makers will want to sign up for this camp! During the week children will learn about the design process, then apply those ideas to bridges, buildings, fog cannons and more.

June 25th-29th: Mad Science

If it bubbles, oozes, or pops, campers will give it a try during this camp. Young camper scientists will make slime, rockets, and more. Campers need to be prepared, because science can be messy!

July 9th-13th: 3D Modeling featuring Minecraft

Everyone loves Minecraft, and campers will put that knowledge to good use by transforming their Minecraft designs from the digital space to the real world using 3D printing technology. This camp is capped at 15 students per class.

July 16th-20th: Vex Robotics II

The Discovery Science Place will fill with the sounds of whirling wheels and motors during robotics camp. They have upgraded to a new robotics system, and are excited to see their campers build claw bots and tackle new challenges. This camp is limited to 15 per class.

July 23rd-27th: 3D Modeling featuring Minecraft II

Everyone loves Minecraft, and will put that knowledge to good use by transforming their Minecraft designs from the digital space to the real world using 3D printing technology. This camp is limited to 15 per class.

July 30th-August 3rd: Take Flight/ Make it Move

This exciting week lets campers explore various forms of flight, from airplanes to rockets, as well as learning the basis of movement and flight. Rockets will launch, planes will glide, cars will loop-de-loop, and more.

August 6th-10th: Kitchen Chemistry

No Summer camp at the DSP would be complete without Kitchen Chemistry week. Nearly all the activities done during this week can be replicated at home with parent help. Campers will make slime, learn about cooking with solar power, and create paint using vegetables and spices.

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Around East Texas

June 22nd-23rd: 10th Annual Tyler Coin Show

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For more events and to add your events for free, go to EGuideMagazine.com/calendar.

June 22nd-23rd – 10th Annual Tyler Coin Show will be held at Harvey Convention Center, 2000 W. Front St., Tyler. Friday, June 22nd the show will be 12 noon-5pm and Saturday, June 23rd 9am-5pm. There will be coins, currency, tokens, gold and silver on over 50 tables. They will do verbal appraisals and there will be door prizes, educational displays, and more. For more info call (903)570-3136 or email ucce@hotmail.com.

July 4th (8am-11pm) – Smith County Freedom Ride and Festival 2018 – This free event will feature fireworks, hotdogs, drinks, watermelons, kids, pets, hot-rods and motorcycles, and there is no better way to celebrate the 4th of July on a Wednesday! Come out, celebrate our freedom, and honor all those who serve at this Independence Day festival and ride. Downtown businesses will be open to the public. Public will vote on “Smith County Most Patriotic Ride” and “Smith County Most Patriotic Hotrod” from 12 noon-4pm. The Independence Day Ride will begin at 5pm to the clubhouse to the free firework show at dark. Everyone in the community is welcome to join in on the fun. For more info go to facebook.com/events/129556567877651.

July 29th (12:30-4:30pm) – Bridal Expo with East Texas Bride focuses exhibitors, bridal fashion presentations, grand prizes, and fabulous fun. This is sponsored by All American Party & Tent Rentals, Complete Weddings & Events East Texas, and Fantasy & Fairytale Floral Designs. There will be grand prize giveaways that include The Landing at Joshua Farms offering a fabulous Saturday Package valued at $4500; Bella Sera Ranch offering a Friday DIY package for 150 guests valued at $2695 (excludes December); Old Omen Guest House “Event Day Free” for 150 guests; Eagle’s Bluff $1800 venue package; Venue 31 Events $1,000 in event rentals; Fantasy & Fairytale Floral Designs offering Floral Package valued at $1,000; Complete East Texas Weddings & Events offering DJ, Video, and Photography Packages; Lisa Gallant Photography Package valued at $1,200; Simply Beautiful Flowers & More a $500 Floral Package; Nichole Beth Photography $500 Bridal Session; The Barn at the Silver Spur Cabin overnight stay. Don’t miss this wonderful summer bridal event. Register for reduced tickets for $8 online and secure your bride bag and your Symbolize It gift card. Tickets at the door are $10. This will be held at Harvey COnvention Center, 2000 W. Front St., Tyler.

Ongoing Events

Hit the Bricks: 2nd Saturday Downtown Tyler (Second Saturday of each month, 12 noon-10pm) – Get out and about on and off the square where Downtown businesses will be offering fun events all day long. There is free parking in the Fair parking garage. Rain or shine, Downtown Tyler will be the place to be every second Saturday. For more info and a full list of events go to visittyler.com/secondsaturday or find Hit the Bricks on Facebook. Dates are: May 12th, June 9th, July 14th, August 11th, September 8th, October 13th, November 10th, and December 8th.

Canton First Monday Trade Days Market is held Thursday-Sundays. What started more than a century ago as a flea market has become home to some of the most exciting, cutting-edge home furnishings, antiques, and collectibles that can be found anywhere. For more info call (903)567-6556 or go to firstmondaycanton.com. Dates are: May 3rd-6th, May 31st-June 3rd, June 28th-July 1st, August 2nd-5th, August 30th-September 2nd, September 27th-30th, November 1st-4th, November 29th-December 2nd.

Free Yoga Saturday (9am-12:30pm) – Every 3rd Saturday of the month, beFree offers a free day of yoga. You don’t have to sign up ahead of time but you can if you’d like to, and there are no catches – just free yoga with the beFree instructors in their beautiful and healing studio space. Check the schedule to choose any class on that day that you will most enjoy at befreeyogatyler.com. beFree Yoga is located at 212 Old Grande Blvd., Tyler, (903)630-6142, befreeyogatyler.com.

Every 4th Thursday, April 26th, May 24th, June 28th (6-10pm) – Geek World Paint Night – With all the excitement around games requiring models, Geek World has had a few of the communities best painters offer to lead a free painting night the 4th Thursday of every month. Bring your painting projects and get your questions answered plus learn some new tricks and techniques. This is free to attend and all painting supplies will be 10% off during the event and 20% off special orders. Geek World is located at 410 WSW Loop 323, Tyler, (903)363-9751, geekworldconsignment@gmail.com. Geek World also offers nightly tournaments, game nights, all day Commander games, Friday night magic, and many pre-release sneak peek events.

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Family

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Set to Perform, August 3rd

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Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir set for August 3rd Concert at Oil Palace

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is coming to East Texas for a concert at The Oil Palace on August 13th at 7:30pm.

The 270-member Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is directed by Carol Cymbala, the wife of Pastor Jim Cymbala. Made up mostly of church members without formal vocal training, over the years the choir has received  five Dove Awards and six Grammy Awards. The choir has performed at Billy Graham Crusades and the 2012 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.

After nearly thirty years of recordings and live performances, Carol and the choir continue to rely on the Lord for his grace and direction in their ministry. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is a highly unlikely group of people, a mixture of ethnic and economic backgrounds, in the heart of a city synonymous with coldness and decay. Made up of doctors, attorneys and former street people, nurses and ex-crack addicts, the choir is a unique cross section of humanity. Pastor Cymbala explains “None of us would have met if it weren’t for Christ. Our backgrounds are just too diverse. But all of us have one thing in common: we have all been lifted up and changed by the power of Jesus Christ. So the choir sings, not about a mere theological doctrine, but about what has happened to them. It’s not just the lyrics of a song; it’s a reality to each of them.” Starting each rehearsal with prayer reinforces that principle as the choir asks the Lord to bless their music and anoint their songs for the services.

“After the $2 million renovation of The Oil Palace, we made a decision that we were going to broaden the scope of our concerts and events,” Kevin Michael Barbaro, The Oil Palace spokesman, said in a prepared statement. “We are committed to the people of East Texas and will bring in events from around the world that will enhance the lives of the community.”

Tickets start at $15 and will be available at oilpalace.com. The Oil Palace is located at 10408 TX 61, Tyler, (903)566-2120.

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