Saturday, July 12, 2008


Good Evening Everyone!
I just want to thank all of you who have been reading the blog.  It turns out there were many more who were checking in than I realized.  I tried to put video and slideshows on this, and was thwarted.  I'll try again, or I will open up an account on another site.
Thanks again,

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July 6th...Coming Home

What a long strange, er, awesome, whirlwindy trip it has been!  This was our final day of vacation, and I thought we were all ready to get home.  Joe had decided a few days earlier that he was ready to get home to see the extended family.  We all were, but seeing my friends staved off that feeling for Lou and me.  Getting to see the Lofton's (their kids) staved off the feelings for my kids.  So oddly, when we got up on Sunday, the kids wanted to do more things and not head home.  Lou and I, though, had the singular goal of getting home.  
Since we had been running late EVEY SINGLE DAY (getting up around 9 or 9:30 and getting to bed after 10 pm every night), we decided to get a late check out.  The kids and I got up for the free breakfast at 9:30 (it was the worst breakfast I had ever had at Homewood Suites).  We then went back to the room and lazed around until 12:45, at which time we frantically threw our stuff together and got out of Dodge.
Lunch was at Braum's.  For those of you on the West Coast, Braum's is a regional dairy that also has a grill and a small market in each store.  They are in Texas, OK, Kansas, the western part of MO, and the extreme eastern part of NM (I think).  The cherry limeades are the best, and the ice cream is top-notch (although the ice cream we had from Toft's in Sandusky, OH, was better).  We finally got on the road at 2pm, and a rendezvous with our good friends the Gubler's was the first priority.  They were driving to Norman, OK, from La Quinta for a robotics tourney (five days in Norman, OK...yipee!) and we had planned to be passing them somewhere between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari, NM.  Well, "the best laid plans of mice and men" as they say.  The rendezvous didn't occur because the Gublers discovered the beauty and mysticism that are Santa Fe and Taos, NM, and were loathe to get back to the interstate.  That's good, though, because it allowed us to keep the speedometer pinned and press on.
We made a stop in Albuquerque for gas, but did not go to UNM because we saw no signs for it on the interstate (Lou didn't want to stop, so that also added into the equation).  
We got dinner in Winslow, AZ at the Long John Silver's/Taco Bell combo.  BIG MISTAKE!!!  What was supposed to be just a quick stop turned into a 25 minute fiasco, with them deleting our order twice.  If we only had gone through the drive thru (but the restrooms were callin').  We got back on the road and made it to Flagstaff for another fill up.  Lou started driving just past Flagstaff and drove until just past Phoenix.  I drove on into the night, needing to pound Mike and Ikes, Skittles, and Hot Tamales to keep my ju-ju going.  When we hit Blythe (the border of CA) I needed to stop at Mickey D's for some Hi-C (no caffeine all trip!).  That, and listening to Eddie Izzard and old school rap on my Ipod, (and of course, God more that all the other things put together) got us into The Valley around 2:40 in the AM.  We finally pulled into the driveway at 2:50AM.  Everyone basically stumbled into bed and slept HARD.
We are very thankful to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for protecting us on our journey.  We are also very thankful to them for allowing us to have jobs that give us enough money to do these trips every year.  We are also thankful to have all of the unique and special experiences on the road with our friends.  And finally, Lou and I are thankful that the kids get along so well with each other and that they still love doing these trips.
I am going to keep blogging on this site about what our family is doing.  I am going to tweak this site a bit and try to put on slideshow and video links.  I am also going to try to put on some advertising links.  Finally, I am going to begin another blog that will be more of a political, fantasy football, whatever blog.  I'll put a link to that so you may click there if you like.
For those of you who read this blog everyday, a few times, or even once, I really thank you.  Everyone who knows me knows I love talking about myself, but this still got tedious and time consuming!  I do hope you have enjoyed  learning of our journey and the places we visited.  If you have any questions about our trip, comments, or would like to pick my brain about trips that you want to take to see if I might have any ideas, please email me or post a comment on this site, and I'll respond.  I'd love to help anyone plan any vacations for themselves or their family.

Monday, July 7, 2008

July 5th, THE BABBITS and Oklahoma

Good Afternoon!
July 5th was another day of walking down memory lane for me.  We got up after a HORRID night sleep in our Cloud-Nine Hampton Inn beds.  The room was freeeezing when we returned from the Loftons, so Lou turned the A/C to vent.  Since Lou is a born and bred native of SoCal, she didn't know that when you just vent a room in humid climes, you are just asking for trouble.  Obviously, the story ends with me waking up in a ball of sweat around 5 in the morning and turning the A/C on.  
The day offered plenty of enjoyment, though, as we met Ron and Judy Babbit for breakfast. 
Ron was the best youth minister I EVER had.  And yes, I've had many (5 churches from 7th-12th grades).  There is another youth minister named  Chris Green that I helped out when I was in college who was a terrific mentor to me. But now I'm off topic...  
So we got to break some bread with Ron and Judy.  They met us at Cracker Barrel in Tulsa.  The food was good, but the time spent with the Babbits was so much more valuable (even though Ron picked up the check!).
Ron has always had a love for the ministry.  He also works well with people from impoverished backgrounds.  He now runs the Contact Church of Christ in the inner city area of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  There is so much that Ron and Judy do with the people that are underprivileged in northeastern OK including providing food, shelter, furniture, and housing to those who are desperate need.  If you want more info please click on their names and you will be taken to the link for their ministry.
Wow!  The love that we got to share with important people from my past was really a blessing for us at the tail end of this vacation.  I am truly thankful to have had those opportunities.
We left Ron and Judy for the mall and the Eskimo Joe's  clothing store and dropped a pretty penny there on some Joe's clothes and other stuff.  We then went to Chickasha and drove around the town where I lived during my 10th grade year.
Some of Chickasha still looked good, but unfortunately, most of the houses in my old neighborhood had fallen into disrepair. This stop was very important because with it, my kids finally got to see all of the houses I had lived in from 4 years old until college (12).  We also got to see my grandparent's old house.  The new owner of the house was outside and started talking to us.  She even apologized to us for not letting us in her house (she was having a big family reunion at the time)!  She let us know that if we came by another time, we could come into the house and take a tour.  That is the Chickasha I had remembered!
My mom's farm was the next item on the list.  We made our way to the tiny town of Alex (pronounced Eh-lek), about 15 miles away from Chickasha.  
The kids finally got to see the farm where my mom grew up.  I have included some of the photos taken on her farm. 
We drove around Alex next. 
 That little town seemed to be in pretty bad shape with a lot of abandonded buildings.  I don't know why I needed to include that, I just did.  
After Alex, we drove through many small towns across Oklahoma.   
We stayed away from the interstate in order to give the real look and feel of Oklahoma to the kids and Lou.  
The drive was lovely and interesting.  It was a really important experience for them.  
We arived in Amarillo about 3 1/2 hours later checked into the Homewood Suites.  I was jonesing for some Taco Bueno, so Lou and I got some and brought it back to the room.  That food was definitely not as good as I'd remembered.  'Nuff said.
We were all ready for a good night's sleep, which we needed because the next day was our final ay on the road...

July 4th...On the Road!

We left the Friendly Confines of Franklin, TN, and headed for Broken Arrow, OK.
Mrs. Stallwood made us breakfast, of course, and we were on our way at 8:22am.  
Our first stop was Memphis, TN, and Neely's Barbeque.  These are the same Neely's (Pat and Gina) who have their own show, "Down Home With the Neely's" on the Food Network.  We visited the Neely's restaurant two years ago because we were not able to get into the "number one rated bbq restaurant in Memphis, Rendezvous Ribs," as it was Monday, and they are closed on Monday.  Anyway, two years ago we "discovered" Neely's.  It is, in our opinion, the BEST BARBEQUE IN THE WORLD!  We have eaten BBQ all over...KC (gross), Nashville (good), California (good), Texas (good), Colorado (okay), even Arizona (okay).  This was definitely the best ever!!!  The first time we visited Neely's, Mr. Neely (Pat) came out of his office as we were leaving and started talking to us about his history in the food biz.  He told us about how Al Roker gave him his first break, how difficult it is to prepare food for a photo shoot like the Today Show, how he got his recipes, and even how much he had just spent on his new A/C unit!  He treated us like he had known us for years.  Very cool.  Needless to say, we became instant fans and loyalists to him and his food.  Really quickly, his restaurant is a small yellow windowless building in Memphis's "historical district," just a stone's throw from the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum.  Also, two years ago, there were only three servers working the floor (now there are eight), and back then we were one of only two white families in the restaurant, while this time there were only two African-American families in the restaurant.  So the show has definitely been a success for their business.
Now back to the food.  We got there at 11:30 am and put on the food bag!  We ordered their barbeque pulled pork nachos, a sampler platter, a full slab or pork ribs for Joe and barbeque spaghetti for Alison.  The food was tremendous!  I think the barbeque pulled pork nachos is still the best thing they serve.  The pitiful thing was that we were not able to even eat half of the food that we bought, so we got the rest to go.  It was great because Alison was finally able to experience this restaurant (two years ago we flew her back to SoCal for church camp).  I know I an repeating myself, but this food was just as good as we had remembered!  No. Doubt. About. It.
We hit the road at 12:10pm and headed west.  Arkansas was quick and painless.  Lou drove  through most of the state and I got a 2 1/2 hour nap.  We switched a little before OK and I drove us into Broken Arrow, OK to shoot fireworks with old friends.
We spent the evening lighting fireworks with Richard and Denise Lofton, and their three kids, Joshua, Ryan, and Danielle. 
The time spent with them was fantastic.  Richard was my best friend when I lived in Stillwater.  He and I hung out together a lot and we played on the same intramural league basketball team.  Richard was also in our wedding.  I really love this guy because we are like two peas in a pod.
 All of the kids really hit it off.  We shot fireworks well into the night (Richard had warned me that Broken Arrow is like a war zone for the 4th of July, and he was right.  He added to the War Zone by buying a ton o' fireworks and letting the kids shoot them off.), had ice cream, and watched the kids play Wii while we talked.  Denise and Richard are great people.  Once again, we were super blessed to spend time with this family.
It was a happy Fourth of July for all.

July 3rd

Good Morning!
July 3rd was a day that we spent in Tennessee with Todd and his mom.  We were originally going to leave Franklin and head to Memphis, then ending up in Broken Arrow, but Mrs. Stallwood and Todd were showing us such a good time, and argued effectively for us to spend another night in Franklin, so we did.  
The day was spent relaxing around the house.  Lou spent the time visiting with Mrs. Stallwood.  I visited with her too, and also tended to the kids when they needed help (but they were doing a great job entertaining themselves with Sudoku and workbooks).   Lou, Alison, and Mrs. Stallwood went to a barbeque and had a little run in with the help.   The gist of the story goes as follows:  They were waiting in line for a while (about five minutes) and Mrs. Stallwood was getting hotter by the minute.  When they pulled up to the window, she began complaining that they were melting in the car (btw, Lou said the Jaguar that they were in was VERY comfortable) and wondered what was taking the lady in front of them so long.  The young man replied, "I don't know ma'am, I think it's retard day."
Mrs. Stallwood replied, "That's what I was thinking.  Or maybe it's just a Tennessee thing!"
Very funny situation!
Anywho, we went to Todd's 
that evening to fish, eat, shoot of fireworks, and watch a video that Todd and I made when we went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin as roadies for Dwight Yoakam (Todd's cousin) in the summer of 1992.
The kids had SUCH A GREAT TIME FISHING!!!  (I was yelling when I wrote that.)  We were using worms and chicken livers as bait.  The kids did all of the baiting themselves.  They each caught two fish (bluegill).  Joe was able to unhook three of them himself.  We threw back all of the fish.  Alison became a true fisherman that evening.  She was so upset because two catfish "at least THIS BIG" nibbled her bait off of the hook without getting hooked.
After dinner, we shot off some fireworks with Todd, then we roasted marshmallows and had s'mores.
The night was great, and we were sad about leaving when 11 pm rolled around, but we had to head back to Mrs. Stallwood's to get our last night's sleep before pressing on.
This time in Tennessee visiting old friends was truly a blessing from God.  Todd was a terrific host!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

July 2nd

Catchy Title, huh?  I'm thinkin' of copyrighting it.  We'll see...
Here we gooooooooo...
July 2nd began with me getting the car's oil changed.  I know this isn't exciting, but I'm just letting you in what a three-week vacation involves.  We took off with Todd to get the local flavor of Franklin.  First, we went to a local diner called, "Dotsuns."  This was a giant spoonful o' the south!  It was a greasy spoon, to say the least.  As we walked in, the old-timers eyed us for a while.  They knew, oh yes, they knew.  
Our waitress was one giant delightful cliche.  She started in on us using the words "honey," "sugar," "sweetie," and "baby" in every sentence.  The service was excellent.  She also told us some of her personal stories throughout dinner.  The food was good.  Very "down home."  Oh, and the kids got their first taste of grits there.  As a matter of fact, when Alison saw the word, "grits," on the menu, she asked me, "Daddy, what's a grit?"  NO LIE!  Just like Joe Pesci in "My Cousin Vinnie."
After breakfast, we went to a historical place called the Carter House.  This was a very interesting and informative stop.  The Battle of Franklin, which took place at the Carter House and Plantation, was the "beginning of the end" for the Confederacy, according to the story there.  The museum in the house was distinctly Southern-slanted, but it did give respect to the North.  The movie was similar in style.  the use of the word, "Yankee," was spoken with great disdain, while the term, "Rebel," was a source of pride.  The movie was good, and accurately portrayed the haughtiness of Confederate General Bragg that led to the downfall of his troops, the western opportunities for the South, and ultimately, the War.  
After that, we walked around the grounds and looked at some of the bullet and mortar holes that were in the walls of the buildings.
Following the Carter House, we drove around the southern side of Nashville.  We visited Belmont University (home of one of the presidential debates this year) 
and it's rival, Lipscomb University (considered a "liberal" Church of Christ school---Anyone heard of Pepperdine???).
Then we toured the mansions and estates in the area. 
Some of those were just astounding.  Really.  Envision the bigger, grander homes in Bel-Aire and Hollywood.  Now put them on pieces of land about one square mile each.  
After that, we went back to Mrs. Stallwood's house and finally met her.  Oh. My. Goodness.  She may very well be the sweetest, most hospitable woman we have ever met.  Plus, she is a firecracker!  Matt, imagine your mom on steroids.  That's her.  From jumpstreet, she acted like she had known all of us for years.  We visited with her for an hour or so, then headed over to Todd's for dinner and disc golf.  
Disc golf was great.  The kids and I played with Todd and had a lot of fun.  
Lou stayed inside and read and visited with his two weimaraners.  After playing nine holes on his property, we started grilling some meat.  
Dinner was good, and we had a great time visiting.

July 1st, or, When we Ventured Below the Mason-Dixon Line

Good Morning,
July 1st, we left Cincy for the greener pastures of Kantuhkee and then the Volunteer State.  Now, we did not realize that Ken Griffey, Jr's home run the previous night would set the stage so well for us, but it did.  It really got the final few days of our vacation started off with a bang.
Once in Kentucky, we went to Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby).  The grandstands were HUGE.  But surprisingly, the horse "park" itself was right in the middle if town.  I figured it was off in the country someplace.  That was a cool piece of Americana to see.  The kids didn't really care, though.  I guess it's time to force the world of playin' the ponies on them...
After the racetrack, we made our way across the street to University of Louisville.  I'll nutshell it for you. 
The campus was, uh, different.  Some pretty buildings and some odd modern buildings.  The grounds, though, were seemingly in disrepair.  It was a bit of a bummer, but an important place to visit.
Next, we visited the Louisville Slugger factory and museum. 
 This was supremely cool and very interesting.  Both kids wanted to visit this place again.  Lou and I really enjoyed it, too.  Alison even got a personalized bat.  Unfortunately, we could not stay long, because we needed to head on down to Nashville and see some old friends of mine.
Finally, we got back on the interstate and headed deeper into the south (Lou was none too happy about our direction).  
Tennessee came quickly, and the rest of the family got a lot of sleep on the way.  We got to Nashville around 4:30 and met up with a good old friend of mine, Dale Addy, and his wife April.  They were a terrific taste of Southern Hospitality.  Unbelievably, though, we did not take any pictures with them!  UGH!!!  Dale and I did a lot of hanging out together for a while in 1990 in Orange County.  His mom and dad were both very important in my life at the time, as I was trying to figure out what direction to go in terms of career.  Dale's mom ran a daycare out of her home, and that was one of the main reasons I decided to change my major to Child Development.  Anyway, April and Dale run their own graphic design firm out of their home.  They are both super-talented.  They are also very successful, and more importantly, they love where they are in life (in every way).  I am super-thankful that we were able to get together for just a few hours.  The Addys took us to a local hole-in-the-wall called "Jacks" on "Honkeytonk Row."  This was right around the corner from the "Old Ryman Theater," which used to be the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
After filling ourselves with some very good barbeque, we walked around this area of downtown and down to Fort Nashborough.  We saw a lot of really interesting and historic things, as well as some interesting newer things, such as where the Tennessee Titans play, where the Nashville Predators play, and where "Nashville Star" is filmed.  
Really quickly about April and Dale...April is from Tennessee.  They have been married for 13 years and have a great dog named CJ.  They work with local businesses, including Belmont University and Nissan, as well as working with international corporations (one in Sweden that makes special wheelchairs).  Very cool, indeed.  They also gave us a Southern Care Package when we arrived that consisted of 12 vanilla and 12 chocolate Moon Pies and 15 Goo Goo Supremes.  Those "delicacies" are made in Tennessee.  They also gave us a CD of R&B music that they worked on.  Very nice.  We had a great time.  BTW, the kids LOVED the desserts.  Thanks DALE...
After rolling ourselves back into our car and rolling out of Downtown Nashville, we headed to Franklin to stay with my friend, Todd Stallwood.  Todd and I lived together for a while in 1991&92 with my parents in Burbank, CA.  He is from Indiana, but is a Southern Boy, through and through.  After leaving SoCal, he moved to Nashville and has been there ever since.  
todd lives in a smaller house on two acres in the country, so his mom was extremely gracious in allowing us to stay at her house.  She lives in a neighborhood that looks like it is a movie set.  Her house was BEAUTIFUL and very large.  Lou described the house as, "picure-perfect.  It looks like todd rented a model home for us to stay in for a few days."  Mrs. Stallwood also made Lou and me stay in her master bedroom.  Her hospitality definitely is beyond words.  
We visited with Todd for a few hours and fell asleep.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What Happened???

Hey All Three of You Who Read This...
We have been out of commission for the past four days, but boy, have we done a bunch o' stuff! This post is about July 1st.
July 1st was Tuesday.  Most of this day was spent just resting in Mayberry.  We didn't much, just watched TV, did sudoku, read, and blogged a little.  Lou got a lot of rest, which was good.  That afternoon, we visited two universities: Xavier and the University of Cincinnati.  
They were both in parts of town that were a bit undesirable.  However, we wanted to see Xavier.  This is a small Catholic university.  The campus was nice, abd the buildings looked a little bit like a castle.  That was cool.
The University of Cincinnati had some beautiful buildings on it.  We were surprised because we entered the campus from a side that was not picturesque.  After leaving U of C, we headed to the Cincinnati Reds game following the directions of the young man at the campus bookstore.  Well, those directions were not the best.  We ended driving through skid row of Cincy.  It was oppressive.  The area was the worst place we had driven though since we drove through the projects on the south side of Chicago two years ago.  Anyway, we made it to the game safely, with a pit in my stomach from the drive (felt a lot of guilt).
The game was good until the ninth inning. 
The Reds were down three to two.  Griffey wasn't playing that night.  The manager put Griffey in to play right field.  He would be due up second in the bottom of the ninth.  You can see what is coming, I'm sure.  The reds held the Pirates to no runs in the top of the ninth.  Then in the bottom of the ninth, the first batter came up and hit a double.  Griffey came up, and promptly hit a two run homer.  The place went nuts, and I got a photo of the hit.  If you look carefully, you can see the ball.  It is near the third base foul line.


Monday, June 30, 2008

King's Island

Hey from Cincy!
Yesterday we spent the day at King's Island.  It is a very pretty amusement park, which the kids and I rated second only to the Disney Parks. Lou agreed that it was prettier than the non-Disney parks also.  The kids and I rode plenty of rides.  As a matter of fact, I have really started questioning my "love" of roller coasters.  But, duty calls, and i must support the kids by riding with them.  
The first ride we went on was called the "Backlot Stunt Coaster."  This was totally a cross between a Disney and a Universal Studios ride.  It was a smaller ride with a LIM launch, and it combined elements such as gunfire, explosions, and props very close to the track.  It was great, and a nice combination of fun and exciting (a far cry from Cedar Point).  The kids rated this ride a five out of five. 
Then we went on the "The Beast."  This ride has the distinction of being the world's longest wooden roller coaster.  It was a fun ride, and fairly smooth until the 540 degree helix at the end.  That was also the fastest portion of the ride.  I had been hearing of this ride for over 20 years from friends.  I'm glad we went on it.  The kids rated it a 4 1/2 out of five.
After The Beast, we ventured into the "Vortex."  This coaster is very similar to Magic Mountain's Viper, except this one goes upside down six times instead of seven.  It was good, but a bit rough.  The kids rated it a three (joe wanted to give it a 1).
Next we went on "Flight of Fear."  This was another ride that was a "Disney- light" experience.  The premise was that a UFO had been discovered, and we were trying out the smaller flight vehicles from the space ship.  The whole ride was indoors in the dark (think Rock-N-Roller Coaster).   With the 4 inversions, we were all giggly when we same Lou at the exit.  the kids rated it a 4 1/2.
The Sponge Bob 3D movie was the next ride on the docket.  We wanted to do something with Lou.  What made this movie different was that everyone in the audience sat in motion simulator seats.  I believe these seat were designed by the Iwerks corp.  Sponge Bob was hilarious.  The 3D effects were okay, and the motion effects were very good.  Everyone enjoyed this ride.
Lou and I sat out the next ride, "The Racer."  The kids HATED this ride.  They said it was waaaaaayyyyyyy to bumpy.
An All-You-Can-Stomach buffet was next on the menu.  It was a special (only $40 for all of us) so we jumped at the chance.  The food was okay.  Some better than others.  No one got sick from it, so I would rate it, "A Okay."
After lunch, the chilluns rode Danny Phantom, then Avatar.  They loved both.  This section of the park was the best kids area I had even seen.  
"Invertigo" had been calling the kids' names all day.  This was an inverted face=to-face coaster which went upside down three times, then did it all again in reverse.  TREMENDOUS!!!  One of the best rides I had ever been on.  It rated a five plus from the kids.
Of course, everyone except Lou had been eyeing "Son of Beast" all day.  This is the world's tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world.  It used to have loop (that's right) until there was some accident involving the loop last year.  The Loop was the only reason I wanted to experience it, but the kids still wanted to do it, so I had to, also.
Man, this ride was SHAKY!!!!!!  I rode next to Joe (and had to hold onto him) and behind Alison (she made me hold onto her for the first drop).  I'm sure this would have ben rough enough had I bed able to hold on for myself.  However, I had to hold both of the kids and wasn't able to brace myself.  IT WAS ROUGH!
The Water Park was up next.  Lou stayed in the car and the kids and I went for some water fun.  I sat out everything.  The water park offered the standard fare, except for a pipeline simulator.  When the kids found this, they parked themselves on it.   Joe did really well on it.  Alison, not so much, but she kept trying.  It was a blast to watch them on it.
finally we went back into the regular park and rode on a river rafting ride.  Blah.  We got wet. Blah.
For dinner, we ate at Steak'nShake.  It was okay (the shakes were tasty).  The portions were smaller than Lou had anticipated.  But hey, this was some local fare, so we had to try it.
Most of the links weren't working, so I'll fix them tomorrow.