"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, February 19, 2015

à errer (to wander)...

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Like New York and my hometown Chicago, Paris is a walking city - a wanderer's delight. Each has it's own character, architecture, culture feel and flow that I cannot get enough of. Now a days when I go to Paris I go with an entourage: Mr. Gorgeous, our fantastic three, ma mere divine and - of course - Coco. And while we spend most of our time exploring and experiencing the city together, I always schedule at least one full day to wander the city alone...

I especially love this photo because I was able to get 
the gorgeous sky, the Luxor Obelisk
and the Eiffel Tower in one frame.

A tree lined path on the grounds of Tuileries Palace.
The trees are majestic, magnificent and calming. There are dozens of paths, liberally sprinkled with benches and chairs. It's a beautiful peaceful place to
picnic, read, people watch and daydream. 

Cour du Commerce-Saint-André, Saint German des Pres. 
This was my first visit to one of Paris' famous covered passageways. I wandered to my heart's content. So many intriguing little shops and yummy looking restaurants. I have a few more on my list and intend to write a feature about them for Belle Inspiration and for you, bien sur. In the meantime, check out this great article about Paris' passageways by 'Paris Year Abroad.' 

Paris Sunset

A little while ago I blogged about a haunting, stunning photo-exhibit depicting Paris under Nazi occupation/Vichy regime. When I look at those photos - several of which are people wandering occupied Paris - I wonder what it was like, how scary and stressful it must have been, to live in/experience 'that' Paris. What must it have been like, to live in constant fear, never sure if your neighbor or passerby on the street was friend or foe, always keeping a fearful eye on the horizon. 

For the last few weeks Paris has again been occupied  - by a terrorism of a different name, but similar ideology. A terrorism that instills fear in the hearts of everyday people trying to go about their everyday lives. This terrorism is real, pervasive. I fear it will change my beloved city forever. I don't know when I will again visit Paris. But I do know that it will be soon and that I am eagerly looking forward to it. I wonder what I will find when I arrive, what I will experience when I wander. In the meantime, I send my solidarity, strength and fervent hope that Paris continues to do what she has done for 13 centuries - survive and flourish nonetheless. 

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Simply Nappy

"...and I loves every strand of it."
- Alice Walker, the Color Purple

I've been Nappy 2 1/2 years now - lots of lows and highs - but I'm really enjoying the nappity-nap life. More so now that I've simplified my haircare regimen. Yeah, you know I'm gonna share...

There are literally hundreds of sites dedicated to natural haircare and at least an equal number of products - oye. And I find their natural haircare 'regimens' to be overcomplicated and ridiculous to the extreme: pre-pooing (huh?), co-washing (come again?), finger detangling, layering products (I'm talking 5, 6 or more!), all day deep conditioning (whaat?); and that's before you get to the actual drying and styling (who has hours to let their hair air dry on a regular basis - especially during the winter?). Who has time for that? I certainly don't. And, apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

"When I hear of expensive products, weird treatments and ungodly hours spent on hair, I wonder why...You can't enjoy your hair if you are constantly caring for it and never take the time to stop and actually admire it."- Naturally Chelsea's Coily Manifesto

*Don't get me wrong, I will continue to faithfully browse my handful of favorite "Nappy' sites - where great tips and products abound. My absolute favorite is Curly Nikki. She's a virtual Nappy encyclopedia. I especially like that she has a search engine. Her painstaking research and personal reviews are invaluable - especially for Sistahs at the start of their au naturale journey.   

My regimen is pretty bare bones: moisturizing shampoo, moisturizing conditioner (that also doubles as a leave-in), once a week 3 minute deep conditioner; followed by curl creme and oil 

Aussie 'Moist': Shampoo, Conditioner & 3 Minute Miracle
For convenience, speed and low cost, 
I order in bulk from Amazon.

I cannot say strongly enough how much I love this stuff! I wash my hair 1-2 times a week. With Aussie 'Moist' that means: 5 mins to wash and rinse, slick in conditioner, wash my face, brush my teeth then rinse - done! This Moist combo gives me a super whammy of what I need - gently cleans completely, moisturizes and contains the frizz, is sweet smelling and, most importantly, renders silky soft my dry, thin, fragile hair - fast. Then I reapply a nickelish-sized dollop then comb through. Yep a regular and leave-in conditioner all in one. Awesome!

* About that 3 minute miracle - that's exactly what it is. I've found that this ultra-intensive quick deep conditioner - no dryer or heating cap required - carries the same punch as the conditioners you have to leave in for 1 - 4 hours. During my Midwest winters I use this once a week in place of the regular conditioner. 

Next, I comb out my hair with a wide toothed comb - none of that finger detangling jazz. Your local beauty supply shop will have the largest selection. Remember: the wider the tooth, the more gentle. After that, I divide my hair into four pieces, secure with clips and apply the following (dime sized dollop or smaller):

Marc Anthony - Perfect Curl Styling Cream

Oyin Hair Dew: Daily Hair Drenching Lotion

Marc Anthony's Curl Envy is the perfect styling cream for my Nappy - creamy, silky, sweet smelling and encourages my hair to curl to la perfection. It's also essential when I rock my Sade look ;-} During this hair journey I've learned that using straight Olive Oil is too heavy for my light locks. Oyin's Hair Dew is a combination of Coconut, Castor, Olive and Colza Oils - that my Nappy loves. My Anthony/Oyin duo drenches, seals and give me massive lasting shine - and it takes all of 10 minutes.Then it's time to diffuse - each piece (about 5ish minutes times 4) et voila! Soft, shiny curls.

Note: This is my regimen for my bi-weekly wash days. Otherwise my daily regimen is much shorter: First thing when I wake up I spritz my hair a spray bottle filled w/ water and two squirts of Aussie Moist Conditioner - just enough to get my head very slightly damp. Then I smooth some Anthony Curl envy into my hands and gently palm it through my hair (remember those ends). Then I do the same w/ the Oyin, scrunch and I'm done. Yep, hair prep done in 5 minutes! By the time I've brushed my teeth, eaten breakfast, drank my cup of coffee, and gotten dressed, my hair is dry and my curls are springing! Another 5 minutes diffusing (optional) + a quick pick out (for extra oomph) and this Sistah Diva is footloose, fancy free and fully Nappy.

Note: One thing I learned the hard way is to have regular trims. I've found a wonderful stylist - Marion - that does natural hair. I go every 2-3 months and get a deep conditioning treatment too. Let me know if any of these products work for you and keep the questions and comments coming my lovelies ;-}

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


Friday, February 13, 2015

Amour Rouge - Unique pieces for a French Girl's Wardrobe...

I love Valentine's Day. 
It's all about love, romance, passion, and sensuality; 
the utterly feminine and masculine; all represented by 
my favorite color - red, Red, RED!

Valentine's day is only a few hours away. I'm sure that you've already made your plans with your love, have carefully chosen what you're going to wear. But a girl can never have too many one of a kind, unique and fabulous go-to pieces...

I'm loving these red coral and red wooden seed bead Tribal Chandelier Earrings from Kapka Designs  ($30, and they're on sale ;-} Of course you could opt for pure Diva bling...

Red Bling Earrings by KarlaJo Photo ($15)

You know that I love the look and feel of a healthy glowing 'Naked' face. And the perfect compliant to this oh so flattering look for we femmes d'un certain age is a great red lipstick.

'Gabrielle' Rouge Coco by the incomperable Chanel ($36)

'Follie Strauss - Hermatite' by Christian Louboutin
The body is a soft blush mesh scattered with crystals
and that signature inner red stiletto heel - ooh la la!

'Pensamoi' by Christian Louboutin
Crepe, Satin, Flowers encrusted with Crystals, Hot Pink
Need I say more? Yeah, I thought not.

I'm not going to list their prices - why ruin the fantasy with reality? Who needs or wants the buzz kill? Needless to say, these shoes are a serious splurge! Still, what's more splurge worthy than a pair of fantabulous shoes? Sigh...

'Red Silk Clutch' with ruffle flower. 
Handmade by Simply Clutch ($70)

Perfectly fits a cell phone, refillable loose powder compact, 
a lipstick that doubles as blush, a $50 dollar bill and emergency credit card ;-}

Red Cashmere & Silk Pashmina by Rosa Shawls ($25)
Chic, comfortable, unique, feminine, gorgeous.

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


Friday, January 30, 2015

Beauté: Brown skincare essentials

Naomi Cambell
Photo: de.flash-screen.com

"Nature gives you the face you have at twenty;
it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty." 
- Coco Chanel

Bonjour mes amours,

For most of my adult life I have been an unabashed make-up and skincare drugstore counter devotee. Alas, maturité has required me to reassess my devotion. No matter what some pundits say, 40-something dames' need oh so much more skincare firepower than any drugstore product can provide. That reality encouraged me to move beyond my comfortable, staid beauty boundaries and into a truly glorious new world. It is not my intention to look 'young.' I'm not - and I'm not disingenuous enough to say that I don't miss my youthful visage, but that's the price you pay for living and the wisdom that accompanies it. What I want is to look like I feel - lush, beautiful, sexy, fresh.

"Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art." Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

For the last 2 years I've been doing my research, learning, experimenting, then doing it all again for each new product - with fantastic results. I have learned so much, you know I've gotta share. The internets are a very good thing. But my only bones of contention are that the vast majority of information, reviews, swatches, etc. I've found, about high-end skincare and cosmetic products, very rarely, if ever, address the unique needs of we brown skinned divas:

* Brown skin is especially sensitive and prone to inflammation and acne (our naturally oily skin may mean that 'black don't crack' - YAY! But it also means that we have the highest rates of acne - Boo!)
* 'Ashy' skin on Brown bodies (yes all women experience 'the ashy' but it's especially noticeable on we brown skinned sistahs).
* Post-Inflammatory-Hyperpigmentation (PIH) a.k.a. dark brown spots. 

Conversely, the Sistah-centered sites (I subscribe to religiously) very rarely, if ever, discuss high-end cosmetics and skincare products or 40+something cosmetic and skincare needs. Thus, the results of my research and experimentation, I'll share here with you, are a combination of all three. Imperfect to be sure - I'm only one woman after all, and one size definitely does not fit all. But, as far as I know and have seen, I'm the only one doing this. So I figure it starts with me. No woman is an island, , please, ask me questions, give me tips, send me photos - they will be most welcome and most appreciated. 

I've recently tweaked my skincare regimen [in a way that specifically addresses the three Brown skin concerns I mentioned above (but also totally applies to sistahs of every ethnicity and skin tone)], discovered some fantabulous cosmetics, and have found some wonderful Nappy haircare products I want to share with you. Oui, I'm going to blog about them all, but let's start with skincare. Shall we?...

"I know who I am. I am not perfect.
I am not the most beautiful woman in the world.
But I am one of them." - Mary J. Blige

Of course, every great (and by great I mean the most effective/successful) skincare regimen begins with a strong foundation - make-up removal before you hit the sheets:

Eye Makeup Remover

Actually, this is one high end product I've been using for more than 25 years. It removes all traces of mascara and eye makeup, no matter how sensitive your skin is and doesn't mess w/ your contacts.

Make-up remover

Yes, this is another drugstore staple. I've tried similar high-end products (Chanel, Elizabeth Arden, Clinique, and Lancome) - and nothing compares to Pond's Cold Cream (irregardless of the price tag). It doesn't have SPF anything; nor does it erase wrinkles, fine lines or discoloration. All it does is gently but completely remove all traces of makeup - for all skin types (including sensitive and acne prone) and leaves your skin soft and velvety smooth.

Laninsoh Clean & Conditioning Cloths
Pack of 6 (80 count in each pack) 
$20 @ amazon.com

Yes, I can fully admit that after a late night on the town with Mr. Gorgeous, the last thing I want to do is spend 10 minutes painstakingly removing my makeup. These wipes provide the perfect shortcut. They completely remove all eye and face makeup in about 60 seconds. And they're liberally laced with Lanolin - leaving your skin soft, silky smooth and clean. Yep, these allow you to fall into bed with no guilt ;-}

"I came to the conclusion that spending fifteen to twenty minutes preparing for each new day is worth every second." - Tish Jett, Forever Chic

Proactiv - 3-step system
Acne Jiujitsu!

This is another product that I've been using for 25+ years and haven't been able to find anything better:

Step 1: the Renewing Cleanser is a micro-crystal benzoyl peroxide formula (2.5% prescription strength). This is the best exfoliant I've ever used - the 'beads' are fine, soft, gentle and extremely effective in preventing and eradicating acne flareups - medicated exfoliation gentle enough to use at least once a day. 

Step 2: Revitalizing Toner - contains no alcohol and is packed w/ Humectants that shrink pores and help to keep the moisture in the upper layers of the epidermis (I usually use this late night after after cleansing my face with the Laninsoh wipes). It's also great on a hot summer-beach-no make up day - a quick refresher for parched skin. 

Step 3: Repairing Treatment: this stuff is powerful and amazingly effective at keeping my skin acne free and pretty-quickly clearing up my infrequent breakouts and the PIH that results from them (though I am looking for a good skin bleaching cream to deal with PIH, stay tuned). 

Elizabeth Arden Prevage 
Anti-Aging Serum

The party line: protects and corrects the look of skin, helping shield it from environmental assaults and intercepting future aging signs to dramatically improve the look of sun-damaged skin. It's formulated with advanced ldebenone technology, the most powerful antioxidant available today.

The real deal: packed with retinols, Prevage improves the texture and tone of my skin; with consistent use fades discoloration and shrinks my pores; kicks fine lines and wrinkles collective asses; and leaves my skin luminous while totally impeding all things aging - LOVE this!!!!

Firming Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream

I love Chanel cosmetics. The pigments are rich, deep and true - perfect for we brown skinned divas of every shade. One day when I was shopping for makeup, my counter lady -Susan- gave me a generous sample of the Le Lift - so I tried it. Love it! With regular use (once in the morning, once at night) the light sweetly scented cream visibly lightens the dark circles under my eyes (note: my circles aren't that dark), and makes the skin around my eyes soft, supple and glowing. Who knew? Now you do ;-}


Note: Be sure to make friends with one specific counter lady, at your favorite 'big' store at your mall. Susan slips me large sizes of every sample imaginable from her company's cosmetic/skincare lines,  gives me major discounts when she can, calls or texts me the latest sales and coupons, and when I run out of my essentials, I only have to text or call and she packages my essentials and puts them in the  post (no matter the brand). She overnights them for no extra charge. But be sure to show your lady some major love - I send her a Christmas card every year w/ a nice tip for all her care ($20-$40 goes a long way). And I periodically bring her a small bouquet of flowers or bottle of my favorite bubbly. It's a very good thing - trust me. And you can't have too many diva-girlfriends ;-}


Elizabeth Arden 

I have always had incredibly oily skin. At least I did until I reached 40. Now my face becomes quite parched, especially during the winter :-{ Ceramide drenches my skin. It's packed with retinols. I find that, along with it's fabulous SPF 30 protection, it boosts the effects of Elizabeth Arden's Prevage Serum, 

* After I let the Ceramide soak in (1-2 minutes), I smooth the Proactiv Repairing Treatment (#3) on the pimply and/or trouble spots on my face. That way there's no irritation or discomfort from the second dose of Benzoyl Peroxide.

I freely acknowledge that this 40 something skincare regimen is quite costly. So much so that, for one full year, I tried drugstore counter substitutes (again a whole lot of research, trial and error). I quickly found that my less expensive versions gave me 1/3rd of the results - completely unacceptable. The one saving grace is that each of these admittedly expensive products come in quite generous portions and last a long time. Yes, it's an investment but the quality and results are undeniable. I'm SO worth it and so are you ;-} Let me know if any of these products work for you - I'm dying to know!

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

All Diva, all the time ~ A French Girl's Wardrobe

Working my Diva down the runway

"It takes a long time to get to be a diva.
I mean, you gotta work at it."
- Diana Ross

Happy 2015 my darlings!

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. Every day presents the opportunity to begin something new, something wonderful. I've actually been working on a new and wonderful project for quite awhile, but I figure the new year is as good a time as any to blog about it. The project? All Diva, All the Time...   

I am always impressed by how beautifully French women dress. It doesn't matter what age, body, type or income, when I'm in Paris, nearly every woman I see is elegantly dressed, head to toe. And the time of day or location matters not one whit - at the cafe, grocery shopping, picking the kiddies up from school, walking the dog - these ladies work it every inch! But how do they do it? Consignment Boutiques.

"Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us." - Virginia Wolf

Consignment Boutiques are shops that sell barely worn, pre-owned designer prêt à porter (ready to wear) and couture (handmade, high quality, ridiculously expensive one-of-a-kind pieces) clothes, bags, shoes and accessories - sometimes vintage - at extremely reduced prices. Although the sentiment is slowly changing, in America there's a reluctance to wear 'used' clothing. But those in the know know how 'styltastic' it is to "...resurrect something from oblivion and incorporate it into your wardrobe..." (Gustafson, 2007). And that 'something' is often a piece from Chanel, Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Eileen Fisher, Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce/Gabbana, etc.     

I call these shops Shangri-La, because they are a Stylista's earthly paradise. There are several in Paris I intend to spend a lot of time in when I return. But, in the meantime, there's this fabulous consignment shop a few miles from my home - Jane Pabon

Photo shoot with Jane & Christina for Belle Inspiration

Jane and her partner Christina were the subjects of one of my Postcards to Paris. Of course Jane and I became fast friends. Still, I was quite surprised when Jane asked me to join her small troop of fashion show models. I said yes, and that's when the adventure really began.  

The fashion on Jane's racks, in her display cases and storeroom are packed to the brim with some truly serious fashion. And Jane has been a wonderful patient teacher to this fledgling Stylista. Best yet,  we models are invited to buy what we model and she invites us to peruse before the shop opens (first pick - yay!). 

I use the term Stylista (a particular, distinctive elegance) 
in deliberate opposition to Fashionista 
(an obsessive follower of the latest fashion trend). 
The difference is real and profound.

In the last 6 months especially, I have slowly, steadily added beautiful pieces to my closet (my rule of thumb: add a new piece, remove an old piece). And, although it may sound cliché, it's true, finding and nurturing my 'Stylista-me' has changed my life. I had no idea that a pair of designer jeans, paired with a hand sewn blouse, could up the style quotient of the ubiquitous 'mommy jeans & top' combo 1,000%!  Moreover, once I had the minimal amount of consignment staples in my toilettes répertoire, it became amazingly easy to throw an elegant outfit together - no matter the occasion.

I'm really digging exploring my 'Stylista-me.' Ms. Wolf is correct: clothes do change your view of the world. But they also change how you view yourself. I've still got a ways to go, but I'm really loving how having my look together. It makes me feel: powerful, elegant, individual, unique, sexy and prepared for anything. And it all began when I started working the runway for Jane. 
All Diva, All the Time. I like it. 

Note: the most valuable lesson I've learned, thus far, is to have a local tailor or seamstress on speed-dial. Many a time I've found a beautiful piece (designer or 'mundane') that is a size or three too large but so gorgeous and so 'me' it deserved a place in my closet. My fantabulous tailor/seamstress - Theresa - makes sure that every piece I own fits me like a glove. Trust me, it's a good thing.

Below are a few of Mr. Gorgeous' shots of my time as one of Jane's Ladies. We range from 20-something to 60-something and the best part of this journey is that I get to spend time with these amazing ladies and they've become my friend. I can't wait to see what Jane has in store for us. 
Stay tuned... 

"Fashion fades, style is eternal." - Yves Saint Laurent

Geneva Concurs d'Elegance, DuPage Airport (July 2014)

Jane Pabon Annual Winter Fashion Show (2014)

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!

Styled, head to toe (inc. jewelry and purse)
She makes me look how I feel!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Paris Playlist #19 - Jukebox Hero

"You gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get down..."
- Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life, Mike Cleveland

Tomorrow night, for the first time in 20 years (I kid you not), Mr. Gorgeous and I are going out on the town for New Year's Eve. And it's all because of our wonderful neighbors. One of the ladies from my GNO group made arrangements with the head chief and owner of a local restaurant for our motley group to ring in the New Year: a reasonably priced all you can eat/drink menu, only a few blocks from our home. So Mr. G is going to put on his Paris finery, I bought a gorgeous brilliant green satin mini from Jane (bien sur) and we're gonna paint the town. But the best part? There's a jukebox! You know how I love to dance ;-}

"I wanna take you away. 
Let's escape into the music, D.J. let it play...
Keep on rockin' to it. Please don't stop the music."
- Rhianna

But, just in case the jukebox's music selections are...lacking, I'm going to create a playlist, bring my iPod and an adapter. Which gets me to thinking: maybe I should clear the furniture out of my dining room and have a dance party myself. Make it an annual event - to usher in the return of the sun, warmth and green growing things. I could call it 'Spring Fling' - hmmmm. In the meantime, for those of you hosting or going to a New Year's Eve bash, I've created a 'ring in 2015' Paris Playlist. Enjoy!

1.  Don't Stop the Music - Rhianna
2.  Dirty Dancer - Enrique Iglesias, Usher, & Little Wayne
3.  Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke
4.  Burn - Ellie Goulding
5.  Dancing Queen - ABBA
6.  Get Lucky - Daft Punk, featuring Pharrell Williams
7.  Just Dance - Lady GaGa
8.  Rehab - Amy Winehouse
9.  Policy of Truth - Depeche Mode
10. La La La - Naughty Boy, featuring Sam Smith
11. The Other Side - Jason Derulo
12. Rain On Me - Pitbull, featuring Marc Anthony
13. Scream & Shout - Will I. Am, featuring Britney Spears
14. Let Me Love You - Ne-Yo
15. Locked Out of Heaven - Bruno Mars

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


W/ a few of my GNO ladies & the hubbies (2012)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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