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…

Mid-year goals evaluation

I cannot believe that we are almost in July… and that half of the year is gone. On a six hour drive yesterday I mentally revisited my 2011 goals, both personal and professional, and realized there is much to do still. I thought by putting in writing what I have accomplished this year so far, and what I have yet to accomplish, by sharing this with you and with the Universe, I would hold myself more accountable and move forward with more purpose. Feel free to periodically ask me how I am doing on any of these goals… knowing you might be a great motivator!

Ada goals:

– Drink more water: done! I now carry around a water bottle everywhere I go.

– Read more: in process. Current book: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

– Learn to be a good wife: hmm… not sure about this one. Need to ask my husband.

– Build my art collection: in process.

– Develop a better morning routine: not done. I still read emails on my phone before even opening both eyes up. Need to stop doing that and start my day in a different way. Thoughts?

– Unsubscribe from emails I don’t read: in process. Hopefully you are reading this one and won’t unsubscribe…

– Do more yoga: definitely need to work on this.

Alchimie goals:

– Consolidate our partnership with Universal Companies: in process (the six hour drive yesterday was Abingdon – Washington DC).

– Grow sales: in process; in my mind, sales are never high enough and never grow fast enough

– Reformulate our products without parabens: in process

– Improve our sampling program: done! As of next week, we will have beautiful paquette samples of five of our best-selling products! So excited…

– Continue to generate national, international, trade and online press mentions: in process. Would you like to write about us? Email me!

– Relaunch our website: done! Have a look…

– Do more with social media: in process. Are you a fan on Facebook? Do you follow us on Twitter? Have you seen our various YouTube videos?

– Improve our sustainability practices: in process. We are reducing, reusing, and recycling. Our new brochure is printed on paper from managed forests, with vegetable dyes. Our new samples are aluminum, not plastic. We are working with the Arbor Day Foundation and Casey Trees to plant trees throughout our community. And we are having fun doing it!

– Find someone to join our Board of Directors: in process. Interested? Please email me to apply!

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.

Affirmations and accountability

If you ask people who know me to list 5 adjectives that describe me, more likely than not they all would say, among other things, reliable, accountable, and hard working. I think that comes with birth order, I am a pretty typical eldest child. Yet, one can always be more reliable, more accountable, more hard working. One can also always have a bigger vision, and work more effectively to make that vision a realits. In the last two weeks, I put in place two new systems in my life: affirmations and an accountability partner.

My husband thinks I have taken things to a whole new level of crazy, but I am enjoying it. For both of these new initiatives, I have to thank my girlfriend Anne, who is an inspiration and role model, and who taught me about these two systems.

First – affirmations. My Mom used to tell me when I was grumpy: “Force a smile, if you force it long enough it will become reality.” I think affirmations somehow follow the same concept  – say it out loud and it will become true. Affirmations are statements that either represent a current reality that needs reinforcement, or a future aspiration. Saying these affirmations out loud every morning somehow makes the statements truer, the goals more attainable, and generally shifts the energy in the Universe so that I behave more easily according to these statements. I have 18 affirmations. I wrote them down on small white notecards a week ago today, and I say them out loud (not too loud, I am still shy about them) every morning. They range from business, to family, to personal, and encompass goals (for example, “Alchimie is on the Inc 500 List”) as well as behaviors I want to live every day (for example “I am grateful for what I have.”).

Second – an accountability partner. We all have goals. My friend Heidi has 137 goals, broken down in annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly milestones. I am not quite there yet, but working towards it. Goals are great. Goals are even if you make sure that every week you work to achieve these goals. Sometimes, life takes over, better and sometimes on a Sunday evening I find myself wondering what I accomplished all week that really mattered to me, to my family, or to the business – what have I done to reach closer to my goals? Now, I have Kassie, my accountability partner.  We have a weekly call every Friday morning, and a Google Goals Excel sheet that needs to be updated regularly. Every Friday, we discuss our past week’s goals, go down our lists, and have to explain to each other why certain things didn’t get accomplished. And every week, we discuss our goals for next week, and how we are going to accomplish them. Now, as accountable as I am to myself, it’s a whole lot harder to make excuses to another person… not wanting to have to explain to Kassie why I didn’t do something means that amazingly, this system has enabled me to accomplish a couple projects that have weighed on me for a long time.

Crazy? Maybe. Useful? Definitely. Fun? Of course. I encourage you to try both systems, and be amazed at the difference they make. Thank you Anne.

 

Happy Mardi Gras!

It is 9:40 am and I just drove two hours from NYC to Delaware for a sales meeting with a fabulous beauty boutique. I love my work, and I love Alchimie for more than I can ever say – but today, I wish I was in New Orleans. Case in point, while at Cosi sipping on a large coffee (my third of the day), I just got a call from my husband who is walking around the French Quarter in a blond mullet wig sipping on a bloody mary. What? Well, of course, it’s Mardi Gras. Over the last three years, I have learned to love Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras season, Mardi Gras week-end (which I am still recuperating from), and Mardi Gras Day. In my heart and soul, I am in New Orleans today.

Driving south on the New Jersey turnpike, listening to whatever local radio station was on, I learned a few factoids about Mardi Gras (hopefully up here in the “North” they know what they are talking about when discussing Mardi Gras truths versus fiction). I already knew that the two words are French for “Fat Tuesday.” I also already knew that Mardi Gras represents the last day of Carnival season, the last day for fat foods and alcohol before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent (I am giving up diet coke for Lent this year). I also already knew that the three Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold (notice how purple and green are also Alchimie Forever corporate colors?). I did not know however that it was the krewe of Rex that made these three colors the official Mardi Gras colors. I did not know that the word krewe was first used by the Comus organization in 1857 (apparently this group of six New Orleaneans saved Mardi Gras, which was considered dangerous). I most surprising to me, I learned that Mardi Gras started in Mobile, Alabama.

Last night, the Mayor of New Orleans turned over the keys of the city to King Zulu, who is in charge until midnight tonight. New Orleans, are you ready? To all New Orleaneans out there, born or adopted, happy Mardi Gras. Happy costuming. Happy parade watching. Happy King Cake (we have some in the Alchimie Forever showroom today, so stop by for a bite). And of course, happy drinking. Brandy milk punch for me please!

 

 

Working on my art collection

One of my New Year’s goals for 2011 is to work on my art collection. I can’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with art – maybe it was when my parents took my sisters and I to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was 6. Maybe it was when my parents opened our very own Analix Forever gallery in 1991 (amazing that the gallery is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year!). Maybe it was when I took my first history of art class sophomore year at Harvard.

Regardless of when my passion for contemporary art started, art has been an integral part of my life for many years. I realized last fall that I had not paid this passion of mine any significant attention lately, however. I realized that I missed it. Hence my New Year’s goal. So, working on my art collection – what does that mean? It means paying more attention to the pieces I currently have (I have been re-framing and hanging pieces for the last two weeks). It also means paying more attention to the art world in general (I have gone to a Phillips Collection event and have subscribed to ArtForum in the last month). It means aligning my personal interest in art with my business’s corporate responsibility (Alchimie Forever now supports various art institutions including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and more). And, of course it means acquiring a couple new pieces. The timing is perfect, as there are two exciting artistic events coming up in the next two weeks. First, my mother Barbara is organizing on Thursday March 3rd an auction of drawings by various Analix Forever artists. I have already emailed the auction master a list of pieces I want, along with my highest possible bid price. Take a look, and place your bids – everyone needs a little more art, and part of the proceeds are going to a good cause, namely the Fondation Prim’Enfance, whose mission is to help eradicate diseases that affect infants and young children. Then, on March 12th, the Washington Projects for the Arts is holding its annual fundraiser and auction gala. Last year was the first time I attended, and I went home with a gorgeous piece by Maryland artist Clarke Bedford. This year, who knows what I will go home with…  Sometimes, it really is fun to turn New Year’s goals into realities!