Dear Jack: Our Unexpected Trip to Dinosaur World in Cave City, Kentucky

6 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack,

About halfway during our nearly 4 hour drive from our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, we all turned our heads to the left, as we couldn’t help but notice the giant T-Rex statue.

He was surrounded by two billboard-sized signs, in red and yellow (which are the colors used by fast-food restaurants to get people to “slow down and stop”, as that color combo subconsciously reminds them of the meaning of the yellow and red traffic lights).

The signs read this enticement:

DINOSAUR WORLD

EXIT NOW

OVER 150 LIFE-SIZE DINOSAURS

While I didn’t immediately pull over our built-for-adventure 2017 Toyota 4Runner, Mommy and I did begin secretly muttering plans to stop there on the way back from our Louisville road trip to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.

After all, I pride myself in not being an “impulse shopper.” First, it must be a plan and placed on the schedule… then, it might become a possibility.

The thing is, I’ve been seeing that sign for over a decade. So to pass it by this time was more of a confirmation: Now that I have a 6 and a half year-old boy who is obsessed with dinosaurs, there has never been a more appropriate and necessary time to visit Dinosaur World.

And so we did!

You took great pride in navigating our family through the park, proclaiming the name of each new dinosaur the moment you saw it.

It was a glorious event for you. We definitely made the right decision in taking the family to Dinosaur World. And I have to admit, your 1 year-old sister loved every minute of it too!

Good thing for that giant T-Rex statue and the two huge signs right off of I-65 North. Otherwise, we would have never given it a thought.

Clever marketing on their part. It worked.

Love,

Daddy

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Louisville, Kentucky is Definitely a Vegan Friendly City: Officially Endorsed by The Manly Vegan (That’s Me, Obviously!)

Fact #1: I am the manliest (and most humble) vegan on the Internet- and the entire world refuses to refute my claims.

Fact #2: Your family will have no issues finding plant-based, cholesterol-free food in Louisville, Kentucky.

Just a little over a month ago I proclaimed that Destin, Florida is still not a vegan-friendly town; after my 2nd visit there in 2 years. But being the emotionally intelligent man I am, and being a man who understands how the free market works, I quickly acknowledged that it’s not Destin’s fault they don’t cater to vegans:

There is simply not a demand in Destin for vegan food. Destin instead attracts a lot of families with young kids who are okay with feeding their families fast food.

Louisville, Kentucky is the complete opposite. It attracts enough crazy people like me; people who depend on veggies, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds for their nutrition; as opposed to animal products.

I was extremely impressed by Louisville’s Whole Foods. One of the best I’ve seen, actually! Not only was it conveniently close to the Louisville Zoo where my family was visiting, as we ventured in the ever-manly 2017 Toyota 4Runner, but the Louisville Whole Foods had the most impressive array of vegan baked goods; including vegan donuts, which I have found are rare beyond the West Coast.

By the way, my wife and kids are vegetarians; not vegan.

Something peculiar, in a good way, that I noticed about the Louisville Whole Foods was this:

There were are lot of older people shopping there. I have never seen so many healthy, fit senior citizens in one place.

It was such a delight. Because that will be me in 20 years. I will be the healthy, fit 56 year-old vegan jogging man. Forget migrating to Florida when I retire! I just need to find my way back to Louisville!

My only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to try the alluring vegan jerky of Stan Chase’s Louisville Vegan Jerky Co.

I did, however, manage to quickly snap pictures of his vegan jerky options for future reference. By the way: Stan, if you’re reading this, and want to send me some samples, I would be honored to do a special blog post, and YouTube video, featuring your product…

After all, I am the manliest vegan on the Internet, as we’ve already well established. I am clearly the perfect demographic fit for your jerky.

So yes, fellow vegans of America… go to Louisville, Kentucky.. You belong there.

There are plenty of options of places you can eat, like Chuy’s, where I enjoyed the veggie fajitas; which I ordered without sour cream or cheese.

Ah, I am just so happy. So happy to know that despite my major disappointment in Destin, the ying to the yang exists in Louisville.

Fact #3: Louisville, Kentucky is man enough for the Manly Vegan.

Fact #4: Destin, Florida is not.

Fact #5: I am very curious about vegan jerky now.

This is 36: We Celebrated Our 9 Year Wedding Anniversary by Taking Our Kids on a Road Trip to Louisville, Kentucky

Yes, it was indeed nine years ago today that my wife and I were married at Brenthaven Cumberland Presbyterian Church. We purposely got married right next to a holiday (July 4th) so that we’d sort of always have a built-in day off for whatever we ended up doing for our anniversary.

For our 9th anniversary this year, we decided there was no better way to celebrate, than the load up our 6 and a half year-old son and our 1 year-old daughter and take a random road trip to one of my favorite cities in America:

Louisville, Kentucky.

Perhaps a more normal couple would have ventured there without the kids- and checked out some venues that are little more anniversary-ish and perhaps not so focused on catering to the attention spans of children.

Nah. Not us.

If we’re going to spend the money on a road trip, even just a 3 hour one across the state line, we might as well make it a family affair.

Being the world’s most famous vegan family friendly daddy blogger, Toyota helped us out by sending a 2017 4Runner; which proved to be ideal for our laid-back adventure to the Blue Grass State.

Because we’ve got our annual family zoo pass from Nashville, we were able to get in the Louisville Zoo for half off.

And because we’re cool adventurous people, we even took an unplanned stop at Dinosaur World in Cave City, Kentucky on the way back home to Tennessee.

Thanks to some points we’d earned, my wife was able to cash in a free stay at the Marriott Courtyard Louisville East, just a few miles from the zoo.

I must say we were quite entertained by the “New Japan Pro-Wrestling” tournament that happen to be on, while we enjoyed our dessert treats from Whole Foods Louisville; which was also just a few miles away too.

Two queen size beds between the four of us…

You can imagine how it must have been getting our daughter to sleep too; in the pack-and-play bed next to ours.

It was around 10:30 PM by the time both our kids were asleep. To ensure we didn’t disturb them, we laid out a towel on the bathroom floor in front of the sink, and enjoyed our gourmet vegan cupcakes from Whole Foods.

This is 36.

Dear Jack: Why We Didn’t Buy a 2011 Suzuki SX4 This Past Weekend (& Trade in My 2004 Honda Element)

4 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack,

Last Wednesday, as I was driving Mommy’s car back from a work trip in Kentucky, Mommy called me to explain that while she was driving you home from pre-K in my 2004 Honda Element, the passenger side window just rolled down by itself.

Dear Jack: Why We Didn't Buy a 2011 Suzuki SX4 This Past Weekend

And it wouldn’t roll back up.

Knowing that this upcoming January makes 10 years I’ve owned this car, Mommy and I decided we should heavily consider trading in my car for a “new” used car.

So she starting emailing dealerships. Meanwhile, I went to one dealership in person last Thursday on my lunch break.

Because we are Dave Ramsey followers, we are refusing to “finance” a car; despite those natural temptations that we are exposed to. We will only pay cash for a car. If we don’t have enough cash to afford the car we want, we simply can’t afford it. So we walk away.

We found a 2011 Suzuki SX4 with less than 50,000 miles, in our “cash only” price range.

So I spent my Thursday lunch break to check out the car. It was everything I needed. However, I did some research that night and discovered Suzuki stopped production in America back in 2012, and they have no parent company.

In other words, it’s a great deal on a dependable car that ultimately I would have great difficulty trying to maintain, as there are no shops that readily have proper tools or parts available to fix it.

After that, Mommy and I realized it’s best we hold out until January, when we have that many more thousands of dollars (from ongoing monthly savings) to pay in cash.

Dear Jack: Why We Didn't Buy a 2011 Suzuki SX4 This Past Weekend

Here’s the twist on this story: Over the weekend when we picked up my Element after they fixed the window, the guy that evaluates the worth of used Hondas there for trade-ins left me a message.

My 2004 Honda Element is worth $5,850, which is about $3,000 more than I had anticipated; nearly double!

That’s because, according to the elevator, “People aren’t trading in Elements- they’re keeping them. That’s why your Element is worth more than whatever it says online. You’re the first person to ever come back and tell me you’re actually interested in trading yours in.”

So in the end, it was totally worth it in the end to pay a few hundred dollars to fix my window.

Dear Jack: Why We Didn't Buy a 2011 Suzuki SX4 This Past Weekend

It’s like instantly making $3,000! We’re still planning on holding out until January, when we can have that much more money to buy a “barely used” vehicle for our family, when we trade in my Element.

Something else this experience taught Mommy and me is just how boring and unattractive we are to used car salesmen the moment we begin the conversation with, “I’m a Dave Ramsey follower; I will only pay with cash.”

You can literally see the hope in their eyes disappear once you say that. Because most people are willing to “finance” the car. That means there’s virtually no real limit on price, since the focus becomes on the monthly payment, not what person can actually afford.

That’s something I equate with a magician distracting his audience by waving a pink handkerchief with one hand while he hides the “disappearing” object in the other.

I will make sure you always understand the true meaning of the phrase “affording a car.”

It’s this simple: If you can’t buy it on the spot in cash, you can’t truly afford it. That’s why dealerships are so eager to have you finance the “purchase.”

Similarly, an individual or a family is only as financially wealthy as their savings account in addition to having no debt other than their house; that’s because a home is considered an asset growing in value, not a depreciating liability like a vehicle.

So our family will wait. By January 2016, our savings should be that much higher if everything remains on course; meaning we can pay cash for the vehicle that we really want. And as I mentioned, coincidentally, this coming January will be exactly one decade since I purchased my 2004 Honda Element.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if I’m technically going to be downsizing or upsizing…

My Honda Element is a decent sized SUV, but it only has 4 seats. That’s never been a problem, but I think it would be a good idea to have 5 seats for the next car, even if the next vehicle is smaller over all.

Until then, I’ll keep driving my green toaster and saving green cash.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Why We Didn't Buy a 2011 Suzuki SX4 This Past Weekend

Rad Web Clips to Watch on a Lazy Saturday

In a world of so many weird and funny Internet clips begging for our attention on YouTube, one that started circulating in the fall of 2008 has officially become my all-time favorite.  I proclaim it my favorite “Clip of My Lifetime”.

I suspect that I’m not introducing this to anyone for the first time ever, but my intentions are to be a guide and companion as we try to squeeze this orange for all it’s worth. Please enjoy “Jesus is My Friend” by a rockin’ band called Sonseed:

Well first of all, it’s from 1983 so automatically how can it not be awesome? The lead singer, Sal (whose wife is the piano player), is quite a cartoon squirrel. His token head nod after every over-pronounced verse is so charming. And the pouty look on his face as he delivers each Vacation-Bible-School-line just warms my heart. It’s almost like watching a 4 year-old boy in the form of a 24 year-old Italian man. (Though he was actually 30 when this was filmed.)

I’ve seen cases of some of today’s popular actors either getting their start in Christian entertainment (or resorting to it once they realize their career is over). One theory is that Sonseed’s snazzy lead guitar player is the young Paul Giamatti. (In reality, the guitar player’s name is Frank Franco. That is stellar in itself.) And the drummer may very well be Will Ferrell’s first cousin. Hard to know for sure.

Depending on what day I’m asked, the back-up singers may be my favorite part of this short film. Having his next-door neighbors jump in at the last minute was a plan that came together after all. The first lady it shows is the answer to anyone who says “what’s the worst that could happen?” when being set on for a blind date. You just know things are bound to get awkward. I’m sure she’s got a heart of gold, but she really looks like she should be a SNL character. Did I see her as an extra on Napoleon Dynamite?

Next is perhaps her husband. I can see him being a youth minister on a weekend retreat in Kentucky.  I would definitely want to be in his raft on the white water rafting. Mainly just because a red plastic vest would befit him. Back home he probably had a Petra poster hanging up in his office so that the kids in his youth group could relate to him more.

Excuse me, John Schlitt, lead singer of Petra, but you're kinda standing on the state of New Hampshire... so if you don't mind...

Um, excuse me, John Schlitt, lead singer of Petra, but you're kinda standing on the state of New Hampshire... so if you don't mind...

All I’ve got to say about the next lady is that I’m proud of her for being able to drag her husband out of the house. It takes a positive spirit like hers when being the other half of someone who can’t even memorize one line, “Jesus is a friend of mine”- he’s looking down at the lyric sheet the only time it zooms in on his face.

And then there are the actual lyrics to the song. Universally, the favorite line tends to be “God is like a mounty; He always gets his man”. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly a mounty is and how to spell it. I think it’s a word for a Canadian policeman. But of course the cherry on top of this whole nostalgia-fest is “Zap!!!” That defines the whole video.

When I was first introduced to this video I just watched it repeatedly. The day after I saw it the first time, my wife came home to find me watching it in a trance. There’s just so much to take in. I found a website where I was able to download the whole album. I’ve got it on my iPod now but “Jesus Is My Friend” is the only song of its class, like “Hey There Delilah” on The Plain White T’s CD.

I can’t imagine any YouTube clip ever having more character than Sonseed’s. But I do also highly recommend “The Renewed Mind is the Key” which was recorded from some hokey adult-contemporary Christian musical in Branson, Missouri. That’s only if you want to see a long-haired white guy moonwalk across the stage, then put his hand over his mouth as if he just “passed gas” and is embarrassed by it, the way a 58 year-old woman from Georgia wearing a sundress and matching hat would do. He is accompanied by two women wearing Hillary Clinton pant-suits who have learned a sort of snap-dance from someone who got their degree in “Modern Dance” from a community college.

And here’s the whole song…

And finally, a must-see is the dog that was born without his front legs; yet his owner taught him to walk on his hind legs. If anything ever looked fake but is completely real, it’s Faith, the Hind-Leg Walking Dog.

Let’s Go to Kentucky

Why, Kentucky, why?

 When my wife and I spend money on ourselves other than for basic needs, it’s pretty much on one thing.  Not cable, not Internet, not sports events, not fancy clothes, not electronics.  What’s left?  Trips.  And what determines where we go?  B&B’s.  Bed and Breakfast’s.

A near cliché phrase is “life is a journey, not a destination”.  And that’s the basic concept of why we go to B&B’s.  Though we love going to Louisville for an easy weekend trip, we knew the Kentucky Derby would be going on, so thanks to some Internet research, my wife found a B&B in a place called Burnside, KY. 

The only reason I recognized the name of the town was because I knew that sideburns derived from General Ambrose Burnside, a Scottish-American who had some of the worst sideburns in the history of the world.  And Burnside, KY was named after the man.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrose_Burnside

We were asked, “But what’s in Burnside, KY?  What’s there to do or see there?”

Our answer: “The B&B.”  That is THE reason.

I have written before about how some go on vacations or mini-vacations to be busy somewhere surrounded by other people, and the rest of us go off somewhere to be left alone, enjoying the quiet and peace (The Opposite of a Beach Bum).  The whole point of going to a B&B is because there is indeed, for the most part, nothing to do. 

Of course I did a Wikipedia search on Burnside, KY before we left (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnside,_Kentucky).  I ended up finding out that right outside of Burnside, in Stearns, there is a 3 hour passenger train ride.  So that ending up being our only adventurous activity.

And for only $18 per person, we didn’t have our standards set as high as the Monorail at Epcot Center.  Instead, it reminded me more of the kind of train ride a person would expect that takes them through a zoo.  A cross between trolley bus and a boat designed for the chute ride at a local amusement park.

Halfway through the 16 mile train ride, we were dropped off for a while at an extinct coal mining town.  We sort of hiked and explored the area, in the pouring rain, for a while.  Checked out the hilarious gift shop.  And passed on getting chili dogs at the concession stand.  Like a standard weird dream.

Back at the Bed and Breakfast (http://eaglesviewbnb.com/breakfast.htm), as it continued to pour and flood outside, we took advantage of the cozy Gatlinburg-esque cabin and cable TV, which to us, was a luxury.  Especially while watching House Hunters on HDTV and Dogs 101 on Animal Planet.

Demographically, most B&B connoisseurs are over the age of 50.  We realize that being under the age of 30 means that we must be middle-aged at heart.  Even our honeymoon two years ago was a series of B&B’s from Maine to Connecticut.  But for us, this is the best way we can spend money on ourselves. Because the way we see it, nothing lasts longer than good memories. 

And even though our memories will eventually begin to fade, that’s why we take plenty of pictures.

This picture has been made anatomically correct, made noticeable when examined closely.

A bridge going over the river that the train travelled along side, and that our B&B overlooked.

I'm gonna throw a hissy fit if I don't get one of these...

Gettin' lucky in Kentucky.

I don't care how much this costs, I'm buying it! Nothing could possibly go wrong...

Hey, how did that bird dress shirt I gave to Grandma end up in this gift shop?

Birthday Status Update: I’m Super Famous for 24 Hours Just for Surviving Another Year

Birthdays are sort of a funny thing.  And they’re also pretty dang awesome.

After a flood of friends and family telling me to enjoy my 29th birthday via facebook wall comments and mailed birthday cards, I decided to do what they said.  Since last October, I have been wanting a mountain bike.  So when a generous check came in the mail from my parents, I went out the next day to Dick’s Sporting Goods with a “$10 off” coupon and bought myself the mountain bike of my dreams, which conveniently had just went on sale, saving me an additional $70.

Owning a bike takes me back to the days of being a kid.  Because the backseats of my Honda Element fold individually into the sides of the car, I just fold up one seat and my bike easily stays put there.  And I keep my helmet and air pump with me as well.  That means that wherever I am, I can take out my mountain bike for a spin.

I am just too cool these days.

On Monday I explored some areas around my work place, which is outside of Nashville.  There’s this gated apartment community that is only accessible by car and by punching in the correct password on the gate.  Unless you’re on a bike.

It’s interesting how much I blend in like a wallflower when I’m wearing my helmet, dressed professionally, riding my 10 speed mountain bike.  No one questions me at all.  I rode throughout the neighborhood as people said hello to me, not realizing I wasn’t one of their own.

Then I found what I didn’t know I was looking for.  In the back of the neighborhood, situated on a hill, yet just hundreds of feet away from the living quarters, was a Civil War Era graveyard.  Buried inside are the first two original “white settlers” (as the sign explained to me) who stepped foot in Franklin, TN.  They came straight from Scotland.

With my awesome mountain bike, now I can go on more adventures like that during my lunch break.  Or at my house.  I don’t go anywhere now without my new manly accessory.

In addition to my parents’ gift, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a gift card for Barnes & Noble, so I was finally able to buy the two non-fiction books (Maps & Legends, and Manhood for Amateurs) by my favorite author, Michael Chabon, who of course is Jewish.  No other writer has influenced my writing style more than he has.

I could have bought those books a long time ago but it’s so hard for me to spend my own money on stuff I want, but don’t need.  That’s what birthday money is for.

As for my wife, she couldn’t have read my mind any better.  I honestly hadn’t thought much about what she would get me for my birthday, with me being so preoccupied about Baby Bean.  But she got me four things that we’re just perfect:

1)     A ceramic wedding ring.  In our almost two years of marriage, I haven’t been able to consistently wear my actual ring because I am allergic to the metal in it.  So I’ve settled for hemp rings hand-made by people up in hippy stores in Louisville who basically made them for me for free after hearing the sad story of me being so much in love with my wife but not being able to wear my wedding ring.  But now I wear an exact replica of my original ring.  It feels great to look like a married man.

2)     Three years ago for my birthday while my wife was living in Australia, she bought me a Fossil watch and mailed it to me.  About a year ago, the watch battery died and we never got around to replacing it.  But my wife took the effort and time to get the battery replaced so now I can wear my watch again, which matches my wedding ring- a metallic slate color.

3)     The newest CD from the half-Indian, half-American living legend, Norah Jones.  It’s always the right time for Norah Jones.  She’s this generation’s Bonnie Raitt, whom I also love.  Maybe I’m supposed to want a CD from someone manly, like the soundtrack to Iron Man 2 featuring ACDC.  But I am unashamedly a Norah Jones fan, just as much as I am a fan of Michael Buble, who put on one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

4)     Lastly, speaking of gifts that arguably I should want if I was 20 years older than I actually am, my wife set up a weekend trip for us to stay in a Bed & Breakfast in northern Kentucky.

We don’t really do hotels.  Because I can only imagine how seldom the blankets get washed on hotel beds.  But with Bed & Breakfasts, you just know everything’s clean and classy.  Some of my friends have commented, “But isn’t that awkward?  Getting up in the morning and eating breakfast with people you don’t know?”   Not for us.  It’s fun.

Yes, they’re always my parents’ age or older and have kids our age, but it’s always interesting to meet other married couples traveling from different parts of the country for different romantic reasons.  We took our honeymoon up in New England and there was no one up there where we stayed who was our age.  We didn’t mind at all.

So there it is.  For all those who wished me a happy birthday this year, not knowing exactly what that would entail for me, now you know how it all went down.  Thanks for caring about my birthday.  It really does mean a lot.

Bottom image: Clover handcrafted signs (Oak Cottage)