Dear Holly: Nonna’s Visit While I Was Away in Florida

1 year, 10 months.

Dear Holly,

Last week while I was driving across the state of Florida for the Toyota Grand Slam event, Papa brought Nonna here to take care of you during the day while Mommy was at work.

Now that I work from home on my own schedule as a freelance social media specialist, it’s much easier for me to be able to travel on press events; as long as Nonna can take my place during the day.

So while I was out promoting Toyota, you got to have a lot of fun with Nonna. She sent me plenty of pictures throughout the week so I could catch up on what you were into.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment last week while Nonna was in town was that, for the first time, you ate noodles! You saw Nonna go to the pantry to get some Ramen noodles for lunch.

That’s when you explained to her, “Daddy eat.”

Nonna made you some for lunch, and as these pictures illustrate, you enjoyed your noodles. Good to know!

I appreciate how Nonna had you pose for some pictures for me while I was away. My favorite shot is when you were standing by the stairs. You held on to the sides of your clothes and leaned backwards, with the cutest look on your face.

This picture meant so much to me that I made it my wallpaper on my phone. It really shows your personality, as that was your response to choosing a pose for a picture that you knew I would like.

You read my mind!

While I definitely enjoyed my trip to Florida, I obviously was very happy to come home and see you again. You enjoyed helping me unpack on the Toyota souvenirs I brought back.

You especially liked the cup with the carabiner lid. These days you’re definitely at that developmental stage where you can easily spend 30 minutes in a loop, as you get lost in figuring out how a basic object can be manipulated.

So I truly believe had I actually spent money on real souvenirs, it wouldn’t have been quite as cool as the swag I brought home.

You were well taken care of while I was gone.

Love,

Daddy

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My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip: From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

While I obviously loved the entire Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip across Florida last week, I have to say that my final day of the tour stood out as my favorite.

For me, there was much intrigue surrounding the 2018 Toyota C-HR; a new vehicle which I had yet to see in person until last week at the event.

On the first day when we were presented with the vehicles, I was immediately drawn to the aqua (radiant green) colored SUV with the white top. As I began walking around it, taking pictures, I realized this was Toyota’s new SUV.

The C-HR, which stands for “compact high rider” (but is also understandably identified as a “cross hatch run”), ultimately became known to me as the “High Roller”. At least, that’s the name several of us automotive writers referred to it as.

As I am regularly loaned vehicles here on my blog throughout the year, I especially look forward to being able to travel in the C-HR with my family. I can already imagine how cool my 7 year-old son will think it is.

Day 3 started off great with the “choose your Toyota and your driving partner for the day” part, where I was instantly invited by Chris Chin to team up with him in the maroon (ruby flare) C-HR. Toyota had provided two C-HRs to help ensure each of us writers had a chance to spend at least half of the day driving one.

Something I learned about myself during the Toyota Grand Slam event was just what a niche my blog is: I am a daddy blogger who happens to write about cars a lot, as my family takes a lot of road trips. Therefore, when I feature new vehicles on my blog, I focus a lot on how much backseat space there is with two child car seats; and also, how much 3rd row seat space there is if an adult sits back there.

In other words, I write about being a parent first and foremost, and therefore, about cars on the side. In contrast, my driving partner Chris Chin (along all the other guys on the trip) are true automotive writers. That’s their main focus.

So as we were driving across the more uninhabited parts of Florida, and we made our way from Cape Coral to Port St. Lucie to see the Yankees play the Mets, he was talking about all kinds of technical stuff that I could barely follow him on; meanwhile, I was just thinking:

“This sure is fun. I like being in the C-HR. I can’t wait for my family to ride in it with me. I wonder where we’ll drive in it? Maybe North Carolina like when we drove the Sienna last fall? Or to Kentucky when we drove the 4Runner last spring?”

My thoughts were interrupted when Chris and I couldn’t help but notice that we were driving down a road surrounded by orange groves on both sides of it. With both of us being focusing heavily on photography in our writing, we decided it would be a sin not to pull over the C-HR for a perfect photo op.

We weren’t breaking any rules. This was a public road with no “private property” or “no trespassing” signs anywhere; no fences or gates.

And we were right: It made for some really cool pictures of the C-HR, in the midst of the orange grove. I particularly focused on some shots of the wheels in the sandy dirt. I felt those pictures really helped match the fun character of the C-HR.

But then, after Chris and I had captured all the shots we needed, we loaded back in the C-HR to continue on our way back on the route. He started the ignition and pushed the gas pedal, but all we heard or felt were the tires spinning.

It took me back to my childhood in the 1980s, when cartoons and movies were constantly warning and preparing me for the inevitable danger of quicksand as an adult.

Chris continued revving the engine and attempting to maneuver us out of the sand and back on the dirt road. It helped that he is truly a professional driver who tests out cars’ power for a living.

Just as I was thinking how I probably needed to get out of the vehicle and help push, the tires made their way onto the dirt road again; as there was barely a distinction between the sand on the dirt in the first place.

It wasn’t much longer until we made our way to Lake Placid, where we stopped for lunch at the Good News Juice and Smoothie Cafe; which conveniently for me on the week of my 5th anniversary of being a vegan, happened to be a vegan-friendly cafe.

Once we arrived in Port St. Lucie, I was definitely in the mood to watch a baseball game. The fact that it happened to be the Yankees playing the Mets made things that much more exciting. It was nothing short of hilarious to hear the zany banter between opposing fans during the entire game.

Plus, it was nice that we had such good seats, right behind the action, and out of the sun. By this 3rd game, I had realized how much I truly enjoy watching baseball. It’s a different mode of thinking; so much different than basketball or football or hockey.

It had been a wonderful action-packed week, but it was time for everything to come to a close. That night all of us guys had a classy Mediterranean feast at Temple Orange, the restaurant there at the Eau Palm Beach Resort in Manalapan where we were staying the final night.

Our server couldn’t help but notice our Toyota name tags, and so he decided to incorporate the Toyota logo into our dessert play. That was so cool.

After a perfect day though, I knew I needed to head back to my room, since I had to leave the hotel at 5:00 AM to catch my flight.

My hotel room was amazing. My balcony faced the ocean. I would love to go back there some day with my wife.

As if I needed to point out the obvious, it was honor to be asked to join the Toyota Grand Slam road trip. Selfishly, it makes me feel good to know that my blog’s SEO is healthy enough to qualify as a social media influencer, to this degree.

I had so much fun. I met great people. And I got to experience an exciting week of adventure and entertainment.

So yeah, my calendar is already marked for next year!

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

 

 

My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip: From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)

After waking up at Loews Portofino Bay at Universal Studios, I began the 2nd day of my road trip across Florida by rushing downstairs to call dibs on the Toyota I would be driving that day.

It was the 2018 Toyota Camry that had drawn my attention. Not only is it a sporty (and fast) looking car, but I’m a sucker for red interior. As I began loading up my gear, I realized I wouldn’t even need to find and choose a driving partner for the day, as I noticed someone else’s gear was already loaded up.

Of the 8 of us automotive writers there for the event and 5 vehicles to choose from, my driving partner and I found each other simply by the process of choosing the car first.

Ray Logan, of 50Bold.com, had also chosen the Camry, and therefore, he had chosen me as well. It was no surprise that Ray and I hit it off quite easily.

Our mission was to take the Camry from Orlando to Fort Myers, where we would be watching the Orioles play the Twins at Hammond Stadium.

The midpoint stop on our journey was a vegan shop in Sarasota called CROP (which now that I am looking closely at their sign, stand for “coldpressed, raw, organic, produce”).

Of all days to be introduced to this wondrous place, it just happened to be my 5th anniversary of being a vegan. So as you can imagine, the owner was truly able to celebrate with me.

I explained to him how I have been free of dyshidrotic eczema, constant sinus pressure, and pet allergies for the past 5 years in which I have not consumed any meat, eggs, or dairy. While he was obviously happy to hear this, he wasn’t surprised, as he also personally believes in the power of plants alone.

It was such a thrill for me to be able to stock up on all kinds of manly vegan goodies for the 2nd half of the road trip. I enjoyed a HeartBeet Burger, a peanut butter and banana smoothie, chia coconut pudding, and some delectable vegan chocolates.

Yeah, I may have went overboard, and but hey… what a fun way to celebrate 5 years being healed of eczema (thanks to my vegan lifestyle) than to stock up at Crop!

By the time Ray and I made it to the game, food was no longer on my mind. But having gotten a little too much sun from the game the day before, we decided to hang up in the shade up at the top of the stadium; enjoying the game from a nearly aerial view.

After a good time at the game, we made our way to The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. I loved how right there at the balcony near my bed, I had a nice view of yachts on the water. It made me think of the 1983 Jimmy Buffett song, “One Particular Harbor”.

I admit though, I felt kind of guilty not being able to share this amazing hotel experience while my wife was back home with the kids. Either way, I slept like a rock.

And I would need every minute of that solid sleep for the adventure ahead the next day in the Toyota C-HR, with a new driving partner.

This was an action packed road trip, for sure.

Work hard while playing hard. That was my theme.

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip: An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)

Yes, it’s true that just two weeks ago I made my big TV debut on The Lifetime Network. But a few weeks before I obtained my 15 minutes of fame, Toyota had already reached out to me and invited me to join them on a road trip across Florida; to be part of the 2018 Major League Baseball Spring Training Grapefruit League tour.

Now that I work from home as a freelance writer and social media specialist, I didn’t even have to ask to time off; like I used to when I worked in an office. Instead, I just had to (quite easily) convince my mom to take care of the kids for a week. And as for my wife, she was more than happy to let me go out for a 4 day road trip with a bunch of other guys who also write about cars for a living. She was all for it!

Toyota made it clear in the invite that they would be taking care of everything: My flight to and from Florida, all my meals, all my hotel stays, all my entertainment; and of course, brand new Toyotas to drive from Orlando to Fort Myers to Port St. Lucie. So yeah, as you can imagine, it was an awesome trip!

It was a welcome culture shock, as a stay-at-home dad who works from home, to enjoy the finest hotels (like Loews Portofino Bay at Universal Studios featured in many of these pictures), restaurants, and entertainment; while driving brand-new cars and meeting other guys who were a lot like me.

The vehicles I had access to included the blue (and also a maroon) C-HR, the silver Camry, the red Corolla, and the newly redesigned white Prius.

Over the course of three days of driving, we saw three baseball games:

The Pirates vs. The Braves at Champion Station in Orlando on March 5th

The Orioles vs. The Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers on March 6th

The Yankees vs. The Mets at First Data Field in Port St. Lucie on March 7th

The folks at Toyota even had a special Atlanta Braves jersey with my name on it, for me to wear to the Braves’ game. In fact, when the whole trip was over and I got back to Nashville, I had a Toyota backpack stuffed full of Toyota swag.

So as you imagine, there was no need for me to buy any souvenirs for my kids. I simply brought home all the Toyota goodies and my kids basically thought it was Christmas!

This is just my 1st of 3 posts about my amazing experience. Stay tuned for the 2nd, when I share about my day of driving the 2018 Toyota Camry, and the 3rd, featuring my experience in the 2018 Toyota C-HR.

I love being a daddy blogger!

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

 

Dear Jack:  Our Break from the Real World (Ride the Lightning 2017 Toyota Prius Road Trip)

6 and a half years.

Dear Jack,

After nearly a week of adventures in Florida, our vacation was coming to an end. The treasure hunt. The go-karts. Watching UFC and the ongoing Harry Potter movie series before bedtime at the condo.

Undeniably, our family’s “Ride the Lightning” tour of Destin would not have been the same without Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca there with us; as they drove over from Pensacola to join us. I’m so glad you got to spend quality time with them, as they stayed at the condo with us for the last part of our trip.

At Miramar Beach, you got to attack Uncle Joe at the beach with goopy wet sand. He just went along with it.

Back at the condo, you were able to introduce him and Aunt Rebecca to the Jack version of the rules of Monopoly…

It had more to do with “unlocking” the animals from the kennels after making enough money to buy them.

Even your sister played. She was eager to get her hands on that money…

While it might sound crazy to say that we took you and your 1 year-old sister on a 7 hour trip to Florida, and back, I’m just grateful we were all able to get away with it.

We needed a break from the real world. We got it.

And our successful trip proves that we can, and will, do it again.

I loved how on the last day together, as we had lunch at Whole Foods, Aunt Rebecca asked you, “Jack, I’m going to miss you. Are you going to miss me?”

Very emotionless, very monotone, and without any thought, you instantly mumbled back:

“I dunno.”

You may not have the capacity to truly express missing someone yet, but I can answer for you:

Yes. Yes, you will.

Love, Daddy

Dear Jack: Our Go-Kart Race against Uncle Joe (Ride the Lightning 2017 Toyota Prius Road Trip)

6 and a half years.

Dear Jack,

After our lunch at Don Pedros, in which I took Mommy’s food to her out in the Prius, as she stayed back with your sister who was asleep, we made our way to The Track to race go-karts.

This event was a year and a half in the making, as it didn’t work out last time we were in Destin, due to rain, and then you falling asleep in the car.

You and I were in the double go-kart and Uncle Joe was in the single. We were about halfway back in the starting line-up and he was the very last. However, his kart was faster than ours.

For 4 fast and furious laps on the 3 story spiral track, you and I did our best to pass other karts; as we learned how much the downhill loops made it possible to pass other people if we rode the inner track and sort of bumped the other go-karts of the way.

At the beginning of the final lap, I looked back and saw Uncle Joe gaining on us. I spent half of that final lap with my head turned around to keep an eye on him, to make sure I kept him blocked out from passing us. You even said, “Daddy, turn around, we’re going to crash!”

But we didn’t crash. And we didn’t let Uncle Joe pass us.

I guess in the end, we technically tied him, though. Because by the end of the race, we finished middle in the line-up of the double go-karts and Uncle Joe finished middle of the single go-karts line-up.

The three of us walked back to the Prius, nearly talking over each other, as we excitedly recalled the details of the race.

It is obvious that we will have to visit The Track every time we go back to Destin! I even heard you mumble something about wanting to race cars when you get older…

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our Day Trip to Pensacola (Ride the Lightning 2017 Toyota Prius Road Trip)

6 and a half years.

Dear Jack,

Mommy has 7 brothers, so that means you have 7 uncles on her side of the family. And since most of them live in different states scattered across America, it can be quite difficult for you to get to know them.

Fortunately, last week while our family was in Florida, you got to spend some great quality time with Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca. They recently moved to Pensacola, from northern California where Mommy grew up. (You remembered him from a couple of years ago when you swam at his pool).

Our condo was in Destin, which is just about an hour away from Pensacola.

So we took the 2017 Toyota Prius on a one hour drive to visit them, along with Grandma, for lunch at Jaco’s.

After we dined on pizza (mine had avocado instead of cheese to suit my vegan needs)…

We visited Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca’s new house, which is currently under construction.

You were less interested in the grand tour and more focused on putting yourself to work outside in the hot Florida sun.

Using a scrap piece of marble counter top, you smashed rocks into powder. Uncle Joe didn’t even pay you for your labor!

Well, actually, I take that back… He and Aunt Rebecca followed us back to Destin and stayed with us the rest of the week- and our first day there together in Destin, he took us out to lunch at a wonderful Mexican place called Don Pedros.

While we waited for the food to arrive, Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca helped you download fun dinosaur games on their phones for you to play.

As I sat across from the three of you, it became very obvious I was truly witnessing the dynamics of a young boy who was naturally enjoying getting to know his uncle and aunt.

But there was much more fun to come, as we then ventured over to the go-kart race track!

To be continued…

Love,

Daddy