May 31, 2021

A Fresh Way to Be Thankful on Memorial Day

Thank you to those who served to maintain our freedoms and gave the ultimate gift of the sacrifice of their lives. These men and women spent their lives so others could live free, following the pattern of Jesus Christ who gave up his life willingly so they all who would know him, love him, and give their lives to him, would live free for eternity.

May 29, 2021

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

My wonderful wife retired from teaching after 25 years. She well deserves these words of blessing from Jesus for her faithfulness! Loving and teaching children is a gift that's hard to act out with grace and gentleness. But she has been called to this as much as any person could be! Well done, dear wife!

May 28, 2021

Expansion for Disneyland Paris

Expansion plans for the world's most beautiful Magic Kingdom? Yes, please! Disneyland Paris has been relatively untouched by the newer and very different group of Imagineers than the ones who designed this gorgeous park. Financial woes have thankfully had a plus side! There's been few alterations to the park. But it is time for something new. Is there space for expansion? Absolutely! Each land holds vast amounts of acreage just waiting for it to happen. By the way, see the yellowish mountain of sorts in the upper left hand corner of Frontierland? Could it be for Splash Mountain? Check this out. You'll see the concept art for something VERY interesting.

(Model copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 26, 2021

Richard Carpenter, Chris May, and Mike Cidoni Lennox Go Behind the Music of Carpenters

Richard Carpenter of the beloved Carpenters music group meets with authors Mike Cidoni Lennox (left) and Chris May as they celebrate their collaboration, Carpenters: The Musical Legacy. For the first time, brother Richard tells his stories of the creation of the beloved music and albums that he and sister Karen Carpenter created over the decades. Rumor has it that this book is only the beginning of a series of events and activities focusing on 50+ years of enduring music. Proving once again that songs like Yesterday Once More, Top of the World and Goodbye to Love never really go out of style, fans have been requesting a volume like this for years- one that focuses on the creation of the music the world loves. 

May 24, 2021

Summer Kicks Off!

Finally, Summer arrives! Not officially, but for us, the warmer weather and the ability to sleep at night with the cool but not cold breezes marks the beginning of the season. And this nice little greenhouse project makes a great beginning to time in the garden!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

May 23, 2021

Who Knew the Jungle Cruise Could Look Like This?

This photo shocked me- but in a good way! Take a look at this gorgeous photograph of the Jungle Cruise at Hong Kong Disneyland by user HKDL Fantasy on Twitter. The bright reds, oranges, and yellows of Spring bring an entirely different look to this reimagined classic Adventureland attraction. This little park may be considered by some as the runt of castle parks, but it's huge on charm and getting better as the years go by! A brand new castle, the upcoming Frozen themed land, Mystic Manor and more. A pretty good line-up!

May 21, 2021

Epcot Musings

Why is it that even in its saddest state ever, Epcot, continues to be my favorite Walt Disney World park? It certainly does not have the most iconic and beloved attractions. That crown would easily go to the Magic Kingdom. Nor does it hold the most technologically impressive ones as that winner would have to be Rise of the Resistance and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Lastly, it isn't even the contender for the park with my current Top Two Attractions. That would be Disney's Animal Kingdom for Expedition: Everest and Flight of Passage as the current king of must-see-when-I-visit favorites. So why does Epcot- and not the much better EPCOT Center -continue to fascinate?

Much of what I loved at Florida's second Disney park no longer exists. Reflections of Earth is gone. The epic but long gone adventures of Journey into Imagination, Horizons, and World of Motion now only exist in my imagination, and their replacements are a mere shadow of what originally was purposely and beautifully designed. Those days are gone as is the promised future of many more World Showcase pavilions.

Is help on its way or more pain as the revisioning of the park continues? Love it or not, Imagineer Zach Riddley is certainly keeping us up to date with the tiniest of details. He wants to convince us it's more than his job to bring this park back to a pristine and refreshed state, that it's a personal passion for him. So far, the results are mixed. Yet, the biggest wins are in areas where the park is returning to elements from the past, so maybe we can begin to believe him. We've yet to see the coming future, but I'm trying to be open-minded. I've already said this, and I'll say it again: We are the reason Epcot is changing.

With so much gone, what's left to love? Plenty! Wide open expanses of gardens filled with blooms. Large bodies of water that reflect the morning sun and the evening sunset. The classic and still inspiring Spaceship Earth, the retro--cool Living with the Land boat ride, and a little figment of my imagination. He certainly needs a better attraction, but his sheer presence harkens to what could be.

That's it- potential! I find it in the optimism that abounds in the faces of the hopefully soon to return international citizens that populated the mini-nations of World Showcase. The beauty of the films of France, of China, and yes, even of Canada. The live music, the cultural exhibits, the stunning American Adventure production- one of Disney's most incredible attractions. I find sweetness and humor in the Gran Fiesta Tour, in Frozen Ever After- and soon in Remy's Ratatouille Adventure. These are far from perfect and could be much better, but they counterbalance the tones of the more serious aspects of the park.

It's when the sun begins to set for the day when Epcot comes alive and my appreciation and love for the park truly grows. How can any guest not look at the pavilions of World Showcase lit up against an evening sky and the calming lagoon and not get that sense of elegance and sophistication all around that brings a smile? That leisurely evening stroll with a treat in hand (liquid or otherwise) as the local music plays, the pace relaxes, and the rush to run from attraction to attraction turns into an embrace of the time to take in all the exquisite views that abound. Maybe an attraction, an exhibit or two. Then it's dinner! Choosing a favorite place to sit still, have some warm conversation about the day's events, and some fairly good food (if you choose wisely) is the perfect way to begin the night time touring. For me, the later the dinner the better, as we can walk out through the park and take in all the countries with most all the guests departed for the day. It's quiet and almost sacred in its serenity. I'd choose it over an exhausting day at any other park. 

Can you sense why I love Epcot? Hopefully that continues with all the changes to come. The big blue box annoys me, and the giant metal tacos ruin a once gorgeous view. Shuttered Future World pavilions remain, and construction seems to be everywhere. Yet, I'm not giving up! I'm optimistic that more good changes are coming than bad ones. The optimism is in me- and I remain cautiously open to the park's future. Do you?

(Photograph copyright Zach Riddley and The Walt Disney Company.)

May 20, 2021

Hear, Hear!

These incredible words from the Old Testament, found in the Book of Deuteronomy 6:4-7, remind us of the importance to love God with everything we have and are. After being at two funerals this week, it was pretty apparent I have some adjusting to do...

May 19, 2021

Carpenters: The Musical Legacy Book Coming!

The definitive biography of one of the most enduring and endeared recording artists in history—the Carpenters—will be told for the first time from the perspective of Richard Carpenter, through more than 100 hours of exclusive interviews and some 200 photographs from Richard’s personal archive, many never published. CARPENTERS: THE MUSICAL LEGACY is coming to bookstores on October 19th. Pre-order your copy today:

Thanks to Chris May and his coauthor Mike Cidoni Lennox for this labor of love!

May 17, 2021

Rare 1967 Disneyland Painted Map

Here's a fresh and bright and charming 1967 map of Disneyland. It seemingly wasn't used much if at all as there are no labels or text, but it is full of vintage goodness. Used shortly after the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean that same year, the graphic design of the icons sparkle with life. 

It was during a season when Audio-Animatronics were new and exciting. Take a look at the prominence of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln right at the hub, the Enchanted Tiki Room makes its splash on the map, and the beautiful clock tower of It's A Small World stands proudly behind the castle. Beyond those highlights, the beloved and iconic New Tomorrowland shows off the Peoplemover while older school attractions still have a place. From the Swiss Family Treehouse to the Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Jungle Cruise, Disney knew their market and that variety is the spice of life.

For all its many changes over the decades, "Walt's park" certainly remains just as astonishing as ever!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 16, 2021

When in Venice

When Epcot's World Showcase will have to suffice since travel is unavailable, it's still worth looking over some old family vacation photos. Italy's Venice never disappoints! If it's beautiful during the day, it is absolutely stunning at night. 

In the Summer of 2007, my wife and I took a three week long adventure through Europe. Don't be mistaken in thinking we're made of money! We saved $50 a month for ten years to make it happen. (Yes, read that again- it wasn't a typo!) But boy, was it worth it! France, the UK, Italy, and Germany. It's a trip of a lifetime. You can read all about it and see our photos here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

May 14, 2021

Retro Look at Disneyland's Tomorrowland- Herb Ryman Style

Many, many Imagineers are excellent artists, but none can compare to Herb Ryman, a man responsible for so many pieces of concept art for Disneyland and especially EPCOT Center. This isn't one of those incredible, beautifully rendered paintings for Disney's first non-castle park, but it is still quite a charming one. 

There's a cool retro / vintage vibe to this 1950's look to Tomorrowland that only Herb could execute. This snapshot of the "Space Bar" captures all the elements of then futuristic design.

As we know, post the 1967 revisioning, Tomorrowland lost its way and has yet to be found. Will it ever come back to its glory days? I have a small bit of hope. The planned throwback for the land's entrance seems promising for a new future. Now only if Disney can ever get it together to complete it. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

A Proposal and A Plan

Congratulations to our son and his fiancĂ©! May their lives together be blessed!

May 13, 2021

Olivia Newton-John and Paul Anka Make Beautiful Music

Reminiscent of Art Garfunkel's mid-70s hit, I Only Have Eyes for You, the talents of singer/songwriter Paul Anka and Olivia Newton-John make his Put Your Head on My Shoulder even more beautiful than his original. It's a song seemingly written for one of my favorite singers to record. You've just got to hear it!

May 11, 2021

Disneyland's Splash Mountain Promotional Poster

Fan favorite Splash Mountain made a great big, well, splash when it debuted at Disneyland in 1989! Some would argue it is one of the best attractions spearheaded by Imagineer Tony Baxter. That'd be quite an argument as you could make up a whole theme park of his projects- and it's be filled with much loved attractions like Journey Into Imagination, the Indiana Jones Adventure, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and even all of Disneyland Paris!

As you'll see below, the final version is enhanced and a bit different.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


May 8, 2021

Unseen Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland may be "China's Disney park" (instead of "Disney's China park"- I mean we all know who really runs the show in this country known for flexing its muscles), and therefore, it's unique and filled with touches of design that reflect a particularly Eastern design aesthetic, but there's just something so corporate feeling about it. Is it just me? 

In contrast to the mainland China park, the other Asian parks, Tokyo Disneysea, Tokyo Disneyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland seem warm, approachable, human, and filled with Disney charm and the cultural touch points. This isn't an insult to Imagineering as I'm sure much of the decisions had to be approved by the government. And we all know that Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure is the star attraction and worthy of the price of admission for good reason!

Shanghai's Mickey Avenue may be the exception to this corporate feel. It's one part Toontown and one part Fantasyland, but it seems to work as the entry street replacing what would normally be Main Street U.S.A.

The concept art promises a sense of lightness and innocence. The reality may meet these expectations, but in all honesty, Shanghai is last on my list to visit, so I probably am not going to see it for myself if ever. Even Disney's tiniest Magic Kingdom in Hong Hong holds more appeal. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 7, 2021

My Favorite Disney Park Photos: Downtown Disney's Catal

For this post, I'm leaving the parks for a night at Downtown Disney. When you're just relaxing, sitting on the sidelines people watching just before the big crowds leave Disneyland and California Adventure, you can't help but notice how pretty the place is! Sure, the California version of Disney Springs can seem a bit dated in places, but for something that opened in 2001, she still looks great. Especially after dark. (This photograph was from my 2008 visit.) 

The round Catal bar has always caught my eye. Sitting in the middle of the busy walkway, it is a beautiful little spot where the design details of the place complement the more hard edged elements of what surrounds it. Very nicely done- and the drinks are good, too!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

May 6, 2021

A World in Need of God on Our National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Our nation is part of a world gone crazy, a world ravaged by COVID-19, racial strife, political turmoil, the desecration of all things good. There's hatred for those different than us and hatred for Christians. We live in a world where humanism is the order of the day, where groups that are on opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum work together to abolish Christianity from the world scene. 

Ironic in that Jesus says boldly- He alone is the only way to God the Father. He is the Truth, and He is the Life. Jesus said no one would get to an eternal life in heaven without believing in Him and that He alone died on the cross for the sins of man and was resurrected to life.

Jesus was that direct and simple- not because He hated people. But because He loved them and wanted to make the way to forgiveness and heaven clear. He's more than a prophet, more than a good man. He alone is God incarnate- God in the flesh. All who oppose Him will be lost for eternity. That includes you. That includes me. Wake up, America! We've lost our way. 

Pray today for a fresh start with God- pray for our nation and pray for yourself, won't you? No one should be left out from this opportunity to join a nation in prayer.

May 5, 2021

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo at Epcot!

Sometimes the simplest attractions from a technological standpoint are the most beloved. Think Peter Pan's Flight in the castle parks or in EPCOT Center's case, El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico showcase. Upon our first visit in 1983, it was one of my all time favorite experiences. And it still would be... if it wasn't changed to a character filled journey, but that is the future of Epcot. 

Take a look at the beautiful piece of concept art for the Mexico pavilion by Imagineer Eddie Martinez. As a Disney park geek, it's the perfect way to begin celebrating Cinco de Mayo before diving into tamales, chips, salsa, and especially margaritas at your favorite restaurant. Or if you are blessed to be in Florida at one of the Walt Disney World restaurants! 

Even though Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's conquest of the French during the time of the Civil War in the United States, nowadays it's just a reason to party. And there's no better place to celebrate as a Disney fan than at Epcot's stunning Mexico World Showcase!

The concept art gives way to a beautiful reality.

This single pavilion- an instant favorite from our first visit in 1983- has the unique distinction in all of World Showcase of being mostly all indoors. That is changing as the years go on, but from first glance, all guests can see is a waterside restaurant (with amazingly great food at dinner- the best of all restaurants on this side of the park), a small taco stand with adult refreshments, and a large, imposing pyramid in the midst of the jungle. You've got to go deeper to get the true flavor of it all, but it is worth the exploration.

Even this Disney publicity photo shows
how tightly they pack in the diners!

Once you step inside the pyramid, it's a beautiful sight! Reminiscent of Disneyland's  glorious Blue Bayou restaurant which overlooks Pirates of the Caribbean, here in Mexico night skies dominate, and the music of mariachis fills the air. The quaint central plaza built in the beautiful Colonial style includes a small museum with hints of Coco, a tequila bar, shopping opportunities, and an enchanting and once great but unfortunately now pricy and mediocre, waterfront restaurant, San Angel Restaurante

Imagineer Clem Hall's pencil sketch.

Looking past that, colorful lanterns hang in the air while mariachis play their festive tunes. A distant volcano spews smoke, and a smaller pyramid just on the far side of the river beckons further exploration. 

Official Disney construction photo 
of the temple inside.

The mysterious and beautiful setting is the home of a river cruise... into a cartoon world? Yes, but it wasn't always that way.

An empty pavilion before World Showcase officially opens.

Although the very charming, dignified, and mysterious El Rio del Tiempo attraction has now been replaced by the escapades of three fowl friends on their Gran Fiesta Tour, the pavilion is still a cause for celebration. Another margarita, anyone? How about we go back in time for a boat ride through Mexican history and and her cultures both ancient and modern instead?

Concept art for inside the showcase.

At the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the Disney Imagineers set a new creative standard for themselves by designing a part that was future focused but also full of human accomplishment while celebrating the cultures of mankind. Walt Disney's EPCOT- Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard details the creation and execution of this cutting edge park- the first non-Magic Kingdom style playground ever built by the Mouse. It was an expensive undertaking, but what an incredible experience it was for guests venturing beyond what they knew a Disney park to be!

Let's look at a few pieces of concept art and photos of the splendid Mexico pavillion circa opening year.  

When we first visited EPCOT Center in 1983, this pavilion was a clear favorite among all the World Showcase countries represented. The main medium for telling the story of the country was a Disney first: a large part of the signature attraction was told through the medium of dance, but any Disney fan will also see the strong influences of other attractions, most notably If You Had Wings, an old Magic Kingdom favorite from Tomorrowland. Music was a dominating factor whether outside the pavilion inside, or on the main ride.

Mid-afternoon shot from 2019.
Really beautiful, isn't it?

Inside the large temple, a small Mexican village is darkened by eternal nighttime, and there is some celebration happening!  We had reservations for a meal during the hottest part of the day and were not disappointed. An absolutely  perfect late afternoon lunch sitting waterside sipping margaritas and eating Queso Fundido made it tempting to do nothing else, but the boats cruising El Rio del Tiempo got us out of our seats... eventually. 

The boat cruise was designed to be much more grand, closer on the scale of Pirates of the Caribbean in length and immersion. Imagine! However, the budgets were blown and time was short before opening day. Adjustments had to be made, and the signature attraction was truncated. Such is the life of an Imagineer

Once aboard, our departure onto the river is at once peaceful and mysterious and suspenseful. As  we enter a smaller temple, our adventure begins with a dose of Disney magic: Encountering a statue of a high priest who comes to life, dancers soon surround, moving to ancient rhythms. In its original form, this section was the showpiece of the attraction. The history of the indigenous peoples makes for a stunning story- thankfully a depiction of human sacrifices spared- but here, everything was told in an equally artistic and beautiful presentation. From ancient days, we head on.

The doll filled celebration of the Day of the Dead startles in contrast with the flavors of It's a Small World, but it's only a small segment of the ride. The new and colorful style used to tell this potion of the story is almost jarring, but it does keep the guests from getting bored! This is also where the theme song comes to life and gets stuck in your head.

                               This publicity photo shows the drama a great color scheme creates!

We continue into other regions depicting the Mexico of the Travel Channel: Beaches, parties, and tourist sites. In other words, perpetual Cinco de Mayo. It's a step down from the elegance of what we saw earlier, but it is very playful and thoroughly enjoyable. The music is memorable, and any EPCOT Center lover worth his title as fan can hum the song even while reading this post!

The Imagineers did an excellent job capturing the culture of our friends south of the border. The end result reflected a true labor of love even if doused with a shot of economic reality. It was a beloved attraction that only needed a tune up. However, the suits at Disney were looking for a new way to make a buck once sponsorship had ended, so in came the movie tie-in. This was one of the first steps into turning the park into something that also promoted Disney Intellectual Properties. Done well, Coco would fit in quite easily here.

Recent revisions to the boat ride employed an insertion of The Three Caballeros film and Donald Duck and friends. It's sassy and kid-friendly, but just plain wrong. This major mistake in direction stripped the dignity and sophistication imbred into EPCOT Center since its inception. But the addition of Nemo in the Seas, Elsa in Norway, and Remy into France with his Ratatouille infusion, means this trend will not stop. Call Epcot Magic Kingdom 2.0 now.

The finale in Mexico City!

There's plenty of reasons to celebrate Mexico and her culture today- and I wish that I could do it by going back in time to ride Epcot's gorgeous but long gone, El Rio del Tiempo.  There are dozens of YouTube videos, but one of my favorites is here.

The past is the past, but what a glorious time it was back at EPCOT Center's opening...

 Vaya con Dios (Go with God)!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photos by Mark Taft aside from the top photo copyright Disney.)

May 4, 2021

Lessons from the Emergency Room

As I sat in the emergency room waiting for the doctor to sew up my hand, my friend Mike and I had to laugh. Six stitches across my thumb due to one false move in cutting a metal stud for my basement! I always knew I wasn’t born a construction worker. I didn’t need this reminder. 

Yet God called had me out of my comfort zone once again to be involved in this project at a level I was unskilled in. Interestingly enough, prior to cutting the first metal stud, I stopped and prayed for God’s safety and protection. I am afraid of sharp objects and don’t do great with them. (I don’t even shave all that well!) What happened? The result of taking a risk.

The Biblical teachings on living an abundant life are having an impact on me. God has been speaking to me about risk-taking being part of living a faith-filled life. I am trying to figure out how that applies to me. Being obedient to what we know God to be telling is integrity.

The entire Bible is filled with accounts of risk takers for God. In the book of Acts, (Chapter 20:7-12,) Paul is once again used dramatically. While listening to him preach a very lengthy sermon, a young man named Eutychus dozed off around midnight and fell down. Other than embarrassment, this usually wouldn’t be too much of an issue. Except Eutychus was sitting in a window on the third story. His friends pronounce him dead. Paul rushes to the ground, throws his arms around Eutychus and tells everyone present that he is alive- which is now true thanks to God, and to Paul’s obedience. In being so bold, Paul took a great risk that he heard God correctly. Certainly, Paul was a gifted speaker, but imagine how those listening even more so considered the truth of his words after this resurrection! (And like some preachers, Paul then continued talking until daylight!) Point being, Paul’s risk brought God glory. Not only were people more willing to believe, you can bet Paul’s own faith was deepened.

Not every risk brings such spectacular results. What about my hand? Hadn’t I prayed for safety? God was faithful to me. No cut tendons, no nerve damage, no loss of mobility. But no one was raised from the dead, either. 

I love this quote:

“The risk-free life is a victory-free life.  
It means life-long surrender to the mediocre 
and that is the worst of all possible defeats.” 
Jamie Buckingham, pastor and author, 1932-1992

The truth is that sometimes risk brings results we didn’t plan for- tough circumstances or even anger from others. (Overseas missionaries get this all the time!) What did I learn or accomplish? Haven’t a clue. But this I do know: when God leads, I would rather risk then let my fear keep me from obedience. To me, that is the biggest part of living an abundant life-obedience.

What about you? What does risk taking look like in your life? Are you listening or watching for God to challenge you in a new way? What would obedience bring? Don't be mistaken into thinking a comfortable life is a sign of God's presence. No risk means no reward in watching God work. 

Can you live with the chance of failure? Can you make that leap of faith? Ask God to lead you and give you the strength to jump. You can be sure the abundant life - with all its bumps and bruises- is what He has waiting for you.

May 3, 2021

EPCOT's Forgotten Windmill

Epcot's World Showcase will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world. Or something like that! Here, Imagineer Harper Goff's concept for a Thames River Ride in the United Kingdom pavilion reveals something more for this part of EPCOT Center. Look at the horizon (Horizons?) and you'll discover a lovely windmill was once proposed as an addition. Can you imagine a cruise along the canals of Amsterdam? Could be a very charming internationally flavored version of Storybookland Canal Boats. Oh, the incredible amount of unused concepts for this once unique Disney park!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 1, 2021

Sea of Tranquility

What a photo for a lazy Saturday morning! A perfect sea of tranquility- the sounds of the waves, the warmth of the sun, a perfectly clear sky. I can see it all, can't you? Trust me, this makes a great desktop photo.

(Photograph from Canva.)