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

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3 Experiences to Share With Your Kids in Syracuse 

By guest blogger Eathen Smith, as part of the sponsored Hotel Planner campaign.

Syracuse is a well-known family-friendly destination located in Upstate New York. The accessibility of the city is perfect for families with young kids seeking conveniently located hotels near attractions and places to visit. Syracuse has a diverse cultural mix, and families describe the mix of people and general atmosphere as warm and welcoming.

Green spaces and historic architecture complement the people. Children can experience wonder, creativity, learning, and just plain fun in a hassle-free and convenient environment. Experience a taste of what Syracuse has to offer by choosing some family-friendly ways to see the city.

Something Unique for Everyone at Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Children have many opportunities to be connected to the wildlife and educational experiences offered by the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. Elephants, penguins, tigers, and all kinds of marine life will delight kids of all ages. The zoo offers birthday parties with catering, crafts, games, and admission all included.

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo also features many upcoming events such as Under the Sea Day. Ocean themed games and fun activities like a bouncing castle are all part of the fun. Conservation themed events are also held regularly during the year. Members are also offered a number of free or discounted events.

Family Friendly Festival and Events.

There are also many different festivals and events to put on the kid’s to-do list during the calendar year. Syracuse is named the City of Festivals for good reason. Family-friendly events such and the Great New York State Fair include rides, music, livestock competitions, and animals for all ages. The festival runs from the second last week of August through to early September. There are also Greek, Italian, Irish, and Scottish Festivals held yearly. A range of different kid-friendly activities and delicious foods for the whole family can be found at all the festivals mentioned.

Walking With Kid Convenience

Sensational Syracuse is responsible for the maintenance of over 1000 acres of open space including parks, swimming pools, and, ice rinks. For visitors on a tight schedule or budget, it is highly recommended to check out some of the convenient walking tours offered throughout the city.

The Onondaga Historical Association offers a map of the Syracuse Historic Walking Tour. Over 70 historical attractions are shown on the map and tours can be started or finished at any point. This is perfect for just choosing a few sights that are of interest to the children. There are plenty of hotels in Syracuse located in close proximity to the tour. Public transport or a taxi can do the rest.

Why choose Syracuse? It is easy, fun and perfect for all ages. Hotels are plentiful and can be found for every budget making it a convenient destination. It has the perfect mix of free and paid events sure to pique the interest of children of all ages. Festivals, attractions, history, green space, architecture, education, and lots of fun are all a possibility in Syracuse. 

Image via Flickr by vastateparkstaff

When As Parents, You Decide to Keep Driving for 2 More Hours After Your Kid Makes a Poopy Diaper in the Back Seat

We were an hour into a 3 hour trek back to our home in Tennessee when my wife and I noticed the smell: Our 2 year-old daughter, who had finally just fallen asleep after desperately needing to, had also just “dropped a load” in her diaper.

My wife and I barely had a verbal discussion about our immediate, yet difficult, decision:

We were not going to pull over the car and wake her up to change her diaper. Instead, we were going to drive 2 more hours while having to experience a permeating barnyard odor.

In life, it’s important to choose your battles.

And as somewhat seasoned parents, as we also have a 7 year-old son who also had to be trapped in the car with us, we decided the battle of losing time on our trip back home and having to deal with getting an extremely tired little girl back to sleep just wasn’t worth it.

For two hours, we only breathed through our mouths; yet still our eyes watered.

It wasn’t worth even attempting conversation. Normally, my wife and I would appreciate being able to have a normal conversation without being interrupted by our kids.

Yeah, not worth it this time.

It was just about powering through.

We tried rolling the windows down a little bit, but then we were in danger of the noise waking our daughter up.

To make it up to our son who was sitting next to his sister, we bargained with him: If you don’t complain about the smell, you can keep playing DinoCraft on the Kindle.

Since he is accustomed to not being able to play his game for more than an hour each day, he took the deal.

We survived. We made it home. It was brutal.

But we are family. We do what it takes to move forward together.

Poopy diapers and all.

My Road Trip with My Son to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

Despite me being a work-from-home dad, I am aware that it can still be a struggle to spend quality one-on-one time with my son; as I’m constantly also taking care of my nearly 2 year-old daughter when my son is around.

So I figured while I had access to the 2018 Mazda CX-5 for the week, I would devote an entire day of his Spring Break to just the two of us: father and son.

So we drove from one side of Lookout Mountain (Fort Payne, Alabama) to the other (Chattanooga, Tennessee) to go discover Ruby Falls; the tallest underground waterfall in America.

Despite growing up only an hour away from Ruby Falls, I had actually never been there myself. So it was a completely new experience for my son, as a 7 year-old; and for me, as a nearly 37 year-old.

I must say, Ruby Falls was so much more than I expected. I thought it was as simple as just getting into an elevator and immediately seeing a waterfall.

Instead, I’d say it’s more of an adventurous excursion.

The best way I can explain it is like this:

We rode an elevator many stories underground, inside of a mountain. That seems weird to say, but yes; Ruby Falls is in a mountain, underground.

One of the things I have documented quite well here on my blog over the years is how much my son and I love to go exploring on hikes.

So naturally, the long mysterious journey deep into the caverns was right up our alley.

Along the way, there were so many hidden treasures, beyond the actual waterfall at the midway point of the route.

I made this quick promo video for Ruby Falls, which provides a “one minute tour”, and includes a new original theme song I wrote for the attraction. You will love it:

Fortunately, thanks to the amazing and colorful lighting all along the way, I was able to take plenty of really cool pictures. I am grateful for this, as I’ve been taking pictures inside caves for a few decades now, and this is the first time the pictures actually look awesome!

In fact, it’s a guided tour; in groups of 50. The tour guides are well-versed on every little (and humongous) landmark leading up to Ruby Falls itself…

Once each group arrives in the room where Ruby Falls is, there’s a lights show to making the waterfall come to life even more. Needless to say, my son was in awe of this natural wonder in a mountain, underground.

But I suppose no tourist attraction would be complete without a proper visit to the gift shop, where my son was very proud of the items he purchased.

And there was one more surprise after we left the gift shop: We got to go on top of the roof and take a look over Chattanooga. My son thought that was really cool too.

So, mission accomplished! I wanted a special day with my son so we could spend quality time together, in a way that compliments our identity. Ruby Falls was the right choice!

And if this all sounds like fun to you, I have a feeling it will be if you take your family to Ruby Falls too!

My Family’s Road Trip to Rock City in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

Last week for Spring Break, we were presented with a 2018 Mazda CX-5 to enjoy for the week. One of the things we decided to do with it was to take a little family road trip over the mountains and through the woods to Rock City in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In case you’ve ever driven anywhere in the Southeast, you’ll know that when it comes to winning the award for “Seemingly Omnipresent Billboard Signs”, the only competition to Rock City, is Alexander Shunnarah.

In other words, Rock City billboards, with their famous red birdhouses and “See Rock City” slogan, are a familiar concept; even for people who have never actually been to Rock City.

I grew up just an hour away in Fort Payne, Alabama, on the other side of Lookout Mountain; so I had been there a time or two as a child. Back in 2007 when my wife and I were dating (we’ve been married a decade as of this July), I took her there on a date. But this marked for the first time that we’ve taken either of our children to Rock City.

It was a family adventure for sure!

And now for anyone reading this today who has never been, I will provide some glimpses of what it’s like for a fun family like mine (and yours too, of course!) to see Rock City.

I even took it upon myself to write an original theme song and produce a 1 minute walk-through video promo for Rock City, as well. Here it is:

One of the things Rock City is known for is its Swing-A-Long Bridge, which when I was my son’s age 30 years ago, sort of terrified me. Not my son, though.

He just strolled along like it was nothing; just casually looking down (way) below.

The bridge leads up to the main look-out point, where you can find another famous attraction at Rock City: The “See Seven States” Stone; where you can… you guessed it: See seven states!

Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Our family just happened to visit Rock City on the day before Easter, so we lucked out and my kids got to meet the Easter Bunny. I think my daughter might have been afraid of a giant rabbit under normal conditions, but her big brother had his arm around her and that made everything okay.

I felt that our kids were the perfect ages to visit Rock City. Our son is 7, and loved leading our family through all the winding trails of towering rock walls.

Our daughter turns 2 in a few weeks and was mesmerized by what surely seemed to her as a magical enchanted land.

Not to mention, it’s fun for the parents too. I loved being outside, breathing in fresh air and being able to move along such beautiful natural scenery, now that winter is over.

So if you’re planning on driving through Tennessee anytime this year, it would be a shame not to swing by Rock City and take the family on a quaint adventure hidden up at the edge of Lookout Mountain.

And as you’ve already noticed, Rock City is basically a constant tour of photo ops. I know that normally, we don’t take near enough photos of our family of four.

But on our visit to Rock City, we couldn’t help but keep taking family selfies and asking fellow visitors to take our picture. Of course, they were happy to help, as I instantly returned the favor each time.

Before our adventure could come to an end, though, we had to stop by the gift shop. My son had been wanting a bald eagle stuffed animal for quite a while now, and he was so proud to find the perfect one.

My daughter instantly spotted a singing bird stuffed animal and immediately grabbed it and held it tightly as to say to us parents: “This is what I’m getting.”

She was right.

From there, I punched in “Whole Foods” on the GPS in the Mazda CX-5 and we made our way down the mountain for lunch. My grandmother met us there and she got to hear all about our adventure.

And as for the way back to the house, neither of our kids lasted 15 minutes before they were fast asleep.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of Rock City today. If you’re considering taking your family there, I highly recommend it!

A “Work Date”with My Wife at ENAR 2018 in Atlanta (Featuring the 2018 Mazda CX-5)

Last week during Spring Break, our family opted not to go somewhere slightly exotic, like Destin, Florida; as usual. Instead, I dropped my wife off at the Nashville International Airport for her flight to Atlanta, then I drove our kids to my parents’ house, in Fort Payne, Alabama; where I grew up.

My wife went to work immediately, as she was there to help represent Vanderbilt University’s Biostatistics Graduate Program in at the ENAR 2018 Spring Meeting. (In case you happen to be out of the loop, ENAR stands for Eastern North American Region of International Biometric Society.)

I spent the first day of Spring Break at Ruby Falls with our son (more on that in the near future, so stay tuned…). But the very next morning, I left early for Atlanta; in the 2018 Mazda CX-5.

This SUV was the perfect size for my 3 hour scenic drive down Lookout Mountain into the Rome, Georgia; and eventually Atlanta. I appreciated not only the great gas mileage it got (25 city, 31 highway), but also how well it handled all those sneaky curves on my route.

As a stay-at-home dad who works from home as a Social Media Specialist and Influencer, I haven’t commuted to an office since last October. So I do admit, it was nice being able go back and forth between The Beatles and Tom Petty for a few hours. There’s a part of me that misses that 2 hour round trip everyday to work, where I could sort of just think about my life as I listened to good music.

Thanks to the trusty GPS, I had arrived at lunch time at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. My wife met me right away at front doors, where I introduced her to our new ride for the week, and from there we drove just about 5 miles away to our favorite vegan restaurant in Atlanta: Cafe Sunflower in Buckhead.

Our lunch every bit as magnificent as we expected; so much so, that we went back again the next day for lunch! Though my wife is an amazing plant-based chef, I love being able to take her somewhere nice where she not only doesn’t have to cook, but a place that is also as committed to our lifestyle as we are. (My wife has been a vegetarian and I have been a vegan, for well over 5 years now.)

Afterwards, we headed back to ENAR 2018, where I took photographs of Vanderbilt’s booth; as I will be writing an article for Vanderbilt’s website to promote their presence at the event. I was proud to see my video series on display on the monitor, as one of my many roles working as a freelance Social Media Specialist is to create promotional videos for companies.

Over the course the past few weeks, I had interviewed several current students and professors from Vanderbilt’s Biostastics Graduate Program, then made a series of short promo videos. Not only were these playing on a loop during the whole event, but I will eventually upload them to a YouTube channel that I will be creating and managing for the department.

I also also very proud to see my wife there in her role, as well; serving as a beautiful model and spokesperson for prospective students. More importantly though, she had helped coordinate the booth for the department, including all the logistics in getting it there, along with other Vanderbilt employees.

After a hard day’s work, we took advantage of a special attraction there at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta: They have a restaurant called Polaris, on top of the hotel. You have to take a special, exclusive, elevator there. And the over the course of an hour, the entire restaurant spins; so you get to see a 360 degree view of Atlanta. We will definitely go there again!

The next day after ENAR came to an end, we headed back to Cafe Sunflower for lunch again, then took a different route back to my parents’ house in Alabama. Our adventures were far from over, as we would be taking a family trip to Rock City the next morning.

I was very grateful to be able to have a “work date” with my wife. Sometimes, or maybe I should say usually, it requires some creativity in being able to plan fun dates when both parents work and have young children.

Perhaps at some point, our lives will be a little less crazy. As for now, we are truly making the most of what we have!

To check out the entire trilogy of blog posts about the cool trips my family took in the 2018 Mazda CX-5, just click the related link below:

A “Work Date”with My Wife at ENAR 2018 in Atlanta (Featuring the 2018 Mazda CX-5)

My Family’s Road Trip to Rock City in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

My Road Trip with My Son to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

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)