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How to have fun for free

I live in ‘provincial’ New Zealand.

Whanganui has about 43,000 people.  It’s not huge.  I spent most of my teenage years dying to get out of it, so it was with some sense of irony that I found myself voluntarily moving back here with my own family after a 20 year absence.  There were many reasons that D and I moved from Wellington, the coolest little capital on the planet.  The cheap house prices were one.  The family-friendly vibe was another.  The fact that you can always find a parking space is an added bonus.

Moving to our home in Tawhero was definitely counter-cultural.  People seem to think that if you live in a big city, you have ‘made it’.  If you have a corporate job and a nice house, your life is a ‘success’.  By this measure, D and I were indeed successful. The fact that we wanted to give up the trappings of success and move to small-town NZ blew some people’s minds.  “You’ll get bored” I was told.  “It’s career-suicide” someone said.  “Why on earth would you want to move there?” challenged a friend.

Well guess what?

I’m never bored here.

I have, for some reason, always been one of those people who knows about all the cool stuff there is to do.  I’ve lived in small towns, big cities and in three different countries, and I have always, always, always found plenty of ways to pass the time.  For example, when I lived in London you’d rarely find me at home.  Come Monday morning my colleagues would ask “So where did you end up this time Angela?” and I always had lots to tell them.  I didn’t have a fat bank account.  Much of the things my friends and I did for fun were free.  I just knew where to find out the inside scoop.

Now of course, Whanganui is a far cry from London.  But if I wanted to, I could do really interesting things every day of the week.  There are family-friendly events on almost every weekend here, too many for me to keep up with.  This past weekend alone there was an open day at the Fire Station (which had been refurbished) and a family dance party in the middle of town with dancing sensation, Tommy Franklin.

The firefighters put on several demonstrations

The firefighters put on several demonstrations

Tommy Franklin doing his thing

Tommy Franklin doing his thing

Getting ready for a mass high-five

Getting ready for a mass high-five

Whether you live somewhere big or small, there is always free or frugal fun to be had.

How to find all that fun stuff:

  • Community newspapers.  These are a wonderful source of information.  Lots of people don’t subscribe to their local newspaper anymore, but you can be sure that they read their local freebie paper.  You will often see events listed in here that aren’t in mainstream newspapers, as event organisers on a shoe-string go where they will get more bang for their buck due to higher readership of free community newspapers. Similarly, if an event wants to attract families or those on a low-income, they know to advertise where their target readers actually have a chance of seeing it.  Ergo, if you want a free or cheap event to go to, look in the free papers.
  • Mainstream newspapers.  If you don’t subscribe to one, check out their website or Facebook page to get up-to-date information about what’s happening in your town.
  • Local Facebook groups.  I’ve lost count of how many Whanganui-based Facebook groups there are!  I find many events on a local FB page called Whanganui Mummies where mum’s will often share what’s happening around town.  In your neck of the woods there might be other social media that are more popular, so head there first.
  • Local radio stations.  Not only will they know about all the big events happening in your town, they will often know about all the cool events (not always the same thing!) too.
  • Join email lists.  I am regularly updated as to what’s going on with several community groups, businesses, amenities and at our great Museum.  I have been invited to book launches, art gallery openings, poetry evenings, in-store VIP customer nights, lectures, workshops, comedy nights, gigs and more.  All free.
  • Community noticeboards.  Library noticeboards, supermarket noticeboards, noticeboards outside a church or cafe are all excellent places to spot posters for what’s going on in your town.
  • Ditto your local information centre if your town is big enough to have one.
  • Look around you.  Quite seriously, look around you.  Posters on lamp posts, on bus shelters, on the back of buses, billboards on the side of the road are the friend of frugulistas in need of something to do.
  • Ask around.  Simply saying ‘So, what are you up to this weekend?’ may yield instant results as your friend raves to you about an upcoming free bluegrass gig or invites you to go strawberry picking with them.
  • Make your own fun.  I once lived in a city that was very challenging due to cultural and language differences.  It was hard work.  But you know what?  It was fine because I had a good bunch of friends.  You can have fun anywhere if you have a few good people around you.  Heck, even if it’s just ONE friend.  Get together to visit an art gallery, or go hiking, to play a board game, to eat pancakes in your pyjamas at 2pm.  This weekend we are hosting a fish n’ chips/movie night with a whole gaggle of children so us parents can get a break, crack open a bottle of wine and have a good old chinwag.  Fun stuff doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.
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Free things to do in Whanganui: Gordon Park Scenic Reserve (local content)

Gordon Park Scenic Reserve is also known by locals as ‘Gordon’s Bush’ or ‘Gordon Park’.  Situated on the corner of No. 3 Line and Kaimatira Road, Gordon Park is a 10 minute drive from downtown Whanganui.  There is a small car park on Kaimatira Road, and there is a picnic table near the entrance to the walkway.

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The reserve is small, only 14.5 hectares, but it is the perfect place to take your tots on a nature walk.  Despite the small size, I still felt like I was away from the hubbub of the city. Oh, the entire walkway is wheelchair accessible.  Let me say that again. THE ENTIRE WALKWAY IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE!!!  How awesome is that?  The track is perfect for people with mobility issues, or tots in a stroller.

Off we go

Off we go

The reserve has a wide loop track that meanders around the bush.  Normally you could probably walk it in 10 minutes, but with little kids it might take you 30 minutes or more, depending on how much they want to explore.

There are many wonderful things to see and hear during your visit.

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The forest has Kahikatea, Tawa, Matai and Kowhai, and is a popular place for native birds to hang out, judging by the raucous birdsong on the day we visited.

A perfect wee spot to stretch wriggly little legs.  I can see us going back here again and again.

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Trim Healthy Thursday: The end?

Not the best week at sticking to THM. I had two meals out at friends, one of which was a pizza party, which is pretty much as bad as it gets in THM land.  I just don’t want to be ‘that guest’ who is a pain to cook for.  Unless someone is really interested in the way I’m eating and has asked if they could make something specially for me, I just shut up and eat what is put in front of me.

I failed to buy enough THM food for myself to last over the Easter break, so I overdid it on the carbs again  I had to resort to sandwiches one day (the supermarkets shut in NZ on Good Friday and Easter Sunday), and I also had some roast potato and kumara with our special Easter Sunday meal.  After eating bread I noticed I got really tired.  Interesting, especially as there are no preservatives in our home made bread, which can often be what causes fatigue in some people.

But I have been back on plan for several days and am branching out into THM bread, making Cheesy Rolls and Pan Bread.  Everything has been really simple – S breakfasts, E lunches and mostly S dinners.

THM Cheesy Rolls (no carbs)

THM Cheesy Rolls (no carbs)

Giving Trim Healthy Mama a go for two months was a New Year’s resolution of mine.  I’m really proud of myself for sticking with it.  Am I going to continue?  You bet!  Eating the THM way hasn’t been difficult and has been a source of some delicious, nutritious recipes.  I haven’t always gotten things right, but hell, who does?  I continue to be inspired by the weight loss testimonies that appear on THM Facebook pages daily.  Not just from people who needed to loose a few pounds, but from people who were seriously overweight, and who, like me, have struggled with their weight for years.  So here’s to more weeks of THM!

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Dollar Diet: Week 14, in which I fail to plan

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We had a wonderful surprise this week, one that means most of our future Dollar Diet savings for 2015 can be put towards paying off our new car (we still haven’t sold the old one) instead of paying for D and Sausage’s trip to the Netherlands.  D’s Opa gave him $1000 euros towards the flights (so, so generous)!

Annoyingly, my ninja meal planning skills failed this week, resulting in several trips to get groceries instead of the usual one.  I didn’t get quite enough breakfast and lunch food for myself.  This meant I found it hard to stick to Trim Healthy Mama on the days the supermarkets were shut.  Ah well, I’ll do better next time.  We came in under budget, even with splashing out on a leg of lamb for Easter Sunday.  That leg of lamb went the distance as I eked out generous portions of roast lamb for our special dinner, lamb sandwiches, a gorgeous lamb curry (I even used leftover veges from the Easter dinner – I am so Dollar Diet), and I made stock from the bones.  Leftover kumara (sweet potato) was pureed into yummy solids for Chip.

A big savings this week is D tightening his handyman belt and getting stuck into making fences himself.  We need a couple of fences at the sides of our house so the children can play in the backyard and be safe from cars coming and going in our front yard.  We could have paid someone to do it, and D did look at getting prefabricated panels, but it was much cheaper (of course) for him to do it all.

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D reports that he’s really enjoying the process of fence building so far, and is delighted his high school classes of technical drawing and woodworking have come in useful after all.  There is a great deal of pleasure to be had in making something yourself, and this creativity can get squashed out of us due to the demands of daily life.  Who has the time or the mental energy to devote to hobbies when you are working 40+ hours a week at a job you don’t like just to scrape by?  I’m sure this is why many people waste their evenings blobbed out in front of the TV.

Our Easter break activities were very frugal (barring the roast lamb!).  We spent most of it either at home, church or with family and friends.  A friend held a wonderful Easter egg hunt/pizza night at her place, thereby introducing Sausage to the joys of chocolate eggs.  I was a bit sick over the weekend so D and I kept our evenings really low-key.  We downloaded a couple of movies (we thought How to Train Your Dragon was great; Guardians of the Galaxy not so much), and I did something I rarely do – I watched a TV show.  I loved, loved, loved the Carrie Underwood version of The Sound of Music (who knew Stephen Moyer could sing?!).  I read several books.  We took the kids to a nature reserve so we could enjoy a walk in the ‘bush’, as we call it.  It did not disappoint.  The reserve was small, but the birdsong was lusty and sonorous.  It was a great end to the week.

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Easter

Happy Easter

Happy Easter

Easter.

What a special, special time.

I think Easter is often treated like the poor second-cousin to popular ol’ Christmas.  But as a Christian, Easter is the biggest religious event of the year for me.   Easter is the cornerstone of my faith.  I often think it’s odd how the cross became a symbol for Christianity when really it should be that empty tomb.  It’s the resurrection of Jesus that is, and should be, the show-stopper.  For me, Easter is a time of contemplation, ceremony and gratitude.  And the occasional chocolate egg.

Now I have tots of my own – and one is old enough to start learning what Easter is all about – this Easter was the first one where I had to think about what I wanted Easter to ‘look like’ for my family.

Rest.  Worship.  Reflection. Celebration. Togetherness.  Outside.  These were the words that resonated with me the most this Easter.

I resolved to have a screen-free Easter to give myself a rest and to spend more time connecting with my family. I switched my cellphone off, and only logged on my computer once to check Facebook to see photos of my cousin’s wedding that I missed due to being sick on Good Friday.  Going phone-free was brilliant.  Instead of checking my emails or surfing the net, I read books.  In fact, I read three novels in two days.  I spent more time playing with my kids.  I liked being phone free so much if my smart phone wasn’t such a useful tool for our budgeting, I would be tempted to get rid of it altogether.

I forgot to take my camera to church on Good Friday (due to feeling like death warmed up, stupid head cold) so I don’t have any photos of D being Jesus in our church play.  Our church combines with four other churches at Easter and the members walk from church to church to see the stations of the cross.  As I have two wriggly children we only made it to our church, but it was amazing to see the place so full up that people had to stand in the aisles.  The play was very moving, and D may have to consider a new career in acting.  Easter Sunday’s service was a beautiful time of worship and reflection – complete with a baptism, flowers, candles, singing, and resurrection eggs.

As we had plenty of room in our grocery budget D and I decided to have a special dinner on Easter Sunday – roast lamb.  My MIL joined us, and we lit candles, read the Easter story (I thoroughly recommend the Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers) and enjoyed our feast.

We even managed to get outside.

Here is what Easter looked like for us:

Making Easter chocolates to give away to friends and family

Making Easter chocolates to give away to friends and family

Sausage forgets the chocolate is not for her...

Sausage forgets the chocolate is not for her…

Now Chip is crawling the world (or his sister's bedroom) has opened up for him

Now Chip is crawling the world (or his sister’s bedroom) has opened up for him

Fun and games

That’s not how you do it, Daddy!

Chip is delighted with his Easter gift

Chip is delighted with his Easter gift

At last... Sausage with her very own chocolate egg

At last…
Sausage with her very own chocolate egg

Three rascals

Three rascals

Feijoa crumble - part of our Easter Sunday dinner

Feijoa crumble – part of our Easter Sunday dinner

Out for a walk

Out for a walk

Chip loves the great outdoors

Chip loves the great outdoors

How do you celebrate Easter in your house?

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Trim Healthy Thursday: Week 6 – a sense of loss

After sneaking in too many carbs last week I redoubled my efforts and apart from one ‘off-plan’ meal this week, I managed to stick to the Trim Healthy Mama way of eating all week.

It really helps that it is reasonably easy to adapt most of my staple recipes to THM.

I didn’t try out any new THM recipes this week but I did discover a new favourite lunch.  On THM you control the amount and type of carbs you have, never mixing fats and carbs in the same meal.  Someone on the THM New Zealand Facebook page mentioned that one of the varieties of Ryvita (a rye-based cracker flatbread) was ‘on plan’.  I haven’t missed bread hugely (much to my surprise!) but I really wanted something sandwichey the other day so I got some of the Ryvita.  I smeared it with lite Laughing Cow cheese, and topped it with cucumber, tomato and a bit of chicken.  Yum!

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I weighed myself a couple of days ago and had lost 4 kilos.  So pleased!  I try not to get too hung up on what the scales say as you often see results in other ways.  My clothes are still getting looser.  A top that was a little tight on me before THM now fits me perfectly today.  And I swear I’m not imagining it, but I needed to tie my shoelaces tighter this morning!

Ah, thanks THM.

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Dollar Diet: Week 13, and a cheap date night idea

You ever had one of those days where you just wonder why you bothered getting out of bed?

I felt so thwarted the other day.    I had applied for a stall at a local market where you can sell off your kiddie stuff, amongst other things.  There was a small fee involved to have a stall and being in the Dollar Diet zone, I was excited about the prospect of making a buck or two selling clothes and other baby-related gear that my kids have grown out of.  It was billed as an Easter Market so I also got my craft on and upcycled some old formula tins into these:

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I spent several hours preparing for the market only for it to be cancelled due to forecasted rain.  Sigh.  I probably lost about $20 in materials used for the plant holders and for some baking I made to sell, but on the other hand I have some nice Easter gifts!

I spent $2 taking Sausage to a kid’s art event run by my church.  Sausage had a great time painting a pot and planting a bulb in it, while learning about the real meaning of Easter.  We try to keep our ‘extra-curricular’ activities to a minimum to save money – we do loads of cool stuff at home – but we love to support our church events, and these art events are so much fun.

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D saved us a tidy sum of money by doing some handyman work.  Our front door handle snapped off in my MIL’s hand the other day, rendering it useless (it was metal fatigue, not her strong grip 🙂 ).  We sourced a door knob that is in keeping with our 1920’s home, and voila!DSCN0001

D would be the first person to admit he doesn’t know much about DIY, but he simply watched a YouTube video and reckoned he could put the new handle in himself.  Yay D!

We harvested a ton of feijoas, and some spinach from our garden, and were given more quince chutney from our neighbour after D waxed lyrical about his new love affair with quince (he’s obsessed).

D also spent some of his own money left from our pre-Spending Fast days, when we gave ourselves a small weekly allowance.  He bought us tickets to the first Whanganui Pecha Kucha night.  I used to attend Pecha Kucha when we lived in Wellington so I was very excited to discover Whanganui was getting in on the act.  If you haven’t been before, go!  I guarantee you it will be a fantastic, inspiring night out, and I’ve never paid more than $10 for a ticket.  Pecha Kucha means chit-chat in Japanese and these events were dreamed up by two architects who got tired of people taking sooooooo long to deliver presentations.  Basically you get 20 slides and 20 seconds to speak to each slide, on whatever topic you like.  I’ve been to several PK nights and have never gone away without having laughed, being moved deeply, being energised and thinking what amazing value for money my ten bucks was!  The best presentation I’ve ever seen was a guy talking about his quest for the perfect toast rack.  Sounds stupid I know, but I was laughing hysterically by the end of it.

Whanganui’s PK night did not disappoint.  Our Mayor gave a emotional, personal account of the death of her husband and I applaud her bravery in being so vulnerable.  Many speakers were hilarious, including a friend of ours who boasts the most-watched talk on the PK website, having presented his talk before in Christchurch.  It was the first date night D and I have had this year that cost us money, but as I’m keen to attend the next one, I’d better sell some stuff online to pay for it!

We forked out a chunk of change today for flights for D and Sausage to visit family in the Netherlands later in the year.  D managed to save around $700 just by choosing slightly less convenient flights.  Fortunately part of the cost has been covered by D’s Opa who generously gave his grandchildren money at Christmas.  By the end of April our spending fast savings will have completely covered my trip to Adelaide, and it should only take us five months to cover the costs of the flights.  D hasn’t seen his Opa since he was 12, so it will be very special for D to get to know his grandfather as an adult. We don’t normally take overseas trips – especially not two a year – but D’s Opa is in his 90s and this feels like D’s last chance to see him.  We know that he will be thrilled to see Donald, and Sausage will be the icing on the cake.

It’s scary to see our bank balance go down so much, but D and I feel in control of our finances and know our Dollar Diet savings will pay it back soon enough.