Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Retirement seems so natural.

Cavalier on the back of the couch with his head on the clean laundry.
Jeffrey. Just chillin’.

I retired on December 18 2020, but of course, that’s when the summer school holidays start. I officially (in my head) retired when the school holidays finished and all of my fellow chalkies went back to work.

A month later – how does it feel?

Well, I think I’ve given it away by the title of this post – it seems so natural.

I’ve definitely been living at a slower, unhurried pace. I’m still getting up at the usual time, mainly because I share the bed with the Cavalier twins and Jeffrey hasn’t twigged to the fact that we can sleep in a bit longer if we wish. You try sleeping in when the dog starts every day with a hearty scratch that shakes the bed!

I’m still taking naps most days, although for the last two days I haven’t needed to. Maybe I’m coming to the end of this phase of retirement? Or maybe it’s too soon to tell.

I’m definitely reading more. I’ve finished my 25th book since January 1 and I’m half-way through my 26th. I thought that losing access to the school library would hit me hard, because they buy books that teachers want to read, as well as all of the Young Adult books for the kids. But I’ve discovered that my local library is EXCELLENT.

I’ve lived here in The Best House in Melbourne for 5 years and never once used the library. I signed up when I moved here but never went down to the local branch. But wow!

Even though my local branch is tiny and only opens for 4 hours a day, it’s part of an extensive network of libraries. I’ve been browsing their website and finding that they have just about everything that I want to read. I’ve been placing ‘holds’ left, right and centre. At the moment I have 7 books on hold and I picked up 3 on Friday – a novel and 2 very weighty historical tomes by Alison Weir about the queens of England in Medieval times.

I follow a few authors on Twitter and when they mention a book that they’ve either written themselves or recommend, I just whack a ‘hold’ on it. WHAT a time we live in! I’m doing all of this reading for free! Though when I mentioned to my parents that I’ve suddenly started using the library, Dad laughed and said, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!”

(I’ll put a list of some of the books I’ve read at the end of the post.)

Hose hanging up on the brand-new fence.
I got the plumber to extend the tap and screw in a hanger for the hose. Soon there’ll be apple trees planted here.

I’ve had workmen in the house for the past month or so, finishing off the last renovation to make this place retirement-ready. Thank goodness I saved all of my Long Service Leave money because that job ballooned out unexpectedly. I’ll write about that another day, but it was an interesting exercise in how prepared I feel about the financial side of things, because I ok’d the extra job without a second’s thought.

So far this cold summer has felt more like autumn. Seeing as autumn is my favourite time of the year, I’ve been really happy about that. Perfect weather for longer walks with the dogs. If I’m in the sun for more than three-and-a-half minutes I start to burn, so the milder weather has been lovely.

Operation Beautify the House has been put on hold, though I suppose, strictly speaking, the workmen have been doing their part with this. I keep putting on my painting gear to slap some more paint on the front verandah or the new side fence, but then realise I’m not in the zone for it and so I go and do some weeding or read yet another book instead. THIS WILL HAVE TO CHANGE. I’m getting sick of looking out of my windows and seeing a half-finished verandah.

Home-made pesto in iceblocks ready to be frozen.
Pesto! The basil is from the garden.

The biggest change I’ve noticed so far is getting my head around the fact that I don’t have to fit in everything around the demands of the job. I used to leave home at 7:40 am and get home at 4:30 pm, (or 5:45 pm if we had a meeting after work), which is a huge slice out of every day, I think we can all agree. To suddenly have all of these hours available to do whatever I want – it’s an adjustment.

The main difference with this is with the dogs. I used to get home from work and drag them quickly around the block so I could get back home and do everything else that I needed to get done. But now? If we go to the beach for an hour or two, it’s ok. We have the time. A few days ago I walked them to the library in the next suburb, over 2 kms away. I dropped in on a couple of women I met at the beach who also have dachshunds, then the dogs and I walked back home. It took all morning.

Didn’t matter. I still had all afternoon to Get Things Done.

I’m still timing myself by the school timetable. It’s fun – sometimes I’ve had a really productive morning and I’ll look at the clock and think, “Wow! It’s the start of period 3 and I’ve already made 3 batches of pesto, walked the dogs on the beach for an hour, watered all of the gardens and I’ve put a load of washing on the clothesline!”

OR I’ll look at the clock and think, “Oh shit. It’s period 6 and all I’ve done is walk the dogs, read a book, had some brunch and taken a nap.”

But it’s ok either way. That takes a bit of mental adjustment to realise, too.

Flowers in a jar. :)
Flowers from Latestarterfire’s garden.

A few days ago Latestarterfire came over for lunch. We’ve met in person only once before when we were at the Melbourne screening of the documentary about FIRE. When I blogged in October about my plans to go to Antarctica in a couple of years, she contacted me and asked if she could come along too. This lunch was only the second time we’d met face to face.

We had a great time. Phew! I think we’ll have no problems sharing a cabin. Imagine how awkward it’d be if the conversation flagged. As it was, we talked so long and so hard that she had to battle peak hour traffic on her way home.

We’ve agreed that we’re not feeling confident about leaving from South America, with the covid situation in Brazil being what it is, so New Zealand it is. We’ve set a goal of 2 – 3 years, which gives us both time to save up and set our plans in motion. Plus, in 2023 I’ll be turning 60 (yikes!) and I like the idea of giving myself such an impressive birthday present.

Zuchinni vines swallowing my orchard.
There are fruit trees – 11 of them – under all of these vines.

The day after our lunch, I had another lunch date – I went back to the school to see everyone. I got there just before the lunch bell, dragging a shopping trolley full of enormous zucchinis and pumpkin/zucchini crosses that I picked from the garden. I could barely lift the trolley up the front steps!

This may sound all wonderfully generous – good on Frogdancer Jones for giving her colleagues free food that she grew herself! – but honestly, it was wonderful to find a place where I could offload so many of the darned things. I filled the trolley and I counted at least 20 more growing. I knew it’d be a good idea to plant 3 big pots with saved seed and let the vines ramble under the new trees in my orchard. I just didn’t expect that the growth would be so rampant.

Still, it’s free food. My favourite flavour.

It was funny to go back to work. Everything and everyone was all so familiar, yet I felt no stirrings of regret about my decision to leave.

“Do you miss all this?” asked someone.

“NO,” I said. It was the truth. I loved seeing the people I’ve worked with for 17 years, but sitting at my desk, looking at the piles of corrections on the desks around me, I knew I’d made the right decision. It was week 6 of first term, which is when the first round of assessments tend to roll in. Everyone was under the pump to get the marking done and handed back to the students. People around us were working through lunch and lots of people looked tired.

Apparently I don’t. According to nearly everyone who saw me, I look “rested’ and “happy” – as one person said, “She has the retirement face.” I wondered if they’d see a difference; after all it’s only been a few weeks since they’d seen me. It seems that all of that napping has done wonders for my appearance.

After a few of us went to the food tech room and chopped up the huge zucchinis into more manageable chunks, I went around distributing them to anyone I saw and then after the bell for period 5 rang, I left to drop in on my parents, who live just 10 minutes away from the school.

As I walked to my car I saw one of my good friend pop out of a music room to talk to a student who she had put outside, then she opened the door for him and followed him into the room. It was a beautiful day. I knew exactly what she was walking back into – a room full of desks, 28 students and material that she had to get through before the bell went.

Meanwhile, I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted.

I drove away with a smile on my face.

Some of the books I’ve read so far this year:

  • ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ – Tevis. This one was so beautifully written – I kept putting it down after each chapter just to savour the writing. Jack29 gave me this for Christmas so I read it before I watched the tv show. Both were excellent.
  • Wife After Wife’ – Hayfield. This one was quite clever – a re-telling of Henry VIII and his wives – but set in the present day. I’m a huge Tudor history fan, so this was right up my alley.
  • Find You First‘ – Barclay. Stephen King tweeted that this book “Blew my mind” so I was curious to read it. Couldn’t put it down.
  • The Thursday Murder Club‘ – Osman. This was another gift from Jack29 and so far, he’s nailing it with the book choices! This is a gently funny, very original and very English murder mystery tale. I’m already hanging out for the next in the series.
  • ‘Olive, Mabel and Me; Life and Adventures with 2 very good dogs’ – Cotter. Those of you who have seen the videos that Andrew Cotter, a Scottish sports commentator, made with his dogs during the lockdowns will know Olive and Mabel. This is one book I had to have – it was one of the books I bought with the book voucher my friends at work gave me. I’ll include a clip at the end.

No financial books? That’s right. These books are the best of the ones I’ve tackled so far this year and let’s face it – life isn’t all about money. Nothing’s better than curling up with a good novel.

Frugal Friday: Closing in on a year of low-spend weeks.

Look at this!!!

It’s now been 47 straight weeks where I’ve spent money 3 days or less in a given week.

For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I wrote about how I set up my ‘No Spend’ chart three years ago. Every day that I leave my money alone, I get to colour in a square. At the end of each week where I’ve spent money on 3 days or fewer, I get to colour in a silver square as a reward. Silly, but it works. The first lockdown, then the second, meant that I was pretty much staying at home. I had plenty of staples to eat, plus the garden for fresh food, I had books, Nextflix , the dogs and the phone for entertainment and I kept myself busy by working at remote teaching and also painting some fences. Who needed to spend money?

So as a result, I started clocking up the silver squares. A few weeks ago I decided to number them so I wouldn’t lose track.

Now I’m on one hellava winning streak. 47 straight weeks.

Can I make it to a full year? I’m invested in this.

52 weeks is a long time but hey. There’s only 5 short weeks to go…

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I’m going to give it my best shot.

Morning routine in retirement.

Deserted beach. Just the way we like it!
It’s all ours! Ours!

Now that school has started again and our world is back to its normal rhythms, here is how my morning routine is evolving.

The beach that The Best House in Melbourne is near is a designated dog beach. Which is great for a family like ours – our house is little more than a glorified dog kennel when it’s all said and done – but it has some restrictions over summer.

For most of the days from November to April, dogs aren’t allowed on the beach at all or at some times they must be on a leash. As we all know, that’s no fun! But it does leave the mornings…

White sand, white-capped waves and a cloudy sky. Brilliant blue above the clouds.
Our backyard beach.

We pretty much kept away from the beach during January, otherwise known as ‘the month of naps.’ Lots of people get to the beach very early during summer holidays and I didn’t want the hassle of trying to keep the dogs away from toddlers and others who might be leery.

But now that everyone is back to school and work? This is now a whole new ball game.

Scout and Jeffrey are a little nervous around big dogs. Jeff and Poppy had a few too many undisciplined boisterous dogs rush up to them at the dog park where we used to live, while Scout is so short that any dog bigger than a Jack Russell towers over her. So I prefer to go down when there are few others around.

Poppy and Scout enjoying the freedom.
Poppy and Scout.

I figured that most people who walk their dogs before work would go down there between 6 – 7:30, to allow enough time to get back home, shower and race off to the office.

Young Mums might plan to meet their friends at the beach for a coffee and a chat, but they’d get there after the school run at 9.

This leaves a sweet spot between 8 – 9 AM. So far, this theory has tested out perfectly.

Poppy and Scout at the water's edge.
So many smells at the beach!

These shots were all taken this morning, between 8 – 8:45. When we got down to the beach there were only 2 other people there, both walking dogs. The bay was throwing waves, with white caps. The tide was coming in so there wasn’t any flat, hard sand to walk on, so my legs got a decent workout. Much more interesting than going to the gym!

All 3 dogs tend to stay pretty close to me, but sometimes Poppy and Scout will run ahead, while Jeff might lag behind a bit if he smells something interesting. When we get here, Scout will race straight into the water to cool herself, no matter what the weather. Poppy will only go in if I throw a ball, while Jeff will only get wet if I go swimming. This happens very rarely.

Scout walking along the waterline.
Happy Scout.

This morning there was a dead fish washed up on the shore, much to Poppy’s interest. She’s a bird dog, so she had fun chasing a couple of seagulls who had the temerity to walk along the waterline in front of her. We met a 13-year-old poodle, an 18-year-old bulldog and a few other kelpies, goldens and mongrels.

We often stop t have a quick chat with people, as Scout is pretty distinctive looking and people what to know which breed she is. As one woman said yesterday, “Look at her eyebrows! She looks like a wee fairy-like thing.”

To be honest, the restriction on dog walking in the middle of summer suits me down to the ground. I burn incredibly easily in the sun, so early morning walks are the only ones I’ll even consider taking in the summer.

Every year once April rolls around, the dog owners reclaim our beach, walking at all times of the day.

Just one other person and his dog on our beach this morning.
Our view when we got there.

So what’s the routine for the rest of the day?

There’s none.

I do whatever I bloody well feel like doing on each given day.

Yesterday was gardening, a bit of cooking and hanging out the washing, in between finishing off a book of Emily Dickenson’s poetry. I’m watching ‘Dickinson’ on Apple TV at the moment and so I wanted to know more about her writing.

Today I’m going to go and buy some books with the voucher my friends from the staffroom gave me as a retirement present, then I’m meeting my mum and sister for lunch.

Tomorrow? Who knows? I have no idea what I’ll feel like doing in 24 hours. I’m not psychic.

I think I’m going to like this retirement stuff.

My first REAL day of retirement.

Poppy and me.

As promised in my retirement speech that I gave last month, I sent some photos to the staff at school on their first day back. I sent them through at 9:30, while they were all sitting in the first staff meeting of the year. The first was a selfie that I took as Poppy jumped into my lap at the dog beach.

Entitled, “I’m missing you all DREADFULLY.”

The second was entitled, “But where are all the people???”

There were no answers for ages, then after 1PM the replies came flooding through. The poor things had been in meetings up till then. Some people were lovely, writing things like, “Congratulations! Enjoy!”

Others were more succinct.


How that one made me laugh!

Scout on the sand.

The reason I class this as my first day of retirement is that up until now December and January have felt like a normal summer school holidays. I was still getting paid, so every fortnight my wage would come into my account as usual. School kids were out in the wild, roaming the streets. It was Business As Usual.

The only real difference is that I still have a huge pile of ironing to do. Traditionally, on the last day of the holidays I get things ready for the first couple of weeks. I iron my work clothes, I make sure I have a few freezer lunches ready to go… you know, that sort of thing.

Instead, I finished reading The Queen’s Gambit – and started watching the series. Tom29 gave me this novel for Christmas and I’ve been savouring the writing. Usually, I gallop through books to find out what happens, but this was a book I took my time with, reading a chapter and then putting it down again, so I could enjoy how beautifully written it is for a longer time.

So up until the last day of the holidays, it was all “same same.”

But yesterday was different. We woke at the usual time, (thanks to Jeffrey deciding that 6:30 was the proper time to have a good old scratch and shake the bed), but instead of racing out of the house by 7:45, I clipped the dog leads on and we walked to the beach at 8:30 to take the photos you’ve already seen.

It was lovely down there. Strictly speaking, between November and April dogs aren’t supposed to be on the beach, but there were many people there sneaking in a dog walk before the regular people claimed the beach. It was a lovely way to start the day.

Pesto, ready to be frozen.

After I came home and emailed the photos, I had to decide what to do with the day. I felt like continuing to work on the quilt I’m making for Patricia, my ex-boss, but Ryan26 had a friend sleep over and she was still in the guest/sewing room.

Hmmmm… I guess this means that it’s pesto day.

And that’s when I fully realised the beauty of being retired.

There’s always tomorrow!

So what if Wednesday doesn’t work out for quilt making? There’s always tomorrow. Or the next day…

The pressure to Get Things Done by fitting them around my work schedule has gone. It’s quite the heady feeling.

I have an abundance of basil growing and I’ve been putting off making pesto to preserve it. But what better way to start my new life? I gathered platefiuls of it and started work. My hands and my kitchen smelled of basil – one of my favourite smells – and I had a light lunch of pesto pasta with the scrapings from the thermomix bowl.

Usually I’d keep going, processing it until all the basil was used, but meh. After I filled all of the ice cube trays and popped them in the freezer, I decided to leave the rest for another day.

There’s always tomorrow…

Retirement: when frugal hobbies become simple pleasures.

Strawberries hanging free.
Strawberries from a wicking box. Amazingly, Jeffrey the dog missed these.

I started growing our own food well over a decade ago. It began when one of my boys was having a serious battle with depression and it seemed it was like the only concrete thing I could do to help him, by growing veggies and eliminating as many preservatives and things from his diet. I went all-in – by the time we moved out we had over 15m of vegetable beds, over 30 fruit trees and a flock of chooks. I must have been reasonably fond of him.

The thing about growing food is that it definitely saves you money. Not right away; all of those bags of compost, mulch and seedlings don’t come cheap! But over time, I enjoyed the frugality of serving my boys free food – my favourite flavour! – with veggies and eggs that came from our own property. I knew it was the best possible quality food, also at the best possible price.

Growing food not only saves money, but it provides endless entertainment and problem solving. No matter how much knowledge and experience a gardener gains, you’re never in total control of the outcome of any crop. There are variables in weather, soil composition and pests that you have no control of. This keeps things interesting. For me, gardening is conducting a series of experiments to see what works. There’s always something new to try, which makes this a great interest to have to entertain myself in retirement.

At first, like with everyone who starts growing food, it was all a bit hit and miss. But over time, I grew to learn more and more. I started moving towards growing heirloom veggies and saving my own seeds. My food forest in the suburbs was just becoming fully established when I decided to fast-track my retirement by releasing the equity in the property by drawing up plans for 2 massive townhouses to be built on the property.

It hurt to think of all that hard work being ripped out and built over, but for the longer term, it was the right thing to do for my life. I put out the word that there were free fruit trees, chooks and a solar-operated hen house door and friends rescued everything. And so we moved 16kms away to The Best House in Melbourne.

Rhubarb. Lots of it.
57 stalks of rhubarb from the garden. This is all from one plant. This is a perennial plant, so it’ll feed me for the rest of my life, probably.

But you know? The good thing about learning about something is that no matter where you go, you take that knowledge with you. I had to wait around 18 months for the sale of the original property to go through, but once I had the money in hand I could redesign the garden to be how I wanted it to be for my retirement.

And the pastime that began with a feverish wish to do SOMETHING useful for my boy has morphed into one of the key interests that will give me untold hours of interest and pleasure in my retirement. Isn’t it funny how life works?

A post I wrote, entitled ‘How do you GROW wealth?‘ has photos of how I designed the back yard to suit my retirement. The back half is filled with wicking boxes and spaces for fruit trees, while the front half has since been covered over with a huge verandah for entertaining. It was a huge ‘investment’ up front to get all of the work done, but now it’s pretty much finished, just as I retired. I can now look forward to many years of quiet enjoyment, pottering around and having fun at home.

I have enough money to retire, but I still have echoing memories of when we were struggling. I like the idea of minimising my outgoings when I’m no longer drawing a wage, so my garden out the back will scratch two itches: the wonderful feeling of frugality when I harvest free food, and the gift I’ll be giving myself of hours of entertainment with the planning, preparation, maintenance and harvesting of everything I grow.

Baby fruit trees.
The ‘orchard’ 6 months ago, just after we planted it.

While we were in the second lockdown last year, I ordered some fruit trees and the boys and I created an orchard in the front yard. That was a bit of fun as we were coming into spring. I also ordered 4 columnar apple trees that I placed along the edge of the garden bed, ready to be planted beside the driveway sometime this year.

Then I got to thinking. There’s a lot of space going to waste around these trees. One day there’ll be flowering shrubs to bring beauty (and bees) to this space, but why not do an experiment in the meantime?

I filled 3 large pots with potting mix and planted what I thought was pumpkin seeds that I harvested from the garden last year. Imagine the pumpkin vines meandering around underneath the trees? They’ll grow lots of pumpkins – and pumpkins keep well for months and months. What could go wrong?

Baby fruit trees swamped by zucchini plants.
Here’s what the orchard looks like now.

Turns out they were zucchini seeds. Zucchini seeds that are a hybrid of two sorts that I had growing near each other in the yard last year – a mix of ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Tromboccino’. Let’s call them ‘Frogdancer Zucchini.’ There are 11 fruit trees hidden underneath all of this rampant growth. I’m happy… don’t get me wrong… but millions of pumpkins would keep for far longer than millions of zucchini.

I’ve had to swing into action.

8 plump zucchini.
Here are 8 large zucchinis.

Just from these 8 zucchini alone, I’ve chopped and frozen nearly 12kg/26lb worth of 200g bags. I add chopped and frozen zucchini to soups/pasta sauces/casseroles – anything to add a little more goodness and bulk. With 60 meals’ worth in the freezer already, my Ma Ingalls energy for providing for my family for the colder months of 2021 is now satisfied. The hundred or so that are still growing will be eaten fresh or given away.

Frugal free food not just for us but for everyone else!

Gardening for food varies from year to year. Last year I had tomatoes coming out of our ears. It was the perfect year for a glut of tomatoes. In a pandemic, when you don’t want to go to the shops, tomatoes are the perfect base for heaps of different meals. They taste even better when they’re free. I just froze them in 400g bags, just the same size as a tin.

Last year we had hardly any zucchinis. This year it’s the reverse. I guess it keeps things interesting.

As I enter the brave new world of retirement, I like the fact that I have interests that don’t have to break the bank. I’ve spent a lot of money setting up the garden, but from now on it’s all smooth sailing. I’ll be learning more about growing food from seed I’ll harvest myself, so over time the food I grow will be extremely cheap. I’ll be making my own compost and fertiliser so I won’t even have those costs.

The other things I like doing are also pretty cost-effective. Even a hobby like quilting, which can cost a lot when you’re buying brand new fabrics, batting and thread, gives HOURS of entertainment as you’re sewing away. It’s very cheap when you make quilts from scraps and even sew together smaller pieces of batting to use up what you have. Knitting? Also gives hours of entertainment.

This first year of retirement has overseas travel being taken off the table. Australia’s borders aren’t opening up until 2022, which frankly, I’m quite happy with. We’ve fought too hard to beat this virus to let it all go now, especially in Melbourne.

I’m thinking that my first year of retirement will be a quiet one, with short hops to places inside Victoria (in case the borders close again) and for the rest of the time just puddling around here at home. The hard years of HAVING to be frugal have had the happy byproduct of giving me endless ways to entertain myself without having to spend up big.

After I press ‘publish’ on this post I’ll be popping up to the local library to pick up a couple of books I’ve reserved, then I’ll come back home to continue working on a quilt I’m making for Patricia, the principal from my old job. It’s a very hot day today, so I’ll be inside in the aircon, listening to (free) podcasts as I assemble the quilt I’m making from fabric I already had lying around.

Having frugal things to do isn’t a deprivation. I’ll be as happy as a pig in muck. Later today Ryan26 is going to stay at a friend’s house. David27 is over at his girlfriend’s house, so I’ll be Home Alone. I’ll dine on leftovers from the birthday celebration we threw Tom29 yesterday, then I’ll either read one of the library books or watch something on Netflix. If I feel like talking to someone I’ll have the dogs, who hang upon my every word.

Honestly, unless I’m travelling overseas (where I deny myself NOTHING!), I quite happily live off the smell of an oily rag. This gives me confidence moving forward into retirement. I know that if the worst happens, I can cut my expenses to the bone and I’ll be able to weather the storms. I’ve cash-flowed the expensive things while I was still working – I’m getting my ensuite revamped at the moment – and now I can settle into enjoying the simple things that I’ve found give me so much pleasure.

I’ve put a lot of thought into how I’d like my retirement life to look like. In 2 days’ time, teachers go back to work. Up until now I’ve felt like I was still on summer holidays. So in 2 days’ time my retirement will begin.

I can feel my stress levels slowly unravelling at the very thought.

The month of naps.

I’ve realised that now that I’ve retired, there’s one thing I’ll never get again – the December inundation of Lindt balls. Kids give them. Teachers give them to each other. Every year I used to come home with bucketloads of them. To tell the truth, I was so over them.

But this year? I was about to start giving them away as I always did, when I suddenly realised… this is IT! I’ll never have too many of these chocolatey morsels again.

So I’ve been eating them. Two or three a night for a sweet treat in front of Netflix. Savouring them. I’d actually forgotten how nice they are.

I have two packets to go.

Robin Williams from Jumanji

It turns out that both Purple from A Purple Life and I have had the Month of Naps in the first burst of our early retirement lives. She retired in November, a month earlier than I did, and a few decades before I did – at 30. It’s now a calendar month after I retired and the naps continue unabated.

And when I say ‘naps’; I mean serious naps. Two hours or so. Dreams. Waking up in the same position that you drifted off to sleep in. It’s crazy.

I wasn’t totally taken by surprise by this. Every summer holidays I have a week or two of days where a nap is needed, but then I bounce back to normal and I start Getting Things Done. I’ve read blog posts where other people have said that they had an extended period of time where they’d need to sleep a lot.

So I was ready – eager, even! Who doesn’t like a revivifying nanna nap in the middle of the day?

But this is ridiculous. I’m so glad I didn’t schedule a huge round the world trip – or in these covid times; round Australia trip – to celebrate my new life-long freedom. At this rate, I’d still be on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Pic of an overloaded car.

A couple of days ago I sacrificed having a nanna nap and instead I drove up to Ballarat to help my youngest son, Evan24, to move back to Melbourne after finishing his course. I wrote about him 2 years ago in a post called “What has my second-gen FIRE child learned about money? He and his girlfriend have finished their degrees – he in Acting and she in Music Theatre – and they’ve moved back to Melbourne to begin the next stage of their lives.

It’s funny how both of us are at a similar point. After we arrived at the new place ahead of the moving truck, he and I decided to pop out for a quick bite and then we sat in the car and gossiped. I haven’t seen all that much of him over the last 3 years and as I’m not the sort of parent who demands daily updates, when we do get together there’s a lot to catch up on. Speaking in person is very different from talking on the phone.

At one point I asked him what his plans were for the rest of the year. He smiled and said, “Well, my job, before I find a job, is to find a job! But apart from that, my days are clear. It’s up to me to fill them.”

Then he looked over at me and said, “A bit like you, I guess.”

I laughed. It’s true.

I suggested we go out to dinner when he turns 30, to look back on how his 20’s were spent. He’s going into a notoriously unstable field, so the next few years are going to be interesting. Fortunately, he’s worked in retail, hospo and in an office, so he’ll have a lot of scope to find a reasonable day job while he creates opportunities for the acting side. And his twenties are definitely the time to do it.

Bitten-into apricot from my tree.

I’ve just realised there’s at least one thing that I’ll always have from my teaching days. See this apricot? Five years ago my first year 12 Theatre Studies class gave me an apricot tree as a thank-you after our production. It languished in a pot until I planted it at The Best House in Melbourne last year.

It bore fruit for the first time this year. Only a few, but omg so delicious.

Instead of a bucketful of Lindt balls each Christmas, I’ll be picking a bucketful of apricots that were given to me, with love, by one of my favourite classes.

That’s a trade-off I’m happy to make.

So how was I able to retire early(ish) anyway?

George from Seinfeld.
Me over the last two weeks…

After starting to resurface after Christmas and New Year – so many naps! – I started to wonder what I might write that could interest people now that I’ve reached the goal post of every FIRE blog and actually retired.

There’s no point writing about what retired life actually feels like, because, to be honest, it doesn’t yet feel like I’ve retired. It’s the school holidays, my pay still keeps rolling in until the first day of term 1, so at the moment it still feels like business as usual. The 27th of January 2021 will be when it begins to hit home. The first school day of the year for teachers. My last pay packet ever…

But that’s still 3 weeks away. I started drafting this post yesterday but I wasn’t in the ‘zone’, but this morning I posted a comment about how I retired early(ish) on a teacher’s salary in a high cost of living city. It was in a Facebook group called Aussie FIRE discussion group, run by the guy behind Aussie Firebug. Someone replied, asking about my strategy.

I had to smile. My strategy?

Like most of us, I bumbled my way through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s without a clue about FIRE (financial independence, retire early.) My only motivation, once I started manufacturing kids, was to provide a safe, secure life for them to grow up in. A lot of that was providing emotional security for them, but a huge part was also providing financial security. This involved things like ensuring that we always had a roof over our heads, enough food on the table and that the bills were always paid. When you leave your husband with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash, which is otherwise known as the scariest financial decision of all, it tends to make you focus on the money stuff.

Although I didn’t stumble across the concept of FIRE until I was 50, the actions I took in the previous years accidentally set me up to be in a pretty good place to take the idea and run with it. Even though at that stage I’d just paid off my house, so my bank balance was literally $10 cash, I was primed and ready for the information.

So what enabled me to do the following: find out about FIRE when I had a paid-off house, around 100K in superannuation and $10 in the bank, and then to retire 7 years later?

A combination of the following behaviours:

G.O.T meme

The first tool, and undoubtedly the most important, was cutting my coat to fit my cloth. Otherwise known as spending less than I earned. Being frugal.

Frugality doesn’t mean being cheap – though in the early days when the boys were very young I’m sure I crossed that line a few times simply to survive. A frugal person makes sure that before they spend anything on lifestyle frills, they’ve paid the mortgage or rent, paid the bills and provided for the necessities of life. Then they tuck a little away for a rainy day in an emergency fund/investment portfolio. THEN they decide what to do with what’s left over.

The ‘decide’ in the previous sentence is very important. I feel that the main difference between a spendthrift and a frugal person is that one employs mainly short-term thinking with their everyday spending decisions, while the other employs mainly long-term thinking.

A person who deliberately decides to use frugal principles is sure to get ahead. I used to feel, especially in the early days, that every dollar I was able to keep in my wallet was a win. Those dollars I kept were able to be used to improve our quality of life on things I valued. These things are always a mix of looking to the future and enjoying the now.

Initially, those things I valued were chipping away at the mortgage, improving our car and house, paying for music lessons and sport for the kids and enabling the boys to see a little more of the world, both with family holidays and school trips. Then, as the boys grew older, getting out of debt, indulging in personal travel, (to the UK, Europe and North Koreaso far), and then investing for the future became the things I valued.

The trick with frugality is to spend only as much as you need to enjoy life now, while making damned sure you’re putting away money into appreciating assets so that you’ll be sure to enjoy life later – and not be a financial burden to your kids.

It’s a balance – I found that if Present Frogdancer put too much towards Future Frogdancer, it made me unhappy and discontented. But if I enjoyed a few simple pleasures in the here and now while continuing to look after Future Frogdancer, life became a joy.

Flowchart for hedonic treadmill.

The second tool, which is closely linked to the first tool of frugality, is to recognise when hedonic adaptation, otherwise known as lifestyle creep, is threatening to happen. Then to make a conscious decision as to when, and how much, you let it affect you.

I first became aware of the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ during a Choose FI podcast when they were interviewing Barney Whiter, otherwise known as The Escape Artist. Basically, it’s when your spending increases as your income increases – at first you feel happy but then as time goes on you revert back to the happiness level you were before.

You know how it goes. You get a pay rise. You feel rich! You start getting takeout more often or going to restaurants more often, “because I can afford it.” You might upgrade the car, in order to drive something more befitting a person of your status. Clothes? Sure, upgrade the wardrobe! Get fancy furniture, buy some ski gear, buy a boat… you get the picture.

But over time, that new car doesn’t feel special anymore, it’s just your humdrum car. The boat isn’t a thrill anymore… in fact, it seems so dull and ordinary that you start to feel that you need a new one. The restaurant trips aren’t a treat anymore… they’re just a regular part of your Friday night routine. Humans tend to become used to new things over time and then crave what we perceive to be bigger and better things.

Your big pay rise doesn’t make you feel rich anymore. It’s a struggle to survive on such a small pay-packet. “No one can get ahead these days, it’s hard for the little man to survive.” You feel exactly the way you did before about your life, despite the new toys that initially brought you happiness. That’s the hedonic treadmill at work.

We live in a consumer-driven society. The trick is to only let your lifestyle increase by spending more on the things YOU value. Disregard what other people think that you should be buying. After all, they’re not going to be the ones helping you to retire early(ish!)

When I knew that I had a permanent position at my school, I took out a new mortgage to upgrade my kitchen, bathroom and the heating and cooling systems. I waited until I’d paid off that mortgage before I indulged in the overseas travel for myself that I’d always dreamed of. Could I have done both at the same time?

Yep. But I wouldn’t be retired now. Paying off that mortgage to become debt-free was crucial to becoming financially independent.

Recognising the temptations of lifestyle creep and deliberately choosing to limit your exposure to it means that you can pour your surplus money into assets that can increase your net worth over time. Again, it’s balancing the wants and needs of Present You vs Future You.

The third tool is looking to increase your income. The lucky ones are people who can negotiate pay rises in their day jobs. As a teacher in the government system, my pay was dependent on how many years I taught, so I looked elsewhere for ways to increase my income. When I became a thermomix consultant and team leader, I was able to deploy the extra money I made into paying off my house earlier and then paying cash for my decadent trip to the UK and Europe.

In other words, I used the extra money from my ‘side hustle’ to pay off an appreciating asset, (my home), and then used the excess funds to pay for a frivolous treat, (my trip), while all the while in the background the teaching job continued to pay for day to day expenses and investments for the future.

I did this for around 4 years. I worked my arse off between the two jobs and I was B-U-S-Y! And often very tired. But doing this turbo-charged my finances and put me in the perfect position to recognise the beauty of the FIRE concept when I discovered it.

Yoda meme.

The fourth tool is to be willing to learn.

A bit of background here: all my life I’ve avoided numerals and Maths. At school, I was in the top stream for English and at the same time, I was put into the veggie maths classes. When I see a page full of numbers my brain literally freezes and I can’t begin to work things out. I’m genuinely scared of them.

This is fine for an English teacher, but it’s not so great when it comes to learning things about the investing world.

My point is that, for me, it was HARD to start learning about how to invest. I’m sure it has taken me three times as long to understand about half what any normal person would learn in a given amount of time.

I was talking about this a year ago wth another English teacher who was asking for help with her finances. She said, “I wish it was as easy for me as it is for you, Frogdancer. I know nothing about this stuff.”

“It’s not easy for me at all!” I said. “My brain is like a rock and the information is like drips of water falling onto it. Over time, the drips make an impression, but it takes me longer than most to get it into my head.”

The tipping point for me was 3 weeks after I’d paid off my house. I’d spent three weeks buying ALL the yarn in every colour, brand new sandals, new clothes and I was happy. Then it dawned on me that you can’t eat your house. In other words, what was I going to do about retirement?

The thought of being in poverty scares me. I’ve been there, as anyone who’s read my ‘About’ page or heard my retirement speech would know. It was hard enough being young and being dirt poor – how much scarier would it be to be old and poor? I knew that the spending party was over. I had to start finding out what to do to put myself into a decent position by retirement age. In Australia, that’s 67 years old.

That gave me 17 years.

As luck would have it, the Barefoot Investor had just started an investment club, which has since closed. The first thing he put out was a ‘Rescue Your Retirement’ feature. After I read it, I literally cried tears of relief. My position wasn’t hopeless. There were ways to build a comfortable retirement for Future Frogdancer.

After that, I started reading. Books, blogs… I went down the rabbit hole. The relief I felt when I saw Mr Money Mustache’s post ‘The Shockingly Simple Math to Early Retirement’ and saw on his chart that if I saved 50% of my income I could retire in 17 years… omg. I was doing more than that already!

I just had to stay the course and I was probably going to be fine. I was on track to retire at 67 with a more than comfortable income. Phew! I could have stopped there.

But I kept on reading. The idea of having the freedom to do what I want in each and every day, unfettered by timetables, commutes and the demands of kids was beginning to intoxicate me.

I learned about different types of investments. Individual shares, LICs, ETFs, superannuation options, domestic and foreign geoarbitrage, property… you name it; I was reading about it. Like all learning, it started to open my mind to the possibilities…

The Office meme.

Tool number 5, arguably as important as tool number 1:

ACT ON WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED, and be prepared to pivot if better information comes your way.

This sounds easy but in reality it’s really hard. No one likes the idea of losing money and making mistakes. But there’s a huge opportunity cost to sitting comfortably on your backside, deluding yourself into believing that because you’re reading about all this stuff, you’re ahead of over half the population.

You’re only ahead of the pack if you actually decide to DO SOMETHING with the information you’ve learned.

My first step was to move superannuation funds, first to the one that the Barefoot Investor recommends, but then when my friend The Mayor showed me that the default super fund in the same company actually gave far better returns, I swapped again. I pivoted slightly when better information came my way.

I began putting my savings into shares, index funds and LICs. Over time, it became my ‘shopping’ pastime. Some people shop for clothes, shoes and lattes; I shopped for shares. I looked don it as buying little scraps of my future freedom.

The brilliant thing about learning is that it opens the mind to opportunities that you might otherwise overlook. I learned about the concepts of geoarbitrage and property development, without ever thinking that I’d put them to use. Little did I know… if doing the thermomix side hustle turbo-charged my finances, utilising geoarbitrage and property development sent my finances screaming into outer space!

I wrote in detail about how I tweaked the geoarbitrage concept HERE. In the TL:DR version, I drew up plans to put 2 luxury townhouses on my house block in a desirable school district in Melbourne and moved 16 kms away to a far cheaper – but better- house 5 minutes away from the beach. By doing this, I freed up a TON of equity that was stored in that little house and shaved ten years from my working life.

This would never have happened if I’d been too scared to take the calculated risk and Just Do It.

When I think back to that 34 year old I wrote about in my ‘About’ page, sitting by the heater listening to the mice eating the bait and then I compare her situation to the one I’m living in now, the difference is enormous. I’m living the life that Past Frogdancer would never have even dreamed was possible.

It’d be too simplistic to say that the geoarbitrage decision was the one thing that brought all this to pass. It was certainly important, but I would never have been in a position to do it if not for the thousands of tiny little decisions I made along the way.

Frugality, living below my means no matter what, avoiding lifestyle creep, working to increase my income, learning about how to reach financial independence and then putting those concepts into action in ways that suited me and my family – all came together to bring me to this position.

I’m retired at 57. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I find that a very precious and beautiful idea and I’m looking forward to seeing how my life will unfold.

These tools aren’t the only dishes on the financial independence smorgasbord table. There are many more options and strategies available.

These are simply the ones that I used to get to where I am now. At first they were used for financial survival – then as time went on it morphed into working for financial freedom.

I hope that someone can take all of this and tweak a tool or two to use on their way to gaining their own financial freedom. The more, the merrier!

Who says schools don’t teach kids about personal finance?

Clearly, when you’re writing in the FIRE pace, a post about giving your retirement speech is something everyone wants to read. Most readers ever in a single day. Gee, if I put some effort into publicising this blog, I would have stumbled across this tactic far earlier and I would’ve retired YEARS ago! This post even beat the numbers I got when I won the Rockstar Finance blog battle in 2018.

Good times…

This morning I woke up, drowsily hearing rain on the tin roof and knew I had the day off. Then I thought, ‘I didn’t ring the daily organiser to tell her I wasn’t coming in!’ and I sat bolt upright in bed before I realised.

It’s a funny thing, being a teacher and retiring at the beginning of the school holidays. For the whole of my working life, I’ve had 5 or 6 weeks of holidays at this time of the year. So, even though I know in my head that I’m not going back to work, in the rest of my body it honestly feels like the summer holidays.

I still have my wage coming in until the end of the holidays, which also makes it seem like business as usual. However, my head, which (as I’ve already told you), knows that I’m retired, made me go to Gardenworld yesterday to buy expensive tree ferns and other plants to fill in the last garden bed in my new outdoor room. I also paid the deposit on getting my ensuite remodelled. I like paying for jobs like this while I still have money coming in.

2021 will be a year of only local travel, staying close to home and enjoying the space I’ve created.

Every year I give my sons and nieces a book on personal finance. Some have read every book, some have thrown them onto their bookshelves unopened while some have dipped in and out of them, but I figure that when it dawns on each person that they need to have a handle on this money stuff, they’ll have info right at their fingertips. Already that makes them better off than most people, right?

After Christmas, I’ll put a new page up at the top, where I’ll list what I’ve given them each year and why.

Coffee grounds and cold sausages.

After my last day, as I was literally leaving the school with the last bounty I’ll be taking from this place – a tray of cooked snags and the last of the coffee grounds from the staff room – ( I wrote about making the most of what your workplace can offer HERE) – one of the economics teachers stopped me and asked if I’d be interested in giving a talk to the year 9s in a new elective they’re offering next year about personal finance.

“It sounds like you’d be the perfect person to talk to them,” he said.

“Are you kidding?!? I’d be rapt!”

“It’d be twice,” he said. “It’s a semester subject.”

“That’s why I’m retiring,” I said. “So I can do the things I want to do. This’ll definitely be one of them.”

It’ll be interesting to see the topics they’ll be covering.

My retirement speech part 2.

So where were we?

Ah yes. I’d “written” my speech the night before – just a series of dot points – and I was raring to go.

My friend Megan volunteered to be my Designated Driver once I asked her, so she arrived to pick me up and we drove into school. Everyone’s desks were piled with Christmas cards, gifts and chocolates and we were all full of anticipation for the day ahead.

“I’m really looking forward to your speech, Frogdancer,” said a friend.

“Oh, I’m not giving a speech. I’m scared of public speaking,” I said. The look of shock on her face before I started laughing was priceless.

As we all found a seat at the big tables in the hall, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky we’ve been in Melbourne, coronavirus wise. We had one of the toughest lockdowns in the world and could barely leave our homes, but now, just before Christmas, life is pretty much back to normal with no new cases in the community for over 40 days.

When I decided to retire earlier in the year I was annoyed to think that I’d have to give my speech via a Google Meet rather than having everyone in the room with me. It’s so much easier to hold people when you’re actually with them. And now? I got my wish. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

Our principal… let’s call her Patricia because it’s a name… gave her speech. She mentioned that she was going to have 2 huge celebrations this year – even though she hates surprise parties – but because of corona she ended up with “just me and Robert” for her milestone birthday, and for their anniversary “just me, Robert, the dog and cat.”

‘Excellent!’ I thought, making a mental note. I’d left mental space to refer to others’ speeches and Patricia had, all unknowing, given me the perfect way to start my speech.

I was expecting to be called last, as due to the school’s tradition the speeches go in order of how long the people have been there, but for some reason I was called second-last. Didn’t matter – I was good to go no matter when I was called.

After she gave her speech about me, calling me a bit of a rebel and saying how I sneak the kids off to the Theatre for drama lessons – how did she know??? – it was my turn to speak.

I got up and bounded towards the podium like a pudgy gazelle. This was my moment in the sun!

People on Twitter have asked that I publish my speech. I can’t give the word-for-word version because whenever I do a speech I speak TO the audience; I don’t read at them. So what follows is an approximation of what I actually said.

(I grab the sides of the podium, lay down my piece of paper with the dot points and half turn to face Patricia.)

“Isn’t it funny how people are different? I’d kill for a surprise birthday party and my kids are USELESS! They’ve never once thought to do it. The only two surprise parties that people have thrown me have been from kids at this school. “

(Murmurs of ‘aww’ from the audience. They think this is going to be a typical teacher speech – except for the people who know me well. They were strapped in and waiting.)

“When I went on my trip to Europe in 2015 – a trip I planned when I was 15 and didn’t get to actually do until I was 51, my year 12 Theatre kids got my son Evan to pretend to take me out for a farewell mother/son dinner. When we got to the restaurant the kids all popped up from behind a booth yelling “SURPRISE!” It was lovely.

“The other time was when a class of year 7s spent all lunchtime blowing up about 500 balloons to fill the classroom. It was hilarious. By the time I got there in period 5 some of them were white-faced and tottering slightly… I think they were hyperventilating from all the balloons!

(Turning again to face Patricia. A bit of background here: every year we have our first staff meeting for the year on the day before the kids arrive back. In her ‘welcome to the staff’ speech she always says, “No parent hands us their child and says, “Do a mediocre job on this one.” It’s a good saying about how every child we have in our classes is important. )

“But speaking as a parent of kids who came to this school Patricia, I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you…

(She laughs and looks slightly apprehensive. She knows me.)

“I would have been HAPPY to have a mediocre job done with my boys!

(Huge laugh from the staff. Turns back to the audience.)

“Look, for those of you who haven’t taught them, they’re affable. They mean well, but they’re as dumb as a box of bricks. A mediocre job would have been just fine. But it’s a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the people here in front of me, all but 4 teachers did an outstanding job with them. (I could see people wondering who the 4 teachers were. heh heh. Just as I wanted!)

“Just to be fair, I taught 2 of them, so I’ll just leave that bit of info with you…

(I looked down to my left and saw a group of young teachers. I don’t know who they were – we have a very large staff – but one girl was staring at me with her jaw dropped literally as far as it could go. You could almost hear her thinking, “How could any mother speak about her children like that?” I started laughing at the look of shock on her face.)

“Speaking of having kids at the school with you, it’s so much fun. Seriously, even if you’re like me and don’t like babies (shocked gasps and laughter) have a shit-ton of them. Have a baker’s dozen! It’s like a sport that’ll give you entertainment here for years.

(I have to whip away the veil of anonymity for a second with my oldest son. On the blogs I call him Tom, but his real name is Jack, with a surname of 3 syllables that start with the letters DA, pronounced like the da in ‘dad’. This is important for the story to follow.)

“We all know Jenny Smith. So nice, so lovely and caring. When my son Jack Da… was in year 8, I bumped into her and asked how he was going.

“I don’t teach your son,” she said.

“Yes you do. He has a different surname to mine,” I said, thinking that might be the problem. “He’s Jack Da…. in year 8.”

“I don’t teach anyone by that name,” she said, getting cross. When I insisted that yes she did, she whisked me off to her desk to check her class list in her chronicle. In those days, it was all handwritten.

So I grabbed the chronicle and scanned the list, looking for the D’s. I have to tell you, it’s a sad day when the kid who had driven you to drink is clearly doing the same to other people. There, clear as day, she’d written “Jack Daniels.”

(The staff roared. Jenny was laughing, red faced and mopping her eyes.)

“But yeah, having kids at school with you is like a sport. Here’s how its done:

“When you realise you have your kid’s class as a sub, you walk towards the class waiting outside the room. Your kid sees you, nods, then as you don’t deviate away, you can see them realising that their Mum is going to teach the class. They avoid eye contact, but we both know it isn’t going to save them.

“You can launch your attack right away, getting up to the class and pretending to see them for the first time. “Jack darling!” and you give him a hug. “I’ve missed you!”

“Or, you play it cool. As you move through them to the door, you hear the kids telling your kid, “That’s your Mum.” See? I told you my kids were dumb – even the other kids know it.

“You unlock the door, then sternly tell the kids to line up. Then you say, “David, sweetie, do you want to go in first and have the pick of all the seats?

(People are laughing like crazy. It’s wonderful.)

“Or you can get them when you’re calling the roll. “Sarah Snozbag, Joe Lunchbucket, (sigh and go all syrupy sweet) Ryan Jones” and blow him a kiss. The best one though, is if you play it cool all through these steps, treating the class as normal. Then, just after you finish the roll, you stand up and say, “Just before I tell you what your teacher wants you to do today, Evan, would you like to grab your books and come and do your work at the big table with Mummy?” Seriously, have kids just for this reason. Its worth it.

“Sometimes though, working at the school means you see things that most parents don’t see. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Like Jack’s first swimming sports day in year 7. It took him a while to find his feet and make friends, so on that day I had to watch my child walking all day, on his own, doing the circuit around the pool over and over again, with a set look on his face which I knew meant he was just countng down the hours before we could go home. It broke my heart to see him, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help. But then, two years later, I was able to watch him on the hill with all his mates, laughing and having so much fun. Given time and positive action – everything always turns out better.

( Now comes the time when I wanted to switch gears and get into the serious stuff. The audience was with me 100%. They were on board. It was time.)

“Working at this school gave a lot of things to my family. A great education for the boys, friends for all of us, but most of all it gave us financial stability. Not everyone here knows, but when I was 34 I left my husband. I had a 5-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old and an eleven-month-old. We had $120 in the bank, so I withdrew all of it and gave my then-husband half. I had a 100K mortgage – and before you all roll your eyes, the interest rate was around 10.8%, so shut up! I drove an old Tarago van, which was as sexy and aerodynamic as driving a loaf of bread. Whenever it rained and I turned right, a trickle of water from the sunroof would run down the back of my neck. Invigorating.

I couldn’t go back to work with so many kids – the childcare fees’ would’ved killed me, so I stayed at home on the Sole Parents pension until Evan went to school. At that time, it was around 18K a year. My ex-husband took cash jobs so he’d avoid child support, so I was getting $20/month from him. We were literally on the bare bones of our arses.

(The room was silent. You could have heard a pin drop.)

A year or two later, it was the beginning of winter The only heater my house had was an oil heater, that ran from a tank of oil at the side of the house that I had to fill up every year. Turned out that just when I was about to get new oil, the brakes went on the car. I only had enough money to take care of one job. I had about this much oil in the tank, (holds up hands maybe 30cms/a foot apart), so I thought that if I could eke it out, we could maybe get through.

“So every morning I’d get the boys up, dress them in their parkas and they’d run around all day. Little kids have great circulatory systems. I’d keep feeling their hands and then in the late afternoon when their hands would start getting chilly, I’d turn the fire on. Dinner, bath, bed, then I’d turn the fire off, snuggle down on the couch under a doona, and drink the one glass of wine I’d allow myself.

“Because the fire was hardly switched on, a family of mice moved in under it and I had to get mouse bait. I think my lowest point was one night, as I was sitting on the couch under the doona, I saw 3 little shapes sneak out from under the heater and start nibbling on the bait. I could hear the sound of the pellets knocking against the side of the tin. I sat there and cried. How could it come to this? I was the first in my family to be tertiary dedicated – hell, on my Mum’s side I was the first one to graduate high school. How could this happen to someone who was supposed to have brains?

“Fast forward a couple of years and Jack was starting year 7 at this school. The previous year I’d done some CRT work here and I saw the principal at the time. It’s funny how your life is held together by such thin threads. At first I thought, ‘maybe I should go over and say hello. But what if he doesn’t recognise me? I’ll look like a fool. ‘

“Then I thought, “What if I DON’T go up to say hi and he sees me and knows who I am. I’ll look like a stuck-up bitch. That’d be WORSE!’

“So I went up to him and of course he recognised me – he’s only human – and we were talking when he suddenly said, “Hang on, you’ve got ESL (English as a second language) on your resume. How would you like a full-time job in terms 2, 3 and 4? Our regular teacher is taking leave.”

I said yes, of course, and then asked when the interview was. He smiled and said, “You’ve just had it.”

“Imagine if I hadn’t have gone up to have a chat?

“I decided that because I had a stable income for the rest of the year, we’d get a new car. So I took the boys up to a car yard and I said, “I want to buy a good second-hand station wagon for around 20K with no sunroof!”

As the contracts kept coming, I renovated the house. The day the ducted heating went in was very sweet. We’d never be cold again.

I then talked briefly about the importance of financial independence for teachers. We influence young people every single day and if you are burnt out and don’t want to be in the classroom you poison your subject for the kids. After all, they’re not stupid. If you don’t want to be there, why should they?

I also told them how to find this blog, dancing as a Frogdancer would. They all laughed at that. They were ready for me to deliver the hilarious kick-arse ending. It was all going beautifully. I was so happy.

I glanced down at my notes, then…

… remember the guy from the English faculty who tried to psych me out on Monday? He’s also a Drama teacher, so he knows full well that you NEVER pull focus from someone who’s performing. Ever. It’s never been done in all my 17 years at the school. Not even when there was a 30-minute speech about fuschia-pink suitcases did anyone interrupt. We all got very drunk waiting for her to finish, but she had her moment uninterrupted.

Anyway, like I said, I glanced at my notes then this guy calls out, “Just stick to your notes, Frogdancer. We’re already 20 minutes over the schedule.”

O. M. GoD. I don’t know if he heard the gasp from the audience but I sure did. It was so rude and I know full well what he did was deliberate. As an English and Drama teacher, he knows all about the narrative flow, how important this performance was to me and he could see how the audience was in the palm of my hand. I don’t know why, but for some reason he wanted all eyes upon him.

I was FURIOUS. But I wasn’t going to let him rock me or pull the rug out from under me. He clearly didn’t stop to think about how Frogdancer Jones wins every work drama people try and drag her into. Admittedly, there haven’t been many of my 17 years, but he knows of a few that I’ve taken on and won.

I turned to face him, taking my piece of paper and turning it very obviously upside down. Then I said, with a glare of ice but with a smile, “Oh no. My speech is written in Arabic now. Guess I’ll just have to continue on as I was. Sorry. “

I turned back to the audience, clapped my hands together and said brightly, “Now where was I? Oh yeah! I’m retiring!’

They laughed, bless them, and we were off on the journey together again. Phew!

“You know the thing I’m most looking forward to about retirement? Getting out from under the thumb of the boss of this school. (A gasp of surprised laughter from the staff, all eyes glancing at Patricia. I didn’t look at her, keeping my gaze on them.)

“You know the woman who makes you have a good or a bad day; a good or bad year; who runs our time from the moment we wake up until we leave this place at the end of the day?

Then I pretended to realise what they were all thinking.

“Oh no! It’s not Patricia! SHE’S not the boss here. It’s Latchy, the timetabler!

(HUGE burst of laughter. I knew this would be a kick-arse ending. This train was still moving, baby! )

“So Latchy, what I’m going to say next is going to infuriate you. On Term 1, day 1 at 9 am, I’m going to send you a photo – actually, I’ll send ALL of you a photo of the dogs and I on the dog beach.

“Then I’m going to come home and have a wee, even though it’s not recess!!!

(I was beginning to think people were having a wee right where they were, they were laughing and clapping so much.)

‘In fact, I’m going to let my bowels and bladder run free all day – toilet paper will be flying around my house like confetti!

“Then, I’m going to sit on the couch and read a book for… a very long time.

“Finally, because I don’t want to let all this freedom go to my head, after lunch I’m going to take a nanna nap – EVEN THOUGH I DON’T HAVE ANY GRANDCHILDREN!!

(Huge laughter. It was music to my ears. I’d wanted to give a great speech ever since I first started at the school and I knew I’d done it. I could leave with my head held high)

They gave me a standing ovation. I bowed, stretching my arms wide and walked back to my seat. I was very happy.

Then I got stuck into the bubbly.

The rest of the day was perfect. The staff band, ‘Duck and Cover’, played a few songs so we were all up on the dancefloor. So much fun! Lunch was delish and we had an icecream van come for dessert. Yum.

The really cool thing was that I had a constant stream of people coming up wanting to talk about my speech. Some just wanted to say how hilarious they found it, but a huge number of people wanted to talk about how the middle part resonated with them. They were brought up by single Mums, or they were doing the single parent thing themselves or had people close to them doing it. My speech really touched them and we had the most amazing conversations.

“I wish I’d known about all this before!” was what a few people said. I felt the same way. People don’t seem to talk much about the struggles we go through. I don’t know why.

It almost made me sad I was leaving. Well, almost…

I had one more day of work to get through. Friday – 9 AM till 12:30 PM.

That was another fun day. Lots of conversations, a breakfast sausage sizzle that quite a few people seemed to need after their partying at the Bowls Club the night before (I was there for a while, talking and dancing) and then it was time to leave.

We call our section of the staffroom ‘The Danger Zone.’ Loz snapped this photo of me after everyone had left. My desk is the one in the bottom left-hand corner.

I spent around a third of my life teaching at this school. I’ve loved it, there’s no doubt about that. But now – time for new adventures!

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