Andrew James

What is the measure of a person’s life? How is someone’s entire existence encapsulated, their legacy summed up? It’s an impossible task … the effects of a life stretch far and wide, with ripples seen and unseen, in ways that can sometimes be tangibly recognised and more often amorphously, intrinsically, yet not definably felt.

Recently a very dear friend of mine passed away unexpectedly. Life events like this are guaranteed to bring questions of mortality to the forefront: especially when they concern one’s nearest and dearest, the select few individuals that fortunate people have, counted on one hand, who you know have your back no matter what … Mere words, mere images cannot satisfactorily express the depth of such a loss, the pulling loose – or tucking under and tying in – of the threads of my life that were woven together from our shared experience, which are no longer living and growing, supple and supportive and offering me protection … I am indelibly changed by my dear friend not being a presence in my life anymore …

Lior contends through beautiful music that “compassion is the measure of a man“. Although I agree with this it seems to fall short in terms of my life-long friend, whose influence on my life extended beyond our compassion for each other. Our unequivocal acceptance of each other in all our soul-nakedness built the foundation of the enduring unconditional love forged between us, which lasted more than thirty-five years. I’m sure that this is why mere words and images feel inadequate to describe and define him …

So, Andrew James Skadins:

I have been set adrift, immersed and enveloped in a sea of grief.

Such depth of loss that you are no longer here is replaced by equal depth of gratitude,

that you were in my life – playing such a pivotal role –

for such an enduring (in years and in quality) time.

I’m reminded of this post and Andrew, my dear friend, you can rest assured:

between us, we completed Steps 1-3 in abundance;

and I will not forget you … at least, not until I can’t remember my own name …

As Trevor Hall says, “you can’t rush your healing“. This loss will take time.

I miss you, my friend.

Ripple of Kindness

I know I’m overtired when I lose my compassion. I see pictures of pain and agony on the TV, hear the pain of people’s anguish through the radio waves … and sense my invisible internal wall building up to protect me. I can’t face the despair of the world because I know I can’t do anything much about it, and I feel I can’t make it through my own day, let alone empathise with the plight of strangers – so exhausted am I by my own personal challenges. So I protect myself with my own little wall and hide behind it and try to rest.

I fall into the arms of my dear friends, who support me through my emotional ups and downs. I know I can relax in their safety net because they have proven their friendship through many years. It strikes me that they catch me in their safety net just as I have provided my safety net for others, so the image of a ripple of safety nets comes to my mind, each person in the chain holding out their arms to catch the person in front of them, while simultaneously falling backwards into another pair of open arms. It’s like the paper figures which make a chain of joined arms when unfolded, except that instead of holding hands these paper people have safety nets protecting any fall. Or a lotus flower or rose, with layers of petals folding out, protected by the layer beneath them.

That is what unconditional love is: being there for each other no matter what. I am so grateful to my close friends, my dear friends – you know who you are – who support me no matter what. Truly, I am grateful that I have friends who back me up, that I can call on and that I know will support me, time and time again, without fail! I thank you for your love … you lighten my load and help me be the best I can be.

Reflective Times

Part 3 of The House Fire

Eye – Fire Reflection by Purpl3S0ul on DeviantArt

At a time of crisis much mental energy can be spent in asking the unanswerable What-ifs …

Following on from the previous two posts, some further reflections about this intense time.


I have never been in a position of looking for a rental property on the open market. Due to living in smaller country towns, my work having housing available with the position, then becoming a home-owner, I have never attended open-house inspections systematically … until now, helping out our three young people.

Peculiar to these Covid times (additional to providing name and number to the estate agents showing people through) was the knowledge that personal details would be used in the event that contact-tracing was necessary (something people the world over are getting used to, for many public-space situations); and the limit of people allowed at any one time, necessitating longer waits than usual. The crisp, sunny, autumnal weather was perfect for standing outside and I nodded to other people waiting as we waited.

The fact that we were all giving our names and numbers gave a feeling of collegiality, strengthened by the way we were all going to the same listings at the same time on the same day. By the fourth house I found myself looking out for the Persian couple, the pregnant Caucasian couple and the Vietnamese family … just to make sure they didn’t miss out! I realised this was a strange reaction as we were, in actuality, in competition with each other for who would get the house (for after all, only one combination could fit each property); and I knew I wouldn’t see these people again (except for maybe on another day of house inspections in the same location and price-range), so they were all peripheral to my life. Yet the synchronised movement of us all felt like a dance, and these other contenders in the rhythm of life were my dance-partners. (I did manage to resist my first reaction of including them in our coffee orders, collected as we waited outside for our turn to view the interior; this could have been a construed as a bit too lunatic forward.)

This new experience reinforced two things about me: how unaccustomed I am to doing such an activity as this, and my modus operandi of inclusivity and positivity.


Between furniture-runs and other admin jobs we did some runs to the local shopping mall for food and shopping. The food court had its tables taped off with danger tape, preventing people sitting down in these Covid-cautious times. This did little to prevent us from inadvertently mingling with others, however, as it was impossible to stay 1.5 metres distant from the other shoppers: the waiting area for food was simply not big enough, and the central shop stands in the “corridors” of the mall made it impossible to pass oncoming people with enough space, even in single file. (Maybe it would work if these passages were made one-way, even though it would be less convenient for shoppers. Even then it would only work if everyone walked at the same speed.)

Many more people wear face-masks in the city compared to what I’ve observed in the country, yet I’m not convinced the virus isn’t spreading in an environment such as a closed-in shopping mall. Factor in our visits to the Marketplace, the distances we travelled, the 3 suburbs and 1 country town we got out in (none of which were in the “danger zones” with confirmed cases) … are our actions a prelude to an upcoming post?


A 3-tonne truck is the largest vehicle that can be driven with an ordinary car licence in Victoria: I, for one, would not want to drive it without having had some trucking experience! It may be smaller than the fire trucks I’ve driven in the past (for which I hold a Medium Rigid licence), but it’s been at least 5 years since I’ve driven a truck. However, the tips and trucks of truck driving are the same, and my previous training and experience kicked in when I sat in the driver’s seat of the vehicle substantially larger than my car.

My confidence in driving has increased from this experience: driving a truck makes me a better car-driver. My confidence in estimation of space (which I traditionally think is not in my skills base) and packing ability has also increased: it makes me wonder about myself … if I can actually do these things, yet I don’t because I think I can’t … what else am I hesitating in, not attempting from lack of confidence, that I would actually succeed in?


My son and his house-mates now have all their belongings at their new place. It’s a compact house, complete with a welcoming outdoor area fenced in with shade cloth, opening onto a large back yard with 3 established fruit trees and a vegetable garden planted by the previous tenants. With less than a week of residence the real estate agent and landlord have already proved responsive.

The large pile of stuff in the carport is slowly getting arranged into the house – except for the fridge which won’t fit through their narrow doors, so it’s currently in the lovely outdoor patio area. They are enjoying setting up their new space and we get texts from our boy to update us on what’s where. There will be further admin and tasks to come for a while, I’m aware of that, but the crisis time is over.

I can now close the lid on my mental and emotional overload: I’ve contributed my part and done it well, aware that without my efforts some aspects of this situation would have been much harder for our young people. I know our local situation pales into significance against many others, like wartime and natural disasters, and I’m not comparing our stress to that experienced by people in these situations. Nevertheless the response has been the same, albeit at a much smaller scale: our family community (inclusive of our friends) has banded together and worked hard to help our people in need, with positive results. I’m grateful that I not only have the skills that can help in a situation like this, but also the opportunity. Equally, I’m grateful that I not only have the opportunity to help in a situation like this, but also beneficial skills.

Now I get to sit back and enjoy watching our impressive young adults move on with purpose, once more empowered in themselves to move on from a crisis situation and into the bounty of what’s to come.

My Role in the Recovery

Part 2 of The House Fire

As noted in last fortnight’s post, this post continues the story of the house fire. I’ve found this experience surprisingly emotional (even though it wasn’t my house that burnt down) and acknowledge some of my reactions in this post.


My first visit to the burnt-out house, six days after the fire, was on the occasion of clearing out the shed: everything salvageable – that is, not irrevocably burnt, melted, smoke-damaged or water-damaged (from the fire trucks) – had already been put in the shed. To get the bond back everything needed to be cleared from the property, so we – parents and our children – were standing at the house in the middle of piles of *stuff* that required sorting.

I was taken aback at how difficult this job was, emotionally … and it wasn’t even my stuff! To see school graduation certificates and university mortarboards assailed me somewhat, knowing the investment my son had put into his (not always trouble-free) education, having shared the highs and lows of his schooling, and the enormous achievement it was for him to succeed – as it is for everyone, taking as it does such a monumental part of a young adult’s life, and being such a transition period of development and maturing: graduation is a right-of-passage for many, and something to be justly proud of.

Surrounded by soot and grime, with soggy clumps of insulation (which, with the age of the house, may well have had asbestos in it) stuck to everything, it was difficult to know where to start. Different people chose different little jobs, every now and then taking a breather, a little sit, a necessary pause to regain some mental strength with which to look at the next pile. The first job my son and I undertook was to sort clothes and books into wet and dry: it was surprisingly difficult to decide for some of them, the coating of ash having such a slick feel that it was hard to determine if it was wet, or just dirty.

After five or so hours two trailer loads had been taken into storage, yet not everything had been moved. With mobile phone torches in hand we surveyed what was left and called it a day. (It hadn’t helped that we were attempting this big clean-up on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, having only started around lunchtime.) My car was filled with smoke-filled and wet clothes and books, all of which I drove home to deal with later.


I arrived home with my carload of affected belongings and stumbled in the door. My husband took one look at my face and said, “Tell me where you want everything” before proceeding to systematically wash and air the smoke-filled clothes and air the many books on a washing line. He could see how emotionally and physically exhausted I was and did my usual evening chores, allowing me to rest and regather myself somewhat. Thank you, honey! I’m so glad you read me so well and know when I need nurturing, and that I can depend on you.

The next week I processed the washing basket full of clothes in need of dry cleaning: although it was days later I must have still looked affected, judging from the concern on the faces of the staff at the dry cleaners. I hope I looked a bit brighter when I picked the clothes up two weeks later, especially when I was able to tell them a new house had been secured. Compassion from unexpected sources such as this has helped me make sense of this intense situation … and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this.


This is my biggest single contribution to this situation: driving my car to Melbourne, driving a 3-tonne moving truck from the new house to the two Melbourne-based places of storage (the temporary abode and the storage locker), loading the furniture there and offloading it at the new house (not alone, I collected the target young people along the way to help with the lifting); driving the truck home to the country with my son as passenger, loading up our donations of furniture as well as the processed clothes and books; then driving it all back to the new house in Melbourne. Phew!

All that while narrowly avoiding suddenly-increased restrictions due to heightened Covid-19 cases, to which the Victorian Government responded by locking down its entire capital city … again. (We actually would still have been able to move, it just would have taken many hours and a conversation with the police longer – which no doubt would have increased the truck hire cost because we would have been overtime.)

The statistics speak for themselves:

*all that driving took us over the generous 300-kilometre allowance by 39 kilometres;

*we used around half a tank of fuel, which cost just under $60 to fill up;

*we made it back within the 24-hour limit with 15 minutes to spare, and thankfully were not charged for the 10 minutes past our time it took to unload;

*we booked the truck 3 days in advance, and avoided the new Melbourne lockdown by 12 hours;

*we all discovered the many latent muscles we hadn’t used for a very long time … me less than the young people, who at half my age should be equally fit, if not fitter, but who don’t exercise every day like I do. That made me smile!

I’m proud that we were able to achieve all that moving and that long drive within the 24-hour hire period, even though it meant leaving Melbourne at 7:30 pm (the full truck drive home was consequently in the dark) because the loading and unloading the initial two locations took far longer than usual. I hadn’t seen the full storage locker and was a little perturbed at the sheer amount of stuff in it until I slipped into Director Mode and packed that truck’s interior like a Tetris expert: “Pass me that box there, I’ve got a spare square foot here; now that pink bag which will fill in this hole under the table; that plastic sword can go in the drawer of that cabinet,” and so on and so forth until it was all packed. I was so tired out at one stage that I was speaking gibberish: my son handed me my water bottle and told me to take a breather, which energised me sufficiently to give the next lot of instructions more intelligibly.

I was also struck by how smoky everything in the storage locker smelled: when we were loading the trailers and the first truck it seemed like we were leaving all the smoky stuff behind. So I realise that my comparison was out: the stuff we stored was not as smoky as the damaged goods we left at the house for the hard rubbish, but it was definitely not fresh like … well, everything that hasn’t been through a house fire …

The truck company I booked was not the cheapest, but it was the most inclusive in terms of its conditions and their representative delivered the truck to the house. When I first turned up I saw that the rep was ready to go in his little car and I assumed that a second person who had come with him, one driver per vehicle, had already gone. I was pleasantly surprised to see how he did it when he picked the truck up again: he simply drove his car into the belly of the truck, secured it with ratcheted straps and drove the truck away. Such a simple solution this Australian-owned company created!

The Crisis

Part 1 of The House Fire

Our son’s house burnt down. The four occupants (three house-mates and one guest on that particular night) and two cats got out; the house was razed within minutes.

We received a phone call mid-morning, our son in shock, standing in the driveway in his dressing gown (faring slightly better than his house-mate who was only in underwear until he was given some firefighters’ coveralls). Our son’s voice was shaking as he tried to tell us what had happened, the fire sirens audible over the phone. It was alarming, to say the least!

What followed was, on one hand, particularly impressive; yet on the other hand absolutely expected and normal. This is the series of fortunate events during the crisis-aftermath (and I’m sure I’m inadvertently omitting some):

First of all, the house guest on that night – the one who first saw the fire and alerted the house-mates, thereby preventing them from being trapped inside – was in a position to put up all five newly-homeless (three humans and two felines) together: he volunteers as a mentor for young people transitioning from such places as juvenile detention to wider society (a government-sanctioned halfway-house situation). Due to Covid-19 lockdowns he did not have any other residents in his house at that time, and was permitted to take in these new people in need. This allowed the household to stay together, further allowing them to divvy up1 the enormous amount of administrative jobs required after a sudden crisis event such as this. It also enabled them to process the emotional impact together, .

Secondly, all three house-mates have supportive families which swung into action over the following weeks: despite all living 150 kilometres away (our children had been attracted by the bright lights and were loving their city experience after their country childhoods), we drove down on multiple occasions to offer immediate assistance on the day of the fire, drive them to house inspections2, help salvage, sort and move stuff into storage (towing trailers and driving the 3 tonne moving truck supplied free by the self-storage company), then out of storage a week or so later … that was a huge 36 hours!3

Strong contenders for this family support was the third ripple outwards: close and extended friends and relatives of the house-mates and their parents. On the day it happened a “care hamper” arrived at the temporary abode, then the friends who had sent it arrived in the evening to help consume its contents … thus providing much-needed time for debriefing. Our son said it took four nights before he was able to sleep through the night without waking, reliving the trauma. After seeing more photos (on the first day we only received one) and realising the extent of the devastation, I also did not sleep through the night for many nights, waking in a cold sweat with my heart in my throat and thoughts racing, “That fire destroyed that house in minutes … our boy is so lucky, as are all of them!” It’s frightening to have that sense of mortality thrust upon us unexpectedly! It gave me more insight into the tragedy of people who must contend with deaths from fires (house, bush, car …) although I know the outcome of our experience is happier than many … I am eternally grateful to the cosmic forces that helped our people get out of there!

Their Melbourne-based friends chauffered the newly-homeless to inspections, allowing the country-based parents to return home in between visits. Part of this included the surface-trivial yet not-to-be-underrated coffee- and food-runs, to nourish the mental stamina necessary to process and sort the multiple inspections and work their way in orderly manner through the lists.

The voluminous offers of furniture meant that there was enough to set up two 3-bedroom houses, and that essential white goods (fridge and washing machine) were covered. One of my friend’s furniture donation with a deadline for his own move necessitated other friends of mine picking it up with a trailer and driving it halfway across Melbourne to the temporary abode, then delivering the borrowed trailer back to the northern suburbs before heading home again … I am so grateful that I have friends who back me up, that I can call on and that I know will support me, time and time again, without fail!4

Then there’s the financial assistance which eased the pressure of closing off the old place and setting up the new place. The workplace donation of a Mastercard funded by one of the house-mates colleagues’ donations allowed the purchase of “start-up household items” which perished in the fire: all the things that are bought once only and then never consciously thought about again, they’re just there every time a little job needs doing … the brooms, mops, rubbish bins, basic cookware and cutlery that help to make a house feel like a home. Add to that the supply of money in bulk from a loving grandmother to cover bond and the world starts to look that little bit brighter in a time of darkness.

My son remarked, “Statistically, people go through only one house fire in their lives. So I guess I’m done.” Wry humour aside, I’m impressed with the way our young folk have handled this crisis: each person has taken responsibility for different aspects which, when combined, means it’s all come together. There have been times when things didn’t go to plan, so – with a minimum of hissy fits5 – new plans were simply put in place and the process could keep moving forward.

It’s said that it takes a community to raise a child: in this experience, the community has bonded together to protect our children and help them get started again … and I am extremely grateful for our good fortune, that we have such people to draw on, who can help us out, when we are helping others out, in their time of need.


1 divvy up: Australian English for divide up
2 despite all the house-mates being country kids in their mid-twenties, none of them had their drivers' licences. You can take the millenial out of the country ... and they’ll make excellent use of public transport – which I applaud. Clearly a drivers’ licence is expendable for the millennial population, an optional extra which is not needed … until it is …
3 revealed in next fortnight's post
4 more on this in a month and a half
5 hissy fit: Australian English for hysterical fit, ie. chucking a tanty (translation from Aussie English having a tantrum), especially about something beyond control

For You


Dear Friend,

I’m writing to let you know how much you mean to me.

I know you’re doing it a bit tough right now. You’re stressed and tired and feeling defeated. You’re looking after yourself maybe less than you should be. You’re not as happy as you have been.

So I want to remind you of how amazing you are, and how your inner beauty makes you shine. Your light brightens my world by radiating outwards, coming into my sphere and flooding it with warmth.  Your concern for others is shown in all the ways you make them spiritually richer, even when this means you are yourself temporarily poorer in spirit, having worked yourself ragged to keep them afloat. Your talents are abundantly on display in every aspect of your life.

Please accept my core-deep thanks, knowing that you warm my world and become part of my happiness and reason for being. I can’t imagine my life without you- it would certainly be emptier, with weaker foundations, without the intertwined threads of our experience weaving our bond together tightly and strongly. I am deeply grateful that you are in my life.

Be kind to yourself. You are worthy.

I love you.

Imagine a world where feedback looked like this, replacing the deficit model too often used in schools and business. Imagine the higher level of personal contentment, achievement, happiness and willingness to contribute that people would feel if they were consistently told what they can do and not only what they can’t do. Imagine what possibilities that would unlock in individuals, communities and nations!

Everyone can contribute to positive change. Let’s start from here- today!

This letter is dedicated to ALL the people who have added value to my life. I am grateful for ALL of you, whether a long-time friend or a passing stranger, because you have all impacted on me: I learn every day from new interactions.

This letter is also dedicated to those of you I don’t know personally, who are reminded of your value through little actions like reading this, and can then be more compassionate towards yourself: if it speaks to you, you are the intended recipient.


Oma’s Stones

The beginning of this blog post snuck out a couple of weeks ago. Here it is in full.

A collection of polished stones has been in my life for as long as I can remember. Initially it was placed on my grandmother’s sideboard, then – when she downsized into a home – on her TV. Thereafter it graced my parents’ sideboard, until my father’s dementia led him to believe they were edible and my mother had to move them.

I’ve heard various stories about the origin of these stones, and the reasons they were so precious to my grandmother: the first is that she brought them with her from the beach of the Old Land when she migrated, the second is that she brought them from the interim country she passed through between her old and new homes.

My grandmother’s migration was forced. She and her Germanic community did not move countries by choice. She was born in Haifa, then Palestine and now Israel, during the Ottoman Empire. The fall of this grand Empire in the early twentieth century brought in the British mandate: problematic at the outbreak of World War Two, as my forebears’ Germanic community had maintained many of their traditional customs and allegiances. The entire community was deported deported en masse to an internment camp in the New Country. She, with her young family, was at least reunited with her husband then.

My aunt recently queried the two stories I had heard: she pointed out that with only  one small suitcase allowed per person Oma would not have brought something as impractical as stones, no matter how lovely and sentimentally treasured they may have been. She said they’re much more likely to be washed river stones acquired in the New Country.

It doesn’t really matter to me. I value them because Oma valued them, and they remind me of her. And they fit perfectly into a jar of “Hamburger Kieselsteine”, lollies which looked like washed river stones I bought in Germany – her Heimatland – a few years ago.

It is fitting that this story is posted on New Year’s Day, a time of reflection about the Year Just Gone and wonderment about the Year To Come. In a rapid-paced world where each year seems to go faster than the preceding year it’s nice to be able to pause, draw breath and consider the continuity of the Old into the New. My grandmother was an integral part of my life for over forty years. I learnt so much from her, absorbing qualities and heritage which influence much of my identity today. The Circle of Life continues…




The Cafe of Connection

On the last Sunday of every month I find myself heading down to my local repair cafe. It’s part of my regular routine now, but it wasn’t always.

The first time I went I wasn’t sure what to expect, even though I’d emailed my queries ahead. I certainly didn’t expect the extent of the warm welcome and inclusivity I found there.

I was asked to fill in a form detailing what I’d brought to be fixed: its weight and its problem, the name of the repairer and whether it got repaired.

I hadn’t anticipated the hive of activity I found there, so I’d arrived too late to get into the queue. As I was asking about the next session a cup of homemade soup was pressed into my hand. This is when I started to realise the full function of this place as a social and communal hub.

Staffed entirely by volunteers, the roles fit into three main categories:

  1. The organisers (handling forms and initial enquiries),
  2. The repairers (the practical men, many who have worked in trades and tinkered in sheds for decades; and the practical women, behind sewing machines that whirr and hum for hours, mending items and creating boomerang bags), and
  3. The kitchen staff (making the plunger coffee and brewing loose leaf tea, cutting up the homemade cakes and heating the homemade savouries – all cooked by volunteers – and doing the dishes).

This space is full to capacity for the four hours of its opening.

My second visit coincided with the cafe’s first birthday. Chris Hooper, the main organiser, gave a speech which informed me that in one year more than 200 kilograms of stuff had been saved from landfill by being repaired. That’s admirable! I’m impressed!

This place is a slice of heaven for a person like me, who doesn’t even know where to start when my electronic equipment and wooden things stop working: I don’t know the specifications of what I’m looking at, and I certainly don’t know how to start troubleshooting.

For many – who live quieter lives than mine – it is equally important as a social hub, a forum for conversation missed because they no longer work, or have been sick, or are otherwise socially isolated. Within this space I’ve run into old friends, and made new friends…all the while increasing my confidence in what to look for and how to start troubleshooting on my own. As with Nick Angelo from Central Vic Electronics the terms used by the ever-patient volunteer repairers sound foreign to my ears…but I’m pleased to say they’re less foreign with each return visit.

My mother is also a fan of our local repair cafe, even though she’s never been. She lives two hours away but it’s far easier, logistically, for her to give me her items and for me to take them in, than it is for her to source local repairers or send things to the relevant manufacturer’s warehouse. For the cost of a donation it’s also more affordable. Every broken thing she’s given me to date has been returned to her functioning smoothly again. In this way we reduce (our carbon footprint), reuse (beloved kitchen items that have graced her kitchen for up to sixty years) and recycle (knowledge and know-how).

My overwhelming impression of my local repair cafe is of its warmth and nurturing kindness: I feel incredibly ignorant and stupid with my supreme lack of practical know-how, but no-one has made fun of me for that. Rather, I’ve been gently guided across this foreign land, so that I can traverse it more confidently. And it’s ever so pleasurable!

The everpresent broad smiles and happy conversations, gentle busyness and socialising – and especially the satisfied people who leave happy, fixed household items in hand and with hearty, healthy food filling their bellies – fill my heart with warmth and gladness which endure all day, and longer.

For more about this repair cafe visit: