Devil Boats

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My reference points regarding PT boats have always been restricted to two sources: JFK’s exploits described in his book, Profiles in Courage; and the TV sitcom McHales Navy. Needless to say, neither really explained much about this unique and highly specialized craft. While the stories I read or watched regarding PT 109 and PT 73 captured my interest, they did not shed a lot of light upon this particular type of warcraft.

I have been working on a documentary for a nautical family and one of the facts that came out during the interviews was that the patriarch of the clan fulfilled his WWII service by building PT boats for Vetnor Boatworks in New Jersey.

I was surprised to learn that the PT boats were made from plywood, not steel. They were fast, highly maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive to build. The PT stood for Patrol Torpedo Boats. They were nicknamed Devil Boats by the Japanese or, as a whole, the Mosquito Fleet because they were small, fast, and a continual nuisance to the Japanese Navy.

A little research shows that the PT boats came into existence because in 1938, the US Navy sponsored a design competition for companies to devise a highly mobile attack boat. When the US entered into WWII, there were no less than 12 companies designing and building these attack boats for the US government. As time went on, the design became more standardized and two companies stood out among the rest: Elco, based in Bayonne NJ; and Higgins, based in New Orleans.

When I learned that the boats were wooden, I expected to discover a high casualty rate among them but instead found them to be surprisingly resilient. Of the 531 ships that were put into wartime service, only 69 (13%) were lost. And of the estimated 63,000 men who served on the PT boats, 331 (less than 1%) were killed in action. There are only a few of these boats that remain in existence today as most were destroyed at the end of the war due to the high maintenance that wooden boats require.

My client attributes his woodworking skills (which are considerable) to those days in the Vetnor Boatworks. This is just one story among many that were revealed while interviewing family members for this documentary. We are honored that they have chosen us to tell their story.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitizing of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Mr. Trumpet Man

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Passion can be both inspiring and contagious. It is also immediately recognizable. I saw it for myself recently as I was transferring some videotaped footage for a client.

The footage was of her father, renowned Grammy award winning jazz musician Doc Cheatham, who at 91 was still traveling the country, touring and playing to packed venues. He died while doing what he loved, playing the music he loved to play.

Doc’s career spanned over seven decades during which he played with such notable talents as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, and Benny Goodman. He continually worked at perfecting his technique and successfully managed the transition from lead trumpeter within various bands to having a career as a soloist – a feat he accomplished at the tender age of 60.

He didn’t begin singing, in addition to his playing, until he passed 70 but it was well received and he continued the practice until his death. His final performance was at the Blues Alley Club in Washington in 1997. He died two days later, eleven days short of his 92nd birthday.

That is an accomplishment we should all believe to achieve – to be able to work at what we love right up to the time we take our last breath. To continue to learn and grow, developing our passions and providing them with the fuel that keeps them burning strongly within our souls.

Thanks Doc, for the music and the memories.

PS. His passion was certainly contagious. His grandson, Theo Croker, is an accomplished trumpeter in his own right having just been named as one of the top jazz artists to watch in 2019 by Jazziz Magazine.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digital transfer of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Another Food Memory

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My wife and I don’t do it nearly enough, even though we both enjoy it.

Get your minds out of the gutter… I’m talking about hosting dinner parties.

We’re pretty good, even if I do say so myself. But it is an unbelievable amount of work which is why they are infrequent events for us. Nevertheless, every so often we feel obliged to have good friends over to catch up, break bread, and laugh a lot.

When we do, my job is the menu and meal preparation. My wife is in charge of decor, conversation flow and cleaning up afterwards. Her responsibilities require a back-breaking effort. My job has admittedly gotten considerably easier thanks to our acquisition of an Instant Pot.  The entree for our last dinner party was both simple and delicious and because it was prepared in the Instant Pot, I did not feel removed from the pre-dinner discussions which has so often been the case in previous parties. Here’s what we served our guests and it shot straight to the top of our company meal options:

INSTANT POT LEMON GARLIC CHICKEN

  1. Take 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Season with salt, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon each of garlic powder, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes.
  2. Press Saute button (normal) and add 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.
  3. Place chicken in Instant Pot and brown on both sides (2-3 minutes per side). Work in batches in needed. Once browned, remove chicken from pot and set aside.
  4. Melt 3 Tablespoons butter in pot and add 1/2 diced onion and 4 garlic cloves (diced). Stir and add juice of 1 lemon to deglaze the pot. Continue to sauté for 1 minute.
  5. Add 3 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, zest from 1 lemon, and 1/3 cup of chicken broth.
  6. Place chicken back into pot, lock the lid and turn valve to SEALING.
  7. Turn off Saute function and select Pressure Cook (high). Set timer for 7 minutes.
  8. Once timer reaches “0”, let it natural release for 2 minutes then move valve to VENTING and release rest of pressure.
  9. Using tongs, remove chicken from pot. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream. Switch back to SAUTE and let sauce bubble. Put chicken back in pot to coat with sauce.
  10. Garnish with fresh parsley or lemon slices.

The dish works exceptionally well when paired with rice and asparagus or mashed cauliflower.

And for dessert, coconut milk ice cream covered with raspberries, strawberries and blueberries which had been marinated overnight in limoncello, fresh mint and basil.

All in all, a delightful evening with good food, warm and friendly conversation, and more than one trip down memory lane with old friends.  We should do it more often (said the guy whose job isn’t to clean up after.)

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Name Droppings

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I am a big fan of talent. And it thrills me when talented people come into our studio to ask for our help in protecting and preserving the artistic creations they’ve made. We have had quite a few stop by our studio over the years.  They usually space themselves out but yesterday in particular it was like celebrity central around Home Video Studio.

It started out to be a relatively uneventful day when into our studio walks Key West artist/muralist/sculptor, Dick Moody, who also happens to blow a mean saxophone. We always enjoy talking with Dick who is never short on stories about his time on and off the stage with familiar names in the music and art world. Dick came in to get a live jam session he was a part of at the Green Parrot in Key West transferred over to a usb drive.

No sooner did he leave than we got a surprise visit from our old friend Colin MacLeod, the Celtic Fiddle Guru, who stopped in on his way to Singapore and Australia to regale audiences there with his unique style and inspirational message. He needed to get a number of his CDs duplicated so he would have something to sell after his appearances.

And to top the day off on a high note, we had an enjoyable visit from Canadian Country Music Juno Award winner, Glory-Anne Prophet who found some “lost” recordings of her late husband Ronnie Prophet who was a world-class, hall of fame entertainer. She presented us with a number of his 45’s and a mixture of his audio recordings to make a compilation CD for future enjoyment.

It was a red-letter day all around for us but, to be quite honest, most days here are. Because whether you are an international star or just a celebrity among your own family, your memories are special and you will always receive special treatment from us. You can rest assured that we’ll always give you the star treatment you deserve.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Popeye the Guitar Man

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I was transferring some Christmas video footage today and noticed that one of the gifts opened by a child in the video was a toy guitar with a hand crank on the side of it.

I don’t know if they still are sold today, but they were certainly popular back in my day.  In fact, I got one as a Christmas present a long long time ago. As I recall, it was a Popeye guitar and when you turned the handle it would play the Popeye theme song in a tinny kind of way:

I’m Popeye the sailor man.

I’m Popeye the sailor man.

I’m strong to the fin-ich

Cause I eats me spin-ach.

I’m Popeye the sailor man.

Of course, I learned the elementary school potty mouth version:

I’m Popeye the sailor man

I live in a garbage can.

I eats all the worms

And spits out the germs.

I’m Popeye the sailor man.

I’m not really sure how much influence this particular Christmas gift had on my musical ability. Well, actually I am. It had zero influence. Because I never did learn to play the guitar. And I hated spinach as a child. I did like hamburgers. Still do. Maybe my folks should have gotten me the Wimpy guitar.

(For my younger readers, Wimpy was Popeye’s friend – a lazy moocher whose catchphrase was “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” It was a debt he never paid because he always managed to stay out of sight on Tuesdays.)

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

A Personal History Restored… Never To Be Forgotten

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Dear Readers,

I apologize for the long blog absence. I kind of got caught up in the holiday season/rush and fell out of the habitual practice of writing about the memories I am privileged to capture and preserve.

I had always planned to get back into the swing of things but the longer I waited, the more difficult it was to find a topic that somehow justified breaking my unintentional silence.  Until today.

I am not often surprised when I do videotape transfers. Over the years, I have observed that we, as a people, all record the same kind of events – birthdays, vacations, sports, school concerts, etc… But every so often something comes along that just floors me. And it reminds me that people are always more than they appear and have histories that run deep and wide.

Today, I transferred to DVD a videotaped interview of one of my clients. It appears to have been recorded in the early 80s. He was born in 1934… in Berlin Germany…of Jewish parents. So as a young boy he was witness to and victim of some of the hateful, unconscionable acts that occurred in Nazi Germany.

The interviewer took him through his earliest memories and into his families’ experiences during WWII. It was horrifying but at the same time riveting. I could not imagine living through what he was describing… and yet, he had little choice but to live through it.

Memories are not always pleasant but they are always important. The past informs our present and can help to shape our future. The quote attributed to George Santayana says it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I am honored to have been able to have heard and preserve this slice of personal history. I would like to think that we, as a people… as a culture… will remember and learn from it so as to be spared from having to repeat it. As I look at the world today and hear the hateful rhetoric being spewed daily across the airways and internet… I’m sad to say that I’m not so sure we have.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

They Just Don’t Write (or Think) Like This Anymore…

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We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

—————–

“Is There a Santa Claus?” reprinted from the September 21, 1897, number of The New York Sun.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories (and childlike wonder) through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Accident

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It is funny the things you remember.

I was a junior in high school. During spring break, I went on an extended camping trip with my dad to visit nine college campuses in hopes to narrow my preferences. It was a profitable but tiring trip (I ultimately decided upon Westminster College in New Wilmington PA) and we were both glad to be heading home. We were about twenty miles from our house on Interstate 95 when our rear tire exploded. From then, everything seemed to go into slow motion (even though we were traveling around 65 mph.)

All of our camping gear was loaded into the back of our trusted Ford Fairlaine station wagon. When we lost the tire, we drifted into the left lane and as our luggage and camping gear shifted in the back, we lost control of the now unbalanced car which spun around 180 degrees so we were facing the oncoming traffic as we slid back across the 3 lanes of the highway and onto the shoulder and adjacent hillside.

After checking to make sure I was ok and giving thanks that we did not impact any other vehicles, my dad came up with the game plan. He would stay with the car and our possessions while I flagged down a motorist and catch a ride to the next exit where I would arrange for a tow truck to get us off the highway. I was also tasked with finding a pay phone to call home and tell my mother that we had been in an accident. This was before the age of cell phones.

No matter how nonchalant you try to sound, when you call collect to tell your mother that you’ve been in an accident, you should prepare yourself for a world of worry and concern to come your way. I tried to convey that we were ok and just needed a ride home but I’m not sure she believed me.

In just under an hour, my mother raced into the gas station where our car was brought. She was wearing a housecoat, slippers and I remember distinctly, a pair of ankle socks with puffy pom poms sewn above the heels. As she hurried anxiously to us, our well-being her only concern, I reacted as only an oblivious teenager could.

“Jeez, Mom… Did you have to wear those socks?”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Tree Huggers

Over the years, we have provided service to a wide variety of clients from all walks of life but yesterday was the first time (to my knowledge) that we actually had a singing tree in our studio. Not the entire tree of course, just one of its leaves or branches.

Our client performed in an annual Christmas pageant at First Baptist Church in Orlando familiarly known as The Singing Christmas Trees and it is quite the spectacular. It got me to thinking about Christmas trees in general and how they became a thing in this country.

According to Wikipedia, the first Christmas trees were brought to the US in the 1740s by Moravian settlers. They came from an area that is now part of the Czech Republic (where many of my ancestors are from). The first commercial tree lot was set up in New York City in 1851 and not long after, President Franklin Pierce set up the first official White House Christmas tree in 1856.

While celebrants often would gather around their decorated trees and sing carols, the idea of actually placing carolers inside of the trees has been traced back to Bellhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi who held their first Singing Christmas Tree concert in 1933. Since then it has been duplicated and modified at schools and churches around the world.

The First Baptist version taking place in Orlando is an elaborate stage show that began in 1980 and grew to include a quarter million synchronized lights, a 300 member choir stacked to the rafters in 2 giant tree shaped structures, and a 50 piece orchestra.

According to my client, there’s a lot of unheralded work that takes place behind the scenes as well. To prevent injuries or discomfort that may come from standing in place for the length of the show, designated “tree rests” work backstage massaging legs and checking on choir members while the show is in progress. Thankful choir members have taken to taping pieces of candy to the back of their legs as a little thank you to these tireless workers for the welcomed relief they bring.

It is almost time to open the curtain on this year’s Singing Christmas Trees. Here’s how to get tickets.

First Baptist Church of Orlando – The Singing Christmas Trees

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Gobble, Gobble

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Another Thanksgiving is upon us and while we should all take time to reflect on those things we are or should be thankful for, there’s no escaping the fact that so much of this holiday will be focused on or around the dining room table.

I got off easy this year. My contribution to the family meal will be met with a simple cauliflower dish. I plan to make a cauliflower ‘mac n cheese’ concoction which has been a big hit in my household.  Here’s how to make it:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt.
  • Spray an 8×8  baking dish with vegetable oil spray
  • Cook the florets of 1 head of cauliflower in the boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and pat between several layers of paper towels to dry.
  • Transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish and set aside.
  • Bring 1 cup heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, and whisk in 2 oz. of cream cheese and 1 1/2 teaspoons of dijon mustard until smooth. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of  shredded sharp cheddar cheese, salt, pepper and garlic (to taste) and whisk just until the cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, pour over the cauliflower, and stir to combine. Top with an additional 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese and bake until browned and bubbly hot, about 15 minutes.
  • Serve.

In years past, when I’ve been on turkey duty, I’ve relied on Giada’s citrus-stuffed recipe which results in a moist and flavorful bird.  It’s my go to recipe whenever asked to provide the main course. If only she would show how to carve the darn thing. I make the family leave the kitchen so they aren’t witness to the carnage when I attempt it. Here’s a link to that recipe.

Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus

But my most vivid Thanksgiving memories are courtesy of my maternal grandmother whose house hosted most of our turkey dinners when I was growing up. The one thing I most looked forward to was the Thanksgiving giblet gravy which was made only for this particular meal. It’s a southern variation using the giblets of the turkey and hard boiled eggs and it was all I could do not to drink it right out of the gravy boat. 

It’s been a while since I have had it. I may have to rectify that next year.  Here’s that recipe.

  1. Remove liver from giblets and refrigerate.

  2. Place the remaining giblets into a saucepan and cover with 4 cups cold water; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the giblets for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. At this point add the liver to the saucepan and simmer for another 30 minutes.

  3. Place a mesh strainer or colander over a bowl. Drain the giblets and set the liquids aside to use in the gravy, if needed. Let the giblets cool. Remove the meat from the neck and chop with the rest of the meat

  4. Melt 4 TBs of butter in a heavy saucepan and stir in 4 TBs of flour. Cook and stir for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the roux just barely begins to turn golden.

  5.  If you don’t have drippings from a roasted turkey or chicken, or if you only have a small amount, add the giblet broth or chicken or turkey stock to make 2 cups. Slowly stir in the drippings and/or broth into the roux. Add 1/2 cup of milk or half-and-half. Continue cooking and stirring until thickened.

  6. Taste and season the gravy with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  7. Stir in two chopped hard-cooked eggs and chopped giblets and serve.

  8. The recipe makes about 3 cups of old-fashioned gravy. Enjoy!

     

To all my readers and clients, may you have a Happy Thanksgiving! We hope to see you after the weekend!

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Note; Home Video Studio of Mount Dora will be closed from Thursday Nov 22 through Sunday Nov 25. We will reopen at 9:30am on Monday, Nov 26.