Taste the City Belfast

I’ve decided to make Saturday a day to go to free events with my kids when they are on. We live close to the city centre and the bus is right on our doorstep and we barely use it. I think my kids have finally reached the age where it is (a bit) less stressful to venture into town 🙂

Today there was a food festival thing on in Belfast and it said it was a free event with activities for kids so we went 🙂 I was surprised by what they offered for free. My kids both got their faces painted, they got to make kites with all the materials supplied and to do sugar craft designs on cupcakes.

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The kite-making workshop was good for all ages. The kids had to pick a picture to trace onto it and then colour it in before it was assembled. The girls really enjoyed doing this and it solved the problem I often have at markets of stopping them grabbing everything in sight!

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Afterwards, we sat in the sun while the girls ate the buns they had iced and we listened to live music playing in the square. The only thing I paid for was a disappointing cup of coffee and I wished I had thought ahead to bring my own!

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There were stalls selling sweets, condiments, teas, etc, and food demos, but I didn’t attempt to get the girls to sit still for them! There was a relaxed vibe to the place and it seemed surprisingly quiet for a Saturday. I love when you find things no one seems to know are happening 🙂 Especially since I don’t cope well with busy places 🙂

I had set a budget for the day so we took the bus into town instead of paying for parking and my kids were so excited they got to sit at the top on a double decker 🙂

I brought our own drinks and we got lunch for all of us from Greggs for £3.50 and took it to the park, where the girls flew their new kites and ran off some of their energy.

After that, we went to Lush because I had promised the girls a bath bomb. They used their first one last week and were fascinated by it. I guided them towards a lavender one, hoping it would help them sleep, but that was probably wishful thinking 🙂 I got a face mask while I was there. I think even if you are trying to save money it is better to limit yourself to one treat, rather than depriving yourself of everything – it helps you to stop splurging on lots of things.

We called into Learning Space, which is a shop with educational toys and games for kids. There was a sensory story time where the lady read “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” with props the kids could play with – like fake snow to make it snow, play doh to squelch in, a tarp to hide under 🙂

At the end of the day, we looked in a bookshop. Then, I had a coffee and the girls had juice in a cafe while they did sticker books. I’m thinking about making this a little tradition of ours 🙂 I think the best kind of days with kids are ones where you have a vague plan (so you don’t end up lost for things to do/with bored, whiney kids!) but that is open-ended and you can adapt to what you feel like doing at the time/judge it by everyone’s tiredness levels. If you break the day up with kid-friendly activities and snack breaks, days out with kids are definitely more enjoyable 🙂

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Easy Kids’ Crafts – Tea Box Houses

This is one of those crafts that don’t look impressive but that kids love making. They are quick to make, don’t involve any paint or messy glue/waiting for anything to dry and lead to hours of play. Every time we make something like this, my kids play with it for ten times as long as they ever play with their real dolls house!

Materials

Empty tea boxes/pretty patterned boxes

Coloured card/wrapping paper

Scissors

Cellotape

Glue Stick

Method

Make the roof for the house by diagonally cutting off the extra bits on the two sides that fold down to close the lid. Tape the front flap to the side flaps to make the roof. I find cellotape works better for this. Cut the back flap of the lid off so you can put toys inside. Poke a small hole with scissors and cut out squares for windows. Do the same for the door but leave one side of the rectangle attached. Fold back sharply so it can open and close like a door. Cut out little features to add from coloured card/wrapping paper. Cover door, make blinds, make a letter box, plants, door numbers – whatever you like and attach with glue.

My daughter insisted on adding her own numbers to the roof – don’t ask me why. She likes using them for her shopkins and they fit well through the door, but any small toys would do.

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Culture and Kids

Today I took my kids to Culture Day in Belfast. I decided to take the bus and my kids get excited at the mere mention of that – I guess we don’t go into town too often so it’s a bit of a novelty. I was surprised by the amount of events on for kids. We spent all day there and my kids loved it.

We arrived early at the City Hall and got to enjoy the morning sun with coffee and very early ice-cream/lollies for my kids 🙂 No one was there yet and we got to sit on the deckchairs and watch martial arts. There was a mini rave that the kids enjoyed because they got to dance and run around on the grass. Not my music of choice, but I’m happy with any distraction I find for my kids.

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After that we went to a bazaar in St Anne’s cathedral and saw some Indian dancers on the way. I had planned to have a no spend day and that didn’t exactly go to plan once I found a vintage clothing stall. We found a lady who did face painting and she did really beautiful designs, so I decided to get mine done too 🙂 I want to get it tattooed on my face now because it’s so pretty! There were so many interesting stalls and if my kids hadn’t had limited patience for looking around I would have spent far too much money, so it was lucky that they were there!

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Afterwards, we went to the library where there was story-telling from different cultures and puppets. It was well put together for kids with free juice and biscuits and donut-type cushions for them to sit on. The stories were really interactive and they enjoyed joining in.

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We followed that with an acoustic picnic in the Oh Yeah music centre. There was kid-friendly live music, crafts and games. We brought a picnic so we didn’t have to buy any lunch or drinks then. My daughters enjoyed playing skittles and making maracas.

There was a free chocolate/sweets factory held in a pub. Kids got to make chocolate “pizzas” topped with their sweets of choice. It was held in an outdoor pub and had a holiday-type of atmosphere.

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Afterwards, we went to a finger painting event in Lush. The kids had to smell a scent and then paint a picture based on the scent. They got to watch bath bombs dissolving and enjoyed making a mess.

There were some street performances. After that, we were all getting tired legs and we went back to the City Hall where they were making junk art with kids and dancing with pom poms and things. My kids described the day as wonderful and I thought it was too 🙂 I had a budget for the day and managed to stick to it. I think some of the things that helped were taking the bus so I didn’t have to pay for parking, bringing lunch, drinks and snacks and picking out mostly free events The only part of the day where we spent money was at the bazaar. I love looking out for free local events that provide artistic activities for my kids and educational things presented in a fun way.

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Cheap Cheesy Biscuits Recipe

This recipe was quickly thrown together and it worked out to be edible so thought I’d share it. It might not be the healthiest snack for kids, but at least there are no unknown ingredients or sugar in it 🙂 It also makes a good activity for kids eager to cookie cut 🙂

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup grated cheddar

1/2 cup chilled, cubed butter

1 egg

Splash of milk

Shake of salt (optional)

Method

Measure flour into a bowl and rub in chilled, cubed butter to make breadcrumb-like consistency. Add grated cheese, egg and milk. (Salt too if you like.) Mix to combine but don’t over-mix.  Shape into a ball and chill in fridge for 1/2 an hour. Roll out the pastry. Your hands might work better than a rolling pin because of the crumbly texture. Cut out cookies and place on baking parchment/ greased tin. Put in preheated oven at 180c for 10 minutes. Enjoy 🙂

Cheap Cosy Days & Comfort Food

There has been a bit of a heatwave this week and I’ve been walking the girls to school every day. I find that starting the day with fresh air and sunlight starts me off in a better mood. I’ve been enjoying the mornings when my kids are in school and nursery and using them as an opportunity to write.
In between this, I’m trying to save money for a short trip at Halloween, so I’m finding ways to treat ourselves without spending money when I can avoid it.

When we aren’t outdoors, I have to come up with ideas to draw my kids away from the lure of the TV. Cooking always seems to work with my younger one. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the house, cook from scratch and avoid unnecessary trips to the shops.

I discovered a health food shop near us that I had never been to before. They sell fruit and veg boxes. For £13.50 you get about a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables. It helps with meal planning, because it gives you something to sketch recipes around. We also tried their sourdough bread. It was the most expensive load of bread I’ve ever bought but it was the nicest I’ve had too. I like supporting local businesses and it stops me spending money as thoughtlessly.

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Here are some alternatives to overspending I’ve used this week:

  • Set up a writing/crafts/colouring station at your kitchen table. Add candles and soft music to make it feel more like a cafe. Make yourself fancy toast and real coffee and enjoy having peace to create something.
    Bake snacks and breakfast options for the week. We made some cheesy biscuits for snacks and pear granola, adapted from a recipe at Surprisingly, my daughter has been requesting granola every morning from breakfast since. I think she finds it more appealing because she helped to make it.

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  • Make warming meals like stew and casserole. It’s a good way to use up root veg and leftover portions of meat you have in the freezer. Billie Holiday has become my cooking music recently, and it almost feels like a form of therapy.

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  • Walk when you can to save on petrol. There is a garden my kids want to stop at every day, filled with flowers and cartoon characters. If you break up the walk with things of interest along the way, kids don’t notice the length of the walk as much. We also stopped one day at a local ice cream shop. Kids in school uniforms can get a £1 scoop on certain days of the weeks.
  • Explore your local area on foot. Bring some change with you so you can buy something from the bakery, get a book from the library or buy a bunch of flowers. It feels like you are treating yourself without putting yourself into debt 🙂

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Homemade Play Doh Recipe

This is such an easy recipe and you can customise it as you please 🙂 My kids seem to play with it for longer than regular play doh. I think it is partly the novelty of getting such a large heap of dough instead of a few little pots.

Ingredients

1 cup of flour
1 cup of water
1 packet of cream of tartar (5g)
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup salt

Method

Combine the dry ingredients and add to a pot. Add the wet ingredients and cook over a low heat, mixing continuously. Keep cooking it until it turns solid. What looks like a slight skin will start forming on it when it’s ready, but it will go away when you knead it. After it has formed one ball in the pot, I usually remove it and knead it for a few minutes to make sure it is the right consistency. If it is too runny add some more flour.

Ideas:

Separate the dough into bowls and add different food colourings to them/and/or glitter, sequins, etc.
Add lavender, cinnamon and nutmeg, oregano and rosemary, rose petals, fresh mint or any other herbs or scented oils you like.
Give your kids a baking tray so they can pretend to make cookies with it.
I save any disposable containers that are easy to clean and work as play cooking receptacles for the dough – eg, if i buy dough balls and they come in a tray with little holes to hold them, we save it as a muffin tin for play doh.
This is so easy to make and you can give it as a gift for kids if you wrap it in cellophane. I usually dispose of it after one use as it quickly goes mouldy since there are no preservatives in it.

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Cheap Weekends with Kids

This post is appearing a little late since I got sidetracked mid-writing, as I often do with kids, but at least it is weekend related 🙂

After the school term starting up again, I decided that this month I’m going to have a fresh start, start a new budget, save for holidays, make use of our existing memberships and enjoy watching the seasonal changes outside. (Basically avoid spending money when I can.) If I don’t spend a weekend being creative or contemplative, I feel like I’ve wasted it. So, I set up some simple activities for my kids and we spent time in pretty settings. I’ve got into the habit of making lots of small purchases over the summer, with nothing to show for my expenditures. So, I’m going to start a holiday fund instead.

We started last weekend, as we always do, with pancakes. One of my daughter’s refuses to eat them which still confounds me. I thought all people loved pancakes. Anyway, afterwards, the girls wanted to play with play doh but I didn’t have any, so I made a simple homemade one, which I will share in my next post. That kept them entertained for the longest I’ve seen them focus on one thing ever! You can add food colouring or something scented, like lavender, herbs etc. I added some rosemary and oregano and we called it “pizza dough.”

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I also found some paper people in the pound shop and I had a box of sparkly confetti I got to decorate the dresses with. We stuck on googly eyes, so at least my obsession with stocking up on craft supplies comes in handy at times. You can also find craft materials for kids in the card making section of the pound shop, as well as the party section (where I found the confetti.)
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The weather brightened up, so I brought the girls their lunch on a tray in the garden. My kids always eat better outside – I might have to start serving dinner there every night to persuade them to eat something other than a snack.
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I always reach my limit with staying in the house, so I took the girls to Castle Espie and they fed the birds. As they are getting older, they are becoming more interested in identifying the different types of birds. Our visit there was well-timed because they had an hourly explorers session for kids. A man led a tour around the badger hides and tracks left by otters etc. He had a lot of animal poo-related stories that kept my kids listening, rapt. They got to make crafts indoors and we brought our own snacks so the trip was free (minus the petrol.) We have membership for about £60 a year so we can use it whenever we like.
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I think getting memberships for child-friendly places is worthwhile, because otherwise, we would be separately spending on every day out at different places. At least if the cost of days out is included in your monthly budget, it’s easier to avoid overspending on activities and you can plan your days out around those places.

I felt like trying to make dinner out of what was left in the house and what we needed to use up, so I made taco rice and for dessert a peach crumble with custard. It was a quick way to use up peaches that were past their best and I used some egg yolks left over from a cake I made with egg whites to make custard.

We had a no spend weekend, but we didn’t miss anything because of it. I think people often conflate having a good time with having to spend money and that isn’t the case. In fact, I find the most enriching activities always come for free.
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