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!