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):