Saturday, May 29, 2010

Daddy's War

Memorial Day is meant to be a time of reflection and gratitude for those who have served our country. Originally known as Decoration Day, this holiday was a time for the nation to honor those who died in military service and to all that had served in the military.

As I read the newspapers from summer 1943 I can't help but imagine how much significance Decoration Day must have had that year as so many Americans were oversees, fighting the Axis in so many places across the globe. Each page of the paper contains a war story, a photo of a local soldier, or store ads promoting Decoration Day sales (some things haven't changed).

Additionally, the papers are thick with articles and op-ed pieces regarding the ever-expanding draft. Draft registration during WWII occurred in several waves:
  • October 16, 1940 - all men 21-31 years residing in the U.S. (native born, naturalized, or alien).
  • July 1, 1941 - men who reached age 21 since the first registration.
  • February 16, 1942 - men 20-21 and 35-44 years of age.
  • April 27, 1942 - Men 45-64 years of age. Not liable for military service.
  • June 30, 1942 - Men 18-20 years of age.
  • December 10-31, 1942 - Men who reached the age of 18 since the previous registration.
In general, men between the ages of 18 and 35 comprised the bulk of the early draft. Specifically, men between the ages of 18 and 35 who were not fathers comprised the bulk of the early draft. As the war intensified and military presence spread between multiply theaters of war more soldiers were needed to fight the good fight.

In June 1943 there was clear pressure from some circles to begin enlisting fathers, as evidenced by the newspaper articles I've read. Fathers were still an important source of income for civilian families, and provided significant labor for a war industrial complex that couldn't find enough workers. Still, a soldier was a soldier, and some claimed that the soldiers that were fathers would fighter harder because they had so much to protect back home.

For our own quasi-1940's experience, TMOTH would have participated in the Feb 16, 1942 registration (he's currently 36, edging towards 37). His fatherly status would have protected him so far, which is why for our experiment he is at home, working in the modern equivalent of wartime industrial job.

In our 2010 reality, though, I read those letters from 1943 wives concerned about their husbands' futures, worried that their children might grow up without their fathers...and I connect with those letters in a painful and intimate way.

You see, TMOTH has been through a war. Not the "traditional" military engagement that Decoration Day was originally meant to honor. In April of 2006 TMOTH was diagnosed with stage IIIB Hodgkin's Lymphoma. While Hodgkin's Lymphoma is generally considered a "good" cancer (i.e. high cure rate), the following six months of chemo he endured were harsh by most survivors' standards. Chemo is scary. All the things you take for granted about your body - eating, sleeping, memory - are affected.

After a clean PET scan in September 2006 he was officially in initial remission. The next few months were a time of healing and welcoming back a loved who had been not quite present/not quite gone for half a year. Unfortunately, a routine PET scan in February 2007 showed that the cancer had returned.

If his previous chemo was boot camp, then this was war. Another month of even more intense chemo followed in preparation for a stem-cell transplant. Informed-consent papers were signed, acknowledging that the treatment induced mortality rate was somewhere near 25-30%. He knew, we all knew, that there was a chance that he wouldn't survive the transplant, let alone the cancer. Chemo tries to kill the cancer before it kills you; a stem cell transplant aims to kill a significant part of you (your bone marrow and your ability to produce new red and white blood cells) without causing your death as a side effect.

It is war.

But rather than global networks and intercontinental missiles this is a war on an individual (or family-sized) level. There is a strategy, an attack and counter-attack. There are whispered conversations, horrible twists of fate, random acts of grace, poisons, scar tissue, and lost time. There are extended times apart and moments when the phone rings in the middle of the night and you fear it's "the call." Periods of time spent praying that he will come back, and wondering if it will ever be the same if he does.

TMOTH survived his transplant and as of his check-up last week is still free of any detectable cancer. As important as they are, I hate check-up weeks - the waiting and imagining of the worst are miserable ways to pass the time. It brings the war back, and the fear he may have to go through it all again.

And so I sympathize with the women who wrote pleading letters to Roosevelt in 1943, begging that their husbands not be drafted into the war. I've made my own similar plea to higher powers.

This Memorial Day I quietly thanked all those who have and will continue to serve this country (along with their families), and I said a little prayer for those fighting their own, more intimate battles.

I am so grateful and proud of the soldiers of my country, and the soldier of my house.

--Rational Mama

What Would YOU Do?

In general, most rationing points during WWII had an expiration date of the end of the month they were issued. So, for example, the points that became available for use during the month of May had to be used by May 31st. After that date the May points would be cursed by an evil witch and twisted into a horrible, homely representation of a point so hideous that no grocer nor butcher would consider accepting them. Or something like that.

Over the past few months we've lightened up our red points purchases quite a bit. Due to my rising cholesterol we've focused on returning to our family's general pattern of only eating meat at three to four dinners per week (and my cholesterol has gone down to a very happy level as a result) and we've been buying locally raised chicken, which is not rationed. Plus, with the early summer heatwave we've had the menu has been switching to lighter fare.

Thus, this week we had a dilemma: in addition to the 64 red points we have allotted for the week, there were an extra 24 red points left over from earlier in the month. What to do?

In the end we bought an extra bottle each of canola and olive olive oil, an extra pound of butter, an extra pound of cheese (extra-sharp cheddar) and one pound of bacon (BLT season is just around the corner!).

With the handy dandy chart in mind, what would you have done with roughly 35 extra red points to burn?

--Rational Mama

Sunday, May 23, 2010


How often do you eat jam or jelly?

If you have kids in the house (or at least a kid at heart) the answer is probably "pretty often." In the Rational Living household the girls eat some form of peanut butter sandwiches nearly every day - by choice, I might add. It could be PB&H(oney) or PB&J(am) but either way they are a house favorite.

During WWII jams and jellies were rationed under the blue/green point system, with the exception of citrus-based marmalades. Typically ranging from 14 to 16 points per 16oz jar, a daily PB&J habit for a family with multiple children could quickly eat away over one-third of a household's blue/green point allotment.

Lucky for us, last summer I canned several jars of cherry and peach jam (I also put up some jalapeno jelly but for some reason it isn't considered PB&J material). At the time we didn't know we would be rationing within a few months (how historically accurate of us) so this surplus has been a lucky break. And so this year I'm determined to again can several batches of jam/jellies to get us through the remaining rationing period.

Since you need either fresh or frozen fruit to make jam we are very limited in what options will be available, but this week locally-grown strawberries began flooding the farmer's market. Let the jammin' begin!

This weekend I made the first batch of the season: strawberry-ginger jam. Unusual combination? Yes. Heavenly? Most definitely. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of how to can (there are plenty of websites, such as Moo Said the Mama, which offer great tutorials on the basics of canning), but I will share the super-simple recipe I used.

4 lbs fresh strawberries
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 heaping tsp ginger powder

  • Remove the green tops of strawberries and crush enough strawberries so that you have 4 cups full.
  • Combine strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and ginger in a large, heavy pot and stir over medium-low heat.
  • Once the sugar is dissolved turn the heat up to high, stir frequently and bring mixture to a rolling boil.
  • Keep at a rolling boil for 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Ladle strawberry jam into hot, sterilized canning jars.
  • Wipe rims and add lids/rings.
  • Process with boiling-water method for 15 minutes.
  • Carefully remove jars and place on cabinet - leave undisturbed for 24-48 hours until seals have set.
Don't forget to find a volunteer to help you clean out the pot!
This recipe made four and a half jelly jars and doesn't use any additional pectin, so it is a very manageable canning project for the beginner. It's absolutely delicious and I plan to make at least one more batch while local strawberries are still available.

Oh, and if you like to think (and eat) outside of the box...microwave a portion of the jam in the microwave for 20 seconds and pour it over all-natural vanilla ice cream. Pure joy!

--Rational Mama

Saturday, May 22, 2010

(Kinda) Historic Recipe: Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp

While I was going through more newspapers from the spring of 1943 this week (What? You don't do that, too?) I noticed lots of rhubarb recipes on the ladies' pages. In honor of this fine tradition (and local rhubarb AND strawberries at the farmer's market today!) I whipped up the following dessert for tonight. It's a little rhubarb-heavy (I have other plans for the strawberries so I couldn't spare too many) but it was delicious. Yum!

1 cup flour
3/4 cup oats
1 stick melted butter (or margarine, but ewww)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup water
2 TB cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

  • Combine flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon and press half of the mixture into the greased bottom of a 9" x 9" square pan.
  • Top with rhubarb and strawberries.
  • Combine sugar, water and cornstarch in a small saucepan and cook until thickened and syrupy. Take off the heat and add the vanilla.
  • Pour syrup over rhubarb and strawberries.
  • Top with remaining oat mixture.
  • Bake for one hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
We had ours with all-natural vanilla ice cream. Such a wonderful late spring/early summer treat!

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Volunteers for Victory Gardens Found!

Every year we have volunteers in our garden. Granted, these aren't the kind of volunteers you're probably thinking of - these are plant volunteers. Vegetables that grow either from seed dropped from the plant during the previous summer or from plants that somehow overwintered into the spring.

We always have lots of tomato volunteers - particularly cherry tomatoes. Near the end of the growing season we git a bit lazy about picking tomatoes every day and some eventually fall to the ground (or get relocated by a squirrel). Thus, the next year I pull out a dozen baby tomato plants because they never seem to volunteer where we need them.

We've also had dill grow from seed deposited during the previous year and the same is true of impatiens.

The year before last we had a wonderful pumpkin volunteer growing out of the compost bin. It must have been from one of the girls' novelty pumpkins (or been a hybrid and not bred true) - it made sweet little (five inch in diameter) pumpkins just in time for the fall holidays.

The volunteer of the year this year is a bittersweet addition.

That's a potato plant. A very healthy and happy potato plant (there's another one in a nearby corner of the garden). The last two years we tried (quite unsuccessfully) to grow potatoes. Both years we used versions of the tire-stack method and failed miserably. Initially the plants thrived but by the time we got to the third tire the plants became waterlogged and soggy, despite our attempts to increase drainage to the stack. So each year we abandoned the potatoes and removed the tires to spread out the soil.

To our great surprise, this year there are two volunteer potato plants, each in a location where a tire stack was located last year. Are they plants from the original seed potatoes planted in March 2009? Are they plants growing from maybe one or two baby potatoes that managed to grow before we removed the tires? I have no idea.

What I do know is that apparently we can't grow potatoes unless we aren't trying.

We'll mound the soil up on each plant and see how far the experiment goes this year. A few extra potatoes would be nice, especially after I just read a dozen articles from spring/summer 1943 about an impending potato shortage.

Hopefully, between our volunteers, the farmers market and such there will be no tater shortage for us!

--Rational Mama

Sunday, May 16, 2010


When I went to pick up the CSA bag this week I was surprised to find four small bundles of asparagus available. I was literally stunned (it was 4:40pm) and kept staring at the dry-erase board that lists bag options, trying to figure out just what was going on.

The CSA representative was amused.

Finally, I asked "What are the asparagus a choice with?"

"Oh, well, technically you're choosing between the mushrooms or the asparagus," she replied. "But I took the asparagus off the listing board since we were almost out. I set aside a few asparagus bunches for those who come a little later."

My wide eyes communicated a silent, sincere gratitude.

"Just tuck them down in your bag so the folks up front don't see them."

Apparently, the asparagus gods heard my laments. Or maybe the CSA reps had heard numerous complaints.

Of course, this serves as positive reinforcement for my bitching.

Either way, we're having asparagus tomorrow night.

--Rational Mama

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Black and White and Green(house)

It's finally that time of year when I feel I can safely take the tender baby plantings from the protection of the greenhouse and plant them in their summer homes. The broccoli, lettuce, mesclun and radishes have been in the ground for a month or so, but the ever present threat of a late April/early May frost in Kansas, combined with the nasty hail-loving weather we've had the last week, has prevented me from planting the tomatoes, basil, peppers and other goodies that I've grown from seed in the greenhouse.

But today will be planting day!

I thought I'd give you a little black-and-white tour of the greenhouse before it's emptied of its occupants.

There's oak-leaf lettuce, ready for the picking. It was planted back in late January and harbored in the house until the temperatures of the unheated greenhouse would suffice.
There's Buddha - happy that last year's potted mint has survived the winter.
There's nearly 30 tomatoes, a dozen basil, and numerous peppers, lemon balm, coleus and such. Most are big enough to be planted straight into the ground.
Some, like the tomatoes, are more than ready - reaching up towards the sun.
There's a geranium, given to me by my supervisor on Administrative Professionals' Day (two weeks before I gave my two week notice).
And there's one tired gardener who takes care of them all.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Asparagus and Whine

We've now had three weeks of CSA bag pick-ups. As a result we've had an abundant supply of spinach and salad greens (especially when combined with what we’ve harvested from our own garden). We've also received some fresh mushrooms, carrots, a few bok choys, green onions and a dozen eggs from truly free-range chickens. Last week I was pleasantly surprised with the addition of French breakfast radishes (my favorite kind of radish) and…and…oh, wait. I wanted to say asparagus, but that would be lying.

Two years ago we participated in the same CSA veggie bag subscription. Asparagus season lasts for a little less than two months in these parts and I know last time we were the happy receivers of asparagus on several occasions. This time, however, things are different.

Bag pick-up times are from 4:30pm to 5:30pm on Fridays – at least, that’s what the official subscription information page says. The latest I've arrived at the co-op to pick up my bag? 4:38pm. Each week asparagus is listed on the board when I arrive, but has a line through it, implying that it was available but all of it has already been taken. When another politely disgruntled CSA subscriber voiced his disappointment last Friday at yet again not receiving any asparagus the well-meaning check-out clerk said, “Oh, yes. It’s very popular. You have to get here at 4:00pm to get asparagus in your bag!”


Pick-up time begins at 4:30pm. They’re letting other folks pick up their bags earlier than that? But that’s against the rules!

This, my friends, is a good point to talk about how (in general) I am a rule follower.

Rules are rules and are there for a reason. And typically, I follow the rules. This is evidence by my strong academic career, solid employment history and completely clean driving record (knock on wood). I honor the system and follow the system and usually do not take short cuts. Granted, I have a few examples in my past of rule bending (I had an amazingly thorough "wet floor" sign collection in college), but by and by I typically follow the rules.

After all, how could one follow the rationing program and NOT follow the rules? The rationing systems requires a certain inherited sense of duty and respect for the rules...a respect I often suspect would not be available if rationing was imposed in the U.S. today. I mean, you have to follow the rules to pick up the right ration book at the right time, use the correct stamps during the correct period, and follow obligatory point values which are out of your control.

Granted, there were black markets in the 1940s, but imagine how much more complex the black markets would be today with Craig's List, Facebook and the like!

But I'm a rule follower, and so I woke up early on Saturday to get to the farmer's market in time to assure that I could buy asparagus. I bought a nice looking bunch from an elderly gentleman for $3.00 while I groused a bit under my breath about missing the asparagus in my CSA bag again.

We had the asparagus that night with dinner and it was everything asparagus should be: local, crisp yet tender, earthy and flavorful. I have to admit it was worth the $3.00.

So I need to stop my complaining and accept that part of the "eating locally" approach means that there's not always enough for everyone. And sometimes, people will play the system to get theirs.

I think that's a good life lesson, too. Be happy with what you get.

That being said, I'm considering using some of our gasoline rations this weekend to drive almost an hour to harvest local strawberries. The stores have been flooded with strawberries from Mexico and I drool a little bit every time I pass the displays in the produce section, unable to purchase them because of the rationing program (damn me and my rule following).

Maybe if I can get to the strawberry patch early enough they'll have some left.

And I'll be sure to leave some for the next family.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A (Not So Perfect) Storm

Another night in the central plains and another night of covered veggies, tornado warnings, lightening and the threat of hail. This time of year the plains climate is ripe for atmospheric instabilities and serves to shake off the rose-colored glasses we've been wearing since the first signs of spring burst forth.

At the Rational Living homestead we've had our own microcosmic parallel this week. Since April 10th the only scenario thrown our way was that no chicken was available for purchase during the week of April 25th. That's it.

We've been living the easy life; no scenarios means status quo rationing with predictable supplies and established ration point values. To paraphrase the gentleman writer of On the Ration, there's a knack to rationing and once you've figured it out meal plans and shopping lists become second nature. This is especially true when one week of rationing looks just like the next.

But this week was different. After a month of predictability we found ourselves faced with four scenarios this week:

Beef - scarce, available for 1 1/2 times the usual ration points
Eggs - none available for purchase (at the store)
Nuts and Nut Products - none available
Flour - sparse, only very limited amounts available

Luckily, we're not big beef eaters. And our CSA has provided us with another half dozen farm fresh eggs that by-passed the store.

But Sissy and Eowyn typically (and quite willingly) eat peanut butter at least once a day (if not more), and I had not stock-piled a back-up supply, so this week of scant nut butters has required much more creativity for their lunches. So far we've done turkey sandwiches, leftover (homemade) pizza and cottage cheese with peaches. Although no one has complained outright about this change, I know in my heart that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be happily greeted about now.

And flour? Flour wasn't actually rationed during WWII but was subject to market variability due to the massive amounts of resources being redirected to feed "the boys." What makes this a particularly touchy scenario for us is the fact that, for the past month, we've been making our own sandwich bread from scratch. Partly for the experience, partly to control the ingredients (no HFCS, please), we've been making two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread each week. Luckily, we've had enough flour on hand to make it through the week, but this scenario, combined with the previous, has really reminded me of how important it is to stockpile a small supply of essentials.

Early on in the rationing year I was very diligent to make sure we always had back-ups of critical supplies: peanut butter, sugar, oils, raisins, pasta, etc. But during the past month I've gotten lazy and lackadaisical about maintaining this reserve. I've even gone weeks without purchasing our allotted sugar rations. But this week's "storm" has served as a well-heard reminder.

So when the current rations are lifted for this week I'll stock up on peanut butter, sugar, flour and other important supplies. Hopefully we'll be able to weather the next storm a little more comfortably.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lettuce Rejoice and Eat Radishes!

Remember that little lettuce bed the runs along the length of the greenhouse? In late April, after we planted a few lettuce starts and seeds for more lettuce, spinach, mesclun and radishes, it looked like this:
Today, it looks like this:
Isn't nature amazing? That's some mesclun closest to the camera, then oak leaf lettuce, spinach and radishes in the back. We've been eating our own home-grown lettuce and spinach for weeks and today I harvested our first radishes.

I think radishes are like the crocuses of the vegetable world: not amazing enough to really want all year round, but as a symbol of wonderful things to come they can't be beat. They're both harbingers, of a sort.

In the meantime, though, I can't get too distracted. The heart of the summer planting season is just around the corner (if we can get a break from this nasty, windy, hail-ridden weather - another round is expected tonight and tomorrow night). A few weeks ago we had several days of near 80 degree temperatures and some of the spinach started to bolt! So as I happy as I am with the lettuce and radish bed I have to start thinking of transitioning it to its next stage. During the heart of the summer it will be home to Malabar spinach. This is the first year I've grown Malabar spinach, so we'll see how that goes.

In the meantime I'll enjoy a few more weeks of fresh lettuce, spinach and radishes and start dreaming of fresh, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers.

--Rational Mama

Monday, May 10, 2010

Batten Down the Hatches!

So what do you do when you've started your Victory Garden and you live in Tornado Alley and have two hours to prepare for a storm heading your way that has a history of producing tornadoes, 60 mph winds and tennis-ball sized hail?

You cover the peas.
You cover the older broccoli and lettuce.
You cover the baby broccoli (and hope the garlic roots can recover from any beating).
You decide to call the other lettuce and radishes a potential loss.

And you cross your fingers that everyone and everything makes it through just fine.

Ah, life in the central plains! We'll keep you posted.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day at the (Plant) Farm

Since the girls were little we've had a Mother's Day tradition of heading out to Henry's Plant Farm for an afternoon of flowers, vegetables and fresh country air. This year was no exception, even if the weather was overcast and cool and the trip took some of our surplus gasoline. It's always worth it.

There's so much to do and see at Henry's. When you first arrive you will most likely be greeted by one of the free-roaming peacocks, who will eye you suspiciously and decide if your vehicle would make a good perch. Then, it's off to the trails and gardens.
Henry's has wonderful garden paths to explore. The peacock might even follow you if he thinks you're up to no good.
And don't forget to stop at the pretty rock pond filled with Koi fish.

After the trails it's time to get your wagon! Of course, wagons are good for pulling sisters AND plants.

Then you can start visiting the hoop-houses, one by one. There's a hoop-house for sun-loving annuals.

And, of course, there's a kitty in there that you must pet.

And then look at more annuals.

Don't worry, kitty is still following you.

There's a corn crib and cornstalk pony for the kids. But sometimes the corn attacks!

Which means Mommy must come to the rescue!
Then it's on to the vegetable and herb hoop house.
With such a large variety (including heirlooms) your empty wagon starts to look like this:

And there's still the shade-loving annuals to get to! You might even find something for the mister.

And once you've filled two wagons... can go pet the goat and donkeys!

And if the donkey starts eating your shirt, the girls will come to your rescue.

Or not.

After you've paid (a very reasonable sum) and loaded up your purchases, don't forget to check out one more area...

The Whomping Willow and the pond beyond.

Which leads to the obligatory stick-throwing and pestering of the geese.

But then it's finally time to go home and leave the kitty and the flowers and the donkeys and the willow and the pond behind.

But you still get to take your memories.
--Rational Mama