Still another getaway tucked away. . . .

20170621_132825We are sometimes rewarded for merely getting out of our comfort zone, taking to the road, and exploring life beyond the well-worn path between home and work. If it’s high time you got out of your Hobbit hole to go on an adventure, here is a suggestion, especially if you live in the Mid-South.

The Berlin Store is a feast for the palate. We no sooner walked in the place than we were faced with a huge banquet table filled with pies, fudge, coffee cakes, and cookies. The four of us, my brother, niece, my youngest son,  and I, the mere driver of the brood, swarmed the dessert table like an army of ants. I almost missed the home-grown tomatoes and had to go back for them. I’m pretty sure the cashier thought we had a weekend pass from the workhouse. But she was nice.

I had my eye on some ultra-red just-picked Bonnie Bell tomatoes from a nearby garden, the kind that look like apples until you get up close.

This time of year there’s nothing better than a turkey sandwich with lettuce, Duke’s mayonnaise, and a thick slice of red, ripe tomato.

Unless its chocolate chess pie. The staff was friendly, the air conditioning system successfully chilling the air,  the customers all smiles. But my youngest had his eye on a single slice of chocolate-chess pie wrapped neatly but buried among the other treats.

We packed a picnic basket because we had heard about a little park with a cave spring beside the store. The park had picnic tables, a pavilion, and a rocky trail leading up and over the cave. My niece walked up to peer over a ridge and found hundreds of slender, black and neon green dragonflies known as darners. While we explored the creek bank, dozens of construction and electrical crews pulled up to eat lunch at the store. I’m fairly certain my eleven-year-old swiped the last of somebody’s favorite pie, but we were amidst the dragonflies by then, all evidence of pie-eating returned to the utility vehicle.

People by and large keep the park clean. There are no trash cans, and most people take their trash with them instead of leaving it to others. If you’re looking for someplace a bit different, a taste of a simpler time when we knew who made the food we were eating, a shady oasis in the cacophony of living, Berlin Springs (with emphasis on the first syllable) is a great destination. Nearby Cornersville has a nice bed and breakfast known as Lairdland, and Lewisburg is close by if you need a Wal-Mart or a Walgreens.

The Berlin Store and Spring are on Highway 431 just north of Lewisburg.

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another getaway tucked away. . .

Sweet Side Cafe outside Verona, Tennessee. . .So close and yet not exactly on the beaten path. . . .

Sweet Side Cafe has the sort of slap-yer-mama fare that grows the population of a once-thriving town known as Caney Springs every day at lunch hour. In fact, I hate to even publicize pictures of the club sandwich with tangy, country ham you can’t get anywhere else, or the grilled chicken tenders with a side of creamed potatoes and home-made mac and cheese, not to mention the red, white, and blue salad with raspberry vinaigrette over mixed greens, feta cheese, walnuts, strawberries, and grilled chicken. This quaint spot is already covered up with electrical workers, construction guys, and moms taking their kids on summer outings. But if you show up early, you won’t have any trouble finding a seat.

Lured by the promise of catfish, white beans, slaw, and hushpuppies, we soon found ourselves paralyzed at the thought of what we might be missing. Now, we have to go back to check out the original catfish dinner, frustrated because we don’t live next-door so we can eat every meal there.

 

Lest I leave the wrong impression, Sweet Side Cafe has a unique mix of stick-to-your ribs Southern traditional food and some surprising finds, such as cranberry-walnut French toast and chicken salad on honey-wheat bread. Each day, they line up the pies: often its chocolate meringue, chocolate-pecan, and chess, some in mini-pie size and some regular sized. The chef often surprises with new items on the menu; guests find specials of the day featured on a traditional blackboard at the bottom of the stairs of the old store.

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Sweet Side Cafe is located on the corner of Old Hwy 99 and Highway 99 between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill, Tennessee. From Lewisburg, you take Highway 272, the Verona-Caney Road, take a quick left and then the next right on Old Highway 99. From Nashville, you take 31A to Highway 99 on your right (you’ll be heading west).

If you’re interested in staying in the area, Henry Horton State Park is nearby with a variety of cabins, an inn, a pool, fishing on the Duck River, and a restaurant of its own.

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A getaway tucked away in the rural south

You don’t expect to find a Japanese bed and breakfast in a town like Wartrace, Tennessee, but sometimes in life you get a welcome surprise. Nobuko and Itsuo Watanabe’s Japanese style Bed and Breakfast, Non Non, serves up authentic Japanese cooking in a homey, traditional setting that keeps customers coming back. Non Non stands out from many other quaint bed and breakfasts in the hills of Middle Tennessee, not only for its unique cultural experience, but also because of the warmth of the owners, who make every visitor feel like family.

Just outside Bell Buckle, famous for its Moon Pie Festival, art scene, and antiques, Non Non draws high-powered Japanese businessmen and millennials alike looking for something off the beaten path in more ways than one.

As far as the Watanabes can tell, they have the only bed and breakfast run by a Japanese married couple in the U.S.

Non Non sits on eight acres of Tennessee woodland off Highway 82 South. Itsuo named the place for his wife, whose nickname, Non, stuck. “People we knew from our restaurant in Murfreesboro begged us not to change the name so they could find us,” Nobuko says. Thirteen years ago, they retired from their Japanese restaurant and grocery store in Murfreesboro and opened Non Non. The couple has been married for twenty-four years.

“The restaurant was a good business but we were so busy,” Nobuko says. “Too busy. The bed and breakfast is hard work, but we have faithful, regular customers, good guests. They are like family.”

It would be next to impossible to find the personal service the Watanabes provide at Non Non.

“When someone books a reservation, we first ask about food allergies and sensitivities,” Itsuo says. Nobuko adds, “Everything we make is traditional Japanese cuisine with organic ingredients.” It’s best to give them a few days’ notice because t

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A Kokatsu, heated from underneath.

heir menu is always fresh.

“We both do the cooking,” Nobuko says. She worked in a cooking school, teaching Americans Japanese cuisine. Itsuo worked as a chef both in Japan and the U.S. “Sometimes cooking together leads to unwanted advice in the kitchen,” she adds. “I notice that my husband sometimes takes credit for the meal even though I cook, too,” she says, smiling.

Itsuo admits that he doesn’t always correct his guests.

The Watanabes possess a love of nature and spend much of their time planting fruit trees and tending their garden. They use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Their house is filled with flowers, and from their back door, cherry trees they planted appear among the native cedars and locusts in their wooded glade.

Touring the lovely home, visitors get a sense of the Watanabes’ love of their culture, not to mention their talent and creativity. Itsuo remodeled many of the rooms himself. On return trips to Japan, they chose fine Japanese vases, statues, and wall art, from traditional Japanese cranes in flight to shadow boxes illustrating traditional folk tales. They even have a gorgeous red and white kimono often worn as the outer layer of a wedding garment hanging on the wall in the hot tub room.

The house of tongue-and-groove makes for cozy bedrooms featuring traditional Japanese foutons and short-legged tables with removable tops and heaters underneath. This kind of table, known as a kotatsu, is a sought-after item among Japanese families in the U.S. Another unique feature is the library filled with Japanese graphic novels. “We have some businessmen who love to sit in the library and unwind with a book.”634

In fact, the Watanabes say that some of their most loyal customers tell them that coming to Non Non is like going to grandmother’s house. For so many Japanese families living and working near plants like Calsonic, Nissan, and Toyota Boshoku in Jackson, Tennessee, a place like Non Non can be a home away from home.

But the Watanabes have just as many loyal American regulars, people from half a dozen southern states, some who ask for the same dishes again and again.

In addition to operating the facilities as a bed and breakfast, the couple sometimes allows groups to hold dinner parties.

“We don’t advertise,” Nobuko says. “Our business is primarily word of mouth.”

From the first moment visitors enter the home, they are greeted with two messages: “Take off your shoes please, thank you,” and “Good friends, good food, good times.” Another sign reads, “When you’re here, you’re family.” The Watanabes’ gentle spirit is a guiding light for those looking for something out of the ordinary and for the far-flung looking for a little taste of home.

Non Non is located at 171 Loop Road in Wartrace, off Highway 82 South, which intersects Highway 231 between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The Watanabes allow pets under certain conditions.

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The library

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The common living room at Non Non. Many of the pieces were purchased in Japan.

Your heroes are all gonna die and other thoughts

I’m probably not the only one amused by Facebook posts characterizing 2016 as “Death Personified,” with memes of the grim reaper harvesting celebrities at an alarming rate, beginning with David Bowie in January of the so-called apocalyptic year. Most of these posts are by millennials, although I’ve seen a few by those who should know better. Let’s not forget that Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Natalie Cole died in 2015.

If we’re rating years by the celebrity lives they ended, I offer 1977 as a study in celebrity loss. The year Star Wars Episode IV debuted, we lost Elvis, Bing Crosby, actress Joan Crawford, Freddie Prinze, and Groucho Marx. Three members of Lynnyrd Skynnyrd, Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and vocalist Cassie Gaines, died when the band’s plane went down. The class of ’81 entered its freshman year of high school with the pall of seemingly endless death announcements and, just before the start of school, images of white limousines in procession down Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis.

Maybe it’s because I’m old, or maybe it’s because I see things differently as a musician and a writer, but I would like to offer an observation. As we grow up, if we’re lucky, we have heroes. Some of our heroes are celebrities. For the most part, these mentors are older than we are. In 1977, when I saw Episode IV in the theater, I was twelve. Harrison Ford was over 30; Carrie Fisher was 21. They were the iconic leaders of the youngest members of the baby boomer generation — the children of the Seventies — who ate pop rocks and listened to Michael Jackson (Evil Death-Year 2009) on something called a Sony Walkman. These pre-teens buying multiple tickets to the debut of the Rocky franchise were the first video gamers. Our mentors fought the Vietnam War, played California rock like the Eagles or heavy metal like Metallica or a fusion of jazz and blues like Earth, Wind, and Fire.

As a year of Celebrity Death, 2012 was no slouch either. Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, Ray Bradbury, Nora Ephron, Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Donna Summer, Etta James, Robin Gibb, Kitty Wells, Ernest Borgnine, Larry Hagman, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jack Klugman, Sherman Hemsley, Andy Griffith, Phyllis Diller, Dick Clark, and Don Cornelius all died that year.

Two-thousand fourteen took Robin Williams.

Before that, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin both died in 1970, and before that, John F. Kennedy died in 1963, followed by his brother, Bobby, and Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Sometimes, these iconic deaths seem to come in waves, but those are only the deaths of people in the spotlight. A life should never be measured by how publicly a person passes out of this world but by the role he or she plays in the lives of those who really knew the icon as a person. It is the deaths we ignore that define us: the soldiers with PTSD, who return from battle with psychological scars that won’t heal, who put an end to the pain by taking their own lives; the deaths of multiple thousands of homeless people each night; the deaths of young, Black children on the streets of large cities, men killed each year in traffic stops, police officers killed in cold blood, the deaths of toddlers in cancer clinics.

Despite the constant stream of proclamations calling out 2016 as the Apocalyptic Grim Reaper of a year, these losses are nothing new, but they do remind us of the inevitable passing of the torch to the younger generation. This is the cycle of life. We grow up, and we become the mentors, and perhaps this is the real reason millennials feel ill-at-ease: they are not ready to grow up.

I can’t say I blame them. Being a mentor is a cross to bear. For many, like Elvis, Michael, Whitney, Jimmy, Janis, and Prince, it was too much.

The view from dry ground.

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I forgot how much I missed the sound of rain splattering in sheets across my roof with hail pelting the gutters and the release of pent-up tension and energy through cracks of thunder that ended with rolling notes, the lowest bass notes in the universe. I forgot how much a part of my life was standing on the front porch watching the funnel cloud form, watching the trees turn their leaf-backs to the wind, feeling the forces of nature press me back against the exterior wall of the house just before the glorious outpouring.

It has been three months since we had rain, and at this writing, over 75 wildfires are burning in Tennessee. Some days, the haze of distant fires moves in. Most days, the air smells of burning hickory. Despite temperatures in the eighties (yesterday, it dropped to 77), the grass is stunted. No one has cut their grass in at least eight weeks. No need. It’s as if we all got up and moved to New Mexico. Except for that burning hickory. That smell alone tells you. It puts you in mind of a Sunday barbeque.

I’m certain a meteorologist could explain the weather patterns causing this unprecedented drought, but the view from the ground is more apocalyptic because many of us have lived some decades in this storm-torn part of the world, casting our fate to the wind as we planted our lives here despite the well-known fact that tornadoes would likely touch our lives, the risk coming not once but twice every year. Tennessee is no stranger to temperatures in the Eighties in winter, just enough to get the atmospheric juices rolling, but what we weren’t taught to expect, these endless months of low humidity, this hot, dry, desert weather, leaves us wondering if shifts in the poles, global warming, the presence of El Nino, the pollution of the oceans, or angry gods are to blame. Three months without rain is a long time. It is a season. A semester in college. The first trimester in a pregnancy. The time it takes to turn a quirk into a habit.

If there’s a color Tennessee is known for, it’s green. We have underground rivers, lakes, and seas, cave-rivers, natural springs high and low, and, up until this fall, the eternal rains. Tennesseans are weather-buffs, checking our rain gauges daily, calling into the weather stations with our reports after the deluge. We are the survivors of the Thousand-Year Flood. Some of us watched a semi float down an interstate. We watched the Cumberland River claim new real estate. The Opryland Hotel. The Schermerhorn Symphony House. We are known for our humidity, hovering near the one hundred percent range, destroying hair styles, clothes, our will to move. It’s why we invented sweet iced tea.

But now, everything looks like a scene from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? A one-dimensional cast to trees and grass and dry leaves scuttling along in the stiff breeze, blowing the hickory-smoke fires along, burning acres of our gorgeous forests.

Maybe we haven’t appreciated the true beauty of our state. Perhaps we have polluted the ground with plastic and poisons. Maybe the Native Americans weren’t wrong when they taught their children that the land remembers.

 

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Medium for the Universe

I wrote seven words today, James Joyce said. I just don’t know what order they go in.

Yes, that is the question.

Yesterday, a senior high school student wanted me to show him a different font.

I said, No.

He asked Why?

I said Appearance means nothing.

He said he wanted that font.

I said, “I don’t care if you write it on a Sonic paper sack, if they are the right words, I’ll slap an “A” on it.”

He was not satisfied, but the class started clapping. I said, “Testify,” and the class started whooping and hollering.

That’s the difference between a writer and a non-writer.

A writer writes in the back seat of a car in the rain with someone driving her somewhere she doesn’t want to go.

On the back of the cable bill because it is oversized with questionable and despicably vague charges while pulled over in a parking lot transcribing song lyrics with an eyebrow pencil.

On the back of the professional development agenda because of the droning on and on of apologies for the ultimate failure to show the video because of technical difficulties.

In crayon on a paper sack with colored pencil on a found blank page for note-taking in the back of a pamphlet on Anemia and You in the waiting room, on printer paper while asking forgiveness from the gods of the printer budget, on long, yellow, legal-pad paper going against the grain and writing something that should be, by all that is holy, illegal.

A non-writer thinks of writing as something innocuous and pedestrian, something along the lines of setting up garden gnomes or stringing beads, or washing wheel covers.

Writing at its best is graffiti and at its worst is graffiti, and it is never pretty, only mind-altering.

When was the last time you got your mind blown by a garden gnome, or a pretty font, or a white picket-fence?

Who can say when the muses will strike, when the albatross will die, when the furies will screech and scratch their message through?

What will you take to hand, you medium of testimonies?

Oh, great, paper soul

These stone words sink

By degrees

Into

Thy fine-milled

Eternity.

The Universe is whispering. Do you hear?

The Meaning of Deadline

I love the word deadline. I love the sound it makes as it whooshes past.
– Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

There is a photographer  in Iowa, Mark Hirsch, who photographed the same tree
for  365 days. There is something very loving and methodical in such a commitment. It reminds me of a long marriage or the  way a man will go to the same dead-end job every day to feed his family or the way a woman will keep putting her kids first and do without every single thing she needs just to watch her kids grow up with what they want. More than that, watching the report on the photographer, I learned that things happen that change your perspective. He had a job and they let him go. They didn’t need any more print publication photographers, thank  you very much. Next, he had an accident. There had been this tree Hirsch had  passed on a rural road nearly every day. It had always been there. One day after  the accident, the man realized he needed that tree. He needed to stop and  photograph it. He needed to capture it.

The  Cherokee believed that a camera snatched your soul and stored it in the box. It must have  sure seemed that way to look at that great square chamber with the fire pluming out and embers burning into the air, and the image appearing under  water like something from another dimension. Poof! Another soul, gone! In the old days, developing a photo must have seemed like creation itself. There’s something to that line of thinking, that a photograph captures the essence of an object, person, or living thing, maybe even catches that thing or person showing off its true inner self with its guard down, how it really is all the time. Even when no one is looking.

I used to think of deadlines as arbitrary dates set by a boss or a blind bureaucratic
organization beyond which, if not observed or adhered to, penalties would be
assessed, heads would roll, jobs would be in jeopardy. Steps would be taken.

I now think of deadlines as points in time when something comes down out of another
dimension, snaps a picture, and serves up the truth. For me, it was a neurological illness.
I discovered that everything I  ate was either part of the problem or part of the solution.

That had been true long before I got sick, but it soon became a matter of getting better or getting worse, a choice between living and dying.

I have learned bits of nutrition wisdom in the most unlikely places. At my son’s Tang Soo
Do class, the master teacher told me about the healing powers of honey. Specifically, he said, honey attacks bacteria. A woman from a Georgia mountain community shocked her grandson’s Vanderbilt physicians when she applied a honey-cinnamon paste to the boy’s burns. The burns healed. The doctors discovered that the honey-cinnamon combination destroyed the bacteria.

I have been on a three year journey to discover the healing properties of food, cooking my way through a year of decadent gluten-free recipes to prove to myself that it can be done. Organic food and natural oils have brought me new friends and taken me to unexpected places. My house has turned into a gathering place for women and children learning alongside me to cook with clean ingredients. At some point, we can kill ourselves with food or we can change our eating habits and make our lives richer. It comes down to simple changes, like this end-of-summer recipe for homemade clean ginger ale.

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Ginger Ale made with Essential Oils
Sliced ginger root, 1 drop lemon oil, 1 drop lime oil, 1/4-1/2 cup raw honey, supply of sparkling water, 4 cups spring water
Combine spring water with sliced ginger root in saucepan.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer. Add lemon, lime, and honey to make syrup. To ice in a glass, add part ginger syrup and part sparkling water. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge.