10 beauty must-haves every woman needs at all times…

I was catching up on my reading last night and read the October issue of Allure cover to cover. They call themselves “The Beauty Expert,” I think of them as “The Beauty Bible.” One of my top 10 “BHAGs” (big hairy audacious goals, to borrow a term from Jim Collins” is to have Alchimie Forever featured in Allure.

One of my favorite features is their “Fashion Expert: 10 Things Every Woman Should Have.” This month’s column is by Michael Kors. His #4 is white roses, he calls them “the LBD of flowers.” I couldn’t agree more… Reading this feature reminded me that my girlfriend Severine asked me last week when I was in Geneva what beauty items I always had with me (aka in my purse). So here is a modified version of the “10 Things Every Woman Should Have.” My personal version, 10 beauty must-haves every woman needs at all times.”

1. Chapstick. Not having chapstick when my lips are chapped is like not having a bathroom when… well.. you get the point.

2. Lipstick. At least two shades, one that can take you through the day, and one for that unexpected date before which you don’t have time to stop by the house.

3. A tiny mirror. My mom knows how to apply lipstick without one. I don’t, and have stopped trying.

4. A small brush. I have a black small Mason Pearson that I love dearly. (I have had it for years, but wash it regularly with baby shampoo).

5. Small tweezers. Mine are purple (of course), by Tweezerman (of course).

6. Small samples of sunscreen. Who knows when you will find yourself for a long lunch on a sunny terrace. I cherish samples of LaRoche Posay Anthelios 50+.

7. A nail file. Never file your nails in public… but nail emergencies (to be dealt with in private) do arise.

8. Alchimie Forever samples. I carry Kantic calming evening cream samples everywhere. No matter what is going on with my skin, Kantic fixes it.

9. A travel toothbrush and toothpaste set. Enough said.

10. Herban Essentials Lavender Towelettes. For any of life’s small messes.

To celebrate Swiss National Day, an interview with Christine Sager

August 1 is Swiss National Day. As I am in Las Vegas for Cosmoprof (and there really is nothing Swiss about Las Vegas), I thought it would be nice to speak to someone who understands Switzerland and the special significance of August first. Below, my conversation with Chrisine Sager, the wife of Manuel Sager, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Hudson, Ohio and Syracuse, New York

How long have you been in DC?

Since November 2010… already 9 months.

What is your favorite place in DC?

I haven’t had much time to sight see, but I am always deeply stirred when I go to the monuments around the Reflecting Pool.

What is your favorite place in Switzerland?

I can never name a ‘favorite’ place…there are just too many wonderful spots. I do love Bern, it has everything from a beautiful medieval city center to lovely parks and easy access to recreation.

What is your number one beauty necessity?

I guess that would have to be a great moisturizer, without it one’s skin cannot look its best. I like Alchimie Forever’s Kantic+ intensely nourishing cream.

What is your greatest self-indulgence?

Deep tissue massages for my back and neck.

What do you do to stay physically fit?

I work out three times a week at the gym.

What is the quality you most admire in a man?

A true respect for women.

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?

Selfless care and concern for others.

How will you celebrate Swiss National Day?

First, with the Swiss Club here in DC, of course. Then we depart for Switzerland on the 31st of July, arriving on the 1st of August in Switzerland. There we will celebrate with family. My husband’s nephew has become something of a pyrotechnic and puts together great fireworks shows.

Do you have a favorite Swiss tradition?

I love the very rare occasion when, hiking in the mountains, you suddenly hear a distant beautiful sound echoing through the valleys from a hilltop…someone has carried his/her alp horn all the way up there to enjoy nature’s auditorium for which this instrument was made. I struggle enough getting myself up there, let alone an alp horn.

Do you wear a watch? If yes, which one?

Yes….Omega Consellation.

Which topic could you talk about for days on end, if anyone would listen?

While we were living in London, our work took us to Central Asia…specifically to Turkmenistan and Kirghistan….and I developed a close relationship to some artists there. The lack of hope that so many expressed, led me to found an organization to represent about 25 artists from these countries, by putting on exhibitions and promoting awareness for that region. I would love to do something to help them here in the US as well, but have not yet found the right contacts.

If you could have dinner with 1 person, who would it be?

My husband.

What is your favorite treasured possession?

My glasses (couldn’t do without them) and my Bible.

The magic of Tinos – a letter to my grandfather

I am in terminal F of the Philadelphia airport, trying (not very successfully!) to ease my way back from paradise to reality. And I am thinking of my maternal grandfather, Yaya, as I called him. He has been gone for over twenty years, yet this past week he was with me every day. Every day I thanked him for finding Tinos, a beautiful island in the Cyclades in Greece. For finding this paradise, for designing and renovating the house we still have there, for making this island a part of my life.

While we used to go there as a family when I was a child, I re-discovered this magical place last year. I loved it so much that I returned this past week – I hope this trip can now become an annual tradition. On the 11 hour flight from Athens to Philly, I could not help but re-live this past week, trying to remember every detail, every moment, every memory.

Tinos is not an easy place to get to – there is no airport on the island, which is part of what keeps it quiet and unpopulated. An eleven hour flight form the Northeast is followed by an hour cab ride to the Rafina port, which is followed by a two-hour ferry (if you take the fast ferry). Paradise awaits when you step off of the ferry. The island is a small mountain, it rises above the water, with patches of white and blue, the various villages visible behind the town of Tinos. Mykonos, Delos, and Syros are the neighboring islands visible in the distance.

Our house is in the village of Triantaros, known for its beautiful views on the town and the sea. Watching the sun rise at 6 am (jetlag…) and set at 9:30 pm from the terrace are two of my favorite things to do. Listening to the sounds of nature (mostly silence, crickets, church bells, and once in a long while a car or Vespa) while enjoying Boutari rosé wine is one of the most peaceful, calming activities. The lack of internet, TV, radio is one of the house’s best features, the ultimate luxury in terms of disconnecting from the modern world.

Our days on Tinos (after jet lag subsides) have a very regular rhythm to them. We wake up around 10:30 am, spend time on the terrace, eat Greek yogurt and have some strong coffee. All outside. Slowly, we make it to the Para Pente Café in town, where the Wi-Fi always works and is really fast (my capacity to disconnect is still quite limited). After making sure the world has not stopped turning while I was enjoying the lack of connectivity of the house, we enjoy an iced coffee while watching the ferries zoom across the sea.

After about two hours at Para Pente, we drive 30 minutes through the windy mountain roads to our favorite beach, Kalivia, near the village of Kardiani. Along the way, we marvel at the Tinos aromas, which range from figs to rosemary to juniper. We count the churches on the way… there are 750 on this island!

We discovered Kalivia beach last year, and we would never dream of going to another beach. The beach bar is owned by Marco, who is from Kardiani and is known as “The German” to his friends (he is Greek, but blond-haired and blue-eyed). Marco is the best host, offering a plethora of beach-side cocktails, all home-made (he also makes his own honey-raki), as well as interesting tidbits about Tinos. The beach is flanked by two hills, which creates the perfect bay to swim in. And swim we do. Back and forth, across and back again. We discuss the wind, the water temperature, the size of the waves, the best technique for rock skipping… We read… We practice our Greek alphabet… We nap on the beach, listening to the Greek conversations around us (vacationers here are mostly Greeks from the mainland) and the sound of the waves… We watch the start of sunset.

Around 8 or 9 pm (sometimes as late as 10 pm), we head to dinner. Our favorite restaurant on the island is Bourou, where the owner Dimitri remembered us from last year. His food is amazing, his wine list surprising, and his attention to the beauty and ambiance of his restaurant, unlike I have ever seen.

Our days usually end around 1 am… although this year we discovered a few of the local bars, which really don’t get going until 1 am… and don’t get really fun until around 3 am….

I have been trying to think of how I can incorporate some of the magic of Tinos in my everyday life. Is it the amount of time spent outdoors? The time spent without connectivity? The quiet? The swimming? The aromas? The Greek salads? Or is it that this trip was a bit like a honeymoon, with Edwin and I by ourselves, spending all of our time together, 24/7? Whatever it is, I wish I could bottle it and bring it back. I am already dreaming about going back next year… and thanking my grandfather…

Bisnow Entrepreneurship Series

This morning, I woke up grumpy. Might have to do with the fact that I got home at 2:30 am, after three exhausting tradeshow days in Las Vegas and a flight that involved a very large man seated next to me (whose bulk kept overflowing in my seat) and a 2-year old across the aisle from me who had a 4 hour temper tantrum (equivalent of a lifetime dose of birth control). Oh, and the fact that I woke up at 6 am for a crazy day. When I am grumpy, only three things tend to be foolproof in helping my mood: red lipstick (check); a cute dress (check; and white in honor of the first day of summer); and inspiration from other entrepreneurs (check). I came so close to not attending the Bisnow Entrepreneur Series event this morning, for which I had a couple of weeks ago re-arranged some client meetings (which I never do), in order to sleep one additional hour. But I did go, and am so happy I did. Not only did I run into some of my favorite people in the DC entrepreneurship community, including Kate Palmer of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Jeff Reid of Georgetown University, but I finally had the opportunity to hear and to meet a hero among us DC entrepreneurs (in particular among us Georgetown McDonough School of Business graduates), Michael Chasen of Blackboard. His presentation was more effective than an extra hour of sleep or four extra cups of coffee in terms of waking me up, and changing my mood.

For those of you who have met him, it will come as no surprise that I would describe him as handsome (he actually asked me put that in my blog, although I would have even if he hadn’t), charismatic, confident, funny, smart. He gave us the short story about how he started Blackboard (which today is a public company, has over $500M in revenues and over $100M in EBIDTA), and then shared some key lessons learned along the way.

Lesson #1: “Focus on the business, not on the office.” Work on the business model and forget about everything else, including a fancy corporate suite and expensive office chairs.

Lesson #2: “Networking is essential.” It’s all about who you know, who you know that knows someone who is the neighbor of the best friend of the wife of someone you really need to meet.

Lesson #3: “Constantly share your vision” (in a memorable and confident way). He told of introducing himself at a networking event (see lesson #2) as “Hi, I’m Michael, co-founder of Blackboard, an e-learning company, and we are very excited about our first deal with Microsoft.” (Their first deal being the purchase of Microsoft Office).

Lesson #4: “While you need to seek advice, you also need to recognize that you are the expert in your business.” Supplement your vision with what you learn from others. The operative word being “supplement” (ie not “replace”).

Lesson #5: “You should have a business model that makes money.” When Michael started, the trendy thing for software companies was to give their software away for free. He admitted to adding up zeros in all the columns of an Excel workbook, and concluding that it still amounted to zero.

During the Q&A session, a few additional lessons, or pieces of advice, emerged. Michael, as most successful entrepreneurs I have heard say, spoke about the need for passion for what you are doing. As entrepreneurs, we work harder and (for a long time although hopefully not forever) for less money than we would if working for someone else. Only true passion can get us through that. His is passion for education. He also talked about making mistakes everyday, and about the importance of not dwelling on these as negative experiences, but on learning from them, and most importantly, on incorporating them in your business strategy. He talked about his love of being a business based in downtown DC (I so relate to that). He talked about people who ask him “What do you do for fun” and him responding “My job is fun, my work is my hobby” (I so relate to that too).

The last audience question was something I had been wondering about since he started his presentation. How is it that he, Michael Chasen, the co-founder of Blackboard, is still the CEO? How has he been able to go from ideating the business to launching a startup to growing a small company to going through an IPO and to running a multi-hundred-million dollar business? Such a rare occurrence… With the matter-of-fact attitude he showed through the entire discussion “I’ve been successful by hitting our sales numbers every quarter.”

On that note, let me head back to the office and work on my own quarterly sales numbers. Eagerly,  effectively,  with a renewed sense of inspiration, and with no recollection whatsoever of the fat man, the screaming toddler, or my short night. Thank you Michael.

Lessons From a High School Graduation

Two nights ago, I attended my husband’s son’s high school graduation in New Orleans. I guess I should say I attended my step-son’s graduation… It was a warm Louisiana evening, filled with proud parents, happy siblings, and excited graduates. I couldn’t help as I watched the ceremony, listened to the speeches, and enjoyed the music, thinking back to my own high school graduation.

What I remember most from my graduation (back in 1995… yikes!) is the overall theme of “yes you can.” Our speakers (whether students or guests) spoke of ambition, of endless possibilities, of dreams coming true, and of changing the world. That day, there was nothing I couldn’t do. No goal was too far out of reach. No plan was too ambitious. If I wanted to do it, I could, and I would. Watch me. While I still believe in that feeling, it has been informed by almost 20 years of life, which in my case has meant entrepreneurial highs and lows, personal love and loss. Today, I still know I can do anything I set my mind to, but I also know it will probably be hard.

I was surprised that that was indeed the theme of Parker’s graduation Commencement speaker. Anh “Joseph” Cao, former U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District (the first Vientamese-American elected to Congress, he served from 2009 to 2011) and a candidate for Attorney General of Louisiana, spoke of his life, of the lessons he learned along the way. He spoke of being born in Vietnam and leaving his home country at the early age of 8. He spoke of wanting to be a physicist, but then becoming a Catholic Priest. He spoke of realizing it was not his vocation and of becoming a lawyer. He spoke of losing everything during Hurricane Katrina, of having to rebuild everything. He spoke about life being filled with hope, but also filled with hardship. His three pieces of advice to the graduating class were:

–          Be prudent

–          Be disciplined

–          Be persistent

I listened, and nodded in agreement. This theme re-emerged at the very end of the evening, when the Principal granted the graduates their diplomas, and ended the night by quoting Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”

While I couldn’t agree more with either the former Congressman, or the Principal (these are lessons and words I live by every day), I still somehow missed the innocent naiveté of the messages I heard at my own graduation. Then again, I thought to myself, we aren’t exactly in 1995… the messages I heard Tuesday night were a stark reminder of the “different reality” we live in today.

Self care advice from my Mom

In the US, there’s an inherent fascination with European women. How can they be so thin despite eating so much cheese? How can they be so healthy despite drinking wine, often at lunch? How do they achieve their quintessential elegant look? How come they seem to age more gracefully?

While I don’t pretend to have answers to the first two questions, I do believe that the European woman’s approach to skin care has much to do with the answers to the third and fourth questions. While speaking about European women is obviously a gross generalization, here are some tips on skin care habits that my Swiss mother engrained in me from my early teens:

  1. Skin care is a part of self care, part of health care. Facials are not luxuries, and a good moisturizer is not a frivolous expense. Indeed, I was taught that going to the spa should be considered as necessary as going to the dentist on a regular basis.
  2. Prevention is more important than correction. Don’t wait until you start seeing wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging skin to incorporate anti-aging products into your routine. If you are old enough to drink (and remember, in Geneva, this is 16), you are old enough for an eye cream.
  3. Spend time in your bathroom; it is your sanctuary. Growing up, I watched my mom take long baths, apply lotions and potions, and  spend a lot of time in her bathroom. That was her special time each morning–her way to get physically and mentally prepared for the day, and in the evening, it helped her remove the effects of the day.
  4. For every year you grow older, spend an extra 30 seconds in your bathroom. When you are 20 years old, you can jump out of bed, tie your hair in a ponytail, and leave the house in 5 minutes looking fresh and beautiful. As we age, getting to that look takes more time and more effort. Don’t fight against it, embrace it, and spend more time in your bathroom.
  5. Look at yourself in the mirror. Really look–don’t just glance. This will enable you to see every wrinkle starting to form, to see the appearance of very light brown spots and watch them turn darker with the passage of time. The process of looking, observing, and assessing will give you a feeling of control over the changes happening on your face and body and will ensure that you don’t just wake up one morning and think, “I have just aged 20 years overnight.”
  6. Taking care of your body is as important as taking care of your face. Treat your neck and décolleté with specific products. Nourish the skin of your body. Take particular care of your hands and feet. Not just once a week, but every day, twice a day.
  7. Makeup is meant for highlighting and color, not to treat skin. If your skin looks good, you don’t need to cover it with foundation. Show your skin. Use makeup to brighten and color.
  8. The worse you feel, the brighter your lipstick should be. Red is the color of power, wearing it will not only have people commenting on how great you look, but will make you feel powerful and in control, hence better. Find the shade of red that suits you, and use it.
  9. Keep your nails real, short, and oval. Did Princess Grace of Monaco have long fake nails? I don’t think so. Short is elegant. Nude is the best neutral, but bright red works on short nails too.
  10. Smile. You will look better, feel happier, and everyone around you will too.