Saturday, July 15, 2017

Finances - Are You a Grasshopper or an Ant?

Self-Reliance Corner

Managing Our Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Some Culture "Down Under"

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

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

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

Out and About


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

Double Rainbow over Banyule Flats / Pond

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dinner Looked Good and Tasted Great!

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

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

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

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

Australian Hot Chocolate


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

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

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

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

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

An Australian Hobby (small falcon)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Enjoying the "Canadian" Season in Melbourne

Self-Reliance Corner

Success in School Begins at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trip to Serendip

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

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

Out and About

Kangaroo Attack

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

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

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

Misty Morning

One of our Favourite Birding Spots on a Misty Morning

Fall Leaves and Fruit

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

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

They tasted wonderful; we were spoiled for life!

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

Autumn in Australia is NOT like autumn in Canada!!

Self-Reliance is a Principle of Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out and About / Birds


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

Beautiful trees and botanical gardens on the estate 

Pathway close to a pond with rock garden 

Grotto with shell designs, copied after aboriginal art 

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

                               Pied Cormorant Watching for Dinner


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

                                         Geelong Bollard Musical Ensemble

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

                                        Silver gull; anyone want a drink?

This fish tale is hard to swallow!

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

New Holland Honey Eater

Flowering Gum Tree.  Can you find the Honey Eater?

Banyule Swamp

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

Musk Lorikeet

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Enjoying Autumn in Melbourne

Self-Reliance Corner - The Challenge to Become

Our self-reliance message for this month comes from several quotes by Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
"In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something". (Ensign, November 2000, p. 32).

"Whatever causes us to be dependent on someone else for decisions or resources we could provide for ourselves, weakens us spiritually and retards our growth toward what the gospel plan intends us to be." (Ensign, November 2003, p. 40).

(In both cases, the emphasis is ours.)

A serious consideration of these quotations of course begs the questions: "What do we want to become?" and "What is it that the gospel plan intends us to be?".  Each of us must answer these questions for ourselves.  No matter what our answers, though, they will define our own vision for our lives, which in turn establishes the long and short-term goals towards which we inexorably work every day.  It does not matter if we have written them down on paper or even if we have articulated or consciously thought of them.  They are there, underpinning and directing our actions, day by day.

While the Cheshire cat's advice to Alice, that if she did not know where she was going, it did not matter which road she took, sounds reasonable, it is a fact that in this life all roads go somewhere and each day we chose the path we will follow and the turns we will take.  Do you not want to have some idea of what both the journey and the destination will be like?  Knowing that our choices each day are important, it is prudent for us to do some contemplation and soul-searching, to discover our answers to the above questions, and to make some changes if we don't like where our life is headed.

A true disciple of Christ might have, as one answer, that he or she wants to become like Christ - to develop his/her characteristics, especially the kind of love he/she has for others, which we call charity.  Other answers might be that we want to be an exemplary husband or wife, or father or mother.  Or that we want to excel in some area of science, engineering, medicine, law, teaching, philosophy, history, politics, art, music, etc., and thereby make a real contribution to the society around us.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson
The obvious follow-on question, once we have firmly established a vision for our lives, is "How do we go about achieving that vision?".  That is a long discussion for a future post, but to whet your appetite, we'd like to close with this quote from Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

"It is God's will that we be free men and women, enabled to rise to our full potential both temporally and spiritually, that we be free from the humiliating limitations of poverty and the bondage of sin, that we enjoy self-respect and independence, that we be prepared in all things to join Him in His celestial kingdom." (Ensign, November 2014, "Free Forever, to Act for Themselves").

Out and About

We were out for a day in the Dandenong Mountains recently and decided to stop by Miss Marple's Tea Room for an afternoon snack.  This is located in the small town of Sassafras.  The food was delicious, and being mystery lovers (especially those by Agatha Christie), we loved the ambiance.

Miss Marple's Tea Room in Sassafras

In a nearby park, the pathways were beautifully painted with local flora and fauna - it was almost a shame to walk on them!

While out walking in early April, we came across a real treat - first time in the wild!  We saw an Echidna rooting around for some ants amongst the leaves.  He was very shy to start, hunkering down and showing us his quills, but after a while, condescended to move around again, allowing us to get the following photo:

An Echidna Rooting for its Supper

A few days later, we saw another Echidna, street art style, painted on the side of an electrical box.  This one was a bit more adventurous than her real counterpart:

Australian Street Art

Birds and Flying-foxes

This is a time of year when the bird life is diminishing - many of them are flying north for the winter (that's right - a sensible bird does not fly south for the winter in Australia; too many icebergs).  However, we discovered a colony of the only mammal capable of sustained flight - the "Australian Grey-headed Flying-Fox" (they just looked like huge bats to us).

This colony used to roost in the Botanical Gardens in downtown Melbourne, but was relocated to a 1 km long section along the Yarra River in Bell Bird park (don't see any Bell Birds around there now).  It is hard to estimate their numbers, but there must be from 10 to 50 hanging from every tree on both sides of the river, with a total of several thousand bats.  They like to "hang out" during the day, but are not really sleeping.  There is a continual (not unpleasant) noise and the occasional bat that decides to fly from one tree to the next.

The bats don't eat where they roost, but at dusk fly up to 50 km away to feed.  They are major pollinators of eucalyptus trees, as they feed on a vegetarian diet.

The following guy is literally hanging by his toe nails from a rather wimpy looking branch, quite content.  Apparently hanging upside down is the most efficient way to spend the day, as the bat isn't fighting gravity trying to stay upright.

Australian Grey-headed Flying-fox
We managed to take a photo of one flying-fox just as it opened its wings for a stretch.  The expression "blind as a bat" really does not apply to these bats - they can see better than a human during the day time and at least as well as a cat at night.

Australian Grey-headed Flying-fox - taking a break (from resting) and having a stretch.
Here is one shot of about 50 bats hanging in one tree - an example of how densely they congregate during the day.  They were removed from the Botanical Gardens because of problems with breaking tree branches, but the Eucalyptus trees along this stretch of the river seem quite hardy.

Flying-foxes lining the trees along the Yarra River
These bats are protected by the city parks and police.  Anyone caught disturbing them during the day or injuring them is subject to heavy fines and/or imprisonment.

While many "exotic" birds are in short supply, there are still birds that are hanging around the cricket fields for an early morning breakfast.  They particularly like whatever shows up after a rainfall.

White Ibis (yes, we can see the black head :>)
Masked Lapwing
The last bird photo for this blog is of the uncommon, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.  Normally raucous in the spring, when feeding on the Acacia Trees, in the fall they were quiet and subdued (both in sound and colour).  We were fortunate to see a few in a reserve known as Grant's Picnic Grounds in the Dandenong Mountains.  On that same trip, we also caught a brief glimpse of the elusive Lyrebird but were too dumbfounded to react and take a photo (sigh!).

Yellow-Tailed Black-Cockatoo