Burning Desire For FIRE

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

Category: Enjoying life right now. (page 1 of 3)

Growing a portfolio is just like having a veggie garden.

(Self-sown tomato plants, growing from compost materials I brought back from the school canteen. Hopefully, I’ll get free tomatoes!)

Like investing or working towards financial independence, gardening is a process of doing little jobs, one after the other. These jobs are nothing momentous when viewed on their own, but over time the cumulative effect can be huge.

The good thing about a little project is that it doesn’t take much to gain success. I just finished one on Sunday, out in the garden, and it made my day.

(Here’s another lot, just springing up. You can see they’re all from the same tomato. I’ll have to thin them out this weekend.)

Last year I was wandering around Bunnings in the gardening section and I saw a plastic frame to grow beans/cucumbers or whatever. It came with a thin plastic bird netting to throw over it. I thought it’d be perfect to use for the Purple King beans that Bev gave me in 2012.

I set it up and yes, it worked pretty well. This was the first year that my veggie garden was operational and I had yet to realise how poor the soil that the landscaper had used was. Pretty much the only things that grew last year were beans and zucchini.

(Last year’s Purple King beans, just starting out. The actual beans are purple as the name suggests, but they turn green when you cook them.)

At the end of the season the netting was full of holes. Actually, that’s a stupid sentence to write because, by definition, netting is already full of holes! But this netting was so delicate that it was ripped to shreds. I packed away the frame, thinking vaguely that next year I’d cut down some more bird netting or something to use with it. Maybe even position it in a couple of the wicking beds so it’d form an arch???

So exciting!

Fast forward to this year. I was wasting time online, looking at the Diggers site when I saw brown string being used as netting. OMG!!! It was marketed as being compostable, so you just tear it down at the end of the growing season and whack it in the compost, but you and I both know that’s not going to happen in the Frogdancer Jones household! I’ll get at least 2 growing seasons out of it at least. You mark my words.

I didn’t know whether I’d need one or two of them to fit the frame, but they were only $9 each, so I ordered 4. I figured that I’d be able to use them somehow. While I was waiting for them to come in the mail, I dragged the frame out of the shed and set it up over the middle path between the two wicking beds, then planted some Lazy Housewife beans I’d saved from my crop last year. I figured they’d get a week or so to grow before they’d reach the netting.

I had a vision in my head of a green arch over the path, with beans hanging down ripe for the picking. The shade of the arch would shelter at least 2 worm farms in the wicking beds and the path itself would be a shady spot. In the middle of summer those brick paths can get hot. The bean archway would be functional as well as pretty.

I didn’t think to take a photo of the frame before I threw the jute netting over it. So here’s an ‘after’ shot.

Sometimes in gardening, along with investing, you find that you can do things by yourself that you didn’t think you could. Learn about shares? Compound interest – what’s that? How do I invest? There are numbers involved and numbers are scary; surely I’ll have to hire someone???

Can I put this netting over this very tall frame? Surely I’ll need help from a tallish son?

We have a problem with birds here, so I’ll have to manoeuvre the growing bean and cucumber plants out from under the bird net and onto the jute netting.

But no! I was able to do it all by myself. Some of the beans had grown tall enough for me to thread them through the lower parts of the netting, so the project is already underway. I stepped back after setting it all up and felt proud.

I was reading on Rhonda’s blog about how nice the white cucumbers are, so when I saw a punnet of them I brought one home. Ryan24 loves cucumbers and the twine netting is certainly strong enough to support them, so if they take off they’ll be a handy addition to the garden. The mixture of beans and cucumbers would also make for a more interesting view, too.

When I look at the little steps it took to see this little project through from start to finish, I feel pleased that I took those steps. It’s the same feeling I get when I log into my Superannuation account to see how it’s going, or into my Commsec account to cast a quick look over my shares. I feel glad that I started the journey to financial independence all those years ago.

Sometimes things in both gardening and investing don’t go to plan. The sharemarket may fall or a landscaper may put in awful soil that kills the plants you put in. But if you quietly keep putting in the little steps… slowly and steadily making compost to nourish the soil/saving a certain amount each pay/salary sacrificing towards Super/ buying an ETF every time your savings reach a coupla grand…

Imagine how this will look in a few weeks? It’s going to be lush and green and shady.

… you’ll be able to look back over time and marvel at just how far you’ve come.

Locking in the profits.

I’m going to do something that I never thought I’d do. I’m going to pull some profits out of my investments and spend them on some projects around the house. In other words, I’ve decided to harvest some profits and lock them in.

Again, this was something that I never thought I’d do. I’m still working, so income is flowing in to pay for my day-to-day needs. That sweet sweet compounding is doing its thing with my investments and I was sure that I’d continue to let them ride. But then something happened.

I arrived home a week or two ago and it was raining. As I got out of the car and turned towards the house something caught my eye. A steady stream of water coming from the left front corner of the guttering. It fell in a straight line right onto the wooden supports of the verandah.

Crap.

I glanced across at the other corner and sure enough, the same thing was happening, but fortunately, this one was falling onto the brick paving. But the wooden balustrade near both corners was needing to be replaced. I was going to wait, but suddenly this looked like I might now have a rotting verandah on my hands.

It seems like it should be an easy fix – just replace the guttering. Done, right?

But look at this shot. The yuccas at the front of the house have grown up past the roof and are dangerous. The leaves are thick and very pointy and sharp at the ends and the previous owner intelligently planted them next to walkways. A couple of times when I was on the way to the recycling bin, I’ve narrowly missed being poked in the eye. So removing the yuccas has been on my list of Things To Get Done for a while now and the guttering can’t be replaced while the yuccas are there.

So it should be easy. Cut down the yuccas, then replace the guttering, right?

But…

If I cut the yuccas down, our big front windows would then be open to the street. Any stray marauder strolling by would be able to see straight through into my bedroom and our living room. Not exactly ideal. So do I put up some sheer curtains for day-time? Or do I put up a tall fence?

I already have a front fence, but it’s rusting. I’m very close to the beach. The dogs bark at every dog that walks past, so it’s been on my list of Things To Get Done, but in some dark, misty future, aeons from now. But that is going to change, it seems.

Our electric gate is broken, so we’ve been opening and closing it by hand for about a year now. If I get a new fence – a non-see-through one – I’d have to replace the gate as well.

It’s a cascading list of repairs and replacements. So! It all starts at the front fence.

Once I get the new fence, I’ll be able to call an arborist to cut down the yuccas and grind out the stumps. THEN I can replace the guttering and fix any wooden bits of the verandah and balustrading, without worrying that the carpenter will get his eyes poked out.

It’s so annoying. I had a really good plan in place to keep my investments in place and to keep a wage coming in to pay for retirement-proofing the house and so far the plan is working. But the good part about biting the bullet and getting all of these things done now is that once they’re done – they’re done. I can cross them off my list and keep moving forward.

My investments have done really well over the last couple of years, so in effect, I’ll be locking in the profits when I withdraw them and use them on the house. Of course, I’ll be losing any future compounding on those dollars, which is a shame, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that if I delay this water problem until I save up the money to deal with it, I’ll just be giving myself a bigger, more expensive problem down the track.

Ah well. At least Future Frogdancer will be able to walk out onto her front verandah without risking life and limb (or eyes, when I think of the yuccas.) It ruffles me that I’m changing my plans, but I think that the situation warrants it.

Any thoughts?

Refreshing your working life.

Anyone who’s been here on the blog before would probably know that I’m dropping down to part-time work next year, as a glide-path towards retirement. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, because as a rule I’ve been trying to earn MORE money ever since I left my husband with 4 kids under 5. To voluntarily drop from a full-time wage of over 100K down to working 3 days (but getting paid for 4 days) was stepping outside my comfort zone in a big way.

You’d think that now I’ve made the decision and set the wheels in motion I’d be all set and raring to go. I’ve got permission from my principal and I’ve let the timetabler know, as well as notifying the heads of departments that I work in, English and Theatre Studies being in different areas. I’m colouring squares on a calendar and I should be happy to see the number of days until the end of the year shrinking daily. As days tend to do…

But something’s happening at work. Something that’s messing with my head. People my age are leaving, either for new jobs or for retirement. They’re looking happy, saying things like “A weight has been lifted” and this is all making me feel restless and starting to question my life choices.

Two, in particular, have got me feeling envious. The main one is a woman who is retiring at the end of the year. She’s married to a teacher, they have no kids and for years she’s been one of the year 7 student managers, which is a very demanding position. She’s decided that it’s time to pull the pin and her husband is fully behind her decision, even though he has no plans to retire for a while. The thing is – we were in the same year of teachers’ college together!!!!

It’s hard not to compare. She’s happy. She has a gleam in her eye that I haven’t seen since we were at Rusden together…

The other person has taken a direction that, while I don’t want to do the same thing myself, is nevertheless very clever. She’s also the same age as me and our kids have been through both primary and secondary schools together. She heard about a part-time position going at a local selective secondary school which is all about running the admin for VCE classes, (years 11 and 12.)

In other words: No teaching. No marking. No meetings. No parent/teacher days. No yard duty.

And get THIS – if she stays behind for any reason, she can bill the admin and get paid for her time!!!!!

This is unheard-of in teaching. She’ll be able to leave work and not take any of it home with her. Ever.

I mean, I’m really good at separating work and home life and the only time I take marking home with me is when I correct the year 12 practice exams that they do over the September holidays, so I’ll have them ready for the kids when they get back. I learned how to smash out marking at school when the kids were young and I’d take marking home, then it would inevitably all go back with me to work the next day, untouched. But most teachers aren’t like me, and the thought of having their evenings and weekends being designated a ‘Correction-Free Zone” is intoxicating.

What I find enticing about what she’s done is that it beautifully solves the problem of burn-out. It’s a total change, but it’s an easier job in so many ways. It’ll be a total refresh of her professional life and will make a perfect glide-path to retirement.

When she was in the job interview, she was asked by the principal why she was applying for the job.

She said to me, “I could’ve replied with some high falutin’ thing about personal growth or something. But I just looked him in the eye and said, “I’ve spent the last 35 years telling year 7’s where to stick their apostrophes. I’m getting a bit over it!” “

Me? Well, I’m hoping that only working 3 days will be enough to refresh how I feel about my working life so that I’ll get back to where I used to be. Coming into work with a song in my heart and a spring in my step and feeling glad to be doing a job I enjoy. I hope that only coming in for 3 days a week will minimise the things that are sucking all the fun out of teaching, but still contain the things that I still love doing… the actual TEACHING part of the job.

Having 4 days a week to do the things I choose to do will hopefully be enough freedom for me to feel that the job is adding more to my life than it’s taking away. After all, every year I’m able to delay retirement is another year for my investments to keep compounding without hindrance. Old Lady Frogdancer will be better off in the long run if Present Frogdancer doesn’t start eating away at that money.

Next year will hopefully be like a breath of fresh air. The freedom to do things at home and the freedom of enjoying my job again. As I said to someone in the staffroom who asked why I was feeling so restless:

“I’m in my mid-50’s. In previous centuries I’d probably be DEAD by now. No wonder I feel like I’m ready for a new life!!”

Putting infrastructure in place for retirement #4.

House plan for The Best House in Melbourne.

Some of the things that people put in place for retirement are big projects, such as the landscaping I’ve done around the house and the verandah roof I’m currently organising to have built. These things have cost many thousands of dollars, but will reap huge benefits once I leave work and have the time to enjoy them. But not everything has to be a massive project. Sometimes it’s as simple as rearranging a few paintings and pieces of furniture.

I’ve put the house plan of The Best House In Melbourne up on the blog before, when I wrote about how I geoarbitraged my family into it. When we moved in, I had 2 sons in their 20’s still living with me. Naturally, they chose bedrooms 3 and 4 to live in, as far away from their favourite mother as possible.

Evan22, who was at that stage Evan20, chose to keep living in the old house until it was demolished, a move that we thought would only be about 6 months but ended up being almost 18 months. When he came home there was only one bedroom left – bedroom 2.

It’s not a bad space. It has plenty of storage and an inbuilt desk, perfect for putting a huge tv screen on for playing games. It’s south-facing, so it’s bright enough without being too dazzling for a bedroom. It has ducted gas heating for winter and a fan for summer and the room opens up to my main living area, which in summer is cooled by a massive refrigerative air conditioner, so climate control is a breeze.

This was his room until he left to live in Ballarat, a regional town about 2 hours from here. He’s doing an acting degree at the university there. He uses this room as a base when he’s in Melbourne, but that’s only a few nights here and there.

He’s pretty much not coming home for 2 years and will probably move straight out again once his course is finished, so it’s time to RECLAIM THE ROOM.

This will be my guest room/sewing room, at least until Jordan26 moves out and bedroom 4 on the house plan becomes free for me to use as a study. But this room needs to be functional as a guest room.

In years to come, as Old Lady Frogdancer totters towards old age, she’ll have friends and relatives who’ll sometimes want to stay. There’s nothing better than having dinner and then sitting on the couch till the wee hours, telling stories, drinking wine and laughing. It’s even better if people can stay the night and not have to worry about driving or getting Ubers.

Evan22 had covered the walls with photos and the wardrobe doors with pages from a script he was writing. Imagine hundreds of blobs of Blutack everywhere. I used to walk in, take a look at the photos still up there and the blue spots left on the wall from the photos he took with him, silently scream and hurriedly shut the door behind me.

The photos are now gone. He did it without me even asking. There’s one small spot up near the cornice where the paint pulled away, but he says that the rest of the paintwork is fine. I was so relieved! I was certain that I’d have to paint the whole room.

I bought a double bed for him when he moved back in. He’s barely used it and he wanted to take it with him up to Ballarat. The thought of taking it apart, then transporting the bed and mattress up there, then putting it all back together again while still having to buy a bed to put in my guest room was all too much.

I suggested to Evan22 that I simply buy him a new bed, as I’d have to buy one anyway, and we’d get it delivered to Ballarat. He was rapt and he’s already got me to agree to a Queen-sized bed. (What can I say? He’s my baby… plus he’s over 6′ tall.)

This painting was bought in Bali back in 2006. Works beautifully in here.

When I moved all of that in, I looked at the space and thought… “Hang on! My bright ladies from Bali would look perfect in here!”

So the bed is taken care of. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again for the doona. When we moved here, I bought a new wool doona for my bed and stupidly bought a Queen sized one. You’d think that would be perfect for a Queen-sized bed but as we all know, you really need a King-sized doona for a queen-sized bed. Idiot! But now, I just moved my doona to the guest room, complete with the beautiful yellow and white striped doona cover, and bought a proper-sized doona for my bed.

When the boys and I went to Bali, way back in 2006, we came back with lots of wood carvings, lots of jewellery and LOTS of art. It cost more to frame each piece than it did to actually buy them, but 13 years later, they’re still adorning the walls of our house. The yellow of the doona cover picks up the yellow in the painting and it looks great.

I’ll just need to look out for a mirror to put on the wall over the desk and then the room will pretty much be complete as a guest room. I know it’s only a little job, but it’s one step closer to having the house ready for retirement.

Reaching FI = resilience. Where do we learn this?

Of course, there’s no generic answer to this question. We all travel through life in our different ways and we learn whatever it is that we choose to learn along the way. But I believe that there’s one quality that people who reach Financial Independence share and that is resilience.

Resilience is the ability to get back up after we’ve been knocked down. It’s the ability to set a goal and go for it, even though the way grows tedious and dull. People show resilience when, if the original plan doesn’t work or if they fall off the wagon, they tweak the plan and keep on going, rather than throw their hands up in surrender.

As a teacher and parent, I want both sets of my kids, (biological and my students), to enter the grown-up world as kind and resilient people. But how do we do this? Unfortunately, despite what many parents appear to believe, simply telling kids, “You can do it!” isn’t enough – in fact, it often has the opposite effect.

I believe that people need opportunities to “grow” their resilience, preferably way before they actually need to face real-life situations where possessing this quality is crucial.

One of the classes I teach is a year 9 English class. This year, my year 9’s are almost robotically good – who would believe that a group of 16-year-olds, awash with hormones, would be this dedicated to their lessons?? However, as the year went along the admin introduced a couple of school refusers into the class. Let’s call them Betty and Chaz.

These kids both have home lives that are problematic. Both are sometimes reluctant to come to class and the school is doing its best to get them to feel comfortable about school again and to get into the groove of following a normal routine. It’s a delicate balancing act – too draconian and you’ll scare the kids off for life; too lax and they’ll walk in and out as if they own the place, which isn’t good either way.

In effect, this basically means that you never know when they’re going to be in front of you on any given day.

In the last 3 weeks of term we do Poetry. I start it off by selecting some poems and songs that I absolutely love, such as Dulce et Decorum Est, Introduction to Poetry, Ozymandias, My Last Duchess, Starry Night, and Eleanor Rigby. I begin by telling the kids about the poet and any background abut the poem they need to know, (they love hearing about things like Robert Browning’s elopement, the background about World War One and about Vincent Van Gogh’s life), then we dive in and look at how the poets use language to get their points across.

The end result is that the kids have to write a poem, then read it out to the class and give a short talk about which poetic techniques they’ve used in their poems and what emotional response they were trying to elicit from their audience by using them.

It’s a bit daunting for most kids, but every year we end up with some fabulous work, sometimes from the most surprising kids. But what do you do with kids like Betty and Chaz who shy away from anything confronting?

Do you force them to do it? Do you let them skate away from it? Neither one gives them the chance to develop resilience…

About two weeks in, someone in the welfare staff sent me an email telling me that Betty was suffering great anxiety over the public speaking aspect and she asked me if I’d let Betty off doing it.

This is a tough one. Over the years, I’ve seen how debilitating anxiety and depression can be and I certainly don’t want a little poetry speech to make the problem worse. I know that she has a lot on her plate in her day to day life.

But then again… it’s only a little poetry speech. How will she learn to push through difficult tasks if we keep taking them away from her? I replied that I’ll have a chat with her after class.

Betty’s a lovely kid. She sits up the back with a couple of friends, hiding under a long fringe that hangs over her eyes, taking every chance to dive into the current novel she’s reading. She seems to enjoy English. After the next class I asked her to stay behind. I told her I received the email, but I wanted her to at least write a poem. I said up front that my goal was to see her do the task in front of the whole class like everyone else, but we’d take it a step at a time.

“Do you think you can write a poem with enough poetic techniques in it to be able to write a speech about it?” I asked.

“Yes Miss, I think I can,” she said.

At 10 PM that night she sent me an email.

“Hi Ms Jones, I’ve finished the poem, however I haven’t started on the explanation and I’m not sure how to explain the writing techniques I used In the poem. 
I’m actually really scared to present in front of everyone. Oral presentations are seriously my nightmares, so im extremely nervous. 
I genuinely don’t think im ready, yet I still want to give you at least something. Thank you for understanding. 
Yours sincerely, Betty. “

My reply?

“Coolio. We’ll have a chat after lunch. I’m glad you wrote the poem… nice work!”

Ok, first step done. She wrote something. I honestly wasn’t sure she’d even do that. Most kids like this *cough cough Chaz* just disappear until the task is finished and they’ll get an N/A mark.

As anyone who’s ever tried to teach somebody a skill knows, you seriously can’t teach anyone anything unless they actively want to learn and make at least some kind of effort. I could talk to Betty and Chaz until I was blue in the face about the importance of learning how to speak in front of others. I could tell them about how in practically any job I can think of there’ll be a meeting to speak at, a task to report on, a lecture to give, etc etc.

But if they don’t produce even the bare bones of what the task requires, I can’t help them. It’s impossible to steer a stationary vehicle.

But Betty isn’t standing still. She’s started to move. I wanted to keep her momentum going.

As luck would have it, we were heading into a double period. We’d be knocking over the rest of the speeches that day. Betty’s friend Zelda had already done her speech and earned an ‘Outstanding’. Maybe, while the rest of the class were performing and watching the speeches, Zelda could help Betty build her confidence and get her speech down? After all, Betty likes and trusts Zelda and they’re both very good writers…

So I grabbed the girls and set them to the side at the back. Betty was hesitant at first, but Zelda was all over it. As the class went on and kid after kid stepped up to the front to perform their poem and the analysis, Betty and Zelda were whispering to each other and typing. Zelda’s a little… shall we say… exuberant at times and when she got excited about something I’d have to ask her to pipe down, but apart from that it all went well.

By the end of the lesson they came up to me, Zelda beaming and Betty shyly smiling.

“How did you go?” I asked. “Do you have the speech written?”

“Most of it,” said Betty. “I just have to finish it off at home tonight.”

“Do you think you’ll be able to knock it off in tomorrow’s lesson?” I asked. “Then we can start watching a movie.”

Betty nodded. Zelda turned to go, then looked back and said, “Wait till you see her poem, Miss. It’s really good!”

As I drove into work the next morning I wondered if Betty would be there. We had two classes left before the school holidays and it would be very easy for her to simply ghost the class for two days and turn up again next term, knowing that we’d be moving on to new work.

Period 2, I walked down the corridor and scanned the class waiting outside the room. I saw Zelda… and Betty. She was standing right beside the door. As I turned the key, I smiled at her and airily said, as if it was all totally routine and there was no drama involved at all, “Are you ready to go?”

She smiled. “Yes Miss. It’s all done.”

“Coolio. I’ll call the roll and put the Dad joke on the board. While I’m doing that, send me your poem so I can throw it up on the interactive whiteboard.”

After calling the roll, I said to the class, ‘Before we start the movie we have one more poem to hear. Betty, you’re up!”

As she walked to the front of the room, I found her poem in my emails and threw it up on the board so we could all see what she wrote. Betty walked past me, outwardly composed but very pale. Her hands were slightly shaking.

She stood and faced the room and read her poem. You could have heard a pin drop. Even my two talkative boys at the back were silent.

Then she stood straight up, glanced at her cue cards and began her analysis.

She spoke about how she was paralysed with fear about this task and that the only thing she could think to write about was how she was feeling, as it was so overwhelming.

She spoke about how the poem explores anxiety, and how she wrote the poem both to explore it in herself and to let anyone reading it who also suffers from anxiety know that they’re not alone… that everyone feels anxious at times and that it’s perfectly normal.

She spoke about how she used repetition to show how waves of anxiety can roll over and over, and how she used a simile of a bird with no wings to explore the feeling of the anxiety denying her the freedom to soar and express herself – how a bird with no wings is no longer able to do what a bird is meant to do. How she used rhyme to hold the poem together and give it a structure, just as someone with anxiety tries to do every day.

She spoke in a clear, confident voice, looking out at the class and rarely referring to her cue cards. I glanced back at Zelda and caught her eye. Her face was glowing with excitement and pride. I’m sure mine was too.

When Betty finished, the class spontaneously broke into applause. I jumped off my table and ran up to her and gave her a hug. “I’m so damned proud of you!” I whispered.

You should have seen her face. She was glowing. She did it!

Yeah, I gave her an “Outstanding.” Not just because she had the backbone to actually do the thing that she was so scared to do. I gave her the ‘Outstanding’ because she stood up there and earned it.

Now, this is only a little poetry speech. It’s not going to change the world. But Betty showed that she has resilience. She was petrified of doing this thing, but with some gentle prodding from me, a willingness FROM HERSELF to at least produce something to work from, some encouragement and support from Zelda to help her see how she had to structure her speech to get her message across, she was able to do it. And do it well.

Resilience doesn’t mean that you feel no fear. It doesn’t mean that when you start you know what to do and have all the answers. Showing resilience means that you have an idea about what you want to achieve and you’re open to finding ways to help you get there. Resilience means doing things step by step, even if they’re difficult or tedious, but sticking to it until the job is done. Exactly the kind of things that people who reach Financial Independence do.

Want to see Betty’s poem? Here it is:

I am Scared. 

“But of what?” they declare. 

As I stood there, I had to accept that I was unaware. 

Thinking about it made my head ache. 

Thinking about it made my voice quake. 

Thinking about it made my heart break. 

Does anyone else have that feeling? 

When your palms are sweaty,

Then you can’t stop shaking. 

And your mind is breaking.

Why are my thoughts forsaking?

Is it just me? 

I can’t escape this feeling.  

I feel like a bird with no wings.

Unable to fly

But ready to try 

and willing to die 

Everyone watches. What have I got?

Please! I beg you! Don’t put me on the spot. 

Why don’t they understand?

as I begin to wonder, I go up and stand. 

“Why can’t you just face your fears?’’

Must I? Oh, dear…

It’s really not my day,

I guess that must be the only way. 

“Just calm down,” they say.

I struggle to talk. I cannot think to ask 

the polite girl next to me to help with my task.

My thoughts help me see

I’m just being a bother, Believe me

I’ll just leave it be;

I am scared.

When you’re retired you can catch things!

Ok, so I’m not retired yet. But I AM on a two-week school holiday break. Today is Thursday and a little after 9 I was sitting on the couch with the dogs, reading blogs and twitter on my laptop, still in my pjs and bathrobe and luxuriating in the fact that I’d normally be in a classroom with my year 7s at this time on a Thursday.

Then I paused. Something wasn’t right. I cocked my head to the side and waited.

Why was the pump to the water tank turning itself on and off?

I could hear it. It only turns on when the timer to the automatic watering system switches on or if the tap in the backyard is turned on. Neither of those things was happening, yet there it was – turning itself on for about 30 seconds, then off… on then off.

I opened the front door, the delighted dogs running ahead of me and went to have a look.

The brick path around the tank was glistening wet. The fence was wet. The pump was still turning itself on and off. There was clearly a leak. But from where?

Just as I was turning to go, I saw it. A tiny pin-prick of a hole was in a plastic pipe on the pump. The thinnest spray of water was arcing high into the air and then onto the fence. It was so small you had to be in the right place to even see it. But given enough time, it would have drained the water tank, vanished from view and then it would have been impossible to see where the leak was coming from. Or worse – it might have gotten bigger over time and made a small job much more expensive to fix.

All I had was masking tape to try and stop it. Yes, I’m not exactly the DIY type…

Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer! If it had happened a week earlier I would’ve been none the wiser. As I said, I would’ve been teaching the year 7s about ‘Edward Scissorhands’, not being at home and able to pick up on the fact that something wasn’t right. And even more – imagine if it happened in the middle of summer when I really need that water? I’d be very unhappy to find a drained water tank on a 40C day… The more I think about it, the timing of this is impeccable!

Now, this is an advantage of retirement I’d never considered. Being around and having the time to notice small things that need attending to. This will definitely save time, money and drama.

I suppose it makes sense. An old Chinese proverb says that the best fertiliser is the shadow of the gardener. I’ve always loved that saying because it’s so true. A daily walk around the garden is so much more effective than a bi-weekly one. Small weeds get picked. A plant gets tied back onto a stake instead of being left to flap and break in the wind. A wilted plant gets watered.

After coming inside from the water tank, I jumped straight on the phone and booked a plumber. It’s a small job and by the end of the day it’ll be sorted. This makes me look forward even more to when I’ll have all the time in the word to let ‘the shadow of the gardener’ fall on the important things in my life.

Roll on next year to when I go part-time!

***EDITED TO ADD: It’s now 2:20. The plumber I used was from the same company who installed my hot water heater a couple of months ago. The pipe is now fixed and when I asked how much I owed he said, “Nothing. I just put it down as a repair to the HWS. If you don’t tell ’em I won’t!”

How nice is that?!?

Is it necessary to spend up big on a Staycation?

Jeffrey getting psyched up for all of the nanna naps we’re going to enjoy.

The last day of term 3! All of the essays are marked, all of the oral presentations are done and my classes are going to be finishing off the ‘Back To The Future’ movies today. Two glorious weeks of freedom await, (except for the two days I’m going in to open up the Theatre for my year 12s to rehearse their monologues for their exam next month.)

At the end of terms, when all of the work is done, I give my classes drama lessons or we watch classic movies. The ‘Back To The Future’ series is now so old that many of the kids haven’t seen them before. My Netflix subscription comes in handy sometimes!

My next big expense is to put a huge verandah roof on the back of the house so Old Lady Frogdancer will be able to actually enjoy going out there without the risk of burning to a crisp. The roof alone is costing around 25K, let alone the cost of a table and couches etc, so the next two weeks will be spent pretty close to home, enjoying things that don’t add too much to my outgoings.

Last weekend I redeemed the first of the 10 free massages that my son Ryan24 gave me for my birthday. He also did some cupping on my arms and back. He found sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had. I’ll use another couple of flowers over the break to keep the momentum going.

Funny thing though; he wouldn’t start the massage until I handed over a flower!

This next one isn’t necessarily frugal: I bought the sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ instead of getting the school library to buy it. It cost $20 for the kindle version. But I’m SO looking forward to diving in on this over the holidays. I still have about 10 books in a pile beside my bed, down from the 30 or so that I began the year with, so I’ll be making inroads into them as well.

Nothing better than getting lost in a great book, with snoozing dogs beside you. Hey, this time next year I’ll be able to sit out in the backyard under my new verandah and look out over my veggie gardens and read out there…

Corn husks I brought home from the Food Tech room at school – I shredded them by hand to use as mulch while listening to a podcast or three.

Speaking of veggie gardens, I’ll have the time to start seeds, plant seedlings and generally wake up the wicking beds again, after putting them to sleep over the winter by fertilising them and mulching them with pea straw. We’ve already had a few ‘free’ peas from the plants that sprang up from the straw – gotta love fresh peas straight from the plant.

I took out a Diggers membership last year and one day these holidays I’ll go up to Dromana with my friend Blogless Cathy and buy some seedlings. They only sell heritage plants, which means I’ll be able to save seeds from them and keep growing new plants every year from the original plants. I trialled mini capsicums last year but they were a bit too mini – I need some normal sized ones this year.

When I go and work with my year 12’s, I’ll take the dogs with me. It’s turned into a Theatre tradition with my classes, along with making timtam fudge when we have an exam and me emailing them 4 Dad jokes a day. This is the last Theatre class I’ll teach, as I’m dropping work down to 3 days a week next year, so I’m enjoying every moment with them. They’re a lovely group of kids.

The downside of teaching year 12s is that I’ll have to mark the practice exams they’ll be writing. They come in for 3 days over the break and write exams. The Theatre Studies one runs for 1.5 hours and has a HEAP of writing. I’ll be setting aside a day to Get This Done before we go back.

Still – at least I can say that it’ll be the last lot of Theatre exams I’ll ever have to mark!

Aside from this, I’ll have lunch with some neighbours I had back when I lived in Bentleigh over 20 years ago, I’ll have dinner with Evan23’s girlfriend’s parents, (better be on my best behaviour!) and I’ll push on with Tom27’s queen-sized quilt. With a bit of luck, given a few rainy days, I may even finish it.

It’s a nice thing to know that I can revel in two weeks of glorious freedom without having to spend a lot of money. Most of the things I enjoy doing are very much home-based and until I get a few big projects around here finished to get my home ready for retirement, I’m glad I can potter around and enjoy the small things.

Who knows – I may even write a few more blog posts…

Sometimes poverty breeds ingenuity.

Last Friday was my birthday. Birthdays are always something we celebrate and Ryan24, my third son, is no exception. However, he’s a poverty-stricken uni student and he literally had no money to organise a gift. He had to dig deep to come up with something.

Fortunately, he has access to coloured paper and a particular set of skills. He put aside an hour or so on my birthday while I was at work to make 10 origami flowers and this card. (By the way, the word ‘Mum’ is spelled correctly, those of you from the US...)

So what does a remedial massage student give? Pretty nice, hey?

I was talking to him after he wrote the card and he said, “I think a gift should be beautiful, practical and from the heart.”

I think he nailed it.

Not to be outdone, David25 used his skills gained from working in kitchens to put together an amazing brunch for me yesterday. His girlfriend Izzy, Ryan24 and I sat down to smashed avo and feta and sourdough toast, with bacon, hummus, scrambled eggs and hash browns. (The hash browns were still cooking when I took this photo.) It was glorious – and there were enough leftovers that Ryan24 and I didn’t need to cook dinner OR breakfast the next day.

Truly the gift that keeps on giving!

After brunch was over, I went into the guest room where I’ve set up my sewing machine and kept plugging away at a queen-sized quilt that I’m making for Tom27 for Christmas. It has over 1500 squares that are 2.5 square inches – I really should have thought through the design more thoroughly before I started it. I’m using some new fabric and some fabric I had in my stash and at the close of sewing yesterday I’ve reached the stage of having the whole quilt top in 3 big pieces.

There’s still a lot of work to go before it’s a finished quilt, but hopefully I’ll get it done before Christmas. If there’s one thing my boys like, it’s a snuggly quilt.

… I don’t know WHERE the boys picked up the skill of producing gifts from what’s at their fingertips…

It’s a mystery…

But sometimes – you get what you need.

Sometimes the nicest things happen, just when you need them to.

Yesterday I had the last two periods of the day free, almost certainly for the last time this term. It’s the mid-point of term 3 and after this is when all of the English assessments begin to pile in. Given this, I thought I might slip out and see Mum and Dad for a half an hour, come back to school and then I’d be able to go straight home at the end of the day.

As I was walking to my car, I passed by a garden on the corner that I’ve always admired. I’ve been parking in the same street for over 15 years and I’ve never seen anyone working in it. As I rounded the corner to get to my car, I saw a woman around my own age near the front door, cutting some jonquils.

I called out to her, “Excuse me! I just wanted to say that I’ve been looking at your garden for years and I really enjoy it.”

She smiled, said thank you and we started chatting. I said I was a teacher at the school across the road and when she asked if I was finished for the day, I made a show of looking over my shoulder and said, “Ssssh… I have some spare periods so I’m sneaking off to see my mother. She fell and broke her arm 3 months ago and it still hasn’t healed, poor thing.”

She immediately held out the jonquils she was holding and said “Take them. Tell her I hope she feels better soon.”

I demurred, but she said, “No, I love to share them. The houses up and down the street all get bunches when they come into flower.”

Well, after that it’d be rude NOT to accept. We kept talking. When she said she retired from work 3 years ago I asked about what retired life was like. She used to be a radiographer and she and her husband retired together. He’s heavily involved in the SES, but she’s chosen other ways to fill her time.

“I found that I missed the people I worked with the most”, she said. “The social aspect of work especially, because when I retired most of my friends were still working. I had to look out for things that I could do on my own. “

OMG!!! This sounds exactly like what I’m going to have to do when I pull the pin.

“I think that you should do something for the head, something for the heart and something for the soul,” she said. “So I do classes at U3A, I go to the gym and I take myself out to art galleries and the theatre. I have a lovely time!”

I could hardly believe my luck. Just when I’ve been all in the swithers about whether or not I’d enjoy retirement, along comes a woman who has designed the very same sort of retirement I’d thought about – and she loved it. It was so reassuring to hear. And to think, if I hadn’t have snuck out to see Mum and Dad, I wouldn’t have met her. After all, I’d been parking in that street for over 16 years and this was the first time I’d seen her.

Talk about Fortunate Frogdancer striking again!

We spoke for about 10 minutes, then I raced off to see how Mum and Dad were doing. It felt lovely to go in with the bunch of jonquils and tell them about our conversation.

Isn’t it funny how life sometimes delivers exactly what we need?

Getting the pizzaz back.

Getting excited about making this bad boy for Izzy or myself… or maybe I’ll make 2 of them in different colours?

I’ve decided that part of the reason why I’m a little scared about leaving work entirely is that I haven’t been creative lately. Sure, I’ve been writing on the blog and gardening, but I think that I need to be making something that’s tangible in the real world to feel completely happy.

The following pictures are from my Pinterest feed. So many quilts! So many ideas! So little time!

So I dragged out the trestle table that I bought for Christmas dinners and the like, when we have heaps of people over, and I put it up in the spare room next to mine. I found my neglected sewing machine in my walk-in wardrobe and placed it on the table. Then I hauled out the big plastic tub that contains the blocks I started 18 months ago for a quilt for Tom27 (back when he was Tom25).

I’m setting myself up for success.

I’ve always had a fondness for wonky blocks.

My thinking is that I’ll be far more likely to do more creating when the machine is already set up. Instead of unearthing everything from the depths of my wardrobe, dragging it all out, setting it up on the dining table and then putting it all away when I’ve finished for the day, I’ll be casually strolling in, flicking the switch of the machine and leisurely quilting for 10, 20 or 30 minutes before putting the cover on the machine and strolling out again. In fact, once I had everything set out in the one space, out of the way of the rest of the house, I made another square.

Tom27 may get that quilt before he’s Tom77 yet…

How cool is this one?

I firmly believe that humans aren’t happy unless we’re creating something. Something that we can point to and say, “I made that!” Some people get that glow from baking, some from drawing and some from making jewellery, to pick just a few examples. It seems that personally, I get the creative glow from making practical, beautiful things that tend to keep people warm. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s leftover from the year I didn’t have enough money for heating oil, back when the boys were little…?

You can also do fun designs like this one. Easy to do. Or, if you’re a more ordered person, you’d do the block without cutting it in half.

Before I put the sewing machine away to work on my side-hustle for 5 years, I made over 20 quilts, most for family and friends. I’m a nervous sewer, but I figured that quilting was only lots of little straight seams all put together and I could surely do that! I made sure I could by making 4 quilts for my sons first, before branching out to make quilts for adults. You know, people whose opinions I really care about. After all, kids have to be useful for something…

Love this pop of colour. This would be great to make as a gift – just find out their favourite colour and off you go!

As I was scrolling through the page where most of my quilts are made, I’d forgotten some of them. I loved the look of some, while wrinkling my nose at others. I’d forgotten just how productive I could be when I got excited about a project and pushed everything aside to Get It Done! The Sister Quilts, for example, were both finished in the 3 days before Christmas Day. Obviously I wasn’t hosting Christmas that year, so I was able to push absolutely everything aside and meet that deadline. It was a crazy thing to do, but gee… I knew I was alive!

A half-log cabin quilt.

Now that I’m coming to the end of full-time work, it’s time to start dusting off the old hobbies and maybe trying out some new ones. Moving the sewing machine and dusting off Pinterest has got me looking forward to all the projects I can do. It’s going to be good to get my hands making things again!

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