Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Grasshopper or the Ant - Part 2

Self-Reliance Corner

Managing Our Money - Expecting the Unexpected

Unexpected events will happen in our lives which can sometimes have disastrous consequences if we are not prepared for them.  For example, after many years of schooling, we were excited to buy our first home.  We put every penny we owned into purchasing it and our finances, month to month, were balanced on the head of a pin.  Unfortunately, the Canadian economy crashed and in the course of 6 months we had three pay cuts, amounting (guess what) to almost exactly the amount of our mortgage payment.  We were within months of losing our home because we had no emergency fund.  Janette tried to gain more music students, but who wants music lessons in the middle of a recession?

Fortunately for us, a job opportunity opened up in northern Alberta.  We were able to sell our house (another miracle), move to Fort McMurray, rent for several years, pay off debts, and eventually buy another house.

It was a bitter lesson for us, extending over a number of years, with a lot of heartache, but we did learn the value of having an emergency fund to deal with unexpected expenditures.

The Lord promises that "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear", (Doctrine & Covenants 38:30).  The first step in this financial preparation is to put aside one month's worth of expenses, i.e., the amount of money that you would need to pay all of your expenses for a one month period.

"For your one-month emergency fund, you should save cash in a safe and accessible place such as a bank account.  Do not use this money for anything other than emergencies.  If you have an emergency and must use money from your one-month emergency fund, immediately begin putting money back into the fund until it is full. Later, after you have paid down all of your consumer debt, you will begin to save enough money to cover your expenses for three to six months", (Personal Finances, Chapter 6, p. 93).

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley, one of our previous prophets, said: "We need to care for one another more diligently....I believe the lord does not wish to see his people condemned to live in poverty.  I believe he would have the faithful enjoy the good things of the earth."

Caring for one another starts with our families.  It is important to protect them from financial hardship and provide peace of mind for the future.  Establishing a one month emergency plan is a first step in our preparation.

The Grasshopper and the Ants

We asked the question "Are you a Grasshopper or an Ant" in our previous blog, but not everyone is familiar with this Aesop's fable.  Disney made a rendition of the fable in their "Silly Symphonies".  It is a little dated, but still has a good message.  And it is very relevant to the topic of today's post - being prepared for what the future may bring!  Here is a link to the Disney 'toon:

Spring is Coming (Well, It Seems Like It)

While it is still officially the middle of winter, we have observed a number of events that lead us to believe spring is right around the corner.  Or maybe the plants, the birds and the animals just get started on things a bit earlier in Australia.

While driving back from the Grampians in early July, we saw a field full of sheep with lambs.

Lamb with Mother
We were surprised to see that the adult sheep were more darkly coloured than the babies - the wool doesn't stay squeaky clean out in a field for too long.

This lamb was staying close to its mother.  As soon as we stopped and got out of our car to take a photo, they were "casually" but quickly putting a lot more distance between themselves and us.

Two Lambs (Twins)

Many sheep have twins.  These two were again sticking close to one another and making sure mom was not too far away.  Given the popularity of lamb in the stores down here, we were hoping these cuties were destined for wool production and not for the supper table!

Different plants continue to bloom over the "winter time", paying apparently no attention to the weather and suffering no ill effects.

Not only the sheep were having lambs, but the kangaroos were having Joey's.  This one, taken towards the end of July, looks like it hardly fits in its mom's pouch any more.

Mother Kangaroo with Joey

This photo was taken at Plenty Gorge Park, in the north central part of Melbourne.  Kangaroos are wild and plentiful in the park; one has to watch carefully where he or she is stepping to avoid their droppings.


We've seen some new species of birds over the winter, despite our daily bird species counts being down by about 1/2 compared to the summer time.  The ones that are here are getting into spring fever as well, pairing off and building nests.  Here is a pair of long-billed Corellas that were preening one another and looking very friendly.

A Pair of Very Friendly Long Billed Corella
Stopping by a pond just as the sun was setting, we saw this White Necked Heron.  Unfortunately, it didn't want to wait around and find out what we were doing; the other side of the pond seemed suddenly much more inviting.

White Necked Heron
The following bird of prey was a first sighting for us.  It is a Collared Sparrowhawk, of similar size to a Red Wattlebird and thus distinguishable from the much larger (but similarly coloured) Brown Goshawk.  We don't see a lot of raptors here, so this was a real treat.

Collared Sparrowhawk
Another bird photographed in the evening light, and while we have posted them here before, they are uncommon and so beautiful, that we can't resist showing them again, particularly in this setting - a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo
This must have been a good month for "magic hour" photos of birds, taken as the sun is low in the west.  The evening light on this one, of a Crimson Rosella, deepens its plumage to a rich, rich red.

Crimson Rosella
We'll finish with our most exciting find of the past month or so, the (for us) elusive Gang-gang Cockatoo.  We've only seen this bird once the entire year we've been here.  They are supposed to be common but quiet; I guess we can vouch for the latter.  A beautiful bird!  These two looked like they were preparing a nest for the spring.

Gang-gang Cockatoo Building Nest in Vertical opening in Eucalypt

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Finances - Are You a Grasshopper or an Ant?

Self-Reliance Corner

Managing Our Money

Why is managing money so hard - and so important?  Why should we keep track of our expenses, have a budget and save our money?  This is a self-reliance principle that is critical to ongoing success in our lives and in our families.

With the Canadian Central Bank's interest rate starting to climb, and perhaps continuing to do so in the future, it makes sense to review our personal and family financial situation, to ensure that we can meet future demands.

The following video of two young children, pretending to be adults and discussing family finances, is cute (very cute) but very relevant to the topic:

The self-reliance approach to managing money is shown in the following graphic:

If you want to evaluate where you are in your spending habits, the following table is a useful tool:

(Credits: Above graphics taken from the manual "My Foundation for Self-Reliance", Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which can be found at this website).

Tracking your expenses will allow you to more accurately assess where your pay check is going, but the above table is a good start.

Elder Robert D. Hales has stated the following about the importance of getting out of debt and saving money:

"There seems to be a sense of entitlement in today's culture. . . . When we become burdened with excessive debt, we have . . . placed ourselves in self-imposed servitude, spending all of our time, all of our energy, and all of our means to the repayment of our debts. . . . It is essential that we . . . develop a spending and savings plan—a budget—and distinguish between wants and needs".

If you want to learn more about the spiritual and temporal principles behind controlling your personal finances, we invite you to have a look at the following manual:

Getting Some Culture "Down Under"

Some friends treated us to an evening with this amazing chamber ensemble group.  They were passionate, powerful players.  The pianist and violinist are married and make "beautiful music together".  The cellist was actually a different person than displayed above but was tremendously talented.  Both the violinist and the cellist were continually breaking hairs on their bows because the music was so intense.

We particularly enjoyed their last piece, Mendelssohn's "Piano Trio No. 1 op 49" written in 1839 (four movements).

This trio travel to many different countries; hopefully you will have an opportunity to hear them one day!

Out and About


We set out for our daily walk this morning midst a light shower and grey skies, thinking it would be a wet and windy day.  After awhile, though, the clouds parted behind us and we saw, right at the most picturesque point in our route, looking down over a local pond and billabong, a beautiful double-rainbow.  It was a truly wonderful sight and one of those landscapes that a camera just cannot capture properly.  However, that didn't stop us from trying!

Double Rainbow over Banyule Flats / Pond

In our last blog, we were just posting about how the trees are finally losing their leaves or changing their colour, and well into winter it is starting to look like fall back in Canada.  But the trees really don't know how to behave; here is one down the street that just burst into bloom.  It doesn't seem to mind that it several weeks into winter and the temperatures are near freezing in the morning.

Beautiful tree blossoms in the middle of winter (not sure what kind)

We took a Canada Day (July 1) break and travelled to the Grampian Mountains, about a 3 hour drive west of where we live in Melbourne.  We hiked to McKenzie Falls - a steep hike down (and an even steeper hike coming back up :>).  We also hiked to the top of Mount William, the highest peak in the Grampians at 1167 m (and to be fair, we drove part of the way and hiked about the last 1/3).  Here are some of the views:

Jan and John at McKenzie Falls - Ready for Birds, Rain or whatever else the weather brings!
Panoramic Shot from the top of Mount William (Grampian Mountains)
One View from the top of Mount William - Typical Mountain Morphology

As evident from the views above, the Grampians are composed mostly of sedimentary rocks, upthrust mildly in a manner reminiscent of the foothills on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains (as visible on the drive from Calgary to Banff).


We stayed in a town called Halls Gap and found a few good places to eat.  Dinner was delicious but there was a small problem with the heat.  The outside temperatures were hovering around freezing, the restaurant had been closed all day, and the heat had just turned on prior to opening for supper, which is when we showed up.  Despite being seated by a heater, Sister Sobkowicz needed to warm her hands over the candle at the table.  We wore our coats for the entire meal.

Dinner Looked Good and Tasted Great!

On the Saturday morning, we visited Brambuk (the aboriginal cultural centre).  Watching a video of one of their creation legends and reading about their history was very interesting.  While walking the grounds, we came upon several Emus looking for breakfast.  They are pretty large and daunting up close and "free range", but nothing compared to the size of their pre-historic ancestors, which stood 4 to 5 m high (about 15 feet).

We stopped for brunch at the LiveFast Lifestyle Cafe, which supplies an eclectic selection of wholesome foods at a reasonable price.

Japanese Eggs Benedict with Side of Avocado
Jan had Japanese Eggs Benedict with a side of Avocado.  This came on a bed of spinach, topped with a purple cabbage pancake, smoked salmon and poached egg, with a sweet Japanese mayonnaise on the side, topped with toasted shallots.  Delicious!

Smashed Avocado and Poached Eggs
John had what is colloquially called "Smashed Avocado" in Australia, accompanied by poached eggs, with a lettuce and marinated "beetroot" salad on the side.  This was accompanied by the Australian version of hot chocolate (hot milk and chocolate, topped with frothy mixture of same; it is less sweet than in Canada and the Aussies are not interested in whipping cream; very artistic).

Australian Hot Chocolate


We encountered several Emus in open forest and no, they were NOT behind a fence of any kind.  They are definitely daunting, in size and presence.

An Emu Looking for Breakfast (1.8 m or 6 feet high)
Emus are the Original "Big Bird"

Comparatively small in size, we also saw these Scarlet Robins flitting between the trees and the ground, also looking for breakfast.  It was quite cold that morning, with a thick frost on our car windshield and a few mm of ice on the puddles in the parking lot.  They are a hardy bird!

Male Scarlet Robin - doesn't it know Spring is not here yet?
Female Scarlet Robin - A "Whiter Shade of Pale" (but more colourful than most other female birds)

On the way home from the Grampians, driving through farm lands between Dunkeld and Ballarat (near Lake Bolac), we espied this Australian Hobby (a small falcon) on the electrical lines adjacent to the highway.  It was near dusk, so the exposure isn't the best.  The Hobby sat patiently on the wire while we slowed down, stopped, drove a km back to its location, turned around again, retrieved our camera, and rolled down the window.  It must really have wanted its photo taken!

An Australian Hobby (small falcon)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Enjoying the "Canadian" Season in Melbourne

Self-Reliance Corner

Success in School Begins at Home

We find that a very popular self-reliance class in our church congregations is one called "Success in School Starts at Home".  This is a course for parents, grandparents and young adults who want to learn more about good learning habits and how to support education in the home.  Here are some of the lessons that are covered:

  1. Learning starts in the home.
  2. Teach your children the doctrine of education (that is, why education is important to God).
  3. "Get all the education you can".
  4. Use family routines (which helps a family be more calm and productive).
  5. Improve reading and writing skills.
  6. Be an expert in your child's progress at school.
  7. Learn to use study groups (particularly for older children).
  8. Teach children to plan, organize and prioritize.
  9. Help children learn to "act for themselves" (it is our personal choices that lead to success).
  10. Establish good homework habits.
  11. Help your children prepare for tests.

The manual for this course can be downloaded here:  Success in School

We sat in on one such class that was being run by a family - parents and adult children and their spouses, and a few friends.  Many of them are educators who work in both primary and secondary school.  One person said that the course distills 20 years' of experience from his teaching career and is essential reading for parents.  He noted that children are often afraid to fail in school and so may answer a question with "I don't know".  In his class, they learn to say "I don't know...yet".

Another class participant said that he liked the chapter on reading to your children each day.  He finds that develops a love of reading in his children and strengthens the bonds between children and parents.  They had one son who hated reading, but based on a suggestion from another group member, found a series of books suited to young boys.  His son devoured all 8 books in the series.

The class is facilitated by one of its participants.  The week we attended, one mother was the facilitator and she had asked her 9-year old son to present an idea from Lesson 9 called "Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset", that he had also learned at school.  The group could then discuss and consider as to how it might apply in their homes with their children. This 9-year old did a very impressive job of teaching a dozen adults for about 10 minutes.  He shared the following image which is posted in his class and helps him each day think about how he approaches learning, (you can obtain this image by searching the title in Google Images).

What an amazing concept for a young child to learn and apply as they progress in their primary education!  You can read more about this by downloading the Success in School manual (link given above) and reading p. 37.


Trip to Serendip

We took a trip out to the Serendip Bird Preserve, west of Werribee, a few weeks ago.  We were looking for a few fall "hangers-on" - birds that were new to us or that we just liked.  The variety has certainly decreased at this time of year, but there are still beautiful birds to be seen and interesting photographs to compose and take.  When we say "compose", keep in mind that most birds are more difficult than a 2-year old child when it comes to picture-taking.

Male and Female Chestnut Teal in a Beautiful Setting
Golden Whistler
White-winged Chouff, Skulking Amidst the Boulders (Red Eye is a Giveaway)
Magpie Goose

Out and About

Kangaroo Attack

Walking in Warringal Park the other day, we met a couple of celebrities who had been featured on the cover of an English magazine for an article entitled "Models and their Pets".  This fellow has a wolf hound / stag hound cross breed; he draped him across his shoulders for the photo shoot, if you can believe that.  He told us a remarkable story - he used to let his dog run free in the park, but one day it disappeared, running after a kangaroo.  A passing bicyclist told him "Your dog is over in the billabong (pond), getting drowned by a kangaroo"!  He rushed over, jumped into the water, pushed the kangaroo away with a heavy branch, and saved his dog.

He is lucky that he was not badly injured and that his dog survived.  Kangaroos are very powerful and have long, sharp claws.  Like bears in Canada, not an animal to trifle with.  Some other dog owners have been clawed badly by kangaroos in a similar situation.

Male Kangaroo guarding his "mob" and watching us carefully as we walked by.

Misty Morning

One of our Favourite Birding Spots on a Misty Morning

Fall Leaves and Fruit

We had some friends over for dinner recently.  In the church, they help by advising young people who have returned from a full time mission to settle into life back home, reconnect with friends, decide how to continue on with work and/or schooling, and maintain a spiritual balance in their life.

They have some lovely fruit trees in their yard and brought us some fresh mandarin oranges and lemons.  Keep in mind that these were picked at the very end of the fall season and that these trees will continue to produce fruit right through to the end of the winter.

They tasted wonderful; we were spoiled for life!

Orange tree with Autumn Leaves
Budding flowers mix with fall colours outside the Melbourne Temple

Monday, June 5, 2017

Autumn in Australia is NOT like autumn in Canada!!

Self-Reliance is a Principle of Salvation

For our family home evening this week, we spent some time discussing what is now the first lesson in the My Foundation manual: "Self-Reliance is a Principle of Salvation".  The lesson shows how the spiritual and physical aspects of our lives are closely entwined, and how our progress in physical matters relies heavily on the faith and trust we place in God and Jesus Christ.

One important concept is given in John 10:10 - "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly".  And what does it mean, to have an abundant life?  Everyone will understand that term differently.  To us, it means that we all can enjoy God's blessings in both spiritual and physical (sometimes called temporal) matters, if we are faithful.  Effort on our part and help from God are both key ingredients.

As this lesson tells us: "Being self-reliant does not mean that we can do or obtain anything we set our mind to.  Rather, it is believing that through the grace, or enabling power, of Jesus Christ and our own effort, we are able to obtain all the spiritual and temporal necessities of life we require for ourselves and our families.  Self-reliance is evidence of our trust or faith in God's power to move mountains in our lives and to give us strength to triumph over trials and afflictions". 

There are three doctrines of self-reliance that will help us to understand the relationship between God's grace, or enabling power, and our efforts:

1.  Self-reliance is a commandment - "The Church and its members are commanded by the Lord to be self-reliant and independent" (Teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball, 2006).  Knowing that becoming self-reliant, that is, becoming more like God, is a commandment helps us to realize its importance and properly set priorities in our life.

2.  God can and will provide a way for His righteous children to become self-reliant. "And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine" (D&C 104:15).  This scripture tells us that all things are in God's control and that he desires to help us.  All it requires is for us to ask, in faith, and obey his commandments.

3.  The temporal and spiritual are one to God. "Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual" (D&C 29:34).  It is essential to grasp this concept, that everything we do in our life has a spiritual component.  Even our everyday labours can be a consecration on our part to God, if it is done with self-reliance (and in particular, supporting ourselves and our family, and helping others) in mind.

If you would like to read more about these concepts, or see a related video, please click on the following link:

My Foundation - Chapter 1.  You will be able to download a PDF of the My Foundation manual (look in Chapter 1) and also click on a link to the video "He Polished My Toe".

Out and About / Birds


A few weeks ago, we went on a one-day excursion with some other senior missionaries, to some locations west of Melbourne.  The first was Werribee, where we visited the estate of a sheep baron (see photos below).  At its peak, the estate was over 600,000 acres in size and held about 900,000 sheep.  As you will see by the size of the estate house, that must have been a lucrative business!
Werribee Park Mansion - built around 1876
(not bad for two sheep farmers from Scotland)

Beautiful trees and botanical gardens on the estate 

Pathway close to a pond with rock garden 

Grotto with shell designs, copied after aboriginal art 

 Floor of the same grotto, with shell designs
Pacific Black Ducks on Pond near Grotto

                               Pied Cormorant Watching for Dinner


Our next stop was Geelong, a moderate sized-city with a gorgeous shore front, famous for its wooden figures (life sized; carved from wooden bollards).  There are over 100 of these figures scattered along the waterfront, colourfully painted.  Sister Sobkowicz's favourite was the group of musicians.

                                         Geelong Bollard Musical Ensemble

We also saw two old friends (birds) with an unusual characteristic.  The first is a silver gull, but look carefully to see what is missing...

                                        Silver gull; anyone want a drink?

This fish tale is hard to swallow!

As we were leaving Geelong, right by our parked car, we saw a tree in full bloom, full of New Holland Honey Eaters.  They migrate into this area in the fall, when the gum trees are blooming.

New Holland Honey Eater

Flowering Gum Tree.  Can you find the Honey Eater?

Banyule Swamp

The last photo is of a Musk Lorikeet, taken in one of our favourite birding parks near where we live.  This lorikeet is less common than it's noisier cousin, the Rainbow Lorikeet, but beautifully coloured.  It is feeding in a flowering gum tree, which is one of the primary food sources for many birds at this time of the year (and yes, it is flowering at the end of autumn, with winter just around the corner).  Many of the local plants flower in the spring and again in the fall, not being able to handle the summer heat.

Musk Lorikeet