Squidward Villager says this is going to be a long post!
so I took a break from minecraft for a while with the whole server issues and all...
Then I came back and did a whole ton of stuff:
First and formost, I decided to put in a portal... Being scared that a ghast or zombie pigman might come out, I decided to place it at the top of the observatory... And about 10 glass blocks away from the top of the observatory facing away from the castle... (just to be safe!) Frankly the lightning nearly striking me right after I took this screenshot scared me more.
EDIT: Ohh yeah, it turns out that if you put a portal really high in the sky, minecraft decides to update it with a new instance based on wherever it puts you in the nether creating a second portal at a random location in the real world...
So this is the castle up-to-date! That giant building there is going to be a mansion of sorts, and I managed to use wheat to coerce a group of pigs, sheep, and cows to follow me into the castle! (Then I trapped them into a pen and forced them to BREED.)
I also put in a pumpkin farm next to my mines, and an igloo over to the north-east. I didn't feel like taking a picture, but I updated my chicken tube to be a fence tube leading straight down instead of that underground area... Now I just swim under and am greeted with about 50 eggs.
I also put in a destructo-room in the storage area lest I ever get the need to burn something... It's made of netherrack! (ohh and I found a lava-tunnel so my diamond levels have increased significantly)
This is the ground floor for my mansion... If you've played Skyrim you'll likely see how my inspiration for the firepit came from Jorvasker.
I've also decided that I'm a very crappy gardener in minecraft... No this really was a serious attempt at gardening that ended up being a pond with some flowers.
Some of you may have noticed a bunch of lights beyond the walls in that progress picture, they're coming from this!
It's my "countryside" I'm working on. It's going to eventually turn into a pilgrim road leading to the village I found to the north of my castle.
Speaking of which:
It was pretty fricking awesome to find this. It's technically in the North-east corner of my map, so a bit north of my castle. I mean, it had villagers, farming, AND a well that went down like... 20 blocks. I was surprised to say the least.
As can be seen, this is the map. That black blob is a "circle" around my 200x200x20 castle. It's surounded by really sheer cliffs, and that icy spot to the south originally took up the majority of the map before it all melted away somehow.
I would like to point out that about 80% of this was explored via boat so as to avoid being chased by creepers at night, and that yes, I really did navigate that river in the south-east corner... It was a pain in the ass and I had to pull out my trusty shovel on a few occasions to clear up some sand to get through.
directly west of the desert is a very large pine forest, that may or may not contain wolves.North past the mountains of my castle is mostly open plains with huge ravines dotting it and animal herds that (before I got my hands on them) ranged in the hundreds. (and further north is a bunch of swamps and marshlands.)
That huge line of ocean that seems to cut through the land to the west of my castle? Yeah, I'm saying the great and powerful Notch took a giant pickaxe to my map because I kid you not, there are cliffs all along that little line of water that break off at a sheer ninety degree angle directly into 30-block-deep waters. It's scary as heck and makes me hope that water-based enemies never make it to vanilla minecraft... O.O
So yeah, that's the big holiday update! I'm planning on creating that pilgrim road and finishing the giant house next. (maybe expand the countryside.)