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

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 2)

My new goal.

Meme

Well, I’m not one for crystals and dream catchers or “putting things out there and letting the universe decide”, but sometimes there are massive coincidences that seem to be telling you something. This happened to me a couple of days ago and now I know what my next big goal is. I’m so excited!

A couple of posts ago I sent a shout-out to my Antarctica reader/s (?). It always gives me a thrill when I see that they’ve hopped on to have a read. Anyway, Penguindancer! commented on that post. I have to admit, I had a little fangirl moment. I sent a reply, saying that I’d love to go there one day, then hurriedly left the house. It was Thursday, my day off, and my hairdresser doesn’t take appointments. With hairdressers now allowed to open after a couple of months of being locked down, I knew I’d have to get in early to avoid a long queue. The whole of Melbourne is clamouring to get our hair cut so we can look human again.

I got there soon after 8AM and was 4th in line. The guy who was number 1 was talking with number 3 about travel. He said to her, “By far the best trip I’ve taken was to Antarctica.”

You can imagine how my ears pricked up at this.

I joined the conversation, telling him about my new best friend Penguindancer! and before I knew it I was looking at photos and film of icebergs, penguins, seals, and I was taking down the name of the boat and tour company he used. I was able to return the favour – Frank had no idea you can travel to North Korea and his eyes lit up when I mentioned I’d been.

He also gave me a fabulous tip – on the way to South America, stop off at Easter Island.

omg.

As the door opened to the hairdresser, he said, “I hope you’ll be able to go one day.”

“Oh, I WILL go!” I said.

“I warn you… it’s not cheap,” he said.

“I don’t mind spending money on things like this,” I said. “You only do them once, so it’s worth it.”

Newly-styled hair

A few hours later I arrived home with all of those strange silvery hairs – surely impossible for one so youthful and dewy to grow??? – all disappeared. I felt like a new woman. Over lunch I pulled up my Feedly blog reader and saw that Bonnie from 43 Blue Doors had written a post about Mission Beach, right in the far north of Queensland in the tropics. I settled down for a read.

As I was reading, she included a link to this post about her trip to Antarctica.

Are you KIDDING me?!?

Three times in the one day?

What are the odds of a blog post talking about Cassowaries and the tropics in Australia linking to a post full of photos of Antarctica? Add to that the odds of having conversations with Penguindancer! and Frank on the exact same day…

Clearly I need to get my good self down to Antarctica.

The last two days I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of exploring all the possibilities.

Map

If you go from South America, this is basically the no-frills route that most expedition ships seem to cover. You can get tours that go to the Falklands and South Georgia as well, but this is the area that most tours seem to go. I want to sail on a smaller ship, as they seem to be able to let people go onto the land. I can’t see the point of going all that way, only to merrily sail all around the area without being able to physically set foot there.

However, South America is riddled with covid at the moment, so I’m not in a tearing hurry to pack my bags and leave this instant.

Map

However, as Penguindancer! wrote in the comments section this morning, there is another option. Leaving from New Zealand. Prices are eye-wateringly more expensive, but the covid consideration is practically non-existent. Plus I guess the cost might work out roughly the same when you take the shorter flight into consideration. (I haven’t looked at flights yet – no point really since our borders are closed to all except New Zealand.)

The islands they visit on the way have had vastly fewer tourists see them. Hmmm…

So, here’s what I’m thinking at the moment:

  • The open water part of the trip is much less in South America. I don’t know good a sailor I am.
  • No one knows what’s going to happen with Covid. New Zealand is far more viable a destination in the near future than South America.
  • The boats from NZ take fewer passengers. That could be either a good or a bad thing, depending on who else is on board!
  • Easter Island would be only a short hop from South America.
  • I like to have something to look forward to. What if I set this trip as a goal for my 60th birthday? That’d mean I’d have 3 years to save up for it and plan for it.
  • I could work some CRT and exam invigilation over that time. That income could be stashed in an account to help pay for it. Frank was correct – this will NOT be a cheap trip.
Iceberg

But imagine seeing something like this in real life? This is why I’ve worked so hard to free up my time – the world is full of incredible things to do and see.

So I’ve set my newest Big Goal. I thought my next big trip would be going back to the UK and Europe, but sometimes life offers up attractive alternatives.

You wouldn’t be dead for quids, hey?

9 weeks to go…

Bright red knitting.
Keeping busy…

It’s been an interesting week and a half. A day after I wrote my last post, we had a virtual staff meeting and my principal announced that i was retiring. Just like that! I guess there’s no turning back now…

There were a few phone calls from people curious to see what I was up to, but most questions poured in when I was back at work on campus. Yes, this past week year 7, 11 and 12 kids have been back at school. I have 2 classes of year 7s so hey ho, it’s back to school I go.

Poppy looking soulful.
Poppy.

Given how youthful and dewy I am, most people are congratulating me and then asking what I’m moving to next. A different job? Another school? Their eyes widen slightly when I laugh and say, “No. It’s a REAL retirement!”

“But you’re too young to retire!” is mostly said by people around my age or older. When I smile and say something about how age isn’t the thing that determines retirement – it’s all about being able to support yourself, they either sigh and say, “The way we’re going, I’ll be working forever” or they ask me how I’ve done it.

That leads into some interesting chats.

So far, I’ve only had one person say how ‘lucky’ I am. I guess after working there for 16 years and having my 4 boys go through the school, people are pretty familiar with my story. I countered by saying that if I hadn’t have done my geoarbitrage move four years ago, I’d still be working.

“Doing that deal saved me 10 years of work,” I said. I didn’t mention all the years of frugality and keeping my eyes on the prize – nobody wants to hear about all of that!

Scout with her ball in her mouth.
Scout with her most prized possession.

A fair few people have nodded wisely and asked if COVID affected my decision. They look a bit surprised when I say that yes, I was planning to work part-time another year so it pushed my retirement forward by a year. That still doesn’t compute with being in my mid fifties and being able to retire.

One young teacher I work with started asking me about savings rates and if keeping an eye on spending was significant, so I shot this blog post over to him. He’s gone down the rabbit hole…

People have been overwhelmingly positive – to my face at least! – with many saying they’re jealous. LOL.

But I’m going to miss some things.

This week my year 7s have been doing their wide reading oral presentations. This is a 3 minute talk about a book they’ve read. Seeing as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and masks are mandatory, I made my kids do their talks while wearing their masks. I don’t want to get so close to escaping and then get killed by an errant droplet!

On Monday one little boy was so scared. He stood up in front of the class and started reading from his cue cards. They were literally shaking in his hands. It’s awful when you see this happening, because sometimes the kids just stop talking and freeze up, which makes it that much harder for them to tackle public speaking next time.

He kept on going, looking up and focusing on me when he wasn’t looking at his cards. His voice was shaking in the beginning, but by the end of the speech he’d sorted that out.

As I watched this kid conquering his fear, I thought, “I’m going to miss this.” As a teacher, you feel so proud when a kid is obviously scared, but they push themselves through that barrier and achieve something they didn’t think they could do.

At the end of his speech I asked him how scared he was. He said, “My knees were knocking together, Miss!”

I told him how proud I was of him for pushing through and succeeding and that this kind of thing is something I’m going to miss seeing. We then gave him a standing ovation. He was embarrassed but pleased.

A couple of the girls spoke about books that sounded really good, so I asked if I could borrow them and I polished them off this week. Every now and then I do this and I find really good reads that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

On Friday we had the last of the orals. I danced at the front of the room, singing, “Yay! I never have to listen to another oral presentation again!!!” One little girl said, “That makes me sad, Miss.”

Coronavirus figures for today.

It’s funny being back at school. Everyone is masked and the kids’ tables are separated as far as they can be, so they’re all in a grid shape, exactly like a Google Meet set up on a computer screen. I said to 7M yesterday that it’s almost like we’re still doing virtual classes, except they’re a lot harder to keep quiet without a mute button.

As you can see, our numbers are looking good, so people are hoping for an easing of lockdown restrictions to be announced tomorrow, especially the 5km travel bubble. Tom28, my oldest son, is working from home and he happens to live just around the corner from the school. I saw him on each day I worked this week – Monday to pick up some facemasks I’d made him that had ‘too-thick’ elastic and to give him a sourdough loaf – Wednesday to give him his repaired masks back – and Friday to give him and his flatmate a second sourdough. First times I’d seen him in person in four months.

And one last thing – WordPress enables us to see where our readers are from. It always gives me a thrill when I see my Antarctic peeps are reading. I thought I’d give a shout-out to my scientific friends down there!

It’s almost as exciting as when I saw that someone from North Korea was reading. But it was probably just someone from the government making sure that the 4 posts I wrote about my holiday there were acceptable.

I wonder where in the world I’ll go next, now that I’ll not be tied to school holidays?

Retirement- 108 days to go…

Countdown on the beginning of old films.
Not long to go now…

As of today, I have 108 days to go until I finish work for good.

Yes, I’m retiring.

My friend Scott suggested that I look at working days left, to make it seem even more delicious. Just counted it up. 47 working days to go.

On December 18 2020, Frogdancer Jones will be walking out of the classroom forever to go and live her best life. I’ll be 57 years old, exactly 10 years younger than the ‘traditional’ retirement age of 67 in Australia.

omg. I’ve bought back 10 years of my life.

I’m awash with excitement, anticipation and the tiniest dollop of trepidation. Its a big step, after all.

As you’re reeling back in shock, I hear you ask, “But how can this BE?”

Settle in. Here’s how it all happened:

Kid doing a fist bump.

In August an email went out to all of the staff, asking for our plans for next year. Did we intend to stay at the school, which subjects and year levels would we prefer to teach, would we be intending to take any time off etc. Without really thinking about it, I replied that I’d be working for another year at 3 days/week, just like this year.

In other words, force of habit. Inertia.

A week later, I mentioned to a friend, (let’s just call him ‘the Mayor’), that I’d signed on for another year. It was a conversation over Facebook. His reply?

“Another year. I’m a little surprised. I’ve noted your Covid-related comments and we certainly won’t have dealt with this by next year.”

Now the Mayor is the total opposite to me when it comes to a relationship with Maths. He loves analysing spreadsheets and company financials and everything like that. After my geoarbitrage deal finalised and I had the money from my house sale in my hands, he devised a spreadsheet projecting how my current investments could perform. I was so appreciative – it was a huge favour for him to do for me. So he knows my financial situation.

At the time that he drew up the spreadsheet, he said to me, “You know, you could retire now if you wanted.”

“NO WAY!!” I said. “I just don’t feel safe. “

He chuckled. “You can; you just don’t realise it yet.”

In the intervening years, I worked at making The Best House in Melbourne even BETTER – for Future Frogdancer Jones in retirement. I liked the idea of getting all of the expensive jobs over with while I still had a wage coming in. My post called ‘Why owning a home trumps renting‘ lists all the things I’ve put into this place, plus a few more that I’m thinking of.

After the Mayor’s remark about my Covid-related comments, I started thinking. Was it possible that I could actually retire?

I brought out the old spreadsheets and looked at them, comparing the projected figures with the real ones. I brought up my annual expenses chart, subtracting the costs of all the projects around the house that I’d been doing. I looked at how much I was spending to feed, house, clothe and shelter myself and the two boys I have still living with me.

That figure came in at just over 30K/year. Those meagre years have left their mark – I don’t waste any money on anything that I don’t value. My pleasures are either hellishly expensive (*cough cough Travel*) or are as close to being free that it doesn’t matter.

Hmmmm.

I contacted the Mayor again. Long story short, he’s preparing a document for me to take to a financial planner outlining everything to do with my finances, future plans and goals – all of that stuff.

Turns out I’m going to be fine.

But the clock was ticking at school. Kids were making their subject selections for next year and staffing decisions were being made. I didn’t want to jerk the admin around – getting my job at that school was the single biggest reason that I was able to dig the boys and I out of poverty. I owe the school a lot.

So, once I sat with the decision to leave for a few days and I still felt comfortable with it, I rang my boss.

“OH NO!!” was her reaction. But when we talked about the hows and whys of why I was leaving, there was nothing much else for her to say. She’s not stupid – she knew I’d made my mind up.

So why am I leaving? It’s not simply fear of getting Covid.

F U money.

FU money is a big part of it. After surviving the years at home with pre-school boys when we had hardly two cents to rub together, I’ve been hard at work ever since to do my best to ensure that we were never in that position again.

I’ve reached the position where I feel I have enough.

Enough.

I still love being in the classroom. The kids I teach are lovely and they’re so funny! It’s a rare day when I haven’t had a good laugh in class. I like the idea of going out while I’m still having fun – it’s much better than being ‘that teacher’ – the one who’s hanging on grimly to the job because s/he can’t afford to leave.

What’s getting me down is the insidious increase of admin. As one colleague said to me recently, “Honestly Frogdancer, it feels more and more that we’re becoming data collectors instead of educators.” We’re expected to measure kids’ performances all the time, with results put on tables and studies and projections – maybe the Maths/Science people like it but for me ? For me it’s sucking the soul and the fun from the job.

If I still had a mortgage to pay or debts to get rid of, I’d be staying. If I didn’t have enough to support myself on in retirement, I’d be staying. As I said, I don’t hate everything about the job. Most days are very pleasant days.

But there’s enough on the dark side to make me feel that now is the time for me to leave.

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! Going part-time this year, then having to spend months at home on lockdown has shown me that I have plenty of interests to fill my days. As long as the world contains books, the internet, Netflix and the dogs, there’ll never be an excuse to be bored. Spring has begun and soon I’ll be out planting seeds and designing my front yard. Yesterday I ordered $400 worth of fruit trees to plant there. There’ll be fruit to pick, cook and eat for decades to come.

I can’t see overseas travel being a thing for the next couple of years at least, but that won’t stop me planning for my trips back to the UK and Europe when things settle down. After all, I haven’t been to Windsor Castle to see Henry VIII’s tomb yet! Of course, there’ll be domestic travel as our internal borders open back up, so I’ll be well-placed to take advantage of that. (And I won’t have to wait for the school holidays when prices go up and everything is crowded!!)

Yes, it’s a big change. In one way I’ve moved quickly but in another way – I’ve been writing about retirement and financial independence for as long as this blog has been around, and I’ve been thinking and planning for it well before then! This decision has been years in the making.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage in my life will bring.

Squirrel looking triumphant.
December 18 – Future Frogdancer.

In answer to LateStarterFire…

Fast typing.
Ok. Here I go!

A few weeks ago, latestarterfire nominated me for an “awesome blogger award”, where you answer some questions about yourself. True to my lackadaisical attitude towards blogging since lockdown began, it’s taken me until now to answer.

Questions about blogging:

1. Why did you start blogging?

Seeing as I have 2 blogs, I’ll split this answer 2 ways.

I began this blog because I’d been reading FIRE blogs and finance blogs for around 2 years. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but I became increasingly fed up with reading blogs written by young whippersnappers telling me how to do what I’ve already done – and they hadn’t even done it themselves!!!! One day I read one too many of these posts and it pushed me over the edge…

My personal blog, Dancing With Frogs, has been going since September 2007. Yep, I’ve been blogging for a long time. I discovered blogs that year, mainly simple living and crafting blogs and I loved that community. In all that time, I’ve only ever had ONE snarky comment on that blog and my regular readers defended me in the comments. I’m still friendly with several people from those long ago days, though most of them have moved from blogs to Instagram.

2. What do you enjoy most about being a blogger?

I like to write. I’ve tried writing fiction but I’m awful at it. This allows me to connect with like-minded people in a way that’s easy to work in around all the busy-ness of day to day life. I’ve also found that my personal blog is a fantastic resource. For example, I wanted to start soap making again after many years hiatus, and all I had to do was look up the old posts to remember how to do it and what the best recipes were. It’s also really handy when looking at what worked and didn’t work in the garden.

3. What is the hardest part of blogging?

The personal blog is easy – I just walk around with the camera and then write about what’s going on. With the FIRE blog, I don’t want to be too repetitious about the concepts I’m writing about. As time has gone on, I’m taking a more personal approach to the whole FI/RE thing. I hope that my story will motivate someone further back along the trail than I am to keep going.

4. Has blogging led you to other paths that you did not expect? What are they?

One fairly recent one was being asked to be on the panel after the Melbourne screening of ‘Playing With Fire.’ That was a lot of fun – it was a good night. Over the years, I’ve also had blogmeets with various other bloggers. A blogmeet is fantastic – you’ve read each other’s blogs so you already have a feel for the other person. You skip by the ‘getting to now you’ stuff and get stuck into the good conversations.

I was also asked to contribute to a book about Australian FIRE. Each section is being released weekly, so my chapter is yet to be out there, but it’s coming!

5. Have you ever wanted to stop blogging? Why or why not?

Nope. Interestingly though, during the pandemic I’ve radically slowed down the number of posts I write, which is odd really. You’d think with more time on my hands I’d actually write more, not less. Though, looking at my Feedly, I’m not the only one by a long shot.

I really enjoy getting comments and having that feedback from readers. I get it a little bit on Twitter, but I guess I’m an old-school blogger – it means more when it’s a comment on the actual post. I have readers that have been commenting for over a decade on the frog blog – that continuity is precious.

Questions about you:

6. What does your perfect day look like?

Oof.

If I’m on holiday, it’d be a day where I’m seeing new things and exploring what a new country and culture looks like. My 2015 trip to the UK and Europe was a 9 week extravaganza of this – I was so happy! – and my 2018 trip to North Korea was a peek into another world. Fascinating.

If I’m at home, then my life in lockdown pretty much covers it. A leisurely couple of hours on the couch in the morning with my dogs all around me while I read or write; then the rest of the day to puddle around doing whatever I’m “in the zone” for. It could be reading, creating something, gardening, cooking…. whatever I feel like.

Pure freedom, in other words.

7. Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. That’s why I loved my time in Paris so much – nearly every lunch was a salad with goats cheese.

Having said that though, I wouldn’t ever say no to a Caramello.

8. What is your dream holiday destination / scenario?

I’m a huge English history buff, so when the plane touched down at Heathrow airport in 2015 it was a dream come true. The day we spent at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived, still remains as one of the very best days of my life.

Once we can travel again – and I feel safe to do so – I’ll be heading back over there. There’s so much history just hanging around in the UK. I want to read up more about Scottish and Irish history and then go around and see where these people actually lived and hung out. It’s absolutely fascinating to me.

MUCH more interesting than Australian history – convicts, bushrangers, gold and sheep.

9. Who is your role model?

I don’t really have one. There have been so many admirable people throughout history – maybe I just scavenge bits and pieces from lots of different people?

10. What would you advise your 12 year old self?

Not to worry so much about what other people think. People are far too concerned with their own issues so, ultimately, they don’t really care about what you’re doing. Just go your own way, even more than you did, and enjoy life.

Thanks for asking these questions, LSF.

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

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

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

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

My stylish yet affordable shopping trolley.

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

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

But what else did I buy as a souvenir?

A helicopter ride.

I spent $250 on a helicopter ride.

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

Just before lift-off.

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

Lovely clear morning – Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

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

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

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

The border between Victoria and New South Wales.

I drove over this river the day before.

Two memories for the price of one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmmmm Mmmmm!

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

The same height as the birds.

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

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

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

A Very Redneck New Year.

Nearly all of the Redneck Christmas package. I ate the Chex Mix before I took the photo.

One of the best things about being a blogger is when you start to build a community. I first discovered this over a decade ago, back when I was writing about knitting and quilting with my personal blog Dancing With Frogs and I started attending blogmeets with other ‘crafty’ women.

One of the funniest times I bumped into a fellow blogger was when I was attending a two-day quilting workshop and I was talking to someone about knitting baby hats for my Etsy shop. One of the women on the other side of the table said hesitantly, “Excuse me… are you… Frogdancer?” Turns out we’d both been reading each others’ blogs for ages!

A similar thing happened when I was on a four-day course to learn how to run a team for Thermomix. Chatting away at dinner on the first night, Bee from Tick of Yum and I realised who each other way and we had a rapturous moment of recognition. Puzzled everyone else at the table but we were rapt. Here was a kindred spirit!

Last April the incredible Mr and Mrs Groovy visited Australia and came down my way. I was on school holidays and we decided to meet up for a day so I could show them around. Unlike most meetings when you have to establish all of the ‘getting to know you’ stuff, we’d read each others’ blogs so we pretty much just jumped straight into a conversation and went from there. Felt like we’d been good friends for ages.

We had such a great day. We walked along the Yarra for a while, then I took them to Doyles in Mordialloc to have lunch by the river, then we came back to The Best House in Melbourne. We went to the Backyard Beach and had fish n chips for dinner before we drove back to the city.

Mr Groovy is one of the most open-minded people I’ve ever met. We three had incredibly interesting conversations over the course of the day. I wish they lived closer.

From Mr Groovy’s post about my care package.

When they dropped an off-hand comment a while ago that they missed timtams and vegemite, I thought that a little care package wouldn’t go astray. They responded with a care package of their own – a redneck Christmas.

The parcel arrived on Christmas Eve. We have a tradition at Christmas that one person at a time opens a gift, so the whole family was watching as I began lifting these exotic American foodstuffs out of the box and reading the descriptions of them. We were enthralled.

At first, we were eating the desserts and chocolates that were left here after Christmas Day ended so abruptly. But now that Ryan25 is forcing me to watch Breaking Bad from the beginning, it was time to start sampling the goodies. Instead of a redneck Christmas, it’s a redneck new year!

This was the first one. Not bad.

The Chex Mix was good. I was frightened that it’d be really sweet, because the word on the streets is that Americans add sugar to everything. But this was a nice crunchy bag of bite-sized bits that I worked my way through over a couple of nights. I googled and apparently some of the things in it are a breakfast cereal.

Moon Pie.
Fatter than a Wagon Wheel and just marshmallow in the middle.
No jam.

Next up was the Moon Pies. David26 and I unwrapped one each, then bit in.

OMG!!!! The biscuits surrounding the marshmallow (so much marshmallow!) AREN’T CRUNCHY! It was like biting into a sponge cake. In itself, that’s not a bad thing but when you’re expecting a cookie-like consistency it takes you a couple of seconds to adjust.

Action shot… before and after.

Of course it was sweet but not overly so. After we finished laughing at ourselves for our reaction to the soft consistency, we finished them up and agreed they were ok. There was enough sweetness to make you feel that you’d had a treat and they didn’t leave you feeling full. Definitely handy to have around when you need a slight pick-me-up mid-afternoon.

We’ve yet to try the other delicacies on offer. We have panettone here as the boys are half-Italian, but I haven’t had it for years. (I call the boys Kangaroochee’s, a mix of Aussie and Italian.)

I don’t mind admitting that the dried pork crackling makes me slightly uneasy. David26 was reading the part on the package where it says that it’s ‘great for cooking and snacks.’ He looked at me and said, “HOW could you use this in cooking???”

Safe to say we’ll be eating those bad boys as snacks.

This has been so much fun. It reminds me of when I was in the supermarket in Pyongyang, North Korea, choosing snacks to eat on the train trip home. There was nothing familiar. All I had to go on was the pictures on the packaging. This is a similar experience. “Which one will we try now??”

Anyone who isn’t familiar with Mr and Mrs Groovy needs to jump across to their blog and have a read. Their story about coming later in life to FIRE is absolutely inspiring. The fact that they both have great senses of humour is an added bonus. It’s a fantastic blog written by lovely people. Well worth the time.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day with them and I hope one day to make it over to North Carolina to see Groovy Ranch in person. In the meantime, in case I feel like I’m missing out on being in the American South, I have some authentic pork crackling snacks to tide me over.

I’ll be travelling through my tastebuds!

Why I never had to bother with other people’s expectations.

Lifestyle creep. When you start earning more money and everyone expects you to reward yourself. You buy a bigger house, new/er cars, better clothes. You become spendier. People see you advancing along in your career and they expect to see outward signs of this. They expect you to have a more lavish lifestyle.

But do you know the HUGE advantage I’ve had throughout these 21 years?

Nobody expects a single mother of 4 boys to be able to spend money on lifestyle creep. No one even expects her to have it. Nobody!

Everyone knows how expensive kids are, especially as they move into high school and start living with their heads inside the fridge, eating everything in sight. They grow like weeds, while you can almost see their feet get bigger. They have school fees, school books and school excursions. They have outside interests that need to be paid for.

They probably also need braces. For those who don’t know, braces are hellishly expensive. I had 3 boys who needed them. Fortunately, their father paid for Ryan14’s braces, but I had to come up with the goods for the other two sets.

So here was I, with these 4 boys standing around growing ever taller and looking expensive. With straight teeth, though. That’s got to mean something…

If I needed some new clothes for my family, no one raised an eyebrow if I’d shop at the op shops first. If anyone had clothes to give away, we’d happily accept them. I’d grow my own veggies and people nodded.

Travel is also important to me. If a person has no international travel under their belt, their view on life is limited to the place that they grew up in. I wanted my boys to see outside the bubble of comfortable middle-class suburbia in a first-world nation. Documentaries on TV are great, but they’re no substitute for seeing things for yourself. So I took the boys to Bali, Thailand and Singapore, and paid for 2 of them to go on a school music tour to the USA. They went to the US with some of their uniform and schoolbooks being second-hand, but they still got to go. 

(On re-reading this before publication, I realise that I’m inferring that the USA is a third-world nation!! It made me laugh, so I’ve left it in. Though, now that I think about it, the boys were a bit shocked at the level of decay in the infrastructure of Hollywood/L.A… just saying…)

After school interests? With 4 kids to look after, I told the boys that each child could only have ONE class/sport/lesson each. Just one. While every other kid in the neighbourhood was racing off to something after every school day, my boys, after a bit of trying out of various things, elected to do music lessons.

Tom and Ryan did guitar for years, while David learned piano and is now getting his Bachelor’s degree in music. Evan didn’t end up doing anything at all – he was content to chill and do his own thing. Did any of the other Mums at school raise their eyebrows and make ‘tsk tsk’ noises and insinuate that my boys were being deprived? No.

I had the ‘Single  Mother/Single Wage’ card. I could fly under the radar. I have never had to cope with battling the expectations of anyone else.

And it was wonderful.

It left me free to be the ‘Valuist’ spender that I was born to be.

It’s left me free to organise my finances the way that I – and only I – want to. I like nice clothes as much as the next woman, but our security was more important. That little weatherboard house had to be paid for. And it was. One cheap shopping trip to Aldi for all of those groceries at a time, while wearing the same clothes for years.

My big trip to the Uk and Europe that I’d waited my whole life to do? Once the house was paid for and the boys had all finished high school, I quietly saved up the money and went.

I’m happy to keep wearing the same jewellery and drive the same car while I put improvements in place in The Best House in Melbourne so that I can retire with the infrastructure that I want around me.

Lots of little expenses, like daily coffees from 7/11, or doughnut runs to AJs are things I’ve never done. The peer pressure has never happened, though I’ve seen it put to work all around me. Everyone else is fair game for Lifestyle Creep to be expected of them, but “poor Frogdancer Jones can’t afford it with all those boys…”

I guess being a single parent has to have some advantages.

Heh heh.

What has my second-gen FIRE child learned about frugality?

Right from when they were very small, my children have watched me buy in bulk when non-perishables have been on sale, then helped me lug them home and store them in towering piles in the pantry or watched me decant into smaller, more user-friendly containers.

When I was in San Gimignano in Italy in 2015, one of the souvenirs I bought was this olive oil tin. I knew I’d use it and I love it still. I buy 4L tins of olive oil from Aldi and simply decant into my olive oil ‘watering can’ when it runs dry. It’s a similar idea to the non-stick spatula* I bought last year in North Korea. A useful souvenir is a good souvenir!

So what has my 24-year-old son done?

 

Ryan24 is half-way through his Remedial Massage course at RMIT. When massage oil was on the book list for this year, he bought in bulk. He’s bought smaller bottles to decant the oil into for when he goes to classes. Of course, as any second-gen FIRE frugal person would do, he made sure that the unit price for the bulk oil was far cheaper than for 1L bottles.

I’m very proud.

I just hope I don’t ever mistake it for a wine cask one dark night!

(This last photo has nothing to do with the post. I simply thought that some people might want to see the spatula of choice for people in North Korea.)

* I bought this spatula when we were allowed to wander around the supermarket in Pyongyang, North Korea, for 45 minutes on our own, surrounded by ordinary people doing their daily shopping. I saw these spatulas, thought, ‘Hey, I need one of these,’ and brought it home with me. 

Every time I make pancakes I remember my trip. 🙂

A totally scientific experiment. Or metaphor. Or something.

Earlier this week I wrote a post about The Single Advantage, where I wrote about the path to FI as a single person.

Yesterday, on my daily walk with Poppy, Jeff and Scout, it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to do a totally scientific experiment to see if my post was accurate.

You see, Poppy and Jeff have been partners since they were in the womb together and they always go for walks on a brace lead. This is simply a leash for 2 dogs which is in a ‘Y’ shape, so I only have to hang on to one loop.

Scout, being the baby sister of the pack, came along later so she has her own lead.

Which lead is the most efficient? The ‘couple’ lead, or the ‘single’ lead? WHAT a metaphor for life! How could anyone possibly say that this is unrealistic?

Ok. My hypothesis is that the two different leads accurately depict two different pathways to FI – one as a couple and one as a single. For the purposes of this experiment, we’ll assume that both the couple and the single are starting from the same position, (a wild enthusiasm to get to FI as quickly as possible), and they have the same goal in mind, (to have a fully-paid-off kennel and to never need to fetch tennis balls again, unless they choose to.)

I had the materials needed. The dogs were raring to go, my phone was in my hand and I was filled with the thirst for scientific endeavour. Off we set around the block to make financial research history!

It was clear right from the start that when Poppy and Jeff were in synch, they were unstoppable. Shoulder to shoulder, facing the same way, they forged ahead of Scout. They make a great team. The fully-paid-off kennel of their dreams is well within reach.

“It’s not fair! There’s 2 of them and I have very little legs. They’re getting ahead of me and it’s not fair! They’re sharing the work, they have 2 food bowls and THEIR LEGS ARE LONGER.”

But hang on…

What starts to happen around every tempting aroma?

Scout takes the opportunity to nip past them as Jeff lifts his leg on investigates every conceivable thing on our path, thus slowing Poppy down and delaying their path to FI. In the interests of decorum, I won’t show you exactly what he was doing. This is a family-friendly blog, after all.

Oh no! While Poppy was waiting for Jeff to get back on task, she sees a bird! She goes out of shot to try and get closer, yanking him off-balance.

They’re completely off task now…

Meanwhile, Scout, her heart filled with joy at not having her dreams of FI and a fully-paid-for kennel delayed by a distracted partner, skips ahead with glee, her eyes on the prize. As for not needing to fetch tennis balls? She’s a modern independent woman and she LOVES her side-hustle of bringing back anything that’s thrown.

This is an action shot; joy requires movement and flopping ears. Please excuse any fuzzy edges in this shot. Science requires sacrifices from all of us to get to the truth.

 However, once Poppy and Jeff have some counselling and get their goals back into realignment, we all set off together.

The Cavaliers have been partners since birth – they’re not going to let anyone stop them! Whereas Scout is as stubborn as dachshunds normally are and she’ll get to her goals with or without a partner. “A man is not a financial plan” is her mantra.

Well, considering I call my place a glorified kennel, the result was never in doubt, was it? Here they all are, enjoying the fruits of their labour. No matter how tempting the scents, the birds and the possum poo along the way, they all got there in the end.

Scout’s route was by far the most focussed and direct, but Poppy and Jeff, when they decided to stop getting distracted on their individual interests and they started working together, were a force.

I know you want to know the results.

Amazingly, both leads ended up at our destination of FI and a fully-paid-off kennel at the same time. I know – I’m as surprised as you!!

What does this totally scientific and non-rigged experiment show?

We can all get to our goals, regardless of our relationship status.

Scout’s little legs meant that she had to take more steps than the others to get there, but she made it in the end. Poppy and Jeff were sometimes pulled off-course by their partner, but they got back on track and also got to their destination.

And now everyone’s sleeping on the couch, safe and happy.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad result for any of us!

 

Advertising North Korea style (4): The Bigger; the Better.

We arrived in North Korea about a week after this went live. This is the LED display on the Ryugyong Hotel, a building which has been unfinished for the last 30-odd years. When we were driving to our hotel we made a special trip to stop the bus and see it. Our two North Korean guides were practically bursting with pride, while Matt, our Aussie guide and a fellow tourist Pierre, who was on his 9th trip to the DPRK, were absolutely agog to see it. Pierre took this picture (@pierredepont on Instagram). The excitement was palpable.

The huge LED display at the top of the hotel shows a huge North Korean flag unfurling and rippling triumphantly in the wind. In this little series, I’ve talked before about how the Kim family uses specific images and symbols to sear their brand onto the hearts and minds of their people. How powerful is the almost magical sight of their flag rising up 105 floors over their showcase city and shining its light over everything?

Remember, this is a population who has absolutely no internet. They’ve never seen photos and film of the bright lights of Times Square or Tokyo or Melbourne. They’ve never seen billboards or logos or commercials. “Just Do It” means nothing to them, while as for the notion of Coke adding life or Red Bull giving you wings? Incomprehensible!

But here is their Dear Leader providing a magical display of dazzling technology that will be the envy of the world. Along with their nuclear program, which is an equally huge source of pride.

The nuclear missiles even made it into the local Cake decorating show, while a guide at the birthplace of Kim Il Sung, the first Leader of North Korea who is worshipped like a god, casually mentioned their successful nuclear program right at the end of her speech extolling the virtues of the Kim family and their leadership. Talk about electrifying! It wasn’t at all what you expect to hear when viewing historical monuments. Yet it’s par for the course here.

Here’s my view of the Pyongyang marathon, viewed from the rear. (I’m not very fit.) This arch is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Our Korean guide took great pride in telling us that it is 16 feet taller than the original. This particular Arch has the date that Kim Il Sung left Korea, vowing never to return until his country was free from Japanese rule, and the date of his return in 1945, when the Soviets installed him as the head of the government.

That last little piece of information isn’t known here. The legend states that he was a guerrilla fighter who, along with his soldiers, fought bravely to succeeded in defeating the Japanese, practically single-handedly. The arch was built for him by a grateful nation, with the Kim legend sculpted all over it.

It’s solid, huge and not to be argued with. How could it be based on falsehood, when it’s so darned substantial?  

Pyongyang, and indeed the whole of the country as far as we could see, is dotted with ultra-large monuments to the regime and the country. This is the Hammer (industry), sickle (farmers), and the pen (students) that make up the fabric of society. The interior is lined with sculptures showing the heroic people and the fatherly figure of Kim Il Sung looking after them all.

Right from when the grandfather, (Kim Il Sung), took the reins of government, then the father, (Kim Jong Il), and now the son, (Kim Jong Un) – they’ve always been incredibly focussed on linking intense patriotism with the mystique of their family branding. This monument is on the Reunification Road, which our guide described as a Roman Road leading from Pyongyang directly to Seoul in South Korea, built so that when the American Aggressors finally leave the south, the two split nations can finally be whole again. ASAP.

This idea of the two nations being wrongly and shamefully split because of American greed is a pervasive one. The North Koreans have been sold this idea since birth and they are totally convinced that every Korean person longs whole-heartedly for reunification, which the Great Leader is, of course, working night and day to achieve. They get emotional when talking of how their country has been ripped in two and they long to be reunited with family members who are currently out-of-reach on the other side of the border. They pay lip-service to the idea that the government would have to be a committee, because “the people in South Korea are used to their way of running things and we have no wish to change ours”, as our North Korean guide said.

By holding the dream so clearly in front of the people and continually telling them that he is working tirelessly to bring it to fruition, the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Un and his government is forever seen as a boon and a blessing by the people. The branding of the Kim family and its leadership is continual and constant.

It’s not just the people in the Kim family who are lauded and féted at every opportunity – it’s their philosophies and ideas that are sold to the people as well. This is a country convinced that the world banded together to crush them in the Korean War and it was only by the wisdom and bravery of their leader that they managed to survive. Here is the Juche Tower, built in the centre of Pyongyang, with the red flame always lit up at night so the light of Juche is always shining for the people.

Juche is basically a philosophy built around self-reliance, where you don’t ask for help and you solve all problems yourself. On the face of it, it sounds quite admirable, with images of independence, a strong backbone and a willingness to search for ways to solve things instead of weakly relying on someone else. However, for a leader of a hermit kingdom who definitely doesn’t want his people to be looking outside the borders for fresh ideas and help for any problems, this philosophy is ideal. 

Juche ideals are threaded throughout the culture, with pop songs being sung about it, with books and newspaper articles extolling its virtues and references to it being made in every speech and concert broadcast in the country. A huge proportion of the university courses that are offered to workers are about Juche and the Leaders’ lives and the classes are (I’m told) learned by rote and the students memorise them.

Consumer goods and having the latest gadget is definitely not a ‘thing’ here. Immense pride in their country, their leader and their way of life most certainly is. They are convinced that their standard of living and their way of life is equal to, if not better than, the rest of the world. That’s some pretty efficient advertising right there…

And here is where the narrow focus of the regime on selling themselves comes to the ultimate fruition – here is Kumsusan Palace of the Sun – the most sacred place in all of North Korea, according to our guides. I wrote about it in more detail here, but in brief, this sprawling complex houses the embalmed bodies of the two deceased leaders.

It’s a Very Big Thing for a North Korean to be given permission to come here, with our guide telling us that before she got this job, she’d only been here once, when she turned 16. And this is from one of the privileged people who are able to live in Pyongyang, where her family has presumably succeeded in pleasing the regime for the last 3 or 4 generations. It’s truly a rite of passage for the people to be able to come here.

No cameras. No unseemly behaviour. Tall, serious soldiers everywhere. Passages and halls over a mile long, which are serviced by travellators. The dress code is strict and inflexible. Oliver from our group had to borrow a pair of trousers from another guy, otherwise he wouldn’t have been allowed in. I forgot to pack my black dress shoes and, thankfully, realised in time and raced out to buy a replacement pair in Beijing.

Reports vary about the amount of money spent to turn this place from a residence for Kim Il Sung into his mausoleum, with reports ranging from 100 million dollars to 900 million, if you can believe a sum so astronomical. There are chandeliers, marble walls and floors and ceilings that are at least 15 feet high. Priceless artefacts are everywhere, along with immense statues that we were expected to bow to.

This place is a shrine. If you, as a citizen, are permitted to come here, you are deeply honoured. It’s a triumph of form over substance. It’s where I, as an outsider, could clearly see the successful use of the Kim family’s branding and selling of itself as the saviour of the people.

The people who were queuing up to view the embalmed bodies of the Kims were not fearful or forced to be there, as you’d expect if they were scared to be sent to a re-education camp or something. They were deeply and genuinely reverential, convinced that they are the most fortunate people in the world to have such leaders.

Here in the West, we’re bombarded by advertising from all directions. We have the internet, spouting what are supposed to be new ideas but is, in reality, becoming more of an echo chamber each day. We have commercials on tv, radio, Youtube, Facebook, in the movies, on top of buildings and along our roads and railway lines. We’re awash with it all, to the point where we’re blasé about the whole thing.

However, in North Korea, the advertising is narrow, focussed with a laser-like intensity on one thing. Keeping Kim Jong Un in power. It was truly fascinating to watch the power of advertising techniques being used in such a different way than we’re used to. The item they’re being sold is very different to what we’re used to seeing, but the psychological tricks and methods they use are pretty much just the same as ours. People are people.

One day the regime will fall and the borders will open and the way of life in the DPRK will change forever. Until that happens, the 25 million people who live in the bubble of isolation that is life in North Korea will continue to believe the message that is sold to them. Why wouldn’t they? Apparently, they’re the most fortunate people in the world…

I hope you enjoyed this little window into North Korea. Previous posts in this series:

Advertising  – North Korean style (1): Where the Leaders are Larger than Life.

Advertising – North Korean Style (2): Where a Picture Says a Thousand Words.

Advertising – North Korean Style (3): Teach the Children Well.

I blogged extensively about my trip on my personal blog, Dancing With Frogs. I took over 3,000 photos while I was there, so it took me around 5 months to slowly work my way through them all and blog about each day.

Here is the first day of the North Korean leg of the trip. This post has all the rules and regulations that we needed to be aware of before we set foot in the country. If you’re really interested, you can simply sit down with a cuppa and scroll your way through the posts and experience the trip as I did. It was a fascinating trip and SO MUCH FUN!

Well, being alone and lost in the forest near an army camp and (what I later found out once I was back in Australia) about 20kms from a Detention Camp mightn’t have been fun, but it was certainly interesting. So was our 6-star hotel in the middle of nowhere.

Running a marathon was never on my Bucket List, but I’ve done it now. Well.. sort of…

Going to the DMZ was absolutely not what any of us expected, thanks to the Gift Shop.

Mingling with the locals? Don’t mind if I do. Dancing with them to celebrate a birthday? Why not?  Who wants to eat a meal cooked with petrol? Mmmm… how could you not? It was delicious, and only a little smelly…

Anyway, those links are just a sample, if you’re at all interested. It was a trip to remember!

 

 

 

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