Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 4: Key Lime

My farmer’s hands.
They not only
build strong fences,
they make good pie!

And now for something a little different in the “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” video series. Doug appears as the guest baker in this episode, making key lime pie.

There are many approaches to making pie and yet the same pie made in different ways can still turn out equally good. Doug and I, with our mismatched baking styles, are proof of that. Instead of debating it, we embrace it — and have a little fun with it in this “he said-she said” format.

Previous episodes:
Click here for my previous lessons on YouTube (apple, berry crumble, banana cream)

Next episodes:

  •  Chicken Pot 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

    Doug also shares some tips for what rum pairs well with the pie.

    Pedaling Across Iowa for Pie

    RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, is really all about the pie. The Amish, the church ladies, home bakers and commercial bakers alike can be found all along the 500-mile route feeding the masses their homemade goods from strawberry-rhubarb, peach, blackberry, apple and more. Sometimes they even have homemade ice cream to go with it. Which is why I just HAD to pump up my tires and join in the fun for three out of the seven days — along with nearly 30,000 other people on bikes.
     

    I hadn’t planned on riding this year, but once the event got underway and I started seeing all the pictures and the social media posts of all those people smiling and laughing and exercising — and yes, eating all that pie — I developed a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) so I hitched a ride to Bloomfield and joined in the sea of bicycles as it flowed eastward.

    L to R: Scott Horsley, me, Les Cook

    I caught up with Team NPR — the acronym can stand for National Public Radio or “No Pie Refused,” depending on how you choose to see it — and rode a few days with economics reporter Scott Horsley and business editor Les Cook. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but oh man, I had a hard time keeping up with these dudes. I thought these guys had desk jobs! But they were motivated by — and fueled by — pie. (Scott told me that he first read about RAGBRAI in a Wall Street Journal article that said it’s the only long-distance bike ride where you’ll gain weight. He’s been doing the ride every year since.)

    Special delivery: banana cream pie! (photo by Madeline King)

    Some of those weight-inducing calories were provided by yours truly. After putting in a 50-mile day on my bike, I went home and baked until midnight. The next morning I delivered pies — banana cream, apple, peach crumble and key lime — to their support vehicle. When Team NPR rolled in for their daily pit stop they tanked up — and as you see in the photo below — some even did a toast with their pie.

    photo by Madeline King, IPR

    They all commented that you don’t see a lot of cream pie on RAGBRAI. That’s for obvious reasons — like 90-degree days with high humidity. (Great biking weather! Especially when there are relentless headwinds. Luckily RAGBRAI provides a sag wagon to transport you to the end of the day’s route if you just can’t take it anymore.)

    Their favorite of my pies, hands down, was the key lime. (The recipe is below.) And guess what? I didn’t make that one! Doug did. He’s a good pie baker too. But then he had a good teacher. Ha!

    I’ve done the full RAGBRAI ride three times, starting when I was 19 years old — all the way back in 1981. (RAGBRAI started in 1973 as a bet between two newspaper reporters and is now going into its 48th year.) I’ve jumped on for a few days at a time during the past nine years I’ve been back in Iowa, yet never fully committing to the whole week.

    But after riding this year — after getting caught up in the contagious joy and unity of the fellow cyclists (ranging from 10-year-olds to 93-year-olds), after making new friends from all parts of the world, after getting swept up in the common goal of reaching the Mississippi River, after feeling the sense of accomplishment and freedom that comes from covering great distances under your own power, and after breathing in all of rural Iowa’s beauty on those car-free country roads…after all that, I am already planning on doing the entire weeklong ride next year.

    I even have a team name already — Team Pieowa.

    I posted my team name on Facebook last week. I was only half-joking, but like most of the crazy adventures that happen in my life, it gained momentum almost immediately after several people left comments. They wanted to join, someone offered to help with the support crew, and the next thing you know the idea has gone from wishful thinking to really happening.

    If you want to join me, let me know. We’ll need a support vehicle (maybe a van or bus or RV or just bike trailer) and a driver. We’ll want to get team jerseys designed. (Any graphic artists out there jonesing for a project?) If nothing else, this will be something fun to focus on during the long winter months, something to look forward to and a reason to not slack off on the exercise. There will be no last-minute decision to go, no FOMO. Only miles of cornfields and open sky; thousands of happy, healthy people; new friends to be made; local communities welcoming visitors; pies waiting to be enjoyed. Like labor pains, I will have long forgotten about the trifecta of heat, headwinds and hills, forgotten a
    bout the sore muscles and sunburn, and I’ll be excited to do it all over again.

    Next summer — July 19 – 25, 2020 — you will find me, along with thousands of other people, pedaling across Iowa in a community effort of endurance and fun.

    I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

    For more info on RAGBRAI: https://ragbrai.com

    KEY LIME PIE 

    GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST  

    1-1/2 cups graham crackers (about 9 to 12 crackers, at least one sleeve), crushed (increase amount if you’re using a large, deep-dish pie plate)
    5 to 6 tbsp butter, melted

    Optional ingredients: 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar (I make mine without these)

    Crush crackers by putting in a ziplock bag and roll with rolling pin. Mix melted butter into cracker crumbs, then press into pie plate. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

    FILLING

    1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
    4 egg yolks (save 2 egg whites)
    1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (To get ½ cup of juice will take about 6 Persian limes.)
    2 tsp lime zest (optional but zesty!)

    Whisk 4 egg yokes, add condensed milk and lime juice.

    Optional step, but one that I always do: Beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into this mixture. This will make your filling lighter.

    Pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool, then chill for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream. Store in refrigerator up to a week.

    TOPPING:

    1 cup heavy whipping cream
    3 tbsp sugar

    Beat cream and sugar until peaks form. Spread over top of cooled pie.

    TIP:  
    Instead of little key limes, you can also use “regular” limes, also known as “Persian” limes. They are bigger and juicier and thus easier to squeeze, but are said to be less tangy than key limes. However, I did a taste test with a few key lime pie aficionados in Key West, people who swear by using key limes, and they all voted for the pie made with the Persian limes. Even the experts were fooled. Go figure. (This is why I insist on questioning authority and thus dispelling myths.)

    TIP:
    You can use bottled lime juice. Recommended brands are Nellie and Joe’s or Manhattan (unsweetened). It’s a lot faster and easier than squeezing those mini key limes and will keep your fingers from pruning. That said, I always prefer using fresh fruit.

    Make America Nice Again

    This aired on Tri States Public Radio March 21, 2019   LISTEN HERE
    The 2020 presidential campaign has begun and with it the Democratic candidates are descending upon Iowa. Flying in from all parts of the country, they are bringing with them the promise of new ideas, new policies, and, god willing, a new administration. 
    The (media) circus comes to town

    Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand are just a few of the contenders making the rounds in the Hawkeye State this month. These politicians and their entourages, along with the hoards of reporters trailing them, are traveling through our communities, gassing up their cars with ethanol, giving their speeches, shaking hands, and staying just long enough for pork chops and photo ops before rushing off to the next town.

    It’s a privilege to live in the state where the journey to the White House begins, and to meet the candidates up close. 
    But as the race gathers momentum, so does the outrage. 
    The news channels—you know, the ones that serve up opinions and speculation and call it news—are all awash in analysis and criticism of each candidate. Commentators are scrutinizing them down to the most minute details of their past, going all the way back, as we’ve seen, to their birth. The coverage, even on public radio, gets so excessive I have to turn it off.
    And on social media—a forum that amplifes both good and evil—a new round of vitriol and bickering between friends has already started.
    For example, no sooner had I attended a Beto O’Rourke “meet and greet,” I saw a friend’s Facebook post attacking him with a viciousness that was unwarranted. Beto hadn’t committed any sin—he hadn’t mocked a disabled reporter or paid hush money to porn stars; he had merely announced he was running for office. The friend’s Facebook comments were so mean I wanted to blast him back with positive counterpoints. But instead of engaging, I took a calming breath…and then I unfriended him. 
    Throughout my childhood, my parents engrained in us rules of conduct, like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” Now is a crucial time for everyone—citizens and candidates alike—to heed that parental advice.
    During the last election cycle, in his video that went viral, actor Scott Siepker coined the phrase, “Iowa nice.” The term depicts Iowans as friendly, agreeable, hospitable, and showing trust in strangers. But “Iowa nice” needs to expand beyond our cornfields and cows. We need to be “America nice” instead of “America first” or “America great.”

    Americans in general used to have the same friendly, hospitable and trusting reputation as Iowans. Sadly, that image has become tarnished. 
    “America’s standing in the world has dropped catastrophically,” says Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network think tank. 
    Why? 
    Because we aren’t being nice.
    “Bombastic rhetoric and policies of Trump have given the country a serious branding issue,” US News and World Report states. They cite that in the Best Countries rankings of 2018, the United States dropped from fourth down to eighth place after Trump took office. 
    However, as David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, reminds us, “America is not its president [alone].” 
    He’s right. It’s up to all of us to make America nice again. 
    This year we have the opportunity to do that. We can elect a new leader, someone who will uphold our democracy and raise up our country. But we cannot get there without everyone being on their best behavior and acting with decency. 
    That guy on Facebook slinging insults at candidates in his own party? That’s just a tiny sampling of how polarized, combative—even hateful—we’ve become. We’ve already divided ourselves into tribes, but this kind of rancor further separates us. Well, I’ve got news for you. We are all human beings, and we need to treat each other as the single species that we are. We don’t just live in one country; we live on one planet. And we need to take care of it and each other, no matter what our beliefs. We need to be tolerant. We need to be respectful. We—the media included—need to stop making such negative, inflammatory comments. 
    In short, we need to be nice.
    Let’s start by changing the vernacular. Instead of emphasizing the extremes between progressives and conservatives, let’s put party affiliations aside and focus on values—like integrity, equality, accountability, compassion. And here’s a big one: compromise. Because nothing—absolutely nothing—will change in Washington—or anywhere—unless we stop clinging so stubbornly to our own political agendas. 
    The American ideal is not one of Us vs. Them. It’s about being united. Finding common ground is possible, but we need to keep the pendulum from swinging too far to either side. It’s vital that we meet in the middle and getting there starts by being more civil to one another.
    Election Day is still a long way off and it remains to be seen who will be on the ballot. But let’s choose someone who makes bipartisanship a priority, someone with good manners.
    Wouldn’t that be nice? 

    Marking Myself ‘Happy’ During the Polar Vortex

    It’s 3 degrees outside and dropping. They’re calling this the Polar Vortex, the Arctic Blast, or maybe it’s just Hell Freezing Over. News reports say that Midwest temperatures will be the lowest they’ve been in a generation, that it will be colder in Chicago than in Antarctica.

    To think I could be in Florida right now.

    I was in Florida until a few days ago. I could have stayed an extra week. But I chose to drive home before the Big Freeze.

    I chose this?! I willingly came back to Iowa when the forecast is for 20 below zero with a wind chill of minus 50? I have been suffering from a severe case of S.A.D. and still I chose to come back?

    The Weather Channel is scarier than a horror movie.

    I knew it was going to be cold if I came back to Iowa. But I also knew I had survived New Year’s Eve of 2018, when Doug, my boyfriend, had his annual bonfire party outside in the woods—even though it was 14 below! (I had also survived waking up the following morning, starting off 2018 with a thermometer reading of negative 19. Happy F**king New Year!)

    Doug’s wood pile. That’s going
     to be one big-ass bonfire.

    Doug’s bonfire party tradition spans more than three decades, and he and his farmer friends and family members carry on with it regardless of the weather, such hardy folk are they. That brutal year as 2017 gave way to 2018 everyone joked about how in all the times they’d been to this gathering they had never stood this close to the flames, an inferno so towering it could melt your boots along with your brains. The blaze was so big it could have been used as a funeral pyre, a description that isn’t far off as Doug, in the early years of the party, used to build Burning Man-esque effigies and set them alight.

    On that oh-so-festive occasion, our group—there were a dozen of us—huddled precariously close to the fire, holding out our mittened hands toward the heat, continuously rotating our bodies like chickens on a rotisserie to warm all sides evenly. We roasted hot dogs (using 10-foot-long branches Doug had whittled) and drank beer and wine out of thermoses so our drinks wouldn’t freeze. We nibbled on homemade cookies so hardened by the cold they could chip your teeth.

    This is what Iowa farmers do for fun?!

    Can you feel the heat?

    I was only there because my boyfriend hosts the soirée. I would prefer to spend New Year’s Eve—or any long winter’s night—in my bathtub reading a book or under my down comforter watching Netflix. I tried to be a good and dutiful girlfriend, but I bailed on the party before midnight. Sometime before 11, my friend Carolyn and I announced we were walking home, a distance of a quarter mile away from the fire site, even though there was a fleet of pickup trucks parked nearby and we probably could have taken one. We were tough women. We would brave the elements.

    Carolyn and I cinched our coats tighter and wrapped our scarves higher around our faces. We tore ourselves away from the pull of the fire’s seductive heat, turned on a flashlight, and set off across the soybean field toward the house. We trudged over the plowed black soil and ice, taking care not to trip on the dirt clods and snow drifts.

    Carolyn and me

    As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we could see more of the sky. It was so black and wide, the air so chilled it was crystalline, the stars appeared both closer and more infinite, millions of them illuminated like the dust of crushed diamonds. The night was so serene and surreal it begged the question “Is this heaven?” Carolyn and I, like a pair of baseball players stepping out of the past onto a frozen farm, had to remind ourselves, “It’s Iowa.” We walked in silence, with reverence, as if this were a religious experience or the rapture, as if we were not just communing with the Universe but we were the Universe. No, we weren’t drunk. More importantly, we weren’t cold! And those 20 minutes—outdoors in Ice Age conditions that could kill you—turned out to be the highlight of my holiday.

    I wasn’t thinking about this when I left Florida and returned to Iowa of my own volition. Nor was I thinking about my boyfriend and how much I missed him, along with my dogs and cats and goats. Sadly, selfishly, my motivation to go north was based on Florida’s forecast. The Gulf States were going to get a whiff of this Arctic Blast too. If I stayed in the South there would be no dips in the sea or barefoot walks on the beach or margaritas sipped at outdoor cafes because Florida, the Weather Channel declared, might even get snow! Still, I checked my Weather Underground app and Google maps obsessively, toggling back and forth between the two, to see if there was somewhere, anywhere I could go within a day’s driving distance that was warm, or at least warmer. Alas, I wouldn’t be able to reach anyplace summery without getting on an airplane.

    This isn’t snow, but it felt like it! It’s a white sugar sand in Navarre Beach,
    Florida, and the wind chill was about 28 degrees when I took this photo.

    In the midst of agonizing over a tempting invitation to South Carolina (unseasonably cold, but warmer than the Heartland), I had a phone consultation with my friend Kee Kee. After confessing to her that I already had a trip booked to Arizona for 10 days in February, I came to the conclusion that home is where I needed to be. No matter how low the temperatures would go.

    And they will be dangerously low. According to media reports, it will be so cold they are advising you should not talk, let alone breathe when you’re outside.

    Is this the Arctic? No, it’s Iowa.

    Oh, Florida…why did I ever leave you?!

    No matter how cold, how uncomfortable, how life-threatening, I promised myself I would not complain about the weather when I got back to Iowa. (Doug—or anyone who knows me—will confirm that my proclivity to grumble increases by 99 percent in winter.) And as the temps continue to plummet—it has already dropped to 6 below in the past hour—and the winds howl, their speeds gaining force, I have yet to utter one negative word about Mother Nature’s deadly assault. Because the forecast indicates it will be in the mid-40s by Saturday. In other words, this too shall pass.

    In the meantime, I have the means to endure as I am heavily armed with the essential tools. I have a thick suit of armor, created out of multiple layers of fleece, wool, and down. I have a warm house with a trustworthy furnace, a deep soaking bathtub, and an on-demand water heater to fill it. I have cupboards well-stocked with hot chocolate and red wine. I have flannel sheets on my bed, a down comforter and, best of all, a steaming hot potato of a farmer I can snuggle with underneath it.

    I consider my return home something like The Hero’s Journey, because avoidable as coming back may have been, there is something that feels noble and right about joining in the battle of survival, not running from it but facing it head on, and going through the test of endurance together. It’s like Tea Leoni’s character in Deep Impact (the doomsday film about a killer meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out humanity) when she sacrifices her spot in the shelter, giving up her chance to live, to be with her dad, her family. Doug and our animals are my family. And whether it’s a meteor hurling toward the earth or, as is the case, a dangerous but far-less life-threatening winter storm blowing across the Great Plains, I wouldn’t want to be alone in a Florida motel room. I would want to be—and am—with family.

    So, yes, I may be in Iowa in this torturous, record-shattering weather, yet I’m feeling triumphant. Because whether this is heaven—or hell—freezing over, no matter how bad this Polar Vortex gets, I am safe, I am warm, I am home—and I’m very happy to be here.

    Stay safe and warm, everyone!

    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

    “There is ALWAYS Hope, Bea.”

    There is ALWAYS hope, Bea. 

    He wrote this—with the word always in all caps—above a newspaper article he had circled in black ink.

    He left the paper on the kitchen table knowing I would be down for my morning coffee well after he had left the house to feed hay to his cows, check on the pigs, and attend to his other daily chores.

    I always like it when I see his circles of ink on the page. I like the anticipation of discovering what specific nugget of news he wants me to see—something about a new business in the next town, a profile on someone who is using their skills to help those less fortunate, a well-written obituary of someone who led an extraordinary life. I like that he is loyal to the newspaper, having it delivered, still reading it in print instead of online, even though the paper arrives a day late. I like that he is a thinking man, a feeling man, a caring man. He doesn’t outwardly express himself—stoicism is bred into his German genes—but this sharing of newspaper articles tells me he is thinking of me, that he cares for me, that he wants to help me even though he doesn’t know how.

    The article he circled this time was in the opinion section, his favorite part of the paper, which he always reads first, before the front page, before the commodity trading prices and weather, before the sports scores. The article was about South and North Korea uniting for the Winter Olympics in Seoul, a rare olive branch extended after 50 years of fighting and a war that cleaved a manmade fault line between two halves of a whole peninsula. After all this time—and all the recent escalating threats of nuclear action—a previously unimaginable union is taking place with both sides walking and competing together under one flag. Even if just for the 16 days of this one event, it signals the possibility of peace, a sign of hope.

    There is ALWAYS hope, Bea. 

    He alone knows the depths of my sadness, the full picture of who I am and how much I struggle to stay balanced, to stay happy, to stay alive. The fun-loving girl in overalls and braids who basks in the country life of apple pies and goats and dog walks through green pastures—this is my curated life in colorful pictures on Facebook, the carefully edited version, the one that gives people a one-sided impression. The wrong impression. Fake news. Yes, I do smile and laugh and make people happy with my homemade pies, but many of my days—too many lately—are filled with despair, weighed down by a lead blanket of Weltschmerz (the German word for internalizing all the pain of the world.) Espresso and my dog’s insulin schedule are my only motivation to get out of bed in the morning, because I wake up tired after sleepless nights, my eyes wide open in the darkness as I pass the hours searching for answers, for meaning, for purpose, for hope. For solutions for how I can save the world.

    He is the sole witness to both sides of my Yin and Yang, a black and white circle of life that has become lopsided and leaning too much on the black. He sees my grief—the cumulating losses of my husband, my dad, and even one of my goats—still as raw and festering as an infected stab wound. He listens as I unleash my rage over the state of the world, wailing about the injustices, the unending human rights violations, the suppression of women, the righteousness of the ultra-religious. He remains patient and quiet as I carry on, ranting about the increase of gun violence, the divisiveness of politics, the demolition of our democratic society, the proliferation of hate speech, the dismantling of health care, education and immigration, and the utter lack of respect for the environment and its finite resources. My list of wrongs I want to right is so very long. He leans against the counter, or the wall, or his pillow, biting the inside of his lip, as I cry and tell him yet again how I have lost my faith in humanity, how my heart—already so badly broken—cannot take anymore of this assault and battery. He is at a loss for words, or maybe he has nothing to say. He doesn’t know how to fix this. To fix me.

    And then I come downstairs for coffee and see the newspaper splayed open on the table, his pen lying next to it, the familiar scribble of his handwriting.

    There is ALWAYS hope, Bea. 

    I saved the newspaper page. I’ve been carrying it with me for a week. I pull it out of my notebook several times a day and read his sentence, spelled out in his scratchy handwriting, even though I no longer have to read it as the sentence is ingrained in my head. I hear it, the words repeating so often they’ve become the refrain of my personal anthem. And still, each time the sentence forms— punctuated at the end with his nickname for me—my throat tightens. My heart seizes up so hard I feel a rush of hot blood. And my eyes fill up so quickly with tears that I can’t hold them back, the drops leaving water stains on my notebook.

    There is ALWAYS hope, Bea. 

    I am in Mexico this week for a writers’ retreat. I brought the article with me, folded neatly and tucked into my carry-on. I came with two goals: finish my American Gothic House memoir and get a break from the deep freeze of Iowa’s winter (and not necessarily in that order!) I have added one more thing to that list: find hope.

    How does one find hope? How can I restore my faith in a humanity that keeps letting me down with its inability—its outright refusal—to get along? Is hope something you can hunt for? Something you can see? Is it tangible? And if you find it, how do you make it last?

    My first day here I was walking on the beach, my bare feet splashing through the waves, the sun de-icing my body. I looked up from the sand toward the palm trees and houses and saw a boulder painted with graffiti. The art wasn’t that big, maybe not even noticeable to others, yet my eyes were drawn straight to it. On the rock was a white background with a child’s face outlined in black. Next to the child, painted in red ink, was one word: Hope.

    There is ALWAYS hope, Bea. 

    It had to be a message, a sign.

    I didn’t start actively looking for signs of hope. The first days I was still consumed with the stresses of my life back home, of all that I had abandoned in the name of self-care, still carrying the excess baggage of guilt over leaving Doug to take on my responsibilities—of giving Jack his medicine and hauling warm water to the goats. But with each day I spend in Mexico, thoughts of home—along with my Doomsday Clock-watching worries—slough off like the layers of my dry skin, making room for me to take in my new surroundings. With each day my observations of the life around me become more vivid, more frequent, more obvious—observations I’ve begun translating with the same hunger I hunt for words in my Spanish dictionary.

    What I am observing, experiencing, finding is esperanza. Hope.

    Hope is the gruff fruit vendor who made me wait while he rigged up his grandson’s fishing pole, tying a plastic bag on the end of it and putting a piece of pineapple inside as bait, and the four-year-old, so adorable with his freckles, curly hair and round cheeks, saying, “Gracias, Abuelito.” And how the other customers cheered on the child’s efforts to catch something, his arm—still chubby with baby fat—not yet strong enough to cast the line. And how the grandfather prepared the coconut meat for me after I drank the water from the shell, taking pride in serving it the local way, with salt and pepper, lime, and chili sauce. And how he smiled so warmly when I said, “Gracias, Abuelito.”

    Hope is hiking on the trail through the jungle to get to the quieter beach and just as you’re wondering if it’s safe to do this alone, and realizing you haven’t told anyone where you’re going, a Mexican man jogs up the path, dripping with sweat from his workout, and as he passes you he pauses for a second, hands you a tiny sea shell, and says, “For you,” and then keeps going.

    Hope is walking to the local espresso bar in the mornings, passing the kids on their way to school, so young and innocent—and sleepy—at 7:30am, dressed in clean clothes, hauling backpacks full of schoolbooks. And reading the outer wall of their school that spans a full block, covered in a hand-painted mural with messages of tolerance, cooperation, honesty, solidarity, and yes, hope. And the satisfaction of understanding enough Spanish to know that “En esta escuela trabajamos con amor” means “In this school we work with love.”

    Hope is the shopkeepers sweeping and scrubbing their sidewalks, splashing buckets of water on the steps to make their storefronts look cleaner and more inviting, even when the effect is short-lived in a town with dirt roads.

    Hope is eavesdropping on a conversation where a gray-haired expat in an embroidered Mexican dress relays her wisdom to a friend about the value of making decisions with her heart and not her head. (I wanted to butt in and tell her she should run for congress!)

    Hope is the regular exchange of smiles and greetings of “Buenos dias” when passing strangers on the streets, whether their skin is brown, white, leathery, or sunburned.

    Hope is the bougainvillea blooming with vitality in shades of magenta and orange and purple. It’s the breakfast of fresh papaya picked right off the tree. The morning swim in the sea. The baptism of diving under the waves and tasting the salt on your lips.

    Hope is the sun coming up again and again and again, bringing with it the promise that there is still goodness in this world.

    Hope is taking a much-needed break from home knowing there is a thinking, feeling, caring man waiting for me back on the farm. And though I love his ink-circled articles and his notes that go with them, I have found that hope is a lot easier to have when you limit your intake of news.

    Bread Making Class: When the Teacher Becomes the Student

    The Pie Lady goes to bread school.

    On Saturday I took an artisanal bread making class. I have been teaching baking classes for the past 11 years, not the student of them. But I believe in continuing education, in stretching, growing and expanding. I hunger for new information, crave new ideas and skills, and I’m always up for a new challenge.

    Bread is that new challenge.

    I’ve made bread before, but I could never get it to rise and, after it baked, it bore a texture and weight—and taste—closer to that of a cinder block than a loaf of edible leavened ground wheat. I may not live in the culinary capital of the world—Southeast Iowa fare (like pork tenderloin sandwiches the size of a dinner plate, Jell-o salad topped with mini marshmallows, and white dinner rolls slathered in margarine) is not exactly refined and sophisticated cuisine—but what SE Iowa does have is The Villages Folk School.

    The Magic Chef oven, built in 1935, really is magic.

    Villages Folk School, according to its website, specializes in providing learning experiences in traditional arts and skills, while drawing upon the uniqueness of each of the 11 historic Villages of Van Buren County Iowa. Classes are held in peaceful rural settings so students can return to a simpler time and witness the importance of the artisan in village life.

    Try finding that in New York or L.A.! Sign me up!

    The bread class was held in the village of Bentonsport, the definition of a peaceful and rural setting. In fact, to wind down the road into this sleepy hollow nestled on the banks of the Des Moines River is an exercise in time travel—back to the “simpler time” of the 1800s. The well-preserved village (with a population of 40) consists of the haunted Mason House Inn, a blacksmith and pottery shop called Iron and Lace, a Native American artifact museum (with an impressive arrowhead collection collected and curated by an eccentric resident who travels by bike), a fudge shop, a kayak rental concession, and a campground. Of note is its bridge that spans the river—built in 1883 for wagons to cross (that’s before the invention of cars!) It’s now a footbridge. The nearest stoplight might be at least 30 miles away.

    This is what peaceful and rural looks like.

    Bentonsport resident Betty Printy—also a potter, weaver, and gardener—was our bread instructor who hosted the class in her home, an historic two-story brick and beam house built in 1869. Stepping through her doorway was to enter another world, indeed a simpler one—and safer one. Surrounded by Betty’s antiques—from her 1935 Magic Chef white enamel gas range to her ceramic butter churns and rooster figures to her cuckoo clock—and enveloped in the sweet fumes of her scented candles, I wanted to spend more time here than the four hours allotted for the class. I wanted to move in! Except that I knew from having met Betty before that she had bull snakes living in her basement, in her laundry room, just like I did when I lived in the American Gothic House. Uh, no thanks. Been there, done that.

    Betty’s house.

    I didn’t bring up the subject of snakes during class. But we did discuss her numerous aquariums that lined her living room walls. The tanks were packed with fish, inhabitants that far outnumbered the people in Bentonsport. The aquariums, she told us, were the winter home to the convict fish, black sharks, eels, and goldfish that spent the rest of the year living in the ponds situated in the village rose garden. She was caretaker to all. She tried to pawn off some of the guppies on us—they were reproducing by the hundreds—but got no takers.

    Mixing ingredients in a variety of vessels.

    Betty is tall and slender with strong cheekbones and waist-length hair twisted up into a knot at the nape of her neck. Dressed in a baggy white blouse and even baggier khakis, her demeanor was as easy and relaxed as her clothes. She greeted us with her warmth and her smile. “Us” was five participants, all women, all eager to learn this new (ancient) skill.

    I always talk about how pie originated in Roman times, how the crust was used to preserve and transport meat. But bread has been around even longer than pie—a lot longer, like even before the invention of language or electricity, before civilization. Prehistoric mankind started eating bread 30,000 years ago! (You think it’s hard imagining a 135-year-old iron bridge made for covered wagon river crossings, try wrapping your head around that number!) And now, here we were, in the Dark Year of 2018, the era of divisive politics, tribalism and social media trolls, questionable news sources and reality TV and talk of building 20 billion dollar border walls: five women (of indeterminate and undisclosed political leanings) gathered together to make— and—break bread.

    Like I said, I am used to teaching baking classes. But I was a good little student, a well-behaved participant, inquisitive without being too disruptive, curious and interested. I was there to learn.

    This razorblade is a lame,
    to score the top of the bread.

    And I had a lot to learn.

    – About the basic ingredients. (flour, water, sourdough starter, salt, yeast, molasses, olive oil, egg, wheat berries)

    – About parchment paper and bread whisks and lames and other necessary tools.

    – About sourdough starters — and the care and feeding of them. (Still confounding to me!)

    – About the various ways and vessels to use for mixing dough. (Kitchen Aid mixers, bread machines, pots, bowls, stirring by hand.)

    – About the numerous steps of preparation. (Let’s just say bread seems more complex and temperamental than pie.)

    My friend Lisa adds
    jalapeños & cheese to hers.

    – About the patience required in waiting for the dough to rise—several times. (Patience is not my strong suit.)

    – About extra ingredients added to create varieties of breads. (This is where it gets fun—olives, raisins, cinnamon, sundried tomatoes, cheese, garlic, rosemary, the possibilities are endless. Kind of like how you can put “just about anything” in a pie crust, so it goes with bread, though I have yet to test the limitations of this.)

    – About scoring the top of the loaf before baking. (Like vent holes in a pie, the gashes relieve the pressure from steam building up as it bakes.)

    Shaping the loaf.

    – About Dutch ovens and clay cloches and baking stones and how they create the steam necessary to get a crusty outer edge. (You can drop some big cash on this stuff, or you can just remember that the pioneers—hell, the cavemen—made bread without any accoutrements. Even today, the Tuareg nomads in the Sahara Desert still bake their bread right in the sand.)

    – About baking times and using thermometers to test oven temps and doneness. (As I always tell my pie students, “Never trust your oven. You have to stay vigilant during baking process.” Betty told us the same thing.)

    Homework. Get cozy on the couch and curl up with a good book.

    Like I do for my pie classes, Betty had a long table set up for us to use as a workspace. She had all her equipment and baking tools at the ready. And she walked us through the process, step by step, each of us making our own dough, forming our own loaves, creating our own personal signatures through the addition of extra ingredients and the scoring patterns on top. She had loaves of fresh baked bread for us to sample as we waited for the dough to rise the first time. She had a library of bread cookbooks to look through as we waited for the dough to rise the second time. She served glasses of super-antioxidant berry juice (homemade from her backyard blackberry, raspberry, aronia berry patches) as we waited for the bread to bake.

    Snack time!

    Her hospitality made the class so comfortable, but it was her baking methods that especially put me at ease as they echoed my own philosophy. Namely, she didn’t measure precisely.

    “Go by feel,” she said as she dug her measuring cup into the flour jar and didn’t level it off or poured molasses out of the bottle letting it flow over the edges of the spoon, or showed us how to feed our sourdough starter adding “some” water as an approximation.

    “Your ingredients will vary,” she said, “and sometimes you will need more flour, sometimes less. You have to touch the dough and feel it. If it’s sticky, add more flour.”

    Yes! That is how I roll. Maybe I would be able to finally make an edible batard or baguette, ciabatta or pizza crust.

    The Victory Shot.

    The four-hour class ended with a victory shot. Instead of taking pictures of my pie students, capturing their beaming smiles of pride as they stood behind their freshly baked beauties, it was me in the shot this time standing behind my spectacular (if I may say so myself) golden brown boule of wheatberry sourdough, smiling with pride. I was even saying the very thing I loved hearing my own students say, the thing that makes the teaching so fulfilling, the thing that must have made Betty feel good about her efforts. I said—we all said, “I can’t believe I made this!”

    Steaming and fragrant, the yeasty scent wafted up in my nostrils. I was tormented with desire, desperate to rip off a hunk and shove it right into my salivating mouth. I managed to maintain my manners and waited until I got home to indulge. (Anyway, I had eaten several slices of Betty’s bread during the class so I wasn’t exactly starving.)

    Ta da! Mine is the one bottom right.
    Betty checks with her thermometer
     to see if the bread is done (at 208 degrees.)

    My bread….Oh. My. God. My bread was so fucking excellent, so moist and tender and chewy and perfect I decided to make more the next morning. Betty had given us each our own jar of sourdough starter to take home and I wanted to practice while the steps were still fresh in my head. I wanted the process to take hold, to imprint in my brain and live in my muscle memory the way pie has, to the point where if I lost my vision and my hearing I would still be able to make a damn fine pie. I was determined to achieve the same comfort/skill level with this newfound passion for bread.

    I was not so lucky at home, unsupervised without Betty’s gentle guidance and instant answers to my questions, like, “Is it okay to use a packet of yeast that’s six months past its expiration date?” I stepped through each stage—setting and resetting the timer on my iPhone, running downstairs every 30 minutes to “stretch and fold” the dough, transfer the dough to another bowl to rise some more, preheat the oven to 430 degrees, and finally tuck my baby into a cast iron Dutch oven for baking. My dough did not double in size. Was the room too cold? Was it because of the expired yeast? I did not have parchment paper so I used the “other” method of lining my Dutch oven with cornmeal. The oven smoked so much while the bread baked that the smoke alarm went off and sent the dogs into a panic. I had to open the doors to air out the house, and because it was a 25-degree winter day, the smoke was replaced with a stinging icy breeze.

    My first solo-run bread, while half the size of the loaf I produced in class, wasn’t a total disaster. It was edible and, given I had stuffed it with cinnamon, raisins and brown sugar, it was still pretty delicious.

    I always preach to my pie students, “Pie is not about perfection! It should look homemade!” As I scrutinized my loaf, I had to preach to myself that bread is not about perfection either. This misshapen lump, a little too dark on top, the scoring lines ripped apart like broken skin, was definitely not perfect. But it qualified as looking homemade and I’d take homemade any day.

    I am not deterred. I will keep practicing. I will keep experimenting with ingredients, techniques and tools. I will buy some fresh yeast. And I will remember that if the cavemen could make bread, so can I. And who knows, maybe someday I will get good enough at this I will be able to teach bread making. Regardless, I never want to stop learning, stretching and growing, and am already wondering what other classes I can take. Luckily the Villages Folk School has a long list to choose from.

    Guest Blog: Life in the Not Very Fast Lane at Camp Doug(h) — by Doug

    There is no set time when Happy Hour starts on the farm. Beth’s dad, Tom Howard, had a set in stone 5pm start time. For us, in the late spring or summer, it may start at 9pm while we are fixing supper. But now and then it actually starts right on time.

    The official start is when we make the left turn off the sidewalk towards the machine shed where the side-by-side is parked. At this moment our dogs, Jack and Mali, race ahead of us to be first in. Loaded up, the four of us—Beth, the dogs, and me—enjoy a wind-in-our-face ride to the pond. Now we are living!

    The pond is where we want to be on hot summer evenings. Mali squirms out through our legs the instant we are stopped. Jack jumps out then waits obediently for his life jacket from Beth. I dive in from the dock, instantly washing off a day’s worth of dust and sweat. Beth tosses in Jack’s inner tube with the plywood platform (for Jack to stand on), then she throws Jack’s stick. Jack promptly swims after it. Beth dives in to join us. Mali, unlike Jack, is content to hunt frogs in the grass along the edge. Eventually we all enjoy a drying wind as we motor back to the house.

    Once home, the dogs get beef liver treats for leading us on such a grand adventure. Now, accompanied by our beverage of choice (a gin and tonic or wine for Beth, beer or “brown water” for me,) Beth starts to work on a salad and I light the grill. Pork or beef from our freezer will go over the coals. Produce from our garden will go in the salad. Another evening of farm-to-table dining at Camp Doug(h).

    Now that the picnic table, shaded from the evening sun, is set, Jack and Mali line up for their ritual wait, hoping for steak or pork chop bones. With fresh food on the table, the lingering aroma from the grill, a soft summer breeze caressing us, we toast to another beautiful day.

    But the day is not quite finished. With fading light, it is time for “cowboy TV.” Yes, it is when I light a small bonfire in the fire ring beyond the picnic table. Once the flames have calmed down we relax with a little night cap while watching our favorite show. There is a bit of a disagreement as to what show to watch. I like to watch the pulsing red light of glowing embers. Beth prefers to stir the fire and watch the flames. Somehow we manage.

    Eventually the fire starts to fade. But it’s not just the fire. Beth and I are fading too. There is one more thing to do: walk the dogs. You would think they could go on their own, but no, they wait for us. Under a starry summer sky we parade down the gravel road. Mali is always out in front. Jack usually brings up the rear. With a little luck, we may see a shooting star.

    Making Noise for Women’s Healthcare

    A Planned Parenthood rally on the banks of the Mississippi River.
    I wonder what clever thing Mark Twain would have said about this.

    Last week was kind of a big week.

    On Sunday, I marched in a rally for Planned Parenthood in Burlington, Iowa. Why? Because Iowa is eliminating funding for any healthcare clinics that provide abortions. Well, this struck me as so ridiculous and short-sighted because I USE PLANNED PARENTHOOD for my annual exams and for other random gyno stuff that comes up. And believe me, something always comes up and you can’t just walk into a doctor’s office to see someone as quickly as you might need. And going to the ER is not a great alternative when it’s not an emergency.

    I am way past childbearing years so birth control and abortion are not on my personal radar. But this is not just about me. REGARDLESS of what services PP offers, there are SO MANY WOMEN, especially in my rural Iowa area, who need affordable healthcare and PP is often the ONLY place they can get it.

    Winding down Snake Alley

    Obviously I am still worked up about this.

    I wasn’t the only one to be outraged. A young woman in Burlington, Alexandra Rucinski (who is the subject of my essay), has relied even more heavily on PP than me. She was so upset about the clinic closures she organized last Sunday’s march–and got over 100 people to show up.

    I marched too, but so what?  What good was walking through downtown Burlington going to do when 4 out of 12 PP clinics in Iowa were still going to close on June 30th anyway?

    I laid awake at 4AM on Monday thinking about this—fuming actually—and an essay began to take shape in my head. Writing is my way of working my way toward a solution, or at least an understanding—or, if nothing else, a way to cope with some of the senseless bullsh*t that is going on in government. So after I got up on Monday, after I had my triple latte and walked the dogs and fed the goats, I sat down at my computer and wrote. I wrote until I found my way to an ending. I sent my story to two friends, one in New Jersey and one in NYC. They both said you HAVE to publish this. My friend Nan said, “Send it to the HuffingtonPost!”

    My pink hair is still pink.

    Encouraged, I first sent it to my local NPR affiliate, Tri States Public Radio. I’ve done several commentaries for them. And now, I am happy to report, I have another one to add to the list. I recorded my PP essay on Wednesday and it aired–twice–on Thursday.

    You can listen here.

    I had also followed Nan’s suggestion and sent my essay to the Huffington Post. I have been written about on HuffPo several times (for my pie endeavors), but I had not as yet written for them. Well, now I have!

    You can read it here.

    I went through the HuffPo vetting process and now I’m “in the system” so I can blog for them whenever I want. I will also continue to contribute to Tri States Public Radio as a commentator.

    I’m not sure what I will write about next. But it will probably come to me around 4AM.

    I ran into my pie-baking friend Esther Tweedy at the march.
    We went out for ice cream afterward.

    Guest Blogger: Jack Iken on Life at Camp Doug

    Hi, this is Jack Iken. The last time I guest-blogged on my mom’s page was five years ago, which is like 42 years in dog time. I only guest-blogged one other time.  I have posted on Facebook a few times since then, but blogging is way better because you can say more and the stories stay around longer.

    It was Doug who suggested I write a blog post. I like Doug. He calls me Hot Rod. He’s like my stepdad now. My real dad, Marcus Iken, whose last name I still use (but I only get called by my full name, Jack Iken, when I’m in trouble), died 8 years ago. I miss him.

    Daisy & me
    aka Team Terrier

    I also miss Daisy. Even though I pretended not to like her, and always growled at her when she tried to sit in the front seat of the car, which was my spot, I really miss her too. She died 3 years ago this November when we both got attacked by a coyote. My mom was so sad. She said if she had lost both of us she might not have survived, especially because it was right after we moved out of the American Gothic House and didn’t have a home. I was lucky my neck wounds healed after a few weeks. I’m pretty tough—every time I go to the vet they say things like “he’s one tough cookie.” But that was definitely a rough patch. I was really lonely without Daisy.

    I’m not lonely anymore, because now I live at Camp Doug. It’s in Iowa about an hour from our old house. It’s so cool because it’s a farm with cow manure and lots of other super smelly stuff to eat or roll in, like old road kill. I don’t have to wear a collar or be on a leash, ever.

    But best of all is hanging out with Doug and his dog Mali.

    This is Mali and me waiting for treats.

    I love Mali. I like girl dogs who are athletic and not afraid of getting their paws dirty. Mali is like me, half and half. I’m half Jack Russell and half Yorkshire terrier. Mali is half beagle and half Springer Spaniel. She can run really, really fast, like so fast you can’t even see her. I’m fast too, but Mali has longer legs. Doug say, “She’s all lungs and muscle.” She’s like a lean machine. She likes to catch squirrels. I always try to catch squirrels but I never actually do. For me it is more fun to chase them, and then bark my head off at them when they climb back up the tree. But Mali—well, my mom gets really upset with her because she is good at catching small animals, sometimes baby ones, and that makes my mom cry a lot and complain to Doug. When she’s mad like that I just go hide in my man cave, which is the opening under Doug’s desk, where it’s quiet and dark. He doesn’t sit there very often because mostly he is out working on his farm, so I don’t have to worry about his feet getting in my way.

    It’s not just my mom, Doug, Mali and me living at Camp Doug. Maybellene lives here too, inside. She’s a calico cat who thinks she owns the kitchen. Sometimes we fight and I always get blamed, but she is the one who usually starts it.

    This is Maybellene. And she is in MY chair.

    Her son Tiger, who is a redhead like Doug, lives outside and shares the barn with the goats, but mostly Tiger is up in the hayloft and the goats are below. Sometimes Tiger has the neighbor cats over for sleepovers. One of his friends is all black with eyes so light and green and creepy the cat looks like it could be in a horror movie; the other one is black with white paws and, as my mom pointed out, has big balls. (My balls were removed when I was a baby, but that’s okay. I’m still tough and manly. Some people even call me macho.) My mom keeps wondering if there will be kittens, but Doug says Tiger is fixed and we don’t know if the green-eyed-monster cat is a girl. But I don’t want any more pets taking attention away from me. It’s already bad enough with those damn goats.

    This is Cinnamon. 

    There are three goats and they have big horns. There were four, but Cinnamon died a few months ago, probably from old age because she was 15 and 15 is really old for a goat. She was the shy one, like Daisy, and she never caused any trouble. She is buried on the edge of the cornfield. That was a sad time for my mom, because Cinnamon died right after her dad, my Pappou Tom. (Pappou is Greek for Grandpa.) I loved my Pappou and he loved me, though he did not like my barking. I think his hearing aids were on the wrong setting, because I think my bark sounds pretty awesome.

    This is Pappou Tom when he visited us
    at Camp Doug last August.

    Anyway, I was saying, the three goats…

    Mr. Friendly and Tiger
    with other 2 goats behind

    The big white goat, the one with the biggest horns, is called Mr. Friendly. But he is not friendly! He has tried to butt me a few times, but I’m not scared of him or any of them now that I’ve learned how to be a goat herder. I’m really good at it. My mom lets the goats out of their pen to graze in the yard. She says they need some freedom and extra room to graze. But Doug doesn’t like this too much because they eat the flowers and bushes next to the barn. Instead of getting mad at my mom, he keeps putting up more fences around the yard as a compromise. But he also has me as his secret weapon. When I see them come too close to the house I go berserk and shift into my Samurai mode. You should see how fast those fat goats can run! I round them up and they go straight back into their pen. I’m like WAY better at herding than a border collie. I like helping out Doug.

    I’ve been living here at Camp Doug for two years now, which is three months longer than my mom. She brought me back here to spend the summer when she traveled around the world making pie. She remembered how happy I had been when we were at Camp Doug before we moved back to California (for those really depressing six months when I had to be on a leash) and she said she would not go on her Big Trip unless I had a good, safe place to stay.

    Camp Doug is an awesome place. That summer, Doug took me to the pond every day. I swam and he threw a stick for me. I love playing stick. It’s my favorite thing, besides playing keep away, tug-of-war, digging big holes in the dirt, and chasing squirrels (and goats, cows and cats.)

    Also that summer, Doug took Mali and me on long walks to the creek and threw the stick for me there too. One time he even brought his saw to cut extra sticks so there would always be one ready to throw. The supply would run low because I like to take my sticks home with me–I collect them like trophies–and sometimes it takes a while to find a new one. I’m very particular about the size of my sticks. I won’t chase just anything. It has to be big, like a branch or a log, but small enough that a person can still throw it.

    This is what I’m talking about!

    Doug also took me kayaking (and still does.) He taped a piece of carpet to the bow so I can stand on the front of the boat without sliding off. That’s the best!

    Seriously, this is the most fun thing ever.

    He took lots of pictures and videos of me while my mom was traveling and sent them to her. He posted them on Facebook too. My mom got kind of jealous because people liked the posts about me better than her posts about being in what she called “exotic places.” Not my problem. It was her choice to see the world when she could have just stayed in Iowa. But I was having too much fun to give it any thought.

    The best part about that summer was the treats. Doug has pigs on his farm so sometimes he has fresh pig liver. It’s pretty slimy, but it’s cold and refreshing on a hot day and it’s a healthy snack.

    When my mom came back to pick me up from summer camp I told her I wasn’t leaving. I said, “I love you, mom. You can do what you want, but I’m going to stay at Camp Doug forever.” She saw how happy I was, and she also loves Doug (though in a different way than me), so she said, “Okay,” and moved here too.

    This is me in the truck. I love it.
    It smells like farm animals.

    It is so cool to live on a farm. I’m like the happiest I’ve ever been. I love to ride in Doug’s pick up truck. I don’t like to get in my mom’s car anymore because that means leaving the farm and maybe going to a city and being on a leash. But Doug’s truck always goes somewhere fun, someplace that involves dirt, like to the pond or to a cow pasture. I wasn’t allowed near the cows at first, but now I have proven myself to be good at herding cows too. They don’t run as fast as the goats, but it’s still fun to get these big beasts to move. I mean, they’re like huge. Plus there’s so many of them and they make a lot of noise.

    Doug has a lot of cows. So that’s a lot of herding for me.

    Speaking of noise, that’s one of the best things about living here. I love to bark. Every night from about 7:00 to 9:00 PM, I get to be outside and bark as much as I want. Doug calls it “Guarding the Perimeter,” like I’m a watchdog. But that’s not it. I just really like to bark. It’s my way of expressing myself, the Jack Russell side of me. It’s also a good way to communicate with our neighbor’s dogs that live on the other side of the cornfield, and they like to bark back.

    This is Mali and me doing the daytime version
    of “Guarding the Perimeter”

    Sometimes we hear coyotes barking too. This makes me bark even louder, and sometimes I even howl. But the coyotes make my mom crazy with fear. She yells at me, “Jack Iken, you get in here right now! I mean it. NOW!” She is practically panicking but Doug is pretty relaxed and tells her, “He’s fine. The coyotes aren’t that close. And they have plenty to eat out in the field.” She snaps back at him, “You know what happened to Daisy. I am not taking any chances.” And then we all go to bed (I sleep under the bed) and try to sleep, even though we can still hear the coyotes yipping and partying and killing stuff outside. I would never admit it, but I kind of understand why mom worries about me.

    That thing that looks like a Moon Rover is the side-by-side.
    It’s perfect for trips to the pond.

    Farm life is awesome!

    I’m 13 now and Doug is 62, and as much as we like to go on long walks around the farm, we both get a little more tired than we used to, our joints get a little achier than we’d like. So Doug got this really sweet off-road thing for us to ride around in. It’s called a side-by-side, which is kind of a weird name, but it means you can sit next to each other on the bench seat. It’s got a roll bar and seat belts, and netting on the sides that keeps me from falling out. When we don’t feel like walking, especially when it’s too hot, we drive this new 4WD rig to the pond. Mali doesn’t like riding in the truck—she gets really nervous—but she likes the side-by-side as much as I do. Sometimes after swimming, my mom will drive it really fast on the gravel road so my hair will dry. But I think she does it because more than anything my mom likes to make me happy. She knows I like feeling the wind in my face. But I know she likes it too.

    Our family portrait

    My mom said I could guest blog again sometime, but I might not have time. I might be too busy signing autographs after the August issue of Farm and Ranch Living Magazine comes out, since they are doing a story on me. I wasn’t looking to become famous; they approached me and what could I say? Plus I already have a full summer schedule with pond swimming, stick fetching, herding goats and cows and my other farm chores, like climbing on the hay bales and napping. And tonight we are going canoeing because there’s a full moon. My mom is going to make me wear my lifejacket. Life was a little more relaxed when it was just the guys—Doug and me and, well, Mali, since she’s like one of the guys—but I’m very glad my mom is here too.

    I really have to pee, so I’m going outside. Bye for now.

    Until next time,
    Jack Iken