Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rescuing The Beast -- and Revisiting its History

Today I was planning on writing about the evolution of a logo — the World Piece logo, which turned out so beautifully thanks to a certain artist friend who you’ve previously read about on this blog. But the day didn’t go exactly as I had planned. And instead of the logo I can’t stop thinking instead about the evolution of my RV, affectionately known as The Beast.

My parents drove me to Pasadena this afternoon to pick up the RV — more like rescue it — from a distant and dismal parking lot where it has been sitting, neglected, abandoned, like an old friend who no longer serves a purpose in your life, since I arrived in LA in late November.

When I left it there five months ago, I had parked it wedged awkwardly and tightly in between a rusty Jeep Cherokee with a broken windshield and four flat tires and a semi truck—just the tractor part—which was shiny and new-looking with no apparent reason to be unused. I never felt good about leaving it there. But at 50 bucks a month for RV parking in SoCal, well, I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere, not even close. And believe me, I looked.
I wasn't exaggerating when I said it was wedged in there.

When I arrived in LA this past November, I had been anxious to get away from The Beast. After driving it from Iowa to Dallas, towing my car behind it for the first time, my nerves were shot. It’s one thing to drive a 24-foot RV, but to add another 10 feet with your precious little Mini Cooper bouncing around behind? No, that was too much for me. I marvel at those giant bus-type RVs that tow big Jeeps behind, driven by senior citizens, no less. How do they manage?!

Worse, no sooner did I arrive in Dallas, Daisy was killed in a coyote attack and Jack was wounded. No way was I going to stay there so I had to hook up the Mini to the back of the RV again. This time I enlisted a friend to drive it for me. I sat in the back during the 3-day trip west, holding vigil over a swollen and bandaged Jack, crying about Daisy, and playing endless games of Solitaire to keep my nerves from breaking down completely.

By the time I got to LA I had sworn that no only was I never going to drive the RV again, I was going to sell it. Forget the emotional ties and its rich history, that the RV was Marcus’s dream, that it symbolized me facing my fears after he died. I was done with it. After putting 40,000 miles on it, I had reached my limit.

Not only had my nerves been tested, so had my budget. The list of things needing repair was growing, along with the leak in the roof that no amount of caulking could stop.

I cleaned out the RV, emptying it of every single personal item and gave it a deep scrub. I bought a “For Sale” sign at the hardware store and taped it into the window. I posted an ad on Craigslist. I announced it on Facebook. But there were no takers. Not even one nibble from Craigslist. So it has just stayed in Pasadena, alone, all winter.

Until today.

"There she is. Miss America." The Beast looks like a
beauty queen next to all the other vehicles.
When we arrived at the parking lot I spotted it right away. The “Pie Across the Nation” decals made The Beast stand out like a sophisticated beauty among the derelict cars and trucks. My heart ached a little, my guilt flared. Why had I been so anxious to be rid of this sweet house on wheels? It had carried me far, and safely. It was an important part of my life.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition. It started on the first try. I could hear my dad outside. “Good job, Boo!” he cheered. Besides my mom and dad, there were a few other people in the lot so I had extra eyes to help direct me out of the tight parking spot.

Once I was on the highway, the anticipation I had been feeling on the way to Pasadena dissipated. I haven’t driven the RV for five months. I wasn’t sure I would feel comfortable driving it again. Especially through downtown LA traffic. Ah, but just like that very first time I drove it five years ago in Oregon, all those imagined fears vanished the minute I started moving.

The fears vanished and the memories flooded in. As I drove The Beast back to my guesthouse in Palos Verdes, I had a full hour to reflect on its chronology. Emotional ties and rich history might be an understatement.

The History of The Beast

2008  


Spring of 2008, Marcus bought the RV from a coworker, thus taking a step toward fulfilling his “European dream” of touring America’s national parks. That June he drove it to his new job post in Saltillo, Mexico, towing his BMW motorcycle behind in a Wells Cargo trailer. The roads in Mexico are not exactly “smooth” so we didn’t take the road-trip adventures we had planned. We did have a great weekend driving The Beast to Real de Catorce. We couldn’t drive through the tunnel into the mountain town, so we slept in the RV outside of town and took a taxi into the village. And we got a flat tire on the way back. After that the RV sat in front of our house on the pecan farm. We didn’t know it but there was a leak in the roof…
Happy Campers.
Marcus and Daisy in Del Rio, Texas (Lake Amistad).
By November, I took a job in LA and Marcus accompanied me up to the Mexican border in the RV (pic above). We camped at Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas. We had just found Daisy and I was taking her with me to the US. We had a fun weekend with the newly formed “Team Terrier,” swimming in the lake, BBQing, and making lattes in the RV. That was the moment I was irreversibly hooked on RV camping.

 Over Christmas, Marcus drove the RV from Mexico to LA bringing some furniture for me to use in the studio apartment I rented.

2009 


In May of 2009, Marcus’s Mexican stint ended and he was transferred to Germany. He packed the trailer with our furniture and drove the RV back to Portland, stopping to spend several days with me in LA on the way. He started shopping around for a trade-in on the RV, as he wanting a smaller, newer one, the kind built on a Sprinter van chassis. Even though he was moving back to Germany he wanted to keep an RV in the US. I supported him in his dream. He took the RV to a small dealer outside of Portland where The Beast was for sale on consignment. Marcus died in August. The Beast stayed at that dealer’s lot until I picked it up a few months later.

In the fall I loaned the RV to some German friends who took it to the Oregon coast.

In December, I drove it for the first time — all the way to Los Angeles. It was so much easier to drive than I ever expected. I actually liked driving it, which made me feel VERY guilty because I had growled to Marcus that I would never, ever drive it.
Driving to Arizona, Dec. 2009. No wonder I was afraid to drive the RV!
You never know what dangers lurk out there in the desert.

I spent the Christmas holiday of 2009 in the RV, driving to Arizona through one of the worst windstorms in history. But by god, I held onto the steering wheel and had a safe passage. The news the next day told of countless semis and RVs that had overturned in the wind. But I had prevailed. And though I was visiting friends and family in Arizona I loved having the cocoon of the RV, my own private sanctuary to read and rest, to write in my journal, snuggle with my dogs, and make my lattes in the mornings.

2010


In January, The Beast was used to make a TV pilot (or documentary or web series or whatever). For two weeks I drove all over California with my producer friend Janice, taping stories about pie. We hauled boxes of apples to make pie, then we ferried 50 apple pies around LA, handing them out by the slice for free. (Here’s the sizzle reel on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2GjwZ4--8gM)

I drove the RV round-trip a second time from Portland to LA, this time hauling a motor scooter inside (to use as transportation to get around LA) and drove back with my parents.

The Beast at Crater Lake National Park with my Swiss friend Eve.
Summer of 2010, I moved out of my Portland apartment, put my stuff in storage and headed to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair. The RV went to LA, driven by my friend from Switzerland, Eve, and her daughters. In an ironic (bittersweet) twist, the RV got to stop at Crater Lake National Park, where Marcus and I met in 2001.

Eve left the RV with my brother Mike, who used it for surf weekends. And as a scaffolding for painting murals with his non-profit Operation Clean Slate.
Turns out, the RV makes a good ladder. 

2011


The RV spent a whole year with my brother in Costa Mesa, California. I had promised to bring it to Iowa, but kept putting it off. Until Mike got a warning from the police that it was time to move The Beast, or else.  So the summer of 2011 my friend Patti’s husband Terry drove the RV back from the west coast to Iowa. And that’s when The Beast became both a guest room and a privacy fence at the American Gothic House.
RVs make good privacy fences.
I had a boyfriend “H” that fall (alas, short lived with a bad ending). We loaded the RV with Team Terrier, plus his dog (a chow) and his guinea pig (not kidding), and drove the RV to South Dakota. We visited Mount Rushmore and the Badlands — and ate donuts at Wall Drug. Marcus had bought the RV to visit the national parks. I could never have imagined I would be carrying on his dream without him. And with someone else.

2012

My book, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie,” came out April 1, 2012. Given that the RV featured prominently in my story, it was fitting that the RV be used for a book tour. So The Beast got outfitted with some nifty pie decals, fueled up with gas, and Team Terrier and I set off cross-country on a six-week tour.  Iowa City, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Orlando, Austin, Jefferson (TX) — the tour was so grueling I ended up in the ER with tendonitis in my neck. No fault of the RV; traveling with my own down-filled bed in the back of the RV made the trip really comfortable. (The neck problem came from the red-eye flight I took from San Diego to Orlando mid-tour.)
Before
After
Not only did the ER visit set me back six figures, the RV needed new brakes. So while in Seattle, we spent a $1000 day at Les Schwab getting new rotors. Fun times.

The Beast became a kind of celebrity, appearing in many TV news segments and articles. Tourists who came to get pie at the Pitchfork Pie Stand liked to walk around to the back of the house where the RV was parked so they could take pictures of it. Who cares about the American Gothic House when you can pose in front of The Beast!

That June, I spent my 50th birthday in the RV, camping at a nearby rural Iowa lake to have a night of solitude and welcome my new decade quietly.


That July, Kyle Munson, the Des Moines Register columnist, used the RV for his team’s support vehicle during the weeklong bike ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI.

Delivering pie to Newtown.
Pie delivery vehicle (aka The Beast) in background. 
In December 2012, after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the RV served its greatest mission yet. We drove from Iowa to Janice’s house in New Jersey (the same Janice with whom we shot the pie documentary), and rallied 60 volunteers to make 250 homemade apple pies. We then loaded up the RV — and it was REALLY loaded — and drove the pies up to Newtown where we handed out free slices and free pies to bring kindness and comfort to the grieving community. I have never been so grateful for that RV and what it made possible. People wrote me letters later saying how seeing "the Pie Truck" in their town gave them a sense of hope and joy amidst the sorrow.

2013


Not only did the RV make an excellent (and well used) guest room — and privacy fence to shield us from the prying eyes of The Binoculars next door—the refrigerator in The Beast also served as overflow storage for my pie stand ingredients.

In September, I drove the RV to LA — just for a respite after a very demanding summer with the Pitchfork Pie Stand (and another failed attempt at a relationship) —and was planning on staying in LA for a month, maybe two. I fell in love with an artist from Iowa, who lived in Pasadena, and two months turned into six. That’s when I found the $50 parking lot in Pasadena. But at least I was close by and could periodically check on The Beast’s well being.

2014

Book Tour #2! In April, The Beast got a new battery, an oil change, and some updated decals with my new book cover and tour dates. I set off from LA to Arizona. Then Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Des Moines, and home to Eldon, Iowa. This tour was a more manageable three weeks. No ER visits. No breakdowns, mechanical or otherwise. Just lots of pie. The RV made more TV appearances, in every stop.
A book tour stop in Texas.

Once back in Eldon, the RV resumed its duties as guest room and privacy fence. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It got a lot of use!

Looking out the RV window at Dockweiler.
In September, I moved out of the American Gothic House. (Some people were very happy about this. Others, not so much.) I moved the RV to a friend’s farm and used it as a guest room for myself until the weather started turning cold. By November I was determined to head south for the winter. The RV and I have that in common: we don’t like winter. I decided on Dallas. Which we know now was a Very. Bad. Decision. Not knowing where else to go, I hobbled back to LA. Again. When I first arrived, I camped at Dockweiler Beach State Park. It’s the closest I could legally camp near the beach and still be close to my parents. The park, located directly beneath the LAX flight path, has a three-week limit. Not to mention, it cost $60 a night. But I was in such a down state I could not put a price on my mental health. I stayed the maximum allotted time.

The beach can be so soothing to the soul (when jets are not passing overhead). I spent HOURS lying in that cozy nest of down comforters and pillows in the back of the RV, listening to the ocean waves and petting Jack's belly as I grieved the loss of Daisy.

Exactly six years after Marcus and I camped in Del Rio, Texas in December of 2008 with our newly adopted member of Team Terrier, I had lost both Marcus and Daisy. I still had Jack. And I still had The Beast.

2015

I rented a sweet, quiet, sunny apartment in Palos Verdes. Sadly, the parking situation could not accommodate a 24-foot RV for a long-term stay. After calling around and not finding any RV parking for under $200, I went back to Pasadena to the old lot I had used last year. And that’s where it stayed for five months.

I thought I was done with The Beast. I thought it was time to let it go. Retire it. Sell it. Let someone else enjoy it. But I was so happy to be driving it today. I was so filled with big, life-affirming memories. And instead of feeling like I wanted to be rid of it, I felt the sense of possibility, that with a little TLC—and money—I could tackle some of those repairs, breathe some new life into it, have some new adventures.

Luckily, I don’t have to decide right now. I am buying myself a little more time. The RV will go back to my brother’s in Costa Mesa for the summer while I am traveling around the world. It will have another stint as weekend surfer camper. And I will have the peace of mind in knowing that it is getting good use, having a happy time by the beach, and not sitting abandoned in a distant parking lot.

For the next few days though, I have it parked outside my apartment, where I can wipe off the dust, wash the windows, and appreciate what an incredible history we have shared.

I am already picturing how nice the RV would look with the World Piece logo….


Sunday, May 3, 2015

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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why It Pays to Resist Your 'Inner Pig Dog'

Redondo Beach, 23 April 2015, Me with local resident Nina and Aussie adventurer Rob

I had one of those days today, the kind where I had to fight off my resistance to getting out of the house. I had to take my Mini in for its third service in three weeks, but what I really wanted was to just stay home in my pajamas, drink my latte, and catch up on email. I'm driving from California to Iowa mid-May (to drop off Jack at my friend's farm for the summer so I can go on my WORLD PIECE adventure) and the water pump and axle seal had to be replaced. If I didn't do it I might later find myself somewhere in the Nevada desert of Colorado mountains waiting for a tow from AAA.

The resistance to leaving the house was not just that I would have to get dressed (I do my best work in my pajamas) but that I would have to ride my bike home from the mechanic. It's only 6 miles, but the last half of it is uphill.

The Germans have an expression for this kind of resistance: they call it the Innerer Schweinehund. Inner Pig Dog. Which basically just describes your (er, my) lazy, unmotivated self. The hill isn't really that bad. And I have a good bike with good gears. And usually I love riding my bike. Besides, with the clock ticking on my departure date, there was no avoiding -- or even postponing -- the auto shop.

This was how I felt, before I got on my bike.
Do a Google image search for Innerer Schweinehund.
It's interesting (read: disturbing) what you will find.

Once I dropped off my car I realized it was a really nice day for a bike ride. So instead of riding straight home to the south, I headed north. I rode on the bike path up to Playa del Rey, following the ocean the entire time, taking in the sailboats, the seagulls, and was awed when a snowy egret land just inches from me.

Why had I been so resistant? This was a huge treat to be outside, surrounded by nature, feeling the wind in my face, the sun warming my bones.

I stopped to eat a granola bar and watched Massey Ferguson and John Deere tractors raking debris from the sand as if it was a meditation. What first caught my attention was the familiarity of these tractors, their red and green colors identifying their brands, and the contrast of seeing them on a beach instead of on the Iowa farms I was used to. As I sat on a beachside bench I became mesmerized by their slow and steady rhythm, soothed by their repetitive motion as they traveled back and forth in straight lines, smoothing out the beach. My farmer friend, Doug (Jack's future dog sitter), had just sent me a photo taken from his tractor where he was at that very moment making his own back-and-forth lines in Iowa's black soil, planting corn. Making the connection between these two worlds made me feel more connected to myself. This day was definitely going well.
Similar yet different. This is my friend Doug's view from
his tractor while planting corn in Iowa.

I got back on my bike and it only got better.

I spotted a biker on the path with his bicycle loaded with gear -- bulging panniers, a bag hanging over the front bars, and sleeping bag and tent rolled up over the rear wheel. I wondered where he was from and where he was headed. I had a magnetic eye for traveling bikers, drawn to them as I had been one myself, carrying that same kind of gear, when I was 17 and riding down the West coast of Canada and the Pacific Northwest. That was the same trip where I was caught stealing apples at the orchard of a retired pastry chef and learned how to make apple pie. To be on a bicycle is the ultimate way to be open to adventure. You are traveling under your own power. And you are very exposed. It's you and your own strength -- mental and physical -- that moves you along. Through rain. Heat. Headwinds. Traffic. Hills. There is no place for an Innerer Schweinehund on a bike trip.

I was curious about this biker. I was also remembering how while on my own adventures -- biking and otherwise -- I appreciated people offering support. A meal, a shower, a bed, a phone number of someone in the next town, even just some friendly conversation. Reaching out can mean the world to someone who is alone and traveling by their own human-powered engine. So I pedaled to catch up to him and talk.

"Where are you headed? Where are you from? How long are you going to be biking? Where are you going to today?" Poor guy probably just wanted to ride his damn bike but here was this chirpy girl in a blinding orange bike jersey yacking in his ear. But he was willing to answer. From his first word I detected his Australian accent, that pleasant and friendly tone with the soft Rs and drawn out As. Of course this only made me want to hear more.

He was riding across the USA, including Alaska, and he was going to take 12 months to do it. The most amazing thing was that he had just started. He had just landed at LAX, assembled his bicycle, loaded the bags, and I had encountered him on the FIRST MILE of his 6,000-mile trip!

"Do you have a website? A Facebook page? Somewhere people can follow your progress?" I might have been a little overzealous, bordering on interrogating him. Maybe I just seemed, well, American to him.

His name was Rob and, no, he didn't have a website or Facebook page. He had barely had time to get all his gear organized, and any energy that would have gone toward social media was spent trying to navigate the bureaucracy of getting a 12-month US visa. Besides, he said, this trip was for him, to find the "real" Rob.

Yes, I totally understood that.

I've had my own questions about that for my "World Piece" journey. I've had days where I was overwhelmed trying to turn this into a project, when really, my trip was intended to be something personal.  To feed my soul, to help me get "un-lost," to reconnect with that fearless and adventurous girl I used to be, to make myself feel better by giving to others (through making and sharing pie.) Hearing about Rob's lack of need or desire for public sharing of his travels and transformation affirmed my own thoughts: Personal journeys require some privacy. I had already come to the conclusion that not every big, life-altering trip has to be promoted -- or turned into a book. The world is already so noisy. That Rob had opted to travel so humbly and quietly was, frankly, refreshing.  (Don't worry, I'm still going to blog from my travels! I'm a writer; telling stories -- hopefully inspirational ones -- is what I do.)

Rob had just quit his job as a naval engineer, moved out of his apartment in Sydney, and tried to convince his mother that he could go on this bike trip without getting hurt. (To hear that his mom is so caring about her son made me smile.) He is in his early 40s and he had been hearing that compelling voice, perhaps a command from a higher power, telling him, "If not now, when?" Exactly. So here he was. Day One of his 365 day bicycle trip. He left his Innerer Schweinehund  behind in the Australian dust. And now he is living his dream.

We ended up stopping for coffee in Redondo Beach before saying goodbye. A woman we encountered at the cafe, Nina, started asking him about his bike trip. She was so interested and so friendly, we sat with her and talked for nearly an hour until Rob finally said he needed to get moving. He still had 50 miles to ride to his first overnight stop.

Rob and I rode together until my Palos Verdes turnoff, meaning the uphill climb I had been dreading before I left the house that morning took almost no effort at all. We chatted the whole way up. Rob was loaded down with all his gear and wasn't standing up on his pedals, or even breathing hard like I usually am on that climb. This time, as I climbed the hill, I was feeling buoyed, my inner load lightened by the nice surprise of making two new friends. Especially, I was feeling happy that I could make a stranger feel welcome in a country that was new to him. It was a reminder that when I get off the plane in faraway lands this summer, the same can happen to me. There will be good people and new friends in each new place I go.

Because of this bike ride and chance encounter (was it chance?!), I ended up having such a good morning that I didn't even mind when I went to pick up my car and got the bill for $750. Okay, well, maybe that part was a little painful.

The next time the resistance rears its fat and furry head, I will know to kick it to the curb without hesitation. Interesting and inspiring people and adventures are always awaiting. All I have to do is get out of my pajamas.


[CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

World Piece: Soundtrack for a Round-the-World Journey


Preparing for a trip around the world requires a little planning. Okay, a lot of planning. And I don't love planning. I'm more the type to just wing it. I usually get on a plane without ever having glanced at a guidebook and trust that I'll find my way. In all my years of traveling all over the planet that "casual" approach has worked for me. Even my first big trip abroad at 21, setting off for a year in Europe, I circled my finger around the map and determined that wherever my finger landed is where I would start my trip. (Bern, Switzerland, in case you were wondering.) But this time, well, I'm older and more cautious, I would even say fearful. My mind fills up at night with scenarios of all that could go wrong. That's a lot of hours of insomnia. Hell, I even bought travel insurance for the first time in my life.

To ease my anticipation of what's to come, I've been going for runs on the beach. With my iPod blasting in my ears. Music not only helps motivate me to actually run (as opposed to, say, walk -- or, as I'm often tempted to do, just sit and watch the waves). The music also calms the chatter in my mind. What I've noticed on my recent runs is how much closer I've been listening to all the lyrics. As my playlist shuffles through the usual -- and eclectic -- stock there have been a few tunes that have stood out, songs that, if my World Piece journey had a soundtrack, would be on it.

Some of these might be obvious -- addressing peace and understanding. John Lennon's classic is a no-brainer; I like this Aerosmith cover from the Instant Karma album. But if I could pick only one song it would be Michael Franti's; it's all about how we all need to get along--and listen to each other-- no matter what language we speak.

But there are other songs that speak to what is going on with me internally. Like having to let go.

Marcus, my late husband
Taking off for a round-the-world trip means saying goodbye to a lot of attachments. To my apartment. To my dog. To my family. To my belongings. To my familiar surroundings. And to the thing (the person) I don't like to talk about so much anymore -- because I'm sure everyone is getting tired of hearing about him, and I wanted to believe I was done with my grief -- and that is Marcus.

This trip to me represents letting go of him.

I hadn't realized until I booked my flights, using the last of his 400,000 frequent flyer miles he racked up from his corporate travels, that by holding onto those miles I was still holding onto him. I waited until just hours before their expiration date to use them. When I secured my round-the-world ticket I should have been ecstatic. Instead, I cried the entire next day. Those miles were another piece of him.

So yeah, about that song, "Let Go" by Frou Frou:

    Let go, jump in, what are you waiting for, it's so amazing here, 
    it's all right, there's beauty in the breakdown. 

The countdown for take-off has begun. In a month and a half from now my suitcase will be loaded in the cargo hold, the airplane door will close behind me, the jet wheels will lift off from American soil, and I will be on my way. One way. One direction. All the way around the globe. In spite of the pre-journey jitters, I have faith it's going to be a f*cking amazing adventure.

Until then, I'm going to keep running, and keep listening to these songs. And hopefully add some more.

Is Love Enough by Michael Franti  (This is the studio version I have on my iPod.)

Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon (This is Aerosmith's version from Instant Karma.)

These Days by Jackson Browne  ("I'll keep on moving, things are bound to be improving...")

Don't Panic by Coldplay  (Yes, we do live in a beautiful world. I want to go be reminded of that.)

Let Go by Frou Frou  (Uh, yeah. See above.)

Roam by The B-52s  (How can you not love this song?)

Jai Ho by A.R. Rahman  (Jai Ho means “Let there be victory” in Hindu.)

93 Million Miles by Jason Mraz  (I like to think of this one as a kind of homecoming song.)


What songs would you add to the WORLD PIECE playlist? What would your own playlist include to express where you're at in your life right now?



To return to THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE website, CLICK HERE



Sunday, April 12, 2015

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.

Friday, March 20, 2015

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

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.