10 + 1 GREAT Reasons to Become a HOUSE SITTER


Looking to travel? On a budget? No home to exchange? Consider work as a house sitter… looking after someone else’s home in exchange for free accommodation. I like to call it gentle travel. Here’s my list (in no particular order)

  • It’s a Win-Win. You save money and homeowners enjoy their time away knowing their home, pets, and garden are being taken care of.
  • It provides you a home base while seeing another part of the world. For experienced travelers this is a huge PLUS. Living out of a suitcase and traveling every day can be exhausting. As one gets older and wiser housesitting holds increasing appeal, AND you get to cook at home saving on the high cost of eating out.
  • You have time to get involved in community events. Spending a few weeks or months in one place allows you to visit weekly markets, attend classes and workshops, and find your favourite shops and eateries, all the while connecting with locals. 
  • Homeowners frequently inform their friends about your pending arrival and provide you with many contact names and numbers. This is an exclusive advantage of house sitting. You can establish and nurture friendships or enjoy the solitude of your own company. Either way the choice is yours. 
  • It moves you out of your comfort zone – ALWAYS a good thing. 
  • Many homeowners allow you to use their vehicle, especially if you’re in a remote location. This saves you the cost of car rentals and leaves you with money in your pocket for another visit to your favourite bakery! 
  • It can be a wonderful way to share your love of animals without the permanent responsibility of pet ownership. (You’re often required to care for homeowner’s pets and gardens.) For solo travelers it has the added benefit of companionship and security. In taking care of a veggie garden you reap the benefits of super fresh produce and yes, more savings!
  • It provides a living situation that you would never have known had you stayed at home. You get a peek into how others live and may even get some ideas about how you might change things upon your return.
  • As a house sitter, you have a place to invite family or friends to visit, providing you have approval from the homeowners. 
  • Through Skype and email you’re able to ‘meet’ before the housesit begins. This is a huge comfort for everyone. Tip #1 The more you know about each other before the house sit begins, the better.

So there’s my top 10. If this piques your interest, subscribe to my blog (on the right side of the screen).

And here’s the new BONUS benefit:

  • Being a house sitter is good for your mental health! Engrossed in the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, the need to keep neurons firing and creating new connections is paramount to brain health. House sitting is a great stimulator. Navigating the layout of another’s house, their neighbourhood and especially their kitchen, requires focussed attention: another key factor essential to long-term plastic growth. 

 

Image: DepositPhotos

In the Absence of Eggs

It’s been three weeks now and the chooks aren’t putting out. Well not as far as I can tell. If they’re laying, they’re not letting on.
“Look out for eggs in strange places,” the homeowners cry joyfully, Quantas bound. Thing is, I have been looking: under boulders, piles of grass, roosting spots, but no eggs. Nada. Nothing. 

What’s worse is one’s losing all her feathers. A coating of downy soft plumage lines the carport, like the aftermath of a pillow fight. More each day.  
Dear God,
If you’re around this Easter
Please take care of the chooks,
Please don’t let there be any animal fatalities under my watch. 
I don’t care about the eggs anymore. 
Thank you, 
Amen. 
While God’s working on that l head out in search of the chocolate kind, Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, my primary source of sustenance for years spent writing March report cards. 
Wincing at the increasingly exposed blue neck of the barren chook nestled deep within the carport I drive off in a cloud of feathers, eager to accumulate an Easter stash of something edible.

Aussies love their chocolate. Cadbury’s is HUGE. Easter egg displays are spectacular with eggs of every size, colour, and filling that launch pensioners into fits of giddy delight. But alas, I search the aisles of Coles, Woolworths, and IGA in vain. Under great duress I’m forced to entertain the notion of an Easter devoid of my favourite crunchy morsels. 
With no luck on the egg front of either variety it’s clearly time for a change – again! The licence plates remind me:
Tasmania – Explore the Possibilities

So instead, each morning I hunt for the hugest, plumpest figs ready to pluck and rest atop my counter and ponder the deliciously divine ways in which to consume.


I scan the vista of meandering river amidst fields of barley, cut a blooming red rose and admire its majesty of folds and fragrance. The rooster crows, a kookaburra laughs, and a robin models his tangerine chest to appreciative onlookers. Bountiful beauties of another kind offer themselves to me in abundance.
Who needs eggs? Not me it seems. 

Well, at least not till the next full moon. (See Mars Bar Meditation) Hmmm, think that’s tonight. Suddenly, a werewolf urgency propels me into a frenzied panic….

hey…look what I found at the corner store!

I’m Not Racist But…

F**k Off, We’re Full announced the windshield sticker on a Perth hatchback. In the 14 years since first visiting the land Down Under, an insidious undercurrent of fear has taken a firm hold on the national psyche. Not the increase in skin cancer or shark fatalities, but the fear of a Chinese take over. In the late 70s as the government opened its borders to refugees, it allowed thousands of war-torn Vietnamese to flee Russian communism and start anew. The typical Aussie was far from welcoming. Clearly things haven’t changed much in some parts!

A fear of foreign invasion was born years ago. Russia threatened to rob Australia of its prolific mineral reserves back in the mid 1800s and the seed was planted. Even the mysterious drowning death of prime minister, Harold Holt back in 1967 has conspiracy theorists pointing at Russian involvement.

Fact or fallacy, fear-mongering shares a popularity similar to sport in this sun-blessed land. Imagine! Almost daily, politicians exploit the public fear of foreign takeover and job losses to grab the attention of a nation.
It works. In 2001, when John Howard ordered the turnaround of a boat load of refugees during an election campaign, it ignited the voters and sealed his victory.

I recall a similar fear infiltrating my home town of Leicester back in the 70’s as an influx of Indians and Pakistanis descended on our city. Silent prejudice brewed in ‘white’ homes, mine amoungst them. Tempers flared on buses. ‘Coloured’ kids left abandoned on playgrounds. An us and them mentality arose from our threatened status quo and rampant belief in British superiority.

Like Canada this is a nation born from immigrants. Unlike Canada it’s still kicking and screaming in protest. I reckon the die-hard Aussies won’t go down without a fight. The iconic image of the blond-haired, surf-crazy, politically incorrect, beer swillin’ nation is hard to break. After all, this is the Australia we have come to know and love around the world.

But everything changes. With death and taxes it’s one of the few certainties in life. Guess it depends how long and how tightly we hold on, and to recognize if and how the fear of change plays out in our own lives. That’s surely worth an evening of contemplation.

 

Stealing India

Rx:

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat as necessary for optimal results. The unbidden prescription that launches and sustains life. 
An adequate supply of oxygen and clean air is medicine we rarely question in our Western world. Inhaling the good stuff in the pristine wilderness of BC, it’s easy to grow complacent. Until India.

 


With a population of 17 million, Delhi boasts the unenviable reputation of world’s most polluted city, the label once allotted to Mexico City. The smog, an acrid layer of airborne sludge, blankets the city for miles. Amazing to consider its choice for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Hardly conducive to record setting.

Everything about India steals the breath. Billowing black clouds of diesel fumes blast the faces of road occupants and side liners. None are exempt. Rickshaw riders, drivers and pedestrians consume gob loads of the stuff. 

Aging men squat silently along garbage strewn pavements, immune to the lung-junk settling deep inside. Scooters heralding entire families maneuver skillfully, wedged within the throngs, careful not to dislodge the babe held perilously in a mother’s arms, sidesaddle at the rear. No helmets. An early initiation into India’s city life.

Open drains, simmering pots of pungent spices, giant woks of burning oil and masala chai add to the olfactory chaos.

Road side stalls retail the gamut of daily wares. Shampoo to shock absorbers. Each laden with a gritty coating of dust and grime, ready to eat, wear, or take home to loved ones. 

And the NOISE!. The incessant din requires a desensitization that the locals have in spades. A cacophony of horns snatch the breath in alarm, again and again and again. Bells, beeps, buzzers, blasts…

On Your Left  – On Your Right  – Coming Through – Let Me In – I’m Right Behind You. 

Amazingly it works. There are few accidents and an absence of road rage amidst the seeming chaos. A language unto itself. 

In the hierarchy of pedestrian, bike, rickshaw, scooter, car, bus and truck, the revered cow, however, tops the lot. Even the busiest of intersections scream to a halt when the holy cow chooses to cross. Hinduism in action.

It’s all traffic and people and animals. Too much and too many. Like the tangled overhead wires, the scene below depicts a congestion that has to be seen to be believed.  

Heading back to the airport the warm toxic acidic fog burns the back of my throat setting off a crazed coughing fit. My eyes and nose stream helplessly in violent protest. The driver can’t get me out of this place fast enough. I press a scarf tightly to my face and pray the carcinogenic crap won’t reach my lungs.  

The following day, stepping down onto Tasmanian soil, I find myself snatching long, cool inhalations. Desperate to breathe again, blessed to have a choice. 

Here, There, and Everywhere

“I see blues and greens,” she proclaimed pressing her palm against my swollen belly, “…and a beautiful soul.” As if startled with revelation her eyes welled up, her voice choked. Had this wise woman intuited something she couldn’t share? 
She was indeed all blues and greens. A natural swimmer blessed with lithe, slender limbs and aquatic grace. As a young girl, I recall her slide into the deep sea swells of the Great Barrier Reef snorkeling confidently amoungst the giant clams and corals. Swimming with dolphins in New Zealand, and joining the local boys as they leapt from rocky outcrops into the warm Cinque Terre waters, stories shared from her later travels. 
Like many who watched the opening scene of Free Willy years ago, she dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. During her final summer, medical treatment proving highly successful, she began to rewrite ‘her story’. Full of hope and promise she allowed herself the courage to follow that childhood dream. 

She became a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium, a first step and a last. I watched skeptically as my daughter, joyful and energized, researched available courses, made calls, readied a plan. A dear friend whose firm conviction that anything is possible effused nothing but praise and encouragement. I felt ashamed at my lack of faith. Clearly ‘my story’ needed rewriting too.
‘You can’t bring a new story into your life until you’ve let go of the old one,’ says Stephanie Tolan in Change Your Story, Change Your Life. ‘Feeling bad means it’s time to revise a story.’ But like everything, we need to be ready. I wasn’t. She was. 

Two years later I found myself house sitting in Bunbury, Western Australia. A dolphin haven I discovered. Every time I found myself beside the ocean, dolphins appeared. An occurrence that eluded even the locals. I began to feel that she was with them. Was one of them. Heading home from the beach late one afternoon, a lone dolphin appeared just metres from shore swimming directly toward me. It seemed to say, ‘It’s me. I’m right here’.

If all energy is borrowed and returns to the universe when we die (Avatar) then death is not an end but a transformation. Consciousness like life, is indestructible. Our bodies are merely the vessel to house our energy. 

No matter what our story, we need to stop telling it if we want to see a change. My new story is being rewritten. I’ve released the one I’ve been telling myself and others for too long. That my daughter died, why I feel justified taking a leave, and the silent, more dangerous one that goes back over recent years, more of the same. You get the idea.

Walking in to the waves that last evening, my ‘sad’ story in hand, I cast the soggy shreds adrift. Two dolphins appeared, frolicking in the salty waves. I know she’s out there having a blast, making things right in her world. 

Be Big With No Apology

So here we are again. The final hours of one year and the dawn of the next. For me a launch into an unknown future laden with possibility and choice, the realm of which is profoundly exciting and necessary.

A recent article by Mastin Kipp, reaffirmed something I know that I know:

DSCN2414When we remember that everything in the Universe is happening ‘for us’ and not ‘to us’ we can begin to take our power back. 

 

We are not defined by what happens to us but by what we DO about what happens to us. 

 

We all have the power to change the meaning we give to any event in our life.

 

Getting still, being able to hear your own voice and not the voices of the world is a necessary prerequisite. And on the tough days I remind myself that it’s just a bad day, nothing more.

A few weeks ago, struggling with a sense of purpose and meaning in my life, a friend dropped in before heading off to her new home in Palma. Mid-conversation she announced, “You never know what’ll happen next. That’s what makes life worth living.”  Ah-Hah! Yes! Absolutely! Unknowingly she had spoken the words I so needed to hear in that moment.

As the year comes to a close I embrace the unbridled sense of freedom and possibility that surrounds my days. Comfortable with uncertainty, as Pema Chodren would say. Not knowing what tomorrow brings, where I shall next call home, whom I shall meet, or where I shall go I hold the possibility that by staying with the situation answers will come. It will be felt, not logically arrived at. Exciting, kind of scary but definitely where I choose to put my energies. Abundance flows into my life everyday if I allow it.

Thank you to those of you who hold me close in your heart, for your words of encouragement and for sharing the inspiration I seem to provide to many! I wish you all a wonderful New Year. DSCN2202

 

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

 

– T.S. Eliot –

Singaportrayal

Travel asks how much we’re willing to surrender to the unknown. It is as Pico Iyer suggests, an exercise in trust as we pitch ourselves, naked and undefended, into a foreign place. It satiates our curiosity to know something more about a place and to go deeper inside ourselves without the encircling familiarity of home. No surprise that in Ancient Greece, travel was considered one of the four main tenets of educating the ‘whole man’. Time for educational reform!
In transit for the past two weeks, some poignant thoughts and reflections from Palma to Perth. Check out the flickr photostream – In Transit, Singapore and Perth 2011
Thrills and Giggles
  • flying to Singapore on an Airbus 380, marveling at the minds able to engineer an 80 m wing span. Flying may well be my Ghostly Lover. I am ever more convinced that the woman’s animus IS, as Jung believes, up in the air.
  • watching locals patiently wait out the daily downpours of Singapore’s rainy season, no umbrellas or rain gear. A wonderful comment on acceptance of life as it is.
  • searching out bustling eating places (Chinese, Malay, Indian) where mine was the only ‘white’ face 
  • attempting to eat Indian curry, rice and sauces with fingers only! So humbling, and counter to everything I was taught about eating etiquette.
  • remembering the things I so loved about being in Australia years ago…passion fruit, sunshine, laid back lifestyle, BYOB to restaurants. A right thing in the right place (see  A Shoe in the Washer)
  • hearing Christmas carols while wearing summer clothes
Surprises
  • how 32 degrees and 94% humidity feels on a jet-lagged body 
  • young people publicly puffing on giant, steaming hookahs at an outdoor cafe in the Malay-Arab quarter, and the fruity fragrance of sheesha (flavoured tobacco). Legal in Singapore?
  • how achingly beautiful the evening call to prayer (adhan) from the Sultan’s Mosque. An overwhelming yearning to enter and be part of this ritual. 
  • warning sign of gun-toting soldier aiming at would-be intruder at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Confirmation of law breaker treatment in Singapore.
  • entry into Australia requires a visa! Thank God for night time revelations and e-visas
  • my house sit owner’s inspiring love of life. I am open to this choice, as are you. 
The few annoyances arose from jet lag, waiting in lines, and the time and expense of getting to and from airports and accommodations. Things that can consume hours of precious time and energy. All ample evidence for going some place and staying still for a while. I like to call it residential travel. It’s about being somewhere not just seeing somewhere!
 

A Shoe in the Washer


Ever found a hair in your soup? Nothing wrong with the hair, it’s just in the wrong place. 
“Everything is good in its right place and right relationship,” says Satish Kumar, “nothing is bad.” So it would follow that shoes on your feet are good, but in a washer…?
It might look something life this:
Characters: SHOE, Tee and Sock
Setting: a washing machine door stands open. Sock and Tee have been tossed inside, ready for their routine clean. At the last moment SHOE is flung in, rebounds off the back wall with a dull thud and lands atop the malodorous pile. SHOE scans the scene, certain there must have been some kind of horrible mistake.
SHOE: Whoa, sorry, wrong room. Don’t think I’m meant to be here
Tee: It’s OK. No worries. I remember that feeling too.
SHOE: I don’t feel comfortable here AT ALL. There’s nowhere to stand.
Sock: Oh, you’ll be fine. You’ll see. Just look like you know what you’re doing.
SHOE: But I don’t know what I’m doing! How will I make it through in one piece?
Tee: Well, be open, flexible. Go with the flow. We’re all in it together. 
Sock: Yeah, just think about how great you’ll feel when it’s all over. Kind of like your day job.
Water enters the drum. Sock and Tee giggle in the bubbles. SHOE gasps for air.
Tee: Hey SHOE, quit struggling. Remember, you have no control. 
Sock: Yeah, give into it man else there’ll be some pretty serious damage to that sole. Your choice.
SHOE: Why’s this happening to me? Life is so unfair!
Bumping and bouncing off the walls SHOE grumbles about the gross mistreatment of all shoes everywhere. Disgusted that a highly revered and costly product could be exposed to such malicious malpractice. 
Just when it seems things can’t get any worse, the SPIN cycle kicks in. SHOE panics. Grasping loosened laces, SHOE holds on tight and prays for it all to be over, and soon
Like SHOE, we have all been a right thing in a wrong place or relationship.
The question is, how do we make it through without permanent damage? Unwilling to accept the situation leaves us, like wreckage, seriously bent out of shape.  Absorbing the reality and allowing it a place in every future path is the only way through. Never easy. But all part of the journey. 
Satish Kumar teaches internationally on reverential ecology, holistic education and voluntary simplicity. He has been recognized globally for his promotion of Ghandian values.

La Buena Vida

When in doubt about where you are meant to be, look down at your feet- Buddhist saying –


Llucalcari, a one-street village nestled along Mallorca’s spectacular west coast is my new ‘meant to be’ place. A village that warrants a name on a Google map but not on a road sign. Blink and you miss it. Not surprisingly many new visitors arriving into Palma’s airport after dark, in just-rented vehicles, tackling hair pin bends and glancing down at ‘How To Get To The House’ directions, simply drive on by! 


The bus stop, as it happens, is the lone marker to this dreamlike hamlet. The descent to which resembles a private driveway on a roller coaster. My inner voice, now firmly in the ‘ON’ position, talks me down, down, down, convincing me to take the No Entry lane toward the beckoning ocean. Apparently the only way in, and out. 
  
With exacting precision I maneuver the car into the one remaining teensy space, congratulate myself and step outside. Houses trussed up, all in a row. Not a soul in sight. Probably just as well considering my Spanish illiteracy. What’s “Good evening”? I forget already! With flashlight and careful instructions arrogantly ignored on the back seat, I grasp the house key. The search for my Caserio begins. “This is fun,” I chuckle, like a kid on a scavenger hunt, supremely confident in my detective abilities.

Ten minutes later and I am still out on the street, homeless. The key doesn’t fit the lock. Am I even in the right village I wonder? The derelict church next door invokes chills even the warmest of breezes can’t avert.  A deep down fear brews in my gut. Could there have been some kind of mistake? Unwittingly I try the key in the adjoining property (my neighbours’ apparently) leaving us all half scared to death. “Habla ingles?” I ask in desperation to the blank faces in the doorway. Yet amidst the confusion my arrival had in fact been anticipated and I am redirected to the door I first fumbled failingly to master. A welcome entry befitting sighs, giggles and cold beer waiting patiently for my arrival. 


Part 2
Last year, arriving in Ireland on a week’s retreat with poet David Whyte, we were reminded to take a good look around as we’d never see this place again exactly as we did on this first night. And so it is here. Four weeks and each day reveals something previously unseen, unfelt. And as with any place we inhabit for long enough, a familiarity grows. We get to call it Home. A House of Belonging?
Life here is slow. Days are long. Fertile ground for one to ponder new directions. Boiling the kettle to clean the dishes. Washing clothes by hand. Everything more elemental and necessary to gear down a body and mind. A healing of sorts. Windows recessed deep in stone walls allow for an uncommon darkness and profoundly deep sleep, and ancient doors keep interiors like wine cellars, cool and dark. Once opened, blinded by the light. Reminders of childhood Saturdays spilling out of the local cinema into the bright afternoon light. 
The sun’s rays enter the outside bathroom in the late morning making for a perfect time to bathe. The shower head limps with excess weight in its cradle requiring body convolutions to rinse bubbles from my hair. Errant winds deposit swirling leaves at my feet. I am a million miles away from the life I so recently knew.
A 30 minute walk to Deia, the nearby village with its ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ appeal, provide the basic necessities for daily life and the opportunity to greet new friends with the obligatory kissing on both cheeks. Purchases need to be made before the mandatory siesta closures, the heaving weight of bottled water and wine forgotten by years of car ownership. Chocolate cravings have to be planned ahead, if that’s even possible!
Beach access, a 5 minute descent through terraced olive groves and a resident donkey, invite sun lovers the opportunity to spread their nakedness over giant boulders, providing they possess the agility to scale the perilously steep ledges….typically those meant to be seen naked. This is how many ‘take the sun’ on this side of the Atlantic, but as the Buddhist saying goes, ‘When in doubt about where you’re meant to be…’ I look down at my feet and make a swift departure home.

Mars Bar Meditation

Assumption: You like to eat Mars Bars
Yesterday I bought a Mars Bar. I left it on the kitchen counter. It was gone within 24 hours. Each time I swung inside the kitchen I saw it there, waiting. A joyful image. Last night, at the witching hour, I devoured it. A swift gluttonous act, the kind one saves for nights alone so as not to repel onlookers. Let’s call it the ‘Here’ Mars Bar for the ‘I see it – I like it – I want it’ impulsive kinds (see Call of the Croissant).
I could have placed it in my ‘Secret Stash’ draw, (yes, I have one already). That ‘out of sight, out of mind’ place that offers greater success for postponement of the inevitable. A crucial resource for full moon mania, or work day crises that have us scrambling for the draw in a ‘resistance is futile’ flurry. Knowing it lies silently in wait creates a whole other feeling of joy, especially for those who merit exercised self control. Let’s call this the ‘Hidden’ Mars Bar for the pleasure postponers.
Now let’s imagine a third option. Someone has put a Mars Bar in your house (partner, cleaner, whoever) and placed it in a kitchen draw that you rarely open. It could sit there for days, weeks, possibly months, without you knowing. Let’s call it the ‘Heady’ Mars Bar.
So imagine this feeling? Craving a Mars Bar, unable to venture out to make the purchase, yet ignorant of the fact that one lays within a hair’s breadth of your reach.
Isn’t this like joy in life? Whether through our children’s laughter, the smell of freshly ground coffee, or the feel of a lover’s touch, we extol the sensuous. Just like the Here or Hidden Mars bars. 
Becoming more conscious of what we call ‘this lifetime’ surely involves pondering the Heady Mars Bar planted in our kitchen. Call it God, or Love, or Spirit, or something bigger than our Self. Like the sun on a cloudy day, if we don’t see it does it mean it’s not there? Easy to forget about its splendor when we don’t feel it’s warmth, see it’s full light.
My point is not to go on a Mars Bar hunt of your home but rather to consider the possibility of its presence. Maybe it changes nothing for you. But what if, by happenstance you suddenly found something you really wanted and realized it had been there all along? You’d just never seen it!