North Korea trip.

Here’s a shot for those who believe that tourists in North Korea are kept in a little bubble and that everyone we interact with are actors. That’s an awful lot of actors to hire, just to fool 12 tourists!! There I am, dancing with the locals with my sunglasses on, looking cool. It was so much fun.

I’ve left this site pretty much to itself, but I’ve been blogging about the trip on the other blog. I really want to get this done, so this site has a few tumbleweeds in it at present. I’ll be back!

Day 2 – Beijing.

Day 3: Beijing, Dandong and Pyongyang, North Korea.

Day 4: The Pyongyang Marathon

Day 4, continued. Pyongyang

Day 5 – Pyongyang – The Subway

Day 5, Pyongyang continued. The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Day 5, continued. Monument of the Party Foundation and the Juche Tower.

Day 5, continued. Grand People’s Study House, parks and the Mansudae Grand Monument.

Sorry for the neglect of this blog, but I am but one woman working 14 hour days this week with my school production. Hope you enjoy the travel posts. ūüôā

Edited to add: I’ll be posting about the DMZ on Saturday… I have to get through all the essays that my students keep giving me. ARGH!!



I’m back!

I’ve decided to blog about my trip on my personal blog, so I’ll post a link at the bottom of any posts I do here so that people who want to read about China and North Korea can do so. The photo above was taken at the Massed Dancing in the centre of Pyongyang,¬† just before I put my phone in my pocket and joined in. So much fun!

So far I’ve done one post and it took me 3 hours, so I’m guessing they won’t be coming at breakneck speed, especially¬†considering that I have to wade through 3,200 photos and videos to choose the best ones to share. Don’t believe the stories that you can’t take photos in North Korea!

Here is the first post. 

We did Beijing first and last, with the DPRK as the meat in the sandwich. It was an amazing trip and I hope you’ll join me to see the photos and read about what we experienced. Travelling in North Korea and participating in the Pyongyang marathon is incredibly interesting¬† – lots of fun with an occasional dollop of “OMG – crazy!” to remind you that you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

To all those who voted for my post in the Rockstar Finance competition Рit won!!!! Thank you so much for your support Рit was very exciting to see my little blogpost reach the top of the mountain.


I never thought I’d be flying into THIS country…

PLEASE vote for my blog post in the Rockstar Rumble Grand Final. YES!!! My blog post about showing my boys about compounding interest and superannuation has beaten 126 other bloggers to reach the final round. I’m so excited – it’s the first Grand Final I’ve ever been in. I won’t know the results of the competition for another 3 weeks, because I’m going to a place with absolutely no internet, but don’t let that stop you voting! Please leap across and vote for mine, the keyword is “Mistake’.¬† – I’d really love to take it out.¬† ¬†ūüôā

Rockstar Rumble Grand Final Voting.


It’s been a struggle to reach FI, I won’t lie and pretend otherwise. Actually, it’s only on paper that FI looks as if it’s just about been reached – emotionally I still don’t feel it, so I keep jumping on that early morning train and heading into work each weekday. But what I¬†will concede is that I certainly have more ready cash floating around at the end of the month than I used to have – and that means that I can finally have the freedom to travel.

Three years ago I took a term of Long Service Leave and went on a 9 week trip to the UK and Europe. This was the trip I’d been waiting my whole life to take and I denied myself very little! I bought so many souvenirs that I had to send a large box back to Australia via post because there’s no way I would’ve been able to get all of that baggage into my suitcase. It was a dream holiday and I’ll probably never have its like again.

Fast forward three years and tomorrow I’m off again! The brilliant thing about financial freedom is that when an opportunity opens up, you’re able to take advantage of it.¬† A woman I work with has a son who takes tours into North Korea. She went on a tour with him last year and I thought she was mad. Who in their right mind would take a trip into a country like that?¬† Talk about risky as!!?? She must have been insane!

Then she arrived back safely. She had a group of us around after school and she showed us the 600 photos she had on her phone. Clearly, the things we hear about not being able to take photos isn’t true. She told us that it was just like going back to the 1960’s and that she’d never felt so safe anywhere in the world. This piqued my¬†interest. It’s certainly nothing like the conventional things we hear about the country. When she said, “Frogdancer, if you ever want to go, I’d be happy to go back again”, I started to think about it. It’s an opportunity to see a country that very few people get to see. I have no doubt it’ll open up to the world, just as China has, but for now, it’s a bit of a mystery. I said yes.

My friend wanted to go back in April, to take part in the Pyongyang marathon. She and her husband are doing a 10km run. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that exercise isn’t my strong suit, so I’m WALKING the 3km section. I figure it’ll be a good way to see the city.

Here is the tour I’ll be going on.

Let’s be honest: it’s a slightly scary place to be going to. We have had to sign a declaration saying that we’ll stick with our guides and won’t go wandering off. The tour conditions are very much like the ones tourists in China had to adhere to 20 odd years ago. When we get back to our hotels after dinner, we’re not allowed to leave, though we can wander the grounds. This rule apparently leads to many nights in the hotel bar, with lots of drinking and banter. Shouldn’t be too hard for a group of Aussies to keep up! I’ll have to switch from Shiraz to rice wine for the duration.

The hardest thing so far, for me, was the fact that there’s no ATM access to cash in either country. This means that I had to estimate how much money I’ll be likely to spend, then buy it all before I leave to take with me. How on earth do I know how much I’ll need?!? This has resulted in a sensible trip to buy money, where I had a responsible allocation of Euros and Chinese Yuan. Since then I’ve had 2 panicked trips back, where I was sure I needed more. I’m probably taking far more cash than I need, but I figure that it’s better to have too much than not enough. I’d better not get mugged though!

This will definitely be different to any other holiday I’m likely to ever take. This is a tour where we’re basically put in front of various things and given the party line. To counter this, I’ve been reading up on Twentieth Century Nth Korean history, both military and political; personal accounts and interviews from people who’ve escaped, and I’ve been watching every documentary I can lay my hands on. Scared myself silly a few times, to be honest. But I wanted to know the other side of the story while I was listening to them. Seems the sensible thing to do. And I always like to do the sensible thing…

So please vote for my post in the Rockstar Rumble. It’s been a hard-fought battle all the way through and I really want to win. This competition’s been going for weeks! I’m proud of my post and the idea I had to educate my boys and I’d love to be able to see it through till the end.

And there’ll be no more posts until I arrive home on April 21.¬† It’ll be interesting to see the comparisons between our dreams of FI/RE and how people live in a vastly different society. I have a feeling I’ll be very glad to get back home.



Freedom beckons…

Oh thank goodness! Term 1 finishes today, (oh happy day!), and I marked the last essay from my year 9 class yesterday. I’ve cleared the decks of all the corrections and I can leave for my overseas holiday with nothing at work to mop up before I go. I’m taking an extra week so it’ll be 3 glorious weeks of freedom before I come back. Whoopee!

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the school’s lecture theatre watching two year 12 kids trying to learn to waltz. It’s part of a dream sequence in the play we’re putting on – ‘Jasper Jones’. It’s the first rehearsal of this scene and they’re stressing about stepping and counting and turning. The boy playing Charlie looks a little like an adolescent giraffe, all arms, legs and elbows, while our ‘Eliza’ has a look of fierce determination on her face as another student counts, “Step 2, 3… turn 2, 3…¬† step 2, 3…”

Learning a new skill is always hard at the start, but I know that by the time May 2nd, 3rd and 4th come along, they’ll be floating, seemingly effortlessly, around the stage.

As I was watching them I was thinking about writing something for this blog and it occurred to me that learning how to get control of your finances is a bit like learning how to dance. At first it all seems really hard. You step on your partner’s toes, you misstep, then start to move smoothly, then stumble again…

Once you have control of your budget and you become debt-free, it’s all smooth sailing. Then you realise you have to learn about investing. You discover the world of FI/RE and all of a sudden it’s like learning the tango. It’s a whole new dance. All those scary numerals!¬† The new terms and acronyms! Argh! What’s an ETF? A CAGR? ROI, IPO and a REIT? Why are they important and why should I care?

I’m sure some people take to this like a duck to water, but personally, I found it hard. I’ve spent a lifetime actively avoiding anything to do with Mathematics and there are far too many numerals involved with investing for me to be comfortable with it. As it is, it’s taken me around 5 years to become what I’d call a moderately educated investor. Anything too spreadsheet-y and I still mentally run screaming for the hills, but I’ve reached the stage where I’m now gritting my teeth and slowly chipping away at it.

By the end of the rehearsal ‘Charlie’ and ‘Eliza’ were waltzing around the stage in each other’s arms, still stumbling occasionally but for most of the time, they were in step with each other and in time to Doris Day’s singing. I smiled as I looked at them and at the other student who was still counting time, “Step, two three; Step, two three!”

It’s a work in progress but I know we’ll all get there in the end.


The small things. Plus a plea for your help! :)

I’m still knee-deep in corrections before the end of term. It seems that as soon as I mark a class’s essays or tests and hand them back to the kids, then another lot of essays gets written and handed in. It’s a never-ending task. I don’t mind the creative/personal reflective pieces so much, but I have 28 kids in each of¬†my¬†year¬†9 classes. That’s a lot of formal text response essays about ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ that I have to wade through before I leave for my holidays.

It’s these sorts of things that make FIRE seem very attractive.

But then I have a day like yesterday. It was a sparkling autumn day in Melbourne and I¬†jumped on the train with my year 12 Theatre Studies class and we went to the city to see the best of last year’s cohort perform their monologues.

The performance was at the Arts Centre, which is just on the other side of the Yarra River. We arrived at the station, I gave them 45 minutes to grab some lunch and to meet me down by the river, and they set off. When we all met back up, food in hand, we sat by the river and talked, sang songs, (well, they ARE Theatre kids!) and we got to know each other a little better. I’ve taught most of them for English or Drama when they were younger, but the relationship you have with year 12s is a lot different to when they are in the junior forms.

When we had half an hour to go, we wandered across the road to the Arts Centre and settled in. This year’s monologues were fantastic and we all had a great time watching them. Some of my kids saw kids from other schools that they knew, which was nice, including one fairly good-looking boy that apparently one of my girls has had a mad crush on for ages.¬†She turned tomato-red when she realised I’d overheard what she was saying. The other kids cackled like loons.

We all caught the same train carriage back and I sat amongst them and we “did chatting”, as Christopher from ‘Curious Incident’ would say. As the train pulled in to our station nearly all of them got off, calling out, “See you tomorrow, Ms Frogdancer!” and “Seeya, Miss!” One girl still had another 2 stations before her stop so we talked about the performances, then she got off and I was able to pull out my headphones and settle back into my podcast. I’m listening to a true-crime podcast called ‘Casefile’ and I was half-way through the episode about a woman called Katherine Knight from New South Wales. What a nut job. By the time the train reached my station the podcast was finished and I was traumatised¬†by all I’d heard.

Ryan22 cooked dinner, I sat on the couch with the dogs and some shiraz and watched the latest episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ before collapsing into bed.

All in all it was a good day.

Days like yesterday are a timely reminder that you have to enjoy the journey, instead of gritting your teeth and running pell-mell towards the finish line to the exclusion of all else. I learned a long time ago that life is much happier if you stop and notice the little things that make you smile. Yes, I know reaching the big goals is a wonderful thing – but they don’t come along very often. Whereas the little things are around us every day.

For me, teaching is a great job because kids make me laugh every single day. Teenagers are hilarious and they don’t seem to get enough credit for that. My dogs are wonderful. My kids are ok. (LOL) Every day is a good day when you notice the small stuff.


Long term readers of my very short-term (so far) blog would remember the post I did on educating my boys and nieces about compound interest at Christmas time. Soon after I wrote it I entered it into a blog tournament run by Rockstar Finance. So far it’s done very well… we’re now in round 5.

However, voting is really tight this time and I’m getting nervous. In the first round of the competition I was up against one of the biggest bloggers in the FIRE world. There’s no way I thought I would get past her… but I did. (OMG) Since then, as round after round has happened and my post about kids, compound interest and superannuation kept winning, I started to wonder. Could my post actually do it?? To be honest, I’d love it if a female Aussie blogger in her 50’s managed to take it out. Plus my slightly competitive streak has kicked in…

Please go and have a look at the contest. I’m in Game 2, voting keyword ‘Mistake’.

Grab a shiraz or a cuppa, depending on which time of the day you’re in, and have a read through the entries. Hopefully, you’ll prefer mine and will toss a vote my way.

Here’s the link.

Thanks.   (EDITED TO ADD: My blog post lives to fight another day! Only 2 rounds to go. Does that mean I just won a quarter final?)

A small freedom in retirement that I hadn’t considered.

(This is NOT a photo of Ms Frogdancer in action.)

I’m a secondary teacher in the English and Theatre Studies departments, with classes in years 7, 8, 9 and 12.When people ask me what I do, I sometimes say that I work with the hormonally challenged in our society which, when you look at a class full of 15-year-olds, is a pretty accurate way of describing them.

Teaching is very much an immediate, be-on-your-game-at all-times job. If you wanted to skate through a day, barely putting in any effort and just doing the bare minimum, you’d do so at your peril.¬† Those kids can smell weakness at a hundred paces and they hunt as a pack. When the bell rings at the start of the day, you have to be at the classroom, unlocking the door, right on time. All throughout the day, if you’re timetabled on for a class, you can’t be late. If you forget an item that you need to teach, you can’t leave the room to go and get it. You have to send a kid to pick it up for you. You are there, in front of those kids, for the 48 minutes that the class lasts for.

Having said all that, I have to say that¬†I love my¬†job. Teenagers are often hilarious, sometimes thoughtful and are rarely boring. I laugh huge belly-laughs every day when I’m at work and I love how every day is different. However, it’s a tiring job. When you’re timetabled on, you’re ON. You have to be passionate about your subject and you have to hold the kids’ interest, otherwise you lose them. This means that most classes are high-octane, get-in-there-and-razzle-dazzle-’em and have fun sessions. Well, at least the way I teach. I figure that if I’m bored, they’ll be bored so I like to keep things moving and for classes to be varied. So for 48 minutes at a time, (or 96 if it’s a double), teachers are trapped in their classrooms in front of their classes, waving their whiteboard markers around like wands, using their interactive whiteboards to show documentaries and to annotate documents, all while monitoring what the kids have on their computers and turning off their¬†games and shopping sites using a program on our own computers like absolute troupers.

A couple of days ago Deb, a retired teacher, came back to school to get some papers for her passport signed for a trip she and her husband were planning. She arrived just before recess. I had that period off so we had a bit of a chat, then the bell went and people started coming back into the staff room after class. 

Harriet, the woman Deb needed for the papers, came back, saw Deb and dumped her books on her desk.

“Hi Deb,” she said. “I’ll sign those papers in just a second, but I’ve been teaching all morning and I’m BUSTING to go to the loo.”

Deb laughed. “Oh, I remember those days!” she said.

I blinked. OMG.

Retirement means that your toilet breaks fall when you actually need to go, not when the clock says you can. When you’re a teacher you can only go to the bathroom before school, at recess, lunch or after school. If you neglect to go then, you just have to cross your legs and pray for the bell to arrive. No way¬†can you leave a class to go for a tinkle.

I’ve imagined many things about retirement. The travel, the sleeping in past 5:30am, the ability to go out for lunch/walk the dogs/see my friends whenever I want. But being able to pee when I want?!?

Imagine the freedom…

“If the plan is to have no money, you’re doing f***ing awesome at it!”

The title is a quote from this clip. This is so true. Our actions speak louder than our words. I particularly like what he says about following the plan, towards the end of the clip. Plus there’s the wonderful Scottish accent – what is it about UK accents?!? I’m an absolute sucker for them. This made me think of a conversation I had a week or so ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I have a very dear friend who, along with her husband, lurches from one financial disaster after another as time goes on. I’ve known them for 20 years and in that time they’ve lost jobs with no Emergency Fund behind them; had cars written off with no insurance; a mortgage that after 25 years of payments is still owed exactly as much as they originally borrowed due to frequent equity withdrawals; bills/rates/mortgage repayments being ignored until they get chased by the company concerned and a huge bill being owed to the tax department. They own a small business and have not paid themselves superannuation and so they look¬†to be relying on the age pension to support them when they reach retirement age. Financially, they’re a trainwreck. Personally, they’re fun, lovely people and I love them both dearly.

A week or so ago, after the last financial disaster struck, we had a phone conversation. Her husband was pulled up by the police for a random breath test, (no, he wasn’t drink driving!!), and the police discovered that his car registration was 3 months overdue. Instant confiscation of his car = no way to get to work.

She was livid. Even a week after it happened, she was practically incandescent with rage on the phone to me. Which, on the face of it, I can well understand. Who doesn’t pay their rego? It’s¬†obvious that bad things are going to happen if you ignore your¬†bills. I was really sympathetic… until it suddenly occurred to me… this has been happening to them for over 20 years. Why is he still entrusted with taking care of the bills?

My mind flashed back. Every so often we have this conversation and it’s always the same. Everything appears to be going along ok and then an unpaid bill/mortgage payment/a.t.o payment surfaces and reveals that things are NOT ok. All hell breaks loose, they scramble to find the money to get back on an even keel, then life goes on ok until… etc etc.

When I gently suggested that maybe she should take control of the family finances, she groaned. You could almost hear the eye rolling.

“Yeah, I suppose I should,” she said. “But it’s so¬†boring.¬†I hate that stuff.”

I didn’t say anything else. What would be the point? It really hurts to see them in this loop of financial drama upon financial drama, but it’s not my place to wag the finger at them. They’re adults and they’re not stupid. They know what they should be doing; it’s not rocket science. They’re simply choosing another plan, for whatever reasons. And so far, I guess the plan is working for them, despite what she says.

I hope that when the plan ceases to work, they’ll come and have a chat. I certainly won’t have all the answers, but I’ve picked up a bit about how to get a stranglehold on my finances and wrestle them under my control. Until then, all I can do is lend an ear, love them both and keep my mouth shut.