Craft Packs, Pretend Play and Fig Scones

The last couple of days have been slightly calmer, as we’re getting used to this new way of life. I’ve been trying to schedule in more time for myself, and allowing myself to leave the girls to their own devices sometimes, guilt-free. After catching up with my daughter’s school class on Zoom yesterday, we watched a nature show about water nymphs. It’s on Tuesday and Thursdays and is run by a nature centre. The classes are interactive, with a quiz for kids and a creative task for them to complete before the next one. Last time, they enjoyed designing their own plants and naming them.

We did some of my daughter’s schoolwork and made a multicoloured number grid to help her with it ๐Ÿ™‚

After some academic time, we made egg carton daffodils, which was an activity suggested by my other daughter’ s preschool. The girls enjoyed painting the bell part of the flower yellow, and then I cut out what felt like millions of petals from a cereal box for them to paint. If you have white paint, it’s better to paint the cardboard with that first and let it dry, as the yellow will look less patchy when added, but we didn’t have any so we just slathered a lot of yellow on ๐Ÿ™‚ We are still waiting for it to completely dry ๐Ÿ™‚

I tried a recipe from a magazine for fig and walnut scones. They turned out really well, but the girls refused to eat them because of the fruit and nuts inside. (More for me :)) It was a beautiful day and the girls spent a lot of time in the garden playing. I made some chai tea and attempted to sit outside and read a magazine, but I think I just read the same paragraph multiple times and then stopped to watch their “bike races.”

Since my daughter is learning about pets in school, I set up their vets when they were asleep. I just improvised with items we had in the house, using cushions and blankets for pet beds, plasters and calpol syringes for them to use on teddies. My kids are obsessed with plasters, so I knew they’d be happy to be granted permission to put them on their toy animals ๐Ÿ™‚ I set up a little desk with two seats, a pen holder, a phone, paper to write the animal’s ailments down, and a grooming corner, as well as all the toy animals I could find without raiding their bedroom and waking them up ๐Ÿ™‚ It was so simple to throw together, but the girls were excited to see it when they came downstairs ๐Ÿ™‚

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We had some overnight oats for breakfast. I love the fact that they’re ready when you get up and no pre-coffee preparation is required. I used oats, grated apple, plain yogurt and milk, mixed it and put some frozen berries on top and put it in the fridge overnight. Sometimes I just use milk without yogurt and sometimes I do an apple and peanut butter one. I like porridge weirdly thick so this picture might look unappealing to some ๐Ÿ™‚

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After breakfast, we spent some time in the garden, did some more dancing and kids’ yoga and then worked on my daughter’s pets theme for school. We did some creative writing and my younger daughter drew pictures of her imaginary pet, its food and a house for it to live in. Then, two activity packs I’d ordered for the girls arrived in the post and they were very excited ๐Ÿ™‚ They got a world book day book each, a sticker book, a mask to make, bookmarks and a paper lady to decorate that came with pretend hair and fabric. I like the fact it has crazily curly hair. The gluing kept the girls occupied for a long time too ๐Ÿ™‚

I repurposed some leftover chow mein I’d made last night by combining it with chicken stock I had in the freezer. I had put ginger, onion, garlic, a small bit of chicken, soy sauce and oyster sauce in the noodles last night, so it was like chicken noodle soup with extra flavour ๐Ÿ™‚ It felt like a good thing to eat to fend off any germs ๐Ÿ™‚

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After lunch, we watched a kids’ music class so the girls could make use of their musical instruments and run around inside ๐Ÿ™‚ They spent a little more time in the garden and we are having an early close-the-curtains, put-on-pyjamas and watch-a-movie night ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

 

 

Play Doh Popcorn, Frog Friends & Bike Rides

This weekend unintentionally ended up being busy. Iโ€™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 โ€œBreakfast in America.โ€ 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. Iโ€™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 theyโ€™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 donโ€™t get any it really affects my mood, and not in a good way ๐Ÿ™‚

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 didnโ€™t magically appear the minute they started chewing it. I had some coffee ice-cream with white chocolate sauce ๐Ÿ™‚


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 Iโ€™m not sure… hopefully nothing sinister ๐Ÿ™‚ I always have a candle burning and a place doesnโ€™t feel like home without it ๐Ÿ™‚ It makes a good substitute for our blocked-off fireplace ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

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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 wouldnโ€™t have thought to combine the two but they were happy so I let them work away ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ˜€

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I finally got a bike rack for the car for the girlsโ€™ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ We went to a nearby park which I love because itโ€™s like a secret park – no one ever seems to be there when we use it ๐Ÿ™‚ We stayed for a long time and even though it was bitterly cold, the sunshine made it bearable ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Afterwards, we went to my mumโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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Lollipop Ladies, Seed Sowing and Stall Shopping

I thought Iโ€™d share a few things weโ€™ve been doing recently. Iโ€™m in budgeting mode at the minute after booking some trips for the summer, so Iโ€™m going to be coming up with ways to occupy the kids without spending money ๐Ÿ™‚ The Belfast childrenโ€™s festival is starting next week, so Iโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 Iโ€™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 youโ€™re in the mood for it ๐Ÿ™‚

 

I recently bought a grow house from B&M for a tenner. My purchase was poorly-timed, considering the weather. I donโ€™t know if anything will cure my off-green fingers, but I thought itโ€™d be a good activityย 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 theyโ€™re much better than me at remembering to water things ๐Ÿ™‚

Iโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ I find if I limit myself to one treat Iโ€™m less likely to splurge on twenty. My mum kindly treated me to some more bows to add to my collection ๐Ÿ™‚ We spotted a coffee stand and grabbed a seat before the place filled up ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 donโ€™t know how they brought themselves to eat them, but they managed to ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 mumโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ I always leave them feeling creatively charged and ready to write ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚
My daughter finished school early yesterday, so went went to the Ulster Transport museum. It was the quietest Iโ€™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 ยฃ60 for the year. I didnโ€™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 1960โ€™s living room and then hearing the girls liken it to our decor ๐Ÿ˜€ It was a free visit for us and we had a snack outdoors at the picnic tables. It was blustery, but itโ€™s a good-sized green space for kids to run around and play hide and seek in ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ˜€ For a kidsโ€™ musical, it could have been worse ๐Ÿ™‚

Afterwards, I took the girls to Morelliโ€™s to have their first snow cones ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ˜€ ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ˜€ Then they just painted over it with poster paints. You just gently dab the paint onto the salty glue ๐Ÿ™‚ The salt makes it spread out and creates a cool effect. Itโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Afterwards, we did some of what they call โ€œSplat Paintings.โ€œ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ If you layer different colours and keep separate brushes for each one, it looks really pretty when youโ€™re finished.

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i donโ€™t know what we will do tomorrow yet, but Iโ€™m mentally preparing myself for some creative projects indoors to minimise the house wrecking/shouting if this storm decides to stick around ๐Ÿ™‚

A Weekend of Watching the World

This post is a bit of a latecomer, but Iโ€™ve been editing a book this week and itโ€™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 sheโ€™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 kidsโ€™ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Iโ€™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 donโ€™t go out together much after dinner time because she was intrigued by people out and about after dark ๐Ÿ™‚ I think itโ€™s important teaching kids how to sit in contemplation and wonder about things. They donโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ The shop has recently come under new management and they have snow cones, which I donโ€™t think Iโ€™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 ยฃ2 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 didnโ€™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 weโ€™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. Iโ€™ve noticed that if Iโ€™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 itโ€™s like play doh on a grand scale. This weekend Iโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Taste the City Belfast

Iโ€™ve decided to make Saturday a day to go to free events with my kids when they are on. We live close to the city centre and the bus is right on our doorstep and we barely use it. I think my kids have finally reached the age where it is (a bit) less stressful to venture into town ๐Ÿ™‚

Today there was a food festival thing on in Belfast and it said it was a free event with activities for kids so we went ๐Ÿ™‚ I was surprised by what they offered for free. My kids both got their faces painted, they got to make kites with all the materials supplied and to do sugar craft designs on cupcakes.

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The kite-making workshop was good for all ages. The kids had to pick a picture to trace onto it and then colour it in before it was assembled. The girls really enjoyed doing this and it solved the problem I often have at markets of stopping them grabbing everything in sight!

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Afterwards, we sat in the sun while the girls ate the buns they had iced and we listened to live music playing in the square. The only thing I paid for was a disappointing cup of coffee and I wished I had thought ahead to bring my own!

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There were stalls selling sweets, condiments, teas, etc, and food demos, but I didnโ€™t attempt to get the girls to sit still for them! There was a relaxed vibe to the place and it seemed surprisingly quiet for a Saturday. I love when you find things no one seems to know are happening ๐Ÿ™‚ Especially since I donโ€™t cope well with busy places ๐Ÿ™‚

I had set a budget for the day so we took the bus into town instead of paying for parking and my kids were so excited they got to sit at the top on a double decker ๐Ÿ™‚

I brought our own drinks and we got lunch for all of us from Greggs for ยฃ3.50 and took it to the park, where the girls flew their new kites and ran off some of their energy.

After that, we went to Lush because I had promised the girls a bath bomb. They used their first one last week and were fascinated by it. I guided them towards a lavender one, hoping it would help them sleep, but that was probably wishful thinking ๐Ÿ™‚ I got a face mask while I was there. I think even if you are trying to save money it is better to limit yourself to one treat, rather than depriving yourself of everything – it helps you to stop splurging on lots of things.

We called into Learning Space, which is a shop with educational toys and games for kids. There was a sensory story time where the lady read โ€œWeโ€™re going on a Bear Huntโ€ with props the kids could play with – like fake snow to make it snow, play doh to squelch in, a tarp to hide under ๐Ÿ™‚

At the end of the day, we looked in a bookshop. Then, I had a coffee and the girls had juice in a cafe while they did sticker books. Iโ€™m thinking about making this a little tradition of ours ๐Ÿ™‚ I think the best kind of days with kids are ones where you have a vague plan (so you donโ€™t end up lost for things to do/with bored, whiney kids!) but that is open-ended and you can adapt to what you feel like doing at the time/judge it by everyoneโ€™s tiredness levels. If you break the day up with kid-friendly activities and snack breaks, days out with kids are definitely more enjoyable ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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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