Looking in the mirror

(Today a wonderful Facebook group that I’m a part of hosted a five-minute writing challenge. The theme: the last time you looked in a mirror. I liked what I wrote, so I’m sharing it here, along with a couple of related stories.)

“Okay my dear, here you go”
As I pull pink flowery sleeves up to sweet chubby elbows, I catch a glimpse of a face that looks just like my mother’s. I see my messy bun. And I see my eyes rolling.

I realise that she, too, sees my eyes rolling.
She, too, sees through my false patience.
She, too, knows that her Mama feels overwhelmed by her big feelings and loud demands.

So I stop my eyes, mid-roll. I grab a big fluffy towel. “The towelosaurus is coming to get you! Rrrooooarrrr.”

Her giggles echo through the bathroom as I catch her into a big towelosaurus hug.

I’m not perfect, but we’re going to be okay.

Speaking of being imperfect, I’ve been finding the adjustment to our first winter for aaaaages quite difficult. I’m staying inside too much. Spending too much time online. And The Campground Kid is following my lead too much for my liking. She’s like a little mirror, and all too often she shines a light on all the habits that I’d rather keep in the dark.

So when my little homebody asked me to take her on a walk to the digger (we were having some work done on the park), of course I said yes.

She brought her teddy too.

We walked around the park. She climbed the digger. We ran down hills. I took photos.

It was simple and wonderful and exactly why we came home.


Sometimes her little toddler mirror shines on the things I don’t want to admit. Other times it lights up the things I didn’t know she had noticed.

A few months ago, in an effort to encourage The Campground Kid to talk about her day, we started a little dinnertime routine. We take turns talking about times that we were happy/sad/scared/frustrated/excited. It’s new, so mostly Campground Papa and I take turns and The Campground Kid just gives her stock “What did you do today?” answer of “Played inside and outside!”

But the other day, in the middle of dinner, she turned to Campground Papa, and with a quizzical little face she asked “What made you happy today, Papa?”

And after he answered, she turned to me and said “Nice curry. Thanks, Mama!”

We may not be perfect, but we’re going to be okay.

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.

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. 

Ten years of Februaries

TL; DR – a whole lot has changed in the last decade!

February 2007

I had just graduated from university with a chemistry degree. I was living in Hawera, and working in a milk powder factory as part of a graduate program. Campground Papa (then just My Boyfriend) was in Wellington finishing off his study. I was boarding with a rad couple and had a few friends around as well as a great group of people in my graduate class. I missed my sisters and friends in Wellington, but it was a grand adventure. I was training for a triathlon, and I also read a lot of books (I didn’t have Facebook yet!) I was excited to have my first real job and real paycheck.

February 2008 

We had just moved to New Plymouth, and I had started work at a cheese factory in Eltham. My Boyfriend was still unemployed, or maybe he worked at Farmers. We lived in a funny orange house in a cul de sac full of cars in the backyards and noisy DIY mopeds. There was an awesome swimming hole just down the road. We were excited about being in our first proper house and living together again. I met a few great people through my job, and joined a carpool so I didn’t have to drive 500 km per week on my own. 

February 2009

My Boyfriend had become My Fiancé. I was still working in the same job, but was preparing to leave for three months to a scholarship in the Netherlands. We were planning the six week backpacking holiday that would follow said scholarship. We had a lovely kitten called Trudy and some great friends. My Fiancé was working as an engineer and we were really enjoying life in New Plymouth. 

February 2010

We were in the last stages of wedding planning, and were excited but also a bit stressed about it all. I was starting to get frustrated with my job, and was thinking about moving into HR/training. We still lived in the orange house with the swimming hole nearby, and our European adventure was a distant memory. We had another cat called George; he and Trudy were, unfortunately, not good friends. We had bought mountain bikes and loved spending time mountain biking and tramping and enjoying the amazing New Plymouth outdoors.

February 2011

I was working at the same cheese factory, but everything had changed. I’d been away for 6 months, and had just returned for a big project management and HR role. I was excited and hopeful about the new job and not too worried about going back to commuting after 6 months without it. We had been living in our new house for around 8 months and had not made nearly as much renovation progress as we would have liked. The cats were still not friends. We had recently returned from one of the greatest camping trips ever. I was in the thick of training for the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km walk.

February 2012

The job I started in 2011 didn’t work out, and I was working part time and about to start a full time distance course in career development. I had recently stopped fertility treatments and was trying to plan the next steps. I was thoroughly unhappy about that situation. We got an amazing new nephew. We were slowly slowly getting through our renovations. I won tickets to WOMAD, which was one of the most fun weekends we’ve had.

February 2013

I’d finished my study, and had given up some cool career opportunities for a cool life opportunity: we were moving to Brunei. The Engineer was there already and I was waiting for my visa. I had recently had surgery and worried about the time apart from my husband. I had an awesome new tattoo. I did lots of yoga and acupuncture and started knitting. I started a blog and read a lot of books. 

February 2014

I was four months pregnant with The Campground Kid and was still pretty unable to deal with the heat of the tropics. So I stayed at home and napped in the air conditioning a lot. We had met some great people in Brunei, and coincidentally quite a few of them were pregnant too. I started swimming and was doing a prenatal yoga class. I had just finished recovering from a nasty dog bite to the leg and was excited that I could walk again. We were doing a lot of baby planning.

February 2015

The Campground Kid was seven months old and we had recently returned from our first trip back to New Zealand. She was amazing, crawling quickly and just starting to stand up, but she also slept terribly and coming back from the holiday was a tough time. We were teaching a Mums and Babies yoga class, and attending a couple of great playgroups. 

February 2016

We were still in Brunei, but were pretty convinced we’d be back in New Zealand very soon. The Campground Kid was 19 months old, and she was obsessed with her toys Teddy and Moose.  We’d recently returned from a holiday in Lao that was pretty great but also ended up revolving around me slamming her fingers in a door pretty badly. I had travelled alone with her in Bangkok, and we survived, so I was planning to do it again in a few months for a trip to New Zealand. We went on a holiday to Mulu and Kuala Lumpur and it was awesome, (despite me being pretty sick at the time). 

February 2017
We are back in New Zealand, though it wasn’t as soon as we had thought it would be. We live in a small village and manage a holiday park. The Campground Kid is two and a half and she’s really getting to be a kid, not a baby. We are busy, but I am getting back into crafting and yoga and walking. We read a LOT of kid’s books, but not very many grown up books. We spend more time together as a family, but a lot of it isn’t really quality time. We just bought a caravan and are excited to do it up and travel around with it.