Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

Month: February 2019 (page 1 of 2)

How much financial help should we give our kids?

Kids.

A lot of us have them and in general, we tend to be reasonably fond of them. We take pains over what we name them, we feed and clothe them at regular intervals and we ensure that they come out of school being literate and (at least a little) numerate. We tell them Dad jokes, we pay for music lessons and we cuddle them when life gets hard.

In short – we look up after a few years and realise that we’ve actually made our most favourite humans. At least, that’s what’s happened in my case and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

A huge proportion of FIRE bloggers are young parents. They have babies or primary-aged kids, with a lot of bloggers’ children still being ‘a twinkle in their father’s eye’ as the old saying goes. I’ve gone through that stage and I’m now out at the other side with my boys aged in their twenties. We all made it through alive, but when the boys reached secondary school I had to make up my mind about how much I’d help the boys financially once they were older.

When children are small, as in pre-puberty, they cost as much or as little as their parents decide. The parents have full control. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my case, I said to the boys when they were in primary, (and secondary school, come to think of it), that they could have ONE after school activity each. Swimming lessons were non-negotiable – in Australia everyone needs to know how to swim so I took care of that when they were toddlers, before ‘after school’ activities were a thing. In other words, I staggered the outgoings. It wasn’t their fault that we were a one-income family and I didn’t want them to miss out completely on things that their friends were doing, but I wasn’t going to pour thousands of dollars into classes just to keep them busy. Our financial survival was at stake.

David was easy. When he was David3, he asked if he could learn how to play the piano. I couldn’t afford lessons at the time, but when he asked me 2 years later I took notice. For David, two requests two years apart is tantamount to nagging. He started learning piano when he was around 6 years old and is now in his last year of his Music degree.

Tom tried football, cricket and then decided on guitar. He writes songs now and plays for a football team on the weekends. Ryan started with piano, then after a year switched to guitar and continued with it right up to year 12. Evan follows the beat of his own drum and didn’t end up taking any formal classes. He decided to teach himself musical instruments, write scripts and make videos and is currently doing an Acting degree.

Limiting their after-school activities hasn’t seemed to hurt them at all.

Keeping the costs to a reasonable level when they were at school meant that when opportunities for things like travel came up, I was able to take them to places like Bali, Thailand and Singapore – or send them to places on school excursions like Central Australia, Tasmania and the USA. I’ll never forget the elation in Tom16’s voice when I picked up my phone to hear him say, “Mum… I’m on the top of Ayres Rock!!”

(Nowadays everyone calls it Uluru and we don’t climb it anymore as it’s a sacred site, but things were different a decade ago.)

But what was the tough decision I was talking about?

It was about whether or not to help the boys pay for University.

As my boys were heading into secondary school and going through the ranks, I started to think. Tertiary fees aren’t as expensive as in America, but they’re still pretty exxy, especially for the more creative-type courses I could see most of my boys ending up in.

My dilemma was a simple one. I only have one wage coming in and I have no-one to provide for my old age except for me. Do I help them pay for Uni or not? There’s a finite amount of money that will be coming in. Where would it be best deployed?

When I was wrestling with this decision the older kids were in high school, with the younger two hot on their heels. I’d paid off the house a year or so before, back in 2013, and I was staring down the barrel of what looked like it might be an indigent old age. I’d neglected my retirement savings to pour all of my money into paying off the house, which was a deliberate move. Mathematically, it wasn’t the best thing to do, but I valued our security over my retirement. Once the house was paid for and our security was assured, Old Lady Frogdancer suddenly became a lot more real to me…

So I had to think: Which would be the best long-term prospect for the boys?

  1. For me to pay for their degrees, but then later down the track, just when they’ve presumably got young families to provide for, to possibly have to ask them for financial help?
  2. Or for them to pay for their own education, while I save like crazy so as not to be a burden on them?

When you lay it out like this, there’s really only one way I could go. My situation, with no one else able to prepare for my retirement other than me, meant that the money could only go so far.

So, the financial help I decided to give my kids is as follows:

  • I raised you and supported you all the way through secondary school. My job here is done.
  • I want you to go on to further education, so if you’re a student, you can live with me for free and pay no board. However, you’re responsible for paying for any books and other materials. You’re an adult now.
  • If you live with me and you aren’t a student – you pay board. Even though I love you more than vegemite on toast, I’m not cut out in the shape of a doormat.
  • If you choose to move out, then you’re on your own. You’re definitely an adult!
  • The ‘Bank of Mum’ is there if you need to buy a car/fix a car/ pay some tuition not available with HELP loans from the government. It’s interest-free BUT MUST BE PAID BACK PROMPTLY. Any defaults – the Bank of Mum is closed to you forevermore.

I’m hoping that these rules allow enough of a cushion to fall back on, without weakening them and keeping them as ‘kidults’ indefinitely. Currently, I have the middle two sons living at home with me as students. Tom 27 has been out of home and fully independent for around 3 years now and works full-time as an accountant, while Evan22 is studying at a country campus.

I’d love it if the boys could come out of Uni with no debt dragging behind them. That was the way university worked when I was young, when courses were fully paid for by the government. But sadly, life in the real world isn’t like this any more. In order to do the best for us all, I have to take the long-term view.

My worst fear is to be a financial burden on my boys when I’m old. By putting a priority on my retirement, rather than their university courses, I hope that I’ll be giving them the gift of never having to worry about their mother’s financial stability.

I think that’s probably one of the greatest gifts I can give them. I already gave them LIFE. This will be the next best thing…

The FIRE Quilt.

It’s funny how the things you see every day, without really noticing them anymore, can suddenly hit you in a different way.(

This quilt lives on my bed during summer. I made it at least ten years ago, back in the days before my side-hustle of selling thermomixes stopped me quilting. 

Being slightly frugal by nature, I liked the idea of using scraps that most people would throw away to make a useable-sized quilt, so as I made other quilts, I’d save the tiny scraps. Every now and then I’d have an afternoon where I’d sew these scraps together into squares. Each square is 5″. (I know it’s weird to talk in inches, but that’s what quilting deals with, probably because so many Americans do it, those wild and crazy people!)

Some of these scraps are only 1/4” wide. I liked the idea of randomly coming across a sliver of material and making it part of the larger whole. Most strips are wider, but few are wider than 1”. I wanted to use the scrips and scraps and create a riot of colour. 

This quilt was definitely a long-term project. It took me 9 months to complete. Yes, it was the baby I made when I didn’t want to make a fifth actual baby!!

I didn’t buy any extra fabric for this one; I just used what I had. This means that there are recurring fabrics throughout, but no square is the same as any other.

The funny thing is that you could point to any strip in this quilt and I’d be able to tell you where it came from. The doll quilts I made and sold on Etsy to try and earn some money when I was stuck at home with the kids. The quilts I made for the boys with a sewing machine I borrowed from Blogless Sandy, because I couldn’t afford to buy one for myself. The quilts I made for friends and for my family. The quilts I made for David25’s friends who supported him when he was a teenager and dealing with debilitating depression. They’re all there and I remember them.

It occurred to me this morning that our collective hike towards FI/RE is put together a little like this scrappy quilt. 

We begin with the big picture in mind. A life free of any commitments that we don’t want to do. A life where we can build our days as we please. 

But there are So Many Days between when we find out about FI and when we reach it. 

On its own, each day seems insignificant. Just a scrap of time, neither here nor there. We move through our days, sometimes almost sleepwalking through them as the day-to-day routines swamp us. We realise this is happening only when the end of the month comes as a shock – “Where did February go?!?” – or “OMG!! Christmas is nearly here! How did that happen?”

And yet, every day is a strip of time that’s building a bigger whole.

I have to admit, I get impatient when I think about retirement. I like my job but it seems that my days of freedom are so far away. My job and the commute become irritants which are standing in my way of living how I want to live. A little bit of this thinking is good, because it keeps you moving towards your goal. Too much of it, though, isn’t good. It sucks the fun out of life.

I think that the whole concept of FIRE appeals to long-term thinkers. We’re really good at focussing on the far-away goal and moving towards it. This is a terrific trait, but we run the risk of letting it ruin the very thing we’re striving for – improving our quality of life.

Certain sacrifices need to be made in order to reach the over-riding, lofty goal. But just like the quilt, the goal won’t be reached without every strip of time being included in it. What a waste if all we do is focus on the future!

No one on Earth has a quilt that is the same as this one. 

Do I need to make the obvious comment about our lives?

Make each strip count. Do something every day – no matter how small – to bring a smile to your face. We all have a ‘FIRE Quilt’ – it’s just that mine is lying on my bed and yours is your life. On the way to bringing your ‘quilt’ together, take the time to let those colours sing.

****** For those who’d like an update on how Scout is doing after her brush with death, I wrote about her on my other blog.

Here she is, looking sleepy, but alive.

Mindfulness

This year our school is rolling out weekly Mindfulness sessions throughout the whole school. Every Monday morning after we mark the roll, there’ll be the sound of a Tibetan bell and all the kids will be guided for a 10-minute Mindfulness/meditation session by their teachers. We start next week and I’ll be guiding my little year 7s through it. They’re going to love it.

The school has had mindfulness classes for a couple of years now, but these were optional classes at lunchtime. Now, after more data has been collected, particularly by Monash University, everyone is going to get the benefit.

Blogless Liz, the woman I sit next to in the staffroom, has been a huge fan of meditation and mindfulness for years. She’s talked a bit about it but I’ve never actually done a session like this until we started the teacher training when term started a few weeks ago.

Basically, it’s a little like meditation but with no mantras. You sit or stand quietly, noticing sounds, smells, your breathing, the way your feet feel on the floor etc. Any time your thoughts start to wander, when you realise it you bring your attention back to the ‘here and now’. It’s incredibly grounding and refreshing.

When we finished the first session, Blogless Liz asked me what I thought.

“I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years – I just didn’t know it had a name!” I said. ” I’ve been calling it ‘Noticing the little things,‘ “

This was brought to my mind today when I was listening to a podcast, where the Mad FIentist was interviewing Grant Sabatier about his new book. Towards the end of the podcast, they talk about the first times they were ‘in the moment’, truly contented and enjoying what was around them, instead of constantly thinking and hustling and striving or the next goal.

Mindfulness.

The choice to focus inward, with no judgement, to centre yourself and focus on what IS, not what you’re working towards and planning towards. This is a novel experience for FIRE people – we’re always looking to optimise habits, earning capacity and spending to get to where we want to be as fast as possible.

For anyone who’s interested, Monash University is running a free online course, starting at the end of April. I’ve signed up to it, along with everyone else in The Danger Zone (our section of the staffroom.) Monash Uni has made mindfulness a core part of most of their undergraduate programmes, particularly the high-stress ones like Medicine and Law.

Here’s the link. Enjoy! Anything that lowers stress and makes people feel good without doing stupid or illegal things is a Good Thing in my book!

.

Please keep your fingers crossed for Scout.

As I write this, Scout is undergoing emergency surgery for a suspected intestinal obstruction. She is a very, very sick little dog.

She looked a little off colour when I came home from work on Tuesday. (It’s Thursday now.) David25 said that she wasn’t really herself. Every now and then she’d cry out, but she’s done that before and it’s always been fine. She didn’t eat her dinner though, which isn’t like her.

I went to work the next day after she got up and ate breakfast. I gave her dry food, not a chicken neck, as I was worried that maybe the chicken neck was the problem. Ryan24 was going to be home all day so I knew she’d be under observation, but just as a precaution I rang the vet and booked an appointment for later that day. I figured that if Scout was better when I got back, I’d take Jeff for his vaccinations. He was due for them anyway.

When I walked through the door, Scout came out and jumped on the couch, wagging her tail. She still seemed a little flat, but she was definitely chirpier than when I left that morning.

I decided to give here a test and threw her favourite ball down the hallway. She ran after it, and even though Poppy got to it first, which is rare, Scout looked so much better that I thought she was on the mend from whatever ailed her, so I took Jeff to the vet instead.

Wrong decision.

When I left for the vet with Poppy and Jeff, we could hear Scout barking indignantly from my bedroom where I’d locked her in. By the time we came back she was flatter. She didn’t eat dinner.

The dogs sleep in my room, which turned out to be a good thing when she threw up twice in the middle of the night. It was clear that her stomach hadn’t absorbed anything for at least a day and a half. She lay in her bed, moaning softly.

I was at the vet practically banging on the door at 8AM.

When the vet rang me at 2PM, he said that she wasn’t in a good way. They were so concerned about her that they’d rushed her bloodwork by courier to be tested. The results weren’t great. They’d given her a barium drink, and even after 2 hours the xrays showed only the barest trace had escaped from her stomach. There was clearly something in the way.

I okayed the surgery over the phone, but he insisted that I come in to discuss it. After I got over the phone I said to the boys, “I get the feeling he’s giving us the chance to say goodbye, just in case.” So all 3 of us went down.

I’ve never seen a dog look so sick, and I’ve owned a lot of dogs and been in quite a few vet surgeries in my time. She’s such a little scrap of a thing and dehydration hits little dogs (and humans) hard. She barely reacted to us being there, which we assumed was due to her being sedated, but the vet said that she had only had mild pain relief. This wasn’t sedation. This was how she was.

She looked as if she had retreated into herself.

The vet said it would be three hours until he could ring us. As luck would have it, yesterday was the only day I’ve ever left my phone at work, so he’s communicating with us through Ryan24’s phone. I can’t talk directly to my friends, only through Messenger, so I guess that’s why I’m writing this to you. I have to communicate somehow. Besides, she’s been in so many photos here, and featured in a few posts.

It’s funny though, how even in the midst of intense worry, life has its own weird sense of humour.

About an hour after her operation started, I said to Ryan24, “I just don’t want your phone to ring until about 5:30. That’ll mean she’s made it through the operation.”

I then thought to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have said that. It’s tempting fate.’

Then, not one minute later, his phone rang.

We looked at each other and my eyes filled. Neither one of us wanted to pick up. Finally, I did.

It was a damned salesman trying to sell Ryan24 – a student without a house of his own – some subsidised solar panels. We had to smile, but it was from utter relief.

Never Tempt Fate. Fate doesn’t have a very good sense of comedic timing.

Anyway, I’ll press ‘publish’ on this. I should be hearing from the vet within this next hour. Please keep our little girl in your thoughts – she needs all the goodness she can get.

Thanks.

FRIDAY MORNING: I just talked with the vet. He went in to check on her at 10PM last night and said that she was lethargic but stable. This morning when I rang he sad that she’s turned the corner. She’s wagging her tal, they’ve taken the drip off her – I was so pleased about this one because it proves she’s feeling better – and they’ll be test-feeding her today to see if she can keep food down.

If she continues o do well, she might be coming home tonight.

If I wasn’t typing this in front of a class I’m subbing, I’d be dancing for joy.

Why I never had to bother with other people’s expectations.

Lifestyle creep. When you start earning more money and everyone expects you to reward yourself. You buy a bigger house, new/er cars, better clothes. You become spendier. People see you advancing along in your career and they expect to see outward signs of this. They expect you to have a more lavish lifestyle.

But do you know the HUGE advantage I’ve had throughout these 21 years?

Nobody expects a single mother of 4 boys to be able to spend money on lifestyle creep. No one even expects her to have it. Nobody!

Everyone knows how expensive kids are, especially as they move into high school and start living with their heads inside the fridge, eating everything in sight. They grow like weeds, while you can almost see their feet get bigger. They have school fees, school books and school excursions. They have outside interests that need to be paid for.

They probably also need braces. For those who don’t know, braces are hellishly expensive. I had 3 boys who needed them. Fortunately, their father paid for Ryan14’s braces, but I had to come up with the goods for the other two sets.

So here was I, with these 4 boys standing around growing ever taller and looking expensive. With straight teeth, though. That’s got to mean something…

If I needed some new clothes for my family, no one raised an eyebrow if I’d shop at the op shops first. If anyone had clothes to give away, we’d happily accept them. I’d grow my own veggies and people nodded.

Travel is also important to me. If a person has no international travel under their belt, their view on life is limited to the place that they grew up in. I wanted my boys to see outside the bubble of comfortable middle-class suburbia in a first-world nation. Documentaries on TV are great, but they’re no substitute for seeing things for yourself. So I took the boys to Bali, Thailand and Singapore, and paid for 2 of them to go on a school music tour to the USA. They went to the US with some of their uniform and schoolbooks being second-hand, but they still got to go. 

(On re-reading this before publication, I realise that I’m inferring that the USA is a third-world nation!! It made me laugh, so I’ve left it in. Though, now that I think about it, the boys were a bit shocked at the level of decay in the infrastructure of Hollywood/L.A… just saying…)

After school interests? With 4 kids to look after, I told the boys that each child could only have ONE class/sport/lesson each. Just one. While every other kid in the neighbourhood was racing off to something after every school day, my boys, after a bit of trying out of various things, elected to do music lessons.

Tom and Ryan did guitar for years, while David learned piano and is now getting his Bachelor’s degree in music. Evan didn’t end up doing anything at all – he was content to chill and do his own thing. Did any of the other Mums at school raise their eyebrows and make ‘tsk tsk’ noises and insinuate that my boys were being deprived? No.

I had the ‘Single  Mother/Single Wage’ card. I could fly under the radar. I have never had to cope with battling the expectations of anyone else.

And it was wonderful.

It left me free to be the ‘Valuist’ spender that I was born to be.

It’s left me free to organise my finances the way that I – and only I – want to. I like nice clothes as much as the next woman, but our security was more important. That little weatherboard house had to be paid for. And it was. One cheap shopping trip to Aldi for all of those groceries at a time, while wearing the same clothes for years.

My big trip to the Uk and Europe that I’d waited my whole life to do? Once the house was paid for and the boys had all finished high school, I quietly saved up the money and went.

I’m happy to keep wearing the same jewellery and drive the same car while I put improvements in place in The Best House in Melbourne so that I can retire with the infrastructure that I want around me.

Lots of little expenses, like daily coffees from 7/11, or doughnut runs to AJs are things I’ve never done. The peer pressure has never happened, though I’ve seen it put to work all around me. Everyone else is fair game for Lifestyle Creep to be expected of them, but “poor Frogdancer Jones can’t afford it with all those boys…”

I guess being a single parent has to have some advantages.

Heh heh.

Geoarbitrage: all the cool kids are doing it #4.

Late last year I wrote a post on how I sold my house, with fully-approved plans to build 2 massive townhouses on it, to a developer. I was going to do the build myself, but when I was offered a crazy sum of money to sell the house ‘as is’, I decided that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, so I sold it.

Last November it was passed in at auction. In the time between me selling and them building, the wildly expensive property market in Melbourne had begun to soften. They had a reserve of 1.6M for the right-hand townhouse, but at the auction they didn’t even get one bid. Standing with my old neighbours watching this unfold, I felt bad for the developers. They’ve done a beautiful job on the build. I was also incredibly thankful that I’d made the decision to sell when I did.

Since then they’ve reduced the price twice and last Saturday it went up for auction again. I was planning to drive down to see it, hoping that this time the developers would get lucky. It’s all too easy to put myself in the situation and imagine how I’d be feeling.

I was paying bridging finance for The Best House in Melbourne at 72% of my take-home pay for 8 months, then when I dropped my gig as a thermomix consultant and went back to full-time teaching it was “only” 55% for a further 8 months or so. Imagine if I was still paying that today? I would be beside myself with worry if it didn’t sell.

The reserve price at the last auction was 1.6M. On the actual ‘For Sale’ on the website, it now suggests a range of between 1.4M – 1.480M. I was interested to see where the sellers’ heads were really at. The lowest suggested price on a real estate board is rarely what the sellers will accept!

But, just as I was planning to get ready to leave, I thought I’d check the website to make sure I had the auction time correct. This is what I saw:

There was no sticker on the board at the front of the property yesterday morning, but when I rang Tom27 he said that he drove past in the late afternoon and saw them putting the ‘Sold’ sticker on it then. You’d think he’d tell his mother straight away, but I guess not…

I sent a text to the real estate agent, asking what they got for it…

… then I waited. Saturdays are a busy time for real estate agents.

The suspense was killing me…


… and then he rang.

The townhouse went for 1.45Million, with the buyer paying an extra 47K for modifications to be done to the house by the builder. Imagine having the money to pay an EXTRA 47K to pay for ‘improvements’ after you just spent just under one and a half million dollars…?

I’m so glad for the builder that he finally managed to sell this property, but the scary thing is that he had a reserve amount of 1.6M back in November and had to drop 155K off his projected profit to be free of it. That’s a substantial amount of money.

Still, no doubt he still made a profit. I’m also VERY glad I took the money and ran when I did. Part of financial success is hard work, attention to detail, making a plan and sticking to it for a long time. And part of it is timing.

Clearly, I’ve benefitted from both. May we all be as fortunate!

“We both spend money – just on different things.”

I was talking with a friend a couple of years ago. I’ve known her all my life and we chat nearly every week. Our kids have grown up together and it’s safe to say we’re close.

Our lives have worked out very differently. She’s still on her first marriage of nearly 30 years, whereas I’ve been single for most of that time. I live in suburbia, while she lives in the country. Our spending habits are very different too.

She was over at my place, staying for a few days over the summer holidays and she mentioned that maybe we could go out and grab a coffee one day. This is something that she does every day of her life, always with friends or family.

I don’t. Not because I don’t have friends or family, but because I don’t like doing it as a part of my regular routine.

I have my 16c cup of coffee in the morning before I leave home and usually that’s about it. I spend recess and lunchtimes with my friends at work in the staffroom or common room. Going to cafés to spend heaps on a coffee and a cake just isn’t my thing. It’s probably because I’m lazy at heart, but I’d rather loll around at home than dress up to go out and drink the very same things that I have in my kitchen.

I can’t remember exactly what I said in reply to Sharon, but it was clearly unenthusiastic. She curled her lip at me and said, “What’s wrong? Don’t you like the taste of coffee?”

“Of course, I do,” I said. “But we have a coffee machine right here.”

She rolled her eyes. “My God Frogdancer, you never spend money on anything! Don’t you want to live a little? Get out and do things?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I pointed to Scout.

“Sharon, you DO realise you’re talking to the person who paid two thousand dollars for a puppy last year? And spent around thirty thousand for the Europe trip? I’m going to be spending over 50 thousand on landscaping soon. How can you say I don’t spend anything?”

“Yeah ok, but you never buy new shoes or clothes and you’ve had your car for 5 years…”

I interrupted. “Sharon, I spend money on myself every single month.”

“On what?” she asked, looking around. I think she was hoping to see shopping bags piled up in a corner somewhere.

“The only difference between us is that you buy things people can see. You buy things – I buy time. I don’t give a (bleep) about fashion; what I care about is setting myself up so I don’t need to go to work if I don’t want to. I’m buying back years of my life. “

“What do you mean? How can you buy time?”

“Every month I put money in shares, I salary sacrifice to the max into super and I put any extra into my share portfolio. If everything goes as it should, in 5 years or so I’ll be able to choose whether I want to work or not.”

She sighed. “Yeah, that’s fine for you. I’ll be working until I die…”

I thought she was probably right, but it wasn’t the sort of conversation I wanted to have with her just then. I decided to say something that would make the point and end the topic without actually pointing the finger at her.

” We both spend money on ourselves; it’s just on different things.”

So we took our dogs for a walk instead.

When a survival strategy turns into a comfort zone treat.

I used to make a meal for the boys when we were REALLY short of money. It was the meal I went to when the pantry was bare and I needed to stretch the grocery money for another few days, so we’d have to eat whatever was at home.

Oatcakes.

Or as my youngest called them – Oakcakes.

It’s a gourmet mix of raw eggs, rolled oats, salt and some dried or fresh parsley that you form into patties and shallow fry. If I had some leftover meat, I’d chop that into small chunks and add that too, but often, particularly in the early days, that wasn’t an option.

Smother with lots of tomato sauce and serve with mashed potato and veggies.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it?

Ok, I know some of you are feeling slightly ill at this point. But Oakcakes are surprisingly tasty, especially with the ‘fancy’ addition of the meat chunks. The tomato sauce is a must, though.

This was bare pantry desperation cooking. I needed something filling and nutritious for the boys, yet it had to be something that they’d all eat because I couldn’t afford to throw uneaten food away. If something worked with all 4 of them, (or even 3 of them), it was in high rotation.

Now that they’re all in their twenties and two of them don’t live at home any more, I’ve started ‘Sunday Roast’. Every Sunday lunchtime I make a roast for whoever wants to come. The added bonus is that there are often leftovers for Mondays and Tuesdays.

A couple of months ago I came home from work, looked in the fridge and thought about what I was going to make for dinner that night. The two boys were going to be in, so it was the three of us. The weather was a little cool, I didn’t feel like making a salad-y thing, hmmm what to do?

Then I remembered Oakcakes.

I suggested them to Ryan24. His eyes lit up.’That’s a GREAT idea! Oakcakes! I love them!”

David 25 was also enthusiastic.

So I mixed up the mixture… which is a strange sentence to type… put the potatoes in the thermomix to make mashed potatoes and prepped the veggies.

Now… this is confession time. The one thing I used to hate about Oakcakes is cooking them. So I got one of the boys to do that. As a responsible parent, it’s my job to prepare them for Real Life by making them do the household chores that I dislike.

But how funny life is sometimes.

The food that I made for them when we were so poor is now their comfort food. Since that meal, we’ve had Oakcakes every couple of weeks after a Sunday Roast when we’ve had lamb or beef. The boys, especially Ryan24, are the ones asking for it and it makes their night when the answer is, “Yes, we have some leftover roast. Let’s do it!”

I can’t help wondering if we are the only family where this has happened.  Are we weird or do you have a similar tale to tell about how something – doesn’t have to be food – morphed over time from “survival strategy” to ” delightful comfort zone?”

(Hmmm… now I think I’m hungry.)

I’m visiting Principal FI today!

I’m sure we can all identify with Principal FI – it must be awful to think you’re going to get a day off and then you don’t.

Anyway, please jump across and read the interview I did for him on his ‘Educators on FI/RE’ series. (Sounds like something the kids might do to stay warm if the school was snowed in!!!)

This is an interview that, when it came out, I read and thought, ‘Yeah, I’m really happy with this one.’ I’d like to thank him for allowing me to share with his readers.

HERE IT IS.

Big task? Chip away at it.

Before you read this post, could you please jump across to the blog tournament I’m competing in and have a read of the post in Game 2 with the tag ‘GIFT’ – if you like what you read could you please sling a vote my way? I had lots of fun writing that post and it has a lot of useful takeaways.

HERE IS THE LINK. Then, please come back to read this post. I had a lot of fun writing this one, too!

(Friday, period 2, Year 8 English.)

There’s a lot to be said for attacking tasks in a huge rush of focus, urgency and… if you have a deadline looming.. panic. You can get a lot of things done in a short period of time. But there’s also a lot to be said for using snippets of time to chip away at things. Tasks don’t get done so quickly, but they still get done.

Every English class I teach, I start off with 10 minutes of silent reading or writing time. The kids bring in any book they want to read, either fiction or non-fiction and they have 10 minutes 5 times a week to enjoy themselves with whichever they want to do.

Some kids hate reading, so they can write. Each kid has a dedicated A4 exercise book that is their own personal space to write whatever they want to. This writing is never marked/graded or checked for spelling, punctuation and grammar. The kids are allowed to simply express themselves.

The research finds that the more writing kids are allowed to do, especially ‘low stakes’ writing, the better their skills get. A child who decides to write for most of the 10-minutes in each class will get 50 minutes a week of writing under their belt. By the end of the year that’s a lot of time to practice and improve.

Right at this moment, there are 3 minutes remaining of my year 8’s 10-minute time on Friday. They’re absolutely silent, most of them reading, but some are writing.

I told them about a couple of year 7 kids I had last year.

One boy, Jack, is a mad car enthusiast. On his first reading time, he asked if he could write about why the Mercedes XYZ (whatever it is) was so awful. When he finished it he let me read it and I was blown away. It read just like an article in a car magazine. Bythe end of the year he had 2 big exercise books filled with articles, stories and rants – all about cars.

Another boy got an idea for a novel while he was writing in class, so in every English lesson, he wrote a little bit more of it. His novel would never have been written if he hadn’t used these little slivers of time.

That’s really powerful.

(Friday, period 4, year 9 English.)

Ok, I’m now in front of my year 9 class. I’ve given them the huge ‘rev up’ talk about how these 10 minutes every day are probably the only time they’ll get to choose what they want to do in a usual day. I’ve told them to take advantage of the freedom to either consume something they want to read or create something they want to write. It’s silent. Again, most kids are reading but some are writing.

Using little snippets of time can add up to really substantial results.

Actually, it just occurred to me that we bloggers are the poster children for this. We write WHAT we want to write, we write WHEN we want to write and we put it out there. I’ll guarantee you that after a year or two, most bloggers who look back at their early posts wince and wish that they could do a re-write because their writing has improved so much. The writing has only become better because we keep coming back to it.

All of the bloggish writing that we do is being done in little moments of time that we squirrel away from our day-to-day lives. For example, in the last 7 minutes of lunchtime, I found the memes for the first 2 images in this post. I knew I had to get to class when the bell went, so I used the time I had available to get a little job done.

(It’s now Monday, period 3. I’m looking at my year 8 as they read or write.)

Going on from what I was writing last week, little bits of time are usually SO productive. Your phone rings, you pick it up and someone says, “Thought I’d drop in. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” It’s AMAZING how much housecleaning you can get done in that time! (Or is that just me?)

(Monday, period 5 – a year 10 French class I’m supervising.)

I remember years ago, when my Dad was standing in my front yard with me. The garden was overgrown and weeds were everywhere. I sighed, really disheartened, and he turned to me and said, “Never forget, Frogdancer, people move much faster than weeds can grow. Any bit of time you spend out here means you’ll be in front, because you can pull the weeds faster than they can spread. “

I’ve never forgotten his words, mainly because he was expressing the bleeding obvious. Why is it that we can never think of these things ourselves, but the minute someone else says them you recognise the truth in them? He was right – if you decide you’re going to pull out weeds for 5 minutes a day, eventually your garden will be weed-free.

Even the biggest tasks can be achieved if you keep coming back to them.

I was worried about whether I’d stop writing so much for this blog after I went back to work. I’m addicted to reading and I was using the 10-minutes in each class last year to get my Goodreads challenge done. It helped – I read 72 books last year, which still fell 8 short of my target. However, what if I swapped some or all of the reading time for writing time? Hmm… I’d still be modelling creative behaviour for the students which is what a good teacher does…

How could I make this work? I began by lowering this year’s Goodreads target to 60 books. I decided that I’d use the 10-Minute morsels of time on blog posts during the week while saving big chunks of time for writing on the weekends and I raised my blogging target to 3 posts a week. I included ‘Write Every Day’ and ‘Post 3X a week’ columns on my chart that I started at the beginning of the year.

(Tuesday period 1 – year 7 English.)

I’m only in my second week back at work, but so far its been working like a charm. I’ve written things for the blog every single day. It’s easy on the weekdays – as the kids read or write I’m tapping away on my keyboard – but even on the weekends I make sure I’m productive. I hate having to record on my chart that I didn’t do something!

There’s a lot to be said for long swathes of time where creativity has the chance to sit and ponder and let ideas mature and develop. That’s what the weekends are for. But there’s also merit in giving yourself a tight deadline with little smidgens of time and letting productivity go wild.

I thought it might be fun to include the periods that I was writing this post in, so you can see how the 10-Minutes works. I’ve also been editing as I went along, which is why the lengths of the writing during each lesson varies. It wasn’t because kids were talking and I had to take time to shut them down. The kids really love this time. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it!

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