The ubiquitous Morgan Freeman
Spokesmen and/or women… you know, those people who become the commercial face and voice for faceless, impersonal corporations. You’ve seen them on TV and heard them over the radio: the reassuring Dennis Haybert for Allstate Insurance; the cocky William Shatner for Priceline; Mike Rowe for Ford; Morgan Freeman for just about everybody else. (Apparently he's #5 on the list of the Top Ten Most Trusted Celebrities. And happy to do voiceovers. Nice work if you can get it!)
Hopeiary vs. Olympic fencer
Well, Dow, the chemical conglomerate, has got a new spokesman with neither a face nor a voice. In fact, it’s a bit of shrubbery. Hopeiary (yes, that's what it's called - ugh!) is a giant green biped made of hedges, created by the ad agency Draftfcb in Chicago. (Perhaps the admen are Monty Python fans?) Hopeiary even has his/its own website! (Is he/it planning on being the most interesting shrub in the world?) If you’ve watched even a tidbit of the Olympics, you’ve probably seen a commercial with this anthropomorphic topiary, walking around London, stumbling into Olympic athletes. Apparently he symbolizes the planet with "its own Olympic dream"—which is to not get totally, irreparably wrecked by humans. Dow's environmental history as a global corporate citizen is checkered at best, including its links with the horrendous gas leak at a pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, 28 years ago, which killed almost 3,800 people. (It bought out Union Carbide, which owned the factory at the time.) So Hopeiary seems like more than a bit of greenwashing to me…
If a Martian landed on Earth and watched the Summer Olympics on prime-time television, it would probably conclude that the games consist of a handful of sports: swimming, gymnastics, diving, soccer, basketball and track-and-field events. In reality, the London 2012 Olympics will feature 26 sports in 302 medal events. Since the inaugural of the Modern Olympics in 1896, sports have been dropped and added as popularity and/or feasibility waxes and wanes. Here's a look at a few of those obscure or obsolete sports, which may leave you scratching your head and muttering, "What were they thinking?"
The Rope Climb
Shades of a 1960's era gym class! Shinnying up a rope was once an Olympic event! Rope Climbing was included in the gymnastics program from 1896 through 1932. Competitors were required to ascend a suspended vertical rope, using only their hands. They started from a seated position on the floor and were timed. (Apparently in the 1896 event, style points were also awarded.) In 1896, the rope was 14 meters long (almost 46 feet!!!). Only two men, both Greek athletes, made it to the top. For future events, they lopped off about half the rope! And as all who suffer from a distinct lack of upper body strength sigh in relief, the powers-that-be (the IOC) dropped the rope after 1932. Unfortunately, sadistic gym teachers around the world kept the activity to torture their students throughout elementary and high school.
Swimming Obstacle Race
This one-time-only event was held in 1900 at the Paris Summer Games, but I am guessing that it might be ripe for a revival and a return to the Olympic roster, given the popularity of such TV shows as "American Ninja Warrior" and "The Amazing Race," which feature all sorts of crazy obstacle course challenges. Could become a new fan favorite! As a combination swimming event/obstacle course, the competitors had to climb over a pole, then clamber over a row of boats, and then swim under another row of boats (total distance 200 meters). Since this event was held outdoors in the River Seine, the competitors also had to contend with the current. Might be a way for Michael Phelps to continue competing into his thirties...
Pierre de Coubertin, sports fan and poet
I kid you not. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics included competitions in the artistic categories of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. In fact, the "father of the Modern Olympic movement," Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, won a gold medal in literature for his poem "Ode Au Sport" in 1912. I know what you're thinking: they gave it to him because he was the boss. Actually, he submitted the entry under a pseudonym. Of course, when he won, he had to present the gold medal to himself. Scandalous!
W.E. Dickey, gold medalist, 1904 plunge
Plunge for Distance
When we were kids, we used to call this "Dead Man's Float." You know, you dive in the pool and then see how far you can travel underwater without using your hands or feet to help propel your body. The one who gets the farthest before his head surfaces wins. This event was only held once at the Olympics, in Paris 1904. I wonder why...
(Photo courtesy of Missouri History Museum)
(Not to be confused with T.E.G.W.A.R., the notorious card game from Mark Harris' novel Bang The Drum Slowly)
Yes, another children's game was a sanctioned Olympic Summer Games event from 1900 through 1920. Tug-of-war was part of the track & field events. Perhaps it was included as an homage to the Ancient Olympics of Greece, where it was a highly anticipated contest. In the modern Olympics, the tug-of-war event pitted two teams of eight contestants. In order to be victorious, one team had to pull the other six feet in order to win. If after 5 minutes no team had achieved this, the team which had pulled the greatest distance was declared the winner.
You can read more about about discontinued and obscure Olympic sports here, here and here, if you have an inquiring mind.
Intern George, on the ground in London, reports that the London 2012 Oympics have added a third mascot, who joins the original one-eyed twins, Wenlock and Mandeville. Mike Wazowski, co-star of the film Monsters Inc., has reportedly been brushing up on his British accent for the event.
America has always been a country with a flare for hyperbole. We Americans like to live large, eat and drink big gulps, and buy in mass quantities. Why, we invented the jumbo-size! We also like to erect landmarks to our out-sized items. If you doubt the veracity of this statement, take a roadtrip while you still have time this summer, and for my readers overseas, if you're planning a trip to the U.S. any time soon, add these fabulous attractions to your itinerary! America's highways and byways are littered with strange, surprising and often hilarious monuments to America's love affair with extravagant exaggeration. Whether it's food, flora, fauna or frippery, we sing the praises of the humungous among us. Let's traipse through the 50 states, shall we, from sea to shining sea, in order of admission to the Union:
1. Delaware: Giant Doctor's Bag with Stethoscope (Newark)
2. Pennsylvania: Giant Cow (Wilkes-Barre)
3. New Jersey: World's Largest Elephant (Margate City)
4. Georgia: World's Largest Peanut (Ashburn)
5. Connecticut: Giant Statue of a Man Holding an American Flag (Norwich)
Why is this on top of a printing company?
6. Massachusetts: Giant Rotating Globe (Wellesley)
7. Maryland: Giant Pineapple (Baltimore)
8. South Carolina: World's Largest Peach (Gaffney)
9. New Hampshire: Giant Pirate (Hampton)
Built by...who else?..a duck farmer
10. Virginia: Giant Milk Bottles (Richmond)
11. New York: The Big Duck (Flanders)
12. North Carolina: World's Largest Chest of Drawers (High Point)
13. Rhode Island: Giant Rooftop Dragon Statute (Providence)
14. Vermont: World's Tallest Filing Cabinet (Burlington)
Perhaps this belongs to the duck?
15. Kentucky: World's Largest Baseball Bat (Louisville)
16. Tennesee:World's Largest Rubik's Cube (Knoxville)
17. Ohio: World's Largest Basket (Dresden)
18. Louisiana: Giant Frog Statue (Rayne)
19. Indiana: World's Largest Egg (Mentone)
Sport and art meet at the Nelson-Atkins Museum
20. Mississippi: World's Largest Rocking Chair (Gulfport)
21. Illinois: World's Largest Covered Wagon (features a giant Abe Lincoln) (Lincoln)
22. Alabama: Giant Hog (Dothan)
23. Maine: Giant Lobster (Hancock)
24. Missouri: World's Largest Shuttlecock (Kansas City)
25. Arkansas: World's Largest Tuned Windchimes (Eureka Springs)
Were you expecting something to do with cheese?
26. Michigan: World's Largest Weathervane (Montague)
27. Florida: Giant Bowling Pin (Tampa)
28. Texas: World's Largest Rattlesnake (Freer)
29. Iowa: World's Largest Strawberry (Strawberry Point)
30. Wisconsin: World's Largest Muskie (Hayward)
31. California: Giant Donut (Ingleside)
Intern Bruce snapped this one
32. Minnesota: Paul Bunyan Statute (Akeley)
33. Oregon: Giant Grizzly Bear with Salmon (Crescent)
34. Kansas: Giant Reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflowers (80 ft easel) (Goodland)
35. West Virginia: World's Largest Teapot (Chester)
36. Nevada: World's Largest Firecracker (Amargosa Valley)
37. Nebraska: World's Largest Porch Swing (Hebron)
That's one big spud
38. Colorado: World's Largest Hercules Beetle (Colorado Springs)
39. North Dakota: World's Largest Buffalo (Jamestown)
40. South Dakota: World's Largest Pheasant (Huron)
41. Montana: Giant Eagle Statues (Libby)
42. Washington: World's Largest Cowboy Hat and Boots (Seattle)
43. Idaho: World's Largest Baked Potato (Blackfoot)
Barney's fantasy date?
44. Wyoming: World's Largest Jackalope (Douglas)
45. Utah: Giant Pink Dinosaur (Vernal)
46. Oklahoma: World's Largest Concrete Totem Pole (Foyil)
47. New Mexico: World's Largest Pistachio Nut (Alamogordo)
48. Arizona: Giant Sundial (Carefree)
49. Alaska: Giant Rollerskate (Anchorage)
50. Hawaii: Life-size Whale Statue (Kihei, Maui)
You can check out these and many other oddities at RoadsideAmerica.com. Happy trails!
While doing research on Faraday cages for the novel I am currently writing, I found myself trolling the not-so-shadowy underworld of survivalist/preparedness blogs. One word: Wow! I realized that I have been very lax in my maternal duties to stock the house with a year's supply of food, toiletries and medical necessities against this decade's Y2K-like paranoia-inducer: an EMP event. I also stumbled across this silly tidbit of a video. I have never been one to resist the charms of Peeps, in solid state or reduced to goo:
I ate up the Olympic Games when I was a child, Winter and Summer. I was glued to ABC, entranced by genial host Jim ("the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat") McKay, who also hosted "Wide World of Sports" ("spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport"). I was fascinated by the foreign locales and host cities. I was thrilled by the displays of grace and strength in exotic sports of which I could only dream. In fact, I remember a writing assignment in 2nd grade in which I kept a journal, complete with illustrations, written under the persona of an Olympic downhill skier. Nevermind that I had never skied in my short life, (and still haven't) flatlander Chicagoan that I was, bred and born! I was enthralled by the dashing French skier Jean-Claude Killy and his trio of medals in the Alpine events in the 1968 Winter Olympics held at Grenoble, France. (I confess that I think I still have that relic of my childhood education tucked away in a trunk in the basement.)
Of course, back in the day, both the winter and summer games were held in the same year and thus came around only once every four years, so it seemed like even more of an event. Now, with the staggered schedule, there is less of an Olympic drought in between. Perhaps that is why I am a little more blasé about them as an adult, although yes, I still watch my fill.
The 2012 London Summer Olympics begin in one week, so there's still plenty of time to do a little preliminary reading and research on this mega-event which celebrates the heights of athleticism throughout the world.
How about starting with a little historical perspective?
The Naked Olympics: the true story of the ancient games (Random House: 2004)
A history of the original Olympic games depicts the events of the first competitions more than 2000 years ago, during which tens of thousands of sweltering-hot spectators watched nude athletes participate in such events as hoplitodromia, a full-armor sprint, and the pankration, a no-holds-barred lethal brawl. Travel writer Perrottet treats readers not only to a thorough picture of the games' proceedings but also to glimpses of the shameless bacchanalia, numerous (and often lascivious) entertainments and even corruption that accompanied them. Hmm, sounds like not a whole lot has changed...except the sporting goods companies like Nike and Reebok would never let their endorser-athletes complete sans apparel. How would they show off the swoosh? Perhaps a well-placed tattoo?
History of a more recent vintage...
Igniting the Flame: America's First Olympic Team (Lyons Press, 2012)
The author tells the little-known story of the first modern Olympics, the 1896 Summer Olympics, highlighting the difficulties faced by a fourteen-member American team which had virtually no support heading into the games, held in Athens, Greece. Here's one remarkable anecdote among many: an American Olympian shows up for the discus event, having never really tried it before; some accommodating Greek athletes offer to demonstrate, he practice a bit and winds up winning. Reisler skillfully weaves his story from several narrative threads: the resurrection of the Olympic Games, and the men behind their revival; the primitive means of travel and lodging (no fancy Olympic Village here with 24/7 food courts); and the stories of individual athletes and events.
Hitler's Olympics: the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games (Sutton: 2006)
The Berlin Olympic Games, which remain the most controversial ever held, will have their 80th anniversary in August 2016. Using newspapers, diaries and interviews to recreate the atmosphere during the XIth Olympiad, the author presents an account of the disputes, the personalities and the events which made these Games so memorable. Hitler, of course, used the Games as one of the largest propaganda exercises in history. African-American Jesse Owens won four gold medals in a shining moment for America.
A suitable companion or alternative to the above might be...
Triumph: the untold story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics (Houghton Mifflin: 2007)
Schaap (an ESPN host) touches briefly on Owens's life before and after 1936, including his Alabama childhood and his later work for the State of Illinois, focusing most of the book on Owens's track and field heroics. Blessed with amazing speed, he set NCAA records in numerous events. With the help of high-school mentor Charles Riley and college coach Larry Snyder, Owens qualified for the Olympics. After a debate about whether participation in the Nazi Games was ethical—a discussion that had special meaning for African-Americans, whose circumstances were indeed similar to those faced by German Jews—the U.S. elected to compete, setting the stage for Owens to show the world a true superman not descended from Aryan stock.
Rome 1960: the Olympics that changed the world (Simon & Schuster: 2008)
Whether you prefer sports, politics, or history, the author has you covered in this engaging study of the first commercially televised Summer Games. There were several other firsts in Rome: the first doping scandal, the first athlete paid to wear a certain brand, the first African-American to carry the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies. The games fed Cold War propaganda as the Soviet Union surpassed the U.S. in the medal tally. Maraniss loads his narrative with human interest stories (the barefoot Ethiopian Abebe Bikila), personal rivalries, judging squabbles, come-from-behind victories and inspirational stories of obstacles overcome (American track star Wilma Rudolph). It might not be true that these Olympics changed the world, but they definitely showcased the changing world of that era.
A gold medal to anyone who finishes all five before the Summer Games begin!
I discovered Wonderopolis, a fabulous website to use with children to enhance their natural curiosity about the world. You know how children are always asking questions? Well, adults should keep that mindset as well! Imagine the progress we'd make! They feature a wonder-of-the-day, which widget I have added to the home page of this website.
As the site notes: "Visit Wonderopolis®. It’s a place where wonder and learning are nurtured through the power of discovery, creativity and imagination." Wonderopolis is brought to life by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) and supported by the Verizon Thinkfinity, the Annenberg Foundation, Better World Books and Humana.
Sublime, sublime, sublime!
Between writing, doing story time at summer library, taking a tech class and dorm shopping, there's not a lot of time to ponder, muse and scribble. But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to share...
From ImpactLab (a laboratory of the future human experience) - as they call themselves: the Top Ten Photos of the Week. Enjoy!
I considered typing "nuff said" and being done with it, but when have I ever written short when I have the opportunity to write long? So...an examination of my favorite dessert and some of my favorite places to indulge!
I declare it's a perfect day for Dairy Queen!
First, a bit of background... in 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared July as National Ice Cream Month and designated the third Sunday in July as a specific National Ice Cream Day. I never realized this until this year as I was perusing my Highsmith Librarian's Desk Calendar! I would have been heartbroken to think I had missed out celebrating this day for the past 28 years, except for the fact that I celebrate ice cream on a weekly basis...I didn't agree with him politically, but obviously we shared an affinity for frozen desserts made from dairy products. (Or perhaps he was getting major political contributions from the Dairy Farmers of America and the National Milk Producers Federation.)
Flavor of the Month...
The picture doesn't do it justice!
My current favorite ice cream treat is Blueberry Pie from Oberweiss Dairy (a smallish operation located in Aurora, Illinois), but also available throughout the Chicago area and in Indiana, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri. Oberweiss purchases milk from small-herd family farmers who do not use the rBGH bovine growth hormone. Blueberry Pie is a summer-only flavor; it's one of those super-super premium ice creams made with 18% butterfat. It's like two-two-two desserts in one: rich vanilla ice cream, not overly sweet, but incredibly creamy swirled with pockets of blueberry and chunks of crust. Oh, I faint just thinkin' about it!
Favorite Places to Eat Ice cream for dinner
On vacations when the girls were younger, my family tended to eat at odd times. We would get so engrossed in whatever we were doing that we lost track of time and often wound up eating lunch at 3 in the afternoon. So then we never really wanted dinner, a traditional dinner, that is. But 7 o'clock is always a perfect time for an ice cream dinner!
Oink's - New Buffalo, Michigan
Every summer we make a weekend pilgrimage to the Michigan and Indiana Dunes country. After a hard day of climbing dunes, building sand forts and braving the icy waters of Lake Michigan, we usually stay overnight in New Buffalo, Michigan and our favorite place for an ice cream dinner is Oink's Dutch Treat. The place is chockful of porcine kitsch: signs, figurines, plaques, and 55 flavors of heavenly ice cream. Favorite flavors include Mackinaw Island Fudge, Moose Tracks, Chocomania and Cake Batter. Portions are huge and servers are friendly even in the face of lines out the door. Believe me, it's worth the wait. (They also have a candy and fudge shop next door.)
227 West Buffalo Street, New Buffalo, MI
Pinocchio's - Sanibel Island, Florida
If you happen to take a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida, a fantastic place for ice cream for dinner is Pinocchio's Original Homemade Italian Ice Cream. We discovered it one late afternoon on a bike ride to the lighthouse on the east end of the island. They make 130 different flavors offered on a rotating basis. Dirty Sand Dollar (caramel based ice cream with malted milk balls "whoppers" & chocolate flakes) has an excellent basis of cream-to-crunch and, if you are fond of coconut, Sanibel Krunch (vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered toasted coconut and mixed nuts) is heaven in a waffle cone. If you prefer sorbet, the Mango is particularly fresh and tasty.
362 Periwinkle Way Sanibel, FL
Ted Drewes - St. Louis, Missouri
If you happen to be in St. Louis on business or pleasure or college campus scouting, you must stop in at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. The place has been selling frozen custard since 1929 -- and apparently Christmas trees as well. We've only ever been there in the two-ton heat of a St.Louis summer and there's nothing better to take the edge off than a Cindermint Concrete (what they call their ice cream with mix-ins). It's like Christmas in July!
It's that thick!
These concretes are blended so thick that the spoon does not fall out if the cup is turned upside down. Servers will often demonstrate this before handing your order to you. If you are not into peppermint, there's plenty of other candy and fruit ingredients to mix in for a delectable treat to beat the heat.
What's the difference between traditional ice cream and frozen custard, you may be asking? According to the Ted Drewes website: "frozen custard must have at least 10% butterfat and 1.4% eggyolk. The amount of air, also known as overrun, truly separates frozen custard from traditional ice cream. Traditional ice cream has as much as 100% overrun, which causes ice crystals to form. Frozen custard has 20% overrun or less. This reduction of air is what give frozen custard its silky smooth texture."
It is truly sublime!
6726 Chippewa, St. Louis, MO (btw, this is a section of historic Route 66)
Yesterday's - Estes Park, Colorado
In Estes Park, Colorado, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, you can get your ice cream fix at Yesterday's Ice Cream. They feature Blue Bell Ice Cream out of Brenham, Texas, which is available in only 16 states, mainly in the South. Yesterday's has a 40's and 50's vibe, plenty of antique signs, memorabilia and music. Oh, did I mention the ice cream? Southern Blackberry Cobbler is a favorite as well as Chocolate-covered Cherries and Pecan Pralines n' Cream. As an added treat, if you wander a ways down the road, you might happen to see some elk or other local fauna cross your path.
191 W Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park, Colorado
I could go on and on... because, when in a new city, it is always my mission to find the best ice cream... but I think it's time to go celebrate National Ice Cream Day instead. Bon appetit!
I love learning something new every day, especially when it's cool, really useful and related to technology. Here's a short instructional video about some of the cool ways to use Google Image Search (beyond just searching for an image)!
To find out more about me, click on the Not Your Average Jo tab.