Letting Go…

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to let go of my Knitter’s Guide To Beer book concept. While I feel this book has good potential for success, and would be fun to write, my body’s ability to comfortably process more than a couple of pints of beer per week has declined noticeably in the past few years. Combine this with the fact that when people find out I’m writing a book about beer they want to have a beer with me – which is awesome! – and it becomes even more difficult to reduce my consumption for the sake of my health.

This problem would only escalate if I were to finish the book, and then attempt to promote and sell it. And so…I’m listening to my body and letting go.

Being a believer in cosmic forces, it’s clear to me that my writing efforts were meant for a different purpose. Something a bit deeper than matching knitting projects to beer styles.

Looking at all I’ve learned over the course of my life so far, I’ve found that my pursuit of passionate, hands-on inquiry and research into a variety of self-selected subjects has taught me far more than I ever learned sitting in a chair in a room answering questions posed by a teacher. Finding answers to one’s own questions, and sticking with a subject until one’s curiosity is satiated, is far more satisfying and productive.

While there are many subjects that have caught my attention and interest during my unschooled life, I’ve settled on four as the focus of my redesigned book project…Unschooled Path: Knitting, Medicine, Beer, and Bare Feet. What I’ve learned from each of these subjects goes far beyond what I expected to learn. In addition, I’ve found that when explored on a deeper level, the four subjects are connected and interdependent. The knowledge and skills I gained in one subject, helped to improve my understanding and abilities in all the others.

So what’s the most important thing I’ve learned from each of these four subjects? Well, I’ll tell ya…

  • Knitting The value of process. How we get there and what we learn along the way are far more important and valuable than achieving our preconceived goal. In other words, the books we read, the people we meet, the skills we struggle to improve, the choices we make, and the experiences we have that disrupt our progress…these are what life is all about.
  • MedicineThe health of the soil will determine the health of our bodies. When we deplete and impoverish our soil, we deplete and impoverish ourselves. Soil, terrain, terroir…these are what matter to our health, far more than bacteria, viruses, genetics, or even chemical exposure.
  • Beer Microbes should be respected as colleagues, as equals, rather than being feared. They are an essential part of our life and necessary for health. The more we understand and respect our microbe friends, the more we are able to assist in the maintenance of a balanced, stable, and healthy environment – for our own benefit, as well as for that of our microbe family.
  • Bare FeetHuman innovation cannot improve on nature. Certain tools and other human creations can make our lives easier, more predictable, and more satisfying, but we only create problems when we start to believe that we can improve nature. Or worse, that we are smarter than nature. When problems arise, we should always look first to a human action that needs to be undone, in order to make things better.

Through this book concept transition, writing, research and learning continue to happen. Sometimes an activity I take on or a book I choose to read seems like a distraction from my task at hand, and then I find that it’s absolutely related and helps in my understanding of the picture as a whole. As I learned from knitting, the process is where the value is.

With that in mind, yesterday I made cheese for the first time and then made these awesome No-Bake Cheese Tartlets. Way yum! And far easier than I thought it would be…even though my kitchen was a disaster when I was done.

Enjoy the journey!

-Jenne Hiigel


Homebrewers Conference…San Diego

I just got back from the annual conference of the American Homebrewers Association.  The last time I attended with my hubby was in 1983-BK (before kids). It was time to go again, especially since it was taking place in San Diego, CA (a mere 6 hour drive from SLO) and since the year is now 2011-AK (after kids).

What a fun trip! Three full days of immersion in beer and brewing, alongside other people who have the same passion. Informative and inspiring workshops, great beer, good conversation, and ideas sparking all over the place for both my book and my next batch of beer. There was one other knitting/brewer that I noticed, which was darn cool.

But I have to tell you the absolute best part of this conference. It was the gender ratio as it relates to the bathrooms. As a woman, I’m used to having to wait in line for the bathroom while the men just waltz in and out of theirs. That didn’t happen this time. The men were lining up out the door at their bathroom while I waltzed in and out of the women’s room with no wait at all. The few women that were in the bathroom were enjoying the lack of a line as much as I was.

So…if you want to attend an awesome event, and are a woman who would like to experience no waiting at the bathroom while the line at the men’s room grows, with increased grumbling from them along with it, be sure to attend the next AHA conference in Seattle!

-Jenne Hiigel

Satisfaction From Making It Yourself…

“We have somehow built a culture that assumes making or fixing almost anything is somebody else’s business. There may be relief in having someone else make, do, and fix most items in our households, but there is little long-term satisfaction in such an approach to life”

-Philip Ackerman-Leist, Up Tunket Road

Re-reading this passage today, the words rang true in my soul. As a knitter and homebrewer, I couldn’t agree more with this statement. After a recent homebrewing session with our neighbors Tim & Brandi, who also provided an amazing dinner, it was clear that making and fixing things yourself brings deep, long-term satisfaction.

Even the projects that don’t turn out provide lasting and important lessons. While Tim was teaching his friend Brandon how to brew, he was explaining how sometimes a batch can go bad. Since I had a batch do just that and still had bottles left, I brought one over and we watched the beer gush and foam immediately upon removal of the cap. A great lesson that would not have been possible if I hadn’t brewed a bad batch of beer.

To top off a great afternoon and evening, Brandi had made creme brulee. Maintaining the spirit of “do it yourself,” torching the sugar was quite fun.

-Jenne Hiigel

“Women of the world, greedy men have stolen your beer and it’s time to take it back!”

Chris O’Brien is getting me riled up again. I’m re-reading his book Fermenting Revolution, particularly his chapter on putting the ale back in female.

“Growing numbers of people are brewing at home again and using beer to build community. Beer has its soul back. But one this is still missing, something that was integral to brewing and drinking for the thousands of years of human civilization prior to the machine age. Women remain remarkably absent in the modern world of beer.”

“Seeking the reward that comes from creative work, a growing number of men are discovering homebrewing and other do-it-yourself crafts. Many women, too, are seeking satisfaction in hobbies like gardening and knitting, pursuits once associated with familial nurturing that are now considered leisure activities. But women have been slow to return to the  brew kettle.”

“For millennia women have proudly taught their daughters to brew. It was a celebrated tradition, a creative outlet, and even an honor. Today it is a social faux pas at best, criminal at worst. My solution? Organize a “Take your Daughter to the Brewery” day. Teach your kids how to brew by involving them in the process. Gather your girlfriends for an educational beer tasting. Have a group brew. Femaleists of the world, whatever you do, get more beer into your life.”

I think it’s time for a homebrew day. Rather than just drinking beer together, I think we should brew a batch of beer together. Greedy men have stolen our beer, and it’s time for us to take it back!

-Jenne Hiigel

The Evolution of a Book…

The book I am currently writing is not the same book I started out writing. A Knitter’s Guide to Beer has become much deeper, more meaningful, more spiritual and, in many ways, far more important than my original concept.

Originally it was to be an introduction to beer and beer styles, combined with knitting projects and yarn/beer pairings. The book has instead become a rebel call-to-action. An attempt to inspire the reader to become more self-sufficient; to find joy in the process of creating, rather than just consuming;  to connect to the life energy in the plants that provide us the grain and spices for brewing; and to feel gratitude to the yeast for converting those grains into something wonderful and nutritious to drink (yes, I said nutritious!).

You may be wondering if we can truly connect to all these amazing energies without actually doing the brewing ourselves. The answer is no. We might be able to see the energy by learning to appreciate well-brewed craft beers (this is an important step and this information will still be a part of my book), but we won’t feel the energy unless we pick up the brew kettle ourselves.

I will be doing my best to inspire the reader to start homebrewing… especially my female readers. Brewing is in our blood, in our history, and in our spirit. It’s time to bring our female qualities back into beer. Women were the brewers for tens of thousands of years. It was just a few hundred years ago that brewing made the transition from female to male.

Twenty thousand years ago, it was a goddess who gave life and abundance and it was the goddess who, out of a mother’s love and pity for her fallen children, gave the gift of brew to the women of mankind.

In all ancient societies, in the religious mythologies of all ancient cultures, beer was a gift to women from a goddess, never a male god, and women remained bonded in complex religious relationships with feminine deities who blessed the brew vessels.

– Alan Eames, 1995

With all of the challenges facing our society today, I see solutions in the empowerment of individual Americans. Once we start realizing that we don’t need to be certified, licensed or to have a degree in order to be skilled, we can start doing things for ourselves. Things that we were always told we couldn’t do… like learn without a teacher, heal without a doctor, resolve conflicts without a lawyer or fix our toilet without a licensed plumber.

The more we learn to do for ourselves, the less control big business will have over us, because they will get less of our money and their power will decline with each dollar they don’t get.

The way to get there is to start with the little things, like learning to knit or brew. Start with something that sparks an interest, creates inspiration, and ignites a passion .  Once a skill is acquired a sense of empowerment often follows, as well as a hunger to gain even more skills.

The book has become something that I really want to write, which makes doing so quite a bit easier. Progress is starting to happen. I’m on a slightly different path, but it’s clearly the right one.

I’ll definitely be needing to revise my book’s Concept Statement at least one more time.

-Jenne Hiigel

Prepping for Sock Summit…

On Friday I’ll be getting on the train and heading for Portland. Sock Summit starts next Wednesday. I’ll have five-ish days to visit with my daughter and extended family in Portland, and do some typical tourist stuff (breweries & pubs, yarn shops, book stores… all the must-see kinds of places) before my daughter and I leave the real world for four days and immerse ourselves in knitting heaven.

As I start packing for this trip, I’m having to go through my yarn, needles and UFOs (to find even more needles) to make sure I bring what I’ll need for my four workshops. In addition, I have to decide what I’m going to knit on the train. It’s a 24 hour trip. That’s a good batch of focused knitting time. My options are pretty much  limited by how much luggage I want to carry. A variety of small projects seems to be where I’m leaning.

My book proposal is progressing bit by bit. I’m finding I’m treating this project the same way I would a knitting project. Each knitting project has it’s own timeframe. Some get focused attention from start to finish, while others get a good start, periodic bursts of attention here and there, and eventually a boost of enthusiasm to get it done and the ends woven in. Kind of like the mitered square afghan I’ve currently got wrapped around me while I type. It took me several years to get this afghan done and I am thoroughly pleased with the finished result. I love this blanket!

In spite of the slow-down on my book proposal progress, research for the book continues. Beer & Knitting Classes will continue monthly through the end of the year. I’ve even gotten a request for Beer & Spinning Classes, so I plan to add those to the line up in 2010. Beer & Knitting Nights continue semi-regularly, with our next one taking place tonight at Koberl at Blue (check out their beer list!).

In the tradition of knitters everywhere, I’ve gotten an idea for my second book even though I haven’t finished my first one yet. Fortunately, having a second book concept already underway when I approach a publisher could give me the potential for a two-book contract. So my knitter tendencies may not be such a bad thing in this case. (Or am I just demonstrating my extensive rationalization skills here?) As long as my book projects don’t turn into UFOs, I should be okay!

The working title for my second book is A Knitter’s Guide to Non-Alcoholic Beverages. Beverage choices in restaurants and bars for non-alcohol drinkers are generally limited to coffee, tea, corn-syrup-laden sodas and water. In this book I plan to explore other alcohol-free beverage options, with a focus on businesses that are taking this area more seriously and creatively. Alcohol drinkers shouldn’t have all the fun! And, yes… contrary to what many 20-somethings believe, it is possible to have fun without drinking alcohol.

On the Rosacea front, I’ve made significant progress. As I mentioned in a previous post, Vitamin C has been a big help. Then I read Mark Hyman’s book The UltraMind Solution and put into action his recommendations to fix my digestion and improve my overall health. With each passing day my digestion improves and my Rosacea becomes less of a issue for me. I even had a glass of red wine a week ago, with no major flare up. Now that’s progress!

-Jenne Hiigel

Getting Back On Track…

My writing project and homebrewing efforts have been somewhat derailed during the past two months, due to the holidays and various family activities. Things have settled down quite a bit in the past week and now it’s time to get back on track with both.

In spite of my distractions, Beer & Knitting classes continued in December and January… so I haven’t been a total slacker. Our December class was Christmas Beer & Ornaments. We kicked off the class with Anchor Christmas Ale and then everyone picked an ornament pattern and started knitting. We had a great selection of Christmas beers to taste, the favorites being Delirium Noel, Trader Joe’s 2008 Vintage Ale (brewed by Unibroue), and Santa’s Butt Porter. I had a variety of ornament patterns to choose from, including a Candy Cane Cozy for those who were concerned about the higher alcohol Christmas beers affecting their ability to knit anything too complicated. (Cast on 20 sts, knit 8 rows, cast off, sew it together.)

In January, the topic was Finishing. On the knitting side we focused on the mattress stitch (or weaving) for sewing up seams, one-row buttonholes, grafting, and some extra finishing touches by Nicky Epstein. On the beer side we discussed the beer drinker’s responsibility, from the time the beer is purchased until it’s served, to make the most of the hard work the brewer put into the beer.

We started the class with Red Seal Ale. Each student had two glasses in front of her. One was a typical pint glass and the other a pilsner glass. I had the Red Seal at two different temperatures – refrigerator temp and room temp. I poured the cold beer down the side of the pint glass, creating no head and maximizing the carbonation. The room temperature beer was poured straight down the center of the pilsner glass, allowing it to foam up nicely and release some of the carbonation.

The results were amazing. The students couldn’t believe the two glasses contained the same beer, even though they saw me pour it. Preferences were towards the beer in the pilsner glass with the slightly warmer temperature and nice batch of foam. They clearly learned that how the beer drinker handles and serves the beer makes a difference. We moved on to the other beers that were brought to the class, the favorites being Chimay Blue and Kostritzer Schwartzbier and Allagash White.

For all you Allagash White fans out there, I strongly recommend you try Allagash Fluxus. They refer to it as a double white beer and it is way yummy!

Next up… Fruit Beers & Knitted Hearts. This class will be on Valentine’s Day.

Jenne Hiigel