Forget First or Second, I Am Third

(You can also listen to this on Tri States Public Radio)  

I hear myself saying a little too often these days that I’m glad I grew up when I did, before cell phones and selfies. Before the internet became a runaway train of disinformation. Before being famous was valued more than being a good person. Before this current era of entitlement where the prevailing attitude is “It’s all about me.” Me first. America first. Look at me. Like me. Follow me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. 

https://happyhooligans.ca/gods-eye-craft-weaving-for-kids/

I’m starting to feel like my grandparents, when they expressed their disapproval of modern ways by starting sentences with, “In my day…” I get it now. It troubles me to see the Christian values I was taught when I was young devolve into the so-called Christian values demonstrated today.  

I grew up in Iowa in the 70s and spent my summers at Camp Abe Lincoln, a YMCA camp on the Mississippi River, just south of the Quad Cities. “The YMCA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to put Christian values into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.” This mission was incorporated into every camp activity. As we sat around the nightly campfire, the counselors told stories of peace and love, and led us in songs like “Kumbaya” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” When we rode and groomed horses, we learned about respect and care for animals. Archery and riflery were a means to teach focus and hand-eye coordination, with an emphasis on safety and non-violence. And when we did crafts, braiding lanyards and weaving colorful yarn around popsicle sticks to create a “God’s Eye,” counselors artfully worked in messages of morality.

More than 40 years later, one of those messages still sticks with me. It was about humility and selflessness delivered in the form of a quote by Gayle Sayers, a Hall of Fame football player for the Chicago Bears. The quote was, “The lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third,” though I didn’t remember it in those exact words. I thought it was “God is first, others are second, and I am third.” I like to think my version is more all-encompassing, as every religion, not just Christianity, worships God, even if they call it by a different name. And by declaring “others are second,” it can include making an outsider feel welcome, helping people less fortunate than you, or simply being nice to strangers, like letting the person with only one item go ahead of you in the grocery line when you have a full cart. All of which leaves you open to making more friends. 

God is first, others are second, 

and I am third.”

Sayers lived his life by this credo, which you can learn more about in his autobiography titled “I Am Third: The Inspiration for Brian’s Song.” He passed away at the age of 77 this past September. If he were still alive, I would reach out to him to ask what he thought about the world today. 

What do you think about people hacking pipeline computers causing others to hoard gas in plastic bags? What about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how instead of sitting down to talk things through, they’re firing missiles at each other? How about antivaxxers refusing to wear a mask during a global public health crisis, claiming it infringes on their personal rights? What about mobs storming the Capitol because their candidate didn’t win? What do you think about the suppression of voting rights, the bullying on social media, and the proliferation of guns, as if we need to arm ourselves against our own neighbors? How about people—church-going, God-fearing Christians at that—closing borders in an outright refusal to aid poor and hungry immigrants, ignoring the fact that not only are these our brothers and our sisters but that we are all immigrants ourselves?

What happened to “I am third?” And how can we bring that message back? 

We can’t all go to a YMCA summer camp, and Gayle Sayers is no longer here to lead the charge, but ironically there is another football player, a coach actually, who is trying to help. His name is Ted Lasso. He’s not a real person; he’s the main character in the charming Apple TV series of the same name. Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, is hired to coach a soccer team in England. But to everyone’s astonishment he doesn’t care about winning. What’s more important, he insists, is to be a unified team. The problem is, the star player is egocentric and refuses to pass the ball to his teammates; he makes all the goals himself so he can reap all the glory. His selfishness erodes the morale of the team, until Ted finally gets through to him, teaching him, like my camp counselors taught me, the most valuable lesson in the game of life: I am third. 

There is no “I” in team. For a safe and healthy planet, we need to work together. For a more unified world, we have to put others first. Life is better and less lonely when it’s not all about me, me, me. The solution is easy. All you have to do is pass the ball.

The Right Books at the Right Time

Sometimes you come across exactly the right book at exactly the right time. A year ago, when I was in a funk and had lost my way, along with my sense of purpose, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic.” In it, she poses the question: “What is it you love doing so much that you would do it even if you didn’t get paid for it?” I could answer that without hesitation: I would write. The thing is, I hadn’t been writing; I had been moping. But her words prompted me to set her book down and pick up my phone, and within ten minutes I had enrolled in a writers workshop. The workshop ended up being a bust, but it had served as a catalyst by reminding me not to look for a crutch. I just needed to sit my butt in the chair and write. 

Two days ago, I was in a state of despair over the world. The corrupt, greedy, misogynistic men in office, the ones who lie, cheat, steal, and bend our American constitution to their will to hang onto their power . . .  These bastards dominating the headlines were breaking my heart so badly I was questioning my emotional capacity to endure. I cried so hard I worried I might give myself a brain aneurysm. But that evening, I arrived at my friend Kathleen’s to dog sit for a week. As Kathleen tried to console me, I happened to see she had Glennon Doyle’s new bestselling book, “Untamed,” on her shelf.  

I hadn’t read the book, in part because I am reluctant to pledge allegiance to any kind of guru (or clergy of any kind), including writers who have been placed on pedestals as spiritual leaders or healers. Even so, I was on Glennon Doyle’s mailing list and stayed on it only because her newsletters were short, mostly news announcements, and so infrequent they didn’t clog my inbox.   

Glennon’s latest email contained a sweet, well-designed, animated video. It told the story of a cheetah in a zoo kept in a cage: Tabitha. Glennon was disturbed to see how the zookeepers had tried to tame Tabitha, and was certain that, deep inside, Tabitha remembered her “wild,” remembered “she was a goddamn cheetah.”

The video, which I had seen the day before my episode of The Great Despair, was a story from “Untamed,” and when I got to Kathleen’s and saw the book, I wondered if there was some cosmic intervention going on, that my bat signal had been picked up by the universe and was sending help. I began reading it that night. And I didn’t put it down until I ran out of pages to turn. 

In “Untamed,” like in Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” Glennon poses a question: “What breaks your heart?” She writes, “Heartbreak is not something to be avoided; it’s something to pursue. Heartbreak is one of the greatest clues of our lives. The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.”

Boom! 

But wait, how can I heal a whole world? How can I take on racism, sexism, environmentalism, and the infinite number of other “isms”? The list is way too long!

Ah, but Ms. Doyle knows this is what you’re thinking—what I’m thinking—and is right there with a response in the next paragraph.

“Despair says, ‘The heartbreak is too overwhelming. I am too sad and too small, and the world is too big. I cannot do it all, so I will do nothing.’ Courage says, ‘I will not let the fact that I cannot do everything keep me from doing what I can.’”

This was my despair described so accurately. My sense of powerlessness to change anything, to fix anything, to make the world better—and by better, I mean less racist, less violent, more equal, more just.

“Every world-changer’s work begins with a broken heart,” she says.

As much as I was inspired by “Untamed,” I didn’t, like I did with “Big Magic,” grab my phone and sign up to volunteer for a cause. I was still feeling too overwhelmed, too sad, and too small. And there are so many things breaking my heart that it’s impossible to narrow it down. Yes, I use pie as a form of humanitarian aid and contribution to society—to build community, spread kindness, and promote healing—but there has to be more I can do. I want to do more. But it’s just so hard to know where to start.

Author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön (another spiritual leader/healer/author) answers this conundrum with a book title: “Start Where You Are.” 

Where am I? 

I am at my friend Kathleen’s, in Des Moines, Iowa, dog sitting. I have pen and paper here. I have a computer. I have a voice. And I have the ability to express my voice through my writing. This is a good place to start. 

And I have already started. I am writing my “World Piece” memoir, about my trip around the world during the summer of 2015, when I made pie in nine countries to promote goodwill and cultural acceptance. In the process of writing it, I am putting the pieces of my heart back together. And who knows? Maybe one day, when it’s published, someone will pick up my book and it will be exactly the right book at exactly the right time for them. 

And maybe, just maybe—GOD WILLING—things will turn around after November 3 and we can fill the headlines with stories of honest, empathetic people who want to help others instead of only themselves.

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.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 3: Banana Cream Pie

My “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” series continues with episode 3, and my dad’s favorite pie: banana cream.

A friend pointed out, “This is the first time I’ve heard your story where you didn’t talk about how your parents met.”

That’s true. In fact, it’s a story that has become THE story of my pie journey.

“I was born because of banana cream pie,” I tell people in my talks. “My mom and dad had been dating 6 months when she invited my dad over for a homemade supper of tuna casserole, Jell-O salad, and banana cream pie for dessert. She knew banana cream was his favorite. He hadn’t even finished his first slice when he proposed to her. So if not for banana cream pie, I would not be here!”

My brother Mike with his first pie!

This video is far shorter than the first two, but it took twice as long to edit. The reason, I’m sure, is that I wanted to make it special — for my dad. It’s a kind of tribute to him. You’ll see what I mean during “The Stirring Scene.” The music that accompanies that part is DeBussy’s Clair de Lune, a song my dad used to play on the piano. You wouldn’t know the significance of that unless a) you were a family member or b) I told you. So I am telling you.

One thing that happened since this video went live (and I admit, I am several days delayed in posting it here), is that my younger brother Mike watched it and, as a result, made his first pie. I sent the video to him merely to watch it — to see how I honored our dad. But he surprised me by replying with a text and pictures of him with the pie he made.

After getting the news from one of my large sponsors pulling back their funding promise… I took to pie making… and felt better,” he wrote.

I choked up with a confusing, bittersweet kind of joy, at once being proud of his accomplishment, moved to tears by the giant smile on his face, and hit with a pang of grief knowing how much our dad would have loved it.

I miss my dad so much. But his memory lives on in this pie.

I hope my pie lesson is helpful to you. Send me pictures of your results. I’ll post them in my “Victory Shot” photo album on Facebook.

Meanwhile…  Stay home. Stay Calm. Keep baking. And share your pie with others who need it.

Next episodes:

  •  Key Lime Pie 
  •  Gluten-free pie 
  •  Pie-in-a-Jar and other various shapes and forms 
  • Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

    Love, Beth

    How I’m Dealing with the Pandemic (And Other Anxieties)

    I want to get back to being a writer, to writing the book I started in early December, or to scrapping that and starting a new one, even just to blogging, but I’m too restless. Like most people, I am sitting in a prickly pear cactus field of fear and anxiety. With the world as we know it ending and the constant onslaught of news and noise, it feels as if there’s no room for my voice. And not just that, but knowing the kind of online mob mentality that exists, how people too often gang up on you in a dog pile of mean-spirited criticism, I feel too thin-skinned and too vulnerable to put myself out there, to share my personal stories and my heart.

    I have people who write to me, not just friends but also people who have read my books and blog posts, who encourage me to keep going. They tell me they appreciate my openness and honesty, and that they like my writing. (Phew! Thank you!) They also say they want to know more about my life. About what happened after I moved out of the American Gothic House. About where I’m living now. If I am still on the farm (aka Camp Doug, and Camp Dough.)  If I am still with Doug. If I still teach pie classes. What my next book is going to be about.

    But here I sit, in the face of a global pandemic, facing a blank page on a Word doc and asking myself What is the point of writing? What the hell even matters anymore?

    Staying healthy. Staying sane. Staying alive. These are the first things that come to mind. But the one thought that keeps pushing its way past the others to the surface of the survival pool is this: Helping others.

    My dad taught me to be of service to others. My husband Marcus’s death taught me that doing nice things for others (like sharing pie) eases the heartbreak of grief. And now, as we teeter on the brink of economic—and possibly societal—collapse, my conscience is telling me to stop worrying about writing and just get out there and help the world in physical ways. Be of service to others.

    I’ve reached out to people to ask what I can do. Social media and newsletters have also been a good source of ideas.

    Here are few things of the suggestions—some I’ve already done—and things you can do too:

    Donate blood.
    I stumbled upon the American Red Cross bus on Saturday afternoon parked outside a coffeehouse and saw a signboard outside it that said “Emergency Blood Drive.” I hadn’t given blood in 18 years (since I’m prone to anemia) but I went in, my iron count passed the test, and I donated a pint.  They are having a shortage due to the virus forcing blood drives to be canceled. Doug, my boyfriend, has been a longtime donor and has given a total of 24 gallons over the years! Got blood? Trust me, if I can spare a little so can you.  Go here to find out where to give.

    Foster animals. 
    I saw a post somewhere, maybe on my Nextdoor app, that said our local shelter was in need of fostering for dogs and cats. I lost my terrier, Jack, in September and I’m not ready to get another dog, but why not foster? My apartment building allows pets and because of the circumstances the landlord agreed to waive the monthly pet fee. So I stopped at the shelter—only to check it out—and came home with Peanut, a six-pound Chihuahua recovering from a prolapsed uterus. She requires medication, which I am an expert at administering after two years of Jack’s insulin shots and heart pills, which is why the shelter asked if I would take a dog with medical needs. Peanut is quiet, cuddly, and very appreciative of the down comforter and heating pad I’ve provided for her bed. And she is excellent company during this time of social distancing. If there was ever a win-win, this is it. This need is not only in Tucson, but everywhere right now.  Check with your local animal shelter.

    Feed the needy.
    Schools are closed for classes, but their kitchens are being put to good use preparing food for kids and others who might otherwise go hungry. I sent an email today to offer help preparing, handing out, and/or delivering meals. I haven’t gotten an assignment yet, but I have my rubber gloves ready and my car tank filled with gas. Schools are doing this nationwide, if not internationally, so check what’s happening in your area.

    Restock grocery store shelves. 
    One thing we all need to do no matter what is eat. But if you’ve been in a grocery story lately you’ll see that the shelves are bare. This highly unusual sight of scarcity is enough to send anyone into a full-blown panic. Honestly, it could turn any rational person into a toilet paper hoarder. Just today I got an email from Safeway (they had my email because I joined their club card program last week) which said they need people to work in their stores. Someone needs to unload those delivery trucks, unpack those boxes, and replenish those shelves. Sign me up! I clicked on the application form, but apparently so did everyone else who got the email, because the site was down. I’d be happy to do the work and the heavy lifting, but I know there are people in more urgent need of the income and I hope they get hired.

    Buy groceries for those who can’t afford them. (If there are still groceries to buy.)
    It’s been fun (is “fun” the right word at a time like this?) to spend time on Twitter. I find the clever quips to be a source of intelligent and informed humor. But it’s not all snarkiness over there. Someone (and given the quick-paced, fleeting nature of the Twitterverse, I’ll never be able to track down who it was) posted something about paying for groceries for the person in line behind them, or giving money to the person in front of them who didn’t have enough to pay for theirs. And then someone commented that their Aldi Nerds Facebook group…

    Wait, what?? There’s are Aldi FB groups?? How did I not know this given my super fan status for all things Aldi (especially their low prices compared to Safeway)?

    …The commenter said her Aldi Nerds FB group was buying gift cards to give to people who needed food. It’s gestures like this that restore my faith in humanity and, yes, I am going to join that FB group immediately.

    Make pie. And share it.
    Of course I have to include this one. But given that I’m always preaching that “pie is meant to be shared,” well, how does one safely share pies during a “shelter in place” mandate? Do you leave a pie outside of someone’s door, ring the doorbell, and run? Or are you limited to sharing pie in your own house? Then again, some people are confined to separate rooms in their own homes. I don’t know all the safety aspects of sharing pie right now, but I do know two things:  One, people need to eat. And two, people need comfort and love more than ever. Pie is comfort. Pie is love. Pie is baked in a hot oven and surely 425 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to kill that motherfucker of a virus. Even if you can’t share your pie, the act of baking one is good therapy for calming the nerves.

    Make music.  And share it.
    A new friend of mine in Tucson has kids in their twenties who are musicians. One lives in San Diego, the other lives in Nashville, but both are currently taking refuge in their parents’ home in Oro Valley. They aren’t “hunkering down” watching Netflix and scrolling through Instagram though, they are rehearsing for a Cul de Sac Concert! Like the Italians singing on their balconies, or the two kids playing cello for their housebound elderly neighbor, my friend’s kids are going to share the gift of their musical talents (and, boy, are they talented!) with the neighborhood, because sound waves don’t spread diseases.

    Write letters to say “Thank you” and “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”
    Yes, we are asked to maintain our physical distance for who knows how long. When will we get to see our parents and siblings and closest friends again? This uncertainty is what is driving so much of the anxiety. Thank goodness we can still communicate. I’ve been almost constantly on my phone or computer, texting, sending emails, sending photos, staying in touch with my people. But post offices are still open. We have stamps. And we can write letters in longhand, which has an added value. Dragging your pen across the page in curlicue lines or straight upright blocks slows you down causing you to be more thoughtful, which by the way, seems to be an overall theme, if not perhaps a “benefit,” of this virus. I wrote a few birthday cards yesterday. I wrote to my dad, who has been living on “the other side” for the past three years. (I’m convinced he can read my words.) I wrote a note of encouragement to a writer friend who was asking the same “why bother” questions as me (see first paragraph).  And you know what? I felt so much better after writing all this on paper. Not to mention, my eyes felt so much better being away from the screen. Handwriting is like pie in that it’s an endangered art form.  Let’s keep it alive. Next on the recipient list: letters to people I want to thank, just for being in my life, and a few to whom I want to say “I’m sorry.” More importantly, letters of thanks and encouragement to healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line to help us through this crisis.

    Be a pioneer.
    Also over on Twitter (I have never spent so much time on Twitter!) I saw a tweet from author Celeste Ng. The same Celeste Ng who wrote “Little Fires Everywhere” which is now streaming as a hot new series on Hulu. She listed the things she was doing during the lockdown, shutdown, slowdown, meltdown, whatever you want to call it.

    “I am cooking from scratch, schooling my child at home, knitting and baking and making stock. This pandemic is turning me into a pioneer.” 

    Pioneers got shit done. They did manual labor outdoors in the fresh air (which was so much cleaner before the industrial age came along). Their hard work gave them a sense of purpose and accomplishment and toned muscles. And skin far rougher than our 20-second hand-washing sessions are causing us. Be it pie baking, music making, hand writing letters, planting a garden, making soup, or canning jam, now is a good opportunity to spend quality time at home, to work with your hands, and reacquaint yourself with an era before Alexa could do everything for you without having to get up off the couch. (Don’t get me started on that subject.)

    Get outside. 
    Speaking of getting off the couch…  Do not underestimate the toll that the stress we are currently under takes! I’m lucky to be in Tucson where there are hiking trails through wilderness areas that make it easy to be outdoors and maintain social distance. I’ve been taking regular soul-soothing, stress-reducing walks in the mountains. (Not just good for the lungs, legs, and buns, but for burning the extra calories from all that stress-eating!) I want so badly to be of service to others, but you know that thing about putting on your own oxygen mask first is true. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. If you can’t get to a trail or a deserted beach to restock your inner grocery store shelves, maybe just step into the backyard and breathe in some of this rare, newly clean air. Seriously. Have you seen the articles going viral about how China’s sky is blue again, and dolphins are returning to the Venice canals? That should tell you just how badly we’ve been treating this planet! So turn off the TV, silence your phone, and pay your respects to nature. Which reminds me: my list of letters to write includes an apology note to Mother Earth!

    ⇹ ⇹ ⇹

    This is only a short list of ways to be of service. There is always more we could be doing. The point is to just do it.  Don’t overthink it. Like bringing home a chihuahua when you have a preference for terriers, this is not the time for perfection. This is the time for taking action. So just jump in.

    Of course, this is advice I could also apply to writing. Yes, I’m restless and anxious. But writing about that anxiety helps me feel less anxious. Yes, I am vulnerable, and not just to criticism and trolls but to the coronavirus. But I’m not going to let that stop me from living, from sharing my experiences, or from adding my voice to the crowded mix.

    Because words do matter. Stories matter. And there can never be too many stories (or blog posts) because it’s our collective voice that tells the bigger tale. We don’t know where this current saga is going or how all it ends, but we are all part of it. We are in this together. We have to keep doing our best and help each through the confusion and struggle as it comes. Because when you strip everything else away, isn’t helping each other the true meaning of life?

    As for all those questions about what I’m doing now, where I’m living, who I’m with or what pie classes I’m teaching, I’ll save that for another post.


    You might also like these posts: 
    Blogging in a Noisy World, and Why it Matters
    What to Do With All That Privilege
    There is Always Hope, Bea

    World Piece: A Humble, Homemade Film About Making Pie Around the World





    During the summer of 2015, I traveled around the world making pie in 9 countries. At long last, I have gotten the story down, but not on paper as you would expect. Instead, I taught myself how to edit a film using iMovie.

    Forgive my amateur skills, but like I always say about making pie: It’s not about perfection!  I also tell my pie students, “It should look homemade!”

    So that’s what you get here:

    *  a heartfelt story
    *  in the form of a homemade film
    *  that’s as humble as pie.

    I hope you like it.

    More so, I hope it inspires you to connect with your friends, family, neighbors, foreigners, and strangers alike. Because now more than ever, we need to unite our world, to heal the wounds and bridge the divides, and what better way to do that than to sit down and talk over pie!

    Oh, the Things You Can Do When You Take a Break from Social Media!

    In late March I began what became an extended break from Facebook. I use Twitter and Instagram too, but Facebook is my go-to social platform. It’s a place where I get to hang out with my friends and keep up with their news, which is especially valuable to me because I live on a farm where I’m surrounded by goats, dogs and cows. I need people! But I don’t need all the news….and all the noise. And Facebook was becoming too noisy and too loud for my sensitive soul. 


    The cure for loneliness.

    Envy was part of the problem. I found I was getting jealous of my friends (many of them people I have never met in person) and I was feeling bad about myself. It seemed everyone else was doing cool stuff and that I had been put out to pasture. Literally! But that’s the danger of social media. We selectively choose our posts, presenting only the highlights, showing ourselves in our best light, and giving others a very limited, very curated view of our otherwise messy, imperfect, difficult lives. I’m guilty of it too. But I’m an adult with the tools to recognize this. I have the capability to step back, assess my feelings, identify the cause of them and, even more importantly, to act. In this case, the solution was to get off — and stay off — Facebook. At least for a while.

    
I feel for those in our younger generations who don’t yet have the defenses or life experience necessary to ward off the dark forces of social media and all its anxiety-producing pressures. The bullying. The bragging. The negativity. The competition. It can get ugly and, as we’ve seen, even dangerous out there. Yes, there are so many, many good things that social media can do. I have made lifelong friends through it. My pie business grew because of it. My books got read thanks to it. And my World Piece pie-making trip around the world would have never been as rich and rewarding without the support I got from it. 


    But a break was necessary. And I am here to say the break has been hugely productive.

    
Taking this time away from social media has helped me stop comparing my accomplishments or goals to everyone else’s. It has helped me focus on my dreams, to ask myself what do I want? What more can I do with my life? Because I have to and want to do more! What can I do given my circumstances, living in rural Iowa and needing to stay close to home to care for my aging animals? (My terrier, Jack, is still with us. He is diabetic and blind but hanging in there, and I’m sticking by him to the end. He will be 15 on May 17, which if you know his story is a miracle!) 

    That’s Jack in the backpack. And me in my pjs.
    Just another day on the farm. 

    Because I wasn’t filling my days — and my loneliness — reading endless posts and articles online, I freed up a lot of time and I used it — privately and quietly — to ask myself those life-probing questions. In that sacred, protected, sometimes uncomfortable space, I found my answers. 


    And then I got busy. 


    I realized that I didn’t want to travel or play or socialize. I wanted to work! I wanted to contribute something helpful to our troubled world. So I immersed myself in a new project. I spent hours alone at my farmhouse desk to produce something creative and meaningful. And in the process, guess what? I no longer felt lonely! Nor did I feel like I was missing out on anything. (Though I did miss a few birthdays and birth announcements. My apologies to those of you I’ve neglected!) 


    My new project was actually revisiting an old one: World Piece, my round-the-world pie-making trip I took the summer of 2015. I had previously only told snippets of it on Facebook and my blog, and finally, four years later, I sat down to document the whole story in its entirety.

    I have a need to create, but also one to stretch and grow. Expanding my horizons and learning new things gives me the oxygen I require to feel alive — fully, actively alive! So instead of doing what I would normally do as a project — writing the book/memoir (which I still plan to do) — I ventured into a different medium. I taught myself how to use iMovie to tell my story visually. And while it is not perfect (because there is no such thing as perfection!) I want to share with you what came out of my Facebook break.

    I humbly present you with my short film…

    World Piece: A Global Pie-Making Journey

    It is 23 minutes long. I know our online attention spans are three minutes max, but I hope you will watch the whole thing. And I hope it will inspire you to spend time away from your screens, to go make a pie, and then share that pie to connect with old friends – and make new ones – in real life. I know from experience, it will do your soul good.

    Don’t worry, I’m not totally disconnecting! I still post updates on my Facebook pie page, so please like and follow me there for news.

    Plogging is the New Jogging

    This essay originally aired as a commentary on Tri States Public Radio (Macomb, Illinois)   LISTEN TO IT HERE

    Sticking to my New Year’s resolution to exercise more and spend more time outdoors, I’ve been doing a weekly Sunday morning hike with two other girlfriends. Near Farmington, Iowa, we discovered miles of trails through Shimek State Forest, a managed plantation of timber. The park, which borders Missouri, is enjoyed by hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders—and, as we quickly learned, Busch Light drinkers.

    In the winter months, when there are rarely horses on the trails, we hike in the section of the park designated for riding, which gives us more terrain to cover. After all, we are there to get a workout.

    Our hikes take us deep into the forest to areas that you would expect to be pristine, but a glint of sun reflects off the ground catching our eye, as we hone in on an object that does not belong there, and then another, and another. Beer cans. Empty cast offs as if the woods—not to mention the ditches of our rural roads—were one big trash bin. Not to single out Busch Light, though that does seem to be the preference of local equestrians, we also find on the trails plastic bottles once filled with Gatorade or Mountain Dew, empty potato chip bags, candy bar wrappers, and some alcohol-spiked seltzer water called Truly, which judging by the number of cans seems to be a new favorite.

    During our first hike we picked up as many cans as we could carry, stuffing them in our pockets if they weren’t too dirty and carrying them in our gloved hands if they were.

    Thinking the litter might just be a one-off we didn’t bring bags with us on our second hike. But as the snow came and went, more and more cans appeared, like a trail of bread crumbs left behind in the woods, discarded as if aluminum were biodegradable and would magically disappear. We were so compelled to pick up the litter we took turns fighting our way through the undergrowth, getting scratched and tangled up in thorny branches for the sake of Keeping America Beautiful. I sacrificed my fleece jacket to the cause, improvising a garbage bag by zipping it up and tying off the sleeves, filling it with so much trash it looked like a Macy’s parade balloon.

    By our third hike it sunk in: if hiking was going to be a regular thing, then so was picking up trash. We came armed with garbage bags and I started wearing my big backpack to carry out what we collected.

    After one of our hikes, we posed with our bounty for a selfie, which I later posted on Instagram. The comments came flooding in, along with the revelation that there is actually a name for what we were doing. It’s called “Plogging.” A combination of the Swedish word “plocka upp” (meaning “pick up”) and “jogging,” plogging is defined as “picking up litter while running.” And like fitness trends are wont to do, this new sport is catching on across the world.

    There are plogging organizations you can join, events you can sign up for, tips, hashtags, apps, grant programs, and a whole community of ploggers.

    The Keep America Beautiful website, kab.org, where you can find all these resources, touts that “Plogging combines cardio and strength in your workout with every squat you take as you pick up litter to be thrown away or, better yet, recycled.”

    Lifesum, a Swedish fitness app, claims that 30 minutes of plogging can burn 288 calories. That’s a half hour of trash collecting to work off one slice of apple pie, two Twix bars, or three cans of Busch Light. That’s right. Only 96 calories per can means we’re picking them up by the six-pack.

    My friends and I may be hiking, not jogging, but we are definitely burning calories and doing a lot of squatting. We are also doing a lot of grumbling. With each beer can added to the bag we vow we’re going to write to Anheuser-Busch and suggest they run an ad campaign instructing their customers to dispose of their cans properly. Their commercials might also advise that littering is a misdemeanor, and those guilty of the offense—should they be caught out there, say, in the far reaches of a state park—can be fined up to $625 per occurrence in Iowa, even more in other states. What I don’t understand is why risk a fine when you can get your five-cent deposit back on every can? How hard is it to carry your cans to a recycling or trash bin? (Shimek State Forest offers them in several convenient locations around the park.) But what’s most confusing is why anyone would sully the very land they come to enjoy for its purity.

    Plogging may be catching on as a positive environmental trend, and I hope more people join in, but how nice it would be not to have this extra incentive for exercise, how nice if more people would “give a hoot and not pollute,” because frankly, all those squats are starting to wear out my knees.

    Dark Pie and Other Adorable, Wacky Music Videos

    Here’s something I stumbled upon one day while going down an internet rabbit hole. These whimsical songs/cartoons made me smile and laugh, and since we could all use a little — no, a LOT — more smiling and laughing these days, I wanted to share it. Enjoy!

    Dark Pie

    I Jump on Cake

    To see more of these fun, wacky, adorable music videos and learn more about the artist, go to Gusterfeld Yellowgold’s website:  http://gustaferyellowgold.com/about/

    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