Pedaling Across Iowa for Pie

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

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

L to R: Scott Horsley, me, Les Cook

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

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

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

photo by Madeline King, IPR

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

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

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

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

I even have a team name already — Team Pieowa.

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

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

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

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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

KEY LIME PIE 

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST  

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

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

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

FILLING

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

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

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

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

TOPPING:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp sugar

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

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

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

World Piece: A Humble, Homemade Film About Making Pie Around the World





During the summer of 2015, I traveled around the world making pie in 9 countries. At long last, I have gotten the story down, but not on paper as you would expect. Instead, I taught myself how to edit a film using iMovie.

Forgive my amateur skills, but like I always say about making pie: It’s not about perfection!  I also tell my pie students, “It should look homemade!”

So that’s what you get here:

*  a heartfelt story
*  in the form of a homemade film
*  that’s as humble as pie.

I hope you like it.

More so, I hope it inspires you to connect with your friends, family, neighbors, foreigners, and strangers alike. Because now more than ever, we need to unite our world, to heal the wounds and bridge the divides, and what better way to do that than to sit down and talk over pie!

All it Takes is a Few Words, a Few Bites, and a Willingness to Try

As you can see, I am really focused on promoting peace, love and understanding these days. It’s a reaction to all the political maneuvering going on, a lot of policies being changed that are resulting in putting lives at risk, all because some people (too many) live in fear of what they don’t know, what they don’t understand. Even sadder, they don’t even try to understand. They want to build walls around our country, because they have already built walls around themselves.

I keep searching for ways to break through those walls, and the solution I keep coming back to is simply this: connect with others outside of our own culture and language. Connection can mean something as simple as trying to communicate, even if just with a few words. Trying each other’s food, even if just a few bites. Visiting each other’s countries and homes and workplaces. To stop living exclusively in our own comfort zones and be open to seeing that our way isn’t the only way.

I once dated a guy who wasn’t interested in trying new things. For 25 years he has had the same job, lived in the same house, and has eaten at the same restaurants. One of those restaurants is Thai, which is the closest he’s come to visiting a foreign country. He’s a tea drinker so when he took me to the restaurant I asked if he had ever tried Thai iced tea—tea with sweetened condensed milk. No. He didn’t want to. “Come on, it’s only $2,” I insisted. No. No thanks. He’s progressive and caring and supports immigration rights, but he’s just not that open. But openness is what is needed from each of us, as individuals, to really understand each other, and understanding is what we need in order to make progress toward global harmony. A passport would be good too.

I always remember some friends returning from their vacation in Rome, Italy. They were complaining that the sidewalks weren’t straight. WHAT?! Those sidewalks are one of the main reasons you go to Rome, to walk in the steps of ancient Romans on the very cobblestones they laid centuries ago! They also complained about the food. “We got so tired of eating Italian food and all that pasta that we were thrilled to find a McDonald’s at the train station.” WHAT?! I gained at least 10 pounds in a week after eating my way through Italy—oh, the cannelloni! The calzone! The prosciutto! The cappuccino! The gelato! I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish my friends—along with another certain Big Mac-obsessed individual—could open up their worldview and have more appreciation—more acceptance—for life outside of America. To vivere la differenza.

One of the reasons this is on my mind is because I’m not in the USA right now. I’m in Mexico.

Parked at the grocery store.

Last night I was in a grocery store, standing in the coffee section, trying to read the labels and figure out what kind to buy. (I have a coffee pot in my casita.) A large man pushed his way into the section and I stepped back to make room for him. He was clearly on a mission. He was older, weathered from the sun, with gray hair and a jowled face and, from his skin tone, I figured he was Mexican. He was homing in on a brand called La Finca so I asked him in my bad Spanish if it was good. He answered me in broken English, with a French accent—so I started chatting with him in my bad French, and tried to help him find the La Finca espresso beans he was looking for.

Speaking of farms…

I made my coffee in the morning—Café La Finca’s Europeo blend, grown in Chiapas—and I thought of the man in the grocery store. (I also thought of Doug, because La Finca means The Farm. How perfect is that!)

In the afternoon, I finally left my casita for a break after a particularly productive day of writing (I’m making progress on my book!) and rode my rusty rented beach cruiser to the fruit stand a few blocks away.

As I looked around at the produce, not recognizing half the ripe and wrinkly-skinned stuff in there, I had a hard time figuring what to buy—and how to pay for it. (The conversion of dollars to pesos still confuses me.) Finally, when the woman at the cash register had a break in customers, I asked her some questions—in Spanish.

Do you have Oaxaca cheese? Can I buy a small amount, just enough for one person? I will buy it later—what time do you close? What are these juices? What is the white one? The green one? Which one is mango?

She had a slight but constant scowl on her face as I asked one pregunta after another. She was short and barrel chested with black hair that she had tried to dye orange (black hair isn’t easy to color!) and she was wearing a plaid apron or pinafore, I’m not sure which. But she was definitely someone whose bad side you didn’t want to be on.

When I finally paid for a bottle of fresh mango juice I thanked her for her patience with my terrible español. “I’m trying to learn,” I told her, “poquito a poquito.” Oh how I wish our American schools placed an importance on learning other languages, and starting from an early age like they do in Europe.

I smiled extra hard to emphasize my apology—and my embarrassment. And then—que milagro!—she smiled back and said, “Sí, poquito a poquito.”

Her smile melted my heart like butter left out in the Caribbean sun.

When I went outside to unlock my bike, a couple of gringos were walking in. In front was a white-haired woman with sunburnt cheeks as red and round as the tomatoes on display, and behind her was her husband. I recognized him! It was the man from the grocery store. I blurted out—in French—“La Finca café était très bon.” The coffee was very good. My français is as limited as my español, but it didn’t matter because his face lit up in happy surprise.

If I do come back for 2 months, I’ll be in the classroom!

He’s from Québec, he said, not France. And he comes to Mexico for two months every winter. (Which explains why his skin is as brown as a Mexican’s.) “I don’t want to go back to that cold weather,” he said.

“I know! Same here. Next year I want to come back for two months,” I replied.

I finished unlocking my bike and as I tucked my mango juice and bike lock into the bike basket, he pointed to the rusty chain, thick with corrosion from the salty moist air, and asked, “Is that working okay for you?”

Oui,” I said. “Ça va bien. And, anyway, I don’t mind, because I’m in Mexico, it’s sunny, and I’m wearing flip-flops!”

As I pedaled away I waved and said, “Hasta luego!” See you soon. And if it keeps going like this, I probably will.  (And, by the way, the fruit stand closes at 6:30 and I did go back for the cheese.)

My point is that all it takes is a little openness, a little courage and humility—okay, maybe more than a little. But who cares if you don’t know very many words and don’t even correctly pronounce the ones you do know? The fact that you even try is so appreciated. (Think of this the next time someone makes an effort to speak to you in English when it’s not their native language and commend them for their courage.) A few words can go a long way in making a connection and making someone smile. And a smile is the most basic, universal language of life, the first step across the bridge of understanding.

If we all just opened up a little to try to understand each other—to stumble over a few foreign words, to drink the Thai iced tea, to eat the fettuccine, to walk a mile in each other’s shoes—even if on crooked cobblestone sidewalks—the world could be a more peaceful, happier place.

Taos: Making Friends with the Locals

During my recent weeklong Taos Writers Retreat I skipped the scheduled morning dance sessions. Free-form dancing in a group is waaaay too far out of my comfort zone, even though Jen insisted everyone keeps their eyes closed so no one is watching you. Instead, I walked a few blocks from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to a local coffee house.

Possessing an instinctive homing device for caffeine, I found my way there by taking a trail that led off the property, slipped through an opening in the bushes that led to Kit Carson Park, and cut a diagonal line across the park toward the center of town. I passed the Taos Little League field, the graveyard where Mabel Dodge and Kit Carson rest in peace, and popped out the other side onto Paseo Del Pueblo Norte. I hung a left on the main drag, passed a restaurant and a few art galleries before finding my destination recommended by one of the staff at the inn: World Cup.

World Cup is a tiny espresso bar, one of the smallest spaces in which I’ve ever had a latte. About the size of a bedroom, it feels as cozy as one too. There’s a cash register, an industrial size espresso machine, and along two walls runs a counter with metal bar stools underneath. The place is so small, so intimate you automatically become part of any conversation.

Every day I saw the same people, the “regulars,” people who lived in Taos.

There was Jack, the barista. Reserved and intelligent looking, his clean cut-ness offset by his hint of a beard, he always dressed neatly in a collared shirt, vest, and bandana tied around his neck. I wondered if he was a folk musician by night.

There was Simon, the English mystery novelist who looked more like a rancher. He was tall with blazing blue eyes, and his booming voice with the British accent dominated the coffee house whenever he spoke.

There was Pat, the ex-hippie from Haight-Ashbury, a short, kind-eyed man who wore Hawaiian shirts and a baseball cap that hid his grey hair. When he smiled it showed the hint of gold rimming his teeth.

There was Marianna, another barista, with dark hair and bangs and an ever-present warm smile made brighter by her signature swath of power-red lipstick.

There was Lloyd, slightly soft and rumpled, always sitting at the bar, always ready to join in the conversation. He was a dead ringer for Norm from “Cheers.”

There was the man (whose name I never learned) who looked like an aging rock star turned mountain man, his hair long and shaggy, his jeans faded, his boots worn, his icy blue eyes weary.

And every single morning there was Joseph and Augustine, two men from the Red Willow tribe. Weathered and bronzed, with high cheek bones and black hair in long braids tied back into ponytails, they walked the three miles daily from the Taos Pueblo, where their tribe has dwelled for over 1000 years, to get coffee and wait for their ride from Joseph’s brother, Blue, to whatever work site they were headed to that day.

Joseph (left) and Augustine (right) making a point not to smile for the camera

It wasn’t just people who were regulars, but also their dogs. Pat with his ultra-shy black lab-mix puppy named Digger, whom he was attempting to socialize. Steve with a different dog each day (he had five), including a red chow, a black chow, and a brindled Mastiff-mix. A lab here, a scruffy white terrier there, a cattle dog, a Golden retriever, the dogs nearly outnumbered the customers. Because World Cup was so small, the combination of dogs and coffee patrons made for the Taos equivalent of an L.A. traffic jam. Without the road rage.

Often the conversations revolved around the dogs. Many of the dogs’ owners had made it their mission to rescue animals abandoned at the animal shelter, or capture feral dogs found on construction sites, and rehabilitate them until they could be adopted.

This was a reminder: There is still goodness in this world.

I heard one woman say she was on her way to a daylong chainsaw carving class. I heard a man say he was applying for a visa to move to Australia. I heard someone say he just signed a lease for the art gallery he had been working so hard to open. I heard another one say his New York agent had just given him feedback on his screenplay. I heard a four-year-old girl insist to her mother that she wanted the chocolate croissant not the plain one she was already eating.

This was a reminder too: There is still so much to strive for, so many dreams to pursue. (And a reminder that when in doubt, always go for the chocolate one.)

Given my affinity for café culture (especially the dog-friendly kind), my curiosity about people, and my chatty personality, I was more than happy to insert myself in these conversations. (And pet every dog that came through the door.) I was eager to be part of the group, not only because of my outgoing nature, but because I live a little too isolated for my disposition on a farm, 25 miles from the nearest espresso bar. I was starving for conversation, for community. Forget free-form dance; this was a week I could take advantage of being a 10-minute walk from the crossroads of an eclectic bunch of townspeople. And drink really good coffee.

On my second morning at World Cup, I was pulled into a dialog with Augustine and Joseph, the two Native Americans. Augustine asked me where I was from.

“Iowa,” I told him.

In reply he asked me, “Do you know Jim Leahy?”

Outwardly my face showed that I was trying to determine if, in fact, I did know a Jim Leahy. Inside, though, I was laughing at the notion that out of an entire state, nearly 500 miles wide, I would know this one person.

But then Augustine added, “He founded Overland Sheepskin Company.” He spoke so shyly, so quietly, I had to lean in to hear him. The background noise of the bean grinder and milk steamer and other customers ordering coffee made it even harder to hear. I got so close I could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes. “I worked for him for 13 years,” he continued.

My eyes shot open at the recognition. “Oh my god, yes. I mean, I know his wife, Jennifer. She runs Blue Fish Clothing. They live in Fairfield. I spend a lot of time there.”

This is why I love life. These seemingly random connections are what I live for. Stumbling upon common links always tells me I am exactly where I need to be at exactly that moment. The world is a lot smaller and a lot more connected that we realize. With this realization comes a feeling of wellbeing. We are not as lost or as disconnected as we think.

As if reading my thoughts, Joseph chimed in. “Small world,” he said, flashing a grin at me, unselfconscious that his two front teeth were missing. Teeth or not, he was handsome, with his chiseled features, crisply dressed in his jeans and cowboy boots, and athletically fit. “We live up at the Pueblo. Have you been there?”

“No,” I said. “I just got here. I’m in Taos for a week, for a writers retreat. It’s a group of 23 women trying to get past their writers block. Coming here for coffee is my secret little morning ritual.”

“Come to the Pueblo. I’ll be your tour guide, “Joseph said. “There’s an adobe structure that’s an original five-story building. We grew up there.”

I looked into his eyes, brown and slightly slanted. What I saw in his eyes was a deep, bubbling hot spring of American history so dark and tragic I felt like I was going to drown. My heart splintered a little more at that moment, the broken pieces shattering into even smaller pieces—as if after all my recent grief I could afford any more cardiac damage. Talking with these Native American men stirred up something far down and unknowable inside me. I don’t believe in past lives, and I absolutely cannot comprehend the quantum physics of gravity, space and time, where life might exist simultaneously in different dimensions, but damn if I didn’t feel like there was something more going on between the three of us. Was this force of energy and this intensity of eye contact—also with Augustine, his brown irises surrounded by more red than white—because we were connected on a different plane? Or was it my nostalgia for simpler, more environmentally sensitive times? Times before smart phones and paved roads. Before combustion engines and Dakota Access Pipelines. Before the White Man obliterated the peoples who lived in harmony with nature, those who understood and respected the balance of ecology.

Who knew that a 7:30AM stop at the local coffee house would evoke such profound thoughts?

I had to remind myself to breathe. After a pause to shake off the mind-bending sensation, I answered him. “I would love a tour. How about Saturday afternoon, right after my workshop ends?”

For the rest of the week I continued my daily jaunts to the coffee house. One morning I met a woman while cutting across the park. She was older, with hair dyed scarlet red, taking her morning power walk. I walked next to her, asking her for directions which led to asking her about her life. In clipped British English she said she spends half the year in Taos and the other half—the winter—in San Miguel de Allende. Like Augustine asking me if I knew his friend in Iowa, I asked her if she knew my friend Angela in Mexico. “She’s a writer,” I said. “She’s also British.”

And then, in the way I answered Augustine, this woman stopped walking and turned to look at me. “Yes. I think I do know her. I’m sure I’ve heard her name. Yes, I’m certain I’ve met her.”

Once again, right place, right time. The world is so bloody small, people are so connected to each other—connected to me—it feels like I do belong in it after all.

On the last night of the writers’ workshop, our group of 23 formed a circle. Each woman took a turn professing what she got out of the week. In my allotted one minute, I said, “I got exactly what I needed: a sense of community, a sense of belonging. But not just from all of you.” Then I revealed where I had been disappearing to each morning. “I got a bonus community by going to the espresso bar, where I made friends with the locals.” The entire circle nodded in approval, and with, I dare say, a hint of admiration.

At the designated time on Saturday, I met Joseph at the Pueblo. As promised, he gave me a tour of his primary community. (World Cup, like it did for me, clearly served as his “bonus community.”) He explained how these earthy red adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, making this place the longest continually inhabited community in the U.S. These mud and straw structures, still standing so solidly, were built between the years 1000 and 1050 AD. Its buildings are so impressive in how they’ve withstood the test of time (and weather and myriad attacks) that the Pueblo is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ranking right up there with the Pyramids and Taj Mahal. “It’s not a reservation,” he said, “because we have never left. Reservations are places tribes were moved to.”

I nodded, acknowledging this important distinction.

He pointed out the kivas, underground caves marked by a bundle of tall poles protruding above, where the men (no women allowed!) partake in rituals, initiations, and learn the unwritten wisdom and teachings of the tribe shared orally. “I’ve spent 40 days and 40 nights inside the kiva,” he said. Joseph is 55 and is an elder serving on the Tribal Council. “I’m young for an elder. They are normally in their 80s. But as they die off I continue to move up, taking their place.”

His revelation that he was an elder didn’t surprise me, given how articulate and knowledgeable he was. Maybe there was something about his elder wisdom that had moved me so much the day I met him. Maybe he was channeling the Great Spirit.

We walked along the front side of the largest structure, passing vendors selling carvings, beads, drums and art, and I spotted—what the…?!—a pie shop. “We have to go in,” I insisted. “I have to try the pie.”

Joseph knew the baker, the grandson of Crucita, the woman who opened the bakery almost 100 years ago. The two immediately started chatting in their native Tiwa language.

The Pueblo is off the grid—there are no power lines, no running water. They collect their water by dipping buckets into the river that runs through the middle of the village. The lights are run by propane, and the ovens—adobe beehive-shaped things called “hornos”— are fueled by wood fire.

Try running a pie stand baking in this

For a moment I imagined what it would have been like to run the Pitchfork Pie Stand using only an horno. I bristled at the thought.

I bought a slice of blueberry pie, a flat triangle that resembled a quesadilla, and shared it with Joseph. It was too sweet, and the filling was probably canned, but who cares? I was eating pie at the Pueblo. Pie made in the oldest inhabited structure in the land. Pie made by a Red Willow man.

Pie notwithstanding, after such a long and sad period, life was looking up.

I stayed in Taos a few extra days, renting a ridiculously cute one-room log cabin I found on Airbnb. It was too far to walk to World Cup, but that didn’t stop me from driving the five miles there to get my latte. But two days in a row I arrived too late to see my regular crowd. Determined to see my “friends” one last time, I gave Augustine a call in advance (Joseph doesn’t have a phone) to make sure the guys would be there on my final morning. I set my alarm for 6:30AM to be there by 7.

When I arrived at World Cup, they were there, along with a few other regulars who trickled in and out. I said hi to my Red Willow friends but told them I wanted to get my coffee before chatting. I went up to the counter and the barista, Marianna, said, “Large latte, three shots?” I nodded and smiled. You know you’ve become a local when they know your drink order. I reached for my wallet and she added, “The guys already paid for it. It’s on them.”

My hands reached for my heart to keep it from bursting out of my chest. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in my eyes. “I wasn’t expecting that,” I said to Marianna, still holding my chest. I didn’t need to say anything as my reaction already told her. “It’s my last day here,” I said, wiping my wet cheeks. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Taos is a great place to live,” Marianna said. “There’s community here.”

Community. Yes. That is exactly what I kept experiencing during the 10 days I had been in town. I wanted more of this—needed more. I longed to stay. I had even looked on Craigslist for short-term sublets. But as the owner of my rented cabin said when I asked if I could book it for an entire month, maybe two, “You have people who love you waiting for you back home.” He couldn’t have known this, yet he was right. It wasn’t just people waiting (Doug) but dogs and cats and goats too.

I finally composed myself enough to return to Augustine and Joseph, and Blue. “Oh, you guys, thank you so much. I am so touched. But I’m the one who should be treating you to coffee.” They shrugged off my thanks, as if they were embarrassed by my gushing gratitude.

They couldn’t possibly have known—and I wasn’t about to tell them—just how down I had been before I came to Taos, how much I was grieving not just my dad and my goat, but the whole state of the world. Likewise, they couldn’t possibly know just how much their kindness had restored my faith in humanity. (Though I must add, taking a 10-day break from the news and social media also helped.)

Overcome by shyness all around, we sat on barstools, not really sure what to talk about, not sure how to say goodbye. Other regulars showed up, filling up the space between our awkward small talk. Pat with his dog Digger. Steve with yet another dog. And the guy opening the art gallery with his cattle dog. I bent down to pet each of the animals.

“We have to go to work,” Augustine finally said. “I have something for you.” He handed me a small bundle, a zip-lock bag wrapped in paper towel. “Don’t open it until you get home,” he said.

“You mean when I get back to Iowa, or do you just mean don’t open it until later?”

“You can open it after I leave,” he said.

Once I was in the car, I unwrapped his gift. I assumed it was one of his rock carvings he had shown me photos of—bears on all fours. “I like doing the detail,” he said as I studied his pictures, faded and dog-eared. But it was not a stone carving. It was a necklace made of chunky turquoise beads. I immediately fastened it around my neck and held the beads in my fist as I drove down highway 68.

As much as it made my heart ache to leave Taos, I reminded myself that life is about moving forward. Unless you know how to move in a space-time continuum, forward is the only direction we can go.

Eventually I pointed my car East, toward my life back in Iowa, toward my goal of finishing my next book, toward my pathetic little $39 Mr. Coffee Espresso Maker and my community of farm animals.

Back in Iowa, this is what community looks like.

I had a long talk with Doug on Saturday, while we were out canoeing on Big Cedar Creek. Immersed in nature is an ideal setting to discuss important issues. I told him about my desire to remain in Taos, to rent a place there, about my morning coffee house routine, and how I felt like I really belonged there.

“I need to live in a place that smells of sagebrush,” I said.

He understood. “You can go back, Bea. If that’s what it takes for you to write, you should go.”

His support came from a place of such unconditional love I realized the Taos cabin owner was right. This is home. The people here do love me—Doug loves me. And I can—and I will—readjust to a place that smells of fresh-cut hay instead of sage.

Instead of returning to Taos, I rearranged one of the rooms in our farmhouse and turned it into my own office. No more desk in the bedroom.

The first thing I did after setting up my desk was to create a shrine to my time in Taos—my journal filled with inspiration and motivation from the workshop, the “Write True” charm from Jen reminding me to write my heart out honestly, the postcard of Georgia O’Keeffe on the back of a motorcycle (she too was smitten with Taos, so much so she left NYC and moved there permanently), a sprig of New Mexico sage, and last but not least Augustine’s turquoise beads.

I have claimed a room of my own where I will write— with courage and confidence—my next book, my blog posts, magazine articles, and thank you letters to certain Red Willow Indians.

Thank god I skipped those dance sessions.

The (Snowy) Road to Taos

“Travel not to find yourself but to remember who you’ve been all along.”

                                                      — as seen on a plaque yesterday in a home decor store

In November, Hillary lost the election. In March, I lost my dad. A month later, in April, I lost my goat, Cinnamon. After all that I thought I was also going to lose my mind. Writing is my best form of therapy, and on his deathbed, my dad reminded me, “Words matter.” But my brain was such a muddled, grief-stricken mess I was stuck. I put my fingers to work typing “writers retreats” on Google and found one, one that I was sure could get me back on track. It was for smart, ambitious women suffering from writers block. It was in the spiritual Mecca of Taos, New Mexico. It was sold out.

I wrote to Jennifer Louden and pleaded my case. “I NEED THIS. DESPERATELY,” I implored, telling her how I had just lost my dad and my goat. “Please, please, PLEASE, can you get me in?”  I got a reply so quickly it was like a form letter. “We‘ve added you to the waiting list.” Period.

My friend Kee Kee assured me I would get in. Though she suggested I just go to Taos anyway, that a road trip might be as much as I need. But no. I wanted structure. I wanted community. I wanted someone to use their velvet whip on me to get me back in the chair.

I sent my plea on a Friday. On Monday afternoon I was told I had cleared the list but still needed to send in an application—which was a bunch of questions about why you want to write, what you’re working on, and what you hoped to get out of the weeklong workshop—a vetting process. Tuesday morning I was told I was in. Yes!

I packed my car (actually Doug’s car since his SUV was bigger and safer than my Mini Cooper) and left Iowa on Friday morning, April 28. The workshop started on Sunday, April 30. Google maps calculated the driving time at 16 hours. No problem.

When I left the farm it was raining. It kept raining all through Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Doug, who as a farmer is obsessed with his weather app, stayed in close touch, giving me regular updates about the latest developments on the radar. He told me it didn’t look so good. I didn’t need him to tell me that because I could see for myself—the clouds hung so low they touched the ground, the rain was turning to snow. I called him to discuss the conditions.

“There’s a storm system that is coming up along the eastern edge of the Rockies,” he said. That’s exactly where I was headed.

“Okay, then I’m going to make a detour and head south,” I told him. “I’ll just drive around it. It will add a few extra hours but at least I will be safe.” He agreed with me that it was a good plan.

As I pointed south, weaving my way through the Panhandle’s sea of wheat fields and oil rigs, I came to the town of Canadian, Texas. I was going to keep pushing on, but when I saw the Stumblin’ Goat Saloon I took it as an omen. The goat I had just lost, Cinnamon, was one of my favorites. She was the most beautiful out of the four, with her fluffy tan coat, white underside and a black stripe down her back. More striking was her humility. She was shy and polite, and unlike the others never pushed and shoved to get more carrots. As a tribute to her, I would stop and eat lunch. Big mistake.

Inside above the bar was a big stuffed white goat, not just a head and horns, but the entire front half of the goat’s body. It didn’t look like Cinnamon; it looked exactly like one of our other goats, Mr. Friendly. I should have walked out then. Instead, I stupidly ordered a $10 burger that looked—and tasted—worse than day-old McDonald’s. As I was leaving, I passed the mayonnaise-heavy salad bar and—wait for it—there was another stuffed goat. This time it was the full body of a small goat and it was being used as a—I kid you fucking not—a bottle opener. A sign above it said, “PETA Warning: This Goat may have been harmed in the making of this bottle opener.” I have never regretted a meal more.

But I digress. I was dodging a snowstorm in order to get to a writers retreat on time.

After 16 hours of driving I got as far as Amarillo, still 6 hours from Taos, where I chatted up a couple pumping gas at the Flying J. They had come from the west, from Albuquerque—the direction I was going. They looked pale and shaken. “It’s bad,” the husband said. “We had to pull off for three hours because of the snow.” If the weather had been okay, I would have already checked into my historic inn in Taos. Instead, I sought refuge at a Motel 6 in Amarillo.

Now it was me who was obsessively studying the weather app. I hit the refresh button every five minutes to see if the Winter Weather Advisory had been updated, and ideally canceled. Instead, it was extended. It was supposed to end at 10AM. Then midnight. Then 10AM Sunday. Then 1PM, 2PM, and eventually 7PM Sunday. The workshop started Sunday at 6. I barely slept.

I woke up to see Doug’s car buried under a few inches of snow and the trees blowing sideways from hurricane force winds. The weather radar showed the storm, which was supposed to move to the north, had shifted (or a new one had developed) and it was centered right over Amarillo.

I tried to wait it out. I stayed in my room until 11 until I became too restless. I checked out and went to Starbucks, drinking a triple latte as I stared out the window at the toppled tables and chairs, the canvas of the umbrellas billowing like parachutes after a botched landing. I could see the interstate from where I sat and there were cars and semis moving down the road. Slowly. But still, they were heading west.

I examined the radar again. If I could just blast through the storm cell I would pop out the other side where sunny skies and climbing temperatures were reported.

I hate driving in rain. I hate even more driving in snow. Driving on mountain roads in bad weather is one of my biggest nightmares (after tornadoes and snakes.) In the past I thought nothing of driving in adverse conditions. But with age comes fear. My vivid—and morbid—imagination takes over and I picture myself perishing in a fiery crash, my car flipping over and pummeled, with me bloody, mangled, perhaps lifeless, in the wreckage. I never thought I would become one of those fearful people, the little old lady hunched forward in the drivers seat, gripping the wheel in terror and driving way too slow, with other drivers giving her the stink eye when they finally pass. But when the weather is bad, the rain blinding, or the mountain roads too windy and narrow, I am that old-lady driver.

I may have become more fearful but I still possess enough determination, enough grit, enough impatience to talk myself into action. It took some serious self-talk to convince myself, but I reasoned that I would take it slow. If other drivers didn’t like my cautious pace they were welcome to go around me. As Marcus taught me how to relax when faced with drivers on the German Autobahn tailgating me at 120 mph, “If they don’t like your speed, it’s their problem.”

Holding my breath, I merged with the traffic on the I-40. The pavement was covered in extensive patches of snow and ice. No one could go fast even if they wanted to. In fact, once I pulled onto the interstate, no one was going more than 5 mph, because a snowplow was up ahead blocking everyone. My GPS showed a one and a half hour delay due to this traffic, and after that Grande Latte I had to pee, so I pulled off at a random exit. Bad choice. The only restaurant at the exit was closed—due to bad weather. Wishing I was wearing Depends, I had to stay on the frontage road for a few miles before there was another onramp. The frontage road was surprisingly clear of snow and as I drove west on it, parallel to the interstate, I passed the long snail line of cars, cars and more cars. And then, I passed the snowplow, and right after the snowplow was my onramp. Ha! I wanted to be happy about getting ahead of the traffic, but the unplowed freeway could have been covered in even thicker snow and ice. Fear kicked in again. But since there was no one behind I just whispered to myself over and over, “Go gently,” and drove ever so slowly. At least 30 mph was faster than 5. The road ahead, oddly, was clearer than the road behind. And soon, in a matter of a few miles—que milagro!—the road was altogether dry. Above, I could even see a distinct line marking the edge of the storm system. I was still making my way out from under the dark grey muck, but there was a cloudless blue sky dead ahead.

I explain all this because it matters. It matters because had I not taken that exit to pee, I would not have gotten in front of the traffic, and if I had not gotten in front of the traffic I would not have arrived in Taos at exactly 6:00PM, the minute the writers workshop started. It matters because that while I weighed out the safety factors and erred on the side of caution, I was still able to push past my fear, trust my snow tires, trust myself. It matters because bad luck eventually exhausts itself.

My losing streak has been followed by nothing but good. I went on to have one of the most outstanding experiences I’ve had in years. The workshop exceeded my expectations on every level. I made new friends. I wrote like a madwoman. I explored the beauty of the town, its earthy adobe buildings, and its surrounding mountains. Everything about the week went so incredibly right, like magic. Like a well-deserved winning streak.

I look back and realize that storm cell hovering over Amarillo was like a metaphor for my life. Grief had been hovering over me, keeping me stuck in a metaphorical Motel 6. I know grief. I know you can’t go around it. I’ve muscled through it before and I found that in spite of the brokenness of my heart, I still had the courage and determination—and driving skills—to blast through again. It doesn’t change the fact I lost what I loved, what was so important to me (most of all, my dad—and I will most certainly be writing more about him later), but it did remind me to have faith, that even when you’re in the worst of storms, there are always, always, always sunnier days ahead.

This post would not have been written if not for Jen Louden and her coaching. I wanted to go to bed early instead of writing, but I heard Jen’s voice, I felt the encouragement of the group, and thus I sat my butt in the chair and kept it glued there until this was finished. Thanks to Jen and the group for an “amazing” week. I intend to hang onto that encouragement and stay in the chair as I go forward, using my words to promote kindness.

Is World Peace Possible?

This past summer I left my home in Donnellson, Iowa and traveled all the way around the world, baking American pie in 10 countries as a way to promote cultural tolerance. I returned with the intention of writing a book about my experience. I already had the title: World Piece, spelled p-i-e-c-e.  But it is hard to write about world peace when you’ve lost your faith in it.

My trip went well enough. I toured apple orchards in New Zealand. I did a pie demo for the Women’s International Club in Sydney. I baked 75 pies for the American Embassy’s 4th of July reception in Thailand. I learned how to make pie-like pastries in India. I delivered a dozen pies to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. I picked wild blueberries in the Black Forest to make pie with 10-year-olds, and then with a gay couple in Budapest’s bombed out Jewish quarter. I interacted with people all around the globe, weaving my way through a lattice crust of nationalities, religions and races. I made 211 pies and almost as many new friends. I returned safely.

Baking pie in the Black Forest.
We all wore our hair in braids.

But since I’ve been back, I’ve been listening to a lot of news. Bad news from the places where I had just been. A bombing at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, the exact spot where I had made my pies. A growing garbage crisis in Lebanon. The Syrian refugee crisis worsening. Trains halted from Hungary to reject the migrants. Terrorist attacks in Paris, and then Brussels. Instead of spreading world peace, it was as if I had left only violence in my wake. Add to that the vitriol of the presidential campaign with threats to build walls and ban certain religions from entering the U.S., to divide instead of unite people, and any remaining optimism I had for healing the world evaporated.

Lugging that rolling pin for 30,000 miles was all for nothing. Or was it?

In the Bekaa Valley Refugee Camp.
These Syrian kids are the happy
recipients of homemade pie.

In my state of disillusionment, I reached out to my Facebook friends, the ones who had cheered me on during my 3-month journey. I asked them, “Do you believe world peace is possible? How do you define peace and what examples do you see of it? What do you do to try to make the world a better place?”

The responses were plentiful and thoughtful.

Limit exposure to news. Meditate or pray. Spread joy. Practice kindness and tolerance. Teach children to be good citizens. Invest in the education of the next generation. Focus on the good. Live with a soft heart. Dig deeper for awareness and understanding of yourself. Choose to think positively. Help others. Talk to your neighbors. Share a smile. Cooperate with those you don’t agree with. Believe in the ripple effect. (Like pay the bridge toll for the car behind you and see it continue for hours.)

One woman in Des Moines said, “Each Sunday at the end of our service we sing words of John Wesley: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” She believes an individual’s inner peace created by these words will lead to collective world peace.

A bike shop owner in Ottumwa said, “Peace is yin and yang because energy is in constant flow. There is goodness and there is anger. Anger has its place, because oftentimes it is what pushes a change for more goodness.”

Some of the comments included links to videos—of the Dalai Lama, a CNN story on the peaceful kingdom of Bhutan, a TED talk. There were also links to organizations, a Dutch one called World Peace is Possible, whose website states, “There was peace for 1 percent of the 3,500 years of civilization, so we know it’s possible.” There is the “I Declare World Peace” hashtag movement on Twitter. There’s “A Peace of my Mind” —p-e-a-c-e— book of photography and interviews. And in LA, there is a man whose Global Vision for Peace non-profit is organizing a LiveAid-type concert to be held on September 21, the annual date the United Nations has established as International Day of Peace.

Humans share 99.9 percent of the same genetic makeup. So why can’t we get along? Why is there not 99.9 percent peace in the world? We may try to be good and do good, hardwired for survival, but we are tribal. We are opinionated, power hungry, fearful and hotheaded, with some more prone than others to strap on an explosive vest and detonate it in the middle of a crowd. Still, I want to believe mankind is basically good. I want to have hope.

One commenter suggested that wanting global piece is too daunting. “You should scale it back,” he said, “and just think about your own world, your own piece of the pie. Each piece put together in harmony can add up to the whole.”

These beauties (Margaret, left, age 94 and
Rosalie, right, age 92) know a thing or two
about life. Sharing stories pie with them
 over pie is the definition of peace.

With this in mind, I’ve reimagined my own view of world peace. It is sleeping soundly under my down comforter, next to the man I love, in a country we are blessed to live in. It is doing yoga as the sun rises over the barn. It is walking through the hay field over to the creek to look for wildflowers. It is watching the baby calves nurse on their mothers. It is dropping by my old neighbor’s house after his heart surgery and seeing his face light up at my arrival. It is listening to the stories of two 90-something-year-old sisters in my town, made even sweeter over pie. And it is about community, people connecting with each other, even if just on Facebook, who lend each other a helping hand, restoring their faith in humanity and, in my case, to push them past their writer’s block.

That last commenter was right. It is not about world peace as a whole. It’s about having one little slice of it. And that I have found. Right where I started. On a farm in Iowa.

World Piece: Aachen, Germany

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

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

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

Be fearless — like a lion.
Inside the Aachen Cathedral

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

Me and Claudia…lighting candles for Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Piece: Germany’s Black Forest

I had had talks with several friends over the course of my travels about Marcus, about how I was going to teach a pie class in the Black Forest village of Alpirsbach where we got married (in 2003). I was going to stay at the same hotel where we had our reception and spent our wedding night. I was going to light a candle in the church where we had our ceremony. But the conversations cast a darker shadow onto this plan. “You don’t need to open up the wound,” friends cautioned me. It was true. I didn’t need that. I needed to move forward. And as much as this trip was about revisiting my past, it was about letting go of it to make room for a future. (You didn’t really think this trip was all about pie, did you?)

My Europe leg was the last and the longest—a full month instead of the 10-day increments I had been doing—and yet I had not committed to any specific places or dates for it. It was a lesson in staying open. Had I not been so flexible I might have missed out on one of the highlights of my journey: four days in the Black Forest.

Left to right: Me, Marc, Bibiana, and Marcus in 2004
So yeah, I did go to the Black Forest, but not to Alpirsbach. A last minute invitation steered me to my friends’ cabin a few mountains and valleys away. So instead of indulging in memories of what was lost I chose the path to something new. And that choice led to what were some of the most fun, most joyful, most magical pie-filled days of my entire three-month journey.

I met up with Bibiana and Marc (and their 2 kids) and our mutual friend Silke (and her 2 kids) at Marc’s family’s cabin to join their short holiday. They were all friends of Marcus and mine when we lived in Stuttgart. I hadn’t seen Bibiana and Marc since 2005, when they moved to Berlin. I hadn’t seen Silke since 2009, at Marcus’s funeral.

(NOTE: This would have been a better blog post if the internet hadn’t crashed in the middle of writing it. So from here you get the abbreviated version so I can move on to the next updates. I am already 2 months behind.)

We quickly settled into a routine: pick wild blueberries before breakfast. Gather enough for both eating and for making pie. Hike down the creek every afternoon, bushwhacking through the branches and climbing over the rocks in the freezing cold water to get to the lake below for a swim. Come back to the cabin and drink Tannen Zapfle, a local Black Forest beer, which happened to be Marcus’s favorite. Teach a pie class to the kids–yes, every day we had a pie class. Besides the blueberry, we made peach, banana cream, and apple. Make dinner and serve it at the big outdoor table, and eat pie for dessert. Light candles and watch the stars. We even timed it perfectly for one of the year’s biggest meteor showers. Sleep in the loft like we were Goldie Locks and the bears. Laugh, talk, reminisce, tease, explore, read, brush teeth. Wake up and repeat.

Instead of feeling sad in the place where I had so many memories of my late husband, I made new ones. Happy ones. With a new generation. And those young kids added so much joy. Their wonder, exuberance, innocence add up to the promise of a bright future, of making the world a better place. To be around them in this enchanted forest of a setting was a surprising and huge help in moving forward, in honoring my past but also letting go of it.  I had such a great time I wish the stay had been longer. I am already reserving my bed in the loft for next summer.

Next post:  Germany continued….On to Aachen

Blueberry Boot Camp

Like bears foraging in the forest

Rinsing our berries in the outdoor fountain

Ace pie maker. Bibiana & Marc’s daughter Kim, age 10

Papa Bear (Marc). He’s been coming to this cabin
since he was his own kids’ age.

Best pie classroom ever.
Me, Silke and Bibiana….After eating blueberry pie

Kim learns to make a lattice top

This melts my heart. Kim & her brother Luc made welcome signs
for Silke & her kids’ arrival. What better way to say welcome than
with a warm blueberry pie — made from hand-picked wild blueberries!
Talk about good for the soul….

Silke’s girls got creative during the apple peeling session

If you’re ever in the Black Forest, you have to try this beer!

Did I mention we were staying in a cabin?  

This is the cabin….in a private forest. What a rare treat this is in Germany.
Instead of lighting candles at the Black Forest church where Marcus
and I got married, we lit them at the cabin in the forest.
Which was even better. Way better.

World Piece: Two Weeks in Switzerland

I left off with my blogging (and again, my apologies for not keeping up with it!) in Switzerland, where I arrived on July 29. I landed in the country’s capital of Bern, depleted from a debilitating stomach bug I picked up somewhere between Lebanon and Greece, and stayed with my lifelong friend Uschi Kamer for two weeks. We called her apartment “Kurhaus Kamer” as it really did serve like a true Kurhaus, a medical-spa-like place to recuperate.

Once I got rested enough, I boosted my immune system with exercise, biking around the medieval cobblestoned city, hiking up the Gurten Mountain (2800 ft above sea level) behind Uschi’s apartment to view the Alps, and –my favorite– swimming in the glacial waters of the Aare River, bobbing downstream at a pace faster than a bicycle, only to climb out, walk back upstream, and float down again.

The magical glacial waters of the Aare River.
Swimming in this river is not for sissies!

After I weaned myself off my restricted diet of boiled white rice and Gatorade, we ate healthy homemade meals with staples that included Gruyere cheese, chocolate, red wine and apple pie.

The pies of Switzerland. So many choices, so little time.

Looking toward France.

We made some day trips to the countryside, to the Jura region on the French border, where we toured castles and cheese factories, lunched on trout, and practiced our French. Tout va bien! We made apple pie at Uschi’s family cabin and invited other family members up to share it.

Uschi’s mom made a Schlafrockaepfel.  An apple stuffed with sugar & nuts
and baked in a “bathrobe.” This was the most-viewed Facebook post on my trip.

We made a banana cream pie and took the bike to the train to the bus to the Land Rover to get to Uschi’s friend Monika’s farmhouse where we ate it with lunch. At the farm we got to meet Monika’s animal kingdom, tallying up the count to about 24 between the 3 sheep (freshly sheered by Monika to spin the wool and knit sweaters, of course), 4 new baby goats, cats, dogs, chickens, and turtles. We worked off the pie — and Monika’s homemade apple-hazelnut cake — by hiking up a boulder-strewn river bed.

Swiss Gothic.
Lunch in the mountains was a cultural exchange:
Uschi, Monika, Monika’s mom, with American pie…and Swiss cake.

In between all the outdoor adventures, I took in plenty of Bern’s cultural offerings. Uschi and I spent an evening watching jugglers, musicians, acrobats and other street performers at the Buskers Festivals.

Then I went to a free outdoor concert with another friend, Bobi, and we bumped into an acquaintance of hers, an older woman named Susanne. When I told Susanne I was currently on a round-the-world trip she said, “Oh, I did that. For my 70th birthday.” Just when I was thinking I had overestimated my strength and stamina, wishing I had done this big trip in my 20s or 30s and not at 53, along comes this beaming ray of light who I am convinced was placed in my path to remind me: You are NEVER too old. It is NEVER too late. Get out there and do it. Keep going.

It was the message I needed to hear at exactly that time, because after being so ill, as well as drained from hauling my 50-pound beast of a suitcase from country to country, I was contemplating cutting my trip short. But Susanne’s positive energy gave me the impetus to keep going.

This is the world traveler Susanne. She doesn’t look over 70. She doesn’t even look over 50!

I needed all the motivation I could get, as my next stop was Germany, the place I had been anticipating with a quiet dread. It was the place where my late husband was from, the place we had lived together, the place I had not been back to since his funeral six years earlier. But Marcus’s frequent flyer miles had made my round-the-world trip possible. And I was determined to honor him. And so….I booked my train ticket, left the peace and beauty and healing place of Bern behind and headed north to Deutschland.

Continued in the next post….

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

World Piece Recap — 2/3 of the way through

I’m two-thirds of the way through my 3-month World Piece journey and I finally have a moment to update my blog. I had every intention of posting here regularly but the trip got away from me and there was never enough time, energy or Internet connections. I have, however, managed to post on my Facebook business page nearly every day — a lot of photos and captions to help you follow along with my travels. You don’t have to be signed up for FB to see the posts. If you are not signed up for FB you will be able to read everything but just won’t be able to add your comments. If you are following me already, please know I read all the comments and I appreciate them so much. Here is the link: www.facebook.com/TheWorldNeedsMorePie

Here is a recap my journey so far. I have had some ups and downs, but overall the trip has been exceptionally positive.

New Zealand was so beautiful, but was so cold! It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I lived in my down jacket, wearing long underwear underneath my bib overalls, wrapped in the wool prayer shawl made by my host Grace Bower that was the impetus for traveling there in the first place. We put a lot of miles on Grace’s Nissan station wagon, and visited the Yummy Fruit apple orchard in Hawke’s Bay, made pies from the apples they donated in a pie class for 20 at a local college’s culinary school, and saw a lot of stunning untrammeled landscape. Soaking in NZ’s hot springs and drinking endless cups of “flat white” helped warm the bones.

Australia was all positive — I spent time with and made pie with very dear old friends, Kate Hayward and Foong Broecker, gave a presentation to the Sydney International Women’s Club, met former prime minister John Howard (my dad’s name too!) at a luncheon celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and got to bottle feed a baby kangaroo. And I sampled a lot of Aussie’s meat pies, some with mashed peas and potatoes on top. Talk about comfort food!  But it was in the friendships — new and old — where the real comfort was found.

In Bangkok, I had a cold for the first 4 days but I bounced back quickly (I credit the fresh fruit and healthy Thai diet for helping speed up my recovery), but after that I pushed full-steam ahead making 75 pies for the American Embassy’s 4th of July party. In order to accomplish that I moved into the pastry kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Erawan where I baked side by side with the Thai staff and came away with some very good friendships. They spoke Thai and I spoke English but we spoke the same language through our baking and our smiles.

India was a big challenge for me. They say you either love it or you hate it. I didn’t love and didn’t hate it, I just didn’t understand it. I did not experience a bad stomach like I had expected, but I cried every single day, which I had NOT expected. I don’t know why it was so challenging…I don’t think it was the poverty as much as it was the grime and garbage. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I wonder why this place is deemed so holy. I did, however, fling myself headlong into it. I taught two pie classes at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai that were such a big hit they requested I teach a third. Instead of teaching another class I spent that day, courtesy of the lovely Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic, touring India’s largest slum. I was impressed with the industriousness and work ethic there. These people are not hanging around, they are working 10-hour days and making money!  “Don’t call it a slum,” I was told. “It’s a neighborhood.” That was one part of India I actually understood.

After India, I was in Lebanon, in Beirut, a place the American government has placed on the  “do not travel there” list. Alas, I went, because I had an incredible host, cookbook author Barbara Abjeni Massaad. I stayed with her and her family (husband, 3 teenage kids, 2 dogs and 2 cats) in their  apartment. There was evidence of the war, now past, with ongoing effort to ward off any future uprisings. There are barricades, road blocks, military check points, and sandbags surrounding various places and numerous abandoned buildings. Still, it felt safe — except for the driving. There are almost no stoplights so each intersection or onramp is a free-for-all, which was very unnerving.

Barbara took me to a Syrian refugee camp about an hour from Beirut, toward the Syrian border. Talk about not heeding the “do not travel there” warning! We delivered 12 homemade apple pies (that took me 9 hours to bake in a 90-degree kitchen) to people living in tents. I am sorry to say our effort didn’t feel as noble as it sounds. There was tension in the camp and a fight was just breaking out in the very spot we were headed to, where friend’s of Barbara’s lived. (She spent two years visiting the camp, building up trust and relationships, and then photographing the people for a humanitarian aid project and soon-to-be-published cookbook called SOUP FOR SYRIA. You can pre-order it here. We had to leave the camp so there was no time to tell the story of the symbolism of the pie, and how we wanted to promote peace. But we can only hope that that little taste of comfort will lift the spirits of a few. You can never really know what impact you’re making. It’s a lesson in trust, humility, gratitude and so many other things.

One of the refugee families we visited was educated and had been successful in Syria. This family of 11 is trying to use their skills, both creative and business, to make a difference. The eldest son, Wissam, was a third-year mechanical engineering student when they had to flee their homeland. He is now a budding filmmaker, documenting peace efforts in the camp. I was very moved by this video he showed us. In Arabic these kids are saying, “We miss peace. We want peace.”

Who knows if the pies had a direct effect, but it was pie that led us to this filmmaker and his message, and by sharing this it keeps the effort moving forward. So it all matters.

I arrived in Greece, my shortest leg of the trip, with a traveler’s “bug.” I won’t go into the gory details about my compromised health, but sadly, I slept the entire five days I was in Athens. I finally saw a doctor, got on an antibiotic, and tried to change my flight so I could stay longer and make up for the lost days. If you’ve ever been to Greece in August you will know that the airline practically laughed in my face. There were no seats available for 2, even 3 weeks out. There was no outward sign of the country’s financial crisis with this summer tourism season in full swing. And happily the media’s fear-mongering about tourists getting mugged didn’t keep travelers away. I had to stick with my schedule and fly onward, to Europe. I will just have to return to Greece another time. In fact, I loved the teeny tiny bit of it I glimpsed — seeing the islands from the plane, the landscape out the window of the airport train, and the historic streets around my bed & breakfast near the Acropolis—enough to know it warrants its own separate trip. I mean, this was the birthplace of pie and I was too sick to even eat one bite! So yeah, returning is a must.

On July 29, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and made a beeline for Bern, Switzerland. Medieval Bern at the foot of the Alps is the first city in Europe I ever visited — when I was 22 — and no sooner did I arrive that summer I made some friends with two sisters, Eve and Uschi. Fast forward 31 years, we have been friends so long we are more like family. I was so depleted from being sick I tempted to bail on the rest of my World Piece journey and head back early to the US. Instead, the cure was coming to Bern. Old friends in a gentle, peaceful place (sheep are grazing right out my window and I can hear their neck bells tinkling like music) combined with vitamin C (as in chocolate!), I am in an ideal place for replenishing my reserves.

I fly back to the US on August 27 and I still have a few countries to visit— and a lot more pie to make and taste—before I head home. So keep following along (on Facebook).

I wasn’t sure when going into this project if I would have enough material to write a book about my journey, but I am now convinced that I do. There are many threads that connect the stories, the people and the places. It has all the elements of “the hero’s journey” and all the plot points that fall right into place of a three-act structure — as if it was planned that way. It wasn’t! I will likely be spending the fall back in Iowa where I plan to buckle down and write about the experience while it is still fresh and raw. But I have to get through the rest of the trip first!

Thanks for checking in.
Love,
Beth