Bobbling Along With Style

History has not been especially kind to King George IV of the United Kingdom. Many of his contemporaries described him as selfish, unreliable, and just kind of the worst. He was difficult to work with, indulged frequently in heavy drinking, and he was a pretty terrible husband. But he did have one thing going for him. The man had style.

Referred to as the “First Gentleman of England,” George had tremendous influence on style and taste in the early 19th century. He was particularly passionate about architecture and design, and spared no detail when planning his Brighton Pavilion beginning in 1787. Built after Indian architectural styles, then Prince George chose Asian-influenced décor for the interior. And it’s pretty heard to question the man’s impeccable taste when you realize that this choice led to the incorporation of a bunch of bobbleheads.

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This is a Japanese “nodder” doll that dates to the 16th century, though bobblehead-style dolls are probably older than that. Cleveland Museum of Art [CC0], Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
According to the website of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which is a real place in Milwaukee, WI in case you ever want to go, George was pretty fond of these Chinese and Japanese dolls with oversized heads attached with string. Perhaps it was because when nudged, they always agreed with him.

Not a great deal seems to be known about the origin of the bobblehead, except that something like it seems to have developed in parts of Asia prior to 1760 or so when it started nodding its way into Europe and became a fun, manufactured product coming out of Germany.

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This could be yours for just $19.95 on Amazon right now. No, seriously.

The bobblehead doll’s popularity has waxed and waned over the years since its introduction to the western world, but it’s been on the rise pretty steadily now since the late nineties when the San Francisco Giants handed out 20,000 big-headed bobbling Willie Mayses to a crowd of enthusiastic fans.

Since that time an army of distorted, acquiescent, cartoon celebrities, athletes, and even Pope Francises has been released upon the world.

And though I hope I’m not selfish or unreliable or just kind of the worst, I have to agree with King George IV on this one. I find bobbleheads pretty adorable and I do have quite a few. Mine are all of the baseball variety, collected from stadium giveaways.

It’s a fun collection that sometimes borders on the ridiculous. In fact, just this past weekend, the promotional giveaway at the stadium I love the most was a double bobblehead featuring two of the all-time greats from the history of the team. Because my husband and I couldn’t go to the game, we bought our nephew a ticket so he could go and collect our keepsake for us.

cardinal bobbleheads
My husband is fond of saying, “There’s no more agreeable activity than dusting a collection of bobbleheads.”

Our prize has now found a new home in our baseball-inspired family room, which probably isn’t all that influential in the style and taste department. But it is a pretty accommodating place to be, surrounded by nodding statues in matching uniforms.

If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, you may recall that uniform has a pair of red birds on it. Also, you may recall that I don’t mention the team that wears that uniform by name when they are in the middle of a playoff run. Yes, I realize that’s not rational, but bear with me here. The last time I blogged about my favorite Midwestern flock of baseball-playing birds during a playoff run without using their actual team name, they won the World Series. I’m just doing my part.

With style.

The Queen of Strength and Beauty

Just two years after he organized what is largely considered the world’s first bodybuilding competition in 1901, acclaimed German muscle man Eugen Sandow met his match in a woman. The story goes that it was at a performance of feats of strength in New York when strongwoman Catherine Brumbach challenged anyone in the audience to outlift her.

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Also known as the “Lady Hercules,” Katie Sandwina was known for being feminine as well as uncommonly strong. University of Washington [Public domain]
Sandow allegedly jumped onto the stage and proceeded to lift a 300-pound barbell to chest height. Catherine then lifted the same weight over her head with one hand. Some historians question the truth of the tale that pits the two heavy lifters against one another. When one considers that Katie spent much of her life working for master promoter P.T. Barnum, it’s easy to suspect it may be little more than a load of hogwash.

But there’s no question Catherine Brumbach, whose stage name became Katie Sandwina after her rumored victory over one of the world’s strongest men, was a powerhouse. Katie grew up in a circus, performing with her very large family. When she was a teenager, her father offered a prize to any man who could outwrestle her. None ever did, but one man did fall in love and propose.

Happily married for more than fifty years, Katie incorporated her husband Max into the show, lifting his 165-pound body above her head with one arm and then tossing him about with ease.

I’m impressed by this woman, whose 5’9”, 200 lb. frame was considered by many to be the ideal image of perfect womanhood. She was even known as “Europe’s Queen of Strength and Beauty.”

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She’s lifting three grown men. And she’s wearing heels. I’d say the title of queen is well deserved. Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain]
I can’t exactly relate, but I have recently begun lifting with my husband. Of course I don’t mean that I’m lifting him over my head like Katie Sandwina would do with her Max. But we do try to get to the gym together about three times a week where he lifts the kind of large weights a large man might lift and then I show him how it’s done by lifting much lighter weights. Super impressively.

And I am getting stronger, though I’m pretty sure no one is referring to me as America’s Queen of Strength and Beauty. Or even Missouri’s. Yet. Katie still has quite a bit of size and strength on me, and I’m a lot more interested in being a little bit healthier and a little bit stronger than I am in becoming the strongest woman in the world. She was, by the way, her record unbroken until 1987 by American weightlifter Karyn Marshall.

Katie performed with Barnum & Bailey’s Circus until she was sixty years old. Then she and Max retired to run a restaurant in New York. There this queen of beauty and strength cooked up a storm and occasionally acted as formidable bouncer until her death in 1952.

Perhaps that should be my goal. By the time we retire, I plan to be strong enough to literally throw someone out of my kitchen should the need arise. Like a queen. And of course, I’ll look beautiful doing it.

Why Hello There, Stanley (Woo Hoo!)

Since 1893 when Governor General of Canada Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley donated a silver challenge cup to be held each year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada, the oldest trophy in professional sports has been passed around, drop kicked, stolen, and accidentally left on the side of the road. What came to be known as the Stanley Cup has held flowers, cereal, and newborn babies.

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Original Stanley Cup – Library and Archives Canada, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been through some design changes over the years and since 1926 it has served as the championship trophy of the National Hockey League.

And now for the first time it’s been hoisted by the St. Louis Blues. (Woo Hoo!)

I can’t claim to be a huge fan of the sport of hockey, but the excitement during the playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals has been infectious.

stanley
By Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1390419

St. Louis is celebrating. I’m celebrating. None of us has slept much. And we’ve all now listened to late season Blues victory anthem “Gloria” covered in 1982 by Laura Branigan, far more than anyone did in 1982 when it topped out at number 2 on the Billboard chart.

I am delighted for the players, the lifelong fans, and the little kids whose loyalty to their favorite hockey team has been forever sealed by an awesome season in which the very worst team in the league at the beginning of January became the very best team by the end. (Woo Hoo!)

And I’m so happy for my city that has had some rough years, but has drawn together in the last few weeks as a community longing for an improbable victory. I think I’m even going to buy a Stanley Cup Championship tee shirt.

Let’s Go Blues!

(I apologize for the little bit of foul language at the beginning of this video and in the linked video above. Everyone’s been a little excited around here.)

Gold Medal Throw Down with a Monk

Olympic spirit has infected my home like a bad case of the flu. I like the Olympics. I’ve enjoyed watching US snowboarders own it, and the figure skating is quite lovely, but my case is pretty light. My husband, on the other hand, is somewhat delirious. The man is obsessed. If the Olympic Games came around more frequently than every two years, it would definitely be time to stage an intervention.

This same guy, who ordinarily couldn’t care less about the world stage of biathlon or wouldn’t devote a moment’s thought to the subtleties of bobsledding technique, has transformed into an expert on all things international sports.

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Okay, it does look kind of fun. photo credit: Wyoming_Jackrabbit IMG_1787 via photopin (license)

Nowhere is his illness more apparent than in his newfound (and likely short lived) dedication to the sport of curling. If we can assume the DJ on my preferred morning radio station got her information from a reliable source and that I heard correctly (both pretty big assumptions), then curling is currently the third most popular winter Olympic sport amongst the American viewing public.

Why not? It’s got slippery ice and heavy rocks and some very enthusiastic sweeping, everything a sport needs I should think. It has the nail-biting moments of tension that beg for otherwise responsible sports enthusiasts to stay up late even though they have to be at work the next morning.

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Prior to 1998, the only thing that came to mind for most of us when someone mentioned curling. Image courtesy of oga_red, via Pixabay

The sport is loud, too, sometimes called the “roaring game” because of the unique rumble of stone scraping against ice or possibly because of the crazy fanboy shouting coming from my living room.

Some of the interest in Olympic curling may simply be because it’s a relative newcomer to the Games, only included since 1998. Sort of. The sport actually made its Olympic debut with the first Winter Games in 1924, but was then downgraded to an exhibition sport because it lacked an international organization necessary to meet the requirements of the IOC.

Really, despite its recent emergence in the consciousness of Olympic fanatics, curling is an older sport than even its most dedicated historians (and yes, it has some) are willing to speculate. There’s disagreement about whether curling is originally Dutch or Scottish in origin, but the earliest written evidence of the sport, or something like it, comes from Scotland in the form of a legal record book from the 16th century covering the goings on of Paisley Abbey.

Scholars discovered the book in 1976 and quickly turned it over to be examined by curling historian David Smith, who is the kind of dedicated historian that might argue with you about the origin of the sport and would win because, let’s face it, you’d probably be out of your depth.

Pieter Bruegel Winter Landscape
One of the earliest instances of curling caught on canvas, Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap By Dutch painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When Smith translated the passage of interest from Latin, he found that it described, ever so briefly, a practice run of Brother John Sclater who slid three stones to roar across the ice and felt fairly satisfied he was ready to meet the challenge he’d previously issued to Gavin Hamilton, the new lay governor of the Abbey.

Because the record of the anticipated match appears in Latin legalese, scholars point out that this most likely wasn’t a friendly contest. Rather it’s an example of how an angry 16th century monk issues a throw down. There’s no record of which man won, suggesting that the notary was rooting for the other guy.

I bet it broke his heart to see his favorite curler miss the mark. He’d probably stayed up late to watch the match, biting his nails as the stones roared against the ice and the competitors shouted and swept. He probably had to head to the office bright and early the next morning where he’d put in a full day filling books with Latin legalese. But he didn’t care because he’d caught the fever.

Saving the World’s Clay Pigeon Population in Middle of Nowhere, Missouri

My family and I took advantage of the recent long holiday weekend to spend some quality time together making fun of each other. At least they made fun of me. Or as my husband likes to say, I made the fun. They just pointed it out.

We took a warm sunny day to pile into the old family truckster and drive out to a shooting range in Middle of Nowhere, Missouri to go trap shooting, a first for me and my sons. It was a fun afternoon, and I can see how people could get really into the sport.

William Carver certainly did when he moved out West in 1872 to practice dentistry in Nebraska, a profession he didn’t stick with for long but that lent him the nickname “Doc.” Instead, he took up trap shooting, and soon discovered he could make a pretty good living at it if he were good enough.

And he was good. Like really good. He toured the country and by 1879 even set sail for Europe where, according to biographer Raymond Thorp, he showed off his exceptional skills to the Prince of Wales and many wealthy patrons during an extended engagement at the Crystal Palace.

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Doc Carver: a man who did his best to decimate the clay pigeon population and a pretty darn good shot. By A.H. Arnold, Omaha (Heritage Auctions) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Referred to in the New York Times as “the man who can put a bullet through a silver quarter while the coin is flying through the air,” Doc Carver could have plausibly claimed the title of greatest shooter in the world, but one challenge remained. Because there was one shooter who might have been said to be better. And allegedly, the up-and-comer Carver had a hard time convincing champion Captain Adam Henry Bogardus (who was both a pretty darn good shooter and the perfector of the glass ball and trap that had been serving to save the world’s passenger pigeon population from the sport) to accept a match.

In 1883, Bogardus finally did accept and the two faced off with a shoot in Louisville, Kentucky. Doc Carver won by one bird in front of a crowd of 1000. But as disappointing as the loss may have been to Bogardus, the match-up had its advantages.  Soon both shooters received a hefty endorsement deal from George Ligowsky, inventor of the clay pigeon and trap that would serve to save the world’s glass ball population from the sport, and a lot of innocent fields from being littered with shards of broken glass.

What Ligowsky proposed, and paid handsomely for, was a series of 25 matches throughout the United States between the two champions, using the new clay pigeons. Doc Carver won nineteen of the matches, sealing his claim that he was good at the sport. Like pretty darn good. I guess it makes sense, this desire to prove oneself against someone else of great skill. It’s what drives a lot of athletes toward success and continues to push sport accomplishments to greater and greater levels.

What I can’t figure out is why it would be important to prove oneself against a person who has no particular interest or who has never demonstrated skill in a sport. Before this past weekend I had never been trap shooting in my life. Neither had my sons, but they were kind of excited about the idea when my husband (who has been trapshooting before) suggested we give it a try.

At first I was thinking this would be a great guys’ day out and I would have the house to myself so I could read a good book. Like a really good one. But then my youngest started to get a little nervous, suggesting he didn’t think he’d be very good at it, and maybe he shouldn’t go.

So, I sighed and did what moms do. I set aside my really good book, piled in the car with the family to head out to a gun range in Middle of Nowhere, Missouri, and I literally gave it my best shot. In fact I gave it a lot of my best shots. I even tried really hard to follow my sons’ very helpful advice and aim. I didn’t hit a single clay pigeon.

clay pigeons
You might think that would mean they’d be easy to break, but it turns out you still have to manage to hit them.

Not even one.

But I was an encourager. As my boys struggled (a lot less than I did) and then started to hit their targets more often than not, I cheered them on and became the butt of the jokes. Because I’m good at that.

As far as trap shooting goes, my sons are pretty good. My husband is really good (though maybe not yet to the level of pretty darn good). And, well, I’m not bad at releasing the clay pigeons.

The Greatest Two Hours in Field Day

Yesterday I’m pretty sure I set a world record. I mean it’s not official or anything and it probably doesn’t sound that impressive on this of all days, since today is the 82nd anniversary of “the greatest 45 minutes in sports.” Admittedly, that was pretty impressive, too.

It was in 1935, at the Big Ten Track and Field Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan that Jesse Owens tied the 100-yard dash world record and then smashed the world records in long jump, 220-yard dash, and 220-yard low hurdles. With a back injury. In just 45 minutes.

Jesse Owens
What truly impressive feats of athleticism look like. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96374 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5368787

I don’t run if I can help it (unless I have let one of my friends or one of my sons talk me into it, because I’m a sucker) but that sounds like a pretty good day to me. Owens went on to dominate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as well, and had it been a different, more just era, he would have raked in the endorsements. He did become the first African American depicted on a Wheaties box, but the big money sports endorsements he hoped to gain by leaving the realm of amateur sports behind, never materialized, and his career as an athlete was unfortunately short lived. Still, he remains one of the greats in sports history.

I will not go down as such. I doubt anyone will name a stadium after me, or craft a statue in my honor. I’ve not yet discovered the athletic niche that could land me on a Wheaties box, and at nearly forty, I suspect my time for that may be running short.

But I am proud of my accomplishments yesterday, when I served as the parent-in-charge at the lasso golf station at my son’s elementary school Field Day. By now I’m sure you’ve seen this game, played at company picnics and backyard barbecues.

You might choose to believe the entirely unsupported speculation (which more credible lasso golf experts might refer to as a “wild guess”) that cowboys in the Wild West played a similar game using tree branches and live snakes. Or you might believe that it emerged from campgrounds in the early to mid-90s and is new enough it hasn’t quite settled on a name just yet. You may know it as “ladder golf,” “ladder ball,” “horsey golf,” “dangle ball,” or even just “balls on bars.”

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Oh, that game!

I’m sure there are more regional names as well, but the basic idea of the game is that you have a three-rung ladder-like structure and you throw bolas at it to try to get them to wrap around the rungs to score points. And by bolas, I mean two balls attached to one another by a rope, similar to the weapon used regularly by pre-Columbian societies to trip and take down animals. So, obviously, this is a great game to play with third through fifth graders.

Actually, we had remarkably few people get tripped up, or even get clocked in the head, which was something of a miracle given that initially the game was set up to throw toward the playground and that grade school students have a tendency to wander across any old field of play they happen upon. But very early on I did discover one major hurdle to lasso golf success.

Because the darn bolas get tangled. I don’t mean that once in a while they might get twisted around one another and have to be spun out. I mean that every single time an oh-so-helpful child picks up more than one of them at a time and holds them in his or her hand for more than 0.2 seconds the ropes form into a knot that might as well be held together by superglue. Honestly, I might rather play with live snakes.

But Field Day is about fun and parental perseverance. And so despite the fact that the mother I was partnered with disappeared before the first game could even begin (I have to assume she wandered off and got recruited to lead a rousing game of fun noodle javelin throw), and the line for my incredibly popular lasso golf station never dropped below ten or so anxious kids, and the bolas frequently ended up on the other side of the playground or across the kickball field, where I couldn’t always manage to grab them before an oh-so-helpful grade schooler scooped them up, immediately accidentally tying  the knot of all knots, I got pretty good at running a smooth game.

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Just a small knot here.

In fact, I got so good, had someone been handy with a stopwatch (and if anyone bothered to keep records of such things), I’m pretty sure I would have easily smashed the world record for the length of time it takes to untie a lasso golf bola. I probably shattered the record several times over the course of my two hour sentence shift.

Now I’m not saying I’m a world class athlete, or that this was the greatest two hours in sports. But it might have been the greatest two hours in Field Day, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get any big endorsement deals out of it.

How Otto the Visionary Became a Well-Rounded Person

Several years ago when we were the mommies of much littler littles, a friend of mine asked me for some mommy advice. My friend grew up in Upstate New York, where winters are bitter cold and ponds form thick ice. Now that she found herself raising her own children in Central Illinois where winter can be bitterly cold for days at a time, and frozen ponds can sometimes be a touch unpredictable, she was looking for a place to teach her children the crucial life skill of ice skating. Exasperated at having to sign them up for lessons at a nearby ice arena, she shook her head and said, “Well I guess that’s just what you have to do so your kid can learn to skate. I mean, how did you learn?”

My friend was truly shocked when I answered, “I didn’t.”

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I’m no human locomotion expert, but I think the guy in the yellow pants is just about to bite it on the ice. January Scene, 1820, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My family had a box of ice skates in various sizes shoved away in the basement, in case we ever happened upon a good thick patch of ice. As far as I can remember we never did. And though my town didn’t have an indoor (or outdoor) ice rink, we lived about thirty miles from a town that did have one. I remember attending an ice skating party one time. Or it might have been twice.

That was it. That’s the only experience I’d ever had with ice skating. Sure there were hockey leagues in the next town and I had friends whose families made the effort to get plenty of ice time. But we weren’t that family. I didn’t mind a bit. When I did make it out onto the ice, I mostly just fell. A lot.

No. I mean, A LOT. I think I made it around the entire rink one full time, death grip on the wall the entire way, before I gave up with very cold tears streaming down my cheeks.

I can honestly say that I never felt myself disadvantaged by my lack of this particular skill. Clearly there is a cultural difference between my friend and me. Ice skating is a skill she views as essential to becoming a well-rounded individual. It’s important to her.

It was also important to the people of Southern Finland as much as 4000 years ago. Historians believe that’s when someone (let’s just call him Otto the Visionary) first decided sliding across the slippery ice on a thin set of blades was probably a good idea. And it might have been, because according to human locomotion expert, Federico Formenti, the savings in energy and time while traveling on foot among the many lakes in the southern portion of Finland, might have been well worth the effort it took Otto to strap a couple of animal bones to his shoes.

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Just saving some time, taking a shortcut across the ice. photo credit: R.A. Killmer How is this possible? via photopin (license)

The ice skate has, of course, been improved since those early years. Skating spread through much of Europe and by the 17th century had become a beloved cold weather activity spawning skating clubs, competitions, and innovations that soon distinguished the sports of speed and figure skating. Then in the 19th century, Canadians started playing ice hockey. It’s anyone’s guess what they did before that. Curling, perhaps?

Despite the wide range of ways to enjoy the sport, and even though I do become an expert on figure skating every four years as I comment “knowledgably” about the slight wobble on the landing of the otherwise flawless triple axel that will surely cost the favored skater the gold, I don’t feel the need to participate.

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Evidence. Sorry it’s so blurry. That’s bound to happen when you just landed a sick triple axel. Or when you hand your 12-year-old your phone and say, “Take a picture of me looking awesome!”

Except this past weekend when I did. My twelve-year-old son, who has been skating a few times (and is obviously a more well-rounded individual than his mother), had the opportunity to go skating with a youth group he’s a part of. And because I’m super lucky, I got assigned as a chaperone for the outing.

When I chaperone, I generally like to participate. I get to know the youth better when I do, we share some laughs and make some memories. Fun is had. Trust is built. That’s all well and good. But remember the death grip on the wall and the cold tears streaming down my cheeks? I do. And I did.

I admit I was scared, but my son wanted me to give it a go so I decided I would. Sure I fell a few times, bruising both my hip and my dignity a little, and if I’m being perfectly honest, there was probably a slight wobble on the landing of my triple axel. But for a kid from Illinois, who has never felt the need to conserve energy or time by strapping blades to my shoes and sliding across the ice, I think I did okay. And, I’m probably now a more well-rounded person. Maybe even a visionary.