Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: The ‘why’ of FI. (Page 1 of 12)

Financial Independence – the road less travelled.

Prediction: There will be a minor baby boom in 9 months ans then one day in 2033, we shall witness the rise of THE QUARANTEENS.

Something happened yesterday that made me smile.

It’s been 9 months almost to the day since I retired. Since then we’ve had 3 (I think) lockdowns and the only times I set foot in a school are the times when I’ve been in the area and I’ve popped into the staffroom to have a chat.

Do I miss work?

Nope. Not at all.

Are there things I miss about being at work?

The banter in the staffroom every day was fun. A group of us from work have just finished watching Australian Survivor and having a group chat about what was going on as we were all watching. That was great – though again I’ve lost a bet as to who would win. I should never bet with Alice – this is the second time she’s chosen the winner. I’ll be trekking into the staffroom at some stage with another bottle of Aldi French champagne under my arm, dammit!

I’ve had 2 ‘work’ dreams that I remember, where I was in a classroom talking away with the kids. I enjoyed those, though I realised one of the reasons that the dream was so good was that there were only about 12 kids in the class, instead of 28!

Yard Duty on sunny days wasn’t bad. You’d get your steps up and have some jokes with the kids. If you were put on ‘North’ duty – the oval – you’d be paired with someone else. Usually, they were people I’d never really come in contact with before, so it was a good chance to meet someone new and get to know them over the space of a term.

But there are three things I don’t miss – The 3 M’s.

Meetings, Moaning and Marking.

Meetings are self-explanatory, I think. No one likes an after-work meeting, especially if it catapults you into evening peak hour which adds 30 minutes to your after-work commute. Our English meetings always had great snacks, which eased the pain slightly, but the best thing about them was that they always finished Right On The Dot after an hour. The drive home was a killer though, especially in winter when it was dark by the time I pulled into the driveway.

Moaning? Ugh. Teachers are pretty optimistic people in general, but OMG there were a few people who were never happy. I got pretty good at avoiding conversations with them most times, but every now and then I’d be trapped, especially if their desk was close by. ARGH!

And marking. My least favourite part of the classroom. Maths teachers have it easy. All ticks or crosses, with an occasional “Please show your workings.” They have heaps of tests to mark but they can finish a whole classes results in less than a period. English teachers have LOTS of marking.

Every speeling nistake needs to be corrected, the quality and order of arguments need to be evaluated and/or challenged and the pile of essays from a single class takes hours to go through thoroughly. Add in the appalling handwriting that most kids have these days and marking is not something that we look forward to.

Though looking on the bright side, there’s no handwriting I can’t decipher! This comes in handy sometimes.

So what made me smile yesterday?

Naplan Writing Test.

There’s a teacher I know from another school who is clearly worried about my decision to retire early. Every now and then he sends me links to work that I might like to do. I don’t know if he’s worried I’ll go broke or worried I might be bored, bless him, but yesterday an email with a link came through.

It had information about how to apply to mark Naplan papers.

Oof. That’s one of the 3M’s right there! But, slightly curious, I clicked on to see what I could find out.

List of requirements to do the job.

So not only does it require Marking; it also requires Meetings.

For 27 days you have to mark a minimum of 4 hours per day, with only 2 days off. Of course, that means that the third of the 3M’s would have to be endured.

Moaning. Otherwise known as whingeing.

From me.

You know, it brought home to me how really enjoyable my life is now, even in lockdown, and how much I treasure my freedom. I’m not opposed to doing a day’s work here and there – hell, I just renewed my VIT membership, (Victorian Institute of Teaching), more as an insurance policy than anything else. I could do exam invigilation or casual teaching if I felt like it.

But putting aside 27 days to do an activity that I don’t actively enjoy? Where’s the fun in that?

I’m so glad that I stumbled across the Financial Independence blogs and books when I did. It was late in the day – I was hurtling towards 50 – but without this goal to aim for I’d still be working. I’d have the goal of retiring when I was 67, because of course, “that’s what everyone does.”

I wouldn’t have the freedom to pick and choose how I spend my days. When the boys were younger, I was so broke that I’d definitely do this marking for Naplan, especially because nowadays you do it from home. I couldn’t have passed up the extra money. I would’ve settled them all to bed, then sat up for hours marking as many papers as I could.

It reminds me of one of my favourite poems in all the world:

The Road Not Taken poem by Robert Frost.

I’ve been reading a few blogs that talk about how dull the middle stage of working towards Financial Independence is. About how once the thrill of changing investments, increasing savings and maximising the lifestyle adjustments wears off, then there are years of the quiet put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other slog until the thrill of seeing the finish line in sight happens.

Some people decide it’s all too hard and decide that FI/RE isn’t for them. Fair enough, I suppose. FI/RE requires a firm grip on delayed gratification, which is something that some people find hard to focus on.

However, as I sit in my yard on a beautiful spring day just before lunchtime, tapping away on my laptop, being able to pick and choose how I spend my time and whether I decide to earn a few extra dollars or not, one thing stands out.

That delayed gratification that some people find so hard? Imagine if I never practised it? The time would still pass. The future always turns into the present and then the past.

That misty future that I was working towards when I was learning about financial independence is THE PRESENT.

It’s worth it to take the road less travelled.

Frugality and FI is the gift that keeps on giving.

Pea soup in a bowl.
Not my soup – mine’s still cooking!

There’s a rumour that’s been circulating for a while now that Frogdancer Jones – that’s me – is frugal. Or maybe a tightarse… take your pick. I was told about a conversation that happened in the staff room at work where people were describing a continuum of spending. Apparently, I was on the thriftiest end, while the others spaced themselves along the rest of the line up to the biggest spender.

But hey, I like being frugal. I like the challenges of making material things last longer, enabling my money to go a little further and only shelling out for things I HAVE to have and things I WANT to have. Middle of the road ‘meh’ stuff doesn’t cut it in this household.

Being frugal means that I can cut down unnecessary spending, freeing up my cash for fun things. You know, things we’ve all wanted to buy… a mini dachshund puppy, a trip to North Korea, 6 more apple trees… Things that are by far more important to me than designer handbags and the like.

It’s fun for me to save dried peas from the garden and turn them into soup, using my slow cooker that I’ve had for over 20 years. It makes me smile to look down at my slippered feet and see the ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ patches. My ‘Earn back my council rates’ challenge costs me nothing, but because of it I’ve read 86 books so far this year for free. If you think getting lost in a good book doesn’t add to your quality of life, then I have news for you!

I’m a big fan of finding experiences and activities that entertain and inspire you without having to necessarily cost a whole lot. This automatically leaves money that you can put towards something else.

Being frugal doesn’t mean that you never lash out on expensive items.

Which is why I’m really excited about my latest purchase.

Big box with Poppy ( a cavalier) sniffing it.

This is a gift for David27 and Izzy. It’s an engagement + wedding gift because it’d be an extraordinarily generous engagement gift and I’m not that rich! It was delivered here in the middle of lockdown #5 so it’ll be a while until I can drive over there with it to give it to them.

It’s a product that I hold very dear to my heart. I have 2 of them and I can’t possibly do without them. Just this morning I used one to make bread dough, pizza dough and gratin sauce for cauliflower cheese for lunch. We now have 8 bread rolls and 4 balls of pizza dough in the freezer for literally mere cents. And absolutely no artificial ingredients. Izzy and David27 both have health issues and she’s also lactose intolerant, so this will be perfect for them to eat cleanly and with fresh ingredients, while being able to produce gourmet meals. They’re both foodies.

I’m so excited to be able to provide this for them.

Just to make it fair for the rest of the boys – because 2 have already bought their own thermomixes, while Evan24’s housemate owns one – I’ve decided to give a little less towards the wedding. I’ve always thought that I’d give 5K per boy per FIRST wedding – (any subsequent weddings and they’re on their own!!) – so I’ll give 4K towards this one.

Come to think of it, I also gave them the diamond for Izzy’s engagement ring. There are definite advantages to being the first cab off the rank when weddings come along! This is a product of the practical thinking that frugality brings. I had a very good quality diamond in a ring sitting in the jewellery box, back from when I was in my twenties. I’m never going to wear it again. It makes no sense for it to sit there for decades when Izzy could have it put into a setting she loves and then get to enjoy looking at it every day.

By doing this, I release something that was useless to me and David27 gets to put the money that he would’ve spent on a diamond towards the wedding. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Being frugal and FI is almost like a superpower. When I think back to the days when the boys were small, when I could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads, I feel so very lucky to be able to buy a gift like this now. Back then, I would never have believed it would ever be possible.

All I have to do now is wait for this current lockdown to be over. The box can sit in the hallway, just like the boxes of my customers used to do when I sold thermomixes as a second job. Once we’re free to drive further than 5 km from our homes, I’ll look forward to driving over to Izzy’s parents’ place to deliver it, just as I used to do back in the day for my customers. It’ll be fun.

But if you know them in real life.. sssshhhh!

Don’t spoil the surprise!

Little Adventures #3 – Endeavour Fern Gully, July 2021.

Track leading into the bush.

I was looking at the news, seeing New South Wales’ covid figures soaring to over 100 cases from their bungled “lockdown” and then news came of 3 covid cases in Victoria due to removalists breaking the rules. That decided it! July’s Little Adventure had to happen quickly just in case we all go into lockdown again.

For any new readers; my Little Adventures are day trips. Once a month I take the freedom I have now that I’ve retired and I explore a place close to home. A place I’ve wanted to see but never really had the time for when I was working.

I looked at the weather forecast. Tuesday was cold but fine. Wednesday would be rainy. Decision made!

Tuesday would be “Little Adventure and Planting Asparagus Crowns” day.

Wednesday would be “Shopping at Costco For Dog Food In Case We Go Into Lockdown Again” day. We can go without many things in this house if we have to, but dog food is definitely not one of them.

Big gum tree.

Ryan26 is on his L plates and was at home, so he leapt behind the wheel for the 44km drive to the Endeavour Fern Gully. This is a property in Red Hill owned by the National Trust. The Mornington Peninsula was once a temperate rainforest and they’ve preserved a little patch of it with a walking track through it. Blogless Sandy discovered this place when she was with her walking group and told me about it.

I was interested to see that it’s a National Trust property. My plan is to buy a membership, once covid lockdowns settle down. They have a few old buildings that I haven’t seen since primary school and they’d be perfect for Little Adventures. The fern gully is free, so my membership plans can wait.

Big tree fern.

Ryan26 and I were the only ones there. There are definite advantages to being retired.

Tree trunk covered with moss.

All we could hear was the sound of birds, the gurgle of water as we walked near tiny creeks and the sound of a farmer a couple of paddocks over as he was riding his tractor. Fortunately, he was quite a way away so it wasn’t too intrusive, more like a low burring noise underneath everything else.

Another gum tree.

It was crazy to think that the Peninsula was once covered with dense vegetation and ferns like this. At one point the walking track skirted the side boundary of the property. On my right side was a paddock of green grass – nothing else. On my left side was a wall of tree ferns way taller than me, blocking out the sky.Really demonstrated how settlers have changed the landscape.

I unintelligently left my phone at home so Ryan26 took these photos for me.

Lots of gum trees.

The walking track is around 2kms or so and it winds its way through banks of tree ferns gathered around creeks, as well as stands of trees. Don’t you love the sound of running water?

Every now and then we’d hear a bellbird, or a galah would fly screeching overhead. Ryan26 is a quiet soul, so we didn’t chat much. We just walked in silence, first him and then me, quietly taking it all in.

The smell of the air was utterly different down there. It’s hard to describe. It was a clean, ancient smell of vegetation. Of things rotting down to provide new plants with the nourishment to grow. That may sound unpleasant but it really wasn’t. It’s a place of lush growth and renewal.

Boardwalk through tree terns.

I was glad we came. It’s an easy drive from Melbourne and we were home for lunch.

After a revivifying nap on the sunny spot on the couch, I went out to the garden and planted 7 more asparagus crowns. I can’t touch them for around 3 years but after that, I’ll have asparagus for the next 20 years or so!

Aiming for FI is ALWAYS a good idea.

When it comes right down to it, we’re all responsible for our own financial well-being. A definition on the internet or someone else blathering about how they think you should handle your FIRE journey has no relevance. Everyone has different nuances and circumstances to take into account, which means that the beauty and the terror of personal finance are just that. It’s PERSONAL.

Ultimately, it’s all up to you.

Having said that, however, I’m firmly in the camp of the ‘FI’ part of FIRE being the most important. Retire/don’t retire – I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss what you do. But I do believe that, wherever possible, people should have the goal of being financially independent firmly in their sights.

The reason for this is simple: You never know what’s going to change in the future.

What started me thinking about this was a tweet I saw a little while ago where a guy was saying something like, “I think FIRE is stupid. I love my job. I love my life. I never want to retire.”

Someone pointed out to him that he may feel differently a little way down the track. Having kids, for example, definitely changes the way people look at how they want to spend their time.

His reply was something like, “Oh. I didn’t think of that. I’m single and 25 LOL!”

Oof.

Things change.

I worked at my last school for 17 years. I loved my job. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my holidays too, but every day I’d walk through those doors and be so happy that I worked at that school. Until gradually, things changed and I wasn’t feeling the love so much.

Things change.

If I hadn’t kept steadily moving towards Financial Independence during the years when I absolutely loved my job, I’d have been screwed when I became jaded. I would have had to stay whether I wanted to or not.

Two and a half years ago I wrote a post about a friend’s marriage that had hit a crisis point. It’s called ‘The Scariest Financial Decision of all‘ and in it, I talk not only about my friend but also about the breakdown of my marriage so many years ago. The thing was, I walked away from that marriage as emotionally prepared as I could be, (is anyone ever really emotionally prepared for all that?), but financially???

I was in a woeful state.

A bit like my friend. Two years after I wrote that post, she pulled the pin on her marriage for good. In the interim, she had another baby, so she’s now on her own with 3 kids under 6, a part-time job and a house with a hefty mortgage that is still awaiting property settlement. She has no money of her own behind her and so, like me 24 years ago, she’s essentially starting from scratch.

While my divorce wasn’t exactly amicable; hers is just awful. Nothing has been able to be agreed upon between the parties and even simple things like access to children and child support have had to be dragged through the courts. As you can imagine, solicitors, barristers and the drawing up of documents etc can run up expenses really quickly. My friend would be up shit creek without a paddle, let alone being able to afford a canoe, if it wasn’t for one thing.

Quite a while ago, her parents decided that they wanted a slice of this Financial Independence pie and so they made it their goal to reach it. Their goal was FAT-FI, which is basically a snappy way of saying that they ended up retiring with more than they needed for their basic living expenses. Since then the share market has been burbling along, they were living their lives and all was serene until the separation.

My friend can pay her legal team. She’s getting the best advice possible to ensure the safety and security of her kids. She can do so because her parents worked towards financial independence years ago.

I’m darned sure that when her parents were saving, investing and doing all they could to ensure a solid retirement, the thought of this situation happening never entered their heads. Like all of us on this path, they were focussing on what they wanted to have put by to make sure their retirement would be a good one.

But now? They’re so thankful to be able to help their daughter and grandchildren. If they’d YOLO-d their way through life, my friend’s situation would be pretty grim right now. Part of her parents’ view of having a great retirement has altered. They now view being able to help look after their grandchildren’s lives as being very valuable to them.

Things change.

We can foresee some things, such as getting older and reaching life’s milestones, but some things are absolutely hidden from us until they happen. Seeing as how that’s the case, the only way we can prepare for them is to get our financial acts together.

If something happens and we need to drop everything to be there for someone we care about, it’s far easier to do that if we don’t have to be juggling having to go to a job to pay our bills at the same time. Knowing that we have a solid financial footing means our brains are free to focus on the other things that the person needs. It frees us up to be totally in the space with that person, instead of money worries shredding away at the edges of our minds.

Fingers crossed that we never have to experience this! I know I’d prefer to have my boys merrily sailing off into the sunset with never a worry. I know that I’d prefer to have a retirement where the weightiest decision I have to make each year is which country I’m travelling to… but life is tricky.

Money doesn’t solve everything, but it sure makes a lot of situations just a little easier to bear.

Financial Independence is always a great goal.

You never know when it’ll come in handy.

After 6 months, I’m still learning about retirement.

Granny squares with circular quilting.
One of the placemats.

You know, it always makes me smile when I see a blogger tweet something like, “Sorry everyone, I haven’t released my usual Wednesday blog post. Never fear, I’ll put a post out on Thursday instead. Apologies!!!”

Honestly… no one cares! It’s been a month since I posted here and no one’s sent out a search party. After my little holiday up in the high country I wasn’t feeling the urge to write here, so I didn’t. I threw myself into other things, mainly quilting (2.5 finished plus a couple of placemats), reading, (only $400 or so to go on the ‘Earning my rates back’ challenge) and getting the veggie garden ready to slumber over the winter.

And that’s where I learned something new about transitioning to retired life.

Ian’s quilt. Blogged HERE.

While I was happily down in the quilting rabbit hole, my veggie garden was sitting there, untended and unloved. The shrivelled up beans were hanging, brown and ugly, on their vines, the huge silver beet plant had gone to seed and the basil was running amok. Grass had come under the fence from the neighbour’s place and is under the apple trees, so that needs getting rid of.

It was time to get out there and put it all to rights.

Cathy’s quilt. Blogged HERE.

Monday was a public holiday here in Victoria and the day was dry and slightly overcast. Perfect for a person like me with vampire-like skin that burns at the merest hint of sunlight! I grabbed my secateurs, the garbage bags filled with the autumn leaves that I brought back from my little holiday in the high country – souvenirs don’t have to cost anything – and out I went.

I’m a permaculture gardener, which means that very little gets taken out from the garden in our green waste bins. I ‘chop and drop’, which means that I use the secateurs to cut all of the dead tomato plants, bean stalks or whatever into little, mulch-sized pieces and I leave them on the garden beds. Over time, this breaks down and gives you lovely, lush soil. Very frugal – wastes nothing – and very eco-friendly.

‘Chop and Drop’ is great for the soil, but it takes a lot more time than simply ripping things out and stuffing them in garbage bags.

Once I cleared a section of the wicking beds, I put a thick layer of the souvenir autumn leaves down, then a layer of mushroom compost and then some animal manure. This year it’s cow manure as that was the cheapest one when I went to Bunnings. Over the top goes a layer of pea straw.

Free peas. Just leave them to dry on the plant and you have the makings of pea soup – or plant for more free peas next year!

I love using pea straw for veggies. Usually, you get a free crop of peas. Last year I saved the dried peas and a few days ago I made a hearty pea soup with a ham hock. Bloody beautiful!

All of these layers of leaves, compost and straw are wonderful for the soil but are time-consuming and after a while, rough on the back. After a few hours out there, my back was starting to hurt. But I kept eyeing off the garden beds. ‘Push on! There’s a couple of easy sections over there. There’s still daylight!’

This is how I’ve always worked in the garden. Once you start a job, you push through until it’s finished. Of course, up until now, I’ve only had weekends and school holidays to Get Things Done.

2 dogs sleeping with a ball between them.
Poppy and Scout while I quilt, making sure they keep tabs on the best toy ever.

I worked in the garden from around 10 until just before 6. I did heaps of work – 6/12 sections of wicking beds are now done and dusted for winter. But when I came in, my lower back was in pain. There was a lot of bending and lifting going on out there. Luckily, I have a live-in remedial masseuse. Ryan26 is an RM and myotherapist. I hobbled inside and asked for a treatment.

I lay on the massage table while he treated me, getting lots of information about, “It’s your glutes, Mum. When they’ve had enough, they constrict and it pulls on the muscles of your lower back which makes your back ache,” or something like that. Remedial massage hurts, so I was trying to be in my happy place.

Then he said, “You have to listen to your body. Why didn’t you stop when your back started hurting?”

“Ummm,” I said intelligently. “I wanted to finish the job.”

“Aren’t you retired?” he said. “You know you can always pick it up again tomorrow.”

Oops. While I was out there I fell into the usual way of doing things – get it done NOW because time is short and you’ll be back at work tomorrow!!!

It honestly didn’t occur to me that I could feel the twinges in my back, walk to the shed and put the secateurs and bags of leaves, compost and pea straw away and go inside and read a book. I just kept pushing through because that’s what I’ve always done in the past.

Interesting. Even after 6 months of retirement, it still didn’t dawn on me that now – for the first time in my adult life – I have the time and space to pace myself. To tackle tasks in a more leisurely fashion, rather than race at them and attack like a bull at a gate. In the big scheme of things, does it matter if the garden beds take 2 weeks to be bedded down for winter, rather than 2 days?

It’s nice being out in the garden. Jeffrey curls up on the couch under the verandah and sleeps, positioned where he can open an eye every now and then to check where I am. Scout and Poppy bring the ball for me to throw and when they get tired of that, Poppy curls up next to Jeff and Scout disappears inside. I hear the birds, the people singing in the church next door if it’s Sunday and kids playing. Sometimes I work in silence, other times I have podcasts or an audiobook playing.

It’s lovely. Why wouldn’t I want to savour those moments over lots of sunny days, instead of racing through them? Isn’t this part of what gaining freedom over my time actually means?

Then vs now.

It’s 8:57 AM on a Wednesday morning.

In my previous life as a teacher, I would have left the house at 7:45 AM, driven all the way to school, parked in Hall st and then made it to my desk in the staff room by 8:30 AM. I’d chat with the colleagues at the desks near mine, then we’d look at the time, grab our computers, our books and whiteboard markers and gallop off to where we need to be for period 1.

The walkways between the buildings and portables would be packed. There were 1,200 kids and around 200 teachers all on the same mission, but all moving to different points of the campus. All of us had to be on time.

By 8:50 I’d be in my classroom, facing the first of the day’s crop of kids, ready to mark the roll. My lesson plan would already be laid out for me, with every class at the same year level doing the same work with the same resources at the same time.

Practically the only point of difference between my class and everyone else’s is that I’d write a couple of Dad jokes on the board at the start of every lesson. The kids loved it.

The bells define the day when you work at a school. The periods go for 48 minutes, lunch is an hour and recess is just under half an hour. There’s a bell at the middle of lunch so that the teachers on yard duty know that it’s time to swap in or out.

Now?

I’m on the couch in my pjs. I’ve written a blog post for the Frog Blog and I’m thinking vaguely about getting some breakfast before I take the dogs to the beach. Yesterday I googled “Quilting shops near me” and found there’s one just a few minutes drive away. I might have a look and see if there’s anything I’d like to buy for the next few quilts I have in mind.

Two minutes ago I was reading a blog post and I absently reached out to give Poppy a cuddle. She stretched out and I felt her silky fur under my hand. I glanced out the window behind her to see the blue sky, with just a touch of wind stirring the trees. I had a flashback as to where I’d be if I hadn’t retired.

I’d be in a room with 28 other people, locked away from most of this beautiful day. I’d have fun some of the time, sure. Kids can always make me laugh! But most of the time would be spent making them do work put together by earnest, serious young teachers that frankly, used to bore even me. Teaching used to be a lot more creative and fun. Now it’s getting more and more “cookie-cutter” style lessons, with the belief that one size fits all.

Thank God I was frugal, paid off my mortgage and was in a position to take advantage of an opportunity to accelerate my retirement date when it presented itself.

The whole day stretches out before me. I can spend it however I want. There’s no excuse for me to be bored! I’m the one in control.

THIS is why I put in the work to retire early(ish).

The ability to control your own time is worth its weight in gold.

Yesterday I went to a free talk at my library. An excellent author, Rosalie Ham, was talking about her books and the making of her first book, The Dressmaker, into a movie. Today I’ll potter around here, maybe go to that shop, while tomorrow? Who knows? I’ll probably decide what I want to do when my feet hit the floor tomorrow morning.

Next week I’m going away for a few days into the high country of Victoria. My timeshare had a few points that were going to expire at the end of June and for the first time – I’m in the position of being able to use them up because I’m free to travel midweek.

Five months into retirement, I’m loving it. My days are filled with quiet contentment and I’m happy.

So how’s the reading challenge coming along?

Dory.

We’re half-way through May so I guess it’s time to check in on how my challenge to make back all my rates by reading the equivalent value of books from the library is coming along.

As in the picture above – it’s going swimmingly. 🙂

I was prompted to write this post by the following tweet:

I answered that I’m currently up to 62 books in 2021 – (it’s now 64) – and someone asked for some recommendations.

So, roughly a third of the books I’ve tackled so far have been Thumping Good Reads.

Both the McTiernan books were audiobooks that I borrowed from the library and listened to while I was driving around South Australia. It was a terrifically efficient way to read, except that now the big burly male protagonist will forever have a deep woman’s voice in my head. But the reader had the Irish accent down pat.

I really enjoyed the Hayfield novels ‘Wife After Wife’ and ‘Sister to Sister’ too. I absolutely love Tudor history and she had the brilliant idea of transferring the Tudor story to modern times. For example – Henry VIII isn’t a king anymore – kings have no real power in our society. Instead, he’s a media magnate. He can’t behead his wives either, so how would these marriages come to an end nowadays? I particularly enjoyed how she got around the thorny problem of Anne of Cleves – there’s no blaming Hans Holbein for a flattering, deceptive portrait when we have cameras, phones and videos!

I read ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ before I watched the Netflix series. This book was so beautifully written that, instead of galloping through it like I usually do, I’d put it down after nearly every chapter just so I could savour the language.

‘The Thursday Murder Club’ was completely unexpected. It’s written with such clever, witty English humour, while the premise of a group of old=age pensioners getting together to solve a murder is something I’ve never come across before. I loved it and can’t wait for the next in the series to be released.

I’m reading all of the books Rosalie Ham has written because next week I’m going to a free talk at the library -( should I count this for… say… $10 off my total for the challenge???) – about her sequel to ‘The Dressmaker’ called ‘The Dressmaker’s Secret.’ She’s a very good writer, but ‘There Should be More Dancing’ had me hooked from the start. The protagonist, Margery Blandon, sees herself as such a virtuous, upright person but she’s simply AWFUL. I killed myself laughing when her husband said, ” I thought that when I opened you, Margery, I’d find a pearl. Instead, I found an oyster.” This is such a poignant, sad, yet funny book.

Stephen King recommended ‘Find You First’ on Twitter so I tracked it down. It’s a fast-moving thriller and it kept me guessing. I also included his own book, ‘Later.’ King has written so many books. When he’s on point, his stories crackle. This one was great.

‘Olive, Mabel and Me: The story of two very good dogs,’ is written by Andrew Cotter, the Scottish sports commentator who found internet fame by posting videos of his 2 labradors when he got bored during lockdown. Of course, I was always going to love this book. 🙂 If you haven’t seen them before, the videos are well worth watching.

The other books in the list are all very well-known and I was just late to the party.

A quick glance to the side and you’ll see that I’m past the halfway mark – I’ll be gliding smoothly towards the finish line now!

An added bonus that i didn’t expect is that because I’m reading, reserving and picking up so many library books, the dogs and I are walking to the library at least twice a week. That’s a 5KM round trip. It gives me over half my 10,000 steps for the day and leaves me with a feeling of having accomplished something. Today we left at 10 AM to drop off ‘The Good Sister’ by Hepworth – (an excellent read – I couldn’t put the bloody thing down so I finished it in a day) and a Lincoln Rhyme novel. We were back by 11 – our walking times are getting better!

I know that this is a FIRE blog and that there are absolutely no finance books on my list. That’s not to say I didn’t read any, but life isn’t made up of finance alone. There’s absolutely nothing better than getting lost in the world of a good book.

As George RR Martin said in ‘A Dance of Dragons’ –

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads leads only one.”

A petrified forest, a blowhole and a walk down memory lane.

The man in the motel in Portland told me to back-track a little and to go and see the Petrified Forest. After I checked out, I raced down to have a look.

You park your car and walk along the cliffs to see it. On the way, there’s a fork… right to see the Blowhole and left to see the petrified forest. I decided to save the Blowhole for the way back.

I was a bit sad to read the explanation of how these tubes formed. It’s much more romantic to think of trees being slowly buried, rather than being all drippy and watery things making these strange tubes.

It was an eerie sort of place. I was the only one there and it was blustery and cold.

It was definitely the perfect place for a wind farm!

Looking out towards Antarctica again…

I walked around for a fair while, feeling all broody and mysterious, and then I walked back to see the Blowhole. I was so glad I did.

This was taken from the lookout. The waves smash into the cliffs and they rise up. Every now and then I could feel light spray on my face if the wind happened to be blowing in the right direction. The sound was amazing and it felt so wild and free.

I glanced at my phone and saw that it was morning recess time at school, so I texted a few people at work with this photo. The contrast between the crowded staffroom and this isolated place was huge.

I stopped the car to take this photo. The fence was hung with shoes for hundreds of metres.

Then I headed into Port Fairy for lunch. Found a nice little bakery and had a lovely lunch. Then I went out to explore.

I was in two minds about how long I should stay here. I was looking forward to seeing this place. Everyone says how pretty Port Fairy is and I was keen to have a squiz. I was going to book a lace for the night so I could really have a good look around.

But honestly, it was really boring.

Sure, there are plenty of pretty little cottages but most of them are privately owned. The lighthouse walk was closed because they were resurfacing the path, so I drove around for a bit, looking at the picture-postcard cottages, then yawned and headed off to Warrnambool.

I was meeting a blog reader for coffee there!

Loretta has been reading the Frogblog for years and was also a member of Simple Savings, so we knew we’d have a lot in common. We met at a café by the beach and talked our heads off and then went for a walk along the boardwalk.

“Now that we’ve met each other and we know we get along, would you like to come back to our place for dinner?” she asked as I was huffing and puffing along beside her. I’m slowly getting fitter but it’s clear I need to make more of an effort!

So off we drove. On the way, I rang Ryan26 and told him where I was going – safety first! (I could see that Loretta was ok, but what if her husband was an axe murderer??? ) Only joking, but as a single woman travelling alone, I sent Ryan26 texts everywhere I went. He must have loved being in so much contact with his Mum…

I had the loveliest evening with Loretta and her family. When we got there I met the dogs – it was so good to see some waggly tails again. Her husband made dinner for us all and he cooked the most tender steaks I’ve eaten in years. Paired with home-grown potatoes, which, when I got home, made me start harvesting mine. It’s too easy to forget them when they’re under the ground.

When it was time for me to go, she walked me down their driveway to the car parked on the street outside. You forget just how dark it is out in the country. She said that she and a friend take walks in the evening all the time. I’m sure I’d fall down a hole and break my leg in the first 5 minutes if I tried that. It was pitch-black. She’s an intrepid woman.

The next morning I was on the road again, heading back to the Port Campbell area to see the 2 sights I didn’t see on the way up, due to rain. Here’s the Bay of Islands.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

The sun was shining over me and in the bay, but the grey clouds were gathering behind me. I stayed savouring the view for quite a long while, then jumped back in the car to go and have a look at the Bay of Martyrs.

By the time I got there, the sun had moved on.

So had the rain. Towards me.

I ran back to the car. I didn’t get too wet.

Then I drove on.

The rest of the day was me basically driving juuuust ahead of the rain. The Great Ocean Road ducked inland for a bit and I suddenly realised that I was getting low on fuel. There was a tiny dot on the map in the middle of nowhere that had this petrol bowser outside a shop. I thought for sure that it wouldn’t be operational but thank goodness it was. Saved my bacon!

They’d just filled the bird feeder out the back before I arrived. We get lorikeets at home but we don’t get rosellas. Pretty, aren’t they?

Lots of twists and turns but I was listening to a shockingly bad audiobook, (Hamish McBeth – don’t even go there) so it helped take my mind off the awfulness.

By the time I reached Apollo Bay I’d pulled ahead of the rainclouds a bit.

WHAT a beautiful place!

I tried to capture the turquoise water but my iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice. There’s a lovely beach so I took the chance to walk along it.

I met the beautiful Heidi. She made me miss my snag, Scout. Heidi was just as tiny as my girl.

By the time I’d finished my walk, the sky was beginning to darken. Time to push on.

The drive along the Great Ocean Road was so weird, because the sea was 2 different colours. I’ve caught it here. Right where I was driving was the line between the rain and the sun. The left is bluer than the right, can you see?

Then I came to Lorne and I as I was driving through, I passed a place that I haven’t seen since I was 18. I did a u-ey and drove back.

There’s a caravan park beside a bridge on the foreshore. It has a creek going through it.

At the end of year 12, back in 1981, we all drove down here and camped for a week in tents by the creek. This is exactly where we were.

Nowadays they’ve got cute little cabins, but back in the day it was just our tents, then caravans further back. We had such a good time!

I took a short walk along the creek bank, being mindful of the rain chasing me. All I could hear was the sound of the water and birdsong. It was beautifully calm and peaceful.

One thing that I found out about when I was doing my all-too-quick research about what to do on this trip was the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento. Rather than driving through Geelong and then battling peak hour traffic all the way through Melbourne and then around to the bayside suburb where The Best House in Melbourne is; I could drive to Queenscliff and take a short ferry ride to the Mornington Peninsula, then have a 30 minute drive home.

I was excited to try it. Every ferry ride I’ve had has been fun. What an exciting way to end the holiday!

I was lucky enough to arrive 5 minutes before it was due to leave, so I drove straight on. I went up to the deck to get the full experience of what was sure to be a dashing ride across the bay.

Here’s a photo of the most boring ferry ride ever. Honestly, I think I could’ve swum quicker than the ferry. It slowly chugged chugged chugged its way through the water while I gave up and turned to the book in my bag. It was far more interesting.

And then home I drove. The dogs were ecstatic to see me and so was Ryan26.

“The dogs are SO ANNOYING!” he said. “They’re so clingy. They’ve got to be with you 24/7. I never thought I’d say this, but when I leave home I think I’ll get a cat before I get a dog. At least the cat will come up and want a pat, but then it’ll leave me alone!”

But that’s the best part of being home again. 🙂

Costs of the Trip:

Running total: $2,096

Costs of Day 9 :

$108 accomodation. (No bowl supplied here either.)

$12 lunch

Total for Day 9: $120

Costs of Day 10:

$88 fuel

$5 lunch

$69 ferry

Total for Day 10: $162

Total for the trip: $2,378

That’s not too bad for a getaway like this. (Though as Dave from Strong Money Australia asked me on Twitter, “What are you getting away from?” LOL.)

If you take away the $1,100 painting I bought, it’s only $1,278, which equates to an average of $127.80/day.

These figures are slightly smudged by the fact I used my timeshare for 5 nights’ accomodation. I pay 1K/year for costs for the timeshare, but because it is calculated by points rather than by weeks it’s been used for a fair few holidays by the kids and now me. The points blend into each other year by year.

In fact, I’ve just booked a 2 night break (from what?!?) up in the mountains to use up 280 points that are due to expire on June 30. In previous years they’d just have to expire, but now I’ve go the time, by God I’m going to use them up!!

Penola, a saint and a sinkhole.

I stopped in at Penola for lunch, and while I was walking around I saw this sign. Petticoat Lane. How could I NOT take a look here?

Apparently this street got its name because in the 1890’s so many girls were born here. It has quite a few National Trust houses and one of them was open.

Gammon Cottage’s front gate was ajar so I prowled around the yard. It even has the old well!

Have a read in the next photo of what happened to the builder of this cottage when he went to find gold!

Not everyone who went to the goldfields had a rollicking good time.

This is one of Sharam’s cottages. This couple had so many kids that he had to build another house next door, just to house them all.

This reminded me of Wordworth’s cottage in the Lake District.

The roof was only just above my head and I’m only 5’2″.

And people have the gall to say that I have a large family. Compared to this couple, I was positively restrained! Only 4 boys.

At least the poor woman ended up with one nice room.

This is inside the original cottage which was only divided up into 2 rooms. As you can see, the wall didn’t even go up to the ceiling. Not much privacy going on here…

But look! At some stage she got a pump to get water instead of a well. LUXURY!

The garden out the back is still run by volunteers. There was a woman working there when I walked through and we started chatting. At first she was merely polite but when I showed that I recognised most of the herbs growing here, she warmed up and I walked away with a packet of lovage seeds from the garden. I’ve never grown lovage before. Its like a strong tasting celery.

Growing food means that you can bond with people wherever you go.

Next door was the McAdam slab hut. Anyone who wants to romanticise the lives of the pioneers should have a quick look inside this place.

I would NOT have been happy in this place. Can you imagine the wind whistling through all of those cracks in winter? Plus every neighbourhood Peeping Tom could be glued to your every move and they wouldn’t miss a thing.

Penola also has a museum dedicated to St Mary McKillop. She started off her teaching here and due to her efforts, Penola had the biggest library in South Australia outside of Adelaide. I guess that’s what happens when you raise the literacy level of an entire district by educating every child, not just the rich ones. People need reading materials, once they know how to do it.

I knew very little about Mary McKillop, aside from the facts that she was on the $5 nots and that she’s Australia’s first Catholic saint. I don’t have a religious bone in my body. I decided to invest $5 in an entry fee to the Mary McKillip museum and see what I could find out.

First I went to the church where they have this little ante-room where you can have a chat to her, if you’ve a mind to.

I went to the museum but the only new information I came away with was that she and her fellow nuns were excommunicated for a while. Can’t remember why, but the bishop who did it reconsidered on his deathbed and lifted it.

The $5 fee also allowed entrance to the schoolroom where Mary and her fellow sisters taught school. It was all a bit interesting but for me, once is enough.

I jumped in the car again and made it back to Mt Gambier. I drove around the Blue Lake again, then headed for the Umpherston Sinkhole.

This was originally just a huge hole in the ground but the guy who owned the land back in the 1890’s decided that summer in South Australia was too damned hot. Why not build a pleasure garden down in the big hole where it was so much cooler?

It was about 4PM when I arrived.

You walk along the top of it…

… and then you see this.

Down the steps you go.

View from halfway down the steps.

Imagine being able to punt along in your own lake…

I wandered around here for. little while, then decided I could push on a little bit longer. It was that time of day when it was too early to think about stopping, but too late to think about driving for too much longer.

I saw some cool things as I drove along to Portland for the night.

There were contented cows.

This farm decided to put old bikes at the entrance and up the driveway. I suppose that’s one way of making sure that when they give directions to their place and say, “You can’t miss it,” then they’re correct.

Lots of pine plantations. It worries me to think of bushfires happening here – pine trees go off like rockets.

I got in late-ish to a cheap and cheerful motel. One thing I’ve found about motels for around $100 a night – they don’t include bowls in the crockery they supply. So annoying if you’ve planned on making oats for breakfast and you have a sneaky tin of baked beans to have for a dinner.

But I wasn’t going to let them steal my rights and repress me. If I want a disgustingly cheap dinner in a sad motel room then I’m going to have it, dammit!!

Baked beans in a mug… mmm mmm!

The dinner of champions.

Costs of the Trip:

Running total so far: $1,935

Costs for Day 8:

Entrance fee for Cave tour: $35

$13 lunch

$5 St Mary McKillop musuem

Accomodation: $108

Total for Day 8: $161

Running total: $2,096

Cars and Caves.

Cute car.

When I was a kid we’d go to vintage car rallies ALL THE TIME. Dear God, it was so boring. My Dad was a Riley enthusiast – beautiful British cars. Dad has a 1930 Riley 9, a Drophead and a couple of others. My first car was a Riley Elf, which is basically a mini with a Riley grill on the front.

We’d drive to car parks/wineries/paddocks/whatever. All of the Rileys would line up in a row and the men would crawl all over them, the women would pull up picnic chairs and chat and the kids would be bored. I think this is when my addiction to reading became cemented.

So when Jenna’s parents suggested that we go to a car rally in a town on the peninisula, I inwardly groaned.

But it was actually quite fun.

Red Morgan. LOVE!

I think the difference was that it was a huge mix of different cars and they drove down the main drag of the town in a procession that lasted around an hour.

Black corvette.

Jenna’s parents and I drove to a mid point to meet up, then I hopped in their car and off we went. No, the corvette is not their car!

We found a spot at a table under a verandah and settled in to watch the parade.

Cute cop car.

There was everything from a model T Ford, dune buggies, Morgans, VW combis and beetles, muscle cars, sedans – something for everyone.

Red 3 wheeler.

There was even this 3 wheeled thing!

For a while I stood on the kerb with Andrew and watched the parade, looking for any Rileys, but after a while I got a little bored and thought I’d better go back and sit with Ann-Marie.

We were chatting away when I glanced over at the parade. A car was smoothly driving past with a silhouette that has been ingrained on my psyche since childhood.

“Holy shit, that’s a Riley!” I exclaimed, ever the lady, and I leapt up to join Andrew. I was ridiculously excited.

There were about 5 or 6 of them, one of them a mint-green Riley Elf. I could’ve taken photos but I called Dad instead and described what I was seeing. He was reliving his glory days as I was talking. It was pretty special.

Then we went to a winery for unch. I thought I did pretty well to get to pay for their lunches – I’ve learned from David27’s “in-laws” that you have to be quick to stop them paying for everything. Jenna’s parents are the same.

I sneakily overheard what they were going to order, then made sure I was ahead of Ann-Marie in the queue to order. When I ordered my meal, then went on to list theirs, I heard, “Oh you better not!” behind me. I put my card on the payment thingy, then turned around and said, “OMG, my card just slipped. Oh well…”

I thought I got away with it too, until we went to another winery for a wine tasting and I raved about a shiraz that was priced in the 3 figures and made them taste it. Guess who went home with a bottle of it? I’ve told them that they’re invited to my 60th and we’ll all crack it open then.

It’s so nice to see that my boys are choosing to be with partners with such lovely families. Andrew and Ann-Marie let me stay with them Friday night and they gave up their Sunday to spend time with me. That’s going above and beyond! I’m looking forward to enjoying that bottla wine with them in a few years time.

Pretty house.

Monday. Time to start heading home. I had no fixed plans, other than wanting to see the Ulpherstone Sinkhole in Mt Gambier that I missed on the way up – and I knew I wanted to spend ages in Port Fairy. Everyone says how pretty it is.

I wanted to learn from the mistake of my rushed trip over and take my time on the way back.

As I headed out, I thought I may as well drive up to Murray Bridge and have a look at the river. Why not? I put a generic address into the TomTom, ( 1 Main st / Smith St /First st ; whatever works), and I set off.

Then I started seeing signs to Harndorf.

I’ve been hearing about Hahndorf for 17 years. It’s the first German settlement in Australia and every year the German students from our school would go over there for an excursion and report back at the next General Assembly.

I had to see it for myself. I wanted to follow my nose home and this was an ideal place to start.

Pretty restaurant.

I pulled up in the Main st and parked outside an art gallery. Following my nose, I walked in.

And you wouldn’t believe it – I finally found the perfect painting for my dining room. I’ve only been living here and looking for the last 5 YEARS.

It’s absolutely nothing like I thought I’d buy. The subject is SO not me, it’s smaller than I visualised and the colours are different to what I was looking for, but when I saw it I knew it’d fit really well. So $1,100 lighter I walked out of the shop.

What are the odds? I had no plans to go to Hahndorf and there just happened to be a spot for my car directly outside the gallery. The painting had been put up less than 24 hours before I arrived. Maybe it was meant to be?

It’s being delivered sometime this week. If it looks awful then I only have myself to blame.

Bust and a row of sketches.
Hans Heysen – bust and sketches.

Look who I found in the museum behind the information centre!!!!

Remember when I showed you the picture of Ruth by Nora Heysen? Here’s her Dad – the way famous one of the two of them. The bust is of him and the sketches are his.

I like how when you travel in an area, the stories loop around. It reminds me of when Scott and I were walking on the battlements of Lincoln Castle, listening to the guided tour through our headphones, when I suddenly heard that Henry VIII and Katharine Howard had walked along the very same stones I was walking on. I’ll never forget the unexpected thrill.

Photo of Prince Philip looking interested.

Speaking of royalty, the museum behind the information centre was tiny, yet Prince Philip had visited it. One huge advantage to being a working royal is the amount of travel you could do. Imagine all the countries he must have seen? But imagine all the hours of tedium he must have gone through as well. No wonder he sometimes said the odd non-PC quip.

Exquisite lace collar.

In its day, the building was a school for boys and also a hospital. Look at the lacework, or is it tatting? This was on a maternity dress. I think I’d go blind, squinting, if I tried to do this, though I have some tatting that my great-grandmother did. Amazingly detailed.

Hahndorf was a very pretty little place. A few shops had jolly German music spilling out onto the street as thr tourists walked by. It was still school holidays in South Australia so there were a fair few people about.

Scott suggested that I mark all the school holidays in my calendar at the start of every year so I don’t make the mistake of travelling while the kids are free. I’m going to have to mark every state’s holidays, I think.

Murray River.

Then I drove to Murray Bridge.

Here’s the river Murray. It’s long. It’s wet. I had a look, ate lunch and drove on. I was aiming for Mt Gambier but then, as it was getting to late afternoon, the heavens opened up. I drove into Narracoorte.

There was a huge sign on the highway just before you enter the town, spruiking their caves. I vaguely remembered that Narracoorte was way famous for its caves, so I thought I’d get a cheap motel, stay the night and have a bit of a look around underground the next day.

Giant extinct wombat.

When I reached the caves the next day, I saw another instance of stories looping around. See this massive Diprotadon? Otherwise known as a giant wombat. What does he look a bt like?

My sculpture.

Remember my sculpture that I bought from the arts festival, thinking that it was going to be my only souvenir? They look like they might be cousins.

Beautiful cave.

The Narracoorte limestone caves are a world heritage listed site. They offer a few different tours but the lady in the information centre said to go on the fossils tour, because that is why they made it to the heritage list.

Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that the caves would be chilly. I wore my duckdown coat. It’s actually really warm down there.

Stalactites in a row.

See how the stalactites are hanging in a row here? Our guide said that in the early 1900’s guides used to clamber up there and ‘play’ the stalactites like a xylophone for their customers by hitting them. Sometimes one would break. Can you believe it???

Incidentally, I learned how to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Stalagmites MIGHT reach the roof one day, while stalactites have to hold on TIGHT to the roof to stop from falling.

Never say that this blog isn’t informative about the issues that matter!

Hole in the roof.

This fascinating photo is of a hole in the roof that leads up to the ground. This one was man-made to get all of the rubble out so that the tours like the one I was now on could be made. These also occur naturally, which is how the fossils have ended up in the caves.

Animals (and people, probably) would be innocently walking along and then fall down these shafts into the caves below. Some died immediately, but others survived until they died of thirst. They know this because they have complete skeletons of animals who look as if they’ve just curled up and gone to sleep, but with bones that have started to heal from their initial fall.

Drop bear skeleton.

This guy is a literal drop bear. Yes, they used to exist! He was some sort of carnivorous koala-type.

Nasty claw.

See the massive claw on his opposable thumb? Imagine that slicing into your soft underbelly?

Kangaroo bones.

This one was a kangaroo, but with only one toe. I took this photo to show you, but I like this next one a lot better.

Shadow on the cave wall.

That shadow is very Star Wars, isn’t it?

The caves that were initially found were just open caverns full of the rock formations, but then a couple of cavers found their way into some massive caverns further in that were jam-packed full of bones and fossils.

Bones scattered on the cave floor.

These are real bones that have been left as they were.

Behind the cave where we were standing is a massive cave where they’ve removed a small section of bones to study. They plan to leave the rest where they are for as long as possible. Our guide, who is a palaeontologist herself, said that they’ve removed enough bones and other material to keep many universities busy for decades. Maybe by the time they need to take another look, they might have technology that can study what’s in the caves but be able to leave everything untouched.

It’s an interesting thought.

Country road.

And then I was off and away. I pointed the car towards Mt Gambier and off I went. It was just before lunch and the day was still young!

Costs of the trip:

Running total so far: $665

Costs for day 6: $85 for lunch.

Costs forDay 7:

$1,100 painting

$10 lunch (Subway – eat fresh.)

$69 fuel

$91 accommodation

Total for Day 7: $1,270

Running total for trip: $1,935 (Yikes! I hope I still love this painting when it arrives!)

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