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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Life-changing 2015 – now we look forward to New Year

columbusmarilyn

 

 

 

 

 

November 2013: In Barcelona we saw Columbus’s monument and met ‘Marilyn Monroe’.

Well, it has arrived – the very last day of the year. Tonight, at midnight, we say a fond farewell to 2015 and look forward to what we hope 2016 may bring.

Ok, farewell but fond? I wonder how many times you have heard anyone say something like: “Thank goodness that year is over, it was really awful” or “Next year cannot be as bad as the last one”? Too often, I am sure; you have even probably said it yourself.

On the whole, 2015 has been a great year for my beloved Lisa and I as we have achieved so much and really made a significant change to our lives.

It all started right back in January when we were still living in a warm glow having returned on Boxing Day from a simply wonderful holiday in, first, Hawaii and, second, New York City. Coming back to the usual dull, wet and windy British weather got us talking. We chatted about how great it would be to live in Hawaii but realised that, for financial reasons, that would be impossible.

But that reminded me of the Mediterranean cruise we took in 2013 and particularly our shore excursions in both Palma de Mallorca (or Majorca to give its Anglicised spelling) and, the next day, Barcelona. It was November, yet lovely and warm. We visited Barcelona on November 8, my birthday, and as we sipped sangria in the seating area outside a café bar in the Rambla, we agreed we could live there.

At that time, no more was said and no action was taken but in January this year I reminded Lisa of that conversation and said we should at least see whether it was feasible. To be fair, she was worried that I would be leaving the country in which I had always lived and might feel uprooted but having reassured her, she set about finding out what sort of accommodation we could buy and the approximate costs.

In February, I started investigating whether my disability benefits would be paid in Spain, the quality of the Spanish health service and resumed pushing my ex-wife into selling our former matrimonial home. We had agreed that she could live there until August 2014 but then it should be put on the market. Eventually this was done but it involved a great deal of negotiation between she and I, the joint sellers, and the prospective buyer who is now her new husband.

header-leftWe travelled to Manchester in March to visit A Place in the Sun Live exhibition linked to the TV series of the same name as we were determined not to overlook any possibilities.

In April, Lisa’s hard work came to fruition and we travelled to southern Spain to look at some properties that she had found online and we liked. We also knew by then roughly how much money I’d be getting from my share of the house sale but still did not know when.

To cut a long story short, we saw a number of properties but fell in love with the second one we saw. After that, we were seeing how other properties measured up against that one. They all failed. So we had found our ideal property but could not buy it until the UK house sale was completed. Unbelievably, after we explained our situation, the sellers in Spain took it off the market to give us time to get the money. They did not even ask for a deposit. We returned to the UK on May 7, general election day.

The house sale shenanigans rumbled in through June but in the third week of July the cash finally arrived and we were then able to complete the purchase very quickly. In view of my Multiple Sclerosis, we needed some work done to improve access for my wheelchair and to rip out the existing bathroom and replace it with a purpose-built wet room. We had already agreed a quotation during our April trip, so now the work could proceed.

In August, we owned our furnished home in Spain and we began to make detailed arrangements. We packed what we wanted to send in advance and this was delivered here in September by a courier, we packed our suitcases and sent everything else to an auction. It was very exciting.

Oh, I should have said, I found my disability benefits would still be paid in Spain and that the health service here is rated much higher than the NHS.

Anthem of the Seas.

Anthem of the Seas.

In October we left our flat in Colwyn Bay and travelled to Southampton to start our holiday that had been booked before I suggested moving to Spain. It started with a nine-day cruise across the Atlantic aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, followed by another nine days in the USA before flying back to the UK. We stayed two nights in hotels and then on Sunday November 15 we flew to Spain.

December has been our first full month in Spain and as it draws to a close, we have to say that 2015 has been a great year and that both Lisa and I are looking forward to 2016 with eagerness and enthusiasm.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

 

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Coffee and orange trees in town centre

orange trees1

This morning, December 30, Lisa and I went into Cuevas del Almanzora, the nearest town to us, to visit our doctor to obtain the first of our Spanish ‘repeat prescriptions’ since we arrived here.

These are to treat various conditions caused by my Multiple Sclerosis, irregular heartbeat and epilepsy as well as Lisa’s asthma and high cholesterol – and we will shortly be running out of the medications we brought with us from the UK.

So, having previously obtained brief medical reports from our doctor in Colwyn Bay and having had them translated into Spanish, today we could give them to our new doctor.

orange trees2 editedOur doctor works in the town’s health centre and, today, he was not there so we were seen by one of his colleagues who sorted everything out for us; we left with prescriptions for medications to last for two months.

After leaving the surgery, we decided to enjoy a coffee at a nearby café and to drink it outside in the sunshine. As we sat there, I noticed for the first time that the greenery that lines the street is totally made up of orange trees and palm trees.

Truly delightful.

 

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Grateful to have left stormy weather behind

december flood  december sun
Contrasting Decembers: Floodwater in North Wales; Oranges growing in the sun in southern Spain.

I feel really sorry for friends, family and others we left behind when Lisa and I moved to Spain. No, I am not being smug about the weather here; I feel genuine sorrow for the atrocious weather they seem to be constantly enduring in the UK.

Of course, any severe weather affecting anyone, anywhere, is a cause for concern but my immediate thoughts are with those in the UK, where we lived until two months ago, followed by those experiencing their own stormy conditions in Lisa’s homeland, the USA.

One of the major reasons that we chose to move to Spain was the promise of warmer, drier and more settled weather. The four British ‘summers’ from 2012 to 2015 were not good experiences for either of us with the first and last being the worst. Additionally, the weather exacerbated my Multiple Sclerosis symptoms and my health did take a downward turn.

In this blog, on August 8, I wrote: “We were getting fed up with the weather and we both wished for more sunshine. Also, we had noticed that my MS symptoms seemed to get worse as temperatures changed; more consistent weather was called for.” Since then, I have written about the great weather here in Spain and how we have enjoyed sitting outside wearing short-sleeves in the December sunshine.

What I have not said before is that the more settled weather here seems to be having a beneficial effect on my health in that my MS symptoms seem to have stopped deteriorating and, in some ways, are showing hopeful signs. Now, this may just be the natural ‘good days, bad days’ associated with the illness but it may also be the change of environment and a slight increase in my absorption of natural vitamin D from the sunlight.

As yet, it is too early to tell but one thing that we do know is that we are both generally happier and healthier in the sunshine instead of the almost constant cloudy skies, never-ending wetness and too often high winds we were forced to accept in North Wales. Our former neighbour in Colwyn Bay, in fact she and her husband live in the flat above the one where we used to live, told us only last week that they have had “nothing but rain and gales” since we left.

Lisa and I used to attend weekly coffee mornings in the UK where we were the youngest couple. On the rare warm days, we would dress for the weather and enjoy it but a popular expression among older members was that the ‘hot’ weather was “too much”. The so-called hot weather, to them, was anything over 70˚F/21˚C. I even saw one national newspaper headline saying Britain was ‘sizzling at 70˚F’. Ridiculous!

Leaving the murkiness of the UK behind means that we are certainly in no danger of suffering from Seasonal Affected Disorder here! As I type this on December 29, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. We did have some rain during the early hours but any evidence of that has gone now.

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Extremes: Communities can recover, lives lost cannot

Tornados in Texas.

Tornados in Texas.

Bad weather happens. We expect that, to a greater or lesser degree depending where we live in the world; sometimes where we live in a country.

From time to time, extremely bad weather happens. That, too, we expect but usually it can be predicted in certain areas.

Hurricanes, tornados, severe snowfalls, monsoons and so on tend to be restricted to particular regions. They still hit hard but through years of experience the authorities evolve better systems of protection and recovery.

It is important to make it absolutely clear that this blog is not referring, in any way, to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis – although they, too, are restricted to different regions.

What is disturbing about the current rash of storm force winds and flooding in both USA and the UK is that they are happening at the same time. And, while the US is used to encountering extreme weather conditions, the killer tornados now hitting the southern states have arrived months before the usual tornado ‘season’.

Added to that, the storm winds have arrived with the seasonally-expected snow and, together, that has led to a warning that the forecast 18 inches of the white stuff could lead to drifts up to 10 feet deep.

As I write this, 43 deaths have been confirmed across the south with several state governors each declaring a ‘state of emergency’.

A State of Emergency can be declared when a Governor believes a disaster has occurred or may be imminent that is severe enough to require State aid to supplement local resources in preventing or alleviating damages, loss, hardship or suffering.

It authorises the Governor to speed State agency assistance to communities in need. It enables resources to be made available immediately to rescue, evacuate, shelter, provide essential commodities (such as heating fuel and food) and even to quell disturbances in affected localities. It may also position the State to seek federal assistance when the scope of the event exceeds the State’s resources.

However well prepared they are in the US and other countries, the UK is notorious for its lack of readiness. The problem really seems two-fold. Firstly, they don’t believe they will experience very bad weather or, if they do, it will not happen very often; and, secondly, the cost of preparations and defences against a possible but unlikely threat will be too high.

They are the twin reasons why homes and businesses, indeed whole communities, across a wide area of northern England as well as some in Wales and Scotland, have been flooded. In some places, a month’s worth of rain fell in one day. Drains could not cope with the extra volume, rivers burst their banks and flood defences proved to be less than adequate.

Rooftop rescue in UK.

Rooftop rescue in UK.

People have been evacuated, some have had to be rescued from homes or trapped cars, farm animals have been swept away, army units have been sent to help in the worst affected areas. So far, there have been far fewer deaths in the UK but even one is too many.

The Government has said it will look again at flood defence spending in the wake of the deluge that has left thousands of communities flooded. Meanwhile, the Environment Agency said the number of properties at the highest risk of inundation could rise by 60% from current figures of 560,000, as it outlined a new five-year strategy, including plans to protect an extra 200,000 homes and businesses from flood waters.

It really is time that all authorities, everywhere, prepared properly for extreme weather, however unlikely such an event may seem to be. They need to put effective defences in place to protect their communities.

There should be no budgetary limits, no thoughts of value-for-money. No-one should try to put a value on a human life. It is about time that authorities realised that for every dollar, pound or euro spent on preventing a disaster, much more would need to be spent on recovery.

Also, if disaster is not prevented, while communities can be rebuilt, a human life once lost cannot be recovered.

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Returning that unsuitable Christmas gift you received

return

In most countries, Christmas gift-giving is over so now the serious part begins. It is time to return those presents you think are unsuitable.

Now, the problem you are most likely to face is that recipients of gifts are rarely given either the receipt or even the bag it came in, so you need to find out where the giver bought it – and to do so without causing offence can be tricky.

Of course, established store brand names, such as St Michael’s (Marks & Spencer), George (Asda) or Florence & Fred (Tesco), are a real giveaway but, without those, some detective work will be required.

Anyway, having identified the store, you now face the task of returning the item – something that is a lot easier with a receipt. Now, some retailers these days offer the buyer a gift receipt that he or she can include with the present without letting the recipient know how much was spent. Using that gift receipt, you can return the item within the store’s returns policy.

And that policy is important because, unless you are taking the gift back because it is faulty, the returns policy will be in effect.

In fact, under UK law and I suspect those of other nations too, consumers have no right to return unwanted presents but most retailers’ returns policies do allow this as an extra benefit for a limited time after the Christmas holiday.

If you do not have any sort of receipt, some stores will still let you return the goods but only at the current selling price – and this could be much less than they were bought for if they are now in the sale. Also, if you don’t have a receipt, you will only be given a credit note to spend in that store, not cash. Meanwhile, be warned, some other stores will not allow you to have any form of refund or exchange if you cannot provide a receipt.

Be assured, though, that returns policies give extra benefits to customers than those provided by law; the legal protects of consumer rights in respect of faulty goods is not diminished or affected in any negative way.

So, if you want to return an unsuitable gift that is not faulty, you need to establish where it was bought and, if possible, get your hands on the receipt before going to the store. Remember, without a receipt, the best you can expect will be a credit note or an exchange.

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Strange British-led tradition of Boxing Day holiday

 

 

 

Today, Boxing Day and its promise of bargains in the sales bears no relation to the day’s origin.

 

In some countries, notably Britain and those in which it has historically had a major influence, today is Boxing Day. And, Being British, it seems peculiar to me that the Boxing Day public holiday that I have known since birth is, in fact, only recognised in a few countries and is generally unknown worldwide. On the other hand, being American, Lisa is unfamiliar with it.

Boxing Day is a secular holiday that is traditionally celebrated on December 26 – which is also St Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday in some, mainly catholic, countries. They, however, do not include Spain where Boxing Day is not a national holiday. Only two of the country’s 18 autonomous communities recognise St Stephen’s Day/Esteve as a holiday. These are Catalonia and the Balearic Islands that include Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera.

Similarly, the day is not an American-wide celebration. December 26 is given as a holiday to state employees in the states of Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas but it is not known as Boxing Day.

Today, the day has become more about grabbing a bargain on the first day of the sales, similar to the USA’s Black Friday following Thanksgiving but the origin of Boxing Day is interesting as various competing theories exist.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the earliest use arose in England in the 1830s, defining it as ‘the first weekday after Christmas Day, observed as a holiday on which postmen, errand-boys and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box’. However, the term Christmas-box dates back as far as the 17th century.

Traditionally, it was a gift or gratuity given at Christmas. In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to be given ‘Christmas boxes’ of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. Indeed, this is mentioned by the famous diarist Samuel Pepys in his entry for December 19, 1663.

This custom seems to be linked to an older English tradition when servants would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, and on the next day were allowed to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.

In continental Europe, a long tradition of giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has existed since the Middle Ages. This may have come from the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Alternatively, it may have originated from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, when metal boxes are said to have been placed outside churches to collect special offerings tied to the feast of St Stephen which, as I said earlier, falls on the same day as Boxing Day, December 26 – although, when that is at the weekend, the holiday is moved to the next available weekday.

 

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A very Merry Christmas from Spain

spain christmas2

Merry Christmas to all family, friends, neighbours and followers/readers of this blog, wherever you may be. And, if you enjoy a different holiday, such as Hanukah, Yule or one of many others, have a really great time.

To everyone, Season’s Greetings and may the God of your choice go with you.

spain christmas1

Feliz Navidad, Felices Fiestas a todos.*

* Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all.

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Dining the Spanish way on Christmas Eve

Cordoro Asada, Roast Lamb, is just one of the main courses that could be served,

 

 

 

 

 

Cordoro Asada, Roast Lamb, is just one of the main courses that could be served.

 

Here in Spain, the main family festive meal is enjoyed fairly late tonight, often at 9 or even 10pm. It is known as La Noche Buena, which translates literally as The Good Night. It means as much or even more here than Christmas Day lunch or dinner elsewhere. But if you are expecting turkey stuffing and all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding or mince pies, then I am sorry to disappoint you but you need to think again.

Still, I have done some research and, while there is no standard traditional meal, I have come up with some ideas of what families could be about to enjoy tonight. Take a look:

Tapas or Appetizers (two examples):

  • Jamón, Queso y Chorizo – Ham, Cheese and Spanish Chorizo Sausage on bread.
  • Langostinos con Salsa Rosa – Langoustines or large prawns are boiled, then served with a slightly spicy salsa rosa or pink sauce.

Primer Plato or First Course (one of these five examples, not all!):

  • Sopa de Pescado y Marisco – Fish and Shellfish Soup, served with French bread slices.
  • Sopa de Carabineros – Creamy Spanish Prawn Soup if you prefer a creamy soup. It is full of ‘carabineros’ (large shrimp) and fish, mixed with fish stock and tarragon.
  • Esparragos Blancos – White Asparagus: White asparagus with oil and vinegar.
  • Ensalada de Endibia con Vinagreta – Endive Salad in Tomato Vinaigrette.
  • Spanish Romesco Seafood Pasta Salad.

Plato Principal – Main Course:

In Spain, this is called segundo plato, the ‘second’ course. Beef, lamb, poultry or game can be served with rice or potatoes, such as:

  • Cordero Asado, Patatas Fritas y Ensalada Mixta – Roast Lamb, Home-Fried Potatoes, lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil, and Mixed Green Salad.

Postre – Dessert

Selections of delicious Spanish treats such as:

One of the varieties of traditional Turrón.

One of the varieties of traditional Turrón candy.

  • TurrónSpanish almond candy.
  • Polvorones – Almond cookies.
  • Mantecados – Spanish crumble cakes.

Drinks with the meal

No Spanish Christmas would be complete without several toasts and a few glasses of cava sparkling wine. Spanish cava is generally good quality and reasonably priced.

After dinner dishes, it’s time for a hot cup of espresso coffee and/or a small glass of Spanish sherry brandy or a liqueur.

Has that got your mouth watering and taste buds tingling? Lisa’s and mine most certainly are.

Bon apetito.

 

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Building up to Christmas – part three: It’s really close now

christmas living room

Two days until Christmas Day and we are still receiving deliveries of the various household items that Lisa and I need in our new home. In an ideal world, they would have all arrived by now but there are still a number of things outstanding.

Just two days ago we had a bumper delivery of 11 separate parcels and packages from a variety of suppliers, that all arrived together in the same van. We had quite a time opening all those, discovering what was inside and putting them to good use.

The spare beds are resplendent with their new duvets, duvet covers and pillowcases, for example, while we can now sit on our terrace and enjoy the sun on our new outdoor furniture. Yes, I know it is almost Christmas but sitting outdoors here, even in late December, is quite comfortable. Having said that, daytime temperatures now have the Spanish and other long-term residents reaching for warmer clothes, while those here on holiday/vacation as well as residents who are newly arrived, like us, are happy wearing summer clothing.

Anyway, it seems I have digressed so time to get back to the main thrust of this post. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the major day of celebration here in Spain with families enjoying their main festive meal at home during the evening.

On Christmas Day itself, many families choose to go out to eat and, this year, Lisa and I will be doing just that. Acting on advice from neighbours, we have left nothing to chance and made a reservation at the new El Faro restaurant in Villaricos. It is closed on Christmas Eve for the family’s own festive celebration but is open on the Christmas Day itself.

One of the reasons we have decided to eat out is that we are still waiting for our new cooker to be installed – and that will not now be until the New Year. We do have an old working stove, so there is no need to worry – we are not without cooking facilities. Another reason to eat out on Christmas Day is to give Lisa a day off. She tells me that she deserves it!

Right now, our pre-Christmas time seems to be mainly divided between heading into one or another of our nearby towns, shopping and relaxing at home – often watching one of the many seasonal films available on our broadband television set up.

Finally, Lisa and I would like to wish all our family and friends in the USA, UK or wherever they may be, as well as my blog readers and social media followers, the very Merriest of Christmases – or, as they say here in Spain:

Feliz Navidad

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Looking forward to winter?

A satellite image taken at 6am CET on December 22. The UK and most of northern Europe is hidden by clouds but in southern Spain it is clear and sunny as usual.

A satellite image taken at 6am CET on December 22. The UK and most of northern Europe is hidden by clouds but in southern Spain it is clear and sunny as usual.

With the passing of the winter solstice this morning in Europe (but last night in the western hemisphere), we can all look forward to lighter days even though the worst of winter is still to come. That’s true even here in southern Spain, where Lisa and I now live, in an area that is said to enjoy the best climate ln Europe.

So let’s look at that in a bit more detail. We live about 8km/5miles outside Cuevas del Almanzora in the province of Almeria – all of which is included in the region known as Andalucía (Spanish spelling).

The Almanzora climate has more than one unique quality. Indeed, together they ensure that there is nowhere else like it in the whole of Europe. The area has:

  • The most sunshine in all Andalucía;
  • The least rainfall in the whole of Spain;
  • The warmest and driest winter in all Europe.

In fact, the area in which we live has Europe’s only desert climate but, at the same time, is busy agriculturally with very many fields of crops.

It boasts a year round average of a full nine hours of sunshine a day and a total rainfall of less than seven and a half inches. In winter, the average maximum daily temperature is 19°C/67°F from October to March.

We enjoy mainly clear sunny days and star-filled night skies when the temperature drops considerably. The days have so much sun that Europe’s only solar power station is located here, while the clear night skies and lack of light pollution has led to one of Europe’s most important space observatories being established here.

There is nowhere else in all Europe that can equal this area’s enviable record of sun and rain. In summer, it is hot and dry inland but cooler down on the coast at places such as the fishing village of Villaricos, while the plateau above the Almanzora, is cooled by pleasant sea breezes. Even during the winter months, it remains the continent’s warmest and driest place to be.

Some of our outdoor furniture arrived yesterday, so it’s time to soak up some sunshine and healthy vitamin D. Have to be a bit careful though as, even in December, it does register on the tanning index. Don’t want to get sunburnt!

 

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