It Takes 4 of Us to Make Me Feel Whole

When I turned 40 last October, I asked my sisters for a gift – that they all come to visit me in Louisiana for Memorial Day weekend. And Memorial Day weekend is upon us. I can’t quite describe the feeling of having them all here with me, and I know the weekend is just beginning, but last night’s dinner was perfection. I tried to say thank you… with the following words.

First, thank you to you, Edwin. This weekend would not have been possible without you. You know what I want and don’t want. You knew having my sisters in Louisiana was the best gift ever, and you made it happen. You even bought a new boat and renovated your Hammond kitchen to prepare for “their”’arrival. Thank you. Thank you for loving me so well.

Second, to Bernard. You are the one “plus one” here this weekend, and for this I am forever grateful. Thank you for coming to be moral support for Edwin during the Polla sisters weekend takeover. I am so grateful for you and for how you love Rachel.

Thank you, Stern for being with us, for representing the extended Neill family tonight. Thank you for making the special trip from California just to meet my sisters (J).

To Roxane. You were the first of my sisters to fall in love with Louisiana, a number of years ago. You fell in love with New Orleans. With the boat and the river and the alligators. With Debra’s house which you still think is the most beautiful house you have seen in the world. Thank you for understanding why I love it here. Thank you for coming back. Please tell Guillaume he is missed, but here in spirit.

To Rachel. You host me, us, in Geneva every single time we come. You never say no when I send you my travel dates. You make sure there is champagne and gruyere in the fridge. You always make me feel like I am home. Your hospitality is the kindest and most generous there is. This weekend is a small attempt to say thank you.

To Cyrille. You came back to the US of A. I must admit I stopped believing it would happen. Last time you came to this country it was for also for me. It was to help the Alchimie booth at ISPA 2005 at the Dallas Gaylord (our first ever booth). You hated it. Hated the AC (oops sorry), hated not being able to smoke anywhere, hated working the booth and speaking to people, you hated everything. That was the trade show Edwin and I met at. Thank you for coming for me then. Thank you for agreeing to come back for me now.

Thank you for coming here together so we can show The Polla Sisters to The Neill Brothers. They have no idea what is coming…

Je vous aime. Mes sœurs. Merci.

Getting stuck in an elevator…

The highlight of my 2018 Mardi Gras weekend was not the parades, not the costumes, not the beads. Rather, it was getting stuck in the elevator at Palace Café after the annual “Friday before Mardi Gras” luncheon I am fortunate enough to be invited to.

We (our host, my BFF Angie, and a dozen others) had an amazing time in the Wine Room, eating, drinking, laughing, chatting. We were only on the third floor, but somehow taking the elevator seemed to be the right way to leave. So, a number of us did just that – with our lovely waiter. (The rest of us, the smart ones, walked down the two flights of stairs). The elevator begins to descend, and then suddenly stops.

At first, we all giggle. Then we try to pry the doors open (amid much debate as to if this was a good idea or not). Then a few of us just sit down and more or less calmly drink our drinks (feeling very grateful for open container laws). Finally, about 26 minutes later (which seemed like a few hours), we are rescued by firemen who look every bit like what I always thought firemen looked like.

We collectively decide to name our group The Krewe of Otis.

In all seriousness, these 26 minutes helped me remember a few key truths.

  1. In praise of patience. I am not patient. But getting frustrated and angry about a situation completely out of my control would not have made the firemen come to the rescue any faster.
  2. Kindness always. We each took turns calming each other down, calmly and gently, when one was about to lose it (I am not the only one quite uncomfortable in small spaces apparently).
  3. Trust the process. Someone will realize the elevator is stuck. Someone will try to help. If that fails, someone will call the proper authorities. They will then come fix this. Everything will be just fine.
  4. Laughter is the best medicine. At some point after realization and worry, we just started laughing again. After all, nothing diffuses tension and stress like a good giggle.
  5. Good friends make everything better. How glad am I that I got stuck there with good friends…

Happy Ash Wednesday!

IMG_7737
At the start of our Lunch
Catahoula Hotel, New Orleans

If you have 36 hours in New Orleans… Part Deux

I am fortunate to spend about third of my time in New Orleans, LA, also known as The Big Easy. Three years ago, I shared my favorite places to eat, sightsee, and shop, if you had 36 hours in New Orleans.

Two weekends ago, I experienced my first staycation – in said New Orleans. Which gave me a completely new perspective on this amazing city that is New Orleans, specifically on the emerging neighborhood known as the CBD / South Market District. So here are my recommendations if you have 36 hours in New Orleans – part deux.

Where to stay
At the Catahoula hotel. Granted, I was biased before checking in because my amazing sister-in-law Amy works there. She is the Director of Sales and Guest Experience, and in charge of the hotel’s social media – and does such a great job that the Catahoula was just named as one of the world’s top 9 “most instgrammable hotels” by Vogue.

Where to drink
At the Catahoula hotel – Sally (pictured above) makes amazing cocktails, as delicious as her smile! And the roof-top terrace transports you to another world, filled with Tiki culture and cocktails, and live music.

At The Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel. The scene is completely different from that of the Catahoula. This feels like the beautiful people of NYC, a scene filled with fancy people wearing stiletto heels and logo-d belts.

Where to eat
At Willa Jean, the latest John Besh creation. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this place might be best known for its “F’rose” (frozen rose), but it really should be on your radar for the breakfast cocktails (only in New Orleans do coffee-inspired vodka cocktails sound perfect for breakfast). Or the biscuits (they are square instead of round, and taste like amazingness). Or the Intelligentsia coffee. Or the service (which was impeccable at 7:30 am on a Saturday).

At Company Burger. BYOLT. Bring your own lettuce and tomato. As in these burgers don’t have any. They taste like the best McDonald’s burger, but even better. The double patty might be the secret. Or maybe the secret is the “secret sauce.”

At SeaWorthy. An oyster bar that now rivals Black Salt (in DC) as my favorite oyster bar. Complete with oyster (that comes with cornbread blinis) and champagne. In the most amazing décor, an old townhouse that has been renovate just enough, but not too much.

At Domenica. Yes, another John Besh concept. Named after Sunday (la domenica in Italian), the best day of the week. The pizza is to die for (try the Prosciutto), as is the roasted cauliflower (trust me).

Where to shop
At Hattie Sparks. I couldn’t help but walk in this boutique when I peaked through the window and saw a purple dress. I have been needing a purple dress (more to come on this later this week). As the card says, this store is filled with “cool stuff for you and your home.” The brainchild of Hattie Collins Moll and Kelly Lore Merry, this boutique’s style and its wares are both minimalist and whimsical. Perfect to shop for hostess gifts, girlfriend gifts, and “just for me” gifts. And to find that purple dress you have been wanting.

At Transportation Revolution. But just to window shop. Because the Triumph bikes look really, really good.

What else to do?
Go to a Saints game at the Superdome. Even when they lose, the energy is amazing and the crowd is fun.

Erin Romney

Erin Romney: Owner of ROMNEY

If you know me, you know how important my girlfriends are to me. I cherish each and every one of them, and they are a big reasons I live in DC – most happen to live there. If you know me, you also know I spend a lot of my time in New Orleans. My love story with New Orleans started in 2008, and continues strong. There is something about the spirit of the people there that I have yet to find elsewhere. And little by little, I am discovering amazing women there, some who have become girlfriends, and some whom I hope to one day have the privilege of calling that.

Erin Romney falls in the latter group. The friend of a friend, I reached out to her because of her very New Orleans story – and cannot wait to meet her, and get to know her in person.

Read on… and go visit her studio!

AP: Tell me a little bit about yourself. ER: I am the owner of ROMNEY Pilates and RIDE. I started this studio 11+ years ago shortly before Katrina. After losing the studio for a bit while New Orleans built back up I lived in Paris, France teaching Pilates there.

AP: Katrina… such a loaded name. ER: Yes… Katrina changed me, like Katrina changed the personality of New Orleans. All for the better of course and I appreciate what I went through now but it was a rough go for a while. People are passionate about this city and it showed in the rebuilding efforts.

AP: You moved from New Orleans to Paris… and even Paris couldn’t keep you from coming back to New Orleans. ER: I came back to New Orleans with a vengeance to rebuild my business in the city I had fallen in love with. I realized when I moved back that people needed a place to escape the stress the city was under, and for a time our studio was a refuge. People would stay for hours. It was a source of happiness and release not only for clients but for me as well. That’s when I took it over the top to create that atmosphere that provided that daily escape through the surroundings and movement. Today, 11 years later, three studio upsizes and a location within The Ritz-Carlton is we are where we are. We have expanded our offerings to Pilates, Cycling, Barre, Gyrotonic, Megaformer and now boxing. I have got an incredible team that I work with daily and we are in a beautiful facility that my father designed in a lovely location.

AP: What city were you born in? ER: I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico but shortly after my birth we moved to Salt Lake City, UT.

 AP: What city to do you live in? ER: I live in New Orleans (NOLA, The Dirty, The Big Easy, The Crescent City).

AP: What is your astrological sign? ER: Cancer with a sprinkle of Leo.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? ER: I love interior design and fashion. I love creating beautiful spaces to surround oneself in. A beautiful, comfortable interior really affects people. Fashion is a way to express yourself. It’s your personality coming out for everyone to see even if they never have a conversation with you. 

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? ER: Eat healthy, that is number one! It’s what fuels you. It’s what raises your vibration. Beauty is from the inside out. It’s your skin, your physical shape, your hair, the clarity of your eyes, your mental and physical energy. Those all contribute to beauty and it begins with a healthy diet. I’ve been down that road before of abusing food (sugar in particular) and suffered the consequences of bad skin, low energy levels and physically not my best.

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? ER: I start every morning with lemon water, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper in warm water. It’s alkalizing, anti-inflammatory and speeds up metabolism. I limit dairy, gluten, caffeine (former addict) and sugar (former addict as well).  I only drink on special occasions because alcohol affects me negatively and I’m suffering the next day. I know it sounds like an extreme diet and it’s certainly not how I’ve eaten in the past but the results are outstanding in my physical body and mental clarity!

Every season I do a food based cleanse. It’s 10 days, seasonal, vegan, very clean vegetable based recipes. Since doing this cleanse/detox I have managed to rid my addiction from caffeine and sugar. I will trip up after a few months and then it’s time for the next cleanse so it gets me back on track.

AP: What do you do for exercise? ER: A lot of different things to cross train: Pilates, Cycling, Megaformer, Barre, Gyrotonic and recently Boxing. Everything I do I really believe in for the specific results it provides. No one exercise covers it all unfortunately. Fitness is not about one modality, you can’t train the same way over and over and get the same results. That’s why we offer a variety at our studio, we are basically five boutique studios under one roof. You eventually plateau or over-train the same muscles groups the same way and then injury happens. I want to look good and feel good well into my older years. To live life with vitality, vigor, and no physical pain.

 AP: What is your favorite thing to eat and drink? ER: One thing that I love to drink but I don’t think it’s great for you is sparkling water. It prevents me from drinking soda or sugary juice drinks. To eat? Circa 3 years ago it was pizza, fried stuff and sugary desserts. Today, I actually love roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale salads and avocado toast. 

AP: Botox or not? ER: Whatever makes someone feel beautiful…within reason. I always say try natural alternatives first, facial massage, creams, acupuncture, to see if those are effective and if not then take the next step if you feel like you need it. Skin ages differently over time. Aging and gravity take their toll on people in different ways and someone else’s path is their path. Just remind them of their worth and inner beauty with or without the needle.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? ER: I’m still trying to figure this one out. I absolutely LOVE what I do and I also am blessed with the most magical family but both worlds pull at me like a tug-of-war.   

I’m proud to show my children what hard work looks like for an entrepreneur. I have found my life’s work and I believe that I’m showing my children that anything is possible in life with some passion, grit, and elbow grease.

When I’m with my children and not working I can really focus on them and be an attentive mother. When I’m with them, I’m pulled into their world, which is very different from business world. Children are so sweet, innocent and awed by life. A very successful business woman told me once that in order to pursue/grow/attend to your company you need really good help/team at home and I have been fortunate to have found that. I couldn’t do what I do without it.

AP: How many miles do you fly per year on average? ER: Oh gosh, I have really started traveling recently because my children are easier to travel with but it’s mostly in the U.S. Roughly about 7 trips per year. I hope to travel to more foreign territory in the next few years.   

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? ER:

1) I’m that person who cleans my space on the plane.  I have this blended essential oil spray that kills airborne germs since the air is recycled on planes. I will also bring hand wipes and wipe down the seat, the air vent and anything I touch. 

2) I always bring an apple with me to hold me over. Airport food is horrible and when I’m starving is when I make poor food decisions. 

3) Always carry on a simple black outfit in case they lose your luggage and you are without clothes 

AP: What is your worst pet peeve? ER: Slow, inefficient drivers. I said it. Not proud but that always brings out a little road rage in me unfortunately. I recently put a calming essential oil diffuser in my car so hoping that helps.

AP: What professional beauty/fitness/wellness experts do you have on your speed dial. ER: Local: Tisa Beauty Bar for make-up, Dr. Deirdre Hooper for skin, Angelina Marzano for massage and Melanie Weller for body work, chakra aligning.

General experts I turn to: Taryn Toomey is my spiritual guru (she’s an amazing human being), Gwyneth Paltrow for various alternative treatments, natural products that I’m into and love her cookbooks, Kate Hudson for a little happiness which is just as important as everything else for health. I also really look up to trainer Todd Durkin, he is another incredibly inspiring person. You can simply walk into his gym and you feel his positive energy.

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? ER: I try to wake up before my children so I can meditate. That’s usually around 5:30am. Meditation has been life changing for me.  I am able to handle stress better and I’m overall more calm and focused. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. I love sleeping and I’m good at it.

AP: Who is your mentor? ER: Salma Hayek once told me that I need to create a mentor within myself. Brilliant words I live by. If I had to pick one person it would be Taryn Toomey because she helps inspire me to build my inner mentor. She’s touched my soul with her words, classes and philosophy on life. I look up to her in so many ways.

AP: What is your skincare routine (products, facialists, etc)? ER: Skin hasn’t been my greatest asset and it’s probably because I ate very poorly for decades. I’m turning that around now and regularly get facials about every 2-3 weeks. The skin should be more about regular maintenance rather than a really aggressive peel once a year when your epidermis isn’t necessarily prepped for that. 

I recently switched to the La Mer oil facial cleanser and love it. Exfoliation is good for my skin so I use a scrub as well. I also discovered these natural facial products called Kypris from Donna Karan’s space in Aspen. They are organic, natural and use essential oils in their serums. I firmly believe in the power of therapeutic grade organic essential oils. I use a lot of Skinceuticals products as well. If I need a strong moisturizer, I’ll use Crème de la Mer.

I get facials from Marlene at La Visage Day Spa and my dermatologist is Dr. Deirdre Hooper

AP: What do you do to relax? ER: I take bath’s daily. I can’t remember the last time I showered. There’s something so healing about being in water and the weightlessness of the body. I love to read and always bring a book/magazine with me. I could stay in there for hours, literally. 

AP: Quote to live by. ER: Here are a few: 

You are love, fall for yourself.  – r.h. Sin

Paradise isn’t a place. It’s a feeling.  – L. Boyer

Life doesn’t get any easier. You just get stronger. 

The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes. – Mark Nepo

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. ER: You don’t have to choose the career or the family. You can have both if you want it bad enough. Raising children is very important absolutely but so is following your dreams and becoming your own person. More specifically…

1)  Do it because you LOVE it. Do it because you can’t stop thinking about it. Don’t do it for money, that will come because you love it.

2)  Surround yourself with people who lift you up and support you. It doesn’t have to be many, but they should be significant. 

3)  Listen to your intuition. Setbacks will happen and they will sting but know that they are just guiding you to something better.   

4)  No one is you and that is your power. You have more strength inside of you than you realize, if you only learn how to tap into it you can achieve the life of your dreams. Conquer from within!

AP: Describe your dream day. ER: Even though I’ve created a pretty great daily life for myself I need to be in nature to be well. I would love to wake up early near the ocean with a forest nearby, watch the sunrise and walk around exploring the outdoors or swim for a couple hours. Return to have breakfast with my family and enjoy them for a couple hours then work on an art project. Eat lunch with my family. Explore outdoors on horseback with kids. Read a book in the bath for a bit then help prepare a beautiful, outdoor dinner for a close, fun group of good friends and family. At the end of the night, sit next to a fire under the stars with a cup of tea and reflect/express gratitude for the perfect day. 

AP: What makes you feel beautiful? ER: When I exercise, meditate, eat clean and hang out with my loved ones.

If you have 36 hours in New Orleans…

One of the best things about having family visit is the excuse to do some typical touristy things in a city I love. This past weekend, my youngest sister and her fiancé visited my second (third?) home, New Orleans. Should you find yourself in Louisiana for a summer weekend, here are my recommendations, all “sister-approved.”

Thursday evening:

For the most special dinner in town, head to Stella, owned by Chef Scott Boswell. This is definitely a special occasion splurge, the four course tasting menu with wine pairing will leave you delighted, but not overly full. While I am a fan of all of the fish dishes, my sister’s was their best-selling Duck 5 ways.

After dinner, we headed to Frenchman street, where despite the summer off-season period, the music was plentiful. DBA remains a favorite, and this past Friday night was no disappointment.

Friday:

After a morning of work, we headed to Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar uptown. This is perhaps one of the most reknowned Po-Boy places in New Orleans, a hole in the wall with freshly made Po-Boys like you cannot find outside of New Orleans. The traditional option for a Friday lunch is half fried shrimp, half fried oysters, but I prefer the ham and cheese Po-Boy. Either way, there is no wrong way to go…

Since we were already uptown, we made a slight detour by Magazine street, one of the longest shopping streets in the United States. I finally got to visit my new favorite shoe store, Ceces, and of course we went across the street to Jean Therapy, both locally-owned boutiques of course. While we could have spent the rest of the weekend on Magazine, we quickly moved on to avoid going over-budget.

Only in New Orleans do cemeteries qualify as major tourist attractions… indeed, as the city is built on a swamp, the dead have to be buried above ground, which makes for elaborate crypts and mausoleums. We stopped by Lafayette Cemetery for some quiet reflection, a cemetery established in 1833 in the Garden District (which reminded me that next time my sister comes, we will have to go to Commander’s Palace, perhaps the most famous restaurant in town).

Finally, our last stop that afternoon was the World War II Museum, formerly known as the National D-Day Museum, located in the Central Business District. For two Europeans, the Pacific part of the exhibit was particularly interesting (our museums focus mostly on the European part of WWII).

As no day is complete in the Big Easy without a fabulous dinner, we headed to Maximo’s Grill, my favorite Italian restaurant in the city.

The rest of the weekend was spent in the Hammond / Springfield area of Louisiana, mostly on a wakeboarding boat. And that, my friends, will make for another story, one involving the Prop Stop (a bar accessible only by boat), alligators, and a couple epic face-plants…

A family Jazz Fest

The end (at the beginning)

The evening of day 7 of Jazz Fest is always bitter sweet. Nothing can explain it better than the photo below, which makes me so happy and breaks my heart at the same time.

While I don’t know this for a fact, I would bet that this couple has loved Jazz Fest in that house, together, for many a decade. And this year is their last. They somehow symbolize what Jazz Fest is all about. It’s not about the music, it’s not about the food. It’s about family. About family love.

My water booth family

The magic of Jazz Fest, for me, happens at the Water booth. Yes, we sell water. “Cold water, 3 dollars…” I have re-mastered my multiplication table of 3. Which is sometimes thrown off by the Monster Energy drink that we sell for $5. No, we don’t sell beer (oh, the hand movements and grimaces we have witnessed in answer to that cold hard fact). No, we don’t sell Coke (despite the bright red Coca Cola truck out of which we get the Dasani water we sell). The magic of the water booth is the family of friends that every year comes to help sell water, manage the cash register, and make Jazz Fest so fun. There are too many to name, but the highlights this year were the sisters… the Smith sisters, the Schwarzmann sisters. Maybe I just think that because I am fascinated by sisters…

My family of friends

The water booth is also amazing because it becomes ground zero for friends. Best friends Josh and Jaclyn are there rain or shine (Jaclyn modeling the classic Jazz Fest rain outfit). Ric and Michelle make the trek from Dallas annually (Michelle rocking the best rain boots ever). And more…

The family of music

There is, of course the music. I didn’t want to like him or them, but I loved Adam Levine and Maroon Five. How could I not?! I wanted to love Fleetwood Mac, and did, but not for as long as I thought I would (the music family in that band, and the re-configuration of those couples is amazing to me). Then, I discovered Phoenix, an alternative rock band from Versailles, France. They are so very French, and there are two brothers playing in that band. My people. Then, of course, there were the Black Keys. Not brothers per se, but Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney could have been… and amazed the crowd with the fact that two musicians can make the sound that seems like it should be coming from a band of 5+.

My family

Above all else, there is family. And that is perhaps the most amazing magic of the Water booth, the fact that it brings family together. Multiple generations. Multiple family units. Multiple brothers. The modern reconfigured family, all coming together, with love, happiness, and an open heart. Thank you Mary for making it all happen. 7 magical days.

My sisters

Of course, there are my three little sisters. I tell them about Jazz Fest, about the music, about the Water booth, about the headsets that their babies can wear to protect their ears. Next year, I hope. Next year, maybe one of my three little Swiss sisters will have the opportunity to experience what I have the pleasure of now calling a family tradition.

The end

It will come as no surprise that these 7 days filled with family and families ended up on a slightly bitter-sweet note. The painting that was created today in the water booth, the

painting that had all of us in it, somehow ended up in the hands of a stranger (at least, a “stranger-to-me”). Then again, we have our family, so who needs the painting? Then again even more, Paris wasn’t in the painting, so it wasn’t a real representation of the family anyway… We will just have to have Alex do another live painting next year… Till 2014, Jazz Fest!