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.

Updates from the Inside

I feel the need to create something slow-moving and thoughtful to work against the fast-paced media bombardment we’re experiencing at the minute. I’ve been trying to find the right balance between staying informed and staying sane, and because I’m empathic, I find it important to have times of rest where I fill myself with inspiration rather than negative news.

I spent the day indoors with the girls and explained everything that’s happening to them in child’s terms. They listened (for a minute) and then asked if we could do salt painting again, so we did that, and I did a picture of my own 🙂 I find doing physical things that employ your hands settles my mind down when it’s getting overactive and realised the importance of not just being an instructor or observer, but of joining in with the fun when my kids do crafts 🙂 I’d recommend salt painting for adults too – just sitting dabbing paint on the page and watching it move along the little channels of glue and salt soothes your mind.

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After the wild weather collapsed my little pop-up grow house (!) I got a window box for the plants I’m trying to grow (special emphasis on the “trying.”) My tomatoes and coriander have actually sprouted  and watching them get taller each day fills me with happiness. I think I might need to thin out my chives as they’re looking a bit straggly, but it’s all part of the learning curve 🙂 and with gardening, I never make my way out of the curve and onto the straight line 🙂

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I’ve been thinking of ways to use up the food we have and to make things last longer so we don’t have to make needless trips to the shops. I stretched out leftover sausages by slicing them up and making a variation on hot dogs 🙂 It was the bribery I used to get the girls to eat my homemade soup. I had made a carrot and ginger one and a plain lentil one for my fussier eater. She announced she’d “changed her mind” about liking it midway through her bowl though :/ This new way of life that we have all had to adopt is already making me slow down and think of ways to use leftovers/keep meal plans interesting 🙂 I love these little sort of challenges 🙂

The girls wanted to dance, so I put on some records and it ended up being a work-out for me too 🙂 Their favourite game at the minute is making me slide them on the floor between my legs 😀 It’s exhausting and results in lots of squealing, which I’m sure my neighbours aren’t thanking me for 🙂

We had some milk and cookies (coffee for me) and played Guess Who. My younger daughter is very pro-women at the minute and sighs loudly if she is presented with a card that has a “boy” on it. It’s a bit of a giveaway as to what she has, but at least she’s showing interest is doing something that involves sitting down for once 🙂
4EDA16DC-960B-44DF-8041-119C35C327D8We played hairdressers and I had to sit on a kid’s chair while my daughter put fifty-seven bows in my hair and put some strain on my scalp 🙂 But the resulting hairdressing photos made it worth it 🙂 I’ve almost become so desperate for a massage that having my hair pulled out almost feels like a day in the spa 🙂

This enforced social distancing has already made me slow down, keep in touch more with friends and see what is truly important. An opportunity to over-listen to music and find new bands is always a treat for me too 🙂 I even got around to fixing one of my favourite necklaces I got in Camden Market with my jewellery wirework tools. (It took two minutes to fix and I had put it off for months :)) It turns out there are some benefits to being stuck in the house if you just take the time to look around and find them.

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Small Thoughts to Make You Smile

I felt the need to write a positive post today. I like to reflect upon the good things that have happened in each individual day in spite of what is going on around us and it feels particularly needed at the moment.

One of my daughters was off school today for exceptional closure and the other was in preschool, so I got to spend some quality time with my older daughter. We are rarely alone together and it was strangely calm without my little whirlwind there 🙂 We were glad to welcome her back at pick-up though.

I wore my most vivid outfit to counteract the darkness surrounding us 🙂 We took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked to my daughter’s school. It was eerily quiet with the primary schools closed, but the sky was an amazing shade of blue and it was nice to bypass all the usual traffic. I took some pictures of how peaceful and blue-skied the morning was.

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I’ve decided to make greater effort to support local businesses. I tend to go through phases of doing so and then I return to a shop where I can buy everything in one place. So, we went to a local butchers and fruit shop. It was a good opportunity to use the cute fabric vegetable bags I got from a market a while ago 🙂 The fruit looks so much fresher and my daughter enjoyed selecting fruit and veg and putting them in our bags 🙂 I also got taking to a lady in a queue, which wouldn’t ordinarily happen when you’re rushing around a major supermarket. I’ve decided to just go with the flow and embrace a simpler way of life for now. Not everything about our fast-paced living is a positive thing and I think some time for meditation could do us a lot of good, mentally.

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My daughter and I had a coffee date in Tim Hortons. (She requested it and I decided she’d more than earned it after the miles of the walking.)  She loves gingerbread men and I was amazed that she finished it and her entire cup of hot chocolate before I’d even finished my coffee 🙂 Of course, we had to sit on the highest stools there.

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This evening, I’ve been writing and thinking of recipes and ideas I can share in the coming weeks. I brought out my old cure for sadness tonight – wine and Percy Pigs 🙂 I’ve been limiting the amount of time I spend reading the news and taking the  time to listen to dreamy music, light candles and fill my world at home with things to feed my soul.

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Stopping to Look at the Sky

My daughter was sent home sick from school last Friday and before that, I’d been running around a lot. It forced me to slow down and spend some time in our house. Sometimes I’m so busy driving myself to produce things that I forget about the importance of taking time out.

A couple of days ago, I drove to the seaside and brought homemade coffee and a donut and sat and listened to Jefferson Airplane while I watched the sea and the sky. I always have something to do in front of me: writing, my phone, an activity with my kids, housework, a book to read. I used to spend vast periods of time sitting on my bed listening to music, writing in journals, or just thinking and looking out the window as a teenager. Ok, that was a different way of life, but I never allow myself to do that anymore. So, I forced myself to sit in quiet contemplation with no buffer between myself and the present moment. And it was uncomfortable, but also important. Afterwards, I went for a walk along the seafront and couldn’t help noticing how many runners were pushing themselves to achieve around me. It feels like everyone is rushing around in life, not particularly enjoying themselves, but doing it anyway. I’ve decided to schedule in time to sit still without distractions. It’s as important for creativity as it is for my sanity 🙂

We had a couple of days in the house, and I was glad of the craft projects and games my daughter had got for her birthday. She got a Build a Beetle game that she is obsessed with. I like Orchard kids’ games. The simple concepts allow them to quickly grasp the rules so they don’t lose interest before you even start playing. We finished off some birthday cake while we had a game 🙂

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She had got a play doh set that included facial features, limbs and accessories to add to the creatures you make. It kept the girls busy for a long time. I’m enjoying the fact they’re becoming more independent and that we can have more grown up conversations around the table while we work on our respective projects 🙂

I had a stack of magazines I hadn’t got round to reading in about a year 🙂 I love magazines about creativity and mindfulness (even though the word itself irritates me :)) Flow magazine is expensive, but it has so many inspiring articles in it, and as my sister pointed out, the images in it are so unique and beautiful you could frame them and use them as decoration around your house 🙂 I only get it now and again but it often comes with extra items like journals, postcards and mirror stickers with inspiring quotes on them. I found some unused postcards inside that I plan to use for friends or family. I’d like to revive the tradition of hand-delivered cards and postcards. I spotted this quote in the magazine and it felt fitting for the mindset I was in at the time.

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So, I let myself enjoy reading at the table and chatting to the girls over coffee 🙂 We didn’t have to rush anywhere and I didn’t force myself to be “productive” and by the end of the day, I could feel the creativity starting to grow again in its own natural environment.

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Later that day, I got out my sewing machine and some second hand dresses I’d bought that didn’t fit and cut them up to use the fabric for other things. I made a cape for my daughter and a skirt for the other one and they spent the rest of the day parading around the house in them. 

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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 🙂