The Main Reason I Love HBO’s Game of Thrones

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Game of Thrones since its conclusion.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to pinpoint its most captivating quality.  I love it.  You love it.  Most of the world loves it.  But why?  Is it the characters?  The actors?  The fights?  The special effects?  The plot?  Maybe even the dialogue?

It’s only since I started reading the first book a few days ago that I’ve been able to determine what I actually love best about it.

Of course, it must be said that I love books first and foremost.  TV and movies are wonderful, but literature is where my imagination gets to run wild.  My job is to envision whatever the author puts down on the page.  I have no budgetary limits set upon my special effects.  I have no location concerns or production issues.  I read what the author wrote, and then my imagination is off to the races.

However, in some cases, such as with Game of Thrones, the author is writing details about a reality so foreign, so extraordinary, that my imagination has no context from which to draw upon in order to formulate an image.  Yes, I can generally come up with something, but nothing that does the text justice.  Sure, I know what a wolf is, but is that the same as a dire wolf?  (Turns out … yup, it pretty much is the same.)

The creatives behind the Game of Thrones program have to show us these details, though, and so they must work out the nuances of clothing, castles, armor, weaponry, magical creatures–even chambers and cutlery!  They must take into account the climate of the various settings and depict an environment suitable to the source material.  They have to actually work out the cadence of languages and the visual practices of religions.

Game of Thrones has essentially created an alternate reality for us to behold.  They don’t just give us a single castle, or a lone homestead, they grant us an entire world.  And though the scope of the show constricted quite a bit during the last two seasons, we were previously offered a planetary civilization made up of unique elements specific to the culture and customs of its local inhabitants.

In this rare case, the show outperformed my own imagination in such a way that I felt as though I embarked upon a new realm, and I love that about it.

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Here Are Eleven General Items That I Hope Happen During the Final Game Of Thrones Episode

Be warned, spoilers abound …

I know this final season of Game Of Thrones has been controversial to some, but I’ve been perfectly happy with it thus far.  I will ultimately reserve my final judgement until the last episode’s conclusion, which I think is only fair.  If anything, this concluding season has been one giant episode rather than a series of installments.  I will wait and assess it as a whole.

However, there are a eleven items that I hope will be addressed tomorrow night.  I won’t be so bold as to suggest specifics, but, generally speaking, here they are, in no particular order …

  • Daenerys actually rules from the Iron Throne
  • Sansa claims Winterfell as an independent kingdom, which she rules
  •  Jon Snow’s resurrection is given ample explanation
  • Ghost and Nymeria return with a pack of direwolves to protect Winterfell from dragons–yes, dragons
  • Jamie and Cersie survive, but must live in squalor and anonymity
  • Bran becomes the Night King, but alters the Night King’s course
  • Arya and Brienne wander the world, committing acts of heroism wherever needed
  • Jon Snow returns to the Free Folk and lives among them
  • Drogon survives and gives birth to more dragons
  • Magic significantly reveals itself again in the Lord of Light, Children Of the Forest, Three-Eyed Ravens, Wargs, Shadows, etc.
  • Tyrion dies a good death

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Branson Scenic Railway: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 11)

While in Branson during our spring break, we thought it might be fun to take a train ride on the Branson Scenic Railway.  After looking into it a bit, I particularly liked that a few of the passenger cars had clear, domed roofs which allowed unencumbered views of the scenery.  It sounded like an interesting excursion as it discussed tunnels, bridges, and venturing into Arkansas.

Everyone working at the station proved incredibly friendly, as were the attendants on the train.  Before loading, a conductor offered a few instructions and facts, along with several jokes, as we waited on the platform.  Once he finished, we were welcome to begin boarding.

Seats were not assigned, so we made a point to go directly to one of the domed train cars in order to get a good spot.  At it turned out, there would have been plenty of seating because they have three such cars.

The passenger cars were relics from history, but they had been refurbished and were quite comfortable.  It was fun to think of a time when they proved the primary mode of long-distance travel for people.

At first, we had a great time.  Soon, however, we realized that this scenic tour was not all that … well … scenic.  Perhaps it was simply the time of year, but there really wasn’t all that much to look at in regards to nature.  Furthermore, most of the view included the trash piled up in people’s backyards who live along the railway.  I’m not trying to insult them, but it didn’t make for a pleasurable viewing experience.  There was also a lot of refuse and debris along the rails themselves.

Had the ride only lasted 40 minutes, this may not have been too big of a deal, but the outing actually took almost two hours.  Two long hours.  My children and I grew restless and were ready to get off the train at about the halfway point.

If you have children or are not that into trains, I’d pass on this particular activity while in Branson.  However, if it sounds like you’d enjoy it, you can visit their website to learn more by clicking HERE.

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Dolly Parton’s Stampede: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 10)

If you’re going to Branson, you have to take part in Dolly Parton’s Stampede, right?

Believe it or not, my wife and I actually enjoyed Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, long before our children were born.  Because we had some experience with it, we knew our kids would love the show.

We also knew they’d hate the food …

When you first enter the Branson Stampede building, you’ll have a family photograph taken once submitting your tickets and then everyone is funneled through a gift shop area and into a large room with a bar and a stage–this is called the Carriage Room.  Before too long, live entertainers by the name of the White River Wranglers appear.  They’re a talented group specializing in a mix of country and bluegrass.  They also took a shot at some modern day hits while cracking joke after joke.  My kids thoroughly enjoyed watching them.

Once they finished, we were ushered into the arena.  I have to be honest, this was not a pleasant experience.  Because your section is reserved, you might be better off to stay back until most of the people are through.  They have one set of doors for hundreds of people to siphon through, and we noticed quite a bit of pushing and shoving.

After that, though, everything went very well.

We were quickly seated in the front row.  I bought our tickets online and early in order to guarantee this spot.  I wanted my daughters to have a great view.

Our server immediately introduced himself while establishing the fact that he had a fun sense of humor.  He was truly a delight throughout the show.  I don’t think the man ever stopped moving.

Soon enough, both the food and the show started.  I’ll begin by talking about the food …

Be aware that there is not any silverware or utensils of any sort.  You’re also not ordering anything–you pretty much take what you’re given.  (I believe you can choose a vegetarian or a gluten-free option when ordering tickets.)  You’ll first have a cup of soup, then a plate with a chicken, a pork loin, corn on the cob, half of a potato, and a biscuit.  At the end they will give you a dessert which is basically an apple fritter.  I thoroughly enjoyed my entire meal.  My daughters … not so much.  Fortunately, our server gave us take-home bags, so my wife and I had delicious leftovers the next day.

The show is very impressive as well.  Of course, they have all kinds of horses racing across the course.  Some of the horses perform tricks with some of the riders executing stunts.  At one point they even had bison milling around, which was very cool.  I can’t claim to see bison all that often.  There are also lots of fireballs, flashes of light, fog, and music.  It’s pretty much nonstop action with some magic, some comedy, and even live singing.  We were most certainly entertained, and though my kids didn’t like the food, they loved the show.

I could not have been happier with our seats, but be aware: if you sit in the front row, you run the risk of sand getting kicked up on you.  Those horse are moving fast, and when they change direction it only stands to reason that they are going to displace a bit of sand.  I actually had some land on my plate at one point.  It wasn’t a big deal.  I wiped it off the food and kept eating.  Luckily it was just me–my wife and daughters didn’t have to deal with it.  The little girl sitting on my other side did, though, but she handled it like a champ.  She just cleaned her meat and then kept eating, too.  I liked that kid.

If you’ve never been to Dolly Parton’s Stampede, I highly recommend it.  It’s definitely something everyone should experience at least once.

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In Honor Of the Greatest Educator I Know

As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment and recognize the greatest educator I know.  Her name is Kristen Foley, and she happens to be my wife.

This is not favoritism, though.  If I only knew Kristen on a professional basis, my opinion of her teaching would not change.

I’ve known Kristen for seventeen years.  In that time, her commitment and dedication to teaching has not wavered–not once.  She has never compromised her standards, and she has not once taken the easy way out.

Kristen is quite demanding of her third grade students.  She expects the best that they can individually offer and she wants it on a daily basis.  She holds them accountable for both their academic performance and their personal actions.  However, I guarantee you that every single one of her students, year after year, comes out of her class both an improved student and person.

That’s not to say she’s a taskmaster, though.  I’m often amazed at how silly she’s willing to be in front of them.  It’s not unusual to find her dancing with them during brain breaks or to catch her singing like a rock star.  She is constantly striving to make her classes fun with innovative lessons, dramatic performances, cutting-edge technology, creative activities, and special keepsakes.

And while she asks for the best from her students and her school, she expects even more from herself.  Kristen demands 100% effort from herself all of the time.  She’s been that way from the day I met her, and she’ll be that way until the day she retires.

Once we put the kids to bed, she’s instantly back to work.  She is always grading papers, developing lesson plans, writing newsletters, returning emails–I don’t know anyone who puts in more time than she does.

As a fellow teacher, I sometimes suggest she ease off the accelerator a bit.  I’ve often worried that she’ll burn herself out.  But that’s the difference between Kristen and most other teachers–she literally cannot burn herself out on this.  She loves it.  She loves teaching.  She loves being an educator.  She loves her students.  She loves it in a way most of us cannot understand.

I’m thankful we still have teachers like Kristen Foley.  She is, without question, the best of the best.

Mrs. Foley Classroom

 

Silver Dollar City: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 9)

A trip to Branson could never be complete without visiting Silver Dollar City!

Frankly, I didn’t really care that much if we made it to this theme park or not.  While it certainly looked fun, nothing can compare to Disney World in my mind.  I figured it would be a pale imitation.

We got off on kind of the wrong foot with Silver Dollar City.  We didn’t arrive as early as we wanted, and so we found ourselves in a very long line to enter.  I think we waited in line about an hour to get our tickets.  At least, it felt like an hour.  Because they closed at 6:00 p.m., we only had about seven hours once we were in.  This sounds like a lot, but trust me–it wasn’t.

As is the case with any theme park, it took a bit of studying a map to get oriented.  Once we felt confident in our bearings, we started strolling along.

We visited a taffy making shop right off the bat and got a few samples.  This was a very popular place with my daughters.  We next visited a candy making shop, which was even MORE of a hit!  After that, we made our way to a glassblower’s area.  It was very cool to watch these craftsmen.

Then something wildly unexpected occurred.  We happened across a roller coaster called Thunderation.  My wife wants no part of roller coasters, nor do either of my children.  Or at least, that’s what I thought.  My oldest, who was ten at the time, agreed to go on it with me.  She picked quite a coaster for her first go!  Though she was a little nervous, she showed incredible bravery and LOVED it.  Personally, I felt elated to finally have a roller coaster buddy!

We waited quite a while in line for Thunderation, probably about 20 minutes.  As the day wore on, these wait times got longer and longer for other rides.  There’s no fast passes at Silver Dollar City!  (At least, not that I know of.)

My wife and youngest daughter traveled to an area with tamer rides for little ones which they very much enjoyed.  There really is a ride for everyone at Silver Dollar City.

I won’t go into great detail, but my oldest and I also enjoyed a very intense roller coaster called Powder Keg.  We then convinced my youngest daughter to ride a very small roller coaster called the Grand Exposition Coaster, which she absolutely adored.  As a complete family, we enjoyed The Flooded Mine–my youngest daughter hated this one because of the escaped prisoner mannequins, but the rest of us got a kick out of it.  We did a ton more rides, most of which were aimed at a younger crowd.  Make no mistake, however, there are plenty of big rides like what you would find at Disney or Six Flags.  Some looked too extreme even for me!  You can find a complete list of all rides HERE.

Silver Dollar City had a lot more to offer than just rides, though.  There were restaurants galore, live singing, functioning craftsmen demonstrations, and plenty of gift shops.  My wife particularly enjoyed a little homestead area made to replicate life in the 1800s.

All in all, we had an absolute blast.  I would not hesitate to go back to Silver Dollar City.  In fact, we plan to go back someday soon because we didn’t have enough time to take it all in!  One day simply wasn’t enough for us.  Believe it or not, my youngest daughter said she liked it better than Disney World.  She was six when we went, so we didn’t come down too hard on her, but we did tell her to slow her roll.  That’s just crazy talk.

You can visit the Silver Dollar City website by clicking HERE.

 

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Hamners’ Unbelievable Variety: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 8)

Hamners’ Unbelievable Variety came highly recommended by the online community, so we figured we’d give it a shot.  After all, it sounded perfect for the family.  Magic, acrobatics, singing — something for everyone!

Like with the Amazing Acrobatics of Shanghai, we were a little surprised to find that the show took place on a stage much like any other theater.  However, as time went one, we discovered this is just the way it is in Branson.  All of the shows occur on a traditional stage.

The show started with Johnny Lonestar warming up the crowd.  He and his son performed some lasso tricks that were a lot of fun.  Lonestar had a great sense of humor, brought up an audience member or two for a few tricks with his whip, and included his son who did a great job.

Eventually Dave and Denise Hamner took the stage as well.  Dave performed some cool card and coin tricks and also made his magnificent birds appear out of thin air.  Everything about his opening act was top-notch.  However, it’s obvious that Dave’s best days are behind him.  While his personality shined, his physical movements seemed labored, almost as though he was in pain.  With thousands of physically demanding performances under his belt, it’s likely he’s got quite a few aches and pains built up over time.

We were next astounded by Mariya Serykh’s aerial act.  Serykh performed a silk performance that literally had us mesmerized.  Without the aid of a net, mat, or safety rope, she climbed, twisted, spun, and turned nearly as high as the ceiling.  Best of all?  The silks hung down right in front of the stage near the front row.  A very young woman, Serykh seemed at the top of her game.  She was graceful, fluid, and executed her moves perfectly.

Next, Jeff Brandt took the stage.  Like Hamner, Brandt appeared to be pretty seasoned.  He’s said to be a master imitator of singers, which certainly proved to be the case.  He imitated, among many others, Tina Turner, Neil Diamond, and even — virtually at once — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.!  Brandt definitely knew how to work the crowd and got everyone rocking and rolling.

Anthony Soumiatin soon appeared in the Cyr Wheel.  This is one of those giant hoops that the person hangs onto with their feet and hands as they spin and slide along the stage.  A young man, Soumiatin really did prove a master at this specialty.

Of course, the Hamners are performing magic and illusion acts between all of these other acts as well.  Many of them are grand, impressive tricks with lots of big props, music, and lighting.  The production really is something to see.

Of course, there were a few other performances, too.  There was some singing, a dance, some slapstick comedy, and even a memorial video montage paying tribute to a deceased cast member.  You get your money’s worth with Hamners — that’s for sure!

Dave Hamner then took a moment to invite everyone back to the theater because he’s also an ordained minister and they hold services on Sundays.  This caught me a little by surprise, but, as I soon learned, everyone wears multiple hats in Branson.  I appreciated that he didn’t come on too strong with this offer, especially because it seemed sincere.

Near the end, Hamner and his cast came out and saluted the veterans before performing one last patriotic trick that will blow you mind.

Yes, I’ll admit it — the cheese factor was pretty high throughout most of the show, but it was the good kind of cheese.  Hamner struck me as being in on the joke.  He knows the product he’s offering.  Don’t make any mistake, though, while much of the cast are on the back end of their career, it’s a great time with some truly impressive feats.  Both of my kids had a wonderful experience, and so did my wife and I.  Though I wouldn’t make viewing this show a top priority, I would definitely consider it among my top ten attractions at Branson.  Like I said, it’s nice because it’s got a little bit of something for everyone.

You can visit the Hamners’ Unbelievable Variety website by clicking HERE.

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