So on my way back to Australia, I was wearing a new bra.

Riveting stuff, right?

The damn thing set off every metal detector I walked through. Suddenly I was a Slightly Interesting Person to the security people.

Only slightly interesting. Being a white, English-speaking female wearing a suburban-mum outfit travelling with an American (and male) spouse and carrying a sleepy three-year-old apparently puts you fairly low on the list of dangerous types. Nevertheless, I was removed from the line and patted down and such.

I’ve read accounts of this that made it seem very upsetting and scary. And I’m sure it was, for those people. Certainly I think that our pallid-middle-class appearance stood us in good stead. But seriously, the TSA people were just so nice! The first time I set the detector off, the guy gave me about five tries to get through without jostling it, then waited while I passed the sleeping ninja to the spouse and waved me through to speak to one of the female TSA people. (Officers? Peons? who knows?) She took one look at my not unimpressive bust and said it was probably my underwire, and did I buy my bra at Nordstroms by any chance?

I had.

She nodded wisely and said that yes, that usually happens. The lines carried at Nordstroms use a heavier gauge of underwire or something. She asked a couple of times if I knew what a patdown entailed and if I wanted to have it in private. (I said no, but it was nice to be asked). The pat-down itself was barely noticeable, and another TSA lady very kindly assisted my husband with our copious carry-ons, stroller, and dozy little ninja while I was otherwise engaged. They were all very friendly and nice about the whole thing, and I was warned that since I knew my underwire would set off the machine, I should just offer to go through the body-scan machine at LAX, when we switched to the international flight, so I wouldn’t have to get patted down again. The TSA lady giving me the patdown assured me that she worked around the machine all the time and had absolutely no worries about safety, radiation-wise, which was a nice effort to be reassuring.

Unfortunately, there was no scanner in the area I went through at LAX, so I had to be metal-detected again. And once again, the lady doing the pat-down was very nice about it, offering me privacy and apologizing a couple of times for having to feel around in the waistband of my jeans. Once again, someone else helped the spouse manage our bags, piling them up on a bench out of the way while he had to wait for me and helping him manage stroller and ninja. They even hurried my mobile phone through the scanner so it could be handed back to the ninja, who is besotted by a new nursery-rhyme program I downloaded for her.

So if you’re traveling to or from the USA, and have heard the scary stories about the TSA… well, sometimes they’re true. But sometimes they can be awfully nice and helpful, too!

And wear a bra with thin underwire.


The Bookshop. THE Bookshop

I am home!

Which, sadly, means that nobody is going to make me a mocha when I lurch out of bed, or offer to cook breakfast for me, or watch the ninja while I sleep until noon. I miss you, kindly mother-in-law! But it does mean that I have my preferred brand of soymilk for my coffee (which the spouse made for me, so I still didn’t have to make my own), my favourite kind of bread for my breakfast toast (the USA does not contain King Henry rye bread, which is a terrible loss for the USA), and I have my own computer again and I have missed it so much!

I have also missed Tumblr. I love you, Tumblr.

It was a pretty great trip, all up. Got to spend time with family, show off my beautiful and well-behaved daughter, and do fun stuff like shop at the BIGGEST BOOK STORE IN THE WORLD. Seriously!

Powells' City of Books

Powells’ City of Books

This is only part of it, by the way – the City of Books is a full city block in size, with many rooms on multiple levels. My personal favourite is the Gold Room, which contains science fiction, fantasy, comic books and manga. Perhaps you would prefer to get some children’s books or YA from the Rose Room, a best-seller from the Green Room, a travel book from the Red Room or a historical tome from the Purple Room. They have everything, and I mean everything.

They buy new and used, so I’ve found out-of-print treasures for a few dollars, including a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Budge’s translation) which I’d been hunting for for ages. It is THE bookshop, the shop of shops, where you really can get lost – seriously, you can get so turned around in there. The spouse tells the story of a man who really did accidentally get locked in there one night at closing – he was sitting in an out of the way corner and had dozed off. There’s a coffee-shop that they let you take books into. There are shopping baskets in bright primary colours and a checking desk, so you can buy an armload of books, drop them off, and keep shopping!

The new and used thing means you should check every copy of a book – some will be much cheaper than others, especially if they’re a little foxed around the edges. There are some amazing bargains – but be warned! It’s possible to spend a lot of money in there very quickly. If you live close enough, you can offset this by bringing old books to sell off, earning yourself some store credit.

If you’re travelling from far away – well, try to control yourself. And make sure you have some spare room in your suitcase. But wherever you are in the world, if you love books, then Powells’ is definitely a place to put on your ‘places to visit’ list. Portland is a lovely city to visit, unless you really hate rain, and I absolutely recommend it a stop – or the destination – on a reader’s literary pilgrimage.

And if you can’t afford that, they have an online store.

An Extra Book

So I’m going to the US for two weeks, leaving next Wednesday. It’s going to be the first time I’m travelling with a tiny person – the ninjatot will be turning three while we’re over there – and I am of course freaking out to a truly paralytic degree because WHAT IF I FORGET A VITAL THING. THERE ARE SO MANY VITAL THINGS PASSPORTS AND TICKETS AND TOYS AND SPARE CLOTHES AND WIPES AND DIAPERS AND NNNGH.

But! There’s an upside!

For the first time, I’ll be travelling on a plane with an e-book reader.

That’s right! No big backpack full of books for me! I’ll have my reader whose charge usually lasts around a week, plus my iphone – which admittedly will mostly be used to keep the kid quiet by letting her play her edumacational games and change my wallpaper repeatedly – my ipod, and Phil, my trusty tablet-with-keyboard-dock. I’m hoping to actually get some writing done, if I can get the ninjatot to sleep. I’ve always had good luck writing on planes. (Phil is named for Phil Coulson, the small, dapper entity who can do almost anything.) I also have a portable recharger for the iphone, which I will undoubtedly need, which can double as an adaptor for charging my devices in the US.

It’s going to be weird, travelling so completely wired up. I’m only going to be taking one paper book! (For take-off and landing. I’ll probably take an Austen, I can always reread those) When I remember earlier trips, with my backpack full of seven or eight books, and the anxious fretting over running through them too fast, it’s hard to believe my reading habits have changed so enormously over the last few years. I bought my first e-reader before my daughter was born, and if you know an expectant mother who likes to read I promise you, it is the best baby shower gift ever. You can work them one-handed, they stay ‘open’ without you needing to hold onto them, the print’s adjustable so you can put it down beside you where the kid can’t see it, and if you’re immobilized by a caesarian you won’t run out of reading material. E-book readers are the mother’s friend!

I find that I rarely read paper books now. I still love them, and I’ll go back to them more when the kid’s a little older, I think – she still rips pages now and then –  but not if I’m planning on leaving the house. Not having to worry about running out of book while I’m out of the house is too awesome to give up. Although now I have to worry about my book running out of battery, which never happened before! And while in theory I have a phone, a tablet and an ipod to amuse me if that happens, my electronic devices have developed a near-uncanny skill at synchronizing their recharging cycles, despite all having a very different battery life.

Oh, well. At least they’re not as heavy as eight books and a laptop, like I had last time!

I hope all of you enjoy your Easter/Spring Celebration/Long weekend, however you spend it!

Exclusionary Health Food

I have some food intolerances – specifically gluten, dairy, and for some reason apricots. My mother attributes my complete inability to consume apricots without feeling sick to the fact that when I was three, I polished off nearly a whole case of them over Christmas and made myself violently ill. Whatever the reason, I can’t have them now.

And boy is a problem with apricots a pain. I have to be very careful about what moisturizers and body-washes I use, because a surprising number of them have a little stow-away called apricot oil. Whenever I question a salesperson, to the tune of ‘Is there apricot in this? I’m allergic to apricots’, they assure me that external use won’t affect me. Yes, well, years of rashes and red blotches say otherwise, pal. Fortunately for me, the cheapest stuff is usually apricot free, so that’s handy.

And then there’s snack foods. Go ahead, try finding a muesli bar (I think they’re called granola bars in the US?) that’s free of gluten, chocolate and apricots. I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing or not, but the ‘healthy’ version, the one without the chocolate chips or yoghurt dips, is almost always full of apricot pieces. It’s a good thing I like nut bars and plain corn-flakes, because even the gluten-free muesli is frequently full of little orange land-mines.

Gluten and Dairy seem to have some kind of mutual exclusivity deal going on, too – one or the other of them stake out most products. I was trying to buy a korma sauce yesterday – I make most of my sauces from scratch, but have not yet mastered the curry family – and couldn’t find a single one that wasn’t loaded with either dairy, wheat, or both. Add in the fact that my husband is allergic to onion, and there’s a reason that I have to make all my sauces from scratch. Onion is scary ubiquitous (and delicious, and I miss it).

I am told by vegetarian friends that stow-away meat essences and fish sauces are legion, by a friend who’s allergic to eggs that they hide everywhere, and none of us can buy canned soup. We all spend hours carefully reading ingredients lists, and enduring the occasional upset stomach when something innocuous turns out to have something dreadful lurking inside it. And we all have to endure the frustration of foods that only omit one thing. Can’t eat gluten? Let’s load it up with dairy! Or soy! Or eggs! Or apricots! And then there’s the ‘health’ foods that feel that healthy = mushy and tasteless.

My intolerances aren’t that severe. Though I’m usually careful about gluten, a little dairy doesn’t bother me too much, so I can at least eat the cheap chocolate. And it’s getting much easier to get gluten and dairy free foods. But I still walk by displays of ‘health’ foods without sparing a glance, because I know they all have milk solids or wheat or apricots or all three. I still know that the Woolworths store brands are actually more likely to be safe for me to eat than the ‘good’ stuff that prides itself on healthfulness. And it bothers me that in my lifetime, hippie child that I was,  ‘health food’ has gone from meaning ‘healthy food’ to meaning ‘expensive macrobiotic crap that doesn’t give a good goddamn about allergies or intestinal health’.

I miss being able to go into health-food stores for something other than vitamins. I used to like it so much when I was a kid.



I hate multitasking.

I really hate that it’s expected of me because I’m female.

Some women multitask just fine, and good for them. But if you’re insanely forgetful, like me, multitasking rapidly turns into ‘wait, was I doing something else? What am I doing now? Did someone just talk to me? What?’ and getting distracted and having a half-dozen half-done tasks instead of four finished ones. I have learned that it is a very bad idea to go put the kettle on while the laundry tub fills, or to answer one email while the kettle boils, or just play one little flash-game while I think about what to write next in an email, because I will invariably forget what I was doing, and then I’ll flood the laundry, realize an hour later that I still don’t have any coffee, or realize two days later that I never finished answering that email.

I can mix related tasks just fine. I can make Kielle’s lunch and my coffee simultaneously. I can answer work emails while answering the phone. But I usually can’t leave the room and remember to come back. And it drives me mad when I get yelled at because of it, as has happened often both at work and at home. My sister once took shameless advantage of the fact that I don’t register sound very well or very fast while reading to walk up to me and say quickly and loudly ‘Hey, Sarah, can I hit you?’

I looked up and said ‘yes?’ because all I’d heard was my name.

She punched me in the arm.

I responded with “OW! Why did you… wait (her earlier words finally registering)… that was mean!”

Our dad, who’d seen the whole thing, nearly passed out laughing and refused to punish her for hitting me because she’d asked permission first.

I have no idea why, but it’s very difficult for me to read and process verbal input simultaneously. My mother has the same problem but even worse – she is literally incapable of reading and talking at the same time (she reads out loud just fine, but can’t read and talk about something different), and has to stop and do a mental reset every time she’s interrupted.

So if you have trouble multitasking, and have been told that you’re just not trying, or not paying attention, or whatever, then I am hugging you in my mind right now. Because I feel your pain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to the bathroom, put my e-reader on the charger, and find my phone. I am confident that I can get at least one of those done before I forget what I was doing and wander back to the computer.

Edit: I got distracted and played five games of Candy Crush before even getting up, and only just now remembered to charge the e-reader, but I got there eventually.


Accentuate the Positive

Negative: I have a heel spur that makes even putting my left foot on the ground super-painful, as it has been exacerbated by walking too much in insufficiently padded shoes.

Positive: Iron-clad reason to spend scarce money on new shoes.

Negative: Tired and cross.

Positive: Despite being tired himself, husband made me coffee and is chasing the toddler for me today, because of my sore foot.

Negative: My bread went moldy.

Positive: Because my foot hurts, my husband has offered to not only go shopping for me, but take the tot with him. Precious time alone to play Dragon Age!

Negative: I need to do laundry.

Positive: I only need to put the laundry into the machine – my husband will hang it all out for me.

Negative: I want to go shopping for assorted small things but can’t because my foot hurts.

Positive: Have plenty of uninterrupted time in which to shop online.

Overall, despite or perhaps because of the sore foot, I’m not doing too badly today.

Being An Adult Is Tiring

So apparently I was so tired yesterday that I forgot to post at all. My only excuse is that I’ve been being a responsible adult all week and it wore me out. Sorting out unemployment payments, parenting payments, a rent assessment, a job-center interview and trying to budget for the Big Girl Bed my daughter needs and the new trampoline mat we’ll all go mad without took it out of me.

If you are the parent of a hyperactive toddler, or know one, may I recommend the backyard trampoline as an unbeatable aid to sanity? They can wear themselves out bouncing around, and pavement chalk works a treat on the mat, so they can draw up there too. This is excellent for the child whose creativity you don’t want to stifle but who cannot be permitted access to crayons, pens or pencils due to an uncontrollable urge to draw on the walls.

One thing I noticed as I was rushing around was the way that most of the people I was dealing with seemed to be willing to go out of their way to help me. Especially since in at least a couple of cases, I’d screwed up on providing information I was responsible for, so the problems were at least in part my fault. Most of the credit goes to the genuinely lovely employees of the various organizations, of course. Working for Centrelink and the Department of Housing has to be pretty thankless, most of the time.

But it did help, as one woman I talked to confirmed when I asked, that I have a good reputation with these organizations. I always overpay my rent a little to the DoH to build up a cushion for emergencies, which they love. I’m always pleasant to Centrelink employees, thank them for their help, and don’t complain about the long waits or hoops they make me jump through (at least, not to their faces or in any way that could get back to them). I try to get appropriate information to them on time. So when I screw up they’re understanding about it, rather than assuming I’m trying some sort of scam.

I am constantly baffled by the number of people who throw fits at Centrelink or scream curses at the receptionist at the DoH office. Surely if there was ever a time to try to attract civil servants with honey, not vinegar…! Anyone who’s worked in customer service knows that customers as a group are grasping, rude and deceitful, but it’s even worse when you’re providing a necessary service rather than a product they can take or not as they like. (This may explain why most Centrelink/unemployment offices appear to be staffed with a combination of tired, flustered saints and former prison guards discharged for unnecessary cruelty to prisoners.)

I cannot too strongly recommend being nice to people providing you with a service. Not only is it the decent thing to do anyway, but a little good-will built up with your landlord or your unemployment officer can go a long, long way if you run into trouble.

Now I have to go pay the electricity bill and oh crap I owed a write-up on choose-your-own-adventure stories to Kess two days ago.  (Revelations in real time! That’s the kind of raw honesty this blog has!)