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!)

 

 

 

 

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.

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. 

Working through.

On Christmas morning, we woke up early. But it wasn’t because of an overexcited kid. Nope, The Campground Kid didn’t really know about Santa, and actually had a sleep in. It was because we had to start work at 7:45am. Yep, this year, we worked on Christmas Eve, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years, and quite a few days in between. Welcome to the campground business!

But actually, we didn’t mind, and for the most part, it was totally fine. I love the holidays. I love big celebrations with my family. I love Christmas music. But for various reasons (divorced parents, mother who’s a minister, living far away from family) I’ve never been too wedded to a particular day or a particularly traditional celebration. 

Christmas Day swim

We managed to have Campground Papa’s parents here for Christmas Eve/morning. And on our working Christmas, we enjoyed spreading a little cheer around the park, a swim, some presents, and my first ever glazed ham for dinner. We had a Christmas Shrub (TM) set up, a lot of Christmas music in the office, and for the first time The Campground Kid was actually interested in opening presents. There was plenty of Christmas cheer to go around. Then we had a couple of days off where we saw a bunch of my family and celebrated Christmas (Observed) at a glorious bach. We ate, drank, played backyard cricket, and watched the kids be loons. We had a little Secret Santa. We had strawberry cheesecake chimichangas and gingerbread coffee as the kids tore into their gifts. We did a post-Christmas tramp on the most amazing day in Tongariro National Park. It was, quite simply, great. 

Christmas (Observed) matching socks.


But it was also hard. We had to get everything way in advance to make it happen. We rushed from work to bach with very little packing time. We rushed from Christmas (Observed) to tramping. And then we went from a hot morning tramping to a windy drive home straight back into work and followed it up with the busiest day of the year. We were go go go go go. 

Post-Christmas tramp with our Campground Kid

It wasn’t working Christmas that made it hard. It was not having a summer holiday when all of our family and most of NZ were having a summer holiday that made it hard. It was trying to fit a week of celebrations and travelling and activities and fun into a weekend. It was having to be so much more organised than ever before.

So when we finally had a breather on January 3rd? First we sighed a big ol’ sigh of relief. And then I decided that I need a planner. Planners have often failed me in the past. And now that my week is non-traditional, I felt like a premade planner would be even less successful. So I’m diving into the (amazing, but rather more intense than expected) world of the “Bullet Journal”.

 

It’s not the prettiest, and it’s not entirely “bullet”, but I’m guessing no one really cares about that. In fact, probably no one cares about my journal at all. But I’m hoping that posting about it publicly means I stick to it more than I have in the past. And I’m hoping that it, along with the extra year experience, means I’m a little more prepared for working through the holidays next year. Maybe it will help me work through some other stuff too? I can only hope!