Monday, October 30, 2017

Self-Reliance Corner

Be Thou Prepared

"Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them". (Ezekiel 38:7)

This statement, made by God to the enemies of Israel whose armies will gather in the last days, was an ironic one, for no matter how well prepared those armies are, they will not be able to stand against God's forces. However, the lesson contained therein is still a valuable one for those of us who live in the latter days and face various storms of life, be they temporal or spiritual. We are to be a guard for all our company, i.e., our immediate and extended families, wards and communities, to protect them against the coming storms. In part, we are to do that by being prepared in all things. Most importantly, as we are taught in self-reliance classes, we must be prepared spiritually.

How can we be prepared spiritually?  One way is by reading the word of God as found in the scriptures.  We used to read scriptures daily while at home, both individually and in our family, but we have found since coming on a mission that we have studied and pondered the scriptures more intensely - seeking to understand and apply them in our lives.  In the process, we receive spiritual promptings that help us in various situations.

For example, Sister Sobkowicz mentioned one scripture that brought comfort to her in our previous post (Helaman 5:12, 47).  She also felt prompted to share, at our nephew's memorial service, a hymn we had been singing with a choir in Australia.  Eight family members sang this hymn, including her brother.  The words and music of the hymn are beautiful:

Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing
(Words by John Fawcett; Music by Tom Clark; copyright 2014)

Lord dismiss us with thy blessing, fill our hearts with joy and peace.
Let us each thy love possessing triumph in redeeming grace.
Oh, refresh, oh refresh us, travelling through this wilderness (repeat).

Thanks we give and adoration for the gospel's joyful sound,
May the fruits of thy salvation in our hearts and lives abound.
Every faithful, ever faithful to the truth may we be found (repeat).

So that when thy love shall call us, Saviour, from the world away,
Let no fear of death appal us; glad thy summons to obey.
May we ever, may we ever live with thee in endless day (repeat).

Community Service

While walking in one of our favourite local parks a month or so ago, we met an older gentleman who was pulling weeds from along the trail.  We stopped to chat with him and found that he was dedicated to removing invasive species from the park and re-establishing native plants.  The park covers a large area and this is a huge job.  He has been working at it for over 20 years and has organized other people in the community to help.  Their combined efforts have allowed them to clear and maintain a portion of the park area.  It is a beautiful place to walk and as a result of their efforts, many native plants thrive and are appreciated by the park users.

We spent some time weeding with him and learned more about the local flora and fauna as a result.  

Sister Sobkowicz got a little too close to a Cupboard spider" (fortunately for her, she wasn't very interested in biting anything human).  The fellow we were with was quite happy to let a Redback spider crawl on his bare hand - he said they were much more afraid of us than the other way around and were fairly harmless as long as we weren't hurting them.  But both the Cupboard and the Redback spiders (which we see in our yard) are venomous - the Redback can cause serious illness and on some rare occasions death; the Cupboard spider has a less serious but still painful bite which can lead to skin lesions.

There was a hollow in a tree near where we were weeding which became a nesting site for a pair of Kookaburras.  If we are lucky, perhaps we will see the young Kookaburras later in the spring.

Pair of Kookaburra's Observed at Grant's Picnic Ground in the Dandenong Mountains

Other Birds

We came upon a couple of Pied Currawongs along one path who were being remarkably brave.  Normally shy and hiding amongst thick tree branches and leaves, they were hopping along the side of the path, eating bugs.  Their normal breakfast fare is the eggs and young chicks of other birds, so it was unusual in that they weren't being chased away from the area by other birds.

Pied Currawong - in Plain View, for Once

Pied Currawong - Showing off its Gorgeous Patterns

We were visiting a well known, large Rhododendron garden near Melbourne and came, by good fortune, across another very shy bird.  The Superb Lyrebird, named for its wonderful, lyre-shaped tail (when unfurled, of course) is reclusive and difficult to photograph.  Its main claim to fame is an uncanny ability to imitate almost any sound it hears - not only other birds but trains, whistles, chainsaws, etc.  It can apparently produce more than 300 distinct sounds.  This particular fellow was in a patch of shade at the bottom of a gully, so difficult to photograph clearly.

Superb Lyrebird

Female Australian King-Parrot
We were looking down from a bridge on the Yarra River and couldn't resist this photo of a mother duck and babies.  It takes some time to get used to the ever-murky quality of the water, but it's clay banks for as far as you can see!  The ducks don't seem to mind.

Momma Pacific Black Duck and Babies

We guess it must just be baby season.  Here is a mother black swan with her cygnets.

Black Swan and Cygnets
To finish off this month's posting, a few photos of raptors taken when we were out at the Werribee Water Treatment Ponds.  The first two are of an unusual sighting of an Eastern Osprey (common in Canada, but uncommon in southern Australia).  The last photo is a White-bellied Sea-Eagle - seen from a long way off, taken with maximum telephoto lens (400 mm at the time) and digitally enlarged to the edge of recognition - still an awesome sight!

Eastern Osprey, perched about 100 m away from us - amazing!

Eastern Osprey - Oops - We got a little too close for comfort

White-bellied Sea-Eagle - taken from a long distance, but a magnificent bird!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

This Time of Life

Sad News

(from Sister Sobkowicz)

It is with sadness that we mention the passing of my brother's son.  He was only 27 and, unbeknownst to the family until recently, he had a brain tumour.  He will be missed!  His mother passed away from cancer only 2 months ago; my brother and his daughter are still reeling from the shock of having their loved ones pass away in such a difficult manner, in such a short period of time.

I was reading from the Book of Mormon and found a scriptural passage that was comforting, especially at this time.  It is in the 5th chapter of Helaman, verse 12, written by a father who is teaching his sons spiritual principles, about faith in Jesus Christ:

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall".

Verse 47 describes a time when people were willing to repent and follow Jesus, by having faith in him, being baptized and keeping God's commandments:

"Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world".

I have felt a peace and calmness, despite also feeling sorrow because someone we care about has passed away.  I know, through Jesus' Atonement, we can all be resurrected after we die.  We will see our loved ones again.  If we have faith in our Saviour and act upon it by repenting when we make mistakes and striving to keep the commandments (which include being baptized), we will also be able to live with our Heavenly Father and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

We have permission to go home for a few days to attend his memorial service and then return to complete our mission in Melbourne.  We hope to be a help and comfort to some of our family members.

Self-Reliance Corner

Use Time Wisely

We were with a group of young missionaries recently, who were preparing to leave the mission, and go back to their home and families.  We were discussing with them spiritual and temporal principles that they had learned on their mission, and which they should cherish when they were back living their "normal" lives.  Many of these are found in the self-reliance manual "My Foundation", including the concept to "Use Time Wisely" (found in Chapter 5).

This topic covers many areas, but in our discussions with the missionaries we felt there were two that were important to emphasize.

The first is this one: "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labours" (Alma 34:32).  As we go about our daily lives, we should keep in mind our Ultimate Goal, which is to return to live with our Heavenly Father.  He loves us and he wants us to return home.  But he also expects us to progress in this life and become more like his Son.  As Christ encouraged us on several occasions: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  So we need to work, day by day, on our relationship with God, and if we are going to have a relationship, then we should talk to him each day - discuss our hopes, our plans, our progress, and our regrets.  Every day, we should take the time to "check in" with God and receive guidance from Him.

The second is to similarly work hard on our relationships with our loved ones and those around us.  Each opportunity missed is a wasted moment; each word left unspoken irretrievably lost.  Sister Sobkowicz told the young missionaries about the death of our nephew and about her wish that she had taken much more time to get to know him better.  Why are we here, if not to comfort, uplift and encourage one another?

My Daily Desire
Brother Sobkowicz likes this quote from Thomas Dekker (the 16th century Elizabethan dramatist), which he reads each morning when arising from bed: "To awaken each morning with a smile brightening my face; to greet the day with reverence for the opportunities it contains; to approach my work with a clear mind; to hold ever before me, even in the doing of little things, the Ultimate Purpose toward which I am working; to meet men and women with laughter on my lips and love in my heart; to be gentle and kind and courteous through all the hours; to approach the night with the weariness that ever woos sleep and the joy that comes from work well done—this is how I desire to waste wisely my days." (Thanks to Brett and Kate McKay at "The Art of Manliness" for learning about this quote.)

The Six Seasons of Melbourne, Australia

We were reading recently an excellent book by the naturalist Tanya Loos called "Daylesford Nature Diary - Six Seasons in the Foothills Forests".  Ms. Loos' book educated us to the idea of having six seasons in Melbourne, rather than the conventional four (from a Canadian perspective).  Having lived here for a year now, particularly over a winter, this made complete sense.  One would expect the timing of the seasons and the observations of the natural world to change from area to area within Australia, and in fact there are several aboriginal calendars that do just that.  One for the Melbourne area, compiled by Dr. Beth Gott of the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, is shown below:

The Six Seasons of Melbourne

One notable missing item on this calendar is "Fall" and it is true that we wondered what happened to fall around the March time-frame this year.  We are now into "True Spring", expecting warm, wet weather and abundant flowers, which matches well with what we actually observe.  In the "Pre-Spring" period, we started to see the Acacia tree breaking out in yellow blooms and the spectacular Tulip trees, as can be seen from the photos below:

Acacia Tree in Bloom, late August 2017

Tulip Tree near our home (Photo taken September 3, 2017)
We are seeing many small birds returning to the Melbourne in True Spring as well - one example is the Red-Browed Finch (or Red-Browed Firetail) shown below.

Red-Browed Finch (Firetail)

Birding Around Melbourne

Recently, some friends that we met in the local (Warringal) Park invited us for a day of birding to one of Victoria's hot spots for "water" birds - the Melbourne Water Treatment Plant, located near to Werribee and adjacent to the ocean (Port Phillip Bay).  The WTP has evaporation ponds covering an area of 2200 hectares (22 km^2).  It took us the better part of a day to drive around each of the ponds, but the phenomenal variety and number of birds was well worth it!

Fortunately for us, the two fellows (father and son) were expert birders and helped us to identify some of the birds of prey (with which we not that familiar in Australia; about a dozen species) and the shore birds.

Following are a few photos showing some of the interesting birds that we viewed.  For the serious birder, our complete bird list can be found here: E-bird List.

We saw about 20 of these Black-Shouldered Kites over the day

Golden-headed Cisticola - We loved this little bird - entirely new to us.

Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Early Morning, Flock of Red-Necked Avocets

Closer view of Red-Necked Avocets

Zebra Finch (Feeds on Grass Seeds)

There were hundreds of Black Swans here,
but we like this photo of just one the best.
We took literally a thousand photos over the day, so when we get through sorting, culling and editing them, we'll post a few more - hopefully in our next blog!

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)