Despite the 1990s Sitcom Cliche, I Actually Really Like My Mother-in-Law (Featuring the 2017 Mazda 6 Grand Touring)

I feel like there’s this familiar cliche from family sitcoms of the 90s where the mother-in-law comes from out to town to visit, which inevitably yields 23 minutes of zany frustration for the husband and father of the household; accompanied by laugh tracks, of course.

Maybe that’s true for some men out there, I don’t know.

What I do know is I personally can not relate to this stereotype at all.

My wife and I have been married for nearly 10 years. I can honestly say that I have never once felt frustrated when my mother-in-law comes to visit or when we visit her in California. In fact, she has the opposite effect on me: I feel more relaxed with her around.

I assume I’m the typical American dad in that I am heavily involved not only with the kids, but also with the household chores. The only real free time I have is when everyone else is asleep.

During my waking hours, I’m either taking care of at least one kid or I’m helping clean up a mess. Because with young kids, there’s always a mess to be cleaned.

But when my mother-in-law is in town, I get a break from reality. I actually have pockets of time where I can do things like, you now… learn what it feels like to sit on my own couch for 5 minutes; thanks to my mother-in-law insisting on preparing dinner without my help, telling me, “Now Nick, sit down. I’m taking care of all this over here. You just take a seat and relax.”

This is all especially fresh on my mind, as my mother-in-law is currently staying with our family here here in Tennessee this week.

When the folks at Mazda heard about our special guest flying in from the West Coast, they dropped off a 2017 Mazda 6 Grand Touring with a full tank of gas, to make the week-long visit extra special.

It’s funny because despite only living about 40 miles south of Nashville, I only see that wondrous and trendy city a few times a year. But knowing we had a fancy car to get us there, we loaded up in the Mazda 6 and took our mother-in-law out for a magnificent lunch.

My wife suggested this cool Lebanese bistro called Epice.

Wow, seriously. It is now officially my favorite restaurant in all of Nashville. It was like being introduced to a whole new world of food. Not to mention, they were easily able to cater to me being a vegan.

The restaurant shares a parking lot with a very swanky “Nashvilley” shop called White Mercantile, which happens to be owned by Holly Williams; the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr.

I admit, the decor there was so cool, I took lots of pictures, made it into a collage, and debuted it as my new Facebook banner picture.

My mother-in-law just loved that store! Despite being born and raised in Oakland, California, she definitely has a fascination with the Southern motif.

After lunch, my wife and mother-in-law decided we would be stopping by an organic grocery store called The Turnip Truck; as it is soon to be a place frequented by Country Music stars.

Apparently, there were no celebrities there at the time, but at least I got a Mexican coffee out of the deal, and my daughter was able to enjoy one of her favorite snacks for the drive back home.

The next day on Saturday, my mother-in-law decided she wanted to take us out for dinner at our town’s official favorite restaurant, Viking Pizza Co. of Spring Hill.

Needless to say, it’s been a very enjoyable week for our entire family with my mother-in-law in town. Especially for me. I have enjoyed being able to remove myself just enough from the household chores, as my mother-in-law has assumed many of my roles this week, so though I could have some moments of sanity.

I don’t care what happened in 90s sitcoms. All I know is, I definitely like having my mother-in-law in town!

If you would like to learn more about the specifics of the 2017 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, check out another article I wrote; which as the title of it implies, will answer many of your immediate questions. Just click on the click below:

2017.5 Mazda 6 Grand Touring: Back Seat Space with 2 Children’s Car Seats, Fuel Door Release, Volume Knob for Stereo, Extra Trunk Space, Gas Mileage, Price

And don’t forget to catch up with me on The Lifetime Network’s “This Time Next Year” on February 20th, at 10 PM Central/9 PM Eastern; as I journey over the course of an entire year in attempt to find and meet my doppelganer!

Stay-at-Home Dad 101: Time to Break Out the Black Chuck Taylors by Taking the Family to See Santa and Enjoy Dinner at Viking Pizza Co.

It’s crazy to think it’s been a whole year since I got my black Chuck Taylors for Christmas. Despite them only costing 40 bucks, I refrained from wearing them in 2017. I didn’t want to break them in and get them scuffed up, as if there were some epic event coming up in which I would need them in spotless condition; like my national TV debut or something…

Especially now that I’ve been at stay-at-home dad, for exactly 2 months as of today, it’s not like I really even get out of the house much anymore in situations where anyone would be need to be impressed by the sight of me.

But this past weekend, I decided to finally wear my unnecessarily sanctified Chuck Taylors that I got from my wife last year for Christmas.

It just so happens that Santa happened to be visiting this part of Tennessee, at a health store in Columbia, of all places. Sounds about right for a vegetarian/vegan family like mine to see Santa there, right?

Since the day was going so well and we were already having such great quality family time together, we decided to go out for dinner, at the same place we tried for the first time just the week before:

Viking Pizza Co. in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

We originally found the place when my son wanted to go on a “hike” on the giant hill next to the place. On our way back down the hill, he noticed a giant inflatable dragon through one of the windows. Being the biggest Pokemon fan I know, it’s the kind of thing that captured his attention.

When we got home, he immediately asked, “Mommy, can we go to the Viking pizza place with the big dragon?

That’s successful marketing right there: Place giant dragon on the restaurant floor. Have 7 year-old boy notice it. Have the boy’s whole family show up.

But once we arrived, my wife and I realized this was no gimmick. This was real pizza, cooked right there in the middle of the restaurant in a really expensive wood-fired oven.

And of course, because the folks at Viking Pizza Co. are paying attention to the fact that 6% of Americans are now vegan, I was easily able to order Daiya cheese on my veggie pizza. (They also have gluten-free crust, for those who prefer it.)

They were even courteous and proactive enough to bring over raw dough for my kids (and wife) to play with, which was a lifesaver, as it easily occupied my hungry son’s attention while our pizzas were carefully crafted; unlike a fast-food chain pizza joint.

The owners, Brandon and Kelly Jones, are so cool, down-to-earth, and proud that they have been able to bring a delicious, high quality, family friendly, restaurant experience in a town that is riddled with predictable and insulting-to-the-intelligence chain restaurants.

There’s a certain rewarding feeling you get when you take your family to a place like this. You know you are voting with your dollars what you want in your town. Just a few weeks ago, much of Spring Hill was emotionally affected by the iconic silo been torn down, so that a fried chicken chain-restaurant could go up.

So it’s yet another reason to want to support Viking Pizza Co. It’s like rebelling against the mainstream. There’s something quite viking about the concept…

Similarly, my wife and I are also huge fans of Legacy Coffee Company, which up until a few weeks ago, was a pick-up truck pulling a trailer. Now, they’ve set up shop inside of Viking Pizza Co.

We love supporting local! And it helps when local is awesome, like with Viking and Legacy.

So at last, I’ve broke in my black Chuck Taylors. I feel good about it. I just had to wait for the right deserving event.

Dear Jack: Always Tell Mommy and Me What You Tell Santa What You Want for Christmas… (Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

6 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: Always Tell Mommy and Me What You Tell Santa What You Want for Christmas… (Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

Dear Jack,

On Saturday we drove to the neighboring town of Columbia so that you and your sister could get your picture taken with Santa. Despite having lived in our new house in Spring Hill for almost two years now, I had never driven past the Target and movie theater on the edge of town.

It was as if I had always subconsciously assumed that civilization just ended on the other side of the Spring Hill city limits sign. Turns out, on the other side is a slightly larger city with a charming culture of its own.

Before we had left the house, you had specifically asked Mommy and me, “Is this going to be the real Santa, or just one of his helpers?”

We replied that we wanted you to decide for yourself after you met him…

You then submitted the idea of pulling his beard to see if it was real. We didn’t advise against doing so- because, you know- we’re cool parents.

I really enjoyed our visit to Columbia. Our family arrived at the health food store in downtown: It was in the very back of the store where Santa was. I know that sounds random- and it was.

Dear Jack: Always Tell Mommy and Me What You Tell Santa What You Want for Christmas… (Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

For $7, Mommy and I got our very first picture of you and your sister with Santa. As we were paying for the photo, I noticed you remained on Santa’s lap… with a sort of sneaky look on your face as he was talking to you.

I interpreted it as you thinking, “This isn’t really Santa and I know it- but I’m just going to go along with it.” After all, he was a young-looking Santa.

The thought ran through my head: “I wonder if Jack is about to try to pull Santa’s beard…”

But I didn’t get a chance at that point to ask you what that conversation was about. Instead, I got distracted as we took a family walk: It was just 3 blocks to Red Seven Pizza Co. for dinner.

(Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

Mommy found out about the place while Googling “vegan restaurants in Columbia” before we left the house. She told me that even had vegan cheese available. I am so glad she found it! In fact, we were all so glad she found it!

(Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

We will definitely be going back- and in the near future. Each of us got to choose exactly what we wanted on our pizzas, out of dozens of ingredients… same thing with our salads. I took advantage of the fact they had pineapples and artichokes.

(Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

I was the only one in our family to be able to finish my pizza, but I was perfectly full by the time we left. You and Mommy got to enjoy your leftovers the next day for lunch.

A few hours later as I was putting you to bed, you suddenly revealed to me, “Daddy, I asked Santa for a Rudolph stuffed animal.”

I instantly reminded you that you already bought a reindeer stuffed animal last month during your $100 shopping spree at Opry Mills Mall.


But then you explained to me that was just a reindeer, but not Rudolph, like from the classic claymation Christmas movie…

That’s when I made sure to tell you it’s important to always also tell Mommy and me what you told Santa you want for Christmas.

Because, well- for some families, Santa’s gifts were taken care of back in September and Santa wasn’t expecting to rush to Target, Toys “R” Us, or Walmart just a few days before Christmas…

Something tells me though, Rudolph and his red nose will find his way underneath the Christmas tree.



Dear Jack: Always Tell Mommy and Me What You Tell Santa What You Want for Christmas… (Featuring Red 7 Pizza in Columbia, TN)

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade… By Accident

5 years, 6 months.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

Dear Jack,

On Saturday morning, our family decided to introduce your Aunt Jenny, Uncle Tom, and cousins Taylore and Rachel (visiting from Pennsylvania) to our favorite vegan-friendly pizza place: Mellow Mushroom in downtown Franklin, Tennessee; just 11 miles from our house.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

We were surprised at how difficult it was to find a parking space, though. Ultimately, we took the last remaining spot at the top of the downtown parking garage.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

All the girls wanted to stop by Starbucks first, which is 2 blocks away and across the street. By the time the girls got their coffee, we realized that people were lining up on the sidewalks, facing the street.

We soon learned that the Franklin Rodeo Parade would be beginning in 10 minutes, which explained why it was so difficult to find a place to park. Fortunately, the 8 of us had claimed the giant table next to the giant window, facing the street. In other words, we had front row seats for the parade.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

To my knowledge, you had never seen a parade before. Obviously, you enjoyed it! You loved the school bands- you were amazed by the tubas.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

You got to see horses, clowns, tiny eighteen-wheelers, classic cars, and people dressed up in animal costumes. Once you realized they were throwing candy, you decided to upgrade your seat to the sidewalk outside.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

After the parade ended, we made our way to Mellow Mushroom. Because of all the people who showed up for the parade, it was an hour wait to get a table.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

So we followed the girls around to the shops there on Main Street. Once we got to White’s Mercantile, you found something of interest: a wooden glider plane. Anytime you go to the dentist, you always choose the Styrofoam glider plane from the prize box; but now, you had access to the Lexus version.

While there, we noticed a decorative wooden box up on the shelf with your sister’s name on it: Holly.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

The girl running the cashier explained that Holly is the owner’s name; as in Holly Williams, the granddaughter of country music legend Hank Williams. I thought that was pretty cool.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

During lunch at Mellow Mushroom, you were preoccupied with building your glider plane, so I helped you with that as we waited on the food- though I admit, you knew how to do the rubber band part of the propeller before I could even figure it out.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

Once we got home, you and I tested out your plane in the backyard. The next afternoon, we all headed over the Arrington Vineyards for a picnic. It was a great area to fly your plane.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

Imagine this: Had we simply gone straight to Mellow Mushroom on Saturday, we would have missed the parade, as well as going into White’s Mercantile to buy your plane.

Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

It was just meant to be.



Dear Jack: You Saw Your 1st Parade... By Accident

Jill Shell’s Friday Night Vegan/Vegetarian Pizza Recipe: Family Friendly (Mommy) Blog

Jill Shell's Friday Night Vegan/Vegetarian Pizza Recipe: Family Friendly (Mommy) Blog

Let’s talk pizza!  Our family LOVES pizza and our favorite restaurant to dine at currently is Mellow Mushroom.  They are vegan and “family friendly” and we’ve been to several here in the Southeast (in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama, as a matter of fact).  Pizza is often a staple for us on Friday or Saturday nights when we are up for something quick and easy to make.  Now I don’t claim to be Betty Crocker, so I will tell you now that 9 times out of 10 I do buy my pizza dough (as opposed to making it).

Where we live you can buy pre-made pizza dough from Publix, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s.  Whenever possible, I generally buy our pizza dough from Trader Joe’s because it is vegan, the ingredients are simple and pronouncable, it’s really good and you can’t beat the price ($1.19 here in Nashville).  I try to make a trip to TJ’s about once every other month and stock up on essentials like pizza dough (it’s perfectly fine to put it in the freezer and then thaw out the day you will use it).  And I will say that not only can you use the dough for making pizzas and calzones, but they are great to make into breadsticks to go along with soup in the winter.

To make a vegan veggie pizza, here’s what I do:

1- Preheat the oven to 400* and grease a medium sized pizza pan with a bit of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

2- Pat the dough in your hands and pull from each side to stretch it out, and then spread it out onto your pizza pan.

3- Add the sauce of your choice (we generally buy jarred organic pasta sauce from either Kroger, TJ’s or Whole Foods . . . sometimes you can get it for $2.19 a jar at Kroger and all of the ingredients are ingredients that are real).

4- Cut up veggies of your choice and sprinkle randomly over the sauce . . . our veggie pizza staples are onion (cut into thin, long slices), multi-colored bell peppers (cut into thin, long slices), and tomatoes (cut thin) to layer on top.  Sometimes we add mushrooms, but those are only for nights we feel a little crazy and step outside of the norm.

5- Slice up some Kalamata olives and sprinkle all over.

6- Shake a little salt, a little cracked pepper, and either an Italian herb blend or simple oregano other the entire pizza.  If you have fresh basil, go ahead and cut some of that up and spread it over the pizza.

7- Toss it in the oven for 10-15 minutes (depending how crispy or soft you like your crust).

8- Eat and serve with a side salad.

Jill Shell's Friday Night Vegan/Vegetarian Pizza Recipe: Family Friendly (Mommy) Blog

For Jack’s pizza, we tend to go a much simpler route (because he is 4 and a very picky eater).  I generally break the dough in half and put the other half in the freezer for another night.  I grease the pizza pan, work out the dough in my hands and spread it onto the pan.  I add the sauce (and I try to opt for a sauce that specifically has some kind of extra veggie, like a sauce with bell peppers or mushrooms).  Then I top it with mozzarella cheese . . . or almond cheese which still has casein in it so it’s not vegan, but seems a bit better for him than the mozzarella.  I bake it anywhere from 10-15 minutes and serve his with cut up apples or a side of applesauce.

Here again, if you are not into the whole vegan thing (I get it, I really do) and just want to make a good, meaty or cheesy pizza . . . just follow the first few steps and then add your preferred toppings.  Or if you are a super meat lover and want to try inserting a veggie option in every now and then, try this, you won’t be disappointed (unless you are, then in which case, I can’t help you there; I can just vouch that we like it)!