Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Cooking with Old El Paso

The lovely people at Old El Paso asked me if I'd be interested in doing a food review for their products.....oh course I would and I get many requests but have to turn most of them down as I live in South Africa, however this offer coincided with a trip to the UK so I accepted and this arrived at my mums house this week. Check out their website for fab recipes and Party Planning.

My teenage son is in boarding school in the UK and is travelling the UK with me during the Easter holidays, as I visit family and friends around the country. Last week we were in Herefordshire staying with friends, a family of 5. Mum had been in hospital so I spent my time cooking, washing and cleaning as a way of saying thank you for having us to stay and helping. I could've done with my box of goodies last week, but I'm going to save something to cook with them before I return home.

This week I'm in Monmouth, South Wales, staying with a family of 6, they are renovating and extending their house and we are currently only have access to one toilet between the 8 of us. Any offer of help with their 4 children aged 11, 10, 9 and 6 is greatly received. Tonight the 4 children and I delved into the box and chose to cook the fajitas. 

Having sliced the chicken, the children then chopped the vegetables, got out all the equipment we needed which was a frying pan and a spatula. 

The fajitas were enjoyed by all including the 10 year old who declared he didn't like chicken, peppers or onions. We had to purchase additional wraps as there were only 8 included in the pack. We also left the wraps in the oven too long and some of them were a bit hard, but they made excellent chips to use with the dips.

I don't know how much the Old El Paso fajita box cost, the chicken, onions and peppers and an extra 8 wraps cost an additional £8.50 we also added some grated cheese.

The children had great fun preparing and cooking the mix and experimented and competed with the best way to roll the wraps. We all enjoyed the relish, although it was a bit difficult to squeeze out the sweetcorn from the bottle. tomorrow we have opted to try the Warming paprika and Herbs Casserole Recipe Mix served with rice.

I'm off to Bath over the Easter weekend to stay with another family of 6 and will be taking what's left to cook there and saving the Original Beef Tacos for my return visit to friends in Herefordshire.

I'll be using Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as chickenruby the rest of the meals over the next week.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

How to survive airport travel

I’m not a good flyer, it’s the take off and landing I’m not keen on. I need to sit by a window so I can keep my eye on the wing and the ground and make sense of what’s happening. The actual flight is ok, It’s probably the only time I sit and watch a movie.

As an expat I make regular trips between South Africa and the UK, preferring the Dubai route as I get to build up my air miles, use the Emirates lounge and it has the most leg room and more importantly, proper cutlery, not plastic forks that always snap. I’ve flown with various airlines, direct and with stopovers. Despite the Dubai route involving an 8 hour flight, 2 hour stop over and another 7 hour flight, plus the travel time to and from the airport, making it in total a 20+ hour journey, it has the most generous legroom in economy, checked in baggage is 30kg and trust me it’s not possible to get more than 30kgs in a suitcase. This disadvantage is the hand luggage allowance is only 7kg and as an expat and flying out of OR Tambo airport I carry all the paper work I need to sort out when I’m back in the UK and all valuables as theft from baggage is a high risk. Other airlines have a more generous hand luggage allowance of 10kg and purchase of an additional 23kg weight starts from around £45 where as Emirates charge £140 for up to 5 kilos.

It’s not just the ticket price you need to check when booking, how important is the luggage allowance? Is the cost of baggage wrapping included in your ticket price? What’s the charge for changing your ticket? Is insurance included in the price?

Top tips for travelling.

Check in online. I never print a boarding pass as from experience they prefer to issue you with one, but be warned, some airlines do charge for printing a boarding pass at check in.

When selecting a seat, you’ve more chance of having a spare seat next to you if you book an aisle seat; it is common practice for the airline to fill up the aisle seats first.

Avoid seats with extra legroom unless you’re particularly tall, the reason being these seats have fixed armrests, so if the seat next to you is empty you can’t stretch into it.  Also passengers will congregate on long haul flights near the exit doors whilst queuing for the toilets or they are near the galley where the cabin crew sit and passengers will stand and chat.

If flying from OR Tambo airport check with your airline to find out if baggage wrapping is included in the cost of your ticket. If not make sure you arrive in plenty of time not only for check in and clearing customs but for queuing to get your baggage wrapped.

After going through passport control, check the boards for your gate and locate it, it could be anything up to 30 minutes away and involve a train or a bus. It’s quite common for the gate to be changed, don’t just rely on your boarding card.

Once you’ve located your gate, grab a coffee, locate the smoking room and buy your duty free.

If travelling via another country, even if you are in transit, check what you can and can’t take through in regards to liquids. Best to buy your duty free once you’ve cleared security when you stop over, as they will not let you take liquids through, even though you haven’t left the airport.

Dubai airport have showers available at no charge. I always pack a hand towel so not to take up too much space/weight in hand luggage.

On arrival the first thing I do is activate my sim card, top up and message family and friends to say I’m here, this is my number, I’ll contact you again when I’ve reached my first overnight stop.

Coffee…any chance to purchase a coffee.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Why I hate saying Hello

As soon as I board the plane for the UK I start getting wound up. Having said 'Goodbye' to hubby I then travel to the UK a route that doubles back on itself. This trip I arrived in Manchester and my route took me to Leeds to say 'Hello' to the eldest son. I'm currently in Herefordshire saying 'Hello' to very dear friends and have my youngest son with me. The middle son dropped him off and I will be seeing him on and off over the next few weeks.

This evening I travel into Monmouth to stay with more friends and on Monday I say 'Hello' to my parents, sister, nephews, nieces and meet my great nephew. I'm also meeting up with the ex sister in law and my other niece.

In-between I have my step children to say 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' to and a couple of other friends.

I then travel to Bath to stay with more friends, say 'Hello' to my Mother in Law, maybe Sister in Law, but I think they're on holiday, then down to London to say 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' to friends down there.

My youngest and I return to Bath to say 'Goodbye' then to Monmouth to say 'Goodbye' then I take youngest back to school and say 'Goodbye' before I return to Herefordshire and say 'Goodbye' back to Leeds to say 'Goodbye' and then back to Manchester for a quick 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' to a few people there and a flight home to say a quick 'Hello' to hubby before he flies off to Nigeria for a week.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Children of expat families

There is a lot of information and advice out there for expats and their families but little is nothing about the family members that are part of an expat family, but never left their country of birth.

I have a son in the UK, he was 18 when we left to live in South Africa, taking his 2 younger brothers with us.

The eldest had pretty much left home around the age of 16, although he remained in education, First 6th form then college, he came and went as he pleased, staying with mates, returning home for meals, washing, money and family outings, holidays and just for chilling out. He worked between the ages of 16 & 18 in the catering business and was a referee on weekends. He had an active and busy social life. Moving to Reading in 2010 was a difficult day for both Mother and Son and a week later I made the trip back down there to tell him we’d been asked to move to South Africa and 4 months later in January 2011 we were gone. He came out to visit us in March 2011 and again in May 2012, I’ve returned to the UK twice yearly, he’s moved from Reading to Cheltenham and is now living in Leeds.

To be honest it’s difficult and expensive to visit him. I don’t begrudge him a minute of my time or a penny from my purse and it’s a strange meeting for both us. My arrival airport is determined by where he’s living and this visit I flew into Manchester and caught the train to Leeds. 2 nights in Leeds in a hotel and now sat on a coach for 4 hours to get to Gloucestershire where the other 4 kids live and the rest of the family are in South Wales and Bath.

This is my first visit back to the UK since the youngest 2 children left South Africa, they’re like me when I come to the UK, they don’t have a home, other than the 14yo in Boarding School. The 19yo is staying with his Dad who he’s only seen once a year since he became an expat, but he’s returned to the UK as an adult, no job, no income, going through the application process to join the Royal Marines.

Visiting the 2 younger children will be a lot easier than visiting the eldest. As the youngest are still in limbo, haven’t established a life in the UK yet and still consider South Africa as their home, where their friends are, their bedrooms and belongings and the family pets.

The eldest has his own flat, a girlfriend, a career, his own life, independent from me, his mum, which is how it should be and I’m very proud of what he has achieved. Yes, his dad is in the UK, as are his grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins etc. But they don’t live near him, they also have their own lives and I’m not complaining or suggesting for one minute they should take responsibility for him, but he is on his own here.

He met me from the train, we chatted at the hotel, he went home to start making dinner, I walked round, ate, met the girlfriend, chatted some more and returned to my hotel. The following morning he joined me for breakfast, we walked from the town, stopped for a drink, he helped sort out my phone, posting, bank. I returned to the hotel for a sleep, he went home, we met up at 6pm for a meal, I was back in the hotel by 9.30pm having said goodbye and if I don’t see you again this visit, I’ll see you next at Christmas.

It’s hard for me as a mum not to want to grab hold of him and squeeze him tightly and never let him go. It’s hard to discover you aren’t as close as you think you should be or as others tell you, you should be. It’s not hard to see him in a relationship; it’s not hard to accept he’s nearly 22 and all grown up. At his age, I was a mum to him, a 1 year old. I want my children to leave the nest, that’s what they’re supposed to do; they’re not supposed to worry about how it makes me feel.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Freedom Park, Pretoria

I had to drive through pretoria on Friday and saw the sign for Freedom Park. I've seen it many times on my travels during the last 3 years, but had yet to visit. A friend on Facebook commented that I am the only person she knows that has ever visited.

My whole visit was summed up by a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

'When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land'

It cost me R90 to visit the museum and wander round at my own speed and included a guided tour of the gardens of remembrance. I was the only visitor there on Friday.

I did however encounter the following people who were exceptionally friendly and knowledgable, I also thought there were too many people and a lot of their interaction probably wasn't necessary.

I was booked in at the gate and told to drive 200 yds up the hill to park, he radioed ahead to say I was coming. The guy at the parking then directed me to park in a certain bay, despite everywhere being emptied, he then radioed ahead 200 yes to a woman who was stood by reception, who then escorted me into the building to buy my tickets, I was then escorted back via the same process and radio to my car and round the corner, up the hill to another parking area, where my guide met me to start the tour, which lasted approximately 60 minutes. We encountered 2 more security people and Pastor Francine and 2 men in prayer.

Again the whole process was repeated back to reception, escorted up the lift, encountered 3 security guards and finally back to the car.

1 visitor = 11 members of staff
Freedom Park
 Eternal Flame
 Names of all those who dies in the struggle for Freedom

 Memorial for 1st and 2nd World War and Anglo-Boer War
 Bushveld and Highveld Bioms 

 Housing today same as housing then

Sunday, 6 April 2014

National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria

On Saturday we visited the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria. We were there for nearly 5 hours. It was lovely to be out in the open and walk around without being in a Mall or stuck in a car.
If you plan on visiting I'd recommend you take your own food and drinks as there were 1 or 2 fast food stands and a cafe that sold unappetising food. Also take your own toilet roll as the facilities left a lot to be desired.

I know a lot of people don't like Zoo's and having seen these animals in their natural habitat I understand why. We live only 5kms from a nature reserve and less than a hours drive to see the Big 5, but I wanted to visit the zoo as I've heard they do a lot of conservation work and run breeding programmes.

Established during the Boer War and constantly being updated, I wasn't disappointed, although it is strange seeing an elephant with a tower block in the frame and the animals seems much smaller in the zoo than they do in the wild.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Missing Children in South Africa

Whilst in the queue for tickets at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria a small black child, aged about 3, joined us. We knew he didn't belong to the people in front of us and assumed he must be with the party of school children on our left. We were wrong, the woman in front of us tried to hand him over to the teacher who said 'he's not one of ours' concerned now that no one appeared to be looking for him, I handed him over to one of the Zoo staff who said it is common practice for parents to do one of two things.

He is either sent to the front of the queue to wander in without being checked and then parents will follow claiming they need to get in to find their child without paying the entry fee or he's just been abandoned for the day.

She then went on to tell me that most days they find children wandering around the zoo, alone, with no parent having reported them missing. They take these 'lost' children to the local police station on a daily basis.

According to statistics from the South African Missing Police Bureau, approximately 1460 children so missing every year, that's 1 child every 6 hours.

The reasons children are reported missing are as follows:

Getting lost                            36%
Runaways                              25%
Unknown                               21%
Kidnapping by strangers         9%
Found deceased                       3%
Parental abductions                 3%
Human Trafficking                  2%

These are figures for missing children that have been reported missing without a trace. Other statistics suggest up to 2000 children are murdered by family every year also.