The Start of Leg 2: Surreal Times in Sydney, Australia

What the earth looks like between
Auckland and Sydney.

I flew into Sydney, Australia from Auckland on my birthday, June 14. When I got off the plane and came out of customs there was a camera crew waiting with my friend Kate standing behind them. When Kate told me she was going to try to get some publicity for my trip, I thought she had gone way overboard. Three cameras were pointing at me with their spotlights on. My World Piece project may be noble but it’s not that newsworthy. I walked past them and their lenses did not follow me. Kate and I had a huge laugh when we saw that right behind me was the famous Australian rugby player, Jarryd Hayne, who was just flying in from California where he now plays NFL football for the San Francisco 49ers, and all the cameras rushed toward him. Phew!

Kate took me for a long walk around the city on my first day there. We walked straight into a pie shop! Called Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, this famous place is a Sydney institution, around since the 1940s. Probably one of the first food carts — long before they became popular — Harry’s sits on the waterfront of a wharf where military ships dock. No wonder they’ve been so successful — they serve the ultimate comfort food: meat pies topped with mashed peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Barbra Streisand is on the wall of fame. I made a lemon meringue pie for her once,
when I worked at Mary’s Kitchen in Malibu.

Sailors aren’t the only ones
who appreciate comfort food.

The next day was a busy one. Kate goes to work by ferry and I joined her on her morning commute. A ferry ride on a sunny morning is the ultimate way to see Sydney Harbor — or Harbour, as they spell it. This kind of transport would almost make me want a full-time job in the city. Almost.

Commuting with Kate. You know you’re in Sydney
when you see the iconic Opera House.

I left Kate at her office and walked a few blocks over for a meeting with Sam Cawthorn, an author, amputee and motivational speaker. He is someone Grace in New Zealand thought I should meet, because he is an inspirational figure, so she sent me his contact details. Because I want to meet all the inspirational people I can, I contacted him — and I asked him if he’d like to meet for pie. (Does one need any bigger agenda than just eating pie?)

Australia is such a fun & happy place, even the pie is smiling!
So Sam and I met, and talked, and ate pie for breakfast. Steak and Mushroom pie at Pie Face, an Australian pie shop chain that expanded to the US and now is fighting to survive a bankruptcy filing. But that’s not relevant as their doors are still open and their smiley pies are still good. 
Sam asked me about World Piece. I explained my mission, which I might have been downplaying a little bit as it prompted him to quote Marianne Williamson, pounding his chest as he spoke — 
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

— and then he told me I needed to shoot more video for my social media sites and made me promise that I would do that because it would make me more successful. Hmmm…well, I still like my still photos and writing essays. He told me how much he loves what he does, and then we said goodbye. I’m not sure which was fuller afterward, my belly or my head.
But the day got even more “Dreamtime” after that. (Had to throw in an Aborginal term since I’m in Australia.) First the ferry ride, then the smiling steak pie and pep talk, and then….lunch with the former prime minister of Australia, John Howard! Where am I and how did I end up here?!?!  
It was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Kate’s parents had been invited to a luncheon and had two extra places — for Kate and little ol’ American me. I had to laugh because it was the ultimate cultural experience, a window into an octogenarian underworld as the lunch was hosted by the English Speaking Society and some other organization that might as well have been called Save the Monarchy. I could be a neutral observer and marvel at the different ways in which people view the world — or how they think the world should work, still work after all several centuries. Whether Australia is part of the Commonwealth or an independent republic, it’s a really great country and I feel really excited/lucky/privileged to be here and experience it — even if just for 10 days. 
The funniest part — well, maybe not funny because it forces me to admit my lack of knowledge of world history — is that I had to Google “Magna Carta.” It is basically a charter of liberty, the first document to declare that no one in society, not even a king or a queen — is above the law.
No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or dispossessed or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.
Good to learn something “new.” That’s why it’s good to travel. You can fill in the missing pieces of your education, while dining on a lunch of grilled salmon and lemon tart with dignitaries and well-dressed white-haired ladies.
My dad’s name is also John Howard.
Though apparently no relation. I wonder if
this John Howard likes pie as much as my dad.
My next post — if I can keep up with my blog — will be about my presentation at the Sydney Women’s International Club.  So check back soon. There’s more to come. More pie, more people, more countries. 
Only two and a half weeks into it, the World Piece journey has been a great, fulfilling — and mind-opening — adventure so far. Thanks for following along! I’m posting daily on Facebook — and you don’t need to be signed up for FB to read it — so check there for updates in the meantime. https://www.facebook.com/TheWorldNeedsMorePie

First Pie Class of the World Piece Journey: New Zealand

My first pie class of the World Piece tour was in Napier, New Zealand. Brett Zimmerman (aka Mr. Z), a friend of Louise Watts (my host Grace’s daughter), is a cooking teacher at a local college. (College in NZ is high school in US terms.)

Mr. Z offered use of his classroom — 6 large stainless steel tables and seven — seven!! — ovens. YES! PERFECT! THANK YOU!

The first thing we did was go shopping for pie tins. There is a restaurant supply warehouse just 2 blocks from the school. And luckily they had pie tins. The only kind they had were “very deep dish” but I didn’t mind. We had plenty of apples to fill them. My pie mentor Mary Spellman taught me to make pie in generous portions: “Don’t be stingy,” she always said if I put too little filling in a pie dish. Besides, America has a reputation of doing thing BIG. So big pies were what we would make.

Meet Mr. Z. He is not just a cooking teacher, he’s also a rugby coach.
This is what the classroom looked like before we made a mess.
Pastry gems are some mysterious cross between butter & shortening.
Seemed ideal, and the price was right (FREE!), but the texture was hard.
As for the taste, it was okay, but I wouldn’t recommend the stuff.
Gorgeous apples from The Yummy Fruit Company.
From left to right: Ballaret, Granny Smith, Lemonade.
Lemonade is a new variety, a cross between Gala & Braeburn.
Ballaret are tarter than Gr Smith & easier to peel. Perfect for pie!

Before the class, Mr. Z used some of the apples to give me a lesson in knife-handling skills. We carved swans. He had worked in some fancy pants restaurant and they made these as a garnish, not to eat. He said he worked 14-hour days at that job. No wonder his days were so long! It takes a lot of time to create these carvings. It was fun to learn, but I prefer using apples for pie.

Swan in progress.

Not bad for my first (and last) attempt.
Luckily I did not slice my fingers
 off in the knife-handling exercise.
Especially since this was only
 the beginning of my trip.
Pie is always better with butter. I came to the right country as
New Zealand makes really good butter. 
We had about 18 students for the class. (I didn’t actually count them, Grace did, but I think the number was more like 16 because she included me and Mr. Z in the headcount.) Participants ranged in age from 17 to 70. Mr. Z had sent out email invitations to the school administrators, his cooking students, his catering business helpers, and a few local Hawke’s Bay friends. 
Neil, one of the first participants to arrive.
Check out those pants! A patchwork extravaganza,
he told me they’re 20 years old. 

This cutie pie is Sam. She showed up in braids and someone asked her if she was the Pie Lady.
I wanted my pic taken with her since, based on our matching hairstyles,
we were obviously kindred spirits.

And there is it, the teacher’s corner. More like “Show & Tell.”

No matter where in the world I teach a pie class, it is pretty much always the same format. Introduction, overview of what we’re going to do, demo, turn everyone loose, and then watch the flour fly.

The Pitchfork Pie Stand lives on in every pie I make!

“Rolling dough is like horseback riding, you have to take control of the reins.”
Yep, that analogy works in pretty much every country.

These are some of Mr. Z’s students. They love baking.

Mr. Crazy Patchwork Pants and Miss Cutie Pie Braids. They were a great team!

This table of ladies includes a florist, a school nurse, and a librarian.
They made the most beautifully decorated pies.

My host, Grace Bower, was clearly having a great time. She is not only an
excellent knitter of prayer shawls, she also is an excellent pie maker.

This is Mona. She’s a food judge. But this night she was on the other side of the table.

A crimping lesson.

Neil had to leave early so he took his unbaked pie home with him. On his bike. He had to ride one-handed. In the dark. I never did hear if the pie made it or not. I’m pretty sure no news is good news. I had to hand it to him for his adventurous can-do Kiwi spirit.

The culinary students went to extra lengths to make their pies pretty.
Not for extra credit, but because they enjoyed the artistic process.

Making progress. 

The first pie to come out of the oven belonged to Mona the food judge.
Her pie could have won any pie contest.

I wore my running shoes for the class. I know from having used classroom kitchens before that when you have multiple ovens dispersed through the large room it is a real workout to move between the tables and around the people (dodging rolling pins and trying not to slip on the pie dough that’s fallen on the floor) to get to the ovens. You don’t want your students to do all that work preparing the pies only to have them burn!

I couldn’t read the dials on Mr. Z’s ovens as the numbers were worn off. They were in celsius so I couldn’t understand them anyway. But thanks to my sprinting and squats and the effort of rotating pies around on the oven shelves, every single pie came out looking….well, YUMMY.

See? No pies were harmed (or burned) in the making of this film.

After all these years and all these oven burns, pie still makes me happy. 

Louise Watts presents the “Apple Award” to Mr. Z. The hand-blown glass artwork
came from Utah and Grace determined that people who have contributed something good
should be bestowed with the award–or at least have their picture taken with the apple.

Every pie class ends with a “Victory Shot.” This one was no exception. Look at all those happy people. And look at all those gorgeous pies! Pie really does make the world a better place.

And to think is only the first class of the three-month, 10-country, round-the-world journey. Here’s to many more pies and many more happy people.

Thank you, New Zealand — Grace Bower, Louise Watts, Brett “Mr. Z” Zimmerman & the William Colonso College, Paul Paynter & the Yummy Fruit Company, the Ibis & Novotel Hotels in Rotorua, and many others — for making the first leg of World Piece a fun, safe and successful one.

Next stop: Australia (June 14 to 24)

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

Mad Apples at The Yummy Fruit Company

Here’s a lesson in trust. For most of my stops on the World Piece tour I have quite a few things planned, scheduled and confirmed on the calendar. For New Zealand, however, my first stop of my three-month journey, I left things a bit, shall we say, loose. I knew I wanted to teach a pie class. And because it’s New Zealand, home to the Granny Smith apple — the apple of choice I use for my pies — I knew I wanted to visit an orchard where these beauties are grown.

I love seeing how things come together.

My NZ contact, Grace, has a daughter, Louise, who lives in the Hawke’s Bay region, the largest apple growing region in the country. (The area is also famous for my other favorite horticultural product: wine.) Grace told Louise the “American pie lady” was coming to visit and asked if she could organize a tour of an orchard. Louise happened to be grocery shopping one afternoon a few days before my arrival and saw a truck parked outside. It had a company name painted on the door: Johnny Appleseed. It was a local apple grower.

Louise approached the man getting into his truck and told him about me and my request. (Go, Louise!) His name was Terrence, lo and behold he was the operations manager of the orchard (life is magical that way), he gave her his card, and after Louise passed his info on to me I emailed him.

After an initial exchange I then received an email from the company CEO, Paul Paynter, who offered to conduct a tour himself. He wrote, “We are completely snowed right now, so I don’t have a lot of time, but you are mad enough that I want to meet you.” (Mad as in crazy.) “The world needs more mad people.”

And that’s how I came to get a tour of The Yummy Fruit Company orchards.

Ushered into the boardroom, I was greeted by a tableful of apples — and a man wielding a knife.

The man with the knife turned out to be company chief, Paul Paynter himself. He introduced us to some of his favorite apple varieties with cute names like Ballaret, Lemonade, Ambrosia, Braeburn, Pacific Queen, Sweet Tango, Smitten — and of course the one with which I am intimately familiar after making thousands of pies with them: Granny Smith.

Paul gave us a tour of his orchards (they have 1700 acres), apologizing for the fact there wasn’t much to see given it is currently winter in the southern hemisphere. The Yummy Fruit Company is a family owned business and Paul is its third generation to run it.

We drove past the Granny Smith section and I asked him if he planted those New Zealand sheep there just for me, as a prop to make the place look more, well, more New Zealandish. No, he said, they serve a purpose. They eat some of the leftover apples off the ground and their feet (hooves) stomp the leaves turning it to mulch.

Paul’s grandfather changed the company name from Paynter to Johnny Appleseed to convey a more all-encompassing side of their product.

Harvest was several months ago, but there were still apples on some of the trees.

Do you see the pink spot on the trunk of the tree above?  It is marked to be cut down. Paul has a test plot where he is experimenting, trying to create and grow new varieties. He walks through and takes bites out of them and spits them out, like wine tasters do. The trees with apples that don’t measure up to his taste get the axe to make room for new and different trees until he comes up with a new variety –and taste — that he likes and thinks he can market.

Paul says the world needs more “mad” people like me. I think the world needs more “mad” people like him. So we were in agreement on that. He is passionate about his work, he loves his apples and cares for them like their his family — and really, they are his family since his grandfather started the business and the company is run out of his grandparents old house. (The boardroom pictures is the old dining room.) Meeting Paul and spending an afternoon tasting apples was a highlight of my stay in New Zealand.

In the true spirit of pie — and by that I mean generosity — Paul gave us three cases of apples to use for my first pie class on the World Piece tour, which I was teaching the next day. We ended up using all of them and they were, just like the box says, absolutely yummy.

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

A Few New Zealand Pie Recipes

New Zealand gas stations don’t just sell fuel for cars.
The pie display the BP gas station — or petrol station as they say in NZ.


If there is one thing I’ve learned on my World Piece journey so far, it’s that New Zealand loves pie. Kiwis (as New Zealanders are affectionately called) love pie so much it’s sold at every gas station, convenience store, just about everywhere you look. Some consider it a staple and often eat it for “tea,” which is dinner (which in parts of the US is known as supper), others say pie is what you eat when you’re coming home from the bar. On this trip so far, it’s been the go-to food when jet lag makes my stomach growl at odd hours outside of normal meal times.

Hand pies are served warm, the filling is soft and gooey gravy, and the crust is always flaky. And they are almost always savory, salty and hearty. (I don’t even want to know the fat and calorie count!)

One of my stops was in the town of Rotorua, famous for its hot springs. It’s a crazy thing to see a town built on a lake that looks more like a cauldron. Steam vents puff out columns of smoke all around the town, making for an eerie site, and the underlying concern that the whole place might blow up if the earth decided to let loose.

My NZ host, Grace, and I drove from Auckland to Rotorua on the way to her daughter’s in Napier (Hawke’s Bay) further south. In Rotorua, we stayed at the Ibis Hotel, where the manager rolled out the red carpet for us, upgrading our room to a lake view, throwing in a free breakfast, and then, when he heard about World Piece, he treated us to a free dinner buffet at the Novotel next door. That is some impressive Kiwi hospitality!

The buffet was a good introduction to the local cuisine, mainly fresh shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp), lamb shank, and their favorite dessert, a meringue/pudding combo called pavlova. After tasting the New Zealand specialty of Butter Chicken (similar to Tandoori chicken) and LOVING it –and raving about it to the waiter — the chef came out with the recipe. His name is Rikesh and he is half Indian, half Fijian. He hand wrote out the recipe by hand for me and walked me through it, pointing out that he didn’t have numbers or amounts for the ingredients. I told him, “Don’t worry about it. That’s how I bake!”

I’m down in Napier now and I had a butter chicken pie for lunch yesterday. It wouldn’t win any pie contest. I fear Rikesh spoiled me for any other Butter Chicken. Thank goodness I have the recipe. And here it is for you.

If you’re ever in Rotorua, stay at the Ibis and make sure you
have the dinner buffet at Novotel Hotel next door. And tell Rikesh I said hi.

Meanwhile, further south, in the stunning and fertile region called Hawke’s Bay, I went to a Sunday farmer’s market.

Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Fertile and gorgeous, it’s also one of the sunniest
places in the country. Perfect for growing grapes and apples.

It’s bloody cold here in winter (yes, it’s June!) so they moved the market inside.

I walked past all the hand pies for sale and migrated toward the hand carved rolling pins. Made from Tasmanian black wood and from a local New Zealand wood called Rimu, these are made from single pieces of wood. Of course I wanted to buy one, but I still have a whole world to circumnavigate and I am already over the weight limit on my luggage.

If I could have bought one it would have been hard to decide which one!

At the market I was introduced to a fruit I had never heard of called feijoa. It tastes like a cross between a passion fruit and a kiwi fruit. It’s very perfumy and for that reason is best eaten in smaller doses. For example, when I tasted feijoa juice my reaction was “that’s too much of a good thing.” But forget the juice, you can make pie from this exotic fruit! (Exotic to me. In NZ it’s an everyday fruit that grows in back yards.)

I came across the stall selling mushrooms. And at the stall was a recipe for mushroom pie.

While I was perusing the aisles for pie ingredients, Louise and Grace bought picnic supplies at the farmer’s market. So after the market, Louise drove us on a scenic tour (which wasn’t a stretch considering there is not one corner of NZ that is not scenic!!) and we ended up at Ocean Beach. It tugged at my heart a little to know I was looking straight back across the water to Los Angeles, where I had just left a few days earlier. A baguette, a bag of feijoa fruit and an apple pie-thing (more like a danish) made for a good snack. And the World Piece apron made for a good tablecloth!

We used the rock as a cutting board for the feijoa fruit.

Grace’s daughter Louise cuts the apple pie.

Later, while browsing for pie plates at a local home goods store, I had to take a photo of this. The pie dish may look like the kind we use in the US, but when you read the recipe you’ll know you’re in another country. Which is the whole point of this journey. Vivre la difference!

Cloves and caster sugar. Grams instead of ounces. You can see it’s not an American recipe.
Note they also suggest using a pie bird.


And the World Piece journey continues….

Coming up in my next posts: a tour of The Yummy Fruit Company apple orchards, and the first pie class I’m teaching on my round-the-world trip.

  RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE.COM

World Piece: Day One, Arriving in New Zealand

In all my years of traveling internationally, I have never had such a hard time saying goodbye to my parents. They have been driving me to the airport since my first trip overseas 30 years ago. I have always traveled solo and regardless of where I was traveling to — Europe, Thailand, Kenya — I was always excited to leave, not plagued with the worries and fears that weigh me down now, probably because I was too young and naive to know what I should be worried about!

Our goodbye hugs lasted far longer than our usual airport hugs and the tears flowed more readily and much longer. And when the flight to New Zealand hit some turbulence half-way across the Pacific Ocean, I thought, “Well, that’s why we hugged for so long. My plane is destined to go down.”

Silly, silly, girl. What a misuse of imagination.

Hey, New Zealand, thanks for the welcome rainbow!

Apart from the few bumps in the night, the 13-hour flight went very smoothly and surprisingly quickly. (It helps when you have 40 movies to choose from on your private screen.) And not only did we not crash, we had a soft landing, AND we were greeted by a rainbow over Auckland.

My host, Grace Bower, picked me up at the airport and gave me a driving tour of Auckland. The city is on the narrowest part of New Zealand’s north island, an isthmus with harbors on each side.

The compass on the top of Mount Eden in Auckland.
Proof of how far I’ve come…so far.

That dip is a volcano crater. And that city may look like Seattle, but it’s Auckland.

After zipping around Auckland, Grace drove us north to her village of Orewa. (Pronounced “Oh-ray-wa.”) It’s a quiet little seaside town with a long beach and….lots of pie!

I made Grace stop the car so I could snap this shot. My first pie sighting! 

And this was my second pie sighting. A bakery with all these savory hand pies.
Pie, it seems, is New Zealand’s most popular form of fast food. (Not counting McDonalds.)

At Grace’s house, or “Christmas Cottage” as she calls it, she couldn’t wait to show me a video she had in her collection. She had just stumbled upon it when cleaning her house for my arrival and thought it might be some divine message. What are the chances that she would pop in an old video and have it turn out to be my old house on the screen? American Gothic was featured on an art program, and almost like an American Gothic parody itself, it was hosted by British nun in full habit. I didn’t read too much into the message. That painting turns up everywhere. Even in Orewa, New Zealand.

Sister Wendy gives a tour of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Given my jet lag and my utter disorientation (knowing that this is only one stop on my round-the-world trip does kind of rattle the psyche), my stomach was also confused, growling at 3 in the afternoon. But no worries, because we found the quintessential New Zealand meal to fill the hunger. Fish and chips!

I studied the map on the wall inside the fish and chips shop while we waited for our food.

Grace Bower and me. And our fish wrapped in paper.

I love how the fish and chips were served wrapped in paper. Traditionally they’re served in newspaper. Nowadays it’s served clean paper. Still, no styrofoam. No plastic bags. Tradition aside, this was another sign New Zealand is a very environmentally conscious country. Grace taught me to tear a hole in the top of the paper to let the steam out, to keep the fried food from getting soggy.

The place was takeaway. Carry out. To go. (Funny, all the nuances of the English language.) And given we were one block from the beach, we opted to have a picnic by the sea. But this is New Zealand. In winter. It is sunny for five minutes. Then in rains like hell. Then it’s sunny again. Then another rain shower. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. It goes on and on like this all day, all night. This climate would make me insane. But Kiwis grow up with this weather. They’re a tough bunch. They don’t seem to even notice the rain. And I saw a few people wearing shorts, even though it was 50 degrees. I didn’t want to seem like a wimp, so I ventured to ask Grace, “Isn’t it too wet to eat outside?”

We had our picnic in the car, parked at the beach, watching the waves like we were at a drive-in movie. We were looking east — toward LA, the place I had just come from. Only 24 hours earlier I had been at my parents’ oceanfront apartment, looking out over the same ocean, looking west, toward this spot where I was now sitting. Eating fish and chips. In the rain. With my new friend Grace, whom, until now, I only knew through Facebook and phone calls.

Utter disorientation? No. Utter marvel. And utter joy. And utter gratitude. I had a warm and loving sendoff from my parents (as well as from other family and friends), a safe flight (speaking of marvels, jet travel still amazes me!), and a warm and loving welcome on the other side of the Pacific. If this is any indication of how the rest of the journey is going to go, I’d say I can put my imagination to better use going forward. No more worries. I’m off to a very good start. Now to go make some pie!

World Piece Planning: Answers to Your FAQs

It’s 6AM and I am sitting in the guest bed at my parents’ apartment in Redondo Beach, California. They are still asleep but I am wide awake. I still have a lot to do before I leave U.S. soil tomorrow. One of the things I wanted to do before jetting off (for my first stop of New Zealand) is answer some of the questions I keep getting asked. I promised to blog about my trip and if you know my blog then you know my posts are not just pretty pictures with captions. I give you the deep and personal stuff. Even when it’s not comfortable. So here you go — warts and all, as they say — the answers to your FAQs.

Q: Aren’t you so excited?

A:  This has been a hard question to answer. I WANT to say I’m excited, but unless you consider a stomach tied in knots and waking up with stabbing pains in your diaphragm excitement, well, then yeah, I guess I am. I’ve been so caught up in trying to make contacts and lock in detailed plans for pie classes in 10 countries, as well as pack up my California apartment, drive cross-country in the RV, have a molar pulled, get my dog to “summer camp” in Iowa, get World Piece business cards, aprons and T-shirts made, and make a zillion agonizing decisions about what to bring and what to leave behind, well, I haven’t really had a chance to think about the fact that this trip might actually be FUN. But I’m pretty sure it will be. And I’m pretty sure my stomach will relax once I actually get on my way.
TMI? Well, maybe, but it’s reality.

Q: Who planned your trip?

A: Just me. Step one was calling the airline to book the round-the-world ticket using frequent flyer miles. One phone number, one call, one hour on the phone and it was done! I chose the destinations based on where I already knew people or had invitations. Once I locked in the places, dates and flights, I spent the next 10 weeks doing nothing but doing research, sending emails, making lists on my white board, and printing out excel spread sheets. It was a full-time job. Too bad I’m not paid for it! I’m also pretty sure all the hours invested in preparation will pay off.

This was my office. 

This was my little “Inspiration Shrine.” There were some days when I really needed this.

And this was some inspiration from my friend Africa — from a year ago!

Q: Are you going alone?

A: I’m flying alone, but I will be staying with friends in most places. I admit one of my first fears was worrying that I might be lonely. But I know from experience that when you travel alone you are much more open to meeting other people. And meeting people is really what World Piece is about. Pie is just a good excuse.

Q: What do you pack for a round-the-world trip?

A: Good question! And I still don’t have an answer because I am STILL packing! Or should I say, unpacking, as I am still paring down my load. I have to bring cookbooks — which weigh a lot — and pie-making supplies (my rolling pin is heavy but I have to bring it!)  I am bringing my overalls because I promised the American Embassy I would wear them when I recreate my Pitchfork Pie Stand at their Fourth of July Party in Bangkok. And one added challenge is that I will be in several different climates — it’s winter in New Zealand and Australia, tropical in Thailand and India, and temperate in Europe. My goal is to get everything in one big duffel bag. Wish me luck!

This was Packing: Stage One.

This is embarrassing to admit but one of the hardest decisions of this whole process
 was choosing which ONE pair of pajamas I would take. 

One non-negotiable item that is coming with me is the prayer shawl knitted for me
by my New Zealand host, the lovely and gracious Grace Bower. Handmade with NZ
wool, she used “pie colors” to make this just for me. It’s like being wrapped in a hug.

Q: How are you getting all your pie ingredients?

A: I’ll be hunting for ingredients locally in each destination. I won’t be very far off the beaten path — I’m not going into any remote villages in wild jungles or anything — so finding grocery stores that stock flour, sugar, butter, and apples shouldn’t be too difficult. New Zealand is home to the Granny Smith apple, so that one will be a cinch! But if ingredients are hard to come by, I will just have to practice what I preach: Pie is not about perfection.  Pie is about improvising.

Q: Are you filming your trip?

A: I thought I couldn’t — shouldn’t — do this once-in-a-lifetime trip without a film crew. Or at least film it myself. But who was going to finance a camera crew when I was barely eking out the funds to do this trip solo? Trying to convince a production company — or a corporate sponsor — to hop on board would take months, even years. If I filmed it myself I would first have to teach myself how to use a camera. Wait, no, first I would have to GET a camera. And I would have to lug along all the extra gear: tripod, battery packs, etc. to go with it. When I realized how much I was stressing about it I said F**k it, I’m a writer. I’m going to write about this. And take pictures with my iPhone. And even though my iPhone is the baby version with a measly 16 GB of memory I will try to shoot a few little videos here and there. So that’s my answer. Which in short is no. But which also leads to the next FAQ…

Q: Are you going to write a book about this?

A: I hope so, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself at this point. I could have put together a book proposal before I left but I decided to actually let the experience happen first, then consider the book. When I wrote “Making Piece” I was so compelled to tell the story it was bursting to get out of me. The book practically wrote itself. If that happens after World Piece, then yes, definitely.

Q: Where are you going to live when you get back?

A: I have no idea. I’m hoping these next few months will inform my next steps. It can be hard to be so unsure, but I am going to be so busy traveling I won’t have to worry about it until September. Now that I’m finally untethered from my American life and all my belongings, I’m getting less anxious and more comfortable with the idea that whatever the future holds it will be a good surprise.

Q:  What are you most afraid of?

A:  At first I thought my biggest fear is that I might die. Irrational? Maybe. But ever since Marcus died I’ve carried the knowledge that life is fragile and can end in an instant. And yet my bigger fear is not about me, it’s about fearing that someone else will die while I’m away. On that “someone else” list is my surviving member of Team Terrier, Jack. It was hard to say goodbye to him for 3 months, but I have made peace with the separation knowing that he is having a blast running wild on my friend’s farm in Iowa. No leash for 3 months? He isn’t going to miss me one bit!

Saying goodbye to my little man. I’m not sure which one of us
is going to have more fun this summer, but I’m guessing him!
And off I go into the wild blue yonder.
It’s going to be an incredible adventure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the journey begin.

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE

WORLD PIECE: Announcing my global pie-making mission!

The Concept

On June 2nd, I will be embarking on a round-the-world journey I’m calling “World Piece.” I came up with this idea after writing my memoir, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie,” as a way to extend the theme of making and sharing pie with others to make the world a better, happier place. But now, instead of driving around the USA in my RV, I will fly around the world and to teach pie making and to learn about other cultures’ types of pies. I will be an ambassador to promote what is good about America (I guess my publisher had a reason to title my cookbook “Ms. American Pie“), listen to what others have to say about their countries (and about us), and in this exchange of ideas and stories and recipes, we will build community, forge new friendships, promote cultural tolerance, eat some delicious food, and end up with…yes, world peace. What can I say? Even after all the hard knocks of life, divisive politics, unresolved geopolitical conflicts, terrorist attacks, and more, I’m still optimistic. I believe there is still goodness in the world. As humans, regardless of race, customs, or beliefs, we are all in this together. We can all get along. And I am going to roll up my sleeves and make pie dough in at least 10 different countries with people of at least 10 different nationalities to prove it. (For more on my philosophy, watch my TEDx talk about how pie can change the world.)

Like Life, Frequent Flyer Miles Have an Expiration Date. 

This idea for this trip also came about because I inherited 400,000 frequent flyer miles when my husband, Marcus Iken, passed away in 2009. I had been saving those miles for this big undertaking — and god knows, I’ve been talking about it for years now — but the thought of how much energy (and money) it would take made just want to stay in bed! There were questions and fears keeping me awake at night: where would I go, how would I navigate new cities, would I be lonely, would I be able to sustain the pace of intercontinental travel? Plus, I hated the idea of leaving my dog, Jack, for three months — I can barely be apart from him for three hours — especially after losing my other dog, Daisy, so tragically in November. But those miles I’ve been saving for the past five years were about to expire and the airlines, like life, offer no grace period or extension. I’ve been spending the past few months resting up (as it turns out). And Jack has an ideal place to stay — he is going to “summer camp” on a friend’s farm in Iowa. Life is short. I am facing my fears. It’s time to head out into the big, beautiful, crazy, chaotic world and get busy. I’m setting forth in June. And I will be sharing the journey with you as I go.

Go West, Young Man. And then keep going. 

USA June 2
My route starts from Los Angeles, surely with a tearful goodbye to my parents. (I will have already bawled my eyes out saying goodbye to Jack.) I head west, and will keep going until I come full circle. I don’t have every minute planned out, but here are some of my goals with lots of leeway for the inevitable developments along the way. Please feel free to contribute suggestions and contacts! 

NEW ZEALAND June 4 to June 14
For my first leg, I fly to Auckland, New Zealand, to meet my Facebook friend, Grace Bower, in person. A knitter of prayer shawls and supporter of authors, her generosity embodies the spirit of pie. Grace symbolizes how this trip is more about connecting with people than collecting trophy destinations or checking places off a bucket list. We are going to make pies and bring them to the library for a gathering of locals. And I know Grace is already busy organizing (or organising, as they say in NZ) more activities. Even if I never went anywhere besides NZ, this stop alone would make the mission complete. But….it’s a big world out there. So I will keep going.

AUSTRALIA June 14 to July 24
In Sydney, Australia, I will reconnect with my Aussie friend, investment banker and athlete, Kate, and another friend, Foong, who I know from living in Germany back in 2003 (we met in Intermediate German class.) Foong, who is Malaysian, married to a German, and living in Australia, is a true Global Citizen. Instead of making pie, I could just write a biography about her and call it “World Piece.” We’ll make apple pie and I’ll learn about meat pies, and surely much, much more. 

THAILAND June 24 to July 4
From Australia I go to Bangkok, Thailand. I spent three months traveling around Thailand when I was 22. This time I’m not going as a backpacker; I’m going as….as an adult. What happened? How did 30 years go by so fast? I don’t have much in place here yet, but I have a dear friend there who is a rock star hotel marketing exec and I have a feeling she’ll get me oriented. I am hoping to teach a pie class to a community of underprivileged youth, provided we can find oven space. I was just reminded that there is no baking in Thai cuisine — i.e.: no ovens. But that’s exactly the thing that will make this such an adventure!

INDIA July 4 to July 14
I’ve always wanted to go to India but didn’t think I could handle the…shall we say, overstimulation. I definitely didn’t want to go alone. But pie has a way of making me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Pie makes a good traveling companion and instills a kind of courage that comforts and assures me that everything will be okay. So I’m landing in Mumbai (at night) and…well, I have no idea of my agenda yet but I know I want to learn how to make samosas — and teach the beautiful people there, rich and poor alike, how to make apple pie.

LEBANON July 14 to July 24
From India, I fly to Beirut, Lebanon, with a five-hour stopover in Cairo. Because the round-the-world ticket only allows so many stopovers I won’t get to explore Egypt, the birthplace of pie, or see the pyramids (unless they are visible from the plane), but at least my feet will get to touch that red, electrified, ancient African soil — the cradle of mankind where all this madness started. In Beirut, I will spend 10 days with cookbook author, photographer, and social activist, Barbara Massaad. She was one of the original anchors to this trip and while it is tricky to get to Lebanon — and the US suggests avoiding it — this stop underscores everything about my mission as it’s all about using pie to spread goodwill and promote peace.

GREECE July 24 to July 29
Then it’s on to Athens, Greece, where I will track down the first-ever recorded pie recipe, which was written on a stone table. Even if it is only a myth, it will be fun searching for it — and eating spinach and goat cheese pie along the way.

GERMANY (AND OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES) July 29 to August 27
From Greece, I will go to Germany, using it as a base so I can travel around “The Continent” during the month of August, taste-testing as many pie-like pastries as possible. I hope to teach a pie class in the German Black Forest village where Marcus and I got married. I’m pretty sure the priest and his family are still there at that 1,000 year-old cathedral. And I’m sure they would love some American apple pie. Saving the hardest thing for last, I will culminate my journey with a visit to Marcus’s grave outside of Stuttgart, as a way to say thank you for making this experience possible. Yeah, that’s definitely going to be hard.

USA August 27
And finally, at the end of August, I will fly back to the USA. My hope is to return invigorated and not depleted, to have gained new friends but not too much weight, and to turn all this into a book that will inspire others to embrace their neighbors and make the world — starting with their own little corner of the planet — a better place.

AND BEYOND…
There are so many more places I would like to go, but I hope this will be a good representation. I have already taught pie making to many walks of life in many parts of the world: to a group of businesspeople in Tokyo, Japan; to a TV producer and her young son in London, England; to my Mexican neighbors in Saltillo, Mexico; to school kids in a South African township; and, of course, all over the USA. I figure this itinerary (which is now unchangeable except for the dates) is a good start. And maybe after the three-month trip is over, I will keep going. South America, West Africa, China, Russia, Mongolia, Philippines, the list is long!

The effectiveness of “World Piece” has already been proven. 

Read my blog post about the class I taught to kids in a South African township. Imagine how many more stories like this are out there waiting to be told. I can already see the smiles and hear the laughter. Pie knows no language barriers. But “World Piece” isn’t just about teaching; it’s about learning. Here’s an example of the cultural exchange I had in Mexico, learning how to make tortillas — and eat hot sauce without damaging my mouth.

You can be part of the journey too. 

When you give of yourself to make others happy, it in turn makes you happy. Pie is an ideal vehicle for spreading that happiness. If you’d like to contribute to the project, there are some easy ways you can help — and any little bit of support (moral or otherwise) would be greatly appreciated. Here are some things that I will need:

Contacts in my destinations — If you know of a group I can teach, a type of pie I should try, a couch I can sleep on, or a must-see place along my route, please email me directly at beth (at) theworldneedsmorepie (dot) com

T-shirt, Apron and Gift Sponsor — I’d like to bring gifts to leave behind, like “World Piece” T-shirts or aprons or…I’m open to ideas

HD Video Camera — to document the trip — and a lesson in how to use it. Better yet, someone to come along with me to do the filming.

Donations for Ingredients (flour, butter, apples, sugar, cinnamon) — I will be buying them locally in each place. Your support will make it possible for more people to participate.

Donations for Pie Supplies — I won’t be able to haul a bunch of rolling pins and bowls around the world, so I plan to collect the necessary supplies at each destination and then leave them behind so the community can keep using them. If you are in one of my destinations, I could use your help physically getting these. If you want to contribute funds to help buy supplies, that would be good too. –Pie tins
–Pie boxes
–Rolling pins
–Pastry scrapers
–Paring knives
–Scissors
–Large mixing bowls
–Pastry brushes
–Aprons

Sponsor a Pie for $5 — Whether you pitch in for one pie or 20 pies, any funds will go toward pie ingredients for pies we give away. And if you know me, then you know how much I like to give pie away. Pie is meant to be shared! Free slices for all!

Sponsor a Pie Student for $5 — My goal is to bring pie-making to people who may not have the means to buy the ingredients, young and old alike. I’m currently looking for food sponsors, like local grocery store chains in each destination, but your support will help too. To make it easier to contribute, here’s a little button to donate through PayPal.

Here’s where to find me on social media. Come along for the ride! 

Like my Facebook page, The World Needs More Pie, to follow the journey

Follow me on Twitter — @worldneedspie — Hashtag #WorldPiece

Look for stories here on my blog — The World Needs More Pie

Instagram — TheWorldNeedsMorePie

YouTube — TheWorldNeedsMorePie channel

Pinterest — worldneedspie

Pie Facts 

Pie was created long before America was discovered. Its origins date back to Egypt during Roman times when crust was used to preserve and transport meat.

The first known recorded pie recipe was in Greece, a cheese and honey pie.

Pie is defined as anything held in a crust. Some kind of pie can be found in virtually every country, many are savory and small like meat pies in Australia, pasties in England, calzone in Italy, empanadas in Mexico, samosas in India.

In Bulgaria, there is a patron saint of pie. His name was Saint Ivan of Rila who gave pies to the poor. Every August and October at the Rila Monastery there is a festival to commemorate his good deeds.

Finding Solace in Solitaire

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

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

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

My dear, sweet Daisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My new form of therapy

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

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

A parking place in paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack on the mend. The sign says it all.

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

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