A Holiday at Home

Last week, I took the girls away for a few days to Rostrevor. I’d never stayed there before and I hadn’t expected the panoramic views. We had a few foggy drives through what looked like images of nineteenth century Ireland. When we got there, we went to Kilbroney Park. As with everywhere we go, the playground was the main attraction for the girls. After they played (and I started to feel time standing still!) we went for a long walk to the bottom of the hill where we found the Fairy Glen. It is a little walk beside a river and its name comes from folklore that claims fairies emerged there at night time to dance. It was a peaceful walk and the girls enjoyed watching the little waterfalls and the river running. It didn’t have any added features to it, but there was something about the lighting and the water that made it seem a little magical. People in the town had made a painted rock snake that anyone in the community could add to. The girls loved stopping to look at all the designs on them. They were particularly taken with a family of ladybirds.

Later, we drove to Warrenpoint and walked along the promenade. It was a bright day and Carlingford Lough was beautiful. The girls love watching boats now, even when they aren’t going anywhere 🙂 We walked along the rocky beach and then found a spot of sand for them to play with their buckets and spades. Afterwards, we walked to a Victorian park. The gardens are really well kept and the girls always love anywhere with a bandstand to dance on 🙂 There was a playground there too. It started to feel like our holiday was a tour of Northern Ireland’s playgrounds 🙂 After constant walking and playing, I tried to get the girls to sit down on a bench and look at the flowers and appreciate just sitting doing nothing. It didn’t really work, but I’m going to keep trying anyway 🙂 They ended up getting up and sniffing each of the flowers to see if it had a scent, which I decided was just as valuable.

The timing of our trip was good because it meant that we could use the Eat out to help out scheme. We went to an Italian restaurant and the girls ate all the seafood toppings on my pizza 🙂 No matter where we go to, they seem to order chicken goujons and then pinch the parts of other people’s meals they like 🙂

The next day, we did the Narnia Trail at Kilbroney Park. They have a treasure hunt for kids and you start by walking into the wardrobe and finding different carvings from the story along the way.

We drove to the upper car park and did the short hike to the Big Stone at the top. The views were amazing and even after complaints from my daughter about sore legs, she said it was her favourite thing from our trip 🙂

The following day, I took the girls into Warrenpoint again. It was raining heavily all day, but we just worked round the weather. They were sad to see that the children’s bookshop they wanted to go to wasn’t open that day. But the window display was enough to entertain them for a little while. Sometimes I think kids like looking as much as they like buying, because as soon as they do, the items are forgotten about 🙂 I think even as an adult it’s good to have things to wish for. It gives you something to work towards and motivates you to save.

The girls spotted a little sit-in bakery, so we went inside for a drink. They had chocolate covered gingerbread men. We also found a little clothes shop for the girls to spend their pocket money in. They found jewellery for £5 each and clip on earrings, so that kept them happy 🙂

We returned to the Narnia Trail since the girls enjoyed it so much. Afterwards we called into the cafe at the park for mini ice lollies/coffee and got all of them for £3 again 🙂 I’m enjoying the fact you can eat out so cheaply at the minute. Even if it’s just a cup of coffee, it makes a big difference.

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We did a little tour of the village on foot. They have lines of poetry displayed on the walls and it’s like a treasure hunt finding them all 🙂 We came across a cute bookshop. Unfortunately it wasn’t open, but I would like to return to see it. The shops seem to have limited opening hours. I don’t know if that’s because of the virus or because there is just a more laid back vibe to that part of the country 🙂

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On our last night there, we had dinner in the hotel and then went for a walk in the Fairy Glen since it had brightened up outside. The girls seemed to slow down and take time to look at views more and the river running by the end of the holiday. I think the break did their busy minds good, and it did mine good too 🙂

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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 🙂

Half-Term Adventures Part One

During the half-term holidays, I took the girls to Glasgow for a few days. I used to live there and it’s my favourite place to visit with them. It’s a special place to me because it’s where I spent my early adult years and I have a filtered version of living there in my mind that only captures the good times 🙂

We started our trip with breakfast and magazines in the airport. I’ve decided kids’ magazines and activity books are a lifesaver when it comes to travelling or eating out. My kids don’t have iPads so I need something to hold their attention and keep them in their seats during periods of waiting 🙂

I love the fact that the flight to Glasgow only takes twenty-five minutes, so there isn’t time for kids to get bored and torment other passengers 🙂 We stayed in an Airbnb in the West End, near where I used to live.

On our first day there, we went for lunch in a pizza place. We discovered it on one of our visits and the pizzas are all under ten pounds 🙂 We also visited an ice cream and churros shop. I love the churro bites with Biscoff 🙂 The girls spotted a kids’ clothes shop they love. Sadly, one dress costs more than their entire wardrobe combined, so they just stare wistfully through the glass and make me feel like they’re deprived 😀 The exterior of the shop is decorated with little clear globes containing objects that look like toys, so the girls were mesmerised by them too.

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We arrived the day of storm Dennis and some other flights had been cancelled so we were lucky to get there 🙂 We did a lot of walking around. It’s strange how much a city can change in only a few years. The deli where I used to work had closed down and so many new businesses have opened up that the streets are barely recognisable in parts. For some reason, when we visit Glasgow, my kids are happy to walk for miles, but at home they aren’t keen on even walking to school 🙂 

We called into Waterstones and the girls loved looking at the cheap plastic toys… just the reason you’d call into a bookshop! They got some dinosaur finger puppets and I got some vinyl coasters 🙂 I don’t know if it’s because the girls are getting older, but they are suddenly interested in exploring cities and rummaging through items in shops. (Well, maybe they always enjoyed the second part.)

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I love the style of the buildings in Glasgow and the little lanes that are dotted around the place. I discovered a new Vietnamese restaurant I’d like to try in one of them 🙂 Apparently you can select an option where the chef serves you surprise dishes so you don’t have to decide what to order.

When our feet were getting tired and we were still waiting to check in, we retreated to a tea house I used to spend a lot of time in. It was a different experience as a student to how it is with kids! But as long as I plan ahead and bring toys, the girls enjoy it too 🙂 There is an area where you can sit in a little “zen room” on cushions on the floor. I had some chai tea and the girls opted for apple juice. They tried my tea, but declared it “too spicy.” At least, for once, I didn’t have to share 🙂

On our second day there, I took the girls for a walk in the Kelvingrove park. I’m convinced their sense of direction is already better than mine (which wouldn’t be hard.) They bounded ahead of me towards the playground, like they knew exactly where it was. I love the way the novelty of a new playground keeps kids occupied for so long. They were more taken by it than any tourist attractions I could have taken them to. There is a duck pond and they spent a long time watching the ducks and bemoaning the fact we didn’t have food for them.


Afterwards, we walked to the museum and spent a long time there. We saw the famous bobbing heads and the elephant 🙂 There are more interactive exhibits than I’d remembered there being. The girls enjoyed playing with the dressing up box and the bed. I think it was there so they could act out scenes of sleeping princesses  (minus the sleeping :))

For once, I actually got a chance to read some of the descriptions on the paintings. There were a couple of games for kids to play in the art gallery too. They could assemble faces, changing the eyes, noses and mouths, and stick magnetic objects onto a background to recreate a painting in the gallery.

After our visit to the museum, we went to a vegan bar/restaurant for lunch. The fire was lit, along with pillar candles and it was a lovely contrast to the wild weather outside. I took advantage of the fact I didn’t have to drive and had a flavoured cider 🙂 The girls unknowingly ate vegetarian chicken nuggets 🙂 They usually detect every small change to what they normally eat, so that felt like dietary progress 🙂 We sat for a long time. The chill-out music definitely settles my kids and they coloured in pictures of flowers the waitress had brought them 🙂 The pub used to be my local and they had jazz and dub nights I went to. It’s bittersweet visiting the city now that life is so different, but I think visiting it with my kids eases any sadness it might bring with it. Creating new memories with them, alongside seeing old friends makes the place all the more special.

I will continue the rest of what we did on our trip in another post 🙂

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.