May 19, 2007: LAGUARDO, TN Had a nice overnight visit with college friend, Jen (a.k.a. "Doogie!") just a few miles east of Nashville. She and her husband, Bobby, moved here just a few months ago for a change of pace. They had been in Maryland (near DC) for many years, and decided they wanted to be able to spend more time with eachother and the baby - and simply have some space away from the crowded and expensive suburbs of DC. They are very proud of the land they have in their new beautiful Tennessee backyard now! Bobby is phasing out of a family law practice and is an excellent and loving Mr. Mom to son James (and doggie Baru, too)!

And Jen is now bringin' home the bacon with an easy (no traffic!) commute to her workplace where she is scaling the IT corporate ladder and loving her career. It was so wonderful to catch up with Jen - and Bobby cooked us a mean steak on the grill! They even had a doggie care-package of snacks and rawhide bones ready for a very thankful Winni. Seems like many of my friends are deciding to take the leap of faith away from big cities and big money to live a more simple, rural and family-focused life. Hugs and many blessings to Jen and her family as they settle into Tennessee life with its stunning sunsets, kind and friendly neighbors and occassional tornado (yes, they even have a tornado shelter in their house)!

May 18, 2007: ASHEVILLE, NC to NASHVILLE, TN Lucky me! I got a travel buddy for the past three days! Crystal is a colleague from my (former) New York City job. She flew down to North Carolina to do a little free-spirited exploration with me and Winni for a few days. She'd never seen the NC-TN Appalachian Mountains before and I was happy to show her! She'd never been camping, either, but slept like a champ with Winni and I in Pisgah National Forest - our first camp-out of the trip. And she voiced no complaints when we found out the showers were not turned on for the season yet! Our first stop was Chimney Rock Park near Lake Lure about 30 miles east of Asheville. We (sort of) enjoyed mayonnaise sandwiches (oh, and we think there was some chicken in them, too) at a little local store and then worked it off on the climb up about 2,000 feet to the tip of the rock (well, we actually drove most of the climb). But the short climb we did do, was a doozy - Winni was even winded!

After an evening in the park, we woke up and ate a hearty breakfast at Waffle House (known by some as "Awful House" because of their extra greasy approach to breakfast food - but actually we found it quite yummy!). And we, again, walked off the extra calories by taking a tour of George Washington Vanderbilt's late 1800's grand estate - The Biltmore House. He thought of everything! From leather walls to organ pipes to a basement bowling lane and pool. Amazing! And as Crystal remarked, "All that house for only three people!" American wealth at it's...finest? Well, anyway, we paid the $38 tour fee and enjoyed ourselves. I snapped an illegal photo of the Grand Staircase and Frederick Law Olmsted (notice sideways old man portrait below) who must have assisted with the landscape design of the estate and, therefore, won a prime hanging spot on a wall in the house. He's a relative of mine, you know. Oh, yes, I come from excellent stock (actually, he was quite a wanderer, struggled quite a bit, and didn't find his niche until late in life...hmmm....sounds familiar). Yup, Olmsted is my mom's maiden name. Frederick Law is like a great, great, great Uncle of ours...or something like that. I really should find out the exact lineage. I might have bragging rights to some of Central Park for all I know! Anyway, Winni stayed in an on-site kennel for the morning and swapped travels stories with other couped-up pooches in nearby "cells." (No, she didn't come back with a tattoo, though I noticed a slight attitude which wore off after a quick game of fetch). We finished off the tour with a tasting at the winery - and grabbed a few bottles for the road (not to be drunk-drinken-drank-whatever ON the road, mind you) before we headed to Nashville!

On our last day together, we got a wild hair in Nashville and drove out to the Grand Ol' Opry for a historical tour.

I admit...I was skeptical, but, by golly - I LOVED it! We got to stand onstage and sing "You Are My Sunshine" in true tourist fashion. Our host was dressed up as Loretta Lynn and sounded the part perfectly! I got behind the drums and took a shot of the theater and even imagined warming up for a show in one of the dressing rooms backstage.

You know, country music is really cool. Those musicians are all about the heart and soul and history of the song, and bringing people together for some good, clean, hoot-hollerin' fun! And Nashville feels awesome to be in. Really! Music just runs in its veins. I went downtown for some barbeque in the middle of the afternoon and there was live music coming from every little place on Broadway - what they call Music Row where all the famous recording studios are (like Studio B where Elvis recorded all his hits).

I tried to soak in the mojo and took some groovy music vibes with me. I hope to return one of these days...maybe even play a show at the Ol' Opry! Hey, if Smashing Pumpkins can do it...

so can I! So thanks, Crystal, for heading out of the city you love and into the wild unknown South with me! And thanks for sharing your perspective on the city you grew up in. It was really amazing to hear how different our lives were growing up. I mean, we both played the same games (Double Dutch, paddle ball, Steal the Bacon and - as we got older - Spin the Bottle) just in different settings (You, on the streets and sidewalks of Queens...and Me, in the fields and barns of rural New Jersey). And it was nice to know I wasn't the only teenager who felt like a prisoner during long summer trips with her parents. It was also great to listen to your stories of the wonderful girlfriends you had in your neighborhood that you've stayed near to all these years. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the diverse paths we took while forming the same deep and lasting bonds with our dearest friends.

Now, Crystal...make-out parties in upstairs apartments? Those were new to crazy city kids! ;)~