There’s always a silver lining :)

This time last Sunday I was in Ecija, having breakfast with Anne and Miguel plus the gorgeous Hugo who is growing up so fast!

My quick trip to Spain last week came out of the blue. Although it was a very short trip, there is always an upside to everything.

For me, these were the special moments:

    • Having a great friend who dropped everything and drove me to Darwin Airport, plus came armed with a thoughtful E200 in cash so I didn’t have to worry about changing money immediately I landed.

      Juana, Guiselle, Mario and Wayne
      Juana, Guiselle, Mario and Wayne
    • A lovely opportunity to catch up with former colleagues (Myriam, Juana and Anne) who have become friends.

      Palace of the Christian KIngs (Alcazar) by night.
      Palace of the Christian Kings (Alcazar) by night.
  • An opportunity to see Cordoba by night. It is truly magical and totally different from the day time. Plus there are less tourists at this time of year too!
  • A chance to practice my Spanish, to eat jamon and beautiful olives.
Anne, Hugo and myself
Anne, Hugo and myself last Sunday

Life is funny, we never know what each day will bring us in terms of both challenges and opportunities.

Being appreciative of our families and special friends is so important. I am blessed to have wonderful, caring friends right across the globe and a fantastic family.

I’m also really fortunate to have a profession that means I can work while on the move!

Michelle

P.S – my professional blog is here

 

 

 

 

Christmas – a global marketing feast!

If there is one holiday in the world that has a sweeping impact on everybody, it has to be Christmas. What unifying theme inherent to Christmas makes it one of, if not THE most awaited time of the year? This seems to be true regardless of race, social background, creed, or religion.

Is it the extravagent meals, the parties, or the family gatherings that make this holiday so special? Dare I say it just might be the outrageously priced presents and the spirit of giving and receiving that has created such a global buzz – in other words commercialism! Very, very clever marketing tactics. In fact, quite brilliant – just about everyone buys into it!

Whatever it is, no one can deny that Christmas is the most expensive holiday there is, and many are saying (quite rightly in my opinion) the true spirit of the season has been missing since retailers started to realize the money making opportunities Christmas can offer.

Food for thought – many have been complaining about how Christmas mutated into a crass, and wantonly commercialized yearly event way back in the late 1800’s. While it is untrue that the Victorians came up with this holiday, they are credited for having “invigorated” it. From what used to be a solemn family occasion, manufacturers, shop owners, and industrialists cottoned on to the fact that Christmas had the potential to be turned into a profit maker.

In the quest to drive profits higher, entrepreneurs found innovative ways to get the cash registers ringing well into the 21st century. Today we see Christmas decorations and hear holiday carols playing in the background since November, or in some cases even earlier – drives me nuts!

Let’s dive a little deeper into how it all started. Perhaps by doing so, we can understand how it’s got to this ridiculous point. At the turn of the 19th century, when shop windows start displaying hand-painted Christmas cards, it signaled the start of the holiday season. A great way to remind people to buy the Christmas cards for friends and family!

Christmas comes early in Selfridges’ Oxford Street store. Photograph Anthony DevlinPA
Christmas display at Selfridges, London. Photograph Anthony DevlinPA

Then there were the department stores who created a whole new Christmas tradition – obsessive and excessive shopping. Case in point, JP Robert of Stratford was the first to incorporate a Santa for the children to visit. It was the perfect marketing ploy! A mother would bring her child to the shop knowing it would be fun and exciting to the child. Similarly, Gordon Selfridge coined the phrase “only X shopping days left to Christmas,” and made sure his department store – Selfridge’s – was at its most glamorous to tempt shoppers to come to spend their money.

Even during the outbreak of World War II, although austerity measures dampened Christmas buying, it never came to a grinding halt. By the time rationing ended the British actually encouraged everyone to go on spending sprees.

It doesn’t take a historian or an economist to figure out that Christmas has been well and truly commercialized for a very long while. It is far worse today, with easy access to credit cards, online shopping, Boxing Day sales and so much more, all designed to part us from our money.

In my book, the true gifts at Christmas are the presence of loved ones, not the presents. Sure, gifts are nice, but they are not the be all and end all – unless you’re a small child and even then, they do not need to be madly expensive!Christmas 1

My most favourite memories are of the build up to Christmas Day. The tree used to be a live one that went up in time for my birthday (Dec 23rd), Mum would always make me a chocolate cake and that was the start of Christmas for us.

This year, for the first time in a very long time, I’ll have all my family here with me for Christmas, all us siblings, Mum, Dad, nieces and nephew.  There won’t be massively expensive presents, but there will be a whole lot of love and that’s what the true spirit of Christmas is to me.

Michelle

PS – I might just get a chocolate cake again as Mum will be here for my birthday 🙂

 

AUSTRALIAN BREAST CANCER DAY 2015 – a time for reflection

It’s 18 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and today, on ABC Day (26th October 2015), it’s time for reflecting on how fortunate I am. My life was turned upside down by my diagnosis and forever changed. Changed in so many positive ways. SO if you’re newly diagnosed and reading this, it might sound weird, but believe me with time, you’ll probably come to think in a similar way.

ABC DAY 2015Over the last 18 years I have had amazing experiences and opportunities. There have been lots of highs and many sad times when good women that I have known have lost their battle. Today, I fondly recall Sandy Smith (Canada), Orlanda Capelli (Rome), Deb Read, Christine Barker and Jenny Petterson all from Sydney together with Gayle Creed (Brisbane), and from Darwin there is  Tere Jaensch (my fiesty Mexican friend), Jill Parker, Jenny Scott, Gaelene Henderson and Joan Whitworth. There are many others too, but these particular ladies popped into my head today.

Awareness, treatments and research have changed so much since my diagnosis. It comes down to the voices of consumers making themselves heard.

Back in my day (gosh, I sound ancient!), there was no NBCF. No breast nurses except in Victoria. No McGrath Foundation. No BCNA and no Dragons Abreast. There was, however a group of passionate women who were all determined to make their voices heard. Women like Lyn Swinburn AM (Vic) who started BCNA, Susan Tulley (NT), Penny LaSette (NT) and Tere Jaensch (NT – dec), Sally Crossin AM (NSW) and Anna Wellings Booth OAM (ACT – dec) who became the very first group of consumer advocates trained by the NHMRC. There are also other women like Jan Skorich (ACT), Janelle Gamble & Leonie Young (QLD), Veronica Macauley-Cross (QLD –dec), who all made wonderful contributions to breast cancer advocacy. They were the vanguard and should never be forgotten for their amazing contributions. There were others too, like Pat Matthews (TAS – dec), Carol Bishop (WA), Gerda Evans (Vic) and a host more have followed in these footsteps.

Together we all advocated for change and it’s pleasing to see so many wonderful improvements in treatment for those diagnosed. It’s also great to see all the support breast cancer receives globally, BUT advocates are still needed. Not just people telling their stories, but trained advocates who know how to present their arguments, when and how to push to best present the breast cancer cause, not for those who are already diagnosed but for those who will inevitably follow. There are still too many people being diagnosed.

Ellie, Alexa and Sasha
Ellie, Alexa (age 14) and Sasha (age 21)

My daughter Sasha (now 21) was 3 years old when I was diagnosed and my son was 12. It had a huge impact on both their lives. More than we initially realised.

My two young nieces are both 14 years old. I sincerely hope a cure for this insidious disease can be found sooner rather than later. It is for my daughter and my nieces that I have always been an advocate – for them and others that follow us on the breast cancer journey. I am fortunate to have had wonderful training by the NHMRC, mentors and support on my journey as an advocate.  As the Founder of Dragons Abreast in Australia, I am forever grateful to Sandy Smith (dec) and Professor Don McKenzie from Abreast In A Boat,  Jon Taylor (dec) then President AusDBF, Alan Culbertson my first coach, and Melanie Cantwell (ex DBNSW) who so readily supported my vision for breast cancer survivors in Australia to have the positivity of the sport of dragon boat racing.

I was lucky. My treatment (a mastectomy and chemotherapy) has allowed me to survive for 18 years. I never say I am cured, because I also know far too many who have experienced a recurrence many, many years later. I go for my annual check ups, I look after my health as best I can and am always grateful for each day I am blessed with.

Michelle

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” ― Erma Bombeck

The best speaker I have EVER heard!

Over the course of my career, I have met a great many people and listened to a zillion public speakers ranging from royalty and heads of state to PTA Chairs and multibillionaires. Tonight, I heard the best speaker ever!

Michelle Hanton & Li CunxinThis evening I was very privileged to meet Li Cunxin. Many of you reading this post have probably seen Mao’s Last Dancer and may have even read the book which is his autobiography. I have seen the movie and read the book, but despite all this, nothing could prepare me for the man himself. He’s AWESOME! Personable, humble and approachable.

Why do I say he’s the best?
He’s got the X-factor – combined with his passion, his genuineness and his absolute authenticity which came through every inch of the way. He did not need notes and he owned the stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire one hour presentation. I have to admit I shed a couple of tears as he recounted his reflections on going to bed hungry and the sacrifices his parents made for their children.

Li’s message is a simple one; have courage, be tenacious and anything you dream is achievable. He did not dream of being a ballet dancer, but he did dream of escaping from poverty and starvation. Ballet was an opportunity, grabbed with both hands. Even when he could have rested on his laurels, he didn’t and went on to achieve more and more because he believes in seizing the day and living life to the full, he thrives on a challenge to be the best he can be.

Thank you to the NT Government and sponsors of October Business Month for bringing us this wonderful speaker! I loved his message and whilst I’m fortunate to always have had food on my plate and never go to bed hungry, I do believe we should all live life to the fullest, believe in ourself and maximise all opportunities that come our way.

We should also always give thanks for being fortunate enough to live in Australia. Dare to dream, it can become your reality!

Michelle

A Unique Friendship

Maria Angeles is my oldest female friend. My father, a Dutch Eurasian and her father, a Spaniard, worked for the United Nations and were both posted to Jerusalem. No, they were not military observers or troops, they were permanent staff of the United Nations.

Schmidt Girls College, Jerusalem
Schmidt Girls College, Jerusalem

Maria Angeles and I met at Schmidt Girls College, a strict convent school run by German nuns. Both of us were about ten years old, although neither of us is positive exactly what age we were. What we do both remember very vividly is our German lessons and our Albino music teacher who terrorised us. We also recalled the very strict discipline of the nuns that would be completely unacceptable in today’s educational environment. In fact, it would be classified as child abuse and bullying.

A couple of years later, due to the political climate, I was sent off to boarding school in Beirut. Maria Angeles’s family was posted to Cyprus, then onto Geneva. My Dad was posted to Nairobi, so I finished my education in the UK and began working in London, Maria Angeles finished hers in Geneva before returning to her native Spain to start working.

Throughout those years, we remained in close touch, exchanging long letters and always planned to meet up again. Maria Angeles was the first to get married, and even though I was only in the UK at that stage, it just wasn’t possible for me to go to Spain. She sent wedding photos, and when I got married a few years later, I sent mine. As the kids came along we exchanged baby photos, and so our friendship continued even though we were living continents apart as by then I had moved to Australia. We shared trials and tribulations, stories of separations, family weddings, proud moments and everything in between.

When I moved to Spain in September 2014, I had hoped we’d be able to meet face to face. Unfortunately, that was not to be as by then my dear friend had been in a horrendous motor accident. She’s left with limited mobility, unable to drive, and can only walk short distances with the aid of crutches. The need to rely on other people to help her get out of the house has severely curtailed her movements. So although I was in the same country, my work schedule, and her mobility issues kept us from meeting. We talked on the phone and kept in touch by email – yes, we have finally graduated from hand written letters!

with Maria Angeles
Taken at the end of my 40 hour journey from Darwin – as I stepped off the train in Alicante – reunited at last!

On my return trip to Spain last week, I made it a priority to see my dear friend. The days were blocked out in my schedule to travel to Elche, a 6-hour train journey from Barcelona, and the shoe city of Spain. I didn’t venture into a single shop; instead the time was devoted to being with my childhood friend.

We talked as though we were still those two young girls. There was no awkwardness despite the fact that so many years have passed. It seems like it was only yesterday we were kids yet 45 years seem to have flown past.

Maria Angeles and I agreed, during our reminiscing that we’d both had a great life.  Wonderful opportunities, and education even though we spent considerable time in political hot spots and third world conditions (Congo, India, Pakistan as well as the Middle East).  We also reflected, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was our diverse childhood experiences that have really bound us together. Unlike those who grow up in the same place, we never had the opportunity of neighbourhood friends since our neighbourhoods  frequently changed. Our home was always where our parents were posted.

Just as I struggled to adjust to a life in the UK and then in Australia, Maria Angeles struggled to return to life in Spain. We are both United Nations children, the people we are today is thanks to our upbringing, the challenges we faced along the way, the amazing experiences and people we met along the way, but to us it was all normal. It was our life and we just accepted it as normal. It is only as we have grown older that we know just how different that life was.

I’m thrilled that I was able to see Maria Angeles in person once again, to have a glimpse into her life today. It was nice and at the same time a little weird meeting her adult children as it still felt like we were those two young girls. How could she have such a grown-up family? Equally, I think her children were as fascinated to meet such an old friend of their mothwpid-img-20150806-wa0001.jpgers, one who came from so very far away, as they have lived their whole lives in the same place. While I was there, they had a snapshot into their mothers childhood years, and I suspect saw her in a slightly different light.

We don’t think of ourselves as being old, but Maria Angeles is now a grandmother to three gorgeous little boys, the eldest of which is three years old.  Some of my other friends are grandmothers, but to see my old school friend as a Grandmother was something else – makes me realise I must indeed be getting old even if I do still feel like a spring chicken.

We’ve promised it won’t be another 45 years till we see each other – we’ll both be celebrating our 100th birthdays if we leave it that long!  Seize the day, live life to the full because we never know what’s around the corner. Life is fragile and I’m thrilled I got to spend those two magical days with my lifelong friend and her delightful family. Friendship is a wonderful gift and I am pleased to have some very special friends.

Michelle

GOODBYE ECIJA

20150626_165420
With the Academy Directors

Friday night saw me bidding  a sad farewell to the last group of my lovely students who have been a part of my life since last September. I have to admit I shed a little tear (and so did some of them). My walk home, after handing in the keys to my boss, was filled with mixed feelings. I knew this was the last time that I would be treading the familiar route, one that I had walked four times a day, in all kinds of weather. As I walked I said a mental goodbye to the places I regularly walked past. Sometimes in the freezing cold, other times with sweat pouring down my face.

One of the things I am really going to miss about being there is the lovely long break in the middle of the day for siesta.  My break was usually 3 or 4 hours, depending on the timetable and whilst it was a bit strange at first, and I never used this as a siesta time, I soon developed the habit  of using these times to work on other projects or simply relax with a good book.

I arrived struggling to speak Spanish, and even more, the accent of Andalucia but now I surprise myself with how much I actually understand and am able to communicate. I think I surprised some of my colleagues and students too. Whilst I am by no means fluent I can get by very well. You can read about my early adventures in the Spain tab of my blog, but my most memorable occasion is the gas bottle episode.

I became accustomed to the fact that all the shops close for lunch and on Sundays, including many of those in Seville and Cordoba too. I learnt to organise myself around their opening hours and Sunday was truly a day or rest and recreation.

Whilst I still registered that the church bells peal out every hour, every day of the week, even through the night. I got used to it and it became a familiar part of daily life in a little Spanish town.

I loved sitting in the Salon (the main square that is more correctly named Plaza Espana) especially in the recent months when the daylight lasted until about 10 o’clock, and at the other little bars having a tapa and watching whole families or varying generations all eating together, the children and dogs all playing sociably. I didn’t enjoy the dog poo that I need to keep a sharp eye out for!

It’s been a great learning experience. Learning about the rich culture, both ancient and modern, learning about the people and the local customs. All in all it’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn first hand about life in a small Spanish town away from all the commercialism and tourist hubble-bubble of the larger cities.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. Thank you Educalia Ecija and all the fabulous people I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with during my time there.

Michelle

 

My European interlude is coming to a close

Whilst I have enjoyed every moment of being in Europe and have loved teaching, mentoring and coaching, it is time to return to Australia – at least for a while.

I have cherished being in my little apartment and not having to worry about anything except myself and meeting a few deadlines. Well, OK, more than a few! I’ll admit that I haven’t entirely squirreled myself away in beautiful Ecija; I have kept up with clients and projects and taken on new ventures further afield thanks to modern communications, but I have made the most of my idyll here and been very present to the charms of a different culture and life experience, including the cold winter! I extend my heartfelt thanks to all those here who have been part of this wonderful sojourn for me. As usual, it is the people who make the experience special.

San Juan, EcijaI’ve needed these months alone to renew. To focus on what is important to me. The past 3 years have passed in a blur where I hardly had a moment to myself so it has been a real luxury to just be able to run my own timetable. I thoroughly enjoyed coming home to a quiet apartment, to spending weekends exploring local sites, or sometimes venturing further afield to Seville, Granada, Cordoba or Malaga. I had no one to worry about except myself. It might sound selfish, but actually it’s been more of a lifesaver than anything else and once again, it has given me an additional opportunity to develop and grow as an individual which provides additional experiential tools that I am able to bring to my work.

Sasha's graduation day - Batchelor of Journalism
Sasha’s graduation day – Batchelor of Journalism from Bond University

During this time in Europe I have been able to consider what it is that I really need in life to feel content. When my husband of 30 years decided to leave, and I bought him out of the house, it was a massive struggle to stay afloat financially, but I’ve managed. I only bought the house so my kids had a home base. I had a 5 year plan, of which the largest part was to see Sasha (who was then 16) successfully finish school and then university. Once Sasha graduated, I was in a position to pursue the next stage of my plan, which was to base myself in Europe for a year.

Whilst here, living a simple Spanish lifestyle, without the trappings that go with having a family home, I’ve come to the conclusion that, on a personal level, I actually need very little to live on. I can be happy in the moment as long as I know that my family is cared for and safe. It’ll be five years this August since Steve and I split up. It’s been tough for me, but at the same time liberating and life affirming as I know we (Wayne, Sasha and I) can manage on our own. Together we look after the house, each other and our dogs. We’ve become a closer family unit even if it meant a bit of a struggle at times. I feel that the kids and I have bonded more closely, and it’s also been a defining moment for both of them as they have stepped up to take more responsibilities. We have jointly made decisions about our future directions and I am extremely proud of the two beautiful people that they are.

It is now time to sit down and decide what the next step will be. What do I really want to do?
Michelle