A Feast With Friends

It seems odd to me that this time last year a social life was pretty much non-existent. I never went out with friends. I couldn't tell you the last night out I had...
And then I met Christine. I truly believe that there are people in life you are meant to meet. Like you need them, or they need you, or you need each other in some kind of way.
Our friendship is ridiculous, wonderful and hyper and I couldn't live without it....in fact as I write this it's been 3 days since we've seen each other and that's the longest we've gone for a while!

I think one of the best things about our friendship, for me, is that Christine has given me a social life. She introduced me to a coffee shop that I was aware about anyway but had never visited, and now it is "my local". But better than that, I am now good friends with the owner and the staff. And it's nice. Really nice. It's nice that not only do me and Christine have our close friendship, but we have other people to share that with too.

On Saturday I was invited to a BBQ at the coffee shop. Two weeks before this we had enjoyed a girls night out in on of the pubs nearby...what should have been a couple of drinks to enjoy the band became a late nighter, resulting in me falling over three times and us eating pizzas, burgers, chips and wedges back in the coffee shop afterwards. So I knew Saturday night would have been fun, although didn't want it to be as eventful as the Saturday night two weeks previous.

I almost didn't go. Not only was I tired after taking part in the Run or Dye Festival that morning and having to get up early to travel there, which wasn't fun when I was tired and it was raining. I'm surprised Christine didn't slap me for being so grumpy!
I messaged Christine and told her I would stay at home but she convinced me to go. The boys had gone camping and I said to take my car and walked to the coffee shop...via Tesco of course to grab a bottle of Prosecco, much needed to celebrate a few achievements this month!

Well, Christine was right to convince me to go. I had the most fantastic night. I think sometimes, those nights where you sit and just socialise with a group of people, sharing bottles of wine and being served the most delicious food. Seriously, this woman is super talented. Just look below at that bread.

I got home feeling really content. Obviously headed straight to Facebook and posted this:
Things I learnt tonight:
Friendship doesn't depend on....
Great group of friends, fab food and nice drink.
Cheers and good night x

I can't help but to feel insecure and to wonder why I was invited, and to be paranoid about annoying people. But pushing that aside, I feel very lucky to have those friends, and to have evenings like that. 
And to think, I used to think socialising wasn't important. It really really is.


Top 5 Places to Visit in Europe with Children

Let’s face it; traveling with your kids in tow is not a walk in the park. Children can get tired easily and their short attention span can get them immediately bored being ushered everywhere. You have to be parents during the whole trip and it can get exhaustive and expensive as well. Nevertheless, if taking your kids is the only way to go, and you can afford the extra costs, then bringing them along can also be one of the most exciting things you can do as a family. A trip to Europe can add up to wonderful memories that you all make together as you introduce your children to a wider world. With kids along, here are top five places to visit that are kid-friendly.

  1. Sicily, Italy. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean, this island is surrounded by seas and is endowed with nature’s beauty – beautiful coastlines and lush mountains and hills. It is the perfect place for vacationing with children as it offers a lot of possibilities to keep the young ones occupied and entertained. The beaches are perfect for playing around for the presence of fine sand and warm, crystal clear waters. In addition, you can bring your family on nature excursions in the mountains where they can have the opportunity to watch the wildlife of the area. Biking and horseback riding in the Madonie Mountains is also a fun activity. You can also bring the children to various amusement and water parks where you can spend the whole day trying all the rides and watching the attractions. Go exploring archaeological ruins that dot the whole island from west to east. To top that off, an exhilarating trip to Mt. Etna would surely excite the whole family. It is good to remember that you need to find suitable holiday rentals in Sicily way before your trip since accommodations tend to get booked up instantly.

  1. Copenhagen, Denmark. This city is definitely a kid-friendly place with its fairytale atmosphere. Castles that kids have seen in their story books will surely get them excited as they recall stories of heroes and princesses. The brightly coloured buildings are already good enough to inspire them to explore the place.  Moreover, you bring them to visit one or both of the oldest amusement parks in all of Europe. Then, usher them to the Blue Planet which is the biggest aquarium in Northern Europe and which will, without doubt, enthrall the whole family with the many scenic attractions there are – walls of water and 20, 000 animals! Then a picnic in one of the numerous parks will get the children to romp around freely.

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  1. Paris. Probably the most popular of all European cities, especially with the allure of the Eiffel Tower. As you make your around, you will be delighted with the many sights and sounds. There are street performers in every corner and your senses will be tickled with the alluring smells of freshly-baked goodies. Visit the Luxembourg Gardens to allow your kids to have fun with the carousel, race sailboats and be amazed by the 100 statues that you can find lined up in the park. There are various museums and parks that can fill up your days. Everything is accessible with the efficient metro system they have.
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  1. London, England. This is the birthplace of every classic childhood characters that include but is not limited to Peter Pan and Harry Potter. Both adults and children alike will find this place thrilling to visit as there are so many sights. A picnic at St. James Park is an ideal way to frolic in the open air, after which you can walk past the Buckingham Palace and be reminded of stories of royalty. You can get the children entertained with a visit to the Tower of London where you can see weapons and crown jewels.
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  1. Barcelona, Spain. This is a bustling city that will surely make your visit with your kids spectacular. Drop by La Rambla to watch street performers swallow fire and juggle swords and do a lot of other amazing stuff that children will find magical. If you love chocolate, bring the family to the Chocolate Museum where you can have a hands-on experience with making chocolate and get to taste them, too! It would be like a real Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory experience!



Another Saturday. Another 5k.

So, last year I started exercising and really enjoyed my strict daily/evening speed walks down the local marshes.
Then....I became lazy. I stopped going out and soon lost the passion for it.
I think it was a mixture of anxiety and an incident of being looked down upon for not running....by two runners. I felt like I wasn't good enough and felt embarrassed to go out.

This year I was given the opportunities to be involved in two 5k events. The first being Race for Life last weekend, and today I am taking part in Run or Dye at Chantry Park in Ipswich. I'm hoping both of these with reignite that passion for exercise and get me going out again.

Run or Dye, the world’s most colourful 5K, is a recreational 5K that celebrates fitness, friendship and fun- all while blasting participants with safe, eco-friendly, plant-based dye powder. Run or Dye draws its inspiration from the ancient Hindu festival of Holi, also known as the “Festival of Colours.” A leader in the fitness literacy movement, Run or Dye’s mission is to encourage better health, fitness and nutrition decisions among its participants and supporters.

Run or Dye has partnered with zeo, the lightly carbonated soft drinks brand that re-launched last month, to refresh all 25,000 participants across the UK with an all-natural, low sugar, low calorie and colourful zeo at the end of each event.
zeo have kindly paid for me and Christine (again, I know, can't get rid of her) to take part in this fantastic fun event!

We are continuing to raise money for Cancer Research UK so if you would like to sponsor us, via our Just Giving page, you still can.

zeo is a premium soft drinks brand made using only naturally sourced ingredients and botanicals. zeo expertly blends natural stevia from South America with pure cane sugar which forms the base of its natural sweetness. The lightly carbonated drinks contain just 2.3g of sugar per 100ml which categorises zeo as an FSA green traffic light. The flavour range contains just 30kcals per 275ml bottle, allowing you to enjoy the taste without the guilt. Current flavour range: Peach & Grapefruit, Zesty Lime, Blood Orange & Citrus, Mixed Berry.

I was sent 3 of the zeo flavours and have to say, served over ice on a hot day they are the ideal way to rehydrate yourself and are really refreshing. In fact, if you added a little Rum to the Zesty Lime drink you'd have yourself a Mojito!



Life Experiences: Race for Life

I have been aware of Race for Life for a long time now. I have had friends and family members who have taken part, but I had never done so myself.
Scottish Power got in touch with me a few months ago, asking if I would like to run the 5k Race for Life in Cambridge. I was very lucky that they paid for me and my best friend to enter the race, and also paid for our travel and accommodation so we didn't have to drive all the way there the morning of the race.

On Saturday I picked up my best friend and we headed on our two and a half mile journey to Huntingdon. We'd managed to find a hotel bargain and had access to their gym and swimming pool so we packed the correct attire and left towards lunchtime so we could fit some exercise time in.
Luckily our room was ready when we arrived so we took our bags up, I threw Christine's retro-style bracelet gift at her whilst she waited for me to stop faffing, then when got ready and hit the gym.After an hour in there, and around an hour in the swimming pool we headed back to our room to shower (separately!!) and get ready for dinner.With wifi not working, I sat with a coffee and coloured in some of my Mindfulness colouring book whilst I waited for Christine to finish her turn in the shower.

We had a wonderful meal at Pizza Express that evening and then when we got back to the hotel we grabbed a drink from the bar, took it back to our room and watched The Watch on Channel 4, then slept. It was really warm and air con was a bit pants so we didn't have the best sleep ever, however we woke up to a sunny day and had a lovely breakfast before we hit the road to make our way into Cambridge City Centre.

Finding a park and ride was pretty tricky. Google wasn't too clear but we did find a postcode of one which we then ignored and instead headed to the Milton Park and Ride after following signs. This was really easy to find, and was perfect for when we were leaving to head home after the race.

As we got on the coach we panicked as we looked at the time. Our race was supposed to start at 11, we had already missed the warm up and the general atmosphere before the race and we didn't then want to miss the start of the race too!
We got there just in time, and as we snuck under the tape and cut across the course we then heard the runners start. 

We had a quick toilet break (essential when you are excersiing and have had children) and then had a look around. As I looked at the back of peoples tshirts I became emotional. I saw a photo of a really pretty young woman, she can't have been much younger than me. And there stood her sister and mum with tshirts on in tribute to her. It was really emotional and an eye opener as to why we were there, and why events and awareness like this are so important.

We decided to go in with the walkers, however we ended up pretty much overtaking most of them and catching up with/being amongst the joggers in the end.
One of the best things about the race was not only raising money for such a good course, but also getting to see a lot of Cambridge City. The buildings were beautiful, it was just a shame that some shoppers had a total lack of respect and kept walking in the way of Race for Life participants to get to the other side of the street.
As we went round I had a constant stitch, it was really painful and as much as Christine kept telling me to stop and have a break I wanted to battle on. I felt that if I stopped I would have failed, not failed for anyone else but failed myself. I didn't want to stop. People go through worse than a stitch and I could walk 5k. 

As we neared the finish line I kind of wished it was longer. I was having such a lovely time, and felt so proud of myself and my friend. Despite it being sad seeing the things written on the paper pinned to everyone's backs, it was also so wonderful to see so many people walking for someone. For showing them their support and for fighting cancer in any form they can.
We decided to run the last part of the course and as we high fived the Heart team as we crossed over I felt a huge surge of pride and emotion....and dehydration. We were handed our medals, a brioche, bottle of water and a yogurt and then found an empty space on the grass to collapse sit down and catch our breath and thoughts.

We then popped over to the Scottish Power tent (which we did mistake for a bouncy castle from a distance...awkward!) to take part in the Scottish Power High Five campaign

A little bit of information about their relationship with Cancer Research, taken from the Scottish Power High Five website:

Why is ScottishPower working with a charity, and why Cancer Research UK?
At ScottishPower we believe we have a responsibility to our customers and to our environment. We want to make a difference wherever we can. One in two people in the UK will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime1 and it is an issue that affects many of our customers and employees. In 2012 we started a 3 year long relationship with Cancer Research UK with the aim of raising £5m. Since then we have raised in excess of £6m2 and we're not stopping there. In April 2015, we renewed our relationship with Cancer Research UK for a further 3 years and we will continue to help generate funds for the charity through a range of activities.

What is the High 5 Wave?
The ScottishPower High 5 Wave is a fun way for you to get involved and help us raise awareness and money for Cancer Research UK.

High fives are a symbol of achievement and celebration for all of us every day. We want to use high fives to generate positive energy in the fight against cancer, so we're asking you to join in by generating high fives (including virtual ones online) and adding to our High 5 Wave along the way.

We're aiming to achieve 60,000 high fives, which we'll convert to £35,000 for Cancer Research UK5.

You can help us reach our high five target by adding a photo or video5 to the High 5 Wave, by 'liking', our Facebook page, sharing a video or image, nominating a friend to high five or by getting involved with activities at our High 5 Wave marquee at the Cancer Research UK Race for Life events attended by ScottishPower: Glasgow 10th May, Leeds 30th May, Nottingham 7th June, Aberdeen 14th June, London Blackheath 5th July, Manchester 12th July, Cambridge 19th July.

How do I High 5?
You can help us reach our high five target by adding a photo or video5 to the High 5 Wave, by 'liking', our Facebook page, sharing a video or image, nominating a friend to high five or by getting involved with activities at our High 5 Wave marquee at the Cancer Research UK Race for Life events attended by ScottishPower: Glasgow 10th May, Leeds 30th May, Nottingham 7th June, Aberdeen 14th June, London Blackheath 5th July, Manchester 12th July, Cambridge 19th July.

How many high fives do we need?
We need as many as we can to reach our goal of 60,0005.

I'm so glad I took part in this event, and although it was weird not having anyone there to cheer us along and to hug us at the finish line, having my best friend there with me to achieve this with made it special enough.

Thank you so much Scottish Power for allowing us to take part and for giving us a weekend full of happy memories.



Race for Life Preparation at Pizza Express

On Saturday I picked up my best friend and we headed on our two and a half mile journey to Huntingdon. We'd managed to find a hotel bargain and had access to their gym and swimming pool so we packed the correct attire and left towards lunchtime so we could fit some exercise time in.
Luckily our room was ready when we arrived so we took our bags up, I threw Christines retro-style bracelet gift at her whilst she waited for me to stop faffing, then when got ready and hit the gym.
After an hour in there, and around an hour in the swimming pool we headed back to our room to shower (separately!!) and get ready for dinner.
With wifi not working, I sat with a coffee and coloured in some of my Mindfulness colouring book whilst I waited for Christine to finish her turn in the shower.

Taxi ordered, we listened in to conversations in the lobby, resisting the urge to not laugh or get involved. As we arrived in Huntingdon high street memories flooded back of the days when I used to drive around the ring road during my driving lessons. I recognised the high street and thought back to the two job interviews I had there at Superdrug.

Pizza Express was easy to find as it was only around 3 metres away from where the taxi dropped us off. As we sat at our table we looked around and noticed it was full of all sorts of different people. Couples of all ages, a man and his grandmother, families, a table of 4 women, and I think this shows how good a menu is in a restaurant. I think it proves that there is something for everyone, and everyone in the restaurant certainly looked happy and relaxed.
We did discuss the fact that something was missing and this was that there was no music. We probably wouldn't pay too much attention to music that was on, however although it was something little it would have added to the atmosphere,

We ordered our drinks and an intro of roasted tomatoes, which were so full of flavour and mouthwateringly delicious, and looked over the menu. I usually have a habit of looking at a menu before I head to a restaurant but this time I decided to sit and have a proper look whilst I enjoyed my colg Pinot Grigio Blush. We weren't pressured to hurry up and order which was lovely, especially on a busy Saturday night.

We decided to share our starters, mains and sides and to be selfish and not share our desserts....the only part of the meal we had preplanned.
I wouldn't usually order a Risotto when out, I'm not sure why, it's just one of those meals that never feels special enough to order when there is pizza, pasta or steak available. But we did order the Risotto Fresco for the starter, as well as the Dough Balls Doppio, simply because Pizza Express dough balls seem to be the starter everyone has to have. I see so many comments about them on social media that it seemed rude to not order them.
The trio of dips served with the dough balls were amazing. Whilst I preferred to dip then in the garlic butter, followed by Pesto...which FYI I hated until that day! Christine took a shine to the harissa spiced tomato dip.
The Risotto surprised me and, confession time, would make me order it as a main when I next visit Pizza Express. Seriously, me ordering such a dish is unheard of so this is big news!

Then came the mains and the sides.
The Caesar salad was beautiful. I adore caesar sauce so I kind of kept the salad to myself (Sorry Christine!). The polenta chips were coated with rosemary and gran milano cheese, I know, I know, best chips ever right?! And they were, we really enjoyed them and they didn't taste too heavy which was a plus when we were already feasting on a carb heavy course. The only thing I would say, the polenta chips were served with a honey and mustard dressing. We didn't feel like this went with the rest of the meal, or the chips, so did end up leaving it to the side. I am usually a big fan of that dressing but it seemed an odd combination with the other flavours too.
Our two main meals were a Romana pizza and a pasta. The pizza was Rustichella, the waitress was really helpful and let us change the pancetta topping because my friend is weird and said she doesn't like pancetta (friendship fail!!) and instead we opted for smoky pepperoni, which worked just as well I expect. The pasta we ordered was Leggera Pollo Arrabbiata, and the waitress again was really helpful and informed us that some people find this dish too hot so if we wanted to we could order it with half chillis. We loved that she pointed this out to us as sometimes I feel you are left to your own devices when it comes to spicy meals. We did order with half chilli (half the amount they would usually put in) and although I didn't find it spicy I think it might be because I didn't actually get any chilli in my scoopful.
It worked really well to share our meals this way as we got to try two different dishes, and the pizza and pasta went really well together.

And then came dessert. Oh how we were ready for this moment.
I have to admit that despite knowing what I wanted to order because of looking at the menu in advance, it was a tough decision. It was one of those moments when you wish calories didn't exist so you could eat all of the desserts. But this wasn't the case....so for me, Tiramisu was the chosen one. Christine went for one of my other options, the Eton Mess Cheesecake. I think the noises we both made whilst eating these made it clear that we were enjoying them!
We both ate our last mouthful and sat back with our hands on our tummies nicely full, but not stuffed to the point we were uncomfortable. We finished our glasses of wine, and left to find a taxi back to the hotel.

We walked around Huntingdon for a while, taking a selfie as we stood near a water sculpture and discussed our plans for the morning. What time to get up and so on. But we didn't feel that pressure or nervousness that we had done before. We were relaxed, happy and well prepared for a good nights sleep and a successful 5k the following day.
Thank you Pizza Express for treating us to such an incredible meal and to a fantastic evening. One we really needed.

What we ordered:

Pinot Grigio Blush, Veneto, Italy

Roasted Tomatoes

Risotto Fresco
Creamy white wine risotto with oak-roasted salmon, garlic and fresh parsley, finished with rocket, Gran Milano cheese and a wedge of lemon
Dough Balls Doppio
New recipe: A double portion of our famous dough balls served with a trio of dips: pesto, garlic butter and pestorissa; a tasty harissa spiced tomato dip

Polenta Chips
Italian polenta chips with rosemary, oven baked and finished with Gran Milano cheese, served with a honey & mustard dressing dip
Caesar Salad
Cos lettuce, Gran Milano cheese, anchovies, croutons and Caesar dressing

Rustichella (Romana)
Pancetta, mozzarella and tomato finished with rocket, Gran Milano cheese, roasted tomatoes and Caesar dressing
Leggera Pollo Arrabbiata
Chicken with roasted red & yellow peppers and pennette pasta, in a spiced Arrabbiata sauce of tomato, garlic, fresh parsley and red chilli. Finished with Gran Milano cheese. Under 525 Calories. (You can ask for more or less chilli's on this. We opted for half chilli's and it was perfect)

Eton Mess Cheesecake with gelato
A twist on a British classic; strawberry swirled cheesecake on a crumbly biscuit base topped with whole pieces of meringue
New Recipe: Made by La Donatella, using the traditional Veneto methods and ingredients; layers of ladyfingers, mascarpone cream, coffee and cocoa

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