Christmas Gift Ideas – You Don’t Need To Spend a Lot

You don’t need to spend a lot of money at Christmas. Every year I fall into the trap and spend far too much – I’m sure we all do. This year I’m attempting to be sensible – starting with setting a strict £30 budget (which I’ve gone over by £5). It’s doable as long as you have some idea of what you’re buying. (H has been asking for a PlayDoh ice cream parlour since her birthday so I kept my eye out for good offers and got it for £15 in the end – it has a RRP of £25)

playdoh ice cream parlour

This year I started picking up bargains I spotted online and in stores – Tiger Stores has loads of traditional games, often wooden ones which appealed – they’ve got a kids toys section on their UK site (it’s not an online store) and most gifts come in at less than £5.

Tiger Stores Pin PIcture

The Entertainer has a store near work, and I’m pleased they have games like Mouse Trap and Operation on offer. Someone in-store told me they were holding stock back as the offer had been so popular so they’d have enough to keep them going until Christmas. I got Operation for £6 which I’m happy with. We had both games when I was young and I know that H will enjoy them too – and I’m looking at games we might not play with immediately but could be ones that stick around for a while. H keeps requesting the Doggie Doo game…. well she is four!


Amazon have had some book deals lately – I’ve picked up some classics for just £1 new which are great stocking fillers. We’ve also had some good local markets near us which have great deals on new books that we’ve stocked up on, so don’t rule out shopping locally!

I’m always on the lookout for good toy deals in shops – we’ve recently had a Kiddicare store open in Croydon which is fantastic, they’ve got a 3 for 2 on ALL toys going on at the moment. They’ve also got free next day delivery on all orders over £29.99 – and considering I have an extra child to buy for this year, this works out a really good deal –  I’ve just saved myself £17, and can get delivery to work tomorrow as well. Now THAT is convenient! Oh, and they accept PayPal as payment too – more shops should do this.

Homemade book

I’ve bought a book ‘Homemade‘ as a present which has some brilliant ideas. Essentially, you can make your own everyday items – from baking preserves, home remedies, cleaning solutions, beauty products, confectionery and pet care. I know someone who will enjoy this book a lot… hopefully she won’t be reading this post…

So far, not too much spent anyway… there’ll be more Christmas Gift Ideas tomorrow…

Christmas Gift Ideas – Dick Bruna’s Christmas Book

Dick Bruna’s Christmas book has been republished as a golden anniversary edition by Simon and Schuster. We received a copy to review and love it – read on for more!

Dick Bruna's Christmas

Dick Bruna’s Christmas book was first published in 1963 and is a classic Bruna book – he being the creator of Miffy, having his distinctive style of drawing.

Right now the book is perfect for us – H is learning about the nativity at school, and this book tells the story in an uncomplicated way. As she isn’t reading properly yet I read it to her, and she now understands a little better what it’s all about. They’re doing a school Christmas service soon and she’s quite enjoyed knowing what happened when Jesus was born. I’d say this book is ideal for youngsters in explaining the story and why Christmas exists.

A cute little addition is a bookmark in the shape of an angel – as unlike other Bruna books this is a long one so may need bookmarking. It’s also worth noting, this is the first edition by Simon & Schuster who announced they’d be re-translating the Miffy books for a big relaunch next year – the text in here is the english translation from 1995.

Dick Bruna's Christmas

I asked H what she liked the best about the book – she says the best thing was finding out Jesus’ mummy and daddy’s name, aw! For me, we’ve sat and really gone into the story, and I’m still not able to answer her why Jesus was given myrrh! It’s nice to sit and read the story together, we’re not religious and haven’t really done much along these lines, so it’s helping me too.

Dick Bruna’s Christmas book is available now with a rrp of £10. It’s currently £5.75 at Amazon, so worth getting while it’s at that price!

We were sent a copy of the book for review, all opinions are our own. This post contains an affiliate link.

Have yourself a National Trust Christmas!

Christmas is a time for traditions, from those passed down through generations of families, to new discoveries that become part of your festive celebrations – why not have yourself a National Trust Christmas this year – there’s plenty on offer.

For many, a day out at a beautiful National Trust house and garden is already a Christmas ‘must do’. Over the festive season, National Trust places will be decked out with Christmas sparkle, Father Christmas will pay a visit to special grottos and atmospheric estates will be packed full of family traditions, old and new, to bring to life Christmas through the ages.

Here’s a selection of top National Trust Christmas days out for all the family:

National Trust Christmas treats

Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire
1920s Christmas experience, 23-24 November, 30 November-1 December, 7-8 and 14-15 December, 11am-4pm
For the second year running, Nunnington Hall will be celebrating Christmas, 1920s style. Join the team for a festive experience to remember as you discover the Hall as you might have found it on Christmas day over 90 years ago. Your visit to will take you on a journey through the different stages of Christmas day in the Fife family household. You can also experience the tastes of a 1920s Christmas in the house, with sherry in the dining room and sugared almonds in the drawing room. Throughout the day, there’ll be hair and make-up demonstrations on how to achieve an iconic 1920s look, perfect for a Christmas party.
Normal admission charges apply,
Booking is not required, for more information please call 01439 748283.

Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill, Cambridgeshire
Winter lights festival, 29 November-1 December, 6-8 and 13-15 December, 5.30pm-7.30pm
Enjoy a night-time family adventure as illuminations transform the gardens at Anglesey Abbey into a light-fantastic wonderland with music, food and entertainment.
Visitors can enjoy a one-mile circular walk through the winter garden and along the riverside path, taking in iconic features such as the mystical, Himalayan silver birch grove. There will also be live music along the route, with entertainers performing dazzling light displays, and opportunities to taste delicious, barbecued local fare, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.
Adults £10.50, Child £7.50, family ticket £32 (2 adults and up to 3 children).
Booking is essential via the National Trust Box Office on 0844 249 1895.

Osterley Park and House, Middlesex
Deck the halls, 30 November-1 December, 12pm-4pm
Christmas riches to rations, 7-8 and 14-15 December, 12pm-4pm
Take a journey through Osterley’s past this Christmas and see how the celebrations have changed throughout the years, following fashions and fortunes in the decorated house. There will also be lots of fun activities to enjoy on the ground floor and you can also pop to the shop for a unique selection of gifts.
Normal admission charges apply.
Booking is not required, for more information please call 020 8232 5050.

Petworth House & Park, Petworth, West Sussex
A festive feast for the eyes, 30 November- 22 December (Saturday to Wednesday), 10.30am-3.30pm.
Petworth House is hosting a month-long spectacular for a unique Christmas experience. In the historic kitchens, you can journey through a series of darkened rooms, each one hosting an imagined culinary scene, brought to life with dramatic lighting, atmospheric sounds and kitchen characters in extraordinary costumes. In the centre of the hectic kitchen is a show-stopping gingerbread recreation of Petworth House, complete with twinkling lights, and a dusting of snow. In the scullery, an exhausted kitchen maid slumps into a pool of soapy bubbles overflowing from a sink stacked with dirty dishes. Giant fish float in a flooded larder, while in the frosted dining room there are ‘frozen’ floral arrangements and a sparkling, snow-covered floor. Throughout the journey, children can enjoy looking out for scurries of servant mice hiding in pots, pans, nooks and crannies, preparing their own, splendid miniature feast.
Visitors can round off this magical adventure with a delicious fantasy-themed menu in the restaurant with dishes such as green ham and eggs, mock, mock turtle soup and advocaat and cinnamon Jelly. A children’s menu is also available, serving delights including an over-the-top pudding known as ‘chocco bocker glory’.
Adult £6, child £3.
Booking is advised on 0844 249 1895, entry with timed tickets.

Standen, West Sussex
Garden of lights, 30 November – 1 December, 6-8, 13-15 & 20-22 December, 4.30pm – 7pm (last entry 6.30pm)
Explore the gardens at Standen, magically transformed by thousands of lights to the story of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’. Warm up in the Barn cafe with some festive treats and visit the shop to browse for Christmas gifts.
Adult £6, Child £3, Family £15.
Booking is not required, for more information please call 01342 323029.

Mottisfont, Hampshire
The Swan Queen’s ball: Christmas at Mottisfont, 1 December– 5 January 2014 (except 24 and 25 December), 11am – 5pm
Come on a magical journey as the Swan Queen prepares for the ball. As the frost glitters and the mist rises from Mottisfont’s river, discover a winter wonderland of beautiful trees, decorated rooms and stunning evening gowns from ‘Talons & Tiaras’.
Children can race around the grounds on a magical quest trail to solve the mystery of the Swan Queen’s secret and gain entry to her palace. There are sparkly dresses and handsome cloaks to try on in the boudoir, and crafty fun making tiaras and crowns. Then it’s time to join the Swan Queen at her ball in a beautiful room filled with sparkling lights and dancing silhouette shadows, and at the centre, an 18th-century style swan feather ball gown.
Special weekend events are also on offer, including dance classes.
Normal admission charges apply.
Booking is not required, for more information please call 01794 344020.

Father Christmas at Killerton, Devon ©National Trust Images, Arnhel de Serra National Trust Christmas

Killerton, Devon
A Christmas Carol, 4 December – 5 January (closed 25-26 December & 1 January), 11am – 4pm
Experience the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future and follow the Christmas trails in the house and park. See stunning displays in the house as you follow Scrooge to find the meaning of Christmas. Feel festive with Christmas trees, lights and the magic behind this festive classic.
Normal admission charges apply.
Booking is not required, for more information please contact 01392 881345.
Make a weekend of it: Take your pick from one of five cottages on the estate. There’s Forest Cottage (sleeps 6), Killerton Park Cottage (sleeps 4) Longmeadow (sleeps 4), or one of three adjoining cottages (once a medieval thatched farmhouse) which includes Mattress Cottage (sleeps 5) and Broad Ley Cottage (sleeps 6).

Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate, Cheshire
A Victorian Christmas at the mill, 7-8 and 14-15 December, 11am-3pm
Join the festive fun at Quarry Bank Mill with its traditional Christmas weekends. Meet the Victorian characters and find out more about customs from the past. Tell Father Christmas what’s on your Christmas list. Enjoy Christmas carols, stories and finish your day with a warming mince pie.
Normal admission charges apply.
Booking is not required, for more information please contact 01625 527468.

Attingham Park, Shropshire
Lord Berwicks’ Christmas, 7-8 and 14-23 December, 11am-4pm
Step back in time and enjoy festivities from Attingham’s 200-year history with the house decorated for Christmas through the ages. On selected dates, step through the magical door and join Father Christmas and his elves in the mansion.
Normal admission charges apply, ticket charge £6.50 per child’s visit to Father Christmas, including a gift.
Booking is not required, for more information please call 01743 708123.

Wallington, Northumberland
Christmas at Wallington, 6-8, 13-15 & 20-22 December, 10.30am–3.30pm
Experience a traditional Christmas at Wallington. Admire the beautiful decorations and enjoy carol singing and seasonal music in the house as you soak up the special Christmas atmosphere. There’s also the chance to try some Christmas crafts, follow the festive trail and hear stories with Mrs Santa.
Normal admission charges apply, plus a small charge for some activities.
Booking is not required, for more information please call 01670 773600.

Chirk Castle, Wrexham
Christmas at Chirk Castle, 7-22 December 11am – 4pm
Celebrate the festive season with Chirk Castle. See the beautifully-decorated rooms, meet Father Christmas in his magical grotto and discover where all the toys are made in the elves workshop. There’s also the chance to browse for unusual gifts in the National Trust shop or sample delicious festive fair in the tea-room.
Adult £5.25, Child £2.63, plus £3 to visit Father Christmas.
Booking is not required, for more information please call 01691 777701
Make a weekend of it: Stay bang next door to the castle in Chirk Home Farm Cottage which sleeps four or stay in a 1930s villa at the top of Offa’s Dyke, with views that are second to none (sleeps five).

Springhill, Co. Londonderry
Magical Christmas memories, 7-8 & 14-5 December, 4pm – 8pm
Visit Santa and Twinkle-Boots in the grotto and see the house festively decorated for Christmas. With children’s crafts, mulled wine and mince pies, this will be a magical Christmas you will never forget.
Adult £9, Child £12.
Booking is essential for this event, please call 028 8674 8210.

A Beano Christmas

The Beano is 75 this year and over at the South Bank in London is Beanotown – a fan’s must-visit, with loads of things to do there. We were invited to view their Beano Christmas range of gifts back in July so headed down on our day off.

Beano Christmas

The Beano needs very little introduction – a comic that has lasted over 75 years it has been constantly reinvented but kept in the true spirit it started with. The gifts for this year reflect this.

Beano Chopper Bike

The standout gift was a Beano chopper bike from Raleigh – which doesn’t come cheap at £300 but oh my, it’s great! I’d love one of those, although I’ve no idea where I’d keep it.. and it’s probably not practical for taking on cycle rides with H.

Some of the gifts for this year included things you could personalise – from mugs to books to calendars. H really liked it too and we’ve already ordered (and received quickly) a ‘Daddy the Menace’ mug from Gone Digging for Shaun’s birthday which cost us around the £10 mark. H was VERY excited about creating something so personal too. This is also why I’ve had to delay putting this post up, I didn’t want him to see!


There’s some games – and a set where you can Prank Your Pals available now at The Entertainer, and as we know Dennis the Menace does love his pranks. I spotted a comic maker kit – billed for older kids it looks pretty excellent, you stick your characters and speech bubbles and make a comic book with the various elements on offer – I’d quite fancy one of those for myself.

Beano Comic Maker Kit

If you’re feeling a little more grown up, there’s always the Beano duvet set, available now in Single and Double size (alas no kingsize, sigh).

Accompanying the Chopper Bike are some cycling shirts, including one featuring Minnie the Minx. There’s a cute little Dennis Babygro as well! They are priced up from £27.95 via Foska (you can get the Babygro from here)

Beano Christmas

My favourites were the Dr Marten Boots – in kids sizes too. If H’s feet didn’t grow so quickly when I buy her full price shoes she’d have a pair of red and black stripy Minnie the Minx ones which I’d have loved when I was younger.

Beano Dr Marten Boots

The Beano Christmas event was great too – there was a free comic drawing masterclass from Kev P who draws for the Beano – and who drew the most amazing comic version of H – it’s on the wall!

Beanotown Kev P

There’s so much choice out there if you’re looking for Beano Christmas ideas – if you’re someone who remembers those comics from your younger days, you’ll probably find something you love too!


Merry Christmas!

A big thank you from us all here for all your support and comments on Mum Friendly in the last year! We’ve had a brilliant year and long may it continue into next year – we’ve lots of features to come in the New Year, including Shaun’s Couch to 5K writeup (yep, I’ve persuaded him to write more!) – all manner of things. But most importantly for now, have a brillant, fantastic Christmas – and thank you again!


App Time – The Snowman and the Snowdog

I have my Christmas Radio Times, so I am more than aware about The Snowman and the Snowdog (Channel 4, 8pm Christmas Eve 2012 as well as a few repeats) – and somehow I stumbled across The Snowman and The Snowdog in iTunes – it’s free, so I figured it’s worth a download.

It’s a really charming app! It features all of Raymond Briggs’ artwork from the Snowman book – the Snowman flies over various places (including some London landmarks – at The London Eye I pointed out Shaun’s work, and H exclaimed “Why  is Daddy’s work on the iPad?!”) – you collect snowflakes to earn more time (I’m not sure how much per snowflake but there’s lots – I’ve managed to do two and a half circuits of the game on them) and you have to pick up objects on your journey to get bonuses and badges.

The Snowman and the Snowdog app

The app is run in conjunction with Channel 4, and there’s plenty of ‘Don’t forget to watch!’ type things on there which weren’t too obtrusive (but enough to remember!).

You can slow down the flying by swiping downwards and speed things up by swiping upwards (which didn’t seem to work for me) – worth knowing as we had no idea until it told us a few minutes in. You work your way through the map, so there’s Hastings, North London, the North Pole, back to South London, the countryside and right back to Hastings – although if you run out of time you’ll have to try again. When you complete all tasks in an area you’ll get three stars.

The Snowman and the Snowdog at the London Eye app

If you want a game you can sit and play with your (younger) child, this is the kind of thing – older children will enjoy it too and probably need less help. Personally, I love it – I can see us going back to this app several times due to the amount of things you need to do!

App Time at Mum Friendly

Dressing Up Is Fun!

We were sent a costume from Jokers’ Masquerade to try – well, I was sent it for H to try. In the last year or so she’s really grown to love dressing up – she’s done it a lot in the past, but since last Christmas we’ve had costumes for her to try and play in (the Doctor one goes down very well), and of course it goes without saying that being a parent I’ve always looked out for the best-yet-slightly-ridiculous ones (she was a Christmas Pudding when she was four months) – so it needs to have a good sense of humour. Enter our Christmas Tree costume! (and indeed, last week she was a fabulous Christmas tree at the Nursery Christmas show)

This costume has all that – tinsel? Check. Tree shape? Indeed! Hat with star on the top? Of course. But the biggest test is what H thinks of it.

Actually, fortunately, once she got her costume on, she really didn’t want to take it off. We’ve had a few occasions where she’ll happily sit at the table wearing the hat (with crazy sunglasses), or indeed just lounge around as a tree. That, to me says it’s a good costume – she doesn’t want to take it off, it isn’t itchy anywhere, and most of all it’s fun! That and you can stand next to the Christmas tree and compare notes… The tree costume is 100% polyester, wipe clean only.

Christmas Tree Costume from Jokers' Masquerade

It is a very serious business being a tree.

Jokers’ Masquerade have LOADS of Christmas costumes – don’t leave it too late though, as the big event is approaching!

We were sent a Christmas Tree costume for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own.


Portable North Pole – It’s Back!

Portable North Pole Santa Ho Ho hoNow H is three we’re embracing Christmas big time, even though I try not to spoil her too much. My best memories from childhood were the times we’d see Santa at the Co-Op in the centre of York, so we always try to make sure anything involving Santa is memorable and fun – and Portable North Pole are doing just that.

Portable North Pole are back – we’re in the digital age now, so my lucky girl gets a personalised video from Santa who knows where to come to leave her present (for being good and listening to her parents – ha…), he knows two good events from the last year, and he knows some basic information – and as far as H is concerned Santa is the BEST! (and I’m sure every time she sees him from now on she’ll remind him of the nice video and be a bit confused when he asks her what she wants for Christmas AGAIN…)

Of course, the reality is that I’ve trawled through a years worth of photos and memories while asking the right questions so the video could be created – so that’s a photo from Peppa Pig World, a photo from our Welsh holiday, and a picture of last year’s Christmas tree – but it’s enough to make the video pretty magical; every time Santa asked her a question she answered him when we watched it!

You can have unlimited online views of your video too through the Christmas holidays so plenty of time to watch (the five minute deluxe version lasts until March 2013). The videos include brand new scenes from Santa’s village, new elf clips and more.

The setup of the video took around ten minutes (a lot of that was finding the right photos), the video arrived immediately and loaded within two minutes. Santa looks like a proper santa, a nice long beard and his elves are good too!

This year, Portable North Pole has pledged to donate 5% of all personalized product sales to participating Children’s Hospital foundations in the U.S, UK, Ireland, Canada and France, as part of the PNP Children’s Hospital programme.

In 2012, Portable North Pole is also offering a personalised phone call from Santa himself! There’s also an augmented reality interactive letter, sealed with some magic by the elves! The letter includes a premium video and facial scan feature which Santa uses to check if the child is on his nice list.

Portable North Pole options for video

Also new for 2012, Portable North Pole has an updated iPNP mobile and tablet app (cost £1.99), which includes the premium video, interactive advent calendar and phone calls from Santa (n.b. you need to buy this separately). Last year the Portable North Pole app was among the top 10 paid downloads on the Apple Store in the UK. Click here to get the App

Portable North Pole Santa Has a Message For You

Santa’s e-shop on the Portable North Pole website is also stocked with a range of new personalized gifts, from letters, colouring books and place mats, to books, puzzles and “Santa’s NiceList” certificates – and I can offer a code which gives you 10% off – just use BLOG10BK – check this video for more information!

We were provided with a code for the Premium Video, all thoughts are our own – H loves it!

Making SaltDough Christmas Decorations

Yesterday was a miserable Saturday, though we made it out for a bit of shopping – but it was the kind of day you’d stay indoors, so I did a bit of googling and found a recipe for Salt Dough Christmas Decorations by Kirstie Allsop. Even better, you can microwave them, so they don’t need baking in the oven.

So, what to do?

A cup of flour, half a cup of salt, and half a cup of water, mix the lot together and you’ll get there. It was sticky for a while so I added extra flour and salt which helped.

Saltdough Decorations - roll it out

After it was ready, we rolled it out onto a board and got our old faithful Christmas cookie cutters out. They’re quite small, so I think we need to be looking at bigger ones for next time… We also made an M, a D and an H (mummy, daddy and H) which we could do whatever we felt like doing with.

Saltdough Decorations - all cut outOnce they’re done, I put a sheet of greaseproof paper on the microwave glass plate, and arranged the shapes – and made a hole through each one (I had no cocktail sticks so used the end of a corn on the cob holder).

It says to microwave for two minutes, but I felt like these needed longer – they were still a bit soft later on, so were left to dry overnight.Saltdough Decorations - drying out

Overnight the shapes weren’t properly dry so we microwaved them a little longer which helped, then I got my watercolour paints out and mixed a few colours  painting the tops of trees green and the trunks in brown. I’m not sure why I bothered as once the paint had dried we gave up trying to do intricate designs and just got a pile of glitter and painted glue onto the shapes (we used Tiger’s £3 stuff) and dipped it in there, before threading each shape onto some cotton for next weekend (when they’ll either be part of a chain or on their own individual cotton).

This is the result : Saltdough Decorations - the end

It was a really simple straightforward task to do, and the painting was fun. There were no rules other than they’re going on the tree next weekend – and I’m pleased with the results!

Santa at Painshill Park

We’re regular visitors to the wonderful Painshill Park in Cobham, and for the first time yesterday we visited to take H to see Father Christmas.

Santa at Painshill Park

We got tickets for 4pm (the earliest you can go on a weekday), just as the sun was setting and the fairy lights were coming on – the park looked beautiful, and it’s definitely something worth experiencing at that time of day if the weather is good.

You enter the park the usual way, and take the disabled/step free route towards The Grotto which is signposted with random Santas along the way. A 20 minute walk when your little one is in a buggy is probably more like a 25-30 one when your toddler wants to walk – so leave plenty of time!

You get to a large tent next to the big lake, and wait your turn – you’re checked in with a number and an age appropriate card for the present, and there’s refreshments available (mulled wine!) – though these are at an extra cost.

We waited for a very short time (we were number 6), and took a short walk from the tent into the grotto, where Santa was waiting on his sleigh, shook H’s hand and asked all the right questions. H told him she wanted “a baby octopus” and looked a bit disappointed when she realised her present wasn’t one..

Actually, the only criticism I’d say was the present H got was really young for her – but she was happy with it, and actually, the Santa was excellent, so that far outweighs anything else.

The setting of The Grotto for Santa was fabulous – it looks gorgeous inside and isn’t too cold (it was a chilly night), though worth bearing in mind you can’t take buggies in there, as there’s five or six steps as you leave the grotto to get back onto the island – there is buggy storage outside the main tent though.

It was a lovely smoothly run experience (thank you elves!), also helped by H being given a present which had an activity book in it which she sat and coloured in while we waited. I would defintely come back next year, plus heading back to the car park (now with toddler in buggy as she wanted to open her present) in the dark with all the lights was lovely.

Highly recommended!