Dear Jack: Your Newest Pet- A Color-Changing Frog?

11 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack,

For the past month or so now, you have been faithfully taking out the garbage and recycling every week. Therefore, you happened to discover a new friend living near our back deck: A very tiny frog.

You set up a home for him in your reptile aquarium so he can continue to live outside. You feed and water him daily; as well as adding moss and grass for ambiance.

You were so excited when you discovered after a few days, that the frog literally had changed colors. You explained to me it was because the frog had shed his skin.

So he went from a very dark green to a very light green overnight. What a cool experience!

Love,

Daddy

Our Family’s 1st Visit to the Nashville Zoo, as a Family of 4

The original plan was to take our daughter Holly to the Nashville Zoo on her 1st birthday back in April…

But between the rainy weather that weekend, and her being sick the next weekend, and our family being out of town after that, it took until this month to finally make our family’s first visit to the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, as a family of four.

It actually suddenly made sense though, to buy an annual family zoo pass, since it pays for itself by the 3rd visit. We live in Spring Hill, which is about a 45 minute drive for us; not so bad of a trek.

It pretty much takes at least that long to get anywhere in the Nashville area anyway, if you’re lucky.

Something I didn’t realize was how much the Nashville Zoo has expanded since the last time our family was there, a couple of years ago when we were only a family of three.

They have this new swinging rope bridge that our whole family loved, for starters.

Our 6 and a half year-old son Jack was pleasantly surprised to see the Nashville Zoo now has a Komodo Dragon. To him, that’s one of the most fascinating animals, because it’s ultimately a living dinosaur.

He also really liked seeing the porcupines, which I don’t remember from our last visit back when he was only about 3 years old. His hair actually looks like a porcupine, right?

Which, speaking of, Jack was so excited to be able to feel an actual porcupine quill. Coincidentally, the high school intern who showed him the quill was also named Jack.

Oh! And the kangaroos…

The last time I had taken Jack to the Nashville Zoo, the kangaroo exhibit had just opened. He obviously was in his element, being able to pet the tame kangaroos.

I also don’t remember him being able to see the giant turtles up close until this time either. He could have chilled out with those guys all day!

As for our daughter Holly, she was equally thrilled by the whole experience. She is currently fascinated by any kind of animals, especially birds. Right now she’s working real hard on trying to say the word bird. So it was a big deal to see big birds up so close.

I think in her mind, every other kind of animal is basically a mouse, a cat, or a dog. She loved pointing at each new creature she discovered.

Perhaps by default, her favorite bird was the flamingo. Why wouldn’t it be? A giant, funny, pink bird… perfect.

So naturally, her souvenir was a small stuffed animal version of one.

As for Jack, he choose a clouded leopard, as ultimately, that was the animal he was most enthralled by during this visit.

We were at the zoo for only two hours and only saw half of place. Good thing we have a year-long pass.

Obviously, we had so much fun and are looking forward to our next visit. And yes, it’s a complete coincidence that our last name is Shell, and the zoo just happens to have a section now called The Shell Station. (In case you were wondering.)

As for our next visit, maybe we’ll get around to sharing our experience in seeing the other half of the Nashville Zoo.

Dear Jack: You Wrote and Illustrated Your Very 1st Original Book, “Creepy Animals” (Or As I Call It, “The Fluffy and the Furious”)

6 years, 5 months.

Dear Jack,

I am so proud of you. You took it upon yourself to write, and illustrate, your very first book. It had nothing to do with any assignment at school.

Sure, I knew this day would come… I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon!

But especially with you being in “A.R.” (Advanced Readers), in your Kindergarten class, you naturally have an interest in applying what you know to your already existing level of creativity.

The funny thing is, I had no idea you were even working on a book until the day you finished it. You had been working on it each day at the house after school, before I got home.

With no further ado, here is your very 1st original book, Creepy Animals:

One day there was a new monster. The monsters were creepy.

They were furious. And were fluffy.

They were dangerous and could fly. They had horns.

There could be creepy birds. They had sharp, pointy teeth.

There could be spidercats. And thorns.

And weird animals. And sharp, and pointy spikes.

The end.

Right away, I appreciate how the story begins in suspense, as we are presented with a new monster. Then we learn he is one of many monsters.

The suspense continues, and the curiosity arises, as we wonder why the monsters are so furious. Somewhat ironic is the fact that these same furious monsters are also fluffy. Typically, things that are fluffy are not also furious, but these monsters are definitely the exception to the rule!

We read on to learn how prevalent horns are among these monsters- and we are even given a mention of spidercats!

These are weird animals, indeed.

Thank you so much for writing and illustrating your first book. I know there will be many more. I especially look forward to us eventually working on a book together- where I write it and you illustrate it.

That’s going to be awesome!

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.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta

5 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack,

As part of our family’s first road trip as a family of four (in the 2016 Toyota Highlander), we visited the Georgia Aquarium; you are particularly fascinated by whales and sharks.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Of course, the first place we checked out was the souvenir shop, where you found a beluga whale as your companion for the visit. You took my suggestion and named her Bella. She remained by your side throughout our entire Atlanta road trip.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

I didn’t know this at the time, but the Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere! This fact is downplayed by how concise the place is structured, as all branches of the aquarium are virtually connected to the main court, which is connected to the gift shop.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

It was even convenient for Mommy to feed and change your baby sister’s diapers, without having to go to the other side of the aquarium to take care of her.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Perhaps our favorite part of the Atlanta Aquarium was the underwater tunnel, in which we stood on a moving walkway as the ocean animals swam above us. I had always wanted to experience that. I finally was able to!

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Something else I really liked about this aquarium is how we were able to see the entire place without ever having to feel rushed. We saw it all and it wasn’t too much or too little- it was the perfect amount!

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Needless to say, you were thought it was so cool to see all the animals of the sea. I’m so glad it worked out for our family to visit the Georgia Aquarium this summer.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

I know there are so many fun family activities to do in Atlanta, but we made the right decision in placing the Georgia Aquarium on our agenda for our family’s first road trip as a family of four.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium