28 Nov 2014

Musicroom - The Christmas Gift Finder Online Amp

Music. Seven notes to strike a chord, to make harmonies. You do not have to be an X-Factor wannabe to appreciate music. You do not have to be a musician to enjoy music. All you need is an appreciation of great sounds.

My love of music can be traced back to my school days. I never had what is traditionally considered a melodious voice, and have had very little formal musical training. But I can hold a tune if my life depended on it. I love singing around the house while doing chores. Most of these are karaoke performances, with a track playing in the background and me joining in.

There was a long hiatus in my musical journey as I made my way through life. The birth of my first-born changed all that. I started singing again. Lullabies and nursery rhymes were soon replaced by more grown-up tunes. So much, that I am now part of a choir about to perform this Christmas!

My son seems to have inherited my love of music. Although quite young, he has displayed tremendous enthusiasm when it comes to singing harmonies with me. He loves trying to play tunes on his little keyboard as well.

The logical thing to do is to get him a music-themed present for Christmas. That is exactly what I intend to do, with a little help from Musicroom.

Musicroom have recently launched The Christmas Gift Finder Online Amp. Yes, you read that right. It is an Amp. Actually, an online app designed to look like an amp. It has really cool dials letting you select categories, so it’s fun to use. Rather apt when you are looking for a music-based gift, I think.

The Christmas Gift Finder Amp searches through a range of instruments, sheet music and song books, as well as music related gifts – band & artist autobiographies, quirky mugs and glasses, jewellery like stud earrings and brooches, edible treats such as chocolate, games perfect for Christmas day, band and guitar brand logo t-shirts, stationary… the list is endless!

As the person looking for the perfect music-based present, you start with the amp, then tweak the dials to let the amp know who you are buying for, what type of gift you are looking for and how much you would like to spend. The amp then presents you with the perfect gift idea, along with an instant way to buy it.

Here are a few pins from the Musicroom that I have on my Pinterest board. Why not pop over and have a look at some of the selection of fun, funky and functional Christmas presents that the Musicroom has to offer. There is a wide variety of items from socks to jewellery to kitchenware to more serious stuff like instruments, sheet music and training CDs. And I think I may have found just the thing to get my little boy more involved with music. I might even pick up a thing or two for the husband and me while I am there.

One thing is for certain. No matter what your taste in music, and no matter who you are chosing a present for, the Musicroom gift finder amp is sure to bring up something that everyone likes.

Disclaimer: I was given a voucher to spend at Musicroom in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

27 Nov 2014

A Lot to be Thankful For

I am thankful for the piles of laundry
Means I have clothes to wear
Thankful for the creaking floor-boards
I have a roof over my head.

I am thankful for the oven needing repair
Means I have bread to bake
Thankful for leftovers in the fridge
I have food on my plate.

I am thankful for the repeat prescriptions
Means I can care for my health
Thankful for the bills through the letterbox
I can share what little wealth.

I am thankful for all the clutter
Means I have enough space
Thankful for the lines and wrinkles
I am ageing with grace.

I am thankful for the duvet wars
Means I have a caring partner in my bed
Thankful for the tears and tantrums
I have a child loving me no end.


26 Nov 2014

Slow-Cooked Sausage and Five Bean Stew

I have been meaning to get myself a slow-cooker for a very long time. Last week, the husband surprised me by picking one up at the local Aldi store for the bargain price of £16.99. So now I am the proud owner of a shiny red large Crofton slow cooker.

Now, I have read a lot about the health benefits of a slow-cooker. And I have browsed through a lot of slow-cooker recipes. But it was with a hint of trepidation that I lovingly unpacked my new acquisition. I set it on the kitchen counter, pondering my next move. At one point, I even thought of putting some water in the outer housing unit! In all honesty, that is how my old-fashioned pressure cooker works - it needs water to produce steam. So you can't blame me for thinking my fancy new gadget was going to as well.

Thank goodness, good sense prevailed and I grabbed the instruction manual before I acted on my frankly daft instinct. After I had read through from cover to cover, I felt mildly confident about rustling up my first ever slow-cooked meal. True to form, and much to M's chagrin, I decided to do it my way, with my own recipe.

The scrumptious pack of 'good little sausages' by the Good Little Company that the good people at Ocado had kindly sent me served as just the right inspiration.

So here's how I got on with my slow-cooked sausage and five bean stew.

Slow-Cooked Sausage and Five Bean Stew


300 grams sausages
1 medium onion, finely diced 
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed 
500 grams carrots, sliced
1 can (415 grams) Heinz Five Beanz
1 can chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
2 tbspn vegetable oil
350 ml vegetable stock 
1 tspn Italian herb seasoning
Salt to taste

To make the slow-cooked sausage and five bean stew:

  • Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the sausages on a moderate heat for 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and the onions and brown everything together for another 5 minutes.
  • Layer the sliced carrots in the bottom of the ceramic pot of the slow cooker.
  • Add the browned sausages, onions and garlic.
  • Pour over 350 mls of warm vegetable stock.
  • Add the cans of five beanz and tomatoes.
  • Season with salt and the Italian seasoning.
  • Cook on the low heat setting of your slow cooker for 6-7 hours.
  • Serve with mashed potatoes, bread or rice.

Slow-Cooked Sausage and Five Bean Stew

The result was a hearty stew, the perfect winter warmer. It went down a treat, not just with the grown-ups, but with my three year old little boy too. 

Disclaimer: I was sent a batch of groceries by Ocado as part of their #kidspanel. All opinions expressed are my own. 

25 Nov 2014

School Run Colours #3

It is week 3, and I am, contrary to all my expectations, persisting with my School Run Colours linky. A huge thank you to Merlinda and Sara who joined in last week with their very own school run colours.

It has not been easy to keep up with the walking/cycling/scooting to and from school this week. Dropping temperatures and bleak days have done nothing to help my resolve of completely ditching the car for our school run.

But my three year old is an inspiration. Unlike his mother, he thrives in the cold weather and insists on scooting or cycling or walking to school. Even when it rains, because then puddle-jumping as a sport comes into its own.

So egged on by J, I have continued to walk to and from school. There are days when I park the car half-way there and then walk the rest of the way. I do make a serious effort not to drive all the way to the school gates. That would completel defeat the purpose of School Run Colours.

Slowly and steadily, I am getting used to walking four miles every day. I will get there in the end.

In the meantime, two miles daily is a good start. And a great way to capture colour and be inspired by it. 

School Run Colours

Cold winter sunshine
Rubies sparkle, alluring
Beware, ever-green thorn traps.

If you are new to the School Run Colours linky, you can read more about it here.  To find out how I ended up being inspired to start this linky, please visit my previous post School Run Colours - My Brand New Linky

I would love it if you added the School Run Colours badge to your post, and if you followed me on twitter (@vaichin). Please use the hashtag #SchoolRunColours when sharing your posts on social media, so we can spread the word. I will be pinning all linked up posts to my Pinterest board School Run Colours. It would be great if you could follow the board.

School Run Colours

24 Nov 2014

Ideal Home Show at Christmas

The Ideal Home Show returned to Event City in Manchester with a Christmas spectacular last weekend, and I was delighted to attend. Due to other commitments, I had to forego the chance to attend the grand opening on day 1 with all the celebrities in attendance. I missed the chance to see my favourite chef Gino D'Acampo in action, but I was not about to miss the Show itself.

So with M and J in tow, I made it to day 2 of the Ideal Home Show. The event did not disappoint, and more than lived up to all my expectations.

The venue was transformed into a winter wonderland with lots of Christmas trees, fairy lights and artificial snow. There was even a Christmas Bandstand with choirs and singers from across the region adding to the festive atmosphere. There was no dearth of festive inspiration and Christmas-based shopping either. From an array of decorations to a range of potential presents to choose from, there was something for everyone. The radio partners to the Show, Smooth FM, got right into the spirit of the season with a very handy free gift-wrapping service on-site.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, Manchester

We spent most of our day wandering about the numerous stalls, trying this, sampling that, buying another, and then some more. Unsurprisingly, the food and drink section took up most of our day. There were some really good products available, from the more traditional mulled wines, to the innovative British mulled cider. In the end, we settled for a selection of drinks from Cwm-Deri Vineyard.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, Manchester

There was a wide range of sweet and savoury foods to choose from. I caved in to the pressure from my sweet tooth and ended up buying some utterly divine fudge from Matt and Ben's Proper Fudge Company and a selection of cakes from The little round cake company.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, Manchester

The lighting section of the Ideal Home Show was another one that really caught our eye. There is something about chandeliers that just screams opulence. Some of the light fittings in our house are quite dated, and we have been on the look-out for something more modern for a while now. After a huge amount of speculation and debate, M and I finally settled on something we like, from Luminer.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, Manchester

It was not all just shopping at the Ideal Home Show. There was plenty of fun to be had as well. How else do you think my three year old survived his mother's retail therapy? Go Compare, the sponsors, had a giant snow globe that you could step inside of, and have a picture taken that then got made into a key ring. J even found a shiny golden throne and pretended to be king.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, Manchester

Virgin Media had set up what proved to be a very popular cinema theatre. We caught a little bit of Miracle on 34th street, with J relaxing on some bean bags with a bottle of juice, while M and I got ourselves a couple of minutes of quiet and coffee.

The Greg Wallace Restaurant was as popular as expected, so we passed the opportunity to have a sumptuous afternoon tea. But the Hamleys stand got all the attention it deserved from my little boy. We had to pry him away, almost, but not quite, kicking and screaming.

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, Manchester

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas was a shopper's paradise. With over 300 stalls covering everything from Christmas gifts and decorations to home improvements, food and drink, beauty and technology, we were spoilt for choice. If only I had a lot more money, and a lot more space to house everything in, I would probably have bought a good few more things. Maybe next time.

Disclaimer: I was given a pair of tickets to attend the Ideal Home Show at Christmas in Manchester in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

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