Friday, May 28, 2021

What Did You Decide About the Pie Stand?

A few weeks ago, I posted a couple of polls on my Facebook business page, The World Needs More Pie, about reprising my Pitchfork Pie Stand. Bring it back for the summer at the American Gothic House, or rent a retail space within walking distance of the house on Eldon, Iowa’s main street? I stirred up expectations along with an outpouring of support, and now some of you are asking what I decided to do. 

I wanted to give you an update about my decision, my activities, and my plans. 

I’ve decided not to rent the retail space. 95% of the responses were an enthusiastic “GO FOR IT!” including the one from my mom. But there was one friend, who knows me maybe even better than my mom, who said, “ARE YOU CRAZY? You don’t want to be tied down.” Her words snapped me out of my fantasy, though it was an exciting one while it lasted. I miss people. I miss the community that pie creates. So a newly renovated space where I could sell pies, teach pie classes, sell pie-baking supplies, and provide a space where people could gather seemed like a good solution. 

It sounded so good on paper...  

But the reality check was this: I’m a terrible businessperson; I suck at bookkeeping. I want (and need) to travel; a year-round retail space would require me to stay put. The rent was very high for a rural town; I’m not prepared to take out loans or drain my savings. While my shop would bring people to town, the tourist season is short; it would be hard to sustain business (and pay rent) in the winter. And then there’s winter itself. I suffer from S.A.D. and the ONLY solution that works for me (and I’ve tried them all) is go south like a snowbird. 

Which brings me back to my original idea: reprising the Pitchfork Pie Stand inside the American Gothic House for the summer months. 

Sadly, the pie stand will not be returning to the American Gothic House. The AGH is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa and the state employee who manages it, along with six other historical sites, has a blanket policy for all: No Baking Inside. No matter that I baked THOUSANDS of pies in the house during the four years I lived there. No matter that bringing the pie stand back for the summer would draw more tourists, create community, and contribute to the local economy. Policy is policy. 

Not one to take no for an answer, I considered going above his pay grade and asking for permission from his boss, his boss’s boss, hell, I’d have gone all the way to the governor. Or I might have organized a public campaign with my supporters to lobby for the pie stand. But I have too many other things to do with my time than battle bureaucracy. (For the record, I did consider baking elsewhere and transporting the pies to the AGH, but there's a long list of reasons why that's not a viable solution.) 

I’m sorry that Eldon's visitors will miss out on pie. I’m sorry that I won’t get to bake with you. But I’m especially sorry that the AGH is not getting utilized. (The historical society won’t even allow you to plug in a Crockpot!) The AGH has a soul—I felt it the first time I saw I stepped inside—and I know it's happier when it's filled with life. And I don’t mean snakes! The pie stand would have been a win-win for everyone. It’s a shame the rule-makers in Des Moines don’t see it that way.

So what’s next then?


I’ve been working on edits for the second edition of my cookbook, “MS. AMERICAN PIE.” My original publisher took it out of print—such are the disappointments an author faces. I was planning on self-publishing it just so I could get it back out there in the world, but at the last minute, I signed on with Interlink Books. They will release the book next March (2022), and possibly with a new cover. Ten months seems like a long time, but given the high quality of Interlink’s printing, along with its sales, marketing, and distribution abilities, it will be worth the wait. It's—hashtag—somethingtolookforwardto. 

I’m also working on my next book, “WORLD PIECE: One Woman, One Rolling Pin, Nine Countries, and the Desire to Make a Difference.” I completed my three-month round-the-world pie-making journey in 2015 (watch the 23-min film here), and did not expect writing the memoir would take far more time and effort than the trip itself. But that’s partly because I’ve only been working on it intermittently since my return. I dedicate myself to it in spurts, but I keep getting sidetracked. I’m finally ready—I swear—to get it to the finish line by the end of the summer. Which is another reason for not doing the pie stand. 

One of the projects that sidetracked me from “World Piece” was television—not watching it; writing for it. After a friend encouraged me to enter, I won a contest for a TV Pitch Workshop with Marta Kauffman. You may not recognize her name but you know her TV shows, “Friends” and “Grace and Frankie.” I was always terrified of the script format, but after downloading the software and giving it a try, I discovered that I actually LIKE writing scripts! I wrote my first TV pilot, have a good start on the second episode, and have outlined five seasons of the story arc. I even made a video pitch:


What’s my scripted TV show about? What is anything in my life about? PIE, of course! I had tried—and failed—to sell my memoir about the four years I lived in the American Gothic House, but winning the TV Pitch contest prompted me to repurpose it as a TV series. It works MUCH better as a dramedy than a memoir, because by fictionalizing it I can tell the real story about what happened and no one will know the difference! Marta likes my idea, but said she’s got too much on her plate to take it on. But now that the “Friends Reunion” is finally done, maybe she’ll reconsider. 


That’s the long answer to “What did you decide about the pie stand or pie shop?” Yes, it’s disappointing—for me, too—but I’ve got plenty of other pie-related projects to keep me busy. And I have not discounted the possibility of doing a pop-up pie stand, maybe this summer, maybe at the American Gothic House Center (the museum and gift shop next door to the AGH), maybe somewhere else. Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. Life as a writer can get lonely; it helps to know you’re out there, just a Facebook comment or text message away. 

One last thing before you go...

If you've read my books would you mind writing a review on Amazon? It would help so much. It's a sad new reality in publishing that agents and publishers look at the reviews on that giant (some would say evil) website when considering representing authors. This goes for all authors, not just me. Those book reviews matter. 

💟

Some previous blog posts you might like: 




Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Forget First or Second, I Am Third

(You can also listen to this on Tri States Public Radio)  

I hear myself saying a little too often these days that I’m glad I grew up when I did, before cell phones and selfies. Before the internet became a runaway train of disinformation. Before being famous was valued more than being a good person. Before this current era of entitlement where the prevailing attitude is “It’s all about me.” Me first. America first. Look at me. Like me. Follow me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. 

https://happyhooligans.ca/gods-eye-craft-weaving-for-kids/
I’m starting to feel like my grandparents, when they expressed their disapproval of modern ways by starting sentences with, “In my day…” I get it now. It troubles me to see the Christian values I was taught when I was young devolve into the so-called Christian values demonstrated today.  

I grew up in Iowa in the 70s and spent my summers at Camp Abe Lincoln, a YMCA camp on the Mississippi River, just south of the Quad Cities. “The YMCA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to put Christian values into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.” This mission was incorporated into every camp activity. As we sat around the nightly campfire, the counselors told stories of peace and love, and led us in songs like “Kumbaya” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” When we rode and groomed horses, we learned about respect and care for animals. Archery and riflery were a means to teach focus and hand-eye coordination, with an emphasis on safety and non-violence. And when we did crafts, braiding lanyards and weaving colorful yarn around popsicle sticks to create a “God’s Eye,” counselors artfully worked in messages of morality.

More than 40 years later, one of those messages still sticks with me. It was about humility and selflessness delivered in the form of a quote by Gayle Sayers, a Hall of Fame football player for the Chicago Bears. The quote was, “The lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third,” though I didn’t remember it in those exact words. I thought it was “God is first, others are second, and I am third.” I like to think my version is more all-encompassing, as every religion, not just Christianity, worships God, even if they call it by a different name. And by declaring “others are second,” it can include making an outsider feel welcome, helping people less fortunate than you, or simply being nice to strangers, like letting the person with only one item go ahead of you in the grocery line when you have a full cart. All of which leaves you open to making more friends. 

God is first, others are second, 

and I am third.”

Sayers lived his life by this credo, which you can learn more about in his autobiography titled “I Am Third: The Inspiration for Brian’s Song.” He passed away at the age of 77 this past September. If he were still alive, I would reach out to him to ask what he thought about the world today. 

What do you think about people hacking pipeline computers causing others to hoard gas in plastic bags? What about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how instead of sitting down to talk things through, they’re firing missiles at each other? How about antivaxxers refusing to wear a mask during a global public health crisis, claiming it infringes on their personal rights? What about mobs storming the Capitol because their candidate didn’t win? What do you think about the suppression of voting rights, the bullying on social media, and the proliferation of guns, as if we need to arm ourselves against our own neighbors? How about people—church-going, God-fearing Christians at that—closing borders in an outright refusal to aid poor and hungry immigrants, ignoring the fact that not only are these our brothers and our sisters but that we are all immigrants ourselves?

What happened to “I am third?” And how can we bring that message back? 

We can’t all go to a YMCA summer camp, and Gayle Sayers is no longer here to lead the charge, but ironically there is another football player, a coach actually, who is trying to help. His name is Ted Lasso. He’s not a real person; he’s the main character in the charming Apple TV series of the same name. Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, is hired to coach a soccer team in England. But to everyone’s astonishment he doesn’t care about winning. What’s more important, he insists, is to be a unified team. The problem is, the star player is egocentric and refuses to pass the ball to his teammates; he makes all the goals himself so he can reap all the glory. His selfishness erodes the morale of the team, until Ted finally gets through to him, teaching him, like my camp counselors taught me, the most valuable lesson in the game of life: I am third. 

There is no “I” in team. For a safe and healthy planet, we need to work together. For a more unified world, we have to put others first. Life is better and less lonely when it’s not all about me, me, me. The solution is easy. All you have to do is pass the ball.

Friday, March 5, 2021

How to Help the World

Taking a walk on the wild side

Yesterday morning I wrote in my journal that I want to do more to help the world, but that I don’t know where to start. The world is so desperately in need of help just thinking about it made me feel bad that I’m not doing more. The feeling only became worse as the buffalo herd of “shoulds” charged at me in a stampede of shame. I should be involved with a cause. I should be volunteering for a homeless shelter, an immigration center, a women’s crisis hotline. I should be working with World Central Kitchen. No, I should have started World Central Kitchen. I should join the Peace Corps. I should be giving my time, my money, my plasma, my groceries, my winter coats, my life, to help others in need. It’s my civic duty as a human being to help others in need.

All this to say I made myself feel so overwhelmed, so unworthy of taking up space on this planet, I wanted to go back to bed. 

My casita (before I moved in)

Instead, I spent an hour cleaning the tiny house I’m renting for the winter on an Arizona horse ranch. My landlord is selling the property and informed me a photographer was coming at 5:30 to take photos for the real estate listing. All she requested is that I make my place tidy. Having spent a better part of the week looking at rentals and Airbnb listings in Los Angeles, where I’m heading next, I know what “sells” a place and that means no wet towels or sponges in the kitchen, no shampoo bottles in the shower, no pile of clutter on the desk, no ratty dog bed in the living room, no rumpled sheets on the bed. Luckily this place has ample storage space, so I hid my personal items in the cabinets and closets, down to the dwindling roll of paper towel, dish soap, reading glasses, and space heaters. I fluffed the pillows and smoothed out the duvet cover. I didn’t have to. But I know how important it is to her to find a buyer so I wanted do my small part to make it look enticing. By the time I was done it looked so immaculate and adorable even I would have wanted to buy the place!

Needing to be out of the house at 5:30 gave me a good excuse to take my niece, a sophomore at University of Arizona, out for an early dinner. We met at “our spot” in Tucson, Time Market, for pizza and kale salad. We talked about boys and school and careers, about family and dogs and dreams. It did both of us good to spend time together. 

On my way home I got a text from my landlord. “You get an A+ on the casita.” I wanted to text her back and tell her that I had been happy to do it, but I was driving, so I just smiled, glad that she appreciated my effort.

Later that evening, having just settled in on the couch to read, I heard yelling outside, not a normal occurrence on a ranch where approximately six people live within a six-mile radius. The only nighttime noise you hear is the coyotes howling and an occasional rooster crowing. I peeked past the curtains and saw the beam of a flashlight sweeping across the black desert landscape. There are a few RV parking spots about fifty yards away from my casita, one is occupied by a couple with a large motorhome and two dogs. It was the wife calling for one of their dogs, Buddy, a Jack Russell terrier. A small dog on the loose at night in this remote area is a death sentence. Even in daylight it can be dangerous as I know from losing my own Jack Russell mix, Daisy, six years ago. Predators don’t discriminate. 

I threw on my coat and boots, found my glasses, turned on my flashlight app, and went outside to see if I could help, grabbing a bag of dog treats on my way out the door. 

The ranch is surrounded by national forest and open range; it’s as wild as the Wild West gets. The only thing separating us from the wilderness is a saggy barbwire fence, and the woman (let’s call her Susan), as well as her wayward dog, were on the wild side of it. I crawled through the fence to join Susan, who was not wearing a coat, even though the temp was 40 degrees and dropping. 

“The more I call him, the more he runs away,” she said. “The only one he listens to is my husband.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s asleep in the camper.”

“Well, let’s go wake him up.”

“No,” she said. “He’s been drinking. You know how that is.”

The way she said it broke my heart a little. 

We stood in silence for a moment, listening for a clue as to Buddy's whereabouts. I dreaded the sound of coyotes yipping, the way they do when circling in for a kill, but the only sound was the wind blowing over the mountains, across the rolling grasslands, and through the dried scrub. And then . . . a faint bark. I rattled the bag of dog treats and instantly, appearing in the beam of the flashlight, was Buddy. White and brown, macho and all attitude, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes as if to ask, “What’s the problem?” As if he hadn’t caused the heart rates of not one, but two people to spike.

Susan grabbed hold of his collar while I doled out treats.

“I ran after him in such a hurry I’m just in my slippers,” she said as we walked back to her motorhome. I pointed my flashlight at her feet. These weren’t slippers; they were nylon footies no more protective than if she’d had bare feet!

“I’m sure the adrenaline is keeping you from feeling any thorns,” I said.

“I haven’t stepped on any,” she replied, “but I just got poked in the face by a branch.” 

“Be careful. These mesquite trees are evil and can take an eye out.”

We reached the RV, but between Buddy and her flashlight she didn’t have a free hand to unlatch the door. I opened it for her, careful not to let her other dog out—part black lab, part antelope, a sprinter who would have traveled farther and faster than Buddy, and not one to be bribed back by a measly little dog treat. Susan wedged her body inside, while I blocked the door to prevent the other dog’s escape.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “Now I know how to get him to come.”

“Here, keep the dog treats,” I said.

On my way back to my casita, I thought about what I had written in my journal that morning: “I want to help the world.” I had been thinking on a grand scale, too grand. Because what I realized is that helping the world starts with small acts close to home. Be it supporting my landlord’s efforts to sell her property, treating my niece to a meal while listening to her concerns about becoming an adult, and saving a reckless dog from becoming a coyote snack, helping the world is about making the effort—better yet, the extra effort. To hide all your clutter in your cupboards for the photoshoot when you were basically asked to just make your bed. To drive an hour each way, down the mountain and back up again, for a conversation and a slice of pizza with a family member. To head out into the dark and dangerous wilderness to find a neighbor's dog when you could have just stayed in your warm house reading on the couch.

Small acts of kindness. Every day. That’s how we help the world. That's where we begin.

*****

You might also like to read my other blog posts:

Finding Solace in Solitaire 

What to Do With All That Privilege

There is ALWAYS Hope, Bea