Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er). Achieved the first two letters of FIRE, now onto the rest!

How my Emergency Fund proved its worth against the virus. Twice.

Scout, feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that we have a sturdy emergency fund behind us. It means everything to a dog.

I’ve had an emergency fund for the last 2 decades. When I left my husband 22 years ago with $60 cash in my hand and with 4 boys under 5 to support, the first thing I set myself to achieving was building a $1,000 ‘buffer zone’ (as I called it then) to provide some security for the boys and me. I’ve written about how an emergency fund is a very good thing to have but is this still the case?

It’s been interesting to see how having that stash of cash has made life so much easier in this pandemic.

When, in December 2019 and January 2020, news started coming out from China, then Italy about this weirdo new virus, my spidey senses started tingling. I’m a bit of a germophobe at the best of times, so the thought of having to deal with a possible pandemic wasn’t a great feeling. Add to that my job as a teacher, being surrounded by germ-ridden teenagers all generously sharing their viruses with everyone around them – it meant that I was paying attention to what was going on.

Over January and February, I didn’t use my Emergency Fund at all. I quietly topped up on staples and non-perishables as part of my normal shops. By the beginning of March I was looking to be in good shape. I took a little holiday and enjoyed myself. Then, a week or so later was when the proverbial hit the fan. You remember – when people started panic buying toilet paper, flour and tissues.

The middle of March was the first time I deployed my Emergency Fund. The last time I tapped it was the beginning of 2019 when Tom28 needed a loan to repair his car. He paid it back within 2 months and then the emergency fund just sat there, biding its time.

Sourdough, baked with flour bought in The Great Costco Shop of March 17.

Remember when I wrote about going to Costco the day after our state Premier announced a state of emergency? As David26 and I rounded the corner after parking our car and saw the 1,000+ people ahead of us in the queue, I decided that if we were going to brave this, we were going to make it worth while.

In the back of my head were all my fears about the ‘just in time’ policy that our supermarkets have. For years I’ve been telling the boys that you don’t want to be out panic-buying supplies when everyone else is fighting for them too. Far safer to be at home while everyone else is wild-eyed and desperate. That trip to Costco was illuminating. Turns out I was correct.

We were only there in the first place because David25 wanted to bring some supplies to his girlfriend’s family. Ok, fair enough, but I was damned if I was going to race around behind one of those huge Costco trolleys, dodging hundreds of last-minute panic buyers just to buy things for other people! If I was going to be doing this crazy thing, I was going to top up our own supplies as well.

So we bought bulk bags of plain flour, bulk dry pasta, another big bag of grain-free dog food, oil, eggs, coffee, cleaning supplies… between what we bought for Izzy’s family and ours we loaded up the trolley.

On the way home we passed Dan Murphy’s. Seeing as we were already stocking up and it was definitely a ‘Spend Day,’ (more on that later), we turned in. There were only about 6 other people in the whole place. We were definitely ahead of the trend in buying alcohol! We bought heaps of wine, ( I don’t want to do without my shiraz in the evenings!) and I shouted David26 and Ryan25 some vodka, beer and spiced rum.

Earlier that day, at 8AM, I’d been to Bunnings, buying fence paint and potting mix. I’d thought ahead and realised that I’d need to occupy myself in the lockdown I was sure was going to come.

All up on that day we spent around 2K.

That’s when I deployed the Emergency Fund. I pulled 2K out from it and put it straight onto my credit card. I didn’t have to go into debt to shore up our defences – we had the cash. After all, if a pandemic isn’t classed as an emergency, I don’t know what is!!!

But then came something else…

A week after we went into iso, my oven broke down. Great timing, hey? It had come with the house, was cheap and nasty and was always something that I was going to get replaced, but I wasn’t planning on doing it any time soon.

Now this WAS an emergency. I’d just begun a sourdough starter – I needed an oven to cook in!

This was where the Emergency Fund proved its worth yet again. If I had no money set aside and had to buy something on my credit card, I know full well I would have probably bought another cheap and nasty oven – anything to get food hot and ready for dinner. I’d want to limit what I put on the card, so it would have been the cheapest I could buy. This would mean that a couple of years down the track I’d be in the exact same position that I was now – hating the oven and wanting to buy a new one.

But now? I knew that I wanted a German-built self-cleaning oven. Something sturdy and of good quality that would last for years. These ovens don’t come cheap.

I’m of the mindset that I’d rather do something right and only have to do it once, rather than trying to cheaply do things and end up having the same problem over and over. The Emergency Fund meant that I had the money there to get the job done right – first time. Sure, I was a bit annoyed at having to spend the money right now – this was a job that I would have been happy to palm off to some future time – but having the Emergency Fund meant that I could take care of it properly.

(On an aside – you should have seen the guys who came to deliver and install it a week later. They were gloved and masked – it almost looked like they were going to rob the place!!)

So the oven, plus installation, cost nearly $1,800. That’s nearly 4K to come out of that account in a couple of weeks. So how does running the Emergency Fund look like after this?

Easy.

As soon as you tap the Emergency Fund, the iron-clad rule is that you devote the next however-many-pay-packets-long to building it up again. You want to get it back to its original level as soon as you can, ready for the next unexpected event.

Sure, the timing’s been a little annoying. With that dip in the share market, I would have loved to be buying cheapish shares with my surplus money like a lot of FI/RE people have been saying that they’ve been doing, but in the Jones household financial security comes first. This means that a strong Emergency Fund is the top priority.

My next pay is on Wednesday. I have $500 to go to get my Emergency Fund back to its pre Covid-19 level. How have I done it so quickly?

Haha! My secret weapon – my ‘No Spend Days’ chart. It’s all about turning buying things and spending money from a mindless activity to an INTENTIONAL one.

I posted about how it works HERE. It’s worth reading if you think that this might be something that will help you have fun tracking your spending. It really works for me.

Basically, every day that I don’t spend anything, I get to colour in a square. if I have 3 or less days a week where I’ve spent money, I get to colour in a silver square at the end of the week.

The idea isn’t that I never spend any money at all – that’s obviously unsustainable. But what it does is to force me to consciously consider WHEN and WHAT I spend my money on. It turns spending from a constant dribble out of my wallet to a truly deliberate decision.

Now have a look at the screenshot I took from my chart. It’s showing March and April. April is orange – March is yellow.

It’s amazing how, if you don’t need anything, how your spending can go down!

From the 7th of March, I was away on my little holiday at Bowral. You can see there’s a spend of $260 on a helicopter ride – that’s not a usual item in my budget! I arrived home the following Tuesday, had a ‘no spend’ day after that where I just chilled at home… but then I swung into gear mopping up the last of the Covid-19 lockdown preparations.

On the 14th March you can see my ‘panic-buy’ at Spotlight, where I bought $174 worth of quilting supplies. A few days after that, on March 17, was the hideous Costco shop, along with the Bunnings and Dan Murphy buys. I deliberately grouped them all together, knowing that they’d be substantial. Geographically, they were close together too – saving on petrol. Why not? 🙂

The rest of March, the shopping was just for little incidentals to pick up tiny things I may have missed. An example is the $10 yeast on the 25th March.

But look at what happens once April starts:

Well ok, buying the oven on the first day of the month was annoying, as well as having to take a sick dog to the vet. But after that, the spending has plummeted. Why do I need to spend money once everything I need has been taken care of?

Some people I see on Twitter and Facebook are preening themselves on their cleverness in using online shopping to buy food and anything else they want, saying that they’re taking themselves out of the line of infection. But that doesn’t sit right with me – I think that by doing that, you’re putting other people INTO the line of infection by having to get your order to you. I know people need the work, but for me? I’d rather know that I’ve looked after ourselves and we’re not asking other people to risk their health just so we can bunker down and feel safe.

I’m lucky in that I still have a wage coming in. Most of that wage has so far been replenishing the Emergency Fund. But this is something that anyone can do whether they have a job or not – I know because I did it myself when I was absolutely broke and living on the Sole Parents Pension.

It doesn’t matter if you can afford to tip a thousand, a hundred or ten dollars a pay into building your emergency Fund back up – IF YOU KEEP ON DOING IT EVERY PAY, IT WILL GET THERE EVENTUALLY. You just have to keep the long view in mind and know that it will happen and you’ll be all the more secure for it.

As for our long streak of not spending any money, this will end tomorrow. With all of the delicious sourdough I’ve been making – (RECIPE HERE, thanks to latestarterfire’s recommendation), we’re down to our last stick of butter.

I’ll be whisking myself off to Aldi to buy butter, top up our fresh produce (though the garden has been a godsend in keeping us away from the shops – (another security measure I should maybe write about??) and to buy some chicken chips. I still have some chocolate, but nothing beats the salty crunch of potato chips/crisps when I’m watching ‘Survivor’.

In a few days my Emergency fund will be back to normal and I can relax, knowing that when – not if – the next unexpected thing hits us, the one thing we won’t have to worry about is money.

And that’s a precious thing.

What’s teaching from home in a lockdown really like?

Scout. She’s been waiting for a lockdown all her life.

I sighed, rolled over and picked up the ancient laptop that was charging beside the bed. I opened it, came to the FI/RE blog and started typing. It was good, I suppose, that for the first time in over 3 weeks I felt like writing on the blog. But why did it have to be at 1:17 AM?

Teaching from home has been going on for 2 weeks. It’s hectic, but also rewarding when you see how the kids have risen to the challenge and are producing some excellent work. It makes me laugh when I hear the media or many parents on Facebook or Twitter whinge about having to “homeschool” their children. They’re NOT homeschooling! Homeschooling is when the parent selects the curriculum, organises each lesson, supervises the work, marks the work and is basically responsible for everything. Here? ‘All’ they have to do is get their child/ren to sit down, open their laptop and do the work that their teachers have assigned them. Too easy!

Or is it? Readers attuned to punctuation would have noticed that I wrote ‘all’ they have to do. Some parents are discovering that their child isn’t the perfect, angelic student they thought they were. Some kids are difficult to keep on task. I call them my “bright, shiny object” kids or my “wriggly puppies.” These are the kids who, when I see they’ve submitted work onto the Google Classroom, I smile, knowing that their parents must have been standing over them every step of the way, battling with them to finish the assignment and turn it in.

I finished a quilt! This is for my sister-in-law Jen. It’s called The Outlander quilt.

So what does teaching from home actually look like?

First off, let me set the scene. Here in Victoria during our stage 3 lockdown, schools are technically still open, but only for the children of essential workers and for those kids who are considered ‘at risk’, (where school is their safe place away from home – the welfare team know who they are and are keeping tabs on them). Every other child is expected to learn from home. My friend who is a primary teacher heard one parent turn up on the first day of school attempting to drop her son off because “I’m an essential worker.” She’s a florist! She left, taking her son with her.

I teach 2 year 7 English classes and a year 9 Drama class at a very large secondary school in a leafy, comfortably middle-class suburb in Melbourne. We are a public school, but one that is highly sought after by parents who want excellent academic results but would rather put their money into buying a house in the school zone instead of paying exorbitant private school fees. (Can’t complain about that – it’s what I did myself, after all!) We’re one of the state government’s flagships for public education.

So around a decade ago, we began to accidentally position ourselves really well for this lockdown. We are heavily technology-based, with every student issued with their own chromebook, every classroom has an interactive whiteboard, and even the most technologically-challenged teachers (that’d be me) are used to using on-line platforms and methods of teaching.

So the actual nuts and bolts of online teaching isn’t really a huge problem. For example, anything I don’t know how to do, I can jump online and send an email to the other 12 teachers in the year 7 English team. Someone always comes back with a solution. If I, or a student, have a problem with anything computer-based, we have the school’s IT team available at the end of a phone call or email.

I love those guys! Technology and I have an uneasy, wary relationship.

The back of Jen’s quilt. She burst out laughing when she saw it – she loves a bit of Jamie Fraser! (Don’t we all?)

The real learning curve has been adapting the curriculum to online learning. A huge amount of work has been put in by every teacher at the end of last term and over the holidays. We’ve been adapting all of our lessons and assessments so that they can be delivered easily and clearly to the kids, as well as working out the best ways that they can submit each task for us to look at.

Some subjects are easier than others. English, for example, is easier than Drama or Music. But even English has it’s challenges. The first task in the year 7 curriculum for term 2 was a wide reading oral presentation. In normal times, the kids design a slideshow or powerpoint, then stand up in front of the class and deliver a speech, telling us all about a book they’ve read.

Easy enough to organise when they’re all in class. But how do they deliver this when they’re in iso?

My oven broke down two days into iso. I had to have tradies in the house, all gloved and masked, to install a new one. It looked like they were robbing the place!

Turns out that there’s a program called Screencastify where they can deliver their speech on screen while having their slideshow scroll by behind them, just as they would in class. The kids were given the first week of term to get their speeches written, their slideshows put together and to film themselves delivering their speech with their slideshow. Tuesday this week was the big day when they had to submit their work.

This all sounds good, right? Ha! Tuesday’s supposed to be my day off. I was working flat-out from 8 – 6. I didn’t have time to take a shower and get out of my pjs until lunchtime.

The emails! I’ve never had so many!

The work not filmed properly!

The work being submitted to me via email (where I can’t open it) rather than the Classroom! Seemed like hundreds of them…

My best sourdough yet! My new oven arrived just in time to start using my starter.

I have 56 year 7 kids. Twelve and thirteen year olds aren’t renowned for attentive listening at the best of times, but I was astounded at how many of them clearly failed to read the instructions given to them in emails, on the Google Classroom and in their daily lesson plans. So much time wasted in redirecting kids back to the videos I’d posted, showing them how to download Screencastify and showing them step by step how to submit their work properly.

Some kids did it perfectly first time, (the angels!), others needed a nudge in the right direction, (those adorable doofuses!) while others needed So Many Emails directing them to actually read what I’d sent them…(I probably shouldn’t say what I was calling this group of kids by the end of the day after the 600th email!) This is all stuff that when, if you’re in a classroom side by side with them, can be fixed with a 30-second talk. Communicating via email is a different beast.

We got there in the end. I only have 2 kids that I’m chasing up – everyone else has done it. Because I was online the entire day on Tuesday, I ended up marking the orals as they came in, so the kids got their marks on the same day. I even received an appreciative email from one of the parents. That made my day! Usually, when we hear from parents it’s not a good thing…

I thought I’d dress up for a Zoom meeting one morning with some friends. Everyone else was wearing make-up and had done their hair, so I did the same. Well, sort of. Never let vanity get in the way of a good laugh!

Meanwhile, in the first week of term, I was dealing with how to teach Drama online. Obviously we are going to have to use videos to assess any performance tasks, so I decided that for the first two weeks I’d set them a little video task and get them used to the process of filming, then submitting it to the Google Classroom for me to look at. They’d learn how to do it before the work they were handing in was work that would go on their reports.

The work I set for the first week of term was to get them to film themselves telling a 1-minute story – using only their hands. They were given this on the Wednesday and they had until Friday to get it done and uploaded onto the Classroom.

After a flurry of emails asking various questions, the videos started to arrive. A few of them were very basic, but most were superb! It was clear that the kids were itching to sink their teeth into something after 2 weeks of school holidays in lockdown.

Poppy an hour after she ate most of my sourdough that was rising, getting ready to bake. This was 30 minutes before the noxious farting began.

The stories that the kids chose to explore ranged from:

*a pair of hands representing someone drowning. (She had a glass of water off-camera and was gurgling into it as her hands slowly subsided.)

*two ‘people’ making a trade for a bike. This vid had subtitles to help tell the story.

*a hand packing a little car with a picnic basket, driving it into the country (parking the car under what looked suspiciously like a bonsai) and enjoying an al fresco lunch. This had a musical soundtrack, tiny little props and excellent editing.

* a boy who handed his video in late after I sent an email to his Mum had 2 hands talking. One was a student and the other was an irate parent telling him off for not doing a Drama asignment. This one made me laugh a lot!

*Hands dancing, teaching aerobics classes, being stuck at home in lockdown, being bullied, going on a hike and ‘hunting’ cats. I found out Darby has the most adorable kitten I’ve ever seen. At the end, when the ferocious kitten was joyfully ‘attacking’ the hand hunting it, its purring was so LOUD!

The dogs, banished outside once Poppy’s explosive diarrhoea started. Here are Scout and Jeffrey asking mutely to be let back in, with Poppy, to the right, having yet another poo. Don’t let dogs near sourdough! Fun times.

This week I’m getting the Drama kids to look around the house and put together a 30 second soundscape made up of ordinary household items. They can do things like drag something across carpet, bang pots and pans together, slam doors, record the beeps from a microwave etc. Then they have to put together a movement performance to this soundscape, film it and send it in to me.

This isn’t an easy task, but surprisingly, the kids have been much less angsty about it than they were the week before. I’m hopeful that as the weeks go on and we all get used to how the whole remote teaching thing works, things will calm down and people will be a lot less anxious. Anyway, I gave them this task yesterday and it’s due tomorrow. I’m interested to see what they come up with.

Next week – I’ll hit them with a script that will be assessed. In normal times they’d have 2 weeks to get a performance ready. Now, I’m giving them 3 weeks.

Lockdown games! See the red bowl up in the corner? Ryan25 uses it for popcorn. Watch for the next photo as I subtly hide it from him.

During this time, we’ve been directed to make the kids feel supported and cared for, while not overwhelming them with too much work. We have to keep in mind that while some kids will have a calm, quiet home to do their schoolwork in, most will have other siblings hanging around, often loud, younger ones. They’ll probably have parents also working from home, maybe all of them trying to work from the same dining table.

Also, kids are stressed about this rupture to our normal routine. In the drama videos, but even in our written English work, it’s amazing how often the kids have referenced Covid-19. We’re expecting kids to complete the work we give them, but we know that some kids simply can’t or won’t do it. We’ll follow up, but at the end of the day, if a kid refuses to do the work, a term off isn’t going to make a huge difference in the scheme of things.

Lockdown games – There! Hidden. It took an extraordinary amount of time for Ryan25 to find his red bowl. I kept saying, “It’s in the cupboard!” Oh, the hilarity.

Speaking of following up work that isn’t submitted on time, here’s a tweet I sent after the year 7 Oral Presentations:

The funny thing is, the next morning most of those late students were among the first to hand in the work given out for Wednesday’s lesson. I’m betting they had irritable parents standing over them making sure that they knuckle down and do what they’re supposed to!

As far as teaching in lockdown, on the whole I’m enjoying it. We teach some lovely kids and their “Thanks, Miss!” emails when I send feedback on their work bring a smile to my face. (Which, when you think about it, is a stupid thing to say. It isn’t as if I could smile anywhere else on my body!) Teaching totally online is a challenge that I never thought I’d ever do – it’s not as if I’m teaching in the remote corners of the Northern Territory, for example, where distance ed is a normal thing.

I’m not missing my near 2 hours in the car on a workday. I’m able to wake naturally at about 7 or 8 AM and start my workday in the sunlight. That’s nice. I like teaching with my dogs beside me. And they, of course, are LOVING having Ryan25 and I home all the time. They’ll be devastated when life returns to normal.

Do I miss the classroom? No, not yet. If ever. After all, I know we’ll be back in a few weeks. Term 2 won’t last forever. This will be an interesting blip in my career, not something that will forever change how I teach my students.

The last two weeks have been hectic. I haven’t worked so hard in my life and made so few steps during a workday! My fitbit has thrown up its hands in disgust at how few steps I make on an Assessment Task day. But as I said, once both we and the kids become more familiar with how this whole thing works, I’m sure that life will calm down, the emails will be fewer and we’ll all just get on with the job.

Because that’s what’s happening. Our students are being taught. They’re still learning – not just about academic things but about surviving a crisis, getting along with people and being resilient. They’re learning not just from their teachers but by all they see around them.

This will be a time in history that they’ll look back on, hopefully with fond memories. They won’t remember those English questions about the novel that they submitted or that Maths test on Chapter 12 that they did. They’ll remember that their teachers cared. That they got to know their families better than ever before. That by all of us working together as a community, we can slow down the spread of an unthinking, uncaring virus and save lives by not overwhelming the hospitals.

They’ll have some funny memories. One of my year 7 kids – let’s call him Max – started off his oral presentation standing in a bath. His voice was all echo-ey from being in a bathroom. I was wondering why on earth he’d do this when he got to the sentence – “Then Percy Jackson discovered that he was the son of Poseidon, the God of the sea.” His father stepped into shot and threw a bucket of water all over him. It was hilarious! Max kept going, voice quivering a bit from suppressed laughter. Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned Percy Jackson having a lightning bolt as a weapon. His Dad, out of shot this time, turned the bathroom lights off and on a few times. It was fantastic. Max’s face was a joy to see. He won’t forget things like this.

So that’s what teaching from behind a computer is like. I’ve learned a huge amount about tech. I’m doing bleeding-edge teaching in delivering lessons in ways I’ve never had to before.

I’ve discovered that remote teaching means that the school day doesn’t end at 3:10. Kids (and I) are online all day. I have to close my laptop at 5PM and walk away, or else I’d be teaching till 10 PM at night.

I’ve learned to be more patient with kids than I ever thought I’d be. I’ve also learned that kids are flexible and creative and will rise to the occasion if you give them the chance.

Anyway, I began this post at 1:17 AM and it’s now 4:48 AM. Fortunately, it’s my day off tomorrow because I’ll definitely need a nap after lunch after writing this! I hope that this has been of interest to people. It’s a funny old time we’re living through.

I hope you and yours are all well. Stay strong, stay sensible and stay home.

Lockdown at Frogdancer’s place.

Scout was very sick for a couple of days, but now she’s back to normal.

So it’s been a week since schools shut down when the school holidays were brought forward by 4 days and we’re now in official ‘school holiday’ time. Lockdown was officially brought in on Saturday night (I think), so what has been going on here while the country grinds slowly to a halt?

David26 packing his bags to move over to his girlfriend’s place. She lives at home with her parents…

We had the uncomfortable chat with adult kids that a lot of families are having, especially since the new laws came in forbidding meetings of more than 2 people. David26 was over at Izzy’s place when all of this came into effect. For newer readers, Izzy is immunocompromised as she’s fighting leukaemia. After checking with Izzy’s family, David26 has elected to stay there for the duration.

He came back, masked and gloved, to pack some clothes, food and musical equipment. He’s spending his days helping Izzy’s Dad with major renovations on their house, (aka learning some manly skillz) and writing lots of music with Izzy. He’s happy.

Evan23, facetiming from Ballarat. Strike a pose!

Evan23 is up in Ballarat with the other people from his acting course. This photo was what he sent after I said that his hair looked lustrous. It made me laugh! Apple doesn’t fall far, as they say. He’s moved into the share house that his girlfriend lives in, along with one of the other podcast guys. Lots of board games, lots of drinking, lots of painting. He bought canvases and paint as part of his panic buying before the lockdown.

Tom28 is an accountant and so far he’s been able to hang onto his job. We have long phone calls nearly every day.

Fortunately, I’m sharing lockdown with the quietest and most introverted son. Our house is blissfully quiet. The only sounds I hear, apart from his lectures from his uni course, are music or ‘Animal Crossing’ drifting from his room. We have little chats, then part to do our own things, then we meet up again to share things we’ve seen online etc. It’s chilled.

I posted this shot below, after a wonderful moment on Saturday night.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been back since, because on Sunday little Scout came down with a tummy bug and was really quite sick for a couple of days. Then, just as she was getting better, Jeffrey came down with it.

Jeff this morning.

Jeffrey was VERY sick. So sick that I took him to the vet at 8 AM yesterday. She couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so directed me to feed him boiled chicken and rice. This morning he ate some, the first food he’s had for over 2 days. He then wagged his tail. I’d say he’s turning the corner. Phew!

Correction still goes on…

I had to bring home some correction and I was getting kids who had self-isolated earlier to send me work via email, so I was still keeping busy in the last few weeks of term. One poor little boy, who only scored 4/30 on his grammar test, sent me what sounded like a chirpy little email after I released his mark to him.

Something along the lines of “Hi Ms Jones! Could you please send me my grammar test so my Mum and tutor can go over it with me? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!”

Poor kid. That’s the LAST thing anyone would want. His Mum was almost certainly standing by his shoulder, dictating what to type. I’d already given him 15 extra minutes to complete the test, as I knew he struggles with English. Fortunately – or UNfortunately, depending on whether you’re the student or his Mum – his was a test I’d brought home. So I photo-ed the pages and emailed them across.

Another chirpy email thanked me. Poor kid…

Our fence – naked.

One of the projects I want to get done is to paint the front fence. Over the fullness of time, the lawn will be mostly replaced by garden beds. It’ll be an oasis. The following photo is the colour scheme I’ve chosen.

Soon…

My parents have been gallivanting around, so I had a stern talking-to with them. They’re over 80, for God’s sake. Anyway, after this, they’ll either heed what I say or they just won’t tell me. After all we’ve been through with them, health-wise, over the past year, you’d think they’d be more sensible.

My first pumpkin.

It was the end of the month yesterday, so I did my usual monthly net worth check. I estimated that it would’ve gone down around 150K due to the wild ride that the share market has been delivering. Imagine my relief when I was ‘only’ down 107K!! Feels like a bargain! Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

But look at this fine pumpkin. I’ve never been able to grow them before, but the compost materials I’ve been bringing home from work, coupled with the wicking beds, have brought forth a bonanza of pumpkins. I’m so happy. This one was so heavy it fell off the vine, so Ryan25 brought it in. It’s sitting next to the tromboncino zucchini seeds I’m drying for next year.

Ryan25 just came in to tell me that it looks like Australia is starting to flatten out the curve, which is good news. Meanwhile in the US, this is happening:

It beggars belief, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I hope that you and yours are safe and well. It’s a time to quietly enjoy our nearest and dearests and live life at a slower pace. It’s Wednesday morning at 10:30 and I’m still sitting on the couch in my pjs. On a normal Wednesday I would have taught 2 classes by now! Jeff is snoring beside me, Ryan25 is playing some 80’s music and the sun is shining. I’ll have brunch and get out into the garden today, I think.

Stay safe! Stay home!

Yesterday I saw a pelican.

A random pelican on the water.
This is not the actual pelican.

A lot has changed in a week. Schools have been closed for 4 days, thank goodness, and my dogs are ecstatic that their people are home all the time. Three of my boys are living elsewhere for the duration and I’m lucky that the quietest one, (Ryan25), is here with me.

Our house is so serene! Weekdays he has a lecture or two online from his uni for his remedial massage course, so at those times we close the hall door between our 2 living areas and I stay quiet at my end of the house. The rest of the time we do our individual things, meeting to have a chat every now and then, but basically just chilling.

This is what is isolation is like with an adult child. Hang in there, readers with young kids! Life gets easier with time.

Work finished for me on Monday, with our state Premier bringing the school holidays forward by 4 days. I was SO RELIEVED. People who have read my previous post may have picked up on the subtle hints I left that I was getting angrier and angrier with the directives to keep schools open that our government was dishing out. I mean – I love teaching and I love my students, but I certainly don’t want to die for their education! Particularly when our school is incredibly ready to deliver online learning. So yeah, Monday was a good day.

The rest of the week has been a weird mix of feeling like it’s holidays, but getting things ready for teaching on-line next term. I decided that I’m not going near work stuff on my days off, but the other days I’ve been correcting kids’ work, emailing them chasing up work and getting my head around what I’ll be doing next term. English is easy. But I also have a year 9 Drama class. The more ‘artsy’ subjects will look very different for the next little while.

But what’s with the pelican?

I’ve decided that I’ll be avoiding the dog beach for the next little while and instead I’ll be taking the dogs for an early-morning walk along the river each day. Yes, I’m spoiled for choice here! Yesterday we walked further along the riverbank than we ever have in 4 years of living here.

It was beautiful. We began our walk at 7:45 AM – exactly the same time that I’d usually be in the car, fighting the traffic. We strolled down to the end of our street, turned right and walked to the boat ramp. Then, for the first time ever, we kept going.

There were a few people there, walking their dogs, bike riding or jogging, but not many. Every time we passed each other at a safe social distance, we’d nod and say, “Morning” and then go on our ways.

The water was like glass. The sky was blue with fluffy clouds and there was a gentle breeze blowing. You couldn’t ask for more. We stopped to give Scout’s little legs a break and watched some brown ducks swimming by the bank. Every now and then they’d duck-dive, one of then going completely beneath the surface. All we could hear was birdsong and the distant hum of what little traffic there was.

Beyond the boat ramp, as we were walking on the grass up towards the walking track, I saw the pelican sailing majestically on the water. I had no idea that we have pelicans here! Normally I think of them as living in the country, near piers where fisherman toss them their rejects; not here in the city!

And to think that if it was a normal weekday, I’d never have seen it.

I’ve written about the secret to happiness before, but in these strange times I believe that our happiness and contentment are going to come from noticing the little moments that are in every day. The really BIG things that people look forward to have, for the foreseeable future, been put on hold, so the little glinting moments are what we’ll have to look for and consciously enjoy. Otherwise life will seem very dark indeed.

Things I’ve noticed since being home this week:

* Seeing a pelican.

*Listening to my son’s podcast*** and laughing hysterically. He has a way with words, that one!

*Having a virtual meeting with friends from work where we all danced to ‘Staying Alive’ and then chatted about (mostly) non-work related things for an hour. Looking forward to doing it again on Monday. Next song to dance to will be the Thurman/Travolta song from ‘Pulp Fiction.’

I’ll be limbering up on Monday morning!

*Having a nanna nap with the dogs sleeping beside me. Jeff tends to snore. It’s like having a husband.

*Hearing the little kids next door playing without a care in the world.

*Coming home from the last shopping trip, realising that I’ve got pretty much everything we’ll need for a while.

*That satisfying ‘clunk’ of the gate closing behind me. Unless something unexpected happens, the car will be staying put for a long while.

*The quiet satisfaction of talking with Ryan25 about anything and everything. It’s a beautiful thing to have adult children.

*Being proud of Tom28, who has taken over the responsibility of shopping for my parents because he lives the closest to them.

*Calling my boys and hearing their voices, especially when they say, “I love you” first.

*The dogs… they make me laugh every day. I admit that things would be far lonelier without them.

I’m an introvert at heart, though you wouldn’t know it if you saw me at work! I feel like I’ve been training for self-isolation all my life. But I’m curious.

What are the little things you’ve experienced over the past few days that have make you smile? I’d like to hear about them in the comments if you have the time. 🙂

***My son’s podcast is called ‘The Under The Stairs Show’. He and 2 friends from his acting course at uni talk about all sorts of stuff. It’s often very silly. If you’re so inclined, listen to episode 13 called ‘The Love Shack’ where the boys dissect the lyrics to the classic B-52’s song. Guess which one is Evan23!!!

Teaching in the time of Coronavirus.

Cartoon of schoolroom crowded with kids.
People don’t realise, but kids are often this close together in schools, just walking to and from classes. Trying to keep social distancing is impossible. There’s not enough room.

“May you live in interesting times” goes the ancient blessing/curse. Well here we are. Two weeks ago today I was flying in a helicopter without a care in the world and now the world is in covid19 lockdown.

All except Australian schools.

As a public teacher in a very large secondary school, I’m not altogether pleased about this. In fact, I’m getting angry. Everywhere else in the world schools have been closed and kids have been taught by the teachers online. It’s exactly the same as all of these office workers now working from home. And just what has our government done? Looked around the world and latched on to the only country who has kept kids at school and has dampened down the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re following the Singapore model of keeping kids in school,” says our Prime Minister.

Except they’re NOT.

In Singapore every kid is temperature tested before they enter the school. If they have a temperature, they’re sent home. As soon as they’re through the school gates, they’re made to wash their hands with soap. This is critical to the success of the Singapore model.

In Australia?

The kids wander in, mingling freely with their friends. Their lockers are jammed together in little areas, so the kids are literally standing over, around and under each other to get their books and laptops to get to class. No one takes their temperature. No one makes them wash their hands unless they go to the toilet where (hopefully) they do that then.

The government is refusing to do the very things that make the Singapore and Taiwan models work. Yet they’re saying that we’re following these models to keep our schools safe. It’s total BS.

So if even one kid is incubating, we won’t know about it. The alarming thing is, given all of the crowding together that is a natural part of school life, a kid who is incubating the coronavirus won’t just pass it on to the 2.6 people that we see in the graphs and charts. They’ll pass it on to far more.

Ever seen kids in a line at the canteen at lunchtime??? Even the kids that aren’t buying anything swarm around the area, drawn by the smell of hot food and the hope that they’ll be able to scavenge a chip from someone. I have yard duty at the canteen at lunchtime tomorrow. I’ll be surrounded by literally hundreds of kids. It only takes one kid to be carrying the virus…

We have a school with around 2,300 teenagers and 200 teachers. It’s not a huge, sprawling campus. The corridors and passageways between buildings are always crowded in between classes. You’d be lucky to get 1.5cms between people at these times, let alone 1.5 metres, which is the official guideline for social distancing.

Two days ago the Prime Minister announced new rules for indoor gatherings. “…what we are now moving to is an arrangement for gatherings of less than 100, is that there would be 4 square metres provided per person in an enclosed space, in a room. So that’s 2 metres by 2 metres.”

Great. Sounds good. But schools are exempt from this rule. Imagine how big classrooms would have to be to allow that much space for 28 kids and a teacher? So although everyone else in society has to stay away from each other, we’re still all jammed into small rooms for 6 periods a day.

School desks in a rows.
An accurate representation of ‘social distancing’ in our classrooms at present.

As of Friday, we were directed to move all tables apart in rows, in an attempt to keep kids as far away from each other as possible. I had a year 7 class. Twenty kids were at school, while 8 had chosen to stay home.

“Why are we doing this?” asked Shaye, as the kids were obediently moving their tables into the new positions.

“It’s the coronavirus. We’re just trying to keep people as safe as we can,” I said.

“But it’s pointless!” she said. “Our lockers are centimetres apart!!”

If a 13-year-old girl can see it and our politicians can’t, there’s more to worry about than covid19. And then of course, during the course of the lessons that followed, I walked up and down and around those set-apart desks to keep an eye on the kids’ work, to offer help and to generally make sure the kids were on track.

If I’d kept appropriate social distancing, I’d be teaching them from outside through an open window. It’s ridiculous.

I want to state very clearly that I don’t blame my principal or the admin team for this at all. Their hands are tied. We’re a public school and until the government changes their mind, they have to keep the school open.

Our school is doing the best it can, such as staggering the beginning of lunchtimes, ( years 7 and 8 go out 10 minutes before the end of period 4 to reduce congestion at the canteen) and staggering the end of the day (years 9 and 10 leave 10 minutes earlier than everyone else to reduce the congestion at the school gates.) Hand sanitiser containers have been fixed to the wall outside staff toilets and in places like the Theatre where I teach drama. All my year 9’s now have ultra-clean hands before we start our lessons!

But it’s not enough. The whole philosophy underpinning this is that “Kids don’t get sick from coronavirus.” That doesn’t mean that they can’t carry it. And guess what? Not everyone in a school is in their teens. To the surprise of no one, teachers tend to be older than their students. Sometimes much older. But who cares? Teachers are expected to soldier on, coming in close contact every day with kids who could be asymptomatic.

The definition is as follows: “In medicine, a disease is considered asymptomatic if a patient is a carrier for a disease or infection but experiences no symptoms.”

I’m 56. I’m in a high-risk work environment. Because of this, I’ve decided to self-isolate from my elderly parents and my brother who suffered a stroke on Christmas Day last year. Ironic, because the very reason I went part-time this year was to spend time with my Mum and brother. I, and many teachers like me, are growing increasingly aware that our employer is gambling with our health. We’re the sacrificial lambs in all of this.

As of last week, teachers have been directed to take everything we need to teach from our homes home each night. Kids have been told to take the contents of their lockers home, only bringing to school the textbooks and materials needed for each day’s classes. We’re ready for on-line education. Heck, we’re doing it now for the kids who are already self-isolating. But the government refuses to act.

One kid who is coming down with the virus or is a carrier is a huge risk to the school community. It’s not as if the virus respects school gates, stepping back and waiting politely for the end-of-day bell to ring before continuing on its biological imperative of infecting as many hosts as possible. Students, teachers and the support staff are all living with what seems to be a ticking time bomb.

Personally, I’d rather teach kids where ALL of us can be safe. At the moment, that is on-line. The government is gambling with teachers’ and students’ health and I’m not happy about it.

Finally, let me post an article I saw on Facebook that was written by a doctor last week. He argues the points why he and his wife chose to pull their kids out of school last week to self-isolate. It deserves a read.

Adam Roberts18 March at 22:14

LOCKDOWN FOR YOUR FAMILY

This is why I have pulled my kids from school. I’m a doctor who works at two hospitals in a city of 300,000 people. The hospitals aren’t in overload. We have hardly any cases of suspected coronavirus cases in hospital. It’s the calm before the storm. Medical staff are bracing themselves for whatever might be in a few weeks. School holidays are 9 days away for public schools.

The government won’t close down schools early because:
Reason #1. “It will take essential health professionals away from looking after sick patients”
Concerns: If my child comes home from school with a sore throat or cough my child won’t get tested for COVID-19 as per state health policy. As a parent of a potentially infected child, I will be quarantined for 14 days even if I don’t have symptoms. Even if I get tested, if I don’t have symptoms, a negative test won’t clear me to go back to work. If I stay home to look after my sick child, my quarantine will last longer than 14 days at a high risk that at some point I may develop symptoms and end up being also infected. If I allow my wife to soldier on without my involvement, I must quarantine myself somewhere outside the home (probably in a tent in the backyard feeling absolutely fine, while I watch the rest of my family become infected. Then after 14 days of braving out my quarantine, I will wave my sick family goodbye to save the patients who don’t mean as much to me (sorry, have to be honest).

Reason #2. “Unsupervised teenagers will flock to malls spreading contagion everywhere”
Concerns: Don’t sick teenagers usually stay at home rather than running around the mall coughing all over people. Is hanging out at the mall in groups of 3-5 friends more or less of a transmission risk than hanging out in classes of 20 to 30 students at school? And I didn’t think teenagers hung out at the mall with grownups. But they do hangout with susceptible grownups at schools. Have we thought about the teachers altruistically looking after our children, who then go home hoping they haven’t just passed on the virus to their own family?

Reason #3: “Grandparents will be exposed to children who may be carriers”
Concerns: Consider this. The government believes there isn’t a lot of infection in schools at present. Which makes now the perfect time to have grandparents locked in with their grandkids at home leaving parents to save the world. If we wait till there is community spread, we’ve lost the chance to have grandparents save the day. In fact, we have now made it impossible for grandchildren to hug their grandparents without worrying that they’ve dealt a death blow to Nana. We are acting as if numbers are really quite low and that we have time, when in fact waiting to act limits our options.

So today, I came home from work, changed my clothes, sanitised and washed my hands, and wrestled with my 5 year old son who has been in lockdown since Friday. How many health professionals can do that now with confidence? Closing schools and locking down now gives us a huge advantage which we will lose if we don’t do the inevitable now. If you don’t think it’s inevitable then you will need to explain why you think we are immune when almost all of Europe is in lockdown.

In the end, you’ve gotta laugh… What else can we do?

Edited to add: look what happened a few hours after I pressed ‘publish’.

I’m a miracle worker!!!!

Having a stockpile. Sin or sensible?

Panic buying fence paint and potting mix at Bunnings.

With all that’s been going on around the place with people panic-buying toilet paper and the like, I thought I’d share my views on having a stockpile of food and non-perishables around the house. I’ve had a stockpile for the last 2 decades and I find it a really useful and economical way to run my household.

Going back 20 or so years, (in the time before Aldi), I started building a supply of food and other things when things were on special. I was living on a single parents pension of around 18K/year with 4 small boys to feed, so money was incredibly tight. Over the course of a year or so, I gradually built up the supplies in my pantry so that in the end, I was pretty much buying as much as I could when something was on special.

In other words, we were eating most of our food at a discount. When baked beans, for example, were half price, I’d buy 10 or 20 of them, depending on how much leeway was in that week’s budget. Then we’d gradually eat them down until the next time when they were on sale, when I’d buy the same amount again.

Short-term, this was a more expensive way to run the household, but I’ve rarely been a short-term thinker. Over the course of a year, I’d easily save a few hundred dollars on meat, groceries, pet food and cleaning products. I was so poor that a few hundred dollars made a HUGE difference to our quality of life. The stockpile was worth doing.

When Aldi came to our neighbourhood, it was different. They had no ‘specials’ as such, but their prices were so much lower that I gladly started shopping with them.

And I still kept a stockpile. Why?

I realised that liked having reserves of food and other staples around. I liked not having to run to the shops every time I ran out of an ingredient, because I almost always had a replacement in the back cupboard. It gave me a sense of security and comfort in the fact that if something unexpected happened, I knew I could look after my boys and that we wouldn’t have to go shopping if people were out there acting crazy.

When ‘The Walking Dead’ came along, I christened my stockpile ‘The Zombie Apocalypse Cupboard’ and that’s its name today. Hearing the supermarkets run on a “just in time” policy of stocking their shelves cemented the idea that having a small stash of necessities wasn’t a bad idea.

So, seeing as I’m a bit of a prepper, how has the Jones household been acting in this time of Coronavirus?

I’ve so far been ahead of the wave. I’m a teacher and sooner or later it appears that Australia will have to close the schools down. The only question is when. I fully expect to have to self-isolate at some stage, given that I work in a school with nearly 2,500 kids and 200 teachers. That’s a lot of bodies that the virus would love to inhabit! Given all of that, it made sense to me to get ahead of the game and make sure that we had everything we’d need if we couldn’t leave our house for a while.

Years ago I read an article about the people of Sarajevo when they were caught in the middle of a war zone. It included a list of all the things they most prized. The number one item? Toilet paper, closely followed by matches and perfume. I’ve never forgotten that, so the Zombie Apocalypse cupboard has a dedicated shelf to the old bog rolls. Back in early February, when stories started to surface about this new virus but it was long before any panic-buying, I quietly stocked up on loo paper.

Then, in the next week or two, I bought a few extra tinned and packaged goods. Things like tuna, chickpeas, pineapple chunks (for pizza) and paracetamol. Grain-free dry dog food and the raw meat patties I feed Poppy, Jeff and Scout were also on the list. Dishwasher tablets, aluminium foil and baking paper came soon after that.

By the time I noticed toilet paper shelves were starting to empty pretty rapidly, I was feeling like our food situation was ok. But what would I do with my time if I had to self-isolate for at least 2 weeks? Remote -teaching my students would take up a bit of time. But there’d still be extra hours to fill…

Reading is my #1 passion. I have at least 15 books piled up beside my bed and a huge number waiting to be read on my kindle app. I have Netflix and Foxtel, so the tv viewing and book reading situations will be fine. But what about other things?

While everyone in the last week has been going crazy in the supermarkets, I’ve been at Spotlight quietly buying quilting supplies and at Bunnings buying fence paint for my new front fence, along with decking oil and potting mix.

Stockpiling doesn’t have to be just about the food. I’ve brought the paint buying forward a month or so, but now it’s done.

Though it hasn’t been all fun and games.

Two days ago, David26 and I went to Costco. It was a Tuesday morning, 10 minutes before opening time. David26 was worried about his girlfriend Izzy’s family and wanted to buy a few staples for them. Against my better judgement I agreed to take him.

The premier of Victoria had issued a state of emergency the day before. S**t was starting to get REAL.

It was incredible. When we arrived, there were easily 1,000 people ahead of us in the queue. It snaked around the carpark. David26 and I looked at each other.

“Well, we’re here now,” I said. “We probably won’t be able to get toilet paper for them, but we can get other things. And while we’re here, we need a 3L bottle of milk and I could always top up the dogs’ grain-free food. Then, if we’re isolating ourselves at home, the dogs’ll definitely be ok.”

It took us 25 minutes to even get to the front door. By the time we got there the signs were up saying ‘NO MORE TOILET PAPER.” By the time we reached the front of the queue, it was almost twice as long as when we got there.

Mini road-rage spats, with honking horns, were happening in the car park. Just as we reached the front, a police van quietly drove through and parked on the corner, clearly to keep an eye on things. Anyone trying to push into the queue was quickly told where to go… and by that I mean down to the end of the queue, not to go straight to hell!!!

Once we were inside, those massive Costco trolleys were racing around in all directions. People with a wild look in their eyes were grabbing everything they could lay their hands on. There was a limit rule of 2 cans of Glen-20 per membership, but at the cash registers I saw quite a few people who, like David26 and I, had come in a pair, trying to argue that they should be able to take 4 cans. No one got away with it though.

As we were waiting to pay, I whispered to David26, “If this is what it’s like on a Tuesday, imagine what the end of the week will be like if the news doesn’t get better? Not sure I’d want to be here then.”

So, what with my normal preparedness and yesterday’s Costco run, I guess I’ve seen both sides. So which is best?

If you’re an adrenaline junkie who likes to pit themselves against the odds, then yes! Leave everything till the last minute and go out and take your chances.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a sin to be prepared. You don’t want to be THAT guy who has 4,000 rolls of toilet paper lining his garage, but I think it makes sense to have a place set aside for things that you regularly eat/use as a back-up. When things are going wrong, the fewer people who are out on the streets competing for things, the better.

If any (or all of us) gets the virus and feels sick, it’s a comfort to know that we have everything we need to look after ourselves well within reach. By having the Zombie Apocalypse cupboard, we’ve eliminated that anxiety from our lives. If Tom28 has to come home if he has no work and can’t pay his rent, there’s food enough to cover him.

Having a stockpile of the basics eliminates that awful fear of not being able to provide for my family. Twenty-two years ago when I left my husband, I had $60 in cash, 4 small boys and no job. I did a Scarlet O’Hara and vowed that, as God is my witness, these boys will not suffer for what I’ve done. I would provide for them, no matter what.

Having a stockpile is, for me, an essential cushion against misfortune. Or a pandemic. So if you don’t have one at the moment, how do you build one up?

DON’T do what all the frenzied shoppers at Costco are doing. Going by the overloaded trolleys we saw, there are going to be lots of people with a massive credit card bill to pay in the next month. Obviously in this time of Coronavirus, buy what you need to get you through, but as for a stockpile for the future?

Do what I did when I was young and poor. Do it gradually.

Buy extra of the things that you’ll eat when they’re on special. If money is tight, buy an extra one. If you have a few more dollars free, buy multiples. Store them in a line in your pantry/zombie apocalypse cupboard. This is so you can keep track of use-by dates.

If you happen to buy more of a particular item before you’ve used up everything in that particular item in your stockpile, PUT THE NEW CANS/PACKETS AT THE BACK AND MOVE THE OLDER THINGS TO THE FRONT.

This is called rotating your stock. It may not be a sin to have a stockpile but it’s certainly a very bad thing to waste time, money and shelf space on food that you have to throw out because you didn’t use it in a timely fashion.

I’ve read that some people mark their stockpile items with a permanent marker of the date they bought them. Me? Nah. But if that idea floats your boat, go for it.

Over time, as various items come on sale or you have a few extra dollars and can buy a few extra things, your stockpile will build up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Only buy what you and your family like to eat and make sure you rotate your stock. This way, there’s no waste and you always have stores available in case something unexpected happens. It’s the most immediate way to provide a safety net for the ones you love. Having a paid-off house comes second.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on stockpiling. I’m proud to say that my two boys who are living on their own also saw which way the wind was blowing and stocked up on a few non-perishables before the supermarkets got crazy.

I normally don’t ask for comments, but I’m curious as to what you all think. I’ve laid out my history and why I’ve always had a store of food and such in the cupboards. Are you like me? Or do you have another way of navigating the world?

Buy practical souvenirs, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

Jeffrey while I was packing. Not sure if he was trying to prevent me or hoping to come too!

I have a rule when I go on holidays. Any souvenirs I buy tend to be useful. I bought an olive oil container in San Gimignano. A spatula in Pyongyang. Christmas tree decorations all over Europe.

So what did I buy on my getaway this week to Bowral?

My stylish yet affordable shopping trolley.

I’m so pleased with this one. I now have a shopping trolley, just like a nanna!!! Living around the corner from Aldi, as I do, I usually load myself up with a few bags and walk to get my groceries. Those bags can get heavy on the walk home.

So yesterday, I looked at my zombie apocalypse cupboard and realised I needed to panic-buy wine. A woman cannot live on toilet paper alone. So I took it out for a spin. It worked a treat. I’m very happy with this one.

But what else did I buy as a souvenir?

A helicopter ride.

I spent $250 on a helicopter ride.

And before you mention the rule about practical souvenirs – in my book this IS practical. I’ve never been in a helicopter before and now I know that I won’t die wondering what it’s like.

Just before lift-off.

When I’m walking the dogs on my Backyard Beach, we get quite a few small planes and helicopters above, following the line of the bay. I thought it’d be nice to create a memory that I’d think of every time I see a helicopter.

Lovely clear morning – Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

There’d been torrential rain two days before, so it all looks beautiful and green, but you can see that the dams in the paddocks are nowhere near full. The farmers could still do with a lot more rain.

I had the headphones on and we could hear the chatter from air traffic control, as well as the conversation from the people in the cabin. (Three of us.) You could hear the sound of the rotor blades but it wasn’t too loud.

The day was already quite warm. The only air-con was a little flap in the door next to me, which I could push open or shut. I left it open and the breeze was beautiful.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales.

I drove over this river the day before.

Two memories for the price of one.

Bowral has a way famous antique/junk market called Dirty Jane’s. I whiled away a couple of hours here and walked away with my rusty bird on a swing for a mere $25. I’m always on the look-out for quirky garden art. The reason I bought this was that the bird looked just like the fried baby pigeons that I saw at a food market in Beijing. Two holiday memories for the price of one!

And in case you’re wondering – no, I didn’t eat one. When I travel I rarely say no to experiences, but I couldn’t face crunching away on a baby bird. Or a skewer of scorpions, some of which were still moving. Fortunately, there was nothing like that on the menu in Bowral!

On the way up I stayed overnight in Albury. In both towns I walked through every art gallery I could find. The Milk Factory was the best one I found in Bowral, but I struck gold when I found the Albury library’s gallery. They had a huge exhibition of Lynley Dodd’s work. You know – ‘Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy‘?

When I walked in, a tour was just starting. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! So I joined it and followed them around. By the way, did you know that in New Zealand a ‘dairy’ is like a corner shop or milk bar? Puts a whole different view on things.

Of course, being Scout’s mum, I had to take a photo of the dachshund!

In keeping with my new view on exercise, I kept the car driving to a minimum. Well, aside from the whole 753 kms/ 468 miles to get there in the first place.

I walked all around the town centre in Albury and discovered their lovely little botanical gardens. Galleries and gardens are free, people! While I was in Bowral for 3 nights, I didn’t get into my car at all. I walked everywhere, which would’ve been unheard of on previous holidays.

In fact, on my last full day there, I didn’t leave the room until 5 PM, when I walked into town to buy some sushi for dinner. I packed my sewing machine and the half-assembled quilt top that I’m making for my sister-in-law and I vowed that I wasn’t leaving town until I’d finished it.

Yes. I didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose me.

Success! I finished it 15 minutes before ‘Survivor’ started! Now all I have to do is assemble and quilt it.

When I planned this holiday, I decided I was going to go to galleries, eat out at restaurants and go for bushwalks. When I took the helicopter ride, I decided that I’d cut out the restaurants. The only meal I had in one was when I met up with a blog reader and her Other Half who took me to an American-style diner in a neighbouring town.

Blogmeets are always good. You all know each other from your writing and so there’s no initial awkwardness when meeting up for the first time.

I bought a delicious sourdough loaf from an artisanal bakery and some dips from Woolworths. They were my breakfasts and dinners for a couple of days. It was DELICIOUS! I’ve always wanted to go to a Turkish restaurant and just order dips and bread and now I feel I’ve finally done it.

That’s a huge advantage of travelling as a single. If I feel like eating sourdough and dip for 2 days, I can.

I also gave myself a treat to look forward to. I always have one bottle of perfume on the go at any one time and I totally use it up before opening another one. For the past year or so I’ve been using a perfume that Mum and Dad gave me after a Bali trip. It’s ok… but it doesn’t fill me with joy when I spray it on every morning. But it’s just a few squirts away from being used up, so I bought my FAVOURITE perfume.

This is what I took away with me. It was lovely to unwrap it the first morning I was away and use it.

Mmmmm Mmmmm!

Sometimes looking forward to something is a gift you can give to yourself.

The same height as the birds.

So, as I sit on the couch before I go back to work for the first time in a week, how do I feel?

The alarm at 6 was a rude awakening. I don’t really want to go in, even though I know I’ll have a good time when I get there. With all the talk of coronavirus, going to a school packed with 2,300 kids and 200 staff is starting to seem slightly reckless.

Still, it’s just the one day, then I’ll have the weekend. And I can always simply close my eyes and remember when I was flying with the birds…

It’s all in how you look at it.

The reason I picked that meme to head this post was that on Thursday I took Mum to a couple of art galleries. The part-time work life I’m living now means that on Tuesdays I have the day to myself, while on Thursdays I visit my brother (who had a stroke on Christmas Day) and then my mother.

Up till now, I’ve been taking her to her physical rehab classes but those have finished. So what am I to do with a woman with a walking stick, who used to be an artist? Well, the answer pretty-well presents itself, doesn’t it?

Since her fall last year, when she broke her shoulder, she hasn’t been to any art classes or picked up a brush. Now that she’s able to move around with her walking stick or her walker, I thought it was time to see if her creative juices could start flowing again. For nearly a year the only things that her imagination has been stimulated by was talkback radio and shows like ‘Antiques Roadshow’ or whatever happens to be on TV. I’m amazed she hasn’t been committed yet. It would send me round the twist within a couple of weeks, I’m sure.

A painting from the first gallery.

Anyway, I swung into action, doing what any sensible person would do. I googled “Art Galleries near (Mum and Dad’s suburb.)

As luck would have it, there was a gallery right at the end of their street! What are the odds? Turns out Mum’s never been there, even though Dad takes her to the hairdresser just a few doors up.

When we walked in, the artist was painting. She welcomed us, then when I mentioned that Mum was also an artist they fell into a conversation about acrylic vs oils; watercolours and other artist-y stuff that I didn’t understand. Mum loved it!

After this, we went to a larger gallery a couple of suburbs away, where, as luck would have it, Mum knew one of the artists who was currently having an exhibition there. She absolutely fell in love with one of his paintings and if the price tag wasn’t in the thousands, I’m pretty sure she would’ve brought it home with her.

All up, we were out for maybe 2 hours. It was the perfect frugal outing, with absolutely no money spent, but lots of chatter and discussion. It was when we got home and were talking with Dad that Mum said something that prompted this post.

“The first gallery – the shop at the end of the street. That poor girl must be doing it tough… they live behind the shop and there can’t be that much money coming in from the paintings. She has a husband and children… money must be tight…”

I began to nod, but then all of the things I’ve read and listened to in the FI/RE movement made to take a step back.

“No, maybe not, Mum,” I said. “Maybe she’s designed the perfect life for herself. She works from home so there’s no commute. She’s doing the thing that she loves and there’s no boss telling her what/when/and how to do it. People would be walking by all the time, so she’d have little chats just like she did with us. If she needs time off she can just put a ‘closed’ sign on the door and her time’s her own. When you look at it like that, it sounds pretty darned good!”

Mum blinked but then agreed.

It’s funny, because either scenario could be true. She and her husband might very well be eking out a miserable existence, longing for her to get a regular job like the rest of us. However, she looked pretty contented sitting in her shop, dabbing away at a commissioned piece while randoms like us wandered in, chatted and whiled away the day.

I like that I got to see this woman living her best life. On every other Thursday in any other year, I would’ve been trapped in a classroom with 28 teenagers…

… or maybe I’d be loving the experience of educating the young and no doubt having a laugh at the same time.

Maybe it truly is all in the way you look at it!

“Are All Teachers Poor?” A podcast.

Scout shaking herself dry - while still standing in the water.
A happy Scout at the dog beach on a Tuesday morning. Part-time teaching isn’t so bad…

Today was a good day. I knew that a podcast that I recorded just before Christmas was being released, so I got up, downloaded it onto my iPad and then took the dogs for a walk to the dog beach. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my school-free days, so I had all day to listen to the conversation we’d had.

‘What’s Up Next?’ is a podcast that assembles a panel of people to talk about various topics about financial independence and financial literacy. Our topic was “Are All Teachers Poor?” (this link lets you hear it), and I was lucky enough to share the conversation with Gerry, the Millionaire Educator, and Ed from Educator FI – two guys who really know what they’re talking about.

Crystal clear water this morning.
It was 9 AM when I took this. In any other year, I’d be in a classroom.

I never listen to podcasts when I walk the dogs. I like to be in the moment with them instead. So, we walked down to the beach, I took their leads off and we set off walking beside the water’s edge.

The sea was like glass. The colours were muted and beautiful. I was surprised to see quite a few people there with their dogs. When you work full-time you have no idea of how many people are freely walking around the place during working hours as if they have a perfect right to be there. We stopped and talked with quite a few people as we made our way onwards.

It’s a lovely way to start the day. The soft lapping of the waves, the squeak of sand under your feet, the incessant barking Poppy does until she’s convinced you haven’t brought a ball down with you… it’s a darned sight better than driving down a packed Nepean Highway to work.

Scout refusing to move - her legs are tired.
When her little legs got tired, we turned for home.

Once we got home I grabbed my iPod and listened to the podcast as I watered the veggie garden. I’d completely forgotten what we talked about – there’s been a lot happening in the Frogdancer household after all! – so it was as if I was hearing it all for the first time.

I really enjoyed it – and not just because the female panellist was so clever and insightful. (LOL – jokes. That was ME!!!) Ed and Gerry are thoughtful, caring people who are well-worth listening to and they know their stuff. I wish that Ed was on the admin team at my school!!

It’s now 5:40 PM and I’ve pretty much wasted the rest of the day. I’ve clocked up less than 6,000 steps, but you know what? Tuesdays are for ME. I’ll get the hang of this part-time malarkey. After all, it’s only been a month. These things need easing into, right?

I’d like to thank Doc G for inviting me onto his podcast. I enjoyed it very much and I hope other people, particularly teachers, enjoy it too.

Financial Independence – the most bitter pill of all.

What’s the point of FIRE? Why bother to reach financial independence? Personally, my go-to answer has always been ‘Freedom.’ I propelled my way to FI on the twin goals of wanting security for my family and freedom to spend my days as I, (and not the school timetabler), chose. But imagine my shock and horror when, after reaching my goal, I find out that in order to truly enjoy the FI/RE life to the full, I’ll have to radically change an aspect of myself that I’ve always held dear. It’s a bitter pill indeed.

Ever since the day I left my husband 23 years ago with $60 cash in my hand, (I gave him the other $60 in the account because fair’s fair, it was a joint account), and dragging the 4 little boys under 5 with me, I’ve craved financial security. Over time, as that goal became closer, it morphed into a desire for overall financial freedom. Six or seven years ago I stumbled across Go Curry Cracker’s blog and asked in the comments what ‘FIRE’ meant – (I went back a few weeks ago and yes – it’s still there!) – and I’ve been steadily and intentionally making my way there ever since.

However, since my brother had his stroke on Christmas Day and my aunt died in January, I haven’t been motivated to write very much. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and evaluating. My nephew was also battling lymphatic cancer, while being a father to 2 and expecting number 3 later this year, (he’s all clear now!), while people I’ve known for years at work are struggling with various health issues like Parkinsons and other things. Also, Mum falling and breaking her shoulder has affected her mobility ever since.

Maybe, I began thinking, I should look at what’s happening around me and realise that maybe age is catching up to some of us. Not me, of course! I’m youthful and dewy still. Yes… but still…

… maybe our bodies don’t simply carry on forever? What am I actually doing to maintain fitness?

Ugh.

Fitness.

I’ve never been one to go for a walk just for the sake of it. What’s the point? I’ll walk to the shops, I’ll definitely walk the dogs and I’ll walk to the library to return books, but why on earth would anybody walk for fun?!? As for sports… yeah nah. I don’t mind watching a good tennis match and I watch the AFL Grand Final every year, but as for actually playing a sport? No thanks. God invented books for a reason and that is so people can curl up on the couch and read them.

There’s no denying it. I’m not fit. At all. Never have been. This blog post from 2015 shows a photo of Steep Hill in Lincoln. What I didn’t mention in this post, because I didn’t want to worry my family, was that as we were driving away after walking up this incredibly steep street, I had pains in my chest. Poor Scott thought I was going to have a heart attack. Fast forward to my trip to North Korea in 2018, when I had to quit a walk up to the top of a mountain because I knew I’d never make it.

Yesterday I learned that A, my ex-husband, is going into hospital on Monday for a triple by-pass. He’s only 3 years older than I am! My God, it seems like everyone in their 50’s is dropping like flies!

Now, I realise that I’m writing in a niche where bloggers reveal all when it comes to their intimate figures. On their spreadsheets, that is. Well, I’m not about to reveal any intimate figures, either on my rotund frame or numerically. I don’t think the internet is quite ready for the former. But I haven’t been happy with my level of fitness for many years now, so something has to be done.

First step – I bought a Fitbit, (because there’s no doubt I’m a lazy cow). After all, what isn’t measured can’t be managed. Apparently, exercise helps stave off strokes and stuff. I began with not changing a thing about my life, just to see the baseline of where my steps are. It was in the summer school holidays, so it was always going to be low.

Turns out that if I have a book-reading day, my steps are as low as 2,000. Yikes! A normal day would be around 4,000. No wonder I’m getting to be what used to be described as a “cosy armful.” So I set the goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Turns out going from 4 to 10 thousand steps is really hard. So instead of beating myself up, I’m now looking at my average daily steps each week and aiming to improve on them each week. I figure that’s a more sustainable way to get into the habit of moving more. I’ve now reached the stage of giving the dogs an extra walk if I’m low in steps, which they love.

Though I didn’t think ahead when I bought Scout. Those tiny little legs can’t walk a long way before they get tired. I can’t leave her behind when I walk the other dogs because she literally screams. You’d swear she was being torn limb from limb. Still, I guess me carrying her adds to the weight loss goal.

I was talking with Jen, my sister-in-law today. She says she has a Pilates machine at home and she invited me to test drive it. She’s as thin as a twig and is constantly moving, so I’m going to go over there and have a go. Why not?

I can’t see myself ever being a fitness fanatic, but there’s no doubt that I’d be a fool if I ignored everything that’s going on with the people around me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but better I swallow this than a packetful of Haribo Gummy Bears.

After all, what’s the point of becoming financially independent and retiring early(er) if you’re too fat and unfit to do anything with all that freedom?

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