Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

Dear Jack,

After leaving Saturday morning at 5:30 AM from our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and having a few adventures in between, we finally made it to Fort Payne, Alabama, about 13 hours later; where Nonna and Papa live.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d3

The next afternoon, we loaded up for our final stop on our 1st father and son road trip. Nonna and Papa joined us in the Lexus ES; while Uncle Andrew and your cousin Calla followed us in their Toyota Highlander.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

On route to the hiking spot, I made a quick detour to show you the little brick house I grew up in, until I was a high school freshman in 1995 when the “new house” (which serves as your summer camp headquarters for the week) was built.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d13 d14 d15 d16

Just a few miles away was the DeSoto State Park, where we began our journey down the Azalea Cascade Trail.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

I chose for you to go on this trail as a way to keep you from having to take a nap: In the afternoons, you get way too much energy if you don’t sleep; so I catered to your needs by providing an agenda and landscape for you:

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

It was a long, strenuous trail for the likes of a 5 and a half year-old boy. I was very pleased with the results.

You encountered a wall of a hill…

d12 Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

A treacherous bridge…

d23

And a giant rock or two for us to climb together.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d27

Perhaps one of your favorite parts of the trail was when you amazingly found a baby slug that you took along for a leg of the hike.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d26

About 15 minutes later, you declared, “Daddy, it’s time for me to part ways with Sluggy.”

And so you did.

I helped you find a nice place in the grass for him to hang out.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d21 d22 d24

Hiking that trail with you showed me what you’re capable of for next time!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d6 d7

I figured it would be a good idea for you and your cousin to cool down by playing at the playground across from where we parked the Lexus ES.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d30 d31

It just so happens, the playground equipment company Papa has worked for since 1979 made and installed the equipment the two of you played on.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d33

From there, we got cleaned up and got ready for your goodbye dinner at the Thai restaurant…

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

Dear Holly: You are Now 3 Months Old

3 months (13 weeks).

Dear Holly: You are Now 3 Months Old

Dear Holly,

This past Sunday you not only turned 13 weeks old, but you also turned 3 months old! Granted, I wasn’t there with you, since you and Mommy have been spending the week in California while Mommy is finishing up maternity leave.

I’m happy that everyone in Sacramento got to meet you and spend time with you this week, but I’ve definitely been ready to get you back home.

Mommy texted me a couple of days ago to announce the great news that you rolled over on your tummy for the first time! My first thought was how I wish I could have been there to see it, but then I remembered:

Even if you and Mommy would have been here in Tennessee like normal, I still wouldn’t have been able to witness it because I would have been at work.

Oh well, I know that once you get home , I’ll be able to see you roll over plenty!

Mommy also texted me that you are now 25 inches long. You are growing up fast.

The thing I’m most curious about right now is whether or not you’re going to have red hair, as it currently appears to be the case…

I know your brother Jack is really looking forward to seeing you again as well. When he and I went to the movies last weekend, he took one of your outgrown dresses and put it on one of his stuffed animals, calling the panda bear “Baby.”

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

During both movies, he held Baby tightly and she was wrapped up in a blanket, as Jack treated her like an actual baby.

Whether or not he realizes it, I do: Sometimes he subconsciously pretends his stuffed animals are you.

Jack and I will be so glad to have you and Mommy back home.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

Right before we crossed over from Mentone to Fort Payne, Alabama, I surprised you by parking the Lexus ES 300h at an old church that is built around a giant rock; which is named Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

It was built back in 1937, when Colonel Milford Howard constructed the chapel as a memorial to his wife. And equally interesting is the fact his ashes are inside the rock itself, as his sort of burial place.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Another fascinating thing about “Howard’s Chapel” is that the doors are never locked. That means that travelling passersby from DeSoto State Park can visit it at their convenience. This fact is openly promoted on the sign.

A couple Christmases back, I took you there with Uncle Andrew and Papa. However, you told me you don’t remember that.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

So it was like a brand new experience for you this time. I believe I was about your age when I first became aware of this chapel.

It’s such a rare thing- to be able to walk inside an old church with a giant rock inside, which contains the builder’s ashes. Seriously, how many people can say they actually have been there and seen the inside?

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

I bet most people have never even heard of it, outside of my hometown. It’s just so tucked away.

You were obviously fascinated. I’m sure it seemed like a bizarre dream to you. But it was all real… I was there too with you.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

And to think, I just grew up a few miles from there.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

The next stop on our father and son trip: The Azalea Trail at DeSoto State Park. But first, on the way there, I decided it would be cool to show you that little brick house I grew up in… coming up next.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Vegan Confession: I’m Like the Worst Vegan Ever

Vegan Confession: I am Like the Worst Vegan Ever

I guess there’s more than one way to be a bad vegan. The first that comes to mind is one that “cheats”, by promoting the plant-based life to others, while sneaking in bites of chicken nuggets and dollar menu burgers.

However, I can confidently confirm that I have never intentionally “slipped up”. To my knowledge, I have not consumed any animal products since April 2013, nor any meat since December 2011. I have remained ever faithful to my alternative lifestyle choice.

The second idea that comes to mind when I think of a “bad vegan” is someone who is overzealous and appears to be judgmental of those who do not share their same strict values; eager to convert the rest of the world, especially through offensive images and stories of guilt and animal cruelty.

I admit, that was me for about a month after my conversion. I am still embarrassed by some of the memes I created for my Facebook page back in the summer of 2013.

But I got over my zealot stage, realizing that even if I could legitimately convince the world that eating animal products is unnecessary, it still would never matter.

Because for most people, the information I know and live by is not enough to change their minds or hearts.

Vegan Confession: I am Like the Worst Vegan Ever

I have accepted the reality that people continue to eat animals products because A) they think they need to in order to get enough protein or proper nutrition, B) they fear escaping the social norm, B) it’s more convenient, C) it’s an emotional tradition, and/or D) they simply like it.

After all, I’m a proud Libertarian (who’s not voting for Trump or Clinton). Since embarrassing myself on Facebook 3 summers ago, I have embraced my fundamental Liberation beliefs:

Sit back and watch other people make their own decisions. If they decide what they are doing is not working for them, they will get curious enough to ask someone else who seems to have things figured out.

I was so proud this weekend when a high school friend approached me about how to transition to a vegan lifestyle, as he is tired of digestion issues and being overweight.

He has an open mind about the plant-based life. He doesn’t let his preconceived ideas get in the way of making a positive change in his life. But he doesn’t represent the majority, as I’ve learned and accepted.

With that being said, here’s how I’m like the worst vegan ever:

I openly encourage the free world to eat whatever they want, since I can’t.

When someone brings donuts to work, I make sure everyone knows about it, proclaiming, “Hey, go get a donut or two, because you can. I’m a vegan, so that means someone needs to take my share; otherwise, that donut will just go stale.”

It usually makes the person laugh, followed by them going to get two donuts.

I also try to help people decide what to eat on their lunch break. When I go by other guys’ desks, I’ll suggest, “You know, you could totally go by Wendy’s for lunch and get a big cheesy burger. I can’t since I’m a vegan, but you should!”

And they know I’m not being sarcastic. They know me well enough to realize that if I wasn’t keeping my eczema, acne, headaches, sinus infections, sinus pressure, and pet allergies in complete remission by remaining committed to the vegan lifestyle, I never would have converted.

I would still be the world’s most passionate carnivore!

Perhaps it’s my way of living vicariously through them. I remind them they have the freedom and ability to eat whatever they want, whereas I no longer do.

But by doing so, in sort of a backwards unspoken way, I am reminding them that I am there to help them if they ever get curious about getting healthy.

Gone are the days of trying to convince other people to live the plant-based life with me (except for my own family, that’s a whole different story) .

Instead, I point mainstream society in the other direction; the direction they are already going. They know where to find me if they need me.

I think that sort of makes me the worst vegan ever.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

Throughout my entire childhood, as Papa drove our family to and from Chattanooga where his side of family lives, we would always pass this brown government sign, pointing towards Cloudland Canyon State Park; near Trenton, Georgia.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

I never stopped wondering what was there, just 4 miles off the main road. So I decided to make it an official stop on our 1st father and son road trip.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Neither of our preconceived ideas of Cloudland Canyon State Park were accurate. I was expecting something much smaller and mediocre. And you later revealed to me you thought it was like a carnival with rides.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

However, we were both very pleased with what the park actually is. It was amazing!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

There’s a walkway that goes along the side of Lookout Mountain, which allowed us to see down into the valley… way down there.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

And at one part of the trail, we were able to climb a staircase down to a really cool viewpoint.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

I think my favorite part of our visit to Cloudland Canyon was when you looked out and announced, “Oh, I see the 10 Commandments.”

(It was actually a set of rock posts that are part of another trail across the valley.)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

When you are older, I will take you back because there’s another trail that is 2 hours long that goes all the way down to where there’s a waterfall! Maybe in a year or two you’ll be ready for that. I am really looking forward to that…

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

So it turns out that my whole life, there really was something pretty awesome, had we just turned 4 miles down that road where the brown government sign was.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Cloudland Canyon State Park is a wondrous place to visit. After we left there, we opened the sun roof in the Lexus ES, per your request, and enjoyed the breeze as we made our way closer to Fort Payne, Alabama.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

But first, I had a surprise stop planned: an old chapel built into a giant rock…

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nick A Jack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

As you and I were getting ready to start off our 1st ever father and son road trip, you decided to pack a few more of your stuffed animals, in addition to the dozen or so you already had ready by the door.

I let you pack up the Lexus ES with much more than was necessary for your upcoming week-long stay at Nonna and Papa’s, but with the road trip just being you and me, I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Just as the sun was coming up, we left our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee. You used a glow stick and your finger-flashlight to help see in the dark as you spent the first hour designing monster trucks on Mommy’s Kindle.

You also enjoyed checking out one of many brochures you picked up at the rest stop. Your favorite was for Star Cars, which features the car from Ghostbusters; the movie we saw together just the night before.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Granted, we stopped at the Whole Foods Market in Chattanooga, Tennessee for lunch; to cater to my vegan and your vegetarian lifestyle. Right across the road was Learning Express Toys where I bought you a souvenir that you are currently obsessed with.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

The first major stop on our trip was Nick A Jack Road, in Flintstone, Georgia; which borders Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am very familiar with it, since that’s where Papa’s side of the family lives.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

It’s the road that goes from the bottom to the top of Lookout Mountain on the Georgia side; where as Nonna and Papa live on the other end of the mountain, an hour away on the Alabama side.

Nick A Jack Road is a particularly special road for us as father and son, as it always was for Papa and me when I was a kid. Papa’s first name is Jack, just like yours; and of course mine is Nick.

So “Nick A Jack” combines both your name and mine; as it always has for Papa and me…

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Therefore, I made sure we stopped for a photo op there at the top of the mountain, where Nick A Jack Road comes to an end.

I have always wanted us to take our picture together there in front of that street sign. My dream finally came true!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

From there, we drove another 20 minutes to Cloudland Canyon Sate Park, which made for our next amazing stop on our 1st father and son road trip…

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

With Mommy still on maternity leave for a little bit more, she took Baby Holly to Sacramento, California for the week to visit family.

We decided this would be a perfect opportunity for you to spend a week at Nonna and Papa’s house in Fort Payne, Alabama; as your first sort of summer camp experience. Meanwhile, I would stay behind here in Tennessee as I work a full time job.

But of course, I would be the one to take you there to Nonna and Papa’s house over the weekend. I saw it as the perfect opportunity for you and I to have our 1st ever father and son road trip. We were able to score a 2016 Lexus ES 300 Hybrid for the 3 day weekend!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

The event began when we dropped off Mommy and Baby Holly at the Nashville Airport at 3:00 AM on early Friday morning and said our sleepy goodbyes to them. We then drove all the way back to Spring Hill and slept in until 8:00 AM.

Next it was time for our haircuts. Then I made us some lunch by reheating leftovers from the dinner Mommy made the night before, and after that, we were off to the movies!

We always love watching movies together so I decided we should spend the whole afternoon at the movies on such a sweltering hot July Friday afternoon, by watching two movies, back to back.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

For months now, we couldn’t help but be curious about the new Ghostbusters movie. So I decided to make our viewing very special by opting for us to see it in 3D. I’m so glad we did.

You and I had so much fun watching it together. You liked all the Ghostbusters’ cool gadgets and weapons.

I’m pretty sure your favorite holiday is Halloween. You love scary stuff. For example, your favorite episode of Saved By the Bell is Episode 26 of Season 3, “Mystery Weekend”, the one with the haunted house.

Not to mention, you’ve seen nearly every episode of Goosebumps, plus the movie at least 2 or 3 times by now.

So while perhaps not all soon-to-be Kindergartner boys would be ready for Ghostbusters, you proudly watched it with me and thought it was so cool.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

I let you completely decide what our 2nd movie would be. Instead of Star Trek (which would have gotten my vote), or even Tarzan (which I know you would have loved since it has animals in it), you chose The BFG, which you’ve been excited about for weeks now.

By the way, you took your “big-eyed” Panda, who you dressed up in one of your sister’s outgrown dresses. I think that’s your way of saying your miss her.

From 2:05 to 6:35 Friday evening, we were at the movies. Seriously, how cool is that? It’s not something we would normally get to do, for sure.

As for me, that was the one day of our father and son road trip that I actually took off work for, as the weekend followed. It felt like a real day off for me. Such a good time.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

I took you to Moe’s for dinner, as they are able to easily cater to my vegan needs and your vegetarian needs. Afterwards, we headed home to get to sleep as soon as possible; since early the morning, we would be taking the Lexus ES across state lines for our inevitable amazing adventures together…

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)