Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

We would like to wish our family and friends "back home" in Canada and the U.S., and our friends here in Australia, a very Merry Christmas.  May you enjoy some quiet time with your friends and family, and feel the Lord's Spirit as you contemplate the birth and life of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  This is a special time of the year, when all of our hearts are softened and when our thoughts turn to those we love and to the ways in which we can be better people.

To start this blog, we'd like to share an article that we wrote in the December self-reliance newsletter for the Melbourne area.  It is a bit long, but worth reading (we think).  You will find other information and photos after this Christmas message.

Jesus' Pattern for Self-Reliance

During this Christmas season, it would be good to contemplate the life of our Saviour, and see what we can learn about him – his acts, his character, his love for all people, and ultimately, his Atoning Sacrifice.

If we truly understand the doctrines of self-reliance, we will know that as we become more self-reliant, we first provide for ourselves and our family, then we strengthen our ability to serve others, and eventually we become more like Christ. In fact, Jesus is the perfect example of a self-reliant person and thus examining his life will be of great value on our path to self-reliance.

Elder David A. Bednar has taught on several occasions about the character of Christ and about how his character was a necessary precursor to the Atonement. He quoted Neil A. Maxwell that "There would have been no Atonement except for the character of Christ". This makes our study of His character paramount. There are several aspects of Christ's character that we would like to highlight here.

Firstly, Christ stayed extremely close to his Heavenly Father throughout his life, always striving to hear the Spirit and to do God's will. He was so successful in this effort that he told his disciples "…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father…" (John 14:9). We know that in part this ability to know the Father's will came from keeping the commandments (always) and a lot of prayer. As we apply the principles of faith in Christ, scripture study and prayer in our life, we can also feel and follow the Spirit, and be close to God and Christ. Thus, these principles become the foundation of our spiritual self-reliance.

Secondly, an aspect of Christ's character on which Elder Bednar focuses is Christ's ability to always "look outwards". He said: "Perhaps the greatest indicator of character is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. Character is revealed, for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering; in the ability to detect the hunger of others when we are hungry; and in the power to reach out and extend compassion for the spiritual agony of others when we are in the midst of our own spiritual distress. Thus, character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward. If such a capacity is indeed the ultimate criterion of moral character, then the Saviour of the world is the perfect example of such a consistent and charitable character". (Italics and colour emphasis added)

Elder Bednar goes on to discuss examples of Christ's character from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, which are multitudinous and show how he constantly and consistently helped others to become better, both spiritually and temporally. As we study and ponder these examples, we will come to understand what we must do to become more like Christ and thus more self-reliant.

To start, we can reach out to others as Christ reached out to them. We can set aside the natural man, and our "natural responses", and instead look around us to see how others are feeling or even suffering, and then act to relieve that suffering.

Then, we can invite those people to learn spiritual and temporal doctrines and principles that will help them to be more self-reliant. We have seen many church leaders attending self-reliance classes – not only are they learning good principles for their own lives, but they are supporting other class members by sharing their thoughts and experiences. Some of the people attending the classes are not church members or are new members, some are returning to church activity, and some are there to improve their standard of living (spiritually or temporally).  All benefit by learning together.

As we participate in self-reliance classes, we grow stronger in our faith, in our understanding, and in our love for others. Thus, self-reliance is both our pathway to becoming like Christ and an expression of our discipleship and our commitment to the gospel.

We invite every one of us to study Christ's life in the New Testament, with an eye to recognizing his character and his constant example of charity and "looking outward". As our understanding of Christ's life grows, so too will our understanding of his perfect pattern for self-reliance.

Christmas Activities

We attended "Carols in the Cathedral" a week ago Saturday, at St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown Melbourne.  It was a wonderful program of readings, solos, children's choir, and a combined tenor/adult choir, all accompanies a brass and percussion consort, and with a wonderful organ postlude.  We "discovered" (for ourselves, at least) Dimitry Bortniansky (1751-1825), a Ukrainian composer, singer and music director.  Bortniansky at one point was staff composer and director of the Russian Imperial Court Choir, as well as a piano and harpsichord teacher to the Royal family.  His choral pieces have those wonderful, deep Russian bass parts which are so thrilling to listen to.

The inside of St. Paul's Cathedral is very beautiful - here is an HDR photo that attempts to capture some of the richness of the colours:

A choir in which we sing participated in the Mount Martha Annual Carol Concert last night.  It was a fun evening - we sang "Mary Did You Know" (words and music by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene), "What Shall We Give?" (Catalonian carol; english text by David Warner), and "The First Noel / Pachelbel's Canon" (A traditional english carol combined with the Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel; arranged by Michael Clawson).

This was an outdoor concert.  Now, in case you are imagining choir members bundled up in heavy coats, mitts, scarves and toques, let me remind you that this is Australia!!  First, the crowd (around 500 or 600) attending the concert had just walked up from the adjacent beach and were still in their bathing suits and shorts, sitting in family groups on their beach towels.  For the first part of the concert, we were actually worried we would get a sunburn, but as the evening wore on, the sun got less intense.  Here is part of the concert crowd, along with the "bandstand" (much more casual than the concert at St. Paul's Cathedral):

The kids here must be tougher than in Canada - they don't need snow to slide down a hill.  And they must be accustomed to it, as they all came prepared with their pieces of cardboard.  The photo below shows a few (of the hundreds of) kids sledding.  Keep in mind, it is about +35 deg C out when the photo was shot!  We have several videos, which are much more interesting, but can't seem to get them to load to the blog properly :>(

Another event for the night was Santa Claus arriving in a local fire truck - that made quite a "splash" with the kids.  Santa was dressed traditionally (the poor guy; it was still about 30 deg C out).  He handed out sweets and all sorts of glow sticks.  The latter caused a mobbing; he must have wondered about "volunteering" for the job :>)

We wanted to post the lyrics for another Australian Christmas carol.  This one is called "Christmas Bush for His Adorning" and the words are by John Wheeler (the same person who wrote "Christmas Day", in our last post):

Christmas Bush for His Adorning

All the bells are gaily ringing.
Birds in every tree are singing;
Let us in the golden weather,
Gather Christmas Bush together.

Christ is born! The angels thunder
Through the Heavens their tale of wonder,
While we pluck for his adorning
Christmas Bush this hallowed morning.

Christ has conquered Evil’s power,
Hear the bells rock every tower;
Birds and beasts lift up their voices,
Freed at last the world rejoices.

Onward with triumphant chorus,
Following the road before us,
Singing through the golden weather,
Gathering Christmas Bush together.

Clearly, these people have never pushed through waist deep snow!  Their Christmas songs reflect the land in which they live and the weather at that time of the year.  Here is a photo of the Christmas bush referenced in the song, along with one of our favourite birds, the Galah:

Birds and Animals

Our blog entry wouldn't be complete without some photos of birds and animals that we have encountered recently.  We'll start with the platypus, an unusual water mammal that is hard to find near Melbourne.  We were lucky one day, walking across a pedestrian suspension bridge over the Yarra River, we spotted this fellow:

He looks rather scary in the above photo, and he does have poisonous claws on his back legs, so we're not going to argue with him too much!

While walking in one of our more isolated areas recently, we came across a pair of black swans with 6 cygnets.  They were pretty shy and kept trying to hide from us, but with some patience, we managed to find a natural bird blind from which we could take this photo:

Another day, while we were out walking, an Eastern Robin (not like our North American types, but smaller and with a yellow breast) flew up onto a branch.  We were so focussed on getting a photo of the robin that we almost missed the Wallaby crouching in the background!  While kangaroos are fairly common around Melbourne (you can see them in the parks early or late in the day, much like deer back in Calgary or other cities in Canada), the Wallaby is much less common, so we were happy to get this photo:

We want to finish off with a photo of a tree, but a very unusual one, called a Jacaranda.  This tree has been mostly invisible up until now, as it has been bare of flowers or leaves.  But about mid-December, it first develops all these gorgeous, purple flowers, and then later some lacy leaves.  Some of our friends from Africa will probably be familiar with this tree - we understand it is seen at least in South Africa.  Here it is, in all its glory:

OK, two more photos of the two of us, off on one of our birding walks.  Don't get the impression from this photo that all we do is wander around the Australian bush!  We also work very hard on our self-reliance calling!!  One thing we have learned, though, is that you have to be prepared for anything - sun, rain, heat, humidity, and bugs (more flies than mosquitoes).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Summer and Christmas - What??

We've been busy for the past several weeks, getting ready for Christmas in the Melbourne Mission.  Sister Sobkowicz has been cooking and packaging 190 batches of butter crunch, to be included in a Christmas package for all the young missionaries in the area.  She also organized all the music for a Christmas devotional that was held today, with solo, group and choir numbers.  One of the highlights of the devotional was one Samoan Elder singing "Hallelujah" - using the Leonard Cohen music but with considerably modified "Cloverton" lyrics more in keeping with the nativity story.  Elder Sobkowicz prepared a slide show of the early life of the Saviour to accompany the various musical numbers.

The church is promoting a #LightTheWorld initiative this Christmas, that we feel will help people to understand more about Christ and feel the true Christmas spirit.  You can find out more about this by clicking on the following link:

Light the World

Here are 25 ways that you can Light the World this Christmas:

25 ways

We have been singing in two Christmas choirs, which is a nice way to get to know other people in Melbourne and to share the beautiful feeling of Christmas through music.  It's turned out to be quite a few performance dates, but it helps us not to feel at loose ends right at Christmas, when we are so far from family.  It helps others to feel a good Christmas spirit, too.  The community Christmas concert in which our church choir will be singing is December 23.

We have been visiting self-reliance classes and are pleased to see how well people are applying the principles in the courses.  Lots of people are finding new jobs, starting businesses, or improving their family life with better education options.  As we go hiking in the local parks, we also meet people who are interested in what we are doing and want to chat about our mission.

While we are well into the Christmas month (December), we are also well through spring and almost into summer.  Even for someone brought up in the balmy climate of Vancouver Island, this is a shock to the system.  Our bodies remember the many, many cold winters in Terrace, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Calgary, setting up Christmas lights when it is -20 deg. or less outside, and shovelling snow into piles a metre or more high along the driveway.  That is what our bodies expect at this time of the year, but what they are experiencing is an onward march of warmer and warmer days, usually with +20 to +30 deg. temperatures.  Yikes!

Our Australian friends tell us that they have no carols about snow - only about hot, dry, dusty weather!  Here is one you might find interesting.  It is called "Christmas Day"; the words were written by John Wheeler:

The North-wind is tossing the leaves,
The red dust is over the town;
The sparrows are under the eaves
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.

The tree-ferns in green gullies sway;
The cool stream flows silently by:
The joy-bells are greeting the day,
And the chimes are adrift in the sky,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child, the Heavenly King.

To give you an idea of how lush it is in Melbourne at this time of the year, here is a photo we took of some tree ferns in a gully at Grant's Picnic Ground, in the Dandenong Mountains, about a week ago:

Also related to the Christmas carol, here is a photo from 2009 in Sydney, which adds some meaning to "...The red dust is over the town...".

Here is a recent photo of a flowering tree (a late bloomer, as they say), that was just stunning.  Again, not what a Canadian would expect in early December, but typical of the rich vegetation in the "Garden State" of Victoria.

Occasionally, people in Australia will ask us what our (current) home city of Vancouver is like, and we often say it is similar to Melbourne, but not as hot in the summer.  It would be more accurate to say that they are both cities influenced strongly by the nearby ocean, with relatively mild climates, but Vancouver is at about 49 deg. latitude while Melbourne is at about 38 deg. latitude.  That puts Melbourne at about the same distance from the equator as San Fransisco, if we are looking for a west coast of North America equivalent for Melbourne.  Consequently, Vancouver is definitely not as hot in the summer and it is certainly a bit colder in the winter.  We hear Vancouver is locked in a few cm of snow right now (granted, an unusual situation), whereas most people in Melbourne have never seen snow (last snow fall in Melbourne was 1952, and before that, 1866).  Not having lived in San Fransisco, we can't really speak to it's climate.

We've seen some exciting birds since our last post - of some of which we have photos and some of which are too fast or shy to stay in front of the camera for more than a millisecond!  We've included a few photos below.  The first bird is an Australasian Grebe - a small, humble water bird, normally with drab, nondescript colours for most of the year, but with quite striking colours during mating season.  We like this photo because we "caught" him before he dove (tricky) and because of the reflection:

The following guy is a blue-winged parrot (named for obvious reasons) - one of several "grass parrots", so called because they love eating grass seeds and spend a fair amount of time on the ground doing just that.  Not that common in Melbourne, but we found this one in the Dandenongs:

The following is a Crimson Rosella - fairly uncommon in Melbourne but quite a few hanging out at Grant's Picnic Grounds in the Dandenong ranges.  We felt we were cheating a bit with this photo, as someone had thrown a piece of bread on the ground and the bird could not resist grabbing it.  But his colouring is so gorgeous, we just had to include him:

Now, we do look at other fauna than just birds, believe it or not.  We were standing on this bridge over one of the tributaries to the Yarra River and Sister Sobkowicz pointed down at some foliage and asked "I wonder what is making all those trails?".  Elder Sobkowicz just happened to be looking right at the perpetrator, quietly hiding under some overhanging bush.  Do you know what this creature is?  We'll give you a hint - its last name starts with a "W".

Here's someone who made us jump 3 m in the air when we first saw him, thinking we'd come upon our first snake.  Fortunately, he is a much less threatening lizard, with a name that fits his most prominent feature - a Blue-tongued Lizard:

We saw the following pair at the end of a long walk, the first visible bird being the baby.  Then, the papa emu reared his head to see who was there.  We decided to keep a good distance away - he looks rather fierce.  We were told afterwards that it is the father emus who look after the babies; mom's job is done once they hatch out.

Our next photo is of a baby possum.  These creatures continue to haunt the top of our fences and our roof in the late evening, driving the neighbouring dogs crazy.  Photo taken in the dark with only a flashlight as a light source.  He did pose for a while, though, allowing us to get the spotlight just right.

We encountered a number of the following bird, a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, by chance one day, hearing a baby squawking for some food.  The adult birds were tearing various Acacia trees apart, stripping the bark off them to get at the sweet sap underneath.  They were very efficient at it.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Spring in the Garden State


You may have noticed that we have changed the background picture to our blog, which now shows the LDS temple in Melbourne.  The temple is the House of the Lord and symbolizes members' commitments to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and to living the gospel.

We usually attend the Melbourne temple once a week to do ordinance work for our family.  However, twice a year the temple closes for maintenance, so we haven't been able to attend for the last two weeks.  We've missed the spiritual boost we receive while being there.

For example, before it closed we were able to seal Janette's father to his parents, meaning that they will be in an eternal family (if they so choose).  We still remember when we were sealed together as husband and wife in the Cardston, Alberta temple.  John was a relatively new member (1 year).  We had been married civilly a year earlier.  We pulled up to the Cardston temple in our moving van, as we were heading out to Edmonton, Alberta for a new job.  This was a great start to our life in a new province.

We are so grateful that we have an eternal marriage.  We feel we have been blessed spiritually.  But from a practical perspective, it changes how you work out differences, when you know you are in a very long term relationship!  It is hard to picture what Heaven would be like if we were not together with our children and parents.  That is why church members put so much emphasis on family history (genealogy) and on temple work, which ties families together in the eternities.

Spirit of the Game

We recently watched a movie that was playing in Melbourne, called "Spirit of the Game".  It is about a group of young Mormon missionaries in Melbourne in the mid-1950s.  This was just prior to the 1956 Olympic Games, which was held in Melbourne.  Basketball was new in the Olympics (only the fourth time it had been included) and a very new sport in Australia.  Australia's team was struggling to develop the skills necessary to compete with teams from other countries.  Their coach noticed some Mormon missionaries playing basketball and asked them to help coach his team and also practice with them, (many of the missionaries had been on college teams in the US prior to their mission and were very skilled).

As other national teams arrived in Melbourne prior to the Olympic games, they wanted to practice but were not allowed to play any other team competing in the Olympics.  So, the "Mormon Yankees", as they were called, were very busy playing Russia, France, the UK and other national teams.  Even the US team, which eventually won the gold medal that year, heard of the Mormon Yankees and came out to watch some of their games (and no doubt, to evaluate their opponents).

Through the efforts of the Mormon Yankees, the Australian people really warmed up to the game of basketball and also to the young missionaries.  Many misunderstandings of the church and stereotypes of the missionaries were corrected.

We enjoyed the movie because it accurately portrayed the hard work and dedication of the missionaries, and how challenging it was for them to play in a sportsmanlike manner despite less than ideal behaviour displayed by some of the national teams.

It made us grateful to be missionaries in the Melbourne area and to share this connection with the Australian people.  We love being here and serving the Lord and the Australian people.

Self Reliance Activities

We recently went to an "English Study Group" in one of the Melbourne wards, with about a dozen regular attendees.  This was an informative session for us, as we may be involved in teaching ESL soon, but it was also a lot of fun.  The class was facilitated by a retired ESL teacher, who knew how to involve the class members in different reading, writing and speaking activities to help them improve their English skills.  We were collecting information for our monthly self-reliance newsletter, so it was interesting to hear the class members' comments about how their lives were being impacted by what they were learning.  They found it made a difference at work and in social connections.  Some also found an increased understanding of spiritual principles underpinning self-reliance, such as faith in Christ, as it helped them in their reading and study of the scriptures (in English).

One of the self-reliance classes that is popular here is "My Job Search".  This course has 6 lessons that focus on:

  • How do I find the right job opportunities?
  • How do I present myself with convincing power?
  • How do I access the hidden job market?
  • How do I stand out as the clear choice?
  • How do I accelerate my job search?

We have observed the powerful impact discussing these topics and applying the principles has on people who are looking for work.  They develop needed skills and become more confident about themselves.  They learn to network effectively.  And as they "accelerate" their job search, they have success in finding and successfully competing for jobs that are satisfying and allow them to support themselves and their family.  The comments of class members has been heartwarming.  One person told us:

"Right after we finished the training, two days later, I contacted some companies. The second agency I contacted was called Man Power. They told me there was a vacancy open for warehousing. They told me to come in for induction, so I did. I was able to pass and I got the job! I used the 'Me in 30 seconds' and everything else that was taught. The 'Me in 30 seconds' really, really helped. The 15-10-2 really helped, too!"

The 15-10-2 approach is to identify 15 new resources and 10 contacts, and have 2 face-to-face meetings, every day. This may sound daunting at first, but the accelerated job search discussion teaches a person how to apply it consistently every day. After a few days, a person's efforts are multiplied enormously, as a whole network of resources and people starts working for them.

For anyone interested in following up further, click on this link: My Job Search.

Photos and Other Activities

We always like to end up with a few photos from our "other activities" around Melbourne.  It's not "all work and no play"; we do have some time to walk in Melbourne's wonderful parks and visit areas near the city.

Here is a fine example of why this bird is called a rainbow lorikeet:

A treat for us to see a black swan and its cygnets - now you know where the term "ugly duckling" came from:

We are enjoying some time at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens:

Victoria is often called the garden state - at this time of the year, it lives up to its name (we were out for an evening walk):

There are over 100 kinds of wattle bushes in Australia (and fortunately, we are not allergic to any of them).

Looking for platypus from a suspension bridge over the flooding Yarrow River...

We were downtown for "Derby Day" (this past Saturday) - but we didn't watch any horse races!  The downtown is gorgeous, with the Yarrow River, the interesting architecture, and the many bridges.  Not visible here are all the sculls on the river - a popular pastime.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Interesting Tidbits About Australia

We experienced our first Australian holiday on Friday, September 30 and from it we learned that Aussies take their sports very seriously!  This holiday is called the AFL Grand Final holiday and celebrates the final game of the Australia Football season, which was held on the following day - Saturday, October 1.  This year it was the Sydney Swans versus the Western Bulldogs, with the latter winning the game.  There was a crowd of 100,000 watching live and many times that watching at home, judging by the quiet streets!  We actually know very little about Aussie football rules, but for fans, you can find a discussion of the final game here.

Since all of Melbourne was relaxing that Friday, we decided to take the day off ourselves and headed out to Healesville Sanctuary.  This "wilderness zoo" is an hour's drive east of our place (which itself is in the middle north of Melbourne), and houses a large number of Australian animals and birds.  Of course, we want to show you some of the spectacular birds (at the end of this post), but first, a short video of one of Australia's most unusual mammals, the Echidna:

On the way back home from Healesville, we also discovered the wonderful Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.  Situated in the middle of wide open farmland, with hardly a house in sight, sits a huge building and parking lot that can easily accommodate a 1000 people, and that is full of various kinds of chocolate and ice cream.  It's just Heaven for those who like these treats.  We of course tried some of both, and also brought a good supply of dark chocolate (of various kinds) back to Melbourne with us.  We definitely will have to take another trip or two out there during the rest of our time here.

So, we neglected to take any photos of chocolate, but here are a few whimsical photos from our stop there.  The first is of the two of us enjoying some sun and a beautiful view:

The next is of a cute sign in the parking lot - if you just drove in wondering what was for sale, this sign should tip you off...

Finally, an example of Australian public art.  In this case, it is at the chocolaterie, but you see colourful geometrics like this located in random places along highways and city roads.  Some are "people size" and some are quite large.  We are still surprised by them - they at first seemed so incongruous, but now we've come almost to expect them.

We have continued to walk in the excellent parks along the Yarra River in Melbourne.  It is getting to the season where we might run into snakes, and we've got all sorts of advice from different locals.  One told us essentially not to worry about them; another said just keep your eyes open and if you see one, stop and let it slither away (on the theory that snakes don't like hanging around people).  We met another person in one park we frequent - an "elderly gentleman" (i.e., a bit older than us).  His wife was bit by a brown snake while out picking flowers in her own back garden and almost died from it.  She did survive but it took 6 months before she was back to normal, feeling some energy and with no aches and pains.  And we were told that brown snakes can move faster than a man can run, even up stairs, and like to attack people.  So - we're not sure what to believe, but we think we'll err on the side of caution on this one.

We recently talked in two church congregations on the same Sunday about self-reliance, and sang a song ("A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief") as a duet (and flute accompaniment), with the congregation joining in on the last two verses.  Here are the verses that we sang (we missed out verses 3 to 5):

V1: A poor, wayfaring Man of grief Hath often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief That I could never answer nay.
I had not pow'r to ask his name, Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye That won my love; I knew not why.

V2: Once, when my scanty meal was spread, He entered; not a word he spake,
Just perishing for want of bread. I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again. Mine was an angel's portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste, The crust was manna to my taste.

V6: In pris'n I saw him next, condemned To meet a traitor's doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed, And honoured him 'mid shame and scorn.
My friendship's utmost zeal to try, He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill, But my free spirit cried, "I will!"

V7: Then in a moment to my view The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew; The Saviour stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named, "Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me."

Last Friday, we travelled to Mornington, which is about an hour's drive down the east side of Port Phillip Bay from our place, to facilitate a discussion on what is called an "Accelerated Job Search".  This discussion covers essential skills, such as presenting yourself in 30 seconds to a potential employer, the use of power statements in an interview and the importance of networking.  The most important part was making a commitment to 15-10-2 - identifying 15 resources that can help you in your job search, making 10 contacts related to your job search in some way, and having 2 face-to-face interviews - every day!  It sounds like a daunting task, but the manual and associated videos show how it can be accomplished, and more importantly, how effective that will be if followed diligently.

At the beginning of any self-reliance discussion, we also discuss a principle that helps people understand the spiritual basis of all that we do.  For example, for this session we talked about "Work - Take Responsibility".  This principle is simple - each of us needs to take responsibility for our own lives - getting an education and a job, and supporting ourselves and our families.  And part of this is applying ourselves through work.  A modern day apostle, D. Todd Christofferson, said:
God has designed this mortal existence to require nearly constant exertion....By work, we sustain and enrich life....Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God.  A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive...sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves,...lifts, (and) inspires.
We often have people with whom we are working over for dinner - it's more fun to discuss self-reliance principles over a home cooked meal and with enjoyable conversation!

As always - a few of our favourite or more unusual bird sightings.  The first is of a Tawny Frogmouth (don't ask us where the name came from) - a master of disguise:

The following are a pair of Red-Browed Finches - common, but hard to photograph as they almost never sit still and are very small - this photo was mostly taken by luck.

Here is a family of Wood Ducks (not the kind we have in Canada).  It is spring time and there are a lot of baby birds out.  In one case, the father thought we were a little too close and charged Sister Sobkowicz several times.  She was saved by judicious opening of an umbrella (no ducks were harmed in the making of this story :>)

Mother nature is not only acting on the birds - a lot of the local kangaroos are getting in on the action as well:

Finally, investigating the source of a nightly racket, we turned out all the lights, shone a flashlight on our back fence, and discovered we were being visited by an Australian Bush-tailed Possum (the long black part hanging down is his tail, not a shadow):

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Very Long Walk amidst a Riot of Colour

The past couple of weeks have been busy.  We continue to work with full-time missionaries in the Melbourne area who are coming close to the end of their 1.5 to 2 years of service and about to go wherever in the world they call home.  Many need counselling in schooling or career choices, or help in English language proficiency.  These young adults have acquired many skills on their mission and have witnessed of Christ powerfully and with the Spirit.  But in regards to life, their journey to self-reliance has just started.  They understand some of the fundamental principles, such as faith in Christ and the power of prayer, but they have yet to apply these principles to most of life's challenges.  It is a pleasure to work with them and feel of their enthusiasm to enter the next phase of their life.

We have met a number of people who have immigrated to Australia as refugees, and have been impressed with the encouragement and support they have received from the Australian government and people.  Some of them have heart-wrenching stories of fleeing for their lives, leaving all their worldly goods in another country, being separated from family members for months or years, and facing many challenges while encountering a totally new culture and language in Australia.  But they seem to have flourished here - finding friends, community, churches, and jobs.  This has in turn enriched the Australian communities with a diversity of cultures and foods.  It is an inspiring story!

On a personal note, we have benefited from having many choices for unusual grocery items, as well as making good friends from various countries.  We think that the church's self-reliance teachings have a role to play in helping immigrants.

We noticed something quite odd when we first came here - some of the people who bicycle on the park paths around the city (the more serious ones) have plastic cable ties attached to and sticking up from their helmets, which looks bizarre on first sight.  It took us a while to realize that they were discouraging swooping birds who are protecting their young during nesting season.  We've been trying to get a good photo of this phenomenon, but in a reverse psychology to the car which, once you notice you see everywhere, cable-tied bike helmets are never around when you want to photograph them.  Then, just as the sun was setting today, this friendly person came along and stopped for a photo op.  He only has two cable ties - a mere pittance compared to some we have seen, but you get the idea!  We've been dive-bombed enough by nesting birds while walking in the parks to know it is a good idea.

A home-grown bird warder

Last weekend we took one of the other senior missionary couples, Elder and Sister Myers, to the airport for their trip to Tasmania.  We thought, while we near the airport, that we would find a local park and try it out.  There is a large (roughly 2 km by 3 km in size) park to the NE of the Melbourne airport called Woodlands Historic park.  We had a great walk there, clocking up close to 12 km and seeing a wide variety of birds.  One minor hitch in the walk - needing to find a toilet, we phoned the park number and were told that there was one near the Sommerton camping area, towards which we were fortuitously headed.  Only one problem, which we didn't know - it was about 4 km away!  That was one brisk hike, towards the end :>)

Spring is showing its colours with a vengeance (Woodlands Park)!

Yellow is a favourite spring colour (different flower here, though; Woodlands Park).

A shaded path in Yarra Flats Park (a little too susceptible to snakes for Sister Sobkowicz)

Well, we must finish off with a few bird photos - "tradition"!! (Can't you just hear Tavye singing that song?).  The first is a beautiful small bird we see in several parks.  This one was photographed in Wilson Reserve and it is one of many types of robins in Australia!

Australia's Eastern Yellow Robin

While out walking on a rainy day between the Yarra River and an adjacent golf course, we were bemoaning the lack of birds.  Then, glancing out over the golf course, we saw that it was covered with these magnificent Australian White Ibis:

Australian White Ibis (the black head is actually unfeathered)

I never tire of seeing or hearing the Kookaburra.  The following two photos were taken with quite patient birds that let me approach closely and almost posed for their photos.

A Kookaburra sunning itself on a cold morning (note blue on wings)

While on our "march to the washroom" in Woodlands Park, we had to stop and try to photograph this gorgeous, not that common bird.  Unfortunately, I only had one shot, as it was chased away right after the shutter snapped.

A Crimson Rosella (bright red with blue on the shoulders and on the cheeks; subspecies Elegans)

The following guy likes to hang out in one of our very local parks, feeding off the rugby green whenever it rains a lot and there are shallow puddles.

White-faced Heron (graceful and poised)

I played "hide and seek" with this fellow, trying to catch a clear view of him through the trees.  He kept hopping about from branch to branch whenever I thought I had a photo lined up.  I think he was messing around with me - don't tell me birds don't have a sense of humour :>)

Grey Butcherbird (supposedly common; this is the first time we had seen one)

This last bird is one of my favourites, simply because it has such a comical look to its face.  However, I wouldn't want to get anywhere near the business end of its beak.

Long-billed Corella (only found around Melbourne)

Final photo of the day - we wouldn't be done if the sun wasn't going down!  Not as dramatic as some, but still very pretty!