Posted on May 20, 2019
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.
Posted on January 16, 2018
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.
Posted on December 11, 2017
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.”
Posted on September 3, 2017
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.
Posted on January 8, 2017
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.
Posted on August 18, 2015
Posted on August 9, 2015
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.
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.
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.