Sunday, 30 November 2014

Musical gifts

My little boy loves music. It is a key part of his learning and I like to buy him music related items for Christmas and his birthday. Browsing through the Musicroom website I found so many items that I knew he would love but using the Gift Finder app really helped me to find suitable presents for him.

Using the dials you can narrow your search down for a gift for a music lover by altering the dials to reflect the type of product you are looking for - whether it be a particular type of instrument or a stocking filler, the price bracket and if it is for an adult or a child. The app is intuitive and if you are searching a particular type of instrument it opens up another category of beginner and intermediate. Ideal if you need ideas for a perfect musical gift but just don't know quite what to get.

With such a huge selection of gifts variable, I used to app to find some super pressies for my little man. The first item that the app brought up was actually as if it had read my mind from a few weeks ago. I had seen a video of these wonderful percussion instruments, brightly coloured and perfect for Primary aged children - Wak-A-Tubes. An amazing idea for him as we can both plays these together encouraging his turn taking and co-ordination skills.
Through the Gift Finder and looking through the site I found lots of goodies for Christmas from a keyboard, to a Djembe drum and a Frog Guiro like one he had loved at pre-school. Music is such a big part of our life, it's a way through to my son and a way to connect so is on our home education curriculum. Music is a daily calming influence and I want to encourage his interest in it.

The Stocking Filler gifts are great  - games, chocolates, kitchenwares, socks......all with a musical theme. Such unique and interesting presents for loved ones. Serious music items too for the professional - instruments and sheet music so whether you have a beginner or an experienced musician to buy for, you will find plenty to choose from.
Music gift inspiration

Do you have any budding musicians in your family and what items would you buy them?

We were invited to trial the service out, all words and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Christmas Party Outfit

Untitled #9

Coat/Playsuit/Clutch bag/tights/shoes/ring/nail polish

My ideal Christmas Party outfit would be a fun playsuit that also still looks sophisticated. A feminine look with added sparkle of a beaded clutch bag and huge rock of a ring on glitter tipped nails.

Shoes with a heel - not too high that I cannot party but high enough to look glam.

I have to be warm though for waiting for the taxi or walking between bars so an amazing faux fur coat and opaque tights will do just the trick.

This is my entry for the Debenhams Blogger Christmas Party Contest

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Trendy Christmas Cards

For super trendy cards check out Made With Love and you will find some great designs. The cards are handmade and super quality with a personalised element. The reindeer card below has a red Swarovski crystal nose and you can select the colour satin ribbon that you would like from red through to green and purple. The card is thick and shimmery and the text can be personalised for a perfect card for a special person. 

For an on-trend hipster card I love the Fantastic Christmas card. The ever popular moustache printed onto recycled card and sent with both recycled envelope and cello wrap. Very environmentally friendly and so cute that you could frame them to keep as a bit of Christmas art.

The cards were delivered in a box and superbly presented wrapped in tissue.  Both cards are 14x14 cm and are £4.99 and £3.50 respectively with personalised options as an add-on. 

Sometimes it can be really hard to find the right card and many places can be awash by over sentimentality of bears and penguins kissing but the cards here are a trendier card, ones to send my more savvy friends. Also quirky cards for the love of your life - a little red knitted jumper on the front of one card 'Lets get cosy by the fire' that is also a tree decoration.

 Made With Love started as a home-based enterprise  and has grown to be super creative company with a studio in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester - northerners just like me! They sell unique stationery that is all hand made with mentions in many a glossy magazine.

You can purchase cards for any occasion from them and they have a great wedding stationery service.  I noticed that they also have a quirky range of Christmas gifts that I am smitten with, such as Circus Carnival lights and vintage style decorations
**I received cards for the purposes of the review but words and opinions are my own**

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Stir up Sunday

Stir it up
Making Christmas pudding
On the last Sunday before Advent
But maybe also making some Christmas biscuits too
Cinnamon, candied peel, chopped nuts, currants and raisins
Stir the mincemeat mixture up
Each having a turn and making a wish
What a beautiful smell, so rich 
'Stir upwe beseech thee'

Christmas Cookies by Shutterstock
Christmas Pudding by Shutterstock

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Canal boats and sweets

white bear In  a small town, past a white bear and through some iron gates decorated with bunting is a whole new world. A community of folk and boat with floating fudge and open hatches selling Pomfret cakes, barley sugar and tart pear drops. Middlewich painting bunting on a gate blue canal boat
curious canal boat fudge boat sweet boat ice cream boat A place of peace and camaraderie.  Waist coated men tend to flowers afloat in colourful pots and tubs, beside caged birds and dogs that sleep with one eye open for passers by. Roses, swirls, harlequins - a colourful life with many tales to be told.canal lock Middlewich Lock 74 Tough work, many locks to work through on the Trent & Mersey canal. A sleepy town with a big heart. Today was the floating market. I hear the Saturday was busier with a cheese and a home brew boat but today was quiet so we walked on along the canal. Past the dry dock and numerous overflow sluices with water gushing - quite scary really and I wouldn't like to totter past one after a visit to the many pubs with gardens that stretch towards this waterway.Middlewich Locks Trent and Mersey Canal Middlewich canal side sweets Middlewich dry dock  canal notice Following pathways to summer folk festivals and little gardens with gates to peer through. Quieter in the autumn but people hard at work, repairing boats, building new ones - some brave novices attracting attention as they chug along at an angle. A well seasoned boat owner laughs from the side, watch out for the sandbank and covers his eyes. autumn by lock 72 fixing canal boats canal shop Views through bridges lead to more bridges and pubs! Past hissing swans we quickly ran and past the man working on his boat with noisy tools that made LB hide his face in my coat. canal bridges autumn path rushing water under the bridge green shed Many signs tell us of the history of the canal and its local importance to our commodity - salt. Wich was used to denote salt production, hence why my local area has so many places ending in wich. Middlewich, Northwich, Nantwich....It's all about the salt in these parts of Cheshire.canal garden purple berry Such a pretty spot and with new treasures found like a summer tea garden and a shop selling plants, we will be looking out for events here next year. Perfect too for a winter walk in the coming months and if we have snow, we will be here straight away to look at the beauty of this community under a dazzling white blanket - I wonder if the canal will freeze this winter? autumn on the canal canal cafe

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Turk's Turban Squash

Turk's Turban Squash
Next year I am going to grow the wonderful Turk's Turban Squash on the allotment plot. Containing all the colours of autumn, topped with a knobbly hat. Such a curious winter squash that I had not cooked with before. I found this one at a local farm shop, sat amongst the pumpkins and the butternut squash. A bargain of mottled autumn treasure at £1.25 
   Squash Curry Blackboard
The flesh inside is a rich orange. Lovely to cut into. I decided to make a mild curry with it to warm us  up on these cold November days.Turk's Turban Squash orange fleshSquash cut into chunks
Red pepper cut into chunks
Slice an onion
Put all into a roasting tray
Drizzle with olive oil
Sprinkle with chilli flakes, garlic, cumin, corriander, salt and pepper
Mix it up to coat all the vegetables
Place in the oven on about gas mark 5 (190°C) for about 40 minutes until soft
roasted squashOnce lovely and roasted add to a pot on the stove
Add curry paste - we had some Madras in the fridge
Chuck in some fresh spinach leaves
A few good spoonfuls of Coconut milk (love this stuff!)
Add 1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes
Simmer for about 15 minutes making a curry with coconut milk Pot of autumn squash curry Tasted delicious. Little Bird loved it, surprisingly! For such a fussy eater he was scooping it into his mouth. Happy mummy!Squash Curry I've saved a few seeds for next year.
But will buy some too and compare.
Have you ever grown this curious ornamental squash?
Turk's Turban Squash seeds

Monday, 17 November 2014

My best bit of autumn

My best bit of autumn is how the season feels like a fresh start. Autumn has always been my New Year, perhaps with my nostalgia of school starting in September, it has always signified a beginning even though in many ways other people consider it to be an end - the end of summer, of green leafy trees and the sunlight which becomes less and less as the days go on.....

But this picture reminds me that autumn is truly my awakening. Here is the entrance to the best season of the year, A beautiful fiery golden leafed staircase to autumnal heaven with light mists and hazy light. The start of cosy season, warm layers and rich food for the soul as the cold creeps in.

New plans to be made, time to study and read by the roaring fire as we head towards winter. Most importantly it is the best time of year to spend with loved ones. Leaf kicking days followed by snuggle up nights. Blissful autumn.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was little I wanted to be a waitress after seeing one on a regular basis at the cafe my mum and nana took me to. I wanted to wipe those tables clean and take orders - I thought it looked the best job in the world. It wasn't, I did it as a teenager and in my early twenties and it was soul destroying. But to a five year old, it looked so glamorous - I assume the waitress I must have seen was smiley, well dressed and pretty. As I young girl I just wanted to be like her.

I also wanted to be cloud keeper after an early obsession with the Care Bears. Sadly opportunities for shovelling up and tending to clouds do not come up very often and I'm afraid of heights. Then I wanted to be a fashion designer. I had a kit where you designed clothes, how I wish I still had it. Do you remember it - Fashion Plates?

Do the toys you have as a child can influence our future careers? Did having Bob the Builder want you to dash out for jobs in construction or My Little Pony turn you into an equestrian expert?

That also brings up the debate on gender specific toys. Lego and Meccano for the boys producing future engineers and baby dolls for the girls for those caring careers like nursing. Personally I do not buy into these toys for boys or girls and nothing sends me more into a rage than pink Lego.

I have always bought Little Bird a wide range of toys - we have dolls, we have bricks, kitchen sets and super heroes. When LB was at preschool, a little boy he was acquainted with had wanted to try a princesses dress from the dressing up box, as long as nobody told his daddy. Awwww. However, the picture of LB eyes shining with happiness in a long red gown made me want to rush out and buy him a Disney dress just to see him happy. I didn't, so I suppose I am guilty of the same. I did buy him a doll's house in my defence..... and I would buy him a dress if he really wanted one. As it happens LB just likes everything for about 10 seconds so we have limits on what we do buy.

I am going to share his Christmas list in the next week - nothing that he has actually asked for as LB isn't at the stage of circling things in the catalogue (oh the nostalgia) so I've bought him presents based on furthering his development and sensory needs. Oh and of course on his love for animals so maybe we have a future animal husbandry worker in his kind little hands.
Toy Animals - Shutterstock

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A Chevron Turtle Mat for muddy paws and boots: review

With two dogs with muddy paws and a little boy with puddle splashed wellington boots, we get a lot of muck traipsed into the house, across the wooden floors downstairs. I am forever seeing paw prints alongside little footprints and it makes the house feel dirty. I spend a lot of time mopping and wiping the floor to keep the house feeling clean and tidy.

I have to admit that I had not heard of Turtle Mats but when I was lucky to receive one and realised what their benefits are I was very impressed and hopeful this would reduce the dirt in the house.

Let me tell you about them. Turtle Mats are a British company producing mats that are made of absorbent cotton tufts that both soaks up moisture and grabs the muck as you walk across them meaning that it doesn't all end up on your clean floors. Sounds good doesn't it!?

From a variety of different styles to choose from  I was immediately attracted to a very on-trend Chevron pattern Turtle Mat in a turquoise and dark blue. Designs range from different colours to floral patterns and styles based on Country Living magazine or the National Trust. There are even Christmas ones which I love with prancing reindeer  and snowflakes. You will have a hard time choosing a favourite.

When my mat arrived I was surprised at how big it was, 60 x 85cm, a really good size and how thin they are which is super for fitting under doors so it doesn't hinder them opening. It is worth pointing out that they are produced in different sizes, so small ones for under pet feeding areas which I really need as I have one dog that drops her biscuits out of the bowl to crunch up and one dog that dribbles so much of his water onto the floor whilst having a drink that there is always a huge puddle on the kitchen floor. Also, they do larger ones for big posh doorways - one day Homebird........

The multi-grip underside of the mat means it doesn't slip and stays in place, useful when a four year old is running in and out as I wouldn't want him slipping.

The mats are a win for me, being both practical and stylish, adding a nice pop of colour to the doorway. I haven't got it muddied up, I'm not that sort of person - too house proud to get a mat messy! I'm afraid that heavily muddied boots would have to be heaved off at the door and cleaned before coming through. However, lightly dirty boots and shoes, that I don't mind and of course when the dogs have been out for a daily walk across the field. So after a week of using the mat, it has made the wooden floors look less paw print splattered as they are both walking across the mat first.
Our old collie checking the Turtle Mat out
The great thing about Turtle Mats is that they can be washed in the washing machine at 40 degrees and then dried on a low heat the tumble drier. This is brilliant as I have thrown away so many door mats when they have become so dirty. I've yet to wash mine but when I do, I will report back. Washing actually improves the absorbency by raising the pile. I'll give mine a wash before Christmas ready for all the Christmas visitor foot traffic.

They are guaranteed for 5 years and the mat I received retails at £47.95 and can be bought online from Turtle Mat with a delivery charge of £4.95. I have just seen that they have a free delivery offer on until Christmas for orders over £75.  Obviously that does seem expensive, it did to me at first but when I add up how much money I have spent on other doormats that do not grab the muck off our shoes and the dogs paws, I think it is a good investment.

I will report back on this post as we get into winter as with lots of murky days and lots of visitors, it will be interesting to see how it stands up to all that and how my wooden floors will look cleaner.

Disclosure: I received a Turtle Mat for the purposes of the review, words and opinions are my own.