Summer 2020 Reading List

I can’t say It really feels like a “normal” Summer, yet we are officially in Summer! Every year, I craft my Summer reading list thinking about reading these books at my favorite beach on my favorite Greek island. I would typically be there right now… but then again, this year is a little bit different than most. Nonetheless, I am excited to read these books before Fall is upon us. 

I have writer friends, including the witty, funny, and glamorous Karin Tanabe. I finished her latest book, A Hundred Suns, this past weekend as the Summer Solstice was upon us. I could not put it down. 

Possibly the opposite of a “summer read,” yet I don’t think I need to explain why this is on my reading list.  White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo.

 And because it’s all about balance, at the other end of the spectrum, a summer crime series read: The Guest List by Lucy Foley.

The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and A Few Good Women  by Barbara Hackman. Because my friend Marc Ross said I should read this, and Marc Ross is very smart. 

Another Summer read, on the theme of female friendships, that I can’t wait to dig in to, is Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, which comes highly recommended by two of my Book Club girlfriends. 

And The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille, which I have been carrying around with me since I last traveled in March. In true escalation of commitment, I will not stop carrying it around until I read it cover to cover! 

What are you reading this Summer? 

Georgetown Gems

As I drove back from Louisiana to Washington DC almost two weeks ago, I “went backwards” in terms of COVID-19. By the time I left Hammond, restaurants and stores were open, and life felt  like “back to normal” (which may or may not be a good thing long-term of course…). I arrived in DC to Phase 1, no indoor restaurant seating, and no non-essential retail. 

I not only returned to a city in Phase 1, I returned to a boarded up M Street. Still, it feels wonderful to be back to DC, to be back to Georgetown specifically. As boards are coming down, as we inch towards Phase 2 (Monday June 22, fingers crossed), I am reminded of my love for this neighborhood, and for the brands and businesses that make Georgetown what it is.  

Shop Made in DC 

This retail initiative was created to highlight the creative minds of the greater Washington DC area. Founded by Stacey Price of People Make Place and Michael Babin of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Shop Made DC has three locations dedicated to growing DC’s maker economy. It is very possible all of my holiday gifts this year will come from this store.

SCOUT 

Founded by Deb and Ben Johns (I love any family business!), SCOUT is first and foremost a brand of bags – beach bags, backpacks, grocery bags, everyday bags – now also offering face masks. Deb creates unique patterns every season, available at wholesalers nationwide. And, one of my girlfriends from business school works there! 

Stachowski’s 

My go to for Paris ham, steak, burger meat, and lamb lollies. And veggies from nearby farmer’s markets, good mustard and cornichons and once in a while cherry pie. Living a block away is both delicious and dangerous. 

Georgetown Butcher 

This opened March 9, 2020… and is reopening imminently. I have not yet been, but can’t wait to discover this European-style butcher shop / grocery, the brainchild of Wendell Allsbrook who has been a butcher for more than 15 years, most recently at The Organic Butcher of McLean. I love Stachowski’s and I can’t wait to discover this new gem. 

Tuckernuck 

Created by three friends, Jocelyn, Maddy, and September, in 2012, Tuckernuk offers classic and somewhat preppy apparel, home goods, and gifts. Wondering about the name? It is the name of a small island off the coast of Nantucket, where the three friends spent summers growing up. 

 

And of course… Peacock Café

Another family-owned business (Shahab runs the restaurant, his brother Maziar is the Chef), this restaurant never closed, served meals to healthcare workers throughout the pandemic, and is where I enjoyed my first meal (patio seating) back in DC. It is still my favorite, for lunch, brunch, dinner, cocktails. It feels like family.

My Mom, Superwoman

I always knew my Mom was Superwoman – Superwoman of the mind. When I get stuck with my thinking, she has answers. When I get stuck with my writing, she has solutions. When I get stuck with my emotions, she has advice.

I never knew until this week that she is, simply, Superwoman. Not “just” Superwoman of the mind. She had COVID-19, and she beat it. Alone. Without doctors (except for herself, she is an MD after all). Without hospitals. Without “bothering” anyone about her condition.

When I realized that the novel corona virus became a threat, I worried for many of my family and friends – but most of all for my Mom. She splits her time between Paris and Geneva and travels a lot. She is in the high risk COVID-19 group, due to her age and her delicate lungs and asthma. She is a free spirit and I doubted her willingness to abide by the confinement rules. I worried that she would contract this virus (and I was right) and that it would beat her (and oh was I wrong) and that I would not get back to Switzerland in time.

Over the last two and a half months, she experienced many symptoms of this virus, one after the other. Terrible cough. Exhaustion. “COVID toes.” She followed the confinement and mask-wearing rules to the letter. She told my three sisters and me that she was doing this for us, so that we did not have to worry about her getting sick on top of all of our other COVID-19-related worries.

On Monday this week, she received the results of her anti-body test. Very, very, very positive. Of course, Barbara Polla has never failed an exam or test in her life… why should I be so surprised that she would pass this one with an A+?!

Thank you Mom for being Superwoman. In all ways, and always.

COVID-19 Coping Strategy: Baby Animals

Over the last two weeks, my family of 3 (myself, Edwin, and Chloe the cat) has grown significantly. By 6, actually. Since driving from cosmopolitan Washington, DC to lovely Hammond, Louisiana for a change of scenery during quarantine (a luxury in itself!), I have adopted four chicks and two kittens – and I must admit this has been my best quarantine coping strategy yet. 

These baby animals have reminded me to: 

Find magic in every day. One day the chicks don’t have feathers, the next they do. One day the kittens don’t know how to lap milk from a plate, the next they do. Every day brings a new development, a small miracle. 

Put my phone down and focus. Petting the kittens while scrolling through my Instagram feed leads to paws swatting my (apparently very offensive) screen. No multitasking allowed!  

Prioritize the needs of someone else ahead of mine. I like to think I often put my husband’s needs ahead of mine – but he really isn’t needy, so that doesn’t count. Defenseless baby animals however depend on others to feed them, shelter them, play with them, cuddle them, clean up after them. It feels so good to be needed. It feels so good to feel useful. 

Connect with Earth. There is something incredibly peaceful and soothing that comes from connecting with life, with Earth. Always, but in particular in these times during which live human connection is limited. 

 

What we are doing right now, right here, to help

Two weeks ago, my youngest sister Roxane, a Medical Doctor at the hospital in Sion, Switzerland, asked a very pointed question on our Polla sisters Skype: “What can our beauty businesses do to help during this time of crisis?” I did not have an answer, but I did hear her question. A few days later, I saw on LinkedIn that Mathilde Thomas of Caudalie donated products to numerous hospitals in France. And I thought, well, we also have products that help with chapped hands and irritated faces… 

So I began my week with a donation of products to Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, the hospital that is affiliated with the business school I went to and that is less than one mile from my office. Similarly, in Switzerland, we donated products to my sister Roxane’s hospital (in Sion), the one affiliated most closely with my heart since she works there every day. 

In speaking of this with my sisters and my team, I was amazed to hear about their own initiatives to help and contribute to their communities. Here is what they are doing: 

Angie (NYC): “I gave a donation to New York’s Food Bank last month. This month, I am donating to José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. I like that some restaurants are feeding healthcare workers and that also helps support the restaurant during these times.”

Emma (Arlington, VA): “I am buying books (used and new) from eBay US sellers instead of Amazon. It makes me feel better that I deal directly with real people and contribute something to them instead from big companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sellers that I’ve dealt with so far shipped everything from their house which is listed on the shipping label of the packages that I received.”

Jenna (Reston, VA): “I baked assortments of cookies and sent them to friends and clients to cheer them up. Also, I live across the street from a trauma hospital so every night at 7 pm people in my building and surrounding buildings go outside on their balconies to cheer for the hospital workers at shift change. A small gesture, but it makes everyone (including myself) feel good.”  

Kelli (Charleston, WV): “I have compiled lists of local restaurants offering delivery or carry out and local businesses doing online sales or online classes that I share regularly on social media.”  

Mandi (Washington DC: “I have been ordering food from all of my favorite local restaurants and taking classes from my favorite yoga instructors (some donation-based and some free) and posting pictures to my social media to help build their client base.”  

Rachel (Geneva, Switzerland): “I have been buying groceries for a few older women who are high risk and should not leave their homes, both among my neighborhood and among my Forever Institut teammates.” 

Roxane (Sion, Switzerland): “I have been extra ‘gifty’ to my friends who have had birthdays in the last few weeks, since they can’t celebrate as they usually would. I have been having cupcakes delivered to them (from a brand called Melazic, a business owned by two sisters) as well as personalized cookies with positive messages from the brand Bobiskuit, also a woman-owned brand.” 

There is no right or wrong way to help or contribute. There is no act of kindness too small or too insignificant to matter. And it makes me so proud to be a part of a family, a team that instinctively takes care of their communities, of their world, of our world. 

 

A Well-Timed Virtual Book Club

Last night was book club, and the most fun night I have had in weeks. Book club is always a highlight of my month, the last one was “Before”, on March 5th. Last night’s book club was virtual, since we are “During,” and it was a smart, stimulating, emotional evening spent discussing The Only Plane in the Sky, written by Garrett Graff (an amazing thinker, historian, and friend) who was with us virtually. 

For those of you who have not read it, The Only Plane in the Sky is a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, oral history of 9/11. We picked this book to read, and this date to meet in early 2020, and I must admit the timing seems uncanny. Reading about 9/11 during the COVID-19 global pandemic was both maddening and reassuring. 

This is the time to read this book. Perhaps even the time to share its stories with children who did not live through the events of 9/11 and are of age to understand them. If you prefer to listen rather than to read, the book on tape version won the 2020 Audiobook of the Year Audie Award. 

The most insightful moment of our evening was when Graff spoke about Will Jimeno. William J, “Will” Jimeno was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer. He was trapped under the World Trade Center for over 12 hours and survived. Today, he spends time coaching and inspiring people include veterans and addicts, helping them work through their hardships. Graff reminded us that in effect, we all go through moments of “I feel like I am buried under the WTC” – whether due to the loss of a job, a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a global pandemic, and everything in between. 

While today, none of us are actually buried under the WTC, we may very well feel like we are. There is no hierarchy in pain, fear, loss, grief; these feelings cannot be compared or quantified, mine are neither graver nor lighter than yours – they are simply mine. We are each entitled to our own feelings, and should not add the guilt of “I shouldn’t be feeling bad right now because I have a roof on top of my head and food on the table” to the list of negative emotions swirling around in our head and hearts. 

Rather, as Graff reminded us, we should focus on the fact that what defines us is not external events, but how we respond to them. This was my reminder to be resilient, graceful, kind (including with myself), patient (including with myself), and hopeful. 

PS – for those of you not ready to start this book, but interested in reading about Graff’s perspective on what is happening right now, this article is a must-read.