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.

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Giving Deliberate “I’m Married” Vibes, As Necessary

Making New Friends As A Married Couple With A Kid

September 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm , by 

22 months.

I don’t know why, but over the past couple of months, my wife and I seem to have been making new friends, in addition to our old ones.

Are we suddenly cooler than we were before?

Maybe it’s because our son is a little bit more independent now, so we can be a little bit more free spirited and outgoing; therefore attracting new people into our lives with a newfound positive energy.

Some of these new friends are like us- married with a kid. That’s natural and it makes sense that we would want to get to know each other better.

But also added to our list of new cell phone contacts are married couples who don’t have kids; or who are even single.

It’s a very interesting process to become friends with someone new at this point in my life; when it doesn’t involve my kid.

I’m sort of rusty on how this “making friends” thing works; especially since now it involves texting and Facebook messages more than it does phone conversations.

There’s like this unintended game of “I’m not stalking you” that you have to play with the person, at first.

They text you first: You get a point.

You send them a Facebook friend request: They get a point.

Basically, you’re trying not to be the one who creeps the other one out.

After a few rounds, if neither of you has weirded the other out, then it’s official: You’re real friends!

I think the most challenging part of making new friends these days is trying to make plans with them via text messages.

The art of discussion is dumbed down to caveman talk to where you can’t really offer up a hang-out plan then decide against it without sounding like a flake.

It’s not like you have the space in the text message to thoroughly explain the cons you instantly realized about the plan you just suggested.

But I’m up for the challenge. If people want to legitimately be my real life friend, whether they have a kid or not, I will do my darndest not to creep them out or be too vague like a hipster.

I would say, “I’ll just be me and if they don’t like it, then they’re not really my friend.”

However, I’ve learned that “be yourself” is the worst advice you can give some people.

The Cultural Identity of Being “Born Again”

I actually come across as pretty normal on the surface.  But recently, I have realized that I’m not simply a religious guy, or even just a Christian… I am one of those evangelical fanatics- basically another version of Kirk Cameron.  So now, I take this opportunity to come out of the closet and accept my social label as an official Born Again Christian.


“Even though I see fundamentalist Christians as wild-eyed maniacs, I respect their verve.  They are probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture- the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”

-Chuck Klosterman, in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

It wasn’t until recently while finishing the final chapter of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs that I finally realized I am part of a subculture of Protestantism which outsiders label as “Born Again”, which from what I gather, was a pretty popular term back in the 1970’s.  This whole time I’ve been calling myself a Christian, but now I fully understand that just doesn’t cut it.  “Christian” has become such a generic term these days.  Jesus is officially a household name now. While Jesus may be Ashton Kutcher’s homeboy, it’s safe to say that the relationship I have with Jesus Christ is much different than someone just using Jesus as a funny pop culture reference on a t-shirt.

By reading about myself from an outsider’s perspective (Klosterman identifies himself as a mix between a “bad Catholic” and an agnostic), I am able to understand my cultural identity in a way I never have before.  I get it now: I am a fanatical Christian.  Every thought pattern in my head eventually comes back to Jesus being the savior of the world and my desire for people to know Him.

I find it extremely important and relevant to quote a paragraph from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:  “There are no other subjects, really; nothing else- besides being born again- is even marginally important.  Every moment of your life is a search-and-rescue mission: Everyone you meet needs to be converted… Life would become unspeakably important, and every conversation you’d have for the rest of your life (or until the Rapture- whichever comes first) would really, really, really matter.  If you ask me, that’s pretty glamorous.”  For me, calling myself a Christian doesn’t simply mean that at some point I came to the realization that I belief Jesus is the son of God, which would be the simplest definition of the word Christian.  Instead, I live a seemingly curious and quirky lifestyle as it relates to my relationship with Jesus Christ.

You’ve probably heard of “Catholic guilt” or maybe even “Jewish guilt”, but I need to introduce something called “Born Again guilt”.  Because we truly believe that Jesus literally meant it when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me,” we carry this burden of wanting every person we meet to “have a personal relationship with Jesus” like we do.  We sincerely believe that by trusting in Christ as the redemption for our naturally flawed nature and by loving serving others as ourselves, we will be part of the Heavenly Kingdom when Jesus returns as the King.  Sounds pretty sci-fi, yes.  But so does every religion, including atheism.

It’s no secret that I find reasons to insert random facts about the year 1983 or to tell which actors are Jewish or relate the Rubik’s Cube to everyday life.  That’s just me being me.  But I am also constantly looking for ways to write about or at least mention Jesus in ways that are subtle as well.  I realize that if Scenic Route Snapshots was simply me preaching, I wouldn’t be getting between 600 and 1,000 hits each day.  Instead, I write about whatever off-the-wall thing is going through my head that week.  And if it’s possible to show my faith as relevant to the subject as my faith is relevant to my life, I won’t shy away from mentioning it. I would love to sit down with people and discuss my relationship with Jesus on an everyday basis.  But I know that often, that isn’t practical, and therefore not possible.

Kirk Cameron is the official mascot of Born Again Christians. Just ask them about a movie called Fireproof or something called "the love dare"...

Everyone I know, it seems, already understands why Jesus died on the cross. That cultural familiarity with Him, in American, often can be the thing that keeps people from seeking Him in their lives beyond a basic understanding.  It’s hard to tell people what they already know.  So when I write and when I am involved in seemingly surface conversations with people, I try to find ways to point the thought process to my faith somehow- even it’s simply using the word “afterlife”.

How can you tell a Born Again Christian (also referred to as “saved” or “evangelical”) from other deists who use the term “Christian” to describe themselves?  Here are a few red flags to look out for:

They attend a “small group”. In addition to regularly attending their church on Sunday, many Born Again Christians meet once a week (in groups of around 6 to 10 people) at someone’s house for about two hours to study the Bible together and pray.

They strive to study the Bible and pray on a daily basis. In addition to their weekly small group meeting, they also study the Bible and pray privately as well.  Sometimes they refer to this as their “quiet time”.  Many of them can be seen doing this during their lunch breaks at work.

They avoid using profanity. This is often a way they recognize each other.  This means they also refrain from saying “oh my God” as well, as it profanes the name of God to matters that are not holy in any way.

They use the word “blessed” to describe their life. It’s a way of glorifying God in a non-churchy sounding kind of way.  Also, when you leave a message on their cell phone, they end their “sorry I’m not here right now…” spiel with “have a blessed day”.

They truly believe that sex is for only for people who are married to each other. Even if many of them largely contribute to the high viewership of the reality TV show The Bachelor, it’s understood between them all that they collectively do not approve of the “overnight date” episode with the “fantasy suite”.

They politically identify as Republican, or are part of the newer, cooler, independent version called the Libertarian Party. If nothing else, these two political parties typically support the Pro-Life movement whereas the Democratic Party is at best indifferent on the issue.  For Born Again Christians, abortion is not up for discussion or debate.

They take the Bible as literally as possible. Jesus was literally born from a virgin.  Jesus literally multiplied the fish and the bread.  Jesus literally came back to life after these days in the tomb, etc.

They do not believe in Evolution. In particular, the theory that humans evolved from apes. Intelligent Design is instead their theory of choice.  Here’s the 101 on how the dinosaurs fit into Noah’s Ark.

They often refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ”. It’s almost like “Christ” is Jesus’ last name.  Really though, it’s a Born Again Christian’s subtle way of distinguishing Jesus as the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, as opposed to just a historical rabbi who happened to be a “good teacher”.

I'm not Mormon, but I feel like I can relate somewhat to their cultural identity and displacement in society.

So if you know someone who contains at least two or three of these attributes, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a Born Again Christian. Like Kirk Cameron, Sarah Palin, and President Jimmy Carter, they are the ultra-conservative Protestants.  They seem to blend in with society at first glance, but once you get to know them, you’ll notice the underlying behaviors that set them apart from standard Christianity- like a Mormon, only without the added teachings to the Bible or the crazy mad dancing skills.  (Derek Hough, Julianne Hough, and Lacey Schwimmer of Dancing with the Stars as well as Heidi Groskreutz and Benji Schwimmer of So You Think You Can Dance are all Mormon.)   For some humorous characteristics of Born Again Christians, check out this blog by Jonathan Acuff, called Stuff Christians Like.

“You gave your life to Jesus Christ… and you were not the same after that.” – “Not the Same” by Ben Folds


The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.


The Speed of Life: Trapped in a Time Machine

We are time traveling every moment of our lives.

Greek-American comedian Demetri Martin explains in his Comedy Central special “Person”, that he invented a time machine.  The problem is, it travels at the normal rate that time passes, so basically it’s just a cardboard box with “time machine” written on it with a permanent marker. 

So much of childhood is waiting for it to be time for something: trapped waiting for your parents to get off of work to pick you up from daycare or waiting for school to be over so you can go home or waiting to be old enough to do something your current age prevents you from doing.

And obviously, waiting is always a part of life.  Adulthood is no exception- waiting to graduate college, waiting to find the right person to marry, waiting for a good job, waiting for a promotion, waiting for enough money to get out of debt, waiting to pay off the house, waiting to retire.

And all this talk of all this waiting makes me think of one of my favorite songs from the famous Country band from my hometown, “I’m in a Hurry” by Alabama: “I’m in a hurry to get things done, though I try and try until life’s no fun.  All I really gotta do is live and die but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”  Ultimately, when we by default view each stage of life as just another one to be waited out, we miss quality moments and surprisingly meaningful stuff in between all the waiting: Like being trapped in a time machine that travels at the normal rate of time passing.

For a similar post by the same author, read Taking the Time to Stop and Smell the Play-Doh.

When Our Life Expectations are Faster Than the Speed of God

Roll the dice.  Press the buzzer.  Time to play America’s favorite game.  “Solitaire: Life Expectations Edition”.

Life is often a difficult and careful balance of two extremes. Not any two certain extremes- each situation has its own.  But one in particular of these balances has proven consistently annoying: The balance of being a motivated, goal-oriented, hard-working American as well as living in accordance to God’s timing.

I have an agenda, a set plan, an order of events, a timeline by which I’m already behind on, according to me.  Yet on a yearly basis, I’m stalled by a classic answer to many of my prayers: “wait, it’s not time yet”.  And that’s what I call being faster than the speed of God.

Obviously, God, in all his power and lack of limitations can not be outrun.  But by pointing him to my calendar and its several missed and delayed events, I’m simply reminding God of my inability to keep up with him- since his calendar doesn’t simply just move forward; he’s in every moment of the past as well as the present and future.

When God misses my appointments for his involvement in my life expectations, it also serves as a reminder that man-schemed plans are often irrelevant in the face of God.  My life expectations are nothing more than an often-frustrating check-off list of a game that I am playing, involving other people at times, as my volunteers and spectators.

Graduate college and get a job.  Check.  Get married by age 27, which is the national average of American men when they get married.  Check.  Buy a house.  Check.  Have a baby by the time I’m 30.  Check (of course, Lord willing).

Good for me.  I’ve met some of my goals.  My American society-influenced landmarks.  Of course there are plenty more that I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of.  So by playing the rules of my own game, I lose.  Conveniently for me, though, I’ve still got the rest of my life to play this game, and accomplish these goals.  Yet still, the humbling truth is that this game still doesn’t matter to God.  His checklist for my life is much simpler, yet much more complicated.  And from everything I can tell, it mainly just revolves around loving other people.

As for the film based on my non-fiction book, Scenic Route Snapshots, starring James Franco, it’ll have to be postponed until 2013.  Because after all, I need to publish the book first.  And according to my calendar, that’s scheduled to happen next year.

And yet I return to the pointless game of Solitaire: Life Expectations edition.