Dear Jack: Exploring Your Great-Uncle Johnny’s Car Collection During Spring Break

7 years, 5 months.

Dear Jack,

It was just about a month ago that you had a pretty cool Spring Break. On the way back from Ruby Falls in the Mazda CX-5, we actually had to drive right past my Uncle Johnny’s house near Chattanooga; which is also near Rock City, where our family would visit a couple of days later. So I let him know in advance, and he was ready for us when we stopped by.

He has the largest collection of classic cars compared to anyone else I personally know. I figured especially at your age now, getting to see his car collection would really be an awesome thing to do.

You obviously were amazed with each car Uncle Johnny proceeded to show you; which included several class Mustangs.

But I think your favorite of them all was his 1993 Ford 150 pick-up truck.

But our visit didn’t just consist of a car museum collection alone.

Uncle Johnny was thoughtful enough, and brave enough, to insist that you drive us around in his golf utility vehicle. Granted, I sat next to you and overtook the wheel and brake pedal for much of the chaotic drive, which included us missing a tree by a few inches.

That’s why I took you to my Uncle Johnny’s house, though.

I knew it would create a memorable experience for you at this age. I have to believe that years from now, you’ll say to me, “Daddy, was that a dream that time we were at that guy’s house and he had all these cars and trucks and then he even let me drive this little car across a field, to another garage where there was this truck I got to stand in?”

Then I can say, “No, that was real.” Here are the pictures to prove it.

Love,

Daddy

Advertisements

My Road Trip with My Son to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

Despite me being a work-from-home dad, I am aware that it can still be a struggle to spend quality one-on-one time with my son; as I’m constantly also taking care of my nearly 2 year-old daughter when my son is around.

So I figured while I had access to the 2018 Mazda CX-5 for the week, I would devote an entire day of his Spring Break to just the two of us: father and son.

So we drove from one side of Lookout Mountain (Fort Payne, Alabama) to the other (Chattanooga, Tennessee) to go discover Ruby Falls; the tallest underground waterfall in America.

Despite growing up only an hour away from Ruby Falls, I had actually never been there myself. So it was a completely new experience for my son, as a 7 year-old; and for me, as a nearly 37 year-old.

I must say, Ruby Falls was so much more than I expected. I thought it was as simple as just getting into an elevator and immediately seeing a waterfall.

Instead, I’d say it’s more of an adventurous excursion.

The best way I can explain it is like this:

We rode an elevator many stories underground, inside of a mountain. That seems weird to say, but yes; Ruby Falls is in a mountain, underground.

One of the things I have documented quite well here on my blog over the years is how much my son and I love to go exploring on hikes.

So naturally, the long mysterious journey deep into the caverns was right up our alley.

Along the way, there were so many hidden treasures, beyond the actual waterfall at the midway point of the route.

I made this quick promo video for Ruby Falls, which provides a “one minute tour”, and includes a new original theme song I wrote for the attraction. You will love it:

Fortunately, thanks to the amazing and colorful lighting all along the way, I was able to take plenty of really cool pictures. I am grateful for this, as I’ve been taking pictures inside caves for a few decades now, and this is the first time the pictures actually look awesome!

In fact, it’s a guided tour; in groups of 50. The tour guides are well-versed on every little (and humongous) landmark leading up to Ruby Falls itself…

Once each group arrives in the room where Ruby Falls is, there’s a lights show to making the waterfall come to life even more. Needless to say, my son was in awe of this natural wonder in a mountain, underground.

But I suppose no tourist attraction would be complete without a proper visit to the gift shop, where my son was very proud of the items he purchased.

And there was one more surprise after we left the gift shop: We got to go on top of the roof and take a look over Chattanooga. My son thought that was really cool too.

So, mission accomplished! I wanted a special day with my son so we could spend quality time together, in a way that compliments our identity. Ruby Falls was the right choice!

And if this all sounds like fun to you, I have a feeling it will be if you take your family to Ruby Falls too!

A “Work Date”with My Wife at ENAR 2018 in Atlanta (Featuring the 2018 Mazda CX-5)

Last week during Spring Break, our family opted not to go somewhere slightly exotic, like Destin, Florida; as usual. Instead, I dropped my wife off at the Nashville International Airport for her flight to Atlanta, then I drove our kids to my parents’ house, in Fort Payne, Alabama; where I grew up.

My wife went to work immediately, as she was there to help represent Vanderbilt University’s Biostatistics Graduate Program in at the ENAR 2018 Spring Meeting. (In case you happen to be out of the loop, ENAR stands for Eastern North American Region of International Biometric Society.)

I spent the first day of Spring Break at Ruby Falls with our son (more on that in the near future, so stay tuned…). But the very next morning, I left early for Atlanta; in the 2018 Mazda CX-5.

This SUV was the perfect size for my 3 hour scenic drive down Lookout Mountain into the Rome, Georgia; and eventually Atlanta. I appreciated not only the great gas mileage it got (25 city, 31 highway), but also how well it handled all those sneaky curves on my route.

As a stay-at-home dad who works from home as a Social Media Specialist and Influencer, I haven’t commuted to an office since last October. So I do admit, it was nice being able go back and forth between The Beatles and Tom Petty for a few hours. There’s a part of me that misses that 2 hour round trip everyday to work, where I could sort of just think about my life as I listened to good music.

Thanks to the trusty GPS, I had arrived at lunch time at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. My wife met me right away at front doors, where I introduced her to our new ride for the week, and from there we drove just about 5 miles away to our favorite vegan restaurant in Atlanta: Cafe Sunflower in Buckhead.

Our lunch every bit as magnificent as we expected; so much so, that we went back again the next day for lunch! Though my wife is an amazing plant-based chef, I love being able to take her somewhere nice where she not only doesn’t have to cook, but a place that is also as committed to our lifestyle as we are. (My wife has been a vegetarian and I have been a vegan, for well over 5 years now.)

Afterwards, we headed back to ENAR 2018, where I took photographs of Vanderbilt’s booth; as I will be writing an article for Vanderbilt’s website to promote their presence at the event. I was proud to see my video series on display on the monitor, as one of my many roles working as a freelance Social Media Specialist is to create promotional videos for companies.

Over the course the past few weeks, I had interviewed several current students and professors from Vanderbilt’s Biostastics Graduate Program, then made a series of short promo videos. Not only were these playing on a loop during the whole event, but I will eventually upload them to a YouTube channel that I will be creating and managing for the department.

I also also very proud to see my wife there in her role, as well; serving as a beautiful model and spokesperson for prospective students. More importantly though, she had helped coordinate the booth for the department, including all the logistics in getting it there, along with other Vanderbilt employees.

After a hard day’s work, we took advantage of a special attraction there at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta: They have a restaurant called Polaris, on top of the hotel. You have to take a special, exclusive, elevator there. And the over the course of an hour, the entire restaurant spins; so you get to see a 360 degree view of Atlanta. We will definitely go there again!

The next day after ENAR came to an end, we headed back to Cafe Sunflower for lunch again, then took a different route back to my parents’ house in Alabama. Our adventures were far from over, as we would be taking a family trip to Rock City the next morning.

I was very grateful to be able to have a “work date” with my wife. Sometimes, or maybe I should say usually, it requires some creativity in being able to plan fun dates when both parents work and have young children.

Perhaps at some point, our lives will be a little less crazy. As for now, we are truly making the most of what we have!

To check out the entire trilogy of blog posts about the cool trips my family took in the 2018 Mazda CX-5, just click the related link below:

A “Work Date”with My Wife at ENAR 2018 in Atlanta (Featuring the 2018 Mazda CX-5)

My Family’s Road Trip to Rock City in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

My Road Trip with My Son to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

Social Media Kit for Family Friendly Daddy Blog by Nick Shell

Here on Family Friendly Daddy Blog, I am in a very special niche that allows me to be easily visible from an SEO perspective.

As far as numbers that marketers would be interested in, here is the mid-March 2018 update. Just click on each link to go directly to each account.

Facebook Fan Page for This Blog: 1,110

Personal Facebook Page: 1,328

Twitter: 749

Instagram: 342

Blog YouTube Channel Subscribers: 667

Personal YouTube Channel Subscribers: 3,539

Blog Subscribers: 710

Average monthly: 14,000 views

Average daily: 500 views

While my numbers may not seem amazing, I have learned over the years, that ultimately, companies continue to reach out to me, on their end, to receive publicity from me anyway.

Again, it’s because I am in a niche, with a blog that’s updated weekly and has been around for nearly a decade. People find my blog very easily and very accidentally. That’s why marketers like me enough to reach out to me.

Here are a few examples of companies who reached out to me for publicity on my site:

Lexus (This is one of several examples where they sent a vehicle from Atlanta, to my home in Nashville, for a week, complete with a full tank of gas; so that I would model it with my family.)

Toyota (In addition to also sending me dozens of vehicles over the years, as Lexus has, Toyota recently flew me down to Florida for an all expense-paid road trip to drive their newest model cars to see the MLB Grapefruit League tournament.)

James Avery Artisan Jewelry (They paid me to feature their Valentine’s collection, in addition to giving my wife a gift card to buy their jewelry.)

Additionally, I am bombarded on a weekly basis by fellow bloggers who request to do a “guest blog post” on my site; to boost their own SEO. This happens so often, I had to create a page here on my blog, explaining I now have to charge for that service.

So for me, I am comfortable knowing my numbers aren’t the biggest, but that I am relevant enough as a daddy blogger, that well-known, reputable companies reach out to me, to serve as a social media influencer for them.

If you are interested in working with me, you can contact me at this email address:

nickshell1983@hotmail.com

My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip: From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

While I obviously loved the entire Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip across Florida last week, I have to say that my final day of the tour stood out as my favorite.

For me, there was much intrigue surrounding the 2018 Toyota C-HR; a new vehicle which I had yet to see in person until last week at the event.

On the first day when we were presented with the vehicles, I was immediately drawn to the aqua (radiant green) colored SUV with the white top. As I began walking around it, taking pictures, I realized this was Toyota’s new SUV.

The C-HR, which stands for “compact high rider” (but is also understandably identified as a “cross hatch run”), ultimately became known to me as the “High Roller”. At least, that’s the name several of us automotive writers referred to it as.

As I am regularly loaned vehicles here on my blog throughout the year, I especially look forward to being able to travel in the C-HR with my family. I can already imagine how cool my 7 year-old son will think it is.

Day 3 started off great with the “choose your Toyota and your driving partner for the day” part, where I was instantly invited by Chris Chin to team up with him in the maroon (ruby flare) C-HR. Toyota had provided two C-HRs to help ensure each of us writers had a chance to spend at least half of the day driving one.

Something I learned about myself during the Toyota Grand Slam event was just what a niche my blog is: I am a daddy blogger who happens to write about cars a lot, as my family takes a lot of road trips. Therefore, when I feature new vehicles on my blog, I focus a lot on how much backseat space there is with two child car seats; and also, how much 3rd row seat space there is if an adult sits back there.

In other words, I write about being a parent first and foremost, and therefore, about cars on the side. In contrast, my driving partner Chris Chin (along all the other guys on the trip) are true automotive writers. That’s their main focus.

So as we were driving across the more uninhabited parts of Florida, and we made our way from Cape Coral to Port St. Lucie to see the Yankees play the Mets, he was talking about all kinds of technical stuff that I could barely follow him on; meanwhile, I was just thinking:

“This sure is fun. I like being in the C-HR. I can’t wait for my family to ride in it with me. I wonder where we’ll drive in it? Maybe North Carolina like when we drove the Sienna last fall? Or to Kentucky when we drove the 4Runner last spring?”

My thoughts were interrupted when Chris and I couldn’t help but notice that we were driving down a road surrounded by orange groves on both sides of it. With both of us being focusing heavily on photography in our writing, we decided it would be a sin not to pull over the C-HR for a perfect photo op.

We weren’t breaking any rules. This was a public road with no “private property” or “no trespassing” signs anywhere; no fences or gates.

And we were right: It made for some really cool pictures of the C-HR, in the midst of the orange grove. I particularly focused on some shots of the wheels in the sandy dirt. I felt those pictures really helped match the fun character of the C-HR.

But then, after Chris and I had captured all the shots we needed, we loaded back in the C-HR to continue on our way back on the route. He started the ignition and pushed the gas pedal, but all we heard or felt were the tires spinning.

It took me back to my childhood in the 1980s, when cartoons and movies were constantly warning and preparing me for the inevitable danger of quicksand as an adult.

Chris continued revving the engine and attempting to maneuver us out of the sand and back on the dirt road. It helped that he is truly a professional driver who tests out cars’ power for a living.

Just as I was thinking how I probably needed to get out of the vehicle and help push, the tires made their way onto the dirt road again; as there was barely a distinction between the sand on the dirt in the first place.

It wasn’t much longer until we made our way to Lake Placid, where we stopped for lunch at the Good News Juice and Smoothie Cafe; which conveniently for me on the week of my 5th anniversary of being a vegan, happened to be a vegan-friendly cafe.

Once we arrived in Port St. Lucie, I was definitely in the mood to watch a baseball game. The fact that it happened to be the Yankees playing the Mets made things that much more exciting. It was nothing short of hilarious to hear the zany banter between opposing fans during the entire game.

Plus, it was nice that we had such good seats, right behind the action, and out of the sun. By this 3rd game, I had realized how much I truly enjoy watching baseball. It’s a different mode of thinking; so much different than basketball or football or hockey.

It had been a wonderful action-packed week, but it was time for everything to come to a close. That night all of us guys had a classy Mediterranean feast at Temple Orange, the restaurant there at the Eau Palm Beach Resort in Manalapan where we were staying the final night.

Our server couldn’t help but notice our Toyota name tags, and so he decided to incorporate the Toyota logo into our dessert play. That was so cool.

After a perfect day though, I knew I needed to head back to my room, since I had to leave the hotel at 5:00 AM to catch my flight.

My hotel room was amazing. My balcony faced the ocean. I would love to go back there some day with my wife.

As if I needed to point out the obvious, it was honor to be asked to join the Toyota Grand Slam road trip. Selfishly, it makes me feel good to know that my blog’s SEO is healthy enough to qualify as a social media influencer, to this degree.

I had so much fun. I met great people. And I got to experience an exciting week of adventure and entertainment.

So yeah, my calendar is already marked for next year!

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

 

 

My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip: From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)

After waking up at Loews Portofino Bay at Universal Studios, I began the 2nd day of my road trip across Florida by rushing downstairs to call dibs on the Toyota I would be driving that day.

It was the 2018 Toyota Camry that had drawn my attention. Not only is it a sporty (and fast) looking car, but I’m a sucker for red interior. As I began loading up my gear, I realized I wouldn’t even need to find and choose a driving partner for the day, as I noticed someone else’s gear was already loaded up.

Of the 8 of us automotive writers there for the event and 5 vehicles to choose from, my driving partner and I found each other simply by the process of choosing the car first.

Ray Logan, of 50Bold.com, had also chosen the Camry, and therefore, he had chosen me as well. It was no surprise that Ray and I hit it off quite easily.

Our mission was to take the Camry from Orlando to Fort Myers, where we would be watching the Orioles play the Twins at Hammond Stadium.

The midpoint stop on our journey was a vegan shop in Sarasota called CROP (which now that I am looking closely at their sign, stand for “coldpressed, raw, organic, produce”).

Of all days to be introduced to this wondrous place, it just happened to be my 5th anniversary of being a vegan. So as you can imagine, the owner was truly able to celebrate with me.

I explained to him how I have been free of dyshidrotic eczema, constant sinus pressure, and pet allergies for the past 5 years in which I have not consumed any meat, eggs, or dairy. While he was obviously happy to hear this, he wasn’t surprised, as he also personally believes in the power of plants alone.

It was such a thrill for me to be able to stock up on all kinds of manly vegan goodies for the 2nd half of the road trip. I enjoyed a HeartBeet Burger, a peanut butter and banana smoothie, chia coconut pudding, and some delectable vegan chocolates.

Yeah, I may have went overboard, and but hey… what a fun way to celebrate 5 years being healed of eczema (thanks to my vegan lifestyle) than to stock up at Crop!

By the time Ray and I made it to the game, food was no longer on my mind. But having gotten a little too much sun from the game the day before, we decided to hang up in the shade up at the top of the stadium; enjoying the game from a nearly aerial view.

After a good time at the game, we made our way to The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. I loved how right there at the balcony near my bed, I had a nice view of yachts on the water. It made me think of the 1983 Jimmy Buffett song, “One Particular Harbor”.

I admit though, I felt kind of guilty not being able to share this amazing hotel experience while my wife was back home with the kids. Either way, I slept like a rock.

And I would need every minute of that solid sleep for the adventure ahead the next day in the Toyota C-HR, with a new driving partner.

This was an action packed road trip, for sure.

Work hard while playing hard. That was my theme.

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip: An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)

Yes, it’s true that just two weeks ago I made my big TV debut on The Lifetime Network. But a few weeks before I obtained my 15 minutes of fame, Toyota had already reached out to me and invited me to join them on a road trip across Florida; to be part of the 2018 Major League Baseball Spring Training Grapefruit League tour.

Now that I work from home as a freelance writer and social media specialist, I didn’t even have to ask to time off; like I used to when I worked in an office. Instead, I just had to (quite easily) convince my mom to take care of the kids for a week. And as for my wife, she was more than happy to let me go out for a 4 day road trip with a bunch of other guys who also write about cars for a living. She was all for it!

Toyota made it clear in the invite that they would be taking care of everything: My flight to and from Florida, all my meals, all my hotel stays, all my entertainment; and of course, brand new Toyotas to drive from Orlando to Fort Myers to Port St. Lucie. So yeah, as you can imagine, it was an awesome trip!

It was a welcome culture shock, as a stay-at-home dad who works from home, to enjoy the finest hotels (like Loews Portofino Bay at Universal Studios featured in many of these pictures), restaurants, and entertainment; while driving brand-new cars and meeting other guys who were a lot like me.

The vehicles I had access to included the blue (and also a maroon) C-HR, the silver Camry, the red Corolla, and the newly redesigned white Prius.

Over the course of three days of driving, we saw three baseball games:

The Pirates vs. The Braves at Champion Station in Orlando on March 5th

The Orioles vs. The Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers on March 6th

The Yankees vs. The Mets at First Data Field in Port St. Lucie on March 7th

The folks at Toyota even had a special Atlanta Braves jersey with my name on it, for me to wear to the Braves’ game. In fact, when the whole trip was over and I got back to Nashville, I had a Toyota backpack stuffed full of Toyota swag.

So as you imagine, there was no need for me to buy any souvenirs for my kids. I simply brought home all the Toyota goodies and my kids basically thought it was Christmas!

This is just my 1st of 3 posts about my amazing experience. Stay tuned for the 2nd, when I share about my day of driving the 2018 Toyota Camry, and the 3rd, featuring my experience in the 2018 Toyota C-HR.

I love being a daddy blogger!

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)