30 Dec 2014

Our Family Time at Center Parcs

Back in September this year, I was fortunate to be selected to join the Center Parcs Family Blogger Club, hosted by Center Parcs UK in association with Tots100. If you are a UK-based parent blogger, you have obviously heard of both. If not, CenterParcs is a one-of-its kind fantastic holiday destination for all the family. And Tots100 is an index of UK parent bloggers.

As I said, I was delighted to be a wildcard winner of the Center Parcs Family Blogger Club and wasted no time at all in planning our short break. I usually don’t do winter holidays; the cold just doesn’t agree with me. But I decided to bite the bullet this once, for the sake of my three-year-old little boy, and visit the Winter Wonderland at Whinfell Forest.

23 Dec 2014

Christmas Crafts at the #LauraAshleyXmas Event

It was last Sunday when I was invited to attend the Laura Ashley Christmas Crafts event and came face to face with my nemesis of many years - the sewing machine. I see that it has undergone dramatic modernisation since our last encounter years ago, when I so successfully managed to destroy my Mother's trusty old Singer of many years.

I had accepted the invitation to try my hand at some Christmas crafts, and I was not about to shrink from the challenge. But it was with an element of apprehension that I cautiously approached this new-fangled piece of technology masquerading as a sewing machine.

16 Dec 2014

School Run Colours #5

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is all around us. We are in the grips of Jingle Bells and Rudolph's red nose at the moment. So it is only apt that I try and capture a little bit of that festive spirit for this week's School Run Colours.         

I am also linking up to The Prompt with my Christmas haiku.

Fairy lights dancing
Piercing inky darkness
Cold nights aglow

School Run Colours
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 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 too. So let's link up, comment, share and spread the love. 

School Run Colours is taking a little break over the festive season as school is out and there is no school run! But we will be back up and running in the New Year. In the meantime, here's wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year. xxx

School Run Colours

15 Dec 2014

Pretty Bijous Jewellery Review

Like most females of my species, I too am partial to beautiful pieces of jewellery. It doesn’t always have to be bling, although there are very few times when I will willingly refuse a diamond-encrusted tiara. For me, a piece of jewellery has to reflect my mood, complement my personality and make a statement.

Pretty Bijous Jewellery

Pretty Bijous promise to offer just that with their original handcrafted art jewellery. They offer four trendy collections of necklaces, earrings and rings at the moment. Ocean Breeze, Tribal, Mystique and Tutti Frutti – the collections are as varied and colourful as their names suggest.

Pretty Bijous Jewellery

The best part is that being handcrafted, each piece is unique. So there will never be the danger of somebody else wearing the exact same design as you.

Pretty Bijous Jewellery

The earrings are made of polymer clay and are finished with nickel-free silver plated jump rings and fishhook earring wire. Satin glaze is used to finish the look, however they are not too shiny and glossy. They are fairly lightweight as well.

Pretty Bijous Jewellery

The pair I was sent is in pretty earthy brown hues. Each earring is slightly bigger than a 10 pence coin. A good size if you are setting about making a fashion statement. The patterns on the pair are similar, but not exacting, which lends to their charm. I like the attention to detail in that the reverse sides are distinctly unique as well.

Pretty Bijous Jewellery

The Pretty Bijous ring I was sent is reminiscent of a tiger’s eye gemstone. It is a nice chunky piece that sits on an adjustable ring base, so it can fit a range of differently sized fingers. 

Pretty Bijous Jewellery

If you are still looking for a last minute Christmas present, here is your chance to pick up a piece of beautiful statement jewellery at a good price. Pretty Bijous has kindly offered to give my lovely readers a 15% discount if purchasing before 28th December 2014.  Just use the code BIJOUS15OFF at checkout.

Disclaimer: I was sent a pair of Pretty Bijous earrings and a ring for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

8 Dec 2014

Personalised Letterbox Cake by BakerDays: A Review

So what is better than a cake? A personalised cake that tastes just as good as it looks. Or perhaps even better than it looks. BakerDays offered me just such a cake to review.

BakerDays are the personalised cake specialists that deliver delicious cakes straight to your home. The process is really quite simple. Well, I say simple. But it is no easy task when you have a choice of over 500 designs and six flavour options to choose from. Apart from the usual small, medium and large sizes, BakerDays offer a fun and fantastic option of the Letterbox Cake.

Personalised Letterbox Cake by BakerDays

5 Dec 2014

The 12 Smells of Christmas by Febreze : A Giveaway

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas! The clean, lush scent of a Christmas tree, the sweet spice of warm gingerbread and the rich tang of mulled wine; we all love to smell our favourite festive scents during the holidays...but not-so-nice aromas also have a habit of lingering in the excitement-charged air!

Whether they are nasty or nice, these 12 smells of Christmas all play a part in the festive season, but with Febreze's Christmas scents to hand there should never be a reason to let any stinky scents ruin your holiday buzz.

So whether it is the sweetness of Vanilla Latte, the traditional warm infusions of Apple & Spice or Warm Cedarwood, the fresh fragrance of Winter Garden or a light spritz of Festive Spice, Febreze's new collection of seasonal scents are the perfect perfumed accessory to keep your home smelling just right this Christmas.

Febreze UK have kindly agreed to gift one of my readers a lovely 'The 12 Smells of Christmas' gift hamper similar to the one shown below. You can enter the giveaway via the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post. Good luck! And have a lovely, fragrant Christmas.

The 12 Smells of Christmas Gift Hamper Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I was gifted a hamper by Febreze UK to host this giveaway. No other compensation was received.

3 Dec 2014

#ClearAPlate to End Food Poverty

I was brought up to believe that food is a precious commodity that deserves to be revered. Coming from a deeply religious Hindu family, the concept that food is to be treated with the same respect and devotion as God was one that got ingrained into my conscience at a very early age. My parents never spared any opportunity to reinforce the belief that to waste food willy-nilly without a just cause was nothing short of a sin!

The concept was difficult for me to fathom as a child, especially as I was fortunate enough to have enough on my plate and more, at any meal of any day. As I grew up, I became more and more aware of the reason behind my parents' insistence on avoiding food waste.

While there are many of us living in comfort and taking all our meals for granted, there are those who are not so sure about where their next meal is going to come from, if at all. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just people in the developing countries around the globe that are facing the horror of starvation.

It is very unfortunate that there are families right here in the UK for whom hunger is only too real. New research out in November this year shows that not being able to feed ourselves or our children is a very real concern for many families across the UK. 42% of households consider it difficult to live on their income, with 20% of these struggling families borrowing money from family or friends in order to feed themselves and their children. Shockingly 22% of the parents in these families even go without food so that their children can eat. Yet 75% of us continue to throw away food that could have been eaten.

Unilever have launched Project Sunlight with the hope to make this world a better place for our children to inherit. The #ClearAPlate campaign is an off-shoot of this project. Working in partnership with Oxfam, the aim is to 'waste not, want not', to provide meals to struggling families here in the UK.


It really does not take a lot of effort to stop food waste. Here are 5 really simple ways by which you can stop food waste and do your bit to put an end to food poverty.

5 Easy Ways to Stop Food Waste:

1) Meal planning: Try and chart out a weekly plan for all your meals. That way, you will know exactly what and how much of anything you need to buy. It will help you budget better as well.

2) Shopping lists: This is the next logical step to meal planning. Once you know what you are eating through the week, it is only right that you list out all that you need to buy to make those meals. I find shopping lists extremely useful when I do my grocery shop. They allow me to stay focussed on what I actually need to buy, rather than being distracted by all the promotions on supermarket shelves.
Doing your grocery shopping on-line might be another useful way to stick to your shopping list and budget and to avoid being carried away by promotions.

3) Use by and Best before: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has clear guidelines with regards to 'use by' and 'best before' dates on food packaging. 'Use by' is for perishable foods that go off quickly, like meats, ready-prepared salads and other products in chilled cabinets in the supermarket. Eating products after the 'use by' date can prove to be a health hazard.

'Best before' is for frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. This is more about quality than safety. Eating something beyond its 'best before' date doesn't mean the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.

Knowing what can be eaten and by when can go a long way in avoiding waste.

4) Safely store and use leftovers: This is a key factor in avoiding food waste. Simple, small steps like freezing extra portions, refrigerating left-overs and creating new recipes with them can make all the difference between salvaging food and binning it.

Instead of throwing out those black, over-ripe bananas, try baking with them. The result is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

5) Portion sizes: This is such a small change to adopt in our everyday lives, but one that can make a huge impact in the long run. Instead of taking huge portions and then throwing leftovers in the bin, just take smaller portions to start with. You can always go back for seconds. You may even notice a shrinking waistline as a side-effect!

Five really simple things that can make such a big difference. Not only for the cause of preventing food waste, but also to your pocket. Think about how much you will save in a year as a family by incorporating these small little changes in your daily routines.

We are on the threshold of a new year, a time to make new resolutions. A time to act against food poverty and to do your bit to put an end to food waste.

I have joined forces with Unilever and the #ClearAPlate campaign to bring you a competition, one that will hopefully inspire you to pledge your support to this cause.

image courtesy Project Sunlight and #ClearAPlate

One of you, my readers, are in with a chance of winning a fantastic hamper worth £50. It will include a colourful kitchen whisk, measuring spoons, fridge magnets with imperial/metric conversions, a measuring jug, multicoloured stacking food containers, reusable cupcake cases, an egg timer, a shopping list/meal planner notebook, a window planter with seeds and a Leftovers Cookbook. 

You can enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I am running this competition on behalf of the team at Unilever and #ClearAPlate. I am also linking up with Mumsnet in the hope of winning a pair of tickets to BlogFest 2015. I have not received any compensation to do either of these things. 

2 Dec 2014

School Run Colours #4

I have been really pleased with the interest people have shown in the School Run Colours linky over this last week. Although I still don't have many people linking in, I like that the concept has sparked some interest in the blogosphere. 

I started this linky to try and make the mundane a little more interesting. The idea was to walk to school (or cycle or scoot). Anything but take the car. And try and spot colour while doing so, letting it inspire you to be creative. 

Now, quite a few of my readers have commented that they do not do the school run. You can still take part in the linky. As long as you are walking, it does not matter where to. You could be walking to work, or to the shops or to run an errand. If you could have taken the car, but have opted not to, you then have the opportunity to appreciate your surroundings. And that is what this linky is about.

So whether you do the school run or not, you are very welcome to join in with School Run Colours.

My school run colours this week capture fallen autumn leaves.

School Run Colours

Faded leaves scatter
Lifeless rustling careless fling
Waiting to be crushed

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 too.

School Run Colours

30 Nov 2014

Minted - the Online Stationary Store

I may not have a flair for design, but I can appreciate good art when I see it. Whether it is being amazed by the work of masters or noticing extraordinary creations around me in everyday life, I enjoy the beauty and creativity that a work of art represents. So I was really please when Minted - the online stationary store got in touch with me to work with them.

Minted is not your run-of-the-mill stationary store. They are a design marketplace connecting consumers with the world's best independent artists, thereby offering people the chance to discover creative talent that they would not have access to through traditional retailers. Moreover, every piece can be customised to make it just that little bit more special.

For this festive season, Minted are offering a new and completely different family of products. From limited edition artwork to festive holiday cards, there is a wide range to choose from. There is a very novel gift section where you can even choose a map of your favourite US state or the British Isles to hang on your wall.

Here are a few of my absolute favourites from Minted.

Flowers -  by Alexandra Dzh
This limited edition bold watercolour wall art print is meant to bring the bright colours and light spirit of summer to your home the whole year round. I particularly liked the vibrant colours and the composition of this piece.

timeless greeting holiday photo cards - by b.wise papers
This is part of the new collection of holiday photo cards. You can personalise the card with your own special photo. You even have the option to add on a custom back or interior. So you can actually add more than just one photo and write a detailed message to go with it.

British Isles Map -by GeekInk Design
This belongs to the foil-stamped wall art series and includes maps of France, Germany and individual states of the United States. There are a few city maps as well. Like all the wall art, you can choose the size and frame for each piece, or just opt for the cheaper unframed option.

a little christmas whimsy foil-pressed holiday cards by laura bolter design
This is part of the non-photo holiday cards series. These foil pressed cards are new to Minted this season. You have the option to choose from gold, silver, or rose gold foil. I love how the card shimmers and sparkle when viewed from different angles. For me, the red and gold epitomises Christmas perfectly.

Within Letters of You by Heather Francisco
These are part of the very varied Wall Art Prints series. I really liked this concept of personalising your choice of letter. It would make the perfect gift for that special someone. I chose to highlight J, rather obviously. (If you read my blog regularly, you will know why. If not, the only way to find out is by reading more of my blog!)

twilight stars business holiday cards
by coco paperie
I was struck by the simplicity of this card. Minimalistic, yet striking, it makes a great statement card for your business.

Typography Wall Art Prints
...to the moon and back
limited edition print by Matthew Taylor Wilson

This is one of my all-time favourite lines from any book. It very aptly summarises a parent's love for their child. I like how the artist has used the moon to ink in these very emotional words. 

My Funny Family Tree by Jessie Steury is part of the family heirloom art series. Easily personalised, this is a great way to keep track of all your cousins.
I think this would make a lovely present for a much-loved family member. A grand-parent perhaps?

So here is a small sample, an appetiser almost, of all that Minted has to offer. Why not pop over and see what catches your eye? There may even be a deal to be had!

Disclaimer: I was offered credit to use on the Minted website in exchange for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel in Yorkshire - a Review

I was delighted to be invited as a guest of the Ox Pasture Hall Country House Hotel in Yorkshire. I was offered a choice of dates for my visit and I opted to go over my birthday weekend.

The hotel is set in seventeen acres of enchanting gardens and grounds in the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors National Park, just a few minutes from the seaside resort of Scarborough, which makes it the ideal base from which to explore the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside.

The satnav took us to the edge of a field that was a grazing ground for horses. We pulled up at the side of the road and called  the hotel to ask for directions. Turns out we were about 500 yards from the entrance!

I was struck by the tranquil  surroundings even as we pulled up in the car park of the Ox Pasture House Hotel. We were greeted on arrival at reception by Lynsey, the manager. She was very friendly and welcoming and the check-in proceeded smoothly. Lynsey even helped carry our luggage to our room.

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 post. 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 post. All opinions are my own.

20 Nov 2014

The Letter

She stood at the window of her little ramshackle home, looking out to the grey morning sky laden with the burden of clouds waiting to burst. Her calloused hands clutched at the crumbling wood of the window-sill, more out of habit than a need to feel the rotting timber against her palm. Today would be no different. She would stand there, watching and waiting, perhaps even daring to hope, till the setting sun reminded her of the time.

She could not remember how long ago it was that she had watched him leave. It felt like only yesterday that he last walked out through that door. Her heart had lurched at the site of him fading from her sight. It had been a grey, misty morning, not unlike today. She had wanted to cry, to scream, anything to stop him leaving. All she had managed was a brave smile to hide her misty eyes.

Then the waiting had begun. Every day, for hours, she would stand at that window, waiting for something, anything, a letter perhaps, that would tell her that he was okay. A letter written in his hand to say he was coming back to her. That everything was going to be all right after all.

There was a knock on the door. She had been so lost in the waiting, she had not noticed as the car drew up outside. A man stepped out and walked the few paces to the front door, his heavy step muffled by the mounds of snow that lay undisturbed on the drive. He was waiting as her trembling hands unlocked the door. She was not used to knocks on her door. There had been no knocks on her door. Not since he had left.

"Mrs. Wilson?" There was no mistaking the tremor in his voice. She suddenly felt weary. Tired and very weary. The words were coming now, but the fog that was clouding her thoughts was drowning out the sound. But there was no escaping their harsh reality. "Sorry, Madam...Jimmy...we were in the trenches together..."

She gazed with unseeing eyes as he placed it in her ice-cold hands. It was the letter. Her son's letter, written to her in his own hand. His last letter, telling her he would be coming home soon, coming back to her. And that everything was going to be okay.

She shuddered and clutched the letter close to her heart. She had not cried then, and she would not cry now.

Inspired by and linking to The Prompt hosted by Sara (Mum Turned Mom).

Prose for Thought

18 Nov 2014

School Run Colours #2

I launched my new linky last week. To be honest, I was not expecting anyone to link up. Not because bloggers don't like linkys, but many, like me, find it difficult to keep track of the many linkys that are out there, running like clockwork, week after week. Plus, we all have our favourites.

So it goes without saying that it takes some hard graft for a new linky to make its mark. Perseverance is key. As is a good concept for a link-up, which I hope this one is.

School Run Colours is about swapping the car for a walk/jog/run/scoot/bicycle/skateboard/bus for the school run or anywhere else you can. And about appreciating colours that surround us when doing so. It is about finding inspiration in those colours.

The lovely Merlinda from Glimmer of Hope did link up last week, and I was delighted to share her stunning School Run Colours.

As for this, my second School Run Colours, I offer you a haiku inspired by the photo I took on the way back home after I had dropped J off at school.


Snaking leaves
Emeralds in green chains adorn
Bejewelled glory

If you are new to the School Run Colours linky, you can read more about it here. And 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.

Now the bit about the linky rules:
1) Please link up only one post, new or old, per week. 
2) Please add the School Run Colours badge displayed below to your post. 
3) Follow me, your host, on twitter @vaichin and use the hashtag #SchoolRunColours when sharing your posts on social media. I will retweet your posts if you mention me in your tweets. 
4) 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. 
5) Last, but by no means the least, please visit and comment on your host's post, and at least 2 other posts. We all know that the only way linkys work is when we share the love.
I will be here every Wednesday morning at 7o'clock with new #SchoolRunColours. The linky will stay open till the following Tuesday 6pm. I hope you will join me with your own #SchoolRunColours.

Grab the #SchoolRunColours badge:

School Run Colours

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17 Nov 2014

Q Pootle 5 Christmas Special DVD - Giveaway

The stars of the hit CBeebies animated series Q Pootle 5 will celebrate Christmas with an exclusive, never before seen episode. The 27 minute Christmas Special released on DVD on 17 November 2014, courtesy of Proper Distribution. To celebrate the release I am offering you the chance to win one copy of the brand new DVD Q Pootle 5 Christmas Special: Pootle All The Way.

It’s Christmas time on Okidoki and all is calm as Q Pootle 5 and his friends prepare for the happiest time of the year. All is bright too, with the new festive lights festooned across the shack, ready for Groobie’s pantomime. But, when a mayday call interrupts the rehearsal, the friends suddenly find themselves in an epic adventure in which the very future of Christmas is at stake!

So if you have a little CBeebies and Q Pootle 5 fan in the house, or know one who is, here is a must-have adventure for this season.

For a chance to win a copy of the Q Pootle 5 Christmas Special DVD, just enter my giveaway through the Rafflecopter widget below.

Good luck! And have a lovely Christmas.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I am running this competition on behalf of the Q Pootle 5 Team. I have not received any compensation to do so.

14 Nov 2014

Mid-Life Bliss

The big 4-0 is looming. There are times when I wonder what I have achieved in these years past. If anything at all. Perhaps there is a need for a dramatic overhaul, maybe I need to rethink my strategy and play the game differently. And then I think of the things that have come to pass and realise that that is exactly how most 40 year olds have lived their lives. Bar a couple, maybe.

What about you, my dear reader? Have you reached the dreaded milestone yet? Or are you still languishing in the long forgotten 20s? Or are you the one who has taken it all in their stride and marched along, living by the adage that life indeed does begin at 40?

I have been pondering a lot about this phase in my life, and have come up with a little quiz to shed light on how you tackle 40.

If you answer 'yes' to most of the questions, you, my friend, have circumvented the dreaded mid-life crisis and have achieved middle-age Nirvana instead. If the majority of your answers are 'no', it is time for a serious rethink.

Good luck! See how you get on.
  1. Are you finally at peace with the way you look? This means no more frowning at the wobbly bits every time you stand inspection in front of a full-length mirror. You have never contemplated botox or plastic surgery, and are quite content with your advancing age.
  2. Are you still wearing your hair the same way you did yesterday? Or the year before? So you haven't resorted to any drastic measures to hold on to your fast disappearing youthful appearance. Like shaving off your thinning head of hair in the hope that it will all grow back shinier and fuller and thicker.
  3. Are you still driving the old family car you bought all those years ago? And you do not feel a compelling need to swap it for a swanky new set of wheels that costs more than your home.
  4. Likewise, are you still married, hopefully happily, to the 40+3 something you fell in love with all those years ago? And you do not feel a compelling need to swap it for something more pert.
  5. Have you resisted the impulsive urge for a wardrobe overhaul? Where you spend good money buying knee-high boots and a halter-neck you will never wear. 
  6. Have you finally invested in that all-inclusive gym membership? There is only so far you can go with a middle-age spread and creaking bones. And everyone needs to up their cardio, no matter what their age. So there. Nothing to do with appearances.
  7. Have you bitten the bullet and got your eyes tested? And are now happy to flaunt your presbyopic reading glasses. You can squint at the computer screen only for so long.
  8. Are you still drinking caffeinated drinks? Maybe less than you used to, but not everything can be replaced by decaf and green.
  9. Are you happy to confess to your age? There are few willing to stand up in a room full of people and declare their true age. It takes courage that not many possess.
  10. Do you smile in your selfies? Not a self-conscious pout, I am talking about a nice toothy grin showcasing your not-so-pearly whites.
There you have it. The mantra to beating the mid-life blues. It is all about acceptance. We are not talking frumpy and dowdy. We are doing attitude with grace. So here's to turning 40, graciously.

Linking up with The Prompt 

13 Nov 2014

The Christmas Boutique - A Review

When is it too early to start shopping for Christmas decorations? The answer – never! And certainly not in mid-November, when you are counting down days to the big day.

If you haven’t already heard of them, The Christmas Boutique is a gorgeous on-line shop for all your festive decorative needs. They have a huge collection of beautiful Christmas ornaments from garlands and wreaths to advent calendars to home and tree decorations. I was delighted when they sent me a boxful of some of their pretty items to review.

12 Nov 2014

Sew & So On Christmas Bunting from docrafts - Review

The countdown to Christmas is well and truly under way. What better way to proclaim the advent of the festive season than a pretty bunting that says just that – Christmas. Better still, a handcrafted bunting to herald the start of Christmas. Take that a step further, and the best bunting you could have this Christmas is one you make yourself, with a little help from the Christmas Bunting Kit from Sew& So On by docrafts.

Sew & So On Christmas Bunting from docrafts
I had the opportunity to create my very own Christmas bunting with this kit. That I thoroughly relished the experience would be an understatement. There is something greatly satisfying about creating with your own hands. From threading the needle to aligning pieces of fabric to sewing that final stitch, the sense of achievement is incredible.


"Aai, look! No leaves," squealed my three year old little boy, pointing up into the barren branches of a forlorn tree standing alone by the side of the road on the walk back from school. They have been learning all about the seasons at nursery school, and this was just his way of putting theory into practice.

The leafless tree was a stark reminder that autumn was drawing to a close and we will be in the icy grip of winter before too long.

And then I noticed the little nest tucked away in the desolate depths of that tree. A solid dark clump of sprigs in stark contrast to the sparse twigs that surrounded it.

A pair of birds were hard at work piecing together their future home, ready and welcoming for new life to spring. Even as the farthest branches caught the light of the setting sun.

It was a sign, almost. A reminder that there is hope even in the roughest of times, even when everything seems bare and bleak.

So here are my first School Run Colours, mostly grey, but with a tinge of golden sunshine. What colours did you catch this week?

School Run ColoursOneDad3Girls

School Run Colours #1

School runs can always be so chaotic. Everyone in a rush, a race against time. So much so, that we often overlook and fail to admire the colours that surround us. When was the last time you noticed the hues in the sky on the way to school?

You do not have to be out in the open countryside in the middle of spring, there is colour all around us no matter what the time of year, no matter where you live.

I am starting this linky in the hope that it will inspire you to ditch the car (if you haven't already) in favour of walking/running/cycling/jogging/scooting to school (or perhaps even getting on the bus), and so have the opportunity to admire and to be inspired by the myriad of colours that are all around us.

All I ask is that you capture a little bit of that colour and share it here. You can link it up as an image, a photograph, a poem, an essay, an experience, an adventure, any which way you like. And yes, grey is a colour. As is black, white, purple and green.

If you no longer do the school run, well, just find an excuse to swap the car for a walk. Just make sure the colours are captured when you are without your car, because then you will find the time to look and breathe in the deep blue of the sky.

Any health benefits that you reap from the walking/running/cycling/scooting are just an added bonus.

If you wish to read more about the inspiration behind this linky, you can do so here.

Now the bit about the linky rules:

1) Please link up only one post, new or old, per week. 
2) Please add the School Run Colours badge displayed below to your post. 
3) Follow me, your host, on twitter @vaichin and use the hashtag #SchoolRunColours when sharing your posts on social media. I will retweet your posts if you mention me in your tweets. 
4) 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. 
5) Last, but by no means the least, please visit and comment on your host's post, and at least 2 other posts. We all know that the only way linkys work is when we share the love.
I will be here every Wednesday morning at 7o'clock with new #SchoolRunColours. The linky will stay open till the following Tuesday 6pm. I hope you will join me with your own #SchoolRunColours. x

School Run Colours

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