Lockdown Numbers

I love numbers. And putting these numbers down on paper was an interesting exercise… 

Number of days sheltering in place (technically in two places): 83

Number of days without airplane travel: 88

Number of scheduled trips cancelled: 14

Number of road trips back and forth between Louisiana and DC: 3 

Number of days since last Alchimie client visit: 87

Number of Zoom meetings: too many to count 

Number of virtual book clubs: 2 

Number of books read: 5 

Number of email newsletters unsubscribed from: 19 

Number of kittens adopted: 2

Number of pounds gained: 0 

Number of Botox appointments: 0 

Number of consecutive days and nights with my husband: 88

*Inspired by my very smart friend Marc Ross!

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. 

 

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. 

Remote Inspiration

This week (quarantine week 3) has been particularly challenging because the current reality has lost its novelty and is starting to sink in. I finally realized on Monday that life is going to be this way for another 4-6 weeks (hopefully not much longer, please). 

I wrote last week about my new sanity rituals, which while I am (mostly) following, are not helping (much). I do not feel inspired. I do not feel productive. I do not feel creative. When this happens during “normal life,” I go out in the field and visit Alchimie Forever customers. Nothing re-engages me in my brand, in my work, than being out in the field, listening to our brand ambassadors, learning from them, feeling their enthusiasm rub off on me. 

In “current life,” however, that is not possible. So instead, I turned to customers, business leaders, brand owners, for some remote inspiration. Here are four things that have helped me re-engage. 

 A remote training session with Heyday. This was almost as great as being in the field, visiting with the Heyday therapists IRL. Their questions, their feedback, their enthusiasm was contagious even “just” on the screen. And this gave me an opportunity to wear lipstick (first time in two weeks…), which felt wonderful. 

The COVID-19 speech by Marriott International President & CEO Arne Sorenson. I am a Marriott girl through and through, and will forever be after this speech, possibly the best crisis communication I have heard. Honest, realistic, hopeful, compassionate, emotional. 

The wise and honest words of Jennifer Yen, Founder & CEO of Purlisse, as quoted in Glossy today (article written by Emma Sandler). 

“As a brand founder who experienced the 2008 financial crisis and recession, the experience taught [me] lessons which [I have] applied for the past 12 years, including the importance of keeping a lean team, focusing on profitability versus growth, and reinvesting profit into hiring and product development. … Scrappy is the new sexy. It’s hard to see when the party’s over when times are still good, but I’ve been preparing for another moment like 2008 because it was so traumatizing.” 

The community efforts by Mathilde Thomas, Founder of Caudalie. Her brand sent hundreds of products to hospitals throughout France to help with chapped, irritated skin. In her LinkedIn post about this, she encouraged everyone: FAITES CE QUE VOUS POUVEZ POUR AIDER (Do what you can to help). Her example inspired me to reach out to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to offer to donate some Dry skin balm, some Kantic Brightening moisture mask, and some Kantic+ Intensely nourishing cream. Because that is what I can do right now, right here, to help. 

How do you stay inspired and engaged in your work, in your brand, during these strange times? 

 

Road Trip!

To say these are unprecedented times is an understatement. In the past week, two of my family’s businesses have been forced to close (for 45 days) per Swiss government regulations (Forever Institut and Forever Boutique). Many of the amazing spas and boutiques that carry Alchimie here in the US have chosen to close for two or more weeks. I have had entire days open up in my calendar as trips and meetings and events have been cancelled. And, I listened to my father’s request to not fly from New Orleans this week (I succumbed to the “I don’t ask you for much, but I am really asking you to do this for me” argument). Instead, I drove.

Or I should say we drove. My husband Edwin, my cat Chloe, and I took a road trip this week. We left Hammond LA on Tuesday at 6 pm and drove five hours to Birmingham AL. From there, yesterday, we drove 11 hours to “home,” in Georgetown, Washington DC.

While I am still processing everything that is happening, still adapting business practices, still getting used to what (at least for now) is the “new normal,” and still wondering every morning as to what the news will bring, these hours in the car brought me some clarity.

  1. My husband thinks road trip = fast food. We stopped at Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Shake Shack (I did not partake). Also, drive-thrus are weird.
  2. Driving through 6 states, through cities and through the countryside made me realize how our country has an incredibly varied understanding of the current situation. Everyone is interpreting this reality differently – from signs on the highway encouraging drivers to “don’t travel, stop the COVID-19 spread,” to “it’s life as usual”, I saw it all. Including a gas station in VA where I was told by the proprietor I could not use the restroom because “this is my shop and now this is my bathroom, because you know, corona virus.”
  3. While we had plans to listen to a couple podcasts and finish The Only Plane in the Sky (by Garrett Graff) as a book on tape, we did no such thing. Instead, we took turns calling people. We were driving, so no emails or texts were possible. Now more than ever, talking to people is essential. We need to feel connected to each other, we need to feel like we are in this together. I am so grateful for the phone.
  4. Cats can get used to anything (except big trucks driving by and loud engine noises). Chloe spent most of the drive sleeping on the lap of the driver (which she prefers than the lap of the passenger regardless who is driving). With her being so chill and not complaining about a thing, the least I could do was act the same.
  5. Being with someone you love during such uncertain times makes everything bearable, even makes everything feel like an adventure. My heart goes out to those going through this time alone.
  6. Everyone is uncertain about everything, is questioning everything. The only things we can control are the things we can control: for example, adapting business practices to this new reality; changing our personal habits as need be; improvising and going with the flow (my dinner party tomorrow night is now happening via Go To Meeting); our reactions to news and events; how kind we are.

This morning, I woke up grateful to be in my own bed. And reminded myself, “control the things you can control.”

Be well, stay healthy, stay sane.