When I was newly married at the unripe age of 21, Ryan and I went with my family to Hawaii. We were at a restaurant one evening, and the waiter asked if we wanted kids menus. It was a feasible question–my three siblings were not even teenagers at the time–but then I noticed where his gaze rested. On me. Nice. (Cue the “if looks could kill” look.)
Looking at my frame and my face, nearly everyone I meet for the first time thinks I’m still in high school. (I’m 26, so they’re way off, but I guess my 5’4″, size 0 frame fools them.)
Case in point: on our first night in Saint-Jean, Cat, Jan’s sister-in-law, was floored by the revelation of my age. “I thought for sure you were 19!” she said, her eyes wide. Nope, but I might as well be.
Don’t get me wrong; I like being small. I like that Ryan can pick me up easily. I like that I don’t take up much space at any given time. I like that my clothes roll up small, so I can cram a large(r) variety into my travel backpack. And maybe it’s easier for me to go through life this way–I don’t have as much ME to carry around on a daily basis.
The trouble is, it’s hard to take myself seriously when no one else, at first glance, does. I look like a young and ignorant soul–and maybe I am, but I don’t want to appear that way to people before I even open my mouth.
That first impression is actually the primary reason I’m nervous about going out to crowded places on my own (as silly as it may be). I can’t shake this fear that someone will pinpoint me as a good person to steal, and then I’ll never find my way home again. I’m strong for my size, but I’m still very light and would be overpowered pretty easily. The last thing I want is for my face to appear on a poster that reads “Have you seen this missing
Well, and then there’s the clothes situation. Ever since I started running regularly, clothes seem to expand at an alarming rate. (Hmm, maybe not anymore… Europe has evened out the playing field a bit.)
I’ve come to anticipate my conversations with Ryan when I try things on at the mall. “You are drowning! Do you want me to get you a smaller size?”
“Well…there is no smaller size at this store.”
“Oh. Really? Um, maybe we should look in the kids section?”
I’ve actually done that before. I was in Sports Authority buying a fleece jacket for our Europe trip, but they didn’t have the size I needed. I talked to the person at the counter, who called another store to see if they had the size in stock.
“What size do you need?” she asked, straining her eyes toward me while smashing the phone awkwardly between her cheekbone and shoulder.
“A large,” I told her. “But not an adult large. I need a child large.”
“A child large…?”
“Yes. The jacket you are holding is a boy’s medium. The sleeves are a bit too short, so I need the large.”
The whole time I was thinking, “Look at me, lady. Do you honestly think an adult large would fit me?” Needless to say, I didn’t get the jacket.
If you are thinking, “Well, you’ll be so grateful when you’re older,” just can it, okay? I’m sure I’ll be grateful. My mom seems to be; she looks really young, too, and people always ask her if she is my sister. But how long do I have to wait until the tide turns–until I can feel normal? My 30s? My 40s?
I’m not too stiff of a person to have a good laugh about it–and my family thinks it is just hilarious, so I can laugh about it often–but it does tweak my nerves just a bit.
I feel like my facial expressions and body language make me an open book anyway. It seems like as hard as I try, I can’t keep most of me–my thoughts, my emotions–to myself without unconsciously revealing all. Is there any part of me that can just be mine, without inviting the rest of the world in as well?
There is one thing I can do about my (albeit minimal) size issues. When we’re settled somewhere, I want to take self-defense classes, so I can at least do away with any fears of assault. Then I can kick the bad guys’ butts when they come to take me away, even if the only thought going through their minds while I round-house-kick them in the neck is “Damn, this girl has skills!”
Being at Jan’s has been a great opportunity to step in and try to make life easier for another person, at least in the only way we know how: cleaning and simplifying her living spaces.
Since we arrived, we’ve cleaned out and reorganized her kitchen area; we’ve done lots of dishes; we’ve helped to clean out and organize her fridge; we’ve cleaned up and more effectively organized our own room, so future pet-sitters (there will be others) can stay here comfortably. And Ryan has gone around fixing things left and right: our bathroom door (ha ha), the internet, the printer, our bedroom lights.
Helping in this way feels natural to me now. Maybe it’s easy because Jan is generally easy to serve, or maybe it’s because I’m becoming more comfortable with getting my hands dirty and understanding how to help other people feel more comfortable.
For all those situations in the past where I’ve stood around wondering how in the world to help out without getting in the way, now I’m learning how to recognize what to do and then do it. If something needs to be done, why think about it? Action is better, particularly when it comes to helping someone else.
I used to worry about making a mistake, disrupting someone else’s way of doing things, or coming across looking inexperienced when I helped, but in a lot of ways, who cares about those things? (I’m trying not to care.) Overwhelmed people, in particular, will be glad for the kind gesture, an extra hand, and a little less to worry about.Read More
Bailey may sound like a nightmare, but it hasn’t been too bad so far. He’s just clearly untrained (which surprises me considering how big and strong he is, but oh well). Jan’s stressed-out behavior is probably a lot worse than the dog situation, but at the same time, I like Jan. She is easy to get along with, comfortable to talk to, and she is very easygoing and generous with us.
No situation is perfect; even the truly wonderful ones have their bad points. The more I do this, the more I am learning how important it is to stay positive and look at the good things. So I’ve made a quick list of the perks at this place. (There are probably a lot more, in fact.)
To our astonishment, Jan has also insisted on paying for our food expenses while we’re here. We’ve returned the favor by insisting we pay for our own food up to this point, but we might oblige her on occasion. I don’t want to be a bum, but she really wants to share food costs with us and has done it with all the other pet-sitters who’ve stayed with her. It means we’ll be saving even more money than I had hoped, which is a blessing in disguise.
As with any new situation, it takes some time to adjust to the annoying bits of this pet-sit. Some days (like right now), I have to lock myself in our room for awhile to deal with the situation, but then I’m fine again. It’s a good opportunity to learn patience, emotional/mental control, optimism, etc–all traits I can use some more practice on!Read More
Whether she is at home or away, Jan’s primary concern is Bailey, who has an unstable stomach condition and continually weakening back legs. It isn’t his health condition that worries her most, though. It’s Bailey’s inclination to terrorize, or panic, at any moment.
He’s been conditioned to be wildly unpredictable.
According to Jan, Bailey eats everything in sight, tears up couch pillows, steals and chews on remotes, etc. We’ve seen this behavior when Jan is around, but when he’s alone with us, he’s usually an angel. Maybe he hasn’t gotten used to us yet, or maybe he likes to react to Jan’s continual fretting. (It stresses ME out to be with Jan when she’s controlling Bailey’s every eye bat.) I guess we’ll find out as time goes on.
Bailey’s terror tendencies are arguable, but his neuroticism is not. Traffic scares him. People aggravate him. Other dogs send him flying blindly in the opposite direction (which is usually into traffic). Walking with him is a struggle, only because he is so poorly trained. Since his hearing and eyesight are fading, he will also suddenly break out into a fit of mad barking at “strange” sounds or at the sudden awareness of a person in the room. It’s weird, and unnerving.
Even before we came here, Jan made it clear that Bailey is a 24-hour project. We’ve been told again and again that we must watch everything he does and (in a matter of words) allow him to do nothing: he can’t lick himself, he can’t scratch himself, he can’t touch/eat things besides what is given to him. All he can do is lay down. Walks are scary and unpredictable. One person must be with him at all times to avoid disaster.
That schedule/mentality seems too exhausting and pointless to us–Bailey is just a dog; not a child (and even then, children can’t be controlled like this)–so we tend to do our own thing with him most of the time. (Within reason, of course. I try not to discredit all of Jan’s routines because she does have good points to make in between all the emotionally panicky ones: like not exercising him after a meal to avoid bloat.)
I can understand why Jan has this attachment to her pet: it’s a natural response for every animal lover, and Bailey is Jan’s only constant companion (besides Piccolo), so he’s basically graduated from dog to child in a lot of ways. And as such, she knows him better than anyone. It does seem that in his younger years, Bailey was a terror–kind of like Marley in Marley and Me. (I’m glad I have the old Bailey to work with. Otherwise, I’d be on a plane back to the US within a week, I’m sure.)
Once again, this experience only confirms to Ryan and me that we will not be getting a dog of our own any time soon–if ever. We’re mainly cat people; with cats, it’s much more difficult to control them or build your life around their silly routines, and I like that. They’re just as affectionate as dogs, but they have lives of their own, so you can have a life, too.Read More
Alright, it’s time to spill the beans about where we are right now. I haven’t meant to be so elusive about this, but we’ve had some crazy travel stuff happen this past month (which I will get to, I promise).
So, Ryan and I are in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, which is a small but super wealthy town on a peninsula in the French Riviera. To give you an idea: the small, ground-floor, 2-bedroom house we are staying at is rented for $2,000 per month, and we’re right next to Monaco–the second wealthiest country in the world.
(I know; our life is hard.)
We got here this past Wednesday, October 26, from Cannes–a 1-hour journey by train. We’ll be staying here until early January (when our 3-month EU tourist visa expires).
What are we doing here? Well…maybe you should sit down. I’ve told this story to a few people now, and they all acted surprised.
Ready? …Okay. So we are basically live-in pet-sitters tasked with caring for a paranoid old dalmatian named Bailey, a 5-month-old (wild) cat named Piccolo, and, in a round-about way, the homeowner, whose name is Jan. In 1 month’s time, there will be a new addition: a 17-week-old long-haired weimraner puppy named Ruby.
We have our own quarters, complete with bed, couch, shower, sink, closet space, and outdoor patio. What we don’t have is an ensuite bathroom; instead, our bathroom is just outside our room, directly off the living room (which can get a bit awkward if you think about it too much).
There is only one kitchen, so we all kind of do our own thing or cook for one another. This really isn’t that bad, though–it was like this for the two days we lasted through our first farm experience. Ryan and I are pretty into cooking these days–we like our food fresh, healthy, richly flavored, and cheap, so we usually opt to make it ourselves instead of eating out. Jan is also a very good cook, so it’s a win-win–we’re all good with sharing.
We don’t have to watch the animals all the time. When Jan is home, we can do our own thing, and she is usually home. (I like to keep the cat around, often in our room, and block out the dog in my mind; no offense, Bailey.)
While we’re here, Jan will head to Scotland for a week or two at a time to see her husband, who lives and works in Edinburgh. While she’s away, we’ll watch the pets full-time, just like all our other pet-sitting gigs. At the moment, it’s looking like there will be one, maybe two, trips like this.Read More
In the past hour, I’ve attempted to start three different blog posts. I finally stopped–I could feel the frustration building–and decided to write about that frustration instead. I find it amusing (in an “I hate you” kind of way).
When I write a blog post, I cannot control my mind. I start out on a topic–often a very abstract one, like “What’s the relationship between people, personal space, and possessions?” Then, suddenly, I find that the thoughts I’ve typed out have bred like two rabbits in a hutch, scattering little baby ideas all over the page without any hope of control.
I am a writer on so many levels–I need writing to think–so my behavior shouldn’t surprise me. When I sit down to write, suddenly my mind connects to my fingers, which connect to the computer keys, which make magic happen in the words that scrawl across the virtual page. Then I’m reading my genuine ideas, emotions, and perspectives on life–when two seconds ago, I didn’t know that’s how I felt.
Writing can do that to you. It’s a window to the soul.
On the other hand, that kind of mind-to-page connection means a lot of writing (a.k.a. exploring) before I settle on a final post that is organized and still feels true.
Business vs. Art
In my frustration a moment ago, I sat here whining at myself: “Rachel, what’s your problem? Your ideas don’t scatter in all directions when you write for your corporate clients.” And then I realized the silliness of that question and had to laugh, almost in an “I pity you for being so thick-headed” kind of way.
Of course I don’t write this way for my clients! Corporate writing, although it takes a lot of creativity, is essentially just finding a million ways to piece together similar information. It is designed to capture the weakness in humans–to make arguments against your better judgment so you feel inclined to buy that thing that you don’t need.
Blog writing, on the other hand, is capable of capturing the intricacies and paradoxes of a human mind, a human life, and uplifting people to a new understanding of themselves. To utilize a blog is to capture those intricacies and paradoxes in yourself and others, then simplify them before you send them out into the void (where other people are waiting to connect).
Even though blogging is virtual, which creates distance between people, it is still a type of art, in a way. Like fiction writing, design, painting, or photography, it is unique and emotional and real, because it is based in human story.
Practice Makes Perfect
People are complex and so are their lives. If blogging is a way to capture all of that ambiguity, it’s no wonder I struggle to write a blog post on occasion!
Coming to this realization doesn’t make blogging any easier for me. I can be impatient sometimes, and I tend to edit things nearly to death, so my uncontrollable writing habits often lead to feelings of dread when I think about writing another blog post.
I don’t think blog writing has to be frustrating, though. I’m guessing that like everything, the more I do it, the easier it will get. Likewise, the more I pour my mind out onto pages and explore the depths within, the fewer tangled messes I’ll have to deal with when I sit down to write.
Write the Way You Speak
Verbal communication seems to demand more preemptive organization of the ideas behind our mental floodgates, so why not write my posts as though I were talking to someone I know?
Some of the hardest posts for me to write are stories about our travels–but these are just the kinds of things I tell my family on a (semi-)regular basis. Maybe if I write these stories as though I were on the phone with a family member, my mind will work out the organization of the post beforehand–so instead of flopping gloopily onto the page, it flows out smoothly.
That’s an idea, at least. Maybe it will prove too controlling for those elusive thoughts in my brain, or maybe it will save me time and frustration in the long run.
It’s worth a try.Read More
A definite benefit of housesitting is trying different lifestyles and seeing the ones we like and the ones we never want to experience again.
Ocean, mountains, or prairies?
Big city, suburbs, or small town?
Big house, small house, or apartment?
Big yard, small yard, or no yard?
Pets or no pets?
Car or no car?
Traveling this way means finding answers to these questions. It’s lifestyle design in the making. If we don’t like something, we can be done with it after a week or two and move on for good, knowing we’ve come closer to our perfect fit.Read More