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Dollar Diet: Week 11, a frugal St Patrick’s Day celebration

This was not the most frugal week ever as we had not one, but two special occasions.

Isn’t that just typical?  Nothing much for ages, and then everything happens at once.  This year D and I decided to make a special deal out of St Patrick’s Day; and we were also privileged to see two beautiful people get married.  I had a great time at both events, enjoying the company of some of the people I love the most.  Special occasions can mean you spend more money than usual, but they don’t have to break the bank.

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I got a huge bunch of green chrysanthemums for $3

Now I have a few kid-free mornings, I have more energy to entertain and to put more effort into celebrations.  I think celebrations and traditions are vital for families: they teach a child their family history, culture or religion; traditions help instil a sense of belonging, they help mark the passing of the year, and can bring generations together.

D and I are pretty intentional about what cultural or religious events we do or do not observe.  For instance, we don’t do Halloween, and Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy don’t visit our house.  But Christmas and Easter are still a big deal, so are Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and birthdays.  We also have our own traditions that are special to our family, like our family and whanau nights, breakfast in bed on your birthday, and Gordon ‘sandwiches’ (someone yells ‘Gordon sandwich!’and we all have a group hug).

This year we want to mark a few ‘Saint days’.  While St Patrick’s Day has largely morphed into a cultural holiday of craic and drinking rather than a religious observance, I am more than happy to mark this day, and for my children to learn about the life of St Patrick, and indeed, about other key figures in Christian history.

I put together a fun St Patrick’s Day party on a shoestring budget.  Here’s how I did it:

  • Make it potluck.  This is the norm in New Zealand fortunately!  I provided the main dish of Beef and Guinness stew, along with peas, green apple spritzer, and lime jelly.  As is often the way, we ended up with a feast.  Soda bread, scalloped potatoes, lamb, an all green salad, and several green desserts.                                                                green
  • Keep decorations simple.  I am not an OTT, decorate-anything-that’s-nailed-down sort of person, but I do like to put up a few special things to signify that it’s special event time.  I had some green card left over from Christmas cards my kids made, so I made some shamrock bunting.  I also found some lovely Irish blessings online, and put them up around the dining table.  Some green flowers reduced to clear were the finishing touch.  I decorated the children’s table with shamrocks and wrote their names on their place setting (Big hit!  Plus I strategically seated my son far, far away from my friend’s son who he likes to pick on, I dislike this phase).  The best thing is I can re-use the bunting and blessings in the years to come.
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  • Make it meaningful.  I spoke one of the blessings over the group as our grace before the meal.  After the meal we all sat down to watch the excellent BBC kid’s show Let’s Celebrate.  If you aren’t familiar with this show, it follows children as they celebrate cultural and religious holidays (They look at ALL faiths too, which I appreciate).  They have a great episode all about St Patrick’s Day which follows two girls in Northern Island as they get ready for the day.  Let’s Celebrate always goes into the history and meaning of each event, and this bit is acted out by kids.  It’s gorgeous!  You can watch the St Patrick’s Day video on YouTube here.  It wasn’t only the children who learnt a lot from this episode, many of our guests didn’t know much about St Patrick.
  • Unleash the craic!  I don’t think anyone does a party quite like the Irish.  To their credit, all our guests played along with my shenanigans.  We wores green, played Irish music in the background, D led us on the guitar in old-fashioned sing-a-long, and we played a hilarious ‘Minute to Win It’ game I found on Pinterest, called the Shamrock Shake (which I now can’t find to link to it, sorry).  Basically you fill a tissue box with balls (or plastic eggs in my case, which I have for Easter), tie it over your bottom, and shake, shake, shake to see who gets the most eggs out.  It was very funny, and even my 2 and a half year old got the gist of it.

     

I’m looking forward to next year already.

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Dollar Diet: Week 10, Use it up

This week was a very good week in our frugal Tawhero household.

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Sausage and Chip mucking about at Te Manawa museum, Palmerston North

A couple of bitterly cold mornings found me digging out our winter clothes, which then in turn sparked me to go through ALL my clothes.  I tossed some, ruefully packed some away that don’t fit because I’ve put on weight (gah!), and generally gave everything a good once-over.  I realised I had a serious ‘hole’ in my wardrobe – namely a decent pair of jeans that fit properly – so I toddled off to buy a pair.  I didn’t find anything second-hand, but I managed to get a great pair at one of our local stores and my loyalty card gave me 30% off.  I’m not quite sure how that happened as I hardly ever buy from that store, but I’ll take it!

The weird thing is, it’s like sorting out my wardrobe has given me a new lease on life.  It galvanised me into action, and I was a busy beaver most of the week, especially where saving a buck or two was concerned.

I woke up with a migraine on Wednesday (yay) and generally felt nauseous and yuck for almost the whole day.  I’d postponed whanau night, which then left me with the dilemma of having to cook.  It was very tempting to get a takeaway, especially as D wasn’t around that night, but I said to myself ‘nay young Angela, you’re on a Dollar Diet.  Gird your loins, girl.’ [I really do talk to myself like that, I swear.] I rifled through our freezer and was grateful that I almost always have a few heat and eat-type meals in stock.  Crumbed fish, I thank thee.

I was ruthless about eating at home and using up what we had.  When we ran out of bread on Friday (and it was too late to make some), I didn’t nip out to the shops to buy a loaf.  I whipped up a tuna pasta salad instead, easy-peasy.  I finally found a use for the tin of applesauce that had been sitting in our cupboard for ages (turns out your two-and-a-half-year-old will just love it and basically just eat that for his dinner).  Two bananas and half a pear that were starting to turn got baked into banana bread.  Slightly-manky-looking veg got thrown into a shepherd’s pie.

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Only half the banana bread survived long enough to make it into the photo, RIP BB.

I’d bought two packets of malt biscuits (they were on special) as a treat for my children.  They turned up their nose at them because they like a different brand.  Toddlers!  No amount of persuasion worked and now I was stuck with two packets of biscuits that I wouldn’t eat myself (too sugary).  I did however have whanau night, our minister’s ordination (such a big deal, yahoo!), and my FIL and S-MIL come to visit, all within days of each other.  So I made my family’s fudge cake recipe that has been lovingly handed down from generation to generation.  Okay, so from my auntie to my brother and I…

Anyhow, it was a brilliant choice.  Fudge cake keeps well for several days, everyone loves it, and you can eke it out if you cut it into bite-sized squares.  One batch did all three occasions.

The kids and I had a grand outing this week, which barely cost us a cent.  My mother very generously paid for the tots and I to go to a Peppa Pig stage show over in Palmerston North.  It was so. much. fun.  I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, me or the kids?  Bing bong boo, I say!  The tots behaved beautifully – even though it was Chip’s first-time at a show.  Chip was obsessed with Daddy Pig, screaming with delight every time the porcine father appeared on stage.  It isn’t the sort of thing our budget normally allows, and I was very grateful to my mum for treating us.

We topped the day off with a trip to their favourite place in Palmy North, Te Manawa.  Te Manawa is a wonderful, free museum that is pretty much paradise to my children.  It is an incredible yes space, with so much that children can play with, sit on, create with and touch.

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One of the playrooms at Te Manawa

The weekend found us with two sick tots on our hands.  Sausage with a cold and Chip with a vomiting bug.  Such is the reality of life with two small children.  My MIL offered to watch them for a bit on Sunday afternoon.  I leapt at the chance to actually leave the house!  (Hello world, I missed you.) D and I went to the library, and then bought a drink and muffin each at a cafe, where we sat and read our books in blissful, sickness-free peace.  A lovely date!

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Reading party for two 

What frugal wins did you have this week? Chime in below

 

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Dollar Diet: Week 3, a binge

Last week was in no way frugal as the kids and I took an impromptu trip to Wellington.  I needed a change of scene, and D needed some peace and quiet, so when I found a decently-priced holiday home on-line, I went for it.  We had two nights away and had a great time.

I’d been thinking about taking my tots to Bug Lab, an exhibition on right now at Te Papa.  I wasn’t sure if it would be too scary for my tots – who love bugs and insects – but the entry fee wasn’t too pricey ($20 for Sausage and I, Chip was free) so even if they hated it I figured it was worth a try.  The exhibition was amazing.  My tots did get a bit scared as it’s not every day you see insect models that are the size of a small car.  Sausage still enjoyed it and we spent a good half an hour looking around.  Chip got scared, but was content to play with the interactive stuff outside of the bug ‘lairs’, and of course he loves the rest of the museum.  If you’re an NZ parent who is thinking about taking your kids, I wouldn’t recommend it for under 4’s.  School-aged kids, heck yeah.

I’m looking forward to travelling by bus to Te Papa in the future so I don’t have to pay for parking.  At the moment my tots are too little to walk from the bus stop to the museum (a reasonable distance), and the thought of taking our stroller, backpack and two tots on a bus gives me a panic attack.  Anyway, another time perhaps.

We caught up with several friends on the first night, and it did my soul good to see some of my favourite people all at once.  We kept it simple, fish and chips from the local takeaway, and had some vigorous Donald Trump discussion around the dinner table.

We took my plane-obsessed son to Wellington airport.  It cost a little for parking, but it was worth it to see his excitement.  Even Sausage enjoyed it.  We followed it with a trip to Lyall Bay beach.

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I got little sleep the first night, as it was Chip’s first night ever in a bed.  He fell out twice.  Fortunately there was a spare mattress I was able to put down on the floor beside him.  Anyway, the upshot was I was so tired the next evening I was too knackered to cook, as had been my original plan.  I couldn’t face greasy takeaways again, but I managed to find a local Indian place that delivered.  Chip slept just fine that night.

In fact, once we got home he decided he wanted to sleep in his ‘big boy bed’.  He’d been rooming with his sister, and we’d been using his bedroom as a playroom and spare room for guests.  I’m delighted that he’s transitioned smoothly from his cot to his bed, but it has meant springing for a new duvet/sheet set so there is a spare in case he wets through/when one is in the wash.  I have bought second-hand bedding in the past, but it ended up having fleas in it(!), and I can’t bring myself to give it another try.  I managed to get him a duvet, duvet inner and sheets for $60.  Chip fell out again once this week so we used the pool noodle trick from Pinterest as a bed rail.  It was only a few dollars.

We’ve been enjoying all the sights and sounds of Whanganui’s best event: the Vintage Weekend.  Our city is host to all things vintage – cars, fashion, music, boats, a soapbox derby, planes…you name it.  I was feeling in rather a party mood – it is my favourite time of year – so we bought lunch there rather than take it with us.  D and I got some expensive sandwiches, but as they were pretty much the best sandwiches we’ve ever eaten, we’re okay with that.  The beauty of this weekend is that most things are low-cost or free, and it really is a joy to participate in.

Anyway, after all that spending I did make some honest attempts to limit any more.  This week:

  • I packed lunches and snacks, including when we were on our trip.
  • We’ve stuck to our meal plan and used up leftovers.
  • I included free activities on our trip, such as the beach and a visit to a friend.
  • We enjoyed a free lunch out using a gift card.
  • Although there were loads of things we could have spent money on at the Vintage festivities, we settled for a traction engine ride (a gold coin), a ferris wheel ride ($3) and entry to the family zone where free games, activities and bouncy castles were available (gold coin).  Looking around at the amazing car collection or listening to bands playing cost nothing.
  • D and I enjoyed a date night at home, watching The Mask of Zorro.  Love that movie.
  • We had our first whanau night.  My brother has been coming over for dinner once a week for ages, and now we’ve expanded this to include our friends who recently moved here.  One week the guys will go off to Toastmasters while the kids play and my friend and I have a chat, and on the non-toastmasters night we will play board games.  We’re alternating who hosts, and we all contribute to the meal.  Simple and fun and much cheaper than a restaurant!
  • We went on some free outings in Whanganui.  The kids and I went with friends to Gordon’s Reserve and Kowhai Park.  Hours of fun for zilch.
  • Swapping childcare to get a break.  My daughter gets on well with my friend A-M’s daughter, J.  J came over for an afternoon so her mum could get a break.  (It ends up being a break for me too, as the girls play so nicely I barely see them.)  A-M had Sausage for a few hours the following day.  Both times I was able to get loads done on a sermon I was writing.
  • I managed to get 3 sets of summer pyjamas for Sausage for $4 each.  I couldn’t find any in Chip’s size but I will keep a look-out.  I buy for the following year at the end-of-season sales and save big.  Even though I am not buying a single item of clothing for anyone THIS year (none of us need a thing!), I am still practising the frugal habit of buying ahead for next year.  I save huge amounts of money doing this (along with buying ahead second-hand, accepting hand-me-downs and going to clothes swaps).

 

This week has left me feeling rather a sham at frugality!  But I guess I am grateful that we have the money to go on impromptu trips.  Next week will definitely involve belt-tightening and getting back to basics.

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Family day trips out of Whanganui: Coach House Museum, Feilding

Hello summer, can I get a refund please?

This summer has been a non-event.  When we were faced with a dreary, rainy day I had the bright idea to check out the Coach House Museum over in Feilding which is 50 mins drive from Whanganui.

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I am so glad we went!  The Coach House Museum is brilliant.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was blown away by what a great place this is.  For a museum developed by volunteers, it’s first rate.  The Coach House Museum is home to an incredible collection of historical vehicles, farm equipment and machinery.  It is all put together to showcase over 140 years of rural and farming history.  Despite many exhibits being static and roped off, the Coach House Museum is still a wonderful YES place for children.  YES you can touch that button.  YES you can play with that game.  YES you can climb on the tractor.

The museum is Eurocentric but does touch on Maori agriculture at the start of the exhibition.  The exhibits focus on different aspects of farming and rural life , and is certainly a feast for the eyes.  Most of the explanatory text with the exhibits is well-written and brief.

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Family life in pioneer New Zealand

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The standees are informative and make good use of historical photos

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Lady biker

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Old Milk Truck

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rope maker

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In the middle of the exhibition hall there is a great play space for families.  The four of us played here for ages.  There are several old-fashioned games to try, including Chinese checkers, knucklebones, balsa wood aeroplanes, and these:play-space-2-tots-in-tawhero

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Bobs

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One of several pinball games

There is a fantastic display of old toys, like Meccano, Dinky, Fun Ho! and Hornby.  Again, my two loved this area.  My son in particular was so excited he could barely speak except to yell out ‘Train! Helicopter! Another train! Old-fashioned Ute!’

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The Coach Museum has involved local children in this display, and hosts several Meccano-related workshops over the summer holidays.  Definitely something fun for enthusiasts.

Children can also board a mechanised coach and ‘ride’ around Feilding, and there are a few other buttons that make machinery spring into action.  Like the excellent Tawhiti Museum in Hawera, the Coach Museum has a collection of tractors and farm machinery that children are allowed to sit on.  It’s not as extensive as Tawhiti’s collection (but then, what is??), but still great fun for kids and adults alike.tractor-collection-coach-museum-tots-in-tawherodriving-a-tractor-tots-in-tawherocoach-museum-2-tots-in-tawhero

At $12 for adults, $6 for children aged 5-12, and FREE for under 5s the Coach Museum is good value for money.  We spent two hours here, which is like 3.5 months in toddler-time.

There is a small shop, an area where you can sit and eat lunch, a workshop, and toilets.  What REALLY impressed me was how disabled-friendly this place is.  There is wheelchair access to all areas of the museum, and they provide wheelchairs and a mobility scooter(!) for the mobility-impaired.  Fantastic job, Coach House Museum.

As Chip’s car/plane/machine obsession shows no sign of waning, I expect to return here many, many times in the future.

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Advent in Tawhero, pt 2

In case it’s not evident by my other Christmas-related posts, I loooove this time of year.  I really do.  I look forward to Christmas more than any other time.  Christmas brings up so many warm and fuzzy connotations for me.  If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I hate the consumerism of Christmas.  The stress.  The hustle and bustle.  The debt.  The family fights.  It saddens me that Christmas has been overtaken by all those things, and that there is nothing but a sea of Santas and Rudolphs to tell the Christmas story.

What I most want to pass on to my tots is the story of Jesus.  I also hope to instil in them the joy of giving, making things instead of buying when possible, caring for those less fortunate, and the importance of family.  But how to do it?  Enter our second advent calendar.

Sausage and Chip LOVED their advent calendars last year.  It was the highlight of their day.  I liked the idea of making an interactive calendar – one that has an activity each day.  If an activity a day seems overwhelming, fret not.  Advent should not be a time of busyness or stress.  The trick is to fill the calendar with things that you would do anyway.  In fact, spreading all those things out over 24 days is actually less daunting than a flurry of activity the week of Christmas!

As I’m doing a Buy Less Christmas, I made an advent calendar from some paper bags, scraps of wrapping paper, numbers printed off the internet, pegs and ribbon.  I think it cost me $4.  I’m stoked with how it turned out:

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I’ve seen some cool calendars done in frames like this which I may do in the future,

but I’m going to hang our one on our mantelpiece (the joys of Christmas in summer) this year.

Here’s what my tots and I will be up to in the countdown to Christmas:

  1. Decorate the Christmas Tree
  2. Make and send a Christmas cards to relative in the Netherlands
  3. Read the story of St Nicholas with Daddy
  4. Make a Christmas wreath with Mummy
  5. Put your shoes out for St Nicholas
  6. Give out gold coins to your friends today, like St Nicholas
  7. Donate toys and books you don’t want anymore to less fortunate kids
  8. Read the story of Baby Jesus with Mummy
  9. Make Christmas stars with Mummy
  10. Watch a Christmas movie for family night
  11. Learn a new Christmas carol (Te Harinui)
  12. Have a dance party to Christmas music
  13. Buy each other a Christmas present, and for a Birthright child
  14. Make a card and a present for your teachers
  15. Make wrapping paper
  16. Get Christmas photos taken at the museum
  17. Sing Christmas carols with our church
  18. Make gingerbread cookies and give them to our neighbours
  19. Make Christmas presents for the grandparents
  20. Make Christmas presents for the Uncles
  21. Take a trip to see the Christmas lights
  22. Make Christmas presents for your friends
  23. Make and deliver Christmas cards (and the presents) to your friends
  24. Call Opa, Auntie G and Uncle J in the Netherlands and sing them a Christmas carol

 

So that’s it.  Nothing complicated or earth-shattering.  I’m going to let the kids decide what gifts to make  – within reasons, and with plenty of suggestions.  Both will be given a small amount of money to buy the other one a gift, and to buy a gift for a child who is less fortunate.  I figure it’s a good lesson for them to go into a toy shop thinking about what someone else would like.  I’m pretty sure Sausage will insist that her brother really wants high-heel dress up shoes, and Chip will think his sister is dying to have a toy combine harvester, but hey, we must start somewhere.

What are you up to this Christmas season? Chime in below.

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Things to do in Whanganui with kids: Paloma Gardens

25 minutes out of Whanganui lies a not-so-wee gem that is perfect to explore with your kids for a day: Paloma Gardens.

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A private garden that has been a labour of love for Clive and Nicki Higgie – who are sort of like rock stars in the botanical world – Paloma Gardens boasts a staggering collection of plants and trees from all over the world, and countless fine examples of New Zealand flora.  Paloma Gardens can be found on Pohutukawa Lane, just past Fordell.

There is an entrance fee – $10 for adults, and children under 15 are free.  Compared with similar gardens I have visited overseas, I think this price is a bargain.  You really could explore this place at your leisure all day, it’s that big.

There are wonderful sculptures all around the garden, such as this:

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And this:

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And there is even a sculpture walk:

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(This bit is probably not the best for rambunctious toddlers who want to touch the precious sculptures, but there is plenty of garden left to explore.)

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The garden beckons

Paloma Gardens has many parts to it: the Desert House, the Palm Garden, the Garden of Death, a wedding lawn (they host many weddings here), a labyrinth, a lake and much, much more.  The plants and trees are incredible, and there are delightfully quirky touches all over the gardens.  It’s obvious that the owners have an irreverent sense of humour.

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I loved it.

My tots had a brilliant time exploring the wonders of the garden:

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We inadvertently took a wrong turn on our way to the lake and ended up taking a rather long hike.  The climb back up the hill from the lake is very steep, just FYI.  My two were knackered from all the hill climbing and exploring, so we didn’t get to see all the gardens before they needed to head home for a nap.  Parts of the gardens are buggy accessible, but if you have a wee one you’d be better off with a front/back pack.  Due to the gardens being situated on a very hilly site, only parts of Paloma Gardens are wheelchair accessible.

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We’re already planning our next visit.

Thanks Clive and Nicki!

 

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Dollar Diet: 2016

If you’ve been a long-time follower of mine, you’ll know that last year we embarked on a rigid Dollar Diet in an attempt to save towards some goals and curb our (and by ‘our’ I mean mostly ‘my’) spendthrift ways.  I love a challenge, and wanted to see if I could shave cafe visits off our budget, curb my clothes shopping habit, and learn some new skills like preserving, and dust off old skills like sewing and gardening (you can find my summary of how our 2015 Dollar diet went here).

One of the key things I learnt was I need a line in our budget for FUN.  Scrimping and saving without small things to look forward to turns a challenge into a drudge.  I do realise that for many people, this is their way of life.  There is no money at all for extras.  No money for a meal out, a movie, takeaway coffee, birthday presents and parties.  So I don’t mean to be shallow, I do get it.  This blog isn’t about changing the evil systemic inequalities of society.  It’s just the brain dump of my attempts to be a better steward of my resources.

Okay, enough heavyness.  Back to fun.  Nothing hugely frivolous is on my mind, just the odd day trip (see my day trip bucket list here), a date night out or the occasional restaurant meal with friends.  We’ve ticked a few items off our bucket list already – most have been free or only a dollar or two, like Sausage taking her first pony ride (she’s a natural!).

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Chip making the most of the free things on offer in Whanganui

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Bouncy castles are a blast

We’ve done a few more expensive things – which I must admit did feel strange after a year of restraint.  D took me on a terrific date night – we went to see a local production of Macbeth, which was performed outside.  D also paid a bit extra for a catered picnic (which for $20 a person was one of the best value meals I’ve ever had), and we had a ball.  The play was great by the way – very well staged and performed.  Kudos to all involved.

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Waiting for Macbeth to begin

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We’re also taking our ‘word of the year’ seriously – MOVE.  Sausage started ballet lessons -which she absolutely loves.  She asks me almost every day if today is a ‘ballet day’.  The classes are a luxury, but a) she has been dancing since she could sit upright, and b) she was born with a club foot, so dancing is terrific for strengthening it.

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I have signed up to one of our roller derby leagues.  Having read Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before, I know that as an obliger, I am better off doing a team sport so I am accountable to others.  I did artistic roller skating as a kid so I have been amazed at what I am able to still do!  Anyway, derby is ridiculously fun, but as a sport, it is expensive.  My gear has been costly, but is roughly what you’d pay for a mountain bike.

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These boots are made for…kicking butt on the rink

I also bought some NEW clothes for the first time in forever – only because I couldn’t find what I needed second-hand – because I have started a wee part-time job and needed appropriate threads (due to losing weight I didn’t have much left in my wardrobe).  I am facilitating a parenting class and get to put my own stamp on the programme, so I am finding it to be a wonderful boon to my little grey cells.  I’ll be lucky to make $50 a week, but I get to do something I love and that’s priceless.

But we haven’t abandoned our frugal ways at all.  We still need to watch our pennies.  D’s business is doing incredibly well, but we need to ensure we have a reasonable cushion of savings in case there are dry spells in his work.

So we are continuing to garden (I have a large glut of tomatoes right now), preserve, and generally try not to waste food, or spend unnecessarily.

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Plum jam on the boil

We’re still going to opt for free fun when possible, shared meals with friends and family over restaurants, making gifts instead of buying them, and thinking very carefully before we bring more ‘stuff’ into our home.

Bring it on, 2016!