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Trains! Tennessee in G

Opening today in the gardens of Cheekwood in Nashville is a whimsical new exhibit called Trains! Tennessee in G. Members got to take a sneak peak last evening. It is marvelous! A definite must-see for spring/summer 2011.

Cheekwood Mansion with Lady Bug Train

The Model Railroad Garden is the creation of Paul Busse who has numerous installations in both private and public spaces including the New York Botanical Garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Composed primarily of organic material, you will find models of nineteen Tennessee landmarks including the State Capital, Franklin’s Carter House, the cantilevered barn from Cades Cove, the Parthenon, Graceland, and, most appropriately, the Casey Jones house.

Seven different trains ride the rails which go over and around you, through tunnels, across soaring trestle bridges, and past over 2500 tiny trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowering plants in 250 varieties. I enjoyed spotting cars I recognized from my girlhood when we would be held captive by a train on our way to church. Children were excited to see Thomas in command of one of the trains. I am told Percy is there as well, though he was out of humor last night. The little Lady Bug train is strictly whimsy. We loved her, especially when her lights came on later in the evening.

Union Station Hotel

The exhibit lights up at night. You will have several opportunities this summer to visit in the evening. I highly recommend it. The whole garden takes on a different aspect by moonlight.

While you are there, be sure to visit the mansion and see the Modern Masters Exhibit, on loan from the Smithsonian. Pictured below is one of our family favorites from the installation. Also, if you have never seen the delicate loveliness of the Faberge collecion, you must go soon. After five years at Cheekwood, the collection will be moving on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York On June 5th. Special events over the next few weeks will give them a fitting send-off.

Franz Kline, Untitled

Finally, anytime is a good time to visit the gardens at Cheekwood. Each season brings its own peculiar gifts. The air is heady just now with the scent of violets and fragrant snowballs. The peony-like blossoms of Angelique tulips nod on impossibly delicate stems. Slender branches of redbuds are singing their swan song just as pagoda like dogwoods flaunt glorious effusions of pink and white. Children can’t seem to keep their feet and hands out of the many ponds and creeks. And the Japanese garden weaves such a spell that everyone seems to feel the need to whisper.


Japanese Garden

Treat yourself to a bit of beauty and whimsy. It will feed your soul.

*Final photograph in the post taken by Joshua.
**Also, on an artistic note, WordPress and I are somewhat at odds this morning. I can not get the vertically oriented pictures to mount themselves in the center despite many attempts to do so. Forgive me for being anal enough to mention it, but in a post given to beauty, it is troublesome in the extreme. Try to imagine it other. Thank you.


Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. ~Salman Rushdie

My mother fed me poetry as a little girl. I vividly recall the illustrations of The Sugarplum Tree, The Purple Cow, and The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. There were some she recited by heart. These were my favorites. Especially The Raggedy Man. I hear it even now in her voice. She opened a space in me for words that sing. Words with rhythm. Words that conjure vivid images. Words that capture longing.

As I have grown older, I have found poetry to be nourishing, healing, troubling, provocative, stimulating, and delightful in turns. Charles Baudelaire contended that a healthy man might go several days without food, but not without poetry. I rather think he might be right. In honor of National Poetry Month, I will be sharing, in the coming days, favorite poems. Today, I would like to introduce you to a few much beloved poetic voices. I invite you, yay verily I implore you, to share your favorites with me.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. ~Robert Frost

I have only come to know the work of Mary Oliver over the past year. My, what a gift she has been to me! Her keen observations of the world around her and her fascination with all things living are a delight. And her raw explorations of the inner world have caused me to feel less alone…more understood.

Poetry… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. ~John Keats

When I read the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, I sometimes feel like he has been inside my head, inside my heart. Unspoken anguishes, cries, longings in me find a voice in his words. Some have become prayer for me.

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own. ~Salvatore Quasimodo

Thomas Merton wrote a number of poems. But his was such a poetic soul that even his prose often sings like poetry. His chasing after God, his desire to be wholly devoted, and his frustration with his failings all resonate with me. It is my own story. He too is a lover of God’s glorious creation. His evocative descriptions carry me into the scene. I hear the drops of water, I feel the breeze, I smell the sea.

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau

Billy Collins writes poems that are whimsical and engaging. He writes about the most ordinary things, but he looks at them askance. And I see them as if for the first time. And sometimes, just when I think I am simply having a rollicking good time, he plants a bit of truth inside me that I was not expecting.

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. ~Plato

The first Taylor Mali poem I encountered was a piece called “What Teachers Make”. It was enough. I became a devoted fan. Mali is a lover of language, and he wields it like a rapier. He will make you laugh. He might make you uncomfortable. He will definitely make you THINK. Mali is writing a poem a day for the month of April. You can read them here. You simply must visit his Youtube channel and allow him to deliver his poetry to you in his own voice. It is a remarkable experience.

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. ~Wallace Stevens

For John Keats, beauty and truth are indistinguishable. His words pierce me with their loveliness and yearning, and make me glad of the wound. If you are also a lover of Keats, you might enjoy the artful film, Bright Star, which treats of his enigmatic relationship with Fanny Brawn.
A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. ~W. H. Auden
The phrase “word play” takes on new meaning when you read the works of Shel Silverstein. My children and I have spent many delightful hours with his poetry. It is at once whimsical, ironic, and just when you least expect it, poignant. I especially commend to you The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup. ~Wendell Berry
Perhaps it is Wendell Berry‘s southern sensibilities that appeal to me. He sings of the agrarian culture I grew up in with much the same sense of wonder in which I perceived it myself. The images he conjures up might seem romanticized, unless you have known cool southern nights with dew on the grass or warm, freshly tilled earth. Then you know that no words will ever be romantic enough.
Poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn. ~Thomas Gray

Just Show Up

I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. But when God gently sings the same idea into my life over and over…..and over…..even I can’t miss that.

In less than a week, from three different sources, on three different topics, one message:

Just show up.

First, my sweet friend Anne poured her heart onto the page on behalf of those walking through the heart-rending pain and loneliness of divorce. She said the most important thing we can do when those we love are walking though this…or any kind of pain for that matter…is to be there.

“Here’s the catch. When a relationship is ending, especially a marriage, it physically feels as if your soul has been ripped out of your body. People going through this change will likely not have the strength to reach out to you….Not only do we not want to bring people down with us, we don’t have the strength to engage with others. This is why it’s so important you reach out constantly to your friends.”

It is cowardly to allow my own inadequacies to keep me from loving others. Just because I don’t have any earth shattering wisdom to share doesn’t mean I have nothing to give to those I love who are hurting. They need me now more than ever.

Just show up.

On Sunday, the Orthodox Church honored the great theologian, Saint Gregory of Palamas. Our priest confessed to us how intense and somewhat intimidating he finds the works of this brilliant man who was so important to the Church. He then gave us what he lightheartedly titled “Orthodoxy for Dummies”. Point number one: Just show up. The Liturgical life is a gift to us. God will use it to heal us, to restore us, to make us who He always intended us to be. But we have to make ourselves available to this process.

Just show up.

I have been slowly making my way through Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice.  This morning I was reading back through underlines and notes when I came to a section called “Rules for the Road”. Here is rule number one:

“In order to be an artist, I must show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.”

It is not necessary for me to know what I will write. I need not have everything worked out in my head. I know from my own experience that most of what goes on the page only reveals itself once words are already flowing from heart to fingers. But if I allow fear of the blank page to keep me from putting pen to paper in the first place, those words will never be released.

Just show up.

Three applications. One truth. It is not our wisdom, our effort, or our brilliance that is wanted. It is our presence. When we are available, the magic happens.

I have an idea this truth is not just for me. Where is your presence desperately wanted just now?


What if you had an uncle Nick who loved to cook? And what if  he stretched out long tables, covered them with linens and candles, and filled them with family and friends…and soon to be friends? And then, what if he seduced you for an entire evening with an endless succession of authentic Italian dishes, any one of which is worthy of an ode? And, imagine this: What if music had been his livelihood and he loved to belt out tunes while whisking his lovely bride around the dining room? Would you want to be part of an evening like that?

Welcome to Mangia Nashville!

Mike and I shared a table with Jen, Cathy, Scott, and the Presbyterian pescatarian. (Someone at the table misunderstood when he said he was a pescatarian and thought he said Presbyterian. We had so much fun with this, I have forgotten his actual name. Sorry!) We laughed and told stories and oooed and ahhhhed over each delectable creation as it came to us.

ANTIPASTI: We began with beautiful roasted red peppers graced with balsamic reduction and golden raisins. Then, against the gentle sweetness of the peppers, we were served fried olives stuffed with cheese. Crispy, salty, and wonderful. When our waiter delivered the mozzarella carrozza (mozzarella in a carriage) we all stopped eating and just gazed at it. Mouths watering. Crunchy breadcrumbs were the perfect counterpoint to soft, warm, rich mozzarella. An ornament of marinara completed the delirium. A table favorite. Finally there was Bruschetta served with Tuscan white bean dip. *Hint: if you still have red peppers, they are yummy with this.

INSALATA: A very good, authentic Caesar salad seemed almost anticlimactic after all this. But the arugula with citrus and shaved Parmesan was noteworthy.

PASTA: The rigatoni with beef short-rib Bolognese was delivered with a reminder to “pace yourselves”. This was the dish Scott had been most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. The sauce was rich, but with an artful restraint. Then. Oh, then! Homemade potato gnocchi in pecan basil pesto cream sauce. I am salivating even now as I type the words. This was the dish Mike and I had both been dreaming of. Oh! My!! Soft little pillows of heaven so light they almost seemed to be made of vapor. Delicious vapor. Decadently dressed in a sauce that only added to the illusion you were eating the stuff of the gods. At this point I defied any dish to compare.

Perhaps I spoke too soon…

ENTRATA: First up of the entrees was a lovely rosemary lemon chicken that might very well be the star of most culinary explorations. But, you understand our palate had been so elevated by this point that we were quite snobbish. We sampled. We liked. But we had become serious about the pacing thing. Besides, we knew what was next… Veal osso buco over polenta. If there was a single pinnacle of the evening…and it seems almost blasphemous to even say that…this would be it. Every particle of the veal had been infused with the braising liquor. Even the bone marrow was scrumptious. Tender flesh against creamy rich polenta made for bites that had to be contemplated slowly. Lingered over. Treasured. Our pescatarian was, of course, happy to see the shrimp scampi. Jumbo shrimp in a refreshing lemon butter sauce made for a nice close to the savory portion of our meal.

DOLCE: It is lovely to be able to see the dishes as they line them up on the counter. You can begin feasting with your eyes before the rest of your senses get in on the action. Perhaps the most delightful to contemplate from afar was the St. Joseph’s pastry, a special offering that night in honor of the feast day of San Giuseppe (husband of Mary, earthly father of Jesus). Lighter than air pastry filled with cool, subtly sweetened ricotta. Yum! And finally, hot, fragrant zeppole served in a bag of confectioner’s sugar, just as you would buy them on a street corner in New York. I read a suggestion that this makes them a convenient take-home offering. Yeah, whatever.

Other bits and pieces: The Godfather plays soundlessly throughout dinner. At any time, if Nick is visiting your table, you can ask him to recite the dialogue and he will kindly, and passionately oblige. We asked. He obliged. He was fabulous!! We sang. We clapped. Mike and I were toasted because we were celebrating an anniversary. And in case your Italian is rusty, mangia means “to eat”.

Mangia Nashville is an experience. An experience of culinary artistry. An experience of family and friendship. An experience of joy.

Saturday nights only. Service is family style. Beginning in April, price will be $40 per person. Bring your own wine. Corkage fee of $5 per bottle. Make reservations by calling 615.538.7456 or email Every Saturday in March sold out, and the 26th is completely booked. So plan ahead. 🙂 Read what the Nashville Scene and Williamson a.m. had to say HERE and HERE.

Buon appetito!!

The Season of Singing Has Come!

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky— all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then— open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

~Mary Oliver


Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away.
For lo, the winter is past
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come…

~Song of Songs 2:10-12


A Thing of Beauty…


A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o’ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.


~John Keats, excerpt from “Endymion”

The Four Holy Gospels

My whole body trembled with awe as I stood before it. The centuries old Book of Kells, arguably the most famous illuminated gospel in the world. An accompanying exhibit acquainted us with the painstaking process by which dedicated artists united precious pigments to vellum. It was the work of a lifetime. To create a setting worthy of the words. Of the Word.

Its magnificence gloriously conveys the sacredness…the otherness…of that which is contained within. And the beauty opens a place inside us for the words to rest.

Where are our twenty-first century illuminators?
Who is that artist capable of wedding the triumphs and tragedies of our age with the Story older than time?


Makoto Fujimura is an avant garde artist living at Ground Zero in New York. He contends daily with Kairos-Chronos tension, employing ancient Nihonga painting techniques to speak with a thoroughly modern voice. His passionate, complex, exhilarating works captivate both mind and soul.

He has, very possibly, created the illuminated masterwork of our time.


As I slide the clothbound book out of its elegant slipcover, my heart pounds. A glass case had separated me from the Book of Kells. But I hold this work of extraordinary loveliness in my own hands. I turn the pages slowly, luxuriously, drinking deeply.

The large scale frontispieces are glorious! Charis-Kairos focuses on the Tears of Christtears for the atrocities of the past century and for our present darkness.” Each of the others is inspired by themes within the gospel. Read Mako’s own introductions here.


Eighty-nine illuminated capitals begin the chapters. And each page contains gorgeous embellishments that illuminate the passage. As I read through The Four Holy Gospels, it is these that wreck me.

Some are representational and rather obvious: a fish, a serpent, a cluster of grapes. But most are subtle and leave space for you to bring your own creativity…your own story…to the page…

A splash of Nard as a woman pours herself out…
Brooding clouds…tinged with blood…over Gethsemane.
Intimations of water beside a storm tossed boat…or a baptism.
A sapphire sky flecked with gold, but with edges of a troubling gray, over Bethlehem.
Parables of the Kingdom laid against great swaths of gold.
The Passion, devastatingly conveyed with drops and smears of blood.
And finally, a tree of life…redeeming, restoring…making all things new.

Johnin the beginning

If you have never encountered the story of Christ, you could find no better introduction than The Four Holy Gospels. Or if, like me, you cut your teeth on them, I assure you they are new here.

If you splurge on only one thing this year…if you treat yourself to one bit of beauty…let it be this book. There is no part of you that will not be nourished, cultivated, challenged, inspired.

List of Candidates 2011


Since reading Steve Leveen’s tiny treasure of a book,  The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, I have kept a perpetual “list of candidates”.  Herein I record books I positively want to read before I die…preferrably sooner than later. 🙂  It helps insulate me, somewhat, from disappointing, purposeless impulse reads.

As I spend the week before New Year’s Day reflecting on the year past and anticipating the year ahead, I revisit my list.  I remove books recently read.  I add a few titles I have scribbled on a note or in the back of a book.  I rescue treasures hastily punched into my phone during a conversation with a fellow bibliophile.  I survey the offerings of a couple of authors with whom I have really connected this year.  Then I dream of delicious hours to come as I enter into conversation with brilliant and creative minds, and as gifted storytellers weave a tale around me, and in me.  I want to begin all of them.  Now.

I share here the titles on my list at present, and implore you to tell me what is missing.  Some of my favorite reads this past year came from you.

A Book of Hours: Meditations on the Traditional Hours of Prayer by Francis Colling Egan*
Encounter by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok
The Chosen by Chaim Potok*
Waiting for God by Simone Weil
Thirst by Mary Oliver*
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver*
Rules For the Dance by Mary Oliver*
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expury
Phantastes by George MacDonald*
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Story by Robert McKee
The Naked Now by Richard Rohr
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography by Egon Wellesz
The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther*
Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard*
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen*
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Earle Stegner
The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, and Spiritual Father, Vera Bouteneff Translator*
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas*
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe*
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger*
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love by Nun Gavrilia
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers


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