Sunday, September 25, 2016

Museum Review: Goddard Space Flight Center

I've been meaning to post about this museum we visited way back in January! Yikes! I'm finally starting to catch up on my posts, though.

The day before a big winter storm this past January, my kids and I took a field trip to the Goddard Space Flight Center here in Maryland. We'd been studying outer space in our homeschooling as well as humans in space, so this museum was the perfect match for our studies. I know I usually write about historical museums, but I like studying the techniques used in all forms of museums. There is so much we can learn from other disciplines of study and how they present that to the public in a museum space. The Space Flight Center was no exception!

Our timing of taking the field trip was perfect (right before a big snow storm), so no one was there at all! We got the place all to ourselves, which is an awesome way to explore a museum - unhindered, low-stress, and QUIET. :-)

The museum was smaller than I was expecting, but it was nice and open. I liked the industrial look of the ceiling which was practical for hanging things like lights and large artifacts like satellites.

The exhibit on the right had you push the button to turn on a heat lamp and then you'd stick your hands into both tubes to compare the tube with shielding and without. 

The first thing my kids gravitated to was this shuttle. It takes up the back corner of the room.

You can get a better idea for the scale here. It's definitely set up for a line of kids. Lucky for us - no line whatsoever! They got to play to their hearts' content.

Of course, the best part was all the switches, buttons, and gauges inside!

And the super awesome dress-up astronaut helmets!

 I loved how many hands-on things they had at this museum. It seemed every exhibit had some way to engage. They were thoughtful about kids too. There was a set of stairs and a platform so kids could climb up and be the actual size of an astronaut with this head cut-out. So fun! I liked that it was an actual photograph and not a hand-painted one. The more realistic, the better, I think!

This demonstrated about magnetic fields.

With levers you could separate this breakdown of the Hubble Telescope. There were numbers on the different portions with descriptions labeling what they were. It was a little tedious to go back and forth, but it was still really interesting. My son loved seeing the inside and being able to control that himself.

One of our favorite exhibits was this infrared camera. The exhibit talked about how they use infrared to study things in space. It was cool to see yourself on a normal camera compared with the infrared. The kids had a lot of fun goofing off in front of it and taking their coats on and off to see the temperature difference. 

Okay, we've all seen one of these plasma balls, right? They were super cool back in the '90s. What's neat about this exhibit is that it uses this ball to talk about plasma in relation to the sun, which is fascinating because that fact usually gets lost with the wow factor of being able to touch the ball and interact with the plasma. 

I really liked this exhibit. It was a fantastic demonstration about the composition of lunar soil (they used synthesized soil) compared with sand and other things we're familiar with. You can spin each disc to see how the different soils react to the centrifugal force. Really fascinating.

The kids loved this room too. It was a bit off to the side on the other side of the main room of the museum. The room was totally dark, except for this projection of the sun onto this large, curved wall. It was a neat experience to be able to walk up and play shadow puppets on the sun! haha! You got a good, close-up (and safe!) idea of what the surface of the sun is doing all the time.

One of the things that impressed me the most about this museum was their use of their large windows. On one side they covered the windows with images from space that let the light through, so all the images glowed. It was an amazing effect! From the outside, it doesn't look like much. In fact, it made the building look kind of abandoned. But like a stained glass window that doesn't look very impressive from the outside, the inside was spectacular. Just a really neat use of space using the actual sun to power the exhibit. So cool!

The museum wasn't just indoors. They had a really neat outdoor space with mini exhibits circling a large rocket. My son loves studying about the elements, so was naturally drawn to this board about elements found in space.

I really liked how much of the museum let you get up close and personal with real, original artifacts like this satellite on treads. 

 Here's a view of all the different mini-exhibits on the walk. It was pretty cold outside, so we didn't stay long.

I love this photo. How cool to be able to get up-close and personal with a rocket! 

The Delta Launch Vehicle was the star of the outdoor space. My son is looking up to grasp the height of this thing. 

They had another room inside with short educational videos playing on a loop. They were dated, though, because they were talking about sending a satellite towards Pluto, and at that point, the satellite had passed Pluto. I can imagine it would be hard to keep specific videos up to date with all the changes constantly going on in the field of space exploration. It was a nice break to be able to sit down and watch them though.

Another thing I liked, was that they had a nice variety of space-related coloring and activity sheets to take home. I put together some fun packets for the kids to work on later.

Afterward, we headed outside to a neighboring building where the gift shop was housed. I bought some space ice cream (of course!), because it's something I remember fondly from my field trips to science museums as a kid. My son liked it, but my daughter wasn't a fan. Oh well. Freeze-dried ice cream isn't for everyone!

Overall, this was a really great museum. I know our visit was greatly enhanced by the fact that no one was there. I mean, how often does that happen?? If you're ever in the Maryland/D.C. area, I'd really recommend a visit to this fun and fascinating museum.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ration Recipe: Braised Ox-Joints With Vegetables

Oh dear, it has been a while, hasn't it? I have such a backlog of things I want to write about! I'm glad this ration recipe was a great motivator to finally put up a post.

Happy Autumn, by the way! My favorite season of the year - smoky, crisp mornings with a warm mug of tea, sweaters and bonfires, the smell of fallen leaves, pumpkins, cider, and apple butter! Aah! I've really longed for autumn and am so glad it's finally here!

Ox-joints or Ox-tail
So, on to the recipe - It's an interesting one! I found this recipe in my cookbook Coupon Cookery by Prudence Penny, published in 1943. It uses ox-joints or "ox-tail" which is essentially the tail of a cow. I know, kind of weird, but it's a viable source of protein! Ox-tail has actually been on my list to make for a while. I've run across a number of ox-tail ration recipes, and it's one of those odd meat options from the war that we don't really eat today. I was excited to finally give it a try!

Ox-tail is a bit difficult to find. Luckily, a local farm I like to go to now and then carries the odd meats like ox-tail, chicken feet, etc. I got it some time ago, and it's been sitting in my freezer every since. I just thawed it out, and was ready to go!

The things about ox-tail are that there isn't a lot of meat on them, there's a gigantic bone in the middle, and they have a lot of fat. They've got great flavor, though, and if you don't use them for eating, once they're roasted, they make a killer beef broth. It's worth getting them just for that.

For this recipe -

First step: breading the ox-joints. It's pretty straight-forward.

Next step: Fry them up a bit in some lard. I used bacon fat, because that's what I had. I need to go get some lard!

Next: Add the water, spices, and tomatoes and cook for 2 hours. I'll admit, I did not cook it that long. And I accidentally added the onions on top after letting them saute in a separate pan. It turned out this was a good accident. I think it's better to let the meat cook with the onions than without.

Then: cook the root veg separately. I didn't have turnip, so I used potato. It seemed odd to cook them this way. But in the end, it turned out to be a good thing too.

I added the root veg on top and let it cook away with a lid on. I think maybe the whole thing cooked for about an hour. Maybe? It could have used some more time. I mean, the recipe says to cook it a whole 2 1/2 hours! Oh well. I didn't add peas in the last 10 minutes of cooking like the recipe called for either, but I think their green color would have been a nice addition.

In the end, it was a very good thing I put the veg on top to cook. My cast iron skillet was entirely full on the bottom with the meat, so it kept the veg mostly out of all the fat that cooked out of the meat. Goodness gracious, there was a lot of it! I suppose that would have been good for the grease can for rendering later. And "spare" meats like ox-tail weren't rationed, so you could eat as much as you could buy. 

 I dished myself up some of this ox-tail and veg, and, boy, the flavor was awesome! The carrots and potatoes soaked up all that beefy goodness. The juices/fat were thicker, much like a gravy. The ox-tail itself tasted like beef. Go figure! But it was hard to find it among all the fat and bone.

Overall, this recipe turned out much better than I could have hoped for. They knew what they were talking about! I was thinking, that this recipe could be modified to use a better-quality cut of bone-in beef, like part of a leg or something. It could be just as tasty, except you'd have more meat to find.

Give it a try and see what you think!

Coupon Cookery by Prudence Penny, ca. 1943

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Historical Sewing Challenge #6: Travel

Housewif all rolled up
I'm excited to have finished another historical sewing challenge! I finished this one in July in time for my best friend Mairi's birthday present. She had embroidered these lovely 18th century pockets for myself, my daughter, and done an adorable initials patch for my son's 18th century shirt as Christmas gifts, so I wanted to make something for her in return! She didn't have a housewif, so it was the perfect gift idea! A housewif is a foldable or rollable traveling sewing kit. It's small, so it's easy to stuff in your pocket, and from what I've learned, many women in those times also used them as coin/money purses.

I had a lot of fun selecting the fabrics for this. I only had two options in my stash that I felt would work, so gosh dang it, I had to go get some more! haha! The one from my stash that I used for the outside of the housewif was one I found at my favorite fabric shop - Needle & Thread in Gettysburg, PA. It's a print taken from the Winterthur Museum collection (a lovely museum in Delaware). I'm not sure what the print dates to, but it's such a gorgeous fabric! Love at first sight! :-)
The beautiful Winterthur Museum collection fabric!
For new fabrics I selected two brown prints that look about 1850s-60s (Mairi loves brown!), and a blue print that's an 1830s reproduction print. The rest of the fabric I used is pretty general and could pass well for historical. While my fabrics aren't tied to a particular decade, I wanted to find historical prints that had meaning behind them.

I decided to hand-sew the whole thing which I thoroughly enjoyed! I've been doing a lot of 1940s sewing which is all on the machine, so it was a nice change to slow the pace to a simple needle and thread - while watching North & South! I have a good idea about how long it took, because I started and finished sewing the housewif with the movie which is 4 hours. Nice!

Here's the break down.

The Challenge: June - Travel

Material: 100% cotton prints, cotton homespun

Pattern: Housewif - hand drafted from studying originals and tutorials

Year: early-mid 19th century

Notions:  cotton quilt batting, cotton thread, cotton tape, mother of pearl button

How historically accurate is it? 90%. A housewif is pretty straightforward, but I didn't bind the edges like all the ones I've seen in my research. I wanted it to look more tidy and I'm horrible at binding. :-p

Hours to complete: approx. 4.5 hours

First worn: Gave it to a friend as a gift for her to use

Total cost: about $10 for fabric. The rest was in my stash.

Enjoy some more photos!

The light blue is the 1830s reproduction print.
Both browns I felt were good 1860s options, as well as the plaid.

I love the blue and gold print and the gold print is one I've had in my stash and used in a quilt.
Here you can see a peek at the beeswax I stuffed in one of the pockets.

The back of the housewif
Rolled up and tidy with button and cotton tape ties
The button doesn't actually button. It's just to cover and anchor the ties, as well as give them something to wrap around if desired.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Historical Recipe: Blueberry Cake

Are you a breakfast person? I know some people aren't. I love breakfast and have a weird fascination with it. I hoard breakfast recipes, and yet what do we usually have for breakfast? Eggs or cereal. *sigh*

I was excited to come across this wonderful 1941 cookbook featuring the famous singer, Kate Smith. This entire cook book is an advertisement for Post brand foods, and Grape Nuts have a starring presence in many of the recipes. I plan on trying a few of them soon! In the book, Ms. Smith talks a lot about the benefits of eating enough fiber as in this example below:

I had some blueberries languishing in the back of my fridge (what is wrong with my family??) and knew I had to use them soon. So, when I saw this recipe for Blueberry Cake, I thought it was the perfect use for my sad blueberries!

It was a simple recipe with easy ingredients, and it went together much like a coffee cake - where you alternately add the flour and milk to the creamed sugar mixture until you have a rich, thick batter. Then you fold the blueberries into that which is really hard! I didn't want to squish any of the blueberries. If you use fresh, your cake will remain white. If you use frozen, like she suggests you can, your cake will be more streaked with purple.
Blueberry Cake, ca. 1941

I didn't wait for it to cool down after I took the cake from the oven. I dug right in, and oh boy! Was it delicious! Nice, rich flavor with the yummy punch of blueberries and a nice texture. I think in these modern times, people would try to "fancy" this up with a crumb topping or ice cream or crazy stuff like that. Just don't do it. The beauty is in the simplicity. It doesn't need a thing!

Blueberry Cake yumminess!

This is one that would definitely be worth trying. But since Kate Smith says this should be for breakfast, don't even think about serving it for a dessert!!

A neat historical note: I love that she mentions Bird's Eye frozen blueberries. I wrote my History capstone course paper on the advent of the frozen food industry in 1939 starring Bird's Eye Foods. In 1941, the brand was only 2 years old! Frozen, or "frosted foods" as they were referred to, revolutionized the American menu and challenged the idea of only being able to eat things seasonally. It's a very cool piece of history! :-D

Saturday, July 23, 2016


It's been a little quiet around here - not because I don't have anything to write about. I get ideas for my blog all the time and in the most inconvenient places like while driving the car or in the shower or in the middle of our homeschooling time.

This summer has been a little busy. We've been keeping up on doing some half-time school of studying the 50 states. (We've been so laid back about it, we might need to finish the other half of the states next summer!) But the biggest reason for my little unintended hiatus is because I'm expecting a baby late this winter (hooray for surprise babies!), and I've just been flat out exhausted! Morning sickness has been manageable, but it still takes a bit out of me. I'm getting a lot less done than I'd hoped with all my extra time with half-time school, but that's just the way it is.

I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things on here. As soon as my nose and stomach aren't sending me on a roller coaster, I can get back to ration cooking and posting about sewing projects and museums!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Historical Recipe: French Pan Cakes

French Pan Cakes

I wanted pancakes the other night for dinner, so I turned to my historical cookbooks. I have had a dickens of a time finding a pancake recipe that doesn't fall flat. (Seriously, it doesn't matter if the recipe says they're the "fluffiest ever!", they just aren't for me. Arg.)

So, instead of trying a ration recipe, I decided to try something from my 1937 Mirro Cook Book. I found a recipe for French Pan Cakes! These looked very similar to the batter recipe for the good waffles using the egg whites whipped separately. Have you ever tried waffles made that way? My friend Loris introduced the recipe to me for a waffle night our families had together. We made them using our vintage waffle irons. It was fun! And they were amazingly fluffy and incredible tasting. Mmm!

Anyway, this recipe required the yolks to be added to the batter and the egg whites beat separately, then folded in to make extra fluffy cakes. I was surprised it called for three eggs. It made the batter extra yellow, especially considering our chickens' eggs are almost orange in color. Surprisingly, it didn't make them taste eggy like German pancakes.

I tried a pan cake fresh off the grill (of course!), and it was awesome! I like my pancakes on the salty side, and these were perfect. The recipe instructs for you to spread them with jam or butter and sugar, then roll them up like a jelly roll and serve them as a luncheon dessert. Never mind serving pancakes as a dessert, but serving dessert at lunch! Ha!

I wasn't sure about the whole rolling up the cake thing. It didn't stay rolled very well, and I wonder if I needed to make them bigger and spread out the batter more on the griddle? I don't know. I just intended to make them like pancakes and serve them like pancakes with syrup, so I just made a couple like they suggested and used butter with cinnamon sugar. It was yummy! Really, it's hard to go wrong with pancakes. :-)

In the end, I served the French Pan Cakes with some mixed berries I cooked down, some Grade B maple syrup, and some sausages. It made for a very nice dinner!

If you're looking for a great pancake recipe, this is definitely one to try. The egg whites is an extra step, but it's totally worth it!

You can see how fluffy the batter is from the egg whites!

They looked nice and fat on the griddle!

Lovely golden pan cakes!
(They make me think of Rama and the Tigers. Have you ever read that children's story?)
I doubled the recipe, but I don't think I needed to.
The recipe makes a lot!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

My Thoughts on Sewing

Sewing Fisherman's Wife, 1890
by Anna Ancher

I may have mentioned here before that sewing is difficult for me. Not the actual sewing itself, per se, but the act of sewing. There are so many little things that add up to SEWING, that many times I find it overwhelming: the sewing machine to set up, a space to be cleared in my tiny sewing nook, patterns to lay and cut, fabric to mark, instructions to be deciphered, and then the sewing. And then, of course, there's the time. And the energy. So many things work against me in my endeavor to sew something that many times I am conquered.

And yet I don't give up. Things may languish for some time before I work myself up to sewing again, but they wait patiently. The ones I sew for don't wait, for they grow like crazy - and that is part of the challenge!

I've often wondered why I sew in the first place. I think in some ways it was one of those things that I thought, "I could do that," and so I did it. That's the way it was with making quilts. I am not a quilter, and yet I've made a few quilts. (I even have one partially made, still in a box from when my husband and I were engaged over 10 years ago!)

It is when I finally make the time, brush away any excuses or other things begging for my attention, and start to sew, that I remember. Sewing soothes me. I find I can think more clearly, more slowly, more honestly. It is an age-old act of creation. Machine sewing is a wonderful modern marvel, but hand sewing is what really grounds me.

In a world that is so fast-paced, always reaching and yearning for the new, taking part in an old, slower craft, puts modernity in its place. It has nothing on the generations of a craft that has provided so much for so many. It has no claim on the centuries of drudgery, of necessity, but also of the artistry and the beauty that we still marvel at today.

While the things I sew may not be all that wonderful, they never existed before I created them, and that is an accomplishment! It is easy to compare and wish our talents were that of so-and-so, but I wish we wouldn't do that. I wish that I didn't do that! With each step of the process, I am learning and my talent is progressing, however slowly. And that is how I have to sew. In painstaking steps. Many times I have to break them up over days or even weeks. Pattern cutting one day, marking another, sewing the next, and finishing yet another.

And so, I partake in the act of sewing. It's hard, and challenging, and frustrating, but wonderful and satisfying. I hope to sew my entire life. I hope to teach my children the honor and usefulness and the heritage of sewing. For it is one that is gratefully alive and strong, even in these modern times. It is one positive thing humans will never be able to do without, and that is my favorite historical heritage of all.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

WWII Event - Graeme Park, PA

The last weekend in April my family and I attended our first WWII event as reenactors at Graeme Park, PA. It was a nice, small event and super close to some friends of ours, so it was a really enjoyable first event with the bonus of hanging out with friends. I wish I had had more time to learn about the site. There's a lovely historical home, garden, and other outbuildings along with a small museum. We'll have to go back another time to enjoy it separately.

To get ready for the event, I wanted to get the kids involved, so they painted "Scrap for Victory" signs to hang from our old wagon. They had a lot of fun doing that.

I put together a display about wartime rationing, but I realize now that there's a lot to read and not much to interact with for the public, so it's something that I'm working on. It's a good start though!

And here's our whole set-up along with the wagon! (Oh, did I mention that it was cold?? It was cold.)

Here I am in my new 1930s blouse and 1940s skirt! (which I altered later and changed the buttons...) My husband was dressed as a 1940s Scoutmaster...

... while our kids were dressed as a 1940s Brownie Girl Scout and 1940s Cub Scout!

There was a small collection of antique cars. This one was pretty!

Our next door neighbors had an impressive display about the history of Kilroy. We had some nice chats with them.

My friend Cassie and her mother-in-law Eileen had a great American Red Cross set-up at the event. I'm hoping to be able to join them at some events in the future wearing the royal blue ARC canteen uniform so I can talk about rationing and nutrition during the war!

Another neighbor down the way was the British Women's Land Army run by Laurel and her sister. Their camp was so charming, I instantly fell in love. I have good memories of researching British women's roles in the war, so I was thrilled to join up with their group and am working on doing research on Land Girls and Lumber Jills and getting together an outfit! 
One of the ladies in the WLA happened to be the mother of Rochelle who blogs over at Lucky Lucille!

Isn't their camp just wonderful? It's so cozy! And I love that they have a photo of King George hanging in their tent! They were very friendly and welcoming and invited me to snoop around their tent and take photos. They even offered me some Jammie Dodgers, so they're my new best friends now. haha!

During the day there were two separate battles. It was the first time I've watched a WWII mock battle and it was interesting! I've watched so many Civil War reenactment battles. There were some similarities, but of course the weapons and vehicles were different. They did a great job, though. And I wasn't surprised to hear some spectator make a ridiculous statement about how they weren't using the real thing, so it couldn't possibly be that realistic. Well, of course not! Some people really make me wonder...

Overall, it was a really nice event and one I'm pretty sure we'll be returning to in the future.