Best NFL Day Of the Year

If you love NFL football, it doesn’t get any better than today.  In fact, I think today will probably be better than Super Bowl Sunday.

If you don’t follow the NFL, a rare thing happened–the actual four best teams are left playing for their conference championships.  The winners of these two games will then go on to compete in the Super Bowl.  Even though I’m a die-hard Bears fan and would love it if they were still playing, I think it’s great that the four clubs with the best records and/or the best overall teams are playing today.  Yes, I know the Patriots didn’t have one of the best records, but they are the most successful franchise of this century–I think we all knew they’d make it this far despite their wins and losses.

So, even if you’re not a huge football fan, today will be well worth your while.  You will see some truly magnificent offense and defense on display.  You’ll see the incredible defense and creative offense of the LA Rams.  You’ll see the superhuman twenty-three-year-old Kansas City Chiefs quarterback named Patrick Mahomes.  And, of course, you’ll witness the masters of their craft–Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Let’s not forget that the Chiefs, Saints, and Patriots have some of the best coaches in the history of the game–respectively Andy Reid, Sean Payton, and Bill Belichick.  And the Rams coach?  His name is Sean McVay, he’s only thirty-two-years-old, and he’s considered an offensive genius.

Each of these teams are highly skilled and deserve to be playing for the Super Bowl.  There aren’t any silly Wild Card entries who made it in due to a weak division and freak occurrence.  Today will be about as good as it gets.

Oh, and, of course, I’m obligated to offer my picks for the day.  Though I love the Chiefs and Andy Reid’s coaching, I think the experience of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will prove too much for them.  Give Patrick Mahomes another year or two and he’ll know how to win these huge playoff games with Reid’s guidance.  Same goes for the Saints and the Rams.  I think all the battles Brees and Payton have fought together will ultimately win the day for them.  So, to be clear, I’m picking the Patriots and the Saints for the Super Bowl.

Just to be especially bold, I’ll go ahead and pick my Super Bowl winner, too.  I believe Brees and Brady will nullify each other, as will Belichick and Payton.  It’s going to come down to defense and special teams, and, in my opinion, the Saints are better at those two things.  So, I’m picking the Saints to win it all.

But I’m hoping it will be the Bears next season.

Enjoy the games!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Wake Up and Dream Again

Most of you know that I’m an educator by day.  It’s provided a wonderful life for my family and me thus far.  You also know, however, that I’ve been chasing a dream for damn near twenty years now.

At the start of every semester, when I get a new batch of seniors, I give them what’s meant to be an inspirational talk regarding their future.  I remind them that, if they have a dream, there is no better time to pursue it than the immediate future.  Most of them have no dependents, few responsibilities, and nothing holding them back.  I talk to them about the fact that when they are old, like me [wink, wink], and have children, a house, cars, bills, and that sort of thing, well, that’s not exactly the time to take a big risk.  You can’t gamble everything when you’ve got people depending on you to maintain a certain lifestyle.  I think it works fairly well with my students and it appears to get them fired up and excited about their futures.

But, I wasn’t totally being honest with them.

You see, it’s never too late to achieve a dream.  Not really.

Sure, you have to be a little smarter about it the older you are, but there’s no reason not to go for it.  You may have to be more conservative, a bit more grounded, but that’s no reason not to try.  You should never give up.

I firmly believe each and every one of us is put on this planet to achieve something unique.  Most of us, if I may be so bold, settle on sleepwalking through adulthood, though.  We use our children as crutches–we’re too busy building their futures to think about our own.  Here’s the thing: yes, you absolutely have a responsibility to provide the best life and the brightest future possible for your children, but you’re doing them a disservice if you give up on your own aspirations in the process.  Children listen to our words, but they learn through our actions.  If you want them to dream big, then you’ve got to dream big yourself.  If you want them to fight to achieve their goals, then you must do the same.

A lot of us are also just too tired at the end of the work day to do anything extra.  Look, we have to work, I get it.  I have to work, too.  But I’m wiling to bet most of us derive at the very least some joy from our careers.  Some of us adore our jobs even.  If your job is your dream, then that’s wonderful.  I say try to push even harder.  What else can you do within that job that gives you even more satisfaction?  Not commendations, but actual satisfaction?  Try to take it to the next level.

I’m telling you, we are not meant to sleep through life.  We are meant to hope, to aspire, to dream from the day we’re born to the day we die.  We have such beautiful, creative, complicated minds.  Our brains want to be exercised.  Our spirits want to be put to the test.  Our bodies want to live.  Watching TV after the kids are in bed night after night after night after night–we can be more than that.

Did you ever want to try dancing?  Singing?  Writing?  Hunting?  Stand-up comedy?  Pottery making?  Interior design?  Gourmet cooking?

Try it.  Whatever it is, take a risk.  See what you’re made of.  Don’t be afraid to fail.

Did you love doing something in your youth that got away from you because of adulthood?

You can go home again.  Go back.  Do it again.

But temper your expectations.  Don’t expect to get famous.  Don’t plan on setting the world on fire.  Don’t even expect anyone to actually care.  Just do it for the joy.

The joy.

We don’t do enough for the sake of joy, do we?

Go get that gourmet cookbook from the library.  Sign up for that dance class.  Hit an open mic night at the local club.  Join a rec league and play in your age bracket.  Publish your writing on a blog that you maintain.  In this day and age, anything is possible.  It just takes time, effort, and desire.

Wake up and start dreaming again.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

My wife and I attended a Delta Rae show back in November of 2016 at The Castle Theater.  If you’ve been a longtime reader, you might recall that they blew us away.  You also might remember that, though we were there to see Delta Rae, my wife and I were astounded by a two-man band called Penny & Sparrow.

These guys had two microphones and one guitar.  That was it.  Guess what?  That’s all they needed.  Their voices were rich.  They harmonized perfectly.  Their lyrics were insightful, thought-provoking, and even haunting.  Their music touched us on an emotional level.  I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it.

Best of all?  Though their songs were eerily beautiful and melancholy, the men themselves were delightful.  They claimed to be best friends, and, judging by their banter, I believe it.  They had us in stitches between songs because they were so funny.  I mentioned it in my other article, but it was such a surreal experience to almost be moved to tears by their music and then to have tears running down my face from laughter.  I love serious talent displayed by people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

It recently came to my attention that Penny & Sparrow released a new album called Wendigo.  I’ve already listened to it a few times and it utilizes everything I admire about their other album–Let a Lover Drown You.  Both albums are free to stream for Amazon Prime members and can be found HERE.

If you love music, please give these guys a listen.  Talent like theirs deserve recognition.  You can visit their website and watch a few of their videos at the following link: https://www.pennyandsparrow.com/video/

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

A Few Thoughts Regarding Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Series

By now you’ve probably heard about Amazon’s original series titled Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.  You know Jack Ryan.  You might think you don’t know him, but you do.  If you’ve seen The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, or Shadow Recruit, then you know this character.  He’s been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine.  The character has also been featured in twenty-one novels, the first of which debuted in 1984.  In other words, this guy has been around for awhile.

I liked those movies, but I didn’t love them.  Actually, I never saw the last two.  I also have to admit I haven’t read a single Jack Ryan novel–ever.  (Keep in mind that I’m a a fairly avid reader.)

The truth is, when I heard about this new series, I wasn’t particularly excited to watch it.  It looked exciting, don’t get me wrong, and I like John Krasinski well enough.  I didn’t have any qualms about Krasinski playing Jack Ryan.  Even though he’ll always be Jim to many of us, we’ve seen him do enough since The Office to realize he’s multifaceted and more than capable of playing almost any role.  This is the guy who turned down Captain America, after all.

However, a lot of people kept telling me that I needed to watch it.  A few added that it had a few plot holes, but most were very enthusiastic about the show.  So at long last, my wife and I decided to give it a try.

In short, we really enjoyed it.  The show is so fast-paced that it will make your heart race.  It’s got lots and lots of action, and has a habit of ending each episode with a cliffhanger.  John Krasinski got in very good shape for this role, and they made a point to let you see his abs at every opportunity.  However, Krasinski also brought a certain level of humanity and humility to the part that I personally appreciated.  He convinced me that he’s both new to the CIA, but also a seasoned veteran of war.  Of course, he’s also extremely likable.  He is John Krasinski, after all.

Be aware, though, that there are definitely a few plot holes that, if you think too hard about them, will leave you scratching your head.  There’s also some flat-out unbelievable moments, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.  I mean that as in, “this is impossible.”

It’s easy to ignore these things, though, because the show moves at a red hot clip.  It also knows exactly how to manipulate your emotions.  It reminds me a little of the early ER shows in that regard.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is fast, intense, and visceral.  It will push aside your rationale and latch onto your pathos.  It’s a thrilling ride, and I honestly am looking forward to the next season.  John Krasinski has made me a Jack Ryan fan.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

You may remember that I read the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, called Annihilation, in anticipation of the movie.  You may also remember that I wasn’t crazy about it.  However, I eventually saw the movie and loved it.

So even though I didn’t like the first book, the general premise and the movie itself tempted me to give the second literary installment a try.

I recently finished Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, and it left me rather apathetic.  The author, Jeff Vandermeer, elected to change course from the first book and focus instead on the Southern Reach facility, the entity responsible for sending the team into Area X from the first book.  Our main character is no longer the biologist who narrated Annihilation.  Instead, Vandermeer is using a third-person narrator with the story squarely settled on “Control,” the new head of Southern Reach.  Control (John Rodriquez) moves throughout the book utterly confused.  Like the reader, he has no idea what is going on in Area X, nor does he understand the full scope and history of Southern Reach.

In the beginning of the book, I accepted Control’s chaotic immersion into Southern Reach.  I assumed that he would soon solve some of the enigmatic entity’s mysteries.  Instead, Vandermeer chose to pile even more mystery upon both Control and the reader.  Though some revelations arrive, both Control and the audience are left feeling even less informed than they did before!

I basically plodded through most of this book.  The ending intensified, but for the most part, I never fully invested in neither the story nor Control.

However, I’ve come this far, so guess what I’m reading now?  Yes, Acceptance, the third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy.  Like Control, I seemingly have to know Area X and Southern Reach’s secrets, no matter what level of discomfort occurs during the process of discovery.

I have a feeling, though, that the third book will ultimately disclose nothing.  That appears to be the pattern.  I’ll let you know.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

My New Favorite Mexican Restaurant In Bloomington-Normal

My wife and I have been searching for a new Mexican restaurant ever since Carlos O’Kelly’s closed its doors.  Yes, that was five years ago.

We’ve tried a few local establishments over time, but nothing really won us over.  In the interim, we’ve made due with Mexican dishes at Chile’s, Applebee’s–you know, those kinds of places.  That’s fine, but we missed an actual authentic Mexican restaurant.  Actually, I don’t know how authentic Carlos O’Kelly’s was, but you get my meaning.

A few week’s ago, on New Year’s Eve, my wife suggested a relatively new Mexican restaurant in town called Hacienda Leon.  We were going out as an entire family to see Mary Poppins Returns, and we wanted to eat together afterward in order to celebrate the holiday.

As we walked in, the size and open layout of the restaurant immediately struck me.  I loved the roominess of the place.  I also really liked the decor and general style.  I’m no expert at that kind of thing, so I’ll simply say everything pleased the eye.

We’ve been back since, and on both occasions the service proved friendly and capable.  The menu is very diverse with a wide range of rates.  You will be able to eat quite affordably if you wish, but there are also some more expensive and elaborate dishes available.  The drink menu also has a lot to offer with some very fair prices.  Both of my children were happy with the kids’ menu and were glad that they could substitute the rice and beans with fries.  By the way, my ten-year-old daughter just told me to tell you that their fries are “delicious.”

I don’t know how “authentic” Hacienda Leon is in terms of cuisine, but as far as I’m concerned, the two meals I ate there were wonderful.  It has instantly become my favorite Mexican restaurant in the area, and probably my second favorite restaurant around here in general.

If you live in the Bloomington-Normal region and crave Mexican fare, I urge you to give Hacienda Leon a chance.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Visit their website to see a photo gallery, their location, and the menu: Hacienda Leon

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)