Saturday, November 11, 2023

Fall Bound Vacations – Ark Encounters and Cincinnati Parks

(Overlooking Cincinnati, the family and I posed for a picture atop the roof of Rhinegeist Brewery.) 

Typically, Lisa and I take Jace and Annabelle to a football game in South Carolina on a short vacation over a long weekend in the fall. Over my fall break this season, we desired to take a family trip centered on time together, some fun activities outside, and going to museums. Like many sports enthusiasts, I enjoy attending a good Saturday college football game. However, on some weekends, I try to focus on events where I can spend more time with my family instead of watching sports. For instance, taking Jace (a 1-year-old) and Annabelle (a 3-year-old) to a college football game is not necessarily a wise choice. When each child was a baby, we could take them to any type of event, including sports and concerts. When Jace and Annabelle grew up into active walkers, their mobility became a whole new ballgame!  

With these thoughts in mind, we ventured from our hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee to Cincinnati, Ohio, during the first weekend in October. I recently heard positive feedback from a friend about northern Kentucky and the city of Cincinnati, including the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. The Ohio River serves as the state line that separates these regional areas in Ohio and Kentucky. So, we rented a house in Covington, Kentucky, a town located just across the bridge from downtown Cincinnati. In past years, Lisa and I usually took a short trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary in October. While this trip was meant to serve mainly as a family vacation, we set aside moments to commemorate and remember our marriage. Anniversaries remind us to be grateful for one another in the adventures that we share together.  

In northern Kentucky near Cincinnati, the towns of Ludlow, Covington, and Newport have their own places of interest and tourist sites. If we had only stayed on this side of the Ohio River (across the skyline of Cincinnati), we would have been plenty busy with the hidden treasures that northern Kentucky bestows upon its many visitors.

We arrived in Covington from Knoxville at approximately 7:30 p.m. ET. After a long day of traveling, at the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we ate at the Fort Mitchell Public House. The building that Fort Mitchell Public House resides in possesses a long local history. It was initially built in the early 1900s as a private residence. In the 1940s, it was converted into a restaurant called The Hearthstone. The Hearthstone was a popular spot for many years, but it eventually closed in the 1980s.

The building sat vacant for approximately two decades until Mike Hang purchased it. To restore the building as an original public house from the early 1900s, he renovated the building and opened Fort Mitchell in November 2015. A large outdoor patio with comfortable seating surrounded a courtyard, especially for families with energetic children after a four-and-a-half-hour car ride. As an appetizer, we ordered the loaded Saratoga chips, a wholesome dish of handmade potato chips with made-from-scratch BBQ sauce, queso, tomatoes, and green onions. I honestly thought Annabelle would eat the chips with whole mouthfuls. Instead, she was captivated by the outdoor environment of streetlamps and other patrons in their best Sunday dress clothes. I ordered the fish tacos made with blackened whitefish, flour tortillas, corn salsa, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and sour cream. Lisa ordered the spicy black bean burger on a gluten-free bun with fries. The burgers were made daily by the head chef with black beans, corn, brown rice, chili, fresh corn salsa, and pickles. We ate food at some unique, established landmarks; however, Lisa and I agreed that this restaurant was our favorite place to eat during our five-day vacation.

After a quick trip to the grocery store, we finally reached our Airbnb rental house. The neighborhood where the historic home resided was quaint, with quiet streets and one-family homes surrounded by large oak trees. The home had three bedrooms, a spacious kitchen, and a large den for the kids to play with their toys. Jace is obsessed with dirt, hence why he is often filthy from playing outside these days. This house had several soiled plants with pots inside the house. So, I baby-proofed the house to keep Jace from playing in the dirt of each pot and throwing it across rooms like marbles. It can definitely make a huge mess when playing with the soil inside. For reasons unknown to young parents, the dream of a one-year-old boy is to make messes for Mom and Dad to constantly clean up.

On Saturday, we got an early start to visit the Ark Encounter, the modern-day museum that displays Noah's ark in a life-size replica of the boat. Before going inside the ship, the kids rode a carousel. The landscape of the grounds surrounding the ark was amazing. It reminded me of the picturesque blossoms and flowers at Disney World or Dollywood. While the ark itself was the main attraction, the Ark Encounter resembled a theme park with a zoo. The ark paralleled a long, enormous barge at sea. It was huge!   

In addition to the ground level, the ark encompassed three floors. There were spaces where Noah’s family lived, and the animals were stored in baskets, cages, and other containers. The boat was built to the exact specifications of the Bible, and the nautical operations of the boat were also thoroughly explained. It seemed like there were millions of available details and information tidbits in the museum. So, one day alone does not suffice to fully appreciate the craftsmanship and history of the ark, even if exploring the ship for five to six hours. Annabelle and Jace lasted about four hours, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. Annabelle wanted to stop and stare at every scene, statue, and fake animal in the museum. The exhibits included information about Noah’s life, a blacksmith shop, animal care, the animal species carried in the boat, dinosaurs, and educational films in multiple theaters. The ark's size and the volume of included knowledge about this historical event were overwhelming, to say the least.

While skipping our usual lunch time, our ark museum adventure made us hungry. We ventured to a southwestern-themed outdoor restaurant. It was a cooler day without extreme heat because of the fall weather. I had chicken tacos, despite just having fish tacos the previous evening at the Fort Mitchell Public House. Lisa ordered a burrito bowl with rice, black beans, cheese, vegetables, and chicken. Annabelle and Jace also ate tacos. There were plenty of places to get food in the park, especially since our visit turned into a full-day excursion. Annabelle loves animals. So, we visited the zoo before leaving the grounds. The zoo had several types of animals, including birds, lemurs, reptiles, kangaroos, a petting zoo, and several other creatures.

For a simple yet tasty dinner, we ate at Chick-fil-A before returning to the Airbnb. While we do not eat at Chick-fil-A often, our kids really like their food. We quickly gave the kids baths and put them to bed after the long day of festivities.

On Sunday, I really wanted to venture into downtown Cincinnati, so we could take in some of the local sites on the other side of the state line between northern Kentucky and Ohio. We rested in the early morning and left our Airbnb around lunchtime to eat at The Findley Market, which resembled The Quincy Market in Boston, Massachusetts. Like the structure of an open-air narrow warehouse, Findley contained a food marketplace with cuisine vendors from all over the world. Chefs made these meals fresh on the spot for those looking for an affordable meal with a delectable taste. Like a food court, the advantage is that anyone can find an interesting delicacy one might savor. The market is filled with businesses and chefs taking orders from hundreds of people, all there for the same purpose to enjoy the local flavors. There were a few open tables to sit down and eat. I got the impression many people arrived to order food on the go. There was live music outside, and there were several local shops to buy souvenirs. There were also some artists with outdoor tents. Lisa and I finally found a table for all four of us to sit down outside. I ate an Italian sub. The kids had deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches. Lisa ate some grilled lemon pepper chicken with fried rice and vegetables. All the food choices were excellent!  

After spoiling our taste buds at the Findlay Market, we walked over to the Rhinegeist Brewery to drink some local brews (gluten-free cider for Lisa) and socialize with more Cincy locals. Rhinegeist inhabited an entire city block in a building that was over one hundred years old. Similar to the interior of an old factory, the brewery's interior was larger than a football field with a rooftop bar. Of course, there were cornhole boards, indoor swings, and other family festive activities. We stayed at the brewery for a couple of hours, and the kids loved playing indoors, like an outdoor playground. It was lightly sprinkling rain outside. So, Lisa and I ventured into Deeper Roots Coffee Shop until we could walk back to the parking garage. I did not drink any coffee. Lisa drank the barista’s seasonal version of a Pumpkin Spice Latte. The coffee shop provided a chill place to relax until the sprinkles subsided to go back to the car.   

To visit the Findlay Market and the Rhinegeist Brewery, Lisa and I parked at Washington Park in central downtown Cincinnati. We brisked quickly through the park. It was another spacious outdoor green space with unique visuals and walkways that added to the memorable d├ęcor and scenery of the city.

We ventured next to Smale Riverfront Park, which had unique playground features. Annabelle loves slides, and several slides were etched into small hills within the park, rather than having a traditional playground that includes handmade structures with slides. Smale Park bordered the Ohio River with an impressive view of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds, were within close walking distance of the popular green space. There was a rope bridge, several metal musical instruments, a walk-on keyboard, an Oinkithopter (a flying pig that kids climb on and into), and several streams and water play areas for kids.  

It was quickly getting dark outside. So, we spent less time in Smale Park than we had initially hoped for. I promised Annabelle we would come back first thing the next morning. We were surprisingly hungry again, quicker than usual. We wandered into a restaurant called The Yard House. It was an upscale sports bar that just so happened to welcome families with young children. I ate chicken nachos, and Lisa ate ahi tuna with asparagus on the side. We ordered Annabelle some chicken fingers. Typically, Jace eats off our plates, and we share with him, even though he has a considerable appetite to consume his own food now. The food and the service at The Yard House were exceptional! We stumbled upon this restaurant by accident mainly because it was close to Smale Park and within walking distance.

As promised, we took Annabelle back to Smale Park the next morning, walking approximately three miles on the sidewalk along the river. Annabelle played for another hour in the park, mainly on the slides. It was nice enjoying the park without being in a rush.

For budgetary reasons, we ate lunch at Taco Bell and then proceeded to the Creation Museum. The Creation Museum was part of a three-day combo ticket with The Ark Encounter. There were several exhibits at the museum, including information about how Intelligent Design compares and contrasts with evolution. I remember enjoying some of the displays and statues of dinosaurs and the development of babies in a mother's womb. Much of the tour involved more information about Noah's Ark, dragon legends, an insectarium, the history of the Bible, and other creative exhibits. Like the Ark Encounter, there was a smaller zoo and botanical gardens on the museum grounds. Again, I enjoyed both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. It was evident that the responsible engineers and designers invested many resources in these tourist destinations. If you visit these sites, the three-day pass is a logical choice, given that it takes hours to tour these museums and truly enjoy them. Set aside at least one day for the Ark Encounter and at least one additional day for the Creation Museum.  

We ate dinner after the Creation Museum at The Hebron Grill, another locally owned restaurant. Surprisingly, our kids were terrific in all the restaurants we attended. I was proud of their well-behaved demeanor in these public places. I ordered the southern fried chicken parm, and Lisa ordered a salad with salmon. Annabelle had pasta with marinara sauce, and Jace shared all of our dishes once again. I was impressed with the restaurant selections in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. We ate very well and enjoyed our many meals together as a family. 

We returned to our Airbnb in the early evening, where we watched the movie, Kung Fu Panda, with the kids. Our sweet and short time away was coming to a close since we had to head back home the following day, Tuesday. Even one month after taking this trip, Lisa and I are still talking about how much fun we had with the kids on this trip, spending time together as a family. As parents, we have decided to intentionally stop and savor every precious moment with our children. As life moves forward in time, each passing moment is a fleeting gift that warrants appreciation to the fullest extent.

Browse our favorite photo moments from our memorable trip below. 

(You can imagine the vast size of the Rhinegeist Brewery with this picture.)


(Rhinegeist Brewery resembled a playground for the kids. They played there for a good while.)


(After several hours exploring Cincinnati, the kids were worn out from the day’s many adventures.) 


(Annabelle championed the slides at Smale Park.)


(Near Smale Park, these Cincinnati fountains brighten the evening for a picturesque scene.)


(The family poses in front of the ark at the Ark Encounter.)

(Annabelle and Jace enjoy watching the animals in the zoo at the Ark Encounter.)

(Jace smiles while petting goats in the zoo at the Ark Encounter.)



(Annabelle slides down the hills at Smale Park several times.)

(John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge sets the scene over the Ohio River, viewing from the Cincinnati side.)


#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family # Cincinnati # CincinnatiOH #Ohio #NorthernKentucky #Kentucky #ArkEncounter #CreationMueseum #SmalePark #adventures #destinations #memories #story #inspiration #JamesCartee #goodness #faith #vacation #legacy #travel #JamesCartee #JamesLCarteeIII 


Thursday, October 12, 2023

A Refresher – Recognizing Opportune Moments and Seizing Them!

(Paul Walker was known for his cinematic presence and relationship with the actor, Vin Diesel, in the Fast & Furious franchise movies.)

This blog entry is based on a famous quote by Paul Ryan while also mentioning his legacy contributions through cinematic achievements and charitable outreach. This blog message might be a potent reminder of how blessed your life is as it is.

Paul Walker was an American actor born in Glendale, California, on September 12, 1973. He tragically passed away in a car accident on November 30, 2013, in Santa Clarita, California. He is best known for his role as Brian O'Conner in the Fast & Furious film franchise, which became a global sensation and defined his career.

Walker's charismatic performances and on-screen chemistry with the cast, particularly with Vin Diesel, contributed significantly to the success of the Fast & Furious series. His dedication to realism and involvement in daring car stunts earned him respect in both the film and automotive industries.

In addition to his acting career, Paul Walker was involved in philanthropic work through his organization, Reach Out Worldwide, providing disaster relief. His untimely passing profoundly impacted his fans worldwide, and the franchise had to navigate how to continue without his presence. Nevertheless, his legacy endures, celebrated not only for his acting but also for his passion for cars and his charitable endeavors. One of his famous quotes about life states,“Somebody is in the hospital right now, begging God for the opportunity you have. Don't you dare go to bed depressed! Count your blessings and shake it off!”

Some Biblical truths relate to this defining mantra that Walker lived by. The two following Bible passages come to mind. I will further explain their significance to the excerpt from Walker in this text.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” -Colossians 4:2-5 (NIV)

“A cheerful heart is great medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” - Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)

Life is full of substantial and meager moments that shape our journey. We encounter opportunities daily, and it's up to us to seize them. But sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of life or during adverse times, we forget just how precious these moments are. With these inspirational concepts fresh on my mind, I seek to explore the powerful message of seizing the moment, making the most of every possibility, and being grateful for the opportunities God gives us in life, inspired by this famous quote from Paul Walker and these meaningful Bible verses.

These words, quoted by Paul Walker, remind us of the value of the present moment and the vitality of being grateful for what we have in the present day. Walker cautions, "Don't you dare go to bed depressed" because "Someone is in the hospital right now, begging God for the opportunity you have."

Similarly, the Bible also offers guidance and wisdom on these life lessons. Colossians 4:2-5 (NIV) encourages us to devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. It reminds us that worship can open doors for us to share the message of Christ and that we should make the most of every chance to share these motivational messages. This verse emphasizes the significance of being alert to the opportunities God presents us and being grateful that these abundant blessings arise, often for our own betterment as individuals.  

Additionally, Proverbs 17:22 (NIV) tells us, "A cheerful heart is great medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." This verse underscores the connection between our emotional well-being and our ability to embrace life's noteworthy occasions. When we maintain a cheerful heart and a positive outlook, we are better equipped to seize the endless possibilities that come our way. For instance, I might be busier than I want to be with several jobs, a doctoral program, and family responsibilities. However, I get the daily opportunity to be engaged with these present priorities that other individuals might crave and wish they had, looking in from an outside perspective.

So, how can we magnify and apply these principles in our lives?

1.)   Prayerful Living: Begin each day with prayer, expressing gratitude for the opportunities and blessings in your life. Seek God's guidance and wisdom in recognizing and making the most of current circumstances.

2.)   Positive Perspective: Cultivate a positive outlook. Even in challenging times, focus on the good things in your life and the benefits that await you. A cheerful heart can be a source of strength.

3.)   Embrace Every Opportune Moment: Don't let fear or doubt hold you back. Whether it's a chance to help others, pursue your passions, or share your faith, seize the day (or night) and make the most of it.

4.)   Express Gratitude: Regularly reflect on and appreciate the favorable outcomes you've already had. Gratitude has the power to transform your perspective and enhance your well-being.

At the end of the journey, life is a series of moments, and each of these junctures presents potential for personal and professional growth. As Paul Walker's quote suggests, someone is praying for the blessings we often take for granted somewhere in a hospital. Let's commit to being watchful, content, and wise in our actions, just as Colossians 4:2-5 advises. By doing so, we can live with purpose, embrace each moment, and be grateful for the endless possibilities life creates in our path. Remember, a cheerful heart is not only great medicine for the soul but also a key to making the most of life's many adventures and destinations. For me, many of these adventures and destinations involve fatherhood, with Annabelle and Jace as my two biggest fans.

The following pictures illustrate my present-day blessings. I am a family man and love every moment of it!


(CeeCee visited Knoxville to celebrate Annabelle’s third birthday in August at Chuck E. Cheese.)


(A life-size adult could barely fit into this miniature van. Annabelle wanted to ride it several times.)


(These pictures were taken during a family portrait session at Sequoyah Park, which borders the Tennessee River in Knoxville.)


(Lisa and I do not get to see Allison, my sister, as much as we would like. However, she made the trip to Knoxville for this special occasion.)





(Lisa and I do not get to see Allison, my sister, as much as we would like. However, she made the trip to Knoxville for this special occasion.)


(Jace turned one year old. He enjoyed a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme party. CeeCee and JayJay, my parents, visited Knoxville for the occasion.)


(CeeCee blessed Jace with this themed birthday t-shirt. Jace enjoyed stuffing his mouth with his first birthday cake.) 



*Please note that the outdoor portrait and the birthday event pictures were taken by a talented photographer named Jack Horsley from Knoxville, Tennessee.


#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #Fast&Furious #FastAndFurious #PaulWalker #VinDiesel #lifelessons #adventures #destinations #memories #story #inspiration #JamesCartee #goodness #lessons #motivation #motivationalmessages #legacy #fastcars 



Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Martha’s Vineyard Is Unexpectedly Memorable!

(Me on South Beach, Martha’s Vineyard)

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Martha’s Vineyard (MV), Massachusetts, this summer in July. With preconceived notions, I expected to see fancy cars and rude, rich people everywhere. However, I experienced the exact opposite. The blue-collar workers and business owners presented pleasant encounters with normal people (not rich vagabonds) – kind folks trying to succeed in a place of paradise. I will elaborate on these cordial meetings throughout this blog entry.

Politicians have given MV a stench where even the original residents have grown tired of their visits by reputation. The notoriety of the island’s name created a pop culture trend for celebrity tourists that caused prices and living costs to rise. Locals are irritated by the fame and attention of a select few individuals who broadcast that they live at MV. On the other hand, the generational residents and seasonal workers warmly welcome sincere personalities and unpretentious visitors.

I often wondered why Martha’s Vineyard is called Martha’s Vineyard. MV is historically associated with the English explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold. Gosnold named the island in honor of his daughter, whose name was either Martha or Mary. The term “Vineyard" is thought to have been used because of the abundant wild grapes on the island. Gosnold was an early English explorer who visited the island in 1602. He established one of the first English settlements in North America on MV, although this dwelling was short-lived.

Before European settlers arrived, MV was inhabited by the Wampanoag people, a Native American tribe. The Wampanoag relied on fishing, hunting, farming, and gathering as their primary sustenance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, MV became a prominent center for the whaling industry. The island's location was an ideal base for whaling vessels. The profits from whaling contributed to the island's growth, reputation, and prosperity.

On the day of my adventure, I drove from Boston to Falmouth, where the ferry then took me to MV. We landed in the small town of Oaks Bluff. It is a beautiful coastal town with the whispers of ocean air, tasteful cuisine, local coffee shops, several green spaces, and New England colonial homes. I arrived on the island at about 10:00 a.m. ET. The original ferry ride from Falmouth to Oaks Bluff lasted about 35-40 minutes. This ferry ride only included people and bikes, no motorized vehicles. I met an older couple named Barry and Bernice who also planned to visit the island for the day. They were from New Hampshire. They brought a two-person bike to ride together. For the long boat trip, they were wonderful company! They provided valuable information about the Vineyard and tips on what sites to see. We mostly talked about our families. They showed me pictures of the grandkids on their cell phones. I showed them pictures of Lisa, Annabelle, and Jace on my phone. I actually saw them throughout the day on different parts of the island, sometimes passing each other on our bikes.

I rented an electric bike from All-Star Martha’s Vineyard Bike Rentals. Robert, the owner and manager of this business, outlined my entire day of where to go and what to see with the local island sites. Before my self-tour began, I walked across the street from All-Star Bike Rentals to discover Vineyard's Best Ice Cream and Coffee Company. While not advertised, this business served freshly made bagels. For five dollars (a reasonable price for MV vendors), I bought three bagels to fuel my day. Those bagels sustained me throughout the day under a brutal July summer sun. I had not originally planned to bike the 37 miles I covered in this one day. 

I started riding down Seaview Avenue alongside Alley-Waban Park and Inkwell Beach. Alley-Waban Park was a large open field park with several sidewalks with people walking dogs and enjoying the sunshine-filled day. The previously described colonial homes surrounded the park. Many of these residences had balconies with ocean views on the second or third floor. 

From Oaks Bluff, Robert directed me toward Edgartown. This road hugged the seashore with breathtaking coastal vistas. The ride along these beaches and waves felt refreshing. I am about to begin my fourth and final year of a Ph.D. program in Communication. While very enjoyable, the workload in a doctoral program can sometimes be intensive and all-consuming. The gust of ocean air melted these workload worries away. There was an enchanting essence to this island. It became evident within my first few miles of riding why so many people from all over the world ventured to visit this paradise. The bike ride on this coastal road from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown was six miles to begin a long day’s journey.

MV is extremely accessible by bike. In fact, by mid-afternoon, the traffic is bad enough that bikes move faster than cars sitting in traffic, depending on where you are on the island. About halfway to Edgartown on Seaview Avenue, I rode across a short bridge titled the American Legion Memorial Bridge. Locally, this bridge is also known as the Jaws Bridge. Many scenes in the first movie of this series were filmed at MV. 

Many young adults and even parents with kids were jumping off this bridge into a canal that linked marsh and open ocean waters. The jump into the water below was probably about 12-13 feet high, and several individuals leaped without hesitation, sometimes several times. I admired the youthful energy of these daredevils. However, I decided ultimately to stay dry. I prefer to avoid testing the strong ocean currents. In local newspapers, concerning Jaws Bridge, I read that one person died in 2023 after jumping off the bridge. Two others experienced the same fate in 2022. I doubt these eager divers researched these facts before their stunts. On the bridge, a warning sign cautions people not to jump off the bridge since the activity is considered illegal. I heeded this advice closely. I took some photos of these valiant jumpers and continued my bike journey.

After the six-mile stretch on Seaview Avenue, I arrived in Edgartown. First, I visited the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. As mentioned in previous blog entries, I am fascinated by lighthouses. Lighthouses offer photogenic portraits amidst beautiful beaches and landscapes. The lighthouse was shorter than some of the other lighthouses I visited in the past. The building includes a museum and the opportunity to climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse. The views at the top were lovely. It was a nice place to reflect on life, with a small beach on a peninsula surrounded by water. After appreciating the moment and reciting some short prayers, I descended the lighthouse and admired the marvelous features of the Harbor View Hotel. The hotel had a wraparound porch with scenic views in all directions, including the lighthouse across the street. The building resembles a house that might be considered a mansion. The hotel reminds me of a place you might read about in a romance novel. Like an interesting person, the hotel knows viewers admire its beauty, almost like the hotel possesses a personality within itself.

Compared to my first ferry ride, I encountered a second ferry that connected Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island (CI). This ferry was much smaller than my previous ride as a passenger from Falmouth. The boat could hold three cars and ten people with two to three bicycles. The small ferry ride intrigued me. So, I paid a small fee and walked my bike onto the ferry. I was unfamiliar with MV, CI, or any of the surrounding islands in the Cape Cod area. For the day in MV, I was on vacation to enjoy the scenery without a defined schedule. I was exploring for the sole sake of exploring.  

After reaching CI, I rode my bike from the ferry another four miles to East Beach. Then, I had to ride another four miles to ride the ferry back into Edgartown. It was evident that CI was the quieter side of this paradise. One small convenience store and deli existed on CI with some souvenirs and light groceries. I stopped at this local business to buy some cold refreshments. I also encountered a Japanese Garden that was small but quaint.

After getting off the ferry, I stepped into Old Sculpin Gallery, an upscale store of splendid artwork. Many pieces of art were available for purchase, including paintings, sculptures, and photography. Honestly, I sought relief from the sun in an air-conditioned building. I was soaked in sweat like I had just worked out at the gym. Of course, I had just biked another eight miles across CI. However, two nicely dressed women greeted me cordially, asking me where I was from and if I was enjoying the Vineyard. I commented on the fantastic works of photography in the gallery. One of the two girls inquired about my poetry and photography books. She asked me to write down the titles of my books and published photos. This demeanor is generally what I encountered in the Vineyard throughout the day. People were exceptionally polite and genuinely wanted island visitors to enjoy their experiences there.   

In addition to discussing my poetry books, I conversed with the art gallery sales clerk about local bookstores with regional authors, including some that might have lived at MV during the entire annual year or at least during the warm season. For weather reasons, many local residents live at the Vineyard during the warmer months of the year. Then they retreat to southern regions of the United States during the harshest months of the winter. The winter conditions at MV can be quite severe.

The sales clerk recommended Edgartown Books, a locally owned business and independent bookstore. A coffee shop restaurant named Behind the Bookstore literally sat in the back of Edgartown Books. You could walk through the bookstore into a courtyard garden between the two businesses. Several people sat at tables in the courtyard, eating food and drinking their lattes from the coffee shop. It was a charming setup! I bought two books by authors from MV who wrote about experiences at the Vineyard. I still felt somewhat overheated from the sun and the long-distance bike ride. I sat inside the coffee shop for a good hour, drinking several glasses of water, a cold brew coffee, and eating a peach muffin. I glimpsed through my two purchased local reads. Again, like the art gallery, the coffee shop was air-conditioned! I really enjoyed the local beach town feel of the bookstore and coffee shop. I quickly observed that both tourists and permanent residents of the island enjoyed these two businesses.

From Edgartown, I rode my bike to Katama and South Beaches. Barry and Bernice advised that these beaches were the most scenic on the island. I took their advice to heart and walked on South Beach to soak in the splendid views. I rode past the Katama Farm, which encompassed many acres of crops and other greenery. Again, I was surprised to observe these fields in the middle of the island….a working farm with barns, silos, animals, and machinery. 

It was getting later in the day, and I knew I had about 12-13 miles to return to Oaks Bluff. Rather than taking Seaview Avenue along the ocean beaches, I took roads on the interior of the island through the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. This route permitted me to see other parts of the Vineyard that I had not witnessed earlier in the day. The interior marshes and woods possessed their own natural wonders. While I knew I needed to head back to Boston eventually, I would have enjoyed camping on the beach at MV to truly soak in the moment and spiritual essence of this gorgeous place.

Perhaps I was more tired after baking in the sun and riding several miles across the island to visit all the mentioned landmarks. The last leg of my biking journey was very challenging! I was hungry and ready to rest with a beer in my hand. I eventually returned to All-Star Bikes, where Robert kept calling me "The Professor." Robert inquired about my higher education teaching and research interests. I informed him that I was close to finishing my Ph.D. in Communication. One of his summer seasonal employees majored in Communication and asked me some questions about the discipline. Robert and his staff provided an excellent example of positive customer service experiences. Beyond the day’s adventure, they tried to know more about my life beyond the surface-level small talk. All-Star Bikes employed workers with great attitudes who genuinely wanted to serve visitors of the Vineyard.

I asked for Robert’s recommendation for a restaurant where I could eat some of the best local cuisine. Robert directed me to Lookout Tavern, just around the corner from his shop. He further recommended that I order the lobster tacos. His insights proved to be delicious! This restaurant has ocean views, located next to the water. I also ordered a couple of local beers made by microbreweries on the island. After dinner, I quickly visited some souvenir shops for last-minute purchases and gifts. On the return trip with the ferry, I was blessed to enjoy the company of Barry and Bernice once again. I had hoped to see them again. We conversed more about each other’s families and sat on the upper deck of the ferry. Together we savored the sunset over the island silhouette of the Vineyard in the background.

I arrived back at the docks in Falmouth at about 6:30 p.m. ET. I took the remainder of the day to drive around downtown Falmouth and observe the early evening nightlife. I drove by Aquatic Brewing Company. I decided to turn around and check out the inside of the microbrewery. Rather than drinking full-size pints of beer, I tried a sampler order. These servings allow a patron to try four to five beers with about six ounces in each glass. You take time to enjoy the taste of each beer rather than only drinking beverages for consumption reasons. I was impressed with the tastings. While enjoying the atmosphere, I sat next to a group of young men who appeared to have just gotten off work from a construction site. They wore construction clothes and told me about their many carpentry projects on both residential and commercial properties. It sounded like Falmouth and the surrounding Cape Cod towns were growing faster than residences could be built. I appreciated the friendliness of local conversations. I soon got back into my car and made my way back to Boston, where I was staying at a close friend’s residence.

For several days to come, I knew I would feel the positive vibes of the Vineyard long after my ferry returned to Falmouth. MV was much larger in square mileage than I initially speculated. I am still reminiscing how magnificent the Vineyard’s natural wonders were. While maybe a pop culture fad to visit, Martha's Vineyard greatly exceeded my expectations! It was clear why so many people visited the island every year and paid the absorbent prices to stay there overnight. Like a Taylor Swift Eras concert, the experience of island adventures might be worth the abhorrent prices to marvel at the Vineyard’s vastness and majestic grandeur.  



(Edgartown Cinema)


(Busy Main Street in Edgartown)



(Despite the warnings, people still jump off Jaw’s Bridge.)


(This sign serves as a warning not to jump off the bridge.) 


(The Harbor View Hotel)


(Lighthouse Beach, near the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse)



(Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse)


(The sunset greeted me as I departed Martha’s Vineyard.)


#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #travel #traveling #MarthasVineyard #VineyardLiving #TheVineyard #adventures #escapades #destinations #memories #story #inspiration #JamesCartee #goodness #lessons #CapeCod #Boston #adventures #beaches #lighthouses

Friday, July 21, 2023

Jace’s First Birthday and The Townsend Adventures

(Jace eats his first birthday cake with a family audience.)

Lisa and I have many reasons this year to celebrate meaningful events and remember our family’s blessings. For instance, Jace’s first birthday occurred on July 1, 2023. The simplest blessings sometimes possess life’s most powerful messages. My children, Annabelle and Jace, are safe and healthy with two married parents who deeply love them. Sometimes I take these luxuries for granted – safety, good health, and a fruitful marriage. Not every family happens to be so lucky.

While sitting down, Jace often sways to music with his two hands in the air, waving them like he just doesn’t care. These sways might be interpreted as his form of dancing. He especially enjoys dancing to the music of movies and cartoons, such as Frozen’s "Let It Go" or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song (the latest version of the show). As such, we decorated our home for Jace’s party with Ninja Turtle adornments.

My sister, Allison, has two children, Ayden and Brogan. My father, Jim Cartee, Jr., is known as G-Daddy by Ayden and Brogan. Annabelle has since named G-Daddy, JayJay, for reasons unknown to me. The new nickname seems to have taken hold…. Annabelle and Jace say “JayJay” much more often than "G-Daddy." It is endearing when Annabelle constantly asks, "Where is JayJay? Where is CeeCee?” Annabelle has developed a strong sentiment toward my parents.       

CeeCee, JayJay, and Allison attended Jace’s party. In doing so, they traveled from Nashville to Knoxville, a decent drive of approximately three hours. During the occasion, Jace had his first taste of birthday cake. At first, Jace seemed hesitant, like, "What do I do with this food sitting in front of me?" He then wrecked the cake with his bare hands by stuffing the delicious dessert into his mouth. Jace’s reactions to sweet flavors were entertaining, to say the least! 

After scouring the birthday cake, our family shared dinner together. Then Jace opened his presents. Of course, Annabelle was extremely helpful, eating as much cake as possible and then playing with the gifts…all the things a big sister should do. Annabelle now constantly reminds us that her birthday is approaching in August. As a once-in-a-lifetime event in Jace’s journey, turning one, it was wonderful having the family together. These times together used to be more frequent. So, I cherish the few moments a year we are all together.

As I grow older, I have realized how difficult traveling becomes with two children under the age of three, especially on long road trips. We stayed close to home for a summer vacation to keep things simple. We traveled to a small mountain town named Townsend, close to Knoxville, Tennessee. Before our trip, Allison left after the party on Saturday, returning to Nashville.   

Townsend is nestled in the heart of the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains and offers visitors a unique blend of natural beauty and historical prominence. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Townsend experienced a logging business boom that fueled its economic growth. The dense forests surrounding the town provided abundant valuable timber, attracting logging companies and sawmills to the area. Townsend now serves as a unique tourist destination on the quiet side of the Smokies, away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

For six days, my parents rented a cabin for our family in Townsend. I wish I had taken more pictures of this residence. The house was built by the grandfather of the man who owned it. The craftsmanship was awe-inspiring! The layout of the cabin included one bedroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. CeeCee and JayJay slept downstairs while Lisa, I, and the kids slept upstairs. There was a comfortable space for socialization and watching television on the main level. Another similar smaller space existed in a loft area upstairs with furniture and another television. The cabin felt homey with candescent lights and the fresh smell of mountain wood. The residence occupied property across the street from the Little River, a waterway where thousands of visitors tube every summer in Townsend. I could have stayed several more days in this beautiful home!

On our first day, with the company of my parents, Lisa and I wanted to take the kids to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg. We also visited a local moonshine establishment called Sugarlands Moonshine Distilling Company. My parents were soon tired of the July 4th crowds and the midday heat. So, CeeCee and JayJay left Gatlinburg a little early. At the same time, Lisa, I, and the kids enjoyed an arcade, some light shopping, and the Ole’ Smoky Candy Kitchen. This candy store existed in Gatlinburg since 1952, and this establishment has made homemade taffy since its opening. Their taffy selection consists of thirty-three flavor choices. If you ever visit Gatlinburg, you must visit the Candy Kitchen. Our first day in the mountains was definitely full of action!

On Tuesday, July 4, we all took the kids down by the riverside to swim. Annabelle and Jace would sit in the shallow parts, throw rocks, and enjoy the cool water. At first, both kids were intimidated by the current, but eventually, both seemed to acclimate to the river. At night, the town leadership of Townsend planned a Fourth of July fireworks event. Before the fireworks, there were food trucks and live entertainment with local bands. Annabelle and I threw a Nerf football on a nearby field. When Annabelle and I returned to our chairs, Annabelle wanted to involve CeeCee in throwing the football. Annabelle can throw pretty hard if close enough to your face. She did just that! Annabelle hit Mom in her mouth, knocking her glasses off and messing up a glamorous hairstyle fit for the occasion. I laughed vigorously for several minutes, thus frustrating Mom even more. Annabelle joined in on the laughing escapade as well.

Unfortunately, we might have been too close to the fireworks launch site. It was very loud! While Jace seemed unaffected by the noise, the fireworks scared Annabelle. She has since declared that the fireworks are over and that there will be no more fireworks this summer. The event and celebratory spectacle were phenomenal!

We visited The Dancing Bean coffee house on Wednesday and a few more local country souvenir shops. This coffee shop sits in a large log cabin, close to other shops and a winery. The interior of the Dancing Bean is quaint and homey, with a few tables and chairs. For coffee alone, this is our favorite spot in Townsend. However, if you desire both an excellent coffee and a dessert treat, we also thoroughly enjoy The Chocolate Bar.

We then ate at Townsend's newest restaurant, The Peaceful Side Social Brewery and Craft Kitchen. The eatery includes a microbrewery and a solid food selection. The beer was good, and the food was tasty. The Peaceful Side had a large patio outside and a small playground for young children with slides and a tunnel on what resembled a small hill of greenery. The area's layout was well-designed with families and outdoors enthusiasts in mind. Because Annabelle and Jace enjoyed the river so much the day before, Lisa and I took them back to the same shallow river spot as before. This time, we stayed longer than our visit before, so the kids could soak and swim leisurely. Mom and Dan decided to go home rather than take another swim in the river.

On Thursday, Mom and Dad left to go home in the morning. Lisa, I, and the kids stayed one extra day. While a little challenging with Annabelle, we decided to hike on the West Pong Trail in the Smokey Mountains National Park. The trail is wide and relatively flat with a steady incline, ideal for families with kids. We hiked approximately one and a half miles on the trail before Annabelle wanted me to carry her. We continually try to acclimate the kids to the outdoors; however, kids will be kids. They quickly grow tired and then want to be carried.   

After our three-mile hike (1.5 miles in and out), the kids took a one-hour nap in the car. The Peaceful Side restaurant has a taco bar from Thursday-Sunday during the spring and summer seasons. Lisa and I were eager to try this specific cuisine since we thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant the previous day. The food tasted like traditional Mexican street tacos with delectable spices and ingredients. We again enjoyed being with the kids outside, with the mountains surrounding us on all sides.     

On Friday morning, Lisa and I wanted to visit The Dancing Bean one more time for a last-minute coffee. Townsend has several miles of paved walkways, including alongside the Little River. We walked another three miles with the children in a stroller. Before returning home to Knoxville, we visited the Foothills Parkway, which has some of the most beautiful Wears Valley and Townsend vistas. It is a relaxed road through the mountains without much traffic, so one can pull over and soak in the scenery. It was a solid note to end the trip on! 

Because of Jace’s first birthday and our trip to Townsend, I was reminded of some valuable life lessons. For example, swimming in the river and savoring the taste of moonshine again taught me to find happiness in life's simple pleasures. Life is full of everyday moments that can bring joy if we are present and appreciative of them. This trip reminded me of the importance of living in the present, fully engaged in each moment, just as I was fully present in nature's embrace.

The memories I created with my family during this trip are precious. They reinforced the significance of nurturing and cherishing connections with loved ones, as these relationships enrich our lives.

Nature operates on its own terms, reminding me that there are aspects of life beyond our control. Sometimes, the best approach is to let go and trust the journey, just as I have trusted trails that led me through the wilderness while hiking.

(Jace loves playing with balloons!)


(I kept laughing at Jace shoving the cake in his mouth.)


(Annabelle loves her Aunt Allison!)



(Jace enjoys the river with JayJay’s assistance.)


(When we hike as a family, Jace rides and enjoys the scenery.)


(One of the viewpoints on the Foothills Parkway.)



(Annabelle plays nicely with her brother, Jace, in the river.)


(Annabelle smiles and snuggles with CeeCee during the 4th of July event in Townsend.)




(Jace likes holding the markers more than actually drawing with them.)



(Jace thinks, “Is my second birthday here yet? I need more cake!”)

#JacesFirstBirthday #FamilyCelebration #PreciousMoments #Blessings #BirthdayCake #SiblingLove #FamilyTime #MountainTown #TownsendTN #GreatSmokyMountains #CabinLife #NatureBeauty #RiverSwimming #GratefulHeart #LifeLessons #Contentment #SimplePleasures #AppreciatingLife #AdventureAwaits #MakingMemories #DaddyDestinations #Daddy #Dad #Blog #Family #DaddiesAndDaughters #Destinations #Memories #Story #Narrative #Inspiration #JamesCartee