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When journalist Beth M. Howard's young husband dies suddenly, she packs up the RV he left behind and hits the American highways. At every stop along the way—whether filming a ...
When journalist Beth M. Howard's young husband dies suddenly, she packs up the RV he left behind and hits the American highways. At every stop along the way—whether filming a documentary or handing out free slices on the streets of Los Angeles—Beth uses pie as a way to find purpose. Howard eventually returns to her Iowa roots and creates the perfect synergy between two of America's greatest icons—pie and the American Gothic House, the little farmhouse immortalized in Grant Wood's famous painting, where she now lives and runs the Pitchfork Pie Stand.
Making Piece powerfully shows how one courageous woman triumphs over tragedy. This beautifully written memoir is, ultimately, about hope. It's about the journey of healing and recovery, of facing fears, finding meaning in life again, and moving forward with purpose and, eventually, joy. It's about the nourishment of the heart and soul that comes from the simple act of giving to others, like baking a homemade pie and sharing it with someone whose pain is even greater than your own. And it tells of the role of fate, second chances and the strength found in community.
I was a free-spirited California girl, trying to mix with a workaholic German automotive executive. Too often, it had seemed like an exercise in futility, like trying to whip meringue in a greasy bowl where, with even the slightest presence of oil, turning the beaters up to a higher speed still can't accomplish the necessary lightness of being. We needed to throw out the dough, I insisted.
Chuck the egg whites, and wash out our bowls so we might fill them again. I was impatient and impulsive, overly confident that there was something, someone better out there for me. I was also mad at him. He worked too much. All I wanted was more of his time, more of him. Asking for a divorce was my cry for attention. And since I couldn't get his attention, couldn't get the marriage to work, couldn't get the goddamn metaphorical pie dough to roll, I was determined to start over. It was my fault. He died because of me. I killed him.
August 19, 2009.
I wasn't even halfway through my morning walk with the dogs, but the sun had already risen high above the mesa of the Chisos Mountains. We should have left earlier, but every morning started with the same dilemma. Make coffee or walk the dogs first? I loved savoring my cafe latte on the front porch, taking that first half hour to shake off sleep and greet the day. But the window of dog-walking time was short, so the dogs always won. It never failed to amaze me how fast the sun rises in this West Texas frontier, how quickly a summer desert morning could transition from tolerable to intolerable, how a ball of fire that was welcome at first light so quickly became the enemy to be avoided, something from which to seek escape.
Other than the dogs' needs, the heat made no difference to me, as I had made a commitment to staying inside no matter what the weather. My plan was to spend the summer in my rented miner's cabin, chain myself to my computer and bang out a completed draft of my memoir about how I quit a lucrative web-producer job to become a pie baker to the stars in Malibu. How I used pies as if they were Cinderella's slipper to find a husband, and finally did fall in love and get married, to Marcus. The book was going to be a lighthearted tale of romance, adventure and pie baking. It was supposed to have a happy ending. As I scanned the path for rattlesnakes while Jack ran ahead on the dirt road that stretched for miles through the empty, uninhabited expanse, I could see that the only thing visible on the horizon was the heat, a thermal curtain rising up from the ground, waving like tall grass in the breeze. I looked for my second dog, Daisy, the other half of Team Terrier, as I affectionately called my four-legged companions, but her light hair was the exact blond color of the desert floor, so she was much harder to spot between the scruffy patches of sagebrush.
I had gotten into a routine of jogging in the mornings, but on this day I wasn't feeling very strong. In fact, it wasn't the sun baking me to a crisp or the sweat running down the back of my legs that made me want to cut the walk short. It was my heart. It was racing, even though I was walking slowly—so slowly my gait was barely a shuffle. This was not normal for me. I have the strong heart and slow pulse of a professional bike racer, so much so that I often get surprised looks from doctors when probing me with their stethoscopes.
Something was wrong with me. Was I having a heart attack? I needed to get home before I collapsed and became breakfast for the vultures who were already circling overhead. I called for my dogs, who reluctantly gave up on their bunny chase to come back to me. I looked at my digital Timex watch before I turned around. It was 8:36 a.m. Central time.
I made it back to my miner's shack, a hundred-year-old cabin made of stacked rocks chinked with mud. It was primitive but stylish, rustic but elegant, clean and sparsely furnished with just the right touches of safari chic. Decorated by my landlord, Betty, a transplant from Austin, who lived next door, the cabin's style was Real Simple meets Progressive Rancher. The place had running water with a basic kitchen, but the shower was in a separate wing, which could be reached only by going outside. And the toilet? The toilet was an outhouse, a twenty-five-yard walk from the house. While I loved this simple living by day, I wouldn't go near the outhouse at night for fear of walking the gauntlet of snakes and tarantulas.
With the dogs safely back in the house—no one was going to get left outside to fry in the ungodly heat—I flopped down on my bed. My heart continued to race like a stuck accelerator, and I lay there, alone, holding my body still, thinking about how this was so unusual, so intense, so unlike any sensation I had ever experienced. I remember wondering if I was going to die. Would death come so early in my life? Really? I had just turned forty-seven, I had the heart of a bike racer, I was just out for an easy morning walk with my dogs, and now this? This was how and where it was going to end? I closed my eyes and tried to stay calm. I wasn't afraid of death. I just didn't think I was ready for it. Besides, if I died, who would take care of my dogs?
My BlackBerry in its rubber red casing sat next to my pillow. It rang and I glanced at the screen to see who was calling. "Unknown" was all it said. Marcus called me daily and he was the only person I knew whose number was "Unknown." We were living apart because of his corporate job that had transferred him yet again, this time back to Stuttgart, Germany, where I had lived with him before but I'd refused to live there again. Marcus wasn't in Germany now. He was in Portland, Oregon, taking a three-week vacation that was originally supposed to include coming to see me in Texas. But then I told him not to come. Oh, and then, after telling him not to come, I added, "As long as you're going to be in the States, this would be a convenient time for us to get a divorce."
I didn't want a divorce. I just wanted him to stop working at his job so much and work more at our marriage. I wanted him to spend less energy at his office so he would have some left for me when he got home. I still loved him, we still talked every single day, and I always, always, always took his calls. Especially ever since we'd had the conversation where I let it slip that there had been a few times when I hadn't picked up the phone when he called.
"Only when I'm writing and trying to concentrate," I assured him. His feelings were so hurt I never had the heart to ignore a call from him again. But with my heart racing, my muscles weak and now my head aching badly, I didn't feel up to talking to him or to anybody, so I let the call go to voice mail. It was just over two hours since I'd returned from my walk.
Twenty minutes later, I figured that if perhaps I wasn't going to die, I should at least get my ass out of bed and go see a doctor. Terlingua, a ghost town with a population of 300, didn't have a doctor per se, but there was a physician's assistant at a local resort who might be able to diagnose what was wrong. Before I called him, I checked my voice mail.
The message wasn't from Marcus.
If I could turn back the clock, if I could hit the reset button, if I could change the course of history and the unfolding of events, I would. I'd gladly sell my soul to go back in time to a date three and a half months earlier, the first week of May 3009—May 5, to be precise, our final day together—and start over from there. I was in Portland for a reunion with Marcus, who was about to begin a new one-year contract in Germany. It was the same day I got laid off from the job I had in Los Angeles, the one that I used as my excuse to leave Mexico, where Marcus had been posted for the past ten months. I had tried to be a good wife by following him to Mexico, after having followed him to Germany for almost three years and then to Portland for nearly two.
BETH M. HOWARD - MAKING PIECE
BLOG POST FOR HARLEQUIN
In less than two weeks I will be departing on a cross-country road trip for my "Making Piece" book tour — in my RV. I never wanted to own the RV - or "The Beast" as my husband and I named it when we first got it. It was my husband's dream and I merely went along with it. But when my husband died unexpectedly, the Beast became mine.
Mired in grief but determined to get my own affairs in order - should I too drop dead unexpectedly - I used the RV as a moving vehicle, to collect my things from an old storage unit in Los Angeles. I was living in Portland, a 20-hour drive to the north. I had never driven the RV and I was terrified at the idea of it. But I faced my fears, got a quick driving lesson from an RV sales guy, and headed south on I-5.
When I arrived in LA I met a TV producer friend who thought it would be fun to do a road trip in my RV and shoot a pie documentary. Fun? I was still sobbing daily over my husband's death. But we did it. We packed up her cameras and my pie-making supplies and hit the road.
We spent two weeks interviewing pie makers, orchard owners, and on one day, we loaded up the RV with 50 of my homemade pies and handed out free slices of it on the streets of LA. I saw how happy pie could make people, and in turn it helped me find a glimmer of happiness again. The journey in the RV was instrumental in my healing - as was pie — and both are the focus of my book.
Now that I'm packing up the RV again to promote my book, I am surprised to be feeling those same fears about driving the big beast. But I know from experience that once I get behind the wheel I will remember how easy and comfortable it is to drive. And if that last journey is any indication, I know I will have some great new adventures - pie-related or not - to look forward to once I'm on the road.
(makes a double crust)
2½ cups flour (but have at least 3 and ½ cups on hand, as you'll need extra flour to roll dough and to thicken filling)
½ cup butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill one cup, but use only enough to moisten dough)
In a large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you see marble-size lumps form. Pour in ice water a little at a time, sort of "fluffing" the flour to mix in liquid. When the dough feels moist, do a "squeeze test" and if it holds together you're done. Your dough should feel tacky, but not wet. (Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you'll be tempted to keep touching it, but don't!) Divide the dough in 2 balls. Form each ball into a disk shape. Roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Trim excess dough around the edges with scissors so that it is about 1 inch wider than the dish edge.
7 large Granny Smith* apples (depending on size of apple and size of pie dish)
3/4 cup sugar
4 tbsp flour
Dash of salt
2 tsp cinnamon (or more, depending on how much you like)
1 tbsp butter (to put on top of apples before covering with top crust)
1 beaten egg (to brush top crust before putting in oven)
(*It's also okay to use a combination of apples, try Braeburn and Royal Gala. Do not use Fuji or Red Delicious—they lack tartness. Also note, the approximate rule of thumb is three pounds of fruit per pie.)
Lay the prepared bottom crust into the pie dish. Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing them into the dish to remove extra space between slices. Cover with half of your other ingredients (sugar, fl our, cinnamon, salt), then slice the remaining apples and cover with second half of ingredients. Add dollop of butter. Cover with top crust and crimp edges, then brush with the beaten egg (this gives the pie a nice golden brown shine). Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top crust (get creative here with a unique pattern if you want). Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes or so, until juice bubbles. Poke with a knife to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.
Posted March 21, 2012
Some people will pick up this book and gain strength from Beth's survival after the loss of her husband. Other's will pick up this book and identify with the healing power of food. I picked up this book, that I didn't even know was set partially in Iowa, and got a piece of "home" when I needed it the most. To paraphrase, the author talks about crossing the Missouri river into Council Bluffs and seeing the sign that says "Iowa A Place to Grow" and how it just felt right. I know that feeling so very well.
I really enjoyed Making Piece. I am sure that I enjoyed it more because of the Iowa connection than I did anything else, but I enjoyed watching Beth make it through that critical year. She went from being the "big city girl" back to that "small town Iowa girl" with such ease that it almost makes me long to do the same. I think that Making Piece has a little something for everyone, including recipes at the back of the book.
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Posted April 7, 2012
MAKING PIECE: A MEMOIR OF LOVE, LOSS, AND PIE
by Beth M. Howard
Pub Date: March 27, 2012
When Beth Howard's estranged husband Marcus died suddenly, her world was turned upside down. The undeserved guilt that she felt was overwhelming. So, she did what she knew how to do. She baked pies. She packed up the RV that Marcus had bought hoping to make road trips and hit the road trying to assuage her grief while teaching pie baking.
This book tells the story of Beth Howard's overwhelming grief over the loss of her husband. The reader is along for the journey from the notification over the phone to the realization that his death was not her fault, and that the healing process was taking place. The underlying message of the book, for me at least, was that grief really is a natural part of life, and a process that takes time. Baking pies, sharing pies, and teaching people to bake them was her way of healing. The author writes so honestly of her grief that the reader can't help but share in that grief. At times, her grief is so strong that it pulls you in until you can't help but grieve with her. It is a very personal journal of loss, grief, and healing. But by the end of the book I couldn't help but feel as though I had made the journey with her.
And on a lighter note, I am CRAVING pie. I can't stop thinking about apple pie, peach pie, cherry pie, .............I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I need more pie.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Netgalley book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Posted December 16, 2012
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings
A memoir with quite the Thanksgiving cover that with each page made me thankful for the husband that I have who is alive, happy and well and the relationship we have as two partners taking on the world. Beth Howard is a wanderer and although married; her and her husband didn't always live on the same side of the universe, so it was almost like they were two independent people who happened to be married and happened to run into each other every once in a while - I don't know how she did it. As a divorce is in the works, Marcus, her husband passes away and this book is born.
Posted October 4, 2012
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Posted March 8, 2013
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Posted April 1, 2014
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