a:hover { color:#ff69b4; }

Hi. I’m Madolline.
And I’m seeing the world One cat at a time.

The real Slim Shady is a cat in Austin, Texas

The real Slim Shady is a cat in Austin, Texas

I was told Austin is Nashville’s big sister. And I can see the similarities. There’s plenty of live music venues. Both cities have a big food scene. Everyone’s really friendly. But Austin’s way more humid. The temperature’s already in the mid-20s when you wake up. And it’s still about 30°C when you go to bed.

Austin, Texas, was the third stop on this trip. And my second house and cat sit. I’d be looking after a 9-year-old cat, Shady, in downtown Austin. The one-bedroom apartment⁠—my home for the next two weeks⁠—was spacious and modern. And it was located between a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. An ideal spot.

My Lyft driver from the airport, Larry, told me the Whole Foods across from where I was staying was the first Whole Foods store in America. Well, the first Whole Foods in the world. He said that after I’d been there and to the Austin Public Library, that was everything I needed to see in Austin. Jokes aside, Austin had a bit more to offer than just the flagship Whole Foods store. But Austin wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I think of Texas. I didn’t see any red or barren landscapes, and cowboy hats aren’t worn by many people. Sad, I know.

I had Skyped Rebecca, Shady’s owner, before being confirmed as the house sitter. This was her first time using TrustedHousesitters and I’m hoping she’ll use it again. Rebecca said she’d been using a drop in cat sitter to feed/check on Shady. And the cost of this had really started to add up.

We’d arranged to meet at the airport where I was given the keys to the apartment, and a quick rundown on the building and a few other things. Rebecca and her partner even brought along a vegetarian breakfast taco for me to try. These are meant to be big/a thing in Austin. It wasn’t bad. But now it was off to Spain for those two and downtown Austin for me.

And now for a funny story. More awkward than funny, really. I arrived at the building and went to the correct floor, but I found myself in the wrong apartment. Rebecca said most people leave their door unlocked because you need a little token thing to get between floors, etc. So if the people in this building weren’t as trusting, I wouldn’t have made a fool out of myself.

When I entered the incorrect apartment, all the doors inside it were closed. I thought this was odd, but I ended up opening each of the doors in an attempt to locate Shady. Behind the first door was a mattress on the floor, with exercise gear scattered everywhere. I thought maybe they had a son staying over that they hadn’t told me about. I closed that door and opened the next one. Mattress on the floor. Again. But slightly less gym attire strewn across this room. I was getting a bit worried. I wondered what I had signed up for. I thought this apartment looked a bit (well, a lot) different to the few pictures Rebecca had up on her ad, but how was it possible I ended up unlocking the door with the keys I was given. A few seconds later, I heard someone with keys approaching. I started to freak out even more. A guy—one of the tenants—entered. He looked at me. And I looked back at him. I said something like ‘I think I have the wrong apartment because I can’t find the cat?’ He seemed a bit confused himself and started laughing. I explained I’d just entered the apartment, hadn’t touched or stolen anything, and felt I may have been in the wrong person’s home as Shady wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I made my way directly across the hall and double-checked the number on the door before entering this apartment.

*Deep breath* I opened door. I was greeted by a cat. It was the grey cat from the pictures. It was Shady. I was in the correct place this time. Shady didn’t stop purring from the moment I arrived. Rebecca told me it’s rare for him to ever stop purring. And it’s true. Shady’s probably the most calm, well-behaved cat I’ve looked after. He’s also pretty spoilt. He’s got two planters of cat grass, great views of Austin from the comfort of his sheepskin covered leather chair and his own cardboard box on the kitchen counter. He’s even got his own automated litter system. It’s called a litter robot. I’m sure Shady doesn’t really care whether he’s using a traditional litter box or a litter robot. So perhaps I’m the spoilt one. The litter robot detects once it’s being used, separates the clumped litter from the clean, and deposits—for want of a better term—the soiled litter into a bag hidden underneath the main part of the litter robot. This is then emptied (by a human) every few days and new, clean litter is added. Also done by a human. Me.

My other responsibilities for the next two weeks included feeding Shady twice a day and that’s about it. Shady’s morning meal was mixed with L-Lysine to help with his allergies. And just like the Nashville kitties, Shady drinks his water from a mug. His mug’s the Court TV one. I’m keen to see if my cat back home, Gracie, will drink her water from a mug or glass.

In exchange for providing live-in Shady care, Rebecca left me a Whole Foods gift card. This was totally unexpected and I only realised it how much was on it when I went to use it. $100 USD. Other people I’ve sat for have picked me up from, or taken me to, the airport. Or paid for a meal or two. But this was exceptionally kind. It meant nearly all my groceries were paid for during the two-week house sit.

Places to go

Most of the places I went to check out/eat at were pretty central to where I was staying. I got the bus a handful of times, but walked everywhere else.

Driskill Hotel

This hotel’s meant to be one of the most haunted in America. I’d read about it when I was at Museum of The Weird. More about that below. Rebecca recommended the Driskill as well. It reminded me of the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo—despite its sophisticated appearance, it’s full of tourists in shorts. The bathroom was probably my favourite thing.

Museum of The Weird

This one isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The ‘museum’ itself is quite small. Half the premises is the store front and the museum’s in the back. The museum’s then broken up in to two sections. The first part includes some artefacts and tales that may or may not be real, and you’re not told this until you make it to the second half of the museum. This is where everything you see’s real or actually happened. Things include a two-bodied lamb, a skull of a newborn with cyclopia, a two-headed piglet. An adult ticket was a little over $10 USD.

‘Dirty’ 6th Street

Rebecca and her partner warned me to stay away from 6th Street after midnight. Incredibly drunk tourists mixed with a homeless population makes the area a little dodgy after dark. After my visit to the Museum of The Weird, I found a fun-looking bar a few doors down. The Jackalope. A dive bar complete with a giant jackalope. Their $2.50 happy hour got me good and I was sick for the next 24 hours. When I returned to 6th Street a few days later, still dying inside, the cheap alcohol smell really hit me. The street’s still quite fun despite what the locals say. It’s lined with bars and restaurants, tourist shops, and there’s a Voodoo Doughnut. The Driskill’s a bit further down.

Mexic-Arte Museum

This gallery’s also in the dirty 6th Street area. Off Congress Ave. It’s a few rooms full of Mexican, Latino and Latin American art. An adult ticket is $7 USD. Check out the gift shop as well.

Mean Eyed Cat

The Mean Eyed Cat is probably my favourite bar. Ever. And not just because it has ‘cat’ in its name. It’s full of cat things, of course, and taxidermy and old school Americana stuff. I’m not sure if it’s actually an old house or a really big shed, but it works.

South Congress Avenue

South Congress Avenue is just over the bridge from downtown Austin. The day I decided to walk there, a man was threatening to jump off the bridge before the police brought him down. It’s mainly independent stores—artwork, homewares, tourist buys—and there’s plenty of murals.

Day trips: Fredericksburg or San Antonio

I decided I wanted to get out of Austin on my last Sunday here. I couldn’t get a bus ticket to San Antonio because I’d left it too late. So I hired a car. The only hire car places open in Austin over the weekend are at the airport. Kind of annoying, but thankfully I could get a bus from where I was staying. I wouldn’t have paid $20 USD for a Lyft/Uber ride to collect a hire car.

I’d intended to spend the whole day in Fredericksburg. It’s where the German population settled in Texas. And the town’s maintained its German heritage. Fredericksburg’s about an hour and a half from Austin. I got there pretty early. Maybe 10am? The town was cute, but with about a third of the stores closed on a Sunday (odd), I’d finished up pretty early. The church I’d also wanted to check out, St Mary’s Catholic Church, was in session. So it was awkward going in to take photos when people were reciting prayers. I decided to I drive to San Antonio afterward. A sales assistant at a CVS described San Antonio as the real Texas. It’s a bit rough and more ‘authentic’ than Austin. I wish I had more time in San Antonio, but here’s a few things worth checking out:

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary Church—one of several painted churches in Texas
  • The Alamo
  • the world’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic on Guadalupe Street
  • the city’s Historic Market Square.

The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum was on my list, but I didn’t make it there this time.

Torchy’s Tacos

I tried Torchy’s after returning my car to the airport on Sunday night. Their downtown restaurant was only a short walk away from the apartment. So I went back on Monday. And Tuesday. They’ve got two vegetarian tacos, but I ordered the Independent taco every time.

Next stop

I’ll be heading back to the west coast to look after two Abyssinian cats, Max and Luis, in Lake Forest Park, Washington. This sit’s pretty short. Maybe five days. The property looks like it’s right on the water. Here’s to a super relaxing couple of days. 

Looking after two senior kitties in Nashville

Looking after two senior kitties in Nashville

This Nashville house and cat sit was the first one I applied for when putting my month and a half-long trip together. And it wasn’t until recently I’d even thought about visiting Nashville. But I’m glad I decided to. The people here are probably the kindest of any city I’ve visited while travelling through the United States. The makeup and skincare lady at the local Walgreens even hugged me.

The place I was looking after was described as a ’20s Tudor duplex in the 12South neighbourhood. It’s close to restaurants and cafes, shops, and a bus line. But the one and only time I tried to get the bus, it didn’t show up. Sigh. 12South’s pretty close to downtown Nashville, though. It’s only 6km away. And I’d be caring for two senior kitties, Griffin (19) and Nancy Kuan (15). Griffin, the grey kitty, has early stage kidney disease. But she’s otherwise healthy. Nancy doesn’t show any signs of old age and looks like a big kitten.

Debra, the home owner, and her partner were heading off on a week-long cycling trip starting early on 20 June 2019. This meant I was unable to meet them in person because I didn’t fly in until midday. This was actually the first house and cat sit I’d done where I hadn’t met the person/couple/family beforehand. We’d Skyped when I first responded to Debra’s ad and again when I was staying in Las Vegas to go through some of the trickier stuff (i.e. the cat stuff).

When I first arrived at the 12South residence, I fed the kitties and then decided it was time to feed myself. It’d been nearly 10 hours since I’d had anything substantial to eat. I was glad to be out of Vegas because I’ve found it hard to find any decent, proper food within walking distance both times I’ve been there. And so what was the first thing I ate in Nashville? A maple glaze donut from Five Daughters Bakery. Hardly healthy, and not really substantial either, but it was delicious. Then I made my way to Kroger to buy some proper food for the next few days. Kroger was a name I recognised from staying in Cincinnati. And I knew it was a complete supermarket, not a convenience store or pharmacy that sold poor quality fruit.

The house sit

It was great to have some cat company again after five days in Vegas. I’d been told Griffin likes to eat plastic. This meant I had to keep all plastic bags hidden in my suitcase or out of sight, or up high. Griffin also enjoys chewing on cords. I’d have to put my iPhone and laptop chargers away ASAP, and put my hair straightener back in my suitcase when I was done with it. Nancy, the younger of the girls, was less of a potential hazard than Griffin. But she much preferred to be left alone. Or maybe she just didn’t like me much. The girls weren’t allowed outside, but Debra has a great screened in front porch where they can sit while I’m home. Sitting out here was Nancy’s favourite thing to do, but it held little interest for Griffin. And both cats drank from tall glasses, not bowls, which was very entertaining.

Debra’s home is filled with so much fun stuff. Interesting art and books, and eclectic homewares. Her place’s probably the most interesting (good interesting) home I’ve stayed in since travelling as a house and cat sitter. She’s got affirmations and notes, and reminders for house sitters, scattered throughout her place. Really helpful. And the notes and affirmations are cute. But my absolute favourite thing about her house… She has a fridge with a cold water dispenser. This is truly my favourite thing in people’s homes. It means I don’t have to spend a fortune on bottled water. And there’s nothing better than cold water.

Places to go

Unlike my time in Vegas, I was able to visit/see all the things I had set out to do during my stay in Nashville. Here’s some places I’d recommend to anyone thinking of coming the music city. And there’s plenty of music-related attractions—like the Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and Musicians Hall of Fame—but these don’t interest me.

Downtown

I had Tootsie’s written down as a place of interest. And it was the first thing I spotted when I arrived downtown. It’s a bar, but I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near as busy as it was. I didn’t go in. I was, however, still able to appreciate the pastel purple exterior before continuing along Broadway. Pretty much every single bar along Broadway’s packed with drunken tourists. One of my Lyft drivers said most locals avoid downtown. And I can see why. I tried two less busy bars before moving on. I paid $10 USD for a vodka at the first bar, then $8 USD for another vodka at BigShotz on 2nd Avenue. Printer’s Alley is a few streets over—it’s less touristy and less busy—and has more reasonably priced drinks. I tried Fleet Street Pub where I was served a horrible American English take on an espresso martini. I was done after that. Downtown Nashville is crazier than Hollywood Boulevard and some places I’ve visited in Japan, but it’s still worth checking out.

Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum is about a kilometre away from where everything’s happening downtown. I’m not going to lie. I only went here for the Frida Kahlo exhibition they’ve got running until 2 September 2019. I learned so much about Frida Kahlo. She contracted polio at six years old. She was hit by a bus at 18, and the injuries kept her in and out of hospital for the rest of her life. She married when she was 22. And her pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Frida Kahlo died aged 47. The art on display was pretty interesting, too.

12 Street South

12 Street South was less than five minutes away from where I was staying. My favourite shop on this street was White Mercantile⁠, a southern style homewares store. Five Daughters Bakery (donut shop) is a bit further up and Frothy Monkey, a café and bar, is meant to be good. There’s lots of great street art to see while you’re here. The flower mural and Mobe Oner’s Rivive! Nashville piece were my favourites. ‘I believe in Nashville’ had swarms of people waiting to get a photo with it. On my last day in Nashville, my Lyft driver and I were talking about tourists’ fascination with murals here. She said there’s a set of angel wings in The Gulch that has tourists lining up around the block for. The Lyft driver was ashamed to admit she didn’t know where the popular ‘I believe in Nashville’ one was. “What kind of person am I if I don’t have a photo with it or know where it is?” she joked.

Hillsboro Village

Hillsboro Village, near the Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, is a few blocks of mostly independently owned stores. My favourites were:

  • Native + Nomad—clothing and homewares
  • A Thousand Faces—a Nashville souvenir store, but not a tacky one
  • Apple And Oak—cards, stationery and homewares
  • Altar’d State—clothing and accessories, homewares, and plants.

Make sure to stop in at The Grilled Cheeserie for a snack/lunch. Get the spinach and artichoke melt.

8th Avenue vintage and antique stores

The vintage and antique stores on 8th Avenue are walkable from Hillsboro Village. It’ll take you about half an hour. There’s the 8th Avenue Antique Mall, Classic Modern, and Dealer’s Choice Antiques and Auctions (didn’t have time to check this one out). Classic Modern’s quirky and quite reasonably priced, but I guess it is more vintage and kitsch than antique-y.

Unrelated: I met a homeless veteran, Larry, at the 8th Avenue Burger King. Larry told me he was originally from Birmingham, AL, and I told him I was going there in a few weeks to house sit. He thought I’d come all the way from Australia just to cat sit in Birmingham.

Gardens of Babylon Landscapes

Gardens of Babylon Landscapes is part of the Nashville Farmers’ Market. They have their own outdoor section and it’s huge. While I couldn’t take any of the plants back home to Australia, I did manage to pick up a few planters. And I would’ve loved to buy one of the pink ice cream cone planters, but I felt they were a bit expensive ($25 USD plus tax). The food part of the farmers’ market was way too busy when I went—lunchtime. A bit stupid of me. So I didn’t spend long inside. But it’d be worth checking out at a non-peak food time.

Next stop

Now I’m off to somewhere where the humidity is likely to be even worse. That’s Austin, Texas. I’ll be staying in an apartment in downtown Austin. And Shady, a grey cat, will be my feline friend for the next two weeks.

P.S. Check out Debra’s hair salon, Sweet Seven Organic Salon, on Lindell Ave.

House sitting for strangers: A new way to see the world

House sitting for strangers: A new way to see the world

I was chatting with my workmates one morning and found out another staff member, originally from the UK, lives rent free in Australia—i.e. she looks after other people’s homes in exchange for a free place to stay. And while I don’t care much for the house sitting lifestyle here in Australia, I thought to myself ‘If she can do it, I could probably do it [international house sitting]’. I went home that October afternoon and Googled ‘house sitting’. TrustedHousesitters was the first site to come up. It looked legitimate, was easy to use, and had listings for homes and apartments all over the world. So I signed up. I’ve also used House Sitters America, MindMyHouse and housecarers.com for sits in Washington, D.C.; Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but TrustedHousesitters is my go-to.

After paying the annual TrustedHousesitters membership fee—$80 AUD or so back in 2017—I started working on my sitter profile that same afternoon. Like most websites, there’s the typical ‘about me’ part, and there’s ‘why I want to house sit’ and ‘my experience’ sections. But did I have any proper experience house sitting for strangers? No. I didn’t. And that’s where TrustedHousesitters makes it easier for new sitters. It lets other people leave a reference, as opposed to a review, on your profile. And that’s when I reached out to workmates, past employers and people’s parents asking them to leave a professional or character reference to help me secure a house sit.

Finding a house sit

Most of these websites let you search/filter house sits by suburb/neighbourhood, city, state or country. And you can further refine the results based on the dates you’re interested in, which type of pets (if any) you’d like to look after, and/or how long you’re looking at sitting for. For my first search, I typed in ‘United States’. A listing for an apartment in downtown San Francisco came up—it was a 10-day house and cat sit over the 2017 Christmas–New Year break. I’d been to San Francisco earlier that year and I loved it, and I was keen to return if I had the chance. This was the chance. I’d get to live in a super central part of the city. For free. With a cat. And the couple was looking for a solo sitter. No couples, no friends, no families. One person. This was perfect.

I clicked the ‘Apply now’ button, wrote my application and sent it off within the hour. As an occasional writer, and someone who likes to think they’re good at answering job selection criteria, I hoped my introductory message ticked all their boxes. A few days later, I got a response. We scheduled a Skype date for a time when we’d all be awake. To be ‘interviewed’ by people on the other side of the world about something you’d never really ‘done’ before was quite daunting. But the young couple were lovely. During our Skype chat, the boyfriend, who’s from Argentina, likened Australians to Argentinians. He said we had a similar sense of humour and were known for our laid-back attitudes, and I think that’s what got me over the line. A few days later, I got a message saying they’d confirmed me as their sitter. I was pretty pleased with myself. I’d got the first sit I applied for. And now all that was left to do was prove I was a trusted house sitter.

The first house sit

I’d been travelling around the US for three weeks before making my way to San Francisco for the house sit. I spent my first night at Casa Loma Hotel before getting a Lyft to the couple’s South of Market address the next morning. Before I even made it to the entrance, I was greeted by a homeless man who asked if I’d like to buy some shoes off him to give someone as a Christmas present. After I politely declined, I headed upstairs to meet the couple. They’d printed their TrustedHousesitters home information kit out for me. It included details about their home, neighbourhood and pet. And I was then introduced to their kitty before they left for the airport.

And now it was just the kitty and me. For the next 10 days. The couple’s home was amazing. It was an almost new one-bedroom apartment, with a view of downtown San Francisco. It was within walking distance to pretty much everywhere I wanted to go. And really close to public transport to take me to those few places I couldn’t walk to. Valencia Street—a street of independently owned stores—was about 20 minutes from the apartment. The heart of San Francisco could be reached within five minutes. And Haight Street was a short Muni ride away. I also enjoyed just wandering any San Franciscan street to appreciate the city’s unique architecture. The city’s streets are lined with the most colourful houses and buildings. And as for the chores and responsibilities, there really wasn’t a lot asked of me. Feed the cat once or twice a day, daily cat playtime, water a few succulents and plants, and clean up after yourself. I kept in regular contact with the couple through WhatsApp throughout the sit. I’d send them one too many photos and videos of their kitty, and little updates on the progress we were making. It was heartening to know their young cat had gone from hiding from me to sleeping next to me on the bed each night.

New Year’s Day had come around quick and this meant it was time to go home. My first house and cat sit done. Nothing broke. They weren’t robbed. And no pet emergencies. Thank God. But I still couldn’t believe a couple trusted me—a 27-year-old stranger from Australia—to look after their place and cat. When I landed back in Brisbane, I saw I had a message thanking me for taking such great care of everything. I received a five-star review and a kindly-worded testimonial. “It was like leaving our kitty with a good friend,” the review read. They said I was welcome back anytime.

This whole house sitting experience/adventure/lifestyle also happened to be the first time I’d travelled alone. Now I think I’d find it very hard to travel with someone else. Being able to travel and house sit by yourself means you can do what you want when you want. You can also spend all day doing nothing if that’s what you want to do. There’s no fighting and no need to comprise. And you’re responsible for everything. But, yes, there are times when I do miss having someone I know to chat and joke with, or whinge to.

Several house sits later

I’ve been fortunate enough to look after after rescue cats, feral-and-rehomed cats, Siamese kittens and purebred Persians all over America after getting that first five-star review. That’s about 20 cats all up. And I’ve stayed in two waterfront apartments in Boston, a classic American home in suburbs of the Cincinnati and an architecturally designed home atop a mountain in Boulder. I’ve even kept in touch with some of the people I’ve sat for and  consider them to be friends. We’ll chat on WhatsApp about upcoming travel plans, or share stories and photos of our cats. And I’ve been asked to sit for some people again. I actually went back to sit for the first couple in their new place in a different part of San Francisco.

Another thing I enjoy about house and cat sitting my way ‘round is all the fun products you discover living in—and maintaining—someone else’s place. I’ll order Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap in basil every time I place an order on iHerb. Products from the Mrs Meyer’s cleaning range have been in most kitchens and bathrooms of the homes I’ve looked after. Then there’s the Swiffer mop, Method 8x laundry detergent (works a treat on stains) and bamboo sheets. These are all things I’ve had shipped to Australia or stocked up on when I’ve returned. House and cat sitting has also taken me to some cities I mightn’t have considered going to otherwise. Cincinnati and Santa Fe come to mind. I really liked Cincinnati. I just wish my house and cat sitting ‘services’ were needed for another day or two so I could see more of the city. “We’d have her back again in [an] instant and feel lucky to have her. If she’s available to house sit for you, snap her up,” the home owner wrote in her review. Maybe I’ll get to see more of it soon.

So what’s—or where to—next? I’ll be off again in a few days. I’ve got sits in Nashville, Austin, Seattle and Birmingham. I’m starting out in Vegas and finishing up with a week in New Orleans. And while I’d like to make the international house and cat sitting a regular, every-couple-of-months kind of thing, I don’t think ‘unpaid cat sitter’ as a filler between government contact jobs would impress too many future employers. But, hey, you never know. Let’s see where this blog goes…

Try it yourself

Use RAF110780 to get 25% off the TrustedHousesitters annual membership fee. You should be able to browse all house and pet sits on the other sites I’ve mentioned without having to provide credit card details.