Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Shameless Promotion

This weekend, Peter's going to be showing his lovely photographs at the RDS in the Art Ireland show. I know, I'm biased. But I've watched people look at his art in a couple of shows now and the verdict is unanimous - everyone thinks they look like paintings.

Don't take my word for it. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by. And if you email me (annbscanlan AT, I can send you free passes. I'm going to be there with him all weekend as well and since I missed the Irish Blog Awards, I'd like to meet some real, live Irish bloggers.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What Not to Wear

Yesterday was quite a busy day for us. Peter was asked to give an exhibition of his photography as part of a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birthday. The concert was held in Dalkey and we spent the afternoon hanging photographs and generally running around in a frantic fashion.

I’d asked Peter about two weeks ago what I’d need to wear to the concert and he said he’d ask the organiser. You can see where this is going. He didn’t get a chance to ask. Peter is, as he would tell you himself, casual to a fault. His plan was a very manly plan to wear whatever.

Luckily, the art exhibition part of the evening featured another artist. So, as she was hanging her paintings, I asked her what she was wearing. She laughed and said she’d asked the organiser the very same question and was told to wear a skirt, that it should be very dressy. That sort of scuppered my “business casual plus” plans.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the revelation that this was meant to be a dressy occasion. I’d been reading the context clues: Dalkey, 20 euro tickets, classical music; and my gut had told me that trousers and a sweater were not going to cut it. The trouble was, I hadn’t taken my gut one step further and bought something to wear. I knew when I threw open the wardrobe doors, I was going to find a huge gap in my dressy-wear.

I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but I am really crap at being a girl. I’ve no real interest in fashion, I’ve worn make-up exactly twice in the last seven years, and I hate shopping for clothes. I’m good at being a girl in the negative sense – I’ve a horrible body-image and completely conflicted feelings about food, weight, and appearance. This creates the perfect storm of meltdown opportunity when I have to rummage through my clothes and find something dressy to wear.

When we got home to change for the evening’s big event, I found that the snazzy portion of my clothes cupboard was bare. I have one nice cocktail dress that seemed a little too dressy for someone who wasn’t performing in the concert. I have a couple of flirty little skirts that I’ve bought with Peter’s approval in mind but I never have the confidence to actually wear. I have a greeny-cotton dress with a jacket that I bought to wear to our friends’ wedding in Germany. That probably would have been fine except, as much as I loved the dress in the fitting room at Marks and Sparks, I felt frumpy and old when I wore it at the wedding.

The business side of my wardrobe is doing great. I have an entire army of business suits. (Although I should mention these are all trousers – not a skirt in sight.) I have several pairs of smart polyester-cotton blend trousers that are right for any business occasion. I have nice androgynous button-down shirts, classy Banana Republic t-shirts, and a few smart-looking sweaters.

I can postulate a couple of reasons for my dearth of good dressy clothes. Being married to Casual Man, we don’t exactly swirl the hip clubs and cocktail party circuit. I don’t attend many events where the dress code requires upscale and classy outfits. I can’t entirely blame Peter and our low-key social life. I’m also notoriously cheap, so I won’t buy things unless I have a very good reason.

But the biggest reason, I think, is that I’m completely allergic to and psychologically traumatised by skirts. From my rudimentary understanding of women’s fashion, the skirt is the building block of dressy wardrobes. An actual dress is well and good, but it limits you. A skirt is much more adaptable. For example, you can wear the right skirt in any season just by changing what you wear on top.

Being a good Catholic schoolgirl, I had to wear a skirt every school day for 12 years. We’re talking about twelve long, formative years of ugly and unflattering skirts. I can’t get past the bad mental associations I have with skirts.

I also feel like I don’t have a body type that looks good in a skirt. I’m short and I have a big ass. It’s difficult to find clothes that fit properly. A skirt draws a line at your waist, which is the last thing I need. It highlights the fact that my butt is large and I don’t have a lot of torso. I am not willowy. I am more fire-hydrant-y. (I’m not complaining here – I’ve never fallen off a horse because of my fantastically low centre of gravity. Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. Or off horses.)

Back to last night, I tore through my wardrobe, rejected the flirty skirts and ended up with navy blue trousers, a bluey-purply button down shirt, and a navy blue short-length jacket. I looked like I was there for a job interview, which is exactly how I looked last September when I wore a pantsuit to a friend’s wedding.

The writing on the wall is clear to me. Unless I want to spend the next several years at weddings and dressy functions looking like I’ve arrived to complete people’s income tax returns, I’m going to need to invest in some good dressy clothes. The trouble is I have no idea where to start. (My evil-mean-girl voice is telling me I could start by losing a stone.) I’m so desperate, in fact, that I looked up the website for that television program, What Not to Wear, even though I’ve never watched it. Luckily, I do not meet any of the criteria that they’re looking for in their next season, so they’ve unwittingly saved me from myself. For now, at least.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I’m Home…

Last Wednesday, when I stepped off the plane into a fine misty rain*, I knew that I was home. Well and truly home. The concept of home is an amorphous one and it can be a bit tricky when you’ve made a big move like we have.

“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy three times as she clicked the heels of her ruby slippers. Not too long ago, if I’d been given a pair of those glittery slippers and made a similar wish, I’d have ended up in Wheaton, Illinois. As recently as December, when I thought of home, I thought of good old 835, the house Peter and I owned for three years.

Good thing I didn’t have such a non-conventional traveling device since I would have ended up in the middle of someone else’s home. Our former neighbors have sent us pictures and I get reports occasionally from a friend who drives past the house. It’s been girl-ed up with window boxes of flowers, a new front door, and all manner of patio furniture. Goodness knows what’s happened to the inside of the place. In my mind’s eye, it will always be the way I left it – clean, organised, and tastefully decorated.

Visiting my parents in Cleveland over Christmas disabused me of the notion of home being in Wheaton. As I sat on a Continental flight, I felt like I was on Aer Lingus Flight #125. I fully expected the plan to deposit me in O’Hare, as had happened so many other times. Ending up in Cleveland Hopkins Airport went a long way to convincing me that Chicago was part of my past.

I’m not quite sure how, exactly, but over the last three months, Dublin has become home for me. Maybe it’s because I have a full-time permanent job now instead of just a contract. Maybe it’s because I’m putting down roots by joining a camogie team and undertaking the search for an Irish teacher. Maybe it’s just that I’m a slow changer and my mind took awhile to catch up with my body.

All I know is that while I have the occasional “I can’t believe I really live here” moments (usually when I have a jog along the Vico Road and can see Bray Head and Dublin Bay, which is much different than anything Chicago had to offer), when I think of home, I think of Dublin.

*Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like the Beatles when you get to walk down the little staircase and across the tarmac on an Aer Lingus or a Ryan Air flight? I always have to suppress the silly urge to wave.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Holidays and Bikinis

I'm going to be out of town for the next two weeks. I am meeting my "little" brother Patrick in Venice and then we're setting out for Slovenia, our other ancesteral land. My father has a good post on our intentions. Of course, I will write about it on Travels with Grandma when I return. (And I promise not to be such a slacker this time and take a month to write the trip report. :))

I'd planned on writing something about perceptions, but I have a precious few hours to spend with Peter (who's been in Chicago for a week) before I leave for my trip. Instead, in celebration of March and the imminent arrival of spring, I'm going to leave you with an essay I wrote (and failed to sell to several magazines) about bathing suits.

In the gray, mushy middle of March, a Memorial Day weekend trip to Key West with my youngest brother sounded like the ideal way to celebrate the much-anticipated arrival of summer. Something about the sunshine, warmth, and extreme southern location appealed to me. We would be clinging to the edge of the continental US, drinking fruity rum punches and relaxing in style.

Somewhere in the middle of this reverie, a near debilitating thought lodged in my brain. I would have to buy a bathing suit. Not only buy a bathing suit, but also appear in public in it. And not just appear in any old public - I would be surrounded by beautiful, young, tropics-seekers.

It was nearly enough to make me change the itinerary and visit Alaska instead. But the draw of the sun after a long, frigid winter was more powerful than my fear of public revelation of cellulite. And so the hunt for a bathing suit began.

At this point, I should explain. In the last four years, I've lost about 70 pounds and I am now at the upper limit of my acceptable weight zone. Like a lot of people, I would love to lose those last five or ten pounds, but I try not to focus on it too much. I work out regularly, eat right, and try to take good care of myself. In short, I'm healthy and fit. But a funny thing happens when I look in a changing room mirror.

The minute I step in front of a fitting room mirror, my butt expands to rival Nebraska, my thighs become sequoias, my stomach splits into several rolls of flab and my chest takes a holiday. Everything I don't like about my body is magnified to horrific proportions. I'm convinced that stores must purchase their mirrors from the same distributor as fun houses.

I bought the first suit I tried on – a blue palm tree print bikini top with skimpy shorts. It was cute and I wanted to be done with the whole shopping expedition. The bikini skulked in the bottom of my underwear drawer for weeks. And a thought gnawed anxiously on my spare brain cells – "That is not enough clothing to wear in public. How is that even legal? How many rude comments will I hear?"

A week before the trip, I bought two more bathing suits – a tankini with running shorts and a one-piece that promised to elongate my torso and minimize my upper thighs. I figured I had a bathing suit for every eventuality – a sporty one for kayaking and snorkeling, a one-piece for safely swimming with the dolphins, and a skimpy bikini for hiding in the bottom of my bag.

The trip itself was everything I'd hoped it would be and more. My tankini served me well through kayaking, snorkeling, and relaxing in the ocean. The one-piece was perfect for swimming with the dolphins. And the bikini hid in the bottom of my bag.

We went to the beach every day and I began to notice something. Women of all shapes and sizes seemed perfectly happy in their bathing suits and in their bodies. Sure, some of them had super-human Barbie-like proportions, but most were just regular people. They were all out having fun, not caring if their thighs jiggled a little. The beach wasn't the junior high school I feared it would be. No one was laughing or pointing, they were all too busy swimming, sunning or socializing.

So, on the last night, I reached into my bag and pulled out the bikini. We went to the beach just before the sunset, bobbed around in the giant salty bath and watched the ships go out for the sunset tours. It didn't finally matter that I wasn't 100% happy with my body because I was 100% happy with my life in general at that very moment.