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!)

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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!)

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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On Turning 42

I turned 42 today.  Though it won’t be exact until December, I’ve essentially been out of college now for twenty years.  Sometimes I get down on myself.  I feel like I haven’t accomplished enough in my life so far.  It doesn’t help that I chronically feel like I have a countdown ticking in the background, like I’m always about to run out of time.

When I experience these negative thoughts, I try to flip them around and instead consider the positive things that I have achieved in the last twenty years.  Life has been good to me–it’s important I stop and recognize that fact.

If you’ll humor me, I’d like to run through a few blessings …

  • Married a wonderful, intelligent, hard-working, beautiful woman
  • Given two adorable, creative, smart, and talented little girls
  • Worked steadily in education for the past (almost) twenty years
  • Wrote a fantasy novel, a science fiction novel, and two short story collections
  • Earned my Master’s degree
  • Built a house (not literally)
  • Made some pretty cool appearances in promotion of my writing
  • Kept in touch with old friends; made some lifelong new ones
  • Published many, many short stories of various genres
  • Gotten more and more involved with our church
  • Wrote a three-book e-series
  • Made a positive impact on hundreds of students’ lives
  • Taken some amazing trips

These may not seem like that big of a deal to some, but for me, they all represent those things I value most in life.  Family, friends, writing, education–these are the cornerstones of my existence.  These are the things that make me happy.

Though I’m not making as much money as I wold like, and though I’m not as widely-read as I would like, it’s vital to remember that the most important things in my life are being accomplished daily.  My wife and I make enough money.  I should be honored even one person devotes their time to my writing.  In other words, I shouldn’t be greedy.  I am incredibly fortunate.

It’s been a great run so far.  I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!

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

Our Trip To Wisconsin Dells (Part 3) – Restaurants

Two days ago I discussed our lodging while staying in Wisconsin DellsYesterday, I provided details regarding the numerous attractions and water parks within Wilderness Resort.  Today, I’d like to share our restaurant experiences with you.

Field’s At the Wilderness – Located in a separate building on the Wilderness Resort property, this steakhouse absolutely won me over.  It was by far my favorite.  I particularly appreciated the interior’s tasteful design, the elegant ambiance, and the rare combination of both friendliness and professionalism displayed by the staff.  Our waiter in particular, a young man, conducted himself seriously, yet also offered a ready smile and jovial demeanor.  Yes, the menu is expensive, but I consider Field’s a treat worth the expense.  We ate here at night after checking in at the Glacier Canyon Lodge, and it provided the perfect respite after the long drive.  Visit Field’s website HERE.

Buffalo Phil’s Pizza and Grille – Both friends and online reviews urged me to take my family to Buffalo Phil’s, so we made sure to pop by around two in the afternoon for lunch.  Located not quite a mile from Wilderness Resort, Buffalo Phil’s is right next to perhaps the nicest outlet mall I’ve ever seen.  Once again, this staff conveyed both warmth and professionalism.  Don’t expect the elegance of Field’s, though!  Buffalo Phil’s is decorated with all kinds of stuffed critters, including an enormous buffalo.  It has a small arcade with a very friendly claw machine, but the rear of the restaurant feeds into a giant–and I mean giant–arcade called Knuckleheads.  The real attraction of Buffalo Phil’s, however, is the fact that your food and drink will be delivered by a model train on rails.  My kids absolutely loved this feature, and I did, too, honestly.  They took this premise very seriously.  We we got drink refills, even they were transported to us by train!  When I walked in, I was sure to tell the host we wanted to sit by the tracks for the train delivery, and he assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.  This turned out to be true.  The whole eating area is arranged so that a train can reach virtually any table.  Our waiter was friendly and capable, and the food tasted delicious.  Be aware–they give you more than you can probably eat.  It’s pretty rare when I can’t finish a sandwich, but they had so much meat piled on mine that I had to give up.  I heartily recommend you give Buffalo Phil’s a try.  Visit their website HERE.

Sarento’s Italian Restaurant – The Internet counted Sarento’s Italian Restaurant among the best in the area, so we thought we’d try it out for dinner.  Located just around the corner from Wilderness Resort, Sarento’s sports lovely decor as well.  However, the staff, while polite, did not quite reach the standard we experienced at Field’s and Buffalo Phil’s.  In fact, when I got up to use the bathroom, I saw the hostess on her cell phone.  Maybe this shouldn’t turn me off as a customer, but it does.  Furthermore, our waiter did not impress me at all.  He struck me as a bit too informal, and seemed almost annoyed to have to wait on us.  He didn’t know much of anything regarding the menu, and told me to look at the flier when I asked about the specials.  For the amount of money I was about to spend, this did not sit well with me.  I actually wanted to leave before we even ordered, but my wife talked me into staying.  Though a young man, I expected better.  I would like to say, however, that at times a young woman would check in on us, and she maintained a personable, capable persona that I appreciated.  Had she been our primary waitress, I imagine the experience would have been much different.  Though the food tasted good, I can’t really recommend Sarento’s over Field’s or even Buffalo Phil’s, for that matter.  I would put it at the bottom of our list.  You can visit Sarento’s website HERE.

Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewery – I’ll be honest–I had no desire to visit this restaurant.  We’d spent a long day surrounded by other people’s children and the last thing I wanted to do was visit a restaurant that I knew would be teeming with more of the same.  However, a good friend told us we had to check it out and my kids genuinely wanted to go, so I relented.  I’m so glad I did!  We had a fantastic experience at Moosejaw.  The hostess must have sensed my distress because she placed us in a room virtually by ourselves in a spacious corner next to a stone fireplace.  Our waitress, Lynn, was phenomenal–probably one of the best wait staff I’ve ever experienced.  She was funny, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, engaged,  and just a true delight.  She made amazing recommendations to us, offered to take our picture as a family when she saw us snapping the kids, and made sure to clear away any garbage almost immediately–even the straw wrappers!  Our pretzel bite appetizer was delicious, my personal pizza tasted great, and our Sasquatch dessert for four left us giddy.  Thanks to Lynn, this restaurant both impressed and satisfied.  I highly recommend it to families visiting the area.  You can check out their website HERE.

So there you have it!  We were only in the Dells for a few days, but we managed to eat pretty well, wouldn’t you say?  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.

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

 

 

Our Trip To Wisconsin Dells (Part 2) – Water Parks and Attractions

Yesterday I discussed our lodging while staying in Wisconsin Dells.  Today, I’d like to talk with you about the attractions we experienced.  Again, the whole goal of traveling to Wilderness Resort in the winter was to take advantage of the indoor water parks, so I’ll start with those.

Wild West (click to see gallery) – Located in the Wilderness Hotel, we entered this water park as soon as it opened on our first day.  As a result, we managed to easily grab seats near the giant play house.  This park by far proved to be our favorite.  They say it’s the largest of the three, and that seemed to be true.  My youngest daughter loved the play house with it’s mini-water slides.  I rode a few of them, too, and even though they were mini, they still provided a thrill.  My oldest daughter and I tried out the huge tube slides as well.  Though you have to climb quite a few stairs to get to these slides, it’s totally worth it.  The descent is a series of twists and turns in total darkness — it’s a blast!  The tubes are so long that they jut out from the building for several curves before reentering the facility.  We managed to get my youngest daughter onto the four-person tube slide, and she loved it, too!  If we’re being honest, I would recommend spending all of your time at this water park between the three.  More on that to come.

Klondike Kavern (click to see gallery) – We entered this water park on our second day.  Though we arrived twenty-five minutes after it opened, we literally could not find a seat or table.  We had to rest our things on the edge of a rock feature.  With that being said, my youngest again enjoyed the play house.  It was very similar to the other one at the Wild West.  My oldest particularly liked the lazy river.  However, as you probably guessed, this park was packed, so the lazy river felt more like bumper cars to me.  Also, lots of feet jutting out everywhere.  Lots.  Of.  Feet.  My oldest daughter and I also enjoyed the giant water slides, but they weren’t quite as fun as those at the Wild West.  I had to do one of them on my own, which was pretty cool, called The Hurricane.  One of the workers described it as like being flushed down a toilet, and he was right!  You start down a tube, enter a giant enclosed bowl, then spin around and around before dropping into a smaller tube.  As I said, I had to do this one by myself, and right before I started I noticed a sign that said not to panic if you become stuck in the bowl — someone will come help you!  That got the heart racing.  Luckily, I didn’t get stuck.

Wild Waterdome (click to see gallery) – This isn’t really much of a water park in the New Frontier area of Wilderness Resort.  It’s an enclosed section that allows sunlight through — kind of like a greenhouse.  It’s main, and almost only, attraction is the Great Wave, which is an enormous pool that creates giant, six foot waves.  My daughters and I stayed pretty far back in the pool where the waves weren’t quite so extreme.  It was fun at first, but the novelty soon wore off.  Again, because the place was so packed, every wave sent you careening into someone else.  We were in it for about forty-five minutes, and the lifeguards had to stop it three different times during that duration in order to jump in and save someone in distress.  People insisted getting as far into the six-foot deep end as possible, but once the waves started, couldn’t keep themselves afloat.  Not to worry — all three individuals were fine.  We got out because my daughter lost her footing and scraped her knee on the floor.  After the friendly first-aid worker patched her up, we sat along the edge of the Great Wave and watched the sea of humanity floating up and down like flotsam and jetsam.

Again, I would plan on an hour or two at Wild Waterdome, skip Klondike Kavern altogether, and spend most of your time at the Wild West.  It could simply be that because Wild West was much bigger, we didn’t feel quite so crowded, which increased my overall enjoyment.  Now on to the attractions in the Wilderness Resort that were not actually water parks.

Wilderwoods Go-Kart Trail (click to see gallery) – This was a blast!  These little go-karts could seat one individual or two, so my wife drove one with one of our daughters and I drove with the other daughter.  You begin by working your way up a corkscrew ramp, then you race down another ramp in circles as well.  They give you about five minutes to race.  In my experience, wherever your position was at the start of the race pretty much guaranteed your position at the end of the race, but it was still a ton of fun!  This feature costs extra, but you can purchase a pass that packages it with some other fun activities.  By the way, the workers were super friendly here.

Northern Lights Sky Ropes Course (click to see gallery) – Literally located above an arcade, this course also delighted us.  Before you begin, you will be tethered into an aerial track that prevents you from falling.  We all enjoyed this feature — even my six-year-old!  You will walk across balance beams, tight ropes, and rolling barrels.  I’m generally afraid of heights, but I felt perfectly safe and at ease because of the tether, so it proved quite fun.  Be aware, they make you remove all cell phones, purses, keys, wallets — anything that can fall off of you.  However, they provide you with a locker and key in order to protect your valuables.  You are allotted thirty minutes on the course which totally flies by.  I’m sure you could stay longer if you wanted.  They write the time you start on a wrist band and you are expected to follow an honor code.  I highly recommend that you give this one a try.  Again, this feature costs extra, but you can purchase a pass that packages it with some other fun activities.  The workers here were very safety-minded, engaged, and friendly.

Marshall Training Lazer Maze (click to see gallery) – Total waste of money.  Don’t bother.  It was included on our fun pass, so we gave it a go.  You enter a small room with lasers shining everywhere.  The worker gave us no instructions, no pointers, no information at all.  We had no idea what we were trying to achieve.  It lasted about two minutes.

OK Corral Lazer Tag (click to see gallery) – This was also included on our fun pass, and we loved it!  You are outfitted with a vest that has targets on both the front and the back.  A laser gun is attached to the vest.  You are thrust into a giant room with ramps, windows, walls dividing up areas, and even a stage coach!  Your gun shows you a time limit, so you have to try to earn as many points by hitting opponents as possible as quickly as possible.  It’s very dark with black lights providing the only illumination, so you have to be careful where you walk.  Though there’s no danger of falling off of anything, I nearly collided with several kids!  Once the game ended, you’re given a score card with all kinds of cool statistics about your performance.  My youngest wasn’t too cracked up about this one, but my oldest daughter thought it was really cool.  The main worker explained things well and seemed to genuinely want everyone to have a good time.

Wild West Bumper Boats (click to see gallery) – Located in a pool within the Wild West water park, these bumper boats were pretty fun.  They never get moving too fast, so the bumps are never too jarring.  The boats are also very easy to operate.  My ten-year-old had no problems moving the boat around at all.  Be aware, though, that they also have spray guns shooting ice cold water.  We all got shot in the face on numerous occasions.  If that’s not your thing, avoid this attraction.  It was included on our fun pass, though, so we gave it a try.  The worker was super friendly and helpful here.

Wild Abyss 3D Mini Gold (click to see gallery) – Also included on the fun pass, this little nine-hole course provided for a fun twenty minutes.  Though not terribly difficult, my kids both enjoyed not only the holes, but also the black lights, the 3D features, and the aquatic theme.  Honestly, though, my six-year-old got a little freaked out by the sound effects.  You can find this attraction beneath the ropes course off to the side.  The worker at this course barely spoke to us and seemed more interested in her phone than anything.

Mega Prize Arcades (click to see gallery) – There are arcades literally everywhere in Wisconsin Dells.  Wilderness Resort is no exception!  My oldest daughter loves video games, especially claw machines, so she had a blast sampling the various arcades located, well, everywhere.  The system in the Wilderness is interesting.  You load a card with a certain amount of money, which equates a particular amount of credits.  Each game costs a specific amount of credits.  You swipe the card through a reader on the game, which then deducts the appropriate amount of credits.  However, you’re also awarded “tokens” onto the card after each game.  When you’re ready to claim your prize, you go to the prize counter where a worker will swipe your card to find out how many “tokens” you earned.  You can then choose a prize accordingly.  In my experience, most of the workers would round up the token amount to the nearest ten.  They also have machines around that will tell you your “token” amount as well in case you fear the trustworthiness of the workers.  Most of the claw machines are scams, as you would assume, but there was one claw machine that awarded a win virtually every time I saw a kid use it — including my own!  This machine was full of giant, rubber spiked balls with faces printed on them.  I’d say they were probably twice the size of a basketball.  My daughter won one on her second try, and we saw kids lugging these balls around all over the place.  By the way, the workers at the prize counter were incredibly helpful and friendly at the Northern Lights Arcade beneath the rope course.

Timberland Playhouse (click to see gallery) –  Rejoice — this attraction is free!  My six-year-old would have happily spent our entire visit in this gargantuan play land.  Divided by netting, kids can climb up several levels and experience swings, slides, bridges, and obstacles.  Even though it was full of kids, it’s so big that my daughters never felt crowded or overwhelmed by too many people.  There’s plenty of seating next to the play house, so parents, this could be a good time to regroup, relax, or veg out.

I hope you found this information useful.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.

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