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.