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!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Enjoying All Things Exotic and Familiar

We were thinking today that while there are many exotic flora and fauna around Melbourne (of which the birds are our favourites), the city nevertheless feels very familiar to us.  Partly it is the climate that we have experienced so far - a Melbourne spring is very much like a Vancouver spring - cool to warm, somewhat rainy, always a pleasure to walk in.  And partly it is due to the friendly, multi-cultural nature of society here.  There are many people of English descent (or from the UK or NZ), a lot of "islanders" (people from various Polynesian countries), many Asian people, a fairly good Indian community (although not as many as in Vancouver), and a smattering of people from elsewhere (including the odd person from Canada or the US).  When people hear we are from Canada, their ears always perk up; more often than not they have friends or relatives in Canada, or have holidayed there.  We don't have to tell anyone where Vancouver is - it is on their radar just like Melbourne or Sydney or Perth is on ours.

We have had the occasional rainy day, often associated with a spectacular sunset, as in the photo below.  In this case, the photo really captured the magic of the moment.

This photo, taken a few minutes later, shows the intensity of the sunset just before the sun disappears (note that this photo does have some HDR effects in it, but only to preserve what the eye sees rather than what one photo can capture).  Notice which way the cars are parked, by the way - yes, they ARE where they are supposed to be :>)

Melbourne is pronounced "Melbun", by the way, just like Cairns is pronounced "Cans" - our Australian friends seem to leave out the r's in a lot of place names and common words.  And we're getting used to saying "no worries" instead of "no problem" (one of my favourite expressions).  When in Rome....

Driving continues to be an exciting experience.  John was just starting to feel confident about being on the left side of the road and complementing himself on doing so well with his driving skills.  Then, in a moment of panic last Sunday, he made a right turn onto a side street and ended up in the wrong (i.e., right side) lane.  The fellow coming down the hill in that lane got a bit excited.  It's a good thing we don't have to drive with a sign on our vehicle that says "From Canada - Watch Out!!".

The past week or so has been busy with training and meeting people, and starting to understand both the need for self-reliance in the lives of the church members and the enthusiasm with which they have embraced this new initiative from the church.  The various courses are generating a lot of discussion and we have heard many stories of how people's lives have changed after hearing and acting upon simple self-reliance concepts.

One brand new course is called "Success in School Starts at Home".  It is focused on getting parents to understand the vital role that the home plays in the education of their children - how they need to be anxiously engaged in training their pre-schoolers and preparing them for school, and how they need to be intimately involved in the learning process for those of their children who are in school.  One grandmother told us: "After our last discussion group, I realized that I needed to turn off the TV or the computer and spend more time reading and talking to my young grandchildren.  I've talked so much in the past week that my jaw is sore!"  Another mother commented: "Now I understand the importance of making sure my children do not skip any school days or classes, no matter how tempted I am to let them stay home and help with the housework".

We helped facilitate a discussion group for a young man (~25 years old) who was looking for a job.  He already had a great attitude and desire to work, but needed to learn some job search skills.  The discussion was called "Accelerated Job Search" and it asked him to commit to a number of actions each day that would keep him very busy identifying resources, making contacts and having interviews.  He said that learning how to present "Me in 30 seconds" (one of several tools about which he learned) was very helpful as it projected a positive and enthusiastic message to a prospective employer.  He also said that having a spiritual basis for what he was doing, particularly knowing that Heavenly Father would help him in his efforts as he exercised faith, strengthened him.  We learned that he found a job in his area of interest in about 2 weeks, which is not unusual if someone is willing to apply the principles diligently.

For those who might be interested in further information about finding a job, check out this link: "My Job Search".

No post would be complete without a few good photos of birds!  The first is of a bird called a "Common Bronzewing" (reason for name evident), which is found all over Australia and is a member of the Pigeon/Dove family.  We have not seen that many of them, however...

One of my favourite birds from the parrot family is the Eastern Rosella.  It is getting ready to enter its nest - the adjacent hole in the tree.

Of course, one can't come to Australia and not hear and then see some Kookaburras - their odd laughter and majestic bearing are a delight to those not familiar with them, (the Kookaburra is a type of kingfisher - Australia's largest).

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Week 2 - Spring is Here!

We will preface this post by explaining the terminology for LDS church groups, as those terms are used below.  A "Ward" is a congregation typically of a few hundred members (usually from 400 to 500, but could be less or more) who live in a relatively small geographical area and meet together in a church building for Sunday services.  They are led by a Bishop, who is their priesthood authority and spiritual "father" (or mentor).  In areas where there are fewer members, who meet in a smaller congregation, the term "Branch" is used instead of Ward.  The next larger ecclesiastical unit is a "Stake", which is formed of anywhere from 5 to 10 Wards and Branches, and typically has from 2500 to over 5000 members.  A Stake is led by a "Stake President", whose responsibility is to provide spiritual guidance and direction for all of the wards under his jurisdiction.

Between the Melbourne area and Tasmania, there are 11 Stakes with 53 Wards and 11 Branches.

So, on to the experiences of this past week....

We had a wonderful time, meeting some of the people involved with self-reliance in several different Stakes for which we are responsible in Melbourne.  They are dedicated and passionate about the subject and doing a good work for the members here.  A few examples will give you a flavour for a typical week:

  1. Saturday and Sunday, as reported in the previous blog, we traveled to Benalla and Wangaratta to visit with two small congregations (Branches) - small in numbers but big in spirit!  It was a long but enjoyable weekend of driving, teaching and meeting members in these outlying areas.
  2. Monday - a team meeting with the other self-reliance missionaries, Elder and Sister Myers.  They have been waiting patiently for us to "get up to speed" and take some of the load off of their shoulders.  They work hard and are excellent trainers.
  3. We did take some time late Monday afternoon to travel to Plenty Gorge Park, which is on the north edge of Melbourne, to see some kangaroos.  They didn't disappoint us, turning out in large numbers (see photos below).
  4. Wednesday - we attended an "Accelerated Job Search" discussion with one young man from the Craigieburn Stake.  He returned from a mission a while ago and is keen to get a job.  This discussion really teaches people how to identify resources and network, and challenges them to be fully engaged in the process of finding a job every day.  When you realize that Heavenly Father wants to help us as we put forth effort to move forward ourselves, you realize that everything we do has a spiritual basis and that what we do is a manifestation of the faith we have in Him.
  5. On Wednesday evening we visited with a couple who are self-reliance specialists in another Stake .  They are serving as "church service missionaries" (typically requiring a day or two a week of their time).  They are doing a great job organizing and overseeing self-reliance classes in the various Wards in their Stake, and seeing people benefit from learning about how to improve their education and how to start or grow their own business.
  6. On Thursday, we had the opportunity to meet with a couple who have just been called as self-reliance specialists in another Stake, to do some training on the "My Path to Self-Reliance" devotional.  Later in the evening, we met with them and other Stake leaders and learned of their plans for advancing the self-reliance initiative in their area.
  7. This past Saturday, we met with 6 young adults who have recently returned from missions in various parts of the world, and are now home in Melbourne, working and planning to advance their education.  That was a very dynamic group and it was a pleasure to get to know them and hear what they had planned for their lives.
Our mission isn't all work and no play.  We get up early each morning (usually by 6 am) and go to a local gym for aerobic and weight training.  We try to arrive by 7 and get back home shortly after 8.  We find the regular exercise gives us energy for the day and helps to keep us sane!  We also spend about an hour in the morning studying scriptures and our self-reliance materials, during which time we can receive spiritual direction for the day.

On some days, we walk in the local parks, which of course includes bird watching and photography.  John is really missing his SLR camera, which at the time we flew here seemed too bulky and heavy to bring along, given the weight and luggage restrictions when flying from Vancouver to SLC and then to Melbourne.  This was a big mistake!  He is trying to capture some bird photos using a "point and shoot" camera with a a 30x zoom lens, but the results are less than satisfactory.  However, on occasion, mostly by luck, a few decent photos are taken:

The first photo, below, is typical of pathways in Melbourne Parks and just shows that in the summer months (November to March) you really need to keep your eyes open :>)

Note that not only do people drive on the left, but they also walk and bicycle on the left - it's actually harder to get into that habit when walking than it is when driving.  Just to show that spring has already arrived in Melbourne...

While at Plenty Gorge Park, we had some excellent views of Kangaroos.  As usual, John took way too many photos and even videos; we will only share one here.  This is only a mild telephoto view, which shows that with patience you can get relatively close to these cautious animals.

The back lighting on this photo is particularly nice in emphasizing the kangaroo's outline without turning them into silhouettes.  Another indication of spring are these Noisy Miner fledglings who just couldn't wait for the next bite to eat.  They kept momma and papa hopping, providing food.

Also at the entrance to her (his?) nest is this Rainbow Lorikeet.  Unfortunately, we couldn't (yet) see the babies:

We tend to mostly look up for birds, but there is a small parrot here who loves to eat seeds from various low lying ground plants.  It is called, for obvious reasons, a red-rumped parrot:

We suppose a tour of Melbourne spring birds would not be complete without a photo of the sulphur-crested cockatoo - a large, bright, raucous, fairly common inhabitant of the parks in the area.  When this bird gets a little excited, it fans the yellow crest out, which looks very impressive.

While out in Warringal Park tonight, our friends Elder and Sister Myers, took this photo of John and Janette - it seems to capture the spirit of the moment nicely.  If you look closely, you'll see those are mostly "gum" (or Eucalyptus) trees in the background.  We walked along a portion of the Yarra River towards a billabong (or oxbow lake).  We're trying to learn and use local terms - when greeting someone, people often say "How are you going?" (rather than "doing").  One of my favourite expressions back home is "No problem" but down here it is "No worries" (which I actually like better).

If you look closely at John, you will see he has put on a few pounds.  It is very difficult, when visiting a lot of people each week (particularly the Islanders) to not eat way too much food.  What is needed is more willpower to limit the calorie intake (keeping in mind that dark chocolate has no calories :>)