My Wife’s 37th Birthday Gift from Me: Tickets to the Kenny Chesney Concert in Nashville on August 11th, 2018

Without question, the biggest fan of Country Music I’ve ever known is my wife, Jill; who was born and raised in northern California; near Sacramento. (I suppose there’s some irony in knowing that I myself was born and raised in Fort Payne, Alabama; the hometown of the country group Alabama.)

Her favorite artist is Kenny Chesney. And amazingly, he just happened to be having a show in Nashville (where we live) on her 37th birthday, which happened to be on a Saturday.

In other words, the stars were aligned just right for my wife to have the perfect birthday gift for her 37th birthday.

My parents came up to take care of our kids while we were out having fun for over 11 hours, so we didn’t have to worry about getting a babysitter.

We were able leave our house early enough to find a place to park and stop for dinner, without feeling rushed.

The opening acts were Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett.  They both served as perfect openers, as their style shares the same laid back rock feel of Kenny Chesney’s music.

Earlier this week leading up to the concert, my wife already stated that this was going to be the best birthday gift she’s ever gotten. She confirmed that statement throughout the concert- and a few times since we got back from it.

An interesting side note: Kenny Chesney’s show broke the all-time attendance record for the Nissan Stadium where it was held; as we were part of the 55,182 people who attended.

I’m happy that my wife loved the concert so much. Despite living in the Nashville area, it’s seldom we ever actually get to go become part of the action downtown. We had a great time together!

If only Kenny Chesney did a show every August in Nashville, I’d never again need to wonder what to get her for her birthday. I’d be set…

Here’s to a great way to start 37!

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Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary (Featuring the 2018 Mazda3) by Nick Shell

It’s somewhere between ambitious and foolish to travel from Tennessee to California for a 2 week long trip when you have 2 young kids. But since that’s exactly what we did, my wife and I decided to make the trip our official vacation to celebrate our upcoming 10th wedding anniversary on July 5th.

Going in to it, my wife and I knew it would be a mix of both challenging and rewarding, as parenting itself is in general. So we drove the 40 miles from our home in Spring Hill to the Nashville airport, then took a 5 hour flight to Sacramento, California (which included a layover in Las Vegas), then another 40 mile trip to my mother-in-law’s home in Walnut Grove; which would serve as a our base for the 2 weeks.

From there, we embarked on another 2 and a half hour journey to Truckee; where we rented a cabin (which my next blog post will focus on) just 25 minutes from King’s Beach on Lake Tahoe. Just imagine what all that must have been like with a little girl who, despite being extremely adorable, has officially begun the Terrible Two’s.

Whatever you can imagine that part of it was like… you’re probably right.

But we survived! And not only that, we truly had an amazing time as a family.

One thing that definitely made things easier for us is that we got to a drive a Mazda3 during our first week of the trip. It was the perfect size for our family and our ridiculous amount of luggage we had to take, including a travel bed for our daughter.

Yeah, we lived it up though. My son decided he wanted to go out on a pedal boat on Lake Tahoe, so my wife and I took turns with him on on the water, while our daughter played in the sand.

My wife was born and raised in northern California. As for me, I was born and raised in the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains in Fort Payne, Alabama; but Lake Tahoe reminds me so much of where I grew up.

Lake Tahoe is truly an extension of our family’s identity. It was worth the trip and I am really looking forward to returning next year; especially since my daughter will be a bit more independent.

I’ve still got more to say about our family’s trip to Tahoe, so stay tuned for two more blog posts about that, with more fun pictures…

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

Dear Holly: You’re Missing Your Brother This Week While He’s in Alabama

2 years, 1 months.

Dear Holly,

With your brother finishing 1st grade last week, Mommy and I decided it would be a nice change of pace for him to spend this week at Nonna and Papa’s house. It’s only been a few days now, but you’ve made it very clear you miss him.

You ask me each morning, “Where’s Jackie?”

However, it didn’t take long for you to jump up in his bed and play with his toys in his room. It was your way of not only showing you were thinking about him, but that you might as well take advantage of the situation if wasn’t there to stop you.

For me, it’s a strange concept to just have one child in our house this week.

It’s a glimpse of what life could have been like had you been born first, instead of your brother. In particular, it reminds me that your brother had 5 and a half years as an only child, before you were born.

This week serves as one of the few times in your life where you’ve known what it was like to be an only child. You’re used to being the younger, baby sister. That’s how your brother sees you and treats you; so to a large degree, you adopt that title as your identity.

Granted, the two of you will always be in different stages of childhood; so you’re never really having to compete in the same way that siblings who are closer in age might experience.

In a way, both you and your brother get to be an “only child” to some degree.

In just a few days though, you’ll be reunited with Jackie. I can see you don’t quite feel complete without him. I imagine it’s difficult to feel like a little baby sister when your older brother isn’t right there next to you.

Love,

Daddy

What It Was Like Meeting Cat Deeley, Both Times, on The Lifetime Network’s “This Time Next Year”

Other than the lead singer of the country group Alabama, Randy Owen, whose son Heath is my age, I had never actually met anyone famous before. (I grew up in Fort Payne, Alabama; the same hometown as the group, during the 1980s and 1990s, which was the prime time of their success).

Honestly, I’ve never been the kind of person who has been too caught up in meeting celebrities. Since 2005, I’ve lived in the Nashville area, where you assume that everyday you’re unknowingly standing in the same room as some successful musician or songwriter.

But the way I’ve always perceived it, I felt it would be dehumanizing to reduce a celebrity to approaching them in an attempt to get their autograph, or these days, a selfie.

That’s why back on Valentine’s Day 2010, when I just happened to be in the Cool Springs Whole Foods getting flowers for my wife, and Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman where there having lunch, I did my best to pretend I didn’t see them.

Granted, I immediately texted my wife a picture from far across the store where Keith and Nicole hopefully didn’t catch me, but still… I had no interest in going up to them and making a fool of myself and saying, “Uh, hey, uh, Keith, man… I love your songs, man… that one where you talk about driving a car… and Nicole, you were my favorite part about the Val Kilmer Batman movie…”

But now, I have officially met a world-famous celebrity. And let me secret the record straight: She is the real deal.

I’m referring to Cat Deeley, the host of So You Think You Can Dance, and now also, This Time Next Year; the show where I made my TV debut this week.

In case you’ve seen my episode, “Dudes From Different Latitudes”, you know that I met Cat Deeley twice; with a year in between.

She truly is an exceptional human being. I can see why she was chosen as the host for this show; serving both as a sympathetic cheerleader and a bright narrator.

Granted, I was the token comic relief for my episode, as the other 5 guests on my episode had deep, heart-felt stories. So when it came time to meet me on the show, she had to shift her role to reflect the quirkiness of my personality and the novelty of my year-long goal.

I have to say, I wasn’t nervous at all. But had I been, she would have put my nerves at ease. That’s one of her many talents.

When we shot the first part of the episode out in some nameless, mysterious studio in Hollywood in November 2016, the director had Cat and I redo the end of the scene.

That’s because right before I stood up to go walk out that magical door for my year-long journey, she hugged me in support of my goal.

But the moment after I walked through the overly illuminated door, I was greeted by the producer, who explained with a smile, “You did great! But I’m being told we have to reshoot that last part. Cat hugged you. She’s not supposed to hug anyone on the show.”

So we redid that part, and this time, she remembered not to hug me. But right before they pressed record, during those couple of seconds where no one could hear what she was saying but me, she told me, “You’re freakin’ awesome.”

I share that story because it illustrates how warm and encouraging her personality is. I also sensed that was her way of saying, “I could use a laugh right about now,” in the midst of all the serious stories she had been hearing that day.

If so, I’m glad I could brighten her day, as she surely brightened everyone else’s.

Even if it’s a long shot, I hope she’s reading this now. I want her to know what an amazing job she’s done as a host on This Time Next Year.

And that’s the case with all the other people who were featured on the show with me. We all spent a lot of time together and got to learn each other’s stories. This was a common theme in every conversation:

“Wasn’t Cat just great? She has such a way of making a person feel comfortable and natural.”

So yes, that’s what we were all saying about her. And that’s what I’m saying about Cat Deeley again today.

Honestly, it would be my dream to co-host with her someday.

If nothing else, I can now officially say I have met a famous person. Plus, she handed me my guitar.

Yes, a famous person, who is really really cool, touched the same guitar I played the song “Dudes From Different Latitudes” on.

I think I’ll be bragging about that for a while.

Dear Jack: Carving the Halloween Jack-o’-lantern for the Thanksgiving/Hike at DeSoto Falls with Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca

7 years.

Dear Jack,

After having ventured to Gentry’s Farm to get our family’s pumpkin to carve for Halloween, we just didn’t get around to actually carving it in time. So we took it to Nonna and Papa’s nearly a month after Halloween… for the wrong holiday.

Papa then built a bonfire in the backyard to extend the feeling of pumpkin carving season.

Since your Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca were visiting from Pensacola, we also spent part of Thanksgiving break to introduce them to DeSoto Falls; not that far from where I grew up.

I’m fortunate to be from such a cool outdoorsy town (Fort Payne, Alabama), as it is not the average hometown to spend the holidays in. I was very proud to be able to entertain your aunt and uncle by showing them the giant waterfall up on the mountain.

It’s especially neat because we were able to get pretty close to the water, but kept from certain danger thanks to some guard rails.

While we were enjoying the views, we looked up and saw a few drones flying above us. I imagine it must be an awesome place to fly one around; as long as it doesn’t get caught in the rapids.

I have to assume in a just a few years, you’ll be asking for a drone for your birthday or Christmas, as compared to just Pokemon cards like you are currently obsessed with.

Turns out, your Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca enjoyed their Thanksgiving visit so much, they decided to drive back up from Florida again for Christmas- and this time they are bringing their teenage daughter who you enjoyed spending time with at Uncle Jake’s wedding in San Diego last year.

Whatever we all end up doing during our 5 days in Alabama for Christmas, I know we’re all going to have a great time!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our Hike at Little River Canyon with Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca

7 years.

Dear Jack,

This Thanksgiving was extra special because your Uncle Joe (one of Mommy’s 7 brothers) and Aunt Rebecca drove up from Pensacola, Florida to spend the holiday weekend with us; even though they knew there would be no turkey at our vegan Thanksgiving feast…

They must have really wanted to visit us!

We made sure to show them a good time; Northern Alabama style! That means participating in mandatory fun by hiking some of the many awesome trails that I grew up near.

Just 5 miles from Nonna and Papa’s house, where lived during my high school years, is the epic Little River Canyon.

We started out my taking an up-close look at the waterfall, by standing on the deck. But you weren’t too impressed. You were ready to hike the trail that traverses along the side of the mountain, making its way down to the river.

Amazingly, this is a trail that I had never hiked once, in all my years of growing up in Fort Payne, Alabama. Somehow I never knew about this one.

As we started hiking it and I realized not only how beautiful it is, but also how challenging, it made me wish I had known about it much sooner; like in high school.

I will admit, the hike was much more challenging that I had anticipated, but we all safely made our way down to the river… and back up!

It was so cool once we got to the water; like showing up in the middle of a white water rapids course. When I think of Alabama, this is the kind of thing I think of.

I grew up on a mountain with a river running through it. This is what I think of when I think of growing up in Alabama. These trails are just a well kept secret.

It was so cool that your Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca drove all the way up to see us for Thanksgiving. Had they not been there, I’m not sure we would have embarked on such a special trail.

Love,

Daddy

Manhood in the Making: Hiking with My Son and My Dad, On His 61st Birthday (at DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, Alabama)

I could think of no better way to spend the morning of my dad’s 61st birthday than to go on a hike with him and my son, near the woods I grew up in.

Growing up just 5 miles miles from DeSoto State Park (connected to Fort Payne, Alabama), I joined the Cub Scouts when I was in 1st grade, which helped me realize back then in 1987 it wasn’t sports that got me excited; but instead, the great wooded outdoors.

Hiking and exploring nature became my sport. It became a crucial part of my masculine identity; not baseball or basketball, though I did end up (unsuccessfully) playing both.

My dad served as the Scout Leader for our Cub Scout troop, which only reinforced what it meant to be a “Shell man” in our family. (Our last name is Shell.)

So it’s no surprise that, 30 years later, with my own son being in 1st grade himself now, this hike symbolized as a right of passage. Granted, I’ve been taking my son on hikes where we live in Tennessee for years.

But this hike was special: It connected us together as the three Shell men of our family.

And we just couldn’t have planned for it to be as perfect and adventurous and it ended up.

It was just chilly enough for my son and I to get to wear our slightly silly hats, but the sun shone on us the whole time.

All I had really remembered about the trail from when I was my son’s age was at the end, there was a dam. But there was much more than that.

Much of the trail made its way along the side of cliff, with the river down below. It was like every step of the way was a picture worth taking and putting on Instagram.

We encountered some man-made structures along the way that were apparently built around a hundred years ago. They only added the mystery aspect of our adventure.

Because that’s an important part of going out for a hike in the woods: Secretly hoping to make some kind of cool discovery.

My son made a few discoveries of his own, with no help thanks to me.

He was truly fascinated by all the moss growing along the side of the mountain…

But he surprised me when he showed me the baby snake he found as well. We’re still at least pretty sure that snake wasn’t actually poisonous.

As we made our way closer to the dam, which served as our arbitrary motive along the way, we accidentally found a cave in the rocks.

My son showed zero ounces of fear as we entered it; only eagerness to explore!

We imagined how, surely, Native Americans must have slept there; and how even now, it was likely a retreat for forest animals as well.

As we exited the cavern, alongside the waterfall from the river, I showed my dad and my son a shortcut to the dam, so we wouldn’t have to backtrack because of our cave detour.

It involved us having to hold on the side of the rock cave while walking across a narrow ledge with the river below. Was it dangerous? Well, that’s sort of the whole point.

I see so much value in a young boy receiving guidance and confirmation from the older men in his life. He learns firsthand how we can tackle a challenge like this, with our help, and overcome it.

That’s got to be good not only for his growing self-esteem, but also his identity as a confident 1st grader.

To me, this is what being a dad is all about. This is the most important stuff; everything else is just details.

So truly, there was no better way to spend last Saturday morning, on my dad’s 61st birthday, than to hike an old trail across the side of a mountain and a river in Alabama.

Fathers pass on certain values and less to their sons that no one else can, in the same way. That’s something I am very aware of.

This was no leisurely hike. No, this was manhood in the making, for my son.

And I would like to believe that 30 years from now, he’ll look back on our hike and realize how it served as an expression of his dad for his son.

Sometimes as a father, it takes a hike in the woods to supplement “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you”.

Looking back, I can see that with my own dad when he took me on those hikes. And now I continue that cycle for my own son.