Category Archives: shopping


I don’t know why on earth I didn’t just try on the jeans called “Sexy Boyfriend” the first time I saw them, but it took me all the way round the outlet mall and twice into Gap to decide they might be worth a fling. Possibly the name put me off, I dunno, ya think?

Turns out, a sexy boyfriend is exactly what I was looking for. (Sorry, honey.) They’re not quite as light a wash as I was envisioning, because the light wash was “distressed” and I’m really not prepared to buy my jeans pre-holed; but apart from that, they’re perfect. For the first time in my adult life, practically, I have jeans that are not bootcut or flare, but that make me feel like me, not someone pretending to be what they’re not.

(I mean, I did have stonewashed jeans with little zips at the ankles when I was 13, and I was quite happy with them, but we’ve all moved on since then. I’ve grown as a person. In more ways than one.)

I know all these attempts to blend in will only work to a degree. I’ll probably still look like an American. I’ll still be orbited by two children in America-bright clothing with America-twang accents who do not know the meaning of “reticent” or “indoor voice”. There’s only so much I can do, especially when packing for city and country and beach, for rain and wind and sunshine (maybe) and temperatures fluctuating anywhere from 45 to 75 F.

The exams are due to start soon, which means the weather will be lovely. But the exams will be over before we get there, almost totally, so then there will be no guarantees any more. Because everyone knows the only way you can guarantee good summer weather in Ireland is to be sitting the Leaving Cert at the time.

I’m not even going to tell you about the perfect summer bag I didn’t buy yesterday. If it’s still there tomorrow I might decide I’m fated to buy it after all. This is how I shop. It’s not exactly military precision, it’s more like faint auguries and operating on instinct.

Irish summer

As the weather here gets hotter – veering into hot, humid, thunderstorm, blech – I have to try to keep one section of my brain remembering what 60 F feels like. Or 70; but definitely no more than that. Because in a few weeks I’ll be packing for Ireland, where summer is usually around, let’s say, 18 C (that’s 65 F) on a good day.

But then, just in case we hit a real heatwave where the midlands reach the dizzying heights of 28 (82 F), or a cold snap, when it goes back down to 8 (46 F), we need to be prepared for all eventualities. And rain, of course. Always rain. Unless it’s a fine mist, or a drizzle, or a sprinkle, or spitting. I love that one, spitting. It’s never “spitting” in America. It’s mostly just either wet or dry, and mostly it’s dry. On a practical level, summer in Ireland just means that some days you don’t need a jacket over your jeans and long sleeves.

So I have to do a really good capsule wardrobe, obviously.

(Insert hysterical laughter and me falling off my chair. I try really hard to do a capsule wardrobe every time I pack, but it hasn’t worked yet.)

A capsule wardrobe for all four of us. Because even if we have a nice big baggage allowance and everyone’s big enough to pull their own case and nobody has to be pushed in a stroller any more, we still have to fit everything (and ourselves) into a smallish rental car. Or other people’s cars. Or trundle them to public transport after three hours sleep (if we’re lucky). In the rain, of course.

With this in mind, I’m going shopping tomorrow. I have written my self-allocated number of words this week and I am giving myself permission to take the morning off and go to the outlet mall (mmm, lovely outlet mall), where I will avert my eyes from flippy skirts and floaty sleeveless dresses and flappity sandals and I will look on the clearance racks for tops with 3/4 sleeves and a light jacket with a hood and light wash skinny jeans that are not capris. (And that somehow give my legs the gazelle treatment they’ve always lacked.)

Dressing for summer in Ireland, I realise in hindsight, is sort of the opposite of the way people in LA dress for winter even though the temperatures barely dip at all. They wear darker colours, and ankle boots with their booty shorts. They indicate through accessories and textures that the season has changed, even if the weather isn’t paying the slightest bit of attention.

So I have two lovely new summer scarves (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and of course I’m well equipped with cardigans of various weights and colours. I have a new pair of runners, but I could do with some other shoes that are nice like ballet flats but don’t fall off my feet. I’ll bring my sandals, but to be honest I might never wear them. I remember how buying sandals was in Ireland – I’d buy them and then I’d wear them for two weeks on holidays somewhere warm, and then by the next summer I’d hate them but they’d NEVER wear out so I’d be stuck with them forever.

At least here I get to wear through my sandals and get new ones.

No doubt in the fullness of time I’ll decide to blog my lovely perfect capsule wardrobe. I’ll keep you posted.

The tragic genesis of Mom Jeans

Usually, with a new trend, or fashion, or look, whatever you like to call it, I trail in at the tail end finally deciding that something looks nice when it’s been around quite a while and is definitely no longer the cutting edge of style but more the ragged hem of what-everyone’s-wearing.

But here we are still with skinny jeans and I just can’t do it. They’re not new any more. They’re not remotely just “what the young people are wearing”. They’re just jeans, to most people. I’ve been trying and failing to embrace them for about five years now. And no matter how long I give it to “get my eye in,” it’s just not happening.

I think this is what happens when you’re middle aged. I think I have discovered how Mom Jeans came about. 90s moms genuinely couldn’t see that hip-slung, flat fronted, boot-legged jeans looked better on everyone – as we, their daughters, knew. They really truly thought, because their brains were stuck that way, that high-waisted pleated fronts and baggy thighs tapering to the ankle were the most flattering thing there was.

So now my brain is stuck at bootleg or flare for the rest of my life. Sorry, but that’s just how it’s going to be. I can fake it with a skinny jean now and then, and I can buy floppy tops and swoopy sweaters and I can enjoy the neverending hunt for the perfect boots to show off with them. I can pretend I like it, for a while; but when push comes to shove I’m always going to run back to my old jeans with the acres of material flapping round the ankles (flatteringly; balancing out my thighs), dragging in the puddles and letting the rain osmose all the way up the backs of my legs, and I will clutch them to me and murmur sweet nothings into their yielding, forgiving denim, and I will not abandon them.

This is not the first time I’ve talked here about my attempts to embrace the skinny jean and its unbalanced silhouette, but I’ll stop now. I’m done. I’m a sad middle-aged housewife in America, and my flares and I deserve each other. We’re all we’ve got.

New obsessions – late autumn edition

Fried eggs. One day last month Deb at Smitten Kitchen talked about crispy fried eggs, and I’m not sure I even made it to the end of the page before I was headed to the fridge. If it’s in the fridge, be it vegetable or carb, I will now put a fried egg on it and call it lunch.

Beet salad with fried egg on top

Boots. This is an old obsession, not a new one. Don’t tell my husband, but I own seven pairs of boots (if you include the snow boots from the thrift store and the hiking boots from about 1999). And I still need wellies. I was all set for boots this winter. I really really had no need for any boots. But then I got free money to spend at Target as a credit card reward, and I bought these. Because when the universe gives you free money, you have to spend it on something truly frivolous.

Ugg-like boots


The knitting thing shows little sign of abating. I’m starting socks, but I don’t know how that’s going to go. I’ve made fingerless mittens and finger-full mittens and hats and scarves and I have a sweater pattern pinned, though that seems a bit large. I just bought some crochet hooks too, in case of a snow-day emergency.

Knitted hats, scarves, mittens.

This is everything I’ve knitted, pretty much. Some things are in daily use; others were mostly experimental.

This stuff. If you find it, on no account should you buy it. Believe me.

The Snack Artist Sweet and Salty Chili Crunch

Note the empty bag.

Finally, three words to change your life: fleece-lined tights. I heard of these last year but they seemed esoteric. This year I found them easily and bought a pair for me and one for Mabel. No more complaining that it’s too cold for skirts or that her leggings are too thin. Genius.

What are you loving at the moment?


And let the record show that I did not go back the next morning and buy the cheetah

I took Mabel with me on Thursday after school to pick out a present for her to give to Dash. (Dash has a “school present shop” where he bought presents for us, so it seemed only fair.) Beforehand, I double-checked with her that she knew we were shopping only for her brother, and that she wouldn’t get anything for herself. She agreed, but I was still a little doubtful that she could pull it off.

We nearly turned around and left as soon as we got through the front doors, because she desperately wanted a cheetah from the dollar section. But then she said “Just let me play with them for a while” and I stood around for three minutes while she took all the animals out of their corral and arranged them into couples, families, and families with adopted children. When I said it was time to put them back, she helped put them back and we moved on.

And so to the main toy section, where we soon found – guess what? – a new lightsaber for Dash. Because the fact that he has two blue ones and a red double-blade apparently didn’t stop him from putting another on his list, and since I couldn’t find a green Qui-Gon Jinn lightsaber anywhere, I hadn’t actually got one and was feeling bad about it. So when Mabel decided he should have a red Darth Vader one, I didn’t demur. (Also since these are the cheap ones that don’t light up and come in at under ten bucks.)

Item acquired and gallon of milk in our cart, I tried to whisk her back to the checkouts without passing the rest of the toys, but she insisted on looking at the other aisles. “Not to get anything, you know that don’t you?” I repeated. “I know,” she said.

And here’s the amazing part: she looked at the baby dolls and the princess dolls and the ponies and the Lalaloopsies and the Barbies and the play kitchens and she admired them all and we said how lovely they were … and then we left. We bought what we had come for and not a thing more.

Well, there was a vanilla milk in Starbucks after all that, but it hardly counts.


After two weeks in the country, my American twang has settled down and I sound pretty much Irish again. (All my American friends are wondering what I’m talking about. As far as they’re concerned I don’t have any American accent.) It just takes a little time for the shift to occur, as my ear gets reaccustomed to the intonations and the vowels and the nice crisp consonants.

I’ve been obsessed with black boots while we’ve been here. I’ve watched people go by from the ankles down, mostly. I’ve been to the Clarks shop at least three times. I’ve ascertained that shoes here are habitually a measurement wider than the regular size in America, which means that everything in the shop should fit me. I have to take advantage of this, because in the States I always have to order shoes off the Internet.

I cruised around the clothes shops a few times, but before I could commit to anything, I had to wait for my eye to shift fashion-wise too. And then I had to be realistic about what I would buy and wear if I lived here versus what I’ll actually wear once I return to my jeans-and-tops real life in America. I bought a pair of black trousers that are slim-fitting enough and of soft enough material that they will function as leggings, but with more heft to them. They’ll go inside my boots, and under long tops.

Then, eventually, I bought a pair of black ankle boots, after trying on every pair in the shop. I was delighted with them for a few hours, until they started to hurt my feet. So I brought them back and today, with my Irish money apparently burning a hole in my wallet, bought a different pair. These ones are less biker and more arctic, but they’re definitely comfortable and will suit my needs better, as well as going with my skinny jeans and the black not-leggings in a very casual, not-dressy way. Which, to be honest, is the way I need them to be, for my casual, not-dressy life of grocery shopping and school pickups and the odd committee meeting.

Tomorrow we shift once more, back to Americans. And so it goes.

View of the Pidgeon House from Blackrock

And now for something more frivolous

You might not have been privy to my confusion over jeans last winter, but the agony of that indecision is still seared firmly in my mind.

First I bought some red jeans, but then I decided I needed too many things to make them right and that maybe the problem was with the jeans rather than the things, and I brought them back. (Also, someone directed me to this, or something very like it, and I began to think maybe they were somewhat over the red jeans thing on the other side of the Atlantic.)

Then I decided to stick to my straight/skinny blue jeans, and became quite fond of them. But I wanted to wear them with my beloved brown suede ankle boots, and I just couldn’t figure out how that was supposed to go – did I tuck the jeans into the boots or leave them over the top. Neither looked quite right. I compromised by tucking one side in, which felt a little silly and I was never very happy with.

This year, faced with the same jeans, the same boots, and the same dilemma, the solution is obvious. I should roll the bottoms of the jeans till they’re just above the tops of the boots. Why was cuffing not an option last year? Have things moved on that much? Am I right on the cutting edge of fashion? Yes, that must be it. Pinterest confirms it, actually.

Now, if you can point me in the direction of a pair of dusty plum curvy straight-legged cords that fit me perfectly and make my legs look long and slim and do not cost a week’s salary, I’d be most grateful, because that’s what I’m obsessing over this winter. (Hmm. Like these.)

Dusky plum cords

Moments in independence

On Thursday, Dash rode his bike the half-mile to school. When Mabel and I showed up in the car at 3:20 to pick him up, I’d forgotten that, but it was no biggie – we can put his bike in the back. Except he didn’t like that idea, and Mabel had already enraged him by telling him about the lollipop she got from the lady in the bank.

( Me: You don’t have to tell Dash about that lollipop.
Mabel: Yes I do. )

So I told him that he could ride his bike home and we’d take the car and meet him there. At first he was wary. He thought it was illegal.

“I can’t do that. You’re not allowed let me.”
“Yes, you can. I am.”
“But the rule. I’m not eight.”
“The rule says you can’t stay at home alone until you’re eight. It doesn’t say you can’t go home on your own. I say you can. I trust you to be a responsible cyclist.”

He was pretty stoked. Off he went. There are only two places where he has to cross the road, one of which has a crossing with signs and stripes on the road, and I think I was the only car he encountered on the way.

The same thing happened the next day. I’d let him come home on his own every day, but I like seeing the other moms at pickup time.

Dash and Mabel

On Friday, Mabel and I went to the mall. Oh wait, first I have to tell you how that works.

Step 1: Order a couple of next-summer things for the kids on clearance from Land’s End. Include a pair of trousers that probably won’t fit for yourself, just because you can. 

Step 2: When trousers arrive, ascertain that they are indeed mom jeans, look horrible on you, and you don’t like the colour anyway. No biggie, because you can easily return them to Sears and thus not pay any postage. 

Step 3: Go to Sears at the mall. Return the jeans. 

Step 4: Pass unavoidably through the kids’ section of Land’s End in Sears. Find two pairs of summer leggings on sale and an adorable dress at 25% off that you and Mabel both just love. 

Step 5: End up spending more than you got back.

This right here is why the economy is doing just fine. Anyway. After that whole debacle/triumph, we had some lunch at the food court. Mabel got pizza and then we moved over to the next food outlet so I could have a tasty hummus/chicken/chickpea wrap thingy. This left me with two trays and only two hands. So I put both drinks on my tray and asked Mabel to carry hers (with just a paper plate holding the pizza slice). She demurred.

“I can’t.”
“You can. It’s just like carrying a plate, only bigger.”

She gingerly reached up to the tray and put her hands on either side. She lifted it down and carried it to the nearest table, as I carried the other tray beside her. The pizza slid a little on the plate, but nothing disastrous happened.

After we’d eaten, I asked her to clear away her tray. She picked it up again and I showed her how you have to let all the paper on top slide into the trashcan while keeping hold of the tray, and then put it on top. She could just about reach the pile of trays on the top, on her tippy toes.

As we walked towards the toystore she said quietly, with a smirk, “I’m a little bit proud of myself.”

Points of things

Sky, sea, land

Tomorrow is the first day of the last week of the summer holidays. Mabel doesn’t go back to school till after Labor Day, but Dash starts second grade on August 19th. The second-grade thing isn’t phasing me, but the fact that the summer is almost gone is a bit stunning. This year seems to be going faster than any one before. If this keeps up, by the time I’m in my eighties, I imagine days will fly by like seconds. No wonder my mother is confused.

I partly feel like I’m just getting back into the groove of our nice laid-back summer (after the disruptions of going away, two weeks of camp, and then BlogHer) but on the other hand I’m looking forward to a bit more peace and the opportunity to throw away some of all the crap that’s been piling up around here. Because apparently I can’t do that when the kids are in the house.

I went to Target on my own for an hour yesterday and realised why I like shopping: it gives me a chance to center myself and plan things, whether it’s figuring out what might help for organizing the house a little more (I bought an in-tray!) or deciding what I want to, um, invest in this autumn. (Found a dress I want as a shirt, decided to e-Bay a bag I never use and buy one I fell in love with in Marshall’s; also tried on boots, but that’s not relevant ahem as I was saying…)

I thought I’d missed my Dad’s birthday and blamed it on the fact that apparently now I only know it’s someone’s birthday when Facebook tells me about it, and my Dad (needless to say) is not on Facebook. But then I realised I just had no idea what the heck date it was in August, and I hadn’t missed it at all. So that’s good.

I might have a freelance editing job lined up for when the kids go back to school. You might not get so much blathering from over here if I find I’m actually working instead.

In the last week both kids have started swimming underwater, Mabel for the first time ever and Dash for the first time since a little last summer. My kids have never been those ones who don’t seem to notice whether they’re on top of the water or the water’s on top of them – they would always crane their necks to keep their faces out of the water, even with goggles on for extra protection. So to see them whooshing around underneath all of a sudden is pretty cool. I told Mabel I didn’t do that till I was twelve, and she was well chuffed.

Technically, I finished the 30-day shred yesterday. That is, it was the tenth day I’ve done the level-3 workout. However, I did take off about ten days in July when I was sick and then away, and almost another two weeks from BlogHer until yesterday, and I spent a few intervening days working back up to it by doing levels one and two a couple of times. I don’t feel any different, though it’s not as hard as it was at the start, so I must be at least a tiny bit fitter and stronger. Dash says I look taller, which has to be a good sign. The scales still say I’m a few pounds lighter even though at no point did I stop eating all the muffins I usually eat. I will try to keep going until I get totally bored or something else happens or they go back to school and I try running again.

Since we didn’t do anything today, here are some photos from last weekend, when we took in some history by going to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. A decisive battle of the War of 1812 took place in Baltimore Harbor, and as the poet Francis Scott Key watched to see which flag would be flying over the fort as dawn broke the following morning, he wrote what would become the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner.

Stars and stripes over Fort McHenry
Teeny little flag up high; huge enormous flag down low
Three people walking the battlements
Walking the battlements

What I Wore: BlogHer ’13

Seriously, it is utterly unimportant what you wear to a BlogHer conference (unless it is). I get it now. There is no dress code. Whatever you wear, there will be people who are more stylishly dressed, more formally dressed, more dressily dressed, more quirky, more queer, more basic, more elaborate, or more schlumpy than you. But people tried to tell me this and I studiously ignored them, because planning my wardrobe for the conference was the one area I could have control over in this whole crazy unknown future.
So I feel a bit embarrassed to even share this post, but I’m doing it anyway, precisely because I’m not a fashion blogger or a style blogger or an arty crafty person or anyone with an agenda about what she wears. When I was searching for guidance on this area before I went, I wanted to know what the regular conference-goers wore, not what the style bloggers were showcasing. I’m not saying I’m particularly representative of anything, but I’d say I didn’t stand out as over or underdressed, if that’s what you are going for. And I was comfortable and happy about how I looked, which was the aim of the game. 
My one caveat is that it really is COLD in conference centers, and my thin summer cardigans weren’t quite up to the job, for me. Next time, whenever, if-ever, I’ll bring something a little more substantial. A full-body fleece wouldn’t go amiss. Maybe a Snuggie.
So this was day one. Apologies for the badly lit bathroom selfie. I think my top looks like a sofa, but I hope in a good way. I usually shy away from prints, but this one is so delicate and pretty that I was happy in it. It’s a sleeveless top in a very light chiffony fabric, which would have been perfect in the July weather I was envisaging. In the event, we had an oddly cool few days and I don’t think I removed the cardigan at all. I forgot to wear earrings and thus had a short identity crisis during breakfast, but I got over it.
Top: Marshalls. Khakis: Old Navy. Cardigan: Gap, I think. Sandals: Naot.

On Friday night I got dressed up, but you don’t need to even do that, depending on what parties you might be attending. Again, some did, some didn’t. I didn’t feel overdressed but I was chilly waiting for Voices of the Year to get started. (That’s a polite understatement. Also, they kept turning up the music because Queen Latifah was stuck in traffic, so I couldn’t even chat to my friends without screaming.) The dress looks odd because you can’t see the length, but it’s just to my knee. Both knees, actually. If you were around for the belt discussion, I asked my roomie for her opinion and went without the belt at the last minute. In hindsight, still not sure about that.

Dress: Nine West from Macy’s. Cardigan: Gap, as before. Jewelry: Old Navy. Sandals (not visible, obvs, but I am wearing some): dull gold slingbacks from Softspots with a fairly low heel.

On Saturday morning I was a little hung-over and feeling I’d lived several lifetimes since I’d arrived in Chicago. I already understood about it not mattering what I wore, but I’d packed the clothes so I had to put them on. (See, I didn’t even bother with a selfie, so this is that picture of me and Stacey again.)

Saturday: Green cowl t-shirt, Marshall’s. Cropped stretch denim trousers, New York & Co. Cardigan: Old Navy. Shoes: Naots again, which are incredibly comfortable and well worth the investment.

These trousers (which you can’t see very well) were inexpensive, fit nicely, and are very comfortable thanks to the stretch. I wore this all day, from conference to airport to home at midnight, so I guess it was a good choice. The green and orchid were more vibrant together in real life than they look here, so it wasn’t a day for feeling like blending into the background. It’s good to wear something a little bright or otherwise distinctive, so that if you’re trying to meet up with a stranger you don’t have to tell them you’re the one on the jeans and the black top.

Now I look at it, I really did have the green and purple theme going throughout, which is only because apparently everything I own is either green or purple. When I got to the airport and realised my suitcase was purple and my carry-on backpack was green, it was not really a proud moment. More of a sigh, really.

Greens and purples
See what I mean?