My 2020 Reading List

2020 was not kind on my reading. I remember when confinement began in March, I thought, “this will give me so much more time to read, it will be amazing.” Not so. My brain was so overwhelmed by COVID-19, by not going out of business, by BLM and social unrest, I had less mental space to read. 

Here is my reading list – 30 books in 2020, in the order I read them. It says a lot about what happened over the last 12 months! 

American Chica by Marie Arana. This was for Book Club, and the author came. One of the best books I read, in particular being from “two countries” myself.  

Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham. I heard him speak at a conference in 2019, and this was my follow-up homework. 

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. Because we should all read this once. 

The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Also for Book Club. First fiction book of 2020, filled with twists and unexcepted turn of events. 

The Disruptors’ Feast by Fits Van Paaschen. A challenging read, but super interesting.  

Free, Melania by Kate Bennett. Last indoor Book Club. I love Kate Bennett, and her book is both informative and entertaining. 

The Only Place in the Sky by Garrett Graff. My #1 book of 2020. I started it early March, and finished it early April. I remember reading it during the first few weeks of the pandemic wondering if this timing was opportune or not… 

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop. Second fiction book… and lots more fiction to follow. My brain needed to travel and Victoria Hislop knows how to transport her readers to Greece! 

Carte Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop. Because I couldn’t get enough. 

Writers & Lovers by Lily King. Virtual book club with a book everyone was talking about. 

And They Called it Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton. Because I needed to travel to an era of political elegance. Enough said. 

A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe. I call Karin a friend, and love all of her books and she has been a guest at our Book Club for all of them; this was our first outdoor book club and it was amazing. 

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Well, because I needed to read it. 

Desperate in DC by Phoebe Thompson and Crystal Walker. A super interesting exercise in collaborative writing, using social media as the primary form of communication.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley. A great thriller for a fast read and an immediate escape. 

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. More racism education for me. Beautifully written, brought me to tears. 

The Culture Code by Cloraire Rapaille. Because this had been on my “to read” pile for years. Hard to get into, but oh so insightful. 

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. More escape by the same author as The Guest List. 

L’Énigme de la Chambre 622 by Joel Dicker. A gift from my godmother, who gifts me two books in French per year to make sure I don’t entirely forget my mother tongue. I loved it!

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry by Mary Higgins Clark. The ultimate guilty pleasure (I have read every single one of her books). 

The Island by Veronica Hislop. Here we go again. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Set in Louisiana, and very much about race. 

Tiny Hot Dogs by Mary Giuliani. Another favorite of 2020, this memoir is filled with humor, entrepreneurial insights, and delicious-sounding recipes. 

Bluff by Jane Stanton Hitchcock. Jane is a neighbor in Georgetown and attended Book Club for her book Mortal Friends oh so long ago. I want to be like her when I grow up, and I adore all her books. 

The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz. I saw this book on Instagram… a beautiful story spanning three generations, and an easy read. 

The Power of Ritual by Casper Ter Kuile. Seth Mattison recommended this book during one of his talks. And in general, I try to do what Seth Mattison says I should do. 

Living the Sutras by Kelly DiNardo. Kelly gifted me this book the day she invited me to a yoga class at her studio… it is filled with wisdom and advice. Reading this was almost like meditating. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear. I read this book as 2020 was coming to a close, with the goal of refreshing and relooking at my habits, including some habits acquired during 2020 which I did not want to bring in to the New Year. Very powerful book. 

Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I had started this book years ago, but could never get into it. I still could not, but I forced myself to read it. Now I can say I read it (and did not really enjoy it). 

La Femme Révélée by Gaelle Nohant. The second 2020 book in French from my godmother. Set in Paris and Chicago, this book ends during the 1968 race riots in the Windy City. Surprisingly good and relevant to what is happening today in our country. 

How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Recommended by my super smart friend Marc Ross, creator of Brigadoon. This book was not what I imagined it would be, is a bit more “manifesto-y” than I like. As all books recommended by Marc, this one stretched me out of my comfort zone…  

My word for 2021: Prioritize

At the end of every year, as I start to think about my New Year’s goals, I start by choosing one word. My word for the New Year. I love this tradition, it forces me to think big picture, before I get in the weeds of my resolutions list. 

This year, my word is prioritize

pri·or·i·tize

/prīˈôrəˌtīz/

verb

  1. designate or treat (something) as more important than other things.

“prioritize your credit card debt”

  1. determine the order for dealing with (a series of items or tasks) according to their relative importance.

“age affects the way people prioritize their goals”

I chose this word in part as a reaction to 2020 – a year which for me was mostly reactive rather than proactive. To me, prioritizing involves an element of control, which I love. No matter what is going to happen this year, I am not going to let my priorities get derailed. Of course, they may shift, but that will be because I decide to shift them.  

I also chose this word because I tend to try to do everything, please everyone. And I can’t, or at least not well. So I am committing to the discipline of prioritizing, which involves not doing things or stopping doing certain things, which means sometimes saying “no.” With prioritizing also comes “deprioritizing.” 

I am still working on what exactly I am going to prioritize… here is a start: 

Getting better at Greek (I did not do a single Duolingo class in 2020….)

Feeling lighter and fresher (as I did last January, I am in the midst a 21 day cleanse and I am not giving up, no matter the political events… ) 

Reading more (2020 was hard on my reading… more on this in next week’s blog) 

Focusing my work time on profitable projects and partners 

… 

And every day, when I wake up, I now start my day by thinking about my #1 top priority for that day. Only once I have decided what that is do I allow myself to look at my very long to-do list…  

Do you have a word for 2021? If so, please do share!

The Hamlet Living Room in Old Town Geneva Switzerland

Home in Geneva

Geneva has always, and I imagine, will always, feel like home. I feel at home in Washington DC, I also feel at home in Louisiana, yet somehow when I land in Geneva I feel like I am in my “first home.” The “special feeling in my stomach when I land” kind of first home. 

For as long as I have been coming home from the US, I have stayed with family. First with my parents (during and early after college), sometimes with my grandma’s, and more recently with my sister Rachel (and her husband and daughter).  

Earlier this year, because of quarantine requirements, I had for the first time to “find a home in my first home.” As my husband and I decided that a ten-day quarantine would be too painful in a hotel, I looked for an AirBnB in my hometown, which seemed oh so very odd. 

The apartment I found looked “corporate” (without anyone’s personal stuff everywhere). The furnishings seemed modern and high end (my favorite). There was a small courtyard (outdoor space seemed essential for sanity during quarantine). The location was the heart of Old Town (where I would dream of living should I ever live in Geneva). Sold! I booked it for our two weeks here in July. And as always, things were meant to be. 

Little did I know the amazing community we would be introduced to. The Hamlet is a family-owned business, which ten years ago was a single apartment in an old townhouse that belonged to Tara and Christoph. The couple decided to renovate the rest of this 18th-century townhouse and create a collection of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments. The result is 16 unique homes – The Hamlet.  

When you stay in one of The Hamlet apartments, you also have access to a communal space known as The Square, which is comprised of a Library, a Gallery, and an Epicerie. Pretty much all of life’s necessities can be found here – emergency food and drink (think Nespresso coffee, Toblerone, local pasta and sauce); a quiet space to work or conduct meetings (you can even reserve private meeting rooms); and a yoga studio. 

I love the attention to detail and amenities (Kartell-Laufen bathrooms, Aesop bath and body products, strong Wifi that can support simultaneous Zoom calls, twice weekly cleaning service). I love the team, in particular Clarence who makes any special request happen, including an outdoor heater during this winter stay. I love how Tara and Christoph support other local Swiss brands, including most recently QWSTION, a Swiss brand of bags sustainably made from plants. (Spoiler alert: beautiful partnership with Forever Institut coming soon!). 

We discovered this place over the Summer. We are back staying in “our” apartment (Courtyard One) over the Christmas holiday. And I think it is safe to say we will continue to stay here anytime we come back to Geneva beyond any quarantine mandates. Indeed, this has become “our home.” 

(PS – This is not a sponsored blog post – I just love this place that much.) 

Taking stock of 2020, thinking ahead to 2021

The last two weeks of December are a time to take stock of the year that is ending, and to look forward to a new year that is about to begin. I usually make a list of highlights and lowlights for the former, and a list of goals and resolutions for the latter. Sometimes I even partake in goal-setting retreats

This year, I have lacked inspiration. 2020 is consumed with COVID-19, nothing else seems to matter. And planning for 2021 seems pointless as who knows what the world will look like in 2021… 

In a moment of weakness, I asked my husband if we could just skip this favorite tradition of mine of making these lists and sharing them with each other between 12/31 and 1/1. He looked at me in surprise, and said “absolutely not.”

So I had to find tools to help me through my “blahs” and inspire and motivate me to think about 2020 constructively, and plan for 2021 productively. 

Here is what I came up with. 

To take stock of 2020

From Atomic Habits by James Clear, which I loved, I am using these three questions as a guide (and not allowing myself to put down “COVID-19” as the single word answer to that second question): 

  • What went well this year? 
  • What didn’t go so well this year? 
  • What did I learn? 

From Living the Sutras by Kelly DiNardo, I am doing this exercise:  

  • List my big priorities
  • Which do I have to do? Choose to do? Want to do? 
  • For which of these would I like to adjust the intensity of my efforts? (increase or decrease)? 

And to start planning for 2021: 

From John DiJulius, I am using the grid pictured above to start planning for the future. 

This will help me plan for 2021 and maybe even think big towards 2031. This is how he explains the three columns (direct quotes): 

“Column A: Do Now Sell Now – may seem obvious. However, when thoroughly examining all your current inventory of products and services, you can really get creative. For instance, when you package or bundle high margin offerings with low margin, increasing the overcall value and attractiveness to the customer, you can increase sales. 

Column B: STOP DOING – is critical to your survival and usually a blessing most businesses wished they would have done much sooner. You can’t chase every opportunity and need to say “No” to everything that is out of your sweet spot (easy to do + profitable). Easy to do means it has been (or can be) systemized and it requires very little tweaking—a rinse and repeat model. This may mean eliminating products and services that aren’t easy to do and profitable. This may mean losing, some call it firing, a percentage of your customers who aren’t easy to work with, high maintenance, and are not profitable. 

As Seth Godin said during his presentation at this years’ Customer Service Revolution, “Firing an unprofitable group of customers (with kindness and care) allows you to focus on your most profitable customers. You need to focus on customers with high lifetime value.” You can’t scale your operations or in some cases survive during these times by being all things to all people.

Column C: Do Now Sell Later – is where the magic happens. It is where the excitement starts, by figuring out how to totally disrupt yourself and the rest of your industry. What should you be developing now that will allow you to grow 10x faster, revolutionize your business model, and leave everyone else in your industry behind?”

With all this help, with all these tools, I have no excuse to forego this favorite tradition of mine…

My 2020 Gift Guides

This year, I was done with my holiday shopping on December 2nd, out of fear of shipping delays and out of stocks. I bought one gift in a physical store (at Rag & Bone in Georgetown), and all others online, with the help of a few really smart gift guides. 

In case you still need some inspiration, here they are (and fingers crossed not everything is out of stock and expedited shipping gets to you in time). 

I am not a huge fan of GOOP, but I have to admit their gift guides this year were amazing.

I loved how they were organized by categories and price. Not only did I find a number of gifts, I also discovered a couple of brands I will continue to shop from, including Dear Annabelle (super cute notecards) and Sferra (amazing Italian linens). 

I read The Strategist most mornings, and their gift guides for kids 1-10 was a life savior. I love how it is organized by age.

For the really hard people on my list, those who have everything they need or want and buy things themselves when they find something they need or want, this Bloomberg guide was the answer. Lots of kitchen things (aren’t we all cooking more than ever) and lots of “spa at home” things. And of course, because it’s Bloomberg, some crazy beautiful and expensive jewelry that did make me question if I was looking at the appropriate gift guide… 

If you are looking to gift beauty, the Forbes “Best Vegan, Cruelty-Free Beauty Picks” gift guide is a wonderful resource. And I am not just saying that because they chose to include my Alchimie Forever Kantic Brightening moisture mask in their assortment.   

And finally, I may or may not have bought myself a holiday gift from Ralph Lauren’s Gifts under $150 guide. Just looking at their selection puts me in the holiday mood. 

Happy shopping, and happy holidays! 

PS – these are all true, unpaid endorsements in case you are wondering – no affiliate program or commissions or ads here!

Gratitudes for 2020

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2020, I am grateful. 

I am grateful for my husband, my family, my team members, my friends. I am grateful for my health, for the roof over my head, for the food on my plate. I am grateful to still have a brand to nurture, to still have a job. 

I am also grateful for some very “2020 specific” people and things, which have made this “unprecedented” (may I never hear this word again) year not only a teaching year, but an interesting, and sometimes yes, even enjoyable, year. Here is my “special 2020 gratitude list.” 

  1. Thank you Black Lives Matter activists. For teaching me about systematic racism, white privilege, white supremacy, and what I can do differently. 
  2. Thank you Garrett Graff. For the books you have written (The Only Plane in the Sky remains my top book of 2020), but even more for the various articles you have written on the state of our country in 2020 which have helped me understand. Two stand out: this one from March in The Atlantic and the one from earlier this month in Wired Magazine that helped me better understand my adopted country.
  3. Thank you to my friends who have different political opinions than mine. While I do not agree with you, you expand my thinking and contribute to my understanding of what is important to people. 
  4. Thank you Hitha Palepu. I am grateful for your content, ranging from 5 Smart Reads to your book recommendations. I am grateful for the playlists you share. I am grateful that you love my skin care brand. 
  5. Thank you Victoria Hislop. I have consumed your books anytime I have needed to go back to Greece in my head (which has been quite often lately…). 
  6. Thank you The Weeknd. You are my 2020 soundtrack. Thanks to you, I got out of bed when I didn’t want to, I ran faster when I wanted to quit, and I danced when I needed to. 
  7. Thank you to my three passports. I have sometimes taken you for granted, even forgotten I had you. But not this year. Not this year. 
  8. Thank you Universe. You sent me two adorable sister kittens in mid-April. They have been my favorite pandemic-coping strategy. You knew what I needed even before I did.