Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Tribe

Ten years ago, when I first walked into a local Unitarian Universalist fellowship, immediately I thought, "I found my people!" It's such a great feeling when you find a group of like-minded people. Here was a cluster of left-leaning, NPR-listening, solstice-celebrating, friendly folks who care about social justice, human rights, and so much more. I wanted to be in the club immediately.

I felt much the same way when I got involved in animal rescue. It's nice to have friends who don't think you're a nut job for believing that dogs are worth the trouble, that helping them is worth the trouble.

Are we supposed to limit ourselves to one tribe?  I feel like I want to hang out with a few different ones. In high school, I always liked the theater kids. I wasn't one of them (mostly because I couldn't sing/act/dance), but they weren't judge-y, and I liked that vibe. I did get into the chorus for a musical one time, but the school ended up canceling the whole production. I guess it was probably easier for them to cancel the musical than to have to break it to me that I couldn't sing.

When it comes to the vegan culture, I am not sure if I'm a true member or not. Maybe it's like me and the theater kids all over again - which is fine, really. My journey to veganhood was pretty long. I became a vegetarian when I was 19. I've always had a deep concern about animals and their welfare. In college, every time I had to write a non-fiction piece, I wrote about the evils of animal testing (honestly, I can't believe it's still happening, 25+ years later). I did a lot of reading on the topic of animal rights. I opened my eyes to a lot of very bad things. At that time in my life, I was vaguely aware of the concept of a vegan lifestyle. I didn't know any vegans, certainly. Hell, I was the only vegetarian in most places I went - from work to school to family gatherings.

Over the years, I became more aware of the differences between a vegan diet and a vegetarian diet. A vegan diet is more challenging sometimes (like eating out, for example).  I mean, not impossibly so, of course, but I remember thinking that it would simply be too hard to cut out eggs and such. Unaware at the time that vegan cakes exist, it seemed really sad to think of not being able to eat cake on my birthday. And so I chugged along, eating my usual vegetarian diet. I did make one change, several years ago, which was to cut out dairy milk and switch to almond milk. Finally, two years ago, I followed my baby sister's lead and went vegan. Eating a vegan diet does require a bit of forethought, but it's not nearly as hard as I'd feared it would be. Most days, it's downright easy to follow a plant-based diet.

Being a vegan is as much about a lifestyle as it is about a diet. For most vegans, I don't think the health benefits are even at the top of the list of "good things about being a vegan."  For most, it's more about living a cruelty-free life and trying to leave as small a footprint on the planet as possible. The more I thought about the industries that my vegetarian diet was supporting, the more I felt sick about it.  Sure, a dairy cow usually gets to live for a few years, but that doesn't really make up for what is done to her in those short few years. The ice cream ads show happy, smiling cows that can't wait for you to enjoy the delicious dairy ice cream but what we forget is: that milk wasn't made for us. It was made for the calf that was ripped away from her immediately.  I think being a vegan is about putting your money where your mouth is and living what you believe.

Now, I should state that I don't claim to be super great at some of this stuff. I sort of doubt that my preferred brand of mascara was never tested on animals. But I try to weed the cruelty out of my life as much as I can.  I'm learning. I'm trying.

It was in the interest of trying and learning that I attended a vegan festival last weekend. They had speakers, cooking demos, exhibitors and - most importantly - a food court. I studied the menus ahead of time to figure out which dishes I was most interested in trying. I don't know when I've been so excited. As any vegan will tell you, eating out is not always that easy - some parts of the country are definitely harder than others (depending on whether your part of the country thinks that vegans are simply mentally ill or not).

I arrived at the festival just as it was about to open. I had spent the night at a friend's house the night before since the event was held a couple hours away from my home. The lobby of the expo center was chock full of people waiting to get in. It was really hard to tell where the line was. I got into a line that I thought was the line, but later realized that I had probably (and unwittingly) cut off some people behind me. One thing about a gathering of people who are committed to non-violence . . . I knew no one would say, "Listen, bitch, get to the back of the line where you belong." The whole event turned out to be pretty darned crowded even after we all made it through the turnstile, but everyone was very nice. I felt a little inadequate with my two measly tattoos, though.  The actual requirement seems to be much higher. I have to think about each tattoo for several years ahead of time before getting them, though, so it might take a while for me to catch up.

I hadn't eaten breakfast (on purpose), so my first stop was to get some faux egg salad. I ate that while I perused the list of vendors, speakers, etc. Then I made a loop through the exhibitor room. I picked up an old-school tofu cookbook and scoped out some other stuff I thought I might buy before the day was over. I then decided it was high time for a second breakfast. Two different vendors had cinnamon rolls. I am allergic to flax seed, and since it's a common ingredient in baked goods. I knew I'd better ask. The first vendor was quick to confirm that her cinnamon rolls do contain flax seed. I scored with the second vendor, though.

Next, I attended a cooking demo. The chef was hilarious. It was seriously one of the most entertaining things I've ever attended. He showed us how to make a vegan blue cheese dressing and a seitan dish (by the way, spell check really wants to change seitan to senorita). After the demo, I headed back to the exhibitor area to buy some of the stuff I'd seen earlier: some soap, a tee shirt, and a $7 chocolate bar (I was feeling splurge-y!) After my minor spending spree, I decided it was time for lunch. By this time, the food court was insanely crowded.  So, I picked a restaurant rather randomly - a taco joint.  The line was long but not nightmarishly so.  I enjoyed my tacos and then got in the ice cream line.  The festival featured a vendor selling soy ice cream. I had seen umpteen people walking by with ice cream and I could not resist.  As I stood in line, I decided to get a single scoop of chocolate ice cream in a dish. However, when I got up to the front of the line, I heard my voice say this: "I'll have a double scoop in a waffle cone, please," It was really good. Ben & Jerry's recently came out with a line of dairy-free ice cream. I can't even have it in the house because I will freak the fuck out and eat it in one sitting.

After scarfing down my ice cream, I headed home. It was such a great day. I ran into several friends, talked to a few strangers, picked up some good information, and ate some awesome food. One of the vendors was selling whoopie pies and I was seriously tempted, but I truly did not have one inch of space left in my stomach.

The event reminded me that I'm not the only one. There are many in this tribe. If I do get that next tattoo, I'm thinking of the word Ahimsa.  Definition:  A Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu doctrine expressing belief in the sacredness of all living creatures and urging the avoidance of harm and violence.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I'm Tired of Explaining Very Bad Things to My Child

Every day this week, I have driven my daughter to a summer camp program at the local humane society. On the way there, we pass several flag poles in front of various buildings. On each, the US flag is flying at half-staff. It occurred to me that I hadn't really talked to my daughter about the massacre that took place in Orlando last weekend.

"Do you know why the flags are flying at half-staff?" I asked her.

"No, what does that mean?" she replied.

I explained that when there is a national tragedy, flags are lowered halfway as a sign of respect and mourning.

I wasn't sure what to say about the murders, so I started with this: "On Saturday, a guy walked into a nightclub in Orlando and killed a lot of people. A bunch of others were injured."


Why, indeed. I did mention to her that this was a club that's popular with the LGBTQ community and that, as far as I know, the people who died were gay. I didn't bring in the "Islamic extremism" component because I think it's still unclear what this lunatic's deal was. There have been some reports that he was gay himself, which would certainly make our understanding of the massacre a little murkier.

My explanation of what happened in Orlando was inadequate at best. I truly did not know how to articulate the horror of it all.

When my daughter was younger, I was always careful to use language that would not alienate her if it happened to turn out that she is gay. For example, I would say, "Someday you might marry a boy or you might marry a girl."  She had watched a hundred Disney movies at that point and since the princess always marries a prince, I guess I just wanted it to be clear that there are other - equally acceptable - scenarios.  As it turns out, she is soundly heterosexual. We recently had to re-paint a wall in her room because she had painted some boy's name (in florescent paint, no less) on it. She's currently enamored with a lad who lives a few blocks away, so now she likes to sit outside in the front yard at random intervals, just in case he might ride by on his bike. All of a sudden, she is super helpful about taking Grover on walks. We know why (and where) she is walking him, but her dad and I don't say anything because tired Grovers are good Grovers.

Even though my daughter and I are not members of the LGBTQ community, I am doing my best to raise her to be a good ally in general (to anyone who can use an ally, really). A couple weeks ago, I hosted a Pride Sunday service at my church. I've been coordinating that annual service for a few years now. My daughter generally attends, unless she's out of town or something like that. A few weeks before this year's Pride Sunday service, I was at a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting and mentioned that I was still seeking speakers for the service. One gentleman (the father of a gay son) said, "It's great that you are doing that." I looked down at my hands and didn't know what to say. I felt embarrassed. The last thing I want is to be congratulated for not being homophobic. I also don't want someone to look at me and think, "Who do you think you are? The self-appointed champion for the disenfranchised?"

If I'm being truly, truly honest, I do have a bit of an ulterior motive in attending GSA meetings and coordinating Pride services and such: I meet a lot of interesting people that way. That's it. That's my secret. I do not mean to imply that gay/transgender/queer people are innately more fascinating than regular ol' straight/cis-gender people, but I really just enjoy meeting different types of people, introvert though I am. Maybe it's that those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community know what it's like to be different, and I know what that's like, too. Maybe it's because adversity builds character. I'm not sure.  What I am sure of, however, is that as long as there are people in my life (close friends as well as family members) who are gay/transgender/queer/whatever the other letters stand for, I am going to care about the fact that their rights are different from my rights. It's that simple.

I'm truly grateful to know that my daughter is part of a generation that cares an awful lot less about everyone's genitalia than the generations before it. I am hopeful that all of the things that have caused so much grief in the past will eventually be non-issues. I am sincerely worried that intolerance is on the rise again, though. Trump's fans have made intolerance into a brand, it seems. "Make America Great Again." Yeah? When was it so great? Everyone talks about the 1950s like it was some idyllic time in our history. It seems like we forget that Jim Crow laws were still in effect in the 1950s.  And that the Cold War was still on. I could go on and on, but my history knowledge is a little bit sucky and I'd have to do a lot of Googling.

In addition to increased tolerance across the board, the other development I'd like to see in my lifetime is for the "lifestyle choice" bit to fade away. I mean, completely. I have a young friend (just graduated high school) who is FTM transgender. He's been quite the activist, having changed some bathroom policies at his high school and influenced policy across the whole district. In March of this year, he had the "top" surgery that he had been looking forward to for a long time. He has been very open about his journey and posts videos and such on social media. After his surgery, the dude had incisions on each side of his chest that started near the middle and extended clear under his arms. I mean, I was in pain just looking at the incisions. But he was ecstatic. Do you think anyone would go through such an ordeal unless it was essential to living their authentic life?

When I was around eight years old, I saw the movie "Return From Witch Mountain." I was transfixed by the boy in that movie. I thought he was just the cutest boy in the whole world - I mean, I felt it at a visceral level. Did I think the girl who played his sister was adorable? Nope. I only had eyes for Tony. My point is, for most of us, we just know. It's not a choice. When I see Harry Connick Jr. on TV or in a movie, my brain says, "Woo hoo!" If I see Julia Roberts, my brain says, "Whatevs." For those who do think these things are a choice, I would invite you to think about getting it on with the gender to which you are not attracted. Imagine being all but forced to do that.

Was the Orlando shooter a homophobe? A radical Islamist? Both? I don't know. I can't make sense of any of this. The gay community was clearly and obviously targeted - this was not random. I don't know why 49 lives were taken in one horrific night. I don't know how to explain it to my daughter. All I can do is to try to raise her to be caring and kind, with a sincere appreciation for the diversity all around her. Maybe her generation will find a way to fix some of what plagues us as a people. We can only hope.

Peace. It's what's up.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Walking the bleep out of this town

In the past few weeks, my daughter and I have completed two 5Ks and one 10K. I can't run, but we have walked this town like I don't know what. A year ago, I actually thought I had a shot at running these events, or at least jogging them. But now, since I'm falling apart, walking them seems like a lofty enough goal. The first of the three events was in May. It was a quick little 5K - seemed like we were done in no time and had our medals swinging from our necks. I felt a tiny bit guilty for receiving a medal for completing a walk that the average 80-year-old can do, but what the hell - I'll take positive reinforcement any way I can get it.

The second event was also a 5K, but this one was a pet walk benefiting the local humane society. The kid and I took Grover.  Grover is now 33 pounds.  He weighed 11 pounds when we brought him home in March, so he has tripled in size since he joined our family. It usually takes me a least a year to triple my size. Anyway, he uses all 33 of those pounds to pull with all his might. I don't know where he thinks he's going, but he definitely wants to be first to get there. The kid and I traded off as we went along, depending on whose arms were tired at any given moment.  The walk passed through a wildlife sanctuary, where Grover proceeded to eat goose poop any chance he got. Blech.

The third event was a 10K.  I was a little bit nervous about this event for two reasons: the forecast was calling for temperatures in the 90s, and my feet haven't walked as far as that since the whole plantar fasciitis thing kicked off last year.  However, I was pretty determined.  The day before the event, I picked up our race packets at a local park. Just as I arrived, there was a "triumph mile" event where folks with a range of disabilities ran/walked/wheeled down the street with their helpers/companions. It was about the most heartwarming thing I have ever seen in my life. I stood on a corner grinning from ear to ear as I watched these folks head towards the finish line.

When I got home, after picking up the packets, I suggested to my daughter that she pick out her gear that night vs. waiting until the next morning. I knew we'd need to leave at about 7:15 a.m. and I know what my daughter is capable of accomplishing at that hour: almost nothing. I also reminded her that it's much easier to pin the race bib onto one's shirt before putting the shirt on one's body.  Needless to say, she decided to save everything until the next morning, because erupting into a meltdown is always the way to go. I heard her screaming at her dad to help her pin on the bib. He told her to simmer down and stop acting like an idiot. So then she started screaming, "YOU CALLED ME AN IDIOT!" As you can imagine, I could hardly wait to spend two hours (in sweltering temperatures) walking with her.

P dropped us off in the vicinity of the start line so that we could go and find our starting corral. This event usually has around 17,000 participants, so you can imagine the crowd.  We found our spot and waited for the race to begin. As I was standing there with my crabby child, I looked down at her shirt and couldn't help but notice that . . . it was on backwards. "You and your father carried on like that this morning and neither of you noticed that the shirt was on backwards?!" She turned it around and I helped her to re-pin the race bib.

Eventually we made it across the start line (about a half-hour after the gun).  The elite runners had already finished the 10K and were crossing the finish line. Can you imagine running 10K in 30 minutes flat? I sure can't.

About ten minutes into the walk, the kid turned to me and informed me that she didn't feel well and hadn't felt well since she woke up. Seriously?! We were in the middle of thousands of people on a one-way course. Even if I called her dad to come and pick her up, he'd never be able to get even vaguely close to where we were. She clutched her stomach and made "woe is me" faces, and asked me if I could slow down. Walking a 10K in the searing heat is hard enough, but doing it with 70.8 pounds of complaints in tow makes it extra fun (we have a new scale so that's how I know her exact weight). I encouraged her to keep going and to cool off at the next sprinkler. Because of the heat, there were sprinklers and hoses everywhere (manned by residents along the course route), along with lots of water stations.  Sure enough, once she was sopping wet, she seemed to feel a bit better. One of the water stations was also handing out cups of ice. I took an ice cube and quickly and surreptitiously shoved it into my sports bra. "MOM!" I thought she was going to melt into the pavement. She was absolutely mortified.  So yes, I embarrass her just by having boobs. And breathing. And everything else I do, I guess.  When we approached the "mile of music" and she could hear some 70's-era music playing, she got really nervous. "Mom. You can't dance. Okay? You can't dance."  I was suddenly overcome with the urge to lay down the boogie, but I suppressed it.

Anyway, it was slow going, but we finished it. We received our medals.  You know, all I can hope is that when she is an old lady, she might look back at her medals and remember that she did all that stuff with her mom, her embarrassing mom with the sweaty bosom. And someday, she'll have an opportunity to embarrass her children and something tells me . . . she will do so with gusto.

Before the Pet Walk

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Old Dogs and the New

(Yes, that is a lame Game of Thrones reference.)

I wrote this reflection as part of a Pet Blessing service at my church, so I thought I may as well make it a blog entry, too.

As a veteran foster volunteer with over 16 years’ of experience, puppies, with their bad decision-making skills and poor bladder control, most certainly wore out their welcome at my home many years ago. Most of the dogs I have fostered were adults, but a few were pups. Naughty pups. I remember one naughty one named Sabrina, who somehow got a hold of one of my diabetic cat’s hypodermic needles and ran past me with the syringe between her teeth.  “What’s the matter?” I asked as I pried open her jaw and then shoved the syringe into the sharps container, “You couldn’t find a steak knife?” My husband and I did raise a puppy of our own (named Lucy Annabel) many years ago, but since then, we’ve mostly adopted adult dogs: Karl Lee, Gideon, and Gretchen. Karl passed away about a year after we lost Lucy. P and I have managed to remain firmly anti-puppy over the years.  And then, we lost Giddy.

Gideon died in January. He was my boy. My Giddy Giddy Gumdrops. Giddy-up. The Goodest Good
Boy in the Whole Wide World. I loved that goofy dog with all my heart. I loved his smooshy face. I loved the way he would jump straight into the air at mealtime, as if I might possibly consider canceling his breakfast altogether if he didn’t complete the acrobatics routine. We ultimately lost him to degenerative myelopathy. He declined for a year, losing his ability to walk day by day. I bought him boots so that he could get some traction. A friend gave me a sling to help support his back end as needed.  Last August, we were up north at a friend’s cabin. When we are at the lake, we put our dogs on tie-out cables when they have to go potty.  The northwoods are vast and there are, you know, bears and wolves and such.  Because of Gideon’s mobility issues, we decided to stop putting him on the tie-out.  He was tripping over the cable, which was problematic because he was already having such a tough time keeping four legs under him. We figured, “Hey, he can barely walk. He’s not gonna run off - where would he go?”  Seconds later, I found myself  running down a dirt road, chasing an elderly, toothless Boxer as he galumphed towards the woods, legs all akimbo.

When he stopped eating, we knew he was ready to move on. And so, P and I took him to the vet for the last time. Gideon, the goodest good boy in the whole wide world, died in a shower of my tears. No one jumps for their dinner at our house now. I miss him every day. I wear him on my leg in a colorful tattoo that brings me great joy.

As a rescue volunteer, many people have asked me how to know when it’s the right time to think about getting a new companion. I have seen some folks find a new furry friend almost immediately. I have seen others grieve for years, their hearts still too tender to accommodate another. There is no right or wrong answer to the question. I do think it’s important to think of the new companion in terms of a whole new relationship, not a replacement for an old one.

So it was, a few weeks after Gideon’s passing, that the P word came up.  I had been poking around a bit, checking out some breeders. When Lucy was still with us (but before our daughter was born), I competed with her in Obedience and Agility. I thought it might be fun to get back into that. We decided to put down a deposit on a Boxer puppy.  The litter was born February 2nd.

At the end of March, we brought Grover home. I think my husband and I had surprised ourselves by adding a puppy to our family. We knew what we were in for. The pee. The poop. The razor sharp teeth.  Grover was (and is) full of all of those things. When he finally gets tired and collapses in a heap in our laps, we remember why we signed up for this. It’s hard to be crabby around that level of cuteness. And sometimes, just sometimes, we get a glimpse of the dog he will be in the future. He is growing on us and already has a collection of nicknames. Grover from Dover. Grovie. Goofy Grover. He’s most definitely not the goodest good boy in the whole wide world, but . . . he has potential.

Friday, June 10, 2016

No one has peed on it yet

The big excitement in our house this week? We got new carpet. I've been replacing the flooring throughout our house over the last few years. First I had the kitchen tile done. Then, I went for the living room, dining room, and a hallway. Finally, this week, I had the three bedrooms (plus the other hallway) done. Once that expense is paid off, I'll look into re-tiling the bathroom floors. And then I'll be done with such things until I'm dead. The next time someone has to replace this carpeting, it will be because I've died on it and it's chock full of my DNA.

I had picked out the carpeting several weeks ago. I chose a silver/grey (ahem, "granite dust") for the master bedroom (I hesitate to call it a master bedroom because I think it's only three inches wider than the other bedrooms). The kid selected blue carpeting for her room. I chose a standard sandy color for the guest-room-slash-office. Then I decided to have the hallway done in the same color as the living room and dining room.

I know they don't get the best reviews online, but I've always been happy with Home Depot and its installation contractors. The dudes who show up to install the flooring seldom speak much English but they are very polite and seem to know what they're doing. I've never had any complaints. When they arrived on Monday, Jose came in first and asked me to come out to the truck to make sure the carpet they brought is what I was expecting. I held my carpet squares up to the rolls and was satisfied that I hadn't been short-changed or anything. I gave him a quick tour of the house. We had emptied out the bedrooms almost completely except for a few furniture items. So, I needed to give him a rundown of "this will fall apart if you don't move it carefully" items.

After that, I mostly just tried to stay out of their way. I took Grover for a brief walk and it occurred to me, when I was several blocks away, that I'd left my purse on the counter while I had strangers in my house. However, I wasn't super worried because Jose's neck tattoo indicated that "Family is everything," and he seemed very trustworthy.  Today, a lady from Home Depot called with a survey about the installation so I gave Jose and his helper 10s across the board. I couldn't think of anything to complain about. I found a small nail on the floor after they left but for all I know, it fell out of Grover's mouth or something.

Anyway, it's very nice to have new carpeting throughout the house. 16 years of fostering did a number on the old stuff. I take in fewer foster dogs now, so I'm hoping to keep the new stuff looking decent for a few years, at least. Grover and I had a discussion about his bladder and he's promising to do his best to keep his pee-pee off my new carpet. If not, I'm giving him to Jose because then he would be a member of Jose's family and, as you know, family is everything.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

That one time when I could eat all the things

I stepped outside my comfort zone on Saturday evening and attended a vegan potluck with a bunch of strangers (well, one of the attendees is a new-ish friend that I met a few months ago, but I don't yet know her well enough to get a feel for high her Claudia Tolerance Level is). I am so glad I went. I met some really nice people and got some good recipe ideas, too.

Normally, when I go to a potluck, I can only eat one thing: whatever I brought. Sometimes I may indulge in a handful of potato chips or scoop a handful of carrot sticks, but everything else is too scary.  My relatives and church friends definitely make an attempt to make sure I can eat something, which is great. Generally speaking, though, potlucks are hard for plant-based eaters. I end up poking at dishes and yelling in the vague direction of the other attendees: "Who brought this? What's in it?"

As for my contributions to the potluck, I brought two items: a zucchini casserole and rice krispie treats.  I took home empty containers, so I'm assuming my stuff was edible. In case you are wondering about the rice krispie treats . . . yes, vegan marshmallows exist. I purchased the Dandie's brand. They aren't cheap, but they're good. I actually made a double batch so that I could take some treats to church the next day, too.

As far as what I ate, I am happy to report that I tried nearly everything. I get a little nervous about eating new things because of my allergy to flax seed, but everything was deeeelicious (and I didn't have an allergic reaction, which is always bad at parties).  It was also nice to hang out with people who don't think you're crazy for caring about the welfare of animals and, in fact, they care about these issues deeply, too.

I'm attending a vegan fest on the 18th. I'm really excited about that - they have speakers, food, and lots of good information. On June 13th, I'll celebrate my two-year veganversary. I've learned a lot over the past two years. Now that I know what I can eat, I need to focus on, um, eating less of it. Normally, I am not the type to take a photo of my food. However, I did take a photo of my plate at the pot luck, if for no other reason to make the point that a vegan diet is not limiting. I am sorry it took me so long to make the transition myself, but I also a firm believer that we all have to take our own path. Nudging someone to do anything rarely works. If you're toying with the idea of eating less meat, that's great. I am a fan of the Meatless Monday movement because I'm pretty sure that everyone can go for a day without meat.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

"Do you have anything to de-clay-ah?"

I have to tell you about my new obsession: "Border Security: Australia's Front Line."  Apparently the show has been around for a while but it only recently hit my radar when I found it on Netflix. It's just about the most fascinating thing I've ever seen. It's like a psychology course and a sociology course all wrapped up in one.

The show is filmed at several airports and mail centers in Australia. Sydney and Melbourne are featured heavily. Agents are tasked with keeping people from bringing naughty things into the country - and Australia's definition of "naughty things" is very broad indeed.  A lot of the people who get stopped do not speak English. However, it matters not because the declaration card they were given is printed in every language imaginable.  "Did you understand the cahd?" the agents often ask.

If you declare your shit - your mangoes, your cigarettes, and such - it's usually fine. I mean, they will take it away from you if it's not allowed, but they won't fine you. It's the people who take their chances by checking "no" who are really in for it. It amazes me what people pack in their suitcases! I mean, I am not a world traveler but it's just common sense that you don't try to travel with all kinds of nutty stuff - particularly not in a post-911 world.

My favorite part is how unfailingly polite the Australian customs and immigration officers are. "So, you use cannabis but not cocaine, sir?" Nothing fazes them, either. One agent opened a container of dead fish and found swarms and swarms of ants. I mean, these ants had their own little community set up - they had built a hospital and a post office and everything. The two ladies who were trying to bring the fish into the country seemed completely nonchalant. Like, "Oh well, an infestation of the food we were going to eat. C'est la vie." I've noticed that I have to try to suppress my innate cultural bias when watching the show, because a lot of the folks traveling from Vietnam and China bring things that make me think, "WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER NEED TO TRAVEL WITH A CONTAINER OF DUCKS' EGGS?!"

The immigration officers also pull aside and question anyone who makes their spidey senses tingle. If you are on a tourist visa and plan to work, they will figure you out and send you packing. Australia doesn't mess around. If you said you are a tourist, and your visa says you are a tourist, you will TOUR AND YOU WILL LIKE IT! Do not try to earn any money!

Anyway, check it out if you get a chance. Just don't plan to get anything done for about 10 hours straight. Also, if you ever plan to travel to Australia: do not bring any fruits, vegetables, nuts, or meats. Do not hide drugs in any of the holes on your body. Don't bring too much cash, but also don't bring too little (or they will ask you how you can afford your trip). Don't act nervous, but also don't act too confident. If the dog sniffs you and your stuff and then sits, that means he found something. Run for your life.

Have a good day, mate.