Dear Jack: Your Fall Break with Nonna and Papa at Our House

6 years, 11 months.

Dear Jack,

I never had a Fall Break when I was a kid! Only Christmas Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break. But lucky for you, because you get nearly an entire week off in October. Of course, when both your parents work full time, it’s not like you get to just hang out at the house and enjoy it…

Unless we can convince Nonna and Papa to drive nearly 3 hours to our house and spend a week spending time with you and your sister. Fortunately, it didn’t take much convincing.

You obviously had a lot of fun with them! You got to build a wooden model car. You got to race down in the hill in our cul-de-sac.

And you got to go to Olive Garden, which is one of your favorite restaurants. Your sister apparently agrees with you and was grateful to learn about the place; as she just couldn’t get her fill of bread sticks there.

Even leading up to Nonna and Papa’s arrival, you were already anticipating that meal: “We get to go to Olive Garden, right?”

In hindsight, I think I’ve figure out why you like that place so much, in addition to the bread sticks: You get to play video games at the table, while you wait for the food to arrive.

I’m so glad you got to enjoy your Fall Break with family, even if it couldn’t be Mommy and me. Fortunately for our family of four, we often take little road trips throughout the year: In 2017, we’ve travelled to Destin, Florida in May, to Louisville, Kentucky in June, and Boone, North Carolina in September.

So even if we can’t spend your school holiday breaks together, we at least are able to spend quality time together as a family through the year.

Love,

Daddy

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Dear Jack: Your 1st Soccer Game as the Goalie

6 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack,

Last Tuesday evening as we were leaving your soccer practice, I heard your coach confirm to you, “Alright Jack, I’m putting you in as goalie for Saturday’s game. You know what to do, right?”

You were humbly thrilled to know that you would finally get to be the goalie. Honestly, I had no idea you were interested in playing that position. But it turns out that you were interested enough that you proactively asked your coach if you could play goalie.

I had noticed during practice that you were playing goalie, but I figured it was just standard for the coach to give turns to all the players. But no, you had specifically asked him.

Of all weekends for Nonna and Papa to be in town from Alabama, this past Saturday was it. They got to see you play your newest position. You loved being goalie!

I was particularly also impressed by the fact when you weren’t playing goalie during the game, there were two different times in which you led the ball down the field towards the goal.

It’s so cool being able to see how you truly enjoy playing soccer and being a part of your team.

Of course, it helps that you and your best friend Duncan are on the same team, the Red Wolves. The two of you have literally been friends since the womb, as our families were in Lamaze class together back in the fall of 2010.

Soccer is a really good thing for you. Not only does it help you burn off plenty of energy, but I can see the way it undeniably builds confidence in you. And I appreciate how it teaches you the importance of playing as part of a team.

You were an only child for so long, so being a star runner and occasionally goalie on the Red Wolves is a great thing for you!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Holly: Practicing Your Soccer Moves on the Field, During Your Brother’s Game

1 year, 5 months.

Dear Holly,

This past Saturday was a very special soccer game for your brother, as not only did he get to play as goalie for the first time, but also, Nonna and Papa were in town from Alabama to see it as well.

We all sat right there on the edge of the field near the goal, nearly as close as we could without being on the field. You loved being able to walk from Mommy, to me, to Nonna, and to Papa.

And then you saw your brother’s red soccer ball that he had brought with him.

The smile on your face seemed to translate as, “Well if Jack can do this, so can I. How hard could it be?”

So you began kicking the ball over the line, onto the very edge of the field. As one of us adults would then move the ball off the field, you would sure enough find your way back in the game.

Fortunately, each time this occurred, all the players actually playing the game happened to be on the other side of the field.

I think it’s safe to say that you are finding your brother’s soccer games to be pretty fascinating. So while I could easily see you getting into dance classes when you get older, it already makes perfect sense to me that would also play soccer.

And based on the way I’ve seen you kick the ball back to me in our living room and on the back porch, I have to say… you actually have some kicking skills!

I suppose for the last few soccer games this season, you will continue practicing your soccer moves during Jack’s games. Give it a few more years, and that’ll be you out there on the field!

Love,

Daddy

Vegan Friendly Review of Boone, North Carolina: Featuring the Best Veggie Burger I’ve Ever Had in My Life!

As the Manliest Vegan on the Internet, I revealed this week that I can no longer fit into my size 31 pants, despite being a vegan for 4 and a half years. That’s right, I have undeniable gained weight and gained a dad bod. Looking back, it might have had something to do with my family recent “Road Trip to the Boonies” in the 2017 Toyota Sienna.

Why go to Gatlinburg when you can just go to Boone, North Carolina instead? Seriously, Boone is undeniably a vegan-friendly city and it also has the private woodsy atmosphere of Gatlinburg.

Sure, we cooked some of our own meals in the cabin, but we definitely enjoyed visiting some of the many vegan-friendly restaurants in Boone.

Let me start my proclaiming that I’ve now had the best veggie burger of my life! It was at a place called BBQ, Burgers, & Brews, just a few miles from the cabin where we were staying.

Openly, I admit: I didn’t specifically ask the waitress if the veggie burger was vegan. That’s how I am when I am travelling. I turn a blind eye to the possibility there are add whites in the veggie burger, knowing that traces of egg whites are consistent with the “0% cholesterol” aspect of my vegan lifestyle.

Why was this veggie burger so awesome? Let me tell you…

First off, the bun. It was big and round with sesame seeds; reminding me of what a good hamburger bun is supposed to taste like. (Again, there may have been traces of egg in the bun as well, but I didn’t ask.)

Next, the veggie burger was topped perfectly with the classic veggies I want on a burger: Lettuce, onion, and tomato.

As for the burger patty itself, it tastes so good that I legitimately feared they accidentally had served me beef. However, I’m confident wasn’t actually meat because after nearly 6 years of not eating meat, I speculate my digestive system would have immediately rejected any meat.

(Needless to say, I had no digestion issues whatsoever during my trip. Of course, becoming a vegan over 4 years ago pretty much illuminated all those problems. Before I stopped eating meat, I suffered reoccurring stomach and sinus issues.)

Lastly, the BBQ sauce! Seriously, that stuff was legit. My brother-in-law, who was sitting next to me, joked that he should see if he could get a huge gallon size container of it. My favorite was the BBQ mustard, though there were several options including sweet, spicy, and vinegar based.

But I can’t not talk about the fries and the onion petals!

Though I love fried pickles, which were also on the menu, I decided to upgrade my side (for an extra dollar or so) from fries to onion pedals. Like the burger, they went so well with the BBQ sauce.

Lucky for me though, my son didn’t finish all his fries, so I got to try them as well. They are my favorite style: big and crispy.

I endorse BBQ, Burgers, & Brews 100% percent. In fact, if you don’t visit them on your next visit to Boone, North Carolina, then it would be a crying shame. Ah, I already miss that place! But it wasn’t the only great place for plant-based food.

In addition to picking up some vegan groceries from Fresh Market and Ingles supermarkets to make meals back at the cabin…

There was of course Mellow Mushroom, a fine establishment we visit on every single road trip in the South…

And the extremely vegan-friendly Barberitos, where my family perfectly loved our burritos.

I also want to point out the glory of Higher Grounds, where we all stopped for coffee each morning. I particularly loved their spicy Mexican Mocha. But of course I would, as my recent DNA test confirmed I am like 53% Latino.

It was a fun place for the whole family to hang out before we began our activities for the day.

There you have it. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, go to Boone, North Carolina right now.

Just pass “go” and just pass Gatlinburg… you’ll enjoy Boone more anyway.

All Set’s Top 5 House Cleaning Tips for Busy Parents

1. Integrate Organization into the Décor

We know that laundry baskets, plastic tubs and other organizational fixtures can often ruin the look of a well-designed room. You know what’s even worse for the look and feel of your home? Clutter. Limit the clutter before it starts accumulating by making your home an organizational paradise. Keep a bin by the door for shoes, add more shelving than you need to accommodate toys and books, and strategically place bins around the house where loose items tend to accumulate. As an added bonus, tasks like vacuuming and wiping down counters are a lot quicker when you do not have to clear a path through the clutter.

2. Involve the Entire Family

Cleaning the house should never be one person’s job nor should it fall entirely on the parents. Many younger children will enjoy cleaning if it’s turned into a game. Next time you are cleaning, play house and ask the kids to help, throw on some music and have a silly cleaning dance party or turn cleaning into a race. If you have teenagers, then cleaning can either be a part of their household responsibilities or the basis for a reward or allowance. When the entire family chips in, cleaning gets done faster and everyone gets to enjoy more downtime together.

3. Invest in the Right Tools

The next time you find yourself struggling to clean up a mess, take a step back and ask yourself whether there is a cleaning supply that you need to add to your collection. Having the right tools can cut the time of each cleaning task down substantially. When you think about how repetitive cleaning tasks are, saving 10 minutes on a task each time really adds up over the years. We recommend starting with a quality vacuum cleaner, a Swiffer wet jet, a range of surface cleaners for the materials in your home, a good scrubbing brush and some micro fiber cloths.

4. Relearn to Clean with Google

Think about how many times in your life you have picked up a new cleaning tip from a parent, roommate or neighbor. These little tips and tricks can go a long way towards speeding up the cleaning process and luckily for us, we live in 2017 and have an entire internet’s worth of cleaning hacks at our disposal. The next time you are tackling a time consuming cleaning project, take 30 seconds to google tips, tricks and hacks that my help with that project. It’s amazing how many resources are available on the internet (including the All Set Blog) with tons of great ideas for how to make cleaning as efficient as possible.

5. Do a Full Clean-Out Once Per Season

We know how tough it can be for busy parents to stay on top of regular cleaning which is why we recommend setting a less ambitious goal of deep cleaning the house once every season. This way even when your life is at its most hectic, you know it hasn’t been more than 3 months since some of the easier to skip cleaning tasks were completed. Seasonal cleanings go a long way towards maintaining a healthy environment and keeping your home in good shape too. One deep cleaning pro tip we recommend is to throw away as many items in your home as possible. Seasonal cleanings are the best time to ask yourself whether you really will ever wear those shoes again or if you need 30 souvenir coffee cups for 2 coffee drinkers. Cleaning out this excess junk can go a long way towards keeping your home organized for longer between cleanings.

As a bonus tip, we wouldn’t be a cleaning company unless we recommended crossing cleaning off your to-do list entirely by hiring a professional house cleaner. If you happen to be in the market for a Boston House Cleaner or a San Francisco Cleaning Service, check out All Set and we would love to help you take back your weekends from your to-do list.

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All Set partnered with bloggers such as me, to advertise their service. I received compensation for my time. Consumers and bloggers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. These policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.

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Dear Jack: Strutting Your Stuff During Our Family’s Walk at the Park on Kennedy Trail in Boone, North Carolina

6 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack,

On Sunday, the sunniest day of our family’s fall “Road Trip to the Boonies” in the 2017 Toyota Sienna, your Uncle Tom suggested we all leave the cabin and talk a walk in a nearby park. So we made our way down the mountain and ended up on Kennedy Trail.

Once we all got moving on the path, I immediately thought back to when I was packing the Sienna when I asked myself, “Should I pack the double-stroller and my skateboard?” I easily had room to pack them, in addition to our luggage.

I am known in our neighborhood in Spring Hill, Tennessee for being the 36 year-old dad who skateboards while pushing his 2 kids in the stroller. But I figured the chances of needing a double-stroller and skateboard with staying up in a cabin at the top of a mountain in Boone, North Carolina were quite unlikely.

Oh well, I was wrong. This park would have been perfect for me to do that, as skateboarding college kids were everywhere.

It was fine though, because earlier that morning, your cousin Taylore and I had ran for 25 minutes going down then back up the mountain our cabin was on.

So instead of wearing out my calves anymore that day, I spent most of that 90 minutes working out my arms and back, as I served as your sister’s human chariot.

Meanwhile, you enjoyed being the default leader of the 12 of us, as you ran ahead, looking for cool stuff; like a giant caterpillar.

It became apparent to Mommy and me just how grown up and independent our little boy had become. You were just out there being a boy.

Jumping, climbing, getting sweaty. Having Mommy and me tell you to stop throwing rocks.

I was able to catch a glimpse of you as a preteen. You just seemed like a cool dude, like in that Violent Femme’s song from 1983: “When I go walkin’, I strut my stuff…”

Thanks to Uncle Tom suggested our visit to the park, a dozen people had a great time. While the cabin was awesome, it was good to take advantage of a nice day down in the valley.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Holly: You Assume All Other Adults are Nurses and Doctors Wanting to Give You a Shot?

1 year, 4 months.

Dear Holly,

As our family met up with some of Mommy’s family for Labor Day Weekend in a cabin in Boone, North Carolina for our fall “Road Trip to the Boonies” in the 2017 Toyota Sienna, you were definitely the youngest there.

Your cousin Lucy, the 2nd youngest, was especially intrigued by who she only referred to as “Baby Holly.” It was funny every time I heard her call you Baby Holly because it sounded so much like Buddy Holly.

Lucy, in her undeniably kindness, didn’t hesitate to let you play with her Puppy Surprise dolls. All it took was watching Lucy demonstrate how the mommy gives birth to her tiny puppies, just one time, and you were fascinated.

Needless to say, you adopted the 3 puppies whenever Lucy wasn’t around.

So I guess this means you’ll be needing a Puppy Surprise for Christmas…

You also bonded with Lucy over a game of cards, as well. I’m not sure what the rules of the Spongebob Squarepants card game were, but based on your confidence level in how you dealt and held the cards, I’d say you knew what you were doing.

I enjoyed watching you play cards in business mode, meanwhile your cousin Lucy and Brother Jack played next to you. I think in your mind, you were playing with the big kids.

It was good seeing you socialize, though most of the time in the cabin with everyone, you had to be with either Mommy or me.

But as you get older, and as we meet up with your cousins and aunts and uncles in years to come, it will be fun to see you open up to everyone more.

While your Brother Jack never met a stranger, you’re the opposite. If it’s not Mommy or me, you treat most other adults with the distrust you have to nurses and nurses; assuming everyone is trying to hold you, only so they can give you a shot.

You especially had your Aunt Jenny tagged this way in your mind. Apparently, she must really remind you of one of your nurses.

I held you in my arms, and as Aunt Jenny smiled and said, “Hi Holly,” she reached out to touch you arm. Before she even could even touch you, you immediately tucked your little arm under mine, so Aunt Jenny couldn’t get you.

Yeah, you’ll eventually grow out of this stage.

Love,

Daddy