Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Category: Firsts (page 1 of 2)

Another first for me.

Southern Utah’s National Parks – 12-Day Adventure between House Sits

Between our month-long house sit in Rollinsville, Colorado and the next, three-month one in San Diego, California, Mark and I faced a gap of two weeks. Initially, we were on the look-out for a short pet sit, but pretty soon, we realized this would be the perfect opportunity to really test the van life. Longer than one weekend, and for fun, instead of as a means of transportation to get from point A to B. It was an attractive plan for many reasons, including these four: we have always wanted to visit some of Utah’s incredible National Parks, they happened to be en route, we could use a break from our computers (when not?), and, coincidentally, our business partner appeared to have a scheduled vacation within the exact dates we’d be on the road. Now, if that wasn’t the ideal time to relax The Wirie work a bit ourselves!

A window to Delicate Arch

Arches National Park

Not much planning and anticipation went into this camping trip. I checked the map, saw Canyonlands, thought “I guess we stop there,” then noticed a green spot called “Arches” along the way and yelled: “Oh yeah, that’s the famous one in Utah, not Canyonlands. We have to go there!” Now, I don’t know whether you have ever looked at Southern Utah on a map… it is one national park after the next! How exciting! All we had to do was pick and choose, be happy about not doing it all, and not feel rushed! Oh, did I mention that the two biggies, Bryce Canyon and Zion are here as well?

Our selection of Utah National Parks

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Completed House Sits: Santa Fe, New Mexico – August 18th to September 16th, 2017

As of this month, Mark and I have been house sitting full-time for two years. It all started with a wonderful dog named Zyla in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the positive experiences of this new lifestyle continued ever-after, bringing us to our current sit in the mountains of Colorado. More about that later, as I have been trying to catch up on all the adventures we had in Santa Fe, New Mexico, finishing that period with a summary of our one-month house sit there.

Our adobe-style home for one month

A few weeks ago, I mentioned briefly how stressful our life as house and pet sitters can be. Besides not knowing where we will lay our heads to rest in the future, keeping a constant eye on new listings, communicating with home owners, arranging Skype interviews, and patiently waiting for the verdict, sometimes unexpected developments occur. Like when we left Northern California mid-August to undertake yet another long road trip of 1200 miles from Sebastopol, CA to Santa Fe, New Mexico for our next house sit. We had planned three days for this, to avoid repeating the craziness of driving Zesty back from Arkansas in July, having a restricted amount of time while needing to work along the way. Three days should do it, we figured: two long ones and then, on Friday, a shorter trip and catching up on work stuff before departure.

Our new neighborhood

On the morning of day two, however, the result of prior miscommunications had us awake with a start: the home owners expected us to arrive in Santa Fe that very day, at 5pm, instead of the following one. Continue reading

Creating a Lifestyle Catered to You – Guest Post on Retirement Reflections

It was an honor to be featured on my blogging friend Donna’s website “Retirement Reflections” this weekend, as a guest in her Sunday Guest Post Series. She is an amazing woman, who just walked a big chunk of the Camino Trail in Spain with her husband and has many interesting, insightful and inspirational ideas incorporated in her blog posts. I love her adventurous, positive and caring personality and I encourage you to browse her website, if you haven’t already. Here is the beginning of the post about Mark and my past and present – how we got to our current lifestyle of house and pet sitting…

Thank you, Donna, for inviting me over to participate in your Sunday Series. It is a pleasure, and an honor, to be called one of your favorites. My ego is bursting!

A retirement lifestyle?

At 42-years-old, I am not retired, although many people might think differently based on the lifestyle I have been living since 2003. It’s either that, or they think I am on a perpetual vacation, or that I am rich, or all of the above! Living an alternative lifestyle throughout adulthood causes these assumptions. Unfortunately, the reality is “none of the above.” Although I have the flexibility to sleep in and form my own schedule, that’s where the comparisons stop. I still need to make money and sacrifices to survive, and I own nothing, not even a retirement account. My husband, Mark, and I like the minimalistic approach and don’t require much to be happy and free. All our belongings fit in our red Toyota Prius and, other than our business, The Wirie, we have no burdens or responsibilities. We don’t have a home, children or pets (yet) and go wherever we find an attractive long-term house and pet sit. To us, creating memories and going on adventures is more important than collecting material goods or financial wealth.

Blogs to inspire and share?

In 2007, Mark and I embarked on an impromptu cruising adventure with our two big rescue dogs, Kali and Darwin. After a failed attempt two years prior in Northern California, because the dogs hated sailing on a monohull (which lays on its side when moving in certain directions), we searched and found a 35-foot catamaran (more stability and less seasickness for me) in Annapolis, Maryland, and named her Irie, which is a reggae term meaning “It’s all good!” I started my first blog, It’s Irie, to document all our adventures and share tips while cruising the Caribbean and the South Pacific. We ran a business from the middle of nowhere (tricky!)…  Continue reading here.

(If you’d like to leave a reaction, please do so on Donna’s site.)

Completed House Sits: Sebastopol, CA – July 23rd to August 15th, 2017

Mark and I have been house and pet sitting for almost two years and this was the first time we returned to a home and a dog we took care of previously. We have often been asked by home owners to come back, but never have, either because the climate was too cold for our liking, the period too short or we found ourselves on the other side of the country. Some of you might remember sweet Lola and the heaps of activities Sonoma County in California has to offer from my earlier blogs, so it is probably no surprise that we agreed to do this repeat sit for three weeks. And, it fit our short-term plans.

Lola was incredibly happy to see us again. Continue reading

Welcome, Westy! – The New Development

The past weeks I have been insinuating a new development in our lives. It is time to reveal what we have been up to! Let me introduce our newest “family member”, Zesty. He is a 2005 Sprinter Airstream Westfalia camper, endearingly called a Westy. Ingeniously built in Germany and known as a Westfalia James Cook in Europe, only 250 of these campers were imported into the US. Airstream did those honors and “Americanized” them by adding an air conditioner and a generator, and swapping the cassette toilet for one with a holding tank. The Mercedes engine was re-branded as a Dodge for the American market. Confusing? The main thing is that Mark and I now own one of these unique, compact and decked-out camper vans! Indirectly, this plan has been brewing for a couple of years.

Second night, in Oklahoma

“I think our next adventure should be in a camper again.” I share with Mark something that has been on my mind for a while. It is March 2015 and we are anchored in beautiful Huahine, French Polynesia. Continue reading

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

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

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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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Expense Report 2016

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. 2016 is the first full year that Mark and I have been living on land as house and pet sitters. This is therefore my first yearly expense overview.

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 1% 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 starting in 2017. Since December 2016, I have to pay for health insurance in the US. I still contribute in Belgium for health care as well (required to keep my citizenship), which is a small three-monthly fee only reported here. Utilities are always Skype-related, since that is how we make phone calls.  Accommodation is our best category, because we live totally rent-free and in comfort, wherever we end up. 🙂

Here is an overview of our expenses in 2016. I am surprised at how high our grocery costs are and that owning a car - even a small and efficient hybrid one like ours - is relatively pricey. That being said, we spend way less money on our Prius than we did on our 35' catamaran those eight years. Parts,  maintenance and insurance were sometimes six fold that every year, but living costs when cruising were much lower than on land. While we spent between $12,000 and $20,000 yearly on Irie (2007-2015), traveling all over the Caribbean and French Polynesia, 2016 had us part with $14,614, living a semi-settled life, without having to pay for utilities or rent. It seems like a lot. This year, we hope to do better in the grocery and computer category!

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The Annapolis Sailboat Show as Vendors

Part of The Wirie team at the Annapolis Sailboat Show

Part of The Wirie team at the Annapolis Sailboat Show

What is that “Wirie business” I regularly mention on my blog, you might wonder. I don’t usually promote our products and try to keep my writing and our business separate, but since the second weekend of October was solely about that part of our lives and I have never explained The Wirie principles in a Roaming About blog, I figured I will give you a little bit of information about our “baby”, our business, what keeps us up at night and busy during the day… Continue reading

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