Dear Jack: You are Now 9 and a Half Years Old

9 years, 6 months.

Dear Jack,

You turned 9 and a half this week, during the time which was supposed to be your last week of 3rd grade.

It was sad yesterday as I drove to your school to pick up all your belongings from your teachers. The closest thing to closure you had for finishing 3rd grade was some Zoom calls with your class.

The tragedy is that, as I predicted last fall, 3rd grade would be your favorite by far. It is unfortunate it had to be cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But we still have each other and we still have our health. And we continue to still make life fun!

Love,

Daddy

My New T-Shirt: 6 Speed Manual Transmission Symbol

It is true that I am of a dying breed. Not only am I of the minority of drivers who can drive a manual transmission, but I am of the shrinking group of people who actually still owns a stick shift vehicle and drives it it as my main vehicle everyday.

In 2020, only 1 out of 8 new vehicles on the car lot even have the option to be sold with a manual transmission. Not only are vehicles with automatic transmissions more efficient on fuel, but they are also less expensive. It used to be the other way around!

It only makes sense that for the few of us who can still drive a manual, and who still do so daily, we are a unique group of people. We actually like the fact it’s not easy, even if it’s all muscle memory to us at this point.

I drive a 2010 Jeep Wrangler, which I have now owned for a year. One of the reasons I was able to snatch it up was because I didn’t flinch when I saw that it had a manual transmission.

Granted, I had never owned a vehicle with a stick shift before, but I had driven my dad’s old 1988 Ford Ranger during college a bit; while making money mowing lawns- as well as driving it when my own car was having issues.

A year into driving a manual transmission every day, it feels wrong when I do drive my wife’s car, with its automatic transmission. I always instinctively press my left foot down on the floor when I start the car.

So it only makes sense that with my $150 Amazon shopping spree for my recent 39th birthday, I chose this 6 Speed Manual Transmission T-shirt.

If you would like to order one like it, just click this link.

I also ordered the same thing for the spare tire cover on my Jeep. I will do another blog post and video on that once it arrives!

Dear Jack: Our Family Quarantine Jeep Ride on Old Mill Creek Road in Nunnelly ,TN

9 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

Well, now that the Governor of Tennessee has issued a mandatory “stay at home” order, it looks like last weekend’s family quarantine Jeep ride might be our last one for a couple of weeks.

At least we definitely had a fun adventure, taking the Jeep down Old Mill Creek Road in Nunnelly, Tennessee.

It’s a barely-paved road that continually crosses back and forth over a creek.

Your favorite part of it was definitely getting to play in the water with your sister.

I look forward to being able to do this again as soon as we are able!

 

Love,

Daddy

 

Hiking Gilliam Loop Trail and Pogo Ridge (9 Miles) in DeSoto State Park During Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 was extra special in that my nephew Matt (who is in the Air Force, stationed on Mississippi) and my niece Sara (who is a school teacher in California) were able to spend the holidays with my family in Alabama.

With all the Christmas cargo we had to take down from where we actually live in Tennessee and then bring back from Alabama, my wife and I decided to take both her Hyundai Elantra and my Jeep Wrangler for the nearly 3 hour drive there.

For me, it was just an excuse to be able to serve as a Jeep tour guide during Christmas vacation. I started out by taking Matt and Sara (and their mother Jeanene) on a 23 mile drive along Little River Canyon on Christmas Eve.

And for the day after Christmas, I announced I would be heading up a 9 mile hike in a “hidden gem” of a trail in DeSoto State Park, called Gilliam Loop (which begins at Cabin 21)- or at least, my version of it.

Matt and Sara agreed to join me, with zero hesitation.

Gilliam Loop is actually a mountain biking trail, but if you know where to veer off the path, you can connect to Pogo Ridge.

Back in 1934, the Civilian Conversation Corps (known as CCC) built culverts along the trail, which runs parallel to Little River.

So it is really cool to see these 86 year-old structures still in place.

Pogo Ridge leads a crossing point of Little River itself. However, we opted not to cross through the river, which would have meant we would have had to hike the rest of the day in wet clothes.

Therefore, we took Exit 4 of the trail back to the Road 12.

When it was all said and done, we had hiked 9.25 miles in 3 hours.

Before heading back to the house, I took them by Howard’s Chapel; the church built into a giant rock, where the founding pastor’s ashes are contained.

Oh, and I failed to mention:

Christmas Week 2019 contained perfect Fall Weather, which allowed us to have this much fun!

I had the top off the Jeep the entire time, as the temperate remained in the 60s for most of the time.

It will be a Christmas I never forget!

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Georgia: Hiking the Trails Down to Hemlock Falls and Cherokee Falls

I was born and raised in Fort Payne, Alabama in the 1980s and 90s. My dad’s side of the family lived just an hour on the other side of Lookout Mountain; near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At least half a dozen times each year, we would drive to see that side of the family for get-togethers. A little past halfway of the trip, I would always notice a brown government sign advertising Cloudland Canyon State Park; just 3 miles to the left.

But being that we already lived next to the Little River Canyon Preserve and DeSoto State Park, we were already quite exposed to the Alabama side of Lookout Mountain’s natural wonders.

So as a kid, I never visited Cloudland Canyon State Park. It wasn’t until 3 years ago when I took my 5 year-old son (at the time), that I finally realized how awesome that place is.

Last weekend during Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to take a fun backroads Jeep ride with my now 8 year-old son and my dad.

We had heard you could hike down in the the canyon and check out some waterfalls.

And is exactly what we did.

It had the appeal of a theme park… except, it is an actual real park.

One of the highlights for my son is when we he was able to catch a crayfish at the bottom of one of the waterfalls.

Granted, this isn’t a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a 2 mile hike, but it’s straight down… and then you still have to hike back up.

But I am already looking forward to going back!

The Weekend of My 20th High School Class Reunion: A Pedicure with My Wife, Contrasted by Almost Seriously Getting My Jeep Stuck in a Deep Mud Puddle!

After waiting 5 years since my last high school reunion, when unfortunately my wife couldn’t make it due to being in California at the time, I was so glad that she and I could go out on a date to my 20th high school reunion.

My wife came to my 10th high school reunion back in 2009; we were still technically newlyweds at the time:

And because of that, many of my classmates got to know her pretty well.

For the day of my 20th high school reunion, my sister and her husband volunteered to watch our kids the whole day (and night) so that we could really make the most of it.

So we started the day off right by going down to The Spa in Rainsville; where we both got pedicures.

(Last month while we were on family vacation, my wife took me along for a pedicure and I admit- I didn’t hate it. So I was open to the idea of going back.)

My wife jokes that I have “Berenstain Bear” toenails. She’s pretty much right. I need all the help I can get with it comes to my toes.

But afterwards, to balance things out, we took the Jeep out on the mud trails.

Now that I have been really putting the 4 wheel drive capabilities to the test, I have been heavily considering dropping a few hundred dollars to purchase a winch to put on my bumper; giving me the ability to pull myself out of mud.

Our most recent excursion, this past weekend, got us stuck in a puddle that was higher than the tires. Even with the Jeep already being in 4 wheel drive, I didn’t have enough power to drive myself out.

The Jeep was noticeably tilting to my side. It wasn’t a crazy thought that we might turn over into the deeper-than-I-realized mud water; basically a mini-pond.

Fortunately, my dad was sitting right next to me in the passenger seat, and told me to try putting it in reverse.

At this point, I knew not even to look to my left out the window, knowing that the muddy water had to be pretty close to reaching the glass.

I prayed: “God, please help us get out of here!”

The Lord answered my desperate and humble prayer.

But for the rest of my life, I will always look back at this event as nothing short of miraculous. That story could have very easily ended much differently:

With the Jeep being stuck there, miles from civilization; easily being an all-day event to get pulled out.

Thank God, though- we were delivered from the pit and no permanent damage was done to my Jeep; which is our officially family vehicle that I take the kids to school in every day and the vehicle that we take out of town trips in.

My dad happens to be the real life version of MacGyver. He had to figure out how to reattach the front mud guard under the bumper. It was a complicated task, but he was able to restore it back to normal.

(I still need to clean up the mud that started oozing through the drain holes in the floor of my Jeep, though!)

So when it comes to taking my prized possession in to the unpredictable muddy trails, I’m pretty sure I officially got this out of my system.

I’m a person who truly lives without fear. I don’t get anxious or nervous, and I definitely don’t get scared.

But in that pivotal moment of being helplessly stuck worse than I had ever been before, I was terrified!

I think I am going to retire from driving back on those trails- and just to be safe, I think I will still purchase the winch anyway!

As for the high school reunion, it just couldn’t have gone better! It was so well planned and we had a really good turn out.

I was happy to see how many people remembered my wife. It almost felt like she actually graduated high school with the rest of us; it felt so natural. (She also graduated high school in 1999; just on the other side of the country in Sacramento.)

Catching up with friends who have known me my entire life was such a rewarding experience. It was funny, at one point when we had our class picture taken, we were directed:

“Just stand next to who you normally do in these pictures!”

Sure enough, it was the same guys as it was in high school and our other reunions. We make up the section, “Guys who are the same height as the tall girls, but guys who aren’t necessarily considered short.”

For me, I care so much about my high school class reunions, they are truly a highlight of my life every 5 years. I really love the group of people I was fortunate enough to grow up with in the 1980s and 1990s.

The next morning for lunch, my wife and I were reunited with our kids, who thoroughly enjoyed their slumber party with their cousins the night before.

After a hearty lunch at Fontana’s, we made the 3 hour drive back to Tennessee. Our daughter was asleep by the time we made it to the interstate.

This weekend was just perfect. It will remain one of the best memories of my life.

I was surrounded by people I love and care about and have known a very long time.

That is what makes life good.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to read my blog post about my 20th high school reunion this past weekend, here’s your chance again.

Our 11th Wedding Anniversary: A Muddy Jeep Wrangler Ride and a Quaint Meal Out in My Hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama

After staying overnight as a family at the Hilton, I walked across the parking lot to work Friday morning; which was our actual 11th wedding anniversary. Then once I put in my 8 hours, we drove a quick 3 hours to my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama to spend our anniversary weekend.

Quite predictably, we went out Saturday morning to go looking for trouble in the Jeep, which we found a little too easily.

With the top off, we embarked on an unmarked dirt road full of questionable mud puddles. I didn’t consider that the mud will inevitably end up getting slung off the tires and inside the Jeep.

I was especially proud of the blob of mud that landed on the dashboard, right next to my hand on the steering wheel. My plan was to keep it there pretty much permanently, but with the hot July sun, it didn’t take too long to dry, harden, and fall off after a few more bumps in the Jeep.

That evening, my wife and I had the rare privilege of having free babysitters (family, of course!) to watch and feed our kids while we disappeared for a solid four hours.

My sister had suggested a mom-and-pop Mediterranean place called Fontana’s. It was exactly what we were looking for, but didn’t realize existed. It was the epitome of the word quaint; and therefore it was perfect.

I am already looking forward to going back there next weekend when we are back in town for my 20th high school reunion, which will be held just down the street from the restaurant.

So there you go. That’s the best way for a husband and wife to spend their 11th wedding anniversary.

Maybe one day we’ll go somewhere without the kids. But honestly, as long as the kids are young, we might as well let them have some fun too!