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™‚