Vale Derek Van Buerle

Derek was my cousin. To be precise, he was the eldest of the Van Buerle cousins. Both of us were born in Malaysia, and I guess Derek has been around my life forever.

We were not the type of cousins that saw each other often. My Dad worked for the United Nations so we lived wherever the UN sent us.

A a child I would see Derek when we went on home leave to Singapore. The visits were every two years. In between those times we’d correspond occassionally. Derek’s Dad, my Uncle Harry, also used to write and send me first day covers of stamps issued in Singapore.

At about 16 Derek was sent to Australia to finish school. I was at boarding school in Beirut at that time. We continued to stay in touch, but not as often, as by this time Uncle Harry and the rest of the family had settled in Perth.

Eventually, in 1981 I came to Australia and made Darwin my home. Derek, footloose and fancy free, came to visit, driving up from Perth. In Katherine he became very ill, I think it was pleurisy – but my memory is not the best – whatever it was, driving was very painful for him. We ended up driving down to bring him up to Darwin.

Derek liked Darwin, got a job and remained in the Territory for a while; we became closer once again. It was nice getting to know each other better as adults. We used to take turns cooking and I have fond memories of Derek pouring through my stack of recipe books deciding what to cook. He was always up for trying something new.

Derek learned to scuba dive while in Darwin, then headed off to the Barrier Reef for a diving holiday. Sorting through a box of stuff the other day, Cheryl and I came across this postcard dated 1987 that Derek had sent to us all.20170429_092025-1

One holiday let to another and he ended up back in Penang, where he met the woman who would become the love of his life – Maree – and mother to his three beautiful daughters.

Over the years, we didn’t see each other very much. I guess our lives got busy with kids and work. I caught up with Derek and Maree in Canberra and in Sydney, and there was the odd phone call and letter.

As cousins, we were all reunited three years ago, when my Uncle Harry, Derek’s Dad passed way in Perth. It was at the funeral. Derek had a bad cold, but was looking forward to going on a cruise with Maree in a few weeks.

The cruise was not to be. Maree called – Derek had been to the doctor. Leukemia. Derek underwent treatment and many of the Van Buerle family members were tested for suitability as a donor for a bone marrow transplant.

During this time, we stayed in close touch. I guess we were all reminded of the fragility of life, the preciousness of family and how fast time flies past. It brings into focus what is really important.

A couple of month ago – just after I had bought the house here on Bribie Island, I got a call from Derek. I remember the moment very clearly. I was sitting outside, on a fold up chair as he said “it looks like I’m going home sooner than expected.”

By this, Derek meant that he was going to be reunited with his Father in Heaven, and would be leaving this earthly life. Treatment options were exhausted. Time was running out. But Derek, in his own way, had made his peace with this world. He had his Christian faith and was unafraid of death.

As we finished our chat,  I promised to visit. Soon. Together with my cousin Cheryl, I flew to Melbourne a couple of weeks later – 2nd of April.  Cousin Michael, who lives in Melbourne also joined us.

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L _ R Juliet, Rebecca, Maree, Michael, Michelle, Derek, Cheryl, and Kathryn – 3 April 2017

Derek was frail and skinny. But still the same old Derek and so thrilled to see us all.Me_Derek

We laughted, we talked about death, we talked of childhood memories, we drank champagne and looked at old photo albums.

We spent a very happy couple of days with Derek, Maree and their three lovely daughters.

Derek kept thanking me for coming. My response “well, I rather come and chat to you when you’re alive than come after you have gone for your funeral.” He laughed saying “blunt, but true.”

As we said goodbye, I knew I was unlikely to see my cousin again in this life. But he was content and at peace with the journey ahead of him.

The end came faster than expected. Derek passed away last night at 7.15 pm.

Vale Derek – you’ll always be my eldest cousin that has a special place in my memories.

Rest in Peace

Lots of Love

Michelle xxx

 

 

 

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 🙂

 

A ROUND UP OF MY WEEK

This week I’ve had the pleasure of working on some very interesting and diverse client projects. I love it when everything starts to fall together, and clients start to notice the difference in their businesses as a result of working with Dragon Sisters.

Speaking of business, the new venture of Van Buerle Enterprises is just getting up and running (actually crawling is probably a better word!) Cooking and eating have long been a passion of our family. We’ve talked for years about getting into this sort of business, and now the moment is right. I’m not writing much about it here because we’re starting a separate blog on that, so if you love food, you might like to pop across and join us there.

The uptake for the An Interview With… has been wonderful since I published the first interview last Sunday. It seems to have struck a chord, and it’s beautiful to see the generosity of successful people who are willing to share their experiences and knowledge so openly. I’ll be publishing an interview each Sunday and of course, I’d love your feedback.

On the personal front, I’m slowly getting all my junk sorted out. Stuff that has been in storage for years is yielding all kinds of discoveries, including old photos from days long before Facebook.

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                       Paris 2014

It was interesting to see this week my Facebook feed popped up a reminder that it was a year since I was in Paris visiting Denise.  Quite a contrast to my very first trip to that beautiful city when I was a very young woman.

On that first trip it was freezing cold, we stayed in a tiny little pension with towels not much thicker than paper. Our car got wedged so tight in a parking spot, between two others, in the street that it had to be lifted out by the garbage men – lucky it was a tiny car! It was a fun and memorable trip.

Eiffel Tower,Paris 1978
                      Up the Eiffel Tower,Paris 1978

I’ve been to Paris in between times, but finding this old photo has taken me right down memory lane. My blog from my last visit, staying in Denise’s lovely apartment is here.

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

An Update from Australia

I’m writing this one especially for my Spanish friends to give everyone a quick catch up on what I’ve been up to since leaving Ecija on the 27th June. Big shout out of thanks to Arnaud for the lift to Cordoba railway station. I had to dash off on that particular date because I was bringing my 13 year old niece to Australia for the very first time. She is Spanish and lives in Seville and was already on school holidays so time was precious. I was thrilled, as I travelled, to receive emails and text messages from several students telling me how they had managed their speaking exam. Well done everyone!

Alexa chopsticksThe journey to Australia is not exactly short, but we broke our trip with a stopover in Singapore where I introduced Alexa to some aspects of her Asian heritage. Like most Spaniards, she’s not partial to spicy food and I think was a little overwhelmed by the Hawkers Centre, but she gamely tried using chopsticks and was successful!

Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Haw Par Villa, Singapore

She also enjoyed Haw Par Villa with the Chinese mythology scenes. It was fun for Wayne and I to see her reactions too.

We arrived in Darwin in the early hours of 2nd July, and had 12 hours here before flying on to Brisbane. Alexa really enjoyed meeting her cousins Sasha and Ellie for the first time and seeing her grandparents again.

Elie, Alexa and Sasha
Ellie, Alexa and Sasha

They spent a great week together but I came straight back to Darwin as I had a pile of work to sort out. I’d been gone almost 12 months, so as you can imagine there was a pile of paperwork and other business to attend to. Boring, but essential things like insurance documents, bank statements and so on the list goes.

I’ve had a hard time adjusting to how expensive everything is compared to Spain. No more lovely cheap fruit and vegetables, they are exorbitant here by comparison, but on the other hand the salaries here are much higher.

So what do I do with my days? I usually wake by 6 am most days. I sit out by the pool and have my coffee, the first cup of the day, as dawn begins to break. I like this time as I have a chance to sit quietly and think about the day ahead and my calendar before heading into the shower, followed by breakfast which is usually yogurt and fruit. No tostada con jamon and ham is definitely not the same as jamon in taste or texture.

I then get started on my work diary, checking emails, Facebook and touching base with US clients as they are 16 hours behind and it’s still the day before there. It’s then straight into my writing tasks, which includes blog posts, profile writing and editing for my clients. I do love the variety of genres I am able to tackle so the work is never dull.

By 10 am I’m usually onto all the local Australian tasks for the day, which I try to have cleared away by 12 noon. My afternoon work session starts at 4 pretty much like it did in Spain, but here it’s because I need to be available for European/Middle Eastern clients as they’re just beginning their work day. I’m also pleased that I am still able to work with a few students via Skype for the extra practice they need.

I do miss being in Ecija, sitting in the Salon having tapas, but I don’t miss the terribly hot weather there at the moment. My lifestyle in Spain was definitely more relaxed than it is in Australia. However, I do understand that I was in a very fortunate position to have a job when so much of the country is out of work. I was also able to maintain my freelance work so my life was very comfortable there. Even though I am back in Australia, I will maintain my Spanish rate for any clients from Spain as I know the burdens that everyone faces with the crisis and making ends meet.

My work day usually ends somewhere between 8 and 10 pm, a bit like in Ecija. It’s then time to relax and kick back with the family and enjoy a glass of vino blanco. I usually choose a New Zealand white wine which is very different to the wines of Spain.

Darwin is delightful in the Dry Season and of course it is lovely to see the dogs and be in my own house. Our entertaining in Australia is very different from Spain. We do a lot more at home, having friends over for meals.  It’s fun to cook in my own kitchen where I have everything I need instead of being in my little piso without an oven! We’ve had lots of baked goodies since I’ve been back. Alexa has also been cooking Spanish omelette’s so we’ve had touches of Andalusia here with us in the house.

Sasha and I really enjoyed watching the latest season of Game of Thrones the last few evenings before we went to bed. Last night we watched the final. It was  great to see the scenes filmed in the Alcazar in Seville, and the Osuna scenes. Now we are all in suspense for what comes next season.

Hasta luego,

Michelle

 

 

 

My Princess – 21 Today

On 26th May 1994, in the beautiful city of Darwin, amongst cool tropical breezes and gorgeous pink bougainvillea plants and frangipani scented air, a little precious bundle was born. At 3.20 in the afternoon a little girl came into the world. She was a very special girl, a DocImage177princess! My Princess – a wonderful gift from Heaven.

Our Princess was called Sasha, and  she was welcomed joyously into the world by her brother Wayne, her father and

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myself, who were so delighted to have this special liDocImage174ttle girl in our lives. I loved my beautiful little girl so very much from the moment I set my eyes on her, and refused to allow the nurses to take her from my room, despite the need to sleep. Her brother Wayne, who is 9 years older, also fell in love and became her bodyguard, a role he has not relinquished to this day.Wayne & Sasha

Princess Sasha attended Parap Primary School, Darwin High School and finally Bond University from which she graduated with a degree in journalism.

Life may not be the perfect fairy tale, but today, the world is her oyster, and as her mother I could not be more proud of the wonderful young woman she has become. Compassionate, caring and authentic, with a magic flair for the written word and a love of reading.

My little Princess have given me so much joy, so much pride and so much love. I could not imagine life without her and everyday give thanks that I was blessed with her beautiful presence in my life.

My 21st birthday wish is for my Princess Sasha to enjoy a lifetime of happiness following whatever rainbow she chooses to ride.

Love always,

Mum xxx

 

Living in the moment

When I was a child a year seemed like an awfully long time. It was an unbearable wait till Christmas rolled around each year. At boarding school the terms seemed to drag on interminably whilst I counted down the days until school holidays. I think that’s pretty normal for kids, approaching life with gusto, keen to move on to whatever comes next.

I remember wishing that I was 16, then I wanted to be 18 and before I knew it I was celebrating my 21st birthday. After that the years fled by at the speed of light. The older I get the faster they whizz past.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become much more aware of how important it is to cherish the precious moments in life. It’s not about the places. It’s about the moment we are in. We don’t have a rewind button so we absolutely have to enjoy experiences the first time round. I think many of us struggle with remembering to live in the moment, after all how often do you find yourself walking or driving along thinking about what you will cook for dinner tonight, or about a meeting you have to attend, a place you want to go next or something else in either the past or the future?

When we do these kinds of things (and hey, I’m as guilty as the next oappreciating_full_400f this), what we are actually doing is robbing ourselves of time to enjoy and appreciate what surrounds us at that very moment and place in time.

I know that when I am consciously in that exact moment, I notice so much more. My powers of observation are much sharper and this is a good thing. I am focussing on what is right there in front of me. It might be the beauty of some little detail on a building I pass, a wonder of nature, or a subtle unspoken key that a family member, friend or colleague is transmitting.

If we are too busy looking forward to a future point in time, we are cheating ourselves of experiencing life to the fullest. Some of the happiest people I know are not those who have everything but rather those who truly appreciate and take the time to live in the present moment.

It’s not so easy to do but I highly recommend trying to slow down, to appreciate the here and now rather than dwelling in the past thinking about what we could have or should have done. It’s past and can’t be undone. Don’t dwell too much on the future either because nothing is certain. Instead, enjoy today – as the old cliche says ‘that’s why it’s called the present’.

Michelle

PS I’ve often spoken about the importance of living in the moment but I’ve never put it down in a blog but I was inspired recently by Marie Griffith with More painful th..to write it all down.