“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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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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“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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The Big Easy: Wicked Good Cafe Au Lait, a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon & an Epic WWII Museum

The Big Easy: Wicked Good Cafe Au Lait, a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon & an Epic WWII Museum

“In America, there might be better gastronomic destinations than New Orleans, but there is no place more uniquely wonderful. … With the best restaurants in New York, you’ll find something similar to it in Paris or Copenhagen or Chicago. But there is no place like New Orleans. So it’s a must-see city because there’s no explaining it, no describing it. You can’t compare it to anything. So, far and away, New Orleans.”

– Anthony Bourdain

In February 2020, just as the pandemic was publicly making its way to American shores, my wife and I traveled to New Orleans, LA. Knowing my interest in exploring the city and that a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon was coming to town, my wife surprised me by securing my race registration as a birthday gift. She knew how hard a time I had with our home’s sale, so she thought, and I agreed that this race and trip would provide us an opportunity to relax, reset, and be ourselves. With the race purchased, plane travel booked, and hotel secured, we were ready. When February rolled around, our eagerness and excitement to explore a new city was high.

While we knew that the pandemic had been growing globally, there had only been a handful of cases reported in the US by this point, so when it came time to go, we went. We planned to explore, eat great food, visit a WWII museum, and check the city off our list. What we didn’t know at the time is that this would be our last trip of 2020, even though the year had only just begun. As 2020 finally comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on what was one of the best and brightest moments of a challenging year. Let’s head back to NOLA!

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My Journey to Beijing & the Great Wall of China

My Journey to Beijing & the Great Wall of China

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

– Anthony Bourdain

I first started this blog in July of this year, so not long ago. It began out of my most profound hope to scratch a creative itch and share stories with those who want to read them. My second blog post, Exploring Shanghai, dealt with my trip to Shanghai, China, in June/July of 2018. I will not repeat too much for those who read it, and for those who haven’t, please do. It has some great reflections and stories of the month I spent in Shanghai, China, teaching, traveling, eating, and drinking. The one part of my trip to China I did not detail, and wish to do so now, was my weekend journey from Shanghai to Beijing on June 23 & 24 of 2018 and my eventual and emotional walk along the Great Wall of China. So back to China we go, but this time we jump on a bullet train to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

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Good Morning America: Election Day 2020

Good Morning America: Election Day 2020

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

– Pericles

Well, it’s November 3, 2020… Election Day in America! I usually submit my weekly blog post on Wednesday of each week, but I thought I would move it up one day to coincide with Election Day since this post is all about the importance of voting. So, let’s get started!

The other day, I read an opinion piece written by Mandy Patinkin, whose acting credits include Dead Like MeHomeland, and my favorite, The Princess Bride. In this article, he talked about his path to greater political consciousness, and it made me think of my journey to greater political understanding. No, this blog post will not discuss politics today; that’s not the point of my blog or this post. Instead, this is an opportunity to reflect on my lived past and feelings around current moments, as I often do. Join me as I remember my path to greater civic awareness. It’s Election Day in America; let’s remember what that means. 

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Destination Nashville, TN: History, BBQ, Breweries & a Half Marathon

Destination Nashville, TN: History, BBQ, Breweries & a Half Marathon

“Nashville could just as soon be called Punk City or Rock City. You are just as likely to find the word artisanal hanging over the door of a sandwich shop or a cupcake shop or the slow-drip-coffee laptop zone as anywhere in the land of man buns in the cities of the North.”

– Anthony Bourdain in “Nashville” of Parts Unknown

By the end of this post, you will see that I love Nashville, TN. In April of 2018, my wife Corinne, brother Jeff, sister-in-law Lauren, and I traveled to the hip, fun, and lively Music City. This trip brought tons of fun and left me wondering why I had never considered Nashville before. Filled with the NFL Draft, breweries, a half marathon, tons of BBQ, and side trips to historic sites, my trip to Nashville proved far better than I could ever imagine. What started as a trip to run the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon turned into a beautiful memory that, especially during this pandemic, can easily be called upon to provide happy feelings when I am feeling down.

My brother and I run a half marathon every October or November and have done so since 2014. After an incredible trip to Denver in October of 2017, we wanted to find another fun and unique location. After some research and internet scouting, I discovered that the Rock n’ Roll Marathon series was going to be in Nashville, and it just so happened that the NFL would be holding the draft the same weekend. I talked to my brother and my wife, and we decided to make it a group trip to the city. We booked our flights, registered for the race, and secured an Airbnb in East Nashville. We were ready, but was Nashville prepared for us!

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Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon is #1 – Part TWO

Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon is #1 – Part TWO

In my previous post, My Top 4 Half Marathon Races – Part ONE, I discussed my top three half marathons. Shipyard Half Marathon in Portland, ME was #4, Denver Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon was #3, and San Diego Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon was #2. All of these half marathons were fun, exciting, and unique. Each offered beautiful race environments, great courses, perfect travel destinations, fun activities to do in the city, and importantly flashy finisher medals! But, which of the 16 half marathons I have run takes the crown as #1. As the title says, the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield, IL.

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Exploring Shanghai: One Brewery at a Time

Exploring Shanghai: One Brewery at a Time

“Time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived.”

– Captain Juan-Luc Picard, Star Trek: Generations

During the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai, China teaching US History for the Massachusetts Educational Institute. I immediately considered this a once in a lifetime experience and eagerly accepted. As someone who had never been to that part of the world or even considered the possibility of ever setting foot in Asia, this seemed a daunting journey. My anxiety grew higher because I would be traveling without my wife, who was still working in Boston and did not know anyone else who had signed up to teach.

Travel is fantastic, but being with someone makes it stand out, at least for me. Now I am not criticizing those that travel alone, actually the opposite. I am envious of the lone traveler. Their spirit, confidence, and resolve must be admired and applauded. But I had never traveled by myself like this, and the length of my stay in China would be 38 days. That’s a long time to be away from my wife, our dog Mr. Tuttles, and journeying to a place whose language I do not speak and whose culture I did not want to offend.

Even so, the excitement of this type of travel was enough for me to leap. In the months before my departure, I prepared, planned out excursions, researched places to eat, sites to see, and how to get around the city of Shanghai. I am not the first person to do this, so it was not hard to get information, but that did not remove my anxiety about leaving home for a month and doing all this alone. Luckily, when the time came to go, I boarded my flight in Boston. After an emotional goodbye with my wife, the excitement of what was to come took over. I was on my way to China.

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