Monday, 30 December 2013

Post-Christmas hang over

It's that time of year again. The post-Christmas hangover. No, not the alcoholic type hangover, it’s the emotional and physical hangover that catches up with you on the day after Boxing Day. The day when you realise you don't have to quickly rush out to the shops for another roll of sticky tape, or wrap another present or make some ridiculous Christmas dessert or have an over the phone counselling session with a family member who is on the edge of a Christmas breakdown.

After going and going for weeks on end, it’s very easy to just crash. That's what I did post-Christmas. I spent the day after Boxing Day drawing pretty flowers and birds on a piece of paper. I put myself into a day of "me therapy." I ended up being in some weird, trance-like state drawing for about three hours that day. Did I mention I am a terrible drawer? But who cares? It just felt so good to do something creative and just sit still.

It also seems to be on this day each year that everyone gets all reflective and starts talking about what they'll do differently next year. Each year without fail, my husband and I usually discuss how next year we'll make it “simpler”, you know, just have a barbeque and no presents. Yet, 12 months later this discussion is always completely forgotten as we get caught up in the commericalised  frenzy, the spirit of Christmas once more. Oh the joy!

Also on this day after Boxing Day, there is usually a phone call from various family members who debrief about different stressful incidents over Christmas and how they would also do things differently. Those words "simpler" and "less stressful" come up again. But as always it's forgotten. Just as women are wired to not fully remember the pain of labour, western civilisation must be wired to forget about what really goes on at Christmas until we hit December again the following year. We soon begin to race like frenzied rats around the shops, buying plastic presents and Christmas decorations made in China; we indulge in buying copious amounts of food we would never usually eat and then we emotionally invest everything into this one day once again.

Often, my husband and I walk away from Christmas gatherings and realise we didn’t get a chance to catch up with family members and distant relatives. This is partially because we have children to chase after but mainly because once the food is prepared, cooked, everything cleaned and presents exchanged, it’s time to go home again.  

Right now, you may be thinking I am a little bah humbug-ish. The truth is I do love Christmas time despite all of its flaws. I love the chance to reflect on the birth of Jesus, sing carols that are centuries old, visit the Christmas lights with the kids, and watch their eyes light up at their presents on Christmas day. I even love meeting up with various family members at Christmas. Although Christmas Day is usually hectic and tiring, I love it because it’s tradition. It’s what we’ve done as a family for my entire life and it’s gives me a sense of belonging.

My little family enjoyed visiting the Christmas lights

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas. Is there anything you vow to change about Christmas and never do? Or have you made some significant changes that have worked? I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Our home in the fire zone

It was almost two months ago but it's not easy to forget what happened that day. The day when almost 200 homes just down the road from me were destroyed in a ferocious and out of control bush fire.

It had been a big day already. I felt exhausted and decided to have a lay down in my room while my one-year-old son slept and my four-year-old daughter was at preschool. I went to shut the blinds when I noticed the plume of thick grey smoke swirling across the bright, blue sky. It looked like it was coming from behind the golf course, not far away from where I lived but still far enough not to freak out just yet. Then I heard sirens. Lots of them. They did not stop but echoed endlessly throughout the streets as they headed out towards Winmalee.

This is the view from a street in Winmalee during the fire that day. Terrifying.
Source: Rhys Pope
I plonked down on my bed, grabbed my phone and noticed a message from my pastor at church, asking people to pray for my husband's family who were evacuating from a bushfire.

I immediately tried to call my mother-in-law on her land line. No answer. The worry began to trickle through my body. I called my husband at work and this was the first he heard of the fire. He decided to quickly pack up from work and start heading for home. I then got a phone call from my sister-in-law who confirmed that her mum (my mother-in-law) and sister were evacuating.

"They said the whole backyard was on fire and the tree across the road," she said. "They don't think the house will survive."

With my house not being too far away I decided to dash around and pack things to evacuate. I had seen the Four Corners documentary on what happened in the Black Saturday bush fires in Victoria. I wasn't taking any chances.

I then got a text message from my daughter's preschool asking parents to come and pick up their children immediately. The preschool was another three minutes drive away in the opposite direction from where the fire was so I knew she would be safe. However, I started to panic.

I had to get to the preschool. I had to pack the important stuff in the house. What was the list of things again? I had a mental list, but I couldn't think! Where was our computer's external hard drive with all the photos?

I then received the RFS emergency SMS warning that made me realise just how serious the situation was.

"Seek shelter as the fire impacts," the text message said.

My heart began beating so unbelievably fast. The wind was howling, I was shaking and the smoke in the distance was racing to blot out every piece of blue sky. I could hear the stream of fire trucks dashing northward, playing their harrowing background music that seem to send small shocks to my nervous system.

I managed to pack the car and find everything we needed. I then woke up my son and strapped him into the car. Once on the main road we soon hit traffic. People were coming from all directions trying to get back home or collect their children from school. After 15 minutes or so the traffic began to move and I was able to get through.

At the preschool, worry was etched over the teacher's faces but the children were none the wiser. I felt more relaxed once I had my daughter with me. But as we drove off down the highway I got a sense of the situation. In the valley to my left, just a couple of kilometres away, I could see flames licking the tops of the trees, racing towards the township of Yellow Rock. It felt like we were escaping from a disaster scene in a movie.

I felt relieved once we arrived at my mum's place and my husband joined us not long afterwards. Adrenaline was still coursing through my body like a wild river. It would come in waves, ebbing and flowing. It wasn't until around 6pm that we found out my in-laws place was okay. It was a miracle. However, it meant other homes were not so lucky. Hundreds of people just down the road from me were now homeless, many lost everything they had, including their beloved pets. 

The burnt-out bush that backs onto my in  laws home.
The fire threat didn't end there as the flames continued to rage not too far from our home. It just felt like we had this unpredictable, faceless and fierce monster lurking in our backyard. We evacuated another three times that week and on one occasion a new fire had sparked up just 500 metres from our home in the gully behind us. Thankfully, it was extinguished quickly by the RFS heroes. We soon became quite accustomed to having them appear in our street.

Source: NSW RFS
Then there was Wednesday – the day we all HAD to evacuate. The RFS had given an apocalyptic style warning urging everyone from the Blue Mountains to leave and leave early. It felt so surreal. Facebook was flooded with paranoia, rumours and good information. Yet, it was difficult to sift through.  By this stage we’d had enough as it had now been six days since the fire started. After much heated discussion, our family decided to prepare the house (at midnight by the way!) and leave the next morning. It was a long, long day that ended with my husband returning home in the afternoon to defend the house from any possible falling embers. Thankfully, nothing eventuated and we could all go home around dinner time.

The fire threat continued to roll on for a few more days and we were still in the midst of it. Helicopters were constantly flying over our house, rattling the kitchen bench and the good china in the cabinet as they flew out to water the fire nearby.

Source: SBS 
Thankfully, after some mammoth fire fighting efforts and the cooler weather, the fire was soon downgraded to a ‘watch and act’ status. A couple of weeks later it was declared ‘out’. The people of the Blue Mountains collectively let out a huge sigh of relief! 

After everything that happened, it took weeks for the adrenaline to stop pumping. I wasn't getting much sleep but I wasn't even tired. Many people put their extra energies into relief efforts, including our family. We held a huge fundraising garage sale, raising money for a family who lost everything. It was just some small way we could help.

The fire had a huge impact on our community but it was not all negative. We all bonded through the disaster because each person was affected in one way or another. Everyone also became particularly caring and concerned for friends and strangers alike. You couldn't speak to anyone without saying, “take care” or “stay safe.”  People got together to provide masses of food, clothing and furniture to those who lost everything. While the fire fighters fought the flames, our community fought for each other, building a sense of hope despite many losing everything.

Source: The Daily Telegraph
So after our experience, you may wonder why we choose to live in a fire zone. It's quite simply because of the people here and the beauty of the Blue Mountains. I love living where I have to shout above the crazy noise of the cicadas, where I can see the red glow of the sunset from my backyard, where I can swim in pristine waterholes, where I can know my neighbours and those who I see down the street in the local cafe. It's certainly worth taking the risk to live here.