Flowerbeds, Photography & Iced Tea

This week, the girls have continued spending most of their time in the garden, creating masterpieces out of soil and coming up with reasons to change their outfits multiple times a day πŸ™‚ They each set up their own den and then decided to make “flowerbeds” outside them. They just laid some sticks down and scooped soil into it, planting some sunflower seeds they had. They proceeded to water their plants and turned the garden into a bit of a swamp, but it bought me peace for a long time and I got to look at the pretty flowers πŸ™‚


I bought the girls a camera each. They weren’t expensive and they have played with them a lot. They love taking pictures, changing the frames and filters and making videos and voice recordings. They are both interested in photography and rather than handing over my phone, I decided to let them have a camera of their own. I like seeing the creative ideas they come up with on their own and they enjoy showing me all their photos and silly videos too πŸ™‚

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I made some iced tea while the weather was warm. It’s really easy to make. I’d had the Plain sweet one in America years ago and the girls’ dad used to make it a lot, so I just stole his method πŸ™‚ I just make hot tea, sugar it to taste and then refrigerate it until it’s really cold πŸ™‚ The girls weren’t as impressed by it as they were by my lemonade, but I’m thinking of making a berry tea version for them.

The girls received a handmade card each from my parents in the post and were so excited to open them. They love seeing things addressed to them and rush to check the post every morning to see if anything has arrived for them πŸ˜€ We sat outside and played board games in the sun and I made some wholewheat pizza. I was using up the last of what was in the fridge, so I just improvised with tomato puree, cherry tomatoes and cheddar on a wheaten base I made.


We made some “sea foam,” as suggested by my daughter’s preschool. I made a double batch since my older daughter seemed to like it too. You just mix two tbsps of cornflour with two tbsps of washing up liquid with 1/4 cup of warm water for one. It foams easily and holds the bubbles and was a bluey-green colour, so the girls turned it into a bath for their dolls (which they do with most liquids.) Eventually, they descended into making foamy icing for mudpies. They filled up all the containers they could sneak out of the kitchen with soil and foam and used it for a birthday party for a baby doll.

I had ordered some courgette seeds which arrived in the post, so I potted them and transferred some of my larger plants from my windowsill to the garden. My sunflowers have already died, but I’m hoping the tomato plant survives outside now. I have several thriving plants now, so I’m going to persevere and try not to be put off by my gardening failures πŸ™‚

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The girls and I made some ice lollies, using smoothies. They’re a healthy alternative to the ones from the shops. My kids think ice lollies should be served every day there is a spell of sunshine, so I’ll make these again πŸ™‚ I made them with frozen banana and berries, apple juice, yogurt and some frozen mango. You can also freeze fruit as it’s starting to go off and save it for lollies, overnight oats and smoothies. I’ve been scattering frozen berries in overnight oats a lot lately so they’ve defrosted by the morning.

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We tried a new recipe for cookies too. I wanted to find a crunchier one that resembled biscuits from the shops, so we made a batch of them. I found slicing the solid cookie dough when it comes out of the fridge very soothing πŸ™‚ They turned out well and the girls were asking for them all day. They are unusually fussy about baked treats, so it was good to find one they both loved.

I was running out of candles (which are a staple in my house) so I ordered some Yankee candles from Groupon. They had an offer of six small jars for twenty pounds, so I am enjoying the baby powder one now while I create a little zen in my kitchen until my kids tire of the TV and start bombarding me with questions about the developments of dinner πŸ™‚

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Cardboard Towns, Peanut Cookies & Mini Greenhouses

The hot weather is exactly what I need this week to revive me. I find sitting in the garden such a healing thing. Apart from spending time in our small bit of greenery, we have been doing lots of craft projects this week, as our enthusiasm for home learning wanes.

The girls have become really interested in den building, and I’m happy to encourage it. I always hear about kids getting obsessed with a particular game or toy and it absorbing all their time. My kids’ favourite game until now has been following me around, asking for things πŸ™‚ They have worked out ways of constructing their own tents around the washing line, and it’s nice to hear them playing happily in the imaginary world they rarely inhabit πŸ™‚ When it’s sunny, they like to have lunch inside their den too.

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I decided to make use of our collection of cardboard and attempt to make a village with the girls. We had two large pieces of cardboard we painted as the ground, adding a pond, streets and grass. The girls painted some empty small boxes in grey, brown, red etc to make buildings. I found some pictures in magazines to use on the shop fronts, like a crate of vegetables, a bookshop window and some kitchen equipment for another shop. I painted some flowers in the flower beds on the base and then my daughter painted some flowers of her own too πŸ™‚

The next day when it had dried, we stuck it all together. I added some nature scenes from magazines to the grass and the girls made some play doh ducks for the pond. We added some green confetti to give the grass texture too. You could add so many things to it, depending on your child’s attention span πŸ™‚ That was all mine would allow us to do πŸ™‚

I made some easy pizza this week, using some homemade bread. I just put tomato paste, cherry tomates, cheese and hotdogs on it, and it was an immediate hit with my kids. They ate theirs inside their dens and I sat in the sun at our little garden table with pizza and a glass of wine. It reminded me of when we go for pizza in Glasgow and I get a small tumbler of white wine with pizza in the afternoon. It’s the only time I drink during the day because I don’t drive when we’re over there, and pizza in the garden had the same sort of tranquil feel to it πŸ™‚ I love the creepers my neighbour planted between our gardens. Sitting next to them helps me imagine I’m elsewhere when I’m feeling hemmed in in the house πŸ™‚

I made some more homemade lemonade sweetened with honey. I like making it as a vitamin-filled drink that the girls actually like to drink πŸ™‚ We also baked some peanut butter and jelly cookies and some more chocolate chip ones. The chocolate chip ones have vanished already πŸ™‚ The girls left me to finish making them so they could eat cookie dough and fight over the spoon!

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There was a lot of excitement when the girls’ Toucan boxes arrived in the post. They love having their own parcels to open once a month and it’s interesting to see what activities they have included each time. We did the first activity together, which was building mini greenhouses. The set came with plywood to slot together to build into little containers, a liner to hold the soil and the soil came in little solid packets you had to soak in water to make it expand. The girls loved making the labels and planting their seeds. There were sunflowers, nasturtiums and basil. A sticker sheet came too so they could add stickers to decorate it at the end (that might have been the part they were most enthusiastic about :))

Afterwards, we spent some more time in the garden and I had a Starbucks instant caramel latte I got from the shops πŸ™‚ It was surprisingly good for instant coffee. I’ve realised that the only thing close to reading that is achievable during my children’s waking hours is looking at pictures in magazines. There are a lot of interrupted sentences, so I might have to resort to picture books if I want to take up reading in daylight again πŸ™‚ The girls changed the shape of their den and connected it to their playhouse so they could crawl from one to the other πŸ™‚

We finished the day with a film. I surrendered and let them choose a cartoon, which ironically, they weren’t very keen on. We finished the day with ice cream sundaes. I just put vanilla ice-cream in a bowl with whipped cream, some chocolate spread and sprinkles. I put banana in my younger daughter’s bowl because she wanted to try a banana split, but after tasting it she said “I think I’ll keep the banana as a decoration in my bowl – it’s just, I don’t like banana with ice-cream.” πŸ™‚

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Home Spas, Fork Cookies & Thoughtful Flowers

This week, my daughter’s school suggested making sea creatures, so the girls got our their junk box and came up with their own ideas πŸ™‚ One made a turtle and the other made a seahorse. I like watching my kids coming up with their own methods to make things πŸ™‚ There never seems to be any hesitancy or uncertainty about what they’re going to make πŸ™‚

We did a photography video on the afternoon club. The girls experimented with taking photos and changing the lighting. I like watching these videos with them because I learn things from them too πŸ™‚

A while ago, we had some fruit and vegetables delivered to our house and for some reason, the crate they came in has become a favourite toy πŸ™‚ The girls just helped themselves to it and it has been used as a tray for pretend food, a table for their den, a cot for teddies and a bed for them too! I always find the girls play most with something that you spent no money on and that wasn’t even intended for play πŸ™‚

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The girls wanted to use my foot spa, so I set up a β€œspa” in the kitchen with a nail bar, a chill-out mat and some meditation music in the background. I painted the girls’ nails and they took it in turns using the bubbles and massage settings for their feet πŸ™‚

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Last night, I remembered how much I love sitting in just candlelight. I lit a few candles and sat in darkness watching them flickering and collecting my thoughts πŸ™‚ There is something restorative about it in the same way I benefit from walks by the sea (which we obviously can’t do at the minute.)

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Today I was in a cooking mood, so I tried a new recipe that produces two loaves of bread. The recipe was from Dining on a Dime and worked out really soft in the centre with a crisp crust (although I found the suggestion to use greaseproof paper resulted in it attaching to the loaf like it was superglued to it (so next time, I’ll leave that step out :))

The girls and I looked at their craft inspiration book for kids. It’s the best 50p I’ve ever spent πŸ™‚ There was a section about puppets, so we made some paper ones we called jelly babies with rings made out of paper to attach them to their fingers. We also made some (literal) hand puppets by drawing on the palms of their hands (much to my daughter’s delight.) She draws on herself often, but it isn’t usually encouraged by me.

I made some smoothies and we set up a clothes shop for the girls in the living room. It was only when I started laying out their dress-up dresses that I realised how many they own. Sometimes I find that sorting through toys kills any temptation to buy more since we always find things we had forgotten about πŸ™‚ If we don’t have something we improvise (for example, using bells from their musical instruments as a shop bell :))

We made some easy fork biscuits. They only had three ingredients and were so simple to make. The kids were more interested in licking the bowl than making fork imprints on the cookies prior to baking πŸ™‚

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We also got out their water beads kit and made some ducks. I always think these activities are going to take half an hour and when I look at the clock, five minutes have passed and we are finished πŸ™‚

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I found a recipe in a magazine for a natural bath soak, so I made some using oats, lavender oil and coconut oil. I put it in the girls’ bath in hopes of making them sleepy before bed πŸ™‚ You can store some in a jar and make enough for several uses. I found the process of making it therapeutic too, since you have to melt the coconut oil slowly using a bain marie and the scent of lavender instantly makes me feel relaxed πŸ™‚

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Thankfully, the weather was good today so the girls enjoyed den building and paddling outside. My daughter brought me a few little flowers and it made me realise, even if a kid hands you some flowers you know are weeds, it’s so sweet that they want to collect them for you and give you a present πŸ™‚ That made them more beautiful to me than any shop-bought bouquet.

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Baked Treats, Snail Homes & Coffee Cravings

Today, we had a major baking day. By major, I mean that I used every dish in the house to bake two things πŸ™‚ I spent a lot of the day washing dishes afterwards, but what’s new πŸ™‚ I’ve been listening to Nina Simone a lot and spending lots of time cooking. Yesterday, I made us some bread, which is already half eaten πŸ˜€ I tried a new recipe today for what were called Fat Rascals. I found them in a magazine and they are similar to scones, filled with dried fruit, lemon and orange zest. The girls helped me to make them, and I’m always happy to having willing volunteers to grease the tray πŸ™‚ I also made some allspice biscuits again since one of my daughters really enjoyed them last time.

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After lunchtime, I took a tray with our baked treats and some tea out to the garden and we had a little tea party. It was grey but humid and it was nice to get a chance to sit outside again. I attempted to read a book, but that quickly turned into me building a den for the girls, amongst other things πŸ™‚

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The girls spotted a snail and decided to temporarily adopt it. We read about what snails like to eat and where they can live and made it it’s own little habitat in an empty chocolates tub πŸ™‚ The girls watched its movements for a long time and tried to encourage it to eat some seeds and a grape (apparently they like these.) It didn’t seem to be bothered by them and spent most of the afternoon travelling in and out of its new house. Sometimes having kids makes me become interested in things I’ve never given any thought before. I think that was the first time I googled “what fruit do snails eat?”We learned that they can’t have pools of water because they can drown and they don’t like to be in direct sunlight. Eventually I removed the tub so it could be left in peace πŸ™‚

 

I’ve been experimenting with making my own lattes with different sweeteners since running out of coffee syrup. I tried maple syrup yesterday, which didn’t seem to work well, as it made it separate. Today, I tried honey and cinnamon on top and it worked surprisingly well πŸ™‚ I’m tempted to order coffee to the door, but when I checked how much it was I had second thoughts πŸ™‚ Lockdown mightn’t have broken my coffee addiction, but at least I’m finding cheaper ways to feed it now πŸ™‚

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For anyone that is interested, The Funky Thrifter book is available on Amazon now. It is a collection of blog posts from this year to give people something peaceful to flip through during these weird times πŸ™‚

Shadow Puppets, Blossom Bouquets & Sunflower Seeds

This week we made some plate-sized wholemeal pancakes and had some fresh fruit (and strong coffee for me. Afterwards, we read together in the living room. The girls had put the recliners up for themselves and spent time poring over art books about colour and craft projects for kids. We went onto the library website to look at their free ebooks and magazines. They have lots of children’s books available online if you sign into your account. You can set one up if you don’t already have one using the long number on your library card.

Afterwards, the girls insisted on wearing similar outfits to me (God help them :)) We went on our morning walk and they requested another trip to the cherry blossom. We have now assigned names to our walks and they always want to do the blossom walk πŸ™‚ They gathered flowers and petals to make mini bouquets and put them in water as table displays for dinner time when we got home. I have a feeling they might be interested in flower arranging in the future πŸ™‚

The girls’ Toucan craft boxes arrived in the post, so we did their shadow puppet theatre projects. They had to make puppets on lolly sticks and paint the stage curtains, adding greaseproof paper as a cover for the puppets to produce shadows on. We set them up in the living room. Since I don’t buy practical items like torches, we improvised with lamps and the girls did a very shortlived puppet show πŸ™‚

My neighbour gave the girls some wildflower beebombs. The girls loved raking the soil and scattering them, and I’m hopeful we’ll keep them alive and that our garden will be filled with beautiful wildflowers soon πŸ™‚

Since it was such a nice evening, I made hotdogs on the barbecue and we ate outside. The girls made sure to put one of their flower displays on the outdoor table πŸ™‚ Eating in the sunshine definitely makes me feel freer at the moment. You could almost imagine you’re on holiday πŸ™‚

I decided to do a bit of a clear-out in our kitchen. I love the fact that when you clear out drawers and cupboards, you discover things you had forgotten you had. The girls found some sticker books and a felt board to play with, and I discovered a stash of wax melts and candles I didn’t know I had! I lit the Causeway Coast wax melt and it is the most relaxing scent I have ever breathed πŸ™‚ I find sorting cupboards out really cathartic. It’s good to get rid of some clutter and feel like everything is somewhat orderly for a few days. (Until I start lazily throwing things into cupboards without looking again :))

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We had a couple of kids’ cupcake kits, so we made some chocolate Aladdin ones and some muddy puddle Peppa ones to keep everyone happy πŸ™‚ I always used to think the cupcake kits were pointless because they contain so little mix and it’s almost as easy to just make them from scratch, but I’ve realised they allow kids to skip ahead to the parts of baking they enjoy, ie the icing, decorating and spoon-licking.

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I rearranged the girls’ room a little and I put some decorative kids’ pegs on jewellery wire to make a little washing line for their artwork. I think my daughter thought it was for their dolls’ clothes πŸ™‚ I also found my crepe spreader that my mum got me from France, so I’ll have to make some crepes soon πŸ™‚

We found a new street with blossom aplenty πŸ™‚ The girls have named it the “dead end” walk, for obvious reasons. But it seems to have the best supply of intact blossom flowers. The girls brought a bag to collect some in and made some more little floral posies. I’ll probably be finding wilted flowers all over the house for ages, but it keeps the girls happy πŸ™‚

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When we got home, my daughter had to practise writing her spellings in flour, so after she had finished, my younger daughter converted it into a beach for her LOL dolls πŸ™‚ It kept her busy while we got some schoolwork done πŸ™‚

My friend kindly left a surprise on our doorstep: a gardening kit for the girls. Today, we planted the sunflowers and butterfly seeds. The girls loved having their own plant projects πŸ™‚ I’ve never grown sunflowers before, but they are my favourite flowers, so I’ll be happy when they appear πŸ™‚

As if we didn’t have enough baked treats in the house already, I made my daughter’s favourite coconut cake today. It’s a recipe I found in Dining on a Dime Cook Book and it never fails. It produces two cakes, and I always think it will be a challenge to use it all up, but it always quickly disappears πŸ™‚

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We made a little bird feeder from the girls’ Toucan boxes. You just had to glue layers of lolly sticks to make a little box, with a stick for the bird to perch on. Pipe cleaners were added as handles and we put it on the hedges outside. I’m hoping it attracts more birds to the garden. Our robin hasn’t visited in a few days as I haven’t put out more of his peanut butter food yet, so I might have to make some tomorrow for him πŸ™‚

 

 

 

 

Water Beads, Tea Parties & Pyjamarama Day

This week, we have spent a lot of time at home, (obviously!) being creative and creating mess I never seem to get on top of. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will be no order to our house until the girls return to school – or maybe that is just wishful thinking, as clutter just seems to follow me around.

We went for our usual walk on the Greenway. The sound of the pigeons under the bridge makes me laugh every time we descend the steps now because the girls are convinced they are owls and mimic the sound for most of the walk. Due to the fact that the greenway is mostly greenery, when colour pops up, it’s immediately noticeable. I have no idea what this plant is, but I like the yellow petals; it’s like the bare twigs have put on little yellow skirts overnight πŸ™‚

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A couple of days ago, I got the girls a water beads set. They had never used one before, and the fact that there was only one bead pen in the set encouraged them to take it in turns. They were both so excited to try it that they were actually courteous to each other about sharing the project πŸ˜€ I think it was good value for what was included. There are several bead pictures to make and one of them kept them busy for an hour πŸ™‚

I decided to try out some different coloured homemade play doh. I had picked up some red and green food colouring when we got groceries. The green was less vibrant than I’d imagined and the red made the play doh resemble raw mince πŸ˜€ But the girls didn’t seem to mind – maybe it made them feel more like real ingredients πŸ™‚ They played with their dough in their tuff tray until the rain started, and then moved it in to the kitchen table. I gave them a couple of old half-filled dried herb shakers, so they could season the pretend food they were making. Those caused more excitement than the play doh did.

I received a lovely surprise in the post from my parents. It was a box filled with my favourite candles, all literary-themed. There was also some passionfruit and blood orange tea included. The girls loved it as much as I did and it’s already gone πŸ™‚

I decided to make Chinese food for dinner, as we had picked up some prawn crackers at the shop and I had the ingredients to make fried rice and sweet and sour. I set the table with straws and napkins, tealights, a jug of juice for the girls and played traditional Chinese music in the background, so we could pretend we were in a restaurant. The food wasn’t exactly authentic, but it still tasted good, and the girls liked the novelty of having our own restaurant. Afterwards, they insisted on doing the dishes, and I was happy to let them πŸ™‚

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Today, we did the Pyjamarama festival, held by the Book Trust. They had a programme of online activities for kids and the idea was that you stay in your pyjamas all day whilst completing them. That didn’t last very long for us, because we spend so much time in the garden and my kids don’t tend to sit still πŸ™‚ In the morning, the girls did a guided drawing of a teddy bear. They took their time copying it and then listened to a storytime video.

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My older daughter had to do a picture of The Golden Fish painting for school, so I included my younger daughter in the process and they painted their own versions. They are both always keen to paint and sometimes I join them. Other times, I just enjoy the temporary tranquility to drink the rest of my morning coffee, which was what I did today πŸ™‚

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The girls wanted to play in the garden and there was a spell of sunshine, so they cycled in circles on their bikes πŸ™‚ They played a game of naming all the plants they could remember in our garden, and I was impressed by how much they’d taken in. Maybe they will make better gardeners than me πŸ™‚ They are currently growing some broad beans my neighbour gave them as gifts and keep checking on them to see if they’ve produced beans overnight πŸ™‚

When it clouded over, we returned indoors and did another activity from the festival: a video about making diaries. They had to draw a picture of themselves and then print off a photo of somewhere they’d been to that day, (for example, in the garden, out for a walk, at the shops.) They had to place the pictures of themselves in front of the scenes and glue them on. Our photos came out very green, probably due to my poor printing skills, but the girls really enjoyed making them, and green is my favourite colour anyway πŸ™‚

I took down some of our Easter crafts that were adorning the kitchen walls and replaced them with today’s artwork πŸ™‚
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The girls did another interactive storytime and enjoyed joining in with the rhyme and stories. Afterwards, I noticed we had consumed all of our baked treats, so I decided to try a new recipe with them. I found one in a magazine for Abernethy Biscuits with fennel seeds. I didn’t have fennel seeds in the house, so I decided to improvise and use Allspice instead and they turned out really well πŸ™‚

We had a little tea party when they were ready and I made the last of our tisane tea and served it in cups and saucers, with tealights and our biscuits πŸ™‚ I had printed off worksheets for the girls to complete from the Pyjamarama page, so they designed their own bookmarks, did some matching games and designed their own pyjamas. I’m so grateful for these kinds of fun worksheets – they provide needed distraction during difficult moments πŸ™‚

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Tonight, we made some homemade pizza and had a movie night and ice-cream. I’ve been trying to do a little less writing in the evenings at the moment and spend more time on yoga and reading in the bath πŸ™‚ I feel too drained to write after a certain time of the day and I’ve accepted my word counts will be reduced by the constant company I have at the moment πŸ™‚ I feel forced to slow down, and maybe that’s what we all need most.

 

Collecting Blossom, Colour Wheels & Patisseries

Yesterday, the girls decided to change our walking route. It’s strange how quickly you can fall into new habits, although I do like the fact the Greenway is like a piece of the countryside in the middle of Belfast. On our new walk, the girls came across some blossom trees dropping petals and they pretended it was snowing. They gathered up as many petals as they could to take home. I’m still finding them all over the house πŸ™‚ They had insisted on wearing fancy dress headwear and I thought the blossom bouquet softened the look of my daughter’s zombie bride veil πŸ™‚

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When we got home, we started my daughter’s schoolwork and since she was learning about sea life, I got my younger daughter to draw pictures of sea creatures so she could be involved. Afterwards, we had some chocolate chip cookies and watched the Afternoon Club colour wheel episode. The girls love any excuse to paint and I was surprised by how long it kept them sitting in one place, working out how to mix the colours and where to place them on their wheels. I don’t think they even realised they were learning about tertiary colours in the process πŸ™‚

I was flipping through a cookery book, looking for inspiration for dinner and my daughter’s eyes landed upon a swiss roll she wanted to make. We had the ingredients, so I decided to make it with her. It was a budget recipe that used natural yogurt instead of cream, mixed with strawberry jam. It tasted better than I’d imagined it would πŸ™‚ My daughter insisted on wearing my polka dot apron while we baked πŸ™‚

My younger daughter helped me to make risotto and my older one washed the dishes afterwards. It seems like a good time to teach them how to cook and look after themselves a little, since there are usually too many excuses to rush through those things.

This morning, we went for another walk on the blossom-filled route. I’m enjoying spending time walking with the girls more now that we don’t have anywhere to be at a particular time. We get to have more detailed conversations and stop so they can collect leaves, petals and feathers. In that respect, I think it’s making me more patient (but definitely not in other respects!)

My daughter’s school had suggested doing a quiet family colouring session with relaxing music in the background. We listened to Bob Marley and my younger daughter completed two colouring pages. She normally does one squiggle and runs away, but it felt really calming and I did some colouring too, which I haven’t done in a long time. It reminded me that I have a pile of adult colouring books in the cupboard that I never get around to using, but I should more. I felt more able to deal with the day after it, so I might make it a daily practice.

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My older daughter had her turn at being the chef tonight. She made us some pesto chicken with tomatoes and rice. She even put lime wedges in our drinks and enjoyed serving everyone. My younger daughter was the eager dishwasher. It took a long time, but she did a good job for a four year old πŸ™‚

We sat down to play some board games together while my older daughter worked on her clay models. She made a little cake and then proceeded to make twenty more whilst talking my mum through the process on the phone. My mum reminded her of their birthday date for afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie and my daughter borrowed a china plate so she could recreate her own tea tier. The girls used the empty clay tubs as cake boxes and set up shops in the living room on an upturned box. I paid them for cakes in change and then they bought from each other’s businesses too πŸ™‚

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I have a feeling I’ll be sold cakes before my eyes are fully open tomorrow morning, so I’ll enjoy the tranquility while it lasts. I love sitting in dimmed light with a glass of wine, writing. In contrast to the nonstop nature of a day at home with kids, it feels even sweeter.