Christmas 2018 Letter

I am writing this Christmas letter in front of a blazing fire, in a lovely and cozy cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We started 2018 housesitting, in tropical Panama, and end it here housesitting in wintry North Carolina.

I am amazed at all we did in 2018. It was a busy travel year, which of course, we just love. Here is a recap of our 2018 travels….

January: Our high point in Panama was a day trip to a very remote Indian village. It was a scene out of National Geographic. From Panama, we flew “home” to our tiny house in Mission, Texas, then flew almost immediately to Rochester, MN where we retired in 2013. We were there as a guest speaker for the public library fundraiser. We spoke about out housesitting adventures and living life mostly on the road, all on a shoestring budget.

February: From MN we flew to Calgary to visit a cousin, then took a direct flight to Baja, California. Our daughter Alexis accompanied us and we spent a delightful week in an AirB&B in Loreto. (highly recommend). We picked up our other daugher Meredith who had been living in Baja, and took her to Asheville to get her settled in.

March: We then commenced our spring European housesitting stint. After one night in Rome, our arrival location, we took the train to northern Italy to a remote village near the Adriatic Sea called Cingoli. It was one of the best housesitting assignments we have had. The owners loaned us their car and we took many day trips to ancient mountain villages, with absolutely no one speaking English. What fun! After the assignment, we spent a few days (eating) in Bologna, then took the train through the Alps to Geneva, for another lovely assignment.

April: We did a lot of criss-crossing around Europe. With inexpensive flights, we flew to London, then took a train to northern Yorkshire, England for another assignment. Here we were in James Heriott’s territory…. “All Creatures Great and Small”. Again we took a lot of day trips to charming villages where we enjoyed cozy pubs. From there, we did another housesit outside of Cambridge, England, staying in a lodge once occupied by one of the Queens! We then took a bus and train to Belgium where we met up with 2 sets of friends that we have meant while RVing. Friends Daniel and Minnie from San Francisco were traveling through Belgium, and we were able to rendezvous with them. Then we met up with friends Tony and Jenny from Nova Scotia. We spent a week based in Ghent, Belgium and traveled around the country with them. The best thing about traveling is meeting people, and then reuniting with them – all over the world!

May: We fulfilled one of our bucket list items by taking a tall-sail ship cruise (Windstar Cruises) around Italy. The cruise included stops in beautiful Montenegro, Croatia, and then ended in Venice. Hopping all over Europe, we spent another 2 weeks in western England, near Wales, at a lovely housesit, and then one near Bordeaux, France. The airport controllers were on strike, so our flight was canceled and we had to take a 40-hour bus ride from Wales to Bordeaux, through the Chunnel. What an experience!

June: We loved the Bordeaux area (especially the wine and food!), then flew back to Texas. After a week getting ourselves organized, we hooked up the Airstream and headed out for our summer road trip. We took our time following the US southern coast, then ended up on the eastern shore in North Carolina, where we spent two weeks housesitting, capped by 4th of July fireworks over the bay in Edenton.

July: We took our time driving and camping up through eastern USA. We spent several weeks in our favorite part of the country – Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. How lovely!

August/September: Another reunion with our friends Tony and Jenny from Nova Scotia (whom we had met in 2013 in Newfoundland while camping). We spent a few weeks with them, staying in national parks all over New Brunswick. What fun to explore together! Then, on our own again, on to Quebec. Our plan was to circle the Gaspe Peninsula, then head on to Labrador. This was not to be. On August 20, in the middle of the night, George suffered a heart attack. Life changed immediately. We were in a remote village on the St. Lawrence River, where no one spoke English, and we were without a phone. What to do? (Check out blog posts from August and September for details). In short, we got him to an urgent care center, then to a rural hospital, then airlifted to a heart hospital in Quebec City. A lot of overwhelming experiences during that time, with the kindness of the Quebecois forever imprinted in my memory.

October: After retrieving the Airstream back in Gaspe, we traveled back to the USA for medical follow-up in Vermont. We spent some time in Burlington (cool town), then moseyed back south. We checked off a few more bucket list items – the Frank Lloyd Wright house in PA and the Thousand Island area of NY. We camped in several wineries and breweries, thanks to Harvest Hosts. We dropped the Airstream off at the factory in Ohio to get a dent repaired.

November: We spent the month back in our tiny house in far South Texas. George did a lot of relaxing and I took advantage of our community’s activities – water aerobics, yoga and line dancing classes. We were delighted to have our daughter Alexis visit us for a week.

December: We end the year in Asheville, with the last housesitting assignment of the year. We are enjoying spending some quiet time in the cozy cabin and seeing our daughter Meredith in town.

What wonderful year, with lots of adventures, both good and bad! Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a great 2019!

Christmas traffic!

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Weaverville, near Asheville, NC

WEATHER: Very unpleasant….cool and rain

We awoke to rain and clouds covering up our mountain views. It is supposed to clear off in a few days.

George spent the day at home with our dog and cat, while I went in to Asheville to go shopping with my daughter. What terrible traffic! In one mall parking lot, there was a huge traffic jam with cars blocking the road by trying to get into a drive-through fast food joint. Aaarrgghh!

Cars were blocking intersections when they couldn’t move forward. I guess everyone is doing last-minute Christmas shopping!

Back in our cozy cabin, we sat in front of the fireplace and read books. So much better! This house has Netflix, so we discovered some old episodes of my favorite show, “Call The Midwife” and watched a Christmas episode. I cried for hours……

When we were housesitting in England a few years ago, we went to the town where these scenes were filmed. How neat!

DINNER: Sauteed shrimp with Asian stir-fried vegetables and rice. Tasty!

Enjoying housesitting

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Weaverville, NC, near Asheville

WEATHER: Sunny. High in 50s

We are doing our 34th housesitting assignment. We really enjoy this opportunity. The particular association we work with is http://www.trustedhousesitters.com. It is a UK-based company so many of the assignments are located in England, but there are opportunities all over the world. Each day I receive 2 emails, each with about 25 new assignments from which to choose. I look at the dates, locations, and type of assignment. (We generally shy away from caring for big animals like cows, horses, and aggressive large dogs). The assignments range from a long weekend all the way to an entire year. We like ones that are 2 weeks or so long.

We have had assignments in several US states – MN, WA, OR, CA, NC, as well as in Panama and US Virgin Islands. Abroad, we spent 6 months all over Australia, and did many many assignments in England, plus Switzerland, Singapore, Thailand, France, and Italy.

No money exchange takes place. The homeowners normally have animals and prefer to keep their pets at home. In exchange for caring for the pets, animals, and plants/garden, we housesitters get to stay at the homes at no charge. As the name implies, the system is based on trust. So far, we have had great experiences. We have made great friendships and have returned to several assignments when we could. We have cared for dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, hamsters, geese, ducks, and even a wild fox! We have been in both rural as well as urban areas.

Right now, I’m starting to apply for assignments in the Pacific NW for March or so. Sometimes, for the USA assignments, we drive so need to find a location with room to park the Airstream. Other times we fly, and use public transportation when we can.

If anyone would like to join, just let me know and I can provide a promo code.

Now….on to this assignment. We are here for 2 weeks. Our charges are one dog and one cat. Yesterday, I posted photos of the cute terrier that we are caring for. Today, I was able to capture our Maine coon cat Kevin while he was hanging out on top of the couch…

We started the day watching two huge deer munching their breakfast in the side yard. Then, the many, many cardinals and bluejays made their way to the birdfeeders on the deck. Sunrise over the Blue Ridge mountains was spectacular.

Wednesdays are our little “chores” day. I watered the indoor plants, then George did some dead-heading….

I did a little cleaning of the outdoor hot tub.

We had a beer at the pizza restaurant/brewpub in Weaverville, while we did phone and intenet work.

In yesterday’s post, I mentiond that I could see ourselves living in a town like Weaverville. A reader asked me if I preferred this over our current 55+ RV community in Texas. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Some day, when we settle down, when we are no longer using our Airstream, I’d like to find a small city that has a vibrant downtown that is walkable and bikeable. Send me recommendations!

DINNER: Couscous with leftover rotisserie chicken, salad, and green beans.

Cozy in Weaverville

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Weaverville, North Carolina, near Asheville

WEATHER: Sunny. High almost 60

We went in to nearby Weaverville to explore. It is a really cute town. If it had a bus to Asheville (which is in the works, I think), it would be the perfect town in which to live. It has everything – cute shops, grocery stores, restaurants, brewpubs, and more. We stopped at a coffee shop where a guitarist was singing and playing.

We did computer and phone work while sipping free coffee – free, as our homeowner had given us some gift cards to use. We diddled around so long there, that we realized it was about 1:00, and we were hungry. So, we went next door to a cute pub and had Taco Tuesdays. We sampled a few of their many taps.

On our way home, we shopped at a nice Goodwill, then on home.

Abby is one of our charges. She is a mix, but seems to have quite a bit of terrier in her.

She likes to cuddle on the couch…

Kevin, the Maine coon cat, is camera shy. I’ll try to get a photo later.

DINNER: Cajun beans and rice with some Italian salami and leftover rotisserie chicken bits.

We are thrilled that we have several PBS channels. Tonight we watched my favorite travel shows – with my honey Rick Steves and Rudy Maxa. Rudy highlighted Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, some of our favorite places. Makes us want to go back soon!

Christmas splendor at the Biltmore Estate

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Weaverville, North Carolina, near Asheville

WEATHER: Sunny and warmer. High mid-50s

Our daughter that lives here in Asheville works at a hotel across from the Biltmore Estate. She was able to get us complementary tickets to visit the Biltmore Estate (normally $85 each!)

So, George stayed home to mind the housesit and pets while she and I did the tour.

The Vanderbilts built this mansion in 1895. It is always beautiful to visit, but especially now decorated for Christmas. Each of the 250 rooms had its own tree and decor….

There were lots of tourists viewing the house. (George would not have liked the crowds.) We saw lots of ballrooms, banquet rooms, dining rooms, living halls, bedrooms, and atriums. It was also interesting to see the downstairs floors – swimming pool and bowling center. We read that this was before automated bowling pin set-ups, so servants had to reset the bowling pins after each throw. Then,, in the the sub-basement we got interesting glimpses of the servants’ quarters, kitchens, and laundry.

After the house tour, we walked around the gardens, mostly barren this time of year, and then to the arborteum. It was glorious, especially with the Christmas additions of poinsettias.

From there, we visited another part of the Biltmore Estate, where they have hotels, a winery, shops, horses, and restaurants. We ate at a pub called Cedric’s, named after one of the Vanderbilt’s favorite dogs. We shared a ploughman’s lunch….

After dropping our daughter back at her house, I rushed back here in order to arrive before dark. There are a lot of curvy, moutain roads that are hard enough to negotiate in the light.

DINNER: The cover of one of my food magazines proclaimed recipes for “the world’s best grilled sandwich and home-made tomato soup”. So, unable to resist, we gave the recipes a try. They turned out really well. How could you go wrong since the grilled cheese sandwich included great cheeses……Manchego, sharp white cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gruyere, and Brie?

One down; 81 to go…

LOCATION: Housesitting outside of Weaverville, NC, outside of Asheville

WEATHER: Mostly cloudy. High about 50

We are taking care of two lovely animals. The dog, Abbigail was first a bit timid with us, but she has warmed up nicely. She is a rescue dog and still has some insecurities. Kevin is a huge and very friendly Maine coon cat. Loves to eat!

We enjoyed morning coffee with the daily “bird show”. At one point, there were 15 brilliantly red cardinals lined up on the deck.

After morning chores, we left for Asheville. Our daughter has just moved in to a new apartment, and George helped her assemble some furniture.

Then, off to lunch at Asheville Brewing and Pizza Company. It is one of 82 breweries/microbreweries/nanobreweries/distilleries/brewpubs in Asheville. Amazing! I had a hoppy IPA and George had a bourbon-barreled stout. This brewpub is really funky. They have a theater and show Indie-type movies in the afternoons and evenings. We shared a spinach burger (vegetarian). I’m going to try to make one some day.

Back home, we relaxed with some popcorn in front of the fireplace, George watching sports while I read. Very cozy!!!

DINNER: Using leftover pasta from dinner at the restaurant the other evening, I jazzed it up with hard Italian salami bits, onions, and garlic. I think it was better than the first time around!!

Christmas Holiday in Asheville

LOCATION: Weaverville, outside of Asheville, NC

WEATHER: Cloudy and cool; Highs in 40s

We have been taking it easy in our tiny house in Mission, Texas. On our last evening, we played a game of chess…

We had a nice dinner out with our neighbors. Then, the next morning, the kind neighbors took us to our local McAllen airport at 5:30 AM for an early flight. We flew to Houston, then to Charlotte, NC. There, we picked up a rental car and drove 2 hours to Asheville.

Asheville had just had a whopper of a blizzard, but the snow has now been cleared. An army of about 100 utility trucks were returning to Charlotte after having restored power to a lot of Asheville customers.

The first thing we did was to hug our daughter who works at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, in the Biltmore Village.

It is a beautiful hotel, now decorated for the holidays.

We got situated in our hotel (not the expensive Grand Bohemian). The next day we spent helping our daughter get situated in her new apartment.

Now we are at our latest housesitting assignment, through Trusted Housesitters. Our charges are a rescue dog (quite cute) and a big cat (one that someone dropped off along their road). We are in a darling mountain cabin, with fireplaces upstairs and down. I’m going to try out the hot tub (a la natural) soon.

We spent today watching the beautiful cardinals in awe. They throng to the bird feeding stations on the deck that overlooks the mountains.

We stocked up at the grocery store for our two weeks here.

DINNER: Rotiserrie chicken, baked potatoes, and peas.