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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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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Hands and Happiness

I’ve realised lately how much happiness it brings me making things with my hands. If your brain and hands are engaged together, it means everything else shuts off and it quietens life down. Even with writing I find that to be the case. You are mentally and physically focussed on what you’re doing and unable to think of anything else. This week has been busy, between kids, school runs, writing two books, socialising and I even attended a rally. When your schedule is busy, I think it’s important to offset that with downtime. So, I have made this morning and this afternoon a time of rest and a time to reconnect with my kids and with what I want in life.

I’m always juggling too many ideas in my head of projects I want to start and there are never enough hours in the day to do them all. I have had a dress pattern sitting cut out for weeks and I still haven’t found the time to use any fabric. I wanted to make time for arts and making jewellery, but I’ve been writing 4000 words a day, and that doesn’t time for much else.

While I was helping my kids make cards today, I realised how essential it is to make time for creative hobbies that don’t require a lot of brainpower. I was cutting out pictures from magazines so they could use them to cover cards and I found the process of cutting things out and looking for pictures soothing. It has made me think about taking up scrapbooking, in addition to everything else I’ve planned to do!
Sometimes I think it is just as important to schedule in relaxation as it is chores. I could clean my house constantly and it would always look the same, or I can sit down and do something creative for half of that time and have something to show for it at the end. It’s essential for your mental health to just sit and do nothing sometimes, or if you have a mind as annoyingly active as mine, close to nothing.
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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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Difficult Weeks and Simple Distractions

This week has been really draining. My daughter broke her finger and had to get an operation yesterday, so I decided after two days of waiting in hospitals, we were due a relaxing day in the house. My sister had sent us a fairy garden to assemble, so we decided to put it together. I had to improvise and steal soil from other plants, but we managed to get enough to hold it together. My daughter enjoyed planting the grass seeds and assembling the little house. There was a pebble path to add, a washing line, little figures and fairy dust. It’s a good way to gently spend the day when you’ve had a taxing week. I’m a firm believer in the power of crafts to get you through difficult situations. Every time I’m feeling low, I try to create something positive out of it. Then, when you look back on the situation, you aren’t left with only negatives – you have made something worthwhile because of it. Even if it is just something to decorate your house with, a way to entertain your kids or some treats to enjoy in the house, it helps lighten the atmosphere around you.

It looks like we will be having a quiet few weeks while my daughter is recovering and her hand is out of use, and I plan to use it as an excuse to do all the projects I put off. I learned recently that drawing while my kids are awake is a good way to get their attention. They always want to get involved and draw their own pictures of the same things/ help to colour in. I think returning to activities that require creativity and the use of your hands are a good way of stripping everything back and removing your stress. Too often we are absorbed by electrical devices and forget about what’s important. Even though the last couple of days have been so tiring, sometimes events like that put everything into perspective and you realise the time you typically waste on useless worries.