December 31, 2020

My New Year's Eve Wish

I haven't looked this good in a tuxedo in years! Well, actually, I cannot lie. This is a stock photo, but there are few things that say New Year's Eve party like dressing up and going out for a night on the town. Unless it's a COVID-19 world, and it's just better to celebrate at home with those you love. 

Just remember as you say goodbye to this year and hello to another: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind can conceive, what God has planned for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9). May He bless you and yours in the coming year!

December 29, 2020

Soul Less Than It Could Be

Pixar's Soul is a very good film, but it is far less effective than it could be. The main culprit is the now expected "imaginative element" that strips the story of its power and impact. By incorporating the Mormon (Church of Latter Day Saints) belief of "Premortality" - where people before birth lived in the presence of God without a physical body - into the plot, the storytellers avoid going deeper into the life of main character Joe Gardner, his family, his friends, and Black culture. Much like how the Black Lives Matter movement loses points and impact by aiming to "disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure", Soul loses a chance at being a much better film by trying to be clever. Instead of using the time to further develop Joe's story to even greater depth, there's too much time and emphasis placed on the struggles of the film's spirit world.

That said, there's more to celebrate here than to be disappointed by! Jamie Foxx is terrific as Joe, everyman middle school music teacher who longs for more. Tina Fey is annoying and effective as "22", the troubled spirit who accompanies Joe on his quest. Some self-proclaimed culture watchdogs have problem with her casting, but let's grow up. Humans interact with all types of people from different backgrounds and cultures and of different colors. Actors should have the freedom to act. It's part of their job description inherent in their title. 

An easy win is the sparkling music and the now expected life-like animation. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and especially Jon Batiste create a compelling musical foundation that strengthens the story Pete Docter and team wanted to tell. Singer Cody Chesnutt is especially good as the musician who chooses a subway station as his busking locale. From an animation standpoint, the scene where Joe sheds a tear is powerful in its understatement and simplicity. 

While the music is excellent, it is the wide scope of characters and how they interact that gives Soul its depth. Unlike too many Disney films in particular, Joe comes from a traditional two parent- male and female - family. The character of his mother wisely avoids stereotypes. She's both strong and independent without being militant or disrespectful of others. When we first meet her, Joe's musical idol is imperfect, displaying a jaded and somewhat snobby attitude. Joe's friends in the barber shop run the gamut of personalities. In other words, his world is filled with normal people trying to make it in a difficult but often amazing world. Kudos to the writers for balancing the difficulties of being Black in America without pushing agendas. These factors make Soul accessible to all and a story everyone can embrace and learn from. As Dr. John Perkins states in his excellent book One Blood, a must-read for people of every color, we are 99% more alike than we are different. Something our politicians, Hollywood, and people in general, would be wise to remember.

(Image copyright Pixar.)

Notable and Quotable: Karen Carpenter on Elvis Presley

"For myself and I know speaking for Richard, we worshipped Elvis. The first time I met him I thought I was going to drop dead in my tracks... He walked out, and my heart stopped... He's not only gorgeous, his voice is beautiful. And his talent is immense."

                                              Karen Carpenter on Elvis Presley

During a 1977 KMPC radio interview to promote their album Passage, Richard and Karen Carpenter are asked about Elvis' influence and impact. While Richard's speaks of the artist's effect on popular music, Karen recounts above seeing him in concert and meeting him afterwards. Whether or not this is the same time as the now infamous meeting with he, Karen, and Petula Clark is unknown. (See here for details.)

December 28, 2020

An Animal Kingdom Morning

Each of the Florida parks has their own early morning splendor, but when I go to Walt Disney World, there's just something special about seeing Animal Kingdom in the freshness of a new day. The lush vegetation, the waterfalls, the ambient sounds all make for a special environment. 

My photo of the floating mountains of Pandora do not do the place justice. It is stunning piece of Imagineering, every bit as eye popping as the range found at California Adventure's Cars Land. 

If I have any misgivings at all, it is about the future of this park. With Joe Rohde retiring, it remains a mystery if there will be someone strong enough to keep the park focused on its original mission and theme. Or will there be an invasion of Intellectual Properties that force "synergy" that doesn't belong a la Epcot 2.0? Let's hope not!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 27, 2020

Sunday in Italy

Sunday in Italy. The beautiful region of Cinque Terra was be seen to be fully appreciated. I've shared several photographs in years past, and even though this one isn't mine, it's none the less stunning. A relaxing swim at an uncrowded shoreline, followed by a little window shopping and a light lunch high above it all. Sounds so nice but of course, currently impossible. I can dream, can't it?
 

December 25, 2020

A Christmas Harder Than Usual

With a year such as this one, it may be harder than usual... but as you pause and take time to relax during Christmas Day and all the festivities into the New Year, stop to be thankful and count your blessings. Give thanks to God for every good thing! There's lots to be thankful for, but the best gift is God's Son, Jesus Christ- God made Man, and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. My sins, your sins, and all who would believe in Him will be covered through the sacrifice of His Blood. A gift of eternal life for all who would believe He was born, rose from the dead, and will return as King. In other words- the perfect gift that no one else could buy.


Thank you for another year of reading the blog...

December 24, 2020

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant. Even the name is beautiful. This piece of concept art / color scheme is nice too, but it doesn't compare to the real thing. Not even close. The work of Imagineers  Tom Morris and Tony Baxter and team created a beautiful Fantasyland- just stunning, unique and fully worthy of the Disney legacy. You've got to see the Disneyland Paris park to believe it!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 22, 2020

Amazing New Epcot Entrance!?!

Today Zach Riddley, Walt Disney World Site Portfolio Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, unveiled the brand new amazing and original entrance area and fountain for EPCOT. Look at it- it's beautiful!

Problem is, it's not all that original. The top photo is from the 1982 opening season era of EPCOT Center. The photo directly above and the one below are from today's ongoing transformation into a park that will celebrate Disney's Intellectual Properties from all over the world.  

Yes, it's a beautiful work! Going back to the original designs for the park is sure to please. Those Imagineers knew what they were doing and created an iconic and visionary theme park. Today's Imagineers working on the current transformation have an assignment to do that fully meets the mandate of more of the things park fans love... in the Magic Kingdom. It's not their fault.

Let's hope the next phase of this transformation truly surprises and delights in a good way!

(Photographs copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 21, 2020

2020 Christmas Family Devotional: Week Three

 

December 21 – 31  “…they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child…”

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving
Read Luke 2:8-20 and Matthew 2:1-12 together.   Summarize if needed.

Points for consideration:
God sent angels to proclaim the birth of Jesus. It was that important!  And then He led the three Wise Men to see the newborn child where they gave their treasures to Him. 
Jesus is God made flesh, and He and the Father are One (John 8:58-9; Colossians 2:9). 
Jesus is the only way to eternal life (John 14:6). He was that clear to keep it simple, so that no one would be confused. Jesus came to pay the price for our sin out of His love for us and His obedience to the Father.

Imagine being a shepherd in the field. You saw the angels and heard what they said.  What would be your reaction? What would you think? Would you tell the people around you?  You don’t have to be rich or famous to give important gifts.  What can you give to Jesus? 

Stop to praise and thank Him for revealing this “Good News of Great Joy”.  Your children might say, “Father, I praise you for the gift of Jesus!” or “Jesus, help me to share about you!”

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.  If they are ready, have them ask Jesus for forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.  Pray for them that they would rely on God to know and follow Him.   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!

December 20, 2020

A Little South Beach

Getting a White Christmas and wish you weren't?  Take a short quick trip to South Beach, Florida with these three photographs! Sometimes, Walt Disney World has to get interrupted by a visit to the water. Not a pool. Not a water park. The real thing will only do.


Framed by lush, green vegetation, nothing is better than the beauty God creates. 

Move on when you're ready or linger awhile and dream! 

Special thanks to the photographer who sent these to me!

December 18, 2020

My Favorite Disney Park Photos: A Moody California Adventure

It's hard to believe that California Adventure will have its 20th Anniversary in February! I'll have a HUGE post to commemorate that coming your way. But in the meantime, here's a photo from a decade ago. It was a moody, overcast, grey afternoon- making it a prime photo opportunity! 

A morning view from the opposite direction.

The stationary California Zephyr may have disappointed guests who thought it would take them on a grand circle tour of the park, similar to Disneyland's Santa Fe Railroad, but it did offer a pretty good bakery, a solid ice cream spot, and a pretty unique little toy shop. 

The best part about it all, was the sense of California it gave the under Imagineered Six Flags-like second gate. There was so little true theming to be found that even the slightest hint of a nod to the culture and history of California stood out. 

The newly Imagineered park brought the charm of Buena Vista Street and the awesome and inspired Cars Land, but the Zephyr was a victim of the grand transformation. It's too bad. 

The entire park was Bargain Basement Imagineering at its worst. Yet, it does make for a fascinating history. If you want more, take a look at this series on articles on the blog. You'll be amazed and strikingly disappointed in what Disney executives of the time thought would be a compelling sister park to Walt's original Magic Kingdom!

In fact, there are over 400 articles on this blog about the little park that once was the laughing stock of the theme park world. Take a peek at Bargain Basement Imagineering beginning here. Part Two is here. Part Three (with the beginning of the park transformation) can be found here. There are also a large number of articles on this site that chronicle the transformation of the park through a look at Disney concept art, Imagineering a New Dream. Enjoy!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

December 16, 2020

An Unplanned Pregnancy

What could he do? His girlfriend was now carrying someone else's child. They both knew that was the truth, and he was confused. It was her choice. Abortion wasn't an option for her. She was certain the baby deserved to live. But how could she walk this out?

People were talking, making the entire matter much harder than it had to be. But you know how people are! They love to gossip and slander and make themselves look better than others. Soon the news was everywhere, and people were looking at her growing belly. Even her relatives felt the need to comment on the situation. One woman even told her she knew this would happen. Can you picture yourself saying that to someone? Wow! What is it with people? God had been so gracious to this older woman in her own shame, taking it away, but she had to open her mouth and say something. The young woman's response to her was very gracious. She believed  even unplanned and unexpected events had a purpose. In an odd turn, the younger woman agreed to move in and help the older one who needed some special assistance. For three months, she stayed to help her. Imagine that!

Eventually, the couple both felt compelled to travel to his hometown. She was close to having the baby now. Flying wasn't an option, so they packed up their bags and took to the road. It was a long, hard trip. The countryside was beautiful, but then she went into labor. No one could help.  She delivered the baby, and they did the best they could to keep him warm and safe.

There were folks living in the fields nearby who worked in animal sciences. They'd heard about what had happened from someone they didn't expect. Even under the circumstances, the news hit that this was something to be glad about. 

"But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praying God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

(From the accounts in the books of Matthew and Luke. Copyright Mark Taft.)

December 12, 2020

Carpenters Band Offers Their Tribute

At the end of 1973, Karen and Richard Carpenter were so hot in the music business that Billboard magazine published a twenty something pages long supplement to celebrate their accomplishments. Both Yesterday Once More and the Now & Then album peaked just short of the summit at Number Two. The next releases by Carpenters would bring them to Number One. Soon to be gold Top of the World had just been released as a new single, and The Singles 1969 - 1973 would come out a few weeks later. It'd top the charts in January 1974.  

Along with the expected industry congratulations and an interview based story with the duo, the Carpenters band took out their own ad. It's this one that is most touching. Doug Strawn, Bob Messenger, Danny Woodhams, Tony Peluso, and Cubby O'Brien signed luggage tags representing different places they'd traveled together. The opening line, "Superstars? Don't ask us." testify to the oft told story that even though Karen and Richard were the clear bosses, the whole team comprised a single family. The ad is a pretty sweet message, a time capsule of sorts of an era long ago and far away.

I'm revisiting each of the Carpenters albums and the impact of their music one at a time. I've finished The Singles 1669 - 1973.  (You can find it here.) The next one I'm working on is  Live in Japan.  In addition to the many articles on Karen and Richard on the blog, the list of original and new reviews appears below.
-----

My Initial Reviews of the albums:



December 11, 2020

2020 Christmas Family Devotional: Week Two

December 11 – 20   “He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”

Time of Praise and Thanksgiving
If appropriate, read Matthew 1:18-25 together.  Or read Luke 2:1-7 if your children are younger.

Points for consideration:
God placed Jesus in Joseph’s human family because he was part of David’s family, and this was in line with the prophecies about the Savior.
God is in control of world events so that they are in line with His Plan.
World leaders – presidents, kings, and all those in government- are placed in positions        of authority by God (See Romans 13). 
Joseph did what was right even if it was difficult. God gave him strength.

Isn’t it amazing that God strategically 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?  Sometimes events around us mean it’s hard to do what is right. When has God asked you to do something difficult? What happened and how did God use it?

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for His power.  
An example of their praise might be, “Father, thank you for putting me in my family!” or  “Thank you Father for giving me what I needed when I shared you with my friends!”

Time of Prayer  
Read Ephesians 3:14-21. Then read 2 Peter 1:3, Philippians 4:13, and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.  
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 we 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.
God’s power allows us to do the work He has called us to do. 

Ask your children if they belong to Him and why. Do they understand God’s love? How this is reflected in the way they live? How are they being obedient to Him? How is God being faithful as they step out in obedience?

Pray together. Pray that they would rely on God to know and follow His Ways. Pray for our leaders that they would come to know Him more deeply and to follow His ways in all things. 
 
(Devotional copyright Mark Taft.)

December 10, 2020

Art for A Different Version of the Grand Californian Hotel

What is this? Well, it's the original Imagineering plan for the Grand Californian Hotel! Is it me or does this look a lot more like what you'd find in Solvang?

Don't get me wrong- I like the look. It's charming and so very different than anything else Disney Imagineering has done in the past. But it has a European flavor to it that doesn't capture the essence of California. The current Frank Lloyd Wright flair with its Craftsman focus is on target.  Will we ever see another themed resort at Disneyland? My guess is not for many years.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 9, 2020

A Better Walt Disney World? Not This Way!

Want to live in a real life Walt Disney World? Peaceful, serene, and without conflict? No COVID, no war, no stress. It can be yours! The cost? It would take a small number of people controlling how you live. This is not me! But if the people behind The Great Reset have their way, your diet will be controlled, your energy use rationed, and your free and open communication limited. Sounds like this all takes "cancel culture" to a whole new level. Judge for yourself. Go here for a critique of it all or go here to read the open propaganda piece about the motives of the World Economic Forum. Trust me, this won't be Walt Disney World!

December 7, 2020

The Creation of Belle

My adorable little granddaughter decided to send a card to my other adorable granddaughter. But of course, she had to draw something special! And so it was that the littlest Belle came to be created. From one princess to another.

December 6, 2020

Peter Frampton Delivers

Here's a Billboard and Cashbox ad from A&M Records announcing the newest single from Peter Frampton, Signed, Sealed, Delivered. The remake of the Stevie Wonder classic is one of my most loved records. With soaring vocals and his trademark hot guitar, Frampton brought flesh life to it. I remember seeing him during his Frampton Comes Alive tour where this was his encore. I turned to my friend and said, "This should be a single!" Little did I know it would happen as his second release from I'm In You, his follow up to the mega smash double disc.

December 1, 2020

2020 Christmas Family Devotional: Week One

In many ways, this is a Christmas season unlike no other. In spite of the turmoil in the world, our families have much to celebrate!  In place of fear, we have the hope of Jesus Christ! This makes it a wonderful and timely opportunity to share the Gospel message within the context of the holidays. So, I'm pleased to offer you this year's family devotional. I've enjoyed writing it, and I hope your family gets such from it.

Our goal as believers is to bring  glory to God in the way we live and to be obedient  to Him in all things. Our goal as parents is to train our children in the ways of the Lord and to see them own a very personal, life-changing relationship with God.  From this relationship comes a desire to share His goodness and His message with those who don’t know Him. We can also encourage those who do know Him. Our children belong  to the Lord. We are only the stewards. We want them well-prepared for wherever their journey may take them! They can trust Him and not be afraid.

Our goal with this devotional is to help your children understand that God Himself wishes to write His Story in their hearts. He wants them to invest their lives in a way that pleases Him and brings His glory to the nations. May they see God actively at work  in their lives as they encounter Him, are changed by Him, and are used by Him.   

Each Monday, I'll share another portion of the devotional so you can go one week at a time.

Here's some ideas to think through as you begin. Week One follows. May God bless you and your family!

  • 1.      Take time to read through this devotional before you go through it with your children. This will give you a chance to pray for them in preparation of your time together.

  • 2.     Make this time 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. 
  • 3.     Keep this devotional on the dinner table. Explain to your kids why the book is there. Someone is bound to remember.
  • 4.     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, talk about ways to apply what has been read. Knowledge of the Bible is empty  and meaningless unless we do what it says (James 1:22-25).  Remember, this isn’t school.  It’s a chance to grow in your relationship with your kids as you all grow closer to the Lord.
  • 5.     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.  
  • 6.     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?
  • 7.     If you have older children, allow them to share the responsibility of reading the verses. Leading them to Him is the goal. Explain any difficult words. 
  • 8.     Before you move to the next section of the devotional, take a bit of time to talk about what you’ve already covered.  Check for understanding in a conversational manner.

9.     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 then  to share Him with others. 


“Have I not commanded you? 

Be strong and courageous.

Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you 

wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9


December 1 – 10           “I am the servant of the Lord”

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:

·       God wants a personal relationship with His kids! 

·       He desires to involve us in His plans, and He hears the prayers of his children. 

·       Obedience to Him in key to pleasing Him. The results of being obedient may surprise us!

 

Lead the children to praise and thank Him for Who He Is and to thank Him for His Love.

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 as King! There is no one else 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!

·       God’s plan may not have been her plan, but Mary submitted to His Plan and trusted Him with her life.  This brought God glory!

Ask your children how they think God could use them.  Encourage them to think creatively.  What other people do they know who have lives that look very different from most Americans? What do they notice? Are they willing to live their lives as He leads them? How are their lives bringing Him glory now? Discuss what this means.

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

(Devotional copyright Mark Taft.)