January 19, 2019

New Book on the Music of the Carpenters

Can't tell you how much I am looking forward to this new book on the music of Karen and Richard Carpenter! Just in team for the 50th Anniversary of their signing to A&M Records, the author of her bio, Randy L. Schmidt has put together a new book focused on each of their albums. Here's the official news release:

"Carpenters: An Illustrated Discography is an essential album-by-album retrospective of the legendary duo’s recordings.

With more than 100 million records sold worldwide, the Carpenters are among the most beloved and enduring musical acts of the past 50 years. Randy L. Schmidt, author of the acclaimed bestselling biography Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter has assembled a team of commentators—journalists, authors, musicians, and other entertainment industry figures—for a series of in-depth, insightful, and opinionated conversations on every release. Beautifully presented with more than 200 images, many never before seen, the result is a must-have for pop music lovers."


Coming late April / Early May...

January 18, 2019

What's Coming Next?

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
                                  Martin Niemöller

This Lutheran pastor and theologian had the right idea. He was a outspoken vocal critic of Adolph Hitler. Persecuting people has not disappeared with the Holocaust.

Take a look at this new research compiled by Open Doors. It's called the World Watch List 2019. Fascinating stuff.



Sometimes, other numbers help explain what's happening a little better:
Increase in persecution jumped 14% from the 2018 report.

Persecution of Christians is happening all over the world, with extreme persecution (death, imprisonment etc.) happening mostly in North Korea, the Middle East, and Africa. The numbers also take into account violence, church life, national life, community life, family life, and private life.

If you look at the chart, you'll see the West is not immune. Mexico and Columbia make the list as well. What has this looked like in a year? Look below.
Eleven Christians are killed every day
because of what they believe.

For a further look at the report, look here. Or here for a much more detailed report. What's coming next?

Yes, it's very dangerous to be a Christian... but what will you do to change the situation?

(Images from Open Doors.)

January 17, 2019

Time to Trip A Little Light Fantastic

Reading the news just brings me down, down, down. This world and all its troubles, oh my. Things are going from bad to worse, and no politician or political party will get us out of it. Each group's makes statements that irritate the other, driving the division deeper between us. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us! 

So, until then, it's time to Trip A Little Light Fantastic. This sweet upbeat tune from Mary Poppins Returns brightens a dark day.

I'm growing to like this sequel and its soundtrack more and more.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 16, 2019

Disney Food Blog A New Favorite

When planning a trip to Walt Disney World, one of the most helpful sites I've discovered has been the Disney Food Blog. With articles, videos, and photos, A.J. Wolfe has put together a site that is a must if you want to move beyond the official perspective from the Disney site.

Last year, I found the videos and helpful hints just what we needed to choose our restaurants for a trip to the World after a decade when so much has changed. With the reimagining of Disney Springs, this site was even more helpful. A.J. is pleasant and upbeat but tells it like it is! We appreciate the forthright commentary and the whole series which compares similar restaurants to each other.

Make sure to check it out for yourself.


January 15, 2019

Beautiful Black and White Disneyland

The year:1956 The place: Fantasyland at Disneyland in Anaheim California. The map: A piece of artwork designed by someone- most likely in Imagineering- to give a feel of what Walt Disney's magical little kingdom would look like. These pieces were created to spark the imagination of kids and forever kids all over the United States. Flying elephants, spinning tea cups, a pirate ship, and a chance to ride into Monstro the Whale from Pinocchio. Who wouldn't love that? It worked like a charm! 

Millions visited this "Happiest Place on Earth", opening the door to Walt Disney World and then outside the country: Tokyo Disneyland, EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris), Hong Kong Disneyland, and now Shanghai Disneyland. Where will the next Magic Kingdom unveil itself? My bet is India. We shall see.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 13, 2019

Nature's Impressionism in China

While quietly resting inside during the last remnants of the snow storm, I decided to start nosing around for photos of my next international trip. Happily, I stumbled upon this absolutely incredible picture of the tea fields in Duoyishu, China. As my friends in Scotland would say, "I was gobsmacked by its beauty!" 

Instantly reminding me of the French Impressionist art at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, I was also thought of the Psalmist, and his realization of God's great hand in creating such a beautiful earth:

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
  Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.
  Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
  One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
  They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 
  They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
  They celebrate your abundant goodness

    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
                                                     Psalm 145

The original photograph can be found here.
(Photographer unknown.)

January 12, 2019

Season's First Big Snow

As is custom this time of year on the blog, I usually document the first big snow that we have in Colorado. Here you go! It started yesterday at 6:00am, and it is still going on as of 9:00am on Saturday...

January 11, 2019

Israel Before Brazil

Here's Imagineer Herb Ryman's beautiful Israel pavilion for EPCOT Center. Painted June of 1982, shortly after the park's grand opening, this piece of concept art captures all the warmth, history, and beautiful architecture the country is known for. 



The blueprint (shown above) for the pavilion has been in circulation for quite awhile, and it shows the expected mix of shops, a cafe or restaurant, and an entertainment venue. Blow the image up and explore a bit! It might make you wish this had come to pass- although it did in a much smaller version for the Millennium celebration.

Certainly, World Showcase needed this addition! As the park stands now, it is very Eurocentric, and fleshing it out with a country from the Middle East would have been a smart move. 

The proposed but not yet announced Brazil adition would be a good place to refresh this half of the park by bringing a new country and culture to explore. (Find out more in these posts with artwork included. Post One. Post Two.) Even if it is only shopping, restaurants and some entertainment. Perhaps we will know more at D23. Here's hoping! 

January 10, 2019

Train Wreck

Can't help but stare! Sometimes a wreck of any sorts captures our eye, and it won't let go. Morbid on our part or something more? Hard to say. But its provides some good food for though as we begin the new year.

Sometimes, my life is like a train wreck. I take my eyes off God or I choose to deliberately do something that I know displeases Him. What am I thinking?! Doing this just sets my life on anything from a short bad course on the wide road or leads to a long spiral down, taking me places I never wanted to go and costing me more than I ever expected. And it hurts people around me. People I love and care for.

Ah, but when I walk in humility and obedience before God, I'm like  a palm tree. 



"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
                                      Psalm 92

God is so good all the time! Today, I'm thanking Him for all the times He's forgiven me and let me start anew.

January 9, 2019

Dastardly Game

Some Christmas gifts are fun and others are just plainVillainous. If you're looking for a mesmerizing and challenging evening, this may be just the board game you want to bring to your next gathering if it includes fans of Disney animated films. 

What would Ursula, Maleficent or the Queen of Hearts do to defeat Jafar, Prince John, or Captain Hook? Just about anything and everything! But they first have to defeat the heroes in their own world. It's a strategy game like no other. And it has really sweet graphics to boot. 

Thanks to my youngest son for the gift- and for getting us addicted.

January 8, 2019

Hotel Emma of San Antonio- More Edison than the Edison

San Antonio, Texas is world famous for its beautiful River Walk, and rightfully so. There's tons of charm and fun to be found with its mix of restaurants and entertainment. New to me is a place that had just opened years ago on my last visit: The Pearl

The former brewery site has turned into a pretty great place for shopping and dining! There's an open market on Saturdays, and I'm sure much more the rest of the week. Yet, the real gem for me was stepping into The Hotel Emma

The hotel's tower is fairly plain. It actually reminds me of the California Adventure version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror before Guardians of the Galaxy took over. 

As you know, I'm not a great photographer, so you'll have to do with these photos, but the porte-cochère at the entrance is a simply stunning,  beautiful, piece of black iron art.  


Inside the hotel, beginning with the lobby, it's just a feast for the eyes with its lovingly reworked machine parts, lighting, and tile floors and woodwork. It evokes more of the Edison at Disney Springs than the actual bar and restaurant. 

I won't give away any more details, but I will say this: Check this place out. You'll find just a couple hours away from Disney World, there's a terrific place to spend a long weekend, and there's much more to be found in this terrific city.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 7, 2019

Imagineer Rolly Crump's Midway of Life for Epcot

Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump is quite the character! And he's quite the innovative artist when it comes to bringing to life new ideas. Rolly's perhaps best known for his work at Disneyland and The Enchanted Tiki Room, the unrealized Museum of the Weird (for the Haunted Mansion), and It's a Small World's Tower of the Four Winds (for the World's Fair). 

The concept art you're seeing here was not designed for Disneyland, however. Instead, this Midway of Life was created for EPCOT Center's long gone Wonders of Life. (I guess I should say, the space itself is still used but as an event center for Epcot's ever increasing festivals.) It's quirky Victorian era charm was not to be as the art direction for the Future World pavilion took a more contemporary but eventually dated looking turn.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.) 

January 4, 2019

When Reality is Better Than Imagineering Art: Disneyland Paris' Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Imagineer Nina Rae Vaughn not only did some beautiful artwork for Tokyo Disney Sea, she also produced some fine pieces for the equally incredible Disneyland Paris

Just take a look at this art in a large view. The delicate charm and beauty of the castle, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, is highlighted by the graceful arches, geometric shrubbery (reflecting the art of the Sleeping Beauty film), and the fireworks cascading from the sky. Yet, the art doesn't compare to the reality.


My attempt to capture the castle in its Christmas finery.

Click here for the video.

Take a tour of the castle with this detailed look found in the above video. Make sure to turn on your sound. It gives the listener an ever greater sense of being in the Paris park, the most beautiful Magic Kingdom of all.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 3, 2019

My Most Anticipated Disney Happenings for 2019

2019- A new year, and a whole new year of exciting things to look forward to in the Disney world. What's on the top of my list? How about these items (in no particular order):

Phantom Manor redo. Photographer unknown.

The Complete re-Imagining of the Phantom Manor

For some of you, this will be an unexpected choice. The Parisian park is still the reigning champion of the title Most Beautiful Magic Kingdom. After a lengthy season of being ignored, the Walt Disney Company purchased remaining shares, completing ownership of the place. (A very shrewd move, I say.) One at a time, each major attraction has undergone a complete refurbishment. Phantom Manor seems to be at the bottom of the list but with the most enhancements coming. I absolutely love this unique new take on the Haunted Mansion! The score is a stunning centerpiece of it all with a storyline that will send real shivers down your spine. 

Even for someone not a huge Star Wars fan, this is a must see.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

No one in my family would call me a Star Wars fan. I've seen exactly three of the films. They vary in quality and execution, so you can probably take some educated guesses and determine which ones they are. But even a casual fan has to admit, these new lands are intriguing and probably the most well-themed Imagineering has ever created. It belongs in the Studios but is questionable at best inside Disneyland. Thanks again to Universal Orlando for upping the ante by adding Harry Potter themed lands to their parks. 

It had better be good as Toy Story 3 provided a perfect end to the series.

Toy Story 4. 

As much as the Disney theme parks are the reason I am a fan, I am also a fan of their animated movies, Pixar or otherwise. But not every Disney movie is of interest to me or a must-see. Toy Story 4 is an exception. Buzz Lightyear is my favorite character, but the entire cast and storyline of the original film has a soft spot in may heart. You'd think that would make me a big fan of the Toy Story Lands scattered throughout the Disney universe. Think again. I'm not.

Sisters not lovers.
Frozen 2.

Look- the main story here is about two sisters that love each other. It's a very good film, one with a surprising twist that became a new norm for those that came after it. The animation is old school Disney excellence and the music is memorable. If the storyline goes lesbian, I'm out. (Pun intended.) Disney has to decide its audience, and little kids - the core audience- do not have the capacity to understand the nuances of sexuality and the complexity of relationships that come out from choices people make. That's the parents' job in their own time, not the filmmakers. I want to take my sweet little granddaughters to this film for a date. All I ask is you think it through for yourself. Openly gay attorney Joseph R. Murray II has the right idea. Here's his piece on the "gay element" in the live action version of Beauty and the Beast. (And yes, I have gay friends and family members.)

Great idea in a very wrong location.

Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.

I'm anticipating this attraction to be the runaway hit of our family when we visiting Walt Disney World this Fall. My oldest daughter hasn't been to the World since 1999, and her husband has been to Disneyland once. This will be the first Disney park experience for him and their kids, ages 4, 6, and 8. Other than giving the boot to The Great Movie Ride, what isn't there to like about an E Ticket attraction focused on Mickey and Minnie? Absolutely nothing!

Ka-chow!

Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.

Yes, a show. I'm not a big fan of theme park shows- although the two main ones at Animal Kingdom are amazing. But my these little first time visitors to the world love the Cars characters, so I can't wait to see this with them. Is this a blockbuster? Not at all. In some ways, it's a filler to Disney's Hollywood Studios, a park with not much to do. Before and after Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens. If this is anything close to the charming Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, I'll be a repeat guest.

Always something worth waiting for!

D23 2019.

Last but not least, I am looking forward to D23. Good or bad, Epcot's Re-Imagining should be the focal point of the Park's Presentation. Even though Disney's Animal Kingdom is gaining ground, Florida's second Disney park is still my favorite. What will they announce? Hopefully, only good things in theme with the park's mission. But I know it will be different than that. At this point, I just want to know what's coming.

What's on your list?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 2, 2019

My New Year's Resolutions

A new year, a new me. Or so I think. Let me share a resolution or two from a very personal place of confession. The reality is that when I follow my dreams, and even when I meet those goals I set, I'm often left feeling empty and disappointed. 

So, this year, I'm aiming for something different. As a person who loves Jesus and tries to live as He did, I'm going to ask God to show me what He wants out of my life and go after that. A very different approach from what we're taught as American Christians. 
This very famous quote speaks to me:

“It has been said that the Jews turned the gospel into a religion, Romans a philosophy, Europeans a tradition and Americans a business.”

Ouch! When I read the New Testament or when I read about the struggles of Christians in other parts of the world such as Africa and the Middle East, I realize their lives are closer to what God intended- and they pay the price for their faith because it's all about sharing the Good News of Jesus to as many people as possible. It's not about "my best life ever". It's about bringing glory to God in the way I live.

That’s one of the many things I love about Third World believers in Jesus is their heart of her people toward God! In the US, we are getting more and more secularized.  No so here! There’s a renewed interest in living a life that pleases God.

That’s actually what I'm going to talk about as we look take a look at the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul's words to the church in Italy.

“How Do I Live A Life That Pleases God?” That's the big question for my New Year's resolutions, and I hope it's yours as well!

The Book of Romans was written to the church in Rome, a church made up of mostly Gentiles (not Jewish people) and some Jews. A large population of Jews had lived there since the turn of the century. Written by him about 57 AD at the end of his 3rd missionary journey, probably written while he was in the city of Corinth. Paul had not been to Rome but had been sharing Jesus for 20 years. He walked it, lived it, grown in his understanding. By and large, at the time, Christianity in Rome was a network of house churches, much like what is happening in parts of our world where it is dangerous and against the law to follow Jesus. Emperor Nero would begin persecuting Christians about 10 years later (64 AD).

Paul’s heart for the Romans is found in verses 11-12 of Chapter 1: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong- that is, that you and I may be encouraged by each other’s faith.” 


Let's look at the definition of "Righteousness" as God defines it. Between the Hebrew and the Greeks words for righteousness, it is used more than 700 times in the whole Bible! The concept must be pretty important.

Simply put,  righteousness means moral perfection in thought, word, and deed. (Now, I'm in trouble.) In other words, this means perfectly matching God’s character. God is the final standard of righteousness. It conforms to His moral character. (Genesis 18:25, Romans 9:14) This is what is required from God in order to enter heaven.

When I was a new believer in Jesus, I thought sin was only defined by what I did.
Later, I realized, I was also judged innocent or guilty of sin by the things I said.
I finally realized, I was also judged by the things I thought.

I became even more thankful for the work of Jesus, completed on the cross of His Crucifixion and then for His Resurrection. Aren't you? Isn’t this the teaching of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount? God goes beyond what we can accomplish on our own…

Look at this verse, words of Jesus Himself: “You have heard it said to the people long ago ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…(will be in danger of the fire of hell).” (Matthew 5:21-22)

If you read the verses before it:

“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."  (Matthew 5:19- 20)

This means we cannot achieve righteousness or enter Heaven by our own accomplishments and choices!

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (Romans 3:20)

The Law is designed by God to point us to Him - and Our Need for a Savior. This is why Jesus said He didn't come to earth to abolish the Law. Every belief system, every religion, requires us to work to get a place in Heaven. Except one: Christianity.

Continuing now in Romans 3:21-26 (using The Message version now. I don’t use the Message version for study- but for today, I wanted to read this translation as it helps us hear the truth in a fresh way.)  
"God Has Set Things Right

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness."

God’s character demands He judges sin- but once again, God goes beyond- He offers payment for it by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ- fulfilling His own law! In contrast to other belief systems, God comes to us, offering a way to eternal life in Heaven instead of Hell. The words He says are simple and direct and clear to understand because He wanted to make it easy for us to "get it". If we reject God, it is our choice. He offers us eternal life through the Gift and Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is great freedom in this- no need for weighing scales of good deeds vs. evil! God pays the price- now all we have to do is live life according to His Word and in the Holy Spirit!


Real freedom and joy is available this year!

So,"How Do We Live a Life That Pleases God?"  Here's a Practical Approach. What does this look like?  How do we live it out?

Quote from a very gifted and well-known pastor, Jack Hayford:
“Freedom from sin does not equal freedom to sin.”

And let me tell you- It doesn't matter how long you've been loving God, trusting Jesus, and trying to please Him. It's an ongoing battle. The depth of sin in our lives and its effective t is even greater than we understand. 

We now need to live our lives in such a way that it matches up with God’s standards of righteousness. Not because of legalism, but out love for Him. “If you love me, you will do what I command.”

More from Romans Chapter 1 helps us understand more. 

The righteous will live by faith.  (Romans 1:17b)- Remember you can’t earn salvation!  Don’t go back to your old ways!

Give God the Glory, and Thank Him. (Romans 1:21) Speak of Him to others- Speak to Him- Have a Thankful Heart! When we grumble, it gives Satan a chance to move us away from God. Slowly, we begin to doubt God’s love, His Goodness, and His Faithfulness. When we begin to doubt His character, we begin to doubt what He did for us!

Don’t exchange the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:25, 28) Know what the Bible teaches. Know the Creator. His Word and His Spirit work in unity!

Don’t just hear the Law, Obey it. (Romans 2:13) Here's the great part: It can be challenging even difficult to live a life that pleases God, but when you say yes to Him and no to everything else, there's incredible freedom and joy to be found. God takes you on this great adventure you could never imagine on your own- far better than "living your best life now" or fulfilling your dreams and New Year's resolutions. 


True freedom begins with God.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, (eyes, ears, tongue, brain, hand) but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

Let's get practical once more. 

Be wise in what you look at! Men- do you indulge in pornography? Women- Do you visit another’s home and wish her possessions were yours? Let me ask it in another way, a way I ask myself:

Ears- What do you listen to? Do you put up with gossip? 

Tongue- What you say- Do you bless? Do you curse others? 
Do you grumble against God and what He allows?

Brain- What about how and what you think about? Do you take your thoughts captive to Christ? It’s easy to let our minds wander- and the enemy tempts us all the time to go there! Let God transform your mind. (Romans 12:1-2)

What do you do? -  Plot revenge? Lie? Cheat? Steal? Use your body sexually in a way that displeases God?  Honor God with your body! (I Corinthians 6:19-20) Etc.


Not man's power- God's power.

It's all so hard! We need Jesus more than we realize, and we need God's Holy Spirit to live righteously in a manner that pleases Him. So, once again, God goes beyond and provides what we need.

We now have the power to obey God! Here's two "old favorite" verses that should encourage you:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

... And out of Paul's letter to another church, Philippians 4:13:  
"I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

So, will you join me in the New Year and live a life that pleases God by His Power and His Strength? Will you submit your thoughts, words, and actions to Him because you love Him? Don't try to earn your own way to Heaven. It can't be done. But God has given you a way through Jesus Christ alone.

If you haven't turned your life over to the only God that reaches out to you and the only one who can pay the price for you to enter heaven, think about His words to you. In the Book of John 14:6, Jesus says "I am THE way… ". Not a way but The Way (to distinguish from other gods). 

Ending back where we started in the letter to the Roman church:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Be encouraged by these Old Testament verses, a promise from God-  The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.  The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.  (Psalm 145:17-18)

May God give you a wonderful New Year- one where He walks with you through it's challenges and delights!