A Busy Weekend of Budget Activities

This weekend, I decided to try a spending freeze. I managed to find a few things to do with the kids that weren’t costly. After I picked them up from school, we went to the Gruffalo trail at Colin Glen Forest Park. It was a grey afternoon that felt like it was bordering on twilight at three pm, so apart from a few lone dog walkers we were the only ones there. The girls enjoyed searching for all the characters from the Gruffalo and that was the first time we’d been there together.

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When we go for a walk in the cold, I tend to bring coffee and snacks with us, so we had a biscuits picnic on a bench we found. It was a strange outing. My kids loved uncovering all the hidden creatures and playing Pooh sticks at the riverside with twigs we had no hope of spotting further downstream. It had a spooky kind of feel to the place that reminded me of the opening scene of Rebecca with the drive to Manderley. But gladly, the rain stayed off until the moment we got into the car. There was a memorial for someone that had died there and that prompted a discussion about death with my kids. I don’t shy away from such conversations with them but it all turned a bit moody and morbid 🙂 But everyone cheered up when we found the Gruffalo at the end of the trail and some painted rocks that someone had hidden there. The girls took them so they could hide them elsewhere for someone else to find 🙂 When we were leaving, my daughter discovered a nut and decided to make a shelter for it to keep it safe for a squirrel we had spotted 🙂

I took the girls to a screening of Paddington 2 at a local cinema. It was free as it is part of the kids’ club. I brought some snacks and got to enjoy warm coffee, seated 🙂 Afterwards, I had hoped to take the girls to the park, but the weather was against that idea, so we went to a board game cafe instead.

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They have a good range of adults’ and children‘s games. The kids’ food is reasonably priced and the girls had sandwiches while I had tea and got to eat a traybake without having it snatched from my hand 🙂 We tried to work out a few games with complex rules and my kids aren’t fans of patiently waiting while I read the instructions, so we settled on one with penguins you balance on a rocking pirate ship and a fish-eating shark game 🙂 It was a good way to spend a dreary afternoon and my kids were begging me to go back.

Today, we set out to Rowallane. I think getting to scan National Trust cards at the machine is one of my kids’ favourite things to do in life. They had some crafts indoors, so my daughter set to work colouring a robin, before cutting it out and making wings. My other daughter followed the paw print trail on the floor and roamed after doing a couple of squiggles on a page. I have one crafter and one wanderer and sometimes it’s hard to contain them in the one space 🙂

We walked through the Walled Garden and my kids looked for an appropriate place to hide the rocks they had found on Friday. The weather was cool and sunny, with a low, blinding sun hanging like a bare lightbulb 🙂 But I was glad of the brightness and fresh air after a number of hours indoors with my kids dismantling the furniture. We walked to the stile they love to climb over and the spring ground. They enjoy running down the hill and climbing on the rocks. I grew up near Rowallane and showed them the trees I used to make dens under. They found some especially muddy puddles to jump in and were using giant leaves to clean their wellies off afterwards. I love seeing their creativity coming out and how much they enjoy the simple things we do. We had some snacks and I got to sneak into the secondhand bookshop before we left. I never come out empty-handed, so I have some more books to add to my ever-increasing to-read pile.


We didn’t spend much money this weekend but got to have rich experiences. I’ve realised that my kids need to be allowed to run freely in open spaces or their excess energy is directed towards our living environment instead. But the fresh air and space does my head as much good as it does their limbs. One of the biggest struggles I have with parenting is being mentally present all the time. I can be emotionally present, but mentally, in a daydream, thinking of all the other creative things I want to cram into my day. Stopping to look at nature with them definitely helps to root me in the present.

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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!)

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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 🙂

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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.

Ordinary Days

I think there is a lot of emphasis placed on always doing things with your kids nowadays. I’m not very good at sitting still for long periods of time, so keeping them occupied suits me well. But lately if we have a busy week, I like to have an ordinary day to wind down from it and let my kids have the room to be creative.

When I got up today, the first thing my kids asked me was “what are we doing today?” Sometimes I think if we have a lot of busy days, they come to expect it and become more entitled, so I like to offset it with uneventful days too.

Today, I let my kids watch TV, they played in the garden and made a pretend barbecue with flowers, stones, leaves etc. I like to see what games they come up with when I allow them the space to do it. I sat in the garden with them, my writing and a cup of tea. I think it’s good to let your children watch you doing something creative of your own. They need to know you have value beyond serving them snacks sometimes 🙂 They usually show curiosity about what I’m doing when I do write/read/make things in front of them. My daughter usually joins in with an idea of her own. Today they were drawing pictures of some lilies in our garden.

We had to go out for a little while to do errands and we stopped at the pound shop and one shop on our way out. Even if you are trying not to spend too much money, I think it’s good to treat yourself to one pound treats 🙂 I got the girls a couple of canvases to colour and decorate and I got some chocolate and Yankee candles that were on sale.
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I think music and candles are important. They make you feel like you’re treating yourself when you don’t have the time to do it, and you can enjoy them whilst occupying your kids. Sometimes the best times I have are when my kids are happily playing (before they inform me of their next fall-out!), I’m listening to music, dreaming up ideas and enjoying the aroma of a new candle, coffee and cooking. My multicoloured hydrangeas make me happy too, with my new unicorn lights 🙂 Sometimes it’s important to just enjoy whatever your version of ordinary is.

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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.

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.)

Simple Days: Scooters, Snacks and Rose Smelling

I took the girls to the park a few days ago. I’ve decided the best days to go to the park are ones where the sky is threatening rain, but never quite makes it there. It seems to put the majority of people off risking the downpour, which leaves the park swings dry but unattended. Fewer kids means more chance I get to sit down for a while on a bench, which is always a bonus. We took the girls’ scooters to the park and they had races and stopped to stare at the pigeons. For some reason, they seem to hold their interest longer than the ducks do. I guess there’s more interaction there.

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Everywhere we go that has a river or pond seems to prompt a game of “Pooh Sticks.” It’s weird how much longer my kids can be entertained by a stick than by anything I’m saying. We had a snack picnic after they went to the playground. There’s something old-worldly about having a picnic on a particularly windy day and having to use your picnic blanket as a cape to keep out the cold. We had hot chocolate and I brought snacks for the kids. They love having snacks they can pick at and assemble themselves, like different types of cheese with crackers and fruit and seeds to mix together. (But not as much as they love anything packed with sugar, preservatives and additives.)

On our way back, we noticed that the rose garden had bloomed since we were last there. We walked around looking at the different coloured flowers and the girls loved stopping to smell them and deciding which was their favourite. I like when we go for walks and come across unexpected things like that. The girls are really interested in nature and collecting things and it holds me in the moment for a change. They were fascinated by the ride-on lawn mowers and the freshly-cut grass smelled like the final fragrance of summer.

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