Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Category: House Sitting (page 1 of 7)

On Call for Three Weeks

Things weren’t looking great for my mother-in-law by the time I arrived in Boston, the first week of the year. My husband Mark jumped on a plane a few days earlier, because listening to her ordeal from afar without being able to help was frustrating. When it comes to health care (and many other things), one needs to stay on top of everything, following up on procedures, discussions, plans, and promises. When the person who usually is in charge of that ends up hospitalized, someone else has to step in and be present to advocate. Full-time. We already lost a precious week over the Christmas period, because of misconceptions, wrong actions and holiday (non-)schedules. All out of the family’s control.

After being bed-ridden and connected to a plethora of machines for a month, screens being monitored and tubes being adjusted every 20 minutes, the good news arrived. Continue reading

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!

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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.

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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...

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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

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.

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House Sitting Behind the Scenes – The Selection Process

House and pet sitting as a lifestyle might sound like a relatively new concept to you and me, but, within these circles, everyone is on the look-out for an appealing sit, and some people have been doing it for over a decade. Since we started this lifestyle two years ago, the demand for house sits (or the supply of house sitters) has grown substantially. Competition is fierce, and securing an attractive sit is not an easy feat. There are days that dealing with potential house sits is my main activity; another reason why we prefer long-term commitments. Not only does that fit our work schedules better, provide immersion into a specific area and give us a welcome respite from being on the road, it also offers me a little break from digging through listings and submitting application letters.

In February, I wrote a post about how we end up with certain sits. I figured it was time for another example of how our future takes shape “behind the scenes”. The basics are always the same. Mark and I are members of a few house sitting sites, where our profile is available. We explain who we are, what we prioritize, our experiences and our strengths. There are a few personal photos attached as well. Home owners sometimes find a perfect match in us by reading this profile, and send us an email to inquire about our availability and thoughts. More often, however, I click on the most promising house sit listings that arrive in my inbox, read the descriptions, check out the photos, and, when they fit our preferences (location, type of animals, duration, timing), I create a personal letter and hit the send button. If the interest is mutual, we communicate over email and set up a time for a Skype interview, ideally with video. When all that goes well, and the home owner chooses us – usually after talking to a few candidates – we confirm the sit, and have a plan. It is not uncommon that home owners, especially in desirable locations, receive between 40-100 applications. Yeah…

Hanging out in the yard with “our” current Italian Greyhounds Frida and Elvis

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The Best Thing about Blogging – New Friendships

In 2007, my husband Mark and I bought a 35ft catamaran in Annapolis, Maryland, called it Irie, and sailed into the sunset. We had no idea how long the adventure would last or where we’d end up. Our first destination was the Bahamas and we planned to live this cruising lifestyle until “we ran out of money”, or “it wasn’t fun anymore”. To document our journey and experiences, and as an alternative to writing group emails, which I had done my whole (traveling) life, I started my first blog. I called the website It’s Irie. Comments were rare; the availability of internet defined when I posted and whether I could upload photos. The blog continued as long as our sailing trip; eight years.

Irie blog

When we sold Irie in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and moved to the US for the time being, I wanted to start a new blog. It took me forever to find a suitable name, that was still available as a domain name and that would be fitting and timeless. Roaming About was born in October 2015, the same time we started a new, boat-less, lifestyle of house and pet sitting. I entered an era where blogging had become more popular and serious. My sailing friend Lisa of One Ocean at a Time suggested a few of her favorite blogs to me. “When you read these blogs and leave a comment, their wonderful authors will return the favor,” she wrote in an email. That’s how my social interactions with fellow bloggers began. Continue reading

Completed House Sits: Rollinsville, Colorado – September 16th to October 14th, 2017

On September 16th, Mark and I left our previous house sit in Santa Fe, New Mexico early in the morning for a decent drive to northern Colorado. While taking care of a pet-less home for one month provided us with more flexibility, we were both looking forward to furry company again. Arriving in Rollinsville, 40 minutes west (and up) of Boulder, we were immediately greeted by Oscar, a big and fluffy Golden Retriever. At eight years old, he is a ball of energy with a very high cuddle factor. The owners gave us a warm welcome as well, quite appreciated in the chilly air of our new home at 8500ft of elevation.

The contrast with New Mexico was grand – temperature, scenery and activity-wise. Our new neighborhood was very picturesque. After unloading Zesty, the camper van, we spent the next 24 hours with Oscar and his “parents”, getting to know them, the area, the schedule and the house. Then, we settled for a month in the mountains.

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