28 February 2009

loosening the knot

The knot that has been in my tummy for the past few weeks loosened last night when we all made it through the day unscathed. Everyone in a fire prone area was put on high alert yesterday due to the four big fires still burning and the awful weather conditions that were predicted. Hundreds of schools, kindergartens and childcare centres were closed, including all the ones around here, although not the two my children attend (one goes to a school out of our area that is in quite a suburban, built-up setting, and the other two go to a school that chose to remain open). So although our day was one kind of normal, in other ways it certainly wasn't. In the morning we packed up the car in case we couldn't come home that night. Clothes, laptop, photos, File of Important Documents, musical instruments, a couple of special things (a prized scooter, soccer ball, my sock yarn [shut up] and some other paperwork) all went into the car along with the blankets and water bottles and breathing masks that always live in there, and we set off as if for school and work as usual. The roads were eerily quiet without the school traffic, and the shops in the village didn't look like they were setting up for the day. Everyone I spoke to had planned to get out for the day.

All day long I had the ABC radio streaming on my computer at work (love that technology sometimes) and kept the CFA website refreshing every ten minutes while I pretended to concentrate on tasks. All was calm. The firies held the fires' containment lines and the weather didn't live up to the dire promises. Mr Soup left work early to collect Son #3, the dog and then the older boys and we all met that evening in a park deep in suburbia for a fish and chip dinner and to wait out the cool change. The change arrived with no lightning strikes or fresh fire outbreaks and eventually we went home and off to bed as usual.

And now the knot is definitely looser, at least until it begins to curl inward again in preparation for next Tuesday which is said to be the next worrisome day, weather wise. The car remains packed.

Today is the last day of this godawful summer and tomorrow I will embrace autumn wholeheartedly.

In the spirit of loosening and freedom, (pathetic attempt at an elegant segue), I share with you now the top I made at last craft weekend. The fabric is some kind of linen blend in a midnight blue, of which I found metres and metres at the op shop, and the pattern is from a Japanese craft book, with, (um, hello!) instructions in Japanese. With the help of my sewing guru who in particular showed me a very nifty way of cutting continuous bias binding from one small square rather than wasting masses of fabric by cutting diagonally across it, I got it done and am very proud. I do love its gathered looseness and simplicity.

7 Feb : linen smock

I also made a[nother] a-line skirt, this time out of a dark grey stretch denim.

charcoal stretch denim A-line skirt

Wore it once and decided it was altogether too bland.

15 Feb : scribble

Ah, that's so much better.

Oh, we also went swimming on that craft weekend. Good fun.

25 February 2009

24 February 2009

in lieu of coherent posting

I still can't read the newspaper without crying. Today it was the first coverage of the memorial services (some families can't even have funerals as there are no bodies to bury/cremate) - the 21 year old twins who lost their brother and both parents, clinging to each other and sobbing. Or the brother and sister who sang their parents' wedding song at their memorial service.

It puts your shitty day at work into perspective eh?

Death toll is 210, but there are many people still on the 'missing' list who will have to be transferred to the 'deceased' list sooner or later. Strathewen lost 1 in 4 people from its population. Families from the boys' schools have lost their homes, a teacher lost his father ... 'lost' is such a gentle unassuming word for such a devastating trauma.

Speaking of words, I'm joining others in the plea to stop referring to those affected by the fires as 'victims'. 'Survivors' is more accurate. Language is a powerful tool and sometimes the term victim can affect one's dignity. There have been some interesting discussions in the schoolyard lately pertaining to the ethics of charity and the unspoken expectation that receivers of charity 'should' show gratitude. It's a delicate one for both sides I reckon.

The elder boys' school had a bushfire drill last week. I asked them what it comprised and was informed 'When the siren goes, you all go to your own classroom, four monitors fill buckets and put them in the corners (luckily each classroom has a sink and tap and presumably several buckets), the rest of the class put all the tables into the centre of the room, everyone puts their jumpers on and gets under the cave of tables. If bits of the room catch on fire you throw the bucket of water at it. You stay down low in case of smoke.'

I just heard about the upcoming big bushfire relief concert featuring the most incredible line up of bands. Lots of bands I've vaguely heard of but don't really know (ie. bands and singers popular after 1993) but also, get this, Split Enz (!), Midnight Oil (!) (ok enough exclamation marks because I'm about to put one after every single band listed), Hunters and Collectors, Icehouse (!) (I used to have a major crush on Iva Davies when he was in his short hair and brocade smoking jacket phase so the exclamation mark remains), Paul Kelly, Hoodoo Gurus (I saw them at the Armadale pub circa 1987 - best gig ever), Coldplay, Jet, you name em, they're there. Multiple exclamation marks. All performing for free.

I was at home yesterday with the radio and CFA website both going all day. The radio interrupted programming to say there was an urgent fire threat at Upwey and Belgrave. I'd been glancing out the window all day and seen nothing, but at this news I shifted my position so the blind spot behind the large gum tree here ...

22 Feb : the currawongs are thirsty

was revealed, and saw this ...

3.30pm, 23 February 2009

Which made me a bit jumpy. At the same time, the siren at the end of the road went off again, making me jump and the dog bark. Luckily for us here the wind doesn't blow from the east but houses were lost in Belgrave and some firefighters injured.

I'm nervous about this Friday which is the next scary forecast day.

In other news, my little hand knitted porkers went to a local four year old girl whose home and toys were lost in the fires.

And the baby of our family turned ten. I'll probably take this photo down in a day or two but wanted to share it for a minute. His hand is blurry because he was waving away the enormous amount of smoke generated by ten candles. Smoke being the theme around here at the mo.

the littlest turns ten

18 February 2009

ok listen up, there's more

The clean up is continuing. Below you will see a list of things the Diamond Creek Relief Centre urgently requires (as at 15th February).

The contact number for the centre is (03) 9438 5299 and the location is 28 Main Hurstbridge Rd, Diamond Creek. Drop off times for donations is between 11am and 2pm. Interstate and international readers, you can choose lightweight items and post them. Go to it.

I don't know about relief centres in other areas - this is my local one and this list was sent to local community groups here. However as mentioned previously, the relief centres are asking that general donations please stop, and only requested items be given now, thanks.


15 litre water bottles (filled)
600 ml water bottled (filled)
Ant Rid
Anti-bacterial wash for baby bottles
Bleach (to clean water tanks)
Bolt cutters
Bread x dozen
Camping chairs/plastic chairs
Chainsaws (petrol)
Cleaning items (detergents, mops, scourers, buckets)
Clothes hangers
Clothes horses/airers
Coffee and tea
Cooking oil
Doonas and doona covers
Eucalyptus oil (individual bottles)
Exercise books
Extension leads **
Fly spray
Folding chairs
Gas lighters
Hack saws
Jerry cans
Mattress protectors (all sizes)
Mens and women's wallets
Men's thick work socks
New baby car seats (0-18kg)
New children's shoes and runners
New pillows
Power boards **
Queen size mattresses
Rakes and shovels
Room deodorizers
Safety glasses (heavy duty)
Storage sheds/garden sheds
Tools in good working order (hammers, nails, screws etc)
Unleaded petrol
Washing powder **
Wire cutters
Witches hats (I presume the orange road kind, not the Harry Potter kind)
Work boots (esp. smaller women's sizes)
Writing pads

** items most urgently needed

I heard on the radio yesterday that Fitzroy Oxfam has set up a wiki for bushfire offers and needs. You can go here and register whatever you can offer ... a caravan, seventeen packets of socks, accommodation for a displaced pet, your services as a qualified tradesperson/lawyer/architect/bulldozer operator, whatever ... and survivors of the bushfire can also visit and register for what they need. It's been running for about 7 days now and apparently is working brilliantly.

Also on a very personal one-to-one level, if you go and look here you will see that Frogdancer is collecting books for a teenage boy she knows whose family lost their house and all their possessions. This young lad was distraught to lose his extensive library, and the frog asked him what books he would like replaced. He's been a bit shy about putting together a list but was apparently blown away that total strangers would send him stuff. Anyway, a suggested list has been put together. If you can't imagine being without your books (and I know I would be heartbroken to lose all mine), go and have a peek at the list and see if you can offer to send him one. Or several.

16 February 2009

more ways to help - edited

dirty brown stain
Smoke over the Yarra Valley

It's at times like these that you realise how Melbourne, despite its 3 million inhabitants, is like a village. Where we live the threads of the community web are strongly interwoven, and many of us know dozens of people who have lost homes, loved ones, had near escapes, are putting up evacuated families, fought the fires as volunteer CFA members, etc. The children's school newsletters are full of calls for help with housing families, replacing furniture and books, emergency accommodation, animal agistment and so on. But even in the faraway city where I work most people know of at least one person affected.

It's a village.

As in any village, people are rallying in all kinds of ways.

Jan at Sewjourn has organised a quilting bee to make handmade quilts to give (further down the track, once the essentials are covered) to those who've lost their homes in the bushfires. See here for details.

The call has also gone out to gather craft supplies to help re-stash a crafter, details here. If you think this is a little frivolous in light of the enormity of peoples' losses, read this and remember these projects are for the longer term.
Edit: that link doesn't work for some reason. Try this and click the button that says 'donate your craft supplies'.
Updated: all links now working I think. Thanks!

Updated again - I know some people think it's frivolous. I did initially, then read the quote below (on the ABC bushfire website) from Liz Tilley, survivor of the 2003 Canberra fires, and I thought again. And it's worth reiterating that many folk can't afford to make a monetary donation but can spare some of their existing stash. Others have already made a financial contribution and want to do something more.

"Make something. Some of our most treasured items are the ones that were made, with love, by complete strangers. The quilt that was one of the hundreds that arrived from all over Australia, the hand-knitted rugs that my children like to snuggle under in winter. If you make jewellery, make a few pairs of earrings or a necklace. If you make toys, make something for the children who have lost theirs. If you knit, make a winter scarf. If you sew, make some table placemats or a beautiful table runner. If you're an artist, paint a picture or frame a drawing. I still find it incredibly moving that people cared enough to put time and love into making something that has now become a new family treasure for us." - Liz Tilley.

Visit Handmade Help for more ideas on how to help by buying, donating or selling handmade items, and don't forget to donate to the Red Cross or register to volunteer.

14 February 2009

glowing, in more ways than one

13 Feb : fiery dawn

That was the sky just before sunrise on Friday morning. The bushfires in the Yarra Valley are on the left of the photo.

For the last couple of days our view has looked like this ...

14 Feb : smoke filled view

... but today we had a bit of wind and the smoke has mostly cleared away except for a thick brown patch of smoke hanging over the Yarra Valley.

Today is the firstborn's 15th birthday. I do find it hard to believe that I just typed that. We had chish and fips for dinner down by the river and then Mr Soup took all the boys to the Phone Dome to watch Melbourne Victory thrash (hopefully) Adelaide. Sorry Pav and thirdcat and Fiona. (All the ticket takings are going to bushfire relief so it's in a good cause, if that helps).

The birthday boy requested a guitar for his birthday; it arrived this afternoon (acoustic, steel string) and he can play everything on it already, which is good as he and four friends have formed a rock band. He's the lead singer but I suggested he add a guitar so he has something to do with his hands.

He amazes me, my funny Valentine.

11 February 2009


It feels very odd, trying to go about our daily life with all this going on. I go to work on my work days, school continues as usual for the children, grocery shopping is undertaken, cups of tea drunk, carpets vacuumed (well, occasionally). But the ABC radio (which becomes the emergency radio network in times of crisis) is on permanently at home and in the car, and the CFA website constantly open on my computer at work, as we watch and listen for updates and warnings.

With the fires affecting so many in our extended community, it seems everyone knows someone who has lost something or someone. The older two boys came back from school on Monday very sombre, saying one of the maths teachers has lost his house, and his sons are still missing. Son #3 came home from his school very shaky and fragile. There are a couple of children in his class who had the fire at their back fence.

The weather is now cooler and the wind coming from the south; our area/town/rural outer suburb is not under immediate threat from the existing out of control fires, but everyone is on tenterhooks as the land is bleached bone dry and the winds fickle. Yesterday the radio announced that an urgent threat message had been issued for our town, which caused a flurry of panic, text messages, emails and phone calls, only to have it retracted two minutes later as an error. Talk about jumpy? Oh yes.

The local CFA station is at the end of our street and every time the siren goes off (as it does frequently right now as you may imagine) my heart skips a beat and Son #3's eyes fill with tears. Our car is permanently packed with water, blankets and the ziplock bag full of important paperwork (passports, birth certificates etc) and our new bushfire plan is FLEE FLEE FLEE. (Flea? says the dog. Noooooo ... ) A house is just mud and sticks after all.

I just heard on the radio that only 18km separates two of the largest out of control fires northeast of the city and the fear is that they will merge into one gigantic megafire. The wind is awfully strong out there, and this morning I could see the smoke billowing over the Yarra Valley.

The latest news is here. The official death toll is 181 currently but will exceed 200 300.

So. What can be done to help those devastated by fire?

If you can offer accommodation for displaced people (do you have a caravan, a granny flat in your backyard, a holiday house?) please ring 1800 006468

The relief centres have been inundated with donations of clothing and shoes, but are urgently requesting NEW UNDERWEAR. Kids and adults sizes please.

Please do your grocery shopping at Coles THIS Friday, and Woolworths and Safeway NEXT Friday, as 100% of their profits will go to the bushfire relief fund.

The craft bloggers are raising funds. If you visit handmade helps out you can purchase handmade items and the money will go to the relief fund. You can also offer to make something for sale.

Pip at meet me at mikes has a huge list of links on her blog with ways you can help.

Honeybee Toys (branches in Montmorency and Malvern) is making up children's care packages. You can help by donating, or purchasing (or both!). Details are here. Spread the word.

You can donate money to the central relief fund at the Red Cross, online here.

Donations for wildlife rescue efforts can be made here.

You can donate blood.

Lots of bloggers are writing about the fires far more eloquently than I can. Barista wrote a thoughtful post - We lived again but life was different.

For those who are wondering out loud why on earth people were fighting the Kinglake fires in their shorts and thongs, or why they didn't implement their fire plans earlier, read this.

The Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a very moving speech (motion) of condolence in the House of Representatives. Kim reproduces it here.

And Penni, who has been in the middle of it all, writes here.

I won't apologise for harping on and on. It must be tedious for the rest of the world but I think we are finding it hard to believe this is happening to US. Natural disasters with huge losses of life only happen in third world countries, right? Er, wrong. One day I'll post about other things again, but right now it feels totally bizarre, not to mention downright wrong, to open up my bloglines and find shiny happy posts about sewing, shopping, knitting or Valentines Day preparations.

9 February 2009

heartbreak and devastation - updated

8 Feb : fire sunset
A very fiery sunset last night

Just a quickie to say thank you for your emails, phone calls and comments and to let you know that we are fine and safe, but the fire risk remains, and most of the current fires around the state are still burning out of control.

5000 people homeless; 108 131 173 dead and the death toll is still rising. Wildlife, livestock, homes, pets, people. It's overwhelming and unbelievable. I have no words. I can't stop crying.

You can donate to the bushfire relief via the phone numbers below:

Red Cross Appeal 1800 811 700 (or online at their website here)
Salvation Army 137 258

Cash donations can be made at Commonwealth Bank branches, National Bank branches and Bunnings shops.

If you shop at Coles on Friday, all profits will be sent to the bushfire relief (thanks to Caroline for that heads up).

And if you are in my neck of the woods, the local community is collecting donations of cash, food, bedding, clothing, shoes and toiletries (shampoo, soap, nappies, sanitary supplies, etc). You can drop your donations at the Research Primary School (in the gym), or the Diamond Creek Community Centre, and the convoy will drive them up the hill to the Kinglake community. No more goods please, they've been inundated with gifts and donations, now they need $$ - see update below!

Most of the deaths occurred at Kinglake as the fire jumped 40km and hit before people had time to evacuate ... it's unbelievable. Whole towns have been razed to the ground, all the houses, shops, schools, police stations, fire stations, the lot. The sirens at the fire station at the end of our road are going off again as I type. It's heartbreaking. Heartbreaking.

This just in from our local council ...

Please note this is from the Nillumbik Shire Council Website www.nillumbik.vic.gov.au

Donations and volunteers: the Emergency Relief Centre has been inundated with goods and we are asking residents not to bring in any more goods at this stage.

Financial donations can be made via the major banks.

If you want to volunteer your time or expertise, contact the Relief Centre on 9438 5299.

The Victorian Bushfire Fund has been set up through the Red Cross donations can be made by phoning 1800 811 700 on through a secure online function at www.redcross.org.au .

Nillumbik Chief Executive Officer, Bill Forrest, thanks the generous spirit of the residents in our community for their immediate donations to relief centres in the Shire, but asks them to stop as halls are filled to capacity and volunteers are using time to sort through mountains of donations.

‘We would like people to hold off any donations until the major relief agencies can organise a coordinated system of collection and distribution. This will not happen immediately. As soon as we’ve got systems in place to cope with the very generous offers from the community we will let the major media outlets know how people can help.

‘We need to be able to talk to the agencies and ensure the best use is made of goods already received.’

4 February 2009

6 things

Unrelated photograph of a roof and sky. I don't know why [she swallowed the fly, perhaps she'll die].

1. I am supposed to be doing my tax today (the mister did his ages ago and is getting more than impatient that I haven't done mine. He is keen to go to the accountant? Sheesh). Before I start doing my tax I need to take children to school (check), go to the vacuum cleaner shop to purchase new bags and filter (check), and go to the op shop to purchase art textbook for Son #1 (fail, they always have a copy but not today. They did however have a Roget's Thesaurus [because I only own two copies], some dark green wool fabric, some lovely navy blue silk/linen fabric [score!], a bag of wooden beads, three pleasing balls of yarn, a beautiful pair of David Lawrence woollen pants, and three woollen jumpers [Esprit, Country Rd and Cue] because even though it's 33C it is never too early to prepare for winter, right?)

And now I need to blog. But tax soon! Right after I have some lunch, and make dinner and bring the washing in. Loo needs a clean too, better do that first. And upload unrelated photographs for my own amusement.

3 Feb : art exhibition at the Eltham library
Unrelated photograph of an art exhibition at our local library. Check out the mudbrick walls - much neater than our mudbrick walls.

2. I still can't find my book notebook, in which I record all the books I read and the audio books I listen to. Most frustrating. I wanted to do a 2008 recap. Here's a taster anyway ... Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen were both absolute highlights of my literary year. So too In my Father's Den by Maurice Gee, several things by Philippa Gregory and Tracy Chevalier, and I re-read The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers which was even better the second time. Helen Garner's The Spare Room was spare and touching and made extra real by hearing her speak at work (a sort of In Conversation event that I attended). Sandra Gulland's Josephine Bonaparte trilogy - magnifique! An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I didn't think much of the rather scattered structure and unlikeable characters in Kate Atkinson's Emotionally Weird but have loved everything else she's written. Actually that last one was this year not 2008 so just consider it an early addition to my reading round up post due some time around 31st December 2009. Ok, I think I can get away without a full 2008 list now, reading back over that paragraph! I did read some beauties. A few duds too, but I won't bother recording them here.

On our way to school we stopped at the end of the street to say hello to the miniature horse and her new baby.  He bites.
Photograph that relates to following text!

3. This morning on the way to school we stopped at the end of our street to say hello to the miniature horse and her little baby who is several weeks old by now. The foal is smaller than our dog! Also, it bites.

4 Feb : On our way to school we stopped at the end of the street to say hello to the miniature horse and her new baby. And discovered it bites.
Again with the relevant photographs

4. The tooth fairy is once again failing to achieve optimal productivity outcomes. See previous benchmarked figures, noting that four nights of no-show will result in performance objectives rating of Traffic Light: Red.

rural accoutrements
Unrelated photograph of cattle accoutrements (I think) in the country.

5. Weasel words are awful, aren't they? Currently at my place of employment, we have staff who are "surplus to needs" [redundant], and "staff separations" [in which they are sacked]. A friend of mine who works in the health system reckons their bureaucrats talk of "negative patient outcomes" [deaths]. We have a wonderful list in our tearoom full of CorporateSpeak terms like "knowledge gradient" [some students are higher up the class than others], "robust discussion" [shitfight in a meeting], "paradigm shift" [when the government/senior management changes the policy and everybody scrambles to get on board and fight for the money] and my recent personal favourite ... "decanting". As in, tossing people out of their office and putting them somewhere far less convenient and generally within whiff of the gents' loos. Also, as noted in the comments, "knowledge transfer". Which is of course TEACHING.

the train stopped and a workman hopped out with a bucket of water
Random train. See the workman climbing onto the track with a bucket of water? Why?! Who knows. You go, Connex! No sophisticated technology for our infrastructure, eh?

6. Craft Weekend this Friday night until as late as I can possibly string it out on Sunday afternoon. At a house by the beach which will be excellent as Saturday is supposed to be 37C 47 degrees Celsius. Oh my, this heat!


Ok, tax time.

1 February 2009

too hot to type in complete paragraphs

29 Jan : the sky was dramatic tonight

You know it's hot when you read out the forecast with a shout of "Only 35 degrees tomorrow!" and the rest of the family whoops with glee.

Yep, as every Melburnian blogger has already said, we've just had the worst heatwave in a hundred years, with about four days (I've lost count as my brain has melted) of around 43 or 45 degrees. Celsius.

1 Feb : the big sort out before the school year begins

The children return to school tomorrow and we now officially have two teenagers (two high schoolers!) in the house and only one left in primary school. My life is flitting away before my very eyes.

rusty building

Yesterday I had the very good fortune to spend the day with likeminded craftsters at Sewjourn, (NOT pictured above) courtesy of Jan and her very generous online competition recently. I took Janet as my guest and we spent the day eating magnificent food, basking in airconditioned temperatures, chatting with master quilters and other bloggers, and sewing. I had grand plans of making two skirts and a pair of pants, a sleeveless top and then sitting on the couch with my knitting when I'd finished all that. Well ... you know, I made one skirt. Almost. Just the hem to go. I really should have cut out the fabric before I left.

I've raved about Sewjourn before, (pictured THERE on THAT link) and no doubt will again as the majority of our regular craft retreats are to be held there from now on, barring next weekend's retreat which was already booked. Suffice to say, if you're after a place to stay that has full sewing/crafting/artwork facilities in addition to beautifully appointed accommodation, look no further.

rusty building

I took no photos at Sewjourn this time, but plenty on the way home.

old barn

It's still hot. It's nearly 11pm and I'm sitting in front of a fan, underneath a ceiling fan, with an enormous glass of chilled rose in my hot little hand, and the week ahead promises to be another hot one. Although in the 30s rather than the 40s. Thank god.

28 Jan : swimming with the dogs, ducks and um, a snake

We spent this afternoon at the river, cooling off and celebrating the last day of the school holidays.

Tomorrow a new year begins. Hopefully with more coherent blog posts.