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Marriage: Five years in

D and I are still babies at this marriage thing, but we recently celebrated five years as Mr and Mrs.

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This pretty much sums us up – me laughing at D being silly

We have our ups and downs, but mostly we get along well and enjoy each other’s company.  Our mutual happiness must show, as I’ve been asked a few times what the secret of a good marriage is!

Here are a few things that have helped us build a strong marriage:

  • We chose each other!  Whenever I’m asked what our happy-marriage-secret is, I reply ‘Marrying D’.  Before he came on the scene, I was drawn to brooding, moody types but I am sooooo glad that I have ended up with my sunny and silly husband.  For my fellow Jane Austen fans, I liken it to marrying Mr Bingley instead of Mr Darcy.  I’m joking, but kind of not.  I suspect that I would have found life with a moody, brooding type quite difficult.  D is a heart-on-sleeve, uncomplicated soul who is unfailingly kind.  D and I are also fortunate that we don’t have a lot of stresses that many couples have – we’re from the same culture, have nice families, share the same faith, same political views and have no debt.  I’m not saying any of these things mean a couple is doomed – far from it, as I know many ‘opposites’ who are perfectly happy – but our sameness means those stresses just don’t exist for us.
  • We carry each other.  D could get mad about the times my auto-immune disease renders me a tired slug.  Or the fact that I cannot deal with sleep-deprivation AT.ALL.  He has picked up my slack on countless occasions and even took on night-feed duty with our children (because sleep-deprived Angela was just too awful to live with!).  Likewise, I’ve picked up his slack when he’s been busy with his studies or his new business, or has just got some new invention in his head that he needs to get out.  As our ‘busyness’ ebbs and flows, so do our negotiations over who does what.  D is probably going to resume his studies soon, and I’m already thinking of how I can support him during this time i.e. what chores can I take off him so he doesn’t become a stress-bunny.
  • We prepared for marriage well.  We had a short engagement (just over three months), and were blessed to have marriage preparation with a mature couple as our guides.  As it wasn’t available when we were engaged, we ended up doing the Alpha Marriage Preparation Course after we were married, and that was fantastic too.  I highly recommend doing a marriage preparation course to any couple, as the benefits are huge: it gets you in the habit of having intentional conversations, and you don’t get blind-sided by the big (or little) stuff.  Marriage prep covers everything from what your idea of a husband or wife is, your previous relationship history,  how you plan to share finances and household chores, to which side of the family you will spend holidays with.  It covers things that you’ve probably never talked about before.  Marriage prep is not for the faint-hearted.  You go deep.  You may cry.  But it gets you to lay all your cards on the table; the good and the bad, so you both know what you are getting into.  Because of marriage preparation, our transition to married life was seamless.
  • We work on it.  I think the litmus test for any couple is whether you are both prepared to get help if things start to go pear-shaped.  You can’t work with someone who isn’t willing to see a counsellor, a minister or good friend when bad times come.  As my background is in psychology, I ask D regularly to do stuff that I think will enhance our marriage.  And he always says yes.  Together, we’ve read books on marriage, watched a dvd on boundaries, developed a set of family values, gone on retreats together and alone, and had many, many intentional conversations (thanks marriage prep!) that have soothed the sting of our arguments.
  • We connect regularly.  We have a ‘date night’ once a week, and take turns being the one to organise it (see here for cheap or free date night ideas).  Sometimes we get a bit slack or busy and date night doesn’t happen, but we find that we are more content with our relationship when we make date night a priority.  We each get a kick out of planning something we know will make the other one happy, and have both surprised ourselves with our creativity.  D has surprised me with several trips and meals out (one of the best was an anniversary dinner where he treated me to a meal he’d cooked over at his mother’s house, while she babysat our children at our house!), and my favourites have been surprising D with a picnic at a ‘secret’ lake, and a dance party where we each chose our three favourite ‘dancey’ songs, and our three favourite romantic songs.  There’s nothing like dancing with your spouse to remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place.  Unless they have two left feet.

 

As I said, we’re still babies at this marriage thing so take this with a grain of salt.  I’m sure my list in ten or twenty years time will look different, but for now, happy fifth anniversary D!

 

 

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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!

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Rest

That has got to be one of my favourite four-letter words.

To me rest looks like this:

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This the lounge of the holiday house we occasionally stay in (it belongs to old friends of D’s family).  The house is in a quiet beachside settlement where I have no cellphone coverage.  The house is a WWII prefab, cobbled together over the intervening years with quirk, charm and a little bootpolish.  In this bookcase there are treasures to behold.  I never fail to find something great to read – anything from Buchan to Guareschi.  On this particular weekend I had nothing on my agenda other than to rest, so I read a doorstop-of-a-book, interrupted only by walks along the beach.  I got lost for hours in a complex detective story with a clever and satisfying conclusion.  Bliss.

Rest also looks like this:

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and this:

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The weather was perfect.  Warm, with a gentle breeze, hardly a cloud in the sky.  I scrambled up and down sand dunes, strolled through forest, and watched the waves lazily lapping on the shore.

As I mentioned last week, I have suffered from rather severe burnout in the past, and after a stressful couple of weeks wrangling two sick toddlers some burn-out symptoms were rearing their ugly heads.  Burnout is a b*tch like that.  One of the first things to go for me is sleep.  My body overreacts to stress and I end up unable to fall asleep for hours as my mind races from one thought to the next.  I could tolerate this (albeit barely) when I was single and childfree, but now I have children who wake me up at 6:30am I cannot survive on 3-4 hours sleep.

I slept badly on my retreat, but I was at least able to sleep in, so I returned home with my batteries showing signs of life.

While there I noticed that my primary emotion was…sadness.

I missed my family.  I knew I would enjoy myself more if they were with me, and yet I desperately needed some respite from my demanding toddlers so I could get on an even keel again.

On the first day I had fun, and it felt like my single days when I could do whatever I wanted.  I stopped at a small town along the way and looked in every single op-shop.  I bought what I wanted for dinner (steak and salad, followed by Greek yoghurt and fresh blackberries, yum!).  I watched two movies that I wanted to watch (‘Inside Out’ and ‘Pitch Perfect 2’).

But the next day, the gloss had worn off.  Because I am not the same person that I was when I was single and childfree.  I have three ginormous (and exceptionally cute) blessings in the forms of D, Chip and Sausage, and life really is more fun when they are with me.  It’s certainly louder, gigglier and messier.  I sat with Sadness and Guilt (very ‘Inside Out’ of me), knowing that even though I loved and missed my family I was doing the very best thing for them and for me.  Taking a break.

My little sojourn has hopefully shored me up for the next wee while (please tell me no one gets sick over summer okay?  Lying is fine.).  Bring on Christmas!

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October Family Month: How I did

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that just prior to turning 40 I decided to ‘take stock’ and set myself twelve monthly challenges to complete in different areas of my life.

August was an absolute dismal failure, September was a bit meh, but October?

I absolutely nailed it.

My challenges aren’t ridiculously hard, makeover-my-entire-life sort of stuff.  I choose three or four things to do in the area of my life that I am focusing on.  I make them specific, I write them down, and I DIARISE them so they actually happen.

October was Family month.  This month I decided to focus on my immediate family and my side of our extended family (not that I don’t love my husband’s side, it’s just they are a bit more scattered than mine).  My goals were:

  • Have a ‘day of fun’ with my husband and tots
  • Spend an afternoon hanging out with my brother
  • Have a family meal with my extended family
  • Complete some tasks I set myself for marriage month in August.  See here for why this month bombed.

Early in October D and I took the kids to Dannevirke to visit their Fantasy Cave.  Dannevirke is about a 1&1/2hr drive from our home town, and has all the makings of a great family day out.

The Fantasy Cave is simply wonderful.  It doesn’t take more than an hour to go through it though, so I would recommend tagging something else onto a trip there, like we did.  We first had a picnic lunch at the Dannevirke Domain on Christian Street (about 1 min away from the city centre).  Dannevirke gets its name from the Danish settlers who developed the area in the 1870s.  The town has capitalised on its heritage, and has a Viking theme all over it.  The domain has a great playground, complete with its own Viking ship.

Vikings ahoy!

Vikings ahoy!

This part is more for older kids, and as you can see, there is plenty for them to climb on.

The toddler area is fabulous – and, most importantly – it has shade!!!  (Very lacking at Whanganui playgrounds.)

Shadecloth. Brilliant.

Shadecloth. Brilliant.

Chip and Sausage having fun at the toddler's area

Chip and Sausage having fun at the toddler’s area

There are plenty of picnic tables, rubbish bins and trees nearby.  On the other side of the domain are beautiful gardens and a fountain.

But, back to the Fantasy Cave.  The photos below aren’t mine as you aren’t allowed to take photos while inside, but these are from accredited websites.

The Cave was created by locals about 20 years ago, originally as somewhere the children could visit Santa.  But it blossomed into so much more.  The cave meanders over several levels of a large building, and has displays of well-known nursery rhymes and fairy tales.  There are a lot of animatronics, and huge amounts of detail in every vista, so you could spend quite some time looking at each one.

If you have a kid who just has to touch something, this is not the place for you.  My almost-three year-old surprised me by sticking to my command of ‘look with your eyes, not your hands’.  She was so delighted with the place, exclaiming each time she spotted something that caught her eye.

Chip really enjoyed it too, although restraining him from touching things was much trickier.  You can’t take buggys into the cave, so D had to carry Chip around.  Just as well he’s so strong and manly, eh?  Now Chip is even more mobile, I can’t see myself taking him there again until I know he can keep his hands to himself.  Sausage is still asking to go back six weeks later, so I think we’ll have to go on a special Mummy-Daughter road trip.

My brother has had an incredibly tough time in the past year, and I don’t often get to spend time with just him.  With D’s help, I took him out for an afternoon of fun.  He had no idea what we were doing, but went along with his hare-brained sister nonetheless.  We saw Bridge of Spies, which was absolutely fantastic.  I have no idea how closely it resembles what actually happened (it is based on a true story), but it remains the best movie I have seen this year.  My brother and I found it gripping, and the cast is superb.  We followed it up with a slap-up lunch and a good, long chat.

My parents, brother and my family have been having dinner together every Friday night, which has been lovely.  I get a kick out of the loving relationships my tots have with my folks, and I’m sure all the love and attention has helped them develop into the friendly extroverts that both my kids are.

D finally managed to get away for a couple of days on a retreat.  He didn’t do much but sleep, eat and read, but came back refreshed from his time away.  D is an introvert so time by himself to rest and re-energise is important, but incredibly hard to get at our stage in life.  Juggling both kids by myself was tiring, but being able to give D a break was priceless.  I believe that giving each other permission to practice good self-care is a key ingredient to a good marriage.

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Tending to my soul

I arrived home from Adelaide at 3am on Monday morning, desperate to see my babies and husband, and delighted to slip quietly into my own bed.

But oh, what a trip.

Moments of doubled-over-in-laughter, great joy at seeing two lovely people get married, of wandering around unfamiliar and beautiful streets.  Little things, like having the time (and a reason) to paint my nails, lingering over meals, uninterrupted conversations, friendships so old and true that no explanations or back stories are ever required, having the head space to notice and enjoy the difference between Australian and New Zealand architecture, time alone at airports spent reading a book.

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My two travelling companions and I once counted Europe as our stomping ground and had many, many adventures with our group of friends.  We now live in different parts of New Zealand, so not only was it great to spend so much time in each other’s company, but it was wonderful to put on our explorer hats together again.  In terms of tourist stuff, we didn’t ‘do’ much.  A great deal of our time was just spent wandering the streets of Adelaide, a city I have decided I could easily live in; and Hahndorf, a picturesque village just outside Adelaide.  As we walked around the leafy streets of Hahndorf each one of us could feel the busyness of our normal lives melting away.  We had nothing more pressing to do than walk, look, and find a good place to have an ice cold cider.

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Being ‘Mum’ to two little tots is hands down the most joyful thing I’ve ever done, but it is also the hardest and most exhausting.  It’s easy to lose yourself in the chaos of your children’s early years when ‘me’ time feels like an impossible dream, and all you want is to eat lunch or go to the loo in peace.  It was wonderful to simply be Angela for a few days, and to do anything I wanted to.   During moments of solitude I was reminded of the need to take care of myself more, to tend to my own soul while I am taking care of my children.  I know I am a better mother when I do.  I am less tired, less resentful, less hurried.  I am more patient, more kind, more fun.

But as I watched my friend marry the love of her life, I was reminded of my loves that waited for me at home.  Of how much richer my life is for having D and our two children in it.  Of how I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.  I will dine out on the memories of my trip, and all those little things that tended to the garden of my soul; but I will also try to be more grateful for the chaos of our daily life in Tawhero, and paint my nails every once in a while.

 

 

 

Big thanks to D, Nang Nang, Grandpa, Oma and Auntie C for taking care of my tots while I was gone.  Without your support, my trip would not have been possible.

 

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Dollar Diet: A frugal Valentine’s Day

I’ve often really struggled with Valentine’s Day.  When I was single I told myself what a pathetic nouveau tradition it was, all that schmaltz just so someone can make money from it (although I’m pretty sure I would have been thrilled beyond measure to get a surprise Valentine).  On Valentine’s Day when you are single it can feel like everyone else ON THE ENTIRE PLANET is in a relationship but YOU.  I hated how that one day could make me feel so lonely and sad about my single status which didn’t bother me so much at other times.  It’s ridiculous when you think about it.

However, when I started going out with D it somehow seemed appropriate to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We are both the sort of people who love any sort of celebration so the idea of adding in another one didn’t even merit much discussion.  I’m the sort of person who says ‘Ooh!  International talk-like-a-pirate day.  Let’s do that!’  And D is always up for doing something fun or silly or romantic.

So when it comes to Valentine’s Day half of me is like: ‘No!  It’s so commercial!’  But the other half is like: ‘But love stuff, wahoo!’  Despite my split-personality, I have managed to find a middle ground by never going OTT with gifts or grand gestures.  One Valentine’s Day was spent in a two-bit, run down camping ground, where we took a few minutes to write each other a love letter.  Cheesy?  Yes.  But I still cherish that letter.  Therefore the Dollar Diet doesn’t feel like its impacted on Valentine’s Day for us at all.  We could forgo it entirely of course in the name of frugality, but we are loving how the Dollar Diet is forcing us to be more creative with what we’ve got.  There’s no need for us to abandon our celebrations just because we’re watching our pennies.

Here’s what I’ve done on the cheap for Valentine’s Day:

We are having a nice meal at home (roast chicken, cooked by D).  As a gift I am giving him a bag of my chocolate truffles and I have created him a ‘love jar’ (or in our case a ‘lurve’ jar – just one of our inside jokes).  A friend gave Sausage a lovely glass jar filled with treats for her birthday.  She was very interested in the contents, but the jar not so much. I nabbed it before D could fill it with coffee like he planned, wrote notes on some of the things I love about him to put in the jar, and prettied the jar up with some ribbon.  Because men love ribbon, am I right?  I could have printed the notes out on the computer to make it look ‘perfect’ but I always think hand-written notes are the best.  And besides, I ‘m like:

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I made my notes quite specific, and included lots of quirky things about D that I find endearing.  Like this one:

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Sorry for outing you this way D…

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My husband is a very whimsical guy so when I saw this card on Pinterest I knew he’d like it.card blurred

 

All the materials for the card and the jar were stuff I already had to hand so I didn’t spend a single cent.

 

So that’s it.  Meaningful love stuff?  Check.  Bank balance still looking good? Check.

 

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  Why or why not?

 

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Date Your Spouse Without Leaving The House: 15 free & cheap date night ideas

One of the things D and I have sacrificed this year during our Spending Fast is our date night budget.  But just because we won’t be going out to restaurants or to the movies doesn’t mean that we are resigned to a year without date nights.  Oh no, that would never do!

Date nights are extremely important to us.  They give us some sacrosanct time in our busy lives where we can enjoy uninterrupted time together, and time to shine a spotlight on our relationship. We haven’t always been diligent about having them once a week (oddly enough, they tend to get derailed for a while after a baby shows up…) but we’ve always taken turns to organise the date.  It’s actually loads of fun trying to think of things to do that the other one would like, and the best spin-off was we’ve often surprised each other with our creativity.

There are heaps of ‘date night idea’ posts out there with some really cool things you could do together.  However, at this time in my life I tend to read ideas like ‘Go away for the weekend’ or ‘Take a cooking class together’ and think to myself ‘these things either cost money (hello, Spending Fast) or are for people without tiny tots at home’.   And while there are plenty of free or frugal dates we could have outside the home thanks to our willing babysitters, we aim to have loads of fun on our date nights without even leaving the house.

  1. Make a list of your top 3 (or 5 or 10…) favourite songs and play them to your spouse.  Try to articulate why that song means so much to you.  Is it the lyrics?  Is it the memories of a good/bad time in your life?  D and I did this a couple of years ago and this still remains hands down my best-ever date night.  We learnt a lot about each other, got introduced to some wonderful new music and it didn’t cost us a bean.
  2. In a similar vein, watch each other’s favourite childhood movie.  You might get an insight into your spouse once you’ve seen Tron or Clueless.
  3. Have a themed night.  Choose a country/genre/tv show or whatever takes your fancy and work that theme into your night e.g. French – cook some delicious French recipes, serve your spouse using a ridiculous French accent and watch a wonderful French flick like the hysterically funny ‘Bienvenue chez le Ch’tis‘ (Welcome to the Sticks).  Ooh la la!
  4. Have a picnic on your living room floor.  Because food just tastes better when you are sitting on the floor.  Or something like that.
  5. Play board games.  I struggle with this one a little myself because on the one hand, I love board games.  But on the other hand, D is WAY better at games than me (he’s very logical, I am not) so I usually suck at the games he likes (although I can still beat anyone at Cluedo…).  It can be a bit demoralising to lose at Citadels 50 times in a row, although my one victory is a sweet, sweet memory.  Some games are no good with two people, but we love Citadels and Pandemic.
  6. Watch a TV series together.  This is our go-to date night for times when we are knackered.  Which is a lot.  We’ve been through Prison Break, Midsomer Murders, 24, Downton Abbey, Homeland and are in the middle of Foyle’s War.  (In case you can’t tell I LOVE murder mysteries, WWII-related stuff, and plenty of action.)
  7. Make a special dish together.  If you’ve got little ones at home, let’s face it, it’ll probably be dessert as you’ll be starving if you have to wait for your dinner until the tots are in bed.  You don’t have to spend heaps of money to create something yummy.  My husband makes plain old self-saucing pudding every now and then (we use a sugar-free alternative) and I like it so much I even made up a special pudding song.  True story.  Anyway, get cooking together and reap the reward.
  8. Go through a book together and discuss.  Get a book out of the library for free (or peanuts).  It doesn’t really matter what sort of book, but I would recommend choosing a topic that appeals to you both (D might salivate over ‘Adventures of an IT Nerd’, but I will be snoozing in 5 seconds).  Books with a bit of philosophy in them are great like ‘How to Be Free‘ or something on a controversial topic like ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin‘.
  9. Even better, go through a book about marriage/relationships together.  Relationship are hard work, even for the most compatible couples.  Invest in yours, and dig deep into your trouble spots together.  It’s not for the faint-hearted, but as a couple you MUST GET USED TO TALKING ABOUT THE HARD STUFF TOGETHER.  I highly recommend Harville Hendrix’s ‘Getting the Love You Want‘ and Timothy Keller’s ‘The Meaning of Marriage‘.
  10. Write love letters to each other.  Okay, so this one is dripping with cheese, but go with it.  Cast your mind back to when you first met and started dating.  What attracted you to your partner?  What do you still love about them?  What are you grateful for about them?  Write it down and then read them out loud to each other.
  11. Play the ‘What If…’ game.  This one is fun, fun, fun and will give you a lot of insight into that guy/gal of yours.  Try and think of some really curly dilemmas (there are lots of great resources online like this), you know, stuff  like ‘If you had to press a button which meant one person would die, but hundreds of lives would be saved, would you do it’?
  12. Record each other telling your life stories.  This is gold.  Like heirloom gold.  Ask questions like, ‘What are some family traditions you remember’?  ‘What was school like for you‘?  ‘Walk me around your house, describe what it looked like‘?
  13. If one or both of you are musical have a jam session/singalong.  My husband likes to make up terrible songs about me that don’t rhyme.  I love it.
  14. Dig out your old pre-partner photos of your life and go through them together.  Ask questions.
  15. And last but not least, D says: assemble flat-pack furniture together.  Not only do two pairs of hands get things done faster, NOTHING strengthens a relationship more like trying to figure out why the heck your bookcase is wonky and you’ve got three screws leftover.  IKEA: the place that screams are made of…