A Question of Privacy

I know you keep coming back here to see if I’ve updated my blog. I know this because many of you have sent me emails telling me so and subsequently asking, practically demanding, when I’m going to update my blog. I know, I know, I promised months ago – right before Labor Day to be exact – that I would return to blogging after my Pitchfork Pie Stand closed for the season, after I’d had a chance to recuperate from the heavy work load of simultaneously promoting my book and making hundreds and hundreds of pies to sell to hungry tourists. Alas, I have not felt like blogging. I have not felt like sharing my feelings, my activities, my whereabouts, my personal life, or even my professional life with the public. It’s ironic, but the more the number of followers and “fans” grows, the less I am comfortable sharing.

It started this summer when I had about six stalkers. They were all nice stalkers. They were all customers at my pie stand who lurked for hours to chat, who then mistook my polite customer service and smile as me being interested in a date. They’d show up unannounced offering to help at the pie stand. They’d come bearing gifts of baked goods, chocolate and flowers. One even stood outside my window, serenading me with his guitar. They’d try to friend me on Facebook. But the worst part was they all told me they read my blog. Sure, it’s my own fault for being a “memoirist” and sharing all my raw and (sometimes randy) inner thoughts with strangers. But it’s easier to write for faceless readers than pie customers hanging around in my living room. Did I want these male suitors reading my blog?


Then, in July, I actually did meet a male suitor I wanted to date. He wasn’t a pie customer. He was an old friend from childhood. He showed up at one of my book events. When I spotted him in the crowd his back was to me so I didn’t recognize him at first. My radar instantly went off and this is what went through my mind as I surveyed his backside, muscular and exceptionally fit, looking like a modern day Adonis in his crisp white shirt and wool trousers: “Oh my god, yowsa! He’s probably married.” He turned around and I was stunned. It was K! From high school! Looking very, very hot! And, as I had been told a few months earlier from a fellow classmate, he was single! He didn’t lurk. He didn’t show up unannounced at my pie stand. He sent me respectful emails conveying compassion about my grief. He replaced my worn out wiper blades on my Mini. He fixed the flat tire on my bike. He cooked dinner for me. We’ve been dating ever since. But K is from a big family of 10 kids. His sisters all read my blog. As far as I know, his mother also reads it. Do I want his family reading my blog (let alone my book)?


Then there’s the fact that I live in a small town. I recently calculated I have four times as many Facebook friends as the population of my town. That’s how small it is. As in very. I mentioned something to someone a few weeks ago, something very personal and confidential. Later, I had a conversation with my nice neighbors who had heard from my mean neighbors (people I have never conversed with) this personal information about me. “We heard you…” and my sweet neighbor conveyed my whole story to me, one that I had shared with someone, who shared with someone else, who shared with someone else — and who knows who else — until it finally got back to me. Who needs Facebook when you’ve got a small town gossip network?! In fact, who needs a blog? Do I want to further fuel this rumor mill by blogging?


Lastly, my blog is being used by a high school reading class. The students are learning the lessons of giving, sharing, building community, and yes, pie baking, through my written stories. There are some very useful, very appropriate blog posts – like how I taught pie making in a SouthAfrican township, and how my brother paints murals to prevent graffiti (in much the same way I use pie to heal grief). And then there are some not so appropriate ones. And no, don’t think I’m going to point those out here. But when I think that these kids are reading my blog, do I feel comfortable letting it all hang out in my writing?


So what’s a memoirist to do?!

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and I’ve come up with a few solutions. One is I’m going to stick to the not-so-personal stuff in my blog. I have a growing list of pie-related products I want to review. And I have a few profile stories on my pie-making heroes I can do. And there’s always the old standby: Searching the globe for delicious pie and writing about it.

The other thing is something my mother suggested. If you read my book, you know I don’t usually follow my mother’s advice, but this particular piece of advice, miraculously, stuck in my mind.

“You should write fiction,” she said.

And then, even more miraculously, I woke up at 5 o’clock the very next morning with an idea for a novel. (For the record, I usually wake up much later.) The idea was right there, crystal clear, not dissipating upon waking like dreams do, and as I lay there the story continued to unfold on its own. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet! I remembered reading that this is the same way Stephenie Meyer came up with the idea for her “Twilight” series. Though I was thinking historical fiction and not vampires. Still, I could be on to something.

Fiction, product reviews, whatever. I just hope my aversion to writing is relieved and that I can keep this blog better updated. I know you’re hoping for the same. Thanks for liking my writing enough and caring enough to send those demanding emails. And if I ever slack off again, you have my permission to give me a nudge to get back to work. It helps.

Pie Poetry by Bill Graeser

Saying goodbye to the RV, with Bill behind the wheel.
I immediately returned to my pie duties in the kitchen.

In July, I sent The Beast to summer camp for a week. Actually it was RAGBRAI, the week-long bike ride across Iowa. Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson had asked if he and his “Team Sauerkraut” could use my RV as their support vehicle. Since it was Kyle whose column launched my Pitchfork Pie Stand, I said, “Of course!” (Then again, I’m still not sure if I should be thanking Kyle for that column in October 2010 or admonishing him for it.)

Kyle hired a driver, Bill Graeser, from nearby Fairfield to shuttle Team Sauerkraut’s gear around for the week. Bill came over to the American Gothic House on a Friday afternoon to pick up my beloved little camper — the one with the worsening delamination, the rotting right wall, the broken ladder, the empty propane tank, the malfunctioning refrigerator…you get the picture. In spite of all the hard knocks the RV has taken and its deteriorating condition (I’ve put about 10,000 miles on it since Marcus died), I am still extremely attached to it. Which is why I cried like a mother sending her kid off for the first time to, well, summer camp.

I cried as I watched my baby driving away.
Who would think loaning an RV would bring on such emotion?!

Bill, however, is a gracious and gentle person. Just the kind of driver you want for your fragile, falling-apart  little one. He babied it, driving it with tender loving care and a light foot on the gas. Phew.

I knew that Bill was a poet and photographer. What I didn’t know as I watched The Beast pull away is that Bill, during the few minutes he spent observing the pie-making mania going on in my tiny kitchen, was struck by the scene — the rolling of the dough, the cracking of the eggs, the peeling of the apples. So much so that he composed a few poems about what he saw.

Bill — poet-turned-RV-driver

And now, for two of Bill’s beautiful poems. Inspired by the Pitchfork Pie Stand and the madness inside the kitchen of the American Gothic House one Friday in late July.

The Bowl on the Baker’s Table
The bowl on the baker’s table—
big as a happy heart,
when flour is sifted in,
when eggs tapped on its brim
crack and weep their golden tear.
When vanilla, sugar, milk—measured
by spoon and cup are mixed in
with whisk and good wishes. Then
when all is poured in a bake pan
the bowl is set in the sink with the
spoon and cup and bake pan too
(when the baking is done) to be washed
like kids in a tub. All this so that somewhere
a friend, a neighbor, a stranger too
can have in their mouths
the sweetness
that comes from a happy heart.

The Aspiration of Apples
Worms are welcome—apples
turn no one away.
Whether tried but once as by Eve
or taken everyday—to keep the doctor away.
Whether eaten raw with a crunch
or cooked to the mush of apple sauce,
enjoyed in the porch swing of apple pie
or fallen from the tree to be eaten
by ants and the wind…
The aspiration of apples is to grow ripe,
then bite by bite to disappear.
Bill (right) doing his job to support Team Sauerkraut.
I got to see him in action as I rode one day of RAGBRAI.
I didn’t go to check up on the RV, I swear. 
For the record, The Beast was returned one week later in tact without any new dings, broken bits or new issues. In fact, I think it had a really good time at camp. Maybe Kyle Munson will want to borrow it again next year. If he does, I’m going to close the pie stand for a week and go with it. And hopefully Bill will drive again and write more poems, pie-inspired and otherwise.

For more about Bill and his poetry, go to: http://billgraeser.wordpress.com/

For Bill’s brilliant photography, go to:

I Miss Being a Writer

When I moved into the American Gothic House I thought it would be a good place to write. And it was. I wrote “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie” my first winter here. Winter being the operative word. Winters in Eldon, Iowa are supremely quiet, void of tourists and ideal for holing up to crank out a manuscript. But summers? I have managed to undo any sense of tranquility and internal focus during the summers by running the Pitchfork Pie Stand.

This summer in particular has been insanely busy. All the media attention garnered by my book–and my new life in the little white house made famous by Grant Wood’s painting–has brought more pie-loving customers causing my cottage industry to quadruple in sales. It may sound like a good problem to have until you take a peek into my kitchen. Measuring about 10 x 20-feet with limited counter space and one domestic Maytag oven, cranking out 100 pies per weekend is no small feat.

In spite of hiring help–a 19-year-old culinary student and the mailman’s 16-year-old daughter–I haven’t been able to get out of the kitchen. I have, literally, been up to my elbows in pie dough. To accommodate the bigger batches of dough, I bought a bigger, deeper tub for mixing it. Elbows indeed. It’s no wonder it looks like I’ve been spending time at the gym. I’ve made so much pie dough, and rolled it and crimped it, that my arms have developed bulging muscles. I tell people when they ask how I stay so fit, “Making pie in bulk is an extreme sport.”

So while I should be reveling in the fact that my business is both successful and helps me stay in shape, I find myself complaining about my lack of time to write. I believe in a balanced life. Pie making and writing complement each other and the two activities combined have long been a source of equilibrium for me. Pie making is physical, tactile, and meditative — and I am always satisfied to see (and smell) the tangible results of my efforts. And while writing is sedentary physically, the cerebral calisthenics are a great workout and release endorphins of a different but necessary kind. But my definition of balance is being able to switch between my two passions on more of a weekly basis, not seasonal. The scales are currently tipped to the extreme.

My life in summer is all pie, all the time. I spend my “days off” going on a weekly scavenger hunt for fruit for my pies. I order more ingredients from my wholesaler. I order more pie boxes and tins. I do bookkeeping. I fulfill pie T-shirt orders. I pay bills. I update my Facebook and website pages with the coming weekend’s pie menu. I teach one or two pie classes a week. On Thursday nights I prep for the next few days of baking by making and rolling dough, peeling a case of apples and slicing a few dozen lemons. Fridays and Saturdays are solidly spent in baking mode with nary a chance to answer the phone, let alone finish a cup of coffee. That leaves no time for writing my new book proposal, blogging or even writing in my journal.

I miss my computer. I miss my pen. I miss being alone with my thoughts to craft a story. I miss processing events — my encounters with people and places, my misadventures and my milestones — and finding meaning in them. A lot has happened this summer both in and out of the kitchen. I turned 50. My brother Mike visited and we painted a mural to brighten up a wall in Eldon. I got a new Maytag oven and fridge donated to the house after the disaster of my old one breaking down. The 3-year-anniversary of Marcus’ death was just last week. I baked pies for Larry the Cable Guy and with Marie Osmond. Oh, and I started dating an old friend from high school who I’ve fallen madly in love with. To name a few items of significance. I want to write it all down, to write stories about this crazy, messy, rich life. Before I forget. And believe me, my memory is terrible.

“Just get through Labor Day, then you can get back to writing,” my mother tenderly and wisely suggests when I call her with my lament. That’s just two more unbalanced weeks of pure pie. So until September 3rd at 5PM (the official date and time the Pitchfork Pie Stand closes for the season) you will find me wearing my overalls and a flour-covered apron, inevitably with pie dough stuck to my (muscular) arms and a smudge of flour on my face, either in the kitchen making pie or in my living room selling it.  And after that? I will continue teaching pie classes (resuming in mid-October) and I will most definitely be spending time sitting at my desk, getting my typing fingers and my brain back in shape.

NOTE: The Pitchfork Pie Stand, located inside the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, is open summer weekends, Memorial Day to Labor Day, Saturdays and Sundays 12 to 5. Pie classes are held in the American Gothic House year-round. For my book events, pie demos and other appearances, please check my Appearances page on my website: www.theworldneedsmorepie.com.

CBS THIS MORNING did a story on me!

I have so much more to say about this experience, about having a TV crew in my house for three days while trying to make 100 pies, about the TV correspondent Michelle Miller pitching in and peeling 43 pounds of apples, about producer Chris Weicher sitting in my living room with her camera rolling and in walks a friend of hers from high school to buy a pie, about the local volunteers who helped make all those pies, about the wonderful connections and conversations and experiences. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and amazement at what life gives you — when you need it most. Thank you to everyone who made this TV segment  — and pie stand and life in the American Gothic House — possible. I am so very very grateful.

Life After the RV Book Tour

A lot has happened since my last post, nearly a month ago. Last you heard from me I was driving in The Beast from Southern California to Texas (after surviving not one but two trips to the emergency room).

After that 3-day drive from LA (with the help of “Saint Paul” Szendrey), I arrived in Austin, where I had a book event at BookPeople. Such a cool town with such fun people, like Mandy Brooks (pictured with me above), who is the marketing and event director for the esteemed book store.

After the book event and a swim in Austin’s Barton Springs, I moved on to Jefferson, Texas, invited by Kathy Patrick of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club to give a talk at a dinner reception held at Beje’s Diner. But first, Kathy and I made 10 pies to share with the evening’s crowd.

Jefferson was my last event on this cross-country portion of my book tour. From there I pointed the RV north, winding through Arkansas on the winding, hilly, scenic Highway 7. I would have said “never again” but the stop for a swim in the Buffalo River made up for the strenuous driving. PS: This was my first time to Arkansas. Such a pretty state!
This was the view (above) out of the RV window — my first glimpse of my Home Sweet Home after being on the road for six grueling weeks. Just the sight of my humble little house made my body relax.
I was so tired after the book tour I could have just slept on my “amazing memory foam mattress” (to use Marcus’ description) for days, but there was no time to rest upon my return. Less than 48 hours after getting home I had to get my garden planted. And I needed to prepare for the arrival of some very special house guests: my parents!

My mom and dad (with me above) moved to Los Angeles ten years ago and didn’t have much interest in leaving their ocean-view apartment for a return trip to Iowa. But I convinced them to come — by bribing them with airline tickets — and they were so glad for the experience. They loved the American Gothic House and its park-like setting and kept saying, “You just can’t describe this place. You have to see it for yourself.” They also said, “This is the cutest place you’ve ever lived.” And I’ve lived in a lot of cute places!

Friends of my parents came for a day to celebrate my dad’s 77th birthday. They pulled up in their “mansion on wheels” making The Beast look like a puny piece of dilapidated junk. Sigh. One look inside their luxurious RV made me tease them, “Where were you two months ago when I was planning my book tour?!” If I ever write another book I’ll be calling them to drive me around the country next time. And though they won’t give up their king-size bed, I will lay claim to one of their four La-Z-Boy recliners. Seriously, what a way to travel! Glad I didn’t know what I was missing.

My dad could not visit Southeast Iowa without stopping for a burger at The Canteen Lunch in the Alley. My dad has been coming to The Canteen since he was a little boy. It’s where he took us as kids. It’s where he introduced me to pie, banana cream pie. And though we didn’t have pie this time — hell, we weren’t even hungry — we enjoyed our “loose meat sandwiches” as well as our trip down memory lane.

After my parents’ whirlwind 4-day visit (and my two round-trip drives to the Des Moines airport) I immediately shifted my focus to the Pitchfork Pie Stand. I ordered 600 pounds worth of pie ingredients, hired James Meek, a student at Indian Hills Community College’s Culinary School, and started in on pie production mode.

That may look like a lot of pie — and it was, and it took a lot of time and effort to make them — but we sold ALL of these and more on our first day — within the first three hours. I had to soak my sore muscles in a hot bath of Epsom salts after opening weekend. I get tired just looking at this picture (above). I’ve already blown through 100 pounds of flour and 75 pounds of sugar. I still remember the fall of 2010 when I opened the stand and had a meltdown in Costco, crying about buying a 50-lb sack of flour and worried that was such a huge commitment and how I might never use it all. Oh boy.

You would think because the pie stand is only open on the weekends that I might finally catch up on some rest. Think again. Team Terrier, being as happy as me to be home, are up to their usual shenanigans. I spend over an hour a day walking them and throwing the ball or stick for them — and even more time combing out the burrs collected during their squirrel and bunny chases through the woods.

Perhaps I could squeeze in a nap, you may suggest. But when? There is the “pile” that needs to be dealt with. Not just the physical pile of bills, contracts and fan mail (pictured strewn on my office floor above — and it’s STILL there in a disheveled mess), but the cyber pile. I have a two-month backlog of email to get through. I spent a solid 8 hours replying to emails from April. I made it to May 1 so far. So if you’ve emailed me anytime after May 1, just know I’ll reply to you eventually. But it’s going to take a while.

As for The Beast, I’m so very grateful for it, that it held together (with the help of duck tape and new brakes) for the 5,000-mile journey of the book tour. I’m so grateful to have made it from home and back safely, through snow and wind, desert, mountains, rain, city traffic, long stretches of interstate, and bronchitis. And now I’m even more grateful for it, now parked to the side of the house, as it is serving as both “privacy fence” to shield me from my mean, nosy neighbors and as storage for pie ingredients. It’s plugged in to the house’s electricity supply to run the refrigerator, which is now packed full with butter, eggs, and lemons.

Life after the RV Book Tour… In spite of not having a chance to rest or recover, it’s really really nice to be home.

RV Book Tour: LA to Austin

Here’s one of those “It could only happen on an RV book tour” kind of stories. And even though I should be taking a nap right now (I need it!), I can’t sleep because I really want to – NEED to – tell this story.
I’ve been sick – as in two trips to the ER, it’s going to cost me over 10 grand sick – so I thought I better find someone to help me do the 1,400-mile-drive from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas. (Actually, I did have someone lined up but a broken front tooth took her out of the running.) The deal for the co-driver was I pay for all their meals and their one-way airline ticket. I emailed a few unemployed people I know in LA to see if they could spare a few days off. In LA, it’s not too hard to find film editors and actors and other creative types in between gigs. But as a back up, I also posted a want ad on my Facebook business page, TheWorld Needs More Pie. Within five minutes, Barbara Fascat Szendrey, a woman in Austin – my destination – volunteered her husband. She even suggested flight times. I didn’t think I could get an affordable one-way ticket from Austin to LA at the very last minute, and I wasn’t even sure her husband would say yes, but lo and behold, everything fell perfectly into place all within an hour of that Facebook post.
My parents drove me to LAX the next evening to pick up Paul Szendrey, Barbara’s husband, who had been a longtime follower of my blog, ever since I lived in Terlingua, Texas. Since before Marcus died. I had never met him in person. But I have learned the ways to build trust in strangers, especially when the relationship centers around pie. It worked so beautifully last summer when Facebook friend Sue from Allentown, Pennsylvania, flew to Iowa to spend a week working with me at my Pitchfork Pie Stand. We had never met in person, but after five days spent in the American Gothic House drinking coffee at the kitchen table by morning, making pie by afternoon and eating dinners outside on the back patio by night, we cried at the airport when we had to say goodbye.
My dad holds the sign like a glorified limo driver.
Except limo drivers don’t smile nearly as much.
At LAX, my mom dropped off my dad and me while she drove off to find parking. I had told Paul, “You’ll recognize me because I’ll bring the ‘FREE PIE’ sign.” My dad held the sign as I searched the throngs of passengers streaming into the baggage claim area. Many of them smiled when they saw the sign. Or gave us  the thumbs up. That alone made for a fun and interesting way to spend an evening at one of the world’s busiest airports. And then we saw Paul. Or he saw us. We exchanged warm welcoming hugs and soon we were giving him a tour of the beach communities, pouring him a martini, and putting him to bed in preparation for the next morning’s departure back East.
That’s Paul, left, and my dad, right. With waffles, far left!
Oh, and Paul’s tiny travel companion, Ribirto the Frog.
We had a nice send off of a hearty breakfast of waffles, bacon and eggs – Thank you, Mom! – and off we went in The Beast. Riverside, Palm Springs, Blythe, Phoenix, Tuscon…we checked off the cities as the miles clicked by and the gas gauge dipped lower. The following line became our constant refrain: “I wish we had more time to stop and check this place out,” as we passed wilderness areas and mountain ranges and rock formations and Joshua trees and Saguaro cactus fields.
Thumbs up to this Benson, Arizona KOA campground.
Especially the classical music playing in the clean showers.
We stopped overnight at a KOA Campground in Benson, Arizona, so we could “refresh” the RV (i.e.: empty the waste tanks and refill the water tanks). And since the water heater hasn’t been working this entire six-week book tour, we used the campground’s showers, which was an unusual treat because not only were they spotlessly clean, they had piped in classical music. While I think this is a very nice touch, I can’t say it helps in their desert water conservation. Because I was enjoying the music so much I took an extra long shower! Just saying.
When we passed through El Paso and then came to Van Horn, Texas, I managed to keep the grief pangs at bay. This was where one takes the turn off to Big Bend National Park. It’s my old travel turf from that summer, the summer of 2009. The summer I rented that miner’s cabin in the Chihuahua Desert. The summer I was working on my pie memoir, the first version. The summer Marcus died. I was in love with that part of Texas. I still am. I felt the longing to go back. To take the exit south. To breathe in the wide open space. To gaze at the black sky filled with a billion stars. But in this case our refrain was probably a blessing. “Too bad we don’t have time to stop.”
Soaking my feet in the Llano River, while Team Terrier swims.
In fact, we were pushing so hard to get to Austin with so little time, we didn’t even stop for a proper meal until the third day of the journey, when we reached Llano, Texas. “There’s a good barbeque place,” Paul insisted. But when we arrived it was only 10:30AM. The place, Cooper’s Texas BBQ, didn’t open until 11. We found an easy solution. We walked Team Terrier first, discovering by accident the Llano River and an ideal place for the dogs to swim – and for me to soak my feet. This was a luxury. Anytime I’ve had a chance to just sit still and take in a dose of nature has been a luxury on this 6-week trip.
Cooper’s BBQ. A must-stop on any RV tour!
And then, at last, a meal.  A big meaty, saucy, Texas-size meal. Oh. My. God. Yum!
Meanwhile, back in Austin, Barbara (Paul’s wife), had been texting and sending photos of what she had been doing to pass the time while her husband was driving me, my two terriers and my RV across the country. She had been baking pies! Barbara had just retired from her job as a sheriff’s department supervisor. She had also just read my book, “Making Piece.” She had never made a homemade pie crust before. Nor had she made any of the kinds of pies I write about in my story. My book is a memoir, not a cookbook, but I do include five recipes in the back, recipes that have direct relevance to the story. So while Paul and I were rattling down the highway at 60 miles per hour, Barbara was banging around in her kitchen making pie after pie after pie. She made the ones included in my book and several others, so by the time Paul and I pulled up in the driveway, we were greeted with EIGHT different pies to try!
Barbara saw us approaching – you can’t miss The Beast when it motors down a cul de sac – and rushed out to greet us. Another warm hug was exchanged with a woman who was previously a stranger, who is clearly now a friend.
Barbara Szendrey’s Pie Experiment Extravaganza!
A whopping success!
I sat in the Szendrey’s kitchen – perched on a bar stool at the island where all the pies were lined up as if it were the Iowa State Fair – and proceeded to sample slices of each of her creations. In this order I ate the following: coconut cream, French silk, peach, apple, Shaker lemon, peanut butter, Tollhouse Cookie, and something called Jeff Davis, which is a buttermilk custard pie. There was no banana cream, but I didn’t say anything, as I had enough to fill my belly as it was! And the verdict? Every single bite was amazing, stupendous, mind blowing! This was damn impressive pie!
“Barbara,” I insisted in between gobbling down bites and moaning with approval. “It’s clear you are too young and energetic to retire. I know what you are going to do.” I looked up from my pie plates and smiled at her. “You are going to open a pie shop.”
I don’t know if she will. But I hope she does. What I do know is that I’m so very grateful to this Texas couple I met on Facebook. I am grateful, once again, for the community building, connecting powers of pie. I’m also grateful my health is returning and that The Beast is still holding together for its final leg of the trip. (I’m on my third roll of duck tape. And Paul made some repairs, donating six screws and some caulking to keep one of the side walls from falling off.) This time next week I will be parked at the American Gothic House, where I will be making a few pies of my own. The Pitchfork Pie Stand opens May 26.

RV Grief (er, BOOK) Tour: Welcome to the ER

I once heard that grief is held in the lungs. If that is true then it’s no wonder I’ve had bronchitis since I arrived in Portland on my book tour. (That was on April 6!) Portland is where Marcus and I had lived together for nearly two years out of our six-year marriage. Portland is where Marcus died, suddenly, unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta. Portland is where I spent that first year after his death tackling the arduous, unenviable process of grieving.

Marcus has been gone two and half years. I have done the work. The counseling. The crying. The pie baking. During that year in Portland I conditioned myself to being back in a city loaded with so many memories—the good, the bad, the sad memories—of Marcus. So coming back for a brief visit, I thought I would be fine. I was not. I hadn’t planned for situations like the fact that the adorable bookstore, Broadway Books, where I did one of my events, was across the street from the Zeller Chapel of the Roses funeral home where Marcus’s Portland service was held.
The Beast parked at my friends’ house in Portland, the place
where Marcus and I spent our very last days together.
And so the aches in the joints, the muscles—especially in the heart—and the cough began. Grief had firmly established itself as a passenger on the tour.
My cough worsened when my RV book tour moved north to Seattle. In Seattle I was not immune to memories of Marcus. Seattle is where I lived when our courtship began. Marcus’s job brought him to Portland for weeks at a time so he spent his weekends with me in my cozy, romantic logger’s cabin in the woods, just 15 miles from where I was working at MSN.com. And because Europeans get such generous vacations, he spent an entire month with me there once. Driving around Seattle in The Beast to my book events and TV appearances took me right past the restaurants where Marcus and I had eaten, the movie theaters where we’d seen films, the coffee houses where we’d lingered and talked and fallen deeper in love.
At University Book Store in Seattle, in Q&A with my dear friend journalist Diane Mapes.
And so the cough grew deeper still.
As I headed south for San Francisco, relieved I would be free from the memories that were wearing me down, believing grief would stay behind in the Pacific Northwest, I drove past snow-covered Mount Shasta and finally parked in Mill Valley, California. But I couldn’t escape grief there either. Marcus and I had done this drive from Oregon to Northern California together several times. How could I have forgotten? And why couldn’t I just savor the beautiful memories instead of wallowing in sadness? Why couldn’t I be excited that I was on a book tour? A BOOK TOUR! I have always dreamed of being a published author. And now I was out on a cross-country adventure, promoting my book. My published book. My book about my dead husband.
Dubbed by my publisher as “Beth Howard’s Pie Across the Nation RV Book Tour,” I now privately renamed it “Beth Howard’s Retracing her Life with Marcus RV Grief Tour.”
By the time I reached Los Angeles I was on my third bottle of cough medicine. I finally got a prescription for antibiotics, managed to make it through all but one of my scheduled events, plus more TV appearances, without hacking my lungs out in public, and kept plugging along. Don’t think I was immune to grief in LA either. Marcus and I spent a lot of time in Southern California together. But being in the sun and warmth, and staying with my parents (who relocated to the beach from Iowa ten years ago), provided a temporary salve. But only temporary as I had to move on to San Diego for a few days, where I spent a day signing books at a farmers market, did another pie demo on live TV, and taught a pie class.
My speech in Orlando.
Bronchitis is a tenacious bastard. I was still coughing when I took the red-eye flight to Florida, to go to the National Pie Championships. Luckily I wasn’t judging pie this year. I wouldn’t have been able to taste much of anything with all that mucous in the back of my throat. But I did have to give a speech and pie demo at the Great American Pie Festival, the NPC’s joint event. (Side note here: If you read my book then let me just say, I was VERY well behaved in Orlando this time. When I wasn’t doing my work, I was too sick to leave my room!)
The trip to Orlando didn’t add to the grief, but it added to my exhaustion. When you’re sick, you’re supposed to rest. When you’re on a book tour, well, too bad. The show must go on.
I was in Florida for three days, after which I flew back to San Diego where I picked up my dogs from the dog sitter, got back in the RV, and drove straight back to my parents’ apartment. I had a few days’ grace period with nothing scheduled—except a long drive to Austin. Thoroughly depleted by this time, I postponed my Texas departure and parked The Beast at the beach so I could sleep. Except that the first night back, at 2:00 in the morning, I wasn’t sleeping. I was writhing in pain. The muscles in my neck and head and shoulders were seized up so severely I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe.
If you know me then you know I don’t run to the doctor when I’m sick. I figure I can muscle my way through anything, tough it out, and whatever it is it will go away eventually. And having been an extreme athlete, I have an exceptionally high tolerance for pain. But this time, at 2:00 a.m., I woke up my parents and cried out the words I have never said before: “I need to go to the hospital.”
Some fun this book tour was turning out to be.
My parents moved to a new apartment in Redondo Beach less than a year ago, so my trip to the ER was new territory for them too. How to find one? One of the most useful things I’ve learned on this book tour is how to use my location services/map search on my iPhone. Three miles to the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance. We were quickly on our way.
Both my parents came with me and waited, one sitting on each side of me. I’m almost 50 and here I was, feeling like I was eight again. Comforting, yes, but even their loving support didn’t take the pain in my head and neck away. I was worried about what was wrong with me. Infection from the lingering bronchitis? Pneumonia? Meningitis? Brain tumor? The swelling in my neck was so extreme I thought it might cut off my airways completely. But at least, now, if I did keel over I would get tended to immediately. (If I had come in bleeding profusely from the head or if I had been escorted into the ER in hand cuffs, I would have gotten even more immediate attention. Or, if like Marcus, I had come in via ambulance through the back door, well… Oh, so you see, grief found me again! In the ER. And hung out there with me all night.)
I was finally seen by a doctor—Dr. Gentle Hands, I’ll call him—a kind and compassionate man whose wisdom and impeccable bedside manner made me think if I could only just get a hug from his teddy bear body that alone might cure me. He ordered chest and neck X-rays, pumped muscle relaxants and pain killers into my veins through an IV, and finally sent me home. At 8:30AM.
I went back to the RV and slept, still in pain, for the next two days.
Dr. GH called a few days later. He wanted me to come back to the hospital. Huh?! What ER doctor ever calls a patient to come back in to the ER? He had already pre-arranged for me to see the daytime doctor on call so I wouldn’t have to wait. And he had ordered a CT scan. Now I was really scared. I didn’t have a fever, so it wasn’t meningitis. I didn’t have trauma to the neck, so it wasn’t a spinal injury (even though Ari’s suitcase fell on my head during Week Three of the book tour when driving from Seattle to San Francisco. California roads are so riddled with potholes that the bag dislodged and tumbled down from the bunk above me. Luckily I wasn’t the one driving.) X-rays showed my lungs were clear, so it wasn’t pneumonia. It must be a brain tumor.
My parents dutifully, lovingly, unhesitatingly both came with me again.
Back in the ER, my new doctor—Dr. Dark and Handsome—was so good looking it was hard to focus on what he was saying instead of on his dark curly hair, his shadow of a beard, his dreamy brown eyes and his fit body. What was he saying? Something about acute inflammation, tendonitis, probably brought on by the coughing from the bronchitis, lack of rest and that (damn) red-eye flight to Florida. I snapped out of fuzzy romance dream scene when he finally said, “But let’s wait and see what the CT scan results show.” And then he left us.
While we were waiting in hallway chairs (no lying on gurney for me this time) for the results of the CT scan, a priest approached, making a bee line for us. “Oh no! He’s coming to talk to us,” I said to my mom. “This isn’t good.” But my mom, who has worked for the Catholic church for many years, didn’t consider he might be there to read me my Last Rites. She struck up a friendly conversation with him, chatting with him about priests they knew in common. I excused myself and took a phone call I had been told I might be getting. It was from a Today Show producer. When you are trying to promote a new book, you take the call from the Today Show. No matter what. Even when you are sitting in an ER with an IV attached to your arm dripping electrolytes into your broken down, dehydrated body.
Dr. DH returned to give us the results of the CT scan. No brain tumor! The diagnosis was something I still don’t quite comprehend: calcific tendonitis—which is something like calcified fragments lodged in a tendon that get inflamed and eventually ruptures, the rupture being excruciatingly painful but it’s when the relief finally comes. “Is that like passing a kidney stone in your neck?” I asked. Uh, not really. He prescribed prednisone and sent me on my way.
After that whole ordeal, I am finally continuing on the RV Book Tour today, heading 1,400 miles east to Austin. I found someone to help me with the 21-hour drive in The Beast, a longtime Facebook friend named Paul Szendrey. And while I know grief will still come along for this leg of the trip—it’s a trip Marcus and I made together, with the RV, when we moved to Mexico and back—I am looking forward to getting on my way.
I’ve met so many kind, caring and interesting people during this grand adventure. I’ve been so welcomed in every city at every event, had such glowing reviews about my book with such huge press, had such nice emails from people thanking me for sharing my story. I’m sure the adventure will continue, in some new form, but for now it’s time to turn the RV around and travel back east. 
I am looking forward to returning to the nurturing, grounding sanctuary, I have created for myself in the American Gothic House. It’s a place where I can breathe freely and my lungs don’t hold anything but the fresh, wide open, fertile farmland air.
NOTE:  If you are in Austin, please join me at my next book event at BookPeople on Tuesday, May 8,at 7PM. Free pie will be served. And I promise I won’t cough.

RV Book Tour: Week Five, Stats So Far

It is Week Five out of six on my “Pie Across the Nation” RV Book Tour to promote my new memoir, “Making Piece.” I’ve traveled from Eldon, Iowa (where I live in the American Gothic House), driving the 24-foot RV my husband left behind. Affectionately called “The Beast,” I packed up my two terriers, my pie baking supplies, and my “Free Pie” sign and left home on April 3. In the past month I have covered the entire West Coast with a side trip (by plane) to Florida. Here are the stats so far:

Number of days on the road: 32
Number of cities visited: 13
Number of tanks of gas: 12 (That’s a rough guess. I’m too afraid to add up the receipts yet!)

Number of times I’ve emptied out the RV waste tanks: 3
Number of rolls of duck tape used to keep RV parts from falling off: 2
Amount of money spent on RV repairs: $800 (for new brakes)

Number of pies I’ve made in the RV: 5
Number of pies I burned in the RV: 1

Number of pies I baked in the RV that came out lopsided from being parked at an angle: 1 (That’s a Shaker Lemon)

Number of times I’ve been on the front page of a newspaper: 3 (the biggest one being the LA TIMES! Pictured below: Seattle Times)

Number of times I’ve done pie demos on live television: 7

Number of times I’ve had my face air brushed with makeup to appear on HD TV: 1
(To see video of TV appearances & other press, see my news page)

Number of times people honked because they love pie: 187
Number of times people honked because they love pie when I was trying to take a nap: 6
Number of times people honked NOT because they love pie: in LA, countless!

Number of books sold: no idea (publisher says stats won’t be available for 6 months)
Number of pens used up from signing books: 4

Number of slices of pie I’ve eaten: 15 (not enough!)
banana cream 3  (from The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles)

blackberry 1  (from High 5 Pie in Seattle)
tripleberry 2 (one in Santa Monica, one in Florida)
  –strawberry rhubarb 1 (homemade in Olympia, WA)
marionberry 1  (from Bipartisan Cafe in Portland)

key lime 2  (ordered from room service in Orlando, Florida)
pecan 2  (from The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles)
apple 3  (a few slices of my own homemade pie)

Number of bottles of cough syrup consumed: 4 (a chronicle of my bronchitis will be my next post)

Number of trips to the ER: 2 (bronchitis related — ugh! — more on that in the next post as well)

Number of times I’ve said, “I just want to go home”:  I’m not going to tell you!

RV Book Tour: Week Three, California

I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Malibu right now with just a little time left before for tonight’s 7pm book event at Diesel Book Store. I dropped off Ari Cheren, my last travel companion/co-driver/videographer, at his apartment in LA and am now traveling on my own in The Beast. Well, me and Team Terrier. But Ari left me with one last video segment to share with you — the journey from Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles.

With Ari jetting off to New York for his next field producer assignment, guess I’m going to have to get back to writing my own blog posts again.

Still Week Two on the RV Book Tour: SEATTLE!

Ari Cheren’s video editing is getting even better. Here’s his second installment of the “Pie Across the Nation” RV Book Tour video update. Here we are in Seattle. As you can see, it’s been a jam-packed schedule. And as you can hear, I’ve lost my voice. With a little help from Vick’s Vapo-Rub, my lungs and vocal cords are gradually improving. Enjoy the show. And enjoy the music — it’s by the Portland band, Keep Your Fork, There’s Pie.  (Blogger is cutting off the right side of the video. If you want to watch in full screen mode, you can either double click right on the video or view it over at YouTube: http://youtu.be/7iC2Rdj-ryY)