Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

A little adventure.

You’d think after having been a school teacher for so many years, I’d be naturally attuned to when the school holidays are. Years of looking forward to them; having to plan holidays when they were on; looking forward wistfully to the time when I’d be retired and could go on holidays any time I want…

So in conclusive proof that I’m not as smart as I should be, a few weeks ago I woke up at 3 AM, decided to check my timeshare to see which properties they had available and I booked a holiday to the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia – in the second week of the school hiolidays.

Didn’t even cross my mind to check.

Maybe this proves beyond all doubt that I’ve fully embraced the retirement lifestyle. Or maybe it just proves that I’m an idiot…

After that nocturnal flurry of activity, I’ve done remarkably little further research or preparation for this trip. I’ve arranged 3 catch-ups – one with someone I’ve never met in person, one with Evan24’s girlfriend’s family and one with a school friend I haven’t clapped eyes on for 40 years.

I was vaguely planning to go over there via the Great Ocean Road – another thing I haven’t clapped eyes on for years – but now I’m thinking that overnight accommodation might be hard to get in beachside spots while school holidays are on, so I guess I’ll cut inland for the way over and do the picturesque ocean drive on the way back. The school holidays will be over by then.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Twelve Apostles again.

Doughnut Days* – don’t fail me now! I have to fill out a travel permit to get back into Victoria, apparently. If the borders suddenly slam shut again, at least I have the freedom to kick my heels until they open up again.

I mentioned my timeshare a few paragraphs above. Over 10 years ago, in a moment of complete and utter madness, I bought a timeshare with Accor. The thing that appealed to me about it was that instead of being locked in to one particular property one one particular week of each year, it’s run on a points system with many properties scattered around Australia, New Zealand and Bali.

Since then, after a few holidays when the boys were small, we’ve barely used it. So far it’s been a huge waste of money – but now I’ve retired – by God I plan to use it to its fullest potential!

Last year, just before Covid hit, I went away for a long weekend to Bowral using the timeshare. I had a lovely time, meeting up with a blog reader and poking around in art galleries and just spending some quality time with my good self.

This time, I had 3,300 points that were due to expire in June. This holiday uses up 3,030 of them. This makes me happy. I might book a night in Melbourne and go and see a play or something, just to use up the last 300 points.

So – South Australia means wineries, beaches and fresh produce to me. I’ll be staying down near the bottom of the peninsula, in Normanville, while taking the hour’s drive to Adelaide once or twice to see people and have a look at the city. I’ve only been there once, when I was about 10. I remember liking the taste of the tap water, which astonished everyone else.

Does anyone have any recommendations of ‘must-do and see” things while I’m there? I’ll be there for 5 days, with a day or two on either side for the drive. I’ve stocked up on podcasts and audiobooks (from the library – can’t forget my Quest!) for when I’m in the car, I have around 5 books from the Lincoln Rhyme series to read as well. At night I’m planning to catch up on the second season of Dickinson and AppleTv. My free subscription runs out in June, so I’d better start making the most of it.

So my solitary time in the car and the room is accounted for. Now I need to work out how to fill the days. 🙂 Any advice will be gratefully received.

I’ve decided that when I’m on holidays, my “Low Spend” chart is suspended. There’s no way I’m going to mess with a holiday by limiting the frequency of my spending. That sort of stuff is for the rest of the time, so that when I DO lash out and go on holidays I can do whatever I like with a clear conscience!

This is, I think, the essence of frugality. You pull your horns in for much of the time, only spending on things you need or things you truly value – and because you do this, it gives you the ability and resources to lash out and indulge when you want to. For me, it’s when I’m on holidays.

You should’ve seen me on my 9 week holiday to the UK and Europe. I first planned that trip when I was 15 and I finally went when I was 51. I denied myself NOTHING when I was there and it was incredible. I spent money like a drunken sailor – so much so that I had to send a big box of souvenirs home via post – and I don’t regret a second of it.

This holiday won’t be quite like that, but I’m looking forward to exploring a new-to-me part of Australia. This will be me dipping my toe into the almost infinite possibilities that having total control over my time has brought.

*Doughnut Days are what we call days with zero new covid cases and deaths. We have quite a string of them now, which is why I feel comfortable going interstate.

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

I’m not a magazine reader, so it came as news to me when someone on Twitter said that Dave from Strong Money Australia gave a shout out to a few Aussie FIRE bloggers (including me – thanks Dave!) in a Money Magazine story about the FIRE movement in Australia.

Of course, I was anxious to read it, so I downloaded the Libby app and borrowed Money magazine from the library. (That’s another $9 off my “Earn my rates back” reading quest. ) I’d recommend reading the article for yourself, but in a nutshell, they interviewed 7 people who have either finished the FIRE path or are on their way along it. All but one were younger than me and all had different ways of navigating the path towards total financial freedom.

It made me wonder what I would have said, had I been interviewed. I’ve been a single mother for well over 20 years and have brought up my 4 boys on my own, all while working as a secondary teacher. I still have two of them at home with me, while the oldest and the youngest have flown the nest.

I stumbled across the FIRE movement around 8 or 9 years ago by reading a blog called ‘Go Curry Cracker’. I remember asking him in the comments what this ‘FIRE’ acronym stood for. I was 49, I had just paid off the house and was worried about how I could ever possibly afford to retire.

Imagine my relief when I read the famous post by Mr Money Mustache about The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and I realised that by doing what I was already doing – (ie: saving and investing 50%+ of my take-home pay) I was on track to being able to retire at 67 with over a million dollar nest-egg. I could retire at pension age and not need to eke out my life on the pension.

That did it. I was hooked! I wanted to learn all I could about this FIRE stuff. I devoured blogs, books and podcasts. I hate Maths and numerals with a passion, but even someone as Maths-phobic as I am can learn, given enough repetition of the basic concepts.

Last year, at the age of 57, I retired. Ten years ahead of schedule.

I’m not your stereotypical ‘FIREy’ person, being older than a millennial, single with kids, coming from a career not really known for being lucrative and also being female. (And non-American…)

So what would I have said to the Money magazine people if they’d come knocking at my door? Here goes:

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

Lives: beachside in suburban Melbourne with 2 of her 4 sons. Also with her 3 dogs who she possibly loves more than her children.

Career: Secondary teacher.

“I really believe that the secret to becoming financially independent is underpinned by three very important things,” says Frogdancer Jones as she pours a cheeky shiraz. “You have to know what you value in life so you can concentrate your time, effort and money on those things. You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification – to be a long-term thinker, in other words. And you have to be willing to learn, so that when life offers up an opportunity, you can recognise it and – even more importantly, know what to do with it.”

The last point had a huge impact on the trajectory of Ms Jones’ financial life when, after years of struggling to bring up four boys and pay a mortgage on a teacher’s wage, she grabbed hold of an offer to develop her East Bentleigh property in a much sought-after school zone. This enabled her to release the equity in the property and move to a cheaper, but better, house further away from the CBD.

“Being able to pivot from my original plan to stay there until I was carried out in a pine box saved me having to work for an extra decade,” said Frogdancer. “I would never have had the courage to do it if I hadn’t have spent all of that time reading and listening to people who have already trodden the path to financial independence.”

So what does financial independence and early retirement mean to this early(ish) retiree?

“For me, the security of financial independence is an absolute gift. I left my husband back in 1997 with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash. There were years of struggling to provide for my boys and pay the mortgage – it wasn’t easy to live off 18K/year of Centrelink benefits until the boys were all in school and I could go back to work. The frugal habits I learned back then have really paid off! If I have to, we can live off the smell of an oily rag. It took me a long time to lose the fear that I didn’t have ‘enough’ to retire on.

“Also, being able to retire at 57 is an even greater gift. For the first time in my life, I can be totally selfish. My kids are grown, I have no grandchildren and all I have to worry about looking after are the dogs and my garden. I can spend my days entirely as I choose – the freedom is absolutely incredible. I can highly recommend retirement!”

Recommended books and blogs: ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ – Stanley; ‘The Simple Path to Wealth – Collins; Strong Money Australia; The Retirement Manifesto; Aussie Hi-Fire and Late Starter Fire.

A full year of ‘low-spend’ – and a reward.

Well, people following along at home – I did it!

52 straight weeks of only spending money 3 days a week or less. To be honest, going into 13 weeks of hard lockdown kicked off the winning streak, but then once I had momentum I was loathe to stop it.

I’m proud that I only manipulated my habits once – Evan24 had la birthday and I wanted to shoot him some money. I asked, instead of sending it on Friday, if I could make it Saturday instead, to keep the winning streak going. He laughed and agreed.

Winning strategies?

  1. Starting your spending week on a Saturday and then avoiding shopping over the weekend. (Harder to do with a job.) Then you start each week with 2 success days already under your belt.
  2. Marking ahead on the chart if you’re going to be going out or if there’s an event coming up. You can then avoid using up your 3 days and then getting hit with an expense that you could’ve foreseen.
  3. Making a game of it. Honestly, the world wouldn’t have caved in if I had’ve slipped up. But it’s satisfying to have set the goal for a complete year of disciplined spending and hit it.

So how did I reward myself?

omg!!!!

so excited!!!

Remember how I set the goal to go to Antarctica?

I booked my place on a tour that leaves in December this year.

It’s with the company that I went to North Korea with back in 2018 and their price is 1/3 of the price than if we left from New Zealand – and it’s only a fortnight at sea instead of a full month. I have no idea of the sort of sailor I am. Latestarterfire is coming with me and we’re set to go.

I believe that with vaccinations ramping up, travel will open up pretty quickly. We’re both pretty covid-averse and will wear masks on the plane etc and the ship is requiring proof of vaccination for all passengers and crew. If the tour does end up having to be cancelled, we can postpone our trip to a safer time.

What could possibly go wrong…?

I was born to be retired!

Empty beach.

It’s just past 3 months since I gave my epic retirement speech and stepped away from being a teacher. Teaching is a profession that requires dedication, hard work and an endless supply of patience. It’s a job that seeps into your ‘after-hours’ life in ways that are both rewarding and tedious. It’s probably not too much to say that teaching is more of a vocation than simply a way to earn a living. You either love it and stay, or you find an exit pretty quickly. It’s a job where you have to put in 100% whenever you’re in front of the kids. It’s exhausting by the end of term/the year.

But it’s so much fun as well. The kids make you laugh every day.

And I’m not missing it at all.

River meeting the sea.
The mouth of the river near my house.

Three months out, here’s one of the main differences I’m noticing about my life:

There’s no stress. It’s the strangest thing. For as long as I can remember, even during the long 5 weeks of summer holidays, there was always a small imperative voice in my mind, nudging me to remember that I had to Get Things Done before work started again. There was always the feeling that time was limited and there was no one else to help me to run the house and do the tasks, so I was always conscious of time ticking by – even on my ‘lazy’ days.

Now?

After 3 months I’ve been able to quiet that little voice. It took some doing, I won’t lie.

For example, when I write a blog post, I usually take a couple of hours and bang it out all at once. Can’t waste time dilly-dallying around! But yesterday, I paused after writing the paragraph above this one. I wasn’t feeling the love and I’d just posted something on my personal blog, so the itch to write had already been scratched. I closed my laptop and went on with my life.

Today, we went down to the beach a little before 9 AM. The weather is going to be horrible for the next few days so I thought we’d better get a decent walk in while we could. As I stepped onto the sand and took the leads from around the dogs’ necks, I took a deep, appreciative breath. The sea was sparkling. The sky was a brilliant blue, with only a few grey clouds appearing.

The sand was nearly empty, which made Scout happy. She prefers it when there aren’t too many other dogs there. She ran straight down to the sea and plunged in as far as her belly. (She’s a miniature dachshund, so it isn’t as intrepid as it might sound!) The cavalier twins stayed close as we walked along the waterline.

The shades of blue were stunning. I glanced at my watch – 8:55 AM.

In my previous life, at 8:45AM on a Monday I’d have been walking up the stairs in A Block. This is where most of the year 7 classes are. There are 11 classrooms with 28 students in each. Plus 11 teachers. Thanks to my trusty calculator, (aka “the devil’s machine’ when I was teaching), I can confidently tell you that I would have to push through a crowd of 318 other people every time I taught up there.

Imagine over 300 12 and 13 year olds crowded together? Imagine the noise? The lack of social distancing? The heat all those bodies generate? As you climb the stairs to the first floor in that building, the heat hits you in the face.

As I glanced at my watch this morning, I smiled. The contrast was incredible.

All I could hear was the sound of the waves gently lapping, the cry of an occasional seagull flying over head and the cheery “Good morning”s as people passed by each other as we walked along the sand. The view was beautiful and so unpopulated!

I couldn’t help but appreciate the difference. As much as I loved my time in the classroom, this new life is making me far less tightly-wound. When Scout had had enough, we turned back and walked home. Her little legs get tired pushing through that sand.

As I’m typing this it’s 10:38 AM. Recess time.

The dogs are snoozing on the couch beside me. I’ve had a lime verbena tea from the herb garden and I’m quietly typing away. Blogless Sandy just messaged me, setting up a lunch date with ourselves and a woman we used to live in the same street with over 20 years ago. Thursday lunch? Sounds great!

The rest of the day is spread before me. I’ve looked on the radar and a huge band of rain is going to sweep over us. I probably have an hour or two before it hits and I’ll be stuck inside. I might duck up to Aldi with my shopping trolley and pick up a few things. I might get out into the veggie garden and do a bit more ‘chop and drop’ pruning to get the beds ready for winter. I might harvest the rest of the basil – except the plant I’m saving for seed – and make some more pesto to freeze for our pizzas.

After the rain hits, I’ll be starting a new sourdough loaf. That takes a day or two before it’s ready to bake. I have a quilt I’m working on, three new books from the library and an active Netflix and Stan account. I’ll be roasting some of the 20 pumpkins and zucchini we picked on Saturday. I’ll portion them out and freeze them for soups and pasta bakes later in the year. I also have a mountain of ironing, but somehow, that’s not as appealing to think about.

There’s a myriad of little things to do. All of them are my choice on my timeline.

It’s so lovely to be able to live this way. It’s true – I think I was born to be retired!

My new retirement quest – reading my way to getting my rates for ‘free.’

3 books.
Poems, history and fictional history – what more could you want?

It’s going to storm pretty heavily later today, so I decided to take the dogs and walk up to the library to return a couple of books and pick up an Atwood book of poems that I had on hold. It takes 6,000 steps to get there and back so it’s a good walk to take when you’ve been a bit too ‘at one with the couch’ for a few days.

This morning I thought of another book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. When I got there I posted my returns through the slot and then went to the door and called to the librarians. I had the dogs with me and there was no way I was going to leave them tied up outside. My dogs are too appealing – there’s been an uptick in stolen dogs since covid hit and I don’t want mine to be added to that unhappy crew.

As you can see from the photo – they already had “The Last Tudor”, even though I only put it on hold an hour before. I was one happy customer!

As we were slowly striding home – Scout, being a miniature wire-haired dachshund, has very small legs – I idly began to think of how much money I was carrying home in these books. My father’s remark of, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!” flashed through my mind. He said this when I said that I’d started using the local library.

My rates are $1,800 each year. An average novel costs between $30 – $40. Say, just as a thought exercise, that each book costs $30. That would require someone to borrow and read 60 books in a year to “get their money back.”

(I just want to make something clear. Long-term readers of this blog would be extremely sceptical that I was willing and able to do these mathematical equations. They’d be right. I did them on a calculator when I got home.)

When you consider that last year my Goodreads challenge was fulfilled by the start of December with 80 books read, then this challenge is pretty do-able. I’ve already read 28 books in 2021, so I think I can do this.

A few rules:

  • In order to play fair, I will look online for the paperback version price of each book. After all, I’m a tight**se. I’m never going to buy a hardback version of a book when the paperback version is available.
  • If any books I borrow are eBooks, I’ll count the cost of the kindle version for this quest.
  • I will have a running total of this quest on the sidebar of this blog.
  • Even though I pay my rates in February, I will use the entirety of 2021 for this quest. It’s easier.
  • If I do well at this, there’s nothing stopping me from finding out how much I’ve paid in rates since we moved here to The Best House in Melbourne. A mega-quest will be to work at “earning back” all of the rates I’ve paid. (This could take a while…)
  • This quest ONLY takes into account the books I borrow from my local library. Books I borrow from friends or books I buy for myself do not count.

I’ve just looked up the price of the books in the photo on Booktopia.

Atwood’s ‘Dearly’ only comes in hardcover. It comes in at $22.

Weir’s “Queens of the Crusades’ is priced at $28.

Gregory’s ‘The Last Tudor’ is $31.

With the help of my trusty calculator, the total just with these 3 books is $81. So far, I’ve borrowed and read 22 books from the library.

This could be fun…

Financial independence equals freedom.

View of the bay.

A couple of days ago I went into the city to see ‘Come From Away’ with the year 9 and 10 Drama classes from work. They had an extra ticket and the year 10 class has quite a few of my drama kids from last year and they asked if I could go with them. Isn’t that great?

I went into town by train. The last time I travelled by public transport was over 2 years ago. My Myki had expired! I was finally able to use the new train station – it’s a skyrail so when you get up to the platforms you have a lovely view of the bay. It was a beautiful autumn morning when I was up there. I’m not so sure how glorious a view it’ll be in mid-winter with icy winds coming in straight from Antarctica!

I hopped onto the last carriage and nearly everyone was wearing masks except for a group of 3 people at the other end. Of course, they were speaking VERY LOUDLY. For the first time in my life, I prayed for ticket inspectors to come onto the train to give these people a fine. Unbelievable.

My plan for the day was to meet the kids outside the theatre, see the play and then ride home with them. They were about an hour ahead of me.

Street corner.
Corner of Flinders and Swanston streets, under the clocks.

I haven’t been to the city for well over a year. I decided to get off the train at Flinders street station and walk up to the Comedy Theatre, just to see the place again. There were quite a few people around but nothing like the crowded streets that were the norm pre-covid.

It was nice to walk and hear the ‘ding’ and rumble of the trams as they went by. There are some sounds that you never think of, but when you hear them again they’re oh so familiar. It’s the sound of Melbourne.

Comedy Theatre, Melbourne.
The Comedy Theatre.

It was unexpectedly heartwarming to see the kids’ faces light up when they saw me.I knew about 1/3 of them and, much as I hate to admit it, it was really nice to see them again. Then, before I knew it, I was helping to get them all organised, stopping them from clumping together on the footpath and blocking others’ way through and then going in first and directing them as to which staircase to go through.

Lucy, their new teacher, brought up the rear and laughed. “Seems like I’ve got you working! You were meant to be here just to enjoy yourself!”

“It’s like riding a bike,” I said. Teacher mode was switched ON.

After the play was over we walked back through the city and jumped on a train home. I was expecting to have the usual deluge of private school kids cluttering up the train but surprisingly, that didn’t happen. Maybe they’re all being driven to and from school now?

Lucy and I talked about work, the Theatre Studies curriculum and general life stuff all the way home. At *** station they all got off. I fished around in my bag for my book and peacefully read all the way home.

When the train was entering my station, I got up, looked out of the window and saw the brilliant blue of the sea and sky, with a red paraglider floating happily above. It looked magnificent. I can hardly believe that I live here.

As I was walking home, I was thinking about happy I am with the timing of my decision to retire. See my friends at work on Friday and then going on an excursion with the kids today truly made me remember the good things I loved about my job. And I did love it. I certainly didn’t leave because I was miserable – I left because I wanted more control over my time.

I enjoyed talking ‘teacher talk’ with everyone at work and with Lucy on the train coming home and, of course, seeing the kids and bantering with them was great… yet I’m loving the freedom that comes with being financially independent. As I’m writing this, it’s 8:50 AM. I’m on the couch with 2 snoring cavaliers lying firmly against me on either side. At school, the bell has just rung for the start of period 1 and every class is starting their 5 minutes of mindfulness before the day’s work commences.

I’d be handing out colouring-in sheets to 28 kids in a room upstairs in A block and 28 kids would be bent over their desks, silently colouring before the lesson’s work begins. My day would be ahead of me, dissected into 48 minute chunks of time with all of the lessons planned in advance, with all classes at that year level doing the same work – all in rooms crowded with desks and chairs. I’d be dressed in ‘appropriate’ teacher/office wear while every kid would be wearing the school uniform.

It’s a beautiful day today. I can hear the birds singing outside. When I press ‘publish’ on this post I’ll stand up and Poppy will immediately jump down with me, ready for the next ‘adventure.’ Scout and Jeff will stay where they are, waiting to see if it’s worth their while to move. I’m having a friend from work over for dinner tonight. That’s my only scheduled thing.

The little woofs will drag me out on a walk.

I have to water the gardens.

Other than that, my day is my own.

I wonder if I’ll ever take this pure and utter freedom for granted?

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.

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