Jewish Journal

Why I DIY: From illness comes creativity

by Julie Bien

November 13, 2013 | 10:37 am

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

It started with an inflamed spleen and liver.

I was forbidden from doing anything that could rupture either of the two organs, including getting in a car. In the unfortunate event that the driver (or I) had to slam on the breaks, the seatbelt could instantly rupture one or both of those tender bits of abdominal meat, sending me into a major medical emergency. I was stuck at home.

So I started baking bread--I mean a lot of bread--like one or two loaves a day at my most prolific.  That was a major feat, because sometimes taking a shower was so draining that I'd have to take a two hour nap afterwards. Good times, I tell you!

I was a senior in high school, house-bound for what ended up being two months, with many a week here and there stuck in bed,  exhausted and in pain all of the time.

Needless to say, I felt pretty darn useless during my tenure at home.

So I baked. I needed to create something--anything--that would allow me to feel like I'd contributed to someone's happiness. If spice loaves were the key to my sanity, then so be it.

I started to slowly get better by the end of my senior year--or so I thought. College began, and despite the excitement and my best efforts, it was very clear that I wasn't as healthy as I should have been by that point.

My mysterious illness would regularly knock me on my butt. I turned to painting, cooking and sewing to gain some control over my world--to prove my worth to my self.

Flash forward a few years--by graduate school, my illness (just starting to be dealt with somewhat effectively, though still only semi-diagnosed) had reached a fever-pitch. I both looked and felt like death-warmed-over.

Still, I worked as a writer, photographer and tutor, went to school, and because I still didn't feel like I'd accomplished enough, I kept learning how to make more things. I should also add that I was relatively poor, so part of my motivation came from the, "You want it? You make it" camp.

When I graduated with my MA, I was at an all-time physical low. My illness impeded me from working enough to live comfortably. I managed to get by, but just barely. I had to get really creative in order to live with some sense of comfort and normalcy (and, ya know, pay rent).

First, I learned how to preserve food--my friends would bring me the excess bounty of their gardens (or leftover LAUSD food that they'd pick up from the post-lunch tables), which was always more than I could eat before it went bad. So I taught myself how to can whole peppers, garlic, kumquats, cherries and tomatoes. I learned how to make apple sauce, orange marmalade, onion jam, kiwi jam, tomato jam, pumpkin butter and pasta sauce. The freezer became my best friend.

When I ended up with an excess of almonds and I needed a milk, I learned how to make almond milk, and then how to bake with the leftover almond meal. I also learned how to make almond butter because I couldn't afford to spend $7 on a jar of it.

When I wanted new clothes, I learned to reconstruct my old ones with a needle, thread, some truly colorful language and good scissors.

When I needed holiday gifts for my family and friends, I scoured the internet for things I could make for a couple of dollars--so I learned to make tea-cup candles, various liqueurs, cookie mixes in jars and IOUs for homemade meals.

Sometimes I really resented it.

I resented being too sick to work any more hours. I resented having to tap into more creativity than I enjoyed (to put it mildly).

But when all was said and done--when I started to find a treatment plan to manage my symptoms, and I was able to take on a full-time job with regular hours, I had acquired a good deal of knowledge.

I now know what it takes to make  things that I had only previously purchased ready-to-go.

I learned how much something was worth based on cost of ingredients (or supplies) and time and effort used to make the finished product.

For instance, homemade nut butter? Totally worth it. It takes practically no time to make and costs about half as much to do at home than it does to buy it at the store pre-made.

Homemade cherry preserves? Really not worth the time it takes to pit each cherry without also accidentally slicing your finger off.

I promise I'll only the share projects and ideas that fall into the "worth it" category here. I want this blog to be a resource--something to help you out when you need to DIY.

And, as promised early in this blog series, I bring you a running Basset Hound:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock 

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Hi. I’m Julie Bien.

I’m a writing, blogging, coffee-drinking machine.

I also have a thing for sustainability, organic gardening, cooking, and easy crafting. I’m like Martha...

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