Getting my website & blog freshened up…

You probably received an email update from this blog with posts from 2007! Sorry if that was confusing. I’ve been cleaning up my blog and doing that apparently triggered an update send. Oh, computers. The things they do that we didn’t ask them to do. An update is definitely in order, but it’s probably better to get one from 2019, rather than 2007.

Regarding my book project A Knitter’s Guide to Beer, that project has been shelved for good…for a variety of reasons, but primarily for health reasons – mine and yours. My updated book project Unschooled Path: Doing, Listening, Collaborating & Connecting is still active, although it has been on the shelf for a while. In time I will bring it down, dust it off, and get back on track.

On my website, I’ve just published my first newsletter called Lemon Balm Times. I started this newsletter to share some things I’ve been learning over the years about the value of individual action to empower and heal yourself, and the ripple effects when that action inspires others. Take a peek at the website when you have a minute, and let me know what you think.

I will be replacing this blog with a fresh one in the next couple of days, because I can’t figure out how to get the reference to A Knitter’s Guide to Beer off the email updates. I don’t want to confuse people or get their hopes up that that book might some day get written (‘cuz it won’t…at least not by me). My website will have updated links to all of my blogs as the changes get made.

Thanks for your interest in my projects! Life is an amazing ride. No telling where it will lead, but it always seems to be someplace worthwhile.

-Jenne Hiigel

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Learning to Walk…again.

There is something humbling about taking something you already know how to do and trying to learn a new way to do it. Sometimes this is forced on us, due to an injury or other disability, and other times it is a conscious choice…to expand our awareness, skills, and abilities.

I’ve had this experience before when I taught myself to knit left-handed. I had decades of experience knitting right-handed, but as soon as I turned my knitting around, I was suddenly a novice…again. I learned patience and humility, and was reminded of the benefits of taking new things slowly – adding to your expectations as the motions start to feel more natural. As far as problems, mistakes, and frustrations go, most of them resolve on their own with additional practice. As I’ve regularly told my knitting students, we’ll just worry about the problems that won’t go away.

When I decided to kick off my shoes nearly two years ago (literally, and for as long and as much as possible), I figured I would need to allow time for my feet to toughen up, but overall I thought going barefoot would be pretty straight forward. I mean, sheesh, I already know how to walk. I’ve been doing it since I was nine months old. (It’s true. I was an early walker.) So how hard could it be to just kick off my shoes?

Well, it turns out that barefoot walking is not the same as shoe walking. In fact, the only thing the two really have in common is that you are upright and putting one foot in front of the other. Aside from that, I can point out far more differences than similarities.

The two biggest differences are stride length and how your forward foot hits the ground. When wearing shoes, we learn to take long strides and hit the ground with our heel first. When walking barefoot, your stride is shorter and the ball of your foot is what comes in contact with the ground first…your heel coming down last.

I learned pretty quickly that walking barefoot was not just about kicking off one’s shoes. I had to abandon my old ways of walking and become a novice again. I found myself reading books and watching videos to learn how to walk barefoot. As frustration and confidence have taken their turns over the past couple of years of my barefooting journey, I’ve had to tell myself the same things I regularly tell my knitting students: Relax. You can do it. It’s easy once you learn how. Find your natural rhythm and it will become second nature.

Frustration kicked in again recently when I kept getting early-stage blisters on the balls of my feet, making it painful to walk barefoot. This has been an ongoing challenge. Clearly this was a problem that wouldn’t go away until I learned something new and changed how I was walking. After a day or two of wallowing in my frustration and sore feet, I took a deep breath and did some more research.

My problems are poor posture, over-striding, and horizontal friction when the ball of my foot connects with the ground. (Thanks to Steven Sashan of Xero Shoes for the helpful info on his website!) So it’s time to take a couple of steps backwards and walk shorter distances until the adjustments I need to make start feeling more natural and become second nature.

Step-by-step we learn new things…sometimes more literally than others.

-Jenne Hiigel

Walking Barefoot…

I have been washing my feet a lot lately. Every night, in fact. It has become a ritual; a way of ending the day and preparing for my night’s sleep. This is different from taking a bath or shower, where one’s feet just happen to get clean in the process. Instead, this is focused attention on just my feet, one at a time… gently, lovingly, appreciatively.

As I wash, I get to know each foot a bit better. I rub the soap between my toes, around my heel, and across the ball of my foot – which is becoming increasingly smooth and leathery. I feel the muscles that have grown stronger, now that they’re finally being used again, providing the arch support as nature intended. I check for any minor injuries and give those a bit of extra attention and care.

As I wash my left foot, I always pause at the scar on my ankle bone. It’s slightly over an inch long and at an angle that goes from my heel to my instep. For me, this scar represents the epitome of human arrogance. A physical manifestation of science and medicine believing it can improve on nature.

This scar sometimes makes me sad, sometimes angry, but mostly it makes me determined. It reminds me how disconnected people can become from nature’s design. How much we expect science, technology, and “experts” to solve our problems… and the many new problems that this path creates. How often we look for a new “fix” to an existing problem, rather than letting go of the previous “fix” that created it.

When faced with an incompatibility between nature and science (my foot and shoes), the doctor concluded that nature was at fault and needed to be altered. He could have concluded that there was something wrong with my shoes, or even all shoes, but that’s not what he was trained to do.

The unspoken motto of modern medicine is, “When in doubt, do something.” And often the more invasive the better, because at least you’re taking action, you’re trying, you’re doing your best to remedy the problem. Non-action makes doctors uncomfortable. Just go to a doctor with a problem and say “no, thanks” to all their drugs and procedures, and you’ll see what I mean. Society has also been trained to feel uncomfortable with inaction. “I have a problem. Aren’t you going to do something to help fix it?!” We have lost our faith in nature, in the human body’s ability to heal.

The idea that either doing nothing or un-doing something is often the best course of action is way too radical for most people to handle. In a society where doing nothing or doing less is considered lazy, non-productive, and shows a lack of caring, we often feel forced to take action…even if such action doesn’t help or actually makes the problem worse.

What was the human creation that caused problems for my left foot? Shoes. And the solution that science and medicine came up with to fix that problem? Alter my foot to fit the shoes better.

I was nine or ten years old. Shoes regularly rubbed my left ankle bone, making it sore. Going with the accepted course of action for the period (the 1960’s), I was taken to a doctor to find a solution to this problem. The doctor concluded that my left ankle bone was too big, giving fault to my body rather than the shoes. If the bone was shaved down a bit, making it smaller, shoes would no longer rub that area – thus solving my problem. This is the course of action that was taken.

The surgery itself was not traumatic for me. Reducing the size of my ankle bone solved the specific problem I was having. Medical intervention for physical problems was accepted in our family. It’s only in hindsight that I’ve been bothered; when I look back on what the decision meant – what it says about our way of thinking, our disconnection with nature, our willingness to embrace significant intervention rather than altering or letting go of previous human creations.

It also shows how the solution that seems obvious to me now, going barefoot as much as possible, didn’t even occur to us as an option back then. I have the same problem when I try to imagine how my life would have been different if I had been homeschooled or unschooled, as we did with our own children. Clearly that never would have happened. It wasn’t even considered as an option; not even a flicker of the imagination. If we can’t even imagine it, how can we possibly make it happen?

This is the point of my book. To toss seemingly radical ideas into the ring. To help you expand your options. To have you consider things that may not have even crossed your mind. Some ideas may seem like the next natural step, or they may instead be so foreign in concept that you will need to abandon what you thought you knew in order to even consider them. Either way, awareness is always the most essential step.

Actually, more often than not, the concepts I will be discussing are tried and true ideas. We’ve just forgotten. Or perhaps we never had the opportunity to learn.

In our society there are a few assumptions that are generally agreed upon by a vast majority of people, such as:

  • If you’re sick, you should see a doctor.
  • Shoes are necessary for healthy foot functioning.
  • Bacteria is bad and dangerous. In fact, all microbes are suspect.

Regardless of how much I’ve learned to dispel these assumptions, or at least minimize them to the “only in extreme situations” category, they are still so deeply ingrained in my thinking that I have to continually brush these thoughts away as they keep popping back into my head.

Even though I know that doctors often make things worse rather than better, when I see someone who is ill my first thought will be, “You should see a doctor.” When I’m walking around barefoot and see someone else without shoes, I find myself looking at the person with suspect eyes and thinking, “Where are your shoes?” And even though my fermenting beer or sauerkraut sits in a crock for weeks, often tasting better the longer the microbes are allowed to do their work, I will still look at food that’s been out of the fridge for a couple of hours wondering, “Is this in the danger zone?”

It takes a long time to let go of beliefs that one used to consider hard, fast truths; and I’m actually starting to believe they never fully go away. Perhaps a shadow remains to remind us how easily it can be to get swayed by common assumptions, particularly ones that have been marketed to us from a very young age by people trying to make a buck.

-Jenne Hiigel

Social Knitting…

Packing for our Thanksgiving trip to Phoenix this year was a bit of a challenge. Knitting time was sure to happen at the same time as visiting so I needed a very simple project or two, but currently only had projects in progress that required thinking every now and then. I had to come up with a couple of new projects.

I decided to bring some handspun yarn to make another simple garter stitch hat and I pulled out a linen/mohair yarn that I had gotten for a shawl project. The hat was done within a couple of days and I then started on the shawl.

It seemed simple enough. Cast on 85 stitches. No shaping. A simple eyelet pattern. It was mostly stockinette stitch with two evenly spaced lace pattern rows. It’s interesting how long it can take to get even a simple pattern like this memorized to the point where I can talk and knit, without looking like I’m paying more attention to my knitting than the person I’m talking to.

Even with a simple pattern, it can be challenging to count the stitches on the lace pattern rows and still pay full attention to your conversation. Once the pattern becomes second nature, that tends to no longer be an issue. There were a few times where I had to choose between focusing on a good conversation and counting stitches on my lace pattern row. I typically chose the conversation and let my needles rest for a bit.

The best social knitting for me is something in garter stitch or stockinette stitch, or a pattern that repeats every few rows that doesn’t require counting. Cable stitch patterns can be good projects for conversation, because you can visually see where you are in the pattern without having to count. I generally avoid patterns with shaping for social situations, unless it’s socks. Making a basic pair of socks is pretty easy to do without a hiccup, because I’ve made so many of them.

Some people might wonder why I need to knit at all while I’m visiting with people. Well, it’s a knitter-thing. Writer’s write. Knitter’s knit. That’s just the way it is. I’m going to start looking at my projects-in-progress a bit differently now and make sure that I always have a social knitting project on hand for just these situations.

When I was in Wisconsin visiting my daughter a couple of months ago, we saw a finished Reading Shawl that would be a perfect social knitting project. It was a straight-forward rectangle with a fold-over edge to create a warmer neckline and hand pockets, and was a simple block stitch – an 8 stitch repeat over four rows. I think it’s time to get that project on my needles.

-Jenne Hiigel

Walking & Knitting…

My walk to work is 1-1/2 miles each way. At a pace of 3 mph that’s an hour of walking each day, 5 hours per week, 21.65 hours per month, and 260 hours per year. That’s a lot of potential knitting time!

I have to subtract rainy days and days where it’s too cold for my fingers to be out of my pockets. It’s a bit hard to knit under these conditions. Fortunately that doesn’t cut out too much time, since we live on the Central Coast of California and the weather tends to be pretty mild. Then there are vacation days and sick days, where I don’t go to work. Based on my estimation, that still leaves me with roughly 200 hours of knitting time per year… which is nothing to sneeze at! (except in May)

I have completed several hats, scarves, and socks during the course of my walks, that I most likely would not have been able to complete otherwise. I have found that people tend to be more friendly to you when you’re knitting. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that people generally do not feel threatened by knitters. Also, a walking knitter is a relatively unusual sight, so it tends to make people curious. Knitting and walking does wonders to help promote the craft.

I have a few safety and sanity tips for those of you who want to take up knitting and walking. Small projects work best. It’s hard to carry an afghan while you’re walking. Stick with hats, scarves, socks, baby things, iPod covers, etc. Pick something where you can memorize the pattern easily. It’s hard to refer to a printed pattern when you’re walking, unless you want to use an around-the-neck music holder for your pattern like they use in a marching band.

Walking causes your body and hands to bounce slightly, so intricate lace patterns or tricky decreases (such as P3tog tbl) might best be avoided as a walking project. If you have a 9-5 work schedule, the end of daylight savings time causes it to be dark on the walk home. That doesn’t mean you have to stop knitting! My daughter Kathleen can shape the toe of a sock in a dark movie theater. Not me. I know my limitations. On a nighttime walk I stick to garter stitch or stockinette stitch and check my knitting at each street light.

Don’t look so intently at your knitting that you trip on cracks in the sidewalk or walk into a utility pole. It’s important to have a project where you can look up every now and then. Don’t try to pick up a dropped stitch while crossing the street. Pedestrians have to walk defensively in order to avoid getting run over by a car, so just pause your knitting until you get safely across the street. Then you can stop and track down that errant stitch.

It works best to have something to hold your supply yarn, such as a fanny pouch, a backpack, a baggy sleeve, or a big pocket. I’ve had some success with holding my supply yarn under my arm, but if I forget it’s there and raise my arm it can be several yards before I notice I dropped the ball. I have also been known to put my knitting needles under my arm while I did something else, only to have to backtrack a block or two to recover my dropped needles.

For advanced walking knitters, you can add an iPod. Be careful about doing that too soon, though! If you’re concentrating on your knitting while listening to music, all your key tools (vision, hearing, and brain function) for not getting run over or crashing into things are distracted with other activities. Ease into the iPod gradually. Start by just getting comfortable walking and knitting. Then add the iPod with the volume at a low level. Once you get on a roll, the volume can slowly be turned up.

With enough practice, you’ll soon be walking, knitting, singing along with your iPod, allowing cars to turn left in front of you, greeting your fellow walkers, and waving at the bicyclers and drivers that you see regularly! It’s a pretty fun way to get to work.

-Jenne Hiigel