Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1945 Banana Bread

I had some ripe bananas on hand and thought I'd try another ration recipe for Banana Bread. The one I picked out wasn't a ration recipe, per se, but it comes from my 1945 Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book that has a wartime insert. This recipe comes from the regular portion of the book, but I think it's ration recipe worthy. Except for the banana part. haha! Those were hard to come by during the war.

This week I'm trying to go without white or brown sugar, so I substituted honey with an addition of a 1/4 tsp. of baking soda. I thought it was interesting that the recipe called for 1 cup of bran. I had oat bran on hand and used that. I also used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup white.

As it baked, it filled our house with amazing banana bread smells!

The bread tasted wonderful - not too sweet and with a fantastic, large crumb. I liked the added texture from the bran. Yummy all around! I didn't add nuts. I'm not always a fan of that in quick breads, but I'm sure it tastes nice with that addition.

Here's the recipe with a bonus one for a very interesting-looking Date & Cheese Bread.


I've been excited to post about this topic for awhile. I first learned about V-, or Victory, Mail while doing research for my book. It opened up a whole new aspect of homefront life I had never heard about before!

V-Mail is so fascinating. It was a solution to a major problem - the weight and volume of thousands upon thousands of letters crisscrossing the ocean from soldiers and their families during the war. The British had come up with a solution: a method of photographing letters onto microfilm reels and shipping those instead of the actual letters. The result was drastically reduced weight and volume that the letters usually took up in cargo planes and ships. The United States adopted this same method in June 1942. In some instances, the V-Mail letters traveled faster than usual as is advertised in some poster ads.

I found some V-Mail for sale on ebay and wasn't sure what to get, but I came across several lots of letters from the same woman from Lima, OH, who was a prolific writer. I think she may have written her husband every day he was gone, and sometimes twice in one day. I obtained quite a few of them - V-Mail microfilm prints, and some originals. I'm sad I didn't get them all, but there were a lot! It's amazing these letters were all saved, and even more amazing her family let them go. I did a little research and she only died about 10 years ago. 

Her letters are sweet, chatty, full of the mundane, but so full of wonderful wartime details. They are such a treasure, and I feel so blessed to have them to study and preserve!

Below are three examples of V-Mail that I got. Two are the prints made from the microfilm negative. The red one is the original V-Mail form onto which the sender wrote or typed their letter.

Here are some close-ups of the microfilm negative prints: The print is pretty tiny and you could get a special magnifier with which to read your letters. Click on the images to see them in a larger size.

Typed V-Mail Print

Handwritten V-Mail Print

Here is a close-up of the original form with letter inside:
The front. The envelope and letter are in one.
The envelope, or outside, opens up with the letter inside.
Here you can see the type underneath.
The back of the V-Mail form with instructions
 Scanned copy of the letter. I found this letter to be perfect! She talks about the magnifier used to read V-Mail, and other great V-Mail and wartime details.

V-Mail from Mrs. Verne Silbaugh

 The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has a fabulous website with information about V-Mail. You can check out the link here to learn more.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

V-J Day Commemoration

Today marks the surrender of the Japanese during WWII in 1945. As a family we went to a nice local WWII event at Rose Hill Manor in Frederick, MD. It was small, but it was the perfect size event for a laid back Saturday and the perfect way to commemorate such an important, historic day.
48 Stars & Stripes

Foxhole with an air-cooled machine gun.
These guys did a great job of explaining the details of the gun.

This gentleman showed us how ground communications worked on the battlefield.
This field phone actually worked and he let us use it. Very cool!

A little paratrooper humor :-)
 Everywhere we went, reenactors had little portable '40s radios playing period music. It made for a very nice atmosphere. The radios were all hooked up to some mp3 device or iPod of some kind. Period look on the outside, modern technology on the inside. So awesome. It makes me want to go out and find an old radio right now and rig one up myself!
Soldier's Tent

 The paratrooper unit had this neat mock setup of the back of a plane. Kids could put on a fake parachute, the soldier would tuck a cord into the pack with a clip on the opposite end, and clip the kids to the line/wire running along the ceiling. Then they'd say, "Green light," and then shout "Go, go, go!" The kids jump out through the door onto a mat as if they were parachuting out of a plane. It was pretty cool.

Women's civilian and military camp set up
This camp set-up was really neat. Usually at some kind of historical event when you hear "civilian camp" you automatically think "camp followers". Not so with this camp! This was strictly a 1940s version of "we are going camping in nature on the weekend and this is all the stuff we need for a fun weekend camp out". It was great! I also met some really nice ladies from a newly formed civilian group called "The War Years Society" based in the Mid-Atlantic. I'm very excited to pick these ladies' brains on civilian & homefront stuff for reenacting! Yay!

I loved all the details for this camp set-up. She even had a bucket with wartime magazines.
Because you can't go camping without some good reading!

This picture is inside the Nurse's Quarters. They had a very nice set-up in here too. 

 And of course I had to snoop in her trunk which was conveniently opened. I'll admit I opened a few of the cosmetic cases to have a look. Very cool. ;-)

 I was very impressed with inside the manor. They had set it up for the WWII event and had posters, newspapers, signs, and mini exhibits everywhere. I especially liked these little boxes that you could push a button and hear a recording of specific radio programs like FDR's fireside chats, the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and of the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan. 

A sweet old time radio with the box on top with recording.

In the dining room area, they had set up a mini, hands-on exhibit about wartime rationing for the homefront and for soldiers. In two separate drawers they had a "smell" test to see if you could recognize different things they ate during the war. Some of them were really hard to tell! For many of them they had little candle scent cubes.

Inside the cabinet which had labels like "Open Me!" they had a mini exhibit about rationing for soldiers.
Down below in the basket were "play ration" items that kids could use to put together their own ration kit to play with.
Very cool!

Upstairs my daughter had fun ironing with a vintage iron.
She also liked playing with the treadle sewing machine they had.

A beautiful 1946 wedding dress.
After the war, wedding dresses were scarce since so many weddings took place as soldiers came home!

In another upstairs room they had all sorts of neat vintage toys the kids could play with.
Here my son is playing with toy WWII soldiers. I was pretty excited he was so absorbed.
Usually he's not into playing with figurines, but when I went to see what he was doing, I saw he was setting them up like dominoes to knock down! haha! So, not really playing "army guys" after all. Oh well!

Outside they had a few kids crafts including making this Victory magnet.
My son did a great job making his really sparkle!
Other crafts included making a clothespin & popsicle stick airplane,
and color a Rosie the Riveter poster.

Rose Hill Manor is a self-professed "children's museum", which I found curious. But once inside I could see that this was a fabulous example of what a children's museum could be. Every room held something for the adults, and then corresponding activities, games, and toys for the children to learn from and enjoy. It was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in a museum, and it wasn't complicated, it wasn't techy. It was just brilliant. I loved it! And my kids did too. They had such a great time playing with and exploring everything. Museum success! Great job, Rose Hill Manor!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Author Highlight - Nigel Tranter

I wanted to start doing highlights of those authors of historical fiction and historical non-fiction that I feel are exceptional and unique. So, starting off I wanted to introduce you to Nigel Tranter.

I was first introduced to this wonderful Scottish author when I went on a study abroad to England and spent a lovely long weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was lucky enough to discover the tiny Scottish Writers Museum down a little back alley. Unfortunately, Mr. Tranter had recently died. To honor him, the museum had a video running about his life with interviews from when he was alive. He talked about the books he wrote, his writing process, and how incredibly valuable Scottish history was to him. He was also very passionate about saving and preserving old Scottish castles for future posterity. 

In half an hour I had discovered my first author hero. 

What I loved most about Mr. Tranter was his method - he would go for long, long walks in the countryside. As he walked he'd think about the story he was working on, pause to jot notes in a little notebook he carried, and keep walking. It was during this time of treading the soil that he developed the stories based on rich Scottish history he is so well known for like The Bruce Trilogy. I like to think that his walks in the countryside connected him on a deeper level as an author to settings he wrote about. He wrote about all kinds of topics throughout Scottish history including Mary Queen of Scots, Rob Roy, and William Wallace in what he called "period pieces". He did write other books like children's and westerns.  

I have had the pleasure of reading just one of Mr. Tranter's books - The Stone. It involves the Stone of Destiny, a stone that is under the Coronation chair for when the kings and queens of England are crowned. It's a wonderful story and a great adventure, including some of Mr. Tranter's own theories about The Stone, which are quite interesting! 

It is unfortunate that his books are so difficult to find over here in the states. But if you ever get the chance to pick up one of his books, I'd recommend it. I hope to be able to read more of his books in the future.

To learn more about Mr. Tranter go here and for a list of his novels go here.

Meat Lockers & Capstone Courses

I've hit a tiny lull in the busyness to publish my book. We were out running errands today after picking blackberries and peaches, and I decided to stop at our local meat locker. After living in our town 3 years, I finally went in to check it out! Friday is a good day at our meat locker. Thursday is when they butcher the pigs, so on Friday, the case is stocked full of sausages, bacon, ribs, loins, and roasts. The great thing about meat lockers or local butchers is that they have the odd cuts of meat or organ meats that mainstream grocery stores don't usually have. Like suet. There are a few 18th century recipes I'd like to try that require suet, which is kidney fat, not lard, and it's very difficult to find. They had it at my local meat locker, though. Yay!

You might be wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, meat lockers got me thinking about one of the capstone courses I took in college. My research was focused on frozen foods in the 1930s, so I ran into a lot of mentions and articles about meat lockers. I always wanted to look further into the topic than I was able to do at the time. Maybe someday. :-)

When it comes to capstone courses, the crowning class for your studies at the end of your degree, I took mine twice. 

On purpose.

Some people would ask "WHY??!" Who in their right mind wants to write a 20+ page paper twice? In fact, the nice secretaries in the History department office gave me a look that was somewhere between bewilderment and admiration and told me that no one had done that before. Haha! I had three very good reasons for doing it: hands on learning, retention, and no tests, less stress.

Hands On Learning-
I think most humans learn best by hands on learning. Getting in there and experiencing something. Because no amount of thinking about it will give you the experience to make you an expert. Of course reading and analyzing and thinking are invaluable to learning, but that is only one dimension. So many times I have learned a ton about something (like ration recipes), and thought I knew a lot. And then I went to do it and I realized how little I actually knew.

For me, I knew this about myself - that I needed to have a hands on experience to really learn anything from my class. Writing a substantial research paper forced me to learn about a topic from the ground up and then present my findings in a way that was interesting and relevant. I also had to include all the footnotes and a complete, correctly formatted bibliography at the end. And could I still tell you about that topic today? You bet!

That leads me to the next reason, Retention. What good is learning if we don't remember it? In two words: it's not. Consuming and regurgitating for a test is not learning. It's what cats and dogs, birds and owls do. I don't think it's what people should do for learning. One reason that we homeschool our kids is for this very reason. I want them to have an immersive experience, to have the freedom to delve the breadth and depth of a topic to their heart's content. And they remember it. They go back to it and dive in deeper. It's one of the most refreshing things I've seen, because half the time I just sit back and watch it happen. It's proof to me, that that is the real way humans learn, so that they can remember, and learn, and add a layer to their amazing treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom.

No Tests, Less Stress-
You might be thinking that writing a 20 page paper does not equal less stress, and you're probably right. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't zero stress. But it definitely was the better way for me. The class time for my capstone courses, when we did meet, was devoted to learning about the broad topic we would be researching within, and discussing. I'm a big fan of discussions over lectures! Then we were turned loose to do research with only meeting two final times to present our papers. Procrastination was not your friend at this stage! (Is it ever??) But I paced myself, read books, made a zillion photocopies, highlighted like crazy, and began crafting my thesis and eventually my paper. I gave myself enough time for my drafts to sit for me to come back to after a few days. And by the end I had a paper I was proud of, and a topic I knew a hundred times better than when I started. That process was uninterrupted by silly surprise pop quizzes or highly stressful tests with no purpose other than for the professor to gauge how much we were listening. To me that equaled less stress and with it - freedom. I'm a BIG fan of freedom in the classroom!

So, if you ever have the choice to do a project or research and write a paper, or do an internship, take it. Take it and leave the tests far behind. You will be a much more rounded and knowledgeable person if you do. That is the kind of learning that is fulfilling. That is the kind of learning that we need. 

P.S. Just for fun info's sake, my two capstone courses were as follows:
The 1930s. I focused on the birth of the frozen food industry in the U.S. in the late '30s. SO cool! 

Propaganda. I focused on the image of women found in 1940s women's magazines. That was a fun one. You wouldn't believe some of the shocking messages out there in the '40s!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Book Stuff Continues

I'm trying to get my book finished this month, if possible. At least most of it. Our homeschooling starts in a couple weeks, our homeschool co-op starts a bit after that (and I'm teaching a class about Heroes & Heroines of the Great War), and life inevitably ensues.

I'm so excited that I finally nailed down the title of my book with the help of my awesome husband. And once I narrowed down my main character's challenges, I was finally able to pound out the book blurb for the back cover. It only took about 12 tries!

Hopefully, I will be able to reveal my cover and book premise soon. No specific date yet, but September looks hopeful! So, stay tuned.

Still have a list of blog posts to write about, so busy times ahead. Hooray!

Sunday, August 9, 2015


We just got back from a family vacation to my home state of Indiana. It was a great time of visiting family, old friends, and visiting museums of course! Once we get settled and unpacked and caught up on cleaning, etc., I'm going to write up some posts about some of the awesome museum exhibits I saw. So, keep your eyes peeled! :-)