Ma Belle

Hello folks. I have to warn you that I am shamelessly commandeering my poor neglected blog for totally personal purposes.  It is my blog after all.

Today is a big day for my best friend.  It is her 40th birthday!  I don’t know how the hell this happened because I remember my parents turning 40 and the “over the hill/life starts at” cards.  It seems pretty bizarre to me that she (and I) are joining this cohort.  But, so it goes, as the esteemed Kurt Vonnegut would say.

We’ve come a long way, Michelle and I.  From our first meeting in the last year of high school where, although the term Frenemy was far from being invented, frenemies we certainly were.  We liked the same boy, Ben was his name – we were girls then ourselves – and as such real friendship was certainly not on the table.

Fast forward a couple of years and we were living separate lives in Sydney.  I was in Newtown living with a mutual friend and she was in Roseville in a household of sports-crazed guys.

Our mutual friend, Paul, found it inconceivable that we were not friends and set us up on a friend date. My first and only friend date turned out to be very successful. The short bus trip from the city to Kuleto’s for cocktails in Newtown, turned into a snorting with laughter affair within minutes.

And so we quickly became fast friends, BFF’s even, as my daughters would say, discovering our mutual love of live music, all music really.  And books and food and drink…!

Oooh I’m feeling all nostalgic now. Sniff sniff!!

Michelle was there for my marriage (at 23!), first baby at 25, and because we were 25 we took it all in our stride.  A Friday night party at our place would lead to a sleepover on the mattress on the floor with a 6 month old crawling all over her at 6.00am in the morning. Despite her sore head.

We’ve seen many friends and boyfriends enter and leave our lives.  Good jobs and no jobs and terrible jobs, which have over the years led to crazy great careers for both of us (I’m so proud of her).

And now we live on opposite sides of the world. Not forever though. And it doesn’t matter at all.  So although I would love to organise a(n impossible) birthday dinner for her with Johnny Depp, Audrey Hepburn, Bernard Fanning, Khaled Hosseini and a few other select people, it won’t be happening just yet.

Happy Birthday Michelle! You are the Crabb to my Sales, or is it the Sales to my Crabb? I’m not sure. I hope we get to celebrate together soon. xxx


24 Tips for Australians visiting the USA

So, the first time I visited the US, I had a fabulous time but came home complaining about the terrible food, and most especially, the weird orange cheese.  To help you avoid this experience, here are my tips!

1. Don’t drink soft drink! There is no sugar in soft drink in the US. Yes! No sugar.  The sweetener is high fructose corn syrup which tastes weird (to me), makes me feel a little ill, and is decried by many as being very very bad for you!

2. Tipping.  Tipping is so tricky when you come from Australia as we just don’t do it. When you live in the US, the only times you tip are when you are eating at a sit-down restaurant/cafe (20% on the pre-tax amount, remember this is largely paying your waiter’s wage), and in taxis. Generally, if you’re sitting down in a venue, you should tip when you leave. You don’t tip a take-away coffee at Starbucks.  You don’t tip a ticket for anything.  At hotels you need to tip bell boys etc, which is why I generally take my bags myself. Oh and if you’re travelling as a fairly large party, check your bill carefully as sometimes with groups of 6 or more they add gratuity (the tip!) to the bill and it would be very very easy to tip on top of the tip.

3. Restaurants have a funny hierarchy here.  Often you will get sat at your table by one person, offered drinks by another, and you order with another person again.  If you ask the drinks person for a menu item they will usually tell you they will send your server over to you. Just go with it.

4. At fancy restaurants, there is often a bathroom-attendant.  Pop a dollar note in your pocket when you use the loo so you don’t feel like a jerk when the attendant hands you a towel to dry your hands after washing!

5. While on loo’s, American’s never call the room you visit the “toilet”.  They think that’s kinda gross because to them it is just the thing you sit on to do your business.  It’s the bathroom, restroom or washroom! And they don’t say loo.  But they think it’s funny.

6. Americans LOVE Australians and Australia.  They will share with you where they went and when.  Be gracious, when someone tells you they visited a couple of years ago and drove from Cairns to Melbourne, it’s best not to say that Australia is pretty much the same size as continental USA as they will think you are an asshole who is implying they are ignorant. I know this because it happened to me today.  Oops.

7.  Need a doctor?  Firstly, if you don’t travel to the US with travel insurance you’re a bloody idiot.  If you’ve got a minor ailment, look for “Immediate Care” in your vicinity, these are walk-in clinics.  Really minor things can often be dealt with at chemist chains such as Walgreens/Duane Reade and CVS. You can buy antibiotic cream (Neosporin is a brand) off the shelf at chemists in the US.  It’s also worth noting that paracetamol is called Acetaminophen if you need to find it!

8. There are lots and lots of healthy food options in the USA.  Chains like Native Foods (vegan), Freshii, Protein Bar, Pret-A-Manger (all over the world) are everywhere.  To help you find good options, it’s a great idea to download Yelp when you visit the US and search for restaurants/food near you.  Michelin has guides for many US cities too if you are serious about your food (you might need to book before you leave home).  Whole Foods is also amazing, it’s a supermarket that sells awesome organic fruit and veggies.  It also has takeaway food and often good coffee.

9. Coffee.  So the problem for us is that Americans generally drink drip-style coffee which we don’t understand or appreciate since we’re in the Italian-style coffee fan club.  For me, I find it hard to find a good coffee unless I’m in NYC. In Chicago, Intelligentsia is pretty good. Generally you’re best asking for a latte.

10. Bread.  Unfortunately most places put sugar in their bread in the USA (yuck!).  Sourdoughs or “Italian style” bread tend to be your best bet if you’re buying a loaf to take back to your hotel room.

11. Bad food is so so good in the US.  So while you’re in the US, you have to eat some barbecue (ribs etc), oh and Mexican food which is generally so woeful in Australia is, unsurprisingly, totally amazing in the US.

12. Starbucks and McDonalds have free wi-fi.  Buy a cuppa and figure out where you are, upload those photos to Facebook!

13. When are you shopping in the US, the price on the tag is not the price you pay.  I’ve been here for a year and a half and I still get tripped up.  The sales tax you pay depends on where you live but can be up to 10% on top of the ticketed price.

14. Americans seem to think that toilet stalls should have huge gaps on each side of the door so you have zero privacy.  It’s weird.

15. Most American clothing chains have great sales online so sign up for their emails before you leave and see if you can get deliveries to a place you’re staying just before you get there!  My kids like brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and you can get prices online that never seem to happen in the stores.

16. If you can’t shop before you arrive, visit the Outlet Mall in the city you’re visiting.  In my experience they are really great.

17. If you can’t get to an Outlet Mall and want to bargain shop, find a Nordstrom Rack (outlet stores for the department store Nordstrom), TJ Maxx or Marshalls.  All sell great quality brands at bargain prices, they’re often located in the city too which makes it easy when you’re travelling.

18. If you are of the female variety, I highly recommend visiting Anthropologie stores.  Not cheap but beautiful clothes and homewares. I love love love this store.

19. Uber is huge in the US and gives you a cheap way to get around. Get the app! Although taxis are much cheaper here anyway.

20. This may be my Chicago experience talking, but research the neighbourhoods in the cities you’re visiting.  There’s likely to be great areas with really interesting boutique shopping, eating and cultural experiences – see a bit of the real city.

21. Despite all the press about the security getting into America, it’s pretty straightforward.  Customs officials generally barely gaze at the ESTA visa (get an ESTA visa before you go, it takes two seconds online!), and if they ask what you’re doing in the US, I generally find they’re interested in a chat rather than anything ominous! Getting through customs at Dallas or LA can take an age though if they’re busy, just deal with it, you’ll get there eventually…

22. If you have frequent flyer points, use them on domestic US flights because the taxes are just so little you won’t believe it.  Our family of five flew on points from Chicago to New York and back, and the taxes for all our flights totalled $40!

23.  Go and see a big sporting event in the US.  The NBA, NFL, NHL, whatever your flavour, Americans love their sport like nothing else and often the half-time entertainment is worth it alone!  Living in Chicago, you simply cannot help but become involved with their sports teams (Go the Cubs! Blackhawks! Bulls! Bears!). For any Chicagoans who stumble upon this, I live down the road from the Cubs so it was never going to be the White Sox.

24. Check what concerts are on in the cities you’re visiting while you’ll be there.  You may be in for a treat.  Websites such as Time Out in each city are helpful. While you are in town, check Hottix, Halftix or whatever it’s called in the city you’re visiting (Google it!) to get discounted tickets for the days you are there.

Oh and the orange cheese is called American cheese.  Ask for swiss, cheddar, anything else!

A Life’s Work (fiction!)

It’s the perception that’s important.  It’s shaping up be to my life’s primary recorded work so I feel it imperative to make it entertaining. And, of course, impressive.

The fact that I hate Spain and simply loathe Gaudi is immaterial. Towering Catalan gothic architecture photographs really well. And how often do most people get to Spain?  Exactly.

It’s important to eat well.  I’m totally over truffles, in fact the smell of them right now makes me dry heave.  But they’re expensive and you can only get them in the right places.  A well-placed photo of fresh truffles grated over a housemade tagliatelle really hits the nail on the head.

Sharon? I know she’s mentioned a lot.  No, I do like her, I do.  It’s not just the free invites to party of the week #LeonardoDiCaprio #TrumpTower.  She can’t carry a conversation? Really? I honestly haven’t noticed that.  Well maybe she’d just had her lips done, it makes it hard for her to talk for a few days.

It’s a nice idea to pepper a few positive affirmations around the place. It’s not like I’m Buddhist or anything but I feel it helps me appear more well-rounded. Very rarely I’ll share a charity piece, I don’t want to people to think I’m moping around worrying about the world.

Yes, my mother is ill. Yes, very. Christ, you think I’m going to post that? I’m off to Paris this weekend. It stinks at this time of year, dog shit everywhere as well, but it’s Paris you know. Nothing beats an Eiffel selfie.

 Sorry? Oh yes, I’ll visit her soon. It’s only been a month or two.

No, I’m not lonely, are you kidding me. Look at my life, it’s fabulous. Just scroll down a little more. Doesn’t it look great.

Smooth Criminal

So yesterday I’m walking home from the train station and I’m only a few steps behind a fellow commuter.

Prior to my trek I had removed my clippy cloppy heels and donned unattractive but very practical and comfortable winter boots with thick rubber soles.

As I headed swiftly home I realized that even though I was walking at speed, my footfall was almost undetectable, and that the fellow in front of me had no clue I was walking only just behind him.

Which immediately made me think.

“Why! These would be fantastic boots if I wanted to rob somewhere!” I thought.

“I could break into a house completely undetected. They make NO sound at all on the ground! They’d be perfect!”

To which I added “But the laces are long, they would possibly swing into something and make a noise (Perhaps they’d graze a laser beam?! Really, what was I thinking!) SO I would have to tie the laces firmly around the tops of the boots to ensure they don’t flail about”.

Which then led to “But this outfit wouldn’t do, what else would I wear?”.

At this point, the halo-ed creature on my other shoulder pointed out that these musings were completely ridiculous. I don’t rob anything ever.

And so I continued to walk home, sans criminal intentions.

Stitches and Needles

Do you remember ever thinking, when you were a small creature, that one day you would be grown up and that everything would change?

In my head, it was a fixed line, a line I would walk over one day and Wham! Bam! I would be a grown up.

And what a fantastic day this would be!

First of all, on this first glorious day of my new adult life, I would no longer be afraid of needles. Wouldn’t that be great!

“Yeah Doc, just stick it in my arm, I’m really not bothered” I would say airily with a grand smile.

Oh and if I had some nasty accident with a knife and needed stitches, the thought of which nearly made me faint, then that would be fine too. On this day, this day of all days when I had become a grown up, I would no longer care.

“Stick that needle through my skin and sew me up and I will be on my way” I would say, and I would mean it.

What a fine thing it would be to be a grown up.

Life would be so much easier.

Monday Morning: A True Story

She sways slightly.

One girl on a train carriage filled to the brim with over-heated, down-jacketed commuters.  Those sitting pretty around her look up in horror.  They register the bloodless face, the sway becoming deeper and know they have to break the commuters’ code of non-communication.  

The two women sitting closest share a pregnant glance.  “What do we do?” and “Do I really have to stand up on this blasted train?” and “Which one of us is it gonna be?”

One takes the lead.  “Would you like a seat” she says, falteringly.  As the girl’s sway becomes deeper and she appears on the precipice of becoming wholly horizontal, the woman jumps up.  “Here, sit down, sit down” she says, guiding the girl downwards to safety.

The girl sits, head cast down, pale and fearful.

Others pipe up.  

“Has this happened to you before?” ventures a classic paperback reading fellow dressed older than his years.

The girl looks up, huge brown eyes confused.  “No” she says.

“Do you feel dizzy or faint?”

“Both” she says.

The man returns to his book.

One woman, the one who did not stand, fumbles in her bag for some water.  “Here have some water.  Do you want a granola bar?”

The girl’s arm reaches out for the water and she takes a few slow sips.  “I have a granola bar in my bag” she replies.

She sits quietly.  The man continues reading.  The other women go back to their phones.

The carriage relaxes back into comfortable silence.

As the train draws into the city, the girl rises with the throng and continues her way to work.



You know how it never rains but it pours?  Well instead of siphoning these out gradually, here’s one more little ditty, for a dear friend who got me onto reading Dorothy Parker properly recently, The Portable Dorothy Parker in fact.

Evening y’all! x



It is all your fault

that I picked up this pen.

Your acid tongue

your shrewd remark

has inked my

wanton writer’s heart

and makes me speak my mind.

Big Blonde Doozie

a.k.a. An Ode to Johnno

A day home sick in bed has helped me to publish a couple of things I’ve had waiting in the wings for ages (there’s MORE!!).  I wasn’t sure whether to pop this on the blog but what the heck!  This is a little poem that maybe no-one will relate to as it is so many years too late – but it is an Ode to Johnno….

An Ode to Johnno who called me a Big Blonde Doozie

when I was 20 and impressionable.

An Ode to Johnno

who died too young.

He whom I fell head over heels for

despite him “batting for the other side”

as he gently told the 80 year old Aileen.

He who was good,  thirty-something and wise

and so so beautiful.

With the biggest hair,  lankiest body

and best throaty head thrown back laugh this side of Texas.

An Ode to Johnno

the thought of you still brings an ache to the back of my throat

you listened to my idle complaints and ills when I had had an oh so smooth path

listened to them over and over with interest, compassion and always humour.

Johnno I miss you.

An Ode to Johnno.

I’m too old to start Tap


With a new year rapidly upon us I thought it time to share a cheesy motivational message (apologies).

Not long before Christmas I had a conversation with my 11 year old who was at the time tapping her feet like crazy around the house in some lovely old tap shoes she had been given by the lovely Jane from a certain south Newtown op shop.

The conversation went along the lines:

ME: :Why don’t you start tap lessons next year?”

Miss 11: “What? Oh I’m too old, all the other kids will have been doing it for years”.

ME: “You’re too old!?!?! You’re 11! Of course you’re not too old!!!”.

This conversation totally dismayed me because, apart from a few certain, mostly sporting, ambitions, most avenues are open to us at any age.  But many of us fall into the trap of thinking we’ve missed the boat, and then cement in this inaction with a sprinkling of I’m too busy, I’m too tired, or it’s all too hard.

So for all who have a dream to follow, whether you’re to be a famous vigneron, writer or photographer, start now!  It’s not too late! Book a course, write something, do anything… and set a goal! Oh, and if you’re afraid you’ll fail, the inconvenient truth is that if you don’t try it’s an automatic fail, so you might as well have a crack.

Have a great new year and I hope Santa was a greater success for you than he was for my 6 year old daughter whose sole wish was for a real magic wand :/  Ciao!

A story writing tip from a star procrastinator

Last Sunday morning I woke to find, to my surprise and delight, that my husband had taken all three kids to work with him giving me a delicious spanse of unplanned time.  What to do?!

I, rather surprisingly, chose to fill this time by starting to write a book.

I have wanted to write children’s books since I was a child.  As a young whippersnapper I was both a ravenous reader and writer of words.  I spent every spare minute either drifting off into other worlds (often with a mere sliver of light through the bedroom door to sustain my reading), or creating them for myself.  I like to think the words I penned at this time weren’t too shabby as my teachers used to keep my works to show others.  As a result, I have none of the stories I wrote from age 6-10.  My favourite story, which I remember with great fondness, was about a world within a box.   Unfortunately that’s about all I remember of my youthful storytelling.

Well, that would be aside from the story I wrote when being lazy one day which was a blatant rip off of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fir Tree about the poor Christmas tree who gets cut down, his subsequent adventures and final misadventure.  My teacher clearly hadn’t read the profoundly talented Mr Andersen.  She thought my tale an utterly brilliant example of personification!  What talent I had!

Why is it surprising that I started writing a story last week?  Because, sadly, after the age of 10 my writing gradually slowed down over the years to the point recently where my writing was limited to writing brochures, marketing letters and the like in my working life.

I am very proud (this is probably pathetic for any proper writers who happen upon this) to announce that I wrote 2,565 words last weekend!  I started on a proper story! Callooh Callay!  And I can’t resist telling you it’s about a girl called Maya, who is 10, has enough spunk that I’d like to meet her, and who is in possession of a slightly tarnished halo that you might see reflected in her shiny silver Converse boots.

You may have noticed that I carefully called this post a story writing tip, singular.  My tip, for any other of you with tragic unfulfilled literary ambitions, is to write.  Write for yourself.  Write anything. Write something you’re passionate about and the words will flow.  To paraphrase from the brilliant and sadly recently departed Ray Bradbury “You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

Oh, and the truth, which those of you with an eagle eye and mind have already gleaned, is of course that this whole post is a fantastic example of my skills in story writing procrastination, nurtured over many years.

Have a lovely weekend all 🙂