December 31, 2012

End of the Year Wrap Up: Changes, Changes, Changes

End of the year lists and facts and insights are just some of the things I cannot resist. It's been such a year of change for us. And the world has changed around us, too. Let me fill you in...

You might have sensed my time was being spent in new places as the blog posts came with less frequency. Starting right off in January, my world changed quite a bit! I gave up my full-time paying job for separate non-paying jobs with two non-profit service agencies. Not one job, but two. My wonderful wife and I spent a large chunk of time praying about this potential change as we knew the impact would be huge. What would it be like for her to carry the financial burden? Could we do it? How would we survive? 

Well, in some ways it did not matter. We felt God was giving us the "Go" signal, so we were obedient. My hands shook turning in my resignation. That was almost a year ago.

Two days later, the news came that one of my oldest and best friends had died of diabetes in his sleep. Shocking as he was externally very fit and healthy, but I knew inside he had been fighting this battle for 40 years. I found myself mourning and also having to put together his funeral services. Not the first time I've had to perform services for a friend, but I hope it will be the last. Yet, deep down, I know this will just keep going on.

(And speaking of folks moving into eternity, goodbye Whitney Houston and Donna Summer- two women with amazing voices and very interesting lives... )

March and April brought more (joyous) change as each of our daughters gave birth to a son. My youngest daughter and her husband's first child; and my oldest daughter's and husband's second. At four months along in her pregnancy, the doctors said he had no cerebellum and they should abort. They refused, and we all prayed.  Three days before delivery, there was the slightest amount of brain tissue there. Upon delivery, 100% normal and healthy. The doctors smugly wrote it off to "misdiagnosis", but we knew better. God doesn't always heal or do miracles, but He does do what He pleases to do- and we are thankful.

Just a few months later, the Aurora theater shooting hit us pretty hard. It was so eerie to be just a mile or two away from the location, and having the tragedy right in our city keeps things in perspective. Our church was able to give gift boxes of cards, food and coffee certificates and such to the first responders as a sign of support. Can you imagine showing up to that as part of your job?

Things began to pick up speed for us as we adjusted to our new life. As I adjusted, I still kept track on all the latest Disney projects: Cars Land and Buena Vista Street at California Adventure; the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, and the ongoing "will they or won't they" build Avatar at the long neglected and now falling apart Disney's Animal Kingdom.  No reason to write another piece in that last series- at least not now. And not a strong enough reason to go back to the World either- even if all the nets are removed from the Tree of Life

After one trip overseas for job #1, we eventually got to take a long deserved vacation to California and get some rest. Time for some beloved ocean, family, and sightseeing. Celebrating the 80th birthday's of my wife's parents was great fun- and it gave me a chance to see the reconstructed California Adventure 2.0. In a word- Stunning! Makes me think I will have to continue my series on Bargain Basement Engineering- and bring that happy ending. Now, let's hope Phase Two at California Adventure really happens. 

Not such a happy ending for Disneyland's poorly planned out and fragmented Tomorrowland, however. Never saw this place in such disarray and disregard for the theme. A sloppy excuse for lack of imagination. Maybe my Attraction Poster series should end with Tomorrowland, so I can move on to those at Walt Disney World.

Now that I think about it, I'm not all the convinced that Phase Two will really happen. I mean, the suits have got to be thrilled with the bump in attendance since Cars Land, and it's probably a big enough increase to may them think, "Why remodel more?" It's that kind of shortsightedness that let Harry Potter get away from them, right into the hands of Universal. 

Let's be honest, Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure are rewriting their history as we speak. The years 2014/15 will be banner years once more. Disney had better watch out. Universal is passing them by in Florida. It's already changing what I will be doing next trip. And tat doesn't even include what's happening at Sea World. Big landmarks coming.

There's been lots of Disney landmarks this year. 45 Years of Pirates of the Caribbean. 20 Years of Disneyland Paris. 30 Years of Epcot. Whoa. Time flies. Speaking of...

This brings us around to December. Who would have guessed? Things have worked out. I am thrilled with my two jobs, and we have survived living on one salary! God is SO good!

What will the future hold? No idea. Change is a constant of life I guess- and my goal is not to control it but to let God direct my life as He chooses. I hope He was blessed by our obedience this year. And I hope your year was filled with good things in the midst of it all. Here's to 2013!

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 30, 2012

Sea Dreams

Dreaming of the ocean today...

(Photograph by Mark Taft.)

December 28, 2012

An Alaskan Winter

Yes, it's cold in Colorado, and we did have a White Christmas! That said, here's a beautiful photograph taken by my brother in law in Alaska. They live out in the middle of nowhere, so when they have a storm, there's no plows to get them out. Just good old fashioned shoveling...

December 27, 2012

It's An Earful

Walt Disney World has a pretty cool logo / poster to celebrate the New Year 2013. Take a close look at the image above, and what do you see? As expected, four icons representing each of the parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. What you don't see- the awful Sorcerer Mickey Hat, with the Earful Tower taking its place. Hope its a sign of things to come!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 21, 2012

The Eye of God

Here's a pretty awesome (in the truest sense of the word) photo taken by NASA. Taken with the Hubbell telescope, they captured this image, naming it "The Eye of God".  Makes me think of this Psalm, 33:12-15:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

Nothing we do or experience escapes His notice. That is once comforting and challenging. Thank you God for the gift of Jesus Christ- the only One who ever lived that paid the price for my sin and the sin of all who give their lives wholeheartedly to Him.

But it gets better. God offers personal involvement in our lives:

"For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (2 Chronicles 16:9a.)

Oh, God, not only do you watch everything we do, you watch out and strengthen those who love you. How good you are!

Let me encourage you to consider turning over your life to Jesus. He alone can give you real hope and real forgiveness from your sin. You can live with Him eternally in Heaven versus wasting your life here and perishing in Hell. He sees. He is watching- and He is waiting for you!

December 20, 2012

Christmas at San Antonio's River Walk

A family event is always a good excuse for a change in the scenery! Last weekend, my wife and I and our youngest son flew down to San Antonio for our niece's wedding. Not only was the ceremony and reception great- in a grand ole Texas tradition- we spent a bit of time at the River Walk. It's always beautiful, but at Christmas, it's a real treat for the eyes. A family member snapped this photo, and I just had to share it. Really spectacular.

December 19, 2012

Coolest Theme Park Addition!

It's about time for me to reconsider that trip to Orlando! Nope, it isn't Disney's New Fantasyland or even Universal's Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey. As you can guess by the graphic, it's Sea World's Empire of the Penguin that has me thinking twice.

Do I love Beauty and the Beast? Yes, but I can wait to dine in the West Wing. A meal at a theme park doesn't make me want to hop on a plane. And I'm not wild about Harry, but the ride system is enticing.

Sure, Test Track 2.0 looks enough like Tron to make me want to go, but at its core, its the same attraction. Beyond that, new restaurants in World Showcase don't keep a theme park fresh. At this point in time, Disney's Hollywood Studios leaves me cold. And don't even get me going about the sad state of Animal Kingdom!

It's been years since I've been to Sea World. But I love the place. Problem is, in earlier days, the location was either inconvenient or I did not want to take time out of my Orlando vacation at Disney to go there. No longer. Penguins, dolphins, whales, oh my!

The photos I've seen of this park make the place look fresh, clean, and extremely appealing. Plus its interactive in a way that is hands-on and video game free. Just my style. Maybe its just time for something new. When Disney's ready to bring back something state of the art to Orlando, then I'll get excited enough to book a ticket. In the meantime, Sea World has something cool Animal Kingdom should have explored years ago, and I know I'm not the only one who will take notice.

December 10, 2012

Little Gems May Bring Some Magic

Now that the New Fantasyland has opened at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, following the opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, there's really nothing too big on the horizon for the US parks. But that doesn't mean there aren't "little gems" of enhancements taking place.

Starting with Walt Disney himself, this practice of "plussing" the parks has been a steady business over at Disneyland for most all its years, except for when a truly evil empire ruled the land in the late 20th Century. (Forget the backstory to the New Fantasyland! This era was when evil really ruled, destroying much of the magic.)

As you can tell from all this concept art, Imagineering is making some pretty drastic changes to where the Hub meets Fantasyland and  Main Street U.S.A. For better or for worse Carnation Plaza Gardens is giving way to a place made just for princesses and those who love them.

Charming is one of the adjectives most used to describe the Anaheim kingdom, and it is the little touches like these that add to the overall atmosphere. If you can get past the loss of a piece of Disneyland history, the proposed changes really are quite beautiful and fit in nicely with Sleeping Beauty Castle. Not that a little imagination couldn't have found other purposes for the space, but during the day, this section of prime real estate sits empty. Turning it into a glorified meet and greet may really assist in making a Frontierland expansion possible in the near future. And that would be truly magical.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 7, 2012

Olivia Newton-John Top Ten

Olivia Newton-John, the All-American Girl (Aussie woman) with a long and prosperous musical career, has just released her new duet video with John Travolta: I Think You Might Like It.  Hoping to capitalize on the immortal success of You're the One That I Want from Grease, the two gather together once more for a benefit Christmas album, This Christmas

It's a pretty harmless piece of fluff- with a wonderful car- but it got me thinking about how Olivia has had some incredible successes along the way. So, I'd like to present my Top Ten favorite Olivia songs. Your mileage may vary. In no particular order:

"Deeper Than A River" (1992): Though long past her hit making days, this country tinged ballad had all the right elements- and it had me looking once again at a vocalist I'd mostly forgotten.

"I Can't Help It" (1980): Duet with the late Andy Gibb.  It's the perfect match of breathy vocals from both and a delicate but simply effective arrangement. A piece of perfect late night ear candy. Made my long evening drives on a delivery route all the more enjoyable.

"Hopelessly Devoted to You" (1978): The Grease solo smash- still love it to this day. You just have to not like music to not appreciate the retro coolness of this record.

"Dancin'" (1980): This 40's meets 80's blend with punk rockers The Tubes shocked me upon first watch at the movies (Xanadu). But I loved it immediately. Layers and layers of Olivia vocals with a swinging beat and big band style. Guilty perfection. Who could ask for more! (Well, maybe a full version of the song with The Tubes edited out?!?)

"Summertime" (2004): From the Indigo-Women of Song project. I had wrongly thought we needed to leave the basement register vocals to Karen Carpenter. I was wrong. Olivia hits bottom in a good way, and the end result is a perfectly respectable take on an American classic.

"Make A Move On Me" (1981): From the Physical album. The keyboard works hard against a spunky and convincing Olivia begging for something better to do- "Won't you spare me all the charms, and take me in your arms." This song had men everywhere getting in line to take her up on the offer.

"Dancin' Round and Round" (1978): From the first album post-Grease, Olivia threw in this gentle country cut. All around a Totally Hot album.

"Lovers" (1975): To some, this was a toss away song and album. Yet this quiet tale of the effects of love lost was quite mature in the midst of songs about puppies, brotherly devotion, and summer love.

"The Way You Look Tonight" (1989): After the failed attempt at cashing in once too many times on the nice-girl-gone-bad image (Soul Kiss), Olivia returned to a nice girl as a new mommy. The home project brought her one of her most beautiful albums, Warm and Tender. Nice, very nice.

"You're the One That I Want" (1978): I couldn't help it. It's pure fun, pure magic- and who can resist singing along with the chorus?  C'mon. You know you want to.

December 4, 2012

The Future Returns to Epcot?

Test Track 2.0 makes its debut at Epcot this month, and from looking at the photos, all I can say is "WOW!"

If the experience holds true to what is presented, Walt Disney World's most original and interesting theme park could be headed back to the future.

Above, thanks to Alain Littaye of the wonderful Disney and More blog, is concept art depicting the new vehicles. I'll let you go to his site to see the rest of the pieces. Suffice it to say, I was impressed.

The actual photographs that can be found everywhere depict a very futuristic Tron like experience. Not a bad thing! But its the sleek exterior that matches the experience inside that excites me. Let's be honest, Mission:Space aside, the ring of pavilions that surround the stunning Spaceship Earth leave much to be desired. Boring. Dated. Left to rot ungracefully. This redo by the Imagineers and Chevrolet bring something fresh to the table.

Reminds me of the grand and gorgeous EPCOT Center at opening. Walt's Imagineers not only carried on without him, they created something they cannot repeat. A World's Fair environment as pleasing to the eye as the experiences and adventures it contained. Back at debut, the buildings were instant icons. And who didn't love what they found once they darkened the pavilion doors?

World of Motion, Journey into Imagination, The Land, Spaceship Earth, and Universe of Energy surrounded Communicore to create a sparkling new tomorrow. A hopeful, beautiful, inspiring place to explore. (And go ahead and sing the songs! You know you want to...) 

So, perhaps, just possibly, this is the beginning of a new stage, a new era. I'm skeptical, but I have to remember, this remake is coming from the same company that just designed Cars Land at a gorgeously remade California Adventure.  Here's hoping I'm right.

(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

December 3, 2012

An Opportunity for Chris Powell

David Smith is a name you may not remember. But the "650 lb. Virgin" is one you've probably heard of before and never forgot. 

Years back, this young man worked with trainer Chris Powell long before he starred in Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Together, they saw David trim himself down by 400 or so pounds. Their productive partnership resulted in David working for Chris, and they shared their success story in every media outlet available to them.

All that hard work and discipline paid off very handsomely- and it built a bond of friendship between the two men that would seem to last a lifetime. Apparently, it hasn't. Sadly, there's been some sort of rift.

Chris is now married with a wife and family. He's also authored a book, "Choose to Lose" which will be published this month. You can't help but be pleased for the guy. He's worked hard, and it has paid off.

As for David, he has regained the weight and is struggling again. Wouldn't it be cool for the two men to reunite and work together? Of course, the friendship between the guys is their own business, but I am all for another success story- reshape the nation and reshape a friendship.

December 1, 2012

Worth the Wait

Monsters University is the sequel that deserved to happen but I doubted if it ever would. Cannot wait to see Mike and Sulley on the big screen once again!