June 29, 2016

A Whole New World Instead of A Disney Vacation

Who needs high prices, long lines, overpriced rooms and those Walt Disney World attractions that seem to go down regularly? Not us!

We ditched Walt Disney World (and, yes, Disneyland, actually) in favor of a beautiful week that didn't require advance reservations to ride a Frozen redo of an old attraction that long needed an upgrade.

Where did we venture? Beautiful Northern California- home to world famous sights and the great cuisine of San Francisco, the wines of Napa and Sonoma, and absolutely lovely, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Not a regret in sight.

Few kids, quiet restful mornings, relaxing excursions, great meals, and evenings of water views and charming villages in front of the setting sun. Will we go to Disney again? Sure. But not for quite a while. There's  just a great big beautiful world to see.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

June 28, 2016

Disneyland's Pineapple Whip Poster

As a follow up to yesterday's post... Deep from my Imagineering files: a fairly rare attraction poster for Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room, or really, the Dole Pineapple Whip. Who can resist this delicious treat on a hot summer day? Just head toward Adventureland

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 27, 2016

Dinner in the Enchanted Tiki Room

Had Walt Disney's original plans come to pass for his park, the very lovely Enchanted Tiki Room would have come to life as a sit down restaurant in Adventureland. For the day, this would have been quite the unique experience. Imagine sitting under in the beautiful Hawaiian inspired room enjoying a meal while the Tiki Birds serenade. The concept art shown is a fairly rare piece as it portrays tables placed inside the room and guests walking around in it. 

Personally, I'm quite pleased the Disneyland Imagineers went an entirely  different direction. Had they made this a high end restaurant, only select number of paying guests would have been able to experience the earliest incarnation of Audio-Animatronics. As a continual show, Disneyland guests had a chance to see the latest and greatest Imagineering technology without having to pay more.

A more thrilling show could be found in Adventureland anyway. A full on South Seas revue at the famous Tahitian Terrace- complete with hula girls and fire dancers providing more excitement than a group of machine birds could ever compete with!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Snapshots of Napa and Sonoma

Almost a week's adventure, running away from responsibilities and the ordinary to Napa Valley and Sonoma, San Francisco and the East Bay. The Pacific Ocean (whale sitings) and more. The best of Northern California.

Shopping, dining, site seeing and winery tours. My feet in the Pacific Ocean for Father's Day. Sleeping in. Leisurely breakfasts with coffee in bed. 

Beautiful resorts and private homes along quite roads through the numerous vineyards. Serene. Beautiful. A taste of Italy in California. See the next three photos...

Just what the doctor ordered!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

June 26, 2016

In All It's Glory

The beauty of the ocean! Only an all-powerful, creative, and loving God could design such a gorgeous thing! It's always been my perfect place for prayer, reflection, and for feeling His presence.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

June 25, 2016

Tebow Stands for Orlando

Victims of the Orlando shooting may have been shocked by the latest person to come and show some love: Tim Tebow. One of his old friends, Rodney Sumter Jr., a bartender at the Pulse nightclub, was shot several times and ended up in the hospital. Once Tim heard the news, he cut his vacation short and took off for a visit. Once again, the light of the love of Jesus shines through the way this man lives his life. 

(Photograph copyright Instagram.)

June 24, 2016

Mickey's Mad Mouse Ride

Blast from the past: Here's a fairly nice piece of Imagineering concept art from the D23 calendar for 2010, Mickey's Mad Mouse

The year was 1976, so long before the idea of California Adventure was misconceived by Michael Eisner, Robert Iger, and company. Imagineer Ward Kimball designed this funky little mad mouse coaster for an indoor dark ride attraction celebrating Mickey Mouse and his black and white cartoons. 

Think DCA 1.0's ugly Mulholland Madness fully fleshed out with a story and great indoor special effects. It wasn't Frozen Ever After, but it certainly wasn't Primeval Whirl either. Nor was it Goofy's Sky School. Too bad it never made it off the drawing boards.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 23, 2016

A Beautiful Deluge

In the midst of a difficult day, God lets it rain to remind me of His faithfulness. (And my little grandson and I run outside and play in the backyard doing our rain dance!) Thank you, LORD Jesus!

June 22, 2016

Our Northern California Homes

During our trip to the San Francisco / Napa / East Bay California area, we made a deliberate stop to see where we used to live when I worked for AT&T. The beautiful Pleasanton, California- a place we lived in the late 80s. I never wanted to leave, but God has other plans. 

Back then, the owner of this house offered to sell it to us for $260,000. Of course, being a young family of five, we just didn't have the cash and had to pass. When we looked in Zillow during this trip, we saw the new estimated value was now almost $1 Million dollars. 

We ended up eventually moving to San Ramon and rented this little home. Less than 1000 square feet for $1200 a month. When we moved in 1989, a house down the street like this one sold in one day for a mere $190,000. This house had been left to fall apart, but its new Zillow value was almost $800 Thousand. 

Oh, property values in California! Beautiful but not affordable for the common folk. And so we moved to Denver via 4 months in Portland, Oregon when AT&T again restructured, and we had to move on.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

June 21, 2016

Bathroom Humor

Potty talk! Well, in this case, signs that help direct those needing to use the facilities. With all the debate on public restroom use and who can go where, I thought it was time for some humor.

These were sent by a friend. I did not post the ones that were pretty off color- you can find those on your own. :)

It's time we all laugh a bit, isn't it?

June 20, 2016

Silly Old Bears at the Jamboree

Zeke, Zeb, Ted, Fred, and Tennessee. The Five Bear Rugs- usually with Gomer on the piano, and little baby bear Oscar along for the ride. The centerpiece act of the one and only original Country Bear Jamboree, a Florida Magic Kingdom opening day attraction.

When I was in high school, my father worked with a man who had "inside" connections at Disneyland. This guy ended up arranging a brief behind the scenes tour for us. I was thrilled that we were able to go behind stage at the wonderful Marc Davis designed Country Bear Jamboree! It had just opened a couple of years ago, replacing the Indian Village. 

Bear Country and the Jamboree 
coming soon to Disneyland.
A Marc Davis classic replacing the Indian Village.

We went in through some back entrance and headed toward the rear of the stage. Unexpectedly, I looked up and saw the backside of Henry, the master of ceremonies. He was huge! I could hear the show going, and I could even see through a very, very small opening, a slice of the theater. 

After hanging out for awhile, we headed out of the park. I never will forget this once in a lifetime opportunity! For a long time Disneyland fan, it was quite a gift from my Dad to set this all up. Another in a long list of great and personal Disney thrills.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 16, 2016

Move Over Shanghai Disneyland- Disney's Park in Paris is Still the Fairest of Them All

The Grand Opening of a newly built Disney Magic Kingdom is always something wonderful for theme park lovers, and the new  Shanghai Disneyland is certainly no exception! There's much to look forward to: a state of the art, movie focused Pirates of the Caribbean found in a land all its own, with a thrilling Tron Lightcycles just across the way. These new attractions jump to the forefront of my mind, and they are strategically welcomed, one-of-a-kind designed centerpieces of the Chinese park.

The Walt Disney Company publicity machine is in full swing, and fans of Imagineering's latest creation are foaming at the mouth to visit. But is this a case of flash over substance? From what I can tell, the park will be a success, but it needs much more than holding the title of "biggest and largest (fill in the blank) to reign as the premier example of Magic Kingdom design. 

Sorry, folks, but that title still belongs to Disneyland Paris.

Frontierland may be the best take on the Wild West 
ever created by the Disney Imagineers.

As you consider the photos on this post, please take note this photographer is a 100% certified non-professional. Also take note these were taken in the dead of winter- and long before the park's much needed overhaul had begun. Regardless, this French Magic Kingdom is the most pleasing to the eye as its filled to the brim with many classic, iconic Disney attractions still missing in Shanghai.

Pirates- a smashing new version I'd love to see!

Shanghai Disneyland certainly has its exclusive, uniquely themed lands, Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove, but the elegant Parisian renditions of Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Main Street, certainly more than hold their own in comparison. In fact, they surpass the newly themed Disney lands found in Mainland China. Easily.

Pirates in Paris was the first to have its own themed village
as well as its own pirate ship.

Looking at an incredible number of photos of the new park- and a dozen or more video tours- the contrast between these European and Asian parks may be summed up this way: What Disney created at the urging of the government relies on its large size to strongly communicate its message, "China has arrived!" And maybe to even subliminally say "We will not play well with others!" (There is no It's a Small World.) 

Shanghai's Alice maze- charming or creepy?

Conversely, what Disney did in Paris was build the most magical, beautiful, kingdom ever- accomplished with broad strokes of charm, elegance, and restraint. Two very different approaches. 

Photographer fail but Paris still the most beautiful castle ever.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the creation and execution of the Chinese park's castle. Chunky, brazen, and extremely bold but filled with attractions, shops, and dining. However, the palace's two attractions, Voyage to the Crystal Grotto and the "Once Upon a Time" Adventure fall far short. 

More like a monument to Shanghai than a fantasy castle.

The poorly placed Fantasyland boat cruise uses very large amounts of garden acreage to familiarize Chinese guests with classic Disney animation but is executed using statuary and fountains in place of Audio-Animatronics. Even its finale is lackluster. The show inside the castle relies on film to tell its story, a definite notch or two below what was done 60 years ago at Walt's original theme park in California. 

Besting Shanghai's Hunny Pots.

To be sure, there are unique attractions and experiences to be found in China which will be coveted by park fans on the other side of the world. Still, it's not Tokyo Disney Sea.  

A Shanghai original area and an unqualified success.

France's gorgeous Discoveryland.

Camp Discovery trails and ropes course is a first for a Disney park as is Tomorrowland's Jet Packs.  Problem is, the two headliner attractions aside, Pirates and Tron, means the park is filled with lower level attractions which cannot compare to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Phantom Manor, or any number of additional crowd pleasers that premiered on opening day in France. 

Finally, Shanghai Disneyland also loses on one major point in which it can never compete: Disneyland Paris resides in the world's most beautiful city. Case closed.

June 15, 2016

Shanghai Disneyland Opens

Shanghai Disneyland officially opens tomorrow June 16. Will it be the success CEO Robert Iger is banking his legacy on? Of course! The Chinese government will see to it. Does the park have what it takes to be great? How will it stand next to other Magic Kingdoms? Stay tuned- and come back tomorrow for this writer's perspective.

June 14, 2016

A Challenge to Those Who Follow Jesus

Like so many of you, I am grieving for our nation and for the victims and families of the Orlando shooting.  

Unfortunately, and my heart breaks because of this, there have been news accounts of a Baptist pastor in California saying things that should not be said. There is also an account of a gay rights activist writing that "anti-gay" groups (i.e. conservative Christians) are actually responsible for the shootings. Both extreme ends of this spectrum would love to relight a hate filled war, even though each think they are doing the right thing.  Let's be better than both of these men.

Let me encourage you with words from the book of John, chapter 3, some very well known verses:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

The events of the recent days will create many opportunities for discussion. The world, and non-believers in particular, is watching to see how we as Jesus followers respond. Will we love? Will we care? Will we make a difference? I know we can all handle this with wisdom, grace, and love as we walk out what we believe. And do it in the manner and spirit of I Corinthians 13, the great love chapter. 

The verses from John above stress God's sacrificial love- and let me encourage you that it is because of His love for us that we are where we are. Let's extend that same offer to a world that needs Him, one person at a time. Our God is loving, holy, just, merciful, and compassionate, wanting none to perish. Let's go out there and represent Him well, caring for others, and doing it all without arguing, and seeing this for what it is- a chance to help and share His love. It's who we are! May He bless you as you go out!

June 13, 2016

Time to Look Inside

It's time to look inside, people! We cry hatred over the shootings in Orlando, and rightfully so- but we need to look inside and discover our own pride and hatred and selfishness- even against those who do such horrible things. We have to hold individuals responsible for their choices, instead of just the groups they represent or lumping every similar sounding group into one. That's just perpetuating more hate. A cheap shot that doesn't hold up under close scrutiny. And using this situation to push a political agenda is deplorable- whether it comes from ISIL/ISIS, Christian groups, gay groups, anti-gun, pro-gun, etc- it doesn't matter. Love should come first.

God Himself had to pay the price for our brokenness, our rebellion, our pride, our hatred, our sin. All our sin. And He did it through Jesus dying on the cross in our place  We need Him, I need Him, you need Him. Living in a lost world. God have mercy on us!

Youth Ministry Across the Continents

On occasion, an author comes across your path. An author that impacts the world by his perspective on life and by what and how he writes. Fraser Keay is such a man- and I have been given a preview of his wonderful new book, Youth Ministry Across the Continents.  Check this book out and order it here. Available as we speak.

June 11, 2016

Goodbye Christina

Fans of The Voice know the talented Christina Grimmie was killed by a deranged fan while in Orlando. What sad news! Her version of Somebody That I Use to Know with show mentor Adam Levine was one of my favorite duos from the show. (See here.) It takes quite a talented artist to hold their own when matched up to Levine's star power- and she did. Still on my i-pod and in my car. Yes, there is evil in the world...

June 10, 2016

Mini Golf for Polynesian Village

Doesn't this look like fun! A new miniature golf course designed for Walt Disney World's Polynesian Village- or is it? This lovely piece of concept art just came across my desk undefined. Could it perhaps be an additional activity with special pricing for something else? Perhaps an expansion to Typhoon Lagoon? Anyone know more?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Home Free

Modern day heroes are few and far between. If it isn't actors running amok, singers losing their decency, athletes acting as if they are above the law, or normal everyday people like you and me living for ourselves instead of something greater, it's our society and government pushing us to the lowest common denominator.

Tim Tebow stands out. And the man need our prayer support.
Here's a great article from CBN News:

"Tim Tebow has tasted success on and off the football field, but it was an experience in a village in the Philippines that made a huge impact on his life.
He spoke about his experience on the Church Boys Podcast, which was written up in a story by The Blaze.
"It's not about how much you have in your bank account. It's about the lives that you've changed, so that's what I want my life to be about," said Tebow.
Life is lived through a dash, Tebow said. "When we die, there's going to be a dash in between the date we were born and the date that we died, and that dash is going to represent everything we did in our life."
The college football star said that his life was changed in an experience he had as a teenager on a mission trip to the Philippines.
He came across a child during the trip whose feet were backwards, which is considered a curse. Tebow said he had the opportunity to carry the boy and tell the village that he was not cursed, but loved by God.
The experience led Tebow to open a hospital called CURE in the Philippines that helps children specifically with orthopedic needs.
He has continued to use his fame to help those in need on a new television show he is co-hosting, called "Home Free." He described the show as having an overarching theme of love and sacrifice. "We have a chance to change people's lives," he said.
The show gives nine deserving couples the chance to win their dream house. They are challenged to revive one run-down home each week, and do the best job they can to stay in the competition and move forward.
"Every single one of them will get a home. They will be playing for their personal heroes who have done amazing things," said Tebow.
"One of our contestants was a hero in Afghanistan and got blown up, and the man he's playing for was the person who came back in battle and picked him up and carried him off the battlefield and saved his life. Another one of our contestants is playing for a woman who randomly donated her kidney to her father when he was on dialysis," said Tebow.
Tebow says that he is grateful for the platform God has given him to reach others through playing football and he says humility is central to living a life of faith.
"The only thing that we've been called to brag about is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because He's the one that did everything for us and He overcame death and hell and everything else and He's the reason that we get to stand in victory, because we know Him and we love Him."
"Home Free" will debut on the Fox Network on June 16."

(Photograph and text copyright CBN News.)

June 9, 2016

Sailing on the Tide

It wasn't all that long ago that I realized that during the course of their career, siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter recorded quite a few songs that had references to the sea. This prompted me to compile a Carpenters collection that included songs such as Boat to Sail, Eventide, All You Get From Love is a Love Song, Maybe It's You, and Sailing on the Tide.

The power and mystery of the sea has captured imaginations and hearts since the beginning of time. The quote below powerfully plays to the theme:

"If you yourself do not cut the lines that tie you to the dock, God will have to use a storm to sever them and to send you out to sea. Put everything in your life afloat upon God, going out to sea on the great swelling tide of His purpose, and your eyes will be opened. If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters just inside the harbor, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbor into the great depths of God, and begin to know things for yourself— begin to have spiritual discernment."  

The great Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers penned this a century ago, and it is just as powerful and compelling today as it was when he first wrote it. It drives me to ask myself, "Where am I not letting go of the dock of safety and self-control? Where I am not letting God direct me and use me?" I'm struggling through the answers to those questions, but I know to let God take me new places would be the continuation of a thrilling, scary, but very powerful adventure. 

How would you answer those same questions?

June 8, 2016

Castle Once More

Just watched the last show, the very last episode, of Castle once more. What a great team Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion were...

Call of the Islands

Love the island life! Looking forward to seeing Moana

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 7, 2016

Disney Hype Machine Has Me on Overload

In the latest announcement from Disney, Zootopia has made over $1 Billion in box office ticket sales. This continues a string of successes like Frozen (naturally), Tangled, and Big Hero 6. Why doesn't this seem all that exciting to me?  I think I am just so done with Disney's hype machine. And yet, the opening of Shanghai Disneyland is just around the corner...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 5, 2016

June 3, 2016

Blast from the Past at Disney's Pleasure Island

With Disney Springs now a present day reality, I wanted to take a brief look back at Pleasure Island. 

Concept art for the island is very difficult to find!  There are so few pieces that have made it out of Imagineering. This is a scene of the XZFR Rockin' Rollerdrome by Tim Delaney. It was only open for a very brief period of time, but it was an idea quite new for Disney. We saw it first in in 1989, when our family was looking for something fun after visiting the all new Disney-MGM Studios.

(Concept Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Another One of Those Nights

Tonight. This morning. Anyway you look at it, this sleeping thing is a pipe dream. It's just not happening. So much on my mind. Friends in need. Prayers offered up to God who always listens, and He answers me as I read the Bible and as I listen to his voice. He's so personal! (Thank you, LORD!) Projects at work that make a list which feels a mile long... but vacation on the horizon. A real one. Alone with my wife for a few precious days. No phone, no email, no worries. In the meantime...

June 2, 2016

A Song for Us

Karen Carpenter at her peak. With the incredible album, A Song For You, she and brother Richard were at the top of their game. Or should I say Top of the World. The disc was filled with hit after hit after hit. From the groundbreaking strains of Goodbye to Love to the heartbreaking Hurting Each Other, fans like me couldn't get enough. Music of the 70's at its best.

(Photographer unknown.)