Gift Giving Guide

‘Tis the season… the season of gratitude, and the season of giving. In many ways, I find even more pleasure in giving the perfect gift than in receiving gifts! Finding the perfect gift for everyone really is one of the most satisfying things ever. If you are stuck buying yet another tie for your father, here are some out of the box ideas that will bring a smile to even the “hardest-to-shop-for-person-ever.”

‘Tis the season… the season of gratitude, and the season of giving. In many ways, I find even more pleasure in giving the perfect gift than in receiving gifts! Finding the perfect gift for everyone really is one of the most satisfying things ever. If you are stuck buying yet another tie for your father, here are some out of the box ideas that will bring a smile to even the “hardest-to-shop-for-person-ever.” (I have three of them on my list…)

For your significant other: Erotic Poems by E. E. Cummins. (With the promise of a live reading by candlelight)

For your dad: Smartphone Film Scanner. (So all of those pictures of you as a baby can make it to his phone instead of being relegated to a cardboard box at the bottom of a closet)

For your mom (in particular if, like mine, she loves art and espresso): Color Lab espresso cups.

For your brother (or brother-in-law): a top of the line double-edged razor. (And for an even smoother shave, add Alchimie Forever Antioxidant skin repair gel)

For your sister (or sister-in-law): a gorgeous sparkly clutch that will take her from day to night.

For your best friend (or for your mother-in-law who has everything), this hand-beaded silk chiffon bib necklace is the perfect accessory, and it won’t be one that all of her friends have.

For your co-worker, the most beautiful candle from the unique NYC boutique Aedes de Venustas, which smells as delicious as it looks.

For your secret Santa: a bottle of Bourbon and these will for sure help him/her stay warm throughout the winter.

For that special person on your list who has everything, these two options always enchant: an artsy iPhone case, and a beautiful notepad.

Tips For a Successful Boudoir Photo Shoot

I am always referred to as the most “conservative” of the Polla sisters. Not politically perhaps, but certainly when it comes to “those things.” (Indeed, Rachel might be at the opposite spectrum of the Polla sisters, I am sure you read her latest blog post…).

I am always referred to as the most “conservative” of the Polla sisters. Not politically perhaps, but certainly when it comes to “those things.” (Indeed, Rachel might be at the opposite spectrum of the Polla sisters, I am sure you read her latest blog post…).

Sometimes, however, the “crazy Polla” side of me comes out. For example, a couple of years ago, I did something I never thought I would do – a boudoir photo shoot. I was inspired by seeing the boudoir photos of one of my best friends, who is beautiful and looked absolutely stunning. My excuse was that it was a gift for my husband, but in the end, it was a gift for myself. I am pretty sure I look at those pictures more than he does. Often to remind myself that I look fabulous and sometimes to help motivate myself to go to the gym.

Should you decide this is something you wish to try, here are some tips, from actress and Stript brand ambassador Rachel Sterling (I love these women named Rachel!). We met in LA not too long ago and caught up over a glass of wine. Boudoir photos came up (don’t ask why), so I couldn’t help but pick her brains about it.

Getting in character

For Rachel, the most important key to success to any boudoir photo shoot is to get in character. “Part of my process of getting ready is getting my hair and makeup done; this helps me remember that I am transforming myself into a different version of myself and need to get in character.”

Make a playlist: pick songs that make you happy, make you want to dance, make you want to sing in the shower, make you feel powerful and sexy. Rachel adds “Even if you are doing it as a gift for someone else, it is really about you; It should be fun. Play the soundtrack a few times before the day of the shoot, dance in front of your mirror when no one is around as practice – use this as an opportunity to get to know your body. You would be surprised, but we all should know our bodies, angles we look good in, curves, much better than we actually do.”

Grooming tips

  • The number one tip is to be hair-free. Of course, legs and bikini line, but also think underarms, arms, legs, brows, mustache. On the brow front, make sure they are professionally shaped. Good brows make all of the difference…
  • Be careful about too much makeup – make sure you still look like yourself (from personal experience I can add that that is the one thing I would change from my boudoir photo shoot – the makeup is just too much, and I almost don’t look like me). Rachel’s personal favorite brand of makeup is Runway. She recommends that if you are getting your makeup professionally done (which is not a must) that you work with someone you have worked with before (again – this is where I went wrong; I had the photographer’s makeup artist do my makeup, and we didn’t do a practice run and she did not know my style).
  • If you can, get eyelash extensions; at the very least curl your lashes and layer on extra mascara.
  • Spray tanning is helpful to even bumps. Sterling’s recommendations are of course to apply after waxing (not before), apply with gloves to avoid orange hands, and again if you can get it professionally done. Stript offers professional spray tanning using South Seas Spray Tan, which is what she does. Her favorite at home alternatives are L’Oreal’s self-tanning wipes and the Norvell at home kit which is very user friendly.
  • Have your nails done. You don’t need polish, or to have them red or long, but do get a manicure and a pedicure so that you are perfectly groomed.

Outfits and accessories  

When I ask Rachel about outfits and accessories, she reminds me that “When looking at the photo, the eyes of the viewer should go to the face. Yes, it is a boudoir shot, but the highlight is always the woman’s face.” She adds:

  • “If you are shy, a great prop is a boa – you can use it to hide certain parts and it makes you feel better or put it in front of you.
  • I love the retro theme of an apron and plate of cookies – it is particularly fun and slightly ironic if you never cook.
  • I also love a boudoir shoot in a sports jersey; there is something appealing about the very feminine photo and a traditionally masculine item of clothing being juxtaposed together.
  • Another great juxtaposition is a work shirt and glasses – kind of playing on the theme of sexy librarian.
  • Whatever do you, high heels are a must – ideally some you have not worn out so that they look pristine in the photos.
  • But remember, the eye of the beholder should go to your face – you don’t want too much distraction.”

As we finish our second glass of wine, I ask her what not to do. “Don’t have unrealistic expectations or be disappointed in your photos,” she says gently. “They will not look like pictures in magazines, nor should they. The most important thing is to love yourself and to realize that there are infinite definitions of beautiful and sexy. Every woman is beautiful and sexy in her own special way. That’s what a boudoir photo shoot is all about.”

Amen sister!

Tips For a Successful Annual Family Meeting

A few years ago, we attended the INSEAD executive program on family business. It was a turning point for our family business in terms of identifying goals and best practices. One best practice that came out of this program was to hold an annual family meeting – we call it our Family Council meeting.

A few years ago, we attended the INSEAD executive program on family business. It was a turning point for our family business in terms of identifying goals and best practices. One best practice that came out of this program was to hold an annual family meeting – we call it our Family Council meeting.

The intended outcome of this meeting is to spend time together, of course, but beyond that it is to update those family members not involved in the day to day operations of the family business on the current states of our business units, and to benefit from their thinking, insights, and questions.

We just came back from our third Family Council meeting, held at Villa Verde Resort in Friuli, the region of Italy where our father grew up. Each meeting gets better, as we learn from our experiences. Here are our best practices so far:

Roxane:

  • Have someone take photos; these times are precious! My husband Guillaume is (one of) our assigned photographer.
  • If the work meeting lasts the equivalent of a full work day – which it should – make sure there is time to exercise or practice an outdoor activity before dinner. Your body fluids get moving again, your brain is oxygenated, and everything feels much better afterwards. I know I needed this time!

Rachel:

  • Do not schedule anything right after the meeting, as ours usually lasts longer than scheduled. We learned this the hard way our first Family Council meeting (we all had a train to catch): everyone left rushed and frustrated at not having been able to share everything we wanted to share (yes, we do talk a lot and the goal of these moments is to share, share, share). However, balance this with respect for timing and scheduling.
  • Set a clear code of conduct. I love ours – love, respect, no sleeping (see photo!).

Cyrille:

  • Organize some bonding time before starting the meeting. Reconnecting emotionally and tuning our energies towards one another makes the business discussions much more open, rich and authentic.
  • If one or more family members has a hobby they are passionate about, it’s great to include it in the schedule. Our dad loves golf, and so do some other family members. Thus, we set aside time to golf (see bonding time above). The rest of us were by the pool and that was superb too!
  • Include a festive and joyful together time after the meeting. Either a dinner – or even better, stay overnight and have some fun the morning after.

Ada:

  • Schedule “alone time” in the midst of all the “together time.” Without it, I am not very much fun to be around.
  • Include the children in the day as much as possible. Either in terms of them participating in the presentations and discussions (depending on the age), or in terms of them being present even if they are not actively participating. Per our Dad, it is never too early to start – and they learn by osmosis.
  • Think about all of the possible tension points that will surely come up during such intense family time. Plan for them. Figure out how to diffuse them before they occur.

We already can’t wait for next year’s meeting!

Strong and Healthy is The New Sexy

While I work to be healthy and active year-round, I can’t help but pay more attention to my diet and exercise routine during the warmer months, in particular as   my annual trip to Greece approaches. So for the past six weeks, I have been particularly diligent. It’s not easy… while in my 20s I could diet for 3 days and lose 2 pounds, the reality of being 40 is quite different. I have had to develop some new strategies along the way. Here they are – may they be useful to you as well.

While I work to be healthy and active year-round, I can’t help but pay more attention to my diet and exercise routine during the warmer months, in particular as my annual trip to Greece approaches. So for the past six weeks, I have been particularly diligent. It’s not easy… while in my 20s I could diet for 3 days and lose 2 pounds, the reality of being 40 is quite different. I have had to develop some new strategies along the way. Here they are – may they be useful to you as well.

Eating and drinking

  • For much of my adult life, I have lived on bread and cheese. That is now a treat versus my usual meal – once per week max.
  • Fish and vegetables have instead become my friends… (and I’ll keep telling myself that until I believe it).
  • I enjoy wine and champagne. In the warmer months, I switch to wine spritzers and “piscines” (literally, swimming pools – also a word to describe champagne in a large red wine glass filled with ice).
  • I am forever trying to drink more water… still, sparkling, naturally flavored, with Emergen-C powder in it – anything to help!

Exercising

  • I set out my work out clothes the night before… seeing them right there helps me put them on.
  • I’m a morning work out person, so I get in my workout clothes the minute I get out of bed. It’s often the hardest part. Once I’m in them, I know I’m heading out for a run.
  • I have been taking advantage of the nice weather to run outside more. Something about the river (the Potomac in DC) and the songs of the birds is so soothing.
  • Even if I have only slept 4.5 hours (as I did last night), I remind myself that a 30-minute run will do a lot more for me than 30 minutes of extra sleep.
  • When I know I am going to need some extra help motivating, I call one of my best friends to see if she will come to SoulCycle with me. Knowing she will be there helps me make it there. (Thank you Julie!)
  • Finally, I have realized that going for a fast walk in Dumbarton Park with a BFF is just as lovely as going out for a glass of wine. My friend Isabel in particular has been a fan of this idea (which now that I think about it might have been hers!). A way to blend exercise with girlfriend time.
  • I try to walk as much as possible – for errands, around my favorite spots in Georgetown, to and from SoulCycle. Every step counts.

It’s about making healthy choices and moving. Every single day.

Highlights From Our Louisiana Memorial Day Weekend

Last October, I turned 40. It was a milestone birthday for many reasons, including the fact that I felt I could ask my 3 sisters for a significant present. And I did. I asked them to come to Louisiana for Memorial Day 2018. Why? Because I wanted them to see that side of my life, because I wanted to share the delights of New Orleans and the Natalbany River with them, because I wanted them to meet my husband’s family (in particular his many brothers). And my sisters being who they are, humored me. Our time together surpassed all of our expectations… here are the highlights.

Last October, I turned 40. It was a milestone birthday for many reasons, including the fact that I felt I could ask my 3 sisters for a significant present. And I did. I asked them to come to Louisiana for Memorial Day 2018. Why? Because I wanted them to see that side of my life, because I wanted to share the delights of New Orleans and the Natalbany River with them, because I wanted them to meet my husband’s family (in particular his many brothers). And my sisters being who they are, humored me. Our time together surpassed all of our expectations… here are the highlights.

Roxane:

The highlight of my Louisiana trip was without a doubt my haircut. More than a haircut, it was an experience. As soon as I entered Paris Parker Prytania, I felt a positive buzzing energy. My hairdresser (and brother) Tatum Neill sat me down and gave me a “consultation” – something I had never experienced before. He asked me questions about my hair-styling routine and about the products I use. I confessed that other than shampoo, I don’t use any products, and was relieved when he assured me his questions were not about judging, but about understanding my hair. He then asked his apprentice to shampoo my hair and was very specific about which products to use – I loved knowing that even the shampoo treatment was personalized! While cutting my hair, he explained each movement to his apprentice – I loved being part of a teaching moment and it was extremely interesting to learn about hair cutting techniques. I have never had someone cut my hair with so much attention to detail, which resulted in the most perfect haircut I have ever had. Having understood how I deal with my hair, Tatum was able to recommend the perfect products to incorporate in my daily routine: Aveda Smooth Infusion. Everything was perfect. There is one problem however… I am now faced with the following dilemma: how do I reconcile the fact that I live in Switzerland with the fact that my favorite hairdresser lives in Louisiana? I guess the future holds many more trips to Louisiana!

Rachel:

I adore my sisters and brother-in-law, so every moment was magical – especially because for once we were outside of Switzerland. My highlight of the trip was the stroll we took in the French Quarter the day after we arrived. When I am on an adult-only vacation, I relish the complete lack of planning. As a working mom, my life is ruled by plans, by schedules, so my vacations need to be the opposite. This trip was all about making the best of our four days together, and there were things to check off the list, such as meeting the (fabulous) Neill brothers and family, wakeboarding, and more – there was a plan and there was a schedule. So this unscheduled afternoon spent meandering the streets, randomly entering boutiques (and bars!), trying (and buying) items from brands not available in Europe (including the amazing Krewe sunglasses), tasting absinthe for the first time and deciding to take it to go, being together but respecting each other’s rhythm was magical in two ways: I felt free, and in a “discovery mood” of this great city I fell in love with.

Cyrille:

I could sense this vacation was going to be something special. This was the first time the four Polla sisters were together in the US since… well, ever! It was my first time in New Orleans and my first Memorial Day celebration. But I didn’t expect to live so many other “first times.” Here are my top 10 firsts:
First taste of a homemade southern breakfast with fried eggs, bacon, grits, and biscuits; first daydream on a porch swing; first attempt at wakeboarding on “Louisiana glass”; first swim with alligators; first hula-hoop game; first feel of warm rain; first topless water balloon contest; first sip of a “Worm Bucket” – a colorful and tasteful 😉 drink containing a wiggly piece of candy; first time seeing Kermit Ruffins live; first midnight hot tub.

Me:

Where to begin… My highlight of the trip has to be the various moments the Polla sisters got to spend with the Neill brothers. Both the Pollas and the Neills are such strong, large families, two families with family businesses – one family more girl-dominant, one family more boy-dominant. The moments (in the salon, on the boat, at the Prop Stop, at dinner, in their homes…) during which the Neill brothers saw the Polla sisters interact, and vice versa, are moments that I will cherish forever. Moments I will cherish for so many reasons, including because having met my sisters, the men who I call my brothers now know and understand me better; and having met my brothers, my sisters also now know and understand me better.

I can’t help but hope that this becomes an annual tradition…

Beauty Tips From Mom

As we approach Mother’s Day, it seemed timely to share some of Mom’s wisdom. Not general wisdom (which you can read about here), but her beauty wisdom. Most mornings, as I slather cream on every inch of my face and body, I think of her and of her beauty tips… Here are my favorite ones.

As we approach Mother’s Day, it seemed timely to share some of Mom’s wisdom. Not general wisdom (which you can read about here), but her beauty wisdom. Most mornings, as I slather cream on every inch of my face and body, I think of her and of her beauty tips… Here are my favorite ones.

  1. A hat and long sleeves at the beach always. My Mom learned from her Mom that porcelain skin is a sign of sophistication. No tan for her, ever… And sunscreen even in the shade.
  2. Applying creams, lotions, oils, balms to your face and body is an essential act of self care. Mom sees her time in the bathroom as her time of rituals, and the layers of creams as layers of chain mail – her armor to face the day, face the world.
  3. Every year you age, you need to spend one more minute in the bathroom every morning and evening, taking care of yourself. While you can jump out of bed, brush your teeth and put your hair in a pony tail and look perfect when you are 20, that rapid of a routine does not work in your 40s.
  4. There are few things a bath can’t fix. Physical pain, heart pain, head pain. Add some fragrant oils or Epsom salts for extra soothing benefits.
  5. Never forget your neck, décolleté, arms and hands – they will give your age away before your face will.
  6. Cute feet are an essential accessory. Take care of them. She applies Alchimie Forever’s Dry skin balm twice daily to feet and ankles.
  7. She never leaves the house without mascara or lipstick on – but doesn’t use any other makeup products.
  8. She believes, as Marilyn Monroe did, that “a smile is the best makeup any girl can wear.”
  9. Look at yourself in the mirror every day. Ideally naked, full length mirror. Pay attention to the changes in your body, your skin, appreciate them. If you do this, not only will signs of age not surprise you, but you will learn to love these changes in your face and body.
  10. Confidence is beautiful.

April Fool’s: Don’t believe these beauty myths

As the beauty consumer continues to become increasingly educated on skin care, ingredients, treatments, I continue to encounter a few deeply ingrained “beauty myths”… As April Fool’s Day was just a few days ago, the timing seemed perfect to debunk some of these.

As the beauty consumer continues to become increasingly educated on skin care, ingredients, treatments, I continue to encounter a few deeply ingrained “beauty myths”… As April Fool’s Day was just a few days ago, the timing seemed perfect to debunk some of these.

Myth: You only need to wear sunscreen when the sun is out.
Truth: UVs penetrate cloud cover, so you should wear an SPF every single day, January 1 to December 31.

Myth: SPF protection must be at least 50.
Truth: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. An SPF is a must in anyone’s skin care routine, and anything above SPF 15 is usually enough for most people’s “normal lives”.

Myth: Silicone makes your skin look better.
Truth: Silicone and its derivatives are known to clog pores and contribute to blackheads. Usually an ingredient to avoid.

Myth: Topical collagen builds your own collagen.
Truth: Topical collagen will hydrate, and plump and smooth the skin, but it will not stimulate your skin’s natural collagen production.

On that note…
Myth: Drinking collagen drinks reduces wrinkles.
Truth: The experts are divided on this topic… The truth is still being evaluated.

Myth: You have to wash your face with water.
Truth: Water can be harsh on the skin, and waterless cleansers are a great option if you are particularly dry or sensitive. Waterless cleansing (think cream cleanser and cotton pads rather than wipes please) is a very old-school (aka road-tested) European cleansing ritual.

Myth: An anti-cellulite product will make you lose weight or inches.
Truth: I wish it were that easy! Any anti-cellulite topical product that is well formulated (think caffeine) will help with the skin’s texture, and with water retention. But it is not going to change your pant size… Sorry!