Craft Packs, Pretend Play and Fig Scones

The last couple of days have been slightly calmer, as we’re getting used to this new way of life. I’ve been trying to schedule in more time for myself, and allowing myself to leave the girls to their own devices sometimes, guilt-free. After catching up with my daughter’s school class on Zoom yesterday, we watched a nature show about water nymphs. It’s on Tuesday and Thursdays and is run by a nature centre. The classes are interactive, with a quiz for kids and a creative task for them to complete before the next one. Last time, they enjoyed designing their own plants and naming them.

We did some of my daughter’s schoolwork and made a multicoloured number grid to help her with it 🙂

After some academic time, we made egg carton daffodils, which was an activity suggested by my other daughter’ s preschool. The girls enjoyed painting the bell part of the flower yellow, and then I cut out what felt like millions of petals from a cereal box for them to paint. If you have white paint, it’s better to paint the cardboard with that first and let it dry, as the yellow will look less patchy when added, but we didn’t have any so we just slathered a lot of yellow on 🙂 We are still waiting for it to completely dry 🙂

I tried a recipe from a magazine for fig and walnut scones. They turned out really well, but the girls refused to eat them because of the fruit and nuts inside. (More for me :)) It was a beautiful day and the girls spent a lot of time in the garden playing. I made some chai tea and attempted to sit outside and read a magazine, but I think I just read the same paragraph multiple times and then stopped to watch their “bike races.”

Since my daughter is learning about pets in school, I set up their vets when they were asleep. I just improvised with items we had in the house, using cushions and blankets for pet beds, plasters and calpol syringes for them to use on teddies. My kids are obsessed with plasters, so I knew they’d be happy to be granted permission to put them on their toy animals 🙂 I set up a little desk with two seats, a pen holder, a phone, paper to write the animal’s ailments down, and a grooming corner, as well as all the toy animals I could find without raiding their bedroom and waking them up 🙂 It was so simple to throw together, but the girls were excited to see it when they came downstairs 🙂

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We had some overnight oats for breakfast. I love the fact that they’re ready when you get up and no pre-coffee preparation is required. I used oats, grated apple, plain yogurt and milk, mixed it and put some frozen berries on top and put it in the fridge overnight. Sometimes I just use milk without yogurt and sometimes I do an apple and peanut butter one. I like porridge weirdly thick so this picture might look unappealing to some 🙂

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After breakfast, we spent some time in the garden, did some more dancing and kids’ yoga and then worked on my daughter’s pets theme for school. We did some creative writing and my younger daughter drew pictures of her imaginary pet, its food and a house for it to live in. Then, two activity packs I’d ordered for the girls arrived in the post and they were very excited 🙂 They got a world book day book each, a sticker book, a mask to make, bookmarks and a paper lady to decorate that came with pretend hair and fabric. I like the fact it has crazily curly hair. The gluing kept the girls occupied for a long time too 🙂

I repurposed some leftover chow mein I’d made last night by combining it with chicken stock I had in the freezer. I had put ginger, onion, garlic, a small bit of chicken, soy sauce and oyster sauce in the noodles last night, so it was like chicken noodle soup with extra flavour 🙂 It felt like a good thing to eat to fend off any germs 🙂

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After lunch, we watched a kids’ music class so the girls could make use of their musical instruments and run around inside 🙂 They spent a little more time in the garden and we are having an early close-the-curtains, put-on-pyjamas and watch-a-movie night 🙂

 

 

 

 

Gentler Days

I name this post gentler days because of the slower pace of life we have all been forced to take. I’m finding sticking to a schedule, albeit a looser one, is helping us to pass the days, and even enjoy the unique gifts they bring with them

Yesterday, we started the day with some exercise and outdoor time to increase the chances of my children sitting still for schoolwork 🙂 We did some of the girls’ yoga for kids and had a dance party to my  records in the living room 🙂 They played outside on their bikes for a while so I could sit at the garden table with a cup of coffee and gather my thoughts 🙂 With the onslaught of questions, it doesn’t really work, but I still try 🙂 The girls practised skipping and played with their bubble guns and I noticed that our tulips are close to coming out to cheer up our garden 🙂

My older daughter practised her spellings for the week by making the letters with play dough. It turned into a play dough session with my other daughter making me “pancakes” with various toppings 🙂 My older daughter had a reading activity about a kangaroo, so we ended up making play dough kangaroo families 🙂 I find that interspersing schoolwork with play related to it in some way increases their concentration. I like the fact my daughter made hats for the kangaroos too 🙂 We visited the national geographic website for kids and read some facts about kangaroos. I didn’t know that the baby ones are the size of a grape and that they can jump 9 metres. The girls tried to recreate that in our hallway 🙂

My friend had sent us a scavenger hunt you can complete with kids around the house. They enjoyed racing off to find the essential objects and proudly showing me what creative choices they’d come up with 🙂

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We made some more flatbreads for lunch and the girls helped me with the mixing. I think I’ve discovered my new addiction and probably won’t buy flatbreads from the shop again 🙂 I made what the girls called “snacky lunch“, where I set finger food out and they help themselves. I dug out some miniature cups I have that I’d forgotten for the girls to use. They liked having their own little tea cups and it felt like a tea party 🙂

Today, we started the day with outside time in the garden again, as well as dancing and kids’ yoga. We filled up a bird feeder to try and attract more birds to our garden. I’ve noticed a robin and some blackbirds making frequent visits the last few days, and the girls show an interest in them too.

One of my daughter’s school activities was to write a book review of her favourite book, so I adapted it to include both of them. They each chose their favourite book and we read them together. While my older daughter made a summary and answered questions about it, my younger one drew a picture of hers from the cover. They had to rate the book out of five stars so I got my younger one to draw her stars and colour them in 🙂

Afterwards, we watched a Maddie Moate recorded live show about birds. There was a quiz and a craft project for making your own bird feeder. The girls seemed genuinely interested in guessing birds by their song and spotting birds in our garden.

For lunch, I decided to try a new recipe to use up wilting lettuce we had, so I made a soup with potato, onion, garlic and lettuce in it. I blended it before the girls got a chance to look at it and was surprised they actually ate it and said they liked it. (They still don’t know there was lettuce in it.) It tasted like leek and potato soup, but a little thinner. I’m trying to grow more lettuce from the lettuce ends that were left. I’ve put them in a bowl of water to see if they grow back. I’d seen people doing that with root veg too and was interested to see if it’d work for us. I’m grateful for the fact this last week has made me more aware of food and waste and unnecessary trips to the shop. I always liked cooking from scratch and baking, but it’s made me more inventive in using everything up.

My younger daughter’s preschool had suggested some activities for home, so we decided to try one today. We made a sensory garden/farm. I used an old tub and the girls enjoyed scrunching Weetabix into it to make pretend soil. The instructions said you could use any crushed cereal or soil. We made a tin foil “pond” and then I gave the girls empty plant pots and we went on a “school trip” into the garden to collect leaves, stones, twigs and anything else the girls found for the garden.

The girls came up with their own way of decorating the garden. They put stones as rocks around the pond, leaves, twigs planted as trees, a couple of flowers, and some weeds hanging over the side as “ivy.” When they’d finished, they added toy animals to it. I think it’ll provide hours of entertainment if I can manage to dissuade my daughter from eating the Weetabix soil 🙂 There are aspects of life that are difficult at the moment, but I’m glad of the extra time it has given me with the girls and the projects we wouldn’t have had time to do otherwise.

 

Posting Letters and Guided Drawings

I needed a gentler sort of day today. I feel like we have been cramming a lot into our days, and although it works well as a distraction, the exhaustion has hit me a bit. This morning, after having some breakfast, coffee and managing to squeeze in a few hundred words of writing, I put on a live PE video for the girls. The idea was to tire them out in the living room, but they showed little interest in it and ended up rollerskating instead. I guess it is just trial and error – figuring out what will interest them and what won’t. To be fair to them, PE was never my forte either 🙂

Afterwards, the girls decorated the envelopes for the cards they had made for their friends. We went for a quick walk to a nearby postbox so they could post them. It seemed a bit silly, since one of the friends lives within walking distance of our house, but I think the postbox added an element of novelty to it for the girls 🙂 I remembered writing letters to penpals as a kid. I had one in England and another in a different school to mine. We wrote each other regular letters and finally met in person for a shared school trip. That’s a fond memory, and I think it’s good for the girls to experience some form of that in the modern world 🙂

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I did some schoolwork with my daughter when we got back while my other daughter completed some of her magazine. I’ve noticed that they have been sitting for longer when I refer to what we are doing as “school.” Although, they still tired of it after an hour and asked for TV 🙂

We went for a short drive to the roadside honesty box again 🙂 They seem to have expanded it now – maybe they are getting a lot of custom. It’s a good way to buy what you need without having any human contact 🙂 I got some huge kiwis, a loaf of homemade whiskey bread (which I’m curious to try) and a jar of homemade bolognese sauce.

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After we got home, we had some lunch and then the girls watched a recording of a live art show. The fact that a little girl was involved in it seemed to hold their interest 🙂 They learned how to draw unicorns and Batman and were completely engrossed in it 🙂 I hadn’t used guided drawing before with them, but I will again 🙂

I photocopied a page of my daughter’s magazine so they could both make matching letter holders. They just had to paste them to cardboard, cut them out and paint the legs to hold them together. I don’t know if they have any letters to put in them, but I might dig out some birthday cards etc for them to put inside 🙂 For once I was glad of the junk box we have that is filled with cardboard and empties itself every time I open the cupboard 🙂

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Finally, the girls had a play in the garden and I tackled some of the housework. I’m noticing our piles of clutter are worsening since we’ve been in the house and I think we might have to build an extension to contain them all in by the time September comes 🙂 I’m taking some time to myself to write, drink tea and let my children entertain themselves. I feel the need to just sit and “be” for a change and to allow myself some time for creative output too.

Growing Lettuces and Cookie Improvisation

Today, we ventured out for a little walk around our neighbourhood first thing in the morning. We didn’t encounter anyone and it was so tranquil and felt like we’d stepped back in time. I’m doubting whether I should continue taking walks with the girls in light of everything that’s going on, even though we’ve just been sticking to our own area and avoiding people. It was misty and the greenway looked like a scene from a gothic novel, like a winding driveway that disappears into fog. It cleared my head and tired the girls’ legs out, which made them much more amenable to the activities we did at home 🙂

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When we got home, I made some coffee and got out paints for the girls to paint rainbows to stick up in our living room window. I had seen online that other children had been doing that to cheer up their neighbourhoods and as a scavenger hunt for other kids when they are out for a walk. My younger daughter dived head first into the painting, while the other spent a long time making precise lines with felt tips. I like the contrast between their attitudes towards art – one flings everything at the page and is finished in five minutes, the other’s attention to detail and patience is better than mine 🙂 I liked the fact she also drew a rainbow dot frame for her picture 🙂

Painting carried on for a long time and then I put on a live video for them to watch that was designed for kids. They were noticeably calmer compared with when we’d first woken up and they were doing somersaults on my bed 🙂

We spent some time in the garden. The girls continued making soil and leaves meals in a disused barbecue we have 🙂 They’ve moved it into their play house now and have been hosting pretend parties for us in the garden. I did some weeding while they played. I find that weeding with my bare hands really grounds me and helps me to calm any anxious thoughts I might be having. I’ve been attempting to grow some herbs on my kitchen windowsill and the lettuces were taking over, so I separated them out a little. I have no idea whether I’m doing it properly, so it is all guesswork and hoping for the best 🙂 I’ll be shocked if I ever successfully grow a plant from seed (or keep a potted plant alive for that matter.)

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We spoke to my parents on Facetime to wish each other a happy mother’s day and catch up on what we’d been doing in our respective houses. When I imagine families separated in the past, I realise how lucky we are to be able to still see the animated faces of our loved ones while we are in isolation.

We used up the rest of our flatbreads and hummous (which the girls are still refusing to eat – more for me :)) I made some lentil soup too. Afterwards, I decided to try to make flour from oats. I made some two-ingredient cookies with the girls. It’s a good way to use up overripe bananas, and you can add any additional extras you like. I added some chopped walnuts and sultanas. They tasted surprisingly good for cookies without sugar.

We sat down over cookies and tea and I got out some printer paper for the girls to make cards for friends. I couldn’t find any card, so we just folded the paper length-wise, and then brought the two ends together to make a card. Apparently people used to do that in the past, and they stand up perfectly when you do that. The girls had a great time, writing little notes to their friends and decorating them with sequins and stampers. I’m glad of my craft-hoarding problem during this time. I had found a pack of hundreds of sequins reduced to 50p in B&M a few weeks ago and we made a little home for them in an egg carton. It was a useful way to keep all the colours separate 🙂

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I had booked to do a live class online for the girls, involving acting and dancing. It didn’t quite go to plan, but it was my first time using Zoom, and the girls still enjoyed it. They had to dance, mime and pull different faces in response to various imaginary flavours 🙂 They took a while to come out of hiding, but by the end they were enjoying it and asked to do it again. I think they found the fact that the people in the class could see and hear us a little strange 🙂 But it was worth doing.

I ordered the girls Toucan boxes after reading reviews about them. They send out two a month to your house and they contain craft/gardening packs based on your child’s age. I’m excited to see what comes in them, never mind the kids 🙂

Apart from that, we just spent some more time in the garden. I find that doing that and connecting with nature, even in small ways, heals something in me. I noticed the most birdsong I have and it made me realise how much we miss behind the heavy noise of traffic. Tomorrow, I’m going to embark on a home-school plan, and I might need vast quantities of coffee to get moving in the morning 🙂

 

 

 

Play Doh Popcorn, Frog Friends & Bike Rides

This weekend unintentionally ended up being busy. I’d planned on having a slow weekend in the house, but I always forget that is unachievable without structured activities for my energetic kids!

We started off with some belated Pancake Tuesday celebrations (although I usually make pancakes at the weekend anyway :)) One of my kids loves them, the other loathes them. I find it hard to understand how anyone could dislike pancakes. When I used to live in Paris, my friends and I went to a place called “Breakfast in America.” I always think of it when I make pancakes and try to recreate their plate-sized ones. They also had blueberry-filled ones that I make sometimes.

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Afterwards, I decided to make some homemade play doh. I have a recipe that is so easy to make and you can keep it plain or add food colouring if you like. I had yellow and blue, so we made two colours and the girls enjoyed shaking glitter in at the end and kneading it. I’m always surprised by how long play doh keeps them occupied for. They literally played with it for hours. Cutting it up into tiny pieces with scissors and pretending they’re making popcorn is their favourite thing to do with it, along with baking cakes, ie, putting play doh creations on a baking tray and pretending to put them in the oven under the table.


I had booked the free screening for kids at the cinema, so we went to see Finding Dory and brought our own snacks and drinks. We walked there to get some fresh air. I notice if we don’t get any it really affects my mood, and not in a good way 🙂

After the film, we called into a local ice-cream shop and the girls tried screwballs for the first time. They had never had bubblegum before and wondered why bubbles didn’t magically appear the minute they started chewing it. I had some coffee ice-cream with white chocolate sauce 🙂


As we were walking home, it was getting stormy, so we retreated inside and the girls resumed their play doh play. I lit a new white chocolate candle I had. I always feel like lighting a new candle marks a new beginning… of what I’m not sure… hopefully nothing sinister 🙂 I always have a candle burning and a place doesn’t feel like home without it 🙂 It makes a good substitute for our blocked-off fireplace 🙂 

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The girls have a big art set I got for one of their birthdays. It is filled with pens, pencils, watercolours and opens out so they prop up their artwork while they draw. It has provided so much entertainment and the girls decided to do a joint effort picture with watercolours and painting sponges. I wouldn’t have thought to combine the two but they were happy so I let them work away 🙂 It turned out really well. I like the way there is a dividing line down the centre of the page. It reminds me of when my sister and I used to argue and we made a line in the middle of our bedroom so we each had a side 😀

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I finally got a bike rack for the car for the girls’ bikes. We have a little yard at our house where they can only cycle in circles, so they were excited to get out in an open space 🙂 We went to a nearby park which I love because it’s like a secret park – no one ever seems to be there when we use it 🙂 We stayed for a long time and even though it was bitterly cold, the sunshine made it bearable 🙂 I went on the swings for a while too (when I was allowed a break from pushing everyone else.) I noticed some springtime flowers and it cheered me up seeing some colour. It feels like years since there was any colour other than grey 🙂

Afterwards, we went to my mum’s house and the girls continued riding their bikes in their cul de sac. They have a couple of friends they see there sometimes and had a great time playing with them. My mum made them some hot chocolate in cute little cups she got for them and we all warmed up inside. We also saw a frog outside the house which the girls were fascinated by 🙂

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A Week of Fairs, Workshops & Rock Painting

This week has been busy; so much so that I haven’t had time to record anything on here. I always find my blog posts dwindle on the days my kids are at school since that leaves less time for adventures 🙂

Today, we went to Frock Around the Clock at Belfast Castle. It’s a vintage/handmade market that is held in different venues in Northern Ireland. I think Belfast Castle is my favourite spot for it because it feels grand and regal inside and goes with the feel of the market. There are also lots of little side rooms to sip your coffee in when you want to escape the crowds.
It was a day that couldn’t really decide what weather it wanted to have. We arrived in mist, got caught in a rain shower and left in sunshine, but the views were spectacular and it made me realise I need to make more effort to visit the Cavehill and walk the trails with the girls.

I had a non-thrifty day and made a few too many purchases today, but when items are handmade and unique, I find it hard to resist 🙂 There was a lady that made her own preserves and I got some apple butter and tried some of her pumpkin marmalade. It sounds a strange combination but worked really well 🙂 I find that markets are bearable with kids as long as you intersperse shopping with snack breaks and find food stalls/crafts that interest them. 

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There was a lady who had made miniature book necklaces. They had pages that turn and little pressed flowers stuck between the leaves. I bought one that was a poetry collection from Whitman. It has tiny print inside and even gold edged pages 🙂

The girls were happy to find some homemade, heart-shaped Jammie Dodgers. Food always saves the day when they are getting restless. There were so many stalls and interesting people to talk to that we spent hours there. My kids discovered their distaste for dark chocolate (but everything is an experience:)) I wanted to buy everything at this stall.

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After having coffee and a final look around, we went outside to explore the grounds. The girls were taken by the water fountain and insisted on dropping coins in it and making wishes. There were tiled pictures of cats and little cat statues that gave a friendly feel to the place. I didn’t remember seeing them before. I love the views from the castle. It feels like you’re on your own special floor above the city. Watching the palm trees in the breeze really soothes my mind. I’ve been noticing lately I get much more irritable if I haven’t had fresh air. I can’t seem to spend an entire day cooped up in the house without feeling like my head is getting unhealthy. So, I’m going to make a point to get outside for a walk every day. It does the girls as much good as it does me. This gothic staircase provided more entertainment for my kids than any other kid-oriented activity could 🙂

At the fair, we ended up joining the Woodland Trust. I hadn’t thought to visit any of the forests before, but I’m always happy to uncover less frequented places to walk. They send out activity packs for kids based on their age and I’m going to make the effort this year to visit places we’ve never been to before. I want to spend some time teaching my kids about nature so they can recognise types of trees, flowers etc (and so I can too!)

Yesterday, I took the girls to the cinema for the free screening of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I brought my own coffee and sweets for the kids to save on the expense of snacks. I booked the workshop for after the film which is £3 per child. I expected it to be a bit thrown together but it was well organised and hilarious 🙂 It was run by an actor who does workshops with kids and he joked around and got everyone in the room involved in pretending props were different objects, mime, freeze frames and creating scenes. Usually that type of thing would be my worst nightmare but it was done humorously and was well worth the money 🙂

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This week, we also had one sick day where both kids stayed at home. They were that level of sick that still requires busyness! So, we spent the day painting and cooking. We painted the rocks the girls had collected on our “holiday” last weekend. I just use a big piece of paper as a paint palette when we are using lots of different colours and separate paintbrushes for each colour. I find it results in less mixing and muddy colour combinations 🙂

We’ve had a busy week, between our outings, artistic endeavours and my new book being published, but it has been inspiring too and has given me plenty of ideas for future blog posts 🙂

 

A Week of Simple Holiday Activities

This week I’ve been trying to tailor our activities to match our post-Christmas budget. I want to save some money for a trip we are going on in February. It has proven more difficult this year to find local events without high entrance fees. Even calling into the Christmas market and getting some food and a drink can quickly add up. So, I’ve been trying to centre our activities around what we have at home, memberships we have, nature and places that are free to visit.

At the weekend, I took the girls to the Ulster museum. We parked on the other side of Botanic Gardens so we could walk through the park while it was dry. I think walks in cold weather refresh your mind much more than summer day ones. Inside the museum, we went to the art room. There is a lady who works there whose style I always admire and she is so welcoming and has so much patience for the kids. They usually have a drawing-based activity at the table but at the moment, paper snowflakes have taken over. The girls enjoyed making them and I realised that is a craft we have never done at home. It is so simple and requires no trip to the shop to stock up on craft supplies. The staff had hundreds of snowflakes suspended from the ceiling, and looking at them made me realise how many creative possibilities there are with them. It would make a good afternoon-long activity for bored kids. They were punching hole patterns in the finished snowflakes with needles and my kids were really focussed on creating regular patterns. In the same room, there is a light box with translucent blocks for kids to build with and a dressing up room. My kids ended up making friends with another child and playing in a tent, putting a pretend cat to bed. There were plenty of adults making snowflakes too and the position of the room at the top of the building means you have a good view of the gardens and the neighbouring area.

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Afterwards, we went to the under the sea part, where you walk through a darkened tunnel and look at the underwater creatures. It’s so simple but my kids always find it magical. There is a nature room where kids can use microscopes and touch the displays. Finally, on the bottom floor, we went to the toy room and looked at the old toys and the dolls houses decorated to depict different eras. I always love taking the kids to the museum. In the summer, it is near the rose garden and there is the tropical ravine and palm house right beside it.I have very energetic children so I’m a proponent of any activity that tires out their legs and their minds, and this does both in one visit 🙂

Days at home are a good time for getting out any unopened craft presents your kids might have got for Christmas. Today, they opened a kit to make a clay family. It took a long time but kept them well entertained, especially with all the laughter at how our people turned out. The kit came with little bead eyeballs to add to the dolls and they made a big difference to the appearance of them. It reminded me that you can use different materials combined with play doh to draw out the activity and hold your kids’ interest. I used to give my kids objects to decorate play doh with and they always loved doing that 🙂

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We also had a colouring/coffee/magazines session at the table. I put on some jazz and the girls coloured in and had a drink out of their Christmas cups while I filled my system with caffeine and used an adults’ colouring book 🙂 There were plenty of interruptions, but I find that if I do something in some way creative or using my hands while spending time with my kids, they are much more interested in what I’m doing and it inspires them to do something similar, or to start something else of their own. My older daughter has an adults’ colouring book she has started doing now. I find it holds her attention for longer because it’s more challenging and detailed, and she feels more grown up using it 🙂

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This week, we also finally got round to making salt dough decorations. They aren’t just specific to Christmas and you could used themed cookie cutters to make them for different times of the year. I find if you do anything involving rolling and cutting at the kitchen table it’s easier to manage and kids can do it more independently than standing at a counter. After baking them in the oven, my kids painted the salt dough and then used ridiculously big glitter shakers to decorate them. After letting them dry, I threaded them onto gift ribbons so they could hang them on the tree. You could also package them up to make cute presents for relatives.

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My daughter wanted to paint the pictures that you fold in half to create a full picture. Lots of butterflies were made, and then they progressed to flowers and Santa’s. The mess of craft time with my kids is worth it to me for the enjoyment they get out of it, even if it does sometimes result in my shouting 🙂

I always dread January a little. It feels like a bleak month once all the Christmas lights have been taken down and everyone is on a tighter budget or dieting to make up for feasting at Christmas time. I think it’s important to introduce new ideas and things to look forward to, no matter how simple they are. So, I am going to compile a list of ideas of things to do with my kids, new dishes to make and places of natural beauty to visit. I don’t make New Years resolutions, but this year, I might just aim to come up with inspiring ideas to take the icy edge off January.

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