While living in Morocco I wrote about beauty breaks for the soul—beautiful places and experiences that calm the nerves and stimulate the senses. In Marrakesh when we tired of dodging scooters, taxis, and donkey carts, we escaped into regal riads, palatial pools, and spas as sanctuaries. We watched sunsets from rooftops high above the fray. Nashville can be crowded and crazy, too, these days, so finding a place to rest and relax alone or with friends here is truly a treasure.
Recently I was invited to try a new service at the Westin’s Rhapsody Spa, a CBD massage with eight herbs and pure Himalayan salt stones. Benefits include rejuvenation by reducing muscle soreness and nerve inflammation. From sweating in the sauna to melting into the table to sipping Prosecco in the relaxation room, I savored a perfect afternoon. There and at my next stop, the rooftop, I met people who take pride in what they do. Superior service–making guests feel welcome—truly makes The Westin special.
Bonus was discovering a hotel with design architectural features that remind me of some of my favorite respites in Morocco. On the rooftop at the L27 Lounge (check schedule for live music) I enjoyed a quiet afternoon with a cheese plate and returned on the weekend to toast a summer sunset over cocktails with friends.
Once upon a time, I lived on a thoroughbred farm in Lexington, Kentucky, where I saw foals born and horse sales break records at Keeneland. Not so long ago, before moving back to Nashville, I had a farewell brunch with friends at The Selman in Marrakesh, Morocco where Arabian horses danced for us and were featured in the movie, Queen of the Desert. Last weekend I enjoyed horse-watching again, this time on a field in Tennessee.
The Victory Cup, one of the largest equestrian events in the US (over 75,000 attendees in 2018) and celebrating its 15th year, came to Nashville on a twelve-city tour. If you missed the event here, check out their schedule which includes cities in New York and Connecticut this summer, Charleston, South Carolina and Houston, Texas this fall.
The private, for-profit event features hot air balloons, polo, food, fashion and family fun. The Victory Cup chose as their 2019 Charity Partner Purple Heart Homes , an organization benefiting disabled veterans.
Once upon a time… before watching Game of Thrones or touring castles in Europe… I taught my children and literature students tales of fairies, dragons, and knights. That chivalry must never die and dreams do come true.
There I tried to teach my son and daughter archery as my dad had tried to teach me. I still remember the archery tournament in Kentucky where he’d won the “Robin’s Hood Award” for hitting the bull’s eye with his first arrow, then splitting that arrow with his second shot. He wanted me to compete in contests, too. No pressure. 🙂
Two decades later… a couple of weeks ago my daughter chose to celebrate her birthday at the Fest where we watched jousting and my son handed me a bow and quiver of arrows to see if I could still hit a target. Last weekend I returned to finally meet the man who created the beloved tradition that throngs of folks enjoy–many in costume–yearly.
Mike Freeman greets guests outside Castle Gwynn, located on forty acres he bought in 1976 near Triune. Friendly, fun, and sincere, he tells the inspiring story of a lifelong quest:
The first two most commonly asked questions are, ‘Do you live here?’ Yes I do. For the last 31 years I’ve lived here with my wife, Maggie, and our 2 dogs. The 2nd most commonly asked question is, ‘When are you going to get it finished?’ The answer: ‘When one of you wins the lottery, please remember me!’ I’ve been doing that for the last 34 years. It hasn’t worked yet. (laughs)
In 1970 I was a senior in high school who drew my dream house, a castle, in architecture class. Being a poor boy from Flat Rock, the only way I could do it was to build it myself. I am proud to say I built something from scratch, which means I started with zero. I did have a lucky break. By chance I got into photography my senior year of high school. My next door neighbor had been in Viet Nam and won a camera in a poker game and had forgotten how to work it. The deal was to learn how and teach him.
He did, and by graduation of his senior year, he photographed senior prom. Next he worked for a photography studio that needed 13 high school composite shots done in a month.
I got it done for them, and it only took me only 360 hours—90 hours a week. I used to think that was a lot of hours until I went into business for myself. (laughs) It you are willing to work 12-18 hour days, I guarantee that you can do absolutely anything in the world if you want to bad enough. I proved that, but to say I did this all by myself would be a gross exaggeration. I had a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people to make this dream possible including yourselves for coming out to the festival this year.
He gives credit to his wife, Jackie Harmon, who he married in 1988, the first wedding held at Castle Gwynn; to his parents, and to a master mason and his four sons who worked with him weekends for almost two years laying the brickwork in the kitchen. They started with 8 brick arches, but by the time they finished, they had 60 of them. 14,000 bricks Hosting four weddings helped with the cost. For the full story and credits of building the castle, go here.
I asked Mike what inspired a high school senior to want to build a castle. He said when he was five, his father returned from WW2 with a book of postcards of castles along the Rhine River. I asked if any movies or books were influential, and he immediately said Charlton Heston’s The War Lord, a 1965 film about Medieval warfare in 11th century Normandy. His interest in history and sense of humor can be seen throughout the property.
No costume? No worries! But if you want one… there are many on site.
I confess I returned, too, to stop by the Lady Smith Jewelry booth to look again at her cameo mermaids and sterling silver Celtic pieces.
The Fest runs yearly every weekend of May through Memorial Day. Check schedule for jousting, shows, and castle tours. Vendors for food, beverages, rides and games accept cash only though the admission gate and some vendors accept credit cards. Other Rules of the Realm are here. Stop by, sit a spell, and enjoy the magic.
Tonight is the last chance to enjoy this new-to-Cheekwood event. Stroll the summer gardens; tickets include drink tickets to redeem at each stop along the crawl. Must be 21+ to purchase tickets. Details and tickets here. Food trucks, live music, and lawn games.
Advance Ticket Pricing (must be purchased by one-hour before the event) $15 for members | $25 for not-yet members
*On-site Ticket pricing
$20 for members | $30 for not-yet members (includes admission to Thursday Night Out)
*On-site ticket sales end at 8:30pm.
Fresh watermelon cocktails, watermelon eating and seed spitting contests, free samples, live music. 80 local and regional food artisans, craftspeople, artists, food trucks, and international restaurants. 3.
3. Big Band Dancing in the Park
8/18/2018, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Rory Partin & His All Star Big Band
This summer is the 35th anniversary of Big Band Dances in Metro Parks. Bring a lawn chair and get ready to TANGO. Free lessons at 7 and 8:30. Swing dancing for all ages till 10. Food trucks on-site. If wondering if cancelled due to weather, check Twitter at www.twitter.com/bigbanddances.
4. Shakespeare in the Park presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream
August 16 – September 9, 2018
Thursdays through Sundays and Labor Day Monday at Centennial Park Bandshell.
Celebrating its 30th Anniversary Season, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival presents this beloved play. This production asks, “If we’re in love, are we ever in control?” Bring a blanket and watch Puck do some fairy magic and mischief.
Food & drink vendors open:
Talking Shakespeare with nightly special guest speakers begins:
Pre-show entertainment begins:
Margaret: “It’s going to rain!”
Marianne: “It is NOT going to rain.”
Margaret: “You always say that and then it always does!”
Marianne: “There’s a bit of blue sky, let us chase it!”
—Sense and Sensibility 1995 movie based on Jane Austen’s novel
Find your inner romantic/Marianne and a bit of blue sky April 14-15 to take advantage of half-priced admission at the closing weekend of Cheekwood in Bloom 2018. Spring blooms and the Beer Garden with seasonal brews, craft cocktails, food trucks and live music 11-4 PM beckon. Other weekend events and more details can be found here.
Today was the first time in almost three years I’ve crunched through snow. I didn’t laugh like I did sledding in the Atlas Mountains, but sliding along with Ella in our quiet Walden Woods was happiness. Peace. A snow day–time no longer spoken for– is a gift that feeds the soul. Frozen flakes falling like manna from heaven. An invitation to simply, beautifully just be.
Yesterday at Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin with my sister and brother-in-law, I ran into Edy, our wonderful Airbnb hostess last summer. She asked why I haven’t been posting on the blog.To her and other readers, I apologize. Reentry into the US over the last six months after three years abroad has been an adventure in itself. So much has happened which I’m still processing and will be part of the memoir I’m writing. And, yes, I’ve been away from the blog and all of you too long.Thank you, Edy, for sharing my Nashville Guide with guests and encouraging me to post this…
In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for their amusement. But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up with a great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and when they had got into rank circled about over my head.—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Mom and I watched the geese from the patio as they picked through grass by the pond. The week after Thanksgiving had been quiet. As much as we loved having my grown kids with us, we hated seeing them go. Determined to have everything done before they arrived so I could savor time with them and too excited to sleep, I was in the kitchen till 1 AM the night before, cooking and binging on Outlander.We blinked and only leftovers in the freezer were proof that the holiday really happened. Now Christmas calls. But as I walk Ella over crunchy leaves beside still waters at Edwin Warner Park, I remember not only being there with Cole and Brittany Thanksgiving Day, but how nature reminded me all fall I’m never alone. I’m grateful for last autumn—my first in three years.And I thank God that I spent much of it in my own Walden Woods.
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden or Life in the Woodsafter living in a 10’ X 15’ cabin beside a pond for two years, two months and two days.Though I’ve never been to Walden Woods outside Concord, Massachusetts, I’ve been inspired by Walden and so have my students. Thoreau was the original American minimalist. I’m learning to follow his advice to “Simplify! Simplify!” and after living in apartments three years while abroad I have grown accustomed tosmall spaces. I’ve culled and curated my material possessions which were packed into 1800 square feet for over twenty years, then a storage unit until I moved back.
I moved home and had no house.Virginia Woolf was so right when she said women need a room of their own—or at least room, space— to write, create, think, breathe.I am grateful for three months spent with my mom in my hometown as I job searched, then began teaching university and college English. At the end of September, I finally settled in Nashville, where I call home.I was able to focus on writing my memoir of the three years abroad–why I went and why I returned. Surrounded by peace, quiet, nature, I could hear God, my Muse, again.
My “tiny home” is 785 square feet beside three quiet lakes where geese greet me each morning. Minutes away is Percy Warner, Cheekwood, and the Harpeth River. I craved green space while in Santo Domingo where my apartment had no outdoor area and was surrounded by loud, relentless traffic and high-rise condos. When I returned to Nashville, I ironically found much of the same.
Friends and family warned that Nashville had grown and changed. Drastically. But last September I managed to find a place where I now see deer on daily walks.A couple of weeks ago, after all the leaves had fallen, I realized I could finally see into the woods.At the moment I looked up, peering past the pine trees, I saw on a shag carpet of burnt orange and brown leaves two of them staring back at me.On Thanksgiving Day we saw a buck snorting through the woods not far for where we walked Ella. The next day, Cole spied three deer while sitting on my living room couch.
Here I watch cardinals, bluejays, and finches take turns at my bird feeder and chipmunks enjoying seeds that they drop to the ground.A covey of doves feed there, too, reminding me again that although I have no idea what 2018 holds, I have peace. I still miss my home of 21 years which I sold in 2016.I always will and still can’t bear to drive by.But I believe I made the right choice and am where I need to be.In stillness I’m moving in the direction of my dreams.
Since moving home last June it has been a journey, and on it goes—a new season in a new life which a former coworker in Morocco called “the new new.”With all the change over the last 3+ years—4 schools and 4 addresses in 3 countries—I’ve not posted on the blog as much since I lived in Morocco.I’m writing a memoir that will explain, as I continue to understand, all that happened there and in the Dominican Republic, and what is happening now as I repatriate and try to create a new life in Nashville.
For me, moving to foreign countries was easier in many ways than making a new life in what used to feel so familiar. Career transition can be one of the scariest moves of all.Trading the security of what we’ve always done for what we now want to do is risky. I’d been in a classroom Monday through Friday since I was five. It was time. Teaching as an adjunct gave me a season to prioritize writing though I still put in eleven-hour days commuting to two schools twice a week. I missed full time pay and travel, but taking a timeout meant more time with Taylor who lives nearby and Mom who needs me now. And more time to create the life I imagine.
At Belmont University I designed and taught a course called “Long Way Home: Essential Journeys.” Truly life is like a web of adventures radiating to and from a center—home. I believe our Creator is home. That He lives within and guides us on journeys uniquely designed for each of us to become the person he or she is meant to be. My students chose journeys out of their comfort zones they felt would positively impact their lives. They researched the benefits and risks, the how-tos and whys, and for a month carried out their quests. We had focused on narratives and memoirs, particularly Cheryl Strayed’s, Wild.Check out the book and the movie it inspired produced by Reese Witherspoon, a Nashville girl, who played the lead. Cheryl’s journey — hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail alone—was a physical and spiritual task. What she learned wasn’t so much about the finish line as what it took to cross it. It always is.
They shared the challenges and takeaways of playing instruments, learning sign language, serving in the community and beyond. They practiced yoga, veganism, and ran, boxed, rock-climbed, and hiked their way across Nashville. One student after learning to play the guitar changed her major from Music Business to Music Therapy; others sought counseling to heal old wounds so they could move forward. They challenged each other to use less social media to make friends in real time and get more sleep.
Like my high school students who had completed The Deliberate Life project from Music City to Morocco, students at Belmont taught me a lot. So did my night classes at Vol State where I enjoyed working with adults who gave their all despite full time jobs and responsibilities to their own families. Students who believed an education would help them follow Thoreau, too, who said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dream. Live the life you’ve imagined.”
I was thrilled yesterday to be headed again to El Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). With all the changes that have happened in Nashville over the three years I lived abroad, I was happy that Cheekwood still hosts one of my favorite fall events and one of the most important festivals in Latin American culture. On El Dia de Los Muertos families honor relatives who have passed into the next life by creating altars as memorials and tapetes (carpets or murals usually made of sand to represent the brevity of life). They also celebrate the gift of living with joy and thanksgiving. The fall before I moved to Morocco, my International Club students and I really enjoyed the event. This time I was with my friend Sara, a teacher at Centennial High School, who was excited that their school had done its own festival and students were also participating in Cheekwood’s Tapete competition. I was excited, too, that her son, Trent, was at his first celebration.
As we headed to the food trucks, I saw another old friend, David, who had taught my students Latin dance years before. “Welcome to Nashville!” he grinned.
He pointed to a booth where I’d see what he had been up to. There I saw another Colombian friend, Marcela Gómez, who had founded a company called Mi Tribu (My Tribe) which gives back to her home country and shares its beauty with the world. Mi Tribu sustains female indigenous and displaced artisans who create the unique goods and reminds women everywhere we belong to the same tribe. Check out the website for Christmas gifts that will continue giving.
As Sara, Trent, and I walked to the Frist Center to see the Aztec dancers, we passed a long line of school busses. In its fifth year, Cheekwood’s El Dia de Los Muertos fiesta had drawn students from many Tennessee and Kentucky middle and high schools–some sharing their native tradition, others wanting to learn more. The tradition here was alive, well, and growing. Authentic crafts, foods, art activities, face painting, and live music against a backdrop of gorgeous grounds beginning to burst into autumn color was energizing. Seeing people of all ages from diverse backgrounds having fun together was beautiful.
Thanks to the Hispanic Family Service, Catholic Charities of Tennessee for more history:
Dia De Los Muertos started 3,000 years ago by the indigenous people in what is now Mexico. The practice was discovered 500 years ago by Spanish Conquistadors.
When the Spanish couldn’t eradicate the ritual, they merged it with Catholic theology and moved it to coincide with All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). Skulls are still used as they were by the Aztecs to symbolize death and rebirth. The Aztecs and other Mesoamerican civilizations believed the dead visited during the ritual. They didn’t fear death but embraced it: “To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.”
Today Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and in some parts of the US and Central America. In rural Mexico, families visit the cemetery where loved ones are buried. They decorate the graves with marigolds and candles, toys for children, and tequila for adults, then picnic beside the graves eating the favorite foods of loved ones. In larger cities in Mexico and the US, families build altars in their homes memorializing the dead with flowers, food, and photos of the deceased.
Another Christmas gift idea…
I’ve been a fan of Cheekwood since moving to Nashville in 1987, and now that I’ve moved less than two miles away, I bought a membership to enjoy all the 55-acre botanical garden and historical estate has to offer. (It’s also part of my Walden Woods season–more on that in the next post). I’m looking forward to fall in full bloom, then holiday lights November 24-December 31. Check out their plans and discounts for military, educators, students, and seniors (65+), benefits locally, and reciprocal admission to nearly 200 botanical gardens, arboreta, and conservatories nationwide and over 60 museums in the Southeast. Reciprocal admission is also offered in Canada, The Cayman Islands, and the Virgin Islands, and opportunities for Travel Study abroad with the American Horticulture Society are linked here.
See the second slideshow in the previous post here on the week I planned for my friend, Kate, to introduce her to southern hospitality and the Nashville spirit. Below is my guide for tourists, hosts, and locals on staycation. No doubt I’ll have more suggestions as I explore new places, and I’d love for you to share in the comments your favorite discoveries and hangouts, too. Enjoy!
*Updated June 2022. Always check business websites for latest information.
I read within a poet’s book a word that starred the page:
“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage!”
Yes, that is true; and something more you’ll find, where’er you roam,
That marble floors and gilded walls can never make a home.
But every house where Love abides, and Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home: For there the heart can rest.–Henry van Dyke
Since moving home from The Dominican Republic in June, life has been a blur. Two days after landing, I bought a car, braved Nashville traffic (the city has been growing by 100 people per day since I left three years ago), and began reconnecting with family and friends from Knoxville to Kentucky. Trivia Night at ML Rose, Knoxville’s Market Square and hiking trails, movies, and malls… Nashville’s live music of Santana, Phillip Phillips, the Goo Goo Dolls and my guys at the Irish pub …an eclipse, a wedding, salsa… a nine- month job search finally ends.
Nine weeks after landing I’ve put 5,000 miles on my car. Some days the journey home still feels long. Expats warn that when we reenter the US after so long away we find everything changed. Nashville is now a maze of high rise apartments and new restaurants and shops. Everything, everyone seems different, including me, because life is fluid, and the only thing constant is change.
This weekend marks the official end of summer–my favorite season which is partly why I chose to live in two warm-weather countries for awhile. But I’m also looking forward to fall–my first in a long time–to process all that’s happened. Today… I’m simply thankful for what has been, for what is, and for what is to come.
An unexpected highlight of the summer was when an Australian friend visited me in Nashville, allowing me to share southern hospitality. When I left Africa over a year ago, Kate said we’d meet up somewhere in the world soon. An empty nester like me, she arrived in Morocco a month after I did in the fall of 2014 to manage a riad. She’s still in Marrakesh in the apartment complex where I lived when she isn’t traveling the world or visiting her kids. When she decided to come “see the South” and me, I first said to wait until I am settled in a home again so I can make her feel welcome. But Kate, knowing what I had learned and already forgotten–that home is anywhere friendship abides and we are at peace…that we don’t put off for later blessings we are offered today–came anyway. I’m so thrilled she did.
At our first Airbnb our host had written the poem above on a blackboard by the door. Truly home is where friends, family, love abides. I’ve been blessed by family, friends, and strangers who have opened their couches, cots, and rooms to me all summer as I’ve been seeking what’s next. Likewise, what a blessing to share with my soul sister my roots. Seeing again where I am from through the eyes of someone who marvels at church steeples, Broadway, and town squares… at grits, gravy and cornfields… someone who danced for the first time in her life when two friends pulled her on the floor to merengue and now wants to take dance lessons… were moments like other summer pleasures and people who have given me wings again.
My next post, a downloadable Seven Days in Nashville: Homegirl Guide.