Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Right Books at the Right Time


Sometimes you come across exactly the right book at exactly the right time. A year ago, when I was in a funk and had lost my way, along with my sense of purpose, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic.” In it, she poses the question: “What is it you love doing so much that you would do it even if you didn’t get paid for it?” I could answer that without hesitation: I would write. The thing is, I hadn’t been writing; I had been moping. But her words prompted me to set her book down and pick up my phone, and within ten minutes I had enrolled in a writers workshop. The workshop ended up being a bust, but it had served as a catalyst by reminding me not to look for a crutch. I just needed to sit my butt in the chair and write. 

Two days ago, I was in a state of despair over the world. The corrupt, greedy, misogynistic (white) men in power, the ones who lie, cheat, steal, and bend our American constitution to their will to stay in power . . . these bastards dominating the headlines were breaking my heart so badly I was questioning my emotional capacity to endure. I cried so hard I worried I might give myself a brain aneurysm. But that evening, I arrived at my friend Kathleen’s to dog sit for a week. As Kathleen tried to console me, I happened to see she had Glennon Doyle’s new bestselling book, “Untamed,” on her shelf.  

I hadn't read the book, in part because I am reluctant to pledge allegiance to any kind of guru (or clergy of any kind), including writers who have been placed on pedestals as spiritual leaders or healers. Even so, I was on Glennon Doyle’s mailing list and stayed on it only because her newsletters were short, mostly news announcements, and so infrequent they didn’t clog my inbox.   

Glennon’s latest email contained a sweet, well-designed, animated video. It told the story of a cheetah in a zoo kept in a cage: Tabitha. Glennon was disturbed to see how the zookeepers had tried to tame Tabitha, and was certain that, deep inside, Tabitha remembered her “wild,” remembered “she was a goddamn cheetah.”

The video, which I had seen the day before my episode of The Great Despair, was a story from “Untamed,” and when I got to Kathleen’s and saw the book, I wondered if there was some cosmic intervention going on, that my bat signal had been picked up by the universe and was sending help. I began reading it that night. And I didn’t put it down until I ran out of pages to turn. 

In “Untamed,” like in Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” Glennon poses a question: “What breaks your heart?” She writes, “Heartbreak is not something to be avoided; it’s something to pursue. Heartbreak is one of the greatest clues of our lives. The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.”

Boom! 

But wait, how can I heal a whole world? How can I take on racism, sexism, environmentalism, and the infinite number of other “isms”? The list is way too long!

Ah, but Ms. Doyle knows this is what you’re thinking—what I’m thinking—and is right there with a response in the next paragraph.

“Despair says, ‘The heartbreak is too overwhelming. I am too sad and too small, and the world is too big. I cannot do it all, so I will do nothing.' Courage says, 'I will not let the fact that I cannot do everything keep me from doing what I can.’”

This was my despair described so accurately. My sense of powerlessness to change anything, to fix anything, to make the world better—and by better, I mean less racist, less violent, more equal, more just.

“Every world’s changers work begins with a broken heart,” she says.

As much as I was inspired by “Untamed,” I didn’t, like I did with “Big Magic,” grab my phone and sign up to volunteer for a cause. I was still feeling too overwhelmed, too sad, and too small. And there are so many things breaking my heart that it’s impossible to narrow it down. Yes, I use pie as a form of humanitarian aid and contribution to society—to build community, spread kindness, and promote healing—but there has to be more I can do. I want to do more. But it’s just so hard to know where to start.

Author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön (another spiritual leader/healer/author) answers this conundrum with a book title: “Start Where You Are.” 

Where am I? 

I am at my friend Kathleen’s, in Des Moines, Iowa, dog sitting. I have pen and paper here. I have a computer. I have a voice. And I have the ability to express my voice through my writing. This is a good place to start. 

And I have already started. I am writing my “World Piece” memoir, about my trip around the world during the summer of 2015, when I made pie in nine countries to promote goodwill and cultural acceptance. In the process of writing it, I am putting the pieces of my heart back together. And who knows? Maybe one day, when it’s published, someone will pick up my book and it will be exactly the right book at exactly the right time for them. 

And maybe, just maybe—GOD WILLING—things will turn around after November 3 and we can fill the headlines with stories of honest, empathetic people who want to help others instead of only themselves.

Is Social Media to Blame for Our Anxiety?

This post originally aired as a commentary on Tri States Public Radio. To listen instead of reading, go here.

So many things are making me anxious these days. I have fears about getting COVID-19, about the November elections, about the rise of white supremacy, about our divisions growing so deep we could end up in a civil war. I worry about how plants, animals, and common decency are on the verge of extinction. From the collapse of our democracy to grocery shopping during a pandemic, I’m afraid of just about everything.

I’ve never been scared like this before. The question is why? What has changed in our world that has made everything so wildly out of balance?

Some blame capitalism, with money driving a wedge between the haves and have-nots. Others blame our current President. One thing I see contributing to the downward spiral of polite society is social media, which is the subject of a new film on Netflix called The Social Dilemma. I watched it last night and at first it seemed like a dystopian horror movie, but instead of stoking more fear, the documentary gave me some reassurance that I am not alone in my concerns, and that, thankfully, there are people dedicated to turning things around. Ironically, some of those people are the ones who created the problems in the first place, like Aza Raskin who invented infinite scrolling, one of the features that makes social media so addictive—an invention he now regrets. And Justin Rosenstein, who co-created Facebook’s “like” button as a tool for spreading “positivity and love.” That it is used as a measure of self-esteem, and has led to depression and even suicide, was nowhere on his radar. 

A central figure in the film, Tristan Harris, the co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology, says, “It feels like the world is going crazy.” He poses the question, “Is this normal or have we all fallen under some kind of spell?” His answer is yes, addiction- and manipulation-based technology is designed to work like a spell, employing artificial intelligence that “uses your own psychology against you.” 

We are being baited with images and stories to ensure we spend more time online. We are being fed altered videos, misleading memes, and posts so inflammatory they end friendships. Our newsfeeds fill up with false rumors about voter fraud and dangerous claims about COVID cures that proliferate faster than the California wildfires. But do tech companies care about the effect this has on our civil society? No, they don’t, because they’re making huge profits. 

The rise of fake news and conspiracy theories is happening not because we are bad human beings who want to turn against each other; it’s because algorithms designed for ad revenue are leading us over the cliff. Lies spread faster than truth, thus producing higher earnings. Cable news, another rabid source of political polarization, is designed this way too. The more outrage, the more people watch, the more advertising dollars they make. Meanwhile we spend less time engaging with people in real life, which only makes us more isolated, disenfranchised and divided. 

But how do we stop this vicious cycle? 

The consensus of those interviewed in the film is that social media companies need congressional oversight. I agree. On an individual basis, we can hit the pause button. We don’t need to delete our social media accounts all together, but we can stop ourselves from sharing posts or making comments that provoke outrage, and verify that news stories are from legitimate sources. We can limit screen time, and dial down temptation by turning off notifications. And by all means, we should keep our phones out of our bedrooms at night. 

We have the power to change our behavior; man can prevail over machine. I have stopped checking my phone when I first wake up. And I am several months into an extended break from Facebook. It started with taking a stand against Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to stop the spread of disinformation and hate speech. But it made me realize how my anxiety was in direct proportion to the time I was spending on social media and news sites. If I wanted to feel better, it was up to me to take steps. I was still doomscrolling on Twitter and the New York Times, but after watching The Social Dilemma I deleted those and any other remaining apps that might elevate my blood pressure. The only ones left are DuoLingo and Solitaire.  

As for being disconnected from friends, when I want to know what’s going on with them I do something really outlandish; I pick up the phone and call. And then the most miraculous thing happens when having a real conversation—I feel a lot less anxious, and a lot more hopeful about the world.

* * * * * 

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT TIME YOU SAVE BY NOT BEING ON SOCIAL MEDIA? How about making some pie?! Here are some free lessons. Yes, they're on another social media platform of YouTube, but they are helpful, sometimes funny, and you can bake along with me. Stay Calm & Bake Pie

Here are more of my blog posts addressing social media.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Peach Crumble Pie: It's Not Too Late

I love peach season! I just wish it lasted longer. As we approach all things pumpkin-spiced, I used the last peaches of the season to make one final peach pie. Peach crumble, actually, because . . . brown sugar and butter! 

When asked what my favorite pie is I always answer "apple" to keep it simple. But I confess, when it comes to summer fruit, peach crumble pie is my number one. 

Speaking of favorites, last week I did a Facebook Live event with some of my favorite authors -- Paula McLain and Patti Callahan Henry. We were hosted by our mutual favorite friend, Ron Block, of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland. We talked about our latest book projects, and we also made peach-based food and drink. Wonder what I made? Pie, of course. During the event, Patti Callahan Henry demos how to make crumble topping, and I demo how to make the crust. Here's a link to the event -- https://www.facebook.com/CuyahogaLib/videos/322326998970821/ (also embedded below). My recipe for peach crumble pie is below as well.


Peach Crumble Pie 

 Basic Pie Dough (for a single-crust pie) 

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 1/4 cups flour, plus at least 1/2 cup extra for rolling
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill a full cup but use only enough to moisten dough)

1. In a deep, large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour and salt with your hands until you have almond- and pea-sized lumps of butter. 
2. Then, drizzling in ice water a little at a time, “toss” the water around with your fingers spread, as if the flour were a salad and your hands were the salad tongs. Don’t spend a lot of time mixing the dough, just focus on getting it moistened. Translation: With each addition of water, toss about four times and then STOP, add more water, and repeat.
3. When the dough holds together on its own (and with enough water, it will), do a “squeeze test.” If it falls apart, you need to add more water. If it is soggy and sticky, you might need to sprinkle flour onto it until the wetness is balanced out. The key is to not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t! 
4. Now divide the dough in two balls (or three, if your pie dishes are smaller) and form each into a disk shape. 
5. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Roll to a thinness where the dough almost seems transparent. 
6. Measure the size of the dough by holding your pie plate above it. It’s big enough if you have enough extra width to compensate for the depth and width of your dish, plus 1 to 2 inches overhang. 
7. Slowly and gently—SERIOUSLY, TAKE YOUR TIME!—lift the dough off the rolling surface, nudging flour under with the scraper as you lift, and fold the dough back. When you are sure your dough is 100 percent free and clear from the surface, bring your pie dish close to it and then drag your dough over to your dish. (Holding the folded edge will give you a better grip and keep your dough from tearing.) 
8. Place the folded edge halfway across your dish, allowing the dough of the covered half to drape over the side. Slowly and carefully unfold the dough until it lies fully across the pie dish. 
9. Lift the edges and let gravity ease the dough down to sit snugly in the dish, using the light touch of a finger if you need to push any remaining air space out of the corners as you go. 
10. Trim excess dough to about one inch from the dish edge (I use scissors), leaving ample dough to make crimped, fluted edges.

FILLING

8 to 10 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced (number of peaches depends on size of fruit and size of your pie dish)
1 cup sugar (or less if peaches are really sweet)
1/4 cup tapioca 
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional, but I love it)

CRUMBLE TOPPING

1 cup flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1. Prepare the Basic Pie Dough for a single-crust pie.
2. Prepare the Peach Filling.
3. Prepare the Crumble Topping: In a large bowl, rub together the flour, butter, and brown sugar—and rub and rub and rub—until the texture feels like various sizes of marbles. 
4. With both hands, distribute the crumble topping over the top of the pie. Do not press down on it, as you don’t want your crumbs to look flat. It’s a good idea to place a cookie sheet or oven liner under this pie when baking, as a few bits of the crumble topping may roll off into the oven.
5. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until browned. 
6. Turn down the heat to 375 degrees and continue baking another 30 minutes, or until the filling bubbles, the peaches soften, and the juice thickens -- really thickens!

BETH’S TIP: For a chunky crumble topping, rub the flour, butter, and brown sugar between your hands as if you were rolling ball bearings. It’s the circular motion of the rubbing that will create the little round chunks. Pick it up in handfuls, rub, rub, rub, let it fall back into the bowl, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Be patient and just enjoy the process, as it can take a while to get the desired texture.

CRUMBLE FIX! 
Overworking the crumble topping will turn it into a melted mush. To remedy this, either add more flour or refrigerate it. After it gets cold, you can break it apart into a crumbly texture. Conversely, underworking the crumble topping will result in a texture that is too fine. In this case, just keep picking up handfuls of it and roll it between your hands until the desired texture is achieved.

 ** You might also like my VERY FIRST BLOG POST on this blog called "Peach Grumble Pie"

** And check out my Pie Tutorial videos on my YouTube channel

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sleep Well, Don


This is not how I thought it would end. I thought I would get to talk to you again, to say goodbye to you. You called on Saturday morning but I was on the other line. I texted that I would call you right back, but I didn’t call until early evening. You didn’t answer. I called Sunday. I called Monday. And when you still didn’t answer, and I wasn't getting your nightly text messages with your always cleverly chosen Bitmoji, I contacted your daughter. 

I haven’t heard from your dad. Is he okay? 

No, he’s not, Rhonda replied. He’s asleep most of the time now. He’s basically gone. 

Sleeping? Basically gone? No. He just called me.

I replayed your voicemail. 

This is Don. I’m just calling to see what you’s up to. Nothing important. I’ll talk to you later. Love ya, hon.

You sounded okay. Well, okay considering you are 85 with bone cancer. You had already beaten prostate cancer, kidney malfunction (by having those two tubes permanently attached to your back), and, most recently, you recovered from COVID-19. Recovered!

I got mad at you when you complained about having to quarantine for 14 days after they let you out of the hospital. I reminded you that I have friends who lost family members to the virus, and that you’d be quarantined in your apartment regardless since it’s in an assisted living building, you live alone, and you’re not that social anyway. You’re right, you said. I’m just depressed.

I don’t blame you for being depressed. I know you don’t feel well and that you ache everywhere. Not to mention, this is a depressing time in the world. I'm sorry for getting mad.

Ours is a funny friendship. You’re the same age as my dad would be if he hadn’t succumbed to cancer three years ago. But you’re not a father figure to me. You are the neighbor who welcomed me ten years ago to my new home in an unfamiliar rural town. 

You are the one who shoveled the snow from my sidewalk before I even got up in the mornings. You towed my car out of the mud, tilled my garden every spring, peeled apples for my pie stand, and loaned me an orange cap after I almost got shot by a hunter. You defended me at the city council meeting yelling BULLSHIT! when our mean neighbors lied about my dogs trespassing on their property. You are the one I ran to when I discovered that six-foot-long snake in my bathroom. I can still hear you in there, one end of your hoe banging against the floor with the other end hitting the window, cussing out that snake as it fought you, while I held my breath on the other side of the door. 

You are the one who made me feel safe living in that old house.

Even after you and Shirley moved away, you came by to check on me, showing up in my backyard on your three-wheeled motorcycle. We would go out for dinner sometimes, but mostly we’d go out for ice cream. The best was that afternoon we went to Misty’s Malt Shop and each had a hot fudge sundae. We sat so long talking on the park bench overlooking the river that we went back and got a second one—yours always with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry; mine always plain with just the hot fudge.

When Shirley died we spent more time together. As mismatched as we seem—you a retired railroad worker and semi driver; me a city girl and author with a college degree—we always have interesting conversations, even when we don’t agree on politics or the meaning of flags. We are both well-traveled and love road trips, especially in our RVs. I miss my RV. I know you miss yours too. 

We’ve been through a lot together in these past ten years. You lost Shirley. I lost Daisy. You lost the ability to walk when your knees wore out. I lost yet another piece of my heart when Jack died. You lost your will to live on more than one occasion. I lost my direction in life even more often. And yet with each other’s help we've always pulled through, always there for one another with a phone call or a spontaneous visit. 

One of the things I especially appreciate about our friendship is your nightly text messages. It may seem small, but that one small thing means a lot to me. Those little cartoonish avatars—yours with the beard and glasses, the plaid shirt, and belted jeans; mine with the blond ponytail, a few freckles, and red turtleneck—not only make me smile, they are a reminder that no matter how hard life gets, how busy or how far apart we are, there is one consistent thing I can count on: the presence of a loyal friend—you.
It is 9PM and I should be getting my nightly text from you. 

But you are asleep. 

And you might never wake up.

The bone cancer was getting painful, you told me. The doctors said it was the fast-growing kind. I didn’t believe you. I didn’t believe anything could touch you after all you had overcome (including the time the tractor rolled over on you and it took 100 stitches to sew your head back together!) I was sure you would live another decade at least. Last time we spoke, a few weeks ago, we discussed future plans. We talked about voting, me insisting you get registered in your new state. I teased you and said, Don, you have to stick around until at least the election in November!

You told many times since Shirley passed that you wanted to die. But when they found your cancer last year you broke down in tears and said, I’m not ready to go.

I was sure the virus restrictions would be lifted soon enough for me to come visit you. I was sure there was still time for me to bake you your favorite rhubarb cake. Shirley’s recipe is sitting on my kitchen counter and the rhubarb, already cleaned and chopped, is waiting in the freezer.

I’ll drive up to see him. I’ll come today, I told Rhonda this afternoon.

He’s asleep, she said. He won’t know you’re here. They’re only allowing family members, two at a time.

But I’m family, I wanted to say. You’ve even said so yourself, Don.

Today is Tuesday. You left me that voicemail on Saturday. You sounded okay. How can it be that three days later you are "basically gone?”

The hospice nurse says he’s failing fast, Rhonda texted.

Failing fast? That doesn’t sound like you. Fading, maybe, not failing. You are not someone who fails. Transitioning is how they described my dad in his final hours. However they describe what is happening with you, it seems your time to move on has come. I want to cry and tell you, no, please don't go. But as your friend, I understand. Your mind is still so strong, but your body, stubborn as it may be, has a limit. 

So I guess this is our farewell. I can almost see you driving away on your motorcycle, waving goodbye and laughing as you head down the road into the sunset, kicking up a wake of gravel dust as you travel on toward your next adventure. 

Even if you can’t read them, I’ll keep sending nightly Bitmojis to your phone to let you know I’m still here for you, that I will always love you, and that I will always be so very grateful for your friendship. 

Sweet dreams, Don. Sleep well.

Love, Beth


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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

Friday, June 5, 2020

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

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