Episode 30: Ancient Air Conditioning

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Even though it is autumn now, down here in Florida it can still get pretty hot, and I was reminded just how hot it can get when Hurricane Michael struck my region. Hurricane Michael left me and thousands of others without electricity and therefore without air conditioning. It made me wonder, how did people stay cool before air conditioning existed? It turns out that ancient people didn’t just sweat it out. They actually came up with some really ingenious ways to keep their cool. On Episode 30 of Hang Your Hat, I explore some of the ways that ancient people stayed cool, even in the hottest climates, and what we can do today to stay cool without electricity.

Episode 29: RadaRange

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There is a good chance you have heard the story about the inventor of the microwave standing in front of radar and noticing that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted.  You probably haven't heard that the event that story was based on occurred more than 70 years ago, or that it wasn't actually a chocolate bar, or that despite growing up in poverty and having almost no formal education the invention of the microwave was among the least important contributions that the inventor of the microwave left to mankind.  Learn the real story on this week's episode of Hang Your Hat.

Show Transcript

Welcome to Hang Your Hat.  This is episode 29: RadaRange

When it is time to pop popcorn, heat a frozen dinner, or warm up leftovers, there is a good chance that you will turn to a kitchen device that wasn’t a part of our parents or grandparents kitchens - the microwave.  The microwave is now a part of over 90% of American kitchens, but how did it get there and where did it start?  On today’s episode of Hang Your Hat I will discuss the birth of the microwave and its unlikely inventor.

 

Percy LeBaron Spencer was born in 1894 in Howland Maine population just 171, the 2nd child of Jasper and Myrtle Spencer.  He was born into poverty, but I imagine that his parents still oohed and awed over their new bundle of joy, glad to welcome a new member into their happy little family.

Unfortunately, their happiness didn’t last long.  Less than 2 years later Spencer’s father died.  His mother couldn’t afford to keep him and his brother, and Spencer was shipped off to live with his Aunt and Uncle.

We don’t know much about his early life, but I think he must have been a precocious child, exploring his world, figuring out how things work, and asking why often enough to make the most understanding of caregivers nuts.  Then when Spencer was 7, his uncle, his 2nd father, died as well.  

Spencer had to grow up quickly.  When he was only 12 he left school and started working in the local spool mill making wooden spools that thread would be wound on.  He had to help support his Aunt and himself.  He had only an elementary school education.  Most people in Spencer’s situation would have continued to work in the mill until it closed, or they died, but Spencer was different.

When he found out the paper mill was installing electricity he applied to be an installer, despite knowing nothing about electricity.  In the rural town he lived in there was no-one to teach him, but he gathered up all of the reading material he could find on the subject and taught himself.  He was one of only 3 people that were hired to electrify the mill.

In 1912 the Titanic sank and Spencer turned 18.  He had become interested in wireless communication after learning about the wireless operators on the Titanic and joined the Navy so he could explore it further.  He was in the Navy for less than 2 years.  He was discharged early due to a chronic ear disease, but he wasted no time while he was there.  He became an expert on radio technology while he was in the Navy, and used his spare time to teach himself trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, physics, and metallurgy.  He studied every textbook he could get his hands on while standing watch at night.

When he left the Navy he got a job in Boston at the Wireless Specialty Apparatus Company, which designed and manufactured crystal radios.  His bother worked there too.  Both of them had the title “radio electrician.”

The Wireless Specialty Apparatus Company was absorbed by RCA sometime in the 1920’s.  It is not clear if that was the impetus for Spencer leaving the Wireless Specialty Apparatus company, but he started working for Raytheon in 1925.  He again followed his brother who was already working for Raytheon when Spencer made the move.  

Spencer’s brother appears to have left Raytheon soon after Spencer joined the company.  In 1928 he filed a patent for his Spencer Thermostat and started the Spencer Thermostat Company.

Fortunately for quick cooking enthusiasts, Spencer didn’t follow his brother’s lead.  For the next 20 years, he worked at Raytheon on radio and radar systems eventually earning the Distinguished Public Service Award from the US Navy for his important research into magnetrons during World War II.  

In 1940 the British set out on a scientific mission headed by Sir Henry Tizard.  Their goal was to bring a black tin trunk to the United States that was filled with items that were strategically important for the war effort.  Their mission was risky.  If the trunk fell into enemy hands it could have been disastrous for the allies, but the risk turned out to be worth it.

One of the items in the trunk was a cavity magnetron developed by British physicists Henry Boot and John Randall.  It was pivotal in our radar design.

A magnetron is basically a vacuum tube that generates microwaves.  A basic vacuum tube consists of a negatively charged cathode on one side of the tube and a positively charged anode on the other.  The cathode is heated till it is so hot that electrons gain enough energy to escape from the cathode and travel toward the positively charged anode.

In a magnetron, the cathode is in the middle of the tube and the anode is a ring that surrounds the cathode.  But that is not what makes a magnetron special.  The anode also has holes or slots cut in it called resonate cavities.  There is also a powerful magnet under the anode that creates a magnetic field.

Because of the magnetic field when the electrons try to travel from the cathode to the anode they are forced to travel in a curved path around the cathode, and while the electrons are whipping around the cathode they are also passing the cavities in the anode.  The cavities resonate and emit microwave radiation.  The size of the cavities determines the resonate frequency.

You can think of it kind of like blowing through a whistle.  The air that goes straight through the whistle is like the electrons traveling directly between the cathode to the anode.  But some of the air escapes through the hole in the top of the whistle - which is like the groves in the anode.  The air escaping through the top of the whistle resonates at a frequency that creates a sound wave.  In the magnetron the resonate frequency creates microwaves.  

Boot and Randall’s magnetron design was an improvement over previous designs.  Their design was both stronger and more powerful than previous designs, making it possible to install radar in smaller air crafts.

Magnetrons are used in radar systems, and they were extremely important to the war effort during World War II because they were used to find enemy ships, submarines, and planes.  Without radar, military personnel would have to actually visually see the enemy vessel to know where to target their weapons.  

But there was a problem with the magnetron too.  It was very hard to make.  The war effort required 1000s of magnetrons, but each device took a skilled machinist weeks to complete.  They had to be machined out of solid copper, which was both time consuming and wasted a lot of metal.

In 1941 Spencer invented a machine that could mass produce magnetrons for use in radar sets.  His method stamped cross sections of the magnetron out of thin copper and silver solder.  The cross sections were then stacked up into the shape of the magnetron and cooked in a conveyer belt oven until the pieces fused together into a whole magnetron, kind of like a layer cake.  His invention increased the production of magnetrons from 17 per day to 2600 per day.  

He also developed to ways to make the radar sets that the magnetrons were used in sensitive enough to detect German u-boats from fairly high up in the sky.

He eventually racked up over 300 patents and an honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.  He also became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a member of the Institute of Radio Engineers, became senior vice president, and a member of the Board of Directors at Raytheon and had a building named after him at Raytheon.  All with almost no formal education.

Then in 1945, Spencer was standing in front of an active radar set at Raytheon and noticed that the candy bar in his pocket had melted.

The myth is that Spencer had a chocolate bar in his pocket and he noticed that it had melted, but noticing that chocolate, which melts at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, less than body temperature, doesn’t seem like something that would be terribly notable.

According to Spencer’s Grandson George Spencer Jr, Spencer liked to feed squirrels and chipmunks and carried a peanut cluster bar in his pocket to feed the little critters during his lunch break.  It was a melt-resistant peanut cluster bar that Spencer found melted in his pocket that peaked his curiosity.  

Spencer was not the first person that noticed that things melted around radar,  but he was the first that bothered to figure out why.  He was curious about what had happened, so, like any good scientist, he experimented.  First, he put popcorn kernels near the magnetron and watched them all pop - making the very first microwave popcorn.  Then he put an egg in a kettle and positioned the magnetron to direct the microwaves into the hole in the kettle.  The egg ended up exploding in the face of one of Spencer’s coworkers.  

Then Spencer created the first microwave oven.  He connected a high-density electromagnetic field generator to an enclosed metal box that would keep the microwaves from escaping and did further experimentation by placing food in the box and monitoring it’s temperature as the microwaves cooked it.

Spencer and Raytheon filed for the first microwave oven related patent on October 8th, 1945.  It was called a “Method of Treating Foodstuffs.”

In 1947 the first commercial microwave oven hit the market.  It was called the RadaRange.  It was 6 feet tall, weighed 750 pounds and cost $5000 (that is about $45,000 in 2018 dollars).  It also had to be connected to a water line because the magnetron had to water cooled.  It wasn’t a big seller; however one was installed in the galley of the nuclear-powered merchant ship the NS Savannah in 1961 and it remains there now. 

The microwave was introduced to the domestic market in 1955 under license to the Tappan Stove company.  It was a large wall unit that sold for $1295 - or about $12,000 in today’s money.  It also didn’t sell well.  Not only was it super pricey, the average domestic consumer didn’t really know about microwave technology.

In 1967 microwaves finally started to gain a place in American homes.  Amana, a subsidiary of Raytheon produced a smallish Radarange that could fit on a countertop.  It cost $495, about $3700 today, which was relatively affordable - especially when compared to prior offerings.  

In 1970 there were about 40,000 microwaves in US homes - by 1975 there were a million.  By 1986 25% of US homes had a microwave, now that number is around 90%.

However in recent years sales of microwaves have been on a downward trend due to concerns over microwave safety and potential nutritional impacts of microwaving.

If you are not sure if the microwave should have a place in your home be sure to listen to the next episode of Hang Your Hat.

 

Since starting this show I have been consistently surprised by the history behind the mundane objects in our homes, and microwaves have been no exception.  Who would have guessed that they were the brainchild of a man with an elementary school education, and a direct result of World War II technological innovation?

If you would like to know the backstory behind one of the objects in your home let me know.  I am always looking for a great new story to tell.  

You can drop me a comment on hangyourhatpodcast.com or you can email me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  

Hang Your Hat Podcast is a member of Patreon.  If you would like to help support the show please consider becoming a patron by going to Patreon.com/hangyourhat    

If you are not up to becoming a patron but would still like to support the show please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just let a friend know about the show.

And as always, thanks for listening.

Sources

 

 

 

Episode 28: The Science of Springtime Hygge

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Here in the US when we think about Hygge, we usually think about cozying up with blankets next to the fire, but hygge can be a part of our lives all year round.  In this episode, I discuss the ways that we can bring some hygge into our lives this Spring, and why hygge is scientifically a good thing.

Sources

Transcript

Welcome to Hang Your Hat.  This is episode 28.  The science of Springtime Hygge.

Hygge is an integral part of Danish living that is difficult to translate into English.  The concept encompasses many of the pleasures of everyday life, like spending time with friends or family, curling up with a good book, and enjoying good food by candlelight.  It is the feeling of being comfortable, at ease, and enjoying the moment.

If you have ever come home and took a moment to enjoy being in your own space, or walked into a coffee shop and felt unaccountably comfortable, then you have experienced Hygge.  It is sitting in your favorite chair and enjoying a cup of coffee, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your bare skin, and spending time with friends late into the night because you didn’t notice the time pass.

There is no English equivalent to Hygge the concept encompasses happiness, comfort, simplicity, kinship, and contentedness.  Here in the US,  Hygge is often translated as coziness, and I think that is why I think it is so often associated with winter here.  After all, what is cozier than cuddling under a blanket next to the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa while wearing some hand knit wool socks - in my opinion, nothing.  

It is this image of coziness that makes Hygge nearly irresistible in the winter.  If you noticed pictures of chunky knit blankets, candles, books, and large cups of coffee in your Instagram feed this winter and thought - I need to buy a candle next time I am at Target, then you know what I mean.  But here in Florida, where I live, we have cozy by the fireplace weather for about an hour and a half in January once a year.  The rest of the year, when the temperature is over 80 degrees and the humidity is nearing 100%, Heavy blankets and roaring fires seem much less appealing.  After sweating under some cozy blankets and swapping hot coffee for the iced variety this February I started wondering if this Hygge thing was really for me, or if I just lived too close to the equator for Hygge to work for me.

Then I came to an important, and obvious realization - Denmark isn’t always cold, they too have seasons, and Hygge is a part of Danish life all year, so, surely there must be some warm weather equivalent of blanket cuddling that doesn’t involve heat stroke.  

On today’s episode of Hang Your Hat I am exploring the ways that we can maintain the sense of Hygge even as the mercury rises, and why, scientifically, a Hygge home is a happy one.

 

After a long cold dreary winter, full of heavy blankets, thick curtains, and oppressive darkness, springtime is like a breath of fresh air, and enjoying the simple luxuries afforded by the change of the season is what Hygge is all about.

In the winter, creating a sense of Hygge in the home is all about creating a cozy cocoon into which we can retreat from the cold, but in the Spring the outside world is no longer something that we need to retreat from.  As the weather warms, take the time to enjoy the outdoors by bringing them inside.

Open the windows wide and let the fresh outdoor air in.  Not only is it a luxury to have a fresh breeze running through the house, unless you live in a really polluted area, it will probably improve your indoor air quality.  

Homes tend to be pretty airtight to protect against heat loss in the winter.  While that is great for your energy bill, it is not so great for your indoor air quality.  

During the winter we bring a lot of things into our home and do a lot of things into our homes that are bad for air quality,  like cozying up to a nice roaring fire and lighting a bunch of candles.   Unfortunately, the fireplace flue is unlikely to rid our homes of all the smoke produced by indoor fires.  The heating systems themselves can also add to indoor air pollution depending on the type - any that are relying on combustion to create heat are not going to be doing your air quality any favors.

Winter is also when we are likely to bring in decorations from the garage, attic, or basement, where it has been collecting dust and mold spores all year - also not great for indoor air quality.  

Even the furniture and textiles we buy so that our homes look great when we welcome friends and family for the holidays is libel to outgas chemicals that our lungs could do without.  

Opening the windows gives all of those pollutants an opportunity to escape, leaving the air inside cleaner.  So throw open the windows and enjoy a lungful of that sweet fresh air.

Plants are another great way to bring the outdoors inside, and they also clean indoor air.  

We are probably all familiar with a plants ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they can also clean the air in at least two other ways.  Like carbon dioxide plants can metabolize some toxins and release harmless byproducts.  They can also absorb toxins into their tissues sequestering them so they are no longer free in the environment.  We know this because in 1989 NASA did a study on the impacts that plants had on indoor air quality.   They were interested because the air quality in spaces with low indoor-outdoor air exchange - like space vessels - gets pretty bad pretty fast.  If NASA wanted to do long-term space habitation, they needed to find a solution.

Throughout several studies plants were found to be surprisingly good at removing toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and other volatile organic compounds.  Some of the plants that were found to be great at filtering air were already popular house plants, like Dracaena, English Ivy, and Snake Plant (also known as Sansevieria).  My favorite houseplant, pothos (also known as Devil’s Ivy) was also on the list.  Pothos is a wonderful houseplant because it requires very little light and even less care to thrive.  I currently have a neon variety growing quite happily in my windowless bathroom.

Plants may also offer psychological benefits.  Numerous scientific studies have shown that indoor plants are positively associated with a variety of beneficial psychological outcomes, such as reduced stress, improvements in reaction time and attentiveness, and increased productivity.  They were even associated with a reduction in the amount of perceived pain.  

Before you throughout all of your anxiety and pain medication in favor of houseplants, keep in mind that these are associations rather than causations, and additional research needs to be done so that other causes for improvement can be ruled out.

While you are opening the windows and setting plants on the sill be sure to throw the curtains wide as well.  Lots of natural light important for creating a sense of Hygge in the home, it is also great for our bodies and minds, especially after the long dark winter.

During the winter I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark and get few opportunities to spend time outside during the day.  Frankly, it's a bit depressing.  When the sky starts to lighten during my morning commute, I can almost feel happiness seeping back into me.  

That may be because scientists believe that levels of serotonin in the brain increases as the days get longer.  In other words, wintertime blues may actually be a product of too little light.  Severe cases are called Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.  Doctors recommend that people spend at least 30 minutes of a day out in the sunlight to combat this type of depression.

While you are out there you can also soak up some vitamin D, which is important for calcium absorption and bone growth.  Vitamin D can also help prevent certain cancers, heart disease, depression, and even weight gain.  While it is possible to take a vitamin D supplement for these benefits as well, it is unclear if supplements are as good for us as getting vitamin D from the sun.  Currently, there is an Australian study underway called the Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Supplementation Study that hopes to get the definitive answer, so keep an eye out on your favorite biomedical publication.

In episode 15 we discussed the impact of natural and artificial light on the production of melatonin and it impacts on a good night’s sleep.  The short story is if you want a really good night's sleep natural light is your friend.  

It is also your friend if you want to be more productive.  Besides just helping you be well rested, natural light was shown to improve standardized test score and even increase sales in studies.  I think part of that is simply feeling better in a space.  

One of the reasons that Scandinavian homes have that sense of serenity or Hygge is the lack of superfluous stuff.

In Episode 8:  Wax on Wax Off, I discussed some theories on the History of Spring Cleaning.  My favorite was that after a long winter with the house closed up and the fire going non stop that homes simply needed a good clean.  While we may not get quite as much physical dirt built up during the winter time as we once did, we do accumulate a lot of junk over the course and Spring remains a great time to clean all of that out.

While we change out thick blankets and heavy curtains for lighter ones to make way for the new season it seems natural to also make way for new beginnings in our lives by clearing out the clutter from the prior year.  Clutter can cause stress and feelings of guilt and can hold us back from moving forward in our lives.  

By clearing out the clutter and creating a home with a very hygge feel we may also get many other physical and psychological benefits.  In Episode 4:  One Resolution to Rule Them All, I investigated the impact that clutter had on our lives and the benefits of decluttering.  

A 2015 study published in the online supplement to the journal Sleep found that people that were at risk for hoarding had some big complaints about sleep.  Study participants were found to have high levels of sleep latency, sleep disturbances, and daytime disturbances, probably stemming from poor sleeping conditions.  

Decluttering may also make you happier, reduce stress, improve self-confidence, improve breathing in people with allergies and asthma, reduce your risk of injury,  make it easier to exercise and eat healthily, save you money, and even help you lose weight.  Listen to episode 4, if you havn't already to get the full details.  

 

When I began researching the topic of Hygge I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between hygee and self-care.  Hygge is not just about making your house look nice, it is about making you feel better while you are in it.  It is about fostering a sense of well being.

Just like drinking a cup of hot chocolate by the fire can make it seem like all is right in the world, springtime activities can also promote Hygge.  So this spring I would like to encourage you to have a picnic, drink a glass of ice cold lemonade by the pool, go star gazing or watch a sunrise, and spend time with the people you love.

I would love to find out how you create a sense of Hygge in your home as the temperature rises.  If you would like to share please love a comment on hangyourhatpodcast.com or email me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  

Hang Your Hat Podcast has recently become a member of Patreon.  If you would like to help support the show please consider becoming a patron by going to Patreon.com/hangyourhat  

If you are not up to becoming a patron but would still like to support the show please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just let a friend know about the show.

And as always, thanks for listening.

Episode 27: On the Road Again

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Whether you are traveling for Spring Break, Easter, or the Christmas Holidays, Hang Your Hat has you covered.  On this week's show, I interview world traveler Doctor Aaron Davis, and he share his favorite travel tips.

Pictures from the travels of Aaron Davis

You can see more from Aaron, including pictures from his upcoming trip to Europe and China on Instagram and Twitter, and on his webpage, hearthandseyes.com.

 Cook Islands

Cook Islands

 China

China

 Vietnam

Vietnam

 Tibet

Tibet

 Cuba

Cuba

Gear recommended by Aaron for your Next Trip

Note:  These are affiliate links.  That means that I get a small commision if you buy through these links, but it doesnt cost you any additional money.

Episode 26: The Future of Toilets

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Toilets in the US haven't changed much since the 1930's but change is on the horizon. Advancements in toilet technology will make us healthier, reduce the amount of time we spend cleaning, and even make deep space exploration possible.  Find out how on this week's episode of Hang Your Hat.  

Show Transcript:

Hi, I’m Amy, and this is Hang Your Hat, Episode 26:  The Future of toilets.

It was May 5th, 1961, and Alan Shepard, the first American in space was hovering 101.2 nautical miles above the Earth in his Mercury #7 space capsule, and he had a problem.  The problem started before the launch even occurred.  

The Mercury Redstone 3 mission was scheduled to launch at 7:20 that morning, but there was a lot of pre-work that had to be done before the launch, so Shepard was suited up and getting settled into the capsule by 5:15 that morning knowing that he would have to wait over two hours in the confining suit before he would reach for the stars.

At 7:05 the launch was held for another hour to let the cloud cover clear and fix a power supply.  Then it halted yet again to reboot a computer at the Goddard Space Flight Center.  By this time Shepard had been sitting in his suit for hours, and he needed to pee.

A couple of months prior to launch day, a student named Brenda Kemmerer had written to NASA asking where the first man in space would use the toilet, and Freeman Quimby from the Office of Life Science Programs at NASA wrote back that, "The first spaceman is not expected to have "to go'."  

That's right, NASA, who had a meticulously laid out launch plan, had done through testing, and had thought of numerous contingencies, had neglected to provide their astronaut a way to use the restroom. To be fair, this really wasn't a complete oversight on their part,  Shepard's mission was only expected to last about 15 minutes, and they had expected Shepard to be able to hold it that long.

But there Shepard was, sitting on the launch pad with no place to go and a desperate need to do so.

When Shepard notified the crew that he couldn't wait any longer and needed to be let out to use the facilities he was told no - it would take far too long.  So Sheppard went in his suit.  As the urine flowed through his suit it shorted out electrodes that were monitoring his heart and respiration and they had to be turned off - the launch wasn't delayed further to repair them.  Shepard was launched into space sitting in a puddle of his own urine.

As we look toward the future humans often look to the stars.  We have dreams of living on the moon or mars, or traveling the galaxy in spacecraft bravely exploring new worlds.  With the recent launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket that future seems closer than ever; however, part of that future vision is often overlooked, just as it was overlooked by NASA during that first flight, is how we will use the restroom.

In our last Episode, The Throne I explored the history of the toilet from the Neolithic period to today.  On today's episode, I am going to explore the future of the toilet, from ones that analyze your urine to detect diseases to ones that recycle urine into drinking water.  

Through the years the NASA space program has experimented with a lot different toilet technologies, some more successful than others.  After Shepard’s very wet first excursion into space, NASA did a bit more preparation for its second mission.  When Gus Grissom went up in the Mercury-Redstone 4 he was outfitted with two pairs of rubber pants that we wore simultaneously.  His urine was collected in a reservoir between the two layers of rubber.  It pretty much worked, but it was uncomfortable and it was a really good thing that his trip into space was too short for him to need to do more than urinate.

NASA’s next step was creating an external urine collection device or UCD.  It turns out that another US government agency, the CIA had already been working on these since 1955 for use on the U-2 spy plane, but they were not letting NASA in on the secret and NASA started from scratch.

BF Goodrich was the company making the space suits at the time so they created the first UCD prototype - it leaked.

NASA then hired James McBarron to take over the project.  Mc Barron turned to condoms for inspiration and made a condom like tube that would fit over the astronaut's genitalia and was attached to an external storage container on the other end.  McBarron’s device was used for the rest of the Mercury project.

The Apollo missions had long enough time in space that NASA had to address fecal outputs as well.  Their initial fecal collection unit consisted of a plastic bag with an adhesive ring that was used to adhere the bag to the bottom of the astronaut while they did their business after which it would be ripped off like a band-aid.  It was not popular among crew members.

Space toilets came into their own when the space shuttle went into action and female crew members were added to the ship’s rosters.

In the space shuttle a permanent toilet was affixed to the wall of the shuttle and crew members urinated into a funnel that directed urine with the help of air pressure - basically urine was sucked away and into a storage container with the help of something very similar to a household vacuum.  Fecal waste followed a similar path but astronauts used a tight fitting toilet seat rather than a funnel.  

Unfortunately, the tanks that housed the waste on the shuttle missions we not easily accessible and they couldn't be changed out mid-flight which limited mission duration.

The basic operation of the toilets on the international space station is very similar to the toilets on the shuttle missions, in that air pressure is still used to direct waste products from their initial collection points to storage containers, but due to the length of time that toilets are used on the ISS they are extremely accessible and allow for maintenance and their storage tanks can be changed out as needed.  Improvements have also been made in the consistency of air pressure and the contours of the toilet seats used on the ISS.

However, most recent development in space toilet technology is also the most important because it is one of the things that increases our ability to participate in deep space travel.  One of the biggest challenges in doing a deep space mission is bringing along all of the supplies that humans need to survive deep space - or really any space - food and water.  Water is especially problematic because it is really heavy, and the heavier a spaceship the more power it needs to get into space and the more expensive the mission becomes.

Back in 2009 astronauts on the international space station started doing something that significantly reduces the amount of water that we humans need to bring into space, recycling their urine.  Unlike Bear Grills, they used something called a Urine Processor Assembly to remove all of the gross-out of the urine and were able to reclaim about 75% of the water in their urine.

Since then additional improvements have been made.  In 2016 a chemical pretreatment called Alternate Urine Pretreatment (AUP) was added to the urine at the time of flushing.  This new treatment increases the amount of water that can be reclaimed from urine, and NASA believes that this new treatment could increase the recovery rate to as much as 90%.  

This new technology will significantly reduce the amount of water that astronauts need to take on deep space missions while simultaneously allowing for longer mission duration - bringing things like manned missions to Mars closer than they have ever been before.

Back here on Earth, the latest in toilet technology is all about comfort and convenience.  

Imagine this:

 It is the middle of the night and you have just been awoken by the persistent urgings of your bladder.  You reluctantly pull yourself from the warm embrace of your bed and stumble through the dark to your bathroom.  Your toilet notices your approach and emits a warm glow.  There is no need to turn on the light.  As you approach the toilet seat warms to your preferred temperature.  You do your business and then discover that the toilet paper roll is empty.  Not to worry.  The toilet extends a small wand that washes you with warm water and then warm air dries you.  You stumble back to bed, still half asleep, quickly fall back into dreamland.  In the morning the toilet reports the results of the analysis that it performed on last night’s deposit and recommends that you increase your water intake.

It seems like the stuff of a near future sci-fi flick, like the hoverboard from "Back To The Future".  However, unlike the hoverboard which still in multimillion-dollar prototype mode, toilets with features like these are actually available to buy and put in your home today.

For example, the Numi Toilet by Kohler, which is available for purchase right now has a night light, heated seat, bidet with temperature controlled water, and an air dryer, a deodorizer (which makes “poopourri” obsolete), music and feet warmers that are all controlled from a touchpad screen.

I live in a fairly small town but there is a store that sells them that is less than 60 miles away from my house, and I can order one from my local Home Depot.  If I wanted to shell out nearly $6000 for a toilet I could have one in my house tomorrow.

While toilets like these may not be that common yet here in the US, they are part of a growing market.  Companies that make toilets are hiring thousands of engineers to develop the latest in toilet technology.  The Japanese toilet manufacturer Toto alone employees 1,500 engineers that are working on toilet related technology.

All of that research is doing a lot to improve not only our bathroom experience but the way the toilet itself functions as well.

One of the big benefits of this new toilet technology is water conservation - despite the use of the bidet rather than toilet paper.

Currently, the national standard for toilet water usage is 1.6 gallons per flush, but these new toilets are moving down to 1 gallon per flush.  One of the reasons this is possible is that the bidets on the toilets make the use of toilet paper unnecessary.

Toilet paper is actually really hard on sewer lines, and the less water is used the more likely a sewer line is going to get plugged up by toilet paper.  So while toilet paper is in use, there is a limit on how low water usage can go.  When toilet paper is eliminated, much less water is necessary to flush the toilet.

You may be thinking that the savings in the volume of water used would be negated by the bidet’s use of water, but that is probably not the case.  The bidet actually doesn’t use that much water, and when you combine that with the fact that there is a lot of water used in the production of toilet paper, the net water used still seems to be less than the current average.

The advancement that I am looking most forward to having in my own home is smart cleaning technology.  If you look at the underside of your toilet bowl rim right now you will probably find a bunch of holes lining the underside of the rim.  These holes are where the water comes from that rinses the sides of the bowl when you flush.  You may have also noticed when you clean your toilet that these little holes like to get gunked up and clogged with mineral deposits and they are not very easy to clean.  New toilet technology is making those little holes obsolete.  

The Japanese company Toto is replacing those little holes with something they are calling the tornado flush - it consists of two jets of water that spin the water in the bowl at high speed removing the grime in the bowl.  One of their toilets also recognizes when you are about to take a seat and sprays a bit of water on the side of the bowl before you sit.  After studying the tribology coefficient of friction, which is basically the science of how surfaces interact, that found that things you might find in the toilet stick to porcelain when it is wet.  So that little spray of water keeps the bowl cleaner longer.

Toto also has a feature that electrolyzes the water at the end of the flush.  Water flows over anodized cathodes that pulls out dissolved salts like sodium and chlorine, creating a slightly acidic solution that will kill bacteria when it enters the bowl, keeping it cleaner, longer.  They have also added a “photo-catalytic” surface to the bowl.  When combined with the 220 wavelength ultraviolet light that is shined into the bowl once a day anything that is biodegradable in the bowl breaks down.

The American toilet manufacture American Standard is incorporating some of its new cleaning solutions into less expensive models. Granted these solutions are not as high tech as the Toto models, but there is something to be said about making them affordable for the masses.  For example, their “ActiClean” system has a separate flush that releases cleaning solution directly into the toilet’s tank.  My favorite of their innovations is actually their simplest.  If you have ever cleaned the exterior of a toilet you have probably noticed the mounting points and the impressions of the toilet tubes on the back of the toilet.  In my house, these areas of the toilet seem to get dirtier faster than any other area in my house.  It feels like I can clean them, put the cleaning supplies away, then immediately return to the bathroom and they are already gross again.  American standard is making toilets without these weird flat areas or grime grabbing curves.  Instead, some top their new toilets have a sleek cylinder base that goes pretty much straight from the base to the floor.  When I read about these my immediate thought was - why didn’t these already exist, in retrospect, it seems like a painfully obvious design choice.

The benefits of these new design elements and innovations are not always readily apparent to buyers, however, and that has been a major hurdle to their adoption here in the US.  Most Americans are not ready to trade in their toilet paper for a bidet regardless of how little water they use.  Combine that with the expense of a high end toilet multiplied by the number of toilets in a typical American household (2 as of the 2011 census), and you end up with a lot of money for a product that Americans are not sure they want to use.  In other words, high-end toilets are proving to be a pretty hard sell in the United States.

However, the expense may not be the biggest hurdle to adoption here in the US.  Smart toilets need the same things that all other smart devices need to run - electricity.  Bathrooms rarely have power outlets near their toilets so there is no place to plug them in, and with bathroom renovations being some of the priciest home renovations the influx of toilet power outlets will likely take some time. 

One important question remains, however; is all of this advancement in comforting toilet technology a good thing?  There is a growing body of research that shows that sitting upright on the toilet is actually damaging to our bodies and that the way our insides bend while we are sitting upright can lead to hemorrhoids and other gastrointestinal issues.

Some scientists now believe that we should go back to the way humans pooped for thousands of years - squatting.  Squatting allows the anorectal angle to straighten requiring less effort to evacuate the bowels.  You do not need to be left out of the fancy toilet technology revolution if you decide to squat though because capitalism has found a way to make squatting profitable.  You could add to your preexisting stupid or smart toilet a platform that makes squatting over the toilet possible, such as the "Lillipad platform", the "Nature’s Platform", or my favorite because of name strength, the "Squatty Potty Toilet Stool".  I wonder if they have realized that their choice of the name toilet stool is especially funny.

I will admit that when a listener requested a show on toilets I did not expect to make a two-part series on the topic.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the history of toilet technology and its use was actually a really interesting topic with a lot of depth.  That being said, I promise that today’s episode will be the last one on toilets - at least for a while.  If you have an idea for an upcoming show that you would like to share you can tell me about it on hangyourhatpodcast.com or you can email me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  

You may have heard in last week’s episode that Hang Your Hat Podcast has recently become a member of Patreon.  If you would like to help support the show please consider becoming a patron by going to Patreon.com/hangyourhat  When you become a Patreon subscriber you gain access to our member-only Patreon feed, which will include additional information that didn’t make it into the show, sneak peeks, and informal supplementary podcasts or vlog posts.  

If you are not up to becoming a patron but would still like to support the show please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just let a friend know about the show.

And as always, thanks for listening.

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Episode 25: The Throne

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What is the most important invention ever?  If you base your answer on the number of lives saved then it is the toilet.  Toilets have reduced disease, improved child mortality rates, and made it possible for humans to live in close quarters.  In this episode, I explore the long history of the toilet from Neolithic drainage to today's porcelain wonders.

Show Transcript and Pictorial History of the Flush toilet:

Click the pictures for links to articles with additional information.

Welcome to Hang Your Hat, I’m Amy, and this is Episode 25, the Throne

In this week’s episode, we are going to talk about one of the most important inventions in human history.  One that has reduced disease, improved child mortality rates, and made it possible for humans to live in close quarters.  Yet we rarely talk about it.  What is this magical invention?  The Lavatory, the Loo, the John, the Privy, the Latrine, the Bog, the Potty, the can, the toilet.

It may surprise you just how old the toilet is, but it turns out that even ancient peoples didn’t want to live in their own filth.  

 Excavation of the Skara Brae.  The toilet room is the opening in the upper right of the home.  It is thought to be one of the first examples of a toilet with a drainage system.

Excavation of the Skara Brae.  The toilet room is the opening in the upper right of the home.  It is thought to be one of the first examples of a toilet with a drainage system.

One of the earliest example of what we believe to be a toilet is from Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement in Scotland that dates back to about 3000 b.c.  And believe it or not, most toilet researchers think they had not only toilets but indoor toilets with built-in drainage systems. 

The Skara Brea settlement was discovered around 1850 and was remarkably well preserved.  When excavated archeologists found small rooms in the settlement’s dwellings that were connected to drainage chutes.  While they fell short of indoor plumbing with running water they were able to flush their toilets by pouring pots of water into what was essentially their sewer system.

Despite their early entry into toilet technology, by 1970, 1 in four Scots was still having to share an outdoor toilet, a problem that has been rectified for the most part today.

 Drainage at the Indus Valley city of Lothal.  It was incredibly advanced and efficient for the time.

Drainage at the Indus Valley city of Lothal.  It was incredibly advanced and efficient for the time.

The Indus Valley civilization which was in what is now western India and Pakistan was also an early entrant into the race for modern toilet technology, despite the regions current sanitation issues. 

The sanitation system used by the Indus Valley people was actually pretty similar to the system used at Skara Brea, in that they had indoor toilets that drained to the outside of the house, but the infrastructure was a lot more advanced.

Indus Valley homes had toilets that you could sit on and all of my sources described them as wet toilets, meaning that they held water.  The toilet drained out of the house through a clay brick pipe into a drain that was shared with other houses, like our modern sewer system.  From there the toilets would drain into cesspits, or be carried out of the city altogether.  The sewer system was publicly maintained and had man-hole covers and larger chambers to assist with its maintenance.  It really was a very modern sanitation system.

 Public Roman toilets were actually considered dangerous places, and shrines to the goddess Fortuna were often near toilets so that bathroom goers would be protected while doing their business.

Public Roman toilets were actually considered dangerous places, and shrines to the goddess Fortuna were often near toilets so that bathroom goers would be protected while doing their business.

However, the Roman Empire is often cited as the pinnacle of sanitation in the ancient world, because they had toilets that flushed - at least sort of flushed.

The first flushing toilet that we know about was made by Minoans on the island of Crete.  The oldest example we have is from the palace of Knossos, which dates back to around 1700 b.c.  However, at that time toilets were used only by the elite.

The Greeks made toilets, even the fancy flushing kind, available to the masses.  They made large publicly available latrine rooms, which basically consisted of a bunch of seats with holes suspended over a drainage system.  While private toilets in the home were not available to the lower classes, many middle-class homes had toilet facilities, although they usually weren’t the flushing variety.

It was the Romans however, that whole-heartedly adopted the use of the toilet.  They became part of Roman life, as ubiquitous as the Roman bath.

Roman public toilets were a lot like their Greek predecessors.  They were basically rooms lined with benches with holes in the top connected to a drainage system below.  Water would run through the drainage system cleaning away the waste.   

The running water was a result of the Roman aqueduct system.  I was surprised to find while researching that the aqueduct system carried both potable and non-potable water.  The potable water was of course used for drinking and cooking, the non-potable water was used for things like the Roman baths and the sanitation system.  One source even suggested that water from nearby baths was used to flush public toilets.  That is using resources wisely.

However, despite the apparent modernity of Roman sanitation, it really didn’t do that much to reduce disease.  One of the big reasons is that their toilets lacked a very important part of modern toilet technology, the “S” bend.

The S bend is basically an S-shaped piece of pipe that traps a bit of water when you flush.  That bit of water keeps things from coming back up the pipe and into your toilet, like flies and sewer gas.

Since the Roman toilets didn’t have an S bend they stank, and more importantly, they harbored flies.  Flies are a disease vector.  They transfer whatever they have been eating or standing on, like human feces, to whatever they eat or stand on next, like your food. 

Roman public toilets were dangerous in other ways too.  They harbored rats, roaches, snakes, and god knows what else.  Fortunately for the Romans, one of their gods did know what else.  Many Roman latrines have shrines to the goddess Fortuna.  She was thought to protect toilet users from illness causes demons and other bad things that could happen while using the toilet.

In addition, archeologists now don’t think that the Roman sewer system was nearly as vast or advanced as we used to believe, so the removal of waste may not have even been that effective.

After studying the remains of pathogens in archeological sites, scientists found that the prevalence of intestinal parasites like roundworm and whipworm didn’t decrease from the Bronze and Iron ages to the Roman period like they expected, they actually rose.  Despite all of the effort involved, Roman sanitation didn’t make its population any healthier than previous peoples.

 A castle garderobe.  Made famous by the Game of Thrones TV show.  It has a hole in the bottom to allow excrement to escape.

A castle garderobe.  Made famous by the Game of Thrones TV show.  It has a hole in the bottom to allow excrement to escape.

The dark ages in Europe saw a lot of scientific knowledge and technology that was common among the Romans lost to the mists of time, and toilet technology was no exception.

By the medieval period toilets for the masses consisted of a mixed bag of chamber pots, communal outhouses, and holes in the ground.  The elite had something altogether different, however, the garderobe.  A garderobe was usually a tiny room in a castle that protruded from the side of the building and was open at the bottom, allowing gravity to do the job of waste removal.  You may have even seen a garderobe because one was featured in a certain scene in Games of Thrones involving a crossbow and the use of a toilet.

 Christchurch Monastery Drainage Diagram 1167 a.d.  Unlike most castles at the time, Christchurch went to lengths to keep the sewage from contaiminating the site or water supply.

Christchurch Monastery Drainage Diagram 1167 a.d.  Unlike most castles at the time, Christchurch went to lengths to keep the sewage from contaiminating the site or water supply.

Most garderobes simply let the waste fall into a cesspit or the moat, or directly to the ground, but some castle dwellers must have thought that was pretty gross and used a drainage system.  Christchurch monastery was one of those.  They actually had a really elaborate drainage system that separated running water, drainage, and waste.

If you are wondering why garderobe sounds so much like wardrobe it is because it comes from the French words for guard, as in protect, and robe, meaning clothes and is what the modern term wardrobe comes from.  That is because clothes were often kept in the garderobe.  The ammonia smell in the room from all the urine was thought to protect clothes from fleas and other bugs by killing them  - which leads me to believe that that the smell of ammonia in the room must have been unbearable.  

 Harington's Flush toilet is the forerunner of modern flush toilets.

Harington's Flush toilet is the forerunner of modern flush toilets.

The forerunner to the modern flush toilet was finally invented in the 1590s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the 1st in England by Sir John Harington.  Harington was the Queen’s godson and a bit of a trouble-maker.  During the 1590s he invented a flush toilet with a mechanical valve to seal off the toilet and a tank of water to flush it - 2 of the basic components that make up a modern flush toilet.  He called it the Ajax - which was a riff of the slang word for the toilet at that time - a jakes.  It took 7.5 gallons of water to flush it - an extravagant amount at the time since this was still before modern plumbing.  It also flushed into a cesspool below the toilet, and since this was also before the invention of the “s” bend all the fumes from the pit wafted back up through the toilet into the house, making it - less than ideal.

Despite these obvious short-comings of the Ajax Queen Elizabeth herself is alleged had one installed.

Harington introduced the Ajax to the world in 1596 in a publication called, “A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax.”  While the book did detail the workings of the Ajax toilet and how to build one, it was also a discourse on obscenity and a thinly veiled critique of his peers - the members of the ruling class.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ajax was not widely adopted.

 Cumming's Design for the S bend finally made the modern flush toilet possible by keeping sewer gasses from escaping back up the pipe.

Cumming's Design for the S bend finally made the modern flush toilet possible by keeping sewer gasses from escaping back up the pipe.

Toilets finally became practical in 1775 when the inventor Alexander Cumming patented what is possibly the greatest contribution towards the modern toilet - the “S” bend pipe.

The problem that had plagued toilets prior to Cumming’s invention was the smell.  Sure you could flush away the excrement, but there was nothing stopping that stink from floating back up the pipe.  There needed to be a sealed barrier that would not let the gas pass back up the pipe, and Cumming came up with a surprisingly simple and elegant solution - bend the pipe.

A pipe with an S bend look a lot like an S lying on its side so one of the curved portions of the S is pointing toward the floor.  That part of the “S” captures a bit of water every time the toilet is flushed, and that trapped water acts as a barrier to the gas that tries to escape up the pipe, meaning that your toilet won’t smell like a sewer - at least as long as you clean it.

 Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, but he did popularize it.  His toilet design is the classic that is often seen in old movies and cartoons.

Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, but he did popularize it.  His toilet design is the classic that is often seen in old movies and cartoons.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the flush toilet went mainstream though, and it is thanks to a man named Thomas Crapper.  

First, let's get something out of the way - the word crap, meaning excrement, did not start with Thomas Crapper.  Crap had been in use since at least the time that crapper was in diapers and referred to the contents of diapers.  Crapper was just exceptionally well named for his eventual career.  

Crapper, also, I am sure it is obvious at this point did not invent the flush toilet, although he did patent several bathroom-related inventions, like the ball-cock.

Crapper is so well known for his contributions to the toilet because he was hired by England’s Prince Edward to install some of his toilets in several royal palaces, and because he displayed his toilets in showrooms, so when people needed a toilet they were already familiar with the Crapper name.

You are probably familiar with the Crapper toilet design because they are common in movies about the Victorian period and in a lot of old cartoons.  He mounted his water tank high up on the wall, with a pipe and pull cord leading down to the base of the toilet.

His design is still in production today.  If you want to buy one, his iconic design starts at 2209 pounds and can be bought at thomas-crapper.com

 The toilets that most people have in their houses today are not significantly different than the toilets available in the 1930's.

The toilets that most people have in their houses today are not significantly different than the toilets available in the 1930's.

Throughout the 20th century, there were no major improvements to the basic toilet design.  Between 1900 and 1910 the toilet’s wash down method was improved when siphon-jet models were introduced.  Those are the little holes on the underside of the toilet bowl that are so difficult to clean.  At the same time, high wall mounted tanks were replaced with low tanks, and the opulent and difficult to clean toilets of the Victorian era were replaced with the smooth white easy to clean surfaces that we know today.

The economic pressures of the 1930’s made new more affordable close coupled two piece models more popular, and these are basically the toilets we have in our homes today.  Toilets have changed in style over the years, but the only significant technological difference between the toilets that we have today and those of the 1930’s is the amount of water used - we now have low-flush and dual flush models that conserve water.

 Of course, there are some pretty cool futuristic toilets out there now that for the most part have not made it into people’s homes, but that’s a story for another time.

 

Today’s show topic was requested by a listener and turned out to be a much more interesting show topic than I had anticipated.  You can find pictures of all of the toilets I talked about in today’s show on the show notes at hangyourhatpodcast.com.  The early flush toilets are really pretty cool looking.

If you have an idea for a show topic you can let me know about it by leaving a comment on hangyouhatpodcast.com, or by emailing me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com

Hang Your Hat Podcast has just become a member of Patreon.  If you would like to help support the show please consider becoming a patron by going to Patreon.com/hangyourhat

If you are not up to becoming a patron buy would still like to support the show please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just let a friend know about the show.

And as always, thanks for listening.

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Episode 24: Santa Food

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Seventeen years ago the National Dairy Council put out a commercial about a little girl feeding Santa cheese instead of cookies.  Now, I have kids of my own, and we leave cookies for Santa every year, but I wonder if there is a better alternative, something Santa would like better than cookies and milk, like cheese.  On this episode of Hang Your Hat I explore the foods kids leave for Santa all around the world and hint, it isn't all cookies and milk.

Show Notes

I gave him cheese.

Watch the video that started me on the path to Santa food exploration.

Carlton Draught - Beer Chase

In Australia, kids leave Santa Beer, and there is a good chance that Carlton Draught is the beer Santa drinks most.  Check out their very funny commercial.

Traditional Mincemeat Pie

British kids leave Santa mincemeat pie on Christmas Eve.  Modern mincemeat rarely contains actual meat, but if you want to go super traditional and make your mincemeat out of actual meat, you can!  Saveur has a recipe for traditional mincemeat that is from Mrs. Beeton's original 1861 Book of Household Management.

Show Transcript:

Welcome to Hang Your Hat.  This is episode 24:  Santa Food

 In December 2000, here in the US, a Christmas commercial was released by the National Dairy Council.  In it, a little girl rushes to tell her parents that Santa has come and leads them out into the living room, which is packed full of over the top Christmas presents, like a car, ski mobile, and a pony.  The parents are of course in shock at the pure abundance left for them by Santa, and the dad remarks, “whoa, those must have been some cookies.”  The little girl responds, “I didn’t leave him cookies, I left him cheese.”

When I first saw this commercial, I thought, it was surprisingly good marketing by the National Dairy Council, and that Santa probably would appreciate some variety in the food left out for him on the big day.  I know that I would certainly get a bit tired of cookies and milk, after the 1 millionth serving.

At that time, 17 years ago, I had assumed that cookies and milk were universally served to Santa the world over.  I was, as you can probably guess, dead wrong on that front.  It turns out that, while Santa’s food offerings are pretty consistent within a single country - they tend to be pretty different from one country to the next.  Santa is left a wide variety of food and drink, some sweet and some savory, and some completely lactose-free - in case Santa’s digestive system can’t take more than a couple million gallons of milk.

On this Episode of Hang Your Hat I will be exploring what kids leave for Santa around the world, but, before we get into that I will discuss why we got started feeding Santa in the first place.  It is an ancient practice passed down through the generations, just good manners, or merely a bribe for better presents?  It turns out it is all of the above and a bit more.  

 

Like nearly all of the historical topics covered by Hang Your Hat, there is no definitive origin story for feeding Santa.  There are in fact many theories on how we got started feeding Santa, and there is probably some truth in several of them.

Humans started leaving sacred or supernatural beings, like Santa, gifts of food in exchange for blessings thousands of years ago, and this type of practice used to be common all around the world.  Since our earliest Santa stories come from Europe some think that the tradition of leaving food for Santa stems from winter solstice-themed pagan rituals in pre-Christian Europe, during which gifts of food were offered to the spirits of ancestors in exchange for a blessing.

 

The practice of leaving Santa and his reindeer treats also has a lot of parallels in Norse mythology.  Odin, the head honcho of the Norse gods would lead a big hunting party every winter during the Yuletide festivities.  He would ride his eight-legged horse Sleipner throughout the countryside with a raven perched on each shoulder.  Children would leave out treats for Odin’s horse, like carrots, and wine for Odin (since that is all he ate or drank) in the hope that Odin would stop by their house while he was out on his hunt and leave them presents in exchange for the food.

Odin’s horse must have been pretty good at traveling through the snowy north because Santa takes a page out of Odin’s book today and trades his reindeer in for horses when he is traveling in some of the Scandinavian countries.

St Nicholas, like Odin, was also known for traveling during the Christmas holidays.  Historically the Dutch would hold a feast in honor of St Nick on the night of December 6th, St. Nicholas Day.  Since the party would start too late for kids to attend, the kids would leave out food for Santa and his entourage, who had traveled a long way to get to the party.  The next morning the kids would wake to find that St. Nick had left them presents in place of the food. 

St. Nicholas day celebrations fell out of favor during the protestant reformation  - it was considered gaudy and extravagant and was discouraged by the church.  The Dutch people didn’t want to abandon their St. Nicholas day festivities entirely so they moved the party to the night of the 24th, and kids continued to leave food for Santa on Christmas eve.

Leaving food for St. Nick was not always about just being nice though.  The original St. Nicholas was born in Greece in 280 a.d. and was known as a defiant defender of church doctrine, that rewarded the good and punished the bad.   Food was occasionally left for mean St. Nick as a bribe.  Naughty kids left St. Nick a treat in the hope that they wouldn’t be punished by him.

Fortunately, Santa eventually morphed into the jolly fat man we know today who is much more likely to hand out treats than punishments (maybe all of the cookies sweetened him up).

One of the first references to leaving cookies for Santa here in the US is from the 1870’s and comes from a short story called Polly:  A before Christmas Story.  During the Victorian era, when this story was published it was customary to leave treats for visiting travelers and St Nick was no exception.  It was also the time when the concept of “childhood” really began to take hold.  Kid’s were encouraged to practice childhood rituals like leaving food for Santa and the food left for Santa was the food that was typically a treat for kids.

Surprisingly, this practice became even more common during the great depression.  Times were tough then, and parents wanted to make sure that their kid’s learned that when someone does something special for you it should be rewarded with a heartfelt thanks.  Leaving precious treats for Santa was a great way to say thanks for the presents that he brought.

 

Throughout the world, countries have their own special ways of thanking Santa for the presents that he brings.  Here are a few of the foods that Santa eats on his Christmas journey around the world: 

Australia

In Australia, kids might leave Santa some cookies and milk and some carrots for his reindeer, but Santa’s Christmas eve treat would not be complete without a cold beer.  Keep in mind that it is summer time in Australia when St. Nick comes to visit, so he needs something to help him cool down after climbing down the chimney in his snowsuit.

I couldn’t find any stats on the most popular beer brand to give Santa, but I was able to find some of the most popular beers in Australia, and it makes sense to leave Santa the kind of beer that you would have on hand.  So based on that, as of 2016, Santa was probably most likely to receive a Carlton draught during his trip down under, because it was the most popular beer in the country.

I had never heard of a Carlton draught, so I got curious and looked it up.  It is a pale draught lager, with an absolutely terrible rating on ratebeer.com and a pretty bad rating on beeradvocate.com; however, it does have really funny commercials.  There will be a link to one that is like a high-speed car chase but on foot holding beer in the show notes.

Sweden

Swedish kids give Santa, or Tomte the Scandinavian spirit of winter associated with Christmas, the most logical of all of the Christmas treats in my opinion - Coffee.  Santa is going full steam for 24 hours straight, and Santa magic can only go so far - the guy must be exhausted by the end of the night, and Swedish kids appreciate that and give him a little pick me up.

Denmark

In Denmark, Santa has to share his Christmas Eve treats with his elves, called the Nisser.  The Nisser remind me of the elf on a shelf.  In Denmark, they live in the attic watching over things for Santa and making trouble.

On Christmas, eve Kids leave Santa and the Nisser Risengrod, because if they don’t the Nisser will cause trouble. 

Risengrod is a special rice pudding that is a traditional part of the Christmas Eve dinner.   It is made with sugar, cinnamon, milk, and sometimes dried fruit.  To my American eyes, it looks a lot like a tasty bowl of oatmeal.

Germany

In Germany kids don’t leave Santa snacks – perhaps they are just as concerned about the big man’s blood sugar as I am – instead German kids leave Santa personalized letters, which Santa, of course, takes the time out to read. 

When the kids wake up on Christmas morning, their letters are gone, but Santa has left them presents in their place.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, Santa gets another break from the treats, and his horse (yes horse - not reindeer) gets all the love.  Kid’s leave Sinterklaas’ horse carrots, hay, and water, and in return, Sinterklaas leaves chocolate coins, mandarin oranges, and marzipan.

France

In France, Santa won’t be downing any glasses of milk, although he might get a glass of wine.   However, French kids tend to lavish their love on Santa’s reindeer, rather than the big guy himself though.  After a long trip all the way to France they are going to need some nourishment too after all.  French kids fill their shoes with carrots for the reindeer and find their shoes filled with toys and sweets the next morning.  So far the reindeer have not complained about their carrots smelling of feet.

Britain

In Britain, Santa is left a traditional British Christmas classic - mincemeat pies. 

Mincemeat is not something that we really have here in the US, so when most Americans hear the word mincemeat, they think meat, like steak, but modern mincemeat pies are not that likely to have meat in them.  They are usually filled with a mix of dried fruits and spices

If however, you want to give Santa a traditional mincemeat pie this Christmas so that he has some protein to sustain him through the night, you can make one. I will link to Ms. Beeton’s 1861 recipe from her book on household management.  Her recipe contains Beef Suet and rump steak.

Santa washes down his mincemeat pies with glasses of Sherry, which are sure to keep him warm and toasty during the cold Christmas night.

Ireland

In Ireland, Santa gets another big helping of mince pies, and maybe a Christmas pudding or two, but he isn’t likely to drink any sherry in Ireland.  Instead, he gets a nice pint of Guinness - that should hold him over while he makes the long trip across the Atlantic.

Argentina

Santa’s reindeer get one more chance to tank up before journey’s end when they get to Argentina.  Argentinian kids leave the reindeer hay and water.  Circumnavigating the globe while pulling a sleigh, Santa, Santa’s jelly belly, and enough presents for every nice child in the world is hard work, and the reindeer could use the calories.

  Chile

In Chile, Santa is known as Old Man Christmas, and kids leave a special treat for him on Christmas Eve, Pan de Pascua.  Pan de Pascua is a spice cake with a texture similar to sponge cake, sweetened with honey and filled with ginger and sometimes candied fruits or nuts. 

I can’t think of an equivalent cake here in the US, the closest comparison would probably be fruit cake, but Pan de Pascua is much lighter and fluffier than the dense, and usually gross fruit cakes we eat here in the US.  A better comparison would probably be Italian Panettone or German Stollen. 

Pan de Pascual looks delicious, and I bet Santa saves room for a few bites in all the homes in Chile.

US

Here in the US we thank, and possibly bribe Santa, by leaving him some nice sober protestant milk and cookies, which could get pretty boring after a couple of million homes.  Fortunately, variety is the spice of life and there is no standard type of cookie to feed Santa.  Popular Christmas time or really anytime cookies in the US include chocolate chip, sugar cookies, and snickerdoodles,  which are packed with cinnamon, as well as, gingerbread, peanut butter, shortbread, and oatmeal cookies, but the one cookie Santa is more likely to get in the US than any other are Oreos.  Oreos are sandwich cookies consisting of two chocolate wafers with a creamy substance of indeterminate origin stuffed between the wafers.  Oreos are the number 1 selling name brand cookie in the US with over 674 million dollars in sales in 2017 alone. 

 

So,  how many calories worth of Christmas delights does Santa eat every Christmas eve?  It is hard to know exactly because there is no database in which families report what they fed Santa or the caloric content of what he ate, but back in 2013, Delish did an article on the subject which used what I thought were some pretty reasonable assumptions about Santa’s cookie consumption.  They based their figures on Santa being served cookies and milk at the houses that left Santa food, which we know will not be the most accurate estimate since the food that he is served varies by country, but for the purposes of estimation, we will assume that the average caloric content per household evens out to about caloric content of cookies and milk.

Delish estimated that 1 billion Cookies or Cookies equivalents are left for Santa, and 500 million glasses of milk or milk equivalents are left for Santa each year.  If Santa takes 2 bites of each cookie and drinks most of his glass of milk then he consumes just under 40 billion calories each Christmas Eve.  Now if you take into account the fact that quite a few of the glasses of milk equivalent are alcoholic, and most of the food he is eating is very sugary, you can see that Santa is likely to have some health problems on the horizon, namely cirrhosis of the liver and diabetes.

When I asked my son, who is 10, how Santa stayed healthy despite eating more than 1000 elephants worth of sweets and 9 olympic swimming pools worth of milk and booze, he told me that Santa drinks magic juice when he gets home Christmas morning that restores his body.  I can’t really argue with that.

 

Thanks for for listening to Hang Your Hat.  I hope you enjoyed the show and learned a lot about Santa’s gluttony.  This Christmas, do your friends and family a favor and give them the gift of podcasts.  Teach someone special about how podcasts work, and share your favorites with them.

This will be the last show of 2017, but I will be back in the new year with some brand new topics that I am looking forward to sharing with you all.  If you have a question or topic you would like me to cover during the next year please let me know.  I would love to know what you all are interested in learning about.  You can get in touch with me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com or at hangyourhatpodcast.com

The Hang your Hat podcast is a production of gerwerkencrafts.com.  You can visit gerwerken crafts for diy inspiration, home décor, crafts, tutorials and more.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, and I hope you have a great New Year.

Sources:

Episode 23: Stuffing vs Dressing

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The basic Thanksgiving dinner is pretty consistent throughout the US - turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and sides, however, there are significant differences in the ingredients and cooking methods used throughout the different regions in the country.  Most of those differences live in peaceful harmony, but there is one dish that has prompted more dinner table debates than any other - stuffing, also known as dressing.

In this week's episode, we finally settle the debate.

As promised, how to fry a turkey without killing yourself from popular science, and in case you are not yet convinced that frying a turkey is dangerous, here is a video of a flaming Turkey from Tech Insider.

Show Transcript:

Welcome to Hang Your Hat.  This is Episode 23.  

Last year, right around this time, the very first episode of Hang Your Hat came out.  It was an in-depth look at the history or Thanksgiving, and while it is not as polished as some of my recent shows, I feel that it has a lot of great information on the holiday and is worth a listen.  This year I thought I would tackle a hard-hitting Thanksgiving issue, one that truly divides the nation - stuffing vs dressing.

 

The United States is a really big country.  If you compare the size of all the states put together, including Alaska and Hawaii, then you get a land mass that is nearly as big as all of Europe, and our biggest states are bigger than the largest countries in Europe.  While the US does not have quite the same rich cultural heritage dating back several thousands of years that make the countries of Europe so different, any time you have large physical distances and climatic differences between two places you will get some notable differences in the behavior and preferences of the people living in those dispirit places.  As a result, there are significant regional differences in the US, and one of the places that those differences are most obvious are in Thanksgiving food choices.  

The typical Thanksgiving meal consisting of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, along with a bunch of sides is pretty consistent across the US, but the preparation of each of these items varies between regions.

The Thanksgiving turkey is roasted by default, it is the traditional way of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey and can be found across the country, but in southern California where the weather is nice in November, you might find a grilled turkey.  In the areas known for Barbecue, like Kansas City and Texas, you might find smoked turkey, and in the 1920’s and 1930’s Louisiana and Kentucky pioneered the frying of a whole turkey - a method that has spread across the south.  On a side note frying a Turkey is the most dangerous way of cooking a turkey.  If done wrong you could find yourself with a 20-foot column of flaming aerosolized oil on your hands.  If you plan to fry a turkey this year make sure you know how.  Popular science wrote an article on the subject called “How to deep fry a turkey without killing yourself,” and I will link to it in the show notes.  Spoiler - in involves building a derrick over your fryer and slowly lowering the turkey into the fryer using a pulley system.

Gravy is another dish that divides us.  Everything from spicy red chili gravy in the south-west to turkey gravy featuring hard-boiled eggs in the south-east and our favorite side dishes vary wildly from state to state.  

A few years ago the New York Times figured out what each state’s favorite sides were based on Google search results, they found that in the Rockies people eat something called frog eye salad, which is a combination of pasta, fruit, eggs, whipped cream, and marshmallows and, I’m guessing must be an acquired taste.  In Texas, Mexican influences were apparent.  Sopapilla cheesecake was a favorite.  In my home state, Florida, our top choice of Flan de Calabaza showed the influence of our large Cuban population.  The most interesting and unusual favorite regional sides, in my opinion, were snicker salad, which was popular in the midwest, and Pig Pickin’ cake which was North Carolina’s favorite.  Despite its name, pig-pickin' cake contains no pig.  It is actually a white cake containing mandarin oranges and pineapple.  Its name is thought to come from the tradition of eating it at a pig-pickin' which is a southern barbecue where the entire pig is roasted and bits are picked off and eaten.

However, there is one Thanksgiving dish that divides our nation more than any other.  It is a baked, moist, starch-based dish, with additions like fruit, veggies, nuts, and meat that vary from one region to the next, based on the foods that are common or special to the region.  Where I live in the south-east it tends to be cornbread based.  The addition of sausages is pretty common here on the east coast, but in the northeast and gulf coast, you might see oysters rather than sausage.  On the west coast, especially in California, you are more likely to see it made from sourdough and apples, and in the pacific northwest, they add oysters, clams, and muscles.  The base used in the northern midwest is wild rice because it grows abundantly in the region, and in Pennsylvania, it will probably be mashed potato based due to the strong influence of the local Mennonite population.

You might have guessed by now that I am talking about stuffing, also known as dressing, or if you live in Pennsylvania, filling.  To some degree, what we call it is based on its cooking method - some argue that stuffing and dressing are the same dishes, with stuffing being cooked inside the turkey, and dressing being cooked outside it.  However, the distinction is also regional, and depending on what region you are from you are liking to call the dish the same thing no matter how it is cooked.  The deep south almost universally uses the term dressing to refer to this dish, and the northeast it is almost always stuffing regardless of how it is cooked.  The rest of the country is likely to use the word stuffing, but are more likely to differentiate based on cooking method.

Where did this distinction come from?  Well, it dates back more than 100 years and may be related to the history of the US in the mid to late 1800’s.

But let's start out with a quick look at how this dish got its start.

The idea of stuffing food inside other food and cooking it together is really old.  So old in fact that we really are not sure how far it dates back.  However, It is probably safe to say that humans did not go too long without figuring out that a hollowed out carcass makes a good substitute casserole dish.   

The earliest written reference to stuffing that I could find only dates back to about the 4th century AD.  There were several references to stuffing published in a Roman cookbook called Apicius, which was published around that time.  One of the recipes in the book recommends stuffing rabbit with a mixture of pepper, lovage, chicken livers, cooked brains, and finely cut meat.  But they would not have called this mixture stuffing - they probably would have used a version of the word fares which means to stuff.  This later evolved into farce around 1390, then farce meat, and then into forcemeat in 1688, a term that is still used in culinary circles today. 

The word dressing wasn’t used to describe this dish until 1850.  Up until that time, it was actually rarely used as a noun at all, it was primarily used as a verb that was roughly equivalent to preparing a dish.  When it was used as a noun it described something like a salad dressing rather than stuffing.  Then 1850 rolled around and Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book:  Designed as a supplement to her treatise on Domestic Economy book was published, and the great stuffing vs dressing debate was born.

In this book, she described a dish that sounds an awful lot like stuffing but she calls it dressing.

Here is a quote from the recipe To Roast a Fillet or Leg of Veal, “Make a dressing of chopped raw salt pork, salt, pepper, sweet herbs and bread crumbs, or use butter instead of pork. Stuff the openings in the meat with the dressing.”

There are a bunch of recipes in this book that use the word dressing in the same way, and this use of the word dressing increases in cookbooks into the 1870s.

What I think is interesting about this is that at this time dressing is cooked inside animals - there is no reference to cooking it on the side.  That didn’t happen until Lafcadio Hearn’s La Cuisine Creole, A Collection of Culinary Recipes from Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine in 1885.  But in his book, he refers to these dishes cooked outside the animal as stuffing.  So from the start, there has even been a clear distinction as to what is stuffing vs dressing is as far as cooking technique.

So why the switch to the word dressing?  Most of my sources seemed to think that it was due to Victorian sensibilities.  In an era when even table legs were covered up less they instigate impure thoughts, references to stuffing were just too vulgar to bear, and thus the more elegant and refined dressing was born.

So this Thanksgiving when someone mistakes Grandma’s prize-winning dressing for stuffing, remember, the difference between the dishes is only the name we use to describe them.

 

I found a fun fact while researching for the show, and I just had to share it.   Back in 1985 Herbert’s specialty meats in 

Louisiana was credited with the creation of the Turducken, which is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey and all roasted together like one giant mutant hybrid bird.  Well, it turns out, that their creation was not a novel one.  We have a history of stuffing one animal inside another and cooking them that dates back to the Roman era.  One recipe from that period involved stuffing a chicken inside a duck, then the duck inside a goose, then the goose inside a pig, then the pig inside a cow, and cooking the whole thing together.

However, the Roman recipe does not hold a candle to  Reyniere’s 1807 Roast without equal which has a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan bunting and a garden warbler.  That is 17 birds.

Westerners were not the only ones stuffing multiple animals inside each other, however.  The book Passion India recounts a dish served by Maharajah Ganga Singh in the late 1800s that involved putting a sparrow inside a quail inside a grouse inside a chicken inside a turkey inside a goat inside a camel - and then putting the camel and it’s companions in a hole in the ground and roasting it.

Now that the Herberts have rekindled the tradition, I wonder what will be shoved inside what and cooked next.

 

Thanks for listening to Hang Your Hat and supporting the show over this past year.  I would be incredibly grateful this Thanksgiving if you were to share Hang Your Hat with someone you think would enjoy the show.

If you have a question or topic you would like me to cover during the next year please let me know.  I would love to know what you all are interested in learning about.  You can get in touch with me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com or at hangyourhatpodcast.com

The Hang your Hat podcast is a production of gerwerkencrafts.com.  You can visit gerwerken crafts for diy inspiration, home décor, crafts, tutorials and more.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Sources:

Episode 22: The Tale of Stingy Jack

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No Halloween display is complete without a grinning Jack-o-lantern, but the Jack-o-lantern's origin story is not a happy tale.  It is a tale of deceit and trickery and a murderous wondering soul.  This week's episode is a modern retelling of the tale of Stingy Jack, the man behind the Jack-o-lantern.

Sources:

Show Transcript:

Welcome to the Hang Your Hat Halloween Special.  This is Episode 22, the Tale of Stingy Jack.

Today’s episode is not the typical episode of Hang Your Hat, so if this is your first time listening, please check out some of the other episodes to get a better idea of what the show is typically like.  

I also want to give a content warning for today’s show.  The typical episode of Hang Your Hat would receive a solid ‘G’ rating, but today’s show is closer to PG territory.  There is no swearing, but there are several references to where the Devil comes from, alcohol, and some modern slang, that you might not want your 5-year-old repeating- so please use discretion.  

Without further ado, the tale of Stingy Jack;

A long time ago in Ireland, lived a man named Stingy Jack.  Stingy Jack was a blacksmith, but that is not what he was known for.  He was known for being alying, cheating cheapskate,  a drunkard, and a thief,  a trickster, a deceiver and a manipulator, but one with a golden tongue. It was said he could talk anyone into anything - even people that knew better, and his reputation was known far and wide.

Jack was so infamous that his deeds were even talked about in Hell, and one day the Devil overheard these stories.  People were saying that Jack’s dastardly deeds were even worse than the Devil’s,  and the Devil was incensed and possibly a bit jealous.  He was not about to be outdone by a drunken Irishman.  So the Devil decided to meet Stingy Jack, and find out for himself if Jack could live up to his bad reputation.

One night, while Jack was stumbling around the countryside, drunk, but still on his way to the pub, he came across a corpse.  Jack liked corpses because they rarely complained when he stole from them, so he went to investigate the body.  What he found was the Devil.

Jack realized that he was done for - this was the end.  The Devil had finally come to take his soul to Hell.  To stall for time, Jack did the only thing he could think of and asked the Devil to join him for one final drink at the pub.  The Devil, who I can only assume didn't get invited to drinks very often, agreed to join Jack in the pub for one final drink.

Jack and the Devil spent the rest of the night in the pub together, drinking the place dry, and doing whatever other horrible things they could think of, but eventually, the bill came, and Jack, who was called Stingy Jack for a reason, wouldn’tcough up the money for the bill.  Instead, Jack demanded that the Devil pay.

The Devil, apparently unable to hold his liquor, agreed to pay, however, he wasn’t carrying any cash, and the bar wouldn’t take a check - with him being the Devil and checks not existing and all.  So Jack came up with a plan.  The Devil would turn himself into a silver coin that Jack would use to pay the bill, and then once the bill was paid he could turn back into the Devil, and they could get away without really paying the bill and cheating the bartender.

The Devil, who was super drunk, thought that this was a great evil plan, and quickly turned himself into a silver coin.  However, Jack had no intention of paying the bar tab.  He grabbed the coin and stuck it into his pocket, next to his crucifix, trapping the Devil.

The Devil, who again, was SUPER drunk, was like “Dude, you got me.  That’s pretty funny.  Can you let me out now?”

And Jack, who was way more devious than drunk Devil realized, and a lot better at holding his liquor responded, “Not a chance, sucker!”

The Devil, who was finally started to realize that he was screwed was like, “Dude, really, this isn’t funny anymore.  Let me out.”

Jack ignored the Devil’s pleas until the Devil finally seemed ready to make a deal.  Jack said, “Look, Devil, I will let you out if you leave me alone for 10 years.  No harassing me, and definitely no coming for my soul.  Do we have a deal.”

The Devil, who was by this time very sober and angry, reluctantly agreed to the deal.  

10 years to the day later the Devil came looking for Jack, and this time he was not about to let Jack trick him, he was going to go straight for the soul, none of this coin nonsense again.  But before the Devil can drag Jack into Hell, Jack says, “Wait, wait.  Hell, I am really super hungry.  I haven’t eaten ALL day, and I am sure the trip down to Hell is a really long one, so could we stop for a bite to eat first.  I promise I will go quietly as soon as I get something to eat.”

“We are NOT going to another pub,”  the Devil responds, “I learned my lesson last time, and you are not going to get me drunk so you can trick me again.”

“No, no,”  Jack responds, “Nothing like that.  Look, there is an apple tree right up the road, if you could just climb up the tree and grab me an apple we’ll call it good, and I will go back to Hell with you.”

The Devil, showing a surprising amount of hospitality for, you know, the Devil, says, “Sure, I will grab you an apple, but that's it.  After that straight to Hell.”

So instead of grabbing a low lying apple from the bottom of the tree, the Devil shimmies up the apple tree, looking for a really great apple for Jack.  He is like, “Hey Jack, how does this one look?  No?  Alright, what about this one.”  He had climbed up to the top of the tree before realizing that Jack was doing something funny with the trunk.  “Hey Jack,” he says, “what are you doing to the trunk down there?”

“Oh this... not much, just carving some crosses in the trunk,”  Jack responds as he finishes the last cross, once again trapping the Devil.

The Devil knew that he had been tricked by Stingy Jack once again and that if word got out that he had been trapped up a tree like a cat by a fast-talking Irishmen that he would be the laughing stalk of Hell.  So when Jack offered a deal to let him down, the Devil was quick to take him up on the offer.  

The Devil is made to promise that he will never take Jack’s soul to Hell, in exchange for the Devil’s freedom.  The Devil leaves, a bit Chagrinned, and Jack is left to live out the rest of his days as a drunken dirty cheat without the Devil’s involvement.

Several years later, Jack takes his last drink, keels over on the ground, and dies.  His soul heads straight for Heaven where he waits to enter the pearly gates.

“Hey, St Peter, what are you waiting on?”  Jack asks, “Open that gate for me.”  

“Are you serious?”  St Peter replies.

“Well, yeah, why wouldn’t you let me in?”  says Jack

“Oh my God this is so funny.”  St Peter laughs, “hey angles, come get a load of this.  Stingy Jack here thinks I am going to let him into heaven.” 

After the laughter dies down, Jack, who is incensed at this point, says “dude, really, why won’t you let me in.  I am the life of the party.  I could really liven things up in there.”

“Well, you have spent your life lying, cheating, stealing, and tricking.  Not even the Devil likes you, and he normally likes guys like you.  You are awful.  You might as well give up and leave because you are never getting in here.”  St Peter responds.

“Where am I supposed to go?”  Jack complains.

“I don’t know - Hell I guess.” St Peter says, “Maybe the Devil will take you in despite everything that you have done to him.

So Jack heads down to Hell and knocks on the Devil’s door.  

“What do you want,” the Devil asks as he finds Jack standing outside his door.

“Well, I'm dead now, and St Peter won’t let me into heaven, so I was wondering if you would let me into Hell.”

“Are you serious?”  the Devil responds, “hey, demons, come check this out.  Stingy Jack here thinks I am going to let him into Hell.  Not a chance dude - for one, I promised you that I wouldn’t let you in, and while I know that I am not known for keeping promises, this is one I plan to keep.  And for two- there is no way in Hell I am going to spend eternity with you.’” the Devil yells over his shoulder walking away from the door as it closes behind him.

“Wait, wait.”  Jack yells after him, jamming his foot in the door before it can close, “It is really dark and windy out here.  Can you at least give me a lantern or something to light the way?”

“Fine, if it will make you go away,”  the Devil grumbles walking back to the door.  “Here, an ember from Hell to light your way.  Now go away.”

Jack pulls a hollowed out turnip from his pocket, because who doesn’t carry a hallowed up turnip with them wherever they go just in case the Devil gives you an ember from Hell to carry around for eternity, and places the ember in the turnip to use as a lantern to light the way.

Since that day, Jack has been doomed to roam the Earth for eternity, never to find a place of rest with only his turnip to light the way.  That, however, has not stopped Jack from playing tricks.  In Ireland, the ghost lights over swamps that lure people to their deaths are sometimes known as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O’Lantern.  It is said that by killing people Jack hopes to meet the Devil again.

How can you save yourself from Jack and his murderous ways?  By carving your own vegetable lantern of course - scary faces are a bonus.  

The original Jack O Lanterns were carved from turnips, beets, and potatoes, and are truly terrifying - seriously, do an image search if you have no desire to sleep.

Jack o lanterns were not made from pumpkins until the Irish immigrated to the New World and found that pumpkins were far easier to carve and less likely to give children nightmares, and they became a standard seasonal decoration toward the end of the 19th century, finally gaining full acceptance when in 1892 to mayor of Atlanta had a Halloween party decorated with the ubiquitous pumpkin Jack O’lantern we know and love today.

So this year, as you decorate your home for Halloween, don’t forget to put out a Jack O’lantern, lest your family members are lured to their deaths by a murderous spirit doomed to wander the Earth for eternity.

Thank You for Listening.  I hope you enjoyed the show.  The legend of Stingy Jack is an old one.  While I had trouble finding the exact date that it was originally told it is a least several hundred years old.  You may have noticed that the version I told was modernized and embellished, just a bit.  If you want to read the original version, I will be linking to several sources I used in the show notes.

I will be back in two weeks with another episode.  If you would like to get in touch in the meantime you can email hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com or leave a comment on the website, hangyourhatpodcast.com.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram as Gerwerken.

The Hang Your Hat podcast is a production of Gerwerken crafts.

Today’s Music was by Kai Engel.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Episode 21: Read 'em and Weep

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One of the best things to do in the world is cozying up to a big book for some marathon reading, but a bad reading spot can spoil the day.  On this episode of Hang Your Hat learn how to create a reading spot that is perfectly suited to you.

Creating the Perfect Reading Spot

(Listen to the show for additional information about creating the perfect reading spot.

Reading Chair

  • Upholstered:  Good Fabric choices are velvet, twill, cotton, linen, leather, soft indoor/outdoor fabric
  • Seat Cushion:  1.5 to 2 inches thick with compressible top layer and firm bottom layer
  • Seat Back Height:  Tall enough to support trunk and head (36 inches will work for most people)
  • Seat Back Angle:  100 to 110 degrees, or quite reclined
  • Seat Depth:  Depth at which the seated person’s knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, the feet conformably reach the floor, and the body is supported by the chair back
  • Seat Width:  At least wide enough for the seated person to sit comfortably with a few inches to spare.  Seats that are considerably wider than the seated person may be desirable and do not detract from the seat’s comfort.  
  • Leg Height:  Height at which the seated person’s knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and the feet rest comfortably on the floor.  Ottomans can compensate for imperfect leg height.
  • Arm Rests:  Cushioned, do not impact elbows

Reading Light

  • Ambient Light:  The room at large should be well light to reduce eye fatigue.
  • Task Light:  Somewhat diffuse, but focused primarily on the reading material.
  • Task Light Brightness:  Will vary by age.  At least 450 lumens is recommended for children.  The brightness needed to read comfortably will increase with age.  An adjustable bulb is recommended.
  • Task light shade:  Translucent Shade.  Good shade materials include silk, linen, and parchment.
  • Task Light Positioning:  Slightly behind and to the side of the reader just above eye level.

Nice Additions to your Reading Area

  • Side Table:  For holding snacks and a drink
  • Blankets and/or pillows:  To increase the cozy factor
  • Rug:  To differentiate the reading area as it’s own special space
  • Book Storage:  A basket or bookshelf to hold additional reading material.

Music:

Sources:

Episode 20: Wonderwall

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Wallpaper used to be a lot more like regular paper than the easy clean scrubbable stuff we know today, and in the industrial era, it got really dirty.  It turns out that the beloved kid's toy Play-doh was originally made as a wallpaper cleaner.  In this episode learn about Play-doh's long journey from cleaning supply to worldwide toy sensation.

Episode 20 is is a bit shorter than the typical Episode of Hang Your Hat, and covers only one topic (most shows cover 3 or more related topics).  Why the change?  Between my full-time job, kids and wanting to have a life, I am finding it hard to find enough time to do as much research for the show as I would like.  So this week I am experimenting with a shorter show format.  If you have an opinion on the length of the show or its frequency, I would like to know about it.  Please fill out the survey below.

Episode Length Survey *
Episode Length Survey
My typical show length is getting to be a bit too much for me to produce as often as I currently do. I am trying to find a balance between show length and frequency that would fit within my schedule and will meet the needs of my listeners. I would appreciate your input.
I Prefer Longer Episodes Less Often
I Prefer Shorter Episodes More Often

Episode 19: Meet me on the Equinox

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It is time to officially make the transition to fall, and that starts with the Equinox.  In this week's episode we will explore what the equinox is and how it occurs, ways to celebrate the equinox, including several variations on harvest festivals, and how your work in the garden is not over even when the harvest is done.

If you want to learn more about the movement of the Earth, check out this video from Vsauce:  https://youtu.be/IJhgZBn-LHg

 

Sources:

Episode 18: The Plan

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Work, clubs, sporting events, parent teacher meetings, doctor’s appointments, sometimes there is so much family business to keep track of it is a wonder we remember any of it.

In this episode I am going to discuss some of the ways I have found that help me keep track of everything that is going on in my life, and why you are better off doing one thing at a time despite the pressure to multitask. 

This Week's Music is By:

  • Broke For Free
  • Andy G. Cohen
  • Blank Ant
  • Jahzzar
  • Jason Shaw

You can Find it for Free on freemusicarchive.org

Sources:

Episode 17: See You In September

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It is time to head back to school, but why now, as opposed to any other time of the year?  In this episode, I explore why kids go back to school in the fall (hint:  it probably isn't what you think), the US educational system, ways to ease the transition back to school and the oldest educational institutional institutions in the world.

Episode 16: Staycation

School will be back in session soon, but there is still time to squeeze in one more vacation this summer.  Whether or not there is money in the budget to take that vacation is another story, however.  If you need a break, but don’t have the funds to travel, there is an alternative - the staycation.

On today’s episode, my husband and I are discussing the advantages and disadvantages of staycations, as well as some ideas to make your next staycation to best one yet.

 

Music for Episode 16 was by Andy G. Cohen and Doctor and can be found on the Free Music Archive.

 

Stay tuned this week for updates from my staycation!

Episode 15: The Sun is Gone, but I Have a Light

Light.  It is one of those things that we tend to take for granted until it isn’t available, and then, stumbling around in the dark, the value of light becomes all too clear.  Humans have been figuring out better ways to light our homes for hundreds of years, but in the last 200 years lighting technology has truly advanced, and it all started with the creation of the electric light.

This fortnight's show discusses the history and future of the electric light, the world's oldest working light bulb, Lumens, color temperature, and the coolest lighting event that is going to happen in North America this year, the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

Featured in the Show:

The World's Oldest Working Light Bulb

 The Centennial Bulb,  Credit:  Centennialbulb.org

The Centennial Bulb,  Credit:  Centennialbulb.org

 The total solar eclipse of 2017's path of totality, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.  Credit: Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

The total solar eclipse of 2017's path of totality, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.  Credit: Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

Episode 14: Propane and Propane Accessories

It’s summer, and nothing says summer quite like a backyard cookout filled with good friends and grilled food.  In this episode find out about how back yard grilling got its start, why lovers of grilled food should appreciate harbor buoys, and why the charcoal we put in our grills probably isn’t charcoal.  I will also discuss some of the pros and cons of different types of grills, and some vegetarian options for your next cookout.

Episode 13: There's a Storm Coming

The Atlantic Hurricane season started a few days ago, and this year is predicted to be bad, but disasters, whether natural or man made can strike at any time.  In this episode my husband and I discuss the CDC's disaster preparation recommendations, and add a few recommendations of our own.

Emergency Preparation Websites:

A few of the Emergency Preparation Items we recommend (contains affiliate links):

 

 

Episode 12: The War on Bugs

Episode 11: It Really Tied the Room Together.

Do you know how big your living room rug should be, or which rug material is the most stain resistant?  What about how the technique used to construct a rug can impact it's durability?  This week's episode is all about rugs,  and in it I answer these questions and more, to help you make an informed decision when buying your next rug.  

This week's music is by Kai Engel, and can be found at the free music archive:  http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kai_Engel/

Sources: