Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: The ‘why’ of FI. (Page 1 of 14)

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

I’ve always been a lucky person.

Even when things appear to be going pear-shaped and there’s confusion all around, when time moves on and the dust settles, it nearly always turns out that I’ve ended up in a better position afterward. Viewing life from the lens of the long game is something that has made me an optimist.

Look at what happened yesterday, for example.

You all know that I’m going to Antarctica in December. Of course, I would never go to a place without doing my research about it. Even though we’ll be getting lectures on the ship from Polar experts, who knows if I’ll be able to attend? I might be dying from seasickness. Of course, I’ll have to learn about Antarctica before I go there!

Yesterday I was having a chat with a few people in the staffroom and I was asked if I could teach geography. A friend is taking 6 weeks’ Long Service Leave in term 3 and she wondered if I’d be interested in taking over her classes. I laughed and said, “Is there marking involved?” because I’ve stated lots of times that I’ll NEVER do any marking again.**

After being told that it was at the end of term so yes, lots of marking was involved, I politely declined her invitation.

In the class after lunch, the kids were being angelic and I was bored so I decided to look at the curriculum to see what the year 8s and 9s are being taught in Geography. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the 8’s are going to be covering deserts – Antarctica and Australia’s deserts. WHAT?!?

I shot an email off to my friend, saying, “You didn’t say that I’d be teaching about Antarctica! I’ll be there in December! I’m interested now…”

She’s volunteered to teach me the ‘mathsy’ parts of the courses before she leaves, so that’s ok. Half an hour later and it was all official.

Fortunate Frogdancer is going to be paid to do her research on Antarctica!

As regards the marking, I’m pretty sure it won’t be as full-on as the English essay marking I’m used to. With most questions, the kids will either get the answers right or wrong. Lesson plans are already written and all I have to do is deliver them. Once the mathsy situations are ironed out then it’ll be a breeze.

And the extra cash will come in handy for the flights and accommodation. This trip will not be cheap. I know that I won’t enjoy having to do the marking, either.

But when I’m waddling around with the penguins on the Antarctic ice and gazing at the moai on Easter Island, I know I’ll be glad I did it.

** Every time I’ve said I’ll never do something, I’ve always ended up doing it. You’d think I’d learn!

Dad joke of the day:

My son turned 4 this morning and it took me ages to recognise him. I’ve never seen him be four.

What’s it like to be happily retired – then go back to work?

In the FI/RE space there’s an abundance of posts about how to get to financial independence. (Quite a large percentage are written by people who haven’t yet managed to get there themselves.) There are fewer posts written about what it’s like to actually reach FI and retire. I’ve written quite a few of these sorts of posts during 2021 – the year of lockdowns and my blissfully happy first year of retirement.

But there aren’t too many posts about what it’s like to retire – then pick up work afterwards.

Surely I’m not the only person to have done this? Maybe it’s seen as a sign of shame; that somehow the financial independence hasn’t ‘worked’?

Whatever the reason that people don’t write about this much, I’m stepping up to shine a light on what it’s like to say a blissful goodbye to a career – with a kick-arse speech goodby that I’m still proud of – to then, a little more than a year later, fronting up back at the school again. As I write this I’m sitting in front of a year 9 class, tapping away here while they’re putting the finishing touches onto a political campaign they’re running. Fiddy bucks in my pocket for 48 minutes’ work, before I move onto the next class for another fiddy.

Here I am, swapping my precious time for money. This is something I didn’t think I’d ever do. Except, in the back of my mind, I had a feeling in my waters that this massive bull market probably wouldn’t keep going for another 5 years. I had a vague game plan in my mind that if the market fell before 2026, I’d probably pick up a few days of CRT, (casual relief teaching), to ease the Sequence of Returns Risk.

So, as we all know the market has taken a tumble. At the same time, schools are desperate for CRTs due to covid and the flu, along with regular things like school camps etc. I went back into the classroom as a perfect storm was hitting Australian schools.

I was lucky, in that I still loved being in the classroom when I retired, so it wasn’t as if I was dragging myself back to a job I hated. And as luck would have it, all the boring admin, report writing and diagnostic testing are things that CRTs don’t get asked to perform. Talk about a win right there!

When I began, I had a couple of weeks of a day or two of teaching, then I was suddenly plunged into a month of full-time teaching. The last two weeks have been back to the retired life with no work days, with today, Wednesday and Thursday being back at school in this last week of term 2.

So it’s been interesting to see how I adjusted to going back to work, especially during the month when I was essentially full-time.

To be honest, it was a little scary how easily I went back to the old routine of getting up when the alarm rang and racing around the house to get out by a certain time. I’d had over a year of leisurely mornings waking up when I felt like it, (or really, when Jeffrey decided it was time to wake up and he’d shake the bed with his scratching. ) In retirement I tend to ease into my mornings, staying on the couch until 9 or 10, laptop on my lap and the dogs snoozing by my side.

Heavenly!

Now, suddenly I was pitchforked into day after day of early starts, one after the other. I honestly thought it would take longer to adjust back to the old routine than it did. It took the middle of the first “full-time” week and I was back in the swing of it.

Clothes organised, lunch organised, water bottle filled and my bag packed with everything I’d need for the day ahead. No lollygagging around on the internet, oh no! Pour a coffee, solve the Wordle, post a couple of Dad jokes on Facebook, check my timetable to see what the day will hold and then it’s off the couch and into the shower. Keep moving! Time is ticking!

In the car, podcast on. Driving on the freeway, having a goal in mind of being at the last main intersection before school at 8:20. Winning if I shave a minute or two off that time. Walk into school, grab a laptop and keys, up to the staffroom to see what’s in store for me today. A couple of minutes before the bell, start walking to the first classroom to let the kids in and be ready to call the roll at 8:50 when the bell goes.

It’s honestly like riding a bike.

The ease of slipping back into that old rushed routine was, as I said, a little scary. I’d absolutely adored my 2021 year of being absolutely free and it was astonishing how quickly it was overtaken by the requirements of the work routine. Even the little woofs quickly worked out which day was going to be a “Mum’s home” day or not. During 2021, every time I left the house they’d freak out and wait for me all day, if necessary. Since I started work, Ryan27 says that it took a week before they went back to their old routine of sleeping through the day and only starting to wait for me at the front window at about 4PM.

We’re all conditioned by The Man!

It’s not just the blissful retirement morning routine that was affected. After a calming 2021 free of the tyranny of having to fit things in on the weekends, I was suddenly doing the ironing on a Sunday afternoon, making sure I did the bread baking (for lunches) on the weekends, and generally cramming all of the activities that I used to spread luxuriously through the working week all into two days.

I realised that I was starting to think, “I don’t have TIME for this!” whenever something went even the slightest bit wrong. Apparently, I used to say that a lot before my retirement. Time suddenly switched from being my beloved friend to my enemy.

Once I’m at work, my days are a strange mix of watching time drag and being really entertained. There’s no denying that I talk to a hell of a lot more people when I’m at school. The kids are always funny and up for a bit of banter, while my free times are spent chatting to work colleagues and having a laugh.

The social side of going back to work is lovely. Don’t get me wrong; I adore my hermit life at home, but I’m also enjoying being with the people at work.

The downside of being with people is that I’m mixing with around 900 of the hormonally challenged. Yes, I’m talking about teenagers.

Now, teenagers are sometimes hilarious, sometimes deep and sometimes thoughtful. The kids at our school are, for the vast majority of the time, polite, considerate and lovely. However…

… occasionally you’ll strike a kid having a bad day. They don’t WANT to be told to do their work, they don’t WANT to be quiet and not disrupt the class and they’ll be DAMNED if they’ll listen to a ‘sub’.

Ugh.

As I’m in the middle of doing the dance that is maintaining control of the class without pushing this sort of kid into open rebellion, I’m thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t need this shit. I could be doing anything else right now…”

Or you’ll have a class at the end of the day or week who are just over it. Their regular teacher has left screamingly dull work for them to do and all they want to do is get through the next 48 minutes so they can go home. Low-level talking gradually rises in volume as more and more kids switch off and start talking to their friends. It seems like every 3 minutes I’m saying, “Ok year 8! Too loud!”

And I’m thinking, “I know. I’m bored. I feel it too. Only 15 minutes till the bell goes and we’re free! Oh no. I’m clock watching again.”

Man! Clock watching is definitely a THING. When you’re a regular teacher you have to be conscious of the time. Every lesson has an arc and you have to know where you are within that 48 minutes to drive the lesson to a successful conclusion. So clock-watching is a necessary part.

CRT is a different beast. I enter the room, call the roll and introduce the lesson. Then, unless kids have specific questions that I can help them with – which is never when I’m taking a Maths class- the rest of the time I’m pretty much making sure that the kids stay on task and aren’t misbehaving. I find that I’m watching the clock a lot. Not in a productive “lesson arc” way but more of an “oof, there’s still half an hour to go… I could be doing anything with my time… hmmmm, if I was home right now, what would I be doing?”

I REALLY don’t want to get covid and, as we all know, working in schools is a high-risk thing to do. I’m one of the few teachers to mask up. I wear a KN95 mask from the moment I get out of the car in the morning to when I get back into it at the end of the day and this, coupled with being triple vaxxed and vaxxed for the flu, has so far kept me covid safe.

(Touch wood, as my grandmother would say.)

But then, every fortnight I get paid. I like getting paid.

In this post I designed a chart to track where my earnings were going. So much more motivating than just plodding into work every day! I’ve modified it slightly since then, but I’ve basically worked my way down the chart “paying off” every item in turn.

Of course, the money I earn usually goes to my credit card, which I always keep in the black, to pay for our day-to-day expenses. But this protects my savings, which is incredibly important. Six months into a market downturn, I haven’t had to sell any shares or touch any savings or emergency fund money due to the combo of earnings and dividends. I’ve even been able to top up my savings.

This makes me feel very good.

Later on today, I have an appointment with a travel agent to find out about airfares etc to Easter Island and Ushuaia for my Antarctica trip in December. I know I should probably bring a defibrillator with me to start my heart after I hear the prices. I’ve already earned 2K towards airfares, but now that I’m definitely going to Easter Island, I’ll be adding an extra line to that chart for lots more funds needed.

Tom30 is looking to buy a place of his own and is living here to turbocharger his deposit savings. I’ve offered to give him 5K in lieu of wedding costs and lend him a further 10K if he needs it. I’m chipping away at that 5K on the chart – just under 3K to go!

I won’t deny – knowing that giving up some of my days to be able to provide extras for myself and my family without tapping shares during a bear market feels like a good trade-off long term. Knowing that I’ve actioned the flexibility in my FI plan is satisfying.

Would I have gone back to work if we were still in a bull market?

That’s an interesting question.

The catalyst for me starting CRT work was that I heard that the school was desperate for CRTs because so many staff were getting sick. I owe the school BIG TIME for the financial security I was able to build for my boys when they were kids. Part of why I went back was that I was giving back to the place that had saved our financial bacon, back in the day.

I think that I still would have gone back, but I would probably have worked fewer days. Still, I can’t deny that it was interesting to see that I still had it in me!

After working off and on for 3 months after experiencing nearly 18 months of retirement, I have to say that it’s been ok. In fact, it’s been better than I expected. To be fair, I have a huge amount of flexibility. I can say “no” to work whenever I want, and if the school doesn’t offer me enough work I can always work elsewhere as well. There are many, many secondary schools in Melbourne!

The feelings of regret over my loss of freedom in the days when I’m in the classroom are definitely offset by the security offered by an extra income stream during a market downturn. I absolutely know that I did the right thing when I decided to pivot. I’ve had too many years of being terrified by my financial situation to want to risk having sleepless nights again! A few days back in the classroom in the early days of my retirement is a very small price to pay for the huge benefit of feeling like I’m doing the right thing for Future Frogdancer’s financial security in her golden years.

The intangible positives of returning to work are a nice bonus. I enjoy 98% of my interactions with the kids and I work with truly lovely people. I’ve met some other CRTs who are great, but I was always too busy to sit down and get to know them when I was a ‘real’ teacher. I also like the pattern of the days as a CRT – you are given every single period on AND a yard duty, but at the end of the day you can walk out right on the bell, instead of having to attend meetings etc. I’m getting home at a reasonable time nowadays – with no marking!

My mindset about this shifted when it occurred to me that my 3 year stash of living expenses that I’ve put away in case of a market downturn could be stretched indefinitely if I earned just half of my yearly expenses doing CRT.

How many days a week would that be over the first 3 terms of the school year? (Term 4 is pretty much a write-off for CRTs. Once the year 12s start having their exams, the year 12 teachers start taking all the spare classes.)

Two days a week. That’s all it would take.

Hmmm. Interesting…

… Or I could get sick of it and decide to simply stop doing it. Financial Independence is a wonderful thing.

Dad joke of the day:

The kids loved this one today!

Wednesday W’s #21.

What’s top of my mind: Helping Tom30 with his house deposit.

The boys know that I’m not in a position to be The Bank of Mum and Dad when they’re looking to put a deposit down on a home. My gift to them is the same gift my parents have given my brother, my sister and me – to be financially independent in their old age so they’re not a financial drain on their kids.

Tom30 has floated the idea that I might help out… I’ve said no to hints that I might go guarantor or that I might lend a sizeable chunk of money. If he was an only child it might be different, but with any help given having to be multiplied by 4? Forget it.

However, he asked if I’d be prepared to lend him the money to pay off his car at the end of the year when he’ll be in a serious position to start looking. It’ll be around the 5K mark by then. I told him I’d be prepared to do this for him. I know without a doubt that he’ll pay me back, and having this debt wiped from his liabilities would mean that the banks would look at him slightly more favourably.

It’s such a fine line between wrapping them in cotton wool and weakening them by helping too much, or not helping enough and putting them behind the 8 ball! He doesn’t know that I’m saving his $50/week board to give back to him when he moves out.

I don’t know – I’m happy that I’m in a position where I can do this for the boys. I really wish I could help them more, but I’m definitely not prepared to put my own financial standing at risk. I’ve worked too hard for that!

(The boys’ father suggested to Tom30 that instead of borrowing the money from him, he should ask my father for a loan… “He has HEAPS of money.” Wow. Seriously??? Every now and then I get a little reminder as to why I left him all those years ago.)

Where I’ve been: 5 minutes in the most stressful place ever.

Every teacher in a school gets a set of keys to use. We lock most classrooms after every period, especially those rooms like music rooms and computer labs that have expensive equipment in them. We all know that we have to guard those keys with our lives. If a set of keys go missing, then every single lock has to be changed in the entire school, along with issuing new keys to every single staff member. In our school, there are over 200 people who work here.

Imagine how expensive that would be?

At the end of the day yesterday I handed in my laptop and my lanyard and walked to my car. I’d just started the engine when the principal of the campus phoned me.

“Frogdancer, you’ve handed in the lanyard with no key fob.”

My blood went cold. This meant that the fob had fallen off somewhere. The classroom I’d been working in didn’t need to be locked, so I hadn’t looked for the fob at the end of the day. It could be anywhere – and anyone could’ve found it. Shit…

Luckily, the class I’d had after lunch for a double period was so quiet that I’d barely got up from my desk to walk around. I’d had a full lunchtime in the staff room because I’d had recess yard duty that day. The areas where it could ossibly have fallen off were pretty limited. I told the principal where I’d been teaching and he said he’d call me back with any news.

I kept driving. I felt sick with stress. This is the one thing that everyone dreads. Why am I doing this? I don’t need this stress in my life! Is avoiding Sequence of Returns Risk worth it? I’ve pretty much covered my share of David28’s wedding. Does Tom30 really need me to loan him the money for his car? Maybe I should just go back to my beautiful retirement life?

A couple of minutes later the phone rang. He’d found the keyfob on my chair. It must’ve fallen off as I bent over to pick up my bag and laptop at the end of the day.

PHEW!!!! I drove home, listening to my audiobook and feeling like all was well with the world.

This morning when I came in, the receptionist in the office said that they’d noticed that every single lanyard had dodgy clips on them. They’ve fixed them. So maybe my panic-stricken moment was actually a gift to the school…?

Still – how great is it that I’m in a position to instantly decide whether or not to keep working? For anyone still working on getting your F-You fund together – keep going! It’s worth it. The stress I felt until I got the second phone call would’ve been so much worse if I’d not had the option to walk away if I wanted to.

Where I’m going: to the supermarket.

I’ve accepted a Flybuys quest to spend $50/week for a month at Coles to earn a $50 voucher. Sounds like free food to me! Once I publish this post, I’ll have a look at the weekly specials and work out what I’m going to buy this week.

Once I spend $50, I’ll pick up the rest of what we need from Aldi.

What I’m watching: a loom video on the trenches in WWI.

I’ve just come out of a year 9 history class where they watched a video made by their teacher before they were to go on and complete some work. I found it interesting – my great-grandfather fought for the English in those trenches.

I told them his story. How, as a young married father of two he did the patriotic thing and signed up for the war. He was allowed some time to go home when his wife was due to give birth to their third child. It was an awful labour – the baby was 13 lb/6 kg and both he and his mother nearly died. My great grandfather overstayed his leave until he was sure they’d both live.

When he reported back late for duty, they sent him to the front lines as a punishment. He was dead in a week.

What I’m reading: A Single Thread – Tracy Chevalier.

I’m enjoying this book, even though I’ve never tackled embroidery and I don’t intend to try! I remember going to my Mum’s cousin’s house as a child and seeing embroidery literally EVERYWHERE. It put me off.

Clearly, the author visited Winchester cathedral and noticed the kneeling pads and cushions, and researched how and when they were made.

What I’m listening to: A Home Like Ours – Fiona Lowe.

I just finished this audiobook this morning on my way to work. It’s a marathon 16 hours worth of listening time. I enjoyed the story. Now the plan is to get back to the podcasts that have been stacking up! Then, once I whip them into shape, then I’ll borrow another audiobook.

What I’m eating: leftover goulash.

A few nights ago I made the most delectable goulash using a Skinnymixer’s recipe in the slow cooker. There was enough left over for two serves. Tom30 said he’d probably buy a pizza tonight, so Ryan27 and I will be so happy to tuck into the rest of the goulash!

What I’m planning: a delicious meal for tonight!

See above.

Who needs a good slap:

Whoever designed the dodgy clips on the lanyards. If my hair wasn’t already going grey, it would’ve started when I got that first phone call from the principal.

What has made me smile: 9H.

I taught 9 of these kids in year 7 and I haven’t caught up with most of them since I’ve been back. It was so lovely to see them all again.

It’s especially nice that they’re in a great class who are all quietly working. The loudest sound in the room is my keyboard as I’m typing this.

This class is a CRT’s dream!

Dad joke of the day:

I don’t know why some people insist on using fractions instead of decimals.

They’re pointless.

Those who don’t read, live only one life…

… But those who DO read, live thousands.

This thought occurred to me when I was sitting in a year 8 classroom earlier today, watching as they were silently reading at the beginning of the class. Normally, I’d be reading right alongside them, but I’d intelligently left my book in the car and so I was waiting for the 10 minutes to be over.

As I drew my gaze back from the window with the beautiful sunny day outside, I saw that a couple of kids were looking at the same view. Two boys were yawning, so clearly they’d picked dud books and were bored. But the rest of the class were buried deep in their books.

As I looked at the bent heads, I started to wonder where they all were.

Some of them were reading from the class novel, ‘The Outsiders‘ by S E Hinton, preparing for the work that they were going to have to do in the rest of the class. I knew they were in 1960’s Chicago. But looking around at the others, they could have been anywhere.

Far into the future, perhaps? Way back in the past? Maybe they were experiencing life from the point of view of a different gender or nationality. All of us were physically together, but within their minds they were anywhere but here.

Once their 10 minutes of wide reading time was finished, I wrote the saying I began this post with up on the board and we had a quick chat about it.

The thing is – this saying doesn’t just relate to novels. It also relates to any kind of reading, but of course, seeing as this is a FI/RE blog, I was thinking about financial independence blogs and books.

I think it’s a real shame that the Australian government has chosen to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it came to the new rules they’ve put in place about fin-fluencers. Strong Money Australia and Late Starter Fire are two bloggers who have written about this, and they’ve both done a good job. I don’t need to repeat what they say.

It saddens me, though, that these new ‘guidelines’ about what we can and cannot say are going to take valuable stories about life experiences away from those people who can learn from them. When most people realise they need to get their sh*t together when it comes to money, they are scared and worried.

I know for sure that I was.

I think, like most people in this space, I started to learn about investing, the stock market, financial independence etc from American bloggers and Australian books. American content is all very well for gaining an understanding of the basics, but when it comes to knowledge that’s applicable to Australia, there’s no substitute for Australians sharing their knowledge and experience.

When I first started blogging on my personal blog back in 2008, I was part of the crafting/gardening niche and it was wonderful. So many people sharing their knowledge and inspiration online, helping each other and creating a really supportive community. It was wonderful – and still is.

I was so happy to find a similar space for the people interested in gaining financial independence. Clearly, our life stories are all very different, but that didn’t stop me gleaning what I could use in my own situation, while enjoying watching people’s stories unfold.

Over the years I, a single mother of 4 boys on the shady side of 50, have learned so much from the blogs of Australians who lead lives vastly different to mine. Let’s face it – not many people have travelled the same pathway to financial independence than I have! If I was holding out for information from someone who began their journey with 4 boys under 5, $60 cash, and was driving an ancient Tarago whose sunroof leaked when it rained, I’d still be sitting around, 8 years later, terrified about how I was going to prepare for the future.

Instead, I’ve learned from single people in their 20’s and 30’s, coupled up people without kids, and coupled up people WITH young kids/teenagers/grown families. Some of these couples are married, some are not. Some are straight, some gay and some don’t disclose. A few are older than I am, and I learned a lot about what retirement life is like and what to prepare myself for.

Some write under a nom de plume, others (like me – obviously) write under their own names. Some have degrees, while others have barely finished secondary school. Most seem to live in cities on the east coast, but there are also people living in regional towns or in the bush.

We’re all very different but we all have one thing in common – we want to learn about how to handle our finances responsibly and we want to help others by sharing what we’ve learned.

The huge variety is a strength. We all come to this problem of how to gain financial independence with different ways of thinking, because we’ve all led very different lives. This means that someone who has come at this whole “FI/RE” thing from a totally different angle to you can offer valuable insights into angles that may never have occurred to you.

Sure, it may be a little confusing at first, but it doesn’t take long to sort the wheat from the chaff. I know that the more I read – and listened – the more familiar the concepts became and I was gradually able to move forward with a growing confidence that i wasn’t going to muck things up.

One of the most interesting things about hanging around in the space over a few years is to read when people have decided to pivot in their financial independence strategies and they give their reasoning. One of the most fundamental tenets of the FI/RE movement is the importance of flexibility and being able to change what you’re doing if the situation demands it – or if you discover better information.

My fear is that now that the rules have changed, people will be too scared to share valuable insights and information that could add value to the whole space. People coming up, like my sons, won’t have the same freedom to information willingly and freely shared, that I was lucky enough to benefit from.

I’m not sure where we go from here. Some people are massively editing their blogs and removing specific bits and pieces that are suddenly forbidden for public consumption. Podcasts are suddenly in hiatus (or stopped altogether) while the podcasters work out where they now stand.

Fortunately, due to me being scared of numbers and also – as a single woman – being very conscious that there are a lot of crazies out there, I was never granular about the topics I talked about, so I think this tiny blog should be ok.

I’d like to thank all of those creators who enabled me to live many lives as I was navigating my way around this financial independence thing. Your work has been so very huge in enabling me to gain my freedom and to provide a secure base for my sons.

Thank you.

Dad joke of the day:

To whoever stole my dictionary –

I’m at a loss for words.

Yoga or a walk with the Little Woofs?

Tom30 works from home 2 days a week. Now he’s here in the mornings he uses the time he’d normally be commuting, to walk on the Backyard Beach. This morning he posted a pic on FB and it looked so good, I decided to switch it up a little and take the little woofs to the beach before breakfast instead of doing yoga.

Safe to say that they approved!

It was beautiful there – bright and sparkly without being too hot. It was so nice that I actually went paddling *gasp*! Normally I’m happy to stay on the sand. The Cavaliers shrugged their shoulders and went, “Ok, if we must,” and followed me in.

Scout, on the other hand, was delighted. “Mum! You’re joining me! Yay!”

We were only there for around 20 minutes and on the way home we bumped into the young Mum of the baby I mentioned yesterday. She was walking with her friend who also has a new baby. We had a nice little chat and then went on our ways.

This happened during what would be period 1 at work. (I may have sent the top photo to some friends at work who are planning to retire next year. )

To anyone who’s a little nervous about “what will I do all day if I retire”… it’s truly amazing how so many little things pop up to do during the days that you never think of when you’re stuck at work.

Dad joke of the day:

Saw a guy standing on one leg at the ATM.

He was just checking his balance.

The rewards of Delayed Gratification.

Our first pizza in the new oven.

It’s funny how my perception of worthwhile purchases has changed since I reached financial independence, (FI). The latest thing I’ve bought – the pizza oven – is a perfect example of this.

I’ve always made pizzas for my family. Firstly, I married an Italian, so I learned to make pizza, pasta and lasagne very quickly after I moved in. I was brought up in a Skip family in the 60’s and 70’s, and Mum’s repertoire was pretty much meat and 3 veg with tinned fruit for dessert. The Italian cuisine was definitely a step up!

Then, after the divorce, when the boys and I were living off the Sole Parent’s pension of around 18K per year and, (for the first few years when I wasn’t teaching), $20/month child support, pizza, pasta, pancakes and mince were my best friends. You can feed an army with those items and, with 4 boys, I practically was.

Back then, the only pizza ovens that were around were in pizza shops. But if domestic pizza ovens were a thing in the 1990’s/2000’s, there would have been NO WAY I would’ve even considered buying one.

So what if the taste of pizza made in a proper pizza oven was superior? I was baking perfectly adequate pizzas in my regular oven, thank you very much.

So it only takes a minute to cook a pizza, as opposed to around 12 – 15 minutes in a regular oven? That sounds good, but really… it’s dinner time. We’re already in the kitchen where we need to be – a few minutes saved isn’t that big a deal.

And of course – the clincher:

They cost HOW MUCH??? Are you KIDDING me? Who in their right mind would pay hundreds of dollars to make a pizza taste better and save a few minutes? Not this little black duck! I have far better things to do with my money.

And Past Frogdancer would have been correct. She DID have better things to do with her money, such as pay off the house, send the boys through school, buy braces and glasses for whoever needed them etc etc. I called myself a ‘little black duck’ a few sentences back and that’s a pretty apt description for how life was back then. My little webbed feet were paddling furiously under the surface to make sure that the boys and I stayed afloat.

But now that I’ve reached FI?

It seems that the rules have changed a bit.

The second pizza. We need to practice launching them into the oven a little more!

When I first saw that Thermomix was selling pizza ovens, the first thing I thought of was how fantastic entertaining would be with one of these working with me. I realised this was something that could definitely make a positive difference in my life. Safe to say, I was interested in finding out more.

But hey, let’s not get crazy here! The next thing I did was check out the price. I haven’t changed that much! There’s no point fantasising about owning something if it’s impossible to pay for.

Fortunately, the price was reasonable.

It’s interesting though. Unlike buying a thermomix, I won’t be using this pizza oven nearly as much. There’ll be weeks that go by when it won’t be touched. Granted, it’s not as pricey as a thermomix, but even so. The cost per use won’t be nearly as good.

But for the first time, that wasn’t the important part. The major tipping point for me was the thought of seeing my boys, my wider family and my friends gathering together and having fun, enjoying good food – because who doesn’t like pizza? – and it being something that everyone could look forward to doing.

In other words, the emotional draw of this product trumped (ugh – hate that word… I wonder why) the financial considerations.

This is the side of practising delayed gratification that we don’t often hear of. Everyone talks about front-loading the sacrifices to get to a point where you can loosen the reins and start indulging yourself. Not many people talk about what it’s like once they reach the point of being able to relax and reap the rewards earned by being disciplined with expenditure for so long.

Well, I’m at that point. I don’t want to run crazy, buying every shiny new bauble in sight, but it’s nice to have other things be the deciding consideration, rather than simply “How much does it cost?”

The decades of frugal living have left their mark, but in ways that I really like. I live a life filled with simple pleasures that don’t cost a lot, if anything. I love to go travelling – fingers crossed Antarctica can still go ahead this year – but I’m also extremely happy puddling around at home.

I spent years and years living on the knife’s edge of poverty when the boys were small, determined not to fall off. My theme song was Bon Jovi’s “We’re Halfway There”, except I changed the line to “It DOES make a difference if we make it or not.” I went without many things and made probably thousands of little sacrifices that, while I obviously noticed them at the time, have mostly faded into obscurity over the years.

All of those little daily frugal habits have brought me here. I hope that there’s someone reading this… maybe someone who feels like they’re stuck in the boring middle ground of FI when it seems like you’ve optimised every expense and now you’re just plodding through… someone who can catch a glimpse that it’ll all be worth it.

After all, the time will pass, regardless of whether you’re using the tool of delayed gratification or not. But it can make a huge difference as to where you’ll be when you’re older.

It’s 11:34 AM on a Tuesday. I’m about to get up and plant some new flowers into some hanging baskets, before making some bread rolls for lunches and then finishing off a quilt for my cousin. Tom30 is working from home and I can hear him singing in his room. Luckily, he has a beautiful voice! As I’m typing this I’m throwing a ball for Polly and Sout to chase, while Jeffrey is snoring beside me.

In an alternate universe, 11:34 AM on a weekday would mean that I’d be either in a classroom teaching 28 kids, or at my desk in the staffroom marking papers or preparing lessons. Not a bad life, granted, but I know which one I’m very happy to be living!

(In the comments last week, Maureen asked me for a review of the Ovana. Here’s the link, in case she missed it.)

Dad joke of the day:

Wednesday W’s #6.

What’s top of my mind: Congratulating myself for my forethought.

A big part of being attracted to the Financial Independence/Retire Early idea is that we are all people who are actively using forethought. We can see that although we may like what we’re doing for a living now; we may not want to be still doing it a few decades later.

Part of the reason why I bought The Best House in Melbourne was the overall design. One of the neighbours told me that a daughter and her Dad built it. It’s perfectly designed for adults to share the house without having to trip over each other all the time.

Here’s the house plan from the sales brochure:

Plan.

The only shared spaces are the kitchen and the laundry. I knew as soon as I saw the listing online that this would be a perfect house for Boomerang kids. You know, adult kids who move out for a while and then move back because they’re either wanting to save money for a deposit or because something unexpected has happened.

Ryan27 boomerang’d back home about 3 years ago and now it’s Tom30’s turn.

He’s been out of home for 7 years, living with a friend from school. They’ve known each other for around 15 years. Anyway, on Saturday night this housemate broke one of the most fundamental rules of the Bro Code, so their friendship is over. Tom30 is moving back in with us for the next few months.

I’m so very glad that I have the space to be able to offer my boys a safe haven when things turn dicey. This whole ugly situation would’ve been far worse if he’d had nowhere to go on a moment’s notice. This way he can move in, catch his breath and work out where he wants to go next, without being forced to grab the first thing that’s offered.

Where I’ve been: David28 and Izzy’s engagement party.

Yes, six months after popping the question, the engagement party finally went ahead. Izzy comes from a very large, exuberant Italian family, so my family was definitely in the minority! We ended up sitting outside because my brother, who had a very serious stroke a couple of Christmas Days ago, was worried that if we stayed inside he’d be at risk from covid. He’s booked for a procedure in hospital next week and he didn’t want it put off again.

I hope we didn’t look like snobs…

David27 and Izzy are very much in love and they were both so HAPPY! But gee, David27 is a good brother. He left his own engagement party early to drive back with us to Tom30’s place to help move things back to my place.

Where I’m going: For the next few days – nowhere.

And I’m happy with that. I really like puddling around here at home.

What I’m watching: the red light blink on my aircon.

*sigh*

That red light blinking means that it’s going to be expensive, I’m sure.

What I’m reading: ‘The Hush’ by Sara Foster.

I don’t know where I saw the recommendation for this one, but I’ve had it on hold for ages. I finally finished the Murderbot books, (thanks to whoever it was who recommended them to me in the comments – I really enjoyed them!), and now I’m reading this as a change of pace.

The plot is that it’s set around 2030 in England and there’s a horrifying virus/bacteria/disease that is making otherwise normal pregnancies end up with a baby who refuses to take a single breath. The stats for these pregnancies is slowly growing. Pregnant teen mothers are disappearing and society is becoming more repressive as people’s fears grow.

Of course, the protagonist is a pregnant teen.

I’m only 100 pages in so far, but it looks ok. These dystopian novels set in the near future are interesting.

What I’m listening to: Shandee’s Story.

Now that I’m commuting, podcasts are taking longer to work my way through. I mentioned this one a few weeks ago – a journalist investigating a cold case of a young woman brutally murdered up in Queensland in 2012.

I was slowly working my way through the episodes, but then WHAM!!!!! The most shocking development I think I’ve ever heard of has happened and I was gobsmacked. I’m a couple of episodes behind, but with all of the to-ing and fro-ing from Tom30’s place to mine, I’ve been able to listen to quite a few episodes so I’m nearly up to date.

This is the sort of project that gives journalists a good name.

What I’m eating: Homemade bread.

Now that Ryan27 is working, I’ve been making bread rolls for him to take for lunch. For those of you with a thermomix, I’m using THIS RECIPE. The rise on the dough is amazing and the texture of the bread is really good.

I make a batch and put them in the freezer for him to work his way through. Every now and then I leave one out on the bench to defrost for my lunch.

Yum.

Who needs a good slap: Tom30’s flatmate.

‘Nuff said.

What I’m planning: my next Little Adventure.

A friend of mine from work suggested a place for me to take a little holiday in the country and I’ve started to look into it.

What has made me smile: the adaptability of the Little Woofs.

So far (touch wood) I haven’t missed a day of my morning yoga practice with Yoga With Adrienne. I finished the ‘Move’ series and now I’m working my way through through the ‘Breathe’ series.

Part of being successful with new habits is creating a routine around when you want to do them. My ironclad rule is that I can’t have breakfast until I’ve done my yoga.

Most mornings, unless it’s going to be really hot and I want to water the gardens early, is that I’ll feed the dogs, then unroll the yoga mat in my room while they’re outside. When they come inside, I lift them onto my bed and I start the day’s practice.

Jeffrey and Scout have now started to come inside and then go straight to my bedroom, waiting for me to lift them. Poppy always optimistically goes to the kitchen in case some rump steak or a cow carcass has suddenly fallen to the floor while she’s been out for 5 minutes.

It makes me smile to see Scout and Jeff sitting by my bed, wagging their tails. They have no idea why I’m doing these weird movements every morning but hey. They’re more than happy to have a snooze while they wait for me to finish!

Dad joke of the day:

What’s so great about Switzerland?

Well… the flag is a big plus. 🇨🇭. 

When you’re happily retired and you get offered a job…

Yesterday in my Wednesday W’s post I talked about what was front of mind – should I take a tutoring job at a school? It was a dilemma that took me a little over 2 days to decide what to do, but the questions it brought up, both from myself and from others, were fascinating.

First up; a bit of background.

On Monday I received a message on FB from a friend who used to work at my school, but has since moved on. Her question: ‘I know you’ve retired, but would you be interested in doing some tutoring?”

Such a simple question, but gee it brought up some stuff.

The simple answer would be, “No thanks. I hate tutoring!”

But…

It brought up a lot of emotional stuff.

Anyone who’s read this blog for more than 5 minutes would know that since I retired at the end of 2020, I’ve absolutely loved my life. Don’t get me wrong – I loved being in the classroom with those very funny teenagers, but the increasing amount of admin, micromanagement and more and more meetings were sucking the fun out of teaching. So when covid came, I evaluated my situation, realised I could retire, (thanks to The Mayor for nudging me!), and so I walked away.

At the time, I fully expected that I’d be asked back to do CRT (Emergency teaching), but then lockdown after lockdown happened so there was no CRT work. When schools went back to face-to-face teaching at the end of the year, I have a feeling that the person responsible for hiring CRT’s gave the work to the people who were relying on that income and who’d had such a bad year. Rightfully so. I would’ve done the same.

The result was that I had a whole year away from school. Sure, I visited my friends a couple of times, but that was it. For the rest of the time, I was here, basking in the luxury of freedom over my time, discovering this thing called “relaxation” and enjoying the sweet, sweet sound of silence.

(As I’m typing this, it’s nearly lunchtime. All I can hear is birdsong, a couple of cars going by and Jeffrey snoring on the couch beside me. Bliss. Being around 2,500 kids every weekday is a very different level of background noise.)

So when I got the message, it came completely out of the blue. My instinctive reaction was to shake my head, race away from Facebook and let it sit for a couple of hours. I had all these conflicting things swirling around in my brain.

Many of you may not know that, back when I was 34 and had 4 boys under 5, I left my husband. I had $60 cash. We shared a 90K mortgage and 2 very old, crappy cars. That was it.

In the property settlement, I managed to hang onto the house, but I had to pay my ex 18K to pay him out, and also promise to forgo spousal support. That would’ve been all ok if he’d been paying child support at the time, but for the next few years it was all very erratic. For most of the time, until I began teaching again, I was getting $20/month from him to ‘support’ our 4 boys.

This obviously had the effect of making securing an income very important. It continued to be important as I tried different ways to bring money in. I cleaned houses, and opened an Etsy shop and tried to sell knitted baby hats, doll quilts and other bits and pieces. (I shut it down after a couple of years – people simply don’t want to pay what hand-made goods should cost. It was a waste of my time.) When I discovered the Thermomix and became a consultant for 4 years, I was finally able to move the needle. Paired with my teaching wage, the money I earned from my Thermomix business enabled me to pay the house off, as well as go on my dream holiday in the UK and Europe after my youngest son finished high school.

Even after I put domestic geoarbitrage into action and moved down here to The Best House in Melbourne and dropped the thermomix business, it was still engrained in me to keep my income up. More money = security. I wasn’t planning to retire at the end of 2020. Covid brought that decision forward.

All this is going to say – when an offer comes along to earn substantial money for easy work – it’s ground into my bones to leap at the chance. Even when I know I won’t enjoy doing it. Money = security.

I didn’t WANT to take the job. But I felt I SHOULD do it. Teacher guilt is a real thing.

I was genuinely torn.

I put my dilemma out to Twitter and received some excellent feedback.

Some women on the Simple Savings forum also had some good things to say. The consensus seemed to be (from women who are still in the workforce) that I should try it and see if I liked it. Nina, however, had this to say:

“Frogdancer, only you know what’s right for you. In my huge govvie organization we have all sorts of employees as you would imagine. One lady retired last year but came back as a casual temp and she loves it – easy money, not as much responsibility.

Another came back under similar circumstances and hated it. She did her 3 months as promised and vowed never to return. It was just too hard to be ‘sort of’ part of a team but still not really committed, and she felt like her head was geared towards working every day but just getting paid for 20 hours. To each their own. You could give it a try and then like Sandra gracefully walk away if it’s not for you.”

Also, a friend from work pointed out, this is an election year. The available money for schools to offer tutoring won’t be around next year. I heard back from my friend who was offering the job. The terms and conditions were really great and she was prepared to work around anything I’d want.

Dammit.

As the hours went by, I started asking myself why I was so reluctant? It came down to a few points:

  • I don’t enjoy tutoring. One-on-one teaching isn’t all that much fun for me. I like the cut and thrust of being in front of a class, with all of the banter and repartee that comes from funny teens and their quick wits.
  • Tutoring kids who are behind in literacy skills means that you have to administer (and then mark) all of these BORING tests. There’s so much admin and paperwork to plough through. Leaving all this behind me is a huge part of why I’m loving my life so much now.
  • I’ve had tutors sitting in my classes. The kids who the tutors are helping HATE having them there. It’s a huge sign to the other kids that they’re ‘dumb’ and falling behind. No red-blooded teenager wants that! So although I’d be there to help, I’d be pushing sh*t uphill for ages to get them to even listen.
  • I’d be in an ill-ventilated space with 28 kids and a teacher in the middle of a pandemic. Admittedly, the situation is better now than in 2020 because we’re all vaccinated, but even so. This is what I retired to avoid.

All of these reasons are a bit whiney and selfish. I know I’d do a good job and I’d be doing the right thing by helping the kids. But ugh…

Yesterday morning I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to do it. I waited until the afternoon, in case I had second thoughts, but by 2 PM I knew I’d stick to the decision. I rang my friend and let her know.

She was great about it and offered short-term tutoring, closer to exams, if I felt like it, which might be an option. But do you know what the absolute clincher was?

She was talking to me in a space where I could hear lots of kids around her. THE NOISE!!!!

omg.

It made me laugh. People who are surrounded by it every day have no idea how it chips away at you. The serenity of the soundtrack of my days here is so nourishing and peaceful.

Interestingly, it occurred to me this morning that I probably wouldn’t mind doing the occasional CRT day. I’d be in the classroom, yes, but with absolutely no admin work or diagnostic testing to mark. It would be fun to ‘earn’ things like the $600 pizza oven I just ordered, rather than pay for it out of my dividends.

Maybe I could look at dropping my resumé off to a school or two in the area???

Hmmmm. Maybe…

Dad joke of the day:

Past, Present and Future walk into a bar.

It was tense.

Great success is always the sum of many small decisions.

The quilt I made for my parents for Christmas is the perfect metaphor for the journey to financial independence. Quilting, like becoming financially free, has basic, simple steps but it certainly isn’t easy.

It’s not quick, either. But each seemingly insignificant decision that we make along the way contributes to the whole, beautiful product at the end.

The broad brush strokes of this quilt are the same as every other quilt in the world – it has a top of smaller pieces of fabric sewed together; a middle piece of warm batting and a backing fabric, sewing through all 3 layers to hold it all together and with a binding fabric sewn around the edges to stop it from fraying and falling apart. All quilts are the same basic construction.

Financial Independence s the same. The basic construction is that a financially independent person has gathered together the resources, usually over a time-period of decades, to support themselves financially without having to turn up to a job or business for money. Every financially independent person falls into this broad brush stroke category.

But as with the quilt, once you zoom in, the details can vary tremendously.

Take another look at this quilt.

This is a quilt made from scraps. There is no other quilt the same as this in the whole world. When I decided to make it, the broad brush stroke decisions were already decided. I knew how this quilt would be put together. But then some further decisions had to be made.

  • Each square would be made from scraps of one colour.
  • I would not buy any more fabric – I would make this quilt from what I already had. (It was in the middle of lockdowns, after all!)
  • Each square would measure 12.5″ square.
  • Most squares would be rainbow hues, but a couple would be brown, black-and-white and pink, just to tone it down a bit.
  • The quilt would be double-bed sized, as that’s the size bed my parents have.

Very similar to how we start along the path to financial independence. When I found out about FI/RE and decided to see if I could swing it, there were a few decisions to be made as to how I was going to go about it.

  • I had already paid off my house, so I decided I’d concentrate on putting together a share portfolio. House prices, even back then, were prohibitive for a sole parent on one teaching wage. Buying rentals was out of the question.
  • I decided to drop back a day a week at work and become a Thermomix Group Leader, running a team of consultants in my area. In other words, I chose to augment my wage by running a side hustle.
  • I was still supporting my four teenage boys. Reducing my expenses by installing solar panels, creating a food forest with fruit trees, veggie gardens and chooks, and cooking from scratch would cost more in the short-term, but over the long haul would make my journey towards financial independence much easier.

So far so good. But just deciding these things will not produce either a finished quilt or a financially secure retirement. You have to go smaller. Which specific actions are you going to take to get these things done?

Zoom in on the quilt. Every single piece of fabric here is the result of a deliberate decision and a deliberate action. See the black and white square? If you zoom in on that, you’ll see pieces of fabric that are less than a quarter of an inch wide. (Yes, I’m crazy.)

Some of the pieces in these squares are much larger and therefore contribute more towards the overall finished quilt. But the quilt would not be finished without every single one of these pieces, no matter how small. Every single decision and action in putting these fabrics together has mattered.

You could make the argument that the smallest pieces of fabric in the quilt almost matter the most, as they show that the commitment was there to finish the overall quilt top, by using every single piece of fabric at my disposal – no matter how small. I knew that even though a 1/4″ stripe of colour wouldn’t contribute a huge amount; IT STILL HELPED. After all, all I needed was enough pieces of coloured fabric to cover the top of a double bed. Keep at it long enough, keep putting fabric pieces together no matter how small and I knew I’d eventually get there.

It’s the same with financial independence.

All you need to do is cover 25X your annual expenses and you’re golden. The broadest brush stroke of all, I know! But how we all choose to get there is incredibly varied. Each one of us has a FI/RE journey that is exactly like this quilt – – a one of a kind. I can’t speak for anyone else, but like the strips and squares of colour in the quilt top, here are some of the things I chose to do each day to push myself along the path to FI/RE:

The most day-to-day decisions were all about frugality. I upped my income through the Thermomix side-hustle but I also deliberately chose to make the pool of money I had last a long time. I stretched my dollars any way I could. Some, like the quarter-inch strips, barely moved the needle. Others, like the big red and white polka-dot squares, covered much more ground. But they all contributed to the mindset of paying attention to the dollars:

  • When Tom13 started secondary school, he had to choose between learning French and German. The other boys didn’t have a choice. They all used the same textbooks – each book was used four times. Bargain!
  • Same with school uniforms. Everything was handed down from boy to boy and, wherever possible, bought at the school’s second-hand uniform shop. Boys are tough on their clothes, so why pay full price?
  • I bought grocery specials in bulk. If we ate it and it was on special, I bought up big. The aim was to eat as much as we could at half-price. Over time, that makes a difference.
  • If a cut of meat cost over $10/KG, I didn’t buy it. Even now, with only 2 of us in the house, I still look at the unit cost of everything.
  • The boys were all given swimming lessons. That’s a non-negotiable for Australian kids. But after that, each boy was only allowed to take ONE extra-curricular activity at a time. None of this running each kid around to forty-seven different gym classes, dance classes and sport clinics every week! At first they tried sport, but then over time, they all gravitated to music lessons. Instead of being ‘Jacks of all trades, masters of none’, they’re all very proficient in their instruments of choice. David27 has made a career out of it!
  • Once I found out about FI/RE, I read everything I could lay my hands on about investing. The share market was a big mystery to me and, being deathly afraid of numerals and maths, I had a lot of mental blocks to slowly overcome. It was hard, I won’t lie, but I knew that if I kept at it, blog post by blog post, book by book, things would slowly become clearer.
  • I kept food costs low by growing as much of our food as we could. I kept chooks, not just for the eggs but also for the free fertiliser they provided. If I grew it – we ate it.
  • I also grew the food that I needed to take to Thermomix demos as much as possible. After all, I was there to MAKE money; not spend it! My customers all had the herb and garlic dip instead of the hommus, (I grew the garlic, parsley and spring onions) , and they always had the rissotto (I grew the spinach.)
  • We were given free bread from a bakery every Tuesday night. We picked up everything they hadn’t sold that day for YEARS – all of their breads, pies, cakes and doughnuts. I stuffed my boys full of that free food – and I gave it away to friends and took the excess cakes and pastries into work every Wednesday. the chooks would also have a day of leftover bakery food each week. I made that free food COUNT!
  • I prioritised my goals. My first, most immediate goal was security for myself and the boys. Leaving a marriage with only $60 cash and 4 boys under 5 will do that to you! My over-arching goal was financial freedom, but I also had a life-long dream of going to England and Europe. In the end, I slotted that trip in between paying off the house and retirement. It cost around 30K and I thought it’d significantly delay my retirement… but I have never regretted going on that trip. It was truly a dream come true. And I never dropped my gaze from the FI/RE goal.
  • I took advantage when opportunity knocked. Obvously, making the decision to geoarbitrage and sell my original house was a HUGE clincher for my early(ish) retirement, but I also did smaller things, such as forming a close friendship with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder who bred my first bitch. For two decades, we had dogs from her kennels living with us. They were either older dogs who were past their breeding and showing days, or they were bitches I got for free on breeding terms. Poppy is the last of the line for this- I got her for free on condition Jenny could breed from her. (She ended up having only one litter. ) It was a bit of a shock to the system to have to pay for Scout!!

Every day there were tiny little decisions that on the face of it meant absolutely nothing and were noticed by no-one but me, yet collectively those tiny decisions swept me along the path to being financially free.

Many of you are in the boring middle part of the FI/RE journey. You’ve made all of the big and middle-tier decisions and put them into gear. It’s easy to lose heart and think that it’s all just too slow. But remember, just like piecing together a quilt, all of the little decisions and actions continuously help move the needle – and I’m here to say that a life without having to turn up to a job every weekday is a mighty fine life indeed.

Keep your eyes on what YOUR finished product will look like! Decide what YOUR little decisions and actions will be and then keep on doing them. Future You will thank you.

Dad joke of the day:

I read 128 books last year. Want some good ones?

Ahhh, reading. What a mighty fine way to spend time. Even people who say they “don’t like reading” can whip through a book lickety-split if it grabs them.

Up until now, school holidays have really been the only times I was able to read new books. Once a storyline grabs me, I’m a 200-page-a-day girl, which means that during term time, I’d usually re-read books, so that I could actually get things done like raising my kids and marking essays.

But now???? Oooo, babybaby.

I’ve had a wonderful first year of retirement, being able to gallop wild and free through any book that took my fancy. I’ve read some crackers – as well as some dogs.

Here are some of the cracking good reads, in no particular order.

  1. The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman.

This was one of the best books of 2021 for me. It’s so deliciously funny, with that gentle humour the British do so well, and the premise of the plot is wonderfully original. I really don’t want to go into the plot too much. It was given to me by Tom29 as a Christmas present and I went in cold – and within 4 pages knew that this was going to be a good read. I don’t want to be a dirty rotten spoiler for anyone else! When the follow-up to this one came out towards the end of the year, I was so happy to pick up The Man Who Died Twice and join my old friends in their little corner of the world again.

2. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng.

I’ve only read one of Ng’s books before, so in my tired, “it’s the summer holidays and I’m napping all the time” state of mind, I saw her name and thought I might enjoy this. Right from the start, as a house burns and a teenager watches, it grabbed me. The characters are fully fleshed out, the situations were engrossing and it wasn’t predictable at all. Beautifully written.

3. The Queen’s Gambit – Walter Tevis.

I’d heard about the series on Netflix, but before I started watching it Christmas rolled around and Tom29 gave me a copy of the novel. Reading this novel has started me on a Walter Tevis love affair – it’s so wonderfully written. This is the sort of book that I found myself putting down after each chapter and walking away, just wanting the beauty of the language to sit with me for a while.

I know how to play a basic game of chess – my grandfather taught me when I was a child – but my limited understanding of the game didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the novel. After I finished reading, then I watched the series and was pleased to see that they did a good job. All too often that’s not the case!

4. Wife After Wife – Olivia Hayfield.

Now, this one was a novel I was VERY excited to read. I’m a huge Tudor England person, as my friend Scott found when he took me to Hampton Court Palace. In fact, the photo at the top of this blog is of the roofline, taken as we arrived there. Still a pinnacle day of my life.

The premise of this novel is that the story of Henry VIII and his 6 unfortunate wives is now set in the present day. Instead of being a monarch, Henry is now a media mogul, as they are the people with all of the power nowadays. So of course, some things are different, while some things stay the same. The wife I was most curious about being brought into the present-day was Anne of Cleves.

How can two people get married in this day and age on the basis of an all-too-flattering painting, then get divorced because he couldn’t stand the sight of her when he finally clapped eyes on her in real life? Technology/photography has moved on just a tad, after all. The solution Hayfield came up with was really clever, as was the whole novel. I loved seeing how she explored how these people and their marriages would play out in today’s world.

Divorced, beheaded, she died; divorced, beheaded, survived…

Also, yes. The beheadings. It’s not the typical way to rid yourself of a wife in the modern age. How would it be resolved???

She has written a sequel based on Mary I and Elizabeth I, as they fight to take control, not of the throne of England, but of their father’s media empire. Sister to Sister is equally good. I especially loved the Christopher Marlowe character.

5. Find You First – Linwood Barclay.

Stephen King mentioned on Twitter that this book was excellent, so I grabbed it from the library.
Started it at 9 AM and was done by dinner.
Couldn’t put it down! Lots of twists along the way.

6. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens.

I’d heard the title of this book for ages, but knew absolutely nothing about it. Silly me thought that crawdads must be birds, right? Anyway, you know a book is good when you’re heading back to the library to return it, book in hand, little woofs walking with you, and a total stranger accosts you on the street to say, “Excuse me, I just finished that book. Isn’t it incredible????”

“YES!!!!!!” I replied.

We had a lovely chat, dissecting it all, and then we went our separate ways. Even in the midst of a pandemic, reading brings people together. This is set in a part of the world that is very unfamiliar to me, but the writing brings it all alive.

7. Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell.

My Goodreads note on this novel is “Made me cry at the end” and even though I don’t remember doing that, I have no difficulty believing it because the ending has certainly stayed with me.

The official blurb is:

“Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley Street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.”

Oh, how I enjoyed reading this book! So much has been written about Shakespeare, yet his private life, particularly the story of his marriage, is shrouded in mystery. It was lovely to read a book where he was only on the edges and the focus was firmly on other people, particularly his wife. In this novel she’s called Agnes instead of Anne, as apparently, her father called her Agnes in his will.

When I was in the UK in 2015, Scott and I did the whole Shakespeare Stratford-on-Avon tourist spin in an afternoon. This was the trip where we were walking by the river and I intelligently asked, “What’s this river called?”

Not my best moment.

Going to Anne Hathaway’s house was an absolute treat. It was absolutely fascinating and the garden was amazing. When the novel is set in the Shakespeare family home in the middle of town … I’ VE BEEN THERE!!! I could picture it all.

Another thing that has stayed with me is Agnes’ description of why she married young Will Shakespeare. It’s haunting. (In a wonderful way.)

Well, I’ve been here for an hour and the little woofs are getting hungry, so I’ll sign off for now. I’ll continue with this list another day, but I hope I’ve given people some Thumping Good Reads to track down. I’ve given the links to Amazon Australia, which has both paperback and Kindle options.

I have the free Kindle app on my iPad and it downloads books in a couple of seconds. Love it.

Dad joke of the day:

Have you seen the clown that hides from ugly people?

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