Walks by the Sea and Water Bracelets

Today, the morning stood out in stark contrast to the world around us. It felt fresh and the skies seemed to open up. I love the fact in Springtime the sky seems to lift higher and it feels like we aren’t closed into a grey box anymore. We got up early and got ready to go for a walk. I’m finding that starting the day with a walk makes the girls’ energy levels far more manageable. Otherwise, they’d be dismantling everything in the house and fighting with each other and driving me crazy 🙂

We drove to the seaside and went onto the beach. I was surprised by how few people were there. I’d expected everyone to have the same idea as a location for a “remote” walk. We walked along the shore and the girls threw rocks in the sea, built miniature sandcastles with their hands, decorated them with shells and filled the moat with water they’d scooped up with sea shells. I liked seeing what they came up with in the absence of a bucket and spade 🙂 They also started jumping in the shallow water, and I just let them get on with it, even if it resulted in wet feet, because it feels like we all have so little freedom at the minute. The Stena Line passed by and it whipped up the waves and the girls pretended the tide was chasing them and ran away squealing 🙂 There were a couple of dog walkers out, but other than that, it was deserted, and we had the beach to ourselves. We stayed for a while, just absorbing some sunlight and looking at the view.

Afterwards, we went to a local health food shop to get a few things. I’d forgotten how much I like going there. I’d got into a habit of convenience shopping instead of supporting local shops, and I’m trying to break that now. The girls loved going there too. The lady who owns it is so friendly and has a box of toys for kids. We got some spelt pasta, which I’ve never tried before, some biscuits, yeast, chai tea and oat milk, so I could make myself some Starbucks-style lattes 🙂 The lady very kindly gave the girls a lolly each and they were so excited about them 🙂 I have already noticed the girls becoming a bit less demanding, and I think the simpler lifestyle will do them no harm, apart from maybe missing the social side with others.

I picked up The Simple Things magazine and a couple of magazines for the girls. I know a lot of people think kids’ magazines are a waste of money, but I find that it settles them and it makes us sit down at the table together to work on them, and they’re educational too. For some reason the cheap toys in them provide more entertainment than any toys I’ve ever bought them. They’ve been playing pizza restaurants all day, in between other activities, with a pizza that slices into quarters and comes with a box, loyalty card, menu etc. You could recreate it with cardboard if you wanted to, for a cheap activity to do indoors, cutting out and colouring the different toppings they can add. It might keep them busy for a few hours creating the toppings 🙂 The girls have been taking “phone orders” and set up a desk in the living room for their takeaway 🙂

When we got home, we did some word games and I helped them with their magazines for a while. We had some coffee and snacks and I’ve set up a snack shop. I’d seen the idea for it on a friend’s social media 🙂 We have a list of snacks and prices and they get a pound each in different change so they can practise counting out money and learn about budgeting for the day. Once their money is gone, they aren’t allowed any more. It’s a good way to ration snacks, and then when they run out of change, you can announce that the shop is closed for the day 🙂

I dug out some stencils we had in the cupboard and the girls used them for a while. I also had a book we’d borrowed from the library about beating boredom for kids. It has some great ideas in it that don’t require materials. I find most kids’ activity books require you to make a special trip to the shop to source all the parts. The book has simple things like drawing a picture without lifting the pencil from the page, making paper cup telephones, taking fun photos, inventive ways of blowing bubbles. If anyone wants me to share some of the ideas for them while they’re indoors with their kids, message me and I’ll send you them 🙂

The girls played on their bikes in the garden for a little while to get some fresh air and I hung out some laundry. I usually shove everything in the tumble drier because I don’t have time to hang out laundry and iron it all, etc, so it was nice to have the time to do that for a change. I find it quite a restful chore when I actually get around to doing it 🙂 I made some fried rice for lunch with leftover rice from yesterday and the girls devoured it. They’ve been constantly hungry since they stopped school; maybe because they know that snacks are accessible at any hour of the day now 🙂

After lunch, we made water bracelets with a set I had got my daughter for her birthday. You just put stoppers in a tube, fill it with sequins and beads and then fill it up with water, adding a charm before you seal it. One of my daughters wanted me to help with hers and I realised how therapeutic they are to make. They should make them for adults too. I think it would lower all our stress levels at the moment 🙂

I made myself a vanilla oat latte and got a chance to do some writing while the girls watched TV. I had already made bolognese for a handy dinner. I’m going to use some of my time in the house for batch cooking – not because I’m hoarding 🙂 but just because I find cooking days relaxing. I lit my white chocolate candle and was bombarded with constant questions – which made me glad I’d prepared dinner in advance for once 🙂

The girls have started a new game where they skate with one rollerskate on – like a mini skateboard. I’m half amused by it – half waiting for an accident to happen :/ Before bed, they wanted to play races in the living room. I started shouting ready, steady and something silly instead of go and it turned into a new game, like ready, steady, tiny baby chick poop (probably not the best game to discourage toilet humour) but they ended up lying on the floor laughing and I didn’t have to get up and got to drink my tea while it was warm 🙂

I don’t know what we will do tomorrow yet, and usually I have everything somewhat planned out. But I’m actually happy to let the day unfold as it decides to do without my interference 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.