Playing Well: Pretty Much the Coolest Job in the World

In 1934, Danish master carpenter and builder Ole Kirk Kristiansen held a contest to find a new name for his burgeoning toy company. Since1916 Kristiansen had been operating his carpentry business in the town of Billund, Denmark,constructing mainly houses and household furniture.

With the start of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, construction became a difficult way to make a living and so Kristiansen turned his attention to toys. With the shift came the need for a new name and while Kristiansen had a couple of good ideas, he also had a homemade bottle of wine, which he offered up to the employee who could come up with the best idea.

The best idea was a clever contraction of two Danish words, leg godt, which translate as “play well.” The company, of course, became LEGO, a worldwide building brick phenomenon that pumps out more than 5 million little plastic blocks per hour, which is coincidentally about the same number that are currently scattered on the floors of my house.

LEGO
Creation Nation. There was a large outline of the US on the floor with attendees invited to build a small sculpture to help fill it in. Some were just silly and fun. Others modeled famous landmarks. Still others were inspired by McDonald’s. Because what’s more American than that?

My kiddos are LEGO fanatics. And so are yours most likely because on average every person on earth owns 86 LEGO bricks. Granted, my dog probably ingested more than that number yesterday alone, but there’s still a good chance you have a few lying around. If you want to find them, just take off your shoes and walk around for a bit. Always works at my house.

So it’s probably no surprise that when the traveling LEGO Kids Fest visited St. Louis this past weekend, my family jumped at the chance to go. I’m glad we did, because it was a seriously cool event. For two days, the Edward Jones Dome at America’s Center, normally the football stadium for the St. Louis Rams, was put to a much better use. It became home to a maze of huge LEGO sculptures and interactive building activities.

Kids and their families participated in build challenges and group art projects, teaming up to design and race cars or construct strength-tested bridges. Attendees could enjoy numerous free-play areas set up with tubs full of individual colors so that if they had a hankering to make a replica of the Taj Mahal using only purple bricks, they totally could.

Or it was the perfect place to fulfill the lifelong dream of climbing on top of a big pile of bricks and making a LEGO angel (because who hasn’t dreamt of doing that?) before sitting down to construct a giant multicolored fish taco.

My favorite experience, though, was when we took a break and went to a presentation given by one of the LEGO Master Builders, of which there are only eight in the entire world, all based out of Enfield, Connecticut.

This elite group is responsible for all of the giant LEGO sculptures you might see at the LEGO Kids Fest, or the Mall of America, or Disney World, or anywhere else you might find a giant LEGO sculpture.

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Yep, even Emmett has been Kra gl ed.

We had the opportunity to meet Master Builder Chris Steininger during a presentation on interlocking build design in which he encouraged all the little Master Buidlers in Training to try different structures, and then strength test them with heavy metal wrecking balls. My sons learned their lessons well, intentionally designing weak structures to achieve more spectacular destruction.

Chris talked a little bit about the design and build process and he patiently answered about a hundred questions from the kids in the audience, most of which were some variation of “Do you have the best job in the world or what?”

LEGO R2D2
Coolest. Job. Ever.

Not surprisingly he answered, “Yes,” explaining that even though sometimes there are frustrating design issues to work out and building a new model, layer by layer, gluing each in place along the way (yes, for all you LEGO Movie fans out there, I’m sorry to tell you master builders do use “Kra gl e”) can be tedious, basically what he does for a living is play well. And what could be better than that?

Which is what Ole Kristiansen decided, too. It would be a few years before the emergence of the patented stud-and-tube interlocking brick system that is still inspiring little builders today, but in 1934, Ole knew what he wanted his company to be about. And deep down, he also knew what he wanted to call it. He decided to stick with his own idea and called the company LEGO. There’s no record of whether or not he shared the bottle of wine.

A Writer’s Tour on Wyatt Earp’s Birthday

Mr. Earp will just have to wait for his feature post. Maybe next birthday.
Mr. Earp will just have to wait for his feature post. Maybe next birthday. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wyatt_Earp.jpg#/media/File:Wyatt_Earp.jpg

On March 19th, 1848 in the little town of Monmouth, Illinois, the gunslinger who would one day become the central figure in the famous shootout at the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp came screaming into the world.

But I’m not going to write about Earp this week. In fact, I’m not going to write about any historical figure at all, because a while back, a fellow blogger was kind enough to extend an invitation for me to participate in a writer’s tour.

So, first, I want to thank Camille Gatza of Wine and History Visited for including me on the tour. I have been enjoying Camille’s blog almost since I started out blogging myself.  Her posts often detail her travels through the US including wonderful background on historic sites and national and state parks. Along the way she always seems to discover unique restaurants and wineries and over the years, she has taught me pretty much everything I pretend to know about wine.

So here are the questions put forward on the tour:

What are you currently working on?

I’m always researching for both my blog and my fiction projects. The blog jumps through time and space from week to week, through the stories that I find interesting at any given time, with really very little rhyme or reason. I find that kind of research, which is admittedly not always very thorough, to be kind of a refreshing break from the research I do for my fiction projects. That is thorough and time consuming and while interesting, doesn’t always yield the kind of lighter stories I like to share in this space.

Okay, okay. Next week. I promise.   photo credit: 79109 Colby City Showdown via photopin (license)
Okay, okay. Next week. I promise. photo credit: 79109 Colby City Showdown via photopin (license)

Currently as a blogger, I am looking into the story behind LEGOS because this weekend my family and I will be attending the traveling LEGO Festival as it visits St. Louis. In my other “writerly” role, I am working through a first full draft of a novel that will hopefully serve as a companion to my first that was recently accepted for publication (!). As part of that process I am reading everything I can get my hands on about the Pennsylvania canal system in 1833, which, while interesting, and will supply wonderful historical details for the novel, is not exactly good material for this particular blog.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

A lot of history blogs I read (and I do read a lot of them) are very information dense. Often they cite references and speak with a good deal of authority within a fairly narrow scope. I love that. And those kinds of blogs are exactly what history blogs should be.

But this isn’t that kind of blog. In fact I hesitate sometimes to even call it a history blog, because in some ways that’s not what it is. I do share stories from history, and I do spend a good amount of time (or at least some) researching my chosen topic in an attempt to provide readers with tidbits worthy of sharing at cocktail parties. But there’s also a lot of me on the pages of this blog. There’s a lot about my life and the things I find funny, or interesting, or just worthwhile. I try not to claim a great deal of authority in this space, because, frankly, I have none to claim.

But I do hope the posts are fun to read. I have a great time writing them.

Why do you write what you do?

When I was younger, history always seemed either dull or tragic to me. I’ve never been very good at memorizing dates and it seemed all I ever learned about in history class was how one group of people exploited another group of people to become the dominant people. And, really, human history can be boiled down to that if you let it be. But as I grew older and studied more literature, I began to see history through a different lens. When fleshed out with the little details that make up the experiences of individuals, suddenly each moment in history becomes many moments with many perspectives and far-reaching implications. In other words, it becomes a story. And a story, our story, is worth telling.

That realization led me to writing historical fiction, a genre that I fell in love with very quickly as a reader as well as a writer. And this blog is an extension of that. As this wonderful article in The Onion so eloquently points out, there are more stories within the history of human experience than I can possibly tell, or that any of us can possibly tell or ever know. But with this blog, each week, I get to take a stab at illuminating a little bit more.

How does your writing process work?

photo credit: Tapping a Pencil via photopin (license)
Some weeks are just like that. photo credit: Tapping a Pencil via photopin (license)

For the most part, I write what’s on my mind. If I have experienced or will be experiencing a particular event, I may use that as a jump-off for some historical research, and often the structure of the post itself will reveal that. Some weeks, something I come across in the news sends me down a trail I think might be worth sharing. And, of course, like anyone else, I have weeks when I struggle to find something to say.

Typically I start out with a very general idea of what I want to write and just start typing because I never know exactly what I’m going to want to write until I’ve already written it. After that I polish it up, trim the word count, insert what I hope are a few clever lines, throw in a few pictures, and post. Then I just sit back and wait for millions of thoughtful comments to come rolling in.

Well, okay, so that last part doesn’t really happen, but I realize that this blog is a little hard to categorize and it is sure to appeal to a fairly specific kind of reader. I am delighted that so many of you quirky, creative, thoughtful people have found it. Thank you!

And now on with the tour!

For the next stops on the tour, I’ve chosen two writers whose blogs I appreciate very much. They also both happen to be writers of historical fiction, but they each approach blogging differently than I do. I doubt they’ll be writing about Wyatt Earp this week either (although you never know). Still, I hope you’ll visit their sites, and maybe read their books as well, because it will be well worth the effort.

sam

Samuel Hall grew up in the American Heartland.
He lives with his wife near Salem, Oregon. Their three adult children continue to teach him about family relationships and authenticity, core subjects of his novel.

Visit his website at www.samhallwriter.com.

Sign up for the newsletter at www.ashberrylane.com to hear the latest about Sam’s book, Daughter of the Cimarron.

blogtourphotoAdrienne Morris lives in the country, milks goats, chases chickens and sometimes keeps the dogs off the table while writing books about the Weldon and Crenshaw families of Gilded Age Englewood, New Jersey. Her first novel, The House on Tenafly Road was selected as an Editors’ Choice Book and Notable Indie of the Year by The Historical Novel Society.