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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Beth

EPISODE 7: Celebrating Your Pies
  

My friend Kee Kee’s pie…

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

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

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

Meanwhile in Seattle…..

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

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

Kay Kay digs in to a slice!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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

Dark Pie and Other Adorable, Wacky Music Videos

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

Dark Pie

I Jump on Cake

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

Tom Howard’s Last Piece of Pie

My dad and me. Photo taken on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2017

Two months ago I lost the person I loved most in the world. I lost my dad. He died on March 9, 2017 at 6:30 AM, of metastasized melanoma.

The spot on his head first appeared in 2015, a raised and rough growth, a pebble of a thing that took up residence on the otherwise smooth and shiny surface of his skull. He had it removed in July of that year (while I was traveling around the world) and when they didn’t get clean margins they removed more from this delicate, non-elastic region, borrowing skin from his thigh to patch the missing piece of scalp. He had been so pleased with the plastic surgeon’s reconstruction that he called him “an artist” and wrote him a thank you note. The scar was barely visible.

Last family photo, taken February 25, 2017

Life went on. For the next year and a half he read books—spy thrillers mostly—washed his car, played Solitaire, went on daily lunch outings with my mom to El Pollo Loco where they shared their favorite taco salad, attended U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary meetings, and drank his daily martini at 5:00. But behind the scenes, lurking under the skin’s surface, the cancer was spreading. Like a nest of newborn snakes, it ventured forth, slithering into his lymph nodes, his prostate, throughout his entire skeletal system. It went into his lungs, creating such a deep and growing colony of tumors that he was coughing up globs of blood.

On a mid-January morning this year, when I was visiting for my mom’s 80th birthday, when I watched him cough into a tissue, leaving a dribble of bright red blood on his chin, I knew it was bad. I didn’t know how bad. We wouldn’t know the full diagnosis until after his PET scan a month later. But I knew, in the way a twin can sense their sibling a thousand miles away is in trouble, that his life as we knew it was over. That the cancer would take him. And, by the looks of the blood clots, soon.

No one coughs up that much blood and lives.

After my mom’s birthday, after the Women’s March in Washington, and after a few weeks back in Iowa where I was getting updates from my sister as the oncologist appointments got underway, I flew back to California. I could have saved $150 if I bought a ticket for three days later. My instinct told me every day counted—or maybe it was the news from the oncologist who said there was “no treatment for this” and “We will do everything we can to make you as comfortable as possible”—so I booked the earlier, more expensive flight. Paying that extra money was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I packed a mammoth suitcase thinking I might be there for more than a month. I was prepared to stay six, whatever it took, however long I was needed. I know now I could have just packed a carry-on.

And so, I was there.

I was there in Redondo Beach in my parents’ apartment, the sliding glass doors letting in the ocean breeze, the sun’s blinding late afternoon glare reflecting off the dark blue sea, the surfers catching the last waves before sunset.

I was there because my latest book proposal— about how to stay optimistic in this political era—was turned down. I was so damn lucky for the rejection. With a looming book deadline I would not have been able to spend those three and a half weeks of February into March with the father I loved. The last three and a half weeks of life of the man whose seed created me. The dimming, dwindling last days of the man who loved martinis, hot fudge sundaes and banana cream pie. The man who loved me. Who understood me like no one else. Who could solve every problem I ever had with his laughter. Even if I had gotten the book deal, I would have been there. I would have walked away from the offer. Family—my dad—came first.

I was there, sitting by his side every one of those remaining days, every morning stretched out on my mom’s side of the king size bed, careful not to get my dirty feet on the bedspread, playing Clair de Lune for him—his signature piece he played so well on the piano—on my iPhone from YouTube, drinking my café lattes and listening to him breathe—or struggle to breathe. I repositioned his oxygen nosepiece, making sure the prongs stayed in his nostrils, and watched his chest closely, making sure it was still moving up and down. Making sure he was still with us. I listened to the rhythm—four or five breaths, then a pause. The pauses were so long I found myself holding my breath along with him each time he stopped. When he coughed, as he inevitably did from the growing number of nodules that choked his lungs, he woke himself up and began breathing again. And I, too, would begin breathing again, not realizing I had stopped.

I was there to rub lotion on his bald head, now dotted with moles and rough spots and scars. I was there to massage his feet, to give him some semblance of comfort, the way the hospice pamphlet suggested. I was there to hold his hands, studying his age spots and fingernails, memorizing the heft of each digit, including the digitus medius manus, as he taught us the Latin term for “the middle finger”—as in giving it. They were strong yet gentle hands that had healed so many people. As a dentist, a holistic one who truly cared about his patients overall well being, he helped improve not only their smiles (and in turn their confidence) but also their health. He understood how every part of the body is connected to another, that through orthodontics (without pulling teeth unnecessarily, mind you) the curvature of the mouth’s palate would change and, thus, this would change—improve—the structure of the cervical column and that would affect the entire spine for the better. His hands had practiced therapeutic massage and cranial osteopathy. His hands had played Clair de Lune just a week earlier, shocking us all when we thought he lacked the strength to get out of bed, let alone sit at the piano to serenade us with classical music.

The dying process is like that. Death can come slowly, gradually, and just when you think the final hour has arrived life can burst forth again in unexpected, fleeting fragments. These energy bursts, confusing as they may be, give bystanding loved ones a tidal wave of hope that perhaps, hey, wait, he’s not as sick as we thought. Maybe he is not going to die after all. And then, no, the terminal, evil, motherfucker of an illness sends him back to bed, weaker than ever, and you call the hospice nurse to increase the morphine.

I was there to make him his favorite dessert, banana cream pie, the pie that prompted my dad to propose to my mom when she made one for him six months after they started dating. I made the pie just the way he liked it, with a graham cracker crust, made-from-scratch vanilla pudding, and meringue topping. I made three banana cream pies in three and a half weeks, wondering, worrying, if each pie would be his last.

I was there to spoon feed him bites of the pie when this once robust man no longer had the strength to lift even a small fork, cutting the sliced bananas into miniature sizes he could swallow. With his appetite diminishing by the day, we had to ask him what, if anything, he was hungry for. His big blue eyes would brighten and he would say with a smile, drawing out the syllables, “Piiiiiie.”

The day before he was moved to the hospice house—euphemistically and somewhat disturbingly called a “transition center”—he couldn’t finish the tiny sliver of banana cream pie I had served him on a cocktail plate. The plate was part of a collection of four, each decorated with a different martini-themed design. Martini glass-emblazoned items could be found in every corner of the apartment—a cutting board, cloth napkins, coasters, a decorative plaque that read “Martini Bar,” a flag that had hung on his old sailboat but now waved on the balcony to signal when it was Happy Hour. Anything with a martini glass on it was an obvious gift for the “man who had everything”—as long as said martini glass contained three olives.

I left the martini plate, with the remaining piece of pie and the teaspoon still on it, in the refrigerator, in case he would want to eat more later.

There was no later.

Tom Howard’s last banana cream
pie, his favorite.

When I came back to my parents’ apartment from the hospice house (er, transition fucking center) the morning of March 9—after he was gone, after our family had gathered around his hospital bed with his body still slightly warm, after saying our final goodbyes before he was placed in the lime green body bag (so thoughtlessly, so visibly the only item in the clear plastic bag marked “Patient’s Personal Items” even though he was wearing a grey Washington State University t-shirt when he arrived), before he was sent over to the crematorium—I went to get something out of the refrigerator. I was looking for milk or cheese or juice or something, who knows. I was so numb I can’t remember. When I opened the fridge door the remains of his last slice of pie stared back at me. The bananas had turned brown, the crust soggy, the meringue sagging and weeping. The martini design on the plate, which had previously looked so cute now seemed offensive as the day’s approaching Happy Hour would be anything but happy.

I was there, sleepless the entire week after he died, in my bed that looked out over the King Harbor marina. I stuck earbuds in my ears and listened to Clair de Lune, the extended play version, over and over. Gone was the humming, hissing and pumping sound of his oxygen machine. Gone was the moaning and crying sound of his pain from down the hall. Gone was the beloved man whose spirit had been so big and so vibrant. To fill all that empty space I played the music at full volume for hours while the moon rose—and then set—and the rest of Redondo Beach slumbered.

I was there to clean out his closet with my brother, even when it felt way too soon, helping to load the SUV with my dad’s sport coats, sweaters, t-shirts and trousers, ties and belts, and a surprisingly extensive collection of size 12 shoes, including several pair leather loafers tucked so far back in the closet they were covered in a layer of light green mold, such is the humidity living by the ocean.

I was there to write the obituary and place it in the Ottumwa Courier and the Quad City Times for $156 each, editing down the word count to save money from the original $300 quote each. I didn’t know obits were so expensive. And I didn’t know I would find myself arguing with the editor over AP Style Guidelines—over the correct placement of commas, semi-colons, and parentheses—after she changed my format, which I had spent hours so carefully crafting.

I was there to design the memorial card, collecting photos from my four other siblings, sorting through 81 years’ worth of memories and culling them into the mere four photos the online template would allow. I was there to buy stamps and place them on the pile of 150 cards so that when my mother felt well enough to create a mailing list and address the envelopes it would be one less thing for her to do.

I was there. And now I’m not. And he’s not. He has “transitioned.” To where—well, isn’t that is the ultimate nagging billion-dollar existential question? To a “better” place? God, I hate it when people say that. At least he’s in a place—or space—free from pain.

It was so good yet so hard to be there. It made my heart physically hurt listening to him cry out during the night, in distress from the cancer that terrorized his bones, cancer that caused unimaginable pain, cancer that according to the PET scan—which he never read because he was determined that he wasn’t that sick, that he was going to get better—had deteriorated his left ribs, clavicle, and humerus (the shoulder head, a term I had to look up among many other body parts listed in the report.) No one, especially not my dad, should suffer like that. Ever.

It was so fortunate to be there. I will forever be grateful for that time—those last three and a half weeks—I had with him. Even when it meant cleaning the commode, wiping the urine off his private parts, holding him up in the shower. Even when all that tore at my heart so badly and squeezed my chest so tight I laid on the guest bed thinking that I was the one who was going to die. (I found out later, after my doctor sent me to a cardiologist, that I was suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome. It’s a real thing, caused by trauma and stress.)

I am thankful I could be there to give back to him, to have had even the smallest chance to repay him for all that he gave me, the many, many gifts that have made my life so rich—a healthy childhood, a college education, trips abroad to give me a bigger world view, a feisty and generous spirit, and above all, a mandate to be positive, to see the good in people, and to be of service to others.

He was there to bring me into this world. I was there to help him out of it.

He said just three days before he died, “Words matter.” I write these words for him. I write these words so I don’t lose him.

But I haven’t lost him. He is always with me. His spirit lives through me. I carry on his values. I carry his DNA. And for as long as I live I will continue to carry on his love of nature and cocktail hour and banana cream pie. He had a good, long life, sticking around longer than many humans do—longer than my husband who died at 43.

When Marcus died I was annoyed when my dad said, “We all have to die sometime, Boo.” But he is right—was right. We are all like a juicy novel with a beginning, middle and end. Our lives unfold like turning pages of a book, each varying in length. We are just passing through, each of us contributing our own chapter to the bigger story, and as such our purpose should be to live—and die—as gracefully (and painlessly) as possible, striving for a happy, morally sound ending.

My dad also said, in one of his ever-surprising nuggets of wisdom doled out over the years, “When I die don’t mourn for me. Just go out and have a hot fudge sundae.” Another thing he would say, especially during times I was down, was, “Onward and forward.” I have never been as down as I am now.

So in the spirit of my dad, the Great John Thomas Howard, I am going onward and forward—straight to Dairy Queen.

I love you, Dad. And I miss you.
(For more about my dad, read my Father’s Day post from last year.)

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

Patty Griffin is “Making Pies”

I spend an inordinate amount of time alone here in Terlingua, Texas. If not for bumping into my landlord when she walks her dog in the mornings I could go for days without any human contact or conversation. And apart from the chirping birds and the occasional clap of thunder, it’s also incredibly quiet here. (I’m not complaining, as I am hardly longing for the sounds of honking horns and sirens!) But there is a need for some kind of “noise” to provide stimulus. When Kurt Vonnegut died, National Public Radio’s obituary said “Vonnegut believed music is the meaning of life.” I took note and have allowed more music in my life ever since.

It is for these reasons I love listening to the radio. But a radio station in Terlingua, Texas is not your ordinary radio station!

KYOTE-FM – whose irreverent slogans include “Perhaps the best radio in Far Out West Texas” and “Community supported radio, strangely enough for THIS community” — plays a diverse range of music. Unlike other radio stations that would have an hour (let alone an entire station) devoted to one genre, here on 100.1 FM, you can hear Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Foreigner, Dave Matthews Band, Dire Straits, Jackson Browne, Grateful Dead and some cowboy honky tonk – all within the same hour. The exciting thing is you never know what you’re going to hear next. Some days they play the same song three times in a row. Other days the power goes out and you hear nothing.

There is one artist – a female folk singer — they play over and over. Her voice is distinct, somewhat haunting and sorrowful, but pretty, a voice that sticks with you. I didn’t know who it was for two months as they never announce the songs. (The upshot to this, of course, is that there are no interruptions – and no ads.) I finally emailed the radio station, which is run by a blind man who calls himself “Uh Clem.” Yes, it did occur to me that a blind man isn’t going to be able to read my email, but I sent it anyway, describing a few lyrics I had remembered, and asked if he could tell me who it was, and in return, as an avid listener, I would be happy to help support the radio in any way I could.

To my surprise I got a prompt reply (KYOTE radio is apparently not running on Terlingua Time!). “Patty Griffin is the artist you are hearing. To support us, you can buy t-shirts and bumper stickers at the Leapin’ Lizard art gallery. And in the fall we want to have a fundraiser for the station.” Fundraiser? My first thought is…..bake sale! Or maybe a pie auction! (Stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, I run into my neighbor, Ralph, who hosts his own radio show on KYOTE-FM on Thursday nights. “I am hearing you play a lot of Patty Griffin songs on your show,” I tell him.
“Yeah, she’s great. You know she has a song called ‘Making Pies,’ don’t you?”
“What?! I have to hear it!” I practically run home to get online and look up the song. I find it on You Tube, I go to save it in my “Pie” favorites folder, and wouldn’t you know it – it is already saved in there. This is one of the reasons my husband wants a divorce – my memory is terrible and it usually takes hearing information two or three times before it sticks in my little peabrain. Apparently, this annoys him.

Well, I won’t forget it now. I not only have two copies of “Making Pies” (which, sadly, is not the most uplifting song — see the lyrics) on my computer, I now have an entire Patty Griffin album on my iPod. That way, the next time the power goes out and KYOTE-FM offers nothing but dead air space, I’ll have someone to keep me company and remind me there is indeed a meaning to life.

NOTE: KYOTE radio is doing a 30-day trial on shoutcast.com. To tune in online, go to www.shoutcast.com and search for KYOTE or Terlingua.