Although we’re in Melbourne, we’re not out and about in the manner that we’ve approached other capital cities that we’ve visited in the past. I’m tired after all this driving, and I’m using this time to relax a bit in anticipation of the last leg of our mammoth trip from the Top End of Australia — the ferry ride to Tasmania.

An online friend offered to let us park at her house while we were waiting for the ferry, and Karina has gone to great lengths to prepare her house for our visit. She’s bought special food for the girls, gotten out a range of age-appropriate toys and has cleared away some of her stuff to make room for five extra bodies.

Aisha with Karina's dogs, December 2012
The girls are delighted to meet the four puppies in a pram!

Chihuahuas in a pram, December 2012
Karina has four chihuahuas to keep her company, and they love to sit and sleep in their pram!

Brioni and Tippy the chihuahua, December 2012
Brioni sits for hours with a dog on her lap. She looks after Tippy carefully to make sure he stays nice and warm and covers him when the tips of his ears get cold.

Tippy the chihuahua, December 2012
These dogs are so cute. Karina has done a good job in training them to be really good with children, and they have been very nice about four little girls coming into their space.

Brioni and Aisha setting up a puppet show, December 2012
One night, the girls create an elaborate set for a marionette show. Aisha has tied strings onto the arms of a toy so she can manipulate it.

Calista watching TV in the bath, December 2012
Another highlight of our stay at Karina's is the bath! The girls spent long hours playing in the bath, sometimes even watching TV on the screen above the tub or through the open doorway into the living room

Karina also has a marvellous collection of children’s toys. During her work as a counsellor, she has amassed a very specific set of plastic figurines — animals, people, props — and when she brought them out, the girls entered into creative play for hours! Another interesting toy that Karina tracked down is one she remembers from her own childhood — Minibrix. Minibrix is the rubber precursor to Lego, and the bricks’ unusual textures and slight flexibility make it interesting and fun to construct with.

Brioni playing with Minibrix, December 2012
The girls tip all the Minibrix onto the floor so they can examine the different shapes and use this to inform their creativity.

Delaney plays with Minibrix, December 2012
Delaney likes to collect all the single bricks and alternates between filling the chair's cupholder with them and clicking them together into a snake.

Brioni playing with Minibrix, December 2012
Brioni adds a door to her finished house. It's been fun for the girls to work with a construction toy after virtually building so many things in Minecraft.

Playing at Karina's house, December 2012
So much about Karina's house is novel and fun! The girls love these big chairs which adjust at the press of a button and are in the perfect place to watch tv or movies on a big-screen!

We have particularly enjoyed our time with Karina in Melbourne. Her hospitality was so warm and complete, and she was so gracious to our family. She made fast friends with the girls, talking to them about their games, the dogs and about cooking. I was able to finish off the bus repairs — we now have a new headlight assembly replacing the one damaged by a guerilla roo — and we’re leaving for Tasmania with a warm feeling in our hearts.

Karina has been a good friend to me in the months after Elijah’s death. She has supported me online and commented positively when I have embarked on new projects. During this visit, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one she has been helping. She is constantly volunteering to assist in missing-person cases and has travelled around the country looking for people on behalf of their family.

It’s inspiring to meet a person like Karina who gives so much to others — to strangers, even — without necessarily receiving anything in return. Karina devotes her life to serving others — and her dogs — and I would love to grow into that unselfish role if/when the girls no longer need me in their daily lives!

Melbourne is a very welcoming city, and we haven’t explored it at all. But we know we have a friend here, a good friend who will welcome us back in a couple of months time. Thanks, Karina. It’s been good to get to know you, and it’ll be even better to see you again soon!