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!

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

Last week for Spring Break, we were presented with a 2018 Mazda CX-5 to enjoy for the week. One of the things we decided to do with it was to take a little family road trip over the mountains and through the woods to Rock City in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In case you’ve ever driven anywhere in the Southeast, you’ll know that when it comes to winning the award for “Seemingly Omnipresent Billboard Signs”, the only competition to Rock City, is Alexander Shunnarah.

In other words, Rock City billboards, with their famous red birdhouses and “See Rock City” slogan, are a familiar concept; even for people who have never actually been to Rock City.

I grew up just an hour away in Fort Payne, Alabama, on the other side of Lookout Mountain; so I had been there a time or two as a child. Back in 2007 when my wife and I were dating (we’ve been married a decade as of this July), I took her there on a date. But this marked for the first time that we’ve taken either of our children to Rock City.

It was a family adventure for sure!

And now for anyone reading this today who has never been, I will provide some glimpses of what it’s like for a fun family like mine (and yours too, of course!) to see Rock City.

I even took it upon myself to write an original theme song and produce a 1 minute walk-through video promo for Rock City, as well. Here it is:

One of the things Rock City is known for is its Swing-A-Long Bridge, which when I was my son’s age 30 years ago, sort of terrified me. Not my son, though.

He just strolled along like it was nothing; just casually looking down (way) below.

The bridge leads up to the main look-out point, where you can find another famous attraction at Rock City: The “See Seven States” Stone; where you can… you guessed it: See seven states!

Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Our family just happened to visit Rock City on the day before Easter, so we lucked out and my kids got to meet the Easter Bunny. I think my daughter might have been afraid of a giant rabbit under normal conditions, but her big brother had his arm around her and that made everything okay.

I felt that our kids were the perfect ages to visit Rock City. Our son is 7, and loved leading our family through all the winding trails of towering rock walls.

Our daughter turns 2 in a few weeks and was mesmerized by what surely seemed to her as a magical enchanted land.

Not to mention, it’s fun for the parents too. I loved being outside, breathing in fresh air and being able to move along such beautiful natural scenery, now that winter is over.

So if you’re planning on driving through Tennessee anytime this year, it would be a shame not to swing by Rock City and take the family on a quaint adventure hidden up at the edge of Lookout Mountain.

And as you’ve already noticed, Rock City is basically a constant tour of photo ops. I know that normally, we don’t take near enough photos of our family of four.

But on our visit to Rock City, we couldn’t help but keep taking family selfies and asking fellow visitors to take our picture. Of course, they were happy to help, as I instantly returned the favor each time.

Before our adventure could come to an end, though, we had to stop by the gift shop. My son had been wanting a bald eagle stuffed animal for quite a while now, and he was so proud to find the perfect one.

My daughter instantly spotted a singing bird stuffed animal and immediately grabbed it and held it tightly as to say to us parents: “This is what I’m getting.”

She was right.

From there, I punched in “Whole Foods” on the GPS in the Mazda CX-5 and we made our way down the mountain for lunch. My grandmother met us there and she got to hear all about our adventure.

And as for the way back to the house, neither of our kids lasted 15 minutes before they were fast asleep.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of Rock City today. If you’re considering taking your family there, I highly recommend it!

Dear Holly: You Just Love Getting All Dressed Up and Going Places

11 months.

Dear Holly,

A couple of weekends ago, we travelled to Chattanooga for my Aunt Rosa’s wedding. Fortunately, the dress you wore at your Uncle Jake’s wedding back in October still fit just fine. Mommy waited to put it on you until we got to the parking lot of the wedding venue.

As she put the dress on you there in the front seat of the car, you smiled and giggled, knowing that whatever was ahead, it was going to be exciting.

You were so excited as we entered the civic center where knew we half of the people there. And of course, they were excited to see you. For many of them, you were just a little baby the last time they saw you; now, you’re just a few weeks ago from your 1st birthday.

Something I am quickly learning about you is that you truly love to get all dressed up and go places. It’s not that you need a lot of attention on you, but instead, you just like to be part of the action.

You are so fascinated by life.

Even this past Saturday, you treated our day of running errands as a morning of entertainment. We stopped by Sprouts to buy some groceries, then several shoe stores, then Which Which for lunch, then Kroger for more groceries, and then Ross so I can pick out part of my birthday gift.

Each and every time we lifted you out of your car seat, you treated the new parking lot like a land of opportunities. You had the biggest smile on your face as you looked around, with such optimism.

Another way of looking at it is this: you travel well.

And that’s good, because at the end of next month for Memorial Day weekend, our family will be taking your biggest road trip yet- to Pensacola, Florida.

I am confident you are going to be thrilled by the experience.



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…




Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

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

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

4 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Dear Jack,

With Mommy and I both being able to take the day after Christmas off (Friday, December 26th), we were able to extend our official Christmas break to basically a 5 day holiday.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

That meant that the fun wasn’t over just because Christmas day had passed. The morning started off with you trying on some on gag glasses that happened to stashed with some of my old toys there at Nonna and Papa’s house.

You then put them on Pandy and made him the teacher of the class…

Mommy and I decided to take you and Nana in the Lexus LX on a one hour drive through the mountains to a place called Flintstone, Georgia; where my own grandparents live, just a few miles from the Chattanooga, Tennessee city limit.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

We filled up the built-in cooler with Larabars and water for snacks; and I made sure we had some DVDs for you to watch on the way there.

Of course we adults had plenty of beautiful mountain scenery to enjoy, as you sang to us…

We rarely end up visiting that side of the family during the holidays, so once we got there, I saw cousins I haven’t seen since before you were born.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

To break the ice with them, and to help make you feel more relaxed, I took turns sneaking up to each one of my male cousins and pretending to punch them in the stomach; in the over-the-top style of the Power Rangers, or Marvel Universe Live that we recently saw.

“Punch the one with the white beard, Daddy!” you instructed me after you saw one of my uncles sitting on the couch.

Realizing that we had moved on from pretending to punch my male cousins to now my uncles, I “started a fight” with my Uncle Johnny (Papa’s older brother); who I would probably have to say other than your Papa, is most responsible for essentially teaching me to roughhouse at family get-togethers.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Once I “punched him” and told him that you told me to do it, he started motioning to you from across the room to “come here.”

He grabbed you by the foot and pulled you across the rug as you laughed hysterically.

Shortly after, my aunt Rosa (Papa’s youngest sister) asked you to let her take Pandy home and once you refused, she started swatting you with a roll of wrapping paper; like the way you and I played just the day before.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Horseplay really is the best way for a little boy to get to know his extended family, if you ask me.

Afterwards, I took you outside on the deck for some fresh air.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Then it was time was receive your gift from my grandmother, which couldn’t been any more appropriate for you:

A Captain America racecar and his nemesis Red Skull’s vehicle as well. You were so proud!

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Before we left for a late lunch at Whole Foods, just 8 miles away, one of my cousins helped me load up Papa’s gift, a 3 ton jack, into the Lexus LX.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Once we got home, Papa showed you how the jack worked, in his shop.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

And Mommy and I even ventured out and bought our new house’s washer and dryer at Gary’s in my hometown of Fort Payne, AL.

Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

So yeah, the fun didn’t end just because Christmas day was over!



Dear Jack: The Day After Christmas Was Still Fun Too!

4G Equipped 2015 Buick LaCrosse: Labor Day Weekend Family Friendly Review

As I mentioned in The New (and Younger) Buick, Equipped with 4G and OnStar, our family had the privilege of getting to review the 2015 Buick LaCrosse over Labor Day Weekend.

4G Equipped 2015 Buick LaCrosse: Labor Day Weekend Family Friendly Review

I had my wife take notes of the comments our family made during the trip about the vehicle.

She personally was impressed that the car was even roomier on the inside, compared to how it looks from the outside.

4G Equipped 2015 Buick LaCrosse: Labor Day Weekend Family Friendly Review

And speaking of the outside, everyone we encountered over Labor Day Weekend all made the same comment: “Wow, what a beautiful car!”

Perhaps I was most impressed by how quiet the LaCrosse is, despite its power (3.6 L, SIDI V6).

4G Equipped 2015 Buick LaCrosse: Labor Day Weekend Family Friendly Review

Seriously, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t an electric car. But looking back to my most recent trip to GM’s headquarters, I remember them mentioning how much attention and effort they put into making sure that Buicks are notably quiet- sort of like a trademark.

4G Equipped 2015 Buick LaCrosse: Labor Day Weekend Family Friendly Review

But of course I also loved having not only 4G Wi-FI in the vehicle, which enabled my son to learn about his ABC’s on my wife’s Kindle for a good amount of the trip, but also the access to OnStar.

4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

I love OnStar! I really appreciate being able to have an instant human helper to assist me while I’m driving. I’m not the best multi-tasker, so having OnStar is extremely helpful to me.

From here, I want to finish up by doing the modern day equivalent of how people use to share photos with captions written on the back, to tell you about their trips.

4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

We left our house in Nashville on Saturday morning and begin our journey. The shot of the highway above was where Jack proclaimed, “I see Lake Tahoe!” (We went there earlier this summer.)

First stop: My own grandparents’ house in Chattanooga.

4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

Next we headed to Whole Foods, using OnStar of course, to enjoy a nice plant-based lunch.

4G Equipped 2015 Buick LaCrosse: Labor Day Weekend Family Friendly Review

4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

After that we made our way to my hometown on Fort Payne, Alabama; where we chilled out for a while at a Labor Day get-together.

Jack and I enjoyed discovering the awesome playground, pretending to be pirates.

4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

For a year now, since I’ve been regularly been reviewing cars, I’ve been wanting to take Jack to Desoto Falls in Mentone, AL.

DeSoto Falls Mentone AL 4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

I made it work… It started raining as soon as we got there and stopped raining the moment we got back to the Buick.

DeSoto Falls Mentone AL 4G OnStar 2015 Buick LaCrosse

Oh well, Jack loved it. Plus, it didn’t rain hard enough to mess up my camera while we took some fun pictures.

For his nap time, Jack had an interesting request…

Dear Jack: Reading Bedtime Stories With A Scream Mask On

For me to read his story to him while wearing a scary mask!

(See the full story: Dear Jack: Reading Bedtime Stories With A Scream Mask On.)

We definitely had a fun road trip in the 2015 Buick LaCrosse! Before we left, we loaded up the trunk, full of produce from my parents organic, non-GMO garden to take back to our home in Nashville.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the 2015 Buick LaCrosse! Thanks for reading this week’s car review. I wonder what we’ll be driving next?…

2015 Buick LaCrosse- Premium

As shown: $42,240.00.

Fuel economy: 21 MPG combined/18 city/28 highway

Government 5-Star Safety Ratings:

Overall: 5

Frontal Crash, Driver/Passenger: 5

Side Crash, Driver/Passenger: 5

Rollover: 4

dad from day one: Jack’s First White Christmas

Week 6.

During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I took a week-long vacation to the magical island of Koh Samui, as referenced in the movie Meet the Parents (“Jack speak-a Thai?”).  While there, I went to a highly promoted (via hand-painted street banners) Muay Thai boxing tournament.  Inside the dimly lit warehouse-style building on the outskirts of legitimate commerce, I felt like I was part of the movie Bloodsport staring Jean Claude Van Damme.  Afterwards, as a souvenir, I cut down one of the street banners advertising the event and hung it up in my college dorm at Liberty University the next Fall.  Everyone who saw it laughed at the poor English translation: “Super and Real Fight”.  I mean, it was a real fight, and I would say it was super as well, but for the fight to be super and real in the same adjective phrase just sounds funny.  And that is why I couldn’t title this entry as “Jack’s First and White Christmas”.

In preparing our move from Nashville, TN to Fort Payne, AL (which is located between Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta), my wife (who is from Sacramento, CA) had asked me if it ever snowed in Alabama.  Though the words “snow” and “Alabama” seem like they don’t go together at all, though do. Just like a lot of people don’t realize that Alabama actually borders the Gulf of Mexico and has several beaches, like Gulf Shores.  I told my wife to expect it to snow a few inches, up to three times a year.  And sure enough, as we woke up around 6 AM Christmas morning to feed and change Jack, we looked out the window to see large snowflakes falling steadily.

A couple of hours later, we drove 0.7 miles to my parents’ house to spend the day with them and my sister and her husband.  Turns out, the snow didn’t stop falling and the temperature remained low.  So the seven of us ending up staying the weekend together, being that the roads were iced over.  One of the gifts my parents bought for Jack was a really cool wagon; ideally for when he gets older. However, when we started getting ready for bed on Christmas night and we were deciding where Jack should sleep, since we hadn’t packed his travel crib, I said, “Well, what about his wagon?” Not many people can say that their first Christmas was a white Christmas and that on top of that, that they slept in a wagon.  But I guess it’s not all that strange, being that we were celebrating a holiday where a baby boy slept in a manger.  We didn’t have a manger for Jack, but we did have a wagon.

Jack is swinging Christmas morning before we left for my parents' house.

We got snowed in.

Jack's presents from his parents.

Jack's presents from the family.

The Four Generations of Shells: Baby Jack is the only Shell boy to carry on the family name.