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 🙂

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

We made another trip to the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens to catch the roses before they wilt 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂 I finally found a dessert that my daughter will eat – berry crumble with custard 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 It’s good incentive for my kids to walk and I notice far fewer complaints along the way 🙂 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 🙂 I was thinking about writing letters with the girls soon so they can post them there 🙂 I love the attention to detail and the fact that there are even little figures and trains inside the houses 🙂 My kids could easily stop there for an hour to examine everything 🙂 (as could I.)

We made another trip to the folk museum. I love walking around there and shutting off from modern technology 🙂 I almost resent taking pictures there because it seems to jar with the rustic feel to the place 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 There were lots of animals there and the kids loved uncovering the donkeys in a hidden corner of a barn 🙂 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 🙂 I might need to buy more envelopes now though 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂 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 £3 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 I’ll make this a “to 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.

Taste the City Belfast

I’ve decided to make Saturday a day to go to free events with my kids when they are on. We live close to the city centre and the bus is right on our doorstep and we barely use it. I think my kids have finally reached the age where it is (a bit) less stressful to venture into town 🙂

Today there was a food festival thing on in Belfast and it said it was a free event with activities for kids so we went 🙂 I was surprised by what they offered for free. My kids both got their faces painted, they got to make kites with all the materials supplied and to do sugar craft designs on cupcakes.

BC95CFC6-5EEF-4A3A-9110-5797BD6C3C7C

The kite-making workshop was good for all ages. The kids had to pick a picture to trace onto it and then colour it in before it was assembled. The girls really enjoyed doing this and it solved the problem I often have at markets of stopping them grabbing everything in sight!

74206D34-6FD4-4D63-8AC4-ECCFE8844405

Afterwards, we sat in the sun while the girls ate the buns they had iced and we listened to live music playing in the square. The only thing I paid for was a disappointing cup of coffee and I wished I had thought ahead to bring my own!

D5628A0D-2B58-4C48-9CC6-814ECF944B56

There were stalls selling sweets, condiments, teas, etc, and food demos, but I didn’t attempt to get the girls to sit still for them! There was a relaxed vibe to the place and it seemed surprisingly quiet for a Saturday. I love when you find things no one seems to know are happening 🙂 Especially since I don’t cope well with busy places 🙂

I had set a budget for the day so we took the bus into town instead of paying for parking and my kids were so excited they got to sit at the top on a double decker 🙂

I brought our own drinks and we got lunch for all of us from Greggs for £3.50 and took it to the park, where the girls flew their new kites and ran off some of their energy.

After that, we went to Lush because I had promised the girls a bath bomb. They used their first one last week and were fascinated by it. I guided them towards a lavender one, hoping it would help them sleep, but that was probably wishful thinking 🙂 I got a face mask while I was there. I think even if you are trying to save money it is better to limit yourself to one treat, rather than depriving yourself of everything – it helps you to stop splurging on lots of things.

We called into Learning Space, which is a shop with educational toys and games for kids. There was a sensory story time where the lady read “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” with props the kids could play with – like fake snow to make it snow, play doh to squelch in, a tarp to hide under 🙂

At the end of the day, we looked in a bookshop. Then, I had a coffee and the girls had juice in a cafe while they did sticker books. I’m thinking about making this a little tradition of ours 🙂 I think the best kind of days with kids are ones where you have a vague plan (so you don’t end up lost for things to do/with bored, whiney kids!) but that is open-ended and you can adapt to what you feel like doing at the time/judge it by everyone’s tiredness levels. If you break the day up with kid-friendly activities and snack breaks, days out with kids are definitely more enjoyable 🙂

60D327F2-FF9D-4023-9852-6CBFC990796B

 

 

Culture and Kids

Today I took my kids to Culture Day in Belfast. I decided to take the bus and my kids get excited at the mere mention of that – I guess we don’t go into town too often so it’s a bit of a novelty. I was surprised by the amount of events on for kids. We spent all day there and my kids loved it.

We arrived early at the City Hall and got to enjoy the morning sun with coffee and very early ice-cream/lollies for my kids 🙂 No one was there yet and we got to sit on the deckchairs and watch martial arts. There was a mini rave that the kids enjoyed because they got to dance and run around on the grass. Not my music of choice, but I’m happy with any distraction I find for my kids.

8BCF8A03-F5FB-4171-92EA-D259478E1124

After that we went to a bazaar in St Anne’s cathedral and saw some Indian dancers on the way. I had planned to have a no spend day and that didn’t exactly go to plan once I found a vintage clothing stall. We found a lady who did face painting and she did really beautiful designs, so I decided to get mine done too 🙂 I want to get it tattooed on my face now because it’s so pretty! There were so many interesting stalls and if my kids hadn’t had limited patience for looking around I would have spent far too much money, so it was lucky that they were there!

9917DD77-FDD0-490F-BD63-808669796997

Afterwards, we went to the library where there was story-telling from different cultures and puppets. It was well put together for kids with free juice and biscuits and donut-type cushions for them to sit on. The stories were really interactive and they enjoyed joining in.

3E8826C6-E51A-4312-AE31-A4D7AB6B1EFA

We followed that with an acoustic picnic in the Oh Yeah music centre. There was kid-friendly live music, crafts and games. We brought a picnic so we didn’t have to buy any lunch or drinks then. My daughters enjoyed playing skittles and making maracas.

There was a free chocolate/sweets factory held in a pub. Kids got to make chocolate “pizzas” topped with their sweets of choice. It was held in an outdoor pub and had a holiday-type of atmosphere.

AAC667EE-93AC-4476-A7F5-11ADCCB8D90E

Afterwards, we went to a finger painting event in Lush. The kids had to smell a scent and then paint a picture based on the scent. They got to watch bath bombs dissolving and enjoyed making a mess.

There were some street performances. After that, we were all getting tired legs and we went back to the City Hall where they were making junk art with kids and dancing with pom poms and things. My kids described the day as wonderful and I thought it was too 🙂 I had a budget for the day and managed to stick to it. I think some of the things that helped were taking the bus so I didn’t have to pay for parking, bringing lunch, drinks and snacks and picking out mostly free events The only part of the day where we spent money was at the bazaar. I love looking out for free local events that provide artistic activities for my kids and educational things presented in a fun way.

3581E44B-12C1-4D9E-88BA-04CADDAA683B

Cheap Places To Go With Kids In Northern Ireland

Cheap Places To Go With Kids In Northern Ireland Part One

All of these ideas are going to be centred around Belfast and the East side of Northern Ireland, due to my ignorance of what lies in Fermanagh and Derry! So if you live in that area or are planning a trip near Belfast hopefully this will provide you with a few ideas.

The Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens

If you’re lucky enough to find a parking space within walking distance (!) this is a great place to go with kids. They have an art room, a nature room and a room of antique toys. The cafe is good for a parental coffee reward and the gift shop for window shopping. The gardens are right outside and have a palm house, tropical ravine (it’s closed at the moment for restoration) and I always liked playing on the bandstand and the rose garden as a kid. Note: the museum is closed on Mondays. Entry is free.

Seapark in Holywood

I still don’t understand why Holywood is pronounced Hollywood but it has a well-placed playground with a sea view anyway. The grassy expanse is good for picnics in better weather and you can walk along the seafront after letting your kids play. The playground was recently redone so there is lots to do.

8B9B81E2-4999-4B6A-A7F9-13147BE4BD19

Greyabbey village and the Abbey

Greybbey is great for kids. My kids call it “the rocks” because they like to climb on the ruins. There is something about letting them do this that feels a bit sacrilegious, but at least they’re enjoying themselves. There is a herb garden to walk around and smell the scents with your children, teaching them names of herbs. Morbid as it may be, my kids like exploring the neighbouring graveyard too. You can follow it with a look in the antique shops if you’re feeling brave around breakables and you can an ice-cream from the shop/coffee or treats in Alchemy or one of the other cafes. (Or have a picnic if your kids are particularly wound-up that day.)

9651CF06-68E1-451B-8BA3-362FE72380EC.png

Portaferry/Strangford Ferry

If you’re lacking funds, the ferry might be preferable to the aquarium in Portaferry (fun as it is.) I took my kids to both and the ferry was much more popular with them. It was £2 return for all of us on foot. You can leave the car on one side, go for a walk or get fish and chips and sit at the harbour. It’s a novelty for the kids and a day out that won’t put you into your overdraft.

Hope these ideas were useful. I will follow this post with others as part of a Northern Ireland series of things to do with kids 🙂