Finding Quiet Moments in a Busy World

Now that the madness of Christmas has been replaced by the madness of the school run, I find it just as necessary to find moments of tranquility around us. It feels like the world is always hurrying along, and I want to intentionally take time outside the rush to observe things and stop us missing what is important.

Based on my  mum’s recommendation, on my daughter’s last day off preschool, I took her to an asian supermarket. It has a cafe upstairs that serves bubble tea. This is a drink I search far and wide for, and every time I finally locate a premises that sells it, it closes down. I must be one of the few people for whom tapioca floating in tea sounds appetising (or other people haven’t discovered how much fun it is to drink – it’s like tea and chewing gum in one.) I had one of these while my daughter was adventurous and tried guava juice (before loudly expressing her distaste for it, but at least she tried it :)) We also tried a green scone that was coated in coconut. I always like to try new foods and purposely choose whatever sounds the weirdest to see if I like it. It was a drizzly and depressing Monday that epitomised the January feeling for me, and finding the cafe with all its interesting decor and wall hangings brightened the day up. We sat at the window, overlooking what was likely-a queue of enraged road users, chatting and enjoying our last Christmas holiday moments together. Afterwards, we looked around the supermarket to see what unusual items we could find. I didn’t know how to cook half of them, but my daughter enjoyed trying to identify them all and making me aware of where the sweets were, in case I had failed to notice.

I’ve been trying to spend plenty of time outdoors with the girls, even in lower temperatures. We went to a local park and followed it with a walk on a woodland trail they have there. They have little wooden animals hidden in the woods for children to find, fairy houses, wishing trees and wood carvings. I got an intro to the joys of the teenage years when my daughter complained about us having to go for a walk for the first time, but sitting on a throne and riding on the back of a pretend badger soon cured that. I like the message on the throne – it reads “when it rains, look for rainbows, when it’s dark, looks for stars.”

 

There is a library near our house that I make a point of visiting every week with my kids. It has a whole downstairs dedicated to children’s books, a miniature soft play-type area and a colouring table. It seems to be underused, but the staff are so friendly and the librarian often has coffee, juice and biscuits for the adults and kids. I like the fact that we don’t feel any pressure to hurry up and get out and that there is such a warm welcome every time we go in. My kids also enjoy their bedtime story event, they hold lego mornings and other craft activities. I love finding hidden and underpopulated events that are creative and cheap to attend 🙂

Apart from that, I have been making a point of finding writing time, lighting candles, listening to music and allowing creativity to come at its own pace.

A Peaceful Start to the New Year

Today, we had a slow start to the day. I lit my candles and put on Ella Fitzgerald while the kids played with their reusable sticker books they got for Christmas. I did some batch cooking and used my slow cooker for dinner. I’d decided even though it was just the three of us, I’d make a New Years dinner. My granny used to always make a big dinner for our family on New Years Day and I miss that celebration, so I want to recreate it on a smaller scale with my kids. I kept the girls busy with making breadcrumbs for the stuffing. They really enjoyed doing it and it is simple enough they can do it without interference (plus, it is time-consuming – my favourite kind of kids’ activity :)) I made pork in the slow cooker and homemade apple sauce (which is so easy to make.) it’s a good way to use up apples when they are past their best. I just cooked apples I had peeled and diced with some brown sugar and water on a low heat for a long time until they were caramelised.
In the afternoon, once my kids started pulling the furniture apart and play fighting, I was in desperate need of some fresh air and an open space, so I took them to a nearby park at the seafront. It was bitterly cold, but the girls didn’t seem to notice and played with some friends/made some new ones and I got some time to reflect while I watched the sea.

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The hotel is at the top of a drive and overlooks the water. We chose a good day to go there because there was a harpist playing all afternoon. The girls were fascinated by it and the music really calmed them down (which was needed.) We sat near the open fire and had some coffee and shortbread (and pineapple juice for the girls.) It wasn’t any more expensive than if we had gone to a coffee shop and was something a bit different and felt special. It almost felt like a civilised outing with children until the girls started fishing for ice cubes in their glasses with their fingers and eating them 🙂

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When we got home, the girls watched a film while I prepared the rest of the dinner. I like any excuse to adorn the table with festive candles and to use my wine glass charms, so the girls had Schloer in matching glasses and got to be grown up 🙂 We finished the Christmas pudding, played Pick Up Sticks and Snakes and Ladders and ate chocolates. I even had the “pleasure” of listening to my kids’ keyboard playing jingle bells on repeat as background music while we ate…
I like taking parts of old traditions and adding them to our own ideas to make new oneswith the girls and this was a simple but memorable start to the new year 🙂 

Gingerbread Decorating and Wintery Walks

Today I took my kids to Rowallane Gardens. They had a gingerbread decorating event on for kids in the cafe (which is on again tomorrow from 11am until 2pm for anyone that is interested.)
Before we went to the cafe, we walked around the grounds and made some Christmas decorations out of twigs and wool. There are a lot of natural displays around Rowallane (most of the Christmas decorations are handmade or made from found objects.) I found it therapeutic tying twigs together, and it made me think maybe we should try making more of our own decorations next year. The girls enjoyed copying the “how to draw a Christmas tree” picture that was there. They often change the indoor and outdoor activities for kids to match the seasons.

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We went for a walk around the walled garden, which was stripped back and bare looking with the loss of flowers. But it still makes a good hide and seek spot for kids. I was surprised by how tranquil it was there. Maybe the key is to arrive earlier than anyone else can be bothered going out at Christmas time 🙂 We were (almost) the only ones walking in the gardens and it was crisp and refreshing in the quiet winter air.

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At the barn, there is a big Connect Four and giant Jenga. It is conveniently located next door to a second hand bookshop I like to slip into 🙂 They have a good selection of different genres of books and there is an honesty box for payment. They have added a few children’s books too. The shop was dressed up with Christmas puddings painted onto chopped wood and crocheted snowflakes.

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There is a stile my kids like to repeatedly climb over and a little car made out of a tree trunk that they pretend to drive. There is also a natural playground, but we didn’t make it that far today. I noticed the bright red berries on the holly, the sun hanging low in the sky, and the carpet of acorn casings, and it all did my mind good.

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When complaints of tired legs started, we went inside to the warmth so the girls could decorate their gingerbread while I had a quiet coffee, a mince pie and a half-read 🙂 I had thought about venturing into soft play today as a quick way to tire my kids out, but I was glad we went to somewhere natural instead. Fresh air, the contrast of coffee steam and cold fingers and watching my kids cram as many smarties as they could fit onto one baked good was better for my soul today.

 

Cheap Cosy Days & Comfort Food

There has been a bit of a heatwave this week and I’ve been walking the girls to school every day. I find that starting the day with fresh air and sunlight starts me off in a better mood. I’ve been enjoying the mornings when my kids are in school and nursery and using them as an opportunity to write.
In between this, I’m trying to save money for a short trip at Halloween, so I’m finding ways to treat ourselves without spending money when I can avoid it.

When we aren’t outdoors, I have to come up with ideas to draw my kids away from the lure of the TV. Cooking always seems to work with my younger one. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the house, cook from scratch and avoid unnecessary trips to the shops.

I discovered a health food shop near us that I had never been to before. They sell fruit and veg boxes. For £13.50 you get about a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables. It helps with meal planning, because it gives you something to sketch recipes around. We also tried their sourdough bread. It was the most expensive load of bread I’ve ever bought but it was the nicest I’ve had too. I like supporting local businesses and it stops me spending money as thoughtlessly.

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Here are some alternatives to overspending I’ve used this week:

  • Set up a writing/crafts/colouring station at your kitchen table. Add candles and soft music to make it feel more like a cafe. Make yourself fancy toast and real coffee and enjoy having peace to create something.
    Bake snacks and breakfast options for the week. We made some cheesy biscuits for snacks and pear granola, adapted from a recipe at Surprisingly, my daughter has been requesting granola every morning from breakfast since. I think she finds it more appealing because she helped to make it.

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  • Make warming meals like stew and casserole. It’s a good way to use up root veg and leftover portions of meat you have in the freezer. Billie Holiday has become my cooking music recently, and it almost feels like a form of therapy.

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  • Walk when you can to save on petrol. There is a garden my kids want to stop at every day, filled with flowers and cartoon characters. If you break up the walk with things of interest along the way, kids don’t notice the length of the walk as much. We also stopped one day at a local ice cream shop. Kids in school uniforms can get a £1 scoop on certain days of the weeks.
  • Explore your local area on foot. Bring some change with you so you can buy something from the bakery, get a book from the library or buy a bunch of flowers. It feels like you are treating yourself without putting yourself into debt 🙂

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Hands and Happiness

I’ve realised lately how much happiness it brings me making things with my hands. If your brain and hands are engaged together, it means everything else shuts off and it quietens life down. Even with writing I find that to be the case. You are mentally and physically focussed on what you’re doing and unable to think of anything else. This week has been busy, between kids, school runs, writing two books, socialising and I even attended a rally. When your schedule is busy, I think it’s important to offset that with downtime. So, I have made this morning and this afternoon a time of rest and a time to reconnect with my kids and with what I want in life.

I’m always juggling too many ideas in my head of projects I want to start and there are never enough hours in the day to do them all. I have had a dress pattern sitting cut out for weeks and I still haven’t found the time to use any fabric. I wanted to make time for arts and making jewellery, but I’ve been writing 4000 words a day, and that doesn’t time for much else.

While I was helping my kids make cards today, I realised how essential it is to make time for creative hobbies that don’t require a lot of brainpower. I was cutting out pictures from magazines so they could use them to cover cards and I found the process of cutting things out and looking for pictures soothing. It has made me think about taking up scrapbooking, in addition to everything else I’ve planned to do!
Sometimes I think it is just as important to schedule in relaxation as it is chores. I could clean my house constantly and it would always look the same, or I can sit down and do something creative for half of that time and have something to show for it at the end. It’s essential for your mental health to just sit and do nothing sometimes, or if you have a mind as annoyingly active as mine, close to nothing.
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Creating Calm with Kids

Today I needed a calm day. I realise that the idea of calm is incongruous with having kids, but I decided that I would try to balance the day out with activities for my kids and activities for me, to get the closest feeling to calm that I could. The last few days have been exhausting. My daughter had to get her bandage changed on her broken finger in hospital and the next morning, it fell off and the doctor refused to see her, so we had to go back to the hospital. On top of that, my other daughter came down with a vomiting bug the night before, and none of us had had any sleep. After days like that, I need to retreat and go into hibernation mode when they are over. I knew my daughter would be off school today – she’s at the stage where she is back to her normal self, but too contagious to be allowed to go in. So, we did some simple art projects and baked.

First, the girls painted pasta tubes. We left them to dry so they can thread them onto necklaces later. You can also use PVA glue as a varnish to put on top of the paint. It stretches out the pasta necklaces activity for longer. For boys that don’t want to make necklaces, you could make pasta snakes instead and thread them on pipe cleaners.
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Then, we made dried food collages. Sometimes if we don’t have card, I cut up old cereal boxes and they use them instead. It works better than paper for gluing solid items. I just set out plates with dry beans, lentils, rice, seeds, oats, etc. You get the kids to draw a large picture and then fill in the different parts of it with whatever they like. You can also do this with cut-up coloured paper, fabric remnants or string painted with a mixture of glue and paint. This activity took more than an hour and the girls didn’t get bored with it – which is rare for them 🙂 A word of warning – the clean up took a while, but it was less painful than I’d expected it to be.
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The girls watched a film for a while and I got an opportunity to have a cup of tea and write. I think it’s important to squeeze in time for your own things when you’re with kids all day. If you never get time to yourself, it’s easy to get snappy!

We made some easy shortbread. It was just three ingredients and we tried some new cookie cutters we hadn’t used before. They have cut out parts so you can balance them on the rim of a teacup. I made some babyccinos and a vanilla latte for myself and then allowed TV time again so I could drink it and write uninterrupted. It reenergises me, so when I do something else with my kids I’m able to focus more on them. Jazz helped us survive the day in the house too. I’m convinced that it cuts down on the number of squabbles over toys and creates a calmer atmosphere.

It can be hard to treat yourself as a stay at home mum, but I think the things that work best for me are taking time out in the kitchen, listening to music, lighting scented candles and wax melts, making coffee-shop style coffee, squeezing in short times to write, read or draw. You can colour alongside your kids too if you get an adult colouring book. I like using the kids as an excuse to bake too so I have freshly-baked treats 🙂 There is a youtuber I like watching called “Coffee with Kate.” She makes videos about her simple lifestyle and the creative things she does. My daughter likes watching it too, because she does cooking videos and has two children. Finding something you like to watch that your kids enjoy too is a good way to attend to your need for a break while they’re awake 🙂 At the moment, our house is a dump, and I’m just letting it go, because being with my kids and sitting drinking coffee in the midst of the mess are more important today.

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Garden Blackberry Picking

I never used to notice much around me, but I’ve been making a conscious effort to observe my surroundings the last few years. I tend to get lost in my thoughts and forget to pay attention to things. If you’re having a hard time and getting stuck in your own mind, it’s good to take some time to notice the simple things around you. A few days ago, I was walking outside in my mum-trance to put something in the bin. Then I noticed in the hedges in my garden that there were lots of blackberries growing. I got the girls to help me pick them, which they loved. They devoured them in seconds and seemed to enjoy them more because of the novelty of picking them themselves. I was really excited because I usually successfully end the life of every plant in my vicinity. I have a strawberry plant that has only produced two strawberries this summer, so that made up for our strawberry drought. (Unless my kids are eating them without my awareness.) Sometimes when you’re racing around, trying to do too much, it’s worth taking the time to slow down or sit with a cup of tea in the garden and not to allow yourself to think thoughts other than observational ones about your surroundings. If you don’t, you might miss something small that makes your day salvageable.