Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day Lilies and Day Dresses

An early spring has set my garden alight with color. First, the fuchsia dogwood trees burst into life and now my day lilies have raised their yellow heads to the sun.

For some, it’s the daffodil, but for me, it’s the day lily that turns this not-so-young woman’s spring fancy to the bright and breezy day dress.

Like the day lily, which folds its petals at dusk, the bright colors and prints of the day dress come to life during the day.

And so will you in any of these lovely spring dresses.

(l to r)

This sweet floral dress from BCBGeneration in machine-washable rayon has side pockets, and the capped sleeves add a bit of feminine, frilly camouflage for upper arms, should you need it. The short length adds a bit of sass and will show off your toned and tanned legs. Throw this great little number in your tote bag and off you go for the weekend. Wrinkles? No worries. And at $88, it’s a steal.

The belted print dress (“Millicent”) by Trina Turk in floaty chiffon (dry clean) is fully lined and has a cute polka dot belt that is removable. Doesn’t the watermelon color just make your mouth water? The gathered neckline and oh-so lady-like hemline make it perfect for the office. A bit pricey at $348, it is a classic spring/summer day dress you will wear for years to come.

This green floral print dress by Jessica Simpson in polyester/spandex (dry clean) has the sheen of satin. The blouson top is very figure forgiving where you need it, if you do, and the buttons on the sleeve are a great touch. The drape of the tulip skirt is also designed to be figure flattering and forgiving, should forgiveness be needed. And it looks much more expensive than its $128 price tag, and so will you in it.

Of course, the hot color this spring/summer is turquoise. It’s everywhere. The color turquoise, also called aquamarine, is a blend of blue (a primary color) and green (a secondary hue). The shades range from soft to intense and there is a perfect shade out there for just about everyone.

 (l to r)

This sleek, turquoise crêpe, sheath dress by Tahari in polyester (dry clean) has a retro feel to it. The defined waist with buttoned tabs shows off a slim waist, and the banded, round neckline is universally flattering. At $118, you can definitely afford to add this classic day dress to your wardrobe.

Nothing flatters like a wrap, be it vrai or faux. This turquoise Milly “Madeira Palm” print in silk (dry clean) will definitely get you noticed. A faux wrap, it has a cascade of ruffles from the neckline and a slim tie over an elasticized waist and is fully lined. At $325, this is a statement dress.

Color blocking, so hot in the 60s, is adding some sizzle to this season’s day dresses. This Donna Morgan turquoise dress in lightweight crêpe de Chine (dry clean) has a rounded neckline and a tie sash over an elastic waist. The slight blouson of the bodice softens the square blocks of color making the dress feminine and fashionable. At $135, you can afford to add some 60s chic to your dress collection.


Unlike the day lily, the day dress will not fold its bright petals at night.

Meeting someone special for cocktails after work? No problem.

Just top off your day dress with a jacket in a deep, sophisticated neutral to tone it down……….

Or go bold with a jacket in a slice of citrus -- orange, lemon or lime.

Just add an icy Margarita and you have the perfect pairing.


All dresses available at Nordstrom.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Married to the Maestro – Part 2

In “Married to the Maestro – Part 1” Janet Lacombe, who is married to international Conductor Jacques Lacombe, shared with us some of her best packing tips, must-have travel items and where to find the world’s most luscious tomatoes. In this last segment of our interview, Janet shares some of her favorite travel stories and places to shop. Time for the fun stuff !!

M-T: You and Jacques are constantly on the move, but I know you both consider Montreal to be a home base. When you and Jacques got married, you not only had to adapt to a new country and culture, but to a new language. How is the All-American Girl doing with her French these days?

J-L: Actually, it’s hard to learn French in Montreal, because people switch to English so quickly. One of the wonderful things about traveling so often to France is the fact that I do get to practice speaking French with the locals. This can be painful for the speaker and the listener.

Avignon Opera House
In my early days of learning French (not that I have stopped learning French, mind you – it never ends!), Jacques and I were in Avignon in the south of France for Jacques’ latest adventure in the opera world.
I remember this particular trip, because it was my first time celebrating Thanksgiving outside of the U.S. At that time, Jacques, coming from a culture that does not celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way as Americans, did not understand how important Thanksgiving was (and still is) to me.

For me, as I would guess for many others, it is not only a time to reflect and gather family around you, but it is, also, the beginning of the wonderful onslaught that is the Christmas season. It is when all the excitement begins!!

In France, not so much; and that’s okay. There are many other traditions that I know nothing of, at least, not yet! In the meantime, here I am in the south of France, desperately looking for a turkey. Ham I can find. They have sliced ham, chopped ham, sweet ham, spicy ham…ham, ham, ham. And then there is cheese……..cheese from the North, cheese from the South, cheese from the left and cheese from the right……..crumbled cheese, dry cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese……green cheese and ham, Sam I am.

But turkey? Non! I am persistent, though. I decide that any form of turkey will do. I finally do find a few items that look like turkey legs, but I’m not so sure. There are many mystery meats at the grocery stores in France, some of which I would rather they be left unknown.

You would think by now that I would know the words for a few kinds of meat, but that wasn’t really at the top of my list of vocabulary words that month. I knew the basics, and I figured I could “wing” it (oops, sorry!).

So, I pick up the choices for the would-be Thanksgiving dinner and can’t determine which meat is a turkey leg and which is a part of a rabbit. My selections are labeled lapin and dinde. Hmmmm….dinde and lapin. I know one means turkey and the other means rabbit. I really don’t want to make a mistake here, particularly since, at the time, I truly did not like rabbit and positively did not know what to do with a rabbit, other than feed it lettuce, which would have been nearly impossible at this point.

I muster up my courage and begin to approach any store clerk who looks slightly approachable to ask what it is I am holding. Since I already know that lapin and dinde are not good enough answers, I point to one of the packages and ask for the word in English. That doesn’t work.

So, I boldly try to jump like a rabbit, gobble like a turkey and ask, “Which is which?” No good. I do understand enough to know that it was going to be a few days before I could re-enter this store again; nonetheless, I still needed to decide what was for dinner.

I wander back to the meat section carrying the dinde in one hand and the lapin in the other. I begin to weigh them from hand to hand. I think to myself, “Even if justice is blind, I still have a 50% chance of being right.”

That year, I was thankful for good guesses and a Happy “Dinde” Day.

M-T: It didn’t take you too long to make a bit of progress with the French language, at least judging by a very interesting encounter you had at one of my favorite cafés in Paris.

J-L: Never leave a lady alone too long in Paris. She could either much too easily, single-handedly reinvigorate the French economy via her credit card or be whisked away by some random Frenchman – or both!

On more than one occasion while lingering in some European apartment, Jacques has said to me, “You look bored. Why don’t you go shopping in Paris for a few days?” And who am I to argue with such logic? The last time he made that proposal I quickly booked my non-refundable hotel room (no chance for a change of heart) and the cheapest airline ticket I could find. Why spend any more on airfare than necessary? One could waste good shoe money, if one is not careful!

So, off I went on an early spring weekend a few years ago to spend a few shillings in Paris on some definite “Me-Time.” Three days in my favorite city with credit card in hand! (M-T Note: Cue the heavenly choir!!!)

I arrived early my first day – no time to waste! I checked in at my hotel and quickly unpacked in order to enjoy every moment of Paris that I could.

After many hours of “perusing” every store I could find, and there are soooo many, I decided to have dinner at one of my favorite cafés, Les Deux Magots. I was having a wonderful meal while simultaneously people watching and working on my NY Times crossword puzzle.

By the time my coffee arrived, a very handsome Frenchman, who had been watching me curiously from time to time, began to speak to me. Thankfully, I had learned enough French to be able to respond intelligently enough. We continued to have a lovely conversation about everything under the sun. Of course, fairly early on in the conversation I did mention that I was married…happily. That did not seem to bother him. After a few hours and exchanging e-mails, we both decided it was time to leave. He proceeded to walk me back to my hotel. About halfway there, I stopped and told him what a lovely evening I had had and thanked him for allowing me to barrage his ears with my broken French. Graciously, he kissed my hand and bid me adieu as I sent him on his way. Ever hopeful, he sent me a charming e-mail that very night.

The next evening, while having dinner with Jacques’ Parisian agent and his wife, I recounted my activities of the night before. Incredulous, Jacques’ agent said to me, “You did what? Had dinner with a man? …Was he French?”

His wife and I laughed ridiculously. I guess I know what is on the minds of Frenchmen! As it happens, the largest charge on my credit card that trip was for dinner at Les Deux Magots.

M-T: While we’re on the subject of shopping, a subject near and dear to both our hearts, where do you love to shop?

J-L: Giorgio Armani Collezioni at Le Printemps in Paris or on avenue George V, but only during les soldes (the sales). (M-T Note: les soldes occur twice a year in France and are a bargain hunter’s dream!)

My favorite find was a pin-striped Armani suit on sale at Le Printemps. It fits like a glove and was an absolute STEAL!! Oh, and don’t forget to get your VAT (M-T Note: Value Added Tax) back.

I also love the 2nd floor of Bergdorf’s in New York at sale time. There’s nothing more All-American than finding a great bargain!

Overall, my favorite American mall is the King of Prussia Mall. It’s just HUGE! (M-T Note: The Mall is located in King of Prussia, PA, and has a small but well stocked Hermès Boutique!) And the best part is……….it’s sales-tax-free! Although I haven’t discovered all of New Jersey’s wonderful malls, I definitely should. (M-T Note: Jacques is now Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra). Unlike New York, New Jersey has no sales tax on clothing.


M-T: Traveling all over the world, attending operas and concerts, meeting interesting people and talented artists, not to mention eating in the finest restaurants and shopping in a très chic quartier…….it all sounds so wonderful; but I’m sure there are times when it’s great to be home, n’est-ce pas?

J-L: Absolutely! Whether in New Jersey or Montreal, sleeping in my own bed after a long trip just feels sooooo good -- time to relax, kick off my Jimmy Choos, eat sushi and shoot some pool. It’s good to be home.

* * * * *

And so we bid a fond adieu to the Maestro’s wife. Another long trip over, she will sleep in her own bed tonight. How lovely! But first, she must clean out the Fridge.

Hmmmm – mystery meat! Is it dinde or is it lapin?

Check out "Married to the Maestro -- the Prelude"

Check out "Married to the Maestro -- Part 1"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Married to the Maestro – Part 1

In “Married to the Maestro – the Prelude” I introduced you to one of my favorite couples, Jacques Lacombe (the Maestro) and his wife, Janet. An internationally renowned conductor, Jacques is constantly on the go and Janet goes everywhere with him.

Over dinner a few months ago, Janet and I were discussing the ups and downs of their peripatetic lifestyle, and it occurred to me that this was a conversation I would love to share with you, my wonderful Blog readers. And so, Janet and I sat down together (via e-mail) for some serious girl talk.

In the following interview, you’ll get a little taste of what it’s like to be married to a globe-trotting Maestro. Enjoy!

M-T: Let’s start with the basics - Packing 101. What are your “must-have” beauty items?

J-L: I never leave home without my Dove Soap, Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion (unscented), YSL Touche Eclat, Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturizer, which you introduced me to (thank you, thank you), Lancôme Définicils mascara and lots and lots of Sunscreen – I never go outdoors without it.

M-T: What are your “must-have” wardrobe items?


J-L: Jacques has a hectic schedule, and there’s always that unexpected engagement that kicks things up from hectic to frantic. I often pack for various places and climates during one trip and need a variety of outfits for different functions from formal affairs to casual get-togethers. And no matter the occasion, I always try to look my absolute best.

Sooooo, I always pack my black sling-backs, LBD and matching black cocktail purse. They go with everything. For daytime, a great pair of tailored jeans is a must (M-T Note: Except for formal affairs, a pair of nice-fitting jeans can take you seamlessly from day to evening,).

Obviously, I spend a lot of time attending operas, concerts and parties, but I spend just as much time walking so I make sure to pack comfortable, but pretty, walking shoes. Wherever we are, I do my grocery shopping in the morning and buy only what I can carry back to the apartment. BTW, eating only what you can carry back is a great diet tip.

Turin Opera House
And while we’re on the subject, grocery shopping can really be an adventure. Once, when Jacques was conducting in Turin, Italy, we had a lovely apartment right in the center of town, but with my limited Italian I had no luck finding a grocery store.

I managed to find the butcher, the baker, the pastry-maker, but no green grocer. After a week of wandering around the City, all I could find was a small fruit stand. I was getting really frustrated.

“This is ITALY, for crying out loud,” I said to myself. “Where are all those gorgeous tomatoes???”

Porta Polazzo Market
Undaunted, I decided to expand my search. Imagine my surprise when I discovered nearby the Porta Polazzo, the largest open air market in all of Europe.

The case of the missing pomidori was solved – 2 Euros (about $3 at the time) for a huge bag of gorgeous, juicy tomatoes! I bought so much food that day that I almost didn’t make it home.

For the rest of our stay in Turin we had pasta every night with a different sauce inspired by all those fresh ingredients. By the time we left Turin, I was fluent in market Italian. I’ve tried to duplicate those sauces at home, but somehow it never tastes the same. The secret must be in those fabulous tomatoes.

M-T: No doubt you have had your share of lost luggage containing things you thought you couldn’t do without and suddenly had to. What have you found you can do without if you have to?

J-L: Well, I wouldn’t recommend it, but I have gone without a hair dryer (yikes!), hairspray (eke!), hairbrush (double “eke”!!), conditioner, pantyhose and, believe it or not… (a story for another day) and survived relatively unscathed, but I definitely would NOT recommend it.

I guess, in general, I find I can go without brand name items of my favorite products, except for Dove Soap, but shopping for substitutes can be tricky. When you don’t know the language, labels can be really confusing and I have been known to pick up the wrong thing. For example, I spent a whole week washing dishes in the dishwasher with clothing detergent. I kept wondering why the glasses came out so scummy.

M-T: Favorite packing tips?

J-L : Don’t unpack everything. I always keep my make-up in one bag no matter where I am. That way, if I have to pick up and go, I have everything I need in one place and don’t have to hear the dreaded question from my husband, “Honey, how much longer??” while I try and remember where I put my lipstick. I always keep certain items in my “to-go” bag. Jacques once suggested buying another complete set of make-up to keep in my “to-go” bag. Men! They just don’t get it. If I did that, half of it would get thrown away from lack of use (M-T Note: Make-up items such as mascara and foundation do go bad after a time and need to be thrown away.).

I keep a plastic bag full of mini-sized things to take on the airplane with me – moisturizers, toothpaste tubes, face soap, etc., and I do move some of my make-up from my “to-go” bag to the plastic airplane bag.

Also, an oldie but goodie, roll your clothes before you pack them to avoid wrinkles and save space. It really does work……….and ALWAYS pack extra underwear, socks and bras in your carry-on bag. I can’t tell you how many times this has come in handy.

M-T: In addition to clothes and beauty items, what else do you routinely pack?

J-L: I never forget the corkscrew/bottle opener. Believe me, after a 12-hour day of rehearsals all Jacques really needs sometimes is a nice glass of red wine to melt the troubles away.

When Jacques does operas in different countries we rent short-term apartments instead of a hotel room.  Not only is it more economical, but it’s more comfortable and feels like home, which means I cook as often as possible.

So I have gotten into the habit of packing a kitchen bag filled with spices, small utensils, garlic crusher, can opener, the all-important corkscrew and my wonderfully awesome Wusthof knife. You wouldn’t believe how many kitchens I have been in that don’t have a proper cutting knife. This bag stays in one spot filled with whatever we need at all times so that it’s always ready to go when we are.

Some women are prêt-à-porter; I’m more prêt-à-partir at a moment’s notice. Excuse my French.

*     *     *     *     *

Next week, in Part 2, Janet shares with us some of her favorite places to shop, more travel stories and why you should never leave an attractive woman alone too long in Paris.

Stay tuned. You won’t want to miss this.

Check out "Married to the Maestro -- the Prelude"

Check out "Married to the Maestro -- Part 2"