A Glimpse of Homeschooling and Making Some Home-Baked Treats

I decided to keep my kids off school today. My daughter was disappointed because she was meant to have a nature walk this morning. So, I decided to take them for one of our own. We went for a walk on the greenway and stopped to spot and take pictures of signs of Spring along the way. They don’t usually seem to enjoy walking unless there is the promise of a playground at the end of it, but they are adapting to the way things are at the minute and seemed happy to go out and look around. I found calling it a “school trip” and making jokes about how I was their new teacher seemed to help. We made a rough schedule of things to do while they are off to keep their routine in place and try to eliminate the bickering that comes with boredom 🙂

I was amused when my younger daughter sat down on a wall and started to unpack her backpack. I’d thought it was empty and she’d just brought it for show but she had brought her toy kettle and cups so she could make “tea” while we were there 🙂

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After a long walk, we sat down with snacks and coffee and my daughter did “creative writing” and came up with sentences about our walk and the Spring-like things we saw. Then she used the photos of flowers we’d taken to draw from. It kept her busy for a long time 🙂 My other daughter coloured and cut out pages from a learning ABC’s box that we got at Christmas time and hadn’t really used yet. I also dug out a kids’ magazine that had come with our National Trust book. It is about the differences between the seasons and has little doors kids can open to see what they can do in each one. The suggestions for Spring are some things we can do even with social distancing: finding your first spring Blossom, counting the types of birdsong you can hear on a walk, growing a cress head in an egg shell and getting up early to watch the sunrise, as well as hunting for daffodils, making a nest out of twigs, feathers, etc, looking for a carpet of bluebells and identifying birds.

Afterwards, I got out a cookery book I hadn’t used in a long time. It’s called A Girl Called Jack and was written by a single mum living on a tight budget. It has some good recipes that use up things that you tend to already have lying around your house. So, we made peanut butter thumbprint cookies. I liked the idea of the kids being able to be more involved since it was a simple recipe and they got to make thumbprints in the cookies to fill with jam 🙂 My older daughter read out the measurements to me for numbers practice and then they ate the leftover jam while I washed up 🙂

I drew some clock faces with times written beside them so they could practice drawing the hands on, and I was surprised by their enthusiasm. It’s weird how once you label yourself their “teacher” they start listening and being receptive to what you say 😀 I have a feeling it won’t last though.

I had to go out in the car to drop something off so we stopped at an honesty box farm shop at the side of the road. There are quite a few just off country games roads if you look out for signs for free range eggs. We got some eggs and jam there the other day and today we got some barbecue sauce and potatoes 😉 I love how homemade they look in the little jars with gingham fabric 🙂

When we got home, we had some hot chocolate with marshmallows and continued to divide up puzzle pieces. We’ve started a 1000 piece puzzle that is composed of six Disney scenes, so we’ve been working on separating them to make it easier to begin. I’ve never done a large jigsaw before and I hadn’t anticipated how time consuming it would be, so this is the perfect time for it, since all we have is time 🙂 (I still have my doubts about my ability to complete one but we will see.)

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The girls had some down time while I wrote part of a new book I’m working on. There were constant interruptions but I somehow still hit my word count for the day 🙂 – although it is quite dark subject matter and I’m thinking something more uplifting might be a better idea in the current situation!

I cleared some space in our living room and put records on while my kids played “roller discos” in their roller skates. (My next door neighbour must loathe us by now.) It helped to tire the girls out and they actually looked as tired as they would after school by the end of the day 🙂

I’ve been using up the food we had in the house, making simple dishes and trying to stretch food so we can stay away from the shops for a bit longer. I made spaghetti mixed with sardines in tomato sauce for lunch and it was surprisingly delicious 🙂 The girls even ate it. For dinner, I used up some chicken goujons I’d got at the butchers, with rice, veg and the barbecue sauce we got at the farm shop 🙂 We finished the day with stories and I hope I can keep up the same pace tomorrow 🙂 I’m thinking of making some lists of things to do indoors to inspire myself and others and keep everyone’s spirits up 🙂 With a little resourcefulness, having our routines altered doesn’t have to upturn our worlds.

Play Doh Popcorn, Frog Friends & Bike Rides

This weekend unintentionally ended up being busy. I’d planned on having a slow weekend in the house, but I always forget that is unachievable without structured activities for my energetic kids!

We started off with some belated Pancake Tuesday celebrations (although I usually make pancakes at the weekend anyway :)) One of my kids loves them, the other loathes them. I find it hard to understand how anyone could dislike pancakes. When I used to live in Paris, my friends and I went to a place called “Breakfast in America.” I always think of it when I make pancakes and try to recreate their plate-sized ones. They also had blueberry-filled ones that I make sometimes.

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Afterwards, I decided to make some homemade play doh. I have a recipe that is so easy to make and you can keep it plain or add food colouring if you like. I had yellow and blue, so we made two colours and the girls enjoyed shaking glitter in at the end and kneading it. I’m always surprised by how long play doh keeps them occupied for. They literally played with it for hours. Cutting it up into tiny pieces with scissors and pretending they’re making popcorn is their favourite thing to do with it, along with baking cakes, ie, putting play doh creations on a baking tray and pretending to put them in the oven under the table.


I had booked the free screening for kids at the cinema, so we went to see Finding Dory and brought our own snacks and drinks. We walked there to get some fresh air. I notice if we don’t get any it really affects my mood, and not in a good way 🙂

After the film, we called into a local ice-cream shop and the girls tried screwballs for the first time. They had never had bubblegum before and wondered why bubbles didn’t magically appear the minute they started chewing it. I had some coffee ice-cream with white chocolate sauce 🙂


As we were walking home, it was getting stormy, so we retreated inside and the girls resumed their play doh play. I lit a new white chocolate candle I had. I always feel like lighting a new candle marks a new beginning… of what I’m not sure… hopefully nothing sinister 🙂 I always have a candle burning and a place doesn’t feel like home without it 🙂 It makes a good substitute for our blocked-off fireplace 🙂 

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The girls have a big art set I got for one of their birthdays. It is filled with pens, pencils, watercolours and opens out so they prop up their artwork while they draw. It has provided so much entertainment and the girls decided to do a joint effort picture with watercolours and painting sponges. I wouldn’t have thought to combine the two but they were happy so I let them work away 🙂 It turned out really well. I like the way there is a dividing line down the centre of the page. It reminds me of when my sister and I used to argue and we made a line in the middle of our bedroom so we each had a side 😀

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I finally got a bike rack for the car for the girls’ bikes. We have a little yard at our house where they can only cycle in circles, so they were excited to get out in an open space 🙂 We went to a nearby park which I love because it’s like a secret park – no one ever seems to be there when we use it 🙂 We stayed for a long time and even though it was bitterly cold, the sunshine made it bearable 🙂 I went on the swings for a while too (when I was allowed a break from pushing everyone else.) I noticed some springtime flowers and it cheered me up seeing some colour. It feels like years since there was any colour other than grey 🙂

Afterwards, we went to my mum’s house and the girls continued riding their bikes in their cul de sac. They have a couple of friends they see there sometimes and had a great time playing with them. My mum made them some hot chocolate in cute little cups she got for them and we all warmed up inside. We also saw a frog outside the house which the girls were fascinated by 🙂

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Lollipop Ladies, Seed Sowing and Stall Shopping

I thought I’d share a few things we’ve been doing recently. I’m in budgeting mode at the minute after booking some trips for the summer, so I’m going to be coming up with ways to occupy the kids without spending money 🙂 The Belfast children’s festival is starting next week, so I’ve been going through the programme and circling what I plan to attend with the girls. I find circling things in papers as therapeutic as making lists 🙂

I came across the idea for washi tape dolls online, so decided to try making them with the girls. They are so simple to make and held their attention for a long time. They love sticking decorative tape on anything but with the added dimension of making dolls outfits, they were completely absorbed by it. We had some craft lolly sticks lying about. I just got them in the pound shop. We had tapes I’d collected and stuck them on first as clothes. You just cut them to the shape you want and wrap them around the sticks. Then I used permanent pens to draw faces, hair and features on the clothes. It was a pretty girly activity but you could adapt it for boys, making superheroes with capes, animals, dinosaurs or people they know. I found the pen runs a little when you draw on the wood so it might be easier to stick on white paper for heads and draw on it (if you can be bothered with all that!) You could add wool for hair too if you’re in the mood for it 🙂

 

I recently bought a grow house from B&M for a tenner. My purchase was poorly-timed, considering the weather. I don’t know if anything will cure my off-green fingers, but I thought it’d be a good activity for the girls anyway. We planted tomatoes, herbs and some pansies. They are growing well in their tiny pots on the windowsill, but I guess we will see what happens when we transplant them to larger pots in the garden! The girls love planting things and watching them grow and they’re much better than me at remembering to water things 🙂

I’ve also been trying to give the girls more free play time. Sometimes life can be crammed with too many structured activities and I like to see the creativity they come up with when left to their own devices. This is one of their recent creations.

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Last weekend, we went to a market at the Titanic Hotel with my mum. A lady described her as a vision of colour and I thought that perfectly summed up her outfit 🙂 It was a cool, bright day. You could imagine Spring emerging, even though it was icy cold next to the docks. I had decided before I went in to allow myself to buy hair bows from my favourite bow lady 🙂 I find if I limit myself to one treat I’m less likely to splurge on twenty. My mum kindly treated me to some more bows to add to my collection 🙂 We spotted a coffee stand and grabbed a seat before the place filled up 🙂 It was really good coffee and two pounds a cup. I had thought ahead and brought water and cakes for the girls. Afterwards, we just looked around the other stalls. They have everything from photographs to baked treats. The girls had been given some money from a friend so they bought a bow and a cupcake each. The buns were so cute; they had ones shaped like hamburgers and so much work had gone into them. These are the ones the girls chose. I don’t know how they brought themselves to eat them, but they managed to 🙂

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I love finding markets with free entry that support local artists. It has become a Sunday tradition of mine and my mum’s and the girls enjoy looking around too. I like the fact you have unexpected conversations with people and get inspiration from looking at their lovely artwork 🙂 I always leave them feeling creatively charged and ready to write 🙂

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Half-Term Adventures Part Two

As a continuation of my previous post, I thought I’d share the rest of what we did on our trip to Glasgow over half term.
We met a close friend of mine for dinner and had some chai tea in the flat afterwards. That’s the benefit of renting somewhere so central; you can have a chat there afterwards instead of trying to find somewhere kid-friendly that serves coffee after dinner 🙂 We listened to jazz and played Go Fish, although my kids were too excitable to finish the game!

The next day, we got the subway (or as my daughter calls it “the underground train”) into town. I took the girls to the GOMA (Gallery of modern art.) It’s free entry and helped to counteract the ironic unthriftiness of our holiday so far. We whizzed around the displays, which is typical of my kids. Most visits to museums are a blur until we reach a room with toys or something that holds their interest.
A man who worked there directed us towards the colouring room. I think he could sense my stress at trying to stop them touching the displays 😀 There were pictures of animals on the walls as inspiration and the girls loved drawing animals and having stories on some floor cushions.

Afterwards, we went for a walk around the Merchant City and towards Trongate. I’ve finally reached the stage where aimless walks with kids are becoming enjoyable, and sometimes they spot things I previously wouldn’t have taken under my notice. We went to another vegan restaurant/bar I used to go to and had some hot chocolate to warm up. By that stage there was heavy rain and the kids were complaining about the cold. We were the only ones there since it had just opened and had some vegan hot chocolate with melted dark chocolate in it 🙂 The kids were so grateful for a warm drink that they didn’t stop to fuss about the ingredients 😀

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We ventured outside once the rain had calmed down and visited a vintage shop I used to go to. The lady who owned it was so kind and welcoming towards the girls. She told them to run around the shop if they wanted and she had a Mario leaflet holder that prompted a lot of conversation 🙂

The girls spotted a sweet shop I’d never noticed before. It was like an old fashioned sweet shop with jars of hard sweets, rock and lollipops. They also had random items like rag dolls and funny greetings cards. These ones made me laugh.

The girls chose some lollipops and the lady at the till was kind enough to give them candy canes too 🙂 She also gave them a stern warning about Jack Frost taking their noses, which seems to have stayed with them 😀

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The girls were hungry and I was trying to think of more budget-friendly lunch options, so we went to Subway. They have toasted bites at the minute that are the perfect size for kids and just over a pound each. I like the fact they cater to kids’ tastes too, allowing them to have ham and ketchup if they want it 🙂 It was busy so we took our sandwiches back to the GOMA and sat in a sheltered spot to have our picnic. The girls told me it was their favourite meal of the holiday and there was something really memorable about it.

I had given the girls some “holiday money,” so I took them to Primark to spend it 🙂 I knew they’d find plenty of things they wanted to buy there. They picked out some glitter eyeshadow, an outfit each and bubble-blowing guns 🙂 I found some dresses too 🙂 (which is never a hardship for me.) I came across another shop that I thought had closed down. It sells second hand clothes in good condition. We went inside and I talked to the lady who owned it. I hadn’t see her in about ten years. She had a wooden box with mice inside it to dress up and gave it to the girls to keep them occupied 🙂 We had a long chat and it was so nice to see her again.

By that stage, there were complaints of tired feet so we had some tea and chocolate in the flat to warm up 🙂

There was a shower in our flat which provided much amusement for the girls. They loved lying under it, pretending to swim in the “rain.” It’s funny the way kids always find the simplest things the most entertaining, and remember those moments of holidays more than anything specific to the place.

That night, we got the train to another good friend’s house and it started to snow just after we arrived 🙂 We had Indian takeaway and some drinks. Her husband had made a lovely orange and coconut cake and we had some tea and chatted while the kids played and painted each other’s nails 🙂

We got a taxi back to the flat with the kindest taxi driver I’ve ever encountered 🙂 He put on nursery rhymes for the kids, which kept them happy, singing along on the journey. He had chocolates in a compartment between the front seats and offered the girls some before we got out 🙂

The next day was our last day. I got a coffee and took the girls to the park to use their bubble guns. They had more fun with those than with any more expensive toys we’ve bought 🙂 The weather stayed dry for us while we were there.

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After we checked out of the flat, we got the subway into town again and I took the girls to TGI Fridays for lunch. I find it expensive for what is essentially a diner, but it’s kid-friendly and meant we didn’t have to trail our suitcase around town. The carb-heavy options appeal to my kids too and they gave them little activity packs to complete while we ate.

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I had a quick look at vinyl in Fopp. It’s a shop I used to visit a lot but I noticed the one in the West End has closed down now. Then we met a friend of mine for coffee before we got the airport bus. I’m grateful for the fact my kids love bus and plane journeys because it means the travelling is part of the adventure, and not an unwanted necessity. As soon as we got home, I booked to visit again in the summer. I find that having a trip arranged gives me the required motivation to save money and find budget activities in the meantime 🙂 It’s also something to look forward to on a day when I’m experiencing school run ennui 🙂

Trams, Snow Cones & Salt Painting

If the weather continues to be as wild as it is tonight, I foresee another blog post of activities for children tomorrow 🙂
My daughter finished school early yesterday, so went went to the Ulster Transport museum. It was the quietest I’ve seen it and my kids enjoyed having free rein to climb on the trains, run down the slopes and lust after all the clutter in the gift shop (which we managed not to get.)
We have membership of the Folk and Transport Museum, which costs £60 for the year. I didn’t think that was bad, considering the fact that you could easily spend that on a couple of visits. The girls love seeing the buses and trams and pretending to drive the trains. My favourite part is looking at the 1960’s living room and then hearing the girls liken it to our decor 😀 It was a free visit for us and we had a snack outdoors at the picnic tables. It was blustery, but it’s a good-sized green space for kids to run around and play hide and seek in 🙂 Tea and creme eggs were more satisfying than anything we could have bought in the cafe anyway. I think some exposure to the elements, even in Winter, does your mind good. Returning to the museum reminds me of being a kid and having no phone access. It feels like a reminder of simpler times and a place to switch off from the demands of living a life half-online.

Today, I took the girls to a free screening of Annie at the cinema. I had never seen it before. One of my kids was enthralled by it, the other one fell asleep 😀 For a kids’ musical, it could have been worse 🙂

Afterwards, I took the girls to Morelli’s to have their first snow cones 🙂 I had promised my daughter one a while ago. They loved picking their own syrup and drinking the liquid through a straw. They ended up being incredibly messy, but everything my kids do is messy anyway 😀  I had coffee and tried their warm apple pie. It came with ice-cream and was adorned with lots of chocolate extras that the girls pinched 🙂 It might be my new favourite ice-cream/coffee shop. The atmosphere is really relaxed, it is good value and the staff are so welcoming.

When we got home, I decided to try salt painting with the girls. We had never done it before, so it was a bit of an experiment. You just get some paper and drizzle PVA glue on it in whatever pattern you like. Then, you sprinkle salt over the glue. The girls loved that part and were very thorough about making sure every bit of glue was covered 😀 Then they just painted over it with poster paints. You just gently dab the paint onto the salty glue 🙂 The salt makes it spread out and creates a cool effect. It’s more of an enjoy-the-process type of painting than one to frame. Once it dries out, the effect wears off. But it kept the girls entertained for an hour, which is rare for them 🙂 Afterwards, we did some of what they call “Splat Paintings.“ To avoid getting it all over the walls, you can get kids to dip the brush in paint, hold it horizontally over the page and tap the brush handle to splash paint on the paper rather than shaking it all over the house 🙂 If you layer different colours and keep separate brushes for each one, it looks really pretty when you’re finished.

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i don’t know what we will do tomorrow yet, but I’m mentally preparing myself for some creative projects indoors to minimise the house wrecking/shouting if this storm decides to stick around 🙂

A Holiday Weekend without the Expense

I felt the urge to get out of Belfast last week, so I decided to book a nearby trip for myself and the kids to the countryside. Sometimes I just need to remove myself from my current environment, even if it’s only twenty miles away. I felt like everything was becoming too frantic and we needed some time in nature. So, I booked a little cottage in the middle of nowhere and we went there on Friday.

The drive there was along one of those windy roads that gives you the best views over the hills. We passed the Mournes and they looked blue against the misty sky. I love the evershifting skies in that area. They look like they’re painted in watercolours and even when they’re grey they aren’t just bleak, heavy grey; they are swirled with every shade of it. I think fields in south Down have a special shade of green too, and looking at them calms my mind.

When we got to the cottage, it was already growing dark and the hosts had lit the fire in the wood burning stove for us. One benefit to being a single parent is being able to rent tiny one bedroom places to stay and space not being an issue 🙂 (apart from when hyperactivity takes hold of my kids.)

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There were fields surrounding the cottage and the only sound outside was the bleating of sheep. My kids went to befriend the sheep and lambs and ran around in the grass. Afterwards, they watched a film and I had brought pizza so they could have their pizza and a movie Friday tradition 🙂 When they went to sleep, I had some wine and wrote for hours in pure peace. A fire is on my wish list now; I think it was my favourite thing about the whole trip 🙂

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The next day, we went into Newcastle and the kids collected rocks to paint at home. I want to start rock painting with them and hiding them for people to find 🙂 They played in the playground and had ice cream. It was strangely quiet for a Saturday. Maybe the cold weather put people off, or we just get up earlier than sensible people do, but it was the best time of the year for a holiday there.

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Afterwards, we went to Tollymore forest park. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid and the girls enjoyed doing the trail and “map reading.” 🙂 We brought a picnic so we didn’t have to buy food. The kids were building their own dens with branches, climbing on fallen trees and making “wishes” by throwing pine cones into the river 🙂 The stepping stones arrived at just the right moment, when everyone was starting to complain. Climbing across them was interesting since I had to carry one child whilst helping the other one across 😀 Surprisingly, we didn’t fall in, which is something that typically happens to me in such situations.

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I love how tranquil it is there and how you can just get lost in the woods. Those tall, lean trees really remind me of Northern Michigan too 🙂 The girls went to the adventure playground and played with their new friends, climbed trees and chatted about their lives. The day felt the same as it did the last time I was there in the nineties 🙂

When it was getting dark, I took the girls back into Newcastle and we went to a chip shop. When we eat out, I try not to order more than I know the kids will eat. You can always order more if you need to and it cuts back on the expense of eating out. Afterwards, we went to the old fashioned sweet shop where they measure out sweets in paper bags. The girls discovered their love for midget gems and slept the soundest that night that they had in a long time. I think the miles we walked and the sea air cured their insomniac tendencies 🙂

On Sunday, we to Castlewellan Forest Park. They charge five pounds to park in the car park, but you could spend the whole day there if you wanted to. They have lots of outdoor activities you can do if you are that way inclined. We went to the peace maze and got lost in it. (I have a terrible sense of direction even on non-mazelike trails.) The kids enjoyed trying to find their way out. Apparently if you make it to the centre of it, there is a bell to ring, but we were in it for half an hour and ended up back at the entrance 😀 There is a wooden playground next to it where the girls climbed and burned off some energy. The grounds seem to be very expansive. There are mountain bike trails and different long walks you can follow. We walked part of the way around the lake, before we surrendered to the cold and had our picnic back at the car 🙂

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On the way home, we stopped for a Brennan’s ice cream. I’m not even a fan of vanilla ice-cream, but it might be my favourite ice-cream in Northern Ireland. They sell it in a couple of service stations near Newcastle and it is better value than most ice-cream shops in the town. We used to go there when I was a kid so the nostalgia probably makes it taste better too 🙂

It’s strange how a couple of days in a different place can reset your brain and make everything at home look fresh again. I’m almost not even dreading tackling the laundry.

A Weekend of Watching the World

This post is a bit of a latecomer, but I’ve been editing a book this week and it’s taking up most of my time. I spent most of last weekend absorbing what was happening around us, in a bit of a daze. Sometimes I just need a break from running around and being busy to give new ideas a chance to grow.

My daughter is really interested in making clay creatures at the minute. We found some air-drying clay in the pound shop and she’s been creating things with it. I also got some plasticine without giving her any instruction and she cut it into thin strips and made a rainbow and mermaid using that technique. I like seeing what ideas kids come up with without adult interference. I also picked up a kids’ book from the library about growing things and learning to cook. The gardening basics are suitable for me, considering my lack of luck with keeping plants alive 🙂 I’ve also been planning on teaching my kids some basic recipes. We have always baked together but I like the idea of them learning how to cook simple things without much help.

My older daughter had an event at her school one evening. so I used it as an opportunity to take my younger one on an ice cream date. She ordered a Peppa pig milkshake and we sat at the window, watching the activity in the street. It made me realise we don’t go out together much after dinner time because she was intrigued by people out and about after dark 🙂 I think it’s important teaching kids how to sit in contemplation and wonder about things. They don’t get enough down time anymore, and observing the world or sitting with nothing to fill the void teaches them how to handle boredom and to come up with creative ideas of their own. We sat for a long time and I had some ice cream mixed with white chocolate 🙂 The shop has recently come under new management and they have snow cones, which I don’t think I’ve seen before in Northern Ireland.

On Sunday, we went to the Chinese New Year celebrations at the Ulster Hall. The hall was decorated with parasols and lanterns and bunting. The event only cost £2 per person and it lasted for two hours and was composed of dances from all different cultures. As well as Chinese dragons, drumming, martial arts, gentle traditional dance with parasols and ethereal costumes with sleeves longer than wedding dress trains, there was break dancing, a man who juggled hats and caught them with his head and Irish and Ulster Scots dancing (I didn’t know that was a thing.) I was surprised how long the girls sat still for, rapt. I think the live music and dancing held their attention far longer than a film or dialogue-based show would. I found that it helped me switch off and forced us to be in the moment, which was needed after the hectic week we’d had. The girls think everything is an adventure when we take the Glider to get there anyway.

Afterwards, I just made fakeaway pizza for our family. I’ve noticed that if I’m preoccupied or my mind is too much elsewhere, kneading dough helps to slow everything down. My kids always want to help too. I guess it’s like play doh on a grand scale. This weekend I’m considering planning some nature-related outings, to allow us some headspace and time to absorb more ideas from the world around us, and just to get some mental rest since physical rest with kids is never an option 🙂