Our Assignment

House Sitting Is Not For Everyone

There are commitments to be met, tasks to perform and usually pets to take care of, after all, nothing is really for free. We decided on the house-sitting experience to immerse ourselves in different cultures, try out different lifestyles, and experience a variety of activities that we don’t always get to do in our own lives. We love dogs and cats and most animals, but don’t want to own any; we love gardening and taking care of lawns and plants, but don’t want the constant attention it requires 365 days a year; we love DIY, but there are a limited amount of projects to do in our own home, so one way of incorporating all these things, along with traveling, cooking and generally having a great adventure is to house-sit.

Five months in France was quite a big commitment, but in order to really experience a different way of life we felt this length of time would be necessary to really absorb the culture, enjoy all the lovely food, the scenery, to travel around the area tasting the local wine and produce, and settle into the beautiful French countryside in our own little cottage. In return for all that we have tasks, namely cutting the grass, walking the dogs, tending to the pool, and anything extra that we feel we can do. Of course, we have plenty of free time, and privacy for ourselves and by no means are we restricted to a schedule – nature decides that!

So first to the grass; there’s a lot of it. When we first arrived and drove down the long grassy driveway, I knew we had our work cut out for us. With shrubs and trees dotted throughout, it wasn’t going to be a straight run.  Off to the left side a small paddock runs down to the house, and this was where the dogs usually have their first run of the morning. On our first mow of this, we were both mesmerized by the view of the snowcapped Pyrenees in the distance and every day, when they are not covered by cloud, we stand gaping out at them.  After the driveway, hiding behind a row of conifers, we come upon a large lawn area to the side of the main house. This lawn could be classed as the bowling lawn, nice and flat, green and not a shrub in sight. Opposite and to the front of the house is another lawn, with shady trees which overhang wrought iron tables and chairs, where cocktails would be served on sunny evenings. Many of these trees are fruit bearing and the dogs eat their dessert there after their evening feed. Stone pots filled with lavender and ivy hide behind bushes, and grape vines cover the first two thirds of walls of the house. To the side of the house is a fenced area, which has a patio and pool surrounded by yet more grass, once again with fantastic views of the Pyrenees. Just when we thought we had seen all the garden areas, we were then introduced to our area around the cottage. Here, we found the same amount of grass, rolling down towards the cottage, behind the cottage, down another hill towards the field, in front of the cottage, and another small area which led through a dell out towards another field. The whole area was carpeted with daisies, buttercups and dandelions and looked very pretty, but we knew they would not be there for long. There are two ride-on mowers so once Marcel and I start them both up, it doesn’t take too long. We think it’s about 4 acres in total.

Initially, we did almost all of it in one day, as we needed to get an idea of the time commitment and then ease into a routine so that we wouldn’t have to mow every day. The weather was cool, but sunny and every other day, it rained. This caused the grass to grow like crazy. No sooner had we decapitated the daisies and buttercups, showing off the pinstripes of our new lawns, the darned things would be blooming again within a day or two. Our new suit of green soon became a white and yellow polka dot skirt, and I swear we could hear the clover growing by the inch when we sat outside for our evening cocktails. It seemed like we would be mowing constantly.

Now, after a few weeks, we have it down to a fine art. We both use the mowers and while the steering in one of them has a mind of its own, once we get going, it’s like synchronized swimming. Marcel and I are twirling and whirling, dipping and diving and it’s all done in just a couple of hours. The daisies are fewer, the grass is shorter and only three days a week of mowing, just a couple of hours each day, instead of the five we thought it might take us.

The dogs are another responsibility we have when the owners are away. Sapphire and Blackberry are two lovely black labs, with great personalities. We walk them through the fields twice a day, about two miles in total. There is a lake on the premises, so they swim every day, rain or shine. They are obedient and come when called, most of the time. With all the country smells their noses and tails are always on high alert, and they love to run through the tall grassy fields, with the pretty colored wildflowers. The grass has grown so tall now we can only see where they are by the movement of the grass or a wagging tail high in the air, while noses are shoved deep in a hole, after the voles and other country creatures. They will miss that when the farm cuts it for hay, which can’t come too soon for us as every morning the heavy dew drenches us and the spider webs that have been so diligently spun during the night are broken by our walking along the paths. The gossamer wraps itself around our faces as we walk between the grass and we both hesitate, hoping the other one will take the lead.

The dogs are fed twice a day and Sapphire almost sings for her supper, howling with delight, like she has never been fed before. Sapphire is clearly the guard dog and each day surveys her areas checking out whose been by during the night. A bark or two makes sure they stay away. Blackberry, the quieter of the two, has some lovely facial expressions and clearly is an intelligent dog. She is also a fast runner and its lovely to see her run off in wild abandon through the fields. With comfy beds, acres of space to enjoy, food in their bellies, they have a very nice dogs’ life.

Our only other duty is to make sure the swimming pool is maintained. This has just started as the pool was closed when we arrived. Now the sun is shining, we have cleared the sludgy green algae and it’s looking sparkly clean.

We’ve also been cooking – our hosts asked us to prepare a lunch for them and their friends, which was a success. We have dates in July to prepare more summer lunches and some supper dishes. This is both fun and a challenge and we love going to the markets to buy the produce and see what is in season so we can prepare the menus.

Marcel and I probably do more than we are expected to do. We cleared and repaired the lake hut, so now it is useable and a pleasant place to sit and have a glass of wine or a picnic lunch. Marcel has made various repairs and used his handyman skills on numerous occasions. We’ve weeded and dug, scrubbed and washed, and while we still have time to go out and enjoy the small towns and villages, and take a day a week to go further afield, it is good to get up every day and have a purpose.

Of course, we do spend time online, catching up with family and friends, a little real estate, writing these stories, but also – looking for the next house-sit!

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