December 9, 2016

Epcot Placeholder

Not Epcot Placemaking, mind you! That project is continuing put on hold.

Here's Imagineer Herb Ryman's absolutely iconic look at what EPCOT Center was indeed to be. This piece of concept art is still a work that stuns, inspires, and now- to any EPCOT Center fan- disappoints. Yes, disappoints. It's a bitter reminder of an incredible past. A park that took two full days to experience the attractions and not just the shops, restaurants, and bars.

Journey into Imagination, World of Motion, Horizons. Classic. Forward Thinking. Beautiful. Some of the best work Disney has ever done. But that was then.

Theme park fans loved EPCOT Center, and you can still find many articles on it. On this blog alone, there's over 300 posts discussing the park, sharing a bit of history, and tons of rare concept art.

What will it take to save the park and bring it back to it's glory days? You can find that here as well.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 6, 2016

Notable and Quotable: Dr. Alveda King

"Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, once said colored (sic) people are like weeds; they need to be exterminated" 

Dr. Alveda King, 
director of Civil Rights for the Unborn 
                  (Niece of Martin Luther King Jr.)

December 5, 2016

A Grand Californian Adventure: Part Three- Disneyland vs. Magic Kingdom

Editor's note: This is the last piece of a trip report from my friend Len Yokoyama.
Disneyland's Diamond Celebration marked 60 years of operation since its initial opening back in 1955. In honor of this milestone, the park dressed up Sleeping Beauty Castle in appropriate party fashion, and brought in special events such as "Paint the Night" parade. But other than the slew of commemorative merchandise, not much differed from a standard day in the park.

For most regulars at Walt Disney World who have never been to the West Coast version,  the size differential would be the first thing you notice immediately. The park will seem very small, almost miniscule, when compared to WDW. Sleeping Beauty Castle will do anything but overwhelm you. Its size, in comparison to Cinderella's Castle, will seem quaint in appearance. (I first visited DL in the 8th grade, and back then, the SB castle seemed huge to me. I was surprised how much bigger Cinderella's Castle was when I finally made it to Florida years later). Although WDW is the clear winner in terms of size and scope, there is something about the smaller, more intimate feel of Disneyland that cannot be overlooked. While both Main Streets are very similar, I prefer DL's layout for some reason. It feels more like how a small town main street would look and sound (again, it could be nostalgia playing a big factor in my preferences. I really love both parks for a variety of reasons).

A great President and a godly man.

"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" has the dubious distinction of being both my least and most favorite attraction on Main Street. As a kid, I couldn't have cared less about a president or the civil war. As an adult,  I love and appreciate what this man did for our country during one of the most turbulent times in American history. It's a one-man show, so it cannot compare (spectacle wise) to the sheer majesty of the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. But I can always hear Paul Frees' incredible voice as he narrates the story of Lincoln combined with a beautiful montage of paintings, just before the curtain pulls back, ready to showcase an amazing lifelike replica of our 16th president.

I'm pretty much fearless now when it comes to asking cast members to pose for picture taking...LOL! But a special shout out for the gang at the Photo Supply Company. Sue and I were there to pick up our free 5X7 pic and I started talking geeky camera stuff with Marcus. Bella soon joined the conversation and I ended up asking the entire group (including Ryan and Brenda) to pose for a photo. They happily obliged and, staying in character, really hammed it up!

Big fan of Mary Poppins, but I always seem to have difficulty finding her during those "Meet & Greet" moments. On my first day at DL, I immediately ran into Bert, gussied up in his "Jolly Holiday" attire. I'm thinking Mary’s not far away, but after waiting around for 10 minutes, I realized she was a no show. 

From Emporium window- "C'mon everybody..."

-to beloved Attraction "... here we go!"

I headed to Fantasyland to get in line for Peter Pan. This is the one attraction where I start questioning the sanity of waiting 45 minutes in the blistering sun for a ride that lasts little more than a minute. I don't feel this pain in any of the other queues, so curse you Captain Hook! It's no secret this is one of the hardest rides to photograph and my first attempt was a total bust. After that disappointing experience, I headed back to Main Street, and lo and behold, Mary was coming out of one of the secret doors to meet guests on Main Street. I was fortunate enough to catch her before the crowds arrived, and was able to get some great shots…more than enough to make up for Peter Pan and co.

My all time favorite shop on Main Street is the Emporium. I always start and end my Disney park trips at this location. I hardly have time for shopping anymore since bit by the camera bug. But, I always make time to pick up one (and only one) t-shirt for each trip. I use to bring home 3-4 shirts in the past, but it's ridiculous the amount of clothes I have sitting in my dresser. I shouldn't even be buying any, but it's hard not to bring home something that commemorates the trip. 

"Master, are you sure this will be enough to build Pandora?"

Another thing that I truly love about the Emporium are its amazing window displays. Through YouTube, I knew Disney had created all new, highly interactive, rotating scenes of various Disney classics including Peter Pan, Cinderella, Frozen, and Aladdin. It was one of my goals of the trip to capture some images, but of course, I had totally forgotten and was only able to quickly snap a few shots as we were exiting the park. People were giving me strange glances as I was partially shooting and wiping down the windows at the same time! 

I make it a point to have breakfast at Carnation Cafe during the visit. The prices are pretty reasonable and the food is always tasty. Service is excellent...I've never had a bad experience. 

Big shoes filled?

The new, more contemporary Disneyland band performed on Main Street during most afternoons. There was quite a bit of controversy and lash back to the dismantling of the original group. I heard a lot of the band members had years of service only to receive a pink slip. It's seems even Disneyland is not immune to the cost cutting methods of corporate America. I'm not enough of a regular park goer to judge which band is better, although I thought this group brought energy, fun, and professionalism to their musical numbers.

While waiting for Paint the Night to begin, guests were treated to a show by the Disneyland 2016 All-American College Band! By this time, I had met Eddison Esteban, a fantastic photographer who lives in California (check out his Disney Resort Images page on Facebook). We were sitting down, a ton of photo gear next to us, as this lively group of college performers put on an incredible show!

Quite a beauty!

As night rolled in, a quiet hush enveloped the crowd (not really, but it sounds dramatic...LOL)! Then, a cacophony of sound and light suddenly explode to announce the start of "Paint the Night" parade! Sad to say, I'm not a big parade fan. I take a ton of images, but when it comes down to processing them, I find it a chore! Not sure why… the parade is visually interesting ... a cross hybrid between a traditional parade and the Main Street Electrical classic. Part of my issue is that most parades don’t have a strong narrative drive, so it ends up being just a series of floats to me. It’s the same problem I have with World of Color.

Compensating for size.

Just before the parade ended, Eddison told me to prepare to rush the middle of the street to set up our cameras for the fireworks. I was ready, but the ensuing madness and crowds proved to be very difficult and challenging. I nearly lost track of everyone, but somehow managed to set up my tripod in the middle of utter chaos (Eddison didn't even bother trying, he shot handheld). I didn't have a chance to shoot the aerial night show at WDW last Christmas, so I was looking forward to this opportunity. It did not go very well. Unlike WDW, where you can lock down optimal spots if you're willing to camp for a few hours, DL's smaller size severely limits options. I was informed that prime areas near the hub are now reserved for VIP guests. My question is, at the prices Disney charges for admission, why is every guest not VIP status???

Beyond the castle awaits Fantasyland. After experiencing the new version in Florida, this area feels more like the "Mini-Me" counterpart...LOL! I like taking character pictures so the Fantasy Faire is a no-brainer for me. You're guaranteed to meet at least 3 to 4 princesses in air condition comfort for autographs and picture taking. It's always awkward when a grown man stands in line for these things without any children or wife in tow (my wife Sue had still not arrived in LA).

Who needs Frozen?

The cast members who played Ariel, Cinderella, and Snow White were all great, (I went on two different times so the actresses changed), but something about it felt a little generic to me. I'm sure a young child goes bonkers over meeting their favorite princesses, so my opinion is irrelevant. I actually liked the costumes of the cast members more at the entrances with their medieval style garbs. I was also lucky enough to see both Brave's Merida and the combo of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider outside in the gazebo. Now, these appearances were more up to my liking. Both Meridas were spunky and playful (again I did this one twice with different actresses), but it was Flynn who really stuck out from the pack. With his hilarious expressions, this guy really got into the character! 

Along with these "Meet and Greets", Fantasy Faire also showcases a "Beauty and the Beast" stage play. The tented stage is rather small so guest accommodation is very tight. I waited in line for 2 hours to get a good seat for picture taking, but still ended up on the side (even though I was the 4th person in line, some of the moms were very quick.)! The play isn’t bad, but like the “Frozen Sing Along” at WDW, you have two comedians narrating most of the story, taking up big chunks of stage time (Belle is almost a secondary character). One of the comedians also plays the Beast, which is hard to overlook (since he's goofy for the majority of the show). I would rate this one a little better than WDW's Frozen, but not by much...

As Walt said- cleaner than the real thing.

"This should cover the Pandora overages!"

It's no secret that New Orleans Square is one of my favorite spots in Disneyland. As a kid, the place seemed wholly uninteresting to me other than it showcasing the still awesome Pirates of the Caribbean (sounds like a repeat scenario of the Lincoln attraction). Older and semi-wiser, I've come to appreciate the architectural beauty and quiet grace that resides here. 

Looks can be deceiving.

It's obvious Walt had a soft spot for NOS with his never to be occupied guest house residing here as well as the infamous Club 33. I had a chance to visit the actual French Quarters, so it's clear that this New Orleans (like Main Street) is a idyllic version of the real place, a place that fully existed in Walt’s imagination. What will always make this place extra special is that you won't ever see it in any other Disney park. I can't imagine Bob Iger and company investing time and money into a themed area that is somehow not tied into its animated characters and/or merchandising machine.

Another fan favorite.

Besides POC, New Orleans Square is home to my favorite restaurant...the Blue Bayou Restaurant. I wouldn't say the food here is outstanding. I actually don't remember what I ate prior to this trip, but did order the "Count of Monte Cristo" sandwich and gumbo. I barely ate a quarter of my meal, not having much of an appetite (after an early breakfast) at 11:00 in the morning. Why book such a reservation knowing I wouldn't be ready for lunch? 

The concept has been duplicated, 
but the results never surpass the original Blue Bayou.

My main goal was to photograph the restaurant while still relatively empty. Because the dining area is so dark, I wanted to set up my tripod to get some long exposure shots. A cast member was kind enough to sit me close to the outer edge, but I found it difficult photographing the bayou itself. Overall, I was happy with some of the shots I got, but even the earliest slots have guests raring to go.

Yesterdayland- and not 1967.

Tomorrowland and Adventureland always get the short ends of the stick whenever I'm visiting here or Magic Kingdom. As opposed to my earlier feelings, Tomorrowland (along with Fantasyland) was one of my favorite lands growing up. But the outdated and constant "catch up" mode of this “futuristic” land has left me underwhelmed and disinterested.  I think Space Mountain is a very overrated "E-Ticket" attraction...the novelty of riding in utter darkness long since vanished. I would love to see a TL based on the retro late 50's idea of sci-fi that was so prominent in the Disney television shows. America was very optimistic in terms of space travel and exploration, and it would fit in with Walt's romanticized versions of the west, Main Street, and the far corners of the earth (jungles, islands, etc). 

My Adventureland photos are nearly non-existant. Not sure why I never shoot this area at night. Living in Hawaii, you would think I'd gravitate towards the Polynesian area, but it's quite the opposite. If I ever get back to DL, this land will be top on my priority list. One exception is that Aladdin and company frequently hang here for "Meet & Greets". I'm a huge fan of the movie, so I make an effort to stop by for some photos.

Another Tony Baxter masterpiece.

Frontierland is surely the most neglected land in all of Disneyland. I think upper management would totally do away with this place if it wasn't so etched into the park's iconography. In my wildest dreams, the Imagineers get the green light to produce Marc Davis' never built Western River Expedition...a major attraction that would put this neglected area back in the forefront. But the reality is  the old west has little appeal to the younger generations (and I can understand why). I do think Disney has to make a decision about this land sooner rather than later. They need to either recommit themselves to revitalizing the place or go forward in a totally different direction (I'm hoping for the former).

Not docked for too much longer...

The Rivers of America is a pretty quiet place, especially now since the Mark Twain is dry-docked while Star Wars land is being built. All of the trains are out of commission too, so no Grand Canyon tour for me...sob, sob! I was hoping to have one last meal at Big Thunder Ranch, but by golly, didn't get to do that either. In fact, I'm getting a bit bummed out typing out all the stuff that was either closed temporarily or permanently! It's a good thing that I could still take pictures of the train and boat at night, since riding them was out of the question.

Southwestern charm.

Right behind Frontierland, is one of the best restaurants in Disneyland...!Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante! I can never remember the name without googling it, but the dining experience was outstanding. 

Overlooked by most of the crowd, but the atmosphere screams California.

I've had breakfast there where they offer both American and Mexican cuisine. I opted for the Chorizo and Egg Burrito which was bueno uno! What is even better is that drink refills are FREE! Yes, that word does exist (on a rare summer night when the moon is a ghastly purple shade) at a Disney park...believe it or not! At night, this place looks magical...almost surreal. Visit here if you get a chance!

All in all, I had a grand time revisiting this old favorite of mine. Many of the later parks have surpassed Walt’s original through size, scope, and advancements in park technology. But like a an old jacket or your childhood home, some things will always retain a sense of magic and nostalgic aroma. 

Sue, Len, and some goofy guy.

Thus ends the last part of my Disneyland trip report. Mahalo to Mark Taft  for giving me space on his blogspot.  Thank you to any of his readers for putting up with these untimely interruptions. If the Lord and Mark is willing, I’ll be back sometime early next year with a report (and the usual photos) on the Aulani Resort during the Christmas season. Until then, stay safe and God bless everyone!

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

December 2, 2016

An Attraction All Its Own

One of the advantages of going to Walt Disney World in Florida instead of Disneyland in California is the abundance of activities available on the grounds. Sure, Downtown Disney in Anaheim is really great, but that's about all there is to do on the property once you've toured the parks and walked through the hotels  It's a very different situation in Florida. 

This terrific Fort Wilderness Poster really captures a small piece of what's available to guests. The sense of really getting away from it all happens there. Nighttime campfires, the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue (which offers up some of the best food and entertainment on the property, and a chance to explore nature- God's ultimate theme park- are just a few of the reasons millions go year after year to the World.

Thanks to the Imagineers of old and to Walt Disney himself for having the wisdom and insight to dream big and pull it off!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 1, 2016

Chip and Joanna and The Controversy

Well, that didn't take long! In an expect turn of events, some LBGT viewers and political groups (spearheaded by a manipulative article on BuzzFeed by Kate Aurthur)have taken a bigoted- yes bigoted- turn against the talented stars of HGTV's Fixer Upper. Totally expected. The charge against Chip and Joanna Gaines leading to this slander about their character and intentions? The fact they attend a church that believes marriage was designed by God to be between one man and one woman. Shocking! 

Even the least amount of viewing time - or reading their new book- reveals this couple to be exactly what you might think: a kind, loving, funny, hardworking couple fully committed to caring for people of all kinds. You certainly can't say that about these groups that are going after them. It's a witch hunt led by a group of special interest bullies.

It's time people from all sides realized is ok to disagree with someone without it being taken as if they are being hated. That is one of the signs of a real, mature, and healthy adult relationship. 

This is not the first or last time Christians will be targeted. Bakers are labeled bigots for not baking a cake for same-sex couples, but I guess it is ok for LGBT groups and their supporters to boycott companies and also to refuse to provide their services to those whom lifestyle choices they view as wrong. 

Even a gay writer, Brandon Ambrosino, in the Washington Post sees Aurthur's and LGBT's targeting of the Gaines as a bad choice. Don't believe me? Here's the article. Compare it to Aurthur's. As I said, her's is a thinly-veiled piece that's really a witch hunt.

Now, let me ask you- Who are the real bigots here?

I'm standing behind the Gaines- and I will cancel my HGTV should they remove them from the network because of this. You should stand by Chip and Joanna as well.

November 29, 2016

Strange Gym Interactions

Strange interactions at the gym seem to come in spurts. A few days ago, I was in the locker room changing into my work out clothes, and this crazy guy with dark sunglasses comes into the room. He starts talking to himself about how things will change under President elect Trump, and how he doesn't want any more "White guys coming into the country". Then he starts getting louder and louder, his pony tale flying behind him. 

I choose to ignore him. Especially as I'm the only other person in the room. Not wanting to start a fight, I don't respond as his words get more and more inflammatory.

Later on the gym floor, he begins walking up to other white guys trying to start a disturbance, saying more racist things. (Yes,  friends, people of color can be racists too!) Eventually, I finish my workout, full of sweat and pretty exhausted.  Glad to walk out and away from the crazy man.

November 28, 2016

More Rare Shanghai Disneyland Art

Dig deep and keep looking. This thought process has been the key to finding so many pieces of rare and unused Disney concept art from the Imagineers. Here's another rendering created for Shanghai Disneyland. Sort of a companion piece to the one I posted last week. This one is for the Tribal Table restaurant.

With the recently announced expansion on the table for Hong Kong Disneyland, it seems the grudge match between both China resorts will last for awhile. Hong Kong is pulling out the big guns with Frozen, Marvel, and Moana coming their way quickly. And a huge new castle, too. But don't underestimate what will be done in Shanghai. There's too much ego on both sides of the table (Disney and the Chinese government) to let that park not continue to expand and shine for decades to come. 

While these two Asia resorts duke it out, let's not forget about the first to be built on the continent. The Tokyo Disney Resort still has more coming their way as well. The long standing political and cultural feud between these two countries may be very slowly changing, but you can rest assured the fight for the money will continue. Besides, how can Tokyo Disney Sea and the original Tokyo Disneyland not continue to get even better under the guidance of the Oriental Land Company?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 27, 2016

Shanghai Disneyland Pirates' Attractions Poster

Easily the best designed attraction at Shanghai Disneyland- the next and newest version of the classic Pirates of the Caribbean. This one entitled Battle for the Sunken Treasure. Jack Sparrow may be the star of the show, but in reality, his story is the excuse for a new slew of stunning Imagineering special effects. 

This fresh yet comic book retro styled attraction poster- courtesy a great photograph by  Mint Crocodile over at Magic Eye blog- provides an intriguing hint of things to come.

Here's an extra large version from Alain Littaye at Disney and More.

Speaking of intriguing hints, I won't be as coy. Tomorrow on the Insights blog, I'll post another piece of concept art for the new park's Adventure Isle. Yes, there's quite a bit out there it you take the time to find it. This one is another treasure...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 26, 2016

The Pleasures of Switzerland

Never did get back to posting about our last trip to Switzerland and the South of France. No matter. Even though this great photo is not mine, it does tell a story. We took the drive around this exact lake, seeing this incredible view. 

I didn't take time and stop the rental car as I was mesmerized by everything around us. It's a great big wonderful world to explore out there. Although I somewhat miss my more regular Disney park visits, I just can't quit exploring this incredible world that God designed. Even my work related trips take my to exotic locales I never imagined I'd see. Travel has got to be one of my guilty pleasures.

(Photographer unknown.)

For the Family Album

A few family photos from the weekend. Brother and sister...

...Brother and Brother

...Granddaughter and Grandpa. What a blessing all my grandkids are to me!

November 25, 2016

A Carpenters Christmas Tradition

Note: It's a long-standing tradition in our home (or should I say rule,) that any and all Christmas music only gets played beginning the day after Thanksgiving. It's my tradition that there first disc always played is Karen and Richard's classic album, Christmas Portrait. My initial review of the album is below, continuing my original series of reviewing Carpenters albums one by one. 

Richard and Karen Carpenter's Christmas Portrait was the culmination of the longest wait ever for a full length Christmas recording. Not just of the decade but by any recording artist. 

Billboard magazine ad for Merry Christmas Darling- an instant classic!

From the 1970 release of their first holiday recording Merry Christmas Darling, fans waited and waited for the Carpenters to complete an album full of old favorites and new songs dedicated to the season. The gorgeous song written by Richard and Frank Pooler achieved instant standard status upon first play, with Karen's deep and warm vocals played against Richard's lush arrangements and Frank's romantic lyrics. It was constantly on my turntable.

The near decade in between the single and the album had been far from unkind, however, with the duo turning out hit after hit. Things began to slow after the release of The Singles: 1969 - 1973, but Karen and Richard were still quite productive. A new arrangement of the seasonal classic "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" came in 1974 along with an appearance on Perry Como's Christmas special. (Find it and watch Karen perform "It's Impossible"- one of her most tender readings of a song ever!) "Please Mr. Postman" ended '74 as a worldwide smash.

Horizon arrived in 1975, with A Kind of Hush coming the following year. Although both discs contain some of their best individual recordings ("Only Yesterday", "Solitaire", and Desperado" from the first, and "I Need to Be in Love" and "One More Time" from the latter), neither produced the sales of years previously.

The duo's next album in 1977, Passage, was not the large hit they wanted and their career so desperately needed. The result was fun, playful, and largely uninspired. Even die-hard fans like myself started to move on to other interests.

I discovered that in the midst of recording Passage, the Carpenters were also beginning to record for another project at the same time this eclectic album was forming. Perhaps both the A&M Records executives and Karen and Richard expected the Christmas recordings to be completed in time for a 1977 release, as their second television special "The Carpenters at Christmas" was to air in early December.

Above- the photos that inspired Robert Tanenbaum's beautiful portrait

My personal life was taking a dramatic downturn as well. My post high school life had been an interesting mix of fear, loneliness, increasing depression, and anticipation. I began to search for greater meaning in life than what I could see. After years of looking into various world religions- and after a near disastrous automobile accident shortly after seeing the Carpenters in Las Vegas- I found myself at an evening gathering at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. A young evangelist, Greg Laurie, presented the truth to me as shared in the Bible: I was a sinner, a broken man, and the only way to a relationship with God and a restored life was through faith in Jesus Christ. God Himself reaching down to man and not man's efforts to reach Him. What a difference it made to hear about a god who loved his creation.

My heart jumped as I chose to make a decision to embrace Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. I knew I'd have to live differently, and I was ready. As I prayed for a new beginning, I hoped for the best. The result was better than I ever expected. For the next six months, my depression was replaced with hope and joy. My friends and family could not believe the transformation. Neither could I!

Christmas was very different that year. Finally, all those hymns made sense- and watching and listening to Karen sing them touched me deeply. By this point, I was also smart enough to understand a Christmas album had to be coming soon.

Celebrating the Season's sales.
Billboard magazine ad from December 1978

As the following year progressed, many good things began to happen in my life. My job situation improved greatly, I formed some deep friendships, and even though life was more back to normal with expected ups and downs, I had peace and hope. Guess my faith "stuck", and I'd never go back to my old life.

On the musical front, things were fairly uninteresting. I was thrilled to finally hear something new from Karen and Richard. "I Believe You" was a terrific little single that got next to no airplay, but my lengthy wait was finally rewarded again when the Christmas Portrait album hit the shelves. Couldn't wait to get it home! Little did I know the album would end up being one of my favorites by them and a very personal one- one that would always touch me deeply.

Finally, the album was out of the sleeve and on the turntable. I patiently listened through the opening songs. Finally Karen came in singing "Frosted window panes"...

I was mesmerized. What an introduction Richard designed for his favorite vocalist! Thirty-two years later, hearing her opening to "Christmas Waltz" still signals the beginning of the season, and Christmas Portrait is the traditional first disc played in our house. (And one played only after Thanksgiving!)

The album, continued to sparkle. Hearing the Carpenters band sing on "Sleigh Ride" was great fun! The new single "Christmas Song" made famous by Nat King Cole and recorded by seemingly thousands of other vocalists, was a natural choice for Karen's voice. It was at that moment of first hearing it that I realized Karen was the new voice of Christmas for my generation. Considering the millions of copies sold, I am sure I am not alone in this assessment.

Richard was oft-quoted for his influences being the "3Bs" (the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Burt Bacharach) but here on their first Christmas release, it is clearly Spike Jones, the 40s bandleader with his group, the City Slickers. (Does the name sound familiar? Remember their newer live show or the 1st TV special?) Check out Spike's holiday albums in its various rereleased forms, and you'll find similar song choices, medleys, and arrangements. That said, Richard's genius is evident here. Between the arrangements of Peter Knight and the concept of the album, not including his terrific playing throughout, Richard's contribution is unmistakable. This album is as solid and strong as any of their previous work, and it holds it own against any modern day releases.

There are plenty of additional gems on the disc. One of my personal favorites is "First Snowfall/Let It Snow". The playful arrangement is quite fun but when Karen's voice is overdubbed on the former and she emotes on the phrase "if you really hold me tight" on the latter, it's pure magic. Next, Richard's "Carol of the Bells" is stunning. The newly rerecorded "Merry Christmas Darling" is made even more beautiful by Karen's softer vocal approach. And it just keeps getting better. The disc's closing "Ave Maria" reveals how powerful and under control her voice was. It also shows how unmatched it is by those vocalists of her day and those of ours. How many other artists have dared to perform such a demanding piece?

Christmas Portrait was an instant success and became a radio staple for the decades. Beginning with the following season, recording artists began to mine the gold found by the recent success of Karen and Richard, and they recorded their own holiday albums. As with their earlier work, others once more followed the duo's instincts and groundbreaking lead.

Since Karen's untimely death, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" has taken on a poignancy stronger than its already heartfelt lyrics. Her passing means the end of an era. Beyond the later release of "An Old Fashioned Christmas" in 1984, there is not much Carpenters material left other than television show recordings, and the chance for additional Christmas albums is gone. Over and over again, Richard has started and stopped work on his own collection of holiday tunes. Will we ever see it? If only in my dreams...


As I mentioned, this post is only one piece in a series focusing on Karen and Richard Carpenter, a review of their many albums and the impact of their music on my life. If you'd like to read the entire series, begin here. As time goes by, I've begun to reassess my view of their music. Starting with Ticket to Ride once again, here's another look at their music: Carpenters Revisited. Or, if you prefer, search the blog for articles on my favorite duo. Last count, there's more than 60 of them with rare photos to be found.

November 24, 2016

Truly A Season For Thanksgiving

We live in a land of plenty. Think about it. Yes, there are places where people have little, but we have our freedom. Beyond even that, there is so much to be thankful for.

Are there blessings to be found in your life? Absolutely! But we may have to look deeper than normal to find them. I know this all too well as I tend to be a "glass have empty" kind of guy at times. Yet, God deserves our thanks. 

Here's a few of the reasons I choose to give God thanks:

His goodness and His great gift of sacrifice in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ- The Ultimate expression of God's love for mankind, and the only payment in full for my sin- and yours. That's no small gift!

My family- Are things always easy in my family? No. Do we always treat each other well? Absolutely not. However, at the end of the day, we are a blessing to each other. A very real extension of God's heart to each of us. Even those of us that don't have faith recognize the blessing of family. 

The real freedom we have in the United States- Especially in a Presidential Election Year. Let's celebrate this freedom! And let us celebrate those that have given their lives to keeping us free. Many love to badmouth this great country of ours, trying to bring change for the worse and trying to make us more like other more repressive governments. Our news agencies love try to increase readership by inciting trouble to sell advertising space, but at what expense do they exploit us? Be different and don't fall prey to their trap! Ours is still the best representation of freedom and peace and unity among all others. All you have to do is talk to people who came here from other places or to those who live overseas, and you will hear it for yourself.

Sharing with others less fortunate- Whether it is sharing food, faith, or in service, (how about in all three?), giving to others is a gift we also give ourselves- and it blesses our God- the One who gave it all to us to begin with.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving Day! Bless you with joy and peace and a home of love and gratefulness!

November 23, 2016

Live From Florida's Magic Kingdom

Hot off the press! Sent to me moments ago from my son, daughter-in-law and grandson visiting the Florida Magic Kingdom for our grandson's first visit. Fantasyland in all of it's day before Thanksgiving glory.

You have to be brave to take a toddler this time of year, but even in the busyness, there are quiet nooks and crannies to explore. Be our guest.

Crowds seem to be lower than normal- perhaps It's A Small World After All!

And goodnight...

In a Land Far Away

My youngest daughter has had some amazing travels in her young life, and dare I say, she is a great photographer as well! Today, I was browsing a few of her photos and came across this one. It's a Muslim cemetery- taken from her moving bus! The contrast of the red stonework on the left, the blue sky and the crisp mountains make for a stunning piece of art. One day I may post her photos of Moscow- they are incredible!

(Photograph copyright Lauren Taft.)

November 22, 2016

New Hong Kong Disneyland Castle

The rumors were true! Hong Kong Disneyland is replacing their original castle- a cheap duplicate of the Anaheim original- with an expanded, new one. Along with a slate of new attractions themed to Marvel and Frozen, the park's getting ready to go toe to toe with Shanghai Disneyland. More later as I'm off on a non-Disney vacation this week...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 21, 2016

Rare Shanghai Disneyland Concept Art

Adventure Isle at Shanghai Disneyland, (not to be confused with the attraction of the same name at Disneyland Paris), is full of eye candy. The Imagineers did quite the job in creating brand new environments that would be considered exotic for Chinese park guests. 

This rare and beautiful piece of concept art shows an area that leads to Camp Discovery, an "extreme playground" of sorts unique to this park. Attorneys in the States would actually quiver in their pants should Disney build an attraction like this in our country. 

Not coming to a park in the States!

Rope courses are risky. Humans like to experience thrills that border on danger- and corporate lawyers are adverse to activities such as this. Trust me, it will never happen here in Anaheim or Florida.

So for now, if you want to experience this attraction, off to China you must go. Or glance on line, perhaps finding a rare video of the experience. Hard to do- but possible. Until the lawyers get in the way.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)