Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back to school. . .

It's the end of January, which means back to school here in Oz.  It's been a very long, very wet summer.  With the weather being less than beach-worthy, we spent a lot of time at home.  We still swam, even in the rain (if you're wet, you might as well get wet) as long as there wasn't lightning.  There were a few moments when I thought my children were going to drive each other crazy, like those mice in that study where they put them in close proximity for too long and they eventually started killing each other.  So, I was very excited to have school start again.   It has been three days of school and I feel strangely lonely.  I miss my children.

Caleb started Prep (kindergarten.)  For the first time in 13 years, I am home alone.  Six hours of peace and quiet.  Please, do not ask me what I'm going to do with my time.  In case you didn't notice, there are still 24 hours in the day, and I still have meals to cook and laundry to do.  Sure, someday maybe I'll go back to teaching science, but for now, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing - without children.  Maybe I'll actually get something done for once.

So, there's an echo in the house.  I turned the TV on so that it wouldn't be so shockingly quiet here.

I love all of my children, but I'm particularly noticing Caleb's absence.   I've found that the best gifts are the ones you never ask for.  I think God knew we just needed him in our family.  He made it whole.  I already had 4 small children at home, my oldest being only 7 when Caleb was born.  Personal space and sleep were both in short supply.  So, when I heard a sister in Relief Society talking about how she missed waking up with her new born, and those quiet moments when it is just the two of you in a rocking chair, I thought she was crazy.  I swore I would never feel that way.  Caleb is the snuggliest child we've had yet.  I earned him.  He leans in.  He has been holding hands from the moment he could hold hands.  He practically pulled Shon's pinkie finger off from holding onto it constantly.  He would (and still does) walk up and take my hand and just rub it on his cheek or put it on top of his head.  Even now, when we tuck him in bed, he will call several times for us to come back and give him one more hug and kiss.  How could I say no to that?  So, I know what that lady in Relief Society was saying.  Now he is gone during the day, off playing with his "mates" and I miss his little hand.
Phone picture on the way into school.  Who is holding onto whom?  
Here's a blast from the past.  The kids 4 years ago.  

Sorry, I didn't mean to get all drippy and sentimental on y'all.

Back to school shopping is very different here than what I grew up with.  Really, I only have to buy a couple uniforms for each of the kids.  The kids haven't even grown out of their uniforms yet, so I only had to get new shoes and some socks.  Caleb needed a couple sets of his uniform, a hat, a backpack, a set of long socks, and some navy blue sandals.  Thank you, Keen, for making comfortable, cute, durable sandals that happen to come in navy blue!

Bryce goes to school a bit early, so he's on his own for his back to school photo.

I love uniforms.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Water, water, everywhere

Did I mention that it's been raining for 3 months?

 Most of Queensland is flooded, covering an area larger than Texas.  It has been flooded for a month, but until now, it hadn't really affected us.  We are high and dry, living on a hill in Ascot, near the river.  That all changed when the Brisbane River flooded.  Even Down Town Brisbane is flooded.  Sky scrapers stand in a lake, and parking garages are under water.  It is amazing to see the city work together to recover. . .

We have had two families (expats from New Mexico) staying with us.  Mike, Christy, their baby Wesley, and dog Smudge just left this arvo (afternoon) to stay in a hotel their company provided.  We were so sad to see them go (though Smudge gets to stay - the least we can do.)  Their home is two stories and the first level had a meter of water.  Chuck and Emily were evacuated from their high rise apartment on the river, and joined the party!  And that is what it has been - an evacuation party.  When Christy arrived, I asked her if she lost anything important, and she looked around and said "everything that's important to me is right in this room."  They had arrived with just the clothes on their back - all she had was her family.  Everything else is just stuff.

We've had an evacuation party before.  You may remember that we used to live in New Orleans, Louisiana, and in Houston, Texas - both cities that have been hit by big hurricanes.  After Katrina, we were blessed to be able to share our home with the Gomez's, one of our favorite families, while they waited to return to New Orleans.  We loved it.  What is there to do when the power goes out but make a big pot of gumbo and share with your neighbors!  So, I laughed when Christy (a native of Baton Rouge) suggested we make gumbo.  It was the best hurricane gumbo ever!  We played games until late in the night.

Shon's take:

Monday was a normal day at work for most in Brisbane but we knew floods were coming.  Because of a freak storm in the mountains, a wall of water pushed through Toowoomba, tragically killing many people, and headed down river.
A road turned into a river.

Tuesday started off with a phone call from a guy I work with saying he wouldn't be in because the river was up and he was cut off.  Most people came to work but at 9:30 I sent an email to all staff saying they should go home and prepare for flooding. (This is the part where Juli runs to the grocery store to make sure she has everything she needs.)
Debris as seen from Chuck's house.

Wednesday morning at 5AM we got a call from Christy and Mike (who we were friends with in New Mexico) saying they needed a place to go because the water was coming up fast.  We helped them bring everything up from the bottom level.  On the way back from their home we picked up Chuck and Emily (also New Mexicans).  Their apartment was right on the river and they had an amazing view of the devastating power of the river.  In the 10 minutes we were there, we saw several capsized boats, docks, and lots of debris floating down the river.  Many buildings along the river were already flooded.
Mike and Christy's back yard.

The water, coming up Mike's street.  There's nothing you can do to stop it.  

Thursday the river reached its peak.  As it started to recede, we went back to Mike and Christy's to help them get the belongings they will need until their home is repaired.  It took most of the day and we were all pretty tired at the end.

Mike in his kitchen before. . .

and After!  (The water had already receded a meter or so.)

Friday the waters returned to their banks, and Mike and Christy went back to clean up their house.  They scrubbed and hosed, and cleaned.  I went with a number of people from our church to some businesses just down the street that had been flooded.  We mucked out a large auto repair shop and cleaned it out.
The owner of the auto shop was SO grateful!

We then moved across the street to a uniform manufacturer.  The women in the shop were trying in vain to wrestle the large bolts of filthy fabric out to the rubbish heap.  We had about 8-10 men and teenagers helping and we spent most of the rest of the day there.  Juli (with Rose and Becky!  I just dropped it off.) made lunch for the entire army of 30 people that we worked with and then took home many of the uniforms that were soaked with filthy water,  and laundered them so that they could be ready for the kids that are starting school in a week.

Saturday Bryce and I went with the church to muck out houses in the Brisbane Stake, across the river from us.  There were 17 church members' homes that were damaged.  Some of the areas we went into had massive amounts of damage and water in their properties.
Walls of garbage line the street.

Brisbane is amazing.  There is such a spirit of service.  Everyone is helping each other - even perfect strangers.  There is much to do, but with everyone pitching in, the city will recover quickly.

Shon's Top Ten so far for the 2011 Brisbane Flood
10. Seeing Australian pride as everyone does something to help.  Queenslanders have an amazing sense of community, and work hard.

9. Seeing people that had damage but really had no means of helping start up their BBQs and throw a sausage sizzle in the street for the people doing the clean up.

8. Seeing Utes (trucks for you Americans) drive around with food and water on the back giving it to everyone and anyone.

7. Feeling like we made a difference at the auto shop.  The owners house had flooded up to the roof, and as soon as we were done with his auto shop, he and his wife said thanks many many times, grabbed their broom and shovels and headed to their home to work.

6. Knowing we made a difference today mucking out houses.  The homes we worked at were all two story homes and they all had water in both levels.  The lower levels were just completely filled with muck and junk and we spent hours just carrying stuff to the curb and making piles to be hauled off.

5. Working with other members when no one cared how bad we stank, how bad we looked we were just all working together making a small difference.

4. Eating the lunch that Juli (and Becky Brouwer) made.  I don't know if it was because I was starving or if that was the best tuna fish sandwich she had ever made.  Anyway I was filled and happy.  (Note from Juli:  I wish I had lettuce - unfortunately, fresh fruits are in short supply.  And I didn't do it alone - Becky makes the best chocolate chip cookies EVER.)

3. Working at the uniform shop.  We did tons of work there and the people were so thankful.  We moved lots of heavy equipment to allow access to areas to power spray, washed uniforms so the school kids would have uniforms for school, and got the place back so that people could have a sense of normalcy and return to work.

2. Opening our home to friends in need.  We came out on top in this situation - they cooked and did the dishes!  (Our dishwasher kicked the bucked two week ago.)  We love Smudge, their dog, who will be staying with us for a month or so.
A road becomes a river.

1. Doing something.  Juli's favorite saying is "When you can't do everything, just do something."  We can't do everything, but we did something.