Celebrating Oktoberfest with my Book Launch!

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

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

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

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

Our wedding invitation. I know…smoldering.


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

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

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

Marcus and me in our favorite Munich Biergarten.

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

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

Oh, and I hope you’ll buy it too.

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

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

Thanks, everyone!!

Love,
Beth

My Next Book, HAUSFRAU HONEYMOON, is Coming Soon

In June, after logging several months of marathon hours at my computer, I finished my manuscript for my American Gothic House memoir. (It really was like running a marathon!) I submitted it to a big-five publisher who had asked to see it, which in itself was a kind of thrill. Once I hit the send button I looked around my office and asked myself, “Now what?”

I had read a few articles by other writers about what to do during the submission process, a period of waiting that can take several months. The answer was “Start your next book.”

What? No! I was still tired from crossing the 350-page finish line and couldn’t fathom starting that long journey again, and certainly not so soon. But then I remembered that I already have another book — one that’s already written!

Hello, Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and Other Misadventures.

I wrote this memoir 12 years ago, when Marcus and I were first married and living in Germany. Writing the book was my way of coping with the difficulties of adjusting, both to a new culture and to marriage. I still don’t know which was harder! I had to learn the language. I had to learn new customs and rules. So. Many. Rules. I had to learn how to balance my previously independent life with supporting my husband in his career, as he was on track for a promotion. After he got his Golden Ticket, we would be free to choose another place to live where we could both be happy. So I thought. Instead, I signed up for more German classes, and the misadventures continued.

I printed out my old manuscript and read it again after not having looked at it for 10 years. I had fun turning the pages, laughing a little, wincing a little, crying a little, as I relived the experiences, the excitement, the frustrations, the determination, the love. It made me miss Marcus. It made me remember why I loved him. It even made me want to go back to Germany! (But just to visit.)

Given that I dusted this off to fill the time during the submission process, the thought of submitting this to a publisher only to endure another waiting period did not appeal to me. Which is why I decided to self-publish Hausfrau Honeymoon.

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1.  You will love having creative control.
I get to choose my own cover, choose my own interior font, decide on the styles for chapter headings and section breaks. I even get to choose the paper and the book’s dimensions. I get to own the whole look and feel. This is important to me because a book is more than just the words. This book in its entirely represents me and my personal story. If you have a traditional publisher, you have to be really famous or a NYT-bestselling author to have any say in the creative process, and even then you have to have it spelled out in your contract. And even then you may have to fight for creative control.

2.  The learning process is laborious but fun and fascinating.
I’ve spent hours and hours reading articles about self-publishing: the dos, the don’ts, the pros, the cons, the timelines, the checklists, the most common mistakes to avoid, which indie publishing companies to use, and more. There’s a lot of information out there, and thanks to the Internet most of it is free. I highly recommend Jane Friedman’s blog. (Her blog links to many other great resources.) If Hausfrau Honeymoon succeeds as a self-published title, I will have Jane to thank. (That said, I’m not even sure how I would define “succeeds.” Selling 10,000? 100,000? Holding just one printed copy in my hand will be enough!)

3.  You can’t do this alone.  
Having already been through the publishing process the traditional way twice, I understand and appreciate just how much work goes into getting a book into print. Publishing houses have teams of people for each stage of a book: the editor, copy editor, proofreader, sales and marketing, designers, distributors, publicists, etc. When you self-publish, you will need each of these, and while you may have the superhuman powers to do all of these jobs yourself, you will want to hire some outside help. So far I’ve been working with a book designer and a copy editor — and a slew of writer friends who are giving me feedback, guidance, and support.

4.  Amazon isn’t the only place to self-publish.
Where and how do you get your book out there? Again, I have Jane Friedman to thank for her advice.  She suggests publishing on two platforms. One is Amazon, which covers all sales for Kindle ebooks and all print sales on Amazon only. Amazon is a closed system, much the way Apple’s Mac and iPhones talk to each other but not to PCs or Androids, so you need to have a second supplier to cover book sales to the rest of the non-Amazon world. (Yes, a world beyond Amazon still exists!) Jane recommends IngramSpark to make your ebook available on Nook, Kobo, iBook, and all the other versions of ebook reader devices — also so your print book can be distributed to book stores and libraries. (As you can imagine, Amazon would rather you didn’t buy your books from other stores.) So I am using both Amazon and IngramSpark to give my book a bigger life — and give you, the reader, broader access ensuring you will be able to find it in the vast and growing sea of indie titles.

5.  You can save trees.
In traditional publishing, thousands of books are printed at once. When self-publishing, if you have the funds, the fan base, what have you, you can choose this option. Or you can have books printed on demand (POD). I like the idea of POD, creating books only on an as-needed basis. That means less paper wasted (more trees saved!) and no need for a warehouse or a garage (or in my case here on the farm, a grain bin) for storing books that may or may not ever get sold. I remember seeing a bookstore in New York City where they had a POD printer right in the store. I’d like to think we will see more of an in-store POD business model in the future — and that there will still be bookstores to accommodate this!

6.  You will be terrified. (I am anyway!)
The one thing I did not expect in this exciting, entrepreneurial endeavor is how terrified I would be to put my work out there. I have never been this scared to expose myself! By self-publishing I don’t have an agent or publishing company to blame if my book doesn’t sell, and I don’t have them to hide behind when the criticism comes pouring in. And it will.

Hausfrau Honeymoon isn’t exactly a love letter to Germany. This book likely won’t be well received by Germans at all. They might not even let me back into their country! Out of the 10 readers I’ve had, half of them loved it. The other half have given me notes that start off with “I don’t want to offend you, but…” before launching into their one- or two-star reviews. But it’s my story, my own personal and unique experience, my own perspective, and in spite of knowing the risks, I still have a desire to share it. Because… to quote Sean Thomas Dougherty’s poem: “Because right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”

When I tried to get Hausfrau Honeymoon published right after I wrote it 12 years ago, publishers said, “If it were about France or Italy, we would buy it. But Germany isn’t romantic enough.” I know! That is EXACTLY the point of my story! In fact, the title could have been Why Couldn’t I have Fallen in Love with a Frenchman or an Italian?

Germany may not be “romantic enough,” but my book is full of romance. And though it may not make you want to move to Germany, you will learn a lot about the country, both the good and the frustrating parts. Hopefully the story will make you want to at least visit. As I said above, even after reliving the hard stuff, it had that effect on me. And if the ultimate outcome of my marriage to Marcus is already known to readers, I hope the story will still resonate as it is ultimately a love story about two people and their dogged determination to merge their disparate lives. Love may not conquer all, but there is nobility in the effort. I’d like to think that is worth something — at least the $14.99 cover price.

Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and Other Misadventures will be launched into the world on October 1st.  Pre-order for Kindle now.  Print and other ebook formats ordering info coming soon.

Related Posts:

The Book That Doesn’t Want to be Born Yet

The Birthing Process of a Book

Seven Years

“Seven Years in Tibet,” “The Seven Year Itch,” seven chakras, the seven-year Shemitah cycle, there is a lot tied to this particular number of years.  Today marks the seventh anniversary of Marcus’s death. That day. That phone call. That searing pain of a broken heart so shattered I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Or just die.  But I didn’t die. I am still here.

A lot has happened in the past seven years. I have had to rebuild my life. And then rebuild it again. In the process I have made a lot of pies, made a lot of friends, traveled to a lot of countries, adopted four goats, and finally found new love with a man named Doug. I have suffered more loss—the tragic death of my beloved terrier-mix Daisy, who Marcus and I rescued off the streets of Mexico, loss of a place I had called home for four years, loss of several close friendships that shifted, disconnecting to the point of no return.

And so here I am.  Seven years after that day the medical examiner delivered the news—“Your husband is deceased.”

The memory lives in my cells. I am not always conscious of it, of where that unsettled feeling in my heart is coming from, as the August date approaches. And then I realize, oh, yes, I remember. I know why I’m out of balance, melancholy, confused. It’s that anniversary. The day my husband’s life ended and my “new normal” began.

Two nights ago, Doug and I were out kayaking during the full moon and as we paddled through the dark water, drifting with the current under the night sky, I casually mentioned to him, “You know that Friday is the seventh anniversary of Marcus’ passing.” I was hesitant to bring it up. I didn’t want him to think that my heart was still so broken from Marcus that there wasn’t room to fully love him. But given that I am always stressing the importance of communication in our relationship, I thought it was right to say something, so that if he felt I was being quiet or distant he would know why.

His answer only made me love him more. Doug is a farmer. He is hard working, rugged, and possesses the brute strength of a bull. He is also gentle and kind and has a knack for saying exactly the right thing to put me at ease. His response was simply: “You’ve had a lot of experiences in seven years.”

I nodded, brushing a lone tear off my cheek, glad it was too dark for him to see me. And then, as I continued my rhythm, dipping each blade of my paddle in the river, left side, then right side, propelling myself forward with each stroke, I mused over what—and where—exactly I had been in these past seven years.

YEAR ONE  2009 – 2010
I left my little miner’s cabin in Terlingua, Texas and moved back to Portland, Oregon, living in the guest house next to the house where Marcus and I had previously lived. I went to grief counseling twice a week. I learned to drive the RV and took it down to California, where I went on a two-week pie-making film shoot with my friend Janice. A highlight of that trip was making 50 pies and handing them out by the slice in L.A. It was then when I really understood the magic of healing: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. I created my website, The World Needs More Pie. I blogged a lot—about my grief and how I was coping with it.  I traveled to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair, and in a surprising twist I discovered the American Gothic House was for rent (for $250 a month!).

YEAR TWO 2010- 2011
Instead of going back to the West Coast, I stayed in rural Iowa, making the American Gothic House my home. I opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand. Making pie felt good. It connected me to the community and brought new friends into my life. I stayed for the winter, writing my memoir “Making Piece” at my kitchen table, wearing Marcus’ fleece to stay warm. In spring, I discovered a 6-foot-snake in my bathroom. And in summer I signed up for Match.com. I spent the second anniversary of Marcus’ passing on a dinner date with a suitor who didn’t talk the entire meal.

YEAR THREE  2011- 2012
I fired up The Beast (the 24-foot C-class RV Marcus had bought, that I never wanted and vowed never to drive) and went on a six-week book tour for “Making Piece” across the country, including Seattle and Portland, places loaded with memories of my late husband. I ran the pie stand again that summer. In December, I drove the RV to Flanders, New Jersey, pulling together volunteers and ingredients to make pies to comfort the people in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook shooting. We delivered 250 pies to Newtown, serving them by the slice to help the community heal.

YEAR FOUR 2012 – 2013
I suffered through a frigid Iowa winter until I couldn’t stand it any longer and by spring coughed up the cash to rent a place in Key West, Florida for a month — but not before discovering another six-foot-long snake in my house! Worse, we never caught it. I celebrated my 50th birthday alone (intentionally) by driving the RV to a campground. Away from my computer and with no cell phone reception, I hiked and swam with my two terriers, wrote in my journal, drank a glass (or two) of wine, and savored my solitude.  When I returned, some friends came over with a chocolate cake and an offer to help me with my pie stand, which had started growing to a point it was getting harder to manage. I had a short-but-fun relationship with a guy who liked biking, and had a house in Colorado ski town. He was a CEO who could still do handstands on his skateboard. He loaned me his snake-catching stick, which I had to put to use several times in my basement. Alas, that relationship didn’t work out, so I returned the snake stick and went to LA for the winter. In LA, I met an artist from Iowa and gave love yet another try.

YEAR FIVE 2013-2014
I gave a TEDx talk about how pie can change the world—and how it helped heal my grief. My “Ms. American Pie” cookbook was published. I did another cross-country book tour, using the trip to get the RV from Los Angeles back to Iowa. I left the artist behind. I spent the fifth anniversary of Marcus’ death having dinner on Doug’s farm. My friend Nancy from Texas came along. Doug and I weren’t officially dating, but we had been spending time together. He had taken me kayaking a few times, and picked me up for dinner on his BMW motorcycle. I hadn’t been on the back of motorcycle since Marcus’ (also a BMW). During that first ride with Doug, I scooted back on the seat so our bodies wouldn’t touch. I wouldn’t even hold onto his belt loops. The pie stand kept growing, along with my stress.

YEAR SIX 2014 – 2015
Year Six was a year of more devastating loss. First, I moved out of the American Gothic House. I had loved that house so much. But too many things were adding up (mean neighbors getting even meaner, a murder at the bait shop, people wanting more and more pie, and other growing pressures) and my gut feeling was telling me—screaming at me—it was time to go. (Ask anyone who helped with my pie stand and they will verify I had turned into tempestuous b*tch.) I put all my belongings in storage and stayed on Doug’s farm for a much-needed rest. I will never forget the (unfortunately fleeting) moment of Nirvana I felt one morning while sipping my coffee on his porch. My face pointed toward the sky, the velvet breeze off the fields acting like a salve on my bare skin, the puffy clouds sailing past the sun, the only sound being the rustling of corn leaves…After four years I could exhale and let my guard down. It was the discovery of something I didn’t realize I was so desperately in need of after living in a tourist attraction: privacy! My dogs loved “Camp Doug,” running free in the pasture and on the gravel roads with no neighbors calling the sheriff about them being at large. But winter was coming and I couldn’t take another bone-chilling season. So I left and headed south—straight into tragedy. I was staying at a friend’s house and let the dogs out the back door for their morning business. Jack came back ten minutes later, bleeding from the neck. Daisy never came back at all. That morning, I rushed Jack to the vet, where he spent several days on an IV. That afternoon, we found Daisy—what was left of my sweet curly-girly’s little body—and buried her in the forest. Doug—oh that sweet Doug— flew down to Texas and drove me and Jack in the RV to LA, where I spent the next six months living six miles from my parents. Unhappy to be back in a big, expensive, congested city—spoiled by the simplicity and ease of a pastoral life in Iowa—I made plans to leave. I mustered up the energy and courage to fly around the world. Using Marcus’ frequent flyer miles which were about to expire, I set off on my “World Piece” journey, making pie in nine countries. But only after driving to Iowa to drop off Jack at Doug’s farm where my terrier would spend the summer. After traveling to New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, India, Lebanon, Greece, Switzerland and Hungary, I spent the sixth anniversary of Marcus’ passing in the country where Marcus hailed from: Germany. Marcus’ cousin Claudia and her family graciously invited me to stay with them in their home in Aachen, Germany. Borrowing Claudia’s bike, I spent August 19 riding a bike trail that crisscrosses the Belgian-German border, stopping for an Italian lunch. Marcus would have loved that. That evening I walked over to the local spa and soaked in the outdoor hot spring pool, and sweated in the variety of aroma-therapy-scented saunas. Marcus would have loved that too. That anniversary ended with a bottle of champagne, where Marcus’s cousins Claudia and Martina, and Claudia’s husband Edgar all toasted to the life of the man we all miss.

YEAR SEVEN 2015- 2016
I returned from my round-the-world trip and went straight back to Iowa, to Doug’s farm, to pick up my dog. A year later, I am still here. I started my day—today, August 19—staring at the digital clock while still under the covers of the bed I share with Doug. Doug had left at 5AM, as he does every morning, to do his farm chores. I pulled Jack close to me, stroking his ears and his belly. Marcus and I got Jack as a puppy in Germany. He was the child we never had. Jack is 12 now, happy, healthy as hell, and blissing out on life on Doug’s farm (he especially loves our walks to the pond where he swims and fetches the stick.) This morning I watched the clock as the numbers ticked toward 8:36. Yes, I still remember the time stamped on Marcus’ death certificate. I will never forget the time because this same time, seven years ago, I had felt my heart struggle to beat. I was out walking my dogs and, feeling uncharacteristically weak, I had looked at my watch and saw that it read 8:36. Today, Jack jumped off the bed so I stopped my clock-watching and got up too. I stood in front of the window that looks east, out past the picnic table on the lawn and over the goat barn. The sun had risen just above the trees. I held my face toward it, closing my eyes and feeling its heat penetrate my heart, my bones, warming every bit of my connective tissue.
“Hi Marcus,” I whispered. “I’m thinking of you.”
In that spiritual, nature-connected, sunbeam-driven moment, he answered me back. “Hi, my love. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m happy you are in such a good and beautiful place and doing so well.” Then he added, “Doug is a better partner for you than I ever could have been.”
I took a deep breath, wiped a single tear from each cheek, and bowed my head in a little namaste prayer before heading downstairs for coffee.

Even if it wasn’t Marcus speaking to me, it’s true. Doug is a good partner for me. Iowa is a good place for me. And farm life is a surprisingly good fit for me.

I am still making pie, and still being reminded of the lesson I learned after Marcus’ death: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. I was in a particularly foul mood last night partly due to the memory of Marcus’ passing, but mostly because our Windstream internet, which is already painfully slow, stopped working altogether. When I called the company they said they couldn’t fix it for at least five days. Five days?! Given I couldn’t get any more work done, I went into the kitchen to make pie from the fresh peaches my neighbor Cheryl had picked from her tree. I made a double crust peach pie for my 92-year-old friend who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. I used the leftover dough and peaches to make two mini pies, one for a man who was traveling cross-country and one for Doug. Instead of crying my eyes out today, I delivered the pies. And I felt good. Happy. Strong. Healed.

Seven years ago I wanted to die along with Marcus. But life goes on. Our spirit, along with our cells, goes through a renewal every seven years. It’s been a hell of a cycle, but I can look back now and say I’m grateful. Not grateful that Marcus died, but grateful for the lessons, the growth, the opportunity to keep living and, even more important, to keep giving. And now, as of today, another seven-year cycle begins. I can’t imagine what challenges and thrills are to come. But it’s sure to be, as Doug says, full of experiences. Check back in 2023 for an update.

World Piece: Aachen, Germany

Two months ago today I was in Aachen, Germany. Two months ago today was the six-year anniversary of Marcus’s death. I was in the town of his cousin, Claudia, staying in her home with her husband Edgar and 2 of their 3 kids. I borrowed Claudia’s bicycle and spent August 19 alone, riding on the old railway line-turned long-distance bike path. A sunny but cool summer day, I rode several hours, crisscrossing the Beligium-Germany border as I pedaled along the meandering path. I rode to the town of Monschau where I stopped for an indulgent lunch of spaghetti carbonara, insalata caprese, and a cappuccino. Marcus would have liked that.

I ate in the courtyard of the town square, surrounded by Germany’s signature timber-frame “Fachwerk” buildings. He would have liked that I remembered the word “Fachwerk.”

You have seen this style of architecture, but you may not have
known the word for it is “Fachwerk.” 

Be fearless — like a lion.
Inside the Aachen Cathedral

He would have liked that Claudia and I went to the Aachen Cathedral the day before and lit candles for him, admiring the mosaic ceiling with the symbol of the lion, the symbol of courage. He would have liked that I went to the thermal baths in Roetgen where I floated for hours in the warm saltwater pool and sweated in the different saunas and steam rooms there. He would have liked that Claudia and her sister Martina and I drank champagne the night of the 19th. We made a silent toast, but you could hear the collective unspoken words in the clink of the glasses: “To Marcus. Who left us way too soon. The world is a dimmer place without you in it, but here we are, carrying on. Here’s to you, our beloved man.”

Me and Claudia…lighting candles for Marcus

He would have liked that I treated Claudia and the family to lunch a few days earlier at Vaipiano, our favorite place when they opened their first location in Frankfurt and the last place we ate together in Stuttgart.

He would have liked that I used his frequent flyer miles to travel around the world in the first place, to make pie, to spread a message of peace and love and community building. He would have liked that my last stop was Germany, that I was channeling lion-like fearlessness and immersing myself in his country, spending time with his family, teaching his cousins and their kids how to make apple pie, looking through our old photos of our wedding and the other German family gatherings. He would have liked that we were there because of him — and to know how deeply he was missed.

“The Cousins” as we call them. Making pie in Aachen.
It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday together.
Family photo. And what a beautiful family it is.
I’m so happy I can still be part of it.

When I set off on my World Piece journey, I was determined to dive headfirst into my fears, to go to Germany, teach a pie class in the Black Forest village where we got married, make pie in Stuttgart where we lived, stay with his cousins in Aachen, and last but not least, visit his grave. But I realized that most of those things were too ambitious for a barely healed heart. “Don’t open the wound,” friends cautioned. So my modified version of this — the way the trip actually unfolded — is that I went to the Black Forest, but I stayed in a cabin a few valleys away from where we got married. I did teach pie classes in the Black Forest, but to the kids of our friends instead of the people from our wedding, embracing a new generation, acknowledging the circle of life. I did visit the cousins in Aachen, but I skipped Stuttgart and I did not go to the grave. I have no regrets about taking those last two off the list. As I have always believed, Marcus is not at that grave. He is in the stars, he is in the candlelight inside the church, he is in the sun and wind on the bike path, he is in the beauty of the Fachwerk village, he is in the flavor of the carbonara and the froth of the cappuccino, the bubbles of the champagne, he is in the heat and saltwater of the spa. He is in my heart, all our hearts.

Belgian-style pie in Aachen. Does it get any better than this?

A fine place to eat a place of pasta…
Coffee and Cake (or pie) — my 2 favorite German words

I could have ended my trip after Aachen. It felt like my journey was complete after that. I thought my mission was about pie. But I was wrong. It was about Marcus, about getting closure. It was about going to the place that still held so many memories, the place I hadn’t been since his funeral six years ago. It was about realizing how far I have come since he died, how much he taught me, how much he has supported me even after his death, how the connections to the friends and family we loved together have endured the time and distance and loss, how he is still remembered and admired by those friends and family even after he is gone.

In short, my time in Germany did not open the wound. Instead it was a salve, a true healing potion. I will always carry a scar of losing Marcus, but it’s the scars that make us who we are. The scars are reminders of how fully, how courageously we have lived. You’d be hard pressed to find a lion without scars.

After Germany I went to Budapest — that story will be my next post — before flying back to Los Angeles where I was reunited with my parents. And finally, on September 1, I flew back to Iowa to be reunited with my dog, Jack.

Jack had been staying all summer on the farm of my friend Doug — or at “Camp Doug” as it has now beed dubbed after I started telling everyone my dog was at “summer camp.” And now for the big plot twist in the story. Instead of picking up the dog and moving on, I have stayed. I have come to a rest in the tranquility of the Iowa countryside, living in a farmhouse—with the farmer who owns it. My life has taken a big turn, my heart has opened back up, and I’m spending my days—and nights—with Doug. I could not have guessed two months ago, while riding Claudia’s bike through the German countryside, that my World Piece trip—and my tribute to Marcus—was really just the process of making room for this new beginning. I think Marcus would like that.

Rescuing The Beast — and Revisiting its History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until today.

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

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

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

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

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

The History of The Beast

2008

Celebrating the new purchase with Champagne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Terrier on the step of the RV.

2009 

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

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

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

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

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

2010

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

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

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

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

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

Turns out, the RV makes a good ladder. 

2011

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

RVs make good fences.

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

2012

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

Before
After

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013

The RV and I always liked coming home.

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

My dad giving the RV a wash.

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

2014

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

A book tour stop in Texas.

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

Looking out the RV window at Dockweiler.

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

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

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

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

2015

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

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

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

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

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

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus, my late husband

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

This trip to me represents letting go of him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To return to THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE website, CLICK HERE

A Good Reason to Wear Orange

Jack & Daisy. “We’re dogs, not deer. Please don’t shoot us.”

I used to live in Venice, California in a neighborhood referred to as “The Hood.” A transitional neighborhood, this is an area where young hipsters can afford to buy fixer-uppers, nudging gang members out of their dwellings, one half-a-million-dollar house at a time. Even Whole Foods invested here, knocking down Big Lots and opening up (in a brand new LEED certified building) one of its high-end health food stores. (This location has become so popular – read: crowded – there’s even a rap song about the battle for parking. It’s also known for its pick-up scene for singles where yoga babes and filmmakers cruise the organic produce aisles for dates not vegetables.)

In The Hood, it is a regular thing to hear gunfire. Marcus was staying with me one weekend (when we were temporarily living apart for our respective jobs) and we were on our way to the dog park at 8 on a Sunday morning. “Pop, pop, pop!” we heard as we were leaving the house. I can still remember the look Marcus gave me as we ducked back inside for cover – “What made you choose to live here?” his face expressed. I’ll tell you what: It was an affordable cottage within walking distance to the beach. (Affordable in LA translates to $1,250 a month for a one-room guest house.)

Now I live in rural Iowa (where I rent a whole 3-story house for $250 a month.) I moved thousands of miles away from the Crips and the Bloods. And yet, I am not safe from getting shot.

That’s because in Iowa it’s hunting season.

Don’s hat. My field of dreams.

Every day I walk my dogs in the hay fields next door to my house, hiking through a corner of the 1,300-acre unpopulated parcel of rolling hills and open space. I look forward to this daily walk, regardless of the weather. It is my therapy, my thinking time, my church. Pulling on my rubber farm boots signals to the dogs we’re ready and they start bouncing up and down with happy anticipation.

A few weeks ago I had just finished my hour-long loop of the hay fields late on a dark, rainy afternoon and was met at the gate by an SUV, parked there waiting for me. A man dressed head to toe in green and brown camo raced out, making a beeline for me.

“I almost shot you!” he barked as he approached. He looked panicked and ashen, his adrenaline clearly pumping. His eyes were wide, his breath short. “You could have been killed! Don’t you know you need to wear orange?”

I looked at him blankly, as my dogs sniffed around his pant legs. I had never considered how my outfit — a gray raincoat, black fleece tights and brown hat — blended right in with the drizzly gray dusk. I had also never considered that all those deer I came across during my walks, let alone me, had guns pointed at their heads.

“And you need to watch your dogs,” he continued, intense and breathless, his dark eyes fixed on me as if to force the seriousness of his message to sink in. “We set coon traps out there in the timber.” My two terriers, one brown and black, the other as blond as the hay, could have passed for raccoons or rabbits or any small mammal who might stumble upon a trap.

“Thanks for letting me know,” is all I said and left him to deal with the decline of his adrenaline.

His message did sink in as I went home and searched for all the orange and red and bright and fluorescent wearable items I could find. I came up with two red bandanas to tie around my dogs’ necks and an orange bike jersey for me.

Then I went to my neighbor Don’s house and borrowed his hunter-orange cap. Don is the same neighbor who towed my Mini out of the mud, tilled my garden plot, and rescued me from the snake who had invaded my house. And now I can add to the list: saved me from getting shot.

My lucky orange sweater.
A happy day with Marcus in Germany, 2007.

In spite of being required to dress for safety I don’t mind wearing orange because the color makes me think of so many positive things. I was wearing an orange sweater when I met Marcus – a bulky Ecuadorian wool cardigan with giant daisies on it. Orange was Marcus’ favorite color. He had lived in London when the British cell phone company came out with its catchy slogan, one we used to repeat to each other: “The future is bright, the future is orange.” Orange makes me think of sunny California and all those citrus groves. Orange is healthy. Orange is Vitamin C. Orange is the color of pumpkins and that means pumpkin pie!

And, according to Precision Intermedia’s definition of the psychology behind this shade, orange is “the most flamboyant color on the planet. It’s the color tied most with fun times, happy and energetic days, warmth and organic products. It is also associated with ambition. There is nothing even remotely calm associated with this color. Orange is associated with a new dawn in attitude.”

So with my “newly dawned attitude,” now I don’t just walk the fields in my eye-popping garb, I yell out to the tree line as I’m walking, “Coming through. Put your guns down. I’m walking with my dogs. Don’t shoot.”

Wearing orange seems to be the best rule for safe field-walking in Iowa – where, happily for me and my dogs hunting season ends in three days. But I doubt it would do much good in The Hood in Venice, where “hunting season” seems like it will never end. Not that I’ll ever move back there, but if I did, I might invest in a bullet-proof vest. For my dog walks to the beach. And to Whole Foods.

(If you missed it above, you have to watch DJ Dave’s rap video. I too have been cut off by a Prius — with Save the Whales license plates, no less — in that same Venice parking lot! He captured it perfectly. Except for the background noise, that is. Pop, pop, pop.)

Starting the Year with an Empty Box

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I decided to tackle a few projects — the ones I’ve had on my To Do list for way too long — and get them done BEFORE the New Year. One of the big ones was emptying my “Box From Hell.” This was a cardboard box that contained the piles of paperwork that regularly accumulate on my desk. Whenever I had company I would just dump the latest pile into the Box-from-Hell and shove the box into the coat closet. Naturally, over the course of the year, the box filled up and the paperwork in it was a complete disorganized mess. Over the past few days, I managed to sort, throw, file and empty its contents, which was a huge, gratifying accomplishment and a freeing way to start off the new year.

During the course of filing, however, I dug into other old Boxes-from-Hell and found more even more disorganized piles of paperwork. More throwing and shredding occurred — and a lot of reminiscing. There were scraps of paper and old receipts from my desk in Stuttgart, Germany. (Old indeed as I lived there from 2003 to 2006.) There were photos of and hand-written notes from Marcus. And there was a magazine article I wrote about how Marcus picked me up for our first date on his motorcycle. Indicating further progress in my journey through grief, I could read the story about our über-romantic courtship with sweet nostalgia instead of guttural sobs. Now that is progress! (The article is below. You might need to zoom in to read it. And, of course, you can read more about my romance with Marcus in my book when it comes out in THREE MORE MONTHS!)

Cleaning and organizing my files before the calendar changed to 2012 was an excellent ritual, a sort of rite of passage to make space for whatever new things lie ahead. According to Zen wisdom, you have to “empty your cup before you can refill it again.” I say you have to empty your box. I can’t wait to see what it fills up with next. (Besides bills and insurance documents, I mean.)

Grief: A Progress Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of Marcus’ mini shrine

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

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

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

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

Marcus Two Years Gone: After the Darkness, Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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