Dear Holly: The Pink Unicorn Your Brother Won for You at the Fair

1 year, 3 months.

Dear Holly,

Last weekend we made our annual visit to the Williamson County Fair. Your brother Jack had entered an amazing picture of a sheep so we enjoyed seeing it on display. But really, his main agenda was to get over to the carnival games. Thanks to Nonna and Papa being in town, his “game allowance” was a little padded.

While Jack definitely enjoyed throwing darts at balloons and picking up “lucky ducks” in the water, he tried out a new game that was just right for a 1st grader boy. He used a cork gun to shoot green Solo cups off of a shelf. Inside some of the cups were special markings, which determined the value of the prize he would win.

After much consideration of the prizes, he ended up choosing a small white tiger stuffed animal. However, he had earned enough points to win a larger prize instead. But he liked the face of the small one better, so he didn’t mind choosing a less valuable prize; because to him, the smaller tiger was more valuable.

Once the man in charge of the game realized Jack’s decision was final, the man looked up to you in Mommy’s arms and said, “Well, since your brother didn’t take the bigger prize he won, I’m going to let that pretty little girl have a prize too!”

Mommy and I checked out on the prizes available. There was an undeniable, obvious choice…

A pink unicorn!

You were so happy to get your prize. And truly, it’s all because of your brother Jack.

So the way I see it, he won you a prize at the fair. I know that made him happy.

What also made him happy was the samurai sword he won from the “lucky ducks” game.



Our Long Awaited Yet Random Drive to Henry Horton State Park on July 4th

Ever since we moved into to our new house in Spring Hill two and a half years ago, our family has always been curious about that sign on 840, advertising Henry Horton State Park; which is about 30 miles away from where we live.

The plan had sort of always been, that when we had an extra day off as a family where we had no agenda, or when we had a vehicle from one of our trips, we would finally check out Henry Horton State Park.

Well, this past week, the time had finally come.

Fresh off our Louisville trip, we still had the 2017 Toyota 4Runner. So it was simple:

This past Tuesday morning, on July 4th, our family loaded up in the “Storm Trooper” and made our long awaited yet random drive to Henry Horton State Park.

Since I had driven the entire Louisville trip myself, I wanted to give my wife a chance to drive the 4Runner. I didn’t even have to ask her if she wanted to drive. I just looked up, and she was already in the driver’s seat after I had loaded up the double stroller.

So with our son in the 3rd row seat directly behind me, and our daughter right next to me in the 2nd row seat, we began our journey.

Our daughter Holly was desperately in need of a nap, but she had a case of the munchies. So as we made our way to the legendary (in our minds, at least) state park, I facilitated her in being able to eat her cheddar goldfish.

As one would imagine, by the time we arrived at Henry Horton State Park, our little girl was finally fast asleep. So my wife volunteered to stay in the luxurious cabin of the 4Runner and through the windshield, watched the boys audition for American Ninja Warrior on the extreme playground.

My son really enjoyed the challenge of pulling himself across the obstacle course with a little help from me.

After he got good and sweaty, we hopped back in the 4Runner, as he held his Hot Wheels version of a 1985 Toyota 4Runner; which he’s had since he was two.

Clutching that older, miniature version of the vehicle that my wife drove us home in, he too fell asleep.

Of course, we would have little stop at the fireworks tent before we were back home for the day.

I will admit. There was nothing groundbreaking about our trip to Henry Horton State Park.

No cool caves. No amazing trails. No big waterfalls.

But for us as a family, it was a mystery finally solved, and a great way to spend the 4th of July together.

And that’s all that mattered.

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 Have Really Cool Parents

6 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

Looking at the pictures from on our visit last Saturday to Westhaven with our friends Mohamed, Lena, and Hanna, one thing becomes undeniable: You have really cool parents.

Mohamed and I, both being the token “take hundreds of pictures of your kid at every outing” kind of dads, ended up getting some good shots of all the kids.

I like the picture he took of you and me playing on the slide, where you are hiding below, in attempt to scare me as I go down the slide. The look on your face seems to indicate, “Yeah, I know my dad’s crazy… but I’m used to it by now.”

In addition to me purposely pushing you too high on the swing, to test your limits, you purposed we engage in a good classic game of Tag. I thought it was funny how you started by proclaimed, “Daddy, I’m it first.” But then you didn’t start chasing me…

So I turned the tables on you and started chasing you instead, and you ran from me… even though it was supposed to be the other way around.

Once you finally embraced what being it meant, I found a way to challenge you as you chased me. We were standing next to this swinging balance beam.

As you ran towards me and got close, I simply jumped over the balance beam. Then as you ran around it, I jumped back to the other side.

Speaking of the balance beam, Mommy was really good at crossing it without falling off.

You were so happy when I found a little plastic alligator in the playground mulch. We took it down to the creek, where you used a boat made out of leafs, so he could “sail down the river.”

Yep, you have really cool parents. No playing on our smart phones from the bench. We’re out there having fun with you any chance we get.



Photos by Mohamad Alaw & Nick Shell.

Dear Holly: The Nonna Pick-Up Point at The Goat Restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly)

9 months.

Dear Holly: The Nonna Pick-Up Point at The Goat Restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly)

Dear Holly,

Just a day after we took Grandma (Mommy’s Mommy) back to the airport after she graciously spent the past two weeks watching you, we then picked up Nonna (my Mommy), who is watching you this week.

Mommy and I saw the need to give you a break from daycare for a while, as you had remained consistently sick for months.

Fortunately, Papa was willing to drive most of the way to drop off Nonna. He drove 2 hours; we only drove 30 minutes, which was about as much as you were able to handle that day in the car. We met Nonna and Papa at an amazing vegan/vegetarian-friendly restaurant called The Goat.

Though it’s been around for 2 years now, we had never heard of it. If only we had known how well it suits our family’s dietary restrictions and needs, we would have been going there regularly. Well, now we know.

Dear Holly: The Nonna Pick-Up Point at The Goat Restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly)

Not to mention, the lighting at The Goat helps the place serve as a great place to take pictures. I was able to capture some really shots of you and your brother catching up with Nonna and Papa.

Granted, you’re not quite old enough to appreciate the food they serve there yet, but it’s definitely something to look forward to.

Your brother Jack had a great time with his mini cheese pizza slices and gourmet tater tots. He even lucked out and got to have dessert: donut holes, which were a first for him.

So here’s to a week of you being spoiled by Nonna at our house. Here’s to you sleeping hours at a time in your arms as she just stares at your precious face the whole time.

And here’s to us making The Goat a regular stopping point anytime we’re passing through Murfreesboro.



Dear Holly: The Nonna Pick-Up Point at The Goat Restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly)

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 Holly: Baby Dedication Day at Our Church at The Bridge in Spring Hill, Tennessee

6 months.

Dear Holly: Baby Dedication Day at Our Church at The Bridge in Spring Hill, Tennessee

Dear Holly,

This past weekend while Nonna and Papa were in town for Jack’s 6th Birthday, as well as Papa’s 60th birthday, it just happened to also be when our church had its Baby Dedication Day. It was a very special time for our family- and for you.

Mommy and I acknowledged in front of our church, The Bridge in Spring Hill, TN, and in front of God, that we will do our best to raise you in a home where you see the love of Christ and where you know the ways of the Lord.

Obviously, we are imperfect parents. We have our flaws. We will fail at times.

But we have a special eternal hope and joy in Jesus. You are undeniably being raised in a Christian household- and the ceremony of the Baby Dedication makes that publically official.

Even your middle name, Joy, is based on our Christian faith; choosing to find joy in life.

Dear Holly: Baby Dedication Day at Our Church at The Bridge in Spring Hill, Tennessee

Our faith is beyond going to a building once a week. Our faith is built on loving others as ourselves. How can we love God if we don’t love each other?

Mommy and I see you as a gift from the Lord. We are responsible to God for you.

Specifically, as your earthly father, I am well aware of the important role I play in being your spiritual leader.

Our church gave you a children’s Bible, as well as, a special letter to open on the day of your salvation.

Just like I do with your brother’s children’s Bible that my Grandma gave me, I will be reading bedtime stories to you from this new children’s Bible. I am very proud to raise you in the Christian faith.

You are more than just a beautiful little girl. You are a soul to be nurtured.



Dear Holly: Baby Dedication Day at Our Church at The Bridge in Spring Hill, Tennessee