The Big 50 Foot Long Slide at Mission Hills Park in Pleasanton, California (Featuring the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport) by Nick Shell

As our family finished up our 2 week-long vacation road trip in northern California, we drove the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport from Walnut Grove to Pleasanton, where our kids got to enjoy the playgrounds at Mission Hills Park.

It was such a nice drive, as we saw the countless solar windmills for much of the way. There is so much beauty in the top half of the state of California, which often is not the region people tend to think of when they hear where my wife is from.

The kids also liked the fact that the entire roof of the Outlander was a giant window. It was almost like a ride at Disney, in a way.

The main attraction at the city park was the giant, 50 foot slide; the kind I remember from back in the 1980s when I was my son’s age. These days, it’s rare to see such a tall, metal slide like that.

(To put it into perspective, the standard length of a dry van trailer pulled by an 18 wheeler is 53 feet long.)

My son quickly learned the best way to go down the slide was to lay down, like it was a luge. The slide was up so high, we were up there with the trees!

Here’s a little video I made, in the moment:

To my amazement, my 2 year-old daughter even insisted she get to try out the slide. So I held her hand and walked alongside her as she slid down, quite slowly, with me moderating her speed.

Granted, the rest of the playground equipment was great, as well. There were actually two main playgrounds; one for older kids like my 7 and a half year-old son, including a climbing wall and ropes course.

For younger kids like my daughter, there was a separate playground across the park which was more appropriate for her age.

So if you happen to be driving anywhere near Pleasanton, California and have some adventurous children with restless energy, I definitely recommend you stopping by Mission Hills Park.

The big slide is so cool!

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Family Reunion in Lodi, California 
Family Road Trip to Lost Worlds Adventures in Livermore, California
The Big 50 Foot Long Slide at Mission Hills Park in Pleasanton, California
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Family Road Trip to Lost Worlds Adventures in Livermore, California (Featuring the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport) by Nick Shell

Sometimes as a parent, you end up having to settle for the back-up plan; or even the back-up plan of the back-up plan, but as long as you’re with the people you love, you just might have a great time anyway. You may even get more than you expected, in a good way!

That is exactly what happened last week while I was out in northern California with my family. My wife and I had planned a trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, where we had taken our son nearly 3 years ago.

But after learning from our experience the week before that our 2 year-old daughter was getting burned out on so much travel (after all, we had flown in from Tennessee), we decided to find a closer carnival destination; as Santa Cruz is nearly 2 and a half hours away from where we were staying with my mother-in-law in Walnut Grove.

It just so happened that there was a County Fair going on in Pleasanton, just about an hour and 20 minutes away; which would shave an hour or so off of our originally planned travel time.

That way, our kids could still get their fill of games and rides, like at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. But after my wife bought the tickets to the County Fair on Groupon and we actually drove there, we learned that the fair didn’t actually open until Wednesday: We were there on Monday.

After getting a refund on our tickets online, my wife found a place called Lost Worlds Adventures. So we drove the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport just 6 miles down to the road to the neighboring town of Livermore.

Fate would have it, our family had just as much fun at Lost Worlds Adventures as we would have had at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, or the County Fair… if not more.

Not to mention, it was actually less expensive than both of those plans, as well!

Fortunately, the whole place was dinosaur themed. For a 7 and a year-old boy who’s currently very excited about seeing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, that served as the perfect ambiance.

We started things off with a fun game of glow-in-the-dark miniature golf. I’m pretty sure our son won, though we weren’t keeping score.

Then we gave our son $20 to spend on games; in which points were earned to earn prizes at the end. I am amazed by how much we got for that amount of money.

Not only did our 2 year-old daughter enjoy playing the games for free on demo mode, as she didn’t know the difference anyway, she also got to help her brother roll the ball for the Milk Jug Toss and Skee-Ball.

However, our son had to explain to her, “Holly, you can’t just crawl up and drop the ball in…”

And speaking of our son Jack, he made out quite well as far as earning points for prizes. He stumbled upon a game called Big Bass Wheel Pro, where the concept was that the harder you pulled the lever down, the harder the wheel spun, and therefore the more points you earned.

But we realized pretty quickly that A) what value the spinner landed on was completely random, and B) the game seemed to just keep giving my son bonus spins for no reason. So in the likeness of pushing the button in the Swan station on the TV show LOST, my son and I starting taking turns pulling the lever, to keep the game going, and therefore, the points racking up.

So with the 2,240 points my son earned (most of which were from the same game), he was able to get his very first Care Bear, along with a couple of planes and balls and squishy toys. In addition to a pig whose eyes popped out when it is squeezed and some stickers, my daughter was very proud of her poop emoji purse and matching plush poop emoji key chain.

Yep, that’s what she chose, so we didn’t turn her down.

Yes, sometimes life is about the back-up plan of a back-up plan. And great times were had by all!

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Family Reunion in Lodi, California 
Family Road Trip to Lost Worlds Adventures in Livermore, California
The Big 50 Foot Long Slide at Mission Hills Park in Pleasanton, California

Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California (Featuring the 2018 Mazda3), by Manly Vegan, Nick Shell

I didn’t choose the vegan life: The vegan life chose me.

Yes. I’m saying it: If I didn’t have to be a vegan, I wouldn’t be. Right about now, I would totally be downloading some greasy fried fish, dipping it in gobs of tartar sauce, and then washing it down with a Super Big Gulp size cup of sweet tea.

Amazingly, that is my fantasy non-vegan meal choice; not a big steak or a juicy burger with bacon and cheese.

If I ever returned to eating meat, eggs, and dairy, my thorns in the flesh would return as well: dyshidrotic eczema, constant sinusitis, and extreme allergies to animals.

But for over 5 years now, I’ve completely been cured of my ailments. For me, being a vegan is a choice of the head, not of the heart.

Either way, being a vegan has been part of my identity for over half a decade. Not to mention, I’ve also been a vegetarian for 6 and a half years and kosher (no pork or shellfish) for 9 and a half years.

My wife has been a vegetarian as long as I have, and both our our children have been their entire lives.

So naturally, road trips have to be a little bit more planned out for us; since we can’t just stop at the first exit we see. This month we took a road trip across northern California as we made our way to Lake Tahoe. Since I didn’t know about meal prep delivery at the time, my wife found a place called Squeeze In, which is located in the center of a nearby town called Truckee.

If your family is also plant-based like mine, then research no further. Squeeze In is where you’ll be dining next time you go to Tahoe.

I was so pleased with my veggie burger and elaborate salad. It’s such a cool environment, too.

And I really appreciated the bucket of toys the waitress brought to the table, to help occupy my tired and hungry kids as we waited for our food.

After our beautiful drive in the 2018 Mazda3 through the scenic mountains of northern California, the Squeeze In was quite the oasis for us.

I’m convinced that even if you aren’t forced to be a vegan like I am, you will still have a wonder meal and a great time at Squeeze In.

Thanks for checking our my blog; for I am the manly vegan. And you never know, maybe next time, I’ll be coming to your town.

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mazda 3? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California

Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary (Featuring the 2018 Mazda3) by Nick Shell

When you’re 37 years old, the definition of cool is to spend a few days in a totally rad cabin out in Truckee, California with your wife and 2 young kids; as part of your upcoming 10th wedding anniversary celebration.

So we left my mother-in-law’s house in Walnut Grove (elevation zero), stopped by It’s a Grind for some coffee and a Father’s Day mug, and drove the 2018 Mazda3 to Lake Tahoe (elevation 6,225).

Just about 25 minutes away from King’s Beach, our family got to experience my wife’s version of camping out in the wilderness. It’s funny because we happened to be there in the off season, so we were literally the only family staying there in the community. We had the entire mountainside all to our ourselves.

The cabin was perfect for our family. It was 3 stories tall, with the kitchen and living room taking up the middle floor.

I finally got to see Toy Story 3, as my kids’ default channel during dinner was Disney. It was touching, but still didn’t make me cry the way Inside Out or Coco did. (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to admit that!)

It didn’t take my wife and me long to agree how awesome it would be to actually live in a place like that. If only we could live in that cabin up in Lake Tahoe.

I suppose being on vacation is supposed to make you feel that way, though. It’s a glimpse of what an easier version of life would be like, where you didn’t have to work for a living and just got to take it easy, like modern Country music songs often talk about.

But this is part of the reason my wife and I work so hard, to provide adventures like this for our family to relax and enjoy.

This is some of my highlight reel; not my everyday life. But years from now, I won’t be thinking about all the hard work, I’ll be thinking about the good times like these… the cabin life.

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mazda 3? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California

Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary (Featuring the 2018 Mazda3) by Nick Shell

It’s somewhere between ambitious and foolish to travel from Tennessee to California for a 2 week long trip when you have 2 young kids. But since that’s exactly what we did, my wife and I decided to make the trip our official vacation to celebrate our upcoming 10th wedding anniversary on July 5th.

Going in to it, my wife and I knew it would be a mix of both challenging and rewarding, as parenting itself is in general. So we drove the 40 miles from our home in Spring Hill to the Nashville airport, then took a 5 hour flight to Sacramento, California (which included a layover in Las Vegas), then another 40 mile trip to my mother-in-law’s home in Walnut Grove; which would serve as a our base for the 2 weeks.

From there, we embarked on another 2 and a half hour journey to Truckee; where we rented a cabin (which my next blog post will focus on) just 25 minutes from King’s Beach on Lake Tahoe. Just imagine what all that must have been like with a little girl who, despite being extremely adorable, has officially begun the Terrible Two’s.

Whatever you can imagine that part of it was like… you’re probably right.

But we survived! And not only that, we truly had an amazing time as a family.

One thing that definitely made things easier for us is that we got to a drive a Mazda3 during our first week of the trip. It was the perfect size for our family and our ridiculous amount of luggage we had to take, including a travel bed for our daughter.

Yeah, we lived it up though. My son decided he wanted to go out on a pedal boat on Lake Tahoe, so my wife and I took turns with him on on the water, while our daughter played in the sand.

My wife was born and raised in northern California. As for me, I was born and raised in the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains in Fort Payne, Alabama; but Lake Tahoe reminds me so much of where I grew up.

Lake Tahoe is truly an extension of our family’s identity. It was worth the trip and I am really looking forward to returning next year; especially since my daughter will be a bit more independent.

I’ve still got more to say about our family’s trip to Tahoe, so stay tuned for two more blog posts about that, with more fun pictures…

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mazda 3? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California

3 Cities in Georgia for a Family Vacation

By guest blogger Eathen Smith, brought to you by the Hotel Planner campaign.

As one of the original 13 colonies, Georgia is a state with a rich history. It’s reflected in the cities that are prime spots for a family vacation. While Atlanta, the state capital, usually makes it on any list of best cities in the state, there are other cities in the state with their own beauty and community activities. On that note, here are three cities that deserve a closer look. 

St. Mary’s, Georgia 

St. Mary’s was hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017, but it still has seasonal activities. If you are thinking about visiting St. Mary’s with your family between April and July, consider making a stop to the Harriett Bluff Organic Blueberry Farm. If that doesn’t interest you, your family could take part in kayaking or visit St. Mary’s Aquatic Center. You could also enjoy Express Train rides or go fishing.

Other places in the city show its commitment to preserving its rich history. For example, the city has antebellum architecture and a Peace Garden that commemorates the War of 1812.

If you’re looking for good food in St. Mary’s, there are well over 20 places for you and your family to dine. You’ll find local tastes and flavors inspired by Japan, Thailand, and Mexico. The downtown area alone has three cafes, like the Riverside Cafe.

Senoia

If you would like to take your family on a simple, quaint vacation in Georgia, Senoia is the place. The city is the 4th safest in the state and it is where several movies, like “Fried Green Tomatoes,” were filmed.

When you visit Senoia, make sure to visit the Senoia Welcome Center and Marimac Lake. The fishing policy at the lake is “catch and release.”

While staying in Senoia, you have a least 10 options for good eating. For example, you and your family can enjoy some burgers at Nic & Normans or visit Matt’s Smalltown Pizza.

Alpharetta

Alpharetta is an affluent city that is dedicated to fitness, sports, and recreation, so there is plenty for your family to do there during your stay. Wills Park is open to the public, as is the city’s greenway system along Big Creek. There are numerous trails for biking and jogging. You could visit some golf clubs or go to the shopping district at Avalon. If you’re looking for a place to eat in Alpharetta, you have over 200 options, with flavors from around the world. For example, you could eat at AJ’s Country Cooking, which offers a buffet with Southern favorites, or you could also eat at Aomi Japanese Restaurant.

Before staying in Alpharetta — or any of these fine cities — make sure your find the best deals for hotels in the area. Who says that you can’t vacation in comfort without breaking the bank?

When visiting Georgia, you will find numerous cities that are strikingly beautiful and quaint. That is true of St. Mary’s, Senoia, and Alpharetta. Consider visiting any of these three cities as you plan your next family vacation.

Image via Flickr by RobBixbyPhotography

Dear Jack: Exploring Your Great-Uncle Johnny’s Car Collection During Spring Break

7 years, 5 months.

Dear Jack,

It was just about a month ago that you had a pretty cool Spring Break. On the way back from Ruby Falls in the Mazda CX-5, we actually had to drive right past my Uncle Johnny’s house near Chattanooga; which is also near Rock City, where our family would visit a couple of days later. So I let him know in advance, and he was ready for us when we stopped by.

He has the largest collection of classic cars compared to anyone else I personally know. I figured especially at your age now, getting to see his car collection would really be an awesome thing to do.

You obviously were amazed with each car Uncle Johnny proceeded to show you; which included several class Mustangs.

But I think your favorite of them all was his 1993 Ford 150 pick-up truck.

But our visit didn’t just consist of a car museum collection alone.

Uncle Johnny was thoughtful enough, and brave enough, to insist that you drive us around in his golf utility vehicle. Granted, I sat next to you and overtook the wheel and brake pedal for much of the chaotic drive, which included us missing a tree by a few inches.

That’s why I took you to my Uncle Johnny’s house, though.

I knew it would create a memorable experience for you at this age. I have to believe that years from now, you’ll say to me, “Daddy, was that a dream that time we were at that guy’s house and he had all these cars and trucks and then he even let me drive this little car across a field, to another garage where there was this truck I got to stand in?”

Then I can say, “No, that was real.” Here are the pictures to prove it.

Love,

Daddy