Episode 25: The Throne

HYH EP25.jpg

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.


Episode 24: Santa Food

HYH Ep 24 rectangle.jpg

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: 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Episode 23: Stuffing vs Dressing

HYH Ep 23 Wide.jpg

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.


Episode 22: The Tale of Stingy Jack

HYH ep 22.jpg

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.


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

HYH Ep 21.jpg

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.



Episode 20: Wonderwall

HYH Ep20.jpg

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

HYH Ep19.jpg

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



Episode 18: The Plan

HYH EP 18 v1.jpg

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


Episode 17: See You In September

HYH Ep 17.jpg

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/


Episode 10: Easter Eggs

HYH Episode 10

What do the ice bucket challenge, cavorting with the devil, murder, and a burning effigy of Judas have in common?  Easter!  In this fortnight's episode I am counting down 10 of the world's most unusual Easter traditions.  Some are weird, some are wonderful, and some will leave you asking your self what could they possibly be thinking.

Show Notes:

Here are photos or videos of the traditions mentioned in the show.  

France:  Easter Bells

Sweden:  Easter Witch

Norway:  Murder Mystery

USA:  Egg Knocking

Czech Republic and Slovakia:  Whipping

Poland: Dyngas Day (Wet Monday)

Italy:  The Explosion of the Cart


Pot Throwing:

Giant Bonfire:

Rocket War:

Spain:  Easter Procession

(no, they are not associated with the Klan)

Philippians:  Crucification 


Episode 9: Smells Like... Teen Spirit?

Episode 8: Wax On, Wax Off

Has the coming of spring left you with an inexplicable urge to clean and organize?  In this episode of Hang Your Hat I will give you some insight on why that might be, and what you should do about it.  I also talk about how not to kill yourself with cleaning supplies, and a couple of the more helpful cleaning hacks I found during my research for the show.



Update 10/20/2017:

Since creating this show Smartvacuums.co.uk published a great article on pet hair removal.  They go into detail on the removal of pet hair from multiple surfaces both inside and outside the home.  If you have a pet hair problem and are in need of a solution you should check it out.


Episode 7: How's the Kullen Coming Along?

It is time for another Episode of Hang Your Hat and this time I am taking on the Furniture giant Ikea.  In this episode, I dig a bit into the history of the furniture mega store, divulge some of it’s dark secrets, and discuss why, despite it’s failings, I still love the store.  I will also review it’s new and much lauded 2017 PS line, and talk about a recent accolade that we should all be excited about.

Show Notes:

See the Better Shelter in Action:  http://www.bettershelter.org/better-shelter-awarded-beazley-design-of-the-year/

Learn More about How Natural Light Can Reset Your Sleep Cycle:  http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)31522-6


Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Hang your Hat:  Ideas that are Close to Home.

This is Episode 7:  How's the Kullen coming along?

Of all the multi national, tax evading, global conglomerates that dominate a single industry and use a mind boggling amount of natural resources to do it, Ikea is my favorite.

In this episode, I dig a bit into the history of the furniture mega store, divulge some of it’s dark secrets, and discuss why, despite it’s failings, I still love the store.  I will also review it’s new and much lauded 2017 PS line, and talk about a recent accolade that we should all be excited about.

Since this episode is full of swedish words and names, and I do not speak Swedish, I want to apologize in advance for my atrocious pronunciation.  Believe it or not, I am trying my best to get it right.

Ikea PS 2017 Review

For the first time since 2014 Ikea has come out with a new PS collection.  21 designers collaborated with Ikea to make 60 new products, ranging from furniture to drink mixes.  According to Ikea this new line was made for the “fiercely independent” who “give convention a wedgie.”  That is actual copy from their website - give convention a wedgie.  I think it is pretty clear that they are targeting millennials, particularly those that are living in transient or shared conditions.  As a result, most of the furniture is small and foldable, and looks pretty unconventional.  

For example the collection has a love seat that is made from two strapped together corner seats constructed from a metal grid covered with 36 pillows.  It looks like metal outdoor furniture covered in an angry pointy cloud.  I think it is safe to say that I am not a fan of this particular piece of furniture, but I can see how it might be really great for people that move a lot.  The fact that it can be separated into two smaller pieces means that it could fit in multiple home layouts, including ones that don’t have enough room for a love seat.  The metal frame is durable enough to survive several moves, and looks like it would be a lot lighter weight than a traditional wood and upolestry love seat, and the fact that it can be broken into pieces makes it easier for a single person to move, and easier to carryupstairs or fit through narrow doorways.  Even though I am not a fan of this piece, it is a really good design for the target audience.

There is also a chair that is covered in a mesh fabric that I am a fan of, it looks fantastic.  The chair has a metal frame and wooden seat with the mesh fabric, that forms the body of the chair stretched over the frame.  The chair is mostly a horse shoe shape, that is a bit squeezed in on the sides for the arm rests.  It also has araised back that sort of flows into the sides.  My overall impression of it, is that it looks like a really comfortable, inexpensive office guest chair.  It also comes in a pretty plum color, or a soft grey.

I am also a fan of the collection’s rocking chair.  It is shaped like half a sphere suspended on rockers.  Firebeard said it looks like one of the wheeled standup chairs the kids had before they could walk, and it kind of does, but I still kind of like it.  It looks like it might be a great place to cuddle up to read a book, or plot an evil scheme - it looks like it might be a good super villain lounger too.

There are a couple of things in the collection that I think are just duds.  The coffee table looks like a short folding TV tray made from metal.  It is at best the size of a side table.  If they had called it a side table, I might have been able to get behind the design, but as a coffee table, it really misses the mark for me.

They also have a USB powered flash light in a cage, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.  I think the idea is that it is a lamp that can be powered by your laptop or a car charger, so you don’t need to be in a house to use it, but it just seems like a flashlight with portability issues.

My absolute favorite from the collection is a 3 in one self watering plant pot set.  It is a 3 piece set that consists of a metal plant stand, an off white water proof outer pot, and an unglazed terra-cotta inner pot.  The metal plant stand cradles the outer pot so that it is suspended above the floor which looks quite nice and keeps your floors from being ruined.  The outer pot acts as a water resivoir.  You fill it up from a hole on the side, and the inner pot slowly sucks up the water keeping the plant moist.  I love this thing.  It is attractive, useful, practical.  After my next trip to Ikea my house will be filled with them.

The collection has a lot of other really great pieces and several not so great pieces, that I plan to cover in detail on the blog.  For now I’m just going to mention a few.  There is a very pretty emerald green knit throw with a wavy texture, some smokey glass vases that would work with a lot of different decorating styles, a room divider that would be great to make a private space for guests when you don’t have a guest bedroom, some travel mugs with a really interesting shape, and a truly bizarre lounging blanket that looks a bit like a quilted vest made for someone 7 or 8 feet tall.

Another quick mention, around the same time that the PS collection came out Ikea also released a bicycle.  It is belt driven rather than chain driven, which according to ikea makes it easier for novicesto work on, and it comes with quick attachment points that make it easy to add on some of their accessories like a pull behind trailer and panners, which are like square bags that fit next to the back wheels.  It also comes with a 25 year warranty.  I am a tiny bit of a bike snob, so I am reserving judgement on this one until I see it in person.  I have doubts that the belt drive will really work that well, especially under a load, but I hope that I am wrong and that this is a good inexpensive transportation option.  


Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was born in Smaland Sweden in 1926, and seems to have become a business man at the point of exiting the womb.  At 5, he was already buying matches in bulk and selling them to his neighbors at discounted prices, and by 7 he had expanded into other markets - nearby towns selling things like Christmas cards and pencils.

Kampradstarted IKEA in 1943, at the age of 17 using money that his father had given him for doing well in school, despite his dyslexia.  Initially the company sold things like pens, picture frames, and watches at reduced prices, but in 1948 he expanded the line to include furniture produced by local manufactures.

By 1951 IKEA was already producing the IKEA catalogue, much like the Ikea catalogue we know today, and in 1953 the first IKEA furniture showroom was opened.  The showroom was a response to a price war with an Ikea competitor.  Since people could see the quality of the Ikea products in the showroom, buyers could make their furniture choice based on both cost and quality rather than just cost alone.  This proved to be a good move for Ikea, and their sales continued to grow.

Ikea began the move to manufacturing their own flat pack furniturein 1956, after Competitors encouraged furniture suppliers to boycott Ikea.  In my opinion, this is when Ikea as we know it today was really born.  Soon after, in 1958, the first IKEA store, like the Ikea stores we know now was opened in Almhult Sweden.  

The ikea brand really took off from there.  The first IKEA restaurant was opened in 1960, and the first store outside of Sweden was opened in 1963.   Ikea finally reached US markets in 1985.  

Ikea has actually been fairly slow to expand.  They seem to want to get things right the first time, and are willing to slow their expansion to do it.  For example, it took 6 years to open it’s first store in south Korea.  Their strategy seems to work though, when they expand they do it right, selling a mass produced product internationally, while still somehow catering to the needs of the local market.

Now there are more than 318 Ikea stores in more countries than Walmart, and additional expansion into emerging markets like China and India is still very much on the agenda.  

Ikea’s net income has increased 31% in the last 5 year up to$4.5 Billion.  

Why is Ikea so successful?  It’s model is based on volume.  It produces a lot of the same item and sells them in many different markets.  That lets them get lower prices from their suppliers, and in turn charge their customers lower prices.  The more volume the greater that discount becomes, which is why many IKEA favorites have actually become cheaper over the years, despite inflation.

For example, as of 2015 one Billy bookcase was sold every 10 seconds, that kind of volume allowed the company to lower their 2015 price by an average of 1% below the 2014 price.

Is is actually so ubiquitous a product, that Bloomberg has created a Billy bookcase index as an indicator of the fiscal strength of each of the countries they are sold in.  In case you were wondering, in 2015, the latest year I could find, Slovakia was the cheapest, followed by several other European countries that use the Euro.  The price reflected decreasing prices in the Euro zone at that time.  Egypt was the most expensive, reflecting rampant price growth in the country.  

The Ikea has not escaped controversary however.  We probably all rememberthe horsemeat meatball scandal of 2013.  Ikea was of course, not the only company impacted.   After investigation, by the European Union, food adulteration was found to be far more widespreadthan had been previously thought; however, Ikea seemed to become the name that was most closely associated with the scandal.  

Ikea also uses a really absurd amount of natural resources, particularly wood.  All of my sources differed slightly in the amount of wood they said IKEA uses, but most agreed that it was just about 1% of the world’s commercial wood supply every year, and that Ikea is likely, at least in the top 5 of commercial wood consumers in the world.

Critics argue, that given the lifespan of most Ikea products, that using that much wood is a terrible waste of natural resources.  I think that this argument has some validity.  Using that much wood does seem environmentally irresponsible.  However, Ikea is currently attempting to mitigate it’s impact.  As of last year about 40% of the wood they used came from either recycled sources or Forest Stewardship Council certified forests.  Forest Stewardship council certification means that the wood is sourced in an environmentally friendly, socially responsibly and economically viable way.  It is a huge step toward sustainability.  Ikea plans to have at least 50% of the wood it sources to be sustainablethisyear, and 100% of it by 2020.  

What I think is really important here is that since IKEA is SO big, and it’s part of the consumer wood market share is SOO huge, that it’s move toward more sustainably harvested wood could actually impact the entire consumer wood market.  No supplier is going to want to miss out on a large portion of the market share, and that may mean a greater move toward sustainable wood production over all.

Ikea also used East German prisoners as slave labor to reduce costs in the late 70’s in early 80’s.  In 2012 the practice came to light after an independent audit by Ernst and Young.  The Ernst and Young report said that while Ikea had had a policy of visiting production facilities to control working processes, access to East German suppliers had been restricted.  In 2012 The company made a public apology for it.  Peter Betzel, the head of Ikea Germany, stated "It is not and never was acceptable to Ikea that it should be selling products made by political prisoners and I would like to express my deepest regret for this to the victims and their families.”  Betzel further stated that the companyhad received tipoffs that it had been using forced labour, but had taken insufficient action against the claims, and that since 2000 it has had had a strict system of checks and balances in place.  The company now does over over 1000 control checks every year.  

Anita Gossler, an east german prisoner that was forced to make goods for other companies stated that "There were many companies involved in this practice," “ they should all be named and shamed. Ikea has put its head above the parapet and admitted its guilt but there are plenty of others who should also be approached for compensation."  She also said that she welcomed Ikea’s announcement that it planned to donate funds to research projects on forced labour in the former GDR.

This accusation about forced German labor came at about the same time that the company was accused of using cuban political prisoners for the same purpose.  It turned out that the cubans had made sample goods for the company, but the company never actually sold goods made by cuban prisoners, and that Ikea was unaware of any involvement of cuban prisoners.  

There have also been allegations that Ingvar Kamprad had Nazi ties.  In 1994 Kamprad’s Nazi ties initially came to light when the letters of Per Engdahl, the leader of the New Swedish Movement, and supporter of Nazi Germany (but not Nazism), came to light.  The letters showed that as a teen Kamprad had given money to and recruited for the organization, and that Kamprad was friends with Engdahl.  Then in 2011, a book by the Swedish journalist Elisabeth Åsbrink showed that Kamprad had been a member of the the fascistgroup, the Swedish Socialist Union (SSS), at the time that he founded Ikea.  There is even some evidence that he recruited for the organization, although it is unclear how official that capacity might have been.  

In 1998 Kamprad made a public apology for his Nazi ties, calling them a part of my life which I bitterly regret, youthful sins, and the biggest mistake of his lifeMost at the time seemed to believe that Kamprad was truly remorseful, and most groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, accepted his apology.

In addition, Asbrink’s 2011 book, “And in Wienerwald the trees remain”, the book that brought further Nazi ties to light, also details Kamprad’s long term friendship with a Jewish refugee that came to work on Kamprad’s family farm and later was a member of the team that launched Ikea.  Perhaps this friendship helped show Kamprad there error of his ways.

Back in 1998, Kamprad stated that The IKEA he created is based on democratic principles and embraces a multicultural society.  I think support for that vision of Ikea was given on January 30, when Ikea came out with a letter in support of their immigrantemployees in the US after the US travel ban restricted movement of people from 7 primarily Muslim countries into the US.

Last, but certainly not least, IKEA is a tax dodger.  Technically, IKEA is a charity.  In 1982, Ingvar Kamprad gave his ownership stake in IKEA to the Stichting Ingka Foundation, which is a dutch charity.  The charity runs IKEA through Ingka Holdings, a subsidiary of the Stiching Ingka Foundation, that operates as a for profit company.  

As of 2006, the charity had an estimated endowment of $36 billion dollars, but it wasn’t very charitable in it’s giving.  The foundation has been giving Sweden’s Lund Institute of Technology 1.7 million Euros a year, which is a lot, but it is very little in comparison to the foundation’s gigantic endowment.

So why the complicated structure?  Since Ikea is owned by a charitable organization, all of it’s profits are tax free.  And guess who is in charge of the Stichting Ingka Foundation, it is a board, headed by Kamprad.  

Ikea, as you probably think of it is actually many companies, and subsidiary companies with an extremelycomplex organizational structure that make it difficult to tell who owns what, and who benefits from the company’s success.  

The result is very little tax being paid on a huge amount of profit, and it appears to be completely legal.

So why, after the horse meat, huge resource usage, forced labor, Nazi affiliations, and tax doging do people still like Ikea?  I think there are two reasons.

For one, Times are tough.  Millienials earn on average 20% less than their parents did at the same age.  Many have to stay at home with their parents to make ends meet, and those that do get out on their owndon’t have a lot of extra money for furniture.  Low cost furniture suppliers, like Ikea, make it possible for a millennial to both move out of their parent’s basement, and have a bed to sleep on in their new place.  That is a powerful motivator to forget a company’s past misdeeds.

The 2nd reason isa little less concrete.  I think that, for the most part, Ikea really do seem to be trying to learn from their mistakes and do better.  Whether that is from an inherent desire to make the world a better place, or because it is good for sales, the end result is that you can feel ok about buying an Ikea product.  While your purchase probably isn’t making the world a better place, it probably isn’t making the world a worse place, and that it not something that you can often say at a similar price point.

On the environmental front, ikea is working toward sustainability.  They have switched to all LEDs, make high efficiency appliances and low water use faucets.  They are working toward completely sustainable wood and cotton.  They have cut out polystyrene and are cutting out palm oil.  They are investing in renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, increasing efficiency, and reducing waste.  Many of their stores are at least partially solar powered, and they have begun to offer solar panels to consumers in test markets.  Half of the food they serve is from local sources, and most of the fish they serve is sustainably sourced, and they are working toward all of their products coming from renewable, recyclable, or recycled sources in the near future.

They are also working toward social justice.  48% of their managers are women.  They are enforcing a conduct for their suppliers that enforces things like good working conditions, and recently they have begun employing Syrian refugees that have had difficulty finding jobs.  In addition, the Stichting Ingka Foundation - Ikea’s non profit parent company, has committed to providing additional support to communities negatively impacted by climate change, and providing clean drinking water. 

However, I think their most important contribution to social justice recently is the Better Shelter,  A flat pack home for refugees that won the prestigious 2016 Beasley Design of the year award. 

The better shelter is a lightweight rigid polymer structure that can be set up by a team of 4 in a matter of hours.  They sleep 5, are far more durable and weather proof than a tent, and havea solar panel on the roof that provides enough energy to power a light, or charge a cell phone.

In other words, it is a tenable living situation for refugees, that provides a modicum of security and a sense of home.

Follow up from Episode 6

Before I go, I have a quick update from Episode 6:  Sweet dreams are made of these.  On February 2, just a few days after the episode aired, a new study came out in the journal current biology, called Circadian Entrainment to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle across Seasons and the Weekend.  The study focused how exposure to natural light, as opposed to the electrical light we are exposed to all of the time impacts the body clock.  Exposure to electrical light delays the body clock, so we go to bed late and wake up late.  They wanted to find out if exposure to natural light would reset the biological clock so that a person would go to sleep around sunset and wake up around sunrise.  So they sent study participants camping.  The participants were exposed ONLY to natural light, no flash lights, no phones, nothing.  They found that the natural light DID reset the biological clock.  The participants went to bed earlier and woke up earlier.  It even helped prevent cases of the Monday’s.  So if you are in need of a biological clock reset, it may be a good time to go camping, or failing that, at least spending a bit more time outdoors and away from screens.

If you want to learn more I will link to the study in the show notes.


Thank You for listening, I hope you enjoyed the Show.  If you did, please rate the show or leave a review on I tunes.  Due to travel obligations, I will be back in three weeks rather than the typical 2 weeks.   If you would like to get in touch in the meantime please send me an email at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  You can also visit the website hangyourhatpodcast.com.

The Hang your Hat podcast is a production of gerwerkencrafts.com.  That is G-E-R-W-E-R-K-E-N crafts (all one word) .comYou can visit gerwerken crafts for diy, home décor, crafts, tutorials and more.