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.

Made it to Iowa…Only to Face Forgotten Perils

We made it to Iowa. We may have prevailed over all those near disasters getting from LA to here, but even after only six months away, I had forgotten how perilous living in Iowa can be! It’s the little things that can kill you.

I arrived to a home-cooked meal of Ham Balls. I wrote about this SE Iowa specialty a few years ago., about how one needs to be careful not to eat too many lest they suffer from an overfilled belly and…the likelihood of hamnesia.

I stopped by the American Gothic House — my old home (sniff, sniff) — for a photo opp. The Binoculars were home with their door open so I figured I had about 10 minutes before the sheriff arrived to deliver a complaint.

Not to mention, I parked illegally.
No, a homemade apple pie with a World Piece logo carved on top as vent holes won’t kill you!  But chewing on pie crust right after you’ve had a molar pulled will.

The main objective for driving back to Iowa was to deliver my dog to “summer camp” on my friend’s farm. Within the first 30 minutes of arriving he found a creek to swim in. The next day the creek had turned into a raging river. Maybe I should have bought that doggie life jacket for him after all.

The RV has a sweet parking spot where it will stay all summer. But beware! With all the wind and lightning, parking under a tree can be a hazard.

Jack is guaranteed to get good treats on the farm. Farmer Doug has a ready supply of fresh beef liver. A dog’s dream. But after two days here Jack already has had some “stomach trouble.” Maybe it’s not from the liver but from drinking out of the puddle in the cow pasture.

There’s that apple pie again. Well, at least I could eat the ice cream without hurting my mouth.

This field of dreams looks innocent enough, but that corn will be chest high by the 4th of July, and my dog could get lost in  that jungle.

I have a nice desk for working during the week I’m on the farm. It even comes with a world map — perfect for my World Piece trip planning! — AND it comes with a copy of my cookbook. The hidden danger here is the thunderstorms that roll through. I’ve already had to run to the house twice in the middle of the night and unplug the laptop lest the circuits blow from a lightning strike.

Everything in Iowa is super-sized — including the poison ivy that is growing along this fence line. I’m highly allergic and, not to be a pessimist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I start itching the moment I get on my first flight to New Zealand.
This pasta meal is perfect for my sore mouth (post-dental emergency) but let it be known the sauce is pesto — that I made last fall from the basil in my garden at the American Gothic House. It had been frozen and it tasted okay, but…. My dog may not be the only one with “stomach troubles” after eating this beyond its expiration date. 
Sometimes the biggest perils can come in the smallest packages. It has been hard to sleep at night with these little buggers crawling around in my bed. I’ve pulled at least 6 of them off of my dog so far — and only 3 off of me. 
Jack isn’t the only animal on the farm. He is a guest here on a 1200-acre property inhabited another dog, 2 cats, 4 bulls, 92 cows, 500 pigs. While he would normally chase a cat, this one rules the roost. Jack has to be on his best behavior or else the cat will chase him.

Nothing is sacred. If you leave the milk for your latte unattended, someone might help themselves.
In spite of all the perils, Iowa is a magical place. Sitting on the front porch writing this blog post I looked up and saw a full-arch double rainbow. I take as a good omen. All will be well here, my dog will have a good (and safe) summer, and I will have a successful trip around the world. And when I come back I’m going to find that pot of gold.

World Piece Kicks Off with an Epic Trans-American RV Road Trip

America the Beautiful — as seen through an RV windshield.

If you are ever going to drive your RV cross country and get a severe toothache in the middle of a hail storm, the best possible place to pull off the interstate is Fruita, Colorado. Or so I learned on my way to Iowa this week.

The RV trip from LA to Iowa was part of my World Piece master plan. I would move out of my Palos Verdes guest house where I had spent the past 6 months, load up the RV with all my stuff, and drive to Iowa where I would put my things in my storage unit there. I would bring my dog, Jack, and leave him at my friend’s farm where he could spend the summer while I was circumnavigating the globe making pie.

Six months earlier, when I drove the RV to LA, stressed to the max from towing my Mini Cooper behind it (and from losing Daisy, my other sweet member of Team Terrier, after that coyote attack), I swore I was selling The Beast and that I would never drive it again. Not 18 miles, and certainly not 1,800 miles.

Bwwahahahahaha. As you may recall from my book, “Making Piece,” I also told my late husband, Marcus, when he first bought the RV that I would never drive it at all. Ever.

So yeah, The Beast started up on the first turn of the engine, and off I went, heading east.

First stop was Las Vegas to pick up my artist friend, Dave. (He is the same artist who designed the gorgeous World Piece logo.) Dave lives in Iowa now and he offered to help me drive. He is great company, tells entertaining stories, and can make me laugh until I cry. Which is something that will come in handy on this trip as I try to get my facial muscles to work again. I picked him up in Vegas not because I wanted to gamble — solitaire is the closest to gambling I will ever get — but because it was the closest, cheapest one-way ticket I could find at the last minute.  


After Dave offered to help drive, he texted me, “We’ll make it a little adventure.”

That made me look at the drive as less of a dreaded task (remember, I said I never wanted to drive the RV again) and instead I began to view it more as a fun mini-trip before my Big Trip.  Not that there is anything “mini” about driving more than half way across the USA in an RV. But when Dave said “adventure,” I should have considered that the definition of adventure is when things do not go according to plan.

The plan was to drive the RV to Iowa without incident and get there in the most direct and quickest way possible. But, to quote John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” This is what happened:

Near Disaster #1 

Dave’s flight arrived at 9:30PM. It was dark and there was a lot of traffic at the Las Vegas Airport. The Billboard Music Awards were going on, and god knows how many conventions. I had to maneuver the RV through lines of limousines and SUVs and convertibles to get to arrivals. I managed to butt my way into the left lane for the parking lot when panic struck. It didn’t take a sign that said, “CLEARANCE: 7 FEET” to know that I was going to crash into the low overhang. I slammed on the brakes and just as I thought I was completely f**ked, a jeep with flashing lights pulled up next to me. “Follow me,” he yelled. The sign on his bumper read “Airport Security.”

I followed his jeep as he cut across three lanes of traffic, parting the seas like a modern day Moses, and drove through to a quiet, cordoned off area that was marked “Employees Only. ” I pulled in behind him when he finally stopped.

“My heart is still racing!” I told him when he walked up to my window.

“Lucky I just happened to be driving by,” he said. And then he spent the next 10 minutes explaining the nuances of driving an oversize vehicle to pick up a passenger at LAS. As in, next time don’t. It’s a red flag for security. Even if the sides of your RV are emblazoned with giant lattice-top cherry pies. He directed me up to the departures area, where the clearance was high enough for my 11-foot-tall RV, but warned me that the “brown shirts” will shoo me away within seconds if I’m trying to wait.

I circled around the terminal and wound my way up to the departure level where, sure enough, there was a woman in a brown shirt approaching me the instant I pulled up to the curb. A long, dark-haired ponytail streaked with grey, she looked Hawaiian. And she was — wait for it — nice! Dave had already called and was making his way to the terminal. “My friend is on his way,” I assured her.

“Let me talk to him,” she said. “I’ll give him the directions to come out at this door.”

The next thing I knew, Dave was peering into the passenger window, which made Jack first bark and then wiggle with excitement, and made me let out a huge sigh of relief. We waved goodbye to the nice brown-shirted lady — those airport workers in Vegas are angels — and off we went. To the nearest Wal-Mart parking lot for the night.

Near Disaster #2 

I had made it the first 300 miles on my own without catastrophe. But together we had another 1,500 miles to go, and a few mountain ranges to traverse along the way. I normally drive the southern route from LA to Iowa, along Interstate 10, then cutting up through Oklahoma and Kansas. But I wanted a change of scenery this time. I also figured the third week of May was late enough in the spring that the weather in the Rockies would be fine. I had also calculated that even a little mountain rain would be preferable to dodging tornadoes along the southern route, which I had had to do the last time I drove east.

This is what a deluge of desert rain looks like — from a safe distance.

That only thing worse than waking up in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart parking lot is waking up in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart parking lot to a sky filled with black clouds. I began checking my WeatherBug app obsessively. If there was a road that wound between the storm cells I would have taken it. Instead, we stayed on I-15 and headed northeast. Straight toward the darkness. We could see cloudbursts and lightning bolts all around us, but for most of the day we avoided the brunt of the storm. By the time we got to St. George, Utah, however, we were deluged by rain. In an RV with a leaking roof. Worse, the temperature was plummeting. By the time we got to Cedar City, we bailed on the driving and went to a movie.

The movie choice — mine —could be added to the Near Disaster List but Dave was a good sport and sat through “Hot Pursuit,” instead of “Mad Max,” which would have been his choice. I thought Reese Witherspoon could make any movie watchable. But even the stale, overpriced movie popcorn was better than the jokes in that film.

A break in the weather after the film lured us another two hours further down the road. To a truck stop near the junction of I-70. With only one restaurant, a Chinese place in a log cabin with wagon wheel chandeliers run by Mormons. There was no disaster in this, no food poisoning, no hot tea spilling on my lap. Just a really nice waitress who kept the place open 15 minutes past closing time to accommodate us. And a nice warm plate of Lo Mein before crawling into the cold RV for the night. Luckily, because I was moving all my stuff back to Iowa, I had 4 down comforters and 2 quilts between the two of us.

Last services for the next 116 miles includes pie!
Too bad we drove through on a day it was closed.

The thing about mountain driving is that the sky can be so clear and blue one minute, like it was when we woke up, and then you round a bend and see a bank of clouds looming above a peak ahead. Dave had been on storm chasing tours before and, much to my chagrin, he began explaining what was going to happen as we made our way across Utah’s remote I-70. (There are warning signs that read: “No services for 116 miles. No bull.” You do NOT want to break down out here. Or get caught in a windstorm in an RV.)

“You see those towering puffy clouds?” he asked, pointing dead ahead. “That’s called a cu-field. And you see those anvil clouds forming above them? That means the air is very unstable. It means trouble. If we were on a storm chasing trip that would be very exciting and we’d drive toward it.”

“We are NOT on a storm chasing trip,” I said without needing to.

I was driving. The road was winding between stunning red sandstone towers and rock formations, the beauty Utah is renowned for, but road construction had the highway limited to one narrow, winding lane. I could feel the tension mounting, and not just in the sky.

When you see a Runaway Truck Ramp sign,
you know you are driving on steep and scary roads.

Near Disaster #3 

As I was driving, I was chewing on licorice, and then switched to wasabi peas (from Trader Joes), to help me stay alert — and calm. The more stressful the driving, the harder I chewed. Until I hit a nerve. And I don’t mean that figuratively.


“I think I just broke the seal on my bridge,” I told Dave. Pain was shooting up into my skull. I held onto the side of my right cheek. And once the throbbing started it didn’t stop.

“Don’t catastrophize it,” he said. He wasn’t being dismissive. I know him. He meant well. He is the guy that can generate the calm in the direst of situations and he was just trying to keep me from worrying.

“No,” I said. “This happened to me 12 years ago. I know this is bad.”

My toothache was so severe I started to panic. Not only was it going to make the rest of the drive difficult, my mind was racing ahead to my World Piece trip. I was leaving in just 2 weeks. The anxiety, both physical and mental, escalated. “I need you to drive,” I told Dave.

We switched places and no sooner did Dave get behind the wheel, the sky cut loose. We didn’t have to chase the storm, the cu-field we had been watching grow had chased us. The blinding rain turned to hail. And if you’ve ever heard hail hit the roof of an RV, let’s just say ear plugs don’t even help. “We need to get off the road, Dave,” I screeched. “Take the next exit.” (I had been trying really hard not to backseat drive, but this was one time where I couldn’t hold back.)

The closest exit was for the town of Fruita, Colorado. We took it. We parked. And we plugged our ears as the hail continued to pound the roof like a musical accompaniment to my throbbing tooth. While we waited out the storm I started Googling dentists nearby. I called at least 4 places until I got an appointment just 30 minutes later. And not in the bigger city of Grand Junction just 10 miles down the road, but in this very small town (pop. 12,700) I had never heard of, never planned on stopping in.

Somewhere in between the rain, the hail, and Fruita,
a full arch rainbow appeared….An omen?!

The offices of Fruita Canyon Dental are impressive from the moment you drive up. New, modern, and made of stacked stone, the place appears immaculate. The kind of place where, if you had a dental emergency while traveling cross-country, you would be glad to find. And it only got better.

The receptionist was friendly. “Oh, you made it here fast,” she said. “I’m so sorry you are having a problem with your tooth.” I was immediately ushered to a dental chair—there must have been at least five of them, all in separate rooms, all facing out toward the one-way glass windows for a soothing view of grass and aspen trees. We passed a printing machine in the hallway that sounded like it was spewing out reams of paper, and I was told, “Sorry about the noise. That’s our 3-D printer that makes crowns in the office, so you don’t have to have temporaries anymore.” I was astounded to see such state of the art equipment so far off the beaten path. And then I was greeted by Jessie May, a young woman with her long hair wound into a top knot, her long eye lashes batting like a gentle doe. She was the dental assistant assigned to my chair.

Jessie took some X-rays of my mouth and while we waited for the dentist to look at them she probed me with questions. She asked me about my road trip, about Iowa, about pie. I gave her the abbreviated version, about Marcus, about the American Gothic House, about using the frequent flyer miles for World Piece. And then I could no longer hold back the tears. The difficult driving, the bad weather, the aching tooth….it was all too much.

Jessie handed me a tissue. “Life is about adversity,” she said, her eyes big, her smile warm. Then she shared enough of her own history with me to realize that she has had challenges of her own.

Reality bites.

Dr. Stegelmeier came in. He looked more like a snowboarder than a dentist in his bright orange plaid shirt and baggy Carhart-type pants, his face tan from being on the slopes. He looked at my X-rays, and pointing at my back molar said, “This tooth needs to come out.” The intensity of the pain had already indicated it, but to hear him say it out loud made me cry again.

“Can I call my dad first? He’s a retired dentist. I just want to get his advice.”

“Sure. I can talk to him too if you want,” Dr. Stegelmeier said.

I got my dad on the phone and then, to make it easier, I just handed the phone to the dentist. I tried to listen to their dental speak as their dialog switched to Latin names and tooth numbers. When my dad heard what would have to happen, he said, “Aw, shit.”

The dentist held the phone away from his ear, smiled and said to Jessie, “I like this guy.”

I miss having my dad as my dentist, but it meant so much to me to have him consult on my case. And anyway, from the minute I saw his high-optic glasses perched on top of his head I knew I was in good hands with Dr. Stegelmeier.

“Do you want to hold my hand?” Jessie asked as the dentist prepared to inject Novocain.

“Yes, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt it,” I told her, grabbing her outstretched fingers.

“No. I know you can’t hurt it, because my sister held my hand during five childbirths.”

After I was thoroughly numbed up, the dentist got down to business. He sawed off half of my bridge, smoothed out the remaining rough edge, and then yanked out my molar. All the while, I squeezed Jessie’s hand hard. It was over in less than 30 minutes. I would be able to go on my round the world journey, sampling food in every country, but able to chew on only one side. It was a small price to pay.

I went out to the RV and got a copy of “Ms. American Pie.” I brought it into the reception and signed it to Jessie May. “Thanks for holding my hand,” I wrote.

The receptionist looked at the cover and then at me. “Is this you?” she asked.

Biting down on the hunk of gauze inside my mouth, my eyes puffy from crying, my hair greasy from being on the road for 3 days without a shower, I nodded to say, believe it or not, yes.

The road to Glenwood Springs.

Dave and I drove straight to Glenwood Hot Springs after leaving Fruita Canyon Dental. The sky cleared so we went to the pool to soak in the mineral waters, a reward for surviving the near disasters.

“Jeez, Dave,” I said as I laid back in the steaming hot sulphur water, letting my body relax. “Can you believe it we found that dentist? I mean, if the hail hadn’t driven us off the road…” I shook my head. “It was a miracle.”

“The Universe worked it out. And it was better that it happened before you left the country.”

I tried to smile, but the right side of my face was still too numb and swollen to move. “That’s true,” I said.

Dave pulled himself out of the hot water, sat on the side of the pool and giving me his signature grin said, “And to think we are only half way to Iowa.”

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

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

Planning, Packing and Paring Down: Does It Spark Joy?

I leave on my round-the-world trip one month from today (though it really begins in just 2-½ weeks with my drive to Iowa to drop off my dog Jack at “summer camp.”) I am excited, yes, but I am also bogged down in planning and packing. And neither of those things are the most enjoyable part of the journey to me. Alas, they are part of the journey. And I know that taking the time to prepare and pack right (as in light) will make the journey a better one.

As for planning part, there are a zillion details to work out. Not just the flights and the visas, or the global cell phone calling plan and credit card with no foreign transaction fee, buying an international plug adapter and getting World Piece business cards made. I have added a big fat layer of complexity by adding pie-making classes to the mix. So in addition to all the other stuff I also have to figure out how to get supplies and ingredients for pie classes in 10 different countries.

In spite of having a white board and a 3-ring binder and scratching things off my To-Do list daily, managing the minutiae is still an exercise in stress management. I just keep reminding myself to practice what I preach: “Pie is not about perfection. Pie is about improvising. Pie makes people happy.” I will have time to find the ingredients and supplies when I get there. I will get the rest of the class details ironed out when I hit the ground.

I will be fine. I will be fine. I will be fine.

As for the packing part, I thought I could handle this one without the usual mental wrestling match required in determining what to take and what to leave behind. But packing has its own added layer of complexity. I am moving out of my guesthouse in LA and I want to consolidate my belongings — kind of like “getting your affairs in order.” Not that I think I’m going to die out there on my trip. Nothing that morbid. I just want the peace of mind of knowing all my stuff is in one place.

I have too much to cart back to Iowa in my MINI Cooper. (I traveled out here in the RV, remember? And I had it fully packed.) I can’t store anything in the RV as I had originally planned because my brother is going to use it this summer. (Yes, The Beast is still alive and well! Thanks for asking.) Besides, keeping my stuff in the RV means having stuff in two different parts of the country.

So…I’m trying to pare down. Again. (It seems this is a constant battle as I took at least 10 trips to Goodwill when I moved out of the American Gothic House in September.)

As I tackled my closet and drawers today, trying to sort what to pack, what to take with me to Iowa (to my storage unit there), and what to throw, it didn’t take long for the effort to end in exasperation—and swear words.

F**k this! I already have enough *&%#$* decisions to make!

Why do I always have to complicate things?! I promised myself I would make this journey as easy on myself as possible. Adding this “Must Pare Down” task to the already-long list is only adding pressure.

There’s more to the story though. (There always is, isn’t there?)

First, my mom took me shopping two weeks ago. She’s as excited about my trip as I am. To her thinking, a new adventure needs a new wardrobe. To my thinking, the ONLY thing I needed was a new purse. A big lightweight one with a strap long enough to carry it diagonally across my body (to keep it secure), and a zipper to make sure nothing falls out (and no stray hands go in.) We went to Marshalls to look for purses and I came out with 2 linen shirts, a dress, a crushable straw hat, a pair of linen pants, and 2 pair of sandals. And no purse. My mom was thrilled with my purchases. I loved the clothes, and they were very affordable, but I didn’t really want new stuff.

“Pare down” is kind of mantra to me, a way of life. I wanted to make do with what I already have. But it made my mom so happy to go shopping with me. And seeing her happy made me happy. It was her way of being part of my journey.

And even more symbolic, shopping with her was a touchstone to my past.

When I was 21, I had saved my money to go to Europe. I had never been there and I had the idea that I would go for a whole year, pick one place to start (by circling my finger on the map and seeing where it landed: Bern, Switzerland), and come back a changed and cosmopolitan young woman. Before I left, my mom took me shopping. (Remember her mantra: New adventures need new wardrobes.) She bought me a jean skirt, a dress, loose cotton pants, a cotton sweater. And a big lightweight purse with a long strap and a zipper closure. I can still picture it vividly. It was gray canvas, the strap was leather, and it had a mesh pocket on the outside. It was made by Esprit. I loved that purse and it had a long, adventurous life.

I had a safe and successful experience in Europe. I spent my 22nd birthday hiking in the Swiss Alps. I studied French in Neuchatel. I worked on a yacht in Cannes (and used that money to go to Thailand for three months.) I ate my way through Italy. I had an audience with the Pope. I skied on the Matterhorn. I shaved my head. I made friends. I came back to the US more grown up and cultured. (And happily my quasi-punk 80s hair do eventually grew out.)

I’ll never forget how my mom supported me and helped me prepare for that journey by taking me shopping.

Now, 30 years later, I am about to embark on another grand global adventure and it doesn’t matter if I wanted or needed new clothes. What matters is that I still have my mom and she is still supporting me in my crazy dreams and far-flung travels. Which is why I kept my “pare down” mandate to myself — to eliminate belongings, not add them — and bought the clothes. They filled two shopping bags.

I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom.

The second thing that was complicating my packing ability is that I just read a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Her theory is that by letting go of our excess belongings we live with less stress, process the past, and make room for new life. And that we should only keep things that “spark joy.”

By the author’s definition of paring down, I would be considered a hoarder.

In sorting and packing and weeding out today, I kept thinking of Kondo’s words. “With each item you touch ask yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?’” That’s a loaded question. Each and every item sparks a memory. Of a time. A place. A person. But does the item itself spark joy?

It’s a puzzling concept. So puzzling that instead of answering the question for each item I started making piles. Stuff to take with me around the world. Stuff to pack into my MINI to take to Iowa storage. Stuff to take to Goodwill. Stuff to give to friends or family. But the pile that became the biggest was Stuff I cannot f**king deal with right now. Maybe Kondo’s “letting go of excess reduces stress” concept works after the fact, but the process to get there is not as easy as she makes it sound.

Most of the stuff in my undecided pile has something to do with Marcus. Does it spark joy to remember when he bought me that wool skirt in Venice, Italy? Or when he bought me those embroidered jeans in Venice, California? What about the scarf his mother knitted for me? And the gloves with the skull and crossbones logo of the Saint Pauli soccer team in Marcus’ birthplace of Bremen, Germany? What about those?????? Those things used to spark joy. Now they spark a combination of joy and searing heartache. What do I do with that stuff?

Kondo writes, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

Ouch. And yet how fitting is that for my round-the-world trip? I say I’m going on this World Piece journey to make pie, to learn about other countries’ pie, and to promote cultural tolerance. But if you dig deeper and probe me with questions, like my friend Meg did over coffee a few days ago, this trip is about letting go of Marcus. And finding me. Finding a way to move forward. 

When I see the things I’m still hanging onto — the clothes especially, some of them Marcus’s (I still have the red plaid bathrobe I wrote about in “Making Piece“) — I cannot deny my attachment to the past.

I’m going to have to mull this over for a few more days before I can move things from the “Can’t decide” pile to the “Goodwill” one. And if they end up in the “Iowa storage” pile, so what? It’s my stuff, my memories, my joy, my grief, my timeline for when I’m ready to let go.

I also made a pile of stuff to return to Marshalls. I decided that the clothes I bought when I was with my mom are not the right clothes for me. When I tried on those linen pants today and saw how tight they were across my butt, that definitely did not spark joy. The linen blouses, loose and flowy and good for the tropics, that looked good in the dressing room — with my mother there cheering me on with her approval — now seemed too matronly. Matronly and joy are mutually exclusive. No spark there. But I’m keeping the sandals, because I’ve already worn them. They are like joyful little spark plugs for my feet, very comfortable for walking on any pavement anywhere in the world. And I’m keeping the dress, partly because my mom paid for it. “It’s an early birthday present,” she had insisted. I do love it. It’s a great color for me (dark khaki green), it’s lightweight, it doesn’t wrinkle, and it covers my arms and knees (meaning I will have the respectful attire required when visiting certain places.) I know I will wear it a lot.

I also know that no matter what I pack, what I leave behind, what I give away — and what I  plan (or don’t get planned) for the pie classes — I will be fine. I just need to keep my load light. On this trip, I will carry more strength and grace, and less grief. I will find myself again. The spirit of my 22-year-old self still lives in me somewhere. Hopefully, I will just have a hell of a lot of fun. I have nothing to worry about because making and sharing pie is always fun.

Let the journey begin.

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

Finding Solace in Solitaire

I’ve never been a fan of card games. It’s just not my thing to sit at a table and dole out little rectangular pieces of coated paper with numbers and symbols and faces of royalty printed on them. It seems pointless, a waste of precious time that could be—should be—spent doing something productive, like exercising or making a pie to share. Or writing a blog post.

But on November 17, I found myself sitting in the back of my 24-foot RV navigating Los Angeles’s traffic-clogged freeways with someone else driving because I was too stressed, too depressed, too lacking in energy to make the trip from Dallas, Texas to Southern California alone.

On November 6, I had left Iowa, driving my RV solo, loaded with my entire wardrobe, bicycles, computer and two terriers, and towing my Mini Cooper behind. I left Iowa—left the American Gothic House where I had lived the past 4 years, left the farm where I had been staying for the past 2 months, left the cold weather—and planned to camp out in a friend’s yard outside of Dallas where I would work on my new memoir for the next few months.

My dear, sweet Daisy

Only 36 hours after arriving at my friend’s place in Texas my terriers were attacked by a coyote in the woods behind the house. I had let the dogs out for their morning pee while I made my coffee and 10 minutes later Jack came back to the door, bleeding badly from his neck. Daisy, my curly white-haired rescue from Mexico, didn’t come back at all. Given that she never liked to miss breakfast, and seeing what had happened to Jack, my adrenaline was pumping; I feared the worst.

I drove Jack to the animal emergency hospital, left him there to be treated for shock and multiple deep puncture wounds, and rushed back to my friend’s where I spent hours frantically searching for Daisy. A neighbor found her later; she was dead and the coyote who killed her clearly left its marks. I won’t describe the awful scene. I can only imagine—or hope—her death had been quick. I can only hope she didn’t suffer.

We buried Daisy in the forest. I placed one of her favorite stuffed animals, a small squirrel, in the grave with her. And later, bought a bouquet of daisies to place on top of the dirt mound. After two nights in the animal hospital Jack survived. But the tragedy—and the trauma—left me shaken. I was vulnerable, exhausted, lacking trust, and in need of a helping hand.

Help came in the form of an Iowa friend, D, who offered to fly down to Dallas, load my Mini back onto the car trailer, and drive me to the place I should have gone in the first place: home.

I have long considered Southern California home ever since I took a job in LA back in 1990. I didn’t love the job but I loved living at the beach, and learning how to surf and mountain bike. I loved being in a big cosmopolitan city combined with having such easy and immediate access to outdoor adventure. And the sun. I loved the warmth that radiated deep into my bones. Besides, I always feel better with a tan. LA has been my home base off and on ever since. And with my parents and several siblings in the area, it was the place I needed to be after losing my angelic little dog I had loved so deeply, like a child, for the past six years.

D is used to driving a tractor but not my RV—and not my RV with my precious tiny car towed behind. I tried very hard to abstain from bitchy, backseat driver comments, like “When you see brake lights a few cars ahead that means you need to start slowing down” and “You’re too close to the center line.” Even after two long days of D’s decent driving it was so hard for me not to be vigilant—er, bossy and controlling—that I forced myself to stop looking out the front window and sat in the back facing the rear. After already having driven myself 800 miles from Iowa to Dallas with the added worry of towing my car, then bearing the unspeakable anguish of the dog tragedy, followed by the 1,400 miles heading West in an aging RV whose weakened walls were about to collapse from water damage, my stress was running high, and increasing along with the traffic. It was too bouncy to read. Too noisy to talk on the phone. But I desperately needed to do something to distract myself. So I did something I never thought I would do. I downloaded an app on my iPhone for Solitaire.

I learned how to play solitaire back in grade school. Back when people used real cards. My dad plays it regularly on his computer and I saw how it occupied and calmed his restless mind. Often to my mother’s irritation. So I figured if it helped my dad it could help me.

My new form of therapy

The digital version makes the game quicker, easier, and, when bouncing around in the back of an RV, obviously more convenient than spreading out 52 cards. I hit the play button and—whoosh!—all the cards, bright, crisp, and colorful in their digital form appeared perfectly laid out and game ready. I tapped on an ace of clubs and it magically, swiftly flew to the spot I intended, without me even having to drag it. The program knew where the card was supposed to go. The same thing happened each time I clicked on a card. The queen of hearts flew over to rest on top of the king of spades. Another tap and the two of clubs landed on the Ace above.

With this kind of expedited play I continued, game after game. I won a few, lost a few. I played so many games my palms were sweating. But by god, I did not look out the window. I did not think about the traffic. And I stopped obsessing about D’s too-quick braking methods. I also stopped thinking—for the moment—about what happened to Daisy and how much I missed her, her big brown eyes, her crazy mohawk hair, her wagging tail, and her snoring. I passed the time, and the miles, and several hours and 25 games of Solitaire later, we crested over a hill. I deigned to look out the front window, and before us glistened the vast Pacific Ocean, the setting sun reflecting off the breaking waves. THANK YOU, GOD, I whispered. I finally put down my iPhone and wiped the tears from eyes.

A parking place in paradise

Once I got settled in my oceanfront campsite, just 20 minutes from my parents’ apartment, D flew back to Iowa and I was on my own. With my wounded-but-recovering terrier, Jack. And my grief. I knew grief too well from the sudden and unexpected loss of my husband, Marcus, five years earlier. I became an expert at grief. I did the grief counseling. I did the crying. I read the books. I even wrote my own book about it.

But what happens when you lose a dog? What happens when that dog was connected to your husband since you rescued Daisy when you lived with Marcus in Mexico for his job? What happens when you lose Daisy on the heels of leaving a house you loved (even if you did not love the neighbors) having convinced yourself that life holds something bigger, better for you, but instead find yourself on a rocky, boulder-strewn road of missteps with no end in sight? What happens, even when you are camped on a million dollar-view beach with your loving and supportive family just down the road, but your heart is so troubled, so broken that you cannot sleep at night? I’ll tell you what you do: you play Solitaire.

Team Terrier and me at the American Gothic House on a happy day.
Who knew life would hold such huge challenges in the months ahead?

Distraught and disoriented from all the recent upheaval I’ve been so tired I’ve been crawling into bed around 8PM, falling instantly into a deep sleep. But only for a few hours. And then I wake up—wide awake with my heart racing and pounding irregularly, trying to push out of my mind the image of Daisy’s little body lying in the woods, wondering what I could have done differently to change the course of events. Should I have not moved out of the American Gothic House? Should I have stayed in Iowa? What am I going to do now? Where am I going? I try to meditate and do deep breathing exercises to encourage sleep to return. But it doesn’t. So I play Solitaire. Game after game after game. Several pre-dawn hours at a time. I play so much Solitaire that when I finally close my eyes I still see the cards, still trying to make them move.

I told my friend Susanne about my new obsession. “I’m so embarrassed to admit it,” I said.

“It makes perfect sense,” Susanne replied. “It’s repetitious ordering. You feel out of control of your life, but by ordering the cards you feel like there is something you can take charge of.”

As the insomnia continues—and thus I continue to play cards on my iPhone—I have been observing other reasons why the game is helpful.

Solitaire mirrors life. Just when you think you’ve lost, you discover a move you hadn’t seen before, or wasn’t there before. A black five on a red six and—voila—by moving the red four on top of the five opens up a space to put the king and with one or two more cards your luck has shifted and you win. Sometimes you feel stuck, you’ve looked through the cards 10 times and there really is no conceivable move, no way to win, but with a tap to the “new game” button you can start over. And you can use the “Get tip” button—“Oh, I can transfer a few cards from one line to another to clear the path for a winning move? Thanks for pointing that out.” It’s not cheating; it’s like asking a trusted friend for advice.

Jack on the mend. The sign says it all.

I have appreciated having Solitaire to distract me through my days (and nights) of late. But I am weaning myself off the game. I am determined to reclaim my balance, my sense of direction, my ability to sleep—without the aid of cards—or drugs or red wine or even chocolate. Okay, maybe a little chocolate. As I work through my grief over losing Daisy, a little voice creeps in that suggests her sudden death may have spared her any drawn out suffering from the arthritis that was ailing her. Still, a creature as appreciative and innocent as she was didn’t deserve such a violent death. But what can you do? You cannot go backward in life, only forward.

I am putting one foot in front of the other, taking long walks on the beach, riding my bike in the shining sun, spending time talking with my family (or just sitting quietly in their comforting company), and writing more in my journal. I made pies for Thanksgiving. And now, at last, I am sitting at my computer typing out the feelings from my heavy heart, hoping that by sharing my words, my story, my grief and my gratitude, I will find my way back to productivity and purpose. That said, I’m going to keep the Solitaire app on my iPhone. It will serve as a reminder to have faith in life, that by drawing just one or two more cards, the road can get smoother, you can still find a way through, and there’s still, always a possibility of winning.

RV Book Tour: Week Five, Stats So Far

It is Week Five out of six on my “Pie Across the Nation” RV Book Tour to promote my new memoir, “Making Piece.” I’ve traveled from Eldon, Iowa (where I live in the American Gothic House), driving the 24-foot RV my husband left behind. Affectionately called “The Beast,” I packed up my two terriers, my pie baking supplies, and my “Free Pie” sign and left home on April 3. In the past month I have covered the entire West Coast with a side trip (by plane) to Florida. Here are the stats so far:

Number of days on the road: 32
Number of cities visited: 13
Number of tanks of gas: 12 (That’s a rough guess. I’m too afraid to add up the receipts yet!)

Number of times I’ve emptied out the RV waste tanks: 3
Number of rolls of duck tape used to keep RV parts from falling off: 2
Amount of money spent on RV repairs: $800 (for new brakes)

Number of pies I’ve made in the RV: 5
Number of pies I burned in the RV: 1

Number of pies I baked in the RV that came out lopsided from being parked at an angle: 1 (That’s a Shaker Lemon)

Number of times I’ve been on the front page of a newspaper: 3 (the biggest one being the LA TIMES! Pictured below: Seattle Times)

Number of times I’ve done pie demos on live television: 7

Number of times I’ve had my face air brushed with makeup to appear on HD TV: 1
(To see video of TV appearances & other press, see my news page)

Number of times people honked because they love pie: 187
Number of times people honked because they love pie when I was trying to take a nap: 6
Number of times people honked NOT because they love pie: in LA, countless!

Number of books sold: no idea (publisher says stats won’t be available for 6 months)
Number of pens used up from signing books: 4

Number of slices of pie I’ve eaten: 15 (not enough!)
banana cream 3  (from The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles)

blackberry 1  (from High 5 Pie in Seattle)
tripleberry 2 (one in Santa Monica, one in Florida)
  –strawberry rhubarb 1 (homemade in Olympia, WA)
marionberry 1  (from Bipartisan Cafe in Portland)

key lime 2  (ordered from room service in Orlando, Florida)
pecan 2  (from The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles)
apple 3  (a few slices of my own homemade pie)

Number of bottles of cough syrup consumed: 4 (a chronicle of my bronchitis will be my next post)

Number of trips to the ER: 2 (bronchitis related — ugh! — more on that in the next post as well)

Number of times I’ve said, “I just want to go home”:  I’m not going to tell you!

RV Book Tour: Week One — Saint Glenn

The RV Book Tour for Making Piece is underway. The Beast, with its new decals that read “Pie Across the Nation” and “Honk if you love pie,” has logged 2,000 miles so far — which translates as about six tanks of gas. We have crossed six states — Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and, finally, Oregon.

The entire first day and a half looked like this.
Our first overnight was in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Wall-Mart allows free RV parking. Too bad there are no electrical hook-ups.
One leftover piece of Arlene Kildow’s coconut cream pie made it on the trip.
But not for long. I ate it the first afternoon.

The only way I was able to sit in the front passenger seat was if I was
willing to have Team Terrier on my lap. So mostly I sat in the seat behind them.
Woke up to my worst nightmare when we stopped in Ogden, Utah for the night.
SNOWSTORM! Thank god it didn’t last more than an hour and the roads stayed clear.
No sooner did the snow end, the windstorm began. It was a relentless, harrowing wind
with gusts of 50 mph that rocked the RV all over the road. I even got a little seasick.
This is Glenn Thrush, or “Saint Glenn” as I call him. He’s an old friend/
coworker from Microsoft who offered to help me to the long drive from Iowa to  Portland.
He drove for 12 hours straight the day of snow & wind, and I rewarded him with PB&J sandwiches.
I think I got the better end of that stick. THANK YOU, GLENN!
We made it in the nick of time for my first book event at Pacific Pie Company.
The trip should have taken 5 days. We did it in just over three. Phew!

My body still feels like it’s in motion. Probably because I haven’t sat still since we arrived. More pics to come of our events at Pacific Pie Company and Bipartisan Cafe. But right now I have a packed schedule of interviews and another Portland book event tonight — at Broadway Books at 7.

Time to get this day started! And the RV Book Tour “Pie Across the Nation” adventure continues.

My Book Tour Begins!

My book (or my baby, depending on how you look at it) has arrived! It was born healthy, a robust 10 ounces (or whatever a 320-page hardcover book weighs) and so far everyone is telling me how much they love my new arrival. PHEW! So I’m going to stop focusing on the bitter and hold tightly to the sweet. I’m going to dry those tears, shake off the lingering grief, and get back in motion. I’m firing up the engine of “The Beast” today and hitting the road again — this time for my book tour for the next six weeks.

The Beast is not just an RV, it’s a character in my book. Marcus bought the RV, a 24-foot-camper I never wanted, and now it plays a big role in my life. It is going to be home while I travel from Iowa to Portland, Olympia, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin and Jefferson, Texas.

To celebrate my book and the cross-country tour for it, the RV got a little face lift, a beautification project.

Here is the RV before:

And here it is AFTER:

You have to admit, it looks pretty effing adorable! I can only imagine what Marcus would say. I used to tease him about commandeering his Wells Cargo motorcycle trailer (which he towed behind the RV) to use as a mobile pie shop. I also told him I would never, ever drive the RV. And now look. Uh, yeah.

In a way, the RV is a mobile pie shop as I am serving pie at every book event along the way.

Pie is a wonderful way to wow an audience. No matter what people think of the book, they always LOVE the pie — all of it homemade. I know because I’ve already had two book events and had to watch the audience dig into their slices of apple crumble, cherry, Shaker lemon, and strawberry-rhubarb while I had to stand up and talk. No pie for me!

My first book event at Barnes and Noble in West Des Moines, Iowa,
the first day my book was in stores. March 27, 2012.
Next I had a Book Launch Party at the American Gothic House Center
next door to my house in Eldon, Iowa. March 31, 2012

Look at that cute house in the background. I live there!!!!

Pie builds community. Always. In Eldon, even the mayor (Shirley Stacey)
helps serve slices — with Grant Wood looking over her shoulder.
Shirley’s peach pie (and recipe) features in my book.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I still get to eat pie in between book readings
and signings. On Saturday I got a slice of Arlene Kildow’s PHENOMENAL
Coconut Cream pie! The recipe for it is in my book.

To follow my book tour and find me out on the road, my schedule is here:
http://theworldneedsmorepie.com/book/appearances/

And a new adventure begins….

Whatever Happened to The Beast?

The Beast: Happy in its new role as American Gothic House privacy screen/fence.

“What happened to The Beast?” some of you have been asking. The Beast is the nickname I gave the RV that Marcus left behind, the 24-foot-long camper that I was originally terrified to drive but proved not only a cinch to drive but a dream vehicle for long road trips. (When you get tired you don’t have to hobble into the next Motel Six, you just pull over and take a nap or make an espresso.) It also ended up being the genesis for the pie TV show concept. (Watch the 2-minute promo video here.)

When I drove to Iowa last August I made the difficult decision of driving my MINI to Iowa, leaving The Beast with my brother Mike in Southern California. My parting words were, “I’ll be back in a month.” Then I stumbled upon the American Gothic House and moved in. My plans to return to LA were stymied and thus my refrain became, “I’ll be there at Christmas.” But I ended up spending the entire winter in Iowa, writing my book and not really missing the California rat race. So, eventually, I promised, “I’ll come and get it this spring, maybe drive it back to Iowa at Easter.” But then spring came and went and the RV was still in California.

I didn’t feel much pressure as I sensed Mike wasn’t in a huge hurry to part with it. He was getting good use out of the RV for surf trips, even just day trips to Huntington Beach where he could use the big rig for both a wetsuit changing room and a post-surf-session coffee house with an ocean view.

Even I was able to get in on the RV surf safari action
 when I snuck in a quick trip to LA in February.

He was also using it for his work, painting murals at schools around Los Angeles – “campus beautification projects” – with his non-profit called Operation Clean Slate. Turns out The Beast made a good scaffolding as well as overnight crash pad (he has to trace mural outlines with a projector and that can only be done in the dark).

It was free storage for me and a free work/play vehicle for him, a true win-win. Until the day that a disgruntled neighbor (seems we all have one!) reported that The Beast had been parked a little too long on his residential street. It was on my birthday in June he sent me an email that read, “The time has come.” Attached to the email was a photo of a big red piece of paper on the windshield with bold black letters stating: “Notice of Parking Violation.” It was a warning, not a ticket, there was no fine, but even so, reclaiming what was ultimately my responsibility became urgent.

Mike also used the RV for beachfront brunches with my parents.

Ironically, it was on that same day – my birthday, June 14 – that the mayor of Eldon paid me a visit to show me the Polaroid photos my own disgruntled neighbors had taken of my dogs in their yard. Evidence. Proof of trespassing. Something needed to be done. It might have meant actually having to put my two little terriers on leashes. THE HORROR! Or perhaps erect a fence on that side of the lawn to keep my dogs from sprinting after the bunnies and squirrels that seemed to favor that particular neighbors’ yard. Or, could it be? Yes! Get the RV to Iowa, park it on that side of the property and use it as both a barrier to the neighbors’ lawn AND as a privacy screen to keep their prying eyes off my back door comings and goings. (These neighbors have more of an issue with me than just my dogs on their grass and, as such, my life has become their number one source of entertainment — and fodder for constant complaints to City Hall.)

With a little juggling of schedules and a lot of lucky timing, I was able to get the RV from LA to Phoenix, where friends from Eldon were vacationing, and they drove The Beast cross-country from Phoenix to Southeast Iowa. And now, I am happily reunited with my trusty travel rig. I cannot wait for a lull in this searing summer heat and this Pitchfork Pie Stand busyness to take it out on a road trip.

Until then, I am equally thrilled at how The Beast is serving this inadvertent purpose. My neighbors haven’t complained about my dogs since the RV arrived. Rather, I’m waiting for their next complaint: that I’m blocking their view. I have a response already prepared in anticipation: “If you need something to watch, there’s this thing called TV.”