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

Monday, February 6, 2012

Oh, If I Only Could...

A coworker brought this to my attention.

Oh, if I only had $150 to blow I would so buy this and put it near the chicken coop.

--Rational Mama

Friday, February 3, 2012


It's been a pretty low-energy, low-expectations kinda week. I had extensive surgery last week and so have spent this week at home recovering. It was my first experience with surgery and general anesthesia. All the good points make me think of the ideal approach to time-travel: a feeling of drunkenness, followed by a sudden shift forward in time with no awareness of the passing between.

I'm not used to having so much time around the house that doesn't involved chores or tasks and such. It's kinda weird.

I've spent a decent amount of time streaming Netflix. I have worked my way through the first season of the BBC series Sherlock (Martin Freeman is my new boyfriend), and am nearly finished with the first season of PBS's Downton Abbey. I highly, highly recommend both.

Crazy Cat thinks I should watch another episode. Why not?

I have a little table set up next to the sofa so I don't have to jump up and down to get lots of little mundane things. It hosts remotes, a current embroidery project, medications and some reading materials.

More on that embroidery project later...

The table is so handy it may become a permanent fixture.

When I've managed to pry myself from the sofa I've daydreamed about the upcoming planting season. So many lists...some more reality-based than others.

I would like one of everything, please.

We've been blessed (hopefully not cursed) by some amazing end-of-January weather. Highs in the 60s and plenty of sunshine. It has served as a nice excuse to get out and take short walks to build my strength and stamina back up.

There is still a nest in this little house from last summer. Should I empty it?

My companion.

We've also had very little moisture this winter, which makes me concerned for the farmers.

Picture perfect day.

We're now half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Of course, by the time I come in from a walk I'm ready for a nap.

Or another episode of Downton Abbey.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What's the Deal with Chickens and Roads?

So last Friday evening we received a call from one of Sissy's besties. Apparently, while waiting for the bus to depart from school she noticed a feathered chicken wing in the road and its former owner in the ditch. Bestie asked if Pat was still missing.

She was. It had been exactly two weeks since Sasquatch carried her off.

After confirming the coloring of the deceased chicken matched that of Pat, TMOTH and Sissy walked the mere 1 1/2 blocks to the school to check out the carnage.

Yup, it was Pat. Apparently she attempted to cross the road (from our side of the road to that of the school) and was hit by a car. Based on the evidence it had been a pretty quick death, and it must have happened sometime during that day, since her body was not present during the morning school commute.

She was brought home and buried in the back half-acre next to a trio of rose bushes.

We were all amazed that Pat was found so close to home after so long. If she was that close she could have heard all of our calling, all of Dockers' crowing and the dinner bell ringing (we literally ring a bell when we give the chickens cracked corn - it's our Pavlovian way of making sure they all come when we need to lock them in the coop yard).

Maybe she didn't want to come home. Maybe I had it wrong all this time.

Maybe Sasquatch didn't abduct her.

Maybe she ran off with Sasquatch - a love affair otherwise forbidden by chicken sensibilities.

Don't cry, big guy. You'll love again someday.

Somewhere, a lonely 'Squatch is crying.

--Rational Mama

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rational Lessons

Last October I gave a program one Sunday morning as a follow-up to the rationing year. What follows is the text of that program.

--Rational Mama

Good morning!

Okay. So the last time I stood up here for any appreciable amount of time was in late January 2010. On that brisk Sunday morning I shared the story of how me and my family (including my Linkhusband TMOTH, and our two daughters, Sissy and Eowyn) had chosen to live on WWII civilian rations for 1 year. It was our attempt to live our beliefs of responsible consumption and sustainable living. As I said back then, “[T]his experiment is about learning how much you're willing to change to make a change. What if you dared to only consume what you needed, and then as fairly as possible at that?” Our goal was, by the end of the rationing year, to have a better understanding of our needs vs. wants, so that we could re-prioritize our family resources to be more in line with our desires to live a more ethical lifestyle. By adopting a tried and true system that literally millions had followed (and survived!), we were confident that the rationing system would be free of the shortsightedness and mistakes of any green-living program we created for ourselves.

At the time of my last presentation we were merely one month into our year-long project. Now, I stand before you nearly 19 months later, and a full 10 months since our experiment ended, ready to give you the rundown and share our amazing insights gained during those months. I am also fully aware that today’s presentation serves as a sequel, and sequels are rarely as interesting as their predecessors with, of course, the exception of the Star Trek (Wrath of Kahn) and Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back) franchises.

With that in mind…"Rationing, a historical frontier. These are the challenges of the Rational Living family. Their 12 month mission: to explore strange new food combinations, to seek out reduced consumption and mindful living, and to boldly go where no American family has gone befo…well, since 1945.” Okay, seriously, moving on…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Americans rationed. From 1942 to 1945 a complex system, implemented by the Office of Price Administration, determined how much Americans could consume. Restrictions ranged from the more industrial (gasoline, rubber, appliances) to the personal (food, coffee and shoes). As wartime needs changed, so did rationing allotments - the availability of certain rationed items fluctuated considerably during this period.

Our own rationing system was set up to duplicate (or provide modern-day equivalents for) the WWII civilian structure. For example, the historical example would give our family 11 gallons of gasoline per week. But, once we considered the increased fuel efficiency of our modern vehicles and the average miles per gallon of vehicles back then and crunching numbers…blah, blah, carry the one…came up with a modern ration of 193 miles per week between our two vehicles. For the rationing year all of our shopping, entertainment, school and vacation driving had to fit within that limit.

When it came to food items were rationed in different ways; points per item or a set amount per person were the most common approaches. For our experiment our household was allotted two pounds of sugar per week, which sounds like a sizable sum until you remember that prepackaged sweets were not allowed during the project, due to historical accuracy.

Household coffee was limited to two pounds every five weeks. That’s the equivalent of one cup of coffee per adult, per day.

Canned goods, frozen produce (what little was available in the 1940s) and dried beans were rationed on a green point system. In general, the more processed or exotic an item was, the higher the amount of rationing points were required to purchase said item. Thus, dried beans cost relatively few rationing points, while a bottle of ketchup (that holy among holy for children) would cost our family nearly all of our green points for the week.

Cheese, fats, oils and meat (specifically, pork and beef) were rationed separately from canned goods, but they were all part of their own red point system.

Not all foodstuffs were rationed during WWII: eggs, grains and fresh vegetables and fruit were spared from rationing, but were subject to seasonally availability and unpredictable shortages. Game meat, poultry and fish were not rationed in the 1940‘s because they were local offerings. Since poultry and fish are just as easily attainable nowadays at your grocery store as pork and beef, we decided to include them in our red point system.

To simulate the unpredictable availability of both rationed and non-rationed items during WWII we created a simple, but effective system that mimicked these fluctuations. Every week we pulled situations and items out of a bag (the number of which was dictated by the role of a die) and had to accommodate those changes for the entire week. So, with little advance warning, we might find that the points required to purchase canned corn or beef had doubled, or that there was a flour or sugar shortage.

We added a few self-imposed restrictions in spirit of the program: since I had read that ration points were required for restaurant meals, we decided that eating out at restaurants would be limited to only once a month as a family. During the week we were scheduled to have our dinner out, our ration point allotments for that week would be decreased by a comparable amount.

Whew, that’s a lot of history and guidelines! Well, I’m here to tell you the ups and downs of our year-long attempt to live our beliefs by living in the past…er…on within the guidelines of the historical rationing system. Now remember, our desire to complete this project wasn't out of some longing for historical reenactment or to legitimize our love of the The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Instead, it was to experience a life adapted by changing ingrained behaviors to better reflect our desires to reduce our consumption of precious resources and to gain a better understanding of what were our needs, rather than just wants. So, really, the lessons we learned could really apply to any attempt to live one’s convictions. As such, I pulled out what I think are the 7 most important lessons we learned that could apply to anyone attempting. (Why seven? Because I started with 10 and exceeded my time limit)

Here goes.

Lesson #1: When living your beliefs, you may find that your beliefs are, indeed, not based on facts.

I spent the better part of two months researching WWII rationing in order to determine our proper allotments and guidelines for the various restrictions we would be experiencing over the course of the rationing year. Hours were spent clicking through online resources and spinning through microfilm reels at the library. After pages of notes and calculations I felt confident that we had a working (and historically accurate) system in place.

However, during our 3rd week a nagging suspicion drove me to double check some figures. Sure enough, I found that due to an error in my notes I had miscalculated our green (or canned goods) allotment; where we had been living quite comfortably with a total of 192 green points per week, our actual true allotment was…only 48 green points per week. Needless to say, menu planning became much more interesting after that discovery.

Another “Aha!” moment came during our fourth month of the rationing project. Earlier in the year we had no problem with the dining-out restriction - it was like we were some bad-ass non-eating out ninjas who could quickly and silently whip up an easy dinner in the chaos of the day. Only a half-hour to eat between getting home and piano lessons? No problem! Running errands that conflict with lunch time? Simple - just grab some snacks to tide you over until we eat a real meal at home.

Yeah, that was so February. By April we'd definitely experienced a backslide in this category. An extra dinner out. Grabbing a quick sandwich while out shopping. I was beginning to feel guilty about this slide, since we were reducing our allotted rationing points on the weeks we went out, so future purchases were affected. So, I dug and dug further into the historical tomes and finally found this quote from a 1945 newspaper article:

OPA regulations state that all persons who consume eight or more meals a week in a restaurant, hotel dining room, hospital or institution…shall surrender their ration books to the owner or operator of such places of business, and stamps will be removed…

What? What? Eight meals out per week? Who the heck does that? Definitely not us. After that epiphany, eating out was so ON. Moral of this story? A little fact-checking never hurt anyone.

Lesson #2 Living your beliefs will be liberating, but will most likely be uncomfortably restricting at times.

Man, oh man…never did 193 miles seem like such a small distance as it did during rationing.

True, many weeks we were under that limit and able to hoard some of those miles into the next week. But, in general, nearly all trips - whether for shopping or entertainment - were evaluated for necessity. Suddenly, our favorite Tex-Mex joint on the south side of town became too far away, and the girls’ out-of-town swim meets made for some interesting weeks which would not have been possible without our “rollover” miles. In the end, our family traveled just over 10,000 miles during the rationing year, which was right on track (almost down to the mile) with our allotment. That’s a lot of miles, but it’s still nearly 14,000 less than (or less than ½ of) the national average for a family of our size. Being able to see the big picture perspective can make it easier to accept the restrictions required to live within your principles.

Lesson #3 Murphy’s Law still applies while living your beliefs.

Murphy’s Law of “whatever can go wrong, will,” never takes a break. During our year of rationing both our oven and propane grill died. Due to the increased demand for metal during the war, new appliances (such as ovens, refrigerators and washing machines) were hard to come by during rationing. In fact, you basically had to apply for an appliance purchase. Unable to purchase new equipment (and not thrilled with our “used” options) we were lucky enough to secure the needed parts to repair both the oven and grill and keep them working for the next several years.

The biggest snafu that had us shaking our fists skywards toward the gods concerned the issue of attempting a summer with no air-conditioning. Since household air-conditioning as we know it was extremely rare in the 1940’s it seemed only logical that skipping the A/C during rationing year would not only be historically appropriate but also be a great way to reduce our energy consumption and costs. Plus, the decision gave us the final kick in the pants needed to install a whole house fan (using a used fan salvaged by my dad).

Let me remind you that the summer of 2010 was a scorcher - not quite as bad as what we had this year (thank goodness), but it was the hottest summer in well over a decade. It was hot. And humid. While the whole house fan helped, we found it tempting to run it for longer periods, just to keep a breeze stirring in the house. Bedtime meant cool-down baths and strategically placed fans…and sweating. Eventually, it got to the point where the heat was affecting our ability to sleep, since bedtime temperatures in the house (even with the assistance of the attic fan) were hovering around 90 degrees. In an effort to find coping mechanisms, I spoke with “old-timers” who had made it through the 40’s without A/C. They explained that some folks had window swamp coolers, and lots of houses still used sleeping porches (we had neither). They also explained that, during those horrendous days of summer, societal expectations changed - work shifts were altered, expectations were lowered; people just didn't do much. Not having that flexibility and faced with another night of sweaty, pathetic sleep, we finally caved at 3 o’clock in the morning one day late June. The air-conditioning was back on.

We were excited when the utility bill arrived a few weeks later, eager to see how much our sweat and discomfort had saved the pocket book. Total savings? Zero. Why? The dehumidifier in the basement. Without the air-conditioner running and acting as a dehumidifier for the entire house, the basement dehumidifier (necessary to keep the moisture level bearable in the basement of our 100 year old house) had to work overtime. It basically never got a break the entire time that we were stuffing ice down our shirts and playing in the sprinklers. Needless to say, the air-conditioner stayed on for rest of the summer.

Lesson #4 Living your beliefs can be hard to swallow (literally) at times.

When it came to historic meals during the rationing project there was the good (SPAM burgers, victory pancakes and maple pudding), the bad (sausage loaf, cabbage del Monaco), and the ugly. Nothing portrays the ugly of rationing meals more for our family than liver. Since low-quality cuts and organ meats were considerably lower in rationing points meals during WWII often incorporated these items. One brave day in February I decided that it was liver day. Glenn had had some nasty run-ins with liver as a youth, so he was less than thrilled. Myself and the girls had never had liver before, so this was going to be a new experience. I think my blog post following liver night reports it well:

Sissy, ever the enthusiastic carnivore, took the first bite. She quickly spit it back out, saying it was too lemony and tasted a little strange. The piece of liver spent such a short time in her mouth I was doubtful if she really got the full flavor.

Eowyn, always a bit more reserved around meat, fondled a piece of liver in her mouth and then spit it out. Party pooper.

TMOTH was next. Like a champion he put an honest bite into his mouth and began to chew. After two chews his eyes became all squinty. After three chews his mouth was grimacing, apparently in a wrestling match with his mind. On the fourth chew the mind won and out came the liver.

Friends, I feel like I should tell you that chewed, cooked liver looks like cat-sick.

I was the only one left. Talk about peer pressure. I was ready to prove them all wrong. I put a good nickel-sized piece of liver in my mouth. I was pleasantly surprised by the texture; the wet tissue paper of raw liver had been replaced by a tender meat, very similar to chicken fried steak. Another bite and I could taste the lemony-bacon sauce. Salty and tangy at the same time. Mmm... This wasn't bad at all. I committed to the chewing - this piece was awesome and was going to make it all the way down unlike the other losers at the table. Four chews. Five chews. What a bunch of pansies, they couldn't keep the liver in their mouths for more than -


Why does it taste like burning plastic in my mouth? Did a chewing-activated enzyme just turn my piece of food into motor oil? What is going on?

Friends, my piece of liver became reacquainted with my plate.

At some point, sticking to your beliefs is going to leave a bad taste in your mouth (either literally or figuratively). But don’t worry, it will pass.

Lesson #5 It IS possible to go too far in living your beliefs (but a trip there just might be what you need).

By early September - over eight months into our program year - rationing was, well…kinda boring. I had memorized the regular point values for our most used items, there were many weeks worth of Victory menus to choose dinners from and we had been able to stock up on most staples so as to avoid any negative impacts from sudden shortages. The rationing life was kinda…normal. The challenge was sort of…gone. Rather than sit back and relax for the remaining two and a half months, though, I had this idea…

See, one of the regular visitors on our blog about the rationing project was Jamie - Jamie lives in the U.K. and was following the U.K. ration system from WWII for (what was initially) three months. His little experiment happened to overlap in time with our own rationing project. We had a good time comparing and contrasting our respective rations and how our countries’ palates adapted to what was available. But there was no question that Jamie’s rations were more restrictive; as complicated as rationing was in the U.S. during WWII there is no doubt that our allies across the pond had it much, much worse. Not only were U.K. rations more restrictive and meager, but they experienced more frequent and lasting shortages (not to mention the bombings).

Their period of rationing was also significantly longer than that experienced in the U.S. Whereas U.S. rationing lasted for the better part of three years (roughly 1942 to 1945), rationing in the U.K. lasted a whopping 14 years (1940 to 1954).

So it only seemed fair that during our own year-long rationing program that we honor those allies who had it much worse than us. I mean seriously honor them - not just go with a "Look, I made a Woolten Pie" kinda thing. Which is why we decided to give U.K. WWII rations a try for two weeks in October.

I corresponded back and forth with Jamie to make sure I would be working with accurate rations. After all - so much more was rationed and in tighter amounts that I wanted to make sure we were giving it an honest go. Even grains like rice and oatmeal, and everyday items like fresh milk, cereal, eggs and soap were rationed. As a result, rationing diets in the British Isles relied heavily on fresh fruits and vegetables, with potatoes and breads being used as fillers. There was no doubt that all of our usual rations (and then some) took a major hit when we switched to the U.K. system. I mean, there wasn’t even a coffee ration.

It also took significantly more of my time and energy to organize shopping lists and points and to come up with appetizing, nutritiously balanced meals that the girls would eat.

Just a few days into the first week of U.K. rations and it became clear that, without non-rationed fillers like potatoes, U.K. rations provided just enough, just enough, food to get by on. Even though we were providing the girls with solid lunches and often skimping on our servings at breakfast and dinner so that they could have more, they needed snacks every night because of hunger. Genuine hunger. And we could only provide them meager snacks at best. TMOTH and I often went to bed hungry.

On day six of U.K. rations TMOTH and I were driving home from an errand, when he said quietly, “I’m hungry.” "Me, too," I replied. I thought about how many times the four of us had said those words during the past six days. I'd heard it from the girls more than once each day we'd been on U.K. rations. I thought about hearing it for another eight days. Having your patient children look at you with their big eyes, informing you that they are yet again hungry (because of a choice you made) is enough to break any parent’s heart.

"Maybe six days is enough," I said.

We had learned our lesson. What the civilians of the United Kingdom dealt with was far beyond the situation handed to the Americans. As Sissy put it, "They [in the U.K.] had only what was needed, but in the U.S. we could also get things we wanted."

So that evening we picked the girls up from their grandparents and told them that we were done with U.K. rations. They actually cheered. They were happy to be back on U.S. rations.

Lesson #6: Your beliefs might actually change.

I did a lot of soul searching after the U.K. ration experiment. Understanding at a deeper level what the people of the United Kingdom went through for the better part of 14 years made the U.S. system look like a walk in the park. And knowing that there are still plenty of people in the world today that subsist on government-imposed or humanitarian provided rations (if lucky) made our rationing program…well, it made it seem a bit of a bourgeois joke. Look at us, well-funded Americans choosing to “rough it” on a system that stifles our choices but still provides more than enough nourishment. I felt uncomfortable, almost ashamed, of what we were doing. The only way to justify our rationing experience, to make it have meaning, was to go back to the beginning.

As I said during that January morning when I stood here, “[T]his experiment is about learning how much you're willing to change to make a change. What if you dared to only consume what you needed, and then as fairly as possible at that? And what if your changes made a measurable difference? And those now surplus resources were somehow redirected to create change where it is needed?”

Line drying your clothes can make a difference. Driving less miles can make a difference. Changing the way you consume resources can make a difference…IF you seize those opportunities redistribute your resources.

This was our time to wake up and realize that our choices do matter and can make a difference.

By the end of the rationing project we had a contract on a modest (less than 1000 sq ft) home on just enough acreage to support a large family garden. We moved in in March, and our old house, (a century-old charmer with over 1600 sq. ft.) in the middle of town sold a few months later.

You see, we’d rather redistribute our own resources, moving them away from commercialized, process food sources and grow and preserve our own. We’d prefer to spend our money supporting humanitarian goals, rather than stuffing the pockets of global companies with questionable ethics.

To us, this also means not eating meat that comes out of the industrial animal farming system.

Remember, the main catalyst for the rationing project was a desire to live a more environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyle. The rationing year was an attempt to move beyond the "easy" practices of recycling and cloth napkins and to dig deeper into ingrained practices and habits that needed changing. Our goal was to find changes that could and should be made to reduce our carbon footprint and create a lifestyle that had a less harmful effect on people and the planet. By the end of the rationing year we had to be honest with ourselves and admit that there was really nothing about the large-scale, industrial farming of animals that justified it being a part of that kind of lifestyle. Period.

At the end of the rationing project our plan was to eliminate industrial meat from our household- this means no meat from grocery store or restaurants. Meat that we have a personal relationship with is different; venison from TMOTH’s hunting or chicken we raise, slaughter and process well, that’s fair game (no pun intended) because utmost thought has been put into all the steps necessary to bring that meat from the field to the table.

This is a big change for us, and while we haven’t been 100% on track with this tenant since the end of the rationing program, we’re moving in the right direction.

Lesson #7 Living your beliefs is best done within a supportive, nurturing community.

There is absolutely no way that our family could have stayed committed the entire 12 months of the rationing project without the help of our supporters - our rationing community. Our church was a big part of this, providing a forum to share our story and an opportunity to expand the dialogue outside of our household. Three church families donated space for our Victory Gardens, several church families offered us excess produce to preserve, while another church regular donated a spare pressure canner to the cause. While there on Sunday mornings folks would regularly check in and ask how the project was going, or comment on a recent blog post. You kept us going through your encouragement, your questions, your generosity and support.

I mean, let’s face it - no matter how good your intentions there will always be haters and skeptics. And the rationing project had its fair share. An acquaintance couldn’t wrap her head at all around the concept of our chosen restrictions. “You must be really bored,” she wrote to me, “that’s the only reason I can think of as to why you would choose to go with all those restrictions and point tracking. Bored, or crazy.” Some out-of-town relatives, perplexed at the rationing project as a whole, made it clear that the scarcity of miles allowed by the project was “a silly way to decide whether or not you’re coming to visit.” And others made it clear that our decision to lean towards vegetarianism was, in their opinion, a poorly constructed plan. “What happens if you just really want to go to Red Robin?” they threw out, as if that was the nail in the coffin to that argument (it wasn’t - I informed them that any of Red Robin’s burgers can be made with a veggie burger if requested at ordering).

I’m not trying to pick a fight. What I am trying to do is remind you that some people will be so completely unnerved and threatened by your ability to live your beliefs (heck, to even have beliefs in the first place), that they will say and do some hurtful things in response.

But if you gather around you a community of like-minded, supportive individuals you will have many hands to hold you up (and many shoulders to cry on when the going gets tough).

WWII civilian rationing didn’t happen in a vacuum - it was part of a larger, national initiative that included war bonds, resource drives and pulled in help from the full gamut of society - veterans, housewives, school children and institutions such as newspapers, movie studios, schools and both big and small business. Only when they worked together were they able to get the American public behind wartime restrictions.

And only with the help from our friends, especially our community at church, was the rationing project possible.

So, there you have it - seven tips for living your beliefs, as learned during our rationing project. In January of 2010 I said, “A year from now I imagine we’ll have a much better understanding of our wants and needs. We’ll have an idea of how our purchases fit into the larger world, and how, buy being conscious about those purchases, we can limit the unintended harm and maximum the positive potential of those purchases.” I think that’s true - we came out of the project much more thoughtful consumers.

I also said, “…I'm 100% certain that there will be moments of weakness and regret, but all the good adventures have those, right?” Moments of weakness, for sure we had those. But regrets? Hmm…there were things we could have done differently, for sure. It was a year of challenges, learning and inconvenience. But regrets? What comes to mind is a quote from the honorable Bob Dylan that I have tacked to my cubicle wall at work: “People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”

We have nothing to repent for the rationing project, no regrets.

Near the end of the rationing year people began asking us what changes or project we would be undertaking during 2011. I sometimes had an internal visceral reaction to these well-meaning questions. I mean, hadn’t we done enough? We completely restructured and reduced our household consumption for an entire year. We became quasi-vegetarians and reduced our household footprint by 40%. We were done with projects for a while.

But I’d like to turn that question back to you. What project are you willing to undertake for the next year? How will you put your beliefs into action? With a little planning and a lot of support, you can do it.

Thank you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CSI: The Shire

Friends, when one commits to owning chickens, one also commits to a laundry list of inevitable firsts that come with owning chickens.

You get the picture.

This past Friday (Friday the 13th, wouldn't ya know), we had the unfortunate experience of having our first UFO - Unexpected Fowl Obfuscation. In other words, a chicken has gone missing.

To bring you up to speed on the poultry of The Shire - as of last week we had one rooster and eight hens. On most fair weather days the chickens have free run of The Shire as long as a human is present on the property. Otherwise, they are sequestered to their coop and coop yard. Never have we, during the day, seen or heard any predators that might threaten chicken safety - the dogs of The Shire are quick to alert us to any interlopers. The chickens also have a helpful habit of remaining on (or at the fence line of) our 2+ acres, which keeps them safe from potential dangers on neighboring properties.

Friday afternoon TMOTH was working outside and completed a head count of the chickens around 1pm. When I arrived home after 4pm I soon decided to herd the chickens to the coop in advance of bonfire happenings scheduled later that evening. But, I discovered, the hens only numbered seven. Pat was missing.

We called. We shook the corn can. We rang the chicken dinner bell. No Pat.

Together with the girls we scoured the perimeter of the property, calling for Pat and looking for signs of foul (fowl) play.

No feather heaps. No blood trails. Pat was just...gone. And she has remained gone since.

Have you seen this chicken?

Since Friday we've completed several more futile perimeter walks.

At this point, I'm thinkin' alien abduction or Sasquatch. Or, it might possibly be due to the stray dogs TMOTH saw running nearby two days prior. Or even hawks or owls. But seriously, it's probably the 'Squatch.

Why did the Sasquatch cross the road? Hmm...

Since Pat was not a feathered favorite among the girls, there (thankfully) hasn't been much anguish about the loss. But Pat was a very productive hen, with pretty brown eggs and the most beautiful golden dappled plumage.

She was the alpha hen, so I wonder how much her absence will affect the flock. Does Dockers (the rooster), realize she is gone? Does he care? Is he now more paranoid about potential dangers?

And which hen will now rise to be the new alpha hen?

--Rational Mama

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year(s)

So, the complicated thing about having your birthday less than two weeks after the New Year is that, with the passing of two major milestones in such a short time span, all the pressure to make positive changes in your life is condensed into one intense, multi-day journey of self-reflection, self-loathing, and resolution. It's like a mega-atonement; rather than metering out the self-criticism and self reflection over several months (as, I imagine, one with a July birthday might do), you're taking on all the guilt, promise and desire full-force and in your face.

To illustrate with a classy simile: it's like eating the Kool-Aid powder straight from the crinkled pouch, rather than mixing it with water, per directions. Overpowering, messy and both bitter and sweet at the same time. You may find yourself curled up on the floor, twitching from sugar shock with purple powder on your fingers and lips. But in the end, the visions you had during the process make it all worth it.

Yeah, so that pretty much sums up my previous week or so.

2011 was an intense year. Our family had to adapt to life after rationing, move into the new house, sell our old house, start new schools, deal with the incredibly hot summer (folks, do you remember July?), deal with family drama and then deal with medical dramas. Many of these things were, eventually, positive but nonetheless I was content to wave good-bye to 2011 on January 1st.

Straddling the lintels of both a new calendar year and birth year, I've had a lot of deep thoughts about what I want to do in 2012. There are many things that I want to not do in 2012, as I've been terrible over-committed the past year.

What I do want to do is spend more unstructured time with the girls, just hanging out and watching them blossom. I want to garden more and cook more. I want to dive back in to my embroidery and other crafts. And I want to write.

You may have noticed, but there was a six month period of no new posts here at Rational Living. It was completely unintentional, another casualty of 2011. I became jaded, thinking our rationing project was just an ephemeral thing and no longer relevant. The muse had vanished.

And then in December a couple of new readers stumbled upon the blog. Their comments were kind, encouraging. They made me feel like I might have something worth saying. Thanks, Gill. And friends and family mentioned how much they enjoyed reading the blog - when was I going to post again?

So, in 2012, Rational Living will once again be a "live" blog, with regular postings covering the topics of homesteading, crafting, cooking and whatever else I decide (note: there will most definitely be geeky overtones at times - you have been warned).

Thanks for being patient, kind readers.

Here's to a wonderful 2012!

--Rational Mama

P.S. Just for the record, one of the disappointing things about having your birthday less than two weeks after the New Year is that someone inevitably gives you a calendar for your birthday.