Wednesday, December 17, 2008

He's making a list...

The annual right of passage for all little kids who celebrate Christmas is the visit with Santa. Whether it be at the mall, church, department store, or -- as was the case with our favorite Santa -- in a Santa Village in a small little house surrounded by plastic reindeer. This setup was cool because Santa was inside the house and you couldn't see him until you actually went inside, and then you had him all to yourself until one of his helpful elves had taken your Polaroid (remember those?) and shoved you and your parents out the door so the next kid could get his turn with the Big Guy. It was much nicer than the other Santas who were placed on an elevated throne in a mall with dozens of people watching you impatiently while you tried to remember what you needed to tell him. Remember Ralphie in "A Christmas Story"? Then you know exactly what I mean. Anyway, this Santa Village was off of Broadway in East Knoxville, and as I recall was in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store. It was a small A-frame structure that sat vacant for 11 months of the year, but from Thanksgiving until December 24 it was the home of Santa. And (according to my Mom) he was the "real" Santa. All the other "fake" Santas were his elves, who were "helping" Santa take all of the kid's Christmas requests. It's a pretty good cover story when you think about it. (The Beach Boys Christmas tune "Santa's Beard" also makes it clear that department store and mall Santas are just "helpers" for Kris Kringle).
I thought it was really cool that the "real" Santa had his office in my hometown of Knoxville, TN.

(After talking to my Mom about it and searching on Google Earth, it appears Santa's Knoxville headquarters has been replaced by a fast food restaurant).

Anyway, we have a perfectly good Santa (or "Santa Helper") at Countryside Mall, about 10 minutes from our house. He isn't one of those garish, obviously younger obese men wearing blush and a fake beard. He is an older gentleman with genuine facial hair and just enough of a paunch to qualify as "jolly".

We waited in line for about 20 minutes to see him. Hanna would wave and smile at him whenever she could see him, but as we approached I sensed things might take a turn for the worse. She started saying "No Zinta. No Zinta". (Zinta is Hanna-speak for Santa). But as we walked out onto the fake snow that surrounded the Big Guy, Hanna smiled and waved. She didn't seem too thrilled when Terri sat her down in his lap, but she played along...sort of. She didn't cry but she obviously wasn't really enjoying herself. They took a few pictures, and when it seemed things might be going south Terri stepped in and reassured Hanna that we weren't leaving her with a large, strange-looking man. I did my part by standing next to the camera and waving my arms around and making noises like a fool. As you can see by the picture, she still wasn't too amused.
They took a few more pics and it was time to go. She waved at good old Zinta, and then we went and paid 20 bucks for a few 3x5 inch photos. It was magical.
Just for comparison, look at the photos below and you will see the marked improvement over last year's Santa debacle. But in Hanna's defense, 2007 Santa does seem pretty creepy!

Friday, November 28, 2008

O Christmas Tree...

Starting about 4 years ago, Terri and I started the tradition of setting up our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving evening. Nat King Cole's classic Christmas album plays on the stereo as I dig through a seldom-used closet and haul out the large wardrobe box which houses the pieces of our tree for 11 months of the year.

In December of 1999, my parents graciously donated their old Christmas tree to me and Terri. It is a 7 foot collection of metal and green plastic, but it is much more than that to me. My parents purchased this tree in the mid-1980's, and from the time I was 10 years old until I left home it was an important symbol of Christmastime in the Tockstein home. And I'm happy to say it remains a symbol of Christmas in another Tockstein home.

It's approaching the quarter-century mark in age, and more pieces seem to fall off every year. Fortunately, they are easy to hide, and when she's all dressed up with the ornaments and lights she looks as good as new. I know the time is coming, sooner or later, when we'll have to say goodbye to the old girl. I think she has a few more Christmases left in her.

Enjoy this short video of our 2008 Christmas tree assembly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hanna's Second Birthday, part 2

Day 2: Hanna's Birthday!

Hanna's birthday began with the birthday girl sleeping in until an uncharacteristically late 8:30. My Dad and I went to a nearby Target on this morning to get some groceries for the next few days. When we returned Hanna was running around the house like a crazy person. We also opened a few presents, although the real birthday party wouldn't happen until the next day when her Aunt Julie arrived from Denver.

We had lunch reservations at the Wilderness Lodge that afternoon, so we headed over to Downtown Disney for a few hours before lunch to do some shopping for the birthday girl. She was scared out of her diaper by the dinosaurs at the new T-Rex restaraunt. Terri and her innocently posed next to the giant Tyrannosaur, and all of a sudden this huge robotic monstrosity comes to life and starts roaring and snapping it's jaws about 6 feet from Hanna and Terri. Hanna was not amused.

Then we drove over to the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge. If you haven't seen it, Wilderness Lodge is a beautiful resort. It is set on Bay Lake just about 1 mile from the Magic Kingdom, but you truly feel as if you are in the wilderness when you walk around the grounds. My Dad and I gorged ourselves on all-you-can-eat barbeque ribs, while Mom and Terri both had sandwiches about the size of a car. Hanna had chicken nuggets, but of course the cake and ice cream at the end of the meal was all she cared about.

That afternoon my Dad and I went up to Sanford Airport, about 40 miles east of Orlando, to pick up a rental car for my folks since they would be flying out of Sanford in a few days. We ordered in pizza that night, and later my folks went to Orlando International to pick up my sister who had caught a late flight out of Denver. Mom, Dad, and Julie got back to the house around 12:30 that night. After visiting with my sis for about 30 minutes, I headed to bed. Our first day in the parks was coming next.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hanna's Second Birthday, part 1

We returned from our mini-vacation with my folks and sister just over 24 hours ago (as of this writing). Today we got back to the grind, and I find myself working through the phenomenon of post-vacation withdrawal.
We left our house on Wednesday, November 5, at around 2:30 in the afternoon. On the drive to the airport Hanna grabbed the only nap that she would have all day. We met my folks at the Clearwater Airport around 3:00. After a few minutes of hesitation, Hanna came around and fully enjoyed her Nana and Poppa's company.

The drive from Clearwater to Orlando was a bit cramped. Four adults and a carseat are just about all my Jetta can handle! Once we arrived we were very pleased with the vacation home. It was quite large, with 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, a massive living space and open kitchen and dining room, and a converted garage that held a pool table and an air hockey table. We had more than enough room to stretch out after the trip from Clearwater.

That night we drove down the road to a Perkins and had dinner. I can eat an omelet at any time of day! Then it was off to a local Publix to order a SpongeBob birthday cake. After our visit to Publix, we went over to the Polynesian Resort to watch the fireworks from the beach. It was the first time Hanna had ever seen a fireworks show, and she was enthralled...for about 5 minutes. Then the sand on the beach became much more interesting than dumb old fireworks. It was a full afternoon with only a 20 minute nap. Hanna did not put up a fight at bedtime!

Our first full day lies ahead of us. More coming soon!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Day 2008

Election Day is upon us. Terri and I will be voting, and I hope you will be too.

Rather than talk about our current nominees, both of which hold ideals which offend my Libertarian sensibilities, I will simply share a video clip from the excellent miniseries "John Adams". It is beautiful and moving in its simplicity. If you have not yet seen this miniseries, or better yet read the book, you should. It will demonstrate how far we have come, and also how far we have yet to go as a nation to live up to the ideals laid out in our Constitution.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tockstein Disney History, part 4

JULY, 1992

In the four years since we had last been to Disney, much had happened. In 1989 we moved to West Virginia. In 1991 we moved back to Knoxville. My sister and I went to no less than 4 different schools during all the moving around. We got two great dogs, Captain and later his offspring Bugsy. I started working...first at Dairy Queen, then loading trucks at a textile mill, and finally found a steady gig at Krogers. And it was during this period of changes that I discovered what I wanted to do with my life: use a video camera to somehow make a living. In West Virginia I began to shoot silly short movies with my new friends Nate and Steve, and found that there was nothing I'd rather do. We would write these scripts, shoot the movie, and edit it, adding music and sound effects (without the aid of a computer)...all of this within a 5 or 6 hour period. There was nothing more gratifying than finally sitting down in front of the TV at the end of the day to watch the fruits of our labor. Things really picked up when we moved back to Knoxville, and my best friends Josh and Al got in on the act. When we weren't at our jobs or school, we were shooting movies in the basement of my house. Some of our classics include "Life Goes On", about a hitman hired by an alien robot, "The Adventures of the 35-Cent Boy", who was a kid rebuilt with bionic parts that cost -- you guessed it -- 35 cents. And of course there was the "Trip to the Mailbox" series, which ususally involved a crazy Post Office employee trying to wreak havoc on unsuspecting citizens. We were also fond of making our own versions of famous movies, and some of our most elaborate productions were Indiana Jones and Psycho knock-offs. Josh, Al, and I were actually given an award by a local film production company for Best Amateur Short in 1994...but I am getting ahead of myself. Where was I? Oh yes, Disney...

This trip was important to me for two reasons: the Disney/MGM Studios and Universal Studios Florida. These two parks had opened in 1989 and 1990 respectively. Of course, Universal Studios is not a Disney park, but for the purposes of this entry I'm lumping it in with the rest of the parks.

For this trip we were staying for a week, this time at the Caribbean Beach Resort, one of the newer Disney-owned resorts at that time. It was, and is, a nice place to stay, and I have returned to it several times since. This time it was just my sister, me, and my folks. My cousin Amy did not make the trip.

The first park we visited was one we had not yet been to: Disney/MGM Studios. I remember walking up to the gate and hearing loud symphonic movie music being played and became hypnotized by this place. The look of the park is great. The entrance is modeled after 1930's Hollywood, and really does a great job of putting you in that time and place. The first ride we went on was The Great Movie Ride, which was located inside a replica of the famous Mann's Chinese Theater. It was a ride through famous movie scenes, with the movie sets replicated at full scale and populated by Disney's trademark animatronic figures. I loved it, especially the movie montage at the end of the ride, showcasing great moments from movie history. For the budding film geek like myself, it was quite a treat.

Then of course there was Star Tours, a ride based on Star Wars. It was so completely immersive, from the Ewok Village and Imperial Walker outside, to the spaceport inside where they actually gave announcements in Huttese (Jabba's language)! My geek brain was in overload. I was re-experiencing this complete immersion into an environment in a way I had not since I first visited the Magic Kingdom 11 years before. To feel like that at age 6 isn't that tough, but to make a 17-year old high school student feel that way...well, that is saying something.

Also at MGM Studios was the Indiana Jones stunt show, and I was picked to be an extra in the show. I remember being taken backstage and put into a costume and loving every second of it. I remember seeing all of the techs backstage and the directors wrangling people...I was in awe. And it further cemented in my brain that I had to do something like this for a living.

Anyway, that was just the first day! Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Boy and His Frog

Taking a break from Disney here for a moment, but those posts will be back in force within the next 48 hours -- I promise.

I think I'll tug on the heartstrings a bit with this entry. I love the Muppets. And any child of my generation who says they didn't love the Muppets, well, they are either crazy or they are lying. I think my recent rediscovery of Sesame Street with Hanna has kind of awakened that part of me again. I've been listening to old Muppet soundtracks in my car lately and spending a lot of time on various Muppet websites. While browsing, I came upon a very moving tribute to Jim Henson, who as everyone knows is the creator of the Muppets and who tragically passed away in 1990. By all accounts, Henson was a very decent person, kind and down-to-earth, despite his great fame. The entertainment he created with his Muppeteers was wholesome and imaginative and could appeal to both kids and adults. Such a thing is rare these days, and I am introducing my daughter Hanna to the Muppets that I knew as a kid. I hope that all of my friends who have recently had kids will do the same. SpongeBob is great, but he's no Kermit.

This song was written by Tom Smith. He isn't a Muppeteer and he didn't work for Henson, he's just a fan who appreciated what Henson created. This is a song sung by Kermit (as performed by Smith), mourning the loss of his "Dad", Jim Henson. What follows are the lyrics, with a video at the bottom of the page. Get the Kleenex! Enjoy....

Life is unfair, so they tell me,
Because they think I wouldn't know.
They only can see a cheap gimmick
On their children's favorite show.
They say, "Oh, that's just foam and a wire,
Attached to a green velvet sleeve,Anyone can do that" -- well, that's true, I suppose,
But who else could make them believe?
What can I say without you there to guide me?

How else am I supposed to give?
How can I sing without you there beside me?
How else am I supposed to live?
You could never just do the expected,
I was just an idea in a bog,
But you sewed up your dream and we made quite a team,
Jim and Kermit, a boy and his frog.
It was me, Rolph, and you, but I think that he knew
There was something that you and I had.
The magic we made just kept growing,
And none of it ever was bad.
Then came Ernie and Scooter and Gonzo,
Doctor Teeth, Cookie Monster, and more.
But now all of those voices are silent,And I want to go on... but what for?
No one can make me what you did,
No one could walk in your shoes,
Nothing can make me forget you,
But that's not a thing that I'd choose.

I can't just let it be over,
And you wouldn't want it that way,
So I'll stand up and I'll face it,
And, though not quite in your voice, I'll say:
I will go on without you there to guide me,
There's so much more I can give.

Whenever I sing, you will be there beside me,
As long as I keep you, you'll live.
We just wanted to make people happy,
I was always much more than your toy.

I will never regret and I'll never forget
What we had,I'll miss you, Dad,

This frog and his boy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tockstein Disney History, part 3.5

Our first taste of Disney on this trip actually began in Ocala, Florida, which is about 90 miles north of Orlando. Disney operated a Disney Welcome Center in Ocala along Interstate 75, giving road travelers their first taste of the Disney parks a few hours before they actually arrived in Orlando. I remember feeling that we were getting very close, and the excitement was building.

We again stayed at the Polynesian Village Resort. We didn't have a lakeview room this time, but that really didn't matter to me. It was still a great place to stay. On our first night we went to the lagoon to watch the Electrical Water Parade and catch the fireworks.

Strangely, my memories of this trip aren't quite as sharp as those of our first two. Maybe the video camera captured it so I wouldn't have to remember? However, I do remember my first ride on Space Mountain...

And it was on this trip that I purchased a blue Mickey Mouse cap that would seldom leave my head for the better part of a year. I still have this cap, stored away in a box in the very room that I'm typing this.

One day we traveled over to the Kennedy Space Center. That place fascinated me. This was 1988, two years after the Challenger disaster, so it was a period where NASA was not flying shuttles. It was still an interesting place, and I enjoyed the tour very much. Now, as a resident of Florida, I keep telling myself that I need to get over there to see a shuttle launch before they stop the shuttle program in 2010.

After a week at Disney, we would head across the state to Madiera Beach in the Tampa Bay area. On the drive from Orlando we got into a fender-bender which caused us some delay in getting to our condo, but no one was hurt and our vacation continued. This second week we went to Busch Gardens (didn't compare to Disney in my opinion) and spent a relaxing week on the beach. Who could have guessed that 13 years later I would move here?

We return to Orlando in 1992 with two new parks to explore: the Disney/MGM Studios and Universal Studios. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tockstein Disney History, part 3

JULY, 1988

This is probably the longest family vacation I can remember. Two weeks of Florida-bound road trip fun! Our first week was going to be spent at Walt Disney World, and for our second week we were heading to Tampa Bay for 6 days in a beach-front condo. For the purposes of consistency, I will focus mainly on the Disney portion of our trip.

On this trip we were plus one. My cousin Amy from Illinois was staying with us for the summer. She was exactly between my sister and I in age -- she was one year younger than me and one year older than my sister. Of course her and my sister were inseperable, and caused me massive hardship for the length of Amy's visit. But looking back, maybe I deserved it.

As you read this, you may notice several video clips peppered throughout the blog. This was the first time we took a video camera on vacation. As I have mentioned before, my Dad had an old 8 millimeter film camera on our first trip, but it didn't record sound and you couldn't play it back in your VCR. It's funny to think that the video camera we were using on this trip was the size of a small suitcase and required it's own backpack to carry it around. Interestingly enough, my current video camera is smaller than a soda can.

This was also our first vacation with our new chariot, the Dodge Ram Conversion Van. It was completely awesome. It had a TV, VCR, great stereo, 4 reclining captain's chairs, a couch which folded down to a was interstate luxury! Here is a brief look at the Queen Mary of the roadways...

I was 13 at the time of this trip. And what an obnoxious and awkward specimen I was! The video camera was a new toy to me, and I felt the need to record everything. And yes, I mean EVERYTHING. I'm sure my family was prepared to leave me at a rest stop along Interstate 75. Listening to myself on these tapes is horrifying. You have been warned. Here is a sample:

So just imagine two weeks of that. Two weeks with a 13-year old kid with a camcorder in your face all the time. And that accent! Good grief!

We split the drive from Knoxville to Orlando into two parts. We drove from Knoxville to around Valdosta, Georgia in the first leg of the trip, with a stop in Macon, Georgia to get some Cracker Barrel for dinner. We finished the drive the following day. Here is a brief montage:

So, we made it to Florida and I haven't even started the Disney portion of the story yet. I think I'll go ahead and post this, and we'll continue with this particular trip report very soon. I need a break from my 13-year old self right now!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tockstein Disney History, part 2

JANUARY 1985 In January of 1985 my Dad once again had business in Orlando, which meant that after 4 years the Tocksteins were heading back to Walt Disney World. During our first trip in 1981, we stayed at a hotel that was on Disney property, but was not a Disney owned and operated resort. That particular hotel is located in what is now known as the Downtown Disney area. For this trip, we stayed at the beautiful Polynesian Village Resort, just a monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom. We had one of those rooms that you usually only see in Disney World commercials. We had a balcony that overlooked the Seven Seas Lagoon, with a perfect view of the Castle across the lake. We watched the fireworks from our hotel room! Disney also put on a nightly water parade out in the lagoon with a bunch of illuminated floats, all set to music. I have a vivid memory of sitting in our room on the first night and hearing the water parade starting and no one in my family knowing what the heck was going on. But it was really cool to see all of this from our balcony. I remember getting up in the middle of the night and looking out the window to see if they kept the Castle lit up all night long. They did.

This trip is more of a blur for me, but I do remember this was the first time I went on a roller coaster...Big Thunder Mountain. It was amazing! My favorite part was zipping under the dinosaur bones that are sticking out of the side of the mountain. I didn't yet have the courage to conquer Space Mountain. That would happen on our next trip.

This was the first year we visited when EPCOT Center was open. EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and it opened in 1982. I actually recall seeing EPCOT under construction during our first trip in 1981. EPCOT is the scene of what is probably one of my most vivid, and disturbing, memories ever...

We got in line for Spaceship Earth, which is the large geodesic sphere that is the symbol of EPCOT. You know...the big golf ball. There is a ride inside Spaceship Earth that takes you on a tour of the history of human communication. As my Dad was fond of saying, "It's slow, dark, and air-conditioned." We had almost made it on the ride, when up in front of us came a terrible scream. "My foot!" yelled a woman. "My FOOOOT!" Somehow, this woman had gotten her foot caught underneath the ride vehicles on the track. I can only imagine the damage that it caused. My Mom told me and my sister to look at the ground, but the sounds of that woman screaming is something I will never forget. Paramedics were on the scene quickly, and the ride was shut down. As I recall, we rode Spaceship Earth later that day without incident. To this day, I will sometimes call my sister on my cell phone while waiting in line for the ride and we will recall the terrible story of Spaceship Earth and "the foot". We never found out what happened to that woman.

EPCOT also holds more pleasant memories for me, chief among them was Figment, the purple dragon who was the mascot of the Imagination Pavilion, which was a great ride that was a journey through the world of imagination. I really liked Figment. I bought a Figment cap that I still own to this day, and a Figment stuffed animal, which my Mom has now given to her granddaughter. Although the original Figment ride has changed somewhat since then, my daughter Hanna loves Figment. She has several plush Figment dolls and a Figment pin in her very small (but growing) Disney pin collection.

Another aspect of this trip that was great was that my folks pulled me and my sister out of school for a week. I have memories of doing homework assignments just before going out to watch fireworks. The ironic thing is that school up in Knoxville was snowed out almost that entire week, so I was a week ahead of everyone else when I got back from Disney World!

This was a great trip, even with the nightmare of "the foot". It was my first exposure to EPCOT and the incredible Polynesian resort. It would only be three short years until we returned, and this time we brought along a video camera! See you soon.

Me in front of the Fountain of Nations at EPCOT Center.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"To all the parents who remember..."

"To all the parents who remember, and all the kids who are just finding out."

I'm on a Disney kick right now. My folks and my sister are coming to Orlando in a few weeks, and it will be the first time since 1996 that we've all been at the Magic Kingdom together. And it makes it even more special now with Terri and Hanna as a part of that group. Three generations of Tocksteins, and we all share a history with Disney World.

This is my favorite Disney commercial. I think it encapsulates everything I like about Disney. It really plays on that generational thing, that the parents brought their children, and now the children's kids are starting to relive that, and they get to do it through their grandparents and parent's eyes. I really like it. Look for more "Disney Memories" posts in the coming days! Enjoy....

Tockstein Disney History, part 1

Since I've been told I don't blog enough (thanks Mali), I have decided to begin a new series of posts about my trips to Disney World before moving to Florida. Hopefully, some people will find this of interest. If not, it could work as a sleep aid if you have insomnia. Nothing like the warm glow of a laptop computer in a darkened room with an essay from Jared Tockstein on the screen to lull you to sleep. I'm better than Ambien!

Without further delay, let us load the old Monte Carlo and begin the 700 mile journey from Knoxville, TN to Orlando...


My Dad had a business meeting in Orlando, and he thought this would be a perfect opportunity for us to visit Disney World for the first time. I was the ripe old age of 5, just 2 months shy of 6. My sister was also just a few months short of 4 years old.

Up to this time, my exposure to the world of amusement parks had been limited to several county fairs and a few trips to Silver Dollar City (now known as the world-famous Dollywood). Now I thought Silver Dollar City was pretty cool, but when we got to Disney World I think my 5 year old brain went haywire with sensory overload.

Keep in mind that this was 1981. It was before Epcot, before the Studios, and before Animal Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom was the only kid on the block, except for Sea World (but dumb old Shamoo couldn't hold a candle to Mickey).

As I recall, this was the middle of January, typically one of the slowest times of year for the Disney parks. The park was empty. My most vivid memory of this trip was the first ride that we went on: Mister Toad's Wild Ride. Honestly, I had never experienced anything like that before. You climb aboard an old roadster and proceed on a madcap trip through the English countryside, crashing through various barnyards and pubs before finally smashing head-on into a train and meeting eternity in the bowels of Hades while the Devil looks on. Not a very Disney-like ride when you think about it. But it floored me! I didn't care or notice that the "train" was just a bright light in a dark room, or that the entire ride was simply plywood cutouts lit by blacklight. It was completely unlike anything I had experienced before, and it really set the tone for the completely immersive experience that I would have over the next few days.

Another vivid memory was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You actually boarded a submarine and took a ride underwater! Now granted, you were really only about 3 feet underwater and all of the undersea life you were seeing was plastic, but do you really think that mattered to a 5 year old? We went to Sea World that same trip, and even seeing REAL undersea animals wasn't as cool as 20K Leagues!

And then there was the Haunted Mansion. The ride was unsettling to me, but I wasn't scared. The most vivid scene of the ride I remember was the long hallway with the floating candlestick. To this day whenever I see that scene, I think about my first trip. And of course I loved the scene where the ghosts seem to share your ride vehicle with you.

And how could I forget If You Had Wings, which was a bit of an oddity and is barely remembered today. It was essentially a ride-through commercial for now-defunct Eastern Airlines, which at that time was the official airline of Walt Disney World. You rode through this attraction looking at posters and projections of all the places that Eastern Airlines flew. There was even a travel agent waiting at a desk at the end of the ride...just in case you wanted to book your next vacation right then and there!

20K Leagues sailed for the last time in 1994. The lagoon has been filled with cement and a replica of Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Woods stands there now. Mister Toad had to make way for a Winnie the Pooh ride in 1999. If You Had Wings was gone by 1987. Several attractions have come and gone in that building, and it is now the current home of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. The Haunted Mansion is, of course, still there and still one of the park's most popular attractions.

Oh yes, this was also the trip where I first saw the ocean. That was pretty cool. But let's be honest, it wasn't as cool as Mister Toad.

My parents still have most of the pictures from this trip, and my Dad even took some old 8 millimeter film footage with our old movie camera. All of this photographic evidence remains at the Tockstein home in Knoxville, TN. I did come across one picture however. Those two colorful blurry spots in the middle of the picture are me and my sister Julie.

Come back next time for details of our next trip...JANUARY 1985.

Pictures and research for this entry came from the excellent Widen Your World website, which is a treasure trove of information on extinct Disney World attractions. Check out the website at

Saturday, October 18, 2008


As many of you know, Terri and I are huge fans of Walt Disney World. We spend a lot of time (and money) there. Hanna is probably starting to think that the Magic Kingdom is her personal playground.
Many people can't stand the place, and I can understand their feelings to some degree. Critics have often accused the Disney Company of being no more than a money-hungry Empire, selling pre-packaged "magic" to the unwashed masses of mindless tourists who eat it up, gladly paying 15 dollars for a hamburger that would fetch 3 bucks outside the park, or paying hundreds of dollars for their daughters to become "princesses" for a day in a cheaply made dress with the Disney logo stamped on the tag and a plastic tiara in their hair.
With things like that, you either buy what Disney sells or you are turned off by their seemingly endless and evil revenue stream. I mean, God forbid Disney makes money for their shareholders.

I, for one, buy what they sell. Because despite what other people think, there is genuine warmth and a sense of good feeling that gets me whenever I visit. What follows is one of those stories.

In 1995, there was a statue created for Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Orlando called "Partners". It is a very famous bronze statue of Walt and Mickey holding hands at the hub in front of the castle, with Walt pointing out in front of him and Mickey looking on. The man who designed this sculpture is named Blaine Gibson. He worked with Disney for many years, and among his works are the pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, the Presidents in the Hall of Presidents, and the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. For years afterwards, Mr. Gibson maintained that the sculpture in the Orlando park was not finished, although it was identical to its California cousin in every respect, and the sculpture in Anaheim was considered complete. So what was Gibson talking about?

In 1999, Gibson completed a bronze statue of Roy Disney, Walt's older brother. It depicted Roy sitting on a bench with Minnie Mouse in Town Square just under the flagpole. It was called "Sharing the Magic". Gibson then declared his "Partners" statue was complete. He then let the rest of the public understand his reasoning and filled them in on the story he was trying to tell with the two statues.
Walt Disney passed away in December of 1966, just a few months after announcing the Florida Disney World project. The Disney company was hit very hard by his loss, having just purchased the thousands of acres of Florida swamp that was supposed to hold Walt's biggest dream. They didn't know what to do. Should they go ahead with the project? Should they not? Roy Disney came out of retirement to see Walt's dream brought to life. He lived long enough to oversee the project, and on opening day in October of 1971, Roy Disney dedicated the park with a speech. He passed away 2 months later.
The statue of Roy and Minne has an empty space on the bench. This space is for Mickey. As Blaine Gibson explains it, in the Florida version of the "Partners" statue, Walt is pointing at his brother Roy, who is seated way down at the end of Main Street. Walt is telling Mickey that he can't take him any further, but his brother is waiting at the end of the street to finish the job.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hanna's Afternoon at the Beach

Hanna and I decided to head out to Sand Key Beach on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 15, 2008. Despite the fact that it is two weeks from the end of October, we enjoyed 90 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Enjoy the video!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tockstein Home, circa 1988

Join us as my sister Julie (age 11 in this video) takes us on a tour of the old Tockstein Home at 3200 Walnoaks Road in Knoxville, TN, circa July 1988. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Now and Then....

For the latest edition of Now and Then, I present you with a picture of me in the famous rack in Liberty Square at Walt Disney World. The recent picture of me was taken on September 7, 2008. The picture of me and Julie was taken in January of 1986. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Now and Then...

I grew up with the best neighbors that anyone ever had. John and Marion were kind of like my grandparents, and still are to this day. John had this great porch swing on his patio that me and my sister would love to sit in.

So for this edition of Now and Then, I give you a picture of me and Hanna in the famous swing, circa June 2008. And below, me and my sister Julie in the same swing in 1982.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Sesame Street was a part of my daily life from my earliest memories up until around the second grade. Grover, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar were all as real to me as my Mom and Dad and little sister. I have vivid memories of learning about vowels and numbers and punctuation from the likes of The Count and "real" people like Bob, Gordon, and Maria.

However, my love of Sesame Street was severely tested by one particular segment. It was a short segment which would run occasionally during the show. It was an animated story of the Fox and the Crow, which is an old Aesop's Fable. To say that it freaked me out would be an understatement. I would start crying and shaking and my heart would race uncontrollably. My poor Mom thought I was going to have a heart attack at the ripe old age of 5. There was no rhyme or reason to its inclusion in an episode. It wouldn't air for months, lulling me into a false sense of security...and then BAM!!! There was that creepy fox and crow back to give me nightmares. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube you can view this short video for yourself.

See? Isn't that creepy? I think today I find it even more terrifying. Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent here...

So as I was saying, I loved Sesame Street with a passion (minus The Fox and the Crow) until I was 6 or 7, and then I slowly began to grow out of it and moved on to other things. I would still see it occasionally as my younger sister continued to watch it, but after she got older and stopped watching I pretty much lost track of it.

When I was in high school I rediscovered the Muppets thanks to the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol. I started collecting all of the Muppet movies and shows (first on VHS, later on DVD), and occasionally a Sesame Street character would make an appearance in those movies or TV episodes and it would briefly remind me that I loved them as a kid. And of course the Elmo craze of the 1990's reminded me that Sesame Street was still on the air, and this new guy Elmo was the new king of the block apparently. Remember the Christmas frenzy for Tickle Me Elmo? forward 10 years. SpongeBob and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse are my daughter Hanna's favorite shows. She loves them. One morning after those shows are done, we are flipping through the channels and....wait! Hey! That's Big Bird! And he looks and sounds exactly the same as I remember him. Hanna was transfixed. We continued to watch the episode and she loved it. And I found that I really enjoyed it as well. Bob, Gordon, and Maria are all still there (and Gordon looks amazingly the same as he did when I was a kid). For the past few months we have been recording the show and watching it together in the evenings. There are of course new characters and cast members. But all of the old faces are still there as well. Some of the characters sound a little different now. Jim Henson passed away in 1990, and his Ernie and Kermit are missed (however Steve Whitmire does a perfectly fine job in the roles). The great Frank Oz retired from Muppeteering in 2000, so Eric Jacobson now provides the voices of Cookie Monster, Grover, and Bert. And remember how I said Big Bird sounded the same as he did when I was little? Well that's because Muppeteer Caroll Spinney has voiced and performed Big Bird (not to mention Oscar the Grouch) since 1969!

Sprinkled throughout the new episodes are segments from older shows that still have Henson performing Kermit and Ernie and Frank Oz performing his characters. I think it's great that they are still showing these older clips mixed in with the new stuff.

Sesame Street has been on TV continuously since 1969 and after 4800 episodes it is one of the longest running television programs in history. I get great satisfaction in seeing Hanna enjoy it as much as I did. With all of the terrible kids programming that has come and gone since I've been a youngster, there is something reassuring and comforting in the fact that Sesame Street is still the most popular children's show. I'm happy to say that after about 30 years Sesame Street is once again part of my daily routine.

But they better not bring back The Fox and the Crow.

Me, Bert, and Ernie back in the 1970's. Hanna and Elmo today.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Now and Then...

Up top, we have a picture of me, my sister Julie, and Eeyore in front of the Newsstand at the gates of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, circa January, 1985. Towards the bottom of the page, we have me and Hanna, circa July 2008, in almost the same location, some 23 years later.

Of course, most folks have pictures of themselves in front of the Castle at various times during their lives, but how many can say they have a picture in front of the Magic Kingdom's Newsstand? I betcha not a whole lot!
I enjoy these kind of photographic time capsules. I hope you do too. Expect more in the future.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Saga Begins

I get asked all the time how me and Terri met. People who haven't known us for very long assume we met at HSN, which is where we are currently both employed. Our story did not begin at HSN, although it did begin in the workplace.

The picture on this page is of Kroger, a grocery store chain that is prominent across the southeast. Specifically, this is Kroger Store #513, on Clinton Highway, in Knoxville, TN. Or more accurately, it is what remains of Kroger #513. Last week we spent our vacation in Tennessee visiting our folks, and as we drove by this sorry-looking structure I had to snap a picture. Kroger #513 was an old store, which had stood in this spot ever since I could remember. I started working there in 1991, and continued there until we moved to Nashville in 1998. Kroger paid for college through its scholarship program, it paid for my car, put me in the middle of a real-life stick up (no kidding!!!), it taught me how to unload an 18-wheeler with a motorized jack, and so many other great life lessons (such as how to fudge the expiration date on the milk so you can get rid of the old stuff before stocking the new stuff).

And of course it was where I met Terri. She started in November of 1994. And, well, I guess it was here at Kroger that my life changed forever.

As I pulled into the cracked ashpalt of that parking lot and snapped off a few pictures, it was interesting to think that if not for this old building, that I wouldn't have been sitting in the car with the woman who was my wife and my beautiful young daughter. Putting it in perspective like that, it made it a little sad to see what had become of the once-bustling with activity #513.

And then I remembered having to clean those bathrooms and all the warm fuzzies went away!

Good luck, old friend! May you be spared the wrecking ball and turned into bright and shiny retail space once again.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

If adventure has a name...

For a geek like myself, few things get me more excited than seeing a beaten-up Harrison Ford in a dusty fedora, desperately escaping impossible situations. Indiana Jones is probably my favorite fictional character ever. I've seen the first three movies countless times, own all 40 hours of the Young Indy television series on DVD, played all the video games, and have read all of his adventures in novels and comics. I'm something of an Indy scholar. Scholar sounds better than nerd (but who am I kidding?).

I was certainly not disappointed as I watched "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" at 12:10 AM on Thursday morning, May 22.

The last new Indy film I saw in theaters, like most people, was "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" back in 1989. My Dad and I went to see the movie at Carmike Cinemas 6 on North Peters Road (at one time my favorite theater, now sadly demolished). That was nineteen years ago! That doesn't seem possible.

So before the lights went down on that night, me and the group of friends that I was with recounted events that had happened in our lives since last we saw Indiana Jones grace a movie screen. In my case, I had moved about 5 times, graduated high school, graduated college, gotten married, relocated to Florida, and had a child. So there was quite a bit of water under the bridge since I had last visited with Indy in a movie theater.

And what about Indy? The new movie is set in 1957, exactly 19 years since we saw him in "The Last Crusade", which was set in 1938. The movie opens not to the familiar "Raiders March" by the incomparable John Williams, but to "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley. Elvis opening an Indiana Jones movie? Who would've thunk it? But it works, and it serves to give the audience a sense of time and place. It's not the 1930's anymore.

This isn't a review of the movie in the Roger Ebert sense of the word, but suffice it to say I really enjoyed it. Thus far I have seen it twice, and the second time I enjoyed it more. It's like breaking in a new pair of shoes...I'm sure it will just get better with repeated viewings.

And Harrison Ford can take a beating at 65 years of age better than most movie stars a quarter of his age! Bring on Indy 5!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Empire Strikes

It’s been a week since the first post, and I know you have all been waiting with baited breath, wondering if I ever got my Star Wars sheets.
The answer is yes. One beautiful day in 1980 the sheets finally arrived. I slept on those sheets until 1998, the year I was married. Yes, that is a fact. 18 years of use (of course, they were in a rotation with other sheets. I didn’t sleep on them for 18 years straight…just so you know). Sadly, they had to be retired when Terri and I purchased a queen-sized mattress. And the only reason I don’t have a set now is because I can’t find a Star Wars sheet set in anything larger than full-size. But enough about the sheets.

1980 was also the year that The Empire Strikes Back was released. I remember seeing commercials and becoming quite excited. Now I could go to the theater and watch a real-life movie about the toys that I was falling in love with! I remember cutting out the ad for the film that had appeared in the newspaper and taping it to the wall in my room.
One early Saturday morning in May of 1980, my Dad and I prepared to go see the movie. We were going to Powell Cinemas to catch a matinee. The thing I remember most about this day was getting to the theater and being told that the movie had sold out. I felt as if the world had collapsed around me. My Dad, being the very smart civil engineer that he is, did something ingenious. He did something that I would not have thought to do in a million years: he bought tickets for the next show. Despite my Dad’s heroic save, I still remember being upset that we had to wait another 3 hours for the next showing. (This was long before the days of 20-auditorium multiplexes, where the same movie begins about every 10 minutes).
The theater was not too far from our house, so we drove home to wait for the next show. I recall it being the longest wait of my young life, but the time finally arrived to get back into the Monte Carlo and head back to Powell Cinemas. We entered a crowded auditorium and took our seats.
What followed was a pivotal event in my young life. It had ramifications that continue with me to this day.
Still to come…the aftermath of Empire, the best Christmas ever, and Return of the Jedi. See you soon!

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Long Time Ago...

Did you know that I like Star Wars?
If my family, friends, and even casual acquaintances can tell you one thing about me, they would all say “He likes Star Wars.” But how did this happen? How does a man of 33 still have action figures in his office and Star Wars posters on his wall? Why do I have a bookshelf with dozens of Star Wars novels, a shelf full of Star Wars DVDs, and a room where the walls are covered with autographs from the actors in the Star Wars movies. What road led me here?
My story begins not in a movie theater or sitting awestruck in front of my TV. My story begins in the pages of a Sears catalogue.
For a child of the 1970’s, catalogues were the best way to see all of the new toys coming out. I was just about 5 years old at this point, looking through the catalogue for the toys (which were always at the back of the catalogue as I remember). As I recall, at this point in time my toy collection consisted of many stuffed animals, a Spider-Man doll, a Hulk doll, and a few Tonka trucks. Something fascinating caught my eye in this particular catalogue. It was a kid’s room, completely decorated in Star Wars stuff. Toys were on the shelves, posters were on the wall, and the bed was covered in Star Wars sheets. After seeing that, I had to have my room look like that. I wanted those sheets!
Keep in mind I had never seen Star Wars at this point. But the pictures of the toys and that kid’s bedroom completely fascinated me. And those sheets! I had to have the sheets!
Somehow I persuaded my parents to order the sheets. What 5-year old mind games I played on them to get them to buy the sheets I will never know. As I recall, my Mom ordered the sheets from the catalogue (which is what you had to do before the Internet was born).
After a few days, Sears called and said the sheets were ready for pick up. We drove down to West Town Mall to get the sheets. However, due to some mix-up the sheets were not there! What? How could this be? I was quite upset. What I do remember is the consolation prize I got that day. It was an X-Wing Fighter! Wow! It was almost too much for my 5 year-old brain to comprehend. It was without a doubt the coolest toy in history.
After getting the X-Wing home and having my Dad help to apply all of the decal stickers, I was ready to take flight. At this time I didn’t have any Star Wars figures, however I did have an action figure which had come with one of my trucks which almost fit into the cockpit. I used him as my pilot.
This worked fine for a few weeks, but soon I was aware that they actually sold Star Wars action figures that would actually fit into the X-Wing. It was at K-Mart on Clinton Highway in Knoxville, Tennessee where I got my first Star Wars action figure. I picked someone who looked like he could fly in space. I picked Boba Fett.
Nearly 30 years later, I still have that action figure.
Come back next time, when I reveal if I ever got those sheets, my reactions after seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time, and perhaps the best Christmas ever…the Christmas of 1980! See you next time…

Mother's Day 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Our 10th Anniversary

10 years ago on a Sunday afternoon in 1998, Terri and I were married. How do you mark 10 years? It is not an insignificant amount of time, yet to old pros like the senior Brocks and Tocksteins it must seem like amateur night!

Still, much has happened with us in the last decade...

Our first "child", our dog Wallace, joined us in May of 1998. He is still with us, enjoying his retirement in Florida.

We moved to Nashville from Knoxville in 1998, and then from Nashville to Clearwater, FL in 2001.

My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, was treated, and has been cancer free for 8 years.

Terri and I both lost a pair of Grandparents in 2005 and 2006 (Grandma and Grandpa Wood and Grandma and Grandpa Tockstein). Grandma Brock is still here, and is busier than most of us young people.

In 2003, Terri rescued a kitten next to a dumpster, named him Legs, and brought him to live with us. Our carpet and furniture have never recovered!

My sister Julie was married to her boyfriend Chuck in 2003.

We bought our first home in 2003.

Three new "Star Wars" movies were released!

And of course the biggest highlight of all, on November 6, 2006, we were joined by Hanna Caroline Tockstein.

So we've had a good 10 years. Here's hoping the next 4 or 5 decades are just as good.