Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Have some fun during lockdown!

Pic of a red and orange fake flower
A fake flower from North Korea.

Melbourne is a few days into our second week of stage 4 lockdown – only 4 more weeks to go, baby! We can only have 1 person leave the house to shop for groceries a day; we must wear a mask at all times outside the home; you can only move around within a 5km bubble from your home – (pity half of mine is taken up by Port Phillip Bay!), and there are only 4 valid reasons to leave your home anyway. But there are still ways to have some fun with other people during lockdown.

Personally, being a bit of a home-body hermit, lockdown is going along swimmingly. Ryan25, my third son, is a quiet introvert and David26 is spending the week at his girlfriend’s place, so the house is chill and groovy. But not everyone in my world is taking it so well.

Some of my students aren’t enthused at having to endure another round of remote learning. The extroverts are struggling and some have distractions at home, such as little brothers and sisters. One of my kids, Joy, has a 3-year-old sister who insists on coming to every English class after I said she was very cute, which on reflection was probably a mistake on my part. Remote learning is harder for some kids, so I’m trying a few things to keep them engaged.

See the photo at the top? This was what greeted my year 7 classes today as they logged into our Google Meet. At our school we have to start each scheduled period with a Meet. We mark the roll, set up the lesson etc before we set them loose to do the work. Each teacher stays on the Meet (camera and mike muted) so that any kid who needs help with the lesson can pop back and ask a question.

I’ve decided to begin each Meet with something different. It only lasts about 2 minutes, so the kids are learning quickly that they don’t want to be late for English or they’ll miss it. (This means I can mark the roll quickly – heh heh heh.)

They logged on. I waited until about half the class was there, then I joined the meet. I could hear their comments as they looked at the image. “What IS that?” “It’s either a flower or a fruit.” “I can’t tell what it is…”

Then I sat down and said, “Hey everyone. This is a flower I stole from a restaurant in North Korea.” Their eyeballs bulged. I haven’t told them that I went there a couple of years ago. “Want to know the story?”

So I described to them how restaurants in North Korea look – wedding reception rooms planned by people with flamboyant taste and a penchant for disco balls, artificial flowers in arches and painted backdrops of improbable scenes – and then told them how one night, as we were leaving a restaurant after dinner, my Irish friend James grabbed a flower off the big table at the front of the room, shoved it into my hands and said, “Take it Frogdancer! Go! Go! GO!”

As we raced down 3 flights of stairs, him giggling like a child and me fearing at every step to feel a heavy hand on my shoulder, hauling me away to a North Korea gulag, I knew that ‘d never forget that moment. It was so out of character for me – I’m a bit of a rule-follower – but hey. I have a good story and a fake flower to entertain my students with.

Wait until they see the propaganda postcards in a future Meet!


Of course I use the dogs too. One lesson last week, the kids joined the meet to “discover” me reading the novel we’re studying to the dogs. Before I turned around to see them, I said, “I have to stop reading to you soon. My next class is a group of the ugliest children I’ve ever seen and I have to get ready to… OH! Hello!! Oops, is my microphone on? ” as they giggled in the background.

Once, by pure chance, I caught the best moment. Jeffrey was asleep on the back of the couch. I had the camera trained on him and then, just as I was going to grab my laptop and start talking to the kids, Scout jumped up beside him and Jeff fell off the couch and disappeared on the seat below. You should have heard the kids! Especially when Jeff’s puzzled face rose up over the top of the couch while Scout was prancing and wagging her tail.

This is all silly stuff, but it brings an element of fun into what is a stressful time for some.

It’s not just kids who are feeling it. I check in with my parents once a day (usually) and the last couple of phone calls Dad has been a bit flat. They’re in their 80’s, which is the group that are dropping like flies, so he and Mum are strictly following the guidelines. When I asked how their day has been, Dad sighed and said, “Fine. I mean, nothing actually happens. We watch a bit of Netflix, someone might call and we have a chat, your mother and I might go for a walk, but that’s about it.”

This got me thinking and I came up with a cunning plan. I rang the boys and we’re all into it.

At random times, but at least once a week from each of us, we’re going to send them something in the mail. I don’t want it to be every day, because that would quickly become routine, but every couple of days or so, there’ll be a little snippet in the mail to make that day a bit different.

I kicked it off with the magnificent drawing you see above. Mum loves going on walks, Dad hates them but since her fall he has to go with her. The picture is entitled “Mummy and Daddy going on a walk” and she has a big smile while he looks grumpy. (The orange thing is his moustache, by the way.)

I posted it to them yesterday. On the back of the envelope I didn’t write my address, just “I hope this is good enough to go on the fridge.” Mum is an artist, so she’ll probably get the shivers at how bad it is, but I think they’ll still get a smile from it.

I’m thinking I could send them some seeds to plant, more drawings, a poem or song lyrics – any more ideas, just stick them in the comments. I’ll be grateful. I’m hoping that it’ll be fun for them to receive the mail, but it’s also fun for us to think up silly little things to send them. It keeps the brain moving.

Patchwork pic of a dachshund.
Dog #1. Fourteen more to go!

On Monday, I had a brainwave.

It doesn’t happen often, so allow me to enjoy the moment.

I was showing the year 7s the patchwork dachshunds I’m making for a quilt for Ryan25. I figured, they’re kids, they’d like cute things. Then I suddenly thought of how quickly time passes when you’re in ‘the zone’ creating things. I know for me, when I’m making these dogs, 2 hours passes in a flash and I don’t give a thought to covid, lockdown or anything serious. It’s a total break from the world.

Maybe some of these kids would find the same?

I talked to them about creativity. How it’s an innate part of the human condition to find pleasure in creating something that has never existed before. How satisfying it is to put an image on a blank sheet of paper, to write a song that fills a silent space, to knit a beanie from what’s essentially just two bits of twig and some string.

I asked them to think about what they might create during the lockdown. Not something like playing a computer game to the finish, because that’s intangible. What could they create that they could actually hold in their hands? That they could point to, long after the pandemic has gone and say, “I made that during the second lockdown in 2020.”

Some of them looked bewildered. Some started asking questions about what qualified. And some looked thoughtful.

We have a catch-up lesson scheduled for Friday. If kids have finished all their work, we log on for a Google Meet and then they’re directed to do wide reading. But I’ve said to my classes – “Make sure you get ALL your work finished. Then after I call the roll on Friday, let’s have a show and tell of what you’ve been creating. I’d love it if someone waved a knitting needle with a few lines of knitting on it, or a half-finished drawing of your radiantly beautiful English teacher. Maybe you’ve baked a loaf of bread, (Amit danced around excitedly at that), or you’ve planted some seeds.”

I paused.

“This is NOT compulsory. I’m not your Art teacher. I can’t say, “Be creative. NOW!” But I want you to have a think about what you could possible do. Lockdown is hard. Making something from your hands makes tha time go by so much faster.”

One little boy asked, “But do we have to do it?” As he asked that I saw a mum in the background of another kid.

I saw her laugh as I said, “Did you hear what I just said??? NO. You don’t have to do it. But humans make things. I’m asking you to practice being a human.”

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. My goal isn’t for 28/28 kids…. actually that’s 56/56 kids (I have 2 classes)… to all magically develop a hobby to sustain them during these long lockdown days. This won’t grab everyone.

I’m aiming for a few.

56 kids is a fairly big sample. There’ll be a few who’ll think about what I’ve said and will cast around for something to show. Some of them will already be creating – I had a convo after the Meet with a couple of boys who wanted to show me their artwork and it was AMAZING – but others will try something they haven’t done before.

Others will come along to the Meets on Friday and maybe see something that someone else has done and be inspired. I don’t know.

But just think.

How cool would it be if even a couple of kids created something in the pandemic that they were proud of? Something that would never have existed if we weren’t in this situation?

How cooler would it be if someone discovered a talent, or started a hobby that they kept on doing even when the doors open after lockdown?

Again… I don’t know. But it’s going to be fun to find out.

Janis from 'Friends'.


  1. Steveark

    Bizarre, We’ve been on one thousand and two thousand mile road trips recently. We don’t know anyone who has gotten sick. We play tennis and run with our running group daily. We fish the area lakes. Basically our lives are unchanged by this minor inconvenience. It’s just not much of a thing here. It is strange to read how big this thing seems to be to city people.

    • FrogdancerJones

      My parents’ next-door neighbour’s sister died.
      There’s a reason my folks are taking this seriously.

  2. Maureen

    What a sweet idea to send your parents a bit of interest now and then! I’m thinking some little flowers from your garden pressed into a mini arrangement on paper. Or if you need to blow off steam, pounded flowers is a thing,
    Glad you are making the most of the lock down. We are doing our best to avoid another here in New York – thankfully we have a sane and reasonable governor!

    • FrogdancerJones

      Good luck.
      That virus is a sneaky devil – look at what’s happening in New Zealand after 100 virus-free days!

  3. Wendy

    Maybe write them a poem? I wrote one for my parents many many years ago, and I know it was treasured. Now the original copy is back in my hands, and I treasure it.

    • FrogdancerJones

      That’s a lovely story. I wrote them a limerick today and posted it off.
      Dad’s partial to a limerick.

  4. Kathy Aylward

    Are you able to go online to Harvey Norman or Kmart or someone that can make a little jigsaw puzzle of a photo you have and then send it to them. You still have 4 weeks to go in lock down so it doesn’t matter if it took 3 weeks for it to get posted to you. That would be fun. Love the sausage dog quilt. My machine is finally serviced and I put my “big patch quilt” top together [see Hopewood Home on IG] – just big patches with lovely fabric. So I’m in the middle of quilting it. I saw you used gloves to move the fabric through which I have never heard of. Where did you buy yours, Spotlight doesn’t sell them.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I found them in Lincraft. SO handy to get a bit more grip on the quilt as you’re manoeuvering it through the machine.
      Just don’t do what I did and sew one to the top of the quilt!!!
      As regards your jigsaw idea – the photo of them in the masks might be a good one. They’d get a laugh out of it anyway!

    • FrogdancerJones

      Just popping back to say that I ordered that jigsaw puzzle. They’ll get it in around 2 weeks.
      Thanks so much for that suggestion!!

      • Kathy

        Oh excellent the puzzle will be a fun thing for them. I remember you sewing your glove onto the quilt…I’ll have to see where Lincraft is more Spotlights here in Brisbane than Lincraft. Kathy

  5. Ginger Megs

    I miss seeing my grandkids (boy7, girl4) so I send them little greeting cards in the post. I bought a stack from a cheapie shop just before lockdown #1, and write fart jokes and silly stuff. This time I’m also sending those Coles Little Treehouse books. They love getting stuff addressed to them individually that only they are allowed to open. The payoff for me is they send me video messages of them reading out the fart jokes – it’s magic to this granny 🙂

    • FrogdancerJones

      That sounds great!
      Mum and Dad have only received the drawing through the mail. Yesterday I had to buy their groceries for them – Tom28’s car died so he couldn’t – so I got Ryan25 to write a note about a childhood memory with his gran and I hid it in their shopping.
      He and his Gran had a lovely phone call after she discovered it. 🙂

  6. Karen

    Your teaching ideas are inspiring to me, thanks for sharing. My nephew has started a Family newsletter with everyone/anyone contributing silly stories, recipes, photos, memories, puzzles, it has been fun contributing and then reading it, perhaps your boys and others could put something together you could send to your folks and get them to contribute as well.

  7. Deepa

    “Yes… It’s a tough time for everyone.”
    But adding flowers always helps you to Boost your mood & brighten your day.
    You can Bring joy & happiness to your home in the form of fresh beautiful flowers.The study shows if flowers are around…You feel more focused, energized & cheerful..!!
    You can order flowers in Melbourne for your close and loved one living there and keep them happy every day.. 🙂

    • FrogdancerJones

      Just in case anyone else is looking to brighten someone’s day!

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