Grief: A Progress Report

Eldon, Iowa’s McHaffey Opera House Thrift Store transforms
into a magical “Winter Wanderland” at Christmas —
but what did they do with all of Marcus’ clothes?

With the holidays here again (my, how fast a year goes by!) and H gone for good, I’ve been experiencing a collision of past and present. As I try to make sense of what the hell my 4-month relationship with H was all about and how all that is left of it is…nothing, I have been simultaneously reflecting on my life at this same time last year.

This time last year I blogged about bicycling in the basement, about how my grief was stored in my cells and how physical exertion dislodged the sorrow that was burrowing in my cellular membranes, to the point I couldn’t exercise anywhere but in the safety of my house. I wrote about clearing space in the basement to set up the bike track stand and how that effort resulted in me letting go of a few of Marcus’ beautiful pieces of clothing. I didn’t handle the letting go with grace. I couldn’t even get to the post office without having a complete meltdown – as if sending Marcus’ cashmere coat to my brother in Seattle was reliving Marcus’ death itself.

With the smoke still clearing from the detonation of H, I have made the surprising discovery that grief – as if it were an entity of its own – is no longer dominating my life. (For the record, it has been 2-1/3 years since Marcus died.)

It only just occurred to me that I haven’t written about my grief in a while. That’s because when H was here, living in my “teeny house in the middle of nowhere” (as he put it) for the past three months, there was not time nor space for shedding my daily tears over my late husband or writing letters to him in my journal or looking through our photo albums of our weddings, our European motorcycle trips, our life in Mexico, and our wilderness adventures. There was no privacy for expressing my sadness over losing Marcus, and certainly no blogging about the subject for god’s sake, not with a tall strapping man around.

With H around I didn’t ride my bike in the basement (How could I indulge in that, especially when I had even started calling it my “Crying Machine?!”) Instead, H and I spent long afternoons riding the beach cruiser bikes on the flat gravel roads — with our destination a barn, where we fed carrots to a family of goats. (Happiness is feeling the wind in your face – and admiring the sexy ass of the guy on the bike next to you.)

And really, there was no need to cry, no ability to feel sad, when there was nightly entertainment in my living room. Letting H’s guinea pig out of his cage resulted in hilarious circus-like performances of guinea pig, H’s Chow and my two terriers chasing each other around and under the furniture. Seeing how a little one-pound rodent could intimidate three dogs made us howl with laughter. The only tears were the ones from laughing too hard.

It is also of note that when H first arrived, in my attempt to make him feel at home – and in my attempt to make room for new love in my life (both literally and figuratively) – I took down my shrine of Marcus’ framed photos in my living room and next to my bed. I also loaded up the rest of Marcus’ belongings (minus a few very special items, like his Lederhosen, Geiger sweater, Haferl boots, and German hunting boots) and hauled them off to Eldon’s thrift store at the McHaffey Opera House. I even donated the clothes that still held his scent – I had sealed them in a plastic garbage bag and because H was standing next to me when I put them in the washing machine I didn’t get to bury my nose in Marcus’ shirts and breathe in his scent one last time. It was an impetuous, “just get it over with” move and though I felt sick about it, I kept my mind on the future – I was making room for new love, damn it! – and pretended to H that I was fine with letting go. “I’m ready to give away his stuff,” I told H, while secretly trying to convince myself it was true. If only I could have just smelled his shirts one last time…

My relationship with H ended a week before Christmas. One could consider this to be bad timing. But it worked out well for me. True, being alone for the holidays could have sent me into a panic. I could have felt the need to run away from Eldon for fear of feeling isolated in my “teeny house in the middle of nowhere” (insert eye rolling here). Or I could have embraced being home and simply hibernated like I did last year. But here’s the thing: The weather has been unseasonably, freakishly warm and sunny. It feels more like May than December. And that has made all the difference.

With balmy weather beckoning me out, not only did I spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day making the rounds to several friends’ houses, I also did something I haven’t done in a very long time. I went for a run. Outside.

Just this morning, I laced up my sneakers and hit the gravel road, following the Des Moines River downstream. It felt so good to move, to breathe in the country air, to feel the sun on my face that I ran at least six miles. I didn’t break down in tears. I didn’t feel the weight of grief bearing down on me. I didn’t have to walk home carrying a heavy load of sadness. It’s hard to be sad when it’s 50 degrees and sunny on a late December Iowa morning and you still have the strength and athleticism to go for a long run after an extended absence from the sport. And it’s especially hard to be sad when you are accompanied by a view of bald eagles soaring over the river.

The weather will inevitably turn cold. January will surely bring snow and ice. But I am ready for it. I am no longer riding my bike in the basement. I moved the bike and its track stand upstairs to the top floor. It’s in what I call my “dressing room,” in front of the “other” Gothic window that mirrors the famous one on the opposite end of the house. It’s another step away from the darkness and toward the light. The back window has a beautiful view of my big yard, several rows of pine trees, and open sky. But instead of staying inside, I know now that I can also put on my fleece tights and gloves, and keep running – snow or not – outside. And that is significant progress.

Part of Marcus’ mini shrine

I don’t have anything more of Marcus’ that I will be taking to the post office or thrift store. It took over two years, and H moving in, but I have let go of the bulk of his belongings. Whatever is left I am keeping. Including an unwashed bath towel of Marcus’ packed in one of his boxes. (You didn’t think I was that stoic, did you?! I knew there was still something to sniff when I loaded that washing machine.) When I need a hit of his scent I know where to get it. And whenever I want to look at his pictures, well, I just have to look across my desk. With H gone, Marcus’ shrine has been resurrected. Albeit a scaled down version, proving further progress.

As for making sense of H, I can already see how that relationship served as therapy, stripping away yet another layer of grief. Time heals, they say. And if that time was filled with someone who helped keep me from indulging in the daily sadness, someone who kept me from focusing on the past, someone who helped me to laugh again, then yes, absolutely, spending four months with H was worth whatever disappointment and confusion he left behind.

Still, it’s not as if my grief packed up and drove off with H. It’s just that I can see now how it has lessened, how even though grief is still present (and I understand that it will be for the rest of my life) it doesn’t have to hold me back. Oh, I still cry over Marcus. Even when H was here I still had my moments where I hid in my closet and let the tears flow. But the tears don’t debilitate me like they used to.

And so, with past and present now thoroughly examined, the nuclear fusion contained and wrapped up as if in a pretty Christmas package, it’s time to look to the future. Bring on the New Year. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Even If You Don’t Feel Like It, Make Gratitude Pie

Some of you know that H and I broke up. Some of you know that because I posted a blog last week telling the somber, gut-twisting story about how he drove away leaving behind only tire tracks in the snow and how I stood there sobbing in my bathrobe and boots, and how I spent the next hours and days waiting and waiting for the snow to melt, for those tell-tale tracks to disappear, because they kept reminding me of how he exited my life so abruptly.

Some of you also noticed that I took that blog post down. “You should put that post back up,” some of you wrote. “He took advantage of you. He was selfish,” others wrote. One friend wrote, “You should have been much harder on him than you were.”

But my mother’s voice reproached me. “That’s not charitable,” her age-old recording in my head kept reminding me.

Understanding that the definition of charitable is “kind or lenient in one’s attitude towards others,” then yes, my mother was right. I also continued to hear my mom’s other lifelong reproach saying, “You tell people too much.” Based on my blog and my forthcoming memoir, obviously I ignore this voice 99.9 percent of the time. But in my heart I didn’t feel right about the “snow tracks” story. It wasn’t charitable and what happened between H and me didn’t need to be shared so publicly. I took the post down.

A few days later, my sister gave me an early Christmas present. A Gratitude Journal. It was not lost on me that she gave me this “thoughtful gift” in direct response to my excessive complaining to her—mostly about H. “Wah. Wah. Wah,” is all I said over and over. (God, I can be such a whiner!)

The Gratitude Journal contains an introduction discussing how to be happy, how being grateful and expressing that gratitude is a key to feeling good about life. The author states that she wrote in her gratitude journal every day for six weeks and saw positive results, and that she really felt better. About everything.

Well, I wrote in my new gratitude journal one day—just one page—and the results were instantaneous. It was like I was a wind-up toy marching in the wrong direction and someone picked me up by the back of the neck, turned me around and set me moving in the opposite direction, the one away from the negative and instead toward the positive.

Gratitude — and happiness — can be found in the simple things,
like a spectacular winter sunset in Eldon, Iowa.

Of course I am disappointed and down about the sudden unraveling of my relationship with H (one week before Christmas, no less!) And unfortunately the break up dredges up deeper fears: I am afraid I will never find love again. And because I am still grieving Marcus I worry that I will never be a desirable partner to anyone. But now I can and will put a stop all that negative thinking and remember gratitude. I have so much to be grateful for! My loving friends, my close family, my scruffy dogs, my adorable (and affordable) house, my good health, my soon-to-be published book, and so much more. And, really, truly, I am grateful for H—for four months of great snuggling, laughter, hiking, traveling, my introduction to the South (and grits and biscuits), morning dog walks, shared meals, shared stories, wonderful companionship and friendship.

A full moon rising over my favorite cornfield is something to be grateful for.

And so, the blog post of last week will remain sealed in a vault. Moreover, I have told my friend, the one who said I should have been harder on him, “I have no reason to say anything unkind about H. He is a good person and in spite of our relationship not being what I had hoped it could be, he still gave me a lot. And I am grateful.”

Gratitude feels good.

Tire Tracks in the Snow

NOTE: I posted this story twice and took it down twice. But apparently enough people saw it, liked it and even wanted to forward it to their friends, so due to public pressure popular demand I am posting the story again. Third time’s a charm. I would say “Sorry, H,” but H has since admitted he was texting other women, so I feel I have the right to post this without apology. It goes to show you, ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INTUITION.

— — — — — 

This is what it looks like when the man you’ve been dating for the past four months — and living with for the past three — abruptly decides to pack up his chow and his guinea pig and leave in the pre-dawn hours of an Iowa winter morning.

As he drives away you stand there in your boots and your bathrobe, sobbing, wondering what it was you did that caused him to go. Was it because you nagged him too much about doing dishes? You admit that you did badger him about this. You also remember that while he first offered to buy you a dishwasher all he managed in the end was to buy paper plates. Or did he leave because you complained about him watching too much TV? You never wanted TV in your house, but in your effort to accommodate this new relationship you relented. You relented so much that when the cable TV you had installed didn’t offer his favorite sports channel you upgraded to satellite, complete with that little dish mounted to the roof of your house which now interferes with the  view out your bedroom window. Regardless, you wish every time you look out the window that the damn snow would melt so you don’t have to be reminded of how he drove out of your life.

You spend your day so out of sorts you can’t get any work done. All you can do is call everyone you know who will remind you that you are fabulous and smart and funny and beautiful. This is helpful because the man who you lived with, the one you had thought had such potential for a future, the one you thought you were falling in love with, the one who drove off at 5:50 a.m. in the snow, had never once told you that you were fabulous, smart, funny and beautiful. You do remember, however, that he called you “cute” exactly three times and how you responded, “Cute is not the same as beautiful.”

You just want the day to pass, time to pass, you want the damn snow to melt. You want your heart to feel at peace, you want your stomach to stop feeling so sick and knotted. But especially you want to look at his iPhone again, the one with all those text messages from all those women friends of his, the ones he couldn’t bring himself to tell that not only did he have a girlfriend, he was living with her. You’re not sure–because you were in such a panicked state for snooping in the first place (something you vowed you would never stoop so low to do)–but you think you saw an exchange of messages that revealed he was rushing back home to meet up with a woman who couldn’t wait to see him. If only you could read those messages again you could see you were wrong, that it was nothing of the sort, and put your mind at ease. Still, you will never be sure because he is driving to a place 21 hours away and he is never going to let you see his phone again. Moreover, you have the feeling you are never going to see him again.

Your friends continue to call and email and prop you up and tell you it’s for the best that he left, that you rushed into this too fast, that they were never really sure about him anyway.

And though the final outcome has yet to reveal itself, you begin to feel better, more grounded, even a little grateful to have the house to yourself again. You pack up the shampoo bottles he left in the shower and wonder how soon you can cancel the satellite TV. And eventually, thankfully, the snow finally melts.

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 3 – by H

Pie Lady Visits the Mountain South, Part 3 (and Final Installment) — As Told by H

So…we are now back in the Iowa plains metropolis of Eldon, and it’s time to reflect upon a California Yankee’s introduction to the Southern Appalachians. Of course, I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a match made by anyone associated with heaven. If there was a version of eHarmony that matched people with places, Beth and the Georgia mountains would never even make it to the point where pictures are exchanged. The mountains are too steep and the hollows too confining. And the hunters seem to outnumber the animals (except, of course, inside our cabin.) And then there are the Confederate flags

But we did have some adventurous hikes and see some nice scenery. (Pictured:  Amicalola Falls)

And there were some very nice meals at Cucina Rustica 

And Harvest On Main 

And for the pie baker supreme, there is the fact that Gilmer County Georgia is the apple capital of the South, and the orchards have some superb pie apples.

And where else can you get your picture taken with a stuffed bear (pronounced “barre”) inside a place that sells apple cider donuts, apple fritters, fried pies in 15 flavors, stone ground grits and candy and caramel apples? All this plus a petting zoo and an animated hillbilly on a tractor.

But despite all of these wondrous advantages, Beth is a reluctant visitor to the mountain South. Much as I would be visiting a hippy commune. Mind you, she isn’t a General Sherman who’d like to burn the place off the map, but she just didn’t find a connection to this craggy, homespun region. But then, she didn’t have the same introduction to it that I did.

Shortly after moving to East Tennessee years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. The good (southern) folks at University of Tennessee Medical Center had to carve me up and put me back together again. Then they had to essentially poison all of the cancer out of my body without killing me. I’d never met nicer or more caring people. And in the year after I was released from the hospital I rented a mountain cabin across from a small lake. I’d never seen or experienced such a calm and serene place. It helped me put myself back together and continue on with life. So for me, the mountain South will always tug at my heartstrings despite its shortcomings and throwback ways.

And I won’t give up on getting Beth to look at the area through a different lens, to feel just a little bit of what I feel. For there is always next fall, and the promise of a cabin with 10 or fewer stuffed bears and moose, no “Stairs of Death” and a road that isn’t like living through a daily episode of The Thrillbillies.

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 2 – by H

The Pie Lady Visits the Mountain South — (Part 2) – as told by H

If you replaced “banjo” with “gunshots” this would perfectly represent Beth’s sentiments about hiking in these parts. It’s the height of deer season here in Georgia, and at times it sounds like the civil war is still ongoing. Although Beth and I share our Midwestern roots (Beth Iowa, me Ohio), I have lived south of the Mason-Dixon line for over 20 years, and I am well acquainted with the Southern Appalachians. I even lived in Top O’World Tennessee at one point, a place where a neighbor once showed up at my door with a large jar of canned bear meat.

Beth however, (in-spite of her many world travels) is pretty much a neophyte in Dixie. She gaped in slack-jawed horror at the 30-foot-long confederate flag waving in the breeze over the local Rebel Market and gas station. I explained that the owner of this establishment would likely explain to her that the flag is an expression of “heritage not hate,” but to say that she remained unconvinced would be a notable understatement…

But…Beth is quickly finding that there are good as well as gun-toting rebel elements in N. GA. Yesterday I took her to breakfast at a place I was clued into by a local several years ago. It’s a small country store with a restaurant of sorts tucked back into one corner. One GOB (good ole boy) cooks and serves. If you do something silly like not ordering any meat, he’ll put some of his homemade sausage on your plate anyway. And you don’t get a ticket when you’re finished, you just amble over to the cash register and tell the lady what all it was that you ate and drank. Beth was dubious when I set a plate down in front of her that contained a huge halved biscuit smothered in gravy, two fried eggs and a piece of sausage.

But now? Now she is asking me when we are going back.

She is not, however, asking me when we are coming back to this particular cabin. This cabin affords privacy and a nice view but it has some notable drawbacks. One would be a death defying road that leads up to the place. It’s steep enough to be a bobsled run, has places with ruts big enough to swallow a SMART car whole, and has a blind hill that the stars of the FUEL TV series “Thrillbillies” would shirk in terror from. And if you survive the road up here, there is an equally deadly feature that awaits you inside of the cabin. Through reading the cabin guest book, we found that this wooden horror has a name. Behold, the Stairs of Death…

If you’ve ever been to the amusement park Cedar Point in Ohio, just think of the ride named “Demon Drop” as this is merely a non-mechanical version of it.

There is another feature of this cabin that while not dangerous, is nonetheless somewhat horrifying: the décor. One family wrote in the guest book that they tried for days to count all of the assorted bears inside the cabin, but it was simply too exhausting and mind numbing. After about 5 minutes on the inside, Beth declared, “No, I can’t take it” and proceeded to apprehend armloads of stuffed bears, bear statues and a moose or two and jam them into closets. We have one closet that now looks like a décor bear version of Gitmo. They will stay incarcerated until freed by the cleaning service after our departure.

But today it is sunny and nice and we are going horseback riding in the mountains. We may not make it back up the road to the cabin, but up until that point it will be a great day.

Note to readers: Daisy is doing much better. We will probably leave here a day or two early so she can be part of the early release program at the kennel.

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 1 – by H

The Pie Lady visits the Mountain South 
(Part 1) – as told by H

It was a decidedly rough start to this adventure, as the days immediately before departing on this trip were rough ones for Beth. Her cartoon character terrier Daisy had surgery, was sick afterward, and had to be left in the care of a veterinarian the day before we left. Although the care, rest and limited activity afforded by lodging at the vet’s office was a good option for a post-surgery dog, leaving a dog for over a week (especially an ailing dog) is anathema to Beth’s constitution. It was traumatic with a capital T, as Beth is one of the dog-lovingest individuals anywhere on the planet. A sick Daisy meant that Beth got little sleep in the days before we headed south, so she was stressed and sleep deprived when it came time for our Sunday morning departure. We discussed not going at all, but the cabin was already paid for, and Beth rallied enough to get herself, me, Jack (terrier), Miska (Chow), Naf-Naf (guinea pig) into my car and onto the road.

Twelve hours in the car wasn’t exactly what Beth needed on that particular Sunday, but we both survived the trip, aided by listening to old radio episodes of Suspense on XM Radio. I’ve wanted to take Beth to the South almost from the day I met her. Why, you ask? Because Beth is about as un-southern as a woman can get. The often uttered, “Woman, get me a beer” which is a staple request/order from men throughout Dixie, would be one of the quickest ways I can imagine to get an instantaneous “Fuck off” response from Beth. If I had to label her geographic/cultural makeup, it would be California Yankee. And “CY” is about as far afield from “MS” (Mountain South) as you can get. This is why I knew it would be both fun and amusing to take Beth to the Georgia mountains…

The Happy Chair

Upon arriving, Beth still need a bit of attitude adjustment, so on the banks of the Toccoa River, she was boosted up into the Happy Chair.

I mean, how can you not be happy looking at this scenery?

Beth already has an appreciation for the scenery and outdoor recreational opportunities here. But southern culture? If only I’d taken a picture of the look on her face when the GOB (good ole boy) asked another GOB in the grocery store if he’d shot anything yet. More on this later…

Pumpkin Pie Palooza Kicks Off With…Pumpkins

This was all H’s idea. As for me, after a verrrry long summer of pie slavery, I mean pie baking, I was quite relieved that the Pitchfork Pie Stand was closed for the season. But no. Halloween is H’s favorite holiday. And apparently pumpkin pie is one of his favorite pies, because no sooner did I hang the “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign on my door, H suggested, “Hey, let’s have a Pumpkin Pie Palooza.” Yeah, sure, okay, I replied in my love-struck state.

And so it begins, the preparation for one last pie-making hurrah of 2011. It’s the same routine of the summer — shopping for mass amounts of ingredients, rolling industrial-quantities of dough, boiling over pie filling in the oven clouding my kitchen with smoke — except that it will be condensed into the next three days.

H has been very sweet and supportive about the whole thing though. We kicked off pumpkin pie season a few weeks ago when we went on a local “farm crawl.” The first farm we stopped at was Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch
…where we stocked up on pumpkins that have been adorning the backyard of the American Gothic House ever since. One of the pumpkins even found its way onto the clothesline post — as the head of the scarecrow. Which was also H’s idea. (Seems that spending time in rural Iowa is bringing out his creative side.)

I had my own creative ideas for decorating the backyard (below). After all, October is not only about Halloween, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I digress…

H also bought me a pumpkin pie sign. It’s adorable. And thoughtful. And reminds what a great guy H is. Not that I need reminding.

But really, H outdid himself today. While I was home getting caught up on work, he went to the grocery store —Aldi, of course — and bought all the remaining ingredients I needed to get started. He sent me this photo from the parking lot:

And now…it’s my turn to step in. Tonight I’ll be making dough. Tomorrow I’ll be rolling it. Friday I’ll mix gallons of pumpkin custard and peel 60 pounds of apples, since we’ll also offer apple pie. And on Saturday, I’ll get up early to bake. And bake. And bake.

And finally, this Saturday from 12 to 4, we’ll have pie for sale at the Pitchfork Pie Stand. We won’t be open again until Memorial Day — I swear — so please come by for this Saturday’s one-day event. The weather report is for 60 degrees and sun so we’ll set up the pie stand outside in the yard. And even though I occasionally grumble about what hard work it is to run a pie stand, I’m really looking forward to a crispy fall day with the cinnamon scent of pie permeating the air. And not to just selling pie, but to eating some too!

Meanwhile, since so many of you come to my blog looking for recipes, let me fill you in on my “secret recipe” pumpkin pie. It’s straight off the Libby’s canned pumpkin label. Uh, yeah. There you have it. Hardly a secret. It’s tried and true, it doesn’t call for nutmeg (which I abhor for its overpowering taste), and — always a prerequisite for me — it’s easy.

Happy Halloween, everyone. And Happy Pumpkin Pie season.

PUMPKIN PIE RECIPE (From the Libby’s label)

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) canned pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated Milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)

MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
POUR into pie shell.

BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Your FAQs Answered

With the Pitchfork Pie Stand closed since Labor Day you would think I might have updated my blog by now. But no. I have been busy. Perfecting the art of downtime. This said downtime — much-needed and well-earned after a demanding summer — isn’t something I am good at, but it doesn’t matter. It won’t last. Things will gear up for my book launch, starting with an October trip to New York to meet my agent and publisher, and a few new writing projects are set to begin soon. At this rate I will likely continue to neglect my blog. But since I keep getting asked questions about the status of certain things in my life, I thought a little summary might suffice in the meantime.

This is Naf-Naf, the latest addition to the American Gothic House pack.

Q: Why aren’t you updating your blog more often?
A: See answer above. If that doesn’t satisfy you, see answer below.

Q: Whatever happened with H? 
A: H’s visit in August was too short and it was too hard to say goodbye, so he flew home, packed up his clothes, his shaving kit, his dog and his guinea pig and drove back to Iowa with his menagerie. So, yeah, after just two dates (how does one define “dates” that lasted 5 days each?), H and his animals are basically living in the American Gothic House with me and Team Terrier. After 3 weeks…well, so far so good. H is an entrepreneur who is in between projects (thus his ability to pick up and spend time in rural Iowa). He is teaching me how to sleep more, stress less, laugh often, and spend time just walking the dogs, riding bikes, and reading. His calming energy is far more effective than time-release melatonin.

Q: Are you done with your book? When is it coming out?
A: “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie” is essentially done. The cover art is just about finalized, as is the copy for the book jacket. I have one more read-through to do before it goes to print and I should be receiving that last editable version any day now. I just finished compiling an extensive media contact list and publicity ideas for the publisher — no small effort! The book is still scheduled to come out in hardback April 2012. Still about 6 months to go. The process feels like a damn pregnancy. Not that I would know, but the gestation period is about the same, as is the level of anticipation — and fear of labor.

Q: Are you still making pies? Are you taking special orders? Teaching pie classes?
A: Yes, I’m still making pies. For H and me. And let me tell you, I enjoy making, say, 3 pies much more than making 53. And in that case, I enjoy eating them more too. I made a pie for my 10-year-old friend Chloe on Friday as a “get well” present. She had been in an ATV accident and needed some cheering up. (Lest we forget: Pie heals.) I made a pie for H’s business partner and his wife who came by the AGH on Friday afternoon. I made a few pies-in-a-jar and stashed them in my freezer — just because. So yes, I’m still making pies. Because I love making pies. And I love sharing pies with others. But because I don’t love selling pie (I prefer giving it away whenever possible!) I am not currently taking special orders. I am still teaching pie classes (which I always love doing because I love seeing the happiness and sense of accomplishment others experience when making their own pie) and now have weekends available for classes in my kitchen.

Q: When will the Pitchfork Pie Stand be open again?
A: I plan to open the pie stand again in the late spring, around Memorial Day. I am already thinking about next year’s business strategy and how to manage the volume (and keep my stress level down). That said, the pie stand will be open for a one-day special event — the Pumpkin Pie Palooza — on October 29, in conjunction with the American Gothic House Center’s Halloween festivities. The pie stand will be open from 12 to 4 and we’ll have pumpkin and apple pie. And maybe even a petting zoo (i.e.: H’s chow and guinea pig.) Hope to see you then.

Marcus Two Years Gone: After the Darkness, Light

Marcus died two years ago Friday (on August 19). I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I remember the morning walk with my two little terriers in the searing heat of that Terlingua, Texas desert sun. I remember having some strange heart palpitations and returning to my little miner’s cabin to lie down. I remember The Phone Call, first ignoring the ringing phone, then listening to the voice mail and learning it wasn’t Marcus who had called; it was the medical examiner. I remember the events of the day unfolding, the subsequent phone calls to family, friends, airlines, funeral homes. But what I remember most is the tears. Not just a few crocodile tears streaming down my cheeks, but a gushing waterfall of sobbing, screaming, wailing. I cried so hard I was choking. I emitted frightening guttural sounds I didn’t know I was capable of making. I remember lying on the floor in front of the fan, awake that entire first night, feeling a pain so deep and torturous I wanted to rip the skin off my body to get it out. 

Months later, after moving to Portland, I remember sitting in the first and only grief support group session I attended listening to other widows talk of their losses, and how after two years they were still grieving. Two years?! I did not want that to be me! At that point I didn’t think I would even be able to stay alive two more years. Really.

Obviously, I survived. I got private grief counseling, I took some time to hibernate, and then I got busy — making pie. The grief has never gone away, but with time — all 24 months of it – the acuteness of it has eased. Two years. What a dark, dark period of my life.

But it is hard to write about darkness when there is a bright, blinding light shining in your eyes — light that’s like having been sealed in a blackened room for two years and suddenly the window shade flies open letting intense rays of sun rush in. The sensation of light I’m talking about is this: On the two-year anniversary of Marcus’ death I am not curled up in the fetal position reliving the events of that horrendous life-changing day. Instead, I am driving to the airport to pick up a new friend. A man. A new love. 

When he – let’s call him H – when H told me he was arriving on the 19th I didn’t mention the significance of the date to him. I didn’t reveal how symbolic it was to be making room for someone new on a day that represents the greatest loss I have ever known. But it begs the question: Is this timing just a coincidence? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s Marcus’s doing.

One of the things that has helped me most in dealing with my grief is talking to Marcus. I talk to him daily, mostly at night when I am walking my dogs under the star-filled heavenly Iowa sky. He doesn’t talk back, but that doesn’t stop me. I tell him I miss him. I ask him how he is. I tell him how I am. And, sometimes, I ask him for his help. Go ahead, roll your eyes and think that’s all “woo-woo,” but I swear he is tending to my needs. I asked for his help in January when I started writing my book. Seeing as I have never written so fast and so prolifically in my entire life I am convinced he was here pushing my fingers on the keyboard. Then, a few weeks ago, after my short-lived and exhausting attempt at dating dampened my spirits, I asked him for help again. “I am still in my forties. I am still alive. I still want – still need – physical contact. Can’t you just send me someone who will hold me in his arms?”

Enter H. A gift sent from the “Other Side.” How else to explain where this promise of new love came from? H is the definition of a gentleman. He is elegant and handsome, kind and generous, funny, caring and supremely smart. And he is a damn good hugger. When he wraps his manly arms around me I feel safe again, anchored, better. Much, much better.

Maybe, going forward, August 19 will represent an auspicious day instead of an ominous one. All I know is that I’m feeling some of those strange (but good) heart palpitations as H’s flight arrival time approaches. And that for the first time in two years my tears have stopped long enough to see more than just a passing glimmer of light. I’m seeing so much light, in fact, I may have to seek a little darkness to balance out the new-found brightness. At a point when I might have been needing to invest in more Kleenex, instead I’m thinking a new pair of sunglasses will do.  

(Thank you, Marcus. You may be gone, but you are most definitely not forgotten — and still very much loved!)

Experiment in Dating: Part Two

It’s a weird and heart-wrenching business, this online dating thing. And I’m not comfortable going into much more detail about it, but since I’ve whetted your appetites and you all seem so damn curious now, I’ll feed your ravenous, voyeuristic curiosity a little more. But only a little. And then I will have to stop. Because as one male friend said, “I would be afraid to date you if I thought my every move was going to be documented on your blog.” Point taken. And certainly, if/when dating more than one person at a time, any public revelations could become quite problematic.

My love life may not be in full bloom but my garden is — and less than 2 months
since planting the seeds. If only dating were that quick and easy! 


It’s been one week now since I signed up for and here are the stats to date:

791 people have viewed my profile, 80 people have emailed me, 58 have sent “winks” and 13 have designated me as a “favorite.”

I have nothing to compare these numbers to, but I suppose that’s not a bad return for a 49-year-old grieving widow living in rural Iowa. I should be flattered by the response, but I attribute it mostly to being a “new listing” on the site, like in real estate when people are only interested in seeing only the most recently listed homes. Instead of allowing my ego to get a nice boost, I simply feel bad. Why? Because what this seemingly large response tells me is that there are a lot of lonely people out there. I don’t want people to be lonely. I want everyone to be happy. Regardless of age, height, weight, income or religious beliefs, everyone deserves to be happy. Even republicans. I want to bake all these people pie. And make them feel better.

Instead, I just ignore them. And that makes me–and probably them–feel worse.

I just can’t email everyone back. While many of the emails seem sincere–people who actually read my profile, weren’t put off by my widow status and liberal leanings, and still wanted to “chat”–I don’t have time to take on the task of mass correspondence. I already have two Facebook pages, a LinkedIn page, and two Twitter accounts, on top of the daily business email churn. I have a blog to maintain and I have my latest round of book edits due. Managing a account–which is like having a whole separate Outlook email interface–on top of my regular workload is…well, it’s just too much work. In short, has proven to be both time-consuming and guilt-producing. Not a good combo.

So why haven’t I taken my profile down yet like I threatened to do after Day One? Because out of all those emails and winks and favorites and views, I have actually met a few nice people. And even though the chances are slim that they will become lovers, they will most certainly become friends. And dinner companions. Which is all I really wanted in the first place.

And that’s all I’m going to say. If you want juicy dating details, I suggest reading one of my friend Leigh Michaels’ romance novels.