The Spirit of Mr. Rogers

fred_rogers
Photo credit: Salon.com

The other day, during indoor recess, I felt cold in my classroom, so I decided to put on a zip-up sweater. I happened to be standing over a table of students who were playing a card game of which I had never heard. Intrigued, but also cold, I put on my sweater while monitoring the game. I pulled the zipper all the way up to my chin and then artfully zipped it down in the style of Mr. Rogers, my favorite television neighbor.

“I’m Mr. Rogers,” I declared. This declaration was met by blank stares and it quickly dawned on me that none of them knew about Mr. Rogers. They’d of course heard of his popular puppet Daniel Striped Tiger because of the cartoon show, but Mr. Rogers was out of their frame of reference.

When I gushed about this realization to my colleague, who was also in the room, she responded, “To be fair, I never really watched that show either.” Even twenty-somethings aren’t as familiar with Mr. Rogers as I thought they were.

Of course, taking a step back, I realize that it’s not all that surprising that today’s generation of kids doesn’t know about Mr. Rogers. He died before they were born and most PBS stations stopped airing the show regularly. While it’s understandable that most kids today don’t know anything about the beloved TV man, it’s a shame.

Yes, there were and still are many children’s TV shows with positive messages, but few shared their messages the way Mr. Rogers did—by looking children directly in the eye and telling them they mattered and were loved just the way they were.

I’ve written before about all of the important life lessons imparted by Mr. Rogers and I want to know who is doing this today? Where does the spirit of Mr. Rogers live on?

According to the Atlantic, it’s in advice columns because that’s “where adult problems are considered with dignity, and where feelings are taken seriously.” A Reddit user believes  that it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson who cares the torch of Mr. Rogers’ spirit because he’s brilliant and kind and talks about living to make other’s lives better each day.

Just the other day, I came across an article in the Huffington Post about a Massachusetts teacher who created a music video called “Black Is Beautiful” for her female students who often expressed their dismay about their appearances. We need more of this kind of positivity for our children and ourselves.

Who else is encouraging children to be curious on a day-to-day basis? Who else continually reaffirms to them that they are great just the way you are? I believe that is the responsibility of all of us to carry on the spirit of Mr. Rogers.

 

[And now, because I couldn’t help myself, a video of my favorite Mr. Rogers Remix.]

 

A Year End Reflection

futuredreams
Goal setting, 1994-style.

The end of a year inevitably brings reflections, varying top 10 lists of the year’s best and worst in every category imaginable, pop culture trivia games, and the ritual taking stock in your life followed by setting goals for the new year that beg to be broken by February.

Instead of coming up with some deep end-of-the-year reflection, I thought I’d share a different kind of end-of-the year reflection; one I wrote in the sixth grade. I came across this recently in a box of my things that I’ve haven’t sifted through in over a decade. I found this piece in a composition book that was passed from grade to grade that was meant to be an exemplar of the work we had done that year. Though I was only twelve when I wrote this it resonates for some reason at the close of another year. (Author’s note: the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Sixth Grade-The Final Year In Elementary School 

The year has been good to me. I entered sixth grade on August 29th, 1994. It was hot and I sat down in a group with Tara, Andrea, and Ellen. I remember thinking that the room was unfamiliar. I stared at the walls, seeing what was on them.

I had trouble making friends because people had changed. I then began to hang out with Leidy, Rachel, and Anna in about October.

By November, Andrea started to hang out with us. We all did a play in December for a wonderful party (Christmas) our class had. It was the beginning of our wonderful friendships that we have kept this year.

We got first grade buddies who are wonderful. My first grade buddy is Amelia and she is a wonderful little girl. She is kind and very cute. She has character.

Andrea and I had become closer friends throughout the year. Best friends in fact. We’ve had our share of hardships, but we’re still best friends.

Now the year is coming to an end (or close) and there is nothing left to learn. Our teacher keeps on saying that the class will never be together anymore. I used to just not listen to that but now I’m sad. Very sad. I could even cry. I might later, but not now. I say I want to leave Atwater, but the truth is, I don’t want to. I’m finally going to close the doors on Atwater, on my elementary years.

compositionbook
The assignment, which never made sense to me until I became a teacher.

It’s Just A Little Crush

Whenever I go home for vacation (as I am doing right now), I always read through my old diaries. I started keeping a diary in first grade (1990) and continued to do so fairly regularly until I was well out of college. While some people might shutter at the idea of rereading their past and uncovering old demons, I relish in the opportunity to read my old thoughts. Not only are they wildly entertaining, but they remind me what it was like to actually be in middle school and show how I’ve evolved over time (or not).

As I entered upper elementary school, then middle and high school, my diaries became the place where I confessed my deep feelings for basically any boy with whom I made eye contact. Like any other adolescent, I had multitudes of crushes and used my diary as a vehicle to lament over them and record our every interaction regardless of how trivial it was (it was always trivial).

When looking at how I wrote about my crushes, several common themes emerged that reiterated the fact that I had no idea what to do with a crush besides ignore him and then gush about him in my diary later. You know, standard operating procedure.

Below I’ve arranged some excerpts from these diaries by the common theme they share. All the names have been changed and if you think I’m talking about you it is purely coincidental (or not).

Theme #1: I’m too young and scared to know how to act around boys I like. What do I do?!

  • April 12th, 1994
    Dear Diary,
    This is really important! Matthew and Andrew asked me out! Oh my! I’m too young and scared! What should I do? This is so scary! If I tell my parents they’ll kill me. Andrew said, “I love you!” [expletive]
    P.S. I got a new library card.
    P.P.S. I have to talk to Iris!
  • August 16th, 1995
    Dear Diary,
    I really like Chris and Toby. They are so cool! I want to go out with one of them. I wouldn’t mind going out with Lance either. I’m afraid to say something.
  • March 13th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    I want to dance with Michael at the next dance. I’m scared to dance with someone. How close do you get to them? Who leads the dance (slow dance)?
  • March 20th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    Today I saw Michael after school. I made eye contact! I’m scared to look at him for a long period of time.
  • June 13th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    When we came out from the baseball field, I saw Edward! I freaked out and my friends saw so I ran away! My friends yelled, “Hey! Edward’s here! He’s leaving!” Edward looked! I was so scared!

Theme #2: Looking for love in all the wrong places, or I like you purely based on the orange pants you wear.

  • March 6th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    Michael and Casey broke up. She dumped him! Michael has been dumped by all of his girlfriends! I want to go out with Michael so bad. It would be really weird. But it would be awesome!
  • October 6th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    Archer is so fine! He wore his orange pants from Abercrombie today. I love it when he wears those pants. He looks so fine! He is eye candy. I want to go to a dance with him…maybe someday. Whatever.
  • Februray 7th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    The dance was fun and Jason was a good date. He is really sweet and he likes me, but I don’t think I’d ever go out with him. The age thing isn’t a problem, but I’m looking for something else—someone bigger and with more life experience.
  • June 24th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    Hank asked me who my latest thing was and I said Peter and I was like, “I know, it’s horrible. But I can’t help it. He’s not even that great of a person to like.” Hank said that if he was a girl he would think that Peter was an [expletive].

Theme #3: Meaningless interactions feel like everything.

  • March 12, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    Today I was walking through the halls and I saw Michael. We made eye contact and when he saw me, he stopped talking for a second.
  • November 5th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    In science, I took the test in the hall. Peter was right next to me! He said, “You can’t copy off of me.” Then I said, “Then, you can’t copy off of me.” Then he said, “just kidding” and I said, “Just kidding.” The first question was about power. He figured out the answer. We both worked together. IT WAS SO COOL! I made sure I looked in his eyes. He has pretty eyes. I told him that I thought we’d do okay because I got 5 points for rewording the question. He laughed.
  • October 3, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    I really like Archer. He’s REALLY HOT, he’s nice and he drives a nice car. One time, I dropped all this change and he picked it up for me. One time long ago, there was this announcement how I was now junior class president. He’s like, “so how does it feel to be president?” and he smiled. I was so happy! He laughs at what I say sometimes.
  • May 6th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    Yesterday while I was lifting weights, Peter said hi to me. I know it’s not a big deal if he says hi, but when you like a guy it is a big deal if he says hi.
  • May 21st, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    I enjoyed watching the musical. All of us girls in the pit orchestra are in love with Eric. He’s cute and his voice is awesome! After the show, I went on stage with Alexa and I wanted to talk to Eric, but I was too scared. He walked by and I was like, “Good job, Eric.” He turned around and then said thanks and gave me a big hug. He said he was glad I liked it. He said, thanks and I said, sure. And then he said good job to me. I was so ecstatic that he gave me a hug! He’s so hot!

Theme #4: I’m simply paralyzed by my love for you.

  • January 27th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    There are four people that I go numb when I see because they are so hot: James, Rick, George Clooney, and Joshua Jackson.
  • March 6th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    I was at Libby’s house and Liam called and I heard his voice and I was all happy. I got really nervous when I found out that he might be able to do something with us. I get so stressed out about it. Ugh! I like him so much!
  • March 12th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    Liam came to school to eat with us and brought us pizza! I almost died! It was awesome! But, I felt kind of awkward. I felt distant from him, but I think it was me! I felt scared to talk to him because I felt that no matter what I said to him he would think that I was trying to come on to him.
  • May 21st, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    The cast party was fun last night. I wore my fun shirt. Eric was there. He was talking to Katrina when I was with her and I was speechless. I was in awe of his fineness. I was in awe of him.
  • June 24th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    Today I was at Hank’s house with Tina helping out at Hank’s mom’s party. It was fun. Hank had Peter over for a little bit and I was so ecstatic! He is so hot. But anyways, he came in and I said hi, but I didn’t really feel that he acknowledged that I was there. I mean he sort of did but of course I felt all insecure. I hate that. It’s horrible. And I get so nervous and I never know what to say and I never act like myself. And that sucks even more because then he can’t even see my fine personality.

If you’re still reading this far, bless you! As I’m no longer an adolescent I once was, I’m happy to say I’m not too young or scared to know how to interact with boys I like. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the occasional bout with love paralysis or fall for a guy solely based on his orange pants, but when confronted head on with a crush, I no longer take off and run. That’s real progress.

For the Technology Obsessed, Less is More

Although my slight addiction to technology might suggest otherwise, there were only ever two gadgets I really wanted in my life: my own typewriter and unlimited access to a card catalog. Not too much to ask for, right?

Why can’t I have my own?!

Pre-computers, I always envied my brother and his typewriter. He didn’t have to use the family typewriter for any of his typing needs (and boy do seven-year olds have a lot of typing needs) and could type in the comfort of his own room. I, on the other hand, had to go into the downstairs closet in my parents’ office, lug out the giant typewriter, and manage to carry it to a part of the house where I could type to my heart’s content without annoying the entire family, which was inevitable when typing on a typewriter.

I secretly wish libraries still used these.

Post-computers, I never thought I’d be able to raise the millions of dollars I believed it cost to acquire my own personal computer. When it became clear the Internet was here to stay, it also became clear that I could, in effect, have unlimited access to the card catalogs because libraries were putting all their systems online. Even better. Then, the advent of Google and Wikipedia made endless information available immediately if not sooner. Life goals achieved.

Ahead of its time. Moo.

However, I often ask myself, as I incessantly check Facebook, if technology really has made my life better. I might have a slight addiction to checking Facebook, similar to my

Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t know how to win this game.

past obsession with playing Minesweeper on my Gateway computer instead of doing my homework. I don’t even know why I’m do it, I just feel like clicking on things. Instead of accomplishing anything of worth, I just become irritated by all of the mines I’ve accidentally clicked on.

Of course technology has made life easier in many ways, but I’d argue it’s cheapened the quality of life in countless other ways. Nothing beats writing with a pen and paper and meeting someone face-to-face instead of texting with them.

What’s a ’90s playlist without some early Smashing Pumpkins?

I’ve always been infatuated with how the way things were (even as I write this I’m listening to a ‘90s playlist) so of course I’m a bit biased. I love being nostalgic and often take trips down memory lane. During my most recent trip down memory lane (today), I stumbled across a couple of old habits I had that made me think I should take a tip or two from my past self.

I challenge you to find me a diary without an inspirational quote.
I challenge you to find me a diary without an inspirational quote.

While paging through my old diaries to see what I was doing on this day in history (a pastime of mine), I stumbled upon an entry from October 17th, 2000. I had just achieved a lifetime best time in the 100-yard butterfly at a swim meet and wrote, “It’s such a great feeling to touch the wall and see a best time. It’s such a great feeling of accomplishment. I get to cross it off my goal sheet. Reaching a goal is one of the best feelings.”

I kept a goal sheet? And I actually crossed off goals when they were attained? I wrote about it like it was no big deal, but apparently it was because I certainly don’t keep a goal sheet anymore. I should probably start that up again.

Hand held notebooks are useful for scribbling down directions to parties.
Hand held notebooks are useful for scribbling down directions to parties.

The second thing I came across was a hand held notebook I kept in my early 20s when I lived in Boston. In this notebook, I’d write down random information like job postings, directions to parties, daily noticings, and series of questions based on observations I’d made. For example, while riding the T, and seeing a man sitting next to a pizza, I scrawled, “Who delivers a pizza via the T? Why does a pizza get a whole seat? Seriously?” The questions I often posed to my notebook were always very specific and based on whatever was happening in front of me at the time.

I'm not texting, I'm taking notes!
I’m not texting, I’m taking notes!

I still keep regular notes on my iPhone, but it’s not the same as my hand held notebook. For one, I can’t get down as much information when I write with my thumbs. Secondly, I hate how it looks like I’m always texting/being rude while someone is talking when really I’m capturing nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. The thought of looking rude hinders me from writing down my thoughts and I really hate to interrupt my creative flow especially when it involves pizza.

When it comes to technology, it’s all about finding the balance. I’ll always remain infatuated with my favorite technological oldies but goodies, but I’ll still keep updating my iPhone. I’m not going to quit the Internet cold turkey, but perhaps it’s time to return to some of my pre-technologically obsessed habits such as taking pen and paper notes and keeping a goal sheet.

Why The Internet Is Still Awesome

“They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, 2006.

“The Internet has its charms and its dangers.” – Peter the Librarian, to incoming freshman at Washington University, 2001.

“During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” – Senator Al Gore, 1999.

De de dee da do do do do do…

Since it first graced me with its presence in my home in 1996, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Internet. In the beginning, I instantly fell in love with the dancing hamsters and the ability to find anything my heart desired on Netscape. Soon, I discovered that my crush was accessible 24/7 thanks to a little something called AOL Instant Messenger. My friends were also accessible over AIM and I’d spend many nights sneaking into the computer room to chat, waiting for that magical hum from the modem signaling to me that I was connected me to the internet/my dreams. Sometimes I’d throw a towel over the computer, hoping it would mute out that terribly loud sound and not wake up my parents.

Not only did the Internet connect me with my friends, but it allowed me to listen to all sorts of music I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Thanks to Napster and later Kazaa, I could listen to the greatest hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today without having to spend all of my allowance on CDs. All that money I saved really came in handy in college when I had to pay for things like laundry and Ramen noodles.

Remember when it was “the” Facebook?

Toward the end of college, a little social network called Facebook arrived to the scene. It allowed you to connect with other kids on campus and see what they were up to. At first, it sort of felt like signing someone’s yearbook. You’d leave a little note on someone’s graffiti wall and go about your daily business. Soon, we were able to be friends with people on other campuses. Then, eventually the whole world was invited to join along with everything that has ever been invented. Ever. You could suddenly post pictures, tag people in statuses, check in with people. Lots of information available about everyone including your old boyfriend, his mother, your best friend from middle school.

Fun at first! A great way to keep in touch with friends old and new! But funny things started to pop up. Judy had a party last week? All my friends were there? I wonder why I wasn’t invited. Do they not like me? Staci is backstage at the Justin Timberlake concert again?! She really leads a more exciting life than I do. I need to get out more. Why won’t anyone like my status? Am I not funny? Or interesting?

My boyfriend, according to Buzzfeed.

Thanks Facebook, not only have you exacerbated my fear of missing out, you’ve turned me into a cyberstalker and you’ve wasted ALL of my time. What’s worse is that Buzzfeed has joined the party to take up even more of my time. As if Facebook hasn’t wasted enough time, now there’s an array of easy-to-read (read: mostly pictures), hilarious posts about everything under the sun from news stories to why going to the mall as a child is different from going as an adult. If that wasn’t enough, they now have quizzes. So even though I didn’t go grocery shopping as I’d planned, I do know which writer from history I should have a romantic fling with (Anton Chekov) and which U.S. President I most resemble (Barack Obama). Equally as important, I’d say.

Aside from wasting my time, how about the fact that the Internet has dumbed down our society as a whole?! The Internet is rewiring our brains! Nobody even reads anymore. In fact, if you’ve reached this far in my post, I commend you! Hashtag thank you. Hashtag see what I mean about the dumbing down of our society. Hashtag I hate people who talk in hashtags. Hashtag sorry not sorry.

Some days, I am so disgusted by how much the Internet has taken over my life. As I write this post, I’m staring at my iPad while my iPhone sits next to me. You know, in case someone likes my photo on Instagram, I can instantly respond and return the favor by liking one of their photos.

Just last month, when I hit the peak of my frustration with the Internet and thought about unplugging forever, I was kindly reminded why the Internet is still awesome. One day, upon arriving home from work, I received a small package in the mail. I wasn’t expecting anything so I didn’t have a clue as to what might be in the box.

The mug and the letter.
The mug and the letter.

After opening the box and sifting through the hundreds of styrofoam peanut-looking things, I found a commemorative royal wedding mug and a letter that was typed on a typewriter. It was from a Twitter friend, whom I’ve never met, but who knows how much I loved the royal wedding and everything Will and Kate-related. His mother, who lives in Minnesota, got the mug as a commemorative gift from People Magazine and was going to throw the mug away. Not wanting a good mug to go to waste, my Twitter pal thought of the only person he knew who might want such a thing–me.

The mug was accompanied by a letter, another one of my favorite things. There’s nothing better than receiving a letter in the mail. The thoughtful gift was an added bonus. This encounter happened because of our friendship over Twitter and it reminded me why the Internet is still awesome. It connects people.

Isn’t that why we go online in the first place?

4 Lessons I’ve Learned In 4 Years of Blogging

Me in 2010, the day I embarked on my blogging journey. Hey there, iPhone 3!
Me in 2010, the day I embarked on my blogging journey. Hey there, iPhone 3!

Today my blog turns four. Four years ago, if you would’ve told me that I’d have a blog that would last for at least four years, I would’ve responded with, “what’s a blog?” Back in 2010, I knew nothing about WordPress, barely anything about Twitter–I was just looking for a way to create writing samples.

Fast forward to today and I can’t imagine a life without blogging. It’s become my strongest passion and something I absolutely love. It’s through blogging I’ve been able to connect with all types of people from around the globe, trade stories, learn new recipes, receive book recommendations, and simply be entertained. Blogging has opened my world to a whole new slew of people, events, and thoughts. It’s helped me tighten my writing and allowed me to continue to view the world through a critical lens.

As I sit here in my college friend’s apartment in Washington DC, a city I haven’t been since I was a newly 21 year old intern in the House of Representatives, I reflect on what I’ve learned in my years of blogging. Here are the four lessons I’ve learned in four years of blogging:

1) Don’t think, write.

Often times as writers, we stop ourselves before we start. We come up with an amazing idea and then toss it out the window before a post comes to fruition. I’ve learned that when an idea strikes my mind, I should just go with it. As my Creative Writing professor used to tell us back in college, don’t stop yourself before you even start. Get those ideas down and you’ll find that it will become a wonderful post.

2) Share the love.

One of my favorite things about blogging is reading and commenting on other blogs. I love sharing the posts I enjoy reading and promoting other talented and well-spoken people. You can’t blog in a bubble, you must be a part of the community!

I’m also a fan of getting people to start their own blogs. I know so many people who are talented and would benefit from sharing their opinions with the world. Just recently, I helped my friend get his wine blog up and running.

3) Get out of your comfort zone.

Say the toughest thing. I’ve found that some of my best posts have come when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and discussed hot topics, particularly when it comes to politics and education. Those posts have fostered interesting discussions and have helped me to strengthen my own opinions and arguments. It’s also fun to get out in the field and research a completely new topic and see where it takes you.

4) Frequency is key.

In order to maintain the community surrounding your blog, you have to post! The number of posts I wrote in 2013 decreased significantly from the years prior and it definitely made a difference in the number of visitors that came to my blog that year. I saw a lot less traffic in 2013 because of that fact. This year, I’m making it a goal to post at least once a week.

Here’s to another year of blogging!

Vacation Made Me Realize What I Want in Life, More Vacation

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

WI sunsetLast week, I returned from a two-week vacation to my native Wisconsin and it made me realize that what I really want out of life is more vacation. I can’t even remember the last time I took a trip for the sake of taking a trip. My vacations have never lasted more than a week and so I almost felt guilty taking off two weeks. Almost.

I know when you go on vacation you’re supposed to recharge and return to your daily life feeling all invigorated with a new perspective on life and perhaps a new addition to your daily routine that you acquired like eating smoked bacon with every meal or doing awkward yoga poses on the edge of mountain at sunset, but I’d like to maintain the vacation lifestyle forever.

photo-33I’d love to live in a cabin in Northern Wisconsin and spend my days hiking through the woods and my evenings sipping cognac by the fire, staring at the constellations and trying to remember the name of that damn king constellation located next to Cassiopeia the Queen or remembering if Orion is even visible in the sky this time of year. (Note to self: I really need to brush up on my constellations. My 2nd grade science teacher would be ashamed of me.) Or marveling that the universe is enormous beyond what my brain can comprehend and we as humans are incredibly tiny and insignificant, so throw another log on the fire and let’s have another round of s’mores!

photo-34It would be nice to enjoy a $2 brat here and there and sip a $5 cocktail out of a pint glass from time-to-time at the local watering hole where the bartender knows my name and plays my favorite song without me even having to ask. I would love if the only worries I had in my day were that I forgot to apply bug spray and there’s too much sand in my tennis shoes from the impromptu dip in the lake. I hope the rain comes after I finish this round of mini golf. Hey, we’re out of cognac!

photo-35And how about all that free time to use devouring a good book? To me, no vacation is complete without spending quality time in the comfy chair in the corner of the living room by the window, or in the back yard under the patio table umbrella, or on the front porch in the rocking chair amongst the pages of a really good read. Sometimes with a beer in hand.

Can’t this be my real life? Can’t I be a professional vacationer and in return I’ll report back to you all on my travels? I promise it will be interesting!

The responsible adult in me knows that I have to return real life (at least physically), but I learned what my vacation had to teach me and I’m keeping that with me. Although I’ve returned my daily grind in the Big Apple, I’m approaching it with my enlightened vacation mind. I’m making the time for things I enjoy doing most and not feeling guilty about it.

long live passion