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.


Delicious delights……Spanish style

On Saturday I had to go to two supermarkets. Why? Because I needed to stock up on Earl Grey tea bags which are only sold (as far as I have discovered) at the one supermarket right across town – 20 min walk each way but hey, there’s lots to see along the way so it’s no chore. For the record the Earl Grey tea bags are more expensive than wine!

It was then onto my local supermarket (5 mins from home), for the heavy stuff (wine!), where I discovered a wonderful counter has popped up. It’s like an old fashioned lolly shop, full of a massive variety of individually wrapped little treats. It’s not self-service, so you don’t just grab what you want (even if it is the supermarket!), rather there is a very charming lady behind the counter who notices me looking. I tell her in my very poor Spanish that I have no idea what this stuff is.

2014-11-22 19.37.22_resizedShe asks me if I’m French – why does everyone do that, do I speak Spanish with a French accent? Then she explains they are all varieties of shortbread – yep, I learnt that word last week, so thankfully was able to understand. There are about 40 different varieties so I am stumped! However, this is a properly trained saleswoman who immediately sees an opportunity and suggests a small selection to begin with. I agree. Yes, once I’ve tasted, I can come back for what I like. I have absolutely no idea what she’s sold me except I also got the word almonds and wine. Yes, I like them both. Hasta luego and off I go clutching my twelve individual little pieces that cost me a grand total of E2.00 – so cheap that it doesn’t matter if I don’t like them.

Back home, shopping is unpacked, wine in the fridge and time for a cup of (very expensive) tea as far too early for wine. Ohhh…… mmmm, it is soooooo yummy. Yep I have found something new, delicious and I am sure totally fat free – (not!) to indulge in. My favourite is Rosco de Vino made with cloves, cinnamon, aniseed, sesame seeds, red wine, four and butter and dusted with icing sugar – reminds me of some of the delicious Arab style cookies. How will I resist eating too many? Just as well I walk everywhere!


Winter is coming

George R R Martin is a huge hit round here

It was 6 degrees when I woke up this morning. I’ll definitely have to pile an extra blanket on my bed tonight if I won’t want to turn into a popsicle. The change in weather has been very sudden and from wearing a sleeveless top last week I am now in a thermal. My latest purchase today was a pair of boots and I’ve fished out the heater for tonight.

The breeze is cold so I’m all bundled up as I walk to work which brings back memories of days spent working in UK and how I never liked going to work in the cold weather. On the upside it never snows here and the sun shines brightly to warm me. Last week, I was busy crossing the road to walk in the shade and this week I’m doing the reverse and chasing the sunny side of the street.

My students have been coming to class all excited about Game of Thrones Season 5 which has just wrapped up filming in Osuna which is the next town to us. Several attended casting calls for locals or have friends who were lucky enough to land a role as an extra. It’s a big deal for the locals as tourism is expected to get a boost as a result of these locations being chosen. In a place which has a high unemployment rate (34.5%) this is welcome news. English is definitely the key to employment and explains why there are so many language schools in Spain and the high demand for native English speakers.


A wonderful world……..thank you Abreast In A Boat

What a wonderful surprise it was last night to walk into Ca’de Ven (an amazing local wine bar) and hear a voice yell out “Michelle. Michelle Hanton”- I turned around and there was Cheryl Watson coming towards me along with Juanita Pegler. It is almost seven years since we last saw each other. We had no idea we were all going to be in Ravenna so it was a delight to catch up with these amazing women whom I first met in 2002 when I put together the Internationally Abreast (IA) team for the World Club Crews being held in Rome. Juanita and Cheryl along with Deb Thiessen and Linda Acosta were the Abreast In A Boat representatives from Vancouver.

IA team members - Rome 2002 reunited in Ravenna 2014
IA team members from Rome 2002 reunited in Ravenna 2014 – Juanita, Michelle & Cheryl

It was soooo fantastic to see the girls again. We hugged and reminisced about those early days and that incredible time we had in Rome. It was also where I met Donna Leon, as she was there to film our journey for her program They’ve Got Game – Water Works.

The world of dragon boating for breast cancer survivors has changed so much since those early days but the friendships made by those of us who were pioneers remain strong. It’s funny that in the last 2 months I’ve also had a reunion with Elspeth Humphries – who was also in the IA boat in Rome – she swept the 2000 metre race – first time a breast cancer survivor crew took on that race – and today it is so common place for survivor crews to compete and indeed, to do well, in these races. Janelle Gamble, another of our Internationally Abreast originals will also be here but this time as an IDBF official and I will be sweep for the Waterfront Warriors team.

If it was not for breast cancer and Abreast In A Boat I would not be sitting here today writing this bog. Funny how the darkest moments in our lives can turn into some of the very best opportunities. As they saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have to say, based on what has happened in my life, this is most certainly true.  Before signing off this blog I also want to make a special mention and say, I always remember with great affection, two special women who have lost their battle with breast cancer, Sandy Smith from Abreast In A Boat who was a guiding light in setting up Dragons Abreast in Australia, and of course the unforgettable Orlanda Capelli who became our drummer in Rome and the then went on to establish the first Italian breast cancer survivor team.



Singapore…..childhood memories

Seletar Hills, Tick Toc Man, Mee Siam, curry puffs, sweet tea loaded with condensed milk, Changi beach, Serangoon Gardens, Dr and Aunty Lim, the DeSouza family are just some of the memories that flood my mind as I walked from my hotel to the Hawker Centre.

I remember the excited anticipation that built before our regular 3 month trips for home leave to Singapore. We eagerly anticipated eating much loved food, shopping trips, day trips to Changi beach.

One memorable time Uncle Percy got a big bungalow (part of his job perk) where it seemed like 20 or more of us stayed. Cousins, aunties, mahjong kakis stayed up late into the night as we kids tried to sleep in the tropical humidity. The only whitie amongst our massive multi cultural gathering was Mum who made scones for afternoon tea which went down a treat and then at night we either feasted on noodles from the local hawkers all tied up in banana leaves or went down the road and sat at a roadside stall to enjoy a bowl of noodles. Delicious!

As I sat last night look at the twinkling lights of ships in Singapore Harbour I felt blessed to have enjoyed a childhood that included the Singapore of old where we danced in the rain which brought relief from the tropical heat – by contrast today I stayed in a coffee shop till the downpour passed and then, rather than jumping the fast flowing monsoon drains of old to get across the road, I crossed via the covered pedestrian bridges that have been build above the wide roads to convey people safely from one side to the other – Singapore has changed so much but the constant is the delicious food.


The joys of a real book

I love a real book. Whilst an e-book may be very eco-friendly and handy for travellers who need to save space it simply cannot provide the same experiential value of a real hard copy book.  I am known for travelling often and travelling light but I have yet to succumb to a Kindle or similar. Why?

We humans are sensory creatures and, to my mind at least, reading a book is an experience that is enhanced by being able to utilise our senses.  Some of the feelings I experience are:

  • delight at being in possession of a brand new book that tantalises with its pristine pages waiting to be devoured
  • reverence to be in the possession of an old volume, whose well-thumbed pages, offer whispers of bygone era’s and other readers who have clearly respected the tome now in my hands
  • a wonderful feeling of escapism regardless of whether I am stretched out in the sun, curled up on my bed or squished into an airplane seat. Through my book I am able to be transported to exotic destinations or bygone eras depending on what I am reading.
2014-04-27 13.28.05
Studying before Google

I also find that when studying I have a much better retention rate when reading a hard copy – something about the touch of the paper in my hands helps to cement the facts into my brain. To simply look up on the internet just does not have the same effect as searching through manually and reading what those long ago academics took the time to record and put down on paper.   Encyclopaedias are to be commended, they were the tools of my education as a child, no need to worry about fast downloads, power outages or anything else, the books were always there as welcoming friends. Googling just makes it all too easy to look things up as one does not even need to be able to spell properly! Is there any wonder spelling is going down the tubes!

Love to hear your opinions on which you prefer?  real book.


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.


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


Taking a quick look back over my 2013  Action Plan I’m pleased to say I’ve managed to tick off the vast majority of items that were written down at the beginning of 2013.

Me and my beautiful niece Alexa
Me and my beautiful niece Alex

The Camino and Vogalonga were both on the Action Plan – beautiful memories that will live forever. My visit to Spain also afforded the chance to meet, for the first time, my beautiful Spanish niece.

It may have been my first visit to the land of sangria, paella and bullfighting, but it certainly won’t be my last to this country full of history and contrast which is back on my Action Plan for 2014. Ferdinand and Isabella caught my imagination when I was a very young girl and I have to say, the country did not disappoint.

The common thread through 2013 has been the wonderful friends and family that have surrounded me each step of the way. Not a massive posse of people but true friends who are always there and can be counted on through the good times and the bad.

The planned catch up of a girls weekend away with my very dear breast friends Susan and Penny took place on Norfolk Island in November 2013. We almost did not make it before the end of 2013 but where there is a will there’s a way! Also very luck that a business trip took me to Canberra where I also managed to see my other dear friend Anna – again it was a challenge to meet, but we managed a 7.15 am meeting in  her hospital room before my conference day began.

Breast friends - Penny, Michelle and Susan
Breast friends – Penny, Michelle and Susan

My biggest issue in 2013 was lack of time for my own writing. Sure I’ve done plenty but it has been mainly as a ghost for others or boring pieces I’ve had to produce.  I plan to rectify this in 2014 and on my Action Plan is a committed to writing one blog post a week for myself on random topics that take my fancy.


What we’ve lost since Grandma’s days

This latest blog has been prompted by an article I just read on LinkedIn titled Food on our plate: friend or foe.

As a Western developed society we seem to have lost a great deal of the simple stuff that was about in our grandparents days that contributed to us doing more exercise as a part of our daily lives.  Most people in Green Hammerton, the village where my Grandma lived, did not have a car or a telephone. My Grandad used to ride to work on his bicycle.

There was the village shop/post office that everyone walked to, they also walking to visit neighbours and kids walked to school – including me when we lived in the village for a few months during the 6 day war period in Jerusalem as Dad decided, the family would all be safer in England while he stayed on in Jerusalem. If we wanted to use the telephone we needed walk to the red public box located near the shop and bus stop whilst remembering to make sure we had sufficient coins for our call. Some years later Grandma did get a nice shiny new telephone in her house – I remember it vividly being green and us having to running to answer the phone, which was located in the hall, if we were all out in the garden – no cordless or mobiles back then.

As a child my grandparents had a large garden that Grandad grew vegetable in, he spent hours digging, weeding and gentle tendering to his crops of potatoes, peas, broad beans, rhubarb, strawberries and lots more. Gardening and fly fishing were Grandad’s passions both physical activities.

In her WAC Uniform
Aunty Nell – In her WAC Uniform

We’d take walks up to the farm to see our Aunty Nell, down the country lanes picking blackberries to go into the beautiful pies and jams that Grandma used to make. Yes, we ate lovely hot pies (Grandma’s pastry was the best!) with lashing of fresh cream, toast with real butter and home made jams too. Whilst we did not play organised sports our days were filled with activities that did not allow us to become couch potatoes.

Even the washing was a production as it had to be lifted from the tub and pushed through a mangle to squeeze out the excess water (watch out for fingers!). Eventually the mangle was replaced with a twin tub machine but that still meant lifting from the washing tub into the spin dry compartment. Not like today when we just press one button and it’s all done. The most exercise we get today is hanging our washing on and taking it off the line – although some people even have all in one machines that dry clothes too! Back in Grandma’s day our arms got a work out lifting the heavy, water logged clothes.

Whether I was in England, Singapore, Jerusalem, Rawalpindi, Kashmir or Beirut, as kids we were always active without really thinking about it. In England we would take long walks down country lanes, go on picnics in the Lake District, walks in the Bronte country and more. In Singapore we would play in the garden, roller skate in the park and walk round the markets. Ín Kashmir we swam daily in the lake, walked along the Bund, rode horses in the mountains and went fly fishing. In Rawalpindi we rode bicycles and played in the gardens. In the Middle East we played in the fields behind our houses, played tag and hide n’ seek with kids in the neighbourhood.In the school yard games of hopscotch were daily occurrences. We also walked to the shops, ran up and down the stairs to our classes and to each others dorms.

My point is that all these are physical activities which were built into our daily lives – we did not think about exercise, we just did it unawares and we didn’t really think about food as a friend or foe either – we just ate what we were given.

There’s lot I could add about fast foods, nutrition and more but I’m going to leave it here for now but I would love  your feedback on what has disappeared since your Grandma’s days that you feel might be contributing to us becoming physically more unfit and battling with weight.



When I said I was going on the Camino everyone told me that it would be life changing. From personal experience I can now say that the Camino forced me to slow down and provided the gift of time for myself. In my regular lives the chattering monkeys of my mind are rarely stilled as there are constant outside demands on my time and even through I might have the very best self-care strategies in place I never have a whole week or more to indulge just to my own personal reflections.

Symbol of the camino
Symbol of the camino

On the ‘way’ the only really pressing concerns are where is the next coffee shop/bar, will my feet hold up for another day and making sure we do not get lost. However getting lost is not a major concern and even the route markers seem relaxed. Yellow arrows and the symbol of the shell are placed haphazardly, but always in the right direction, on items that range from stone fences, the road, house walls, gates, trees, and more.  Some are really easy to see, others are more faded and almost hidden, but they are there. Worst case just wait  a few moments and someone else will come walking along and together you continue. There are also the occasional marker stones counting down the kilometers and as my feet grew wearier these become a sight to look forward to – some come decorated with evidence of past walker with blown out shoes.

blown out shoe
A marker stone complete with blown out shoe

The Camino trek sees us traverse ‘undulating’ hills (well that is what we were told but some are more like great BIG hills and then we had to get down the other side too!), beautiful shaded wooded trails and across streams.  It is very rural, farming country complete with wafting farmyard aroma in certain spots.  We share the track with plenty of cattle, a few horses, ducks and more.

Some of the villages and tiny churches date back to medieval times and the yellow markers of the way lead us down cobblestone paths right through farm yards and past front doors and open windows from which locals pleasantly wave and wish us buen camino. The Camino is most definitely not commercial and those who live along the route genuinely welcome the perigrinos and we do not feel like intruders in their lives. Then again this has been happening for thousands of years so it is no doubt just a part of their lives.