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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Beach Tours, Wind Chimes & Wishing Trees

The girls and I have been doing tours of various beaches the last couple of weeks 🙂 We picked a particularly changeable day, weatherwise, to go to one in County Down, but I liked the fact we got to experience a summer’s day and a stormy day at the beach all in one afternoon 🙂 It started to rain, but we had brought raincoats, and I like watching the choppy sea anyway 🙂 Everyone else fled so it felt like we had our own little private beach for a while 🙂 The girls made sandcastles and decorated them with shells. One of my daughters loves collecting everything she finds at the beach and bringing it home, but I’m thinking of sneaking some of them back to the beach as her shell tin is overflowing now 🙂

We chose another day that wasn’t sunny to visit the beach and did some rockpooling. We looked for crabs and other creatures in the pools. We only found some snails and pretty shells, but it still entertained the girls for a long time 🙂 We skimmed stones on the still sea, which was a first for the girls, and for me 🙂 There was a strange light the whole day that made the sky look like an all-day sunrise. We walked along the seafront and paddled in the water. Afterwards, we got some ice cream and sat overlooking the harbour and chatting 🙂

We also went on a day out to Castle Espie. You can’t feed the birds at the moment, but the girls still enjoyed watching them and exploring. They did some rock climbing and ladybird spotting (which they have got into because my parents have a holly tree in their garden that all the ladybirds flock to :)) I spotted some thistles which remind me of my granny and I hadn’t noticed there before. We went to the wooded part to have a picnic and sat on a log 🙂 We tried some den building (which I am not good at!) Afterwards, the girls suggested we build miniature dens for their dolls and that felt much more manageable 🙂

They played music at the Pixiephone, climbed on toadstools and whispered their wishes to the wishing tree. My daughter told me she wished that I’d get a machine for my birthday that dispenses chocolate. (I wish that would happen too.) We had a look in the gift shop since the girls had some money to spend. I like looking at all the beautiful books and then putting them back when I see they are nearly twenty pounds each 🙂 The girls got a little nature book each and have been interested in reading about the countryside and butterflies 🙂 We sat in the sun and the girls had some sticks of rock while I had a coffee 🙂 Since they had new things to look at, they sat at peace for a change 🙂

I picked up some sticker mosaic kits for the girls this week. They are only 79p in Home Bargains. I might go back for some more since they kept them quiet for so long 🙂

We made a craft I had found online. They are little natural decoration/chime type things 🙂 You just find a stick and wrap embroidery thread around it until it is mostly covered. You add a loop to hang it from, so it sits either horizontally or vertically. At the end, we just took a piece of the thread and added a bell each and a couple of beads. You attach it and if you hang them up outside they sound like windchimes 🙂

We also made a finger paints family tree. You just draw the outline of a tree, let your kids do fingerprint leaves all over it and then add family members to it 🙂 Afterwards, the girls asked me to draw pictures for them to paint and colour in. I find that if I draw pictures for them myself, they tend to trace over them and spend longer colouring them than they do with colouring books.

It was a gloomy day, so we had some hot chocolate and marshmallows and painted some rocks we had collected at the beach too 🙂 I let them use my acrylic paints for that and for some reason, they seem to think that is a real privilege 😀

 

Nature trails, Roadside Treats & Mini Banjos

We have had a quiet, nature-filled few days. This week, I took the girls to Castle Ward for the day. I like the fact that when it’s raining there, you are still sheltered. The trees all make a huge covering, like a giant umbrella and we had our picnic underneath a tree. We walked around the sunken garden and the girls played hide and seek in the rocky area. We found a huge fir tree and discovered that it was a good climbing tree 🙂 I find it very healing being close to greenery and trees. There is something about the scent that envelops you when you’re standing underneath one, particularly when it’s raining. We walked down to the kids’ nature trail and they still had some of it laid out. The girls left mini bouquets for the fictional frog that owns the summer house 🙂 There were dens to hide in and swampy paths to navigate. My daughter took advantage of the fact she was wearing wellies and jumped in the largest puddles she could find 🙂 We came across a giant tic tac toe carved out of wood, as well as some balance beams and a car carved out of a tree trunk.

On our way home, we stopped at a roadside farm shop that served coffee. I got a coffee and traybake and the girls had an ice cream each and I was amazed by how cheap it was. They had wooden seats to sit on outdoors and the scenery was lovely because we were overlooking the green fields and hills 🙂

We tried a couple of crafts this week, some more successful than others! We made miniature jar lid bangos. They were very easy to make and the girls loved “playing them.” We just stuck two lolly sticks together using washi tape to secure/decorate them, then wrapped some elastic bands around the jar lid. We added tape at the back to secure the “strings” and then taped the lolly sticks onto the back of the strings.

We tried to make fireworks in a jar too. It worked on a smaller scale, but I think we were held back by the quality of our food colouring 🙂 I had bought a couple recently that are red and green, but they aren’t very pigmented and didn’t give us the colour we wanted. You just add food colouring to olive oil and mix it, adding it to a jar of water and watch as the colours move like little fireworks shooting. It worked but wasn’t impressive-looking.

We made some bubble wrap prints. You just wrap a piece of it around the end of a toilet roll tub and sellotape it. Then you can put different colours of paints on a plate and make prints in several colours at once. The girls did this activity for a long time and it was so easy to set up.

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Today we went to the farm for the first time this year 🙂 We had missed it and they had organised plenty to do, even though certain parts were closed off. They gave us little packets when we arrived of feed for “furry friends” and “feathered friends.” We fed some goats and sheeps with curled horns 🙂 Then we fed some of the bunnies and a calf started licking my coat 🙂 It was so calming seeing the animals and walking around at a slow pace. I found the fact that the activities were limited easier as the girls weren’t rushing between things, spending five seconds on each activity 🙂 They went on barrel rides and the tractor ride to see the red deer. We held some chicks and fed the hens (and turkey.) I felt like my sanity was restored by the end of it 🙂 We also had some of the ice-cream they make on the farm and it might be my favourite kind 🙂

When we got home, we did some easy baking. I like to buy the boxes of baking mixes for days when the girls want to decorate buns and I don’t feel like baking 🙂 We just had to add a couple of ingredients and made some chocolate cupcakes. The girls loved putting the icing and chocolate swirls on top (and tried to sneak most of them into their mouths when I wasn’t looking.) I’m relieved its summertime now, even if the weather thinks otherwise. It feels like we have been released from the pressure of teaching at home and can just enjoy our days in our own way now 🙂

 

Skydiving Toys, Window Pictures & Finding Freedom Again

Yesterday was one of those days my children insisted on starting before the caffeine had made its way into my system 🙂 Over breakfast, we made a parachute for one of the girls’ toys. I had seen it on the blog “No Time for Flashcards” and wanted to attempt it myself. Any form of construction doesn’t come naturally to me, even if it involves cutting and sticking, but it was quite simple to make. We just used a napkin and reinforced the corners with sellotape, threading string through them and tying them together. We made little armholes and my daughter decided her baby doll would be the skydiver. It kept the girls entertained for a long time, dropping it over the banister from upstairs and watching it sail to a smooth landing on the floor 🙂

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The kids helped me to make some homemade playdough and I gave them some real sprinkles to use on them. They “baked” at the table and made lots of different pastries and desserts, adding sprinkles at the end. I like mixing toys with “real” elements of cooking, etc to add more interest to it for the girls. They love playdough in any form, but when they get to add herbs, spices, sprinkles, etc, it definitely captures their interest for longer.

I had ordered colourful adhesive paper for the girls to make window pictures with. You just cut whatever shapes you like out of it and let them peel the backing off and stick it to the windows. It peels off again easily so you can change your scenes and it kept the girls busy for hours 🙂 It’s funny how taking a simple concept like stickers and transposing them to a window suddenly makes it much more exciting 🙂

We had booked Mount Stewart before the weekend, so we went on an afternoon adventure there. It almost felt like things had returned to normal when we were there (apart from the one way system and the extreme levels of organisation.) I actually found the visit less stressful than usual because the trails were clearly laid out with arrows and I get lost easily 🙂 We walked around the lake and saw the white stag, the girls climbed trees and went out to the little islands. The swans were there with their cygnets and the girls loved watching them on the water. They found a little corner enclosed with bamboo and pretended it was a house and that they were pandas 🙂 We have a book about a dog that makes a giant pile of leaves and jumps into it with his friends, so they recreated that underneath a huge tree and then made “mud angels” on the ground 🙂 I love all the flowers and scents in Mount Stewart and the fact that it feels like we are abroad when we visit it. The fact that we hadn’t been able to go there in a while made us appreciate every moment of it more. I brought the girls’ nature bags and they collected petals and leaves to litter the house with 🙂 I might encourage them to make some nature collages or drawings from them as an activity tomorrow 🙂

We finished the day quietly with some homemade pizza and I baked some bread for this week using a new recipe. My kids liked it but informed me that they still prefer sliced bread from the shop. If I didn’t enjoy baking so much, I’d wonder why I bother 🙂

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Garden Blackberry Picking

I never used to notice much around me, but I’ve been making a conscious effort to observe my surroundings the last few years. I tend to get lost in my thoughts and forget to pay attention to things. If you’re having a hard time and getting stuck in your own mind, it’s good to take some time to notice the simple things around you. A few days ago, I was walking outside in my mum-trance to put something in the bin. Then I noticed in the hedges in my garden that there were lots of blackberries growing. I got the girls to help me pick them, which they loved. They devoured them in seconds and seemed to enjoy them more because of the novelty of picking them themselves. I was really excited because I usually successfully end the life of every plant in my vicinity. I have a strawberry plant that has only produced two strawberries this summer, so that made up for our strawberry drought. (Unless my kids are eating them without my awareness.) Sometimes when you’re racing around, trying to do too much, it’s worth taking the time to slow down or sit with a cup of tea in the garden and not to allow yourself to think thoughts other than observational ones about your surroundings. If you don’t, you might miss something small that makes your day salvageable.