Tis the Season . . . for Finding Solutions

This essay originally aired on TriStates Public Radio. Go here to listen.

Bah humbug. I don’t know about you but I’m really struggling with the holidays this year. It’s a perfect storm, a trifecta of winter weather, the pandemic, and climate crisis. I mean, geez, why bother even getting out of bed? But I only allow myself to take refuge under the covers for so long until I remind myself to focus not on the problems, but on the solutions. 

The solution to cold weather. 

Like 20 percent of the population, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The shorter days, the gray skies, and the overall lack of light all conspire to bring me down faster than the plummeting temperatures. Over the years I’ve tried everything: vitamin D, light box therapy, antidepressants, and exercise. Exercise worked well. Too well. Two winters ago, I swam in the tropical waters of our local rec center pool and it was so helpful to my mood that I kept swimming – until I injured my shoulders. Shoulder pain or not, I’m too worried about the virus to go to a rec center this winter. The only other thing that gives me relief from sunlight deprivation is the sun itself. So I followed the migration of the monarchs who flee to the south and am spending the winter in Arizona. The sun fuels my soul. Though, unfortunately, the weather is not as warm as my body requires. The better solution would have been to go with the monarchs all the way to Mexico. But . . . the pandemic.

The solution to the pandemic. 

The New York Times just ran an article titled, “The Double Whammy of Seasonal Affective Disorder in a Season of COVID.” God help me — and the millions of others who suffer from even just a mild version of SAD. If not for my fear of ending up on a ventilator, I would be spending time with my family, but I had to decline my brother’s invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving with him and his college-age kids, as that would have been like stepping into a COVID petri dish. I would be in Los Angeles right now visiting my mom to bring us both some holiday cheer, but LA is under lock-down for three weeks. Instead, I am — along with just about everyone in the world – grieving not only the loss of lives, but the loss of connection that the pandemic has bestowed. There is no gathering in groups for holiday parties for some much-needed face-to-uncovered face conversation, or even more important, hugging. There is no taking my laptop to a coffeehouse, lingering over a good meal at a restaurant, or browsing for hours in a bookstore. As humans, we require physical and social contact for our wellbeing. But life as we’ve known it is over, and this is causing tremendous grief. 

But I know grief. I know what helps heal it – and that is doing nice things for others. Like making a pie for a friend who is even more depressed than you. Or buying groceries for someone who lost their job. Or donating winter coats to a coat drive. And now that the holidays are upon us, we can get an added dopamine hit by giving gifts to others. That was the case for me as I got lured into the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. But then I was like, “Wait. Consumerism is bad for the environment. By buying non-essential, made-in-China things, with all the plastic and all the fossil fuels required from manufacturing all the way to delivery, I’m only contributing to the climate crisis.” 

The solution to the climate crisis. 

This is the ultimate source of my grief. Seasonal Affective Disorder is only seasonal so there is always an end in sight. And we are so close to getting people vaccinated against the virus, which will enable us to get control over the pandemic. But the climate? The media keeps reporting that it’s too late to fix it, making every other crisis – like racism, poverty, immigration, and political divisiveness – a moot point. Talk about depressing! My brother, who shares my current Grinch mindset, came to my rescue by recommending a book called “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken. Instead of dwelling on the apocalypse, it offers guidance on practical things we can do to help save the planet. Too late or not, it’s a dose of hope. Another book, one for the holiday season, is “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” by Meg Nordmann. She writes about ways we can give without adding to the stress on our mental state, our wallets, and, ultimately, our landfills, by finding value in “experiences over objects” and giving comestible gifts instead of material ones. I, for one, would prefer receiving a box of chocolates over anything that adds to the clutter in my house. 

Meanwhile, I keep telling myself – and anyone else who’s struggling — to hang on a little longer. This is a hard patch, but it’s ultimately a blip in time. I’m going to keep getting out of bed, taking walks in the sun, wearing my mask, and recycling – while holding tight to the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.

You might also like reading these previous posts:

How I’m Dealing with the Pandemic and Other Anxieties

An Outlet for Dealing with Overwhelming Issues

What to Do with All That Privilege

For pie-making help, check out my YouTube series, Stay Calm and Bake Pie

Pie Shop for Sale in Pie Town, NM


Dreaming of running your own pie shop? Looking to move from the city to the country? I mean, this pandemic is making most of us rethink our lives — and our livelihoods — so why not move to a sparsely populated area on the Continental Divide?

Pie-O-Neer in Pie Town, New Mexico is for sale!

This beloved shop is turn-key with all the equipment and furniture, a built-in loyal customer base, international press, and even an on-site apartment. 
Kathy and Stanley will be missed (and god knows, so will Kathy’s pies), but whoever takes it over can turn it into something with their own style. (Think bigger, like adding an Airstream motel on the property.)  
Call Matthew (sales broker) for more info. (720) 545-8859  
To learn about the history of the pie shop and to drool over the pictures of Kathy’s pies, go to their website. https://pieoneer.com

Pie for Minneapolis: A Small But Mighty Thing to Do

On the morning of May 29, I woke up to news that Minneapolis police had arrested an African-American reporter for CNN who was covering the protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd.  Already outraged by Floyd’s death and the subsequent aggression of police toward peaceful protesters, this latest arrest triggered a tipping point for me, a call to action. 


“I can’t just sit here; I need to do something!” I shouted at my computer, while reading the barrage of more news, fueling more outrage. I had had this same reaction after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, which resulted in a spontaneous cross-country drive to bake 250 pies with a team of 60 volunteers, and handing out free slices of apple, cherry and others flavors to bring comfort to a grieving community. All that pie didn’t bring back the 26 first-graders and teachers who lost their lives, it did not change gun laws, but the residents appreciated the gesture of kindness, the display of care.

Which is why I knew when I felt that familiar ache in my heart I had to go to Minneapolis with an offering of pie.

By the afternoon of the 29th, a Friday, I put out the word on social media that if anyone in the Twin Cities could donate homemade pie, I would designate a few drop-off locations and would be handing it out on Sunday. 

What I hadn’t factored in was that people outside of Minneapolis wanted to make pies to send with me. Even with such short notice, people who knew I was driving the length of Iowa began sending me messages: “What time will you be coming through . . .” each message began, followed by the name of their town. . . Iowa City. Cedar Rapids. Ames. Hampton. Mason City. Burnsville. 

My neighbor Liza wrote, “I’ll make a few pies. And I can pick up ingredients for you at the store if you need.” Yes, I did need ingredients—enough butter and apples for six pies. 


My friend Esther, who is an excellent pie baker, messaged me around 10:00 p.m. asking, “I want to send some pies with you. What time are you leaving in the morning?”

“7:30 a.m.,” I told her.


“I can do it,” she replied, her words filled with determination, dedication, and a desire to help.

The next morning, Esther pulled into my driveway at 7:30 on the dot, bearing two pies. The top crust of her cherry pie was a collection of hearts, a message of love to George Floyd and Minneapolis. Liza had three pies waiting for me when I stopped by her house, adding to the six I had made with the help of my boyfriend, Doug, who had peeled 12 pounds of Granny Smith apples while I made the dough. 

At the very last minute—because this was all last minute—Sarah, a neighbor who lives only one mile away, had offered to drive to Minneapolis with me. We spoke on the phone late Friday night and I picked her up the next morning. It didn’t matter that we had never met. I knew that anyone whose heart was crying out I need to do something! loud enough to jump in a car with a stranger—during a pandemic, no less—would be an instant friend. Besides, I have seen over and over how pie serves as a catalyst for connecting people. 

Sarah, a spunky 40-something with a pixie haircut and a sweet smile, strapped on her N-95 mask, tossed her duffle bag in the back, and took over the driving so I could coordinate the pie pickups along our route, arranging roadside meeting times at truck stops. 

I also checked my messages.

“Be careful,” everyone wrote to me. “The situation is dangerous.” They spoke mostly of the protests, with a few adding the reminder that, by the way, there is still a deadly virus lurking. I had at least 200 messages repeating this same sentiment.  


The fact is I was a little scared. But I was not going to let fear paralyze me. I rationalized that it was more dangerous to my health, physically and mentally, to stay home and let my blood pressure rise and my despair grow than to hand out pie on the streets of a Midwestern city. Sometimes, you have to turn off the news, bake some pie, pack up your car, and just go. Do not overthink it. Do not listen to the naysayers. Do not worry about not having a plan in place. If you let your heart guide you, the courage will come, the rest will take shape.

I came up with a list of pat responses to the cautionary notes: 

“I have friends in Minneapolis who I’ve been talking with and they have assured me that it’s safe, that the atmosphere is 90% positive.”

“We will not be outside at night. And we are staying at a friend’s house in a suburb.”

“We will be wearing masks and gloves while out in public.”

“And,” I made a point to add, “We will definitely not be joining any protests.”

The first thing we did upon arriving in Minneapolis was join a protest. 

Our host, Therese Kiser, a high school classmate from Iowa who has lived in Minnesota for 30 years, took us downtown to show us around. We parked and walked past destroyed buildings, some still on fire, others still smoldering, others reduced to a pile of mangled steel and rubble. We watched as residents continued to board up their businesses, with artists swooping in right behind them to paint protest statements, peace signs, and portraits of George Floyd on the boards. Some of the boards had pleas written in a scrawl of spray paint: “Please don’t burn this building, People live here.” 



An organized protest had taken place at 2:00. We stumbled upon the tail end of it (though in reality, the protests are ongoing with some springing up spontaneously). The streets were closed and cars were replaced by people of all colors and ages—groups of Somali women wearing long dresses and head coverings, a middle-aged white guy on his bike wearing a Martin Luther King T-shirt, a young girl with purple hair in a shirt with the words “WE ARE ALL EQUAL” in bold letters. Almost everyone, including us, was wearing a mask. Many were holding up homemade signs made from cardboard scraps that read: Black Lives Matter. Justice for George. No justice, No Peace. RIP George Floyd. And the most gut-wrenching one, I Can’t Breathe. 

The peaceful and inspirational energy was more contagious than the coronavirus, as the next thing I knew I was taking a knee and holding up a fist shouting, “One love!” Being there—right there in this moment with this crowd willing to risk the potential consequences, from tear gas to COVID-19—boosted my faith in humanity to see so many people uniting for change.

A banner displaying a picture of Mr. Floyd had come loose from the intersection stoplight where it hung, and was dangling from one edge. In a dramatic high-wire act, an athletic black man climbed up to secure it, battling gravity and wind as he straddled the light post. The crowd erupted in a cheer when he finally succeeded in reattaching the banner. When he slipped, a collective gasp filled the air as he hung only by his hands, unable to pull himself up. This was followed by another round of cheering and applause after a group of people formed a human safety net, catching him when he let go of his grip.

And that is the extent of danger we experienced during the protest.

After that, we walked down Lake Avenue, logging over five miles according to Sarah’s Fit Bit, passing more ruins of stores and restaurants, cars with smashed windows, graffiti admonishing the harsh treatment of Blacks by law enforcement, and crews of people carrying brooms and buckets already cleaning up the mess. There were many others like us, subdued, heartbroken souls walking the city streets, wanting to take it all in, wanting to understand it, to be part of it, wanting to help change things, to make things better, equal and just.

With freeways closing at 7 p.m. and a curfew of 8 p.m., we returned to Therese’s where we made a rhubarb pie from the rhubarb her friend had just picked. Our pie, along with the ones Therese’s friends had made, brought our total up to 37. With the 15 more we would be picking up in the morning we had 52 pies—more than 400 slices to share with the grieving community of Minneapolis. 

Rachel Swan is the owner of a pie business called Pie and Mighty. After baking pies out of a church basement for several years, she and her wife and business partner, Ratchet, finally opened their own retail space in mid-March in time for Pi Day, 3.14. No sooner had they opened, the pandemic forced them to close, and just as businesses were allowed to reopen, George Floyd was killed. Pie and Mighty is at 36th and Chicago, two blocks from the epicenter of what has blown into a worldwide outpouring of anger and grief.

Rachel knows the power of pie, how the alchemy of ingredients as basic as flour, butter, sugar and fruit can spread joy. Which is why I called her first thing Friday morning, after realizing that I had to “do something.” 

“How are you holding up?” I asked. 

“We are tired and hurting, but we are still baking pie,” she said. 

Rachel supported my idea to come up and hand out free pie and offered her shop as a base. Her generosity did not surprise me, but I also did not take it for granted. “I don’t want this to interfere or take away from your business,” I insisted.


“The more joy we can spread, the better,” she assured me. 

Just over 24 hours later, on Sunday morning, less than 48 hours after deciding to make the trek north, I showed up at her door—which had been shattered the night before, so it, along with the other windows, was boarded up. The beginnings of an elegant mural already adorned the boards, the design based around the words, “George Floyd, Father, Son, Beautiful Spirit.”

“I put out a call to artists on Instagram,” she said. Of course she did. That is Rachel, a gentle, caring soul who embodies the healing values not only of pie but also of public art. 


The streets were quiet at 9 a.m. on Sunday, though two blocks down I could see a small group had already gathered in front of Cup Foods to pay their respects to George Floyd. 

We had discussed other possible places for handing out pie. Maybe it would be safer if we were outside a church, we had mused. But being at Pie and Mighty would prove to be an ideal location, just far enough removed from the fast-growing crowd down the street to be manageable, and close enough to serve the foot traffic, a steady stream of mourners taking bouquets of flowers to place at the memorial, tired cleanup crews, and families with their kids in tow to educate them on why racism must stop.
Our crew of volunteers for the day was comprised mostly of people I had never met. Tina, Xan, Marie, and Carol, all from Minneapolis—and Sarah from Iowa—were there because they had seen my post on Facebook. A woman named Desra, a friend of my friend Esther, had come to help. She was from Donnellson, the same small town as Sarah and me. She knew Sarah from working together years earlier at a café. That they were both at Pie and Mighty was a coincidence. The only people I knew were Therese and Rachel. But to see us all working as a team, suited up in face masks and food service gloves, slicing pies, doling out plastic forks, and offering pie to passersby, you would have thought we were all longtime friends. Similar to how protests bring people together, the desire to bring comfort to others through pie, united us with a common cause. We may not have known each other before this day, but like individual strips of dough woven into a lattice crust, our lives would forever after be intertwined.

For three hours we served pie until every last crumb of the 600-some pieces had been served. (More pies showed up Sunday morning putting us at around 80 pies total.) Mostly I stayed inside Rachel’s shop, putting pie slices onto plates. I wanted to be outside, talking with people, listening to what they had to say and how they were feeling, learning about them. But the relative quiet in the kitchen and the repetitive motion of sliding my pie server under slice after slice after slice, lifting each piece onto a plate, was its own form of grief therapy and act of service. A minuscule act, yes, but as they say, the ocean is made of tiny drops of water. 

Without even assigning roles everyone contributed in giving of themselves, and in making things run smoothly. Tina was outside holding the “Free Pie” sign over her head for the entire three hours—except for the 10 minutes she left to get paper plates when we ran out. Marie kept the table tidy, while Sarah and Desra shuttled slices out from the kitchen as fast as I could cut them. Sarah’s Fit Bit probably logged another five miles. And Therese, who knows how to engage the public, given she’s a city council member in her suburb, took the time to draw out people’s stories.


I gleaned snippets of conversation taking place, and heard countless times, “Thank you for being here. Thank you for doing this.” Black, Latinx, Asian, Caucasian, short, tall, skinny, chubby, scruffy, coiffed, toddlers, teenagers, moms, dads, same-sex couples . . .  pie was served to anyone who wanted a piece. Pie knows no cultural boundaries. Pie does not discriminate. 

Likewise, with offerings of apple, cherry, rhubarb, peach, peach crumble, pecan, pumpkin, chocolate cream, and combinations thereof, like cherry-rhubarb, strawberry-rhubarb, and mixed berry—our selection of pies was equally diverse. There was something for everyone. 

An older woman who was with her husband was so moved by the free pie, she had tears in her eyes. But mostly, people’s faces lit up at the sight of all those slices lined up on the gingham tablecloth and they smiled. While enjoying the flaky crust melting in their mouths and the sweetness on the their tongues, they could forget about the trauma the world is experiencing, even if just for those few precious minutes. Pie is a salve that way.

“Pie isn’t going to fix anything,” someone had commented on social media. 

“No, it isn’t,” I replied. “But making and sharing pie is one small thing we can do right now. And we have to trust that all those small things are going to add up to make a positive impact. People are looking for ways to help, but don’t know what to do.” 

Showing up for a protest is not for everyone. Sending money is good, but often doesn’t feel like it’s enough. A physical task, like making pie, offers a sense of purpose—and a few hours’ respite from the news.

I know pie can’t save the world. Pie can’t bring back George Floyd or end racism (and police brutality). But pie does make people feel better. This tiny bit of comfort, this small gesture of kindness, conveys a bigger, more powerful message that says, “I see you. I hear you. I care about you. You matter. Black lives matter.” Even if you bake just one pie at time and share it with someone (maybe someone outside your own circle or comfort zone) to make a connection, to bridge a divide, to initiate a conversation about racism, it’s a start. And even if change comes slowly and incrementally, if you show up and make the effort, as we all must do, a change is gonna come.


People kept asking on Sunday if we were taking donations. With their five, ten or twenty dollar bills already in hand, they would frown when we said, “No, we’re just here to give away pie.” Still, they insisted, practically shoving the money into our hands. This is what I mean when I say you can do this without a plan in place. It took mere seconds to come up with a solution. I grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled “Pie it Forward Fund” on a paper lunch sack. Pie and Mighty has a program where customers can round up their bill and the money goes toward giving free pie to someone who needs cheering up, for example, or a way to say thank you. Though, as Rachel says, and I agree with her, “We think everyone needs pie.” So in the coming weeks and months, when the smoke has cleared, the last of the broken glass swept from the sidewalks, the bouquets of flowers at Mr. Floyd’s memorial withered, the four officers handed down their prison sentences, Minneapolis will still get free pie. If you know someone who could use a slice (or a whole pie), give Pie and Mighty a call. 


Before leaving Minneapolis, Therese, Sarah and I spent an hour at George Floyd’s memorial site. The images and feelings are still so vivid—the piles of flowers arranged in sacred circles surrounded by throngs of people, the sympathy cards taped to the bus stop and buildings, the music played by a DJ moving people to dance, the free water and food offered everywhere from hot dogs to peanut butter sandwiches to whole boxes of groceries. Tears streamed down my face as I soaked in this pool of collective grief, compassion, and call for change. No amount of darkness could keep the light of humanity from shining through. If only this light, this love, this hope for the future, could be transmitted through a television screen or computer monitor. It’s a message that needs to be spread so much further in order to break the generational chains of bias and bigotry, to erase the lines of division and see that we are all so much more alike than we are different. So when you see all those protesters on the news, I can tell you firsthand, there is a more powerful, more valid reason for them to be there than any news story can convey. 

Once again, I thank pie for taking me places where I never otherwise would have gone.

It’s Wednesday, three days after our pie giveaway, and I am back on the farm in Iowa. In the midst of wrestling with a resurgence of despair after reading about the latest outrage, Rachel forwarded me a note from one of her customers who had stopped by on Sunday. “Please extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the pie makers from Iowa. We took their love and kindness into our bodies as nourishment, and it will remain with us always.”

Remember these words as your heart screams, “I can’t just sit here; I have to do something!” Don’t let the fear, the negative news, or the sense of overwhelm stop you. Because doing something, even if it’s just feeding people a few homemade pies, is absolutely, positively better than doing nothing at all. 


******

Read about Rose McGee who gave out free sweet potato pies in Minneapolis this week.

“This is the sacred dessert of Black culture,” McGee told HuffPost. At a time when many people feel hopeless and exhausted, these particular pies offer much more than physical sustenance. “They link us to our history, they soothe our souls and they renew us for the work ahead,” she said.

I love what she is doing, her efforts to heal extend beyond pie, and I hope to meet her one day. 

******


If you are interested in organizing your own pie giveaway, here are some tips:


1. Use your network to get homemade pies donated. (I’ve done events with store-bought pies and it does not have the same effect.) Unless you can organize a group baking effort, you will need to rely on individuals to bake at home. Try to offer pies that do not require refrigeration. Designate a drop-off location for the pies.  

2. Gather your supplies: folding tables, washable tablecloths, pie servers, knives, plastic forks, paper plates, napkins, food service gloves, face masks, wet wipes, dish towels, garbage can and bags, signage (just “Free Pie” works well). 


3. Promote your event through social media, email, etc. Tell everyone to spread the word. Include details like time, place, and the reason/cause for your giveaway.


4. During the giveaway, interact with people and let them tell you their stories. Pie always gets people to talk and that is the point—to create community, to unite us, to heal us. 

You may also want to read this post from 2107:  What To Do With All That Privilege

Minneapolis Pie Giveaway — Sunday, May 31, 2020

Reading the news this morning provoked the same reaction I had after the Sandy Hook shooting — I cannot just sit here and feel outraged; I NEED TO DO SOMETHING

This is why I’m on my way to Minneapolis to coordinate a pie giveaway on SUNDAY. 

Why pie? Because sharing pie is sharing peace, comfort, kindness, love, inclusivity, generosity. 

Pie is also about building community. And to accomplish this effort we need pies! A lot of pies! While I wish we could gather together and bake as a group, the coronavirus prevents us from doing that. Instead, we can bake pies from the safety of our own homes. Giving away pie is a small thing we can do but it’s a positive thing — baking pies will get you away from the news and into the kitchen to make something to share with others. It’s a win-win and a salve for the soul.


For those of you in the Minneapolis/St Paul area who want to donate pies (or help hand out free slices), we have 2 designated pie drop-off locations. 


PIE DROP-OFF LOCATIONS: 

PIE AND MIGHTY, 3553 CHICAGO AVENUE SOUTH
(https://www.pieandmightymsp.com/contacthttps://www.pieandmightymsp.com/contact)  
Drop-off hours are Saturday 9AM to 2PM. 

EDEN PRAIRIE DROP-OFF LOCATION: 9416 Clubhouse Road, Eden Prairie, MN

Anything you want to do to help is appreciated. The word from my friends in the area is that the atmosphere is turning more positive, that there are many people out and about, some offering food, others helping with cleanup, many paying respects at the George Floyd memorial site.

When baking, please note that pie dishes will not be returned (disposable aluminum dishes work well). Refrigeration is not available so no cream or custard pies. (Fruit pies, like apple, travel best.) And please have your pie covered when dropping it off (tin foil, plastic wrap, a box.)


Donated MASKS would also be appreciated as we can hand them out to people who don’t have them along with slices of pie.


PLEASE SHARE THIS POST. And please let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas to help make this effort the most generous and helpful it can be. Every little thing, every homemade pie, helps make the world a better place. Thank you!


#BlackLivesMatter #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #Pieequalspeace #Pieislove #Baketheworldabetterplace

Introducing Farm Week at Camp Doug(h) – Sign up now!

Iowa is considered the Heartland of America. Zoom in a little closer, to the southeast corner where the Iowa, Illinois and Missouri borders meet, and you will find Camp Doug(h). Previously known to Doug’s friends as Camp Doug, the (h) was added when Beth moved as a nod to her baking.

Beth Howard and Doug Seyb

Camp Doug(h) is part of a 1,000-acre Century Farm, owned and operated by the Seyb Family for over 100 years. It is a fully operational working farm with corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, cattle, and pigs. Here, they still do many things the old-fashioned way, like baling hay into square bales and stacking them in the barn loft. There are planted fields of crops that grow taller than your head in rich, black soil. There are forests of cedar, maple, oak, hedge, and birch. There are ponds and creeks noisy with croaking frogs, pastures filled with cows peacefully grazing, and skies, free from light pollution, so black at night it’s easy to see shooting stars—and hear hooting owls. Iowa is understatedly picturesque and it’s not all flat! The landscape and its gently rolling hills are what inspired Grant Wood’s famous works of art.

Sleep in a 100-year-old farmhouse!
Cuddle baby pigs!

Come see for yourself during a farm immersion hosted by farmer Doug Seyb and author Beth Howard.

There are two farmhouses on the property with accommodations, including 2 guest rooms in Doug and Beth’s house and a bunkhouse-style set up in what was Doug’s parents’ house.

To give you the best, most immersive experience, we are starting out with only 4 participants per session, though we can go up to 8 in the future.

All meals are provided—including wine, whisky, coffee and espresso drinks—except for the 2 nights we go out for dinner. (Our local spots are cheap and casual. You’d be amazed at how far $10 will go!) While our growing season is too short to do 100% farm to table, the food we prepare will include as many ingredients from the farm as possible.

Eat farm-to-table meals outdoors by candlelight!



Spots are limited, so reserve yours now.

Contact us.



CLASSES  

Pie (taught by Beth, for fruit and cream pies)

Quilting (make your own pillow cover)

Artisan bread making (make rustic-style crusty wholegrain bread)

Rug weaving (make your own hand-woven rug)

Do goat yoga!


EXERCISE AND ACTIVITIES

Hiking in Shimek Forest and other nearby reserves

Kayaking and canoeing on Des Moines River and Skunk
River (weather permitting)

Yoga (Here’s your chance to try goat yoga! Or piglet yoga!)

Biking (mountain bikes and beach cruisers available)

Go canoeing!

Swim in the ponds

Writing/Journaling

Walks around the farm fields and trails

Wildflower walk (April—June)

Mushroom picking (April)

Arrowhead and artifact hunting

Fishing

Dive into the pond!

Feed the goats!







Sit by the fire!








FARM EXPERIENCES

Cuddle with baby pigs

Tour the farm on a side-by-side (think 4WD golf cart)

Feed the cows

Ride on a tractor or combine

Feed the goats

Ride a bike and pick rhubarb for pie!

FARM TO TABLE MEALS (*must love meat!)

Pork chops
T-bone steaks
Hamburgers
Sausage
Bacon
Farm fresh eggs (from our neighbors)
Fish (blue gill from our ponds)
Garden produce (when in season, canned when not)
Homemade bread
Homemade pie
S’mores around the bonfire

SHOPPING AND SIGHTSEEING

Visit to the American Gothic House (have your photo taken in costumes in front of the house featured in Grant Wood’s iconic painting)

Drive through the Villages of Van Buren County (bucolic scenery in authentic, non-touristy Amish country)

Shop at the Dutchman’s Store (an old-fashioned general store run by Mennonites)
Taste cheese at Milton Creamery (a small cheese factory run by Mennonites)

Eat at a rural tavern and eat a plate-size pork tenderloin sandwich (an Iowa specialty)

Watch the barges go through the locks on the Mississippi River (in winter, watch bald eagles fishing)

Listen to live Americana folk music (we have a variety of rural venues)

Help herd cattle!













FURTHER AFIELD 

Hannibal, Missouri (visit Mark Twain’s birthplace)

Saint Louis, Missouri (The Arch, good BBQ, and major league baseball)

Fairfield, Iowa (Home of Transcendental Meditation/Maharishi University)

Iowa City, Iowa (UNESCO City of Literature)

OUR CLOSEST AIRPORTS

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CID) – 1-1/2 hours

Moline, Illinois (MLI) – 2 hours

Des Moines, Iowa (DSM) – 2-1/2 hours

St. Louis, Missouri (STL) – 3 hours

For more details and to book your stay, contact us here.

Ride on the side-by-side and swim in the pond!

The Winners of the Ms. American Pie Cookbook Giveaway

And the winners of the three Ms. American Pie cookbooks are….

1. Larry’s Photos
2. Karen Wirima
3. Jane Adams

Winners, please email me with your contact details.  beth (at) theworldneedsmorepie (dot) com

CONGRATS!

And if you didn’t win, I’ll do another giveaway in a few months. But you can always buy the book — available everywhere online and in stores at Barnes & Noble, and many other booksellers nationwide.

Original contest post is here: http://theworldneedsmorepie.blogspot.com/2015/03/win-copy-of-ms-american-pie.html

Win a copy of Ms. American Pie!

To celebrate National Pi Day, which was 2 days ago, and, well, “just because,” we’re giving away THREE copies of my cookbook, “Ms. American Pie.” And it’s ridiculously easy to win. Just write your name in the comment field below. Cut off time for entering is Friday, March 20 at Noon PT (3PM ET). Check back on Friday at 2PM PT/5PM ET and we’ll have the 3 winners posted.

If you already have my cookbook (or my memoir, “Making Piece,”) I’d love it if you would post a review on Amazon or Goodreads or, hey, wherever you like. Your comments are appreciated.

A peek inside the book…and when you get the book you
get a peek inside the American Gothic House
The book is full of easy recipes. Really easy.
Even I can make them!


World’s easiest pie to make: Coconut Custard.
Recipe is on page 125 of my cookbook.

The world needs more pie. Make enough for everyone.

If pie makes people happy, then pie cookbooks
make people REALLY happy. 
Blueberry crumble baby. Okay, so maybe a little brown,
but pie is not about perfection!

More happy people — made happier by making their own pie.
I’m teaching classes again — now in Los Angeles.
Click on this link for details.

Of course the best part, besides sharing your homemade pie,
is getting to enjoy a slice yourself!

Remember, leave your name in the comment field below and check back here on Friday to see if you won. Winners will be picked in a drawing and posted here on the blog. If you won, you’ll need to send me your full name and mailing address. And if you don’t win, well, you can always buy the cookbook. I won’t mind. Better yet, you’ll be glad you did. 

Finding Forgiveness in the Face of a Christmas Tragedy

Death is not a fun or festive topic to bring up at the holidays, but death—and sometimes tragedy—does not elude us regardless of the season.

Two years ago I drove my RV to Newtown, Connecticut to make and deliver homemade pies to the grieving community after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-six people in the school, most of them around the tender age of six, were killed by a lone—and lonely—mentally ill gunman.

The story rocked the nation—distressed by the senseless loss of innocence. It was so blatantly wrong. So deeply troubling. It was impossible for me to sit with the sadness, the outrage and the overwhelming compassion, so much so that I got up from my desk, loaded up my pie-making supplies in the RV, and headed 1,000 miles east from Iowa to Newtown. I spent a full week away—several days in Flanders, New Jersey, where my friend Janice had organized what ended up being 60 volunteers in her neighborhood, and then several days in Newtown, where we handed out apple pie to a community hungry for comfort and support. Our gesture was in the form of food, food made with heart containing the intangible ingredient of love. It felt good to help. To not just read about it and sit alone with feelings of frustration, but to get involved, to actually do something.

It’s exactly two years later and I just moved from Iowa to Redondo Beach, California, so I could be nearer to my parents. (It is also very nice to be nearer to the beach.) I just settled into an apartment about 15 minutes away from theirs.

On Wednesday night, December 17, I spent the evening with my parents at their place. (I never turn down my mom’s cooking so I’m eating there nearly every night.) I was driving home after dinner around 10PM and my route along Pacific Coast Highway was blocked off by police cars, their emergency lights flashing red and blue in the darkness. I followed the other cars around that section of the three-block detour, but managed to catch a glimpse of the police scene. It appeared to be a car accident. Three cars were wedged together, their metal hoods buckled, in the middle of the highway. A team was surrounding it, measuring and documenting. I noted the Channel 5 news truck parked to the side. I continued on to my place, turned on the lights in my living room, and called my mom to let her know I made it home safely (a courtesy ingrained from the time I got my drivers license.) “Turn on the news to Channel 5, mom,” I told her. “There was an accident on PCH and it must have been bad.”

She called back a few minutes later. It was worse than bad. A 56-year-old woman, apparently intoxicated, ran a red light, drove around some stopped cars, and mowed down 12 people in a crosswalk who were just leaving a Christmas concert at St. James Catholic Church. The woman kept driving and only stopped when she plowed head-on into another car. All 12, plus the drunk driver and the driver of the car she hit, were injured. Or dead.

My heart crumpled into what felt like a wad of wrapping paper as I heard the news. Those poor people. Families coming out of a church Christmas concert. The definition of innocence—and the instant loss of it. It felt like Newtown all over again. Only this time a car was the weapon. Two of the people killed were grandmothers. One was a 36-year-old mother. The next day that mother’s six-year-old boy died from his injuries. He never had a chance. The child had been pinned under the tires of one of the cars. Some of the others injured are still in the hospital, several in serious condition.

Mine wasn’t the only heart to break over this story. The tragedy made international news, news that I was following closely, refreshing my news app every hour to see if anything more was known, anything that would help make sense of this otherwise mind-bending senselessness. Just how drunk was this woman? Did she have a driving record? How could this have happened? More importantly, how does a community recover? And what could I do to help? Make pie?

I was back at my parents for dinner last night, a Sunday. The topic of the tragedy came up again, what the media is calling the “Christmas concert crash.” I hadn’t told my mom how deeply I was still feeling for these Redondo Beach residents and their loss, and how I was wondering why it was still bothering me so much. Was it because it was in my own new neighborhood? Or because I came upon the site just two hours after it happened? Were the departed souls still at the scene and I was feeling their presence? Was it the knowledge from my own tragic losses of my late husband 5 years ago and my daughter-like dog, Daisy, only 5 weeks ago?

I wish I didn’t know what grief feels like, but I do. Which is why when grief strikes others in that sudden and unexpected way, my compassion escalates, soars. I have to be mindful not to take on others’ pain as if it were my own.

My mom goes to church at St. James, where the tragedy happened. She had been to noon mass yesterday and gave us the recap over dinner last night. “Father Francis’s eyes were very red. He looked so tired,” she started off. “He must be under so much stress. His sermon was very good. He talked about what happened. There had been a thousand people at the Christmas concert that night.”

I put my fork down, swallowed my bite of ravioli, and told her, “I noticed on my way over here that the shrine of flowers is gone. I thought that was very strange that they would remove it.” I was referring to the sidewalk in front of the church where mourners had left bouquets of flowers and teddy bears and candles. Collections of mementos like these serve as a public sympathy card and the bigger the pile of flowers and bears—the more signatures squeezed onto the card, so to speak—the more people care. (Newtown had so many flowers and teddy bears they had to hire moving trucks and warehouse space.)

“No, it’s still there. They had to move it,” my mom said. “It got so big it was blocking the sidewalk and people were having to stand in the street. With all the traffic it was too dangerous. They moved all the flowers to the church steps so people would also have a place to sit. The priest talked about it. He told a story about a florist who delivered a professional flower arrangement someone had sent. She wasn’t sure where to leave it as she had never been asked to deliver flowers to a street before. She was really choked up by it and Father Francis had to console her. He was already consoling all his parishioners, and he was grieving himself, but he gave the florist a hug.” My mom smiled warmly as she retold the story.

“I keep thinking about the woman driver,” I said. “I can’t believe she pleaded not-guilty.” The arraignment had been on Friday. “Why couldn’t she have said ‘Yes, I caused this. I am so very, very sorry. I accept the consequences of my actions.’ Why couldn’t she just be honest?”

Why can’t people admit fault? Why was her lawyer telling her not to speak? Instead he spoke for her, shooting poison arrows at empty excuses like, ‘Her brakes might have failed’ and ‘Her prescription medication might have been off.” Why do we have a legal system that doesn’t allow for integrity? If she could have simply said, “I’m sorry,” wouldn’t that help everyone in the aftermath? Wouldn’t that allow the families of the victims to move forward in their grieving process instead of being dragged down with legal battles? Wouldn’t the driver then be able to also move forward with her own life, a life that no matter how she pleads is forever changed. Whether in prison or free, she will carry the burden of ending four lives and altering the lives of countless others in that irreversible act, that one disastrous moment. At least one can hope she is cognizant enough to recognize how far-reaching and fatal the situation.

As if reading my ongoing thoughts, my mom continued, “Father Francis also preached about forgiveness. He even mentioned the driver by name: Margo.”


Forgiveness. Yes. Bad things happen. This Christmas carol crash happened. Sandy Hook happened. Marcus’s ill-formed heart causing a ruptured aorta happened. Daisy’s coyote attack happened. But the priest is right. The only path to compassion, the only real way to heal, is to forgive. And to accept that death, no matter how untimely or how tragic, will always, always, always be a part of life.

I’m going to drive over to St. James Church this afternoon (before I go over to my parents for dinner.) I’m bringing flowers and candles. My offerings may be less impactful or nourishing than the 250 apple pies we delivered to Newtown, but nothing could be greater or more well meaning than the prayer of love and forgiveness in my heart.

NOTE: St. James Church has set up a victims fund for the families. Click here to help:  https://donations.la-archdiocese.org/sjvf/

An Ode to My Four Years in Iowa (AViD Speech, 12 August 2014)

Four years ago almost to the day I arrived in Des Moines Iowa for the first time in 30 years.

I was born and raised in Iowa. I was born in Ottumwa and lived there until I was 12. Then we moved to Davenport where I graduated early from high school at 17 and announced that I was never coming back.

I went to college in Olympia, Washington, and went on to have a zillion different careers — coffee entrepreneur, public relations, journalism writing for magazines, web producer. My jobs took me all over the world but never back to Iowa.

Four years ago — August 2010 — was the one year anniversary of my husband Marcus’s sudden and unexpected death. He died of a ruptured aorta. He was 43. I gave myself one year to grieve. I was living in Portland Oregon. When that year was up I decided I needed to be somewhere else, somewhere grounding and nurturing on the one-year anniversary of his death. There was only one place I wanted to be. And that was Iowa. I had childhood memories of summer — the smell of freshly cut grass, the sight of puffy white clouds against an expansive blue sky, and the feel of how the humidity warms the bones. Oregon summers were too cold and rainy for me.

I would go to Iowa, I had determined, but what would I do?  Well, the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death happened to coincide with the Iowa State fair. And the Iowa State fair is synonymous with pie. I don’t know about the pie competition specifically, but the food competition at the Iowa State fair is the biggest of all state fairs. I volunteered to be a pie judge.

I had long been involved in pie and it featured prominently in my life. I always tell the story that I was born because of pie. How when my mom and dad were dating in Milwaukee Wisconsin my mom knew that my dad’s favorite pie with banana cream. So she invited him over for dinner one night. Though in Iowa it’s not called dinner, it’s called supper. I learned that the hard way. Anyway, my mom invited my dad over for supper and she made him tuna casserole, Jell-O salad, and a homemade banana cream pie. That pie prompted him to propose to her. My parents are here tonight by the way. They are still married. And my mom still makes my dad banana cream pie. And that tells you something that the power of pie.

I didn’t learn to make pie from my mom. I learned when I was 17 and on a bicycle trip down the West coast.  My biking friend and I came upon what appeared to be an abandoned orchard somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula and stopped to help ourselves to a free snack. An old man stormed out of the house and after he got done yelling at us realized we were just nice kids from Iowa. Turns out he was a retired pastry chef from the Merchant Marines. He invited us into his house and taught us how to make apple pie.

I made many pies after that — not all of them good. My crust was practically inedible it was so hard. I was guilty of overworking the dough. But I still managed to impress prospective husbands.

I had a dot com job in 1999 and 2000, where I worked 16-hour days in front of a computer. It was this job that inadvertently turned me into a full-time pie baker. I got up the courage to quit my six-figure job and told my bosses I wanted to go do something with my hands, that I wanted to engage my senses, that I wanted to make pie. And that’s what I did. I moved from San Francisco back to Los Angeles and got a job at a gourmet take out called Mary’s Kitchen.

I had heard about Mary’s, located in Malibu. It was new and it was supposed to have great pie.  I went there to check it out and they didn’t have any pie. I asked why and they said “We’re too busy to make any.”  So I said — I blurted out — “I’ll make it for you.”  And they asked, “Well, what are your qualifications.” And I said, “I’m from Iowa.” And I got hired. I worked there for a year and learned to make all kinds of pies. But apparently I still hadn’t gotten the knack of the seduction pie because for all the pies I made for Robert Downey Jr.  he still didn’t ask me out on a date.  Could have been because he was in rehab at the time.

It was during my pie baking job in Malibu when I met Marcus. I made him a pie — a pie that prompted him to propose me to — it was apple — and we got married. We lived in Germany, Portland, Mexico, and then he died. We were married six years.

So after that year of grieving, after taking the road trip from Portland to Iowa,  after the state fair that August of 2010 — after judging something like 17 different categories of pie and eating hundreds of bites of pie — and sorry to say, not all of it was good pie —I drove 90 miles southeast of Des Moines down to my birthplace of Ottumwa. I figured I wasn’t going to be back in Iowa again anytime soon — if ever — so I should go see all my old childhood haunts.

I drove all over Ottumwa, emailing pictures from my phone to my family as I navigated the town. And then I got back on the highway — the FOUR LANE as they so proudly call it— and was on my way to Davenport to see our other family homes, as well as my high school, the one I got kicked out of — and then I saw a road sign.  It said “AMERICAN GOTHIC HOUSE, 6 MILES.”  I had no idea the house was there — just 15 miles from my birthplace. Of course I had heard of it. And I knew the famous painting of the couple with the pitchfork — I even knew the painting was by Norman Rockwell.

[I had to pause here for the uproarious laughter.]

And, yes, I know — now — that the painting is by Grant Wood.

I pulled into the visitor center parking lot and it was love at first sight. The little white house was recognizable in an instant. It looked exactly like in the painting, with the famous Gothic window. It looked really small. Like a doll house. Built on a movie set. I loved not just the house but all the open land surrounding it, a green park-like setting. I went into the museum and learned that the house was a rental — and  looking at the museum timeline saw that the last tenant had been there two years previously. I started asking questions. I got the phone number for the landlord — the house is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa — and two weeks later I moved in.

I thought I would live in the house for maybe three months. But that detour, that fork on the road, has lasted four years.

I spent the first few months — after scrubbing the house to the bone — it hadn’t been lived in in over two years and the spiders and mice had moved in — making pie. I opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand as a fluke, a little side job to keep me busy and help me engage not only with the tourists but the community. I never expected to stay for the winter — I thought I would visit my parents in Southern California — but I survived the subzero temps and the deep snow. Even without winter tires on my Mini Cooper. Of course I learned my lesson and have a set of winter tires now.  Mainly, I spent the first winter writing my memoir, “Making Piece.” I sat at my kitchen table wearing my fleece pants and Ugg boots, drinking lattes, and writing writing writing. I am always amazed that I possess such discipline. It’s true what they say, if you want to write a book, you have to be able to keep your butt in the chair.

I continued running the Pitchfork Pie Stand, but only in the summers. I did it for the next four summers, including the first half of this one. And it grew and grew and grew — until it outgrew my tiny little kitchen in my tiny little house.

It grew past my ability to haul 50-pound bags of flour and sugar, and hundreds of pounds of apples, peaches, strawberries, and the like.

It grew beyond the capacity of table space. I sacrificed both my living room and my office for the pie stand. We pushed furniture against the walls to make space for the folding tables where we could roll dough and assemble pies.

I moved my oven to the back porch to make more space in the kitchen, and to keep the house from getting too hot from all that oven heat.

The pie stand grew too big for the customers, who lined up out the door and all the way down the sidewalk.

And it grew beyond my ability to be NICE. I was so exhausted and stressed trying to get all those pies made — over a hundred pies, weekend after weekend — that I finally decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.

A lot of people have been disappointed about this. My buttery good pie had turned the American Gothic House into a popular destination for pie lovers. Too popular.  But fear not, I say! I wrote a second book — this time a cookbook, called “Ms. American Pie” — and in it are all the recipes from my pie stand and more. So you can make your own.  Or as I have been known to say, “Make your own damn pie.” I even had t-shirts made that say this. Much to my mother’s disapproval.

In fact there are recipes in the book from the Iowa State Fair — from bakers whose pies I had tasted when I was a pie judge four years ago.  Pies by blue ribbon winners like Kathleen Beebout and Lana Ross. There is even a whole chapter called “Pies to Compete in the Iowa State Fair.” Bringing life around full circle, we are sponsoring a pie contest tomorrow at the state fair — it’s at 2PM in the Elwell Family Food Center — and contestants have to make a pie from the state fair chapter of my cookbook.

But in the cookbook there are also other chapters — like 100 Reasons not to open a Pie Stand (just kidding), Pies to Seduce — starring my mom’s banana cream pie recipe — and Pies to Heal.

I got an email last night from a Facebook follower who asked me “What kind of pie should I make to honor Robin Williams? I am feeling so sad.” I didn’t really know what to say — even though I wrote an entire memoir about this subject and several essays in my cookbook. I finally told her apple. I like making apple pie because having to peel and slice the apples slows me down and I find the process meditative and soothing. I told her that when Nora Ephron died I was sad about the world losing such a great talent. So I made an apple pie and cut out extra dough to add her initials on top. Making that pie did provide solace and it did make me feel like I was honoring her and I highly recommend doing this and then sharing it with someone. Because there’s not just comfort in pie, but comfort in community.

It doesn’t matter what kind of pie you make — and whether that pie is to heal or comfort or say thank you or seduce or to compete in a state fair. The point is that there is value in making your own pie, in taking the time to create something from scratch, using your own hands, putting your heart and soul into your work, sending loving thoughts into that pie for the person you’re making it for.

In a few days it will be the five-year anniversary of my husband’s death. I am still here in Iowa. I am still appreciating the smell of the freshly cut grass and the huge blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.  I am still soothed by how the humidity warms my bones.

I am not grieving the way I was when I arrived back here four years ago. I have come a very long way in my journey. I spent more nights than I care to think about bawling my eyes out in my bed — my bed that sits directly behind the lace curtain that covers that famous Gothic window. But the peace and quiet that house offered me for writing — and the appreciative pie-loving visitors it offered me during my pie stand seasons — have been an ideal combination to help me get my balance back. My heart will never be completely healed but I’ve learned a hugely important lesson — that giving of yourself to make others feel better in turn makes you feel better. And when pie is part of that giving, well, it’s guaranteed to make everyone feel especially good.

The Adventures of The Pie Lady — A Cartoon Strip by Dave Pittman

Artists give the BEST birthday presents ever. This cartoon strip is by the brilliantly talented Dave Pittman. He captured every single detail so perfectly — down to Daisy’s hair, the Mini Cooper loaded to the max, Jack hogging the front seat, The Binoculars, the snake (he’s there twice, can you find him?), my “creative use of language,” and more. I’m hoping I don’t have to wait for another birthday for the next installment. Seriously, drawing a picture and giving it as a gift brings even more happiness than a homemade pie! And it lasts a lot longer. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Dave.