March 31, 2016

Whispers and Shouts

Author C. S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

March 30, 2016

Carpenters in 20

Answers to a little game over at the A&M Corner. Pick 20 songs that represent a fair contribution to their overall music. Certainly, with such great work by Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard, fans have a hard time picking which songs best represent their work as Carpenters. (Do you know where the duo ranks on Billboard magazine's all time Hot 100 Top Artists? Look here.)

Here's mine- 2016 edition:

1- We've Only Just Begun
2- Baby It's You
3- Rainy Days and Mondays
4- Superstar
5- Hideaway
6- A Song For You
7- Bless the Beasts and Children
8- Goodbye to Love
9- Yesterday Once More
10- Our Day Will Come
11- Top of the World
12- Please Mr. Postman
13- Only Yesterday
14- I Need to Be in Love
15- Boat to Sail
16- All You Get from Love is a Love Song
17- Merry Christmas Darling
18- Touch Me When We're Dancing
19- Now
20- Ordinary Fool
Runners Up:
Where Do I Go From Here?
Kiss Me the Way You Did Last Night
When I Fall in Love

March 29, 2016

We Could Do Much Worse

Would Tim Tebow really consider a career in politics? This USA Today article sure sounds like it could be under consideration- one day. 

Regardless of what you think of his football skill or his religious beliefs, one thing is certain: The guy has integrity and is pretty honest. That's more than you can say for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. I'd certainly vote for the guy!

My Favorite Sister

Happy Birthday to my favorite sister! One of the best friends a guy can have! Love you!

March 28, 2016

Goodbye Friend

You were a wonderful friend for almost 14 years.

You used to love to sit on my lap in the mornings while I read my Bible, but you really loved to sit on my back and purr when I would pray. I think your favorite trick was climbing up onto my chest and placing your paws around my neck as if you were hugging me. Certainly, early mornings will not be the same without you.

You loved your red-headed little boy... a man. And he loved you too.

We're so sad to see you go- but both we and the vet knew it was time. I think you did, too. Goodbye friend.

Art from Frontierland's Past

Disneyland's Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante is one beautiful eatery with its lanterns, lush bougainvillea and tile work. Honestly, it's one of my favorite meal time getaways when the park is busy. I can sit on the patio and watch Frontierland's guests on their way to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Golden Horseshoe.

In the long ago, the restaurant was called Casa de Fritos. I bet you can guess who sponsored the place. 

The buildings of Casa de Fritos backed up right next to the town of Rainbow Ridge, part of the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland, the charming predecessor to Big Thunder. When the land also had the Pack Mules, the place was full of energy. It was the same on the Rivers of America. The Mike Fink Keel Boats and the Canoes shared the space with the Sailing Ship Columbia and the majestic Mark Twain.

These pieces of concept art were part of a display at Main Street's Disney Gallery. Photographs came to me courtesy Mint Crocodile and his terrific Magic Eye blog. I'm so appreciative of his weekly updates. You should check it out.

(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

March 27, 2016

The Victorious Not The Victim

Easter Sunday is here! I am shocked by the number of faithful people who choose to think of Jesus as the broken martyr who had no choice but to die on the cross for our sins. Think about it: The Biblical truth is that Jesus completed the mission God the Father gave Him. This makes Jesus a victorious king and not a victim.

^^^ Imagine this being your sole mission in life!

You just have to read the following passage today that describes the Resurrection of Jesus....

He is Risen Indeed!

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, "They took the Master from the tomb. We don't know where they've put him."

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been laid. They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?"

"They took my Master," she said, "and I don't know where they put him." After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?"
She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, "Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him."

Jesus said, "Mary."

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" meaning "Teacher!"

Jesus said, "Don't cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.'"

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: "I saw the Master!" And she told them everything he said to her.

Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you." Then he showed them his hands and side.

The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: "Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you."

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?"

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, "We saw the Master."

But he said, "Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won't believe it."

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you."

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. "Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don't be unbelieving. Believe."

Thomas said, "My Master! My God!"

Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing."

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

From Eugene Peterson's The Message - a contemporary translation of the Bible. This beautiful stained glass window is found in Houston, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

March 26, 2016

Saturday Special: Jungle Cruise Art

Disney artist Charles Boyer created this piece of art to celebrate the classic Adventureland attraction Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. It first appeared on the cover of the new defunct Disney News. Enjoy!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Class and Trash Come to The Voice

In a surprise move, The Voice announces that the lovely and talented Alicia Keys is coming to Season 11. Joining Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, so much class, good taste, and talent. The exact opposite of the next coach to be announced: Miley Cyrus. Enough said.

March 25, 2016

Given For You

Paid in full by the Son of God- the death of Jesus on the cross completing your debt before God for your sin. Every sin. Yes, even that one. Given for all that would love Him, choose Him, and follow Him with all their hearts.

March 24, 2016

A Look at Disneyland Paris' Lava Lagoon

Certainly one of the most fascinating Disney articles this week comes from Alain Littaye at his always excellent Disney and More blog. His extensive look at the upcoming Villages Nature gave park fans a look at just what Imagineering could do beyond themed attractions. Think a bit of the old EPCOT before it had Center added to it. A cutting edge residential complex bound to please locals and fans alike.

Long before Villages Nature became a reality, some of the land was on tap to become one incredible Lava Lagoon, EuroDisneyland's main water theme park. A Parisian Typhoon Lagoon for the continent, one full of water slides and more.

The concept art shown here is some of very few pieces out there. Enjoy... and dream of what once would be.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 23, 2016

Another Blizzard, Another Daydream

On this day of 10-13" of snow and more to come on Saturday, I give you one of my photos from Orange County, California- the lovely Laguna Beach to be exact.

Sing with me now, "All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray..."

California Dreaming indeed.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

March 22, 2016

Warning: Graphic Images Ahead

Shocking, isn't it? This image from the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau is horrendous. Bodies upon dead bodies. Then, it was the Nazis. Now, it is ISIS.  This time in Brussels. Who will it be next?

More executions at the hands of evil.

Make no doubt, there is evil in the hearts of men. Men without God and men who claim to know God but still do evil. I'm pretty sick of it all. Aren't you?

Isn't stealing food from a starving child among the lowest of the low?

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us! We have and continue to sin against you and destroy our fellow man. We need the forgiveness and new life only you can bring!

March 21, 2016

Tron in the Disney Parks: What Was, What Could Have Been, and What Will Be

All this talk about the new Tron Light Cycles Power Run going into Shanghai Disneyland got me thinking about what the Imagineers had planned long ago. What was built and what wasn't. 

Disneyland in Anaheim was the first to give a small taste of Tron to its guests. Back then, if you found yourself riding the Peoplemover in Tomorrowland, the Superspeed Tunnel gave way to the "Amazing World of Tron". Was it amazing? No. 

Basically, think of the speed tunnel used in EPCOT Center's World of Motion. A bit shorter in length and most definitely lacking in execution. It was filler designed to play up the Tron name and not much more.

Another advertisement of things that never 
got built- only at EPCOT.

The next time the film was set to be placed in a theme park was in EPCOT- but it was not meant to be. The Imagineers' plans were to use the look and theme of the film and turn a slice of Communicore into the Game Grid. The concept art, seen at top in full color, looked enticing, but for reasons never given directly, the project was not brought to reality.

California Adventure's Tron "attraction".

Years later after the mind-line success of Tron:Legacy in 2010, the Walt Disney Company once again tossed about ideas in how to bring this franchise into the parks. 

California Adventure was in the very beginning stages of a large transformation, and the park certainly needed something to draw in guests while Cars Land was in the wings. The night time dance party, elecTRONica was a minor success. Premiering a couple of months before the film's release, it did bring guests into a fairly ignored part of the park for booze filled evenings. In a pretty smart move, the suits brought in  recreation of Flynn's Arcade and a whole host of vintage video games. 

Disneyland itself was also under consideration for a major Tron addition: The Carousel Theater and the surrounding area was rumored to be the home of the first version of Shanghai's Light Cycles. Had this happened, Space Mountain would have had a serious contender for the early morning rush to "E Ticket" attractions. Unfortunately, that plug was also pulled, leaving the original Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland looking like the mess it currently is. 

A similar rumor came across for Florida's Magic Kingdom as well. It, too, was passed over. 

First shot at the Light Cycles in a brand new Shanghai Tomorrowland.

Thrilling concept! Will it mean a thrilling execution?

Along came Shanghai Disneyland. In an effort to woo the Chinese government and give them the premier theme park they required in order to do business, Disney suits and Imagineers gave Mainland China the Tron effect.

Another idea for the Land of the Future.

Final presentation of Tomorrowland
and the main Tron building.

Make no mistake, Tron Light Cycles Power Run will be the smash in a brand new park. Much like Mystic Manor is for Hong Kong Disneyland, and all of Tokyo Disney Sea for Japan, the incredible new coaster will have theme park fans all over the world green with envy. 

In 2012, Disney married two properties that at first seemed to have no connection: Test Track at Epcot was remodeled to bring it into the future. What it really accomplished was bringing the look of Tron into the attraction without using the name of the film in its marketing. However, if you watch the video below, you'll see clearly what the intent was of the Imagineers and suits. 

As close to Tron as we Americans can get for now.

The countdown clock for Shanghai Disneyland is running. June 16, 2016, this attraction will open to the world. If I were a betting man, I'd also say that the day begins the countdown to the end of an exclusivity contract- and one day, we will see Tron Light Cycles in an American park. That day cannot come soon enough!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 20, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy Take Over The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror?????

Guardians of the "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" Galaxy? Very well could happen if what the infamous and insightful Spirit over at the always great tells us comes to pass. The suits of the Walt Disney Company really are looking at giving the beloved tower an overlay to bring in Marvel characters quickly. Imagineer Joe Rohde could be handed a "damned if you do / damned if you don't" proposition he can't refuse. If it does happen, California Adventure's Tower may be redone, and the classic and best Tower at Disney's Hollywood Studios may be changed for good. For all the scoop, go here.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 19, 2016

Hogwart's At Night Poster

Take a look at this very creative attraction poster for Islands of Adventure's terrific Harry Potter blockbuster- a visit to Hogwarts for a Forbidden Journey. I must say, I think my youngest son has me about talked into a trip to the Wizarding World with him to see it. Not in California, where the experience seems to be a truncated one, but a visit to Universal Orlando Resort with both Hogwarts and Diagon Alley are waiting to be explored.

(Artist unknown.)

Oh, My Aching Back!

This is where it hurts. Constantly. I'm not sure what I did, but boy, I did it well! It's been about 3 weeks now. After a visit to the doctor, I'm, pilled up, exercises loaded up, and heat pads in place. The first day, I couldn't take a step without immense pain. My wife had to help me walk up the stairs to bed. 

This whole thing has given me greater compassion for those in chronic pain or who are bedridden. And it's helped me to think about eternal things- when bodies will no longer ache, tears will no longer be shed, and death will be a thing of the past. Thank you, Jesus!

Worlds Away

Another snowy day and more mental escapes to places far away. Where do I dream of going? A Tahitian escape appeals as always, but then...

the beautiful Mont Saint- Michel comes into my mind as the perfect spot to rest and dream as well. When you dream, where do you go?

March 18, 2016

Our WDW Christmas Vacation Part VI: Disney's Animal Kingdom

Back in 2004 during our last visit to WDW, Animal Kingdom struck me as the least interesting. Part of this is due to personal taste and expectations from a Disney based park. For one thing, viewing wild animals live in person was low on my priority list. Don’t get me wrong, these are amazing creatures but now necessarily something I want to see at Disney (I can do that at a local zoo). The park also felt vastly underdeveloped…the ratio of space to attractions feeling oddly unbalanced. The early closings just added to this feeling that you could easily do everything by late afternoon and have no need to return. 

Dragons did not make the final cut.

I remember McDonald’s running a promotion when AK first opened which consisted of 4 drinking glasses (one for each park). The AK logo showed a parade of animals, from real to mythical (the fantasy aspect represented by a dragon). 

There was something about the design that fired up my imagination as well as expectations for the new park. Alas, Beastly Kingdom, as it was to be called, never came to fruition. This was to be a land dedicated to mythical animals such as unicorns, sea monsters, and of course, dragons. Instead AK got Camp Minnie-Mickey. Like Walt’s vision of Epcot, one can only imagine how different the park might have become had the company followed through with their original plans.

A million miles from Orlando or so it seems.

A treacherous climb to the top.

Guardian of the mountain.

The blog owner's favorite Walt Disney World attraction.

So it was with lukewarm feelings that we entered AK last December. Of course, we were looking forward to Expedition Everest (still a metal skeletal frame during our last visit)! The fact that a mythical creature like the Yeti lived in the mountains already gave the E-Ticket ride a strong edge. The roller coaster ride itself does not disappoint. The ride is imaginatively designed to reach the end of vandalized tracks and then flung backwards in a myriad of loops and dips. 

Shadow of a beast
compared to the attraction's opening day.

But, and this is a big but, the yeti is a failure!!! I know Disney was having trouble with the animatronics, but the silhouetted figure against a cave wall and a brief glimpse through strobe lights are not adequate substitutes. With Beastly Kingdom being a no go, it seems imperative that the first mythical creature to appear in AK should… actually work! As a result, Expedition ends up being a major thrill and disappointment all in one breath.

Local dining and beautiful atmosphere.

Other than that one strike, I was totally shocked by how much Sue and I enjoyed Animal Kingdom. Where to begin? First, and perhaps most important, is the food. We couldn’t find a bad meal even if we tried. Somewhere in Africa we came across these delicious teri-beef sliders. A little bigger than a silver dollar, the meat is marinated in a slightly sweet sauce and served on a moist bun with an assortment of veggies. A little pricey at five bucks a pop, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a few. 

Guilty pleasures at Sanaa
in Animal Kingdom Lodge.

And then there are the incredible breads at Sanaa (okay it’s not technically in the park, but we can probably lump the lodge in the same boat). I’m a bread lover, so I’m not easily impressed, but the texture and density of the African based carbs were pure delight. Adding to that is an assortment of dipping sauces from hot & spicy to tangy sweet that just added to taste bud nirvana!

Harambe Market is the newest addition to AK and is the beginning of what I hope is a gradual expansion to the overall theming of the park. The Imagineers found just the right mix between authentic cultural trappings and imaginative visual aesthetics. I’m not sure it’s indigenous to African art, but the combination of colors and patterns used for in AK’s Christmas decorations were downright mesmerizing. I truly can say that the holiday trimmings here were second to none. 

We were able to catch several musical performances here and all were top notch with amazing rhythms and vocals. Even the shops seem to carry merchandise that were a cut above the normal tourist offerings found elsewhere. My wife picked up a set of ceramic bowls with a very classy and colorful motif while I purchased a pull over sweater featuring patches designed around Expedition Everest (okay, I now I grumbled about the ride earlier, but this jacket was too beautiful to pass up). It seems to me that a lot of the merchandise here shows a bit more restraint in the advertising / marketing graphics. Whereas a lot of stuff will scream “Look, I’ve been to Disney!”, AK’s wares have a more subtle, low key approach that focuses more on the art itself.

The only blue tinted beings found in Animal Kingdom...
but not for long!

Did I mention that AK has not one, but two of the best musical productions in all of WDW? “Festival of the Lion King” and “Finding Nemo the Musical” feel like elaborate Broadway productions with their amazing vocal talent, grade A staging/props, outstanding musical numbers. I prefer Festival to the Broadway play, as it wasn’t a scene for scene mimicry of the movie. Nemo’s careful integration of actor and puppet works to perfection and the audience can really buy into this symbiotic relationship as believable.

DiVine is heavenly.

Prior to visiting the park, I started seeing images of a character named DiVine. These are dancers hired to perform in costume as living embodiments of nature. Her movements are slow and graceful, accomplished while on stilts! DiVine often startles guests by blending in with the plants and trees, but more often it gasps of amazement or the gleeful chuckle of a child that is the end result. It’s interesting that something as small as DiVine’s performance can add so much to a park that is already loaded with heavy hitter attractions. It’s a prime example of what Disney does the best…attention to even the smallest details. It’s this philosophy that’s worked well for the company and why they’ve been able to keep ahead of the competition all these years (although Universal is closing that gap).

The wonders of man's creation and God's creation
are both found in this park!

Not only has AK matched Epcot as a favorite park, the potential for growth far surpasses all the rest. With the coming of River of Lights and Avatarland, I think Imagineers are truly starting to tap into the unlimited potential Ak has to offer. If the good Lord is willing, I hope to be back in several years to see some amazing sights and changes!

It's a jungle in there.

A big mahalo to Mark Taft for allowing me to share my thoughts and pictures with all of you! I hope it hasn’t caused anyone to avoid this wonderful blog as Mark has done an incredible job entertaining and informing us throughout the years. And although I did nitpick areas of WDW, I still highly recommend a visit to the parks if you have a chance (but don’t forget to see the real world too). Thank you for your time and have a wonderful day!

Editor's note: Thank you, Len, for this incredible series of posts and the absolutely wonderful photographs! I've saved the most beautiful Animal Kingdom photo ever taken for a later post...

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)