December 31, 2018

Happy New Year to You!

From our house to yours- May you have a blessed holiday time! And May the New Year be one where you are thankful for what you have, prayerful for what you need, and generous with those around you. Thank you for reading the blog! More good things coming...

December 28, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns is a Worthy Film On Its Own

Straight to the point: I'm definitely a Mary Poppins purist, but there's absolutely nothing that should stop you from seeing the new film and even less to stop you from fully enjoying it. Yes, it's that good.

How does Emily Blunt compare to Julie Andrews? That is the question on everyone's mind when it comes to discussing Mary Poppins Returns. Quite well, actually. When she acts, it's a solid and charming performance that keeps the movie buzzing along. Ah, but when she sings, Emily Blunt proves why no one else could have pulled off the feat of reinventing the role all the while honoring it. A delicate balance to be sure.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's sidekick Jack is perfectly cast. Jack gets as little backstory as Bert did in the original. No matter. He's there to add to the goodwill and fun, and he succeeds by complementing and not upstaging his co-star. He's a bright presence in a film that has many more darker moments than the original. When Miranda sings and dances, the magic is there. Trip A Little Light Fantastic is an instant classic, and I'm sure Disney Parks fans will be hearing it for decades to come. But it's not the most impactful dance number.

In an expected moment of sentimental brilliance wisely placed toward the end of the film, Dick Van Dyke temporarily steals the movie. Seeing him on the screen brought tears to my eyes. When I told my young grandson that same actor played Bert in the original and asked if he had recognized him, the response was priceless: "I didn't know it was him until I looked into his eyes." Not bad insight for a six year old.

Angela Lansbury's beautifully sung No Where to Go But Up was another lovely moment on screen, but it made me realize so there are so few people in the profession that can hold a candle to the artistry that came in a different time and place, a time when professionalism and class were more important than making a quick buck or a social statement. (On that note, there's none of the gay character silliness in a family film to worry about here. This is a film suitable for all ages without having to explain sexual preferences.)

The much talked about segments with Meryl Streep and Colin Firth   amounted to little. Streep should have been cut entirely from the film- she's obnoxious on screen (as well as off) here, adding nothing important to the story. On the other hand, Firth is unexpected in his role, adding villain to his impressive list of credits. 

The music from Mary Poppins Returns generally cannot compete with the original, maybe in 50 years, but it does many have bright spots. Composer Marc Shaiman does a fine job with the music, but some of the song lyrics written by Scott Wittman are not as easily sung or remembered as those in the 1964 film. Can You Imagine That? stands out as among the best of all the upbeat numbers and pop ballads with its slight snap, but The Place Where Lost Things Go is very sweet and reminds us that Mary Poppins can also be gentle when its needed. 

The Sherman Brothers - songwriters on the first film- were experts at making simple memorable and appealing. Maybe I'm just being tough on the soundtrack, but there's not as many here as memorable as the ones you remember from your youth. Yet, the songs grow on you the more you hear them- much as this film will!

The huge task before the filmmakers was to create a new classic without comparisons to the old. The film is a huge success on many levels, and it is worth seeing once even twice in the theaters. A film such as this doesn't come along all that often, and it deserves a large screen appreciate all the pleasures it offers. It will be a welcome addition to your DVD collection.

December 27, 2018

Last Meal

Chipotle's crispy Barbacoa Tacos is my choice for a last meal! It was a competition between that and Moo Shoo Pork, but I just couldn't resist the lure of that delicious Mexican slow cooked beef! Please don't be concerned. I'm not dying. (I mean we all are, but you get the point.) Makes my mouth water just looking at the photo.

December 26, 2018

A True Christmas Miracle

The Iraqi government declared December 25th a day where believers in Jesus Christ could celebrate their relationship with their God. That my friends, in a land where Christians have been killed for their faith, is a true miracle.

December 25, 2018

Merriest Christmas Ever

Isn't this photo just beautiful? Disneyland Paris, just like all the Disney theme parks, it is especially stunning during the winter / holiday/ solstice season. Happy... whatever you celebrate!

Seriously, have you noticed that Christmas can't even be celebrated in some places? I'm talking about in the good old U.S.A. and not just in communist and Muslim countries. In the school district in which we live, the students can celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanza, Diwali, and more. They just cannot celebrate Christmas- not even the secular one. God forbid (He hasn't) that they celebrate the real reason we have for the merriest Christmas ever- the coming of Jesus! That is Good News- the arrival of the One True King for the people He created.

You see, everyone responds differently to the Good News.

Around the time of Jesus’ birth, the people who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding area knew that firsthand.

King Herod was fuming mad that the wise men had returned to their own country without returning to tell him the whereabouts of Jesus. Under the guise of wanting to worship him, Herod was relying on their information so he could kill the Christ Child. Herod was threatened and wanted no one else in control. When his original plan failed, every boy aged two and under was killed at the king’s command. What a huge price many paid because of one man’s ego, anger, and fear!

As Jesus grew up, and especially during his ministry, people responded with curiosity or disinterest or disdain in their own thoughts about him. Though time changes, human nature does not.
Today, just like back then, people still respond the same way as King Herod: the thought of giving up control of one’s own life to Someone Else will just not be done. So, Jesus is again responded to with curiosity, disinterest, or disdain.

Maybe even worse, He can be put “in his place”, especially by us folks who are religious or may have a faint interest in being spiritual. This could be because of religious tradition or because we have become too familiar with Him. Either way, when this happens, Jesus risks becoming an icon for us, removed from personal relationship with the very people he died for! Jesus died for an intimate relationship with each one of us- not so that He could become a corporate figurehead.

To me, the baby Jesus I place in that creche on the mantle is only a reminder of the God made man who died to give me eternal life and a living relationship with Him. This Christmas, I invite you to reconsider the Jesus who willingly gave up his life for you and rose from the dead, paying the price for the sins you have committed. We deserve Hell, but only through Him do we have a chance for life. All He asks in turn is that you give him your heart and control of your life. What a small price to pay for an eternity of peace and joy instead of condemnation and misery!

(Image copyright Love This Pic.)

Cast(le) View Part Two

Here's the full piece of art that made up the Cast(le) View magazine cover I posted a few days ago. This larger image shows a bigger slice of Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, with a few more people and a greater look at the charming buildings found there.

The magazine itself, however, does the job quite well when it comes to portraying an icy winter day in sunny warm Southern California. Climate change the Disney way!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 24, 2018

Marvel's Other Superheroes

Have we seen the last of the Avengers? Educated guesses run the gamut, but one thing we can be sure of: Disney will keep rebooting the Marvel based series as long as it acts like a printing press for cold hard cash.  The backstories of these characters are fascinating! The more you dig, the more interesting it gets. Check out this link and discover a whole side of Marvel you probably never knew existed. 

(Art copyright Marvel Studios.)

December 23, 2018

Christmas at Arlington Cemetery

In honor of the men and women who gave their lives to keep us free. A photograph is worth more than a thousand words...
(Photographer unknown.)


Editor's Note: Today, I'd like to introduce you to a wonderful new writer, Lauren Knuth. Her insights on the season will make you sit up and take notice of the God who loved us so much that He sent His Only Son Jesus to Earth. Enjoy!

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”
                       Luke 2:11-14

What a sight to behold!  Can you imagine?  Standing in a field, like every other night, watching over your sheep and then suddenly an angel appears and begins talking to you?  “Do not be afraid”…. Well, that might be a little late!  And then before you know it, you are standing in front of not only one angel, but a whole host?  That would leave a lasting impression!  And the cause of this heavenly invasion?  God on earth.  God. As in the creator of the earth.  The universe.  He had decided to arrive on earth. And the package God chose to wrap the Savior of the world?  The incarnation of God himself?  A baby.

Crazy, right?  Or at the very least unexpected.  His heavenly harolding seems to have more power, presence and authority than the form of God himself. So why? Why would God choose to make His entrance in such a weak, frail and vulnerable form?

I have wondered and wrestled with this question.  And in the midst of my searching I felt the Lord remind me of another verse that tends to grace the front of many Christmas cards this season.  In John 1:14 it says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory...”  Did you catch it?  He made his dwelling among us.  It does not say that He came and ruled among us.  It does not say that He came and judged among us.  No.  He made His dwelling among us.  This is a New Testament reflection of the tabernacle.  When God is giving directions on building the tabernacle in Exodus 25:8 He says, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  Even in the Old Testament, God’s heart has been to dwell with us.

Have you ever held a newborn?  If you think about those first precious (and exhausting!) months, there isn’t a lot that a baby can do.  Newborn babies can’t sit, they haven’t even learned how to use their hands to reach for something they want. They spend most of their time being held.  They have no choice but to just be.  Babies dwell.  It’s really all they can do. What if part of the point of God sending Jesus in the form of a baby is to show us His heart?  While God rules and judges the world, His top priority- even back in Exodus with the tabernacle- is to dwell with His people. With us.  In this God shows that He is infinitely more patient than we are.  We get impatient in our lane on the highway and decide the next one is worth switching to. But God.  When it came to sending the Savior and the means of salvation to the world, He was content to send a baby and wait for Him to grow.  God decided that out of all the options, He wanted Jesus to grow among us.  To dwell among us.

Look again at the passage from Luke and what the angel says.  Look at what the good news is that the angel is sharing.  It is not merely the birth of a baby. The good news is the birth of a Savior, the Messiah. The heavenly host was praising not the baby form of Jesus, but the mission and purpose of Jesus. The praise was for the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In that moment, Jesus was not yet at the cross.  Jesus had not yet been raised from the dead.  He had only just been born as a baby. But God had the eyes to see who He was meant to be and the mission He was meant to accomplish.  That is what the angels were praising.

The Christmas season can be hard, especially for those that don’t know the hope that is found in Jesus. But while you’re walking through life this Christmas season, I encourage you to dwell.  Dwell with other believers.  Dwell with family.  Even dwell with the family that can be a little difficult.  But don’t forget to dwell with those that don’t know Jesus- yet.  Dwell with those like Jesus dwelled with us.  Be with them.  Pray for God’s eyes to see that person as He sees them. Pray that He shows you who He made them to be and the mission He made for them to accomplish.  And have patience.  Wait for that moment where you can be God’s voice to them, encouraging them in who God made them to be.  God was willing to be patient for us- to send us the Savior of the world as a baby.  Be that for someone else.  Dwell with them as they grow. Dwell with them as they search.  Dwell with them while they struggle.  Dwell with them as they mature. This Christmas, take time to dwell with them as He dwelled with us.

(Copyright Lauren Knuth.)

December 22, 2018

Snow on Main Street U.S.A.

A magazine just for employees of Disneyland, the Cast(le) View takes look at Main Street U.S.A. under a blanket of ice and snow. Of course, to complete the wintery wonderland, the Matterhorn and its Bobsled run are moved next door to Sleeping Beauty Castle. The horses now pull a sled, and all is calm and bright. A beautiful sight for sunny California, but pretty commonplace for those of us in other parts of the country!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 21, 2018

Tropical Hideaway Poster

Disneyland's attraction posters are among my most favored pieces of art for the parks! It's not just iconic and beloved attractions that get the honor of a poster. Sometimes, the park's restaurants get one as well! The brand new restaurant in Adventureland, the Tropical Hideway has been graced with one for all of us to enjoy. Do you see a problem here? I do. It's only a screen shot of the poster. Let's see who can find a real nice image of the real deal.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.) 

December 20, 2018

Big Night for Timeless- The Final Adventure

It's with very mixed emotions that tonight is finally here. I'm a huge fan of Timeless, and I'm thrilled the television honchos have given fans one last hurrah to wrap up the series. That's the real problem as well! This small screen show packs a punch bigger than most found on the silver screen. It is at once intelligent, heartfelt, and powerful. The writers have given us a storyline that mesmerizes, but the cast is what pulls it together. 

The ensemble works so well- like a family reunion that goes off without a hitch. Abigail Spencer, Malcolm Barrett, and Matt Lanter form the team you'd want having your back, and they face two (one) of the greatest television villains ever: Goran Višnjić and Annie Wersching

Thanks to everyone involved for a great show- even if it was never given enough time to truly earn its place for more than two seasons. But what a ride it was!

December 19, 2018

Handling Holiday Depression

Hearing many more stories about holiday depression and how common it is- even among men. So, I thought it was time to share this article from earlier in the year. If you struggle with depression, don't give up! Read on and be encouraged!

Thanks to men such as Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, discussion about male depression is not as uncommon as it used to be.  Wintertime is a season where its triggered in me, especially post holidays when life goes back to normal, and Spring seems far away. That said, I have a slight understanding of the ups and downs that can accompany the feeling of things not being 100% "right".

Although its less so than in years past, I have been constantly amazed by the general reluctance of the society and sometimes the faith community to discuss this very human condition. Yet, I have read two very interesting pieces in the New Testament where both the great Apostle Paul and even Jesus himself struggled with despair. Here's a quote from Paul written to the church in Corinth.

"We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despised of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened what we might not rely on ourselves, but on God,who raises the dead." (II Corinthians 1:8-9)

Jesus' words are even more important here, as He is God in the flesh: In the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion, he says to Peter, James and John, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:38)

How much more direct and descriptive can that be?

Personally speaking, it's taken me years to accept the fluctuations that come in life. I've been trained in the Southern California mindset of "Always sunny and free all the time". But life is not like that- which is why I am also so against the prosperity teachers that can populate the Christian airwaves and bookstores.

How can I manage life's ups and downs when leaning toward depression? A few things I have discovered: One, stay as far away from sin as possible! Instead of looking toward the things that will seem to meet my needs in the moment but ultimately keep me addicted, I will ask for strength to avoid them. Why add to my problems by doing things I know will cause me to be more deeply depressed later? Be it excess food or alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, gambling, the internet, shopping etc, the actions which pacify our pain can also be the very ones that keep us captive instead of free.

Secondly, when my need feels great, when I am sad, or even when I am just craving what I know is ultimately destructive, I am training myself to see that as my clue I need more time with my heavenly father. Time for quiet reflection, prayer, worship, and reading my Bible can bring me back to a peaceful place. I've made the decision that my life belongs to Jesus, so why shouldn't I go right to Him when I know He can and will show tender care for me?

Lastly, I am developing a pattern of choosing to have a thankful heart. I am so blessed by God! Yet, how often do I long for more of everything and not be grateful for my life. It will never be perfect or free from want or conflict, so I might as well be as joyful, thankful and at peace as I can be.

There was a brief season of a few months where I even took  antidepressants on the advice of my doctor. That helped balance me out when I need it. Others need them as a long term part of their lives. If that's you, please consider it. God uses doctors to heal, too! Keep that in consideration if you struggle.

God is faithful as we continue to look to Him for hope and strength. May my disclosure and insights help give you who struggle some ideas about how to live life well in the midst of difficulty.

The Forgotten Sting Album: Mercury Falling

After my disappointment in his last several albums (particularly If on a Winter's Night, The Last Ship57th & 9th, and 44/876), I was in the right mood to hear him, so I made the decision to go farther back into Sting's catalogue for some great music. But what to pick? Ten Summoner's Tales (1993) is my go to disc, but I wanted something very fresh. Something I hadn't listened to in a long time.

Mercury Falling was one I hadn't heard in a very long time.

Popping it into the car player- not my favorite way to listen to a disc but it had to do- I was surprised by how very different it felt compared his more recent albums. In a very good way!

In the past, The Hounds of Winter felt like a sheer throwaway introduction to the collection. Backed by his very skilled band, Dominic Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, and the incredible but sadly long gone Kenny Kirkland, I could hardly believe the rich, deep, full sound of it all. Interestingly, not one instrument reigns over the other, resulting in each piece being showcased all the more effectively. On top of this, Sting's voice sails up and down the scales as the poetry leaves its impression in my head. From the rolling drum roll introduction to the repeat of the same at the end, it truly is a magnificent piece of work. 

The transition to I Hung My Head was quite jarring. As one of many country songs recorded over the course of his career, this cowboy saga has some of the most clever lyrics Sting has ever written. Listen carefully as he builds a story with subtle changes to key words and their meaning. 

I continue to be struck by his incredible command of the English language and the sometimes obscure literary references found in his lyrics. As a Christian, I am taken by his continued and very powerful use of Biblical imagery to paint a story.  On this recording, it's represented by his use of the the phrase "Kingdom Come", a reference to Jesus' return to earth out of the book of Matthew, Chapter 6. He may be a self-proclaimed agnostic, but you would guess that Sting, like many of us, is also searching for answers to eternal questions. I'm also certain that he could release a "Country Collection" and fill it up without giving it too much thought. The tune is very well done and pulls you into the story, but in all honesty, it's perfected on the orchestral version found on 2010's live Symphonicities disc. 

Guest artist Branford Marsalis brings his talent to Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, the lead single from the album.  The song reads like a mix between a gospel number, which is appropriate, and something you'd get from the great Stax records from the 1960's such as those hits from Otis Redding and Booker T. and the M.G.'s. The East London Gospel Choir adds the necessary sway with church inspired background vocals. It's not one of his best vocal performances on this disc, and perhaps it was a little strange for choice of a single. The song was never truly embraced by the buying public, just reaching the position of #86 on the U.S. Billboard charts, one of the lowest of his career. Sting is not really a singles artist as generally his songs are too textured and even quirky for pop radio, but this was still surprising. The release was quickly followed by You Still Touch Me a mere eight weeks later. (It performed only slightly better, peaking at #60.)

I Was Brought to My Senses. And so was I! After an all too lengthy minute and a half and very dry vocal intro, the song begins to take off with a lovely fiddle and acoustic guitar duet. At this point, his vocals are strong, confident, and almost bright, as Sting plays with his upper register to great effect. Marsalis' saxophone adds to the newly festive mood, making Sting's background vocals all the more playful. Just wonderful. A surprising and favorite cut.

The most commercial sounding recording on this disc is its second single, You Still Touch Me. It's short length and punchy production are in stark contrast to the more pensive tunes found elsewhere. Sting's vocal performance reminds me of his work on The Police's classic Roxanne

Our English cowboy rides the frontier again with the next cut, I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying. In this ironically clever upbeat version of the classic country tale of "I lost my truck, my wife, and my job", Sting plays with the devastation of an infidelity, a breakup, and a legal separation while "laughing" about getting joint custody of the kids. The song's been covered by Toby Keith and Johnny Cash, showing once again that a good song is a good song in most any genre performed by any decently talented artist. 

Returning to the Soul/R&B format, All Four Seasons brings a sense of fun to the old adage of a woman being able to change her mind and opinions as she chooses. The tune swings and rolls with Sting providing the playful vocal work that ties it all together. After so many "serious" cuts, the disc needed the change in tone. But it doesn't prepare the listener for what comes next.

On it's own La Belle Dame Sans Regret takes an interesting place in the canon of his work. I'm not that familiar with the French language, so I can't really say whether his accent works or not. More of a curiosity piece, even the translation of the lyrics reveals a tale of ambiguity. With so few songs on the disc, it's a pleasant diversion but nothing more. In interviews, even the artist himself questioned it appearing on the disc.  

The last two selections continue the overall sombre tone of this mostly interesting but forgotten collection, making "Side Two" less compelling than the first half. Valparaiso won't be making any "Best of" compilations with its less than catchy melody and extended instrumental ending, but it presents Sting as an artist that will do whatever he pleases. 

Lithium Sunset brings us full circle with another cowboy tune. Proving once again, he could and should do an all country disc, Sting's vocals slide up and down the scales with a twang that makes Nashville proud. The last words of the song tie it all together as the album starts and ends with the lyrics "Mercury Falling". Quite clever. I love these kind of artistic touches. 

Was Sting losing steam with this disc? Hard to say. As with most artists and a lengthy career, things wax and wane as their lives and interests influence art to often mixed but interesting results.  

December 18, 2018

A Vintage Look Back at Disneyland

Illustrations aren't Imagineering concept art, but that doesn't mean that can't offer a charming look at the Disney Parks. Here, artist Ralph Hulett gives us a vintage look at Disneyland and it's brand new attractions. The Matterhorn Bobsleds and the sleek Monorail make its debut next to Sleeping Beauty Castle as the Horse Drawn Streetcars pass by. For decades, this one and only Disney kingdom thrilled guests from all over the world, and it constantly added a steady stream of new attractions, making it a place that required repeated visits- and all at very affordable prices. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 17, 2018

Before the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland...

Yes, the sparkling waters of the Fantasyland lagoon hosted the iconic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Right across from it was the beloved Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Clearly, worlds apart, but still a draw. The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World continues to change and grow, but what a wonder to explore upon opening! 

It wasn't until 1975 that I first got to see the place for myself, but I loved discovering all the changes that made Walt's second kingdom unique. Some, like the Crystal Palace and the Country Bear Jamboree, are still there today. Others, like the two rides mentioned above- along with If You Had Wings and The Mickey Mouse Musical Revue- have been long gone. Now only a memory in theme park history books and old photographs from long ago.

Much to the delight of many fans, the brand new Tron Light Cycles Power Run is coming from Shanghai Disneyland.  It will forever change the vista of Tomorrowland  as it's built next to Space Mountain. Smaller projects come and go. That land is slowly reverting to its 1971 look and leaving the 90's Sci-Fi future feel behind it. Stitch is thankfully disappearing and something new this ways comes. Glad to see it gone, but I do miss the creepy humor of the defunct Alien Encounter. I guess change is always a constant.

(Photograph found on Imagineer Tom Morris' twitter account.)

December 16, 2018

Acceptable Bigotry from Muslim Congresswoman

Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) posted the above tweet regarding Vice President Mike Pence, mocking his Christian faith by quoting singer Carrie Underwood's country hit Jesus Take the Wheel. Is this really ok? God forbid, the woman should experience some bigotry! The double standard is amazing.

Her clear hated of Israel is also on full display if you go back to her tweets of 2012. Democrats would do well to look into their own political party- Republicans as well and you and me too- to find the areas of our lives that are full of hatred. Imagine the uproar and calls for resignation if a Republican did what she just did. Yet, she hasn't even made the national news. Hmmm.

Ilhan Omar should be very ashamed of herself! It's her kind of bigotry that will be defended by those in her party, but nonetheless, she should apologize to our Vice President if not resign.

Spy Cars from A Different Decade

Time for something a bit different. Communist era cars from two different locations- Cuba and the former Soviet Union. Don't these just take you back to the time of 50's and 60's James Bond?

Thanks to the opening of Cuba and the renewed interest in the formerly closed country, exhibits showcasing the area are gracing the United States. This automobile is fully restored to its original grandeur. Totally cool.

Sometimes an unknown make a model get revealed, and it catches my eye. I'm told this is a USSR "Volga". It's not nearly as sleek as the model above, but I could swear I've seen some Russian spy driving it!

December 15, 2018

Richard Talks "Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra"

Doing a promotional tour in support of their wonderful new album Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, beloved artist Richard Carpenter spent some time in Japan and in the U.K. 

While in Japan, where he and Karen drew crowds similar to the Beatles when they arrived in 1974, Richard made several television appearances and stops for radio interviews. Here, he is on Japan Radio:

His Japanese television appearances can be found on this thread at the A&M Corner discussion boards.

Karen Carpenter is not only a beloved icon in Japan. On the other side of the world in the U.K., the Carpenters have had Top Ten or Number One selling albums in every decade since their heyday.

Richard sat down with BBC's Top of the Pops and discussed the new project on December 14. Listen here.

The music of the duo had a profound impact on my life! I'll be sharing my own review of this album soon, but in the meantime, here's a few posts where you can read my reviews of each earlier album, and newer reviews taking a fresh look at their music years later. Additionally, if you're a fan of Karen and Richard, there are many, many articles here where I discuss their lives and art, including the time I finally met them in person.
A very special thanks to those folks who constructed The Complete Carpenters Recording Resource, to "Rick- An Ordinary Fool" for so many rare scans, and all my friends on the A&M Corner boards. 

My Original Carpenters album reviews:

My Revisited Fresh Look at the albums:
Close to You
Carpenters (The Tan album)
A Song for You (coming soon)

California's Stress Reliever

Traveling up and down Pacific Coast Highway in California, it's almost impossible not to stop and take photos. I mean, look at this shot! I'm not the least bit a great photographer, but here God's gorgeous creation takes center stage for a reason. The photo here is left very large in case you'd like it as a desktop.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)


Can't think straight these days. Time for a rest or something. What do you do when you've reached your limit? I'm certainly open for suggestions.

December 14, 2018

Space Mountainless Tomorrowland

Much like what happened at the grand opening of Disneyland, when Florida's Magic Kingdom arrived, this Tomorrowland was also a bit incomplete. The iconic white Space Mountain wasn't on the horizon and the WEDWAY Peoplemover was not making its grand tour around the land of the future.

That's not to say there wasn't fun to be found! Guests could still blast off on Flight to the Moon, view the Circle-Vision 360 film, or take the much beloved (and now defunct) If You Had Wings (...had wings, had wings, had wings). Of course, getting behind the wheel of a race car was possible to the delight of kids of all ages. 

Thanks to the Imagineers, new adventures in the world of the future were on the way. Soon enough, Space Mountain grew into the must-do attraction everyone had to experience. Now, the ride is harsh and jerky, but back then, it was smooth as could be. The screams came from flying in the darkness instead of from the pain inflicted on the body of the riders because of the attraction in its current state.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Courtesy Vintage Disneyland Tickets.)

December 12, 2018

Give A Gift, Save A Life

Looking for the perfect Christmas present? So are these kids! The folks that started the beloved (and wonderfully effective) Operation Christmas Child also offer a catalogue where you can buy gifts to help those in places where the need is greatest. Go here to see the whole list of gifts that can save a life.

December 10, 2018

Is Disney Embarrassed Enough Yet?

How much embarrassment does it take before the management of the Walt Disney World monorail system presses the executives for a new fleet of trains? There have been a few malfunctions lately, and even further back, the more unfortunate case of a cast member being killed due to problems with the age and maintenance of their fleet. What must happen next in order the get the suits' attention?

Even Walt's original Kingdom, Disneyland, got an upgrade with some new trains fairly recently. Pretty nice, right?

And let's not get started on what you can find at the Tokyo Disney Resort! The sleek exteriors give only a small look at the themed experience found inside.

Once again, other resorts hold the lead in providing first class service and amenities compared to Walt Disney World. If I were staying at the Polynesian Resort, the Contemporary, or the Grand Floridian, I would expect more given the rates charged for the rooms! Problem is, even before the room rates skyrocketed, Disney gave its day guests a wonderfully modern and maintained Highway in the Sky. The time for new trains is now.

December 8, 2018

Unexpected Magic

Received this new Carpenters disc yesterday - Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It's been on the player three times so far. A deeper look will be forthcoming, but in a word: Magic.

December 7, 2018

Peek Inside the Phantom Manor Refurbishment

Here's a first look at the major refurbishment to Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. Seems as if the Imagineers are taking an already amazing attraction- one of the park's best- and turning it into something very, very special. The music is stunning as is, and I can only imagine just how great it will be with new sound equipment to go along with all the new effects. The Frontierland setting for this E Ticket sets the stage for Wild West excitement in a way no other park can match! Take a look at why this Frontierland is even better than the Imagineering art- right here. In fact, the whole park is a work of art! 

Special thanks to "RobertW" for leaking this photo.

Walt Disney and National Geographic Kids

Helping my wife move to her new classroom, I ran across this cool little National Geographic / Scholastic magazine. I was tempted to ask for it, but I thought better of using a school resource for something personal. Regardless, it was refreshing to know that even in this day and age of political correctness and the push for higher test scores, educators thought that learning more about a true entrepreneur like Walt Disney was worth some time.

December 6, 2018

Did Face Book Really Censor This?

Oh the horror! Children should never see this image as they'll be damaged for life. What can you do? (Sarcasm meter now turned off.) 

Not a Bad Attraction Poster

The Enchanted Storybook Castle in Shanghai Disneyland runs about last in terms of my favorite Disney Magic Kingdom castles. The Chinese government mandated big, big, big, so that's what the Imagineering team gave them. The end result in my opinion (but not shared by my wife) is a big boxy mess. Yet, in terms of its presentation in an attraction poster, the design itself is a pretty cool one. And who doesn't love Disney Attraction Posters?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 5, 2018

Notable and Quotable: George H.W. Bush

"It is very important to follow the teachings of our Heavenly Father in carrying out the responsibilities of government." 
                                                     George H.W. Bush

December 4, 2018

The Dark Days Became Bright

The dark days are so fresh in my memory that in the past, when I thought too much about them, I could be easily overwhelmed. But that was then. Now, I see the broken dreams and deep despair as a gift from God, forcing me to reevaluate my life and what was important to me. Eventually, actually many years later, I began to embrace the new outlook and be thankful for the pain that forced it into place.

For various reasons, I cannot share the details. This might be just as well because each person's dark night of the soul must be their own.  And my hope is to inspire to help you watch for a light at the end of that tunnel, however long it may be. 

In His exceedingly great but then misunderstood mercy, He allowed all the circumstances of my life and family to come together when I didn't expect it. My pride and self-reliance and need to look good in front of others had to die a death a fought, but ultimately it couldn't win. Couldn't survive. It had to go. Had to die.

Years later, I am thankful for what occurred. It's true that all things work for good according to His purposes if we love Him.  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." The Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Rome is right on. Painfully so. But you have to walk through it yourself. 

Do I still struggle from time to time with lost dreams and even depression? Yes, of course- and it may always be so until I die. But- and this is a big "but"- I can see how good God is for sustaining me and how He worked through difficult things to bring me a clearer view of life and to see how truly good He is. 

If you wait and watch and pray, submitting yourselves fully to Jesus, you'll discover even if people let you down, even if your own brokenness and sin weigh you down, God can and will eventually bring you to a place of peace and brighter days. 

December 3, 2018

Tale of Three Mr. Toads

Do you recognize the painter's self-portrait? It's Mr. Toad himself in the style of Van Gogh! His legendary Wild Ride at Disneyland remains a fan favorite. So much so that it was one of the opening day attractions in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom as well.

Eventually, that Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, with its two distinctively different but interconnected routes, was replaced by an adventure with Winnie the Pooh- but not before he was transplanted over to EuroDisney aka Disneyland Paris. Where is that ride, you say?

No. not a ride. Mr. Toad made the journey to Paris but instead of an attraction, Toad Hall is home to a pretty good fish and chips restaurant. Exploring each of the rooms, you can discover interesting tributes to the master of the house. Three portraits done in the style of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and (in the middle of this post) Toad as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Clever, huh? 

Imagineer Tom Morris was the creative director for Fantasyland until the leadership of Tony Baxter, who oversaw the development of the parc. The whole place is full of eye candy, and it remains the ultimate version of the Magic Kingdom

These portraits are just one of many reasons you should see Disneyland Paris for yourself. But that's a whole different article for another day.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 2, 2018

Whitney Houston Under Cover

My Whitney Houston T-Shirt, a sweet and funny gift from my daughter and son-in-law. So I wore it proudly on our flight to Walt Disney World (under my shirt of course)! 

December 1, 2018

Could Muppet*Vision 3D Leave Hollywood Studios?

Hmmm... Looks as if Muppet*Vision 3D could be going away. Regardless of how often the Disney suits try to reboot Jim Henson's beloved characters, things fall flat. 

Take a look closely at the construction going on for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge (courtesy bioreconstruct). What do you see? I see the Muppets backlot area stuck in the middle of the Galaxy and the existing Star Tours / Tatooine Traders complex. Now, we now the store is going through an extensive remodeling of its own. 

From another angle.

The second photo shows how possible this really is. Would the suits really tear down the newly opened BaseLine Tap House on Grand Avenue? No, but they could cleverly close off the Muppets area and reuse it with a new entrance for more room to expand. Or provide additional access for the Star Wars themed hotel. Odder things have happened. Don't think so? Who would have ever guessed The Great Movie Ride would disappear? Now, anything is possible.

(Photograph copyright "bioreconstruct".)