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!



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!



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


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.



Dear Jack: Our Trip to the Atlanta Aquarium

Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest, Webisodes 1-27: The Complete Series… So Far

Uncle Nick Official Title Card

After filming 22 webisodes of Jack-Man from May through October of 2015, I decided to take a break from that and create a new web series; one that is specifically designed as a kids’ show, as opposed to the sci-fi super hero sitcom format of Jack-Man.

My idea was to create a show in which my niece could watch and be entertained by on YouTube. So I began combining elements of entertainment I thought would be appreciated by a 4 year-old.

Think of my new show, Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest, sort of as an updated version of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but that is more outdoors based.

In Webisode 1: Annie the Anteater, Uncle Nick helps consult an anteater who has been bullied by Freddie the Fox.

The show always begins with me introducing the audience to an old trinket that I just found. In the first webisode, it’s a harmonica.

I taught myself a few riffs the day before I filmed, and decided to record the theme song based off of my experimentation.

Another ritual is that I remind the viewers how to do my “enchanted animal call” before I put on my puffy vest.

Once we arrive outside in the Enchanted Forest, I lead the viewers in officially doing the enchanted animal call, which then invites an enchanted animal to the scene.

These first couple of webisodes feature the theme of bullying.

My plan is to continue featuring my son’s stuffed animal collection as the characters in the forest.

Webisode 2: Rocky the Raccoon introduces another forest creature who Freddie the Fox has teased.

My dream is to one day host my own kids’ show on a television network. This is me building my dream.

In Webisode 3: Freddie the Fox, Uncle Nick confronts the culprit.

For the next batch of webisodes, 4 through 6, I added not only a new song (“Animal Hat”) but also a segment where I try to guess which color the viewer is thinking of, while I play the drums. (I also play the guitar on camera now, in addition to just the harmonica as I did before.)

After the indoors portion of each show, I then take the viewer outdoors to my Enchanted Forest (the woods of Fort Payne and Mentone, Alabama) for a magical adventure, featuring talking animals.

I filmed 8 webisodes during my 3 day Christmas vacation last week, with help from my dad and brother-in-law serving as camera men. (That means I soon will be releasing even 5 more.)

During that time, I took advantage of the fact that the area was experiencing a flash flood. I based these 3 (of the newest 8) webisodes around that, making that the overall story arc for them.

In Webisode 4: Betsy the Bunny, I must rush to the rescue as Betsy the Bunny gets trapped in a tree alongside a rushing waterfall (Little River Falls in Fort Payne, AL).

Next in Webisode 5: Tiny the Turtle, I must save Tiny the Turtle before his home is swept away by the flood (DeSoto Falls in Mentone, AL).

And in the final segment of this “flood” story arc, in Webisode 6: Scuttles the Skunk, I must help Scuttles the Skunk move forward in his life as he deals with the aftermath of losing his home in the flood as well.

I designed the outdoors segment of each webisode to be a good mix of action, adventure, and psychology. However, the first (indoors) part of each webisode is designed to engage the viewer in creative thinking.

Sure, right now, Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest is just getting off the ground. But I am committing to this show. I am not giving up until I reach my goal of taking my show to the big screen: the TV screen, via a major network.

I believe that I have the talent, skills, creativity, charisma, and personality to host my own TV show on a major children’s network. This web series is my way of proving it to the world.

Webisode 7: Paulie the Puppy– When Uncle Nick decides to hike a new trail, it leads him to an empty old building and a mysterious barking sound.

Webisode 8: Pokey the Pot-Bellied Pig– Uncle Nick must figure out a way to cross the river to save the little pot-bellied pig who is stuck on the other side.

Webisode 9: Ralph the Red Panda– While hiking later in the evening, Uncle Nick discovers a rare animal as it begins getting dark outside.

Webisode 10: Slither the Snake– Freddie the Fox gets trapped by a hungry snake at the top of a large rock. It’s Uncle Nick to the rescue!

Webisode 11: Barry the Bear– When a scary-looking bear is soon in the Enchanted Forest, Uncle Nick decides to investigate; leading to a lesson about not judging a bear by his cover.

Barry the Bear was first introduced 4 months ago in my other series, Jack-Man:

Kids Show: Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest- Webisodes 4-6; the Flood Story Arc

I’ve made it no secret that I am legitimately attempting to become the next Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood/Blue’s Clues.

My main hobby right now is to crank out as many webisodes I can of my new web series, Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest.

It is my hope that eventually my show will catch on and that I can get enough traffic to gain the attention of the talent scouts for major networks like PBS, Nickelodeon, Disney, Animal Planet, and the Discovery Channel.

My agenda with each webisode is to provide innocent and engaging entertainment for children who are watching YouTube on their parents’ smartphones.

Kids’ Show: Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest- Webisodes 12 & 13: Beanie the Bat and Petey the Possum

As part of my plan to quickly build the library of my newest web series, Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Kingdom, I am now shooting new webisodes during my lunch breaks at work.

One of my coworkers just happens to be one of my most faithful watchers, so I didn’t really have to twist his arm in order to convince him to be my camera man/assistant director on these “during our lunch break at work” video shoots.

He and I shot two webisodes; during one 60 minute period.

First is Webisode 12: Beanie the Bat, where Uncle Nick serves as a real estate agent to a bat who likes to live in trees; with a sort of “House Hunters: Animal Edition” style of plot line.

During the shoot, I sliced my hand on the tree I was climbing. I just wrote it into the script.

The other webisode we filmed is Webisode 13: Petey the Possum. There is no doubt this is one of the most stand-out webisodes of Uncle Nick.

Very close to where I work, there is a drain tunnel the same height as me. I decided it would make the perfect setting. I am so pleased with how it turned out.

Not only do I feel the plot line is captivating, but the tunnel itself is intriguing because it’s a rare event to get a tour down into something so mysterious.

I’ll say this; I wouldn’t be willing to walk in there alone.

I feel my Uncle Nick series has so much potential and that kids would really like it if they watched it. But for now, it remains undiscovered in the corner of YouTube.

But that doesn’t stop me from continuing to grow my collection.

Uncle Nick has plenty more up his sleeve!

Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest 14 through 19: The Blizzard Webisodes

From January 22nd to the 24th, I filmed 6 webisodes of Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest. Similar to the way I filmed 4 webisodes after the Christmas 2015 flash flood, I took advantage of the weather condition, making it the plot line of these half a dozen webisodes.

And starting with Webisode 18, I introduce a fun new theme song as well as a new animal hat…

I got to the point where I pretty much just keep my camera, tripod, and Uncle Nick costume in my car with me; in order that I can always be prepared to shoot an episode on the spot.

Good thing I was ready on Friday, January 22nd, when the blizzard kicked in. I have a coworker, Shane Moore, who is quick and faithful to help me out with some of the shoots.

So he served as my camera man and assistant director for the first 2 webisodes of the blizzard story arc.

In Webisode 14: Baby Bear, family members get separated during the beginning of the blizzard. It’s up to Uncle Nick to reunite them!

In Webisode 15: Haley the Husky, we are introduced to a poor little homeless Husky who is stranded out in the middle of the snow storm. Uncle Nick must find her a new home to get her warm.

The remaining 4 webisodes of the blizzard story arc were filmed Saturday and Sunday morning; just me and my tripod.

Webisode 16: Piper the Penguin shows a poor penguin who is frozen to the ice. Uncle Nick must find a place to keep her safe until the other penguins return.

In Webisode 17: Lenny the Lizard, Uncle Nick must resuscitate a lizard he finds who is literally freezing in the river.

Then in Webisode 18: Pinky the Pig, Uncle Nick encounters a sleepwalking pig, who is headed towards a frozen lake.

And finally, in Webisode 19: Fluffy the Frog, Uncle Nick must discover, and uncover, a frozen frog on a log.

February was a big and busy month for filming new webisodes of my children’s adventure/fantasy series, Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest.

After December’s flood story arc, and then January’s blizzard story arc, February presents a new story line, beginning with Ground Hog Day in Webisode 20: Gordon the Groundhog; where it is revealed a villain will be arriving in the Enchanted Forest.

Next in Webisode 21: Bruno the Blue Jay, the predicted villain, Demetrius the Shadow Caster, turns 5 of the animals of the Enchanted Forest into pennies.

From there, Bruno and Uncle Nick continue to team up as they discover other mischief that the Shadow Caster caused, while trying to find a way to turn the pennies back into animals.

They encounter in Webisode 22: Bernie the Bear, they meet a bear who is trapped underneath a tree that the Shadow Caster pushed down.

After that in Webisode 23: David the Doggie, Bruno and Uncle Nick find the defenseless little doggie who is separated from his Mommy, also because of the Shadow Caster.

So in addition to turning animals into pennies, the Shadow Caster is also pushing trees over in the Enchanted Forest.

In Webisode 24: Benji the Blue Cheetah, Bruno and Uncle Nick finally get some answers at the top of the Enchanted Mountain when they encounter the legendary blue cheetah.

From there, Uncle Nick and Bruno journey closer to saving their friends, but first pi

ck up two new friends…

In Webisode 25: Baby Bunny, they discover a tiny animal who decides to hitch a ride with them.

Then in Webisode 26: Sylvester the Snake, they must rescue a shivering snake from a mountain top, on the way down to the Enchanted Pond.

Finally, in Webisode 27: Steinbeck the Stegosaurus, the animal reunion occurs as the coins return to their animal state!

Coming up in Spring 2016, a new sidekick will be introduced when Magellan the Mouse finally catches up to Uncle Nick.

I’m really looking forward to that because it will mark the beginning of me using an actual puppet instead of a stuffed animal.

The funny thing is, I purchased the puppet using a gift card I received from Ben Wilder, the person playing Demetrius the Shadow Caster!

Stay tuned…