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.

EAFC1961-9B28-419C-8F9D-BF14CC1C055682D93F13-E6E1-48B3-AFC7-0AFB685F31F6D41CCF8F-6649-4674-8F5C-D695E0CB7883

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 Week of Fairs, Workshops & Rock Painting

This week has been busy; so much so that I haven’t had time to record anything on here. I always find my blog posts dwindle on the days my kids are at school since that leaves less time for adventures 🙂

Today, we went to Frock Around the Clock at Belfast Castle. It’s a vintage/handmade market that is held in different venues in Northern Ireland. I think Belfast Castle is my favourite spot for it because it feels grand and regal inside and goes with the feel of the market. There are also lots of little side rooms to sip your coffee in when you want to escape the crowds.
It was a day that couldn’t really decide what weather it wanted to have. We arrived in mist, got caught in a rain shower and left in sunshine, but the views were spectacular and it made me realise I need to make more effort to visit the Cavehill and walk the trails with the girls.

I had a non-thrifty day and made a few too many purchases today, but when items are handmade and unique, I find it hard to resist 🙂 There was a lady that made her own preserves and I got some apple butter and tried some of her pumpkin marmalade. It sounds a strange combination but worked really well 🙂 I find that markets are bearable with kids as long as you intersperse shopping with snack breaks and find food stalls/crafts that interest them. 

9A7888B8-5231-4CCE-8AF4-CA40944D81BC

There was a lady who had made miniature book necklaces. They had pages that turn and little pressed flowers stuck between the leaves. I bought one that was a poetry collection from Whitman. It has tiny print inside and even gold edged pages 🙂

The girls were happy to find some homemade, heart-shaped Jammie Dodgers. Food always saves the day when they are getting restless. There were so many stalls and interesting people to talk to that we spent hours there. My kids discovered their distaste for dark chocolate (but everything is an experience:)) I wanted to buy everything at this stall.

E1D3C71B-A48D-47EC-ADD8-79F0851E8F72

After having coffee and a final look around, we went outside to explore the grounds. The girls were taken by the water fountain and insisted on dropping coins in it and making wishes. There were tiled pictures of cats and little cat statues that gave a friendly feel to the place. I didn’t remember seeing them before. I love the views from the castle. It feels like you’re on your own special floor above the city. Watching the palm trees in the breeze really soothes my mind. I’ve been noticing lately I get much more irritable if I haven’t had fresh air. I can’t seem to spend an entire day cooped up in the house without feeling like my head is getting unhealthy. So, I’m going to make a point to get outside for a walk every day. It does the girls as much good as it does me. This gothic staircase provided more entertainment for my kids than any other kid-oriented activity could 🙂

At the fair, we ended up joining the Woodland Trust. I hadn’t thought to visit any of the forests before, but I’m always happy to uncover less frequented places to walk. They send out activity packs for kids based on their age and I’m going to make the effort this year to visit places we’ve never been to before. I want to spend some time teaching my kids about nature so they can recognise types of trees, flowers etc (and so I can too!)

Yesterday, I took the girls to the cinema for the free screening of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I brought my own coffee and sweets for the kids to save on the expense of snacks. I booked the workshop for after the film which is £3 per child. I expected it to be a bit thrown together but it was well organised and hilarious 🙂 It was run by an actor who does workshops with kids and he joked around and got everyone in the room involved in pretending props were different objects, mime, freeze frames and creating scenes. Usually that type of thing would be my worst nightmare but it was done humorously and was well worth the money 🙂

E00D7F06-E25C-4331-9DA6-E6ED0B2C8F88

This week, we also had one sick day where both kids stayed at home. They were that level of sick that still requires busyness! So, we spent the day painting and cooking. We painted the rocks the girls had collected on our “holiday” last weekend. I just use a big piece of paper as a paint palette when we are using lots of different colours and separate paintbrushes for each colour. I find it results in less mixing and muddy colour combinations 🙂

We’ve had a busy week, between our outings, artistic endeavours and my new book being published, but it has been inspiring too and has given me plenty of ideas for future blog posts 🙂

 

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.

8DBFFE65-5AD7-4827-9ABA-1FA5AE4F1095.png

0B097C3D-09E5-4A17-8BA3-A042B1FDC787.pngBy the time we left, I couldn’t feel my hands from the cold and it felt like we should be following it with sitting in front of an open fire. There is a hotel on the same road that has pretty Christmas decorations. I always mourn the loss of Christmas lights, so I wanted to make the most of them before they disappear 🙂 

A8165A24-73BD-4D08-9CD7-604E56D8A867.png

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 🙂

0F1235F5-B532-456E-B606-24F446573E06

981C2AF0-67E1-4FEC-BE9C-4CD97E8DDBCF.png

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.

EFC6E5FF-4BE1-4314-964C-7C1A26070AD8.png

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.

47089DB4-5C46-422C-9AB9-A174557D1FA4.png

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.

C216855A-E40F-4ECB-8313-E743B4F8E74C.png

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.

D3D98FB3-D845-4C4A-B00E-7F49194516E8.png

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.

0A66C8A3-2851-4F11-95AD-903AD0EB005F

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.

DDF51A9D-1192-456C-B38D-DE3FA4AB96D3

  • 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.

11A06454-6260-43F2-86CE-AAC96AF4E7B1

  • 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 🙂

F31E17DB-39F7-49A0-82B6-9B630A5A6AE8

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.
6C056F86-AF0F-479E-9039-D57EEB4BF4D8

141BC7BA-4E19-4803-800C-37EBD79A1CEE