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.

Simple Days: Scooters, Snacks and Rose Smelling

I took the girls to the park a few days ago. I’ve decided the best days to go to the park are ones where the sky is threatening rain, but never quite makes it there. It seems to put the majority of people off risking the downpour, which leaves the park swings dry but unattended. Fewer kids means more chance I get to sit down for a while on a bench, which is always a bonus. We took the girls’ scooters to the park and they had races and stopped to stare at the pigeons. For some reason, they seem to hold their interest longer than the ducks do. I guess there’s more interaction there.

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Everywhere we go that has a river or pond seems to prompt a game of “Pooh Sticks.” It’s weird how much longer my kids can be entertained by a stick than by anything I’m saying. We had a snack picnic after they went to the playground. There’s something old-worldly about having a picnic on a particularly windy day and having to use your picnic blanket as a cape to keep out the cold. We had hot chocolate and I brought snacks for the kids. They love having snacks they can pick at and assemble themselves, like different types of cheese with crackers and fruit and seeds to mix together. (But not as much as they love anything packed with sugar, preservatives and additives.)

On our way back, we noticed that the rose garden had bloomed since we were last there. We walked around looking at the different coloured flowers and the girls loved stopping to smell them and deciding which was their favourite. I like when we go for walks and come across unexpected things like that. The girls are really interested in nature and collecting things and it holds me in the moment for a change. They were fascinated by the ride-on lawn mowers and the freshly-cut grass smelled like the final fragrance of summer.

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8 tips for adventures with kids

8 Tips For Mini Adventures With Kids

I was feeling inspired to write this post after a waterlogged week away with my kids. The weather was conscientiously working to spoil our holiday, so we had to be inventive with what we did. Here are a few ideas for mini adventures with kids.

1. Find little surprises in small places

My kids and I drove to what used to be a little fishing village. It was remote and had quaint little cottages overlooking the harbour. There was nothing to do there; even it’s one craft shop was closed. However, we went for a walk and found a shed that had baby lambs and sheep inside it. They were just sitting peacefully, inches from us and it ended up being a moment that stayed with my daughter. Don’t rule somewhere out just because no one talks about it or it seems like nothing significant is there 🙂

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2. Bring supplies and go out in the rain anyway

If there is torrential rain, dress for it and go for a walk in puddles. We went to a National Trust property in heavy rain and ended up having a picnic under a tree there. A room had been opened for indoor colouring for kids and we went for tea and scones and played games in a notebook I brought. It always helps to have paper and crayons with you to keep your kids entertained during an unplanned moment.

3. Collect simple items and draw them/make collages

My kids love going beach combing and  wearing wellies while they jump in rock pools. They have a little tin they keep shells in. We went for a windy walk and then retreated indoors, lit the fire and drew pictures of shells. You could do the same with leaves, flowers, pine cones. rocks, etc. You can also do rubbings, where you scribble on a page laid over textured items and teach your kids about different patterns and textures while you’re doing it.

4. Stop somewhere you weren’t planning to visit

We went to Scrabo Tower just as we were passing it one day. Some children happened to have gathered there to roll eggs down the hill. The girls enjoyed watching them and climbing up the steep hill. The views were spectacular as it was such a clear day. We found a picnic table in what felt like a quiet meadow and I had brought coffee and snacks that kept the girls entertained while they made a play house under the picnic table.

5. Eat in the garden, even if it’s cold

You can still eat outside even in unfortunate weather. It feels like a preamble to a barbecue and makes you appreciate returning to the warmth of indoors afterwards. I made hotdogs indoors and had a pretend barbecue outside the cottage we were staying in. The girls loved it and followed it with dancing outside and hide and seek.

6. Stop at charity shops in unexpected places

Sometimes the remotest of places contain the best second-hand stuff. I found two cups from the 70’s for 50p 🙂 My daughter got some blocks that she has played with constantly since. Sometimes letting kids choose an item themselves makes it more valuable to them (even if it’s only 20p.)

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7. Drive the long way

Sometimes choosing the longer route means more scenic drives and more interesting things to point out to your kids. My kids loved watching to see if the sea was rough or still, which birds they could identify and if there were any boats along the coast. Involving them in sporting things outside definitely makes them less tetchy when you’re driving.

8. Get your kids binoculars or a disposable camera

My granny did this for us as kids and we loved it. My kids picked up some binoculars for bird watching on our trip but have also been using them to look at the sea and the sky (and to spy on people in the street!)  They love spotting things in the distance and sharing them with you.

Adventures don’t have to be about travelling great distances or spending excessively. Kids always remember the simplest, cheapest thing that you just fell upon along the way.