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.

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

RV Book Tour: LA to Austin

Here’s one of those “It could only happen on an RV book tour” kind of stories. And even though I should be taking a nap right now (I need it!), I can’t sleep because I really want to – NEED to – tell this story.
I’ve been sick – as in two trips to the ER, it’s going to cost me over 10 grand sick – so I thought I better find someone to help me do the 1,400-mile-drive from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas. (Actually, I did have someone lined up but a broken front tooth took her out of the running.) The deal for the co-driver was I pay for all their meals and their one-way airline ticket. I emailed a few unemployed people I know in LA to see if they could spare a few days off. In LA, it’s not too hard to find film editors and actors and other creative types in between gigs. But as a back up, I also posted a want ad on my Facebook business page, TheWorld Needs More Pie. Within five minutes, Barbara Fascat Szendrey, a woman in Austin – my destination – volunteered her husband. She even suggested flight times. I didn’t think I could get an affordable one-way ticket from Austin to LA at the very last minute, and I wasn’t even sure her husband would say yes, but lo and behold, everything fell perfectly into place all within an hour of that Facebook post.
My parents drove me to LAX the next evening to pick up Paul Szendrey, Barbara’s husband, who had been a longtime follower of my blog, ever since I lived in Terlingua, Texas. Since before Marcus died. I had never met him in person. But I have learned the ways to build trust in strangers, especially when the relationship centers around pie. It worked so beautifully last summer when Facebook friend Sue from Allentown, Pennsylvania, flew to Iowa to spend a week working with me at my Pitchfork Pie Stand. We had never met in person, but after five days spent in the American Gothic House drinking coffee at the kitchen table by morning, making pie by afternoon and eating dinners outside on the back patio by night, we cried at the airport when we had to say goodbye.
My dad holds the sign like a glorified limo driver.
Except limo drivers don’t smile nearly as much.
At LAX, my mom dropped off my dad and me while she drove off to find parking. I had told Paul, “You’ll recognize me because I’ll bring the ‘FREE PIE’ sign.” My dad held the sign as I searched the throngs of passengers streaming into the baggage claim area. Many of them smiled when they saw the sign. Or gave us  the thumbs up. That alone made for a fun and interesting way to spend an evening at one of the world’s busiest airports. And then we saw Paul. Or he saw us. We exchanged warm welcoming hugs and soon we were giving him a tour of the beach communities, pouring him a martini, and putting him to bed in preparation for the next morning’s departure back East.
That’s Paul, left, and my dad, right. With waffles, far left!
Oh, and Paul’s tiny travel companion, Ribirto the Frog.
We had a nice send off of a hearty breakfast of waffles, bacon and eggs – Thank you, Mom! – and off we went in The Beast. Riverside, Palm Springs, Blythe, Phoenix, Tuscon…we checked off the cities as the miles clicked by and the gas gauge dipped lower. The following line became our constant refrain: “I wish we had more time to stop and check this place out,” as we passed wilderness areas and mountain ranges and rock formations and Joshua trees and Saguaro cactus fields.
Thumbs up to this Benson, Arizona KOA campground.
Especially the classical music playing in the clean showers.
We stopped overnight at a KOA Campground in Benson, Arizona, so we could “refresh” the RV (i.e.: empty the waste tanks and refill the water tanks). And since the water heater hasn’t been working this entire six-week book tour, we used the campground’s showers, which was an unusual treat because not only were they spotlessly clean, they had piped in classical music. While I think this is a very nice touch, I can’t say it helps in their desert water conservation. Because I was enjoying the music so much I took an extra long shower! Just saying.
When we passed through El Paso and then came to Van Horn, Texas, I managed to keep the grief pangs at bay. This was where one takes the turn off to Big Bend National Park. It’s my old travel turf from that summer, the summer of 2009. The summer I rented that miner’s cabin in the Chihuahua Desert. The summer I was working on my pie memoir, the first version. The summer Marcus died. I was in love with that part of Texas. I still am. I felt the longing to go back. To take the exit south. To breathe in the wide open space. To gaze at the black sky filled with a billion stars. But in this case our refrain was probably a blessing. “Too bad we don’t have time to stop.”
Soaking my feet in the Llano River, while Team Terrier swims.
In fact, we were pushing so hard to get to Austin with so little time, we didn’t even stop for a proper meal until the third day of the journey, when we reached Llano, Texas. “There’s a good barbeque place,” Paul insisted. But when we arrived it was only 10:30AM. The place, Cooper’s Texas BBQ, didn’t open until 11. We found an easy solution. We walked Team Terrier first, discovering by accident the Llano River and an ideal place for the dogs to swim – and for me to soak my feet. This was a luxury. Anytime I’ve had a chance to just sit still and take in a dose of nature has been a luxury on this 6-week trip.
Cooper’s BBQ. A must-stop on any RV tour!
And then, at last, a meal.  A big meaty, saucy, Texas-size meal. Oh. My. God. Yum!
Meanwhile, back in Austin, Barbara (Paul’s wife), had been texting and sending photos of what she had been doing to pass the time while her husband was driving me, my two terriers and my RV across the country. She had been baking pies! Barbara had just retired from her job as a sheriff’s department supervisor. She had also just read my book, “Making Piece.” She had never made a homemade pie crust before. Nor had she made any of the kinds of pies I write about in my story. My book is a memoir, not a cookbook, but I do include five recipes in the back, recipes that have direct relevance to the story. So while Paul and I were rattling down the highway at 60 miles per hour, Barbara was banging around in her kitchen making pie after pie after pie. She made the ones included in my book and several others, so by the time Paul and I pulled up in the driveway, we were greeted with EIGHT different pies to try!
Barbara saw us approaching – you can’t miss The Beast when it motors down a cul de sac – and rushed out to greet us. Another warm hug was exchanged with a woman who was previously a stranger, who is clearly now a friend.
Barbara Szendrey’s Pie Experiment Extravaganza!
A whopping success!
I sat in the Szendrey’s kitchen – perched on a bar stool at the island where all the pies were lined up as if it were the Iowa State Fair – and proceeded to sample slices of each of her creations. In this order I ate the following: coconut cream, French silk, peach, apple, Shaker lemon, peanut butter, Tollhouse Cookie, and something called Jeff Davis, which is a buttermilk custard pie. There was no banana cream, but I didn’t say anything, as I had enough to fill my belly as it was! And the verdict? Every single bite was amazing, stupendous, mind blowing! This was damn impressive pie!
“Barbara,” I insisted in between gobbling down bites and moaning with approval. “It’s clear you are too young and energetic to retire. I know what you are going to do.” I looked up from my pie plates and smiled at her. “You are going to open a pie shop.”
I don’t know if she will. But I hope she does. What I do know is that I’m so very grateful to this Texas couple I met on Facebook. I am grateful, once again, for the community building, connecting powers of pie. I’m also grateful my health is returning and that The Beast is still holding together for its final leg of the trip. (I’m on my third roll of duck tape. And Paul made some repairs, donating six screws and some caulking to keep one of the side walls from falling off.) This time next week I will be parked at the American Gothic House, where I will be making a few pies of my own. The Pitchfork Pie Stand opens May 26.

RV Grief (er, BOOK) Tour: Welcome to the ER

I once heard that grief is held in the lungs. If that is true then it’s no wonder I’ve had bronchitis since I arrived in Portland on my book tour. (That was on April 6!) Portland is where Marcus and I had lived together for nearly two years out of our six-year marriage. Portland is where Marcus died, suddenly, unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta. Portland is where I spent that first year after his death tackling the arduous, unenviable process of grieving.

Marcus has been gone two and half years. I have done the work. The counseling. The crying. The pie baking. During that year in Portland I conditioned myself to being back in a city loaded with so many memories—the good, the bad, the sad memories—of Marcus. So coming back for a brief visit, I thought I would be fine. I was not. I hadn’t planned for situations like the fact that the adorable bookstore, Broadway Books, where I did one of my events, was across the street from the Zeller Chapel of the Roses funeral home where Marcus’s Portland service was held.
The Beast parked at my friends’ house in Portland, the place
where Marcus and I spent our very last days together.
And so the aches in the joints, the muscles—especially in the heart—and the cough began. Grief had firmly established itself as a passenger on the tour.
My cough worsened when my RV book tour moved north to Seattle. In Seattle I was not immune to memories of Marcus. Seattle is where I lived when our courtship began. Marcus’s job brought him to Portland for weeks at a time so he spent his weekends with me in my cozy, romantic logger’s cabin in the woods, just 15 miles from where I was working at MSN.com. And because Europeans get such generous vacations, he spent an entire month with me there once. Driving around Seattle in The Beast to my book events and TV appearances took me right past the restaurants where Marcus and I had eaten, the movie theaters where we’d seen films, the coffee houses where we’d lingered and talked and fallen deeper in love.
At University Book Store in Seattle, in Q&A with my dear friend journalist Diane Mapes.
And so the cough grew deeper still.
As I headed south for San Francisco, relieved I would be free from the memories that were wearing me down, believing grief would stay behind in the Pacific Northwest, I drove past snow-covered Mount Shasta and finally parked in Mill Valley, California. But I couldn’t escape grief there either. Marcus and I had done this drive from Oregon to Northern California together several times. How could I have forgotten? And why couldn’t I just savor the beautiful memories instead of wallowing in sadness? Why couldn’t I be excited that I was on a book tour? A BOOK TOUR! I have always dreamed of being a published author. And now I was out on a cross-country adventure, promoting my book. My published book. My book about my dead husband.
Dubbed by my publisher as “Beth Howard’s Pie Across the Nation RV Book Tour,” I now privately renamed it “Beth Howard’s Retracing her Life with Marcus RV Grief Tour.”
By the time I reached Los Angeles I was on my third bottle of cough medicine. I finally got a prescription for antibiotics, managed to make it through all but one of my scheduled events, plus more TV appearances, without hacking my lungs out in public, and kept plugging along. Don’t think I was immune to grief in LA either. Marcus and I spent a lot of time in Southern California together. But being in the sun and warmth, and staying with my parents (who relocated to the beach from Iowa ten years ago), provided a temporary salve. But only temporary as I had to move on to San Diego for a few days, where I spent a day signing books at a farmers market, did another pie demo on live TV, and taught a pie class.
My speech in Orlando.
Bronchitis is a tenacious bastard. I was still coughing when I took the red-eye flight to Florida, to go to the National Pie Championships. Luckily I wasn’t judging pie this year. I wouldn’t have been able to taste much of anything with all that mucous in the back of my throat. But I did have to give a speech and pie demo at the Great American Pie Festival, the NPC’s joint event. (Side note here: If you read my book then let me just say, I was VERY well behaved in Orlando this time. When I wasn’t doing my work, I was too sick to leave my room!)
The trip to Orlando didn’t add to the grief, but it added to my exhaustion. When you’re sick, you’re supposed to rest. When you’re on a book tour, well, too bad. The show must go on.
I was in Florida for three days, after which I flew back to San Diego where I picked up my dogs from the dog sitter, got back in the RV, and drove straight back to my parents’ apartment. I had a few days’ grace period with nothing scheduled—except a long drive to Austin. Thoroughly depleted by this time, I postponed my Texas departure and parked The Beast at the beach so I could sleep. Except that the first night back, at 2:00 in the morning, I wasn’t sleeping. I was writhing in pain. The muscles in my neck and head and shoulders were seized up so severely I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe.
If you know me then you know I don’t run to the doctor when I’m sick. I figure I can muscle my way through anything, tough it out, and whatever it is it will go away eventually. And having been an extreme athlete, I have an exceptionally high tolerance for pain. But this time, at 2:00 a.m., I woke up my parents and cried out the words I have never said before: “I need to go to the hospital.”
Some fun this book tour was turning out to be.
My parents moved to a new apartment in Redondo Beach less than a year ago, so my trip to the ER was new territory for them too. How to find one? One of the most useful things I’ve learned on this book tour is how to use my location services/map search on my iPhone. Three miles to the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance. We were quickly on our way.
Both my parents came with me and waited, one sitting on each side of me. I’m almost 50 and here I was, feeling like I was eight again. Comforting, yes, but even their loving support didn’t take the pain in my head and neck away. I was worried about what was wrong with me. Infection from the lingering bronchitis? Pneumonia? Meningitis? Brain tumor? The swelling in my neck was so extreme I thought it might cut off my airways completely. But at least, now, if I did keel over I would get tended to immediately. (If I had come in bleeding profusely from the head or if I had been escorted into the ER in hand cuffs, I would have gotten even more immediate attention. Or, if like Marcus, I had come in via ambulance through the back door, well… Oh, so you see, grief found me again! In the ER. And hung out there with me all night.)
I was finally seen by a doctor—Dr. Gentle Hands, I’ll call him—a kind and compassionate man whose wisdom and impeccable bedside manner made me think if I could only just get a hug from his teddy bear body that alone might cure me. He ordered chest and neck X-rays, pumped muscle relaxants and pain killers into my veins through an IV, and finally sent me home. At 8:30AM.
I went back to the RV and slept, still in pain, for the next two days.
Dr. GH called a few days later. He wanted me to come back to the hospital. Huh?! What ER doctor ever calls a patient to come back in to the ER? He had already pre-arranged for me to see the daytime doctor on call so I wouldn’t have to wait. And he had ordered a CT scan. Now I was really scared. I didn’t have a fever, so it wasn’t meningitis. I didn’t have trauma to the neck, so it wasn’t a spinal injury (even though Ari’s suitcase fell on my head during Week Three of the book tour when driving from Seattle to San Francisco. California roads are so riddled with potholes that the bag dislodged and tumbled down from the bunk above me. Luckily I wasn’t the one driving.) X-rays showed my lungs were clear, so it wasn’t pneumonia. It must be a brain tumor.
My parents dutifully, lovingly, unhesitatingly both came with me again.
Back in the ER, my new doctor—Dr. Dark and Handsome—was so good looking it was hard to focus on what he was saying instead of on his dark curly hair, his shadow of a beard, his dreamy brown eyes and his fit body. What was he saying? Something about acute inflammation, tendonitis, probably brought on by the coughing from the bronchitis, lack of rest and that (damn) red-eye flight to Florida. I snapped out of fuzzy romance dream scene when he finally said, “But let’s wait and see what the CT scan results show.” And then he left us.
While we were waiting in hallway chairs (no lying on gurney for me this time) for the results of the CT scan, a priest approached, making a bee line for us. “Oh no! He’s coming to talk to us,” I said to my mom. “This isn’t good.” But my mom, who has worked for the Catholic church for many years, didn’t consider he might be there to read me my Last Rites. She struck up a friendly conversation with him, chatting with him about priests they knew in common. I excused myself and took a phone call I had been told I might be getting. It was from a Today Show producer. When you are trying to promote a new book, you take the call from the Today Show. No matter what. Even when you are sitting in an ER with an IV attached to your arm dripping electrolytes into your broken down, dehydrated body.
Dr. DH returned to give us the results of the CT scan. No brain tumor! The diagnosis was something I still don’t quite comprehend: calcific tendonitis—which is something like calcified fragments lodged in a tendon that get inflamed and eventually ruptures, the rupture being excruciatingly painful but it’s when the relief finally comes. “Is that like passing a kidney stone in your neck?” I asked. Uh, not really. He prescribed prednisone and sent me on my way.
After that whole ordeal, I am finally continuing on the RV Book Tour today, heading 1,400 miles east to Austin. I found someone to help me with the 21-hour drive in The Beast, a longtime Facebook friend named Paul Szendrey. And while I know grief will still come along for this leg of the trip—it’s a trip Marcus and I made together, with the RV, when we moved to Mexico and back—I am looking forward to getting on my way.
I’ve met so many kind, caring and interesting people during this grand adventure. I’ve been so welcomed in every city at every event, had such glowing reviews about my book with such huge press, had such nice emails from people thanking me for sharing my story. I’m sure the adventure will continue, in some new form, but for now it’s time to turn the RV around and travel back east. 
I am looking forward to returning to the nurturing, grounding sanctuary, I have created for myself in the American Gothic House. It’s a place where I can breathe freely and my lungs don’t hold anything but the fresh, wide open, fertile farmland air.
NOTE:  If you are in Austin, please join me at my next book event at BookPeople on Tuesday, May 8,at 7PM. Free pie will be served. And I promise I won’t cough.

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 Three, California

I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Malibu right now with just a little time left before for tonight’s 7pm book event at Diesel Book Store. I dropped off Ari Cheren, my last travel companion/co-driver/videographer, at his apartment in LA and am now traveling on my own in The Beast. Well, me and Team Terrier. But Ari left me with one last video segment to share with you — the journey from Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles.

With Ari jetting off to New York for his next field producer assignment, guess I’m going to have to get back to writing my own blog posts again.

Still Week Two on the RV Book Tour: SEATTLE!

Ari Cheren’s video editing is getting even better. Here’s his second installment of the “Pie Across the Nation” RV Book Tour video update. Here we are in Seattle. As you can see, it’s been a jam-packed schedule. And as you can hear, I’ve lost my voice. With a little help from Vick’s Vapo-Rub, my lungs and vocal cords are gradually improving. Enjoy the show. And enjoy the music — it’s by the Portland band, Keep Your Fork, There’s Pie.  (Blogger is cutting off the right side of the video. If you want to watch in full screen mode, you can either double click right on the video or view it over at YouTube: http://youtu.be/7iC2Rdj-ryY)

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.