Taste the City Belfast

I’ve decided to make Saturday a day to go to free events with my kids when they are on. We live close to the city centre and the bus is right on our doorstep and we barely use it. I think my kids have finally reached the age where it is (a bit) less stressful to venture into town 🙂

Today there was a food festival thing on in Belfast and it said it was a free event with activities for kids so we went 🙂 I was surprised by what they offered for free. My kids both got their faces painted, they got to make kites with all the materials supplied and to do sugar craft designs on cupcakes.

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The kite-making workshop was good for all ages. The kids had to pick a picture to trace onto it and then colour it in before it was assembled. The girls really enjoyed doing this and it solved the problem I often have at markets of stopping them grabbing everything in sight!

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Afterwards, we sat in the sun while the girls ate the buns they had iced and we listened to live music playing in the square. The only thing I paid for was a disappointing cup of coffee and I wished I had thought ahead to bring my own!

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There were stalls selling sweets, condiments, teas, etc, and food demos, but I didn’t attempt to get the girls to sit still for them! There was a relaxed vibe to the place and it seemed surprisingly quiet for a Saturday. I love when you find things no one seems to know are happening 🙂 Especially since I don’t cope well with busy places 🙂

I had set a budget for the day so we took the bus into town instead of paying for parking and my kids were so excited they got to sit at the top on a double decker 🙂

I brought our own drinks and we got lunch for all of us from Greggs for £3.50 and took it to the park, where the girls flew their new kites and ran off some of their energy.

After that, we went to Lush because I had promised the girls a bath bomb. They used their first one last week and were fascinated by it. I guided them towards a lavender one, hoping it would help them sleep, but that was probably wishful thinking 🙂 I got a face mask while I was there. I think even if you are trying to save money it is better to limit yourself to one treat, rather than depriving yourself of everything – it helps you to stop splurging on lots of things.

We called into Learning Space, which is a shop with educational toys and games for kids. There was a sensory story time where the lady read “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” with props the kids could play with – like fake snow to make it snow, play doh to squelch in, a tarp to hide under 🙂

At the end of the day, we looked in a bookshop. Then, I had a coffee and the girls had juice in a cafe while they did sticker books. I’m thinking about making this a little tradition of ours 🙂 I think the best kind of days with kids are ones where you have a vague plan (so you don’t end up lost for things to do/with bored, whiney kids!) but that is open-ended and you can adapt to what you feel like doing at the time/judge it by everyone’s tiredness levels. If you break the day up with kid-friendly activities and snack breaks, days out with kids are definitely more enjoyable 🙂

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Cheap Weekends with Kids

This post is appearing a little late since I got sidetracked mid-writing, as I often do with kids, but at least it is weekend related 🙂

After the school term starting up again, I decided that this month I’m going to have a fresh start, start a new budget, save for holidays, make use of our existing memberships and enjoy watching the seasonal changes outside. (Basically avoid spending money when I can.) If I don’t spend a weekend being creative or contemplative, I feel like I’ve wasted it. So, I set up some simple activities for my kids and we spent time in pretty settings. I’ve got into the habit of making lots of small purchases over the summer, with nothing to show for my expenditures. So, I’m going to start a holiday fund instead.

We started last weekend, as we always do, with pancakes. One of my daughter’s refuses to eat them which still confounds me. I thought all people loved pancakes. Anyway, afterwards, the girls wanted to play with play doh but I didn’t have any, so I made a simple homemade one, which I will share in my next post. That kept them entertained for the longest I’ve seen them focus on one thing ever! You can add food colouring or something scented, like lavender, herbs etc. I added some rosemary and oregano and we called it “pizza dough.”

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I also found some paper people in the pound shop and I had a box of sparkly confetti I got to decorate the dresses with. We stuck on googly eyes, so at least my obsession with stocking up on craft supplies comes in handy at times. You can also find craft materials for kids in the card making section of the pound shop, as well as the party section (where I found the confetti.)
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The weather brightened up, so I brought the girls their lunch on a tray in the garden. My kids always eat better outside – I might have to start serving dinner there every night to persuade them to eat something other than a snack.
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I always reach my limit with staying in the house, so I took the girls to Castle Espie and they fed the birds. As they are getting older, they are becoming more interested in identifying the different types of birds. Our visit there was well-timed because they had an hourly explorers session for kids. A man led a tour around the badger hides and tracks left by otters etc. He had a lot of animal poo-related stories that kept my kids listening, rapt. They got to make crafts indoors and we brought our own snacks so the trip was free (minus the petrol.) We have membership for about £60 a year so we can use it whenever we like.
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I think getting memberships for child-friendly places is worthwhile, because otherwise, we would be separately spending on every day out at different places. At least if the cost of days out is included in your monthly budget, it’s easier to avoid overspending on activities and you can plan your days out around those places.

I felt like trying to make dinner out of what was left in the house and what we needed to use up, so I made taco rice and for dessert a peach crumble with custard. It was a quick way to use up peaches that were past their best and I used some egg yolks left over from a cake I made with egg whites to make custard.

We had a no spend weekend, but we didn’t miss anything because of it. I think people often conflate having a good time with having to spend money and that isn’t the case. In fact, I find the most enriching activities always come for free.
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gardening for mental health

Weeding out your Woes

I find spending time in my garden healing. I’m not a natural gardener; in fact I have managed to kill almost every plant I’ve ever owned. But I still try to grow things. I think sometimes the process is more important than the result. For example, my garden might looked like an untamed wasteland but the act of planting is satisfying in itself. I have begun trying to apply the same attitude to my writing. I find when I am ultra-focused on the end result, it takes the joy out of just doing it, and ultimately makes my writing worse too.

This week we have had our first spell of consistent Spring-like weather, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to spend more time outdoors, even if it’s only having a cup of tea at the fold up table in my back yard.

When I’m struggling to manage my thoughts, or to parent without snapping, returning to something simple that keeps your hands busy is always helpful. So, today I embarked on weeding my garden. The weeds had overtaken everything, in much the same way my thoughts do when I’m in an anxious state. Unrooting weeds from the ground somehow helps me to unroot patterns of unhelpful thinking from my own mind too.

So, while my daughter blew bubbles and had a biscuits picnic outside, I started stripping back all the unwanted growth. And when I did, I uncovered an opening tulip, some persistent violas and a thriving foxglove. And I realised, sometimes to find the good you have to weed out the bad bits. They might seem more prominent but when you reach the undergrowth, you can stand back to properly admire your garden.

Finding little things to be grateful for

Little Reasons to be Grateful

After a trying period on a personal level, (which, let’s face it, in my life, is most of the time!) someone suggested that I should start a gratitude journal. I don’t think their suggestion was well-received at the time. However, in spite of the fact I have yet to put it to paper, I have mentally begun composing a list. Sometimes being happy isn’t about stumbling upon natural contentment; it’s looking for reasons to not be sad in the face of tragedy.

I have a tendency to focus on the negative (or joke about the negative and then laugh), so listing positive things doesn’t come naturally to me. But I am finding that the more I consciously try to make note of things to be grateful for, the more I find that there are.

Here a few things:

Flowers

My sister sent me a bunch of surprise flowers. They’re beautiful colours and cheer me up every time I look at them. They were the letterbox kind, but are the most vibrant bunch of flowers I’ve ever seen. Even when there is no occasion for flowers or plants, I think that buying some lifts your spirits. You can buy several cheap bunches and mix them together to create a bouquet of your own. Or pick out some bright plants and make a colourful flowerbed or planter. I like to have pretty things to stare at while I daydream (which I do most of the time.)

Tea

Tea is like the tear-stained shoulder of a reliable friend. When you’re having a bad day, there is nothing like tea to cheer you up. You can bring it in a flask and go to the park or drink it in your garden, have a tea party with friends or your kids, or get into bed early with tea and a book. I have a huge variety to fit my different moods (of which there are many.) My favourites at the moment are Lady Grey (an orange-infused Earl Grey) and Night Time tea with lavender and oat flower.

Candles

My mum recently gave me a Yankee candle. They’re my favourite and I never buy them for myself. (I can’t justify spending that much on a candle – I just spend the same amount on five lesser ones with no scent.) I love the baked goods candles; they make your house smell like it is filled with the scent of freshly baked treats (without the effort of having to make them.) I have a Crisp Apple Strudel one at the minute that lifts my mood every time I light it.

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Inspirational Magazines

A lot of people think magazines are a waste of money. I don’t – I have a couple of monthly subscriptions and when they come through the door I still get excited. Turning the physical pages of magazine engages your senses more than just reading from a screen. I like magazines with ideas on how to create things,inspiration and recipes. When I’m not writing, I also like to read magazines about writing (because apparently I don’t do enough of it.) There are magazines on such a vast range of topics that reading one doesn’t just have to be a way to catch up on celebrity gossip (unless that’s your thing.)

Picnics

Northern Ireland has had a dash of good weather and I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to get outdoors. Sometimes I take my kids on “road trips” (we drive about an hour from our house and go to the beach.) Sometimes we just take a picnic and a Frisbee to a park a few streets away from our house. Lying on the grass and making daisy chains for your kids help to distract you from whatever problems might be circulating inside your head. We collected some “flowers” (flowering weeds) in a sandwich bag yesterday and brought them home to draw them and then press them in a book. Sitting in the garden drawing together is a good way to unwind during a tense motherhood moment too.

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Going Out For Lunch

If you don’t want to spend a lot on eating out, going out for lunch, or coffee and an ice cream is a good alternative. There are usually lunch deals on, that offer you meals from the dinner menu, but at a fraction of the price. It feels like treating yourself in the same way, but without doing the same damage to your bank balance.

 

What little things are you grateful for?

 

 

Ways to entertain kids in the garden

Cheap Ways To Entertain Kids In The Garden

I’ve only recently acquired a garden. It is small but is saving my sanity, even in cold weather. Here are a few easy ways to keep kids occupied in your garden, even if you only have a small patch.

Make your kids their own plot

You can save a small space with soil and no plants just for your kids to dig and play in. If you don’t have a flowerbed, fill a large pot with soil and get them some kids’ gardening tools/spoons/measuring cups.

Second-hand Scooters

I got my kids some second-hand scooters and a bike on Gumtree, which even included free delivery and no assembly for me (thank God.) Even in a confined space they like to have mini races and scoot in circles.

Mini Mud Kitchen

I gave my kids an old tea set they weren’t using indoors and they love using water to make tea and soil from their little patch for mud pies. A kitchen isn’t even required 🙂

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Plant Flowers and Let Them Water Them

My kids love helping to tuck plant roots into a flowerbed. Kids like a little bit of responsibility too, especially if it involves pouring water. Let them use a watering can to care for their plants.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Make a picnic and have it on a rug in the garden. Get your kids to help you make sandwiches and invite “guests” along (teddies.)

Child Labour

Get your kids involved in weeding your garden and brushing up leaves. They tackle it with much more enthusiasm than adults and love being helpful. Just watch they don’t uproot any of your precious plants in the process 🙂

Washing Line Play Tent

Hang up your sheets outside and they can double up as entertainment for your kids. Let them make a little house under them and bring toys inside. (Keep the water and mud pies at a distance though!)

Cooking with Chives

My sister and I used to spend hours doing this. If you have any herbs in your garden, let your kids use them in “recipes” in a toy pot. You can be the “customer” while you drink your real tea and read your book 🙂

Bug Hotel

My kids and I made one of these this week at a National Trust property. You just use an empty plastic container with open ends (or cardboard held together with string) and fill it with twigs, moss, pine cones or any natural materials you can find. Set it in a flower bed or hang it on your fence to attract bugs.

What do your kids like to do in the garden?

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Little Ways To Make Your Day Good

Having A Good Day In Little Ways

I’ve been making extra effort lately to take small things under my notice. I’m not naturally observant when it comes to my surroundings; I’m too distracted by my own ideas and other people, so I have to force myself to focus on my environment. I don’t want to miss something worth seeing.

I was thinking today about intentionally taking time to stop and notice things, in the hopes that my kids will grow to do the same as adults.

Here a few things we did that gave me a little bit of joy:

Stopping To Look At The Sky

There was a rainbow facing us when I was driving, so we pulled over to take pictures of it hanging over the rooftops. My daughter was so excited about it; I don’t know if she has ever seen a real rainbow before, than in Peppa Pig. It it was special seeing her reaction to something we could have just unthinkingly driven past.

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Cheering Up Your House On A Budget

We went to the pound shop, which is one of my favourite things to do with my kids. We got some daisy fairy lights and a light-up bunny to make a little Easter display. My kids loved helping put them up and they only cost £2 🙂 It looks a bit like a bunny disco, but in my view, that’s not a bad thing. I might keep it there year-long.

A Snack With A View

I got my daughter a snack in the pound shop and I had a £1 cup of tea in a food court. It has a good view over parts of the city and the hills. If I can’t immediately get into nature I like to watch it from a window and remind myself that it’s still there sometimes 🙂 My daughter enjoyed pointing to things through its dome-like window. You just have to look beyond dismal shop fronts to notice it.

Free Soft Play And Warm Tea

Another bonus to the food court is that they have a play area that your kids can run about in while you get to sit and enjoy your drink. It was much less stressful than a café that considers children undesirables and regards you with disdain until you close the door behind you 🙂

Reading A Free Magazine

I picked up a free magazine with lists of kids’ events and ideas of free things to attend. It included craft ideas and some of the articles are really well written. You can find them in a lot of shops and might pass them by, but they give you a lot of interesting information you mightn’t have come across otherwise.

Driving In A Sun Shower

I drove to a friend’s house and it was a lovely drive because the sun was making its way pushily through grey cloud. There is something I love about sun showers: the meeting of two opposing seasons in one sky. And driving past nothing but fields feels really freeing.

Which little parts of your day did you like the most?

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