A Peaceful Start to the New Year

Today, we had a slow start to the day. I lit my candles and put on Ella Fitzgerald while the kids played with their reusable sticker books they got for Christmas. I did some batch cooking and used my slow cooker for dinner. I’d decided even though it was just the three of us, I’d make a New Years dinner. My granny used to always make a big dinner for our family on New Years Day and I miss that celebration, so I want to recreate it on a smaller scale with my kids. I kept the girls busy with making breadcrumbs for the stuffing. They really enjoyed doing it and it is simple enough they can do it without interference (plus, it is time-consuming – my favourite kind of kids’ activity :)) I made pork in the slow cooker and homemade apple sauce (which is so easy to make.) it’s a good way to use up apples when they are past their best. I just cooked apples I had peeled and diced with some brown sugar and water on a low heat for a long time until they were caramelised.
In the afternoon, once my kids started pulling the furniture apart and play fighting, I was in desperate need of some fresh air and an open space, so I took them to a nearby park at the seafront. It was bitterly cold, but the girls didn’t seem to notice and played with some friends/made some new ones and I got some time to reflect while I watched the sea.

8DBFFE65-5AD7-4827-9ABA-1FA5AE4F1095.png

0B097C3D-09E5-4A17-8BA3-A042B1FDC787.pngBy the time we left, I couldn’t feel my hands from the cold and it felt like we should be following it with sitting in front of an open fire. There is a hotel on the same road that has pretty Christmas decorations. I always mourn the loss of Christmas lights, so I wanted to make the most of them before they disappear 🙂 

A8165A24-73BD-4D08-9CD7-604E56D8A867.png

The hotel is at the top of a drive and overlooks the water. We chose a good day to go there because there was a harpist playing all afternoon. The girls were fascinated by it and the music really calmed them down (which was needed.) We sat near the open fire and had some coffee and shortbread (and pineapple juice for the girls.) It wasn’t any more expensive than if we had gone to a coffee shop and was something a bit different and felt special. It almost felt like a civilised outing with children until the girls started fishing for ice cubes in their glasses with their fingers and eating them 🙂

0F1235F5-B532-456E-B606-24F446573E06

981C2AF0-67E1-4FEC-BE9C-4CD97E8DDBCF.png

When we got home, the girls watched a film while I prepared the rest of the dinner. I like any excuse to adorn the table with festive candles and to use my wine glass charms, so the girls had Schloer in matching glasses and got to be grown up 🙂 We finished the Christmas pudding, played Pick Up Sticks and Snakes and Ladders and ate chocolates. I even had the “pleasure” of listening to my kids’ keyboard playing jingle bells on repeat as background music while we ate…
I like taking parts of old traditions and adding them to our own ideas to make new oneswith the girls and this was a simple but memorable start to the new year 🙂 

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.

EFC6E5FF-4BE1-4314-964C-7C1A26070AD8.png

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.

47089DB4-5C46-422C-9AB9-A174557D1FA4.png

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.

C216855A-E40F-4ECB-8313-E743B4F8E74C.png

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.

D3D98FB3-D845-4C4A-B00E-7F49194516E8.png

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.

 

A Christmassy Day without the Chaos

Today I was talking to my mum about cutting out all of the Christmas chaos. There are so many Christmas events you could be signing up and paying out for, and parental guilt struck me when I realised I hadn’t booked anything for the girls over Christmas. Then I arrived at the conclusion that there are few of them I have actually enjoyed. Unless it is off the beaten track and not overly populated, most Christmas events are overwhelming, so I might stick to making salt dough at home and going for Wintery walks in the countryside instead.

I’ve been trying to walk my kids to school every morning. It’s about a mile from our house and it just feels calmer than fighting our way through traffic to struggle to find a parking space. Along the way, you notice more than you would in a car, like the cheerful lollipop man, the window displays, the fruit shop hanging out wreaths and mistletoe and the Christmas lights. There is a house my kids love to stop at every day because they have a festive display along with lots of toys in the front yard. They call it “our favourite garden.” I noticed a holly tree while we were walking and I think the icy air clears your head before you start your day too. I actually talk to my kids properly on the walk too, which rarely happens when I’m stressed behind the wheel.

Today, I decided to bypass my writing and coffee date with myself and stay in instead. I turned the Christmas lights on along with the National Lampoons and made some costa coffee at home with mini mince pies. (I had to have two because they were small :)) I tackled some of the present wrapping I had left to do and enjoyed it with the absence of demands and interruptions while my kids were at school.

When my younger daughter got home, we made some chocolate fudge with crushed candy canes in it. I’m hoping it sets properly because fudge always confuses my brain, but my daughter enjoyed making it. She had the job of bashing the candy canes with a rolling pin and she’s an expert on tray greasing 🙂

Tonight, once my kids were in their pyjamas, I surprised them with our drive to see the Christmas lights. They brought milk and gingerbread men in the car, listened to Christmas songs and enjoyed driving all over the city and looking for the most over-the-top light displays 🙂 If I knew how to climb ladders and hang lights properly, ours would probably look like a Christmas grotto too 🙂 I always loved multicoloured fairy lights and tacky Santa’s and some things don’t change with age 🙂

Ways to Keep Christmas Calm

Like most introverts, I find the build-up to Christmas a bit overwhelming. Once you have kids it seems to quadruple the number of events you can’t talk your way out of. Sometimes I just need to hear the quiet and calm down the frenzied festivities. Last weekend, I made a point of not signing up for any Santa-themed, city-centre based activities and we just did our own things before my head exploded like a Christmas cracker 🙂

I’d planned on staying in for most of the weekend, but as always, the idea of that was easier than the execution of it. I stopped at the pound shop before collecting the girls and picked up some Christmas activity packs, DVDs and baking things.

When my kids got home, they painted ceramic snowmen, did scratch pictures, coloured and played with stickers. My friend had sent me some hot chocolate bombes as a gift and we used those. My kids were amazed when they erupted in the cup, producing mini marshmallows. I put on calm music and they didn’t even ask to watch TV (which is rare!)

6577E449-4FB9-472A-8C84-2CA7479789C9.png

My daughter decided she wanted to write Christmas cards for her class. I usually avoid this tradition but watching her do it made me realise how it could be therapeutic and a good way to focus your attention on something less brash and materialistic. I always saw the obligation side to writing cards before and thought it was just a box ticking exercise, but watching how attentively she did it slowed my mind down and helped me see the thoughtful side to it.

We baked some Christmas cupcakes. They had orange zest and juice inside them and cinnamon for a Christmassy flavour 🙂 They turned into mermaid cupcakes when my kids plastered them with icing and sprinkles but they still tasted good 🙂

5A5DE447-BD5C-4FFF-B5DB-810F5C07ACF8.png

Once the cabin fever set in, we went to the beach. It was bitterly cold and we seemed to be the only ones there, apart from a few dog walkers passing through, but I like going to the sea even more when it’s a wild than when it’s like a holiday scene. The air tired the girls out and they had the playground to themselves 🙂 I brought tea with us and some snacks. The tide was in and we spent a long time sitting watching the seagulls “surfing” on the waves. It reminded me that I need to allow myself more time to stare into space and watch things and tune out. I think it’s important for your mental health, plus that’s when the ideas usually come to you 🙂 The girls were really interested in watching the seagulls bobbing over the waves and it showed me how little time there is for stillness nowadays. But just because it isn’t popular or right in front of us, doesn’t mean we can’t claim it. After a weekend away from the Christmas rush, I felt (almost) refreshed enough to face it again.

10 More Ways to Save Money at Christmas

A continuation of my other post about cutting costs at Christmas time with the help of some creativity 🙂

1. Reuse Christmas decorations. Don’t feel the need to buy new items every year. If you want to update what you have, get a couple of unusual Christmas baubles or make your own wreath. You can do this without spending any money. Just go for a walk in a forest and collect natural materials.

2. Pick one event you want to go to and skip the rest. If you have one thing to look forward to it feels much more special than if you book every available event. It stops the kids getting overwrought anyway. Christmas is hectic enough without adding additional pressure.

3. Have Christmas movies and popcorn at home. Instead of going to the cinema, just recreate it at home. Give your kids pretend tickets, make a snacks counter where they can help themselves and turn out all the lights.

4. Have hot chocolate in the dark with just the Christmas lights on 🙂 If you have a fire, light it – as well as creating a Christmas atmosphere, it saves on heating costs 🙂

5. Bake your own shortbread, gingerbread men or Christmas cake. Give them as presents in little pastry bags. You can find these in the baking section in most discount shops.

6. Have an agreed budget for presents with your family and friends. Instead of buying gifts for friends, put some money into organising a day out for Christmas coffee and treats together instead.

7. Don’t be affected by other people’s choices. Just because your friend chose to spend hundreds on their children or paid for them to go to every magical event in the area doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent because you can’t. Kids appreciate the time you spend with them and it’s ok to say no.

8. Don’t buy every kind of everything. You don’t need to have a five course meal with every dessert option and nine types of party platter. Keep it simple and make what people will actually eat. Underestimate how much you need, because at Christmas time we are brainwashed into buying a feast for four hundred with every poster we pass. You don’t need everything that’s on offer. You don’t need every drink available in the shops. Take the stress off yourself and make less.

9. Save all your leftovers and use them in different ways so you don’t sicken yourself with Christmas food 🙂 Freeze whatever you won’t use right away. For example, use cranberry sauce in sandwiches, with cheese and crackers, with melted Brie. Fry leftover veg to make a stir fry, or blend them to make soup.

10. Keep cards and gift bags for kids’ crafts or to use for future projects. You could make your own cards for next year by cutting out the images and arranging them in different ways or add them to gift bags to make personalised ones. Reuse things you would typically throw away. There is so much unnecessary waste around Christmas time and I like to minimise it where I can.

Hope this post gives you a few ideas of ways to reduce spending around Christmas time and to use what you already have 🙂

 

Cinnamon Buns Recipe

This recipe was a bit of an experiment but worked out well. My kids devoured them which is a good sign since they turn their noses up at most homemade treats. I guess the absence of plastic packaging and artificial flavours makes them less appealing. But they were begging me for more of these and they are so easy to make 🙂

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar

1 packet of yeast

1/2 cup of milk

1/4 cup of water

2 tbsp butter

Filling:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Method

Combine flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl. Heat butter, milk and water in a pan until butter is just melted. Mix with dry ingredients and knead for a few minutes. Cover with a towel and leave to rise for an hour or two.

Roll the dough out as flat and long as you can. Spread butter for the filling all over the dough and then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top. Roll up like a Swiss roll and then slice into 1 inch pieces. Grease the tray well because the butter melts and then hardens on it. Put into a preheated oven at 180c for 20 minutes.

Cheap Veggie Chilli

This is one of those recipes where I threw random ingredients together, it worked out well and I’ll probably never manage to recreate it again 🙂

I am a happy meat eater, but I enjoyed this dish as much as one loaded with mince. This recipe stemmed from a surprise in defrosting: I defrosted mince and found out once thawed that it was actually beef sausages, so I made the chilli vegetarian 😀

Serves 2 large portions/4 sensible portions (which I don’t eat)

Ingredients

1/2 onion

2 cloves garlic

a handful of mushrooms

half a chilli/1/4 if using chilli sauce in beans

1 tin of kidney beans (in chilli sauce if you like)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp sugar

pinch of black pepper

1 square of milk chocolate (I used Galaxy :))

handful of fresh coriander

Method:

Chop onion, garlic, chilli and mushrooms finely. Fry in some olive oil. Once cooked, add the tin of tomatoes and the tin of kidney beans. This is important and sounds gross, but trust me – if you aren’t using kidney beans in chilli sauce, pour in the tin of beans with 1/2 the brine. It will thicken the sauce and give it better flavour.

Add cumin, salt, sugar, black pepper and garlic powder and turn down the heat. Add the square of chocolate and half the coriander and cook on a low simmer for up to an hour. Add water if the sauce is drying out. The longer you cook it for, the more the flavours will develop.

Serve with rice/tortilla chips and lots of cheese. Garnish with the rest of the coriander.

https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/card?asin=B07JF5JKNR&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_tAW1BbH040MC3