The Caretakers

Hello! We are Ken Kennell and Ana Lucia Umpierre Leite. We have been married going on 10 years and have been Caretaking/Housesitting/Pet sitting since 2012. Our ages as of 2017 are 65 and 49 years, respectively, and we are in excellent health of body and mind. Typically, we don’t charge for any of our caretaking services, but we can be involved in larger scope projects to be determined on a case by case basis…

Ken has worn many hats over his varied career, including being a parent of three daughters, also, at present, 7 grandchildren, having his own construction company, a commercial fisherman, a custom cabinet/furniture maker, a manager of a high volume night club, a property manager, project superintendent for custom homes, and most recently a successful artist for the last 15 years, to name a few. He brings his skills, which include all phases of construction, (from plumbing, electric, structural and troubleshooting), the ability to operate large water craft, (up to 50 feet in length), experience with animals and livestock, (having had two horses, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats for several years during 22 years of residence in Alaska), management of people and resources within the hospitality business and general good people skills that are a result of all of the above. Ken has lived in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii, Spain and now in rural upstate New York where he and Ana have built an off the grid “Tiny Home” at the end of the road, on 35 acres.

Ana has lived in Brazil, Germany, Spain, England and the U.S.A. and is fluent in seven languages: Portugese, Spanish, German, English, French, Italian and Catalan, and is currently dabbling in Japanese. Besides her ability in languages she also has a degree in Tourism and has traveled the world extensively. She is an artist that specializes in web design as well as the design and the creation of architectural components, jewelry, lighting and space usage maximization. She is a permanent resident of the United States and enjoys citizenship of Germany (European community) and Brazil.

Our combined skills, including a love of clean and organized living and work spaces make us excellent candidates for all sorts of caretaking situations, long and short term. It is our standard to leave every place we have lived, better than when we arrived, whether it is in the form of maintenance and repair on everything from the roads and driveways, to the yards and gardens, to the improvement of the dwellings themselves. We sometimes even provide the addition of artwork in the form of sculptures or paintings as our legacy to each place we are fortunate to stay at.

We prefer to caretake for long term opportunities as it allows us to settle in long enough to be considered a part of the community and to really get to know the environment, although we have been known to do short term assignments when there is no prohibitive travel costs associated with it. We adore animals, especially cats, dogs and horses, but frequently have had assignments that include chickens, donkeys, birds and goats. We are very familiar with off grid living, including solar, composting toilets, caretaking live-aboard sailboats and yachts, and solitude, which we love! We support sustainable living practices and are not heavy consumers, and we get along with most everyone! Below, you will find the highlights with pictures of some of our caretaking assignments over the last six years and we can provide references and testimonials from our hosts, all of whom we consider as our friends today.

Following is a list and description of our caretaking background since 2012:

November/December/Early January 2012

We “Boatsat” a 50’ sailboat, Billabong, in the Harbor in San Sebastián de La Gomera in the Canary Islands. While the boat owners were preparing to cross the Antlantic, they needed to return to England to work for a couple months to underwrite their voyage, they needed someone to sit with their boat and watch their Boxer-mix dog. Our responsibilities were to provide security, keep the boat clean and maintained, and to take care of and walk the dog, “Gollum”. We found this assignment to be very enjoyable, although Gollum required 24 hour companionship. Were we to leave him on the boat unattended for any length of time he would howl nonstop….not a desirable asset in a boat harbor. The boat owners, our friends, Andy and Debby, advised us that he would be fine confined down inside the boat for a few hours at a time, inspite of the howling, but fortunately in Spain, the communities are dog friendly and since most restaurants and bars have outdoor sitting, he became our constant companion. Ana and I are avid hikers, so Gollum got the most exercise he’d had in awhile and he loved it! When Andy and Debby returned to Billabong, they found the boat and their dog in good shape and better than when they left!

January/ February/ March 2012

Immediately following our sailboat assignment we had another assignment caretaking a Finca (farm) at an isolated location, named Los Zarzales, off the grid, in the mountainous area of La Gomera. This was in a spectacular location nestled in a valley with a view of the Atlantic, where all you could view was the property of our hosts. It formerly was the largest potato farm on the island and consisted of steep valley sides made cultivatable by millenia of stone terrace construction, which is ubiquitous through out the Canaries. Our hosts, Gunthard and Andrea for the most part are allowing the majority of their property to return to its precultivation state as a young forest is beginning to flourish. Our responsibilities were to care for and feed 2 burros, 1 horse, 3 dogs, 3 cats and 50 chickens, gold fish in their ponds and a small menagerie of parakeets…. we bonded immediately with Gunthard and Andrea and their pets as well, with our favorite being, Max, the enormous Great Dane with the dispositon of a saint. We were provided with a separate apartment and a four wheel drive vehicle, and were regular dinner guests of our hosts when they were on property… Gunthard loved to cook and enjoyed cooking for more than just he and Andrea, so it was rare while they were there that we were “permitted “ to cook for ourselves… needless to say, we were spoiled. During our stay, we did a lot of unsolicited work for them. Due to the isolation of their property, there was a long and winding one lane dirt road along precipitous ridges and ledges to access their very private estate. Because heavy equipment is scarce and expensive, the road maintenance has to be accomplished the old fashioned way…a pick and shovel and a wheelbarrow. Combine that with Gunthard having just turned a robust 70 years old while we were there, its safe to say he enjoyed being on his sailboat more than he enjoyed the business end of a shovel. I made it my project to do what I could and spent many hours over many days hand filling erosion ruts and installing water control pathways to prevent erosion, as well as widen areas by digging back into the highside of the road where erosion had made the precipitous edge frightenly close to your car wheels… we also cleared a lot of brush, and built and installed new livestock gates, did plumbing repairs and the general maintenance that just comes up. Gunthard and Andrea were left with two oil paintings as a token of our appreciation!

April/ early May 2012

Immediately following our Los Zarzales assignment, I had a large art commission in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a client and now, a dear friend, Ray, who besides being a talented and successful dentist, is also a highly regarded Koi master and has extensive Koi ponds and habitat throughout his home and property, populated by a couple dozen world class Koi fish, some of which were 30 years old and giant! While there, Ray needed to leave for a couple of weeks, so we house sat and took care of the Koi, the monitoring of which is significant in that it was still winter and water temperatures, ph and feeding regimes all required frequent attention… who would think that one could bond with a fish, but its true! These Koi would come over to you at feeding time and would love to be petted and they would smooch your fingers!

The fish were fabulous, but our true love was Buddy, his Australian Sheperd/ Golden Retriever mix… we have been back twice and all Ray has to do is say our names and Buddy gets excited and starts hanging out by the door and looking for us…the feeling is mutual! Since we always try to “give back” a little everywhere we go, I gave an art presentation to students from the university there regarding the commission I was working on which included the elements of woodcarving, pointillist oil painting, and lighting in a mural format.

Also, while in Colorado, we house sat for a couple in the Garden of the Gods residential area. This was for 3 weeks and our only responsibilities were to provide a secure presence and water their houseplants… Doug and Sally, our hosts, have been friends for several years and it was our priviledge to “hold down the fort” for them!

From Colorado, we return to mid-state NY, where Ana and I are building our “Tiny Home” on my daughter’s family farm in order to spend our free time around the 4 resident grandchildren. Since we have developed a strong allergy to cold weather, we head to NY in the summers only and prefer to spend our winters in warmer climates, preferably house sitting!

The winter of 2013/14 we traveled to Brazil, Ana’s home town of Bagé, where I had an Art exhibit and we both had extensive dental work done, all while visiting her family and friends which we do every four years. We had one housesitting assignment there for ten days, which was mainly for security, which is a significant concern in Brazil. While in Brazil, Ana offered English classes for the Portugese speaking Brazilians and I hosted a 2 day painting workshop focusing not only on pointillism, but an interactive collaborative piece that has an uncountable amount of combinations, and also taught private lessons, all without money changing hands.

Winter of 2014/15

Once again we were called back to the Canary Islands for a housesitting referal through Gunthard and Andrea. This was for a beautiful home right on the cliffs overlooking the tiny village of Alojera and the Atlantic ocean looking towards the west. This home, Harry and Christina’s, was also off the grid and had solar electric with a generator back up system for their electricity. The water was from a spring system that the entire hamlet used, so there was water management requirements, as well as an indecipherable network of valves and aquaducts that you had to master, all of it varying according to if there was a drought or not…basically every home had an ancient water storage cistern that you got to replenish every few weeks for anywhere from a few hours to a couple days. It sounds complicated but it was quite doable and we had an incredible initial three months there watching their, dog and cat, and their fish and chickens. They had a quaint little artist studio perched right on a cliff that I put to good use, and made several pieces there. While there, Ana and I spent an entire week removing and cutting back an enormous invasive vine infestation that was totally taking over the entire front garden and suffocating all living plants and even one of the only trees that gave shade to their veranda…After 3 months in Alojera at Harry and Christina’s, we moved into San Sebastián where we had taken care of the sailboat. Harry and Christina wanted us back for six weeks in two months, so we rented a little flat within a short walk to our favorite black sand beach. During that time, we were recruited once again by Gunthard to come and watch their finca again for a couple of weeks while they sailed to Morocco and back. Again, a breathtakingly beautiful setting in an old style large stone Spanish farmhouse! So, after finishing up our winter obligation at Harry’s we apartment sat for a couple that have now become very good friends. Bengt and Clare love to hike as much as we do and we became partners in crime as we explored the inexhaustable amount of hiking trails on that island, due to the fact that there were no roads into or around the island until the 1970’s… that combined with it being one of the oldest inhabited places by humans adds up to a lot of well traveled ancient trails.

Now back to NY to continue the effort of building 32 foot high, three story tower, out of pocket, with approximately 75% recycled materials such as 100 plus year old barn beams out of Hemlock, Oak, Chestnut, and Cherry, second hand glass, floors that used to be the side of a silo, cabinets of recycled metal roofing and wood. Thanks to solar power, we have running hot and cold water, but use an outdoor outhouse, and although the house is wired, we’ve yet to install solar in the house, as we have discovered that we usually go to bed with the chickens and get up with them…with the long summer days, rarely do we even need a flashlight. Whenever we have company and need lights or want to watch a movie, we just fire up our small quiet honda generator, and we’re good to go. Solar for the house is next on our wish list.


Winter 2015/16

This winter we begin with a return to Colorado Springs for another art commission for Ray. Although there was no housesitting on this trip, we managed to interact with the community in a meaningful way through participating in another art presentation to the university as they toured Ray’s home which in itself a work of art, and he is bequeathing it to the community in his will. The university will have it as a resource and a demonstrable example of sustainability, as it is powered and heated with solar energy, and is beginning to complete its goal by engaging and furthering its independence through a permaculture system. While there, we were awarded another large commission for a different client, which we accomplished in California. While there, we housesat for a week over Christmas and watched a couple of Cocker Spaniels, Reno and Roxy…their names say it all.

After that six week period in California, housesitting and visiting family, we drove to Todos Santos Baja California Sur in Mexico in February, and there, we had just to provide security and manage the gardener, handyman and maid in a sweet complex of buildings owned by our now very good friends, Tom and Rebecca… needless to say, even after long beach walk every day, we found plenty of time on our hands, so we undertook some special projects around there. Ana and I are passionate cooks and Rebecca, who is of Mexican origin, asked us if we’d be willing to cook for a benefit for the local ambulance service, that had run out of gas, due to low funding, while taking her father to the hospital. Of course we immediately agreed and we organized a private dinner for 45 people with a silent auction that included a painting I made specifically for the event. We served a seven course gourmet meal that began with a melon margarita, wine or beer with the seven courses, and after a desert, a shot of premium tequila with a shot of sangrita, which is a mexican recipe of fresh orange juice and hot peppers… ( it is Mexico!). The dinner raised $4500 and the silent auction $1200, for a total of $5700… the money was then given to a nonprofit who disbursed it incrementally to ensure it was spent properly (it is Mexico!) That was a lot of fun and we have plans to do it again, winter2017/18, when we return. Also on that stay, we carved a large fishtail to be installed on top of a post in the outdoor shower at Rebecca’s, did some house repair and maintenance and provided some free art classes over several weeks to children of migrant farm workers, and left them with a supply of art materials to continue with after we left. We are looking forward to our return! This takes us to May, and its time to return to New York and continue our work on our summer cabin!

Winter 2016/17

This winter we decided to rent a flat in San Sebastián de La Gomera where I could concentrate on making art and prepare for a scheduled art exhibit in February…consequently, we have no caretaking assignments to report, except for a couple of brief stints at the aforementioned Bengt and Clare’s….We can say we had a fabulous winter and will always return, every few years at least, as we have fallen in love with the place and the people we have met.

Summer 2017
Finally, its almost a wrap on our little “one summer” project!