An Old Fashioned Christmas Outing

Today, I took the girls on an impromptu day out, planning on just having a walk around the Folk Park. It turned out to be the best Christmas event I’ve ever been to. We are members of the Ulster Folk Museum, so the day out was free. We arrived at the park and were greeted by an old fashioned Santa with a bell and a green suit. He had a long chat with my kids about Christmas time and what he “remembered” from last year. We had been given a page with a Christmas hunt and had to find the hidden clues to win a prize. As we started walking into the little town part of the folk park, I thought it had started snowing and the girls got really excited. It turned out there were bubble machines placed around the town that produced realistic snow. It was a misty day and the whole scene reminded me of a Dickensian Christmas.

CC9BFDCF-7D17-4ADB-9B36-63C0780E978D.png

Usually when we go to the folk park, it isn’t in full operation. There usually seem to be parts closed off or unoccupied, but everything was open today and staffed, and there was hardly anyone there 🙂 that’s my favourite kind of Christmas outing – one without hoards of people 🙂

I think they mentioned that there had been a candlelight carol service on the previous night, and maybe more people had attended that, so it was the best time to go 🙂

The pub was open and there was live Irish music being played and a choice between alcoholic and non alcoholic mulled wine. My kids had some of the punch and loved it. We sat at an old wobbly table and listened to the music and chatted. I’ve been becoming increasingly bothered by the consumerism of Christmas time. I don’t know if it’s because it starts earlier now and the build-up is heightens it, but I’ve just noticed the madness and poor manners have been worse this year than any I remember. (Maybe I’ve just blotted it out.) I loved the fact that today ran counter to that and I didn’t have to subscribe to the suffering for a little celebration. 

D84666C1-1930-45B2-B93E-B5595A385F78.jpeg

We went a cottage where a lady had made vegetable soup on the stove and served some to us. I was surprised how quickly it vanished from the girls’ cups. Maybe I need to get a stranger to cook for us to get them to eat 🙂 It was already dark inside and the fire and candlelight were cosy.
Afterwards, we went to the old schoolhouse where the girls got to write Santa letters. A man in costume who worked there helped them stamp the letters to be posted at the post office later on our walk.

646F297B-3E2D-4901-BA21-6009F71EFB52.png

There is a thatched cottage with gardens that are beautiful in the summer. We heard music coming from inside and when we went in there was a group of musicians playing. They played Jingle Bells just for the kids and were making a wooden toy dance. The guitarist had a willow, woven star hanging from her guitar and they were dressed in fancy clothes. A lady had been cooking in a pot over the fire and we got to try a steamed Christmas cake filled with currants. It reminded me of a boiled cake my granny used to make.

In the printers, a man showed us the process of printing Christmas cards with a printing press. He also made bookmarks and pictures. He talked to us about the differences between now and then and said that Christmas cards used to be made of paper and folded twice to make them stand upright. He let the girls make simple cards of their own with traditional stampers.

6E106638-2C0C-4249-8AC9-180ED38419F8.png

We walked to the post office and the girls posted their Santa letters in the post box. Next door, in the house adjoining the bank, there was a lady making chutney and she offered some crackers and apple chutney to the girls. She told us about the two kinds of ovens they had, to bake and to roast in and talked me through how to make your own Christmas pudding. She had made her own pudding and cakes, decorated with holly.

304E849F-001F-4DDB-819F-555D9579483E.png

The girls danced in the pretend snow again and then we passed some people roasting chestnuts. My daughter loved pulling the outer shell off and trying them. We called into the picture house where they were showing silent movie clips about preparations for Christmas. It made me realise how much calmer things seemed then and today gave me a glimpse of it. I think modern society has ruined the traditions of Christmas by going overboard and it just makes people feel rushed and angry. When I looked around the streets, none of the houses had elaborate decorations. The smaller houses had handmade wreaths and pillar candles and the wealthier homes had simple Christmas trees with a few decorations on them. As I was noticing the small signals of Christmas, I also noticed how much simpler life was with fewer possessions. We have so many and I get overwhelmed by the clutter everywhere. The experience has put me in the mood to further simplify life and made me realise how excessive it all is. Happiness has nothing to do with things; in fact I think the presence of too many things and the pressure to buy them makes us a bit miserable.

The day ended with the girls getting a few chocolate coins for their efforts in the Christmas tree hunt and I’ve never seen them happier.

56519C70-320A-4977-B3C1-A332433F2897.png

D12B4562-5511-47AF-8312-E44C74FF3D16.png

A Christmassy Day without the Chaos

Today I was talking to my mum about cutting out all of the Christmas chaos. There are so many Christmas events you could be signing up and paying out for, and parental guilt struck me when I realised I hadn’t booked anything for the girls over Christmas. Then I arrived at the conclusion that there are few of them I have actually enjoyed. Unless it is off the beaten track and not overly populated, most Christmas events are overwhelming, so I might stick to making salt dough at home and going for Wintery walks in the countryside instead.

I’ve been trying to walk my kids to school every morning. It’s about a mile from our house and it just feels calmer than fighting our way through traffic to struggle to find a parking space. Along the way, you notice more than you would in a car, like the cheerful lollipop man, the window displays, the fruit shop hanging out wreaths and mistletoe and the Christmas lights. There is a house my kids love to stop at every day because they have a festive display along with lots of toys in the front yard. They call it “our favourite garden.” I noticed a holly tree while we were walking and I think the icy air clears your head before you start your day too. I actually talk to my kids properly on the walk too, which rarely happens when I’m stressed behind the wheel.

Today, I decided to bypass my writing and coffee date with myself and stay in instead. I turned the Christmas lights on along with the National Lampoons and made some costa coffee at home with mini mince pies. (I had to have two because they were small :)) I tackled some of the present wrapping I had left to do and enjoyed it with the absence of demands and interruptions while my kids were at school.

When my younger daughter got home, we made some chocolate fudge with crushed candy canes in it. I’m hoping it sets properly because fudge always confuses my brain, but my daughter enjoyed making it. She had the job of bashing the candy canes with a rolling pin and she’s an expert on tray greasing 🙂

Tonight, once my kids were in their pyjamas, I surprised them with our drive to see the Christmas lights. They brought milk and gingerbread men in the car, listened to Christmas songs and enjoyed driving all over the city and looking for the most over-the-top light displays 🙂 If I knew how to climb ladders and hang lights properly, ours would probably look like a Christmas grotto too 🙂 I always loved multicoloured fairy lights and tacky Santa’s and some things don’t change with age 🙂

Ways to Keep Christmas Calm

Like most introverts, I find the build-up to Christmas a bit overwhelming. Once you have kids it seems to quadruple the number of events you can’t talk your way out of. Sometimes I just need to hear the quiet and calm down the frenzied festivities. Last weekend, I made a point of not signing up for any Santa-themed, city-centre based activities and we just did our own things before my head exploded like a Christmas cracker 🙂

I’d planned on staying in for most of the weekend, but as always, the idea of that was easier than the execution of it. I stopped at the pound shop before collecting the girls and picked up some Christmas activity packs, DVDs and baking things.

When my kids got home, they painted ceramic snowmen, did scratch pictures, coloured and played with stickers. My friend had sent me some hot chocolate bombes as a gift and we used those. My kids were amazed when they erupted in the cup, producing mini marshmallows. I put on calm music and they didn’t even ask to watch TV (which is rare!)

6577E449-4FB9-472A-8C84-2CA7479789C9.png

My daughter decided she wanted to write Christmas cards for her class. I usually avoid this tradition but watching her do it made me realise how it could be therapeutic and a good way to focus your attention on something less brash and materialistic. I always saw the obligation side to writing cards before and thought it was just a box ticking exercise, but watching how attentively she did it slowed my mind down and helped me see the thoughtful side to it.

We baked some Christmas cupcakes. They had orange zest and juice inside them and cinnamon for a Christmassy flavour 🙂 They turned into mermaid cupcakes when my kids plastered them with icing and sprinkles but they still tasted good 🙂

5A5DE447-BD5C-4FFF-B5DB-810F5C07ACF8.png

Once the cabin fever set in, we went to the beach. It was bitterly cold and we seemed to be the only ones there, apart from a few dog walkers passing through, but I like going to the sea even more when it’s a wild than when it’s like a holiday scene. The air tired the girls out and they had the playground to themselves 🙂 I brought tea with us and some snacks. The tide was in and we spent a long time sitting watching the seagulls “surfing” on the waves. It reminded me that I need to allow myself more time to stare into space and watch things and tune out. I think it’s important for your mental health, plus that’s when the ideas usually come to you 🙂 The girls were really interested in watching the seagulls bobbing over the waves and it showed me how little time there is for stillness nowadays. But just because it isn’t popular or right in front of us, doesn’t mean we can’t claim it. After a weekend away from the Christmas rush, I felt (almost) refreshed enough to face it again.

Budget Christmas Activities with Kids

This weekend, I took my kids to an enchanted garden at Antrim Castle Gardens. There are so many Santa experiences and winter wonderland—type events on now; you have to pick and choose what to attend if you’re on a budget. So, I decided to turn the enchanted garden trip into a mini day trip and make it a spending day for us.
We drove to a shopping outlet with a park and ride at it. My kids get inexpressibly excited by bus journeys. I guess we tend to walk or drive everywhere, so it feels like a treat to them. We stopped for hot chocolate and gingerbread men before getting the bus. I have one daughter that always likes the idea of hot chocolate better than the taste of it so I spent most of the time trying to persuade her to drink it 😀 but it was a nice idea 🙂 

AFA6EA35-2E86-45A1-BAB0-999C6983C8C9.png

We took the bus to the garden and I was impressed by how elaborate it was. We spent nearly three hours there. You could buy tokens for the various old-fashioned rides, one of which was a train to meet Santa. There were food and coffee stalls and we had some Chinese food at the picnic benches. It was surprisingly quiet so I think choosing to go early in December was a good idea. There were no interminable queues for rides or stampedes for donuts.

927EFD7C-3594-49D2-8627-C110EF872E33.jpeg

There was a Santa’s workshop where the kids were given selection boxes. As well as the main features, there were separate lighted woods and hedges, fairies and princes and princesses on stilts and Christmas music playing throughout the gardens. I’ve decided I find outdoor activities with my kids much less stressful – the walking tires them out and everything feels less crowded. It was one of those events where you spend ten pounds for entry and thirty inside the gates, but I think it’s excusable as a one-off day out 🙂 It will give me incentive to seek out free events and activities to do at home for a while 🙂

CE6F172C-E8DA-4640-9B08-CEF2780A5716.jpeg

The next day we were in need of a day in the house, so we made some Christmas cookies and played board games. I like to look out for board games throughout the year in charity shops. You can find a wide range of them for a couple of pounds and build up a collection for wintry days. I got some Halloween sprinkles for 10p this week, so we used them. If you aren’t perfectionistic about that type of thing, it’s a good way to buy sprinkles etc for nothing. (I like anything with skulls on it anyway :)) 

C2169872-D72D-49D3-8EE5-5272B7FF3058.png

We watched The Grinch with the Christmas lights on, on what was a dark afternoon before going out to a free lantern parade near our house. The kids had made lanterns a couple of weeks earlier at a workshop. The parade walked about a mile led by a Santa sleigh and drummers, and we bumped into everyone we knew 🙂 It finished with a fireworks display that I was impressed by for such a small-scale event. I think I’m ready for some hibernation now and no spend weekends ahead after the busy nature of this weekend 🙂

5B2A4E70-ED77-455A-A991-57C3381940A9.jpeg34EFB914-A824-48BE-8ECC-438BD9CA0FE0.jpeg

Budget Weekends with Kids

Today I caved and allowed the Christmas tree to go up – I’ve officially become a November Christmas person. It already feels like Christmas everywhere else, so I decided we might as well follow suit. I’d planned to have a low budget weekend with my kids and we had free cinema tickets, so I took them to see Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. It was part of the C.S. Lewis festival so there was a live reading beforehand of The Enormous Crocodile. The cinema we go to seems to be cheaper than any others I’ve been to. I got popcorn for the girls and a coffee for a few pounds. They also seem to be good at selecting a kids’ film that isn’t boring for adults, which is always appreciated 🙂 (usually I daydream during most kids’ TV.)

After the film, we went outside and it was such a dreary day I felt like we should do something cosy to lift our spirits. I’d considered going into town to call into the continental market, but with the wild weather I decided to have a Christmas-themed day in instead.

I put on Christmas music for the girls and assembled the tree. I managed not to swear at the tangled fairy lights for once 🙂 My kids added all the decorations to the tree and around the house. My dad had given us a train that runs around the base of the tree and the girls enjoyed joining the tracks together.

9D82620D-0934-425C-A06D-12EFA09008C1.png

Since I was in a patient mood, we made some gingerbread cookies. (They weren’t really gingerbread men since snowmen and candy canes were included.) Sometimes to make baking easier with kids, I measure out the ingredients into bowls for them to add them from. It helps with the kids-not-liking-waiting aspect of baking and seems to prevent fights 🙂 I flattened out the dough at the table and let the girls have a baking tray each so they could cut their own cookies. When they had finished and baked the cookies, we set up a little icing station at the table. I put icing in a bowl with a teaspoon each and the different kinds of sprinkles into separate bowls. It makes it easier for them to reach and prevents them emptying the whole container on one cookie! That activity kept the girls entertained for a long time and the smell of gingerbread combined with the glow of fairy lights definitely made our home feel cheerier than the gloom outside.

Usually I always have dinner at the table with my kids, but one day a week we have “pizza and a movie.” They get to pick a film to watch and I make oven pizzas and chips for them. It’s so simple, but they get really good excited about it 🙂

We finished the day with posting Santa letters. I had bought a tiny post box from B&M last year. It came with little letters, stamps and envelopes. The girls wrote their letters to Santa and posted them before bedtime. The first thing they will do when they wake up is check to make sure they were promptly collected 🙂 If you don’t have a letter box you could make it into an activity for your kids and cut an opening in a cereal box, paint and cover the box with glitter and write notes to post in it. If my kids are pretending to post letters and we don’t have stamps, I just give them one of their stampers to use instead. I’d better remember to hide their letters now 🙂

Cheerfully Cheap Days with Children

I’ve been saving money for a trip we are going on early next year, so I’ve been trying to take advantage of every free activity we can find. Sometimes it’s easy to fill days with costly activities with kids, especially if it’s cold or the rain puts limits on the what you can do. I try to regularly check local papers, NI for kids and Facebook for upcoming events. If you plan them out and think about ways around extra costs, it’s easy to avoid unnecessary spending. Here are a few examples of what we have been doing recently.

I took my kids to a lantern workshop, where they made lanterns in a local cinema for a nearby parade. Correction: I made two lanterns while they ran wild and climbed on other kids. The idea was nicer than the execution of it but I still found it strangely therapeutic sticking tissue paper to willow. We had to book it in advance, but it didn’t cost anything and the girls will enjoy walking with their lanterns and seeing the fireworks.

I’ve started taking the girls to the busiest park in the area. Now the temperature is dropping, it seems that people are put off doing outdoor activities with their kids. But if you get wrapped up, sometimes I think the cool air is more refreshing and the wind wipes your worries away. I brought a flask of hot chocolate with us to keep everyone warm and kept walking so I didn’t notice the cold 🙂

I took the girls to a twilight market at a farm. It was hard to find, but the tents that were set up in the dark helped to awaken my Christmas spirit. It was deathly cold, but the exhibitors prices were great and it’s hard to feel unhappy when you’re looking at coloured, twinkling lights. The girls found some unusual crocheted hats for ten pounds and less and I picked up a couple of handmade Christmas presents. I also bought a head sculpture from an artist called Chronic Crafts. They are really unique and cute and I want to own the whole collection. I like small scale events like that too because they feel more personal and you get talking to people you wouldn’t have the chance to interact with at busier markets. There was a stall with light up fairies in jars and fairy houses that made the place look cheerful and festive. My kids are like magpies and love a bargain as much as I do, so they enjoyed the lucky dip and picked out a couple of small items each.

On Saturdays, we have started going to the minors’ club at a local cinema. They have a free screening on Saturdays for kids and an optional workshop for an extra three pounds. We saw 101 Dalmatians and Homeward Bound recently. The films are a good length for kids, with no trailers and the snacks are inexpensive/you can bring your own. I think having a quiet coffee in the cinema is my new favourite thing to do on what would typically have been a frantic Saturday.

I’m going to keep looking out for local events that we can enjoy without paying extortionate prices. I think Christmas can be extra costly now because it has become such a commercial event, but if you’re creative and look out for smaller events that aren’t as well advertised, it is easy to find things to do that don’t eat up your whole Christmas budget.

To create your own blog: https://wordpress.com/alp/?aff=41804

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.

BC95CFC6-5EEF-4A3A-9110-5797BD6C3C7C

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!

74206D34-6FD4-4D63-8AC4-ECCFE8844405

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!

D5628A0D-2B58-4C48-9CC6-814ECF944B56

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 🙂

60D327F2-FF9D-4023-9852-6CBFC990796B