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.
Winter in New England
Snow fall after the blizzard of the century
Walking, and even driving, can be treacherous
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
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!
Missing these two!
Frida and Elvis snuggled up
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.
Dinner with our hospitable home owner
Cuddling with Pixel, while staying at our friends Kathy and Steve’s house in the SF Bay Area for the night
Walk with Terri and Aero in Sacramento, where she and husband Hans housed us for two nights
February 2017 – The warmth of Southern California Continue reading
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
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.
Expansive safari park
You can take a free “tram” ride around the park
Can you find the baby cheetah among the teddy bears?
Having a (pricey) drink overlooking the rhinos. Cheers!
Dog and cheetah: companions for life – the cheetah run was impressive to watch
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
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.
Cute and photogenic Oscar
Very high “cuddle factor”
Soaking up the sun.
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.
Afternoon hike with our host family