Small Thoughts to Make You Smile

I felt the need to write a positive post today. I like to reflect upon the good things that have happened in each individual day in spite of what is going on around us and it feels particularly needed at the moment.

One of my daughters was off school today for exceptional closure and the other was in preschool, so I got to spend some quality time with my older daughter. We are rarely alone together and it was strangely calm without my little whirlwind there 🙂 We were glad to welcome her back at pick-up though.

I wore my most vivid outfit to counteract the darkness surrounding us 🙂 We took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked to my daughter’s school. It was eerily quiet with the primary schools closed, but the sky was an amazing shade of blue and it was nice to bypass all the usual traffic. I took some pictures of how peaceful and blue-skied the morning was.

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I’ve decided to make greater effort to support local businesses. I tend to go through phases of doing so and then I return to a shop where I can buy everything in one place. So, we went to a local butchers and fruit shop. It was a good opportunity to use the cute fabric vegetable bags I got from a market a while ago 🙂 The fruit looks so much fresher and my daughter enjoyed selecting fruit and veg and putting them in our bags 🙂 I also got taking to a lady in a queue, which wouldn’t ordinarily happen when you’re rushing around a major supermarket. I’ve decided to just go with the flow and embrace a simpler way of life for now. Not everything about our fast-paced living is a positive thing and I think some time for meditation could do us a lot of good, mentally.

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My daughter and I had a coffee date in Tim Hortons. (She requested it and I decided she’d more than earned it after the miles of the walking.)  She loves gingerbread men and I was amazed that she finished it and her entire cup of hot chocolate before I’d even finished my coffee 🙂 Of course, we had to sit on the highest stools there.

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This evening, I’ve been writing and thinking of recipes and ideas I can share in the coming weeks. I brought out my old cure for sadness tonight – wine and Percy Pigs 🙂 I’ve been limiting the amount of time I spend reading the news and taking the  time to listen to dreamy music, light candles and fill my world at home with things to feed my soul.

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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 🙂 

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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.

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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 🙂

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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 :)) 

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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 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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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Creating Calm with Kids

Today I needed a calm day. I realise that the idea of calm is incongruous with having kids, but I decided that I would try to balance the day out with activities for my kids and activities for me, to get the closest feeling to calm that I could. The last few days have been exhausting. My daughter had to get her bandage changed on her broken finger in hospital and the next morning, it fell off and the doctor refused to see her, so we had to go back to the hospital. On top of that, my other daughter came down with a vomiting bug the night before, and none of us had had any sleep. After days like that, I need to retreat and go into hibernation mode when they are over. I knew my daughter would be off school today – she’s at the stage where she is back to her normal self, but too contagious to be allowed to go in. So, we did some simple art projects and baked.

First, the girls painted pasta tubes. We left them to dry so they can thread them onto necklaces later. You can also use PVA glue as a varnish to put on top of the paint. It stretches out the pasta necklaces activity for longer. For boys that don’t want to make necklaces, you could make pasta snakes instead and thread them on pipe cleaners.
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Then, we made dried food collages. Sometimes if we don’t have card, I cut up old cereal boxes and they use them instead. It works better than paper for gluing solid items. I just set out plates with dry beans, lentils, rice, seeds, oats, etc. You get the kids to draw a large picture and then fill in the different parts of it with whatever they like. You can also do this with cut-up coloured paper, fabric remnants or string painted with a mixture of glue and paint. This activity took more than an hour and the girls didn’t get bored with it – which is rare for them 🙂 A word of warning – the clean up took a while, but it was less painful than I’d expected it to be.
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The girls watched a film for a while and I got an opportunity to have a cup of tea and write. I think it’s important to squeeze in time for your own things when you’re with kids all day. If you never get time to yourself, it’s easy to get snappy!

We made some easy shortbread. It was just three ingredients and we tried some new cookie cutters we hadn’t used before. They have cut out parts so you can balance them on the rim of a teacup. I made some babyccinos and a vanilla latte for myself and then allowed TV time again so I could drink it and write uninterrupted. It reenergises me, so when I do something else with my kids I’m able to focus more on them. Jazz helped us survive the day in the house too. I’m convinced that it cuts down on the number of squabbles over toys and creates a calmer atmosphere.

It can be hard to treat yourself as a stay at home mum, but I think the things that work best for me are taking time out in the kitchen, listening to music, lighting scented candles and wax melts, making coffee-shop style coffee, squeezing in short times to write, read or draw. You can colour alongside your kids too if you get an adult colouring book. I like using the kids as an excuse to bake too so I have freshly-baked treats 🙂 There is a youtuber I like watching called “Coffee with Kate.” She makes videos about her simple lifestyle and the creative things she does. My daughter likes watching it too, because she does cooking videos and has two children. Finding something you like to watch that your kids enjoy too is a good way to attend to your need for a break while they’re awake 🙂 At the moment, our house is a dump, and I’m just letting it go, because being with my kids and sitting drinking coffee in the midst of the mess are more important today.

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No Spend Days with Kids

I try to have no spend days regularly to make up for days when I’ve overspent, for example, at vintage fairs and other such dangerous places. Visits to shops are the main thing I strive to avoid. When I walk into a shop for one thing I tend to come out with fifteen, so it’s safer to avoid them altogether. Sometimes I like having days where we just do simple things and life is stripped back, and my kids get to have an old fashioned childhood. So, today we baked a coconut cake and had a family day. I put on old jazz/blues and let them follow me round the kitchen. I think it’s good to start young with child labour so they help to do the dishes too. I think my daughter’s favourite activity at the moment is vacuuming the house. It even makes her carefully pick up her toys because she’s scared of them getting sucked up the hoover 😃
The girls have one of those fold-out art sets that takes over the kitchen table (and the floor) so they get it out and we do art together at the table/ have a pretend cafe.
I got a milk frother online a while ago, and some flavoured syrups so I can make the girls babyccinos when I have coffee. I just put some syrup in foamy milk and sprinkle some hot chocolate powder on top. Making my house cosy, lighting candles and putting on calm music might be my favourite things to do that don’t involve spending money.
I’ve realised recently that the main reason I like going out for coffee is because of the atmosphere in a coffee shop. But if you can create that at home, you are less likely to go out for coffee as often. Although, it doesn’t combat cabin fever, so for my sanity we still walked two miles and went to the park. There was some whining but the pay off was that my kids were both soundly asleep by seven. (Long may it last.)