I'm almost too scared to say it but I think our family actually planned something right for once! We have just returned from five glorious days in Taupo. Not a cloud in the sky or a drop of rain to be seen, which made a delightful change from the endless days of rain we had been experiencing at home. Had we not picked this particular week to go away, we would have been treated to some of the worst weather our part of the country has seen in decades! While we still have plenty of post-storm clearing up to do upon returning home, for a few blissful days we were completely oblivious to the havoc being caused around the place. Yes, while half the country was being beaten and battered by Mother Nature, we were enjoying what we consider to be a true Simple Savings holiday - an amazing and unforgettable time together, without breaking the bank.
We prepared for our trip in frugal style and I have to admit I was pretty proud of the boys and I. The day before we were due to leave, we were discussing all the things we wanted to do and we worked out that if we bought our lunches every day, we could be throwing away as much as $150 over the course of the week, just on lunches! So while Noel was at work, we got the pie maker out and used up the leftover roast beef from the night before to make 10 meat pies. We also made 24 home made sausage rolls and scoured Mr Patel's weekly mail flyer for specials, as we figured his prices on treats such as chips n' dip and other holiday luxuries would be much cheaper to get from his little store, rather than a large tourist town. We had a bit of a job fitting everything in the car for the trip down but the effort was definitely worth it for the savings we made! Our main mission of the trip was to take the boys to see the snow for the first time and the Vault proved a real saviour when getting kitted out. Living in a fairly warm part of the country, we had none of the necessary clothing needed for hanging out on snowy mountains, so getting enough of the right gear for everyone could have proved a very costly exercise. However, I remembered to browse the Vault first, remembering a help request from a previous newsletter for hints on just this subject! I checked out the local op shops for suitable snow-proof jackets but there was nothing in our area so I took a chance and waited until we got to our destination. With the help of The Warehouse and the $2 shop in Taupo, we were soon all kitted out in jackets, scarves, hats, gloves, super-thick socks and sunglasses, for just a few dollars each! I was so glad for my Vault knowledge on this one, it saved us a fortune.
The following day was perfect for snow and we all headed up to the mountain. Unfortunately everyone else had had the same idea! Everyone was in everyone else's way and the snow was soon filthy so it wasn't long before we were on the hunt for a little more space and some peace. Luckily, all we had to do was walk over the hill! As we surveyed our own little patch of paradise, we looked back over the other side. We could see masses of people in expensive ski gear, all struggling for a few inches of space. We could see all manner of snow boards and skis - even the smallest of toddlers was kitted out from top to toe in the 'right' brand of ski-wear. Then we turned back to our beautiful, untouched wee gully and pulled out our secret weapons - black rubbish sacks. The perfect pocket-sized 'toboggan'! Over the next few hours I have never spent so much time falling flat on my bum. Noel says he can't remember the last time he saw me laugh so much either! We built a snowman, played snow rugby and went whizzing down the hill on our rubbish bags time and time again. When the time finally came to go home, we walked back over the hill and saw that the snow was even filthier and the volume of people vying for space had at least doubled. We couldn't believe that nobody had even bothered to see what was over the other side of the hill the whole afternoon! I don't mind admitting, we all felt pretty smug looking at them all and knowing what they were missing. There was no need for us even to pay the exorbitant cafe prices on the ski fields either - we just hopped in the car and munched on sausage rolls, which was enough to keep us going until we got home. We had so much fun at the bottom of the mountain we didn't feel the need to pay a fortune to use the chairlifts to get to the top - there were so many people there was hardly room to move up there anyway. The rubbish bags provided hours of fun and not once did we wish we had skis. Our fantastic day at the snow cost us absolutely nothing but the petrol to get there!
A real SS day out and as the holiday went on, we realised that all the things we liked doing most; all the best family times were spent doing the things that cost the least. It had been ten years since we last visited Taupo and not everything had changed for the better. One of the things Noel and I were looking forward to most was taking the kids to a place called Deerworld. We took Liam there as a baby and it was a simple but wonderful place. It cost nothing to enter and you could spend hours there. As you would expect, there were heaps of deer and you could feed them, pat them and spend an enjoyable time just walking around and learning about them. We were delighted to find that the same place was still there but it was now called an Adventure Park. 'Wow, even better!' said the kids. The deer were still there apparently, but now so were go-karts, quad bikes and laser tag. With all the other tourist attractions buzzing, we couldn't believe how quiet this one was; the staff were all sitting outside doing nothing. We wandered in and found everything just as we remembered - the only thing which had changed were the prices. It was going to cost us $120 for us to play 15 minutes of laser tag. It would have cost a further $80 for the kids to ride quad bikes for a measly 10 minutes! They were too young to go on the go-karts and they were just as expensive anyway. We never did see any deer and walked out, leaving the staff still sitting outside. Noel and I felt it was such a shame. Why couldn't they have left Deerworld as it was? The kids were disappointed too, so we pootled around searching for something else to do and came across a Prawn Park. I have to confess, I had a bit of a giggle - I mean, how exciting was a prawn farm going to be to visit? Still, we wanted something to do, so we went in. Four and a half hours later we came out - what a neat place! We learned heaps and the kids soaked up all the information like sponges. We hand fed baby prawns (boy, do they tickle!), walked along a beautiful river, fed trout, played on all kinds of kids' fun obstacles and got to fish for prawns using a bamboo pole. Any prawns we caught were ours to keep and though it certainly wasn't as easy as we thought it would be, I caught an enormous one which was just as exciting as any fish I could have reeled in! We all had a great time, much better than we ever expected and it cost next to nothing for hours of entertainment.
The only real expense we had was for evening meals, as we didn't have a full kitchen to cook in. The boys are at the lovely age now where we can take them to a nice restaurant and they actually sit still and eat nicely, so we decided one evening that we would go to a nice looking restaurant for a 'posh' meal. The boys ordered from the kids' menu and their meals were tiny. They also ordered 'traffic light' drinks which were so full of food colouring that their faces and hands were dyed bright green. Noel's meal wasn't half as nice as it sounded but the real piece de resistance was my $28 spinach and feta ravioli. The ravioli had obviously come out of a packet and the sauce was simply a tin of tomatoes with a few mushrooms chopped up in it. Definitely the most expensive tin of tomatoes I have ever had the misfortune to sample! We decided after that we would definitely keep it simple and the following night chose to eat in a tiny Tudor-style English pub behind our motel, called the Crooked Door. The prices were so reasonable and the food was so amazing that we went there the next three nights! Just as well I don't live in Taupo or I would never cook at all, I would just eat there every night!
Throughout our holiday I tried my best to be a dutiful Simple Saver. I confess to actually trolley perving someone else while in the supermarket. I found myself standing alongside from an older lady and her husband who were unloading two trolley's worth onto the conveyor belt. Everything she bought was either fresh produce or a basic ingredient and it was all I could do not to smile benevolently at her. I was dying to say 'Good on you! Is this for a fortnight or a month? Do you menu plan or do Once A Month cooking?' but I didn't, mainly because Noel was glaring at me as though I was bonkers for smiling so indulgently upon a complete stranger. I'm also pleased to say I kept up with my Pride Challenge throughout the week and never went out without my make-up on, although you could say I was sporting a little more than a 'natural glow'. For convenience while travelling I took along a make-up pallette that Maxine had given me as a gift - it's got everything in it - foundation and sponge, eyeshadows and lip glosses and the colours are lovely. What I didn't realise was that while in my suitcase, it must have got shaken around a bit. I can only think that some pale goldy coloured eyeshadow had somehow floated into my foundation and it wasn't until I got to the top of the mountain that Noel said 'Look at your face, it's glowing! What have you got on it?' A quick look in the mirror proved him right and every time I went out after that, my face looked nothing short of luminous. I told myself it gave me a healthy appearance but once I saw the photos I was shocked - I looked like a glow worm wearing a pom-pom hat! Still, I tried and at least I kept up my Pride Challenge throughout. I hadn't realised how automatically frugal behaviour comes to me these days. I had a real problem throwing food scraps away at the motel after saving them all for our chickens and worms so I would put them all in a bag and take them down to feed the ducks. I also felt terribly guilty about using electric blankets to keep warm at night and using the motel tumble dryer but both were necessities as by crikey it was cold in Taupo!
All in all, we had a wonderful holiday. The motel had a games room with a free pool table and many hours were spent challenging each other as a family. The boys both learned to play and Liam discovered to his delight that he is actually very good at it. The only thing we didn't enjoy about the motel was being able to hear the neighbours through the wall. Over the years we have been spoiled by generous friends willing to lend us their holiday homes and these have always been very peaceful - we had forgotten what close quarters everyone lives in when staying at a motel. On the first night, Noel and I were trying to watch TV but the snoring of the man next door was so loud it actually drowned out the telly. He was replaced the next day by a group of Japanese students, who kept us and everyone else in the complex awake with their noisy partying until 3am, until the manager came and threatened to kick them out. Unfortunately our room directly backed on to theirs and the noise was unbearable (Noel in typical man-fashion was snoring his head off the entire time, hence didn't do anything about it). When the kids came in at 7am the next morning to find their mother looking as though she was the one who had been up partying all night, Ali took matters into his own hands and vowed to get his revenge on the hungover residents next door. For ten minutes solid he rushed around our room like a mad thing, stomping, slamming doors, banging on the walls and shouting at the top of his voice in 'Japanese', well - his version of it. If you have ever seen the movie 'Bruce Almighty', picture the scene where Jim Carrey puts a curse on the newsreader - that's pretty close to it! I guess you had to be there to witness this little blonde whirlwind flying around yelling gobbledy-gook but it was as close as I've ever come to physically dying of laughter and best of all, it did the trick! Just a few moments later, movements stirred next door and the occupants began wandering out rubbing their eyes and holding their heads in their hands. Ali was triumphant. 'They don't look very well Mum!' he whispered gleefully, peering out the window. 'Now they know what it's like to only have four hours sleep too!' Ahh, revenge is sweet!
Our final unexpected saving came just as we were about to head home. With all the food packed up and everyone sick of sausage rolls, we decided to go to Pizza Hut to take advantage of their lunchtime deal, where the kids get free drinks and you can eat all you like. We duly pigged out on all we were able and were about to leave when Ali said he had to go to the bathroom. He returned, quite shaken some minutes later and said that the door of the men's toilets had fallen on top of him when he tried to get out! It had cut his finger in the process and the door had fallen on his foot. He was more shocked than anything but when Noel went in to check, the rails holding the sliding door had indeed come away from the wall and the door had simply fallen off, crashing into poor Ali in the process. At first, the supervisor didn't believe us but once she saw Ali's injuries and how visibly shaken he was, she was most apologetic and insisted our meals were on the house. Rather a drastic way to get a free meal but we were most appreciative nonetheless!
So we returned yesterday afternoon in fear and trepidation as to what state we would find our home in, after watching the scenes of storm devastation on the news. It was a pretty depressing homecoming I don't mind admitting. Mind you, it didn't help that I had left the chickens out while we were away and one of them had left a dollop outside the front door. The first thing I did was step in it and traipse it all through the house as I dragged my suitcase through. The front and back gardens resembled a lake. Huge tree limbs had crashed down all over the place, the trampoline had blown over the fence and was blocking the door to the wood shed. Hank the sheep was dead in the orchard and the chickens had completely decimated Noel's vege garden. The washing I had left outside in order to look as though someone was home was strewn across several paddocks and some irretrievable items had ended up in the sewerage outlet. The power had recently been restored after two days but this was unfortunately too late for quite a few of our tropical fish, who lay floating forlornly at the top of the tank, having not survived the cold. However, there's always someone worse off than yourself and as we looked around our own chaotic home, we could thank our lucky stars that at least we still had a roof over our heads, unlike many others much worse affected. So, the fire was lit, the washing was re-washed and I used some spare washing line rope to string a line across the width of the lounge room, as well as the two fully loaded clothes horses. It makes the room a bit darker but it means the kids can no longer see the TV, which isn't a bad thing! As the wind whistled around us and it got dark, it really felt quite cosy. The boys had hot water bottles to heat their beds instead of electric blankets but they didn't mind, especially as they had Hubble and Tui tucked up with them for extra warmth too!
So today is a day for catching up with the new hints I've missed over the past few days and the boys have been having a brilliant TV-free time all morning, thanks to the recent Hint of the Week 'Kids can make their own trading cards' - what a brilliant rainy day holiday activity! I wish I knew about these websites ages ago, I could have saved a fortune over the years on YuGiOh and Pokemon cards and all the others. It never even occurred to me you could make your own! They look really smart when printed and the boys have had so much fun making them and getting creative. I also have to get back into menu planning - no more restaurant dining for me for a while! I really like the idea of $2 dinner nights a couple of times a week so I think I might give them a go. I thought I might be stuck for inspiration but after reading the Forum thread I'm feeling quite confident. Bring out the menu plan!