Clay Creations, Chilli Hot Chocolate & Fairy Houses

We have been doing diverse and random things the last couple of weeks, so trying to assemble them into one coherent post might prove challenging. Hopefully it will result in a collection of snapshots of ideas and inspiration πŸ™‚

I got some beads and pipe cleaners from the pound shop for lazy bracelet making πŸ™‚ It makes threading the beads easier as they can’t slide off and they are easy to twist together at the end too πŸ™‚ The girls enjoyed making some multi-coloured creations and managed to do it with minimal interference πŸ™‚

We made another trip to the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens to catch the roses before they wilt πŸ™‚ When the girls climb on the bandstand it reminds me of hanging around there as a teenager. It’s strange living through different phases of life in the same place and with a new generation πŸ™‚ There are some lovely bright flowers there at the moment and combining it with the museum is a good way to pass an afternoon. I’ve noticed that since the discovery rooms are closed in the museum, the girls are starting to show more interest in displays they typically ignore. They were building stone age tombs and looking at changing displays of burials, followed by a visit to the mummy. (It was all a bit morbid but at least it kept them entertained :))

I found a bag in B&M of slime accessories. I didn’t see any slime so I got some of the colourful soft clay instead. It kept the girls entertained for hours. I’m still finding the little balls and sequins everywhere! They loved decorating the clay with all the different accessories, and generally making a mess πŸ™‚ I like trying to redirect my kids’ love for mess-making into an activity at the table, to try to minimise the number of water incidents that take place in the bathroom πŸ™‚ I also got some foam stickers and the girls made under the sea pictures. I think that stickers hold their attention longer than anything else. It’s good to have something that quietens them down and that they find therapeutic πŸ™‚

We played some card games. I looked up how to play Crazy Eights and played it with the girls. My skills for cards are at the same level as theirs πŸ™‚ We played Monopoly too and had some hot chocolate. I found a dark chocolate chilli one in Lidl that I’m addicted to at the moment. Oat milk hot chocolate might be my new favourite thing πŸ™‚ I finally found a dessert that my daughter will eat – berry crumble with custard πŸ™‚ It’s so easy to make and I’ve been using frozen berries for it. You can just put them into the dish frozen, top with the crumble and stick it in the oven πŸ™‚ I’m definitely in the mood for autumnal comfort food now. My slow cooker has made a reappearance this week too and I plan to make lots of casseroles and soup. We made some cinnamon cookies too and the girls did the icing and sprinkles. We were planning on gingerbread men but I had no ground ginger so we made those instead.

We are always happy to find interesting things to look at on the school run πŸ™‚ It’s good incentive for my kids to walk and I notice far fewer complaints along the way πŸ™‚ We came across two fairy trees. One is surrounded by painted rocks and has little fairy doors on it. The other is quite elaborate and has lots of little fairy houses and a fairy postbox πŸ™‚ I was thinking about writing letters with the girls soon so they can post them there πŸ™‚ I love the attention to detail and the fact that there are even little figures and trains inside the houses πŸ™‚ My kids could easily stop there for an hour to examine everything πŸ™‚ (as could I.)

We made another trip to the folk museum. I love walking around there and shutting off from modern technology πŸ™‚ I almost resent taking pictures there because it seems to jar with the rustic feel to the place πŸ™‚ My daughter befriended a pig and was talking to him for a long time. They wanted to move into the little cottage and live there with him as a pet πŸ™‚ It was quiet so we didn’t feel rushed and got to take our time over everything. I stopped to look at the flowers, the apples on the apple trees and the girls did some more blackberry picking πŸ™‚ There were lots of animals there and the kids loved uncovering the donkeys in a hidden corner of a barn πŸ™‚ They were really friendly and liked having their noses petted.

We also went to Seapark early one morning and had the playground mostly to ourselves. It was a windy day and I could imagine it being Wintertime. I love looking at the view across the water and trying to spot Carrickfergus castle, seeing the light on the Cave Hill and watching the boats coming in.

We made a cereal box postbox by painting it red and making a slot for letters. I gave the girls some envelopes and they wrote letters and drew pictures to post. They used stampers for the stamps and my older daughter picked them up in her backpack and took them to the post box. I love how simple activities like these keep them happy for so long πŸ™‚ I might need to buy more envelopes now though πŸ™‚

Racing Jellyfish and Bright Flowers on Cloudy Days

I’m constantly collecting content at the moment but never seem to get a chance to compile it. I’ve been working on a book and I still don’t know why editing a book takes so much longer than writing it! I’m unsure as yet if I’ll be able to fit what we’ve been doing into one post, so I’ll improvise and see what happens πŸ™‚

As always, much excitement was expressed at the arrival of the girls’ Toucan boxes. I love capturing the concentration on their faces as they rip them open (and they never open them carefully – they always dismantle the boxes :)) Then they made some racing jellyfish. After making them with cardboard and ribbon, they attach to the window with suction cups and the jellyfish climb on pulleys made of ribbons so you can race them. It reminded me of a toy you’d find at Castle Ward, albeit a cardboard version of their everlasting wooden toys πŸ™‚ We also made some Chinese lion puppets.

We made full use of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme last month. I loved the fact I could take the girls for sprinkle covered marshmallow pops and drinks and coffee for me, and it only came to Β£3 πŸ™‚

We went to the Ulster Museum and walked through Botanic Gardens where we stopped for a picnic. I love how vivid the flowers are in Botanic Gardens at this time of the year. The girls enjoyed smelling the roses and exploring the little hidden part with the bridges. The museum has all the discovery rooms closed so it wasn’t exactly the same experience (mainly because the girls only stop at those parts.) We had a flying tour and did the whole thing in 40 minutes. It was all a bit of a blur but the girls showed appreciation for the old clothes on display and the gemstones that glow under ultraviolet light.

We went back to Belfast Castle and the adventure playground. The girls get more excited about it than any other park for some reason. Someone told me it is only open during the summer months so I’ll have to figure out a way to break that to them πŸ™‚ We walked to the castle and around the gardens too. I find the views there impossible to capture on camera but indescribably beautiful. No matter where we are in life, my daughter manages to make something that isn’t a slide into a slide πŸ™‚ The clouds threatened us with rain the whole time but it never materialised and I think they added to the beauty of the views.

We also went to a Woodland Trust Wood for a walk. Wellies were definitely a good idea. It was a bit swamp-like but filled with dens for the kids to play in and free entry πŸ™‚ These berries made me think of Christmas time. As the girls reminded me, I forgot to bring their Woodland Trust leaf book so we couldn’t identify the leaves, but it didn’t stop them playing in them. Later that day, I went to Strangford for a coffee and noticed an old phone box that had been turned into a little bookshop so I had to take a picture πŸ™‚ I’ll make this a β€œto be continued” in another post and attempt to update my blog more often now I’m finished editing.

On a side note, for any readers of my blog that aren’t on my social media, my book His Mighty Hand is in the library in Northern Ireland now. I also published a new book this week called Three Faces of Phil – Face On. It’s available on Amazon if anyone fancies taking a look.

Sand Dunes, Baking Experiments & Cardboard Creations

After neglecting my blog for a little while, I realise how much we must have been doing since I last posted. It seems to be difficult to condense it all into one post πŸ™‚ We have been spending a lot of time at the seaside and making crafts and baking at home. I took the girls to a beach last week, early in the day, so it was at its quietest. They enjoyed walking on the boardwalk and over the sand dunes πŸ™‚ I love looking at the backdrop of mountains near Newcastle. The combination of sea and mountains is one of my favourite things πŸ™‚ The tide was out and had left lots of little puddles and channels for the girls to paddle and jump in, so they were easy to please πŸ™‚

At home, we used some of the girls’ nature finds to draw pictures from. We set up a table a bit like the one in the Ulster Museum art room πŸ™‚ We have the same chunky colouring pencils to draw with and they make it much more satisfying for some reason πŸ™‚

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I also got out an encyclopedia for kids with pictures of sky scrapers in it. I cut up some leftover party straws and gave the girls glue and paper so they could recreate structures with them. One opted for the tallest building and the other made a miniature eiffel tower πŸ™‚

I wanted to try to make polenta cake. A friend of mine made some a long time ago and served it to us with lapsang souchong tea. I really liked the combination of the two flavours. So, we made an orange and blueberry cake using polenta instead of flour. It has a grainier texture but I liked it and it felt light compared to a stodgy cake.

We have season tickets for the farm, so we have been spending a lot of time there. The girls spotted the mice nibbling ice cream cones and wanted me to take pictures of it πŸ™‚ There are also some baby mice and piglets there now. We arrived just as a lady was about to feed apples to the pigs, so the girls got to feed them and it was funny watching them eating whole apples in one bite πŸ™‚ We got to pet chicks and bunnies and went on the barrel rides πŸ™‚ Afterwards, I treated the girls to a hotdog each for lunch πŸ™‚

I have been trying some healthy snack recipes – none of which can I get the girls to eat πŸ™‚ I made carrot cake balls, using carrots, nuts, coconut, etc. I thought they wouldn’t satisfy my craving for carrot cake, but they contained all the same flavours without being too heavy πŸ™‚ But the girls immediately detected the fact they were healthy and refused to eat them.

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For their benefit (and for mine), we made some peanut butter and chocolate rice krispie buns. I can see why it is such a popular thing to bake with kids, because it skips ahead to their favourite parts (licking the bowl and sprinkles) without any of the measuring and mess (or agony for me.)

My daughter decided to make her own wands out of lolly sticks. She gave my other daughter a little craft chest filled with materials for her birthday. They have both used nearly all of it already πŸ™‚ I like the fact that they come up with their own ideas now and work away at them (even though it does result in them dragging the contents of the craft cupboard out onto the floor.)

We also made some little toilet tube horses. You have to fold them flat and cut the shape around the legs and head before folding them out again. The girls painted theirs with white and black spots, and when they were dry, we added heads cut out of cardboard and manes and tails made with embroidery thread. We also made feeding trays out of egg cartons and the girls painted water and food/made cardboard hay for them. They also made a stable out of an empty cupcake box, but they lost patience when they were halfway through painting it πŸ™‚ I cut half doors into it so they could put the horses inside and it has been the most popular toy of the week.

Finally, I gave the girls some squares cut out of empty cardboard boxes and they painted them bright colours. When they had dried, we collected nature scraps from the garden, like twigs, petals and dry leaves and they made little pictures with them. One made a little house and the other made a bug with antennae and pom pom eyes πŸ™‚

This week, we are on a nearby “holiday,” so we should have plenty of activities to share from it soon too πŸ™‚

 

Feeding Deer, Unicorn Crafts & New Recipes

I have so much catching up to do on my blog. It feels like every day has been crammed with things to do and I haven’t had a huge amount of down-time for writing. This week, the girls and I spent a lot of time outdoors, even when the weather wasn’t on our side πŸ™‚

We went to Mount Panther for the first time. Although the entry is quite expensive, I thought it was worth it and we spent hours there. My daughters agreed that it is their favourite place now. It is well laid-out for kids. We started with the petting farm and we got the chance to see some unusual animals. I had expected to find the typical animals you find on a farm, but there were bearded dragons, snakes, pygmy marmosets, meerkats and a thirty-year old tortoise. There was also a cockatoo that says hello if you say it first πŸ™‚ The girls got to hold a guinea pig that was surprisingly friendly. We used to feed my friend’s guinea pigs when she was on holiday and they hid from us every time we visited πŸ™‚

Outside, we went to a little town they had made for kids. They pedal from shop to shop on tractors. There was a playground and one of those permanent bouncy castles in the ground – I still don’t know what those are called! We got to feed the deer and goats and looked at the wallabies. I’m not sure what the difference is between wallabies and kangaroos, but my kids were excited to see the “kangaroos” anyway, and so was I πŸ™‚ They stood and waited for a long time, hoping to see them jumping. I like the way nature keeps my children in the moment and teaches them how to stand still and wait for something. Usually they don’t do this at all πŸ™‚

We went on the barrel rides over the fields and there was a deer safari, but it costed an extra Β£12 for a family, so we didn’t go. We got to feed the deer in their outdoor enclosure anyway πŸ™‚ At the end, the girls asked me if we could go again the next day which is always the sign of a successful outing πŸ™‚

We have been hoarding cardboard and empty boxes, etc for crafting. The girls often use their junk box without my involvement now, making gift boxes for doll’s birthday presents πŸ™‚ They like to have a different toy’s birthday each day, to console themselves over the fact it isn’t one of their own birthdays πŸ™‚ We made some toilet roll tube unicorns I saw online. I tend to look for inspiration online but don’t have the patience to read the instructions, so we just make it up as we go along πŸ™‚ We made some pink paint and the girls painted their unicorns pink and white, adding dots of paint for cheeks. I also just cut shapes out of another toilet roll tube to make the ears and horns. We used yellow paint on the unicorns’ horns and added lots of glitter while the paint was still wet. We let the parts dry overnight and then added manes and tails that we made out of colourful embroidery thread. If you wrap it around four fingers and keep winding it until you have several layers you can tie a knot around it with the end of the thread and then jut cut the end of the loop open so it hangs like hair. We glued them all together and then I added eyes with a marker at the end. I still don’t know where to store all of our cardboard creations. The girls act like each one is their most treasured possession and immediately notice if I try to throw any out (even when they aren’t in the room – I think they can sense it.)

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I’ve been experimenting with new recipes this week. I wanted to make some healthy snacks, so the girls helped me to make cashew nut energy balls and nut bars – both of which they refused to eat! I made some pineapple chicken to use up what we had in the fridge. It turned out like a chinese-style meal and was surprisingly good πŸ™‚ The girls both ate the sauce and I was stunned.

My kids’ Toucan boxes arrived, so they completed the activities inside. One was to make a hanging picture of cherry blossom. They used lolly sticks as the frame and a pipe cleaner as the hook. There was also a crown to make and a fish puppet. The girls are interested in colour mixing at the moment, and if I give them watercolours and lots of paper, it keeps them busy for a long time. My older daughter asked me to move vases of flowers onto the table so she could paint from them. I’ve been thinking of doing the same with nature finds soon.

We made some easy cookies using just bananas, oats and chocolate chips. The girls took their bikes to the Greenway and afterwards, I made some hot chocolate to warm them up since it was such a gloomy day. I made some homemade burgers and chips and we had a board game dinner, which is the girls’ favourite thing to do (apart from watching TV while they eat – or while they do anything for that matter :))

 

Beach Days, Tie Dye & Face Paints

This weekend, I took the girls to the beach. I think that’s what I’ve missed most during lockdown: getting away to the sea and letting the girls build sandcastles πŸ™‚ They always seem happiest when they’re digging in sand, collecting water from the sea and jumping over waves, and I am too πŸ™‚

I ordered some face paints on eBay since the girls love getting their faces painted and won’t get the opportunity to get them done any time soon πŸ™‚ They were excited, even though my face painting isn’t up to the same standards πŸ˜€

The girls played hopscotch and we managed to get a glimpse of the garden before the stormy weather arrived πŸ™‚ My lilies are thriving and I didn’t remember having yellow and white ones last year, so that was a nice surprise πŸ™‚

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We made some tie dye butterflies. The kit came with the girls’ Toucan boxes. You just draw patterns with felt tips in the centre of a coffee filter and then fold it into a cone, dipping it into water for 30 seconds. That makes the pen run and when they dry they look like tie dye πŸ™‚ Then, we just folded them and put them into wooden pegs. The girls decorated the pegs and we added pipe cleaners as antennae.

The girls also received watercolours with their box and practised mixing paints to make different colours. I thought it would be a short-lived activity since they’d done colour mixing before, but they were really interested in coming up with different shades and made pretty pictures that looks like decorating samples books πŸ™‚

I ordered a build a garden set for the girls. It might be my favourite one of their toys πŸ™‚ They spent ages constructing flowers and coming up with different combinations and shapes. We have been having a TV-free week, which has been good for the girls. I notice they have more time to get lost in an imaginary world without it being interrupted by the arrival of β€œTV time.” But I’ll also be glad of it when it returns so I can have some headspace to write too πŸ™‚

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Flowerbeds, Photography & Iced Tea

This week, the girls have continued spending most of their time in the garden, creating masterpieces out of soil and coming up with reasons to change their outfits multiple times a day πŸ™‚ They each set up their own den and then decided to make “flowerbeds” outside them. They just laid some sticks down and scooped soil into it, planting some sunflower seeds they had. They proceeded to water their plants and turned the garden into a bit of a swamp, but it bought me peace for a long time and I got to look at the pretty flowers πŸ™‚


I bought the girls a camera each. They weren’t expensive and they have played with them a lot. They love taking pictures, changing the frames and filters and making videos and voice recordings. They are both interested in photography and rather than handing over my phone, I decided to let them have a camera of their own. I like seeing the creative ideas they come up with on their own and they enjoy showing me all their photos and silly videos too πŸ™‚

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I made some iced tea while the weather was warm. It’s really easy to make. I’d had the Plain sweet one in America years ago and the girls’ dad used to make it a lot, so I just stole his method πŸ™‚ I just make hot tea, sugar it to taste and then refrigerate it until it’s really cold πŸ™‚ The girls weren’t as impressed by it as they were by my lemonade, but I’m thinking of making a berry tea version for them.

The girls received a handmade card each from my parents in the post and were so excited to open them. They love seeing things addressed to them and rush to check the post every morning to see if anything has arrived for them πŸ˜€ We sat outside and played board games in the sun and I made some wholewheat pizza. I was using up the last of what was in the fridge, so I just improvised with tomato puree, cherry tomatoes and cheddar on a wheaten base I made.


We made some “sea foam,” as suggested by my daughter’s preschool. I made a double batch since my older daughter seemed to like it too. You just mix two tbsps of cornflour with two tbsps of washing up liquid with 1/4 cup of warm water for one. It foams easily and holds the bubbles and was a bluey-green colour, so the girls turned it into a bath for their dolls (which they do with most liquids.) Eventually, they descended into making foamy icing for mudpies. They filled up all the containers they could sneak out of the kitchen with soil and foam and used it for a birthday party for a baby doll.

I had ordered some courgette seeds which arrived in the post, so I potted them and transferred some of my larger plants from my windowsill to the garden. My sunflowers have already died, but I’m hoping the tomato plant survives outside now. I have several thriving plants now, so I’m going to persevere and try not to be put off by my gardening failures πŸ™‚

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The girls and I made some ice lollies, using smoothies. They’re a healthy alternative to the ones from the shops. My kids think ice lollies should be served every day there is a spell of sunshine, so I’ll make these again πŸ™‚ I made them with frozen banana and berries, apple juice, yogurt and some frozen mango. You can also freeze fruit as it’s starting to go off and save it for lollies, overnight oats and smoothies. I’ve been scattering frozen berries in overnight oats a lot lately so they’ve defrosted by the morning.

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We tried a new recipe for cookies too. I wanted to find a crunchier one that resembled biscuits from the shops, so we made a batch of them. I found slicing the solid cookie dough when it comes out of the fridge very soothing πŸ™‚ They turned out well and the girls were asking for them all day. They are unusually fussy about baked treats, so it was good to find one they both loved.

I was running out of candles (which are a staple in my house) so I ordered some Yankee candles from Groupon. They had an offer of six small jars for twenty pounds, so I am enjoying the baby powder one now while I create a little zen in my kitchen until my kids tire of the TV and start bombarding me with questions about the developments of dinner πŸ™‚

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Flower Diaries, Felt Mice & Messages on Rocks

Since the girls planted their little greenhouses yesterday, they’ve been keeping a close eye on them for any perceptible changes πŸ™‚ They got a little diary with the kit so they can note down changes to their plants. They’re also eager to water them every five minutes which I’m trying to intercept so their plants don’t meet the same fate as most of mine πŸ™‚

My daughter used the crate they’ve claimed as a net for paper football in the garden. She just flicked the ball into it with her fingers and it occupied her for a few minutes while I did school work with my other daughter.

We also got out the tuff tray and paints to make some cardboard bugs. It was an activity suggested by my daughter’s nursery, so we cut up some egg cartons and made caterpillars, ladybirds and spiders. After they had dried, we added pipe cleaner legs, googly eyes and pom poms to decorate them. My daughter is fascinated by insects at the moment (as long as a bee or big spider doesn’t come her way.)

We got some parcels in the post and it was like Christmas had come early πŸ™‚ I haven’t been able to get flour in a couple of weeks, so I ordered a bag online, but didn’t realise the bag would be half the size of me πŸ™‚ It seems that my baking obsession is going to continue πŸ™‚

Just as I was having a “what are we going to do now?” moment, a package arrived with a toy each for the girls from my parents πŸ™‚ Those kept them occupied for a long time. I wish my kids would play with their toys more often, and it was nice to see them having imaginary play time together πŸ™‚

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Today, we did some rock painting, as it had been suggested for kindness week by my daughter’s school. They used acrylic paints to paint pictures on one side and permanent markers to write little uplifting messages on the other side. The plan was to hide them for someone to find the next time we go out for a walk, but my daughter wrote “I love you” on hers, which I thought might make the person who finds it uneasy πŸ˜€ Afterwards, they started to paint some shells we had from ages ago. The flat broken shells actually made a good painting surface and I like to find other uses for things that are on their way out πŸ™‚

We put together a new den, brought out the paddling pool and the girls’ bubble guns and I took some time to notice what has bloomed in the garden πŸ™‚ My lillies I planted last year seem to be thriving, even though they haven’t flowered yet. There is some jasmine and the fuschia is making an appearance again πŸ™‚ The fact we are spending every day in the garden means I notice the slight changes I ordinarily would have missed. There are definitely positivies to being less busy.

We made the second project from the girls’ Toucan boxes: felt mice. They were easy to assemble and the girls made a couple each. I like the fact they include a magazine of activities in the boxes too, so it keeps them entertained for a long time. (Although my kids’ version of a long time is a short time to anyone else measuring time.)

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My neighbour kindly gave us her recipe for spiced buns. They are delicious and we devour them when she makes them, but ours didn’t work out the same. Sometimes I think the results of baking are more to do with the hands that make them than following the recipe πŸ™‚ We might just have to until the next time she makes them πŸ™‚

 

Cardboard Towns, Peanut Cookies & Mini Greenhouses

The hot weather is exactly what I need this week to revive me. I find sitting in the garden such a healing thing. Apart from spending time in our small bit of greenery, we have been doing lots of craft projects this week, as our enthusiasm for home learning wanes.

The girls have become really interested in den building, and I’m happy to encourage it. I always hear about kids getting obsessed with a particular game or toy and it absorbing all their time. My kids’ favourite game until now has been following me around, asking for things πŸ™‚ They have worked out ways of constructing their own tents around the washing line, and it’s nice to hear them playing happily in the imaginary world they rarely inhabit πŸ™‚ When it’s sunny, they like to have lunch inside their den too.

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I decided to make use of our collection of cardboard and attempt to make a village with the girls. We had two large pieces of cardboard we painted as the ground, adding a pond, streets and grass. The girls painted some empty small boxes in grey, brown, red etc to make buildings. I found some pictures in magazines to use on the shop fronts, like a crate of vegetables, a bookshop window and some kitchen equipment for another shop. I painted some flowers in the flower beds on the base and then my daughter painted some flowers of her own too πŸ™‚

The next day when it had dried, we stuck it all together. I added some nature scenes from magazines to the grass and the girls made some play doh ducks for the pond. We added some green confetti to give the grass texture too. You could add so many things to it, depending on your child’s attention span πŸ™‚ That was all mine would allow us to do πŸ™‚

I made some easy pizza this week, using some homemade bread. I just put tomato paste, cherry tomates, cheese and hotdogs on it, and it was an immediate hit with my kids. They ate theirs inside their dens and I sat in the sun at our little garden table with pizza and a glass of wine. It reminded me of when we go for pizza in Glasgow and I get a small tumbler of white wine with pizza in the afternoon. It’s the only time I drink during the day because I don’t drive when we’re over there, and pizza in the garden had the same sort of tranquil feel to it πŸ™‚ I love the creepers my neighbour planted between our gardens. Sitting next to them helps me imagine I’m elsewhere when I’m feeling hemmed in in the house πŸ™‚

I made some more homemade lemonade sweetened with honey. I like making it as a vitamin-filled drink that the girls actually like to drink πŸ™‚ We also baked some peanut butter and jelly cookies and some more chocolate chip ones. The chocolate chip ones have vanished already πŸ™‚ The girls left me to finish making them so they could eat cookie dough and fight over the spoon!

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There was a lot of excitement when the girls’ Toucan boxes arrived in the post. They love having their own parcels to open once a month and it’s interesting to see what activities they have included each time. We did the first activity together, which was building mini greenhouses. The set came with plywood to slot together to build into little containers, a liner to hold the soil and the soil came in little solid packets you had to soak in water to make it expand. The girls loved making the labels and planting their seeds. There were sunflowers, nasturtiums and basil. A sticker sheet came too so they could add stickers to decorate it at the end (that might have been the part they were most enthusiastic about :))

Afterwards, we spent some more time in the garden and I had a Starbucks instant caramel latte I got from the shops πŸ™‚ It was surprisingly good for instant coffee. I’ve realised that the only thing close to reading that is achievable during my children’s waking hours is looking at pictures in magazines. There are a lot of interrupted sentences, so I might have to resort to picture books if I want to take up reading in daylight again πŸ™‚ The girls changed the shape of their den and connected it to their playhouse so they could crawl from one to the other πŸ™‚

We finished the day with a film. I surrendered and let them choose a cartoon, which ironically, they weren’t very keen on. We finished the day with ice cream sundaes. I just put vanilla ice-cream in a bowl with whipped cream, some chocolate spread and sprinkles. I put banana in my younger daughter’s bowl because she wanted to try a banana split, but after tasting it she said “I think I’ll keep the banana as a decoration in my bowl – it’s just, I don’t like banana with ice-cream.” πŸ™‚

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Mixed Media, Garden Play and Garlands

It’s taken me a while to get round to blogging this week. I just finished editing a book and that – that an an insurmountable pile of ironing – has been taking up all my free time (if such a thing still exists :)) This week, we’ve been spending a lot of time in our garden in the sunshine. I ordered a tuff tray for the girls and I wish I’d come across them long before now. It’s an easy way to set up contained messy play and keeps them busy for hours πŸ™‚

This week, we made some mixed media pictures. I found some dark blue card (but you could use any colour or paint a cereal box if you don’t have any.) The girls created little scenes on them. One opted for a sunny day and the other for a rainy one, probably because she is obsessed with umbrellas and jumping in puddles πŸ™‚ We stuck on cotton wool clouds, cut out some fabric scraps for clothes, used colour card for petals and coloured in/drew on plain paper to add details like shoes and stems on the plants etc. I think they turned out really well and were easy to make, plus it’s a good way to use up crafting scraps in your house πŸ™‚

We transformed our living room into a mini library. We set up a desk at the coffee table with stampers and pieces of paper. The girls liked stamping the paper and then inserting them into books they were “borrowing.” They had a toy till they used too, but I always thought the thing that looked the most exciting about being a librarian was the stamping when I was a kid πŸ™‚ One worked at the desk while the other browsed for books πŸ™‚ We laid them out on the hearth and I gave them a little bag to gather them in. They ordered in books that weren’t available and then had them delivered from the bookcase upstairs. After a while, they got out their tea set and pretend food and made coffee, juice and biscuits like the librarian does in the real library we’re missing πŸ™‚ I like games that encourage kids to come up with their own ideas and that they can take in all different directions that you couldn’t have planned.

My neighbour kindly gave us some dried melon seeds so we could dye and thread them to make things. We dyed half of them blue and the other half yellow with food colouring and then threaded them to make garlands and necklaces πŸ™‚ I was surprised how vibrant they turned out and the process of threading them with a needle was so therapeutic. I like the way we are forced to not waste and use what we already have in our houses for entertainment at the moment πŸ™‚

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We played a game where the girls had to choose a teddy to cook for. The teddies whispered into their ears what their favourite foods were. The girls then designed a meal on paper for them and then made it out of play doh to serve to them.

The girls have been dressing up for their morning walk and it feels more precious because we can only go out once. They both wore capes when we walked on the Greenway this week because they wanted people we passed “to know that they are superheroes.” They have also adopted a strange practice of carrying a book when they’re walking. I asked my daughter why she was and she said it was to keep her company on our walk (apparently she is tired of my conversation.)

I had an enormous sweet potato to use up (it was the size of a butternut squash,) so I decided to make some sweet potato and coconut soup πŸ™‚ I just used sweet potato, coconut milk, stock and some coriander we grew from seed on our windowsill πŸ™‚ (That will probably be the only time I ever use that sentence :)) Although, my tomato plant seems to be doing well. I don’t know if it will yield tomatoes yet, but I’m still amazed I kept a plant alive. On the other hand, my chives are looking straggly. I suppose it’s good to experiment even if it doesn’t result in anything impressive πŸ™‚

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I found some blank stickers and the girls enjoyed designing their own stickers on them πŸ™‚ If you have any blank labels lying around the house you could use them for a quick activity with kids. Afterwards, we made a word soup. I asked the girls to call out any words they wanted me to write down and I cut them up and put them into a bowl. They took it in turn mixing them with a big spoon and then picked out one word at a time. They laid them out on the table and we made up a silly story with them. You could do the same with pictures for smaller children or you could make a poem with them using the words and write it down and then decorate it πŸ™‚ It seems to work best with nouns and verbs – I found any of the connecting words didn’t work as well when they come out in a random order.

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We filled the girls’ tuff tray with washing up liquid and water to use as bubble mixture πŸ™‚ They used their bubble guns and we cut the bottoms out of some leftover party cups we had to make giant bubbles. You could use straws too, or anything you can find lying around the house πŸ™‚ It turned into slippery paddling, so I intervened and changed it into a painting tray πŸ™‚ The novelty of painting outside kept them amused and they used different shaped empty boxes and toilet roll tubes to make prints. If you get an old plate and put the different colours on opposite sides of it, when you dip an object into the paint, it creates multicoloured prints πŸ™‚

The girls had been nagging me to have a barbecue, so we had an impromptu one with the things we had already in the house. I made some sausages and mushrooms and some dinner rolls. It was an American recipe and they didn’t turn out like hot dog buns but they were still nice πŸ™‚ I made some potatoes and salad and we ate in the garden, which is the girls favourite thing to do πŸ™‚ It actually made dinner time feel much less stressful and it felt like we were on holiday.

We turned the tuff tray into a rock pool next. The girls have a tin they put shells they’ve collected into after we’ve been to the beach, so we got that out, their nets and their buckets and spades, water cans, etc. They fished for shells and collected them in their buckets. They also found a game hidden amidst the beach supplies – that game with the ball that attaches to a velcro paddle. It’s funny how when you’re spending all your time in the house, you uncover things you forget you had. It has taught me that most things we need are already in the house, in some form, and shopping isn’t always necessary, or conducive to fun.

A Week of Quiet Creativity

I’m a little bit behind on my blogging. I’ve been working on a book and that’s been taking up the small amount of free time I have πŸ™‚ But I thought I’d share a few things that we did this week to keep busy. I’ve been feeling grateful for the amount of sunshine and the warmer temperatures that allow us to spend most of our time in the garden πŸ™‚

We have a baby paddling pool from years ago that I have been filling with warm, bubbly water for the girls to paddle in. It’s small, but they like to pull up their garden chairs and sit with their feet in it. I made some more homemade lemonade and served it to them at their “beach” with straws. We also have a water table in the garden, and the girls requested that I put bubbly water in it too, so they could give their babies a bath πŸ™‚ My daughter was using socks as sleeping bags for them when they’d had their bath πŸ™‚

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We collected twigs, stones, flowers etc so the girls could make some wild art on the ground in the garden. My daughter made a picture of a house with an outdoor den, trees and a shed and was engrossed in it for ages πŸ™‚ She was instructing me on what materials I had to find next πŸ˜€

I wanted to try a craft for kids I’d seen online using felt tips and kitchen roll. I couldn’t find any blank kitchen roll, so we had to improvise with a patterned one, but it was still the same idea πŸ™‚ You tear off two pieces of kitchen roll and fold it like a book – drawing on the top layer and the one underneath. You can draw the outline of a picture on top and the filled in parts underneath, so when you drop it in a bowl of water, the picture becomes one. The girls liked drawing simpler patterns on it and seeing them coming together. Just the novelty of drawing on kitchen roll was enough to keep them sitting for half an hour. They loved dropping the kitchen roll in water to reveal the hidden pictures too πŸ™‚

We made some banana and walnut bread and I tasked the girls with breaking the nuts into the mixture. It kept them quiet for a long time. I find when they are getting really hyper and running wild that giving them a focussed task helps to calm things down a little πŸ™‚

We have a game of charades for kids, which the girls love playing. I found it in a charity shop for just over a pound and it’s their favourite game πŸ™‚ You could make up your own version at home by drawing pictures that younger kids have to act out on card or paper, for example, a horse, a pen, a piano, etc. For older kids who can read, you can write more developed ones, like washing the dishes, wrapping a present, building a house, etc. You could make it fit with any theme you like. If you have an egg timer you could use it too πŸ™‚

I used to make up little mysteries for the girls to solve when they were younger, using pictures. They had to look for the item on the page and find the next picture in that location. Now that they are a bit older, I decided to make up a simple mystery for them to solve, with words and pictures. I just grabbed a baby doll and made up a story about it exploring the house, leaving pink sandy footprints, having a bath in the sink, making friends with other dolls, turning household items into a playground, etc. The girls had to find all the evidence, tick boxes and find where the baby was hidden at the end. It didn’t take long to put it together and it kept them entertained without me having to get up while I finished my coffee πŸ™‚

My older daughter loves art and she’s enjoying watching guided drawing videos online. There have been quite a few free art classes on Facebook since lockdown started. We did a β€œdrawing the Easter bunny” one together and she enjoyed learning about shading and layering colours.

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We went for a walk to the chemist and spotted an Easter window display along the way. I thought it was nice that the owner had left the display there when the shop is currently closed. It brightened the girls’ day seeing it and they wanted to take the bunnies home with us πŸ™‚

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Since I didn’t have many eggs to hide for an Easter egg hunt, I got the kids to cut eggs out of cardboard and draw patterns on them, and hid them along with our remaining chocolate in the garden πŸ™‚ They liked colouring at the table outside too. It’s strange how an activity they do all the time becomes more exciting when it’s in a new location πŸ™‚

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I looked up some recipes for Easter biscuits and adapted a Mary Berry one. We made some egg, chick and bunny shaped cookies with Easter colours icing and sprinkles πŸ™‚ When they were ready, we enjoyed them in the garden and looked at some of the emerging flowers. My tulips came out overnight and I like the fact the girls noticed that they had. They have more time to notice things they might have overlooked before, and I think it’s an important lesson for them.

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I made my first hashbrowns, which was incredibly easy and left me wondering why I’d never done it before. I just fried grated potato in oil until it was softened on the inside and crisped on the inside and topped breakfast burritos with them. I just filled tortillas with scrambled egg and cheese, but you could use any toppings you like, and make more adventurous ones for the non-fussy eaters in your house.

The girls had some washi tape left, so we used it to make some bracelets. I didn’t have any string or elastic, so we used pipecleaners I cut to fit the girls’ wrists and twisted them together at the end. They cut off small amounts of the decorative tape and wrapped it around the pipecleaner to form “beads.” They were happy with the end result and it was quite a therapeutic activity to do. You could also use it to make decorative chains/bunting instead of jewellery.

The girls made some Easter cards out of paper and they were very excited to receive a package from a lady we know with some Easter chick bows inside πŸ™‚ I think that sending letters and parcels brings a lot of joy in these times when we can’t see family and friends.

I find that doing these quiet activities makes the days go quicker and keeps us sane, but also makes us stop to treasure the time we have to do things that usually get pushed aside for routine.

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