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Dollar Diet 2017: Week 37

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Now I’ve finished a piece of work that was sucking most of my spare brain-power, I have more time again to devote to my blog and all things frugal.  This week I was stuck indoors with sick kids.  I thought we’d escaped the worst of what winter has thrown our way, but no, my tots seem to be catching everything just as the weather is warming up.

This week’s frugal happenings:

  • Made two batches of tortillas which I used for enchiladas and burritos.  Tortillas are seriously easy to make (it’s the cooking them that’s the time-consuming bit), and once you’ve had home made tortillas, you’ll never buy commercial ones again.  For the enchiladas I made the sauce from scratch too.  Yum!

 

  • Found a mint-condition Tinkerbell summer dress from Disney at a secondhand clothing store, which will make a perfect gift for my friend’s daughter who is turning 5 soon.  She is really into long, swishy dresses and this one fits the bill nicely.  The wrapping paper and card are, as usual,  handmade by my tots.

    party dress tots in tawhero

    Such a cute dress!

  • Stayed home most of the week.  This has been a self-enforced embargo on going out as my children came down with conjuctivitis.  It is doing the rounds here at the moment and is ridiculously contagious.  Anyway, saving my town from more pink eye saves me money on petrol and saves me from the temptation to spend.

 

  • Stocked up on basics that were on sale at the supermarket.  It’s not often I come away from a supermarket these days, saying ‘Wow! Great bargains today,’ but this happened to be a week where many of our regular groceries were heavily discounted.  Items like canned corn and tomatoes were 75c each, toothbrushes were 58c etc so I stocked up on as much as I could and still came in quite a bit under budget.

 

  • D won some headphones in a competition he entered quite randomly.  He already has a great pair so he sold them on for $130.  Apparently there’s quite a demand for decent gaming headphones, and the buyer was very happy with his purchase.

 

  • Purchased at $60 meat pack from one of our local butchers, which I’ve then divided up into 14 meals (some of which include our whanau* night, when we feed 5 adults and 4 children).  As we eat several vegetarian meals a week, I won’t have to buy meat for three or four weeks.  For NZ prices, this pack was a great deal, working out at just over $4 per meal.

 

  • D’s tax return finally showed up!  That is now salted away with other savings to help with our moving costs.  As we are moving islands (which requires taking our household goods and cars on a ferry), our moving costs will be in the thousands.

 

  • I made a batch of gluten-free date scones with baking mix left over from my 100th failed attempt to go gluten-free.  We have a GF family at my church, so I thought I’d surprise them with something nice for morning tea after the service.

 

  • Gave a bagful of grapefruit to friends.  I am not making grapefruit marmalade this year as we are likely to be moving soon and I am trying to take as little as possible with us.  I am really going to miss all the free fruit our garden provides us with!

 

  • We had several meatless meals, including baked potatoes, which D reckons are the best foodstuff ever invented.

 

Lest you think I am some sort of saint, I did splurge on some unwarranted things this week.  After several days inside my MIL offered to take both my tots for the afternoon.  I was so thrilled, I went to a cafe because I felt like I needed to celebrate!  It was wonderful to spend time without being whined at, or having to wipe snot or eye gunk.  I also went to a Tupperware party (for a friend’s birthday) where I came face to face with an old friend, their children’s tea party set.  My brother and I had one growing up which we LOVED.  I remember holding many, many tea parties in our shed.  The tea set wasn’t too expensive (I don’t usually buy Tupperware as I think it is outrageously overpriced) and I plan to stash it away to give to the kids as a joint present at Christmas.  So there you are, suckered in by nostalgia!

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Who remembers this?  Ah, the colours of my childhood.

 

 

* whanau: (noun) extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.

 

 

 

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How I save money on children’s clothing

Keeping children clothed when they insist on growing every few months can be an expensive exercise, but it doesn’t have to be.  Although I confess to going a teensy bit mad buying adorable duffel coats and bear-shaped booties while pregnant with my first child, these days I don’t spend much money clothing my tots at all.

Here’s how I keep our clothing costs to a minimum:

  • I don’t expect my tots to have a vast wardrobe.  Last time I checked, my children aren’t North West, Harper Beckham or Suri Cruise, so they don’t require 150 outfits to see them through Paris Fashion Week or the Cannes Festival.  Children who grew up during the Great Depression counted themselves lucky to have two changes of clothing, and some of those were probably fashioned from flour sacks.  I love clothes, but I don’t think my children need several pairs of skinny jeans or party clothes for every day of the week.  A few outfits that are comfortable and weather-appropriate – plus one ‘good’ outfit – are all kids really need.
  • I gratefully accept hand-me-downs.  I chuckled as I wrote that last bullet point because although that is my personal belief, my children do currently have more than they need!  We are often given clothing from friends with bigger children, and the clothes rage from mint to I’ve-played-the-heck-in-this condition.  I appreciate all hand-me-downs as they are brilliant for my tots to wear to kindy and to get mucky in.  I don’t sweat it if they get covered in mud and finger-paint, like I would if it was something I’d paid good money for.  I opt for second-hand clothing myself whenever possible and hope that my children grow up appreciating second-hand clothing just as much as new.
  • I let it be known that I am on the lookout for hand-me-downs.  After we moved cities we didn’t get any hand-me-downs for a while, but as I made friends I let them know I was happy to receive them.  Friends can often assume that you are getting things from someone else, but if you’re not, let them know.  I always ensure I share the love by passing on my children’s clothes to others.  I get a real buzz from seeing a friend’s child in something one of my tots wore.
  • I go to clothing swaps.  Clothing swaps are so much fun.  There’s usually nibbles, wine, good friends and several tonnes of clothing involved.  I have never, ever come away empty-handed.  One swap netted me enough clothing for Chip which lasted him a year.  Here’s a picture of the last swap I went to – bear in mind that this was just the children’s section! clothes swap totsintawhero
  • I buy second-hand.  I baulk at paying $40 for something my child is going to wear for six months.  When I need something for myself, I always look in second-hand stores first, and I do the same with my children.  I’ve paid peanuts for really, really beautiful clothing.  I often find expensive labels like Oshkosh, Gap, Pumpkin Patch, and the like, for a fraction of what they normally retail for.
  • I ask for clothing as presents.  When grandparents and friends ask what to get my children for their birthdays or Christmas, I often suggest clothing.  Today’s children are overloaded with toys, and I struggle to stem the tide of toys that come into our house from well-meaning friends and family.  Clothing is a great – and useful – alternative.
  • I buy ahead.  If I am at an op-shop and spy something really cool or useful (like waterproof overalls, bathrobes etc) but it’s a size or two bigger, I buy it.  We have plenty of storage, and I’ve saved so much money this way.  My daughter attends a forest pre-school which necessitates waterproof clothing over winter, plus I like for us to get about in all sorts of weather.  A pair of waterproof overalls retail for $40-$60 here.  I found a pair for my daughter for $3 and a pair for my son for $1.99.
  • I buy on sale.  A major chain-store in my city has a half-price clothing sale in the middle of winter.  They sell awesome merino singlets and other thermal gear, so I stock up for the next year if we haven’t already inherited some from other children.  I’m also not totally opposed to buying new clothing.  If we were on the bare bones of our arse, I would expect my children to wear what they were given and be grateful.  But we’re not.  So when my daughter went into a fit of rapture when she saw this dress – and I saw it was heavily reduced – I said sure.  She’s all about dresses, and tulle and sparkles and butterflies right now, so she just loves, loves, loves this dress. Dress tots in tawhero
  • I buy clothes for my daughter that can be passed down to my son.  When possible I do try to get items for Sausage that are plain and serviceable for her brother too.  Chip wears loads of his sister’s cast-offs and no one would ever know.  Or care.
  • I don’t pass things on too quickly.  My son is very slim so he gets away with wearing smaller-sized trousers for a few months before beginning to resemble Steve Urkel.
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    Remember this guy?

    My daughter has several dresses from when she was a baby that we use as tops.  They look terrific as breezy summer tops.  So don’t be too hasty to get rid of things.  Children slim down a LOT once they start walking, and trousers that once need to fit around bulky nappies will often still fit the child when they are older and toilet-trained.

  • I deliberately befriend people with children slightly older than my own.  Just joking.

 

How do you save money on children’s clothes?

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Dollar Diet 2016 : Life socks

The alternative title for this week’s Dollar Diet update should be ‘A diatribe on socks’.

As we still have a temporary nanny while I recover from a back injury, I have lots of free time.  It’s really tempting to spend that time shopping or going to cafes and doing other things that cost money.  But since re-comitting to the Dollar Diet, I’ve mostly kept myself away from any temptation.

It wasn’t hard at all, I must confess.  Even though I’d recently bought some new clothes so I am suitably attired for work, I bought carefully and with much consideration.  Did I really need another striped top?  No.  That white top is nice, but I already have one at home.  My inner dialogue definitely prevented me from making any impulse purchases, and seems to be here to stay.  My old ‘Buy it!’ voice seems to have left the building.

And so it was this week when I wander into a department store to buy socks.  I walked past the women’s clothing section and just said to myself ‘There is nothing I need’ (because there really isn’t) and off I toddled to get socks.

I did need socks because mine all had holes in them.  Seriously.  All.  The beyond darning kind of holes.  It’s a recent phenomenon, but as our socks mostly come from Asia these days, I’ve noticed that women’s socks now run small.  I bought a few pairs in 2015 and they barely lasted six months before I put holes in them.  It’s because all the women in my family are cursed blessed with size 10 feet.  Like I said, as a great deal of NZ’s shoes and socks are manufactured off-shore and therefore now run small, I often need an 11!  Except women’s socks stop at the ‘new’ size 10.

I had to give up on the women’s sock department, and headed for the men’s section – crying on the inside.  My reasoning is that maybe, just maybe, the men’s size 10s might be truer to size.  I’m crying because my husband’s socks are invariably black or brown, and utterly boring.  My last lovely-but-holey women’s socks had tigers, foxes and racoon faces on them.  What can I say?  My mantra has always been that life is too short to wear boring socks.

So part of the problem with my socks, is that they are a bit too small, hence the holes.  But secondly, the quality is rubbish.  Not just that particular brand, but almost all women’s socks.  Men’s socks are often made of sterner stuff, and have things like reinforced toes and anti-hole micro-robots who detect and instantly repair any damage (okay, so I made that bit up).  Why???  Are men on their feet any more than women?  Are they cursed with hobbit feet and pointy toenails that tear socks to shreds immediately?  I don’t think so.  I suspect the ol’ genderisation of clothing plays a part here.  Whatever it is, men definitely get the better deal when it comes to socks.  Go on, have a look at your local department store and tell me I’m wrong.

Anyhow, I drag my reluctant carcass over the the men’s socks, and Lo!  There are some of the funnest (totally a word) socks ever in existence.  And they are half price!  I am now the new owner of socks with pink flamingos, roosters, and – my personal favourite – T-Rex’s on them.  They fit perfectly, and I pray will last longer than six months.

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T-Rex on your feet! What more could you want?

Everyone knows that when it comes to clothing we should opt for quality over quantity if we expect to get decent cost-per-wear from an item, even if we’re just talking about socks.  The trouble is, it’s really difficult to find quality clothing any more.  I would love to buy quality, locally-made goods but it’s often not an economic option for me, and I suspect, for many people.  Ethically made, local manufacturers can have amazing clothing, but it is often prohibitively expensive.  $100+ for a top or a t-shirt.  I get that their cost of production is higher than a sweatshop, believe me, I get it.  But my bank balance often trumps my conscience.  Then there’s the fact that some ‘designer’ labels are not guarantee of quality.  I’ve seen ‘designer’ t-shirts retailing for $200-$300 and the fabric is of no better quality than what I can find in a chain store.

If these new socks give out completely I will admit defeat and buy the best socks I can find, and cross my fingers that they service my feet for several years hence.  Or move to a tropical island where socks and shoes are useless.  Actually, that might be the cheapest option.

 

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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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Christmas at our house

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a peaceful Christmas.

Despite going into Christmas quite mindfully – thanks to running an Advent study at my church – the lead up to Christmas was still all hustle and bustle.  There is simply just too much happening in December.    Every single organisation I am part of had a Christmas party.  Every single one.  I eschewed some, and went to others out of a sense of obligation – which I thoroughly intend to stop doing this year.  I have nothing against Christmas parties, I swear; I just wish that some of these groups would think “Hmmm, December is a loco time of year for most people.  Let’s have a welcome back party in the New Year instead!”

There were some great Christmas moments though: watching Sausage in the Nativity play, Sausage really getting the Christmas story this year, going carolling through the streets with my church, celebrating D’s new business with his business partner and family, gathering together with friends on Christmas Eve to reflect on the birth of Christ, and filling up the sacks I’d made my tots with gifts.

 

D spent the last bit of Christmas Eve doing this:

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A wonderful Christmas gift from Nang-Nang and Grandpa

…while I waited for the children to finally go to sleep so I could sneak in with their presents.  Christmas morning was a blur of wonder and delight for our children.

The trampoline has been hugely exciting and I’m not sure who enjoys it more – the kids or me! (Such a good workout.)

As always with children, here’s what else has provided great entertainment:

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Yes, that’s right. The box a gift came in.

We enjoyed having friends visit for several days and saw in the New Year with them, which involved a BBQ and a hotly contested board game.  The weather was gorgeous, the company par excellence, and the rambunctious, happy children running around our backyard completed the recipe for a great New Year’s Eve.

 

Happy 2016, from my house to yours.

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Dollar Diet: Swapsies

I’ve been a bit quiet of late due to sick children and leading an advent study at my church.  Sausage has come down with a virus, but the advantage of having a kid who is only fit for sleeping and watching TV is that I get a chance to blog.

We’ve been a little spendy of late, but some of it has been in the cause of getting chickens.  D put together a coop, which we plan to move around with a run so our chickens can live the good life, and keep the weeds down around the place.

Chickens are go!

Chickens are go! D putting the coop together.

We hope to pick up some chickens this weekend.  I already have some ridiculous names picked out for them.

I spent money on new pyjamas for the kids, but I did get them at 50% off.  If I could have gotten them second-hand I would have, but decent pyjamas are actually quite hard to come by at charity stores.  They tend to be quite battered or missing either the top or the bottom.

D spent money taking me with him to a Chamber of Commerce dinner, where local business owners can network.  As D’s business is new, getting his face and name out there is important – especially in a small city like ours, where word-of-mouth recommendations are key.  We hit it off with the couple at our table and had a really fun night.  I relished the opportunity to get dressed up, eat a fancy dinner, and talk with adults!

We have however, continued to be frugal whenever possible.  I attended a clothes swap recently which was a tonne of fun and my word, were there some stylish threads to be had!  I got rid of a whole pile of clothes which were gladly snaffled up.  I gained several tops and cardis in the next size down (which I am tantalisingly close to getting into, come on THM), because I know that I will need them in the next few months.  I also picked up this fabulous dress.

Spoils of War

Spoils of War

I absolutely love the print; it’s William Morris-esque, and that’s a good thing.  Anyway, clothes swaps are simply the bees-knees for people on a Dollar Diet.  Update your wardrobe for free, reduce your carbon footprint, and give the fast-fashion industry the fingers.  What’s not to like?

I have been trying to bake more – which isn’t always easy with my active wee boy under foot – but I’ve managed to make pikelets and THM muffins so far this week.  None of which remain after being gobbled up quickly.  Fancy Chamber of Commerce dinners aside, our entertainment has been going for walks, hanging out with friends or pottering around at home.  Much easier on the pocket than cafes, movies or the like.

My biggest challenge coming up is Christmas.  I am making a dress with a digger on it for Sausage, while D is making Chip a busy board.  We try not to go overboard with gifts for our kids at Christmas, but I do have quite a few friends I give gifts to.  I could tell them I’m not doing gifts this year, but part of why I embarked on the Dollar Diet in the first place was to stretch my creativity.  I have a couple of low-cost gift ideas in mind, and will share what I came up with after the season has passed.

As part of my Advent study, I have been looking at the consumerist nature of Christmas, and it has made me even more mindful that usual to not get sucked into the buy, buy, buy mentality of it all.  Many people overspend, some go into serious debt, while others run themselves ragged preparing an elaborate feast for Christmas day.  The pressure to have the ‘perfect Christmas’ is intense, and completely nuts.  So I will be sharing some ways to reclaim Christmas and enjoy a meaningful holiday over the next few weeks.

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Dollar Diet: Less is More

At the ready! (image credit)

At the ready!
(image credit)

I kicked off this term with a vow to do less.  Fewer playgroups where we are stuck inside, in favour of unstructured time outside.

I was relieved I’d made this decision as last week ended up being very busy, with non-kid related activities taking up several evenings and all day Saturday.  Come Sunday, I was knackered.  Having had burnout in the past I am quite careful not to overload my schedule, but sometimes interesting things just happen all at once, don’t they.

I went to a free presentation on the impact of our early years on child development, which was put on by the excellent Brainwave Trust.  The Brainwave Trust is a charitable organisation founded to raise public awareness of the most recent discoveries in brain research, and to educate parents, caregivers, schools etc on the ramifications of this research.  I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know (simply because I have degrees in Psychology and Education, and specialised in human development, not because the presentation isn’t good – because it is!), but it is always great to be reminded of just how crucial the first three years of life are in shaping the people we become.  If you are interested in parenting advice based on solid, scientific research, I highly recommend signing up for their newsletter to keep updated on the latest happenings.

In tot-related stuff, instead of going to a music playgroup I decided to go for a walk along the Whanganui river with the kiddos.  I armed myself with a rubbish bag, thinking I could sneak in a little lesson about the importance of caring for creation as we picked up any rubbish we found along the way.  Things always seem so lovely and perfect in my head!  In reality, Chip fell asleep within five minutes and missed the rest of the walk entirely, while Sausage refused to get out of the stroller as her ‘legs were tired’.  She whinged and moaned most of the way.  I did manage to get in a decent workout, as power walking with a heavy stroller and 20+kg of kid gets the heart racing.

I dropped our Monday morning playgroup, which I am quite pleased about as it makes the start to the week less frantic.  This morning I did two loads of washing, changed all the sheets on the beds, gave the kids morning tea and wrangled them into the car to go grocery shopping without having to say ‘please hurry’.  I dropped this group because I must confess to picking up a new activity!  I know, I know,  I said I was doing less, but this isn’t a playgroup, per se.  On Fridays I am going to an exercise class.  It is beyond awesome.  St Luke’s Church in Castlecliff approached Plunket offering their space for a class and their volunteers to watch the children while their caregivers exercise.  I don’t know anywhere else where you can work out for $2 while some beautiful people mind your children!  It was fan-flipping-tastic to take time out for myself, and my kids enjoyed it (morning tea, singing and parachutes – what’s not to like?).  The class is over by 10:30am, so it leaves us with plenty of time to play afterwards at the Castlecliff Beach Playground.

We did spend ‘unnecessary’ money on going to a school gala.  It is difficult to put into words why I love galas so much.  I just do.  As a kid, my school gala was one of the highlights of the year, second only to the A&P show day and Guy Fawkes.  There’s just something so damn nice about seeing everyone having fun, the baking and white elephant stalls,  the sideshows, and teachers who are bravely prepared to be ‘dunked’ by gleeful students.

Once Sausage had filled up on real fruit ice cream she had a ball, and Chip was ecstatic to examine the machine blowing air into the bouncy castle (seriously, that kept him occupied for most of the time!).  Thanks to our pantry audit we underspent our grocery budget for the last few weeks, meaning we had plenty of cash to eat dinner out at the gala.  We’ve all been rather tired and cranky (Chip has just had five teeth cut through at once) so we needed a little fun injected into our week.