October 31, 2015

Decapitating Heads

The scariest of all Halloween activities! Is it found in the Haunted Mansion? Phantom Manor? Mystic Manor? What have the Imagineers cooked up?

No, the scariest, most frightening activity is not found at any Disney park. 

A Texas doctor talks about the process of removing heads from patients. This is something you find straight out of horror movies, and yet backers of Planned Parenthood continue to boast about what they do and call it good. Have we become that unsensitized to the value of human life? I guess so. 

What makes this any less gruesome than the Nazi experiments on human beings or members or ISIS decapitating Christians in the Middle East? One thing- these are helpless children- and we continue to justify it all. It's just like the ancient peoples who followed false gods and threw their children into fire as a sacrifice. We are very bit as barbaric and mislead. All under the guise of modern "wisdom". In reality, that should really scare us!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 30, 2015

New Frozen Ever After Art

For better or for worse, here's some new concept art for Norway's Frozen Ever After attraction. Will Epcot's World Showcase ever recover from this decision to add a toon this popular? It would have been enough to refurbish Maelstrom and add something that is a big draw as well as a people eater, but as this concept art shows, the Imagineers are forced to reuse an old and tired attraction.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

A Modern Woman

Happy Birthday to my wonderful wife! This photo says it all- She is remodeling our kitchen (in style, no less), doing all the labor with my help. She's not afraid to try anything! It's one of the many things I admire about her. 

It'd be pretty easy to assume we have a very traditional marriage based on our faith- but you'd be wrong! The real Biblical Marriage is one where both partners work together to honor God and love the people around them. All this results in real freedom. For my wife and I, we are freer to be who we are than at any other time in our lives. God continues to work in us and change us! It's all for the glory of the One True God, Jesus Christ.

So much for all the stereotypes...

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 29, 2015


If y'all happen to be in the Metro Denver area and are looking for some family fun on Halloween night, check out Buckaroo Round Up! A western themed harvest party with a full blown cartoon western town to explore. Space is limited.

(Art and name copyright Roger Cousins.)

October 28, 2015

Shag-a-Delic Haunted Mansion

Welcome Foolish Mortals! 

Perhaps only a handful of times in the life of the incredible Disney Imagineers that they get to be part of an attraction this beloved, and dare I say, immortal. Those involved in the creation of the beloved Haunted Mansion have this honor. The list of those involved reads like a Who's Who of Imagineering:  Marc Davis, Claude Coats, X Atencio, Ken Anderson, Yale Gracey, and many others.  

Disneyland's original spook house has thrilled guests since 1969, a full forty five years.  It's a record of popularity and accomplishment unmatched by any other Disney attraction with the exception of Pirates of the Caribbean and perhaps to a lesser degree, the Jungle Cruise. The enduring popularity of the attraction has spawned other versions, but in my opinion, although each are great, none match the original Mansion in California. Phantom Manor  at Disneyland Paris and Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland are world class attractions, no doubt, but they owe their roots to this one.

Artist and Disney fan Josh Agle, aka SHAG, designed this incredible piece honoring the mansion at its 40th Anniversary. It's just great! I cannot wait to see what he will create for the 50th!

Speaking of the 50th, perhaps the Imagineers that brought back the Hat Box Ghost are planning to surprise us with even more enhancements...

(Art copyright Josh Agle for the Walt Disney Company.)

Young Karen and Richard

There's something so sweet about this early photo of Karen and Richard Carpenter! Perhaps it was early enough in their career and they hadn't been spoiled by their hard earned success or dealt the difficulties that would forever impact their lives. Regardless, the sweetness comes through. Decades later, fans continue to discuss their career and lives, debate the merits of the solo album projects, and most of all enjoy the absolutely unique and lovely artistry for which they were known.

October 27, 2015

Pumpkin Patch #2

Next day, another pumpkin patch with our youngest daughter and her family. Still lots of fun on day two! The setting was a little bigger- Anderson Farms- and it was just as much fun for everyone involved.

This little granddaughter is no less a miracle than my red-haired grandson from the previous post. (And aren't all kids really miracles anyway?) During her pregnancy with this child, my daughter suffered a stroke early on, perhaps at two months and almost died. She had to go on special blood thinners two to three shots a day. Regular thinners would have caused her to lose the baby.

Not only did my daughter live, but our little granddaughter was born six months later. She's still a little feather- less than 1 percentile in growth and height, but she is fully normal and progressing well. Again, God proves himself personal and faithful.
I am so thankful!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

Pumpkin Patch #1

 One of the most fun things to do this time of year is to visit the local pumpkin patch (May Farms) with our family. This year, it was a back to back adventure!

Aren't these guys the cutest? Big and younger brother with matching shirts and shoes with little sister - who is a little shy- hanging on. You might remember the story about the redhead. The doctors told my daughter and son-in-law that he would be born with a large portion missing from his brain and that they should abort. They decided to carry on with the pregnancy and prepared for whatever God may allow. (Note: God bless the Buells for choosing life for son Jaxon.)

The days around the delivery, doctors thought for sure he would be special as the scans still showed some brain missing. He was born perfectly healthy and fully formed. Now, he is special- a special reminder God still does miracle, and He is still in control. Regardless of how it would have turned out.

It is such a huge blessing to see my grandchildren grow into fine little people. Truly another one of God's blessings!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

Fighting Cancer and Winning the Battle

Note: The following article is from a young friend of mine who survived a very strong form of brain cancer. It's her story and such a worthwhile read.

The Blink of an Eye

“On a long enough time line the survival rate for everyone drops to Zero” a quote by Tyler Durden from the novel Fight Club

       Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it, humans do not live forever. It is in our nature to worry about how things will turn out. This often reminds us that death and problems are unavoidable. When the thought that anything can happen at any given moment is presented it tends to motivate people to make something of their lives. It is not unusual for a person to want to make a difference that everybody will remember long after they are gone.

In 2013 I was diagnosed with stage three brain cancer which was a battle I can proudly say I fought and won. When I was declared cancer free I was determined to fit something worth while into the dash between the day I was born and the day I die on my gravestone. The moment I transitioned into remission it changed my life forever because I was determined to graduate college, I was overwhelmed with an abounding appreciation for life, and it strengthened my relationship with GOD.

My life before cancer was a disappointment. Going to school was just a minor issue to me. When the choice between hanging in there just a little longer and finishing up or quitting school and having to work a nine to five, minimum wage job for the rest of my life was given to me, sadly the latter was most satisfying. Fresh out of quitting high school I landed my first minimum wage job at McDonalds. Having a position as a cashier at a fast food restaurant and getting yelled at daily by customers for the cook’s constant mistakes was not enough to motivate me even just a little bit to go back to school and make something of my life. 

My only goal in life was to make enough money to get by. It was not until my transition into remission that my desire to succeed in life had surpassed my apathetic attitude toward my future. During my battle with cancer my friends, family, and myself knew there was a possibility that the cancer was far worse than we were hoping it would be. All that was on my mind was how my loved ones will remember me as the girl who dropped out of high school to work at a fast food joint. When the disappearance of all signs and symptoms of my illness allowed me into remission, I made the decision to better my life.

When trying to figure out how to better my life all I could think about was graduating college. Just picturing myself walking across the stage to get my diploma was enough. My decision to register at the Community College of Aurora was one of the wisest I have ever made. Now that I am a college student I am gaining a lot more than I thought I would. College has shown me what hard work really is and that I can overcome even the most difficult tasks in life.  If I persevere and seek help when I need it, I know I can reach any goal.

Even though college is stressful at times I will always remember that through my struggles with cancer, God proved to me that I can endure anything with Him on my side.

Not only was my motivation to graduate something very valuable to me but also my appreciation for life. Before my diagnoses I took life for granted. My complaints about life were only about how unfair it is, not ever stopping to think about how many other people have it way worse than I could ever imagine. Being in remission I am thankful for almost everything around me. 

Since my life was so close to being cut short, it is a priority of mine to notice and appreciate all the little things. Realizing how short life really is I try my absolute hardest to stay positive, no matter what life throws at me and also not to complain.  I have realized that there is no room in my life to be angry with anybody. Unfortunately, before my diagnoses there were several relationships between friends, family, and myself that were falling apart over issues that were not at all worth it. For instance my sisters and I would get into fights over petty things that they were able to forgive and forget, but I on the other hand, was not willing to let go as easily.   

I am ashamed to say that I was a person who would hold grudges for an unnecessary amount of time. Not knowing how precious life really is before remission I almost left this world holding grudges with the people that mean a lot to me. Not being able to predict the future, every time there is a conflict between anyone and myself it is very important to me that whatever the issue is, it is resolved immediately. I have made it a point to make peace with everyone that comes into my life.   

Although my motivation to succeed and my appreciation for life are both very important, my most favorite realization is how much stronger my relationship with GOD grew. Growing up in a Christian home I always had Jesus in my heart but was not as devoted as I am now. When in church I was only physically present. When my pastor gave sermons and would pray for us, my mind was always somewhere else. My attention span at Sunday morning service was kept to a minimal length. Almost every Sunday my parents would give my sister and I money to go out to lunch after service with our youth group friends. Going out to lunch with our friends after church was the only thing that made me want to go in the first place. Before my bond with God, I never acted as spiritually as I do now. It was like I was not a Christian at all. I never shared the word of God with the people in my life because I really did not care about any of it.  

During my treatments all of my prayers were answered. When everything was said and done my relationship with GOD grew because I realized that without him I would not be here today. When I entered the remission state I made sure that church was a part of my weekly schedule. Being in church every Sunday, listening to the word brings me closer and closer to my Lord and Savior. There was also a point where I volunteered at my church which was something I never did. The church had hundreds of guests at every service so they needed many helping hands. I volunteered as greeter and my duties were to shake hands and welcome people as they entered the building.  

The moment I transitioned into remission it changed my life forever because I was determined to graduate college, I was overwhelmed with an abounding appreciation for life, and it strengthened my relationship with GOD. I am very excited for my college journey and I cannot wait to receive my diploma. I am very thankful for all of the little things life has to offer and ready for whatever challenges I may face. No matter what happens I know that GOD is just a prayer away.   

October 26, 2015

Disney's Other Tree of Life

Disney's Animal Kingdom park has always fascinated me. It's just so different than the other three parks. It has an organic feel that is a very nice contrast to the fantasy of the Magic Kingdom, grandeur of Epcot, and the highly stylized tinseltown glamour of the quickly changing Disney's Hollywood Studios

In this fairly rare piece of concept art, you can see a very different version of The Tree of Life. Is it from Imagineer Joe Rohde? Someone else? I do not know. Regardless, with much less dense vegetation surrounding it, the whole thing takes on a more streamlined look. The final result as built is a much better icon that works with the rest of the park.

The tree will change again when the additions of the Rivers of Light water show and the new Avatarland / World of Pandora. Additional lighting effects will tie the tree into look of the new expansion and become a living backdrop of projected designs and flourishes, complementing the show.

Come 2017, these changes will make Animal Kingdom a bit more splashy, ensuring higher crowds during the evening- and finally a chance to explore this beautiful place deep into the nighttime hours. Finally. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 24, 2015

New Shanghai Disneyland Castle Art

Let me say that the more I see and read of Shanghai Disneyland, the more impressed I am. Not just with the wonderful work of the Imagineers, but the very fact that the suits allowed them the money to build such a place! 

Of course, money flows into China in vast amounts in order to do business there. But here's a case where the end result is pretty impressive. Great concept art, huh? Fresh off the official website. More to come...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 23, 2015

Hello Adele, Hello

25. It's about time. The woman who changed the face of modern music by being an excellent vocalist is back. Adele. So many hits in so little time, and all without tricks up the engineer's sleeve. The November release date cannot come fast enough.

Retro California Adventure: Lessons to Be Learned

An amazing concept! A great big beautiful new Disney attraction that allows guests to view tractors and other farming equipment. The centerpiece of Bountiful Valley Farm, a district of a district in the new California Adventure theme park that debuted in 2001.

As the Disney world knows, the park opened with much fanfare and little substance, falling flat on its face. Deservedly so. Disney CEO Michael Eisner approved the new and much less expensive park (with Robert Iger also behind it) to replace the once planned Westcot, a new and improved take on Epcot. Aside from Soarin' Over California, the park was woefully short of E Ticket attractions and long on buildings with exposed steel, retread films from Disney parks in Florida, and expensive dining options. The public was not fooled. It was Bargain Basement Imagineering at its best / worst. (By the way, that link is a great series of posts on the artwork and misguided thinking regarding the formation and execution of the park. Check it out.)

California Adventure 2.0, however, is a huge success due to its ugly sister makeover. Cars Land is oh so fine with Radiator Springs Racers being the new must-do attraction for everyone. Buena Vista Street gives the park just the right introduction. The new addition of Grizzly Peak Airfield- replacing Condor Flats- is just beautiful. 

So why bring up the failure of the park at opening now? It's a reminder to fans and Disney suits of a few things:

DCA Phase Two includes this!

1- Phase Two for the park has not been completed as internally proposed. Hollywood Land still looks very cheap, even if it holds some pretty good attractions. Paradise Pier looks better, but it still has too may iron carnival rides along with empty spaces waiting for expansion. (And it just screams for a new version of Mystic Manor, doesn't it?) Screaming' needs a paint job, too, by the way, and finish the proposed improvements on Ariel's attraction please.

2- Spider-Man and other Marvel characters will be on their way to the park- the proposed Marvel area expansion behind Tower of Terror is still a "go, even if unannounced. (You can't "show up" the announcement of Star Wars Land.) Whatever you build, just make it excellent, and at least try to keep it in theme with the rest of the park. Especially since we are still light years away from a third Anaheim park, particularly with the Company's two biggest, strongest, creative acquisitions soon represented in each of its parks.

3- Disneyland continues to be mobbed almost year round now, and California Adventure is on its way. Both need new attractions, but a fleshed out second park will help spread the crowds out even more. As it stands now, DCA is better than Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and on its way to top Animal Kingdom- even Epcot, which is stagnating to death and on life support because of the Booze Festival. The one-two punch of two excellent parks will make the Disneyland Resort a worthy contender for even more guests. And more money in the pockets of investors.

4- Harry Potter is coming to Universal Hollywood. It's a brave new world, and the competition is playing your game in California, Disney. Continue to step it up beyond Star Wars Land and the inevitable Frozen attractions to come. 20 years between E Tickets at Walt's park? There's no excuse.

5- Beyond California, think about the state of Walt Disney World and give some much needed love to Epcot and beyond. The 50th is on its way, and a new Imagination attraction with Figment and Dreamfinder would be fine, as would a truly first class attraction for Frontierland. But that may be wishful thinking. It's been almost seven years since I've been to the World. There's a lot of folks like me who won't return for awhile and instead are giving their money to Universal. Think about it- but not for too long! There's work to do.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 22, 2015

Living Hope

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!    In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..."

These timely words from Peter give me great comfort and hope in a season of trials, pain, and disappointment. What a reminder that I am never alone!

See I Peter Chapter 1 in the New Testament for further encouragement.
(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 21, 2015

Top Ten Things I Miss From Disneyland

There's so much excitement about Shanghai Disneyland and all its stunning concept art! Deservedly so! It's been years since Disney suits have allowed it skilled Imagineers such free reign to design anything that incredible for Walt Disney World. And unfortunately, it's even true in regards for Walt's original park.

California Adventure's Cars Land is stunning, and the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland are certainly beautiful to look at. Cars Land delivers what it promises, but the recent Florida addition, is woefully lacking in the substance department. The Magic Kingdom parks have always been the focal point of each resort. Each park holds its charms. Absolutely none compare, however, when it comes to the devotion of fans, care by employees, and attention to detail by Imagineering that's lavished on the grandaddy of them all- Disneyland.

Thinking about Disneyland, especially in its 60th year when I cannot visit, I have been thinking about what I miss and what makes it so special. So, in contemporary manner, as I did with Disneyland Paris a few years ago, here are the Top Ten Things I Miss From Disneyland. I'll start with Number Ten and work my way to Number One.

Number Ten- A real live working submarine attraction. No, it's not the defunct 20k Leagues Under the Sea with its beautiful crafts and emerald lagoon, but the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage does provide a stunning backdrop against the Matterhorn Bobsleds as well as being the only submarine ride in any Disney park that actually goes under water.

Number Nine-  Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. A clear "C Ticket", not a blockbuster must see, but one of the minor attractions that give Fantasyland a unique flavor and tons of charm. Toad Hall is built with care reserved for attractions with much more clout. Only proving that sometimes great things come in smaller packages. Ex-Imagineer Tony Baxter was one of few contemporary artists for the company that really understood this. So sad that he's gone.

Number Eight-  The warmth and tiny size of Main Street U.S.A. Honestly, there's something so heartwarming about a walk down this street. It's something I've done so many times and with so many different people through the years, it's become a tradition that means the day ahead is going to be full of memories. Be it the clip-clop of the Horse-drawn trolleys or the toot-toot of the Omnibus horns, there's a special sense of coming home as you travel down the boulevard past the Emporium and the Main Street Cinema- which still shows films, by the way.

I love Big Thunder, but I miss Nature's Wonderland too!

Number Seven- A Frontierland that still evokes an authenticity to representing the Old West. The land is much smaller and less fleshed out than the perfect execution found in Paris, and there are not as many incredible attractions as when it first opened. The stagecoach is gone, the pack mules have been sent packing, and Nature's Wonderland is now but a memory. In deference to  Americans now too jaded against our own history to really appreciate what the men and women of the century did at the time, the land continues to shrink. But it's still there and still waiting to be expanded one day. Yes, even after Star Wars Land is built, there's still much that can be done to bring the Old West back to life.

Number Six- That mini- Alice in Wonderland area comprised of the ride through attraction, the Mad Tea Party and the Mad Hatter Shop. There are certainly more beautiful Fantasylands, but probably none of them have this much charm (and beautiful mature vegetation) packed into such a small area. This is something Walt's original park does so well: cramming different elements together in perfect harmony in such a clever way that the guest is awash with intriguing photo worthy opportunities wherever they look.

Number Five- The Jungle Cruise. It's so retro. It's so campy. It's so quintessentially Disneyland. No need to say more.

Number Four- Walking onto the castle drawbridge late at night from the courtyard of Fantasyland. What is it about "When You Wish Upon a Star" that seems to be the perfect song for just the perfect Disney park moment? Particularly as its close to the end of the park's operating hours, and you feel like you are almost left to yourself. The sentimental value of this is powerful in its innocence and simplicity.

45 Years of the Haunted Mansion.

Number Three-  Cruising The Disney Gallery. I know other parks have something similar, but here, there's something real honest about the intent and purpose. The Gallery celebrates the richness of the park and doesn't just exploit it for financial gain. I don't feel that sense of honest integrity in other locations which sell merchandise connected to the parks.

Number Two-  Mint Juleps in New Orleans Square. Sitting in a sidewalk cafe, listening to jazz and drinking a green tinted gem, soaking it all in. The Mark Twain Steamboat glistening as it rounds the bend, all the while knowing Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion are right there waiting to be explored. What more could a theme park fan ever want?

Imagine having Walt as your granddad!

Number One-  The very fact that Walt Disney walked this park. Granting its place in history for theme park enthusiasts. His hand in design and his personal care in giving guests more for their money can be found all over the place. Nothing was too good for his Disneyland- and Walt made sure that remained true during his lifetime. There's more to a visit to Disneyland than rushing from attraction to attraction. There's a sense of history to be found, an inspiring elegance and rhythm to the park unmatched by others that came after it. If visitors look for it, they will find Walt's touch everywhere. That single fact gives the Anaheim park an appealing aspect that none other will ever have. 

(Most Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

October 20, 2015

Hyped Up Space Mountain

Here's an attraction that is serving as a "placeholder" until Star Wars Land finally makes it to Disneyland. It has the potential to be terrific- or it could be just another attraction layover a la Ghost Galaxy. Let's hope for the best.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Give Me the Benjamins!

"Money is my motive". This guy's tattoo says it all. I guess it doesn't get any more clear than that!  I'm certainly not going to lecture anyone about money. We all need it, and I've done that. It is captivating, though, because money means the freedom to do what we want to do. Trying not to let money rule me and determine how I live my life, but it is difficult. I don't know about you, but it used to be the image of the starving kid in (fill in the blank) used to do me in. Now, I just flip the channel. Boy does my heart need to change! What about you? What does money mean to you?

October 16, 2015

Why Disney Will Not Build a Park in the Middle East

On Wednesday of this week, Alain Littaye of the wonderful Disney and More site told us why Disneyland Australia never came to be. Today, I'm going to explain why Disneyland Dubai is still unbuilt.

Look at the image above. (Click on it for its largest size. It's stunning.  You can see a version of Cars Land and Star Wars Land both incorporated into the design ) Do you wonder why Disney hasn't built the incredibly beautiful Dubai Disneyland? It's a combination of events and philosophies that conflict with The Walt Disney Company's lust for cash.

With of all the media's love of the glitzy glamour of Dubai and the Middle East in general- they after all do give very choice incentives for the film studios to bring productions to the region (i.e. Star Wars)- it cannot take away form the fact that the Middle East is a region of unrest and therefore, one that is fairly unsafe. 

Jews, Muslims, Christians of all types should be able to live together peacefully. But as you will see in this video- violence is king. From the pulpit of a mosque, the imam shows his congregation how to stab a Jew.  A man of faith? A man of a religion stating peace is an objective? How to stab a Jew!?! Is anyone as outraged as I am?

Disturbed people of all faiths invoke the unthinkable, and in the Middles East, a hotbed of strife for centuries, the unthinkable happens all too often. For the Walt Disney Company, where money speaks- and in Hollywood several prominent Jews are involved and influential- they are conflicted between their greed and lust for dominance and the personal beliefs of those prominent in the company and the media community. This is why Disney will not build there. Without further delay, here's a ugly and very disturbing video I received, accompanied from this email message passed on to me from a friend living overseas:

Yesterday, I wrote about Sheikh Mohammad Abu Rajab, who, during a sermon in the Al Abrar Mosque in Rafah, Gaza, demonstrated the way to stab a Jew.  

I knew there was a video of his “sermon,” but it seemed to be unavailable – I couldn’t access it and so put up a still photo. Bad enough, to see a member of the Muslim “clergy” brandishing a knife from the pulpit.

Now I have located the video, which comes from MEMRI. It was broadcast via Internet, and Abu Rajab himself makes note of this, because the message goes far and wide this way. Internet, and social media, have been used extensively in inciting during the current violence by the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians.

No- Disney will not build there anytime soon.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 15, 2015

This is Not Disney's Italy

Every once in awhile, a television show we do not normally watch catches my eye. This happened last night after a very long work day. We slumped into bed, and flicked on the tube for a few minutes. 

Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods was touring the culinary world of Venice, Italy. Instantly, I was hooked.

The images dazzled me as I remembered the island city. I wrote about our trip so long ago. (Tons of photos too.) It seemed like forever- but the power of the television made it seem like yesterday. The canals, the gondolas, St. Mark's Square, Murano glass, fresh pasta, hazelnut brittle and cool mint drinks while strolling the back alleys. 

As we watched and listened, I was reminded of how much we have traveled and how blessed we have been to do so. Much of Europe, Hawaii, much of the US, some of Canada, and even bits of Asia. I am very proud to be an American most any day (sometimes our recent government choices embarrass me), but the lure of the beauty of Europe draws me in. The villages of Italy, the peaks of Switzerland, the valleys of France, the castles of Germany, etc. 

For those of you used to the EPCOT Center version of it all, take some time away from the parks and World Showcase and go see the real thing. You'll be impressed with it all, especially the people and the sights and sounds and flavors. Take a risk and get out there. You'll be so glad you did.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

Seasons of the Garden

What a beautiful Fall! Or Autumn, if you prefer. It's been hot, hot, hot- and the sun has been creating havoc in my backyard. But, oh the colors!

My ivy seems to bring out most of the reds in the yard. It's quite a sight. I remember planting this years ago, when it was just one little plant which I hoped would crawl up the fence. Now it's taken over the back fence and bursting over the top of it. Providing a great show every year for folks walking by as well as for those of us in the yard. That is, as long as an early snow doesn't kill it.

From the top of the hill in our yard. We sit on 1/3 of an acre. Not much by Colorado standards, but quite a bit for those of us from California- and a lot to mow. 

There was just grass and not a shred of anything else when we moved in years ago. Everything was hand planted. I remember praying over each little twig of a shrub or tree with my preschoolers, asking God to bless it.

You may have noticed a few trees dying now. After all these years, we have what folks call a "mature" garden. I've had to say goodbye to several trees this year- and I've done it with some sadness. 

Twenty six years we have lived here, more than anywhere else my wife or I have ever lived in any house. We've seen numerous patio parties, our eldest daughter's wedding here, apple picking with the grandkids and more. It's been good and rich and blessed by the Lord. 

Now I watch my grandsons climb in the trees or my granddaughters swing in the hammock- and it makes me smile. My lovely French maternal grandmother- (tribute here) who was only educated until second grade due to a family tragedy where she had to raise her younger siblings after her mother died- used to say "Life is a wheel", and so it is. I wish she could see me with my grandkids. It would make her smile.

Days happen that I anxiously await eternity with Jesus, but many days, I thank Him for the years I'm seeing and the years in the past. He's been so good and faithful to me, even in the hardest things in life!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

October 14, 2015

Castle Jumping the Shark?

Perhaps it happens to all television shows. Is it inevitable? I'm not sure. Could Castle be the exception?

Let me say this upfront: I love this television show. Like most of the ones we watch, we did not come to follow it from its inception. We were stuck at home on a wintery day, and we wanted something fresh to watch. We have loved Friends, Criminal Minds, and Downton Abbey, but frankly, we were a bit bored. 

Gotta love the 40s!

I stumbled upon Castle. Of course, I knew of it, but we had never really watched the show. Not that I can remember the episode, but I can say we were taken by Nathan Fillion's charm as Rick Castle and the sharp and savvy take on Detective Kate Beckett played by Stana Katic. So we decided to check out the series from the beginning- thank you, Netflix. Instant win from episode one.

Of course, we have our favorite episodes! We love the suspense of the continued storylines of serial killers (3XK- could there have been a better ending!?! No. Absolutely perfect!) and crooked senators. The humorous stories are great fun! I love the retro episodes, Blue Butterfly and Once Upon A Time in the West, among many others. 

Season Eight, however, is leaving us wanting more. Why they have split makes sense from a network ratings standpoint, but it does not make sense from the storyline itself. Episodes One, Two and Three left me cold. I'll say I don't trust one new recurring character and don't like the other. But here's hoping the series redeems itself...and brings Kate and Rick back together were they belong.

October 12, 2015

Awaiting a New Kingdom

Shanghai Disneyland is coming. A new Pandora for Animal Kingdom, Star Wars Land for Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's pretty impressive line up of new experiences and fantastic worlds to explore. And yet, a whole different group of people are awaiting the arrival of a totally different kingdom. This gripping article puts life into perspective a bit. Let me encourage you to read it...

"At several steps on their path to death by beheading and crucifixion last month, 11 indigenous Christian workers near Aleppo, Syria, had the option to leave the area and live. The 12-year-old son of a ministry team leader also could have spared his life by denying Christ.

The indigenous missionaries were not required to stay at their ministry base in a village near Aleppo, Syria; rather, the ministry director who trained them had entreated them to leave. As the Islamic State (ISIS), other rebel groups and Syrian government forces turned Aleppo into a war zone of carnage and destruction, ISIS took over several outlying villages. The Syrian ministry workers in those villages chose to stay in order to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors.

"I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose," said the ministry director, his voice tremulous as he recalled their horrific deaths. "As their leader, I should have insisted that they leave." They stayed because they believed they were called to share Christ with those caught in the crossfire, he said.

"Every time we talked to them," the director said, "they were always saying, 'We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do.' They just wanted to stay and share the gospel."

Those who chose to stay could have scattered and hid in other areas, as their surviving family members did. On a visit to the surviving relatives in hiding, the ministry director learned of the cruel executions.

The relatives said ISIS militants on Aug. 7 captured the Christian workers in a village whose name is withheld for security reasons. On Aug. 28, the militants asked if they had renounced Islam for Christianity. When the Christians said that they had, the rebels asked if they wanted to return to Islam. The Christians said they would never renounce Christ.

The 41-year-old team leader, his young son and two ministry members in their 20s were questioned at one village site where ISIS militants had summoned a crowd. The team leader presided over nine house churches he had helped to establish. His son was two months away from his 13th birthday.

"All were badly brutalized and then crucified," the ministry leader said. "They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them."

The martyrs died beside signs the ISIS militants had put up identifying them as "infidels."

Eight other ministry team members, including two women, were taken to another site in the village that day (Aug. 28) and were asked the same questions before a crowd. The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.

As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.

"Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord's prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus," the ministry director said. "One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, 'Jesus!'"

After they were beheaded, their bodies were hung on crosses, the ministry director said, his voice breaking. He had trained all of the workers for their evangelistic ministry, and he had baptized the team leader and some of the others.

Hundreds of former Muslims in Syrian villages are in danger of being captured and killed by ISIS, which is fighting to establish a caliphate in which apostasy is punishable by death. The underground church in the region has mushroomed since June 2014, when ISIS began terrorizing those who do not swear allegiance to its caliphate, both non-Muslims and Muslims. Consequently, the potential for large-scale executions has grown along with the gains in ISIS-controlled territory.

The ministry assisted by Christian Aid Mission is providing resources and trying to find ways to evacuate these families by other routes.  

Many of the ministry's teams also remain in Syria. Christian Aid Mission assists those who do not or cannot leave with the means to survive.

Even those who leave, however, may encounter ISIS militants and other criminals in refugee camps, said the leader of another ministry that Christian Aid Mission assists. He spoke of a Muslim from northern Syria who, like all men in areas that ISIS takes over, was coerced into joining the caliphate or being killed.

Recruited into ISIS, he fled the country after his brother was killed in the fighting. Disillusioned with ISIS but still adhering to Islam and its teaching that Christians and Jews are unclean "pigs," he went to Amman, Jordan, as he had learned that relatives there were receiving aid from Christians.

The Muslim, whose name is withheld for security reasons, went to a Christian meeting with the intention of killing the aid workers gathered there. Something kept him from following through on his plan, though, and that night he saw Jesus in a dream, the ministry director said.

"The next day he came back and said, 'I came to kill you, but last night I saw Jesus, and I want to know what are you teaching—who is this One who held me up from killing you?'" the director said. "He received Christ with tears, and today he's actually helping in the church, helping out other people. We're praying for lots of such Sauls to change to Pauls."

The sorrow of the ministry team leader who lost 11 workers and one of their children last month has been deep, but he takes heart that their faithfulness could help change the hearts of persecutors.

"They kept on praying loudly and sharing Jesus until their last breath," he said. "They did this in front of the villagers as a testimony for others."

He asked for prayer for surviving family members and for himself.

"These things have been very hard on me," he said. "What wrong did those people do to deserve to die? What is happening is more and more people are being saved. The ministry is growing and growing—in the past we used to pray to have one person from a Muslim background come to the Lord. Now there are so many we can barely handle all the work among them."