Thursday, 22 April 2010

Blu-ray looks better when it's free...

Have I mentioned I love bargains? Sure, often I spend too much time seeking them, or once in awhile take up an offer because it's good when I don't really need or want it that much, but this week I got a *great* one -- a free Sony blu-ray player! With a free blu-ray of "2012"! I bought it with points, painstakingly accrued by cutting long, hard-to-read codes out of Coke Zero fridge packs and inputting said codes into the Coke Zone site each week over many months. The codes were 10 points each, so we're talking about 100 packs of Coke Zero to get the 1,000 points to buy my prize. Soda's something we buy anyway with or without rewards, and we wanted a blu-ray player, so this really was a slam-bam-thank-you-Coke kinda deal!

It was also a bit like winning the lottery (a really small, non life-changing lottery) to even get the player, because there are only 100 available and they will be released randomly over a month. I got mine the first day they were up, within the 20 minutes or so before they sold out for the day. That saved me some madness, because otherwise I would've worn out the "refresh" button trying to get one of those bad boys. Seriously, I would've checked a couple dozen times a day to see if they had popped up on the site. I'm so glad it didn't come to that, and Hubby is really looking forward to blu-ray, too. His Coke Zero addiction has finally paid off for both of us! Yay, Coke!

Cafe Rouge ... paint it "blah"

Darling husband took me to dinner for my birthday on Saturday. I picked Cafe Rouge because it was new in town (and yes, also because I had Tesco restaurant rewards vouchers to use there and I'd rather we spend actual money on shopping rather than dining -- and I did a good bit of birthday shopping this month!).

I wasn't impressed. Atmosphere was blah, food was blah, lady coming around trying to sell roses and collect for charity was so blah (but I donated anyway). I really preferred Tootsies, which used to be where Cafe Rouge is now. The dining experience was partially my own fault as I ordered food I couldn't remember if I liked, and once it came I remembered I in fact wasn't a fan of those things -- namely boeuf bourguignon and creme brulee. (Husband did enjoy his steak baguette and brownie dessert, and the bread and dips appetizer were good, so I wouldn't say the place is horrible -- just somewhere I don't find too exciting).

However, I still had a nice time being out with my husband and it was a sweet birthday (other than that business about getting older, man is that starting to be a drag!).

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Around Reading

It seems spring is finally here! It was much nicer to be out than it has been in months. Here are some photos from around town:

This sign (logo? placard? what the heck would you call it?) is built into either side of the bridge on Gas Works Road. Apparently the gas company put it there at some point, and it looks like it represents monarchy, but that's all I know. Anyone have further information?

Update: Tom has suggested this is the original Reading Coat of Arms (see comments section). I think he's solved my mystery; thanks Tom!

The above photos are of a gypsy caravan (i.e. wagon or coach) and the placard explaining it at the Riverside Museum at Blake's Lock. I couldn't get at an angle for a better shot,but it's a really beautiful piece of work with glorious, bright colors. A great picture inside the caravan can be found here.

The above is a painting at the Lemongrove Gallery on Minster Street that I liked when I saw it in passing. I couldn't make out if a price was listed on the little card, and when the price is not listed or written small, I'm sure that means it costs more than I'd pay.

This final photo was from a few weeks ago when it was still dreary out. The men are collecting garbage from the water. It's very hard to see, but on the top right of the boat and down behind the dumpster is a long line of shopping carts plucked from the river. Seriously, who throws a shopping cart in the river?!

Monday, 5 April 2010

So does that make 40 the new 80?

Flipping through a recent issue of the UK's More! magazine (it's nothing I'd ever been the least tempted to read before, but I had a coupon for a freebie), I discovered two important things: 1)The mag is aimed at 20-somethings, and 2)the target audience apparently thinks I'm old.

I joke about being old, but don't think I am, really. I'm 30-something (by the skin of my teeth). But I guess the younger generation wouldn't think I'm joking at all, based on an article in More!

The bottom left cover of the April 5 issue reads: "MEET THE MEN WHO ONLY DATE OLD WOMEN." As I turned to the story, I had a sinking feeling I wouldn't like what they called "old." Yep, I was right -- the oldest "old" woman these young bucks were reported as having bedded whilst in their late teens was 42. Forty-two! Years! Old! That's not a freakin' "old" woman, that's an "older" woman, for Pete's sake! Oh crap, do only old coots say things like "for Pete's sake?" Dagnabbit!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Soap and Glory glee

My post on Boots got a bit long, so I've broken out a section on one of the benefits of Bootsing, which has been discovering a few great products that I might never have tried otherwise. The downside is that if I find an item, say a body scrub, that I really love, I will also have several other types of body scrub from past deals that are merely OK that I need to use up before I buy more of The One, The Keeper, the brand worth Full Price. Ah well, so it goes when you stock up at sales.

The Soap and Glory brand of products is one of my favorite finds, and it's only available at Boots and Harvey Nichols here in England. In the States, you can find it at Target (yet another reason to shop at Tar-jay! Not that I needed one, mind). S&G products sport whimsical, girlie packaging. The names have fun with puns, like Endless Glove, Glow Job and Scrub 'Em and Leave 'Em. The labels often feature lovely divas sporting '50s glamor. It makes me smile just to see them on my shelf.

Yes I did! That's right, I took pics of some of my Soap and Glory goodies. And that's not nearly all of them. You should see the hatbox hubby dear bought me (now that's a good man!).

In case you're interested, curious or looking for fabby, fun ways to pamper yourself, here are some S&G products I highly recommend:

--Endless Glove Hand Cream. It's a creamy white lotion in a flip-top tube that really does make my hands feel soft and lovely. They smell mucho awesome, too, thanks to ingredients like daisies and kiwi. It costs £4.50 at Boots or $9.99 at Target. Of course, Boots often has it on sale for three items for the price of two, or 1/3 off each item (my favorite time to buy). I don't know if Target offers any such bargains, but I sure hope so.

--Heel Genius Foot Cream. The scent and even color are divine. The cream is a tasty looking shade of cotton-candy blue (that's candy floss blue to you Brits) and it has macadamia oil, bilberry, and orange and lemon fruit acid smoothers, among other things. There's a light citrus scent and it feels rich and so cool and creamy going on (sometimes too cool; I'll set it by the heater to warm it up). I use it before bed and pull on some cotton socks after. It leaves my feet smooth as a baby's bum, but smelling a whole lot better than said bum. This is $9.99 at Target and £5 at Boots (again, only if you pay full price, but why would you? Wait for a 1/3 off sale and pay £3.35).

--Mist You Madly body spray. I totally groove on this scent! I have various pricey perfumes (thank you Bootsing), but Mist You Madly can hold it's own as I'm trying to decide what shade of lovely I'll smell like that day. Very fun and light, and nice to spray on before bed so I can try to drift off to sleep with the feeling of how fabulous I smell. It's £6 at Boots for a very long-lasting 250ml bottle, and you can get it at Target too (though it was out of stock when I checked and no price was listed. I'd guess it's around $11.99 like the Girliglo body mist).

Other notable S&G products: Scrub Your Nose In It, The Righteous Butter, The Scrub of Your Life, Clean on Me, Calm One Calm All bubble bath, Hair Supply, and Flake Away Body Scrub.

Other fab Boots finds (also available at Target):
--No7 Quick-Thinking 4-in-1 Wipes: I recently read that face wipes can be harsh on the skin, and when I used them exclusively for a few days I did get some dry patches. But used at night only with a regular cleanser in the morning these cause no ill effects and feel lovely and refreshing. They are £6.50 at Boots, which is crazy high -- but it becomes a fair price when you wait until there is a £5 off No7 coupon out and stock up at £1.50 each. They're normally $6.99 in Target. I'm not sure I'd pay that much for them, may have to switch brands whenever I'm living in the States again.

--No7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum: Reviewers rave about this stuff, and it really does feel nice going on and seems to give the skin a bit of a glow. That may be imagination, all I know is I bought some when it was on sale (of course!) and really like it. I don't know that I'll use a serum on a regular basis when I run out, but I can definitely see buying this to use once in a while, maybe instead of a moisturiser some days rather than in addition to one. It's a much better deal in the States where it's $19.99 at Target, whereas it costs £18.50 at Boots. Of course, Boots being Boots, it's often on sale 3 for 2, or else there's a "free" sample bag of goodies as a bonus gift with a given spend. Yippee!

Boots bliss

If you've ever been to England, you've noticed a very British tradition on the high streets, and at airports and train stations. The oval blue sign of Boots just seems part of the landscape to me, and seems closely associated with England itself; it's somehow iconic.

Everyone pops round to Boots for prescriptions or toothpaste or a sandwich at lunchtime (you'll see lines of people around noon with a "meal deal" of sandwich, drink and snack in hand for £2.99, which is often consumed on a bench on the high street despite frequently chill winds and threatening rain).

When we first moved here, we went to Boots for prescriptions and not much else. It seemed so very overpriced. It wasn't until later I learned that Boots jacks its prices sky high so it can offer sales and coupons and points on its store loyalty card (which can be spent in-store like cash). And then often marks things down for clearance, frequently leaving them on the regular shelf rather than moving them to a special clearance aisle, which makes it a bit of a fun bargain hunt each time I go in. It was due to deals and coupons that I discovered the fun Soap and Glory range, but I'll get to that later.

I indulged a bit too much in my gleeful bargain hunting when I first discovered all the deals to be had. Many was the time I came home with a bulging bag of heath and beauty products valued at £5.2 billion for which I paid a paltry £8.99. Or something like that. I've reigned that in greatly in the past year, but still have loads of lotions and potions weighing down my shelves as reminders of my early frenzy. I won't need to buy body wash or shampoo for a few years. Or mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss, perfume ....

The phenomenon, no the pastime, that is hunting for deals and getting some amazing finds at Boots is known in online forums as "Bootsing." Yes, people actually discuss their finds and bargains online, and share tips on how to get the best deal. And that's where it really becomes Bootsing, because the best deals are often a bit crazy, so good you wouldn't have guessed it was available (as in, why does that coupon apply to clearance items? Who cares, it just does!). Say a coupon is offered for £1 off a given toothbrush. Well, then Boots will go right ahead and mark those toothbrushes down to £1, and guess what! The coupon still works, the barcode scans, the register accepts it, and the sales assistant bags it up! Presto whamo, free toothbrush. And excited little fingers fly in a flurry to share the news, and then hundreds of Bootsers are storming stores around the land clearing the shelves of toothbrushes.

Or perhaps there will be a range of body butters where Boots is offering 150 points back on your loyalty card if you purchase one (and that equals £1.50 you can spend on almost anything in the store). And perhaps the coupon is aimed at the full-size items that cost £7.50, but it's accepted on the "mini" versions as well, which are on sale for £1.66. So in what is called "Boots logic" you are only paying 16p for the item because you get £1.50 back on your card to spend. And the Boosters are in bliss. And I end up with a stack of mini body butters at home that I didn't really need or want, and loads of points on my card. Those of you who know me will probably get some of these as a "just because" gift the next time you see me.

I have no idea if Boots does this intentionally to clear out items and increase foot traffic, or if it's a thoughtless mistake to mark things down just as a coupon is offered. And these lovely coupons are offered by Boots in a store magazine or in the store Account Card Machine (ACM), so the company knows full well what coupons are out there before they decide what to mark down or put on sale. But I ain't complaining.

The lovely bit about points is no matter how much you spend to earn them, they feel like free money, even though they most decidedly aren't. It's all the better because Boots is not like your average U.S. drugstore in that it also has premium beauty counters -- Dior, Clinique, Clarins, etc., as well as Boots own brand of No7 cosmetics. Visiting the Clinique counter is guilt-free when you're paying with points. Lovely. There's also a good selection of digital cameras, and I proudly took one home last year and presented it to my husband as a glowing example of what I could snag for "free" with points.

Not all of the deals were quite as good as the ones I've mentioned, and I often spent vastly more than I intended in the process of getting them, but it was fun while it lasted. The super deals seem rare these days, and you can't even clean up on the after-Christmas clearance sales online because so many Bootsers log on at once that the system crashes and Boots ends up scrapping the sale. The Golden Days of Bootsing are done, and that's fine by me. I had fun for awhile, but I'm done with getting an overload of items it will take years to actually use.