Wednesday 30 April 2014

Cooking with Old El Paso

Living as an expat in South Africa, involves regular trips to the home land to visit family and friends. With all of our 5 children now living back in the UK, these trips home will become more frequent. The family are spread from Leeds, down to Gloucester, through South Wales and in Bath. 

I don't view my trips home as a chore, but it certainly isn't a holiday. Whether staying with family or friends for a night or a bit longer, I do cause a disruption to their lives and it does cost them money to have me to stay, involving not only feeding me, shifting kids out of their room and a lift here and there, but it costs me money also, a gift, bunch of flowers or a meal out.

When the people at Old El Paso asked me if I would like to review their products, I jumped at the chance. I could cook for the people I was staying with as a thank you.

I've cooked and shared, fajitas, tacos, rice dishes and casseroles. I've supervised my friend's children cooking and been cooked for by another friend.

My parents don't like spicy food and stick with what they know, but as the interfering daughter concerned about their health I often cook when I visit, on this trip I arrived and my Mother informed me she had bought chicken and vegetables and added it would be a shame to break with tradition so I could cook dinner. Digging into my hand bag I pulled out the 'One Pan Rice Meal, extra mild, super tasty' and set to work.

I didn't add the onions or the pepper as suggested on the box as neither of my parents are keen on them and I only added half the spice mix.
I gave my mother the task of stirring and keeping an eye on things and she kept asking me when she should put the rice on. I kept explaining it was already in the pan and was cooking altogether.
We served it with steamed vegetables, it easily served 3 adults and would've pushed to 4 if needed.
It was eaten and enjoyed by all, with my mother adding....'it's not something I would have chosen to eat, but I did enjoy it and would have it again.' Unfortunately I'm not back in the UK until December, so she'll have to wait.

To see the full range and get some recipe ideas visit here.

Friday 25 April 2014

Biokineticist, chronic pain and migraines

I’ve been visiting a Biokineticist and physio since January after yet another referral from yet another doctor after years of medication and surgery to help with chronic neck pain and the side effects of migraines that see me in hospital for treatment at least twice a year.

I’ve suffered with migraines since I was around 5 years of age, the first time I needed more than lying down in a darkened room and over the counter medication I was 15 years of age. The Doctor had to administer medication via an injection and it was put down to hormones and exam pressure. However the migraines continued every few months, until they became once or twice a month after an injury at work.
Over the past 18 years I’ve taken medication from painkillers through to antidepressants and muscle relaxants. I’ve had physio, pain killing injections, Botox, nerve blocks and the most aggressive intervention was the burning of the nerves in my neck under a general anaesthetic.

Migraines for me present with an aura, my vision becomes blurring for anything up to 24 hours prior to an attack, I become confused and my ability to think and do at the same time are diminished. I also feel extremely nauseous before ending up in bed for up to 3 days and often having to visit the hospital for medical intervention that has lasted up to 2 weeks in hospital as the migraines have presented as meningitis and been accompanied with high temperatures.

All treatment has worked, but the effects have worn off quickly and in most cases have been extremely painful, especially the Botox, which although the pain relief lasted the longest, the pain from the injections was unbearable.

The latest referral was as always viewed by me and hubby as ‘we don’t know what else to do with her, she refuses medication’ Having tried various medications and weighing up the side effects, it’s been decided that long term medication isn’t treating the problem, it just eases the pain.

The physio was very aggressive with her treatment of me and each session lasted an hour. This was after an assessment by the biokineticist.

I can’t really explain what a biokineticist is, does or even what qualifications they hold, but I do know that with her help, physical intervention, input from the physio, manipulations now once a week and exercises to do at home, which on paper look simple enough, but leave me exhausted, not only have I lost weight, my appetite has changed and I’m eating less sugary items. My body shape is altering, swimming has become easier, especially front crawl, my breathing has improved, I’m sitting upright, my whole body posture has changed. Long journeys in the car, flights, housework, using the computer for long periods of time have become easier, in fact what I would now consider to be normal, after 18 years of ‘normal’ being severe migraines after any of the above activities.

I’m the UK after 20 hours of travelling, sat in economy and I didn’t have a migraine, maybe a bit tired from lack of sleep but no migraine, the first time ever.  I’ve spent 3 weeks sleeping in different beds, on sofas, using public transport, dragging cases and a 15yo around with me and NO migraines.

I pay around R180/£10 per week to visit the biokineticist. The medical aid covers the cost, but at these prices its affordable and I’d recommend them to everyone suffering with chronic pain.

I received an email from the Biokineticist and she shared the following information:

If someone asks we study BSc sport science degree and then
we do a BSc Biokinetic Hons for a year. Then you have to work a year as an
intern and then you can qualify as a registered biokineticist.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Expat travels with a teenager.

As an expat in South Africa we are without a UK base. In the past our travels to the UK have been separately, so we can spread the amount of time we spend with family over several visits rather than just 1 visit annually. The kids visited the UK once a year and stayed with their Dad and the eldest 3 already had their own homes we could visit.

In August the youngest, now aged 15, returned to complete his education in boarding school and then in January the 19yo returned to the UK, leaving just hubby and I in South Africa.

This is my first visit back since the kids left home. Usually I stay with my parents, a friend or 2 in the London area and other close friends, this time I’m travelling with a 15yo as I’ve timed my trip to spend the school holidays with him, but we don’t really have anywhere to go, a base. We’ve been travelling together for the past 2 weeks. A few nights with different friends, with children his age, an emergency dash up to Leeds to visit child no. 3 of 5 in hospital and we were able to stay in his flat for the duration but had to leave when he came out of hospital, there’s just about enough room for him and his girlfriend, without mother and younger brother there as well.

We were able to use a car to travel to Leeds, but the rest of the trip has been by coach, bus, train and a few lifts to catch them. We’ve been paying our way by helping with household chores, washing and ironing and some childcare.

We have the use of a car over the weekend, mainly to take the 15yo back to school and to visit the eldest child who is disabled and even though there will be 2 of us, managing her and her wheelchair on public transport is a bit of an effort.

It’s been great spending the past 2 weeks with the 15yo although he’s not been over impressed with the public transport, lugging cases and sleeping in different beds every few nights. It’s probably the first time we’ve spent this much time together without anyone else around and we’ve had a fair amount of fun.

He flies out to SA in July/August and then I won’t see him again until Christmas, when hubby and I will be making our first trip together to the UK in 4 years and we’ve rented a cottage in South Wales for the month of December and will be hiring a car making it easier to get around and visit all the kids, maybe this time they can come visit us and we can actually have a holiday.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Is Expat Life Glamorous?

The next person who tells me that expat travel sounds glam will be beaten to death with a selection of plane/train/coach/bus/parking tickets.

I have an 8 hour flight, 2 hour stop over and another 7 hour flight to reach the UK, I'm then required to catch a train or a coach after 20+ hours of flying and transit, get my mobile working, call everyone to say I've arrived safely and arrive at my 1st destination.

Having arrived in the UK 2 weeks ago I started the UK tour by saying Hello to everyone. I know the next time I see them again will be to say Goodbye before I return to South Africa and not see them again for 6 months. I started my tour from Manchester to Leeds on the train, then a coach and a bus to Gloucester, lifts from friends to Monmouth, emergency dash back to Leeds as son was in hospital, Bath to see family and stay with friends and the return trip starts on Thursday, before flying home on May 1st.

Visiting your home country as an expat is not a holiday, it's actually rather stressful, trying to fit everyone in, the cost, living out of a suitcase, travel, sorting out bills, post etc.

Travel as an expat isn’t glam, in fact it’s not an awful lot of fun, it’s hard to say goodbye all the time, it’s hard for the people I say goodbye to also.

Lots of expats advise that you rent a house in the UK and plan for everyone to visit you. It’s good advice but there are 2 issues here. 3 weeks in the UK over Christmas is £1000.00 per week and at most other times it is £450.00 per week. You need to rent a house big enough so your children/family/friends can stay over when they come to visit you, because lets be honest….expats don’t tend to have simple lives and you can guarantee family is spread far and wide.

So if you can afford the above the next issue is getting times and dates to get people together. I’ve lost track of the number of people that would love to see me as long as I travel to them on the date and at the time they stipulate and of course sort out my own accommodation. Even when I’ve been in the area and knocked on the door it’s been obviously you’ve come at the wrong time, so I just don’t bother with a lot of people any more.

Thursday 17 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.