Getting away on a budget

For the last few years, Dan and I have treated ourselves to a break away on Tesco points at least once a year.

Tesco is known for having one of the best reward schemes in the UK.  When I was refused a mortgage in 2010 on the back of having never owed any money it didn’t take me long to pick from the best banks with free checking and to decide which credit card company I was going to go with to build up my credit rating.  Using my credit card now I get 1 point for every £4 spent, WHEREVER I SPEND IT.  When you first buy a new house, go on holiday to New York and get married, Tesco points quickly add up and points mean prizes!  Or in this case, nights away.

On Tuesday morning, Dan and I loaded up the car with a holdall of clothes and toiletries that weren’t packed in the every growing pile of boxes collecting in our dining room.  All of our money is being hoarded away at the minute ready for the house move and inevitable redecoration so we didn’t have a lot to spare but were in desperate need of a break away together.  We received Foo Fighters tickets for Christmas, so this time round Manchester was the chosen location and we transferred enough Tesco points into vouchers to book a two night stay, and have £30 each of Pizza Express and Zizzis for our evening meals.

We did have a little spend on arrival in Altrincham, as, after a quick change cocktails were obviously necessary.  Time to relax and actually see each other for a change.  Life has been so busy just lately!

Date night in ManchesterLuckily, we stumbled upon a little cocktail bar in the town centre displaying Happy Hour signs from 6-8pm.  We wandered in a few minutes past six…

Cocktails in Manchester Cocktails in Manchester…before heading over to Zizzi for a lovely free three-course meal which included this pizza that was so big it could barely fit in the photo…

Rustica Primavera at ZizziThis was the Rustica Primavera – I’m a sucker for any dish containing goat’s cheese, green pesto and a selection of veg.

Dessert was all about the Chocolate, praline and sea-salt torte.  This was amazing and definitely requires another taste test immediately!

Zizzi chocolate tartWe had a fairly early night on the Tuesday, before a leisurely 8am get-up the next morning.  Eight AM.  I never sleep in this late.  Whenever we go away for a few days, I always make use of the buffet breakfast to grab a Full English.  Dan usually tries to encourage me to have fruit and yoghurt as he thinks I will enjoy it more, but I am too lazy to ever put together a breakfast like this first thing in the morning so I take full advantage of the fact that it is all laid out for me in the hotel.
I don’t like bacon, but eggs came in both the scrambled and fried variety so I took both as an extra protein dose for all the walking we had planned that day.

Fry up for breakfastWe spent the morning out at Dunham Massey – exploring the gardens and the house.  It was lovely and sunny out.  I felt awful in the morning – my cold had developed into a full on coughing and sneezing fit and so it was nice to get outside and with no time pressures for the day.  We also treated ourselves to some fantastic icecreams whilst out exploring the gardens.  I’ve decided that our next house move needs to be to somewhere with a garden this size(!)  Everywhere looked so pretty.

Dunham MasseyWe headed back to the hotel for 3:30pm, threw on our waterproofs and headed on the mile long walk to Pizza Express.  It started tipping it down just before we arrived so we were very glad of our forward-thinking and that we wore our coats!

As we arrived, the waiter greeted us in Italian.  Dan, having learnt a few phrases whilst we were away on honeymoon last year decided to respond in Italian.  The waiter, then interested, asked Dan if his Italian was good.  Dan fluently replied in Italian stating that ‘His Italian was a little patchy so if possible it would be easier to speak in English.’  (A phrase he used on numerous occasions whilst we were away in August!)  Clearly he did a very good job of replying to the waiter as the waiter then paid special attention to our table and spoke to us several times in Italian.  Dan got rather worried after the first conversation that he wouldn’t be able to understand anything said to us, but luckily the conversation centred around food, and that was where Dan had learnt the majority of his phrases from.  We started with some garlic dough balls because seriously, they are our weakness when we head for a meal out.

Pizza Express garlic dough ballsAnd the salad I chose is going to be recreated at home repeatedly this month…

Pizza Express Pollo VerdurePollo Verdure – Warm chicken and mixed vegetables in a honey & mustard dressing served on a bed of spinach and rocket with balsamic syrup and goat’s cheese, a wedge of lemon and warm dough sticks.  I could literally eat this for days on end and not get bored!

After dinner we headed back out to the tram station to catch a tram to Old Trafford, where the Foo Fighters gig was to be held.  Somehow I managed to fall asleep on Dan’s lap for pretty much the whole 20 minute journey here, whilst in our carriage on the tram people were pressed in up against the glass and winding up the noise with excitement for the gig.  I literally could fall asleep anywhere!

When we arrived it was still raining which was a shame, but it didn’t stop us from having a little rock out of our own whilst waiting for Foos to arrive.

Wet and rainy at Foo Fighters gig in ManchesterBecause we arrived not long after 5:30pm it was still pretty empty when we first got there, meaning that we could pretty much pick our spot for the evening, although I wasn’t hugely taken by the support bands.

Foo Fighters in ManchesterAt 8:00pm on the dot we were treated to a really good show though and non-stop amazing music and entertainment for the next two and a half hours.  Dan was looking on Twitter the next day and discovered that apparently the gig was heard from almost ten miles away!  He took lots of video footage on his phone so we only have a few photos.
Foo Fighters in ManchesterGetting out of the grounds after the gig was a little out of my comfort zone.  People were pushing everywhere and police ended up closing one of the exits to give the movement outside time to die down.  We queued for a long while to get on the tram and then we were really crammed on.  I was glad to get off and back in to the hotel.

I was a little sad to head home on Thursday morning, but having received a phone call on the Wednesday to hear that our move would not be going ahead on the Friday as originally planned we really needed to head back and unpack essentials for at least one more week at work.  It was lovely to spend some time together though and not have to worry about spending too much money as we had been money savvy a couple of months back when planning our trip.

Is a Full English breakfast on the cards when you go away?
What is the best gig you have ever been to?
Do you use any reward schemes at all?  What has been the your favourite reward?

The Hare & Hounds and back pain hell

I’ll start with the back pain hell.
I woke up on Monday morning and the right hand side of my lower back ached slightly.  I put it down to the cold weather we’d been having.  It was pretty icy out there first thing on Monday!  There have been a couple of Winters in the past where my back has hurt.  The worst, from memory was four years ago when I moved into my current house.  My back was in so much pain I couldn’t help with carrying hardly anything into the house and the job was left to my Dad and one of his friends.  I just stood in the middle and directed where things should go!

But on Monday I had arranged to go on a ten mile trail run with a few others from club.  A few others all from groups 1 and 2 (I’ve just moved up to group 4 – two groups below anyone else).  They had posted a run a couple of weeks back starting from near my house and I had asked for a copy of the route so that I could run it in the future.  I got one better than that though and the Ladies Captain offered to organise a more relaxed run of the course over the holidays so that I could go along and not worry about map reading and getting lost if I were to follow the route later on my own!

There were seven of us on the morning of the run and the ice was thick on the roads.  The first mile was on road so we took it pretty steady (although still faster than I would normally have run a long run!) before cutting off onto a bridleway and over the A14 towards the lakes at Stanwick.  I could feel my back was a little tight but it didn’t restrict my running at all so I wasn’t too concerned.

We made it back to the little cafe in town just short of ten miles later and crowded in for some breakfast.  I was rather jealous of those that had ordered poached eggs when my fried egg on toast arrived.  After half an hour of chating and eating in the cafe I had stiffened up and my back was a little more sore to walk the quarter mile or so home again.  I jumped into the bath and spent the rest of the day casually catching up on Orange is the New Black with Dan.  (Very addicting if you haven’t already watched this, I recommend it!)  But by the time we headed out to the pub quiz for 8:30pm I could barely move.  My back kept twinging with every step and my face kept contorting with pain.  The usual five minute walk to the pub took a good ten minutes longer that night.
By Tuesday the pain had eased a bit and by Wednesday I had almost forgotten that I had had a problem earlier in the week.  Thursday morning we headed out to parkrun on another cold day and as we arrived I could feel that my back had tensed up again.  As soon as we began to run though I forgot about the pain and had no problems at all.  As we returned to the car I showed Dan how I could flex my arms and back any which way without causing me pain – running was clearly a cure!  After a forty minute journey home in the car my back had had time to stiffen again and has been recovering ever since.  I don’t know what’s wrong.

Today I headed out on an hour long walk with Dan before lunch.  (Probably would have only taken us 30 minutes had I been able to walk at my usual pace.)  I had hoped to get an easy 3-4 mile run in this afternoon as well but am going to rest running-wise until Sunday now in the hope that my back improves again as there is a trail run I was hoping to go on then.  Dan has been rubbing some Voltarol gel into the sore area twice a day and I’ve been taking long warm baths all week.  Voltarol gel is a miracle worker.  I feel a little like Daphne from the TV series, Heroes right now.  (If you haven’t seen Heroes, Daphne has a super ability to run everywhere really fast, but when her ability isn’t working she can barely make it by on crutches.)

Tonight Dan and I headed out for a meal at the Hare and Hounds in Great Addington.  A pub we had found during a trail run in the Summer and had meant to check out ever since.

Me at the Hare and HoundsDan at the Hare and Hounds

We had booked a table for 7:30pm and I had checked out the menu online before we arrived.  (Does anyone else do this?!)  Because it was a fancy-pants menu, I admit to googling some of the dishes I probably wouldn’t have tried having not known what they were beforehand.  When we arrived, the menu for December was slightly different from the one online.  (I guess it is no longer December, so I shall let them off!)

We then proceeded to wait over an hour for our food though, which was really disappointing as there were only two other tables in the restaurant.  We received an apology after about forty minutes with an explanation that the waitress had gotten confused with our order.  We received a round of free drinks as compensation.

When the food arrived, it was absolutely beautiful.  I’m afraid I can’t remember what was in my dish exactly and it is different to what was described online.  I apologise also for the poor photos.  Camera phones just don’t cut it in restaurants with dimmed down lighting and I’m not the sort of person who takes my DSLR out on date night!

Hare and Hounds mushroom vegetarian dishI had a poached egg (after regretting not getting one on Monday morning!) potato gnocche, and wild mushroom in an amazing spinachy sauce.  I think there were also parsnip crisps with a sprinkling of cress.  It was literally a melt-in-your-mouth meal and I scraped up every last bit of the sauce.

Dan went for the steak.  (He’s predictable in every way!)

Hare and Hounds steak with mushroomsI took his watercress from him and also two large mushrooms caked in a gorgeous onion chutney.  I love having a husband that leaves his veg!

For dessert we both went for a hazlenut topped dark chocolate tart with a scoop of vanilla icecream.  This dessert was different from the online menu and also the one we ordered from.  Good job we weren’t allergic to nuts as I don’t think they were mentioned on the menu, but there sure were a lot of them on the tart!

Hare and Hounds chocolate dessertWe had a lovely evening out, although it was rather disappointing having to wait for our meal for so long and having to rechoose from the menu after I had already settled on what I would like from the online menu before arriving.

Do you ever check out online menus for restaurants before you go out to dinner?
Any suggestions on how to cure my back pain?
 I’m open to all suggestions!  :)


Christmas traditions

This is the eighth Christmas season that Dan and I have been together, and our first as a married couple.  It felt rather weird buying a ‘Husband’ Christmas card from Clintons earlier today.

Over the past eight years our own Christmassy traditions have formed and Christmas just wouldn’t feel right without them.
One of my favourites is our trip to the local ice skating rink near to our house.

Skating at Beckworth Emporium

I am aware that I look rather special here.  Sometimes I’m not sure why Dan wants to take photos with me in at all!

Having never really been ice skating before we got together, and only going once a year since, I always start off a little rusty and holding on to the edge, but by the end of our time on the rink I’m happy skating round on my own (although tensing up anytime a small child whizzes infront of me gripping their small penguin stabiliser.)

Skating at Beckworth Emporium

Three years ago we were in New York for New Year and our skating session was at the Central Park rink – very magical and worth the queue!Skating in New YorkUsually though we head to the rink at the Beckworth Emporium, a Garden Centre which also has a fantastic gift shop and cafe attached.  (Don’t all garden centres?!)

Obviously we made sure to visit during a meal time and I enjoyed their Roast Parsnip Soup for lunch with a couple of slices of really soft bread.

Roast parnsip soup at Beckworth EmporiumDan munched through a chicken burger.  One of the best things about going out to dinner with Dan is that he doesn’t eat any of the veg or salad with a meal, so obviously I got my pickings as a side to my soup.  :)

Chicken burger at Beckworth EmporiumTo top it all though I had one of the best hot chocolates I’ve had in a long while (and I’ve drunk A LOT of hot chocolate lately!) Real cream and flakes of chocolate – Dan was rather envious of this beauty as he sipped on his Coke.

Hot chocolate at Beckworth Emporium

Can you ice skate?  Do you go skating at this time of year?

Living as a perfectionist

I have always liked to do everything to the best of my ability ever since I was young.  I would put in the most hours at work growing up, say yes to every opportunity that came my way and somehow, magically manage to fit it all in to my incredibly busy life.

I don’t like letting people down and will always help if I can.  Not the makings of a great self-employed person at all.  I give my time for free or undercharge – I’m not good enough in my own mind.

The past week went as follows…

Thursday – clean the house from top to bottom, update some websites for some small businesses, get an invitation for interview and check out the school that I was invited to, attend the running club committee meeting as website editor, set up a course on another runner’s Garmin, drive back to Norfolk and see my parents.

Friday – Take my parent’s dog out, meet up with my friend whose wedding I was bridesmaid at the following day, set up in the church, then the venue, pick up a late tea on the way home and write a blog post.

Saturday – At the wedding all day, returning home at 2am.

Zo's wedding party

Picture of the bride and groom with bridesmaids and their partners.

I’ll take the time now to show you the food from the wedding as it was delicious…

I had the prawn cocktail to start…

Prawn cocktail as Zo's wedding starter dish

Followed by a roast butternut squash risotto for main.

Butternut squash risotto as Zo's wedding main dish

I’m not a massive fan of risotto for lunch as I find it incredibly filling and I’d much prefer a plate filled with veg but the other choice was beef roast dinner which Dan had.

Roast beef as Zo's wedding main dish

I skipped the dessert as neither panna cotta or sticky toffee pudding appealed to me.

Sunday – Up bright and early again to run Mablethorpe marathon which I really enjoyed, dinner with my run club before home and a quick nap before taking a look at the lesson I needed to teach for my interview.

Monday – work all day from 7am-4:30pm in school and then home to make tea and teach myself the software I needed to teach the children in my interview on Wednesday.  This took until 10:30pm.

Tuesday – work all day from 7am-7:30pm in school and then home to perfect my lesson plan and resources.  I love the chance to be creative so always make my own resources for school.  I got to bed quite late in the end though.

Wednesday – up by 4am to ensure all was perfect for my lesson.  I was pretty tired by this point and so incredibly stressed out as I didn’t think I would be able to show my best in interview.  Dan and my Mum are the only people I ever let see me get stressed.  I am generally a pretty calm person if you were to ask any of my friends.  It was commented on my wedding morning by the photographer how I was the most laid back bride-to-be she had ever seen!  Although even if I had not been, no-one other than Dan or Mum would have known.  When life gets busy, as I so often let it, I struggle to fit everything in and then I panic that I’m letting people down or that I’m not showing myself in a very good light.  When I get stressed I go into complete melt down and will uncontrollably sob, pull at my hair, talk incredibly quickly and cannot concentrate on anything at all.  I’ll flit from one thing to the next and nothing will get done properly.  Dan has this magic knack of getting me to think rationally and return to normal again, lifting my workload or helping me to prioritise the events or workload I have taken on.  I don’t give up.  I still manage to somehow do it all but I keep a morning or few hours free at some point in the future where I can just relax, breathe and have a bit of space without having to please anyone again.  (That morning is today!)  I think part of the reason I love running so much is that it gives me plenty of head time to think things through and also that I don’t really have to be somewhere at a certain time or rush from one place to get there.  I can run anywhere.  Just step outside in my trainers whenever I feel like I need a break.

My interview went reasonably OK though, and in the phone call I received later that day I was told that I had delivered an outstanding lesson which the staff at the school were very impressed with.

Wednesday night – we went out to celebrate with a meal at Frankie & Benny’s, my favourite place to go!Wine at Frankie and Benny's

I had a salad for mains so that we could make room for dessert.  The Hot ‘n’ Spicy Chicken & Blue salad.  This is a new addition to the menu since the days where I worked at Frankies and it was definitely a good addition to make!  I asked for the hot sauce on the side and was glad I did as it was indeed rather hot!  Instead, I dipped odd forkfuls of my meal in the sauce as I went along.

Hot 'n' spicy chicken and blue salad at Frankie and Benny's

Of course, dessert had to be my old favourite East Coast Sundae.  There is something about having dessert in a sundae dish that I really enjoy.

East Coast Sundae at Frankie and Benny's

I haven’t run since the marathon as I’ve been letting my legs recover but I shall head out for an easy 5 miles this afternoon.  I’m itching to get back out there!

Do you cope well when your weeks get busy?  What strategies do you use to try and keep calm?
Which is your go-to restaurant to head to for celebrations?