Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

The Act of Swapping Coasts (in the US)

I wake with a start. Natural light enters the bedroom. Something is terribly wrong. I fumble to look for the time. “Oh no, it’s 7:45. My plane leaves in 30 minutes. There is no way I can make it!” This is my worst nightmare.

I wake with a start. It is pitch black in the room. We never close the shades. I relax the smallest bit. It is supposed to still be dark when I need to get up, but also when I need to leave. I fumble, grab my glasses and flip the lid of my iPad. It is 4am. I sigh. Plenty of time. The dogs stir against my body. I double-check the alarm setting: 5:30am. I double-check the volume: all the way up. I only have one alarm without Mark by my side. I asked him to call me on Skype at 9am EST (6am my time), in case I overslept. Of course, my iPad is on “sleep mode” whenever I am, so someone trying to reach me will be useless.

There is no way I can fall asleep again after that dream. Around 5am, I do doze off. Wait, was that a plane flying over the house? They usually don’t start until 6:30! Oh no. Maybe it was one landing? Or, a delayed departure from last night? I am wide awake now. 5:20am. I might as well get up. I send a quick email to Mark – I’m up! Don’t worry about calling me. – and to the home owner’s mother. She requested the contact info of the helpful guy – a friend of the owner – who will take over our house sitting duties for two weeks. Time to get ready! I have 45 minutes, so don’t have to rush. Sandwiches were made and put in the fridge last night; plenty of snacks are packed. After the “blizzard of the century” in New England yesterday, I am prepared for the worst. With record low temperatures, massive snowfall, and heavy wind gusts in Boston, I expect delays getting there.

My last shower without the heat on. I eat breakfast, do the dishes and call Elvis and Frida. They are not used to getting up this early and lay together, huddled under the bed covers. They have moved from their previous spot to where I slept. Warm and cozy. I wake them and feed them. “Come on, buddy.” I try not to lose my patience. Usually, Elvis gobbles his medicines up without any issues. The pill is covered with fresh, organic peanut butter.  He manages to spit it out. I smear more peanut butter on it. Nope! I’m running out of time. The third attempt is the charm. Down goes the pill, with more peanut butter. Three servings of peanut butter. He gets away with it!

I brush my teeth, remove our toiletries from the bathroom, wipe everything down, and give the whole house a glance over. All our belongings are contained in the guest room, our bedroom. I drag the dog bed in the kitchen, so Elvis and Frida have access to the doggy door and the yard, and close the doors to the living room and hallway. Dog-proof furniture. “Bye, sweethearts. I’ll miss you, but I will be back.” I hug the two Italian Greyhounds, give them a kiss on their fragile heads, grab my daypack and leave my temporary residence of the last two months. Dawn is breaking as I briskly walk towards Liberty Station. I decided to get to the airport on foot and am loving it. No stress about my ride showing up late. Or never.

Mark and I were scheduled to fly out on the same day, but because his mother was doing worse than expected after her stroke and subsequent surgeries, and because “watching” all the hospital antics, extra procedures, complications and decision-making from afar was terribly frustrating, he changed his plane ticket and left a few days earlier. He took a backpack full of work stuff and our only carry-on bag. I managed to stuff most of my clothes in there with his. Today, I am reaping the benefits of my packing talent. My backpack has a few undies and toiletries, and the rest is filled with food and electronics. Traveling light. I love it!

Like clockwork, one plane after the other catapults into the sky. I hear them before I see them. 6:30am. Every minute, another one departs. Usually, we are still in bed, woken up by the noise and disturbed by the continuous mayhem, right above the roof or the yard. Certain half hours are worse than others. It is part of life in this area of San Diego. Hundreds of iron birds, taking off until 11pm. Every day. They amuse me today, as I make my way to the international airport. Each time a plane lifts off, I am one minute closer to my destination. I feel free. I feel self-reliant. I don’t need much. But, I should have brought my ergonomic pillow. I will miss that. And the dogs. And the pleasant climate. And our lifestyle all together.

The walk takes about 45 minutes, and printing my boarding passes at a United kiosk is a breeze. I even manage to change my seats to emergency exit row ones to have a bit more leg room. Normally, you pay for that, but within a couple of hours of departure, this appears to be free. As I arrive at my gate, a voice sounds over the intercom. “350 dollars. We are up to 350 dollars for anyone who is willing to give up their seat on this flight. We will get you to your destination as soon as possible and you receive a $350 travel voucher.” I am all ears, standing in line for boarding. No takers. “OK, folks. 450 dollars. What a nice Christmas gift, right? 450 dollars if you volunteer your seat to someone else.” I consider it. This would be the perfect time to take the risk and obtain a free return flight to the east coast. We could certainly use it! I only have carry-on luggage. I can tell Mark I’ll arrive later. Nobody is inconvenienced. But, what if all those other flights are delayed and I’m stuck at an airport for the night? Before I can make up my mind, someone else steps up. I guess I’m meant to get on this flight from San Diego to Washington DC. We leave on time.

Never has a plane trip gone this smoothly! I must be extremely lucky. I wander from one gate to the next, glancing at the departure screens. Many flights are delayed or canceled. The boarding process starts soon after I arrive at my gate. I devour one of my sandwiches and pick at a Ziploc bag of peanuts. My leftover pizza slices will have to wait until later. Once again, no delays, and we are scheduled to arrive in Boston ten minutes early. This can’t be true, I think, as I continue reading my book. I hoped to catch up on blog reading and commenting, but there is no internet time to be had. I better enjoy my “down time”, because soon, there will be none of that anymore.

I hold my breath and grab the arm rests of my seat tightly, when the pilot attempts to land in gusty, icy conditions. Lots of turbulence. The plane shakes violently, seconds before hitting the tarmac. The brakes whine, while airborne ice chips and white flurry obstruct my view through the window. The pilot slams on the brakes a bit harder. Passengers simultaneously jerk forward. It is dead quiet in the cabin. When we come to a stop, I swear I can hear a communal sigh of relief. The world outside is white and inhospitable. One stress is immediately replaced by another. Will I be able to make the next shuttle bus, or will I have to wait an extra hour? Mark suggested to pick me up at Boston Airport, but I opted to take the hour-long bus ride. He drives into the city every day to visit his mom at the hospital, so I figured three hours of car time is enough for him. We don’t need to add another two today.

I shouldn’t have worried. Ten minutes after the plane lands, I am standing at what I think is the right door for my scheduled bus. Usually, we wait at the bus stop outside. This appears to be impossible now, based on the mass of passengers gathered inside. I know it is cold out. I checked the forecast. There is nobody to be seen in the icy surroundings, resembling the sidewalk and streets. I give it a try. I last three seconds. A cold blast hits my unprotected face. Tears run down my cheeks and I lose the ability to breath. I’m happy for my dawn coat and fleece hat, but it is my hiking shoes that swiftly guide me back inside.

Big shock! Unfortunately, this is -10 degrees Fahrenheit and not Celsius

I went from 73°F (23°C) to -10°F (-23°C) in one day. I can’t say I like it. But, I don’t trust this is the right place to wait for my bus, so every now and then, I sprint back outside and as quickly back inside. Sorry, people. I’m a weird one! And, I’m not from around here. It is during one of these random checks, that I notice a big bus, its sides all frosty white. What does it say? As I approach the vehicle, I decipher the decals: it is the one bringing passengers to Newburyport, my destination! Soon, I’m back at my New England base, the “room above the garage”. I reunite with my husband and, after a quiet, plane-free night, am ready to shift my focus to full-time care of my parents-in-law.

Have you ever had to drop everything to take care of someone? How did it go?

Expense Report 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 breaking the bank. "The less money you spend, the less you need to make" is my motto. 🙂 2016 was the first full year that Mark and I lived on land as house and pet sitters, which means there is no rent to pay, wherever we end up. You can find my yearly expense overview of 2016 here. What follows is the break-down of how we spent our money in 2017.

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 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.

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care as a permanent resident in the US. 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! For check-ups, we both return to the East Coast. I still pay a small quarterly fee in Belgium for health care (required to retain citizenship), which I mention in my year report. The utility cost refers to fees we paid for Skype, until we changed over to Google voice as our main phone service.

To be quite honest, I am disappointed and somewhat surprised at how much Mark and I spent in 2017. It is similar to our years aboard our sailboat Irie (2007-2015), and we don't even have those expensive boat repairs anymore. But, we bought a camper van this year (its purchase price is the only cost NOT included in this post), and fixing-up, equipping and "feeding" Zesty is not cheap. The car category covers money used for our Prius, which we sold in July, and our camper.

Swapping our Prius for an Airstream Westfalia camper van

All our plane rides from the West Coast to the East Coast and from Massachusetts to Belgium belong in the travel category.

Continue reading

Monthly Expenses – December 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 breaking the bank. The less money you spend, the less you need to make. 🙂 That being said, Mark and I seem to manage one big expense a month for some reason, whether it is camper, 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 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.

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care as a permanent resident in the US. 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! For check-ups, we both return to the East Coast. I still pay a small quarterly fee in Belgium for health care (required to retain citizenship), which I mention in my year report.

The expense categories that "hurt" us the most in December were our camper (car), gifts, and dining out. The mechanic in Northern California who "solved" the most urgent issues when we first bought Zesty in July, did not do a good job with the transmission service, so we needed to get the fluid drained and refilled again, and a plug replaced. Not cheap. Our goal to only spend $25 a month on diesel while in San Diego failed, because we decided to drive all the way to the desert (Joshua Tree National Park) and back for the New Year's weekend.

Congratulations, Amy!

As far as dining out goes, we wanted to treat a friend to dinner to celebrate her graduation as a zoologist. And, in regards to that gift category, well... it was the holiday season. We bought personalized photo calendars for family members and a shiny, ultra-modern, multiple-use radio/GPS system for the camper. So, while we went "way" over budget, it was all money well spent! 🙂

Mark's - I mean, Zesty's - new toy...

Continue reading

Roaming About in 2017 – Our Year in Review

The end of the year is a good time for reflection. In the past, Mark and I would do so by recalling the islands visited, the people met, or the countries explored. The last two years, we look back at the house sits we fulfilled; new places we discovered in the US and animals we took care of. To give this review of 2017 a bit more depth, I am combining Donna’s and Peta’s idea of breaking the post down in months and Janis’ end-of-the-year focus by incorporating what I am grateful for.

January 2017 – Hospitality of others

In the beginning of the year, Mark and I finished a three-month dog sit with Herk in the Sacramento area, California. After that, we faced a short gap between house sits. Thanks to the home owner, who let us stay a few extra days, and a blogging friend offering up her guest room, we did not become homeless. Friends happily hosted us at other times during the month as well, keeping our accommodation free. During our 2+ years of house and pet sitting, Mark and I never paid for a hotel room.

February 2017 – The warmth of Southern California Continue reading

IWSG Writing Update January 2018 – New Intentions

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 January, the question is “What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?”

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the co-hosts are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor,Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria. Feel free to swing by their sites and see what they are up to.

My answer to the question

I haven’t taken any steps, made any resolutions or put any writing goals in place yet. As a matter of fact, I have barely been able to think about the end of 2017 and new beginnings in 2018. I am way behind with my blogs, emails and any other writing, but as January unfolds, I hope to get going again. If circumstances allow.

Work in progress

The IWSG question of this month “forces” me to think about what I want to achieve, realistically, in the new year. Ideally, I write every morning in my memoir – the second draft that is – and save all other work, tasks and chores for the afternoons. In the past, this has been tough, so I assume I will need to readjust my focus. Sternly. I do hope to finish my memoir and, if at all possible, publish it in 2018. It is now or never!

Continue reading

Christmas Time is upon Us Once More

When I grew up in Belgium, New Year’s Day was more important than Christmas. Yes, we had a live Christmas tree with colorful balls and twinkling lights in the living room, but the presents underneath would be distributed on the first day of the new year. On Christmas Eve, my brother and I would have a quiet dinner at home with my parents. Sometimes, my dear oma would join us. My dad retrieved the “gourmet set” from the cellar and my mom picked up trays of bite-sized, raw meat and vegetables (and not to forget, pancake dough) at the butcher. For hours, we would each cook our own dinner in tiny pans and on top of the “communal” electric grill plate in the middle of the table. This food experience was called “gourmetten”. We all loved it and finished the meal off with mini-crepes. Then, we would play board games until bedtime. Continue reading

Things to See and Do in San Diego, California

When Mark and I started our current three-month house sit in San Diego, we knew we couldn’t go on weekend trips with our camper van like other times. Frida and Elvis, the two Italian Greyhounds we are taking care of, are relatively old – 12 and 10 years respectively – and home buddies; their owner prefers them to remain nearby. In a city like San Diego, that is not a problem at all! There is so much to do and see in this area that we could spend many weekends exploring and discovering. Here is a selection of what we visited over the last six weeks.

San Diego skyline with moored boats

San Diego Safari Park

We contemplated a visit to the safari park in Escondido, about 20 minutes north of the city, for my birthday (November 28), when our friend Amy (who recently graduated as a zoologist) gave us four free tickets that expired within a week. So, one Saturday, Mark and I set out to the park earlier than planned and had a fantastic time. Not as fascinating as the real thing in Africa, of course, but not a bad alternative! We were especially intrigued about the relationship between cheetahs and dogs. Every young cheetah is paired up with a dog and they become buddies for life.

Continue reading

Monthly Expenses – November 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 breaking the bank. The less money you spend, the less you need to make. 🙂 That being said, Mark and I seem to manage one big expense a month for some reason, whether it is camper, 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 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.

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care as a permanent resident in the US. 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! For check-ups, we both return to the East Coast. I still pay a small quarterly fee in Belgium for health care (required to retain citizenship), which I mention in my year report.

No matter how hard we try every month, since we took possession of our camper van Zesty in July, we can't stay under $1000 anymore. Maybe we should shoot for $1200 from now on, which appears to be more feasible. We really tried hard in October, using some tricks like selling our camping gear and using that money to buy parts for Zesty (it's like a trade, right?), postponing Amazon shopping until December, and only putting $25 of diesel in the van, keeping its use to a minimum. Luckily, we can walk to the grocery store from our current house in San Diego.

What blew the budget in November was our grocery category. Apart from stocking up our catamaran Irie in the past to sail to remote areas, we have never spent this much ($600) for one month of food. The main issues? We bought 10 pounds of "deluxe mixed nuts" (without peanuts) for $75 to last a while, and we continued the subscription of the home owner to receive a box of farm-fresh organic vegetables at our doorstep every week, which set us back $125. Mark being on the East Coast using his parents' car and taking care of himself didn't help the budget either. For December, we have cancelled the Wednesday veggie box (while tasty and good quality produce, the amount was skimpy for $25 a box) and we certainly don't need more of those super-healthy nuts!

Continue reading

IWSG Writing Update December 2017 – Finished First Draft

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 December, the question is “As you look back on 2017, with all its successes and failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?”

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the co-hosts are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner. Feel free to swing by their sites and see what they are up to.

My answer to the question

I am a woman of few regrets, living my alternative life quite deliberately, so this is a tough question. On hindsight, we probably would all do things slightly different, because we are wiser now. But, I don’t want to feel bad about the decisions I make. Those are sometimes hard enough. When it comes to my writing focus in 2017, of course I hoped to work on my memoir more. I do write all day, every day – emails, diaries, blogs, comments, chapters, articles, notes, business documents, translations, reviews – but I wish I could have removed myself from social media and all the “unimportant” scribbles, to make more room for writing in my book. Continue reading

From Maupiti to San Diego and Other Reunions

It was November 2014. Mark and I were anchored in the remote, but beautiful atoll Maupiti in the South Pacific. Bora Bora’s sister island stole our heart and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there aboard Irie, in the lagoon waters, and on shore.

Mark and Liesbet on top of Maupiti

One day, a booming voice startled us.

“Hello! Are you American?” A man on a panga had seen our American flag and investigated. Continue reading

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