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.

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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.

Dear Jack: You’re Back from Summer Vacation 2017 at Nonna and Papa’s

6 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack,

This has been the longest amount of time that Mommy and I have spent without you; 10 whole days!

Obviously, we called you on video phone at least once a day, thanks to Facebook messenger. That way, CIA members in Hawaii were also able to catch up on all you’ve done while spending your summer vacation in Alabama.

I say that jokingly (?) because Mommy and I went through the trouble of renting some movies from Redbox while you were gone; Snowden being one of them.

Yes, it was much quieter without you in our house for 10 days, but I have to say, it wasn’t as good. Mommy and I are too accustomed to having a 6 year-old expert inform us of little known facts about dinosaurs and Pokemon.

And obviously, your baby sister kept looking for you the whole time. She kept pointing to your pictures on the wall, doing her best to pronounce your name.

But finally, you got back a week ago and now we can get back to the norm. We missed our little boy!

Speaking of Facebook, Nonna was faithful to keep us posted every couple of hours on whatever fun thing that she and Papa were taking you to do. It became obvious quick that you were not simply just hanging out at their house. No, you were on the move!

You went hiking, to a splash pad, to scrap yard, and to see The Emoji Movie; just to name a few!

Of course, you loved being able to spend time playing with your cousins the whole time as well.

And now the summer has officially come to a close. A week ago you started 1st grade!

Yes, you are now our brilliant 1st grader son. First grade is going to be great.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Holly: Your 1st Easter (and 4 Different People’s Birthday Celebrations!)

11 months.

Dear Holly,

With your 1st birthday coming up next Monday, Mommy and I decided to celebrate your birthday in Alabama with my side of the family; while we were already in town for Easter.

Once we arrived in Fort Payne, we immediately stopped at the Easter Egg Hunt that 1st Baptist Church has each year. Honestly, you weren’t too concerned with all the eggs in the grass.

Instead, you were just as happy to simply look beautiful in your dress, and have anyone come over and tell you what a pretty little girl you are.

Granted, your brother Jack was the complete opposite. Actually, I feel a little bit bad about how fiercely he dominated the egg hunt for his age division. He is so competitive that it was more about “winning”. Yet still, I was very proud of him, because I feel he learned that from me.

For lunch, we met Uncle Al and Sharon at the only restaurant we ever go to: Toke. With its Thai and Japanese cuisine, everyone in our family can eat there; including your Daddy, the manly vegan.

That’s when the early birthday presents started appearing for you. Plus, Nonna’s birthday was earlier that week, and mine is actually today.

In what turned out to be a major coincidence, your cousin Calla was invited to a Pokemon birthday party. When the birthday boy’s family heard that you and Jack were in town, they invited our family as well.

Then back at Nonna and Papa’s house afterwards, it was time for a few more gifts…

So yeah, there was a lot of celebrating to be done: Not only Easter, but 4 birthdays!

With Easter moving around the calendar every year (last year it was in March), I imagine that typically, Easter will be about a month before all our birthdays; most years.

But as for your first Easter, it got to be extra special because our family got to begin celebrate your birthday early. Just a few more days now for your actual birthday…

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa!)

5 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

Dear Jack,

This past weekend, you had an unforgettable weekend! You finally were able to go my to hometown’s ever-growing festival call Boom Days; which celebrates the people and culture of Fort Payne, Alabama; where I was born and raised.

Being there reminded me that I didn’t grow up in a stereotypical Southern town, as typically featured in media. No, Fort Payne was always special.

Basically half of the city is on the mountain (where I lived) and the other half is in the valley.  There was always this artsy, Americana feel to the place. I was surrounded by DeSoto State Park and all its hiking trails, as well as well as Little River Falls (the tallest waterfall in Alabama) and Little River Canyon.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

It was a fun place to grow up, and apparently, a fun place to return to; and especially, with a nearly 6 year-old boy.

With Mommy’s youngest brother getting married in two weeks in San Diego, I convinced her to take the weekend off by staying in Nashville where we live, and to let me take you and you baby sister to Nonna and Papa’s house for the weekend.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

That way, Mommy could get us packed for the upcoming California trip, run errands, and relax with no parental responsibilities for a full weekend. I’m glad she took me up on the offer! She works full-time with a 2 hour commute round trip each day, so she definitely was in need of some down time. She got to go to the spa; getting her hair and nails done.

Meanwhile, we were with Nonna and Papa, and Baby Holly, in downtown Fort Payne at Boom Days. The first big stop for you was to go inside a “gerbil ball” which was a giant inflatable sphere in which you got to run and roll around the Alabama Band Park.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

You apparently got into a thrilling “fight” with another boy in another gerbil ball. I saw the two of you smiling as you both attempting to knock each other over.

It was funny because there weren’t really any rules and I was never told how long you got to be inside there. Turns out, it lasts as long as you do…

The guy running the event explained to me, as you finally were ready to come out, “He’s stayed in there longer than anyone else ever has!” You were very proud to hear that you won the unofficial contest of endurance.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

You also enjoyed riding a pony. I think your favorite part about that was getting to pick the one you wanted.

Next we made our way over to the jumpy house, where we definitely got your money’s worth. I paid just $3 and you stayed in that thing for over 90 minutes. You just didn’t feel compelled to leave.

Back in Nashville, whenever you get to go one of your friends’ birthday parties, you always hope there will be a jumpy house. And when there is, you are never ready to leave.

But for more than an hour and a half, I hung out with Nonna and Papa in front of the jumpy house, as we showed off Baby Holly to passersby.

That’s when I saw and flagged down two of my Class of ’99 friends, Kim Hester and Brian Winkles. They enjoyed meeting you; granted, it was the extremely sweaty version of you, as you only took a short break to get some water.

Turns out, they weren’t the only “Ninety-Niners” I saw while we were there. Out of our graduating class of 183, there were about 20 that I saw there.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

Therefore, I am convinced that from here on out, we need to attend Boom Days every year; that way I don’t have to wait to see my classmate every 5 years for each official class reunion.

Speaking of, a little while later on the closed down the main street, I ran into more classmates, Jason New and Kris Holcomb. Kris’s daughter Libby had just bought a pet baby turtle she had named Raphy. You loved petting the turtle.

You also got to hold a baby squirrel as well, at the pet adoption tent.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

So everybody got what they needed: Mommy got rest and relaxation back home in Nashville. I got to see my kids enjoy themselves at the festival. Nonna and Papa got to spend time with you and your sister.

And as for you, Boom Days made all your dreams come true. It was the perfect place for a Kindergartener boy to get to burn energy and explore.

We shall return in 2017!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

P.S.

I made this video with Papa the next morning featuring the park where Boom Days took place, which features the Alabama band monument.