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My monthly exercise diary #2: Settling in

While I’ve not settled into a full on exercise routine, I’ve done much better in February. I got off to a bad start with Kayla Itsines’ programme at the start of the month as I forgot to download the PDF offline (oops) and so got to the gym and realised I couldn’t do it! So I started on their circuit instead, which over the month I’ve been doing more regularly and adapted as time has gone on.

Generally I’ve added in more abs exercises and more repetitions of the arms exercises using the pull down / push up machine. I’ve started to see some results, with my back already looking visibly more toned and my belly slightly less pronounced. I know I need to up my cardio to really get this down, but more on that in a sec.

I’ve also added in some extra squats and replaced their tricep machine with tricep kickbacks, which I find more satisfying and definitely harder… I’m not sure what it is about the machine I don’t like, but these are more comfortable (and challenging) for me. My only problem is making sure my form is right without a mirror (as a ladies’ only gym, there are no mirrors except in the changing room).

I’m probably going about twice a week now I would say, which is better than it was. I have struggled though with my ongoing shin issue, which may be shin splints, preventing me from running. I’ve had some good advice from one of the gym instructors via my friend, so I’m going to give that a go along with building up from scratch. One of the main causes appears to be a lack of regular running, and then trying to do too much too soon.

So, I’m going to work the NHS ‘Couch to 5K’ into my routine. It’s going to be hellishly boring to begin with, but I’m going to stick it out and see how it goes. Fingers crossed it helps! Otherwise, I’ll need to find other ways of bringing cardio back in, which would be a shame as I had started to enjoy running, particularly outside.

I finally had a reassessment at the gym where they weigh and measure you again and then provide you with a new regime (if you need one). To be honest the results were a mixed bag – weight up 2lb, some body measurements up and some down, body fat % down. I’m not disheartened at all seeing as I’ve not really done the 8 weeks of exercise that you’re meant to have done, and I’m happy that my body fat % was down in particular.

The new regime seems much harder than the previous so I don’t think I’ll find myself adding in much more to it. Ironically I was going to start it tonight but I’m not feeling great (man flu) so assuming I’m better tomorrow, I’ll see how it goes!

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How to Make Money Online: Cashback Sites

This post should probably be called ‘how to save money online’, but it depends which way you look at it! You may well use a cashback site already, but if you don’t, read on. If you’re going to buy anyway, it’s a good way of getting a little something back, and it all adds up.

How does it work?

Cashback sites list hundreds of merchants and other sites where you can earn money as either a percentage of your sale value or a lump sum – and you don’t have to be buying a product necessarily; some sites pay you to use their service. So whether you’re buying a new dress or using a comparison site, there’s cash to be had.

You need to find the company you want to purchase from on the cashback site and click through to them from there. Ideally you should complete the sale in one session. This is because the sites track using cookies and most are based on a ‘last click wins’ policy – your cashback claim might get turned down if you later click through to the site from another source (even Google) and purchase from that click instead.

The cashback site relies on the retailer’s sales data to verify whether you made a sale, and because of these moving parts, cashback isn’t guaranteed – so best to think of it as a bonus instead of a certainty.

Different companies, different cashback

You may find that different companies pay differing rates of cashback for the same merchant, so it’s worth signing up to as many as you can and doing a quick check of the rates before committing to a click. One may also have access to merchants that the other doesn’t.

The top 2 cashback sites – Top CashBack and Quidco

Top Cashback Logo

Top CashBack offer two types of account – Classic and Plus. Plus costs £5 a year, and you get a whole host of additional features. Top CashBack pay a cashback bonus with all transactions, but for Plus customers it’s 5% rather than the 1% for Classic members. You also get higher payout and referral bonuses, no ads around the site, exclusive deals and 7 days a week priority customer support. They also have a helpful list of ‘free cashback’, where you don’t have to purchase to earn. I prefer Top CashBack because of the additional cashback bonuses plus the varied ways you can get paid. Payments:

  • Bank Transfer
  • Paypal
  • Gift cards / e-certificates at various retailers including Amazon, M&S, Love2shop, Cineworld, Argos, Homebase, TK Maxx, Debenhams, Currys PC World, Boots, Arcadia Group, Starbucks, Toys R Us, New Look, BHS, House of Fraser, River Island, plus a few restaurants and pub groups. What a choice!
  • Tesco Clubcard points

Quidco Logo

Quidco.com is perhaps the more well known site and while I prefer TC overall, I prefer the Quidco interface. It’s a bit easier to navigate and I tend to find account information, payments etc easier to find on here. There’s a lot more obvious in-your-face merchant ‘recommendations’ (advertising) though. You can also pay to be a Premium member (£5 a year) – where you get faster payment terms with selected retailers, support, no ads, exclusive offers and ocasionally payout bonuses – right now you get an extra 2% on Amazon.co.uk Gift Certificates.

  • Bank Transfer
  • Paypal
  • Amazon.co.uk Gift Certificates (+2%)

Charity cashback sites

There are a few charity cashback sites, where rather than the money coming to you, it goes to your nominated charity instead. The rates tend to be lower though, so if you can trust yourself (!) you’d be better off earning from Top CashBack/Quidco and donating. If you do decide to use these sites, make sure you tick the GiftAid box if you’re eligible to do so, to maximise the amount the charity receives. Examples of these include Giveasyoulive and Easyfundraising.

Toolbars

Most sites have toolbars you can install / add on to your browser which will indicate when a site offers cashback. This is a good way of making sure you don’t forget!

Cashback vs Voucher Codes

Unlike a voucher code, where the discount on your purchase is instant in the basket, with cashback you will need to pay the full price upfront, and then wait a while for your sale to be validated by the merchant before the money can be paid to you. The cashback site will tell you a rough idea of how long this will be, but be warned – it can take longer and as mentioned elsewhere, isn’t guaranteed to be paid.

As a voucher code gives a guaranteed discount, you should weigh up which is better – a lower voucher code which is provided then and there or a higher cashback amount which may not be paid.

One problem with voucher codes is that it’s hard to keep track of the savings as you go along – a few pence here and there does add up, but unless you put that money aside, you could just end up spending it on something you didn’t mean to! What I like about getting a payment from a cashback site is that it’s much easier to keep track of and move directly into your savings account.

Cashback AND Voucher Codes?

Sometimes you might see a voucher code and cashback and think – I can use both! But the only time you can, is if the voucher is shown on the cashback site. If you get it elsewhere and use both, you’ll get the voucher code discount but in most cases, not the cashback. Merchants are much more savvy to this now as they de-dupe across traffic channels.

In-store cashback

Don’t forget to link up your bank cards so that you will receive in-store cashback with participating retailers without even trying! Some sites require you to ‘opt in’ to the offers, but on Quidco for example you get it anyway. I got 5p from Caffe Nero the other day when I bought two coffees – which OK, isn’t going to change my life by itself but every little helps!

I bought something but the cashback hasn’t tracked / it’s been declined. What do I do?

There’s an option to put in a cashback claim with all of these sites who will investigate whether they can track a sale back to you. Sometimes though this may still be declined if they can’t connect a sale back to you or if you’ve gone via two conflicting traffic sources as mentioned above. Worth trying though!

 

Remember:

Transfer your payments to your savings account as soon as you receive them. Or, take the payout as a store voucher and use as gifts, or to purchase gifts at Christmas. You could easily pay for Christmas over  the course of a year!

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My monthly exercise diary #1: the beginning

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the gym. I loathe it. It bores me. Even in the run up to my wedding – probably one of the best incentives ever – I really struggled to keep to a routine.

That’s not changed, a few years later. I’ve dabbled in a few different things: working out on my own, running with friends, going to classes, using exercise guides, etc. Nothing has really stuck. Recently I joined a new women-only gym, Shapers, which is based in Bromley High Street. It’s an interesting concept, based around a circuit system and regular check ups on your measurements. I’m going to put my hands up and say I’ve not been to one yet. I’ve not put the time in, so I kind of thought what’s the point? 

I need to turn that attitude around.

The exercise guide I got furthest with was Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide, or BBG, which is a 12 week programme. It is tough though – not just the exercise but also to fit in everything it asks of you in a week. I also worry that because I’m so rubbish people in the gym will judge me, even in a women’s only gym! I’d like to try again, though I missed the start of the new ‘Kayla Movement’ at the start of January, but that doesn’t matter.

 BBG 
So I’ve decided to keep a track of how I’m doing on here in the hopes it might make me feel slightly more accountable, and hopefully I will be able to turn this into an actual routine. 

So I’m starting tomorrow. Good luck to me! I’ll check back in in 4 weeks.

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KMS California – Free Shape Quick Blow Dry Review

I’ll be honest, I was a bit sceptical when my hairdresser (the wonderful Harley at Hectik Hair in Bromley) started telling me about KMS California Free Shape Quick Blow Dry. She’d just liberally sprayed it all over my hair before a blow dry and apparently, it was going to help my hair dry more quickly.

Erm, what? Like how?

That was my initial mental reaction. But she continued to sing its praises as she blow dried and it really did feel quicker than usual – that, plus the fact that I was feeling a bit flush, meant I took the plunge. I still have no idea how it works, but it does.

KMS California Free Shape Quick Blow Dry

The description says that Quick Blow Dry: “Speeds up drying time up to 50%. Reduces friction while conditioning lightly. Provides heat protection.”

I can honestly say that it does speed up drying time significantly. I can’t tell you if it’s by 50% but it’s quite a lot, that’s for sure. I’ve accidentally found myself using this almost every day – because why wouldn’t you want to shave off a few extra precious minutes in the morning?!

It’s really easy to use – you shake to combine the two liquids and then spray all over your towel-dried hair and blow dry as normal.

My hair is usually pretty soft but there’s a noticeable extra sheen when I use this which I love. The formula is super lightweight – so much so that you can’t even feel that you’ve sprayed it. For comparison, I also have an Aussie leave-in conditioner which is meant to be lightweight but you can tell it’s there whereas with this, there’s been a couple of occasions in my pre-coffee haze where I’ve actually forgotten that I’ve sprayed it already until I’ve seen the liquid is cloudy from already being mixed…!

I rarely style my hair with anything other than a hairdryer so I don’t really know whether this provides adequate heat protection, though I should point out that it was all my hairdresser used – and I trust she knows what she’s doing!

I’ve had the first bottle for at almost 3 months and it’s not quite finished yet, but I’ve actually already repurchased – my salon often has 2-for-1 deals so we took advantage when my husband needed some his hair wax. You can definitely get it cheaper online though, from sites such as lookfantastic.com.

If you’ve ever tried this product, or can recommend something similar, let me know in the comments below.

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How to declutter

I seem to accumulate a lot of stuff.

For a fair sized one bedroom flat we surprisingly have next to no built in storage – just one cupboard – and it all just seems to take over sometimes. This is not to say I help in any way: I’ve always been a prolific shopper, ever since I got my first part time job as a teenager. I’ve curbed this a lot in recent months though; I’ve tried to cut down and started to get rid of things we no longer need.

Flat - lots of stuff!
See all those books piled on the bookcase on the corner?! ^_^

Now that it’s the spring, that age old idea of ‘spring cleaning’ has made me decide to do an even bigger clear out over the next few weeks, so while I’m no expert (my husband will testify to that!!) I thought it might be useful to give you a low down on what I’ve learnt about downsizing your stuff.

 

Be realistic and ruthless

If there’s one thing I can tell you from personal experience, it’s this. Try to look at everything with as unemotional an eye as possible – easier said than done, I know, but ask yourself some questions, and you might find it easier:

  1. When did you last use this?
  2. When will you next use it (honestly?)
  3. Is it contributing to your quality of life?
  4. Will you miss it if it’s gone?

I didn’t do this initially and it’s taken much longer than it should have done to get this far. Try to only take a few seconds to decide on each item.

 

Test yourself

So, you’ve done the above. You probably have ‘Keep’, ‘Throw’ and ‘Maybe’ piles. Now’s the time to really test your resolve. With the ‘Keep’ and ‘Maybe’ piles, I suggest you put all of it away for a couple of weeks, and then ask yourself the questions above again. You might be surprised by the answers.

 

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

Now, what to do with the stuff you don’t want?

There are lots of options:

GIVE 

Charity – local stores will accept donations (but please drop off bags when the store is open) and some will collect from your doorstep – speak to your local branches.

Friends – Would your friends or family make use of it? Is it in good enough condition to give as a present at their next birthday or Christmas? otherwise, just hold a ‘jumble sale’ and let them help themselves.

SELL 

Boot Sale – during the summer. This can cost anything from a few quid to over £10 for a pitch – I suggest sharing with a friend unless you have lots to sell. I did two last year and was amazed at how much I was able to get rid of. Clothes sold more easily than I anticipated and I sold all of my silver jewellery in the first 5 minutes at 7am!

eBay – obviously. This has been a go to for years. However I should point out that they have changed their billing model not so long ago, meaning there are now no listing fees, but you pay a ‘final value fee’ on everything you sell (not just in certain categories like it used to be) AND you also pay the final value fee on the postage. This can easily leave you out of pocket if you’re not careful to price up correctly. Don’t forget to include your packaging costs into your postage charge too.

Preloved UK – Possibly slightly less well known, it’s also free to list on here though there are premium options which may help your stuff get sold quicker – the Premium Membership (a year’s membership is £25 but get 4 extra months free via this link using code: PREM4FREE) gets you full page ads, unlimited photos, the ability to add links and videos, among other things.

Gumtree – free to list, though there are options to upgrade ads by paying should you wish to. For me it’s lost some of it’s sparkle in recent years and I’ve found selling things elsewhere much easier.

MusicMagpie / Zapper – Similar but not the same. With MusicMagpie you can sell DVDs, CDs and games as well as electronics and mobile phones; Zapper accepts books, DVDs, CDs and games, mobiles and electronics – and Lego® (?!). You’re not going to get loads for each item but a good option if you just want to get rid.

Shpock – my new favourite. I’ve both bought and sold on here and it’s really easy. It’s all done via an app rather than online, and I love the layout. The offer system is really simple and clear and there’s a real mixture of stuff on here – their tagline is ‘the boot sale app’ – which means that almost anything might sell. As it’s free to list, anything is worth a try!

 

Repeat this process a few times a year

As I mentioned earlier I struggled to get into the swing of doing this and have found myself doing it multiple times. To be honest it’s worked out for the best in a way as it’s forced me to constantly re-evaluate. I have a big pile of things to put up for sale so I’ll be working through this in the next few weeks!

 

Do you have any tips for me?! 🙂

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2016.

So here we are at the start of another year! We saw it in with friends at their house party – a nice change from being the hosts!

 

2015 was a good one.

 

Friends and family got married and others had babies.

We celebrated 10 years together (and two years of marriage) with a day out in London, dinner at Jamie’s Fifteen and a night in a spa hotel; and a weekend in Hastings.

We celebrated 4 years of living in our lovely flat.

We visited new countries.

I upped the culture and went to museums, galleries and the theatre quite a few times – and I even went to the theatre alone to see the Oresteia (I AM OFFICIALLY AN ADULT)

We went to our first rugby match – Ireland vs. Wales at the Millennium Stadium

I saw my favourite band, Lifehouse, again!

I went to my first blogger event.

…Among other things.

 

But 2016 is set to be even bigger.

 

We just saw the Book of Mormon which is quite possibly the most hilarious musical I’ve ever seen.

Work life is taking a turn for the better, with more opportunity on the horizon.

In just the first 6 months of the year I’m already taking 4 trips – to see the uni girls in Leeds in early February; seeing my sister in Madrid in mid February; Venice with my bestie in April; and Berlin with Martin in June for our birthdays (his Christmas present to me!)

We’ll have had our cats for 5 years in February.

Two more weddings and two more babies are on their way – two uni friends are getting married, and our friends and brother-in-law are having babies!

Assuming everything works out *touches wood* we may not see our fifth anniversary in this flat. Fingers crossed that by then, we will be the proud owners of a house. I dream of stairs and gardens daily.

 

And finally…

Towards the end of the year we’ll also start trying for a baby of our own! <3

 

Here’s to a great year.

 

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London Restaurant Review: Gatti’s @ CityPoint, Moorgate #ZomatoMeetUp

About a month ago the lovely people over at Zomato invited me to a #ZomatoMeetUp at Gatti’s, an Italian restaurant in the City. These events are basically lots of foodies coming together to try good food and wine at interesting and sometimes new (like this one was to me!) locations across town. Obviously I wasn’t going to say no, because that just sounds like heaven!

This was my first meet up and I can honestly say I had a fab time. If you can’t be bothered to read the whole post, take this away: Gatti’s is great. The food is awesome and the staff are lovely and obviously passionate about serving honest, traditional Italian food. If you want more, read on (and get ready to salivate at all the amazing food…!)

Gatti's - Table

Gatti’s have two locations, one in Broadgate and one at CityPoint, near Moorgate. We went to the CityPoint branch, which is in an area I’m not particularly familiar with, and certainly didn’t help in finding it… the restaurant is a bit hidden away in one corner of the plaza, so I can imagine it doesn’t get much passing trade.

When I arrived I was served a lovely glass of Veuve Clicquot and started to get to know my fellow bloggers and the staff at Zomato over some canapés: smoked salmon, mascarpone and chives or lobster and avocado mousse blinis. I’m not a fan of seafood generally so didn’t try the lobster, but the smoked salmon was delicious!

The main restaurant is downstairs and it really was a surprise to see just how big it is considering the upstairs is so small – it’s essentially a bar area with space for just a few tables. Downstairs is the opposite with lots of well-spaced tables, mixed with booths for a more intimate feel. Red leather and white tablecloths mean it looks crisp but still welcoming and homely.

Gatti's - Restaurant

Apparently the plural of bruschetta is bruschette, and that’s what made up our first course: various toppings including cured ham and artichoke; porcini mushrooms in a herb and garlic butter; and roasted cherry tomatoes with basil.

Gatti's - Bruschette

My favourite was by far the ham & artichoke, though the mushrooms – which I’m not normally a big fan of – came a close second as they were cooked perfectly and had just enough garlic.

Gatti's - Bruschetta - Mushrooms

The next course was ‘rigatoni al pomodoro di Campagna’, otherwise known as rigatoni pasta in a tomato sauce with basil. My first thought was, if it’s that simple, it has got to be good. My other thought was, YES! because I love rigatoni. This really was delicious. Literally so simple but possibly one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had, even better than some in Rome. The pasta was al dente and the ingredients fresh – just perfect.

Gatti's - Rigatoni Close Up

Next came the fish course, a whole sea bass which had been baked in a sea salt crust.

Gatti's - Salt Baked Bass

This was a real sight to behold as they cut it out, filleted and served it to us along with parsley sauce and a crisp pickled salad with orange.

Gatti's - Salt Baked Bass - Filleting

The fish had taken on some of the flavour of the salt, which was fine for me but might be a little much for some, though I think the parsley sauce helped to cut through it.

Gatti's - Salt Baked Bass - Plated

Gatti's - Salt Baked Bass - Salad

Next came a lemon and prosecco sorbet which was a lovely palette cleanser. Not very easy to photograph though..

Gatti's - Sorbet

The main course can only be described as immense, both in size and quality. Just look at that hunk of beef!

Gatti's - Beef Close Up

The beef was carved up and served with seasonal vegetables, roast potatoes and strangely, Yorkshire puddings. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but it was a bit of a surprise! They were fluffy yet still crispy on the outside.

Gatti's - Beef Carving

Gatti's - Veg

The beef was a star. I’m not a massive fan of beef if I’m honest, but this was delicious. It was more pink than I would have chosen but it was fine – no blood actually coming out!! – and the flavour was rich. Roast potatoes are quite one of the best bits about a roast in my opinion (a long time love stemming from not liking many meats when I was younger) and these were DELICIOUS. Fluffy potatoes, crispy round the edges, and flavoured with rosemary – one of my favourite ways to have roasties!

Gatti's - Beef

Gatti's - Beef

I was honestly stuffed by this point and then we remembered there were desserts coming…! And not just any desserts, a selection each – ‘Dolce dello Chef’. These included home-made tiramisu, panna cotta with winter berries, profiteroles and cheesecake.

Gatti's - Dessert Platter

I’ve started to realise I am more of a savoury person these days, so will happily choose a starter over a dessert, but these all looked so delicious, and the small bites of each that I managed to fit in didn’t disappoint. Personally my favourite was the panna cotta which was light and creamy, and second was probably the tiramisu. I found the cheesecake a little heavy, and to be honest the profiterole was just a profiterole. All in all though it was great to try different things and perhaps I might actually order a panna cotta next time I go for a dessert!

Gatti's - Dessert Platter 2

I should also mention that the first few courses were paired with an Italian wine – white for the starter and fish course and red for the main. Both choices complimented the food perfectly; these guys certainly know their wines!

They also gave us a sweet little bag of homemade truffles to take away, which I gave to my husband.. wish I’d eaten them myself though as going by everything else I’m sure they were tasty.

Truffles

I had a fantastic night with Zomato and the other bloggers at Gatti’s. The staff are so friendly and happy to talk about the history of the restaurants and the philosophy behind them. They are very passionate about the food they serve and it comes through so well.

 

If I’m ever in the area of either restaurant, I’d happily visit for some more traditional, home-made Italian food. The prices are fairly average in my opinion for the City and considering the food is so good, really it’s a small price to pay. Highly recommended.

 

Gatti's City Point Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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