The time when I lived on an organic farm at Newham, Hanging Rock, is one of the fondest memories to be found anywhere within my retrospective treasure chest of old. For, not only did my quality of life improve, and I miraculously improved with most of my sensitivities to chemicals, but I was able to fulfil a dream of mine: living off the land! Now, I stretch the truth here, because by ‘living off the land’, I mean we grew our own vegetables, which we ate; our ducks laid eggs, which we cooked with; but the rabbits, sheep, chickens, horse, lizard, birds and dogs, were all pets—we didn’t eat any of them. (I know: How very un–Palaeolithic of me!)
- Was it really so miraculous that I recovered, considering what a clean lifestyle I was living? Even the house was amazingly clean (by clean, I mean free of chemicals): there was no chipboard (which is a particle board type of wood, used in most modern kitchens, and in the manufacturing of furniture; and it’s made using glues, containing one of the nasty chemicals in the news at the moment: formaldehyde) in the house—at all. There were some brand new Ikea shelving units out in the garage; yet, for the first time since I’d been tested and diagnosed as sensitive to chemicals (formaldehyde, being one of them) I had no upper respiratory symptoms while breathing around them, not that I hung out a lot in my garage, anyway! (And that was a feat, because in the last rental house in Portsea, we had to seal the underneath of the cabinets with foil (This was suggested by one of my treating specialists because of the health problems I experienced with that particular brand new kitchen.) This recovery happened in 2009, five years after my diagnosis in 2004; my symptoms started in 2003, so it’s not like I recovered overnight, but I did recover! And it happened here, in this amazing house…
(Below is a photo of the cottage before it was renovated; it was featured on the cover of couple of catalogues for the Woodend, Mt Macedon Ranges Tourism Information Centre. The extension included a kitchen, single garage, and another bedroom— mostly from recycled and natural materials, but, with the integrity of the architectural era of the cottage’s style kept intact, it still looked like this, just wider.)
And, there was no chlorinated town water; all our water came from the Mt Macedon underground spring. The spring water travelled through two filters before reaching our taps, via a rainwater tank that also collected rainwater. (I have a blog coming up about an accident I had with pool chlorine, where the wind blew some in my face, which I then inhaled through the left side of my nose, sneezed it out, then copped some stinging and a rash for a couple of days; this happened three months before any sensitivities or ‘allergies’ to chemicals occurred. I’m still not sure if chlorine is a problem (or whether it ‘injured’ me in some way, or sensitised me to chemicals; however, it’s hard not to focus on it as a missing link (You know, get rid of all the chlorine in my life, and I’ll be cured, right?) But I’ll blog about this another time. Just know this: I’m not convinced chlorine is a problem. I think it might be more a problem of the level of many groups of chemicals in my body at one time. That’s the theory I’m running with today! But when I get the chance, I’ll try living without it for a week or two and see how I go—not an easy thing to do in the city (By this, I do not mean that I won’t shower for a week, I mean living somewhere where there is only filtered rainwater on tap!)
The property had a spa bath, not that that was on my list of requirements when looking for a suitable rental property for someone sensitive to chemicals, but it was so, so sooo lovely to be able to soak in epsom salts after a hard day’s work in the garden. With mud caked skin, climbing into that tub, surrounded by the hue of beeswax candle’s flames flickering as if to mingle and dance with the torrents of steam rising out of the tub, I was in heaven. Up above, on the ceiling was a roof window, where on a clear night, I could see the stars. (From. In. The. Bathtub!) And [insert excited girly voice], for the first time in years, I was able to use products like these, not the unscented versions that I use now, but the ones with actual (pure organic) essential oils. (If you’ve never been chemically sensitive, along with having to avoid all scents, natural or otherwise, you may not be able to appreciate the beauty of laying in a warm tub of water, inhaling the scent of rose geranium and sandalwood, and feeling as if you are finally home after a long, tiresome journey. (One where you’ve had to wear a mask around everything, while trying to avoid breathing in everything (which is impossibly difficult and stressful.).)
The two bedroom cottage, which had previously been used as Bed and Breakfast holiday accommodation (I think it was called ‘Picnic Cottages’), had all hardwood floors, doors, archways, and window frames—some of them had been recycled. This old cottage had been remodelled with such love, care and home-and-country style, that, only the photos I’m about to share with you can explain just how special this house was! Notice the roof windows in the kitchen, and the glass ceiling in the sitting room, where the stone fireplace is. We sealed the interior of the fireplace with a foil blanket, so as to not have old woodsmoke remains, outgassing into the house, or leave the chimney open as a point of entry for woodsmoke, if it happened to be smoky outside. The windows were double glazed; and the insulation within the house, and underneath the floors, was made from wool: in winter, the house stayed warm all by itself right up until 9 pm each night!
Horses, rabbits, ducks, chickens, pigeons, cockatiels, dogs, a sheep and a lizard became members of our ever-increasing brood. My daughter, also presented as the ‘Bindi Irwin of Sorrento’ at her grade six graduation, by her teachers, two years previously, became even more of a let’s-bring-every-single-animal-home-and-see-if-mum-lets-me-keep-it type of child. With all the wild animals she kept bringing home, only to be coerced into releasing them again, there was only one responsible thing left for me to do: persuade her into applying for a Wildlife licence!
- Hamish, the sheep, Benny, the horse, and the rabbits came with the property; this was on the condition that we take care of them, and call the owners if we no longer wanted them. Cas begged me to take the property; it was no longer about Mum’s sensitivities and her desperate need for clean air. No, it was about the animals!
So yeh, we were so lucky, and even luckier because the owners understood about environmental sensitivities, and made a few—but luckily, I didn’t need many—accommodation adjustments: one door that had been treated with Estapol, and two cupboard doors, which needed painting, had to be removed from the property, which wasn’t a problem for these amazing people. So, in every way, this place was absolutely the best place for me to be. It was perfect…
I could walk in the rain, down into gullies, near running creaks: I could smell damp soil, but it wasn’t overpoweringly strong, nor was it hurting me to inhale the smell or the spores through my nose. It didn’t cause sinus pain, or any other symptoms. Mould was no longer effecting me. Hence, being able to hangout, nursing and nourishing my compost bins (a stall of three, all one cubic meter in size). (I have developed the most perfect compost recipe; and it’s my goal in life to be able to revel in making it once again.) (If I could choose between my love of shoes and my love of all things gardening, I’d choose gardening!)
We climbed Hanging Rock at least three times a week. And I walked the back tracks surrounding Newham, Kerrie, and Woodend for two hours everyday: a one hour stroll in the morning fresh air, and again with my daughter after school when the kangaroos were always hanging about in large groups. Newham was so peaceful, barely a car on the road, or the dirt tracks; gum trees nestled around us, shrouding us in old-growth and wisdom, while the local Kookaburras laughed us into harmonious country strolls in the evenings. Our two Pomeraniums, husband, and wife, Bouba and Butchy, chased rabbits they could never, ever catch, collecting prickles in their fur as they went.
Here, my daughter and I became friends for the first time; before she entered into the turbulence tunnel of teenager-hood; and after our life, perhaps, a tad more difficult than most people’s: Since my daughter was seven she’s had a hands on roll with the shopping, and many other ‘adult’ tasks and errands, so life has not been easy, she’s grown well into it; however, living on this farm gave us both far more freedom, fun and relaxation than we had ever dreamed of… And, Cas mastered horse riding, while I overcame my deep, long-held fear of horses! (And I’ll always have Benny to thank for this, he was the kindest, gentlest, yet tallest horse, I’d ever ridden. He was part Clydesdale, so that accounted for his size, but he was so damn friendly, who could resist that charm‽)
Now, Hamish, the sheep was a special guy. Definitetly part human, but also very temperamental. He was bit of a Ram; his horns were removed when he was young, but he still developed ‘Ram’ behaviour, and that’s what he chose to do, on occasion: ram! Cas thought it was funny, and she’d tackle him and make him stop; she had him trained. But Hamish had me trained too. Trained to run! Every time he was close to me, he had a go at ramming me. On his hierarchal scale of all living things on the farm, I was way below him, and all I could do was climb up onto the nearest fence or car bonnet. I think my fear of horses transmuted over to male sheep! But bless him, after I moved out, I found out he’d stared in this movie, on the same property! (There were two houses on this five acre property, and the bigger one was rented by someone else. I’ll blog about this later too; it’s important, because this experience with this neighbour was how I became so awesome at tackling local councils.)
Now, I’ll leave you with this clip, Hamish – Short Film, winner of The Hope Awards 2008, Sony Tropfest. Our Hamish was the star, along with Claire his owner/mother/carer. It’s a great little film.
I felt sad watching it, because I miss this place so much! But, at the same time, I’m filled with heart-tugging gratitude for having had the opportunity to live, and experience a rich and full country life, and to have recovered from chemical sensitivities while I was there. And, just sharing this with you, reminds me that it’s all so doable once again (Oh, what impending doom‽)
here’s to finding my way back to that same peaceful, healthy, equilibric, metaphorical place once again.
Somewhere different this time, but if I can follow the same philosophies, heed the same cues, and, chuck out the old, ready for the new, then the path up ahead, leading out of the labyrinth of chemical sensitivities, lays bare and waiting…
(More, on the subject of change, and moving on: How leaving attachment to things allow doors to open ♥ from my lovely and supportive friend, author, Michelle Cashmore, over at one of her many blogs: Calm Amidst Chaos)