Friday, October 20, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #118: Did People Actually Use Safety Coffins?

Taberger's Safety Coffin allowed the interred person to ring a bell, alerting passersby.

Halloween is almost upon us – and that means it’s time, once again, to reflect upon death and dying. You've probably heard that, back in the day, people used to get buried alive all the time. Snopes documents several cases of inadvertent live burial, including the case of one Marjorie Elphinstone, a Scottish lady who, in the early 17th century, possibly scared a pack of grave robbers straight by turning out to still be alive. In 1674, another Scottish Marjorie, a Ms. Halcrow Erskine, woke up to find herself in a shallow grave, with a sexton trying to cut her rings off. Both Marjories returned from the grave to live productive lives; history tells us that Mrs. Elphinstone “outlived her husband by six years,” while Ms. Halcrow Erskine later raised two sons.

Unfortunately, not all those who were buried alive got as lucky as Marjorie Elphinstone and Marjorie Halcrow Erskine. William Tebb’s Premature Burial and How It May Be Prevented records, from 19th-century sources, 219 instances in which someone almost got buried alive, 149 instances in which someone did get buried alive, 10 cases in which someone got dissected while still alive (definitely worse if you ask me), and two cases of the embalming process being started on a still-alive person – a statistic that reminds me of a scary story my aunts used to tell when I was a girl, in which an anonymous Confederate soldier gets accidentally embalmed while still alive. Spoiler alert: he’s not still alive by the end of the story.

Burial alive was common in the past for multiple reasons. For one thing, people frequently fell victim to epidemics of plague, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria, and other communicable diseases that packed the double whammy of making a live person appear to be dead, while also making those definitely-alive people in the near vicinity a reason to get that dead-looking person into the ground/crypt ASAP, before the disease could spread. For another thing, as reported in Jan Bondeson’s Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, even medical professionals disagreed on which were the real signs of death; was a person who had stopped breathing dead? What about someone who no longer had a heart beat? What about someone who had started to rot? No one could say for sure. Modern medicine was in its infancy, after all.

So, historically, being buried alive was a common, and not unfounded, fear; it did, after all, happen occasionally, and such eminent figures as George Washington and Frederick Chopin requested, on their deathbeds, that measures be taken to ensure that they were really dead before they were buried. Eventually, embalming would become popular; perhaps this was, to some extent, because the embalming process ensured that if you weren’t actually dead yet, you would be by the time they put you in the coffin. But Victorian-era inventors also saw a gap in the market, and filled that gap with patents for safety coffins that purported to offer the not-actually-dead with a means of rescue from the beneath the crushing weight of the cold, cold earth. In her compelling volume Coffin Hardware in Nineteenth Century America, Megan E. Springate writes that safety coffins were America’s answer to the waiting mortuary, a European establishment in which corpses would be watched for a period of time prior to burial, to make sure they were really dead. There were two basic kinds of safety devices installed in coffins: pre-burial devices and post-burial devices. Pre-burial devices were predicated on the assumption that the not-quite-dead person would revive prior to burial, perhaps at his or her own funeral, when he or she could activate, for example, a spring-loaded coffin lid that would allow him or her to pop right out of the coffin in front of the mourners, a course of events that would no doubt ensure the immediate creation of a new corpse to fill the recently-vacated casket. Those things aren’t cheap.

Post-burial devices were geared more toward the not-quite-dead person who had the misfortune to awake when already underground. The first such coffin, thought to have been designed by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in the 18th century, was a simple affair sporting an air hole, a window, and a lid that could be unlocked with a key. This design had its flaws. Later designs implemented air pipes, ropes with bells that could be rung, and even “smell tubes” that would allow passersby to ascertain whether or not the presumed-dead person had started to rot, although why you would want this information is beyond me. Such a device certainly seems less than helpful to the person in the coffin.

Vester's Burial Case offered a more elaborate bell-ringing mechanism.

While plenty of patents for safety coffins were filed, that doesn’t mean they were popular. Patents are often filed for products that aren’t ultimately produced or distributed. Safety coffins are often presented in pop history accounts as having been all the rage back in the 19th century, but according to Habenstein and Lamers’ The History of American Funeral Directing, it’s unlikely that any of the patented safety coffins were actually produced. Springate tells us that “examples of safety coffins have rarely, if ever, been identified archeologically,” and Bondeson points out that those most afraid of premature burial would be just the types to worry that the safety devices installed in their coffins would backfire – which, of course, makes sense. Perhaps the most common safety precaution taken by those who feared burial alive was the inclusion of a loaded pistol, a vial of poison, or a knife, in the coffin, any of which could allow one to end one's misery in the case of a premature interment. 


Coffin safety devices aren’t a relic of a bygone era; a patent for a coffin alarm system was filed with the U.S. Patent Office in 1983. Of course, we in modern times no longer have to worry about being buried alive. The miracles of modern medicine have saved us from the ravages of disease that spawned so much of the premature burial fears of yesteryear – and our modern, enlightened doctors definitely know how to tell when someone is dead. Just tell that to Tony Yahle and Brian Miller, two men who were both confirmed extremely dead by red-blooded American medical professionals in the 21st century, and who both literally came back to life, and are presumably still walking around out there somewhere, as alive as you or me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Adulting Wins to Be Proud Of: Finally Growing Some Vegetables, Sort Of



Regular readers will remember that, the summer after I bought my house, I decided to plant a vegetable garden. You may recall, vaguely, somewhere in the back of your mind, that I wrote a post about digging a garden patch by hand and communing with my starving Irish ancestors, following which I never blogged about my garden again, unless you count that one time a year later when I complained bitterly about weeding the rockery and mowing the lawn.

That’s because I didn’t end up growing any vegetables. A lot of stuff didn’t come up. Some stuff came up and the rabbits immediately ate it. Other stuff came up and seemed to be doing very well, until it died. Later, I would discover that I have voles.

So, this summer, I pulled out all the stops. I decided that I was going to grow some vegetables, dammit, or else. My grandparents made it look easy – throw some seeds in the ground, nail a dead animal to a post1, and voilĂ , delicious produce.

It is not that easy.

This year, I thought I’d move the vegetable garden to a different, sunnier part of the yard, with better soil. I also thought I’d install raised beds. Raised beds allowed me to practice the only reliable form of vole prevention I was able to find in my online research, which is to line the plot with a sheet of wire mesh.

After choosing a sunny spot in the side yard, I spent three evenings digging two six-foot-by-four-foot holes in the side of the hill, installing the bed frames, and then refilling them with the dirt I’d just dug up.





I’d tried purchasing dirt in bulk, but none of the local landscaping companies had any to spare that week. You know you’re an adult when you find yourself spending a weekday afternoon calling landscaping companies in an attempt to buy a truckload of live dirt. Bulk dirt is sold on a first-come, first-served basis, apparently, and I wasn’t about to be standing around in front of a landscaping supply store at 7:00 a.m. waiting for them to open up so I could put down a deposit on some sweet, sweet soil. It’s just as well, since I needed to terrace the beds anyway. At one point, I caught my hostile neighbor gawking at me from his car while I sweatily shoveled dirt like I was tied for first place in a dirt shoveling contest. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I really, really hoped he was thinking I was burying a dead body, because I want him to be afraid of me. Maybe if he’s afraid of me, he’ll tone down the hostility.

But I digress.

Once I finished installing the beds, I topped them off with what my friend Lydia referred to as “healthy dirt” from Lowe’s, although I have to admit that I’m skeptical about the nutritional profile of corporate-sourced dirt. Then I planted corn, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, peas, beans, shallots, and Mexican gherkins. I erected rabbit-proof fencing around the whole thing and coated it all generously in Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent. I used the powdered kind.

I have some bad news, some worse news, some kind-of good news, and some best news.
The worse news is that the lettuce, shallots, beans, and half of the carrots didn’t even bother to come up. Beans, lettuce, shallots, and 50 percent of carrots are terminally lazy. I know that’s a controversial position, but I have anecdotal evidence – which is, as we all know, the best kind of evidence – to support it.

The bad news is that corn began growing, but stopped at about a foot tall and produced one measly, deformed ear before it all died for no apparent reason. I got three pods of peas before the heat killed them, but I knew that it was too late in the year to plant peas so that’s my own fault, really. I got three cucumbers before they, too, died for no apparent reason. I got several tomatoes, but I planted an heirloom variety called Dr. Wyche’s yellow, and they were weirder than I expected, so I probably won’t grow them again. Also, the plants spent all summer looking like they were about to die any minute. I’m surprised I got any tomatoes at all, but the plants are still out there, gamely clinging to life, even though it’s October.

The kind-of good news is that the other half of the carrots did grow and I was able to harvest about a dozen of the saddest-looking carrots in the world. 




I generously presented them to my in-laws, who said, "Are you sure these are carrots?" There are still carrots in the ground as we speak, and I understand they’re cold-hardy, so the ones that are left might yet amount to something, like a stew.

That leaves just one vegetable – the Mexican gherkins. You know how sometimes you’ll plant a vegetable garden and one thing will really go crazy? The best news is that Mexican gherkins have turned out to be really easy to grow. Seriously, if you, like me, are an apathetic, inexperienced, and unskilled gardener, plant yourself some Mexican gherkins, keep the rabbits out of them, and before you know it, you’ll have actual handfuls of weird little cucumbers that you don’t know what to do with. I like them, but I fed one to the manfriend and he made the kind of face my grandmother used to make when my grandfather implemented his pest control scheme.

The best part about the Mexican gherkins is that I didn’t even think they would grow to begin with. I had a few seeds left from my abortive gardening attempt a few years ago, so I decided to plant them. They didn’t come up at first, and I thought they were just old, but then, after three whole weeks, tiny, tiny seedlings emerged…and stayed tiny for the next three months. Oh well, I thought, they’re not going to do anything. Then, one day round about mid-August, I went out to check on my few sad tomatoes, and noticed these huge vines with little watermelon-looking things all over them. I was so shocked I had to google them to make sure it wasn’t some toxic weed that had taken over my garden like neo-Nazis at a Republican convention. When the Internet told me that what I’d found were, indeed, Mexican gherkins, and that they would continue to produce right up until the first frost, I immediately resolved to plant Mexican gherkins again next year. You don’t mess with a good thing.



1. This was my grandfather’s horrifying means of keeping pests out of the garden. What can I say, it worked.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Cat Is Running for President



Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: Isn’t it too early to be thinking about the 2020 presidential elections? Haven’t we got more pressing problems at the moment, like hurricanes, wildfires, gas shortages, gun violence, nuclear holocaust, heroin addiction, polluted water, crumbling infrastructure, the NFL, and reptilians? Shouldn’t we worry about surviving the next three years, as a republic, and at all, before we start worrying about which candidate deserves our vote in 2020, if indeed we are still allowed to vote in 2020?

Probably, but Fatty has been watching the news, and he thinks that if Donald Trump is allowed to be president, he should get a shot, too. It’s only fair.

So here at the reasons why my cat, Fatty, would make an awesome president:


He Is Brave and Strong




When a small animal gets into the house, some cats around here panic. A small frog once sent two out of three cats at chez McAtee running for cover from its terrifying hopping. But not Fatty. Fatty was ready to eat that frog, just like he was ready to eat the brown thrasher that got in once, or the hatchling snake that mysteriously appeared in the kitchen, if only I would have given him half a chance to catch any of them.

Not only is Fatty confident in his ability to bite the sh*t out of anything that might threaten him or look tasty, he’s also seven pounds heavier than the average tom cat – that’s more than double the size of some cats. He’s such a big cat that when I got my second cat, Max, I ended up taking him, Max, to the vet because he was so small and scrawny I thought he was underdeveloped.

“No,” the vet said, “he’s perfectly normal. It’s just that your other cat is so big that Max looks underdeveloped in comparison.”

Fatty understands that the health of presidential candidates is a topic of great concern to American voters, and he wants you to know that he’s ferociously, obnoxiously healthy and ready to rip the eyes out of any vet who says otherwise, or any vet who tries to touch him, period. It’s a good thing he’s so healthy, because giving him medicine is an ordeal. The one time I had to do it, I had to subdue him first by sitting on him. Sitting. On. Him. That’s what we’re dealing with here.


He Comes from Humble Beginnings, Just Like Honest Abe




Abraham Lincoln was born in a dirt-floored, one-room cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky. Fatty was found in a Wal-Mart parking lot, also, not coincidentally, in Appalachia. He’s seen hardship. He’s known struggle. He’s a cat of the people.


He Knows His Own Mind




Fatty isn’t one of those wishy-washy presidential candidates like John Kerry. Oh, no. Fatty knows what he wants, and he’s going to get it, no matter how many people he has to bite in order to do so.


He Is a Skilled Diplomat



Whenever someone comes into the house, Fatty immediately becomes their best friend. Doesn’t matter if it’s a guest, a plumber, a sheriff’s deputy, or an appliance repairman, Fatty will use his charm and good looks to win them over. Once, the ignition switch on my gas oven went out, and I had a guy over to fix it. I showed him to the kitchen and left him alone. When I came back half an hour later, I sh*t you not, Fatty had crawled up under the oven and was helping the guy fix it.


He Believes in the Scientific Method



Whenever something new appears in the house, like a cat fountain or a boyfriend, some cats around here freak the f*ck out. Not Fatty. Fatty is a Cat Scientist with a PhD in Checking Things Out from Purrdue University. That means he’s not afraid to apply the scientific method to investigating new phenomena, to enhance the lives of cats everywhere.


He Definitely Has No Ties to the Lucha Libre Circuit Whatsoever



Our enemies in the media have spread the vile and disgusting rumor that Fatty moonlights as a lucha libre wrestler called El Gato Terrible. Fake news!


He Is Orange


That seems to be really important to American voters these days, and Fatty is ready to give the people what they want.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

There’s a Noob Around Here, Again

Regular readers will know, because I’ve mentioned it like three times, that I lost a cat recently. I still feel sad every time I check my Facebook memories (why do I do this to myself?) or accidentally scroll too far back in the pictures on my phone.

:'(

The silver lining in this cloud is that it gives me an excuse to get a new kitten.



I let the manfriend pick him out, although I’m not sure he actually understands how serious that makes us. You know things are getting serious with a person when I’m letting them pick out kittens.

The manfriend wants to name him Connor, but I’d like to name him Trip Hazard, Trip for short. I’ve actually been calling him Little, because he’s sooo little, and also he seems to respond to it.

I brought him home on Monday, and he’s starting to settle in.

Fatty is only mildly irritated by this situation.

Max is still afraid of him, bless his anxious little heart, but Fatty is starting to show some interest…or possibly disinterest, considering that he hasn’t started biting him yet.
For the first two days I had Little here, he refused to get off my lap/chest/shoulder, which was kind of annoying, for two reasons: 1) he’s got the foulest freaking gas I’ve ever smelled, and 2) it’s hard to get any writing done when a kitten is tromping all over your keyboard.
I thought, He’s young and freaked out. He’s in a new place and wants comfort. Also, I’m the only other living thing in the house that’s being nice to him right now. So, I tolerated it and tried to make time to cuddle and hold him. He’d usually settle down and go to sleep on my boob-shelf after a while, leaving me free to do other things with my hands.

He's a monkey.

But then, yesterday, I went out for a while and came home to this:




My sweet, loving, affectionate, tiny kitten with the huge purr…has been using me for my chair. Just like the other two little bastards. But here’s the thing – he just got here. How does he already know about the chair!? 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On Flying the Confederate Flag in West Virginia (of All Places)

Once, I was driving, slowly and carefully, down the dirt road that leads to my house. I always drive slowly and carefully on this road, because this is a family neighborhood, and children play all over the place around here. One in particular has been known to pop out of the trees on his dirt bike, right in front of my car, but I digress.

I was, as usual, driving carefully down the dirt road when some pimply-faced teenager in a broken-down, rusted-out sh*tbox of a truck came flying out of a side street, nearly slamming into the front of my reliable, barely-scratched-and-dented-at-all Subaru. A large Confederate flag on an honest-to-god flagpole flapped over the bed of his truck. This probably happened about three years ago, but I’m still pissed off about it, because of that Confederate flag. Sure, you're free to fly your Confederate flag, but I'm just as free to make several assumptions about your character, and let me tell you, none of them are good.

There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether or not individual Americans and/or state and local government agencies should be flying the Confederate flag. I’m going to come down firmly on the anti-Confederate-flag side of this debate. I don’t think anyone has any business flying the Confederate flag in this day and age. “It’s heritage, not hate!” you say, but the flaw with that argument is that it pretty clearly is a heritage of hate, though. If your heritage includes committing treason and owning human beings as property, well, those are parts of your heritage that I'd think you'd want to downplay, not brag about. I mean, people sidle nervously away from me if I mention my abusive ex or that time my mother castrated a dog, but you're allowed to strut around literally waving a racist flag AND get all bent out of shape when people ask you not to, like they're getting offended on purpose just to piss you off? It's all about you, isn't it? No. No it's not.

But, even I have to admit that it’s one thing flying the Confederate flag in Virginia or South Carolina or some other state that was actually part of the Confederacy. If your family’s lived in Atlanta for the past twelve generations and General Sherman personally burned down your great-great-great-great grandmother, then displaying the Confederate flag on your property at least kind of makes sense. Mind you, it still makes you look like someone whose dog would get “inexplicably” nervous around black people, but it’s more-or-less logical if you leave out the fact that the Civil War has been over for 152 years. Flying the Confederate flag in states that were not a part of the Confederacy, such as West Virginia, takes a special kind of disrespect for your culture and your ancestors. Were you not paying attention in your West Virginia history class? West Virginia formed its own government in 1861 and was recognized as a Union state in 1863. We did this specifically because we didn’t want to secede from the Union. We didn't want to join the Confederate States of America because we didn't share their culture or values. The rugged territory in what was then called Trans-Allegheny Virginia made the establishment of large, profitable plantations – and the slave labor required to run them – less practical than in the eastern Tidewater and Piedmont regions, and early settlers consisted mostly of poor German and  Scots-Irish immigrants who supported their families via subsistence farming in some of the country’s most remote communities.

Many Trans-Allegheny Virginians always wanted their own state; efforts to establish an independent state west of the Alleghenies date back to the American Revolution, when Appalachia was considered the frontier. The Virginia State Constitution of 1829 established property qualifications for suffrage that many of the poorer farmers in the western part of the state couldn't meet; when you factored the three – fifths compromise into this, it disenfranchised almost everyone who lived in the mountains. The eastern planter elite controlled the state legislature and served their own interests while ignoring the needs of the underrepresented west. So, when we saw an opportunity to ditch those a—holes, we took it. Immediately.

And now you have the gumption to fly a Confederate flag anyway. What's that funny sound I hear? Oh, right. It's your great-great-great-great grandfather spinning in his grave.

Monday, September 11, 2017

So, It Turns Out I Might Actually Be a Cat Lady


What I came home to the other day.

About five years ago, when this blog was young and I only had one cat, who was also young, someone called me a cat lady. I felt the need to rebutt this accusation with a list of reasons why I’m not a cat lady.

But, despite what every single one of my former romantic partners, my current romantic partner, my mother, and my friends believe, I am not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. Mistakes were made, new information has emerged, and it turns out I might actually be a cat lady. Here’s why.

I Didn’t Want the Cat, Except I Actually Secretly Wanted the Cat


When I first got Fatty aka Shoe aka El Gato Terrible1, I didn’t really want him. He was a gift. You know how they say you should never give animals as gifts? Yeah, you should never do that. I felt very put-upon about it at the time, to the point where I even made arrangements to give the cat away, but then I backed out of those arrangements at the last minute, because I’d already gotten too attached.


How could I not?

I Stopped Letting the Cat Out, Because I Worried About Him Too Much

When I first got Fatty, I used to let him out. I live in the country, on a dead-end dirt road, so I figured it was probably fine. Fatty is confident in his ability to bite the sh*t out of anything that might cause trouble for him. But after letting him out several times, I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore; I would have to hold him hostage inside the house. Why? Because every time I let him out, I would just sit and worry about what could happen to him out there until he finally came back. There are hawks, coyotes, and rednecks out there. Also, I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, which may have had something to do with it, but who needs prescription medication when you can just deny a living thing its freedom?

But, five years later, Fatty hasn’t given up hope. He still asks to go out every day, sitting at the door and scratching it furiously. He tries, often successfully, to slip out when we open the door. When I realized he knew how to open the screen door, I started leaving the main door open with the screen door locked, just to laugh at him when he keeps pushing the handle and getting more and more frustrated.


video



Recently, the manfriend looked down at Fatty waiting to make a break for it when he opened the door and said, “Fatty, when have you ever been allowed to go out?” and I had to say, “Well, actually…”

Fatty has the heart of an explorer, as opposed to his brother, who has the heart of a Jello mold. Which brings me to…

I Have Multiple Cats





I had to get a second cat to give Fatty someone else to bite instead of me. Don’t get me wrong; he still bites me, but at least he no longer sneaks up behind me to jump up, sink his claws and teeth into my butt cheek, and hang there.

I had to get a third cat because three cats is the perfect amount of cats. With three cats, there’s always a cat asking for cuddles when you feel like cuddling one.

I Spoil Them, Too



My cats have a cat tree that’s bigger than some apartments I’ve lived in. I screened in my back porch so they could go out there and sniff the breeze. They drink from a cat fountain that provides filtered water, or at least it would if I bought more of the filters. I give them treats every night. I bought them a feeder puzzle just in case their normal food dish was too boring. I spend more money on their medical care than I do on my own, which I thought was normal until I discovered that some people never take their cats to the vet at all. I buy them Christmas presents. I have even taken them out for walks, although this gives Max panic attacks and I get the sh*t bitten out of me every time I try to put Fatty in his harness, which is actually a dog harness because that’s how big he is.

One of My Cats Died, and I Made a Tombstone for It








1. I don't speak Spanish, but he does.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

How to Make a Grave Marker for a Cat

If you’re a regular reader or a real-life friend, you know that a couple of months ago, one of my cats died. She was a sweet, friendly, affectionate cat who’d only brought herself to start sitting on my lap about five or six months before her death.

I buried the body at home, but I wanted to mark it in some way for multiple reasons. Not only did I want to honor her memory, but I also wanted to remember where I buried her, and, if I end up moving and someone else buys the house, I’ll feel better knowing that they’ll know she’s here and, on a more practical level, that they won’t accidentally dig up a dead cat some day.

At first I thought I might buy a pet memorial stone, but they were all expensive, cheap, cheesy, and impersonal. I did some further research and found this blog post by a lady who made her own cat headstone out of quick set mortar and I thought that project just about matched my haphazard DIY skill set, which, as it turns out, it pretty much did.

Having read the instructions, I gathered my materials:





The larger bucket is for mixing the mortar. I added an appropriate amount of mortar before I took the picture, because the bag of mortar lives in the garage. I used the time-honored method of eyeballing it to determine how much mortar I would need. I used this same mortar once before to erect some trellises next to my front porch, so I was familiar with it. The smaller bucket was for adding water to the mortar mix, because that previous experience taught me that if I try to add water directly from the spigot, I will add too much. The garden trowel was for mixing the mortar, and the taping knife was for smoothing it in the mold; I chose an old shoe box for a mold. None of these were the proper tools, but I made do with what I had.

I made sure to buy actual mortar rather than Portland cement, because a previous experience with Portland cement taught me that it will give you chemical burns if you get it on your skin. Thanks to this same experience I also learned that it will be okay if you wash it off quickly enough, but I wasn’t in the mood to take chances. I also wore gloves, but I recommend wearing an old pair of gloves because you will probably get mortar all over them.




You should also really wear a face mask while working with the mortar, but I didn’t because they make me feel like I’m being smothered with a hot piece of raw meat. I tried really hard not to breathe in any of the dust.

The first step was adding water to the dry mortar mix. I added too much, so I had to go back down to the garage and add a few more trowels of mortar to get it to the right consistency. It needed to be thick so the letter impressions would hold.




While not unbearably strenuous, mixing the mortar was the hardest part. I had to keep scraping the bottom of the bucket to get at clumps of dry mortar that weren’t mixing well. Once it was all mixed, I put it in the mold, then used the trowel to spread it more-or-less evenly over the bottom of the box.





I then used the taping knife to smooth the surface of the mortar.




Finally, I used my set of stone stamps to create the inscription. 




They don’t carry stone stamps at Michael’s, or at least they don’t in my town, so I ordered them on Amazon. After reading several reviews of different sets of stone stamps available, I splurged on a set that has little handles on them so you can more easily press the stamps into the mortar and pull them out. They were about $12, but I figure I’ll be using them again in the future the next time a pet dies.

Someday I'll miss this chocolate starfish.


At this point, the mortar was starting to set and it became increasingly difficult to press the letters into the surface as I went along. I didn’t really plan the design in any way so it’s pretty crooked. Because the stone stamps came all jumbled up in a bag, I had to spend more time than I would have liked finding the letters I wanted, so I probably should have sorted them out before I began mixing the mortar. I accidentally used an upside-down A instead of a V in “beloved,” but happily, the medium allowed for some mistakes; I was able to refill that letter with a scrap of mortar scraped from the bottom of the mixing bucket and smooth it back out with my finger. I also went a little bit overboard with the inscription, deciding at the last minute to add onto it at the bottom of the stone. All things considered, though, I’m happy with the results.