Up Close & Personal – Kevin Stanford

Up Close & Personal – Kevin Stanford

Kevin Stanford is an academic adviser for undergraduate students in the Kania School of Management at the University of Scranton. He is passionate about chameleons, which he breeds and sells. He has been featured in podcasts on chameleonbreeder.com, and his chameleons were featured in a National Geographic video “Beautiful Footage: Chameleons Are Amazing.” A graduate of Western Wayne High School, Stanford earned a degree in business from Penn State University and plans to receive his master’s degree in business administration from U of S this spring. He lives in Scranton with his boyfriend, Brian.

Meet Kevin Stanford…

What is working with dozens of undergraduate students every day like?
I love it. It definitely felt like I found my niche when I found this job. I’ve known I wanted to get into higher education for quite a few years, but I didn’t know specifically what job, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What is your favorite part about being an academic adviser?
Seeing someone come in as a freshman and then completely changing into a grown-up and how much they mature and everything that they’ve done, then watching them walk across the stage at graduation.

What about chameleons interests you?
Just how different they are. I love the fact that they change color and they have long tongues and they have oven mitt-looking hands and their eyes look in different directions at once, so they’re not just the typical reptile.

Why did you get into chameleon breeding?
Specifically chameleons was about 15 years ago. I had lots of snakes, lizards, frogs and all sorts of things growing up, which was kind of a mixture of my parents because my mom kept fuzzy animals and my dad brought home stuff like snakes. I liked the challenge of chameleons, because they’re a lot harder to keep and breed than other groups of reptiles.

What are some challenges that make chameleons difficult to breed?
The eggs can take up to a year to hatch. Some of them require cooling, so I may need to hibernate the eggs after a month and a half at room temperature. I’ll lower the temperature to 50 degrees for the next month and a half, then back to room temperature. Once the hatchlings come out of the eggs, just raising them can be a challenge, too. One of the most frustrating things, and it used to happen a lot, was realizing that there wasn’t enough vitamin A in the parents for the Carpet Chameleons, so the babies would incubate for the entire 12 months and the eggs would be ready to hatch, but instead of breaking open, the baby would die full-term inside. It took me a couple years, with about a 10-percent success rate, to figure out that was what I was missing. That was really frustrating, especially when you wait a year to see something and there was nothing you could do at that point.

What is the breeding process like?
Once I have an adult pair, you test the female for being receptive. When they are, they’ll get mellow colors. After breeding, you separate them immediately because they don’t like each other. The female is usually pregnant for about a month. Once she’s around her due date, you can either see or feel the eggs in her abdomen. You put her in a garbage can or bucket with about eight inches of moist sand, and she’ll dig a tunnel and lay her eggs, then cover them up. Then you dig up the eggs and put them in something called vermiculite. Most of the species I have lay between 10 to 20 eggs at one time. I put the eggs in a vermiculite and spring-water mixture and put them in deli cups to incubate them for nine to 12 months.

What is something you want people to know about chameleons?
As far as pets go, if you’re going to get one, do a lot of research beforehand, because they’re more high-maintenance than other animals. I have automated misting systems that go off six times a day and require drainage. I have ultrasonic humidifiers in the cages that go off for three hours at night and in the morning. I have expensive ultraviolet lights that come from overseas. The insects (chameleons eat) need to be fed the proper stuff before you feed it to the chameleon; they call it gutloading. A lot of this overlaps with other animals, but chameleons are less-forgiving of mistakes.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Being successful at something that is a challenge, (and) when you do well in areas that maybe a lot of people don’t. I spend a lot of time in the room with chameleons just watching them. It’s sort of like my Zen garden and relaxing.

Why do chameleons change color?
It’s a popular thought that the reason chameleons change color is to match their surroundings, but that’s not the case. They change for different physiological and psychological reasons. If a female is not receptive to a male, she’ll get really bright colors and patterns. She might lighten her colors to show that she is receptive. Males will do the same thing when they’re fighting with other males. Also, if it’s really hot, they’ll get really light colored, just like if you would wear light-colored clothing to reflect the heat in a warm climate. If they’re cold, they could get really dark to absorb the heat from the sun.

What are your hobbies outside of breeding chameleons?
I like the gym, and I love the outdoors. Ever since I was little, my dad took me hiking. I was in eighth grade when I saw my first rattlesnake, and I was super excited. That kind of got me hooked, so I like to be outdoors as much as I can.

For more on Kevin Stanford’s chameleons check out his Facebook page Kevin Stanford Chameleons

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Danielle Fleming

Up Close & Personal – Danielle Fleming

Danielle Fleming co-owns NOTE Fragrances, 401 Spruce St., Scranton, and recently opened the shop’s second location at 312 S. State St., Clarks Summit. Her pink peony fragrance has been featured by Ipsy, a nationally distributed, monthly cosmetic subscription service, and she has been featured in Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines and on MSNBC. Fleming graduated from Abington Heights High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Moravian College in Bethlehem and master’s degrees in mental health counseling and instructional leadership from Marywood University. She lives in Dunmore with her husband and co-owner of NOTE, Mark Bonfiglio.

Meet Danielle Fleming…

What is NOTE Fragrances?
NOTE Fragrances is a boutique perfumery and a custom perfume studio. A boutique perfumery means we are a small-scale, artisan-batch perfumery. We do everything in small batches; everything is handmade and hand-produced. We’ve used machines for some things, but “boutique” really means the scale. You’re not going to find our brand at Macy’s. It’s more of a niche perfume brand.

What is a “note”?
“Note” is another way to say “a scent.” When you build a fragrance, notes are the building blocks. There are top, middle and base notes. We categorize them based on their molecular structure and weight. Building a fragrance is combining the notes, and that’s how NOTE became the brand name as well.

What was your business experience prior to NOTE Fragrances?
I had a company called Danielle & Co. that I ran from when I was 22 up until NOTE in 2013. We re-branded Danielle & Co. into NOTE because we wanted to focus on the custom perfume studio experience and the connection of the psychology of scent and getting people to connect with aromas.

What led you to opening a second location in Clarks Summit?
Danielle & Co. was originally based in Clarks Summit, and when we moved into Scranton, we saw some fallout from customers in (Clarks Summit). So as we were approaching this past holiday season, we said let’s do a pop-up (shop) and get our Clarks Summit customers to know this new brand, NOTE Fragrances. So we decided to pop up. We were just a pop-up, but the feedback was so wonderful, and people really wanted us to stay. It beat our projections, and all the signs said stay.

What is it like to be back in your hometown?
There is always a sense of home. I spent my childhood and high school years here, and I also built my first business here. So it was coming home on a business level and a personal level, so it feels really good.

How did studying psychology, mental health counseling and instructional leadership lead you to opening a perfume studio?
I started studying the psychology of scent. I was interning at the University of Scranton’s counseling center. I noticed that the students I was working with needed something else besides talking. I wanted to create something that wasn’t seen as medication. I originally just wanted to be a psychologist, but I was so fascinated by the powerful effects of aromas and how we connect to them and how they enhance our memory, alter our mood and can make us feel happy or whatever it is we are looking for. I’ve been studying that for a long time and realized that what connects to one person doesn’t necessarily connect to the next person. The purpose behind creating the studio was to get people to create something that they connect to.

Can you describe the custom perfume studio experience?
We try to talk to the customer first before we start sniffing to get a good sense of what they’re comfortable with. That helps them get used to the process, but it also helps us to better design for them. Then there’s a 10-minute demonstration where we talk about working with the perfumer’s organ; this is where they will sniff different notes, (and) we explain what scent families mean and how they work together. We also explain the note classifications. Then they will dip blotters into the different scented oils and put their blend together. We really want the customer to control the process and to be the designer of it.

Why is working with the sense of smell significant?
People connect to it. We’ve had people make fragrances to connect to loved ones who passed away or for a loved one. We’ve had brides create their own fragrance to wear on their wedding day, and what’s more special than to have your own signature scent on your wedding day? I did it for myself, and every time I wear the fragrance, I go back to the island I got married on. That is the powerful effect of aroma and how it works with our brain. It’s fascinating to watch and see people. Some have been brought to tears going through the experience.

What inspires your ideas for scents?
I get inspired a lot by the environment, so a lot of my creations are based off of trips I’ve taken. Santal Woods is based off a walk I took on the coast of Maine. Orchid Noir is based off of our honeymoon in St. Lucia. At night, you could smell all the night’s blooming flowers and spices of the kitchen. A lot of times when I’m in a certain environment, I get inspired and say, “How can I translate that and what I experienced into a fragrance?”

What are some of your interests outside of the business?
I like to travel. My husband and I really love the Finger Lakes Region of New York, so we go up there quite a bit. We lived there for a year when we had a shop there. During that experience, I got into wine. I had the chance to become friends with a lot of wine-makers, so I watched them, and we actually developed a line of candles based off of those relationships.

What is something, personally or professionally, being a business owner has taught you?
What I’ve learned about myself is we can always handle more than we think. I’ve also learned that what you think is a really big deal, whether it’s good or bad, six months down the road, it’s just a blip on the radar. I’ve learned to become a better businessperson by not allowing perfection to hinder my progress.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Kari Johnson

Up Close & Personal – Kari Johnson

Kari Johnson owns AOS Metals, 527 Bogart Place, Scranton, where she designs and sells handmade jewelry. She describes her products as “simple and classic, but something that will last forever and stay in style.” A graduate of Tunkhannock Area High School, she attended Keystone College and lived in Jackson, Wyoming, for 12 years, where she studied at University of Wyoming. She lives in Clarks Summit with her dog, Milo.

Meet Kari Johnson…

How did you get into jewelry making?
It first started when I was living out in Jackson, Wyoming. I was just looking for a creative outlet to do during the winter since it’s nine months of winter. Jackson is a huge arts town, so it was really great to be able to try different things. I did some pottery, I did some metal-smithing, and I really loved it. Being able to melt metal and hammer metal was a great outlet.

What led to your hobby becoming a business?
When I really started to take it seriously as a hobby, it got very expensive. The tools aren’t cheap; the metal isn’t cheap. I went to a farmer’s market in Jackson thinking, I” should try to sell some of this stuff to support my habit,” and it went really well, so I kind of just took it from there.

How do you choose the specific materials you use?
Everything I pick, I hand-pick. The blues and greens are turquoise, from people out in Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. They mine it themselves. They’re lapidary artists, so they’re bringing it back to their studio and cutting it how they see the colors. It’s another way to support the arts instead of buying from overseas where it’s mass-produced. That way I get to actually pick what I’m receiving.

Your logo is an iconic feather. How did it come to be?
I think there’s a stance with feathers that is special to so many people. I know a lot of people think that when they find a feather, a loved one who passed away is thinking of them. I think they just symbolize so many beautiful things to so many people. It’s fun to help them have that memory.

Can you describe some of the processes and techniques you use?
We’ll go back to the feathers. It’s very time-consuming. Each feather starts completely as a sheet of metal. I trace the feather and go in with a tiny jeweler’s saw and cut it out. Then you fire them; I have to solder the spine on and cut the wire. When it’s fired, each one comes out differently (colored). I try to pair them up so they have a similar color palette. 

You recently started teaching jewelry-making classes. What can people expect if they sign up for a class?
They’re a lot of fun. They’re BYOB, so that always helps. You get a bar, and you can learn how to stamp using all the different designs and learn about the pressure of the hammer and how you’re indenting. I talk about some of the different metals we use and what effect the stamp has on that metal.

Have you gotten any interesting custom requests?
Sometimes I stamp something, and I don’t know what it means. Then a client will tell me it has to do with a pet they’ve lost or a child they’ve lost. It’s just these moments that you’re able to create for someone as a memory, and it tugs at my heartstrings, and to be a part of something that special and to make something for someone that they’re going to hold that close to their heart.

How can people find your products outside of the storefront?
We do a lot of shows. We usually travel every weekend, especially in the summer and fall up until Christmas. We try to keep it local. We do the Montage festivals, wine festivals in Tunkhannock, and ScrantonMade is a fantastic festival. We have satellite stores as well — Hallmark in Tunkhannock, NOTE Fragrances in Clarks Summit, and we’re getting ready to move into On&On (in Scranton). We are on Facebook and Instagram at AOSmetals, and we have a website, so you can order from all of those.

What is in the future for AOS Metals?
We love this location and there’s a lot that’s going to be happening here. One of my goals is to help other artists. As an artist, you’re putting something out there that’s very personal, and you put your time and thought into it, and it’s a representation of yourself. It’s very intimidating, so I want to have a safe place for artists to display their work without having to invest too much money. They can put their work up (in AOS Metals), and if they sell something, it’s without having to put any money up front.

What are your hobbies outside of the business?
I like hanging out with my family. I’ll visit my parents. It’s nice to see everybody, and they’ve got a lot of land, so Milo really loves it.

If you weren’t running AOS Metals as a career, what would you be doing?
When I lived in Jackson, I was a nanny for two incredible families. I helped raise the girls, and I just went to visit them a few weeks ago, and they’re still my girls. I love kids. Everyone told me I should be a kindergarten or elementary school art teacher, so it probably would have been something along that line.

What separates you from other stores that sell handmade jewelry in Scranton?
There are tons of stores in Scranton that are great at supporting artists. I was wondering, “How is my store going to be different?” I think it’s my metal work. The fact that you can walk in the store and get something personalized and leave with it five minutes later, or the fact that customers are able to design something themselves. They’re dealing with the actual artist and not just a store owner.


Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Mike LaBella

Up Close & Personal – Mike LaBella

Singer, songwriter, and guitar and ukelele player Mike LaBella writes songs based on his travels and adventures, many of which include Scranton. He graduated from The University of Scranton in 2017 with degrees in philosophy and communication and will play in Scranton throughout the spring and summer. His next show will take place Saturday, April 21, at 8:30 p.m. in Back Breakers Lounge at Back Breakers Training Center, 1008 N. Washington Ave., Scranton.
Meet Mike LaBella…

Much of your original music and lyrics are inspired by your time in Scranton. What specifically inspires you?
The first time I became acquainted with Scranton was coming here for school at the University of Scranton. In the four years that I spent here, I really fell in love with this place. I came to Scranton at a time in my life when I was really growing as a songwriter and I was looking for inspiration in different places, and I found a lot of that in Scranton, in the people I met here, in the character of the town and in the community within the university.

What do you mean by the “character of the town”?
The thing that I love about the city is the on-the-surface bleakness and the starkness, but juxtaposed to the warmth and kindness that I’ve found here. Wherever you go, you can be surprised by the kindness of people and the welcoming nature, but it’s especially surprising here just because it’s not what you’d expect if you just look at the surface.

You have a series of music based on Scranton called “Steamtown Tapes.” Can you explain some of your inspiration for that?
That was a project I did my senior year. I was trying to put some songs together that I wrote about Scranton. There’s a song called “Honey Whiskey,” which is the favorite drink of a person who I became very close with and showed me that despite being here for three years, I didn’t know as much about Scranton as I thought I did. Another one, “Love Your Enemy,” was written in my house on Linden Street. I’ve taken those songs with me, and I’m currently working on an EP called “The Pennsylvania EP” that will include those songs and all the songs living in this state has inspired.

What was your music experience prior to Scranton?
I played in a cover band in high school. We had gigged a bit and won high school battle of the bands, but that was the biggest thing up to that point. I continued to play throughout my time in Scranton. What changed in Scranton was meeting Tim Poole; he plays alongside me whenever he can, and he’s one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met. We played in a lot of different groups together, but now it’s pretty much just me and him, and I’m really happy where we’re at together.

Describe the contrast between being in a cover band, playing solo and performing as a group of two.
I love the opportunity to play original music even if it is for smaller crowds and not for money, because, to me, I’ve always wanted to tell a new story with music. Playing original music with Tim has afforded me the opportunity to sing the songs that I want and sing to audiences who are there to listen and are open to new experiences. The time I spent playing covers — I’ve been playing in bars since I was 16 — taught me what I had to do to play in front of a crowd and how to work a crowd. I think that was important, but I’m happy to be where I am now and be able to play songs that I’ve written over the past couple years.

Who are your musical influences?
It changes for me a lot, but over the past few years, it’s been Trevor Hall. He’s like folk, indie and reggae, but his songs are very spiritual and founded in deep spiritual journey. More recently, Foy Vance; I just think that guy is a powerhouse of a songwriter.

What are your interests outside of music?
Philosophy. I had an amazing experience with philosophy at (University of) Scranton, and the department is great. It helped me develop as a person and helped me understand what character meant and what kind of morality I wanted to move forward in life with and what kind of spirituality I wanted to embrace and how to live that.

As someone who studies philosophy, what is your personal philosophy, or some wisdom you’ve learned that you try to live by?
Be there for people because nobody, even if they pretend to, has their life figured out, and that can cause a great amount of suffering and confusion and loneliness, and we need to be there for each other.

Do you have one particularly meaningful lyric you’ve written?
I might never answer this twice the same way, but I’d have to say it’s from the song called “Love Your Enemy.” The lyric is, “I don’t want a reason to be kind.” What that gets back to is the uncertainty and the fallibility of a lot of our convictions about life and truth and what is real. There is a lot of uncertainty, but I don’t think that is an excuse to not be good to other people.

Are you involved in any other activities or volunteer organizations?
My dad runs a foundation called the Trinity Help Foundation. He does a lot of local work in soup kitchens. He also does work in Haiti. I’ve been looking for a way to contribute. I have a day job outside of music, so I have the opportunity to give the money I make from music, whether it’s from ticket sales or getting the cut of a bar tab at the end of a show, and donate it to my dad’s foundation. I always consider music a gift. My attraction to music didn’t have to happen, so I see it as a service and look at what it can do for other people.

To listen to more of Mike’s music, visit his website: mikelabellamusic.com, YouTube Channel and find him on Instagram: mikelabellamusic

photos by Emma Black