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Pit Stops

Once in a Lifetime, This is My Beautiful House

If you stop to think about it, moving into someone’s house for an extended amount of time and taking over the care and feeding of their animals, plants, house and garden while said owners are out of the country could be asking for trouble. Fortunately, we don’t give too much advance thought to these things.

La Sota House in Green Cantabria

In the case of housesitting here in northern Spain, we made arrangements within a couple days of hearing about the position via Trustedhousesitters.com. The property owners advertised under the heading “Green Cantabria.” We read each other’s profiles, emailed, and talked twice over a sketchy Skype connection. That was all it took. The rest is a leap of faith.


Availability was, I think, the major factor in our favor. I found out later the owners, Javi and Jasmine, had already lined someone else up, but he cancelled to return to Connecticut in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I suppose they liked that we speak Spanish, although they’ve had other sitters who do not. Our experience with dogs is pretty well documented. The kicker was probably my citing my familiarity with horses, even though most of that exposure was several decades ago. I may as well have said, ‘Some of my best friends like horses.’

We were attracted by the timing ­­– as we had planned to leave Iowa after Thanksgiving – and by the green, the mountains, Spain itself, the nice pictures of property, horses, family and home. Picturesque, and potentially picaresque. What we learned by phone is that Javi is from Bilbao, Jasmine is from Canada, the filly pictured is now about a year and a half, and a new son has joined the family.

It’s hard to say if the first meeting is tougher for the owners or the housesitters. The homeowners are at once The Boss and also the more vulnerable party, entrusting their beloved pets and all worldly possessions to strangers. The caretakers are trying to put on a competent face while wondering if the dog will bite, the plants will die, the cat will get run over, the horses will hurt themselves (or me), and the neighbors will spy and tell.

We were greeted warmly at the Bilbao airport by Jasmine and 16-month-old Emeric. (Javi had already left two weeks earlier for the first stage of his travels.) The four of us had that jet-lagged afternoon plus the next day to familiarize ourselves with each other and the household. Tom and I were immediately enthralled with the house, and could appreciate all the work and thought and craftsmanship that went into its rebuilding. That was an area Jasmine was proud to detail, too. She and Javi met during the planning process and lived in their motor home for four years while the building proceeded. It’s a work of love.

Emeric was not as comfortable with us, because we were horning in on his exclusive time with his mother, and he was teething and suffering some good ol’ diaper rash. There’s nothing more upsetting for a young mom than a kid not behaving to her liking for strangers. Emeric is smart and adorable when happy. All I could offer to do was to get down on the floor and play with him and a basket of toys to give Jasmine a few uninterrupted minutes to make us dinner.

Yuki the dog is a friendly, accepting soul. He’s a combo Basque and Catalan sheepdog, with a long, mostly white coat that grabs mud and manure like a magnet. (Yuki means snow in Japanese. Clean white snow, no doubt.) He follows us everywhere, loves to gallop back and forth on walks, and is trilingual. In Spanish he responds to ‘entre nosotros,’ to come and walk ‘between us.’ He heels in German, ‘Fuss.’ He’ll come when called in any language, but lies down to German, ‘Platz.’ His training was heavily influenced by the German journeymen woodworkers at the house.

Hungry daughter, patient momma

The horses are a bit more reticent in their affection. Cosquilla (Tickle) is the Mama, age 22; Sasha is the bossy girl, age 5, and Sabba is the filly, daughter to Cosquilla.  I observed Jasmine’s feeding process, and have mostly heeded her word about leaving the horses in the primary stable area while it rains, so as not to turn the other pastures to pure mud.

It’s still raining 10 days later. We’ve had one day without rain, and another day with a spot of sunshine. No riding yet. I don’t like the footing. The horses do like my feeding ritual, and by extension, me.

Contrary to rumors, I didn’t lose the horses. The stable is the only dry space around. Outside of it, the horses are over their hooves in mud. It’s enough mud to suck the boots right off your foot. (Fortunately, we have His and Her rubber boots left here for us.) The property is hilly, and the horses are slip-sliding around, and have no grass to munch on.  Little Sabba realized there was a section of the electric fence she could just step over, and get to higher ground with grass.

Surrounded by mud

It was after dark when I found her up there. (Headlamp required for evening feedings.) I got her back in with the others as the neighbors watched (and I nervously lost most of my Spanish vocabulary). Then she went around the stable and out again. We called in the consultant, Rey, the Cuban live-in help for the elderly neighbors up the road. He laughed and said it was fine for them all to stay out, and opened another section of fence. So much for containing the mud to one pasture!

Yuki’s rain-filled water bowl.

Other than that, Jasmine’s introductory tour covered the sump pumps, the compost and recycling, the solar collector water heater, the pellet burning in-floor heat, and the sewage system.  TP in the bin, please, not to be flushed, or you can look forward to cleaning the delicate wires in the tube running into the system.

So we are getting the rhythm of the household, finding the tools, utensils, bedding, and staples we need – or buying them right before we find them. (Sorry, Jas, for the extra supply of salt and vinegar.) We’ve been to the hardware store, the feed store, the grocery store, and the gas station. So we’re at home.

Now we wait for Javi to pass through one night next weekend. I’m already anticipating the new introductions, hoping we haven’t let the horses get too fat, the house too dirty, and the dog too spoiled. We’ll admire the home and property again, and gently admonish him for letting the rain fall so stubbornly. What’s a sunroom for?

Rush to enjoy the sunny hour

Note: Our guide to house sitting, including how to get started and what to expect, can be found on our blog, Travel Past 50. Click here to read “The Pros and Cons of House Sitting.”


8 Responses to “Once in a Lifetime, This is My Beautiful House”

  1. What an adventure! I love reading these descriptions. And the young mom/young baby comment: so accurate. XO

    Posted by Alison | December 8, 2012, 11:48 pm
  2. Hi Kris,

    Well I am so impressed by the task you and Tom have taken on. You could have taken the “easy option” of a small cottage and a sleepy cat, but no you went for the biggest house with the largest horse in Spain. Thanks for the E mail and the invite, I would love to say I would visit before you leave but not sure I will. The place looks beautiful!! I really enjoy reading your posts, they are so witty and an easy read, well done. Please say hello to your Horse Shit shoveller, Tom. I gather from him that there is more of that there than snow at the moment. A very Happy Christmas and a healthy New Year to you both.

    Best Regards,

    Eugene. Slan.

    Posted by Eugene O Reilly | December 11, 2012, 12:00 pm
    • Eugene, Thanks so much for your note. We think of you a lot as we crisscross the northern route of the Camino and wonder if you passed this way. We are definitely planning on a swing through Ireland this year, probably June or August/September-ish. Can’t wait to see you and hear you give Tom more grief. Best,

      Posted by khenning | January 9, 2013, 7:20 am
  3. There are definitely moments when housesitting that the thought “And we could have paid rent…” passes through your mind, right?!

    Posted by Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go | July 8, 2014, 2:37 am
    • Yes, so true. Have you paid for any expenses in your stays? In this case we paid some for heat, and another little sum for the rice cooker I unwittingly burned up by not using the proper adaptor.

      Posted by khenning | July 8, 2014, 2:04 pm


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