Tennessee Renaissance Festival a Lifelong Quest

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Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival

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. 

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Love of history, fantasy and escape is alive and well at the Tennessee Renaissance Fest. Here you can feast on turkey legs like a king, see fairy houses, or hunt for dragons’ eggs.

We’d then travel to The Tennessee Renaissance Festival to wander Covington Glen, a 16th Century village located outside of Nashville.

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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. 🙂

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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. 

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Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival
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Fans dressed as mythical creatures line up at Tennessee Renaissance Fest
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Great Family Fun at Tennessee Renaissance Festival
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Fest Fans

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Outlander fans will feel at home at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, too.
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Photo courtesy of Tennessee Renaissance Festival

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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The color of Castle Gwynn, Welsh for “White Tower,” is typical of medieval castles. Anyone trying to scale these fortresses would have been seen in the dark.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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My favorite hero is in the top left corner.

No costume? No worries! But if you want one… there are many on site.

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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.

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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.

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For a magical perspective, stop by the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

 

 

Woods in Winter

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.

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Taking a Timeout in a Tennessee Version of Walden Woods

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 Woods  after 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 to  small 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.”  

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Cheekwood
Cheekwood is minutes away–part of my Tennessee Walden Woods

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Edwin Warner Park
Ella loves our daily walks, especially at Edwin Warner Park.
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Ella is ready to ride at Bellevue’s Red Caboose Park.

Salute to a Southern Summer: On Nashville, a Surprise Guest, and Coming Home

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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.

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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.

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My next post, a downloadable Seven Days in Nashville: Homegirl Guide.

 

 

 

Knoxville & Smoky Mountains: Great Escape and Journey Home

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Though I am writing this on a Dominican Republic beach a couple of hours from Santo Domingo where I’ll return to work on Tuesday, I’m reliving the mountain escape I had while home for the holidays.  I’m sorry I missed the snow in Tennessee that arrived just after I flew back to the Caribbean on Wednesday, but  I am glad my son and I had clear roads for a trip to the Smoky Mountains while I was there.  Cole moved to Knoxville last summer and with each visit I understand more why he likes the city where he chose to work.  Nashville’s growth spurt since I’ve been gone has frustrated natives and longtime transplants with the high rise apartments and traffic chaos that came with it.  Knoxville feels much like Nashville did before the boom and with the bonus of Gatlinburg one hour away and The Biltmore two (which we plan to see next summer when the gardens are in bloom), it’s a great destination for more than Vols fans.

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View of Smokies in the Distance from my son’s area of Knoxville

Tennessee is a hiking and wildlife lover’s paradise.   My first morning there while drinking coffee and looking out my son’s sliding doors I saw the usual–a cardinal, squirrels chasing each other–and then something moving in the brush behind his apartment that looked like a bobcat but larger.  Then there were two of them.   I grabbed my camera to zoom in and started snapping; while focusing and scanning the second creature disappeared.

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Whether they were both coyotes (a growing problem in suburban Nashville as well), coywolves or one was a deer that took off like the roadrunner I am not sure, but one of these guys stayed and stared  me down.  The sighting seemed another sign that 2017 will be full of surprises.

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Thrilled to be home for the holidays for the first time in two years, I had wanted to rent a cabin in the Smokies for our family, but with the recent fires we weren’t sure how much of the area had been destroyed and which roads would be closed. Instead we drove to Cade’s Cove and stopped for lunch at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, a hot spot for locals and tourists. We saw no fire damage and given the line of cars, neon lights, and ticket sales the Pigeon Forge “strip” was still going strong.

The good news about southern food is the comfort.  The better news is there are gorgeous opportunities to hike it off.  Living two years in the desert and the last six months in the tropics, I had so missed journeys amidst farmhouses hidden in hills; cows and horses in fields; and cold, crisp air on moss-covered banks beside mountain streams.  My questions about the future, usually rushing like water over rocks, are hushed and stilled by a winter forest.

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Applewoods was packed with people and home cooking.  I couldn’t decide between fried chicken, chicken pot pie, and chicken and dumplings so had all three.  The apple fritters with apple butter below…wow.

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Beaver Dam

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Later in the week Taylor drove up and joined us for some amazing Italian food and a day in downtown Knoxville at Market Square.  I highly recommend Altruda’s for an authentic, family-owned atmosphere and The French Market for a quick trip to Paris.

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Reviews raved about the family-sized salad and garlic rolls–well deserved praise.

 

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The ziti is amazing.

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So many choices
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The Crepe Suzette may have been my favourite treat over a holiday full of scrumptious food.
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Taylor liked the chocolate crepe and hot chocolate as well, but Cole waited for our next stop, brunch at Tupelo Honey’s.

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Macarons to go

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For the blueberry jam and biscuits (or the joy of being with my grown kids below)…no words are adequate.

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We took a quick walk around Market Square where there are many Sunday brunch places, unique shops, an ice skating ring, and history.

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It was New Year’s Eve day so most were indoors waiting for the big party that night.

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As we took a shortcut to our car, we happened upon an alley of street art.  Again, it seems, technicolor surprises are just around the corner this year.

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We saw Arrival, nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Cole had already seen it and thought I’d like it. He was right.  Among other vital truths, it stresses that we can’t survive without communication and global collaboration.

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Knoxville sunset

As I felt when the holidays were over with my children in London and as most moms feel when the world goes back to work and “reality,”  (and though I am forever grateful for the beauty and adventure of the time spent abroad), nothing brings me joy like relationship.  Translated: quality time spent with my kids/family.  I loved Marrakesh, but it was too far from them.  The Dominican Republic, though many hours closer, is as well.   They are grown and have lives of their own, but my heart longs to see them more often.   We are bonded across miles  by blood and years, vacation times spent together, technology and our love for one another.  And we’ve learned, or at least I have, that home is what we are to each other–not one place.  Good to know since Taylor is in Nashville and Cole is in Knoxville now.  (Likewise, my sis is in Nashville but mom is in Kentucky.)   And though I’ve learned “home” is wherever I am at peace with God, as a southerner I feel tied to place, to roots, to people–my people–my kids, family, and closest friends.  And so my journey back has begun.  I look forward this year to following the path God charts to my dream destination.

 

My Nashville

My Nashville
My Nashville (from top left) Union Station by the Frist, Cheekwood’s Fall Festival, Chukkers for Charity, Boots on 2nd Avenue, Fido in Hillsboro Village, Conexion America’s Cooking Classes (row 1) Parthenon, Titans Stadium, Nashville Ballet, Bellcourt Theater, Radnor Lake, Batman Building (row 3) Hispanic Heritage Month, Percy Priest Lake, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Italian Lights, Stones River Greenway, CMA Fest, (row 4) Southern Festival of Books, Nashville Film Fest, Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, McNamara’s, Jackson’s, Pangea in Hillsboro Village

Roots and wings. Nashville has and is (for me) both. This progressive place with a legendary past is the 7th fastest growing city in the US. Friends told me of new restaurants and music venues, of more traffic in the year I was away, but I was still surprised by all the change.

Growing up in Kentucky, I romanticized Nashville and its icons.  As a six-year-old in the ‘60s my “imaginary friend” was an imaginary husband—Elvis—and I still remember watching the Johnny Cash Show with my dad on Friday nights long before I’d go to concerts at The Ryman where it was taped. Walk the Line is one of my favorite movies—a love story of a Bad Boy reformed by a woman, her family, and faith. When asked for his definition of Paradise, Johnny said of June Carter Cash, “This morning, with her, having coffee.”

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If you are fans of Elvis and Johnny, too, local artist Cindy David’s guitar pick earrings are my pick for cool souvenirs/ gifts. She sells them at festivals and gift shops (Nashville Airport, Frist Center, Omni Hotel, Nashville Symphony, and Cheekwood), or you can contact her at CindyDavid.com.  I brought back a pair for Johnny.

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CindyDavidDesigns.com

When writing in Nashville for Examiner and Hispanic Nashville.com , I highlighted local events that defy Music City being put in a box—

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performances at the Nashville Symphony, TPAC, Nashville Ballet, Vanderbilt Presents, and Nashville Film Fest. I also appreciate all that once defined Nashville–putting the town on the map–like live music on stages at the Ryman, the Bluebird, Grand Ole Opry, Bridgestone, BB King’s…in bars on Broadway, Demonbreun, and Nolensville Road…and at outdoor events from Ascend Amphitheater to Chukkers for Charity.  Today Nashvegas, Buckle of the Bible Belt, a community as diverse as sweet tea and Jack Daniel whiskey, brims with tradition and progression; local, global, and local-gone-global happenings receiving Presidential recognition.  Nashville is a place offering something for everyone explaining its popularity as a tourist destination and place to live.

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Legend-upon-legend, Hatch Print, Nashville

Moviemaker Alberto Fuguet was also drawn to Music City. While Artist-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, he wrote and filmed Musica Campesina. The film explores the immigrant experience of Tazo, a Chilean who comes to Nashville seeking a career in country music. In a scene with the lead (played by Pablo Cerda) I’m a desperate housewife who offers him iced tea but serves Jack Daniel.  Fuguet described Tazo as a “fish out of water” which I better understand now living in a different culture.  Many days I feel like a mermaid in Marrakesh.

My month at home went too fast to see all the new places I wanted to explore and visit all my old haunts. Below Taylor, Cole, and I played tourist downtown on 2nd Avenue and Broadway.  Acme Feed and Seed has live music, reasonably priced food and a rooftop for taking photos.

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Johnny Cash and Billy Graham, most famous preacher of my time. I still remember my Mama Lou watching his Crusades.
Johnny Cash and Billy Graham, most famous preacher of my time. I still remember my Mama Lou watching his Crusades.

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Also on Broad is the Frist Center.   We celebrated a Big Birthday of my friend, Cheryl, there where The Long Players had people dancing in the grass under the light of a big, blue moon.

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Union Station

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Emily, far right, is our pro photographer and grabbed great shots and footage of that night. Today is HER birthday. Happy Birthday, Em!
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Loved the Birthday Dinner at Cheryl’s pick, Adele’s–fun new restaurant in the Gulch.

Below is the video Emily made celebrating Cheryl’s 60th Birthday and what a “Young American” looks and acts like.  Also check out travel videos from Emily’s adventures on her Vimeo station, My Open Road.

Nashville is a dancing place.  On my 40th birthday I was doing country line dance with my sister and friends at the Wildhorse Saloon. Since my 50th I salsa.  It was so good to get back to Suzy Wong’s House of Yum to fuel up for lemon drops and Asian Wonton Nachos, then do “Free Dance Wednesday” where Tonya Miller still faithfully hosts Salsa Night weekly at Play.

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Though there are so many places to go, things to do, food to eat, I have to wrap up because I’m getting homesick. For a fix of Italy I love Bella Napoli near Belmont or Coco’s Italian Market in West Nashville.  Urban Grub on 12th South has oysters and great grits. And in my neck-of-the-woods, there’s the Hip Donelson Farmers Market for home-cooking-for real like the spread my sister and brother-in-law made for my farewell dinner.

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I went to McNamara’s, named “One of the Best Irish Pubs in America,” with my friend, Theresa, then Cole while home for the corned beef and cabbage and band, Nosey Flynn.  For lighter fare there’s Phat Bites‘ Chinese Chicken Salad, Broccoli Salad, and Greek Salad and Cinco de Mayo in Hermitage and Old Hickory for a reward after a long walk on the Greenway or just because.

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On a Cinco run

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Finally, events I miss most in Nashville are Fall Festivals. Hope you can make one or all!

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Italian Lights Grape Stomping

Italian Lights

Wine on the River

Oktoberfest

Southern Festival of Books

Celebrate Nashville

Cheekwood Fall Festival

A music mix that’s Nashville…

Tennessee Backroads…Natchez Trace and Loveless Cafe

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My life is a Tale of Two Cities…both tourist towns.  At Nashville’s center, 2nd Avenue, I rubbed shoulders this summer with girl gangs in shorts and boots out for barbecue and beer.  In Marrakesh’s marketplace, Jemaa el Fna, I rub shoulders with girl groups in harem pants and sandals out for a bargain and mint tea.  But sometimes the best stuff is found on country (or desert) backroads.

Though Sundays when I was growing up and picnics with my kids meant fried chicken, the last few years I’ve rarely eaten anything fried. But when on my layover in Madrid on the way to Tennessee I almost opted for KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) over a tapas bar, I knew it was time to go home. I missed biscuits and gravy.  And like I said in my first Southern Girl Gone Home post, I dreamed one night of bacon.  I’ve never eaten country ham other than at Christmas, but I couldn’t wait to taste it again. While home I porked out—literally–particularly at a place considered a national treasure.    I’m ashamed to say I have been in Nashville since 1987 and never made the trip to the Loveless Café.  Since only home for a month, I decided to check out the place People Magazine says the country ham is “the best in America” and USA Today calls “the real McCoy of Southern cooking,”  Bon Appetit gushed, “On a scale of 1 to  10, my breakfast came in at about a 14,” and Martha Stewart crooned, “It was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.”  And, of course, there’s the wall of fame– country music legends making claiming the food is iconic.

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The Loveless began as a private home hangout in the 40s where folks gathered in the living room and danced on the hardwood floor.  By 1951 Lon and Annie Loveless were serving chicken and biscuits to travelers on Highway 100 from their front door; they then added 14 motel rooms.  The rest of their history is here and check out their world-famous “Biscuit Lady,” Carol Fay Ellison making biscuits on the Today Show.

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When Taylor, Cole and I were told the wait was an hour and forty minutes, we almost bolted, but I’m so glad we didn’t. We waited only and hour and I was a little disappointed because I was having a great conversation in the Shimai gift shop with owner Becca Ganick. She loves meeting people from all over the world  who stop by.  The restaurant is open 7 AM-9 PM Monday-Friday.  We were there on a Friday at prime lunch time; to beat the crowds it’s recommended to visit Monday-Thursday 7-9am, after 2pm or  before 6pm.  Or stop in on a road trip on the Natchez Trace as I hope to do next time.  To plan it, festivals, sites, and Bed and Breakfasts along the way are listed here. It’s amazing what you can learn on backroads.

We did breakfast at lunch time (so Taylor and I tried the Blue Moon Cocktail–there actually WAS a blue moon when I was home)  but you can get lunch or supper as well. See menu here.

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While Taylor and I had breakfast, Cole chose a dinner classic--meatloaf.
While Taylor and I had breakfast, Cole chose a dinner classic–meatloaf.

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Be sure to try the GRITS–even if you aren’t a “Girl Raised in the South.”  And after the biscuits, you may want to pick up a package of their biscuit mix. I hauled mine back to Morocco…if only I could have brought the ham, too.  And if you want to try one of their recipes, I recommend the Fruit Tea Punch–especially those of you who drink only hot tea because In the south, “sweet tea” on ice is a staple, Banana Pudding with Homemade Wafers (especially if you don’t have “store-bought” wafers), Loveless Pecan Pie, or their signature Elvis Pie.  And please, all you southern cooks, leave your favorite variations and other favorite recipes in the comments for Yankees ( people from “up north” or anywhere not southern US) to try.

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Shelling beans by the bird dog over sweet tea…my mom tells the story of my dad buying a bird dog, Queenie, with an entire week’s pay when she was expecting me. Later he bought another one, Ben Hur.

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