Dear Holly: And Now Your Summer Before Kindergarten Begins!

5 years, 1 month.

Dear Holly,

We have a very exciting summer planned, which will end with you starting Kindergarten.

In addition to going to Alabama to spend time with your cousins here on this side of the country, we will also be travelling to California; where you will be reacquainted with many of those cousins who haven’t seen you since you were a baby!

Plus, we’ll be heading to the mountains of Georgia again; this time with Nonna and Papa.

And the week before you start Kindergarten, I have a special surprise trip for our family of 4… if I can manage to keep it a secret for nearly 2 more months!



Money Saving Tips for an Orlando Visit 

A trip to Orlando is a fantastic experience, but can be hard on the wallet. With so many places to visit you want to make sure that you can fit as much in as possible, without breaking the bank.

Firstly, you will need a great, central place to stay. There are plenty of Orlando vacation rentals to suit all budgets and requirements.

Pre-Book Theme Park Tickets

If you are going to visit any of the big theme parks in Orlando, you should look at booking your tickets in advance.  This is particularly recommended if you are going to visit multiple times.  The price at the gates will often run over $100 per person and this really adds up.  You can also get the best value for money when you visit 2 parks or more in a single day without multiple charges.

Book A Combo Ticket

If you want the best value for money, you should look at booking a combo ticket.  You will probably have a few parks in mind when you take your trip.  Most people do not realize that they can combine their tickets for the different parks to save money.  You could end up paying just $60 per person in the end.  The discount rate will provide you with the same level of access as the tickets bought from the gates.

Stay at A More Basic Hotel

Staying at one of the on-site hotels does bring benefits such as free park shuttles and early admission, they also carry a much higher cost.  If you are traveling on a budget, these hotels should be avoided.  Instead, you should look at staying at a value hotel close to International Drive.  This will place you in the heart of the action, but will not break your bank account.  Staying in a more basic hotel should not be a problem because you are going to be out and about all day anyway.

Have Smaller Denomination Notes

If you are exchanging currency, you need to ask for some smaller notes as well.  Tipping in the US is very common and you will want smaller notes for this.  Smaller notes will make the whole process much easier and will ensure that you do not overspend when eating out.

Split Big Meals

Meal portions in America are also larger than what many people are used to.  A great way to save money will be to split a meal between 2 people.  You do not have to worry about seeming cheap when you do this as the servers are used to this and will be willing to bring a second plate.

This hack will be perfect for children, but there are some locations where it works for adults as well.  As you are shown to your table, you should lance around to see the portion sizes to determine if this will work.

Take Advantage of Free Wifi

Orlando has seen a spread of free Wifi to parks, hotels and other key areas.  This means that you do not have to run up your roaming and call charges.  When you get on the airplane to Orlando, turn off your roaming and activate the Wifi on your phone.  There are a lot of apps that allow you to make free calls via the internet which means that you can stay in touch without the massive bills.

Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary (Featuring the 2018 Mazda3) by Nick Shell

When you’re 37 years old, the definition of cool is to spend a few days in a totally rad cabin out in Truckee, California with your wife and 2 young kids; as part of your upcoming 10th wedding anniversary celebration.

So we left my mother-in-law’s house in Walnut Grove (elevation zero), stopped by It’s a Grind for some coffee and a Father’s Day mug, and drove the 2018 Mazda3 to Lake Tahoe (elevation 6,225).

Just about 25 minutes away from King’s Beach, our family got to experience my wife’s version of camping out in the wilderness. It’s funny because we happened to be there in the off season, so we were literally the only family staying there in the community. We had the entire mountainside all to our ourselves.

The cabin was perfect for our family. It was 3 stories tall, with the kitchen and living room taking up the middle floor.

I finally got to see Toy Story 3, as my kids’ default channel during dinner was Disney. It was touching, but still didn’t make me cry the way Inside Out or Coco did. (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to admit that!)

It didn’t take my wife and me long to agree how awesome it would be to actually live in a place like that. If only we could live in that cabin up in Lake Tahoe.

I suppose being on vacation is supposed to make you feel that way, though. It’s a glimpse of what an easier version of life would be like, where you didn’t have to work for a living and just got to take it easy, like modern Country music songs often talk about.

But this is part of the reason my wife and I work so hard, to provide adventures like this for our family to relax and enjoy.

This is some of my highlight reel; not my everyday life. But years from now, I won’t be thinking about all the hard work, I’ll be thinking about the good times like these… the cabin life.

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mazda 3? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander)

5 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander)

Dear Jack,

Mommy and I couldn’t take our Kindergartner son to San Diego without taking him to Legoland, could we?

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Grandma helped us out by staying in our hotel room with your baby sister, while Mommy and I spent half the day with you, at what had to be for you the boy equivalent of Disney Land.

Seriously, I could see that it was a nearly 6 year-old boy’s dream come true. Undeniably, Mommy and I loved it too!

We started out by going a ride that took us through the Lego versions of popular traditional fairy tales. It’s so cool to see everything made out of Legos.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander) l9

I didn’t realize there would be so many rides there, but that’s mainly what we did. We went on a roller coaster, a train ride, a boat ride, a laser tag ride, and a Lego version of the tea cup ride at Disney Land.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander) l12 l13 l14

Mommy and I also let you play a carnival game, as you always love try to win a prize. Granted, we only let you play the games where “everyone wins a prize.” You were very proud of the dragon you won.

You were mesmerized by the miniature version of the world. They even had a Lego layout of all the Star Wars movie.

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I loved the giant Chewbacca, as well.

We finished up our visit to Legoland with the build-a-boat exhibit. You and I built a Lego boat, then got to race it down the chute alongside other kids’ Lego boats.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander) l23

I am confident that our trip to Legoland will be something you never forget.

Dear Holly: Everyone Loves to Hold You (San Diego Vacation in a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander) Dear Holly: Everyone Loves to Hold You (San Diego Vacation in a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander)

Mommy let you buy a $4 Pixel set to work on during the drive back to our hotel. It was funny because Mommy and I sat up front together, while you worked intensively in your own work station in the 3rd row seat in the very back of the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander we drove.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander)

Needless to say, you finished the Lego set by the time we made it back to your sister and Grandma.



Dear Jack: Our Trip to Legoland (San Diego Vacation/2016 Mitsubishi Outlander)

Dear Jack: One Day I Want to Drive Our Family Back Across the Florida Keys

5 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: One Day I Want to Drive Our Family Back Across the Florida Keys

Dear Jack,

Four years ago this month, two major things happened: 1) Our family became (and has remained) vegetarians. 2)  Our family was recruited by Chevy to drive across the Florida Keys in a Chevy Volt, beginning in Naples.

At the time, you were barely a year old; so while Mommy and I had a wonderful time, you don’t remember it at all.

Now at age 5, you are the age to where I believe you would be able to truly be able to appreciate and remember such a fun trip.

We spent our first night in Naples, which might be my favorite American beach yet. That’s the first time we ever saw dolphins in the wild. We collected seashells that first morning; those shells remain in our home 4 years later.

From there, we drove through the Everglades and then to the Keys.

It was such a dreamlike experience to be literally driving in the middle of the ocean, driving on a series of bridges connecting islands off the Florida coast.

But on both sides of the narrow roads, all we saw was ocean.

And I remember how Chevy put our family up in this really cool, historic house. You would love it now!

If our family were to revisit that trip, it wouldn’t simply be better just because you’re older now. There’s also the fact I have better camera equipment, as well as the skills and ability to make more artistic photo collages and well as music-laden videos to put on YouTube… like these two:

I don’t know when we can do this trip again, but at some point, I would love to make it happen.

Our family has made two different trips to Florida this year; back in June to Pensacola, then to Destin for your birthday in November.

My inner Jimmy Buffet is starting to reveal itself; it’s only enhanced because I tend to leave Sirius XM on Channel 24: Margaritaville.

As for now, these few pictures I took from 4 years ago serve as bookmarks of that trip, as well as inspirational images for us to get back to Key West.



Dear Jack: One Day I Want to Drive Our Family Back Across the Florida Keys