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Dollar Diet: Week 10, Use it up

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

te manawa 1 tots in tawhero

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.

banana bread tots in tawhero

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.

Te Manawa 2 Tots in Tawhero

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!

reading party tots in tawhero

Reading party for two 

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

 

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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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Having one of THOSE days? How to keep calm and carry on, and keep your kids happy

Tots in Tawhero has been rather quiet of late.

Not for lack of inspiration, but due to sickness.  After blogging about each one of us getting a virus, mine came back with a vengeance and turned into pneumonia.  Oh, and D was away for work.  Fun times.

I made it through several bad days thanks to family, play dates and the electronic babysitter.  It’s so hard to entertain your kids when they are getting over an illness (even when you’re well) because you can’t go to all your normal playgroups lest they infect others.  And when YOU are the one who is sick, keeping your tots occupied feels like a Herculean task.

It got me thinking that there must be a way I can help myself the next time I am in this position – because let’s face it, toddlers are some of the most diseased creatures on the planet, so there will be a next time.

I am a very organised person by nature, so I like the idea of Present Me helping out Future Me by doing a little graft now.

Busy bags have been on my radar for a while, but I’d never gotten off my chuff to actually make one.  If you haven’t come across them before, basically they are bags with things in them to keep your tot occupied when you need them to play independently for a bit, like while you are waiting at the doctor’s.  With the struggle of the past few weeks fresh in my mind, I decided to make some for Sausage (2 1/2) and Chip (11 months).

There are loads and loads of busy bag ideas on Pinterest (what on earth did we do before Pinterest?), but many of them are aimed at 3-5 year olds, with things like matching games, puzzles and threading crafts that are too difficult for my tots.  They usually have one activity in them and can be reused over and over.

I was able to make up some suitable bags after putting in a bit of thought.  Being sick, I had zero energy to make anything.  These bags do contain store-bought stuff (quite inexpensive), but there are plenty of ideas out there in Pinterest land that could be made with materials to hand, or bought for next-to-nothing at a thrift store.  As these bags were intended to be used at home in times of illness or sheer desperation for something to do, I was not constrained by needing to keep things portable.

Instead of ‘busy’ bags, I am calling them ‘Save Our Sanity’ (or SOS) bags, as they really can make tough times a little better.
SOS bags for 2 year olds and under

SOS bags for 2 year olds and under

D is back home and ‘on’ the kids while I rest and recover, but he needed to go out for a couple of hours sans kids.  Out popped a couple of SOS bags, and the time passed pretty quickly as a result.

Some of the things in Sausage’s bag included a new colouring book, a ‘paint with water’ book, and a new-to-her story book.  I’d like to shake the hand of kiss whomever invented paint-with-water books, they are a genius.  I remember using them when I was little so they’ve been around a while, but they are perfect for toddlers, who love seeing the water transform the pictures.

This one kept Sausage busy for two 20 minute sessions:

Paint with water books are your friend

Paint with water books are your friend

She also coloured for about 15 minutes and I read the story book to her three times. 🙂

We’ve all been wearing tiaras wrong for years…

saus reading

Chip’s bag was much trickier as I didn’t have the energy to make anything, but I did have a few things stashed away that were appropriate, like stacking cubes and finger paint.

dan stacking

We didn’t get around to finger painting, as he needed a sleep, but the stacking cubes kept him occupied for quite a while.  Building them into a tower is naturally far beyond his capabilities, but Chip had a great time knocking them down and trying to eat them, because that’s his thing.

So there you go.  Simple but effective.  You don’t need to be a crafty person to cobble bags like this together.  You don’t even need new stuff – you could use ‘forgotten’ toys and books, make your own colouring books by printing out a few pages from your computer, throw in some string and some beads for threading, snacks, and even a new-to-them DVD if you are really sick.  Anything new to your kid is going to buy you a little ‘me’ time and it just might save your sanity on a really bad day.  Or save theirs, after four straight days of rain.

While I will be making SOS bags like this or this,  I will also be looking for books, puzzles and games at second hand stores to stash away to help out future Angela.  For the SOS bags I want to use when I am at a loose end for things to do, I plan to put in materials so we can make a craft together; and when my kids are much bigger, maybe even some tickets to a movie or skating rink.

A little work now will save your sanity later, so go ahead.  Help out future you.

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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.