Worth Fighting For

Ol' Remus at The Woodpile Report had an interesting historical tidbit:
London was bombed seventy-one times during the "official" Blitz, from September 1940 to May 1941. Most were night attacks, the Luftwaffe having failed to gain air superiority. Raids averaged 200 bombers per night. Losses were light—low single-digit per cent, yet shifting strategy and lack of heavy bombers attained far less than could be expected for the effort.
Some one million houses were destroyed and 40,000 civilians killed, less than some single raids on German cities by the RAF and USAAF. John Bull, ever frugal, used much of the rubble for building airfields, and the "cleared" areas were handy places for Victory Gardens. Civilian morale was said to be higher at the end of the Blitz than at the beginning.
I love that last line: Civilian morale was said to be higher at the end of the Blitz than at the beginning. 

Remember the surge of patriotism in the US after 9/11...and our government telling us that the best thing we could do was to get out and go shopping? I'm going to go out on a limb here and posit that if the British government had told everyone to just buy new clothes and curtains after every wave of destruction, Great Britain may well have ended up German Britain.

Despite deprivation, destruction, and losses of WW2, the British knew what they were fighting for and were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to win. The rest of the Allies were also willing to do without so that we could aid our friends in the fight.

Not so much now. At least in the US, I can't imagine our government today using rubble to build airfields. The alphabet agencies' shrieks of anger would deafen us. And can you imagine the lawsuits if the government tried to order bomb-cleared private land be used to produce food to feed the public? For that matter, think of the outrage that would result if the government tried to impose rationing again?

As the world inches closer to another war, we need to ask ourselves if we, as a country, are willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary to win. Can we live with rationing and shortages? Can we adapt, improvise, and overcome? Can we forget our differences and pull together?

Can we remember what we are fighting for?


Progress Report: Stumbling out of the Starting Gate

Okay, we've had some successes and some failures in our first month of trying to live with WW2 rationing.  The main categories subject to the ration system are Electricity, Gasoline, Food, and Clothes/Beauty/Exercise. I break down our progress (or lack thereof), below:

Electricity:  Our 7 room house is allowed an energy ration of 140 fuel units, or 1050 KWH of electricity each month. That works out to 35 KWH per day. Last month's electricity usage was 1031 KWH for 32 days, or 32.22 KWH per day. This month's electric bill says we've used 792 KWH in 25 days, which works out to 31.68 KWH per day. We're over three KWH LESS each day than our ration allows, although I'm not sure how much lower we'll be able to take it. I think we're doing very well in this category.

Grade: A

Gasoline: The gasoline rationing has been...hard to document, what with the cars constantly breaking. I'd put my weekly gas ration into the car and it would promptly break down. After a week of the car being out of commission and having to drive the truck (which has unlimited "C"-ration status for Danny's job) I'd get the parts to fix the car, put my gas ration into the tank...and it would promptly break down again. It is currently sitting at the mechanics...with a full tank of gas.

I'm hoping that we're coming to the end of this episode of the "Broken Car Shuffle" and I can start actually tracking our gasoline rationing...instead of only using it when delivering the car back to the mechanic's.

For the record, since we started this little experiment about 4(!) weeks ago, we have fixed, repaired, or replaced: 4 tires, 1 rim, a water pump, an EGR valve, O2 sensors on both vehicles, tie rods, brake power booster and master cylinder, windshield washer pumps on both vehicles (necessary for clearing road salt off the windshield so you can see to drive), and done the full pre-winter maintenance and checks.

Parts on order: front wheel bearings and ABS sensors for the car (mainly for preventative maintenance for the winter. The bearings are just beginning to go, but a snowy day would be a bad time for them to fail) and an evap canister for the truck. (We're driving the truck anyway, check engine light be damned. The EPA can just get a grip.)

Frankly, it's going to be a sad Christmas this year, because the vehicle repairs have broke us. At least that will be an authentic wartime experience.

[Rant alert!! Currently, the car is out of commission because it has a short in the ECM wiring...that requires a 5 sided inverse torx bit to access to fix. Yes, 5 sided. Not 6. Five. No one in the P-towns had one, so I had to order the bit off Amazon so my mechanic can fix the car. I hate it when car manufacturers get cute with their "tamper proof" bolts. They need to realize that trying to build job security into car maintenance is not always the best idea...especially in America. All it does is piss people off and force us to buy ridiculously specialized tools to fix our vehicles ourselves. It DOESN'T make it any more likely for someone to pay extortion prices to take their 13 year old car or 12 year old truck to a dealer to be repaired, where the mechanics are condescending and you have to fend off salesmen trying to sell the latest crimps in sheet metal on a 7 year loan. Grrrr. Okay, rant over. On with our regularly scheduled report.]

Gasoline: F

Food: Because of the car situation, it has been very difficult to get the shopping done on any sort of regular, rational basis.

I was actually surprised at how easy it was to plan meals not based around meat. Admittedly, I'm not even trying to replicate wartime recipes. With my allergies (coal tar dyes, HFCS and all its derivatives, and nickel) most of those recipes wouldn't work, anyway. Plus, having a flock of chickens to keep us in eggs and the ability to supplement our rations on the Black Market makes a big difference. 

On the down side, the sheer amount of carbs in the wartime diet gives me pause. I find myself planning far too many meals around noodles, rice, or potatoes. They're cheap, filling, and easy. Bread is unlimited, so I find myself eating more than I probably should. Also, with the cars breaking down so much and having to drive almost double the miles to keep everyone at work or schooling, we've filled the gap by eating out more than we usually do.

All told, though, I think we're doing...okay...on the food rationing front.

Food: C

Clothing/Beauty/Exercise: Sigh.

I waited until this week to weigh do a weigh-in. My BMI has gone from 30.7 to 30.8; still obese. I blame the carbs. Daughter's BMI went from 24.1 to 24.0; still normal. Danny's BMI has gone from 31.6 to 27.4 and has gone from the Obese category to the Overweight category. How do men do that?!

Okay, the carbs may not be totally at fault for my weight. I completely dropped the ball on the exercise portion of the agenda. I need to redouble my commitment to daily exercise. Not having to sit for hours at the mechanics would be a good start. Just sayin'.

Let's move away from the weight/exercise part of this post before I get depressed.

Soap rationing has been an ongoing struggle. If I had it to do over again, I would have grouped the dish soap in the same category as shampoo and I would have been fine. Making your own dish soap--yeah, don't bother. Buy detergent dish soap and save the headache.

Moving on: Clothing!

Right after starting our experiment, Danny's only pair of black dress shoes (that he needs for work) lost their tassel while he was teaching at the college. (There's a joke there somewhere. When I find it, I'll let you know.) So we used 14 of his 60 clothing coupons to buy him two pairs of dress shoes (they were buy one, get one half off).

I have to admit to a bit of retail therapy at Goodwill. (Don't judge me; the cars made me do it.) I replaced two shirts that were too stained to keep wearing (well water+iron=destroyed clothing.) I also bought two more sweaters, because I hate being cold. Since it is all used clothing, no ration coupons were used.

Daughter needed a new dress coat for winter, so we used 14 of her 60 coupons to order her a coat off Amazon.

As for the beauty part; I'm trying to get back in the habit of doing my hair and makeup each day...but it's hard to get motivated to look pretty when you're just working around the house or taking cars to the mechanic's. I need to improve in this area.

Grade: C

Overall Grade: C

So there you have it. Our first month hasn't been a total failure, but it wasn't too great, either. We have LOTS of improvements we need to make.


Soap, Take...what number is this? Oh, Okay. Soap, Take 3.

 The chunky dish soap just didn't work. (I'll talk about the laundry soap in a moment.)

To be totally fair, I didn't properly follow the dish soap recipe the first time. But the second time? Yeah. Not as chunky, still does not cut grease! Why, oh why, would anyone want a dish washing soap recipe that won't get grease off the dishes?!?

(Don't take everything the government says at face value. Notice the quotes around "soap"? Just sayin'.)
So I've been experimenting.

I know you can use wood ashes to scrub greasy pots. Wood ashes+water=lye. Lye+fat=soap. Scrubbing with wood ashes saponifies the grease on wet dishes. Theoretically, this would give you grease-free dishes. But, here's the kicker. It hasn't been cold enough (yet) to fire up the wood stove and all of last year's ashes went on this year's garden. Plus, we use the fireplace ashes for traction on the walkways after a snowfall, as well as on the plants. Do I really want to run the risk of falling on my patoot this winter because I used all the ashes cleaning the dishes? I think not. Plus, ashes are messy.

Ashes are out. Strike one. What about bleach?

Washing with the dish soap and then rinsing the dishes in a sink of bleach water cut the grease...some. I was annoying not having the second sink to rinse the dishes off while I washed them, which necessitated rinsing the dishes beforehand, then stacking the wet, drippy, dirty dishes beside the sink and on the counter. Plus, when it came time to scrub the pots...well, the second or third time I knocked the pot I was scrubbing, while trying to balance it on the edge of the sink, into the sink and splashed myself with grey, greasy, grimy dish water, I decided I wanted my second sink bowl back.

Bleach is out. Strike two.

And then I had an epiphany.

Because we use a kerosene stove, the bottoms of our pans get blackened by soot from the open flames. (Kerosene isn't the cleanest burning fuel in the world. But "free" covers a multitude of sins. I, for one, will willingly scrub pots for free kerosene. Don't judge me.) In order to get the soot off the pots and pans, I'd squirt a bit of the homemade dish soap on the bottom of the pan, add a decent amount of baking soda, and then scrub with a wet stainless scrubber. Soot came right off...and the pans weren't greasy afterward. Hmmm...

Maybe baking soda would work.

So what I've been doing is putting a squirt of soap directly on my dish sponge, adding a sprinkle of baking soda, and scrubbing the plates to grease-free happiness. I'm probably using a bit more soap than I would otherwise, but with better results. So far, so good.

Score: Baking soda for a win. Dish soap, still not that great.

(Just in case I forgot to mention this: the homemade dish soap does not make suds. No bubbles. None. Which takes quite a bit of the fun out of doing the dishes by hand. Just sayin'.)

Which brings us to the laundry soap.

Rubbing alcohol gets out grass stains (Biology 101. Chlorophyll dissolves in alcohol.) Hydrogen Peroxide will get blood out of anything...although the whole foamy-exothermic-reaction-thing is a little disconcerting. Rubbing alcohol followed by Ammonia gets grease out of clothes. So really, there isn't much left for the laundry soap to accomplish besides just getting light surface dirt off. (It certainly doesn't remove any stains that are even remotely oil-based.) Which, honestly, plain warm water and a good agitator will accomplish without extra soap.

Score: Laundry soap, better than nothing...useless without pretreatments.

My take-home on homemade dish and laundry soaps: If there is no alternative, yeah, they'll "work." If you have access to any detergents whatsoever, grab them, store them, use them. They are worth the money. You'll have clean dishes, clean clothes, and most importantly....



Stores for Wars

I've read many, many "prepper" sites from all over the interwebs. Some advocate storing beans, rice, jars of bacon, and cans of tuna; some advise buying 5 gallon pre-sealed, pre-packed pails o' preps and a can o' seeds (NOW on sale!!); some prefer to can their own; and then there are the ones that think that all they need is LOTS a gun and LOTS some ammo.

And since opinions are like...um...well, I'm here to tell you mine!

Last shopping trip, I made a point of picking up a few things just in case our very own Big Brother manages to get us into a war sooner rather than later. I had only a couple of dollars to spare (Thank you, cars. Grrr.) What did I buy, you may ask?

Baking soda. Pickling salt. Bleach. Water in gallon jugs.

Let me explain my thinking.

Baking soda: You can use this to brush your teeth, scrub a pot, raise bread, or boil dried corn to nixtamalize it and turn it into hominy, masa, etc. It puts out fires, neutralizes acids, and is also good for upset tummies. Costs about 50 cents for the name brand, 25 cents if you're cheap.

Pickling salt: This is salt with no additives. A 20% brine (2/3 cup salt per gallon of water, boiled together, in a glass or enamel pot: NOT metal) will preserve pork or beef (or venison). Fish can be layered in dry salt to preserve it. Use it to make sauerkraut or pickles. Salt can be also be used as a scrub to sterilize wooden implements. Costs about $1.50 for a 4# box.

Bleach: This can be used to disinfect water for drinking, clean dishes after scrubbing them, diluted to wash down wounds, used to clean floors...and it will keep your white clothes looking good! $2.50 for a gallon of the store brand.

Water in jugs: Most people don't realize that one of the first things to go if there is an extended power outage/EMP is the water supply (and the sewers; more on that another time). Without water, you can't cook, wash, flush the toilet, get a drink...you get the idea. People die from lack of water. Think Hurricane Katrina. Even if water is still coming from the taps if things go bad, are you sure that it has been properly disinfected? We are lucky that in most of America there are sources of water everywhere (swimming pools, decorative fountains, golf courses, lakes, rivers, even springs and wells). Most of them have this in common: you wouldn't want to just drink the water the way you find it! That is where the water in jugs comes in handy.

Purified water in jugs gives you 1: Water to keep you going (if the water goes off) until you can get more, and 2: a container to either transport water to a new container, hold it while you disinfect it (see:Bleach, above,) or store it once it is usable. No, the plastic jugs aren't perfect and certainly won't last forever, but they're good for getting you started. Cost: 60 cents for store brand spring water.

(I'm still hoping the adults will take over the asylum before things get to the point of war, but it's better to be safe than sorry.)


Recipe: Ratatouille

As everyone who saw the Disney-Pixar movie knows, this is the recipe that turned Ego, the food critic, from a brooding curmudgeon to an outgoing, cheerful Parisian (a contradiction in terms, true, but it was an animated movie.) Once you taste this, you'll understand just why Ego was willing to eat food prepared by a rodent. Heck, you might even become cheerful and outgoing...even if you're not a Parisian.

This is a thick, chunky stew, best served with fresh bread and a hearty appetite. (Rat optional.)


1 medium onion, chopped
1 TBSP (2-3) garlic cloves, minced
1 medium eggplant, skin on,chopped
1-2 medium bell peppers, chopped (about 1-2 cups)
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 yellow squash, chopped
6 oz tomato paste
28 oz can diced tomatoes OR 10-12 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 TBSP dried parsley
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Drizzle just a bit a oil into the bottom of a large soup pot. Saute the onions over medium heat until just beginning to turn translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add rest of ingredients, turn heat to low, and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. Good hot or cold.