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

Category: Enjoying life right now. (Page 1 of 5)

4 weeks to go until I retire.

Remember my ‘Days to Retirement’ chart I wrote about a month ago? Five days ago I coloured in the Nov 18 square.

That meant that it was exactly ONE MONTH to go before I retire.

It all started to seem a little more real. Four weeks to go.

So, for those of you playing along at home, how am I dealing with life 4 weeks before Freedom?

I’ve started clearing my desk. I’ve had this desk for around 16 years and there’s a lot of stuff on it. I walked across to the library and returned all the textbooks I’ll never need to read again, which was a sweet, sweet feeling. I’m sure that some people like ‘Blueback’ and ‘Once’, but to be honest – for me they’re a bit of a snooze-fest. It’s such a great feeling to know that I’ll never have to read about that stupid Felix and the carrot he found in his soup ever again.

I had a nice chat with Anna in the library while I was there. Years go, I taught her daughter in year 8. “Why do you want to retire? You’re too young!”

I’ve brought home a couple of bags of things that I have a feeling I want to keep, though we all know that I’ll probably file the folders and then throw them out a decade from now. Things like short stories and poems that I’ve used in my classes and I love. But will I really ever read them again??? I guess time will tell.

My desk drawer is jam-packed full of pens, markers and such – even the stapler that my dear friend Scott bequeathed to me when he left the school (and the country) over a decade ago. It’s still a damned good stapler and it’s coming home with me.

Who says that Frogdancer Jones isn’t a sentimental old fool?

Over the years I’ve read lots of blog posts from people who’ve retired who say that they seemed to need to catch up on sleep. People say that it takes anywhere from several months to a couple of years for their bodies to stop needing extra sleep from the years of stress from working.

It seems that I’ve jumped the gun a bit and I’m experiencing this now. On the days that I’m home, I’ll have an hour long nanna nap more often than not. Yesterday I even had a nap before lunch. Crazy!

I have no idea why my body has decided that it needs more rest, but I’ve decided to go with the flow and listen to it. The dogs have worked out the new routine – when they see me go into my room and they hear my empty shoes hit the floor they race in. Poppy jumps onto the bed while I lift Jeffrey (who is big enough to jump on the bed himself but too stupid to realise it) and little Scout onto the foot of the bed. We all have a snooze together.

I’ve booked an appointment with my accountant to talk through how things may change once I hang up the whiteboard markers. When I received the payout from the geoarbitrage exercise, I put some money in a trust. The trust may be kept going or it may need to be wound down.

It’s good to be able to talk through my options with people who don’t freeze at the sight of a page of numbers.

My trip to Antarctica is definitely still a thing. I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring for a few casual teaching days and/or exam invigilation to help pay for it. Those penguins and icebergs are EXPENSIVE and they certainly won’t pay for themselves. I’ve got to get my CV together and then I’ll traipse around to some of the schools near me to scout out whether or not I’ll want to work there. My current school already knows that I’ll be available. I just have to fill out the paperwork.

The advantage of CRT (Casual Relief Teaching) is that there’s no marking, no meetings and no bringing work home. The schools work you hard during the day to get their money’s worth – no free periods and always a yard duty – but the money’s good and would definitely kick along the holiday fund. It’s dull work though. I remember when I did a year’s CRT work when the boys were all finally at school, before I landed my job in my current school. In the life of a CRT, a boring day is a good day. If you’re really interested in what’s happening in the classroom, the chances are that all hell is breaking loose!

The wonderful thing about all of this is that I have options. If I decide that CRT isn’t for me, I can simply refuse to do it anymore. I’ll still see Antarctica. I just like the idea of challenging myself to earn some of the money required for it. Some habits die hard.

I’m still ticking off the ‘lasts’ at work. On Friday I marked the last Drama assessments I’ll ever see. Next week will see the last grammar tests I’ll ever mark (THANK GOD!) and the last film still paragraphs. Then that’s IT!

Much as I love teaching English, we have the heaviest correction load of any other faculty in a school. Reading 28 essays on the same question about the same novel is something that I’ll definitely not miss. Also grammar. Ugh. I always teach grammar on Mondays – “GRRRRammer Monday! – just to get it out of the way so the rest of the week is devoted to fun things.

My last week of work is full of meetings, planning for next year. Maybe I should bring in huge gin and tonics and sit at the back of the room, shouting out, “You all do whatever you want! I don’t care!!!!”

Or maybe that would be slightly unprofessional…

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!

9 weeks to go…

Bright red knitting.
Keeping busy…

It’s been an interesting week and a half. A day after I wrote my last post, we had a virtual staff meeting and my principal announced that i was retiring. Just like that! I guess there’s no turning back now…

There were a few phone calls from people curious to see what I was up to, but most questions poured in when I was back at work on campus. Yes, this past week year 7, 11 and 12 kids have been back at school. I have 2 classes of year 7s so hey ho, it’s back to school I go.

Poppy looking soulful.
Poppy.

Given how youthful and dewy I am, most people are congratulating me and then asking what I’m moving to next. A different job? Another school? Their eyes widen slightly when I laugh and say, “No. It’s a REAL retirement!”

“But you’re too young to retire!” is mostly said by people around my age or older. When I smile and say something about how age isn’t the thing that determines retirement – it’s all about being able to support yourself, they either sigh and say, “The way we’re going, I’ll be working forever” or they ask me how I’ve done it.

That leads into some interesting chats.

So far, I’ve only had one person say how ‘lucky’ I am. I guess after working there for 16 years and having my 4 boys go through the school, people are pretty familiar with my story. I countered by saying that if I hadn’t have done my geoarbitrage move four years ago, I’d still be working.

“Doing that deal saved me 10 years of work,” I said. I didn’t mention all the years of frugality and keeping my eyes on the prize – nobody wants to hear about all of that!

Scout with her ball in her mouth.
Scout with her most prized possession.

A fair few people have nodded wisely and asked if COVID affected my decision. They look a bit surprised when I say that yes, I was planning to work part-time another year so it pushed my retirement forward by a year. That still doesn’t compute with being in my mid fifties and being able to retire.

One young teacher I work with started asking me about savings rates and if keeping an eye on spending was significant, so I shot this blog post over to him. He’s gone down the rabbit hole…

People have been overwhelmingly positive – to my face at least! – with many saying they’re jealous. LOL.

But I’m going to miss some things.

This week my year 7s have been doing their wide reading oral presentations. This is a 3 minute talk about a book they’ve read. Seeing as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and masks are mandatory, I made my kids do their talks while wearing their masks. I don’t want to get so close to escaping and then get killed by an errant droplet!

On Monday one little boy was so scared. He stood up in front of the class and started reading from his cue cards. They were literally shaking in his hands. It’s awful when you see this happening, because sometimes the kids just stop talking and freeze up, which makes it that much harder for them to tackle public speaking next time.

He kept on going, looking up and focusing on me when he wasn’t looking at his cards. His voice was shaking in the beginning, but by the end of the speech he’d sorted that out.

As I watched this kid conquering his fear, I thought, “I’m going to miss this.” As a teacher, you feel so proud when a kid is obviously scared, but they push themselves through that barrier and achieve something they didn’t think they could do.

At the end of his speech I asked him how scared he was. He said, “My knees were knocking together, Miss!”

I told him how proud I was of him for pushing through and succeeding and that this kind of thing is something I’m going to miss seeing. We then gave him a standing ovation. He was embarrassed but pleased.

A couple of the girls spoke about books that sounded really good, so I asked if I could borrow them and I polished them off this week. Every now and then I do this and I find really good reads that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

On Friday we had the last of the orals. I danced at the front of the room, singing, “Yay! I never have to listen to another oral presentation again!!!” One little girl said, “That makes me sad, Miss.”

Coronavirus figures for today.

It’s funny being back at school. Everyone is masked and the kids’ tables are separated as far as they can be, so they’re all in a grid shape, exactly like a Google Meet set up on a computer screen. I said to 7M yesterday that it’s almost like we’re still doing virtual classes, except they’re a lot harder to keep quiet without a mute button.

As you can see, our numbers are looking good, so people are hoping for an easing of lockdown restrictions to be announced tomorrow, especially the 5km travel bubble. Tom28, my oldest son, is working from home and he happens to live just around the corner from the school. I saw him on each day I worked this week – Monday to pick up some facemasks I’d made him that had ‘too-thick’ elastic and to give him a sourdough loaf – Wednesday to give him his repaired masks back – and Friday to give him and his flatmate a second sourdough. First times I’d seen him in person in four months.

And one last thing – WordPress enables us to see where our readers are from. It always gives me a thrill when I see my Antarctic peeps are reading. I thought I’d give a shout-out to my scientific friends down there!

It’s almost as exciting as when I saw that someone from North Korea was reading. But it was probably just someone from the government making sure that the 4 posts I wrote about my holiday there were acceptable.

I wonder where in the world I’ll go next, now that I’ll not be tied to school holidays?

Half a year of silver squares!!!

It turns out that when you’re living through 2 lockdowns and you’re not that fond of online shopping, you can really make a “No Spend Days” chart go crazy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I keep track of my spending by using this chart. Every day that I don’t put my hand in my wallet, I colour in a square. At the end of every week with 3 or less no-spend days, I reward myself by colouring in a silver square.

It makes my spending far more intentional and motivates me to stay on track if the week is coming to an end and I’m close to earning a silver square. It’s silly, but it works for me. It also makes collating my “Annual Spend” chart so much easier, because everything is in the one place. It just takes 3 seconds each day to pop in any purchases or colour in a square.

When the pandemic hit and we were all told to STAY HOME, the Jones household was sitting pretty. As the weird flu from Wuhan started to spread to Europe in February, I didn’t like the looks of it so I started stocking up on non-perishables. When things began going crazy here in Australia, we were set, although David27 insisted we take a shopping trip to Costco that I’ll never forget. No worries about TP here!

As the weeks started to slip by without having to fill up on petrol or go to the supermarket very often, the coloured squares began mounting up. The silver squares got more numerous and started looking like a block rather than squares on their own.

“Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could make this streak last for 26 weeks in a row?” I thought to myself. Half a year. Could it be done?

Second half of the no-spend streak.
Wow.

Turns out it can.

Once I started to focus on keeping those silver squares coming without a break, it became a challenge. I began to try and push spend days towards the end of the week, in case something happened and I had to spend money unexpectedly.

For example, look at the week that began on the 1st of August. I wanted to work in the garden and on the verandah so I had 2 spend days on the weekend. *gasp!* I had little wriggle room for the rest of the week. I was determined to keep the silver streak going so I just used what we had in the pantry and garden and pottered around the place entertaining myself with what I have on-site. Hobbies are very useful things.

The week before that, you’ll see on the Friday an entry called “Connor teeth”. One of the boys needed dental work and as he’s still a student I said I’d pay for it. The dental work actually happened 2 days earlier, but by then I could see that I could maybe make my goal. After all, there was only 9 weeks to go!!! When he rang to tell me the total, I told him what I was doing and said, “Is it ok if I pay you on Friday?” He laughed and agreed.

I’ve been using both my local library and the school library for eBooks to scratch my reading itch. As I’ve said before, I read very quickly so paying $30 – $40 for a book isn’t a good use of my money as it only entertains me for a day or so. Downloading an eBook or an audiobook for free is the way to go for me and it saves me having to fill in a square.

During a stringent lockdown such as we in Melbourne have, little challenges like this help to pass the time and give you something to aim for. If I had’ve failed, it’s not the like sky would fall or anything. It wouldn’t have changed anything in my life. But it was a goal to aim for and every week that I coloured in a silver square it became one step closer to that goal. This made me feel good.

Once I actually have to leave the house and go back to work at school, it’ll be interesting to see whether my spending days will slide back to how they were before the pandemic, or whether I’ll be motivated to keep the silver streak going.

I wonder how many weeks the silver streak will last…?

Only buy what you love.

Scout, our mini wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. We certainly love her!

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.

Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.

“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.

But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.

“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”

So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…

If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.

Ugly tv cabinet.
What was I thinking?

Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.

Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.

“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”

But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.

Life happens.

Long-billed bird watering can.
I like this little guy. Haven’t used him as a watering can (yet) but he sits in my window ledge. The rug has since been replaced by a nicer one and moved to the ‘man cave’ at the back of the house.

Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.

One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.

My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’

Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.

Empty rooms in the new house.
A blank canvas. Oh, the possibilities!

For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.

Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.

Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.

Wooden tv cabinet with 6 very long, curved legs.
Most items in my house have these ‘Queen Anne’ type of legs.

Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.

Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.

When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.

Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.

Wooden table with ornaments.
This is what has replaced the ugly tv table.

Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.

The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.

This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.

1020's (I think) treadle Singer sewing machine.
An antique Singer sewing machine.

When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.

Pantry with HUGE spice rack on the door.
My spice rack and pantry light are also happiness-inducing.

The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.

Bright red maple tree.
My red maple. The other maple tree is green.

I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.

Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!

Sleeping Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Poppy, sleeping on our old couch. The couch is now out in the backyard under the verandah.

I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.

Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.

Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.

As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.

Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.

But it’s an effort well worth making.

Sunset at our beach.
Our backyard beach.

Build for the future.

Fruit trees in the front lawn.
The orchard last week, just after everything was planted.

Anyone who’s been reading FI/RE blogs for more than 5 minutes would be utterly familiar with the whole ‘Ant and the Grasshopper‘ philosophy that runs through this way of looking at finances. Bloggers instruct people to utilise these tools: frugality, delayed gratification, increasing income, saving, investing and avoiding lifestyle creep in order to reach the holy grail of financial independence. Work hard now so you have options later! Build for the future!

It’s a theme that runs through many things in life.

Such as an orchard.

In our old house, I spent many years establishing a food forest, complete with chooks, metres of vegetable beds and over 30 fruit trees. When I sold that place and moved down here to The Best House in Melbourne, I had to leave most of that behind. I dragged a few wicking boxes and fruit trees in pots with us, but the carefully nurtured soil and the veggie beds are now buried underneath the townhouses that are now on the block.

Poppy standing in front of the wicking boxes.
The wicking beds are on the side deck. So were the fruit trees.

But the wicking beds weren’t the only things I brought with me. I had a ton of learning and information stuffed in my brain about all I wanted to grow. Those years at the old place weren’t wasted.

Landscaper's plan for the back yard.
The roadmap.

While I was waiting for the property deal to go through, I had 18 months of time where I could plot and plan. I focussed on the backyard first, where I eventually installed 16 metres of wicking vegetable beds, an asparagus patch, areas for a few fruit trees and roofed over literally half the yard to create a huge outdoor room.

Empty veggie beds and paving.
Just after the job was completed. There’s a roof over where Poppy and Scout are standing now.

But the front yard was pretty much left to its own devices. Until now.

My vision for this house has always been clear. I want this place to be a haven and a refuge for my family. I want it to be a place where we can all gather and enjoy our time together. I want the boys- and one day, their families – to to walk through the front gate and know that this is a place where they are welcomed, loved and appreciated.

I want people to open the front gate and be amazed at the beautiful and bountiful oasis that is hidden behind the high front fence, with a mix of blossoms and edibles that are a feast for the eye as well as the stomach. I see some quirky artworks scattered throughout the house and garden, chosen with no one’s aesthetic taste but my own. Hey, being single has to have some advantages!

I’m designing this house and plot of land with a definite eye for the future – just as everyone who is on the FI/RE path does when they encounter these ideas and start to put them into action.

But like everyone on the FI/Re path, I haven’t performed every step towards this orchard perfectly. I’ve made mistakes:

Two sickly looking avocado trees.
oops.

Take these sorry specimens. These are avocado trees that I bought last year. I left them sitting in a old dog bowl that contained a lot of water. They were there for months. I didn’t realise that avocados hate wet feet…

It’s a bit like someone thinking they’re doing the right thing by putting all of their money into term deposits instead of investing. Any vigorous growth that money might have seen is instead cut short and turns all wilty.

I’ve planted them anyway, hoping that at least one of them will come good. If they both die, I’ll plant something else. If only one dies, I’ll drive down to Diggers and pick out another one. They need two trees to pollinate.

Naked mandarin tree.
Yeah… my bad. Should’ve kept an eye on it.

This is what happens when you don’t keep an eye on things. This poor naked tree is a mandarin. I brought it with me from the old house and it was parked among the wicking boxes. I walk past it quite a bit, but apart from noticing that the possums were eating the top growth, I stopped paying it much heed.

Until the day I decided I wanted to create an orchard in the front yard. I went to drag it out of its pot and I gasped. Where have all the leaves gone?!? The lemon tree in the pot next to it, also a tree from the old house, was half naked. I searched the leaves and found some little brown caterpillars, which I crushed.

Exactly like a FIRE person who parks their investments somewhere and then doesn’t keep an eye on fees and charges and other costs. When they eventually wander back to see how their pot of money is going, all the luxuriant growth they were expecting has been eaten away.

The actual plant is still alive, so I’ve put it in the ground, fed and watered it well. I’m expecting that with the added attention it’ll get from being in my direct line of vision ever time I open my front door, it’ll bounce back.

I don’t think I need to extend the metaphor any more. You get the point.

Driving 4 apples and 2 plums home.

On my birthday last week, I treated myself to 2 plum trees and 4 columnar apples. The plums were so large that they touched the windscreen and I had to sit crookedly all the way home. The apples are destined to be planted beside the car in the driveway, as they’ll take up very little room, but I had bigger plans for the plums.

I decided to take over half my front lawn and plant an orchard. I knew that it would look AWFUL in the short-term, especially with the bedraggled survivors from my years of benign neglect. But imagine in the future…

… glossy green leaves and trees loaded with fruit. Underplanted bulbs and flowery shrubs adding pops of colour. Artfully placed sculptures adding humour and life. Old Lady Frogdancer sitting on the verandah with a shiraz or gin and tonic, chatting with a visitor while enjoying the view. People walking past on the street outside, unaware of the beauty hidden within.

The next step – a no dig garden.

After the boys planted the trees for me, I dragged them out again to construct a no-dig garden over the lawn. I’d done this before at the old house for my orchard there, so I know it’ll work. We’d positioned the trees so they wouldn’t shade each other, or the tumbling compost bins, too much, but now we had to kill the grass.

The plan is that I’ll not touch this garden bed until Spring next year, except to kill off any stray bits of grass that might pop up. I’ll let it burble away, creating the rich soil that I’ll plant the flowers in. Both with gardening and investing – things take time to come to fruition.

Mulched garden bed with trees.
Photo taken this morning. 2 avos, 2 plums, a lemon, a mandarin and a blood orange. 4 apples in pots.

I have nothing but time. The edging will one day be made permanent, the apple trees in their pots will be planted on the other side of the yard once I get the new side fence built and painted, the flowers will be underplanted to provide colour and softness to the whole yard and it will all look beautiful.

It’s funny to think that a bit of effort up-front – (two afternoon’s work by David26, Ryan25 and myself) – will be feeding us for years to come. It’s a very satisfying thing to build for the future, whether it be financially or in other, more ‘hands-on’ ways. I like to think that the skills and knowledge I gained from working in the old house is now being passed on to the boys. In the future, they’ll know how to build a food garden. They’ll know how to invest.

And step by step, this place will become the place I’ve envisioned.

The first of the “lasts.”

Scout with a ball in her mouth.
Ryan25 bought Scout this ball – the BEST THING EVER!!! (In her eyes…)

In lockdown, teaching from home, I look across at the shitshow that American education is becoming as schools try to enforce face-to-face contact in their worsening pandemic. I’m so thankful that we’re conducting things differently. I’m finishing up at the end of the year, which means I have a term and a bit to continue my job, while knowing that as I go along, I’ll be doing things for the very last time. Yesterday (and tomorrow) was the first of the “lasts.”

Parent/Teacher days.

Here’s how it usually works: Parent/teacher day runs from 10 AM – 8:30 PM. The regular school day is cancelled, with students expected to accompany their parents to their interviews in full school uniform. (That’s the kids, not the parents.) Teachers are set up on tables with 3 chairs in front of them, in the assembly hall, the library, the music auditorium, the computer labs… there’s a lot of us so it takes up a fair bit of ground.

The interviews take 5 minutes each. Parents arrive with a list of the times and teachers they’ve booked, then have to sprint from one area to another to find each teacher. We sit in alphabetical order, so if a family has booked Mr Anderson, then has Ms Zimmerman next, they’re going to have an invigorating stroll in front of them.

Last year we tested having food trucks, market stalls and music students performing. This was a big hit and it was going to be repeated this year. Then Covid struck.

Last semester, during the first lockdown, the school cancelled Parent/Teacher interviews. This semester they decided to go ahead with an online version.

Parents still book the usual way. The times are set out slightly differently. Instead of 5 minute time-slots one after the other, there is a five minute gap between each interview. This allows the teacher time to finish one interview, send an email invitation to the Meet to the next kid, wait for them to jump onto the Meet and then off it goes again. Because the interviews have that 5 minute buffer between them, we have 2 days instead of 1, running from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Clear? I hope so.

Yesterday was Day 1.

OMG. It ran perfectly! It was so ordered and serene. Everyone was happy and calm, sitting in their lounge rooms instead of being breathless from racing from pillar to post. There was no need to almost shout to project what you’re saying over hundreds of other people talking. The interviews tended to be a couple of minutes longer than usual, so there was time for a bit of banter and mucking around. (At least, that’s what happens in my interviews. I like to start with a joke to get everyone laughing. Then the rest of the interview is fun.)

The five minute buffer in between also meant that I could quickly look up the next kid’s marks for the year, so I was ultra-prepared for each family, instead of having to keep a block of kids’ marks in my head if they were stacked back-to-back.

I knew that this was my last ever round of parent/teacher interviews. Unless I take on a short-term contract in the future if the school is desperate for someone, this will be it. When the last interview finishes tomorrow at 4:20, then that is a page that will be closed for good.

When you think about it, it’s rare in life to know when the ‘last’ thing will be as you’re living it.

It’s rare that we kiss someone knowing it will be the last time.

When the baby wakes one night, we never know that this will be the last time before s/he starts sleeping through the night.

Evan23, when he was in late primary school, went through a phase of wanting to sleep in my bed with me every now and then. I don’t know what was going on in his world at that time but he clearly needed the comfort of having me close. I let him, knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that this would go on forever. He wasn’t going to be coming home from a party when he was 18, tossing his car keys on the hall table and then sleeping in my room! Sure enough, one night was the last time he ever did it. I wasn’t aware at the time that that night was the last one.

It’s only after something hasn’t happened for a while that you realise that it was the end.

So I’m going to enjoy the next few months leading up to December 18.

Some of the ‘lasts’ will be sweet. “That’s the last grammar test I’ll ever have to mark!” I’m looking forward to that one. “That’s the last meeting I’ll ever have to attend!” That’ll be a goodie, too.

Some will be a bit sad though. “This is the last drama class I’ll ever give.” “This is the last time I’ll call the roll and finish with a different kid each time… . and the hideous blah blah blah.”” Kids love being hideous.

With the lockdown being extended, we may not be back in the classroom until the middle of October. Whenever it ends up happening, I’m planning on noticing each moment. All of the ‘lasts.’

After all, life is made up of these little moments. If you don’t stop and savour them, then what’s the point?

Retirement- 108 days to go…

Countdown on the beginning of old films.
Not long to go now…

As of today, I have 108 days to go until I finish work for good.

Yes, I’m retiring.

My friend Scott suggested that I look at working days left, to make it seem even more delicious. Just counted it up. 47 working days to go.

On December 18 2020, Frogdancer Jones will be walking out of the classroom forever to go and live her best life. I’ll be 57 years old, exactly 10 years younger than the ‘traditional’ retirement age of 67 in Australia.

omg. I’ve bought back 10 years of my life.

I’m awash with excitement, anticipation and the tiniest dollop of trepidation. Its a big step, after all.

As you’re reeling back in shock, I hear you ask, “But how can this BE?”

Settle in. Here’s how it all happened:

Kid doing a fist bump.

In August an email went out to all of the staff, asking for our plans for next year. Did we intend to stay at the school, which subjects and year levels would we prefer to teach, would we be intending to take any time off etc. Without really thinking about it, I replied that I’d be working for another year at 3 days/week, just like this year.

In other words, force of habit. Inertia.

A week later, I mentioned to a friend, (let’s just call him ‘the Mayor’), that I’d signed on for another year. It was a conversation over Facebook. His reply?

“Another year. I’m a little surprised. I’ve noted your Covid-related comments and we certainly won’t have dealt with this by next year.”

Now the Mayor is the total opposite to me when it comes to a relationship with Maths. He loves analysing spreadsheets and company financials and everything like that. After my geoarbitrage deal finalised and I had the money from my house sale in my hands, he devised a spreadsheet projecting how my current investments could perform. I was so appreciative – it was a huge favour for him to do for me. So he knows my financial situation.

At the time that he drew up the spreadsheet, he said to me, “You know, you could retire now if you wanted.”

“NO WAY!!” I said. “I just don’t feel safe. “

He chuckled. “You can; you just don’t realise it yet.”

In the intervening years, I worked at making The Best House in Melbourne even BETTER – for Future Frogdancer Jones in retirement. I liked the idea of getting all of the expensive jobs over with while I still had a wage coming in. My post called ‘Why owning a home trumps renting‘ lists all the things I’ve put into this place, plus a few more that I’m thinking of.

After the Mayor’s remark about my Covid-related comments, I started thinking. Was it possible that I could actually retire?

I brought out the old spreadsheets and looked at them, comparing the projected figures with the real ones. I brought up my annual expenses chart, subtracting the costs of all the projects around the house that I’d been doing. I looked at how much I was spending to feed, house, clothe and shelter myself and the two boys I have still living with me.

That figure came in at just over 30K/year. Those meagre years have left their mark – I don’t waste any money on anything that I don’t value. My pleasures are either hellishly expensive (*cough cough Travel*) or are as close to being free that it doesn’t matter.

Hmmmm.

I contacted the Mayor again. Long story short, he’s preparing a document for me to take to a financial planner outlining everything to do with my finances, future plans and goals – all of that stuff.

Turns out I’m going to be fine.

But the clock was ticking at school. Kids were making their subject selections for next year and staffing decisions were being made. I didn’t want to jerk the admin around – getting my job at that school was the single biggest reason that I was able to dig the boys and I out of poverty. I owe the school a lot.

So, once I sat with the decision to leave for a few days and I still felt comfortable with it, I rang my boss.

“OH NO!!” was her reaction. But when we talked about the hows and whys of why I was leaving, there was nothing much else for her to say. She’s not stupid – she knew I’d made my mind up.

So why am I leaving? It’s not simply fear of getting Covid.

F U money.

FU money is a big part of it. After surviving the years at home with pre-school boys when we had hardly two cents to rub together, I’ve been hard at work ever since to do my best to ensure that we were never in that position again.

I’ve reached the position where I feel I have enough.

Enough.

I still love being in the classroom. The kids I teach are lovely and they’re so funny! It’s a rare day when I haven’t had a good laugh in class. I like the idea of going out while I’m still having fun – it’s much better than being ‘that teacher’ – the one who’s hanging on grimly to the job because s/he can’t afford to leave.

What’s getting me down is the insidious increase of admin. As one colleague said to me recently, “Honestly Frogdancer, it feels more and more that we’re becoming data collectors instead of educators.” We’re expected to measure kids’ performances all the time, with results put on tables and studies and projections – maybe the Maths/Science people like it but for me ? For me it’s sucking the soul and the fun from the job.

If I still had a mortgage to pay or debts to get rid of, I’d be staying. If I didn’t have enough to support myself on in retirement, I’d be staying. As I said, I don’t hate everything about the job. Most days are very pleasant days.

But there’s enough on the dark side to make me feel that now is the time for me to leave.

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! Going part-time this year, then having to spend months at home on lockdown has shown me that I have plenty of interests to fill my days. As long as the world contains books, the internet, Netflix and the dogs, there’ll never be an excuse to be bored. Spring has begun and soon I’ll be out planting seeds and designing my front yard. Yesterday I ordered $400 worth of fruit trees to plant there. There’ll be fruit to pick, cook and eat for decades to come.

I can’t see overseas travel being a thing for the next couple of years at least, but that won’t stop me planning for my trips back to the UK and Europe when things settle down. After all, I haven’t been to Windsor Castle to see Henry VIII’s tomb yet! Of course, there’ll be domestic travel as our internal borders open back up, so I’ll be well-placed to take advantage of that. (And I won’t have to wait for the school holidays when prices go up and everything is crowded!!)

Yes, it’s a big change. In one way I’ve moved quickly but in another way – I’ve been writing about retirement and financial independence for as long as this blog has been around, and I’ve been thinking and planning for it well before then! This decision has been years in the making.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage in my life will bring.

Squirrel looking triumphant.
December 18 – Future Frogdancer.

In answer to LateStarterFire…

Fast typing.
Ok. Here I go!

A few weeks ago, latestarterfire nominated me for an “awesome blogger award”, where you answer some questions about yourself. True to my lackadaisical attitude towards blogging since lockdown began, it’s taken me until now to answer.

Questions about blogging:

1. Why did you start blogging?

Seeing as I have 2 blogs, I’ll split this answer 2 ways.

I began this blog because I’d been reading FIRE blogs and finance blogs for around 2 years. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but I became increasingly fed up with reading blogs written by young whippersnappers telling me how to do what I’ve already done – and they hadn’t even done it themselves!!!! One day I read one too many of these posts and it pushed me over the edge…

My personal blog, Dancing With Frogs, has been going since September 2007. Yep, I’ve been blogging for a long time. I discovered blogs that year, mainly simple living and crafting blogs and I loved that community. In all that time, I’ve only ever had ONE snarky comment on that blog and my regular readers defended me in the comments. I’m still friendly with several people from those long ago days, though most of them have moved from blogs to Instagram.

2. What do you enjoy most about being a blogger?

I like to write. I’ve tried writing fiction but I’m awful at it. This allows me to connect with like-minded people in a way that’s easy to work in around all the busy-ness of day to day life. I’ve also found that my personal blog is a fantastic resource. For example, I wanted to start soap making again after many years hiatus, and all I had to do was look up the old posts to remember how to do it and what the best recipes were. It’s also really handy when looking at what worked and didn’t work in the garden.

3. What is the hardest part of blogging?

The personal blog is easy – I just walk around with the camera and then write about what’s going on. With the FIRE blog, I don’t want to be too repetitious about the concepts I’m writing about. As time has gone on, I’m taking a more personal approach to the whole FI/RE thing. I hope that my story will motivate someone further back along the trail than I am to keep going.

4. Has blogging led you to other paths that you did not expect? What are they?

One fairly recent one was being asked to be on the panel after the Melbourne screening of ‘Playing With Fire.’ That was a lot of fun – it was a good night. Over the years, I’ve also had blogmeets with various other bloggers. A blogmeet is fantastic – you’ve read each other’s blogs so you already have a feel for the other person. You skip by the ‘getting to now you’ stuff and get stuck into the good conversations.

I was also asked to contribute to a book about Australian FIRE. Each section is being released weekly, so my chapter is yet to be out there, but it’s coming!

5. Have you ever wanted to stop blogging? Why or why not?

Nope. Interestingly though, during the pandemic I’ve radically slowed down the number of posts I write, which is odd really. You’d think with more time on my hands I’d actually write more, not less. Though, looking at my Feedly, I’m not the only one by a long shot.

I really enjoy getting comments and having that feedback from readers. I get it a little bit on Twitter, but I guess I’m an old-school blogger – it means more when it’s a comment on the actual post. I have readers that have been commenting for over a decade on the frog blog – that continuity is precious.

Questions about you:

6. What does your perfect day look like?

Oof.

If I’m on holiday, it’d be a day where I’m seeing new things and exploring what a new country and culture looks like. My 2015 trip to the UK and Europe was a 9 week extravaganza of this – I was so happy! – and my 2018 trip to North Korea was a peek into another world. Fascinating.

If I’m at home, then my life in lockdown pretty much covers it. A leisurely couple of hours on the couch in the morning with my dogs all around me while I read or write; then the rest of the day to puddle around doing whatever I’m “in the zone” for. It could be reading, creating something, gardening, cooking…. whatever I feel like.

Pure freedom, in other words.

7. Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. That’s why I loved my time in Paris so much – nearly every lunch was a salad with goats cheese.

Having said that though, I wouldn’t ever say no to a Caramello.

8. What is your dream holiday destination / scenario?

I’m a huge English history buff, so when the plane touched down at Heathrow airport in 2015 it was a dream come true. The day we spent at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived, still remains as one of the very best days of my life.

Once we can travel again – and I feel safe to do so – I’ll be heading back over there. There’s so much history just hanging around in the UK. I want to read up more about Scottish and Irish history and then go around and see where these people actually lived and hung out. It’s absolutely fascinating to me.

MUCH more interesting than Australian history – convicts, bushrangers, gold and sheep.

9. Who is your role model?

I don’t really have one. There have been so many admirable people throughout history – maybe I just scavenge bits and pieces from lots of different people?

10. What would you advise your 12 year old self?

Not to worry so much about what other people think. People are far too concerned with their own issues so, ultimately, they don’t really care about what you’re doing. Just go your own way, even more than you did, and enjoy life.

Thanks for asking these questions, LSF.

Have some fun during lockdown!

Pic of a red and orange fake flower
A fake flower from North Korea.

Melbourne is a few days into our second week of stage 4 lockdown – only 4 more weeks to go, baby! We can only have 1 person leave the house to shop for groceries a day; we must wear a mask at all times outside the home; you can only move around within a 5km bubble from your home – (pity half of mine is taken up by Port Phillip Bay!), and there are only 4 valid reasons to leave your home anyway. But there are still ways to have some fun with other people during lockdown.

Personally, being a bit of a home-body hermit, lockdown is going along swimmingly. Ryan25, my third son, is a quiet introvert and David26 is spending the week at his girlfriend’s place, so the house is chill and groovy. But not everyone in my world is taking it so well.

Some of my students aren’t enthused at having to endure another round of remote learning. The extroverts are struggling and some have distractions at home, such as little brothers and sisters. One of my kids, Joy, has a 3-year-old sister who insists on coming to every English class after I said she was very cute, which on reflection was probably a mistake on my part. Remote learning is harder for some kids, so I’m trying a few things to keep them engaged.

See the photo at the top? This was what greeted my year 7 classes today as they logged into our Google Meet. At our school we have to start each scheduled period with a Meet. We mark the roll, set up the lesson etc before we set them loose to do the work. Each teacher stays on the Meet (camera and mike muted) so that any kid who needs help with the lesson can pop back and ask a question.

I’ve decided to begin each Meet with something different. It only lasts about 2 minutes, so the kids are learning quickly that they don’t want to be late for English or they’ll miss it. (This means I can mark the roll quickly – heh heh heh.)

They logged on. I waited until about half the class was there, then I joined the meet. I could hear their comments as they looked at the image. “What IS that?” “It’s either a flower or a fruit.” “I can’t tell what it is…”

Then I sat down and said, “Hey everyone. This is a flower I stole from a restaurant in North Korea.” Their eyeballs bulged. I haven’t told them that I went there a couple of years ago. “Want to know the story?”

So I described to them how restaurants in North Korea look – wedding reception rooms planned by people with flamboyant taste and a penchant for disco balls, artificial flowers in arches and painted backdrops of improbable scenes – and then told them how one night, as we were leaving a restaurant after dinner, my Irish friend James grabbed a flower off the big table at the front of the room, shoved it into my hands and said, “Take it Frogdancer! Go! Go! GO!”

As we raced down 3 flights of stairs, him giggling like a child and me fearing at every step to feel a heavy hand on my shoulder, hauling me away to a North Korea gulag, I knew that ‘d never forget that moment. It was so out of character for me – I’m a bit of a rule-follower – but hey. I have a good story and a fake flower to entertain my students with.

Wait until they see the propaganda postcards in a future Meet!

Poppy.

Of course I use the dogs too. One lesson last week, the kids joined the meet to “discover” me reading the novel we’re studying to the dogs. Before I turned around to see them, I said, “I have to stop reading to you soon. My next class is a group of the ugliest children I’ve ever seen and I have to get ready to… OH! Hello!! Oops, is my microphone on? ” as they giggled in the background.

Once, by pure chance, I caught the best moment. Jeffrey was asleep on the back of the couch. I had the camera trained on him and then, just as I was going to grab my laptop and start talking to the kids, Scout jumped up beside him and Jeff fell off the couch and disappeared on the seat below. You should have heard the kids! Especially when Jeff’s puzzled face rose up over the top of the couch while Scout was prancing and wagging her tail.

This is all silly stuff, but it brings an element of fun into what is a stressful time for some.

It’s not just kids who are feeling it. I check in with my parents once a day (usually) and the last couple of phone calls Dad has been a bit flat. They’re in their 80’s, which is the group that are dropping like flies, so he and Mum are strictly following the guidelines. When I asked how their day has been, Dad sighed and said, “Fine. I mean, nothing actually happens. We watch a bit of Netflix, someone might call and we have a chat, your mother and I might go for a walk, but that’s about it.”

This got me thinking and I came up with a cunning plan. I rang the boys and we’re all into it.

At random times, but at least once a week from each of us, we’re going to send them something in the mail. I don’t want it to be every day, because that would quickly become routine, but every couple of days or so, there’ll be a little snippet in the mail to make that day a bit different.

I kicked it off with the magnificent drawing you see above. Mum loves going on walks, Dad hates them but since her fall he has to go with her. The picture is entitled “Mummy and Daddy going on a walk” and she has a big smile while he looks grumpy. (The orange thing is his moustache, by the way.)

I posted it to them yesterday. On the back of the envelope I didn’t write my address, just “I hope this is good enough to go on the fridge.” Mum is an artist, so she’ll probably get the shivers at how bad it is, but I think they’ll still get a smile from it.

I’m thinking I could send them some seeds to plant, more drawings, a poem or song lyrics – any more ideas, just stick them in the comments. I’ll be grateful. I’m hoping that it’ll be fun for them to receive the mail, but it’s also fun for us to think up silly little things to send them. It keeps the brain moving.

Patchwork pic of a dachshund.
Dog #1. Fourteen more to go!

On Monday, I had a brainwave.

It doesn’t happen often, so allow me to enjoy the moment.

I was showing the year 7s the patchwork dachshunds I’m making for a quilt for Ryan25. I figured, they’re kids, they’d like cute things. Then I suddenly thought of how quickly time passes when you’re in ‘the zone’ creating things. I know for me, when I’m making these dogs, 2 hours passes in a flash and I don’t give a thought to covid, lockdown or anything serious. It’s a total break from the world.

Maybe some of these kids would find the same?

I talked to them about creativity. How it’s an innate part of the human condition to find pleasure in creating something that has never existed before. How satisfying it is to put an image on a blank sheet of paper, to write a song that fills a silent space, to knit a beanie from what’s essentially just two bits of twig and some string.

I asked them to think about what they might create during the lockdown. Not something like playing a computer game to the finish, because that’s intangible. What could they create that they could actually hold in their hands? That they could point to, long after the pandemic has gone and say, “I made that during the second lockdown in 2020.”

Some of them looked bewildered. Some started asking questions about what qualified. And some looked thoughtful.

We have a catch-up lesson scheduled for Friday. If kids have finished all their work, we log on for a Google Meet and then they’re directed to do wide reading. But I’ve said to my classes – “Make sure you get ALL your work finished. Then after I call the roll on Friday, let’s have a show and tell of what you’ve been creating. I’d love it if someone waved a knitting needle with a few lines of knitting on it, or a half-finished drawing of your radiantly beautiful English teacher. Maybe you’ve baked a loaf of bread, (Amit danced around excitedly at that), or you’ve planted some seeds.”

I paused.

“This is NOT compulsory. I’m not your Art teacher. I can’t say, “Be creative. NOW!” But I want you to have a think about what you could possible do. Lockdown is hard. Making something from your hands makes tha time go by so much faster.”

One little boy asked, “But do we have to do it?” As he asked that I saw a mum in the background of another kid.

I saw her laugh as I said, “Did you hear what I just said??? NO. You don’t have to do it. But humans make things. I’m asking you to practice being a human.”

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. My goal isn’t for 28/28 kids…. actually that’s 56/56 kids (I have 2 classes)… to all magically develop a hobby to sustain them during these long lockdown days. This won’t grab everyone.

I’m aiming for a few.

56 kids is a fairly big sample. There’ll be a few who’ll think about what I’ve said and will cast around for something to show. Some of them will already be creating – I had a convo after the Meet with a couple of boys who wanted to show me their artwork and it was AMAZING – but others will try something they haven’t done before.

Others will come along to the Meets on Friday and maybe see something that someone else has done and be inspired. I don’t know.

But just think.

How cool would it be if even a couple of kids created something in the pandemic that they were proud of? Something that would never have existed if we weren’t in this situation?

How cooler would it be if someone discovered a talent, or started a hobby that they kept on doing even when the doors open after lockdown?

Again… I don’t know. But it’s going to be fun to find out.

Janis from 'Friends'.
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