The week in review: The houseguest

December 14, 2014

This weekend, we had our first visitor! It was my friend Julia’s first trip to New York so I tried to find a good mix of fun things to do with her in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We basically just walked from one food destination to another, stopping to shop along the way. It was a blast.

The highlights:

Donuts at Dough. We opted for cinnamon sugar, salted chocolate, and plain glazed. I’m honestly still not over them yet.

Shopping at Brooklyn Flea. This was definitely one of the best parts of the weekend. I didn’t buy the gold scissors (THIS TIME) but I did buy a matted page from an old anatomy book (it features a diagram of a chastity belt) and some opaque pastel vintage christmas lights.

Ramen at Ippudo. There was a two-hour wait for dinner, so we headed to a bar nearby for drinks. I had McKenzie’s Seasonal Hard Cider which was SO GOOD. The wait actually went by pretty quickly and the ramen was really good.

Shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market. We did this because we had some time to kill but it ended up being really fun and worth it. (We found the perfect Christmas gift for my mother-in-law so I’m pretty pumped about that!) My only regret was that we weren’t hungry when we were there because all the food booths looked and smelled amazing.

Brunch at Peaches. The roasted potatoes were the best ever. So was the soundtrack. And the omelet. It was all just SO GOOD.

Other things of note from this week…

Writing

31 Subscription Gifts They’ll Love All Year

These Guys Created Beard Ornaments To Decorate Your Face For The Holidays

19 Guys With Tat Sleeves Who Will Make You Thirsty

Here’s What You Should Make Your Family This Christmas

31 Brilliant Ikea Hacks Every Parent Should Know

Reading

I finished My Brilliant Friend on Thursday and started The Story of a New Name first thing Friday. I’m hooked!

The week ahead…

The countdown to Christmas is on!

On feminism & Christmas

December 9, 2014

I unapologetically love Christmas. I love the baking, the music, the gifts and the wrapping, the lights and decor, the cold weather, and the magic of it. A few days after Christmas in 2013, I started reading the book MERRY CHRISTMAS! Celebrating America’s Favorite Holiday by Karal Ann Marling, and (after a looooong break from it) I finished it a couple of weeks ago.

The book is about the history of the material aspects of Christmas: when and why we started wrapping gifts and sending Christmas cards, why Santa looks like he does, why people love miniature Christmas villages, etc. That alone makes it interesting to me…but Marling also lays out a really great case for why exploring this topic is downright feminist. Here’s an excerpt that sums it up nicely (emphasis added)…

“[This book is] about images and the feelings they arouse—the shining ribbons of hope and memory that connect people to themselves, their families, and their sense of nationhood through the ornament chest in the attic, a collection of Christmas village houses, or a green-frosted cookie shaped like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch. And it’s about grandmothers and mothers. Several years ago, when I had just finished a book on the visual culture of the 1950s—a book that looked at the clothes, hairstyles, body language, and the preferred colors for household appliances—one reviewer allowed as how he didn’t think much of the project, but that his mom would probably like it. Well, this is another one for the moms! Although I have looked at a great deal of textual evidence, the material culture of Christmas (or what moms generally do while the rest of us watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’) is the heart and soul of this book and of the holiday it examines.

As a writer who prides herself on having no particular ideological axes to grind, I was startled to discover how few students of the phenomenon have openly acknowledged the creative role of women in inventing, sustaining, and ultimately changing Christmas. Studying Christmas would turn anyone into a card-carrying feminist! Popular culture—the movies, TV—is heavily invested in denying that women and Christmas have any special relationship at all. Jimmy Stewart and the Grinch are the Christmas heroes; Mrs. Santa is relegated to the photo booth in the department store Toyland. When the manipulation of ‘stuff’ takes precedence over the use of words and documents, when traditional women’s skills at shopping or cooking or home decorating take center stage, then the whole subject falls off the radar screen of ‘important’ scholarship. Christmas is OK in its way—the stuff of memoirs, but not of serious research. At best, it is politically incorrect, a pleasant diversion for the few remaining stay-at-home moms. At worst, it is mere trivia.

But Christmas is not just a moms’ festival. It is a domestic one. Christmas reminds everybody of home truths, of the particular sense of comfort and joy that Christmas cards represent with their pictures of ornaments and presents and snug little houses nestled in the snow, a curl of smoke arising from the chimney. It is the one occasion in the fitful progress of the year that calls upon us to consider domesticity and continuity seriously, to ponder the good in the goods arrayed beneath the Christmas tree. If home is less important than the workplace, then Christmas isn’t very interesting. If the items in the glossy holiday catalogs are viewed as so many examples of consumerism run amok, then Christmas is a pig’s feast of capitalist greed. To look seriously at Christmas is to embrace the possibility that quotidian realities, like pleasure and purchase, might be defensible aspects of the human condition.

Sociologists are just about unanimous in concluding that women do most of the grunt work involved in standard Christmas practices: they buy and wrap the presents, trim the tree, plan the gatherings, cook the food. Theodore Caplow, in his groundbreaking studies of Christmas gift exchange and other holiday observances in ‘Middletown,’ U.S.A., documents women’s hegemony as makers and shapers of celebratory rituals. In industrial societies, it is women who define and maintain the sorts of relationships within the family and between the family and the culture that Christmas effectively diagrams with presents and strings of lights. Who are our friends? Our social superiors? What are our obligations to the community? Yet, because Christmas is a family holiday the actual work of mothers and aunts and grandmothers is rarely differentiated from the lesser roles of others. Nor are acts performed for love and not for money commonly recognized as ‘work.’

…Mothers shop for toys and wrap the gifts—and Santa gets all the credit. The Grinch didn’t steal Christmas. Men did, beginning with Clement Moore’s Santa Claus! If the sociologists are right, the patriarchy always seizes positions of power and economic importance for itself. If men make the money and the suet for the pudding, then they, by rights, should be Santa Clauses…despite changes in American families, and in living-room observances of the holiday, the public face of Christmas still wears a big white beard.

Women were the primary custodians of tradition, firmly in charge of the American heritage in its tangible, material manifestations. Sarah Hale made the case for observing Thanksgiving and showed America how to trim a tree. Women saved the homes of the Founding Fathers for national shrines, beginning with Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, and so created the historic preservation movement. The mainstays of local historical societies, women saved grandma’s wedding dress alongside deeds and wills and documents…they packed away the family pictures, the report cards, the letters—and the Christmas ornaments. They remembered where they mistletoe was always hung, the family recipe for Christmas pudding, the words to all the carols, and what the little ones wanted Santa to bring them. The question is not whether Christmas has been women’s work, but why the modern media have taken such pains to deny the fact. Is it because we imagine women to have kept to their kitchens in the ‘good old days’? Or that we find no value in the work that transpires within the home? Or is it because Christmas is simply too important to have been wrestled from masculine hands?”

I LOVE this. While a lot of advertising seems to pander to moms at Christmas (we see lots of beleaguered moms doing All The Things at the holidays and lots of articles directed toward women about avoiding stress at the holidays) it doesn’t seem to do it in a way that really gives credit, or designates this work as important or significant. It’s more just…an expectation. But “women’s history” is history, and the way people celebrate is a worthwhile way to learn more about a culture.

(Christmas card images from ebay via BuzzFeed)

The week in review: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

December 7, 2014

Earlier this week, my friend Jessica asked me if I’d like to go shopping for Christmas greenery at Union Square Market on Saturday. I was SO excited about this. The weather was complete and total shit, but the flora was just gorgeous and surprisingly affordable. And, like, real-world affordable, not just NYC affordable (which I define as “would make my mother cough-laugh if I told her the price”).

Our apartment is basically made for Christmas decor, so I spent some time today making things look festive with the wreath and boughs I bought (along with the help of some Epsom salt snow).

Easy Christmas decor: Mason jar + Epsom salt + votive

Easy Christmas decor: Mason jar + boughs & berries + strand of Christmas lights

And now, for the biggest news of the week…we now have a couch AND Internet!!!!!

I’m starting to feel like a normal person!

Other highlights from this week…

Reading

I started reading a new book on the plane to New York: The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader, which is the collected writing of Ida B. Wells. It’s been extremely relevant given the conversations about Mike Brown…and Eric Garner…and Tamir Rice… For that same reason, it’s not exactly an upper. Some of the essays and descriptions of violence against black men are deeply upsetting, so I’ve had to pace myself. “Enjoying” is not the right word for how I feel about it…but I am very glad I am reading it.

I also listened to the audiobook version of The Gift of Fear while commuting this week. It was a quick listen and I found it interesting, but also kind of dark.

Jessica, who happens to be a voracious reader, recommended the Elena Ferrante series that starts with My Brilliant Friend, so I’m planning to start that tonight!

Writing

26 People Who Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Build Snowmen Anymore

17 Impossibly Comfy Outfits To Wear To Work This Winter

23 DIY Christmas Cards You Can Make In Under An Hour

Buying

Hangers. Finally! We just kept leaving these off the Target/Ikea list. I’m pretty pumped because I found navy velvet ones that match our bed perfectly at a discount store for super cheap. Everything about this feels fancy. And as you might imagine, the closet looks so much better.

The right avocados. Because dammit, Fresh Direct, the D-cup thin-skinned avocados you sent me cannot be mashed for avocado toast and are therefore useless.

A Spotify Premium subscription for 99 cents. Because yeah, I wasn’t using Spotify before. AND I put my favorite Christmas playlist there for you all. Find it here.

(If you can’t get in on that deal because you already have a Spotify subscription, can I interest you in three months of Audible for $3? Seriously legit.)

I also bought a onesie for an upcoming day at work when everyone will be wearing onesies to the office. Like you do.

Wearing

All my favorite sweaters, which I am SO happy about.

Though I’m still really bad at predicting the weather here and was either too warm or too cold most days last week. It doesn’t help that the subway is basically always 85 degrees with 150 percent humidity.

The week ahead…

I’m having my first NYC blowout! I felt a little meh this week because my hair wasn’t looking its best; it’s time for a shampoo. The salon I used to go to in NYC apparently charges $95 for a blowout (and TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS FOR A RELAXER GTFO WITH THAT SHIT) so I’m trying Drybar for the first time. I’ve been assured that they have stylists who can do black-girl hair so…fingers crossed!

Also, Julia is coming up for a visit! I’m so excited; we’re basically going to eat our way through the city and do some Christmasy things and it’s going to be great.

My favorite Christmas playlist

December 4, 2014

I love Christmas music and happily play it from Black Friday through New Year’s Day. Over the years I’ve acquired a lot of music, but this is the playlist I’ve had on repeat this year.

Photo: House of Hawthornes

Christmas Celebration (B.B. King)

Santa’s Blues (Charles Brown)

Wrap Yourself in a Christmas Package (Randy Greer & Ignasi Terraza Trio)

Santa Baby (Emile-Claire Barlow)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Ray Charles)

Here Comes Santa Claus (Ramsey Lewis Trio)

Merry Christmas Baby (The Dukes of Dixie Land ft. Luther Kent)

Christmas Everyday (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles)

The Christmas Blues (Topsy Chapman & Lars Edegran)

Christmas Is Coming (Vince Guaraldi Trio)

Xmas Baby (Riff Ruffin)

All I Ask For Christmas (Mighty Blue Kings)

Christmas in New Orleans (Louis Armstrong)

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (Big Al Carson with Lars Edegran & His Santa Claus Revelers)

‘Zat You, Santa Claus? (Ingrid Lucia)

Silver Bells (Heritage Hall Jazz Band with Gregg Stafford)

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Banu Gibson and The New Orleans Hot Jazz)

Please Come Home for Christmas (Papa Don Vappie’s New Orleans Jazz Band)

Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies (Harry Connick, Jr.)

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Ellis Marsalis)

White Christmas (Jon Boutté)

What Christmas Means to Me (Stevie Wonder)

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Topsy Chapman with Lars Edegran & His Santa Claus Revelers)

Santa’s Second Line (New Birth Jazz Band)

Holiday Time In New Orleans (The Dukes of Dixieland)

Merry Christmas Baby (Charles Brown)

Most of these songs can be found on two albums: JAZZ & BLUES CHRISTMAS and Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Christmas. I’ve found it’s a great playlist to listen to while doing Christmas things, working, and commuting, and is upbeat enough for a holiday party. (Just add some Mariah if you go that route; otherwise, the people will revolt.)

Update: Since you can currently join Spotify and get Premium for 99 cents, I did that…and made this my first playlist! I couldn’t find all the songs (like “Please Come Home for Christmas,” which is one of my faves and totally worth buying if you can find it elsewhere), but I found most of them. Enjoy!

A moving experience

December 1, 2014

Well, we made it!

Last week was…about like you’d expect when you move across the country in the winter to an apartment you’ve never seen in person in a neighborhood you’ve never been to with just four suitcases.

Brooklyn brownstones

Actually, it wasn’t that awful! Here are some of the more memorable moments…

Tuesday

After a full day of flying, 45 minutes in a cab to the apartment, and nothing but airplane snacks as fuel, we take a cab to Ikea, arriving around 8:15 (they close at 9:00). We proceed to haul ass through the store; our main goal is getting a mattress—the one thing we really needed this first night—but I had hoped to grab a few other items while we were there. We get dishes, silverware, a shower curtain (but no shower curtain rings)…and then kind of say “fuck it” and just grab the mattress. After waiting in line (sorry, ON line, we’re in New York now) for another 40 minutes, we load the mattress into a van cab and head back to the apartment. I order a pizza from my phone while we are en route.

Once we arrive at the apartment, we have to get the mattress up the steep-ass stoop (SAS). Before I even know what is happening, Eric has lifted the mattress up onto his shoulder and is hauling it up the stairs like it’s no big deal. I follow with the rest of our Ikea haul, looking at him like I am Michelle Duggar and he is Jim Bob. He is modest about it, saying it was his “mother lifting a car off her child” moment.

Our bed frame arrived earlier in the day, so we assemble it and throw the sheets and mattress on while we wait for the pizza to arrive. We realize that even though I double-checked (I SWEAR I CHECKED), the duvet I grabbed at Ikea was for a twin bed. So…great.

The pizza arrives and we eat it in bed; I cannot overstate how wonderful this pizza is.

Once our blood sugar begins to return to normal, we are able to marvel at the apartment we are inhabiting. The photos and video we saw before signing don’t do it justice; it’s so, so lovely in person.

Wednesday

When I was packing for this trip, I put toilet paper in one of our bags. Then I took it out at the last minute in favor of a pillow. So the first thing we do on Wednesday morning is walk to a bodega to buy toilet paper; up to this point, I’ve been relying on sheer willpower to not have to pee.

We head out in the freezing rain to go to Target for some essentials, including a trash can and bags, shower curtain rings, a queen-size duvet (there are none), and toilet paper that isn’t sandpaper. I use Uber to get a cab home; somewhere between trying to get the driver to see me standing in front of Barclay Center and hauling all the stuff we bought up the SAS, I lose the toilet paper.

We have the same Uber driver take us to one of the furniture stores where we had planned to look for a new couch. We like one but we don’t pull the trigger, and after we leave we decide to go see if there are any decent furniture options (and a damn queen-size duvet) at Home Goods. After so many pricey cab rides, Uber surge pricing, and the lack of cabs available, we decide to just walk to Home Goods. For 30 minutes in the freezing rain. Without umbrellas.

My new winter coat and boots prove they are worth every penny during this walk. But the walk is still kind of a low point, especially for Eric, who was just not dressed for that weather. Miraculously, we do not turn on each other during this walk, or at any point during what was a pretty tiring day.

After another trip to Target (I mean, it was right next to Home Goods…) and a lather-rinse-repeat on the whole cab hunting in the freezing rain thing, we make it back to the apartment and vow not to leave until Friday.

Thursday

We hunker down in the apartment on Thanksgiving—our main activities are unpacking and scoping out deals online for some of the other things we want to buy. It is at this point we start burning through data on our MiFi and phones so quickly that we have to start rationing it, as each additional gig costs $10-$15.

We have a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna as our Thanksgiving dinner, which is just fine with me.

I’m thankful for a lot of things today, but mostly thankful that Eric is here with me and that he’s being all kinds of wonderful.

Friday

We get up early today so we have more time to get things done. We take the train to Jennifer Convertibles, where the couch we like is on super sale, and then walk to Macy’s to look at the other couch we’re considering. At this point, I realize the couches are to Eric what the winter boots were to me…he’s putting too much thought into researching different options and is unable to make a decision on anything. Because Eric is worried about what chairs we’ll pair with the couch, we walk to Target to look at their arm chairs, but none of the ones that were online are in the store. We get drinks at the Starbucks in Target and take a minute to regroup; finally, I make the call that we should go with the couch from Jennifer. It’s comfortable, it’s affordable, it’s great. We walk back to Jennifer to buy it and find out that it won’t be delivered for a month. We go back to Macy’s. 35 minutes on the phone with Chase Fraud Protection later, we have a couch that will arrive in a week.

We decide to get a pair of armchairs from Ikea to go with the couch. Because it’s pretty nice outside and we’re appropriately dressed for the cold, we decide to just walk to Ikea. It’s a 45-minute walk, but it ends up being my favorite part of these first few days. It’s nice to explore Brooklyn—where I’ve spent literally no time before this trip—and chat.

We get some of the things we missed during our first trip to Ikea, along with the chairs. The chair boxes are massive. Luckily, they fit in a van cab. But this time around, there is no way Eric is hauling them up the SAS without me. We do it together…barely.

It’s just about 1:00. We’re pretty much done for the day.

Later: Our new headboard arrives via FedEx and we try to attach the brackets (which I purchased separately) to the bed frame to the headboard. It is a total shitshow, but after some hammering, we have a fully-assembled bed. I am not sure it’s completely secure, but whatever; I love gentle lovemaking!

Saturday

Our first order of groceries is delivered.

I go back to Target and get the good toilet paper. Fucking finally.

The week in review

November 23, 2014

Winter boots

This week, I learned that anxiety looks like spending five hours trying to find the perfect winter boots online, which is what I did last Sunday. Apparently I’ve forgotten how to cold weather? Or (more likely) I just didn’t want to deal with packing. I ended up going with a pair from Sorel after basically everyone on Facebook and Twitter recommended the brand. I feel like I’m wearing actual snow tires on my feet and am not sure if this is going to realllllly be necessary in New York. (I don’t remember the 2008-2009 winter being that snowy.) But whatever; it’s done.

After that anxiety-fueled shopping experience, I cut myself off after about 60 minutes of shopping online for a winter coat and just went with one from Land’s End. It was on sale. It looks warm. It’s not a life or death decision. It’s going to be fine.

Other highlights from this week…

Eating

I re-discovered avocado toast a couple weeks ago and it’s been giving me life. (I usually put a fried egg on one slice.) The toast plus Panera Bread’s new hazelnut coffee pods for the Keurig mean I am very happy with my breakfast situation.

Avocado toast

Also, these are the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made.

Reading

Like everyone else, I’ve become completely obsessed with Serial. Like, I check Reddit at least once a day for the craziest new theory. This also led me to two fantastic/outrageous older articles that everyone should read: The Innocent Man in TexasMonthly and Trial by Fire in the New Yorker. Interestingly enough, both cases have been in the news again recently; the first because the prosecutor in the case will actually serve jail time for his wrongdoing, the second because it could be the first case in U.S. history where we know an innocent man was executed. (Also of particular interest to me: the trial in the first story was in the courthouse where Eric and I got married.)

More good reads from this week…

A Modern Guide to Thanksgiving Etiquette, Bon Appetit. This has seriously great tips/advice. (It’s for guests and hosts!)

So You’ve Finally Started Wearing The Right Bra Size, The Toast. SO funny.

Two well-written posts on Bill Cosby: Art or Humanity: Thoughts on Bill Cosby by Roxanne Gay and The Cosby Show by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Abortion Clinic Protesters: “Sidewalk Counselors” or “Sidewalk Terrorists”? on Cosmopolitan. I damn near had a rage stroke reading this article.

A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA by Sabrina Rubin Erdely for Rolling Stone. A horrible subject, but great reporting and a worthwhile read.

Why Were Three Teenage Rape Victims Bullied Out of School in Oklahoma?, Jezebel. Warning: you may actually throw your phone/computer across the room while reading.

What It’s Like to Date a Horse, NY Mag. OK, I apologize in advance for this article. I was literally shouting about it as I was reading. Know that it gets worse before it gets better. I’m sharing it for the same reason people say, “EW this smells awful. Here, smell it.” I sent it to my friend Dallas after I read it last night and she had several similar reactions, which culminated in “a pox on your house.” And…I deserve that.

Buying

ALL THE THINGS, it feels like. We sat on what felt like a million couches (because our 3-year-old couch is a piece of shit and is falling apart) but we’re not pulling the trigger on one until we’re in New York. But after sitting on an unexpectedly amazing teal velvet sofa at Dillard’s last weekend, I sort of began a love affair with jewel-toned furniture. (The things you zero on in when you’re freaking out about big life changes…) We picked out a new headboard for the apartment from Joss & Main; it’s blue velvet and very sexy and I’m pretty pumped about it.

ASOS has a pretty strong holiday sweater game; I bought this one. (It runs a little small! I normally wear a small in tops; I got the 4 and it’s totally fine, but it’s just a bit more fitted than I normally wear sweaters.) I also got two plaid scarves, bringing my plaid scarf total for the week to three. (I’m…not keeping all of them.)

I’m not the only one in need of some additional cold-weather attire; I made Chuck’s hipster dog dreams come true yesterday with an American Apparel dog hoodie.

One thing I did not buy? An AMAZING mega-oversized Christmas ornament from Home Goods. It was completely impractical on every level.

Writing

19 Things That Are The Literal Worst

This Sweater Is Big Enough For You And Everyone You Know

21 Foolproof Ways To Bring Cheer To Your Warm-Weather Christmas

The week ahead…

Phase 1 of the move to New York is this week! I’ll be spending the rest of my day today running errands packing, which I’m not looking forward to at all.

Also, Thanksgiving! Eric and I will be in New York with basically no furniture and no lives, so I’m leaning toward doing this

Gallery wall progress!

November 17, 2014

So approximately 14 months after starting our gallery wall, it’s now *almost* done. 

Gallery wall

It’s actually been really close to being done since the beginning of this year, but we left space for a large wedding photo and, uh, still haven’t ordered one. Then when I was in Michigan this summer, antiquing with my mom, I noticed that a lot of the merchandise I had liked when I was in that antique store in May 2013 was still there. I wandered off to see if I could find a framed photo that I had loved a year prior—a black and white photograph of the 1930 Flint Northern High School varsity football team that I thought would look perfect in our living room, but that I couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on. It wasn’t in the same spot it had been in 2013, and then I ended up getting distracted by a lot of vintage beauty products and sort of forgot about it. A bit later, I told my mom I wanted her opinion on the vintage beauty products; as we were looking at them, I looked up and noticed the framed photo I had been looking for was now actually hanging right above the beauty products! And it was 50 percent off! “Grim, I lost her once! I’m not going to lose her again!” I shouted as I rowed my boat furiously. (The lover I did not know was actually half fish = the antique photo in this situation.)

After a couple months of waiting for my mom to ship the framed photo to me in Houston, I finally had the perfect piece to complete our gallery wall. So naturally, I let it sit in our living room for several weeks because I didn’t feel like taking 20 minutes to hang it and the other photos I’d framed over the summer. But yesterday, I was getting shit done around the house and I finally took care of it.

And I’m so glad I got it done JUST IN TIME TO MOVE OUT! But since we’re basically moving in phases, and phase 1 doesn’t include all the breakables from the living room, it just made sense to hang the remaining photos up now. At least when we do take all the photos to New York, we’ll know exactly where to hang each one?

Brooklyn-bound

November 4, 2014

Photo: Gane Kumaraswamy / Flickr Creative Commons

Life update: we have an apartment!!!!

The National Museum of Funeral History

November 1, 2014

There aren’t very many things on my Houston bucket list, but I really, really wanted to go to the National Museum of Funeral History before we move. I know it sounds a little out there, but I find American funeral culture pretty fascinating. And after going to the museum today, I’m so glad we did, because it was completely legit.

National Museum of Funeral History

I mean, macabre, sure, but legit.

National Museum of Funeral History

The museum has a huge display of hearses, with some dating back as far as the 1860s. There were horse-drawn hearses, super-fancy hearses, sleigh hearses for the winter months, a lovely mint green and gold hearse (I was like Book that one for me, plz!), and celebrity hearses (the hearse that carried the body of Grace Kelly, and the hearse used for the last two presidential funerals). There was also a hearse party bus.

Hearse party bus | National Museum of Funeral History

Apparently, someone back in 1916 was like, “Hey, guys! Why not just have the casket and all the mourners all travel together in one huge vehicle?” (I’m kind of imagining him as the startup dudebrotrepreneur of the early 20th century. “Book a Hrse.co for up to 20 of your friends! Hrse is totally gonna disrupt the funeral industry!”) Anyway, the hearse bus was a perfectly fine idea until the bus tried to go up a hill and was too heavy in the back and…tipped, flinging all the mourners around, and causing the casket to overturn. No one was really injured, but it was retired from use.

It’s a shame that the hearses were so hard to photograph (it was hard to really capture their size, elegance, and ornate details, plus there was just a ton of glare throughout the museum) because they were all in fantastic condition and were just really cool, especially the older ones.

There was also history of embalming, complete with kinda spooky artifacts…like embalming makeup, chemicals, and equipment, handwritten instructions for embalming, and antique embalming tables.

Embalming instructions | National Museum of Funeral History

National Museum of Funeral History

National Museum of Funeral History

There was also a good amount of 19th century mourning ephemera, including hair wreaths and hair jewelry (gahhhhhh I KNOW), along with mourning attire and accessories.

National Museum of Funeral History

There were several caskets on display, including a huge casket built for three that was never actually used. Which is good, because I have no idea how one would lift or transport such a thing. (The story behind it was pretty interesting though. A man and a woman had it built after their child died; they planned to kill themselves and be buried in it with their child. But they changed their minds and it was never used. Years later, after her husband died, the woman tried to get her money back and the maker said no.)

There was also a section of the museum dedicated to the life and death of popes. To be honest, the first half of this was reallllllly boring, but the second part, which was all about the papal funeral and burial rites, was fascinating. (There was also an actual popemobile, which was neat!) This was followed by a section that focused on presidential funerals and included (among other things) a bunch of the final bills for them. The museum also had a bit of one Abraham Lincoln’s actual hairs…but sadly, not enough to make a hair wreath out of.

Other things of interest at NMFH…

– A large collection of memorial cards from celebrity funerals.

– A smaller exhibit on Día de Muertos.

– A collection of “fantasy caskets” from Ghana.

– Funeral home and casket advertisements and other funeral home artifacts. I was really into the small models of caskets that a funeral home might use to sell a particular model.

National Museum of Funeral History

National Museum of Funeral History

Despite the topic at hand, the museum wasn’t terribly sad or particularly gross. The only thing that kind of caught me off-guard was when I turned around and saw two children’s caskets in the back of one of the first hearses; that was…unsettling. But aside from that, the entire experience felt very…detached. It was more about the funeral business and the history of funerals, which felt appropriate. It was definitely one of the coolest museums I’ve been to!

For extra credit…

If you haven’t read it yet, Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is the best book on funeral/death culture. So fascinating and funny!

I’ve been wanting to read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory ASAP, but I think it might be a good audiobook to listen to with Eric. I’m torn!

I will definitely be checking out this exhibit once we move to NYC!

Halloween 2014

November 1, 2014

This was the first year in a long time that I didn’t dress up for Halloween. I know, it’s out of character for me, but as I’m trying to coordinate a move across the country right now, it just wasn’t in the cards.

However, I still did a little decorating (including hanging up my trusty wooden bat sign, above) and got into the Halloween spirit in some other ways…

– I scared the shit of myself reading tons of the comments on the Jezebel scary stories contest (plus going back and reading several of the comments from previous years). Seriously, last Friday night I read them for like three hours; it was great. (See the best ones here and here and then read this one from a couple years ago and try not to piss yourself.)

– I read Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers, which is a very quick read (it’s only 98 pages long) and is pretty interesting.

– I wrote this post about IRL witches for BuzzFeed. And now I’m so excited to read The Penguin Book of Witches!

– I started listening to the Serial podcast which is SO GOOD. It’s like the best episode of “Dateline” you’ve ever seen—a truly intriguing mystery told in the most gripping way over a series of episodes. I’m not totally caught up, but I plan to listen to episodes 5 and 6 this evening so I can go further down the Serial rabbit hole on Reddit.

– Eric and I went to the perfectly creepy National Museum of Funeral History; more on that to come!

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