Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Crocheted Alexander Hamilton Doll

How do some yarn skeins, crochet hooks, couple of eyes
And some gold beads, worked up in a frenzy of bold speed
(Ignore needs of my family), from pattern slightly altered
Turn into a cool plush doll Founding Father?

I present to you the gift I made my mom for Christmas this year: a crocheted Alexander Hamilton. (Technically a crocheted Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton, but whatever. HamiLin?) 

I wish I could say I came up with this idea on my own, but I did not. I used a pattern from Allison Hoffman, although I did make some small changes to it, like making his coat blue instead of beige. I also made some technical yarn-type changes, but I'll spare you the crochet minutiae here. (If you'd like a detailed explanation, you can visit my project on Ravelry.)

The Retro Ornament Throw,
which also got done 
Anyway, I'd wanted to make this project all year, but I didn't start seriously thinking about it until October. At that point, however, I was working on another very involved crochet project (a retro ornament throw for my grandma) that I knew might not get done in time for Christmas, so I wasn't sure HamiLin would happen at all. As fate would have it, I ran out of yarn for the ornament throw and had to wait two weeks for the new yarn to arrive. In the meantime, I went ahead and started the doll, which only took a few days to make, working an hour or two here and there.

I saved the face for last because I was terrified of it. The face is what really makes or breaks one of these things, in my opinion, and I don't know anything about embroidery. (You might remember that last year I used Allison Hoffman's book AmiguruMe to style my own Warren G. Harding doll, but his face wound up looking a bit more like the Shah of Iran than Harding himself. At least I nailed the "world leader" look.) 

Thankfully I discovered that Hoffman had created a YouTube video showing some face embroidery, so armed with that new knowledge (and a curved needle, which I hadn't even known existed), I tackled HamiLin's face.

It took a few attempts, lots of sweating and swearing, and more time than any other part of the doll, but I think I finally got it right. (It's not easy to capture those intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame...)

I wound up finishing HamiLin about two weeks before Christmas, and the suspense of not being able to give it until Christmas Day was killing me, but I made it. 

Mom, with HamiLin and a bottle of Federalist wine
Needless to say, he amazed and astonished.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Review: "Christmas" by Eleanor Roosevelt

Since I'm too lazy to connect my phone to our wireless speaker, we typically get our Christmas music from a holiday music channel included with our cable lineup. Since it's a TV station and they need some kind of visual, there's a slideshow of Christmas cookies, mulled cider, ornaments, etc. They also flash "Did you know?" facts. (Did you know: Many Japanese people spend their Christmas Eve eating KFC!)

Anyway, we don't typically spend a lot of time actually sitting there watching photos of gingerbread and random factoids, but now and then we'll glance up and see them. That's how, a couple weeks ago, I learned that in 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a Christmas book for kids. What??? Off to Amazon I went...

Older versions of the book (titled Christmas) range from $30-$165, which was far more than I was willing to pay. Luckily there's a bland reprint for $15.95. Still more than I wanted to spend, but I had a gift card, and we're talking about a Christmas story by Eleanor Roosevelt. I had already purchased my Eleanor Roosevelt ugly Christmas sweater-shirt, so I needed the book to complete my theme for the season. 

Thanks to Prime Shipping, my book arrived two days later. I told my family that after dinner, we were going to gather 'round for a Christmas story by Eleanor Roosevelt. My kids groaned, but my 13-year-old said, "Guys, we have to accept that we're all victims of Mom's obsession." True, true. Two of my kids and Mr. Presidentressor cooperated very nicely, and only one child complained through the whole thing.

First, I set the historical stage for them: In 1940, World War II was well underway in Europe, and America was wondering if/when we'd enter the fray. Tensions and concerns were high. Then I proceeded to read the story aloud.

The plot involves a girl named Marta, from an unidentified European nation. (Based on some phrases within the story, I'm assuming Belgium or the Netherlands.) She recalls the previous St. Nicholas Day, when her father was able to briefly come home from the military to enjoy the holiday with his family. Now, however, her father has died, and she and her mother are living in poverty (and under Nazi occupation, although Marta is too young to use those exact terms).

Marta's mother explains that St. Nicholas will not visit them this year, but Marta holds out hope. Sadly, her mom is right: St. Nicholas does not come. But this whole time, Marta has been taking solace in talking to Baby Jesus to help her cope with the loss of her father, and she's convinced that the Christ Child will visit them for Christmas. So when Christmas Eve comes, she lights a candle and steps outside with it to guide the Holy Baby's way.

Suddenly, Marta is aware of a man standing near her, and she senses some darkness in this figure. Again, the book doesn't say it, but he's clearly a Nazi, and he's also depicted as a sort of otherworldly evil force. Tomato, tomahto.

Anyway, this dark figure berates her for believing in Christmas and Jesus. He says her only loyalty should be to "he who dominates the rest of the world through fear and strength." Then he goes inside to admonish Marta's mom for teaching her daughter such foolishness. At this point, the mom is holding a baby, who the man thinks is just a regular baby but is actually (spoiler alert) Jesus!

The mom stands up for herself (figuratively---she doesn't actually stand because she's still holding Jesus), explaining that believing in Jesus provides them with something good and hopeful against the current backdrop of fear. The guy just stands there for a while, and eventually his heart softens a bit, kind of like the Grinch, but instead of providing Roast Beast he offers her a life of comfort, but she'd have to let go of her beliefs.

The mom declines and gives a long response, ending with "You will go out into the night again, the cold night, to die as all must die who are not born again through Him at Christmas time." Then the man does go back out into the night, and that's pretty much it. He hears the evil spirits roaring around him, and looks back at the warm glow from the house, then shrugs and decides he'd rather stick with his power. would be an understatement to call this a heavy-handed allegory. I get the appeal of pitting good against evil, and what better example than poor, oppressed nice people versus Nazis? And if one of those nice people can tell off a Nazi in the process? Even better. And I'm in favor of people standing up to the government in order to exercise freedom of religion (or freedom from religion, as the case may be). But I have to draw the line at conflating non-believers with Nazis, which is ultimately what this book does.

If it were just a matter of Marta and her mom triumphing by remaining firm in their convictions against the Nazis who want to quash them, that would be one thing. But Eleanor (Why, Eleanor, why???) has to throw in the line about non-believers---not just evil non-believers, but all of them---dying out in the snow. Happy holidays!

It's not just in that exchange where she draws that conclusion. In her foreword, Eleanor says, "The times are so serious that even children should be made to understand that there are vital differences in people's beliefs which lead to differences in behavior." Combined with the ending of the story, it's pretty clear that the message is: Christian = good, non-Christian = bad.

At this point, we should possibly confront the issue of the Jews. Now, it's not fair to expect someone in 1940 to know that by the end of the war, Nazis would have exterminated millions of people, primarily Jewish. But by 1940, Nazi persecution of and brutality toward Jews was well established and was known in America, especially to those involved in the federal government. According to this story, they, as non-believers in Christ, should also go die in the snow.

In a 1932 speech called "What Religion Means to Me," Eleanor said the following:

And yet most of us who are in the forties and fifties today can look back to a childhood where religion and religious instruction were part of our everyday life, but we have come so far away from those days that in writing this article I even feel that I must begin by defining what I mean by religion. To me religion has nothing to do with any specific creed or dogma. It means that belief and that faith in the heart of a man which makes him try to live his life according to the highest standard which he is able to visualize. To those of us who were brought up as Christians that standard is the life of Christ, and it matters very little whether our creed is Catholic or Protestant.

To those of us who happen to have been born and brought up under other skies or in other creeds, the object to be attained goes by some other name, but in all cases the thing which counts is the striving of the human soul to achieve spiritually the best that it is capable of and to care unselfishly not only for personal good but for the good of all those who toil with them upon the earth.

Now that's fair. (Some people will argue about the wording, but the message is clear: Good people strive for good, regardless of what specifics might motivate them.) Would it have been so difficult to incorporate that into this story?

Am I looking at this through a modern lens? Yes, I am. Is that fair? I don't know. On one hand, we have the advantage of almost 80 years of retrospection. On the other hand, this book was written by the First Lady of the United States. Even in the 1940s, not every American kid was Christian, and it seems kind of crummy for the president's wife to ostracize them because of it, even back then.

And, okay, I'm willing to concede that this is a Christmas story, and therefore maybe it should be expected that there would be a religious component, but again, can't that be portrayed in a way that doesn't also shun others, especially when you're the First Lady of the United States?

It might also be a trivial point, but the story is just kind of sloppy, too. One of the golden rules of children's books is that the protagonist needs to solve his/her own problem: Someone else can't just swoop in and make everything better. In this story, Baby Jesus suddenly appears out of nowhere. (One could argue that Marta summoned him, and therefore she's responsible, but...) Talk about a deus ex machina.

So, bottom line: I get what Eleanor was going for here, but I wound up really disappointed, as did my little atheist/agnostic children. Needless to say, this book won't become part of our holiday tradition.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Presidentress Christmas Carol 2017: Taft Edition!

After a one-year hiatus, my annual Presidential Christmas Carol has returned! This year features a (brief, but important) song about William Howard Taft set to the tune of Good King Wenceslas.

You can also view my previous songs about Warren G. Harding and Grover Cleveland:

If you're wondering why all their voices sound the same, it's because all presidents sounded alike until Franklin Roosevelt came along! Not many people know that.

From the Presidentress Family to yours, have a marvelous holiday season!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Review: My Search for Warren Harding

Avid readers will know that I have a wee bit of an obsession with Warren G. Harding. I mean, how can one not, right? (Right?)


Every now and then I see reference to a novel called My Search for Warren Harding by Robert Plunket. I was intrigued enough to put it on my Amazon wishlist at some point, but never motivated enough to buy it. Then a few weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked for funny book recommendations. Someone responded that Assassination Vacation and My Search for Warren Harding were the funniest books they'd ever read.

Now, avid readers will also know that I have a wee bit of an obsession with Assassination Vacation, so having someone equate the two was the shove I needed....almost. I didn't buy it right away, but a few days later, I was stuck at the Atlanta airport for five hours and had run out of things to do, so I went ahead and purchased the Kindle version.

The novel is written from the point of view of Elliot, a graduate student in the 1980s who is trying to get his hands on love letters from Harding that are in the possession of his now-elderly mistress, living in Hollywood. He hatches a plan to rent the woman's pool house and uses various schemes to try to obtain the letters. The premise itself is fairly amusing, even if some of the plot points are rather unrealistic.

Most of the characters are fictitious, although there are some cameo appearances from real people, historical and contemporary ("contemporary" in this case meaning "early 1980s," when the book was written).

The former mistress, Rebekah Kinney, is largely a characterization of Nan Britton, Harding's actual young lover with whom we now know he had a child. In this novel, Kinney (like Britton) had been a young woman from Harding's hometown, they had had an affair and a child, and she had written a tell-all book (called The Price of Love, as opposed to the actual The President's Daughter).  But Rebekah Kinney led a more glamorous life than Nan Britton, hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities and dabbling in acting herself. As this book opens, she now lives a largely solitary life in a rundown Hollywood mansion.

The existence of a trove of love letters is more reminiscent of Carrie Phillips, Harding's other well-known mistress. Her letters were the basis of the nonfiction book The Harding Affair, and were recently released by the Library of Congress. Nan Britton, on the other hand, held onto only a couple correspondences from Harding, none of which were intimate in nature, which is part of the reason she had a hard time establishing her story as truth.

Okay, so, grad student plots to obtain Warren G. Harding's love letters from a Nan Britton-Carrie Phillips mashup. So far, so good. The first couple chapters were amusing. Not laugh-out-loud funny, or even chuckle-worthy, but interesting enough.

Things start to take a turn when the main character meets Kinney's Mexican housekeeper. Queue the negative ethnic stereotypes. It was cringey, but I reminded myself this was written a long time ago ("a long time ago" meaning "in the early 1980s," which really isn't that long ago at all, but I tried to keep things in "historical" perspective.)

Then comes the chapter where the Elliot's friend brings a gay guy to dinner. Throughout the entire chapter (and the rest of the book), this man is referred to as "the faggot."

Remember when Donald Trump made fun of the disabled journalist and we all thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, and then it continued to? That's basically what this book was like.

The rest of the book basically turns into one giant fat joke about Rebekah Kinney's 20-something granddaughter, Jonica. An example: "Now the inevitable question: how fat was she? I would guess that she tipped the scales at around two hundred pounds. She was fat. She was what you mean by a fat person. She was so fat you wondered how she found pants in that size." Okay, so that paints a picture, and if that had been it, maybe it would have been bearable. But that wasn't it.

The comments like that go on throughout the book. Without exaggeration, probably a good 30% of the book is just a discussion of this character's weight. Also, some major plot points hinge on it. And I guess it's supposed to be funny, but it isn't. I don't just say that because it's insensitive or politically incorrect. I mean that even setting that aside, it just isn't funny.

Besides repeatedly explaining in great detail Jonica's appearance, Elliot also verbally, physically, and emotionally abuses her in an attempt to get his hands on the letters.

Oh, and keep in mind, interspersed with the fat jokes are plenty more comments about Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, and "Orientals," plus additional references to "the faggot."

At one point I decided I just couldn't take it anymore. The book was so despicable---it sounded like something that would have been written by an alt-right internet troll sitting in his mom's basement, if such people knew anything about Warren G. Harding---I just couldn't go on. But I'm also kind of anal about finishing books I start, and I felt a duty to review it here, which I couldn't do if I didn't read the whole thing. Plus I figured I had to be almost done. I checked: 42%. Ugh.

I forged on, though.

Our protagonist doesn't get any less fact, he only grows moreso. Another problem is that, with the possible exception of Jonica, all the characters are unlikable, and even Jonica is sympathetic only because everyone else is so awful to her, not because of any particular redeeming qualities of her own.

Then I got to the end of the book, which I will admit was spectacular. I don't want to spoil things too much in case, for some reason, you decide to read it, but it basically involves a heavy dose of schadenfreude. It felt so good. That's when I realized that we were, indeed, supposed to hate Elliot. (At least I sincerely hope that was the point.)

Now, there were some funny parts. The overall absurdity is pretty amusing. There are some good lines, like when Jonica (who doesn't know her grandfather was a president) says he was "somehow mixed up in oil." The footnotes contain recipes. The acknowledgements become funny once you've reached a certain part of the book and realize who some people are. And like I said, the ending is immensely satisfying in the sense that you might give an evil laugh.

Yet the marvelous ending really isn't enough to justify how painful the rest of the book is. Even if the novel's intent is to make fun of academia, or to serve as a commentary on L.A. culture, or to be an ironic statement about terrible people, or...whatever else, it's not worth wading through the unpleasant, depressing horror needed to get to the ultimate satisfaction. In this case, the end wasn't enough to justify the means.

I'll just stick with Assassination Vacation.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Presidentress Gift Guide 2017

'Tis that season again! To help you find the perfect gift for the slightly-off presidential history nut in your life, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite things.

Some of these items contain Amazon affiliate links. Shopping through them doesn't add any cost for you, but it does mean that I earn a pittance so I can keep bringing you high-quality Sean Spicer fan fiction. The non-Amazon links provide me no benefit other than sharing in the feeling of happiness you'll get from knowing you've selected a perfect gift. (It should also be noted that I have not received any compensation from any of the entities mentioned here.)

Presidential Ugly Christmas Sweaters

You guys... Seriously...I don't think I've ever been this excited about a presidential Christmas item: President-themed ugly Christmas sweater-shirts.

Do I need to repeat that?

President. Themed. Ugly. Christmas. Sweater. Shirts.

Election College has a podcast that I haven't listened to yet (but you bet I will!) and they've also created this line of shirts.

Sure, there are some people you might expect: Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan.

But there's also James Garfield, Abigail Adams, and...get ready for this...Eleanor Roosevelt.

Collect them all!

Candles...and a Book!

Back for the third year in a row is JD and Kate Industries/Hottest Heads of State. Last year I told you about their amazing president- and president-adjacent-scented candles. Now they've added some new ones, including Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

Look at those jelly beans! If you like eating wax, they look almost good enough to eat!

I have a few of their candles already and will inevitably buy more, even though I don't burn candles. Just sniffing them and reading the hilarious labels (don't read them while the candles are lit) is enough for me. I've been bugging them to create a smoke-, whiskey-, and waffle-scented Warren G. Harding candle, but for some reason they feel it wouldn't sell well. If you're so inclined, drop them a note to let them know how much you want one, too.

JD and Kate also have an upcoming book: Hottest Heads of State: Volume One: The American Presidents. It won't be out until the end of January, but if you get it as a gift for someone, the anticipation will make it that much more rewarding when it finally arrives. The book is sort-of a mashup of presidential trivia and Teen Beat magazine. You'll learn presidential pick-up lines and can take a quiz to find out which president has a crush on you. Plus there's a Dwight Eisenhower mask! I can't wait!


Also making a return appearance in my gift guide is Veeptopus, the sublime union of octopuses and vice presidents we never knew we needed. Veeptopus has a lovely new hardcover book featuring all of the vice presidents with octopuses on (or emerging from) their heads. I bought one as part of a Kickstarter campaign, and I can honestly say it is the finest volume of cephalopod artwork I own. And you can own one, too.

To whet your appetite for octopus, Veeptopus has created a quiz to help you determine which Vice President you are. I'm Henry Wallace.

A Probably Not-Good Movie

The other day when I decided to find out how much the entire season of The Brady Bunch is (spoiler: $34.99), I discovered there's a movie called The Brady Bunch in the White House. The description confuses me:

"In The Brady Bunch in the White House," the Brady Bunch are moving to Washington when Mike Brady gets elected President of the United States. When he returns a $67 million lottery ticket to its rightful owner, he is invited to the White House to meet the president and finds himself being sworn in as Chief Executive of the United States. Now effectively acknowledged as the first family, the Brady clan manages to save the government from a devastating scandal.

At first I thought it meant that they were moving to Washington because Mike was elected president, but then I think he wasn't elected at all? He just accidentally got sworn in?

Frankly, it sounds terrible, but it might just be so terrible it's great. And for only $7.77, we can't afford not to find out. I'll have a full review soon, but buy it now if you need to mix up your holiday movie routine a little.


If you want to support some non-profits, one option is to buy this year's Christmas ornament from the White House Historical Association. The 2017 ornament commemorates Franklin Roosevelt. The shape is meant to be reminiscent of a table-top radio, and the back features his beloved dog Fala sitting next to a Christmas tree.

Do Some Actual Good

You could also make a tax-deductible donation to One America Appeal, the joint effort created by the five living former presidents to aid in hurricane relief efforts. There's still a lot of work to be done.

Go forth: Shop, donate, and have a joyous holiday season!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Cooking with the Presidents: Mount Vernon Pumpkin Pie

A couple weeks ago, the Mount Vernon Facebook page posted a tutorial for making 18th Century Pumpkin Pie:

What intrigued me right away was the use of rosewater. Rosewater was a common flavoring before vanilla became a thing, and you might remember it from such posts as Dolley Madison Cake and Shaker Apple Pie. Now, I'll admit I was a bit skeptical. I don't even put vanilla in pumpkin pie, so putting rosewater in it seemed especially unusual. But it's probably historically accurate, and I'm always up for a presidential baking challenge, so game on!

Besides rosewater, the other unusual thing about this pie is the lack of eggs. You might notice a bowl of eggs sitting there, as did several people who commented on Facebook that the Mount Vernon cook forgot to add them. But apparently the eggs are for the crust (go figure) not the pie, and apparently the pie sets up just fine without them.

Now, this recipe calls for the use of an actual pumpkin. Mr. Presidentressor asked why I didn't just use one of the many cans of pumpkin puree we stockpiled last fall when the country was supposedly on the verge of a pumpkin shortage that never materialized, but I explained that I needed to be as authentic as possible in making this recipe.

And then I got historically inauthentic. This recipe wants you to cut, peel, and chunk the pumpkin, and then boil it. Peeling a raw pumpkin seems like a great way to lose a finger, so I decided to use my Instant Pot instead. Sorry, but it was way easier and quicker. I added a cup of water to the pot, put in the trivet, set the pumpkin in whole (sideways---the stem made it too tall otherwise), and cooked it on Manual for 10 minutes. When it was done, I let it sit for about 20 minutes, then took it out and easily sliced it open with a knife. The seeds practically fell out in one clump, and I was able to peel the pulp away from the skin with just my fingers and a spoon. Then I used my immersion blender to puree the pumpkin.

But look, the end result was the same, so I'm not going to apologize.

Per the recipe, I added to the pumpkin puree 1 tbsp of rosewater. Then I needed to add the spices "to taste." I decided upon 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp each of ginger and nutmeg. I skipped the mace because I don't have any (and if I'm being honest, I've never understood the difference between nutmeg and mace anyway). I was tempted to add some cloves because it felt like I should, but I also didn't want to deviate too much from the recipe, so no cloves.

Then I mixed in 1/4 cup of molasses, then a pint of heavy cream, which seemed like a lot, but I trust the Mount Vernon people.

Then I poured it all into my crust. (A word on the crust: I did not make the crust that accompanies this pie on the Mount Vernon Facebook page. Making pie crust is already my most despised culinary task---despite my undying love of pie---and theirs seemed like too much work, even though it probably wasn't. The fact that I made crust at all is an accomplishment.)

Thanks to the molasses, at this point it looked and smelled more like a gingerbread pie than a pumpkin pie, but I'm not sure that's anything to complain about.

Into the 350-degree oven it went for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, it still looked very jiggly, so I gave it another 15. After that it still looked pretty jiggly, but reasonably so, so I took it out and let it cool at room temperature for a couple hours, then in the fridge for a couple more.

I was impressed that the pie did set up, although it was very soft.

Mr. Presidentressor and I wound up being the only ones to eat the pie. (The kids opted for cupcakes instead. Sometimes their intuition is good.)

This pie is...different. The molasses was pretty overpowering, so it didn't even really taste like gingerbread---just molasses. There was absolutely no pumpkin flavor whatsoever, and also no rosewater flavor, which is probably for the best. It was also, as I mentioned, very soft and mushy, and sort of grainy. Whipped cream helped, and I'll admit that it sort of grew on me as I continued eating.

Even so, I probably won't make this again unless I need to bring a George Washington-themed dish to a party, but it was worth a try. I can definitely see how this would have been a big hit back in the 18th century, but today I'd probably take a cupcake instead. On the plus side, my crust was excellent!

Friday, October 6, 2017

First Ladies' Séance in a Box

Several First Ladies have dabbled in the supernatural, perhaps none more than Florence Harding. In fact, one of the coolest objects I've seen at a presidential site was Florence's séance chair: high-backed and elaborately carved with celestial symbolism. That chair is in Marion, Ohio, but Florence's forays into the supernatural extended to Washington, D.C., as well.

Florence first met a woman named Madame Marcia Champney in 1920 while Warren Harding was seeking the Republican nomination. Madame Marcia was a well known fortuneteller in D.C., and in fact served as Edith Wilson's go-to astrologer. Madame Marcia was able to see that Warren had many affairs (but who wasn't, amirite?), and predicted that if he became president, he would die a sudden death before the end of his term. Despite this ominous forecast, Florence vowed that if Warren won, she would make Madame Marcia the official White House astrologer. As we know, Warren did win, and Florence continued to consult frequently, even obsessively, with Madame Marcia throughout his (brief) presidency.

Many other First Ladies held séances, referred to horoscopes, or believed in other supernatural phenomena. For example, Julia Tyler claimed to have ESP. Jane Pierce and Mary Todd Lincoln held séances to try to communicate with their dead children. Nancy Reagan famously consulted with astrologers in the White House. Hillary Clinton seemed to have taken the "First Lady Occult Club" to another level when she was rumored to have communicated with a long-dead Eleanor Roosevelt. (Upon clarification, it turned out that she just imagined what it would be like to talk to Eleanor, like asking WWERD?...which is something we should all be doing.)

Hillary and Eleanor might not have communicated with each other, but there was another supposed instance of First Ladies picking up vibes from one another: One night Edith Wilson went to bed with an ominous feeling. She awoke to newsboys spreading word of President Harding's death. Ooooo! Coincidence, or something supernatural? honor of all of our spooky First Ladies and just in time for Halloween, I present a DIY Séance in a Box. Depending on what materials you use, it's actually really fast and easy to make. (Or it can be really complicated and take more than a week. It's up to you.)

Here's what you'll need:

  • Empty mint tin (I used a Trader Joe's Gingermint tin)
  • Printed ouija board
  • Glue
  • Velvet or velvety paper
  • Tiny printable tarot cards
  • Glass marble
  • Tiny picture frame
  • Resin (optional) and resin molds (also optional)
  • Other tiny spooky things

My project was inspired by these instructions. That kit uses a very cool Ouija mint tin, but I didn't have one. What I did have was a lovely tin that had previously contained Trader Joe's Gingermints, so I decided to make that work. You could use any mint tin, really, but it probably helps if it's one with a flat top, rather than one with embossed writing or details.

I searched for some Ouija board images and needed to go through a few before I found one with the right proportions for my tin. I just resized them in a document until I had one that worked, then printed it out on cardstock, trimmed it with scissors, and rounded the corners with a 1" corner punch. (But you can use scissors, too. Or leave them pointy. Whatever.)

I glued the board onto the lid with Tacky Glue, and then brushed on a coat of resin. Now, I realize not everyone has resin lying around. I love how it gave my board a hard, shiny finish, but obviously you can skip this step. I would recommend at least using some kind of top coat or varnish to seal it and give it a little more heft, but that's up to you. (If you want to give resin a try, though, it's really very easy and fun. I use Little Windows resin, but you can find other brands on Amazon or at your local craft store, too.)

The resin did make my board a bit translucent, so if you look carefully you can see some of the writing from the gingermint tin, but I think that gives it extra character. Next time I might add a basecoat or add an extra piece of paper or cardstock underneath, but I might not.

For the planchette, I used resin (colored with a bit of glow-in-the-dark paint) in a mold I got from Etsy. If you don't have resin, you could try forming a planchette out of polymer clay, or you could use a guitar pick like in that other tutorial I linked to. Or maybe carve one out of bone like they did in the old days. (I jest!)

Instead of using real velvet to line my tin, I found some velvet-ish paper in the scrapbooking section of my craft store. It's very thin and more sturdy than fabric, so it was really easy to cut. Then I glued that into the tin with more tacky glue.

There are tons of printable tarot cards online, but I used ones from this site because it doesn't require a ton of paper (just one piece!) and because you can print a back to them! I printed that out on cardstock and spent about five minutes cutting out the tiny cards.

I tried making a crystal ball by gluing a marble to an overturned teacup charm, but I couldn't get anything to adhere to the marble, even after sanding it. So instead I have a "standalone" crystal ball, although I found that it fits nicely inside the planchette hole, so there's that.

I also added a little skull charm for some extra creepiness (I cut off the charm-nubbin with wire cutters and filed the little bits down).

And of course, I needed a picture frame (another charm) to help commemorate the dead. (Yes, that's a tiny photo of Florence Harding. I also printed out Edgar Allan Poe and a raven, because of course.) The photos are just printed on regular paper and then sealed with some packing tape. They slide in and out of the top of the charm, so it's easy to change them depending on what you're going for.

I had planned on adding a candle, too, but decided against it when I realized my interest in fire safety outweighs my interest in necromancy. A birthday candle would fit just fine, but be careful when burning it.

You can add anything else you want: Throw in some tiny runes, a few little crystals, a miniature pendulum, whatever floats your ghost ship.

And there you have it: A portable supernatural kit for all your conjuring needs! (This would also be useful if you have an American Girl doll who starts to show an interest in the occult.)

If you make one of these, let me know how it goes. And tell Florence I say hello.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sean Spicer Fan Fiction: Chapter 3

(If you haven't read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, make sure to do that first! Also, disclaimer: This is fiction.)

Among the Bushes

Things are About to Get Spicey

Chapter 3

Caroline flipped through the dresses in her closet, searching in vain for just the right one. She didn't understand why she was so nervous. She was used to dating powerful, successful men: stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, CEOs of multinational oil corporations…the kind of people found throughout the current administration. So why was she intimidated by this Press Secretary-turned-gardener? 

Caroline paused and closed her eyes, remembering how dreamy Sean Spicer had looked in his suit and safari hat. She imagined him standing behind the podium in the White House briefing room, ignoring the questions being thrown at him as he pointed right at her, his beady eyes sparkling. She’d stand up and walk to the podium, where he would sweep her into his arms and give her a passionate kiss in front of the whole White House press corps, stopping only when Jim Acosta started yelling that there were no cameras.

She shook herself out of her reverie when she realized she needed to meet Sean at the restaurant in an hour. (Caroline always insisted on driving separately for first dates in case things didn't work out. One could never be too careful with former White House employees, as she had learned during a disastrous date with Rahm Emanuel.)

After settling on a simple but stylish black dress and rushing to get ready, Caroline arrived at the steakhouse right on time and waited for Sean outside. A few minutes later he pulled up in a Hyundai Elantra and tossed his keys to the valet. Caroline was excited to see him but was surprised to see what he was driving. Sean must have sensed her disappointment. 

“I had an Escalade, but Seb Gorka asked to borrow it and never gave it back,” he explained. 

“Why didn't you demand it back?” 

“Are you kidding?” he asked, holding the restaurant door open. “That guy is terrifying! Plus I kind of got out of there in a hurry. Some things had to be sacrificed.”

Once they were seated and had ordered a bottle of wine, Caroline took a good long look at Sean Spicer. His surprisingly well tailored blue suit enhanced his muscular and/or chubby arms, and she was pleased to see his American flag pin was right-side up, but she realized she didn't know much about him, despite what she'd seen on TV. She decided it was time to get to know him better.

“So, Sean,” she began, “Tell me more about yourself. What was it like being the White House Press Secretary?”

“Oh, you know…It was a real privilege,” he said flatly. “Phenomenal.” 

“Did you like it?” she asked. “You always seemed…kind of angry.”

“No, I wasn't angry,” he said. “It's just that I hate the media so much.”

“Don't you think maybe a Press Secretary shouldn't have such disdain for the press?”

He looked at her with a puzzled expression. Thankfully just then the waiter arrived to take their orders.

As usual, Caroline ordered lobster. She always did that as a test to see how her date would react. If he balked, he wasn't worth it. Sean smiled at her, then ordered steak—medium-rare. She was glad to see he wasn't like the president in that regard. 

“Would you like a baked potato or sweet potato?” the waiter asked. 

Sean started breathing quickly and closed his eyes tight. He was quiet for a few awkward moments before snapping, “A baked potato! A regular baked potato! Period!”

The waiter exchanged a nervous glance with Caroline.

“What was that about?” she asked as the waiter scurried away.

“I'm sorry, I don't want to get into it,” Sean answered. 

Why was he so angry about a potato? Caroline started to wonder if this whole thing had been a big mistake. They sat uncomfortably for a minute while Caroline tried to devise an escape plan. Instead, she decided to give Sean another chance. She couldn’t give up on him that easily.

“Um…so why gardening?” she asked, breaking the silence.

Sean visibly relaxed, the crease between his eyes almost disappearing. 

“It's something I've wanted to do for a long time,” he explained. “I’d been in politics for so long, and a couple years ago I had this epiphany that made me realize I really wanted to reconnect with nature.”

“What was the epiphany?” Caroline asked.

“Well, let's just say it was an experience that allowed me to tap into my inner animal.”

Caroline raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Your inner animal, huh? What was it?”

Sean glanced around the room. “Don't laugh.” 

“I won't, I promise,” she said, taking a sip of wine. 

Sean looked around the room again. “It was when I dressed up as the Easter Bunny.”

Caroline shot wine out of her mouth. 

“I'm so sorry,” she said, blotting wine from the tablecloth and desperately trying to stifle her laughter. Sean’s face turned red, and Caroline wasn't sure if it was from anger or embarrassment.

“I'm really sorry,” Caroline sputtered. “Please, tell me more.”

Sean hesitated but continued, “I mean, really, it made me start thinking about how nice it would be to have a less stressful life, away from the 24/7 news cycle and talking points and all that. But then I had the opportunity to work for the president, and even though he's clearly a deranged lunatic, it wasn't an opportunity I could pass up.”

“I suppose not,” Caroline agreed. 

“But it was awful. Every day I'd go to work and I'd have to find creative ways to spin the news. Believe it or not, sometimes I'd even have to—” he stopped and looked around again to make sure no one was listening, then leaned over the table and whispered, “lie. Tell alternative facts!” He looked at Caroline wide-eyed. She pretended to seem surprised.

“Eventually it got to be too much,” Sean said. “People think Scaramucci was the final straw, but I was done long before that. I just wanted to put it all behind me, find a job where I could work in the sun and feel the warm earth on my hands.”

Sean’s beaming smile was so endearing that Caroline decided to ignore the earlier potato incident. 

They wound up having an enjoyable dinner. Sean regaled Caroline with secrets about the White House, like the true meaning of “covfefe” and how Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a penchant for knitting with human hair.

Caroline found herself giggling like a schoolgirl. She realized that Sean Spicer was very funny, and not nearly as dumb as she'd thought. Before long, she was gazing into his eyes, admiring the flock of crows feet that formed around them when he smiled. Sean had just started to reach across the table to take her hand when the waiter dropped off the dessert menu. 

“Ooo! Pumpkin cheesecake!” Caroline exclaimed. 

“No. Please don't get that.” Sean looked concerned.

“Why not? Are you allergic?”

“No, just…please. Please don't get the pumpkin cheesecake.”

“I don't understand.” Caroline shook her head. 

“Stop shaking your head!” Sean demanded, brow furrowed. “Just please order anything other than the cheesecake.”

“I don't get it. You didn't mind the lobster but suddenly cheesecake is a problem?”

“Just not the cheesecake!” Sean repeated.

“This is unbelievable,” Caroline hissed. “I don't care how hot you are, or what a great spokesman or talented topiarist you are, no man will tell me what I can or can't order for dessert!” 

Caroline stood up and slammed her napkin onto the table. “Thank you for dinner, Sean, but this date is over.”

Click here for the thrilling conclusion of Among the Bushes!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Presidentress' Summer Highlights

Although most of my summer was filled with non-presidential stuff like taking the kids to swimming lessons, taking the kids mini-golfing, trying not to get killed by mosquitos, and writing Sean Spicer Fan Fiction, I did manage some presidential fun, too. With summer "officially" over, I wanted to take a few minutes to write a "What I Did This Summer" eassay...Presidentress-style.

In no particular order, here are the presidential highlights from my summer:

The Presidential Fight Club Tournament (PFCT)

A few months ago, Howard from Plodding Through the Presidents invited me to join a Facebook group for American history fanatics. There's the typical link-sharing and conversation, but the owner of the group also runs a daily quiz of some sort. Over the summer, he decided to mix things up and instead of a quiz each day, he presented the Presidential Fight Club Tournament, a series of polls to determine which president would dominate in hand-to-hand combat.

He created four regional brackets and matched up two presidents per day, which we then voted on. Winners advanced tournament-style. Unlike the famous "Presidential Knife-Fight-to-the Death," this contest allowed no weapons, and it assumed that the presidents were in the physical (and mental) condition they were in around age 35. (Side note: I just learned there's a Presidential Knife-Fight Game. This is very important information.)

Anyway, the Presidential Fight Club Tournament wound up being a highlight of my summer...which might say a lot about me and my summer. Some of the matchups were painfully dull, like James Buchanan vs. Woodrow Wilson. Some were painfully difficult to decide, like Teddy Roosevelt vs. Abraham Lincoln. My choices didn't always win (I would have bet on Taft going much farther than he did, although he did beat Obama in the first round), but it was thrilling nonetheless.

The final match came down to George Washington vs. TR, with Teddy ultimately taking home the prize. One of those final matches against Washington also produced this remarkable conversation between two of the group members:

Meeting Hottest Heads of State

As soon as the kids were done with school, we took off on a Disney World vacation. Toward the end of that trip, after an unbelievably sweaty day at the Magic Kingdom, we were having dinner at 'Ohana at the Polynesian Resort when I saw that JD and Kate of Hottest Heads of State had posted on Facebook that they, too, were at the Polynesian Resort.

Frantic Facebook messaging and texting ensued, and before I knew it, Kate was standing at our table asking if I was Jennie. (My mermaid mouse ears served an important role in my cosplay as Ariel, and also as a way to identify me in a huge crowd.)

Kate couldn't stay long because JD and their kids were waiting for their table at another restaurant, but I was super excited that serendipity put us in the same place at the same time, like when Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey wound up having dinner in the same New York restaurant (except that Kate and I like each other).

The Truman Trip

Speaking of Truman... If you missed my recent post about our trip to Independence to see the Truman Home and Library, you can read that here.

Patriotic Jello

You can also read about my highly successful patriotic jello experiment (which could easily be altered for different holidays!). It's much easier to make than you'd think, so get on it.

So, that's my presidential summer in a nutshell. Stay tuned throughout the fall for more presidential insights, and maybe a giveaway! And also definitely more Sean Spicer fanfic.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sean Spicer Fan Fiction: Chapter 2

(If you missed Chapter 1, be sure to read it first. Also, disclaimer: This is fiction.)

Among the Bushes

Things are About to Get Spicey

Chapter 2

Caroline’s mouth dropped open. This revelation about her gardener's identity did explain why he was wearing an ill fitting suit, but she had so many more questions. 

She had never been a fan of the president, but his spokesman was another story. Ever since the early days of the administration, Caroline had felt a certain affinity for Sean Spicer. In fact, she had found him inexplicably attractive, even though she normally didn't go for the angry, doughy type. And now he was standing here in her yard! Caroline decided to take advantage of the situation.

“You look really hot,” Caroline heard herself saying. Then she quickly added, “You're sweaty. I mean—it looks like you could use some shade.”

What was happening to her? She was not the type to get flustered around men. Who knew Sean Spicer could have that affect on someone? Caroline took a deep breath to help regain her composure. 

“Would you like to come inside to cool off for a few minutes? I have LaCroix,” she offered. 

“That would be phenomenal,” Sean said, wiping away some sweat and possibly another tear. 

Caroline led Sean into her house, unsure she was doing the right thing. Even if he was a former White House Communications Director, he was still a common gardener at the moment and she wasn't comfortable having the hired help inside her house. But then she glanced over her shoulder and saw his endearingly confused expression and her knees went wobbly. “Pull yourself together, Caroline!” she silently chided herself. 

“The bar is this way,” Caroline said, walking through the kitchen, into the hallway, then up a few steps to the open bar area above the living room.

“You have a beautiful house,” Sean said, looking around.

“I do okay for myself,” Caroline said coyly. 

“What do you do for a living?” he asked. 

“What flavor LaCroix would you like? Or I have other things, if you'd like something…harder.” Caroline raised her eyebrows. 

“No, LaCroix is good! No drinking on the job! Do you have lime?” he asked. 

“Of course,” Caroline sighed. She turned to her mini fridge, took out a can of lime LaCroix, and handed it to Sean, letting her hand linger a bit longer than she should have. 

“I like your fridge” he said, prying the can from her hand. Caroline made a mental note to keep an eye on her appliances. 

Sean opened the can and took a sip, then looked out the large picture window on the other side of the room. 

“That was my first attempt at an elephant” he said, nodding toward the window.

“Really? You'd never done that before? That’s amazing!” Caroline said. “My only concern is that the bushes are so much smaller now.”

“No, they're bigger,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“The bushes are bigger than they were before.”

“How can they be bigger when you've just trimmed them to make an elephant?”

“Trust me, they just are,” he said. “Period. They only look smaller because of the covering I put down to protect the grass.” 

Caroline narrowed her eyes. She felt like she had heard this argument before. She was about to press him on it, but then he loosened his tie a bit and she got weak-kneed again. 

“So, tell me, Sean,” she said, leaning onto the bar next to him, “Do you like working with...bushes?”

“Well, it’s better than working with Clintons!” Sean Spicer started laughing uncontrollably. 

Caroline sighed again and rolled her eyes. How could someone so cute be so dense? 

Just when she thought he would never take a hint, Sean calmed down, took another sip of LaCroix and asked, “Would you want to go to dinner sometime?”

Caroline blinked. Was Sean Spicer really asking her out on a date?

“I'd love to,” she said, “but I thought you're not allowed to have dinner with any women other than your wife.”

“No, that's Mike Pence,” he said. “People sometimes get us confused because we have the same neck and glare.”

“Oh, right.” Caroline did have trouble keeping track of the angry white men in the current administration. “But won't your wife be upset anyway?”

“I'm not married,” he said, swigging some more LaCroix.

“But I thought—”

“Just a story I made up and put in my official White House bio when Kellyanne Conway got too handsy.”

Caroline winced. 

“Exactly,” Sean said, noticing the horrified expression on her face. “Look, I need to go. I have to get the lawn equipment back by 5:00. But are we on for dinner? Tonight?”

Read Chapter 3 now!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Trip with Truman

Earlier this summer I read (and wrote about) Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure. That got me in the mood to go to the Truman Library and Museum, but I didn't think I'd be able to talk the family into it. But then Mr. Presidentressor expressed interest in going to see the eclipse, and I noticed that Independence, Missouri, was in the path of totality, and suddenly a weekend getaway was born.

If you want to see all things Harry Truman in Independence, it's important to know that his home (available for tour) is a separate entity from his presidential museum, so plan accordingly. We arrived at the Visitor Center for the home (a few blocks from the house itself) in the morning, which was a good plan because tour spots and times are limited and were going quickly. We snagged spots for the 2:30 tour, which gave us plenty of time to go to the museum beforehand.

The Visitor Center is small but it has a film and a few small exhibits (mostly about baseball). That's also where my kids got their Junior Ranger booklets. My 5-year-old is obsessive about filling out any kind of booklet/scavenger hunt/etc. he receives at museums, so that kept him busy for a good chunk of the day. My 8-year-old found the booklet for kids under 9 to be too basic, so she asked to upgrade to the book for 9-12-year-olds, which is also the one my 13-year-old did. (I saw an adult doing it, too, so I guess anyone can become a Junior Ranger. I wish I'd known that years ago.)

Once my kids filled out what they could at the Visitor Center, we drove over to the Harry Truman Library and Museum. There, the kids got scavenger hunt cards, and I realized--despite what I said in my previous Truman post--that I had never been to the Truman Museum before. Oops.

Mr. Presidentressor and I both thought the museum was great, and even the kids seemed to enjoy it. The first floor is primarily about Truman's presidency, and I felt they did a good job presenting balanced information about tough topics like the Korean War and the dropping of the atomic bombs. I especially liked the exhibit on atomic-related popular culture.

The first floor wraps around in chronological order, and when you get to the end, you're able to walk out to the courtyard where Harry, Bess, daughter Margaret, and son-in-law Clifton are buried.
After we paid our respects and were walking away, my 5-year-old shouted, "Farewell, old people!"

After hurrying the children back inside, we explored the lower level of the museum, which was less "Harry the Politician" and more "Harry the Human." There were exhibits about his pre- and post-presidency life, and many of the exhibits were interactive. My kids' favorite activity was making Harry Truman campaign buttons.

They could also write a letter to Truman. This is what my 5-year-old wrote before giving the letter a kiss and sticking it in the mail slot:

I ❤️ you. I miss you in your grave

Should I be worried?

The whole time, my 8-year-old was keeping an eye out for a paper crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, the Japanese girl who was stricken with leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima. My daughter read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes a few months ago and is obsessed with it, and the only way I could entice her to go to the Truman Museum without complaining was by telling her they had a crane there. After searching in vain, we asked a kindly security guard, who told us exactly where to find it: Right next to the front doors. We went back upstairs, and there it was. We were both surprised by how tiny it was, but my daughter was very pleased to have found it.

The gift shop has a nice selection of Truman memorabilia and the requisite American flag-type stuff. I was tempted to get a plush "Pete," the squirrel who used to take walks with Harry, but instead I got this string-doll-keychain because it seemed weirder.

After the museum the kids were hangry, so we headed back toward the quaint old downtown area and wound up eating at a hotdog place called Up Dog. (Excellent tater tots!) When we were done eating, we drove over to the Truman home for our tour.

The ranger leading the tour was knowledgable and helped make it interesting for the kids. Due to structural concerns, only the first floor of the house is available to tour, so it doesn't take very long. However, the house is preserved just the way the Trumans left it, so what it lacks in accessibility, it makes up for in character. I absolutely loved the midcentury mint-green-and-red kitchen.

Courtesy: National Park Service

Later at the Visitor Center the ranger asked my daughter what she liked best about the house, and she said, "The wallpaper." In the photo above the walls look pink, but the wallpaper is a fabulously gaudy/busy red print, and it's on the ceiling as well as the walls. I want some.

Courtesy: National Park Service

High-five, Harry!
When we were done with the house, we checked out the very small museum/tour-holding-pen in a house across the street (protip: it has bathrooms!), then headed back to the little downtown area for ice cream at Clinton's Soda Fountain, in the building where Harry Truman had his first job in a drugstore. We had sundaes and the kids finished up their Junior Ranger booklets, which we then took back to the Visitor Center so they could get their badges.

The rest of our weekend consisted of non-Harry-Truman-related stuff, like visiting the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, and heading to Columbia, Missouri, to see the total eclipse. The museum and the eclipse were phenomenal. I recommend both.

For a while there it looked like we might not see the eclipse due to weather and traffic concerns, but we decided that even without it, the trip would have been a success and a good way to end the summer. In the end, it all worked out. I guess you could say it wound up being an excellent adventure.