Freshening up…

As I go about my day-to-day life, I’m often asked “How’s the book coming?” Since my last post on this book blog was almost 18 months ago, it is a fair question. I continue to research and write most every morning (striving to get up by 5am, so I can write for a couple of hours before work) , and progress is definitely happening, but not necessarily in the direction that would make an estimated completion date predictable.

My knitting/beer book project hit a speed bump in the last couple of years when my body started complaining when I drank beer or wine too regularly…typically in the form of aggravated Rosacea symptoms, increased challenges with dry eyes, and excessive nighttime thirst. I do better when I limit my consumption to once or twice a week at the most. And yet, when I talk to people about my book project, it’s natural to want to do so while sharing a pint.

As I began looking at what would be needed to promote my book once it was finally finished, I determined it would be really hard to talk about and promote my book without a glass of beer in hand. And so, a quandary. Ignore my body for the sake of the book, or adjust the book for the sake of my body. Since my body and I are stuck with each other for a good while longer (hopefully!), I decided to opt for the latter course of action and have adjusted the focus of the book.

By keeping beer in the picture, but also adding the subjects of medicine and bare feet, it calms the beer-focus and hopefully will allow me to promote the book without feeling compelled to drink more than my body cares for. The medicine angle will be a discussion of things that aide and promote wellness and healing, which mostly rules out pharmaceuticals. The bare feet focus will introduce readers to the rebel act of kicking off one’s shoes, and the health benefits of doing so.

Another factor that slowed my progress was the health decline and eventual passing of our family dog, Booboo. He died in June 2013, just a couple months shy of his 15th birthday. That experience impacted my life far more than I had ever expected it to, in both good ways and challenging ones. It sparked an idea for a second book project…currently titled, “Lessons From Booboo About Life & Death.”

A third topic that has been bubbling up on my priority list is the need for schooling to be non-compulsory. Radical idea, I know, and yet quite important. I’m planning to dabble in that subject here and there, and hopefully get some writing done for that as well.

So…with renewed focus on my original book and two more book ideas that are demanding some attention, I decided it was time to refresh my web presence. I’ve established a website……that has links to my book project blogs. As I get some writing done on one of the three topics, I will post some or all of it on the relevant blog. I would thoroughly appreciate any and all feedback…what you like, what you don’t like, what interests you, what doesn’t, and so on.

I have my website mostly up and running, although there are a few pages that just have the comment “Coming Soon…” My first priority will be to get those webpages completed, and then I’ll get back to the book projects themselves. Progress is definitely happening, but not necessarily in the direction originally envisioned. And yet, isn’t that the way life tends to work?

-Jenne Hiigel


The Concept Evolves…

My research over the past several months has been wandering into seemingly unrelated areas, but has brought me full circle back to this book project with increased determination to make it the book I really want to write.

Subjects I’ve been reading intensely about include:

  • Health and Medical Issues… Mainstream medicine causes more problems than it solves. Alternative medicine needs to play a stronger role. Each person needs to take responsibility for his/her own health and stop making the medical profession responsible. Since what we put in our mouths determines our level of wellness, diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to make the most difference.
  • Corporate Personhood… Corporations are not people. That seems obvious to me, but apparently not to the Supreme Court and the various corporate Boards of Directors. Corporations need to have LESS influence in our lives, not more. Fortunately corporations need money to survive, so if we want to limit their ability to manipulate us, all we have to do is stop giving them our money.
  • Compulsory Schooling… Forced government schooling needs to end. We don’t have to dismantle the public education system, but each person (I’m including children here as persons) should have the right to choose not to go. Every person should have the right to pursue their education in the manner that best meets their own needs.

Our country is facing significant challenges which have their roots in these three issues. So what do these things have to do with beer and knitting? Well, corporate influence combined with compulsory schooling has turned us into a society of consumers.

Most people no longer know how to make things. They just know how to buy things. Any knitter who has had someone oooh and aaah at their simple garter stitch scarf will understand what I’m talking about. Even the simplest skill seems out of reach for most Americans. Without the ability to produce things for ourselves, we become dependent on corporations to do it for us.

If we want to be rebels, the best way to do so is to become skilled. Learn how to do things. Learn how to make things. Learn so many skills that when you go into a store you start passing by more and more items for sale and think… “I can make that myself .” The more we as a society do this, the less control the corporations will have over us.

In John Taylor Gatto’s newest book “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling” he pulled everything together beautifully for me:

“What nineteenth century American experience demonstrated unmistakably is that an independent, resourceful, too-well educated common population has the irresistible urge to produce – and the ability to do so. … [In] Federal times and Colonial days … the common ideal was to produce your own food, your own clothing, your own shelter, your own education, your own medical care, your own entertainment, etc.”

As people become more capable of producing, they become more independent, resourceful and  self-sufficient. These are the qualities that used to be abundant in our citizens. It’s time to bring those qualities back.

Knitting and brewing are fundamental household skills. Both genders have history in both crafts, and it’s time to embrace those skills again. In order to build the desire to learn a craft, it helps to have a good understanding of the process and appreciate the end results.

That’s what “A Knitter’s Guide to Beer” will do for the craft of brewing. It will give the reader an understanding of the brewing process and an appreciation for the variety of beer styles that are possible. If we can start our rebel adventure with beer and knitting, then we’ve got to be on the right path!

-Jenne Hiigel

Rosacea Progress…

My challenge with Rosacea, which started affecting my eyes last December, has definitely put a damper on my research efforts for my book. Since alcohol aggravates my condition, I reduced my beer consumption to 2-3 beers per month.

My Rosacea also affected my motivation to homebrew. It’s hard to justify brewing my own beer when I am only drinking 2-3 bottles per month. Assuming I would want to drink beer besides my own homebrew, one five-gallon batch would have lasted me about three years! So, I’ve put my homebrewing activities on hold for now.

In order for me to move forward with my book project, it became clear that I had to find a solution to my Rosacea problem… and after several months of research and trial and error, I have!

I said “no thanks” to my opthamologist’s offer of a prescription for life-long tetracycline and started looking elsewhere. Several things have helped to calm my Rosacea – diet changes, avoiding triggers, accupuncture, chinese herbs, reducing stress, Rosacea-calming facial cleansers and toners, etc., but the clear winner in my attempts to improve my condition has been Vitamin C! I was blown away that the ultimate solution to my Rosacea (and my seasonal allergies!!) would be something so simple.

After reading a couple of books about Orthomolcular Medicine and the success people have achieved with megadose vitamin therapy, I decided to give it a try. The clincher was the claim that large doses of Vitamin C would relieve allergy symptoms. Since May is the month where I either endure itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose or stay doped up on antihistamines until June, I was open to suggestion for another alternative.

I quickly built up my Vitamin C intake to about 10,000-15,000 mg per day and have been maintaining that for the past three weeks with very good results. My allergies are under control without antihistimines (for the first time in years!!) and my Rosacea is significantly improved. While my Rosacea is not yet cured, it’s getting better every week.

I’m now able to consume a few more bottles of beer each month, without causing serious aggravation of my Rosacea. Moderation will be key as I continue to allow my body to heal, but I now feel confident that I will be able to enjoy more frequent beer sessions, as part of the research for my book, and my own homebrew again sometime down the road. A Knitter’s Guide to Beer is back on track!

-Jenne Hiigel

Refreshing My Book Concept…

Ever since I started teaching Beer & Knitting classes last October, it seems as if I’ve shelved progress on my book project and my homebrewing. In addition to the classes, my time has been filled with holiday activities, family issues, and trying to find a solution to my Rosacea… which is aggravated by alcohol consumption.  In hindsight, though, it turns that everything is related (isn’t it always!) and that the experience I’ve gained through the Beer & Knitting classes has helped me to see a better way to approach my book project.

Even my Rosacea has a connection to beer… and not just because it can aggravate my condition. I found an amazing line of skin care products by Googling “rosacea hops”. I did this after noticing that IPAs with a high hop content don’t aggravate my Rosacea nearly as much as some other beers. My proving beer for this is Firestone’s Union Jack. Darn awesome stuff. The product that turned up in my Google search was evanhealy’s Blue Lavender Cleansing Milk, designed specifically for Rosacea and includes hop extract in the ingredients. Pretty cool! And the stuff works amazingly well.

As I was planning my Beer & Knitting class offering through the end of the year, and thinking about what I’ve learned from my previous five classes, I realized that the way I’m approaching my Beer & Knitting classes is how I want to approach my book. I’ve revised my Table of Contents and am motivated to start writing again. I’ve also decided to include several of my own knitting patterns in the book.

I’m making progress on my Rosacea, and have found that I can have a half-bottle of beer now and then without much problem. I now have hope that these two things in my life (beer & Rosacea) will be able to find a way to work together.

-Jenne Hiigel

Working Through A Quandary…

What’s a person to do when her current book project benefits from the regular consumption of beer, for research and inspiration, and her health condition is greatly improved by avoiding alcohol altogether? Hmmm…

I’ve had Rosacea for years and have learned to just accept my bright red face as an unavoidable side effect of my enjoyment of beer and wine. For those of you unfamiliar with Rosacea, the red face is not related to the amount of alcohol consumed. Some red wines will turn my face red after ONE SIP.

In December, however, my Rosacea developed into Blepharitis (a form of Ocular Rosacea) where the constant inflammation of the facial skin starts to affect the eyes. The dry-eye symptoms became difficult to just shrug off. It was clearly time to take my Rosacea more seriously and work towards improving my condition, rather than just managing my symptoms.

I have a great  appreciation for my eyesight and would prefer to not have it deteriorate… at least no more than age is already doing. I decided it was time to see a doctor to get a professional diagnosis and opinion. The ophthalmologist confirmed my Rosacea/Blepharitis diagnosis and offered me an ongoing prescription for tetracycline to help manage my eye symptoms.

Enduring the side effects of life-long antibiotic use for the sake of symptom relief just didn’t sit right with me, so I thanked him for the diagnosis and declined his prescription offer. I then went home and dove deeper into my research for alternative treatments to reduce my symptoms, rather than just mask them.

I’m now working at this issue from several angles including diet changes, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, herbal supplements, digestive aids, healing skin-care products, organ cleansing, and…  alcohol avoidance! Argh!!

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on my mood at the time), the alcohol avoidance is helping to improve my condition. I’ve limited my beer consumption to Beer & Knitting Classes (once a month) and Beer & Knitting Nights (approx every six weeks). It is my hope that as my Rosacea improves, I’ll eventually be able to enjoy a beer more frequently than once or twice a month.

On the plus side, the one beer that seems to aggravate my Rosacea the least is my current favorite… Firestone’s Union Jack. I’m not sure why this is, but since Union Jack has a massive hop content and hops aid digestion and Rosacea is related to digestive problems, then maybe that connection has something to do with it. Whatever the reason, I send thanks to Matt Brynildson for creating such an awesome beer!

My health is very important to me, but so is this book project. I will continue to work towards making progress in both areas.

-Jenne Hiigel

Getting Distracted…

I haven’t been working on my book project as much as I would like to. Life has gotten in the way of my ability to get up at 5am and get some writing done before getting ready for work. I must admit, though, that a significant part of my problem is a website I’ve discovered that is causing me to become distracted from my project at hand. The website is BookMooch.

Innocently enough, this website was designed to allow people to trade books that they no longer need or want for books that might be of more interest to them. The trading is based on a point system. You earn points by listing books that you’re willing to give away, you earn more points by shipping your books to another person, and then you use points by mooching books from other BookMoochers. Your only cost is the postage to ship the books, and since they can be sent via Media Mail the shipping is darn reasonable.

I joined BookMooch at the end of January and in shortly over two months I have given away 52 books and mooched 32 of them. It’s one thing to spend time boxing up and mailing the books that others have mooched, but then you’ve accumulated quite a few points and you start browsing for books that you didn’t know existed that you desperately need. When the books start arriving, it’s time to start reading. I’ve even switched from knitting while I walk to reading while I walk!

Then while I’m reading about the health benefits of honey, past life regression, reincarnation, gardening, herbs, salem witch trials, traditional chinese medicine and a variety of other topics, my interest in certain subjects begins to peak and I start looking on for more books related that topic! My focus has clearly now been diverted from my original task of writing my beer & knitting book. I know. It’s an old, sad story. The evils of the internet.

So I’m trying to get back on track with my book writing. I managed to mooch a beer-related book about the history of Guiness. When that arrives I’ll at least be back to reading about the proper subject. Then if I could just stop staying up late into the wee hours reading all my mooched books, I’d be able to wake up at 5am to write and still be awake at work at 3:00 in the afternoon. A lofty goal I know, but I’m going to give it my best effort.

Back on the Porter front, I’ve determined that my beer is as good as it’s going to get. It has aged in the bottle for six weeks now and the last couple of weeks have not made a big difference in flavor. Our neighbor two doors down gave me a bottle of his Vanilla Porter, so Chuck and I did a side by side taste test with his porter and mine. Both were made from the same recipe that we got from our local hombrew shop. The only differences were that he used a liquid yeast and I used a dry yeast, and he added vanilla bean.

The flavor differences between the two yeasts was quite noticeable. There’s an aroma in my beer that I’m not fond of and I can only attribute it to the yeast. Chuck has been helping me with the beer analysis as well, and he’s not tasting anything wildly off in the beer – and he’s quite good at identifying beer-gone-bad. Our neighbor’s beer didn’t have the same aroma. His was fruitier with a slight vanilla nose and flavor. This will be my one and only batch of beer with a dry yeast. From now on I’ll be brewing with liquid yeast. I’m looking forward to feeling confident enough with my brewing to want to start experimenting. I’m sure I’ll get there someday.

As much as I want to move to all-grain brewing, I am being advised that not only is it possible to make a perfectly good beer from extract, I should stick with extract brewing until I’ve got that wired. Then I’ll be ready to take on the additional complication of all-grain brewing. I can only mess up so many things with extract, but with all-grain you have so many more opportunities to screw up your beer if you don’t know what you’re doing. Okay, okay… I’ll brew some more extract beers.

So I asked my brother-in-law how I can make a better beer. He said to change the recipe. If I were cooking something and wasn’t happy with how it turned out, I would look for a different recipe. Brewing is no different he told me. A good recipe is the key to a good beer. Find a beer you like, look up the clone recipe for that beer, and start there. You can change it down the road or move on to an all-grain version of that recipe, but you have to start with a good foundation. And he told me to switch to liquid yeast. He said his beers improved immediately when he started using liquid yeast.

He gave me good advice about my brew kettle (told me to buy an 8-gallon kettle, and not a puny 5-gallon one), so I’m ready to take his advice about the recipe and yeast. My next beer will be a clone brew of Fuller’s London Porter. My May/June 2006 issue of Brew Your Own magazine is on its way with both an extract and all-grain clone recipe for this awesome porter. With any luck this batch of beer will be good enough to want to drink more than half a bottle!

-Jenne Hiigel