Planet Posters, Seasonal Cooking & Fungi Fieldtrips

I’ve been busy working on other projects recently and have neglected my blog a bit. But it feels like a new season has started and I felt the desire to share what we’d been doing this morning πŸ™‚

With the school rush a part of our routine again, I’m enjoying the slow development of weekend days. When the weather is favourable, we’ve been going for long nature walks. The girls have told me their favourite place to visit at the moment is Rowallane Gardens. I love the fact that it is so easy to get to but it feels like pure escapism. The trees are beautiful autumnal colours at the moment and I find it helps to reset my mind just being around them. There is definitely something to the Japanese practice of tree bathing. I find watching the kids climbing trees, or just being surrounded by them really healing.

I love walking around the lake and seeing the weeping willows. My kids attempt to play Pooh sticks every time we go but seem surprised each time they discover there is no current to carry their sticks away πŸ™‚ Still, sitting on a bridge prodding at things in the water does them good. I don’t think there is enough down-time for kids nowadays and I like them to experience it when they can. They have found a tree that they call the “Sliding Tree” because it bows in the shape of a slide. I’m surprised they haven’t destroyed their leggings on it yet, but it keeps them happy πŸ™‚ I brought some sausages in a flask and we had hotdogs beside the bandstand. It reminded me of when I was little and we used to have a school barbecue in that spot πŸ™‚

I like walking around the Old Wood part of Rowallane at the minute. There is something spooky about it, so it makes sense they put their Halloween hunt there. They have started to put together some of the tree sculptures. The girls said that they were “scary” but seemed to still want to pose for photos with them πŸ™‚ They have put up little signs about fungi-spotting. There are lots of different kinds if you look around for them. I find it calms my kids looking for things like that – doing anything that resembles a treasure hunt. They became really interested in finding as many different kinds as they could and liked the ones that looked like frills πŸ™‚

They have made a little fairy town out of some tree stumps and the girls were pretending to walk their fingers up the stairs into the little house πŸ™‚ I love finding unexpected things that people have made along the way πŸ™‚ Afterwards, we played Hide and Seek in the walled garden and had some snacks at the cafe. I love the outdoor terrace. It always seems to get the sun when nowhere else does, and it feels like we have left Northern Ireland while we’re there πŸ™‚ Every time we go, I get a scone and my daughter devours most of it, but she still declares that they aren’t as good as “Nannie’s scones.”

I have been experimenting with some new recipes over the last week. I got a book called “Feed your Family for Β£20 a Week” and it has lots of good recipes in it πŸ™‚ I made a sausage casserole yesterday that the kids actually ate, and enough lentil soup to feed a whole town πŸ™‚ There is a recipe for granola too and it turned out better than any I have got from the shops. I also found a recipe for a three ingredient Christmas cake and wanted to experiment with it. It turned out surprisingly well for something with so few ingredients. I added some Baileys to it and I might make a version of it for Christmas time with an attempt at icing/marzipan on it πŸ™‚

It felt Wintery to me yesterday, so we had a pyjamas day in the house. I love finding old movies I loved as a kid and watching them with the girls. We watched Dennis the Menace. It was one of the few non-cartoon films that they have found hilarious. I keep those packets of microwave popcorn in the house so I have them on hand for a cinema day. You can get four of them for a pound in Home Bargains πŸ™‚

We made some gingerbread men. I’m not quite sure why I’m doing so much Christmas-style baking in October, but it just felt like appropriate weather for it. Gingerbread men are the one kind of biscuit both my kids will eat πŸ™‚ They love icing them and adding sprinkles too. The girls just wanted to use all the cookie cutters we own so we have a bit of a mixture of seasons biscuits-wise πŸ™‚

We hadn’t got around to completing the girls’ Toucan boxes, so we made the planets poster. You had to dye coffee filters, using felt tips and a water pipette. Then, you had to add bright tissue paper to add another layer of dye. The effect was interesting and they did come out with a mottled, planet-type surface πŸ™‚ When they had dried, the girls glued them over the holes in the poster and added stickers. To finish it off, they added some glow in the dark stars πŸ™‚

We also made a dreamcatcher. The girls had to paint the wooden hoop with watercolours first. While we waited for it to dry, we had an autumn painting session together and we all painted pumpkins πŸ™‚ We talked about adding more than one colour running through an object and my daughter seems very interested in that now πŸ™‚ When the hoop was dry, we threaded cord through it with a plastic needle πŸ™‚ It’s good practice for kids to get the hang of sewing without the finger-pricking part πŸ™‚ We decorated it with hanging beads and feathers and my daughter put it up in their bedroom to ward off bad dreams πŸ™‚

It felt like a gentle kind of day and it was a welcome break from running around, picking up and dropping everyone off πŸ™‚ I felt much more ready to face the week this morning and my mind felt rested for once. I think my version of lying down binge-watching a boxset is making things with my hands, and my kids might be the same way πŸ™‚

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™‚

Cheap Crafts, Wild Weather & Curious Chickens

Nothing makes me happier than seeing my children playing with a cardboard box. I don’t know what it is about it – maybe it’s just a classic childhood activity, but my kids always seem more content when they’re inside one πŸ™‚ Sometimes they find them without my knowledge and transform them into things on their own. The most recent one was used as a pirate ship and my daughter stuck a flag onto it she made without my involvement πŸ™‚ The garden was turned into a colouring station and we had some homemade play doh that was transported out for a cookie shop afterwards.

I stocked up on some of the 79p craft packs from Home Bargains. They aren’t made to last, but that’s probably for the best, considering the amount of clutter we have already accumulated in the house πŸ™‚ The girls enjoyed decorating their own hairbands with ribbons and sequins.

Since our blackberry-picking expedition the girls have been obsessed with finding them on our walks. Every time I look at one of them they’ve spotted another blackberry bush and are collecting them in their then-stained handbag or pockets πŸ™‚ There are some in our garden too so that has kept them happy.

We had our first proper trip since before Lockdown to the library. After picking out all the books they wanted and finding a book of short stories for myself (I’m hoping there is more chance of me actually getting the time to finish them!) we went to a cafe we hadn’t been to before. I hadn’t realised they sold ice-cream and I love the window seats πŸ™‚ There was something about it that reminded me of a Turkish tea house.

At home, the girls cut out images from an old magazine so they could make their own collages. I cut out accompanying text that I thought went with what they were making. You could also cut out random words and put them together to make new sentences of your own.

I found some sand and cutters in the pound shop and put it in a tray for the girls to play with. It was the same as kinetic sand and kept them occupied for hours. I love looking in the craft and toy sections in the pound shop πŸ™‚ Then again – that’s why I’ve had to convert three of our kitchen cupboards into craft cupboards πŸ™‚ I also found some masks with elastic for the girls to colour. I find my kids seem to sit for longer to colour when they’re colouring something that serves a purpose when it’s finished :/

We went to the beach on a very windy day. The girls turned the picnic blanket into a bed to hide from the wind πŸ™‚ It was a strange kind of weather: cloudy, sunny, hot, cold and windy all at once. We had a pain au chocolat and tried to shelter from the wind. I like windy days at the beach because I like watching the waves and the sea breeze really clears your head. We kept moving to keep warm. The girls climbed on rocks, we went for a walk and they played in the playground. I love the trees that make up the backdrop of this playground. I think they have so much character and make the place instantly recognisable.

We also went to the Folk Museum for the first time in months. The sweet shop was closed but other than that, things felt fairly normal. In the printers shop a man made the girls a donkey print each. They liked watching the process and they’re always happy to get something to take home with them. I love stopping at the houses and seeing the turf fires. It makes me wish we had a functioning fireplace and that people still cooked over them πŸ™‚ There were lots of animals wandering about that day. The chickens were roaming around the farmhouse and tried to follow us inside. There were also piglets, a horse, a donkey and sheep. It made the walk more interesting for the girls. There were some people in front of us that had brought punnets for blackberry picking, so that started off the girls’ obsession with it again πŸ™‚ There are very few items of clothing of theirs left without blackberry stains on them now 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.

Blueberry Scones, Bright Boats & Hotdogs on a Hill

Since we got back from Rostrevor, I’ve been focusing on doing free and simple activities with the girls. While we were away, I got some incense that is meant to smell like a turf fire and I’ve been enjoying burning it and pretending we have an open fire πŸ™‚ I ordered sewing machines for the girls a couple of months ago. They loved mine from when I was little but just had to pretend with it since the needle wasn’t replacable. They like the novelty of being able to do a simple stitch on the new ones they got πŸ™‚

I made some scones that turned into giant scones as they expanded in the oven πŸ™‚ They were vegan blueberry ones. Instead of dairy, the recipe used coconut milk and came out surprisingly well. They stayed fresh for days longer than scones usually seem to as well. I used the remaining coconut milk in smoothies and it made a huge difference to the flavour πŸ™‚ Coconut milk might be my new favourite ingredient πŸ™‚

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We have been spending a lot of time outdoors and I renewed our Castle Espie membership. It’s only six pounds a month and we go every week. You can feed the birds again and I love looking at the views over Strangford Lough while the girls enjoy the wildwood playground. Afterwards, we stopped at a little causeway that goes out to an island. We also found a good climbing tree and the girls collected some stones from the beach. It’s lucky we didn’t get caught on the island because the tide was coming in and apparently when it does it covers the walkway πŸ™‚ The girls were excited about the number of butterflies fluttering about. They must be drawn to the flowers there. We liked it so much we made a second trip there πŸ™‚ The island was filled with blackberry bushes and we picked and ate some πŸ™‚ The girls wanted to fill an empty strawberry punnet we had with them but we left some for other visitors πŸ™‚

I’ve developed an obsession with visiting climbs with beautiful views at the top. We went to Scrabo Tower on a really clear day and could see the little island we’d visited from it and lots of other beaches. The girls loved climbing on the rocks and the steps to the tower. I’m always amazed by how long a plain rock can keep them occupied for πŸ™‚

I’ve started making my own iced coffee with soya or oat milk. It’s really refreshing and easy to make. I didn’t think I could recreate the coffee shop ones but with syrup and lots of ice it tastes exactly the same πŸ™‚

We went to the top of the Cavehill a day (although I cheated and parked at the upper car park!) It took about half an hour to walk to the top from there with the girls. The views were beautiful and I was surprised to see so many cows grazing along the way. The ground was purple with heather and it was one of the prettiest places I have ever walked to. I like the fact you can see the whole city from it too but can’t hear anything. We had hotdogs on the hill which was the highlight for the girls. I just put precooked sausages in a flask and brought hot dog buns and ketchup. As an easy alternative I also saw a post online where someone had put frankfurters in a flask of boiled water and they are heated by the time you serve your picnic πŸ™‚

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One day, we spent all day at the beach while the sun was still here. We went in the morning and the girls climbed on the rocks and looked for crabs in rock pools. There is a natural paddling pool built into the rocks that the girls love to play in. The day was mostly sunny and warm but the sea was rough. The girls enjoyed jumping over the waves. I joined them even though it resulted in numb feet πŸ™‚ They built and decorated sandcastles and we had a picnic. Afterwards we went for a long walk along the shore. My daughter drew hearts in the sand and they splashed in a channel that had formed. We walked to the caravan park. I usually find that it’s easier to get my kids to walk further if there is a clear aim at the end of it; even if it’s just to see a landmark before you turn back. We got ice-cream from Mauds and found a picnic table at the other end of the beach. The pirate ship playground had reopened, which the girls were pleased about, so they played there while I watched the scenery. There is something about looking at a collection of different brightly coloured boats that makes me feel like I’m on a quaint holiday. I have recently run out of steam for carrying out involved craft projects, so I’m finding spending time in nature and letting the day unfold as it decides to do is the best thing for us πŸ™‚

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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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ There was a playground there too. It started to feel like our holiday was a tour of Northern Ireland’s playgrounds πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ No matter where we go to, they seem to order chicken goujons and then pinch the parts of other people’s meals they like πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 Β£5 each and clip on earrings, so that kept them happy πŸ™‚

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 Β£3 again πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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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 πŸ™‚

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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 Tours, Wind Chimes & Wishing Trees

The girls and I have been doing tours of various beaches the last couple of weeks πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ It started to rain, but we had brought raincoats, and I like watching the choppy sea anyway πŸ™‚ Everyone else fled so it felt like we had our own little private beach for a while πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ We skimmed stones on the still sea, which was a first for the girls, and for me πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ The girls got a little nature book each and have been interested in reading about the countryside and butterflies πŸ™‚ We sat in the sun and the girls had some sticks of rock while I had a coffee πŸ™‚ Since they had new things to look at, they sat at peace for a change πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

We made a craft I had found online. They are little natural decoration/chime type things πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ I let them use my acrylic paints for that and for some reason, they seem to think that is a real privilege πŸ˜€

 

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ Then we fed some of the bunnies and a calf started licking my coat πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ We also had some of the ice-cream they make on the farm and it might be my favourite kind πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚