Our Trip To Wisconsin Dells (Part 1) – Lodging

As an educator, I’m enthusiastic about taking advantage of the ample vacation time we’re afforded.  Winter break can always be unpredictable due to the weather, but my wife and I decided to brave the relatively short drive north to Wisconsin Dells in order to enjoy the incredible indoor water parks we’ve heard so much about.

We weren’t sure if we wanted to stay at Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari, or Wilderness Resort.  Ultimately, after getting advice from friends and doing a little online research, we settled on Wilderness Resort.  More specifically, we opted for Glacier Canyon Lodge, which is a component of the Wilderness Resort campus.  The two bedroom deluxe suites appealed to me, thus we booked it online.

If you’re also interested in this destination, my recommendation to you is to call them directly in order to book your room.  I’ll explain why momentarily.

Let me begin by saying that nearly everyone we encountered at the Glacier Canyon Lodge were perfectly friendly and helpful.  Our check-in process was fine and trouble-free.  Our check-out also proved uneventful.  In fact, we forgot to download new movies from Netflix for our youngest daughter before we checked out, but didn’t realize this fact until eating lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Because Glacier Canyon Lodge was literally across the street, we drove back to see if we could still use their free Wi-Fi from the parking lot.  We couldn’t, so we went inside.  I explained the situation to a young man at the front desk, and he promptly signed us in on my daughter’s iPad.  He explained to me that he had a two-year-old and a four-year-old, so he realized the importance of movies on road trips.

The rooms were very nice.  My children loved the bunk beds.  We found it quite homey and comfortable.  I liked that the kids had their own space as well as their own bathroom, yet we still shared family space in the kitchen, dining area, and living room area.  We were placed on the ground floor near the entrance.  At first I thought this was an advantage, but I soon realized that everyone who used that entrance essentially walked by our window, which frankly unsettled me.

These are not traditional hotel rooms, meaning that, yes, housekeeping will switch out your towels and take your garbage, but they will not make your beds, vacuum, clean the toilets, or anything else like that.  Keep in mind that you also have a fully stocked kitchen, though, which includes coffee mugs, plates, cups, bowls, silverware, pots, pans, and cooking utensils.  You are expected to load the dishwasher before you leave.  House keeping will actually run it for you and restock the cupboards.

Furthermore, as it turned out, we were literally as far away from the skywalk as one could possibly be.  The skywalk is an enclosed walkway from the Glacier Canyon Lodge rooms to the Wilderness indoor water parks.  We were told it would be a ten minute walk from our room, but it actually took us closer to twenty.  This is not a big deal, but with a six-year-old in tow, it got old fast.  After our first day, I actually started driving my family around the campus to the indoor area we wanted to visit.

We had a floor above us which initially did not concern us at all.  However, on our first night there, we encountered a serious problem.  The suite we reserved could sleep up to seven people.  The room above us had at least that many people, and they apparently belonged to a gymnastics team or a dance troupe or maybe even a jump rope brigade.  They started bouncing around at 10:30 at night and kept it up solid until 2:00 a.m.  Okay, whatever.  I thought maybe it was their last night and they were living it up.

Unfortunately, on the second night, at the same time, it started anew.  Once it got close to midnight, I called security.  This seemed to only exacerbate the problem.  At that point, I felt sure they would pay my room a visit, or perhaps even the aforementioned bedroom sliding glass door right next to the complex’s entrance.  Needless to say, my family did not sleep well that night, and I couldn’t go to sleep for fear of reprisal.

The next day, I visited the front desk and explained the situation.  I told them that if the guests above us were not checking out that day, I’d need another room.  To their credit, the staff at Glacier Canyon Lodge moved us immediately.  They gave us a top floor suite, just like the one we had.  Sure, it took us a while to repack our things, but it wasn’t that daunting.  However, when we entered our new room, it wreaked of bacon.  I mean, this room was pungent.  We called the front desk and told them this room wasn’t going to work either.  The stench gave me an immediate headache and my wife’s stomach turned sour which forced her to sit in the hall.  The manager got on the line with us, and, honestly, I didn’t care for his disposition.  He tried to be polite, but I could tell we were annoying him and I didn’t find him too eager to guarantee our satisfaction.  Nonetheless, we were placed in yet another new room.  The good news is that it was far closer to the skywalk; the bad news is that it was quite a walk with our luggage rack to the new location.  Luckily, the new room did not have any exterior entrances nearby, did not stink, and did not have loud neighbors above us.

If you’re excited to visit an indoor water park in Wisconsin Dells, I would not hesitate to recommend Glacier Canyon Lodge.  However, remember that the floors between rooms are very thin.  We could hear our above neighbors walking around even in our new room, but they had a more sensible bedtime and did not disturb us at all.  Just to play it safe, be sure to call in person and request a top floor.  Also, talk to someone personally and tell them that you’d like to be as close to the skywalk as possible.  These simple steps will ensure an even better experience.

I’ll soon discuss the indoor attractions as well as the local restaurants we tried.

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

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Get On Board With Monticello Railway Museum’s Polar Express!

We decided in early November that it’s high time we took the kids on a Polar Express ride.  I searched local events and found one put on by the Monticello Railway Museum in Illinois.  After a bit of research, I discovered that people were generally very pleased with the attraction and, after looking at the Museum’s Facebook page, realized that several of our friends had been on the very same ride!  (This makes sense as it’s only about an hour from our town.)

I visited their official web page to find that tickets were few and far between.  This only makes sense because, unbeknownst to me, the tickets went on sale back in August.  We lucked out, though, and were able to snag some tickets during Thanksgiving break.  In fact, an 8:00 p.m. ride on a Saturday night suited us perfectly!  I hesitated momentarily due to the price.  They only had a deluxe table left, which ran about $300.  However, I looked into the amenities, considered the occasion, and ultimately decided it was worth the risk.

I’m happy to tell you that it was worth every penny.  Every.  Penny.

When you first arrive, everyone is as nice as they can possibly be.  You enter the depot to get your physical tickets–you pick them up right before the departure time, they are not mailed to you.  If you’ve got a little time to kill, you can walk across the parking lot to a large gift shop area.  They also have a set where you can have your picture taken.  You have to use your own camera, but the backdrop is fantastic and they have volunteers to take the picture for you.  (The only reason I didn’t post ours with this article is because it could become our Christmas card.)

When it’s time to board, you walk along the Polar Express replica.  As you can see from the below picture, they went all out with the exterior.  My kids were in awe.  You might even get to see Hobo Joe by his campfire.  Odds are, if he sees you, he’s going to say hi with a big smile on his face.

Once aboard, you are pretty much entertained from start to finish.  The wait staff (primarily composed of a local dance troupe) sing and dance throughout, they give you as much hot chocolate as you want, as many cookies as you want, as well as all the soda, peanuts, water, and other goodies that you could ever want!  Each table has a sparkly silver gift bag that reads “The bell still rings for me” with a ceramic Polar Express mug inside.  The conductor punches your ticket in quite the creative fashion, Hobo Joe makes a run through, and Santa himself even makes an appearance while handing out sleigh bells!  Keep in mind, this is all happening as the train is actually rolling along.

We rode at night, so we couldn’t see much out the windows, but they made a point to have the “North Pole” all lit up with Santa waving to the train cars before he gets on board to say hello to the kids.  Honestly, there’s so much going on inside the train that we never had time to look out!

Now, one thing I want you to remember is that we were on the “deluxe” car.  I have no idea if all of this went on in the “coach” cars.  Though the deluxe was expensive, I feel that we definitely got our money’s worth.

I have a few suggestions to help  you enjoy your time even more.  Make sure the kids are seated by the aisle.  We were starting to have them sit by the windows and a nice man next to our table whispered to me that we want them along the aisle so that they can get plenty of picture opportunities when Santa arrives.  Also, if Hobo Joe sees your entire family in matching pajamas, he’ll give you a special ornament.  I knew they liked families to wear matching pj’s, but the ornament completely surprised us.  Furthermore, parking is a bit of a free for all.  We found a spot easily enough, but count on parking in the surrounding area somewhere.  Don’t expect to park right in front of the depot.  Finally, there are no bathrooms on the actual train, but the gift shop area has a few.  Beware, though, they were a disaster.  With that many people coming through, they couldn’t keep up with making sure those restrooms stayed clean.

The Monticello Railway Museum’s Polar Express left us 100% satisfied.  Everyone treated us exceptionally well, we were entertained throughout, and they made it as special as they possibly could for the kids aboard.  Our ten-year-old and six-year-old can’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it, which, of course, delights their mom and me.  If you live in the Central Illinois area, I completely recommend you take part in this wonderful event.

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

 

Don’t Quit On Daredevil: Season 3

ScreenRant.com is saying that a lot of people gave up on Daredevil: Season 3.  If you’re one of those viewers, give it another try.  I finished this latest season about a week ago, and I have to tell you that after reflecting on it, I think this season is my favorite of all the Netflix Marvel shows.

First of all, the smartest of all the Marvel shows got even smarter.  Everyone in this series has actual motivation.  The plot unfolds organically and without any abrupt shifts in direction or tone.  Almost everything in this season actually makes sense.  One event leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next.

Consequently, the pacing is what actually makes this season my favorite.  The Netflix Marvel shows have had disastrous pacing issues–particularly in regards to Luke Cage and Iron FistDaredevil: Season 3 moves at a quick pace, and the story keeps developing from episode to episode to episode.  Other Marvel series have felt like three or four different story arcs within a single season.  Oftentimes they have an out-of-the-blue event occur around episode 7 or 8 that changes everything.  Not so with this one.  In fact, it’s the first time I didn’t tell myself (regarding a Netflix Marvel show) that thirteen episodes was too long.  I wanted more!

I groaned a bit when I heard Bullseye would be the villain of this season because he’s about as cliched a villain as you can get.  Fortunately, they grew “Dex” Poindexter into an antagonist only as the show progressed.  Getting him to that point was a slow burn.  Best of all, they never actually called him “Bullseye.”  Dex got more and more interesting as the show moved along in large part due to his mental torment.  I won’t spoil it for you, but they were quite creative in displaying this anguish.  Poindexter does awful things in this season, yet he is not entirely unlikable.  You can’t help but empathize with his plight a bit, especially because he can turn on the charm when he wants to.  I felt his frustration at being a hero when his talent for killing was done on behalf of the government, yet, when not working on behalf of his country, he was deemed a criminal.

Of course, I love Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.  He, too, while certainly a villain, is a complicated man who is actually worthy of sympathy from time to time.  D’Onofrio plays him with such repression–it’s something to behold.  I love that Fisk is constantly flexing his fingers or working his hands.  He always seems as though he’s just barely constraining himself.  I’ve heard some say that D’Onofrio plays him too over the top, but I think it’s perfect.  Fisks merciless intellect always makes him a formidable opponent.

Jay Ali proved a welcome addition to the cast.  He played FBI agent Ray Nadeem.  Nadeem found himself at the center of everything in this season, and suffered as a result.  Ali delivered an average man just trying to do the right thing, and he showed us just how convoluted the “right thing” can be.  Nadeem provided a necessary emotional tether to the season that helped me to invest in the entire story as a whole.

Charlie Cox, though, is what makes this season something special.  This man is the perfect embodiment of Matt Murdock.  I think leaving the costume behind, having Murdock go back to the black shirt and pants really brought this series back to it’s street-level grittiness.  Murdock’s crisis of conscience, his battle with this faith, and his obsession with Fisk drove this season forward.  Cox benefited from getting to be the star of the show again.  He didn’t have to compete with an Electra or a Punisher taking up his screen time.  He didn’t have a gang of mystical ninjas to defeat.  He just had to outsmart Wilson Fisk, which is awfully hard to do, especially when you’ve got a man throwing items in your direction at terminal velocity.  The simplicity of this intricate plot made this season very entertaining.  It never got too big, but it never felt small, either.

Is this season perfect?  No, it’s not.  I think they don’t quite know what to do with Foggy Nelson, and I personally believe that Elden Henson is playing him more and more as a type rather than as a person.  Deborah Ann Woll, conversely, has gotten better and better as Karen Page.  The only misstep they had with her character involved an entire episode devoted to her background which was completely unneeded.  I’m also not a fan of a hero fighting an evil version of himself or herself.  If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Dex himself dons the Daredevil costume.  They have a good reason for it that serves the story very well, but it’s still a pet peeve of mine.  I guess I should be glad they didn’t put him in the comic book version of the Bullseye costume.

As always, the fight scenes were incredible.  These feel like real brawls–everyone looks exhausted by the end of them.  There’s a prison fight and a fight in a church that are just flat-out amazing.

Because of Murdock’s complex identity issues regarding his alias, his faith, and even his morals, and because of the well-paced, methodical character development regarding Poindexter, Fisk, and Nadeem, I found this season extremely satisfying.  I was hooked on Season 3 by the first episode, but if you gave up on it for some reason, I hope you’ll give it another chance.  I think you’ll end up loving it as much as I did.

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

Words Have Power – Choose Wisely

I learned early on in my teaching career that words have an incredible amount of power.  I could say the simplest thing and absolutely make a student’s day.  However, the opposite also rang true.  I could say something without thinking that had the ability to severely upset a student as well.

We are taught: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  I don’t know about you, but my friends and I would use this as a mantra in grade school.  It served as almost a spell that warded off  insults.  We teach this to children because we know the cruelty that exists in childhood.  Kids say hurtful things to each other.  Sometimes on purpose with an intent to harm, but usually due to a lack of maturity.

As we get older and wiser, most of us learn to wield are words with caution.  We gain empathy.  We acquire the ability to consider the consequences of our words.  We understand that once a string of words is uttered, it can never be taken back.  We choose our words carefully.

Whether I like it or not, I am an authority figure when in my classroom.  I watch every single word I say because I know that my voice has the most power within those four walls.  My voice sets the tone of the room.  My words influence the actions of my students.  If I am calm, kind, encouraging, and articulate, my students’ mirror that.

During the first few years of my career, when I was barely past twenty-five, I enjoyed zinging my students.  We liked to banter with each other.  Typically, the insults were playful and harmless — I thought I was being funny.  However, sometimes a student would take it too far, and I would get upset.  I eventually realized that I had nothing to get upset about — the students were following my lead.  I set that tone.  My words dictated their actions.

In my early thirties, I stopped zinging kids.  I kept the jokes goofy and innocent — “dad jokes,” as my students call them.  Since then, I’ve found that the environment in my classroom has become far more relaxed, far more tolerant, and far more supportive.

Authority figures must be careful with their words.  I disagree with the notion that leaders have to “tell it like it is” because “like it is” is often a matter of perspective, and “like it is” is typically rooted in an agenda of some sort.  My “like it is” is not the same as your “like it is.”

There’s nothing wrong with considering others’ feelings.  There’s wisdom in predicting the potential ramifications of words.  There’s decency in showing restraint.

Choosing words that inform, inspire, and invigorate — that’s true leadership.

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

Back In Touch With An Old Friend …

A few days ago I struggled to make a dent in a book that will remain unnamed.  As it happens, a student in my class raved about an old Stephen King book he’d just finished — Pet Sematary.

Like you, I know about his classic novel, Pet Sematary.  I seen bits and pieces of the old movie on TV throughout the years.  However, I’ve never actually read the thing.  If you’ve visited this site for awhile, you know I’m a Stephen King fan.  His nonfiction is always sublime.  I could read his thoughts on all manner of subjects day and night.  He’s one of the few contemporary writers who strikes me as both present and wise.

His fiction, though, it a little hit or miss with me.  I’m not an admirer of his work past the year 2000 (with the exception of his Dark Tower books).  Much of it strikes me as inflated and meandering.

The classics, though?  You know it.  For the most part, those babies are tight, fast, and going places.  Unfortunately, I haven’t read as many of his classic titles as I would like.

So anyway, as I listened to a student rave about Pet Sematary, I thought to myself, “Yeah, let’s do this!  It’s October; a trailer for the new film adaptation recently released; I’m not enjoying the book I’m currently reading — this is perfect timing!”

I literally put the book down that I was not digging and picked up Pet Sematary.

Ah, as soon as I started reading, it felt like I’d just reunited with an old friend.

I know the Pet Sematary years were a rough patch for King.  He’s very much on record with his addiction struggles.  I’ll be darned, though, if he wasn’t at his peak during those tumultuous days.  I’m in no way suggesting he should go back under the influence — absolutely not.  His style and voice during that time, though, were just so easy to get lost in, and remains so to this very day.  (That voice is still present in his nonfiction, by the way.)

Pet Sematary, like his other works from that era, connect with me in a way his current work does not.  I’m having an absolute ball reading it.  King’s appeal is obvious — there’s a reason he’s been a best selling author for almost fifty years!

It’s wonderful to pick up a book, start reading, and feel instant comfort.

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

The Regretful Reason I Love Chick-Fil-A

When Chick-Fil-A first came to Bloomington-Normal, people were, shall we say, enthusiastic.  I lived in North Carolina for two years almost twenty years ago, where Chick-Fil-A abound.  I ate it a few times during my tenure in the south, but didn’t find it particularly special.  I mean, chicken is chicken, right?

So, if we’re being honest, I didn’t understand the Central Illinois fervor.  People were literally counting down the days until it opened.  And once it finally unlocked its doors to the public, oh boy, the lines were legendary.

In fact, to this day, if it’s anywhere close to mealtime, you’re going to see their drive-thrus (yes, they have two lanes) crammed with cars.

Apparently, the BLO-NO passion for Chick-Fil-A has not weakened.

And even though I am among the Chick-Fil-A faithful now, it’s not because of the food.  I still maintain that chicken is chicken.

Whenever we decide to do fast food, I’m the first to suggest Chick-Fil-A for an entirely different reason — a regrettable reason.

The first time we went to Chick-Fil-A here in town (which was long after everyone else paid it a visit), I was astounded.

They were so nice.

They were polite, courteous, warm, engaged, gracious, and just … nice!

The whole experience satisfied me in a way I had not expected.  Was I really so starved for good customer service?

We’ve been back three or four times since, and every time we are treated the same way.  Clearly, exceptional manners are part of their business model.  I have no idea if they hire only those who are predisposed to affability or if they have to train their employees to be considerate, but it totally works on me.

I don’t go to Chick-Fil-A for the food, I go for the experience.

Isn’t that sort of sad?  Is our general customer service so poor that we are surprised when workers present themselves professionally with a smile?  Honestly, I never paid it much attention at other places, particularly fast food places, because I know the employees aren’t making much, don’t have the opportunity for a tip, and probably don’t have a ton of job satisfaction.  But then Chick-Fil-A came along and blew my whole paradigm.

What’s it say that Chick-Fil-A rose above the fast food competition by encouraging their employees to be nice?

By the way, if you want to argue with me that their manners are fake, that they aren’t being sincerely nice, that they are just trying to keep their jobs, that’s fine.  I’ll take fake nice over authentic grumpy with my (waffle) fries any day of the week.

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

Ruby Rose Is Batwoman In All Her Glory

Perhaps you heard the news several months ago that Ruby Rose had been cast to play Batwoman in a crossover event on the CW.  She will appear on The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl as the three shows dive into a combined story line that introduces us to a Gotham City presumably without a Batman.

Believe it or not, Batwoman has been around since 1956, but this current iteration debuted in 2006 and has been wildly popular from that moment on.  She’s regularly carried her own title off and on during the last eight years!

Today, the CW released an official look at Ruby Rose in the Batwoman costume, and it is exceptional.  Generally speaking, the CW costumes are breathtaking, but this one in particular is already by far my favorite.  That’s probably because it’s also the most accurate to the comic book depiction.  They even got the red wig just right!  (Yes, it’s a wig in the comics, too.)

I love that they really seem to be honoring the character.  In the source material, Batwoman is a former member of the armed forces who received a dishonorable discharge due to her homosexuality.  Feeling purposeless, while wandering Gotham City, Batman inadvertently inspired her to take control of her life by becoming Batwoman.

Interestingly enough, judging from the photograph, Batwoman may be Gotham City’s only bat-themed vigilante.  The bat-signal mimics her emblem, not Batman’s.  The CW has been hesitant to use Batman in any capacity, though they did go ahead and include Superman during a few episodes of Supergirl.  If they want to put all of their chips on Batwoman, that’s fine with me!  She’s a rich character full of story potential.

Of course, to be totally honest with you, I’ve quit watching all of the CW/DC Comics shows.  I loved them all in the beginning, especially The Flash.  Unfortunately, because it’s the CW, they got a bit too melodramatic for my taste.  When Arrow devolved into Felicity crying every episode with Oliver endlessly proclaiming everything is his fault, it got to be too much for me.  The Flash fell victim to similar tropes.

I will definitely come back for Batwoman, though.  The costume alone has piqued my curiosity in this crossover event.  I wish Ruby Rose and the CW the best of luck!

If you’d like to learn more about Batwoman, click HERE.

To learn more about Ruby Rose and the controversy surrounding her casting as Batwoman, click HERE.

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