Get Ready QLD! Preparing for storm season – unofficial tips & tricks.

storm damaged palm treeWe’re heading into that time of year again in Queensland, where the conditions become perfect for severe weather events. Being sub-tropical, the heat of spring brings moist air currents, electrical storms, cyclones & flooding. While 2013-2014 is not expected to bring the heavy deluges of rain seen previously (eg Nov 2011), we’re still bracing for impressive electrical storms & their damaging winds plus the possibility of cyclones in the north of the state. I won’t go into the weather patterns that produce these, other than to say we are in a ‘neutral’ phase (neither La Nina or El Nino).

The Queensland Government is running a great preparedness program (Get Ready Queensland http://getready.qld.gov.au/) and many of my State Emergency Services (SES) colleagues are at a major hardware chain volunteering on community education displays. Australia is very blessed to have such a strong volunteer response force in the SES, who are well trained and well equipped. But it’s still a very low ‘SES to households’ ratio and people need to make sure they are as prepared and as resilient as possible. When a storm strikes, you are the first person at the scene to do something to protect your home and your family. If you are physically fit & able, this also frees up the SES volunteers to be able to assist the elderly, disabled, young families etc first.

I’d love to see 2013 be the year where Queenslanders equip themselves to help themselves, their neighbours, their streets and their communities, instead of getting media fatigue and ignoring the pleas to make an emergency kit. So, take it off your to-do list and put it on your done list instead.

OK, time to get off my soap box. This note is actually to show you a few of the steps that I take during storm season, which you might not find in the emergency kit literature.

1. Don’t let your car get low on fuel. – Yes, I know how easy it is to run around like mad and only stop for fuel when that red light comes on. During storm season, the first thing to go is usually the electricity supply and petrol (gas) stations can’t operate without power. You could have to drive a considerable distance to find a working petrol station, which isn’t something you want to do on a low tank. So, during storm season, make an effort to keep ‘half a tank’ your new minimum.

2. That emergency kit thing? Do it. – I’ll confess that you wont’ find a large plastic container in my home labelled ’emergency kit’. But you will find that we can be fairly self-sufficient on no power for a few days, with no notice and for even longer with a storm forecast. Some of this comes from that fact that we like camping, so much of our camping equipment and provisions are also great after a storm.
– Coming into storm season, we check & replace our container of fresh water (a plastic 20L container) and we also have the capability of filling up the water storage on our camper trailer. Living in a suburb of a major city, it’s hard to imagine not having access to drinking water, but the heavy rain from ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald in Feb 2013 was a good example of this. The rainfall had increased the silt levels in the water systems, putting extra stress on the treatment plant and decreasing the output supply rate. Some southern suburbs were warned that water rationing would be needed and the supermarkets all ran out of bottled water.
– Check the gas supplies. If you don’t want to live on cold food for days, you’ll appreciate a coffee or tea & a hot meal. We stock up on butane cartridges for the small gas stove and refill the larger gas bottles for the large stove & BBQ. Speaking of coffee, we also grind a tin of coffee beans. If we don’t have power, we can at least make a plunger coffee – no instant here!
– Check the pantry. And in our case, check the camping food box. You want to make sure you have a nice selection of non-perishable food to get you through say one week, if necessary. Trust me, the supermarkets will be mad. My kids would live on tinned spaghetti but we also have soup, tinned stews, 2 minute noodles (yes you can make them without a microwave), UHT milk (shelf stable until opened) etc etc. Cereal & even porridge for breakfast. Crackers and snacks. Make sure you have a spare of any other personal needs too (eg medication, baby formula, nappies). You don’t need to go crazy & prepare your bunker for the next world war, but you don’t want to be down to the last nappy either. Again, the aim here is to avoid the supermarket. If you do go to stock up on some last minute essenitals, remember a few things … a)don’t stock up on meat & things that need refrigerating. It will all spoil if you lose power for a few days and b) the supermarket will run out of bread. You can buy flour & yeast and make something resembling damper if you trully cannot go bread-free for a few days.
– Check batteries. Make sure you have the right sizes for your torch, torches for the kids and for your radio. Our emergency radio is the little unit that hangs in our shower and it only needs AA batteries. And while we mention lighting, be very very careful with candles and throw glow sticks into your kit if you have kids. Turns a blackout into an instant party, plus they don’t feel as scared falling asleep with a glow stick next to their bed.

3.Know your risks and prepare for them. – Our home is on high ground a considerable distance from a major (or even minor) river. We’re not at risk of river flooding, and surface flooding runs down to the property below us. There are also no large established trees around us. But there are large trees on the exit points from our suburb & high voltage power lines. Know your risks & prepare for them. After a storm, there’s one section of road I wouldn’t travel. If your property is prone to flooding, know where to get sandbags before a storm and how to lay them to create a barrier before the storm hits. Trim any overhanging branches if you can and have your own tarp, plastic and ropes. If you have skylights, nothing beats some plastic sheeting & tape after hail damage, if you are comfortable getting up on your own roof (safely AND after the storm).

4. Clean your gutters. – During heavy rain, this one thing would save so many households. Your gutters can only handle so much rainfall & heavy rain will cause them to overflow. If they are blocked with leaves, the water will back up and be forced underneath your roofing iron or tiles and get into your roof space. Then it’s in you ceiling and out your light fittings. If you rent, get onto your real estate or property manager about doing this. After all, it’s protecting the home owner’s investment.

5. Store copies of your important information offsite. – In plain english, burn a copy of photos & scanned (or photographed) important documents to a DVD or to an external USB hard disk and leave it a the house of a friend or family member or at work. Even better, use one of the many free Internet services (‘Cloud’ storage) like Dropbox or an internet backup service. Then you’ll have some protection if your computer is zapped or flooded or if you simply can’t get power to your house for a few days.

6. Store important phone numbers in your phone. – Power company, gas company, SES. Much easier than looking for a fridge magnet if there is a tree through your kitchen.

7. See storm warnings? Charge your phone. – Phones are even more critical for communication now they have access to the latest news & information on the Internet (especially when your home Internet is down or your computer has no power) and they also make a handy torch. Summer storms usually happen after the heat of the day has had time to build up, and sometimes into the evening after nightfall. This is the time that our phone charge has taken a hammering from a day of use already. If you see storm warnings, your phone is the one thing I do want you to plug in. Get as much charge into it as you can before there is lightning in your area. There’s also a risk that power loss may extend for days after the event, so look at other alternative ways of charging your phone, like a car cigarette power adaptor or a small solar power system. Our solar power unit cost under $100 and powers 2 led lights plus has USB ports for charging cables.

8. Have an extra tidy-up when the storm warnings start. – Bring in the gardening tools and outdoor furniture. Tie down your trampoline or weigh down the legs with filled sandbags. Coil up & storm the garden hose & sprinkler.

9. Stay informed. – Keep your local radio station on for storm information. Sign up for local council alert services. Watch emergency services accounts on social media. My favourite website is the Weatherzone Forums http://forum.weatherzone.com.au/ubbthreads.php?ubb=cfrm for watching the weather enthusiasts talk about the conditions as they build and report observations as they happen. Keep your travel plans to a minimum and have somewhere earmarked where you can store your car to protect it from hail damage (even if some of your garage stuff needs to temporarily sit in your living room or hallway).

10. Unplug your electronics. – When there’s lightning in the area, we physically unplug as much as we can (computers, TV, stereo, microwave etc). Only exception is the fridge & freezer. Go into them as little as possible to keep the cold in. Electronics can be fried with a power surge or direct lightning strike to your house even if they are turned off. If you want to remove that risk, pull out the power cord.

After the event, watch out for fallen powerlines (always assume they are live) and check on your neighbours. Wear gloves & closed in shoes when handling any debris.

*whew* I think that gets a few things out of my head. Feel free to add your own storm safety tips in the comments. Stay safe and Get Ready QLD!

-SCuffy

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The effect of the Jolie Effect

Social media lit up with the news – Angelina Jolie had written her story about having a double mastectomy.
Journalists clambered to find a local source with the same story, to air a piece on the evening news that was a little more relevant than just retelling Hollywood news. They were quick to label ‘the Jolie Effect’ – where thousands of women will now consider this procedure if they find that they too carry a defective gene because they are now aware that it’s a viable option.

And, just as quickly – enter the haters. Or maybe that’s too strong a word. Enter the commentators. Because that’s what the internet gives us – a public forum to air our thoughts on social media, news website comments and blogs. The scale ranges from ‘good on her for going public’ to ‘big deal, where is the real news?’.

Celebrity status comes with air time. A right move, a bad move or an announcement is catapulted to the top of our consciousness because it contains a recognisable name. If I’d contacted the local newspaper and told them the same story, they may run it as a human interest piece. You may flick straight past it in the newspaper or online or maybe read it if you have an interest in women’s health or a connection somehow to breast cancer. I can guarantee you that it would not light up your twitter feed like it did with Angelina’s name.

But that doesn’t make it wrong. It doesn’t make her story any less heroic or any less important because she is a celebrity. She’s not saying she’s better than anyone else. She’s sharing her story because she knows the impact that her name has. And that in this case it might bring hope to someone else who has to make the same decision. In an industry where her looks and her body unfortunately do form a part of her screen appeal (and therefore her employability) she has admitted to having surgery.

I understand that the world if full of complicated, important issues. I understand that Angelina has gone through what many, many other women in the world have gone through, and that many other women and men and children in this world have gone through worse.

So for just a minute, can we stop comparing? Can we put down the judgement and just say ‘here is a human being who has done a brave thing’? Can we agree to support her the same as we should support anyone who has been through that, not any more because she’s famous or any less because she’s famous? Can we bite our tongues instead of spewing that women will talk with their doctor and find out about this procedure anyway, without Angelina getting into the spotlight with it?

When will we get the concept that we are important – all of us? Housewives AND celebrities. And I know you want to launch into a rant about ‘how stupid this concept of fame & celebrity is, when people are paid truckloads & marched across our TV screens for a talent that doesn’t compare to our teachers, our police, our ambulance officers.’ But right now, this story isn’t about her lastest movie. It’s about her personal experience. And that’s no less valid and no less brave because you know her name.

-SCuffy

So I cried at my daughter’s cross-country, before she raced.

Yup, that’s a big heart on my sleeve title right there. It may even come as a surprise to my loving husband who was standing right next to me. Gotta love sunglasses.

My daughter is 7. Cross country running (or any running or even walking for that matter) is not her favourite thing. She takes after her mother like that. But she loves to dance. I have no idea where that came from. So we went along to support her, cheer her on as she faced a 750m running race with all of the other Yr 2 girls.

We got to see the other years run first, individual Prep classes then Yr 1 girls then Yr 1 boys. And it broke my heart.

Cross country running spreads out kids just as life does. One child in each race crosses first. The others are near the front, in the middle or near the end. And another child crosses last. Last. Those four letters have such an impact on our self-esteem.

The school encourages equal participation. Try your best. Everyone gets a ribbon. While some may argue that this takes the competitive edge off our kids and doesn’t prepare them for the real world, there’s another life lesson lurking in cross-country running. In some areas of your life you will finish first. In some areas you will finish last, This is ok. This is life.

And bless the teachers of her school, some who ran with their classes, at the back, so they crossed last. And I’m not talkiing the fit, sporty teachers. They were saying to their kids ‘hey, we can do this, we can start & finish this, if I can – you can’. So yeah, that was partly a contributor to my tears.

The most painful part for me though was seeing the kids who really struggled and came last. Other mums had said ‘my son/daughter is stressed, isn’t sleeping, has confessed that they just don’t want to come last.’ And it took me right back to my own childhood. Because I was exactly the same. Cross country running was once a year torture. The only things that made it bearable were the support of some of my other classmates and my parents who couldn’t care less how I did in running. Or PE in general. My parents knew that my performance on the sports field didn’t define me. They knew that I was great in other areas of my life. They knew that my cross-country was not going to negatively impact my chances of success in life.

So, as a little kid came huffing & puffing, red-faced around the corner to the final straight home, and the crowd started cheering louder, even louder than they had for first place, I felt his pain .. the pain of being last. And I wanted to reach out and grab him and look into his eyes and say ‘you finished what you started and that’s what mattered. Don’t let this moment define you. Don’t let this be a measure of your self worth. You are so much more than this and you will grow up and do great things.’

I believe that exposure to competition is a natural part of life. I believe we need to show our kids that some people come first and some people come last. But I also think we need to put this into context for them. And I know our teachers and most parents do a great job of that. Our children deserve to be rewarded for their strengths, encouraged in their weaknesses and to be helped to find that beautiful, complete, whole person picture of who they are. Just as we all do.

Truths from the campfire

  1. Delete Candy Crush. It’s a time-wasting distraction.
  2. Social media is very anti-social. It’s ok to embrace a community of like-minded people in cyberspace, but not at the expense of the people who are actually in the same room with you.
  3. Use Facebook & Twitter for sharing life moments with and engaging people, not for living every moment alongside.
  4. Your phone has the ability to turn the data connection off. Use it.
  5. Fresh air is underrated. Go outside more.
  6. Campfires are hypnotic, calming & warming.
  7. BE WHERE YOU ARE.
  8. Live your life with purpose & a plan, but roll with the punches too.
  9. Stop just wishing.
  10. Play with your kids.
  11. Food is fuel.

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-SCuffy

 

On going backwards and forwards, and things that are free.

I can’t say that today was the best & the worst of days. I’ve had better (read: wedding day, birth of two healthy girls etc), so it wasn’t really a red letter day in that respect. And I’ve had worse (money, rental stress, money, dog dying, money), so it wasn’t really a day to cry either. But it certainly did ride a roller coaster. I’m hoping this is a sign that it ended happily & I got off the ride safely, because I’m here writing a blog post & listening to Florence + The Machine (MTV Unplugged 2012) in glorious Logitech quality.

Let’s start by going backwards. Remember that new chapter in my life I started writing? Well, it now has a full stop and we’re on the next page. It brought me some new skills, grew an incredible friendship & has opened up opportunities I didn’t have before. For that, I’m grateful. I just get to stress about money a little more again. Que sera, sera. We’re blessed to be able to meet the mortgage, put fuel in the car & food in the cupboard and live in the paradise that is Queensland. Blessings, see?

Today I got to dive into a full website content review & update & I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It helped that the content held the passion & knowledge of another dear friend but it really was just my kind of work. Geek girl heaven + marketing WIIFMS galore!

And my Inbox delivered a surprise bill. Crap. But this will be worked out over time.

So overall I think there was an emotional equilibrium, though I may still be trying to convince myself of that.

The topic of mummy & daddy working came up in the car with my girls. Once again I explained about all the ‘stuff’ that we have to pay for, which is why we work (just nice & general here, nothing to scar my 3yr old for life). At the end of that list, I said ‘what do we do or get that’s free, that we don’t have to pay for’? And so we started … breathing.  Smelling. Hugs from our family. Baking together with food we already have in the cupboard. Laughing. Reading books we already have or we borrow from the library. Sunrises and sunsets. Rain. And now I’ve reviewed this list I’m adding ‘solar power’!

Are the best things in life free? Too right they are! So it’s time for some free deep breaths, some free sleep and a free brand new morning.

-SCuffy

Customer Service – you are doing it right!

Wow, another chance to write a non-ranty blog post! I love it!

With Miss 7 at home on school holidays, I’ve been running some errands with her in tow. Today I had two great examples of customer service from the most unlikely of places – the Family Assistance Office and Westpac bank!

1 – Insider tips from the Family Assistance Office

After submitting a Medicare refund claim in person, I popped across the room to talk to someone about a Family Assistance claim I’d submitted a month ago. The actual submit process was great – it was all done online and,  as I’m already a client, they’ve got all of my details on file already. No need to visit a service centre. But while I was in the neighbourhood, I just thought I’d check up on it. Robyn at Strathpine confirmed that it was in the system waiting for someone at their end to action it, and I didn’t need to do anything else. She said if I hadn’t heard within 2 weeks, to phone them. And then she leaned forward and gave me an inside tip “Phone the call centre & leave your mobile number for a callback, don’t sit on hold in the queue. Don’t let your phone leave your side for the next 24-48hrs. When you see a Blocked number calling, answer it. Our number is always blocked & we don’t call back a second time if you miss us. That will save you having to come back in here on the school holidays with your daughter.”

Oh my gosh. I’ve been let in on the secrets of the Family Assistance Office because, wait for it .. it will make my life easier. Are you sure this is a government department? Can someone please promote Robyn, quick?!

2 – Let me help you

Needing a copy of a missing credit card statement that was no longer appearing on internet banking, I phoned Westpac who directed me to the form on their website I’d need to fill out and drop into a branch. Good service right there that met my expectations and enabled me to prefill the thing instead of doing it once I was at the branch. Dropped the form into anyone in a Westpac uniform, not at my home branch, which happened to be Scott at Strathpine. Scott actually said that if I had a minute, he’d check his system to see if he could pull up the statement. No such luck, but bonus points for trying and he assured me he’d get the form faxed to Cards right away.

Now you know what normally happens here, right? You wait three weeks and nothing happens until you phone the branch & they find an envelope that’s been waiting there for you for two weeks that no-one called you about. Ah, not this time. The very next day, Scott phoned me to say that Cards had faxed back my statement directly to the branch, and since he had my email address on the form, was it ok for him to scan and email it to me. Was it ok? Too bloody right it was! He actually put two and two together and thought ‘I can save my customer the inconvenience of having to come back into the branch’. Scott is now my favourite person in the entire banking industry and I’m transferring my massive wealth to be under his management (just as soon as I’ve amassed said massive wealth).

So listen up Telstra, Vodafone and every airline ever. Just because you are a big brand with a shocking reputation doesn’t mean you can’t have fantastic employees who actually act like the customer is worth taking care of. Us customers might actually enjoy that, stay with your brand & recommend you to others! Imagine that!

-SCuffy

A new start, because it’s Wednesday

The Easter long weekend makes Tuesday feel like Monday. Except this Tuesday was the last day with Tony’s parents visiting AND both of our girls at home. So now Wednesday feels like Monday. The good news is that Friday is now only 2 sleeps away! Why can’t weeks work like this more often?

The alarm went off before 6am this morning, because I chose to set it for that time. Circa 1998 me would be horrified at that concept. But my morning walk was rewarded with the most beautiful pink sky sunrise and a feeling that everything was fresh, new, unblemished. The day started, full of possibilities and choices and events and actions and reactions and emotions and …. nothing. For 40mins, just nothing. Nothing but me and the pink sky.

So today I’m making better choices. I’m doing the ‘important but not urgent’ stuff. I’m ignoring my phone (well, the internet on my phone to be exact). I didn’t check Facebook until I was at my desk at 11am and I haven’t touched Candy Crush. I chose green tea instead of a second coffee. Now I’m about to choose something healthy for lunch. Because today is Wednesday, and it came as a day full of opportunities to make choices.

Tonight I will begrudgingly choose to do the ironing, not because I’d rather just crash on the couch but because I like when my laundry looks empty.

A day filled with good choices is an exception, not a habit in my life. It’s a conscious decision today. I’m not saying that I’m usually making all bad choices, but sometimes I reason my way into something less than the best for me. Today I’m being kind to myself and I’m making great choices because of the benefits they bring, not as punishment.

Perhaps this is the mark of winners – successful people who constantly make good choices. I’m not that disciplined.

Tomorrow is Thursday. Don’t ask me yet about my choices tomorrow. Today is a new day and I’m focussing on that.

-SCuffy

P.S. OK, tonight I chose not to do the ironing. After bedtime for the girls, dishes, looking for paperwork for the morning & moving files off my laptop, not standing at the ironing board was a much kinder choice!