The Intense Stress Relief of Victory

Quick update.

Last night the Yankees beat the Indians in a winner-take-all game to advance in the playoffs. For 4 innings, the Yankees were ahead 3-2 and it felt like the Indians were going to come back the whole time.

Jack declared, “This is the most stressed I’ve ever felt.”

Then in the 8th inning, Brett Gardner had a 12-pitch at bat and finally knocked in 2 runs.

Jack leaped in joy, then collapsed in relief.


I believe this photo says it all.


Packing Perfection

If you’re looking for a two-day, one night backpacking trip – this is the perfect option. But be warned…day one is 6.5 miles and climbs 1945 feet of total elevation.

Overall Run/Beecher Ridge


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If you’re looking for a companion, this is the perfect candidate. He is an experienced packer, in great physical shape, makes good decisions, and is terrific fun to hang out with.


This is the perfect reaction when you reach the Matthews Arm trail and you realize it’s all downhill from there.


This is the perfect spot to refill your water. (Note: don’t listen to your dad when he says you can do better. You’ll end up doing an extra 2 miles that day just to come back to this spot.)


This is the perfect spot to overlook the Shenandoah Valley.


This is the perfect camp site. Note the view. Also note that when it gets dark, you can see a sky stuffed with stars above and a dark valley stuffed with blinking fireflies below.


This is the perfect meal after you’ve packed 8.4 miles/2465 feet of elevation in a single day.


This is the perfect tent. The top  half is open screen, so you see the sky and shapes of trees above you. You hear owls hooting. You feel the breeze. You can lay there with your son and sort all your friends and family into Harry Potter houses.

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This is the perfect place to stop for a break at the end of your second day.

This is the perfect place to stop for victory burgers, which should absolutely be your tradition after you come out of the woods after a packing trip. (Horseshoe Curve Restaurant, Bluemont, VA)


This is the perfect mix for your ride home. Alex put it together. Two notes about your ride home.

  1. I would recommend taking the route that avoids Washington DC. It’s an extra half hour, but it takes you on windy roads through the mountains of Virginia.
  2. Be cautious listening to this mix on those roads with that boy after doing this packing trip. The joy you feel will be overwhelming. It will be so thick inside you that it creates a physical pressure pushing at the top of your chest.

OK…here’s the official Harry Potter sorting.

Our immediate family

Mike Gryffindor
Alex Ravenclaw
Shani Ravenclaw
Jack Gryffindor
Pop-pop Ravenclaw
Grandma Gryffindor
Grampa Harry Ravenclaw
Grandma Mary Hufflepuff
Uncle Chris Slytherin
Aunt Annie Ravenclaw
Tucker Hufflepuff
Brinda Ravenclaw
Neave Slytherin
Uncle Bob Ravenclaw
Aunt Joan Ravenclaw
Uncle Coddy Hufflepuff
Aunt Mary Ravenclaw
Max Hufflepuff
Sam Ravenclaw
My mom Gryffindor


Chief Hufflepuff
Hal Hufflepuff
Dave Slytherin
Ben Gryffindor
Skinny Hufflepuff
Spider Ravenclaw

West Coast Friends

Reef Ravenclaw
Corbin Hufflepuff
Wade Slytherin
Frank Gryffindor
Budzik Hufflepuff

Cast of Friends

Rachel Slytherin
Ross Ravenclaw
Monica Gryffindor
Chandler Slytherin
Joey Gryffindor
Phoebe Hufflepuff


Captain America Gryffindor (textbook)
Iron Man Slytherin
Black Widow Slytherin
Hawkeye Slytherin
Thor Gryffindor
Hulk Ravenclaw
Vision Ravenclaw
Falcon Gryffindor
Scarlet Witch Slytherin
Quicksilver Hufflepuff
Spiderman Gryffindor


Bart Slytherin
Marge Gryffindor
Lisa Ravenclaw
Maggie Hufflepuff
Homer Squib


A beautiful woman and an old maid come to my rescue

This blogpost is about my family reunion. I considered sharing it privately, but then it occurred to me that my family makes up 40% of the audience. So…come along with me to Lincolnton, Georgia and the Nuckols Family Reunion. (Or if you don’t care about my family reunion, I totally understand if you bail on this post.)

It was 750 miles. Shani, Alex, and I hit the road with a stop in Durham to see friends and do some hiking. We arrived the next day at my Aunt Helen’s massive manor – home base for the reunion. There was hugging, eating, catching up. Alex disappeared with his cousins. We lined up for a huge buffet with roast beef and mashed potatoes and grilled jalepeno peppers wrapped in bacon.

My cousin, Max, had bought 100 bucks in fireworks from “Three Fingered Freddy’s” on the South Carolina border, and he set them off in the driveway while kids zipped around on scooters and parents fretted about safety.

We migrated to my Aunt Margo’s house where my Uncle Coddy broke out his guitar. I love his songs, but it struck me as a little sad that it was only him singing. Coddy, Margo, and my father used to play together in the 60s as The Nuckols Trio. They had a regular song list that was a mainstay of reunions when I was a kid. My dad hadn’t even brought his guitar along, so it was just Coddy – which was still pretty fantastic.

The next morning, my Aunt Mary offered to host breakfast at the house she was staying at, but by the time we made it there they were packing up to move to Aunt Helen’s house. So we all migrated with them and bumbled around in Helen’s huge family room.

And I’m going to stop here and make a confession: I was feeling really off at this point. I struggle sometimes because I get so insanely excited for things and then have trouble when reality doesn’t line up. That was the case here.

“Shani, I want to run out and try and buy a new bike chain.”


“Yeah, there’s not that much going on and…”

“Oh,” she said. “OK. I’ll come with you.”

She saw what was going on with me. She always does. She probably saw it coming before we ever left New Jersey.

So here’s the deal…these reunions have shifted. Some kind of tipping point has been reached and it has changed the composition and the cadence. I ascribe this to two main factors:

1) We’ve grown

Long gone are the days when we could all stay in a single house in Albany like we did when I was a kid. Now we’re spread across 10 different houses. When we gather for a meal, we fill up nine 12-foot folding tables. It’s overwhelming to me. I find myself faced with 40+ people that I want to catch up with and only a few days to pull it off. I’m hopping from one conversation to the next like I’m speed dating, trying to check off all the relatives from a giant to-do list.

2) We’ve reproduced

Me and most of my cousins now have kids of our own. Which means the place is littered with rug-rats. Everyone (myself included) is constantly being pulled away to deal with pleading for another can of soda or screaming from fire ant bites.

In truth, it’s not just one reunion. Each family has siblings and kids having their own individual reunion. And all that together makes up our extended family reunion.

Shani and I talked all this out on our drive.

We got back to the Baldwins and there were a few folks milling around. My niece, Brinda, was there and someone suggested a game of Old Maid, which is my opinion is about the lamest card game there is.

My opinion has since been revised.

The game was intensely awesome. It was filled with bluffing, insults, jeering. The tension was thick and wonderful. 10-year-old Brinda was in her glory playing with eight adults. The game was so fun it actually drew a crowd.

Dinner was a buffet of leftovers and people just sort of sat where they could find room. I ended up around a small table swapping stories with my cousins about nightmare stays in motels.

Shani and I slipped out to go to the Kites and within 30 minutes everyone seemed to have the same idea. My Aunt Helen wanted to hear a new song my Uncle Coddy had written, so he broke out his guitar for the second night in a row. Soon everyone was grabbing chairs from all over the house to form a huge circle around the living room. Coddy played a few originals, and then without saying anything he went into the sing-a-long repertoire. The floor in the center was suddenly filled with kids as we sang The Fox, Eddie-Cucha-Cacha-Camma, Tom Dooley, Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.

Then my Aunt Margo was singing.

As I have travelled all over this land
There is just one sad thing that I find
When the wide road calls you must leave friends and all
Leaving a song behind
For a while
Leaving a song behind

Aunt Margo has a husky alto voice that I believe to be the universal voice of warm, smiling aunts everywhere. She was singing the first verse of “One for the Money” which is the song that The Nuckols Trio always closed with.

She went into the chorus….

One for the money

And from the room, the voices of my father and Uncle Coddy answered…

Sing for a penny

Two for the show

Any song that we know

Three to make ready

The wide road is pretty

And four to go

It’s been good to know ya’

And four to go

We’ve a long way to go

And I was crying. My family was stuffed into a huge ring. I saw Alex cuddled on Shani’s lap.

Then came the second verse. Oh, that verse. The second verse is and has always been the fundamental tenant of my family. It is literally one of the core lessons of my life.

Some value money and some value fame
Some value women and wine
But a song and a friend ‘round each turn of the bend
Are the riches I’d rather were mine
Every time
Riches I’d rather were mine

Family reunions are funny things. On one side, they are about the past. You are repeating something you did as a kid. Family reunions are some of my brightest, best memories from childhood. Your family is who you are – so these reunions were central to how I thought about myself.

But at the same time, reunions are about the passing of time. You’re checking in and seeing what has changed since the last reunion.

It’s weird. And it’s wonderful once your wife and your niece help you get your head out of your ass.

The final verse goes like this…(try and hear it in your mind as a husky alto)

When I am gone may this song linger on
And its echo fall soft on your ear
May your riches increase and you all live in peace
And your happiness grow every year
My friends
Happiness grow every year







Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas

I will first draw your attention to the change in title. For this episode, we are NuckolBRAWL. And for this NuckolBrawl tale, I bring you back to Christmas morning of 2016. The family is in the living room, around the tree, taking turns opening presents. Things are joyful and sweet. Shani has just unwrapped the scarf that Alex knit her.

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Suddenly, a realization strikes Jack Nuckols:

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

On the last day of school before holiday break, Jack and his two friends had gone downtown to buy presents. Jack spent the afternoon and evening out with his pals getting gifts. They even went to dinner at the Chinese place when they were done. I thought it was such a nice idea. I was proud of him. The thought of it warmed my heart.

So back to Christmas morning…

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

Jack grabbed his backpack and began rummaging around inside it.

“I didn’t wrap anything, but that’s OK, right? Hang on…this is for…”

He pulled out a small cellophane bag and peeked inside.

“Oh wait! That’s my egg roll. OK…here we go.”

He pulled out gifts for each of us:

  • For Alex, he bought a stuffed purple penguin. Alex snatched it a gave it a snuggle
  • For me, a bottle of hot sauce with a skull key chain
  • For Shani…

Oh no.

Oh dear God, no.

I stared in horror.

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You could feel the floor crumbling away beneath the entire room. It was like a sand castle slurped away by a wave.

Jack had given his mother a green folder as her holiday gift. It had cost him 99 cents at the most – his egg roll had cost him more. It was a gift of monumental thoughtlessness.

When it comes to things like this, I have an internal debate. Do you let it go and forego the drama to follow? Do you laugh it off and let Christmas go on.

Shani had no such debate. She retreated to our bedroom and a fog of gloom descended upon the world. Jack grew sullen and withdrawn.

And with that, Christmas was ruined.

But could it be salvaged?

Read on…

Could this man save Christmas?


I made the first attempt. I went up to our room and consoled Shani. I talked to Jack and told him how badly he’d hurt his mother’s feelings. I went back and forth like the moderator for disarmament talks between warring countries. I finally got Jack to go up to our room and talk to Shani.

Two minutes later he came storming back downstairs.

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Could these two save Christmas?


An hour later, Shani came back downstairs. She sat on the couch in a sad slump. I called up to Jack and asked him to come down for a second. I said that had to show him something. As soon as he was halfway down the steps…

“Dad and I are going for a walk.”


Alex and I grabbed our coats and shot out the door.

We lapped the block slowly. Fifteen minutes later, we came back and poked out heads in. Shani and Jack were sitting silently on opposite ends of the couch. Both were curled up like pillbugs.

“Let’s do another lap.”

“Good idea.”

We did two laps this time. The final result…

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Could the Mulvihills save Christmas?


That afternoon, the Mulvihills came over for happy hour. It’s a tradition our families share each year. We get together on Christmas for happy hour and then go out for Chinese food.

I figured that Shani couldn’t possibly keep up the gloom with friends over. She’d have to put on a good face for guests.

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Dead wrong.


Could the George Michael save Christmas?


After a semi-stilted happy hour, we headed to Philly for dinner. In past years we’d done Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean BBQ. This year we took it up a notch and rented a private karaoke room in Chinatown.

So picture the scene. 4 adults (one of them emitting a fog of gloom). 4 tweens (2 boys, 2 girls). It’s not a recipe for uninhibited fun.

We were doing some lame signing when suddenly our phones lit up with news alerts: George Michael had died.

Next thing we knew, the moms were belting out Careless Whisper, Father Figure, and more. This was a moment of unity. George Michael had gone so suddenly. Who has time to dwell on bad things? Live to the moment! Enjoy each other now!

But the tweens just looked at us with disdain and embarrassment. Before long we were struggling to keep the fun going.

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Then things went from bad to worse. I looked to see that “Hello” by Adele was next. My thought: worst possible song. It’s slow-paced and hard to sing. Plus it’s sad as hell. What could be a worse choice?

The first verse came out as a mumbled dirge. Then the music swelled into the chorus and suddenly…


Everyone was belting it out. All the kids. Both moms. My friend Geoff. People were smiling and laughing at each other. Everyone was letting it roar at full volume. I looked across the room and Shani and Jack were singing into the same microphone with all their might. More sushi arrived. We put the song on again and performed an encore. Our waitress brought a tray heavy with Sapporo beers and cans of Sprite.


Yes folks, the green folder was forgotten. Adele had saved Christmas.





The Problem with NuckolBall


So…NuckolBall. There’s a problem. Check this out…

Alex and I drove up to Binghamton last weekend for the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. On the drive up, we had the most incredible damn conversation. I still can’t believe we went there. It was bold and unexpected and would make a wild story about parenting. A perfect post for NuckolBall.

But Alex asked me not to talk about it with anybody.

See, the fact is, I’ve been struggling for relevance here. There used to be an obvious tension and wonder in my life as a dad. But life has gone from helping my boys figure shit out, to sitting on the sidelines as they figure shit out for themselves. I’m not so much in the know.

This is full on Parenting Phase 2. The transition is over; it’s here.

It’s nice in a lot of ways. Shani and I have way more time on our hands. We slip out to grab a drink together all the time now. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in 10 years. Shani’s leading the South Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action.

But when it comes to NuckoBall, it’s been a little tough. So…I’m going to try and embrace the situation. Adapt. Which means get ready for some real-deal Parenting Phase 2 posts.

Loosely outlining, I expect to write about:

  • The Sex Talk
  • Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas
  • Things We Screwed Up in Phase One

I’ll come up with some more stuff as I go. But stick with me. This is some funny stuff.


A few facts

Fact 1: It rained today.

Fact 2: The rain resulted in Jack’s baseball game being cancelled.

Fact 3: Shani and I took advantage of this surprise opening to ditch the kids and make it over to the Tonewood Brewery. We got seats at the bar and ordered 2 Feugos, which are vaguely bitter and vaguely citrusy. They are delicious in my book and highly drinkable.


Fact 4: Shani and I have been married for 17+ years.

Fact 5: I am legitimately crazy about my wife. I can confidently say that I’m more in love with her now than I have ever been. We have so much damn fun together. Our day to day life is genuinely romantic. Shani is 46 years old, and I honestly think she is more beautiful today than she’s ever seemed to me.

Fact 6: We returned home in time to catch the Yankees game, where they beat the Pirates.

Fact 7: I watched the game with Jack.


Fact 8: All is right in the world.





The End of the Season

Alex and I were hanging out the other weekend and I mentioned it was almost April.

“Blah,” he said. “It’s almost time for me not to like you.”

“What?” I asked.

“Baseball season. All you and Jack want to do is sit and watch boring baseball. All you talk about. This guy did blah blah blah. That guy is blah blah. And oh my gosh he blah blah blah.”

And it occurred to me: where most people’s lives have four seasons, my life has only two.

  • Alex Season (starts after the World Series and runs through opening day)
  • Jack Season (which corresponds with baseball season)

And I’ll tell ya’ – this Alex Season has been a magical one. We’ve gone hiking almost every weekend, chattering away about managing friendships, countries we’d like to go to, how he’s planning to deal with peer pressure about drugs (he brought this up). We’ve snuggled on the couch and re-watched most of the Marvel movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars re-watching. On a snow day we got through both Terminator 1 and 2 (although we skipped the sex scene in 1).

Jack has no interest in movies (unless its bedtime). He usually turns down an invitation to go hiking because he’d rather hang with his friends. And when he does hike with us, he spends a lot of time making sure we all know he hikes faster than Alex.

But in a little more than a week…

Jack Season! We will watch the opening day game together (Yanks vs Rays). We’ll talk highlights. We’ll plot out our trips for the year (Baltimore plus a couple other contenders).

Can’t wait.

But I’m sure Alex and I will slip in a hike or two.

Here are some highlight shots from Alex Season.

Found an old springhouse
Tea Kettle Falls in Arkansas
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Pyramid Rock (North Jersey)
Blueberry Hill Trail
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Robert Frost Trail in MA
Old Italian gardens on the Leiper-Smedley Trail


A Tale of Two Attitudes

I begin with ALEX.

He is at an incredible age. The perfect age. He is young enough so he wants to hang out with me all the time. He is old enough to take hiking and have great conversations. We’ve gone hiking together every weekend the last month and spent hours talking about countries he wants to visit. We snuggle on the couch and are making our way through Arrow on Netflix.

But there is a downside.

When a show ends he reaches over and clamps onto me like a dog with a bone. “You’re not leaving!” he squeals. He’s like a human bear trap. CLANK!

He will follow me from room to room. If I go in the kitchen, within minutes he is sitting in there with me. He chatters away and asks he if he can help me chop vegetables.

I’ll announce, “I’m going to the gym” and he’ll immediately say, “no you’re not.” Then he’ll spend the next 15 minutes asking why I need to go and can’t I stay with him.

At least once a day during the weekend I’ll snap at him: “ALEX, for God’s sakes! Give me some space!”

But for the most part, I’m reveling in it. I’m trying to take as much as I can get, because I know what will happen when he gets a little older…

Which bring me to JACK.

First off, Jack has stopped using consonants when he speaks to me or Shani. He mumbles under his breath like those “buds buds” guys selling drugs on the street.

I’ll be reading on the couch. He’ll come down in a hoodie (always a hoodie).


This translates to: “Dad, let’s go.”

I often don’t hear him.

“Cummahdalesco.” (“Come on, Dad. Let’s go.”)

And when the boy is gone, he is gone. I’ll drop him at the gym where town basketball games are played. Doesn’t matter if he’s playing or not. He’ll run the scoreboard or do whatever. He and his hoodied crew will go downtown and buy bulk candy at CVS. They’ll play football at the middle school. They’ll wander to each other’s houses, flop onto the couches, turn on the TV, and then all stare at their phones.

He’s got a group of about 10 boys that join up, separate, and re-join in various groups in various places. They’re like a weird group of amoeba forming and reforming in different configurations. Sometimes I’ll come home and find them draped on my couches.

Cayooorerapieceorsumthee?” (“Can you order a pizza or something?”)

But he’s a clever boy. He’s lost his power to speak, but he’s still finding ways to communicate with me. Last weekend, I drove him to the gym. He turned on the radio to my classic rock station and started signing along with Pink Floyd.

“Aha!” I thought. He’s trying to send me a message through this radio. He’s showing me he knows the words to classic rock and he’s doing it for my approval. There’s still a human in there trying to communicate! He’s in there!

I got to the basketball gym and he hopped out of the car before I’d even fully stopped.

“Jack!” I called after him.

He took a step back towards the car.

“Can you come back for a second?”


“Come back. Sit.” He got in, completely impatient.


It was my turn to not communicate.

“What do you want, dad?”

I sat there.

“Dad! What! I need to…Oh…”

He smiled.

“Thank you for the ride.”

He was off.

“Love you!” I called.

“Love you too!”

Then he was gone.

12th and Final Play of Christmas (thank God)



Empty living room. “Deck the Halls” plays. As we reach the first “fa-la-la”, SHANI, MIKE, JACK, and ALEX all pop up from behind the couch and sing horribly.


Empty kitchen. Family pops out over the counters.


Empty master bedroom. Family pops out from behind the bed.


Empty dining room. Family pops out from behind the doorway.






12 Plays of Christmas (9 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.



SHANI is in the kitchen on the phone. ALEX enters.


We’ve got good momentum for the SMART initiative and
I think we’re going to get into Moorestown school for it.

Alex tries to cling to her leg. Shani shoos him away.

Scene shifts to the living room. MIKE is watching a show on his phone. ALEX enters.


Alex, I’m watching a show that’s not appropriate for you.

Sons of Anarchy?

Yeah – they just beat the crap out of a bunch of white supremacists. It was awesome.

Alex leaves.

Scene shifts to upstairs hallway. Alex opens Jack’s door.


Get out of my room!

Scene shifts to Alex’s room. Alex dumps all his stuffed animals onto the bed. He buries himself in it all.



SHANI, MIKE, and JACK all rush into the room and jump onto Alex.



*”JAMS” snuggle is our cutesy/annoying term for a snuggle involving our entire family. It stands for Jack, Alex, Mike, Shani.