Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Gift-Giving Circle

Nadya's apples and plums (village near Kostroma on the Volga)

One of the ways I enjoy my post-menopausal zest years is that I have by this time in my life, after living below the poverty line for years, and rarely above it, developed a community of people around me who help me and whom I help.  I wrote about this in my 2009 holiday letter.  This will also give  you a feeling for my daily life and the rich bounty of people and their gifts that are part of it. 

What strikes me most about 2009, which was a harder year than usual, were all the gifts I received. It’s true that, if I’d needed less, I’d have been given less. In a period when the world and our larger American society, are so focused on the ills of the market economy, I’m struck by how effectively the gift economy has worked for me this year.

I first became consciously aware of the two economies when I read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift 20 years ago. It’s primarily about the artist’s gift. His theme is that, when we have been given a creative gift–and as practicing artists and writers know, that’s mysterious–although we may sell our created works or our creative talent in the marketplace, that is not essential. What’s essential is to give that gift away. "The gift must always move." At the time I read The Gift, I was teaching the free "Roadmap to Great Literature for New Writers" program in the Durham and Burlington libraries. I had received Humanities "gifts" to teach, and the students, having received the gift of the classes, wanted to give to me. They gave me time and money for my Carolina Wren Press, a coffee pot, plants, strawberries, a lake cottage for a week, a lovely cup with a drawing of Penelope at her loom, with a whip painted on the handle, a tribute to my determination to have them read good books and write well, to "get them off their asses."

Then I realized how, all my life, beginning as a minister’s child, I have lived more in the gift than in the market economy, as most cultures in our world still do. When I visited Russia first in 1990, I was immediately struck by the intensity and extravagance of their gifts. If they had two eggs, then my son Tim and I should have them; if they succeeded in getting ahold of some candy, it was ours. We came home, heavy with gifts, tangible and intangible. That set off my desire to give back, which I did for the next ten years, writing grants, hosting Russians through the Kostroma Committee of Sister Cities of Durham, but the Russians, who had less, generally, than I did, and I lived simply, always outdid me.

Still the gifts kept moving. They still do, and my life continued as part of the gift economy, specifically in my first owned home in Moncure, in my largely African American neighborhood. I knew no one. My students came often to clean up the yard, paint and finish the house. I was given an old wood cookstove by B.D. Goolsby, my friend Elaine’s husband, who died October 12, and my student then (now published novelist), Dawn, and her husband, Jim, helped move it here, and today, as winter’s chill moves in, it is radiating heat, stocked with wood split by Gene, and more wood is outside, prepared by Terrie and Cheryl, who tell me, "Call when you need more."

I’ve had many small but frustrating challenges this year, and my friends and neighbors have rallied round. My son, Tim, visited in June. On his way back from the beach in my tried, true, but aging pickup, the fuel pump went out. We got it towed, and my faithful mechanic, Al, who sold me this truck in 2003 and has kept it running, as Al has kept all my old vehicles on the road since the late 80s, happened to have on hand a used, working fuel pump, which he installed, saving me considerable.

I asked Emma next door if she could give me a ride out to Al’s, and she said I could use their extra car, so Tim and I easily retrieved my truck, and I also got my baking done that week. Emma and Robert, my nearby neighbors, have helped me in countless ways over the last eleven years. Robert and his nephew Tutty, have killed chickens for me, mowed, weed-eaten, raked, fixed the mower, and I am always invited to come get a plate at their big family gatherings. One of their friends, Chainsaw, has brought me wood several times. At Christmas I share this holiday letter with the folks who gather on Robert’s porch to talk and laugh or to play horseshoes in the yard in good weather, and several have showed up at Christmas with gifts or to give me a hug.

Emma and Robert's dogs, Lucky and Spud, announce and inspect all my visitors. Robert and Emma have looked after my chickens and cat when I go out of town. Robert recovered slowly after several surgeries and chemotherapy, from his cancer. Now Emma is having surgery on her neck and has a long recovery ahead. I’ve offered to help in any way I can, but, just as with the Russians, I don’t expect to win in the "gift wars." The point, I’ve learned, is not exactly equal exchanges but that the gift keeps moving.

There are times in every life when people need us in ways we can’t refuse. We know we have to respond. True, too, that not all gifts are wise. They can be a subtle use of power to control or given without love, from guilt or an exaggerated sense of obligation. We can learn to tell the difference. Our best gift to someone in emotional pain may not be to rescue but to listen.

Other small crises this year--financial, car, farm--set off unexpected help. Doug replaced my computer with one he’d built and keeps up with my various computer glitches. Karl (taking time from Those Democrats) helped me prop the peach trees, heavily laden with their new crop, repaired the back door and the toilet, and would take only food in exchange.

Sharon and John up in DC area hosted me, as once they hosted Russians from Kostroma, in Alexandria, when I attended my first Malice Domestic mystery conference in Arlington in early May, and Sharon not only gave me bag lunches but initiated me into the mysteries of the Metro, which I rode to the conference each day
Again this year I baked bread in The Bread Shop, with its helpful, cheerful staff, and took my extra figs, herbs, eggs, to the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped this year, but the other farmers were generous traders, so my leftover bread helped me bring home vegetables, fruit, meat, goat cheese. My cukes gave out early, but Andrew’s made possible bread and butter pickles. Next year I hope to have other outlets for my extra produce, and already Angelina’s Kitchen wants me to make some breads for her and says she’ll always buy my zinnias and cosmos.

All these gifts create a feeling of opulence. Money can’t ever give you that degree of feeling valued and cared for that such gifts do. I already know that Angelina will give me more than I can ever give her, because every time I go into her take-out restaurant, she gives me delicious food: spanakopita (spinach pies), a lamb giro sandwich, amazing chicken soup.

I do have to think more about money now, what I can not spend, and how I can earn what I need most effectively, so that I use my abilities and don’t get exhausted. I’ve always lived simply and benefitted from the gift economy, but it strikes me now that those Americans who don’t remember when most of us had barely enough and many, not enough, in the 30s and 40s, may not realize the riches all around them, if they begin, even in their poverty, to give what they have.

All gifts don’t lift the economic burden, but all genuine, heart-whole gifts lift the spirit of those who give and those who receive. This can make all the difference. This is a truth that people all over the world, most of whom have much less than we Americans, even now, know in their bones and hearts. It is how they cope, how they find joy in straitened circumstances.  Judy Hogan

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not Getting Sick

My Russian friend Vera, with wild flowers.

 It’s how most of us think of health. Health is from the word heal and related to the word whole. In our American culture there are many things that tend to make us sick. Poor diet, even though we have the opportunity to eat better and more wisely than most of the world’s peoples. A stressful life style. Relying a lot on medicine.

There was a time when doctors solved disease by bleeding all their patients. In the Middle Ages. That seems laughable to us now. Fifty years or so ago they cut out the offending organ–tonsils, uterus, whatever. Now we are inundated with medicines. A young medical student told me that drug companies regularly took them to lunch. He told of how there is now a very expensive medicine for, say, high blood pressure, when the patient had had one almost as good, but the new one may cost five times as much.

Of course, some people do need medicine, but I question every medicine they want to give me or people I’m helping in a hospital. For instance, both during and after menopause, good doctors wanted me to take hormone replacement therapy. I gather that the research showed that it helped women with preventing heart disease and osteoporosis. But later research has also shown that it may increase your risk for cancer, and that an active woman may avoid both heart disease and osteoporosis. The logic of statistics doesn’t necessarily mean that you will benefit from the medicine the doctor wants to prescribe.

Also many doctors prescribe medicine for depression when it may not be needed. At this time in my life, at age 62 [I’m now 73 and it’s still true], I take no prescription medicines, which always surprises medical people. I do take a multi-vitamin (organic) every day, and I deliberately eat a balanced, vegetarian diet most of the time. I understand that the human body needs exercise. I have had to work on myself to make that part of my daily routine, but now it is for 30 minutes a day. I miss a day occasionally, but I average six out of seven days.

My staple is a complete protein bread of rye and soy. I was fortunate in being diagnosed with Meniere’s disease in my late 20s, which by my late 30s, led me to seek lifestyle advice from doctors and others. This is a syndrome of the inner ear. When it hits most severely, you feel that you are being whirled around. You grab hold of whatever you can to prevent yourself (as it seems) from being thrown around. The only thing you can do to stop it is lie down flat. If you persist, you vomit.

I learned to prevent my Meniere’s disease by walking, leading a less stressful life, eating well (less wheat when they told me I might be mildly allergic to it), getting plenty of vitamin C and the B vitamins. I do this with lots of brown rice and organic rye-soy bread (Bs) and yoghurt and orange juice every day (Bs and C).

Soy-Rye Bread (Complete Protein)

In a very large bowl, as the sponge tends to rise up over the sides, put 1/4 cup of black strap or other molasses, honey, brown sugar, or other sweetener.
Add 2 cups boiling water (you may use purified or spring water, as I do) and dissolve the sweetener.

Add 3 more cups of water and 4 cups of rye flour, using a whisk to beat it in. It should be a thick gravy consistency. Then add (when it’s warm but not hot) 2 T of active dry yeast (or 2 cake yeasts or packages of yeast). Mix in well. Cover with a piece of plastic (I use a grocery store plastic bag), then a towel. Let this rise for 1-12 hours. You can do it overnight. The sponge dough strengthens the yeast and gives the bread a slightly sour taste.

Add 1-1/3 cups of soy flour with 2 T. salt, beating well; then 1-1/3 cups of bran or oat bran with 1/4 cup of oil or olive oil; then add about 6 cups of white, bread flour (unbleached, if you can get it–whole foods stores often have it). I add flour, several cups at a time until dough gets stiff and hard to mix. Then, still in the large bowl, I knead it, adding as little flour as possible. It’s sticky, and throw in a little flour and keep going. Experience makes it easier. Knead it about 10 minutes until it’s elastic. Then cover it with the towel and let it rise about an hour until it’s double in bulk.

Divide into 4 loaf pans, let rise another hour or so until double in bulk, and bake at 350 degrees F. for about one hour. You can’t ruin it or hurt yourself by having a piece when it’s hot! The loaf is tender and gets a little smushed. Oh, well. It’s wonderful hot. It keeps well in the freezer. You can store it sliced and remove slices as needed, or store in halves and remove a half at a time. It’s best fresh–no preservatives. This bread is the secret of my success! I live on it.

From The PMZ Poor Woman’s Cookbook, p. 11-13.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011



 That's sage in bloom in my herb garden from last spring.  Sadly I lost it last summer.  Have to begin again from seeds.

I have often been surprised by people telling me that they didn’t understand how I could be so disciplined in general, and, in particular, about getting my writing done. The fact is that I have strong desires. And I give them their head a lot. So I love to write, and I have built my life around that love. My approach to getting sick is to indulge myself before I get so sick that I can’t enjoy it. It saves time. If you get very sick, then you can do nothing and you have to work harder when you get well.

I try to make my life pleasurable. I give myself rewards if I need to do things I don’t much enjoy. Sometimes on weekends I make a dessert to have when I write, because it seems to help me write to feel self-indulgent. People who are dieting are urged to separate eating from activities. But if you want to write, you need rituals that are pleasurable around it. So I combine writing with food and drinks. I drink my morning coffee when I write in my diary. Or, on weekends, I might make one of the following desserts. Note that I make them healthy, too, so that my indulgence, though it feels wicked to me, is actually good for me. This is one of the many tricks I play on myself. But they work!

If you make banana bread, applesauce cake, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, try substituting for each cup of white flour, 2/3 cup of rye or whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup of soy. You’ll need a little less than a full cup, because these flours (rye, whole wheat, soy) are heavier. I use this substitution in everything that has in it strong flavors, like chocolate, spices, etc. It also works quite well with muffins, banana bread, etc.

GINGERBREADBeat 1 cup of shortening (or butter or 3/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil), add 1 cup brown sugar, and blend, then 2 eggs, then 1 cup of molasses (black strap or cane). Separately sift and mix 2/3 cup of soy with 1 t. salt, 1-½ t. of baking soda, 1 t. ginger, 1 t. cinnamon. Mix this with 2-1/6 cups of rye or whole wheat flour. Then add in 3 parts, alternating with 1 cup of boiling water, stirring after each addition, to the shortening/oil mixture. Pour batter into a greased 12 x 16 or two 8 x 8 inch pans. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 35 to 40 minutes. Delicious warm or cold. Especially on a rainy day.

I want to thank my followers and those leaving comments to cheer me on.  A new venture is both exciting and at times overwhelming.  As to what I used to do when I awakened by hot flashes during the night, I would throw off the covers and go back to sleep.  By day, I'll take off the layers I needed to for comfort. 

But the biggest thing is seeing menopause  as normal and prelude to the best time in a woman's life, which in Russia they call the "baba summer."  You become a baba at 40.  Probably Americans at 50, kids raised, more time for us.  Their name for Indian Summer is Baba Summer.  Enjoy your baba summer, expect to live well, actively, healthily for a long time, and you probably will.  After the 20s, the rest of our lives depends on our attitudes, which goes for men, too.  Men welcome here, too.  Zest can begin for men, too, around 50.  Why not?  Judy Hogan

Saturday, January 15, 2011

First Postmenopausal Zest Blog

Back in 2000, when we had our big snowstorm in central North Carolina, that stranded trucks on the interstate, landed two feet of unexpected snow on our roads that most of us don’t know how to drive on when there’s ice, and then for weeks, after the snow melted by day, the black ice returned at night, I used the time to write a recipe book called: The PMZ Poor Woman’s Cookbook. Eleven years later, we are having a series of snowy, icy events that tend to keep me housebound on my small farm more than I would wish. The chickens look at the icy ground and won’t go out, or they don’t’ like the cold wind. So they sit around and dig great holes in the straw on the coop floor, and wait for me to bring them warm water and bread scraps or anything interesting. So I decided to start a blog, my first venture into this new world of social-networking. I was nudged in this direction, too, by promising to a small press called Mainly Murder, which is reading one of my mystery novels (Haw) for possible publication, that, if they would publish it, I would do a blog. Haw features a mid-50s poet who is in the PMZ phase of her life, her kids out of the nest, her hormones at peak functioning, with a new zest for adventure.. I myself am 73, healthy, enjoy my life, stay active both physically and mentally, and have had 20 years of post-menopausal zest. So here’s to the zest phase of a woman’s life. I’ll share my thoughts and experiences, and maybe in the comment sections, you’ll share yours. I’ll include a recipe from my cookbook each time I blog, too, for fun. Here’s how the cookbook began:

"Genius is the ability to invent in difficult circumstances." Jean Paul SartreThis cookbook is in response to comments and questions from my friends about how I managed to do the things I did on so little money and to their requests for recipes. It’s aimed at women about to enter menopause, completing it, or past it.
We know from the Japanese experience that women go through menopause more easily if their diet contains soy. I have for years put soy flour into bread and other baked foods. I also learned that you go through menopause more easily if you are a little overweight (the extra fat helps, which is probably why the body is so determined to add those extra pounds in middle age), if you get plenty of exercise, and have an engaged, active life. I did, and do, and menopause was easy for me. I also had heard the phrase "post-menopausal zest" and loved it. So here’s to the zest phase. It’s true, especially if you eat a healthy diet and enjoy your life. As we age, our attitude is everything.
I’ve included in this book my ideas and reasoning for my own lifestyle to stimulate your thinking. These recipes are also to give you ideas. A starting point. You probably have lots of your own favorite recipes, but maybe you never thought of adding soy to baked foods or need new ideas for some healthy, delicious snacks that would give you pleasure and fewer empty calories.
I hope that men and younger women will also enjoy these ideas. This book was fun to write. I hope it is fun to read. The cost is a contribution to my life as a working writer, and I have self-published it. I’d love to know your reactions. If you want to buy it, you can mail me a check for $12, and I’ll send you the book. PO Box 253, Moncure, N.C. 27559-0253
919-545-9932 <>
Banana BreadLen Randolph, a dear friend, gave me this basic banana bread recipe, and I’ve modified it to be even healthier. Buy those bananas that are put on sale because bruised or black. Then freeze the good parts (they can be very soft, but remove anything that is actually spoiled or bruised) if you don’t want to bake right away. Thaw and mash just before you’re ready to mix the dough.
3 ripe bananas, well mashed
2 eggs, well beaten
1-1/3 cups of rye or whole wheat flour
½ cup of soy flour [powdered soy milk could also be used]
3/4 cup of sugar (can be part brown and part white or all of either)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (you can also put in ½ cup of currants or raisins, either one of which ought to be shaken with a tablespoon of flour before adding to batter. This will help keep them suspended in the batter so they don’t sink to the bottom of the pan and burn).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan (do not dust with flour). Mix the mashed bananas and the egg together in a large bowl. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the walnuts and blend–do not beat. Put the batter in pan and bake for one hour. Remove from the pan to a rack or to waxed paper on a level surface where air can circulate around it gently. Serve it warm or allow it to cool entirely.
Variations: add 1/4 cup drained, crushed pineapple or ½ cup of chopped dried apricots or ½ cup of fresh apples (tart), chopped, or dried apples.
Notice that this bread has no fat in it. I special order 20 pounds of organic soy flour through my local Chatham Marketplace Coop in Pittsboro, N.C., but your coop can probably get it for you, too. Let me know how I am doing so far on this new blog venture. The photo is of me in early December with one of my hens. Judy Hogan
"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates, 400 B.C.