Monday, August 7, 2017

Sean Spicer Fan Fiction: Chapter 1

Inspired by the Vladimir Putin and Justin Trudeau fan fiction over at Hottest Heads of State, I decided it was time to give the world what it really needs: Sean Spicer fanfic. I thought it might be a bit outside the scope of the Presidentress blog, but then I figured that Sean Spicer fits squarely in the category of presidential history, so why not? 

Since I'm dealing with the Trump administration here, I should probably include some sort of disclaimer, but a lawsuit would also drive a lot of traffic to the site, so I'll just remind everyone that this is fan fiction. (Also, I use the term "fan" loosely.) Check back for new chapters!

Among the Bushes

Things are About to Get Spicey

Chapter 1

Caroline sighed and took another sip of her pineapple LaCroix. A bead of condensation ran down the can and fell onto her bare thigh, causing her to shiver despite the sweltering heat. She set the can down and adjusted her wide-brimmed hat to block the sun from hitting her copy of The New York Times. 

She had just turned the page to continue reading the latest story about the president’s Russian collusion when the sound of the gardener’s hedge trimmers made her lose her concentration. Caroline sighed again. These new gardeners always seemed to arrive at the worst time, when she was trying to sunbathe and relax by the pool—or sunbathe and read by the pool, as it were, since there was nothing relaxing about Russian collusion. 

Caroline missed Raphael, her old gardener. He would always come when Caroline was at work or out shopping, and he never interrupted her solitude. Unfortunately Raphael had been detained in an ICE raid in April and had since been deported. Caroline had gone through a few other gardeners before finally settling on the company she had hired a few weeks ago: Garden Alternatives, Inc. The company was okay. The guy they sent seemed to be meticulous and always did a nice job, but Caroline felt like she was never alone anymore. 

She did her best to continue reading despite the whirring of the hedge trimmers, but something felt off. She took another sip of her LaCroix, which this time dripped onto the middle of a paragraph, obscuring the name of a Russian oligarch. Caroline folded the newspaper and threw it down in frustration. She glanced over at the gardener just in time to see him turn away from her. 

She picked up her phone and tried to catch up on her Facebook feed but the glare from the sun made it impossible. 

The hedge trimmers hummed to a halt, but the silence suddenly seemed too great. Caroline got an uneasy feeling again. Without turning her head, she slowly moved her gaze back to the gardener. Sure enough, two beady eyes were peering out at her from between the bushes. 

So that was it, she thought. The gardener had been creeping on her. Caroline made a mental note to call Garden Alternatives, Inc. first thing in the morning to request a different worker. She had no interest in serving as eye candy for a laborer, even if he was masterfully trimming her shrubs into the shape of an elephant. 

Caroline swung her legs over to the side of the lounge chair and sat up. She grabbed her wrinkled paper and her sweaty can and stood to go inside, away from the stalking gardener.

“Wait! Ma'am!” the gardener called. 

Ma'am? Caroline inwardly huffed. She was too young to be called ma'am. She turned to him anyway. 

“Yes?” she asked, peering over the top of her red sunglasses. The gardener strode over to her. 

“I just wanted to see if you'd like any other animal topiaries,” the man said, gesturing toward the elephant. 

A large fabric safari hat obscured most of the man’s face, but something about him—his meaty neck, his chinny jaw, his furrowed brow—felt strangely familiar. Caroline didn't understand why, but she suddenly felt calmer and more at ease. 

“Oh, the topiary,” she said, unexpectedly flustered. “Yes, I meant to thank you for it. It’s lovely.”

The gardener smiled, but not an ordinary smile. It looked like the smile of a man who hadn't been complimented in months. Caroline thought she saw him wipe away a tear.

“Are you okay?” she asked. 

The man gave a little chuckle. “Yes, I'm sorry,” he said. “It's just nice to have someone appreciate what I do. Things didn't go too well at my last job, so I'm trying something new.”

Caroline wondered what his last job had been. Pool boy? Butler? Ice cream truck driver? She shuddered to think what could have gone wrong.

“What was your old job?” she asked. 

“I was the White House Press Secretary,” the man said, almost as an apology.

Caroline was speechless. Surely this gardener was pulling her leg...her long, tanned leg.  But wait. That neck, those chins, those beady eyes… Could it be? 

“No!” Caroline gasped. 

“It's true,” he said. Slowly the man reached up to remove his hat and all doubt. Caroline’s new gardener was Sean Spicer.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Presidential Anagrams: Mind Can Quash Joy

I don't want to sound like a big nerd or anything, but I love anagrams: words or phrases that are made by rearranging other words/phrases. Since I also love presidents, it seemed natural to create anagrams of all the presidents' names, and I'm going to share them with you now.

There are some rules and guidelines to anagramming. Each letter in the original word or phrase (or name, in this case) needs to be used exactly once in the resulting anagram. Punctuation can be added as needed. There are anagram programs that let you type something in and then compute anagrams for you. That's great and all, but it's also no fun. I did these with pen and paper, although I did use a program to double-check my results. 

I feel that anagrams need to make some kind of sense. They can be silly, but they have to sound like a somewhat reasonable phrase or sentence---they can't just be random jumbles of words. The resulting phrases don't necessarily need to have anything in common with the subject, but the very best ones will. Several of these presidential anagrams do describe their namesakes, but I think my favorites are James Buchanan and Warren G. Harding...and not just because they're kind of dirty.

For the purposes of the presidential anagrams, I chose to include/not include commonly used middle names/initials (or longer/shorter forms of first names) depending on what worked best. Some names, especially those that include a disproportionate amount of vowels or consonants, can be really tough (I'm looking at you, John Kennedy and Barack Obama), but I made it work. John Tyler was nearly impossible.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but they're the best I came up with for each president. Without further ado:

George Washington
Throwing a Nose Egg
John Adams
Oh, Sand Jam!
Thomas Jefferson
Fresh Foam on Jets
Moth Jar Offenses
Mothers: Jeans Off!
Major Hen Offsets
James Madison
Join Mad Seams
James Monroe
No Ammo Jeers
Mojo Nears Me
John Quincy Adams
Mind Can Quash Joy
Andrew Jackson
Scan Down a Jerk
Nerd Owns a Jack
Martin Van Buren
Invert Urban Man
Vain Number Rant
Rent Nirvana Bum
William Henry Harrison
Hire Slimy Iron Narwhal
John Tyler
Her N.Y. Jolt
James Polk
Joke Lamps
Zachary Taylor
A Crazy Holy Rat
Try a Lazy Roach
Millard Fillmore
Mild Moral Filler
LOL Mermaid Frill
Franklin Pierce
Rank-File Prince
Can Fire Per Kiln
James Buchanan
A Man’s Jean Chub
Abraham Lincoln
Born Llama Chain
Banal Calm Rhino
Andrew Johnson
Horn Down Jeans
Jar Shown No End
Ulysses S. Grant
Stern Ugly Sass
Stern Guy’s Lass
Rutherford Hayes
Here For Thursday
James Garfield
Smear Jedi Flag
Chester Arthur
Truth Searcher
Grover Cleveland
Revolver Clanged
Benjamin Harrison
Major Brains in Hen
William McKinley
Wily Camel in Milk
Theodore Roosevelt
Lose Over Teeth Odor
Other Elves’ Toe Odor
Love the Rooster Ode
The Overdose Looter
Do the Elves Root Ore?
William Taft

William Howard Taft
Will T.: I am Fat

Wow, I Hit Fat Mallard
Thwart a Mild Ol’ Waif
Woodrow Wilson
Wow, I Drown Solo
Worn Solo Widow
Wow, Indoor Owls!
Warren G. Harding
Erring Hard Wang
Calvin Coolidge
Loving Iced Cola
Herbert Hoover
Berth Over Hero
Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt
No Evil Snorkel Fart

Flavor Lets One Drink
Stoner Killed For Van
Harry S. Truman
Yarn Hurts Ram
Starry Ham Run
Hurry Man’s Art
Dwight Eisenhower
Dig the Wiener Show
Hero Widens Weight
He Is Downright Wee
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Tend Zinfandel, Jerky Hog
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Oh, Enjoy Non-Bland Sins
Richard Nixon
Our Hind Rhinos Climax
Gerald Ford
Frog Ladder
James Carter
Rams a Reject
Ronald Reagan
A Renal Dragon
George Bush
Oh, Gee! Grubs!
William Clinton
Lilt a Mini Clown
I Am Wilt Lincoln
George W. Bush
Where Bugs Go
Barack Obama
Am A Kabob Car
Donald Trump
Damn Turd Pol
Old Rant Dump

Because anagrams have to include exactly the same letters as the original name, there are some near-misses I couldn't include in the chart but that I'll list here because they're too good not to:

Thomas Jefferson almost becomes "Major Offenses"
William Henry Harrison almost becomes "Him: An Ill War Hero"
William Clinton almost becomes "Illicit Woman"

If this inspires you to create some presidential anagrams of your own (or if, by some chance, you already had) please share any good ones! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

I'm lucky to live in a city whose library has a summer reading program for kids and adults, so I was eager to get reading and claim my free pizza or whatever this year's prize is. The first book I tackled was Matthew Algeo's Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, which nicely combines my love of presidents with my love of road trips.

I first learned about this book while listening to the DC Improv's "Headliner of State" podcast, although apparently a lot of people already knew about it because I've been running into references to the book everywhere. I hate when I'm late to a history-based trend.

Anyway, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure covers a trip Harry and Bess Truman took from their home in Independence, Missouri, to New York City shortly after Harry retired to private life. The former president thought he would be able to drive across the country incognito, but it seems he was a bit misguided in that thought. He and Bess were recognized almost everywhere they went, and the media couldn't get enough of it. They were inundated at almost every gas station and diner along the way, and at one point a local police officer got wind of their impending arrival and arranged to have them pulled over for a photo op.

At first all this attention struck me as rather sweet, but after a while I started to feel frustrated for the Trumans. Can't the poor couple just eat in peace? But Harry mostly took it all in stride, diligently signing autographs and posing for pictures.

The book covers the trip itself, but it also covers events happening at the time (like the Rosenberg executions), the history the American road/road trip experience, and the individual histories of some of the places where the Trumans stopped along the way. Algeo recreated the trip, stopping at hotels and private homes where the Trumans once stayed, and talking with diner owners and gas station attendants who interacted with Harry and Bess. The book is part 1953 road trip, part early-2000s road trip. 

Some Amazon reviewers seemed annoyed that Algeo would insert himself into the narrative or give "boring" updates about what happened to the places the Trumans visited. I, on the other hand, loved that. I found it fascinating to learn what became of various people and locations involved in the original trip, and I didn't feel that Algeo's personal experiences detracted from the Trumans' story at all---just the opposite.

The book includes some great anecdotes, like how a resident of Richmond, Indiana, had once sabotaged Martin Van Buren's wagon, causing him to break down outside of town in 1842. Algeo explains a lot about Truman's financial difficulties following his presidency since ex-presidents didn't receive pensions (or security details) at the time, and how in 1912 Andrew Carnegie had offered to pay future ex-presidents $25,000 a year. (The "future" ex-president designation would exclude then-current ex-president Teddy Roosevelt, who Carnegie wasn't particularly fond of.) My favorite anecdote in the book is about a dinner the Trumans had at a popular New York City restaurant, the 21 Club. It was a hotspot for the elite, and "shortly after the Truman party was seated, New York Governor Thomas Dewey arrived." 

I think my mouth literally dropped open.

Needless to say, reading the book gave me a hankering to visit the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, which is about eight hours away. My kids recently did really well on an even longer drive to Disney World, but I'm not sure the prospect of seeing Harry Truman's kitchen holds as much appeal as seeing Mickey Mouse, so it might have to wait a while.

Incidentally, I did visit the Truman museum once before, many many many years ago on my first major road trip. I had just graduated from high school and was driving from Cleveland to Southern California, where I was going to be attending college. I noticed a typo on the museum's exhibit about Pearl Harbor. (It quoted Franklin Roosevelt as calling December 7, 1941 "a date that will live in infamy" instead of "a date which will live in infamy"). I wrote them a letter about it because even back then I was a pedantic snot. (Full disclosure: There is a small chance that actually occurred at a different presidential museum---possibly Eisenhower or LBJ---but I'm 99% sure it was Truman.)

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure was an enjoyable, informative, and often humorous read that helped bring to life not only Harry Truman but also the bygone era of classic American travel before the predominance of impersonal (albeit efficient) interstates and chain fast-food restaurants. Pick this up as a companion to your summer travels, or to inspire you to take a trip of your own.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Patriotic Jello

Okay, this isn't presidential, per se, but it's close enough: Patriotic Jello! And just in time for the Fourth of July.

This looks complicated, but it's actually really simple. It takes a few hours to set up, obviously, but the hands-on time is only about 15 minutes.

I first stumbled upon the concept of "stained glass Jello" in a Food Network Magazine a few months back. I was dying to make it, but my Aunt Cathy always makes the Jello for family gatherings, and she was hosting the next major event: Easter. Imagine my surprise when I asked what I could bring to dinner and she suggested Jello. Score!

Easter Jello
I used the recipe and technique from this website to make a multi-colored concoction, which was really fun and tasty. Everyone was so impressed that we spent a large portion of Easter dinner discussing other ways this Jello could be utilized, and that's where I hatched the idea for July 4th Jello.

This recipe only uses two colors of Jello vs. four, which means you can use two larger 6-oz boxes instead of the smaller 3-oz boxes.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 6-oz box red Jello (I used strawberry)
  • 1 6-oz box blue Jello (I used berry--I'm not sure if there are other options)
  • 2 packets of unflavored gelatin
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
  • Containers for chilling the colored Jello
  • A bundt pan
  • Star-shaped cutters
  • Cooking spray

You'll need to do this in a couple steps, but like I said, it's really easy. (I've put the main steps in bold so you can scan through more easily.)

Start by mixing the red jello with 2 cups boiling water, then repeat with the blue jello in a separate bowl.

Pour each color into containers to chill. You don't want the Jello to be too deep because you'll be cutting these into thin stars later. I divided each color into two Rubbermaid storage containers that I had very lightly sprayed with oil to help them unmold later.

Let those chill until set, a few hours or overnight.

Before you unmold those, mix together your white jello:

  • Pour 1/2 c COLD water into a bowl and sprinkle the two packets of unflavored gelatin on top. 
  • Let that bloom for a few minutes, then add 1.5 cups of boiling water and mix it together. 
  • Mix in the can of sweetened condensed milk.
  • Let this cool for a while at room temperature.

While that's cooling, unmold the blue and red Jello onto a cutting board (dipping the containers into hot water for a few seconds can help loosen the Jello if necessary).

Then the fun part: Cutting the stars!

I had gone to the craft store to buy a star-shaped cookie cutter, but the only solo one they had was really big. I found a set of four star-shaped cookie cutters, but only the smallest one would have worked. Better than nothing, though. Then I stumbled upon a set of six star-shaped fondant cutters. Perfect! I wound up using the third-smallest ones for the main stars, and also the smallest ones for some of the "scraps." Any scraps that were too small for stars got chopped up to be "fireworks."

Next it's time to arrange the stars in the (lightly oiled) bundt pan. You'll want these to stand up so each slice of Jello will have a star in it. At first I tried standing them up individually but they kept falling over. Eventually it occurred to me (der!) to stack a few together and then set them in. That worked much better! I alternated blue and red stars.

Once the bottom was filled, I still had a few big stars left over so I arranged them flat against the edges so that (hopefully) they would show through on the sides. I arranged some of my smaller stars so (also hopefully) they would show up, too.

Then I just threw in the other scraps.

When I was done with that, my white mixture was still pretty warm, and the last thing I wanted to do was melt my lovely stars, so I went and watched an episode of the Simpsons. By the time that was over, the white gelatin was cool enough to pour.

Pour the white gelatin in slowly and gently so you don't disturb anything too much. If you have any jagged bits of colored Jello sticking out, you can push them down so they won't poke out the bottom later on, although I'm not sure how necessary this really is.

Then it's back in the fridge for at least a few hours, or overnight.

When it's time to unmold, again, dipping the pan in hot water for a few seconds can help. Put your plate/serving disk/whatever on top of the pan and then flip it over and wiggle it around until the Jello releases. (A tip I read about: sprinkle some water on your platter first so that in case the Jello isn't centered, you can more easily slide it into place. Jello is surprisingly immobile otherwise.)

See the stars???
Finally, slice into it! I was really happy with the stars on the outside and on the inside. A few of the smaller stars showed up, too, which was cool.

My kids loved this. My 8-year-old wouldn't stop squealing, "It's so cute, I can't eat it!" although eventually she did break down and eat it. Then she and my 5-year-old used their fingers to dig out the stars, so that was great.

This Jello actually tasted a lot better than the Easter one, also. The Easter one was good but because of all the different flavors (grape, lime, strawberry, and orange) it tasted a bit like a bowl of Froot-Loops. The strawberry and berry of the Fourth of July Jello go together much better. It was really tasty!

Now, go forth (Fourth?) and make some Jello for your next barbecue. Our Founding Fathers would be proud.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Presidentress Turns 2!

Happy second anniversary to me and all of you!

I feel bad that I haven't written much lately but I have some stuff planned, including an upcoming William McKinley-inspired cocktail! Also, I was just mentioned in a post by Plodding Through the Presidents, although I think he stretched his definition of "May" a bit.

For now, let's do my annual round-up of most popular posts. Sadly, I can't find my most popular posts of the year, per se, but the list is different than last year's so I guess it's largely the same thing.

The post How Ronald Reagan Destroyed My First Celebrity Crush is the only holdover from last time, slipping from #1 to #5. I'm still waiting for someone to get me an autographed photo of Barry Bostwick.

At #4 this year is Donald Trump Refrigerator Poetry. You can download and print for free your very own set of words that will allow you to create pretty much any Trump speech. (Note to self: create a booster pack that includes "covfefe.")

This year's bronze medal goes to Thomas Jefferson's Killer Sheep. Why? I have no freaking idea. I mean, it was a cool post, but I can't explain what circumstances made it my third most popular post of all time.

On the other hand, I can explain all too well the circumstances that put The Cubs, Trump, and Armageddon in the second spot this year. I don't want to say I called it, but... (In fairness, I guess it's still too early to say whether the Cubs indeed won the last pennant ever. We'll know in a few months.)

And the most popular Presidentress post of all time is...DIY Presidential T-Shirts! Are throngs of people making Herbert Hoover shirts? I'd like to think so, but this one's popularity rests on hundreds of people on Pinterest pinning the post (alliteration!) because of the Disney designs contained within. I'm tempted to wear my Hoover shirt when I go to Disney World next week.

So that's it. I look forward to another year of sharing presidential history with you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Possum-Filled Taft Zine

My first introduction to the concept of a "zine" was way back when I was in high school and Sassy magazine would feature one each month. They always seemed to be really edgy, music-oriented things, and I wasn't an edgy, music-oriented kid, so I'd read about them with cautious fascination and then I'd move on.

After that, I never gave much thought to zines until a few weeks ago when I somehow became acquainted on Twitter with a cartoonist named Mike Rosen, who has created (with some other artists) a zine about William Howard Taft, something I could definitely get behind!

Mike sent me a copy of the zine, "Carnival of Knowledge" (Issue 1...I hope there are many more). The booklet is more than 20 pages long and chock-full of actual information about Taft, plus a lot of fun stuff, all presented in a visually appealing, easy-to-read format.

There are recipes, including one for Roast Possum with Sweet Potatoes. That will ring a bell if you're familiar with the tale of the Billy Possum. If you're not familiar with the Billy Possum (and if you didn't click the link I just provided), you'd be intimately familiar with it by the time you're done with this zine. The whole possum-saga is laid out in comic-strip form, and Rosen's depictions of the possum are hilarious. Mainly the possums look like crazed, rabid rodents in top hats, but there are a couple that look like a 1920s Disney-style possum. They're completely brilliant...and disturbing.

Like Taft himself, the zine is jam-packed with possums, including a "Hidden Possum" search (there are 19, but I've only found 18 so far) and a Billy Possum coloring page.

Other features include a piece on Pauline Wayne (the Taft presidential cow) and a word search featuring words and phrases like "mustache" and "Department of Labor." There's a drawing of Taft as a luchador (he was a wrestler in college---though not a Mexican one) with different wrestler-nicknames like "The Bathtub Behemoth," "Taft the Shaft," and my favorite, "The Thriller Who Was Governor in Manilla." I laughed out loud at that one.

I think my favorite part, though, is the Taft paper doll, complete with a suit, a judge's robe, an old-timey striped bathing suit, and---best of all---a bathtub!

The artists are still working on a website for their zines, but you can find Rosen's work here.

Continuing with the presidential-possum theme, Rosen has also created a cartoon featuring Herbert Hoover and a possum, which you can see here.

If you know of any other Presidential-possum-related stories be sure to pass them along so we can get more of these brilliant cartoons.