One year at The Campground

I have a whole list of drafts in various states of completion. But they all seem just a little bit too hard right now.  The owners of The Campground are away at the moment, which means we’re working every day.  I’ve lost my voice, which makes both working and parenting more difficult. I’m sooooo tiiiiiiiired.

But this week marks ONE YEAR in The Campground, so I can’t let it go by without a blog. And that can only mean one thing…. It’s time for a lazy photo blog.

And so, I present: A year in The Campground (in photos)

October 2016: The Campground Kid “mowing the lawns” and enjoying our new home.

November 2016: Abseiling 100m into the Lost World with Waitomo Adventures.

December 2016: The road between Kawhia and Waitomo on a beautiful summer day.

January 2017: The view from the Waitomo lookout while out on an evening walk.

February 2017: A walk in the Ruakuri reserve. A snack on top of the rocks.

March 2017: Watching the sheep shearing at the Waitomo Caves Sports Day.

April 2017: Stomping in the mud during a very rainy autumn.

May 2017: A holiday in Taupō. Beautiful sun over the lake.

June 2017: A walk in the Waitomo hills. A view to Mt Pirongia.

July 2017: Another holiday. Toddler’s first snow.

August: A sunset. The end of our first winter in five years.

September 2017: A walk to Opapaka Pā. A view over Waitomo.

It’s been a BIG YEAR. In and around these photos there have been ups and downs. Some things have been surprisingly easy. Other things have been very very hard. But one year in, we’ve made it through together, and we don’t regret the decision to come here for a second.

Winter Holiday

When you work in a campground, you have to take your holidays in the winter. It’s fun, because you get to take your nearly-three-year-old to see snow for the first time.

And because you get to be with family when that nearly-three-year-old becomes a three-year-old (Happy Birthday, Campground Kid!)

And because you get to stay in a big ol’ farm house and see all the animals and stay cosy around the fire playing card games, and chatting.  And you get to go for walks in your gumboots and jump in muddy puddles.

And New Zealand still looks pretty beautiful in the winter.

Orewa Beach

Mahia Beach

But then you go and lose your voice halfway through the trip, and spend a week of your holiday being sick and miserable.

(No pictures allowed of me moping around in my PJs)

And then you get rained on allll the time, even at the three-year-old’s special and planned-in-advance outing.

But at least you can still balance bike along a wet beach.

And at least you can still say that, all things considered, it was a very rad holiday.

(And also, I’m glad to be home again and well again!)

 

 

 

 

The grey-middle

I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.

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I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds).  We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.

Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.

I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.

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Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.

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And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)

It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.

 

Holiday thoughts

We took a holiday.

It was wonderful.

We (mostly) had great Autumn weather. Cool crisp mornings, followed by sunny days. My very favourite kind of weather.

Campground Papa and The Campground Kid and Lake Taupo

We saw lovely people in lovely places.

In our ten days, we stayed in five wonderful spots. We spent time with all of The Campground Kid’s grandparents, plus two of her second cousins, two of her first cousins once removed, and one of her second cousins once removed.

Our family and our favourite country were the killer combination that brought us home, and this holiday was all about them.

Family time on the Napier Waterfront

It was lovely.

But it was also hard.

It was hard to say goodbye again to people and places after such short visits. The goodbyes and the things we missed out on made it hard to keep the doubts from creeping in. Would we be happier somewhere different? Could we be doing something different? Should we be different?

It was logistically difficult too. Lots of driving, different food, different beds, different routines. They’re hard on us, and they’re even harder on The Campground Kid.

She coped remarkably. And seeing her outside her routine highlighted just how much she has grown and changed since we arrived in New Zealand seven months ago.  I’m pretty sure I’m biased, but I’m also pretty sure that she’s an amazing kid.

Windy walks on the Wellington Waterfront

It was a special time.

But it’s also quite a relief to be back.  Back home, back to work, back to our routines.

This morning, our first day back, we were a bit tired (thanks to a wild bedtime last night and a cold for Campground Papa), but we were actually happy to get back to work. And The Campground Kid was very happy to get back to her daycare.

We were even happier when work was quiet enough that we could have plenty of coffee breaks and fit in some unpacking and some laundry.

And, despite the doubts, I can’t help but think that a life we’re happy to be back to is a pretty good life.

On Hobbies, Clubs, and Commitment 

This weekend, our park hosted lots of guests from a car club’s Vintage Bike Rally. It was great for us, because they stayed all weekend, so we had minimal cleaning and laundry. And also because we met some great people, and had some cool bikes roaring around.

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And, although the weather wasn’t the best, it was also great for them, because they got to see old friends and meet new people, they got to see a new area of the country, and they got to spend a weekend doing something they love with other people who love it too.

And I just kept thinking how cool that is.

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It has really made me want a hobby. A real, proper hobby.  (Not vintage bike restoration, though!)

I have hobbies, I guess, in that there are lots of things I like to do, and I usually try to make time to do them. I think there are two problems, though:

  1. is that I have TOO MANY hobbies. I want to do everything, and I never manage to commit to one thing.
  2. is that because I never commit, they all remain individual.

So, it’s not so much that I need a hobby. It’s that I need a club. I’m in Facebook groups for a couple of things. I have friends who do a couple of others. But mostly I just do things by myself, and never really feel “good enough” or “interested enough” to take any of them to the next level. So they’re fun, but none really give that sense of community.

The closest I’ve come is being in choirs for most of my life. Last year was one of the first ever that I haven’t sung in a Christmas concert, and I definitely noticed the absence.  I LOVE choral singing, and I miss my choirs so much. But I’ve never really lived in one place long enough to really get properly involved. I’ve met great people, and sung great music, but I’ve always had to move on as we’ve moved away. I’ve got my eyes on a choir for a Christmas concert this year, but apparently it’s pretty popular, so I’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

And because I don’t want to put all my eggs in that one choir-basket, I’m going to start looking around for some other options too.

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This weekend has also had me thinking about the generational gap in joining clubs. I’m not saying everyone there was old… but I am also not exaggerating when I say that were I to go to that particular event, I’d be the youngest by a good twenty years. And in many of the choirs and clubs I’ve been in over the years, it’s been similar.

So why don’t 30-somethings join clubs? Has it always been this way – only the older generations have time for clubs? Or is it more of a Boomers/Millenials difference? Are we all too busy with work and/or families? Will it change when I have a school kid? Have we all found “our people” on the internet instead? Or am I just missing out by not being sporty? Have I lived in the wrong places, or am I just too uncool to know about the right clubs? Are we all like me – too thinly spread and unable to commit to one hobby?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suspect it’s a bit of a mix of all of the above. And also that there are lots of different factors that contribute to each individual’s decisions. And also that people in different situations to me DO join clubs of various sorts (thus making my original question invalid).

But the specific question/answers don’t entirely matter, because even if 30-somethings don’t join clubs (and I know that plenty probably do), I want to. And I’m going to make it my mission to find a club in rural-village-New Zealand that is a) active, b) fits around my schedule, and c) is something I’m interested in and where I might find a group of “my people”.  I think I’m probably on a losing mission here, but it’s worth a try.

Does anyone have ideas on where to start? (again, definitely not vintage motorcycles, and definitely definitely not “Axe and Gun Club”, which is the only option that comes up for my location on Google 😳😳😳)

A day in the life of The Campground Family 

Note: if you don’t care about the details of our life at the campground, don’t bother reading. This is long, and it isn’t going to turn around to a profound conclusion, nor is it going to contain any wisdom at all. It really is just an outline of our daily routine. A detailed outline?

6:30 (sometimes earlier, sometimes later) – someone gets up, often with The Campground Kid, and starts breakfast or reads some stories or mucks around on Facebook for a bit.

7:00 – we eat breakfast, usually all together, but sometimes I’m a bit slow to get started (I used to be a morning person, but that’s certainly not the case these days).

7:30 – someone starts work (usually Campground Papa, because I’m usually still in PJs; see previous item) by doing a walk around the park and then checking the tills and opening the office.

The other person gets The Campground Kid dressed, reads more stories, and gets ready.

8:00 – The office is open. The Campground Kid and the home-parent usually join the office-parent not too much later.

8:30 – we get ready for the day, which includes setting up folders and kits for the cleaning staff, processing online bookings that came through overnight, replying to online reviews and emails, and on weekends, cleaning the pool (that’s Campground Papa’s job when our groundsman has his days off). 

9:00 – our first staff member arrives to start “stripping” the rooms (collecting laundry from vacated rooms). As laundry comes back in, we sort it and start the machines. Guests come and we answer questions, check them out, and make bookings at other parks.

9:30 – If we haven’t had a coffee already, we have one (who are we kidding, we’ve definitely had a coffee already. But sometimes we have a second.) The Campground Kid gets cranky and has a snack or someone takes her to the playground or on some errands around the park.


10:00 – The person who is in reception for the day arrives, and gets stuck into laundry, bookings, or whatever else needs doing. Cleaners arrive and start cleaning. On the weekend, Campground Papa goes to collect all the site rubbish, usually with a toddler in tow. I don’t do this because I don’t like driving nee vehicles and haven’t yet driven the little “tuk tuk” that he takes around.

10:30 – We continue with laundry, we answer phones, and we help whoever comes into the office. Sometimes I have a specific task on my list to get started with, sometimes we meet with the owners, sometimes we take The Campground Kid for a play or to do some jobs around the park or the village.

11:30 – We start thinking about lunch. Someone cooks/prepares; someone else covers the office while reception staff have a break. We fold laundry.

12:00 – We all go and have lunch together and have a bit of a break.

12:30 – The Campground Kid doesn’t nap anymore, so we try to convince her to have quiet time, with mixed results. Usually she shouts “HELP MEEEE” or “NO, I WANT LOOOUD TIME”, but will eventually do a puzzle or build something with magnatiles or duplo for a while. 

1:00 – We’re back in the office most of the afternoon. The Campground Kid sometimes plays in the house. Sometimes we take her to the playground. Sometimes she plays in the office (usually jumping on laundry bags or hiding in a little cubby in the laundry or “checking people in”). Sometimes we’re busy and she shouts “up up up” over and over and throws tantrums and makes every childless person who comes into the office glad about that status. 

1:30, 2:00, 2:30, 3:00 – Same as above. Bookings, laundry, checking people in, answering questions, trying to entertain The Campground Kid and also get our work done. Cleaners finish for the day, and guests start to arrive for the night.

3:30 – Our laundry is usually done by now, and the van is packed with linen. It seems early, but we often start preparing dinner around this time. The Campground Kid sometimes helps with prep (she likes washing potatoes, watching what we do, and coming perilously close to finding any hot and/or sharp items), other times she prefers to watch Puffin Rock.

4:00, 4:30 – Our busy periods are unpredictable, but this is often when campervans really start to roll in. Except over the peak of summer, we don’t have many forward bookings for campervans – people like to leave their plans flexible. We check everyone in, sell discount cards, and help people connect to the Wifi.

5:00 – Dinner time! We all eat together, and catch up a bit (we see a lot of each other, but don’t always have much time to talk!)

5:30 – Someone goes back to the office, someone else starts a bath for The Campground Kid. The home-parent whips through the bedtime routine (bath, PJs, goodnight to office-parent, teeth, stories, bed)

6:00, 6:30 – The Campground Kid goes to bed and is usually asleep quickly (Thanks no naps!) On busy days, the bedtime-parent goes back to the office. On quiet days, they have some downtime (if it’s me, I do yoga or writing or go for a walk).


7:00 – Our reception worker leaves, and office-parent is on their own. Or sometimes not. It’s not usually too busy, so this isn’t usually too hard!

7:30 – We need to get ready to close the office. This means preparing signs for late arrivals, running reports, answering last minute questions and requests for change (for the laundry). 

8:00 – We close the office (usually! Every so often the requests and questions just don’t end and we don’t manage to close until 15 minutes later.) Office-parent comes home, and we clean or do other chores or watch TV.

8:30 – Often one of us will take the chance to some outside exercise (Campground Papa runs, I walk.)  Often one of us will do dishes. Sometimes we’re both so exhausted that we blob on the couch instead.

9:00 – I go and start “the rounds”. I check the guest laundry, the toilet paper in the bathrooms, change towels in bathroom and kitchen, and empty rubbish bins. Campground Papa finishes the rounds by checking the men’s bathrooms, closing the pool, and closing the TV room.

9:30 – We are finally off the clock. We watch TV (currently: rewatching The West Wing) and Facebook. I write my journal and sometimes knit.

10:00 – We should probably go to bed. We never do.

10:30 (or later) – We go to bed. We read. We sleep. 

And then we start it all over again!

Budget cut

“Why would someone move back from making big bucks overseas to live here and work more and make less?” I’ve been asked this question once, and kinda-nearly-but-not-outright asked this question several more times. And the answer is basically: we love New Zealand. But from the way it was asked, that wasn’t quite what they meant. To get more specific, yes, this change involved a pretty decent drop in income. But even if we just focus on money (which ignores the multitude of reasons we made this choice) it’s not really that simple. Our overall household income is less, even with both of us working now, we pay more tax than we did in Brunei, and we work many more hours for less pay. At the same time, we pay less in household bills (rent, power, phone etc.), we still don’t have to pay much in the way of childcare, and we have less free time to spend money. 

But the biggest reason that the income drop hasn’t been so bad is that it’s so much easier to be frugal in New Zealand (for us, anyway). We’ve definitely had an adjustment period as we get back into the rhythm of frugality, and there are still plenty of things I’d like to change, but our lifestyle here lets us do several things that help us save money compared to our lifestyle in Brunei:

  • Shopping at op shops. We LOVE op shops. You may call them thrift shops or secondhand stores or junk shops or something else entirely. But whatever you call them, we think they’re great. The Campground Kid doesn’t get any new toys except at Christmas and birthdays, but she occasionally gets a book or a toy from the op shop; I have found some of my favourite clothes in op shops (though it’s a lot harder now that I’m fat!); and there’s no better place for cheap craft supplies. Plus, it’s really satisfying to find a great bargain.
  • Having a vegetable garden. In Brunei we pretty much just had concrete around our flat. It was a bit miserable, and it made it impossible to garden. Now we have lots of space, and big raised vegetable garden. We learned from previous mistakes and kept it pretty low maintenance, but we’ve had a near endless supply of silverbeet, spinach, zucchini, lettuce, and herbs. And we’re pretty excited to see capsicums growing on our plants and passionfruit and feijoas coming through on the vine/trees that were planted before we arrived. It takes a bit of work, but we have so many fresh veges, and have even managed to stock up our freezer a bit. Speaking of which, next on the list is…

Vege garden haul

  • Having a deep freeze. Our tiny little freezer in Brunei was always crammed full, just from our weekly shop. Now we have a big chest freezer, so we can buy meat and veges and bread and other staples in bulk when they’re a good price and freeze them until we need them. We always have food available, and can keep a decent stock of easy-to-prepare meals on hand, which saves money on takeaways. I didn’t realise how much I had missed having a big freezer until we had one again.
  • Driving less. In our new job, we almost never drive during our work week (except driving 3 min down the road on the days The Campground Kid goes to hang out with a child minder). I drove a lot in Brunei, so this is a nice change. It probably doesn’t save us much actual money, though, because petrol is more than three times the price here 😬😳😮. I do miss 53c petrol!
  • Wearing a uniform. We both wear a uniform five days a week now, which a) makes it very easy to get dressed in the morning and b) means I hardly need any clothes. I tend to be someone who has too many clothes (waaay too many), so this probably hasn’t even reduced my wardrobe to normal, but it’s definitely reduced it from totally over the top. Baby steps, right?!

Bonus points: our uniform is awesome.

  • Taking fewer holidays. We were in Brunei for a limited time, so very much felt like we needed to see as much of the area as possible. This meant lots of international holidays (and we still didn’t manage to see even close to everything we wanted to!). And even though Southeast Asia is cheap, international holidays still put a dent in the budget. We have less time and less drive for holidays now – we’re homebodies at heart – which saves us a lot. We also have a caravan now, so we anticipate most of our holidays being campgrounds, which are a little easier on the pocket. It will definitely be a change from the fancy hotels we quite often stayed at in Asia, but it’s a good change.

Coming home and making this change was NEVER about the money. At the same time, we didn’t want to be constantly scrimping and saving and worrying about money. Before we moved, I did worry that this would be the case. But, so far, it’s not at all. I think if we’d gone from similar job/lifestyle to similar job/lifestyle and had this same pay cut, it would have been quite a shock (we would still have done it, but it would have been hard). But because we changed EVERYTHING, the change in budget has been pretty low on the list of changes. By living a little more frugally, saving in some important areas (RENT), and staying at home more often, it just hasn’t been a big deal. PHEW.