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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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Our journey to Christmas

Phew, we’re almost there.

Every year I decide to do less in the lead up to Christmas, and every year I still get exhausted!  Getting the flu (I know!  It’s summer, for goodness sake!) hasn’t helped, but we have had a lot of fun during Advent.

Sausage helped put up the tree.

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Her brother was supposed to help too, but he chose to pack a massive tanty so he got packed off to bed.  Toddlers.

The advent calendar has been a huge hit, as always.

Chip has managed to respect the rule that we only open one bag a day.  Kudos to him, because patience is soooo hard when you are two.  I filled the calendar with a chocolate each and a note about what Christmas-related thing we’d do that day.  Note to self: do not choose cheap wrapped chocolates from bulk bin ever again as they mostly get spat out by picky toddlers.  Despite not liking some of their ‘treats’ the kids don’t seem to care, and are still excited to see what is in the bag each day.

We haven’t always managed to do the calendar activity each day – mostly due to sickness – but my tots aren’t old enough to care, let alone remember.  I have found that thinking ahead to prepare the calendar had really helped with being organised for Christmas.  I finished my shopping ages ago, and only have a few consumables left to make.

St Nicholas Day was very exciting, and Sausage shared chocolate coins with her class at kindy.

We have been very involved in our church Christmas events.  A float telling the real Christmas story has been lacking in Whanganui’s Christmas Parade for several years, so this year several churches from several denominations got together to make a float and participate as a group.  One of the leaders from my church spearheaded the amazing design of the float, and she said the children’s ministry leaders from each church had such a great time organising this event, that they plan to meet regularly to share resources and pray for the churches.

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Waiting to march

The parade was wonderful.  Sausage, my mother-in-law and I had a ball with our church friends, and it was such a joy to see the thousands of happy faces lining the streets to watch the parade.  The weather was perfect, and it felt so great to have joined forces with other like-minded folks to do our bit to share the Christmas message.

We also supported our church’s annual Nativity play.  Chip refused to participate.  He can’t sit still for more than two minutes so his being in the play was always going to be a long shot.  However, he did help by handing out invitations to the local community.

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Sausage was an angel again, and I warned the minister that she will probably demand a speaking part next year!  She loves an audience.

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D has been incredibly busy dealing with Christmas lights.  For the past three years, we have entered Whanganui’s Light Up Your Home competition.  Households and businesses compete to win prizes, and a map is published so the community can go around looking at the lights.  D’s brother, an electrical engineer, has been in town so the two of them tried something new with the lights this year.  They spent hours, but it was definitely worth the effort.

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Chip helping D with the lights

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The finished product (complete with Christmas people mover…)

It’s hard to get a decent picture!  There are more lights in the trees and around the house and fence, but the main feature are the flickering camel and star lights.

We have never entered to win.  We enter because we know the delight it brings to the many families who venture out each Christmas.  I have an especially fond memory of piling into our van with my family, my aunt and her friend to look at the lights, singing carols at the top of our lungs.  I think at one point my Auntie was singing out of the sunroof!  Anyway, going to look at the lights became a family tradition, and it’s lovely to think we are play our part in carrying on that tradition for other families too.

The past week really threw me for a spin though.  I have said NO to anything that was a ‘nice to do’ but not essential to do.  Despite this mantra, this week was crazy-busy with several MUST-GO-TO events.  We had Sausage’s kindy’s end of year concert on Thursday night, immediately followed by Chip’s playgroup Christmas party Friday morning, and Sausage’s BFF’s birthday Friday afternoon.  Argh!  I was so exhausted I couldn’t attend the birthday party, but fortunately D took the kids.

My exhaustion turned out to be the flu, but even still, it was frazzling.

End of year Christmas parties really are a bugbear of mine.  I’d like to be able to say ‘sod the lot of them!’ but my tots are old enough now to a) know that these parties are happening, b) are expected to participate (e.g. the kindy concert) and are c) important to my tots.  I do get frustrated at the mandatory $5 gift from Santa at every.single.one.  Why???  It’s not like these privileged children won’t get a gift come Christmas day.  I was really pleased that our Playcentre decided to do away with this and instead gave families different options on how to give to people in need.  Go Playcentre!  I know I’m a grinch, but I reckon if more organisations and workplaces shelved Secret Santa and gave to charities, so much more light and love would be spread around at Christmas.

*Steps down from soapbox*

On a brighter note, I’ve been so chuffed that one of my best friends has moved to Whanganui with her family.  They were living in Auckland, and decided they wanted a better lifestyle for themselves and their children.  It is beyond cool to have them in the same town.  Their children are similar in age to mine, and are the closest thing to cousins my children have.  We’ve done loads of stuff with them already, and I’m sure many adventures await.

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My tots playing doctor (with paintbrushes) on their ‘cousin’ J

These friends gave Chip a disco light for Christmas, so it is party time at our house until we can party no more (bedtime is at 7pm, after all).

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The rest of Advent is somewhat quieter.  Workplace lunches for both D and I.  Seeing the lights with friends.  Gathering with church friends on Christmas Eve.  Playing as many Christmas carols as I can possibly squeak in.

On that note, I will leave you with the words of our friend Rev. Malcolm Gordon, who recently composed the wonderful song, Hey Mary, which you can listen to (and buy) here.  And the video is here.  It’s based on the annunciation in Luke’s gospel:

‘Hey Mary, there’s an angel in your house!’ 

Said, ‘Mary have I got some news for you.’ 

‘You seem to think you’re nothing much but Heaven’s coming close enough to touch, yeah!

Hey Mary, God is coming here through you!’ 

‘There is no such thing as ordinary now God is here. 
Every life and breath is blessed, you never know when God might appear.’

 

This Christmas I wish you peace.  Peace from the busyness, the shopping crowds, the parties and to-do-lists.  I wish that you can find pockets of peace for yourself, to rest, and to reflect on the miracle that is Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

 

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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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Advent in Tawhero, in reverse

Is it really a year since my last Advent post?  Wowzers, this year has whizzed by for me.

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I have to share this pic again, it cracks me up.  Candles are sooo exciting!

I’m ridiculously excited to celebrate Christmas with my children this year as at almost 2 and a half, Chip will be old enough to understand what’s going on.

Like last year as we journey towards Christmas, we will read Christmas stories and talk lots about Baby Jesus, Mama Mary and Papa Joseph.  We’ll light our advent candles during dinner.  We’ll sing Christmas carols and dance like lunatics to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.  We’ll be in our church Christmas pageant.  We’ll do some Christmas crafts and decorate the tree.

This year I’m doing TWO advent calendars. (More on calendar number two in a later post.)

Advent calendar one is a reverse advent calendar.  You might have seen this idea doing the rounds on social media.  I think it is absolutely brilliant.  The idea of a reverse advent calendar is to put one grocery item into a basket that then gets donated to a food bank, or a family in need.  I am all over this idea as I want my children to associate Christmas with giving.  But let me just say that this calendar is also for me.  Last year I carefully stockpiled a whole day’s worth of meals and treats for a family that I knew really, really needed it – a grandma looking after 11 kids, bless her.  The look on her face was the best present I got.  So the reverse advent calendar is something I’m keen to get behind.

Obviously if you want the recipients to enjoy it at Christmas you’ll have to donate your basket before December 24th.  We’re going to hold on to ours until our local food bank re-opens, as the after-Christmas period is a super-busy time for them.  Many people go all out for Christmas Day, and get caught short later.  If you need ideas as to what to put in, here are some tips from my time working at a Soup Kitchen:

  • Nothing you wouldn’t eat yourself.  If you haven’t eaten that jar of quince paste or pack of kale chips lurking at the back of the shelf, they probably won’t want to either.
  • Tinned tuna, salmon or chicken, and beef jerky are always greatly appreciated for a important protein boost.
  • Buy items that go together e.g. pasta and pasta sauce.  Nothing is sadder than chowing down on plain pasta because the rest of the cupboard is bare.
  • Canned vegetables (especially the cans with pop-up rings so no tin openers are required)
  • Beans, rice, noodles etc
  • Toiletries: tooth paste, tooth brushes, deodorant, tampons, nappies, shampoo, sunscreen, moisturiser, razors, pain killers (some places can’t dispense these), bug spray, vitamins, loo paper
  • Socks and underwear
  • Muesli bars, fruit roll-ups, snack packs of crackers and cheese, chips etc 
  • Treats, because life on the breadline is pretty grim

I started gathering items to donate in November, but you could start even earlier so you’re not faced with a bill for 24 cans of baked beans all at once.

Do you like the reverse advent calendar idea?  How do you give to others at Christmas?

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Non-Toy Christmas gifts for toddlers

I know Christmas is still a wee while away but toys, and the way they seem to take over your house when you have kids is a subject dear to my heart.  I am not anti-toy.  There are many wonderful toys out there which become cherished possessions.  I myself still have my Belle doll (Snoopy’s sister, who had a dazzling array of outfits, complete with a hole for her tail) that my Mum saved for me.  Heck, I still love Belle.

What I hate is how many toys kids have today.  It’s crazy.  I am constantly fighting the flow of toys in my own house.  In fact, I swear they breed, because one day Sausage held up a toy that I’d never seen before in my life.  Despite being selective as to what toys my children have, I still find myself culling them every few months and donating full-sized bags to charity.

I think it’s really hard for the older generation in particular to understand that children today are drowning in stuff.  People my parents age were lucky if they had a train set and a doll.  Childhood is very different now.  Toys are readily available, often cheap (and nasty, so they break within seconds), and it’s just the done thing to give them as gifts for Christmas and birthdays.

Today many children have so many toys that their parents have to devise cunning rotation systems, so the toys aren’t all out at once.  More and more children have entire rooms dedicated to their toys.  The ‘rise of the playroom’ is an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed of late (When I was little, I knew one other kid who had a ‘rumpus room’ and boy was I jealous of them!).

If the toys are breeding at your house, and you want to stem the tide, here are some non-toy Christmas gift alternatives for the toddlers in your life.  And if you’re an aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend, you might find these ideas more appealing than braving The Warehouse toy section on Christmas Eve…

  1. pyjamas
  2. bathrobe
  3. beach towel
  4. sleeping bag and torch/flashlight
  5. trip to the movies
  6. trip to the ice cream parlour
  7. pony ride
  8. pay class fees for a term e.g. ballet, kindy gym
  9. clothes
  10. shoes
  11. a special one-on-one outing somewhere really cool
  12. garden tools/gloves/seeds
  13. birdhouse and binoculars
  14. photo album all about them
  15. quiet book
  16. tool box and real kid-sized tools
  17. art easel
  18. noticeboard to display their artwork
  19. duvet cover
  20. dress up clothes
  21. jewellery box
  22. hair ties and hair clips
  23. poster/art for their bedroom wall
  24. magnifying glass
  25. their very own box of chocolates(!)
  26. calendar
  27. sunhat
  28. swimsuit
  29. tent
  30. lunchbox
  31. piggy bank
  32. wallet or purse with a few coins in it
  33. wooden name sign for their bedroom door
  34. toddler couch (my kids have one that was inexpensive which folds out into a bed)
  35. cutlery set/plate/bowl
  36. drink bottle
  37. hairbrush and hair ties
  38. suitcase/travel bag (ones they can sit on are great)
  39. clock (weary parents love gro clocks)
  40. first aid kit
  41. And my favourite, books

 

This Christmas give gifts that last, that children really need, and that get them out and about exploring the world.

 

 

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The journey

I was recently struck by a personal memory my Minister shared.  She reminisced about family holidays which involved a long car ride to their destination.  ‘For my parents, it was all about the destination, not the journey’, she said.  They only ever stopped to go to the loo, and occasionally for an ice cream.  Her parents’ focus was the end result – reaching their holiday spot.

This focus on the destination is how I tend to live my life.  I am not a live-in-the-moment person by nature.  I tend to live in the future, my mental to-do list is never far away and I often find myself playing half-heartedly with my tots while part of my brain is thinking ‘I must get on with the washing’.  I have a rich inner life, which easily escapes the everyday.  Even before kids, I knew this ‘future-thinking’ was a trait of mine, and I confess to bouts of trying mindfulness and mediation which never last long.

My children are the greatest teachers that I’ve ever had.  Since their arrival my patience muscle is flexed on a daily basis – sometimes it is greatly strained – and I, like them, have taken wobbly baby steps towards learning to live in the present.  For toddlers, life is all about the journey.

My son Chip keeps a running commentary of all the trucks, tractors and other assorted machinery he sees when we’re out and about.  My daughter Sausage flits from flower to flower like a over-sized, curly haired hummingbird, and can often be seen gasping in delight over bits of rubbish, spiders, and odd-shaped rocks that she spies on walks.  Sausage especially is not a child who can be hurried.  She has a random, buoyant nature, and being told to hurry along only makes her dig her heels in (I cannot imagine where she gets this from…).

I used to be a super-organised person with an unbearable feeling around being late.  But no more.  Besides work and the odd appointment, there is rarely anywhere that I HAVE to be.  Now when we are running late, more often that not I say ‘so friggin’ what?  Relax Angela, relax.’  Because it almost never matters if we are late.  When you have kids, people understand that getting them out the door on time is akin to a military operation rivalling D-Day.  They understand that just as you turned the key in the door, one of your kids decided it was time for poomageddon or to be struck down by a vomiting bug.  The ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ now take up less space in my head.  And I realise that they are almost always self-imposed weapons of flagellation which can quite frankly, go and get stuffed.

Today I only had vague ideas about what to do with Chip.  We dropped his sister off at her beloved kindy.  ‘Go to lake?’ asked Chip.  ‘Sure buddy’, I replied, feeling magnanimous.  D and I had recently taken our tots for a walk/ride around Virginia Lake, which had been an exercise in frustration as we practically had to drag them around, and D and I spent more time carrying their bikes than they spent on them.  This was fresh in my mind.

Today I’m going to focus on the journey, I thought.  It’s not about walking around the lake.  If we don’t get all the way, it doesn’t matter one iota.  (Also, hands up if you love the word iota?  I need to use it more.)

Because there was nowhere we needed to be, Chip and I ending up spending four hours at the lake.

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Virginia Lake

We went to the lake playground.  We went to the bird aviary and said hello to the cockatoos.  We went to the cafe.  Chip played hard at the cafe playground.

After a pit stop at the Winter Gardens, we slowly, slowly, slowly went around the lake, saying hi to the ducks and geese.

I chatted with the man cutting grass on the bank, while Chip looked enviously at his cool leaf-blower.  We examined flowers and trees.

We sat on the little pier, and Chip fed me grapes.

 

I like toddler life.

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Life lately

I’ve been too busy or knackered to blog in a while.  You know how everything seems to happen at once?  Life is finally calming down a bit, just in time for our school holidays.

We had an action-packed weekend in Wellington so we could attend a wedding.  My tots had a blast playing at several playgrounds, the excellent Southward Car Museum and at the beautiful place where we stayed for the weekend.  They had an even bigger blast at the wedding, as the bride and groom had thoughtfully provided babysitters for all their friends with children.  D and I had a wonderful time celebrating two beautiful people getting married, and catching up with friends while our children played happily with the babysitters.

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Ready for some wedding grub

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At Levin Adventure Playground

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Having fun in the Wellington garden

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The view from our Wellington accommodation

I love this gem of a photo.  The look on Chip’s face cracks me up every time.

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Travelling with our tots is slowly becoming easier.  Our two extroverts charmed everyone at the wedding (Sausage was dying to dance with the Bride and Groom) and they take new environments in their stride.  Sausage even thanked us for taking her to the car museum, declaring it the best day ‘ever’.  Chip is a car fanatic so he was literally trembling with excitement when he saw the place.  It was so great to treat our kids, and have it appreciated.

I’m still having problems with my back, but this has given me plenty of time to read books and to do some crafting.  I hate to even use the C-word in September, but I am giving Christmas a lot of thought already as I intend to do a Buy Nothing Christmas.  I’ve made a start by fiddling around with felt.  Some ornaments like this are going to my brother, because nothing says Christmas quite like Star Wars…

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There will be more on my Buy Nothing Christmas at a later date!