World Piece: Day One, Arriving in New Zealand

In all my years of traveling internationally, I have never had such a hard time saying goodbye to my parents. They have been driving me to the airport since my first trip overseas 30 years ago. I have always traveled solo and regardless of where I was traveling to — Europe, Thailand, Kenya — I was always excited to leave, not plagued with the worries and fears that weigh me down now, probably because I was too young and naive to know what I should be worried about!

Our goodbye hugs lasted far longer than our usual airport hugs and the tears flowed more readily and much longer. And when the flight to New Zealand hit some turbulence half-way across the Pacific Ocean, I thought, “Well, that’s why we hugged for so long. My plane is destined to go down.”

Silly, silly, girl. What a misuse of imagination.

Hey, New Zealand, thanks for the welcome rainbow!

Apart from the few bumps in the night, the 13-hour flight went very smoothly and surprisingly quickly. (It helps when you have 40 movies to choose from on your private screen.) And not only did we not crash, we had a soft landing, AND we were greeted by a rainbow over Auckland.

My host, Grace Bower, picked me up at the airport and gave me a driving tour of Auckland. The city is on the narrowest part of New Zealand’s north island, an isthmus with harbors on each side.

The compass on the top of Mount Eden in Auckland.
Proof of how far I’ve come…so far.

That dip is a volcano crater. And that city may look like Seattle, but it’s Auckland.

After zipping around Auckland, Grace drove us north to her village of Orewa. (Pronounced “Oh-ray-wa.”) It’s a quiet little seaside town with a long beach and….lots of pie!

I made Grace stop the car so I could snap this shot. My first pie sighting! 

And this was my second pie sighting. A bakery with all these savory hand pies.
Pie, it seems, is New Zealand’s most popular form of fast food. (Not counting McDonalds.)

At Grace’s house, or “Christmas Cottage” as she calls it, she couldn’t wait to show me a video she had in her collection. She had just stumbled upon it when cleaning her house for my arrival and thought it might be some divine message. What are the chances that she would pop in an old video and have it turn out to be my old house on the screen? American Gothic was featured on an art program, and almost like an American Gothic parody itself, it was hosted by British nun in full habit. I didn’t read too much into the message. That painting turns up everywhere. Even in Orewa, New Zealand.

Sister Wendy gives a tour of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Given my jet lag and my utter disorientation (knowing that this is only one stop on my round-the-world trip does kind of rattle the psyche), my stomach was also confused, growling at 3 in the afternoon. But no worries, because we found the quintessential New Zealand meal to fill the hunger. Fish and chips!

I studied the map on the wall inside the fish and chips shop while we waited for our food.

Grace Bower and me. And our fish wrapped in paper.

I love how the fish and chips were served wrapped in paper. Traditionally they’re served in newspaper. Nowadays it’s served clean paper. Still, no styrofoam. No plastic bags. Tradition aside, this was another sign New Zealand is a very environmentally conscious country. Grace taught me to tear a hole in the top of the paper to let the steam out, to keep the fried food from getting soggy.

The place was takeaway. Carry out. To go. (Funny, all the nuances of the English language.) And given we were one block from the beach, we opted to have a picnic by the sea. But this is New Zealand. In winter. It is sunny for five minutes. Then in rains like hell. Then it’s sunny again. Then another rain shower. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. It goes on and on like this all day, all night. This climate would make me insane. But Kiwis grow up with this weather. They’re a tough bunch. They don’t seem to even notice the rain. And I saw a few people wearing shorts, even though it was 50 degrees. I didn’t want to seem like a wimp, so I ventured to ask Grace, “Isn’t it too wet to eat outside?”

We had our picnic in the car, parked at the beach, watching the waves like we were at a drive-in movie. We were looking east — toward LA, the place I had just come from. Only 24 hours earlier I had been at my parents’ oceanfront apartment, looking out over the same ocean, looking west, toward this spot where I was now sitting. Eating fish and chips. In the rain. With my new friend Grace, whom, until now, I only knew through Facebook and phone calls.

Utter disorientation? No. Utter marvel. And utter joy. And utter gratitude. I had a warm and loving sendoff from my parents (as well as from other family and friends), a safe flight (speaking of marvels, jet travel still amazes me!), and a warm and loving welcome on the other side of the Pacific. If this is any indication of how the rest of the journey is going to go, I’d say I can put my imagination to better use going forward. No more worries. I’m off to a very good start. Now to go make some pie!

World Piece Planning: Answers to Your FAQs

It’s 6AM and I am sitting in the guest bed at my parents’ apartment in Redondo Beach, California. They are still asleep but I am wide awake. I still have a lot to do before I leave U.S. soil tomorrow. One of the things I wanted to do before jetting off (for my first stop of New Zealand) is answer some of the questions I keep getting asked. I promised to blog about my trip and if you know my blog then you know my posts are not just pretty pictures with captions. I give you the deep and personal stuff. Even when it’s not comfortable. So here you go — warts and all, as they say — the answers to your FAQs.

Q: Aren’t you so excited?

A:  This has been a hard question to answer. I WANT to say I’m excited, but unless you consider a stomach tied in knots and waking up with stabbing pains in your diaphragm excitement, well, then yeah, I guess I am. I’ve been so caught up in trying to make contacts and lock in detailed plans for pie classes in 10 countries, as well as pack up my California apartment, drive cross-country in the RV, have a molar pulled, get my dog to “summer camp” in Iowa, get World Piece business cards, aprons and T-shirts made, and make a zillion agonizing decisions about what to bring and what to leave behind, well, I haven’t really had a chance to think about the fact that this trip might actually be FUN. But I’m pretty sure it will be. And I’m pretty sure my stomach will relax once I actually get on my way.
TMI? Well, maybe, but it’s reality.

Q: Who planned your trip?

A: Just me. Step one was calling the airline to book the round-the-world ticket using frequent flyer miles. One phone number, one call, one hour on the phone and it was done! I chose the destinations based on where I already knew people or had invitations. Once I locked in the places, dates and flights, I spent the next 10 weeks doing nothing but doing research, sending emails, making lists on my white board, and printing out excel spread sheets. It was a full-time job. Too bad I’m not paid for it! I’m also pretty sure all the hours invested in preparation will pay off.

This was my office. 

This was my little “Inspiration Shrine.” There were some days when I really needed this.

And this was some inspiration from my friend Africa — from a year ago!

Q: Are you going alone?

A: I’m flying alone, but I will be staying with friends in most places. I admit one of my first fears was worrying that I might be lonely. But I know from experience that when you travel alone you are much more open to meeting other people. And meeting people is really what World Piece is about. Pie is just a good excuse.

Q: What do you pack for a round-the-world trip?

A: Good question! And I still don’t have an answer because I am STILL packing! Or should I say, unpacking, as I am still paring down my load. I have to bring cookbooks — which weigh a lot — and pie-making supplies (my rolling pin is heavy but I have to bring it!)  I am bringing my overalls because I promised the American Embassy I would wear them when I recreate my Pitchfork Pie Stand at their Fourth of July Party in Bangkok. And one added challenge is that I will be in several different climates — it’s winter in New Zealand and Australia, tropical in Thailand and India, and temperate in Europe. My goal is to get everything in one big duffel bag. Wish me luck!

This was Packing: Stage One.

This is embarrassing to admit but one of the hardest decisions of this whole process
 was choosing which ONE pair of pajamas I would take. 

One non-negotiable item that is coming with me is the prayer shawl knitted for me
by my New Zealand host, the lovely and gracious Grace Bower. Handmade with NZ
wool, she used “pie colors” to make this just for me. It’s like being wrapped in a hug.

Q: How are you getting all your pie ingredients?

A: I’ll be hunting for ingredients locally in each destination. I won’t be very far off the beaten path — I’m not going into any remote villages in wild jungles or anything — so finding grocery stores that stock flour, sugar, butter, and apples shouldn’t be too difficult. New Zealand is home to the Granny Smith apple, so that one will be a cinch! But if ingredients are hard to come by, I will just have to practice what I preach: Pie is not about perfection.  Pie is about improvising.

Q: Are you filming your trip?

A: I thought I couldn’t — shouldn’t — do this once-in-a-lifetime trip without a film crew. Or at least film it myself. But who was going to finance a camera crew when I was barely eking out the funds to do this trip solo? Trying to convince a production company — or a corporate sponsor — to hop on board would take months, even years. If I filmed it myself I would first have to teach myself how to use a camera. Wait, no, first I would have to GET a camera. And I would have to lug along all the extra gear: tripod, battery packs, etc. to go with it. When I realized how much I was stressing about it I said F**k it, I’m a writer. I’m going to write about this. And take pictures with my iPhone. And even though my iPhone is the baby version with a measly 16 GB of memory I will try to shoot a few little videos here and there. So that’s my answer. Which in short is no. But which also leads to the next FAQ…

Q: Are you going to write a book about this?

A: I hope so, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself at this point. I could have put together a book proposal before I left but I decided to actually let the experience happen first, then consider the book. When I wrote “Making Piece” I was so compelled to tell the story it was bursting to get out of me. The book practically wrote itself. If that happens after World Piece, then yes, definitely.

Q: Where are you going to live when you get back?

A: I have no idea. I’m hoping these next few months will inform my next steps. It can be hard to be so unsure, but I am going to be so busy traveling I won’t have to worry about it until September. Now that I’m finally untethered from my American life and all my belongings, I’m getting less anxious and more comfortable with the idea that whatever the future holds it will be a good surprise.

Q:  What are you most afraid of?

A:  At first I thought my biggest fear is that I might die. Irrational? Maybe. But ever since Marcus died I’ve carried the knowledge that life is fragile and can end in an instant. And yet my bigger fear is not about me, it’s about fearing that someone else will die while I’m away. On that “someone else” list is my surviving member of Team Terrier, Jack. It was hard to say goodbye to him for 3 months, but I have made peace with the separation knowing that he is having a blast running wild on my friend’s farm in Iowa. No leash for 3 months? He isn’t going to miss me one bit!

Saying goodbye to my little man. I’m not sure which one of us
is going to have more fun this summer, but I’m guessing him!
And off I go into the wild blue yonder.
It’s going to be an incredible adventure!

Donate to World Piece, Sponsor a Pie

Buy a World Piece Apron, T-Shirt or Mug

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World Piece Gets a Little Press

At KRUU-FM, solar-powered radio, in Fairfield, Iowa.
With one of my favorite hosts, Steve Boss of “Great Taste.”

 While I consider my World Piece journey a personal one, it is also nice to have people — and sometimes the media — take notice. I say “nice” mainly because I hope the effort I am making will have a positive impact on several levels.

One, that by making and sharing pie around the world, I will actually spread some love, joy and…yes, peace.

And two, I hope it will serve as a reminder to others to kick their own fears to the curb and get out there in the world to make a difference. Follow your dreams, dare to leave the comfort of your nest, and take a leap. There are great people, places and experiences out there waiting to be discovered.

And lastly, I’d like to think this project proves that wealth is not about acquiring material things. To experience adventure, to stretch and growth beyond our comfort zones, and to give freely to others is to live richly.

With that, here are a few places where you can hear more and read more about World Piece.

ZESTER DAILY  Six Smart People Changing the World Bite by Bite

IOWA PUBLIC RADIO  “Talk of Iowa” with Charity Nebbe

KRUU-FM SOLAR-POWERED RADIO  “Great Taste” with Steve Boss

With Charity Nebbe in the studio at Iowa Public Radio
 in Iowa City last week. Like her apron? You can order one at
http://www.cafepress.com/theworldneedsmorepiestore.

 Donations to World Piece are appreciated! Sponsor a pie or pitch in toward pie ingredients. It’s all good.

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Made it to Iowa…Only to Face Forgotten Perils

We made it to Iowa. We may have prevailed over all those near disasters getting from LA to here, but even after only six months away, I had forgotten how perilous living in Iowa can be! It’s the little things that can kill you.

I arrived to a home-cooked meal of Ham Balls. I wrote about this SE Iowa specialty a few years ago., about how one needs to be careful not to eat too many lest they suffer from an overfilled belly and…the likelihood of hamnesia.

I stopped by the American Gothic House — my old home (sniff, sniff) — for a photo opp. The Binoculars were home with their door open so I figured I had about 10 minutes before the sheriff arrived to deliver a complaint.

Not to mention, I parked illegally.
No, a homemade apple pie with a World Piece logo carved on top as vent holes won’t kill you!  But chewing on pie crust right after you’ve had a molar pulled will.

The main objective for driving back to Iowa was to deliver my dog to “summer camp” on my friend’s farm. Within the first 30 minutes of arriving he found a creek to swim in. The next day the creek had turned into a raging river. Maybe I should have bought that doggie life jacket for him after all.

The RV has a sweet parking spot where it will stay all summer. But beware! With all the wind and lightning, parking under a tree can be a hazard.

Jack is guaranteed to get good treats on the farm. Farmer Doug has a ready supply of fresh beef liver. A dog’s dream. But after two days here Jack already has had some “stomach trouble.” Maybe it’s not from the liver but from drinking out of the puddle in the cow pasture.

There’s that apple pie again. Well, at least I could eat the ice cream without hurting my mouth.

This field of dreams looks innocent enough, but that corn will be chest high by the 4th of July, and my dog could get lost in  that jungle.

I have a nice desk for working during the week I’m on the farm. It even comes with a world map — perfect for my World Piece trip planning! — AND it comes with a copy of my cookbook. The hidden danger here is the thunderstorms that roll through. I’ve already had to run to the house twice in the middle of the night and unplug the laptop lest the circuits blow from a lightning strike.

Everything in Iowa is super-sized — including the poison ivy that is growing along this fence line. I’m highly allergic and, not to be a pessimist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I start itching the moment I get on my first flight to New Zealand.
This pasta meal is perfect for my sore mouth (post-dental emergency) but let it be known the sauce is pesto — that I made last fall from the basil in my garden at the American Gothic House. It had been frozen and it tasted okay, but…. My dog may not be the only one with “stomach troubles” after eating this beyond its expiration date. 
Sometimes the biggest perils can come in the smallest packages. It has been hard to sleep at night with these little buggers crawling around in my bed. I’ve pulled at least 6 of them off of my dog so far — and only 3 off of me. 
Jack isn’t the only animal on the farm. He is a guest here on a 1200-acre property inhabited another dog, 2 cats, 4 bulls, 92 cows, 500 pigs. While he would normally chase a cat, this one rules the roost. Jack has to be on his best behavior or else the cat will chase him.

Nothing is sacred. If you leave the milk for your latte unattended, someone might help themselves.
In spite of all the perils, Iowa is a magical place. Sitting on the front porch writing this blog post I looked up and saw a full-arch double rainbow. I take as a good omen. All will be well here, my dog will have a good (and safe) summer, and I will have a successful trip around the world. And when I come back I’m going to find that pot of gold.

The World Needs More Pie Store is Now Open!

The demand for World Piece aprons and t-shirts was so high, I created a store on Cafe Press. I even added a World Piece coffee mug. Your purchase will help fund my round-the-world journey. So not only will you help make the world a better place, you’ll look cool wearing this hand-drawn artwork made just for this project.

Kind of like selling Girl Scout cookies. Only it’s pie.

To order:
http://www.cafepress.com/theworldneedsmorepiestore

http://www.cafepress.com/theworldneedsmorepiestore

Thank you again to the talented artist Dave Pittman for the fabulous design.

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

World Piece Kicks Off with an Epic Trans-American RV Road Trip

America the Beautiful — as seen through an RV windshield.

If you are ever going to drive your RV cross country and get a severe toothache in the middle of a hail storm, the best possible place to pull off the interstate is Fruita, Colorado. Or so I learned on my way to Iowa this week.

The RV trip from LA to Iowa was part of my World Piece master plan. I would move out of my Palos Verdes guest house where I had spent the past 6 months, load up the RV with all my stuff, and drive to Iowa where I would put my things in my storage unit there. I would bring my dog, Jack, and leave him at my friend’s farm where he could spend the summer while I was circumnavigating the globe making pie.

Six months earlier, when I drove the RV to LA, stressed to the max from towing my Mini Cooper behind it (and from losing Daisy, my other sweet member of Team Terrier, after that coyote attack), I swore I was selling The Beast and that I would never drive it again. Not 18 miles, and certainly not 1,800 miles.

Bwwahahahahaha. As you may recall from my book, “Making Piece,” I also told my late husband, Marcus, when he first bought the RV that I would never drive it at all. Ever.

So yeah, The Beast started up on the first turn of the engine, and off I went, heading east.

First stop was Las Vegas to pick up my artist friend, Dave. (He is the same artist who designed the gorgeous World Piece logo.) Dave lives in Iowa now and he offered to help me drive. He is great company, tells entertaining stories, and can make me laugh until I cry. Which is something that will come in handy on this trip as I try to get my facial muscles to work again. I picked him up in Vegas not because I wanted to gamble — solitaire is the closest to gambling I will ever get — but because it was the closest, cheapest one-way ticket I could find at the last minute.  


After Dave offered to help drive, he texted me, “We’ll make it a little adventure.”

That made me look at the drive as less of a dreaded task (remember, I said I never wanted to drive the RV again) and instead I began to view it more as a fun mini-trip before my Big Trip.  Not that there is anything “mini” about driving more than half way across the USA in an RV. But when Dave said “adventure,” I should have considered that the definition of adventure is when things do not go according to plan.

The plan was to drive the RV to Iowa without incident and get there in the most direct and quickest way possible. But, to quote John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” This is what happened:

Near Disaster #1 

Dave’s flight arrived at 9:30PM. It was dark and there was a lot of traffic at the Las Vegas Airport. The Billboard Music Awards were going on, and god knows how many conventions. I had to maneuver the RV through lines of limousines and SUVs and convertibles to get to arrivals. I managed to butt my way into the left lane for the parking lot when panic struck. It didn’t take a sign that said, “CLEARANCE: 7 FEET” to know that I was going to crash into the low overhang. I slammed on the brakes and just as I thought I was completely f**ked, a jeep with flashing lights pulled up next to me. “Follow me,” he yelled. The sign on his bumper read “Airport Security.”

I followed his jeep as he cut across three lanes of traffic, parting the seas like a modern day Moses, and drove through to a quiet, cordoned off area that was marked “Employees Only. ” I pulled in behind him when he finally stopped.

“My heart is still racing!” I told him when he walked up to my window.

“Lucky I just happened to be driving by,” he said. And then he spent the next 10 minutes explaining the nuances of driving an oversize vehicle to pick up a passenger at LAS. As in, next time don’t. It’s a red flag for security. Even if the sides of your RV are emblazoned with giant lattice-top cherry pies. He directed me up to the departures area, where the clearance was high enough for my 11-foot-tall RV, but warned me that the “brown shirts” will shoo me away within seconds if I’m trying to wait.

I circled around the terminal and wound my way up to the departure level where, sure enough, there was a woman in a brown shirt approaching me the instant I pulled up to the curb. A long, dark-haired ponytail streaked with grey, she looked Hawaiian. And she was — wait for it — nice! Dave had already called and was making his way to the terminal. “My friend is on his way,” I assured her.

“Let me talk to him,” she said. “I’ll give him the directions to come out at this door.”

The next thing I knew, Dave was peering into the passenger window, which made Jack first bark and then wiggle with excitement, and made me let out a huge sigh of relief. We waved goodbye to the nice brown-shirted lady — those airport workers in Vegas are angels — and off we went. To the nearest Wal-Mart parking lot for the night.

Near Disaster #2 

I had made it the first 300 miles on my own without catastrophe. But together we had another 1,500 miles to go, and a few mountain ranges to traverse along the way. I normally drive the southern route from LA to Iowa, along Interstate 10, then cutting up through Oklahoma and Kansas. But I wanted a change of scenery this time. I also figured the third week of May was late enough in the spring that the weather in the Rockies would be fine. I had also calculated that even a little mountain rain would be preferable to dodging tornadoes along the southern route, which I had had to do the last time I drove east.

This is what a deluge of desert rain looks like — from a safe distance.

That only thing worse than waking up in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart parking lot is waking up in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart parking lot to a sky filled with black clouds. I began checking my WeatherBug app obsessively. If there was a road that wound between the storm cells I would have taken it. Instead, we stayed on I-15 and headed northeast. Straight toward the darkness. We could see cloudbursts and lightning bolts all around us, but for most of the day we avoided the brunt of the storm. By the time we got to St. George, Utah, however, we were deluged by rain. In an RV with a leaking roof. Worse, the temperature was plummeting. By the time we got to Cedar City, we bailed on the driving and went to a movie.

The movie choice — mine —could be added to the Near Disaster List but Dave was a good sport and sat through “Hot Pursuit,” instead of “Mad Max,” which would have been his choice. I thought Reese Witherspoon could make any movie watchable. But even the stale, overpriced movie popcorn was better than the jokes in that film.

A break in the weather after the film lured us another two hours further down the road. To a truck stop near the junction of I-70. With only one restaurant, a Chinese place in a log cabin with wagon wheel chandeliers run by Mormons. There was no disaster in this, no food poisoning, no hot tea spilling on my lap. Just a really nice waitress who kept the place open 15 minutes past closing time to accommodate us. And a nice warm plate of Lo Mein before crawling into the cold RV for the night. Luckily, because I was moving all my stuff back to Iowa, I had 4 down comforters and 2 quilts between the two of us.

Last services for the next 116 miles includes pie!
Too bad we drove through on a day it was closed.

The thing about mountain driving is that the sky can be so clear and blue one minute, like it was when we woke up, and then you round a bend and see a bank of clouds looming above a peak ahead. Dave had been on storm chasing tours before and, much to my chagrin, he began explaining what was going to happen as we made our way across Utah’s remote I-70. (There are warning signs that read: “No services for 116 miles. No bull.” You do NOT want to break down out here. Or get caught in a windstorm in an RV.)

“You see those towering puffy clouds?” he asked, pointing dead ahead. “That’s called a cu-field. And you see those anvil clouds forming above them? That means the air is very unstable. It means trouble. If we were on a storm chasing trip that would be very exciting and we’d drive toward it.”

“We are NOT on a storm chasing trip,” I said without needing to.

I was driving. The road was winding between stunning red sandstone towers and rock formations, the beauty Utah is renowned for, but road construction had the highway limited to one narrow, winding lane. I could feel the tension mounting, and not just in the sky.

When you see a Runaway Truck Ramp sign,
you know you are driving on steep and scary roads.

Near Disaster #3 

As I was driving, I was chewing on licorice, and then switched to wasabi peas (from Trader Joes), to help me stay alert — and calm. The more stressful the driving, the harder I chewed. Until I hit a nerve. And I don’t mean that figuratively.


“I think I just broke the seal on my bridge,” I told Dave. Pain was shooting up into my skull. I held onto the side of my right cheek. And once the throbbing started it didn’t stop.

“Don’t catastrophize it,” he said. He wasn’t being dismissive. I know him. He meant well. He is the guy that can generate the calm in the direst of situations and he was just trying to keep me from worrying.

“No,” I said. “This happened to me 12 years ago. I know this is bad.”

My toothache was so severe I started to panic. Not only was it going to make the rest of the drive difficult, my mind was racing ahead to my World Piece trip. I was leaving in just 2 weeks. The anxiety, both physical and mental, escalated. “I need you to drive,” I told Dave.

We switched places and no sooner did Dave get behind the wheel, the sky cut loose. We didn’t have to chase the storm, the cu-field we had been watching grow had chased us. The blinding rain turned to hail. And if you’ve ever heard hail hit the roof of an RV, let’s just say ear plugs don’t even help. “We need to get off the road, Dave,” I screeched. “Take the next exit.” (I had been trying really hard not to backseat drive, but this was one time where I couldn’t hold back.)

The closest exit was for the town of Fruita, Colorado. We took it. We parked. And we plugged our ears as the hail continued to pound the roof like a musical accompaniment to my throbbing tooth. While we waited out the storm I started Googling dentists nearby. I called at least 4 places until I got an appointment just 30 minutes later. And not in the bigger city of Grand Junction just 10 miles down the road, but in this very small town (pop. 12,700) I had never heard of, never planned on stopping in.

Somewhere in between the rain, the hail, and Fruita,
a full arch rainbow appeared….An omen?!

The offices of Fruita Canyon Dental are impressive from the moment you drive up. New, modern, and made of stacked stone, the place appears immaculate. The kind of place where, if you had a dental emergency while traveling cross-country, you would be glad to find. And it only got better.

The receptionist was friendly. “Oh, you made it here fast,” she said. “I’m so sorry you are having a problem with your tooth.” I was immediately ushered to a dental chair—there must have been at least five of them, all in separate rooms, all facing out toward the one-way glass windows for a soothing view of grass and aspen trees. We passed a printing machine in the hallway that sounded like it was spewing out reams of paper, and I was told, “Sorry about the noise. That’s our 3-D printer that makes crowns in the office, so you don’t have to have temporaries anymore.” I was astounded to see such state of the art equipment so far off the beaten path. And then I was greeted by Jessie May, a young woman with her long hair wound into a top knot, her long eye lashes batting like a gentle doe. She was the dental assistant assigned to my chair.

Jessie took some X-rays of my mouth and while we waited for the dentist to look at them she probed me with questions. She asked me about my road trip, about Iowa, about pie. I gave her the abbreviated version, about Marcus, about the American Gothic House, about using the frequent flyer miles for World Piece. And then I could no longer hold back the tears. The difficult driving, the bad weather, the aching tooth….it was all too much.

Jessie handed me a tissue. “Life is about adversity,” she said, her eyes big, her smile warm. Then she shared enough of her own history with me to realize that she has had challenges of her own.

Reality bites.

Dr. Stegelmeier came in. He looked more like a snowboarder than a dentist in his bright orange plaid shirt and baggy Carhart-type pants, his face tan from being on the slopes. He looked at my X-rays, and pointing at my back molar said, “This tooth needs to come out.” The intensity of the pain had already indicated it, but to hear him say it out loud made me cry again.

“Can I call my dad first? He’s a retired dentist. I just want to get his advice.”

“Sure. I can talk to him too if you want,” Dr. Stegelmeier said.

I got my dad on the phone and then, to make it easier, I just handed the phone to the dentist. I tried to listen to their dental speak as their dialog switched to Latin names and tooth numbers. When my dad heard what would have to happen, he said, “Aw, shit.”

The dentist held the phone away from his ear, smiled and said to Jessie, “I like this guy.”

I miss having my dad as my dentist, but it meant so much to me to have him consult on my case. And anyway, from the minute I saw his high-optic glasses perched on top of his head I knew I was in good hands with Dr. Stegelmeier.

“Do you want to hold my hand?” Jessie asked as the dentist prepared to inject Novocain.

“Yes, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt it,” I told her, grabbing her outstretched fingers.

“No. I know you can’t hurt it, because my sister held my hand during five childbirths.”

After I was thoroughly numbed up, the dentist got down to business. He sawed off half of my bridge, smoothed out the remaining rough edge, and then yanked out my molar. All the while, I squeezed Jessie’s hand hard. It was over in less than 30 minutes. I would be able to go on my round the world journey, sampling food in every country, but able to chew on only one side. It was a small price to pay.

I went out to the RV and got a copy of “Ms. American Pie.” I brought it into the reception and signed it to Jessie May. “Thanks for holding my hand,” I wrote.

The receptionist looked at the cover and then at me. “Is this you?” she asked.

Biting down on the hunk of gauze inside my mouth, my eyes puffy from crying, my hair greasy from being on the road for 3 days without a shower, I nodded to say, believe it or not, yes.

The road to Glenwood Springs.

Dave and I drove straight to Glenwood Hot Springs after leaving Fruita Canyon Dental. The sky cleared so we went to the pool to soak in the mineral waters, a reward for surviving the near disasters.

“Jeez, Dave,” I said as I laid back in the steaming hot sulphur water, letting my body relax. “Can you believe it we found that dentist? I mean, if the hail hadn’t driven us off the road…” I shook my head. “It was a miracle.”

“The Universe worked it out. And it was better that it happened before you left the country.”

I tried to smile, but the right side of my face was still too numb and swollen to move. “That’s true,” I said.

Dave pulled himself out of the hot water, sat on the side of the pool and giving me his signature grin said, “And to think we are only half way to Iowa.”

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

Rescuing The Beast — and Revisiting its History

Today I was planning on writing about the evolution of a logo — the World Piece logo, which turned out so beautifully thanks to a certain artist friend who you’ve previously read about on this blog. But the day didn’t go exactly as I had planned. And thus, instead of the logo, I can’t stop thinking about the evolution of my RV, affectionately known as The Beast.

My parents drove me to Pasadena this afternoon to pick up the RV — more like rescue it — from a distant and dismal parking lot where it has been sitting, neglected, abandoned, since I arrived in LA in late November.

When I left it there five months ago, I had parked it wedged awkwardly and tightly in between a rusty Jeep Cherokee with a broken windshield and four flat tires and a semi truck—just the tractor part—which was shiny and new-looking with no apparent reason to be unused. I never felt good about leaving it there. But at 50 bucks a month for RV parking in SoCal, well, I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere, not even close. And believe me, I looked.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it was wedged in there.

When I arrived in LA this past November, I had been anxious to get away from The Beast. After driving it from Iowa to Dallas, towing my car behind it for the first time, my nerves were shot. It’s one thing to drive a 24-foot RV, but to add another 10 feet with your precious little Mini Cooper bouncing around behind? No, that was too much for me. I marvel at those giant bus-type RVs that tow big SUVs behind, driven by senior citizens, no less. How do they manage?!

With my stress already running high from the drive, no sooner did I arrive in Dallas, Daisy was killed in a coyote attack and Jack was wounded. No way was I going to stay there so I had to hook up the Mini to the back of the RV again. This time I enlisted a friend to drive for me. I sat in the back during the 3-day trip west, keeping a protective eye on the Mini, holding vigil over a swollen and bandaged Jack, crying about Daisy, and playing endless games of Solitaire to keep my nerves from breaking down completely.

By the time we got to LA I had sworn that no only was I never going to drive the RV again; I was going to sell it. Forget the emotional ties and its rich history, that the RV was Marcus’s dream, that it symbolized me facing my fears after he died. I was done with it. After putting 40,000 miles on it, I had reached my limit.

Not only had my nerves been tested, so had my budget. Not only was the cost of gas sucking funds out of my bank account (8 miles per gallon, you do the math), the list of things needing repair was growing, along with the leak in the roof that no amount of caulking could stop.

Once in LA, I cleaned out the RV, emptying it of every single personal item and gave it a deep scrub. I bought a “For Sale” sign at the hardware store and taped it in the window. I posted an ad on Craigslist. I announced it on Facebook. But there were no takers. Not even one nibble from Craigslist. So it has just stayed in Pasadena, alone, all winter.

Until today.

“There she is. Miss America.” The Beast looks like a
beauty queen next to all the other vehicles.

When we arrived at the parking lot I spotted it right away. The “Pie Across the Nation” decals made The Beast stand out like a sophisticated beauty among the derelict cars and trucks. My heart ached a little, my guilt flared. Why had I been so anxious to be rid of this sweet house on wheels? It had carried me far, and safely. It was an important part of my life.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition. It started on the first try. I could hear my dad outside. “Good job, Boo!” he cheered. Besides my mom and dad, there were a few other people in the lot so I had extra eyes to help direct me out of the tight parking spot.

Once I was on the highway, the anticipation I had been feeling on the way to Pasadena dissipated. I haven’t driven the RV for five months. I wasn’t sure I would feel comfortable driving it again. Especially through downtown LA traffic. Ah, but just like that very first time I drove it five years ago in Oregon, all those imagined fears vanished the minute I started moving.

The fears vanished and the memories flooded in. As I drove The Beast back to my guesthouse in Palos Verdes, I had a full hour to reflect on its chronology. As you will see, emotional ties and rich history might be an understatement.

The History of The Beast

2008

Celebrating the new purchase with Champagne.

May of 2008, Marcus bought the RV from a coworker in Portland, Oregon, thus taking a step toward fulfilling his “European dream” of touring America’s national parks. A job transfer to Mexico didn’t stop him.

That June he drove the RV to his new job post in Saltillo, Mexico, towing his BMW motorcycle behind in a Wells Cargo trailer. (His nerves for this sort of thing were way stronger than mine.) I followed in my VW Beetle.

Marcus, the brave road warrior, proud of his big rig.
In front of our house in Portland.

The roads in Mexico are not exactly “smooth” so we didn’t take the road-trip adventures we had planned. Though we did have one wonderful, memorable weekend driving The Beast to Real de Catorce. We couldn’t drive through the tunnel into the mountain town, so we slept in the RV outside of town and took a taxi into the village. And we got a flat tire on the way back. After that the RV sat in front of our house on the pecan farm.

We didn’t know it but there was a leak in the roof…

Happy Campers.
Marcus and Daisy in Del Rio, Texas (Lake Amistad).

By November of 2008, I took a job in LA and Marcus accompanied me up to the Mexican border in the RV (pic above). We camped at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Texas. We had just *adopted Daisy and I was taking her with me to the US. (*Adopted as in rescued the homeless, worm- and lice-infested dog directly off the streets.) We had a fun weekend with the newly formed “Team Terrier,” swimming in the lake, BBQing, and making lattes in the RV. That was the moment I was irreversibly hooked on RV camping.

Over Christmas, Marcus drove the RV from Mexico to LA bringing some furniture for me to use in the studio apartment I rented.

Team Terrier on the step of the RV.

2009 

In May of 2009, Marcus’s Mexican stint ended and he was transferred to Germany. He packed the trailer with our furniture and drove the RV back to Portland, stopping to spend several days with me in LA on the way. He started shopping around for a trade-in with the RV, wanting a smaller, newer one, the kind built on a Sprinter van chassis. Even though he was moving back to Germany he wanted to keep an RV in the US and keep his dream alive. I supported him in his dream. Before he left for Germany, he left the RV with a small dealer outside of Portland where The Beast was for sale on consignment. Marcus died in August. The Beast stayed at that dealer’s lot until I picked it up a few months later.

In the fall I loaned the RV to some German friends who took it to the Oregon coast.

In December, I drove it for the first time — all the way to Los Angeles. It was so much easier to drive than I ever expected. I actually liked driving it, which made me feel VERY guilty because I had growled to Marcus that I would never, ever drive it. (You can read all about this story in my memoir, Making Piece.)

Driving to Arizona, Dec. 2009. No wonder I was afraid to drive the RV!
You never know what dangers lurk out there in the desert.

I spent the Christmas holiday of 2009 in the RV, driving to Arizona through one of the worst windstorms in history. But by god, I held onto the steering wheel and had a safe passage. The news the next day told of countless semis and RVs that had overturned in the wind. But I had prevailed. And though I was visiting friends and family in Arizona I slept in the RV. I loved having the cocoon of it, my own private sanctuary to read and rest, to write in my journal, snuggle with my dogs, and make my lattes in the mornings.

2010

In January, The Beast was used to make a TV pilot (or documentary or web series or whatever, as it has yet to be completed). For two weeks I drove all over California with my producer friend Janice, taping stories about pie. In the RV we hauled boxes of apples to make pie, then we ferried 50 apple pies around LA, handing them out by the slice for free. (Here’s the 2-minute sizzle reel on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2GjwZ4–8gM)

I drove the RV round-trip a second time from Portland to LA, this time hauling a motor scooter inside (to use as transportation to get around LA) and drove back with my parents accompanying me one-way. We had to climb over the motor scooter to get around, but that was part of the adventure.

The Beast at Crater Lake National Park with my Swiss friend Eve.

In August of 2010, I moved out of my Portland apartment, put my stuff in storage and headed to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair. The RV went on vacation without me, driven by my friend from Switzerland, Eve, and her daughters, who drove down the coast to California. In an ironic (bittersweet) twist, the RV got to stop at Crater Lake National Park, where Marcus and I met in 2001.

Eve left the RV with my brother Mike in Costa Mesa, who used it for surf weekends. And as a scaffolding for painting murals with his non-profit Operation Clean Slate.

Turns out, the RV makes a good ladder. 

2011

The RV spent a whole year with my brother in Southern California. I had promised to bring it to Iowa, but kept putting it off. Until Mike got a warning from the police that it was time to move The Beast, or else.  So in July of 2011 my friend Patti’s husband Terry drove the RV back from the west coast to Iowa. And that’s when The Beast became both a guest room and a privacy fence at the American Gothic House.

RVs make good fences.

I had a boyfriend “H” that fall (alas, short lived with a bad ending). We loaded the RV with Team Terrier, plus his dog (a chow) and his guinea pig (not kidding), and drove the RV to South Dakota. We visited Mount Rushmore and the Badlands — and ate donuts at Wall Drug. Marcus had bought the RV to visit the national parks. I could never have imagined I would be carrying on his dream without him. And with someone else.

2012

My book, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie,” came out April 1, 2012. Given that the RV featured prominently in my story, it was fitting that the RV be used for a book tour. So The Beast got outfitted with some nifty pie decals, fueled up with gas, and Team Terrier and I set off cross-country on a six-week tour.

Before
After

Iowa City, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Orlando, Austin, Jefferson (TX) — the tour was so grueling I ended up in the ER with tendonitis in my neck. No fault of the RV; traveling with my own down-filled bed in the back of the RV made the trip really comfortable. The neck problem came from the red-eye flight I took from San Diego to Orlando mid-tour.

Not only did the ER visit set me back six figures, the RV needed new brakes. So while in Seattle, we spent a $1000 day at Les Schwab getting new rotors. Fun times.

The Beast became a kind of celebrity, appearing in many TV news segments and articles. Tourists who came to get pie at the Pitchfork Pie Stand liked to walk around to the back of the house where the RV was parked so they could take pictures of it. Who cares about the American Gothic House when you can pose in front of The Beast!

That June, I spent my 50th birthday in the RV, camping at a nearby rural Iowa lake to have a night of solitude and welcome my new decade quietly.

That July, Kyle Munson, the Des Moines Register columnist, used the RV for his team’s support vehicle during the weeklong bike ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI.

Delivering pie to Newtown.
Pie delivery vehicle (aka The Beast) in background. 

In December 2012, after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the RV served its greatest mission yet. We drove from Iowa to Janice’s house in New Jersey (the same Janice with whom we shot the pie documentary), and rallied 60 volunteers to make 250 homemade apple pies. We then loaded up the RV — and it was REALLY loaded — and drove the pies up to Newtown where we handed out free slices and free pies to bring kindness and comfort to the grieving community. I have never been so grateful for that RV and what it made possible. People wrote me letters later saying how seeing “the Pie Truck” in their town gave them a sense of hope and joy amidst the sorrow.

2013

The RV and I always liked coming home.

Back at the American Gothic House, not only did the RV make an excellent (and well used) guest room — and privacy fence to shield us from the prying eyes of The Binoculars next door—the refrigerator in The Beast also served as overflow storage for my pie stand ingredients.

My dad giving the RV a wash.

In September, I drove the RV to LA — just for a respite after a very demanding summer with the Pitchfork Pie Stand (and another failed attempt at a relationship) —and was planning on staying in LA for a month, maybe two. I fell in love with an artist from Iowa, who lived in Pasadena, and two months turned into six. That’s when I found the $50 parking lot in Pasadena. But at least I was close by and could periodically check on The Beast’s well being.

2014

Book Tour #2! In April, The Beast got a new battery, an oil change, and some updated decals with my new book cover and tour dates. I set off from LA to promote my cookbook “Ms. American Pie” along the way back to Iowa. First to Arizona. Then Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Des Moines, and home to Eldon. This tour was a more manageable three weeks. No ER visits. No breakdowns, mechanical or otherwise. Just lots of pie. The RV featured prominently in every stop.

A book tour stop in Texas.

Back in Eldon, the RV once again resumed its duties as guest room and privacy fence. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It got a lot of use!

Looking out the RV window at Dockweiler.

In September 2014, I moved out of the American Gothic House. Some people were very happy about this. Others, like my pie customers & would-be students, not so much. As for me, I miss the house terribly. But I still had my house on wheels. I moved the RV to a friend’s farm and used it as a guest room for myself until the weather started turning cold. By November I was determined to head south for the winter. The RV and I have that in common: we prefer warm weather. I decided on Dallas. Which we know now was a Very. Bad. Decision. Not knowing where else to go, I hobbled back to LA. Again.

When I first arrived, I camped at Dockweiler Beach State Park. It’s the closest I could legally camp near the beach and still be close to my parents. The park, located directly beneath the LAX flight path, has a three-week limit. Not to mention, it cost $60 a night. But I was in such a down state I could not put a price on my mental health. I stayed the maximum allotted time.

The beach can be very soothing to the soul (when jets are not passing overhead). I spent HOURS lying in that cozy nest of down comforters and pillows in the back of the RV, listening to the ocean waves and petting Jack’s belly as I grieved the loss of Daisy.

Exactly six years to the day after Marcus and I camped in Del Rio, Texas in December of 2008 with our newly adopted member of Team Terrier, I had lost both Marcus and Daisy. I still had Jack. And I still had The Beast.

2015

I rented a sweet, quiet, sunny apartment in Palos Verdes. Sadly, the parking situation could not accommodate a 24-foot RV for a long-term stay. After calling around and not finding any RV parking for under $200, I went back to Pasadena to the old lot I had used last year. And that’s where it stayed for five months.

I thought I was done with The Beast. I thought it was time to let it go. Retire it. Sell it. Let someone else enjoy it. I mean, an RV’s lifespan could be measured in dog years. Which would make this 2002 camper the equivalent of 91 years old! But I was so happy to be driving it today. I was so filled with big, life-affirming memories. And instead of feeling like I wanted to be rid of it, I felt the sense of renewed possibility, that with a little TLC—and money—I could tackle some of those repairs, breathe some new life into it, have some new adventures.

Luckily, I don’t have to decide right now. I am buying myself a little more time. The RV will go back to my brother’s in Costa Mesa for the summer while I am traveling around the world. It will have another stint as weekend surfer camper. And I will have the peace of mind in knowing that it is getting good use, having a happy time by the beach, and not sitting abandoned in a distant parking lot.

For the next few days though, I have it parked outside my apartment, where I can wipe off the dust, wash the windows, and appreciate what an incredible history we have shared.

I am already picturing how nice the RV would look with the World Piece logo….

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

Planning, Packing and Paring Down: Does It Spark Joy?

I leave on my round-the-world trip one month from today (though it really begins in just 2-½ weeks with my drive to Iowa to drop off my dog Jack at “summer camp.”) I am excited, yes, but I am also bogged down in planning and packing. And neither of those things are the most enjoyable part of the journey to me. Alas, they are part of the journey. And I know that taking the time to prepare and pack right (as in light) will make the journey a better one.

As for planning part, there are a zillion details to work out. Not just the flights and the visas, or the global cell phone calling plan and credit card with no foreign transaction fee, buying an international plug adapter and getting World Piece business cards made. I have added a big fat layer of complexity by adding pie-making classes to the mix. So in addition to all the other stuff I also have to figure out how to get supplies and ingredients for pie classes in 10 different countries.

In spite of having a white board and a 3-ring binder and scratching things off my To-Do list daily, managing the minutiae is still an exercise in stress management. I just keep reminding myself to practice what I preach: “Pie is not about perfection. Pie is about improvising. Pie makes people happy.” I will have time to find the ingredients and supplies when I get there. I will get the rest of the class details ironed out when I hit the ground.

I will be fine. I will be fine. I will be fine.

As for the packing part, I thought I could handle this one without the usual mental wrestling match required in determining what to take and what to leave behind. But packing has its own added layer of complexity. I am moving out of my guesthouse in LA and I want to consolidate my belongings — kind of like “getting your affairs in order.” Not that I think I’m going to die out there on my trip. Nothing that morbid. I just want the peace of mind of knowing all my stuff is in one place.

I have too much to cart back to Iowa in my MINI Cooper. (I traveled out here in the RV, remember? And I had it fully packed.) I can’t store anything in the RV as I had originally planned because my brother is going to use it this summer. (Yes, The Beast is still alive and well! Thanks for asking.) Besides, keeping my stuff in the RV means having stuff in two different parts of the country.

So…I’m trying to pare down. Again. (It seems this is a constant battle as I took at least 10 trips to Goodwill when I moved out of the American Gothic House in September.)

As I tackled my closet and drawers today, trying to sort what to pack, what to take with me to Iowa (to my storage unit there), and what to throw, it didn’t take long for the effort to end in exasperation—and swear words.

F**k this! I already have enough *&%#$* decisions to make!

Why do I always have to complicate things?! I promised myself I would make this journey as easy on myself as possible. Adding this “Must Pare Down” task to the already-long list is only adding pressure.

There’s more to the story though. (There always is, isn’t there?)

First, my mom took me shopping two weeks ago. She’s as excited about my trip as I am. To her thinking, a new adventure needs a new wardrobe. To my thinking, the ONLY thing I needed was a new purse. A big lightweight one with a strap long enough to carry it diagonally across my body (to keep it secure), and a zipper to make sure nothing falls out (and no stray hands go in.) We went to Marshalls to look for purses and I came out with 2 linen shirts, a dress, a crushable straw hat, a pair of linen pants, and 2 pair of sandals. And no purse. My mom was thrilled with my purchases. I loved the clothes, and they were very affordable, but I didn’t really want new stuff.

“Pare down” is kind of mantra to me, a way of life. I wanted to make do with what I already have. But it made my mom so happy to go shopping with me. And seeing her happy made me happy. It was her way of being part of my journey.

And even more symbolic, shopping with her was a touchstone to my past.

When I was 21, I had saved my money to go to Europe. I had never been there and I had the idea that I would go for a whole year, pick one place to start (by circling my finger on the map and seeing where it landed: Bern, Switzerland), and come back a changed and cosmopolitan young woman. Before I left, my mom took me shopping. (Remember her mantra: New adventures need new wardrobes.) She bought me a jean skirt, a dress, loose cotton pants, a cotton sweater. And a big lightweight purse with a long strap and a zipper closure. I can still picture it vividly. It was gray canvas, the strap was leather, and it had a mesh pocket on the outside. It was made by Esprit. I loved that purse and it had a long, adventurous life.

I had a safe and successful experience in Europe. I spent my 22nd birthday hiking in the Swiss Alps. I studied French in Neuchatel. I worked on a yacht in Cannes (and used that money to go to Thailand for three months.) I ate my way through Italy. I had an audience with the Pope. I skied on the Matterhorn. I shaved my head. I made friends. I came back to the US more grown up and cultured. (And happily my quasi-punk 80s hair do eventually grew out.)

I’ll never forget how my mom supported me and helped me prepare for that journey by taking me shopping.

Now, 30 years later, I am about to embark on another grand global adventure and it doesn’t matter if I wanted or needed new clothes. What matters is that I still have my mom and she is still supporting me in my crazy dreams and far-flung travels. Which is why I kept my “pare down” mandate to myself — to eliminate belongings, not add them — and bought the clothes. They filled two shopping bags.

I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom.

The second thing that was complicating my packing ability is that I just read a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Her theory is that by letting go of our excess belongings we live with less stress, process the past, and make room for new life. And that we should only keep things that “spark joy.”

By the author’s definition of paring down, I would be considered a hoarder.

In sorting and packing and weeding out today, I kept thinking of Kondo’s words. “With each item you touch ask yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?’” That’s a loaded question. Each and every item sparks a memory. Of a time. A place. A person. But does the item itself spark joy?

It’s a puzzling concept. So puzzling that instead of answering the question for each item I started making piles. Stuff to take with me around the world. Stuff to pack into my MINI to take to Iowa storage. Stuff to take to Goodwill. Stuff to give to friends or family. But the pile that became the biggest was Stuff I cannot f**king deal with right now. Maybe Kondo’s “letting go of excess reduces stress” concept works after the fact, but the process to get there is not as easy as she makes it sound.

Most of the stuff in my undecided pile has something to do with Marcus. Does it spark joy to remember when he bought me that wool skirt in Venice, Italy? Or when he bought me those embroidered jeans in Venice, California? What about the scarf his mother knitted for me? And the gloves with the skull and crossbones logo of the Saint Pauli soccer team in Marcus’ birthplace of Bremen, Germany? What about those?????? Those things used to spark joy. Now they spark a combination of joy and searing heartache. What do I do with that stuff?

Kondo writes, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

Ouch. And yet how fitting is that for my round-the-world trip? I say I’m going on this World Piece journey to make pie, to learn about other countries’ pie, and to promote cultural tolerance. But if you dig deeper and probe me with questions, like my friend Meg did over coffee a few days ago, this trip is about letting go of Marcus. And finding me. Finding a way to move forward. 

When I see the things I’m still hanging onto — the clothes especially, some of them Marcus’s (I still have the red plaid bathrobe I wrote about in “Making Piece“) — I cannot deny my attachment to the past.

I’m going to have to mull this over for a few more days before I can move things from the “Can’t decide” pile to the “Goodwill” one. And if they end up in the “Iowa storage” pile, so what? It’s my stuff, my memories, my joy, my grief, my timeline for when I’m ready to let go.

I also made a pile of stuff to return to Marshalls. I decided that the clothes I bought when I was with my mom are not the right clothes for me. When I tried on those linen pants today and saw how tight they were across my butt, that definitely did not spark joy. The linen blouses, loose and flowy and good for the tropics, that looked good in the dressing room — with my mother there cheering me on with her approval — now seemed too matronly. Matronly and joy are mutually exclusive. No spark there. But I’m keeping the sandals, because I’ve already worn them. They are like joyful little spark plugs for my feet, very comfortable for walking on any pavement anywhere in the world. And I’m keeping the dress, partly because my mom paid for it. “It’s an early birthday present,” she had insisted. I do love it. It’s a great color for me (dark khaki green), it’s lightweight, it doesn’t wrinkle, and it covers my arms and knees (meaning I will have the respectful attire required when visiting certain places.) I know I will wear it a lot.

I also know that no matter what I pack, what I leave behind, what I give away — and what I  plan (or don’t get planned) for the pie classes — I will be fine. I just need to keep my load light. On this trip, I will carry more strength and grace, and less grief. I will find myself again. The spirit of my 22-year-old self still lives in me somewhere. Hopefully, I will just have a hell of a lot of fun. I have nothing to worry about because making and sharing pie is always fun.

Let the journey begin.

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

Why It Pays to Resist Your ‘Inner Pig Dog’

Redondo Beach, 23 April 2015, Me with local resident Nina and Aussie adventurer Rob

I had one of those days today, the kind where I had to fight off my resistance to getting out of the house. I had to take my Mini in for its third service in three weeks, but what I really wanted was to just stay home in my pajamas, drink my latte, and catch up on email. I’m driving from California to Iowa mid-May (to drop off Jack at my friend’s farm for the summer so I can go on my WORLD PIECE adventure) and the water pump and axle seal had to be replaced. If I didn’t do it I might later find myself somewhere in the Nevada desert of Colorado mountains waiting for a tow from AAA.

The resistance to leaving the house was not just that I would have to get dressed (I do my best work in my pajamas) but that I would have to ride my bike home from the mechanic. It’s only 6 miles, but the last half of it is uphill.

The Germans have an expression for this kind of resistance: they call it the Innerer Schweinehund. Inner Pig Dog. Which basically just describes your (er, my) lazy, unmotivated self. The hill isn’t really that bad. And I have a good bike with good gears. And usually I love riding my bike. Besides, with the clock ticking on my departure date, there was no avoiding — or even postponing — the auto shop.

This was how I felt, before I got on my bike.
Do a Google image search for Innerer Schweinehund.
It’s interesting (read: disturbing) what you will find.

Once I dropped off my car I realized it was a really nice day for a bike ride. So instead of riding straight home to the south, I headed north. I rode on the bike path up to Playa del Rey, following the ocean the entire time, taking in the sailboats, the seagulls, and was awed when a snowy egret land just inches from me.

Why had I been so resistant? This was a huge treat to be outside, surrounded by nature, feeling the wind in my face, the sun warming my bones.

I stopped to eat a granola bar and watched Massey Ferguson and John Deere tractors raking debris from the sand as if it was a meditation. What first caught my attention was the familiarity of these tractors, their red and green colors identifying their brands, and the contrast of seeing them on a beach instead of on the Iowa farms I was used to. As I sat on a beachside bench I became mesmerized by their slow and steady rhythm, soothed by their repetitive motion as they traveled back and forth in straight lines, smoothing out the beach. My farmer friend, Doug (Jack’s future dog sitter), had just sent me a photo taken from his tractor where he was at that very moment making his own back-and-forth lines in Iowa’s black soil, planting corn. Making the connection between these two worlds made me feel more connected to myself. This day was definitely going well.

Similar yet different. This is my friend Doug’s view from
his tractor while planting corn in Iowa.

I got back on my bike and it only got better.

I spotted a biker on the path with his bicycle loaded with gear — bulging panniers, a bag hanging over the front bars, and sleeping bag and tent rolled up over the rear wheel. I wondered where he was from and where he was headed. I had a magnetic eye for traveling bikers, drawn to them as I had been one myself, carrying that same kind of gear, when I was 17 and riding down the West coast of Canada and the Pacific Northwest. That was the same trip where I was caught stealing apples at the orchard of a retired pastry chef and learned how to make apple pie. To be on a bicycle is the ultimate way to be open to adventure. You are traveling under your own power. And you are very exposed. It’s you and your own strength — mental and physical — that moves you along. Through rain. Heat. Headwinds. Traffic. Hills. There is no place for an Innerer Schweinehund on a bike trip.

I was curious about this biker. I was also remembering how while on my own adventures — biking and otherwise — I appreciated people offering support. A meal, a shower, a bed, a phone number of someone in the next town, even just some friendly conversation. Reaching out can mean the world to someone who is alone and traveling by their own human-powered engine. So I pedaled to catch up to him and talk.

“Where are you headed? Where are you from? How long are you going to be biking? Where are you going to today?” Poor guy probably just wanted to ride his damn bike but here was this chirpy girl in a blinding orange bike jersey yacking in his ear. But he was willing to answer. From his first word I detected his Australian accent, that pleasant and friendly tone with the soft Rs and drawn out As. Of course this only made me want to hear more.

He was riding across the USA, including Alaska, and he was going to take 12 months to do it. The most amazing thing was that he had just started. He had just landed at LAX, assembled his bicycle, loaded the bags, and I had encountered him on the FIRST MILE of his 6,000-mile trip!

“Do you have a website? A Facebook page? Somewhere people can follow your progress?” I might have been a little overzealous, bordering on interrogating him. Maybe I just seemed, well, American to him.

His name was Rob and, no, he didn’t have a website or Facebook page. He had barely had time to get all his gear organized, and any energy that would have gone toward social media was spent trying to navigate the bureaucracy of getting a 12-month US visa. Besides, he said, this trip was for him, to find the “real” Rob.

Yes, I totally understood that.

I’ve had my own questions about that for my “World Piece” journey. I’ve had days where I was overwhelmed trying to turn this into a project, when really, my trip was intended to be something personal.  To feed my soul, to help me get “un-lost,” to reconnect with that fearless and adventurous girl I used to be, to make myself feel better by giving to others (through making and sharing pie.) Hearing about Rob’s lack of need or desire for public sharing of his travels and transformation affirmed my own thoughts: Personal journeys require some privacy. I had already come to the conclusion that not every big, life-altering trip has to be promoted — or turned into a book. The world is already so noisy. That Rob had opted to travel so humbly and quietly was, frankly, refreshing.  (Don’t worry, I’m still going to blog from my travels! I’m a writer; telling stories — hopefully inspirational ones — is what I do.)

Rob had just quit his job as a naval engineer, moved out of his apartment in Sydney, and tried to convince his mother that he could go on this bike trip without getting hurt. (To hear that his mom is so caring about her son made me smile.) He is in his early 40s and he had been hearing that compelling voice, perhaps a command from a higher power, telling him, “If not now, when?” Exactly. So here he was. Day One of his 365 day bicycle trip. He left his Innerer Schweinehund  behind in the Australian dust. And now he is living his dream.

We ended up stopping for coffee in Redondo Beach before saying goodbye. A woman we encountered at the cafe, Nina, started asking him about his bike trip. She was so interested and so friendly, we sat with her and talked for nearly an hour until Rob finally said he needed to get moving. He still had 50 miles to ride to his first overnight stop.

Rob and I rode together until my Palos Verdes turnoff, meaning the uphill climb I had been dreading before I left the house that morning took almost no effort at all. We chatted the whole way up. Rob was loaded down with all his gear and wasn’t standing up on his pedals, or even breathing hard like I usually am on that climb. This time, as I climbed the hill, I was feeling buoyed, my inner load lightened by the nice surprise of making two new friends. Especially, I was feeling happy that I could make a stranger feel welcome in a country that was new to him. It was a reminder that when I get off the plane in faraway lands this summer, the same can happen to me. There will be good people and new friends in each new place I go.

Because of this bike ride and chance encounter (was it chance?!), I ended up having such a good morning that I didn’t even mind when I went to pick up my car and got the bill for $750. Okay, well, maybe that part was a little painful.

The next time the resistance rears its fat and furry head, I will know to kick it to the curb without hesitation. Interesting and inspiring people and adventures are always awaiting. All I have to do is get out of my pajamas.

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World Piece: Soundtrack for a Round-the-World Journey

Preparing for a trip around the world requires a little planning. Okay, a lot of planning. And I don’t love planning. I’m more the type to just wing it. I usually get on a plane without ever having glanced at a guidebook and trust that I’ll find my way. In all my years of traveling all over the planet that “casual” approach has worked for me. Even my first big trip abroad at 21, setting off for a year in Europe, I circled my finger around the map and determined that wherever my finger landed is where I would start my trip. (Bern, Switzerland, in case you were wondering.) But this time, well, I’m older and more cautious, I would even say fearful. My mind fills up at night with scenarios of all that could go wrong. That’s a lot of hours of insomnia. Hell, I even bought travel insurance for the first time in my life.

To ease my anticipation of what’s to come, I’ve been going for runs on the beach. With my iPod blasting in my ears. Music not only helps motivate me to actually run (as opposed to, say, walk — or, as I’m often tempted to do, just sit and watch the waves). The music also calms the chatter in my mind. What I’ve noticed on my recent runs is how much closer I’ve been listening to all the lyrics. As my playlist shuffles through the usual — and eclectic — stock there have been a few tunes that have stood out, songs that, if my World Piece journey had a soundtrack, would be on it.

Some of these might be obvious — addressing peace and understanding. John Lennon’s classic is a no-brainer; I like this Aerosmith cover from the Instant Karma album. But if I could pick only one song it would be Michael Franti’s; it’s all about how we all need to get along–and listen to each other– no matter what language we speak.

But there are other songs that speak to what is going on with me internally. Like having to let go.

Marcus, my late husband

Taking off for a round-the-world trip means saying goodbye to a lot of attachments. To my apartment. To my dog. To my family. To my belongings. To my familiar surroundings. And to the thing (the person) I don’t like to talk about so much anymore — because I’m sure everyone is getting tired of hearing about him, and I wanted to believe I was done with my grief — and that is Marcus.

This trip to me represents letting go of him.

I hadn’t realized until I booked my flights, using the last of his 400,000 frequent flyer miles he racked up from his corporate travels, that by holding onto those miles I was still holding onto him. I waited until just hours before their expiration date to use them. When I secured my round-the-world ticket I should have been ecstatic. Instead, I cried the entire next day. Those miles were another piece of him.

So yeah, about that song, “Let Go” by Frou Frou:

    Let go, jump in, what are you waiting for, it’s so amazing here, 
    it’s all right, there’s beauty in the breakdown. 

The countdown for take-off has begun. In a month and a half from now my suitcase will be loaded in the cargo hold, the airplane door will close behind me, the jet wheels will lift off from American soil, and I will be on my way. One way. One direction. All the way around the globe. In spite of the pre-journey jitters, I have faith it’s going to be a f*cking amazing adventure.

Until then, I’m going to keep running, and keep listening to these songs. And hopefully add some more.

Is Love Enough by Michael Franti  (This is the studio version I have on my iPod.)

Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon (This is Aerosmith’s version from Instant Karma.)

These Days by Jackson Browne  (“I’ll keep on moving, things are bound to be improving…“)

Don’t Panic by Coldplay  (Yes, we do live in a beautiful world. I want to go be reminded of that.)

Let Go by Frou Frou  (Uh, yeah. See above.)

Roam by The B-52s  (How can you not love this song?)

Jai Ho by A.R. Rahman  (Jai Ho means “Let there be victory” in Hindu.)

93 Million Miles by Jason Mraz  (I like to think of this one as a kind of homecoming song.)

What songs would you add to the WORLD PIECE playlist? What would your own playlist include to express where you’re at in your life right now?

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