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There's more than a little truth to the old saying "a man's home is his castle." Housesitting, then, resembles a kind of peaceful occupation at best. It's like traveling in a foreign land -- everything's in a different place. God forbid, you have to find a hammer.

That's the best case. If you've dealt with the hostile dogs of others, the spoiled milk, or the escapee snake, you know that housesitting can feel like being stormed by the castle, rather than watching over it.

As winter getaways approach, you may have more and more opportunity to housesit. Sure, it's a free place to stay, but our contributor Melanie Peeples will tell you that, while you can hope for the best, you'll always be fearing the worst.

House-sitting Vacation

by Melanie Peeples, 12/07/2001

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Need a vacation but don't feel like springing for one? Or do you just need a little solitude without the fast pace of a vacation? Do you find yourself reminiscing about living in a house all by yourself? If the answer is yes, here's something just for you: a housesitting vacation. Melanie Peeples has more.

Take a look through your address book for friends and family who might be planning a vacation. I've got Lara and George who moved to Los Angeles 2 years ago, and who, it just so happens, were planning a trip to Hawaii. I didn't admit to my husband that sometimes I reminisce about the days when I lived in a house all by myself. I told him Lara and George needed someone to take care of their cat, and flew out the day before they left to get instructions -- detailed instructions.

George: Let's see...Trash pick-up -- that's on Tuesdays. Mail pick-up -- Well, the mail guy comes in the late afternoons, and you saw where the mailbox is. With the cat -- The cat's gonna yak up a hairball every once in a while, so Resolve is what we use to clean it up off the carpets, or whatever, so there's like a can of Resolve under almost every bathroom sink.

They even tell me where to find the brush used for cleaning up the yak, and how to use it -- except, of course, on the raffia rug in the dining room. (On that one, I'm to use a paper towel and apply gentle pressure.)

Having instructed me on how to care for Pete and his apparent bulimia, and how to get in and out of their gated community, Lara and George are just about ready to head to the airport.

Lara: Are you gonna miss me? I'm gonna miss you buddy. Yeah, I am! Melanie's gonna take good care of you, though. Behave yourself -- no yak attacks, okay? There you go, buddy. I was gonna tell you something else. What was I going to tell you? I never could remember that third thing. Oh, well, it couldn't have been anything too big.

Famous last words, huh? Lara and George are lending me their car, too, so I give 'em a ride to the airport.

You have a wonderful trip!
Thank you again. We really appreciate it.
Good to see ya.
You, too. Go Have fun!
This part is clear:
All right. Aloha!
Ha, Aloha!

Okay, here I am. I'm outside the John Wayne Airport. And I'm on my own. Here in LA. I am armed with a bunch of maps, thankfully. And, uh, I'm gonna try to find my way home.

And we're off.

Well, we're not really off, 'cause I can't reach the accelerator and I forgot to ask Lara where the button is that moves the seat forward. Maybe that's what she forgot to tell me. Eventually, I find the button and surprise myself by finding my way home without incident.

Beep, beep, beep
All right, I don't know what that was about. Probably should have asked Lara about the security system on the car.

Hey, Pete. I'm home.

One of the strangest things about housesitting for your friends is even though you know they're gone, you can't help feeling they're gonna open the door and catch you going through their fridge or something.

Okay, let's see, there are 4 beers, 3 Diet Cokes, 3 Diet 7-Ups, a bunch of water. I think I'm gonna get some more beer. Plenty of wine, but I think it's always a good idea not to drink the last of their beer and their wine. They may want some when they get back.

One trip to the grocery store and a few bottled goods later, it's time to take it easy.

Outside on the stone patio, there's a lovely fountain and herb garden. It's the perfect place to retire with a glass of wine. This is where I spend a lot of my evenings in California. There's no one to cook for, no one to come walking in the door and find out all I've done all day is read. No one to suggest it's my turn to do the dishes. Nobody knows me here. I'm anonymous. Except for Pete, of course, whom I'm keeping an eye on. A quick sweep of the house reveals all carpets are clean. But I'm not one to take chances.

Hey Pete, come here buddy. Yes, we have the hairball medicine. Come here, come on.

Yep. That'll keep Pete from yakking on the carpet.

Pete's pretty good company, but not for football. Even though he was born in Tuscaloosa, he shows no real interest in the big University of Alabama football game on TV.

[Phone rings]

Hello? Hey, yeah, I knew that was gonna be you calling.

That would be my Mom. She's a huge Bama fan and manages to find me wherever I am every Saturday and call me on the touchdowns.

Watching football is definitely more fun with someone else. But on the other hand, when you're the only one in the house -- say, on Sunday nights -- you get to watch anything you want.

That's right. "Sex in the City" on HBO. Now I have HBO at home, and I could watch it anytime, but not guilt-free. My husband (who thinks I watch too much TV, which I DON'T) can't stand the show. In fact, he finds it offensive -- bordering on pornography -- and NOT wanting him to judge ME by what I watch, I usually just do something else. But not tonight.

Pete even comes in and joins me. But I'm missing my own cats -- Mushroom, Boots, Cricket, L.C. and

Burt -- not to mention my husband. I'm headed home tomorrow, though, and just as I go to pack, I realize exactly what that third thing Lara forgot to tell me must be! Lara and George live in a gated community. How on earth do I buzz the taxi through the front gate while I'm still in the house?

Still here at Lara and George's, where the carpets are yack-free, I'm Melanie Peeples for the Savvy Traveler.

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