November 30, 2018

An Early Christmas Present

Here is my early Christmas present to you: If you're like me, you enjoy taking the time to slow down a bit and reflect on the real meaning of the Christmas Season. In that spirit, I've written an easy to read and share Family Christmas Devotional. 

The key Bible verse you and your family will explore throughout the month in light of the Christmas Story is

We will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:4

Here's some hints before you begin:
1. Make this doable. Try to commit to a family devotional time, perhaps three times per ten days. Decide on a practical time. Avoid setting yourself up for failure. Adjust it as necessary so they enjoy the time, but also expect some “pushback”.  If you miss a time, just pick another! Remember, it’s about the relationship not the accomplishment.   Guard against discouragement if it doesn’t go well, and be sure to guard against pride if it does.

2. Keep this devotional on the dinner table. Explain to your kids why the book is there. Someone is bound to remember.

3. Talk about the ideas shared as your read God’s Word. Check for understanding by asking good questions and by explaining words that can sound confusing. Next, have a conversation about ways to apply what has been read. Knowledge of the Bible is empty and meaningless unless we do what it says.  (See James 1:22-25). 

4. Model praying for your kids, speaking simply and using words easy for them to understand. It will be easier for them to pray from their heart if they hear you do this.  

5. Try a family worship time. Child friendly songs don’t need to be childlike, they just need easy to understand lyrics. Train your child to express love to God and not just sing songs about Him. This is part of them growing in a real relationship with Our Creator. After your worship time, explain phrases they may not understand or interpret differently, i.e. what does “God reigns” mean?

6. If you have older children, allow them to share the responsibility of reading the verses. Leading them to Him is the goal. Check for understanding of difficult words.

7. As they grow in understanding and application of God’s Word, expect them to get excited about their relationship with our Living God.  This overflow from their heart will lead them to share Him with others. 

Ready? Here you go. One page of reading and questions to consider for each ten day period of the month.

December 1 – 10           God’s Praiseworthy Deeds

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving

Read Isaiah 9:1-7 together.  
Paraphrase or use only verses 6 and 7 if your children are very young.
Next, read Luke 1:26-38 together. Paraphrase the story or use only verses 26-33 if appropriate.

Points for consideration:
From the beginning of creation, God has wanted personal relationship with the people He made. 
God desires to look after His People, and He hears the prayers of his children. 
God always keeps His Promises- even when it looks different than what we think.
Is it not amazing that the God of all creation chooses to reveal Himself throughout history? Share other examples of God making himself known to His people. Ask your children about the names of God used here. What do they mean?

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for Who He Is. 
An example of their praise might be, “Father, I praise you for sending Jesus to us!” 
or  “God, thank you that you will rule forever! There is no one like you!”

Time of Prayer

Reread Luke 1:37-38.

Points for consideration:
If God tells us He will do something, nothing is impossible for Him!
Mary responded in humble obedience. God’s plan may not have been her plan, but she happily submitted to His Plan and trusted Him with her life. 
This brought God glory!

Ask your children what they are concerned about. What do they think about at night? What do they ask God? Have they chosen to give their lives to Him? If they have, are they willing to live their lives as He leads them? How are their lives bringing Him glory? Discuss what this means.

Pray together. Encourage them to pray from their hearts rather than what they think might please you.

December 11 – 20          God’s Power

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving

Read Luke 2:1-7 together.

Points for consideration:
God is powerful! He even orchestrates world events so that they are in line with His Plan.
World leaders – presidents, kings, and those in government- are placed in positions of authority by God. (See Romans 13)
God is powerful! God placed Jesus in Joseph’s human family because he was part of David’s family.

Is it not amazing that God intentionally places people in families and in jobs for His Purposes? Why has He put you in your family? How have you seen God use your family in a way that shows God to the people around you? 

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for His power. An example of their praise might be, “Father, I praise you for putting me in this family!” or  “Thank you Father for being the one who watches over every aspect of our lives!”

Time of Prayer  

Read Ephesians 3:14-21 together. 
Then read 2 Peter 1:3. Summarize or clarify these verses for understanding.

Points for consideration:
Jesus lives in our hearts through faith. It is not our work that earns us a place in God’s family and in heaven. How will live our lives is a result of His love in our hearts. 
God has placed His power in us by giving us His Holy Spirit. This power enables us to know God’s deep love for us and gives us what we need to live a life that pleases Him.

Ask your children if they belong to Him and why. Ask if they understand God’s love. Ask them how this is reflected in the way they live. Where have they seen God give them what they need to live in a manner that pleases Him? Are we being obedient to Him?

Pray together. Pray that they would rely on God to know and follow His Ways. Pray for our leaders that they would follow His ways.  

December 21 – 31          The Wonders He Has Done

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving

(A NOTE TO PARENTS: Before covering this section with your children, consider reviewing Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 as well as Romans Chapter 3:21-23 and 10:9-11.)

Read Luke 2:8-20 together.  
Points for consideration:
The event of Jesus’ birth was so important, God sent angels to announce it. This is the most wonderful event of all time! He came to pay the price for our sin!
Jesus is God made flesh. He and the Father are One. (John 8:58-9; Colossians 2:9) 
Jesus is the only way to eternal life. (John 14:6) 

Why did God send Jesus to the earth? Discuss the answer to this question.

Imagine being a shepherd in the field and seeing what they saw and hearing what the heard! What would be your reaction? What would you think? What would you say and do?

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for revealing this “Good News of Great Joy”.  
They might say, “Father, I praise you for the gift of Jesus!” 

Time of Prayer

Read John 14:6 together.  Then read John 3:16-17. Finally, read Luke 2:19.  

Points for consideration:
Because He loves us so much and wants everyone to know the truth, Jesus makes it very clear He is the only way to Heaven. 
Mary heard the words the shepherds shared about the angels and probably thought of the angel Gabriel who visited her earlier. She treasured these words and thought deeply about them.

Ask your children to define sin. Ask how they have sinned. Check for understanding of Jesus’ words in John 14:6.  What does the Way, the Truth, and the Life mean? Discuss Romans 10:9-11.

Pray together. Ask them to confess their sin and turn away from it and to Jesus for forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. Then, pray for them that they would rely on God to know and follow His Ways. Encourage them to be like Mary and treasure God’s words and think deeply about them. Conclude with another time of praise and celebrate God’s goodness!

(Devotional copyright Mark Taft.)

November 29, 2018

Down the Rabbit Hole

"... All of a sudden, I fell!  Down...

Just like Alice of Wonderland fame, I can get caught up in emotions and thoughts that do me no good! Taking me down to the depths, with depression and anger and bitterness overruling me. 

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

(Oh, yeah- the last few paragraphs are from the great Apostle Paul, written to the Christian believers in Rome. Timeless words.)

November 25, 2018

Disney World Here We Come!

In an unexpected surprise, we are headed back to the Vacation Kingdom of the World once more! Our eldest daughter invited us to travel with them and their three kids off to Walt Disney World. They're a bit older and therefore have some different interests. Another new on property resort to try and another time to start saving. Should be great fun! 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 24, 2018

Notable and Quotable: Lauren Daigle

“The second we start drawing lines around which people are able to be approached and which aren’t, we’ve already completely missed the heart of God... I don’t have all the answers in life, but one thing I know is that I can’t choose who I’m supposed to be kind to and who I’m not, because that’s the mission, right? Be who Christ was to everyone as well.”

                                           Singer Lauren Daigle

November 23, 2018

Let the Christmas Season Begin!

It's time to begin celebrating the Christmas season! And few places do it as well as the Disney theme parks! This includes the parks found on the other continents. Disneyland Paris is just stunning during the holidays- as is Paris itself- offering a slew of special offerings that are irresistible. This great photo from ED92Live gives a small taste of the wonders on the other side of the entrance.

Want a great trip report and photos of Paris and Disneyland Paris at Christmas? Start here to see our adventures during my favorite time of the year and in my favorite city on earth!

November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving and His Love Endures Forever

Happy Thanksgiving! May it be wonderful- and thank you for reading all these years! Just a question- "Who are you thankful to????"  I'll just echo the words of the greatest  songwriter:

"Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; His love endures forever."  
Psalm 106:1 (but found all through the Bible.)

November 21, 2018

The Whys of the Disneyland Resort

My recent visit to the Disneyland Resort was a great experience (and a tiring one as I covered 26 major attractions in a very lengthy day. Almost 18 hours actually. Read my Theme Park Commando trip report here), but the experience left me with a surprising number of questions. (Don't worry- I covered the same topic on Walt Disney World just a few days ago.)

Let's start with California Adventure, the park I visited on the first half of my day in July. I have so many "Why? questions about this park, it will be hard to limit it to three. 
  • After all the work the Imagineers did to give the park a sense of charm, (accomplished in Buena Vista Street and Cars Land) why are they removing it with cheap looking overlays and removing the cohesiveness they worked so hard to bring into it?  Pixar Pier is- in a word- a mess. The Hollywood area is even worse! I found the new Marvel focused Guardians of the Galaxy attraction fun, but the building does not fit into the land. It looks even worse when the beautiful Red Car Trolley shows up right in front.
  • Why did they do what they did to Ariel's Adventure/Under the Sea/The Little Mermaid? Here's a beloved and true First Class Disney Intellectual Property given a treatment so far below what it deserved or should have been. I go on it because I love the characters, the music, and the story - a father gives his life for his daughters- and I sense the potential in the first few rooms. But after the Ursula scene, let's be honest, it falls apart. Do I blame the Imagineers who worked this project? Yes. But I blame the suits who approved it. 
  • To pull out the last one, Why did they approve such a half baked job for Marvel Land with an industrial looking "campus" as a super hero placesetting? Stark Industries looked cutting edge. Not at California Adventure. Did they even see the Iron Man film?
Now for Disneyland. Just because its the Granddaddy of them all, it doesn't mean the park is perfect. Consider these questions:
  • Why haven't they- suits or Imagineers- figured out something to do with Tomorrowland? It's a disgrace. I went to Space Mountain, and then going into Star Wars Launch Bay, I turned around and left mere minutes later. A waste of space and waste of a land. See those trash cans? It's a good place to start placing the remnants of the demolition that needs to happen. Save the mountain, and scrap the rest. Yes, submarines included.
  • Why are they keeping the "new" Pirates of the Caribbean entrance? Here's a company that known for innovation and creative thinking. Figure something out and return the original building to the way it was. They will need all that open land come Memorial Day weekend when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens. 
  • Why is Star Wars being put into Disneyland in the first place? Yes, it will cement the old gal as being the most "E Ticket" packed park in the Disney empire. But honestly, it should have anchored a third theme park. Admittedly, the newly shortened Rivers of America looks great, and the new land will drive attendance, but does it belong in "Walt's Park"? No.
I won't even talk about the Downtown Disney area. After having been in Florida's Disney Springs, Anaheim visitors and residents deserve much better. Go see for yourself.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

November 17, 2018

New Galaxy's Edge Concept Art

Fresh from this morning's D23 announcements. Names for those two major attractions?  Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. and Star Wars: Rise of the ResistanceMore news coming.

Here's the transport vehicle from the video Disney released for the Resistance ride. 

Nice logo. Somewhat expected but nice.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 16, 2018

The Whys of Walt Disney World

When I look at what's happening at Walt Disney World, I'm often left with more questions than answers. Sure, it's still a great place to visit, but you'd have to close your eyes not to have some pretty serious questions about its future.

Limiting my "Whys" to three per park, let's start with what once was my favorite American theme park: the woefully neglected and underdeveloped Epcot.

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

  • Why didn't the Imagineers use the amazing original ride system from Universe of Energy to lead to a loading dock for the new Guardians of the Galaxy coaster? Certainly, they could have created an incredible experience that would have made good use of one of the most innovative transportation systems ever. Two rides for one. No brainer.
  • Why has World Showcase lay dormant for so long? Aside from a few new restaurants and the Frozen overlay, practically nothing (let alone perfect) has been done. Ratatouille should be only the beginning of growth. We need new countries added. Brazil. India. Russia. Just about anything.
  • Why has Imagination been left in its sad state? Can't anyone with some clout turn this once beloved ride and exhibit hall into something stunning again? (Oops, that's another question.) Letting the park's beloved mascot be represented by this mess is a crime worthy of punishment. Call in Fuji Film and the Japanese. They seem to know how to do things right

My Magic Kingdom questions are limited to ones I'll share for now. 

Could be so much more!

  • Why hasn't Space Mountain's track been fixed or replaced? The iconic adventure sports a ride so rough that it feels like something from an old sidewalk carnival versus the cutting edge ride it was at opening.
  • Why didn't the suits allow Imagineering to build the major "E Ticket" attraction Japan is getting based on Beauty and the Beast? It should have been part of the whole New Fantasyland complex. As it stands now, Belle's meet and greet is very sweet, but there's not enough meat for the rest of us to get a satisfying experience. Gaston's turkey legs are not enough.
  • Why hasn't Frontierland been expanded with some smaller attractions that round out the time spent in that land? There needs to be more to explore. Bring Nature's Wonderland and the covered wagons back from the dead and to the East Coast.
As it stands now, Disney's Hollywood Studios needs so much more than I can say. But I'll honor my three questions promise for this park as well.

Love Mickey but this should not be his new home.
  • Why kill The Great Movie Ride? This is probably the one that most bothers me. Yes, they should and could have updated it over time with better Audio-Animatronics and newer film choices that would have honored the classics but kept it fresh. I chalk this up to laziness and lack of vision for the larger picture.
  • Why have they not placed Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway into an enhanced Animation area?  Animated films, be they Disney or Pixar, computer rendered or hand drawn are the backbone of Disney's film division. Animation should be honored and celebrated. No one should know this better than the suits. 
  • Last one is a toss up. Do I ask what took so long to bring an Indiana Jones area (including a blockbuster ride) to the park or why it's taken so long to get tired old theater shows replaced with something new? Like I said, the park's a mess, and the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will only make the shortcomings more obvious.
I'll leave Animal Kingdom alone for now, but in exchange I'll throw in a few for the resort at large:
  • Why is Disney building generic looking resorts at the expense of theme? Premium prices for lesser quality experiences. 
  • Why have they allowed the disaster of Fast Pass and on line booking requirements remove the laid back feeling of visiting the resort? It was much more fun in years past when not everything had to be decided months in advance.
  • Why are the nicest restaurants in the parks now only premium character dining locations? The Crystal Palace, the Land Grill Room (aka The Good Turn) and others are now reserved only for the elite with cash to burn. It already costs a wallet full of money to go to Disney. Just rubbing our noses in it, I'd say. 

There's my "Whys" for Walt Disney Walt. Disneyland is next.
(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

November 15, 2018

Last Ride for the Lifeboat

I know it has to be this way, but I just refuse to accept it! The great television series Timeless will conclude with a two hour episode on December 20. Information has been almost non-existent aside from the leak that it will encompass two continents and two different eras. Lucy, Wyatt, Rufus and pals (and enemies I'm sure!) will go off for their last ride into the sunset. Unbelievable. They'll be missed!

November 14, 2018

The Royal Treatment

Friday December 7th, 2018 cannot come soon enough for this fan! In collaboration with London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the beloved duo of Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard will be give the royal treatment. Working under Richard's guidance, the album will celebrate the biggest of the Carpenters hits- and a few key album tracks- totally re-imagined with an entire orchestral arrangement. Just in time for the holidays! 

November 13, 2018

A New Yeti in Town

There's a new yeti in town! And he's coming the Summer of 2019- No, not to Disney's Animal Kingdom. The suits are still sitting on their hands when it comes to fixing the main reason for that tea train ride to Expedition: Everest. Instead of the Imagineers finally getting to fix that thing, it's the creative forces for Knott's Berry Farm that are bringing in a new beast of the mountain. Their Bigfoot Rapids ride transforms to Calico River Rapids next summer. Sounds like leader Matt Ouitmet knows what it takes to draw a crowd, doing it faster than the decade or so Disney's spent looking at options.

(Art copyright Knott's Berry Farm.)

November 11, 2018


それ神はその獨子を賜ふほどに世を愛し給へり、すべて彼を信ずる者の亡びずして、永遠の生命を得んためなり。  神その子を世に遣したまへるは、世を審かん爲にあらず、彼によりて世の救はれん爲なり。


November 10, 2018

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror from the Sky

Thanks to the aerial artistry of the amazing gifted photographer bioreconstruct (@bioreconstruct) on Twitter, we have a rare look at Disney's Hollywood Studios beloved Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This incredible one of a kind attraction, an Imagineering classic upon opening, seems even more impressive from this view from up in the sky. I never thought that was possible! Folks might really appreciate the looks at the soon to open Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge - and I do- but I find the other aspects of the parks and the whole of Walt Disney World just as mesmerizing.

(Photograph copyright bioreconstruct.)

The Kids Visit Cuba

Well to be specific, the kids are really visiting Cuba via the Denver Science Museum and their great exhibit. I thought this photograph turned out particularly well!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 9, 2018

Design Detail: Sleeping Beauty Castle

(No, I just don't have the heart to write about one more shooting in the U.S.A. At it's core, it's a sin issue, but it is a complex one.) OK, so on to Sleeping Beauty Castle. The old gal holds up really well after more than 60 years! After being in Disneyland and California Adventure all day long (trip report here), and after having traveled recently to Walt Disney World and staring at theirs (trip report here), let me tell you with full confidence, the small Disneyland castle still has its charms. There's delicate detail to be found on the outside, and inside the walk through attraction oozes lush attention to the most minute aspects. It was almost midnight and I was exhausted when I took this shot. But when I walked around the corner and this was my view, I was hit with a rush of emotions as if I was a little kid all over again. Couldn't help but stare at it and soak it all in. The Imagineers under the leadership of Walt Disney himself knew their stuff! 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 8, 2018

Paris or Disneyland Paris?

Parisian beauty abounds! Perhaps you're an American Disney park fan but concerned about traveling overseas to experience the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever created. Don't be- and don't let that fear stop you from experiencing the City of Light. It is amazing!

Yes, Disneyland Paris is one of a kind, and Imagineer Tony Baxter did an extraordinary job spearheading its design. Just don't miss out on seeing the city that inspired and influenced its creation. One visit, and you'll be hooked. The real magic begins once you get that first view of the Eiffel Tower, and it never leaves. Book that flight now.

(Photographer unknown.)

November 7, 2018

The Other Walt's Jungle Cruise

As one of the most iconic attractions ever built at Disneyland, the Jungle Cruise has survived the test of time from opening day. You could say that in the planning stages for his new park, this was one of Walt Disney's pet attractions. 

Imagineering legend Harper Goff was one of the first to place this into a piece of concept art, but he wasn't the only one. Walt Peregoy, a Disney animator,  took a stab at it from a much more abstract view, and to good result! 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 6, 2018

Notable and Quotable: Saul Alinsky

"Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins - or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom - Lucifer."
                                         Author Saul Alinsky

Interestingly, this man has been quoted (or misquoted) by both politicians on the Left and those on the Right. Are Barack Obama, Ben Carson, and Hillary Clinton fans? Look at two different political perspectives below:

From the Political Left
From the Political Right

Saul Alinsky has also been quoted for his famous piece (graphic depiction above) on How to Create a Socialist State

The next set of elections is going to prove very, very interesting.

November 5, 2018

What Animal Kingdom Needs

Walt Disney World's incredible Animal Kingdom may be one of two perfect theme parks in the States, Disneyland being the other. 

Filled with incredible scenery, stunning, creative but authentic architecture, and thrilling attractions to go with all the wildlife, the park is currently the go-to place for guests ready for something different after the Magic Kingdom. With Africa's Kilimanjaro Safaris, Asia's amazing Expedition: Everest and even Dinoland U.S.A.'s Dinosaur (aka Countdown to Extinction) anchoring the park along with Pandora's new Flight of Passage, the park can only get better. But it is missing something: China's pandas.

The whole concept art.

You'd think the Disney executives would be able to pull off getting a panda to two on loan. After all, China now holds two Disney Parks- Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland. Probably at least one more to come. Why would they hold out?

According to Business Insider, the city of Chengdu will build a brand new park built around pandas. Should be quite a beautiful and exciting area to view and interact with these beautiful and rare creatures. No doubt this will pull in big, big crowds!

Here's the full rendering for "Panda Capital". To read the whole article, look here.

November 3, 2018

Harvest Party Fun

Just a little family moment here...
... and another!

November 2, 2018

Disney-MGM Studios Momento

Directly from 1989: The Disney-MGM Studios Twilight Zone Tower of Terror pressed coin. My son collected these on our trips, and we recently discovered his collection, about 30 coins strong. Quite fun to look through and discover some real gems.

November 1, 2018

In the Day Late and Dollar Short Department...

Here's a piece of Haunted Mansion concept art that I hadn't seen in awhile- and I meant to post it earlier but couldn't find it. Imagineer Marc Davis drew up this wickedly interesting little piece. It was never executed into reality, but the idea is an interesting one. Riding through different bedrooms of the mansion could have given riders clues as to how different characters passed. 

Just think- should the Imagineers ever do a version where vehicles select different tours through the mansion, each ride would be a different experience. A bedroom visit could bring an interesting take on something found on a graveyard headstone in Disneyland Paris' more adult Phantom Manor: Loyal Manservant-"Kept the Master Happy" / Faithful Chambermaid- "Kept the Master Happier".

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)