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Utopian Experiment

Potrero Nuevo Farm is located just south of Half Moon Bay,  about a mile east of the Coast Highway.  I pick vegetables, berries, herbs and flowers there on Monday afternoons as a member of the UPick Club. I like to joke that the farm is a utopian experiment – a successful one.

I became acquainted with PNF when one of it’s owners, Bill Laven, contacted me to ask if I knew about its history.  Before it was Potrero Nuevo, it was known as “The Bettencourt Place”. Bill had read Wax,  and  thought  I might have inside knowledge of the Bettencourt clan.  But my Bettencourts are fictitious; I had no stories to tell.

There’s a new chapter being written at Potrero Nuevo, however.  The wonderful old homestead is now providing fresh, organically-grown vegetables to locals in need, through the efforts of dedicated volunteers and charitable organizations, that help professional farmers Jay and Suzie, cultivate and harvest forty different crops from May through November.  Proceeds from the UPick Club, the sale of eggs from “pastured” chickens, and the sale of local honey, support the farm operation.  Last Monday, the volunteer harvest team sent 150 pounds of fresh produce to local tables.  They’re experimenting with pork, and will have their first meat available later this year.

One of my favorite WWII facts is that thirty percent of all produce served on American tables came from victory gardens — crops sown on school lots and in backyards.  PNF is supporting 15 UPick families and many other recipient families with two acres in cultivation.  Forty crops on two acres; it’s truly an accomplishment.  And everything is done beautifully.  It’s a joy to be there.

“Wheels”

The working title is “Wheels”. My neighbors are monitoring my progress.  Most think it’s a pretty cool project; one thinks I’m crazy.  “You could have bought a trailer for less,” he says. But that’s not the point. There’s something very satisfying about working with your hands. There’s an immediacy to it.  If you make a straight cut or paint a straight line, you can stand back and admire your good work — right then.  Nailing one board to another produces instant results. I started writing when a woman working for me suggested I needed a creative outlet.  I was coming off a four-year project to build what I lovingly refer to as my “beach shack”.      I’d spent so many hours in selvage yards and warehouses.  Too little money had forced me to ‘make do’, to invent.  And for all the stress, I had fun. A writer should write every day.  It keeps the pump primed.  If I stay away from my imaginary friends for too long, I have to get reacquainted with them.  But there are days when the pull to work with something tangible is overpowering. “Wheels” will probably be finished in about two weeks.  As of today, only half the roof has shingles.  The inside needs insulation; some old redwood fence material that I sanded and coated for flooring still needs to be fitted and nailed into place.  But when all is done, I will invite my imaginary friends to visit and enthusiastically return to novel writing.

WWII American Home Front Oral History Project

I’m often asked, at readings, about the inspiration for “Wax”. I was inspired by oral histories I read — transcripts of interviews with women who worked in the shipyards during WWII — obtained through Rosie the Riveter, WWII Home Front, National Historical Park.

“Wax” is a work of fiction. The women in “Wax” are imagined, but their experiences are crafted from story threads gathered from “real life” interviews. I distinctly remember a story one Rosie recalled — about her welding supervisor telling her she’d get the rhythm for connecting beads of molten metal — like the rhythm for “knitting or crocheting” — but they were things she had never learned to do. Or the Rosie who was waiting at a bus stop when her vision went dark — the result of a flash burn to her corneas. These conversations and more, between interviewer and subject, fueled my imagination.

On Friday, I was contacted by David Dunham with the WWII American Home front Oral History Project, and learned that his team had completed those interviews, and that more are coming! Approximately 100 transcripts are now available online, right here, with an additional 75 expected by the end of 2012.

If you have stories to share, schedule an interview by contacting David at ddunham@library.berkeley.edu You will inspire generations to come.

Thank You Kaiser Heritage

I was happy to have the booth next to Kaiser Heritage during last weekend’s Home Front Festival in Richmond. The health care network that now serves 8.6 million members was born in the Richmond shipyards during WWII.

Wax was featured in the Heritage blog last week–you can read the full article here (a pdf).

Thank you so much!

If you visit Richmond, you can see the old Kaiser Field Hospital. It’s not open to the public now, but as plans for Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park come to fruition, there ae fantastic opportunities for interpretation.

WWII Home Front Festival

On October 15th I had the pleasure of participating in the Richmond, WWII Home Front Festival, a cooperative effort between the City of Richmond, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, and the National Park Service.  I hadn’t attended before, but I will attend again. The music alone, was worth the drive: gospel, blues, swing, jazz — and the event was free.  Contra Costa Culinary Academy cooked up some snacks, the Richmond Rotary hosted an antique car show and there was a Friday night USO dance.  Mark your calendar for next year.

Book Tour Cat and Book Store Cat

Loofie (aka Alice Aloof) has been my faithful traveling companion on the Tin Can Camper Book Tour. For the most part, our journey’s been uneventful. We did a little off-roading on the back side of Mount Rainer (inadvertently — the GPS route was ridiculous) and Loofie protested by hiding out all night, but I rewarded her the next night by taking her to a Motel 6.

There’s something about cats and books. The most famous bookstore cat I’ve met recently is Henry, the most beloved member of the Orca Books pod in Olympia Washington. Orca Books staff adopted Henry from a rescue organization called Feline Friends. Legend has it that Henry was found in a burned out barn, bringing food to starving kittens.

The Grand Circle of Washington and Why You Should Never Take a Kiwi on a Book Tour

I got a GPS for the book tour because I couldn’t fathom driving around lost while towing the tin can camper. Sometimes a side trip away from the down town business district is necessary to park the truck and trailer, and the GPS is handy.

I wasn’t prepared for our off-road adventure. Barry, Loofie the cat and I had a day off. I was traveling Washington state — Walla Walla, Spokane, Leavenworth, Bellingham, Bainbridge Island and Olympia — reading and signing books, when the weather came up on the Oregon coast where Barry was fishing for tuna. He was holed up in Coos Bay while twenty-five knot winds howled off shore. With nothing better to do, he joined the tour.

My free day last week (I had six events scheduled in seven days) was Saturday; with a full day between readings in Spokane and Leavenworth. What to do? Visit Mount Rainer, of course! Or, the Forest Service roads between Mount Rainer and Leavenworth. What I didn’t know about my GPS — pavement is optional. A road is a road if it shows up on a forest service map somewhere.

I was a bit nervous about leaving the asphalt, but not my Kiwi companion. (Sir Edmond Hillary was a Kiwi after all). Here is Barry after the second dry stream bed crossing. Doesn’t he look proud of himself?

The Frogman and Four-Eyed Frog Books

I was driving through Gualala, California when I saw an adopt a highway sign: the litter free road was compliments of Four-Eyed Frog Books.

The store is situated on Ocean Drive and is a labor of love for Frogman Joel Crockett, who operates it as a kind of community center. When I told him I’d just published a novel, he asked if I’d like to be a guest on his Friday Fun radio show.

As promised, the show was FUN. And the reading I did on Saturday afternoon was also enjoyable.

Four-Eyed Frog special orders books and offers on-line fulfillment. Their website is http://www.foureyedfrog.com We need to support local businesses like Joel’s because they offer so much more than a place to buy things — they offer a place to gather, to interact with knowledgable booksellers, and in the case of Four-Eyed Frog, pick up litter along the highway!

Publication Party!

Last night one hundred friends gathered on the back patio of The Gate in Belmont to celebrate the publication of “Wax”.  Many, many thanks to all who helped with the event: Jackie Enx for organizing the band, Larry Poncini for the fabulous roast pig, Rhonda, Susan, Julie and Barry for set up and decorations.  Here they are at work!

Bob’s Beach Books Authors’ Fair

An important stop on the Tin Can Camper Book Tour!

I never know what to expect and I’m never disappointed.

Bob’s Beach Books is a small but vibrant store in Lincoln City, Oregon. The staff orchestrated a delightful day for readers and writers, scheduling two morning talks with authors and publishers at the Bijou Theater – just down the block — then housing about fifty authors in tents for an afternoon of book signing. Wonderful volunteers served snacks throughout the day and the event culminated with a reception hosted by book-lovers Sheila and Everett. The food and Oregon wines were delicious. I’m told Shelia spent a week cooking; I was especially partial to the stuffed mushrooms. Yum.

I hope I get invited back next year. Hint. I had a great time.