Friday, December 30, 2011

He Who Spelt It Dealt It

Over a year ago I wrote in Night of the Living Bread about The Wife's proclivity toward healthy foods and how it collides with my history of less-than-healthy eating. While we've had some pretty heated debates over this subject I certainly do have to appreciate the fact that she is making an effort to reform me so that I will actually live a little longer. As I age I'm starting to see the effects of decades of eating pretty much whatever I wanted. All that saturated fat and cholesterol is starting to catch up with me.

I've recently written about both sugary cereals (Return of the Monster (Cereals)) and Spam (My First Taste of Spam!)--even though the spam I was talking about was the electronic type rather than the sodium heavy canned meat product. In light of these recent posts it seemed like a good time to revisit the topic of scary-sounding healthy food products in my household.

We still have fruit smoothies made with tofu for breakfast. We still have tofu and spinach lasagna on occasion. We still have cous cous, quinoa and wheat barley for sides instead of the evil that is white rice. And we still have multi-grain (at least a dozen minimum), all natural wheat bread instead of white bread most of the time (this includes the infamous Ezekiel 4:9 "bread" detailed in the earlier blog). A few weeks ago I was wondering what we were going to be eating for dinner on a Friday night. Seeing as how it was a Friday I was kind of angling for something tasty. The Wife surprised me by announcing that we were going to be having burgers and fries for dinner! Needless to say this isn't a regular meal in our house. I had seen a package of ground beef in the refrigerator and knew that we had a few frozen french fries in the freezer (another thing not frequently found in our home). I got pretty excited by the prospect of a "normal" meal of burgers and fries and almost fell for the ruse. Then The Wife asked me if I could put the burgers in the oven for her. BURGERS IN THE OVEN?!? What was going on? I looked at these "burgers" and realized that I had been had. They almost looked like hamburger patties, except they had a bunch of green stuff sticking out of them. I believe it was spinach. Not only that, but one of the main ingredients along with the ground beef was... Bulgur Wheat! Not just any bulgur wheat would do either. This bulgur wheat was "all natural" and contained soy for good measure. Yum!

While it probably seems obvious that nothing much has changed since the last time I wrote about this subject, I still thought it would be fun (interesting? scary?) to take another look at a few of the products that have found their way into our house lately along with this wonderful bulgur wheat. And I still have no idea what bulgur wheat even is.

Needless to say, Cookie Crisp definitely isn't something The Wife would bring into the house. I was guilty of this a while back, but just had to throw this one in here. The funny thing is that even sugary-sweet breakfast cereals have attempted to get into the whole healthy eating thing. I'm well aware that this stuff isn't healthy in any way, but find it hilarious that General Mills touts the fact that Cookie Crisp is a "Whole Grain" cereal. In fact, apparently General Mills cereals are "America's #1 Source of Whole Grain at Breakfast", according to this box. It makes it a bit hard to know what is actually good for you when it seems like everything is telling is about its healthy and all natural ingredients these days.

I'm all for having noodles with a meal. We used to have regular pasta pretty frequently, but that has been replaced by whole wheat pasta. Doesn't seem like a giant difference, but there definitely is a difference. Now the product pictured here isn't pasta of course. These are Soba Noodles. And these are special because they go beyond the common "whole wheat" designation and are in fact made of 100% Organic Buckwheat! Yet another item to add to our ever expanding vocabulary of healthy foods.

The beloved (by some at least) cous cous. This has become a popular rice alternative in our house.

Here's Pearled Barley--another rice alternative for a healthy side dish. In our house it also finds its way into delicious soup loaded with vegetables...and noticeably void of meat.

Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal--a wonderful addition to almost any food. Now if this stuff doesn't get your juices flowing, nothing will! I know about the benefits of fiber and Omega-3 fats in a diet, but have to admit that I've never heard of Lignans before and don't have any idea what the heck they do for you. Strengthen your ligaments?

I'm used to berries being a fruit that you can get either fresh or frozen. I'm familiar with blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. But Wheat Berries were a new one to me when they made their first appearance in our home. How's this for an appetizing description: These whole grain wheat berries are made from "High Protein Number 1 Dark Northern Hard Red Spring Wheat". I can remember a more innocent time not that long ago when simply calling something "whole wheat" was enough of a designation to get people excited about the health benefits of your product. We've come a long way since then baby!

And for breakfast we can forget about such old favorites as the Monster Cereals and Cookie Crisp seen above. In fact we can even forget about such previously thought to be healthy cereals as the much dreaded Cheerios and Wheaties. Instead we can now chow down on the sublime taste of Musli #3! I think it goes without saying that this cereal is all natural. Check out the ingredients too. The first three listed are Whole Grain Spelt, Whole Grain Oats and Barley Flakes. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

And, finally, here are a couple more bread choices to go along with our frozen supply of Ezekiel 4:9. Both of these loaves come from Jessica's Brick Oven:

Tuscan Pane Whole Wheat bread. Not to be confused with run-of-the-mill wheat bread, this one is made using Stone Ground Whole Wheat. I have to admit that I can't really figure out what exactly makes bread so much healthier and more appealing when the wheat in it was ground on stones rather than metal (or however they grind all that pedestrian wheat found in more common breads).

Surprisingly enough, the people at Jessica's Brick Oven don't even mention the fact that this is an "Artisan" bread. You have to look at the label on the back to discover that comforting bit of information (as well as the fact that this bread is "Rustic"--and I'm not sure exactly what "Rustic" entails or what makes rustic bread better than more "urban" types of bread). "Artisan" is another popular term in foods that I don't like. I picture an "artist" painstakingly crafting individual loaves of bread one at a time--when I know that no matter how healthy a bakery is they are still churning loaves out in some mechanical manner. Remember a few years back when Wendy's was promoting their now-discontinued deli sandwiches that were served on "artisanal" bread? What a joke!

Last but not least is Jessica's "Ancient Grain" bread. This echoes the biblical grains touted in Ezekiel 4:9 bread. And of course it also contains our old friend spelt! You'll also note that this bread contains the hallmark of all the healthiest and earthy-crunchiest breads out there: a generous portion of nuts and seeds on the OUTSIDE of the bread. It seems like healthy eaters are suspicious of a bread's true all-naturalness unless they can actually see all the grains and such on their loaves. Couldn't these nuts and seeds provide just as much of a health benefit if they were in the bread dough instead of being on the crust? In general I'm not a big fan of old and stale bread (who is?). For whatever reason, calling this bread "Ancient Grain" just doesn't sound appetizing to me. I'd prefer the grains in my bread to be the newest and freshest ones available. I suppose that's just me though...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My First Taste of Spam!

Anyone who is familiar with me would know that the title of this post is a lie--or at least that it appears to be one. Of course I've tasted Spam in the past. While I don't indulge in this versatile mystery meat very often, I do enjoy it when the opportunity comes up--as crazy as that might sound to some. But no, the title isn't a lie, because in this case the Spam I'm talking about is that of the electronic variety.

I get spam in my e-mail inbox (or more frequently in my spam folder) all the time. But today I got my first taste of spam in relation to this blog in the year-and-a-half that I've had it. While that might seem like a bad thing--and I suppose it is--I'm actually kind of glad to receive this bit of unwanted attention. I would imagine that the big and successful blogs get hit with spam attacks all the time. Little ol' Monster Dad's humble site and small viewership wouldn't seem like a very tempting place for spam to settle. So, rather than getting all pissy about it, I've decided to consider my first spam comment to be a sign that I'm getting just that much closer to The Big Time!

A while back I posted a comment to a fun blog I subscribe to called The Baseball Card Blog. I checked the box to receive e-mails when follow-up comments were posted. Well, I was surprised to see a flood of comments a couple of days later. The strange thing was that they were all from various casino and gambling-related "names", and none of them made any real sense--especially in relation to the blog post they were supposedly in response to. While I don't really know all things about spam it seemed pretty obvious that this was a very clear cut case of it. The blog's writer and a couple other commenters made light of the obviously automatically generated and sent messages. And I suppose that, as long as no real harm was done, it was pretty funny if you looked at it in the right way. There was a small part of me that wondered why I wasn't "good" enough to warrant a spam attack. ...And there was a big, gigantic part of me that was thankful that I hadn't beed targeted--or at least not yet.

This morning I was checking my e-mail and was pleasantly pleased to see that someone had been kind enough to leave a comment on a blog I had just written a few days earlier. My blog doesn't usually generate a lot of comments, so it's always a nice thing when one pops up unexpectedly. Just for reference (as will become obvious soon) the blog was Resurrecting The Past: 1980 Sears Holiday Wish Book. I have my blog set up so that I can review comments before they are posted, and choose whether or not I want them published. While I don't intend to turn down any thoughtful or honest comments, this one became the very first one I decided not to publish. It was a pretty lengthy comment, followed by eight website links that I will definitely NOT be clicking on. I will also not be repeating them here--just to keep my readers safe. The comment was posted by someone called "cheaprsgoldforever" and included Mr. or Ms. cheaprsgoldforever's website address as well.

So anyway, while I won't be listing the web links here, I do want to share with you exactly what cheaprsgoldforever was kind enough to say about my blog post in their comment. Especially since it won't find its way to the blog itself. Here it is:
"I believe that this all to explain that I would pore over the Sears list (or otherwise the plaything segment) each and every late-November/early-December, and also group of friends a silly quantity of items that My partner and i "wished" for. My partner and i realized that we has not been you go to acquire everything that stuff, but it was just enjoyable in order to think a little. Itrrrs this that manufactured your Sears Want Publication this essential the main season for me. I did so end up with a number of items from the listing. Whether or not they originated in Father christmas, Sears as well as other department shop I can not point out definitely, yet I will talk about some of these products once we obtain them. And now you're ready to examine the particular contents of the Sears Want E-book to the Christmas season involving 1980. I am not planning to illustrate each and every page, in the end it has a total involving 668 web pages (which includes insures). Alternatively we will just look at a few of the several highlights (or at best stuff that My partner and i take into account shows). These kind of features defintely won't be assembled by simply classes. Instead they're going to use web site number--just like we've been seeking through a list from front to back."

Note that it not only doesn't really make any sense whatsoever, but it also includes snippets lifted directly from the blog post itself--presumably to make it look more "legitimate" and less like an automatically generated message. It's actually pretty funny in a way. But, for whatever reason, I just can't bring myself to believe that it's a genuine comment. I'm sure others have seen this kind of spam, but it was my first experience with such fun. I'm just glad I have the ability to check and approve (or not approve) comments before they're posted to the blog. And I also feel pretty lucky that it was only one comment, rather than the multiple ones The Baseball Card Blog received on their post.

Now I'm hungry for some Spam!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Resurrecting The Past: ColecoVision (aka Best...Christmas Present...Ever)

It is Christmastime 2011. I'm preparing to watch my Little Monsters excitedly rip open their presents that they will find under the tree. It's not unusual for me to think about the past and what life was like when I was a kid. I'd imagine that most people (at least those that celebrate Christmas) have a lot of fond memories of the Christmases of their youth. I know I do. I used to love Christmas, not to mention the inexorable build up to it during the month after Thanksgiving. It all culminated with Christmas morning and seeing all those wonderful wrapped presents under the tree. With all the gifts Santa (or my parents) gave me for Christmas it seems like it would be tough to pick an all-time favorite. But in this case it's actually pretty simple. One Christmas present stands out above all others in my memory (at least as far as gifts that I remember anyway). That gift was opened up in 1982. Its name was ColecoVision.

Image borrowed from the site The Computer Closet

While the graphics featured on the Atari 2600 video game system seem crude and archaic today, there's no denying they were a huge step forward from what had been available in home video games systems that could be connected to televisions up to that point. Before the Atari 2600 the only real option was some variation on the simple game of Video Pong. A lot of the early Atari games weren't much better than Pong, but at least they were in color and the system had arcade-like joystick controllers.

The Sears Video Arcade (taken from the 1980 Sears Wish Book),
a clone of the Atari 2600

The Atari 2600 was the undisputed king of the hill for a couple of years before the competition really heated up. I never owned one, but played a lot of the games at the homes of friends who did have it. It was a lot of fun, but I never really felt a burning need to own one for myself.

Video Games were so hot at the time they even made the cover of 
Time Magazine in January 1982

Intellivision upped the ante a bit with its slightly improved graphics, but in 1982 a new generation of consoles arrived that blew everything else in home video gaming out of the water. Those new systems were the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision. It was around this time that I was really getting into playing video games. In addition to using my friends' Atari 2600s I was also frequenting some of the video arcades that seemed to be sprouting up everywhere. When I saw the near-arcade-level quality of the new systems I suddenly felt that I had to have one. Deciding between the two was a surprisingly difficult choice. Since there was no internet to refer to, my research was limited to a few sources: the video game magazines that could be found at newsstands near me, the TV commercials for the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision, and opinions of fellow kids who either owned one of the systems or had played them.

December 1982 issue of the magazine Electronic Games

After much deliberation I finally realized that ColecoVision was the video game system for me. I'm not sure what the deciding factor was. It may have been that ColecoVision had the expansion port that allowed you to add onto it. The most important module that came out was the Atari 2600 adapter. With this you could play all of the games that had been made for the 2600--and there were a LOT of games available. Another incentive was that Coleco put out its Adam Computer unit, which would also attach to the Colecovision console to turn it into a full-fledged home computer (a new and exciting idea back then). That way I could say that the system offered more than just video games (even if I was really just interested in the games for the most part rather than any potential educational value).

Now I had a system of choice. The only problem left was how I was going to go about getting one of my own. These things weren't exactly cheap. I did have a paper route at the time, but my meager earnings wouldn't have allowed me to purchase a game cartridge for the Colecovision--never mind the console itself. That left the parents as my last hope of getting in on the gaming goodness. It was fall when I was doing all this deliberation and Christmas was approaching. Not unlike Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" pining for his much desired BB gun, I began lobbying hard for a ColecoVision. I wasn't content with simply telling my parents that I wanted one for Christmas; I also touted all the values and benefits of having a ColecoVision. I knew it was a rather extravagant request for a gift, but it really was pretty much the only thing I wanted that year. Eventually I felt that I had worn my parents down, but didn't know for sure until Christmas morning when... A large present under the tree was unwrapped and discovered to be...a ColecoVision! It was actually a "family" gift and not something just for me. I was more than fine with that. Being the youngest in my family I knew that I'd get more than my fair share of time in front of the TV playing great video games!

Flash forward to 2011. The ColecoVision was utilized and enjoyed a lot during its first year in our house. It was used a little less over the next couple of years until it finally became so idle that it was put away and forgotten about. While the improvements in home video gaming had continued apace making ColecoVision obsolete while constantly refining graphics, sound and playability, ColecoVision wasn't replaced in my heart with a newer, flashier system. I simply drifted away from video games. While I'd still drop a few quarters into the big games at arcades I didn't really play any home-based games for a while. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out I was in the Army and I never really became aware of how much of an improvement it offered over the ColecoVison generation of game systems until I played Super Mario Brothers at a friend's house couple years later. I came close to getting addicted to the game, but somehow managed to avoid getting sucked back into the video game world. Even with all the great stuff available now, I have never owned a video game system since ColecoVision.

A year or so ago I started feeling nostalgic for that great old ColecoVision experience. It was difficult to determine if our old console was still around at my parents' house. I started looking for one on eBay, but they seemed to be pretty expensive and I didn't want to spend a lot of money for a thirty-year-old unit that I might not end up using a lot. While visiting my mother a few months ago I did a little searching and was very excited to dig up the old Colecovision! It wasn't in a box and had become very dusty and a little grimy over the years. Here's what it looked like when I found it:

The label had even fallen off the Donkey Kong cartridge

I brought the unit home with me, along with a few things that went along with it. I had no idea if it still worked--or whether I'd be able to fix it if it didn't. It seemed to be complete at least. I put a bit of work into cleaning the old gal up and it ended up looking pretty good once again.

When I plugged in the gigantic (and heavy) power supply unit and turned the console on I knew that it was getting power, but still didn't know whether it would actually work or not.

Because it has an old-style RCA plug I figured there would need to be some kind of modification done to get it to work with a modern TV. But I was surprised to find that all I had to do was pick up a little Coax to RCA adapter at Radio Shack.

A few bucks later I put the adapter on, attached the wire to the TV, plugged the unit in and... didn't know how to get the TV to the right setting to pick up the console's signal. Because all the channels are now digital signals I had to figure out how to tune the TV into the non-digital (Standard) version of channel 3. When this was done the screen was filled with the familiar snowy screen that was so common back in the old days, but which you never see anymore. That was a good sign though. Then I turned the console back on and saw the old ColecoVision title screen!

It was strange to think that this machine had been sitting around for so many years (probably a couple of decades at least) and hadn't put that image up on a TV screen for such a long time. A lot has changed in the video game world, in my life and in the world in general since the last time something was played on this old unit.

When I found the ColecoVision console I also found a few game cartridges too--including the one that originally came bundled with it, Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong, cleaned up and with the label glued back on

Naturally, Donkey Kong was also the first game I had to try out once it was confirmed that the system still seemed to work. It was like going back in time when the first notes of the Donkey Kong song started up. Despite all the years that had passed since I had last played it, it all seemed to come back pretty quickly. Of course the graphics don't seem anywhere near as groundbreaking as they did in 1983, but it was still pretty good to see. While looking into buying a used Colecovision earlier I had checked out some videos of a few of the games on YouTube. After looking at Donkey Kong on Intellivision and the Atari 2600 there I was reminded of just how much of an improvement Colecovision was over those systems.

I also tried out Zaxxon, which was another favorite of mine way back when our ColecoVision was new. I still remember seeing the commercials for that one when it came out which showed how closely it mimicked the arcade version. In all I found a total of seven ColecoVision game cartridges: the Donkey Kong one that came with the system, Mr. Do, Zaxxon, Space Panic, Smurf, Looping and Mouse Trap. One of the keypad overlays for Mouse Trap was still on one of the game controllers when I found the console and the games. The other overlay, as well as all the boxes and instruction booklets for the games are all missing. Of course the games themselves are the most important thing anyway.

The only expansion we ever got for our ColecoVision was the "Expansion Module #1", the adapter that let you play games made for the Atari 2600. This was a great one to have, as it opened up our choices to hundreds of additional titles (even though we had to accept the 2600's graphics along with the games). We never got the steering wheel controller, the track ball controller, the Super Action Controller Set or the Adam computer module. I believe those were the only other ones ever produced. In another area in my parents' house I was able to find the old Expansion Module. It was in a similar state to the ColecoVision unit--dusty and dirty, but in good physical shape. I cleaned this one up too, but haven't tested it out yet. It seems like it should be fine.

Here's the Expansion Module #1 connected to the ColecoVision console

I do have some Atari 2600 games around that I can try out in it whenever I get around to testing it. In the meantime I still have to check out the rest of the Colecovision games to see if I can remember any of them like I remembered Donkey Kong and Zaxxon.

It's been a fun and nostalgic experience to rediscover an old friend from my youth like ColecoVision and bring it back to life after such a long time. The fact that it is now Christmas 2011 and I know that I first opened this very same unit exactly twenty-nine years ago makes it all the more special. So much has changed, but the games remain the same...


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Resurrecting The Past: 1980 Sears Holiday Wish Book

This edition of "Resurrecting the Past" was originally going to be "Resurrecting the Past: Christmas 1980", as the photo above sort of illustrates. I was going to go over the contents of the 1980 Sears Wish Book and also survey what was on TV during the week of Christmas, using the TV Guide from that time. Once I started thinking about what was going to be in this post I realized that my original vision was much too ambitious--and the post would be way too long. Not only that, but after seeing how long it was taking to put this whole thing together I'd be working on it until well into the New Year (and the hope was for this to be published before Christmas). So, for brevity's sake I'll just concentrate on the 1980 Sears Wish Book. Perhaps the TV Guide part of the story will eventually make it onto the TV Guide Time Machine sometime in the future. Without further delay, let's get started...

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s a sure sign that the holiday season was getting under way was when the Sears Holiday Wish Book would arrive at the house. We didn't get it every year, and I don't remember if they came in the mail or if my parents picked them up at Sears. But I do remember the excitement of opening up one of these thick and hefty tomes. Nowadays you can get most of your shopping and sale information online. You can even actually do most of your shopping online for that matter. The need for a gigantic catalog from Sears every few months has greatly decreased over the years. That's good news for trees, but I feel that it takes one little bit of what was special about the holidays away. Yes, it was a very small part of the overall picture, but it was something I really enjoyed just the same.

My family wasn't rich. My parents worked hard to support our large household. We never went without, but we were also never overwhelmed with piles of unnecessary "stuff". Mom and Dad always managed to get plenty of gifts for everyone under the tree on Christmas--and maybe we had a little better appreciation for that stuff than someone who always got every minor whim fulfilled. I say all this to explain that I would pore over the Sears catalog (or at least the toy section) every late-November/early-December, and circle a ridiculous number of things that I "wished" for. I knew that I wasn't actually going to get all that stuff, but it was just fun to fantasize a bit. This is what made the Sears Wish Book such an important part of the season for me. I did end up with a few items from the catalog. Whether they came from Santa, Sears or some other department store I can't say for sure, but I'll mention some of these items when we see them. And now it's time to take a look at the contents of the Sears Wish Book for the Holiday Season of 1980. I'm not going to illustrate every page, after all it has a total of 668 pages (including covers). Instead we'll just look at a few of the many highlights (or at least things that I consider highlights). These highlights won't be grouped by categories. Instead they will go by page number--just like we're looking through a catalog from front to back. And here we go:

1980 Sears Wish Book front cover
Here's the cover of the 1980 Wish Book. It was certainly a wonderful thing to see as a kid. I don't remember this one specifically, but can imagine seeing the cover and being totally put into a Christmas frame of mind. It doesn't hurt that there are a couple of kids checking out their new presents under the tree with their parents looking on in the background. In 1980 I would have been eleven years old at Christmas, so my taste in toys had changed a bit over the last few years. Nonetheless I was still very much interested in all things toys.

Page 13
I wasn't interested in sports much on 1980, but if I had been I'm sure I would have asked Santa for one of these NFL football jerseys. Most likely it would have been the Number 14 jersey worn by quarterback Steve Grogan of the New England Patriots.

Page 20
Or perhaps one of these NFL jersey and helmet sets would have been a more tempting gift to request!

Page 46
Now like mentioned earlier, I mainly concentrated on the toys in these catalogs when perusing them as a kid. But in the interest of giving a better idea of what kind of stuff Sears was selling in 1980 we'll look at a bunch of other things as well. Here are some nifty pajama sets. If I was to check these out I probably would have had a tough time deciding if I wanted one of the Star Wars ones, the Buck Rogers one or the Star Trek one.

Page 66
I definitely wouldn't have been checking out the latest fashions while leafing through the pages of the Wish Book, but here's a hint of what the well-dressed kid might have been wearing that year (not to mention a look at what pretty much every kid hoped and prayed wouldn't be under the tree).

Page 70
I don't really remember this, but apparently there was quite the western/cowboy fad going on at the end of 1980. This might have had something to do with the popularity of movies like "Urban Cowboy" (1980) and songs like Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy". Maybe it was even related to the continuing interest in CB radios and trucker culture that I mentioned in the TV Guide Time Machine blog "Smokey and the Bandit (March 23, 1980)". Whatever the case I suppose I would have been slightly less horrified by wearing these duds than the suits above.

Page 74
Here's a few more fashions of the day (check out the pockets on those "Perma-Prest" jeans!). The only reason for this page being here is the Empire Strikes Back t-shirts, which I definitely would have liked at the time. Heck they even make "retro" shirts like these today.

Page 182
A selection of clocks that could be of interest to kids. I seem to recall the Big Bird one in the upper left hand corner, but didn't have it myself. A friend or relative must have owned one of them. On the other hand I did own a Star Wars wristwatch, which I'm almost positive was the blue C-3PO and R2-D2 one on the left. Like most of the items I'll mention that I owned I have no idea whether I actually got that watch for Christmas in 1980, or if it was given to me at a different time, but since it's in this Wish Book I figured it was worth mentioning.

Page 221
Does anyone else remember these horrid-looking boots that we always called "Moon Boots" when I was growing up? I don't remember if I ever actually had any of these ugly things myself, but I do know that I always thought they were ugly--even in 1980 when I was 11 and a fan of science-fiction movies. You'd think that something called "Moon Boots" would have appealed to me, but no.

Page 340
The Wish Book also had a section on Christmas trees and all sorts of holiday decorations. Here's a look at a few of the trees they were offering in 1980.

Page 352
Could you really have called Christmas Christmas back then without a fruitcake? I never partook of them, but they always seemed to be around. It was a tradition that I never quite "got". Oh well, to each his own.


Page 362
While I didn't have a taste for fruitcakes, I did enjoy those meat, cheese and cracker boxed gift sets and felt they were an integral part of the holidays. I'm not sure if we had them all the time, but it seems like it in my memory. They would probably have been received at Christmas, and I remember enjoying them around New Year's Eve. Maybe this is a sort of made-up memory that has always caused me to have a soft spot in my heart for these things that I'm sure some people find as horrid as I found fruitcakes back then.

Page 407
We didn't get our first microwave until about two years after this catalog came out, but they were already one of the hot (no pun intended) new technologies of the early 1980s. I put this one up because it looks very similar to the one we would get a couple years later. In fact, here is that very microwave for comparison:

Page 421
For anyone who thinks that camcorders have always been tiny things that fit in the palm of your hand, check out this "portable" Video Cassette Player with Video Sound Camera! While the camera itself isn't terribly large, keep in mind that you also had to lug the VCR around with you when you went outside to film your home movies. There'd probably be a whole lot less mindless stuff on YouTube if we still had to record video on these behemoths. Of course at the time they were a miracle of technology and miniaturization. Not only that, but they even used the smaller (and soon to be obsolete) Beta video tapes instead of VHS ones. On the page before this one Sears also offered a selection of pre-recorded movies that you could buy and watch in your own home whenever you wanted! Yeah, that doesn't seem like anything special today, but at the time it was revolutionary. Most people still didn't have cable and it had only been recently that you could actually buy movies (if you could afford the astronomical cost of a VCR. I should also mention that Sears only offered twenty-one titles at this time. Here are a few of them. Note the prices:

"Silver Streak" ($54.95), "M.A.S.H." ($54.95), "The Poseidon Adventure" ($54.95), "The Sound of Music" ($74.95), "The Muppet Movie" ($54.95), "Night of the Living Dead" ($54.95), "Grease" ($59.95), "Barbarella" ($59.95), "The Making of Star Wars" ($54.95)* and "The Ten Commandments" ($79.95).

*Keep in mind that you would be paying $54.95 for a tape of "The Making of Star Wars", not the actual movie "Star Wars" itself.

Page 436
A few months after this Christmas I bought my first ever tape recorder. In fact I got it on St. Patrick's Day 1981. I don't think I was into them in December 1981, but soon after I got the fever to tape stuff bad. For the next few years I'd prop my little portable tape recorder (similar to the ones above) up next to the speaker of the TV or radio and tape music or the audio of movies and TV shows. That probably seems like a strange thing to do, but VCRs were still very expensive at the time and we didn't get our first one until 1985. It's amazing how entertaining I found the process of taping and then listening to stuff from the TV. I've managed to find most of those old tapes in the past couple of years and have really been to travel back in time a bit by listening to them once again.

Page 440
I was just starting to get into music at the end of 1980. By 1984 I was very much into it and wanted to get a guitar so I could become the next Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen (an ambition that never came to pass). While I wasn't really into them at the time I remember stopping on the musical instrument pages to look at the guitars that Sears offered. Maybe they lit a little spark inside me without me even realizing it. Who knows?

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Disco was close to being dead at the end of 1980. Punk, synth-pop and new wave were really taking off, but you'd never know it by looking at the selection of groovy disco lights and strobe lights that Sears was selling in this Wish Book.

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Roller skates were big at this time (and I suppose roller disco probably was too, to some extent). Here's a few of the skates that Sears was selling about a decade or so before the introduction of in-line skates.

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It's seems strange now to think that Sears sold real, honest-to-goodness firearms right along with the roller skates and guitars seen above in 1980. I don't think they do any more (though I can't say that for sure). The times have sure changed. I probably checked out the pages with rifles and shotguns back then, but I wouldn't have circled any of them. It didn't really seem like something that Santa would be likely to leave under the tree.

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It seems like soccer (or football a it's known throughout most of the world) has been trying forever to become really popular in the United States. I remember playing soccer as a kid and enjoying it, but it just never seemed to be able to catch on. There are just too many long-entrenched sports to choose from already (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) for soccer to really be able to take a bite out of them. Of course soccer is still around, and millions of kids (I might be exaggerating) are in youth soccer leagues today--not to mention that as a result we now have the well-known term "soccer moms". There are even professional leagues for both men and women that try to draw spectators away from the other sports. I forgot that there were also pro soccer leagues back in the 1970s and 80s. Here are a selection of uniforms and apparel from the long defunct North American Soccer League (NASL). Wonder how these were selling around Christmas 1980?

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There was a time before iPods and MP3s when people would actually listen to stuff on records, cassette tapes and 8-track tapes. Along with a selection of classic children's books this page features a multi-media entertainment option that I remember loving as a kid: book and record sets. You'd put on the record and actually hear music, sound effects and even the story itself while you followed along in the book. Talk about interactive entertainment!

Now, we're finally going to start checking out some toys! Like I mentioned earlier, I would have gone straight to this section when I opened up a Sears Wish Book as a kid, but for the sake of giving a bit of a more complete picture of Christmas 1980 we've taken a bit longer to get here than I might have back then.

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No, I wouldn't have been asking Santa for Barbies as a kid. But I just had to add this page here. Check out the size of this Barbie Dream House! That little girl could have practically lived in the house herself! I was also struck by the Sport & Shave Ken doll featured here. I know that times, fashions and styles change (we've already seen that in earlier pages), and I know that Barbie and her friends change right along with them--but check out Ken! Check out his funky 'fro! Check out his groovy (and shave-able) beard! And check out his shorts!

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Finally, we're starting to see some of the "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" merchandise that was selling so big around this time. "The Empire Strikes Back" had been released in May, so The stores must have been absolutely flooded with all things "Star Wars". In the photo at the top of this blog can be seen my very own "The Empire Strikes Back" comforter/sleeping bag that I may very well have received on Christmas morning in 1980 (though I'm not positive). This page features models rather than true toys, but check out the detail. Right along a sailing ship, a visible engine and a Pontiac Firebird we have the Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader's Tie Fighter and an X-Wing Fighter.

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Here's some more visual and audio entertainment for kids in the days of yore before the internet, iPods, iPads and downloadable movies and music. I remember having a Talking View-Master. It was similar to the book and record sets above in that it took an existing visual medium and added audio to it. It seemed like an amazing thing to me back then. The Winnie-the-Pooh Show 'N Tell Phono Viewer, the Movie Viewer Theater and the Talk-to-Me Player and books provided similar multimedia experiences. And I used to have one of those little Walt Disney Movie Viewers seen on this page. It was so cool to turn the crank and watch a cartoon through the viewer that actually looked like an 8mm home movie camera.

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The next page featured the details of some of the products listed above, as well as a bunch of View-Master reels that were available. The only actual toy on the page was the 2-XL Talking Robot.

It kind of surprises me that 2-XL was given only a small corner on a black and white page, but there there he was. Maybe it had already been available for a couple years and wasn't "new" enough to warrant more attention? I never owned a 2-XL myself, but remember playing with one at a summer program I used to attend. It seemed like such a cool thing to have a robot talking and interacting with you. There are similar educational toys out these days (my daughter got an Alphie robot for Christmas last year). The thing that I find so interesting about 2-XL now is that he was a futuristic-looking robot whose information was supplied by...8-Track Tapes! Nice.

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Sears sold a number of instruments (both real ones and toy versions) in this catalog. We've seen a couple of the electric guitars they had earlier. I put up these rather toy-like drum sets because I had one very similar to these. In fact it might very well have been the "Denim Country" one featured on this page. I like the pitch Sears used for these sets: "Drum up some interest in music while boosting child's dexterity." While those may be valid points, they fail to mention all the noise the kids will be making at all hours of the day and night if you got them one of these!

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This page features some pretty cool communication-based toys. Walkie-talkies were always a cool thing for kids to have while running around outside. I remember wanting one of those spiffy-looking space helmets featured here. The best thing on this page though is the Sound FX Machine.

Now, this was something I REALLY wanted and I'm sure I circled it in our Wish Book. I did indeed get one of these and had a ball with it. Once again, I'm not sure that I got it for Christmas, but it's certainly likely. I was able to find my old Sound FX Machine recently (as well as its somewhat worn box (seen in the photo at the top of the blog). Unfortunately it doesn't work very well anymore. It powers up and makes noise, but you can't really adjust the sound much. I'm hoping it's something I can fix someday. Here is my very own Sound FX Machine (minus the battery cover, which I believe I do have lying around somewhere):

And, for a little then and now, check out the ad from 1980 and the recreation from 2011:

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Here's some arts and crafts stuff. This page features the classic Lite-Brite, but the main reason I'm putting it up is because I had the Crayola Craft Art Workshop Kit at the upper right of the page. It's yet another of the things that I may or may not have opened up on Christmas morning in 1980, but at least it's in the Wish Book.

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Here's another classic: the Speak & Spell. Another one of those electronic educational toys that tried to make learning fun. I remember having fun trying to figure out ways to make the Speak & Spell say inappropriate things. There was also a comic in the mid-80s who had an act where he had a conversation with a Speak & Spell. I had the Little Professor math teacher on the bottom left of the page. It seems pretty similar to the Professor Mathics one next to it.

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It was a bit of a surprise to not find any Big Wheel cycles in this catalog. This page has some cycles that obviously "borrow" pretty heavily from the classic Big Wheel look. Maybe another department store had exclusive rights to official Big Wheels or something. I have no idea. All I know is that the Star Patrol Cycle above is rather nifty looking. And those Hot Cycles on the right are pretty much clones of the Big Wheel. Check out the CHiPs one that even had a siren!

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Page 607
Just a few classic Fisher-Price toys, including the familiar Play Family School House and Play Family Farm. Note the little telephone on the bottom of page 606 that they still sell today as a retro toy--even though kids don't know what a rotary dial is anymore.

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Page 625
I think most kids who were into toy cars were probably either Matchbox kids or Hot Wheels kids. While you could certainly own both, it seems like the one you preferred most probably said something about you. What that was I don't know. I myself was a Matchbox kid. Here's two pages with a bunch of stuff from both companies (as well as some from others like Fast Wheels and Roadmates). I collected Matchbox cars for a few years spanning the late 1970s and early 1980s. While I don't know if I got any of these for Christmas in 1980, here are some of the ones I still have from what was shown on page 624 of the Wish Book:

14 of the vehicles in the "24-piece Collector's Set"

A less-impressive display of 3 vehicles from the "8-piece Country Set"

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And now we finally see the Star Wars toys! After seeing characters on shirts and pajamas along with a few models here are the classic Kenner toys that most kids who grew up during this time remember so well. I had many of the action figures here (IG-88 was always a favorite of mine for some reason). I also had (and still have) the Darth Vader Collector Case seen here.

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While I never got the Millennium Falcon toy pictured here, a friend bought me the newer (and much larger) one put out by The Legacy Collection for my 40th birthday a couple years back.

Thirty years later...Better late than never!

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Here's a few more neat toys. The one I really wanted from this page was the Chutes Away parachute game in the middle. This is the one where you look through the little scope and drop parachutes from the plane into the cups on the turntable below.

I still remember the old commercials for these things and how cool it all seemed to pilot that plane and drop chutes to their target at night. I have a feeling that if I had actually gotten one the novelty would have worn off pretty quickly. Since I never did the memory of what I imagined it to be like lives on.

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There were a lot of slot car sets for sale in the 1980 Wish Book, many of them with glow-in-the-dark elements. Here's just one of them.

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How's this for a sign of the times (or two)? In the remote control section we find a page featuring a customized Thunder Van and another Pontiac Firebird (looking very Smokey and the Bandit-ish). How 1980 can you get?

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And here's the Sears Video Arcade System (better known to most as the Atari 2600)! This was the first major step ahead from Video Pong, and despite how crude and basic it seems compared to today's video games, it was an exciting time when these babies came out. I never had one, but played with them at friends' houses quite a bit. Though I never really felt a burning desire to own an Atari 2600 I do remember a couple years later when the next generation of home video games was introduced I quickly jumped on the bandwagon. The Atari 5200 and Colecovision both seemed light years ahead of the 2600. After doing as much research as I could I decided that Colecovision was the one for me. I lobbied very hard for one and was rewarded with my favorite Christmas present of all time in 1982--a Colecovision for my family! But 1982 was in the future when this Wish Book came out, so that's a story for another time.

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Here are some of the video games available for the Sears Video Arcade--not to mention a good look at the stunning graphics that were featured in them.

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Here are some electronic games. While of a similar size to the Game Boys of the following decade and similar units that followed, these ones only featured one game apiece (or a variety of very similar games). Cartridges were available for the Atari 2600, but technology hadn't quite gotten to the point of allowing game platforms like that in a handheld format. Of the four games featured on this page I owned two (Stop Thief and Quiz Wiz) and remember playing with the Merlin Electronic Wizard--though I don't think I ever had one of my own.

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And here's a few more neat-o handheld electronic games. I never owned any of these, but remember thinking that Hit and Missile looked really cool. I did have an Electronic Concentration handheld game that I probably got around this time (or at least within a year or two). It was pretty similar to the units seen on these last couple of pages. I got mine at a childrens' Christmas party that the Tupperware company put on every year (my Dad worked for Tupperware at the time). Like the Sound FX Machine, I was able to find my old Electronic Concentration game recently. It is also in the photo at the top of this post. Here's a closer look at it:

Back cover
That's about it for the 1980 Sears Wish Book. While the back cover isn't exactly exciting (unless you happen to be into major household appliances of course), it is an appropriate way to close out this little trip back in time by symbolically closing the catalog. Hope you enjoyed it. Depending on your age it might have brought up old memories, or simply made you laugh at what passed for toys a few decades in the past. Despite how long this post has been we've only touched on a little bit of what is found in the 668 pages of the catalog. If you have any interest in checking out more of these, the website Wishbook Web has a bunch of Christmas catalogs from different years and different companies from the 1930s through the 1980s that have been scanned and can be looked through page by page. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane when I first heard about that site. Also, someone called Wishbook has posted scans of many Sears and other companies' Christmas catalogs on flickr. They even have the 1980 one from Sears, just in case you just didn't get enough of it here. Even though they're available online now online I really wanted to get my very own physical copy of a Sears Wish Book that I could go through for a bit of holiday nostalgia. A search of listings on eBay showed that Christmas catalogs from this period were selling for a pretty steep price. You never know what people are going to want, huh? Eventually I was able to find my 1980 edition very cheap. While it was something I really wanted I don't think I would have payed very much for it--especially since there are ways of checking many of them out online. Who'd have thunk that would be possible back in 1980?