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 4)

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!!!

Buy practical souvenirs, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

Jeffrey while I was packing. Not sure if he was trying to prevent me or hoping to come too!

I have a rule when I go on holidays. Any souvenirs I buy tend to be useful. I bought an olive oil container in San Gimignano. A spatula in Pyongyang. Christmas tree decorations all over Europe.

So what did I buy on my getaway this week to Bowral?

My stylish yet affordable shopping trolley.

I’m so pleased with this one. I now have a shopping trolley, just like a nanna!!! Living around the corner from Aldi, as I do, I usually load myself up with a few bags and walk to get my groceries. Those bags can get heavy on the walk home.

So yesterday, I looked at my zombie apocalypse cupboard and realised I needed to panic-buy wine. A woman cannot live on toilet paper alone. So I took it out for a spin. It worked a treat. I’m very happy with this one.

But what else did I buy as a souvenir?

A helicopter ride.

I spent $250 on a helicopter ride.

And before you mention the rule about practical souvenirs – in my book this IS practical. I’ve never been in a helicopter before and now I know that I won’t die wondering what it’s like.

Just before lift-off.

When I’m walking the dogs on my Backyard Beach, we get quite a few small planes and helicopters above, following the line of the bay. I thought it’d be nice to create a memory that I’d think of every time I see a helicopter.

Lovely clear morning – Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

There’d been torrential rain two days before, so it all looks beautiful and green, but you can see that the dams in the paddocks are nowhere near full. The farmers could still do with a lot more rain.

I had the headphones on and we could hear the chatter from air traffic control, as well as the conversation from the people in the cabin. (Three of us.) You could hear the sound of the rotor blades but it wasn’t too loud.

The day was already quite warm. The only air-con was a little flap in the door next to me, which I could push open or shut. I left it open and the breeze was beautiful.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales.

I drove over this river the day before.

Two memories for the price of one.

Bowral has a way famous antique/junk market called Dirty Jane’s. I whiled away a couple of hours here and walked away with my rusty bird on a swing for a mere $25. I’m always on the look-out for quirky garden art. The reason I bought this was that the bird looked just like the fried baby pigeons that I saw at a food market in Beijing. Two holiday memories for the price of one!

And in case you’re wondering – no, I didn’t eat one. When I travel I rarely say no to experiences, but I couldn’t face crunching away on a baby bird. Or a skewer of scorpions, some of which were still moving. Fortunately, there was nothing like that on the menu in Bowral!

On the way up I stayed overnight in Albury. In both towns I walked through every art gallery I could find. The Milk Factory was the best one I found in Bowral, but I struck gold when I found the Albury library’s gallery. They had a huge exhibition of Lynley Dodd’s work. You know – ‘Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy‘?

When I walked in, a tour was just starting. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! So I joined it and followed them around. By the way, did you know that in New Zealand a ‘dairy’ is like a corner shop or milk bar? Puts a whole different view on things.

Of course, being Scout’s mum, I had to take a photo of the dachshund!

In keeping with my new view on exercise, I kept the car driving to a minimum. Well, aside from the whole 753 kms/ 468 miles to get there in the first place.

I walked all around the town centre in Albury and discovered their lovely little botanical gardens. Galleries and gardens are free, people! While I was in Bowral for 3 nights, I didn’t get into my car at all. I walked everywhere, which would’ve been unheard of on previous holidays.

In fact, on my last full day there, I didn’t leave the room until 5 PM, when I walked into town to buy some sushi for dinner. I packed my sewing machine and the half-assembled quilt top that I’m making for my sister-in-law and I vowed that I wasn’t leaving town until I’d finished it.

Yes. I didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose me.

Success! I finished it 15 minutes before ‘Survivor’ started! Now all I have to do is assemble and quilt it.

When I planned this holiday, I decided I was going to go to galleries, eat out at restaurants and go for bushwalks. When I took the helicopter ride, I decided that I’d cut out the restaurants. The only meal I had in one was when I met up with a blog reader and her Other Half who took me to an American-style diner in a neighbouring town.

Blogmeets are always good. You all know each other from your writing and so there’s no initial awkwardness when meeting up for the first time.

I bought a delicious sourdough loaf from an artisanal bakery and some dips from Woolworths. They were my breakfasts and dinners for a couple of days. It was DELICIOUS! I’ve always wanted to go to a Turkish restaurant and just order dips and bread and now I feel I’ve finally done it.

That’s a huge advantage of travelling as a single. If I feel like eating sourdough and dip for 2 days, I can.

I also gave myself a treat to look forward to. I always have one bottle of perfume on the go at any one time and I totally use it up before opening another one. For the past year or so I’ve been using a perfume that Mum and Dad gave me after a Bali trip. It’s ok… but it doesn’t fill me with joy when I spray it on every morning. But it’s just a few squirts away from being used up, so I bought my FAVOURITE perfume.

This is what I took away with me. It was lovely to unwrap it the first morning I was away and use it.

Mmmmm Mmmmm!

Sometimes looking forward to something is a gift you can give to yourself.

The same height as the birds.

So, as I sit on the couch before I go back to work for the first time in a week, how do I feel?

The alarm at 6 was a rude awakening. I don’t really want to go in, even though I know I’ll have a good time when I get there. With all the talk of coronavirus, going to a school packed with 2,300 kids and 200 staff is starting to seem slightly reckless.

Still, it’s just the one day, then I’ll have the weekend. And I can always simply close my eyes and remember when I was flying with the birds…

It’s all in how you look at it.

The reason I picked that meme to head this post was that on Thursday I took Mum to a couple of art galleries. The part-time work life I’m living now means that on Tuesdays I have the day to myself, while on Thursdays I visit my brother (who had a stroke on Christmas Day) and then my mother.

Up till now, I’ve been taking her to her physical rehab classes but those have finished. So what am I to do with a woman with a walking stick, who used to be an artist? Well, the answer pretty-well presents itself, doesn’t it?

Since her fall last year, when she broke her shoulder, she hasn’t been to any art classes or picked up a brush. Now that she’s able to move around with her walking stick or her walker, I thought it was time to see if her creative juices could start flowing again. For nearly a year the only things that her imagination has been stimulated by was talkback radio and shows like ‘Antiques Roadshow’ or whatever happens to be on TV. I’m amazed she hasn’t been committed yet. It would send me round the twist within a couple of weeks, I’m sure.

A painting from the first gallery.

Anyway, I swung into action, doing what any sensible person would do. I googled “Art Galleries near (Mum and Dad’s suburb.)

As luck would have it, there was a gallery right at the end of their street! What are the odds? Turns out Mum’s never been there, even though Dad takes her to the hairdresser just a few doors up.

When we walked in, the artist was painting. She welcomed us, then when I mentioned that Mum was also an artist they fell into a conversation about acrylic vs oils; watercolours and other artist-y stuff that I didn’t understand. Mum loved it!

After this, we went to a larger gallery a couple of suburbs away, where, as luck would have it, Mum knew one of the artists who was currently having an exhibition there. She absolutely fell in love with one of his paintings and if the price tag wasn’t in the thousands, I’m pretty sure she would’ve brought it home with her.

All up, we were out for maybe 2 hours. It was the perfect frugal outing, with absolutely no money spent, but lots of chatter and discussion. It was when we got home and were talking with Dad that Mum said something that prompted this post.

“The first gallery – the shop at the end of the street. That poor girl must be doing it tough… they live behind the shop and there can’t be that much money coming in from the paintings. She has a husband and children… money must be tight…”

I began to nod, but then all of the things I’ve read and listened to in the FI/RE movement made to take a step back.

“No, maybe not, Mum,” I said. “Maybe she’s designed the perfect life for herself. She works from home so there’s no commute. She’s doing the thing that she loves and there’s no boss telling her what/when/and how to do it. People would be walking by all the time, so she’d have little chats just like she did with us. If she needs time off she can just put a ‘closed’ sign on the door and her time’s her own. When you look at it like that, it sounds pretty darned good!”

Mum blinked but then agreed.

It’s funny, because either scenario could be true. She and her husband might very well be eking out a miserable existence, longing for her to get a regular job like the rest of us. However, she looked pretty contented sitting in her shop, dabbing away at a commissioned piece while randoms like us wandered in, chatted and whiled away the day.

I like that I got to see this woman living her best life. On every other Thursday in any other year, I would’ve been trapped in a classroom with 28 teenagers…

… or maybe I’d be loving the experience of educating the young and no doubt having a laugh at the same time.

Maybe it truly is all in the way you look at it!

Financial Independence – the most bitter pill of all.

What’s the point of FIRE? Why bother to reach financial independence? Personally, my go-to answer has always been ‘Freedom.’ I propelled my way to FI on the twin goals of wanting security for my family and freedom to spend my days as I, (and not the school timetabler), chose. But imagine my shock and horror when, after reaching my goal, I find out that in order to truly enjoy the FI/RE life to the full, I’ll have to radically change an aspect of myself that I’ve always held dear. It’s a bitter pill indeed.

Ever since the day I left my husband 23 years ago with $60 cash in my hand, (I gave him the other $60 in the account because fair’s fair, it was a joint account), and dragging the 4 little boys under 5 with me, I’ve craved financial security. Over time, as that goal became closer, it morphed into a desire for overall financial freedom. Six or seven years ago I stumbled across Go Curry Cracker’s blog and asked in the comments what ‘FIRE’ meant – (I went back a few weeks ago and yes – it’s still there!) – and I’ve been steadily and intentionally making my way there ever since.

However, since my brother had his stroke on Christmas Day and my aunt died in January, I haven’t been motivated to write very much. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and evaluating. My nephew was also battling lymphatic cancer, while being a father to 2 and expecting number 3 later this year, (he’s all clear now!), while people I’ve known for years at work are struggling with various health issues like Parkinsons and other things. Also, Mum falling and breaking her shoulder has affected her mobility ever since.

Maybe, I began thinking, I should look at what’s happening around me and realise that maybe age is catching up to some of us. Not me, of course! I’m youthful and dewy still. Yes… but still…

… maybe our bodies don’t simply carry on forever? What am I actually doing to maintain fitness?

Ugh.

Fitness.

I’ve never been one to go for a walk just for the sake of it. What’s the point? I’ll walk to the shops, I’ll definitely walk the dogs and I’ll walk to the library to return books, but why on earth would anybody walk for fun?!? As for sports… yeah nah. I don’t mind watching a good tennis match and I watch the AFL Grand Final every year, but as for actually playing a sport? No thanks. God invented books for a reason and that is so people can curl up on the couch and read them.

There’s no denying it. I’m not fit. At all. Never have been. This blog post from 2015 shows a photo of Steep Hill in Lincoln. What I didn’t mention in this post, because I didn’t want to worry my family, was that as we were driving away after walking up this incredibly steep street, I had pains in my chest. Poor Scott thought I was going to have a heart attack. Fast forward to my trip to North Korea in 2018, when I had to quit a walk up to the top of a mountain because I knew I’d never make it.

Yesterday I learned that A, my ex-husband, is going into hospital on Monday for a triple by-pass. He’s only 3 years older than I am! My God, it seems like everyone in their 50’s is dropping like flies!

Now, I realise that I’m writing in a niche where bloggers reveal all when it comes to their intimate figures. On their spreadsheets, that is. Well, I’m not about to reveal any intimate figures, either on my rotund frame or numerically. I don’t think the internet is quite ready for the former. But I haven’t been happy with my level of fitness for many years now, so something has to be done.

First step – I bought a Fitbit, (because there’s no doubt I’m a lazy cow). After all, what isn’t measured can’t be managed. Apparently, exercise helps stave off strokes and stuff. I began with not changing a thing about my life, just to see the baseline of where my steps are. It was in the summer school holidays, so it was always going to be low.

Turns out that if I have a book-reading day, my steps are as low as 2,000. Yikes! A normal day would be around 4,000. No wonder I’m getting to be what used to be described as a “cosy armful.” So I set the goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Turns out going from 4 to 10 thousand steps is really hard. So instead of beating myself up, I’m now looking at my average daily steps each week and aiming to improve on them each week. I figure that’s a more sustainable way to get into the habit of moving more. I’ve now reached the stage of giving the dogs an extra walk if I’m low in steps, which they love.

Though I didn’t think ahead when I bought Scout. Those tiny little legs can’t walk a long way before they get tired. I can’t leave her behind when I walk the other dogs because she literally screams. You’d swear she was being torn limb from limb. Still, I guess me carrying her adds to the weight loss goal.

I was talking with Jen, my sister-in-law today. She says she has a Pilates machine at home and she invited me to test drive it. She’s as thin as a twig and is constantly moving, so I’m going to go over there and have a go. Why not?

I can’t see myself ever being a fitness fanatic, but there’s no doubt that I’d be a fool if I ignored everything that’s going on with the people around me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but better I swallow this than a packetful of Haribo Gummy Bears.

After all, what’s the point of becoming financially independent and retiring early(er) if you’re too fat and unfit to do anything with all that freedom?

I gave myself the gift of time.

Well, the Australian school year began two weeks ago and I – I have begun my new life of part-time work. Yes, I gave myself the gift of time. And boy, do I have a story to tell you!

At the beginning of last year, I had no intention of going part-time. I was racing towards my FIRE number and I thought I’d simply push on through with full-time work until I reached it. But then Mum had a bad fall and broke her shoulder. It brought home to me the fact that my parents aren’t getting any younger and I really should step up and spend some more time with them. So, before I could talk myself out of it, I went to see my principal and asked for 2 days off a week in 2020 – one for Mum, one for me.

Fortunately, she also has ageing parents so she understood and agreed. This year I’m working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Thursday afternoons devoted to taking Mum to her physical rehab appointments, while Thursday mornings I’ll spend with my brother in his rehab place as he deals with the aftermath of his stroke.

But Tuesdays are for MEEEEE!

The Australian school year started a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve had a bit of a taste of what my life will now look like. And it’s not bad…

The first school day for teachers was on Tuesday January 28. Now, Tuesday is one of my days off but all teachers had to attend school that day due to Important Teacherly Meetings and such, so I got a day off in lieu, where I can choose the date of my day off. Remember this because it’s important later.

At the end of Wednesday, I announced to the staffroom, “I’ve worked two days in a row. I’m exhausted!! I’m never doing this again. See you Friday!”

Judging by the comments flung my way after that, they now all hate me.

Last week was the first week where it was Business As Usual. Monday was a workday, then came Tuesday. That morning, my feet hit the floor at precisely the time when, if it was any other year, I’d be throwing things into my bag and racing out the door. I loved getting up, feeling rested and leisurely making my morning coffee.

I took the dogs for a long walk and then surveyed the hundreds of tomatoes that I had ripening on the benches in the kitchen. I decided that I’d have to spend time harvesting them and putting them into the freezer for meals.

I put on my son’s podcast, grabbed a chopping board, a knife and the thermomixes and got to work. I’ll blog about this in more detail later, but suffice to say that I worked from 9 – 4 processing bags of tomatoes, squash/zucchini and herbs to make the basis of 50 pasta meals. Yes, FIFTY.

They’re all in the freezer and amazingly, my kitchen is now filled with just as many ripening tomatoes as before. My garden has gone crazy. But do you know what the really crazy thing is?

In previous years when I was harvesting produce from the garden, I had to do it on the weekends. I’d be chopping things and bagging things like a threshing machine, all the while thinking, “Argh!!! This is taking so long! I’ve got a million other things I need to be doing! WHY is this taking so long? I don’t have TIME for this!!!

But this time? I was chilled. I was working steadily but it wasn’t a problem. In fact, I wasn’t even conscious of how much time it was all taking until in the afternoon, chatting with Ryan25, I saw a secondary school kid crossing the street. “What’s the time?” I said. “I just saw a kid either walking home or wagging.”

“It’s 3:30,’ he said.

Wow. The whole day passed in the kitchen and I wasn’t stressing out about how long it was taking. This was bonus time – I Got Things Done that would normally have been put off until the next weekend. I was relaxed and feeling productive. What a great feeling!

This really brought home to me how cool this new work/life balance is going to be. There is no way I could have even considered this before I became financially independent, but now I have options. And speaking about cool – how cool is it that it all fell into place just as my parents and brother needed me to have more time?

It definitely shows that working towards financial independence is the way to go, even if you think that you don’t want to give up working. You never know when your priorities will shift and it’s nice to able to have the choice, without money being the major thing holding you back.

But remember that day in-lieu? This story gets better…

The second day back, I was talking with some of the young Maths girls in the staffroom and I mentioned that I’ll be able to choose a day off in the next few weeks.

Emily’s face lit up and she said, “Frogdancer! You should take the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend off. Then you’d get Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off!”

OMG. Mind Blown.

And to think I was planning to teach my 3 classes for a few days, see which class I liked the least and then take off a day when I had them for a double. WHAT an idiot I am!

I raced over to the Daily Organiser and got that day off locked in. I came back to the staffroom and then Emily said, “You know? You really need to go away for a holiday…”

“You know? I really DO!” I said.

I jumped onto my computer and within 15 minutes I booked a three-night getaway in Bowral, just outside Sydney. I was supposed to be working on Important Teacherly Stuff but hey… this was more important.

Bowral is a cute, funky little place with art galleries, cafés, bushwalks and the Don Bradman Cricket Museum, (not that I’ll be bothering to set foot into THAT place! Hate cricket with a passion.) It’s an 8-hour drive from Melbourne, so I’ll take the car and have a real road trip. It’ll be just me, my podcasts, my books and a thirst for sedate adventure.

It’s already shaping up to be a great year! Hmmm, I wonder how I’ll spend my day off tomorrow???

My backyard beach. 🙂

Sow the seed, so you can reap the harvest.

Cavalier and Dachshund on the couch.
Poppy in the background, Scout seductively in the front. Just chillin’.

I know I said I’d be back when my head clears. I don’t know if I’m quite there, but after today (Monday – a public holiday) I go back to work, so if my head isn’t ready to deal with Real Life by now, it definitely has to be by tomorrow! But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that things I’ve put in place in the past have started to come to fruition in the present. Sow the seed now to enjoy the future.

As people playing along at home may remember, tomorrow is the first day of my new, part-time life. It marks the beginning of a new stage in my life. A stage where, for the first time since I left my marriage 22 years ago, I have actively decided to decrease the amount of money I earn, instead of frantically trying to bring home as much money as I could from my job and any side-hustles I could find.

I never thought I’d be in a position to drop my days of work down to 3 days a week – let along reach financial independence before I was 67! Yet here we are. Seriously people, keep chipping away that that debt/paying off that mortgage/salary sacrificing into superannuation and throwing money at investments. Sow the seeds before you need them, even when you think that the goal of financial independence is so far away you’ll never reach it. Sometimes life will surprise you.

The time will pass anyway, whether you look to the future or not. You might as well be a little bit frugal and put money aside for when you’re older. It can’t hurt and it might help.

It definitely did for me.

Cavalier on the couch.
Jeffrey, just chillin’.

My brother’s condition remains unchanged. Jen, my sister-in-law, has gone to the country for the long weekend to spend time with her family, so yesterday I went to the hospital to see him. When he woke, he was surprisingly lucid. He definitely knew me, laughed when I said I was distraught about having to go back to work in 2 day’s time, noticed my big solitaire diamond ring and even remembered what his dog’s name was when I asked him.

Sometimes the lights are on and some of him is at home, other times not. I was lucky I happened to strike him at a good time.

New paling front fence.
The latest project.

Meanwhile, the projects continue at The Best House in Melbourne. We now have a new front fence and electric gate. I was tired of the little woofs defending us against all other dogs, prams and motorised scooters for the elderly, so I decided to block their line of sight. You may remember a little while ago I decided to harvest some profits from my investments and Get Some Jobs Done? This is the first of them.

In a month or so after the timber has been seasoned, it’ll be painted. Just wait till you see what it looks like! I always think it makes life more fun when you have something to plan and to look forward to.

Tomatoes and squash in the kitchen.
It’s a bit dark. Sorry. Hundreds of free tomatoes ripening, lots of squash and some coffee grounds waiting to be put into the garden soil.

While I’ve been preoccupied with family matters, the garden has been powering along. Currently, I have piles of tomatoes gently ripening in the kitchen where the birds can’t get them, while beans are hanging by the hundreds and squash and zucchini are growing so fast you could almost swear you can see them doing it.

Back in November I wrote a post called ‘Growing a portfolio is just like having a veggie garden.’ Now, 2 months later, we’re reaping the results of putting in that work of fertilising and planning – not to mention the work of installing the beds to begin with! Like a money nerd happily upgrading his/her net worth spreadsheets at the end of the month, there’s something deeply satisfying about being a gardener, walking back to the house with an armful of produce that you’ve grown on your own property.

Even better is when you nourish your family with what your garden has produced. It’s like the feeling you get when it’s cold and stormy outside, yet your kids are tucked up safe and warm in the home that you’ve provided. It’s a good feeling.

Incidentally, scroll back up to the photo and look at the men on the window ledge. One is from Bali, the other from South Africa. Travel is important to me and lots of tiny frugal decisions made along the way has enabled me to be a Valuist – able to have money put aside to spend where I find the most value.

A baby quilt for my brother’s grandson, who’ll be born later this year.

It’s not just spreadsheets, investments and actual plants that the harvest metaphor applies to. Hobbies and skills are another.

Back in 2008 I decided to learn how to quilt. I borrowed a sewing machine from Blogless Sandy and bought a basic pattern from the local quilt shop. The thought that tipped me over the edge was that all quilting was, was sewing little straight lines. Surely even I was capable of that?!? I made a quilt for my youngest son, Evan11, because I thought he’d be the least critical of my efforts.

Thirty-odd quilts later, here I am. The baby quilt above was a result of mixing 2 quilting ideas together to come up with a fun gift for this new little boy. There was Maths involved, (and we all know how much I hate that!), and some slight swearing, but now I have a fabulous gift that cost me nothing but time to create.

I took a break from quilting for years when I was hitting my side-hustle of Thermomix really hard, but now I’m back. I still have the skills I learned and the fabric I bought back in the day and now, given that I’m only working part-time this year, I have the time to devote to creating more beautiful and snuggly things for the people I love.

I didn’t start off intending to write about sowing and reaping, but as I wrote, the thread seemed to be clear. I’m writing from a position where, because of hundreds of tiny actions and decisions made over the last 2 decades, I’m able to begin to start harvesting the rewards. I’m able to spend serious coin on the things that matter to me and to ease off the throttle of full-time teaching to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers.

I hope that anyone reading this who is still on the earlier parts of the journey (how I hate that word but sometimes there’s no alternative!) will see that there’s no need to get discouraged or disheartened by how long a road there seems to be in front of you.

By sowing the seeds of financial independence, learning new skills and hobbies along the way and having little projects and things to look forward to, you’re not only laying the foundations for an excellent life for Future You – you’re also enjoying your current life along the way.

Remember, the time passes whether you’re sowing the seeds or not. You might as well intentionally scatter some as you go.

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