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Making It In Mattawamkeag

a travel blog by carseat tourist

We're spending the summer at Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park and Campground as the camp managers. After living in China for 3 years, we're happy to be in nature.
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Mattawamkeag, United States

"How did you end up in Mattawamkeag?" or "How did you hear about THIS PLACE?" People ask us this alot. Ebay is the answer. Nobody believes us, but it is the truth. When we were looking for jobs while we were in China, we looked everywhere. We sent resumes everywhere. We applied to everything we were remotely qualified to do. Then at the end of a long resume sending session, for kicks I thought I'd look at ebay for commercial opportunities. I thought, lets see whats for sale, maybe we could just buy a business and create our own jobs. Viola, the Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park and Campground! Actually it wasn't for sale. It was for lease. And no, we did not pay with paypal. In fact the bidding process involved submitting a business plan to the city of Mattawamkeag (the owners of the park). So since we were in China and had never been to Mattawamkeag, we did some internet research. And we crafted a 25 page business plan for our dream of running a campground (that we'd never seen) and it was full of the latest trends in camping according to the internet available behind the Great Firewall of China. So we submitted our bid and plan in Nov 2009. And we kept job hunting. We moved back New Years Eve. We kept job hunting. While we were in China, we thought the job market was pretty lame on the internet. We thought SURELY when we move back, we will see all these jobs that must not be visible behind the Great Firewall. Nope. The van driver from the airport on New Years Eve said he'd just gotten his job and he'd been unemployed for 9 months. He said that he'd always worked in the hotel industry. Nobody used to want to be the midnight van driver for the airport, and now he barely got this job only because he had 9 years of experience. He said the Sunday job section was basically gone from the Seattle Times. It was a little eye opening that he was right. Our thought was that the Vancouver Olympics were going to create jobs in our border town near the island. Nope. We were applying to everything. Nit picker, yep, they really were hiring somebody to do that. Really I think it is a brilliant idea, but not going to be the most pleasant job. The husband had been a pet groomer and both of us use to work with monkeys, and Princess has tangly curly hair, surely we were qualified to delouse. Nope, didn't even get a call on that one. I had 2 intense McDonald interviews. I'm sitting there with the 12 year old hiring manager saying how much I'd like to work there and how I like McDonalds, and she says, "well I see you worked at Dairy Queen back in the '80's, do you have any more recent experience?" Augh, like cooking for the family and teaching Chinese folks how to order off the McDonalds menu was not good enough. Yeah, basically she called me old. I haven't forgiven McDonalds for switching the hamburger to the soy/hamburger worldwide last July, so it's just as well I didn't get the job. Luckily, one morning while we were beginning another day of the job hunt-we got the email from Mattawamkeag. They selected us!!! Yeah!
So, still sight unseen, we paid the lease. Now the road to Mattawamkeag was not easy. The husband loaded our 2 dogs and 2 cats in my grandma's vintage 1985 Mercury Gran Marquis. Man that truck can hold anything. They just don't make them like that anymore. We looked into buying a truck or something, but that car seats everybody comfortably and had the biggest trunk EVER. And he drove cross country in April.
Teenager was enjoying herself in school. She did the running start program and basically skipped high school and takes classes at the community college. Luckily they are on the quarter system and the second quarter she signed up for all online so we could go to Mattwamkeag.
Little Guy really needed special little guy school to learn sign language. We wanted him to stay in school as long as possible. That was until we found out the school district was too cheap to hire a real interpreter to teach him sign language, and was using this unqualified (disgruntled too) aide that was already working in special guys class. I couldn't figure out WHY didn't she take her hands out of her pocket and say "HI" to him everyday. He actually was signing less after going to school. So my deaf friend comes with me to talk to the school and it becomes very apparent that the aide didn't know much sign. Furthermore to fake it, she actually was modelling signs incorrectly for him, confusing his little self to the point that he didn't sign much. So we just pulled him and sent him packing to Mattawamkeag.
Princess luckily is happy everywhere in the world and didn't mind moving to Mattawamkeag.
The census called a few days before the husband was going to drive accross the country. So we decided to fly the kids out after he got settled and then I'd fly after I finished my census mission.
He arrived in Mattawamkeag, and found out the road was not easy. Really, online we had read that was the biggest complaint for the campground. He described it like Africa. 7.6 miles of dirt potholes.
If you've ever bought anything on ebay, you know this is the risk you take. Yes, the campground and park are beautiful, but the road, hmmm, not mentioned in the description of the item. Anyway, the lease said they were suppose to grade the road. So he held them to it-AND they GRADED THE ROAD!
So when I flew out, I rented the smallest (and cheapest) car available to see if it could make it down the road. (an online review of the campground said a small car could get lost in the potholes) No problem, it wasn't bad at all.
And now we have people coming in that say, "I always wanted to visit this park but could never get down the road before"
So maybe we will make it in Mattawamkeag.......

permalink written by  carseat tourist on June 14, 2010 from Mattawamkeag, United States
from the travel blog: Making It In Mattawamkeag
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The Pack Goats

Mattawamkeag, United States

When we decided to get into the campground business, we diligently researched camping news and happenings. One of the interesting things we read about was pack goats. The National Parks use them for trail maintained. There are a whole group of people who like to go hiking with their goats. The goats carry gear and pick safe trails...cool! So we decided to run a classified ad in Hobby Farm magazine. Meanwhile the oil spill happened in the Gulf. We have 54 sites to mow, I was out mowing and thinking about how sad it is that people come camping to enjoy nature but little do they know how much gasoline is used in keeping that natural, yet a park look. And then the mower broke down. Then the second mower broke down. And then the dang weedeater is impossible to load. And I remembered that in Seattle there was a company that mowed grass and cleared lots with goats (it was a link from one of the pack goat stories). It wasn't long before I was pretty set on getting my own pack goat to mow and clear trails. The husband had always wanted a goat and had researched the breeds and had his heart set on some Nigerian dwarf goats. He was thinking yummy goat cheese. Anyway we live IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, so when it came down to it, there was only one goat breeder in the area. Heck, she didn't even know what kind of goats she had. She thinks they are nubians or boers. She runs a bakery and the goats are a side business. She'd never heard of pack goats. Anyway, the husband and the munchkins rode out to her place and found out she makes the best cinnamon rolls (and a bunch of other yummy treats) and she had some cute goat kids that she was willing to sell us. So the husband left her farm and went straight to the hardware store and bought fencing materials, came back and built a fence. All in one day. The next day we had no new campers scheduled to arrive, so I went and got the goats (and some more baked goodies). Since we don't have a livestock trailer, we got one kid at a time in our largest dog carrier. The ride home with the first goat, I thought I'd gone insane. The maaaaawing was nonstop. I was thinking, who would go on vacation with one of these!!! Pack goats, another urban myth. We got it into the fence and the mawing didn't stop. Meanwhile, unexpected campers show up. I'm thinking they will demand a refund with all this mawing; my whole business is about to be ruined by this loud beast. Luckily the campers were cool. Goats, how funny, attitude. So I go get the second goat. The husband swears that if I get the second goat that because they are pack animals the first one will calm down. The second goat had horns so I was a little leery of the drive with him, what if he used those horns and destroyed the plastic dog carrier? The second goat was quite a bit stronger than the first goat and took the baker and her husband to shove it into the carrier. It thrashed around and mawed for a bit, but actually settled down for most of the ride. Back at camp, we pull up and the goats see each other and are truly happy to be together. They are just kids and so cute! But they wanted nothing to do with us or our kids. Princess was so distraught; she really wanted to befriend the goats. She named the brown one Whiskey. She was going to name it Jack and Teenager said if she named it Jack, the middle name should be Daniels. I laughed and Princess said, what's so funny. I explained that Jack Daniels was a brand of whiskey, and Princess pipes up that whiskey starts with W, and her name starts with W (Princess is just a blog name) and she wanted to name the goat Whiskey so they would match. 5-year-old logic, how can you argue with that! Teenager named the black and white one Shenma, it means "what" in Chinese. Shenma, wears a perpetual look of confusion or huh, so it’s a great name.
So the next morning after the campers left, I was eager to get those goats mowing. Princess was dying to befriend her goats. We get into their pen and they are running around like crazy. But we get collars on them and try to take them for a walk. Walking wasn't bad; they are pretty strong and run actually. We go down to a campsite with lots of grass. The goats are pretty high strung about the collars and they kept slipping out of them. It was very exhausting to try to contain them. They had no interest in the nice green grass. Their goal was escape from the collar and humans. I had Whiskey, with the horns the collar seemed to stay put. But Whiskey was pretty strong and smart. He put his head down and wrangled out of the collar and I couldn't catch him. So husband handed me the leash for Shenma and went to chase Whiskey. Well Shenma freaked out. His buddy was running away. He like did a backflip rodeo move and escaped from me. So husband is chasing one goat somewhere where I can't see him and now goat #2 is loose. So I send Princess back to the house to get Teenager to help me. Little Guy was not with the program and not at all interested in goats or their capture. The water spigot at the campsites is no end of fascination for him. Teenager comes down in flip-flops. And we are chasing the goat. Shenma is basically circling. Riversite 1-3. Then it was 3-6. And then he decided he had enough of this and was going home.
Well, Whiskey was very clever and ran to the river and SWAM across the rapids. Well, Shenma is stupid. It ran to look for its friend, but quickly gave up and decided to go back to the pen. But it was so stupid (and fast). I was chasing it with Indigo and Wisteria, it ran up the hill and looked at the road leading to its pen and turned the wrong way! Stupid thing ran into the campground. So I was chasing it-the campground road is in a circle so I figured I would follow it around the circle and herd it into the pen. By this time husband was chasing it too. The poor goat was so scared (and stupid) it ran onto an ATV trail that was really muddy and covered with blackberry bushes. We couldn't follow the same path, but the trail led to the woods and we went to the woods. We walked through the woods and came out at the river, AND THE OTHER GOAT WAS ON THE OTHERSIDE OF THE RIVER, about 1 mile upstream from where it had crossed! It was "maaaing" at us. We had just had a bunch of rain so the river was high and the current was strong. Husband and Teenager swam across anyway. But the other side was really woody and they couldn't catch the goat and it was too scared to get back into the river. So they swam back. We had told Princess that the goat with horns was hers, and so she was just devasted when her Daddy couldn't rescue it. We had no signs of the other goat and lots of work to do at the campground. So everyday, for 5 days I looked for the goat in the woods. I would walk the trail and try to follow the tracks. I could hear a goat but never could see one. So one the 6th day, the former owner of the goats brought her husband to the campground to help us look for the goats. It turns out that the husband was mean and crazy. He yelled at Teenager and scared a bunch of the campers. Course they didn't find the goats. I was worried that they would keep coming back and it would be very bad for business. But the campers were really understanding. One of the campers said she saw the goat on the other side of the river. So we called and outfitter and had a canoe delivered. We canoed over, but it was getting dark and we could hear the goat, but not see it. The next day was our wedding anniversary, so we woke up early and canoed over again. We had Little Guy and Princess in the canoe with one goat cage. As we canoed up stream about 3 miles, we spotted Shenma under a root ball of a huge tree that was overhanging the river on the same side of the river as the campground. So we rowed back across and got him. He was so happy to see us. Then we spotted the Whiskey on the other side. We decided that we should check it out and maybe try to get it later. Neither Princess or Little Guy can swim, but they were in lifejackets. Now Shenma was in the canoe and in the cage, but it kept rocking the boat. I was so afraid we would tip over and the lifejackets would get tangled in the cage and the kids would drown. But Husband really wanted Princess to stop being sad about her goat, so we rowed over. Whiskey was so happy to see us that it practically jumped in the canoe. But I knew that goat was very strong and that if it was scared it might jump out of the boat and that would be awful. So Husband and I traded places. I had not canoed in about 20 years. Husband held the goat in his lap and Princess held the cage with the other goat and Little Guy did nothing, AND I had to paddle everyone across the river very quickly to avoid the rapids. It was so crazy! But I did it!
So we have the goats back, but now they are so afraid that they will be lost that they refuse to leave pen and mow. Everyday I drag them out, but they just eat a little and then run back to the pen. So we are using the same amount of gas...so much for trying to be environmentally friendly!

permalink written by  carseat tourist on September 11, 2010 from Mattawamkeag, United States
from the travel blog: Making It In Mattawamkeag
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The Flagpole trick

Mattawamkeag, United States

So if you've ever heard of the tales of having your underwear flow up the flagpole at camp, you wonder urban legend or true camp nightmare? Well our summer found it to be urban legend.
That's not to say our flagpole did not have it's own adventure.
The wind blew really hard one night and the string around the pulley whipped off and was in a heap at the base of the flag pole the next.
We consulted with town hall...alot of campers are veterans and we want people to know they are camping in America and of course the park is public so the flag should fly.
We thought maybe the fire department could drive down with their ladder truck or something. Nope, they said when it happened at the town office (sharing building space with the fire department) they get a crane to put it up.
We're thinking crane, 7.6 Miles of dirt road, expensive, not in our budget.
So handy dandy husband who dreams of fly fishing in his spare time(nonexistant) decided to use his rod and hook-up the flag.

Pretty impressive...

permalink written by  carseat tourist on October 2, 2010 from Mattawamkeag, United States
from the travel blog: Making It In Mattawamkeag
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Pulling out

Mattawamkeag, United States

Well, Columbus Day marks the close of the camping season in Maine. So we are packing up and moving back to our little cabin on Lummi Island.
Did we make it in Mattawamkeag?
Well, we had a great time as a family. We lived in a Wilderness Park, nature everywhere!
We met lots of cool people. We roasted marshmallows and found out that circus peanuts can brown on the outside and then are bubbly not puffy on the inside-WEIRD! We survived the summer with out having to call the cops (apparently this has never happened to Park Managers here before). We built a Glamp. Glamping was suppose to be the latest trend in camping-glamorous camping, just roll out your sleeping bag because everything else is done. Well, maybe glamping hasn't caught on in Maine yet...Husband got to go fishing often and Little Guy and Princess discovered the joy of fishing. Teenager hated it, but living in a remote area did keep the boys from dating her (I thought that was a good thing).
Are we able to retire rich at the end of the season- well, NO!
But I think it was a really good way to adjust to life in America.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on October 9, 2010 from Mattawamkeag, United States
from the travel blog: Making It In Mattawamkeag
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Boston, United States

So as a reward for a long summer of Wilderness for Teenager, we took a quick road trip to Salem, MA. Witchy little downtown is just Americana at its best. It was so fun to be a tourist in our own country. Ironically we found some people to converse in Chinese. We were going to visit one of the Witch Museums, but they were just sooo overpriced and the one that we actually were going to fork over $16 to go in, had such a witch working the ticket booth that we just skipped it. We did go in one of the potion shops and that was fun...I bought a "miracle" for $25 and Teenager bought some "lust" and "romance" that is guaranteed to turn heads. The best scores were at the thrift stores. There is definitely a unique style to Salem.
Since we were in the area, we stopped by Harvard. Teenager wouldn't let me take pictures. She doesn't really want to go there for undergrad, but she wanted to talk to the admissions office about what they are looking for and exactly how to put her diverse international experience on that cookie-cutter program that colleges are using for admission. Since Harvard is suppose to be the best, she figured what ever they suggested would work where ever she applies. So just to prove how much she didn't want to go to Harvard she chose to where the least amount of clothing I have seen her wear in America. Since we were on vacation, I didn't even comment. What I did notice about Harvard was that there were a ton of parents who had high hopes and a bunch of young people who looked like the suffered from a lot of pressure to achieve those hopes. Anyway the admissions office rocked!!! Get this-everybody who was working at the admissions information office was blind. Really visually impaired. It was so cool. I wish all admissions were blind, for that matter I wish I could go to job interviews with a blind review. Anyway, so Teenager is dressed to send off this "I'm a teenage rebel, I don't care, nor do I think I need to look professional to discuss my future" and it didn't matter. I watched a bunch of people come in and they were getting the same response, fill out the college ap online, blah, blah, blah. So Teenager walks up and says she has some questions. The admissions rep (blind) starts in on the same, blah, blah, blah and Teenager says, well exactly what should I do with that online form with my Chinese educational experience; by the way that online thing doesn't consider ASL a language-how to address that. And the rep started acting very interested. Then there are two admission reps (the second one was an albino with the prettiest skin and eyes, visually impaired with dog) discussing the unique qualifications that Teenager has...oh, it was so cool. And despite how Teenager chose to dress, she is really well-spoken and intelligent-and they got that! Teenager, so intent on concentrating and writing down everything they said, didn't even notice that they were blind. I only noticed because when I was in college I read textbooks and research materials a couple of blind students at my college. Afterward, I told her and she said "really?". Way to go Harvard for accepting and employing people for who there are!!!!
We ate some ice cream on campus and I felt smarter ingesting the goodness.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on October 13, 2010 from Boston, United States
from the travel blog: Making It In Mattawamkeag
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Go West

Vancouver, United States

Driving across USA with all the kids and critters is not anyone's idea of fun. So I flew back with the kiddos and Husband will crawl across America with the critters. Turns out, despite Little Guys fascination with planes, he no longer finds the skies friendly. I was on our frequent flier ticket and Teenager and the virtual twins had a slightly different itinerary. The plan was to meet in Denver and then go the rest of the way together. My plane arrived first. I waited at the kids gate...their entire flight deboarded. No kids. I finally found an agent who said, yes they had been on that plane, but I must of missed them. Hmmm...unlikely that I would have not seen my kids come out the gate door. The next set of stewardesses arrive and go down the walkway. With all the airport security, it is a little intimidating to try to get some help. A straggler stewardess is talking on her phone as she goes down the ramp, so I get her attention (without causing too much attention) and explain that my kids were on the previous flight and my son was deaf, was there a chance that perhaps they were still on board? A few minutes she comes back laughing. "Yes, they are still on board." Can I go help get them off? More suppressed laughter, "NO, but your daughter is so cute". So 5 minutes later poor Teenager comes up the plank. She is just about in tears. Little Guy is crying and crawling alongside her. Princess is humming and just as happy as ever. Apparently they gatechecked the stroller that we bought for $5 at a yard sale at the previous airport and they accidentally sent it all the way thru to our final destination. We had gotten the stroller specifically because we knew Little Guy was not the best walker in crowded places. In fact today, he had completely forgotten he had legs. And on top of that he had freaked out completely on the plane. Poor Teenager. So we bought some expensive airport food and some yummy caramel apples from the Rocky Mountain Fudge Shop. I had thought maybe Teenager was being a little dramatic, how bad could her little brother have been. Well, he dropped his $6 apple and had the biggest fit and showed the entire airport that Teenager was accurate in her description of his behavior. I tried really hard to turn his mood around. Nevertheless, we boarded the next plane with crazy kid in tow. Since our itineraries were not linked as a family, our seats were not together. I let Teenager have the solo seat at the front of the plane, and I sat in the back with the munchkins. Teenager spent the entire flight pretending we were not related. I told the stewardess that my son was a little anxious as we boarded. She pretended she didn't hear that. All the other passengers did clearly hear what was going on. It was just awful, I was covered in bruises by the time the flight was over. I have no idea why he freaked out so, my only guess is that we were on small planes and before we had been on big planes in China and the smaller planes pressurize differently and maybe it bothered his ears. I think it was only 1 hour and 45 minutes, but it was longgggggg.
So we arrive and Little Guy meets my uncle for the first time. Luckily my uncle has a lot of land so we let Little Guy and Princess run wild.
The next day we jump in the car and drive 3 hours to the Washington School for the Deaf.
I had to really advocate to get him accepted into the school. It was quite a battle because he is just in kindergarten but needed to be in the residential program since we live 5 hours away. Some of the admissions team felt like because he was adopted that he couldn't have bonded with us yet. We felt like without language (ASL) bonding wasn't progressing. In the end they decided that they would accept our choice to have a trial enrollment (with the implication that we were bad people for even suggesting he go to residential school) because they couldn't discriminate against him just because he was adopted. So I knew that when I enrolled him, I was going to be eating some humble pie.
Now Little Guy had visited the school in the spring. When we 1st walked into the office there are some brochures about infancy hearing loss and programs. They featured the cutest little white baby in a denim jumper. Now, Little Guy picked up this brochure and signed he wanted that baby. He opened about the brochure and showed Princess the other babies (Hispanic and African American) and indicated that she should pick one of those. He definitely understood that we were at an institution of some sort. In fact in his world, it made sense that we would go get another baby. He was not at all worried that he would be left there. I took that as a sign that he had bonded with us. So we went through the whole tour, assessments, etc, with him asking everyone in sign language, "where's the baby? I want a baby" They just thought he was the funniest thing. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry I was so uncomfortable, how messed up was his vision of a family that he thought we would just go get another kid like that and what did that say about his racial identity that he only wanted a white baby...Anyway, he was quite disappointed that we didn't see any babies or get one, but he was really happy to leave that place. Of course, the car broke down that day so it was a lot of drama with being jumped off and not turning off the car for 5 hours to get home...
So now we go back. He decided he would wear his goggles inside this time. He knew something was up. In the office he saw the brochure and we signed no babies. We got his stuff from the car and followed our guide to the "cottages". They are really nice. Everyone was being really nice to us, so I was relieved that maybe after his initial acceptance I wouldn't have to eat humble pie. So we set up his room. He seems fine. We show him the classroom (school's been in session for a while) and he goes in no problem. In fact he waves us off, like go away I'm a school now, I don't need you. Awwww...my uncle heads back to his place and I go to endless meetings about stuff and Teenager and Princess kick back in the "family room". School lets out and Little Guy joins after school soccer. It was so cool, he had friends! He was so happy playing with the other kids! Princess just couldn't believe it, she was on the sidelines watching him play. It was all she could do not to jump in there, she was signing to him from the sideline, it was so cute! So at 4:30pm, I'm in my final chat session/meeting eating humble pie with the residential director who is telling me all of her concerns about his enrollment. After seeing him happy with friends, I was able to really stand my ground and say this was what I knew was best for him, he's a good kid who just needs language, he is really going to flourish here, etc.
The fire alarm goes off.
After that meeting, at 5pm, we were suppose to be going to a Family Fun night about curriculum, etc.
So all the families are arriving.
All the day shift is leaving.
All the night shift is arriving.
Everybody is there.
At the Deaf School, fire alarms are complete with strobe lights. Apparently, being a State agency some one really official must turn it off.
Little Guy had turned it on.
I just wanted to disappear.
Everyone is coming up to me and signing "Your son" and people who are able to speak are telling me my son did this.
Interestingly the hearing people did not seem as bothered by this as much as the deaf people. Anyway it goes on for 35minutes.
I got to meet the superintendent during this time.
I have never eaten so much humble pie!!!!!!
Eventually I get to see Little Guy and hear that they had just told him to stop playing with the lights in the cottage. So of course if you are a curious little boy and you've been told not to play with the lights, that big red fire pull looks like the next gadget to try.
So the councilor is frantically signing a him. And he sees me and I am sooooo embarrassed . And he knew what he did was wrong and was crying on the pavement outside the cottage. And he looked up at me and it was so sad because I knew that he understood what was going on, but he had this look in his eye that said I just don't understand your world or theirs.
And I watched him have his meal and everybody was signing to him, and he was at a point that he was just waving them off. He had enough of all that signing stuff. And I understood having lived in China how that felt, 3 years all that chinese chatter!
But I also knew that if he didn't learn to sign and communicate that he would go through life angry and confused and probably do worse things than pull a fire alarm.
So I swallowed my pride and stuck out the family night (with everyone laughing at me) and watched him go to kindergarten the next day.
And we went home.
He came home on the charter bus. He was so happy. Already he is signing more. And all weekend he signed that he couldn't wait to go back on the bus and to school with his friends.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on October 19, 2010 from Vancouver, United States
from the travel blog: Making It In Mattawamkeag
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