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?

5k, lunch, 10k

On Wednesday morning I had promised someone I used to work with that I would take her out on a run.  She is trying to lose a bit of weight and has re-taken up running over the past couple of weeks.  As she lives in Northampton, I decided to drive over and take her to the Northampton parkrun route, – it’s fairly flat and having run it once before several years earlier, she would know roughly at what point she was at of the run.  She told me she was hoping for sub 45minutes but set off at a pace somewhere around 11:20mm and we ended up finishing in 36 minutes, well under her 45 minute target.  Along with another teacher from the school I used to work at who has also taken up running we are hoping to make parkrun together later in the year.

Having not seen any of the staff at school since I left, after our run we got changed and headed into town to meet up with another member of staff and grab a catchup at Buddies.  I live quite close to the Buddies in Rushden, but apparently the one in Northampton town centre is the original Buddies.  Dan and I have been a few times to the Rushden restaurant in the past and I have really struggled to finish a meal.  I was planning on just having a starter this time, knowing the size of the meals, although was convinced by the others to go for a two course meal deal as that’s what they were having.

Course one:  Main – Chef’s salad – lettuce, cucumber, tomato, slices of ham and chicken, egg, cheese and blue cheese dressing.  This was so much larger in real life than it looks on the plate here.  The bowl was actually pretty deep!Chef's salad, Buddies, NorthamptonCourse two:  Dessert – Toffee cheesecake.  Although this was nice, there was probably about three times more than there needed to be on the plate so I left feeling incredibly full!Toffee cheesecake, Buddies, NorthamptonI said goodbye to my ex-colleagues and headed home for some work for an hour before meeting up with a running friend for a 10k.  I did feel rather tired by this point, having had a large meal in the afternoon, when normally I keep my lunches quite light.  Running the 10k and having a catchup soon brightened me up though and it wasn’t long before I got into the swing of the run.  A little faster than we had been moving in the morning, we probably ran at about 10:30mm pace for most of it.

On returning home again, papers from the solicitor had arrived regarding the sale of our house.  I’ve not sold a house before but there is so much more paperwork required to sell than to move!  Dan and I had to fill out a massive booklet to say which fittings and features of the house were staying, or what price we would accept in order to leave them in the house.  Some of the questions I found very weird, such as light switches and radiators.  I’m not sure how often they get taken with an owner when they move house?! House fittings from the solicitor And then, to continue our buying and selling theme for the week, Dan and I decided to pull out Monopoly last night for a game, which we haven’t played forever.  Obviously I thrashed him, and owned all the browns, reds, greens and purples.Winning at MonopolyDo you like to have two courses or one when you go out for lunch?
What is your favourite board game?

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?

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

On Friday night I headed out for an 8.4 mile ‘long’ run on my own after work as Dan was not going to get home until late and I had nothing better to do.  (Well, I probably did, but it was always going to be ignored!)  It was almost dark by the time I set off in the end so I headed out in a yellow reflective Nike jacket and my headtorch.  Every time a car headed towards me on the road I started wiggling my head from side to side so that my headtorch stood out to the traffic.  I got lots of wide births.  Hopefully because the drivers realised that there was something in the road and not just because they thought I was weird!

At the start of the run I really, really struggled to keep my heart rate down in Zone 2 but once I got into the step pattern I could maintain the slow pace much easier and I began to enjoy the run. Heart rate Zone 2 Yesterday I ran an easy 3miles in Zone 2 (130-143bpm) and today I headed on a 10.1 mile route with friends from club not worrying too much about my heart rate.  It’s hard to a) concentrate on the figures and b) stick running that slowly when running with others.  Looking back at my data though my heart rate remained relatively low without the constant watch checking.  I made a point of running much slower than I usually would as we were running with a mix of Group 5 and Group 6 runners (I usually run in Group 5).  One of the requirements when running with friends is that you have enough breath left to be able to talk all the way round and that usually requires a pretty slow pace!  The ten miles went by really quickly.  Not literally, obviously.  It went really slowly, but I was happily enjoying the moment and I had lots to chat about.

Dan and I are not long back from watching the town Christmas lights being switched on complete with firework display.  We only live 5 minutes walk from the centre of our town so we pootled down before dinner to check out the hotdog stand and see the lights before heading back home to work a little more at ticking off our Christmas present shop.  19/24 presents BOUGHT!

I’m all about the online shopping this year.  We had planned to head to Milton Keynes or Corby yesterday afternoon but after watching the ridiculous Black Friday riots on the news we decided it was probably quicker, safer, cheaper and more reliable to order gifts from our couch instead.  I can’t believe how crazy the Black Friday sales got in the UK.  It’s not even a public holiday for us over here so the majority of the population were at work.  It’s pretty scary how people can behave the way they have been behaving – completely out of control.  Way too many people seem to have been let into the shops at opening time.  Every single piece of footage I have seen has shown shops where no-one can move due to the sheer volume of people inside.  It really worries me that there are people in the world who believe that acting the way they have is an entirely appropriate way to behave.

I haven’t really felt very Christmassy at all yet this year.  On Tuesday night (25th November) I nipped out for a quick 3 mile run only to return to my house less than half an hour later with the entire street lit up like Times Square with Christmas lights dotted on all the houses.  On the way home from the light switch on tonight I was actually trying to work out when, or if, we have a spare few hours during a weekend before Christmas.  I’m not sure we’ll be putting our tree up until the start of the Christmas holidays we have that much coming up.

I love traditions at Christmas and one of my favourites from the family Moore is that we never put the Christmas tree up until Christmas Eve evening.  We used to all pile into the lounge to help decorate the tree and room, taking it in turns to dive into the kitchen with any unwrapped presents to get them wrapped ready to place under the tree.  I’d love to keep this tradition if Dan and I ever have children or host at Christmas but at the moment there would not be much sense in us putting a tree up at all if we were to put it up on Christmas Eve as we spend the next two days at one set of parents (two hour drive away), the following two days at the other set (four hours from the other set of parents).  Spend a couple of days back at home again before whisking off to a set of friends for over the New Year.  One day we’ll stay at home… Christmas jumper I did feel slightly more Christmassy today at least and popped on my Christmas jumper to watch the light switch on.  As all of the presents we bought arrive during this week I shall begin wrapping and then we will be freefalling towards the end of term and the Christmas holidays and the rushing from house to house will begin.  “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…”

What are your favourite family Christmas traditions?
Did you brave the Black Friday sales?  Snap up any good bargains?