Believing in Magic

I knew eventually the day would come when they found out.  I had even gathered advice about what to say in the moment but that didn't make last night any less heart-wrenching.  Last night they discovered the truth about the Elf on the Shelf.

To give you some idea of the impact that Reese's discovery had on all of us let me go back several years.  Our Elf on the Shelf, Candy Cane, came into our lives on December 15, 2012.  After weeks of having to creatively answer the question, "How come an elf doesn't come and visit our house?" we succumbed to the pressure and managed to get our hands on the very last (as in already-opened-because-someone-had-returned-him) Elf that year.  I confess I didn't think it would be all that important -- you know, shiny object syndrome and all.


I don't even recall who hand-wrote the first letter but with the sparkle of Christmas magic it became a daily communication between Reese and Candy Cane.  For a kid who devours books like the library is running out but does just about anything to avoid putting pen to paper this was a homeschooling Momma's dream come true!  And of course it was fun to wake up each morning and see what shenanigans he had gotten into during the night (that was most memorable for Claire) but sharing thoughts and feelings on paper was really special.  Reese talked about him all year round and sometimes even wrote to him in his off-season.  Occasionally he missed a note back for various reasons and that, as you can imagine, required a creative explanation!  For me, the letters almost always involved staying up late and sometimes even getting back out of bed to very slowly write a reply with my non-dominant hand.  But I loved every minute of it.

For five years the letters carried on, both in our home and even after we started travelling full time.  Her level of belief in his existence and of Christmas magic was unwavering.  It’s one of the things that makes Christmas so special for us parents.  Candy Cane did his best to answer every question that was asked of him.  From “how much does it snow at the north pole?” to “how do you write with mitts on?”  Last Christmas, he had every intention of hitching a ride and taking up extremely precious space in our simplistic backpacking lifestyle.  However, one little oops (I forgot to pack him) and he ended up coming down with "untreatable chronic diarrhoea." Yes, it's a very memorable condition.  Fortunately he was still able to exchange letters using Christmas magic even though he couldn’t be there “in person.”  

So last night as I tucked the girls in bed and kissed them good-night I casually asked "Did you remember to write Candy Cane back today?"  Little did I know it would be the last time.  As I, or I should say, Candy Cane sat down to get an early start on his correspondence I heard footsteps… quickly followed by a shouting accusation and heaving sobs!  But what happened next was just as amazing as the entire adventure had been.  After getting over the initial shock of it all, we came together as a family and shared tears and laughs.  The humor credit goes almost entirely to Claire who several times lightened the situation with comments such as "it was YOU who ate all the chocolate almonds!" or "so you're the tooth fairy too!  I told you I recognized that loonie from your wallet!"  We spent some time talking about the heartfilling memories the whole Candy Cane experience had provided for all of us.  

Taking this advice from a friend, I explained to the girls how they were now part of the other side of the Christmas magic.  They now had a duty to make sure that little kids everywhere can enjoy the magic for as long as they did.  Reese stayed up thinking about it for a while.  After an hour or so, she came downstairs and quietly asked if we could keep writing the letters.  I said yes.  Then she turned around and went back to bed.

Incorporating Housesitting Into Your Travels

Dogs, dogs, dogs!

Dogs, dogs, dogs!

Curious about whether housesitting is right for you?  In this post we’ll look at what it is, how it works, what to expect, and how to get started.  We’ll also share some tips that we’ve picked up from our experiences along the way.  We’ve been incorporating housesits into our slow travel for the last year and it’s been a positive and rewarding experience for us, our kids, and the homeowners.

Housesitting is basically a value exchange.  The homeowner needs someone to look after their home, and most often, pets.  The housesitter, in exchange for staying and looking after things, receives accommodation at no charge.  However, we have seen a few longer-term housesits where the homeowner requests that the sitter pay for a portion of the utilities, particularly through the winter months.  But these aren’t very common.  Housesitting is gaining popularity worldwide and sits can range from a few days to many months.

The homeowner lists their housesit on a housesitting website and outlines their details such as dates required, location and size of the home, number and types of pets, and items needing attention such as a lawn or garden.  They may also specify their ideal housesitter, ie. a single person, a couple, a retired couple, a family, etc.  We’ve never had anyone request a criminal record report but that is possible.  Some websites will show you how many sitters have applied for each housesit -- this is where experience becomes important in landing the most desirable sits.

afternoons with jenny the pig.

afternoons with jenny the pig.

We’ve noticed that the people who are open to having sitters they don’t know stay at their home are pretty easy going people, in general.  They’re happy to have guests stay in their home and know that their pets are being looked after.  And often the homeowner will go to great lengths in providing a list of all the area has to offer to make the sitter’s stay a happy one.  While away, some homeowners like frequent check ins, mostly to know how their pets are doing, while some are content to relax on their vacation and leave their phone alone.  As petsitters, we have to respect the owner’s wishes in how they want their pet to be treated.  It's not our place to modify behaviours or ignore their instructions because we don’t agree with them.  Our job is to care for their pets the same way they would.

The housesits we’ve done in Australia and Canada have been full of rich experiences.  We’ve met wonderful families and cared for beautiful animals -- all sorts of dogs, cats, fish, a calf, even a pet pig!  Some houses have had swimming pools.  Some have had great neighbours that have become friends, too.  Our travel philosophy is living life the way the locals do, and we believe that living in a local’s home is one of the best ways to do that.

Does housesitting sound like something you’d like to do?  Before we talk about how to start applying for housesits we’ll share a few tips to help set you up for success:

  1. Your profile and bio on the housesitting websites are key.  You need strong verbage that tells people what you’re about and how you can help them.  For ideas, you can view ours here.
  2. Build rapport quickly on the initial call, and suggest a video call on FB messenger or Zoom.  Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them.  Be confident in what you’re offering.  Ask lots of questions and listen.  When given the chance, people will talk all day about their pets.  Give them reasons to feel good about you.
  3. Maintain a clean presence on social media and invite homeowners to look you up when you apply.
  4. Don’t apply for housesits that are over your head.  If you don’t know anything about horses, it’s probably not the best time to learn when you have nobody to help you.  The last thing you want is wishing the housesit would end sooner!   That’s no fun.
  5. You’ll feel much more at home if you match your family’s characteristics to the homeowner’s, ie. we’re a better match to housesit and care for a family’s home and pets than for a single person living in an apartment with a solitary cat.
  6. Make a list of what’s in the fridge and pantry when you arrive and replace those items if you use them during your stay.
  7. On the day the homeowners return, stock the fridge with a few fresh groceries and put some fresh cut flowers on the table.  Wouldn’t you appreciate that if it was the other way around?
housesitting on christmas day - queensland, australia

housesitting on christmas day - queensland, australia

There are quite a number of housesitting websites to choose from.  Most involve a membership fee of around $100 annually.  The sites we’ve used are: - Worldwide - Australia - Canada

Find a site that works for you and begin working on your profile.  If you’re brand new, with no housesitting experience, you can ask friends and relatives to write character references for you.  That’s what we did.  Then start applying for lots of housesits wherever it is that you want to go!  And let us know how your housesitting experiences are!

How Podcasts Lead to Progress

Listening and running at Kalamalka Lake.

Listening and running at Kalamalka Lake.

I was a late bloomer when it came to owning a smartphone.  Up until late 2013, Jaime and I had one pre-paid 7/11 Nokia between us.  Then we joined the smartphone revolution -- thankfully -- and one of the first things I found on it was a podcasts app.  Also around this time we had adopted our dog, Penni, who needed regular walks.  Why not listen to some audio while I walked the dog?  So I began downloading podcasts to listen to as we walked every evening.

It’s important to note that up until this point I had mostly been listening to music.  Since 2010, when I became the full-time parent, the girls and I had been listening to a feel-good, comfortably-numb combo of alternative rock and preschool music.  Have you ever seen that T-shirt that says “My new favorite bands are pretty much my old favorite bands”?  That was me.  Looking back, I’d say I was ready to listen to some new material!  Since I’d already been reading a lot of nonfiction and personal development books I looked for those types of podcasts.  One of the first ones I stumbled across was The Kick Ass Life with David Wood.  It was fantastic.  I’d never listened to anything like it.  That led to finding podcasts about productivity, life hacks, personal finance, parenting, and TED Talks. I even listened to some fascinating stuff on RadioLab.  

I found the stories about people doing amazing things the most inspiring.  People that were changing the world -- pushing the limits of what was believed to be humanly possible, or overcoming tremendous adversity.  Or learning about the power of habit or how to be an empathic listener.  The podcasts were different than books.  I liked books but I could get more bite-sized, easily consumable content from podcasts.  I found I was applying the knowledge I was learning with my kids, with Jaime and with everybody I interacted with.  I also felt that a lot of the hosts were relatable and encouraged interaction through social media.  This led to me working up the courage to email Michael at the Kick Ass Dad podcast and share my story about going from electrician to full-time dad.  He followed up by having me as a guest on the show!

Boarding for Bali.

Boarding for Bali.

Directly and indirectly, podcasts have made an impact in my life and helped Jaime and I move from where we were before, just coasting along on autopilot, letting life happen to us, to where we are now, stepping out and taking advantage of opportunities to design our life any way that we want it.  

One of the most important things we can do for our own progress is commit to being lifelong learners.  You’re already doing it by reading this blog post.  Podcasts are an amazing tool for learning about any topic that interests you. I’ve been listening to them almost daily now for over three years.  I’ve even started listening to them while I run, whereas before that was my music zone!  It’s such an easy way to obtain new information -- just download and press play when you’re walking, working out, cooking, driving, cleaning, etc.  I listen to a lot of shows that relate to my business but a few of my all-time faves are The School of Greatness, Crank It Up, The Good Dad Project, The Tim Ferriss Show, Wellness Force Radio, and obviously, The Kick Ass Life.

I’d love to hear about your experience with podcasts.  What’s changed for you?  What have you learned?  Or maybe you ARE a podcaster!  Look me up on Facebook or Instagram, or email me here.