Paris is always a good idea… (Part 1)

A friend recently asked me about my recommendations for his first trip to Paris, and so I spent a day remembering all of the things I love about the City of Light, and looking through all of the restaurant cards I have collected from my many stays there…

Here were my recommendations:

1. This city is best discovered by walking. Pack some comfortable shoes, and avoid taxis (although I just discovered that Uber is available in Paris, on the same account as you might use in the US… this may make walking a bit harder).

2. As an alternative, a boat tour on the “bateau mouche” is the best way to see the most beautiful sights without getting exhausted.

3. As a third alternative to take the city all in, the Tour Montparnasse gives you the best view of the city… if the sun is shining.

4. You must eat at least one croissant in a different café or “boulangerie” every day. A great resource in terms of food is: www.lefooding.com (used and trusted by Parisians themselves, rather than Trip Advisor).

5. If you can’t decide on which café to go to first, here are two must-sees: Les Deux Magots in St Germain Des Prés and Café Flore, my favorite. Here is a great link to discovering others.

6. As important as café and croissant are wine and cheese, or, this time of year, wine and foie gras. Here is a link to get you started on wine bars.

7. In addition to epicurean pleasures, artistic and historical pleasures abound. There are enough museums to keep you busy for a month, here is a list to help you start if you can’t decide:

  • Musée Carnavalet: this is a fabulous great museum on the history of Paris, ideally visited with a guide, on your first day in the city
  • Le Louvre, of course, including a café or cocktail at Café Marly
  • The Musée D’Orsay
  • The Musée of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou
  • And last but not least, the Musée Rodin, my favorite museum in the world

8. Finally, for some shopping. Buy yourself something characteristically French. Buy gifts for everyone on your list for next Christmas. The shopping here is fabulous. Go to Boulevard Haussman, to Le Printemps, to Les Galeries Lafayette, to any of the boutiques in the quartier of Saint Germain, and read this for more ideas: .

9. And in case you still have some time, here are 10 more treasures to discover.

Ironically, as I write this, I am in Paris. I cannot imagine a better place to start 2014. I haven’t been here in a few years… and will let you know how many of my own recommendations I follow. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post in a couple of days. And Happy New Year!

On the importance of teatime…

“A cup of tea would restore my normality.” Douglas Adams

It is somewhat of a running joke in my family that my father drinks espresso exclusively, yet embraces the importance of teatime like no other Italian. He praises the English for this most civilized ritual of stopping everything at a certain hour during the day, and enjoying quiet, thinking time, around this concoction that is tea.

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.” Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living  

Over dinner a few nights ago, he once again encouraged me to do less and think more. “Take the time to do nothing,” he said. “To think, to chat with people around a cup of tea. Not necessarily people who are in the same industry as you are.” Indeed, he was encouraging me to embrace the concept of teatime.

“Tea carries within itself; knowledge, wisdom, and wellness.” Aniruddha Sastikar

Ironically, as the end of the year has been approaching, I have started to think about my goals for 2014. I have as of yet identified one – to find stillness and inner quiet. Perhaps with more teatime in my life, this will become easier. This is a very lofty (for me) and ethereal goal. What is inner stillness and quiet? I haven’t figured out how to meditate… so I do believe I may incorporate teatime in my day, starting January 1, 2014 (or maybe I should just start tomorrow…).

“Tea. I find that both settles the stomach and concentrates the mind.” Cassandra Clare, City of Bones 

What do I need to implement this resolution?

I have a set of teacups and saucers, even a real teapot, from my grandmother’s Blue Danube dish set.

I have teaspoons.

I have both loose-leaf teas and various assortments of tea bags.

I have a water kettle.

Really, all I need is to make this commitment. To spend 30 minutes every day with a cup of tea, and my thoughts. Maybe with others, maybe not. 30 minutes to daydream, to think, to do nothing. 30 minutes to breathe. 30 minutes to strive for inner peace, stillness and quiet.

“My dear if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs.” Charles Dickens, Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy 

'Tis the season – for holiday parties…

Holiday parties. Love them. Can’t not go to them. This time of year, they are both pleasurable and inevitable. I have to admit that one of the highlights of my holiday season is the holiday party I throw. It started out as a Georgetown McDonough School of Business party – for those in our class who remained in DC after graduation. It evolved into an evening filled with friends I love, and bubbly.

While every year I end the party thinking of what I can improve on next year, there are a few things I now do every year that seem to be conducive to a fun evening.

  1. A party is made up first and foremost of people. My guests don’t all know each other, but somehow, every year a few people find that they have common acquaintances with another guest. When I put my guest list together, I invite people I love and I purposely include a few new friends. I think about who might enjoy meeting whom, and the most gratifying reward is having people connect and ask me for each other’s phone numbers and email addresses.
  2. I love sophisticated, and I love welcoming. I strive for both, finding that fine line between elegant and casual. This means a cocktail dress, 4 inch or higher heels, red lipstick. It also means Miller Lite, finger food, hugs, spills, and broken glasses. One makes the other better.
  3. Glass and china change the feeling of a party. I used to buy plastic, now instead I rent the real thing. Extra benefit… no loads of dishwashing for me.
  4. People drink. It is a New Orleans rule (and possible a rule everywhere) that it is always better to have liquor left over rather than running out of alcohol. Buy extra – it will get drunk. I don’t have a full bar – I selfishly serve what I love to drink. And yes, New Orleans has rubbed off on me. From champagne and wine, this party’s drink selection has evolved to include vodka and bourbon, red bull, bitters, and maraschino cherries.
  5. People eat. From the traditional cheese and crackers, this party has evolved to homemade chicken and sausage gumbo. As in homemade from scratch. (Yes, I do have a Louisiana-born and bred husband, which helps…). Serving something “exotic” that will not be served at any other holiday party in my neighborhood makes my night.
  6. Bubbles are festive and make people happy. While in my family we drink champagne year-round, and sometimes just because it is Tuesday, the holiday time is particularly conducive to champagne, prosecco, cava…. Don’t underestimate the power of those little bubbles.
  7. Never start cleaning up until every guest is gone. It’s just neither polite, nor fun.
  8. Clean up that evening, no matter how late (which may mean the morning after). There is nothing worse than waking up to half empty glasses everywhere, and nothing better than waking up to all glasses in their crates, and nothing but the hostess gifts left to discover.

And above all, enjoy. Laugh. Hug. Drink. And be merry.

BeautyView: Maria Smith, Master Aesthetician

My history with Maria goes back to more years than I care to remember. We have worked together as aesthetician / skin care vendor; as spa director  skin care vendor; and she is key to the hands-on training I am able to provide to many spa partners who carry Alchimie. We also work together on the Washington Spa Alliance. And on those few occasions when I have a pimple that must be popped, she is the one I turn to. Throughout this multi-year, multi-responsibility history, we became friendly, then friends (and, making my day, my week, she lists me as a mentor!). Among other things, we share our love for changing people’s skin for the better, for champagne and wine, and for all things Creole.

AP: What city were you born in? MS: Washington, DC.

AP: What city to do you live in? MS: Bowie, MD.

AP: What is your middle name? MS: Teresse (pronounced like Therese).

AP: What is your astrological sign? MS: Taurus.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? MS: I studied Electrical Engineering in college – I’m a math and science geek; and I love to sketch/draw.

AP: What is your most prized possession? MS: My integrity.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? MS: My paternal grandmother Anna Lee Lanoix. I would love to discover more insight into my family’s French Creole heritage.

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. MS: Simple and relaxed.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? MS: I do not.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? MS: BOTH!

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? MS: Exfoliate, sunscreen always, and sleep.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? MS: Coco Chanel and Coco Mademoiselle.

AP: Botox or not? MS: Not as of yet. I’m happy it’s available and I’m looking forward to having botox spa parties in the future.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? MS: Not. I started getting highlights two years ago and love it!

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? MS: Everything in moderation (except for water and champagne!); and always eat something green!

AP: What do you do for exercise? MS: When I do work out….I love doing weights – it burns fat and helps to sculpt muscle tone the quickest.

AP: What are three things that you always have in your fridge? MS: Cheese, fruit, and wine – which sometimes ends up being the perfect meal.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? MS: Champagne or wine.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? MS: I‘m actually a workaholic; but I think if you’re passionate, the hard work is rewarding.  However, I do believe you should “play” as hard as you work.

AP: How many miles do you fly per year on average? MS: I’ve traveled to many places around the world, but I’ve probably put more miles into amazing road trips than I have in the air – including having driven across country twice. I have 199K miles on my car and they are all mine!

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? MS: For air travel: check-in online, hydrate (inside & out), pack smart (avoid checking luggage for short trips). For road trips: stop for fill-ups at half a tank, have your playlist faves and sing out loud, make random stops at local shops.    

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. MS: I don’t have an iPod; but my three favorite Pandora stations (and favorite songs) are: Jason Mraz – Lucky; Pink Martini – Sympathique; Otis Redding – Try a Little Tenderness.

AP: What book are you reading right now? MS: The Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

AP: Quote to live by. MS: I keep this quote on my cell homepage: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Ghandi.

AP: What is your worst pet peeve? MS: People who don’t clean up behind themselves or put things back the way they found them.

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? MS: I don’t usually wake before 8am; and I need at least 8-9 hours of sleep to function. I love to sleep!

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? MS: The hugs and smiles that are a result of a restored self confidence in the people/clients I meet/interact with.

AP: Least favorite thing. MS: I have two: False marketing and lack of quality in high priced products.

AP: Who is your mentor? MS: So many influences along my life’s journey and I don’t have a “mentor” true to form; but two people that I dearly admire, who’s advice and wisdom I take true to heart, and who have played key roles as my career has grown over the last several years are my significant other David and the one and only Ada Polla.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. MS: Have love and passion for what you do and it won’t be “work.” Stay true to yourself and what’s best for your own growth because at the end of the day you’re the only one who will walk the walk in your shoes.

'Tis the season for a goal setting retreat…

I like to-do lists. I like plans. I like goals. And one of my favorite things about the month of December is the ability to think ahead to the New Year, and to New Year’s goals and resolutions. This year, instead of coming up with a traditional list of goals by myself, I took part in a goal setting retreat (at the amazing Salamander Resort) with 4 BFFs. The format was so different than anything else I have done before (great for both personal and professional goals), I wanted to share, in case you too are looking for a tool to help plan next year, or the next 5 years…

I owe thanks to a Georgetown University friend, Peter, the founder of Netcito, as he shared the two frameworks we used for our retreat.

Peter suggested we write a “Merlin letter” – a letter to ourselves today written by ourselves in 5 years, describing to our today’s self how things are. The goal is to be as specific as possible, and to appeal to all 5 senses.

Merlin Exercise Guidelines

• This is a powerful exercise for articulating 5-year vision that can inform the goals you set today.

• Write a letter to yourself as though you were living 5 years from now.  Imagine the space that you are living in, the people around you, and what you are doing. Make it vivid by capturing what you are seeing, hearing, and feeling. Multiply the feelings 2x, 3x, and 4x to anchor them in your consciousness.

We allotted an hour for each of us, and we read each other our Merlin letters (about 5 minutes), with the balance of the time being used for the group’s input and questions and suggestions and open discussion. It was inspiring, emotional, constructive, and productive.

Peter also shared a worksheet on completing 2013 and creating 2014.

• The worksheet includes questions that provide an opportunity to reflect on what you learned and accomplished in 2013.

• The 2013 questions can help spark some inspiration for which goals to pursue in the upcoming year.

Here are the questions:

Completing 2013

Look at all the areas of your life as you reflect on 2013.  Consider Career, Creativity, Money, Health, Significant Other, Friends and Family, Fun and Recreation, Personal Growth, Spirituality, and your Physical Environment (house, where you live, where you work, etc.).

  1. What were your greatest successes and breakthroughs over the past year?
  2. What risks did you take this year that you are proud of – regardless of the outcome?
  3. What would you like to acknowledge yourself for?
  4. What are you grateful for this year?
  5. Who you are grateful for (and if you haven’t already told them, be sure to do that as soon as possible)?
  6. What was your biggest failure this year?  What did you learn from it?
  7. What was your biggest disappointment or loss this year?  How have you integrated it?  What, if anything, is left to heal or let go of?
  8. What is incomplete that you want to complete in early 2014?
  9. Overall, what was this year about for you (what’s the title of this chapter in the book of your life)?
  10. What lessons have you learned this past year that you want to carry into 2014?

Creating 2014

Use the full power of your imagination to create 2014.  What if it could be exactly as you want it?  What would that look like?  How would you feel?  Who would you be with?  Where would you go?  What would you do? How would you be spending your time?

  1. What will 2014 be about for you (the chapter title, the theme, or the metaphor)?
  2. What do you want to change in 2014?
  3. What do you want to begin in 2014?
  4. What do you want to let go of or stop doing in 2014?
  5. What one significant goal (personal or professional) will you accomplish in 2014?  What other goals do you intend to accomplish in 2014?
  6. Who will you need to be to create the year you envision?
  7. What have you learned that you want to put into use this year?
  8. What support will you need? Who will help you along the way?
  9. What is the risk you must take in 2014 in order to live the life you envision?
  10. What are you ready to commit to doing in the first 3 months of 2014?

Thank you Peter for enabling us to have such a productive goal-setting retreat. And thank you to my BFFs for being a part of it!

BeautyView: Katherine Goldman, Founder, Stript Wax Bar

After spending two days with Katherine Goldman, the founder of Stript Wax Bar, I have a new-found admiration for womankind. We can do anything we set our mind to, and Katherine is the prefect example. She does it all: she still does treatments (there is a waitlist), she runs her 7-location California-based salon business (opened in 2009, not exactly in the most booming economic times!) with passion and a firm hand, has developed her own waxes (which vary based on the area that is to be waxed), is launching Flash Facials, and looking to expand on the East coast. And, she does it all while taking the time to enjoy some rosé champagne and raising two beautiful children and reading Fifty Shades of Grey

AP: What city were you born in? KG: Oakland, CA. I’M Oaktown, baby!

AP: What city to do you live in? KG: San Carlos, CA.

AP: What is your middle name? KG: Victoria. As in The Great!

AP: What is your astrological sign? KG: Cancer.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? KG: I was a once competitive gymnast.

AP: What is your most prized possession? KG: My children; can you say that? If not, a friendship ring from my grandmother that looks like a belt buckle.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? KG: Marilyn Monroe.

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. KG: Classic, elegant, and black.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? I do. KG: Chopard Happy Sport. It is Swiss and perfect… and was my first push present.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? KG: Diamonds.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? KG: There are so many, but I think happiness is ultimately true beauty.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? KG: I have so many… I am loving Chanel Chance right now.

AP: Botox or not? KG: Botox all the way.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? KG: Not.

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? KG: Eating clean and low carb, and lots of walking.

AP: What do you do for exercise? KG: Chase my two children around. And lots of walking.

AP: What are three things that you always have in your fridge? KG: 2% milk (I am a tea drinker, and I have kids), yogurt, fruit.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? KG: Rosé champagne.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? KG: The lines blur… but if you love what you do, then work and life merge and become fully integrated.

AP: How many miles do you fly per year on average? KG: 25,000. I commute between San Francisco and LA twice monthly at least… and then there are the scouting trips for new locations…

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? KG: 1. Stay hydrated. 2. Get lots of rest beforehand. 3. Plan your trip well.

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. KG: I don’t listen to anything but kid music at this point in my life…

AP: What book are you reading right now? KG: Fifty Shades of Grey. My husband bought me the trilogy right after we had baby #2. I guess he wanted to give me inspiration.

AP: Quote to live by. KG: “Do onto others as you want done unto you.”

AP: What is your worst pet peeve? KG: Dirtiness. (Another quote to live by is “cleanliness is next to godliness” – which is how I run my salons.)

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? KG: 7 am and I shoot for 8 hours.

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? KG: All of the amazing products.

AP: Least favorite thing. KG: What’s not to love about the beauty industry?!

AP: Who is your mentor? KG: Honestly, my older sister. She has always been a guide. I look up to her.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. KG: Have a long-term plan; have patience; be willing to work for your goals and wait it out. Delay instant gratification for long-term success.