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


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


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.

Gobble, Gobble

thanksgiving pic.jpg

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.

What’s Important


It is sad to say but sometimes it takes a tragedy to get us to recognize the true value of things.  We often take things for granted until faced with the real possibility that we just might lose them.

I’m working with a woman whose parents own two homes just outside of Paradise, CA which has been devastated by the wildfires that are ravaging that part of the country. Thankfully, their parents heeded the evacuation orders and they are safe but they have not been able to return to check on their properties. They are preparing themselves for the possibility that everything they own may have been lost to the fire.

The one saving grace is that a few years ago, the parents shipped to my client a box filled with Betamax tapes. They are old, unlabeled and nobody seemed to know what’s on them or what to do with them. My client has just been storing the box for her parents all this time. Suddenly, due to the recent events, she has realized exactly what she had been sitting on. That box potentially contains the only evidence that exists of the long life her family has shared together. It has gone from just one more piece of clutter under foot to the most precious possession in her house.

I feel privileged to unlock the memories that may be stored on these tapes and deliver them back to the family. I hope it provides some solace or comfort for the family as they prepare to face whatever they find awaits them.

Here’s a link to a site that describes how people can best help victims of the California wildfires.

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.

We All Make Misstakes…


We’re in our 5th year of serving our community and helping families protect and preserve the memories they’ve recorded over the years. During that time, we’ve seen some wonderful videos, photos and slides that capture the essence of what it is to be a family.  I’ve also been in a position to observe some of the common mistakes made by people who wanted to record their memories.

#1 – Scenery is nice but not always memorable. It’s ok to take a picture of a mountain – just be sure to put someone you love in front of if. If you want to point a video camera out of a moving car to capture a road trip… try provide a running narration so we’ll know decades later what we’re seeing.

#2 –  I know it can sometimes be annoying to have someone point a camera at you but you’ll be thankful he or she did twenty or thirty years from now. So just grin and bear it. Why ruin a memory by showing your annoyance to the camera? Is that really how you want to remember this time?

#3 – Time stamping or mentioning the date and year will help you organize your video clips in the future. It is easy to lose track of time and place as the years pile on. Little clues go a long way when trying to fill the gaps of our older memories.

#4 – Keeping the camera steady will greatly add to one’s viewing enjoyment. Fast pans, quick zooms and shaky footage can actually bore or tire viewers out. When available, use a tripod or camera stabilizer. If you must go handheld, keep your elbows close to your body when shooting.

#5 – The bigger the family, the fewer the pictures or videos of the youngest members. I know it may feel a little like deja-vu to capture yet another 1st grade concert or Pop Warner football game but it’s all about capturing the young one’s first experience – even though you feel like you’ve seen it 100 times before.

#6 – If you find an old piece of media and you’re not sure what’s on it, please don’t throw it away. It’s like tossing away an old wallet before checking to make sure it doesn’t contain anything valuable.

#7 – Don’t assume that no one in the family would want to see the old stuff. Nostalgia can unexpectedly strike at any age. Teens may not want to sit for long periods of time watching themselves as babies but when they have tykes of their own, they’ll be asking “what ever happened to my baby tapes?”

#8 – Family memories are best viewed, when possible, as a family. It is what we used to do in the 50s and 60s before our entertainment options grew to seemingly infinite bounds. Gathering in front of a projector or TV and telling the old family stories and jokes that come to mind as we watch the “olden days,” is part of the family bonding process. One that is sadly in short supply. With the holidays fast approaching, consider having a tape or two transferred to digital so it can be played at your next family function.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora 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.

Mischief Managed


One of the truisms I’ve learned over meeting and speaking with a wide variety of people is this: Different parts of the country develop different customs and traditions. This past weekend we were interviewing a couple for a documentary we’ve been hired to make and, as we were getting some background information from them, the conversation turned to what plans we had for Mischief Night.

My wife and I looked at each other and it was clear that neither of us had ever heard of it. The couple was shocked as it was a big night back where they were from.  They’ve been “celebrating” it since they were kids.

It seems that, in some areas, on the night before Halloween, it is customary to pull harmless (or relatively harmless) pranks on unsuspecting friends and neighbors. This includes but is not restricted to: the papering of cars and houses, the “relocation” of porch furniture, and the random knocking on doors and dashing away. It was with great pride they remembered the time they found these huge concrete planters at a neighbor’s house and managed to drag them into the neighborhood street to barricade the block from all vehicular traffic.

It is known by different names in different parts of the world. It has been called “Devil’s Night,” “Goosey Night,” “Cabbage Night,” and “Tick Tack Night” among other things. How it escaped our radar all these years is beyond us but it appears it is well known in certain areas.

The increasingly inventive antics that this couple pulled off eventually culminated with the police showing up at their door with a heartfelt plea to knock it off and give them a break. It seems their reputation as pranksters was well known in their small town community. At that bequest, they toned down their “celebration” of this particular event. But they still hold fond memories of the fun mischief they caused back in the day.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora 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.

Not Ready For My Close Up


I heard a great story today.  A client came in with some 16mm film to be transferred and after we conducted the transaction, we got to talking. Some of our stories seemed to share certain elements and before you know it I was showing her one of the video editing jobs I had done in the recent past. The soundtrack I used was taken from an Andrea Bocelli album and my client smiled as she recalled her memory.

It was in the 90s and Bocelli was giving a concert in Madison Square Garden. My client, who lived in NY at the time and was a big fan, was able to score two tickets… up in the nosebleed section. In fact, there was no seat situated further away from the stage which from her vantage point looked about the size of a postage stamp.

As they were settling in, a woman came up to her and asked if she would like to swap seats. In typical New York fashion, she retorted, “How much further away do you want me to go? Out in the parking lot?” The woman quickly put her mind at ease. “No,” she said, “I just have these two extra seats that I need filled.” My client figured they couldn’t be any worse than the ones she paid for so she took her up on the offer.  A few minutes later they found themselves in the orchestra, third row center sitting amidst A list celebrities. They had better seats than Donald Trump who sat two rows behind them. Turns out the woman who offered them worked for Bolla Wines who was the concert’s sponsor and they had some extra comp seats up close and she didn’t want them to go unused.

As she told the story, I couldn’t help but notice that it was as if she was experiencing it all over again. That’s the power of the past remembered. What a great memory.

Unfortunately, the only story I had that was similar was back when Orlando was home to the Solar Bears, an ice hockey franchise.  I got seats in the balcony and was prepared to root the home team on from a birds eye view when we got randomly selected for a seat upgrade. Instead of being perched and viewing the game from above where we could watch the entire ice and see the plays and patterns develop before our eyes, we were escorted to the ground floor behind the glass where we sat in wingback chairs and given champagne glasses but, to be honest, the view was terrible. The only part of the game we could see was when a player crosschecked an opponent into the glass right in front of us. And we really didn’t need or particularly want to see that up close.

It turns out that not every upgrade is a good one. 

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

Forgotten But Not Gone


National Home Movie Day is quickly becoming one of my favorite holidays.

It is celebrated in October – this year on the 20th – and we use the occasion to invite people with unmarked, unlabeled videotapes to bring them into our studio so we can play them on our equipment to look for lost or hidden memory treasures.

Thanks to all who participated this year. Trust me, we enjoy it and look forward to it every year. The stand out this year was a young mother and her eleven year old daughter who were on a quest. She was looking for her wedding tape and brought in about a dozen candidate tapes that it might have been on. The eleven year old just wanted to find the production of Grease that her mom was in when she was a kid because one Halloween she dressed up in her mom’s Pink Lady jacket from that production. This year, she’s going as a cop. With real handcuffs!

Sadly, tape after tape revealed not the sought after recordings but recordings that reflected the interests of years ago:  episodes of Beverly Hills 90210; a Super Bowl; a marathon Friends event; a special presentation of a US Open; and a myriad of HBO movies from various time periods.

I could see the frustration growing but we pressed on. We finally hit an unexpected jackpot on the final tape. It started off like the others – nothing of current interest – but suddenly the scene cut to a Christmas morning with the family gathered around a tree opening presents that were wrapped some 20 or 25 years ago. The daughter squealed with delight as she saw younger versions of her aunts and uncles on the screen.

It made our day.  And we’d like to make yours. Bring your films, tapes, slides and more to our studio and let us convert them to a digital form that will last for future generations. Your children’s children will thank you.

Update: The mom dropped back in today with 3 more tapes. She found Grease and her wedding – she had put them in her safe deposit box for safe keeping prior to hurricane season. Now she’s digitalizing them for permanent security.  I love happy endings.

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

The Bells of Mount Dora


When you live in a small town, like I do, you are often challenged to change perspectives. After all, by now most of us are “plugged in.” We co-exist amid a tangled web of online communities forever pushing us into having global awareness. We have mass media feeding us nonstop information about the world and the multitude of problems facing every corner of our globe. Being thus inundated, we sometimes overlook the mundane, everyday challenges that can exist in our own backyard. In fact, they can seem downright minuscule when compared to the world and the mess to be found there.

Case in point:

Mount Dora’s First Congregational Church, which has faithfully served our local community for 135 years, has a bell tower badly in need of repair. They are trying to raise the funds to make the needed repairs so the bell can continue to ring out – calling its parishioners to worship or signifying to the community a special occasion or event.

Maybe it is because my family has been binge watching The Waltons (we’re up to season 3) but I find that there’s something refreshingly wholesome about a small town banding together to restore a historical landmark that serves as a spiritual center. Call me John-Boy but this is a cause I can rally around. I’m not a member of the congregation. I’m not affiliated with the church. But I am a resident of Mount Dora and I’d love to hear those church bells chime again.

I hope you will consider making a small contribution to the effort. The church leaders have started a gofundme page and have gotten a commitment from the Community Trust to match whatever funds are able to be raised, The link is listed below.

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.

Once A Shellback, Always a Shellback


A Shellback walked into my studio today… not that I would have noticed. I had never heard of one before. Fortunately for me, he decided to tell me his story. 

He came in to have a series of 35mm slides transferred. They were taken during his Navy days  and as he related his tale, I learned how and when he became a Shellback. It is a designation given to seaman who cross the equator (which can be found at 0 degrees latitude.)

But he was no ordinary Shellback. He achieved the rarified status of Emerald Shellback which is reserved for the few who managed to cross the equator precisely where it intersects with the Prime Meridian.  In other words, he passed through the intersection of 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude. There aren’t that many who can lay claim to that status. But my client is one of them.

In doing a little research, I’ve found that there is a strange little shipboard ritual that takes place during the Shellback initiation that dates back centuries. On that my client was a little close-mouthed. But apparently Neptune makes an appearance, there’s a bit of hazing that goes on, and an embarrassing time is generally had by all… or at least by those slimy Polywogs who are undergoing the initiation into trusted Shellback status.

After reading some of the descriptions of the rituals, I’ve come to the mindset that it is probably a good thing that they happen at sea.  I think it’s kind of like Fight Club… The first rule of the Shellback ritual is… you don’t talk about the Shellback ritual.

But I found a few photos…


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 info, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. Reminder: our Fall Food Drive continues through Oct 15. Bring in an order along with a food donation and receive a 30% discount. Food donations will be given to Lake Cares Food Pantry.