5 Great Ideas to Do Valentine’s Day the Nashville Way

There are occasions when we need to reaffirm our loved ones with gestures of affection, and Valentine’s Day is one of them. Here are some of my favorite “alternative” ideas for celebrating Valentines Day in Nashville this year without selling out.

I’m not really a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I don’t like the pressure to overspend on high-profile gifts or prix-fixe dinners at overbusy restaurants. And giving stuffed animals to adults is ridiculous. And I think red clashes with pink. But there are occasions when we need to reaffirm our loved ones with gestures of affection, and Valentine’s Day is one of them. Here are some of my favorite “alternative” ideas for celebrating Valentines Day in Nashville this year without selling out.

Old Tradition – Valentine’s Card           New Tradition – In-Store Card Swap

I feel like I’m sharing a very special secret with you now. My husband and I haven’t bought any kinds of cards for each other for years. Instead, we pop into a card shop (or drugstore, or even grocery store), stand in the aisle reading cards, pick the PERFECT cards for each other, exchange them with each other….and then put them back on the shelf! It’s a fun little activity that means a lot more than it costs, because the really meaningful part is choosing just the right card (and, of course, the cost is nothing)! Fair warning – if you wait to do this activity on Valentine’s Day – or even the day after – the card selection will be picked over. But sometimes that just adds to the humor.

Old Tradition – Dinner            New Tradition – Brunch

The fact that Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year makes it a) difficult to get a decent dinner reservation, and b) easy to find a great spot in Nashville to have brunch instead. Some of Nashville’s hottest new restaurants are open for brunch on the weekends – why not try brunch at Sinema, The Farm House or Husk? Or, for a more casual meal, maybe you could try Fenwick’s 300 or Biscuit Love. Much less intimidating; much more fun!

Old Tradition – Champagne & Chocolates                 New Tradition – Master a New Cocktail at Home (& Chocolates)

There are a couple of problems with champagne. First, even among wine drinkers, it’s rarely the wine of choice. Second, there is something about the effervescence of champagne and other sparkling wines that promotes tipsiness, even among responsible imbibers. So, my recommendation is to forget about the bubbly and opt instead for some interesting ingredients for a make-at-home cocktail. Bang Candy in Marathon Village makes some intriguing simple syrups (my current favorite is the lavender mint), you can pick up excellent spirits at 12th & Pine Beverage Co. in the Gulch, and fresh fruits, herbs and other ingredients around the corner at The Turnip Truck. (While you’re at The Turnip Truck, you might as well pick up some high quality chocolate. Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to have chocolate!)

Old Tradition – Jewelry                                  New Tradition – Custom Playlist

I think music trumps jewelry in the romance department any day. I know that lots of ladies like getting jewelry, but the mass-produced “named” pendants (I’m looking at you, “Hearts on Fire”) are hopelessly old-fashioned and just not very pretty. Remember back in the day when you could make a mix tape for your loved one, with a hand-picked selection of meaningful songs? Well, this is simply an updated version of that idea. In my opinion, the only way you could score higher on the romance list would be to write a song yourself. THAT would be a killer gift, if you have a killer gift for writing songs! So, put your iTunes account to good use and create a special Valentine’s playlist to load to your valentine’s phone (or iPod). Bonus – you can listen to the playlist while mixing your custom cocktails at home – and perhaps awaiting your pizza delivery.

Old Tradition – Roses               New Tradition – Tulips

Walking through the floral section at Kroger today, I was amazed at the beautiful selection of live, potted tulips. Whole Foods usually has fresh cut tulips, too – as inexpensive as $10 a dozen! Since you don’t have to impress your valentine’s coworkers this year (another advantage of February 14 falling on Saturday), pick up some pretty, perky tulips. If you feel that you MUST spend more on a floral arrangement, head over to Color in Green Hills and find a pretty, perky container to use as a vase! Just avoid the ones that have red and pink hearts on them. (I’m kidding – you wouldn’t find such an abomination at Color!)

I hope these ideas will help you get through Valentine’s Day feeling that you’ve sold out to meaningless commercialism. Enjoy!

Go to College – Free (or Inexpensive) Entertainment in Nashville

Many local students actually will have successful musical careers – so it’s especially appealing (and cost-effective) to catch their performances now!

When I landed a small part as the housekeeper in my college’s production of “Night Must Fall,” I fantasized that audience members would recall that performance after I’d launched a successful career in Hollywood. Students in the Music program at Belmont University probably have similar fantasies as they perform for audiences on campus. The difference is that many Belmont students actually will have successful musical careers – so it’s especially appealing (and cost-effective) to catch their performances now! The same can be said of students at other local universities, of course – here’s a sampling of upcoming college events that sound like fun.

The Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt recently completed construction and installation of a Dobson pipe organ. This Sunday, February 8 (3pm), organist Carl Smith will present “An Introduction to the Blair School’s New Pipe Organ” in the Turner Recital Hall. The first part of the event will be an informal discussion of the organ’s design and musical characteristics, with numerous musical illustrations. This will be followed by a formal 45-minute recital on the organ, which will include music by Couperin, Bach, Brahms and others. A reception will follow the recital, with an opportunity to meet the organ builder. The event is free and open to the public.

Tennessee State University’s Department of Music has scheduled a Faculty Jazz Concert for Thursday, February 12 (7pm) in the Goins Recital Hall at the Strange Performing Arts Building. The concert is free and open to the public.

The Lipscomb University Department of Theatre is presenting “Seussical – A Fantastical, Magical, Musical Extravaganza” on selected dates between February 13-22 in the Collins Alumni Auditorium. Ticket prices range from $17 (public) to $5 (student), and are currently on sale.

The Belmont University Bluegrass Ensemble is giving a concert on Thursday, March 5 (7:30pm) at the Massey Concert Hall. The Bluegrass Ensemble performs traditional and contemporary material, and has performed at a variety of locations including the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ryman Auditorium. The concert is free and open to the public.

Belmont Musical Theatre is presenting “All Shook Up” – an American Jukebox Musical featuring Elvis Presley music and a 1950’s era story based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – March 20-29 at the Troutt Theater. Ticket prices range from $10 (regular adult) to $5 (senior and student), and are currently on sale.


A February Art Immersion Weekend (+) in Nashville

Aside from periodic trips to The Frist, I don’t often take advantage of Nashville’s art offerings. But the beginning of February is as good a time as any to remedy that!

This itinerary is developed in honor of my new friend Angela, who recently moved to Nashville from Austin. (In the spirit of the friendly rivalry between these two cities – chalk one up for Music City!) Angela recently asked about the Art Scene in our city. I have to admit that, aside from periodic trips to The Frist, I don’t often take advantage of Nashville’s art offerings. But the beginning of February 2015 is as good a time as any to remedy that!

First stop is the Franklin Art Scene Downtown Art Crawl on Friday, February 6 (6pm – 9pm), in historic downtown Franklin. This free monthly event provides both the novice and the art connoisseur an opportunity to see a variety of magnificent work, from blown glass, to turned wood, to mixed media and more. A free trolley runs between the locations, many of which provide complimentary wine and snacks. (Bonus: While in downtown Franklin, make time to enjoy dinner and/or drinks at one of the restaurants downtown. Red Pony is always outstanding; Grays on Main is also fun!)

On Saturday, you might take in a day at the annual Art Event at Lipscomb Academy on White Bridge Rd. (near Harding Place). This year, the event will feature works by 54 talented artists, with a wide range of media and prices, from traditional to contemporary. The show promises something for everyone – including pottery, rugs, jewelry, and much more. If you can’t make it to the show, but are interested in purchasing art to support Lipscomb Academy, you can register to bid online for a painting created and donated by one of Lipscomb Academy’s student artists. The show runs from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, and from 11am to 4pm on Sunday.

While fortifying yourself for the next activity, why not stop for lunch (11am – 3pm) or dinner (5pm – 10pm) at The Yellow Porch restaurant on Thompson Lane in Berry Hill? The food is the creative star at this moderately-priced restaurant (dinner entrees range from around $14 to $30), but the decor has a cool vibe featuring artwork by local artists.

Saturday night, February 7 (6pm – 9pm) is the night of Nashville’s First Saturday Art Crawl, sponsored by the Nashville Downtown Partnership. This popular free event presents local and world-renowned artists and artwork, in a variety of participating galleries along Nashville’s Fifth Avenue of the Arts and upstairs in the Historic Arcade. Most galleries serve free wine and other refreshments. The gallery crawl is a great free night on the town, featuring shuttle service between the galleries.

If you haven’t yet caught the current Young Tennessee Artists: 2014 Statewide exhibition at The Frist, Sunday afternoon, February 8 would be a perfect time to do so. The exhibition showcases a selection of the finest artwork created in Tennessee’s high school Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) art programs in 2014. The 39 pieces represent student artists from 16 schools, and were selected from over 600 submissions. Admission to The Frist Center for Visual Arts is $10 for adults; $7 for students or seniors. Young people (age 18 and under) are admitted without charge, as are Frist Center members.

Chaser: Although there don’t appear to be public events listed at OZ arts center during the weekend in this column, it’s worth noting that they have an exciting upcoming exhibition of contemporary interactive visual art by Alex Lockwood. The exhibition will open with an OZ Thursday Night Things (“TNT”) reception on Thursday, February 19. Doors open at 6:30. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 at the door. OZ is a little tricky to find the first time, but worth the effort!


Girl Time – The Antiques and Garden Show

One advantage for being at the Antiques and Garden Show late Saturday afternoon is that we’ll get to hear Suzy Bogguss perform live!

Some generous friends gave me passes to next week’s Antiques and Garden Show at the Music City Center; I’m planning to go with my friend Eve. Neither of us has strong interest in antiques or the inclination to do much more than patio planters for a garden, but this event is still one of our favorite do-together activities. It’s like strolling through a lovely antique and decor mall, without the bad smells and creaky floors. A lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

This year, I think we might mix it up a little and arrive a little later in the day Saturday. That way, we can stop and have a late lunch before the show (so many new restaurants opening in The Gulch and Germantown that we can try – let me know if you have a suggestion!).

One advantage for being at the Antiques and Garden Show late Saturday afternoon is that we’ll get to hear one of my favorite singers, Suzy Bogguss, perform live at the event! I feel like this is one of those “only in Nashville” moments, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

A Nashville Treasure Worth Finding – Marrowbone Lake

It’s sometimes fun to catch a glimpse of what Nashville was like before our rural areas became suburban neighborhoods. In Northwest Davidson County, the community of Joelton offers just such a glimpse.

As Nashville becomes increasingly urban – and urbane – it’s sometimes fun to step back in time and catch a glimpse of what Nashville was like before our rural areas became suburban neighborhoods and started spilling over the county lines. In Northwest Davidson County, the community of Joelton offers just such a glimpse.

This semi-rural town has just over 8,000 residents, and has managed to escape the development boom in other parts of Metro Nashville. Driving through Joelton is not an entirely pleasant experience – abandoned buildings and ramshackle houses with tarp-covered vehicles dot the landscape. In the high school superlatives of life, Joelton might be Most Likely Place to Hear a Car Horn Playing ‘Dixie.’

But Joelton boasts some of the prettiest areas of Davidson County. One such place is a small managed-fishing area called Marrowbone Lake, located just 2.5 miles from Highway 41-A (aka Clarksville Pike). I never have considered myself a fisherman, but even I would enjoy sitting by Marrowbone Lake for the better part of a day with a line in the water. This is where Sheriff Andy Taylor would take Opie to fish.

This is a fishing lake. Swimming or wading are prohibited, as are motorized boats or alcoholic beverages. A lake fishing permit (required for anyone between age 16-64) is $5 per day; you can rent a boat for $8 per day at the bait shop. The lake features catfish, black bass, bluegill, trout, and crappie – in the wintertime, fishermen report catching mostly trout. If the bait shop is untended, you can just slide your $5 through the slot in the door. Fishing may begin 30 minutes before sunrise, and must end by 30 minutes after sunset.

If you’re really just more in the mood for driving around and exploring, Marrowbone Lake is still a nice spot to include on your itinerary. There’s an interesting little resort-looking area (complete with a pirate ship and chapel) just off to the left of the lake on Lake Rd. Unfortunately, the signs on the property are most unwelcoming of visitors!

There is no snack bar or visitors center at Marrowbone Lake – you can shop for a picnic lunch at Tony’s Foodland grocery store on Clarksville Pike on your way in.

Nashville in Winter – Budget-friendly ways to beat cabin fever in Music City

It’s mid-January in Nashville. I’m cold, bored, and trying to think of something to do…

It’s mid-January in Nashville. I’m cold, bored, and trying to think of something to do that won’t break too many of my New Year’s resolutions! Here are some ideas…

Last night, the 2015 Bonnaroo lineup was announced. Even though the odds are against my attending the 4-day festival again (as I did in 2013), I don’t rule out buying a one-day pass. But the thing is – I’m not familiar with all of the artists on the well-curated line-up, so I’m not sure which acts I’ll want to catch. Fortunately, the Bonnaroo website allows me to spend countless hours clicking on artist/band names, accessing some liner notes and video clips. And, if I’m eager for more, I can always resort to YouTube. I’m still not sure whether I’ll spend a day on the Farm in Manchester, but if I do, I’ll know whether to head to Which Stage or That Tent in Centeroo!

Speaking of announcements, the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards will be announced on January 15. Because of other award shows (like last weekend’s Golden Globes), it’s pretty easy to predict at least some of the nominations. I try to see as many of the nominated films and performances as possible before the February 22 awards telecast. Going to movies isn’t free, but weekend matinees aren’t too bad if you skip the concession stand. Regal Cinemas is currently screening several of the movies I want to see: Foxcatcher, Big Eyes, The Imitation Game, Selma, and Into the Woods. The Belcourt Theatre is offering a limited number of screenings for Boyhood and Birdman. That’s a pretty ambitious schedule!

Even though I have committed to healthier eating in 2015, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy Nashville Restaurant Week, which runs January 19-25. Some of our favorite places participate in Restaurant Week, with special menu offerings and value prices. It doesn’t appear that Nashville’s newest restaurants will be participating, so now’s a good time to visit those restaurants we came to love before Nashville became a foodie town. (Sunset Grill has now closed – let’s make sure Tin Angel and Boundr’y get some business!)

Hopefully, these tips will help you discover a way to stay warm and entertained during the weeks ahead! Thanks for reading my blog – if you have suggestions about events in the Middle Tennessee area, or would like a sample itinerary for a specific weekend, please let me know!

Have fun, y’all!

A weekend of service and reflection – honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I hope that you won’t allow current tensions to distract or dissuade you from participating in activities honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King on the January 17-19 holiday weekend.

The national dialogue around ethnic and race relations has been especially heated in recent months. I hope that you won’t allow current tensions to distract or dissuade you from participating in activities honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King on the January 17-19 holiday weekend. Here are some of the best options to make your holiday weekend both meaningful and enjoyable.

Each day, our city’s community centers connect Nashvillians of all ages with valuable resources.Hands On Nashville is recruiting volunteers to brighten and improve four Metro Parks Community Centers as part of a its MLK Days of Service campaign. More than 800 volunteers are needed on Saturday, Jan. 17 and Monday, Jan. 19 to support these important neighborhood spaces. Activities such as painting and cleaning are scheduled to take place in the morning; volunteer shifts will end around lunchtime.

After a Saturday shift of painting and cleaning, how about lunch at one of Nashville’s outstanding ethnic restaurants? Many of these family-owned restaurants are run by first-generation immigrants, who take pride in serving delicious and authentic dishes of their homeland to their new hometown neighbors. Among my favorites in South Nashville are Guantanamera Restaurant on Nolensville Rd. near Grassmere, and Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant on W. Thompson Lane.

Not all of us are of an age where we can fully recall or appreciate Dr. King’s efforts to promote integration and equality in the U.S. (and particularly in the South). The Selma movie (rated PG-13) dramatizes his hard-fought efforts to end discrimination in voter registration – efforts that culminated in the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This movie is currently being widely shown at Regal and Carmike theaters – go with a friend or loved one, and plan time after the movie for discussion.

Sunday’s observances across Nashville will be largely church-centered, but some Nashvillians were fortunate enough to get tickets for Let Freedom Sing, held Sunday evening at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center downtown. This free event features the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and special guests performing a mix of spirituals, popular songs and classical music honoring the triumphs of the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, no tickets remain for this event.

Vanderbilt University is sponsoring a weekend-long schedule of events and observances for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  holiday weekend, culminating with a Monday afternoon of “Teach-Ins” and an evening keynote address by former U.N. ambassador, the Honorable Andrew Young. Tickets are free and available to the public (limit 4 per person) at the Vanderbilt Sarratt box office.

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The Athens of the South – 5 ways to expand your mind in Nashville this winter

Nashville has lots to offer in the way of educational opportunities – we earned our nickname “Athens of the South” well before the Parthenon replica was built.

At this time of year, lots of folks are thinking about how to improve their lives in the year ahead. In my opinion, one of the most enjoyable ways to improve your life is to learn about new things. Fortunately, Nashville has lots to offer in the way of educational opportunities – we earned our nickname “Athens of the South” well before the Parthenon replica was built for the 1897 state Centennial celebration. Here are five ways I’m planning to expand my mind in coming months:

Nashville Parks and Recreation offers a variety of wintertime classes and activities at facilities in our area. The activities at Warner Parks Nature Center are generally free, have an outdoorsy focus, and offer a good excuse to get some light exercise in one of Nashville’s most beautiful parks. This year, I’m signing up to learn about invasive plant species while volunteering to help eradicate these interlopers in our natural forests. (Later, I’ll put the knowledge to good use in our own backyard!) You can find a class or activity to suit your style on the Nashville Parks & Recreation website.

University School of Nashville (formerly Peabody Demonstration School) is a private, co-educational, K-12 day school located adjacent to the Vanderbilt campus on Edgehill Avenue. Each winter, they put together an eclectic catalog of Evening Classes targeted toward adult learners. In past years, I’ve learned the basics of using a digital SLR camera and explored the ins and outs of keeping backyard chickens. This year I’m going to learn about blogging (cart-before-the-horse moment) and how to bake a baguette like a pro. Prices vary – see the attached catalog for more information.

We’re just weeks past the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War battles in Franklin and Nashville. In November, I saw my first-ever battle reenactment at the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, and was able to learn more in that day than I recall ever learning in school. I care little and less about antique firearms or battle strategies, but I’m fascinated by the heroism and touched by the monumental sacrifice of area families during the war. I’ve recently started reading Robert Hicks’ bestseller, The Widow of the South, and plan to revisit the historic Carter House and Carnton Plantation one weekend soon.

Speaking of books – each year I value the serious readers of my Book Club more. If you don’t currently belong to a REAL book club, I heartily recommend you find one. (But for heaven’s sake, don’t quit your fun book club!) You can join a book club at Parnassus Books in Green Hills, or ask at your local Metro Nashville Public Library branch.

Wintertime is also a great time to spend a few hours in a museum. Like many Nashville natives, I don’t take full advantage of the attractions our city has to offer. Before Spring, I’ll make a point of visiting The Upper Room to see the nearly life-sized woodcarving of The Last Supper and tour the Christian Art Museum there. I also want to check out The Musicians Hall of Fame in its new location at the Municipal Auditorium.

At first glance, that may seem like an ambitious agenda, but remember that these mind-expanding activities are meant to be spread out over the entire season – there will be plenty of time for Nashville’s other diversions!

Ringing in 2015

In recent years, I’ve developed an informal following among my friends and professional colleagues. People ask me what I’ve got planned for an upcoming weekend – or seek advice about good activities for showing visiting friends or relatives around the Nashville/Middle Tennessee area.

I am a planner. It’s in my nature to spend almost as much time thinking about the best way to spend an (evening/holiday/weekend/vacation) as I actually do on the activity itself. I enjoy the planning process. I also enjoy the results, whether the planning was my own or someone else’s.

In recent years, I’ve developed an informal following among my friends and professional colleagues. People ask me what I’ve got planned for an upcoming weekend – or seek advice about good activities for showing visiting friends or relatives around the Nashville/Middle Tennessee area. Even though there are other sites with event calendars, I think followers of my blog can expect some extra insight into goings-on that would suit ‘most anyone seeking to experience the diversity of fun and interesting things to do around town.

The fact that I am posting this on New Year’s Eve – about New Year’s Eve – is not something I’m especially proud of. Even though there are lots of tempting, fun music-related things going on in Nashville for New Years Eve (including the Bash on Broadway and fun concerts at The Ryman, City Winery, 3rd & Lindsley, The Sutler and other favorite venues), we’re planning a potluck Italian dinner with friends and neighbors. Plenty of good food and wine – I’m contributing homemade meatballs and sauce from my freezer. We’ll toast the New Year at midnight and almost immediately disband. There are parties to attend, and bowl games to watch, on January 1!

Have fun tonight, and be safe!