Sunday, December 6, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Magic Kingdom

Here's a video from a recent evening trip to Disney. The lights on the castle are impressive, and there was just enough chill in the air (a nippy 48 degrees) to make it feel quite Christmas-like! Enjoy the video.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Star Wars in Concert

In honor of Halloween, I give you a freak show! Well, more like a "geek show" actually. Star Wars in Concert at the Jacksonville Memorial Arena was a blast. What follows is a short video summary of the experience. Enjoy...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Anyway, as I was saying...

I thought I should at least get one post up on the blog before October ends.

This is a very busy time for us here at the Tockstein home. On November 1 we will once again be loading up the Jetta and heading north for Tennessee. We'll spend a few days in Nashville, and a few days in Knoxville. My sister Julie, her husband Chuck, and their daughter Mila will be visiting Knoxville for 2 days of our visit. I'm very much looking forward to getting Mila and Hanna together. My Mom has already booked a photo shoot for both of them complete with matching outfits. Should be a hoot!

On October 29 I will be heading to Jacksonville with my buddies Matt and Mike for Star Wars in Concert. I'm very excited about this. A huge orchestra in a huge arena with a huge screen displaying scenes from my favorite series of movies. That's pretty much a Star Wars geek's dream come true. And I love that I have such an understanding wife who puts up with this nonsense on a daily basis, and even encourages it. Love you baby!

Hanna's potty training is...well...the training continues. Pee is no problem. Poop is another story. And so it goes...

And this week I had some troubling news from my doctor. I made an appointment to see if I could get rid of this cold that has been bugging me for the past month, and I left with a prescription for high blood pressure medication, asprin heart therapy, and a warning to get my butt on a treadmill YESTERDAY. Not fun, but rest assured I am taking this advice seriously.

And finally, my sister Julie and her husband Chuck lost a member of their family on October 27. Marley, their gentle, kind, and very sweet St. Bernard had to be put down. I only met Marley once, but she was the one of the sweetest...and largest...dogs I had ever met. This made me grab old Wallace and give him a bear hug and half of an ice cream sandwich. At 11 years old, he is no spring chicken, but thankfully he still keeps up with us.

Marley will be missed.

Expect more after the vacation. I promise to write more...which is to say at least twice a month.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hanna's Video Diary: September 8, 2009

Another entry from our recent trip back to Walt Disney World. Please excuse the awkward close-ups of my face. When I am my own cameraman, the shots can get a little TOO close! Enjoy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

8 Years...

On Friday, September 7, 2001 (exactly 8 years ago today as of this writing), Terri and I bid Nashville farewell and headed south to Clearwater, Florida. I accepted HSN's job offer in late July, so we had a little over a month to get the move planned. Terri worked out a transfer with her job at Lerner, NY. When we were in town for the interview with HSN, we did some apartment hunting and found a place that we liked. Fortunately when the job offer was made it was just a matter of a phone call to reserve the apartment. I remember how strange it felt sitting in our dining room in Nashville filling out the Change of Address forms on our bills with a Florida address. A little scary, but very exciting.

The next few weeks we proceeded to pack up our lives into boxes. We also threw a lot of stuff away. I am a pack-rat by nature (I have calendars from the 1990's for no good reason at all), so purging of stuff doesn't come naturally to me. Fortunately Terri has no such qualms about getting rid of junk. To this day she can fill 6 garbage bags full of clothes and send me off to Goodwill without batting an eye! So for the better part of two weeks we lived out of boxes. We finally got the moving truck two days before the move. My friends from work were kind enough to move all of our wordly possessions down a flight of stairs and into a brutally hot moving truck. They were paid with beer and pizza and I could never have done it without them.

The 15 foot moving truck wasn't big enough. We had an 800 square foot 1-bedroom apartment. It wasn't tiny, but it certainly wasn't a palatial spread. How could all that stuff not fit into a 15-foot truck? We ended up stuffing both of our cars full of stuff as well. We would be towing my Nissan Sentra on the moving truck and my folks would be following us down in our Honda Civic. Both cars were stuffed to capacity, leaving only enough room for our dog Wallace, my folks, and their luggage. The one thing we didn't have room for was our vacuum cleaner. It was the last thing to be packed because we needed to use it for one last sweep of our old apartment, and when the time came to pack it there was just no room. So my buddy Mike got a parting gift of a vacuum cleaner in addition to the beer and pizza.

My last shift at Shop at Home was the day before the move. It was bittersweet. I had worked with these guys for 4 years, and had grown quite close to them. Just minutes before I walked out the door, I was invited out onto the set of the Knife Collector's Show to say goodbye. In the following clip I am called "Bullet" as that was my nickname for much of my Shop at Home tenure. The guy next to me is Glen, who was also leaving to continue his career at HSN at the same time.

One big question we faced was what to do with our goldfish Neptune. I had bought Terri this goldfish before we got married, and she had taken care of him for 4 years. It seemed cruel to just flush him, but moving him seemed to be very problematic. We managed to rig up a system in the cab of the truck between the driver and passenger seats where we secured a box on top of a pillow and placed Neptune's fishbowl inside the box. It worked beautifully and Neptune survived the trip. (Unfortunately Neptune passed away in 2003).

Our last night in Nashville, me and Terri slept on an inflatable Coleman air mattress with only a clock radio and a flashlight in the room. The next day, September 7, my folks met up with us in the afternoon and we dropped their car off at the Nashville airport, where it would be waiting for them when the returned on Sunday evening.

On the way out of Autumnwood Apartments, I stopped at the office and handed in our keys. Then, at 4:00 PM Central Time, with my folks and our dog following in our Honda Civic, we headed south. We stopped for the night in Valdosta, Georgia and continued the trip the next day. The rest is history and stories for another time.

Strange to think that just a few days later, on my first day of work at my new job, the attacks of September 11 took place. That day holds different memories for everyone, but for me it was and remains a day of complete overload. New job, new city, new faces, and the world suddenly is turned upside down and you are 700 miles from all that is familiar to you. But me and Terri got through that together, and 8 years later have made a pretty good life for ourselves down here. New friends, new opportunities, new cars, new cat, new house, and most importantly a new daughter. Will we be here 8 years from now? Who knows, but whatever happens it won't ever be quite the same as that first huge step away from the familiar and into the unknown.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Terri, part 2

Well, it's over a week late, but suffice it to say that Terri's birthday was a happy one...mostly.

As we pulled into our parking space at the Magic Kingdom, I ask Terri to stow my iPod in the glove box. As she opened the glove box, there was a small, blue box with a white ribbon waiting for her. I usually wait for Christmas to give Tiffany's, but I figured I'd shake things up a bit this year. It wasn't a diamond or a platinum band or anything, but it was a silver ring with "I Love You" engraved on it. Simple and elegant and, it turns out, a HUGE hit!

We went to the will call window and got Terri's birthday present from 80 dollar gift card. This year Disney is offering everyone free admission to the parks on their birthday, but Annual Passholders are given a gift card of equal value to an admission ticket. She also got a large pin that said "Happy Birthday Terri" on it, which she wore throughout the day and got more birthday wishes in one day than she will likely get for the rest of her life.

It turns out that I've created a bit of a theme park touring monster with my numerous "Dad and Hanna" trips to Disney. Hanna has a set routine that includes the following (in this exact order):

1. It's a Small World
2. Dumbo
3. Peter Pan
4. Go and meet Ariel, the Little Mermaid
5. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
6. The Carousel (sometimes)
7. The Walt Disney World Railroad

Any deviation of this plan will result in extremely bad behavior. This time she cried for the entire time on the carousel, as if those lovely horses were racing her to her doom. No idea why she did this. And don't even think about venturing outside Fantasyland. Terri wanted to ride the Haunted Mansion, but it became clear as we approached the menacing structure that Hanna was not having any part of the happy haunts that dwelled within. Nor was she going to be setting sail with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Amazingly, we did get her into the Hall of Presidents. I wanted to see the updated show with the Obama robot, and when Obama took the stage Hanna said "There's Donald Duck!" It was hilarious. I'm not sure why she said that, as Obama neither looks nor sounds like Donald Duck, but it provided a chuckle for us and those sitting around us.

We then headed to Epcot to grab lunch at the China pavilion at the Nine Dragons restaraunt. This almost didn't happen as Hanna decided it was going to be time for a complete meltdown just before we sat down to eat. After a trip to the bathroom with Terri, Hanna's attitude was put back into alignment, and we had a nice meal. For her birthday, Terri got a delicious piece of some kind of ginger cake and the serving staff wrote Terri a birthday note in Chinese script which was very neat.

After a walk around the World Showcase part of Epcot, we rode the Finding Nemo ride and decided to call it a day as it had started to rain a bit. Despite a few bumps it was a wonderful day with the family. I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, but amazingly I didn't think to take any! Next year perhaps...

Bye for now...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Terri

August 12th is my lovely bride's birthday. I am a gentleman so I will not reveal her age, but I will say that she was born the same year I was and I was born in 1975.

I bought her an ice cream cake and got her a George Foreman grill to replace the one she had (this was what she wanted -- just to be clear). Our old grill had nonstick coating flaking off in our food and always shot out a wicked spark every time I plugged it in. So the grill was not only a practical gift, but one that probably saved our lives. Yes, the days of gifting Victoria's Secret and Tiffany's have given way to electric grills. And she was thrilled to get the grill! We are well on our way to being an "old married couple". And that is just fine with us.

We celebrated with the cake and the gift the evening of the 11th since on the 12th we will be heading to Walt I even need to type it out? This year as Annual Passholders we get a $75 gift card on our birthday. I claimed mine back in March, and Terri will do the same. Of course $75 at Disney World will get you a t-shirt and a hot dog if you're lucky. But I'm sure we'll have fun. We'll be lunching at Nine Dragons at the China pavilion, which is Terri's favorite place to eat at Epcot.

The saga continues tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hanna's Video Diary, July 13, 2009

In what I hope will be a new series of videos, I present the first episode of "Hanna's Video Diary". The plan is to post these short videos every so often just because I need some blog material to keep my audience of 5 people satisfied. So enjoy and tell me what you think!

We begin with our trip to Disney World on July 13. Yes, I know...big shock. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mila Rae Brown

On Friday, June 26, my sister Julie gave birth to Mila Rae Brown. She was 8 lb, 12 oz, and 21 inches long...(and her head was 14 inches in diameter!!!!)....that part she gets from her father no doubt.

I'm kidding. Sort of.

Proud Dad Chuck, his big head, and his daughter.

Chuck's father, Charlie, and his new granddaughter.
What a beauty!

Way to go Sister! I'm proud of you!

Monday, June 22, 2009

When Poop Bubbles Attack!

Hanna has come up with what I consider to be the most descriptive and poetic name for gas I have ever heard: "Poop bubbles" (or its variant, "poo-poo bubbles").

Like her Daddy, Hanna doesn't care where or when she lets it go. At the store, in church, in the car...she will let 'em rip. And now it is always followed by the phrase "Uh-oh....poo-poo bubbles!" Terri always hangs her head to try to hide her smile as she chastizes Hanna for a natural function. I always follow up with "You tell 'em Hanna!"

I am a proud Poppa.

Lollipops have been known to cause explosive poo-poo bubbles....

Friday, May 29, 2009

R.I.P. Wayne Allwine

You have probably never heard of voice actor Wayne Allwine. But there is absolutely no doubt you have heard his voice before. He was the voice of Mickey Mouse, and he passed away on May 19, 2009.

Since Mickey was created in 1928, he has only had three official voices: Walt Disney voiced Mickey from 1928 until the mid-1950's, with his final vocal performances as Mickey being in animated segments from the Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. Sound engineer Jimmy MacDonald voiced Mickey from the mid-1950's until the late 1970's. Wayne Allwine took over the character 32 years ago, and for people my age he was the Mickey we grew up with.

In the 1960's, Wayne started working for the Disney Studios in the mail room. He says he met Walt Disney only a few times before Walt passed away, never knowing that one day he would become the voice of Walt's most famous creation. Wayne learned the voice of Mickey from Jimmy MacDonald (then the current voice of Mickey), and Wayne took over from Jimmy in 1977 when Jimmy retired.
Wayne performed Mickey for literally thousands of projects. Between the TV shows and specials, movies, recordings for the theme parks, computer games, and toys, Wayne has performed Mickey more than Walt or Jimmy did least a dozen times over.

I hear Mr. Allwine's voice on a daily basis, as Hanna is a huge fan of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and I can't help but wonder how Mickey's voice will change now that Wayne is gone. Every voice of Mickey has been the same, but different, with each person bringing something unique to the character.

Another interesting fact that most people don't realize is that Wayne was married to voice actress Russi Taylor, who provides the voice for -- who else -- Minnie Mouse. Wayne passed away from diabetes complications with Russi by his side. He was only 62.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Still here after a year...

I first started this blog on May 3, 2008, to commemorate our 10th wedding anniversary. I had no idea if I would keep posting or just let this page slip away to the dark and usused corners of the internet. Who would've thought I would still be keeping up with this blog after a year? Sure, I don't post daily (sometimes I don't even post monthly), but I try to keep it somewhat current. This will be my 33rd post in a year's time. I guess that averages out to around 2.5 posts a month.

I expect to post about our recent vacation soon. Please stay tuned.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Less than 24 hours...

Interstate 75 North beckons.
If all goes to plan, at 5:00 AM on Sunday April 26 we will be heading out of the Sunshine State and on our way to Tennessee.

Unfortunately I have come down with's slightly flu-like without the sore throat and stuffy head. Fever and body aches, but enough to make a trip less enjoyable. Perhaps one more night of Nyquil-induced slumber will get my body to a point where it won't be miserable driving 760 miles. Not to mention the fact that being in a car with me for hours and hours could be potentially hazardous to Hanna and Terri's health! Maybe I should look into some biohazard suits for the trip...

Perhaps I will post on vacation, or perhaps I won't. Regardless, I'm sure I'll have pictures and stories to tell when I return.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Chariot

The Tocksteins are not minvan people, although I can understand why many people with small children are. If we had more than one kid (and we don't...and won' least not until Hanna goes off to college), I could certainly understand the need for a larger vehicle.
The vehicle of choice for our upcoming road trip is my 2006 Volkswagen Jetta. I have a great fondness for this car as it was the first new car I ever drove off of a lot. I've had it for almost 4 years now, and it has a few scratches, dings, and dents, but that just adds character. I still vacuum it out and Armor All the dash at least once a month, and I have done a reasonably good job of keeping up with all of the maintenance on it. I've also recently integrated my iPod into the stereo, so I now have access to 13,000 of my favorite songs at the touch of a button. For the upcoming trip I am going to rig up our personal DVD player to the back of the driver's seat so Hanna can watch her favorite DVDs on the road.

The Jetta has made the road trip to Tennessee only once before. While the road trips are long, there is something nice about having MY car with me when I'm out of town. In my experience I've found rental cars to be a mixed bag, and you seldom know exactly what you are going to get until you find a small 2-door hatchback waiting for you at the airport with barely enough room in it for your carseat and luggage.

I remember telling my Dad I was going to get a Volkswagen, and the only thing he could think of was my last VW, which was a 1986 VW Golf that looked (and smelled) as though it had been pulled out of a junkyard. It was a constant struggle to keep it running (thanks to Herb Piercy for the generous donation of his time and expertise), but that car had CHARACTER! The horn sounded like a T-Rex from "Jurassic Park" and there was always some kind of fungus growing in the seat cushions. I had that car between the years of 1994 and 1996, and I still remember it fondly. (Maybe I should blog about all the cars I've had...that might be an interesting post).

My Jetta doesn't smell gross, and there isn't any fungus growing in the seats as far as I can tell, but it still has character, and it somehow fits me. I'm looking forward to putting a few more miles on her in just over a week.

Till next time, here is the greatest travel song ever....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

762 miles of fun!

I've decided to start the blog up again after taking about 6 weeks off. I'm sure the 3 people who read this blog will be greatly relieved that I have returned!
In just a few weeks from now, on April 26, Terri, Hanna, and I will be heading north to Tennessee. Since we've had Hanna, this trip has always been accomplished by a 90 minute plane ride to Nashville or Knoxville. But since we now have to pay for a plane ticket for Hanna, we were looking at upwards of 500 to 600 bucks for a trip. Since gas is still relatively cheap, we decided it would be much more cost-effective to drive.

I have never been in a car with a 2-year old for upwards of 12 hours, and I'm not sure how that is going to work. Hanna has made a car trip from Illinois to Knoxville (roughly 8 hours) without major incident, so hopefully that is a good sign.
The northbound drive on Interstate 75 through Florida and Georgia isn't exactly scenic. There is little to break up the monotony except billboards for "Cafe Risque" (WE BARE ALL!!!) and the occasional rest stop offering free orange juice (in Florida) or pecans (in Georgia). The drive through downtown Atlanta is always an adventure, especially in rush hour. We are driving on a Sunday so hopefully that won't be an issue, but it always seems like there is a wreck on that particular stretch of road. The scenery begins in north Georgia and Chattanooga, when the mountains start to creep over the horizon. The drive from Chattanooga to Nashville is quick but relatively dull, with more fireworks stores and gas stations than I could ever count.
Our first stop will be Terri's folks in Portland, TN, which is about an hour north of Nashville. After spending a few days with them, mid-week we will head over to Knoxville to spend the rest of the time with my folks.
We'll have the iPods charged, the portable DVD player ready to go, the oil changed, the tires brought up to pressure, and enough pillows and blankets in the car to dress a king sized bed (because Terri plans to sleep for approximately 10 hours of the trip).
Look for more updates soon as we prepare for our first big road trip in about three years!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

DIY Home Theater, part 2

The home theater isn't quite finished, but it's close. I need to buy a ceiling mount for my projector. I had planned on setting it on a shelf at the back of the room, but that isn't going to work. Currently I have the projector on a very low shelf at the back of the room. Because of this I've had to move the couch to the side of the room (and as you will see in the video it is very easy to cast shadows on the screen!)

However enough of the components are in place that we can watch movies in there now. In the following short video clip I show the size of the screen. I stand in front of the screen so you get some sense of scale, but it may be hard to see in this dark and grainy video.

Needless to say, I am really enjoying it. I am going to find it difficult to drive to the movies now with such a large screen in our home!

Until next time...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Scenes from a Mall

This morning I had to have a flat tired patched at the Sears Auto Center. Rather than sit in the waiting room I decided to venture out into the adjoining mall.

The mall -- any mall -- is an interesting place before 10:00 AM. Most of the stores still have the steel security gates in place. The food court is dark and empty. The small kiosks which sell sunglasses or perfume are covered with large tarps. And of course there are the Mall Walkers.

The Mall Walkers are an interesting bunch. It is a universal law that no Mall Walker is under 70 years old. They are almost always female, and those who bring their husbands leave them to their newspaper and coffee at one of the many "resting spots" in the mall, which usually consist of leather recliners or comfortable couches. In most cases, these abandoned husbands end up falling asleep.

Countryside Mall, the mall closest to my house, has a large ice skating rink between Dillard's and Macy's. It was at the ice skating rink that I witnessed the scene which inspired me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and share this.
In the middle of the ice-skating rink was a group of about twenty ladies, all of them senior citizens, who were waving around hula-hoops with streamers attached to them, going through some kind of synchronized dance routine to the songs "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis and "Light My Fire" by the Doors. These two songs played repeatedly for about 15 minutes. I just sat there with my coffee and watched with a mixture of shock and amusement. Where else would I see this but at a mall on a Wednesday morning at 9:30 AM?

I took a very grainy shot with my camera phone, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet I can share this lovely story with all of you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Cousins invade Orlando!

There are going to be many first, second, and even third cousins in this story, so get out your scorecards and try to keep up...

My FIRST cousin (my Mom's brother's daughter) Amy lives in Illinois with her husband Corey, and their kids Jacob, Dylan, and Riley. Which would make Jacob, Dylan, and Riley my SECOND cousins, and would make Hanna Amy's SECOND cousin. Which would of course make Hanna and Amy's kids THIRD cousins. Got that?

Amy, Corey, and their kids have been in Orlando all week and staying at Port Orleans Riverside at the Walt Disney World Resort. Amy's kids are the perfect age for a Disney trip. Jacob is 9, Dylan is 7, and Riley is 5. This past Wednesday I had the day off and was given Terri's blessing to travel to Disney World without her. It would just be a Daddy and Hanna trip. I must admit I was a bit concerned at first. Hanna is a handful when both of us take her to Disney. What would it be like with just me? Fortunately it turned out to be a great trip. Hanna and her cousins played around all day long, and Hanna slept all the way back to Clearwater. Here is a short video of our day for your amusement.

(I sometimes do voiceovers in what I call my "1940's Announcer Guy Voice" which Terri hates but for some reason I can't stop myself from doing once the camera is rolling. Enjoy!)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

DIY Home Theater, part 1

When we bought our house in 2003, there was one thing that pushed it over the top for me. Terri liked the tile floors, the open floor plan, the kitchen, and the bedrooms. All of that is fine. But what sold me was the extra room that sits just off the dining room. It was called a "Florida Room" in the listing, although some would call it a "sunroom". People not living in Florida would simply call it an extra room. It was formerly a garage, converted into living space by the previous occupants. It was long and narrow and perfect for my ultimate evil plans! A Home Theater!

This was something I had been thinking about ever since my family lived in West Virginia way back in 1990. A room totally devoted to watching television and movies. I believe such a room used to be called a "den". But during the 1990's people were taking the traditional den to new levels with big screen TVs, surround sound systems, and even theater seats installed in their homes!

Sometimes these strange rooms are called "Man Caves", but mine has been dubbed "The Batcave" or "The Hatch" by my friends. I am also very aware that a fascination with home theater is limited to males only (as Terri is so fond of reminding me). Apparently digital surround sound and a high definition picture means very little to members of the opposite sex. That being said, Terri has been very supportive of my new project (which means she says "I don't care what you do in there, I just don't want it spilling out into the rest of the house.")
This room previously held a 65-inch big screen television. I sold it a few weeks ago on Craig's List and used the funds to purchase a 120-inch screen. I will be getting a video projector in a few weeks, which will truly be like having a movie theater in our house.
I'm using this as an online journal of my progress. It will probably be less than 3 or 4 entries as converting this room into a darkened theater requires surprisingly little effort. Here are some pics.
This is very early in the process. Note the tools and junk still scattered about. The screen is already hung up, as you can see above the long window. My buddy Matt and I had quite a time hanging that sucker. We are about the least handy handymen the world has ever seen. Anyway, when the screen is pulled down it will cover the window and effectively darken the room.

Of course, movie-themed art is essential for any home theater. As you can see, all six Star Wars posters hang proudly in the room above the DVD and Blu-ray collection.
The ceiling fan may soon be removed, as it might cast an ugly shadow on the screen once the projector is installed.

My new component rack at the rear of the room, on which sits my reciever, cable box, and Playstation 3 (which will double as my DVD and Blu-ray player).

And finally, the screen in it's lowered position. Note Hanna in the foreground for a size comparison. Now I just have to wait for the tax return so I can get a projector to put an image on it!

More to come...