Introducing….Thursday Q & A

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I'm ready and waiting...

I love that everywhere we go, we find that people are interested in this lifestyle we have created for ourselves.  Most of the time, questions are asked in person, or via e-mail.  I would love to keep the conversation going here, where more like-minded can participate.

Do you have any questions or comments for us today (whatever day it happens to be) regarding home and pet sitting, travel, writing, or living simply?  How about working from home or the road?  Good!  We’d love to hear them…

How We Became Caretakers

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Last October, I wrote a post on why we decided to caretake.  Since then, I have received many an inquiry as to how we became caretakers.  Most of the time it is via e-mail, so I just e-mail the person back, all the while thinking to myself that I really must blog about this as it is obviously a topic of interest.  So, here goes.

When I house and pet sat full-time in my twenties, it was all by word of mouth.   I am trying to remember how the first sit came about.  Someone must have said to someone else who was looking for a sitter, “I bet Valynne will do it, she is single and broke, and pretty responsible for a person her age”.  So, I took a long-term sit, which saved me tons of money on rent.  Then, I took another.  And another. 

My only means of marketing myself was with a very pretty business card.  I love pretty business cards, by the way.  Business cards say a lot about a person/company, so try not to be too cheap here, people.  And yes, I do believe that with all of our technology, a business card is still very important.  I hand mine out all the time.  People tell me how pretty they are.  And then, they contact me.  As simple and effective now as they were then.

Flash forward a decade (OK, fifteen years) and we now have the means to search for sits and sitters all over the planet via the world-wide web.  Pretty amazing, really.  This would be how Paul and I found our current sit.  We were in the process of selling the house and pondering where our next dwelling would be.  I did not want another house.  The words thirty year mortgage are practically synonymous with prison term to me.  So, I got online and Googled away. 

There are now a variety of websites that you can subscribe to in order to find any kind of caretaking positions you can imagine.  By the way, people use the term caretaking  and sitting interchangeably.  The main difference is that “caretaking” typically means a long-term arrangement that tends to include more responsibilities, while “sitting” is typically short-term (think two weeks spent with your neighbor’s dog, taking in the mail and watering the plants). 

So, I chose two online sites for us to subscribe to.  Both of these can be found to the right of this post under CARETAKING/HOUSE & PET SITTING.  The Caretaker Gazette costs $30 a year, and Housecarers costs $45.  Not bad, considering we are saving thousands and thousands of dollars a month!  Plus, it is way more entertaining than cable, and a great way to learn your world geography : ) 

Once I subscribed to these sites, I searched for possible sits and marveled at the possibilities, reading the really interesting ones out loud to Paul.  After the house officially sold, I began to inquire.  I had compiled a list of references and written an introductory paragraph or two for our online profile (which evolved into our website).  Less than two weeks later, we were headed east, for a long-term caretaking job.   Pretty simple, really. 

You may be saying to yourself, yeah, but…to that I say, trust me, there are all kinds of opportunities for all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.  Example:  You have two dogs.  While it is more difficult to find sits when you have animals of your own, there are sits that allow you to bring your animals with. 

You don’t have to subscribe to the sites above to get a feel for what is available.  They will have sample sits as well as current sits, just without the contact details.  If you are on Fb, you can also fan Caretaker Gazette.   Check out the sites, and then decide whether you want to make the investment. 

My bloggy friend Kim is starting a caretaking site, as well.  You can access it by clicking on Caretaker International (also to the right of this post).  This is brand new, so if you go on and don’t see much, stay tuned.  She is featuring a free classifieds section, so you have nothing to lose by posting your own ad.

We have met other caretakers (mostly online) by commenting on their blogs, meeting them on forums, and the like.   It is a pretty cool community; most of us share a love of animals, travel, living simply, etc.  

I came upon my recent side sit in Cambridge via networking with other caretakers.  Cool, eh?  This is common for caretakers.  For example, since deciding upon a long-term sit, we have had many requests to sit for others.  If we are unavailable, we like to be able to refer someone who is.  Someone we know and trust. 

Looking back, I can see this post is a bit long and a bit rambling.  I am a bit sidetracked today (more on that later) but I didn’t want any more time to go by before bringing up this topic as I have had two e-mail inquiries these past 24 hours.  I am hoping this post leads to more questions, ideas, and rapport.  Please share your thoughts by clicking on the comment button below.

We look forward to hearing your own caretaking success stories in the near future : )

Meanwhile, Back at the Bay…

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Suddenly, the fruits (or the herbs and vegetables, at least) of our labor are everywhere!   Some of you will remember how I tried to grow herbs at an altitude of 8,000+ in Colorado and how disenchanted I was with the results.  I know it can be done…just not by me, apparently.  What you see below is yet another benefit of sea level living.  Love how that baby chipmunk took advantage of the photo op (upper left).

Herb Garden

And the flowers!  We can’t take credit for the flowers; these just appeared out of nowhere one day…along with the bees.  Albert Einstein insisted that man would not survive more than four years without bees.  Respect to the bees.

Fat and Happy Bumblebee

 This property boasts a pond out front and a bay out back.  I am pretty sure my fascination with lily pads stems from the book, The Wind in the Willows, one of my childhood favorites.   Or was it Thumbelina?  Either way, lily pads never cease to enchant.

Lovely Lily Pads

Paul has recently taken to…lawn mowing.  Who’d have guessed?  I fear I will have to remind him gently that when our time here is through, the lawn mower stays.  Seriously.  

 

"She might have took my car Keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere."

It has been a rough couple of weeks for Milo, yet he continues to maintain a happy and sweet disposition. 

Milo and his Favorite Toy : )

His heart condition reminds us that he is no spring chicken (nearing thirteen, which is particularly old by retired racer standards).   For a while there, it seemed like he was getting younger by the day…guess I was in denial.   Plying him with meds and restricting his walks is not fun, as all of you animal lovers know.  

Keep this aspect of sitting in mind, dear would-be caretakers.  You are likely to become very attached to those left in your charge.  I mean, just look at him.  The epitome of adorable. 

As ever, I look forward to your comments.  Tell us all about your gardens, your animal friends, your favorite country songs…and remember, you can comment on any Caretaking Couple post at any time.  It’s all relevant!

*One more thing…I am working on a destination article for my travel writing class.  The subject matter?  Downtown Evergreen, Colorado.  Thoughts?

Cambridge Sit – Week Two

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I am back with the boys now.  It feels good to be “home” after a great two weeks in Cambridge.  I sure loved being able to walk or take the bus everywhere, and Cosmo and I had a blast at the dog park (Fresh Pond).  Shedding a few pounds (along with the BP catastrophe) has inspired me to make walking whenever I can a priority from now on.  Am taking the bike in to be tuned up tomorrow as well!           

So many options this weekend at Fresh Pond...

Fresh Pond is packed with people and dogs, all day every day.  I loved taking Cosmo there, and on the days where she wasn’t feeling like a long walk, I would come back and walk alone.  It energized me, just being around people running, cycling, or walking;  most of them with a dog close-by.  I am not  a runner (although I have done my share of jogging over the years) but I definitely picked up the pace these past two weeks.  After our morning walk, I would typically walk or hop a bus to Harvard Square.         

John Harvard

Dorms. Perhaps in my next life...

Harvard Writers Featured at the COOP

Wandering Harvard and the Square felt great.  Again, the energy was there and I embraced it fully.  Check out the guy sitting behind Paul in the picture below.  He filled page after page with who knows what while Paul and I chatted away.  I wrote like that when I was his age. Pen to paper, sometimes hours on end.  Granted it was typically at an all night diner and for a JC or UCONN extension class (or even better, a juicy journal entry)…even so, I bet I felt just as inspired as he was feeling that morning.          

Algiers on Brattle - Harvard Square

Trish, this next pic is for you.  Thank you for a wonderful afternoon with you and Dave, including a “Belated Birthday Lunch” at Full Moon Restaurant on Huron Ave.  Delish.        

I had not heard of Marimekko before this sit  and while I am more of a vintage material girl, I very much enjoyed the boldness of this fabric at their Cambridge Concept Store.  And the sundresses were so pretty…        

Fabric at Marimekko - Huron Village

Perhaps you know this about me already, but I do love a good book store.  It is fun to visit with others who are just as appreciative and are willing to take their time perusing (T&D)…plus, Bryn Mawr is a non-profit that provides college scholarships.   A+.          

Replaced my lost copy of Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) for $3. Nice!

I am not typically big into cemetaries, but Mount Auburn Cemetary is a definite exception.  It is a work of horticultural genius, for starters.  And I felt true serenity, walking along its endless paths.         

“It seems as if Nature had formed the spot with the distinct idea of its being a resting place for her children” .  This is what Emily Dickenson wrote (about Mount Auburn) to a friend in 1846.  This is exactly how I felt, wandering about the place more than a century and a half later.                

Raccoon at Mount Auburn Cemetary

Memorial at Mount Auburn

Chapel at Mount Auburn

Back to Harvard Square (I couldn’t get enough)…remember this band from my last post?  I was able to return and spend more quality listening time .  They needed no fancy acoustics in order to sound great. I love seeing people put themselves out there BIG and am hoping this was a beautiful experience for them.          

A Night in the Box from Minneapolis, MN

These girls seemed to really be enjoying each other and the day.  Cheers to being young and happy and most likely very smart to boot!           

Relaxing outside Crema Cafe

Post Harvard Square, I caught a bus to Huron Ave and Formaggio Kitchen, then walked the rest of the way home.       

Relaxing on the T - so much better than driving!

Amazing what one sees, growing on trees...walking is even better than the T!

The pics below are really meant for fellow foodies.  I know there are those of you out there who simply eat and drink to meet basic bodily needs.  Try as I might to understand, it just doesn’t compute.  For me, being thin means my thyroid is out of whack again or I am depressed.  So, if you see me and I am looking too thin, you may want to lower your head; pretending not to see me.           

Anyway, Formaggio Kitchen is as artisan as it gets.  Alas, my little digital camera does not do this place justice – but it will give you an idea of its greatness.  I visited several times for a coffee or a sandwich or something simple like that, mainly to justify my wandering the aisles.  Except for the last day, when I splurged on prosciutto and beer infused caramels for Paul, and a bottle of balsamic vinegar for me.  And Paul.  But mostly me.           

I struck up a quick conversation with Euan over gourmet pastries and such, and he was kind enough to grant me a picture (thanks, Euan!).  All of the staff here are helpful and they know their food and drink.  And flowers.  I came in on Mother’s Day and watched several amazing bouquets come together in seconds, one right after the other, over and over.             

Fiddlehead Ferns and Such at Formaggio Kitchen

A Section of the Chocolate Section at Formaggio Kitchen

Euan, Manning the Bakery Section at Formaggio Kitchen

Honey, How I Love Thee...Formaggio Kitchen

And Mustard. Honey + Mustard = YUM. Formaggio Kitchen

Cheese. Sigh. Formaggio Kitchen

Oil and Vinegar, Vinegar and Oil...Formaggio Kitchen

Baseball Sugar Cookie. How could I resist? Formaggio Kitchen

I think it only fair to end this Cambridge chapter with the pup who made it all possible.  This. Dog. Is. Adorable.  Thank you Cosmo, for your delightful company these past two weeks : )             

Cosmo - Always There to Help with the Crumbs

  PS Did you know that you can click on a picture to make it bigger?  Just making sure…             

Valynne’s Perfect Cambridge Day

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I decided this morning to be a bit decadent.  My budget for this sit is $20 a day and my typical day is closer to $10 as I eat at home most of the time and walk or take the bus everywhere.  Today was the exception.  I was going to blow a few bucks and spend my time however I wanted.  Fun!   

At 7am, I let Cosmo out and got back into bed.  I fed her a bit later….then got back in bed.  Paul never does this.  Once he is up, he makes the bed and doesn’t think about it until a good sixteen hours later.  If I get back into bed I feel a bit guilty around him.  But Paul isn’t here (tee hee).  Decadent.    

Around 11am, Kevin joined Cosmo and I for a walk around Fresh Pond Reservoir (2.5 miles).  It is lots of fun knocking around ideas and sharing stories with other caretakers. Kevin and Alicia live a couple of miles away from here and introduced us to this sit.  Their website is www.KevinandAliciaShea.com.     

After dropping Cosmo off at home post-park, I walked to Formaggio Kitchen and browsed their chocolate and bakery sections (yum), then sat down with a Bundaberg (ginger beer) and  waited for the bus.  Fifteen minutes later and I was wandering Harvard Square.  Again. It’s gonna be a hard habit to break.   

Crema Cafe has been calling my name, so I got me a latte and a coconut macaroon (it’s been years) and sat down at the balcony to write a few postcards until an outside seat became available.     

Latte & Coconut Macaroon at Crema Cafe

A few minutes later I had relocated and was enjoying a healthy dose of sunshine with an older gentleman that lived across the square.  He sat at this spot almost every day and I could understand why.  It was perfect for people watching. 

Men walked by with flowers from the shop next door (I love watching men walking by with flowers) and I admired more than one Red Sox hat.  College girls sat in groups of three, giggling away and reminding me of my little Sister Em, who will be a Freshman at Cal Poly next year.   

Crema Cafe asks that you limit your stay to an hour and it was time I moved on.   Next stop, Harvard COOP.  I was wandering the third floor for the first time when I came across this sign: 

Tuesday May 11th at 7pm Discussion/Signing with William Morgan

His latest book, The Typewriter Is Holy, claims on its front cover to be The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation.  Are you kidding me?    

View from my seat at the COOP Cafe

For this event, I would have to plan accordingly.  A couple more stops and I’d be walking back home to hang out with Cosmo a bit before catching another 72 Bus.  My first night out in Cambridge.  Party animal that I am.   

Leavitt & Peirce is mainly a tobacco shop.  It also sells chess sets, violet flavoured chewing gum, playing cards, and mustache wax.  Say what you will, I love the smell of tobacco.  Real tobacco.  The kind you find in tobacco pipes, the kind rolled into quality cigars.  I like this place.  

View from the Chess Balcony at Leavitt & Peirce

And I’m not just saying that because I scored me a wooden Ashton cigar box (Made by Hand in the Dominican Republic) for $1.  That was just a bonus.  I do love wooden boxes.  And this one is perfect for my vintage button collection.  Now all I need are some vintage buttons.   

What a great way to repurpose!

As I was walking across campus (after being denied entry to Harvard Library), I overheard a tour leader asking a small crowd of would-be students whether they thought the Science Center looked like a Polaroid Land Camera.   As they all looked up at it, the leader asked if any of them even knew what a Polaroid looked like.  Just then, it hit me.  Holy Crap, I’m thirty-seven.  For real.  

Harvard Science Center

I took the long way home.  Typically, I walk down Brattle Street or take a bus down Huron Ave.  Today, I walked through North Cambridge.  If you asked me to retrace my steps I doubt I’d be able to.  Glad I went this way, though.  Not all of Cambridge looks like Harvard Square, you know.   

Mike hurt his hand (this was his Barber Shop)

This route was roughly twice as long, but I had a great time along the way.  Back at the homestead and time to break it gently to Cosmo that I would be going back out.  I explained to her that I have this thing for Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burrows, Ferlinghetti… And that Ginsberg’s archivist and biographer of twenty years was only a ten minute bus ride away.  Whatever, Lady.

Name of Band TBA

I’m jogwalking to the COOP when this band stops me in my tracks. Cocaine’s … Gonna Kill My Honey Dead.  Wow.  They’re good.  But I cannot be late.  I throw a buck in the guitar case and up the stairs of the COOP I go, promising myself I will catch them before the end of the week.

Complimentary Starbucks coffee and real cream with Sugar in the Raw?  Nice.  And I’ve scored myself a decent seat.  Bill Morgan gets up to talk and I’m surprised.  He looks more like a librarian than a Herbert Huncke.  Oh. He is a librarian.  And did I mention he spent twenty years as Allen Ginsberg’s archivist and biographer, editing an essay here and there while he was at it?  How did he get that gig?!?  It’s a cool story.  Half an hour later I am convinced The Typewriter Is Holy will be a cool story as well.  So I buy it, and have him sign it when almost everyone has dispersed. 

Waiting to get my book signed. Facing the camera is photographer Elsa Dorfman!

I’d like to write more about the “Beats” and am pretty sure I can tie it in with Caretaking Couple.   What do you think?  In the meantime, I can’t wait to dive into this book, being the Dharma Bum that I am…   http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/65501.

OK.  Now. To find a bus home.  I have taken a bus to the Square, but never from it.  I’ve gotta go underground for that.  But first, what’s going on in front of Cardullo’s?  It’s a small crowd, watching the Red Sox on TV.  

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays

The deli is closed at Cardullo’s and the cashier recommends a burrito from Boloco.  I walk there and back and find a seat, thinking I would watch an inning or two.  Next to me is Bob (who recently retired after forty years with the Cambridge PD), Steve, and Jerome. 

A photographer starts taking pics as I shove the burrito in my mouth.  Come to find out he is with NPR.  Ha.  Is this to be my fifteen minutes of fame?  I love it.  Check their website for sexy pics of me slouching over said burrito. 

By the time the Red Sox were leading 6-1, Cardullo’s was closing up shop.  I thanked Bob for my Cambridge Police Department Junior Officer badge sticker and found the 72 bus.
Something else happened today (with regards to Mountain Girl Organics) but I don’t want to jinx it.  Seriously, what an all-around amazing day.   Cosmo didn’t look too convinced at first but she has since come around (convincing by means of doggie treats – I’m not above it).   
 
What does a perfect day consist of in your world?  Have you had one lately?  I’m hoping you have.  If not, what would it consist of?  Just curious, is all… 

Cambridge Sit – Week One

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I am currently enjoying a two week sit in Cambridge, MA with Cosmo.  It has been a bit like vacation.  Cosmo and I go to the dog park every morning.    

Then, when she is napping, I sneak out for a few hours.  The evenings are spent writing, reading, and walking some more.   

Because I am (mostly) sans Paul, who walks a lot faster than me, I have taken many a picture.  Here are a few of my favorite moments so far…     

MayFair 2010 just happened to fall on my first day out on my own in Cambridge.  I called for a taxi.  This alone would make for an interesting blog post, I thought to myself.  Yes, I was generalizing, or stereotyping or whatever you want to call it.  In my defense, I have taken cabs in Boston before and will leave it at that.   Anyway, the cab showed up minutes later and I was greeted by a pleasant, helpful, and soft spoken man named Doyle.   Doyle dropped me off at Harvard Square and what a great day I had.  Plus, I realized that I could easily walk or take the T home. Thank you for all of your suggestions, Doyle!  You made my day(s) in Cambridge that much better.  

A Perfect Day for MayFair 2010 - Harvard Square

MayFair 2010 - Chalk Art

MayFair 2010 - Legacy Dance Company (GO GIRLS!)

MayFair 2010 - Boston Tap Company (WOW)

MayFair 2010 - Cambridge Youth Dance Program (aka Beautiful Ballerinas)

Walking Past Longfellow's Digs on the way "home"

All of Cambridge is in Bloom...

 The pics below were taken at the dog park at Fresh Pond, where Cosmo and I spend most of our mornings.  These ducklings were only 3 to 4 days old when we happened upon them.  Sweet. 

Ducklings at Fresh Pond - Welcome, Springtime!

Walking Cosmo Around Fresh Pond Resevoir

Cosmo, Waiting for me to get off the Swing

I'm Car-Free in Cambridge. Feels Good.

I liked Harvard Square so much that I decided to go back and experience it without the MayFair crowds…Paul came to visit over the weekend and we enjoyed the Square together.  

My kind of shopping (Harvard Square)

  

Algiers Coffee House - Harvard Square

Arabian Coffee with Paul at Algiers (Harvard Square)

Browsing at Beadworks (Harvard Square)

Upcoming Events at Club Passim - Harvard Square (This Pic is for you, Denise)

Smurfs sighting at Hidden Sweets - Harvard Square

 On several occasions, I chose to take the long way home; this day via the Charles River.  Just missed the storm you see brewing below. 

The Charles River - Cambridge Boat Club in the Distance

When I turn right out of the neighborhood instead of left, I run into these gems…

Sofra Bakery & Cafe (on Belmont in Cambridge)

Falafel & Iced Latte at Sofra (yes it was that good)

Vintage Plates at Lady Luxe (Belmont Street, Cambridge)

Lovely Lamp at Lady Luxe

Vintage Suitcases at Lady Luxe

Deluxe Town Diner - Watertown

Ok, that’s just a peek at what I have been up to.  Stay tuned for Week Two and if there is anything you feel I absolutely must see while I am here, do tell, won’t you?        

   

Caretaker Profile: Kevin and Alicia Shea

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Bob The Cat

Since Paul and I began caretaking last year, we have had several requests to house and pet sit across the states.  Because our current sit is long term (one to two years) we are currently off the market.  For this reason, I have been putting together a list of people we know and trust who caretake so that when Paul and I are asked for a reference I have their info at my fingertips.   

Kevin and Alicia Shea make it easy for me to refer them for several reasons.  I met Kevin while browsing a house sitting forum on www.housecarers.com.  It was here that I noticed that he and his wife Alicia live in Massachusetts (not far from our current sit) and had recently been profiled in a New York Times article (please see my November posts for the full article).  

I contacted Kevin in hopes he would be interested in exchanging ideas and we have established a rapport these past few months.   Alicia designed their website www.kevinandaliciashea.com, which happens to be the best caretaking website I have come across.  All that aside, the biggest reason I can give for referring this couple stems from Kevin’s most recent post on the Housecarers forum…  

“Later this month we are off again. This time it will be a repeat sit in Northeast CT taking care of our now long term friend, Bob the cat. I can’t remember exactly but this will be the 5th or 6th time for this client. They were our first way back in June 2008.
We thoroughly enjoy this sit as we have our choice of staying in the main house or at the cottage down the path from the main house. We sometimes stay in the main house for the week and then “vacation” to the cottage for the weekends. A different driveway to the cottage makes it feel as if we are truly in 2 different places, … except that Bob knows where we are and saunters over.

Bob’s favorite thing is to pluck on the window screen in the office. He gets to it by hopping up in the porch handrail, and then strums it so as to tell us, “Hey, open the door!”.  So the door valet gets up, opens the door and waits the designated time as Bob slooooowly enters the house. Of course, he then eats a bit and leaves quickly through his cat door.   

We have gotten to know the homeowners friends and they will be our dinner guests, again, on our first weekend there. It is rather funny to be entertaining folks who know the place better that we do and who can tell us where their preferred beverage is located. Our dinners with their friends have been such fun and so talked about, that the homeowners invited us for a weekend just so that they could enjoy the fine cooking and have a few laughs.
 
We have already made reservations at Still River cafe, considered the #1 Destination restaurant in New England. http://www.stillrivercafe.com/ and we are also looking forward to sipping some Cointreau Noir in front of the fireplace in the cottage while playing with Bob.  Next up — who knows?”

So, my main reason for referring this couple is that these are the kind of people I would want to be taking care of our home and pets.   Kevin and Alicia not only caretake – they establish relationships and clearly enjoy the lifestyle they have created for themselves.  Thank you Kevin and Alicia for allowing me to share a bit of your story!    

*If you are looking for caretakers in the near future, you can contact Kevin and Alicia through their website, which is listed above and to the right, under blogroll.  If you are interested in caretaking, feel free to contact me for ideas and inspiration.  Or, If you simply have any questions and/or comments to share, please click the comment link at the top of this post – I love comments!

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