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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ I love finding unexpected things that people have made along the way ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Every time we go, I get a scone and my daughter devours most of it, but she still declares that they arenโ€™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 ยฃ20 a Week” and it has lots of good recipes in it ๐Ÿ™‚ I made a sausage casserole yesterday that the kids actually ate, and enough lentil soup to feed a whole town ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ We talked about adding more than one colour running through an object and my daughter seems very interested in that now ๐Ÿ™‚ When the hoop was dry, we threaded cord through it with a plastic needle ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s good practice for kids to get the hang of sewing without the finger-pricking part ๐Ÿ™‚ We decorated it with hanging beads and feathers and my daughter put it up in their bedroom to ward off bad dreams ๐Ÿ™‚

It felt like a gentle kind of day and it was a welcome break from running around, picking up and dropping everyone off ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Then again – that’s why I’ve had to convert three of our kitchen cupboards into craft cupboards ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ There are very few items of clothing of theirs left without blackberry stains on them now ๐Ÿ™‚

Racing Jellyfish and Bright Flowers on Cloudy Days

Iโ€™m constantly collecting content at the moment but never seem to get a chance to compile it. Iโ€™ve been working on a book and I still donโ€™t know why editing a book takes so much longer than writing it! Iโ€™m unsure as yet if Iโ€™ll be able to fit what weโ€™ve been doing into one post, so Iโ€™ll improvise and see what happens ๐Ÿ™‚

As always, much excitement was expressed at the arrival of the girlsโ€™ 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 youโ€™d find at Castle Ward, albeit a cardboard version of their everlasting wooden toys ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ยฃ3 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 wasnโ€™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 Iโ€™ll have to figure out a way to break that to them ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 isnโ€™t a slide into a slide ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ These berries made me think of Christmas time. As the girls reminded me, I forgot to bring their Woodland Trust leaf book so we couldnโ€™t identify the leaves, but it didnโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Iโ€™ll make this a โ€œto be continuedโ€ in another post and attempt to update my blog more often now Iโ€™m finished editing.

On a side note, for any readers of my blog that arenโ€™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. Itโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

I made some scones that turned into giant scones as they expanded in the oven ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Coconut milk might be my new favourite ingredient ๐Ÿ™‚

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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. Itโ€™s lucky we didnโ€™t get caught on the island because the tide was coming in and apparently when it does it covers the walkway ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ The island was filled with blackberry bushes and we picked and ate some ๐Ÿ™‚ The girls wanted to fill an empty strawberry punnet we had with them but we left some for other visitors ๐Ÿ™‚

Iโ€™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 weโ€™d visited from it and lots of other beaches. The girls loved climbing on the rocks and the steps to the tower. Iโ€™m always amazed by how long a plain rock can keep them occupied for ๐Ÿ™‚

Iโ€™ve started making my own iced coffee with soya or oat milk. Itโ€™s really refreshing and easy to make. I didnโ€™t think I could recreate the coffee shop ones but with syrup and lots of ice it tastes exactly the same ๐Ÿ™‚

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 canโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 itโ€™s easier to get my kids to walk further if there is a clear aim at the end of it; even if itโ€™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 Iโ€™m on a quaint holiday. I have recently run out of steam for carrying out involved craft projects, so Iโ€™m finding spending time in nature and letting the day unfold as it decides to do is the best thing for us ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ There was a playground there too. It started to feel like our holiday was a tour of Northern Ireland’s playgrounds ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ No matter where we go to, they seem to order chicken goujons and then pinch the parts of other people’s meals they like ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ยฃ5 each and clip on earrings, so that kept them happy ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ยฃ3 again ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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A Week of Fairs, Workshops & Rock Painting

This week has been busy; so much so that I havenโ€™t had time to record anything on here. I always find my blog posts dwindle on the days my kids are at school since that leaves less time for adventures ๐Ÿ™‚

Today, we went to Frock Around the Clock at Belfast Castle. Itโ€™s a vintage/handmade market that is held in different venues in Northern Ireland. I think Belfast Castle is my favourite spot for it because it feels grand and regal inside and goes with the feel of the market. There are also lots of little side rooms to sip your coffee in when you want to escape the crowds.
It was a day that couldnโ€™t really decide what weather it wanted to have. We arrived in mist, got caught in a rain shower and left in sunshine, but the views were spectacular and it made me realise I need to make more effort to visit the Cavehill and walk the trails with the girls.

I had a non-thrifty day and made a few too many purchases today, but when items are handmade and unique, I find it hard to resist ๐Ÿ™‚ There was a lady that made her own preserves and I got some apple butter and tried some of her pumpkin marmalade. It sounds a strange combination but worked really well ๐Ÿ™‚ I find that markets are bearable with kids as long as you intersperse shopping with snack breaks and find food stalls/crafts that interest them.ย 

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There was a lady who had made miniature book necklaces. They had pages that turn and little pressed flowers stuck between the leaves. I bought one that was a poetry collection from Whitman. It has tiny print inside and even gold edged pages ๐Ÿ™‚

The girls were happy to find some homemade, heart-shaped Jammie Dodgers. Food always saves the day when they are getting restless. There were so many stalls and interesting people to talk to that we spent hours there. My kids discovered their distaste for dark chocolate (but everything is an experience:)) I wanted to buy everything at this stall.

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After having coffee and a final look around, we went outside to explore the grounds. The girls were taken by the water fountain and insisted on dropping coins in it and making wishes. There were tiled pictures of cats and little cat statues that gave a friendly feel to the place. I didnโ€™t remember seeing them before. I love the views from the castle. It feels like youโ€™re on your own special floor above the city. Watching the palm trees in the breeze really soothes my mind. Iโ€™ve been noticing lately I get much more irritable if I havenโ€™t had fresh air. I canโ€™t seem to spend an entire day cooped up in the house without feeling like my head is getting unhealthy. So, Iโ€™m going to make a point to get outside for a walk every day. It does the girls as much good as it does me. This gothic staircase provided more entertainment for my kids than any other kid-oriented activity could ๐Ÿ™‚

At the fair, we ended up joining the Woodland Trust. I hadnโ€™t thought to visit any of the forests before, but Iโ€™m always happy to uncover less frequented places to walk. They send out activity packs for kids based on their age and Iโ€™m going to make the effort this year to visit places weโ€™ve never been to before. I want to spend some time teaching my kids about nature so they can recognise types of trees, flowers etc (and so I can too!)

Yesterday, I took the girls to the cinema for the free screening of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I brought my own coffee and sweets for the kids to save on the expense of snacks. I booked the workshop for after the film which is ยฃ3 per child. I expected it to be a bit thrown together but it was well organised and hilarious ๐Ÿ™‚ It was run by an actor who does workshops with kids and he joked around and got everyone in the room involved in pretending props were different objects, mime, freeze frames and creating scenes. Usually that type of thing would be my worst nightmare but it was done humorously and was well worth the money ๐Ÿ™‚

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This week, we also had one sick day where both kids stayed at home. They were that level of sick that still requires busyness! So, we spent the day painting and cooking. We painted the rocks the girls had collected on our โ€œholidayโ€ last weekend. I just use a big piece of paper as a paint palette when we are using lots of different colours and separate paintbrushes for each colour. I find it results in less mixing and muddy colour combinations ๐Ÿ™‚

Weโ€™ve had a busy week, between our outings, artistic endeavours and my new book being published, but it has been inspiring too and has given me plenty of ideasย for future blog posts ๐Ÿ™‚

 

A Holiday Weekend without the Expense

I felt the urge to get out of Belfast last week, so I decided to book a nearby trip for myself and the kids to the countryside. Sometimes I just need to remove myself from my current environment, even if itโ€™s only twenty miles away. I felt like everything was becoming too frantic and we needed some time in nature. So, I booked a little cottage in the middle of nowhere and we went there on Friday.

The drive there was along one of those windy roads that gives you the best views over the hills. We passed the Mournes and they looked blue against the misty sky. I love the evershifting skies in that area. They look like theyโ€™re painted in watercolours and even when theyโ€™re grey they arenโ€™t just bleak, heavy grey; they are swirled with every shade of it. I think fields in south Down have a special shade of green too, and looking at them calms my mind.

When we got to the cottage, it was already growing dark and the hosts had lit the fire in the wood burning stove for us. One benefit to being a single parent is being able to rent tiny one bedroom places to stay and space not being an issue ๐Ÿ™‚ (apart from when hyperactivity takes hold of my kids.)

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There were fields surrounding the cottage and the only sound outside was the bleating of sheep. My kids went to befriend the sheep and lambs and ran around in the grass. Afterwards, they watched a film and I had brought pizza so they could have their pizza and a movie Friday tradition ๐Ÿ™‚ When they went to sleep, I had some wine and wrote for hours in pure peace. A fire is on my wish list now; I think it was my favourite thing about the whole trip ๐Ÿ™‚

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The next day, we went into Newcastle and the kids collected rocks to paint at home. I want to start rock painting with them and hiding them for people to find ๐Ÿ™‚ They played in the playground and had ice cream. It was strangely quiet for a Saturday. Maybe the cold weather put people off, or we just get up earlier than sensible people do, but it was the best time of the year for a holiday there.

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Afterwards, we went to Tollymore forest park. I hadnโ€™t been there since I was a kid and the girls enjoyed doing the trail and โ€œmap reading.โ€ ๐Ÿ™‚ We brought a picnic so we didnโ€™t have to buy food. The kids were building their own dens with branches, climbing on fallen trees and making โ€œwishesโ€ by throwing pine cones into the river ๐Ÿ™‚ The stepping stones arrived at just the right moment, when everyone was starting to complain. Climbing across them was interesting since I had to carry one child whilst helping the other one across ๐Ÿ˜€ Surprisingly, we didnโ€™t fall in, which is something that typically happens to me in such situations.

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I love how tranquil it is there and how you can just get lost in the woods. Those tall, lean trees really remind me of Northern Michigan too ๐Ÿ™‚ The girls went to the adventure playground and played with their new friends, climbed trees and chatted about their lives. The day felt the same as it did the last time I was there in the nineties ๐Ÿ™‚

When it was getting dark, I took the girls back into Newcastle and we went to a chip shop. When we eat out, I try not to order more than I know the kids will eat. You can always order more if you need to and it cuts back on the expense of eating out. Afterwards, we went to the old fashioned sweet shop where they measure out sweets in paper bags. The girls discovered their love for midget gems and slept the soundest that night that they had in a long time. I think the miles we walked and the sea air cured their insomniac tendencies ๐Ÿ™‚

On Sunday, we to Castlewellan Forest Park. They charge five pounds to park in the car park, but you could spend the whole day there if you wanted to. They have lots of outdoor activities you can do if you are that way inclined. We went to the peace maze and got lost in it. (I have a terrible sense of direction even on non-mazelike trails.) The kids enjoyed trying to find their way out. Apparently if you make it to the centre of it, there is a bell to ring, but we were in it for half an hour and ended up back at the entrance ๐Ÿ˜€ There is a wooden playground next to it where the girls climbed and burned off some energy. The grounds seem to be very expansive. There are mountain bike trails and different long walks you can follow. We walked part of the way around the lake, before we surrendered to the cold and had our picnic back at the car ๐Ÿ™‚

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On the way home, we stopped for a Brennanโ€™s ice cream. Iโ€™m not even a fan of vanilla ice-cream, but it might be my favourite ice-cream in Northern Ireland. They sell it in a couple of service stations near Newcastle and it is better value than most ice-cream shops in the town. We used to go there when I was a kid so the nostalgia probably makes it taste better too ๐Ÿ™‚

Itโ€™s strange how a couple of days in a different place can reset your brain and make everything at home look fresh again. Iโ€™m almost not even dreading tackling the laundry.

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 youโ€™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 (itโ€™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 donโ€™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.

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Greyabbey village and the Abbey

Greybbey is great for kids. My kids call it โ€œthe rocksโ€ because they like to climb on the ruins. There is something about letting them do this that feels a bit sacrilegious, but at least theyโ€™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 youโ€™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.)

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Portaferry/Strangford Ferry

If youโ€™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 ยฃ2 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. Itโ€™s a novelty for the kids and a day out that wonโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚