Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Completed House Sits: Sebastopol, CA – February 21st to April 26th, 2017

Each time Mark and I complete a house sit (or a few weeks later :-)), I write a little overview of our experiences. Our conclusions of previous sits in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and California can be read here. I am almost a month late with this one – blame the extremely busy times we have had on the East Coast visiting friends, family, doctors and dealing with a bunch of unexpected developments in combination with our usual jobs – but I think most of you will still remember sweet Lola from Sebastopol!

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Ironies of Life – The US Driver’s License

When Mark and I were cruising full-time on our 35’ catamaran Irie, we made yearly visits to Massachusetts for family and health reasons. Mark was usually the designated driver in his mom’s SUV. For short stints, I would drive, either to get to an appointment myself or to help his mom out. As a visitor to the US, my Belgian driver’s license was sufficient. I did purchase an international driver’s license eventually, only to learn that is doesn’t mean anything. It must be used in combination with a valid license of one’s home country and its main goal is to offer a translation in different languages, like English, which is not one of my native tongues. I happily handed the car keys to Mark in any situation, because, frankly, I hate driving in the US, especially on highways. Particularly driving into Boston is a major hassle, full of annoyances and crazy drivers.

My Belgian driver’s license from 1997

In 2015, we “moved” to the States, bought a Toyota Prius and started a lifestyle as house and pet sitters. Now, we were part of the system and part of the road gang. For the first time in my life, I experienced a prolonged feeling of anxiety and distrust. I’d cross an ocean any time. We were never scared or in danger on the Pacific, but on a US highway… I often fear for our lives. Drivers in general are unpredictable, easily distracted (by their phone or other activities), oblivious to their surroundings, and rarely follow the rules – if they even realize or remember these rules. Contrary to Belgian road etiquette, drivers here don’t like to move over to the right lane of freeways, but happily crawl along in the middle lanes. Tailgaters don’t have the patience to let you get out of the way safely. Cars pass anywhere, on any side, at any time. Drivers are often unaware of bikes and pedestrians in towns. And, did you know that indicating is optional? At least, that’s what it looks like when cars enter the highway, change lanes, turn corners or pull into parking spots. Especially as a pedestrian, this can be deceiving and dangerous.

Driving Carol’s SUV

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Monthly Expenses – April 2017

Expenses - image

Every month, I post a report of our expenses to show that it is possible to live a comfortable, exciting and relatively adventurous life without being rich. Or even without owning/earning a lot of money. That being said, Mark and I seem to manage one big expense a month for some reason, whether it is car, plane, travel or computer-related. Luckily, we live totally rent-free, wherever we end up. 🙂

This report includes ALL of our expenses, in US$, for the two of us. Under groceries we incorporate all the food, produce and non-alcoholic drinks (100% orange juice, oat milk for Mark and organic 2% milk for me) predominantly bought in supermarkets. Toiletries belong in that category as well. Dining out means eating at a restaurant/event or purchasing take-out food. The health category covers non-prescription medicines and Mark's vitamins and supplements; medical contains prescription drugs and doctor's visits. Utilities are always Skype-related, since that is how we make phone calls. 

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care. Mark is still eligible for free health care in the state of Massachusetts as of today. If a non-emergency were to happen outside of that state, it will be expensive! Every six months, we have to fly or drive to the East Coast (where we are a this time) for check-ups. I still pay a small quarterly fee in Belgium for health care (required to keep my citizenship), which I mention in my year report.

Here is an overview of our expenses in April. We managed to stay under $1000, our loose goal, but car expenses were higher than usual, due to maintenance, extra sightseeing and paying up front for my MA driver's license. If I include the money we spent on Tax Day, our total would break all records in the "monthly expense history of Mark and Liesbet" (barring the cost of a sailboat or a camper). Because our income was a bit higher than expected last year (we are self-employed and don't know ahead of time how much money we will generate with sales of The Wirie), we ended up funding the US government much more than usual.

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IWSG Writing Update May 2017 – Expanding Your Horizons

Every first Wednesday of the month, the IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) encourages writers to share their fears, thoughts, progress, struggles, excitement, encouragement or anything really about their writing. A different question is posed each month, as a writing prompt for IWSG members. Answering it is optional. For May, that question is “What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the co-hosts are Michelle Wallace, Nancy Gideon, Tamara Narayan, Feather Stone and Liesbet Collaert. That’s me! 🙂 May is a big month for some of the members, namely the twelve finalists of this year’s IWSG anthology contest. The genre was “fantasy” and the published result, Hero Lost – Mysteries of Death and Life, has just been released on May 2nd. It is available in print and e-book. Congratulations to everyone involved!

My favorite subjects to write about are personal experiences and travel stories. I have had plenty of adventures all over the world, so there is no lack of inspiration and content, the words come easy, and little research is required. I don’t like doing research. Although, with the internet at our fingertips, it sure is much easier than when I was working on high school projects in the early 90s. When I write articles for sailing or travel magazines, I sometimes have to double-check locations and facts online, but that can hardly be called weird or cool.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

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A Day in the Life of a House Sitter – Sebastopol, CA

Mark and I have been living in Sebastopol, California for over two months with precious Lola. As we are packing up and ready to leave the area, I figure it is about time to write a blog about a random day in our lives here as house sitters. I post this feature every time we do a long-term sit, like at the artist-inspired home with parrots and dogs in Kent, CT, the maple farm with Jenny in Heath, MA and our first stay in Northern California, with Herk in the suburbs of Rocklin, CA. And, just for fun, I also wrote about it during our short time in the biggest retirement community of the world, called The Villages, in Florida.

Cozy fire

Our days probably look pretty much the same as other forty-somethings with full-time jobs and no children, except for the fact that we don’t have to commute and we fill gaps, late afternoons, evenings and weekends with doggy love and devotion. 🙂 By now, once we are settled in a new place, our routine is pretty straightforward.

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Two Full Days in Yosemite NP

Yosemite NP is one of the most impressive national parks in the United States, if not the world. Mark and I visited Yosemite Valley once before with my parents, in 2005, but we had mostly forgotten about its allure. That being said, when we returned to California in mid-October, the park regained a spot on our mental “things-to-do” list. We considered a weekend getaway there during our three-month house sit in Rocklin, but winter was upon us and the dog we were taking care of did not get along well with others, so we pushed Yosemite into a corner of our brains. That was until my cousin Griet and her husband Wim decided to fly in from Belgium for a 10-day vacation in Northern California. They generously treated us and Lola to a weekend in Yosemite.

The family at Tunnel View

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A Week of Sightseeing with Visitors – Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco Counties

On March 24th, Mark, Lola and I picked up my cousin Griet and her husband at SFO, the airport of San Francisco. While visiting us many times on Irie, in the Caribbean and the South Pacific (they also helped us transit the Panama Canal in January 2013), it was the first time they came to the United States. Customs and Immigration procedures took a while, as expected, but once we found each other, their 10-day vacation could start…

The heavy rains paused for about an hour and a half, in which we brought them to a viewpoint over San Francisco and to Fort Funston, an awesome off-leash dog park. Lola had been very patient in the car during the two-hour drive in rain and traffic and the one hour wait at the airport. She loved her reward in nature, our guests enjoyed their first impressions of the city and Mark and I appreciated stretching our legs during a break in the rain.

On Saturday, we revisited Armstrong Redwoods, still as impressive as the first time we came with Lola. Continue reading

Monthly Expenses – March 2017

Expenses - image

Every month, I post a report of our expenses to show that it is possible to live a comfortable, exciting and relatively adventurous life without being rich. Or even without owning/earning a lot of money. That being said, Mark and I seem to manage one big expense a month for some reason, whether it is car, plane, travel or computer-related. Luckily, we live totally rent-free, wherever we end up. 🙂

This report includes ALL of our expenses, in US$, for the two of us. Under groceries we incorporate all the food, produce and non-alcoholic drinks (100% orange juice, oat milk for Mark and organic 2% milk for me) predominantly bought in supermarkets. Toiletries belong in that category as well. Dining out means eating at a restaurant/event or purchasing take-out food. The health category covers non-prescription medicines and Mark's vitamins and supplements; medical contains prescription drugs and doctor's visits. Utilities are always Skype-related, since that is how we make phone calls. 

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care. Mark is still eligible for free health care in the state of Massachusetts as of today. If a non-emergency were to happen outside of that state (we are currently in California), it will be expensive for either of us! Every six months, we have to fly or drive to the East Coast for check-ups. I still pay a small three-monthly fee in Belgium for health care (required to keep my citizenship), which I mention in my year report.

Here is an overview of our expenses in March. This month, the car brought us above $1000. The total could have been much higher, but our generous visitors,  my cousin Griet and her husband Wim (regulars on Irie as well) treated us to a wonderful weekend in Yosemite National Park, took us out to dinner and contributed towards wine, fuel and tolls. Thank you, guys!

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IWSG Writing Update – April 2017

Every first Wednesday of the month, the IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) encourages writers to share their fears, thoughts, progress, struggles, excitement, encouragement or anything really about their writing.  Since August 2016, the IWSG offers a particular question as a writing prompt for their members. Answering it is optional. This month that question is “Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?”

Talking about a current topic… The A to Z Blogging Challenge takes place every April. Last year, I did participate for the first time and succeeded in the challenge. I even picked a theme: “Thoughts on Being a Nomad”. You can read those posts here. After a month of writing and posting every day, the A-Z Challenge finished with a reflection post. I might have mentioned that I started work on a memoir, but I did not promote anything.

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Weekend Adventures in the Area – Sonoma County

Mark and I never go on vacations. We do travel a lot between places with our car, but the last time we had a real holiday together, as in taking a plane to a destination solely for sightseeing or vacationing, was back in… never actually. For me, it must have been when I was still living in Belgium, working as a teacher, before 2003. If you don’t count the city trip I did with my mom to St. Petersburg, Russia a year and a half ago. Yes, we do fly to the East Coast or Belgium once in a while to visit friends and family and we went on a five-day camping trip in 2015, but it is not the same. I hear some of you scoff, when silently mumbling something like “How about those eight years you were sailing in the Caribbean and the South Pacific?” or “What about that yearlong of gallivanting by RV in Central America?” Again: not the same. Leading a certain lifestyle, when working many hours a day at our computers does not equal vacation. 🙂

There are three reasons we never buy a plane ticket to go have fun in a new country. Continue reading

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