Thanks To Nurture & Support For Having Me On To Make a Special Announcement

My friend Alicia of Oh, Alchemy put me in touch with Kelly and Mel, hosts of Nurture & Support, and they were kind enough to ask me onto their podcast. The episode is now live, and I invite you to listen to it. Amidst a really fun conversation, I make a very special announcement, which I hope will excite you as much as it does me. Kelly and Mel were fantastic hosts and I hope you add Nurture & Support to your podcast playlist.

You can listen to my appearance by visiting this link: http://nurtureandsupport.net/nurture-support-177-a-visit-with-book-author-scott-william-foley/

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – A Book Review

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Where the Crawdads Sing is a fast-paced, potent, concise book that has a little bit of everything which will likely satisfy any reader.

The story centers around Kya, a young girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When I say alone–I mean alone. Everyone has abandoned her–her mother, father, brothers, sisters, people in the nearby town–everyone. This forces her to fend for herself in a primitive shack that has neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. Though initially a child, and despite lacking any formal education, she learns to observe nature’s lessons, and that becomes the key to her survival into adulthood. Unfortunately, though the town completely shuns her, its sins will not leave her alone and she is eventually accused of murder.

Where the Crawdads Sing accomplishes so much in such a short amount of time. It delves deeply into issues of domestic abuse, abandonment, discrimination, elitism, and hypocrisy.

However, it is also a love letter to nature as it beautifully describes the vibrant activities occurring in areas most people deem uncivilized. Owens’ writing is compressed, but extremely effective. She will make you feel like you’re living in the marsh, coexisting with nature, right by Kya’s side.

Furthermore, there is a captivating murder mystery present in this book as well. Though it may sound out of place, it’s not. Owens weaves the murder mystery into the overall plot perfectly. It never feels forced nor contrived. Between Kya’s story, the murder mystery, and the convergence of the two, I couldn’t put this book down.

No matter what your taste, I highly recommend Where the Crawdad’s Sing. I believe anyone who enjoys fiction will like this book.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – A Movie Review

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I totally misjudged what this movie would be about from the little advertising I saw promoting it. The promotions made it look like Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are avant-garde, haughty, powerful musicians bent on world domination. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a silly, comforting, fun–sometimes even touching–movie featuring two actors who have incredible chemistry and seem to truly enjoy each other’s company.

Will Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong (yes, really), a middle-aged man living with his father and determined to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Rachel McAdams plays Sigrit Ericksdottir (read that last name out loud), Lars’ best friend and possible sister. Together, they make up Fire Saga, a two-person band that can’t seem to find an audience, appreciation, or even respect in their homeland of Iceland.

Through a series of incredible events, they find themselves representing Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest. There they meet a cavalcade of eccentric European performers. Their friendship is put to the test as temptations, missteps, and even conspiracy threatens their dream.

If all of that sounds very serious … it’s not. This film is full of goofy jokes, ridiculous pratfalls, and hilarious costumes. Yet, the movie does not have a mean spirit at all (other than constantly making fun of European music). When it ended, I actually found myself surprised by the fact that, overall, the whole things was kind of … sweet.

Be warned, though, if you’re watching it with little children, there are some strange moments of violence. I won’t spoil them for you, but I think one might actually be a little frightening for small children. Other than that, though, there isn’t any overt language, nudity, or sex. Oh. Wait. There are some Greek statues that … are rather ambitiously sculpted.

Perhaps most astonishing is the fact that the music is oddly catchy. The final song is actually beautiful. We all know Will Ferrell can sing. What I didn’t know was that Rachel McAdams can carry a tune very well, too. I assumed she lip-synced through the whole thing, but a little research afterwards revealed that she sang all of the songs herself and then they blended her voice with a professional singer’s to create a kind of hybrid.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga features two very likable actors at their absolute most likability. Their characters are strange, naive, and even a little backwards, yet their passion, kindness, and faith in one another takes what could have been a complete farce and turns it into something uniquely sincere.

 

CW’s Stargirl – A Few Thoughts

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Do I feel a little weird recommending a CW show featuring a twenty-year old actress playing a fifteen-year-old high school student? You bet. But, I’ve got my reasons …

Stargirl is a beloved character who primarily appeared in DC Comics’ Justice Society Of America. The JSA was DC’s original super team, a precursor to the Justice League of America. In the late 90s and early 2000s, they brought the team back with its original heroes from the 1940s. They were intent upon training new heroes to continue on the JSA’s legacy, and Stargirl was one of those new recruits.

As a devout JSA fan, the CW’s Stargirl is a delight because they are not shying away from the JSA’s stalwarts whatsoever. Starman, Green Lantern, Hourman, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Mid-nite, Wildcat–they are all either seen or referenced. Furthermore, due to circumstances I won’t reveal, Stargirl takes it upon herself to create a new JSA. She starts with a new Wildcat, Dr. Mid-nite, and Hourman. I have to be honest, though Hourman is a ridiculous concept and perhaps even a troubling premise, he’s always been one of my favorite characters and seeing his incredible costume on the screen is fantastic. Additionally, I loved James Robinson’s Starman, and seeing Stargirl use the cosmic rod is deeply satisfying.

For me, however, the real joy of the show is Luke Wilson. Remember him? I’m not sure what happened to Wilson’s movie career, but he is every bit as good as you remember (if not better). Whenever I see him on screen, I think, “Wow. He’s probably a little too good for this.” Another great blast from the past is Amy Smart, whom I haven’t seen in a long time but is still charming and charismatic.

Finally, the show’s villains are a fresh take compared to the other CW DC shows like Legends Of Tomorrow, Arrow, The Flash, and Batwoman. They have real motive, real depth, and are played by actors with real talent. Collectively, they call themselves the Injustice Society, and if you think that’s kind of a dumb name, you can only blame the folks from 1947 who created them. You’ll see classic villains on this team such as Icicle, Solomon Grundy, Sportsmaster, Tigress, and Brainwave. For a DC fan, this is kind of a big deal.

The show isn’t perfect–there’s quite a bit of teen drama. The action tries very hard, but still looks a little too reliant on “good enough” special effects. And, while some of the actors are quite talented, others still have room to grow.

However, I think the costumes are extraordinary from top to bottom, especially since they’ve decided to go with the more classic “tights” approach versus leather and armor.

By the way, if the name S.T.R.I.P.E. means anything to you, you’ll be very pleased with Stargirl. I suspect this is where most of their special effects budget went.

So while it’s a little awkward for this forty-something to recommend Stargirl, I have to admit that it is a real pleasure to see fan-favorite DC characters brought to life both joyfully and authentically.

 

Looking For a Local Hike? Try Merwin Nature Preserve In Central Illinois

If you’re looking for a fairly easy hike you can do in well under two hours, give the Merwin Nature Preserve a try.

My friend, Troy Marcy, recommended Merwin Nature Preserve to us after I asked him to suggest a few local hiking trails. Troy is an incredible nature photographer, so he knows all the best spots in our neck of the woods.

We’re not avid hikers, and we have two young daughters, so we weren’t looking for a day-long hike or a hike that would leave us exhausted. Merwin Nature Preserve proved perfect because while it had one uphill spot that got us breathing hard, it was otherwise a pretty simple hike with ample diversity.

For example, during our hike, we encountered prairie land, deep woods, a riverbank, several streams, and an overlook of the Mackinaw River. Best of all, we experienced all of this in just a few hours. Keep in mind that we stopped quite a bit to look at minnows, roots, tadpoles, wildflowers, and and impressive view of the river. I’m sure if someone moved at a fast pace and didn’t stop, they could hike the trail in around forty minutes.

Be aware, though, that there is quite a bit of poison ivy. We all wore hiking boots and pulled our socks up, so we were fine, but it’s definitely there from start to finish. Furthermore, the trail became so narrow and overgrown at times that I started to wonder if we somehow got onto a deer path. However, for the most part, the trail is clear and easy to follow.

If you refer to the picture below, we parked at the West Gate and hiked the trail with the nineteen station markers. We printed off the information specific to each station marker ahead of time because their website stated cell service is spotty in that area. As we came to each marker, we read what was special about that particular area. You can find all the material to print by clicking HERE.

If you’re looking for a quick hike with the kids, I highly recommend Merwin Nature Preserve. It’s got a little bit of everything that makes Central Illinois’ environment unique.

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The Gentlemen – A Movie Review

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There’s something about Guy Ritchie British tough-guy movies that I just can’t resit. Sherlock Holmes, Snatch, King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword — these are movies that amuse me to no end.

So, if you’re like-minded, you’ll love The Gentlemen just as I did. It’s a fast-paced gangster movie fraught with frenetic dialogue and cuts that will give you whiplash.

Matthew McConaughey plays Michael Pearson, a very successful American marijuana manufacturer who has cornered the British market. Charlie Hunnam plays Ray, Michael’s assistant. Jeremy Strong plays Matthew, a rich entrepreneur looking to buy Michael’s business. Hugh Grant plays Fletcher, a private investigator looking to blackmail … well, whomever he can. Finally, Colin Farrell plays Coach, a fight coach who unexpectedly gets entwined with all of these people.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal of violence, tons of twists, more than a few moments of treachery, and plenty of inappropriate humor. The movie looks great, as all Guy Ritchie movies do, with incredible set pieces, costumes, and locations.

The real heart of this movie though is the charm that each and every character exudes. No matter how shady they are, no matter how awful they are, they are all charming in their own way. You’ll notice that most of the actors listed above have built a career round not only their acting prowess, but also their innate charm.

This movie won’t change your life or improve the human condition, but it will provide an extremely fun time and wholly entertain you.

The Current War – A Movie Review

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Apparently, back in October of 2019, a movie came out called The Current War. It features Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla as they race to perfect the burgeoning electrical industry.

My wife and I saw this offered on Amazon but decided to check it out from the Normal Public Library for free instead. We’re not quite on the same page when it comes to super hero movies, but we love to watch movies inspired by history together.

The Current War enthralled us both.

Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse are famous names, yet neither of them exactly hold a place in the modern American conscious as anything more than old white guys who did some pretty important stuff. The Current War actually made them both very exciting and damn dynamic. They are both very likable, but also both very flawed. They are heroic at times, yet also suffer moments of immorality. In other words, they felt real.

Furthermore, the movie executes a rapid pace that makes the current war an exhilarating event to behold. I had no idea these two men battled each other to such an extent, nor did I realize their roles in so many other avenues of our lives.

Cumberbatch and Shannon are superb, as you would expect. Hoult didn’t get much to do as Tesla and I was surprised there wasn’t more of him in the film. There are also good performances by Katherine Waterson,  Tuppence Middleton, and Tom Holland.

If you like movies based on historical fact, or if you simply want a new perspective on Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, I highly recommend The Current War.

HBO, Watchmen, and the Tulsa Massacre

Watchmen is an HBO original series based on a highly regarded graphic novel. It depicts an alternate world where super heroes are real, but most of them are psychologically damaged and ill-prepared to wield the power they utilize.

The HBO series picks up thirty years after the graphic novel ends, which I thought was a clever direction to take.

The first episode begins in the 1920s with an awful, awful race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where black American citizens are being killed indiscriminately by their white neighbors. It is violent, heartbreaking, and potent.

I’m ashamed to confess that I thought it was a plot point for the alternate world of Watchmen. However, something about it rang true–it just felt authentic. So I Googled “Tulsa Massacre.”

Imagine my horror.

I’m embarrassed that, as a 42 year old man, I learned about the Tulsa Massacre from a TV show. I don’t ever remember hearing a word about it before that moment. I don’t remember seeing anything about it on TV, in books, in school–nothing. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. Or, perhaps it was overlooked by modern society.

I have to wonder what else I don’t know about. What else hasn’t made it into the history books? What else hasn’t been allowed to remain at the forefront? Have we been uninformed or misinformed about anything else?

Of course we have.

And, obviously, I could work a lot harder at trying to learn about these forgotten events.

During this weekend, HBO is allowing you to view the entire Watchmen series for free. It delves deeply into issues of race, police brutality, and the legacy of hatred. It also exists well within the realm of science fiction, though, so be prepared for that aspect of it, too. I personally love it when genres intersect; I found the series enthralling.

You can start viewing it here: https://www.hbo.com/watchmen. (Remember, it’s only free this weekend.)

You can also learn more about the Tulsa Massacre at this link that HBO provides on the Watchmen page: https://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/hbo-2019/the-massacre-of-black-wall-street/3217/

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A Change In Public Education That Must Occur

I started my teaching career in the year 2000. This happened to also be around the time that No Child Left Behind was implemented. Generally speaking, No Child Left Behind said that every child would be prepared to enter college. Schools would be held more accountable. Students would be held more accountable. Academics would become more rigorous. Thus, every student would be academically fortified to flourish in college.

Now, that sounds wonderful on paper, but as with most things, there were unforeseen consequences. (At least, I hope the consequences were unforeseen and not actually premeditated.) Furthermore, from my own experiences in high school, I knew brilliant people who simply did not want to go to college. I also knew people who were very capable at life with no interest in college for many different reasons–primarily the debt they would accumulate. Even as a young novice teacher I knew that No Child Left Behind seemed to lack perspective because not everyone wants to go to college.

Here we are, twenty years later, and I’m witnessing the unintended effects of No Child Left Behind. In the interest of keeping this short, I’ll summarize by saying that if our students don’t play school very well, they are being left behind in a completely different way.

Imagine that you don’t particularly like English, math, history, or science. Now imagine that day after day, you have to sit through those classes for four straight years scraping by with Ds and Cs. You’ve been told college is the only option. You sign up for a local community college, and after struggling to pass your first year, you give up on post-secondary education.

Now what?

What do you do?

What skills do you have?

What sustaining opportunities exist for you?

I’ve seen this happen time and again and it breaks my heart.

The unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind is that, in an effort to meet all the rigorous requirements set forth by various bureaucratic entities, we lost a lot of classes that didn’t fall under the “core curriculum” category.  Most of these classes involved working with the hands. I’m not going to run through them all, but a few that immediately spring to mind are shop class, art, music, and automotive. These were all sacrificed in order to devote more time and teachers to the college-bound material.

I can think of dozens of students who would have thrived in classes where they got to utilize those skills related to working with their hands. And it’s true that some schools still have industrial arts and vocational classes, but I think in most cases they are not offered to just any general student. There’s a selection process involved due to limited space.

Remember that class you were super excited to attend because it addressed your specific interests? Maybe it was British literature, or physics, or chemistry. What if you didn’t like any of those subjects? What if, throughout your entire high school tenure, you didn’t take a single class that interested you? What if you never had the opportunity to discover you like the culinary arts, or fire safety, or automotive technology, or carpentry, or plumbing?

I absolutely believe that every American citizen needs a baseline understanding of the core curricula. Math, English, science, history–these are important things, for sure. However, why do we force a student who has no interest in college to sit through four years of English or math? Why not require two years of English, and then allow that student to take vocational classes related to a field they’d like to enter? They could also use that time to serve as apprentices or interns, get on-the-job training, and graduate from high school with real leads connecting them to a full-time job.

Of course, the great irony is that many of those in the trades are faring better than those with college degrees in today’s world because of scarcity. A plumber can charge whatever he or she wants because toilets have to work and not many people know how to fix them (myself included).

You’re the taxpayer. You know what your kids need. At the risk of sounding controversial, I maintain that most of the bureaucrats and politicians at the highest levels making the decisions influencing public schools neither attended public schools themselves nor send their own children to public schools. They are dictating the outcome of your child’s life with little to no vested interest in the welfare of your child.

How do you get vocational classes that are widely available to all students back into the public schools? I honestly don’t know. It probably starts with contacting your local representative or school administrator.

But a student exited to go to school in order to learn about things tied to the vocations that will have a positive impact on his or her professional life? I think it’s time for that change to occur.

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Netflix’s Bright – A Movie Review

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I’ve been meaning to watch Bright since 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. For some reason, I started it last night at around 11:00 p.m. and thought I’d watch for an hour or so before going to bed. Before I knew it, the movie was over and it was 1:00 in the morning!

That probably tells you all you need to know.

Though I wanted to see it, I always hesitated to watch Bright because of the strange premise–I just didn’t see how it could work. If you’re not familiar with the concept, imagine that Lord Of the Rings happened 2,000 years ago on Earth. Bright is the modern day consequence of that.

Bright is mostly grounded in the world as we know it. It is gritty, dirty, and sweaty with everyone struggling to pay their bills and earn their pensions. However, it’s slightly different in that orcs, centaurs, fairies, elves, and even an occasional dragon also occupy this reality.

Will Smith’s character, a cop named Ward, has been forced to partner with his precinct’s first orc officer, Nick, played by Joel Edgerton. As you can see in the picture above, orcs are not very pleasant to look at. However, Nick only wants to please Ward and is actually quite unwillingly funny. Smith and Edgerton have great chemistry with each other in what is essentially a cop movie. In fact, though Smith is playing a character with some pretty rough edges, that old Will Smith charm is in full effect and proved delightful to behold.

Though Ward and Nick don’t get along all that particularly well, when an elf fleeing for her life crosses their paths wielding an incredibly rare magic wand, Ward realizes they have to hide both she and the wand or chaos will erupt. Nothing in Bright’s world is more coveted than a magic wand for it can fix any problem ailing someone’s life. That’s when the movie really picks up. Everyone wants that wand. The cops want the wand; the gangsters want the wand; humans want the wand; orcs want the wand; the wand’s owner wants the wand back.

Bright is essentially an action movie with touches of fantasy. That fantasy, though, operates within the confines of the real world, not vice versa, and it is a world fully realized. This world looks lived in, aged, even historical. You will believe all of these different lifeforms have been uneasily living among each other for centuries.

It all sounds so ridiculous as I write about it, and it should not have worked, but it did. Bright was a really interesting, fast-paced movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do.