Thanksgiving is Thanks to a Woman!

Are you thinking: gee Michelle’s a bit behind the ball on this one – Thanksgiving has been and gone!

Indeed the date has passed; and I hope all my American friends and connections received my good wishes post on Dragon Sisters Facebook page?

In Australia and in many other cultures, we don’t have Thanksgiving Day per se. But like many of the American global cousins, when it comes around, I share in reflecting upon all the good in my life which I have to be thankful for. I’m not forgetting, Canadian Thanksgiving in October or the similar secular observances around the world.

You may not know but until Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, each American state scheduled its own Thanksgiving date.

What I think is just fantastic is that he did this because of a 74 year old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale. Ms Hale had been lobbying for 15 years(!) as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Until President Lincoln responded, she had been ignored by past Presidents. Her letter asked him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”

She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.” (Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.)

And that is how the last Thursday in November became American Thanksgiving Day.

Forgive me for crowing about girl power again – but there you have it: all thanks to one persistent lady!

Maybe my blog title today is a bit cheeky because, of course, Ms Hale can’t be credited for the existence of Thanksgiving, but wasn’t she an extraordinary woman?!

I found that little snippet about her very inspirational. I hope you do too.

Michelle

Granada Part 1 – evoking memories of my childhood

My recent weekend  in Granada (1st weekend in May) was a poignant reminder of my Middle Eastern childhood. A lot of things here in Spain remind me of the days in the Middle East – gas stoves, flat roofs where washing gets hung out and kids play, cobbled streets, fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, sunflower seeds, pepitas, strong black coffee served with a glass of water on the side and fragrant teas served in a glass. Actually, it’s not that surprising considering that this area was under Moorish rule for some 700 years and history has a massive impact on how countries and regions evolve.

I’ve always loved history and Granada has been on my bucket list for quite some time now, a place I have wanted to visit since I first read about it, in historical novels way back when I was a teenager. The Alhambra sounded so exotic!

One of my Spanish students did her English exam oral presentation on Granada so I also learnt a lot more from her, in the course of her practice session, about this ancient city.

SO finally, I got the chance to visit Granada when my cousin Michael arrived from Australia. The journey involved a bus ride from Ecija to Cordoba, a train, and then another bus, but it was all most definitely worth it! My earlier blog on getting organised for the journey is here.

With the fall of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain, the country fell under the strict Catholic regime that resulted in many of the magnificent monuments built by the Moors being replaced with Christian churches. Fortunately, they were not all destroyed and there remains today some wonderful architecture that is testament to the fabulous skills of the artisans of those times.

Street in the Albaycin
Scenes from the Albaycin

Being in Granada is a step back in timewpid-20150430_152739.jpg. Despite the fact that it is a modern city, the history of the place is alive and well.  As I walked wpid-20150430_152707.jpgwpid-20150501_205940.jpgthrough the Albaycin the wonderful sight of Arab sweets, lanterns, fragrant tea shops, and the Arabic chatter of the local merchants transported me back to happy days spent in Jerusalem and Beirut wandering through the souks.

I’m also very happy to report that the Arab cakes I had there were the best ones I have tasted in a very, very long time. Sorry no photos of the cakes, I was too busy eating them!

Michelle

 

 

Granada – here I come!

I’ve dreamt of visiting Granada since I was a young girl reading novels set in the days of Muslim rulers, and then in the period of Isabella of Spain. My dream is finally coming true!

Getting organised to make this trip has been no mean feat!  Student timetables had to be rejiggled so I could have today off to add to the public holiday which is tomorrow. I’ve put in very long hours, cramming  in the extra lessons  as well as maintaining all my freelance deadlines.

I’m very luck to work with great people who’ve helped make this possible through their understanding and flexibility.

We’re travelling through hill country dotted with olive groves and the road climbs higher and higher past fields sprinkled with wild poppies whose vibrant red adds a bold splash of colour to the greenery. Far in the distance the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada loom and I can’t wait to reach our destination.

Michelle

Reflections of 2014

I’m currently sitting at home, in Darwin, outside by the pool but under the cover of the roof as the first day of 2015 has begun with a wonderful tropical rainstorm. The dogs, Janie and Mollie, are curled up close to me, one at my feet and the other on the outside couch. We are all enjoying the coolness that the beautiful rains have brought this morning, the grass is almost growing right before my eyes and the pool is overflowing.

If you’ve never experienced a Darwin wet season it is indeed something very special. The senses come alive as you inhale the unique smell of fresh, tropical rain, the humidity seems to disappear and the chorus of frogs sing their joy at the arrival of the rains.

2014 has be10410992_10152931194254551_6878165051114676969_nen an incredible year and New Years’ Day is a time to reflect on how blessed I have been. 2014 was the year that included Sasha graduating in February from Bond University. We used the time to have a family catch up and all booked into the Sofitel at Broadbeach for 3 nights which was just lovely as precious time was spent with Mum, Dad, my sister Yvonne, niece Ellie and of course Sasha. The graduation itself was a very proud moment for everyone.

In June, my Uncle Harry, the eldest of the Van Buerle clan, passed away suddenly but peacefully in Perth which was a very sad but his funeral was a family occasion which allowed a reunion and reconnection with distant family members and the Van Buerle connections all over the globe were strengthened.

July saw me relinquish my role as CEO of Lifeline Top End as the time had come for me to concentrate my energies on other areas which included, hopefully, living in Europe for a year.

August was the biggest change of all as this was when I left Australia for the World Club Crews Dragon Boat championships in Ravenna with the Waterfront Warriors team. After the championships I remained in Europe catching up with former collegues and friends in Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.

I ended up basing myself in Spain which has allowed me to have precious me time to take a well-earned rest from the last three and a half very hectic years in which so many things have changed in my life.

It’s been wonderful to be at home for the Christmas holidays, fantastic to see Sasha and Wayne again who’ve done a wonderful job of looking after the house. I’ve also really enjoyed spending my birthday with family and friends, Christmas Day with my cousins, and now having my brother Robert here from the UK.

Myself with Wayne and Sasha – my two beautiful adult children

I’m very fortunate to have two wonderful children who are always supportive of each other and our family, great parents, a wonderful brother and sister and 2 fantastic nieces.  Although we might not all live close by, or even in the same country we are always there for one other and in a time of crisis can be by one others side very quickly. This is the gift that was given to us by my parents – a strong family unit.

May 2015 be another year of wonderful opportunities for everyone and I look forward to sharing many more adventures, making special memories and helping many of you achieve your maximum potential over the next 12 months.

Michelle

CORDOBA…..my first visit

Monday was a public holiday here in Spain and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Cordoba which lies in the heart of Andalusia on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Occupied by the Carthagians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors as well as Christians the city is steeped in fascinating history. Over the years I have read many historical novels set in this city and period so I was keen to see if it would live up to my expectations.

One of the delightful patios
One of the delightful patios

My day started with exploring the area that lies within what was once the walled city. I meandered the warren of medieval streets which are a living testament to the colour (and somewhat bloody) historic past of this fascinating city. Delightful whitewashed buildings with large wooden doors that open to reveal wonderful private patios which are a sourced of great pride to their owners. Apparently they have an annual event each May when patios are opened for public viewing and much coveted prizes are awarded for the best patios.

I then headed to the Alcazar which started its life as an 8th century residence for the Caliph (built on top of a former Visigoth fortress). In the 14th century Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the area, took over the Alcazar and used it as a residence as well as headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. The Alcazar is today known as the Palace of the Christian Kings and is open to the public. I paid my E7 and scampered excitedly inside to explore.

View from the tower
View from the tower

I decided to climb to the top of the tower first (for someone who does not like heights I am doing an awful lot of tower climbing these days!) and was rewarded with fantastic views of Cordoba and the surrounding countryside. Standing there, gazing out over the parapets, it was easy to imagine how it must have been in days gone by when sentries stood watch for approaching messengers.

 

Stepping into the gardens of the Alcazar I was greeted by the soothing sound of running water and the fragrance of orange trees which perfumed the air. Very relaxing and restful and I could just imagine a troubled monarch walking down the broad avenues as they sought to escape the pressures of office. I glanced down at my watch and in surprise noticed it was already 2pm! My imagination had to come to a halt and bring itself back to the present as I needed to meet my friends for lunch. I reluctantly dragged myself out of the Alcazar.

Looking back from the gardens
Looking back from the gardens

After lunch we explored more of the old streets and exterior of the Mezquita but there wasn’t enough time to go inside so I know there definitely needs to be several more days allocated to discovering Cordoba.

Michelle

Bologna – Stepping back in time

A great start to my adventures with lovely Russian breakfast companions who turn out to be cellists with the Russian Symphony Orchestra on their way to Rimini for a concert tonight. We spent a lovely hour chatting about the best things to see in Bologna. These lovely young men told me that not only does Bologna have the oldest university in Europe but also two of the oldest church organs that are still in use – of course being musicians they take an interest in such things – a little more trivia for me to add to the memory banks.

Bologna dates back to 1000BC and history really came to life as I meandered first through one, of what remains, of the former walled city gate and then under the amazing porticos (now UNESCO listed as World Heritage) which hark back to the 12th century.  They were originally built to cater for the influx of students that caused a housing shortage. It was decreed they had to be built on private land, so were attached to existing houses, but had to be available to the public to use and it was also stipulated they needed to be wide enough for a person to lie down and be protected from the elements of nature. Porticos of Bologna

I have it on good authority that there are some 70 kms of porticos which is absolutely incredible. Different styles are located in various areas, so plenty to admire with the common element being they provide wonderful shade from the sun and shelter from the rain to this very day. I can just imagine noble ladies in their lovely long dresses gliding along under these porticos as they stroll across town to visit neighbouring palazzo’s.

I meandered for 6 hours without even realising how time was flying past! The weather was perfect for walking and it was a wonderful treat to be able to fritter away my time soaking in the atmosphere that literally oozed from the squares and small side streets.  A pure delight not to have any schedule to keep for the first time in a very long while.

Tourists are much scarcer than in Rome, Florence or Venice and the majority of those I encountered were Italian tourists. It seems Bologna is a little off the main tourist radar which makes it perfect for the imagination to run riot as I strolled along in my own little world without a cacophony of babble in a multitude of accents breaking the spell.

Michelle

REMEMBERING ……

As we celebrate Anzac Day it brings me to reflect on the importance of our history.  History is a huge influencer on how we react and live in the present day. Our forefathers may be long gone but it is thanks to their legacy that we enjoy the freedom that so many take for granted.

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Whilst I may be living in a free country now this was not always the case.  I was however one of the lucky ones who had a passport that allowed freedom to come and go from whichever trouble spot of the globe we were in at any given tme.

I know from personal experience that each one of us has the capacity to make a difference. To stand up and be counted. There are so many ways that we have the capacity to make a difference as individuals.

When you look around the world, no matter how desperate the situations are, there are always, without fail, amazing individuals making a positive impact in their little corners. It may not be in a huge way but small kindnesses and acts of humanity are priceless – they are as equally as important to the receiver as tossing millions of dollars into a project. Maybe even more so. Why? Because they are touching individuals that are most in need at any given moment.

Change often happens gradually . One step at a time. Sometimes it seems that no difference is being made but that is not a reason to give up.  Anzac Day is the one day of the year when as a nation we take the time to collectively and public remember the huge sacrifices made by so many men and women so that those of us lucky enough to call Australia home can enjoy our present day freedom. They changed the world. They made a difference.

Lest We Forget