Our 11th Wedding Anniversary Staycation in Franklin, Tennessee at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs Hotel

What’s the best way for you and your spouse to celebrate your 11th wedding anniversary? Clearly, with your two kids at the Hilton right next to the building where you work.

At least, that was the case for me.

So I was able to just leave my Jeep right there in the parking lot and walk over to the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs hotel to spend July 4th with my family for the holiday- and for my wife and I to officially celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary; which was actually on July 5th.

We also arranged for our close friends Mohamad and Lena, along with their daughter who is our own daughter’s age, to stay on the same hall.

When it came time to decide where to go out for dinner, there weren’t a whole lot of restaurants open on the July 4th holiday; so naturally, we chose House of India. My wife and I loved it so much we decided we will definitely go back when it is just the two of us.

As a 38 year-old man, I just don’t end up in a swimming pool much these days. However, on July 4th in Tennessee, it gets so hot that if you’re going to be outside for any reason, it better be because you’re in a swimming pool.

I forgot how much fun swimming in a pool can be, especially when you’re entertaining kids.

Adjacent to the Executive Lounge (where I ended up having breakfast the next morning), there is huge deck where you can see all the way to Nashville in one direction, and all the way to Spring Hill where we actually live, in the other.

So for our 4th of July fireworks show, we had quite the view!

Staying at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs hotel was definitely the right call for us on July 4th!

And for our actual anniversary on July 5th, we made our way to my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama; where my wife and I actually had a night out by ourselves.

Stay tuned for the other half of this story…

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Accidentally Family Glamping in Squaw Valley, California: Home of the 1960 Winter Olympics

It was the closest to camping my wife will ever be and she wanted to go home right then.

I admit I’m borrowing from the memorable 1998 hit song “Iris” from Goo Goo Dolls here.

(“You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be and I don’t want to go home right now.”)

In hindsight, I understand now that we accidentally ended up glamping for a few days of our family vacation last week in California.

For the first three nights, we stayed in Squaw Valley; home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Imagine the scene:

My kids shared a fold-out couch on one side of the rustic motel, while my wife and I shared an actual bed. The thing is, it’s typically so cold in this part of California, where it is more than a mile above sea level. Therefore, the building is not equipped with air conditioning.

So instead, there were fans in the windows and ceiling fans above us to pull in some cooler feeling air. But during the middle of the summer with the temperature being the highest, it’s not the most comfortable way to fall asleep.

Our bed was right next to the window connected to the outside hallway, so that other fellow guests could basically see through our window while we slept, since we had to keep the curtain open in an effort to prevent blocking the fan.

I should mention the shower, too.

It was basically a giant tray on the floor of the bathroom in which I had to spray my kids with a hose. It was like giving a cat a bath.

But fortunately, we were able to overlook all that and appreciate the beauty of our surroundings during the daytime.

I’m pretty sure this was the closest my wife will ever get to camping. As for me, I grew up in the mountains of Alabama, so it’s what I know.

Here’s to family glamping!

Dear Holly: I Will Remember These Sweet Days for You

3 years.

Dear Holly,

I’m not sure how much of your life as a 3 year-old that you will go on to remember the rest of your life, but I can tell you: These are the sweet days.

Everything you do is just so cute. So sweet.

Last weekend as our family was riding in our Jeep down a road where you saw cows out in the field, you announced, “It’s moo cows!”

Mommy and I looked at each other and said, “That’s sweet!”

A few seconds later, you looked out and saw a very small pond, then announced, “Water!”

Mommy I looked at each again, and with a little hesitation this time, laughed and still said, “That’s sweet!”.

That’s the moment we officially realized that these are the days when everything you do is just so sweet.

And since you’re not likely to remember most of what you’re experiencing now as a 3 year-old, with these pictures and stories I share each week, I am doing my best in real time to help you remember, years from now.

Love,

Daddy

2010 Jeep Wrangler Date Night: Seeing Sara Evans and Fairground Saints at The City Winery in Nashville, Tennessee

This past Saturday, my wife and I did something we have only done once before in our 8 and a half years of being parents: We hired a babysitter!

And if you know us in real life, you know how strange that truly is. Because when it comes to money, we are extremely conservative. We never leave the house without the kids unless our parents are visiting from out of state.

But yes, we not only paid a babysitter for the night but we also paid full price for tickets to see Sara Evans and Fairground Saints perform at The City Winery in Nashville; which is about 40 miles away from the bedroom community we live in.

And on top of all that, we got to take our new Jeep (it’s a 2010 with 60K miles, but we paid cash for it, thanks to being faithful followers of Dave Ramsey) to Nashville for the first time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Everywhere we go is automatically more fun when we go in the Jeep!

It’s always seemed a bit ironic that though I was born and raised in Fort Payne, Alabama, while my wife was born and raised outside of Sacramento, California, yet she is the big country music fan.

With that being said, Fairground Saints (pictured above) are actually from Santa Barbara, California.

We stopped halfway there to have a glorious dinner at Local Taco in Brentwood. When you and your spouse have spent the greater half of this past decade being a vegan and vegetarian, you can try to imagine how awesome eating “normal food” is again…

It was so good, I’m already plotting the next time we can go back so I can have the Korean BBQ Braised Beef, as well as the Nashville Hot Chicken tacos again!

As for the show, this makes our 2nd time to see a performance at The City Winery in Nashville. I’m convinced at this point, it’s undeniably my favorite place to see musicians perform in the entire Nashville area.

The place is classy, intimidate, and a lot of fun.

So this is what it’s like to hire a babysitter and drive out to Nashville for a date night?

We really should do this more often!

2010 Jeep Wrangler JK Sport 4WD 6 Speed: Family Ride in Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee

It’s been two weeks now that I finally obtained my dream vehicle, a Jeep Wrangler. As part of the fun for Mother’s Day for my wife, I announced we would be going for our very first family leisurely drive through the not-so-faraway Jeep-friendly spot: Percy Warner Park in Nashville.

This weekend’s drive confirmed what I always believed about owning a Jeep Wrangler; that you don’t simply own a vehicle, you own a mobile amusement park.

Automatically, anywhere you drive is suddenly more exciting. The view is undeniably better. Whenever you see a road you want to go down, or go up, that you wouldn’t normally be able to… well, now you can.

And we did. Many times.

There is no fear of getting stuck in the mud, because now we have 4 wheel drive.

There is no fear of not being able to turn around if we get to the end of a narrow dead-end road, because the Jeep is so short.

There is no fear of boredom, because we are ultimately riding in a mini monster truck.

Something really crazy about my 7 and a half year journey to finally getting my Jeep Wrangler is that I never ever drove one until I had already bought mine!

That’s how much I knew I was destined to own one.

I can’t remember the last time I bought anything for myself that made me so happy.

When you’re the husband and the father, you just sort of go along with whatever is going on with your family. There was honestly nothing I needed or even wanted anyway.

Except for the Jeep, which I couldn’t afford until now; and was able to pay cash for. (My wife and I are very serious about Dave Ramsey!)

But this Jeep isn’t just for me: My whole family enjoys it.

It’s simply more fun to drive now; even in bumper to bumper commuter Nashville traffic.

That’s how good a Jeep Wrangler is.

Our 24 Hour Parent Staycation in Franklin, Tennessee at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs Hotel

Two months ago for Christmas 2018, the only gift my wife and I gave one another was the promise of an upcoming 24 hour window of existence that we would share together, in which we would have zero parenting responsibilities; including uninterrupted meals out, a stay at a nice hotel, and the ability to be lazy.

We both work full-time jobs, plus I manage 5 SEO side hustles, and we have two adventurous kids. So for us, the thought of a break from reality is the greatest gift we can receive at this point in our 37 year-old lives.

Last May when I started my new full-time job as a recruiter at a Fortune 500 Company in Franklin, Tennessee, I couldn’t help but notice that an 8 story building was being built right next to my office.

A few months later, a giant Hilton sign went up on the side of the building facing the interstate (I-65). Once the hotel opened last fall, my co-workers and I started going there for lunch, and were very pleased.

So by the time my wife and I came up with the idea of the perfect mutual Christmas gift for each other, I suggested we make our stay at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs hotel right next to where I work; which is the halfway point between where we live in Spring Hill and where my wife works in downtown Nashville.

Sometimes in your mind, you build up an idea to the point it becomes an unattainable fantasy. But no, that was not the case for our 24 Hour Parent Staycation. In fact, everything went perfectly according to plan:

My parents drove up 2 and a half hours from my hometown in Fort Payne, Alabama, to watch the kids while we were out. As my son’s Saturday morning karate lessons began, to be followed by one of his classmate’s birthday parties our daughter would end up successfully crashing, my wife and I made our way over to H&R Block to file our income taxes and were so relieved we didn’t owe any money; despite my 5 SEO side hustles unexpectedly doing much better than I planned for last year.

We officially started out our responsibility-free adventure with lunch at Sopapilla’s New Mexican (like the state) restaurant en route to the Hilton. This was a big deal to us for more than one reason.

Not only was it the first time in… (years?)… that we have been able to enjoy a delicious meal out with no children putting a damper on the conversation or the cuisine or our peace of mind, but it was our first official meal out as a now non-vegetarian, non-vegan couple.

I would go as far as to say I am now obsessed with eating at Sopapilla’s, but I don’t know the next time we’ll be able to make it back there without kids.

As for the Hilton, it was every bit as glorious as I knew it would be. My wife and I realized this is the newest hotel we have ever stayed in; throughout our decade of marriage.

And our wish came true- we got to be lazy for our entire day. In fact, we never left the hotel until the next day when we checked out. We got to watch a few movies on TV, in between heading downstairs for dinner in the hotel restaurant, The Harth Restaurant and Lounge.

Not to mention, we got to sleep in! We naturally woke up, on our own, at 8:00 AM. That is unthinkable back at our house, thanks to our children’s internal biological alarm clocks, which are annoyingly set an a default of 5:55 AM.

Life is good. I admit, I’m enjoying the view from where I’m sitting on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid. Our 24 Hour Parent Staycation taught me that the motivational carrot in my life at this point will be getting to experience our next 24 Hour Parent Staycation. That is the rarest commodity I know right now: a break.

And when that time comes, my wife and I plan to do everything exactly the same way again. It’s a formula that works for us.

This is 37.

3 Ways to Enjoy the Weekend with Your Family, When You Live in a Commuter Town

As of this month, our family has now lived in our “new home” for 4 years. We moved from the edge of Nashville to a commuter town, or bedroom community, which is 36 miles from Nashville.

We reside in a town full of other families who are in the same situation as us: We drive nearly an hour to get to work each day, yet we live, eat, and sleep in our cookie-cutter homes which were built on top of old farm land.

So while living in a commuter town is great because it provides a more affordable, quiet, safe community to raise a family in an excellent school district, the major downside is that it’s easy to feel trapped there. This is because commuter towns typically have little commercial or industrial activity beyond a small amount of locally oriented retail businesses.

Therefore, the temptation lies in basing weekend plans around going to Nashville; having to travel with young kids for an hour one way, based around the kids’ desperate needs for naps they don’t want- plus having to pay for parking, food, and entertainment. Otherwise, we end up ironically feeling “stuck” in our house.

But this past weekend was really good for our family. And the thing is, we didn’t do much.

It was so noticeably enjoyable, that I decided to write this blog post to determine the formula for our success. So here it goes…

1. We didn’t leave town. When you have young kids, being in a car can pretty quickly drain your happiness level as a parent; especially if that drive is any longer than 10 minutes. So much stress is elevated from both the parents and the children when the family doesn’t have to leave town. Because even if it’s in the name of entertainment, it’s often not worth it if by the time you get there, everybody is tired and frustrated.

2. We didn’t eat any meals at restaurants. While not having to cook, or sit through a meal with kids who don’t want to eat anyway, then have to clean up for that meal is a glorious thing, the reality is, it’s still not that great to have to pay money for food while having to entertain and referee kids who don’t want to be there in the first place. When I was a kid, I loved eating at restaurants. But I recognize that my kids’ generation is apparently not wired the same way.

3. We did hang out at a locally owned coffee shop. While dining at a restaurant can be a bit too much with young kids, going out for coffee can be totally enjoyable for the whole family. We visited our favorite local coffee shop, Legacy Coffee, this past Saturday morning. Not only is the coffee the best in town, according to my wife and me, but there are plenty of freshly baked pastries for the kids. So we hung out for about 20 minutes, all enjoying our delicious calories. It was a fun outing, yet it didn’t require much of a drive, or a time commitment, or a heavy bill, yet it helped contribute to a local business.

So that’s my advice, if your family also lives in a commuter town.

Sure, we travel to my parents’ house about 2 and a half hours away once a month, and go on vacation to California as well as Florida each year.

But other than that, the majority of our weekends take place where we actually live. So for those weekends, I will be more mindful of these three tips I learned this past weekend.