Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Warren G. Harding Doll

A few months ago I mentioned that I crochet and that I had made some replica Ida McKinley slippers. Slippers are well and good when your feet are cold, but what about when you want to crochet something less useful?

For a while now I've wanted to crochet a set of presidential dolls, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. Sure, I could probably figure it out on my own, but I didn't want to. I also didn't want to buy a pattern for, say, a Golden Girl and then need to modify it. What I wanted was a set of instructions that I could customize as needed, but that had most of the information there. Then I stumbled upon exactly what I needed: A book called AmiguruME by Allison Hoffman, the person who made the Golden Girls pattern.

Basically the book walks you through the steps of creating custom dolls. There are various head sizes, clothing options, etc. You can make celebrities, family members, whatever. ("Amigurumi" is the art of crocheting cute little stuffed toys, so the "AmiguruMe" name is a play on that.) I put the book on my Amazon wishlist then pretty much forgot about it until a copy arrived on my doorstep near my birthday. (Thanks, Mom!)

It took me a while to decide which president to start with. I wanted one with some kind of distinctive feature that would be easy to express in yarn. I also wanted it to be a president I liked. Lincoln was an obvious choice, but I rarely go for the obvious choices, plus I was a little intimidated by his beard and hat. Taft is always a favorite, but the instructions in AmiguruME don't include techniques for making a more corpulent body, and I didn't want to figure it out on my first attempt. Chester Arthur would be fun, especially with all the possibilities for different pants, but again, I was intimidated by the facial hair. So I settled on another of my favorites: Warren G. Harding. I know, I know: I do too much Harding (that's what she said). Sorry. But he seemed like he would be pretty straightforward, plus he has distinctive eyebrows. (John Oliver described them as "mozzarella sticks covered")

On Christmas afternoon, once the kids were busily engaged in their new toys, I sat down to create mine. Although the book walked me through each step, I did make some modifications.

The book gives instructions for a short, wide male head or a long, narrow male head. Harding seems to have a long, wide head, so I went with the short/wide one but added a couple rows to make it longer. I also added a few stitches to create a more prominent chin.

For about a day, all I had was the head and an armless torso. My kids thought it looked like a creepy baby (they weren't wrong) but I thought it looked like the Shah of Iran.

(Frankly, even the finished product looks like him, but I'm trying not to think about that because it's supposed to be Harding, dammit!)

Within a couple days I had added the arms and legs and whatnot.

I do wish the book had given more detail/examples for embroidering the face and creating the hair. Those were the two most difficult parts, and also the features that really make a doll like this. It took me four attempts to get the hair "right," and I wasn't quite able to get the Harding frown down. Still, I think it came out pretty well.

I gave him a lovely hand-crafted wool suit (with removable jacket!) and a bright blue tie to jazz things up a bit.

My daughter asked me this morning what I'm going to do with the doll now, and that's a great question. She said, "It seems like such a waste to spend all that time on it and then just let it sit around." I'm not sure if she's hinting that she wants it or wants me to get rid of it. For now it'll probably sit on my Shelf O' Random Presidential Crap, next to my Hoover bobblehead and Woodrow Wilson puppet. After all, art doesn't need to have a purpose, right?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Presidentress Christmas Carol VIDEOS: 2016

'Tis the season for me to create a president-themed Christmas carol. And I tried. I really did. I have a full verse of a song about William Howard Taft set to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas," but honestly, that's all I'm ever going to have. It's a hard song to deal with, and this has been a crappy year, and I just don't have the inspiration in me.

So...basically, I don't have a new one this year. But what I do have might be even better: Videos of Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding singing the songs I previously wrote for them. You can find my posts (and lyrics) about "Cleveland the Creepy POTUS" here, and "Warren G. Harding" here.

Or you can just watch the videos.

If you're the kind of person who gets really excited about things like these videos, be sure to check out my Holiday Gift Guide, because there's probably stuff on there that you'd like.

Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding, and I wish you a very merry holiday season. Be safe and have fun. Those guys sure did.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hamilton in Chicago: Review

Shirt for Hamilton Chicago
(for the uninitiated: That's the Chicago flag)
Like many others, I've been obsessed with Hamilton: An American Musical since the cast recording was released last year. (Actually, I was obsessed with it even before the recording was released; there just wasn't as much to listen to.)

A few months after the show opened on Broadway, my parents gave me my birthday gift: a trip for my mom and me to fly to New York and see the show! Sadly, we had underestimated how expensive tickets would be. (We knew they would be a lot, but didn't realize we'd literally need to sell a body part.) Shortly after postponing the New York trip until "sometime later," plans were announced for the opening of the show in Chicago. It meant we'd have to wait for it, but it would likely be less expensive, especially since travel would only require the cost of gas and parking, no hotel or flights necessary.

When tickets for Hamilton Chicago went on sale back in June, I dedicated the whole morning to getting some. I sat there with my phone, my iPad, and my computer (with two different browsers open) desperate to snag some tickets. I wound up scoring two seats for a couple days before my birthday.

On November 22, my mom and I headed into the city to finally catch the show!

I had been worried about two things: 1) That after having listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times, the show itself wouldn't be as exciting as it would have been otherwise, and 2) That I wouldn't like the performers in Chicago as much as I liked the voices of the original cast.

I needn't have worried. As to worry #1: There is so much more to the show than just the music. I had read about things like the rotating stage and the dramatic death scene (spoiler alert: Hamilton dies), and both really brought the story to life, so to speak. Even just the body language and facial expressions of the actors added so much to the music. Although there are funny/amusing parts to the soundtrack, the humor comes through much more in person, as does the drama. The show was amazing, and everything I had hoped it would be.

As to worry #2, the cast was fantastic. There were a couple parts I didn't enjoy quite as much as the originals, and a couple that I thought were better. Mostly the cast members were different, but just as enjoyable. I'll explore that a little more, and keep in mind that I'm mainly basing my opinions against the cast recording, which means I'm not really comparing apples to apples. It's my only basis for comparison, though.

Now, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. A true genius. I would have loved to have seen him perform in New York. But (I know this is sacrilegious) I don't love his voice/singing. Miguel Cervantes, who plays the lead role in Chicago, was probably better technically. Cervantes didn't blow me away (so to speak) but his performance was solid.

Angelica (Karen Olivo) and Laurens/Phillip (José Ramos) were also comparable to their New York counterparts. They didn't stand out as being significantly more or less impressive.

Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry) really grew on me. My initial reaction was that he was fine. I had nothing to complain about, but I didn't think he really stood out. Over the course of the show, though, he impressed me more. The pinnacle for him (in my opinion) was in "The Room Where it Happens." I've always liked that song, but Henry's phenomenal performance made me love it even more. When it ended I even thought to myself, "Good god." It was stunning.

There were two actors who stood out immediately, from the opening number, as something special. The first was Jonathan Kirkland as George Washington. I'm not going to say he was better than Christopher Jackson because I love Christopher Jackson, but Kirkland's voice was deep and rich and he played the role beautifully.

The second was Ari Afsar, who plays Eliza. Now, I'll admit, Eliza is probably my least favorite character (just from a vocal standpoint) on the original soundtrack. I've always felt like Phillipa Soo was a bit shrill, and it made me think of her parts as kind of whiny. In contrast, I found Afsar's voice to be lovely and compelling, and I enjoyed listening to her. Her performance of "Burn" was powerful and moving, and (again, sacrilegious to admit) it was the first time I truly enjoyed that song.

In Chicago King George is played by Alexander Gemignani. Now, I can't really compare his version to Jonathan Groff's because so much of King George involves body language and expressions, but I can say that he was immensely enjoyable. His voice and (singing) style were quite different from Groff's, but hilarious nonetheless. We loved him.

As I mentioned, there were a couple roles I didn't enjoy as much. Lafayette/Jefferson (Chris De'Sean Lee) was good. His acting and expressions were great, but his voice and overall character paled compared to Daveed Diggs (based on the soundtrack and the clips I've seen). Mulligan/Madison (Wallace Smith) also didn't quite live up to expectations. Even though the parts are relatively small, I really enjoy Okieriete Onaodowan's performances on the soundtrack. As Mulligan, his voice is deep and gravelly. As Madison, it's deep and refined. Smith, on the other hand, was sort of unremarkable. He wasn't bad at all; he just didn't stand out for me. I felt like Madison got a bit lost in the whole thing.

But even with the couple roles that seemed a bit underwhelming, I have no complaints at all. Seeing the show on stage was an enthralling experience, and I recommend it to everyone. (Duh, right?) Don't take out a second mortgage to get tickets, but if you have the chance don't throw away your shot at seeing this show.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Presidentress Gift Guide 2016

If this November hadn't been such a crappy, hectic month I would have had this post up and ready in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and whatnot. Sorry. But better late than never, right? If you're looking for the perfect gift for the history nerd in your life, you've come to the right place. (You might also want to check out last year's gift guide, as most of it is still relevant.)

The Amazon links contained here are affiliate links. Shopping through them helps support this blog, so please do me a solid and use them. The other links are not affiliate links, so if you don't like me you can still feel good about clicking on them because they won't support me in any way.

Without further ado, here are my 2016 Holiday Picks:

If you don't already have the Broadway cast recording of Hamilton, you should really get it. Really. And if you already have it, your next purchase should be the Hamilton Mixtape. It puts a new spin on those "old" beloved favorites from the show, with artists like Ja Rule, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, and Jimmy Fallon & The Roots. You can preorder it right now (some tracks are already available) but the whole album will be released next week.

Do you want to act out the musical while listening to the soundtrack? Then why not pick up some Hamilton, Jefferson, and Washington finger puppets?

We also have the Lincoln and Poe ones. (The Poe can represent John Wilkes Booth if you want to do any other theater reenactments.)

Or get a little radical with an Emma Goldman finger puppet. Think of all the fun you can have!

Maybe you're looking for something a little more sophisticated? Perhaps a nice, world-leader-scented candle to set the mood? Then you definitely need to check out JD and Kate Industries' shop on etsy. They're the folks behind Hottest Heads of State, and they've recently expanded their expertise into the candle-making business. You can select from candles that smell like Justin Trudeau, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump.

I have the Justin Trudeau-scented one, and it smells just like a warm, tender, Canadian hug. Also, it comes with a Justin Trudeau temporary tattoo!

If you like supporting independent artisans, and if you also like presidents overrun by rodents, this next item might be perfect for you.

I got this Andrew Jackson-hamster magnet last year from The Atomic 50s Housewife shop on etsy. I don't see it listed there anymore, but if you really, really want one, maybe you can contact her and she'd make one?

Next up are some great shirts from Amorphia Apparel. They have a ton of nerdy/geeky/funny shirts, but my favorite series are their History League shirts, which take historic people/events and turn them into pseudo-sports logos, and the Hirsute History shirts, which feature famous historical hair.

I couldn't decide which History League shirt I wanted, so I have two. The nice thing is that you can get a single logo or you can get two on a shirt to represent a "matchup." I have one shirt for the Muckrakers of the 4th Estate, and the other shirt is a matchup between the Roosevelt Trustbusters and the Robber Barons.

I don't yet have any Hirsute History shirts, but Chester Arthur is high on my list.

Or if you really want to stick with that Justin Trudeau theme, they've got him covered, too.

They also have the hair of actors, musicians, authors, philosophers, and more. Shirts are available in unisex and women's cuts.

If you're looking to support some non-profits, here are some ideas for you.

This year's White House Historical Association Christmas ornament honors Herbert Hoover and the four-alarm fire that occurred at the White House on Christmas Eve 1929. I'm planning on picking mine up at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, but you can order one online.

And while we're talking about Chester Arthur (we were, a minute ago), last year I created a picture of Chestnut A. Arthur. I had kind of forgotten about him until I recently read that the chestnuts we eat in America have been imported ever since a blight wiped out American chestnut trees in 1904. The American Chestnut Foundation is trying to reintroduce blight-resistant chestnut trees, and for a $10 donation, they'll plant one in honor of a person of your choice. It seemed fitting that I should have a tree planted in honor of Chestnut A. Arthur, and you can, too. (Or pick someone else...Chestnut A. Arthur won't be offended. In any case, help make American chestnuts great again.)

Oh, and if you want a presidential ring for that special someone? Let's talk.

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Separated at Birth, Pt. 15

Rudy Giuliani and the alien from Alien.

A Tale of Two Podcasts

A few weeks ago I decided to try listening to some podcasts instead of playing the Hamilton soundtrack for the 34,000th time (not that there's anything wrong with that). I'd never listened to podcasts before, mainly because I didn't think I could. I'm more of a visual person than an auditory one, and I've never done well with audiobooks because my mind wanders too much. But I'd heard about the Presidential podcast from the Washington Post, and I rarely pass up an opportunity to engage in presidential stuff. Obviously.

The Presidential podcast started back in January with the goal of exploring one president per week leading up to the election. Because I didn't start listening until September I had a lot of catching up to do, but thanks to a few long drives and a couple long flights, I finished just a few days before the election. Whew!

Presidential looks at each president in chronological order. I know of several people whose goal is to read a biography of every president, and I commend them for that because I could never do it. There are some presidents I just don't find interesting enough to devote that kind of time to (I'm looking at you, James Monroe). But I could easily and happily devote 45 minutes of drive-time to learning about them.

Host Lillian Cunningham interviews experts from the Library of Congress, award-winning biographers, journalists, staff members (for more recent presidents), and even some family members to help give listeners insight into the presidents' lives, their terms, and their legacies. Although the episodes are largely serious, they're not at all stodgy. I think the podcast would feel approachable to presidential history newcomers and long-term aficionados alike.

Best of all, the episodes I thought would be the most boring often turned out to be the most interesting, particularly the ones about William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.

As I said, I finished that podcast (other than the post-election wrap-up episode) just days before the election. After the election, I desperately needed something to cheer me up, and that's where the next podcast entered my life.

The DC Improv has a podcast called The Other Side, and one of their features this year is something called Headliner of State, a search for the funniest president of all time.

Like Presidential, Headliner of State devotes an episode to each president, but not in chronological order. There's actually not any order I can discern, but that's okay. I like mixing things up.

Despite being produced by a comedic entity, the episodes are educational and often serious, but with a good dose of humor thrown in. I especially like the formal introduction given to each president by the announcer, who plays it very straight. I laughed out loud several times and almost drove off the road during the William Howard Taft introduction.

The people interviewed for Headliner of State include a wide range of experts. Sometimes the host, Chris White, speaks with biographers or staff members at presidential sites. Sometimes he talks with television humor writers who devoted time to a particular president (like a writer for Futurama who spent a lot of time on Nixon jokes, or the woman who wrote the "William Henry Harrison" episode of Parks and Recreation). For the Chester Arthur episode, he interviews facial hair historian (there is such a thing). For more recent presidents, he interviews the presidents' official joke writers, a position I didn't even know existed and led me to wish I had taken a different path in life.

The episodes always give an overview of the presidents' lives and administrations in a scholarly way, but also spend a lot of time (as one might expect) looking at the lighter side of their personalities.

I'm only about halfway through the series right now and they're still working on more episodes, so I can't tell you yet who is eventually deemed the funniest president of all time. Lincoln certainly seems to be the frontrunner right now, and unless there's a huge upset somewhere, Andrew Johnson will likely be crowned least funny.

If you're looking for a great way to pass the time on a road trip or just running around town, I highly recommend both of these podcasts. If anyone has recommendations for other good ones, please let me know. I have no problem going back to Hamilton but I'd like some other options, too.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Don't Blame Me. I Voted for Kodos

If you don't know The Simpsons, this might not make a lot of sense. Also, if you don't know The Simpsons, I feel very bad for you.

A while back I stumbled upon some election signs reddit user potmat had created for his yard. They're signs featuring Kang and Kodos, the aliens who make an appearance in every "Treehouse of Terror" episode, including one in which they impersonate Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in an attempt to win the 1996 election and take over the earth.

Obsessed with the idea of having these signs in my yard, I asked potmat if he was okay with my stealing the idea, and he said sure. So I sent the picture to my friend Heather and asked her to create a file with quality high enough for a yard sign. She did, and then I let it sit in my inbox for several months.

Finally the other day I sent the files to Office Max to be printed on heavy poster paper, which I then planned to glue onto an existing yard sign. Unfortunately, I guess someone at Office Max knows The Simpsons well enough to know that Kang and Kodos are, technically, copyrighted characters, and they wouldn't print them.

I resigned myself to not having awesome election signs.

Then, yesterday afternoon, inspiration struck: I could just paint them myself! But then I flashed back to junior high art class and having to make a grid over a comic strip and a grid on poster board, and having to freehand each part of the grid onto its corresponding square and how deathly boring that was, and I gave up. But then my brain remembered that I have a portable projector I use for showing videos in some classes I teach, and I realized I could use that to project the image onto a blank yard sign and trace it. Of course there would also be a lot of painting (and more and more tracing) involved, but at least I'd have my signs.

I hit the craft store (with lots of coupons, thankfully) for some acrylic paint, some paint pens, and some sealer. Mr. Presidentressor had already purchased a blank sign, probably at some man-store. (Sarcasm, people. I know women like Home Depot, too.) (Except I really don't. I always worry that one of those giant saws or a coil of wire balanced on a high shelf is going to fall on me.)

I set up the projector, hooked it up to my phone, and taped my blank sign to the wall. My 7-year-old "helped" me by talking incessantly about my tracing (which I did in pencil, by the way). I did Kang on one side, Kodos on the other.

Next I headed to the kitchen table and outlined the aliens in Sharpie. I wound up painting over Kang's name because the pencil showed through the paint and I figured it would be easier to go over them in white paint than to try painting around the blank parts with red.

Then we painted the red and blue background on the first side. I wasn't happy with how splotchy the paint looked at first, but a second coat of each made them better. Filling in the alien was actually lots of fun, although I did need to go back over some of the lines with Sharpie again once the paint had dried, just to keep them bold.

For the Kodos side, I decided to change up the color scheme. Instead of blue on top and red on the bottom, I left it white on top and went with blue on the bottom. That was partially because I'm impatient, and not painting something is quicker than painting it. But it's also because the white paint pen I got for doing the large letters wasn't working very well and I didn't want to deal with it anymore. As for the blue, it just covered better than the red.

From the beginning I had planned on going back and doing the smaller lettering at the end, I just wasn't sure how. I didn't want to freehand it, but I also didn't want to project it up against a wall, especially because I wasn't sure if the paint pens would even work that way. Ultimately, I wound up using the projector, but I rigged it (with a step stool and my kitchen table) to project down onto the floor.

When it was all done, I added a few coats of varnish. Unfortunately, there were a few places where the varnish (or more likely my brush) took off a bit of the acrylic paint, most notably on Kodos. Oops. Overall I'm happy with the results. It wound up costing less than getting the signs printed (although it also cost me about six hours of my life).

Since I wound up doing these on my own, I could have customized them to be different (or more different) than the ones the reddit user created. And had I started sooner than 72 hours before the election, I probably would have. (Heather pointed out that both aliens are Kodos---I could have used a different image for Kang.) Luckily we have four years before we have to go through this again, so I've got time to work on the next one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Teddy Roosepig

I tried finding a good presidential Halloween costume this year, but I came up short. You'd think with it being an election year there would be tons of options, but I just wasn't feeling any of them. I considered dressing up as Sexy Abraham Lincoln again and recruiting friends to go as Sexy Jefferson, Sexy TR, and Sexy Washington so we could collectively go as Sexy Mount Rushmore, but surprisingly few friends (read: none) wanted to join me. Their loss.

It's okay, though. The strange-presidential-costume theme continues in the Presidentress household thanks to my 5-year-old son insisting on being Teddy Roosepig.

I need to state here, emphatically, that this was not my idea. I'm not sure if I'm giving him all the credit or all the blame; I'm just saying.

It started when I showed my kids the Teddy Roosevelt costume I found on Amazon. They all rebuffed me, so I let it go. But then a few weeks later, my youngest came up with this pig thing and decided that he needed to morph it with Teddy Roosevelt.

At first I thought it would be disrespectful (unlike that classy Lincoln costume of mine), but I asked on Facebook and Twitter, and everyone who responded said that it was a great idea. A couple even said that Teddy himself would find it hilarious. So it happened. 

I bought the costume from Amazon, but when it came I saw that it didn't include the boots. So I found some kids costume boots on Amazon, too. (When I bought them, they were $10 with free Prime Shipping. They've gone up since then, which is unfortunate because you could buy some real kids' cowboy boots for the current price, I imagine.) Then I found a "pig kit" with a nose, clip-on tail, and ear headband. 

I cut the ears off the headband and hot-glued them to the hat, and I hot-glued the mustache to the snout. (I also trimmed the mustache a bit because it was far too bushy for TR.)

Because of my affinity for aardvarks, I know that the word "aardvark" comes from the Afrikaans (South African Dutch) words for land (aard) and pig (vark). Hence this costume should really be called Teddy Roosevark. Plus Roosevelt is a Dutch name, so it's even more appropriate. ("Roosevelt" apparently means "rose field," so Roosevark would, I suppose, mean rose-pig, and pigs are pink, after all. It's perfect.)

Maybe I'll reuse my Lincoln costume from last year so my kid and I can comprise half of a very dystopian Mount Rushmore this Halloween. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Cubs, Trump, and Armageddon

The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and haven't even appeared in a World Series since 1945. It's not exactly a novel joke to suggest that the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series would result in armageddon. I've heard that joke all my life and have alluded to it on numerous occasions. And that's all it is: A joke...or is it?

The Cubs have made it into the postseason a few times in recent years, and each time I've been reminded of a particular short story by W. P. Kinsella. For those of you who aren't fans of baseball literature, Kinsella is a Canadian writer known in the U.S. for his stories about baseball, and his plots often involve at least a slight supernatural element. (His best known work is a novel called Shoeless Joe, the basis for the movie Field of Dreams.)

The short story in question is called "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon" from the collection The Thrill of the Grass. The premise is that the Cubs are having an unbelievably good year, but their manager has been receiving messages from God in the form of recurring dreams in which various people (including Al Capone and longtime Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley) plead with God to let the Cubs win. God tells them that the Cubs will win the last pennant before armageddon. Finally, with the team on the verge of clinching the pennant, international tensions between the United States and USSR have reached a critical level, and the Cubs' starting pitcher is showing signs of fatigue. The manager needs to decide whether to leave his starter in, which might cause the Cubs to lose but would also keep the world from ending, or whether he should pull his starter and bring in his reliable closer, thus winning the pennant but leading to a nuclear war that would wipe out civilization. (I won't tell you what happens.)

Even though that story is about the Cubs winning the National League championship, not the World Series,  I've always considered this a creative look at the typical "The Cubs winning the World Series will lead to armageddon!" joke. In the past it was just amusing but this year, just a few days after the end of the World Series, America will vote for a new president. That president might be Donald Trump, which could very well lead to the end of the world.

As I write this, the Cubs have won their Division Series and are headed to the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. (It should be noted that in Kinsella's story, the championship series is against...the Dodgers!)

Now, I'd love to see the Cubs in the World Series. I'm not exactly a Cubs fan, per se, but they've always been my favorite National League team. I spent good chunks of my childhood in Chicago and live in the Chicago 'burbs now. (It would be even better---though possibly more damning---if they face the Cleveland Indians, another perennial loser that hasn't won the World Series since 1948. I grew up an Indians fan in Northeast Ohio and have been waiting my whole life for them to finally win the whole thing. There's no doubt that a Cubs-Indians matchup would signal an apocalypse.)

Over the past few days, Donald Trump's campaign has taken a nosedive, so it seems less likely that he can win. Does that also mean the Cubs will lose? We'll have to wait and see.

Back in 2003, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about Kinsella's story. The Cubs were in the playoffs that year as were the Boston Red Sox, who hadn't won a World Series since 1918. In that article, Kinsella said that he wasn't rooting for either team to win because he likes them more as lovable losers. Neither team made it to the World Series that year. The Red Sox did wind up winning the World Series the following season and the world did not end, which is further proof that armageddon is dependent on the Cubs and not any other team.

In that 2003 article, Kinsella was asked what would happen if the Cubs won. He said, "You never know. We'll just have to see." Sadly, Kinsella won't know how it turns out this year because he died last month, which seems like a classically Kinsella-esque twist to this whole scenario.

Am I being melodramatic and superstitious? Yes, absolutely, and hopefully that's all it is. But if the Cubs and Donald Trump both win, there's no way you'll convince me it was just a coincidence.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

DIY Presidential Rings

A few months ago, as the Fourth of July approached, I realized I didn't have anything specifically presidential with which to accessorize my holiday outfit. Then I remembered some presidential spoons a friend had sent me a while back, and I realized I could turn one of those into a bracelet.

I scoured the web and YouTube for tutorials on making a bracelet out of a spoon, and somehow I decided it would be better to turn the spoon into a ring. I don't remember how or why I came to that conclusion, but I'm not sure that matters.

This is a mandrel
The problem with this plan was that I really needed a ring mandrel, something I hadn't even heard of until I started researching this whole thing. Luckily they sell them at Michael's, and with a 50% off coupon I got my mandrel for only $10. Turns out you can also get them for around the same price on Amazon. Make sure you get one that's all metal! There are some that are plastic, which is fine for making wire rings or whatever, but if you're going to be hammering this thing, it needs to be solid metal.

You'll also need a presidential spoon, of course. The spoon collection my friend sent included George Washington, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Calvin Coolidge. Since this was for the Fourth of July I decided to go with Washington (plus I had a backup Washington spoon in case I destroyed the first one).

Besides the mandrel and spoon, the other tools you'll need are a rubber mallet (or something similar), a block of wood (or something similar---this is for you to set the ring and mandrel on when you pound away at them), a hacksaw or something else that will cut through metal, and a metal file. Thankfully Mr. Presidentressor had all those items. Well, actually, he didn't have a rubber mallet, so I wrapped two thicknesses of washcloth around a regular hammer for my first attempt, but I got a mallet for the second one. I recommend the mallet (more on this later).

I didn't take photos while I made the ring because for some reason I didn't think I'd blog about it, but then the ring came out so well I realized I had to. As it turned out, the only other person in my life who was actually excited about my Washington ring was my cousin Christina, who demanded one for her birthday. She chose Andrew Jackson because she hates him and wanted to be ironic. I just recently made hers, and I was smart enough to photograph the process this time. (Also, her birthday isn't until December so she's probably going to see this in advance and it'll ruin the "surprise." Sorry, Chris.)

So, how to make one of these rings? First thing is to measure how much spoon you'll need. I wrapped a thin strip of paper around my finger, cut it to the right length, then I used that to mark the back of the spoon in Sharpie.
Bent spoon. I wound up
bending it even more
before we cut it.

(Come to think of it, the very first thing you should do is check eBay to make sure the spoon you're cutting and bending isn't worth, like, $900. I didn't check until after my ring was finished, but the first auction I found for the George Washington spoon was $3.95, so it's all good.)

At least one of the tutorials I found said to pre-bend the spoon into a loose ring before cutting it, since the extra length of the spoon would allow for more leverage. I did that, and while it's true that the spoon is easier to shape that way, it also made it harder to cut with the hacksaw later. For the Jackson spoon, I left it straight for cutting, but then it was really, really hard to bend it without that extra leverage. When I make another ring (and yes, there will be a next time), I'm going back to bending it first, and we'll just have to struggle a bit to cut it.

Cutting Andrew Jackson

Once your spoon is cut, the edges will probably be a bit sharp. Use a metal file to smooth those down.

Okay, so when your spoon is cut and filed, it's time to start using the mandrel and mallet/hammer to bang the ring into shape. The idea is to put the spoon on the mandrel and use the mallet to bend the spoon around the mold. Don't worry too much about properly sizing the ring right away. Start big and work your way smaller. You can fine-tune it once you're further along. Remember to set the mandrel on a wooden block while you hammer. I covered the block with an old washcloth to help protect the spoon and to keep the block from chipping.

Some tutorials showed using a vice to hold the ring onto the mandrel to keep it in place while hammering. That would probably help a lot, but when I made the Washington spoon, Mr. Presidentressor was in the middle of some other stuff and I didn't want to bother him for a vice. For the Jackson one, I just forgot, plus I'm not sure that would have worked with these spoons anyway. So what I did was set the mandrel down on the block of wood with the spoon in the middle. I held one side of the mandrel down with my right foot and the other with my left hand, then used my right hand to beat the crap out of the spoon. This was...maybe not the smartest setup, but it worked.

A few words of caution: Be really careful when you're banging away at the spoon, especially if you have body parts nearby. It hurts to whack yourself with a mallet. What hurts even more is when you hit yourself and skin your hand with a mallet. Don't be me.

The shaping process was fairly quick and easy with the Washington spoon. The Jackson one took some more effort because I hadn't pre-bent it before cutting. For that one, Mr. Presidentressor wound up clamping the mandrel to our block of wood, with the spoon between the mandrel and the block. He then used some pliers to bend the spoon up enough that I could start hammering away at it.

(At this point, could I have left it clamped and continued to hammer the ring that way rather than holding everything with my foot and hand? Probably, yes, but it didn't occur to me. Also, it's important to rotate the ring to hit it from different angles, and it needs to be moved up the mandrel as it gets smaller, which would have involved a lot of unclamping/reclamping, so I'm sticking by my rudimentary process.)

It's also important to note that (at least with my spoons) the part with the presidents' heads just would not bend. That wound up not being a problem, though, because it looked fine---possibly better---on my finger with that part lying flat.

One other minor snag was that at some point while making the first ring, the washcloth I'd wrapped around the hammer tore, but I didn't realize it. As a result, there's some scratching on the spoon to the left of Washington's head. His face is intact, though, so all is well. I didn't run into any issues with the rubber mallet and Andrew Jackson. For this reason, I strongly recommend a mallet.

My spoons started out quite tarnished, but by the time I was done, they were sparkling. Don't waste time and effort on silver polishes before you start. It'll probably work itself out.

All in all, I'm very happy with the way the rings came out.

Jackson looks like Buchanan here, doesn't he?

There was something cathartic about whacking away at Andrew Jackson's head. Also, before I made the Washington one Mr. Presidentressor and I had been out at breakfast. When we were done I said, "Okay, I need to get home so I can bang George Washington." Crafts are always better with innuendo.

Now, if anyone has any ideas on what to do with the other end of the spoons, let me know. The Jackson one has a scene of the Battle of New Orleans, and I can't just throw it away.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Giveaway! Vagenda of Manocide Pen!

***UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Joanna S. for winning her very own Vagenda of Manocide pen! Stay tuned for at least one more giveaway (not necessarily of a pen) before the end of the year.

Last week I brought you a review of the Vagenda of Manocide pens, designed for the feminist presidential candidate in all of us.

Well, the pens come in sets of six. After I wrote the review I put one of the pens in my purse, one on my nightstand, and one in my binder full of women, but then I wondered: How many pens does a modern girl really need?

Answer: A lot, really. But I'd also like to spread the love a bit, so I've decided to give my readers a chance to win one of these emasculating writing implements.

There are several ways to enter, and you can use any or all of them! (Some can be done more than once, too!) If you don't win the contest and still want some pens, you can order them from the shop at

Here is the not-so-fine print:
  1. The contest runs from 12:00 a.m. EST September 20, 2016, through 12:00 a.m. EST September 27, 2016. 
  2. There will be one winner, selected at random. The winner will receive one Vagenda of Manocide pen from the set that was sent to me for review.
  3. People who live in my household are ineligible, as are immediate blood relatives (I'm looking at you, Mom and Dad!).
  4. The winner must have a US shipping address and must be 18 or older.
  5. I will contact the winner within 72 hours of the contest closing. The prize will be sent via US mail. I am not responsible for the prize once it has left my possession.
  6. No purchase necessary.
  7. I will display the winner's first name and last initial on my blog and/or Facebook and/or Twitter unless you specify otherwise. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hillary's Feminist Pens: A Review

A few years ago a Maine gun store displayed a sign that read, "Beware the Beast Hildabeast Clinton and its Vagenda of Manocide."

The store owner (I'm going out on a limb and assuming it's a man) must be even more fearful for his threatened, fragile manhood now that a woman is this much closer to becoming president. I'm sure her first act as president will be to emasculate everything in sight.

My friend Rachel, a Political Science professor at Pitzer College, alerted me that a website called has come out with a new line of pens for all of the evil feminists hell-bent on world domination. Behold the "Vagenda of Manocide" pens.

If you've ever thought to yourself, "I'm having fun in this meeting, but I wish there were some way I could subtly declare my intention to topple the establishment," these pens might be for you.

The see-through pens have silvery sparkles, with "Vagenda of Manocide" emblazoned in pink (of course), and they contain black ink. That's right: Pink, sparkly exterior and black on the inside, just like the heart of a every feminist seeking the death of the patriarchy.

How did the pens work? Great! Just like a mainstream pen. Did you think the female pen would somehow be inferior? If so, you're part of the problem.

I can't say whether or not these pens fit my dainty lady-hands as well as a Bic for Her (because I haven't tried the latter), but they get the job done.

"Vagenda of Manocide" pens are perfect for all your important feminine tasks, like making shopping lists, writing a manifesto, or tattooing Andrew Jackson.

You can buy a six-pack of pens at GetBullish's shop for $8.95. (Through October, they're donating profits to Clinton's campaign, so keep that in mind if you were looking to donate anyway.)

Thank you to GetBullish for sending me a set of pens to review. I was not otherwise compensated, and all opinions stated are my own.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ida McKinley's Slippers

Today is the anniversary of William McKinley being fatally shot, so I'm taking this opportunity to talk about his wife's slippers.

Ida McKinley was a troubled woman, and for good reason. She lost her mother and her baby daughter within months of each other. Three years later, her only other child died at the age of 4. Somewhere in that time, she suffered trauma to her head which led to her developing epilepsy.

She never recovered from these emotional and physical wounds. Not a lot was known about epilepsy back then, so it took a lot of trial and error to find solutions. One of the first cures they tried was having her rest in isolation since her problems were likely caused by her inferior lady-brain being too troubled by the man-problems of the big, modern world. Needless to say, that didn't work.

Ida went through phases of being very active (in life and in her husband's career) and other phases where she had less mobility and a decreased ability to socialize. At times she was very dependent on William. During her White House years, she often avoided social situations, sometimes leaving the duties of the First Lady to Jennie Tuttle Hobart, wife of VP Garret Hobart. Seating arrangements at dinner were changed so she could sit next to, rather than across from, her husband. At times Ida would have seizures, and William became adept at holding a handkerchief in front of her face until the seizure ended, then carrying on as though nothing had happened.

Of course, the tragedies that would strike Ida's life weren't yet complete. In September of 1901 the McKinleys were in Buffalo so William could make an appearance at the Pan-American Exposition. Ida wasn't at the Expo with her husband, which is probably a good thing because she was able to avoid witnessing Leon Czolgosz shoot her husband. After William was shot, he ordered people to go easy on his assassin, and also instructed his aide to be careful in breaking the news to Ida. He would die a week later.

Ida lived only a few more years after her husband was killed. But through her troubles, she kept busy crocheting thousands of pairs of slippers. She wasn't often able to attend charity events, so she would send slippers to war veterans and orphans. She would send slippers to charities to sell or raffle off to raise money.

I, too, crochet, so a while back I decided to see if I could find the pattern she used. Sure enough, someone had recreated the pattern, so I bought it immediately and set out making pairs for myself and a few loved ones. They're not the most stylish slippers by today's standards, but they're historic and that's what's important. I found that jazzing them up with fun colors helped.

Last summer I visited a couple important sites in Canton, Ohio: The McKinley Monument and tomb, and the National First Ladies' Library. The Monument is right next to a science and history museum that has a room dedicated to the McKinleys. Among the items on display is a pair of slippers that Ida had crocheted.

The First Ladies' Library is located less than a block away from a house Ida's family had owned, and a visit to the library includes a tour of the house as well. On the top floor is a very small museum, and I was pleased to find another pair of slippers there. In addition, there was a newspaper column (possibly an advertorial) about an Ohio company that provided leather soles that Ida would sew onto the slippers. My slippers don't have leather soles, but I loved stumbling upon that extra tidbit of information about how Ida made hers.

I told the docent about how I had found the pattern for Ida's slippers and had made several pairs. She seemed surprisingly underwhelmed to hear that. Oh well. I guess that's why I have a blog.

A couple other Ida McKinley slipper-fun-facts:
  • She kept a photo of William in her yarn basket. For inspiration while I made my slippers, I stuck a William McKinley Pez Dispenser in my yarn bag. 
  • When Ida learned that former president Rutherford B. Hayes was ill, she sent him a pair of slippers that he wore until he died. Because of that, I have started referring to these slippers as "The Rutherford B. Hayes Slippers of Death."

Now...don't get too excited...but if there's enough interest, I might consider doing a giveaway for a pair of custom slippers. I'd probably run this in time for the holidays, so if you win you could avoid scouring stores for the perfect gift for the person in your life who loves history and wears women's slippers. If this is something you'd like to see, be sure to leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.