Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Still Rational

Oh, hey.  Hi there.

So, it's been quite a while since we updated the blog.  Like, I could have gestated a couple of babies during the lapse (don't worry, I didn't).

I blew the dust off the Rational Living blog today to find a recipe for a friend.  Then I started looking around, all nostalgic and such.  What a busy, educational and powerful year the rationing project was.  Yes, I did just end that sentence with a preposition.

What are we up to nowadays?  The girls are growing like weeds and TMOTH and I keep ourselves busy with projects around the homestead and running to and fro to all the girls' activities.  We still have chickens, and have slaughtered several rounds to fill the freezer.  The garden keeps growing every year, and it is so nice to have such a pleasant, "normal" summer this year after the past two years of scorch-fest (knock on wood).

We don't count our miles anymore, nor do we track rationing points (I'm pretty sure I could do this from memory still, though).  We do still try to buy used merchandise first when available/feasible.  We still don't have a dishwasher, and we've adapted to the 960 square foot house as well as a family with two tween (soon to be teen) daughters can.

Sometimes I think I should get back on here and blog regularly about our homesteading adventures and misadventures.  But then I wonder if people still read blogs.  In some ways, it seams so 2010, you know?

Is anyone even out there?

--Rational Mama

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Feel Like Making (Bud-Up, Bud-Up) 'Kraut With You!

So a co-worker of TMOTH's gave us two heads of cabbage a while back. Don't ask.

I managed to use up one over the course of a couple of weeks, but that second cabbage was threatening to take up permanent residence in the fridge. I was stumped.

While perusing Simply in Season I came across the "Simple Homemade Sauerkraut" recipe and thought, why not?

So I sliced some cabbage...

And mixed it with some salt and spices.

Then I attempted to cram eight-plus cups of cabbage into a quart jar.

Success! I added some salted water to top it off...

And then placed it in an out-of-the way space on the cabinet to start doing it magic fermentation thing.

Itwo weeks or so we'll know if we made sauerkraut.

I guess I have until then to try to convince the girls that they might actually like sauerkraut.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I (Beef) Heart Archives

Been looking at some of the stats for the blog...

Typically, we get an average of 50 page views a day (more if I'm posting regularly, less if I'm taking a break). During months with fresh content we average around 2,000 page views per month.

For the past several months the most-visited archived post is the one about cleaning out the chicken coop. I believe that has to do with a nice Reddit link posted by Anisa at The Lazy Homesteader. There is quite a number of visitors to the post describing when we slaughtered a chicken for the first time, too.

For a good portion of last year a lot of traffic ended up on the post where we caved in to air-conditioning during our rationing summer. Apparently, folks like pictures of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Much traffic comes to the site from searches such as "rationing in WWII" and "1940's women." No surprises there. What I have found very interesting, though, is that searches for "mock apple pie recipe" and "beef heart recipe" regularly appear in the top ten searches that lead people to the site.

Strange, no?

--Rational Mama

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Projects

Yikes! Spring has sprung here and that means we now have a seemingly endless list of projects to keep us busy.

Here's a quick rundown of projects completed within the last six weeks or so...

The grey is the base aluminum of the roof, which is approximately 100 sq. ft. in size.

TMOTH spent many hours sanding off, and then repainting, the roof of the camper.

Hopefully this roof rehab fixed the leaks in the camper roof.

There was the original 1978 finish on the roof, plus at least one other paint layer - not to mention the gloppy piles of caulking in areas. The smell from the sanding was absolutely horrible (the roof dust, not so much TMOTH) but the finished product is quite nice.

I've started several rounds of seeds and currently have some lettuce, radishes, spinach, kale, and mesclun popping up in the garden. I'm waiting for the carrot and beets to sprout.

I'm working on a series of screens to lean over the herb garden to keep the chickens out. I'm using a very simple approach of PVC pipes and wildlife netting. The chickens think it is great to dust-bath next to the lavender and oregano. For some reason, I think differently.

Finally, TMOTH constructed a very nice cold frame. I'd been missing the greenhouse from the old house, and we have a perfect location for a cold frame on the south side of the current house.

The cold-frame site.

We bought a series of windows from a local resale shop for $6 and had enough scrap wood laying around for the job.


A few hinges and such from the hardware store and TMOTH built a fabulous cold-frame for under $30.

The finished product: chicken-approved.

We still have plenty of spring projects on our list. The asparagus and strawberries are on their way, so beds need to be prepared for them. Plus the chicken coop needs a new roof and there's more seeds to sprout and...

Well, there will be plenty of topics for future posts.

--Rational Mama

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Camper Project

I was nine years old when I discovered pop-up campers. We lived in a condominium complex and one of the parking spots was always taken up with a curious box on wheels that never moved. One summer day a playmate explained that it was her family's camper. Several of us expressed disbelief - how could such a small box be a camper for her family? Her dad joined us, popped the top off the box and began cranking away at a small handle. Within minutes the box had transformed into a fully functional camper, with two beds, a sink, dining table and stove. And it could all be easily pulled by their car.

I assume the "spirits" mentioned don't include alcohol or ghosts. I hope.

It was magical. I was hooked. My heart longed for a pop-up camper.

Flash forward 15 years. I love camping. TMOTH and the girls love camping. We love hiking and spending time outside and cooking over a fire and sitting out late to see the stars.

Camping at Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, 2005. (Sissy is 4 years old, Eowyn is 2 years old)

We've been on several camping trips with the girls and it's always special to see how they blossom when surrounded by nature. Up until now we've always camped with a tent - we have a two-room tent (with vestibule) that is big enough for all four of us to sleep in, with a little extra floor space for our things.

The problem is that, in my "old age," I no longer enjoy sleeping on the floor of the tent. When foot traffic shares space with sleeping zones...well, things get dirty very quickly (and I'm not talking about in a "bow chicka wow wow" way). Plus, it never fails that an air mattress leaks or suffers some sort of calamity. After two or three days I'm vehemently done with camping, due to the lack of sleep.

Camping at Scott Lake, Kansas, 2009. (Sissy is 8 years old, Eowyn is 6 years old)

Additionally, tent-camping has limited our excursions out with the girls. There have been more than a couple of camping trips that were canceled or postponed due to weather that was borderline acceptable. After a night spent tent-camping in western Kansas with severe-weather moving in from the next county, the girls and I are (understandably, I think) a little wimpy when it comes to weather concerns and tents.

Around a year ago it began to dawn on me how much we could benefit from a pop-up camper. Real beds, separate areas for storage and walking, better options in the event of rain and/or cold temperatures. Plus, our minivan could easily tow a pop-up camper.

We knew that our budget for a camper was relatively small ($1,200 or less), considering there are plenty of models that run in the $5,000 and $8,000 range. We knew we'd be looking for an older model which would probably need work. As long as the bones were good, we were willing to put some elbow grease into the camper.

In late summer I started checking Craigslist every so often, just to get a feel for what was available. There wasn't much in our price range, and if the price was reasonable the camper was not. Many of the campers had rotting floors, missing parts and/or canvas that was shredded beyond recognition.

Finally, around the first of November I saw an add for an older model pop-up that seemed to be in decent condition. After getting a tow hitch installed a week later we brought it home.

Yay! Our pop-up!

It's a 1978 Starcraft Galaxy 8 Swing-Out. The "Swing-Out" in the name refers to the fact that the cabinet that contains the sink and stove can, with the turn of a handle, be swung to the outside of the camper (it may also have been some sort of comment on social norms in the 1970s).

The awesome 1970's orange and brown color scheme carries over to the inside, too.

The camper is most definitely a fixer-upper and as such its purchase price was well below our budget limit. Which was good, because (in true Rational Living fashion), we managed to make things worse the day we brought it home.

That hanging piece of canvas is some of our handy-work.

TMOTH and I had quickly cranked up the camper in our excitement to show the girls the awesome purchased we made that day while they were at school. Unfortunately, we didn't secure the bunk-ends correctly and in a scene that looked like a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies and Titanic, we tipped the camper towards the rear and, only after one bunk-end ripped off, did the camper right itself again. Of course, in the process we shredded a considerable portion of the already-questionable canvas top.


So, right now our goal is to get enough basic repairs done by spring break so that we can take it to a local lake for a trial run. We've ordered an entirely new canvas top (which, for the love of Hawkman, cost the same amount as we paid for the camper), but before we install that TMOTH is rehabbing the roof to repair a leaky seam. Then there's some wiring to fix, door hardware to replace, a bench to rebuild, bunk-end to reinstall, cushions to recover and...

Well, we'll be plenty busy over the next month.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't Blink!

We had winter this week.

Up until then winter had been mostly absent, only occasionally being found as a dusting of snow in some shaded, small crevice on cold-ish mornings.

It's been very strange. Based upon the last few years, for our first winter in the new house we anticipated snow days and sledding and looking for animal tracks and hikes out to the chicken coop in knee-deep drifts.

But this year? Nada. Zip. Zilch.

February is usually our bruiser of a winter month, when big snows are accompanied by cold temperatures that make the white stuff last for weeks.

For February this year we got what was honestly our biggest snowfall event in the last 12 months: 2 inches.

It was so little there was no chance of a snow day being called for schools. The snow began to warm and drip during the day, and our poor girls had piano lessons after school and so didn't have an honest chance to play in the snow until seven o'clock that night.

Quickly they made snowballs for throwing and feeding to the dogs and then this little gem:

Yoda-sized for easy portability.

They called him Sir George and made his eyes out of walnuts. Because there was such little snow he had bits of grass and leaves mottled into his being. Not a bad creation, considering what they were given.

Of course, with our typical Kansas weather poor Sir George didn't last 24 hours.

I guess he sums up our winter this year quite well: blink and you might miss it.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Adventures in Soap-Making

Back in October I decided that I would finally, after several years of deliberation, attempt to make soap. Real soap - with lye and oil and everything.

This was a big deal, considering I would consistently freeze up in high school chemistry lab because I was absolutely certain I would blow the entire building up with a misstep.

The thought of using lye frightened me. Prior to starting my experiment I gave a little speech to the girls informing them to call 911 if something exploded or if I started yelling. Then I put on my heavy duty vinyl gloves and Steampunk goggles. I take eye protection very seriously.

I tried two different crock pot soap recipes and managed to survive both. I had a serious case of tendinitis in my shoulder after the first batch, due to all the stirring. TMOTH was available to help me with the second batch, so that was much better.

The white soap is an olive oil based soap. The yellow-tinged soap is an oatmeal-honey mixture.

The olive oil soap was pretty much cured within a month and ready to use. It's very similar to Ivory soap and lathers well. Because it is a Castile soap it can be used in making laundry soap. The oatmeal-honey soap was very, very soft at molding and still needs another month or so to completely cure.

In the end, I survived without too much harm and made enough soap to get our household through a year's worth of showers, baths, and hand washings. And all of the supplies were much cheaper than buying bar after bar of eco-friendly soaps at the store.

There might, however, be a lye burn mark or two on the kitchen counter top.

I think it adds character.

--Rational Mama