Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Housesitting: two months in the life.

We've been housesitting for our Portland, Oregon host for over two months. (Over two months! How did that happen?) Many people have asked what we've been doing all summer, so we thought we'd add another answer to the growing list of FAQs...

First things first. "FUNemployment" does not equal "vacation." Although we have actively resisted any kind of temporary office work, we have done a few odd jobs here and there for cash (thank you, you know who you are) but generally speaking, we are still living off our travel fund - such a challenge in the city known for its great food and amazing music! As housesitters we don't pay rent, but we still have costs of groceries, gas and other miscellany, and we've allowed ourselves a (pretty small) entertainment budget. It all adds up and at this point our average living costs run around $32/day. Money is always on our mind and is often a determining factor in how we spend our time.

"FUNemployment" also does not always equal 100% fun. Our first few weeks here were pretty stressful and we continue to struggle with staying positive while basically remaining stagnant for the first time in over two years. Some days we've been so weighed down with the enormous question of what we're going to do for the rest of our lives (or just in 2016) that it's hard to motivate ourselves to do anything productive. Those days have sucked.

But most days have been pretty good and we've actually done quite a bit over the last few months...

As far as the housesitting responsibilities go, twice a day we feed and walk two silly, adorable dogs.

goofball Ruby

big brother Rusty (also a goofball)

(As an aside... When you apply for a housesit, you're able to see pictures of the house and pets, and you should definitely talk to the host(s) before accepting, but obviously you can't Skype with the pets so it's impossible to know exactly what you're in for. Luckily, we had a wonderful feline experience in Melbourne, and here in Portland we have fallen in love with these two goofball canines who provide hours of entertainment each week. We are really going to miss them.)

We also feed the chickens each morning and let them out for an afternoon romp while the dogs nap inside.

afternoon freedom

And we water the small raised bed gardens. They need a lot less watering now that it's not 100°F and almost fall (how did that happen?), but we've enjoyed many pounds of tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, basil, arugula, green beans and lettuce this summer.

early July

late July

early August

late August

early September (just one day's harvest)

And that's all we're required to do each day. Yep, housesitting is HARD!

I kid... sort of. I've honestly been rather challenged by two months of (fairly selfish) down time. I appreciated the first few weeks for catching up on our US National Parks blog-o-rama, and then I read a handful of books, watched a handful of movies, and caught up with some friends. And then I got bored.

To combat this idle purposelessness, I've been volunteering once a week at the Oregon Food Bank's Learning Garden - so much fun! You just sign up, show up, pick your project(s) for the morning, and go to it.

earlier this summer I spent lots of time with the tomatoes

now I spend lots of time weeding

It really is a learning opportunity; I've harvested fruits and vegetables I never knew how to harvest and I've learned a lot more about the growing season here in Portland (in spite of the oddness of this particularly warm season!). As an added bonus, volunteers can take home a piece of the day's harvest so I've been able to try new recipes and regularly supply Patrick with jalapeno peppers for his homemade salsa.

Most importantly, though, produce harvested at OFB's Learning Garden is distributed to local hunger-relief agencies. A few weeks ago I got to see the other end of the cycle by spending an afternoon at the Northeast Emergency Food Program. The food on the NEFP's pantry shelves is free (families get up to three visits every six months) and a lot of it comes from the Oregon Food Bank. Whereas many food pantries pre-bag food for families in need, NEFP allows families to browse shelves and "shop" for food based on the size of their household.

That afternoon I helped six families - ranging in size from 1-10 family members and varying in backgrounds, ethnicities and food choices - select produce, canned goods and frozen meals. Several of the clients were Vietnamese and I struggled to remember basic words from our time there so that I could better connect with them; another US war veteran client had spent time on a farm in Vancouver and I enjoyed talking with him about nutrition while he shopped. It was a good experience that I hope to repeat soon.

Anyway! Patrick has enjoyed his down time by plowing through a dozen books and catching up on movies. He's also helped out at the Oregon Food Bank, he volunteered at two brew fests and a hops harvest, and he helped a friend with some home brewing.

service with a smile -
Oregon Brewers Festival

a straight shooter with upper management written all over him -
North American Organic Brewers Festival

sip, sip, pick -
Hopworks Urban Brewery hops harvest

To facilitate building our local farm network we've gone to Friends of Family Farmers events and a few "classes" at the Urban Farm Collective... I use the quotes because the UFC classes have been more like volunteer opportunities where they get free labor in exchange for teaching us how to do things - pretty smart of them and pretty fun for us.

fruit tree pruning class

pickling class

It's been really nice to have a kitchen for an extended period of time. We've been able to continue the pickling and fermentation experiments throughout the summer, and we've enjoyed cooking meals that don't require a campfire.

sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha

We're both running again (another perk of being stable for a few months) and to keep active I've also been doing some landscaping around our host's yard and helping a neighbor with her yardwork. We may also be helping several friends with landscaping projects during September.

We've spent time with friends and family, and we've been able to get away for solo adventures too - Patrick went camping on the coast with a friend and he's been helping his mom with some house projects down in Eugene. I also went to Oakland to help a friend with her house project.

And yes, in between all of this I've been thinking about writing that book... But that's about as far as I've gotten with that little project.

Long story short, we are definitely keeping busy and the days are flying by. (We've actually been here long enough to see the days start to get shorter. It's weird.) The hours in each day are starting to fly too - we're usually going by 7am, and some days we look at the clock and can't believe it's already 3pm. Really not sure how all you people with jobs ever get anything done...!

As our time in the Rose City winds down, we're realizing that we've done almost everything on our Portland wish list and we've seen almost everyone we want to see. We've learned some cool things, met some neat people, and helped some worthwhile organizations. We know where we're going next, and after that, and after that. And probably most exciting, we have a plan for 2016! More to come on that...

Pretty soon it will be October 5th and after we wonder how that happened, we'll say goodbye to the puppies, go camping for a bit, and then start this housesitting process over again in a brand-new-to-us Oregon town. Only instead of three months there, we'll have just five weeks.

Yeesh! Thinking it's time to just enjoy these last four weeks of Portlandia and see what happens from here...

taken at 2pm on a Wednesday -
to FUNemployment!


  1. Wow, what a busy yet relaxing yet productive summer, it's a mix of everything! The working with pet happiness and plant healthiness and food pantry also seems do rewarding.

    1. Yep, Pech, we've enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot too. It's been a good summer!

  2. There's so much I love about this post, and one of my favorites is learning about Oregon Food Bank's learning garden. I had no idea! Thanks for sharing. Love the inside look at the "behind the scenes" of your lives while you are in Portland! :)

    1. Thanks Marlynn! Yep, I had no idea about the Learning Garden either (most people don't, so I'm writing a more in-depth post about it soon). It's so much fun, I really recommend it. Kids are allowed to volunteer too.

  3. You guys lead such an interesting life! I don't know if I could do it (well, I know I couldn't), but I'm really enjoying reading about your adventures.

    1. Some days we don't think we can do it either. :) Thanks for reading, Melinda!

  4. Gardens, Dogs and Beers. Sounds about right. :)

    1. Haha - yesterday in honor of Day 870 we donned flannel shirts and took our "back to school - PNW stylie" photo. It was pretty hilarious.

  5. $32 a day? Seriously? Dang, I can get away with living on $7 a day.

    1. Well, first of all that's $32 for two people, so $16/day for one of us.

      But really - $7/day? Does that include your rent, which averages $1200 for an apartment in Portland (aka $40/day) these days? Does that include all your groceries, and your transportation costs, and your internet/cell phone costs, and laundry, and all that tea, and every other penny you spend every day on the tiniest thing that you think doesn't add up but really, it does?

      If so... Seriously, what's your secret? I'd love to know!

  6. So...I love everything about this story!

    1. Thanks! Looking forward to hearing about YOUR next adventure. :)

  7. I've been following you guys since I heard about your blog from Kirstin. What you've done and are doing is fabulous. Good for you! Truly a great way to get the most out of life. Keep up with the adventures!

    1. Thanks Catherine - so good to hear from you! Hope all is well.

  8. Put me on the list of people who have never heard of the Learning Garden before! I will definitely check it out. I really appreciate the full cycle you've shared - from backyard garden to community garden to the hands and tables of those who need it, So glad you are enjoying your time here in Portland.

    1. Funny, I hadn't really thought about the "full cycle" of what we're doing here in Portland. Thanks for that insight, Renee. :) I hope you do check out the Learning Garden. It's so much fun!