Sleep Well, Don

This is not how I thought it would end. I thought I would get to talk to you again, to say goodbye to you. You called on Saturday morning but I was on the other line. I texted that I would call you right back, but I didn’t call until early evening. You didn’t answer. I called Sunday. I called Monday. And when you still didn’t answer, and I wasn’t getting your nightly text messages with your always cleverly chosen Bitmoji, I contacted your daughter. 
I haven’t heard from your dad. Is he okay? 
No, he’s not, Rhonda replied. He’s asleep most of the time now. He’s basically gone. 
Sleeping? Basically gone? No. He just called me.
I replayed your voicemail. 
This is Don. I’m just calling to see what you’s up to. Nothing important. I’ll talk to you later. Love ya, hon.
You sounded okay. Well, okay considering you are 85 with bone cancer. You had already beaten prostate cancer, kidney malfunction (by having those two tubes permanently attached to your back), and, most recently, you recovered from COVID-19. Recovered!
I got mad at you when you complained about having to quarantine for 14 days after they let you out of the hospital. I reminded you that I have friends who lost family members to the virus, and that you’d be quarantined in your apartment regardless since it’s in an assisted living building, you live alone, and you’re not that social anyway. You’re right, you said. I’m just depressed.
I don’t blame you for being depressed. I know you don’t feel well and that you ache everywhere. Not to mention, this is a depressing time in the world. I’m sorry for getting mad.
Ours is a funny friendship. You’re the same age as my dad would be if he hadn’t succumbed to cancer three years ago. But you’re not a father figure to me. You are the neighbor who welcomed me ten years ago to my new home in an unfamiliar rural town. 

You are the one who shoveled the snow from my sidewalk before I even got up in the mornings. You towed my car out of the mud, tilled my garden every spring, peeled apples for my pie stand, and loaned me an orange cap after I almost got shot by a hunter. You defended me at the city council meeting yelling BULLSHIT! when our mean neighbors lied about my dogs trespassing on their property. You are the one I ran to when I discovered that six-foot-long snake in my bathroom. I can still hear you in there, one end of your hoe banging against the floor with the other end hitting the window, cussing out that snake as it fought you, while I held my breath on the other side of the door. 

You are the one who made me feel safe living in that old house.
Even after you and Shirley moved away, you came by to check on me, showing up in my backyard on your three-wheeled motorcycle. We would go out for dinner sometimes, but mostly we’d go out for ice cream. The best was that afternoon we went to Misty’s Malt Shop and each had a hot fudge sundae. We sat so long talking on the park bench overlooking the river that we went back and got a second one—yours always with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry; mine always plain with just the hot fudge.
When Shirley died we spent more time together. As mismatched as we seem—you a retired railroad worker and semi driver; me a city girl and author with a college degree—we always have interesting conversations, even when we don’t agree on politics or the meaning of flags. We are both well-traveled and love road trips, especially in our RVs. I miss my RV. I know you miss yours too. 
We’ve been through a lot together in these past ten years. You lost Shirley. I lost Daisy. You lost the ability to walk when your knees wore out. I lost yet another piece of my heart when Jack died. You lost your will to live on more than one occasion. I lost my direction in life even more often. And yet with each other’s help we’ve always pulled through, always there for one another with a phone call or a spontaneous visit. 
One of the things I especially appreciate about our friendship is your nightly text messages. It may seem small, but that one small thing means a lot to me. Those little cartoonish avatars—yours with the beard and glasses, the plaid shirt, and belted jeans; mine with the blond ponytail, a few freckles, and red turtleneck—not only make me smile, they are a reminder that no matter how hard life gets, how busy or how far apart we are, there is one consistent thing I can count on: the presence of a loyal friend—you.
It is 9PM and I should be getting my nightly text from you. 
But you are asleep. 
And you might never wake up.
The bone cancer was getting painful, you told me. The doctors said it was the fast-growing kind. I didn’t believe you. I didn’t believe anything could touch you after all you had overcome (including the time the tractor rolled over on you and it took 100 stitches to sew your head back together!) I was sure you would live another decade at least. Last time we spoke, a few weeks ago, we discussed future plans. We talked about voting, me insisting you get registered in your new state. I teased you and said, Don, you have to stick around until at least the election in November!
You told many times since Shirley passed that you wanted to die. But when they found your cancer last year you broke down in tears and said, I’m not ready to go.
I was sure the virus restrictions would be lifted soon enough for me to come visit you. I was sure there was still time for me to bake you your favorite rhubarb cake. Shirley’s recipe is sitting on my kitchen counter and the rhubarb, already cleaned and chopped, is waiting in the freezer.
I’ll drive up to see him. I’ll come today, I told Rhonda this afternoon.
He’s asleep, she said. He won’t know you’re here. They’re only allowing family members, two at a time.
But I’m family, I wanted to say. You’ve even said so yourself, Don.
Today is Tuesday. You left me that voicemail on Saturday. You sounded okay. How can it be that three days later you are “basically gone?”
The hospice nurse says he’s failing fast, Rhonda texted.
Failing fast? That doesn’t sound like you. Fading, maybe, not failing. You are not someone who fails. Transitioning is how they described my dad in his final hours. However they describe what is happening with you, it seems your time to move on has come. I want to cry and tell you, no, please don’t go. But as your friend, I understand. Your mind is still so strong, but your body, stubborn as it may be, has a limit. 
So I guess this is our farewell. I can almost see you driving away on your motorcycle, waving goodbye and laughing as you head down the road into the sunset, kicking up a wake of gravel dust as you travel on toward your next adventure. 
Even if you can’t read them, I’ll keep sending nightly Bitmojis to your phone to let you know I’m still here for you, that I will always love you, and that I will always be so very grateful for your friendship. 

Sweet dreams, Don. Sleep well.

Love, Beth

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 7: A Celebration of YOUR Pies

Episode 7 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” is here. It may be my favorite one, because it’s a celebration of all the pies you’ve been making this month.

After watching it, my friend Kee Kee (who you read more about below) texted me this:

“When this pandemic started you told me you wanted to make a difference, and maybe go stock grocery shelves (I told you that was insane!), but what you are doing with your YouTube series is inspiring people to make memories with their families, and giving them the courage to bake pies themselves (and I’m sure that courage carries over to having more confidence in the kitchen making other yummy food for their families). Such a special special episode!!!!! Bravo!!!!!”

So I guess that answers that question I still keep asking myself: HOW CAN I BE OF SERVICE TO OTHERS?

A few other people sent me messages saying that while watching this episode they couldn’t stop smiling. “So feel good!!!!! My face is sore from smiling the whole way through.” One woman, who watched it first thing this morning, even said, “I couldn’t stop smiling. And I don’t usually smile until I’ve been awake awhile.”

Even if you haven’t followed one of my pie lesson videos or made a pie, I can say with confidence that watching this video is totally worth 12-1/2 minutes of your time.

Again, thank you to everyone who has been participating in making and sharing pies. And because there were a few pictures that I either forgot or didn’t make the cutoff time, I’m posting them here.

Let’s keep baking, everyone. Let’s keep doing whatever we can to make the world a better place.

Love, Beth

EPISODE 7: Celebrating Your Pies
  

My friend Kee Kee’s pie…

I woke up this morning mad at myself, because… HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN to include these other pies? Especially when this one in particular is by my friend Kee Kee (see quote above). She made her husband Eric a cherry pie for his birthday a few weeks ago. Eric is Eric Troyer, the supremely talented musician who so generously wrote the “Ms. American Pie” theme song for my pie videos!  (Eric is a former member of ELO, now in the band called The Orchestra.)

Yoda, by the way, is Kee Kee’s late dog. She made a “Yoda Pie” as a thank you gift to her vet after his passing and since then every pie she makes has Yoda’s name on it.

Eric not only contributed a song to my pie video series, he wrote a them song for the pandemic called “I Can’t Stop Touching My Face.” Kee Kee, a talented filmmaker, initiated the music video they made for the song, appropriately in their pajamas and bathrobes. Take another 3 minutes out of your day to watch this.  Then your face is really going to hurt from smiling. And I promise you will have this song stuck in your head for days. But it’s a good song to have stuck. And it will make you more mindful about touching your face….as in don’t!

Meanwhile in Seattle…..

My friend Dixie Wilson in Seattle has three very creative kids who, while cooped up at home, have proven just how industrious they can be. They set up a domino line that stretched the full length of the house. They wrote their own sermons for their stay-at-home Sunday church services. And they made pie!  Here is her 11-year-old daughter Madison making a banana cream pie. The pics came in just minutes after I posted the video and I was so sorry not to include them. But I realized my blog was a way to showcase them, and here they are….

And in Los Angeles….
My friend Winky’s daughter, Kay Kay, is a young musician who has been creating YouTube videos for her preschool-aged music students. She has taken her creativity a step farther by doing a pie-making video, demonstrating my key lime pie recipe. And she’s taken this effort up a hundred more notches by conducting her demo in Portuguese! She is just learning her husband’s mother tongue and, wow, am I impressed! For all the hours and hours I’ve spent studying German, Spanish, and French, there is no way I could teach a pie class in another language. Even if you don’t understand Portuguese, this is fun to watch because Kay Kay is just so dang adorable.

Kay Kay digs in to a slice!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Lastly, continue sending me pictures of your finished pies!!! I will post them in my “victory shot” album on Facebook. Or who knows? Maybe I’ll have to do a second episode of your pies.

Luke Perry, I Knew You When

Former “90210” Publicist Remembers the TV Star

Luke Perry, aka Dylan McKay, in 1990

When I heard Luke Perry had had a stroke, I expected him to live. That’s because a friend of mine recently had a stroke, his second one, at age 56 and he is recovering. My friend, like Luke, is fit and determined. He’s doing the rehab and regaining use of his left side. So after Luke’s stroke I figured he too would recover. A few days later, when I learned that he had passed away, my nonchalant “he’ll be fine” changed to “WTF?!” He was only 52.

I met Luke Perry—aka Dylan McKay—back in 1990, when I was a publicist for “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I worked for the venerable PR agency Rogers and Cowan in its television division. They hired me to help with the launch of Aaron Spelling’s new production (and Darren Star’s first series) despite the fact I didn’t watch TV, let alone own one.

My job was to get attention for the new show to increase its viewership by pitching story ideas around the show and its actors. This was before social media. Hell, it was before email. I had to call or fax—remember landlines and fax machines?—editors of publications like TV Guide and Tiger Beat, and talent bookers for shows like “Entertainment Tonight.” I had to write press releases and mail them—in envelopes, with stamps—a phenomenon now referred to as “snail mail.” Getting coverage was no easy task because even though it was Aaron Spelling’s baby, “ 90210” was brand new and the editors and talent bookers didn’t want to give it column space or run segments until they were sure the show would still be on the air after a few episodes.

They were so young then!

I managed to book a few interviews. I got one for Tory Spelling who was still too young to have a driver’s license. I had to pick her up at her family’s mansion and drive her to the meeting with the reporter. I got one for Jennie Garth and Shannon Doherty, to model second-hand clothes on ABC’s “The Home Show.” That one was a stretch but it’s the only show that said yes. And I booked one for Luke. I don’t remember who it was with, but I do know it was before he became the poster child for Teen Beat, a publication that at time was still reluctant to do anything.

He was meeting the journalist at the Hollywood Athletic Club, then a hip cafe and pool hall, and I was to accompany him—as if he needed a chaperone. As if the reporter were going to ask something so out of line I would be needed to run interference. But Luke had no scandals or skeletons. So all I did was sit there and listen, worrying the entire time about who was going to pick up the check. I wasn’t fully trained in publicity etiquette or PR budgets so when the bill was placed on the table I dared to ask Luke, “When your publicist from the network goes on interviews with you, who pays?” He replied, “Janine is pretty quick with the plastic.” I cannot count the times I’ve thought of that over the years in the face of a dining dilemma, and I have Luke to thank for the frequent use of my credit card.

I often hung around on the set, hoping to find some anecdote I could use for a story pitch—though it was also a ruse to get out of my windowless office. One day the cast was shooting a scene in the Peach Pit and the director had them repeat the scene eight times. I thought the first one was good enough, so was the second. By the third, I had the lines memorized and began to question what I perceived as a waste of both time and film. By the fourth, I would have stormed off the set in exasperation. I dare say Shannen would have too. But not Luke. He remained cool and calm, warm and friendly. In real life, he wasn’t a rich and troubled rebel; he was from the Midwest. He was humble and hardworking. He had done construction jobs before his big break and understood that if the show got canceled he might have to again.

“BH, 90210’s” Peach Pit was modeled after one of my favorite places
to eat pie, The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles.

A year later, he told “Entertainment Tonight,” “We start slapping each other when anyone gets too big headed. We made a promise going into this, ‘Look guys, no one expects we’re going to do anything beyond these 13 episodes, but if by chance we surprise the world and put out a quality program that people want to keep watching, let’s remember how we got there and what makes the show so good.’ The show is good…because it’s an ensemble piece. Everybody works and everybody brings something to it.”

Forget his good looks; Luke’s modesty is what made him so attractive.

 “Call us back when the ratings go up,” the editors and talent bookers had said.

The ratings did go up. And up. And up. But I left my job before the show became the sensation it went on to be.

The work of whoever became the publicist after me would end up being more reactive than proactive. Instead of begging the media for even just a mention, they would be turning down requests for cover shoots and guest appearances. Which probably only made the job harder.

Once I no longer worked on it, I never watched the show, even though it aired for an impressive 10 seasons. It set a new record as Aaron Spelling’s longest running series, surpassing his eighties hit, “Dynasty.”

I may act like I don’t care about the show, but I’ve always taken note whenever the “90210” cast appeared in the media. Like when Tori Spelling, all grown up, graced the cover of People magazine each time she married, divorced, or gave birth. Or when Shannen Doherty displayed herself on the pages of Playboy. When Jason Priestley grabbed headlines for crashing a racecar at 180 mph. And when Brian Austin Green, who was a pipsqueak of a kid when I met him, dominated the tabloids when he married that stunning thing of beauty, Megan Fox. When Luke Perry’s role as Archie’s dad in “Riverdale” was announced, it caught my attention mostly as I had read the comic books as a kid, but also—as with any “90210” news—I felt the remaining threads of a connection to the actors’ lives. After all, I had in my own small, short-lived way as a publicist, helped launch these youngsters into stardom, at least by making the initial introductions to the press.

The news of Luke’s death worked its way into my subconscious as I had a dream about him the night after he died. I was at his wake. Luke was sitting off to the side, looking relaxed and dapper in a suit and tie. I went over to talk to him, not sure if he would remember me. He said he did, and invited me to sit down at his table. I wanted to ask him for his parents’ address so that I could send them a condolence card, but I didn’t have the heart to be a buzzkill and tell him that his funeral was the next day.

Fox Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

I like to think that Luke really is sitting at that table, as relaxed and well mannered as ever. That maybe he’s still alive in a parallel universe, while being remembered and celebrated in this one as if he were still here. And he should be celebrated. He was one of the good guys. And god knows, we could sure use more like him.

The reprise of “Beverly Hills, 90210” was just announced, ironically on the same day as Luke’s death. As sure as the world keeps turning, the show will go on, but this time without Luke as Dylan McKay and without me as its publicist. They would never hire me back anyway, as three decades on I still don’t own a TV.

RIP, Luke.

For the Love — and Grief — of Goats

Mr. Friendly, Mamacita & Chaps asking, “Yo! Where’s our breakfast?”

Three weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I went out to the barn, as I do every morning, to feed the goats. The three of them—Mamacita, Mr. Friendly and Chaps—are normally waiting at the gate, having already been staring at the house with anticipation upon waking, as if they could will me to come out sooner with their breakfast.

When the two males, Mr. Friendly and Chaps, see me coming they rear up on their hind legs and head butt each other, slamming their horns so hard the smacking sound echoes off the barn. I first thought this was an act of aggression, but after observing it repeatedly, always in this context of me bearing breakfast bowls of grain, I realized it was the goat version of a high five.

But on this particular morning—Sunday, November 11—there was only one goat waiting at the gate.

Our goats are old. They were already at least 12 when we adopted them from an elderly couple in Selma, Iowa, the tiny village just down the road from Eldon. I had fallen in love with the goats during the four years I lived in the American Gothic House; I would bring them carrots while out on my road bike rides, I would feed them through the chain-link fence, and we developed a bond. They got to know me over time, always running to greet me when I pulled up on my bicycle. Given they were already at the top end of their lifespan when we adopted them, and we’ve had them for three years, they are now well into a very advanced age. Camp Doug is their retirement home, and as with any senior citizens, I know I need to be prepared for their departure.

Prepared? When you love someone—whether man or animal—who is ever prepared for a goodbye that is so final?

We lost one of the four goats a year and a half ago, in April of 2017. After spending a month at my dad’s bedside in California, caring for him through his aggressive cancer and doing the unthinkable: saying goodbye to him, I returned home only to find myself right back in hospice.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon, our tan-colored fainting goat, had stopped eating while I was away. So for two weeks following my return, I alternated between sitting with her in the barn and driving to the vet with her stool samples or to get medicine, desperate for a cure to whatever was ailing her.

The vet prescribed a homemade “goat drench,” a concoction of corn oil, molasses and Gatorade, which I was to squirt into her mouth with a turkey baster. I squirted. She pursed her lips tight and jerked her head away. I pushed the baster into her mouth again. “Come on, beautiful. You have to eat something.” The sight of the drench running out of the side of her mouth, leaving a sticky trail of brown and sugary oil on her beautiful fluffy coat, was as upsetting to me as her failing health. I went back to the vet again and again, pleading for something, anything to help.

Finally, the vet held my shoulders and stared straight into my eyes. “She’s 15,” the vet said.

“But…” I started to say.

The vet interrupted me, repeating more sternly, “She’s 15.”

And then one morning, after Doug left to do his farm chores, he came back inside to find me. “She’s gone,” he said tenderly. I went outside to find her in the far corner of the barn, the life drained from her body after her drawn-out struggle. We buried her on the west side of the farmhouse, between the garden and the soybean field. Doug shoveled out the grave and I bought flowers to put on top. When we had pushed the last of the black soil over her, Doug went back to work and I went on antidepressants.

My dad died in March. Cinnamon died in April. And in June of that same year, 2017, Jack, my dog and surviving member of “Team Terrier,” developed both diabetes and congestive heart failure. He has nearly died at least four times during the past 18 months. Miraculously, after thousands of dollars in vet bills and countless tears, he is still alive—14 and ½ years old, blind, his strong spirit still intact. Every morning when I wake up, I hold my breath as I check to see that he is still breathing. When I see his chest rise and fall, I exhale with relief.

Jack is blind, but he still likes to go for walks —
even when I have to carry him in the backpack.

It’s the same with the goats. Every morning when I go out to feed them, I scan the goat pen to make sure the three of them are accounted for.

But on that Sunday, three weeks ago, only Mr. Friendly was at the gate.

Occasionally the others hang out in the barn until breakfast is ready, but they always come running at the clanking metal sound of the gate opening. That Sunday, no one came running.

I pushed past Mr. Friendly, who is a big, white, lovable lug, and walked further into the pen where I saw Chaps, who looks like a miniature wildebeest. He was lingering in the doorway of the barn. But I didn’t see Mamacita.

Mamacita


Mamacita, who is a pygmy goat, is Chaps’ mom. She’s a feisty little thing with one horn (the other broke off years ago) who Doug so accurately describes as Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She may be the smallest of the herd but she’s in charge. She’s the adventurous one who leads the others to the far reaches of the yard, discovering the parts meant to be off limits, like the garden when everything is ripe or the hay barn when the door has been left open. If there is a feast to be had, she is the one who will find it.

She is also the one who pushes through the gate if I leave any bit of space to squeeze through. Lately I had been encouraging her to escape so I could feed her outside the pen, allowing her the extra time she needed to eat so the boys didn’t steal her food. She could go back into the pen when she was done eating by pushing the gate in, but the boys could not push it out. She didn’t always go back in though. She would take advantage of her freedom and graze in the yard while the boys watched with envy from behind the fence. I had been allowing this, giving her special privileges, though I give the boys equal time to roam freely too—much to Doug’s disapproval. But Doug knows how much I love the goats, and he loves me, so without saying anything he simply puts up fences around the mock orange bushes, flower beds and other areas he doesn’t want them devouring.

With Mr. Friendly and Chaps accounted for, I went looking for Mamacita. “Maybe she’s just around the corner, warming up in the sun,” I thought, hopefully. But she wasn’t, so my next option was the barn.

The barn is cavernous and dark inside. I walked in, pausing to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and headed toward the back. And then I saw her, Mamacita, lying on her side in the straw.

Was she was sick? Was she going to be okay?

As I got closer, I felt the energy shift around me, the molecules of air rearranging themselves. I was filled with a simultaneous sense of dread and hope and knowing—that moment of teetering on the precipice right before falling, that last precious nanosecond of time before discovering that life as you have known it has just permanently, irreversibly changed.

She was dead.

I knelt down in the straw to feel her body, rubbing my hands on her white and brown hair, long and coarse. Given she was cold to the touch, she must have died during the night.

The guilt came hard and fast. “Did she freeze to death? Did I not feed her enough to keep her warm?” I asked myself. Iowa has had an early winter. It had snowed two days earlier and temperatures plummeted to a record cold of nine degrees. Nine degrees! In early-November!  “Should I have gotten her a coat?”

Doug came out to the barn and held me in his arms as I sobbed on his shoulder. In his soothing way, he said, “Bea, she just ran out of gas. She didn’t suffer. Her heart probably just stopped. What a peaceful way to go.” Then he left me to sit with her a while longer while he got his shovel and went to dig her grave next to Cinnamon’s.

Our funeral for Mamacita

We held a little graveside service, lighting a candle, reading poems to her from John O’Donohue’s “To Bless the Space Between Us” and sprinkled baby carrots into the pit. We said our thank yous and our final goodbyes to her, then Doug picked up his shovel, while I picked up a handful of dirt to toss into the grave in the symbolic way they do at human burials. But I didn’t stop there. I dropped to my knees and started pushing the icy soil on top of her, at first gently, then shoving it in faster with my bare hands, until she was completely covered.

We worked in silence as the dirt piled up into a mound, the physical effort and connection to the earth serving as therapy for my sadness. Yet my tears—and my remorse—continued. “Did she freeze to death? Did I not feed her enough? Did I not keep her warm enough?” I asked myself again and again. “Could I have prevented this? Surely there is something I could have done.”

“She was 15!” the vet’s voice from a year and a half earlier bellowed in my head. “15!”

In reality, she was older than that, maybe closer to 16 or 17, living well beyond a pygmy goat’s 10- to 12-year average life expectancy.

For as much as I want to keep my animals alive forever, there comes a day—not just for the animals but for all of us—when our bodies expire, when no amount of medicine or molasses-based goat drench can keep us going.

“It’s sad,” my mom said when I told her about Mamacita’s passing, “but you have prolonged all of their lives by taking them in and providing such a good life at Camp Doug.”

Her words provided some consolation, but they didn’t erase the added heartache of watching our two surviving goats grieve. Yes, goats grieve. For about three days, Chaps stood off on his own, his head pushed up against the barn as if he didn’t want anyone to see him cry, while Mr. Friendly paced around the pen, the barn and the pasture, as if looking for Mamacita, determined to find her, willing her to return. But she would not be back. At least not in the same form.

Tiger, our barn cat who hangs out with the goats,
consoled Chaps after Mamacita died.
It was a beautiful thing to see animals
showing compassion for one another.

“Every day is a bonus” is an expression we utter daily in our house full of elderly animals. Doug’s dog Mali, an athletic but incontinent spaniel/beagle mix, is 14, maybe older. His cats, Tiger and Maybelline, while still strong and healthy, are at least 15.

Every day Doug reminds me to stop worrying so much, to stop anticipating the losses, and start seeing the days as half full.

Chaps in his new coat

“Every day is a bonus, Bea,” Doug reminds me.

Every day I have been spending a lot of extra time in the goat pen with Chaps and Friendly. I have been bringing them warm water with molasses, and increased their feed. I have been petting and petting and petting them, like some massage therapist for goats. And I bought a new sewing machine to make coats for them out of fleece blankets and an old nylon tarp. (Making the coats was so easy I wished I had made them three years ago.)

Every day I give Jack his insulin shots, his heart pills, his liver pills, his skin pills. I kiss him every time I walk past him, snuggle with him and tell him how much I love him.

Every day I brace myself, holding my own breath until I’ve made sure everyone is still breathing—the dogs, the cats, the goats, and yes, Doug (who is 63). And every day I say my prayers of gratitude as I confirm each one is still with us.

All I want to do is keep everyone alive. Given that I do not possess the power to do so, all I can do is shower them with love for as long as they are still here—and, sadly, grieve them when they are gone. I have lived through too many losses already, and the cumulative grief chips away at my enthusiasm for life. But as Queen Elizabeth said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” And I cannot and will not stop loving. Fully. Deeply. Courageously.

Mamacita. Forever loved.

Thank you, Mamacita, for your sweetness, your feistiness, your girl power, for the four years I visited you in Selma, and for the three happy years we had together at Camp Doug. You are so very missed, and forever very loved.

Celebrating Oktoberfest with my Book Launch!

Check this out! It’s a #1 New Release!!

It’s here! Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and Other Misadventures is now out and released into the world.

It’s been a bittersweet launch for several reasons: the first is that the book is (once again) centered around Marcus. I wrote it while we were living in Germany and later in Portland, and, as you all know, he’s not here to see its publication. I’ve been pretty weepy about that.

The other reason is that, as I said before, self-publishing has introduced me to a new form of terror and raw vulnerability. While I expose the private details of my life in my other books, it’s different this time because I don’t have a publisher or agent to hide behind. It’s just me on the front lines, and every marketing effort I make feels like pure self-promotion. Ugh! I could choose not to promote it, but an author doesn’t pour herself into a project only to launch it and ignore it afterward. So I’m going to get out there, do some bookstore and library events, some media interviews, and more. I’ll post my appearances soon.

Our wedding invitation. I know…smoldering.


Hausfrau Honeymoon has already received praise. The Pulpwood Queens Book Club has named it an official selection and gave it Five Diamonds in the Tiara! Its founder Kathy Murphy said, “It’s good, really, really good! You truly had me from the get-go!

And John Busbee of The Culture Buzz said, “Beth Howard writes like Erma Bombeck on steroids. But more emotional and more sensitive. She is a reincarnation of writers in that genre.” (Though I would say more like Erma Bombeck with a potty mouth and an attitude.)

I hope this book makes people want to travel more, to explore places like Germany, to be more open to other cultures (even ones that we don’t fully understand or relate to), and to take a chance on life — to dive into a new experience even when you have no idea how it’s going to turn out. That seems to be a regular theme in my life — some people (ahem, my mother) didn’t think I should move to Germany. She didn’t think I should move into the American Gothic House either. But I followed my own instincts and did both. I am forever grateful for the experiences, even when faced with such big challenges — like 7-foot snakes in the American Gothic House!  Or like in Germany, trying to learn “that awful German language” and get Marcus to do the dishes!

Marcus and me in our favorite Munich Biergarten.

I consider my book launch to be good timing, not just for Oktoberfest, but for its feminist bent, because throughout it I am striving for equality in my marriage. So in that vein, I also hope this book serves as a message to women that they matter, their well being matters, that it can be unhealthy to sacrifice too much for another person, and that no matter how much you love someone and want to spend your life with them, you have to still be true to who YOU are and honor your own needs.

Hausfrau Honeymoon is as much a travel memoir as it is a love story — a modern-day fairy tale that’s striving for the happily ever after. I hope you like it.

Oh, and I hope you’ll buy it too.

It’s available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and from your local bookstore and library. If they don’t have it, ask them to order it! If you want me to do a reading or event, or have me Skype with your book club, or whatever, just get in touch. And if you want a signed book plate to put inside your copy, email me and I’ll send you one.

Now go have a beer (er, Bier) and a pretzel and enjoy it with my book.

Thanks, everyone!!

Love,
Beth

Radio Commentary: An Outlet for Dealing with Overwhelming Issues

Over the past few years I have occasionally written commentaries for Tri States Public Radio, but only when an issue bothered me so badly I was compelled to weigh in on it.

Apparently listeners appreciate the positive messages I try to convey as I was invited to contribute more commentaries, but this time I was given scheduled dates for them. One of those dates is today. (LISTEN HERE)

I’ve had weeks to come up with a topic, but there are so many issues bothering me that I didn’t know which one to pick.

  • Immigration
  • The separation of families
  • The nominee to the Supreme Court
  • Gun violence
  • Climate change
  • Trade wars
  • Russian election interference
  • The Mueller investigation
  • An unstable president who is one tweet away from starting World War III
  • Abortion
  • Voting rights
  • Gay rights
  • Civil rights
  • Women’s rights
  • Human rights
  • The right to safe drinking water
  • Education
  • Affordable health care
  • Taking a knee
  • Racial profiling
  • Catholic priests
  • The #MeToo movement

Oh, and, here’s one that really gets my blood boiling: Western Illinois University’s withdrawal of funding for this radio station.

I do my best thinking while out riding my bike. I live on a farm and have miles of traffic-free country roads where my mind can work out ideas while I’m working out my body. So to home in on a topic for this commentary, I headed out on my bike.

Each time I settled on a single issue, crafting the story in my head as I pedaled, my outrage only grew—outrage over injustice, incivility, oppression, deprivation, divisiveness, and more. As I thought about each issue it became so complex it would require a podcast series worth of airtime. Worse, my ruminations exploded into a mushroom cloud of emotion—my anger turned to rage, my vocabulary filled with profanity, and my heart ached so badly over my impotence to fix all our broken systems—that I had to scrap every one of my ideas.

This happened three days in a row. But each day, half way through my ride, lulled by being in motion, I stopped thinking and started observing the things around me. Soybean fields turning from green to yellow. Butterflies fluttering above the roadside clover. Pristine red barns. A farmer on his combine harvesting his corn in artistic rows. Horses grazing in a pasture. A hawk silhouetted against the sun. Maple leaves rustling in the breeze.

There was so much beauty right in front of me! As I continued to focus on this pastoral beauty, my anger and despair softened into a state of near bliss.

This is what near-bliss looks like.

According to science, my lightened mood was no accident.

A number of studies, as outlined by Jill Suttie in Greater Good magazine, prove that being in nature decreases stress, makes you happier and less brooding, relieves attention fatigue, increases creativity, may help you to be kind and generous, and makes you feel more alive. Research also shows that spending time in nature lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, relieves muscle tension, and decreases stress hormones.

An article on the CRC Health website states that nature leads to a sense of spirituality and an appreciation for powers larger than oneself, reminding us that individuals are part of the larger whole. “In a world bogged down by social pressures, standards of conduct, and the demands of others, nature gives people a chance to appreciate a grander sense that the world is…meaningful.”

These are not new revelations. The importance of being in nature has long been documented.

Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” 

Naturalist John Burroughs, wrote, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by all the negativity out there.

There has been a huge uptick in anxiety and depression caused by the current state of political affairs. Recent statistics from the American Psychological Association show that 59% of Americans say that the United States is at the lowest point they can remember in its history, and 63% say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress.

It’s vital that we don’t allow ourselves to be consumed by this stress, so I would add to Burroughs’ message: We go to nature to restore our wellbeing, to have the ability, fortitude and clarity we need to put our country, our democracy, our whole messy world in order.

So take a break. Get outside. Exercise. Pay attention to the beauty around you. Spend time in nature. The benefits reaped are an important step toward tackling that long list of issues and finding the solutions we so desperately need.

Now if we can just find a solution to funding Tri States Public Radio.

TO DONATE TO TRI STATES PUBLIC RADIO, go to tspr.org or call 800-895-2912

The Day I Thought I Had Cancer

The night before my annual mammogram I was thinking about canceling my appointment. Did I want to be bothered with a trip to the hospital—50 minutes away—to have my boobs squished between two plates and hit with a dose of radiation? No. Did I have any history of breast cancer in my family? No. My mammogram last year was fine. So why go?

The commercials may be more
important than you know.

Just as I was lamenting this to my boyfriend, Doug, who was listening to the Cardinals baseball game on the radio, a PSA came on. “About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime,” it began. “If you are 40 or older, get a mammogram every year to avoid cancer—or death.”

Why was this airing during a major league baseball game? It didn’t seem like the right demographic for this. Or…was this message meant just for me? I took it as a sign and went to my appointment the next day.

Two days later I got a call from my doctor. “Your right breast shows no sign of malignancy,” she said, “but…”

But what? I suddenly realized this was not going to be a call to tell me everything looked normal.

“But there is a focal asymmetry on the left. We’ve scheduled an ultrasound for you for at one o’clock tomorrow.”

That they didn’t even ask if the appointment time worked for me made me think they considered my case urgent…as if it were a life—or death—emergency.

After we hung up I sprinted to Dr. Google to figure out what focal asymmetry meant. Did it mean…cancer? I learned that it could—and that was all it took for me to spend the next 24 hours considering the possibility of having The Big C, and all that a diagnosis might imply. A friend of mine had breast cancer and it spread. I went to her funeral a few months ago. (Read the story here.) So to say my imagination went wild would be an understatement.

First, I thought of all the reasons this (cancer) might have happened, and caused my cells to mutate:

Could it be from carrying my cell phone around in the front pocket of my bib overalls—right on top of my left breast?
Could it be from living on the farm, breathing in the pesticides?
Could it be from eating too much meat? (Said farm raises cattle and hogs.)
Could it be from The Great Hormonal Shift known as menopause?
Could it be from the increased stress I’ve had over the last year and a half, the combo of my dad dying (from cancer) and my dog Jack almost dying several times (from diabetes)?
Could it be Karma, that I should have treated people better, done more to help the homeless and the poor?

Next, I thought of all the people (and pets) who would outlive me—the ones I had expected to pass on years ahead of me. I thought of all the crap I would have to get rid of so it wouldn’t be left behind for someone else to deal with. I thought of the old journals I’ve been meaning to burn, the clothes I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill, the piles on my desk I’ve been meaning to file.

I thought of the things I would do with whatever time I have left:
– Go on more bike rides.
– Eat whatever the hell I want! Especially ice cream.
– Take Doug to Africa on a safari, and to Italy to indulge in the food. (See above: eat whatever the hell I want!)

I thought of all the things I would miss:
– Swimming
– My dog, my goats, my boyfriend, my family
– Cocktail hour on the porch swing
– Feeling the wind in my face
– Peach crumble pie

And all the things I would NOT miss:
– Mean, abusive people
– Guns and violence
– Divisive politics
– Toxic masculinity
– Seeing the demise of our planet

I thought of all the things I’m grateful for:
– Modern medicine and mammograms—and Obamacare
– The love of Doug, my family and friends, all my pets
– The privilege I was born into
– The education I’ve had
– The means to travel the world
– My health (up to now)

I thought of how I would tackle the cancer Angelia Jolie-style—aggressively, by cutting off both breasts. I thought of how I would look with a flat chest and of what I would wear when I no longer needed a bra. I thought of how my hair would grow back, maybe coarse, maybe all gray.

The following day as I drove to the hospital, I saw the familiar scenery in a different way. The sky, the clouds, the blackbirds on the fence posts, the red barns, the white dotted line on the highway, every single detail appeared more vivid, sharper, more meaningful, knowing I might not be on this beautiful earth much longer.

In the Diagnostic Imaging ward, I was ushered to a dark room, disrobed from the waist up, and lay on a bed while a technician moved her wand across my chest. She kept her eyes focused on the black and white monitor—and I kept my eyes focused on her, looking for any trace of concern, any hint of news.

“It’s inconclusive,” she said. “I need to show it to the doctor and see what he says.”

I waited on the table, half naked. To keep myself calm I did some yoga stretches and leg lifts, hoping there was no hidden camera.

When the technician came back, she said, “The doctor wants you to have another mammogram. I’ll walk you over there right now.” She handed me a hospital-issue top. “You don’t need to get dressed. Just put this on.”

She ushered me into the mammogram room, the same room I had (begrudgingly) been in four days earlier. The technician was, as the others had been, friendly, speaking in gentle tones, and going about her business as usual, tasks that she and her coworkers do daily for hundreds, nay thousands, of other women: Placing sticker with a tiny metal ball on nipples. Positioning body and arms against X-ray machine. Giving instructions to hold breath. Pressing button to take picture.

This is what it’s like, in case you’ve never seen what women go through to get tested. 

She showed me the image, black and white and blurry and, to the untrained eye, hard to comprehend. She pointed out the fibrous tissue, the ducts, the adipose fat, the muscle—the unknown parts of me hidden under the skin.

“This is the area where the doctor saw the spot,” she said. “Where there was a change from last year’s image.”

It was no bigger than a pea. But a pea-size mass is still a mass.

While the doctor was summoned to analyze my mammogram, I sat in the waiting room—in my pink hospital top that didn’t stay closed because of the worn-out Velcro closures. The TV was tuned into a soap opera, “Days of Our Lives,” the one my sister had been on 25 years earlier. The drama was still the same, so were some of the actors, as I recognized a few. As for my sister, she had either been carted off to a mental institution or killed by an ex-lover, or…maybe she died from breast cancer—I don’t remember how her role ended, but seeing the soap made me think back on the last 25 years (actually, all 56 years of my life) and how I had packed a lot of experiences into those years. Maybe I had lived so fiercely because somewhere in my intuition I knew my time would be cut short. Nowadays, it seems like it’s not a matter of if you get cancer (or shot in a school or hit by a distracted driver), but when.

I waited. And waited. It wasn’t long in the scheme of hospital visits, but 20 minutes feels like 20 hours when you are waiting to hear if your life is going to be fine—or if it’s going to hell.

Finally, the technician came back out, took me into the dressing room, and shut the door. Here we go. Here comes the news. I braced myself.

“It’s nothing,” she said. “You have dense tissue so next time get a 3D mammogram. You won’t need to come back for another year.”

When I went outside into the sunlight, I had to blink to fend off the brightness—and the tears. “It’s nothing.” It was not cancer. I was fine.

Let’s do away with these ribbons
and find a cure already! 

I was fine, but as I walked out to the parking lot, passing other people walking in, I wondered about all the others who were not fine. The other women whose ultrasounds showed malignant tumors or whose mammograms sent them on to the next stage for a biopsy, and the many (too many) others who were at this moment tethered to chemo drips or confined to hospital beds or taking their last breaths as I walked out with my health—and my freedom.

I sat down by the outdoor fountain at the hospital entrance to collect myself. Relief washed over me like the water cascading down the fountain’s pyramid of gold shingles. And then came the tears, the release of the terror I had been harboring for 24 hours. Soothed by the moving water, I took a few minutes to transition from “this might be the end” to “life goes on.”

In our house we have an expression we have been using since my dog was diagnosed with diabetes last year. “Every day is a bonus,” we say. As we ride the waves of my dog’s good days and bad days, Doug and I remind each other that every day he is still with us is a bonus. As a 56-year-old woman who has had a lifetime of good health, I’ve had no reason for counting each day as a bonus for myself. It even seemed a bit paranoid, fatalistic to count the days that way. But this “little scare” is a reminder of just how quickly things could change.

In a way, I’m glad I went through this as it forced me to consider what’s important to me, and reminded me not to put things off. I now have a list of Things I’d Miss and Things I Want to Do Before I Die that I can consult for those times I relapse into taking life for granted.

Me. Celebrating. Life.

With my list in mind, I left the hospital and drove—with my windows down—straight to Dairy Queen. I went home and hugged my dog and my goats, went for a swim, and joined my boyfriend for a gin and tonic on the porch swing.

I also put a reminder on my calendar to schedule next year’s mammogram. And guaranteed, when that day comes around, it won’t take a Cardinals baseball game to convince me to keep the appointment. ⧫

Some breast cancer resources:

https://ww5.komen.org
https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org
https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/mammograms-fact-sheet

Well, what are you waiting for? Go get your mammogram screening. Do it.