Sunshine Smoothies, Feeding Robins and Cardboard Pets

We started the day yesterday with sunshine smoothies, and the sun joined us in the background. One thing that has helped with the self isolation is the accompaniment of the sun ๐Ÿ™‚ Even if you can only enjoy it in your garden, or with the light bouncing off the windows, or warming a room, it is more cheerful than looking out at a grey day ๐Ÿ™‚ The girls are obsessed with smoothies, and they’re a good way to get vitamins into their systems without complaints ๐Ÿ™‚ I just used some frozen mango and papaya we had in the freezer but you could use pineapple too, and combined it with orange juice and honey in the blender.

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We absorbed some of the sun in the garden and I brought my coffee and reading material outside ๐Ÿ™‚ Even though it is a challenge to make it through a sentence on paper without interruption, I’m enjoying using the little table and chairs in our back garden. It is positioned next to some plants that are budding and it’s a restful spot to sit in. I’m looking forward to sitting out there when the kids are in bed and the nights are a bit longer. But for now, I’m grateful to have somewhere to enjoy my coffee surrounded by nature, even if we are confined to a smallish yard ๐Ÿ™‚

I planted some hyacinth bulbs a while ago and I was surprised to see they are flowering and looking healthy so far ๐Ÿ™‚ I decided to make some bird food to attract the birds back to our garden. I checked online to make sure we weren’t giving them anything they couldn’t eat. Every time I have made bird feed like this, the birds devour it in a couple of days. Meanwhile, they seem to be neglecting the seeds in the proper bird feeder next to it ๐Ÿ™‚ I found this online for anyone that wants to try making some.

The girls helped me to make it. We combined oats, rice krispies, raisins, peanut butter, a little oil and some grapes. I read somewhere that birds love grapes, and couldn’t imagine them eating them, but they do ๐Ÿ™‚ Today, we noticed a robin had been spending a lot of time in our garden and was eating it ๐Ÿ™‚ I always wonder how birds find out there is new food in a garden. Are they always watching to see? Do they tell each other?

After making our bird seed, we stuck our egg carton daffodils together ๐Ÿ™‚ The girls were much less interested in assembling them than they were in painting them yellow ๐Ÿ™‚

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We made some chocolate rice krispie buns, and the girls enjoyed taking charge of making them and eating them ๐Ÿ™‚

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Afterwards, I opened one of the Toucan Boxes we got. It had a bunny racecar to make, but as always my mechanical skills let me down ๐Ÿ™‚ We managed to make the bunny and today we improvised and made a car out of an empty teabox. The pack also contained an Easter bunting kit and a bunny hairband kit. Both crafts were much easier and we completed them. The pack contained white crayons and watercolours for magic painting, which the girls enjoyed doing. There was also a magazine for kids with suggested projects and sticker activities in it.

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After the kids were in bed last night, I tried making my first homemade tortillas. I find cooking really soothing, particularly when no one is howling at my feet ๐Ÿ™‚ It was therapeutic making the dough. It doesn’t contain any yeast, so you don’t have to worry about kneading, etc. I was happy with how they turned out. They were a bit misshapen but tasted fresher than ones I would have bought in the shop.

This morning, I decided to put our Easter tree up ๐Ÿ™‚ I love the way it brightens up the kitchen. I was surprised it still had some life left in it, as we’ve had it for a few years now. The girls were happy to see it make a reappearance.

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My daughter had been given a task by her school, to make a junk model pet. She decided on a parrot and I helped her assemble and tape it together. She added feathers and made a beak shape out of a pipe cleaner. We strung it up with balloon ribbon and it is currently suspended from our kitchen door handle, blessing us with its beauty ๐Ÿ˜€

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My other daughter decided to make a five-eyed hamster out of an egg carton. I’m glad I’ve saved up so many cardboard boxes now. At times, my craft hoarding can be a nuisance, but during this period of staying at home, it has become a gift ๐Ÿ™‚ Our kitchen table permanently looks like this at the moment, but I just try to remember that saying about excusing the mess because the kids are busy making memories ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 weโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ I liked the fact she also drew a rainbow dot frame for her picture ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

We spent some time in the garden. The girls continued making soil and leaves meals in a disused barbecue we have ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

 

Wooded Walks & Stopping For Flowers

I didn’t get a chance to document what we did yesterday, so I thought I’d share it with you today ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve been making the effort to still get ready by about nine o’clock (ok, a bit later at the weekend.) But I find that getting dressed up, putting on make-up and going out for a walk first thing lifts my mood. We are mostly self-isolating, only going out for walks in remote places or if we need something from the shop.We drove to a forest near a village in County Down and the fact we’d arrived so early meant we were the only ones there, apart from one dog walker in the distance ๐Ÿ™‚ I didn’t know my way around, but that was part of the adventure. I followed the girls and just tried to remember where we’d left the car so we could get home again ๐Ÿ™‚ We found logs laid out around a fire pit. The girls wanted me to light a campfire, but I had nothing to light it with, and I don’t trust myself with anything bigger than a candle anyway ๐Ÿ™‚ So, we just sat down around it and pretended to light one instead. I had brought some coffee and gingerbread men and water for the girls, so we had a free snack while we were there ๐Ÿ™‚ There were a couple of dens someone else had built there. But the thing that kept the girls entertained the longest was a puddle with two planks balanced across it, like a little bridge ๐Ÿ™‚ They spent ages climbing across it, practising balancing and creating more obstacles on it with bits of wood and leaves ๐Ÿ™‚ They also used sticks to measure how deep the puddle was, so it was vaguely educational as well ๐Ÿ™‚ We followed the paths which were visible, but muddy. Next time, I’ll remember to bring wellies ๐Ÿ™‚ But squelching in it was part of the fun. I have felt less worried this week about the girls getting messy and wrecking their clothes, probably because I know no one else will see ๐Ÿ™‚ I had brought a leaf sample book from the Woodland Trust so the girls could try to identify leaves. We built a den of our own and climbed the hill, taking a shortcut back to the car, as by then the girls were both worn out. The weather was perfect while we were there and it was nice being out in the natural light and feeling the sun on our faces.

On the way home, I stopped at one of the little honesty box farm shops to see what they had. They had some anemones they had cut and were selling them in bunches. We brought some home and put them in a vase at the window to cheer things up for ourselves and our neighbours ๐Ÿ™‚ The girls are becoming gentler with things and my older daughter looked after the flowers on the drive home without pulling the heads off them ๐Ÿ™‚

At home, I made the girls some noodles and one of my girls completed her magazine while the other one wrote “creative writing” sentences about our morning and the things we’d done. She drew an accompanying picture. It’s a bit like journalling for kids and will be nice to look back on in the future.

Afterwards, the girls asked to paint and did pictures with spring colours, like candy egg pink, blue and yellow. The girls used the colours to make seasonal pictures with daffodils, blue skies, etc.

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Then, they played in the garden for a while. Their favourite game is to โ€œcookโ€ soil and leaves in our old barbecue and serve it at the outdoor table for someoneโ€™s pretend birthday ๐Ÿ™‚

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We followed it with a film afternoon, watching a kids’ movie with popcorn, sweets and coffee (for me.) I need something to sustain me through this period ๐Ÿ™‚ I made some homemade pizzas and chips and the girls continued their film throughout dinner. The benefit to making your own dough is you can make the pizzas into any size you like. The girls requested “baby pizzas,” so I made small ones for them, You can also freeze the dough after it rises and defrost it for use another day, or to make homemade dough sticks or doughballs. (You can make your own garlic butter or dip for them too.)

I spent the evening baking and cooking/freezing food before it expired. ย I made some flatbreads, a huge loaf of bread and some pizza dough. I lit a candle in my window for everything thatโ€™s been happening and took some time to just sit and think.

Apart from a small bunch of flowers, we spent no money yesterday and didn’t see a soul all day, but in many ways, it felt like a richer day than if those things had been possibilities.

 

Gingerbread Decorating and Wintery Walks

Today I took my kids to Rowallane Gardens. They had a gingerbread decorating event on for kids in the cafe (which is on again tomorrow from 11am until 2pm for anyone that is interested.)
Before we went to the cafe, we walked around the grounds and made some Christmas decorations out of twigs and wool. There are a lot of natural displays around Rowallane (most of the Christmas decorations are handmade or made from found objects.) I found it therapeutic tying twigs together, and it made me think maybe we should try making more of our own decorations next year. The girls enjoyed copying the โ€œhow to draw a Christmas treeโ€ picture that was there. They often change the indoor and outdoor activities for kids to match the seasons.

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We went for a walk around the walled garden, which was stripped back and bare looking with the loss of flowers. But it still makes a good hide and seek spot for kids. I was surprised by how tranquil it was there. Maybe the key is to arrive earlier than anyone else can be bothered going out at Christmas time ๐Ÿ™‚ We were (almost) the only ones walking in the gardens and it was crisp and refreshing in the quiet winter air.

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At the barn, there is a big Connect Four and giant Jenga. It is conveniently located next door to a second hand bookshop I like to slip into ๐Ÿ™‚ They have a good selection of different genres of books and there is an honesty box for payment. They have added a few childrenโ€™s books too. The shop was dressed up with Christmas puddings painted onto chopped wood and crocheted snowflakes.

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There is a stile my kids like to repeatedly climb over and a little car made out of a tree trunk that they pretend to drive. There is also a natural playground, but we didnโ€™t make it that far today. I noticed the bright red berries on the holly, the sun hanging low in the sky, and the carpet of acorn casings, and it all did my mind good.

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When complaints of tired legs started, we went inside to the warmth so the girls could decorate their gingerbread while I had a quiet coffee, a mince pie and a half-read ๐Ÿ™‚ I had thought about venturing into soft play today as a quick way to tire my kids out, but I was glad we went to somewhere natural instead. Fresh air, the contrast of coffee steam and cold fingers and watching my kids cram as many smarties as they could fit onto one baked good was better for my soul today.

 

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 wonderlandโ€”type events on now; you have to pick and choose what to attend if youโ€™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 ๐Ÿ˜€ but it was a nice idea ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

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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 Santaโ€™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. Iโ€™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 itโ€™s excusable as a one-off day out ๐Ÿ™‚ It will give me incentive to seek out free events and activities to do at home for a while ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 arenโ€™t perfectionistic about that type of thing, itโ€™s a good way to buy sprinkles etc for nothing. (I like anything with skulls on it anyway :))ย 

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ It finished with a fireworks display that I was impressed by for such a small-scale event. I think Iโ€™m ready for some hibernation now and no spend weekends ahead after the busy nature of this weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

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Budget Weekends with Kids

Today I caved and allowed the Christmas tree to go up – Iโ€™ve officially become a November Christmas person. It already feels like Christmas everywhere else, so I decided we might as well follow suit. Iโ€™d planned to have a low budget weekend with my kids and we had free cinema tickets, so I took them to see Roald Dahlโ€™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 Iโ€™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 kidsโ€™ film that isnโ€™t boring for adults, which is always appreciated ๐Ÿ™‚ (usually I daydream during most kidsโ€™ 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. Iโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 werenโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 โ€œpizza and a movie.โ€ They get to pick a film to watch and I make oven pizzas and chips for them. Itโ€™s so simple, but they get really good excited about it ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ If you donโ€™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 donโ€™t have stamps, I just give them one of their stampers to use instead. Iโ€™d better remember to hide their letters now ๐Ÿ™‚

10 Easy Ways to Save Money at Christmas

There is so much expense leading up to Christmas, particularly when you have kids. I was thinking of some ideas of how to save money leading up to the most expensive, I mean, wonderful time of the year. I hope these give people a few ideas ๐Ÿ™‚

1. Make hampers. You can get a basket from the pound shop and fill it with whatever you like, wrapping it in cellophane and ribbon. You can adapt it to suit anyone – sweets, alcohol, afternoon tea, beauty products, manicure set, stationery, reading (eg, fill with books, bookmarks, a teacup, tea bags etc.)

2. Get your kids to make your Christmas cards/get supplies from the pound shop and make your own personal ones.

3. Get cheaper drinks. Itโ€™s easy to find mulled wine and Buckโ€™s Fizz at a reasonable price and it doesnโ€™t cost as much as spirits. Or buy own brand ones. I love the coffee cream liqueur from Lidl and I canโ€™t tell the difference between it and a branded bottle.

4. Donโ€™t go overboard. I think the reason why so many people end up with money troubles in January is that they feel pressured to overspend and spoil their kids. In my experience, the more thoughtfully you buy fewer presents for kids, the more they enjoy it. Theyโ€™d rather have one thing they love and a few treats than half the contents of the nearest toy shop. By next year most of it will probably be in a charity shop or cluttering up your house anyway.

5. Make your own mince pies. Buy a large jar of mincemeat in a discount shop and make a simple pastry to encase it. Use it as an activity to do with your kids instead of taking them to an activity with charges.

6. Make driving to see the Christmas lights an event. The most magical part of my childhood was when we got into the car, went into town and drove in a loop around the City Hall to see the lights. Drive around your neighbourhood to see decorations or take the bus into town to walk and look at the lights. (If you live in Belfast, there are light projection shows for free across the road from Castlecourt from 4pm from 16th November until 10th January.) There is also a free Christmas light switch on in most towns.

7. Eurospar are holding free Christmas parties in various locations leading up to Christmas. Ask in your local one about the date for theirs. Select a couple of low cost events and turn them into special days instead of a catalogue of events that tire kids out and leave you penniless and emotionally spent.

8. Buy less meat. The most expensive part of Christmas dinner is the meat and if youโ€™re living on a tight budget, donโ€™t feel under pressure to provide turkey, ham and all the trimmings. Choose one kind of meat, chicken legs or lamb and make extra pigs in blankets or cocktail sausages – everyone in my house seems to prefer them to the turkey anyway ๐Ÿ™‚ Alternatively, buy a frozen turkey crown and slow cook with lots of basting. It will taste just as moist as a fresh one. Serve smaller portions of meat and bulk it out with potatoes and stuffing.

9. Buy one Christmas food item on sale every week. If you save things up as you go, itโ€™s easier to accumulate everything you need without noticing the dent in your budget. Just check the freezer and cupboards periodically in case you forget what you have and buy doubles ๐Ÿ™‚

10. Go to a Christmas market with a set amount of cash. If you operate in cash and set a limit, you have to be inventive and think about what you really want to buy. I think a lot of overspending comes from always assuming everyone in a group or family has to have an elaborate meal/every available option. Simplify things. Get a hot dog to share with your kids, or some mini donuts for everyone to share. Have dinner at home afterwards.

I feel like Iโ€™ve reached the end of this post and this only glazes the surface of ideas for Christmas on a budget, so Iโ€™ll write a continuation of this post soon ๐Ÿ™‚