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!

My Wife and I Have Been Performing and Publishing Original Songs I’ve Written… Largely Due to Cancelling Netflix and as a Way to Overcome My Existential Crisis

Earlier this week I revealed the top 5 highlights of my 2019 in review: one of those is that my wife and I have been releasing songs that I have written. While I have published them on YouTube and shared them on Facebook, I have yet to really talk about the how and the why of it.

So here’s the story…

My wife and I both moved to Nashville to pursue music careers; she arrived in 2004 and I showed up in 2005. We met in 2006, starting dating in 2007, and got married in 2008.

Since then, my wife earned her Master’s Degree (2009), we had a son (2010), we become debt-free other than our mortgage (2013), we moved into a brand-new houses in the suburbs (2015), and we had a daughter (2016).

And then, my employer of 12 years shut down my branch, releasing about 40 people at the same time; giving us a 2 weeks’ severance pay and a hand shake.

For the next 6 months, while being a stay-at-home dad, I spent any free time I had on writing songs, and eventually releasing my newest song on YouTube, in 2018.

“Maybe It’s a Dream” is an autobiographical song exploring the concept of how “removed” from the human experience I felt after I started living my life with the knowledge that being offended or disrespected is always my own choice. It was me realizing how much of my time, energy, and emotions had been wasted on letting the free world affect my emotions, when it was my decision every single time.

Shortly after releasing that song, my 6 month stint as a stay-at-home dad/blogger/YouTuber ended when I gained employment at a Fortune 500 company; where I have been employed for more than a year and a half now.

That led to new inspiration for writing songs, as it ushered in my “existential crisis of 2019”.

My salary nearly doubled, putting my wife and me in a situation where we could finally start building our retirement. We are very grateful for all the help with investments, thanks to Charles Schwab.

This caused me to have to re-evaluate my identity, as I found myself at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid; no longer triggered by the fear or anxiety of money, or even my own emotions.

Therefore, I started coming to terms with my existential crisis (some would call it a midlife crisis); as I had basically reached all of my life goals before the age of 40.

My next song, written just a couple of months ago, would be called “Tripping on Existence”; which was my way of sorting out my experience. I found that going through an existential crisis at a younger age put me in a situation where few people I knew could relate; which only intensified my feeling of floating in the universe like Tony Stark in the trailer for Avengers Endgame.

There had been other songs I had written during my 6 months of unemployment, but that didn’t get released due to me getting a job.

One was called “Fort Payne, Alabama”; another autobiographical song addressing the paradox of how my hometown undeniably helped form my identity, yet ultimately prepared me to move away after college and live my own life in the next state over in Tennessee.

So after releasing that year-and-half year old song, I decided I wanted to include my wife on my final leftover song from 2018: “We’re Gonna Leave in the Morning”.

It was a song I written, fantasizing about being able to just “up and go” on a road trip to anywhere; just she and I.

This is a fantasy because we haven’t gone on a fun road trip without the kids, since… we had kids.

I finally got to show off my wife’s singing in one of my songs. I was so proud to share her with the world.

It is truly a song about us; written from my perspective. It is my version of a love song. A love song when you’ve been married for over a decade, have 2 kids, and live in the suburbs.

During the time we were rehearsing that song, I casually wrote a song called “The Meaning of Life”. We decided to record that as well; the song was barely a week old when we published it.

The song was me exploring the irony in that none of us asked to be born, yet it is up to us to determine individually what the meaning of life is, though we have no idea how long our lives will be.

My next couple of songs, which I determined I wanted us to record on that same night; were complete opposites in mood:

The loud and upbeat “(Subtitles) I Dare You Not to Fall in Love with Me” would serve as our very first true duet together; as the autobiographical song explores what was really going through our minds on the night we met: October 5th, 2006.

Meanwhile, the somber and reflective “You Won’t Remember My Name” was written to remind the listener how the default is often to arbitrarily make perceived enemies of the people on the other side of the political fence.

The last song of 2019 that my wife and I recorded is a cover of Patty Griffin’s “Long Ride Home”; imagining the regrets of a man at his wife’s funeral, after they had been married for 40 years.

This one was special because it served as my wife’s first solo of all the songs we performed together. I simply played guitar on this one, as I wanted to only showcase her amazing ability to sing.

I currently have 3 more originals that I have been practicing; likely to be released in January 2020.

There is the somewhat novelty Country tune, “Jeep Wrangler Theme Song”, explaining the micro-culture of Jeep Wrangler owners, along with our Jeep wave.

Another loud and fun song is “I Feel Like You Want Me to Care”, which points out the power (and humor) of refusing to give emotional control to others when they are eager to take it from you.

And lastly, I have an alternative rock power ballad (?) called “Shotgun”, addressing the ridiculously dangerous risk and gamble that two young people make when they choose to marry each other, for better or worse.

My wife and I both moved to Nashville a long time ago to pursue music. Could we have been doing this all along? Maybe.

But I don’t think it could have been this genuine, this mature, or this good.

We had to live more of our lives together first. We needed more life experience first. We needed to get to the point where we were financially set so we psychologically free to create and perform in the way we can now.

Ultimately, the gate opened as a side-effect of us choosing to cancel our Netflix subscription back in May of this year. That was what created the time and space for us to focus on these songs.

Our music is what happens when Netflix is out of the picture. That’s pretty interesting, actually.

Dear Holly: Your Brand-New Industrial Grade Playground Swing

3 years, 5 months.

Dear Holly,

Having a Papa who works at a playground equipment factory means that you when visit your grandparents’ house in Alabama, you have access to a backyard playground that is above and beyond the norm.

Last weekend, the debut of your brand-new industrial grade swing was revealed.

You loved it so much, you just didn’t want to stop swinging in it.

At one point, you swung in it for a solid hour and a half before Mommy said it was time to go in for dinner.

You have the Cadillac of all playground swings for a 3 year-old girl!

Love,

Daddy

Our Family Visited the “Down On The Farm” Pumpkin Patch in Rainsville, Alabama

The very next day after our family Jeep drive to Noccalula Falls for our son’s Fall Break, we took an even shorter drive from Fort Payne, Alabama; to the neighboring town of Rainsville to check out their “Down On The Farm” pumpkin patch.

While we indeed go to a pumpkin patch every fall as a family, there’s a chance this might have been our kids’ favorite.

I think this had a lot to do with how the whole place was pretty much one big fall-themed playground.

The highlight would certainly have to be what my kids referred to as the “corn swimming pool”. They enjoyed taking turns going down the slide… into a pool of corn. It was also fun to get buried in the cool pool, as well; similar to getting buried in the sand at the beach.

So check out these pictures of the fun our family had if you are considering visiting “Down On The Farm”. I have a feeling your family will have a great time too!

Jeep Family Road Trip Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, AL: Train Ride, Petting Zoo, and Nature Hike

I grew up on Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne, Alabama; which happens to be the midway point between Chattanooga and Gadsden- less than an hour from both cities.

A month ago, my wife and I took a scenic drive all the way down the mountain to downtown Chattanooga. But this past weekend for our son’s Fall Break, we simply drove in the other direction, which led to Gadsden -home of Noccalula Falls.

Despite visiting the place throughout my own childhood, somehow I had yet to take my own family there. I suppose our new Jeep serves as constant motivation to discover (or rediscover) nearby hidden gems!

Children ages 3 and under are free admission, so we only paid a total of $16 to enter the park. That granted us access to the petting zoo, the train ride around the park, and the trails that go down to the bottom of Noccalula Falls.

It was a great way to spend an Autumn morning…

So if you are looking for a fun affordable family road trip, I highly suggest Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama!

Jeep Wrangler Road Trip with My Wife Along Lookout Mountain Brow: From Fort Payne, AL to Rising Fawn, GA to Chattanooga, TN

Owning a Jeep Wrangler means that suddenly, any drive immediately becomes an adventurous road trip. That definitely was the case Labor Day Weekend.

My wife and I drove from my parents’ house in Fort Payne, Alabama to downtown, Chattanooga; the while time with the top off the Jeep and the whole time along the brow of Lookout Mountain.

We traveled through 3 states in doing so: Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.

About halfway through, we stopped for a hike along side of the mountain top, at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

From there, we stumbled upon some hang gliders who were flying all around us. This was quite a sight to see!

It was a fun date! I really enjoyed being able to spent time alone with my wife all afternoon, while my parents and sister watched our kids.

At age 38, having fun is still important. Having a cool wife and a cool Jeep helps make that possible!

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.