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Sesame Street: 40 Years Later, Still Makes Me Smile

sesame streetYou’d really have to be hiding under a rock not to know that Sesame Street has hit the big 4-0.  The media blitz has been quite impressive, with the Muppets taking over game shows, talk shows (did you see them on The Doctors?), even being honored with their own Google logo.  Naturally this required the release of a 2-DVD set Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days.  Heck, JavaDad turned 40 in the same year and even he had a DVD — albeit made by his brother.

When the PR folks behind the blitz asked if I’d like to review the DVD set, it took me half a second to give a resounding YES, and I apologize that it has taken me this long to write to tell you about it, because it is terrific.  In fact, it is going to become my favorite gift to give in 2010 for children and adults alike.

Let me back up a little bit — it just so happens that the set arrived late in the day after a very bad day.  I was in a terrible mood and really did not want to interact with anyone, including my family.  I waited until the kids were in bed and sat down to watch the first DVD.  Not long into it, my mood started to brighten and I actually called JavaDad over to watch the DVD with me, and we soon found ourselves laughing over favorite segments and saying things like, “Oh my gosh, I absolutely REMEMBER this.  I mean I remember everything about this.  It’s like I am a little kid again.”  It wasn’t the same experience as watching a rerun of a Law & Order episode where you can recite some familiar lines —  it was an almost indescribable full sensory recall for both of us, over and over again with several of the segments.  For example, for me, I completely remember the stop-action animation of the Queen of Six, which I know I have not seen in decades. 

Watching these segments reminded us of the positive feelings Sesame Street made us feel, as well as how much we actually learned while watching the show (do you remember who taught you the word “cooperation?”)  We may not have realized it as children, but now as parents, we recognize just how important Sesame Street was to us.  It was more than a show, it was a parenting tool.  My husband and I dissected the show and realized that it did so many things – yes, it helped us learn our ABCs and 1, 2, 3s.  It also made us feel special, and fostered a sense of kindness and respect for others.  However, I realized in a very short clip that showed a steel extrusion factory, that it opened up a world for so many children — I learned about so many different places via Sesame Street and while I grew up in multi-cultural Miami and had the benefit of many field trips, not all children do.  For some children, their only opportunities in the early 70′s to learn about something other than the businesses and people immediately out their front door may have only been through the camera lens of Sesame Street.  

Today children have so many choices of shows, some of them are of terrific quality and are descendants of sorts of Sesame Street, and of course there are many shows that are merely bubblegum for the brain.  But when our generation was growing up, Sesame Street was groundbreaking, and of course we didn’t have cable, so there were far fewer shows to choose from.  I found the comments from Jon Stone, Executive Producer (1969-1975), Director (1969-1994) of Sesame Street (you can find these interviews as part of the Bonus features) both humorous and insightful as to to just how unique Sesame Street was at its inception. 

“When we first began and they told us we had to incorporate all this education into this format I was convinced that it would be impossible to do.  I’d never written anything like this before, but nobody had written anything like this before.  But we tried it anyway… And I almost immediately did a 180 degree turn in my attitude about it.  The educational content, the curriculum, instead of being a millstone around our neck was really a backbone, a spinal column that we could build the show around.  No longer as a comedy writer were you starting with that terrible blank piece of paper in the typewriter, you were staring out with something that you could build a comedy bit around and it was a tremendous help.   I’ll never again do another  television show that doesn’t have some informational content in it.  Because I’m lazy!”  said Stone.

Today many television producers don’t find the concept of educational shows so odd, they see it as the next potential goldmine.

Of course the clips progress beyond the years JavaDad and I watched Sesame Street and it’s interesting to watch the changes of styles and characters (and to read about the reasons for changes in some of the pop-ups and also in the accompanying small book) right up to modern day, which is the Sesame Street my child watch.  My kids, however, have been fascinated with the concept of the “Sesame Street from when you were a little girl, Mommy” and like to watch those clips over and over again.

The Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days set includes more than 4.5 hours of clips from all 40 years as well as pop-ups and interviews and a 24-page hardcover book.  You may not want to let the kids see the book if you don’t want them to see the behind-the-scenes workings of how the Muppets work.  My husband and I enjoyed learning things like the fact that Oscar the Grouch was originally orange and about the struggles the producers had in figuring out how to explain the death of Mr. Hooper.  I never realized what a singing sensation Bob McGrath was in the US and Japan, nor how popular Roosevelt Franklin was and that he released his own record!

My one complaint about this set?  I want MORE!  I wanted more clips, more information (why did Jim Henson tear apart the original orange Oscar?).  But isn’t that the old adage, “always leave them wanting more?” 

I highly recommend this gift not only for children, but also for adults — anyone who grew up with Sesame Street will find something to love about this, but it will also make a great 40th birthday gift.   I really think my husband and I enjoyed this DVD as much if not more than our kids because we could appreciate the full retrospective context.

Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days seems to be available at most major stores that sell DVDs and lists anywhere from 29.99 to 19.99.

Bonus for my readers:  Here’s a downloadable Sesame Street coloring page!

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Disclosure:  I was provided a complimentary DVD set to review, this did not affect the outcome of my review.  This blog is a member of the Amazon Associates program, which means Amazon purchases made immediately after visiting this site may give a small percentage of the sale to this site.  This helps offset the cost of running this blog.

Silicon Valley Moms Launches New Video Series

Silicon Valley Moms Group and Yahoo! are piloting a new web video series called A Byte Out of Life and I’m in the first episode (webisode) – Are You a Compulsive Blogger?

You can see the other ones at: http://svmomblog.typepad.com/abyteoutoflife/ There will be a new one each Monday. A second one about kids and technology is already up!

Do you consider yourself a compulsive blogger? Let me know why and where you blog in the comments section below. Or… tell me if you would watch a video series online.

I’m Fat

They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They?  was the title of a 1989 episode of a TV show called Designing Women. In the episode the character played by Delta Burke, Suzanne Sugarbaker, always proud of her beauty queen looks, realized that she was now seen as “the fat girl” by her friends at a high school reunion.  She was awarded the “Most Changed” trophy at her fifteen year reunion, as  a snark at her physical appearance, and she accepted the award with a lovely speech letting everyone know that she was going to take it as a testimony of how she has changed from shallow beauty to a woman of intellectual and emotional substance rather than the hurtful comment on her weight gain it was originally intended.

I remember reading an article about this particular episode a long time ago, because the episode was written specifically to address Burke’s real-life weight gain.  She was a gorgeous, sexy slender woman when hired, and her weight gain became a problem on set between Burke and the show’s producers/writers.  Burke’s weight gain was due to a combination of physical and psychological issues and the more she felt pressured about it, the worse it got.  Since then, her weight has see-sawed and she has launched a line of plus-sized clothing.  At some point she shifted from running from her weight to trying to help others who were heavy feel better about it.

I’m outing myself as a fat woman.  I have been terrified of old friends seeing photos of me online in the shape I am in currently and I have decided to end the terror now.  I’m not happy with my current appearance, but it is what it is.  I continue to struggle and work on it and I’m proud of myself for the things I don’t let it affect and pissed at myself for the things I do let it affect.  I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends online over the past year and I’ve decided if I’m going to be genuine, I’m going to have to have to stop hiding.  Yes, some are going to say/think unkind things.  There is a certain ex-boyfriend out there who will certainly do so and probably thank God he didn’t marry me after all.  There’s a reason why he’s an ex.

But as I’ve come to learn over the past year, most of us really don’t give a damn how any of us look these days, we’re just glad to reconnect about the common experiences we had growing up together and then the experiences we’ve had apart in geography but yet in common in experience as we’ve moved through those milestones in our careers and personal lives.   I am so much more than my outer shell, I always have been, and I always will be.  We all are.  No matter how thin I get again, I will never look at anyone’s physical appearance the same way again. 

The Journey

All my life I have struggled with body image.  Growing up in Miami surrounded by half-clothed people, how could I not?  When I was 105 pounds in high school, I was always self-conscious of my not-perfectly-flat stomach.  Heck, I guess it started even before that, it started when I was in ballet class at Martha Mahr studio, where we were required to wear a thin, black elastic around our waist so she could see if our stomach bulged at all beyond the elastic.  I did not win the genetic lottery when it came to stomach muscles, even at my thinnest, I never had that perfectly taut stomach.  I stopped wearing bikinis for the most part at age 11.  I wanted to go wind surfing with friends in high school on Hobie Beach, but I was constantly terrified of how I would look to others in my swimsuit.  Do you have any idea of how much I would kill to have that figure and weight again these days?  That weight would not be realistic for me as a grown woman now, but I wish I could shake that insecure girl by the shoulders and say “get out there and enjoy life!  Put on that bathing suit and have fun!” I still hate wearing a bathing suit now and have many more reasons to be self-conscious, but I refuse to let my insecurity get in the way of my kids having fun at the pool and the beach, so I boldly go forth in my swimdress in public where I would not have taken my 105-pound-self before 20 years ago.

In college, I had my highs and lows, but I had to get my high down quickly as I was there to be a broadcast journalist and we know fatties were not allowed on TV — in the age of Oprah we’re a little more forgiving now. 

I was so afraid of the Freshman Fifteen that I actually lost weight my first semester. But I gained a little my sophomore year.  All it took was a comment from my steady boyfriend about his “mother being concerned about (my) weight” for me to go into a tailspin about it.  I lost the weight thanks to a very stringent diet and doctor-prescribed pills.  By my senior year I was anchoring the morning news and reporting for the evening news.

In my early twenties, I realize now that I managed to date a series of guys who wanted me to be their trophy girlfriend and who terrorized me about any incremental weight gain — a 5-10 pound weight gain was enough to threaten our relationship.  And I’m ashamed to admit that I allowed myself to buy into that.  I’m much too smart and always have been much too smart to fall victim to that.  But I did.  And I regret it.  Fortunately I never married any of those men and I was wise enough to always have a certain threshold which I would not cross — you can only step so far until I cry foul. 

In 1995 I was in a terrible hit and run accident that knocked both my knee caps out of place, cracked my ribs, nearly dislocated my neck, gave me very bad whiplash, and a prominent bruise from the seat belt that was looked like a purple beauty sash – Miss Car Accident 1995.  My car caught on fire and I was fortunate that one of the witnesses to the accident was a nurse who ran over and helped me.  I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and for the first 20 minutes or so my brain was so scrambled that I wasn’t sure what year it was, I was off by 10 years.   This accident ultimately led to three knee surgeries over a two-year period and chronic neck and back pain and the beginning of a history of migraine headaches.  This accident, naturally, derailed my walking program and did lead to weight gain.  I still have residual effects from the accident and can be perfectly fine and then one false move and can have knee pain for weeks.

One very positive thing about this accident — it in a way, led to JavaDad (still at this point, just a childhood friend) and I getting together as a couple — although it took a while.  When the pain meds would wear off in the middle of the night, 3am to be exact, and my chest would spasm with pain, he would let me call him in Miami to help keep myself calm until the next set of pain meds kicked in.  He had, already, by this point, told me he loved me, but we couldn’t quite get our act together to be in the same state yet, so we didn’t end up dating until three years after the fact.  But the act of devotion of talking to me on the phone at 6am his time while I was in pain, meant a lot to me Our wedding, 2002After the car accident, my weight went up and down, more health issues have come and gone, including two very difficult pregnancies and my son stretching my stomach muscles 5 inches apart (I need to get that surgically repaired) and my trigeminal neuralgiaBut the biggest struggle has been with my mind. I still hate thinking of myself as a fat woman.
 I tried to hide from it.  But then I had to accept it.  And I had to stop letting  it stop me from doing things. 

Which I have, except when it comes to dealing with people from my past. I never thought a fat woman could rise to the top of the Junior League, but these wonderful women saw that I am more than my weight and the League is not about appearances despite all jokes about cardigans and pearls — we are about developing the potential of WOMEN, not judging body types.  I have made many wonderful friends here in Virginia who have never made me feel conscious of my weight (although yes, I have met some women who did discriminate against me due to my weight).  But I have always been afraid of “what will people back home think” if they saw me now? Well, I don’t know.  I’m a woman whose had a successful career (two, in fact), married a childhood friend who has loved me at 105 pounds and has loved me at significantly more than that, has two fantastic kids, is involved in her community, edited a book, lauched a blog, and tries to be good to her friends and family.  And struggles with her weight.  What do the people back home think?  I’ve decided to let go of the terror and let it be.  I will no longer hold back on posting photos and sharing videos.  If you are my friend, you’ll now know that I struggle, but you’ll already know that I’m so much more than what the camera sees.  I suspect you struggle with something, too.  And you know what, I wouldn’t be any less of a friend to you for it — whether you are balding, divorced, never married, fat, too skinny, never had kids, unemployed or whatever other thing you might fear being judged for in this society where we can judge each other for so many things by the time you reach our age, take a deep breath and let it go.  Whatever it is, accept it and then move on and make the best of your situation and your life.  I’m refusing to let terror hold me back any more — I hate to think of the opportunities and joys I’ve squandered already and I refuse to anymore. 

And for everyone who is thin or athletic, I hope the next time you see a fat person riding a bike, going for a walk, working out at the gym, you’ll silently think, “Good for you for being out there and doing it!”

And JavaDad, I love you.  Thanks for loving me through thick and thin (or thin and thick).

BlogHer ’09 – Proof that Bloggers Aren’t Anti-Social Drones

My friends are divided roughly in half by those who are rabid tech users and those who barely check their emails.  I consider it an extreme compliment when the non-email-checkers tell me they’ve actually read my blog (or “blob” as some say, which I actually kind of like.) 

So when discussions about social media and the future come up, either my friends can dream up all kinds of fantastic ideas of a complete virtual world where geography is irrelevant and we all know each other it’s just in a way where physical objects are no longer a barrier or they see the year 2020 as utter doomsday when no-one interacts with each other anymore because everyone is glued to a computer screen.

It is at this point that I get a bit frustrated.  How did the “social” part of social media get lost in the discussion? 

Next week I am going to the BlogHer Conference in Chicago — which sold out of its original 1000 tickets in MARCH.  A corporate sponsorship helped open up a few hundred more slots, which immediately sold out.  Then, because there was so much clamor about people wanting to come, they actually created an event called LobbyCon where people are paying to come hang out in the hotel bar so they can watch TV screens of  the general sessions, go to the expo and go to the much-discussed cocktail parties after the seminars.   First of all, how brilliant is that?  But secondly, sold out tickets and people willing to travel and pay to hang out in the hotel bar to see only a small portion of the programming — that’s not about the content of the conference, that is about interacting with the people.  That’s about the social aspect of social media.  Real life interaction.  Human-to-human exchange of ideas, without a keyboard and a computer screen between them (I’m not saying there won’t be Pokens, iPhones, Blackberries, nettops, etc. around, but there will be actual conversations going on.)

Twitter is atwitter with hashtags about BlogHer — even people not going are talking about it.  People want to know who has a sponsor (someone paying a blogger to go) and who doesn’t.  Who is going to which after-conference cocktail parties (note the many “badges” on my sidebar — I promise my sidebar will stop looking like a tattooed lady when I return).  People are excited about what we’ll learn, absolutely, but more than anything, we’re excited to meet people we’ve corresponded with online, or have read about through their blogs and never been bold enough to comment but hope to meet in person, or maybe have even partnered with on a project but haven’t met “in real life” yet.

All around the country, people are organizing “pre-BlogHer meetups” and I was lucky enough to attend one in my area, organized by Devra of Parentopia for those of us in the DC/VA/MD area who are going to BlogHer.  And when I tell you more about it, you will see that bloggers, or at least female bloggers, are certainly social! 

Because the get together was at a swanky art gallery called Scene in Baltimore’s National Harbor, several of us from DC Metro Moms decided to carpool and through a complex set of emails and voicemails, the last set of which I was completely not part of because I was in the middle of registering my bone marrow, it was decided that Wife and Mommy and I would meet Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes outside a popular store on Andrea’s route to the harbor.  Now, Wife and Mommy and I have been to a few blogger events together, so I was fine with this arrangement.  But as she and I got out of her husband’s minivan, she said, “oh by the way, I don’t know what Andrea looks like…”  Fortunately, I had met Andrea at the BlogHer DC Reach Out Tour and I’ve seen Andrea’s picture many times, but I did NOT know what her car looked like, so there we were, standing on the sidewalk, like some sort of odd suburban streetwalker, waiting for a car to slow down and say, “hey, are you going to the pre-BlogHer meetup?”

Um, yeah, kids, remember how we told you not to get into the cars of strangers.  We still mean it.  Seriously.

DSC03313When we arrived, I was relieved to see some faces who are starting to become more and more familiar to me — several women from DC Metro Moms, including: Teach Mama (who scored major points flattering me both on a new haircut and new shoes, I think I blushed), Urban Mama, Jessica, Lumpyhead’s Mom, Linda, Tech Savvy Mama (who wields a mean skewer – don’t mess with her kabobs!), Susan, De in D.C., Laurie, Sarah (who took this great photo apparently some time after I left), Kim, Jean, Devra (our amazing hostess), Sue, and of course Andrea, and Wife and Mommy.

And those are people I’ve only known since May!  And then I got to know more people that night.  I really didn’t get a chance to talk to CaraBee (maybe in Chicago!), but I did talk to Kristen (whose BlogHer cocktail party badge I have in my sidebar), Jill (with whom I have tweeted), Jen (with the double-entendre puddle-jumper blog name), Kim (taught me a lot about Laurel), Katherine (we had a quick chat over dessert),  and unfortunately I only had very brief interactions with the bloggers with the two best names in the bunch — Zandria and Examorata.    I hope to see everyone in Chicago and if not there, at another local meetup.

I am fighting one nasty ear infection which makes me miserable at night when I write, so I am relying on Wife and Mommy’s excellent notes for the list of attendees (thanks!) so if I missed anyone…  uh, blame HER! 

While at Scene, we dined on lovely food by Chef Deryl Shouf.  Every time I thought the gallery was going to tell us it was time to go home, more food came out!  When Devra called out the names for the doorprize of the Safety 1st Air Protect car seat and other prizes from our sponsors Safety 1st and Giant Food, I thought surely the evening was over, but no, dessert was coming out.  Nothing bloggers like better than bonding over brownies.   (Say that ten times, fast.)

With our reusable Giant bags filled with Safety 1st ProGrade mirrors and rollershades, Andrea and I broke off from the party, admitting with defeat that though we may not be anti-social drones, we are (ahem) semi-middle-aged mommies of much-more-energetic-than-we-are children who were going to wake up at the crack of dawn and we shuffled off in the dark in search of the parking garage (don’t worry, we didn’t forget Wife and Mommy in some sort of middle-aged-brain haze, she opted to stay later) and unlike the people ahead of us, managed to remember to follow the directions and pay for our parking before getting into the car and reaching the exit gate.

On the way home, I sponged up all the gardening knowledge I could from her (because seriously — look at the woman’s site) and we talked about kids, and once I discovered she also played Bunko, that settled it for me, I decided like it or not, I’ve officially adopted her as a friend.

My Constant Battle With Plastic

Everyone has their demons.  Mine seems to be plastic.

No, not credit cards.  Although I’ve had my share of issues with those in my younger days.  I mean the actual material, plastic.  It seems to be a running theme through some of my daily struggles – physical and ethical.

For example, JavaGirl and JavaBoy have a lot of toys.  And though I try to do a good job of culling through them seasonally and donating or consigning them as they outgrown them, it always seems like there are more toys than any of us have patience or space to manage.  Especially right around, oh, 5 pm.  So, I’ve been working on surreptitiously going through and boxing up some toys with the idea that if those toys aren’t noticed as “missing” in the next few months, they are GONE.  (I would like to note here, that my children actually ENJOY all their toys and will happily play with all of them and actually take pretty good care of all of them and do try to help put them away, but it is overwhelming even to me to put them away, so I can see why it gets to be overwhelming to them.)

So good-quality toys I’ve been putting into a large storage bin to go into the basement, some smaller toys that a lady in my church can use for Operation Shoebox at Christmas-time I set aside in a bag for her, but some things are so small or so junky (i.e. pinata toys, or maybe party favor toys, etc.) that eventually it’s time for them to be tossed and I was merrily doing so.

But THEN along will come something to guilt me out of my purging — like this video which was floating around Twitter last night.  And now I feel guilty for every piece of plastic that I may ever consider tossing (I recycle what is recyclable).   The video is from a great sharing site called Ted.com and it is called  The Seas of Plastic by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Wow.

So, I did finally remember to bring my reusable grocery bag into the store today.  AND I learned how to actually get my five cents credit per bag in the self-checkout lane at Giant.

But I cringe now as I try to purge the toys.   And I’m kind of mad, actually, as part of what I am purging is excess packaging — stupid packaging that makes it hard to store toys in a reasonable manner, or really, really dumb toys that come with kids meals at fast food restaurants.   Well, of course, the best choice is not to go to fast food restaurants, but let’s face it, sometimes that’s just what happens.  And often I choose not to get the full kids meal so I can avoid the toy, but the JavaKids are getting wise to that trick — almighty Marketing has started to reach them.  But I have to say that of all the restaurants, Chik-fil-A is the one who seems to have it the most figured out.  Often their giveaways are books or CDs — things the kids will actually use and keep around a while — and (something I didn’t know until another mom told me) — you can choose to exchange your unopened toy for an ice cream cone while you are there if you prefer.  Now, an ice cream cone doesn’t do much in terms of nutrition, but it does mean no more junky plastic at home.  I like that! 

I’m struggling with my purging, and noting the irony that I bought, yes, PLASTIC bins, to store a lot of the toys in to make it easier to keep things orderly.  But I can’t drown in the small plastic things at home, either, so I will continue to purge.   I do try to help by often buying used (a form of recycling) and passing on or selling items when we are done (another form of recycling), and recycling any packaging of new items.  We do use our plastic grocery bags for many things in the house and I’m trying to do a better job of remembering to bring in the reusable shopping bags.  I often will tell stores not to bag things when I have just one or two items — which still raises an eyebrow now and then, and THAT surprises me because I thought we were all in this “use fewer plastic bags” thing together?!

My other demon?  Paper.  And JavaBoy’s current obsession with construction paper love notes and “No Bears!” signs.  But that’s a post for another day.