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Wonderful Bookstores

I’m grateful to the independent booksellers hosting me in their wonderful stores — I’ve just updated the schedule. I’ll be starting in the north in mid-September; the grand circle of Washington state runs from Walla Walla, to Spokane, to Leavenworth (and a bookstore with a tree house), to Bellingham, Bainbridge Island and Olympia. The store in Olympia has a resident cat and orca pod. I can’t wait. Of course this has taken lots of planning…

Rosie the Icon

The “We Can Do It” poster created by the War Department to recruit women for industry, has taken on a life of its own, spanning generations.  The image has been used on kids’ lunch boxes and campaign mailers.  Recently I discovered P!nk’s video — her “Rosie” is a champion for the underdog.  Check it out!

During and After Photos

Now I know about aluminum primer, which is useful information if you plan to paint aluminum.

The decals came from a sign shop in San Mateo.  They did a great job, but I’d have gone elsewhere if I’d known about the dead end street.  Let’s just say I need practice backing the trailer.  It was a twelve minute turn around.

Sylvia’s Famous Camping Spaghetti Sauce

When “Wax” was nearly ready to print, I was asked to provide two pages of filler. The printer’s final page “signature” is produced in multiples of eight, so my 334 page book was a little short. What would be worth printing?

Clue: the women are eating spaghetti in two important scenes.

Sylvia’s Famous Spaghetti Sauce Recipe (As adapted for the two-burner propane stove in Airstream No. 28)

Back home in Kansas City, Sylvia would spend all day on a rich meat sauce starting with garlic and olive oil and cubes of pork and beef shoulder, seared at 475 degrees for half an hour. She’d transfer the meat to a big stock pot with two quarts of broth, veal bones and vegetables. A long, slow simmer in the broth would tenderize the tough but flavorful cuts of meat, and to the whole she would add tomatoes and the remaining seasonings. The sauce would then simmer for another six hours until the meat fell apart. Everyone she treated to a serving of her Famous Spaghetti Sauce said it was the best ever.

She refined her technique — using ground beef — so she could make “Camping Spaghetti Sauce” for her nephew Robbie on their camping trips. In her tiny Airstream trailer, with few cooking utensils, Sylvia did her best to recreate that treat for Tilly and Doris.

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp minced onion
¼ cup minced carrots
¼ cup minced celery
¾ lb ground meat – can be pork and beef mixed
3 cloves
1 C whole milk
2 C dry white wine
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes packed in juice
1 Tbsp oregano – fresh, minced
one more tablespoon minced garlic
salt to taste

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over a very low flame and add two tablespoons garlic. Simmer the garlic very slowly until tender. The more slowly it cooks, the sweeter it will be.

Add the carrots, onion and celery and sauté until the onions are soft. Do not brown. Add the cloves.

Add the ground meat and stir to heat evenly for about three minutes, until the meat is gray but not browned.

Add the milk and allow it to simmer until evaporated, about twelve minutes; follow with the wine. When the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes with liquid and the oregano. Allow the sauce to simmer on the lowest possible flame, for three more hours. Thirty minutes before it’s finished, add the final tablespoon of minced garlic. Add salt if desired.

4 Servings

Note: this recipe wasn’t included in the final version of “Wax”. It was replaced by a list of shipyards that launched Liberty ships built by women in the 1940s. I’ve posted it here because it’s a really good sauce and reading the book might make you hungry. Enjoy!

“The time went by so quickly; we never had a chance to make plans,” Doris said. “When the ships on the line are launched we’ll be sent home too.”
“Now come on girls,” Sylvia said. “This is our last night together in The Land of C. Let’s have a little more optimism. We’ll be at peace soon.” She adjusted the seasonings and gave the sauce a final stir. Her red hair color was starting to fade. “All those love-starved men will be returning to wine and dine you marriage-age treasures. Life will be good,” Sylvia said. She looked at Tilly.
Tilly winced.
Sylvia drained the spaghetti into a bowl and loaded three plates. Then she ladled the rich meat sauce on top.
Tilly took the first bite. She twirled her fork and wrapped the length of the spaghetti around the tines. “Thank you so much, Sylvia. I’ll never forget this meal.”

Exfoliating Mighty Mouse

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I discovered rubbing compound. Who knew that fifty-seven years of oxidation would buff off? I bought one of every compound they carried at Napa Auto Supply and went to work. The stuff that exfoliated best was for polishing mag wheels.

The camper needs a name. Mighty Mouse was suggested. Mighty Mouse might be about the right vintage.

Field of Dreams

 That’s what came to mind when I first arrived at Vintage Campers in Peru, Indiana.  I’d foolishly worried about not being able to find the place.   Proprietor Dan Piper explained that he’d  “got the disease — bad” and started collecting. Vintage Campers is located on what used to be a “poor farm”.  Dan bought the […]

1954 Beemer

Airstreams are the Cadillacs of tin can campers.   In Wax, Tilly lives in a sixteen foot beauty in Parking Lot C.  I found  a 1948 Wee Wind, restored, for thirty-eight thousand dollars — about thirty-six thousand more than I intended to spend.

I reviewed my criteria: ideally mid-century antique, polished aluminum, light enough to be pulled by my Ranger and road-worthy.  And of course cheap.  Which ruled out anything called Airstream. I had to broaden my search.

A cruise through cyberspace brought me to a field in Peru, Indiana, and my introduction to the rare Beemer travel trailer. The owner, Dan Piper, has assured me the trailer will polish to a mirror finish if I put the time in.  The tires are new and it comes with a spare. It’s ready to roll.  The work it needs is cosmetic and I can do it myself.  I think I’ve found my tin can camper.


In “Wax” Tilly discovers a shortage of housing near the Richmond shipyards and is offered an Airstream …

The Genesis of the Tin Can Camper Book Tour

My friend Rube baits me.  He’s one of the most creative people I know, but he enjoys launching my pursuit of his ideas more than acting on them.

About ten years ago, I was accumulating found construction materials for my beach shack.  I was collecting granite countertop scraps when Rube read about a bowling alley that was being deconstructed in Oakland. Rube decided that an old bowling lane would be the perfect material for unique countertops — especially if you could preserve the lane markings in the final finish.  Of course I loved the idea.  “It would be very cool,” I agreed.

I imagine he was grinning as he hung up the phone, knowing I spend hours trying to track down an architectural salvage company with a bowling alley in the inventory. He probably thought I’d get into a bidding war for the material.  I did eventually find it.  But the wood had been piled outdoors, and a late season storm had ruined it.

I’ll never learn.  Or maybe I don’t want to.  I think often of Rube’s idea to build a straw bale Italian villa.  You’ve got to admit, it’s a great idea.  Great ideas aren’t always practical.

In early March, Rube called me to tell me his in-laws Elly and Ernie, in Minden, Nevada, had an old travel trailer that a renter had left behind.  He said they would give it to me.  I’d been toying with the idea of a camping book tour — my characters lived in an Airstream during the war — and here was an offer of a free camper.  The details were vague, but I hadn’t seen Elly and Ernie in more than a year, and a drive over the Sierra seemed like a fine Sunday activity.  Maybe it was meant to be.

Long story short: it wasn’t.  Rube had misjudged the size of the trailer by 50%; there was no way my Ranger would pull it.  And among the many things it needed, it needed tires — which is probably why it was left behind.  But the die was cast and I was now convinced that I needed a vintage camper for my book tour.