Thursday, June 4, 2015

World Piece: Day One, Arriving in New Zealand

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

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

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

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

My host, Grace Bower, picked me up at the airport and gave me a driving tour of Auckland. The city is on the narrowest part of New Zealand's north island, an isthmus with harbors on each side.
The compass on the top of Mount Eden in Auckland.
Proof of how far I've far.

That dip is a volcano crater. And that city may look like Seattle, but it's Auckland.
After zipping around Auckland, Grace drove us north to her village of Orewa. (Pronounced "Oh-ray-wa.") It's a quiet little seaside town with a long beach and....lots of pie!
I made Grace stop the car so I could snap this shot. My first pie sighting! 

And this was my second pie sighting. A bakery with all these savory hand pies.
Pie, it seems, is New Zealand's most popular form of fast food. (Not counting McDonalds.)
At Grace's house, or "Christmas Cottage" as she calls it, she couldn't wait to show me a video she had in her collection. She had just stumbled upon it when cleaning her house for my arrival and thought it might be some divine message. What are the chances that she would pop in an old video and have it turn out to be my old house on the screen? American Gothic was featured on an art program, and almost like an American Gothic parody itself, it was hosted by British nun in full habit. I didn't read too much into the message. That painting turns up everywhere. Even in Orewa, New Zealand.
Sister Wendy gives a tour of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Given my jet lag and my utter disorientation (knowing that this is only one stop on my round-the-world trip does kind of rattle the psyche), my stomach was also confused, growling at 3 in the afternoon. But no worries, because we found the quintessential New Zealand meal to fill the hunger. Fish and chips!
I studied the map on the wall inside the fish and chips shop while we waited for our food.

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

World Piece Planning: Answers to Your FAQs

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

Q: Aren’t you so excited?

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

Q: Who planned your trip?

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

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

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

Q: Are you going alone?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How are you getting all your pie ingredients?

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

Q: Are you filming your trip?

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  What are you most afraid of?

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

Saying goodbye to my little man. I'm not sure which one of us
is going to have more fun this summer, but I'm guessing him!

And off I go into the wild blue yonder.
It's going to be an incredible adventure!

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World Piece Gets a Little Press

At KRUU-FM, solar-powered radio, in Fairfield, Iowa.
With one of my favorite hosts, Steve Boss of "Great Taste."
 While I consider my World Piece journey a personal one, it is also nice to have people -- and sometimes the media -- take notice. I say "nice" mainly because I hope the effort I am making will have a positive impact on several levels.

One, that by making and sharing pie around the world, I will actually spread some love, joy and...yes, peace.

And two, I hope it will serve as a reminder to others to kick their own fears to the curb and get out there in the world to make a difference. Follow your dreams, dare to leave the comfort of your nest, and take a leap. There are great people, places and experiences out there waiting to be discovered.

And lastly, I'd like to think this project proves that wealth is not about acquiring material things. To experience adventure, to stretch and growth beyond our comfort zones, and to give freely to others is to live richly.

With that, here are a few places where you can hear more and read more about World Piece.

ZESTER DAILY  Six Smart People Changing the World Bite by Bite

IOWA PUBLIC RADIO  "Talk of Iowa" with Charity Nebbe

KRUU-FM SOLAR-POWERED RADIO  "Great Taste" with Steve Boss

With Charity Nebbe in the studio at Iowa Public Radio
 in Iowa City last week. Like her apron? You can order one at

 Donations to World Piece are appreciated! Sponsor a pie or pitch in toward pie ingredients. It's all good.