WW: Living with Food Allergies – Making Unexpected and/or Unwanted Lifestyle Changes

The new digs
The new digs on the day of purchase

So, food allergies can change your life plan a bit. When I (Denise) was young, my witnessing and participation in family dysfunction and associated drama made me decide that I pretty much never wanted to own real estate. I viewed it as a trap, because if you rented, you could bug out at any time, and there were no strings other than some financial penalties for getting out of a lease early. In addition, it was limited responsibility, as it was the landlord’s problem to fix the sink, or whatever else came up, and plow and mow lawns and all that stuff I had very little interest in doing. Also, as a younger adult who owed $100,000 (which later ended up being $130,000 due to hardship forbearance interest capitalization) on my student loans, it’s not like anyone was going to loan me any money to buy a house. The only thing I missed about living in a single family house was being able to have a garden, but it wasn’t a priority at the time. Gardening was something I had done as a kid and a teenager for fun, but when I was still a practicing attorney, it’s not like I had time to spend in the garden when I was working 60 to 80 hour weeks.

When I was diagnosed with food allergies, I wasn’t thinking that my living space needed to change. Most of the first round of foods I lost after testing positive and failing food allergy challenges just necessitated a change in cooking style. When the second round hit, yeah, I needed to make my own lotions, toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo, and so on, but it still wasn’t that bad. And then corn reared its golden, pointy head, and said, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” Because I love my condiments and because a corn allergy means no more processed food basically, and because I didn’t have tons of time to make stuff up from scratch each time I needed it, and there was limited freezer space in the apartment (not to mention the 4-5 day power losses we were experiencing every other winter), I elected to learn to water bath and pressure can. Picture over 500 jars of canned food in a two bedroom apartment. Also, picture processing 60 pounds of tomatoes into whole canned tomatoes that you paid a crap ton of money for at your local CSA farmer’s in a small two bedroom apartment kitchen with no windows. And then corn said “Oh, and hey? That Kiss My Face Soap you’re using that’s safe for your coconut allergy? I’ve managed to get myself in that too, although I’m not on the label.” So I started making my own soap, using lye and potassium hydroxide to make my own soap, bar and liquid respectively, to use for soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent. We did it in Mary Kate’s parking lot, and I made a couple of batches on my second floor balcony, with a board under the crock pot so as not to spill caustic lye solution on the downstairs neighbors. Hilarious right?

I had known in the back of my mind since just after the corn diagnosis (about a year and a half before we started looking) that we needed to buy a house. But I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be a grown up and deal with all that responsibility, because I had enough stupid food allergy food prep and making-my-own-everything crap to do. So I ignored it for a really long time. But before Stitches East 2014 in October (huge yarn and knitting convention for the non-knitterly), just after picking up a microwave I was borrowing so that I could nuke all the safe food I had canned, wrapping the glass jars in towels in a suitcase because corn totally rules out restaurant eating, I saw a for sale sign and started thinking about it. Maybe because I was sick as a dog with a head cold, the strength of my denial as to the reality of the situation became weak. And then when I got back to the apartment, I went on some real estate sites, and two hours later called my Mom and asked if she thought I was crazy to even think about it. And when she said that she had been thinking that it was probably something I need to do, when she is also fairly anti-real estate, it was really annoying. Because I’d hoped she’d talk me out of it, and if she wasn’t, it was probably fairly obvious that that’s what I needed to do.

So after getting referred to a mortgage company by a friend (if anyone in NH needs a mortgage guy, seriously, Frank is the man), and finding out that there were first time home buyer programs that I could take advantage of and I’d have to put very little money down, it appeared I could buy a house. Which was again, somewhat annoying, because I’d kind of secretly hoped that I couldn’t get financing. But the fact of the matter was, I just couldn’t continue doing what I was doing in my apartment space, spending what I was spending on safe vegetables, and hoping that the neighbors didn’t call the cops on me thinking I was making meth while I made soap on the balcony.

So we signed a purchase and sale in November, negotiating a closing date at the end of January (my lease wasn’t up until the end of March and we were trying to mitigate the financial hit). The big draw on the house was that it has three acres, a good bit of it is cleared, and there are already apple, pear and cherry trees and grape vines, and there was already a fenced in garden area (the photos are from the real estate listing, it’s not close enough to spring yet):

Garden photos
Garden photos
Garden photos
Garden photos

We had to paint the whole interior except the walls on one bathroom. These are the before pictures:

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These are in progress and finished painting pictures. Seriously, I never want to pick up a paint brush again. And if I ever tell anyone that I’m going to paint the entire interior of a house, including ceilings again, slap me. Even with vast amounts of help we got from our friends, for whom we will be forever grateful, it was a crazy undertaking.

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We moved in at the end of February. We unpacked for three weeks, and I got hives from the boxes again (thanks corn!). Here are the unpacked photos, except for the bedroom because I apparently forgot that, and I don’t feel like picking it up and making the bed now so that I can take a picture to put in the slide show:

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We’ve had to fix the insulation and ventilation in the roof, which we knew about, and we’ve fixed the furnace twice, which we didn’t know about, and we’re about to replace a water heater, which we didn’t know about either, and a tub and surround because the valve that goes between the shower and faucet decided to let go after we moved in (it’s stuck on the shower setting, so that’s good). And since the plumber’s going to be here, and the double sink in the kitchen is awful for canning, we’re replacing the sink and faucet in the kitchen as well. So, regular new homeowner stuff, except that’s kind of why I never really wanted to buy a house in the first place.

But we’re settled, we have room to move and work now, I’m able to store my canning equipment and food in the garage, and we’ve been able to start our garden some of our seedlings, and we’ve been gifted a few by a friend (Thanks Mary R!):

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Okay, so maybe the Homer Simpson Chia Head isn’t for the garden, but now I have a place that gets enough light that I can have house plants that don’t die. Not that I’m sure that a Homer Simpson Chia Head counts as a house plant.

Eventually, once the snow clears and I’m able to get the garden started in earnest, and I start working on projects again, as I’m low on my homemade liquid soap, and most of my canned food, I’m sure I’ll be much happier about the change. I’m think I’m still in the shell-shocked and exhausted phase, but I think this was the right move for us. I just wish that our street name was different – we now live on Corn Hill Road. Given that my corn allergy was the impetuous for buying this house, I really think I need to get a sign for the house to hang over the door. I want to call it “The House of Irony.”

 

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