Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Home of the Free Because of the Brave

Yesterday, we celebrated our country's military heroes and honored those who have fallen protecting the most basic of freedoms that we take for granted everyday. I am the wife, daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of men in uniform. I grew up in homes where plaques were propped up in bookshelves and medals of honor were stored in sock drawers. Some days, I would help my grandfather run his flag up the pole after his first cup of coffee. I sold Girl Scout cookies at the National Guard complex and considered camouflage to be a perfectly acceptable school picture day outfit. In the early 80's (when it just plain snowed, before the catchy hashtags #Snowmageddon and #PolarVortex), record amounts of winter weather closed schools and businesses for a week. But my dad, a National Guardsman, drove as far as he could to the Guard Center and walked the rest of the way. Mission first. Always.

My grandparents stayed in touch with many of Papa's "old Army buddies"; a list of honorable men and their wives who stretched, literally, from sea to shining sea. At Christmas, there was a great production made of scratching out old addresses and scribbling in new ones before addressing the Christmas cards. But as the years ticked by and the gap between WWII and 1990's Christmases grew, more names were crossed out, left with no forwarding address. If Heaven had a zip code, I wonder what it would be. There were fewer Army buddy reunions to plan, less Friday nights spent playing pull-tab lottery tickets at the VFW. More names added to the WWII memorials. I wish I had been more interested in the stories told. I wish I could remember the snippets of conversation bantered between men who had shared a foxhole. But when I close my eyes, I can see their faces; smiling, sharing laughs, even though the most difficult of circumstances, the grim reality of war, is what brought them together in the first place. When Neal and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary after Shepherd, we were vacationing in Charleston, SC. After a full and exhausting day of sightseeing, we trudged back to our hotel, just in time for the manager's reception; a complimentary 3-hour cocktail service offered by many of the Hilton hotels. I collapsed onto the couch with a plate of chips in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Looking around, I realized we were in the presence of an Old Army Buddies Reunion and, just like that, I was 5 years old again. But this time, I chatted with the wives, asked where they had been stationed and how long they had been married. I listened, I took mental notes and I soaked in the feeling of being with grandparents again, after so many years without them. Today's military (and the way in which they deploy Soldiers like Neal) creates a temporary patchwork of units, pieced together from different battalions to meet whatever needs arise. We don't go to Old Army Buddy Reunions. After being cross-leveled into units all over the country for 3 deployments, we barely remember many of their names. I can't even express how sad that makes me.

Although I was always aware of the roles my grandparents played during WWII and the life that was shaped by it afterwards, it was never as real to me, on a daily basis, as the modern US Army that employed my dad. Sunday nights were spent watching Hee-Haw while Dad shined his boots on the living room floor. His dress blue shoes were polished to reflection perfection. Most days he wore the standard BDU's, sometimes he wore the dress uniform. I never knew (or really cared) why. That was his job. Just like Mom wore dress pants and a button down to counsel her patients, Dad wore a uniform and boots. I never thought of him as "a veteran", although I knew he had served his time in the jungles. I knew an uncle that I couldn't remember had been killed in action during his tour in Vietnam.  I knew his name was etched on a wall in D.C. I had done a rubbing of it in middle school. But that was a different war, unpopular for a myriad of reasons. Hate of the war became hate of everything associated with the war, even our country's own sons and daughters. Dad brought home a Purple Heart but he was never publicly proclaimed a hero. He kept his head down, his boots shined, his uniform pressed and his mind on the mission at hand. We screwed up as a country. We screwed over our Vietnam Veterans, but the greatest tragedy is, they never wanted a ticker tape parade. They just wanted a kind word instead of a hateful one.

This is the short version of a childhood that laid a foundation for my marriage to Neal. Although you would be hard-pressed to find a joke that hasn't been made about me basically marrying my dad, they are, in fact, 2 very different people who have been molded in a similar way by the Army. I met Neal during his first deployment to Iraq and while I was employed by a sector of the DoD that distributed supplies to units around the world. I knew a world of war stories and boot shine but none of it became tangible until the first time Neal didn't call from Iraq when he said he would. Minutes, hours, days. Five of them. Our last conversation had ended with, "I'll call you back shortly." That was the longest "shortly" of my life. He had gotten a call to command a convoy to Baghdad and it had taken a week to get up and back. Every possible scenario had played through my mind while I stared at that phone for 5 days. I was barely the girlfriend. Who would tell me if something had happened? How would I find out? There was no Facebook, no FRG, not even a phone chain that had my number. How had the wives done it for all these years? Revolutionary wives and foreign war wives and any family member of any troop member ever? How on earth did they do it? 

Since then, we have survived 2 more deployments and become an Active Duty family. Our 4th move in 5 years is drawing near and we approach our military life as many non-military families live world-wide; with a sense of adventure and an open heart and mind. Sometimes we speak in acronyms. Occasionally, Neal answers me with "roger" and I find an entry on our calendar in 24 hour time. (I still have to use my fingers to count to any hour past 4 PM.) Neal is a 29-year Veteran who wears the uniform everyday but we don't talk about the war and we almost always forget to ask if there is a military discount. Army is a way of life for us everyday but it still catches us off guard when people say "Thank you." We have never known an ungrateful nation and yet it's always reassuring, comforting even, to hear someone express their appreciation for our voluntary effort. An airport of strangers clapping as a unit marches through the hall will still bring me to tears. Every. Single. Time. A token of anonymous support never fails to floor me. When a child bravely marched up to Neal in a restaurant on his lunch break, just to shake his hand and thank him for his service, I silently prayed that we would raise exactly that kind of son. We are a grateful nation and I hope we always will be. Today, my Facebook feed was a constant stream of appreciation for all of our servicemembers and their families. May we never forget. May we raise children who never forget.

From our family to yours, thank you for your support. As Neal is so fond of saying, serving in an all-voluntary Army and the stress and sacrifices that accompany the life are nearly impossible to endure without the nation's support. For us today, that meant a 3-topping pizza for $11 and a camouflage ice cream cone benefiting the USO. But it also meant a flood of kind words and positive energy. It meant finding new ways to connect to a community that has become our home and receiving their appreciation, although the permanent residents here are probably weary of our high turnover rate.  And it meant finding ways to honor other military families and their sacrifices. I hope that as the military draws down and Veterans are forced out, we continue to say thank you. They should always have work, food, shelter and healthcare. Families of fallen heroes should have the same. There is no excuse to abandon our Veterans. Every day is a bonus, and we have our Veterans, who have stood bravely and selflessly in the gap, to thank.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Walk Through Time: Review of Louisville's Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular (Oct. 9 - Nov 2, 2014)

I am always a little put-off when events deem themselves spectacular. I feel like in 2014 (in the age of Honey BooBoo, Duck Dynasty and Taylor Swift), there is very little that is truly spectacular. I've been to Ringling Brothers lately. Meh...not so spectacular. Decent and fun but not something "causing wonder and admiration" or really even "very impressive." Tonight, Neal, Blue and I attended the Louisville Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular in Iroquois Park Amphitheater, and I will be the first to admit...it absolutely lived up to the name.

We heard the parking would be a nightmare. We heard the lines would be long. We heard it would be a crowded mob of people and strollers meandering down a dark path, lit only by 5000 carved pumpkins. We heard it would be totally worth it. As luck would have it, a friend of mine and her family went last week so she was able to give me the scoop on parking, tickets, food and ease of stroller use (gates don't open until 7. Even if everything went smoothly, that's still an hour before Blue's bedtime. He would stay awake for it but at some point, he would become horizontal. Better to do that in something with at least 3 wheels).

We arrived at Iroquois Park (off New Cut Road) around 7:15 PM. As I pulled up to the stoplight to turn in, I saw row after row of cars and thought "oh word. We are going to be parking in Scooby Doo Row R." The gates to the park don't open until 7 but you can arrive and secure a parking spot after 6 PM. We weren't the only ones undeterred by the rain all day. I imagine that on the weekends, the line of cars waiting to park stretches out of the gates and spills onto New Cut Road, which is then at the mercy of a traffic light. I was immediately grateful to live close enough for a quick trip up on a rainy Tuesday.

Parking attendants waved us in and although there was already quite a crowd, we found a spot a few rows down from the entrance (this actually put us closer to the end of the trail. Look for the funnel cake stand when you go...hard to miss...lit up like the county fair - that's where you will exit the trail and head to your car). Because we refused to pay the $7 convenience fee that's charged when you buy tickets online (c'mon, people. That's over 50% the cost of a ticket!), we waited until we arrived. Armed with cash and credit, we were prepared. Credit and debit cashiers await you in a mobile office building and cash is accepted around the corner, near the entrance to the trail. This is also where the restrooms (not port-a-potties...yay!) are. (If you are visiting with diapered ones, there are changing tables in the restrooms located in the tunnel under the amphitheater seats.)  From there, you will see the gates to the amphitheater, which you must walk through to get to the trail on the other side.
As a side note, Iroquois Park has a beautiful permanent amphitheater that hosts concerts, stand-up comedians and festivals. We had no idea. And although it looks like the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular will wrap up their 2014 season, we will definitely check the spring schedule! 

There is ample signage guiding you through the amphitheater and around to the trail of jack-o-lanterns. There are some signs indicating how long your wait is once you reach that point. If you are at these gates, it's 90 minutes just to get to the start of the trail. We cruised right on through. There is also an opportunity to have photos taken in front of a green screen. When printed, your family is perched in front of 100's of glowing pumpkins. Those photos can then be purchased for $5+. I'm sure they have more takers on that when the line is long and people are looking for some way to distract the tired and cranky kids. We cruised on past that, too.

It's at this point that you can purchase chili, hotdogs, soft drinks, hot apple cider, Angry Orchard, Bud Light and mixed drinks. There is also kettle corn. Mmmm....kettle corn. Neal didn't break stride so I missed out on all of that. Note to self: sometimes a long line means you have to smell kettle corn until Neal decides he must have some. Sweet and salty silver lining.

Suddenly, you are entering the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular...with a bajillion strangers and their cell phone cameras. Staff standing at the gate announces the rules: stay on the path, for the love of God don't touch the pumpkins (OK, they didn't exactly say it that way, but that's what I heard), don't walk on the hay bales, use only non-flash photography (which, I think, has more to do with not interrupting the experience for others than causing some kind of flash-related harm to the pumpkins), have fun. Got it. In we go.

It's a total log-jam at the entrance. Everyone wants to see (and photograph) every. single. pumpkin. Strollers, Granny trying to figure out how to turn the flash off, Joe-Bob trying to take a picture on manual mode without a tripod, kids anxious to see what's ahead but stuck behind all of this. It's a hot, hot mess. Be patient. It eventually thins out and you can move at a leisurely pace without getting Achilles tears from errant strollers or photobombing someone's perfect pumpkin pic.

This year's theme, A Walk in Time, is displayed by decades.
Less detailed carved pumpkins line one side of the trail while the artfully sculpted ones line the other side. Music to match each decade accompanies the entire route, which only enriches the experience. Starting with clock faces carved into pumpkins, 
the theme of time is established. The beginning of time is represented by dinosaurs and various animals.
Next up are the Egyptians, the dragons and all things Medieval.

This is followed by the Renaissance and the New World

Let me just pause for a second to remind you that these are carved pumpkins. Every single one of them is an actual pumpkin. A gourd. From the ground. After cooking with butternut and acorn squash for a month and manhandling each one with a butcher knife and a cutting board the size of Maine, I consider this to be high art. Indeed....spectacular. 

There is a brief interlude in the decades - just long enough to showcase hundreds of jack-o-lanterns - stacked upon one another, hanging from trees, dangling at least 20 feet off the ground. Seriously, I thought they were Halloween lights strung in a tree until we got closer. Nope, all real pumpkins. We had to sit for a second just to take it all in. This picture only represents maybe 1/8 of the total. For. Real.
Time for a selfie. (Also, time to find a word to replace selfie.)
Can it be called a selfie if we don't look like ourselves? Although as a mother, I would recognize that profile anywhere.

The walk in time picks back up with 1776 and the creation of our government. The woman behind me kept pointing out George Washington to the child with her and saying "our first president." She did this about 5 times. But, um, I really thought this was Benjamin Franklin. Would anyone care to weigh in on this?
A family behind us was playing Name That Historical Figure all the way down the path. Each face was so expertly carved that it wasn't a particularly challenging game. Except for Bill Clinton. He didn't really look like himself at all. The only dead give-away was his placement in the 90's, right before the 9/11 dedication.

Y'know those people who enter a museum, walk up to a piece of art, look at it for about 4 seconds, take a cell phone picture, walk away and then repeat that process all the way down the line? That's sort of me. I try to be aware of this tendency but when Blue is with us, I always feel pressed for time. And since Alzheimer's runs thick in our family blood, my theory is "take a picture today in case you forget it tomorrow." So, I walk up, I look, I snap, I move on. I sometimes get in such a rhythm that I don't notice some rather obvious incongruencies....like someone placing an ATM in the Wild West. It took the guy behind me saying something like "huh, that's odd. An ATM on the frontier" for me to double-take. Yay for oblivion.
Moving forward, the 1900's were personified by "The Titans of Industry",
the fathers of invention

and the sinking of the Titanic.
The following decades were punctuated by important historical figures, defining moments and cultural icons.
If you look closely, you can see the reflected image in the mirror behind E.T. The artist cleverly incorporated both images that are so often associated with this 80's cult classic.

There was also a jack-o-lantern depicting the moon walk. Try as I did (much to the dismay of everyone behind me), I could not get a decent picture. It is hanging from a tree and at a bit of a distance. No amount of messing with my iPhone settings would capture the beauty. You'll just have to go see it.

Somewhere during the 1950's, artists had set up a Christmas scene to represent The Saturday Evening Post. "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Jingle Bells" and other Christmas classics played overhead while trees twinkled and Santa watched. You better not pout, you better not cry...just sayin'.
Wisely, the display included a beautiful 9/11 tribute with a painted scene of the twin towers on a gigantic pumpkin and the statue of liberty holding her own jack-o-lantern of light.

As we came around the bend and the trail came to an end, the final carvings honored some of our favorite icons who have passed away. Although there were several, this one was my favorite. Perched at the gates of Heaven, a laughing Robin Williams is depicted exactly how I hope to always remember him.
A huge thank you to the sponsors of such a spectacular event...
for making it available and for making it affordable! It is always an honor to be in the presence of such remarkable talent.

If you go: 
* Tickets are available for purchase on the website (with a $6.95 convenience fee charged by the ticketing venue used by Iroquois Park) or on-site. On busier nights (like this weekend), it may be worth it to pay the $7 just to avoid standing in a ticket line. Your call. I think you may be able to swing by the box office (which opens at 4 PM) and pick them up in advance, as well. Proceeds benefit the Louisville Metro Parks Foundation.
Sunday-Thursday
Adults: $12
Seniors: $10 (62+)
Children: 9 (3-12...yep, Blue was free! Yipee!)
On Fridays and Saturdays, each ticket goes up by $3.
Parking is free.

*Gates are open 7 PM-11PM Sunday - Thursday; 7 PM - midnight Friday and Saturday and it is rain or shine (although it looks to be dreadfully dry through the rest of the weekend.)

*The route through the display is a 1/4 mile soft surface, woodland trail (similar to paving). We took the jogging stroller but it will easily accommodate anything from a carrier stroller, on up. There are a couple of steep inclines, but I would not consider it strenuous at all. There are docents (with flashlights) stationed along the path to provide assistance as needed. The amphitheater also provides staff, who are available to escort visitors through the entire trail, if requested. In short, this is accessible for everyone.

*There aren't any restrooms on the path. Plan accordingly.

*There is an ATM located near the food and drink vendors. Since we didn't purchase anything, I don't know what their preferred method of payment is, but I'm assuming it's cash.

*All of my pictures were taken using my iPhone 5 without the flash. I saw many people fiddling with point-and-shoots, but my cell phone did just fine. The event staff are correct...using the flash ruins the entire effect of a glowing pumpkin. Just don't even mess with it.

*For anyone visiting over the weekend, they are running shuttles from the local high school and golf course parking lots if the Iroquois Park lot reaches capacity. Check the website for information on shuttle locations and times.  

*If you can, visit on an off-day...or after it has rained all day. I would stand in a 90-minute line for this, but, y'know....I would rather not.  

I learned a few other interesting pieces of information from the lady keeping the guest book at the end of the trail (please sign the guest book. It's feedback for the artists and for the city park service). The creator of Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular hails from Oxford, MA, where his father has been designing drive-thru jack-0-lantern displays since 1988. The son moved to Louisville and signed a 5-year contract with the Louisville Metro Parks Foundation to offer this annual walk-through event. He employed 25 local artists to help him complete his vision. This is their 2nd year (last year's theme was Around the World) and in the next 3 years, the art show aims to become even more...well...spectacular.










Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Turning the Town Teal

 
Last week, I began noticing posts popping up in my Facebook newsfeed about The Teal Pumpkin Project. It is an awareness campaign aimed at encouraging families to offer non-food treats to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  Our local news channel in Louisville was promoting it heavily on their Facebook page and it was in turn being shared by many of my friends. And I thought, "really? Is this really a thing?" So I emailed Shana and asked her if it was a thing up there, too. She had not yet heard of it. However, just in doing a quick Google images search for the above photo, I noticed it was a topic of conversation for bloggers across the country. 

Yes, it's a thing. 

Now, here's the part where I come across as a total jerk-face. Having been a mom for 2 years, I'm rather annoyed with all of the parenting fads. Limit screen-time. Let your children play educational games on the iPad. Limit your child to a gluten-free, nut-free diet. Give your child a Wonder bread sandwich, slathered with Jiffy and send them out to play in the creek behind the house because that's what we did when we were kids and we turned out just fine. And the super-fun one...to vaccinate or not to vaccinate (and the one I struggle with - do I let my vaccinated child play with your unvaccinated one? Polio, Rubella, Measles...none of these are welcome in our house). So, I'm sure you can imagine the amount of eye-rolling on my face when I learned of the teal pumpkins. Really? Really we can't just let Halloween be Halloween? Do we have to be all Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man about this, too? 
 
The answer is, of course, yes. Although scores of children with Type 1 Diabetes (like my childhood best friend, Monica) and food allergies (like my husband, although his oddly developed during a deployment) and children with swallowing difficulties (like my friend's 4-year old daughter, who has had a trach from day 1) have had to contend with the challenges of Halloween in years past, don't we always want better for our children? When we were growing up, the parents of these kids had to find alternate ways to make the night special. Some would prearrange with neighbors and family to have non-food or approved foods available. Often, these pre-approved foods were home-baked, which would now send off alarm bells for any parent. Monica's parents developed an exchange system; 1 full-size Snickers bar = 1 board game or 5 mini-bags of M&Ms = a book. Although they let her choose 4 or 5 pieces to enjoy throughout the coming months, the bulk of her haul was exchanged for non-food items. (By the way, I think this is total genius and I give them boatloads of credit for being so creative in a non-Facebook, non-Pinterest world. I also reserve the right to implement this in our house, even though food allergies are not an issue.)
 
I started to think, "Wouldn't I be more than happy to have non-food items on hand for the kids I knew personally who couldn't have the candy? Why wouldn't I extend that courtesy to anyone trick-or-treating in our neighborhood? Does it matter why the parents would prefer their children to have non-food items? Wouldn't I prefer Blue to have stickers over Snickers?" Yes, yes, yes, yes to all of that. No, I'm not a jerkface, I had just never stopped to think about how to make an event like Halloween better, more accessible to all children because my own child had not been challenged with it. Although I dread the inevitable power struggles that come with buckets of candy in the house everyday, it's something I was just willing to accept because it's part of "the Halloween experience." It's tradition. It's how it has always been. The end.

It's not the end. I have only been a mom for 2 years and I have volumes to learn about teaching our son sensitivity and understanding and inclusion. Halloween is about give and take. He instinctively knows how to take. I want him to find joy in being generous, but also in giving what others need; not what you want them to have. With The Teal Pumpkin Project, parents are saying, "this is what we want for our children. We are asking that you help us provide it to them." And I will joyfully cooperate. We are a more sensitive nation than 36 years ago and I think Monica would agree as she prepares her own children for the upcoming day...thank goodness for that!

Possible non-food treats:
stickers
pencils
pencil-toppers and fancy erasers
bubbles
mini decks of cards
play money
crayons 
coloring tablets
mini notebooks
bookmarks
costume jewelry
small toys and pocket-sized games
*Basically, just clean out your Dollar Store's party aisle. When you consider that multiple bags of the "good candy" is about $8.00-$10.00 bag, you may actually end up saving some money. 
*Some non-food items are not appropriate for children under 3. However, I would not consider allowing Blue to approach anyone's house without us until he is at least 3. If we are with him, we can help him choose a treat that is best-suited for his age. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It's a Wrap

We rounded out our getaway with 2 more delicious dining spots and a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as a stroll through the Nashville-Davidson County Public Library (one of us is a librarian but a good time was had by all).

Originally, I had mentioned The Pancake Pantry as a possible breakfast spot on Sunday morning. It's God's day in the south. Surely, the popular and famous breakfast joint would be deserted, right? Oh, wait...there's a Tennessee Titans football game about 5 miles away that starts at noon. Also, there are a fair amount of heathens living in the south. So, after several minutes of reading Trip Advisor reviews and travel bloggers lamenting the hours spent in line waiting for a breakfast food that I make at least once a month, we decided maybe a plan B was appropriate here. We asked the concierge at the hotel. And the bartender. And Siri. Ultimately, we decided to try Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, which has 2 location - one in downtown Franklin. I love it when breakfast is less than 8 miles away.

I realize that any dining establishment with the word "grocery" in the name conjures up images of 7-11 or Wawa (shout out to my VA crew) or Pic-Pac (holla back to my Frankfort posse). But I assure you it delivers on the "restaurant" side of things just as well.
I was in such a starved state by this point that I didn't even realize my menu had sprouted a forehead at the top when I snapped this.
My many thanks to everyone for looking perfectly normal and not at all annoyed by having your picture taken by a tourist. Also, please don't sue me for posting this on my blog. I tried not to include anyone who was shoving grits down their pie hole. (See? Cute grocery/market-like atmosphere with great attention still paid to the dining aspect. I didn't peruse the shelves for fear of coming home with more food items.)

Our server was decently attentive considering the Sunday morning masses and this being her first morning shift. As a regular during the dinner crowd, she could tell us all we wished to know about baby back ribs or shrimp and grits but not a single thing about the omelets. That was slightly less than helpful but we muddled through. First, the coffee, water, chocolate milk.
Then the harder decisions.
The Pancake Pantry is most notable for their sweet potato pancakes so I ordered them at Puckett's as a kind of consolation prize. But after I shoveled these down in a record 4 minutes, I declared them even better (with a 99% less wait time). Also, I realize that frying bacon rarely requires a degree in Chemical Engineering, but I wish my bacon tasted like that. It was crispy with a perfect meat-to-fat ratio. And it wasn't drowning in its own grease. Clearly, I'm doing it wrong. With breakfast down and a quick stop at the restroom (word to the wise: the bathrooms are in the kitchen and it's a 1-seater so you get a glimpse into what's going on at the grill there but you also feel a bit underfoot while you're waiting in the inevitable 4-woman bathroom line), we stepped outside to discuss the day's game plan.
I was now driving separately since we were checked out of our hotel and moving in a northern direction. Five girls piled in a Rogue now became 3, plus 2 in a Prius. After getting all the way into Nashville together, the Rogue GPS took the girls to the left and mine peeled us off to the right. Fortunately, I was with the most experienced Nashville traveler. After cutting off a Nashville police officer, nearly T-boning a Titans fan and driving all 4 lanes of a traffic circle somewhat simultaneously, I managed to swerve into the convention center parking garage...where we found the others 2 floors down.

Dear Country Music Hall of Fame,
When you decided to include the words hall of fame in your museum name, perhaps you should have also included dedicated parking. It's just a thought. I would rather not be at the whim of local parking lots during an event like an NFL game. Although I only took 1 business class in college, I still understand the concept of supply and demand.
Sincerely,
The girl who drove the girl who is out $10 because of the whole thing

Anyway, we made it.
Part of our reason for going was to see the Kenny Rogers and Alan Jackson special exhibitions. There was also one for Miranda Lambert, but that was not a deciding factor. Upon entering the front doors, we were greeted by a lady who explained the ticket packages available. The basic ticket was for the museum only. Add-ons included an audio tour of the Hall of Fame, a bus ride over to the historic RCA Studio B where you would receive another tour and a tour of Hatch Show Print ("one of the oldest letterprint print shops in America and a true Nashville icon") all for the bargain basement price of $54. Actually, when you consider that the Hall of Fame alone costs $25, that isn't a bad deal for an all-day visit. I would like to go back and do the other 2 at some point, but on this given Sunday, we were a little crunched for time. Husbands to relieve and children to hug and all that.

As interesting as the Kenny Rogers exhibit was (I had no idea he was a photographer who studied under an assistant for Ansel Adams), I felt it was a bit squeezed into the space it was allotted. Perhaps the worst mistake a museum curator can do when setting up an exhibit, I think, is to put it in a room with doors....that close. There was a film about Kenny's life that was playing on a loop so a fair amount of people were standing around watching that, plus the artifacts on display and his photos hanging and all of the people standing, reading, looking and then walking - usually right into the person in front of them who is doing the same thing. There was a lot of "excuse me" and bumping of purses and small children. I think he deserves a Dixie Chicks-sized wide open space to display all of his accomplishments and service to others. And perhaps more on the whole roasted chicken thing...because HELLO, random...
Somehow this is the only photo I took in the Kenny Rogers room but I had to get it as a constant reminder of what plastic surgery can do for a person...love it or hate it, Dolly Parton has an impossibly tiny waist with great big knockers. She got a variety of tomato named after her. They are apparently voluptuous orbs of juiciness. I personally think her figure would also lend itself well to the creation of some kind of double-mounded cake pop, seeing as it's on a stick and all.

Alan Jackson's exhibit was a bit more spread out, stretching along a wall behind a long glass panel. I had forgotten the bucketloads of amazing hits he had and vowed I would rock out to 90's country all the way home. I did and it was wonderful.

I am now going to show you a bunch of outfits worn by country music stars. These are only the ones I found most entertaining...for an assortment of reasons.
 In case you accidentally mistook him for a coal miner or something...
As hot as I'm sure this made Jerry Lee Lewis look, I think if Neal ever tried to leave the house in ruffles, I would make him change immediately.
 Patsy Cline was one classy lady. And the only person I know who could pull off fringe, my father included.
 Is anyone going to be heartbroken if this style fails to make a resurgence?
I think if I had feathers trailing down from my sleeves, it would make my batwing arms far less noticeable.
 Trisha Yearwood's boots - proof that she truly is Garth Brooks' soulmate.
Do you go to your costumer designer one day and say "I would really like something that says God bless you and kiss my ass" and this is the result?

There were also some perfectly normal ones.
 I actually have shoes fancier than those red heels owned by Crystal Gale. And I would like to someday have my own flight suit.
 I remember Dwight Yokum wearing this outfit. Shortly thereafter I bought my first pair of pre-ripped jeans, which my grandfather questioned me about constantly. He kept trying to buy me new ones...without the holes and rips.
 A little something from the McGraw-Hill closet. Wait a minute, isn't that a textbook publisher?
 I actually bought a shirt similar to the one on the left for Neal to wear. I think it might still have the tags on it. We call this look Rascal Flatts-sexy.
Dixie Chicks keepin it classy in black. I'm so sad they made one political statement at the height of their fame and now they are nowhere to be found. Come back, Dixie Chicks! We are out of Iraq now. Keep your trap shut about Syria and you can have the mic. 
As I mentioned, there was much ado about Miranda which was mildly annoying. I feel like you should put in your time before an entire wall is dedicated to your blossoming career. But your rhinestone-studded Mrs. Shelton belt was pretty fabulous. And I've always wondered what those award show cards look like on the inside. 

But there was also this. Elvis Presley's solid gold Cadillac, complete with installed TV and storage.
It is good to be the king.
And...this...
Webb Pierce's gun and money mobile. I couldn't even get all the awesome in one picture on my phone. Pearl-handled revolvers as door handles, a silver rifle mounted on the trunk, horse heads protruding from the gas cap, a saddle covered in half-dollar coins instead of an arm rest...yes, I think you should see this in person. I could show you more but, in this case, seeing is believing. This alone is worth the trip to Nashville. I don't care where you live.

If these costumes look familiar, then you grew up watching Hee-Haw. It was a Sunday night staple for us. The skits and songs were always a favorite in our house (I've been known to sing "where oh where are you tonight" to Neal during deployments) and my cousin played one of the nurses for awhile. That's pretty much my only link to fame. Hee-Haw. Try to conceal your jealousy.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the museum for me was the display of original manuscripts for famous songs. So often I think of a country music star grabbing a piece of hotel stationary or a bar napkin and jotting down a chart topper when most of the time it seems to be a piece of legal pad paper
The best and worst of country music...a little achy breaky heart by fellow Kentuckian (and unfortunate father of Miley) Billy Ray Cyrus.
or just some good ole fashioned single ruled white notebook paper. Nothing too fancy or romantic about that.
I took a picture of this because someday I'm going to have to explain telegrams to Blue and it will help to have a visual aid.
And there's an entire Curious George episode about homemade instruments so I'll have a chance to whip out this picture.
After we wandered through all of the halls, slid down the gigantic blow-up guitar slide and questioned the complete absence of many famous country musicians (i.e. Montgomery Gentry, Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, etc, etc, etc), we bid farewell to the Hall of Fame and went in search of the Nashville Public Library for a quick stroll through their children's section.

It was recently featured on NBC for their children's puppet shows but the entire floor is rich with creativity and inspiration. In addition to making their own puppets, they are often gifted unique puppets, which they display inside glass cases near the back of the department.


And they showcase art by children in the community.


This is how a children's library should be.
So, with the renewed energy of a thousand toddlers and the appetite of a thousand more, we went in search of lunch and our last meal in Nashville.

Upon our arrival Friday night, one of the girls suggested a place called Merchant's in downtown Nashville. She said something about duck fried tater tots and then I quit listening because I was imagining myself backstroking through a pool of aforementioned tots. But Merchant's was booked until 9:30 PM (10:30 our time) on Friday night. So, we bid farewell to any thoughts of tots. But then Sunday afternoon rolled around. The game was still on and the early birds had eaten their fill. We rolled into Merchant's at 3 PM with duck fat on the mind. (Somewhat related, "duck fat" is one of those tricky phrases if you are the least bit dyslexic.)
We were immediately seated on the patio and handed a menu of awesome from which to choose.
Why yes, girls...I do believe this calls for duck fat tater tots and baked cheese. In fact, bring one of everything!
OK, while not quite everything, we put a major dent in the appetizer menu.

And while you're at it, I'll have the fish tacos. Because I have a long drive ahead of me and something must get me through the next 120 miles.
I have managed to avoid saying this through the entire post, but....FOODGASM. There. I said it. I did it. And now I'm freaking starving and it's 1:45 AM and the entire house is sleeping. Gah.

As a sidenote, those tater tots are also delicious warmed up several days later. Even better if they are devoured in the pantry after you've distracted your toddler with Rio 2.

Merchant's and Puckett's definitely lived up to the hype and I'm thrilled I didn't have to stand in a 2-hour line for a pancake. The Hall of Fame was fascinating and I wish I could have seen more about the musicians that I adore but I understand that they must rotate their collection due to the sheer volume of it so I'll just have to plan a return trip.

Thank you for re-living this little music city getaway with me. I don't think I'll be able to wait another 8 years but maybe these posts will get me through until the next one.