New Year’s Day, and fire update

I didn’t bother staying up until midnight last night. I was too tired and just wanted some sleep. Although the fireworks on Sydney Harbour woke me up again at midnight.

I got up this morning and checked for any information from my aunt and uncle, after yesterday’s events. It turned out I was under the wrong impression. My aunt had travelled down to the holiday home, but my uncle and their two children had stayed home, intending to join her later. So my aunt was actually trapped in the town last night by herself (with other residents). My uncle tried to drive down yesterday to join her, but was stopped by the roadblock at Kiama, and never made it.

This morning, as far as my family is concerned, the news was good. My aunt is safe, and their holiday home was spared, although fire swept through Conjola Park, just west of Lake Conjola. Overnight, at least 89 houses were destroyed in Conjola Park, but only 3 in Lake Conjola.

Here’s a photo of one of the homes there last night. (I don’t know who took the photo – my cousin sent it to everyone in my family via Facebook.)

Fire in Conjola

Fortunately, there was a wind change in the evening which pushed the fire front away from Lake Conjola, sparing most of the houses there. The weather today is cooler and less windy, which is good.

Unfortunately, there’s no power or communications available over much of the NSW south coast, and the Lake Conjola road is still cut by fire, so nobody there can get out. Food and water supplies are limited. My aunt only managed to get word to us that she’s safe by driving out towards the roadblocks to pick up a cell phone signal, before driving back to the town to shelter for tonight. The road is likely to stay closed for at least another 24 hours. But hopefully she’ll be able to get out tomorrow.

So for me it’s been another day of monitoring official news sources, and Facebook for news from my aunt. This story of people being trapped in coastal towns, with the only roads being cut by fire is repeated in several towns up and down the coast. There are large towns of several thousand people without power or cell phone access. And they’re starting to run out of food, clean water, and petrol. Even if the roads open and people can evacuate by road, there may not be enough fuel for all of them to drive out. Supermarkets are being cleaned out of food, with no supplies coming in. In some areas the water treatment plants have gone offline, and people are being told to boil all water before drinking or cooking with it. The navy has been mobilised to bring supplies to some of these towns by sea, and I expect there will be more of that tomorrow, as well as possible evacuations by sea.

In between I managed to write some more Irregular Webcomic strips. I should be ready to photograph this batch tomorrow.

New content today:

New Year’s Eve

I intended finishing off the writing of the next batch of Irregular Webcomic today, but instead I could barely do anything other than monitor the news all day, keeping up with what was happening with the bushfires burning across south-eastern Australia.

I’m fine here in Sydney, but I have a friend who travelled south down the coast with his wife and three kids, to spend the Christmas holiday period by the beach in a holiday home at Narooma. The south coast of New South Wales is a string of small towns linked by a single main road running north and south along the coast. Inland is mountains, with very few routes through them. During the day, as temperatures soared as high as 46°C, the fires spread and cut the highway both north and south of Narooma. They are stuck there with no way out, as fires close in from the north, west, and south.

As it turns out, they’re right in the middle, still quite far from the fire fronts, and Narooma is actually the evacuation point for people who were further north and south. So they’re safe for the time being.

However, my uncle and aunt, and their two (young adult) children are also holidaying down the coast, in Lake Conjola, which is further north. Around lunch time my aunt sent these photos to our family:

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Shortly after that the power went out in the area. My aunt told us her phone battery was running low and there was no way to recharge it. They were leaving the house for the beach.

And since then nothing. Power is out along much of the south coast, and cell phone and Internet coverage is out too – there’s no way to communicate with anybody there. Even news services are patchy and not quite sure what’s going on in some of these towns.

I’m not especially worried about the safety of my friends or family. They’re in organised evacuations with thousands of other people. They have easy access to the beach and the ocean as a last resort – they should be safe from the fires. Their houses however…

I stayed at my aunt & uncle’s holiday home back in April this year. It’s a lovely place, which they’ve invested years and a good chunk of money in renovating from its previous state. I hope it’s still there tomorrow.

New content today:

Comics and kitchen gadgets

Today was a designated comic writing day, as I started work on the next batch of Irregular Webcomic! Besides that, I jotted down some notes for ideas I had for D&D adventures, and did some ISO photography standards work.

My wife and I went out on an expedition to the hardware store to get a tap reseating tool, which I hope will fix some annoying dripping tap behaviour at home next time I change the washers. I also got some generic brand humidity absorbing crystals (calcium chloride) to keep the moisture absorbers in the closets topped up, especially as our summer turns from hot and dry to hot and humid.

Near the hardware store is a council recycling centre, which accepts waste such as batteries, cables, light bulbs, appliances, and so on. I have a small box which I fill with stuff and take there every so often. I decided to take it along today, knowing that the centre is open on Mondays. But when we got there it was closed, with a tiny piece of paper stuck to the door saying they’re closed over the Christmas/New Year period and won’t open again until 3 January. That was slightly annoying.

And near both is a kitchen supplies shop. I only went into this place recently, and was amazed at all the gadgets and stuff in there, so this time I took my wife and showed her how cool it was. We bought a jar opening thing for unscrewing stubborn jar lids, and some new chopping boards.

Tonight for dinner I made vege fajitas, with onions, carrot, zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms, and some of our home grown chilli. Turned out well!

New content today:

Salad Sunday

I spent much of today… making a salad.

Usually a salad you just chop a few things and toss them in a bowl. Done in five minutes. Not this one.

I started first thing in the morning, by putting some dried chick peas into a pot and covering them with water to soak for several hours. After lunch, I boiled them for a half hour or so, then let them cool slowly. Then I tipped them out and dried them thoroughly, then spread them on a baking tray. Into a hot oven for 20 minutes, checking and giving them a shake every few minutes. At this point several of the peas popped, like popcorn, and flew across the oven, ending up on the oven floor. After 20 minutes I took them out, put them in a bowl, added olive oil, salt, and some garam masala, gave them a stir, and then back onto the baking tray and into the oven for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile I chopped some cauliflower into small florets, mixed them with olive oil, salt, cumin, and chilli powder in a bowl. When the chick peas came out, I poured them into a bowl to cool while I placed the cauliflower on the tray, and then into the oven to bake for half an hour, turning them occasionally.

While the cauliflower cooled after baking, I opened a pomegranate and extracted the arils – a job which takes about 20 minutes just by itself. Then I toasted some pine nuts in a frying pan. And finally, just before dinner this evening, I combined all the ingredients, with some tahini and a drizzle of caramelised balsamic vinegar, while I fried up some vegetarian sausages to go with the salad.

The salad turned out spectacular, if I do say so myself. My wife and I both loved it. The chick peas were crunchy and flavourful, the cauliflower provided tenderness, the pomegranate sweetness, the tahini nuttiness, and the vinegar a bit more sweetness as well as sourness. And there was just enough spice plus heat from the chilli to make it even more interesting. Absolutely delicious, and I’m glad I spent so long making it.

Otherwise today, I watched a bunch of cricket on the tele, and I wrote a bunch of rerun annotations for Irregular Webcomic! Oh, and I finally changed the IWC poll question, to something seasonal.

New content today:

Hmm, what did I do today?

Not much. I started installing a MacOS update this morning, and it stalled for some reason. I let it run for a few hours in case it was just slow, and while I waited I just sat on the lounge and watched the Australia v New Zealand cricket match on TV. I had some leftover Christmas ham on sandwiches for lunch, and about mid-afternoon I finally decided to hard shutdown the computer and restart it. That fixed the problem and it installed the update okay after that (taking about half an hour to do so).

I made tomorrow’s Darths & Droids strip and uploaded it to the web server.

Oh, that’s right! The other thing I did with most of the morning was housecleaning. Vacuuming the house, washing the balcony (there was so much ash from the bushfires on it, fine-grained and gritty), then emptying the vacuum cleaner and washing the dust receptacle. Then I decided to clean the air filter in the vacuum cleaner, and discovered that the sponge-like filter which is supposed to last “the lifetime of the cleaner” had deteriorated and crumbled into a fine powder when I removed it. So I have to get a new filter before I vacuum again. I also cleaned the air filters on the air conditioner, which were pretty clogged with dust.

You know if you have an air conditioner, you’re supposed to clean the filters every now and then, right? Maybe you better check it!

This afternoon my wife and I walked up the street with Scully, stopping to exercise her a bit on the way, throwing a tennis ball for her to chase in a local park. There’s a small park on a hill, with terraced grass levels that she can run up and down. Getting her running up the hill chasing the ball is a good way to tire her out quickly! Then we went to a local bar for dinner, having some nice wine and some share plate style food, which was nice. They even let Scully into the interior courtyard! It’s very unusual for eating establishments here to allow dogs inside; normally we have to find places with tables outside on the footpath, which limits our dining out options a bit. (Or get a dogsitter, which we’ve done a few times when going somewhere fancy.)

New content today:

Golf at Northbridge

This morning my friend Andrew had organised for us to play golf at Northbridge Golf Club, a new course for me. The course is nestled on a steep slope leading down from a ridge to water level, and there’s a lot of down and up walking to get around the course.

And it has what Andrew tells me is the most famous golf hole in Sydney, the par 3 5th hole:

Hole 5, Northbridge

That’s the view from the tee, down to the green. It’s pretty amazing. I hit my ball a little short, but not too badly, and managed to get a bogey with 4 strokes. Andrew scored par.

We started the round of 18 at 7:30, and finished at 11:00, so it took a fair time – longer than I expected. I spent most of the rest of the day just resting – and doing some stretches for my tired muscles. I didn’t realise just how physical a sport golf is!

New content today:

Boxing Day

Today was very lazy, after the excesses of Christmas yesterday. I lounged around a lot, watching the Boxing Day Test match cricket from Melbourne, Australia v New Zealand. And during the lunch break, the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. I was struck by how all the large yachts have black sails – a few years ago yachts all had white sails. I wondered if it was some new advance in materials technology that meant sails had to be black now, so I searched the Internet for information and discovered that black sails are actually nothing more than a fashion trend. Yacht sails are by default white and can be dyed any colour – black is just the current cool trend.

This afternoon my wife and I took Scully on a long walk to the dog park and back. Normally we drive there, so adding the walk made it a real outing, and Scully is completely worn out this evening.

I played a couple of new games that I received for Christmas with my wife: Fluttering Souls, and Claim 2. They’re both quick 2-player card games, and after trying them we both agreed that Claim 2 was the superior game.

The other thing I did today was finish off writing an old travel diary, from a trip I did to Vancouver in 2014 to attend the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference. For some reason, I never kept a diary during this trip, so I had to reconstruct it from memory and my photos.

New content today:

Christmas Day

My first task this morning was to bake the ham that we’d be taking to Christmas lunch at my wife’s family gathering. This is not a large gathering – there were only eight of us, plus a few drop-ins who showed up briefly. So I’d bought a very small ham to avoid ridiculous amounts of leftovers. Which meant it took only a bit over an hour to bake.

We packed that and the remaining lentil balls and drove over to my in-laws’ place, which is a small waterfront property on Sydney Harbour. It has easy access to a small secluded beach which is never very busy. Anchored offshore were several yachts and small cruising boats, with people having their Christmas lunches on the water, and spending time leaping into the harbour to cool off from the warmth of the day. The weather was warmish, but relatively mild for this time of the year, which was nice.

We had pre-lunch nibbles – cheese, crackers, dips, breadsticks. Then the gifts were handed out. Scully got a few, and enjoyed tearing the wrappings off:

Scully opening Christmas presents

Then was lunch: ham, turkey, lentil balls, roast potatoes and pumpkin and carrots and onions, salad, bread. And then dessert: traditional Christmas fruit pudding, ice cream, and a deconstructed pavlova platter which my nephew made, with custard, cream, and tons of fresh fruits: passionfruit, mango, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. This was a really great dessert, as everyone helped themselves to exactly the proportions of pavlova, custard, cream, and fruit they wanted. It was delicious!

Deconstructed pavlova grazing board

After the meal we lazed around for a while, too full to do anything else. Then my two nephews and I decided to go for a swim down at the beach. We took Scully as well, so she could run around and play on the sand. I didn’t swim for long, but did a couple hundred metres of freestyle stroke out from the beach into deep water amongst the boats and back. There are supposedly bull sharks in Sydney Harbour, but I’ve swum here many times and never seen any.

Following the swim, we pulled out some board games. We played a couple of games of Codenames and then Azul (which my wife won handily).

By now it was evening and the tradition of watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the TV had begun. My wife and I watched a bit of it with everyone, and then headed home for the remainder of the evening.

New content today:

Christmas Eve

I got up early this morning and went to play golf with my friend Andrew, the one who got me started playing golf this year. We’d only played together on the short par 3 “pitch and putt” course where I started learning, but today he came along to the local course near me at Lane Cove, and we played 9 holes. I felt like I was dong poorly, because I didn’t do very well on any hole, but neither did I have any blow-outs like a 10 or 12 which I’ve had previously, and I ended up with a total of 57, 2 strokes better than my previous best at this course. So that was pretty good!

Andrew hit the shot of the day, a gorgeous long, straight drive off the 9th tee… until it hit an overhead power line and bounced off straight down into the turf. That easily cost him 50-100 metres of distance on the shot. My skew-whiff tee shot skimming across the grass ended up going virtually the same distance.

After returning home I relaxed a bit, before my wife and I dropped Scully with our neighbour for dogsitting, while we drove about an hour across Sydney to my aunt & uncle’s place where they were hosting my family’s Christmas dinner. We’ve always done a big family gathering on Christmas Eve, being the German tradition, and it’s convenient because all the people then visit the spouse’s family on Christmas Day. Tonight there were several aunts and uncles and cousins and kids of cousins, and a few friends of the family who aren’t related but just came over because why not?

We caught up and chatted over drinks and pretzels, and then dinner was served and people helped themselves to cold plates of ham, chicken, roast pork, a beef salad, a green salad, a pasta salad, roast potatoes, and the spicy lentil balls that we made yesterday.

After dinner was the giving of gifts. A cousin got dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out all the gifts from under the Christmas tree. The children get most of the gifts as usual. The gifts were then opened and everyone showed off what they got. It’s interesting the contrast between Christmas traditions. In my family it’s always been the case that someone dressed as Santa hands out all the gifts, and people collect a small pile of wrapped presents next to them. Then once they’re all handed out, everyone opens them all simultaneously, and there’s shouting and excitement and people yelling “Thank you!” across the patio as everyone is ripping off wrapping paper. But I’ve been at other family Christmas gatherings, where each gift is handed out, and then the recipient opens it while everybody watches, and then the next gift is handed out, and so on.

After gifts, dessert was served. This is always a highlight because the wife of one of my cousins is a great cook and always makes amazing cakes and treats. This year she’d made a super moist date cake and a batch of reindeer cookies. There were also cheesecakes and whipped cream and custard. After this my wife and I said goodbyes and we came home to retrieve Scully from her playdate with the dog next door. She’s exhausted, as are we!

And tomorrow, Christmas Day, we get to do it all again with my wife’s family!

New content today:

Christmas cooking

Being two days before Christmas, it was time to get down to some preparatory cooking today. My family has a gathering on Christmas Eve, while my wife’s has the traditional Christmas Day lunch, so we manage to attend both events every year.

I began this morning with a trip to the supermarket to get some last minute supplies: celery, onions, milk, and some other stuff. Then we hit the kitchen and cooked up a big batch of spicy lentil balls using an old recipe we’ve made many times. These are good because you can make them ahead of time and keep them for a few days, they’re easy to reheat, and they’re nice bite-sized finger food. We’ll be taking half to Christmas Eve, and the rest for Christmas Day.

This afternoon we took Scully to the dog park. We know most of the regulars there, but today I saw someone I hadn’t seen there before: Trent Zimmerman, our local Member of Parliament for North Sydney. He’d brought his dog, Simba, to play in the park. The regulars said he often comes down to the park with his dog, so I must have missed him on every other occasion. One of the regulars went over and had a chat with him, and reported back that he’d asked him about the Government’s policies on climate change, given the recent bushfire emergency and the record breaking heatwave and drought we’ve been experiencing. Zimmerman is a relative moderate in the mostly conservative right-leaning Liberal Party, and he said he expects that there will be a shift towards policies that are more responsive to climate change and reducing carbon emissions. Well, we can wait and see – he’s only a backbencher.

New content today: