Sunday, February 19, 2017

Yikes! It's Spider Season!!

Self-Reliance Activities

Personal Finances

The LDS church has recently released a new self-reliance manual which should have broad appeal to any age, but especially young adults and young marrieds.  It is called "Personal Finances".

This course focuses on budgeting, getting out of debt, preparing for emergency expenditures, saving and investing.

We are facilitating this 12 week course for a group of three friends, one of whom is a church member and the other two who are not.  They all seem to be enjoying the straight-forward, effective lessons.  As is normally the case, each lesson starts with a spiritual principle and then goes on to the temporal aspects of the lesson topic.

A PDF file for this manual and related videos can be downloaded from:

Personal Finances Manual


The LDS Church has another program called "Pathway", which prepares adults who want to go back to university or other advanced tertiary education.  It exposes them to several basic, university level courses over a 1 year period, so that they can experience the typical university environment and the kind of effort that they will need to expend to be successful.  There are also some religious study classes included in the program.

While we are not directly involved in Pathway, John did get an opportunity to remember some of his math skills.  He was asked to help tutor students in several study sessions, teaching basic math and algebra skills, with the use of electronic spreadsheets.

Working on Spreadsheet Formulas

Feature Creature - Spiders

We don't normally see a lot of spiders in the daytime, although Jan has seen a couple of "red-backed" spiders (venomous) while weeding in our back yard.  John also has to be careful when taking out the garbage, as they lurk under the lips of the various trash and recycling bins.  The red-backed spiders are about 1 cm in size (or smaller, if you are a male of the species) and so easy to miss - a pair of garden gloves is a necessity in either activity.  The red-back spider is related to the black widow spider so well known in Canada.

Red-backed spider
(photo courtesy of Google images)

We also have a new implement for dealing with spider's webs - a giant bristle-brush designed to clear out webs without getting too close.

Spider-web Cleaner
(This looks like it will be way too much fun!)

Here is an example of the types of spiders with which we deal.  Some are small, like this guy (about 0.5 cm across):

While small, he is nevertheless able to construct this random, chaotic web all over our (outside) water heater:

Who wants to service this water tank?

Other spiders are very large - the following spider built this web hanging between a tree and our house, anchored to a friends car, while they were visiting us inside for a few hours.  He was roughly 80 mm in diameter (3 inches for our US friends) and the web was easily 1 m (3 ft) or larger across.  We had to take the photo using a flashlight, so he looks much whiter than in real life, (notice we are saying "he", but it could just as easily be a "she"):

While we were waving the flashlight around, we noticed a couple of large fruit bats flying overhead.  Good thing that they don't like to eat spiders!  (And good thing their sonar lets them avoid the webs).

We keep our vacuum cleaner handy (in the spare bedroom), since spiders are frequent visitors inside our home, and the practise of gently picking them up in a tissue paper and depositing them outside doesn't really cut it down here.  Sorry to say, they all end up inside the vacuum cleaner.

One particular surprise was when John pulled his towel off the rack to dry his face and a large, black spider dropped onto the floor.  Not sure whether he was friend or foe, but we didn't wait to find out.


We have seen a lot of water birds at one of our local ponds (Banyule Flats).  Some of them seem quite exotic to us.  Here is one photo of a Straw-necked Ibis - the reason for the name is obvious, but what is also clear is the lovely, iridescent purple colouring of its wing feathers.

Straw-Necked Ibis

Another variety of Ibis (the White Ibis) can be quite "tame" around people, in that they are not afraid to approach you at a picnic table and try to mooch some of your food.  We usually forbear, as human food is not healthy for birds (and sometimes it is not healthy for humans), but obviously not everyone does or they wouldn't be so conditioned to people at picnic grounds.

We were really lucky one day to see a Buff-banded Rail up close.  They are an extremely shy bird, to the point of being sneaky and secretive, heading for cover when they know they have been spotted.  The following one was either young and not yet wise (although it has its adult plumage) or we caught it during a daydreaming moment.

Buff-banded Rail

The other unusual visitor to our local pond is the White-necked Heron - a beautiful, large bird, very graceful in flight and patient/deadly in the water.  First, a late afternoon shot of a pair in flight, under gorgeous lighting.

White-necked Heron in Flight

The next photo was captured later that afternoon and this bird was entirely still, waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim by.  It was a photographer's dream, as John could compose and shoot to his heart's content (within the limitations of NOT having a pair of hip waders).

White-necked Heron - Waiting Patiently for Dinner

Finally, we wanted to end up with a photo that has no birds but that we thought was quite cute.  We infrequently see cattle as we are out walking, but one day we caught some in the same paddock as a few kangaroos.  To us, the juxtaposition seemed amusing, although perhaps to Australians, it is just a common occurrence.  I guess we were thinking how incongruous it would be to see these "mates" on the Canadian Prairies :>)

Cattle and Kangaroos
(Not a Canadian Scene!)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Summer is in "Full Swing" (with all its attendant, scary creatures)

It's been a busy month, as you can tell by the fact that we haven't had time to post anything here!

People in Australia take a long holiday over Christmas, as their kids are off school from mid-December to the end of January.  Now that all the kids are back in school, the adults are settling down and self-reliance activities have also picked up in the various wards and stakes.

Jesus' Light Helps us to See Clearly

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy...".  (D&C 11:13)

In our spare time, we like to bird watch.  For many months we've hoped to see a Powerful Owl.  One evening, we were walking in Wilson's Reserve.  The sun was starting to set, touching the tops of the trees with extra light.  It caused us to look higher than we usually do.  And suddenly we saw this owl about 15 meters above the ground!  We felt very blessed to see such a magnificent creature.

Powerful Owl

The lighting conditions reminded us of the Saviour's light in our lives.  When we accept his Atonement and trust in his promise of eternal life, our whole perspective on what life is about changes.  We strive to be like him, to continue to grow and learn so that we can help others to draw close to him as well.

The self-reliance classes draw us closer to God.  We set goals, counsel with one another, and are encouraged as we report back our progress.  We grow in spiritual knowledge and strength, and in confidence to complete our tasks.

The Saviour wants each of his lambs to be invited into his fold.  President Uchtdorf says, "While it is important to have our thoughts inclined toward heaven, we miss the essence of our religion if our hands are not also inclined toward our fellowman.  For example, Enoch built a Zion society through the spiritual process of creating a people of one heart and one mind and the temporal work of ensuring that there were 'no poor among them'… In a similar way, our spiritual progress is inseparably bound together with the temporal service we give to others.  The one compliments the other.  The one without the other is a counterfeit of God's plan of happiness."  (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Providing in the Lord's way," Ensign or Liahona, November 2011).

As we have faith in the Saviour, pray, study, and keep the commandments, we can receive help and guidance in many ways in our lives.

Painting by Simon Dewey
(Jan was fortunate enough to teach him some voice lessons while living in Alberta)


The Australian Saints are particularly interested in the "Success in School Begins at Home" (SIS) self-reliance class, which helps adults to identify and apply those principles that will let them coach and encourage their children in their school efforts, and prepare them to be successful.  The stated goal of the class is to: " parents create a home environment that will help children succeed in school".

Some example chapters are:

*  Learning starts at home.
*  Get all the education you can.
*  Improve reading and writing skills.
*  Learn how to use study groups.
*  Teach children to plan, organize and prioritize, etc.

A full copy of this manual can be viewed or downloaded (in PDF form) from:

SIS Manual

We attended the first class of one SIS group tonight.  It was an extended family group of about 15 people, many of whom are teachers themselves.  There was a good discussion of the ideas in the first chapter, "Learning Starts in the Home".  The person facilitating the class has taught for 20 years and commented that from his experience, the SIS manual has combined most of the excellent concepts and teaching tips that he has encountered in his career.

We get to use our own self-reliance skills in unique ways.  For example, we met a lady (not a church member) who was attending a "Starting and Growing My Business" class.  She was running a home business, selling her products at several local farmers' markets, but also wanted to build a web site where she could promote her business on-line and reach more clients.  John helped her to set up a web site, which describes all of her products and also had a shopping cart that allows people to order from her.

While they were working on the web site, Jan was helping her adult daughter learn how to read music.  Someone had told her that adults couldn't learn to read music.  Once she understood how musical notation worked, Jan gave her some tips on voice exercises.  This was an entirely serendipitous opportunity to help!

Spiritual Message - Use Time Wisely

The second lesson in the "My Foundation - Principles, Skills and Habits of Self-Reliance" class is "Use Time Wisely".

The lesson suggests 5 steps that we can follow each day, which will help us to use our time well and focus on those things that really matter:

  1. List Tasks.  Each morning, make a list of tasks to do.  Add names of people to serve.
  2. Pray for guidance.  Listen to the Spirit.  Commit to do your best.
  3. Set Priorities.  Number your top priorities.  Put a "1" by the most important task, put a "2" by the next one, and so on.
  4. Set Goals and Act.  Listen to the Spirit.  Set goals.  Work hard.  Start with the most important task and work down the list.
  5. Report.  Each night, report to Heavenly Father in prayer.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Feel his love.  Repent.

If you would like to read through the complete lessons, the My Foundation manual can be downloaded from:

My Foundation

and the related video for lesson 2 can be downloaded from:

Use Time Wisely Video

Fun Activities

Australian kids are no different than the kids in Canada - when they are on their summer break, they like to have a lot of fun.  We noticed a group of boys using a river swing (made from an old fire hose) and took a couple of photos of them jumping into the Yarra River.  It looked a bit muddy to us, but if it's hot outside and the water is cold, who is looking too closely?  There are no local crocodiles (they are farther north in Australia), so the boys didn't need to worry too much about reptiles (except for snakes; see below)

Scary Creatures

Did we mention snakes?  We saw the following snake as we were walking along a path in Wilson's Reserve, not too far away from where the boys (above) were swinging / swimming in the Yarra River.  This is a 1 m long Tiger Snake - very poisonous, and can be very fast and aggressive if disturbed suddenly.

Tiger Snake 

We watched him for a while, after which he slowly slithered out into the freshly mowed grass.  Once there, he was nearly invisible (so much for mowing the grass so that we can better see the snakes).  After a few seconds, when he was far enough away, we walked by on the far side of the path from him.  As soon as we came abreast, he took off (in the other direction) at high speed!

An insect we see occasionally here, and which we thought was an ant, is shown below.  But apparently it is NOT an ant!  First, look at the photos...

Someone had told us these "ants" have a nasty "bite" and don't get too close to them.  But, it turns out, they are not an ant at all, but a type of wasp (the female is wingless).  From the Australian Museum ( we learn that:

"The wingless, ground-dwelling female 'Blue Ants' are bright metallic blue or green, and can sometimes be mistaken for a large ant. However they are a solitary wasp species, with fully winged males, and can often be found on flowers".  We suspect they have a nasty sting rather than bite.

Favourite Birds!

What would our post be without a few of our favourite birds?  This first one is called a Splendid Fairy Wren and earns its name on all counts.  A beautiful, delicate bird with a lovely colouring - blues and cyans are the best!

Splendid Fairy Wren - Male

Splendid Fairy Wren - Female

Another of our favourite birds, but sometimes hard to find, is the Sacred Kingfisher.  We got this shot while trying to sneak up on an entirely different bird:

Sacred Kingfisher