I make my living as an artist and as a single person I learned that housesitting other people’s homes allowed me the time and space to make my art. This lifestyle has landed me in extremely beautiful places, with my rent, utilities and, depending on the situation, food, salaries, vehicles, and use of swimming pools, as part of the deal.
In my twenties I traveled around the world and found wonderful opportunities for work exchanges along the way. In Australia I lived for a couple of years in the outback where I rented a house on a two hundred acre farm for the low rent of $80 a month in exchange for keeping an eye on my landlord’s cows. In Bodh Gaya, India I spent a couple of weeks in a Thai Buddhist monastery, in exchange I spent an hour every day helping one of the monks with his university studies (in English). In Israel I lived on a kibbutz for three months and did a variety of jobs in exchange for everything I needed. I learned that honest, loyal, hard working people were really appreciated and could get jobs anywhere in the world.
In my thirties I finally settled down and worked as a computer programmer until I sold two of my short travel stories to a magazine and a piece of art that I’d created was accepted for an important juried show the City of Los Angeles was sponsoring. I quit my job and began looking for ways to survive as an artist, which in L.A. meant long term house sitting and doing occasional scenic painting for movies.
In my forties my first creative work exchange was as scenic painter for the New Hope Theater in Pennsylvania. I spent the summer painting sets in the Pocono Mountains while living in a beautiful resort hotel. I stayed for two months in an apartment in Venice Beach, CA in exchange for doing all the black and white still photography for a video project an artist friend was working on. On vacation in Jamaica I met a woman who lived in a beautiful villa on a hillside overlooking the Caribbean and ended up house sitting it for a week when she had to go away. While there I learned wood carving from a local artist.
One of my favorite work exchanges was for a real estate investor in Bel Air. For three years I worked two days a week as his office assistant in exchange for a salary and a nice little apartment in one wing of his house. I had full use of the grounds and swimming pool. It was while living in Bel Air that I began carving large wood sculptures for the Treepeople Park in Beverly Hills. I finally left Bel Air to do a summer work exchange as an Artist in Residence at the Avondale Forest Park in County Wicklow, Ireland where I carved a large sculpture from a famous tree that had died. After this experience many of my work exchanges were art related. I carved a large standing Quan Yin for the Zen Center of Los Angeles; a statue of the Bodhisatva Jizo for the Zen Mountain Center near Idyllwild, CA; I made my first good money when I carved two large angels and an intricate fireplace mantel, including corbels, for a stunt man’s house in Thousand Oaks, CA; in Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico I carved Saint Bernard with his St. Bernard dog for the Hotel St. Bernard while staying in one of their large suites for over two months off season.
In my fifties I discovered The Caretaker Gazette. After 9/11, I decided I didn’t want to wait until I had enough money to buy my own land in the country. I found the perfect solution in the Gazette. I lived for two years in a very remote southern Ohio bird sanctuary, taking care of all the birds and other creatures, as well as a large organic garden. After that I spent a year and a half as an Artist in Residence at a women’s retreat center outside of Cincinnati.
I came out to California last fall to deliver a statue I’d carved of Quan Yin to the Zen Center in Sebastopol in Sonoma County. I was house sitting for friends in Santa Cruz when I saw the ad in the Gazette for the Meditation Yoga Center in Sacramento. I spent a month there and carved a statue for them of Krishna’s favorite girlfriend, Radha, and also lost 10 pounds. I’ve been living for the last six months on top of a mountain in Mendocino County. It started out as a carving job, but ended up as a caretaker situation. I have a cabin with a huge deck around it in the middle of a madrone forest. On my deck I’m carving a six foot tall Buddha for a local Buddhist monastery. In exchange for the cabin, utilities and meals I work 25 hours a month, taking care of the extensive flower gardens and animals. The owner travels a lot and feels safe knowing I’m here watching things. I love it here but that doesn’t stop me from carefully reading every email I get from the Gazette.