Friday, 27 March 2015

Easter Tea Party // Kids Activity



Easter week is upon us and I've been so preoccupied with our upcoming trip to visit my family in Rhode Island that I haven't put much thought into the holiday. Last year I had all the decorations up by now, this year I've only just hung Emme's bunny & card crafts from school on the fridge. Since we'll be away for Easter Sunday, I haven't put the effort into decorating and while I know the kids probably don't even notice, I definitely do! So today I grabbed a couple of quick items from around the house and threw an impromptu Easter-themed tea party. 




Rabbit & sheep sat across from my very own bunny, Emme, at the table. A dainty, floral tea cup filled with some fresh daffodils was our centerpiece. The colorful letters are from a banner set I picked up when visiting London. 


This darling ceramic tea set was a gift from a dear friend when Emme was born. The tea cups and tea pot each display different images from the Peter Rabbit Tales, while the pastel saucers perfectly compliment the colors used in the sweet images. The kids have a couple of plastic tea sets that are out for everyday play use so I like to only take this set out for special occasions. 




Paper cutouts added to a couple of paper lanterns gave us some fun Easter themed decor. I started off planning to make 3 animals- a bunny, a chick and with another blue lantern I was going to create a blue bird. The blue bird started looking more like a sickly chick though, so I scrapped that plan quickly! What other "Eastery" animal could I have made with a blue lantern? 



Emme was so thrilled with the impromtu party. She got such a laugh out of the animal-faced lanterns and started tickling and kissing them. She also helped me set everything outside in the yard. Just seeing her stuffed animals in the yard was a fun change and an easy way to mix up her normal afternoon routine. 

Unfortunately our tea party didn't last quite as long as we would have liked. Dark storm clouds soon covered the sky and just as we pulled the last bits inside, hail began pelting the ground! 


We watched out the windows as the hail hit and clinked against the glass. After the heaviest and hardest part of the storm was over, we wandered out to have a look at the hail. Emme was delighted as she thought it was snow- it's still such a novelty to her! But who would have thought a tea party would lead to a lesson in weird weather!

I'll likely use this weekend to hang some Easter decorations up in the house. Even though we'll be away for the holiday, the house seems bare without them out now. Mostly though, it'll keep me busy from counting down the minutes to our trip! I'm really looking forward to spending the Easter weekend with family. What are your plans for the upcoming Easter holiday? Do you have any special traditions that you'll celebrate with? I'm crossing my fingers that the weather cooperates for an outdoor egg hunt! But I'll be sure to update the blog with everything that we get up to, and until then I'm wishing you all a very happy and eggstra special Easter this year!! x





Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Dublin, Our Playground // City Centre


Welcome back to the Dublin, Our Playground series with installment #2! Did you enjoy the first post featuring our local Cabinteely Park? Well this post takes us 25 minutes north into the city center and focuses on recommendations for places to visit with children. I often get emails from friends asking for suggestions for where they can take their kids when visiting the city. Assuming most travelers like to stay centrally located in Dublin city and don't necessary need to rent a vehicle, you'll find that every listing below is accessible by either walking, public transport or a quick taxi ride. I've also broken the list into 3 sections for quick reference: playgrounds, museums and other options. 

Depending on your interests, timing and location, there is loads to do when visiting Dublin and the list below offers a few recommendations for places that I would (and often do!) take my two young kids. And while this list was created for those with children, I should note that outside of The Ark and the playgrounds, all places listed below are great options for adults too! 


PARKS & PLAYGROUNDS

Stephens Green on a sunny day 
St Stephens Green
Located in the very center of Dublin city, this expansive park has plenty of flowerbeds, fountains, and statues throughout the grounds, as well as lunchtime concerts in the summer months.  Hungry ducks and swans float by in the ponds, so grab a bread roll at one of the convenience stores on Grafton Street if you’ve no stale bread supply.
Great place to stroll and people watch. The playground within the park has plenty on offer, including baby & kid swings, separate climbing structures outfitted with slides for both toddlers and older children, as well as other play things like a balance beam, music makers and spinner seats.  It's a great, enclosed spot for the kids to run off some energy and plenty of picnic areas available just outside the playground fence should you choose an outdoor luncheon. 
Cost: Free (But a breadroll in the local shop will run you €0.65)


Giant's Garden includes a massive climbing castle
Head straight for the ‘Giant’s Garden’, Merrion Square's playground which is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Selfless Giant”. My kids and I absolutely love this playground for its whimsical and creative touches, including a giant buried in the ground that doubles as a climbing area. Outside of the playground and within the park's grounds, there are many statues to be found (look for the colorful statue of Wilde), as well as a memorial site and a gorgeous collection of vintage street lamps. 
One of the largest Georgian Squares in Dublin, there is always something happening here. On Sundays the park hosts an Open Art Gallery and Thursdays you can find the park filled with stalls for their market day. Conveniently located across from the Museum of Natural History (see below) so you can see both attractions in a quick visit.
Cost: Free
Merrion Square offers plenty of seating options

Additional PARKS & PLAYGROUNDS to consider... Phoenix Park Playground, Herbert Park Playground


MUSEUMS
Make no bones about it... this museum is great!
This one is nicknamed The Dead Zoo for very obvious reasons… loads of taxidermy! The museum includes several giant Irish deer, which I had to immediately Google to confirm that they did indeed once exist! It's free admission here so you can pop in & out easily enough and not spend a dime, although a donation is always encouraged. In addition to its cool exhibits, its location is across the street from Merrion Square Park and the Giant’s Garden Playground (see above), so you can easily check out both sites.
Cost: Free Admission // Donation Encouraged 
Address: Merrion Street Upper, Dublin 2


Harry, my junior archaeologist 
Interesting museum for adults and kids includes Bog Bodies (what I thought was most fascinating there!), plenty of artifacts from pre-historic Ireland, ancient Egyptians, the Vikings and more.
An activity cart on the first floor offers a selection of printed materials that can enhance your child's experience (we colored our Vikings in at lunch). Another museum with free admission, but this one has a cafe on premise so you might spend a few bob.
Cost: Free Admission // Donation Encouraged
Address: Kildare Street, Dublin 2


This historic institution has over 15,000 works of art on display. While my kids don't have much of an art appreciation at their young ages, they do enjoy pointing things out in the paintings, especially animals. Ask for a Family Pack at the desk and you can follow the designated scavenger hunt-esque trail to many notable pieces. Free audioguides are available for older children. And a play area for the kids isn't going to exactly increase their art knowledge, however, it is an incredibly handy spot so that adults can grab a seat and sip a coffee in the bright atrium while the children play. 
Cost: Free Admission // Donation Encouraged 
Address: Merrion Square West, Dublin 2


This is a quirky little place- a museum dedicated to the history of print, including displays of old print presses. Housed within a converted chapel, this museum is fairly small, and appeals more to an adult but what stands out for the kids here is the Education Area where a child can chose to make something from a range of arts and crafts or read at the junior library. Free admission but the guided tour is very reasonable and worth it if there’s any interest at all in design by yourself or your visitors.
Cost: Free Admission // Guided Tour €3.50 Adult // Guided Tour €7.00 Family
Address: Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin 4




OTHER OPTIONS


Concentrating on her creation at The Ark
A magical little land the kids made
A cultural center dedicated to children. Located in the popular Temple Bar area, this place has a constantly changing selection of exhibits, workshops and performances. Some really cool things going on here! Definitely check out their calendar of events page for more info and to book ahead. 
Cost: Varies 
Address: 11a Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2


Giraffes on exhibit at the Zoo
Great for a day out because it’s pretty much guaranteed fun, seeing as most kids love animals! All the usual animals you would expect to see in a zoo, including lions, zebras and 3 adorable baby elephants (as of early 2015). Children's play areas are situated throughout the park. Recommend to purchase your tickets online for fast track entry.
Cost: €16.80 Adult // €12.00 Child Age 3-16 //  Free Child Under 3
Location: Phoenix Park, Dublin 8

Play areas located throughout the Zoo's grounds


Viking Splash Tour 
See Dublin by land and water...and be silly while wearing a viking helmet enjoying the sights! The start of the tour is located at Stephen’s Green so it's central and you could also walk the park and utilize the playground (see above) before or after the tour. This tour is entertaining & informational for kids and  adults.
Cost: €22 Adult // €12 Child Age 2-12 // €16 Teenager Age 13-17
Departure Address: St. Stephens Green North, Dublin 2

Walking Grafton Street
The buskers (street performers, artists, magicians & musicians) provide lots of entertainment on this bustling pedestrian-only street. And there’s always the Disney Store if you need to instantly stop any major toddler meltdowns! 
Cost: Free (until you enter that Disney Store of course!)


Impressive architecture and cobblestone walkways at Trinity

Walking Trinity College
Young kids might not be too impressed with the Book of Kells exhibition on display there (adults- it's amazing!!), but if some in your party want to go check out these incredible manuscripts, kids can enjoy roaming the university’s grounds (although the cobblestones might prove tough to maneuver for new walkers).
Cost: Free to walk the University's Grounds // Book of Kells Admission Adult 11.50 // Admission for Children Under 12 is Free


More to be seen at Trinity 

The colorful Georgian Doors are always a hit with tourists- why not turn browsing for doors into a fun, interactive game with the kids? Search for your favorite colored doors or try to find a door for every color in the rainbow? Roaming the streets and looking at doors can be fun! Try Leeson Street, Harcourt Street, Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square for some fab doors! Check out my previous blog post on this activity.
Cost: Free




Additional OTHER OPTIONS you might want to consider... Hop On Hop Off Bus TourGaiety Theater for a ShowChildren's Afternoon Tea at the Shelbourne Hotel, Horse and Carriage ride through the City, a ride on almost any of the City's public transportation options- especially the front window seat on the second floor of a double decker bus


Well, there you have it! These are some of our favourite spots in Dublin City Center but did I miss anywhere that you absolutely love? Please let me know in the comments section. And for those of you who are looking for ideas, I sincerely hope this list has pointed you in the right direction. Best of luck planning your next trip into Dublin city!

Author’s Disclaimer:  
Check all listing's websites to confirm that the attractions listed here are open to the public on the date you would like to visit. Remember that Irish bank holidays can fall on different dates than other countries, especially the USA. I also recommend to book anything that requires a ticket online because many of the places offer online discounts and/or fast track entry so you don’t get stuck queuing. Also be sure to check out the calendar & event pages too. A lot of these places, especially the museums, offer special family activity days or programs but some might require pre-booking. All opinions and photographs are my own.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Parades & Cupcakes // St. Patrick's Day

Tuesday marked our second Paddy's Day since moving to Ireland. While there were no river dyeings to be seen, or pub crawls to be had, we had a wonderful day with family, celebrating the heritage and culture of so many of our family and friends. I especially love that March 17th is recognized as a public holiday for the country, as it was really nice having my husband off from work for the day. 

Together with my father-in-law, we made a morning of the event. We started with taking the electric rail system called the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) to Greystones, a seaside town located on the coast of the Irish Sea in County Wicklow. We arrived an hour before the parade was set to begin and while there was clearly excitement building, there was still plenty of space to grab a seat for viewing along the main street in the fishing village. We were lucky enough to nab some seats in the outdoor section of Cafe Gray and ordered some hot beverages and pastries to enjoy before the parade started. We moved to the sidewalk's curb as the kickoff began. Complete with everything you might expect from a typical St. Patrick's Day parade- bagpipers, marching bands, firetrucks, tractors, vintage cars, and dancers- it lasted for just about an hour and kept us all entertained. My two children were majorly delighted when Mickey & Minnie Mouse walked through, waving to all the kids, while they promoted a local business of course.  





The Greystone's parade was exactly what we were looking for in that day- a family friendly, entertaining event. One of these years we'll make it into the city centre for the big celebration there, but for now the smaller, localized parades are just perfect and lovely for us! 

And as much fun as the parade was, I have to admit that I'm slightly disappointed that I didn't get to see this gem of a parade in person. This video of a Paddy's parade I've seen making the rounds on social media has to be the most perfect little treasure ever found on Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands. You will most definitely find me celebrating March 17th on this island for next year! Anyone care to join us there?! 

Tomorrow we are continuing the celebration at a friend's house for a little get together. In anticipation of the day, the kids and I made some cupcakes this afternoon. I hadn't planned a dessert in advance so I took out one of my coveted box of Pillsbury Moist Supreme Classic White cupcake mixes and got to baking. (I say coveted because these boxes are not easily available here in Ireland and I have yet to find an equivalent in terms of ease and taste!) Once cooled I had to figure out how to decorate the cupcakes and thankfully I had a bag of Christmas M&Ms on hand (thanks mom!) and a few packs of miniature smarties candies that I grabbed from the kids' snack bin. I started playing around with some shapes and was thrilled that I had enough green candies to make some shamrocks, as well as add a few rainbow designs in too. 


A rainbow and a shamrock
Harry got to decorating his own cupcake
My official taste tester says YUM!
What did you do to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year? Did you wear green? Go see a parade? Were there any local landmarks you noticed were lit in green for the holiday? I saw so many beautiful images of famous landmarks from around the world being lit in glorious green lighting this year. Seeing photographs of the Colusseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagra Falls and so many more globally recognized landmarks made me feel an extra special sense of pride for where we live. While Ireland itself may be small, it seems that both the Irish and non-Irish alike enjoy celebrating their love for the little Emerald Isle.   

I'd love to hear what kind of traditions you got up to, to celebrate the Irish holiday. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Sticks and Scraps // Fabric Wrapped Branch Centerpieces





Here's a super simple idea for a decorative centerpiece. 

What you need:
-Scraps of fabric, various prints in different lengths & widths
-Branches
-Tacky Glue




A couple of really easy steps:
-Wrap your fabric strips around the branches, keeping the fabric as tight as possible.
-Before you wrap the end, add a drop of tacky glue to secure the fabric in place. 



How cute is that miniature pinecone?!

This took all of 10 minutes to do! Easy, quick, & cheap (Branches that fell in my yard after a wind storm and  fabric strips that I nabbed from my mom's scrap box = zero cost)!


Chalkboard sign from the Target dollar bin.
Oh how I miss those dollar bins!

Some other funky looking branches

I wrapped these branches in black and white fabric because my room decor has a sort of monochromatic feel and the b&w seemed like a nice choice. I had previously wrapped these branches in bright, neon yarn for some decor at my daughter's 3rd birthday party. Instead of removing the yarn for this project, I just wrapped the fabric pieces over the yarn bits. 



I can imagine so many possibilities for this...
-Halloween: orange & black fabric with paper bats hanging from the branches
-Spring/ Easter: pastel fabric with miniature eggs hanging from the branches
-St Patricks Day: green fabric with gold coins hanging from the hanging the branches

Stay tuned for photographs of the different holiday ideas! 


Do you feel inspired to collect some sticks and round up your scraps?! Let me know how you get on with this project! 

Monday, 16 March 2015

"Snow" in Ireland // Kids Activity

This time two weeks ago I actually spoke the words "I miss the snow" out loud. A New Englander, born and raised, later transplanted to the Windy City... trust me when I say, I've experienced some brutal winters in the past. So it really comes as a surprise that now that I'm living in Ireland, I am somewhat sad to see that snow has disappeared from my life! I know what you're probably thinking- SNOW WAY! 

A snowfall in my hometown of Burrillville, RI, circa 2002
What I most certainly did not miss was the freezing temperatures that typically associate themselves with snow. I didn't miss breaking my back while shoveling the car out of 3' with a 5' snowbank piled around. I did not miss the required 7 layers of clothing and later trying to find a place to dry all the dampness out. There Is a whole list of things that come along with snow that I definitely did not miss, at all. However, I would see friends from back home posting photographs of this season's snowfall and it made me miss building a snowman. And having a playful snowball fight. And dare I admit that I would have loved very much to lie in the snow and wave my arms around to create that snow angel from my youth?

Here in the part of Dublin that I live in, we've experienced snow twice this winter. The first snowfall started and stopped faster than you can say "Do you want to build a snowman?". The couple of flakes that did fall, melted as they touched the green grass. I didn't even have time to take a photograph of it. Then we got our second snowfall a couple of weeks later. Oh it accumulated to less than a half inch, but hey it was something! 


Trying to catch a snowflake

I bundled the kids up and we ran outside. Our yard is pretty tiny so I hopped into the car and we drove to my in-laws, who live across the street from an open field. It was perfect because the field was empty, completely untouched. We probably looked like a couple of fools running around, our mouths open wide, tongues hanging out as we tried to catch snowflakes, but at the time I didn't once think about those awful snowy winters from my past. The kids reactions to the snowfall was pure excitement. Their red little noses didn't care that they were cold. Since there is no real need to own snow boots here, they were slipping and sliding in their wellies, but again, they could have cared less what was on their feet. They were playing in snow!!! It was all that mattered to them. We had a snowball fight (even if it took half the lawn to make a single snowball). We built a snowman (albeit a 10" miniature). But the kids had one of their most joyful winter nights on that snowy evening. The following morning when we woke, the kids ran to the windows, hoping for more snow but alas, it had all melted overnight. 


Running through the snowy field in their wellies
A snowball fight with grandpa ensued

Now I'm sure that my friends and family in New England are shaking their heads in major disbelief. How foolish do I sound as I try to romanticize the snow when you've all had one of the most awful winters in years! I know you are all sick of the snow and what I can only imagine feels like the looooooooooooooooooongest, most miserable winter, but for just a second, think about how fortunate you are to have experienced a lifetime of building snow forts and going ice fishing, ice skating and snow shoeing. Can you believe that friends of ours have never been in a snowball fight? Never been sledding? Now I'm not that naive, of course I know that there are millions of people in this vast world of ours that will never experience a snowfall, but I never imagined that my own children would be among those who don't get to regularly play in the snow. 


Facetiming with my sister after a
recent snowstorm in Rhode Island

Luckily for me, there are ways to supplement this missing piece of my traditional winter. One way to add a bit of snow into my life was discovered when my auntie recently surprised us with a bag of Snow To Go, a super-absorbent polymer that becomes artificial snow when you add water to it. 


 


The directions simply read "Just Add Water". Armed with a dishwashing tub and some toy cars and figurines, I set up a little play area for the kids. My 3 year old helped me mix the powder with the water and within seconds, we had "snow"! 




I set up a couple of little play scenarios. 
First was a construction truck station and some Peppa Pigs figures. The second was an iceberg with penguins and polar bears surrounded by water filled with whales, fish and other sea life. 






While this faux snow wasn't moldable (unlike a great snow recipe found on Pinterest that we had previously attempted), this packaged version was still quite fluffy, a bit slippery and plenty interesting to play with. The snow itself was cool to the touch and did not melt. It was not sticky either. The packaging actually claims that the snow lasts for a few weeks once made, but I didn't bother storing it as I still had loads leftover from the powder to make another batch some other time. My daughter played with the set up for almost 2 hours, and she only stopped when I cleaned it up before the almost two year old woke from his nap. Although the label says that the snow is non-toxic, it clearly states "do not eat" and that the "unsupervised use by children is not recommended". I just didn't trust my son to abide by those directions! For about 8 Euro, this faux snow is not cheap, but it was a great indoor playtime option and I look forward to making up another batch again soon! I could also imagine that the fake snow would come in handy for a Christmas craft, like making these darling Snow Globes.

Prior to the Snow To Go use, my kids and I had made some snow using a baking soda & hair conditioner recipe found on Pinterest. Below are so photographs of those attempts. I have to admit that I prefer this version of faux snow for it's malleability and also because with just two household ingredients needed, it's an inexpensive option. An added bonus is that the addition of conditioner makes your hands so incredibly soft!


3 cups baking soda + 1/2 cup hair conditioner = snowy times!

Have you ever tried making your own snow? What recipe did you follow? Or are you so completely and totally sick of the winter that reading this post is making you think I am slightly evil :) ? Let me know in the comments section below!

I should mention that an unexpected trip brought me home to Rhode Island last week so I can now admit that while I genuinely thought that I missed the snow, after 3 significant snowfalls in only a handful of days, I can guarantee you all that I will never again mutter the words "I miss the snow" again!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Georgian Doors Colour Hunt // Kids Activity



For anyone who's been to Dublin or even just googled images of the city, you've inevitably seen photographs of the famous Georgian Doors. Bright blues, vibrant reds and even a pastel lavender and olive green all make for a beautifully colorful pop amongst the brick buildings. What could be a dreary, blah-like road is transformed into something that's just a bit more fun and unexpected.

Recently my nearly 2 year old son has been trying to learn his colors. With the assistance of his older sister, he has the color pink down perfectly! But to help him practice with his other shades, I tried to use a walk through town as an opportunity to have some fun with colors. Instead of walking past these Georgian doors, I tried to incorporate them into our game. Don't just pass these gorgeous doors by! You can turn a simple walk with the kids into an interactive game where they search for their favorite color doors or they can try to find a door to match every color found in a rainbow. Roaming the city sidewalks and looking at doors can actually be quite fun! (Okay I admit that last sentence sounds slightly ridiculous!)


I think we've covered the ROY G. BIV acronym here! 

My son, Harry, & I took most of these photographs over two separate occasions into the city. He got such a kick walking up the steps and seeing all the colors of the doors. We often sing a song about colors called "I Can Sing A Rainbow" and it seemed appropriate to sing it while we walked. 

If you aren't sure where to look, try Leeson Street, Merrion Square, Harcourt Street and Fizwilliam Square for roads where you can find some of the best examples of a colorful Georgian door. 


A photo from Christmas Eve in the city

I'd love to hear your stories about how you help your children learn their colors. What kinds of games do you play? Do you sing any special songs? I can't wait for my next visit into Dublin to snap some new Georgian doors and find some new colors to add to our collection of photos!






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