House Sitting in San Miguel de Allende ~ Tall Tales and True Adventures

Every experienced house sitter has a few tall tales and more than a few true adventure stories to tell. It goes with the territory. Stepping out into the semi-unknown can bring out strengths (and weaknesses) you didn’t even know you had. Or needed.

Folks ask me all the time about our gigs as house sitters. How does it work? How do we find the gigs? What does it cost? And most importantly, do we have any problems being away from our home, our stuff and our routine for weeks or months at a time?

I can bend your ear for a long time talking about why I love house sitting, but house sitting is not for everyone. This I know for sure. It can be more than a little daunting settling into a complete stranger’s home, sleeping in someone else’s bed, cooking in an unknown kitchen where you can’t figure out how to turn on the stove and (the biggie here for two complete tech-idiots) remembering out how to work the TV system/remote.  The first few days are often challenging and more than a little frustrating. But eventually we work the kinks out, manage a work-around or decide we can just do without and the thrill of being in a new place, a (usually) lovely home and the fun of bonding with new furry friends makes up for almost any inconvenience.

A few true adventures from our most recent house sit come to mind. I’ll leave the tall tales to hubs. I’m sure he can conjure up a few.

Sunny San Miguel.

Staying warm in sunny Mexico is no easy task in the winter where it can be warmer outside than inside. Many of the older homes were built to keep heat out and don’t have any kind of furnace or forced air system like many of us rely on in the US. They often have small fireplaces with a single gas pipe and no logs or any kind of heat distribution system. Fireplaces may or may not be vented and are generally lit with a flame-thrower (aka a BBQ lighter). They scare the hell outta me! And on this particular sit, the main fireplace in the living room was in pieces waiting for the homeowners to return from the US with new parts. So…workaround time. We found two electric blankets. One had a cord and the other did not. Lucky me, I got the one with the working cord. Hubs used it in the late afternoon when he took his daily nap to the drone of Fox News and we shared it in the evening while watching PBS. I also used it on the bed under the blankets to take the frost off the sheets before getting in to sleep. A pile of blankets keeps you warm, but the initial frost bite that hits you upon diving under the covers that can be a problem. We often climbed into bed wearing socks, sweat pants and a layer or two of long sleeve tee shirts.  As house sitters you must be able to adapt and overcome.

Taking advantage of the view.

Hilltop house sits without a car can be seen as a challenge or a free workout. We chose to see the 1.5 mile, 25 minute scramble down a steep cobble stone hill as a plus. Our walk did go right past one of the best bakeries in San Miguel so of course we stopped in for a morning treat. Our walking lead us to the Tuesday Market, the botanical garden (for more walking), the Bibliotec for information, lectures, movies and more. In the Centro, we walked to various parks, restaurants, shops, art galleries and pretty much everywhere we needed to go. My pedometer registered between 4-7 miles on most days. Not too shabby! Of course, there were also a couple of downsides. Being on top of a hill that was pretty much straight down meant that a return walk would be STRAIGHT UP. Being old, generally out of shape and at an elevation of 6200 ft, we wisely opted to have one of the ever-present taxis take us back up. Five minutes, 50 pesos and voila back at nuestra casa. As responsible pet sitters we never want to leave the furry ones in our care for very long. This required us to plan our outings to include returns for walking, feeding and playing with the two cute pups waiting at home. On a few occasions we found ourselves going down in the morning, coming up early afternoon, going back down late afternoon and coming up in the late evening. We thought twice about walking down that hill a second time. It had to be a special event, like the Christmas Tree lighting or spending time with visiting friends.

Down, down, down

Panio. Our favorite bakery all dressed up for Christmas.

Electronics. If we seem to have a reliable failure on our sits, it is with the TV, cable, sound systems and all that goes with the modern practice of watching TV. I’m pretty good with my laptop but I have fully and completely handed the task of TV functioning to hubs. Let’s just say it’s hit and miss. I have no patience and don’t care that much, so, if it doesn’t work the first time, either he figures it out or we’re reading. Not a bad choice really given the options. In the case of our most recent sit, they had Netflix and DVD’s but hubs couldn’t remember how they worked so we relied on PBS (yea!!) or Fox News (sorry!) for our English language viewing options. Interesting choices to say the least and for whatever reason Fox came from southern Florida unless they lost the signal and then it came from Pittsburgh. PBS came from Seattle. Go figure. And, even though it might seem like the perfect opportunity to improve my Spanish, local Spanish TV was way beyond my ability and I gave up pretty quickly.

No habla espanol. No problema. In a town like San Miguel, home to thousands of expats from the US and Canada, a visitor can get around easily with only a few words of Spanish. You hear a lot of buenos días and gracias but it takes a little time and a wee bit of courage to try tackling a short conversation. I made a fool of myself on more than one occasion like the time in the Starbucks (no the baristas do not all speak English) when I nervously stepped up to the front of the line and attempted to order my hot tea with cold milk on the side (té caliente con una taza de leche) and my old lady brain confused it with my other most frequently ordered beverage. It came out as té caliente con una copa de vino. Miguel, the young man at the counter kept a straight face while advising me that they did not sell wine at this Starbucks but the young lady working with him broke out into a huge grin, did a little dance and said “por dos” (for two). I got my tea with milk, made two friends at the Starbucks and became known as the copa de vino lady. I joked that I had approximately 67 words in Spanish and I existed only in the present tense. Nevertheless, I Persisted! And I got better.  And braver. Thank goodness for the Spanish app on my phone. One morning I used it in the butcher shop when hubs wanted pork chops and there were none visible in the case. When our turn at the counter came up, I stepped forward asking for la chuleta de cerdo. To my amazement, the butcher nodded Si, trotted upstairs and came down with a huge side of pork. He cut us off two beautiful chops and 45 pesos later we were on to our next shopping adventure – verduras.

These cuties were always happy to see us.

 

 As you can tell, our answer to one of the most important questions is that house/pet sitting isn’t always easy, not always comfortable, and can be full of surprises (don’t even ask about the morning I locked myself out of the house with the pups right before I was scheduled to be on a conference call for work). Given all of the above, our experience after dozens of sits, is that it has been a grand adventure that has given us lots of fun and funny tales (tall and otherwise) to share.

Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Nancy

 

 

 

House Sitting 101

Notes from the House Sitting 101 file ~ Learning the ropes and getting ready to take off the training wheels.

kalamaview2

Spectacular view from our house-sit high on a bluff above the Colombia River. It changed hourly.

Greetings from high on a bluff over-looking the mighty Columbia River just outside of the (very) tiny town of Kalama Washington.  Hubs and I are on day 9 of a 10 day house sit with Daphne the wonder dog.  She is well loved, well fed and has more toys than most 2 year old kids I know.  Daphne is a cutie and smart as a whip.  She had us trained in no time.

Daphne the wonder dog

Daphne the wonder dog

What the hell are we doing living in a strange house with someone else’s dog in the middle of nowhere?   Good question!  We’re in training.  Last Fall I set a goal to build our resume and our experience by signing on for as many house sits as we could within driving distance of our home.  My vision was to house sit the west coast from Canada to Mexico.  We’ve applied for 6 or 8 and so far we’ve pretty much been the runner-up not the winner.  I honestly had no idea how competitive house sitting is.  For every sitting opportunity there are anywhere from a dozen to 40+ applicants – from single 20-somethings who work remotely and travel the world to retired and semi-retired geezers like hubs and I.   Even a few families.  Apparently the competition wasn’t so tough for Kalama.  Actually, they called us.  We did not apply for this sit.  But after meeting with the nice folks who are Daphne’s humans, we knew it was a good fit and a great place to start.  So here we are.

Nancy and Daphne watching the evening news

Nancy and Daphne watching the evening news

Kalama is not anyone’s idea of a picturesque town.  It’s a run-down port town of about 2500 citizens located 35 miles north of Portland.  If it ever had glory days, they are long since faded.  We are staying out of town way up a windy road in a lovely custom built house with a gorgeous view.  But to tell you the truth, for a city girl like me, it’s more than a little lonely at the top.  And you can only count the trees and the birds and the squirrels for so long before cabin fever sets in and it’s time to come down from the mountain.  Which hubs and I do every day at 11:30 for lunch, a walk and some on-foot exploration.  We’ve covered every inch of Kalama (20 minutes), walked for miles along the river, taken our own walking tour of historic downtown Longview, discovered a couple of decent restaurants (and a whole bunch that were a little scary).   The weather has been in our favor and one day we strolled the 4 mile perimeter of Lake Sacawajea.  It was gorgeous.  We also drove back into Portland to hit up the Farmers Market and Vancouver for a Volkswalk.

Lake Sacajawea in full blossom.  Perfect day for a picnic and a long walk.

Lake Sacajawea in full blossom. Perfect day for a picnic and a long walk.

A few hours in civilization and we’re good to head back up the mountain again.  Daphne is always happy to see us return.  It is amazing how easy it is to settle comfortably into someone else’s space.  We knew this from home exchange, but still our ability to do this was one of the things I wanted to make very sure about before we up-rooted out lives for the road.

My plan is to test the waters, learn as much as we can from each experience and build up our reference bank account.   We haven’t lived with dogs for quite a few years so it was good to know that we’ve still got the touch.  We also learned that even though a rustic house sit in the remote French countryside looks inviting, unless its a week or less, it might not be right for us.  Score two on the things we learned meter.

So, tomorrow we will make sure the house is clean, the bird feeder is full, the plants are watered and the beds are freshly made.  We’ll feed Daphne her dinner and then we will load ourselves into our car and head for home.  Mr. Ricky is waiting.  He had a wonderful house/pet sitter staying with him while we were gone but I know he will be as happy to see us as Daphne will be to see her real people (not the stand-in servants).

While this was definitely not the exotic house sitting adventure we have been dreaming of and planning for, it was a great experience and we’re glad for the opportunity.  Now when we’re driving 70mph up I-5 to Seattle or Port Townsend and we see the signs for Woodland, Kalama, Kelso and Longview, we won’t wonder if we should stop to check them out.  Been there.  Done that.  Keep on driving!

Next up… house sitting in Mexico for 8 (OMG!) cats for a month.  We are definitely open for more west coast house sitting opportunities.  We’ll be available again starting in June.  We’d love to spend a few weeks in Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria area, Phoenix, or San Francisco so if you know anyone invite them to check out our website Global Housesit Pros.

See you on the road.

Nancy

Les & Nancy Global House Sit Pros ~ check out our new profile!

Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Ciao and Hej!

We are Les and Nancy aka the kitty whisperer (Les) and the chicken wrangler (Nancy).

Les & Nancy on the camino de santiago

Walking the Camino de Santiago

Les&Nancy2

We clean up pretty well too.

 

For the past 30+ years we have enjoyed rewarding and successful corporate careers, Les as an electrical engineer turned sales ninja and Nancy as an award-winning corporate meeting, event and travel manager. We’re retiring from the corporate life to focus on our new career as full time global house sitters.

Why House Sitting?

As long time homeowners with beloved pets of our own, we were delighted to find trusted house and pet sitters who cared for our furry family members, our house and our plants with such enthusiasm, respect and considerate care that we (finally!) felt free to go off on a vacation without worrying if a pipe might break or the plants turned brown. On top of that, our kitty (currently Mr. Ricky) could enjoy the comfort of his own home and a friendly snuggle or two.

Win. Win. Win.

It’s not always easy allowing strangers into your home, we know that. But, we also know from experience that once you make that right connection, communicate expectations clearly and develop a level of trust – house sitting will change your life. Whether you are the home owner or the house sitter.

We want to pay it forward and that’s why we started house sitting earlier this year.

Why Choose Us?

~ We are committed to being the absolute best house and pet sitters you will ever have.

~ We have an abundance of life, professional and travel experience and we’re very comfortable and adaptable in new surroundings and cultures.

~ We will confidently handle most emergencies with calm, quick-thinking action. If we can’t handle it ourselves, we’ll know who to call. That’s where our management and leadership experiences come in handy!

~ We will be respectful of your home, your possessions and your privacy. We’re homeowners ourselves and will treat yours as if it were our own.

~ We are excellent communicators. We will keep you updated as often as you like so you know everything is in good hands. We love to send photo updates!

~ We love animals of all kinds (sorry not snakes) and have shared our home with dogs, cats, hamsters, white mice, tropical fish. We’ve also learned the fine (and very fun!) art of chicken keeping through several house sits and home exchanges.

~ We’re fun, friendly, detailed oriented retirees with a zest for life, curious minds and and energetic healthy bodies. We welcome the opportunity to get our hands dirty in your garden, take long walks with your pups and keep your house in tip-top condition.

Our Skills and Experience – here’s why we are such a great team ~

Les was Director of New Business Development for a large exposition and trade show company for many years. He worked with clients from around the world to understand their specific needs and deliver their expectations on time, on budget and make it look easy. This required outstanding listening skills, the ability to communicate ideas and manage large, complicated projects. He has also been the president of our home owners association for the past five years leading our town home community through a major construction project. His vision and ability to lead both the board and the multiple contractors was key to the success of this project.

Skills Les brings ~
• handy/Mr. Fix-it
•enjoys puttering in the garden
•chief trash carrier and mail retriever
•good with a vacuum and a mop
•manager of home security
•family chef
•pooper scooper
•kitty cuddler
•extremely organized

Nancy is currently the Manager of Corporate Travel for a multi-national corporation. She leads a team that supports over 1500 corporate travelers, developing travel policy, negotiating hotel and airline agreements while ensuring the security and safety of every employee while on the road. Prior to becoming travel manager, Nancy managed corporate meetings and events. Her creative vision, team building and leadership skills combined with a focused attention to detail were crucial to her award-winning success in this arena. Nancy is also a published author with essays in two books on retirement. She blogs about retirement, travel and living the good life at www.justabackpackandarollie.com

Skills Nancy brings ~
•communication expert
•loves to garden and has a green thumb
•lead dog walker (Les always seems to tag along) and ball tosser
•keeper of schedules, lists and all other very important details
•chief bottle washer and laundry detail
•chicken wrangler, egg gather and coop scooper
•experienced with giving pet meds and care of aging pets

As a Team we ~

•believe that taking good care of your home is our most important responsibility
•are honest and reliable with local and state background checks
•work well together and with others
•appreciate the importance of maintaining a clean, well-maintained home and garden
•share house sitting responsibilities based on our individual skills and interests
•are grateful for the opportunity to travel and the wonderful new experiences that house sitting around the globe provides.

We are non-smokers who enjoy a great glass of wine and all kinds of food, we have excellent references, a strong sense of adventure and a can-do attitude.  We’re working hard to become the house sitters we’d want to hire!

If you are looking for a fantastic house sitting duo to care for your home and furry family members so you can relax and focus on your time away, please contact us.

A few of our furry and feathered friends stopped by to say Hi! and give us their stamp of approval. Pups on parade

This is the beginning of our new profile which will soon appear on our Global House Sit Pros website (in the works), and several house sitting referral sites including Trusted House Sitters. Housesit Match and Nomador.

I’d love your feedback on our “resume” and if you know anyone on the west coast (U.S. or Canada) who is looking for good house sitters, please let them know about us.  We’d love to connect with them.

This is getting really exciting!

Cheers,

Nancy

House Sitting ~ Mr. Ricky Needs a Friendly Companion

House sitting.  Last year it popped up on my radar as one more possibility for our living la vida cheapo in retirement while still traveling and having grand adventures retirement plan.  I was intrigued but it wasn’t the right time and so the idea got filed in the way-back part of my brain.  I had pretty much forgotten about it.

Until a couple of weeks ago.

I need a house sitter/kitty companion when we are in Spain.  I have to admit the deadline kind of crept up on me.  It seemed so far in the future…and now, oops, it’s right in my face.  I’ve only got a few weeks to work this out.  I’ve put out distress calls for help but it’s not that easy.  People have busy lives and they don’t involve your cat.  No matter how cute he is. IMG_3901

Mr. Ricky is hubs best buddy, but apparently it is my job to find the perfect companion while we are gone.  It’s been one dead end after another.  Crunch time and I am out of brilliant ideas.

Or not…

Trusted House Sitters popped into my brain and NOW the timing could be just right.  Originally, I was thinking it would be cool to be a house sitter and travel on the cheap, but I hadn’t thought about how I would be helping others by providing a constant, mature, honest, reliable presence in their home while they are away.  I see it from both sides now.  And it looks like a win:win.

Time to jump in and give it a go.

Yesterday I signed us up on Trusted House Sitters as sitters and as homeowners who need a sitter.  It cost me $89 for a year for the dual membership.  I filled out profiles, uploaded photos and still have to do a police check (recommended but not required) and provide references.   Then I spent way too much time cruising the site looking at how others (lots of retired couples) set up their profiles and marketed their skills and experience.  You can even add your own video!  It was very easy to get started.

Then, just to test the site, I sent off an email inquiry looking for a sitter to a couple in British Columbia who have been house sitting for several years.  Reading their profile and references, they looked like folks we could be friends with.  Within a couple of hours I had a message back from Jan and John.  They love Portland and had just finished a “kitty sit” here, BUT unfortunately they are leaving in early September for a 5 week house/kitty sitting gig in Burgundy and then a few weeks sit in Malta.   Not too shabby!

My profile went live this morning and hit the email listing for new sitting opportunities available.  Within minutes I heard from Nicole and Sebastian, a cute couple from Germany and Denmark who are currently traveling the world, working in IT, house/dog sitting in Washington, D.C. and looking for house sits on the west coast.  Cool!  A while later up popped a message from Natalia and Antwan who work for Norwegian Cruises and travel in their off time.  They are on a ship coming into Seattle in September and looking to travel on the west coast.  It’s been less than 24 hours and I’m not sure how all this even works, but I am very excited by the possibilities.

I’m hopeful we will find a match and leave Mr. Ricky in good hands.  Then, when we get back from our adventures in Spain, I’m going to spend a lot more time on Trusted House Sitters looking for opportunities where we can test drive being house sitters ourselves.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

See you on the road!

Nancy

 

 

 

Mon Dieu, nous sommes soignants maison ~

“It is my second week in Escamps, a cluster of medieval farms and impossibly narrow roads in southwest France, a region known as The Lot, in the Midi-Pyrénées. There are no shops in this hamlet, only a church, an ancient cemetery, and a tiny bibliothèque whose librarian, Monsieur Dubillion, I nearly ran over in my tiny rented Renault. Still, word of my housesitting at Sophie Dumont’s farm, Piepalat, has preceded me, and on my daily walks residents often invite me for a cup of espresso or a slice of their goat cheese. In the language I learned from my French mother, I chat with farmers and masons whose ancestors have lived here for centuries.”

So wrote Judith Reitman, an American from North Carolina, in an article I stumbled on several years ago in AARP Magazine.  Judith wasn’t retired but she was looking for adventure on the cheap.  She found it big time, through an ad in HouseCarers.com.  In return for taking care of Sophie’s four cats – Lulu, Bijoux, Chouchou and Mia (which involved fresh cooked fish twice a day), feeding the chickens, and a little garden work, Judith got to stay practically free in a 17the century limestone farmhouse.  From that first experience, Judith was hooked.   I was hooked too.  And I’ve circled back to this idea time and again.  Finally, the time is right to give it a go ourselves and I am very excited.

First, the good news.   Especially where our beloved pets are concerned, there are more people than ever looking for someone to stay in their home while they are away.  This can be from one week to as long as a year or two.   You can find house sits world-wide – from farms to city apartments to luxury vacation homes and even on yachts!  Then, the bad news.  The word is out on house sitting and the competition can be fierce for the prime locations.  Flexibility is key, and you might be staying in your dream location in the off season.  Still…

Here’s an opportunity I found on TrustedHousesitters.com.  Two years in Castello Branco, Portugal.  Two cats, 11 chickens, vegetable garden.  Oh, baby!   

It helps to have house sitting experience and references, SO – if you or anyone you know is looking for someone to take care of the homestead, walk the dog, pet the kitties and water the plants while you’re out of town – let me know.  I am eager to dive in and get our feet wet.

The three most popular sites I’ve seen are HouseCarers.com, TrustedHousesitters.com and Housesittersinternational.com.   To get the ball rolling, I’ve decided to sign up with with a couple of agencies.  Trusted House Sitters and HouseSitMexico.   For less than $60/year to join, I think it’s a great way to test the water before we go half way around the world.  So, I’m working up our perfect profile and giving it a whirl.  We can do this!  In fact, a quick check this week on the HouseCarers.com for house sit openings in Washington State and bingo – I wanted to vacation on Bainbridge Island and here it is.  Click on the link and tell me, who would not be happy to spend two weeks in this gorgeous place and snuggle up with these two beautiful kitties.  One for Les and one for me.  Purrrfect!  (sorry).

If you are as intrigued by this idea as I was, here are a couple more links to check out :

Caretaker Gazette – Yep, a Newsletter for and about house sitting.

This UK couple have taken the house-sitter lifestyle to a new level – They have their own website and provide a lot of good info on avoiding the inevitable pitfalls.