Jeep Family Road Trip Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, AL: Train Ride, Petting Zoo, and Nature Hike

I grew up on Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne, Alabama; which happens to be the midway point between Chattanooga and Gadsden- less than an hour from both cities.

A month ago, my wife and I took a scenic drive all the way down the mountain to downtown Chattanooga. But this past weekend for our son’s Fall Break, we simply drove in the other direction, which led to Gadsden -home of Noccalula Falls.

Despite visiting the place throughout my own childhood, somehow I had yet to take my own family there. I suppose our new Jeep serves as constant motivation to discover (or rediscover) nearby hidden gems!

Children ages 3 and under are free admission, so we only paid a total of $16 to enter the park. That granted us access to the petting zoo, the train ride around the park, and the trails that go down to the bottom of Noccalula Falls.

It was a great way to spend an Autumn morning…

So if you are looking for a fun affordable family road trip, I highly suggest Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama!

Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

5 years.

Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

Dear Jack,

Last weekend we met up with one of Mommy’s seven brothers and his family in Bryson City, North Carolina; where we boarded the Polar Express (from the the movie and book of the same title).

Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

We turned in our golden tickets to get on the train and were shortly after given hot chocolate, before riding past Santa’s house and toy shop in the North Pole.

My personal favorite part was when Santa entered our train car, and out of your pocket you pulled some catalog clippings of items on your wish list, from the store Brilliant Sky.

I had no idea you had schemed this!

Forget the traditional wish list… you were all prepared with a full color ad of exactly what you wanted. You were ready and waiting for that exact moment and opportunity.

(Santa was actually unaware that one of those items was on your list, so it looks like Christmas shopping isn’t quite complete yet.

Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

Every Christmas until now, your visit to Santa has been at the Bass Pro Shop in Nashville; during which you’ve been slightly intimidated to talk to him.

Not this time. You were all business.

Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

Santa immediately tucked the catalog clippings into his pocket and reminded you, “Now be a good boy for me.”

You matter-of-factly agreed and then Santa was on his way to the kid in the sit next to you.

Despite the natural shakiness of the train, one of my pictures that turned out the best was the one of you with Santa.

Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

Not only was this an amazing experience because you got to meet Santa this year, but also because it took place on a train.

What 5 year-old little boy doesn’t have an appreciation and/or fascination for trains?

You’ve already asked when we can ride the Polar Express again.



Dear Jack: Our Ride on the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

Dear Jack: Webisode 20 of Jack-Man- “The Ole Switcheroo”

4 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack,

Dear Jack: Webisode 20 of Jack-Man- “The Ole Switcheroo”

Last weekend Nonna and Papa visited us, as I finally was able to take Mommy to the Lady Antebellum/Hunter Hayes concert that I had bought tickets for on her birthday a month ago.

It wasn’t on my mind at all, but you asked me if we could do a new Jack-Man episode while Papa was in town.

So we did.

For months now, you and I have been scheming a Jack-Man plot in which you and I would swap roles:

You would become “Baby Green Meanie” and I would “Grown Up Jack-Man.”

Dear Jack: Webisode 20 of Jack-Man- “The Ole Switcheroo”

I had been revising the script this whole time. Webisode 20, though it may not appear this way, it was actually one of the most complicated to webisodes we’ve ever filmed.

Perhaps that’s because we had to film it out of order to avoid so many costume changes.

But in the end, I’m very pleased with how it turned out and we had a lot of fun together making the project.

Webisode 20 premieres the concept of having background music during the monologues, instead of just the action and transition screens.

Here it is:

I’ve never mentioned this to you before, but back in college, I recorded 3 demo CDs. Since then, I’ve taken the musical breaks from those tracks to serve as the background music for my videos.

Speaking of music, “The Ole Switcheroo” features this new original song:

Panic Attack!

P-p-p-panic attack! P-p-p-panic attack!

I’m gonna give you a panic attack!

Have your chill pills ready

Keep your position steady

You’re running out of time

Running out of time

You’re getting tunnel vision

Here comes the big collision

Adrenaline freely flows

Freely flows

(note goes up, slower)

P-p-p-panic attack! P-p-p-panic attack!

I’m gonna give you…

You’re getting quite sleepy, so tired, light-headed

And coming up next, it looks like we may be buying a “new” old car…



Dear Jack: Webisode 20 of Jack-Man- “The Ole Switcheroo”

I Think I Can, I Think I Can…Ride The Zoo Train

October 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm , by 

2 years, 11 months.

Dear Jack,

As we anticipated our 2nd trip to the Louisville Zoo, I had been trying to hype up the train ride they have, since we didn’t get a chance to ride it last time.

Your response:

“No, I don’t want to ride that train.”

I didn’t believe you. I figured maybe you just didn’t know for sure what I was talking about.

After all, how could a little boy who is obsessed with Chugginton and Thomas & Friends not want to actually ride a little train around the zoo?

But Z-Day came and you held true to your word: You still didn’t want to ride it, adding, “I scared!”

However, you weren’t given a choice. There we were in line for the train ride with my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, and your girl cousin who is 7 months younger than you.

You were getting on that train. Whether or not you would allow yourself to enjoy it, that was the part I didn’t know.

For the first minute or so of the ride, you buried your head in Mommy’s shoulder.

Then you heard all the fun happening around and you just couldn’t pretend not to be there anymore. It was nearly immediately that you began screaming with excitement.

We blasted through a series of tunnels, which from what I can remember, sort of looked like the rainbow graffiti-looking artwork on the Coldplay album, Mylo Xyloto.

With the zoo being decorated in a Fall/Halloween theme, there were plenty of other interesting things to distract you from the fact that just minutes before you were somewhat terrified.

I remember we saw some giant spiders and goofy monsters.

You loved the train ride.

It was a challenge for you, though. It placed you out of your comfort zone.

I’m not fully convinced you won’t be afraid to ride the next zoo train you encounter, but at least now I know that you enjoyed the ride in the end.

Thanks for being a brave little toaster. I mean, the little engine that could.





P.S. To see more pictures of our family road trip, go to The Dadabase’s Facebook page and click on the picture folder, Louisville AdVANture Road Trip October 2013.

Silly Parents, Thomas The Train Rides Are For Kids!

September 9, 2012 at 11:10 am , by 

21 months.

Yesterday we took our toddler son Jack to the Day Out With Thomas the Train 2012 Mystery On The Rails Tour. As the parents, we had these (unrealistic) expectations of what it would be like:

Each train car would be an actual character from the TV show and we would travel through the best scenery of our city.

Instead, we boarded a normal, regular-looking 1950’s train car and traveled 12 minutes forward at about 15 miles per hour, then backtracked in reverse to where we started from.

The scenery included a parking lot of school buses, a dumping zone, and the graffiti underneath the main bridge.

And that’s if you were sitting on the right side of the train; if you were sitting on the left aisle, you got to see a brick wall for most of the ride.

It cost a total of about 43 bucks for our family of 3 to take this excursion. Granted, there were other Thomas the Train themed activities after the ride ended; like getting free temporary tattoos, visiting a miniature petting zoo, and story time.

However, the rain put a bit of a damper on most of that for us.

So maybe our expectations as parents weren’t exactly met. But when I looked over at Jack, he was totally enthralled by all the excitement.

His face was pressed against the glass of the window most of the time. He never cried nor got antsy. And for a toddler boy, that’s saying a lot!

Not all parents were as lucky as we were.

I saw plenty of fellow dads doing their best to contain their crying sons who couldn’t sit still for the event, or whose sons were even afraid to enter the train at all.

But our child was happy. As his parents, we were just along for the ride. Honestly, isn’t that a good way to sum up parenthood?

Adventures in Thailand: Monk Footprints and Bed Bugs

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  The Thai version.

After recently revisiting some memories from the summer of 2004 in Thailand, I must have tapped in to some sort of parallel between my life now and my life at age 24, because there is some therapeutic and natural about replaying those stories out loud (or by typing them out and reading them).

It all started a few days ago when my friend and former  college roommate Josh Taylor sent me a text message asking what the best phone number to reach me was.  A few texts later, I was jogging his memory (and mine) with a reference to “monk footprints”…

During our week long vacation from teaching at Bangkok’s Global English School (all schools had a mandatory closing for a week due to the International AIDS Conference being held in Bangkok that year), Josh and I decided to take an excursion to Chiang Mai and Koh Samui by overnight train, motorcycle, and plain.

In our overnight train ride to Chiang Mai (Thailand’s 2nd largest city) up in the North, our seats converted into beds for the night.  Right across isle from us on the train was a middle-aged Buddhist monk, dressed in his drab orange robe, marked with animal tattoos all over his head (to fend off evil spirits).   Despite the loud bangs and rumbles off the tracks throughout the 12 hour ride, the monk’s constant religious chants were a bit distracting (and kinda creepy).

But when in Thailand, you learn just to go with it.

As nighttime approached, the train attendants came through the isles to transform our seats into beds.  The monk headed to the restroom.  When he returned, he used Josh’s bunk bed (which was on the bottom) as a stepping stone to get up on his top bunk.  He wore no shoes.  His bare feet, which were caked with dirt, left “monk footprints” on Josh’s white bed sheets.  Moist, mud-infused footprints.

Therefore, the phrase “monk footprints” will always be a legendary term between Josh and I.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai early the next morning, we rented “motorcycles” (a loose term in Thailand, as it basically often means a glorified moped) by paying $4 a day and handing over our American driver’s licenses as a security deposit (which does seem a bit risky; turns out, a few weeks later I spent two weeks in South Korea with my sister and my passport was stolen).  After a day of exploring (and getting a little lost) the city, getting curious about what the Chiang Dao Cave was as well as what the “live monkey shows” were all about.

Because the school in Bangkok we were teaching at is a Christian school, we were able to have it arranged that we could sleep in a church in Chiang Mai for free.  Can’t argue with a free shower and bed for a few nights.  Of course, the shower water was ice cold (which isn’t a horrible thing in a country with a climate similar to Miami).  And as for the sleeping arrangements: two plastic sleeping bags on a cold, slick cement floor on the second floor in a building with no air conditioning and a garage door as the main entrance.

The best part though, was the fact it was impossible to stay asleep for more than twenty minutes at a time.  Not because of the heat alone, but because of the tiny little biting ants from whom we evidently were invading their space.

And yet I count all of these as fond memories.  Backpacking through Thailand for me was a rite of passage.  An adventure that will always be part of me.  Maybe one day when I become a rich, successful author with a book on the New York Times Best Seller List, I can manage to find the money and time off to go back.

Until then, Thailand remains a magical, mysterious place that sometimes I think of as a dream world in a parallel universe that only exists in my mind.

A billboard we saw at a bus stop there- a Thai clothing company switched the "A" and "E" of Abercrombie to make their "own brand" of clothing.

Josh having a random Thai meal on the train before his seat was converted into his bed.

Josh having a random Thai meal on the train before his seat was converted into his bed.

Me playing a song at the Thai church we camped out at.