Dear Jack: You Love Nonna’s Authentic Mexican Burritos

7 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack,

Last weekend as we spent the weekend in Alabama at Nonna and Papa’s house, you quickly learned how much you loved Nonna’s burritos. In fact, that’s all I remember you eating the whole time.

I guess it helps that Nonna’s mother was Mexican. You’re getting the real deal.

Her burritos even look Mexican. What’s funny is that when our family goes out to Mexican restaurants, you never order a burrito, so perhaps Nonna’s burritos are the most authentic burritos you’ve ever had.

You ate a lot this past weekend… thanks to Nonna’s burritos.

Love,

Daddy

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Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

4 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

Dear Jack,

This year for Christmas, it worked out for our family to spend about 5 days at my parents’ house in Fort Payne, Alabama.

So last Tuesday after I got off work, and after you and Mommy had visited both Primrose and Rainbow daycare facilities as we decide which one to transfer you to once we move into our new house in a month (our closing date is exactly a month from today), we loaded up the 2014 Lexus LX 570 and made our way across the Tennessee state line.

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

After we settled in that night (December 23rd), I noticed something:

The Christmas tree’s ornaments serve as a 1980s time capsule.

Those ornaments mainly consist of decorations collected during my childhood.

There are crocheted ornaments clearly displaying the year “1987” on them. There is also an array of ornaments I made in school and church, from 1987 to 1991.

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

In fact, the one from 1987, where I am sitting on (a very lousy looking) Santa, features me wearing a McDonald’s sweat suit.

The irony is very present; never knowing back then that I would eventually become a vegan, nor would I have been able really understand what that word even meant back then.

I also noticed a 25 year-old egg shell ornament. Back in 3rd grade, for Christmas 1989, I had made an ornament in Mrs. Lawrence’s class, where we all brought in an egg, poked it with a needle to drain it, then covered it in sparkles, a sticker, and some glue.

Somewhat miraculously, than 25 year-old egg has never cracked or shattered!

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

I also laughed when I saw the Star of David made out of tongue depressors. It helps explain why I always sort of assumed we were Jewish.

And don’t forget the bubble lights! It’s amazing those things still work…

The next morning on Christmas Eve (December 24th), your cousin Calla came over and the two of you both got to open one present early.

She got a Play-Doh factory and you got a really cool Lego set that was a tree house; which contained a Lego treasure map and a pizza!

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

It’s a bit of a blur, but at some point while your Uncle Andrew helped you build the new Lego set, I ended up wearing the top part of a broken sombrero that I think my Great-aunt Jennie had bought for me as a souvenir while visiting Mexico, where her parents were born.

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

You were pleasantly surprised when you discovered a Brother Bear figurine of the Berentstain Bears (from a McDonald’s Happy Meal); being that you had just watched on the DVD on the drive there in the car, on the Lexus LX’s built-in system.

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

So I guess it’s safe to say in addition to the Christmas tree’s ornaments serving as a 1980’s time capsule, my overflowing collection of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys helped add to that undeniable sense of nostalgia at your Nonna and Papa’s house.

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

Just check out that ice cream cone that transforms into a robot!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: My Childhood Christmas Tree, The 1980s Time Capsule

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

So last weekend I broke my Grandma out of the nursing home without anyone knowing it, then I pushed her in her wheelchair a mile down the road while she wore a “seatbelt” we made from a rolled up blanket…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Wait, actually, that’s probably not the best way to start this story. Let me try again.

The last time my Grandma had seen her younger brother Bob was back in the summer of 1987, back when I was six years old, when we took a family vacation road trip to Buffalo, New York where my Grandma and my mom are from.

That was 27 years ago…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

But then randomly this year, my great-Uncle Bob decided that he wanted to visit my Grandma (his sister) by train with his girlfriend (he’s never been in a plane and he’s only left the state of New York once).

So I decided it would definitely be worth the 2 and a half hour drive from Nashville where we live, to my hometown in Alabama; taking my own family (my wife Jill and my son Jack) to witness this great reunion- 27 years in the making!

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

And to make things even more fun, we were able to review the 2014 Lexus GX 460 in the process. Which, for the record, was my personal favorite out of all the many Lexus vehicles I have reviewed within the past year.

The way it drove reminded me of the Toyota Tacoma, my favorite Toyota vehicle, which I reviewed on my 33rd birthday back in April.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

My wife Jill appreciated was how spacious the 2014 Lexus GX 460 is. We had to transport some of our son’s toys to my parents’ house; as we are in the process of building a new house (as I recently wrote about when I reviewed the 2014 Lexus GS 450h) and needed a place to store some things.

Meanwhile, my son Jack loved the stadium seating in the back because he could see everything that I could from the driver’s seat. Also, it has a 3rdrow seat from can fold up from the very back.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

He convinced us to let him sit in the very back for the entire round trip! Not to mention, to and from school a few days as well.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

I was surprised at how easy it was to hear Jack and Jill all the way back there. (I’m sure many educated people at Lexus have labored countless hours over making sure the sound carries that well!)

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

The visibility from the driver’s seat also greatly impressed me as well. I can’t remember the last time I drove a vehicle with better visibility than the 2014 Lexus GX 460.

So we arrived at my Grandma’s nursing home and along with my dad’s help, were able to lift my Grandma from her wheelchair to the car.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

In the process, I also “re-met” my great-Uncle Bob while there, who of course didn’t recognize me as a grown adult. As we talked, I learned from him that it was nearly 100 years ago, in 1923, that his own parents moved to New York from Michoacán, in southern Mexico; though he nor my Grandma ever really spoke Spanish.

The whole family met as a whole back at my sister’s house, just a mile away from the nursing home.

First, we celebrated by brother-in-law (who apparently happens to look a lot like me) turning 30 years old.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Then we headed outside to the “jumpy castle” as Jack and his cousin Calla burned off extra energy they mysteriously gained from not having to take a nap that day.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

And of course, we checked out the storm shelter, which has sort of become the routine when we visit.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Next we had a plant-based (vegan) lunch, prepared by my sister…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

Followed by an instantly made-up game of “bean bag bumper cars”…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

That’s about the time we got a call from the nursing home. Turns out, none of us even thought to actually sign my grandma out. And coincidentally, no one working there noticed us wheeling her out the front door!

The workers were so glad to hear that we had Grandma with us instead of, I guess, her somehow escaping (?) on her own.

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

However, by that time she was ready to get back to her home. The thing was, she was afraid to be lifted back up into a vehicle for the 0.925 miles back.

We did what every all-American family would have done in the same situation:

My sister and her husband rolled up a large blanket, then I MacGyvered it into a home-made seatbelt. And now this particular photo collage begins to make more sense…

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

After all, despite it only being about a mile away, the journey was all hills.

Fortunately, my daily routine of mountain biking during my lunch break had conditioned my body to be able to get my Grandma to her destination in less than 15 minutes. She even got to catch a glimpse of the County Fair a few blocks away.

Before we left the next morning, we made sure to snap a few pictures of our family.

Since my brother-in-law/look-alike turned 30 recently, and until Jack turns 4 next month, it means that we are living in a time when my wife and I are both 33,  my sister and her husband are both 30, and their daughter Calla and our son Jack are both 3.

So we figured we should take an official picture of this cool “3-30-33” moment.

same ages: 3 30 33

And that just goes to show that anytime my family gets together, it’s never “normal.”

But it is fun.

If you were entertained by this story, then be on the look-out what happened after we drove back to Nashville to see a Dierks Bentley concert that my wife won tickets for!

Car Review Stats:

2014 Lexus 9700A GX 460 5-DR SUV

4.6 liter V8, 301 horsepower

17 mpg average, 15 city, 20 highway

as shown: $55,505.00

See all 4 posts on the 2014 Lexus 9700A GX 460 5-DR SUV:

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Grandma’s Great Escape!

2014 Lexus GX 460 Family Friendly Review/Downtown Nashville

Folding Down/Up The 3rd Seats Of The 2014 Lexus GX 460

Syncing Up Your Phone/Using Driver Assist In The 2014 Lexus GX 460

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dad from day one: Feng Shui Dad

Week 1.

Being that I spend most of my lunch breaks at Borders, over the past year I have been acquiring a small library of discounted books.  One of my purchases off the “five dollar clearance rack” was a huge colorful book on Feng Shui.  While I have yet to spend much time really learning these ancient Chinese secrets, I did scan through a few chapters.  One of the concepts of Feng Shui that I did pick up on warned against long uninterrupted straights, whether the layout of the house is based on one basic hallway or the driveway to the house has no turns.  Without turns and interruptions along a straight path, one might “fall out of the house and out of their own yard”.  That’s considered “bad Feng Shui”.

If you are able to grasp that concept for the most part (which I think for some strange reason I can), then maybe you can understand my recent perspective on how having Baby Jack relates back to Feng Shui, if nothing else, in my own sleep-deprived head.  Recently, some of my cosmic insecurities have been heavily resolved as I realize that by being a parent, I am forever in the middle of a generation, no longer the tail end.  I am no longer the tree itself, but instead one of the branches on someone else’s family tree.  No longer am I a coastal state like Rhode Island or South Carolina, exposed the possibility of breaking off in the Atlantic Ocean, only separated by a few thousand miles from giant Africa; instead, I am now landlocked Kansas.  Like sitting in the middle of the third row seat in a 15 passenger van on a church mission trip to Mexico; like no longer being on the outer edge in a herd of zebras escaping from a hungry lion, so am I.

As a parent, I now feel more Feng Shui.  I will not “fall out” out the universe into outer space without it being immediately noticed.  Because I am no longer simply a husband; I am a father.  And being a father doesn’t simply hold importance in the direct care of my son, but also in an undeniable eternal sense.  Baby Jack is not just simply a cute little Bambino.  He is a spiritual being who I am responsible for.

I am no longer an island of any kind.  More than ever before, I am needed and necessary in this world.  What I do from this point has potentially everlasting outcomes.  I won’t look back on my life when I’m an old man and think, “I  lived such an empty life.”  Because I will always be linked back to my son.  So cosmic, man.

“These moments, they can never last; like a sad old man with his photographs keeps wishing for the things he can not change.”

-Guster, “Architects and Engineers “


Mario Eugene Shell (The Person I Almost Was): If I’m Both Hispanic and White, Which Box Do I Check in Those Surveys?

If only I looked more ethnic.


It’s hard to fathom now, but the entire time my mom knew she was pregnant with me (from October 1980 to April 1981) her “boy name” for me was Mario Eugene Shell.  But of course, my name is instead Nicholas Shane Shell.  Why?  I “didn’t look like a Mario”.  In other words, I was too white.

In essence, I am a mixed race- technically only half white.  One of the main ways I determine whether or not a person is “white” (other than their skin color) is by looking at their last name- if it ends in a vowel, they are probably not white.  My mom’s maiden name was Metallo (Italian) and her mother’s maiden name was Mendez (it doesn’t end in a vowel but it’s common knowledge that Mexicans are not “white”- especially not the ones in my family- they have darker skin).

My dad (a Southern boy of English, German, Cherokee Indian, and distant Greek traces) had married this exotic black haired woman from the North (Buffalo, NY).  It was assumed that their child would take after the more ethnic features, like mocha skin and black curly hair.  But on April 20, 1981 at 8:37 PM, both my parents were amazed to hold a seemingly All-American baby.

They looked at each other, then my mom said to my dad, “He’s not a Mario.  We need a new name.”  A few hours later, before midnight, still on the day I was born, I was named Nicholas (a Greek name that is a popular Italian male name).  My middle name is Shane, which is a form of Sean, which is a form of the Hebrew (Jewish) name, John.  (Shane was considered for my first name but “Shane Shell” really doesn’t work.)

And that’s how I got my name- a quickly formed “plan B”.  To imagine, if I looked more Mexican (like my sister, though she’s often mistaken for Hawaiian) or even a dark-skinned Italian, I would have been Mario Eugene.  (My dad’s middle name is Eugene.)  That’s means that growing up, everyone at school would have called me Super Mario and constantly made references to video game series.  But I don’t think it would have been all that different from my actual childhood, where everyone sang “Nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick, Nickelodeon!” to me.  And some people still do… Aunt Rosa!