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)

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'.

Why owning your home trumps renting.

The front view of my house.
My house before I started working on the front garden.

Dave from Strong Money Australia wrote a post this morning about whether or not he and his wife should cash out their share portfolio and buy a house. I enjoyed reading it, as it’s the perpetual question with FIRE people who are good at Maths – is it better to invest in the share market and rent, or to buy a house and save on living costs down the road when it’s all paid off?

Me? I’m a home-owner through and through, not for any mathematical reasons (because Maths is hard) but purely because the security of having my own place that nobody can boss me around and kick me out of is too precious to give up. Also, having three dogs means that no landlord would rent to me anyway – and having the dogs is one thing that I will definitely not give up. So the freedom of home ownership is something that is integral to the Frogdancer Jones lifestyle.

When I bought my current house, I bought it with one eye to the view of the floorplan being perfect should any of the boys need to come back home after living away. Basically, the house is a rectangle divided into 2 main parts, so I can happily live in the front part while the boy/s have their privacy at the other end. The land was smaller than our original house, which was a plus because I was finding it hard to keep up with the upkeep at the old place. Also throw in that it’s just around the corner from an Aldi, 5 minutes walk to the dog beach and 4 minutes walk from the train station – the bones of this property are all great!

However, even though this house is pretty darned perfect, there have been things that I’ve decided to alter. Being in my mid-fifties, I know myself pretty week by now and there are some things that I know Future Frogdancer would love to have at her fingertips.

My plan is to get these things done while I still have a pay packet coming in so that I can cashflow some of the jobs, though in mid last year I took 40K in profits from my shares to kickstart the whole thing. I still have 20K left to spend.

I’ve spoken before about how 2020 was always going to be the year of getting The Best House in Melbourne retirement-ready for when Older Me/Future Frogdancer decides to stop teaching. The list of things I’ve done here since the money came through from the Domestic Geoarbitrage adventure is as follows:

Apple trees growing in the veggie garden.
Apple trees in the background. The back half of my yard is devoted to food growing.
  • Before we moved in I had the hardwood floors sanded and polished. Real timber floors were a ‘must-have’ and I enjoy looking at them every day.
  • Added a wall of cupboards to the laundry for my zombie apocalypse cupboard. It’s come in handy during lockdown! Also, put in some new cupboards in the kitchen, along with a fantastic wine glass storage feature. Easy access to wine is also a ‘must-have’!
  • Totally ripped out the backyard and landscaped it with old bricks – no more lawn mowing and no more weeds. I’m very lazy.
  • Installed 18m of wicking veggie gardens, plus a small ‘orchard’ of 5 apples, a pomegranate, an apricot and 2 limes.
The new big verandah roof.
Now I have to decide what to plant around my outdoor room so that it flowers in summer for Christmas.
  • Installed a whopping great verandah along the entire back of the house, creating an outdoor room for family get-togethers and parties. With 4 boys in their 20’s, I have a feeling that over the next decade or so the family is going to get larger!
  • Bought a teak table that extends to seat 12 for this new space.
  • Once our cats Daphne and Maris died, I bought brand new leather lounge suites to cut down on pet hair sticking to the furniture.
  • I also found a dining table and chairs, a tv cabinet, a couple of stools for the kitchen bench, an armchair for my room and a coffee table on Gumtree. These antique pieces are totally individual and will see me out. I love them and they were second hand, so they were far cheaper than new furniture of comparable quality.
Painted paling front fence. Beautiful!
My new front fence with my stellar painting. Now the dogs aren’t on guard duty all day.
  • We’ve put up a side fence between us and the new neighbours. They have a staffy who hates little dogs and both households definitely don’t want any bloodshed!
  • I wasn’t planning to replace the front fence as it was a metal picket fence and built to last, but the dogs kept barking every time they saw a dog go by. I figured if it was annoying me, it must be annoying the people around us. This new paling fence blocks the view and if it ever gets tagged by teenagers I can simply put another coat of paint over it.
  • If you look at the photo at the top of the page, you can see that there were two yucca trees on either side of the house. Whoever planted these next to walkways was clearly no brain surgeon. Every time I went to put something in the bin I’d nearly get my eyes poked out by the spiky leaves. These trees are now gone. I’ve bought a couple of avocado trees to take their place. I’ll be able to stand on the verandah to prune the trees and to pick the fruit. These trees have soft leaves so they’ll be a pleasure to brush past.
  • I live in a slightly dodgier neighbourhood than I used to. I put Crimsafe safety screens on all windows and doors.
Bosch oven.
I bought German-made appliances – I know they’ll be well built and will last far longer than cheaper ones.
  • When the people before us did up the place to sell, they installed the cheapest stainless steel appliances that they could. It was on my list to replace them ‘someday’… but during lockdown the oven and dishwasher both died, so it seems that my kitchen renovation is suddenly pretty much done!
  • When our hot water service died I replaced it with a continuous gas hot water service. Expensive to set up, but over time it saves on gas and as an added bonus, people can program their showers to be the exact temperature that they want. I like this little luxury!
  • When a friend at work told me that her husband worked at the Reece plumbing ‘samples and seconds’ shop, I ducked in and bought all the fixings for my new ensuite I’ll have installed one day. I saved at least 8K on what I bought because he gave me mates rates on top of the already cheap prices. At the moment it’s all in boxes and bubble wrap cluttering up the boys’ lounge room, but that’s ok in the short term.

Astute readers will have noticed that few of these renovations are what people would consider “essential.” We could have moved into this place and lived quite happily without the brick paving, the new cupboards and the polished floors etc. After all, the families who lived here before us did just that.

But owning this home means that I can tailor it to the way I want to live. For example, I enjoy growing some of our food. To me, having literally half the backyard set aside for this is a great use of the space. But I don’t want to have to mow a lawn or weed all the time, so spending money on paving makes me happy, as I know I’ve freed up Future Frogdancer’s time. I don’t want her to fall down and break a hip trying to pull up a weed in about 30 years time! I could have put concrete down at a fraction of the price of the bricks, but I like the natural look of the bricks, so again – money well spent.

Scout, my miniature wire-haired dachshund.
Scout. She’ll be 4 next month – where does the time go?

I value a calm, peaceful home without any troubles from the council and the neighbours. The fencing I’ve put up isn’t the most exciting way to spend money, but it’s worth it because it keeps Poppy, Jeff and Scout safe, secure and QUIET.

I’m basically thinking about the things I like to do and the values I want to live my life by and then seeing how I can design my home to include as many of these things as possible. I want to have Future Frogdancer fit into this house like a happy little pea in a pod.

So remember I said I still have 20K left? I feel like a bit of an idiot because I had one job that absolutely needed to be done, but I kept putting it off because I was scared about how much it would cost.

Rotting timber balustrading.
Yeah… this doesn’t look good…

My front verandah has timber balustrading that has seen better days. I had absolutely no idea how much it would cost and then with coronavirus coming along, I shoved it into the back of my mind and tried to stop thinking about it.

Except… this job was only going to get worse with time and turn into something that would just get more and more expensive the longer I ignored it. So, after a year of resolutely turning my face away from it, I called in a couple of tradies to quote.

ARGH! I’m such a fool! I thought it’d cost thousands! I got the first quote back last night – $1,040. I could have had this done AGES ago. I’ve been needing to get this done so I could then plant my avocado trees. They’re still in their little pots, instead of getting their feet in the ground and producing those smashed avos that my millennial boys dream about.

As part of this job, I’m also getting a piece of laserlight nailed to the underside of the verandah, where an access door is. This will be where I’ll put our lawnmower. It’ll be tucked away out of sight, safe from any rain and it’ll be right where the lawn is – no wrestling it down from the backyard. Again – I’ll be getting something done that suits me.

So what else is on my list?

  • The other side fence. It’s literally falling apart, so once I get this done I won’t have to worry about fencing for decades.
  • Beautifying the new back verandah. I’ve bought the dining table and chairs and we have an old couch there, but it needs plants around the perimeter and I want to get a couple of half wine barrels to put splashes of colour in. I also want some sort of artwork on the wall of the house to make it all look pretty.
  • A new ensuite. My old one is perfectly serviceable, but it has a shower over a bath. I HATE THIS – it’s so pov. Plus I think it’ll be unsafe when Future Frogdancer will be getting in and out of it – one slip and she’ll be in a world of trouble.
  • A Tesla power wall. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get one of these, but I’d love it if I could. I’m looking for ways to future-proof Future Frogdancer’s bills and seeing as I already have solar panels, this could dovetail in quite nicely. Plus, I like the idea of having a back-up when power cuts and brownouts happen during the summers. I have a niggling feeling that these will get worse as time goes on and peak oil starts to bite and I don’t want to suffer through hot temperatures or have my freezer lose all of its contents. I freeze A LOT of things, particularly from the garden and I’d be incandescent with rage if I had to throw it all out.
  • An office/crafting room. OMG. I’ve never had one of these in my life and I’d love one. When we looked at this place, one of the back bedrooms was set up as an office. It has a door through to the backyard and it has a wall of cupboard save lined with shelves. THIS is the space. Unfortunately, Ryan25 lives in here and he’s not going anyplace soon – he’s finishing his remedial massage course and going straight into a 12-month myotherapy course. So this one will have to wait. But when I have all of my paperwork, my sewing machine, my yarn and my fabric all organised in the one room, I’ll be a very happy woman.
  • Painting the inside of the house. This isn’t urgent, but like the kitchen fittings, the previous owners did a very quick spray job. I’d like enamel paint on the skirting and doors, instead of the matt paint I currently have. It’s impossible to wipe down properly.
  • Landscaping the front yard. I have a vision of people coming through the high front gate and being greeted with a beautiful oasis of flowers, fruit trees and lawn that is invisible from the street. Apart from my avocados, I have absolutely no clue what I’ll be planting here. None whatsoever. But it’ll come to me.

The beauty of having my own place is that once I set it up, I’ll be able to live here with minimal ongoing costs and I’ll be perfectly happy with everything I have around me. I plan to travel overseas every year (once this pesky pandemic sorts itself out) but when I’m at home, my dogs, my crafts, my books, my blogging and my gardening will occupy me very nicely.

Once you buy furniture, that expense goes away as you have it for YEARS. Given this, it’s worth it to hunt around for items that really suit you. I found this out the hard way. When I moved in with my boyfriend back in the day, we bought some ugly cheap pine furniture “just for now”. A marriage, divorce, 4 kids and twenty years later, I finally got rid of those eyesores. It’s better to buy things you love looking at (like my bedroom setting that I’ve had for 25 years and have no plans to replace), because furniture hangs around for decades. My rule now is to allow nothing through the door that I don’t love, no matter how “practical” that thing may be.

Propaganda poster from my trip to North Korea.
One of my propaganda posters from my trip to North Korea, along with a North Korean banknote that I smuggled out.

My plan, once the world opens up again, is to gradually fill my walls with paintings and drawings from places that I’ve visited. I’m in no hurry to fill the empty walls I have. I’ll see something on my travels and know that I’ll want to look at it for the rest of my life and it’ll find its way home.

I love the idea of slowly building a collection of art that will spark memories of my travels and will make my house look totally different to anyone else’s. My house will reflect ME. So far we have Balinese paintings, pieces from North Korea and Venice and France. I wonder what else will join them as time goes on?

I save vegetable seeds and grow from them year after year. I love the idea of feeding myself and my boys food that started from seeds I bought years ago, but which still feed and nourish us years into the future. There’s something about the continuity and the tradition that appeals to me.

Home ownership is something that is definitely a financial struggle in the beginning. Homes are not something that vendors just casually give away! But over time, as the mortgage is paid off and there’s extra money available, there’s a beautiful opportunity to craft your living space into the perfect space for YOU.

Being on the FI/RE path as we are, the vision of decades of freedom in a space we simply enjoy living in is something to be aimed for. At the moment I’m having the fun of planning and ticking tasks off the list one by one. In a couple of years, I’ll have the fun of actually spending huge gobs of time in this home I’ve created. A home that keeps costs to a minimum. A home that makes me happy and fulfils my needs.

A home that suits ME.

Lockdown was my retirement ‘training wheels’.

My leisurely Lockdown mornings. Scout knows darned well she’s blocking the computer screen.

When we were told to go into lockdown, it was a bit scary but also – to be honest – I was a little bit excited. I felt like I’d been training for lockdown my whole life. I love being at home. I have so many things to do, books to read and things to think about and plan for. It also occurred to me that being at home 24/7 for weeks on end would also be a crash course in what everyday life would be like in retirement but without the little outings and holidays. In other words – retirement on steroids!.

Writing this blog as I do, it’s obvious that preparing for retirement, both financially and emotionally, has been on my mind for a while. The money side isn’t a worry. I have enough, or nearly enough, I think. Anyway, my early training in being frugal, when I was at home with 4 small boys living on 18K/year means that if money ever got tight I can live on the smell of an oily rag. But… would life get dull and boring after a while?

I didn’t think it would be… but you never really know these things until you start to live them. I’m a bit of a hermit when I’m home. I love shutting the gate and being in my own little world. That’s fine and dandy when I spend most of my time at work, knee-deep in 2,300 kids and 200 other teachers, but it niggles at me that maybe it would be a different kettle of fish when my days at home are all I have. Would I get bored and lonely?

After 11 weeks of staying at home, I have a much clearer idea of what my days will look like in retirement. Granted, it’s not exactly the same as retirement because remote teaching takes up lots of my time on the 3 days a week I work. However, my days without an hour and a half being taken up by the commute have given me a sneak peek at what life will be like when I can call my days my own.

Most of the things that I’ve revelled in during lockdown have been the little things. But they all seem to have the same basic thing in common – freedom.

Lockdown gave me the time to create. This is a quilt for Evan23.

It seems that my natural awakening time is anywhere from 7:30 – 8 AM. Did you know that the difference between being forced to wake up in the dark and being able to wake up whenever your body wants to can put a spring in your step first thing in the morning? The best mornings are the ones where I get up at the same time as when I’d be backing the car out of the driveway to get to work. Oh yeah, baby! Without the commute, I can still wake up at 7:45 and be ready to go online to teach my classes by 8:50.

Oh, the freedom!

On my non-working days (aka Retirement Training Days) I spend the early morning reading on the laptop, mostly blogs, Twitter and Facebook, though a novel will sneak its way in every now and then. Interestingly, during lockdown I didn’t have the urge to write. The dogs are glued to me on the couch and the mornings are peaceful as I tap away on the laptop and they snuggle and snore.

These luxurious starts to my mornings will be very sweet when I can do them every day.

The interesting thing about this lockdown was that it was impossible to over-schedule myself, once I staged an intervention on myself to stop me from working 7 day weeks in remote learning when I was only getting paid for 3. There was nowhere else I had to be, no one I was allowed to meet and so my son and I were thrown onto our own resources. This, of course, was more than a crash-course in retirement. It was like ‘retirement on steroids’ – and yet, we weren’t bored. Not even for a day.

Another project – find some plants for the front door that stick upwards. I’m hoping this ‘lockdown project’ will last for years.

After I slowly got over the tiredness I felt at the end of the term, I began to find that I felt much better if I accomplished something practical each day. Lockdown, as lovely as it is, wasn’t going to last forever, so I set a series of projects to try and get done before it finished. I liked the idea of being able to point to something and say, “That’s my Pandemic Quilt/Fence/Whatever.”

I wanted to finish painting my front fence – 2 coats.

Same with the side fence.

My veggie garden had to be made ready for winter.

I have 2 quilts to finish.

I have a lot of pruning down the sideway to get done.

I needed to master sourdough bread making.

If, at the end of each day I’d accomplished something on at least a couple of these things to push them forward, I was happy.

The main difference I’ve noticed is that the pace of my days changed – just as retired people report. There’s no mad rush to get as many things done during the weekends as possible. There’s no pile-up of scheduled blocks of time, where I’m racing to get as much done as I can before the work week begins again.

Instead – if I can sit on the couch with a wine and the dogs at the end of the day and think, “I painted some more of the fence, made 2 sourdough loaves and chopped half a bed of dead tomato plants into little bits to use for mulch… that’s a day well-spent.”

There’s a beauty in having a day filled with simple tasks around the home. I’m not one who loves the drudgery of housework; instead, I like projects. Much more fun, particularly as once a project is done, it STAYS done. Not like housework.

So, after having spent 11 weeks at home and having barely pushed my nose outside the front gate (except for painting the fence, walking the dogs and the off Aldi trip every fortnight or so), I’m here to report that I’m ripe and ready for retirement. I wasn’t bored at all… not even for a day. I was as happy as a pig in muck, which bodes well for when I’ll be home all day every day.

I’ll almost certainly work at least another year – I have a lot of projects that I want to have finished and paid for before I give the wage the flick – but yes. Emotionally, Lockdown has given me the certainty that when I retire, I’ll be just fine.

How my Emergency Fund proved its worth against the virus. Twice.

Scout, feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that we have a sturdy emergency fund behind us. It means everything to a dog.

I’ve had an emergency fund for the last 2 decades. When I left my husband 22 years ago with $60 cash in my hand and with 4 boys under 5 to support, the first thing I set myself to achieving was building a $1,000 ‘buffer zone’ (as I called it then) to provide some security for the boys and me. I’ve written about how an emergency fund is a very good thing to have but is this still the case?

It’s been interesting to see how having that stash of cash has made life so much easier in this pandemic.

When, in December 2019 and January 2020, news started coming out from China, then Italy about this weirdo new virus, my spidey senses started tingling. I’m a bit of a germophobe at the best of times, so the thought of having to deal with a possible pandemic wasn’t a great feeling. Add to that my job as a teacher, being surrounded by germ-ridden teenagers all generously sharing their viruses with everyone around them – it meant that I was paying attention to what was going on.

Over January and February, I didn’t use my Emergency Fund at all. I quietly topped up on staples and non-perishables as part of my normal shops. By the beginning of March I was looking to be in good shape. I took a little holiday and enjoyed myself. Then, a week or so later was when the proverbial hit the fan. You remember – when people started panic buying toilet paper, flour and tissues.

The middle of March was the first time I deployed my Emergency Fund. The last time I tapped it was the beginning of 2019 when Tom28 needed a loan to repair his car. He paid it back within 2 months and then the emergency fund just sat there, biding its time.

Sourdough, baked with flour bought in The Great Costco Shop of March 17.

Remember when I wrote about going to Costco the day after our state Premier announced a state of emergency? As David26 and I rounded the corner after parking our car and saw the 1,000+ people ahead of us in the queue, I decided that if we were going to brave this, we were going to make it worth while.

In the back of my head were all my fears about the ‘just in time’ policy that our supermarkets have. For years I’ve been telling the boys that you don’t want to be out panic-buying supplies when everyone else is fighting for them too. Far safer to be at home while everyone else is wild-eyed and desperate. That trip to Costco was illuminating. Turns out I was correct.

We were only there in the first place because David25 wanted to bring some supplies to his girlfriend’s family. Ok, fair enough, but I was damned if I was going to race around behind one of those huge Costco trolleys, dodging hundreds of last-minute panic buyers just to buy things for other people! If I was going to be doing this crazy thing, I was going to top up our own supplies as well.

So we bought bulk bags of plain flour, bulk dry pasta, another big bag of grain-free dog food, oil, eggs, coffee, cleaning supplies… between what we bought for Izzy’s family and ours we loaded up the trolley.

On the way home we passed Dan Murphy’s. Seeing as we were already stocking up and it was definitely a ‘Spend Day,’ (more on that later), we turned in. There were only about 6 other people in the whole place. We were definitely ahead of the trend in buying alcohol! We bought heaps of wine, ( I don’t want to do without my shiraz in the evenings!) and I shouted David26 and Ryan25 some vodka, beer and spiced rum.

Earlier that day, at 8AM, I’d been to Bunnings, buying fence paint and potting mix. I’d thought ahead and realised that I’d need to occupy myself in the lockdown I was sure was going to come.

All up on that day we spent around 2K.

That’s when I deployed the Emergency Fund. I pulled 2K out from it and put it straight onto my credit card. I didn’t have to go into debt to shore up our defences – we had the cash. After all, if a pandemic isn’t classed as an emergency, I don’t know what is!!!

But then came something else…

A week after we went into iso, my oven broke down. Great timing, hey? It had come with the house, was cheap and nasty and was always something that I was going to get replaced, but I wasn’t planning on doing it any time soon.

Now this WAS an emergency. I’d just begun a sourdough starter – I needed an oven to cook in!

This was where the Emergency Fund proved its worth yet again. If I had no money set aside and had to buy something on my credit card, I know full well I would have probably bought another cheap and nasty oven – anything to get food hot and ready for dinner. I’d want to limit what I put on the card, so it would have been the cheapest I could buy. This would mean that a couple of years down the track I’d be in the exact same position that I was now – hating the oven and wanting to buy a new one.

But now? I knew that I wanted a German-built self-cleaning oven. Something sturdy and of good quality that would last for years. These ovens don’t come cheap.

I’m of the mindset that I’d rather do something right and only have to do it once, rather than trying to cheaply do things and end up having the same problem over and over. The Emergency Fund meant that I had the money there to get the job done right – first time. Sure, I was a bit annoyed at having to spend the money right now – this was a job that I would have been happy to palm off to some future time – but having the Emergency Fund meant that I could take care of it properly.

(On an aside – you should have seen the guys who came to deliver and install it a week later. They were gloved and masked – it almost looked like they were going to rob the place!!)

So the oven, plus installation, cost nearly $1,800. That’s nearly 4K to come out of that account in a couple of weeks. So how does running the Emergency Fund look like after this?

Easy.

As soon as you tap the Emergency Fund, the iron-clad rule is that you devote the next however-many-pay-packets-long to building it up again. You want to get it back to its original level as soon as you can, ready for the next unexpected event.

Sure, the timing’s been a little annoying. With that dip in the share market, I would have loved to be buying cheapish shares with my surplus money like a lot of FI/RE people have been saying that they’ve been doing, but in the Jones household financial security comes first. This means that a strong Emergency Fund is the top priority.

My next pay is on Wednesday. I have $500 to go to get my Emergency Fund back to its pre Covid-19 level. How have I done it so quickly?

Haha! My secret weapon – my ‘No Spend Days’ chart. It’s all about turning buying things and spending money from a mindless activity to an INTENTIONAL one.

I posted about how it works HERE. It’s worth reading if you think that this might be something that will help you have fun tracking your spending. It really works for me.

Basically, every day that I don’t spend anything, I get to colour in a square. if I have 3 or less days a week where I’ve spent money, I get to colour in a silver square at the end of the week.

The idea isn’t that I never spend any money at all – that’s obviously unsustainable. But what it does is to force me to consciously consider WHEN and WHAT I spend my money on. It turns spending from a constant dribble out of my wallet to a truly deliberate decision.

Now have a look at the screenshot I took from my chart. It’s showing March and April. April is orange – March is yellow.

It’s amazing how, if you don’t need anything, how your spending can go down!

From the 7th of March, I was away on my little holiday at Bowral. You can see there’s a spend of $260 on a helicopter ride – that’s not a usual item in my budget! I arrived home the following Tuesday, had a ‘no spend’ day after that where I just chilled at home… but then I swung into gear mopping up the last of the Covid-19 lockdown preparations.

On the 14th March you can see my ‘panic-buy’ at Spotlight, where I bought $174 worth of quilting supplies. A few days after that, on March 17, was the hideous Costco shop, along with the Bunnings and Dan Murphy buys. I deliberately grouped them all together, knowing that they’d be substantial. Geographically, they were close together too – saving on petrol. Why not? 🙂

The rest of March, the shopping was just for little incidentals to pick up tiny things I may have missed. An example is the $10 yeast on the 25th March.

But look at what happens once April starts:

Well ok, buying the oven on the first day of the month was annoying, as well as having to take a sick dog to the vet. But after that, the spending has plummeted. Why do I need to spend money once everything I need has been taken care of?

Some people I see on Twitter and Facebook are preening themselves on their cleverness in using online shopping to buy food and anything else they want, saying that they’re taking themselves out of the line of infection. But that doesn’t sit right with me – I think that by doing that, you’re putting other people INTO the line of infection by having to get your order to you. I know people need the work, but for me? I’d rather know that I’ve looked after ourselves and we’re not asking other people to risk their health just so we can bunker down and feel safe.

I’m lucky in that I still have a wage coming in. Most of that wage has so far been replenishing the Emergency Fund. But this is something that anyone can do whether they have a job or not – I know because I did it myself when I was absolutely broke and living on the Sole Parents Pension.

It doesn’t matter if you can afford to tip a thousand, a hundred or ten dollars a pay into building your emergency Fund back up – IF YOU KEEP ON DOING IT EVERY PAY, IT WILL GET THERE EVENTUALLY. You just have to keep the long view in mind and know that it will happen and you’ll be all the more secure for it.

As for our long streak of not spending any money, this will end tomorrow. With all of the delicious sourdough I’ve been making – (RECIPE HERE, thanks to latestarterfire’s recommendation), we’re down to our last stick of butter.

I’ll be whisking myself off to Aldi to buy butter, top up our fresh produce (though the garden has been a godsend in keeping us away from the shops – (another security measure I should maybe write about??) and to buy some chicken chips. I still have some chocolate, but nothing beats the salty crunch of potato chips/crisps when I’m watching ‘Survivor’.

In a few days my Emergency fund will be back to normal and I can relax, knowing that when – not if – the next unexpected thing hits us, the one thing we won’t have to worry about is money.

And that’s a precious thing.

What’s teaching from home in a lockdown really like?

Scout. She’s been waiting for a lockdown all her life.

I sighed, rolled over and picked up the ancient laptop that was charging beside the bed. I opened it, came to the FI/RE blog and started typing. It was good, I suppose, that for the first time in over 3 weeks I felt like writing on the blog. But why did it have to be at 1:17 AM?

Teaching from home has been going on for 2 weeks. It’s hectic, but also rewarding when you see how the kids have risen to the challenge and are producing some excellent work. It makes me laugh when I hear the media or many parents on Facebook or Twitter whinge about having to “homeschool” their children. They’re NOT homeschooling! Homeschooling is when the parent selects the curriculum, organises each lesson, supervises the work, marks the work and is basically responsible for everything. Here? ‘All’ they have to do is get their child/ren to sit down, open their laptop and do the work that their teachers have assigned them. Too easy!

Or is it? Readers attuned to punctuation would have noticed that I wrote ‘all’ they have to do. Some parents are discovering that their child isn’t the perfect, angelic student they thought they were. Some kids are difficult to keep on task. I call them my “bright, shiny object” kids or my “wriggly puppies.” These are the kids who, when I see they’ve submitted work onto the Google Classroom, I smile, knowing that their parents must have been standing over them every step of the way, battling with them to finish the assignment and turn it in.

I finished a quilt! This is for my sister-in-law Jen. It’s called The Outlander quilt.

So what does teaching from home actually look like?

First off, let me set the scene. Here in Victoria during our stage 3 lockdown, schools are technically still open, but only for the children of essential workers and for those kids who are considered ‘at risk’, (where school is their safe place away from home – the welfare team know who they are and are keeping tabs on them). Every other child is expected to learn from home. My friend who is a primary teacher heard one parent turn up on the first day of school attempting to drop her son off because “I’m an essential worker.” She’s a florist! She left, taking her son with her.

I teach 2 year 7 English classes and a year 9 Drama class at a very large secondary school in a leafy, comfortably middle-class suburb in Melbourne. We are a public school, but one that is highly sought after by parents who want excellent academic results but would rather put their money into buying a house in the school zone instead of paying exorbitant private school fees. (Can’t complain about that – it’s what I did myself, after all!) We’re one of the state government’s flagships for public education.

So around a decade ago, we began to accidentally position ourselves really well for this lockdown. We are heavily technology-based, with every student issued with their own chromebook, every classroom has an interactive whiteboard, and even the most technologically-challenged teachers (that’d be me) are used to using on-line platforms and methods of teaching.

So the actual nuts and bolts of online teaching isn’t really a huge problem. For example, anything I don’t know how to do, I can jump online and send an email to the other 12 teachers in the year 7 English team. Someone always comes back with a solution. If I, or a student, have a problem with anything computer-based, we have the school’s IT team available at the end of a phone call or email.

I love those guys! Technology and I have an uneasy, wary relationship.

The back of Jen’s quilt. She burst out laughing when she saw it – she loves a bit of Jamie Fraser! (Don’t we all?)

The real learning curve has been adapting the curriculum to online learning. A huge amount of work has been put in by every teacher at the end of last term and over the holidays. We’ve been adapting all of our lessons and assessments so that they can be delivered easily and clearly to the kids, as well as working out the best ways that they can submit each task for us to look at.

Some subjects are easier than others. English, for example, is easier than Drama or Music. But even English has it’s challenges. The first task in the year 7 curriculum for term 2 was a wide reading oral presentation. In normal times, the kids design a slideshow or powerpoint, then stand up in front of the class and deliver a speech, telling us all about a book they’ve read.

Easy enough to organise when they’re all in class. But how do they deliver this when they’re in iso?

My oven broke down two days into iso. I had to have tradies in the house, all gloved and masked, to install a new one. It looked like they were robbing the place!

Turns out that there’s a program called Screencastify where they can deliver their speech on screen while having their slideshow scroll by behind them, just as they would in class. The kids were given the first week of term to get their speeches written, their slideshows put together and to film themselves delivering their speech with their slideshow. Tuesday this week was the big day when they had to submit their work.

This all sounds good, right? Ha! Tuesday’s supposed to be my day off. I was working flat-out from 8 – 6. I didn’t have time to take a shower and get out of my pjs until lunchtime.

The emails! I’ve never had so many!

The work not filmed properly!

The work being submitted to me via email (where I can’t open it) rather than the Classroom! Seemed like hundreds of them…

My best sourdough yet! My new oven arrived just in time to start using my starter.

I have 56 year 7 kids. Twelve and thirteen year olds aren’t renowned for attentive listening at the best of times, but I was astounded at how many of them clearly failed to read the instructions given to them in emails, on the Google Classroom and in their daily lesson plans. So much time wasted in redirecting kids back to the videos I’d posted, showing them how to download Screencastify and showing them step by step how to submit their work properly.

Some kids did it perfectly first time, (the angels!), others needed a nudge in the right direction, (those adorable doofuses!) while others needed So Many Emails directing them to actually read what I’d sent them…(I probably shouldn’t say what I was calling this group of kids by the end of the day after the 600th email!) This is all stuff that when, if you’re in a classroom side by side with them, can be fixed with a 30-second talk. Communicating via email is a different beast.

We got there in the end. I only have 2 kids that I’m chasing up – everyone else has done it. Because I was online the entire day on Tuesday, I ended up marking the orals as they came in, so the kids got their marks on the same day. I even received an appreciative email from one of the parents. That made my day! Usually, when we hear from parents it’s not a good thing…

I thought I’d dress up for a Zoom meeting one morning with some friends. Everyone else was wearing make-up and had done their hair, so I did the same. Well, sort of. Never let vanity get in the way of a good laugh!

Meanwhile, in the first week of term, I was dealing with how to teach Drama online. Obviously we are going to have to use videos to assess any performance tasks, so I decided that for the first two weeks I’d set them a little video task and get them used to the process of filming, then submitting it to the Google Classroom for me to look at. They’d learn how to do it before the work they were handing in was work that would go on their reports.

The work I set for the first week of term was to get them to film themselves telling a 1-minute story – using only their hands. They were given this on the Wednesday and they had until Friday to get it done and uploaded onto the Classroom.

After a flurry of emails asking various questions, the videos started to arrive. A few of them were very basic, but most were superb! It was clear that the kids were itching to sink their teeth into something after 2 weeks of school holidays in lockdown.

Poppy an hour after she ate most of my sourdough that was rising, getting ready to bake. This was 30 minutes before the noxious farting began.

The stories that the kids chose to explore ranged from:

*a pair of hands representing someone drowning. (She had a glass of water off-camera and was gurgling into it as her hands slowly subsided.)

*two ‘people’ making a trade for a bike. This vid had subtitles to help tell the story.

*a hand packing a little car with a picnic basket, driving it into the country (parking the car under what looked suspiciously like a bonsai) and enjoying an al fresco lunch. This had a musical soundtrack, tiny little props and excellent editing.

* a boy who handed his video in late after I sent an email to his Mum had 2 hands talking. One was a student and the other was an irate parent telling him off for not doing a Drama asignment. This one made me laugh a lot!

*Hands dancing, teaching aerobics classes, being stuck at home in lockdown, being bullied, going on a hike and ‘hunting’ cats. I found out Darby has the most adorable kitten I’ve ever seen. At the end, when the ferocious kitten was joyfully ‘attacking’ the hand hunting it, its purring was so LOUD!

The dogs, banished outside once Poppy’s explosive diarrhoea started. Here are Scout and Jeffrey asking mutely to be let back in, with Poppy, to the right, having yet another poo. Don’t let dogs near sourdough! Fun times.

This week I’m getting the Drama kids to look around the house and put together a 30 second soundscape made up of ordinary household items. They can do things like drag something across carpet, bang pots and pans together, slam doors, record the beeps from a microwave etc. Then they have to put together a movement performance to this soundscape, film it and send it in to me.

This isn’t an easy task, but surprisingly, the kids have been much less angsty about it than they were the week before. I’m hopeful that as the weeks go on and we all get used to how the whole remote teaching thing works, things will calm down and people will be a lot less anxious. Anyway, I gave them this task yesterday and it’s due tomorrow. I’m interested to see what they come up with.

Next week – I’ll hit them with a script that will be assessed. In normal times they’d have 2 weeks to get a performance ready. Now, I’m giving them 3 weeks.

Lockdown games! See the red bowl up in the corner? Ryan25 uses it for popcorn. Watch for the next photo as I subtly hide it from him.

During this time, we’ve been directed to make the kids feel supported and cared for, while not overwhelming them with too much work. We have to keep in mind that while some kids will have a calm, quiet home to do their schoolwork in, most will have other siblings hanging around, often loud, younger ones. They’ll probably have parents also working from home, maybe all of them trying to work from the same dining table.

Also, kids are stressed about this rupture to our normal routine. In the drama videos, but even in our written English work, it’s amazing how often the kids have referenced Covid-19. We’re expecting kids to complete the work we give them, but we know that some kids simply can’t or won’t do it. We’ll follow up, but at the end of the day, if a kid refuses to do the work, a term off isn’t going to make a huge difference in the scheme of things.

Lockdown games – There! Hidden. It took an extraordinary amount of time for Ryan25 to find his red bowl. I kept saying, “It’s in the cupboard!” Oh, the hilarity.

Speaking of following up work that isn’t submitted on time, here’s a tweet I sent after the year 7 Oral Presentations:

The funny thing is, the next morning most of those late students were among the first to hand in the work given out for Wednesday’s lesson. I’m betting they had irritable parents standing over them making sure that they knuckle down and do what they’re supposed to!

As far as teaching in lockdown, on the whole I’m enjoying it. We teach some lovely kids and their “Thanks, Miss!” emails when I send feedback on their work bring a smile to my face. (Which, when you think about it, is a stupid thing to say. It isn’t as if I could smile anywhere else on my body!) Teaching totally online is a challenge that I never thought I’d ever do – it’s not as if I’m teaching in the remote corners of the Northern Territory, for example, where distance ed is a normal thing.

I’m not missing my near 2 hours in the car on a workday. I’m able to wake naturally at about 7 or 8 AM and start my workday in the sunlight. That’s nice. I like teaching with my dogs beside me. And they, of course, are LOVING having Ryan25 and I home all the time. They’ll be devastated when life returns to normal.

Do I miss the classroom? No, not yet. If ever. After all, I know we’ll be back in a few weeks. Term 2 won’t last forever. This will be an interesting blip in my career, not something that will forever change how I teach my students.

The last two weeks have been hectic. I haven’t worked so hard in my life and made so few steps during a workday! My fitbit has thrown up its hands in disgust at how few steps I make on an Assessment Task day. But as I said, once both we and the kids become more familiar with how this whole thing works, I’m sure that life will calm down, the emails will be fewer and we’ll all just get on with the job.

Because that’s what’s happening. Our students are being taught. They’re still learning – not just about academic things but about surviving a crisis, getting along with people and being resilient. They’re learning not just from their teachers but by all they see around them.

This will be a time in history that they’ll look back on, hopefully with fond memories. They won’t remember those English questions about the novel that they submitted or that Maths test on Chapter 12 that they did. They’ll remember that their teachers cared. That they got to know their families better than ever before. That by all of us working together as a community, we can slow down the spread of an unthinking, uncaring virus and save lives by not overwhelming the hospitals.

They’ll have some funny memories. One of my year 7 kids – let’s call him Max – started off his oral presentation standing in a bath. His voice was all echo-ey from being in a bathroom. I was wondering why on earth he’d do this when he got to the sentence – “Then Percy Jackson discovered that he was the son of Poseidon, the God of the sea.” His father stepped into shot and threw a bucket of water all over him. It was hilarious! Max kept going, voice quivering a bit from suppressed laughter. Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned Percy Jackson having a lightning bolt as a weapon. His Dad, out of shot this time, turned the bathroom lights off and on a few times. It was fantastic. Max’s face was a joy to see. He won’t forget things like this.

So that’s what teaching from behind a computer is like. I’ve learned a huge amount about tech. I’m doing bleeding-edge teaching in delivering lessons in ways I’ve never had to before.

I’ve discovered that remote teaching means that the school day doesn’t end at 3:10. Kids (and I) are online all day. I have to close my laptop at 5PM and walk away, or else I’d be teaching till 10 PM at night.

I’ve learned to be more patient with kids than I ever thought I’d be. I’ve also learned that kids are flexible and creative and will rise to the occasion if you give them the chance.

Anyway, I began this post at 1:17 AM and it’s now 4:48 AM. Fortunately, it’s my day off tomorrow because I’ll definitely need a nap after lunch after writing this! I hope that this has been of interest to people. It’s a funny old time we’re living through.

I hope you and yours are all well. Stay strong, stay sensible and stay home.

Yesterday I saw a pelican.

A random pelican on the water.
This is not the actual pelican.

A lot has changed in a week. Schools have been closed for 4 days, thank goodness, and my dogs are ecstatic that their people are home all the time. Three of my boys are living elsewhere for the duration and I’m lucky that the quietest one, (Ryan25), is here with me.

Our house is so serene! Weekdays he has a lecture or two online from his uni for his remedial massage course, so at those times we close the hall door between our 2 living areas and I stay quiet at my end of the house. The rest of the time we do our individual things, meeting to have a chat every now and then, but basically just chilling.

This is what is isolation is like with an adult child. Hang in there, readers with young kids! Life gets easier with time.

Work finished for me on Monday, with our state Premier bringing the school holidays forward by 4 days. I was SO RELIEVED. People who have read my previous post may have picked up on the subtle hints I left that I was getting angrier and angrier with the directives to keep schools open that our government was dishing out. I mean – I love teaching and I love my students, but I certainly don’t want to die for their education! Particularly when our school is incredibly ready to deliver online learning. So yeah, Monday was a good day.

The rest of the week has been a weird mix of feeling like it’s holidays, but getting things ready for teaching on-line next term. I decided that I’m not going near work stuff on my days off, but the other days I’ve been correcting kids’ work, emailing them chasing up work and getting my head around what I’ll be doing next term. English is easy. But I also have a year 9 Drama class. The more ‘artsy’ subjects will look very different for the next little while.

But what’s with the pelican?

I’ve decided that I’ll be avoiding the dog beach for the next little while and instead I’ll be taking the dogs for an early-morning walk along the river each day. Yes, I’m spoiled for choice here! Yesterday we walked further along the riverbank than we ever have in 4 years of living here.

It was beautiful. We began our walk at 7:45 AM – exactly the same time that I’d usually be in the car, fighting the traffic. We strolled down to the end of our street, turned right and walked to the boat ramp. Then, for the first time ever, we kept going.

There were a few people there, walking their dogs, bike riding or jogging, but not many. Every time we passed each other at a safe social distance, we’d nod and say, “Morning” and then go on our ways.

The water was like glass. The sky was blue with fluffy clouds and there was a gentle breeze blowing. You couldn’t ask for more. We stopped to give Scout’s little legs a break and watched some brown ducks swimming by the bank. Every now and then they’d duck-dive, one of then going completely beneath the surface. All we could hear was birdsong and the distant hum of what little traffic there was.

Beyond the boat ramp, as we were walking on the grass up towards the walking track, I saw the pelican sailing majestically on the water. I had no idea that we have pelicans here! Normally I think of them as living in the country, near piers where fisherman toss them their rejects; not here in the city!

And to think that if it was a normal weekday, I’d never have seen it.

I’ve written about the secret to happiness before, but in these strange times I believe that our happiness and contentment are going to come from noticing the little moments that are in every day. The really BIG things that people look forward to have, for the foreseeable future, been put on hold, so the little glinting moments are what we’ll have to look for and consciously enjoy. Otherwise life will seem very dark indeed.

Things I’ve noticed since being home this week:

* Seeing a pelican.

*Listening to my son’s podcast*** and laughing hysterically. He has a way with words, that one!

*Having a virtual meeting with friends from work where we all danced to ‘Staying Alive’ and then chatted about (mostly) non-work related things for an hour. Looking forward to doing it again on Monday. Next song to dance to will be the Thurman/Travolta song from ‘Pulp Fiction.’

I’ll be limbering up on Monday morning!

*Having a nanna nap with the dogs sleeping beside me. Jeff tends to snore. It’s like having a husband.

*Hearing the little kids next door playing without a care in the world.

*Coming home from the last shopping trip, realising that I’ve got pretty much everything we’ll need for a while.

*That satisfying ‘clunk’ of the gate closing behind me. Unless something unexpected happens, the car will be staying put for a long while.

*The quiet satisfaction of talking with Ryan25 about anything and everything. It’s a beautiful thing to have adult children.

*Being proud of Tom28, who has taken over the responsibility of shopping for my parents because he lives the closest to them.

*Calling my boys and hearing their voices, especially when they say, “I love you” first.

*The dogs… they make me laugh every day. I admit that things would be far lonelier without them.

I’m an introvert at heart, though you wouldn’t know it if you saw me at work! I feel like I’ve been training for self-isolation all my life. But I’m curious.

What are the little things you’ve experienced over the past few days that have make you smile? I’d like to hear about them in the comments if you have the time. 🙂

***My son’s podcast is called ‘The Under The Stairs Show’. He and 2 friends from his acting course at uni talk about all sorts of stuff. It’s often very silly. If you’re so inclined, listen to episode 13 called ‘The Love Shack’ where the boys dissect the lyrics to the classic B-52’s song. Guess which one is Evan23!!!

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