“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three”: Recalling Sentimental 1980s Toys

“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three”: Recalling Sentimental 1980s Toys

Woody: All right, that’s enough! Look, we’re all very impressed with Andy’s new toy. / Buzz: Toy?/ Woody: T-O-Y, Toy! / Buzz: Excuse me, I think the word you’re searching for is ‘Space Ranger’. / Woody: The word I’m searching for – I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.

– Tom Hanks (Woody) & Tim Allen (Buzz) from Toy Story (1995)

The other day, I watched a YouTube channel, and the two hosts visited the Funko shop on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Now, that might not sound like anything special, but it is for two reasons. One, I love those small Funko POP! figurines, and I wish I had more than the two I currently own. Two, the hosts made custom Funko POP! figures as part of the “POP! Yourself!” experience at the Hollywood location. That seemed incredible. Not only does Funko have an actual store, but people can make a toy/figure that looks like them. As a child of the 80s, I would have loved these custom creations, both then and, yes, now. At least I know one place I will be going when it’s safe to travel! Get ready, LA; I am coming.

The most cherished item in those early years of growing up was my toys. Sure, that might be odd to think of as an adult nearing forty, but as I have defined myself as a reflective person, someone who regularly ponders nostalgic thoughts, this adds up. For the last couple of months, I have found, one could say, somewhat of a groove with my weekly posts. One week I post about travel, one week movies/POP! Culture, one week half marathons, and another week nostalgia/memories. While it does not always turn out this way, nor are weeks confined to such a rigid structure, January and February proved the rule. To close out this cold and snowy New England month, I thought, why not dive into one of my oldest and purest enjoyments; toys. I no longer seek them out, except of course, for the occasional adult LEGO build of a Haunted Mansion or the Statue of Liberty, or the Nathan Drake Uncharted and John F. Kennedy Presidential Funko POP!. Still, I have the fondest memories of those days, nights, and Saturday afternoons when toys were the center of an imaginary world, of my invention.

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“No Sleep Till Brooklyn!”: Two Brothers, a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon & Craft Beer

“No Sleep Till Brooklyn!”: Two Brothers, a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon & Craft Beer

“In Brooklyn on a Saturday night, Saturday night, yeah, Talkin’ bout Brooklyn on a Saturday night”

– “Brooklyn on a Saturday Night” by Neil Diamond

I have spent two fabulous Saturday nights in Brooklyn. That might not be enough, true, but I spent both with family, fun was had by all, and I loved the city, its eateries, and its beer. My first experience in Brooklyn was with my brother Jeff. Together we ate, drank, and crushed the Brooklyn Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. It was a memorable weekend, and it was a running trip that we have modeled all our other trips after. The incredible times we had in other locations, and in subsequent years, was inspired by our “brother trip” to Brooklyn. As I have focused on and provided attention to a half marathon each month, this month, it’s time to lace up the sneakers, get some craft beer, eat delicious food and enjoy Brooklyn. Two brothers, 13.1 miles of scenic running, and the weekend that established a tradition.

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It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

“To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.”

– Quentin Tarantino

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my affinity for original music scores. How the music shapes and molds the images you see is unbelievable. Still, the film score is solely one component of what makes up my favorite parts of the cinematic experience. Therefore, I thought why not venture back to the world of movie music, but this time focus on my most nostalgic movie songs. Many of my posts play around in the sandbox of nostalgia. I am a historian; after all, it’s where I feel most comfortable. But, what do I mean by movie music? Well, I am referring to those songs that immediately produce an incredible nostalgic feeling when I hear them on the radio, television, or film. When I hear the song, I grow still, the world around me becomes silent, and all I picture is where I remember it.

As a professor, one of my favorite traditions is to play “Back to School” at the start of the semester. Like those athletes you see getting off the team bus, headphones on, and walking into the stadium, I play this as I drive to class on day one. It’s smooth vocals and slow beat, quickly picking up tempo and ferocity in a fabulous 80s fashion. The song always has the power to pump me up, like a wrestler making their way to the ring with entrance music playing. Written by Richard Wolf and Mark Leonard and Jude Cole’s vocals, this anthem of the 1986 comedy film Back to School is heart-pumping fantastic. Sure, the movie, starring Rodney Dangerfield, is over the top, aged poorly at multiple points, but is in line with other 80s era films. The song always makes me laugh as I think back to watching it with my brother Jeff. I reflect on the film’s fun absurdity, and all the times I reenacted Sam Kinison’s cinematic moment when he yells “say it” and goes ballistic in the classroom. That is the power of a nostalgic film song.

As you can imagine the task of selecting nostalgic movie songs may sound like an impossible task. I have watched thousands of films, and most movies have several connected songs. No matter, it seemed a fun, worthwhile, and musically inclined venture. To find my most nostalgic songs, I focused on my most nostalgic movies, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, Cinematic Nostalgia: Traveling 88 mph to the 1980s. By focusing on those movies first, I could find those songs that inherently illustrate my love of cinema on a cellular level. But starting with those films does not mean it is where I will remain as I discover songs that strike the most nostalgic key. With that said, let’s dive back into cinematic music, but rather than listening to the original score, let’s put the cassette in the stereo, press play, skip over the instrumental and find the melody that brings all the memories flooding back.

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Wandering through County Clare, Ireland

Wandering through County Clare, Ireland

“May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”

– Irish Saying ☘️

In August 2017, my wife and I traveled to County Clare, Ireland, with my mother, for an experience of a lifetime. My mother has become a seasoned professional at traveling throughout Ireland and invited us to stay with her at the cottage she rented for the summer. With my wife and I on summer break from teaching, it seemed the time was finally right to join my mother. This trip would be a perfect opportunity to see some of the places that have become special to her. Our trip constructed incredible memories that, as I have said often, are helping me get through this pandemic. Join me as I recollect about this fantastic journey along the Atlantic coastline of Ireland and those towns and historical sites we visited.

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“Good Food, Good Times”: Nourishment in Nostalgia and Vice Versa

“Good Food, Good Times”: Nourishment in Nostalgia and Vice Versa

“Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: ‘Is it good? Does it give pleasure?’”

– Anthony Bourdain

Do you ever think about the things you think about? Sure, that has nothing to do with this week’s post, but it does make you ponder. Well, the other day I was thinking about food. Ok, I get it, doesn’t everyone think about food. Yes, of course, but recently I started to think about those foods that defined my past. Honestly, this topic came to me after watching a recent vlog on a YouTube channel called Dani.702. The host, Dani, was at Disney Springs and purchased a substantial glazed donut from Everglazed Donuts and a giant chocolate chip cookie from Gideon’s cookie shop. After sampling both, she selected the one she thought was best. Her decision ultimately rested on which one made her feel most nostalgic. She then mentioned a favorite memory of getting a similar donut when she was younger. Dani.702’s reaction made me ponder about the types, and flavors, of foods I enjoyed when I was younger and produced a similar response. Stuffed quahogs, linguica pizza, sour cream and onion dip, and malasadas are a few foods that always transport me back in time.

In an old post, Traveling to Familiar Surroundings, I discussed my journey back, after many years, to where I grew up, going to a few eateries, and finding comfort in familiar surroundings. My parents no longer reside in the area, and my siblings and extended family have since moved away and on for the most part. My ability to connect to the past is, well, not as easy as I wish. That was why, as I discussed in that post, my wife and I went to my home town. I was able to deal with my anxiety and depression with a nostalgic trip that included hometown food. I have since moved closer, even if slightly, to the area, but the pandemic has, of course, made revisiting eateries challenging. Today, join me as I travel to coastal Massachusetts, the area of my childhood, and explore those foods and meals, either home-cooked or takeout, that stand out to me today, and if given an opportunity, I would order right now.

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Trip to Washington, D.C.: Half Marathon Running, Delicious Food & an Inconceivable Encounter

Trip to Washington, D.C.: Half Marathon Running, Delicious Food & an Inconceivable Encounter

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

– John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address Delivered on Friday, January 20, 1961

Today is an exciting day in the United States. I have always been amazed by the American President’s inauguration. Maybe it was the countless hours I spent at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA. Those moments as I sat transfixed in front of the large screen, watching and listening to Kennedy’s inaugural address. As I observed this visual history in the museum exhibit, it was the first time I heard a speech that inspired me. It made me feel emotionally connected to history, the moment, the point of it all. As a historian, I continuously try to reclaim that connection to the past. That’s one of the reasons why I always wanted to visit Washington, D.C., and see the important monuments, museums and consider the nation’s collective memory of the past.

Four years ago this March, my wife and I traveled to Washington, D.C., so that I could run another Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. As I wrote in numerous blog posts about half marathon travel, I love Rock n’ Roll organized races. The half marathon I ran in Washington, D.C., is a perfect example of why I continue to travel and run. I enjoy traveling to D.C., and, especially as a historian, there is an endless amount to do. Since today is Inauguration Day and President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris will take the oath of office, I thought I would venture back to the nation’s capital and reflect on my last time there. Make sure your sneakers are tied and have your cold weather running gear because D.C. was frigid. The only way to remedy the freezing temperatures was running fast and eating some delicious food. Just beware of the eatery you go to; you might bump into someone unexpected.

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“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/ When I was young and dreamed of glory/ You have no control/ Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

– Chris Jackson (George Washington) in Hamilton

When I started this blog, I wrote that I would not attempt to make these posts a history lesson. I love history, being a historian, and talking about history. While teaching American history is my profession and passion, I want this blog to mix that with all the other topics I appreciate. Still, there are times, like today, when I use my knowledge of history, not to teach a lesson but to shine attention on my addiction to movies and television. Allow me, as I put on my historian hat, which I like to imagine resembles the one worn by Denzel Washington in Glory or Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird, and discuss my emotional reaction to cinematic historical drama.

During times like these, when history seems distant, distorted, and dismissed, I often look to cinema to help remind me of what inspires me. History has always been something that interested me. The other day, I watched Hamilton for the first time and felt emotions that I had not felt since the pandemic began. Teaching using ZOOM has left me disappointed, even while recognizing this format’s necessity and how lucky I am to do what I love. But, while I understand those facts, I have felt empty. Watching the filmed performance of the epic Broadway play on Disney + helped remind me, even if slightly, of my love of history. I believe that cinema can offer a powerful emotional trigger that can bring history into the present. So, join me as I reconsider this viewing experience alongside some of the best cinematic moments, for me, that repeatedly stirs up my passion for history.

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Traveling from Antigua to Sibinal in Guatemala, or the Land of Eternal Spring

Traveling from Antigua to Sibinal in Guatemala, or the Land of Eternal Spring

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

– Maya Angelou

In the summer of 2010, my wife’s family, including me, traveled to Guatemala. We went to visit my wife’s brother Kyle. He was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sibinal, a municipality in the San Marcos department of Guatemala. It was an exciting opportunity, since none of us had been to Guatemala before, and it had been over a year since we saw Kyle. We relied on him to plan out our entire itinerary. He chose where we stayed, ate, and arranged fabulous visits with his host families, set up a couple of historical tours, and a trip to his work site in the village of Sibinal. What we didn’t expect would be the deluge of weather that greeted us along our journey from Antigua to Quetzaltenango, known locally as Xela (SHAY-la), Lake Atitlán, San Marcos, and finally Sibinal.

While the trip had rain, mudslides, a hurricane, and an earthquake, the memories we gained, stories constructed, and time spent together are seen today as genuinely incredible. I know of no other trip I have spoken about more, cared more deeply about, then that trip to Guatemala. Join me as I venture ten years to the past and reflect on this incredible journey, and marvel at the places I saw, people I met, food I ate, and the brutal weather that has since become family lore.

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What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

“There’s only now, there’s only here
Give in to love or live in fear
No other path, No other way
No day but today”

– “No Day But Today” – Vocals by Idina Menzel and Lyrics by Jonathan D. Larson

One year ago, for New Year’s Eve, my wife and I drove into Cambridge, MA, for a live performance of Moby-Dick, A Musical Reckoning at the American Repertory Theater. We had bought these tickets a couple of months before, mainly because on the one hand we wanted to see more live performances in the new year and, on the other hand, I love everything related to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It was a fantastic night, and the play was brilliant, unique, and the songs were memorable. What we didn’t expect was that this performance would be our last live event of the year. With the pandemic shuttering the doors of Broadway theaters and theaters around the country, we had that previous event as a powerful reminder of the things we lost out on in 2020.

Today’s post is my 30th since mid-July, which was when I started this blog. Next week, my post will explore a travel adventure in Central America, so this week, and since tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, I decided to reflect on that Moby-Dick musical and think back to those times I took in a play either on Broadway or closer to home. Each live theater experience provided a wonderful experience that I deeply miss. I know these theaters will open their doors again. Still, in the meantime, l am going to get my memory ticket punched and head back in time to reflect on those amazing musical performances.

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Holiday Movie Rewatch of “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Holiday Movie Rewatch of “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Anna: On Dasher, on Dancer on… the other ones? / John: Firebolt? No… that’s Harry Potter’s broom. / Anna: Oh no. We can’t hang out anymore. You’re too sad. You’ve hit like, peak sad. / John: They were a very popular series of books.”

– Ella Hunt (Anna) & Malcolm Cumming (John) in Anna and the Apocalypse

‘‘Twas” two days “before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring,” except the groans of zombies on the television. On TV is not Scrooged, Muppets Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Story, instead a holiday horror film with singing teenagers battling zombies. Is Anna and the Apocalypse a perfect Christmas movie? Hardly. Is it more a Christmas movie than Die Hard? Possibly. Is it a fun film with great music, quick comedy, and a fabulous way to stay goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021? F*** Yes!

I think it was in the morning of late November of 2018 when I awoke in the morning, made a cup of wicked excellent coffee, and sat scrolling around in my phone. As per usual, I scroll around on IMDb and see what movie news awaits me. Then, I saw it; A zombie/ horror/ comedy in the same idea as Shaun of the Dead, but as a holiday musical. All I could muster under my breathe was, “Holy Shit! I am all in.” I did a little research and found out that the film, hailing from Scotland, was getting worldwide distribution for the holiday season.

I immediately went to the AMC Theaters website, plugged in my zip code, clicked on the title of the film, and saw “available.” All I had to do at this point was to convince my wife, Corinne, to go and see it. That would be an easy sell since she loves going to the movies, ordering movie snacks, and seeing a Christmas/Holiday film. Sure, a festive film with zombies, but also a musical. As soon as she was awake, I made her coffee and told her about the film. Her response, “as long as there are popcorn and snow caps in my future, then… Yes!” I do not often go to the movies, but this film, I felt, had all the ingredients of a one I wanted to see. Music, zombies, a badass heroine, some UK humor; how could it be bad? So, buckle up, as Corinne and I rewatch and discuss one of the best holiday/ horror/ comedy/ musical films, Anna and the Apocalypse.

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