Sunday, March 4, 2012

Obsessed with Housing

I think I could live in this Cahuilla Indian house made of palm fronds, set alongside the shore of a clear stream of water bubbling up from the San Andreas fault where the water comes up from deep in the earth for a few hundred yards, and then goes underground again.  I am in Palm Canyon, on Indian land about 10 minutes from downtown Palm Springs.  The place is not much of an improvement on my tent though.   No wi-fi, no electric, and it's not for rent.  Back to my search for conventional housing.

For the last 2 months, it seems that all I can focus on is housing.  I browse Craigslist and the MLS until late at  night, longing for the perfect residence to flash across the screen:  MOLD FREE HOUSE WITH GREAT AIR.  I also looked at RVs and came very close to buying one until the owners changed their minds about selling.  

I started my search in early December looking for house shares in the desert near Palm Springs.  When that didn’t pan out, I searched apartment rentals, found something wonderful fairly quickly, offered to write a security deposit on the spot, and walked away with a rental application.  I thought I had the place and even packed up my car to move stuff over there.  But alas, the place fell through (the landlord thought he’d told me to bring the application back the next morning, but I knew I was going out of town and couldn’t return it until the evening, which I did, alas too late.)  I was left feeling heartbroken for at least a week, and like a rejected lover, no other rental unit looked good enough to consider. 

I moved onto searching rental houses, but after a few realized that the strong odors of cleaning solvents and new paint interfered with my ability to tell if a place was a good, mold free dwelling.  Indeed, they usually sent me gagging back to my car.

And so I decided to buy, thinking I could surely find an inexpensive house where the monthly payment would be less than what I might have to pay for rent.  Forty-five houses later, I realized that mold is ubiquitous in indoor buildings in the desert. And perhaps other toxins from cyanobacteria are also problematic for me.

Now this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in an area where the average annual rainfall is 3 inches and nearly every mold in existence needs moisture.  But with mold in the air, in the desert crust and the blowing dust, in the lumber and drywall of the building interest, it shows up.  I suspect there is quite a bit of condensation with the temperature extremes of 30 to 40 degree differences between daytime high and nighttime low.  Perhaps also, a certain carelessness developed in home construction attention to drainage given the general lack of rain.  But what seemed to kill most places I saw were water leaks either from the roof or from indoor plumbing.  Few places assaulted my nostrils, but most had visible signs of water damage.  And that was all I needed to move on.

To make my life more complicated, in January I started reacting to something at the RV park where I was camping.  That something kept me from sleeping nearly every other night.  I couldn't identify the cause.  At first it seemed to be emotions, but when they calmed down I thought it was a new supplement, so I stopped everything, and when that didn't work, I looked for sources of contamination, and found a journal from my Ohio house that I’d brought into the tent.  Following the advice of those experienced at avoiding mold, I washed everything.  I spent more on Laundromats that month than I have in a lifetime!  

In late January, I moved into a vacation rental in Palm Springs to enjoy a visit with family. I knew the moment I entered the house that I wouldn’t be able to stay inside, but it had been impossible to book anything through vrbo, or airbnb that would allow me to check out an occupied vacation rental.  I spent 3 weeks outside on the cold, shaded patio of the vacation house wishing I were back in my sun-drenched tent.   You can see it on the left next to the pool where my mother is swimming. 

 The sun in the desert feels strong. Even when the highs are 68 or 70, it feels hot in direct sun but still fairly cool in the shade.  Since the patio was covered and on the north side of the house, it never got sunlight to warm the concrete.  My down parka, ski pants, and down booties had constant wear.  I welcomed the opportunity to drive in the car just to warm up.  Most of the time I slept fairly well, and consistently – a relief after the torment of the previous 3 weeks!-but I longed for air outside the city and felt better when we went out into nature.  We hiked in Andreas Canyon, Tahquitz Canyon, and at Joshua Tree National Monument.   We warmed up in the saline hot tub and picked lemons off the tress for lemonade.

Andreas Canyon near Palm Springs

Palm Oasis at Andreas Canyon

David, me, and my mother

Tahquitz Canyon looking into the valley
David, Beth, me at Joshua Tree 
 When the vacation rental ended, my mother flew home and David joined me in tenting for 5 days.  We went first to Joshua Tree where we met up with Joey and Beth at an RV park.  The wind there was wicked.  The temperatures were substantially lower than in the palm springs area.  We had frost on the tent fly every morning.  On the 3rd day, the temperature dropped and the wind gusted to 40 degrees, blowing us off to Starbucks and the local organic cafĂ© to hang out.  We got in a great hike in at Joshua Tree (Black Rock area) when the wind calmed down.

Back at our RV park, the wind continued to blow in fierce gusts.  That night I impulsively booked a one way flight to Hawaii.

Beth was already planning to go.  It seemed like a nice idea to pair up, making this foray into the unknown a bit less scary.  And here I am.  Aloha!

This place has beautiful views of the ocean and harbor and great air circulation.  It felt great to me at first, but over the course of the week, I feel my health declining.  I’m more tired, and getting symptoms I haven’t had since I left Ohio like dry mouth, constipation, tenderness in soles of feet.

 I love the verdant foliage and the sound of the ocean, and hope to find a good place to live.  But I fear that the overall dampness of the climate (28 inches annual rainfall in Waikiki compared to 3 inches in Palm Springs) is triggering the immune response of CIRS.  It’s tough to figure out where to move., so I spent hours searching the web, reading about rainfall and drought, picking through the classified ads for a place with a large outdoor space in a dry area.

Oahu (the island we chose because Beth’s brother lives here) is congested but does have a dry area we are going to investigate tomorrow.  In the meantime, I sit out on my lanai (a covered terrace) typing, eating, sleeping and KEEPING WARM, with short visits to the beach.  It's expensive but not a great place for me.  We're off to see more places today and tomorrow.  I'll definitely be moving soon. 

I may have to do some camping around here to see if I can feel great in a damper climate when I’m out in nature or whether I’m destined to spend more years in the desert.  I really don't want to camp anymore.  But on the other hand, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.  It's not an easy choice, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to make that choice.  Many of my friends with this illness are too sick to consider camping, or don't have the financial resources to go anywhere, and haven't had the opportunity to see their health improve by getting away.  I'm very fortunate, and I remind myself of that as I listen to the surf hitting the beach and the gulls cawing as they swoop through the Hawaiian sky.


  1. Janis,

    How do you know your current symptoms -- not your past ones -- are a result of humidity, or mold, or paint, or whatever?

    Serious question. I hope you'll answer.

    1. Angela, it is a good question. There are times when I don't know, like tonight. My legs started to become a bit shaky after I came home and showered, leaving me to wonder if it's a delayed reaction to the restaurant, or to this rented space. When there is doubt, I usually get a few more pieces of information until I am sure. For example, I am sure now that being in this condo is triggering something that makes it hard for me to stand, for when I'm away all day in my friend's car I can stand as long as I want to, but in the rental unit, my feet start to hurt before I finish brushing my teeth.
      I don't know what is causing this reaction. I only know that it is something inside the unit. I know from testing that I am sensitive to mold and dust. I also know from my experience that certain toxic interior molds, when stirred up so that they become inhaled, give me immediate reactions which affect my moods, breathing, and neural responses.

  2. Hi Janis

    Thanks for reporting your experiences so that we who cannot travel can at least get the benefit of your experiences.

    Wishing you well!

    1. Hope you can get into a good place, Kendra. I htink you'll be surprised at how good you can feel.

  3. Thanks for the update janis. I always look forward to them! You know, I was having the same issue distinguishing good places from bad because of deodorizers or paint smells, etc. Wish people would stop using that crap so it would be easier to feel a place out! Good luck in Hawaii - keep us posted!
    Jenn P.

  4. janis, i know someone in our community who is selling an RV that may work for you. contact me and i'll hook you two up. - best, rivka

    rivka (at) ThatTakesOvaries (dot) org

  5. You, me -- everyone wants to have an exciting vacation! Who wouldn’t? For me, when I plan to go out on a vacation with my family, I always make sure that the place that we're about to stay in must have, and must be, everything we need; a beautiful scenery, near famous landmarks, and functional place to stay. This is why I always do my research on all the rental spots located near and around our vacation spot.


Please add your comments here. If you have a question specific to your own condition, please e-mail me directly at I cannot give medical advice. If you want to suggest a product or therapy you think I should try, please let me know if you have used it, what you used it for, and how it helped you.