02 August 2015

The ABC's and Sesame Street - A Thank You

Created the year I was born but not going on air until three years later, in 1969, "Sesame Street" endeavored to, according to the truthsayers at the Wikipedia, "master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them." Interesting to note that even nearly fifty years ago, people recognized that television would by and large be a vapid, soul-sucking cauldron of nothingness. The characters of Sesame Street, human adults and children as well as the Muppets, would go on to teach countless children the basics of elementary education (e.g. literacy, mathematics, communication). Literally countless numbers of children learned to say their ABC's from Kermit the Frog. Many of us can remember counting with The Count. The lasting legacy and impact of "Sesame Street" cannot be discounted and millions of children continue to learn today from this program, despite the efforts of the Mittites and their ilk.

Why the "Sesame Street" nostalgia, you ask? Earlier today, the good people at one of my favorite magazines, Mental Floss, posted a link to a 40 year old scene from the show, featuring Kermit and a young girl doing the ABC's. How it plays out is clearly unexpected for everyone's favorite green frog.

Take a look:

As I watched this, a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I couldn't help but be thankful for those days that I can recall counting with the Count and working out letters with the denizens of Sesame Street. I looked over at my nightstand and saw the pile of books that I have read or am reading and I was so grateful that I can read. While I don't owe that ability to Sesame Street, it played a part in my comprehension and to the good people at the Children's Television Workshop, I say thank you.

I suppose what I'm reading now and what I've most recently read may freak the aforementioned CTW people out a bit. Here's a few of the titles:

Nagasaki Life After Nuclear War - Susan Southard - I'm currently reading this unflinching look at the affects of the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II. It is told through the eyes of several survivors. It's every bit as horrible as you can imagine and even more powerful.

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County - Kristen Green - In the early 1960's, there a handful of backward countries (countries!) and one county in Virginia where free public school education was not available. I just finished reading this personal history of the lasting impact of segregation.

The Billion Dollar Spy - David Hoffman - Fascinating and gripping account of a Russian engineer who spied for the US at his own volition. Why can't we teach this stuff in our high schools?

Like I said, it's an eclectic list. It may not be what the creators of "Sesame Street" envisioned but I don't honestly believe they wanted their young learners to solely recite the ABC's and read Dr. Seuss for the rest of their lives. They wanted us to know that each time you opened a book and began to read it, you opened a whole new world.

My world is better for it. Thank you, Sesame Street.

29 July 2015

An African Proverb

I came across this quote as I watched the credits scroll to a not awful movie that didn't get a lot of play called "The Good Lie." The movie tells the story a group of Sudanese 'Lost Boys' and their experience in the United States. While the movie itself was a little cloying, the story of these refugees from Sudan is anything but. Their stories are compelling and if you do watch the movie, the featured proverb makes perfect sense.

When you think about it, the proverb makes perfect sense in so many settings. I thought about when I was running consistently (meaning when I was thinner and had lost my spectacular man rack #dadbodsrule), I always ran further and better when I ran with my Wheaton, IL running group. There was something so motivating about the group dynamic, not to mention the conversation, laughter, camaraderie and commiseration!

I thought about the millions of miles I've been lucky enough to have traveled, many of those have been alone. By and large, those solo trips have probably gone faster, with the exception of every.single.trip. on Satan's favorite railway, Damntrak, but they'd have no doubt been better by going with someone. Or at least sharing part of the experience with someone. By that I mean, when I'm traveling solo, I've got to be better about sharing a greeting with my seat mate on the plane. I've got to be better about 'engaging' the locals about the best places to eat when I find myself some place new. Some of my most memorable experiences while exploring this world have come courtesy of the tip of a local. But those experiences have been most enjoyable when shared. I think of the time the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I marched off a plane early one Sunday morning in Sydney, Australia after nearly 24 hours of flying to be met by our two Aussie friends who showed us the sights of that amazing city. Sharing (fantastic meat) pies at Harry's with them was one of the highlights of that trip. We saw things we'd not have seen were it not for being together with friends.

This concept of going farther by going together I'm finding applies to my own learning as well. Learning doesn't stop with the awarding of a degree. It happens every day if we'll let it. Turns out the guy selling empanadas on the corner outside your Midtown office has a story. It's a story that can teach you something. I see this opportunity to learn together manifesting itself every other Sunday as I get to teach a class at church. As I prepare for that class, one of my objectives is to insure we are learning from one another. I don't want to be pontificating, My head is literally too (physically) big to have a hat that lets you pontificate, if I'm being honest. One of the things I enjoy most in that class is what I learn from the comments and insights from those in attendance. I learn far more from them than they from me, I'm quite certain.

But that's the beauty of this proverb. Alone, you can certainly do a lot but in the end, we'll do better by doing things together. I like that.

The children of South Sudan still need help. The crisis is not over.
Click here if you want to learn more and help.

27 July 2015

On learning a thing or two

He gets wiser
When TMFKATB was serving in Mexico during Part One of what we are now calling the Mission Two'Fer, we could pretty much set our clocks to the arrival of his weekly email. As was manifested last week (a day late!) and by his not getting on until around 2PM our time today, we can no longer plan our days around his emails. We (mostly me, I suppose) need to resign ourselves to the fact that they'll turn up when they do. No matter when those emails starting hitting our inboxes, it's a good thing.

This week's email was pretty reflective. TMFKATB had a week that was much different than he had expected (busy, full of teaching engagements). He saw miracles happen in the lives of some of the people they are working with. He had some insights into what happens when we are too hard on ourselves and that can hamper our progress in this life. He is seeing how important it is to do all you can do and to trust in God to make up the rest. In his letter to us, he reminded us all to do the same.

As a father, it's something else to be watching this transformative experience in one of your children. My daughters have passed through them and it's been just as rewarding to watch it. Our eldest becoming a mother and watching CAL traverse the waters of starting a career have given us the opportunity to witness their transformations. Being able to share in TMFKATB's transformation is different because due to the circumstances of his mission service, it's a little more passive than it was with our girls. It's been equally rewarding though.

I'm glad this 'Dad' thing doesn't end by virtue of your child turning 18 and now being seen as an adult in the eyes of the government. I'm happy it goes on, well, forever.

24 July 2015


For any of you that have ever done / spent time Behind the Zion Curtain in July, you know that this day, the 24th of July, is a big day in the Beehive State. It's a state holiday wherein the place pretty much shuts down to celebrate that fateful day in 1847 when Brother Brigham arose from his wagon, looked out over the desolation before him and declared, "This is the place!"

Wait, what? you may find yourself saying. If you were A) educated in the American public school system; B) grew up outside of Utah; and C) are not Mormon and you have no idea what I'm talking about, you're not alone. Pioneer Day as the 24th of July has come to be known celebrates the day Mormon pioneers, having been on the run from all manner of persecution, first entered the Salt Lake Valley and decided to call it 'home.' The story of the Mormon pioneers has been told many times and the stories of what they endured and the faith they demonstrated are amazing. The best I've ever read on it is in a book called "Journey to Zion" by Carol Cornwall Madsen. Madsen compiled the diaries and journals of myriad pioneers who made the journey to get behind the Zion Curtain and it is such a compelling read. I had ancestors who were a part of it and as I read Madsen's book, I could not help but be humbled and grateful for what these people experienced.

The 'pioneer' legacy looms large in Church culture today. The sacrifice of these people is legendary and is a part of the family history of so many members. Each year, literally thousands of youth groups from the Church recreate bits and bobs of the journey in the form of two and three day 'treks.' It helps connect youth to the past and to give them but a tiny, tiny sense of what happened all those years ago.

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I, along with Our Lady of Awesome, did a trek together several years ago when we lived in California. We donned our 'pioneer' clothing, loaded up the handcarts (seriously) and with a large group of kids and other adults dragged our way through the high desert of scenic Riverside County (you know, the Inland Empire, or as it is truly known, 'The Land of Meth and Camaros on Blocks'). What made it all the more interesting is that the week before we were to make the trek I had fractured (hairline) my spine in a roller-blading 'incident' that we don't speak of anymore. The only way I made it through the trek was the modern pioneer's best friend, Mr. Vic O'Din. Some of you may know him. Anyway, it made it bearable. It also made it easier to forget some of the more challenging bits of the three days. I do to this day though, remember some of the actions of the kids on this trek. Watching them forget their own exhaustion and hunger and dropping everything to help pull another group's cart up what seemed like an impossibly steep hill stays with me today. It still inspires me.

That experience reminded me that I would have made for a lousy pioneer in 1847. Frankly, I'm not sure I would have survived. Let's face it, pioneering for me is having to fly Economy Class now because I've lost my elite status with a few airlines. Suffice to say, I am grateful for those who sacrificed and endured the way that they did all those years ago. They are for better than me.