sheltered and held
ruminations on health series: home
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Home. I love my home. I write this now sitting on a thick, long haired sheep skin that sits on top of a wool covered, vintage sofa that sits next to an old table with legs held together with wire and hope. There’s a beeswax candle burning next to me, a fire whirling in the wood stove. The world is silence save the howling winds blowing snow past the windows. This is my home. Not always my home, but my home for my life for now.
I have had many homes, maybe too many homes, maybe just right. Who’s to say? I have had homes in the city, homes in the country, a home that burned down in a fire, homes that were minuscule, homes that were expansive. I have had homes that I was evicted from - youth/parties/fire extinguishers in the hands of young boys. I have had homes that were cold and lifeless that were not home at all until we breathed life into them - military houses, so many of those.
I’ve also lived in houses that made me sick. My Lyme disease, contracted by a tick bite years earlier, stayed in relative control until we moved into a house with a huge electrical power line corridor running along the back of it. We lived there for 9 months which was long enough. I got sick and I had no idea why. A few moves and years later, it was the move to another home, a home with a secret of mould in its bones, that my health challenges amplified in a horrendous way. I was taken out at the knees and spent many years climbing back out of that hole.
Desperation brings education in a way that interest can’t deliver. I have learned so much about my body through my health challenges. I have learned so much about our environments and how sick the buildings are that house us. From building practices to off-gassing, to the chemicals we surround ourselves with, the assaults are many. I became particular about our environment out of necessity, but remain so now out of commitment and enjoyment. I see what a healthy home environment does for our wellbeing and I would never compromise that just as I would never eat fast food.
The effects of a toxic home are cumulative and often ambiguous. Who’s to say the headaches are from the scents or the wifi or the rogue electrical current running behind your bed? I don’t know. I didn’t know either. I just had to start considering all sources of health depreciating substances and sources and eliminate them one by one. That is the experience of most ‘canaries in the coal mine”. Illness can be convoluted and layered. There may not be, and likely won’t be, a smoking gun. Instead of a map we get this beguiling scroll full of possibilities and it’s up to us to figure it out.
Today, our home is a haven. I think, if you were sitting here with me, you might say there’s a good energy in here. It’s calming and, I hope, you would feel embraced in this space. I believe that to be a natural extension of the materials of our home, her age, and the intention of how we live within her walls. That energy matters. We are a part of our home and we fill it with calm and love or we fill it with frenetic energy and noise of all sorts.
We are careful with the materials we use in our home. Have you noticed a hollowness that comes with mass-produced goods? There’s no history, no echo of human touch there. They just fill space. I don’t want space fillers. I want space enrichers. Welcome old chair! Come in, have a seat, tell me about yourself. That’s what I want. An exchange, not an energy sucker.
When we did our kitchen renovation a couple of years ago, we had a friend, who happens to be a wonderful cabinet maker, build our cupboards and built-in cabinets for us. They’re solid, real wood built in his little wood-shop that smells of wood and leather. He is a craftsman, an artist extraordinaire. His care and attention lives in my kitchen and our sunroom where he filled an entire wall with built in cabinets and even a secret hidden bunkie above a closet.
Wood then. And here’s a tip, you can often buy real, solid furniture at antique stores or second hand for a fraction of the cost of the new stuff that you will be throwing away in a few years because it looks shabby and is falling apart. The collection of things, when buying used, is slow. It’s not likely that you will need a table that is exactly 60” across and go out that day to an antique store and find that exact thing in the style you like. I have been known to buy things ahead of time and store them in the most inconvenient of spaces. Our kitchen island, as an example, is an old general store counter. It was huge and unwieldy but is now the beating heart of my kitchen. I bought it two years before we renovated and had it pushed up against a wall in our living-room. But love is love and there was no way I would have a kitchen without her in it. I am so glad I committed when I had the chance.
We are also very careful with what we clean with and the quality of the air in our home. I know that modern building practices aim for “energy efficient” airtight houses. “Airtight” meaning you are essentially living in a plastic wrapped bag. If that’s the case, I hope you can at least open your windows. We once lived in a rental house whose owner opted for windows that didn’t open. We realised it once we had already moved in and it was too late. The owner couldn’t understand our dismay - there was air conditioning in summer, gas heat in the summer - who needed fresh air? We did. Thank goodness for screen doors.
Imagine what we humans have done. We have an outside wall exposed to the elements covered in a luscious bacteria growing medium (pink insulation) with electrical wires carrying random current everywhere, covered in a giant plastic bag (vapour barrier), covered in another wonderful bacteria growing medium (drywall) and then coated in liquid plastic that provides a final suffocating layer that also exhales it’s chemicals into you. We’re a nutty lot, us humans.
The air quality of your home, of course, is affected by what’s off-gassing around you. Chemical detergents and cleaners with synthetic fragrances leave me gasping. Don’t let the “alpine berry breeze” fool you. That stuff is loaded with endocrine disruptors and is a heavy load on your body’s eliminatory organs. More work for an already overworked body trying to keep us in good working order in a world loaded with chemical assaults. Our cleaning ingredients are simple and safe. I use baking soda sprinkled on things like tubs, sinks, hard to remove grimy bits, a sponge, and muscle to scrub things clean. I use vinegar anytime I want to sanitise something, on windows, and in my laundry. Putting vinegar in your softening cycle gives you fresh, soft clothes. And I use a non-scented, non-chemical washing soap mixed with borax and essential oils in my laundry. I especially like essential oils like cedar, fir, eucalyptus, and bitter orange in things like our sauna towels which can hold onto bacteria
Because we use natural fibres in our home (see my previous post for more on that), I usually wash most things in a cold water cycle and then hang to dry. In the summer, hanging clothes outside is such a delight. Everything kissed and scented by the sun and summer winds. In the winter, I use a hanging rack I bought a few years ago and love. It’s the first one that I have owned that will come to the grave with me. Made of cast iron brackets in the UK, it is an investment well worth the price.
For washing our floors, I use Castile soap of two different types. I buy jugs of “black soap”, a traditional soap from France that can be used for almost any cleaning job in the home. It’s marvellous stuff and I’m quite addicted to the scent. For my traditional “soaped” floors in the kitchen, I use a Castile soap from Denmark that has a natural white tint to it. When we renovated our kitchen, we opted for raw plank, white oak floors. I decided not to put a plastic finish on them (varnish), but instead use the traditional technique of applying lye and then concentrated Castile soap to create a finish that builds up a protective layer naturally. It’s more upkeep than a urethane finish would be, but that’s okay, too.
For indoor paint we will only use lime or chalk based, naturally tinted paints, My latest favourite is “Pure and Original” paints out of Belgium. There is something quite warming about their paints. They’re dimensional and slightly textured in a way that plastic paints just can’t be. Additionally, and more importantly maybe, is that these paints reduce mould growth because of their lime content. I want a house that breathes.
A wonderful, inexpensive way to improve air quality is with plants. I love plants and have them everywhere in the house. In addition to that, is the simple trick of opening windows and doors, even in the middle of winter, even just for a bit. I love it when I accidentally overload our wood stoves and it gets so hot in the house that I have to open the windows and it’s -30c outside. What a burst of fresh energy that cold air rushes in!
We also use nebulizing diffusers. Organic essential oils are a wonderful way to not only clean and purify the air, but can also evoke feelings of calm and joy. I always have something misting into the air. I prefer nebulisers over the water/oil diffusers because the smell and effect is more concentrated and there are times, like our muggy summers, when more moisture is definitely not what I want. In the winter, I have a pot of water on the wood stoves with organic orange peels, cloves, and some cedar leaves I’ve pulled out of the forest that cleans the air and fills the home with a subtle, pleasant smell.
So the paint. Or, maybe the finish entirely. We had our walls plastered with traditional lime plaster in the kitchen and our bathroom shower built of tadelakt. Tadelakt is a traditional Moroccan plastering technique that creates a finish that is not susceptible to mould like our traditional tile and mortar showers are. And, it’s absolutely gorgeous. We hired someone to do it and after watching him and his team take three weeks of intense manual labour to complete it, I’m glad we did. It’s not for the faint of heart and there is a lot of skill that goes into it. I wouldn’t recommend tackling that one on your own.
Of course, I would love to peel all the drywall off all of my walls and plaster my whole house in lath and plaster, but I’m also a big believer in working with what you have, too. So, as we tackle the renovation of our living room this winter, we will be using a clay finish on the already erected drywall. In our bedroom, we are taking out a wall so with the drywall already being removed, we won’t be replacing it with more drywall. It’s just considerations along the way and doing what we can that makes sense at the time. Other paints we use in and around our house include linseed oil paint for old wood floors that have seen better days and doors that need robust protection and, outdoors, traditional pine tar mixed with raw linseed oil as a protective, saturated stain. I also use a linseed oil/beeswax combo paste on old wood I want to juice up a bit.
All of this is for naught if we have wifi and electrical current shaking up our atoms all day long. We have never had, and will never have wifi, cordless phones, microwaves, etc.. I guess I’m old enough that I know what an ethernet cord is and that plugging it into a router gets you internet. It seems like more young people don’t know this is even possible. We also paid an EMF mitigator to come into our home and find all the problematic spots of current in our home, devices that were emitting extraordinary amounts of EMF, and to work with our electrician to install a secondary “kill box” in our electrical panel. The idea behind the “kill box” is that any wiring that contributed to the charge of current we experienced while in our beds was routed to a secondary electrical panel that is controlled via a remote. Before we go to bed, the remote is clicked and the current is killed. So, when we sleep, our bodies rest and do their nighttime work of clearing and regenerating, and the current is not circulating around us all night long. It’s a big topic and too much to get further into here, but a great book to get you started on this is “the Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs” and Dr. Mercola’s book, “EMF’d”. For deeper digging, the work of Dr. Magda Havas is worth spending some time learning from. At the very, very least, please, especially if you have children, there should be no wifi in the house. But, if you’re not going for that at least shut if off completely at night.
In tandem with the EMF mitigation is the smart meter situation that many of us have to deal with, depending on where you live. Smart meters are simply a travesty. Again, read and research more on your own and make your own decisions. For us, the difference from having it and not has been substantial. Ours was on the outside wall of our kitchen, not our bedroom, but not much better. It took us over two years of fighting with our electrical company to have it removed. I was told there was no alternative. I was told that it couldn’t be done. I kept getting into lengthy discussions with one customer service person, then supervisor, then manager, only to be told there was no record of the conversation happening and then starting all over again. It was ridiculous and it was exhausting by design. But, finally, the analogue meters that I was once told “didn’t exist” suddenly existed and one got put on our house. I’m so glad I persevered. What seemed to get their attention was registered letters outlining my increasingly worsening health symptoms and letting them know that leaving the meter on my house was tantamount to them accepting legal responsibility for my declining health. Maybe that wasn’t it, but that at least got me in touch with a real human being who seemed to give a hoot.
I’m sure you can surmise by my position on everything else that I am not on board with this new spyware, er I mean “smart house technology”. No thanks. Give me a dumb house, please. One that doesn’t report back to anyone or dumb me down even further. Our world is not absent ease and comfort, our world is overloaded with it. We need to use our brains and be challenged and to do so, we need to be surrounded with those challenges. Nobody needs a fridge to send their grocery list to the manufacturer to sell to the advertisers to then deliver to their phone while filling their homes with ever-more EMF static. Make a list or, hey, use your memory even! Radical stuff, I know.
Whew! That might just be it then. The inside house stuff that contributes to our health. There are other things in the mix too of course: the beeswax candles for light and negative ions, the incandescent lightbulbs instead of toxic mercury “eco friendly” bulbs, the wiring that we have replaced with commercial grade MC cable wiring as we take down drywall over time (further protection from EMF), doing full water panel testing on our water every three years (not just bacteria counts, but full heavy metal/toxin water panels), etc… All of these little things that you start to consider as you go.
Nobody should be ripping their houses apart or feeling like they live in a dangerous place, that will do more harm to your psyche than anything you breathe in. But, over time, and with consideration, these are the things we can chip away at in order to make our homes true sanctuaries for mind and spirit.
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