Tag Archives: housesitting

Horrors! A Rat!

Wildlife woes in California

Alice recalls her adventures in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland having a very bad dream. Original drawing by Melody Caba.

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

My friends, I’ve told my tales of animal encounters while on the house-sitting trail but the worst (I hope) has just occurred. Sometimes, no matter how simple things get, they just don’t contribute to an artful life.

Thursday began with the discovery of a pretty gray bird huddled low in a corner by the kitchen windows. I hadn’t rubbed the sleep out of my eyes before noticing, on the way to the coffee maker, several little puff-piles of feathers on the floor around the table. Even then, I didn’t register the bird until it made an attempt to escape. But with two cats circling, the bird was going nowhere.

I shooed the cats away, then tried to shoo the bird toward the front door. The bird didn’t cooperate. Panicked, it fluttered against the louvered kitchen windows, trapped and unreachable behind the table. I finally captured it in the folds of a linen shirt and released it outside as the cats looked on, tails twitching.

I was up early on Friday, practically predawn. The cats, all three, were impatiently awaiting their morning rations of dry food. I filled one bowl and bent to fill the other. As the crunchies clattered into the dish, something gray under the edge of the cabinet caught my eye. Something big and gray. I prayed very quickly that it was a baby rabbit. No such luck. Horrors! It was a rat!

My response? I fled. My sister, Celia, lives next door. I planned to enlist her help. On the way down the driveway, my other sister, Mary, arrived. We ventured back into the house. I moved the cat bowl while Mary stood ready to toss a box over the rat. He made a run for it, but Mary was fast with the box. The rat was trapped. Now what? Mary and I went next door, and returned with Celia.

The plan was to inch the box over to the door and shove it out, freeing the rat as it went over the sill. The plan worked perfectly. Except the rat wasn’t in the box. Horrors! We opened all the doors from the family room and left, hoping the rat would, too. I could only hope. I sure as hell wasn’t going to look under the couch to see beady little eyes. If he wasn’t gone, the cats would surely hunt him down–wouldn’t they?

Saturday morning passed uneventfully. Sunday, no such luck. The cats had been hunting all right, but all they caught was a mouse. Which was under the kitchen table, eviscerated. Yuck! I know from  experience these cats will bring a stream of trophies, mice and hapless lizards. Resigned, I went to fetch a plastic bag.

What did I find? A big dead rat, right in the middle of the floor, all four feet in the air. He hadn’t escaped after all. The least the cats could have done was carried him outside.

And I haven’t even mentioned the bobcat that locked eyes with Mary down the block, or the yapping coyotes in the foothills out back.

The Resale Evangelista is winding up a year of house-sitting and getting ready to move to Virginia. No rats or other varmints are invited.

House-sitting, with pets…

A dog-gone good way to vacation

By Susan Caba Resale Evangelista

Dot and I jHouse Sitting for Pets, by Susan Caba in Spring 2015 Bark Magazineust returned from a walk in the woods around the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. While I stumbled over roots, Dot reveled in the fresh smells of a muddy creek bed, hid behind my legs when approached by a larger dog, and snuffled delightedly through a pile of pine needles. … 

So begins my article on house-sitting in the Spring edition of The Bark magazine. My sojourn with Dot, a 10lb Jack Russell named for the single brown splotch on her right hip, has come to an end. Her rightful owners have returned from India and Dot was happy to see them.

Dot and I got along just fine as roommates for close to 8 months. She was part of my year-long house-sitting adventure, moving around the country in search of a permanent location. House-sitting is a also great option for those who merely want to get away for a few weeks and don’t mind–or welcome–caring for a homeowner’s pet during their vacation. 

House Sitting Pets is a great way to see the world and live an artful life

My erstwhile roommate, Dot

I got to stay in the Kellers’ lovely home with a wraparound porch and woodburning stove while getting to know the area around Chapel Hill, NC. The Kellers didn’t have to worry about Dot and their three cats–who benefited by staying in their own home. You might consider this arrangement if you have pets that you’d hate–or couldn’t afford–to put in a kennel while you’re gone.

House-sitting arrangements are part of the new sharing economy. While house-sitting has been around for decades, the internet has energized the practice by making it easy for homeowners and house-sitters to connect without having to coordinate locations and simultaneous travel plans. One of the major factors driving the trend is people’s desire for in-home pet care.

Andy Peck, founder of TrustedHouseSitters.com–the site I use most–told me that 80 percent of the people looking for house-sitters have pets. “The most important thing to most homeowners is that they’ve got happy pets cared for at home. More and more people don’t want to use kennels.”

“It’s a win-win for both parties. The sitter goes the extra mile—it’s not liking asking a reluctant nephew to do the job,” he said. “And a lot of people genuinely love looking after pets while having a “stay-cation” in a great place, a vacation where they can live like a local.” 

House Sitting with dogs, Spring 2015 Bark magazine

My dog, Frazier, now living in California

Some assignments involve luxurious properties—sometimes quite decadent luxury. Ocean-view estates in Costa Rica, country mansions in Great Britain, and apartments in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco are  frequently among the listings, though these tend to be filled fast–often within hours. There are always lots of listings for Australia, New Zealand and Canada. House-sitters just have to keep local weather in mind. Canada is cool and green in the summer, but most listings are for winter months, fine for skiers. Australians flee their country during its torrid summers.

Shari Keller told me that Dot sealed the deal for me in getting their house-sitting assignment. Dot’s a shy creature at first but took to me almost on first sight. Within days of my arrival, she was already giving me the nightly signal that it was time for us to repair to the bedroom. She started out sleeping in her own bed on the floor but rapidly insinuated her way into sleeping in my bed, invariably taking a spot in the middle. (I’m told that arrangement has come to an end and Dot is back in her own bed. Sorry about that, Dot!)

Browsing the pet photos in house-sitting ads are enough to make me laugh out loud. One couple wrote: “We live in South West Calgary, about a half hour from the downtown core. We are looking for someone to feed our dogs, and give them lots of attention as well as take care of our home, water plants, etc.” The listing included pictures of Ginger, a doleful English bulldog, and a very perky Coton de Tulear named Willow.

As always, I caution you to read the listings of house-sitting assignments very carefully. The listings are often mini-biographies that reflect the homeowners’ adoration of their dogs and other pets. Sometimes, that familial love can be a little over the top or the pets that need care are elderly or ailing. There is also the risk the animals won’t be as adorable as described.

A friend agreed to move into a Victorian house in Colorado for a month, only to find that one of the two dogs she would be sitting was a snarling hound of the Baskervilles. Her first clue was when the homeowner provided “the biggest ham I’ve ever seen,” to lure the dog to his kennel.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. (I again thank the Kellers for getting rid of the two dozen chickens they had before they left for India. I didn’t think it would be a big deal taking care of them. However, when it snowed 7 inches one February day, I was very glad I didn’t have to go out to the chicken coop and hook up some heat lamps.)

I‘ve written about some of the more hilarious posts in Talk to the Animals.

If you’re interested in house-sitting, here are some of my earlier posts: More Talk to the AnimalsHave a Yen to Try House Sitting?, Tiny Houses, Travel and Defining Home.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need. She’s traveling around the country for a year, seeing how other people live.   

Damn! I’m jealous…

…of these designer house swaps

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

The grass is always greener in the other person’s yard, isn’t it?

I just read this article in the New York Times about design professionals swapping homes with one another. Needless to say, the houses are exotic and gorgeous. Unfortunately, you have to be in a design-related business (which I think I could swing, with a little judicious wording) and have a beautiful home of your own to exchange.

My house in STLMy house wouldn’t make the cut

Damn! And here I’ve been bragging about the joy of not having a house to care for. Of course, I think these people probably have people to take care of their multiple abodes. One house-swapper said she learned to make Moroccan food from a cook her host sent over. So far, none of my hosts has sent over a cook. (Although one sends a pool boy from Guatemala–strictly eye candy.)

Besides, cute as my house may have been, it would not have made the cut for the website, which is behomm.com (pronounced be home).

The site was created 18 months ago by Eva Calduch and Agust Juste, both graphic designers in Barcelona, Spain. They were tired of “slogging through” the more declasse homes on other home exchange sites.

“Around 10 to 20 percent of applications are rejected, often because the homes are shown to be messy or dirty. As for the rest, choices are based on “subjective aesthetics,” in Ms. Calduch’s words. Those decisions have nothing to do with size or luxury, she added: “A tiny place with very little can be nicer or more tasteful than a castle.”

The site has some 1,200 members, with Spain and the United States supplying the most — about 200 each. The locations are as far-flung as Bali and Florianópolis, Brazil. Even Japan has four subscribers. (A remarkable number, Ms. Calduch said, considering that a Japanese colleague told her, “We don’t even invite friends over.”)

Ah well, even if I don’t qualify, it’s fun to look at the slide show.

The Resale Evangelista is decluttering–her mind and her belongings–to create a more focused, simplified and artful life.

Check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting:

Have a yen to try house-sitting?

Going on the lam for a year

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Took Dot, the dog, for a forest walk today and am now sitting in front of a roaring fire in my adopted North Carolina home. I’ll be house-sitting here for almost another four months.

If you’re anxious to try the house-sitting lifestyle, the Jan. 4 New York Times Travel section features my article, A Primer on House Sitting. There are two other related articles, Home Exchange 101 and A Crash Course in AirBnB.

If you’re new to the site, you might want to check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting.

The Resale Evangelista is decluttering–her mind and her belongings–to create a more focused, simplified and artful life.

The Artfully Packed Suburu

How I drove across country–twice–hauling my coffee-maker, three suitcases, office supplies, yoga mat, tennis rackets and swim gear, a leather couch and my great-grandmother’s claw-foot oak table with 6 leaves

My Suburu holds everythingSusan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

So there we were in St. Louis, MO, getting ready to cast off for Louisiana and, beyond that, North Carolina. All that remained to be done was to pack the Suburu. Enough possessions for a year, plus a family heirloom to be delivered to my brother Joe.

My plan was to drive to Joe’s house in Louisiana, drop off the table and spend a few days there, then head for my new (temporary) home in North Carolina. It’s funny how a simple road trip can take on so many facets–sparking childhood memories, renewing emotional connections, provoking anticipation of the future.

Melody, my 13-year-old niece, was along for the ride. She lives in Taiwan. Her only exposure to the United States has been the summers and holidays she spends in Santa Barbara, visiting my mother.  Missouri was a revelation for her. First of all, it was green–the Midwest has had rain, while California is drought-stricken. And there was more for her to do in St.  Louis than in Santa Barbara. We went to the zoo, to the Arch, bowling and, of course, shopping (Melody and her mother are the original shopaholics).

I never really thought about it, but Santa Barbara is really an adult resort town. Unless you’re a beach person–which Melody isn’t–there aren’t that many kid-centric attractions there. It’s the bane of an only child: Adapting to an adult’s idea of fun, and getting used to talking (mostly) to grown-ups. My mother compensates by arranging for lessons. Horseback riding, tennis, swimming and more. She  did the same for my only kid–Max learned to kayak and scuba dive during his Santa Barbara summers.

Possibly the biggest excitement for Melody was staying with my friend Patricia, mother of four sons and a daughter. They’re all in their 20s, except Patrick, who is 16. Let’s just say they have a boisterous way of communicating with one another.  As the oldest of seven, it’s nothing new to me. To her credit, by the end of the five days, Melody could discern the difference between mock outrage and true trouble. And she grew to enjoy the mock outrage.

One of my tasks while in St. Louis was consolidating my two storage lockers. By the time I finished moving last spring, I couldn’t manage the careful packing required to fit all my belongings into one 10-by-15 storage unit. Melody patiently sat watching while I shifted boxes and furniture to empty the smaller locker into the larger one.

The key to this successful effort was taking my great-grandmother’s oak claw-foot table out of storage.

I have a photo of myself as a toddler in a highchair, exchanging sideways glances with my mother–with spit-curls bobbie-pinned into her hair–at that table. I collected it from my great-grandmother’s house when I moved to Philadelphia to work for The Inquirer. I’ve had the table for 30 years.

My ex-husband and I hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner on it, once for 18 people. As a single person, I am most frequently a guest during the holidays, not the hostess. It was time to pass it along to my brother Joe, who has three daughters. The table, lightly scarred considering its age, will provide ample space for home-schooling and homework, as well as holiday dinners.

I have to say, the Suburu is a great car for hauling. I can’t tell you how many people have marveled at its capacity when they see it fully loaded. The key is artful packing. If I do say so myself, I’m a master at maximizing space.

Suburu road tripA 19th-century oak pedestal table, with six leaves, is not a standard size object. The round table top is 54 inches across. The pedestal, with four impressive lion’s feet, complete with toenails, is massive and bulky. The leaves, at least, are manageable.

Luckily, the top pulls apart into two pieces. Each just fit into the back of the car. No two ways about it, the pedestal parts had to stand up behind the front seats and took up more room than their actual volume. In other words, canny packing was required. Then I had to add the rest of my possessions. Enough for six months or more in North Carolina.  This required some jiggering around. Ultimately, two suitcases had to be bungee-corded to the top of the Suburu.

I’ve said it before. Getting rid of possessions and moving has been a revelation. Who knew that the essential contents of my house could be squeezed into a 15-by-10-foot space? Who knew enough possessions for almost a year would fit in the back of a relatively small vehicle? Even so, I won’t be surprised to find there are still things I won’t need.

Eventually, I got it all in. As usual, it was two steps forward, one step back. I put stuff in, packed around it, then found it necessary to pull things out and start again.  Of course, when I got to Joe’s house, I had to unpack the whole car in order to get the table out, then repack for the onward journey. But that’s another post. This is enough for now.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying and clarifying her life. It’s a journey. Come along for the ride.

 

Tiny houses, travel & defining home

 What does it mean to be un-moored from any specific place?

SusanCaba
Resale Evangelista

Today, I’m writing from a hillside house in Santa Barbara. The scarlet bougainvillea —attended by hummingbirds—competes for sunlight with lavender blooms of jacaranda trees and spikey purple agapanthas in the garden. I walked outside in my robe this morning to have coffee by the pool overlooking dun-colored hills.

The Pacific is an indigo wedge on the horizon. I’ll swim a few lengths of the pool—no suit needed—before showering in a spa-like master bath with heated floors. For these two months, I’m driving a vintage white Mercedes dubbed “The Sugar Cube.”

In a way, house-sitting is an idyllic life. But I know the ultimate goal of my year of living restlessly is to find a place that feels permanent. Actually, I’ve come to realize that’s been a goal of mine my entire life. I’m also getting inklings that what I’m looking for is less a place than a sense–a sense of belonging. So far, I have only vague ideas–maybe daydreams, maybe delusions–of what that sense of belonging would look or feel like.

I started musing along these lines after coming across a couple of essays by San Francisco blogger Cheri Lucas Rowlands. She and her husband, another writer, have sold most of their stuff, rented their loft and are in the process of completing a tiny house–20 feet long, 8 feet wide, 131 square feet–on wheels. (They bought a partially completed model from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.)

Like me, Rowlands and her husband decided that finding their place in life required stripping down to the core.

“We want a physical home we can call our own — one we really do own, with no mortgage, excessive bills, or superfluous possessions to weigh us down. Escaping a mortgage and living more simply will free up money, which will free up time,” Rowlands wrote, describing the birth of her Tiny House Travelers journey.

But Rowlands and her husband, Nick, are looking at their decision to downsize and detach from any one location from a perspective beyond mere housing:

“As travelers…trying out different locations for size; as a couple exploring our relationship to our shared space and to each other; and as writers deeply interested in the evolution of space, place and home, and in people’s ties to physical objects and locations in a world where the boundaries between the ideas of the digital and the physical are becoming increasingly blurred.”

I’ve embarked on a similar adventure, through serial house-sitting. I hadn’t really articulated what I hoped to discover, other than a permanent place to live. My thoughts started to gel along the lines of “a sense of belonging” after reading Rowlands’ essay.

A few weeks back, I wrote about my friend Doreen Carvajal  unraveling mysteries about her family’s history that had been quietly churning in the back of her mind for decades. I started the post by asking, “What is the burning question in your life?”

“I’m asking” I wrote, “because I think the search for an answer–whatever the question–creates a sense of passion and purpose in life. I’m envious of those who not only have such a question (and recognize it) but summon the will, the energy and the resources to pursue the answer. In the process, those people experience a deep sense of satisfaction and, I think, come to know some fundamental truths about themselves.”

I haven’t been able to fully shape my burning question yet. But I think it’s related to finding that sense of belonging. And, as I wrote that last sentence, it occurred to me that instead of using the word “finding,” I should have written “creating.” As in creating that sense of belonging.

In a New York Times article about her quest to uncover family secrets, Doreen wrote: “We can change the story we tell about ourselves and, by doing that, change our future.”

Coincidentally, I had been thinking that the subtext of my year of living restlessly is, “Change my story, change my brain, change my life.” I’m a believer in the science that says we can “rewire” our brains by over-riding the stories about ourselves that we grew up believing.

That’s why I said I should have written “creating” a sense of belonging rather than “finding” a sense of belonging. Apparently, I have control over whether I belong or not. Now that’s a scary realization!

I’ll finish with one more thought from another of Rowlands’ essays, What it means to write about travel.”

“Traveling can simply mean exploring–whatever your world, whatever your reality–and is often less about place and more about time, change and one’s relationship to a moment.”

In that sense, I’m traveling…aren’t we all?