Autumn Appreciation & Cosy Crafts

I don’t usually make much of Halloween, but I’m looking for any excuse for celebration this year. I decided my kids need it as much as I do after all the restrictions placed on us all year, so I went to Home Bargains and got some cheap decorations for Halloween displays. There is a house around the corner from ours with some pumpkin fairy lights and a ghost outside the front door, and in a strange way it brings some cheer to the area πŸ™‚

I put up some spiders on a string and some skull lights, a little lantern and ghost display under the stairs, got out my knitted pumpkins I got at a craft fair a couple of years ago and put up some pumpkin bunting. It was the first thing the kids commented on when they got home from school and it felt like a prelude to Christmas.

I’m going to throw a party of three for the kids and myself, so before Halloween arrives, I’ve decided to collect some games and activities to keep the kids’ busy over the holidays, especially since I’m preparing myself for an extended half-term holiday. Usually when we have a “party” in the house, I make some games for free, drawing my own “pin the … on the …” and use one of my scarves as a blindfold. It’s funny how something as simple as that is always a hit. I will probably do a pass the parcel with sweets inside and plastic Halloween ornaments hidden in each layer πŸ™‚

We started with some of our autumnal crafts this weekend. We collected some yellow and red leaves, some pine cones and rocks to create a little table display. I found a cute little squash that looks like a tiny pumpkin and added it too. The girls made some sparkly pine cones, using PVA glue and sprinkling glitter over them. We chose autumn colours, like gold, orange and yellow. Then we painted some rocks with autumn-themed pictures too, like trees shedding leaves and pumpkins. I just gave the girls some of my acrylic paints in seasonal colours and let them paint whatever they wanted. After they had dried, we assembled them in the centre of the table and added a candle for dinner time. I might look out for a dish to put them on too. I like having little projects like that to change around small things in the house – ones that don’t involve DIY at least!

I also used the day to do some cooking for throughout the week. I made vegetable soup, which I’m always surprised to see my kids happily eating, with their aversion to most vegetables! I used up some black bananas by making two-ingredient breakfast cookies. You just add one cup of oats per mashed banana, mix and you can add in any extras you like. Then, you just cook them in the oven for fifteen minutes. I added chocolate chips to ours and the kids did the banana mashing and hovering, waiting for chocolate rewards πŸ™‚

We have been spending our free time at the farm and Rowallane. I baked some brownies and took them with us and both kids loved them. I was surprised since they contained cacao powder instead of chocolate. I might have finally found a treat they will both eat πŸ™‚ We fed the animals, the kids spent ages on the go-carts and we dodged rain showers between barns πŸ™‚ The trees at Rowallane seemed to have changed colour, even since last week. There were beautiful jewel colours everywhere and they had added a Halloween trail for kids. We spent hours exploring the whole estate and ended it with the obligatory ice-cream stop at the cafe. I spotted some purple flowers that stood out to me and wondered what they were called. Funnily enough, I saw the same flowers in a magazine the next day and found out they were called Michaelmas daisies πŸ™‚

I’ve come to really appreciate the month of October. If you stop to look at the seasonal changes around you and enjoy the cosiness of the nights closing in, it feels like a treat in itself and you don’t mourn the loss of Summer πŸ™‚

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.

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˜€

 

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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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 πŸ™‚ It’s funny how taking a simple concept like stickers and transposing them to a window suddenly makes it much more exciting πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ I might encourage them to make some nature collages or drawings from them as an activity tomorrow πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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Nature Bags, Gratitude Journals & Fairy Houses

I just looked at the volume of photos I have for blog posts that have never materialised and realised I’ll probably never catch up now, but I’ll attempt to anyway πŸ™‚ Last week, the girls and I found a new coffee shop near us that does takeaway coffees/you can have it at little tables outside. I’ve decided I much prefer to drink coffee outside in the fresh air anyway. I’ve done it every day since being in lockdown and it feels like you’re on holiday πŸ™‚ The girls had some hot chocolates in their little takeaway cups and felt grown up πŸ™‚ I got a vanilla latte and we walked around to see what was opening up again in our area. I love calling into the health shop too and stocking up on snacks like popcorn and yogurt covered raisins πŸ™‚

We completed the second craft in the girls’ Toucan boxes: making dyed nature bags. First, they had to put coloured tissue paper strips on foil and they painted it with water until it was all damp. Then, they pressed the fabric bag against it and it dyed it πŸ™‚ After it dried, the girls used the nature stencils to make pictures on top of the dyes. The bags came with little checklists for each season, so the girls can take them with them on nature walks and tick off the things they find along the way.

I finally ordered some sand for the girls’ water/sand table. They never show much interest in it when it’s filled with water, but they played with it all day when I filled it with sand πŸ™‚ We made mini sandcastles and they ended up burying LOL dolls and rescuing them.

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For my daughter’s schoolwork, she had to make a forest school picture, using natural materials and a dividing line to create symmetry. We got out her shell and rock collection and a skipping rope and the girls enjoyed making mirrored shell pictures in the garden for a long time πŸ™‚

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I’d been looking at gratitude journals for kids online and found a cheaper version since some of them are so expensive πŸ™‚ The girls have enjoyed filling them in at the end of the day. They are simple and encourage them to write or draw three things they are grateful for that day. I’m guessing that the more expensive versions have more prompts in them for journalling, but these are good if you just want to teach your kids about gratitude and reflecting on their day.

Apart from the Toucan boxes the girls get, I like the emails they send with suggested activities for kids in them. They sent a template this week for an origami dinosaur bookmark and I’ve decided I’m going to look for more origami animals instructions for the girls. They seem to enjoy lots of paper crafts and games you can play with just a piece of paper and a pencil.

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My friend kindly brought us some beetroot and parsley from her garden πŸ™‚ We made some beetroot crisps for the first time yesterday πŸ™‚ I was surprised that both of the girls tried them (especially since one frequently declares that she doesn’t eat any vegetables.) I think I overcooked them a little, but they were like sweet crisps so they went down well πŸ™‚

Yesterday, we made some toilet roll tube fairy houses. We just painted them with poster paints, using sponge applicators. After they had dried, we cut out doors and windows from coloured paper, adding “curtains” that I cut out from magazines. We added bun cases as roofs, but you could use anything you like. Patterned ones would look good too, or patterned paper to cover the tubes. I liked it because it required minimal preparation and you can be as creative (or as lazy) as you like πŸ™‚