Monday, October 27, 2014

Make A Stop At The Thistle Stop Cafe

LogoNoBackground-250x249.pngOne of the greatest things about Nashville, TN, is that it is filled with locally owned, one-of-a-kind music venues, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Tonight the Little Black Dress Club found a gem that was all of the above and more!

The Thistle Stop Cafe is not just a coffee shop. It’s a life-changing experience, literally. Located in West Nashville on Charlotte Pike, this cafe features dozens of tea cups from all around the world, each with its own special story. The 150-year-old coffee-stained floor came from Al Gore Sr’s tobacco warehouse. There have been more than 100 volunteers who have supplied the walls, deck, furnishings and all the other special things which make this coffee shop so special!


The story began in 1997 when an Episcopal priest named Becca Stevens, from Vanderbilt University, created Magdalene. Magdalene is a residential program for women looking to overcome lives spent on the streets filled with trafficking, addictions and prostitution. After two years in a program that offers housing, food, therapy, education and more, all based on the 24 spiritual principles of Magdalene, graduates can find work at the Thistle Stop Cafe. Offering a healthy, nourishing menu and delicious teas and coffee, all served by Magdalene graduates, this cafe invites guests to embrace generosity, compassion, understanding and support. The walls are adorned with photos and stories of women from all walks of life. Handmade soaps, lotions and more, all made at Thistle Farms by these extraordinary women, are on display and available for purchase, and the freshly handmade sandwiches and soups are some of the best you will experience. Take time to read more about Becca by purchasing her book titled “Snake Oil, The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling.”

Thistle Thursdays is a monthly music series hosted at the cafe. The lineups feature some of the best intimate performances you will find, and half of the ticket proceeds benefit the women of Magdalene. I have been very excited to grab a coffee and a meal at this cafe after hearing what a great experience my coworkers had there. The only thing that made it even more exciting was finding out that one of my childhood idols, Tiffany and friends, were going to be performing on Thistle Thursday.


Little Black Dress Club members lined up on the sidewalk 45 minutes before the doors opened. Standing in the cold and blustery weather, we anxiously awaited our chance to be 12 years old again. Getting to the cafe early paid off, as we had first dibs on the open seating and managed to score a table stage side. The women of Magdalene who staffed the cafe tonight were welcoming, helpful and genuinely happy to be there. We all ordered sandwiches, soups and coffees from the menu and then patiently waited for Tiffany to make her appearance. She did not disappoint. Taking the stage with the chorus to “I Think We’re Alone Now” I was immediately thrown back to 1989, wishing I had worn blue eye shadow and a denim mini skirt.

Not only was her voice amazing, Tiffany looks great! Wearing her fringed out, open sweater, her self-described ode to her favorite, singer Stevie Nicks, along with knee-high red boots, she immediately rose to “girl crush status.” Her song list included all the 80’s favorites, plus newer selections coming out this fall and several songs she wrote herself and even a couple of covers.
Open My Eyes
I Will Not Break Down
Just Me
Bobby McGee
Autumn Leaves
Love You Good
Could’ve Been
All This Time
                      I Think We're Alone Now - which in my opinion, was just as great a hit as when the Beatles recorded it in 1963. 
Click here to see our live recording of her final song of the night, "I Think We're Alone Now."

64336_817702081609286_4813756356076475936_n.jpgTiffany had some fun friends singing on stage with her including a rockin back up singer  who we thought looked like Pink with big hair! She told stories and made jokes between each song. She danced through the cafe, entertained us at our table, and made us all feel like we were teenagers again - at least for a couple of hours! When the show was over she was in no hurry to rush off stage. She greeted us at our table, shared hugs and jokes and even posed for a few selfies.
10733563_817701348276026_705228605860353606_o.jpgMeeting childhood idols is risky for me. I fear that they won’t live up to my 12-year-old memories and I will be left with the feeling that the last 30 years were a lie - not unlike what happened with Tommy Lee of Motley Crue when I met him in my 20s, but that’s a whole new blog post....

Tiffany was everything I thought she would be when I first saw her perform in a shopping mall and again when she opened for NKOTB in 1989. Knowing she had agreed to come and perform such an intimate performance at the Thistle Stop Cafe and hearing her speak about empowerment, overcoming addictions and showing such support and love for the women of Thistle Farms is reason enough to sing her praises. Much to the chagrin of my coworkers, I will be singing “Could’ve Been” for the next three weeks!

I feel our LBDC girls would agree, Thistle Stop Cafe is a gem and Thistle Thursday with Tiffany was a blast! Click here to view more pictures from our night with Tiffany at the cafe and help show them your support by stopping in today!
~Shay Ashcraft, National Director
Tiffany and the women of Magdalene




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Vegetarian Adventure

Vegetarian Adventure.jpgAlmost 20 years ago, a friend suggested to me that I make a list of 100 things I wanted to do in my lifetime. Easily done, I thought at the time, but when I sat down to make the list it was more challenging than I expected. Today, I still only have 68 things on the list (many of them crossed out). I've experienced more than what is crossed out in the last 20 years, so the list has been more of a guidepost for living my life. I have it categorized - Educational, Physical, Experience/Travel, and Charitable. Periodically, I review the list, cross things off and add others.

A few months ago, I gave birth to a little boy named Cameron. Having a baby wasn't on the list, but when I turned 40, I decided to pull the trigger before the opportunity passed. After 20 years of being single, travelling, sailing on weekends, and spending evenings with friends, I thought the transition would be more difficult. Being single is great, don't get me wrong, but I did feel some self-imposed pressure to get out and do things. Now that Cam is here, spending Saturdays cleaning the house and messing around on the computer seems perfectly fine.
As much as I feel some relief not having to be out looking for things to do to keep me busy, I also realize I need mental stimulation. I've always been an active person - taking classes, exercising, and hosting social events - that part of me hasn't changed just because I had a baby. So recently, I decided to pull out the list again and assess what I might like to do over the next ten to twenty years. There is work to be done here. I want to think about experiences I can share with Cameron that will enrich both our lives and help us create memories.

A few months ago, I had a passing thought that I might like to cook through a cookbook. Yes, like Julie and Julia (although I’m not going to cook 500 recipes in year!). I read the book and watched the movie. Last week, I made a recipe from a book I've had for about ten years, Passionate Vegetarian, and I thought, “This is the book!” I’ve been a lacto-ovo pesco-vegetarian (I eat eggs, dairy and fish) for about the same amount of time. The book has over 1000 recipes, not including variations. It covers a wide range of vegetarian dishes, obviously, and incorporates many things I’ve never used in cooking like umeboshi, mung beans, and mirlitons (chayote - a Caribbean summer squash - can I even get that here?) If I make two of them a week (probably a bit ambitious), it will take me about ten years!

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about why I want to do this and what my expectations are for it. Surprisingly, it's not just as simple as cooking a bunch of food. I've considered that Cameron is four months old. While I'm doing this he'll be growing up. Maybe he will help me in the kitchen at some point. I hope he will learn something from the experience - maybe about cooking and eating well, and maybe also something about life - setting and achieving goals, commitment, attention to detail. Maybe he won't learn anything. Likely he will learn something I'm not expecting and it may not occur to him until he's older - and it may never occur to him.

For me, it will be a journey. It will provide an opportunity to reflect on some of my travel experiences as the book includes a number of international recipes. I might even come up with some of my own variations on the recipes based on my experiences. I wonder what will happen in my life during this process. Holidays, vacations - for sure - but what else? I’m excited for the challenge of choosing recipes each week, perhaps find a nice wine pairing, and using the experience to track the day to day experience of raising a child.

My first recipe choices are Zwiebel Kuchen (German Onion Tart) and Moroccan Carrot Salad. I'll let you know how it turns out!
~Christine Zellers, LBDC CEO

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Traveling Alone, Part Deux

About a year ago, I wrote a post about traveling alone. One option I didn’t discuss in much detail is taking an organized tour. At the time, I did not have any experience with this type of travel. A couple of months ago, I started getting buggy to go somewhere. I’m seven months pregnant, now, so my normal thoughts of SCUBA diving and skiing aren’t a possibility. Morocco has been on my list since I met a woman who was in the Peace Corps there, so I decided to look into it. Taking a tour made sense to me at this stage because, although Morocco is ranked well above the US in healthcare performance, I decided having a local advocate who spoke Arabic and French might be useful if I actually needed something.

I selected a 13 day Morocco Explorer trip through Peregrine Adventures. When I was in Zimbabwe in 2006, I met a travel agent, Tom Gehrels who works for Adventure Center based in Toronto, Canada. Tom has been in 97 countries, so he has good recommendations for travel adventures. He’s also very familiar with the tour companies with which they do business, so I knew I would get good suggestions based on what I shared with him about my interests, energy level, and physical limitations. I appreciate working with a professional who “practices what they preach”, so to speak! When I decided I would prefer not to handle the logistics on my own, I called him, explained my situation and asked for some ideas. After a few email exchanges, I selected the Peregrine trip because of the timing and budget, the accommodation of my inability to ride a camel for an hour in the desert, and the length of the trip -which seemed like it would allow enough time to really see the country.

I enjoyed a number of things about traveling like this. It was relaxing knowing that everything on the trip was scheduled and booked and I didn’t need to worry about any of the logistics. We went places I would not have gone, if I had planned the trip on my own (although we missed one place - that could’ve been added as an extension, we just decided against it). We were taken to some places to shop (I never felt pressured to buy and the guides do not get kickbacks) and I appreciated that the places we went were endorsed by the tour company so the products offered were good quality and fairly priced. If the Berber rug I bought hadn’t shown up, I would have had recourse. I learned things about the culture that I probably wouldn’t have learned planning my own itinerary. For example, the current King Mohammed VI changed many of the laws regarding women’s social and civic equality and there was opportunity to discuss that and how it has changed life with several Moroccans. I was also made aware of some of the challenges women still face in Morocco.

There are also tradeoffs traveling this way, too. Tours can be fast paced and sometimes you are in a new location every night. We had three nights in Fes and two in Marrakech. Overall, I didn’t mind moving around once I figured out how to keep my bags organized. Frequent relocation means that you won’t be doing much hanging around soaking up the sights, especially if there isn’t much free time built into the itinerary. Most of the restaurants were chosen for us. If you like to comb TripAdvisor looking for what other travelers like, that might be a bummer. In this case, I enjoyed the opportunity to have Berber pizza and eat in the home of a guide in Sefrou, which I would not have been able to do on my own. We were very fortunate and had a group of seven who really hit it off. If the group had been larger or there had been difficult personalities on the tour, it would’ve been more challenging.

I was not alone on this trip, but surprisingly, or possibly not, there were THREE single women in our group of seven, even though it was not a women’s trip. They ranged in age from 34 to 60 and came from New Zealand, the UK, and the US. The woman from the UK had more than a few of these trips under her belt. As a single woman, I think this type of trip is ideal, particularly if it’s your first foray into traveling alone. You will likely be connected with the group at the airport when you arrive and will be dropped off there at the end. There will be others with whom to socialize and someone to answer any questions or help address any issues you encounter.

For myself, I imagine I will be doing other trips like this at some point. While reading up on this tour, I learned that some of these companies offer similar tours for families. I mentioned that to our guide in Morocco and he was very complimentary and said they usually limit the amount of driving and search out activities that will entertain and engage children. Given my little man will likely be an only child, this seems like a great way for him to travel with other kids and maybe even make a friend overseas!

Here are a few things I recommend, if you are thinking about taking a trip like this:

·        Take note of the maximum number of travelers; We had seven on a trip that could’ve been 16; Our group collectively agreed that more than 10 or 12 would’ve been way too many

·        Look over the itinerary closely – how often are you moving around? If the trip is more than eight days, being in one hotel for a couple of nights here and there might make things a bit more relaxed

·        Inquire about the demographics of the expected group from the travel agency or tour provider - Is it usually all or mostly women? Are they in an age range that will support the level of activity you would like?

·        Find out if the comfort level is going to be to your liking – do you want posh hotels or a local experience?

·        What physical limitations and interests do you have? Using Tom has twice helped me identify a travel experience that was well matched to what I could and wanted to do and resulted in a travel experience with a like-minded group

·        What is your budget? Is there a single supplement? You may have an option to share a room with another single traveler. Take time to consider how that person’s habits and sleep schedule might affect your own.

Tom has a few additional things to consider:

  • Environmental sustainability record of the tour operator – Adventure Center offers ways for you to offset your carbon footprint
  • Are the tour leaders local or Westerners (locals being the preferred as they are much better informed about the local culture)
  • Start and end place of the tour - is it easy to get to from the nearest airport?; Are transfers included or can you book them as add-ons?; Think about that especially in relation to when you are arriving at the destination (late at night - book a transfer!)
  • What are the local attitudes towards women? (this can be a sensitive issue, sometimes on the verge of politically incorrect, but perhaps something you may want to address)
  • Dress code – for example in Muslim countries it’s often suggested and sometimes required that you cover your knees and shoulders, at least.

Happy Travels!
~Christine Zellers, LBDC CEO