You clicked on the ABOUT page, which means you wanted to know more about me. But it’s kind of a long story, so you might want to grab a cup of coffee first, or better yet, a glass of wine.
I’m Beth M. Howard, an author, blogger and communicator across various forms of media. (I use my middle initial because another writer named Beth Howard and I wrote for the same magazine and they always got our paychecks mixed up.) My books include Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie; Ms. American Pie: Buttery Good Pie Recipes and Bold Tales from the American Gothic House; and the forthcoming Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language and Other Misadventures in Germany. I’ve written for The New York Times, Real Simple, Country Living, among many other publications over a 30-year span in journalism. I occasionally do commentaries for Tri-States Public Radio and public speaking—including a TEDx talk.
That’s the short version. But you can’t really learn much about a person from a bio that fits on a book jacket. So here’s more:
My career has been called “eclectic” (and it wasn’t meant as a compliment) but I insist that everything on my resume and in my life is connected. Steve Jobs agrees with me as he famously said in a commencement speech:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
It has made all the difference in mine, too.
I can’t help seeking out variety and change; I was born a free spirit—plus, I’m a Gemini. I’m also determined and impatient. I got my Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in three years, because I wanted to see the world. I set off for Mexico, Jamaica, Europe, and Thailand, working in each place to get to the next.
At the age of 25, I went to Africa and started a Kenya coffee import business (called “Livingstone Provisions”) and divided my time between New York City and Nairobi. When I landed publicity for my tiny company in The New York Times, I discovered I was better at PR than coffee sales. I went to work for Hyatt Hotels in Hawaii, and after that for Rogers and Cowan in Los Angeles, where I did the publicity launch for the original “Beverly Hills, 90210.” How I ended up in production meetings with Aaron Spelling and Darren Star when I didn’t even own a TV mystifies me to this day. And, by the way, I still don’t own a TV.
When I turned 30, I inherited just enough money from my grandmother to buy my first computer and pursue my childhood dream of being an adventure travel journalist. For over a decade, I was sent on assignments (for Fitness, Shape, Elle, Robb Report, Sports Illustrated for Women, and an elegant-but-short-lived magazine called Sports Traveler) that required me to jump out of airplanes, scuba dive with sharks, dogsled in Alaska, surf, snowboard, and compete in the inaugural Eco-Challenge, a 10-day adventure race that covered 300 miles by foot, horseback, canoe, and bike. My five-person team, Team Media, was made up of four men and me. I was the only female, but I was not the weakest link of the team. Never underestimate the power of a woman!
My feature article about Eco-Challenge in Shape led to a job offer with Quokka Sports, an adventure sports Internet start-up in San Francisco. From 1999 to 2001, at the height of the dot com boom, instead of having adventures I was creating websites about them, while managing million-dollar budgets and teams of designers.
After too many hours staring into a computer monitor and too many nights eating Chinese take-out at my desk, I said goodbye to my big paycheck, moved back to L.A., and got a job baking “pies for the stars” at a gourmet deli in Malibu, California. (If you must know, Mel Gibson likes apple crumble. Barbra Streisand, lemon meringue. Steven Spielberg, coconut cream. Robert Downey, Jr., peach.) This led to the launch of my blog, The World Needs More Pie, but “Pie is just a metaphor,” I always remind people. My blog essays are mostly about making the world a better place, so you might want to check it out.
My pie-maker’s salary did not pay the bills, so I returned to the World Wide Web as a producer for the 2002 Winter Olympics at MSNBC.com, with subsequent work at MSN.com’s Women’s Channel. As a contractor for Microsoft, I spent six years editing conference materials for Bill Gates’ annual CEO Summit. Again, I wondered how I ended up in the same room with the likes of Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos. Though I’m not sure they ever knew I was there.
When I turned 40, I moved to Stuttgart, Germany to marry Marcus Iken, a German who was part bohemian/part automotive executive. We lived in Stuttgart from 2003 to 2006, until Marcus got transferred to Portland, Oregon, and then to Saltillo, Mexico. I used the time to study German, then Spanish, and to write. While it was a great adventure, I cannot say these were the easiest years, but they provided a bounty of material for my book, Hausfrau Honeymoon.
In 2009, Marcus died suddenly and unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta. He was 43. To cope with my grief, I again turned to the comfort of pie. By making pie and sharing it with others, I began to heal. This is the subject of my memoir, Making Piece. (I’ve since taken the theme further, delivering 250 homemade pies to Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook shooting; teaching pie classes for kids in a South African township; and traveling around the world on a “World Piece” mission, making pies in nine countries to promote cultural tolerance.)
Wanting to be somewhere grounding for the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death, I loaded my two terriers into my MINI Cooper and traveled back to my native Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair. (I know, it’s the ultimate gig.)
After the fair I visited Ottumwa, the place I was born and swore I’d never return. But only a few miles beyond it, a fork in the road led me to the American Gothic House, the one featured in Grant Wood’s masterpiece.
Located in the rural town of Eldon (pop. 900), the house was for rent—for $250 a month! I moved in (in spite of everyone I knew telling me not to), opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand (making over 100 pies every summer weekend), and stayed for a miraculously long four years (2010 to 2014). With the growing pressure to make so many pies, having people peering in my windows, and finding seven-foot-long snakes living inside the house, I finally, though somewhat reluctantly, moved out. (The house is no longer rented as a private residence. I ruined it for everyone!) I’ve written a memoir about my
calamities experiences living in the snake-infested tourist attraction, which will be published in 2019. The book’s working title is Behind the Lace Curtain, but I might change it to Fifty Shades of Gingham..
My story—about being a young widow baking pies in the iconic farmhouse—garnered international media attention including CBS This Morning, NPR, Los Angeles Times, Readers Digest, the cover of Country Woman, several airline magazines, AOL.com, Huffington Post, and more. I was even on the History Channel’s “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.” My “15 Minutes” taught me three things: 1) how to perfect the skinny-arm pose and 2) I have no desire to be famous and 3) I should have turned down Larry the Cable Guy. The important thing is that all this coverage has helped spread a positive message: The way to find happiness is to give of yourself to make others happy. (View press)
I now live on a farm in Southeast Iowa—with a redheaded farmer—where I continue to write, tend my goats, and savor my privacy.
And the trail of dots continues…