Tuesday, April 23, 2013

100 Experiences: Items 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (aka Nashville 2013) - Part 1

Two weeks ago, I did something I've never done. I vacationed all alone. This vacation had nothing to do with my family. I did not have to take care of anyone or anything. It was all about me. Just me. (Experience #2)

And it left me asking one thing: Why the heck didn't I do this sooner?

Let's take a step back for a second . . . I agonized over this trip. I went back and forth on whether I should spend the money (I worried I was being wasteful), whether I should take the time off work, whether I was safe traveling alone, whether I would be seen as selfish by my family, and a whole host of other ridiculous worries.

I debated between going to Nashville and Sanibel Island. Nashville had the distinction that I'd only been there once about seven years ago for a Mary Kay retreat and only left the hotel long enough for a quick concert at the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium. I love country music and each time I drove through it on my way to Crystal Beach last year, I kept thinking I should go back for a weekend. Sanibel Island had the beach as its big "pro." We lived in Ft. Myers when I was little and my Gardner Grandparents lived on Sanibel Island until I was in college. I'd been there a million times, but not in almost 20 years. I remember loving Sanibel, but I've spent far too much time on the Gulf side of Florida over the past 13 years and I swore I'd never go back. It's going to take some time to be able to love Florida again.

Nashville won out. (Experience #3)

Immediately, I started planning every moment I'd be in town. I had a little over three days to spend in Nashville and I was going to make the most of every single second. Let's just say I had an itinerary any professional travel agent or tour operator would be proud of.

Thursday Night

My first night in town, I had dinner with my dear friend Kalee at Chuy's at Opry Mills. If you go, get the Steak Burrito with the chorizo sauce. Trust me. The food was amazing. The only thing better than the food was hanging out with Kalee. Kalee was my first boss after college, when I interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., and she quickly became my friend because we're the same age, we have similar backgrounds, and we both love politics. As an intern, I worked in her office. I remember we had the best conversations that sometimes had nothing to do with work. Now Kalee lives in Nashville with her wonderful husband Jack.

Until my first night in Nashville, we hadn't seen each other in almost 15 years. And trust me, after just a couple of seconds, it was like time had stood still. You know how there are times in life when you don't realize how much you missed something until you have the opportunity to experience it again and then suddenly you can't imagine it being gone from your life again? That's how hanging out with Kalee was. Fortunately, we were able to make plans to get together again on Sunday for brunch.

Kalee and Me. 
I'm not going to wait another 15 years before hanging out with Kalee again.


Friday morning, I got up early and headed into downtown Nashville for a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B, known as the Home of 1000 Hits. Studio B was built for Elvis and he recorded over 200 of his songs there. Many legends recorded at Studio B, including The Everly Brothers, Dottie West, Dolly Parton, Elvis, Roy Orbison, and many more. Elvis was famous for recording late at night and into the wee hours of the morning.

The best part of the Studio B tour was being able to sit at and play the piano Elvis loved and played. He once tried to buy the piano he loved so much, but was told by Chet Atkins he didn't have enough money to buy it. I haven't played the piano in many years, but sitting at that piano and playing just a few keys was magical. I could feel Elvis in the room.

Me tickling the ivories of Elvis's favorite piano. (Experience #6)

One interesting note about Studio B is that it closed on August 17, 1977. If that date sounds sort of familiar, it's the day after Elvis died. That's just a coincidence though. The closure of Studio B had been planned for awhile.

After an inspirational tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B, I stumbled into the Dukes of Hazzard Museum, run by Cooter, of course, which it turned out, was around the corner from my hotel. If you're a child of the 80s, you may have had a crush on one of the Duke brothers or Daisy Duke. I liked Bo Duke. If you're too young to remember the Dukes of Hazzard, you may be impressed to know that Daisy Duke was the inspiration for Daisy Dukes.

Who's sitting in the General Lee? ME!

Friday night found me at the Grand Ole Opry for a taping of the 88-year-old radio show and post-show backstage tour. I had 5th row seats for one of the best shows I've ever seen. It opened with the Queen of Country Comedy, Minnie Pearl (well, an impersonator). Bill Anderson (member since 1961), Kristen Kelly, Riders in the Sky (members since 1982), Jesse McReynolds (member since 1964), Shelley Skidmore, Jim Ed Brown (member since 1963), Mike Snider (member since 1990), Chuck Wicks, Crystal Gayle, surprise appearances by Lone Star and Little Jimmy Dickens (member since 1948), The Whites (members since 1984), and The Isaacs.

One of the great things about the Opry is that they encourage you to come up close to the stage to take pictures of your favorite artists. When I took the picture of Crystal Gayle below, I was kneeling just in front of the stage.

If you're going to attend the Grand Ole Opry, you must take the backstage tour. You can take this tour in the afternoon, which I guess is fine, but if you have any desire to meet the stars, do it after the show. As we were on our tour, Crystal Gayle walked up, signed autographs for everyone, and took some pictures. She signed my show poster, listing her as one of the performers, and I got the picture below showing her famous floor-length hair.

Crystal Gayle and her famous floor-length locks.

At the end of the tour, I was able to stand in the center of the Grand Ole Opry stage where 1000s of performers have stood before me. What I loved about the center of the stage was that when the Opry moved to the new location in 1974 from the Ryman Auditorium, they cut a circle of the flooring from the entrance of the Ryman stage and placed it in the center of the new stage. The thinking was that  every artist to ever perform at the Ryman had walked across that piece of Ryman flooring, so they'd all now be part of the new Opry stage as well.

6-foot circle of oak from the Ryman Auditorium. I stood there. (Experience #5)

When I finally crawled into bed on Friday night, I slept better than I've slept in ages. I was exhausted, but happy and filled with wonderful memories.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Nashville adventure, including exploring the honky tonks, a tour of the Ryman Auditorium, more Kalee time, the rest of my pictures, and much more. Coming later this week.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

100 New Experiences in 12 Months

Over the past few months, I've come to realize that I've stopped being as adventurous as I used to be. Once upon a time, I picked up and moved to Washington DC where I knew no one. That was just a few weeks after I flew out and spent a week pounding the pavement and knocking on doors until someone interviewed me and then gave me a summer internship working for someone else.

Almost three years ago, I created my Bucket List. I've made some progress on it and I'm proud of that progress. The items on my Bucket List still excite me. But my Bucket List lacks one thing: urgency.

Do you know the difference between a dream and a goal? Dates. Goals have dates attached to them. Dreams are "some day" things. Goals have a begin and end date. 

Because I need to find my adventurous side again and I want to live more fully than I have been in the past year, I'm taking some inspiration from Amy Guth, Social Media Manager at the Chicago Tribune. If you don't follow Amy on Twitter, you're missing out. Trust me. She's tough, smart, witty, and one of the coolest women on the interwebs. Amy has decided to spice up her life by doing 1,000 new things in one year. How cool is that?

1,000 new experiences feels completely overwhelming to me, but 100 feels daunting and exciting at the same time. In fact, since I had this idea early last week, I've flown out of bed each morning with new ideas. Some of the ideas listed below are from my Bucket List and some are new. 

Here are my ground rules: "New" is defined as something I've never done or have not done in more than 10 years. My list is ever growing. I will share stories and pictures of each experience. The year kicked off on April 11, 2013 and will conclude on April 10, 2014.
  1. Attend a taping of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me
  2. Vacation by myself and take care of only me. - DONE 4/11 - 4/15/2013
  3. Vacation in Nashville - DONE 4/11 - 4/15/2013
  4. Go on vacation and leave work 100% behind (i.e., don't check email or voice mail) - DONE 4/15/2013
  5. Stand in the center of both the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium stages - DONE 4/12/2013 and 4/14/2013
  6. Play Elvis's piano at the RCA Studio B - DONE 4/12/2013
  7. Sit on the stage at the Civic Opera House during a performance - Will be done 6/16/2013
  8. Play with the beluga whales at the Shedd Acquarium - Will be done by June 30th
  9. Take a cooking class - Scheduled for May 21st at David's Bistro in Antioch
  10. Swim 1 mile without stopping
  11. Climb the main dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes - Will be done in August
  12. Learn a new skill - DONE 4/24/2013 Learned how to make a floral centerpiece
  13. Increase by savings account by 2 months worth of expenses
  14. Max out my employer match for my 403(b) in 2013 - DONE Increased my contribution to max out the match 5/2/2013
  15. Try 20 new foods
  16. Lose 50 pounds
  17. Attend a concert in Millenium Park
  18. Ride a mechanical bull
  19. Sing karaoke
  20. Attend a baseball game at Milwaukee's Miller Park - Will be done August 15th
  21. Take the ferry to Muskegon or Ludington - Will be done in August
  22. Run a 5K
  23. Take a golf lesson
  24. Have a full spa day - massage, mani/pedi, facial, and anything other fancy spa treatment I can find
  25. Take an Ivy League Class
  26. Stand on the sky deck ledge in the Sears Tower (don't tell me it's called Willis Tower now, I don't care)
  27. Visit Mt. Rushmore
  28. Do a polar plunge
  29. Reupholster my dining room chairs
  30. Visit the Museum of Science & Industry
  31. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art
  32. Visit the National Museum of Mexican Art
  33. Visit the Adler Planetarium
  34. Visit the DuSable Museum of African American Art
  35. Visit the Field Museum of Natural History
  36. Visit the Notebaert Nature Museum
  37. Give up Diet Coke (and all soda)
  38. Drink a minimum of 64 oz of water each day
  39. Have High Tea at The Drake
  40. Serve meals in a soup kitchen
  41. Tour the Chicago Tribune
  42. Attend the Blue Man Group
  43. Attend the Book of Mormon
  44. Visit Chicago's Chinatown
  45. Visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum
  46. Reread my favorite books from childhood: the Little House on the Prairie series, Little Women, the Anne of Green Gables series
  47. See Oklahoma at the Civic Opera House - Will be done 5/3/2013
  48. Visit Galena, Illinois

Putting these ideas down on "paper" was the easy part. Now, I need to get to living life as fully as possible.

Do any of my ideas inspire you? Want to join me on my journey? Let me know and let's team up. Life's more fun when it's experienced with friends.