Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Author: Liesbet (page 1 of 22)

Amtrak Antics – From Appealing Idea to Ridiculous Reality

About two months ago, something in Arkansas required our attention, in the form of a visit. We were in Massachusetts at the time sticking to an extremely busy schedule with a month-long stay in Belgium and a three-week house sit in Oakland after that. The trip to Harrison, AR would have to wait until our house sit was finished, but the planning occurred right then and there.

The distance from Oakland to Harrison is 2000 miles (3000 km), not something we wanted to drive twice with limited time, despite the good fuel economy of our Prius. Flights to the middle of Arkansas were expensive and still required other transportation to get to the airport and to Harrison. A one-way rental was also quite pricey and meant extra costs for fuel and accommodation. And, unsurprisingly, nobody needed an RV relocation to Arkansas.

“Why don’t we take the train?” Mark suggested and a plan was born. We booked two legs on Amtrak, leaving from Jack London Square in Oakland at 9am on Friday, July 14th and arriving in Little Rock, Arkansas, at 11:30pm on Sunday, July 16th. The first leg – on the Coast Starlight – would bring us to Los Angeles in 12 hours, where we had a one-hour layover. The second leg – on the Texas Eagle – would take us the rest of the way in about 50 hours. We reserved coach seats for $350 in total. We would not have a shower, a bed and a warm meal for three days. Mark and I love train rides, so we faced an exciting adventure; an epic train journey.

Our train for 50 hours – well, part of it

Day 1:

“We have a problem!” Mark utters, as he barges into the bathroom, where I’m just pulling up my pants. Our friend Eric would give us a ride to the metro in a few minutes. From there, we would continue to the train station, well in time for our 9am departure.

“What do you mean?” I ask. Continue reading

Trip down Memory Lane

“Hi, I’m Mark and these two are Kali, the white one, and Darwin, the gray one.” I looked up from petting the wagging fur balls that had run up to me on my way out to the camper. It is so funny how Americans always introduce themselves immediately, as if names are the most important thing during a conversation. Europeans could talk for hours before exchanging names, as I had realized more than once during my backpacking years. My eyes met those of a tall and skinny short-haired man in the doorway. “Hello. I’m Liesbet. My boyfriend Karl and I are staying with Nick for a week to visit San Francisco. Our camper is parked in front of the house.” “Camper? Why are you living in a camper?” I told him exactly why and shared my lifetime travel goals with the excitement I always feel when elaborating on my passion. Before I realized it, an hour had passed. I excused myself, ran towards our home on wheels, grabbed the CD of my favorite Belgian band dEUS and rushed back to Nick’s place. “Where have you been?” Karl asked. “Talking to a neighbor, the one with the fluffy dogs,” I answered, handing the disc over to Nick, who is an amateur disc jockey, interested in all kinds of music.

The weeks had flown by and my relationship with Mark intensified. He would leave the door to his apartment open while at work, so Karl and I could walk his dogs, together with our dog Caesar. And, I could snuggle with Kali and Darwin as much as I wanted. Today, I am not leaving, however. I am here to stay, to move in. To cuddle Kali and Darwin forever. What will Mark say about all this?

This is an excerpt of the memoir I am working on. Mark and I met in an area of Oakland called Rockridge, in November 2004. He loved living there and I enjoyed it as much, when I tossed my existing life with Karl and Caesar through the camper windows and decided to stay – unbeknownst to Mark. Continue reading

Monthly Expenses – June 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 for cancer 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.

June was not the most usual month for us either, what with being in Belgium until June 19th, having a quick stop-over in Reykjavik, Iceland and a long journey back to the West Coast of the US, where we picked up this current three-week house sit the evening we arrived. You will not find any expenses from our remaining days in Belgium in this overview, because my wonderful parents took care of all the grocery shopping, fuel and train rides, and, because I sold enough of my belongings (my African drum - sad to see it go - being the biggest provider) to pay for our other, modest, expenses. The cost of our vacation in Budapest is included, but, the hotel was "paid" with miles.  The flights were part of last month's report. Our biggest expense category for June 2017 was no doubt travel, followed by a hefty grocery bill when we arrived in Oakland, California.

Continue reading

IWSG Writing Update July 2017 – Picking up the Pace

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 June, that question is “What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?”

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the inspiring and accomplished co-hosts are Tamara Narayan, Pat Hatt, Patricia Lynne, Juneta Key, and Doreen McGettigan. Feel free to swing by their sites and see what they are up to. Don’t be shy.

It is July already (hurrah for summer!) and after a hectic two months of visiting friends and family (and dealing with heaps of important things and complications) in Massachusetts and Belgium, Mark and I are kind of settled in Oakland, California for a three-week house and pet sit. It has been an enjoyable and productive two weeks so far and soon, we are on the road again. Or better, the tracks… We are jumping on a train for 60 hours, first from Oakland to LA, then onward to Little Rock, Arkansas. We are on a little mission, which I will reveal in a few weeks. I hope for one thing on that train ride (well, actually a few things): that I am able to get a lot of writing done (and that we manage to sleep OK in our seats, eat relatively healthy and don’t smell too badly without a shower).

My black shadow Stella, loves to lay on my lap when I work – not too distracting…

I promised myself to pick up my pace/pen/keyboard again once we started this period of relative calm, and I have. Continue reading

Three Day Vacation in Budapest, Hungary

Every couple of years, our business partner for The Wirie goes on a vacation with his family. Since he is responsible for the assembly and distribution of our product, we usually put a notice on the website that new orders will not get shipped until a certain date, when he is back a week or two later. Mark, who is responsible (among many other things) for customer support, continues work, wherever we are. That’s what happens when the product is your “baby”, you are extremely responsible, you want customers to be happy and you hate catching up on all the piled-up emails and phone calls afterwards. That’s why Mark and I never go on a holiday. Luckily, our lifestyle as house and pet sitters is diverse and exciting enough as we move locations a lot and enjoy the weekends as mini-vacations.

My favorite view of the new-to-us city

This spring, however, we had the greatest of ideas! We did not take a full vacation as Tim set out with his family to Italy, but we added a few lines to the notice on the website, the automatic email response and our Wirie answering machine. It said: “The Wirie crew is on vacation from May 18th through June 4th, 2017. No orders will be shipped during this period and customer support might be delayed. Requests by email have a quicker response rate than by phone. Back orders will start to go out on June 5th and customer support returns to normal then as well. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Chain Bridge seen from above

Continue reading

Stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland

Every first Wednesday of the month, when creating an update about my writing progress (or digress), I am baffled by how quick another month has passed. Today, back in Northern California, I wonder how two months have disappeared, since we watched Lola in Sebastopol. Of course, I know what happened. Time didn’t just dissolve; it decided to go crazy fast while Mark and I were occupied by a million things! So much so, that I didn’t even post my weekly Wednesday blog, yesterday. Besides being exhausted beyond belief and unable to concentrate on writing a post, Mark and I got settled at our current three-week house and pet sit in a great neighborhood of Oakland, CA. We organized our life, caught up on two missed workdays of Wirie work, went on a massive grocery shopping spree (we had no food left, since we stored our car and belongings for two months) and both took our new pets for two decent walks. Full disclosure: we did split up the chore parts.  🙂

Being good puppies, not begging at the breakfast table

Continue reading

Monthly Expenses – May 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 for cancer 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.

Everything on the blog is a bit delayed this month, due to our travels and busy schedule. May and June are unusual spending months, partly because of this, and partly because of a new development I will report on later. Here is an overview of our normal expenses in May. Mark and I were located in Massachusetts for three weeks of the month, followed by ten days in Belgium/the Netherlands.  We passed the $1000 mark, because of our long weekend in Friesland (or our upcoming travel in the US). Driving an SUV around instead of our economical Prius raised our fuel budget. The price for all the plane tickets have been calculated in the expense reports of previous months.

Continue reading

IWSG Writing Update June 2017 – Let’s Call It a Downdate

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 June, that question is “Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the inspiring and accomplished co-hosts are JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner. Feel free to swing by their sites and see what they are up to. Don’t be shy.

That’s me, hard at work as an IWSG co-host in May

I can hardly believe another month has passed. And, what a month it has been! Since a writing UPdate usually involves some progress, accomplishments, change in status or at least some UPlifting writing tidbits, and none of that has happened in my May, I am inclined to call this post a writing DOWNdate. As in “thumbs down” instead of “thumbs up” when it comes to my memoir. In the month of May, I managed to work on my book for a total of three hours, at the library in Newburyport, MA during our hectic three-week stay at my in-laws’ condo. Yep. That is all. Since arriving at my childhood home in Belgium on May 21st, I haven’t even had the space in my head to think about my book, let alone take action. Maybe I am excused from writing duties when visiting family? Continue reading

Long Weekend Away in Friesland, the Netherlands

Warning: this post is photo-heavy!

When my cousin Griet and her husband Wim visited us in Sebastopol, California two months ago, we picked a long weekend in May to go on a trip together while Mark and I are in Belgium for four weeks. The destination was to be determined: Normandy in France or Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands.  The two of us had never been to either place. The coast of Normandy would more than likely remind us of the one in California, so we were happy the decision fell on Friesland, with its famous Waddeneilanden, five islands in the Waddenzee or Wadden Sea. This area (which also stretches into Germany and Denmark) is a World Heritage Site with a character and outlook that changes with the tides. At low tide, people in excellent physical condition can attempt a walk to some of the islands with a guide, certain times of the year.

Continue reading

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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