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 “how to draw a Christmas tree” 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 🙂 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 🙂 They have a good selection of different genres of books and there is an honesty box for payment. They have added a few children’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 didn’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 🙂 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 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 🙂

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 🙂

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. It’s easy to find mulled wine and Buck’s Fizz at a reasonable price and it doesn’t cost as much as spirits. Or buy own brand ones. I love the coffee cream liqueur from Lidl and I can’t tell the difference between it and a branded bottle.

4. Don’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. They’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 you’re living on a tight budget, don’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 🙂 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, it’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 🙂

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 I’ve reached the end of this post and this only glazes the surface of ideas for Christmas on a budget, so I’ll write a continuation of this post soon 🙂

 

Cheap Cheesy Biscuits Recipe

This recipe was quickly thrown together and it worked out to be edible so thought I’d share it. It might not be the healthiest snack for kids, but at least there are no unknown ingredients or sugar in it 🙂 It also makes a good activity for kids eager to cookie cut 🙂

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup grated cheddar

1/2 cup chilled, cubed butter

1 egg

Splash of milk

Shake of salt (optional)

Method

Measure flour into a bowl and rub in chilled, cubed butter to make breadcrumb-like consistency. Add grated cheese, egg and milk. (Salt too if you like.) Mix to combine but don’t over-mix.  Shape into a ball and chill in fridge for 1/2 an hour. Roll out the pastry. Your hands might work better than a rolling pin because of the crumbly texture. Cut out cookies and place on baking parchment/ greased tin. Put in preheated oven at 180c for 10 minutes. Enjoy 🙂

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.)

Frugal Family Things: Card-Makimg with Kids

Frugal Family Things: Card-Making with Kids

I always thought of card-making as an expensive hobby, since there is such a vast range of materials and if you choose to buy fifty unusual stampers for £1 each, it quickly mounts up to a hefty total. My mum used to be incredibly generous with her supplies, trusting us with her hot glue guns and showing us how to emboss, but we were probably well past the age of considering craft materials edible (which my younger child isn’t; she particularly enjoys the taste of play doh, crayons and paper.)

I really love seeing my kids doing something creative instead of staring at a screen, but without the creativity creating stress for me. This is one of those activities where you provide the materials but aren’t required to supervise their every move.

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Here are a few tips to make card-making kid-friendly:

  • Buy materials in the poundshop. They have an amazing range of craft materials and it doesn’t matter if your kids tear them to shreds. We bought cards, envelopes, decorative paper, lots of stickers, ribbons and glue dots for just over £5.
  • Get lots of stickers. I don’t know why, but with my kids stickers become the central focus of any craft activity.
  • Make coffee, because with their hands happily occupied yours will finally be free to enjoy a cup.
  • Let it be an activity for them to experiment instead of having a fixed outcome in mind. I find that my kids hate directed crafting; they just want to do their own thing without someone bossing or over-instructing.
  • Use glue dots or a glue stick instead of liquid glue if you want a quick clean-up afterwards. Wipeable tablecloths are a good idea too.
  • Give them people to make cards for (this makes the activity last longer.) For example, my kids made thank you cards and birthday cards for friends. They enjoyed adding personalised pictures that they associate with each person. You could also do a fictional version of this activity using their favourite characters.
  • If they go off on a tangent and end up not doing anything remotely related to card-making, let them. The point is to let them come up with their own ideas, not drive yourself crazy.