Monday, June 28, 2010

Eowyn Hearts Pizza (and Heart)

Tonight we're having homemade pizza for dinner. Not just any homemade pizza, though - I'm making deep dish Chicago-style stuffed pizza!

I bought small amounts of Italian sausage and pepperoni (2 red points each) for me, TMOTH and Sissy. Eowyn normally likes hers vegetarian-style with either a straight cheese or cheese and olive combo.

When I was confirming what the girls wanted on their pizza, Eowyn asked, "Is there heart?"

I'm sure I gave her a good look because at first my mind didn't compute what she was asking. "Heart" and "pizza aren't normally in the same she asking if the pizza will have heart - i.e. am I putting love in to it?

Oh, wait.

"Do you mean, is there leftover heart in the fridge?"

"Yes!" she replied, eager for the answer.

"Um, yeah. Do you want me to chop some of it up and put it in your pizza?"

"Yes, please." And off she went to play dolls with her sister.

This is very strange behavior from a girl who normally doesn't like beef - even when it's a standard (non-organ) cut. But she loves venison, so maybe the game-like qualities of the heart won her over.

Never in my life did I think I would be making a beef heart and olive pizza for my youngest.

Chalk it up to another rational experience!

--Rational Mama

Sunday, June 27, 2010

(Kinda) Historic Recipe: Beef Heart Kabobs

If you've never purchased a beef heart in the grocery store, I highly recommend you give it a try.

I've been scoping out the beef hearts in our grocery store for a few months, ever since I promised TMOTH after he suffered through the liver incident. Not wanting to renege on my promise, I decided that this was the week we'd eat beef heart.

When I did next week's grocery shopping on Thursday night I was quite surprised to find that they were out of beef heart. I had many questions: When does the next shipment come? Will it come in time? Who in this town is eating so much beef heart that the grocery store is actually out? And why?

Have no fear, when the girls and I headed to the grocery store yesterday they had at least a baker's dozen of beef hearts. In case you didn't know, this is what they look like at the store:
Oh, yea! Fresh, never frozen! (#obvioussarcasm)

Beef hearts are big. Most of the hearts at the store weighed in just under two pounds each, and at $1.19 a pound they're a bargain for lean beef. Of course, during WWII rationing beef hearts were also a bargain when it came to point values; organ meats were quite low on the point value list.
They are also a fun (and cheap!) way to test the personalities of your local grocery store personnel. When the teenage girl running the register picked up the heart to scan it, her hands hesitated over the scanner for just a moment while she registered exactly what it was she was holding. A true professional, she never lost her composure and slid it down the track for the bagger.

The teenage boy who was our bagger did an honest to goodness double-take when he picked up the heart. And then he froze. I'm not sure if he was contemplating what we were going to do with it or if he was having flashbacks to fifth grade dissection lab, but for one brief moment he was lost. He looked quite relieved when we picked up the bag and left.

At home it was time to prepare the beef. After reading through several beef heart recipes it was clear that beef heart is apparently best if marinated overnight in a marinade with a relatively high vinegar content.

I threw together the following marinade:

3/4 cup homemade zesty Italian vinaigrette salad dressing
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin
10 drops liquid smoke
salt & pepper (not to be confused with Salt-n-Pepa)

Next up was to cut the heart into kabob-sized chunks. First, I had to remove the heart from the package.

Not so pretty, huh? Hmm...what can I say about cutting up beef heart? It has a slightly gamey smell and texture. If I didn't have experience processing deer meat the smell and tough texture combination might have been difficult to handle. Visible fat, pericardial tissue and anything that looked valve-ish was removed to the waste basket (not much at all, really).

Once combined, the beef and marinade mingled together in the fridge for just under 24 hours.

In the meantime, I learned that in Peru beef heart kabobs (known as anticuchos) are a party favorite.

Tonight I skewered the heart chunks along with some veggies to make a traditional kabob. At this point, the heart looked, felt and smelled just like regular chunks of traditional beef steak.

After grilling, and with basil-scented rice and steamed fresh snow peas, this is how they looked:
So how did they taste?

Eowyn was the first to dive in, grabbing a heart chunk in her hands (why, oh why, doesn't that girl find using a fork a natural thing to do?) and taking a big bite. She chewed, she swallowed.

And then she exclaimed, "It's delicious!"

TMOTH and I both thought the heart tasted just like regular beef steak, albeit a tad bit firmer than what we are used to. Victory was at hand! This was not going to be a repeat of the liver incident!

Sissy, suspicious of any new food in the house, took the tiniest nibble in the world and then stated that she didn't like it. And then she admitted that it "wasn't really that bad," but that she didn't want to eat it. TMOTH and I both believe that had she never known it was heart she would have happily gobbled down her share (Sissy's love for meat and is a strong and pure thing).

I asked her, "If that meat was wrapped in a tortilla with cheese and lettuce like a taco, would you eat it?" Sissy squinted her eyes at me; she knows that I know that soft tacos are an absolute weakness for her. Cautiously, she replied, "Yes." And then she added, "But we don't have any tortillas."

"But we do!" I said, calling her bluff. I plan on making cheese and black bean enchiladas later in the week, so tortillas were on hand.

And you know what? Sissy did eat the heart meat in a tortilla with cheese and lettuce.

So I guess that the moral of this story is that beef heart is actually quite acceptable (if you partake of beef in your diet). And I wonder how many children and husbands ate beef heart during rationing and were none the wiser.

Oh, and Sissy did say at one point that she prefers the idea of eating tongue more than the idea of eating heart.

Be careful what you say, little one.

--Rational Mama

Friday, June 25, 2010

Half Way

Today is the six months mark for the rationing year project: we are halfway to our goal of living on the (modern equivalent) of WWII civilian rations for an entire year.

Standing at this midway point makes it tempting to wax poetic about the project so far. We've learned, we've changed. But there is still six months of the project to go. Six more months for challenges, surprises and lessons to learn.

So far we've learned (among other things) that liver is evil, cabbage is to be respected and there can never be too much butter and cheese in the house.

And what about the next six months? We'll figure out just how tolerant we are of a harvest schedule that demands frequent attention and canning. And we'll figure out exactly what it means to prepare for a winter under rations (hopefully we can avoid the green vegetable blight we experienced last winter).

And the next six months will be a countdown which, in a sense, is not very historically accurate. The folks in 1943 had no idea when rationing would end or, more importantly, when the war would end. So it seems odd that we would spend our last six months of rationing acting like we knew it was our last six months of rationing. Shouldn't we be acting like this is a long-term change?

Wasn't one of the points of the rationing year to make long-term changes?

What would we be doing differently if there wasn't just six months left of rationing? What would we be doing if, like our patriots in 1943, it looked like rationing was going to stick around for many years?

What should the next six months look like?

Looking back over the past six months I wish we had made more period-appropriate recipes. I initially wanted to make one once a week and that obviously hasn't happend. Between starting a new job and transitioning the girls from the school year to summer I've fallen off that wagon. So, I'm pledging to make more historical recipes during the next six months and share those experiences here on the blog.

We also need to address the chicken issue. A significant portion of rationing civilians were keeping chickens in the backyard for eggs and (occasionally) meat. I've wanted a few hens for several years, but TMOTH has been hesitant. When I mentioned the chicken issue again to TMOTH tonight he replied, "Shoot, if rationing seemed indefinite then we would probably already have chickens!" So, more on that later.

Someday we'll start thinking about what life is going to be like after rationing. What habits will stick? What will quickly fall to the wayside? What will I do with all the time not spent counting points, recording menus and blogging?

In the meantime, let us know if you have any ideas on what you'd like to see over these remaining six months of the rationing project.

Time's a tickin'!

--Rational Mama

You Say Potato...

I say, "Really? The year we don't plant potatoes because we failed miserably the last two years with the tire method, we get volunteer potato plants that actually make potatoes? Go figure."
We went ahead and harvested the volunteer potatoes a little early because I was concerned about them encroaching on some of the plants that we planted on purpose. It's not a huge harvest, but it will be tasty, boiled and buttered.
In other garden news, the peas are done and the broccoli is about three-quarters done. The basil harvest has begun and the garlic is starting to take on a slight yellowish tone which tells me this time next month we'll be harvesting garlic. This is good news, because I really love harvesting garlic. Really!

Several pepper plants have baby peppers on them and the first of the Malabar spinach sprouts are up - they take 21 days to germinate! I'll wait until they're a little bigger to sample a leaf.

Our friends at the Artists' Garden let us pick another generous batch of blackberries, so I'll make some more jam this weekend.

We've been able to comfortably catch up on some gardening work due to a lovely cold front that moved through the other night. Nightly lows in the mid-60s! Can't beat that!

And how is your garden, dear reader?

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

You know that scene near the end of The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy finally throws the bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the East and, dripping from head to toe in her drenched black garment, the villainess screams, "I'm melting! I'm melting!"

Well, that was me at 2:00 this morning.

Except that I'm not green, nor was I wearing a black cloak and gown and what I was drenched in was sweat, not plain water. Of course, this begs the question - did plain sweat not affect the Wicked Witch of the East? She had to have been hot in that get-up...maybe the saltiness of sweat rendered it ineffective, or maybe her evil castle lair was air conditioned?

Anyway...we had been doing pretty well with no air conditioning in the Rational Living household the past few weeks. The formula was simple: run the attic fan in the early morning to pull in the cool overnight air, then shut the windows. By the time the house was heating up into the uncomfortable range (mid-80's) it was nighttime and we could once again run the attic fan before bed to cool the house down and start the cycle all over again.

But the last few days have been absolutely miserable. Nighttime temperatures have been hovering around 80 degrees - hardly cool enough to make the house bearable. Several days of this in a row and the house was downright tortuous.

To make matters worse, we've been very short on sleep lately, due to near-nightly storms (with lots of blinding lightning and deafening thunder) and the hot, hot weather. While what we've been experiencing is nothing like the countless night raid sirens civilians in the UK had to endure during WWII (sometimes multiple times in an evening), I do have to say I feel a little connection to the sleep deprived, is-this-ever-gonna-stop exhaustion expressed by the family on The 1940's House.

All of this combined lead to my 2:00am outburst of "I'm melting!" last night. According to the thermostat on the main floor the house temperature was 87 degrees at that time; considering the upstairs is significantly warmer, the bedrooms were most likely around 90 degrees. At 2:00am (which is a painful time to be awake, mind you) it was 83 degrees outside which, combined with the 70% humidity created a heat index of 89 degrees.

This implied that the heat index in the bedrooms was probably close to 95 degrees.

Running the attic fan would do no good. The girls were only barely asleep, their poor little bodies sweating away the night. We were all sleep deprived.

And so TMOTH and I agreed to turn on the air conditioner, but to set the thermostat at 85 degrees. I have to admit I was afraid it wouldn't come on, the result of some sort of Murphy's Law affect on our 30 year old air conditioner.

Oh, but it DID come on...and even though the temperature did not drop dramatically the humidity was sucked out of the house.

And it was wonderful.

Going forward, we've agreed to use the air conditioner when we are not able to get/maintain the inside temperature of the house at or below 85 degrees. The self-imposed "no air-conditioning" rule for the rationing year has bit the dust.

Still feeling a pain of guilt (and secretly wondering if we're all a bunch of wusses) I e-mailed a friend today, seeking clarification. Ms. Hyldi was born at the beginning of the Great Depression and so was a young teen during WWII. I know she regularly uses her attic fan and sets her air conditioning thermostat at 85 degrees (that's where we got our compromise number). I asked her how folks during the 1940s kept cool, and this was her response:

"...[T]he climate was different — just out of the dust bowl days, the humidity was quite low.

We moved from one house to another in 1942; in both homes, I slept in a large upstairs room with windows on all four sides, so all the breeze possible came through. The 2nd house had large trees shading it, and that helped some, too. I spent time in the porch swing — swinging made a breeze.

During those years, our family had two oscillating fans — one large and one small. The small one was moved to wherever it was most needed. The large one was part of our evaporative water cooler — a contraption built by my dad. It consisted of a thick layer of excelsior (the packing material) between two panels of chicken wire in a wooden frame and installed in a south window. Along the top was a trough with numerous drain holes. We hooked the garden hose to it and turned it on to a drizzle. The water trickled through the excelsior and with the south wind and the help of the large fan inside, cooler air came through into the house. Lots of people had them — if they couldn't build them, they could buy commercially built ones at hardware stores. But they were ineffective once the climate became more humid. We always turned it off and night. I imagine my parents used the small fan in their bedroom, but I don't remember.

We, and hundreds of others, often slept outdoors. We'd take a rug or blanket and put it on the grass and sleep until the sun came up. People who didn't have a yard slept in the parks, something you'd have to be out of your mind to do now. We also often carried around wet washcloths. Sometimes we'd wrap them around ice, and apply them to our faces and necks.

When I was little, I spent most of the summer months in Western Kansas on my grandparents' farm. The days were blistering hot, but mostly, the nights were cool because the sandy soil didn't hold the heat. In 1936 (I think it's still considered the hottest Kansas summer ever), I remember going with my grandmother to a women's meeting in a home, and we were greeted at the door by the hostess who handed each of us a wet towel. There was one night that summer when there was absolutely no breeze and we all woke up hot. My grandfather went down to the milk house and turned on the windmill to get us some cool water to drink — the only source of anything cool on a farm with no electricity. There wasn't enough wind to even turn the windmill! The slightest movement of air would turn it, so that was incredible!"

I really appreciated her response - it made me realize that people were driven to extremes by the heat back then, just as they can be today. It also taught me that the use of swamp coolers was more widespread than I ever realized, which made me feel slightly less guilty about using our air conditioner if it is set at 85 degrees.

Tonight after I walked home from work in weather with a heat index of 96 degrees I entered a house cooled to 85 degrees...and it really feels quite wonderful. Before the rationing year we would typically set the air conditioning thermostat at 78 degrees, but now I realize that 85 degrees might be a better compromise between our physical/mental well-being and our desire to live more responsibly. This might just be a change that sticks around.

In the meantime there is a cold(ish) front moving through tonight that is supposed to bring us nighttime low temperatures back in the upper 60s/lower 70s for the next several days, so I'm hoping we can avoid using the air conditioner again until the weekend.

How about you, dear reader? How are you managing the heat?

--Rational Mama

The Opposite of Prepared

During our year of living on World War II civilian rations certain foods and behaviors are restricted. It also means that some behaviors, such as walking to destinations and gardening are encouraged. Another example of this is in regards to emergency preparedness; during WW II the U.S. Civilian Defense Corp organized approximately 10 million civilian volunteers who were trained to fight fires, decontaminate after chemical weapon attacks, and provide first aid and other emergency services.

“Be prepared” is the time-honored motto of the Boy Scouts but, unfortunately, it’s a bit of a cliche. In today’s jaded society it’s easy to be skeptical of the need to be prepared. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks a public campaign promoted emergency preparedness; every family was encouraged to have enough non-perishable food and water (and duct tape and plastic sheeting) on hand to last through a multi-day emergency situation.

Did you do it?

If you’re like most Americans you purchased a few extra cans of tuna and a spare flashlight, but that was the extent of your emergency preparedness. There was a time when the Rational Living household had a two week stash of food and supplies kept in a watertight container in the basement. Around the first of the year I would rotate out supplies, restock flashlight batteries, sizes of diapers, etc. so that we were prepared for whatever misfortune came our way.

Living in Kansas, the most likely misfortune to hit us would be a winter storm or, that classic Kansas icon, a tornado. We have a weather radio and on the nights were it appeared a trip down to the basement would be necessary we lined up shoes, blankets, and such to grab if a tornado warning was issued.

That was then, this was now.

Now, our emergency supplies are sorely neglected. This became painfully obvious last week when, after hardly a tornado warning for our city in several years, the weather radio went off at 11:00pm with a sudden and unexpected tornado warning! Granted, it was raining, but we weren't even under a tornado watch.

TMOTH and I jumped up out of bed, woke up the girls and corralled all (including the pets) into the basement. There were no shoes, no blankets. There was only one flashlight with batteries; all the others were either missing batteries, had dead batteries, or were buried deep in the camping supplies. The hand-crank radio was lost somewhere in the old emergency supply box where (goodness gracious) I found some diapers.

Our girls our 7.5 yrs and 9.5 yrs old (yes, I have to put the half in there or they will disown me). The diapers served as a stark reminder that we have not been on the up-and-up when it has come to maintaining our emergency preparedness supplies.

Unfortunately, it CAN be too late to be prepared, and there's lots of reasons to be prepared that are statistically more likely than a red alert level on the Homeland Security Advisory System.

Flooding, winter storm, tornado, fire, contamination of public water supplies, pandemic, hazardous materials spill, and sudden unemployment are just a few.

So what do we need to do? Well, there’s various levels of preparedness, and different locations to consider. Ideally, we should have a grab-and-go emergency bag for situations that require short-term relocation, a stockpile of food and supplies for an emergency of longer duration (at least two weeks or so), and a seasonally-appropriate emergency kit in each automobile.

We've got a long way to go.

I've asked TMOTH to chair this particular task, so he'll get to spend the next few weeks perusing the various websites and blogs that talk about general preparedness, good things to know for when SHTF (the Sh*t Hits the Fan) happens and ponderings about TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It). I have no doubt he will enjoy this task.

In the meantime, I'm adding a few no-battery flashlights to this week's shopping list, and am gonna make sure that the hand-crank radio is out and accessible.

Are you prepared, dear reader?

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The whole house fan is officially operational! We can only run it on low right now (need more ventilation in the attic for the high setting), but even on low the effect is quite nice.

And the timing couldn't be more perfect - the project high temperatures for the next eight days are all in the low- to mid- 90s.

How are you staying cool this summer?

--Rational Mama

The Great Snack Food/Cereal/Soda Smackdown of 2010

Next week will mark the completion of our sixth month on the rationing program. Can you believe it? The half-way mark!

Next week will also mark the start of the Great Snack Food/Cereal/Soda Smackdown of 2010. What? You don't know about this? Well, lemme 'splain.

For nearly six months we've been toodling along with the rationing program fairly comfortably (except for the lack of green vegetables in the winter and that liver incident I don't want to talk about). And an important part of why we've been fairly comfortable is because cereals, crackers and chips were not rationed, so we have not put any restrictions on those items. But in reality, this isn't fair.

You see, in the 1940s there was not the enormous variety of snack crackers, chips and cereals as there are now. There were no Cool Ranch Doritos, Ritz Chips Sweet Chili and Sour Cream nor Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal to appease the masses. Hence, while we've missed things like lettuce, pork chops and ketchup at times we've been able to stuff ourselves on these modern (and questionably nutritious) items.

And that's just not fair.

So, to renew our commitment in the second half of the rationing year we are imposing a limitation on snack foods, cereals and sodas: they must be period appropriate. What does this mean for us? Here's a list of what will be available (and the year it was first commercially produced)...

Ritz Crackers (1934)
Saltines (19th century)
Graham Crackers (1829)
Cheez-Its (1921)
Triscuits (1902)

Frito's (1932)
Tortilla Chips (early 1940s)
Plain (salted) Potato Chips (1853)
Pretzels (1889)

Grape Nuts (1898)
Shredded Wheat (1893)
Cheerios (1941)
Corn Flakes (1894)
Raisin Bran (1926)
Kix (1937)
Chex (1937)
Rice Crispies (1928)

What won't be allowed are those newer, fancy-flavored, highly processed varieties. For crackers this means no Goldfish or specially flavored versions of the approved list. Doritos, Pringles, cheese puffs and the likes won't be available in the chip category. When it comes to cereals we will be avoiding most children's cereals (we already do - way too much sugar and artificial colors) and the specialty cereals which include sweetened or frosted pieces.

TMOTH is a Grape Nuts man, and my cereal of choice is shredded wheat, so our breakfasts will remain compliant. We will, for the first time in their lives, allow the girls to sprinkle a tiny amount of sugar on their cereal if that will help the plain shredded wheat go down better.

I imagine we'll get a bit creative and learn how to make our own version of Doritos and such using the resources we have (I have quite the spice collection).

And as far as soda's go...the biggest change is that no artificial sweeteners will be allowed. Mostly, this will affect me, since my maximum three sodas I drink per week are of the diet kind. We won't be too stringent about whether or not the soda actually existed in the 1940s, since we rarely drink soda and when we do it's along classic soda lines (Pepsi, 7Up) rather than newer varieties (Mountain Dew).

What would be the most difficult snack/cereal/soda item for you to go without?

--Rational Mama

P.S. This is our 100th post! My, how time flies!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Garden Plans, Part II (Extremely Overdue Post)

Whew! The planning and planting of the Victory Gardens took way more energy and time (due to a very wet spring). Finally, here's the overview of what we have planted in all the various gardening spaces!

Home Base (the garden in the Rational Living Backyard)
4 tomato plants
2 eggplants
3 hills cucumbers (regular and pickling)
2 pepper plants
8 basil
1 dill
2 hills (volunteer) potatoes
7 broccoli
1 cilantro
2 mint
1 parsley
Malibar spinach
lettuce/mesclun/lettuce (already harvested)
radishes (already harvested)

Artists' Garden (space space by a lovely family of local artists)
10 tomatoes
1 parsley
3 basil
2 eggplant
5 broccoli
1 summer squash
*they have also offered to share some of their cucumbers, tomatoes and blackberries

L's Garden (space donated by two sweet and fun gals)
8 tomatoes
1 dill
1 cilantro
4 broccoli
2 basil
1 pepper
1 hill cucumbers
1 zucchini
1 cantaloupe
1 ice-box melon

A's Garden (another patch of donated space by a lovely family which I don't have a photograph of yet)
Enough pole beans to fill a 8' x 6' patch of brown earth

Rational In-Laws Garden (a great place for a few odds and ends)
2 tomatoes
1 pepper
1 cantaloupe

Each of the families involved has been very generous with their space. Our goal is to stay up on the needed maintenance of each garden and share a generous portion of the produce with the families in gratitude. This should prove interesting as the summer progresses.

And what have you planted, dear reader?

--Rational Mama

The Trouble with Summer and Chocolate...

Notes from the rationing world:

One appreciates M&M's claims to melt in your mouth and not in your hand much more seriously when air conditioning isn't an option.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, June 13, 2010


We were invited by some sweet friends to partake of their abundant blackberry patch today. Wow! It's a very very good year for blackberries - the perfect weather for blooms and no late frost to hurt the buds. I couldn't believe the amount of berries on the vines, in all stages of maturity.

The girls and I headed out into the thicket with our buckets, but they soon found other diversions once they realized how thorny blackberry vines can be. I continued to wade through the vines, which managed to grab my arse more than a drunken construction worker (note to self: wear heavy-duty jeans when picking blackberries).

In the end we came home with roughly four pounds of fresh, organic local blackberries. Wonderfully huge and sweet, blackberries are no doubt my most favorite berry (strawberries are a close second). And they way the vines are drooping with unripe fruit we'll probably be able to do at least one more round of picking (thank you, friends).

The absolutely crazy schedule this week doesn't allow for any canning, so this time we'll eat the fresh fruit as-is which, after many months of very limited fresh fruit intake, is an easy sacrifice to make. The blackberries should get us through to the early apple season, which we're all quite excited about.

What fruit would you most look forward to eating after a long hiatus?

--Rational Mama

Friday, June 11, 2010

The (Produce) Seasons Are A Changin'

As if the new influx of hot and sultry weather wasn't enough of a reminder that summer is moving along, the changing inventory of our weekly CSA bag also serves as a harbinger of summer's prime.

Initially, our CSA bags were mostly salad greens (and you know how I feel about salad greens), radishes, green onions and the like. Typical early summer fare.

Today's CSA bag consisted of carrots, zucchini, potatoes, snow peas and a decent (and an increasingly rare) head of lettuce.
Ahhh...summer IS progressing. Soon our bags will be filled with more zucchini, peppers, eggplants and, and, AND tomatoes! Oh, how we are looking forward to those first fresh tomatoes! It has literally been around 9 months since we had decent tomatoes in the house.

I have a feeling we'll be eating most of this produce raw, since cooking seems to be falling to the wayside now that both outdoor and indoor temperatures are creeping up. As I write this at 8:35pm the current temperature outside is 86 degrees (after a high temperature of over 90 degrees) and the humidity is at 70%. Unfortunately, the situation isn't much different in the house.

TMOTH has been plugging away on the whole house fan project. The fan is completely framed and installed and the wiring is planned out. We need to make alterations to some of the windows in the attic to increase ventilation (whole house fans need lots of attic ventilation to work properly). I know TMOTH really wanted the completed window changes to be sufficient, but numerous calculation checks tell us we need more.

Poor TMOTH - he's been working in the considerably hot attic for days and did not take this news well. He needs to go refresh in a cool shower so that the world is a better place.

And maybe have a nice cool beer. That usually makes the world a better place, too.

What's your favorite way to cool off?

--Rational Mama

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Can't Be Beet

Local beets are just now becoming available at the farmer's market and a few days ago I pickled a few jars of beets.
I love working with beets - there is something about their intense color that suggests jewels or gems, hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. And the way they stain your fingers keeps them on the mind long after they've entered your tummy.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Progress! I think...

I had the opportunity to come home for lunch today. The girls greeted me at the door and then said, "You should go look at the roof!"

"The roof?!?" I asked in panic. Oh dear, what has TMOTH done? "Do you mean the ceiling upstairs?"

"Umm...yeah...the ceiling." (shifty eyes)

Up the stairs I went and was surprised to see this:
It's a little unsettling to look up at your hallway ceiling and see your roof.

While I was at work TMOTH had a chance to talk with our neighbor about the wiring and then proceeded to saw out the plaster ceiling. Plaster is difficult to cut nice and pretty, so there will be some patching when the installation is complete.

TMOTH then did a test fit with the temporary framing and the fan.
Did I mention this thing is huge?

After the initial shock of looking at the roof from the second floor I have to say I'm pretty happy that he's making progress. Making the first cut is an act of faith. I'm hoping that framing and wiring go pretty easily and quickly, too.

After all...the high temperatures this weekend are projected to be in the mid-90s.

--Rational Mama

This (Damn) Old House

Yesterday, at one point, it was 82 degrees outside with a humidity level of 83%.

My personal opinion is that the numerical value of the humidity level shouldn't exceed the numerical value of the temperature. It was sticky, sticky, sticky. Oh, how air conditioning would have magically sucked that moisture out of the household! But alas, it is not an option this year.

Definitely a good incentive to get that whole house fan installed soon! A major air movement would have helped for sure.

TMOTH spent the better part of the day yesterday up in the attic to start on said whole house fan project. Seems our 100 year old house doesn't exactly have joists at modern/standard intervals.

This is going to get interesting.

Oh! And while we were checking out the dormer windows (they'll need to be replaced with vents) TMOTH pulled out some insulation-type material that was wedged between the window and the beam. It appears to be a section of some type of insulated clothing from ancient (early 1900s) times - like welder's pants. One of the early inhabitants of our house was a blacksmith, so I wonder if one winter he shoved some old work pants in the crevices of the attic to decrease drafts.

We'll keep you posted on the fan installation - it's going to require some outside-the-box thinking.

And sweating.

--Rational Mama

Friday, June 4, 2010

Something in the Air

Oh, boy.

In our attempt to stay true to our rationing experiment, we're trying to go all summer without turning on our air conditioners (both in the house and in our cars). In the 1940s some businesses, but few residences and no cars, had air conditioning. That is our historical precedent. Additionally, the extra electricity required to run the air conditioner isn't exactly kosher if we're trying to save energy for the war effort, sooo...

This could really suck. We live in the central plains and it is not unusual to have a couple of weeks of 100+ degree (Fahrenheit) highs. Otherwise, most of the summer's daytime temps hover around the mid-90's. Oh, and did I mention the 40-60% humidity?

Since our house was built when air conditioning was but a dream (our house turns 100 years old this year!) it is equipped with lots of windows which are great for air circulation - cross currents are not a problem. Add in three ceiling fans and four floor fans and so far we've been fairly comfortable on most days. Part of the reason is because the nighttime/low temperatures have still been very reasonable and once we shut down the windows (around 10:00am) to trap the cool air in and keep the mid-day heat out, the house remains pleasant (if not a little stuffy). The other day I came home from work and while it was 92 degrees outside (heat index of 96) it was only 79 degrees in the house. Victory!

On those days when the inside temperature has crept into the mid-80s we've been taking cool-down baths/showers and drying off in front of the fans to cool our core body temperatures down. Done right before bed, this serves as a good way to get comfortable and fall asleep while waiting for the pleasing evening air to find its way into the house.

But...we're reaching the part of the summer when nighttime temperatures will be in the mid 70's/low 80's. This is not nearly as satisfying (and cooling) as the 60's/low 70's so we're bringing in the artillery...or, at least, this:

This is a whole house fan, commonly (and incorrectly) referred to as an attic fan. It is huge. Whole house fans are typically installed in the attic floor/top level ceiling and work by pulling cooler morning/evening air into the house through the windows and blowing the hotter air out through the attic venting. I had never seen or heard of one of these until I was in college and was amazed at how effective they can be at cooling down a house. We've been pondering installing one of these in our house for years, and with this year's rationing program we are finally getting off of our tookuses and doing it!

"But, wait!" you say. "Isn't the Rational Living household restricted on buying new appliances during the rationing year?" Yes, faithful reader, you are correct. While we were ready to bend that rule to survive the summer we didn't need to thanks to the clever tinkering of a relative, S.P.

S.P. is quite the handy type and a few years ago was helping renovate a house that had fire and smoke damage. He noticed that the attic fan was slated for replacement, even thought it only had some limited smoke damage. After asking permission, S.P. took the attic fan home to his workshop and there it sat - until I mentioned to S.P. this spring that we were gearing up to install a whole house fan (I didn't know he had one in the wings). He dug the reclaimed fan out, hooked it up to electricity and let it run for over an hour - it worked perfectly fine! So, we are able to install a used fan and thus not violate any appliance-buying restrictions. Thanks, S.P.!

In the next couple of weeks we'll finish cleaning the soot and dust off the fan and begin the installation work. TMOTH will be in charge of this project and luckily our extremely knowledgeable neighbor will be helping him with the wiring (we have the best neighbors, evuh).

Wish us luck - I always get a bit nervous when we start knocking down parts of the plaster ceilings and walls in the house.

In the meantime, we'll be brainstorming other ways to stay cool this summer. This weekend the highs are in the mid-90's with 50% humidity, so it's a good test of things to come. I see a lot of sprinklers, swimming pools, popsicles, watermelon and outside grilling in our future.

Hmm...that sounds suspiciously like a good summer.

One last thought: when we did run the air conditioner during the summer we kept the thermostat at 78 or 79 degrees. What is your summertime thermostat set at?

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sugar Coated Forgetfulness

We haven't been doing much baking for the past few months (outside of making our own sandwich bread every week). As a result, I had gotten very laissez-faire when it came to our sugar rations. We're allowed a total of two pounds of sugar per week and I think an entire month went by without me buying any. Clearly, I don't keep the cookie jar full like a typical 1940's housewife. We didn't need the sugar, and I didn't want to be a hoarder.

I mentioned something about this to TMOTH a few weeks back and he replied, "What about all the sugar we'll need for canning this summer?"


During WWII sugar rationing a household could apply for a one-time 15 pound supply of sugar to be specifically used for canning. I haven't yet come across any newspaper articles from 1943 that explain exactly what percentage of those applications were approved - I'll have to dig a little deeper. But the point was, and is, that you better buy your sugar now if you're going to be canning later.

So, I have amended my shopping ways and will now purchase our two pounds of sugar every week. What we don't use in canning we can use in the fresh fruit pies and sweets we plan to make and freeze while locally available fruit is available this season.

Now, I wonder if there is any other rationed item that I'm not buying that will be in a pinch for later...

Sigh, it will probably be ketchup.

--Rational Mama