Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Delayed Gratification (Page 1 of 7)

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.

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.

“Cow.”

How that one made me laugh!

Scout on the sand.
Scout.

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.

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!

Monday: 5 days to go…

So! WHAT a day I had yesterday!

Day one of my last week of work.

Today consisted of 2 meetings and the English faculty farewell lunch. The meetings were ok but honestly, pretty pointless for me. The art meeting, which I have to attend because I teach drama, was all about next year. So was the English meeting an hour and a half later. One of the additional jobs was ‘tidy your desk” so when everyone split into year level groups to finalise the lesson plans for next semester, I walked out, telling Sam – the head of the English faculty – that I was tidying my desk as per the list.

Instead, I decided that there was no point in hanging onto these cards. My very good friend Scott first had the idea of ordering ally things from Vistaprint to liven up classes and I’ve continued the tradition since he left the profession almost 10 years ago. I give them out when I hand back their work. Anyone who earns an ‘OUTSTANDING” ( anything between 18 -20/20) gets a round of applause from the class, one of these cards and a hearty handshake from me. 

Anyone who gives me a ‘limp fish’ handshake gets a lesson in how to shake hands properly. Ugh… nothing worse.

At first I walked around to all of the English teachers’ desks and put a card on each. After all, I knew it would be a surprise because everyone else was at the meeting. There was still a stack of cards left, so I grabbed a biro and crossed out the ‘in English’ line and left them on everyone else’s desks until I ran out. Just a bit of fun to finish on.

Then it was back to the English meeting for the lunch, where the 3 people who were leaving were expected to make a speech.

According to the other two women leaving, none of us had given this much thought. I’m a bleeding-edge type of teacher, so I knew I’d come up with something on the spur of the moment. The other teachers who were leaving were immensely popular and were moving on to different schools next year, one to advance her career, the other to be closer to home and her young family.

Sam gave a little speech before each one, then a close friend of the others also said some words. In both cases it was all very emotional and heartfelt, with tears, hugging and phrases such as “loves the kids to bits”, “exceptional teacher” and “full of empathy for everyone” were said.

I determined that my speech would be a bit different. After all, I’m a stranger to the gentler emotions of love and empathy.

Sam gave his speech, talking about how my quirkiness would be missed.Apparently collecting compost materials from the school, showing off quilting and knitting projects and other things like that are things that not everyone does at work. Amazing. Frogdancer loves the students, very professional, blah blah blah.

Then he asked Adrian, the closest thing to a work husband I’ve had since Scott left, to say a few words.

“What?!?” Adrian spluttered. “Geeze Sam, it’d be nice to have some notice!”

“I emailed you this morning!”

Adrian got up, casting an apologetic look my way. “I’m sorry Frogdancer, but this will be from the top of my head,” he said.

He gave a lovely little speech, saying things about how I always come to work expecting to have fun. Fun is starting to leach away from the profession in the last few years, he said, (which I whole-heartedly agree with), but Frogdancer Jones still extracts every drop of fun she can. Loves the students, not so keen on meetings with adults,  blah blah… 

Then Brock got up and said part of the quirkiness I apparently exit is my frugality. Well, let’s be honest, he called me a tightarse, bringing up the months that I used to take the train into work really early in the morning to get a free train ride.

He obviously had no idea that at that stage I was paying over 70% of my take-home wage on bridging finance for The Best House in Melbourne, so literally every penny counted. But that’s ok.

Then it was my turn… at last!

“Well guys, thanks for the lovely things you said but your speeches have made me really sad. Clearly you don’t know me AT ALL!!”

The big laugh showed that I was off to a good start. 

“I don’t love the kids – couldn’t give a rat’s arse about them!” Another laugh… phew. “ I only come to work to socialise and pick up coffee grounds and rotting veggie scraps for the garden!”

Then I went all serious to give some light and shade to this thing that’s coming out of my mouth. (Really should’ve thought about this beforehand.)

I talked about how lucky we all are to be teaching English. We get to know our kids in a way that no other faculty does, though drama comes close. Our lessons cover all sorts of areas so we’re never bored and the kids will make you laugh every single day, if you let them.

Then I looked around the room and said how fortunate I felt to be have spent my career working with such extraordinary people who do their jobs so well. “But if I never see any of you again, hey, that’s ok!!”

Another big laugh. Another internal phew! That joke could’ve gone either way… LOL.

I can’t remember what else I said. My speech was shorter than the others, mainly because I saw some glazed looks starting to appear on people’s faces earlier. Me, I like to make ‘em laugh and leave with them wanting more.

Everyone in the faculty had a choice of bubbly, wine or gin to take. I picked out a bottle of Mother’s Ruin. I’d noticed on Sunday night when I made a G & T that I only had enough gin for one more drink so it came at the perfect time. 

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

The afternoon was free, so I used it to fill in and submit the exit and CRT paperwork. There’s no going back now! I decided to hand in my keys at the same time. I can’t see why I’d need to unlock a classroom with no kids around. 

I also walked down to the canteen and picked up the bin I’d bought to collect the veggie scraps. It’s perfect for a weed/dog poo bin for the back yard. No point buying another one if the original bin I bought wasn’t being used. Now is that frugality or tightarsery at work?

I’m typing this sitting at the hairdresser waiting to get beautified for my official leaving speech on Thursday. It’s one of my days off but there’s no way Frogdancer Jones is giving up the opportunity to perform with all eyes upon her! I live for this stuff.

I have no clear idea of what I’m going to say yet, but no doubt inspiration will strike between then and now. My friend Megan is my designated driver, so watch me have some fun when my speech is over and I can relax! The bowls club is going to ROCK!

Send good vibes for me on Thursday. If inspiration DOESN’T hit I’ll be a nervous wreck. 

I suppose it’ll serve me right, though…

On your own terms.

If not now, when?

Yesterday was my last day of actual teaching.

People kept asking me how I was feeling. It was a surreal sort of day. In my head of course I knew that this was the last time I was going to walk into the Theatre and teach my group of year 9s, but emotionally, I don’t think it’s hit me yet.

As I said to all the people who asked, “I honestly don’t think it’ll feel totally real until Term 1, Day 1 next year when I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and race off to be at school by 8:35.”

The year 7s and 8s were at school but they had an activity day. The year 8s rotated around different sports but I – thank god! – was with the year 7s. They had a day of indigenous activities, where they learned aboriginal games, drawings, dancing and such. Much more interesting.

I had the first 2 periods of the day with 7M, my wriggly puppies class. The middle of the day was free, so I started moving more stuff from my desk to the bins/car, and also did some hand-stitching on the quilt I’m making for Jenna, Evan24’s girlfriend.

Then I had my last real class. Year 9 Drama.

As the bell went, I walked through the staff common room calling, “Just in case anyone’s interested, I’m off to teach my last class ever!!”

There was cheering , clapping, with some people calling out, “Aw, shut up!” and others shouting, “You’ll be back!”

Otter in a basket: Just a little further then freedom."

I rounded the corner to the Theatre and the kids were gathered at the door, waiting. I saw a couple of gift bags out of the corner of my eye but I pretended not to see as I grabbed my keys and unlocked the sliding glass door.

I looked up and there were Darby and Izzy, from my semester 1 class.

“Well this is a blast from the past!” I said. “What are you two doing here?”

Atahan, who is the sweetest kid, stepped forward with an enormous box of chocolates.

“We made this a group of 3 effort,” he said. Izzy gave me another box of chocolates, while Darby handed me a gift bag with a bottle of red wine.

“Don’t ask me where I got this,” he muttered. Bloody hell, I thought. He probably swiped it from the back of his parents’ liquor cabinet…

They also gave me a card. Whenever I mark the roll, I mix up the order of the kids and the last one is always announced by, “… and the hideous blah blah blah!” Kids, once they get over the shock of hearing this for the first couple of lessons, look forward to being hideous. The three of them signed the card with “hideous Darby”, “hideous Isabel” and “hideous Atahan.”

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again, with all of the lazy kids not bothering to turn up for the last day of classes. I had 11 really keen drama students to work with.

“Ok,” I said, once I marked the roll and Atahan was the last hideous student I’ll ever teach, “what are the games that you most like to play?”

In true Drama class form, they chose Theatre Sports games, so we had almost an hour of the funniest improvisational games. We had such a good time. Every now and then I’d join in and they loved it. Drama kids have the best senses of humour!

It was truly the best way to close this chapter of my life.

Two puppies crawling out of a pen.

At the end of the day, as the kids were leaving, a year 9 girl came up to me and said, “I heard you were retiring. I just wanted to say thank you for year 7 English. I loved coming to class that year.” She paused and said, “Do you remember me?”

“Of course I do!” I said. “It’s just that you’ve changed so much – you’re so TALL!”

I gave her a hug – we were both wearing masks so it felt safe – and I thought, wow. The kids here at this school are so lovely.

At the end of the day, as I raised a glass to myself to toast this memorable day, I felt satisfied. This may sound big-headed, but as I looked back on my career I felt proud that I did it well. I’m a damned good teacher, The kids enjoyed my classes and so it was easy to shoehorn the knowledge that they needed into their heads. If they enjoy being in front of you then the job is so much easier.

A couple of years ago I had the idea to write Dad jokes on the board at the beginning of every English lesson. That was a stroke of genius. I only wish I’d been bright enough to think of it years before. The kids absolutely loved it, and if by any chance I’d forget, someone would always ask for them.

Oh my god, how unprofessional of me to forget!” I’d say, and I’d grab the whiteboard marker. Every time I’d finish a quilt, I’d bring it in to show the kids and we’d talk about creativity and how important it is to explore that side of ourselves. When I was teaching the year 12s, I’d make timtam fudge and bring it in whenever they were doing an assessment “to keep their strength up.”

I’ll miss those little things, I think.

Yoda- inestimable value is the possession of freedom.

Adrian, one of my friends at work, was laughing at me, saying that I’m deluding myself about all of this being the last time.

“We all know you’ll be back,” he said. “There’ll be someone who gets sick or wants to go on holidays early and they’ll call you back in.”

“I’ll probably say yes,” I said. “That trip to Antarctica isn’t going to pay for itself, you know!”

Someone else, I don’t remember who, then said, “Yeah, but the difference will be that you’ll be doing it on your own terms. You don’t want to work that day, you just say no. You’ll be choosing to come here and teach. That’ll make all the difference.”

Only a week to go… I give my farewell speech at the staff Christmas luncheon on Thursday. I think I’m going to enjoy myself!

(My friend Mr Groovy wrote this post about what to expect from early retirement when he heard that I was pulling the pin. The film clip is a classic!)

Operation Beautify!

Less than two weeks of work to go!

The cupcakes you see above were baked and decorated by one of my year 7 girls. She met me at the school gate yesterday with a big cake box and the most beautiful card. I don’t know if I wrote about the ‘Creativity Challenges’ that I was running while I was teaching from home during the two lockdowns this year.

Anyway, just to bring you up to speed, every couple of weeks or so we’d have a ‘catch-up class’ built into the English curriculum, so that kids who were struggling with remote learning could… well… catch up. I decided to use that time to test out who in my year 7 classes were actually human.

Creativity, whether it be making something tangible and useful out of raw materials or devising something artistic and beautiful is part of what makes us human. It satisfies something in the soul that nothing else can. So every couple of weeks we’d all share what we’d been making. I showed them the sausage dog quilt patches I was making for the quilt for Ryan25 – more on this in a future post – while they’d show off drawings, sculptures, things they’d been knitting, embroidering or designing. When someone asked if baking was creative and I said yes, Ariela’s eyes lit up. She started showing photos of the cakes she’d been baking in lockdown. They were Masterchef-worthy.

The card that she gave with the cupcakes mentioned the creativity challenges, saying that she found them very inspiring. This made me happy. I was hoping to reach at least a couple of kids and have them springboard off into expliring all the creative things that come their way. 🙂

There was a very happy staffroom at recess yesterday, all munching away on those cupcakes. (I had 2…)

Tomorrow I have my last year 7 classes ever. I’m finishing up ‘Back to the Future 2’ with 7M, while I’ll give 7D one last Drama class. The last piece of work I’ll ever mark was a grammar test – God, how I hate grammar. I certainly didn’t become an English teacher for the love of grammar. I finished marking the test while the class was working on something else, then leaped up, waved my hands in the air, declaring, “This is the LAST EVER grammar test I’ll ever have to mark! Whoopee!” The class applauded.

Friday will be my last ever Drama class.

I’ve had my last ever staff meeting – how sweet is that? Next week is full of meetings planning next year’s classes. I have to go to them, even though I clearly don’t give a tinker’s cuss what they decide. I’m hand-sewing binding on a couple of quilts I’m giving for Christmas presents, which takes hours per quilt, so I’ll probably just sit there with that and listen to all of the conversations.

I also have to attend the final meeting with the head of English, as we talk about my career achievements for this year and what I plan to aim to achieve next year. I’m HAPPY to talk about all that I plan to achieve next year with him! Sadly, pedagogy, literacy, rubrics and other exciting teacherly topics will be nowhere on that list.

Over the next 2 years Operation Beautify will be happening at my place. While I’m waiting for the world to become less riddled with COVID so I can go to Antarctica, I’m planning on doing work around the house and garden to make the place look prettier.

There’ll be spots of colour in the garden; the new outdoor room which looks so new and stark at the moment will be transformed and softened to become a far more welcoming space and the interior of the house will have artwork (and a new ensuite) to be even more of a haven for the boys, dogs and I.

Not that the dogs care too much about artwork…

Every now and then I’m hoping to trot off to a school to do some CRT work or exam invigilation to help pay for Antarctica and break up the weeks, but I fully expect to be spending most of my time at home for 2021, just catching up on rest, detoxing from the pace of working life and puddling around doing all the little things that I enjoy doing.

Operation Beautify will happen step by step.

I think it’ll be very satisfying.

7 weeks to go…

My desk has holiday snaps all over it. Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

Seven weeks of formal work to go.

I’ve begun returning text books to the library and soon I’ll begin either taking home things from my desk or binning them. I had a partial clean-out at the end of last year when I went part-time and had to share a desk this year, but I still have a lot of travel photos, cards from kids and other memorabilia that will have to come down before I go.

You can see the hand sanitiser on my desk in the bottom right of the photo. The school has issued a mask, a face shield and heaps of hand sanitiser to every teacher. It’s become second nature to sanitise after every class. I have a feeling this will be around for a long time.

I didn’t feel safe at work when the pandemic started and I was furious whenever pollies banged on about opening up schools. Now, with numbers of new cases in the zeros or single digits, with every single person wearing masks and bucketfuls of sanitiser everywhere, I feel safer at school. The kids don’t socially distance, but honestly, that was never going to happen. When everyone in sight is wearing a mask, it’s very reassuring, especially when paired with such low numbers.

A birthday card. My colleagues know I'm a huge 'Survivor' fan. My head is superimposed onto an image from Survivor.
A birthday card. My colleagues know I’m a huge ‘Survivor’ fan.

Word has started to filter down to the students that I’m retiring. One of my best friends at work is teaching kids this year that I had last year for year 7 English. She told me that she mentioned to the class that I was retiring at the end of the year and one little boy, Nick, was very upset. He said, “Oh noooo! I wanted my brother and sister to have her for English when they got here!”

She replied, “Well, that’s too bad. Tell them they should have been born earlier if they didn’t want to miss out!”

Participation certificate for a test where the kid said s/he was Boo Radley.
Makes me smile.

I’m very fond of this. We used to make every kid go into an English competition and they all got a participation certificate – not that most of them cared. Those of you who have read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ will appreciate the humour in this – imagine Boo Radley leaving the house to go and sit this test? So proud of him.

I popped into an art class to talk to the teacher about fixing up a couple of minor dings on the paintings from the UK of the dogs. While I was there a girl called me over. I taught her 3 years ago in year 7 English, and every now and then I’d sneak the class into the theatre to do some drama. So many kids from my junior English classes go on to select Drama as a subject. 🙂

“I’m taking year 11 drama next year Miss, so I’ll be having you again!” she said, beaming. When I told her that no, she definitely would NOT be having me, her face fell. “But we all know that you’re taking year 11 Theatre so Ms OtherDramaTeacher can take year 12!” she said.

First time I’ve heard that rumour…

Pyongyang, North Korea 2018. What a trip!

It appears I’ll have a travel buddy for Antarctica. LateStarterFire messaged me and she wants to come too! My timeline of roughly 2 – 3 years suits her and so it could be a thing. My thinking at the moment is that if COVID is still a thing, we’ll leave from New Zealand. If COVID’s gone, then South America (and Easter Island) will be the way to go.

My New Challenge:

I decided to set a challenge for myself. Either way, it’s going to be a hellishly expensive trip, so I’m going to see if I can earn 20K in 2 years to help with the costs. Even though I didn’t want to set foot in a classroom next year, I decided that penguins, icebergs and whales were enough of an incentive to pick up some CRT (Emergency) teaching next year, as well as anything else I can pick up, such as online surveys, exam invigilation etc.

I talked to the Daily Organiser at work and I now have paperwork to fill in. I’ll look at schools closer to home too, because it’s the commute to the school I’m in now which is a huge time-suck. I didn’t retire just to go straight back into sitting in a car for an hour and a half each day! There’s a tutoring program that is starting next year to make sure kids who struggled with remote learning this year won’t be disadvantaged. I’ve put my name down for that as well, but seeing there’s apparently over double the amount of applicants for spaces available, I’m not holding my breath.

Rome and a postcard from North Korea.

I hear about a group of people called ‘The Retirement Police” from other blogs, who point the finger at anyone who earns money after they retire and say that it means they’re not REALLY retired. Fair enough, I guess, but I plan for every penny I earn to be popped in the bank for this holiday. Besides, if you’ve read this blog for more than 5 minutes you’ll know I like a challenge. Imagine when I get a thousand dollars? Ten thousand? It’ll be very satisfying.

(Besides, after all those years of living hand-to-mouth when the boys were young, it feels odd to not hustle, even a little bit, for some extra cash. I think the memory of those years will take a long time to fade.)

I’m knitting some beautifully warm, soft, thick cowls for David27 and Evan24’s girlfriends Izzy and Jenna – both November babies – and I thought of maybe knitting some of these to sell. I use kettle-dyed wool from South America, probably spun by virgins, and the cowls are fabulous to wear in the middle of winter. The wool costs just under $40, so I thought that asking $100 plus postage would be reasonable.

But then I went onto Etsy and saw what people are charging for hand-knitted items. Nothing has changed since I used to have an Etsy shop for baby hats and quilts about a decade ago. People are barely getting more than the cost of the yarn for the things they spend hours knitting – it’s just not worth spending 6 or 7 hours knitting to earn $5 or $10 profit. It’s a shame because I like knitting, but if I’m going to reach my challenge target I need to do things that give me more bang for my buck time.

Bright pink rice stitch cowl.
Jenna’s cowl.

I know Izzy will like her cowl. I got her to choose the wool I used, holding out 2 skins of red wool and asking her which one she thought Jenna would prefer. Heh heh. Little did she know she was choosing the wool for herself.

I asked Jenna’s Mum which colours Jenna likes, so hopefully Jenna will be pleased too. They’re both brunettes with olive skin so they can wear the bright, bold colours that I can’t. It’s been fun making these.

Today is Melbourne Cup Day, a public holiday for a horse race. Tuesdays are normally one of my days off, but it still feels like a holiday regardless.

Today I’ll be making all of the Christmas presents for my friends at work and doing a bit more painting on the verandah and gardening. Later, I’ll be keeping a slightly nervous look at how things are panning out in the US with their election. Crazy times when shopfronts are being boarded up because people are scared of the possible fallout from an election. Usually, elections are the staidest things on earth…

Happy Melbourne Cup day, everyone!

My new goal.

Meme

Well, I’m not one for crystals and dream catchers or “putting things out there and letting the universe decide”, but sometimes there are massive coincidences that seem to be telling you something. This happened to me a couple of days ago and now I know what my next big goal is. I’m so excited!

A couple of posts ago I sent a shout-out to my Antarctica reader/s (?). It always gives me a thrill when I see that they’ve hopped on to have a read. Anyway, Penguindancer! commented on that post. I have to admit, I had a little fangirl moment. I sent a reply, saying that I’d love to go there one day, then hurriedly left the house. It was Thursday, my day off, and my hairdresser doesn’t take appointments. With hairdressers now allowed to open after a couple of months of being locked down, I knew I’d have to get in early to avoid a long queue. The whole of Melbourne is clamouring to get our hair cut so we can look human again.

I got there soon after 8AM and was 4th in line. The guy who was number 1 was talking with number 3 about travel. He said to her, “By far the best trip I’ve taken was to Antarctica.”

You can imagine how my ears pricked up at this.

I joined the conversation, telling him about my new best friend Penguindancer! and before I knew it I was looking at photos and film of icebergs, penguins, seals, and I was taking down the name of the boat and tour company he used. I was able to return the favour – Frank had no idea you can travel to North Korea and his eyes lit up when I mentioned I’d been.

He also gave me a fabulous tip – on the way to South America, stop off at Easter Island.

omg.

As the door opened to the hairdresser, he said, “I hope you’ll be able to go one day.”

“Oh, I WILL go!” I said.

“I warn you… it’s not cheap,” he said.

“I don’t mind spending money on things like this,” I said. “You only do them once, so it’s worth it.”

Newly-styled hair

A few hours later I arrived home with all of those strange silvery hairs – surely impossible for one so youthful and dewy to grow??? – all disappeared. I felt like a new woman. Over lunch I pulled up my Feedly blog reader and saw that Bonnie from 43 Blue Doors had written a post about Mission Beach, right in the far north of Queensland in the tropics. I settled down for a read.

As I was reading, she included a link to this post about her trip to Antarctica.

Are you KIDDING me?!?

Three times in the one day?

What are the odds of a blog post talking about Cassowaries and the tropics in Australia linking to a post full of photos of Antarctica? Add to that the odds of having conversations with Penguindancer! and Frank on the exact same day…

Clearly I need to get my good self down to Antarctica.

The last two days I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of exploring all the possibilities.

Map

If you go from South America, this is basically the no-frills route that most expedition ships seem to cover. You can get tours that go to the Falklands and South Georgia as well, but this is the area that most tours seem to go. I want to sail on a smaller ship, as they seem to be able to let people go onto the land. I can’t see the point of going all that way, only to merrily sail all around the area without being able to physically set foot there.

However, South America is riddled with covid at the moment, so I’m not in a tearing hurry to pack my bags and leave this instant.

Map

However, as Penguindancer! wrote in the comments section this morning, there is another option. Leaving from New Zealand. Prices are eye-wateringly more expensive, but the covid consideration is practically non-existent. Plus I guess the cost might work out roughly the same when you take the shorter flight into consideration. (I haven’t looked at flights yet – no point really since our borders are closed to all except New Zealand.)

The islands they visit on the way have had vastly fewer tourists see them. Hmmm…

So, here’s what I’m thinking at the moment:

  • The open water part of the trip is much less in South America. I don’t know good a sailor I am.
  • No one knows what’s going to happen with Covid. New Zealand is far more viable a destination in the near future than South America.
  • The boats from NZ take fewer passengers. That could be either a good or a bad thing, depending on who else is on board!
  • Easter Island would be only a short hop from South America.
  • I like to have something to look forward to. What if I set this trip as a goal for my 60th birthday? That’d mean I’d have 3 years to save up for it and plan for it.
  • I could work some CRT and exam invigilation over that time. That income could be stashed in an account to help pay for it. Frank was correct – this will NOT be a cheap trip.
Iceberg

But imagine seeing something like this in real life? This is why I’ve worked so hard to free up my time – the world is full of incredible things to do and see.

So I’ve set my newest Big Goal. I thought my next big trip would be going back to the UK and Europe, but sometimes life offers up attractive alternatives.

You wouldn’t be dead for quids, hey?

When you hit a goal you never knew you had.

Shot of the beach near my home.
Backyard beach.

It was July 3, 2016. I was just shy of my 53rd birthday.

Poppy, Jeff and I were walking on the beach. Scout wasn’t even born yet, let alone being part of the pack. It was a cool day, with a bit of a wind whipping along the shore. We’d moved into The Best House in Melbourne 3 months before and our spending was austere. That happens when you’re paying interest on a 750K bridging finance loan.

I’d taken a big risk – a risk that I thought I’d never take again once my little house in Bentleigh East was paid off and we were totally debt-free. I thought I would never borrow money again. But here we were, 750K in debt, waiting for that same little house to be torn down and townhouses put there in its place.

If it all worked out, I’d have swung a deal that would save me years of work because I could bump up my superannuation and investments with the equity I’d released. If the property bubble took a dive, then I’d have done all this with no real financial benefit at all. I would have swapped my commute from 2 minutes to 45 minutes for the next 14 years…

Sure, I was paying 70+% of my wage purely on the interest for my new house. This would go on for 18 months. We were living on a shoestring. But if all went well, my overall dream of financial security would be brought forward by years.

Spoiler alert: it all worked out. I’m retiring in December this year, fully 10 years short of what I ever thought I’d be able to do. But walking on that beach 4 years ago, I didn’t know that then.

As we walked, I threw the ball over and over again for Poppy and I started thinking. To me, financial independence has always meant security first and foremost, but it also means freedom. Retirement coupled with financial independence means freedom on steroids – the ability to do whatever you want to do when you want to do it. Swinging this property deal would mean that this goal of a financially-free retirement that I knew I would reach when I was 67 could be brought forward. But I wondered…

When would I actually be able to retire?

What if I tracked the days? What if I set a stretch target of say… when I was 60? Surely, if the deal worked, I could shave 7 years off my working life. How cool would that be?

I already tracked my spending. Why not set a target, then track my working days? It’ll be a bit of fun, plus it would be FREE. (This was a heady consideration back then!)

Chart.
Three and a half years just on this one page…

So the ‘Days to Retirement’ chart was born.

Every day, or every few days if I get busy and forget, I colour in another number. I decided I wanted it to look a little like a patchwork quilt, so every month has its own colour. Every July 3rd, I colour that square red, as I’m a sentimental old fool and it’s the chart’s anniversary. Every December 31 is red too, just the mark the passing of another year.

It takes surprisingly long to fill in this baby. The first page took just over three and a half years to complete. It had turned into a habit, something I drowsily did first thing in the morning before I got out of bed.

In a fit of industriousness a long while ago, I’d filled in the numbers for the days until the end of 2020, then I just let it be.

Maybe it was prophetic…?

Look at all those empty squares!

It occurred to me the other day how strange it was that I’d only filled on the days until the end of 2020, which has turned out to be the end of my working life. When I was filling in the numbers, I was fully intending for my ‘stretch target’ to be when I was 60. I was going to keep filling in the numbers but, frankly, it was boring and I thought, ‘Meh. I’ll save it for another day. I’ve done enough.’

(Just in case there’s someone counting the number of days in the years of 58, 59 and 60 – those markers are only approximate. I did a rough estimate, knowing that I’d get to them later.)

But still! Look at those days.

Look at how many of them there are! I just did some Maths – 365 X 3 = 1,095 days of me being able to do whatever I want.

A thousand days. That’s as long as Anne Boleyn was on the throne of England.

My mother once said to me, “A house revolves around the rhythms of either the oldest or the youngest people in it.” She meant that if you have either very young children or someone elderly, then everyone else’s routines and habits tend to bend to cater to the needs of these people.

My boys are all in the mid twenties and are years away from starting families. I’m selfish enough to relish having a few years to myself before I have to consider when/if I’ll put my hand up for childcare for grandchildren. Up until now there have always been demands on my time. School, then uni, then work, then kids, then work/kids again.

I have a feeling these next few years might be a gentle sweet spot where – for the first time in my life – how I spend my days is entirely my choice.

Look at all the empty days in the bottom of that chart.

Mightn’t be too bad…

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