Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thomas Jefferson's Killer Sheep

Artist's rendition
For generations, Thomas Jefferson was one of our most revered presidents. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and invented stuff. He looms over us from atop Mount Rushmore. But Jefferson isn't quite as widely beloved anymore. People have started to care about things like his having owned slaves while simultaneously declaring that all men are created equal, and the recent Hamilton resurgence probably hasn't helped his image much (although he does know his way around a rap battle).

If hypocrisy and Hamilton-shaming aren't reasons enough to dislike Thomas Jefferson, perhaps his murderous sheep is. (Incidentally, if I ever own a racehorse, I'm naming it "Thomas Jefferson's Killer Sheep.")

Besides murder, Thomas Jefferson's history with sheep also involves international intrigue, smuggling, fraud, and market-cornering. If you spice it up a little (mmmm...spiced lamb...), it could almost make an interesting movie, if movies about sheep are your thing. You can read about it in detail here. (The article is very long but it contains some great gems, like the opening line: "In the summer of 1793, Thomas Jefferson was thinking about sheep." Later it discusses how "[h]e soothed the pain of disputes with Alexander Hamilton with the study of the new husbandry..." I love the visual of Jefferson sobbing over Hamilton's snubs while simultaneously thinking about sheep having sex. I don't know, maybe Jefferson's sheep actually make him more likable.)

But anyway, let's talk about one particular sheep of Jefferson's: the one that murdered someone while he (Jefferson, not the sheep) was president. This Shetland ram was territorial, ornery, and aggressive, kind of like James K. Polk. Let's assume the sheep's name was James. Jefferson was really excited about James, because he was sure that his (the sheep's, not Jefferson's) coveted Shetland wool would bring in a fortune. In between his duties running the country, Jefferson kept sending off samples of wool to confirm he had a fine specimen. Several experts analyzed the ram's wool and declared the quality "crap," possibly using different terms.

While producing inferior wool, James and the other sheep would graze on the square outside the White House. Back then there weren't fences and security zones around the president's home, so people could---and would---just meander through the grounds. No biggie, unless there happened to be a killer animal on the loose.

Like James Madison, James the Sheep was small but mighty. Unlike James Madison, who fled when people (*cough*TheBritish*cough*) approached the White House, James the Sheep stood his ground and attacked. Despite his diminutive size, he hurt one man so badly that it took six weeks for the man to recover. Yet that pales in comparison to the young boy who the sheep killed. There doesn't seem to be much information about the boy or the incident, but can you imagine what would happen these days if a president's animal attacked someone? Like if Socks the Cat contracted rabies and bit a kid during the White House Easter Egg Hunt? I mean, Teddy Roosevelt kept a freaking badger in the White House and the worst it did was nibble at people's ankles. Even John Quincy Adams' and Herbert Hoover's alligators managed not to kill anyone.

Of course, when Jefferson learned that his ram had killed a young child, he had the animal destroyed immediately. No, just kidding! It wasn't until later at Monticello, when the ram killed three valuable lambs---including its own offspring---that Jefferson finally had him put down. Priorities, you know.

So there you have the story of Thomas Jefferson's killer sheep. Make sure you work that into your Fourth of July banter this year!

Speaking of the Fourth of July, make sure to enter my Fourth of July Giveaway: A copy of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States autographed by Sarah Vowell.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Presidents and Hams

The Presidential Ham has just been brought to my attention, and now I bring it to yours.

The Presidential Ham is a series of paintings by an artist named bijijoo, who, according to his biography, has a PhD in chemistry and works in intellectual property law. He also paints amazing pictures of presidents holding hams.

Apparently bijijoo got the idea to paint presidents with hams after he was introduced to the idea of "larding," wherein a person leaves a hunk of lard on someone's doorstep. (This shouldn't be confused with the larding done to a piece of meat to make it more tender, a la the Thomas Jefferson roast.) One day instead of leaving a hunk of lard for a friend, he left a painting of Richard Nixon holding a ham, thus essentially leaving two hunks of lard.

The project then grew to include each of the presidents holding a ham.

I think my favorite is John Quincy Adams, who looks terrified by the ham he's holding.

Unfortunately, prints are not available online, although bijijoo's website say you can contact him for information, which I just might do. A portrait of a president holding a ham would look fantastic next to a portrait of a vice president with an octopus on his head.

And speaking of stuff I love, be sure to enter my giveaway of a copy of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, autographed by Sarah Vowell! The contest ends on July 4, so hurry!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fourth of July Giveaway!

***UPDATE*** This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Howard D. for winning the book, and thank you to all who entered. Presidentress has at least one more giveaway planned this year, so make sure to check back often!

To celebrate the upcoming holiday, Presidentress is running her first-ever giveaway!

The prize is, aptly, an autographed copy of Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. To be clear, the book is autographed by Sarah Vowell, not by me, making it much more valuable.

You can enter the giveaway using the form below. The good news for you is that because I have so few readers, the odds of your winning are pretty excellent! (The actual odds are, of course, dependent on the number of entries.)

Here's the fine print:

  1. The contest runs from 12:00 a.m. EST June 28, 2016 through 12:00 a.m. EST July 5, 2016. 
  2. There will be one winner, selected at random. The winner will receive a copy of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States that I had autographed by Sarah Vowell at an event last October. (The book will be one of two that I have--not necessarily the one pictured above.)
  3. People who live in my household are ineligible.
  4. The winner must have a US shipping address.
  5. I will contact the winner within 72 hours of the contest closing. The prize will be sent via US media mail. I am not responsible for the prize once it has left my possession.
  6. No purchase necessary...or possible, for that matter. 
  7. Sarah Vowell and her publisher are in no way involved with this giveaway and do not endorse it in any way. That's not to say they necessarily wouldn't endorse it if they knew about it, just that they don't.  
That's it! Enter away, and good luck to all!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Follow Presidentress on Pinterest

Last summer I passed this billboard just a couple blocks from Warren G. Harding's tomb:

I sat there at a red light, staring at the sign in confusion. "You P in it. We build it." What? It seemed to be an ad for a landscaping company, so I figured maybe they were talking about swimming pools They'll create a swimming pool for you to pee in? I just didn't get it.

Then it hit me: Oh! You PIN it, they'll build it. That made so much more sense, although the company could have worked on their kerning a bit.

Anyway, the real meaning hit me just as the light was turning green, but I was so amused that I had to go back and take a photo of the billboard to share with the world.

And now I'd like to invite you to follow Presidentress on Pinterest. I promise lots of pins and no pee! Right now I have boards for Presidential Crafts, Presidential Recipes, Book Reviews, Funny Presidential Photos, and my Separated at Birth series. I'll probably add more in the future, and if you follow me, you'll be among the first to know!

Monday, June 6, 2016

DIY Presidential T-Shirts

A couple months ago I mentioned that my cousin and I are going to start playing Hooverball this summer. It goes without saying that no amateur Hooverball scrimmage is complete without thematic t-shirts, so I got to work.

In less than an hour, I had made two matching-ish shirts for us using freezer paper stencils. This is a really easy way to make t-shirts for all your presidential sporting events or other special occasions. When you iron on the paper, it forms a seal with the shirt, allowing you to paint away. When you're done, it easily peels off. It's really very cool.

Here's what you need:

  • A t-shirt (duh) or some other fabric item, preferably cotton or at least something that can be ironed
  • Freezer paper. You can find this in the foil aisle of your grocery store. (Make sure it's freezer paper! Not parchment paper, not wax paper.)
  • Fabric paint. (I used Tulip Soft Fabric Paint. Don't use puff paint unless you're going for a George Bush shirt and want it to look authentically like something from the early '90s.)
  • An applicator for each color---preferably sponge brushes. I used the Tulip Sponge "Pouncers." 
  • A Sharpie and/or pen
  • An X-acto knife
  • An iron
  • Some kind of image to copy, which might require a computer and printer
Let's talk about choosing an image. Simpler is better with this method. An easy way to find a good image is to Google your subject and add the terms "silhouette," "line drawing," or "clip art." Those will likely bring up some more basic options that are good for stenciling.

While googling, I found a neat posterized Herbert Hoover image that would be perfect for stenciling. Since I knew I was going to write a post about it, though, I didn't want to use that particular image since it's probably copyrighted. Instead, I decided to use the same public domain image and posterize it myself.

So I took this photo:

Cropped it, plugged it into my PhotoStudio app, selected the "posterize" effect, and got exactly the image I wanted:

Okay, not exactly the image I wanted, since this one has devil horns and a big splotch on his neck, but no big deal: I didn't trace them, so they didn't end up in the final product. I also decided to go with a round border so it looks like a ball. A ball of Hoover. A Hooverball...

Anyway, once you have the image you want, you can paste it into your word processing program of choice, resize it to the size you want, then print it out. Then it's time to trace the image onto freezer paper.

First, a Very Important Thing: There are two sides to freezer paper: a shiny side and a matte side. You want the shiny side down (this will eventually adhere to your shirt) and the matte side up. Make sure you're tracing onto the matte side. You can use a regular pen for this. (For some reason I used a Sharpie, and in retrospect I should have used a thinner one. X-acto knife blades are very thin and my lines were thick, so I kept finding myself wondering whether I should cut on the inside or outside of the line. Don't complicate things for yourself.)

The tracing step is probably a lot easier with a light box, but I don't have one. If you're having trouble making out the lines of your printed image through your freezer paper, you might want make the lines bolder by going over them with a Sharpie before you trace it onto the freezer paper. That often adds enough boldness and contract to be able to see the lines easily. I've also read about people tracing directly from their computer screen. That idea makes me nervous, but it's sort of brilliant.

When you're done tracing, your stencil might look weird, and you might be questioning your decision to do this, but stick with it.

Once the image is traced, it's time to cut. Here is another Very Important Thing: Don't throw away any of your cut pieces until you're sure you won't need them! Anything you iron down will be the same color as your fabric. Any "holes" will be the color of your paint. Make sure to add/keep a border if you need one so your paint has a clean edge. If your image has any "islands" that need to be cut out, make sure you keep the right part (the island or the border) so you can iron them on later. Also, even if there's a part you won't need, it can help to hang onto it for aid in positioning things later on.

The cutting stage is where the "simplicity" of an image really comes in handy. Complex images can be done, but you'll spend a lot of time cutting. (I made some shirts once with scenes from Steamboat Willie, and I think each one took half an hour---and a hand cramp--to cut out. Hoover took a couple minutes.)

All right, now it's time to iron! Make sure you've washed and dried your shirt first to ensure it won't shrink later. You'll also want to iron out any wrinkles so you have a nice smooth surface to work with.

Take your stencil and position it how you want. Then go ahead and iron it on! Use the high setting and press down for about 10 seconds. Be sure the edges are well sealed! If you have more than one piece to iron, you can do them one at a time if you need to.

Now it's time to paint! (Another Very Important Thing: Put something between the layers of your shirt to keep the paint from seeping through. Cardboard will give you a nice firm surface underneath. I couldn't find cardboard so I just used another piece of freezer paper.) I squirted my paint onto a paper plate, then used my sponge brush to dab away. Just get the paint on there, and don't be afraid to get it on the freezer paper--it won't bleed through.

After a few minutes if it looks like you need another layer of paint, go ahead and add it.

At this point it might look even weirder and you might be sure this was a bad idea, but it's not. I've made several freezer-paper shirts and haven't had a dud yet. I'll admit I did start to worry when this image of Hoover made him look like a demon who has come back to haunt the earth (note to self: write screenplay), but I still had faith that it would work.

Once you've painted it's time to wait...but not too long. All the other freezer paper tutorials I've read say to let the paint dry (usually several hours) before peeling off the paper. The problem with this is that if the paint dries onto the shirt and the paper, peeling the paper off is likely to take out chunks of the shirt-paint, too. Since I don't want the paint to come off my shirt, and because I like living on the edge, I peel the paper off while the paint is still wet. I know. But trust me. (It helps if you can have someone else hold the shirt down while you peel off the freezer paper. Also, the X-Acto knife or some tweezers can help gently lift up edges or peel off tiny parts.)

After that, you really do need to wait for the paint to dry before you do anything else. Go away for a few hours or overnight. Once the paint is dry, you can put a clean cloth over it and iron it to "heat set" the paint. (I don't really know how necessary this step is, but other people say to do it, so I do.)

And there you have it!

The one Hoover looks a little more Hoover-y than the other, probably because for one shirt I traced my image onto the paper, and for the other I traced the tracing rather than the image itself. It might also have to do with inconsistent cutting along my thick Sharpie lines. But whatever. I'm happy with them.

Like I said, you can use this method for more than just presidents. Here are some shirts I've made for an upcoming trip to Disney World:

(That Lion King shirt is one of my favorite things I've ever made. I got the idea from here.)

And here are the Steamboat Willie ones I mentioned:

If you're feeling really ambitious, you could do, like, a scene from JFK's inauguration or Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. Make sure you share if you do.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Presidentress Turns 1

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog! Can you believe it's been a year already? Actually, I don't know about you but it seems longer than that to me---but in a good way.

In commemoration, I thought I'd take a look back at my most-read posts over this first year. So here we go:

5. The fifth-most popular post was about my good friend Warren G. Harding, from the day it was revealed that he had, indeed, fathered a child with his alleged mistress Nan Britton. Good times.

4. Coming in at #4 was my plan to dress as Sexy Abraham Lincoln. I'm a little offended that my plan to dress as Baberaham Lincoln was more popular than the post about the costume I actually wore, but whatever.

3. The bronze medal goes to my DIY Woodrow Wilson puppet. People have actually pinned this and tweeted about making it and stuff.

2. Coming in second: My Dolley Madison cake! tasty. I should make it again, and so should you.

And...the moment you've been waiting for...Presidentress' most popular post of all time is....

1. How Ronald Reagan Destroyed My First Celebrity Crush! I'm not entirely clear why that one has been so popular, but I'm not upset about it either. I secretly hope that Barry Bostwick will somehow stumble upon it and send me an autographed photo. Actually, it would be better if he autographed a photo of a shirtless Reagan frolicking on the beach. Somebody make that happen, please.

So, what's next for Presidentress? More of the same, really. Stay tuned, because I have a couple fun giveaways planned---probably one around the Fourth of July and another before Christmas.

Also, we're potentially closer to that prediction I made back in my very first blog post, when I explained why I chose the name "Presidentress":

3) At some point, this country will probably have a female president. And inevitably, someone trying to be "cute" or, more likely, condescending will refer to her as "Presidentress," and I figure that'll drive traffic to this site.

Just to help the search engines along, I'll include the phrase "Presidentress Hillary Clinton" here right now. There we go. (And hello to any new readers of the future who have just found this blog by typing in those words!)

I want to thank all of you for putting up with me for a whole year, and I look forward to many more.