Today is Our 10th Wedding Anniversary!

As of today, my wife and I have been married 10 years. Admittedly, that is a fact I am very proud of, as it is an honor to be married to this woman.

I am even more in love with her now than I was on July 5, 2008.

That’s something I can honestly say. Because over the course of the past decade, we have both evolved as individuals, while at the same time we have chosen to grow together in the same direction.

Therefore, I can now appreciate who she is as a person more than I could 10 years ago. We have made “happily ever after” our daily choice.

It helps that my wife is full of grace. I think that was an underlying trait of hers that I always knew that attracted me to her.

Now at age 37, with the life experience of 10 years of marriage, and 7 and a half as a parent, I have undeniably evolved.

I can’t see how a man could go from bachelor to married man and then father, over the course of a decade, without being forced to change for the better; as he is stripped away of his sense of selfishness, and trades it in for selflessness.

Back in 2008, at age 27, I knew so little about adulthood and how the world actually worked.

As I recently mentioned, the search for wisdom, truth, and meaning ends with life’s responsibilities; including marriage, children, and a mortgage.

I am not the same person I was a decade ago; neither is my wife.

With each passing decade ahead, I know we will continue to evolve as individuals, as well as together.

We knew each other for 4 months before we started dating, then dated for for a 11 months before we became engaged (nearly half of that time she was overseas in Australia serving as a nanny), then were engaged for 5 months before we got married.

And now 10 years have passed.

That is our story so far. We’ve got the rest of our lives to figure out what comes next.

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Family Road Trip to Lost Worlds Adventures in Livermore, California (Featuring the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport) by Nick Shell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Our Review of the Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine for Latte Drinks: 3 Reasons I Love It as Much as My Wife Does!

For three reasons, as the husband, I am very happy we now own a Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine.

First of all, my wife loves this fancy hunk of metal sitting on our kitchen counter, and the expensive-tasting coffee it makes so quickly.

Secondly, it’s saving us the money she used to spend on coffee most days at Starbucks; whether it was from our shared budget or from her own “blow money” (a Dave Ramsey term). I can honestly say this is an investment, for the money it’s comparatively saving us.

And lastly, I am happy we now own the Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine because it truly does make amazing coffee. Granted, I’m just an instant black coffee kind of guy. Monday through Friday, twice a day, that’s what I drink. But on the weekends, my wife joyfully makes me a rewarding latte, which is the equivalent to the 6 dollar version you’d find at a local coffee shop; and in my opinion, better than Starbucks anyway.

Yes, it’s true: We are now technically owners of a small coffee shop in our home, in which we are the only customers. We drink up all the profits!

It’s probably no surprise to learn that the Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine was my Christmas gift for my wife a couple of months ago. When it comes to us getting each other gifts, we simply directly tell the other person exactly what we want; perhaps with a gentle nudge thanks to an Amazon link.

This isn’t the kind of coffee maker most normal people own. In fact, we may be the only people you’ve heard of who actually own one of these.

But my wife had researched for months, as she wanted to find the most affordable version of the fanciest espresso machine that exists and that definitely makes great coffee. She has a talent for finding the best overall selection that exists.

So if you’re on the look-out for the best deal on an espresso machine that makes expressive-tasting lattes that will impress guests when they drink your coffee, I can already assure you the search is over. Trust me, my wife knows best when it comes to something like this. Trust me.

All you have to do is click this link for the Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine. That takes you straight to Amazon, which will help you find the lowest price available. Who knows? You may even find a better deal on it that we did.

Remember, the search is over:

Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine

After Nearly 10 Years of Marriage, My Wife and I Have Decided to Get a Dinnerware Set (Melange Nantucket Weave) to Replace Our Original One

A decade ago, I had just proposed to the love of my life. We hadn’t even been dating for a year yet, but I was already feeling at that point that my proposal was past due. That’s how much I knew she was the one.

I proposed on January 14th, and our wedding day was less than 6 months away, on July 5th. I suppose that’s just how our story goes. We didn’t need a long time together to decide to get married, nor did we require a long time to be engaged.

The entire year of 2008 is a blur to me. In early January we were just dating, and by early December, we had already been married 5 months. That really puts things in perspective now, in hindsight, what a big year that was for us.

At some point that year, my wife and I spent a day at Bed Bath & Beyond where we had registered for our wedding. When it came time to pick out the dinnerware set, she found a red set that she really liked.

Then we realized that for some mysterious reason, the same set in blue was half the price. So we went with blue.

Amazingly now, after nearly 10 years of using that dinnerware set, from Bush to Obama to Trump, and with two new smaller human members joining our family, all pieces of that set have survived other than a bowl and a cup. That even includes a move to Alabama and back.

Ten is a big number. Just a couple of weeks ago, my wife got to pick out new jewelry from James Avery for Valentine’s Day. That’s the only new jewelry she has gotten (or said she’s wanted) since her engagement and wedding rings back in 2008. So it was a big deal.

So while we’re in the spirit of my wife getting new things, in convenient accordance to our upcoming 10th wedding anniversary, we now have a brand-new set of dinnerware:

Melange Dinnerware, Nantucket Weave

It was not a rash decision. My wife obsessed over, I mean, carefully studied, dozens of sets online through the course of a week.

She then requested my opinion, as well as our son’s, to give her further direction after she had finalized her selection to the top 3.

I have learned over all these years that often, when she asks which one I like the best, whatever the thing is I’m helping her to decide, my answer only reinforces her own decision; which is never the same one I chose.

Amazingly, this time it was different.

Even though she was leaning towards another set, our son and I both chose Melange Dinnerware, Nantucket Weave, and apparently we swayed the vote!

Now obviously, with me being a man, you can imagine that in the end, my choice in our new dinnerware set was not a passionate one.

But now that the new set is here, I have to say, I am very pleased with our decision!

It’s like a crossroads of both Country and Class, which is how I think of my wife. Yeah, she’s from northern California but she loves Country music and grew up on a 5 acre farm with sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and rabbits. She’s arguably more Southern than I am, yet I was born and raised in Alabama!

Soon, when you see pictures of our kids eating at the dinner table, you won’t see the decade old blue cups and plates anymore; as we start phasing in our white wicker-looking ones.

I never would have thought that picking out a new dinnerware set would be worth writing about, and on your end, reading about.

Yet here we are.

Now let’s see, so far this year, my wife has gotten a new set of jewelry and dinnerware. Meanwhile, I’m still driving my 2004 Honda Element that I’ve owned since January 2006.

Hey, I wonder if I will finally get my Jeep Wrangler I’ve been wishing for all these years?

Nah, probably not. Old Hondas just never die.

By the way, if you’re reading this because you are already actively looking for the Melange Dinnerware Nantucket Weave set, just click here:

Melange Dinnerware, Nantucket Weave

That link will take you straight to Amazon, where you’ll likely find the best deal on it, like we found.