Ancient Toilets and A Little Inconvenience

In 1827, Englishman Charles Masson was a soldier for the East India Company, though not a particularly dedicated one. In that year, he deserted and began what became a several year journey of exploration through parts of India, and what is today Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he collected coins and artifacts, and became the first European to stumble onto the ruins of the city of Harappa.

Officially excavated for the first time in 1920, Harappa is one city within a very large prehistoric civilization known as the Indus Valley Civilization that stretched across the northern portion of South Asia and may have at one time supported a population of 5 million people.

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Ancient well at Harappa. By Hassan Nasir (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
This civilization had well-planned cities, a system of measurement, established trade, a thriving art scene, and a possible form of writing. It also had a system of wells, public and private baths, and the earliest known household flush toilets. All somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 to 4000 BC.

Here is perhaps where it should be noted that the men who excavated the site at Harappa came from a civilization that had at this point been enjoying the widespread (though still not mandatory) use of in-home flush toilets for about seventy years.

I realize that sanitation and water supply isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. There’s no greater advancement in all of human history that has more profoundly influenced health and safety, and there are still many parts of the world in which safe drinking water and the safe disposal of waste is still sadly lacking.

It’s a huge privilege to live someplace where I can pretty much take the clean water flowing from my faucet for granted. And this week, my town has been experiencing a reminder of just how amazing that privilege is.

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Anytime I start to think it might have been fun to live in the 19th century, I picture this. photo credit: Midnight Believer Outhouse via photopin (license)

Early this week we received a call from our water district explaining that the city had issued a mandatory water conservation order. It seems a large 36-inch water main supplying our town took some damage. While repairs were underway, our little town was expected to receive about a third to a half of our normal water supply. In order to avoid depleting reserves and losing pressure in the system,  the city asked its citizens to aim for a reduction of water usage by 50%.

What that meant was no grass watering, car washing, or clothes laundering. I couldn’t hose down my thirsty garden and my neighbors couldn’t top off their swimming pool. The kids couldn’t run through the sprinkler on a hot day or whoosh down the slip ’n’ slide. With later updates the city attempted to lighten the harsh tone of the conservation order by expressing that if citizens really, really needed to do a load of laundry, they should forego taking a shower and washing their dishes.

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So you’re saying I CAN’T do the dishes? Darn. photo credit: Curtis Gregory Perry Hot and Cold via photopin (license)

I don’t know if you’re very familiar with my neck of the woods, but here along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, where occasional and sometimes catastrophic flooding is a legitimate worry, we don’t often have to deal with having too little water. So this was a bit of a shock to the system.

But I’m happy to report that late last night we got the okay to resume our normal water usage. We might have been a little smellier and our lawns are maybe a little less green and lush than they were a few days ago, but for the most part, we came through the ordeal unscathed. And despite a few snarky comments on the city’s Facebook page that were all in good fun, the people of our city didn’t really complain.

We know we’re the lucky ones. It’s thought that one of the major contributing factors to the eventual failure of the once thriving Indus Valley Civilization was drought and shifts in river flow.  

We continue to thrive here in our well-planned city where we have tape measures, a Walmart, a thriving art scene, and bloggers who practice a possible form of writing. And we have clean running water and flush toilets in our homes. Yes, life is pretty good here, even when it’s a little inconvenient.

A Plague of Gesundheits

Sometime over the past few weeks, influenza descended in full force on our fair city, stretching across the region, flooding our doctors’ offices, our schools, and our homes. One area school even recently reported nearly 200 student absences in a single day. I probably don’t need to tell you there’s been a lot of sneezing, and a fair number of “God bless yous.”

For quite a while now my social media feed has been filled with friends lamenting that their households have fallen victim, warning those whose children have had social contact with theirs might just be next, and offering a sort of wish for good health in spite of the odds.

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Does it make me a bad person that I think this is actually kind of a relief from the political squabbling? photo credit: BC Gov Photos Take a shot at protecting yourself and others from the flu via photopin (license)

And, really, that’s what that wonderful phrase “God bless you,” is really probably all about. Though no one can say for certain exactly where it came from (even Snopes.com, which I have to assume at least tried), the most often related story attributes the custom to Pope Gregory I who took over for Pelagius II, when the latter fell victim to the plague in 590.

This was the tail end of what history remembers as the Plague of Justinian, possibly the first recorded instance of bubonic plague (like you might even today encounter in a National Park), or at least something related to it. The exact bug behind the pandemic probably doesn’t matter all that much. What we do know is that it killed quickly, and it started with a sneeze.

Gregory didn’t exactly want to be named Pope, but he received the title by acclimation, and soon set to work ministering to the stricken people of Rome. He prayed for deliverance from sickness and encouraged repentance, even organizing a large procession to the Vatican, in which the faithful gathered in a large coughing, sneezing crowd in order to share in worship and germs.

Allegedly Gregory also began the practice of offering a blessing for good health upon a person who sneezed, thereby praying away the plague. The Justinian Plague didn’t really extend beyond Gregory’s stint as Pope, so maybe there was something to his approach. Or maybe the bug had simply run its course through the population.

Portrait of Pope Gregory I
If he were around today, I’ve no doubt Pope Gregory would encourage holy flu vaccination. By Unknown – Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Either way, the tradition of saying, “God bless you,” or wishing someone good health (with a Gesundheit or similar expression) is so deeply ingrained in our behavior pattern now, it’s hard to remain silent when we hear a sneeze.

The question is, I suppose, does it help? Sadly, I don’t know that anyone has ever researched that. But what does help is vaccination. Now, fortunately for our family, we are well vaccinated folks, so when it was our turn last week our symptoms were relatively mild. We dealt with a few aches, some low-grade fevers, a good helping of fatigue, and plenty of coughing and sneezing and gunk. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad, with only my oldest developing a secondary ear infection, easily taken care of with an antibiotic.

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All I can say is there is not nearly enough of this going around at that middle school. photo credit: BC Gov Photos Take a shot at protecting yourself and others from the flu via photopin (license)

For us, then, this week has been a return to our regularly scheduled program. Everyone has gone to school or work, and my oldest is off and running, heading into the next big thing. For him, that means making a movie with several of his friends to enter into the school district’s upcoming film festival.

For weeks now they’ve been working on a script and costumes, rehearsing lines, and practicing stunts. I admit I’m not entirely sure what the film is about. The plot keeps changing, though I’m fairly certain it involves a wizard or two. Their biggest hurdle in getting it finished has been that members of the crew keep getting sick.

But I’m looking forward to seeing the completed project and I imagine it will work out just fine. After all, the first surviving film copyrighted in the US, now considered by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” consists of nothing more than 5 seconds of a man sneezing.

Gesundheit!

 

And speaking of ongoing creative projects, I currently have two books projects underway that will be published this year. If you’re interested, you can check them out on this recently re-installed book page.

 

Daily Step Goals: Historical-ish Claims from a Scientific-ish Perspective

If you happened to be a legionary during the early Roman Empire, you were accustomed to walking. In fact, according to Roman military writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (known by his friends and most practical historians as simply Vegetius), these guys were expected every day to march a little over 18 miles in about five hours or so.

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And the sad part is, they aren’t even getting full credit for their hard work. They’ll have to go to the app later and add “lugging heavy equipment, 5 hours.” photo credit: Marcia via photopin (license)

Given that the Roman hour became longer and shorter depending on the season (don’t think about that too hard or you’ll get a headache), it’s difficult to know exactly how much time the soldiers were given to compete their strenuous hike. But to put the task into a little bit of modern day perspective, they didn’t reach their daily Fitbit goal until somewhere around 45,000 steps. Even if they had the full day to work on it, that’s a lot of walking.

As the number of personal fitness trackers I’m seeing worn has exploded over the last few years, I’m guessing by now that most of you are aware that if you’re not getting your prescribed minimum 10,000 steps each day, you’re probably going to die or something. Well, someday, anyway.

But it turns out, the recommendation to take at least 10,000 steps per day, in order to be an active, healthy person, isn’t an especially scientific one. It most likely comes from a brand of Japanese pedometer marketed in the 1960’s under the name manpo-kei , which, if you can believe everything you read on the Internet,  roughly translates to “10,000 steps meter.”

So, like with a lot of un-scientific ideas that sound pretty logical and scientific-ish, 10,000 was adopted as the number to walk toward.

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Evidently typing doesn’t count as exercise.

While that may not be a lot in the daily life of the average long-distance runner or floor nurse at a large hospital, most of us don’t take more than about 4 to 7 thousand in a day, unless we really work at it. And as a writer, I have to make an intentional effort to get there, because like most writers, I get my best work done on the days I spend a lot of time sitting.

Of course when I say most, I have to exclude historical novelist Ben Kane. Kane writes novels set in Ancient Rome, and while doing so, he spends a lot of time at his desk. He explains that after six novels, he started to realize that while writing is great for sharpening the mind, it’s not so great for trimming the waistline. So Kane grabbed some friends, some typical legionary garb, and about 42 pounds of equipment (still only about half what an actual legionary may have carried). Then he started marching.

Now that’s dedication to the craft. I currently write in the era of 19th century America, and it’s pretty rare (and by that I mean it never happens) for me to don my petticoat and corset to order to take a stroll. But I do have a Fitbit and I try to reach a somewhat arbitrary step goal every day.

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One of my better days. But I definitely wasn’t wearing full legionary garb. Or a petticoat.

And, really, arbitrary may describe the 45,000 daily steps credited to Roman soldiers by Vegetius, because some scholars have argued that as a writer who never actually donned eighty pounds of legionary garb and equipment, and who wrote in the fourth-century about the bygone era of early Roman Empire military might, Vegetius may not be a strictly reliable source. In other words, Vegetius may have been more practical historian than actual military historian, and he may have had the tendency to exaggerate.

But it really would have been important for a well-oiled military machine to be able to march long distances with great stamina, so if not exactly reliable history, the writer’s claims at least sound historical-ish.

And sometimes I think that’s good enough. Because what most medical experts are saying about fitness bands is that they are helping people become more aware of their sedentary tendencies and in many cases, are encouraging people to get up and move more than they were. We may not all get to 10,000 steps every day, but if we are making an effort to get there, then we are probably improving our health.

You can take my word for it. Because I’m a writer. And my claim sounds pretty scientific-ish.

A Nation So Blessed, Our Dogs Have Love Handles

If you read this blog very often, or if you’ve read the “About This Blog” page, then you know, I don’t do politics in this space. I only rarely even skirt the edge of controversy, because there should be some places on the Internet where you can just have fun and not be offensive or offended, and we all have different opinions, different experiences, and different perspectives.

That being said, in life, I do politics. This has been a weird political season in the US, and a stressful week. No matter what end of the political spectrum you find yourself on most of the time, I think we can all agree that the future looks a little frightening.

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Nothing but nincompoops and megalomaniacs from where I’m sitting. photo credit: hillary clinton ice-picking donald trump : ishootwindows, cliff’s variety, castro, san francisco (2015) via photopin (license)

Because we are very close to declaring that our two frontrunner candidates for President of the United States are:

1.       A woman who is at best an blithering nincompoop who can’t figure out how to use her cell phone and thinks one wipes a server with the swipe of a cloth, or who is at worst a traitor guilty of granting political influence by foreign heads of state in exchange for lucrative speaking engagements.

2.       A man who is at best an incompetent businessman whose ventures have only been highly  successful in the area of declaring bankruptcy and screwing over investors and who has now managed to insult (probably literally) every person on earth, or who is at worst a narcissistic fascist megalomaniac.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I will spare you. I could use a break, and I’d rather write about my dog. First, I should explain how I feel about dogs in general. I think they smell funny. And they slobber a lot. They bark when they shouldn’t. And they are incredibly needy.

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Chubby dog basking in the sunlight, just hoping I’ll shut down the computer and take him for a much needed walk.

 

Despite the fact that I would not have considered myself a “dog person,” a couple years ago my family adopted a little black puppy we named Ozzie. That alone is a great story, for another time. What’s important to know now is that I love my dog.

I’m pretty sure that the Ancient Egyptian owner of Abuwtiyuw felt the same about his furry companion, who lived sometime during the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2181 BC) and was buried near the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Discovered in 1935 by Egyptologist George Reisner, a tablet that was part of the repurposed material used to build a different tomb, gives detailed instructions about the elaborate burial of a dog. There’s no picture of the dog, but he is described as a tesem, a breed similar to a greyhound or saluki, but with pointier ears. And what’s really cool about it, is that even though the tomb and mummy of the dog remain undiscovered, Abuwtiyuw is the earliest domesticated dog whose name we know.

Because his owner (a pharaoh whose name remains unknown) loved him enough to want to make sure he was taken care of. That’s what good pet owners do. Even if we don’t expect to love them, the little monsters worm their ways into our hearts and we take good care of them, because they take good care of us.

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Ozzie, striking his most presidential pose.

 

So earlier this week, I took good care of Ozzie by taking him for his annual checkup and vaccinations. The good news is he’s a very healthy two-year-old dog. The bad news is he’s gotten a little chunky over the winter.

The vet’s exact words were, “He’s got some love handles.” So as the weather warms up this spring, we will be extra diligent in making sure Ozzie gets plenty of exercise so he can remain a happy, healthy dog.

That’s what I was thinking as my chubby pet and I waddled away from the vet’s office. And then I found myself reflecting on how amazing it is that I live in a nation where I am so absolutely blessed that not only can I provide my dog with regular medical care (a luxury many people throughout the world can’t even provide for their children), but he also eats so well that he’s overweight. Someday when he dies, I bet I could even provide a funeral for him in a swanky pet cemetery (though I probably won’t).

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He even kisses babies. Or at least he takes food from them. And now I think I’m beginning to see the problem.

 

So come this November, I may have to decide whether I can vote for a person I might not trust to walk my overweight dog. But for now, I’m going to focus on the fact that I live in a nation so blessed, our dogs have love handles.

I’m still not a dog person. In fact, one thing I can say with a fair amount of certainty is that your dog smells funny, slobbers a lot, barks when he shouldn’t, and is incredibly needy. Ozzie, on the other hand, is all of that, but also happens to be a fuzzy, warm, loving (and maybe just a little chubby) bundle of awesome.

Maybe I’ll vote for him for president.

“Throw Away Your Razor” November

In 1895, a young man named King Camp Gillette stood in front of his shaving mirror contemplating some recent advice he’d received from work at the Crown Cork and Seal Company, manufacturers of bottle caps. The advice was this: “Invent something people use and throw away.”

King Camp Gillette sporting an impressive mustache for the month of Movember.
King Camp Gillette sporting an impressive mustache for the month of Movember.

That seemed like a sound idea to Gillette who thought about it so long and so hard, he nicked himself with his razor. He grabbed a towel and cursed as he attempted to stem the bleeding and clean himself up. Then he grabbed the strop he used to sharpen the blade so he could get good clean nicks the next time he shaved too. That’s when it hit him. What he’d really like to do instead is just throw the darn thing away.

And maybe, he thought, just maybe, other men, men who were tired of tearing up their skin for the sake of a fashionably close shave, might feel the same way. He wasn’t wrong, because about a hundred years later, men stood up in great droves to throw their razors away for an entire month in an effort to tell the world that men’s health and well-being matters.

Evidently babies don't participate in No Shave November. photo attribution: http://www.flickr.com/people/21309047@N00
Evidently babies don’t participate in No Shave November. photo attribution: http://www.flickr.com/people/21309047@N00

It was in the late 1990’s that “No Shave” November (or “Movember” if you prefer a mustache to a beard) began to emerge. The idea is that for a whole month, men (and sometimes women) agree not to shave in order to raise awareness and, in some cases, research funds for health issues specific to men.

I should say, I certainly have nothing against the beardless, even in
November, but I do like the event. I think it’s a fun way to talk about some serious stuff, because, though I really don’t care whether the men in my life sport whiskers or don’t, I do care very much whether or not they look after their health needs. And I realize that too often, men don’t. So, please, Gentlemen, visit your doctor occasionally (or get a doctor, if that’s where you’re at) and take care of business.

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A great November 1904 leap forward for men’s health.

Now, to be fair, Gillette didn’t think the answer to his problem would be to throw away his razor forever and just stop shaving at all. Instead, he got down to business, found himself a knowledgeable partner (William Nickerson), and applied for a patent for his disposable safety razor in 1904 on the 15th of “Throw away your razor” November.

Though not the first encased blade razor on the market, it was the first with a replaceable head and within a few years, men were sold. Gillette had successfully invented something that people use and throw away and had become a well-shaved millionaire in the process. The company that bears his name, though now owned by Proctor & Gamble, continues to move forward behind the mantra, “There is a better way to shave and we will find it.”

This November, millions of men have come together to declare that at least for a couple more weeks, that better way is not to shave at all. But my hope is that long after November has run its course and a lot of menfolk have returned to their regular shaving routines, they will remember how their manly plight was made better by King Camp Gillette. And I’m hoping that every time they throw away their razor blade, the men in my life, and the men in yours, will remember that it’s important to the people they love that they look after themselves and take care of business.

Super Foods of Future Past

In the fall of 1902, twelve healthy young men sat down together in a dining room set up in the basement of the former Bureau of Chemistry in Washington D.C. for the first of many meals they would share. The food they ate was whole and healthy, prepared with the finest ingredients, and calculated to meet the specific caloric needs of each individual. Oh, and it was laced with borax.

Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley. Chief Chemist in the United States Department of Agriculture. Food and drug safety enthusiast. Poisoner of young men.
Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley. Chief Chemist in the United States Department of Agriculture. Food and drug safety enthusiast. Poisoner of young men.

The twelve young men at the table were the first volunteer subjects of a study designed by the Bureau of Chemistry’s Chief Chemist Dr. Harvey Wiley to determine the human health effects of various common additive food preservatives.

Each young hero agreed that for the duration of his participation he would ingest nothing but the food provided him through the study, the only exception being water, which was carefully measured. He also agreed to regular medical examinations, and, of course, he agreed to clean his plate.

Wait, there isn't any radiated spider venom in this, right? I have the weirdest reaction to that stuff.
Wait, there isn’t any radiated spider venom in this, right? I have the weirdest reaction to that stuff.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Americans were as concerned about the chemicals in their foods as we are in 2014. And with no real regulation, it was nearly as difficult to make good family food decisions as it is today amidst confusing regulation and an overwhelming amount of ever evolving and sometimes conflicting health information.

Then along came Dr. Wiley and his “Poison Squad” as they were soon called by the press. They operated under the motto, “Only the Brave dare eat the fare,” rotating through and testing at various times throughout the five year duration of the study: borax, benzoic acid, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, copper sulfate, salicylic acid, and saltpeter.

As soon as a man developed symptoms that inhibited the performance of his daily routine, he was given a minimum of forty days rest during which he ate nutritious food that contained none of the test chemical. But as Dr. Wiley later explained during a hearing before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, the study was necessarily limited because unlike with animal testing, he couldn’t cut open his test subjects and examine their organs. Apparently, they wouldn’t agree to that.

So, I don't know what's in that turkey leg, but I don't think it agrees with him.
So, I don’t know what’s in that turkey leg, but I don’t think it agrees with him.

Still, the study and the publicity that accompanied it, helped pave the way for the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and for the agency that would emerge officially in 1930 as the Food and Drug Administration. The act addressed fairness in labeling more than the elimination of food dangerous food preservatives, but four of Wiley’s test additives are long since gone from American foods, including borax, salicylic acid, formaldehyde, and copper sulfate.

Thanks to the heroic sacrifices of the poison squad, the food we eat is a little bit safer, which doesn’t seem to do much to ease our minds as we are still at war with all things perceived as unnatural in our foods. Regardless of what diet you subscribe to, be it the Mediterranean, Paleo, Flexitarian, or whatever, the one thing they all pretty much agree on is that you should eat as much real, single-ingredient, “whole” food as you can.

And even the most practical of nutritionists, who caution against adopting a diet so rigid that it’s not workable, agree that this is probably a pretty good idea. But as a mom who does the vast majority of the grocery shopping and as much of the cooking as I can’t get out of, I wanted to know, just what are those whole superfoods my family should be eating?

Turns out Prevention magazine has some suggestions. Actually, there are quite a few lists of the super-est foods of 2014, but I liked this particular list because most of the foods on it were included elsewhere, too, and there were several I’d never heard of before. You just can’t get any more super than that.

Holy Whole Foods, Batman!
Holy Whole Foods, Batman!

A few of my favorite are:

1. Avocado oil – just the oil, not the avocado because it was super a couple of years ago
2. Coffee – some years it’s good; some years it’s bad; this year the price is going up so it’s super
3. Shichimi togarashi – a Japanese spice that is apparently really hot and rich in antioxidants, but way more Hipster-friendly than say, blueberries
4. Salsify – a root vegetable that is low calorie and high in fiber because, you know, it’s a vegetable
5. Za’Atar – a Middle Eastern spice that decreases the instances of foodborne illnesses, kind of like cooking does
6. Teff – a gluten free grain whose biggest claim to healthfulness seems to be that you can’t digest it
7. Canary seed – yep, that’s right, bird seed is a gluten free grain option for people, too, so that in 2014, you have permission to finally eat the way you’ve always wanted to, like a bird. Super.

Um, just no.
Um, just no.

I don’t know what was on the list of super foods in 1906, but I guess I know what wasn’t. Don’t worry, though. No formal follow-up study was ever done on the participants of the poison squad, but anecdotally their health didn’t suffer in the long term. One participant, William O. Robinson of Falls Church, Virginia, passed away in 1979 at the age of 94. I think we have to conclude that his longevity stemmed from the fact that he was so well preserved.

Study Shows VD is Good for Your Heart

Tomorrow we celebrate “love,” on that most romantic of days commemorating a couple of martyrs, a massacre, some very poorly behaving Romans, awkward relationship moments, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate candies filled with who knows what. As you can probably gather, we’re not big celebrators of Valentine’s Day around here, although, I have to admit, I will likely make a heart-shaped casserole for dinner because I received a heart-shaped pan as a wedding gift and honestly when else am I going to use that?

Despite my own reluctance to celebrate VD, my children have been busy designing and filling out valentines to give to their classmates. They’re excited mostly, I think, to see the pile of candy they will bring home.

If you must celebrate, at least do so Pinterest style, right?
If you must celebrate, at least do so Pinterest style, right?

But I am delighted with their teachers and with their school because both classes are also trying to make this kind of silly holiday meaningful on a larger scale than simply fretting over cryptic Conversation Hearts bearing messages such as: “DARE YA,” “GOT CHA,” and “URS 4EVR.”

My oldest son’s third grade class will be spending at least some of their party time making therapy pillows to be donated to a local children’s cardiac unit. And my first grader’s class will be participating in Jump Rope for Heart.

I’m especially pleased about that because in fifth grade I participated in the program myself and not to brag, but I had some pretty mad skill. Over the years the Jump Rope for Heart Program has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the American Heart Association all while promoting heart-healthy activity and an attitude of service among elementary students.

It might just be me, but I'm pretty sure the conversation hearts of my youth were more innocent.
It might just be me, but I’m pretty sure the conversation hearts of my youth were more innocent.

Because though it’s a ton of fun, jump roping is hard work. Some historians even trace the roots of the sport back precisely to hard work in Ancient Egypt and China from where the earliest twisted or braided ropes are believed to have come. The theory is that rope-makers had to jump the strands as part of the process of twisting them together to make rope and that in imitation of them, their children developed a game of it.

Whether or not the theory has any merit, rope jumping games certainly did take hold early in China. There’s also evidence that similar jumping activities developed early among the Aboriginal population in Australia. But it is most likely the Dutch we have to thank (or blame) for the modern sport of jump rope.

When early Dutch settlers brought jump roping to New Amsterdam (later New York) in America, the English thought it was the most ridiculous thing they’d ever seen. When Dutch children doubled it up, the English (who were obviously jealous of the mad skills) knew they had been wrong and that this “Double Dutch” accompanied by silly sing-song rhymes was, in fact, the most ridiculous thing they’d ever seen.

Mad Skill
Mad Skill

The sport’s been though some highs and lows in its history, enjoying a resurgence in the 1970’s with the NYPD’s Double Dutch outreach to inner city youth that included the slogan “Rope, Not Dope,” a “rope skipping” campaign begun in Colorado by PE teacher Richard Cendali, and the Jump Rope for Heart program started in 1978 by Milwaukee PE teacher Jean Barkow.

And now, all over the United States, elementary students jump their hearts out around this time of year in order to do some good in the world and prove that Valentine’s Day, for all the angst and disturbing candy messages, can actually be pretty good for your heart.

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So in the interest of exhaustive (or at least exhausting) research, I felt it necessary to dust off my mad skills and jump a little rope. In the process I learned a few things:

  1. I am not at quite the same level of physical conditioning as my fifth grade self.
  2. My “Jumping Rope” list on iTunes needs more Pointer Sisters, Van Halen, and Kris Kross (sure to make me jump jump).
  3. I don’t know if this proves the Englishmen of New Amsterdam right, but my attempt to jump rope is probably the most ridiculous thing anyone could ever see. But won’t. Ever.
  4. Jumping rope is a fantastic way to work off all the empty calories in the heart-shaped box of chocolates filled with who knows what that I’ll probably scarf down in honor of Valentine’s Day.
The things I do for you.
The things I do for you.