Our First House Sit in Shangri-La

a tall tower with bells at the top

The clock tower

Ojai, California – 

“Nestled in a valley at the foot of the TopaTopa Mountains, some 80 miles north of Los Angeles, the sleepy town of Ojai has a well-deserved reputation as California’s very own Shangri-La… with its fabled electromagnetic forces, hidden hot springs, and jaw-dropping sunsets (known locally as “pink moments”). Vogue, Oct 19, 2015.

small town street with mountains in the background

Looking east toward the center of town

The area around Ojai is rich with orchards, farm and grazing land, and many hiking trails. In town, there are spas, hot springs, hotels, restaurants, and just about anything else you can think of doing or eating. Surprisingly, there are no major brand restaurants or fast food establishments in town and only one national chain grocery store on the outskirts.

It does change the atmosphere of a place when all the restaurants and stores are mom and pop operations. It is a bit different from most towns in Southern California we’ve experienced. The sign by the side of the road says the population is 10,000, so it’s on the small side.

The main street in Ojai

The main drag

How We Got Here

We had both spent some time in Ojai before and were somewhat familiar with it. However, neither of us had ever really gotten to know the place well. This was our first house sit here and the first from a referral.

We had interviewed with a couple for a house sit (read it here), and during our conversation, they informed us that a neighbor also needed a house sitter and would be coming over to meet us. She lived three doors down, and they often did dog-sitting for each other. 

She arrived, she liked us; we liked her; the dog liked us (very important), and boom this house sit was set. A few weeks later it began.

two oranges growing on a tree

It’s citrus country

The Good and the Bad

I arrived first; Jim came the following day. A full work week with three-hour commutes each day was how I spent most of my time. Jim had a lovely relaxing week with one easy dog. That’s fair, right? I would get back in time to start cooking dinner, a bit of a drag!

We spent ten nights in a charming little house located right in the thick of town. We loved hearing the clock tower chiming every hour on the hour up until midnight. The house had such a lovely front yard filled with pink rose trees. In the backyard, orange trees, patio with fireplace, a hot tub and lots of privacy. It was terrific.

Oak trees against blue sky

There are many grand trees in Ojai.

We had been to Ojai one summer day years before and remembered the car thermometer going past 110°. So the cold mornings in March did surprise us. It even rained a bit. Even so, the days usually ended up bright and warm. Outside the hot summer months, it might have the best weather of any place we’ve been except Hawaii (hint, hint).

After dark, the stars shone brightly like one rarely saw anywhere close to Los Angeles. (In case it isn’t obvious yet, Jim loves looking at the stars.)

small white dog looking into the camera

Is he adorable or what?

Our Constant Companion

Look at him, what a sweetie! Affectionate, agreeable, and huggable, we’ll call him Begonia. He wanted to be with us wherever that might be. When out in the front yard, he loved to sit and bask in the warmth of the sun. In the backyard, he would snoop around a bit and then rest nearby.

During walks, he would sometimes plop down and stall if he wanted to go a different way, or didn’t want to walk anymore. What a funny guy. You might better call it discussing a walk, rather than taking one. On second thought, better to call it negotiating. 

small dog on a lap

He liked being close

New Rules

He enjoyed his breakfast and dinner and expressed interest in whatever we ate, but never in an intrusive way. He usually slept with his owner. However, with the three of us in that bed, let’s just say, we needed more room. We made him a little bed right next to ours, and it worked like a charm.  

The owner asked us not to leave Begonia alone very often or for very long. Of course, we honor owner requests as they know their dog better than we ever will. We understand house sitters need to adapt to individual pet rules and behavior. The good thing is that Begonia loved riding in the car in his car seat where he could look out the window.

little red berries growing

Just a few berries for your viewing pleasure

We switched our routine to only solo errands so one of us could stay home with him. When we were all out riding around only one of us would go in for shopping as I could only abide leaving him alone in the car for a few minutes. We curtailed some activities like dining out and shopping trips to the farmer’s market or natural food stores. Restaurants are not a big thing for us, but Ojai restaurants have quite a reputation. 

We usually do a lot of our meal planning while shopping: what’s available, what looks good, how much to buy. We resorted to phone shopping, sometimes even FaceTime shopping. Dialing up on our fancy new phones and walking through all the aisles looking for meal options.

a black and white decorative piece

What is it? No idea

Last Day Laundry – What could Go Wrong?

There are a few things you shouldn’t ask Jim to do: prepare an elaborate meal, pick colors for anything you don’t want to be brown, or, as it turns out, do laundry with any degree of complication. Not that he’s unwilling, it’s just – well, here’s one thing that could happen. 

On our last day, he was cleaning up the house, inside and out, all around. Some rain had fallen and spotted the glass patio table. He got some rags from the garage, cleaned up the table and tossed the rags into the washer on top of a load of stuff. Add some soap, turn it on, and walk away. Fine so far, right? Beep-beep goes the timer. Load the dryer.

pink and white bleeding heart flowers

A few bleeding hearts!

“Hey, these sheets look pink? Didn’t they start out white? Oh, no! There’s the culprit!” The towels: dark red, and quite enough red to share with the whole class thank you very much. Which they did! The color math: Red plus white equals … Pink! Yikes. 

The owner was great about it; we paid for a new set of designer linens, she had some new rags, pink ones, that is, and we all had a chuckle, Jim a bit less so.

After completing this house sit, we spent eight nights in hotels again! Ugh, getting pretty tired of those silly hotel rooms. We had a whole week of trying to figure out what to eat and where. Hopefully, we won’t have too much more of it since we do have some stays set up.

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