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Thanks for being part of my Sunday Girl journey. X

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After the Storm.

This week my little town of Newcastle has been battered and bruised. A severe weather event known as an East Coast Low traumatised us with its cyclonic winds and torrential rain. It was a tricky beast, rotating slowly, offering a ruse of respite in the short-lived eye of each of its many storms. The Bureau of Meteorology online radar became our dreadful focus as we waited for a sign it was over. The Low was vulture-like, repeatedly circling, ready to swoop. We braced for impact. Upstairs, our house shook. Water in the glass on my bedside table generated pretty concentric circles with each new gust of wind. The rain fell in great sheets, swathing the landscape in greyness. Rivers broke their banks, new lakes engulfed houses and cars, water surged and wilfully carved its way. Many lost homes, roofs, fences, trees, cars, belongings. People died.

And then finally, after two nights and a day, the Low left. There was still rain and wind gusts but nothing compared to what we’d experienced. It was time to assess the damage, to see what could be done, to prepare for the inevitable and continuing flooding. On Wednesday, Newcastle went into clean-up mode.

Disclaimer: I should probably throw in here that I’m a proud Novocastrian. We breed them tough in the Hunter Valley, especially in our town, and for all our apparent and sometimes-frustrating parochialism we are a generous and giving community. Bring on your worst because no matter what – the aftermath is when we shine.

We had a houseful of guests. We put out a call on Facebook that our little home was open for business. We still somehow had power and could offer food and hot water. We were better off than the majority of our family and friends. We fed cousins, showered kids, charged iPads and iPhones. Someone brought a thank-you bottle of red wine which was gratefully received by the grown-ups at dinner time. Others were doing the same; offers were all over social media.

At about lunchtime midweek I could stand it no more. The worst was over and I was itching to get out and see what was happening. I wanted to check out the big surf, grab some groceries, get back in touch with life outside the walls of my house. All within our home were fed and playing happily so I grabbed my camera and slipped out.

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Driving into Newcastle was an eye-opener. My partner had been into town that morning to grab his lap-top so I knew a little about what areas to avoid and which roads were closed. I’d seen all the images in the media. I knew that many trees would be down; we’d had our own disaster with an enormous gum tree uprooted and resting precariously on our fence and neighbours shed. I knew that traffic lights were out, schools were closed, trains and buses were out of action. But I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the damage.

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The trees. Everywhere, trees on their side, uprooted, branches, seeds, flowers, leaves, leaves and more leaves. Huge piles of greenery shaped by the force of the water and wind: a she-oak carpeted pavement alongside Newcastle High School; dark and heavy branches blanketing the walk at Customs House; piles of plane tree leaves along King Street. And the Banksias! May Gibbs’ big, bad Banksia men blown from their tree homes, all wet and muddy on the foreshore. Hundreds and hundreds of them spread mournfully on the ground, wet and unrealised.

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I headed to the beach. There were many others, mainly families looking to entertain their house-bound broods while schools remained closed. And yes the surf was BIG. Messy, brown, frothy and just a little scary. A handful of surfers braved the waters at Nobbys Beach whilst pedestrians headed to the flooded Newcastle Baths, oohing and aahing over the surf-made waterfalls within its walls. The kid’s canoe pool was no longer visible save for a few rusty posts and chains on the southern edge. The Esplanade was closed to cars and strangely eerie to walk along in their absence. And Newcastle Beach – what was left of it – was a study in abstract art with millions of tiny pumice stones swirling in and out of the waves with noisy movement. The powerful surf must have broken up shelves of the stuff; there was more of it than sand.

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The horizon didn’t disappoint, with heavy purple-grey clouds washing the skyline whilst the sun shone through cloud-breaks above. I saw some blue sky whilst I ran from the rain. There was 15 minutes of a gusty southerly preceding complete stillness on Newcastle Beach. It all felt other-worldly.

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I spotted a family on Newcastle Beach ferreting through the debris and filling bulging garbage bags with…what? I asked. They were cleaning up the beach. The same surf that created all those tiny pumice stones had also pulverized the rubbish out at sea, creating a colourful confetti of plastic refuse. The father said they were happy to be photographed. The little boy told me they always cleaned up the beach after a storm. This was their ‘thing’. I wish I’d taken their names so I could publicly congratulate them.

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During the first frightening night of the storms, my five-year old daughter snuggled against me seeking reassurance and warmth. I told her it was all OK, that we were lucky we were safe inside and could look after each other. She looked up at me and asked “what happens to the homeless people when there’s a storm?” A good question. We talked about it and hoped that they all found somewhere safe and dry to wait out the weather. On my afternoon excursion I saw a man in the foreshore park string up a makeshift clothes line to dry out his sleeping bag and tarpaulins. He’d survived the storm OK but all his gear was soaked. I read about a woman in Sydney who asked her Facebook friends to donate clothes and food for her to deliver to the homeless in her area as the storms hit down south. She and her sister collected the goods and distributed them among the city’s homeless community. Apparently they were easy to find, having gathered in large groups in any dry spaces they could find. This type of response restores my faith in humanity, just like the family on Newcastle Beach. Sometimes, people rock.

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Not everyone was happy to talk. A fellow along The Esplanade was shovelling sand and sweeping out his garage. I approached him and asked if I could take his photo. “Why would you want to photograph this? What possible good could come from it?”. He was agitated and unhappy. I left him to it – I didn’t think he was in the mindset for a conversation about shared experiences. Perhaps the prospect of another huge high tide fuelled by flood waters was too much for him to bear.

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And then there’s this. Someone who saw an opportunity. How better to put forward your climate change beliefs than use the enormous tree that’s crushed your car as the result of an out-of-control East Coast Low? Severe weather? Tick. Dramatic outcome? Tick. You can’t help but admire this person’s dedication to their cause.

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There are many cafes and restaurants who’ve opened their doors to people without power. They all deserve a shout out, like the Newie Burger Company at The Cambridge who offered free tea, coffee and movies for kids to watch and the Euro Bar in Hamilton offering free pasta dinners to those in need. Of course, there’s so many more that could be mentioned – sandwich shops catering for emergency workers, pubs keeping isolated towns in good spirits, people opening their doors to strangers for showers, offerings of empty freezers so those without power don’t lose all their food. In a wonderful and usual show of Hunter Valley-ian ethos even those in need are extending their limited resources to others.

When in dire straits it’s good to have a sense of humour. Tuesday night’s 135km/hour winds wreaked havoc in many ways, not the least of which was the ‘flying trampoline’ effect. Many woke on Wednesday to strangely empty backyards, owners not sure what was missing but knowing there was an absence. In homage to the flight of the trampoline(s), there is now a Facebook page entitled “Where’s my Trampoline gone? April 2015 carnage”. Yes, you can upload your crazy pics of trampolines gone rogue. The page has 5,237 followers and growing. The things you do when you’re in lockdown and looking for the lighter side of a natural disaster.

And so in the aftermath of the storm, I offer the following:

  • My heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones in the floods. Of all those who died, the loss of great grandmother Anne Jarmain on Cessnock Road near Maitland affected me deeply; I traverse that road going to and from work. The images on social media ‘as it happened’ were horrifying. The thought that the sheer volume of water made it turn uphill and gather velocity is frightening. The open letter from the woman’s grandson to a local radio station thanking everyone for their efforts was extraordinary. The prospect of any lives being lost in a flood is overwhelmingly sad.
  • Huge karma points to those acting selflessly, in whatever capacity, over the last few days and coming weeks. From emergency service workers to those handling call lines, from retailers and foodies offering freebies to those sharing their own resources, time and care. Special kudos to the family cleaning Newcastle Beach – a great community service, a good way to get the family together outdoors and a fabulous lesson for those children.
  • On a personal note, thank you to Kelly Lees, Urban Hum beekeeper. Our bees are much, much happier now that their home is right side up. They are getting on with the business of cleaning up just like everyone else.
  • ABC 1233 Radio deserves a special mention. This local broadcaster became our emergency lifeline, a provider of updates and information. They did and continue to do a great job (we still missed you though Carol!).
  • At the time of writing this morning I received notification that my workplace at Maitland has been evacuated. It follows another flood warning for the Hunter. The rivers are rising again. My sincerest hope is that all are safe, dry and out of the way of those waters.
  • A warm imaginary hug to the guy sweeping out his shed on The Esplanade. Hope he’s found something to smile about today.
  • To nature: well, that was (and is) a spectacular and not-so-gentle reminder of your power. In the aftermath of your fury I found beauty in the fresh debris of sweet-smelling leaves and the glory of the huge ocean swell. The Hunter’s water tables are well-recharged now. Next time be a bit more kind, if you can.

Now for something I didn’t write. I love this perspective and think it sums up our East Coast Low experience rather well. These words belong to Paul Burke – dog owner, fireman and photographer extraordinaire:

“Now the wind and rain has stopped for a while, I can’t help but think Mother Nature has walked away from this excited conversation we’ve been having all day, shaking her head, thinking “…they thought it was all about them!”

Yes, I suspect she has.

Lavender and Aliens

When I first met her she was only a few weeks old. So small and gorgeous, eating and sleeping her way through the days. She cried and cried, sniffled and sighed her way into my heart. White with tan spots, she was a tiny Jack Russell, my first dog.

I’d had dogs drift in and out of my life as a child; we lived opposite a bush reserve which seemed to be a regular dumping ground for people’s refuse and unwanted animals, so I’d had a few puppy-pets in my primary school years. Each stayed for just days at a time before we ultimately delivered them into an uncertain future at the local RSPCA. I always tried to keep them, the undesired and unloved – their status endeared them to me even more. But it was not to be, and I promised myself I’d have the much-longed-for and four-legged friend as soon as I was grown-up and out on my own.
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So here we were. My new gorgeous girl’s name was Lavender, the first of a run of formal names given to her by the breeder, written hurriedly on the top of her vaccination card. She didn’t seem like a ‘Lavender’ to me – she was all spitfire and boisterousness, leaping and pawing her way through our yard. She was demanding; her need for attention was boundless and her perseverance in seeking the same was impressive. She would literally cry and wail for hours and hours, with no respite, whilst simultaneously chewing her way through the base of the laundry door. She was strong-willed and fierce. She was a pocket-rocket-sized chick with attitude. I thought long and hard about her name and decided on Ripley – not for the ‘believe or not’ connotation, but after Ellen Ripley, the lead female character in the movie ‘Alien’. They shared so many characteristics, fortitude, guts and determination, it seemed appropriate.

And so Ripley continued to exasperate and delight us in equal measure. In retrospect, having a Jack Russell as my first dog probably wasn’t the smartest move – I had no idea how to train any dog, let alone a breed that needed strong direction. Jack Russells are just too damn smart and I was ill-prepared for the pre-emptive and complex nature of their thought process. Ripley easily assumed the title of ‘pack leader’ and lead us a merry dance for several years.
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There was the time my grandmother ‘baby-sat’ Ripley at her house. Ripley was very young, still had puppy-teeth, and managed to corral my grandmother into the corner of her kitchen, nipping her heels whenever she tried to escape. She was still there when I returned a few hours later. Then there were the numerous times Ripley tried to escape – any gate, open for a millisecond, was an opportunity to flee. Her best effort was the afternoon before my 30th birthday party. She bolted through legs, out the gate, onto the road and straight under a moving car; I noted the tyre marks on her tummy as she was whisked away to the vet. I was so distraught, I wanted to cancel everything and yet – she was absolutely fine, back to engineering escape tactics within a week. And then there were the times when she simply needed to burn a little energy. She’d tuck her tail neatly under her bottom, pull her head in low-line with her back and shoot off like a bullet, lapping the yard. She’d run and leap into nothingness, off retaining walls and over hedges. One day, one overly-eager leap too far snapped her cruciate ligament – a footballer’s injury. The operation cost in the thousands; she chewed her stitches out twice.
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Things changed for Ripley when we acquired dog number 2 – beautiful, gentle Jasper. He was more than twice her size and three times her weight. He was a rescued dog from the RSPCA. He developed pneumonia 3 days after we brought him home, and so disappeared again for 2 weeks back to the veterinary hospital. Ripley clearly thought she’d won; she never liked sharing and now believed she had somehow sent this new dog packing. She seemed….satisfied. Not so. Jasper returned, and with a case of nose-severely-out-of-joint, Ripley initiated a series of arguments, nasty ones. For a while we thought we couldn’t keep Jasper. Then, eventually, things were resolved when Jasper assumed his role as bottom of the heap, the last in the pack. Poor Jasper – such a kindly old soul, he was never a match for Ripley’s mischievous maneuverings. And so, finally, our dogs settled into life together.
Beautiful puppies
I remember being (unnecessarily) worried about Ripley’s reaction to our expanding family. One New Year’s Eve, only just pregnant and still nursing the secret, I spent the night on our back deck with friends and family. I was tired – Ripley sensed my lethargy and jumped onto my lap for gentle pats and rubs. She nudged my belly more than once and eventually fell asleep curled into my warmth. I swear she was making the most of the now-dwindling opportunities for some alone time with me.

Life rolled on, and so we hit 2013. Both Ripley and Jasper were 15, turning 16. Incredibly old and happily ensconced in sunshine-y days of overstuffed cushions and soft brushes. Our dogs had lost the chase, and so now companionably shared water bowls and grassy lawn with pigeons and doves. Life became slower – filled with afternoon naps and sleepy tail-wags.
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Which brings me to now. My best mate Ripley, my little terrorist, has gone. We had to make the terrible decision to put her down. She was so mightily old, and lost her dignity one morning in such a mess that her milky eyes bade me turn away. Her back legs lay loose and unwilling to move. I tearfully rang the vet and said “it’s time”. I held her face and stroked her head as she went. It was heartbreaking.

That was Saturday. The next day, Sunday, was a day of celebration. My grandmother, the one so richly rounded-up by my little Jack Russell, was turning 90. Quite a milestone. She still lives on her own, shops for herself and walks every morning to get the newspaper. She’s funny and smart and can source a sarcastic comment when needed. Our relatives were coming from north and south the be part of the afternoon. It was a lovely few hours of shared memories, champagne and laughter. I let myself enjoy the event and tried not to think about Ripley.
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Then my grandmother began opening her presents. I was assigned the role of scribe, writing down the gifts on the corresponding card so my grandmother would now who-to-thank-for-what. Our gift was a photo book, around 150 pages of images of my grandmother from birth to now, and with family and with friends. I’d included 2 photos, one of each of our dogs. The caption under Ripley read “Moira’s nemesis”, a nod to the ongoing love/hate relationship they shared. It made me smile to think that even the day after she died, Ripley was still being remembered in all her rambunctious and domineering glory.

And so it came to be that within the space of 2 days I celebrated one long life and began grieving the end of another. Beginnings and endings. Life, overwhelming.

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Remembered always and so very missed.
Ripley Faulkner.
1997 – 2013.

Reality Mum.

I’m enjoying Mothers Day…really, I am. I had a sleep-in, which I love, and was given the gift of noise-isolating headphones for my mp3 player (they’re actually fantastic but, oh, the irony!). My daughter has been hugging me all morning, wishing me ‘Happy Mothers Day’ whilst also asking me when it will be finished. She put on her thickly-tread gumboots to play outside after lunch and promptly walked through poo left on the deck by our geriatric dog who can’t quite make the lawn anymore. Wouldn’t be so bad except she had walked it all over the decking boards before I noticed the smell, having just sat down to read a magazine that I’ve scanned the same page of for the last 3 days. I burnt caramel in the saucepan and had to send out the troops for more condensed milk whilst I dealt with my teary ineptitude. I’m going away for work tomorrow and haven’t packed or organised anything related to meetings or the daycare run. All in all – a pretty typical day as me, and as a Mum.

In stark contrast to this – I’ve been reading a lot of facebook posts today about mothers, from friends to their Mum, grandmother or daughter. Lots of flowery well-wishes, chrysanthemum-kisses and pale pink-dusted memories. Some of the messages infer motherhood is one long cupcake baking session. Stark contrast to my day so far. Where’s the ‘thanks for wiping my bottom’ or ‘thanks for tolerating my belligerently toned teenage years’? It got me thinking about being a Mum, and the tremendous highs and lows that come with the experience – for all involved. There’s no denying that sometimes I look at my daughter, my gorgeous girl, and am overwhelmed with love to the point of weeping. Other times…well, I’m being honest – I’m sure she’s as unhappy with my behaviour as I am with hers.

Which brings me to today’s post. A little unrefined, but warranted. A more balanced view of a mother’s days, not just the May-dated one. For Belle. Enjoy.

Motherhood.

You want it cold,
you want it hot,
you want it warm,
You want it ‘NOT’.

You whinge to me
Of hair astray,
And blame me, too,
For missing play.
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I write your name,
For you to trace.
You roll your eyes
And pull that face.

I bathe your limbs,
I wash your clothes;
You paint the walls
And pick your nose.
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You stamp your foot
And cry in rage,
And all I did
Was turn the page.

I touch your face
To make you smile.
You frown at me
and run a mile.
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I paint your nails
The colour pink.
You chew it off
And flood the sink.

You want a say
In clothes and shoes,
Then moan and cry
When I say ‘choose’.
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You drive me mad
And age me fast.
I had you late;
I hope I last.

And whilst oft’ said,
it’s more than true;
You’ll never know
How much I do.

Yet in the blur
Of daily grind
Such joy and warmth
In you I find.
Mothers Day 2013
Your frowning smiles,
Your happy tears,
Your lovely face
I hold so dear.

Snail town
So in this deal,
I think I win.
Your hand in mine,
Your cheeky grin.

For here I am,
And you are too.
I am your Mum.
Thank God for you.
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Lazy.

Well, yes, it’s happened. The inevitable. What I just KNEW would happen.

I got lazy.

That’s right folks. Only 2 blog posts in and I’m already shirking Sunday responsibilities in favour of all things lazybonesy (technical term). Yesterday on my Sunday afternoon, I found myself reading the paper, fluffing about the kitchen, intermittently reading tweets and generally….not doing a lot. Still, not a bad way to pass the afternoon.

To make up for such slovenly behaviour I’m going to share a couple of shots featured on a blog I discovered called ‘you are my wild’. I love that simple statement for so many reasons. You are my wild……you’re what makes me nuts, drives me crazy, makes me seeth with rage or passion, makes me laugh hysterically, makes me sob with joy and smile with sadness, makes me explore, reminds me to be unihibited, to let go, to not care, to just enjoy. You are my wild.

No surprises that the stars of the blog are children. Being wild. Captured moments. Beautiful. http://youaremywild.wordpress.com/

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yamw4isabel

Older.

It’s not Sunday, but I feel compelled to blog. Here ’tis folk – (sits a little straighter) – I’m an “older” Mum.

What does that mean? That means I’m around 10 years older than all the other Mums sitting patiently around the edges of the scout hall watching their tiny-tutu’d daughters prance about after demonstrating ‘first position’. It means I’ve been asked if I’m my daughter’s grandmother (I mean, really? Get a clue people!). It means that whilst other Mums are talking about planning for and/or managing their second, third or even fourth babies, I’m planning for and/or managing my second, third or fourth hot flush for the day, usually by choosing seats near windows or air-conditioners.

And my daughter? She doesn’t know any differently. I’m just Mum. And that, my friends, is what often saves this little black duck from feeling very low. In the words of Maurice Chevalier (albeit a little creepy in this day and age) – thank heaven for little girls.

And no – I wasn’t born when that song was written. Just saying.

Let’s begin.

I’ve never tried tackling a blog before. I’m wondering if my mental meanderings should really be shared or not. OK – here’s the jump.

I was an avid diary-writer in my angst-ridden teenage years, but the business of life has taken over. I even tried maintaining a diary for my daughter, starting after she was born. There’s great entries in the early months; while she slept I filled the hours with e-shopping, house-tidying and diarising. They lessen a little in Year 1 thru’ 2, when life became more hectic (Cue movie title: ‘She walks’). I still add to her diary every now and again, but mostly the new entries are written in my head and never make it to the page. Ho hum, bad Mum.

Today however, I’ve been inspired. Perhaps it was a recent social media course (wordpress? really? how cool is this?). Maybe even the little glimpses of creativity, something exciting niggling at the corners of my intellect, not quite realised….quickly followed by wishing I was an artist, rather than someone who simply has a deep appreciation for same. Maybe even the emerging photographer in me (seem to be doing OK, well, I like my shots). Whatever. I’ve had what I would term ‘a moment’.

Sunday is a day where, come about 4pm, that ‘Sunday feeling’ kicks in. Relaxed, laid back, deeply appreciative of having had two days off work – followed by the lacklustre realisation that it’s also “the end” of said days off. Acknowledgement that Monday brings work commitments, routine and…..well…life in all its glorious extremes, chaos and predictability.

So I got to thinking – surely I’m not the only one who feels that bittersweet Sunday thing? Surely it happens all over the world?

The other notion that’s been capping my thought-full head is about connectedness. Probably another hangover of the social media course, but still – it’s exciting to consider how easily we can connect across our little planet. Facebook offers me stories and updates from family and friends. We share photos, stories of nights out, great new cafes to visit. Twitter is bigger. It’s knowing the instant thoughts of people everywhere, whoever you choose to listen to. I had to pursue both these avenues for work, and so started my own experience first. I was already converted to facebook, but not to twitter. I opened an account and was immediately stumped. Who do I ‘follow’? Friends? Already do. I’m happy with facebook. Politicians? not so interested. Aah, I’ll go the celebrity route. I started with a show I was watching at the time (for those interested – New Girl) and subscribed to some of its actors and the show’s twitter account itself. I found it quite bizarre to hear the immediate thoughts of people on another continent! Weird, even. A lot of it was show-promo, but every now and again I’d get a glimpse of what another human being was doing in their everyday life (dogs, gardening, art, jokes, music). Eventually I figured out the whole process and now I’m hooked.

This seems like a good time to reveal something else about me. I don’t consider myself a great socialiser. I like books more often than people, but that’s probably more to do with my own perceived inadequacies than other human beings. However, I am extremely interested IN other people. What they do, how they think, how they act. I find it very inspiring. But here’s my dilemma. I’m in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. I work, as does my partner, the lovely Martin. We have a big mortgage – we ain’t goin’ nowhere, not anytime soon. We have a 3 year old fairy princess, Belle, and Martin has a 10 year old son, Ewan. Life is currently driven by our glorious family, who I adore and love to bits. But I also feel this need to be inspired by people beyond what I know, by other walks of life, other day-to-day routines, to document, to share and “create content”. That, I believe, is at the heart of my brain-niggle.

So, back to the Sunday musings. How to connect? The platform is there, but what’s the thing we all have in common? I wondered if there was someone just like me thinking the same thing somewhere else in the world, on their Sunday afternoon. And then it hit me – all those other people, around the world, experiencing something, at 4pm on their Sundays. A day, a time, shared. What is everyone….doing? And what if I could use social media in a way to create content and connectedness by getting everyone, anyone, anywhere, to share what they’re doing at 4pm on their Sunday?

I’m going to let this idea mull around for the next week. Stew, ferment and hopefully – develop. This is something I want to do.

Me? I was in my kitchen listening to music, chopping tomatoes, spanish onion and home-grown basil for dinner. And I was creating content.