Rock Star

Wayne Barnes has spent fifteen years growing his Lebanon rock garden into over 150 unique pieces


By Laurie Everett

Photos by Tilly Dillehay


Sometimes the “masterpiece” sticks just 6 to 12 inches out of the ground. A rock.

It’s what’s hidden underground the little rock iceberg that blows the mind.

Wayne Barnes spent hours with a pick and shovel to dig it out of the hard dirt, somewhere on a no-name farm (he won’t divulge his treasure rock-trove spot) in Smithville, Tenn.

But that little poke out of the ground turned out to be a huge limestone rock that had the exact shape of an elephant. Yes, an elephant. Even a toddler could specify the shape.

Barnes (we’ll call him his nickname, ‘Barney’, from now on) couldn’t exactly plop it onto his Lebanon front yard. It took a lot of subsequent grunts and groans, pulleys, shear fortitude, and even a sled at one point to transport this “beauty” to centerpiece his now famous “rock garden,” that has dozens of people daily do a double, and triple take, and many backups to just gaze upon the limestone wonder he’s “cultivated” for the past 12 years.

As far as “Barney,” he got that name in high school. And for anyone who knows the lovable character Barney on retro fav show Andy Griffith, this retired TRW welder has that frenetic energy.

“Well, I guess you could say I’m a little high strung and hyper,” he divulged with a laugh.

You’d have to be high strung to be a rock hunter by day.

It all started when he went to a rock show (yes, there are such).

“All the rocks were so beautiful,” he recalled. “They are limestone.”

He went to a place in Carthage and spent about twelve hours digging up a rock, and was awed at “how pretty it looked after I cleaned it up.”

He put it in his yard. Some time later a man came by his house and introduced himself after he saw what appeared to be an emerging, (admittedly, at that time a rather crude) rock garden on Barney’s well-kept Lebanon subdivision lot.

“I went out to his farm in Smith County and really went crazy,” he said. “There was a lot of rock, and a lot of them looked like animals.”

He said a friend got him into limestone rocks that take on the resemblance of animals, if you cock your head to one side and use a little imagination. With an artist’s hand and paint, they are replicas of animals.

Barney for a few seconds tried to explain that years ago Smith County was an ocean, and limestone was made with holes through them from the water… then he gave up, and just said he’s fascinated. For many years he’s searched far and wide for rock for his popular garden. His wife, Judy, helped revive it; she repainted the rocks and renewed the garden by making even more of the rocks into animals.

“I have always loved working in the yard and I love flowers and there’s nothing more pretty than a neat yard,” she said.


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Judy noted when they first starting dating, “I didn’t care for all the rocks he had outside, but I starting looking more at the rocks and they sort of grow on you. If you start to look at them with a little imagination you see all kinds of things.”

Like… a seal, a cow, a horse and dinosaur head, a dog and baby bear. There’s even a Woodstock (as in, Snoopy’s Woodstock).

“They just needed a new coat of paint and I loved it so much I kept painting more of the animals. It’s fun to have people stop and ask to take pictures.”

One day, a woman visiting the area from Arizona told Barney and Judy there are a lot of rock gardens in her hometown.

“She said the rocks were different here in Lebanon and she just loved it,” Judy said.

However, the showstopper on the Barnes’ property is their magnificent geode mailbox. Geodes, are, in layman’s terms, a hollow rock with sparkling crystals inside. Many a southern kids find the somewhat unspectacular mud-colored, bumpy rocks near creeks and burst them open to reveal a hidden treasure of sparklieness.

“I found a farm in Woodberry, Tenn. full of geodes,” said Barney. “Most were in the ground and it took me seven months to collect them for the mailbox stand.”

“I busted them in half, and pressured washed them with oxalic acid,” he said. “It’s a spectacular sight to see them all piled up together. People stop by all the time and gawk.”

His largest ornamental rock weighs 800 pounds. He hauled it from another undisclosed place just 15 miles from his house.

Six of his more than 150 rocks are painted. Now 67 years old, Barney has slowed down a bit. He’s got pretty flowers planted next to his rock flowers and he’s spread black lava rock around.

“Mulch just would not cut it,” he laughed.

He maintains the showstopper rock garden and dabbles in a little golf. (The clubs he traded for rock are long gone.) He’s also into scrap metal. He’s a bit upset some “kids” are stealing his sparkly geodes from his mailbox stand. It hurts a bit because he spent months down in the Woodberry, Tenn. ravine retrieving those marvels of nature.

“The largest one we found was 181 pounds,” he remembered. “It was giant, oversized, we pulled it up slowly on a dolly.”

Growing his rock garden through the years has been fun, said this quirky rock artist.

“It’s put a smile on many faces,” he said.

If you want to witness Barney’s rock garden, it’s at 1013 Shirley Drive in Lebanon.

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Pass the Salt, Please

Third Coast Salt takes a halotherapeutic approach to the spa healing experience


By Laurie Everett

Photos by Shari Hart


You might detect a bit of a Louisiana twang in her accent. Though born in that grooving hot-melt state, Shari Arnold spent her growing years in “Hotlanta” and ended up in Tennessee 11 years ago.

No, she’s not a rebel, but an intensely independent woman who has brought a unique, European respite, healing aspect to the heart of Mt. Juliet. It’s not like anything found anywhere around.

It’s Third Coast Salt.

“Well, we know there’s an East Coast and a West Coast, and now Nashville is dubbed the ‘Third Coast,’” said Shari Arnold, who is a single businesswoman, and mom to Maggie, 10, and Jack Ryman (yes, after the auditorium), age 9.

She targeted ‘Third Coast Nashville’, and went a little east to Mt. Juliet to open a happening, emerging business that beckons those who want to be in the loop with an emerging therapy that is hot in Europe and on the cusp here in the states.

2016sharihartphotographer 42Just say she’s one of the first to offer this service here.  It’s the “best, hippest coast out here! Discover the benefits of salt therapy,” Arnold enthused.

The health-conscious embrace this latest trend in pampering; it’s a ‘salt spa,’ right here in Mt. Juliet.

The technique has been used thousands of years in Europe and the Middle East. Rather than ingesting salt, spa patrons relax in rooms made of it and breathe in misty, salty vapors to clear their lungs and purify their skin.

All come out of a sessions espousing the virtues of the treatment and how much better they feel; mentally and physically.

“It’s known as halotherapy, after the Greek word halo, meaning salt,” Arnold said

“Breathing in salt can help cure a lot of modern ailments that come from pollution and stress,” said Matt Walsh, co-owner of Salt Sanctuary in Johnson City, New York. “It is especially good for helping chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma, allergies and bronchitis.”

And for people not suffering from allergies, it’s simply relaxing and meditative, said Arnold.

She said visitors can experience the ultimate in mind, body, and soul cleansing, while relaxing in comfy leather lounge chairs.

“Escape the pervasive lure of everyday technology in our relaxing salt therapy room,” she said.  “Micro particles of salt are dispersed throughout the room, creating a rejuvenating negative-ion environment. Following the 40-minute session, you’ll breathe easier and leave feeling wonderfully relaxed.”


Arnold’s history; southern girl in California and back

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The journey to a holistic salt therapy business in Mt. Juliet began when Shari spent almost a decade in Los Angeles in the film and television industry.

arnold3 11-2015“I would say I was trained in my craft, a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild,” she said. “I love comedy and was cast in anything I could get a role. I survived the major strike and then was told if I didn’t get into the Reality TV aspect I had no work. That true actors didn’t have a chance. That was predicted to last ten years.”

She eventually made her way to Nashville and got a job at Gaylord Entertainment (Opryland). Her job was in their training and development department. This was 11 years ago.  She’s since had her children.

“They are my everything, my whole focal point, they are incredible people,” she said.

Soon she got a job as Lifestyles Director at Del Webb in Mt. Juliet. She loved it. She left last summer. She started with 200 residents and ended with 2,000. She created programs, built relationships, and secured the brand.

“I knew I did what I was supposed to do,” she said. “I knew my work was done, I had perfected everything. It was my time to move on.”

Because health and nutrition were her calling, Arnold went back to school with a “hunger for knowledge.”

She joined a prestigious institute and attained a degree in Integrated Nutrition. She graduated in March 2016.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “It really was for selfish reasons, I wanted to learn about better health and nutrition from a very credible school.”

She resigned her job at Del Webb to pursue further education in the health field and ended up a certified health coach from a prestigious program, besides becoming a state board aesthetician.

It was the springboard to Third Coast Salt.


Mid life crises?


“No way,” said Arnold. “Many people could say that. I simply wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to heal and care for people. And be on the cusp of the health industry.”

For years, Arnold wanted to have a day spa. But she didn’t think Mt. Juliet was ready for it. So she segued to a place where residents “could heal, relax and heal themselves.”

She rented several suites in the Smoothie King (former bank building on N. Mt. Juliet Road) to offer salt therapy for young and adults. She shares the suites with like-minded businesses, such as two aestheticians, a chiropractor and professional hair stylists.


She explains her Salt Therapy
2016sharihartphotographer 15“We are all familiar with salt therapy, whether it’s exfoliation scrubs, smelling salts and more,” she said. “They are good for our veins, we use saline salt in our eyes, we gargle salt, spoon it in our bath, we use Epsom salt. Salt is restorative. Rejuvenating.”

At Third Coast Salt, Arnold has two halogenerators that heat pharmaceutical grade salt, then grind it and disperse into the air. She has both youth and adult rooms for therapy.

The therapy helps the lungs and people with respiratory problems such as allergies, asthma, bronchitis, COPD and other illnesses. But, she stresses it’s meditative and helpful for healthy people eager to renew and restore and meditate.

“You know how you feel when you go to the beach,” she said. “You think it’s the sand and wind, but really it’s the salt from the sea in the air.”

Her “adult” room is 400 square feet with a huge “wow” wall of salt blocks in their natural shape. They set the mood and she can change the color when asked. There are ten leather recliners and plush blankets and reflective music for meditation. All electronics are off, people can read or meditate. It’s a 40-minute session.

2016sharihartphotographer 1There’s also a youth room where children can get therapy with a parent to supervise (free of charge).

“It’s a totally different atmosphere with upbeat music and a salt box for them to play,” Arnold said.

Whitney Simpson is an advocate for the therapy.  Her son Drew was struggling with allergies. He had a long undiagnosed nut allergy.

“This therapy helped with the pressure and pain,” Simpson said.

The grand opening was Aug. 7, when Arnold had an open house and tour, plus gave attendees free smoothies.

Arnold’s dream is for salt therapy to catch on and she hopes to open multiple salt facilities. She’ll soon have a retail element with salt lamps, scrubs and more.

“I’m excited to touch the lives of people,” she said. “I want to touch the heart and soul and make people feel better. This excites me. I’m so grateful and thankful to tell the community about salt therapy.”

Cost is $30 per session, or you can purchase a monthly membership. For the youth room it’s $30 per child and a parent escorts free. Mention Wilson Living during the month of September and purchase one session at full price to get 50% savings on your second visit!

For more information, go to

1283 North Mt. Juliet Road 615.200.6365

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Tulip Grove Farm

Two twins and their mother keep the antique love alive


Story and photos by Tilly Dillehay

These two ladies are sitting across from me at a table in Starbucks. They each have husbands and grown children of their own, yet here they are, chattering about their shared projects, finishing each other’s sentences. They’re twin sisters, two of the three members of an antique dealership on wheels: Tulip Grove Farm.

The third member of the group? Their mother.

IMG_2428Claudine Williamson and her two daughters, Dianne Clark and Marianne Jordan, are partners and hobbyists together. They go hunting for the antiques, they pull the trailer that holds the antiques, and they carry the antiques to various barn sales and flea markets in Middle Tennessee. And they do it all together.

“It’s about a business,” said Dianne, who has been a resident of Lebanon for the last 30 years. “But it’s really about family and spending time together. We love to go on trips and hook the trailer up… we love spending time together and building memories.”

All three of their husbands also pitch in, with things like hitching and hauling the trailer, setting up for sales, and allowing their home turf to be encroached on by antiques waiting to be sold.

“Our husbands could probably have us committed for all this,” laughed Dianne, “but they’re really so supportive.”

In the Tulip Grove Farm booth at any given sale, you’ll find a sweet setup that represents the various tastes of each of the three ladies.

“Mom loves primitive antiques,” said Dianne. “Anything wood ladders, bowls, silver.  I love white, painted, chippy, rusty pieces. Marianne tends to be more architectural, likes vintage maps, old farm pieces, more midcentury modern.”

So you’ll be able to find everything from an assortment of handmade signs with rusty letters spelling out words like “FARMHOUSE,” “BAKERY,” or “PANTRY,” to bell jars arranged over one-of-a-kind china, to old iron hangers and tin cake stands. Nothing is exorbitantly priced, but all of it has a distinct and recognizable Tulip Grove Farm flavor.

IMG_2393“It’s a creative outlet, for me,” said Marianne, who resides in Nashville. “Whether we’re going to an estate sale or a flea market… to see the potential in something, and buy it… it’s an outlet. We rarely will repurpose something—paint furniture, turn something into a lamp, like many people do. But we will take something that may be used in the yard, and we show how you can use it in kitchen. Or we show how you can put flowers in, or hang something on a bathroom wall. If you were to come to my house, a lot of what you see on my wall aren’t prints, but screens, or racks, or old window frames. I personally get a lot of satisfaction in finding something, cleaning it up, and seeing someone buy it and be really excited about what they found.”

In a roundabout way, the antique bug bit the two sisters through their mother… and then it bit their mother all over again.

“Our mother has been in and out of the antique business for decades,” said Dianne. “She started Tulip Grove Farm years ago, selling at different antique shows in Nashville. And we would help her. We did Christmas village, and a few others.

“The way we got to where we are today is we love to shop—it’s a passion to buy the antiques. And Marianne and I were shopping one day. And she said, ‘you know, I’d love to start selling’. And mom said ‘well, we have a trailer full of junk.’ So we took mom’s stuff down to the flea market.”

“I’ll never forget our first booth,” said Marianne. “I think that was the hardest $50 I ever made! But we said we’re going to keep going for a year. We’re going to keep going to the flea market every week and just see where it goes. So it started to get better. And two or three years ago we decided to put it together under the same umbrella. I think mom just got the bug to get back in the business.”

One of their earliest experiences with barn sales was in the early days of The Strawberry Patch sale in Hartsville, which they still participate in twice a year (the fall sale is in September). In October, they’ll be showing at the “Vintage Market Days,” which is new to Fiddlers Grove at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.

IMG_2395The women often find their wares in other states, traveling as far as Texas, Ohio, and Massachusetts to pick things up from flea markets and private sellers. It’s a lot of work—the hunting, the acquiring, the hauling, the setting up, the long weekends of selling.

But then, these ladies were raised for work. Their parents were small business owners of Howard’s Honda when the girls were growing up, and they were put to work in the family business.

“Dianne and I have worked since we were 12,” said Marianne. “We were answering phones then. So we like to work, we enjoy it, we get a lot of satisfaction out of it, out of making money, yes—but just being busy. It’s more about the satisfaction of doing good work.”

In addition to the sales, the three women recently partnered up for a new project. They renovated a house in Donelson to list on, a site where travelers can rent homes, apartments, or rooms to stay in. The home was originally a rental property owned by Claudine and her husband. When the three ladies got inspired to find a new use for the property, they set to work doing everything themselves.

“This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” admitted Marianne. “In fact, we did find something that we couldn’t do…” She looked at Dianne with a smile.

“We were pulling carpet up and found beautiful wood floors,” laughed Dianne. “Mom and I were over there trying to get the glue up, and we’d done it for a week. And my dad comes in and says, ‘ya’ll have worked so hard. You’re doing a good job, but…’ And you know, we got our feelings hurt! But we got over it… anyway he brought in a professional to finish that.”

But the majority of the work was done by these two women and their amazing mother. They held a little contest between themselves, each picking a bedroom to decorate in their own way. The challenge was to make up the cutest bedroom for the least money.

“Then mom went to West Elm with my daughter [Lauren], so they took themselves out of the running right away,” laughed Marianne. “Then it was down to us two.”

Many of the furnishings for the house came right off of the Tulip Grove Farm trailer. Others were giveaways or fresh finds. The finished project is quite simply adorable. The house went up on the site in March of this year.

“Many people have this thing where they say, ‘oh, I don’t know if we could do that,’” said Marianne. “We’re just not afraid to try. We’re not afraid to fail.”

And in another almost bizarre twist, all three of these ladies are also involved in yet another hobby: they are dressers for Broadway shows that come to Nashville. This job involves being on a call list, then going in when a show comes to town and unloading the costumes, pressing and preparing them, and then helping actors get changed during the show.

IMG_2405“We’re following the path of our mother, again with that,” said Marianne. “She’s done it for thirty years. Really it all started as something new to do. We like that. And it’s so interesting, I think, to be backstage… we just finished Bridges of Madison County. Now Beauty and the Beast is coming, and we’re not sure we’ll actually be on that one.”

Dianne agreed that it’s just a fun thing to be involved with. “It’s a cross between working in a laundromat and Downton Abbey,” she laughed.

Asked whether the two of them are very different in personality, they said yes and no.

“We’ve always been very individual,” said Dianne. “Marianne was a CPA for instance, and I don’t like to balance a checkbook. We’re different but still very close.”

Will they continue wearing all these hats indefinitely?

“[Our daughters] think we work too hard,” said Dianne. “They say, ‘Mom, you need to slow down a little bit.’ But we never do; we just keep going. But everything we do, we enjoy. We do it because we want to.”






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Home again, home again

Sherry’s Run founder downsizes to make way for the next season of life


By Elizabeth Scruggs

Photos by Chesley Summar


Nestled under a canopy of mature trees on an estate lot in Five Oaks, Roy and Tamara Lampsa built their unassuming house.  Backing up to the Troon-managed golf course, with a winding path through the trees leading to the clubhouse, they built their home after scratching out the initial design on a napkin with their architect; stating one of the most important features to them was for the exterior to be modest and unimposing.

Relocating here with his career in the truck dealership industry, the couple moved across the country- leaving their family, their friends; their life– and putting it all in the hands of our little town.  The Lampsas’ thought they chose Lebanon, but a decade into our friendship, I feel that maybe, quite possibly- Lebanon chose them.

Moving to Tennessee was not their first long-distance move with his career.  Roy and Tamara were born, raised, and married in Wisconsin, but early in their married life, they moved to Albuquerque with their two young daughters, making it their home for 14 years.  The opportunity to move to Tennessee arose after their girls were in college, so it made it a bit easier for another cross country transition.  Knowing them as I do, with their sense of family and community, I know this was a difficult decision for them.  But, oh how things have a way of working out.

Soon after moving to Lebanon, Tamara became involved with many causes- but one in particular has literally changed the lives of countless members in our community.  When Tamara heard of the untimely passing of a friend due to colon cancer, her heart was heavy.  She felt a sincere calling, a need, to do something.  Reaching out to her friend’s husband, Tamara suggested an event to raise money in his wife’s memory to help families in Wilson County struggling financially with this disease.  In the beginning she wasn’t sure what to do- a run possibly?  She had lots of ideas brewing- but she felt this was what she was meant to do.  Several months later, with the help of friends and family, the first Sherry’s Run was held in September 2004.   As of 2016, Sherry’s Run has raised over two million dollars and become an entity of its own, complete with an office location and staff.   And most importantly to Tamara, every dollar raised stays in our area.

Roy and Tamara have made a wonderful life in Lebanon, and consider themselves the lucky ones.  Their Christian faith and values are an extremely important part of their life.  They are active members of Lebanon First United Methodist Church, enjoy a devoted circle of friends, and count their church, family and community among their greatest of blessings.

On September 12, 2011, which was also Sherry Whitaker’s birthday, Tamara and Roy were blessed with their first grandchild, Camden.  Each year the run continued to grow, but the pull between her love for the organization and the love for her grandchildren made it exceedingly difficult for Tamara.  She eventually made the decision of trading in the title of “Chairperson” for the title of “Bopi” (grandmother).

These days, Roy continues advising in the trucking industry and with truck dealerships. They both enjoy being able to travel back and forth between their daughters’ homes, and helping their girls and son-in-laws care for their four precious grandchildren.   Nicole and her husband Gary live in San Francisco, with their children Camden (4) and Gerrit (2); daughter Shannon, and her husband Kyle, live in Indianapolis, with their children Karsten (3), and Samantha (9 months).  Being able to travel and enjoy their grandchildren, they feel it’s time to downsize their “permanent” home.  We so hope they are able to stay in Lebanon and purchase a home that will be easier to maintain with their busy schedule.

How could they know those many years ago that the decision they made to move east would affect so many?  How could our community know that one person could conceive and establish such a loving organization?  Our hearts have a way of leading us sometimes, and in this instance, the Lampsas were truly…..Coming Home.


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Home Features:

  • Exterior of brick, western cedar, and stone
  • 7500 square feet, built in 2004, one-acre lot
  • 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths
  • Hidden office
  • Oversized Hydraulic Elevator to all 3 floors
  • 2 Cedar closets
  • Wine Cellar/ Storm Shelter
  • Man Cave garage with Gorilla garage floors, Poly-door commercial doors, and car lift
  • Gourmet kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances

To find out more about the house or to set up a showing, contact

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The Balloon Kid

this is what awesome looks like

Story by Ken Beck

Photos by Caitlin Steva Photography


Once upon a time there was a Balloon Kid with a Balloon Mom, a Balloon Pop and a Balloon Brother.

They lived in a (sort of) Balloon House with a Balloon Room and a Balloon Closet.

Meet Anthony the Balloon Kid, an effervescent Balloon Artist.

“I probably have more balloons than anyone in Mt. Juliet,” says the BK, making the understatement of his life while standing in his favorite room.

And once he opens the door to his Balloon Closet, there are definitely thousands of balloons in plastic containers. In fact, there are about 40,000 balloons in the closet and room combined.

“I have been making balloons for 15 years, since I was 10,” said Anthony Lena, 25, as he shares his knowledge of his medium, which is made of a natural latex tapped from rubber trees. “These balloons are 260s. That means they are 2 inches wide and 60 inches long when fully inflated. These are 360s, and these are 160s, the smallest. This is a 646, the big daddy.”

He grabs a hand full of brown, yellow, orange, red and white balloons of different sizes and inflates them quickly with a hand pump. He twists and manipulates the small blimps filled with air. They squeak in resistance.

IMG_8535smallWithin a few minutes, he reconfigures them into a marshmallow roasting over a campfire.

“This one of my favorites,” he says of the balloon art. “This is pure awesomeness.”

A little while later, he takes some gigantic balloons and creates a gorgeous butterfly with a 4-foot-wide wingspan. Pure magic.

He has made bigger balloon projects. These include a life-size balloon of Pope Francis, a three-day project. And there was that 8-feet-wide and 5-feet-tall display of a farmer holding a pitchfork staring googely-eyed as a UFO attempts to airlift his cow. He calls it “UFO Frenzy on Farm.”

A Wilson County resident since he was 3, Anthony attended Gladeville Elementary School and West Wilson Middle School and graduated from Wilson Central High School in 2009. He completed his business management degree from Aquinas College Nashville in 2013. His hometown of Mt. Juliet remains his favorite balloon playground.

He entertains 5:30-8:30 p.m. Mondays at NYNY Pizza in Providence Marketplace, 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays at Chick-fil-A, and 5-8 p.m. Thursdays at Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina.

The BK truly was a kid when he took up the hobby that blew up into a profession.

“When I was 10 years old, my mom and dad gave me a balloon kit for Christmas. It had a few little balloons, a little hand pump and instructions,” he recalled. “The most detailed creature you could make was two doves kissing in a heart. I thought if I could make that I would be the best balloon artist in the world.”

However, he confesses that when he opened his present that Yuletide morn, he really wasn’t into balloons. In fact, he says his Balloon Mom was the first one in the house to play with the kit.

IMG_8580smallA short time later a girl in his neighborhood came to visit, toting along her balloon kit.

“She was better than me. I was jealous,” said Anthony, who then set out to step up his game.

After creating a batch of dogs, flowers and swords out of balloons, he held a garage sale.

“I sold balloons for 25 cents. I made a sign that said, ‘Balloon art, 25 cents, made before your eyes,” he laughed at the memory. “All our neighbors bought one.”

IMG_8591Then came his big break.

Anthony, who was born seven weeks premature at Centennial Hospital, attended the annual NICU Reunion for children who had been patients in the neo-natal intensive care unit. He gave his nurse Patti Scott a balloon gift of the two doves kissing in a heart.

Scott rhapsodized over the creative present and told Anthony that he would have to perform at their next reunion, thus came his first paying gig as he entertained for the families who had spent anxious hours in the unit.

“At age 13, I officially became Anthony the Balloon Kid,” he said of that initial step in front of the public.

When he was 16, he began to get serious about his craft. Befriended by Nashville balloon artist Scott Tripp, Anthony was invited to fill in for Tripp at the Lebanon Shoney’s Restaurant.

“The first time I was so nervous. It was amazing the feeling I got. I made balloons for kids even older than me. I think the whole concept of ‘if I’m subbing for a professional balloon artist that makes me a professional balloon artist’ made me feel more comfortable,” he said.

In 2007, he attended his first balloon convention, Twist and Shout, which was being held in Nashville.

“At that point I realized I had a lot to learn. I saw hundreds of balloon artists from around the world, the best. They were superstars. I saw some of the creations they made, and it blew me away.

“I realized, ‘oh, man, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ I thought I was great, but that propelled me to want to become the best balloon artist I could. I want to be the best balloon artist in the world,” said the BK.

IMG_8540smallThat same year in Nashville, Anthony competed in the TJam on the Road “Through the Door Contest” and placed first with a figure of a bubble-blowing boy on a tricycle. And at TJam on the Road 2010, he won Best of Nashville in the Through the Door category with a clown having its fortune told by a fortune teller and also for Best of Nashville in the 7-Minute Contest with a grimacing sumo wrestler.

He would win third place in the small figure competition at the 2013 Twist and Shout Convention, this time held in St. Louis, with his piece titled “Caveman Campout.” “What makes that win so special to me is the fact that I was competing against the best balloon artists from all over the world,” he said.

And at the TJam on the Road Contest 2013, he won Best of Nashville Through the Door event with “UFO Frenzy on Farm.”

These days Anthony performs at all sorts of venues and events from birthday parties almost every weekend to grand openings, company picnics and other corporate events. His clients have included Dick’s Sporting Goods, Steak and Shake, Coca-Cola, Cracker Barrel, Nissan, Lochinvar, Mars Pet Care and the Grand Ole Opry.

balloonkidpizza 015 (submitted)“I’ve done birthday parties from age 1 to 100. I made a 100-year-old woman a balloon arch and cake. She told me, ‘This is the grandest birthday I’ve ever had,’” said Anthony, whose second motto is “always a kid at heart.” “I think balloons bring that out of everyone, not just kids but adults as well.”

His first motto is “balloons of pure awesomeness.”

The BK did have a day job, working at his alma mater, Aquinas College, in Nashville where he worked for three years, most recently scheduling campus visits for prospective students and doing data coordinating in the admissions office. However, he bid that job goodbye in late June and has gone full blown into his balloon entertainment career.

Anthony said, “After a lot of thinking and a lot of prayer, I just decided there is so much I want to do, and I believe it is so important to live your passion. So I talked with my family about it, and we decided that this was the time to do it.

“And it’s a God thing, because as soon as I sort of made this decision that I’ve got to look for some more business, well, Salsarita’s wants me to be there every Thursday now.”

He truly lives for the moment when he can switch into his Balloon Kid persona. That means diving into his Balloon Kid Clothes Closet and putting on his Balloon Kid Costume. His guise features a striped shirt, cardinal khaki pants, suspenders, a portable, electric balloon pump around his waist and a Tilley hat atop his head.

If he has a little down time, he may take a few minutes to peruse his favorite magazine, Balloon Magic, a periodical published expressly for balloon artists.
So what skills does it take to be a fabulous balloon artist?

Says the BK, “Anyone with enough practice could make balloons, but it’s one thing to just make balloons and another thing to entertain and interact with the people. Number one, I would say patience. You have to have great patience with balloons. Many times trying to learn a new technique is very difficult. It takes practice, practice, practice.

“But you also have to be patient with your guests. Some balloon artists I’ve seen, they are not patient with the kids. You have to communicate on a level to go from conversation with a 5-year-old to a 40-year-old just like that. Balloons do that… Balloons cause laughter which is a universal language. Laughter means happiness, and balloons promote that with entertainment.”

Anthony frequently creates personalized balloon creations for his fans and says the possibilities are endless.

IMG_8855“I really try and play on people’s passions when I am creating a balloon, such as making a photographer a balloon camera. Among the most interesting requests I have received through the years would be a ceiling fan, a unicorn mermaid, a person inside of a vacuum cleaner, a jar of pickles and a championship wrestling belt.

“One of the hardest requests I’ve ever had was [performing] for a blind child. I used my voice and told jokes and did impersonations of characters like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo. I made balloon maracas so they could shake it and hear it. The parents could not believe I had made a balloon that could interact so well with their blind child. Balloons are for everyone.”

The feedback and reactions that Anthony receives from his audiences he describes as “pure joy.”

“The children’s eyes light up like it’s like Christmas morning. Sometimes when I’m surprising somebody and they don’t know what I’m making them, when it clicks in their brain, a smile comes on their face, and that’s pretty cool. I love seeing the reactions. It touches my heart and makes me feel very warm inside,” he said.

As for the varieties of creatures he can create with just balloons and several breaths of air, well, it’s only limited by the imagination.

He says, “Literally, if I have enough time and enough balloons, I can make anything out of balloons except porcupines. Every time I make a porcupine it pops itself. (That’s a Balloon Artist Joke.) I’ve made dogs, sea turtles, cats, dolphins, horses, frogs, ducks, octopus, jellyfish, dinosaurs, unicorns, ladybugs, monkeys, elephants, alligators, chipmunks, lions, tigers and bears.”

Besides his public and private performances, Anthony makes deliveries for special occasions of balloon flower bouquets and balloon/candy combos. But he has bigger balloon dreams.

“I really want to grow the business in ways and branch out to decorating. We’ve been doing a little decorating here and there. One thing I really would love to have is a balloon mobile, a big van, where I could go to events and set up and have a mobile store so I could make balloons anywhere,” he said.

In the meantime, he has an instructional video for balloon artists about ready to launch. Titled Balloons of Pure Awesomeness, Volume One, the 2½-hour DVD is for seasoned artists. Among the feats he illustrates on the video are how to create such objects as a pterodactyl, caveman, sumo wrestler, laser gun, ice cream cone, zombie and, yes, a cow being abducted by a UFO.

As passionate as Anthony is about balloons, there is one other thing that he may be equally excited about, and that is classic Walt Disney movies.

The walls of his Balloon Room boast Disney artwork and a framed sheet that bears the images of miniatures posters of Disney’s animated classics.

Says Anthony, who sports a big Mickey Mouse wristwatch, “When you think of Walt Disney, what comes to mind is wholesome family fun. Walt created incredible characters that people could relate to. Growing up when I would watch a Disney move, I would get lost in it.

“My favorite Disney movie is Up. It has lots of balloons in it and a man in a house flying across the world because of balloons. That’s going to be me at 80 years old.

“Walt Disney had a quote that has inspired me. He said, ‘The real trouble with the world is too many people grow up.’

“People often ask me, ‘Are you gonna change your name to Balloon Man,’ and I say, ‘I’m always gonna be a kid at heart,’ and that’s why I will always be Anthony the Balloon Kid, even when I’m 100 years old.”





Balloon Kid gives birth to Balloon Baby

IMG_8815The Balloon Kid is actually a proud Balloon Papa.

Just check out this photo of the balloon baby he conceived.

“I came up with the baby and the bottle when a little girl holding a baby doll asked me to surprise her with a balloon. I figured her baby doll might like a friend, so at that moment the baby sculpture was born (no pun intended),” said Anthony Lena.

“At first I was only making the baby with a happy face, but then I changed the design where one side was happy and the other was crying. This got a great reaction when I made it in public.

“However there was a problem, it took just as much time to draw the two faces as it did to make the actual sculpture itself. So that is when I contacted Continental Sales in California to custom make a crying/happy baby face balloon. They really liked my idea and my enthusiasm, so they decided to make it a reality.

“I jumped up in the air in jubilation when I found out they approved my design. Now I, along with balloon artists around the world, can use this balloon to create the happy/crying baby with bottle very quickly,” said Anthony.

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I love Juice Bar

Detox and rebuild with the rich nutrition of produce in a cup

By Tilly Dillehay

Photos by Jana Pastors (Kindred Moments Photography)

Beet red. Technicolor orange. Kelly green.

These aren’t paint colors we’re talking about. These are the bright shades you get out of nature, in a glass, when you juice produce.
25575951203_f84838eb8a_zPeople have long been aware of the benefits of juicing. It’s a way of injecting a pure shot of nutrition into our bodies: you can get the nutritive value of several pounds of power-packed vegetables into a single glass. Juice lovers talk about the vitality, energy, weight loss, and immunity benefits that come in these glasses. But if you talk about juicing at any length, you’ll also learn about the time investment. Buying vegetables in bulk, washing, dicing, and running them through a machine—not to mention the initial investment that comes with purchasing a juicer—and many people find that it’s just more of a hassle than they’re willing to commit to.

Historic Mt. Juliet can now help you with that. As of February 1, Mt. Juliet residents can swing by a new neighborhood spot to pick up their veggies freshly juiced and ready to go.

Sitting in the I Love Juice Bar on Mt. Juliet Road, looking around the clean, woodsy interior and sipping on their “Sweet Greens” concoction, I watched the glass doors swing open again and again. A steady stream of health conscious locals were lining up for the smoothies, salads, vegan baked goods, and juice blends.

25573844634_abc43369f1_zThere are two main categories on the juice menu: ‘Greens’ and ‘Roots’. The green options include ingredients like kale, celery, spinach, cucumber, and ginger, and the root options include ingredients like beet, carrot, garlic, and apple. You can mix your own combinations, too. The juice can be purchased in two standard sizes, or you can bring in your own container—jar, growler, whatever—and they’ll fill it up. You’ll pay by the ounce.

Then there’s a menu of smoothies, with another lineup of fresh ingredients in flavorful combinations. The baked goods are purchased from a local small business, and in a display case there is a boxed kale/quinoa salad, a vegan wrap, and a whole raw coconut that can be cracked open in front of you by staff on request.

25575945643_91fd7b40ec_zKeith and Heather Harned opened I Love Juice Bar after becoming fans of the franchise during a chance trip to one of the Nashville area locations. Heather had actually been a McDonald’s franchisee for six years, selling her store in 2006 and serving with a nonprofit until she met and married her best friend and moved to Tennessee. With all of their children grown and out of the home, she and Keith decided it was time to think about a new business opportunity for Heather, and they started looking around.

“So we’d been eating clean for a while already, and really had changed our lifestyle habits,” said Heather. She’s an energetic, positive woman who had to tell me twice that she was 43 before I could believe it. “And I walked into this juice bar, and had an amazing, really exceptional experience. I told Keith about it, came back a few days later and had the same great experience. So I asked he guy behind the counter—‘do you own this place?’ and he said ‘No, but we’re empowered to treat it like we do.’…So we got online, we read about them, we read about their history.”

They began conversations with the founders of the company, John and Vui Hunt, also of Nashville. The franchise began locally in Brentwood, but is now in 13 states. The Hunts recommended that they watch the documentary that inspired them—Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead—about the ways that Americans mistreat their bodies. The documentary also extolled the value of juice cleansing.

26178601155_1dddfd82a1_zHeather and Keith spent a lot of time praying, and entered into several lease negotiations before finding their current fabulous spot on Mt. Juliet Road.  They now have 18 employees, not counting their two industrial juicers, which have been dubbed “Ruby” and “Nancy.”  One is a Ruby brand and the other is a Nutrifaster, and they both are used for specific ingredients, based on their individual strengths.

Juicing and juice cleanses are the cornerstone of what I Love Juice Bar offers to customers.

There are three main juice cleanse options: The “Essential Cleanse” includes six jars of green and root juices—one “Orange You Glad,” two “Sweet Greens,” one “We Got the Beet,” one “Ginger Greens,” and one “Fresh Greens”. For the length of the cleanse (1-3 days is most normal), cleanse participants drink a full glass of liquid every hour—alternating between the juices provided, and water. The “Juice to Dinner” includes many of the same juices as the Essential, and involves the same liquids regimen throughout the day, but a kale/quinoa salad is provided to finish the day on. The “Core Cleanse” is perhaps the most advanced option of the three—heavy on greener juice with less fruit juice to sweeten things up, and a coconut/hemp/probiotics drink to finish the day on.
26112246651_6c3c4497f3_z“We do a really good job of making every juice consistent,” says Heather. “It’s a team effort; every time we finish a juice, two or three people have to taste it. Because what I taste strong may not be what you taste strong, and vice versa. So our people almost become juice sommeliers, like a wine sommelier. We get every level of flavor. So the ginger isn’t too hot, so it’s not too earthy with the beets, or it’s not too strong with the kale or spinach… we really want to know that every time a customer comes in for the Sweet Green, they’re getting the same juice. And that is such a good team building opportunity… That’s why everyone in here seems so engaged; it’s because they’re really taking ownership of the product we put out.”

Readers are invited to come and do a juice tour at the bar, where they’ll get to sample the top four juices and get information about the ingredients. I Love Juice Bar is located at 2726 N. Mount Juliet Road. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.




Cleanse 101 With Heather Harned


26178604485_8184605cdc_zWhy Should I Cleanse?

The goal of cleansing is to flood your body with nutrients. Nutrients allow your blood, liver, and organs to clean themselves. It allows them to rest and rejuvenate. It will also aid in any nutrient deficiencies and ease the constant craving for the “next food” you are going to feed it. This craving is usually exaggerated by a trigger food like sugar, gluten, soy, salt, etc. Eliminating those triggers during a cleanse helps take the cravings away. It also helps your digestive tract in that it does not have to work so hard yet still gets nourishment.


How Often Should I Cleanse?

This is very much dependent on the individual. If someone is super toxic with eating a primarily processed food diet, perhaps once per month, according to Sarah Moore, I Love Juice Bar nutrition specialist. Some people do cleanses once a quarter, once a year, or just when they are ready for an overall feeling of wellness.  It is common for folks to do a one to three day cleanse, with some doing seven or more days. It is all about a person’s own journey, and what they are attempting to treat or uncover during the process.


26112256111_c263e6c1fd_z (1)How Should I Feel On a Cleanse?

Every person is different. Depending on the length of the cleanse, clients have reported increased alertness, higher levels of energy, “rested” feelings, increased clarity of thought, and sensations of overall well-being.


What Types of Cleanses are Available?

We have three cleanses available: Juice To Dinner, Essential Cleanse, and The Core Cleanse. See more information at


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Deep Roots

This Lebanon farm, well over a hundred years old, has been in the Crowell family since 1916

By Laurie Everett

Photos by Jana Pastors (Kindred Moments Photography)


There’s a certain spot Chris Crowell can stand and overlook his Lebanon family farm. As his gaze soaks in the sloping hills, rolling pastures, woodlands and meandering streams, images in his mind turn like the pages of a well worn, yellowed antique family album. Memories of this century farm are part of Chris’s psyche.

26501480051_80eb0e793b_zWhen Chris—now the third generation owner of the family farm—was growing up, this lovely parcel of land tucked along Leeville Pike was his playground, along with his sister’s and brother’s. They were 13 and 10 years older, so soon the vast, magical place was his alone to explore and conquer. He built dams in the creek, gathered stones, and climbed trees.

“I would build what now I know were very crude tree houses and forts, but back when I was a kid they were quite something!” he said with a laugh. And while his tree house marvels are no longer suspended in mighty trees, and his dams washed away decades ago, they were most likely replaced by his children Maggie and Ethan, who also grew up on this piece of heritage.

There’s been plenty of work on this farm over the past century. Sawing down the trees to erect the first buildings, the cycle of planting and harvesting, chopping firewood to keep the house warm, and endless chores—and now the boarding of horses, raising chickens, tractor hayrides, gardening, as well as general farm maintenance.

25964579863_f6d8278e92_zOver the past hundred years, many things on the farm have changed, but many things have stayed the same. There is still one family whose heartstrings hold on to their heritage and love their land with a fierceness that ensures it will stay in the family for perhaps another century.


Land as a wedding gift

By day Chris and his wife Amanda are in their business suits, conquering the corporate world. They fell in love and married in 1991 and made their home in Lebanon in 1993.  Chris is Vice President at Liberty State Bank and former Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board. Amanda is an attorney and partner with McBrien, Kane and Crowell. They have two children, both of whom loved growing up on their dad’s family farm. Maggie is 19, and Ethan is 15. Maggie, who was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class, just finished her first year at Washington & Lee University in Virginia. Ethan will be a sophomore next school year at Lebanon High School.

26567594295_16b3e52b53_zIt’s rare indeed that a wedding gift manages to last a hundred years. The few that survive a hundred years are so rare and special they are handled with great care and pride. Chris’s family farm was originally a wedding gift to his grandparents, Terry (T.H.) and Frances Eatherly in 1916 from Terry’s father, Timothy Eatherly, Chris said.  Timothy Eatherly owned the house that is now the home of Ligon and Bobo Funeral Home on West Main Street in Lebanon.  He and his mother-in-law had raised his three children there after the death of his wife at the age of 28 of typhoid fever.

“The gift was 250 acres of land and a modest home,” he said. “The original home on the farm was built in the 1880s and was added on to, to make it a two story structure with a porch.”

Chris’s mom, Terrijean, along with her three sisters, grew up in the house. Chris and his parents and siblings also lived there.

That original home was remodeled in the 1970’s, and my mother still lives there,” he noted.  “She’s 85 years old.” The land has been a “working” farm of various degrees through the decades.

20521537964_37554a871d_z“Some years it was more active than others,” Chris noted. “There has been cattle farming, hog farming and sheep farming. Tobacco and wheat have been produced here. There have been share croppers, and tenant farmers, as well, who worked the land.” Terry Eatherly was a gentleman farmer who not only farmed, but was a part owner of the arcade on the Lebanon Square as well as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Middle Tennessee Electric when it first came into existence.  He was instrumental in convincing his neighbors to agree to have electricity in their homes and bringing electric power to the area.

When Chris’ grandparents passed in 1966, the land was put up at auction. Chris’ parents, Terrijean and the late Gentry Crowell, bought the house and 50 acres. Today, Chris and Amanda own 26 original acres, and his mother still owns the original home.


Living in the present, relishing the past

In 2005, Chris and Amanda built a home on the property.

26567595575_4cce5f775e_z“It’s a Georgian style colonial, and has influences of both of us,” Chris noted. A short walk down the hill is the original homestead where his mom lives. He visits daily and it gives him peace to know his mother’s golden years are spent in the very home she grew up and flourished in. Sometimes it hits Chris in the gut when he drives the roads around his farm. There are hundreds of homes surrounding his little piece of paradise.

“It’s very bitter sweet,” he admitted. “I still have the responsibility to maintain our family’s principles. To maintain our family history as best I can. I want to preserve our memories.”

And while he knows he can’t live in a bubble, when he turns into his driveway he is transported back to simpler times, and he vows no matter how many offers he has on his place, he will hold onto it with a vice-grip.

“We carry on tried and true traditions still,” he said. “We will still gather hulled walnuts, still play in the creek and hike the woods.” For years the family bundled up on a stark and cold winter day to scout out the perfect cedar Christmas tree hidden in the woods.
26501451191_ab7b56ba83_z“Amanda has a deep love for the family farm,” Chris said. “She realizes the significance of our children growing up with a heritage. They love it. It’s a common bond. We don’t have a large family and it’s so important to hold true.

Amanda said she feels “blessed” to have been able to raise their children on a farm that means so much to Chris and his family, and which contains so much history.

“Maggie and Ethan have been able to play on the same land where their great grandfather, Terry Eatherly, planted a garden and raised cattle,” she said. “They have been able to walk down the hill and visit the home where their grandmother was born and married and where their father was raised. A sense of place has been very important to us as a family, and we are glad to continue the tradition of living on and preserving this peaceful space in Wilson County we call home.”

Chris holds on to the hope the farm will stay in the family for generation. Their son, still at home, has expressed an interest in the farm. Their daughter loves it there, and is immersed in college studies.

“It’s sort of spoken and unspoken,” Chris said quietly. “We want to keep it going. It’s one-fifth the size it originally was, but it’s still going and is still the heartbeat of the family.”


The perils of raising chickens

26501464491_ac1f05bac5_zThere are six horses on the farm, one of which the Crowells own. They also have about 25 chickens. Chris couldn’t stop chuckling when he relayed an incident that happened when Ethan was in fifth grade.

“We bought 25 one-day-old chicks at Easter as part of a program,” he remembered. “Ethan was in the 4-H Club. We had to pick our best five chickens and sell them at a live auction to raise money for the club. When they got around to our chickens Ethan looked at me and pleaded, ‘Dad, please buy them!’”

That tore at his heartstrings.

“I started bidding on our own, bidding against everyone!” he said. “I ended up paying $125, when I could have just paid the nominal fee and not entered any.” But he was certainly a hero that day.

That’s just one tale of thousands about living on the farm. Today, Chris relishes the solitude, memories and peacefulness of the acreage he’s managed to preserve in the midst of explosive growth all around.

“There absolutely is no substitute,” he said. “They are not making land anymore. This piece of land will survive.”




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The Bull and Thistle

For Michelin-quality Celtic dining, look no further than… Gainesboro?

By Tilly Dillehay

Photos by Caitlin Steva Photography


The plate comes to your table. There is a cake on it, of sorts. The cake is hot, and its first ingredient is, startlingly, cabbage. It is topped with onion straws and shrimp, and rests in a little puddle of sauce that appears to be made of garlic and magic. As you fork into the cake, you can discern traces of onion, of bacon, of garlic, of potato. You undertake the blessed job of dismantling the baffling creation, one bite at a time.

The menu says that this thing is called ‘Bubble and Squeak’. You don’t ask any questions.

Obviously any reader in the Upper Cumberland area knows what I’m talking about. One city center comes to mind, if you’re looking for a four-star meal by an internationally renowned chef who utilizes locally sourced, seasonal ingredients for his field-to-fork menu.

IMG_2811smallClearly, we’re talking about Gainesboro. Yes, I said Gainesboro, TN. Check your map—it’s the county seat of Jackson, just southeast of Smith.

The Bull and Thistle, a Celtic restaurant overseen by Chef Barry O’Connor, draws 80% of its weekend customer base from out of county. Many of the folks you find there waiting for a table on a Saturday night have driven 1-2 hours for the privilege.

The idea originated with Diana Mandli and Loui Silvestri, business owners from Florida who landed in Tennessee almost on a whim in 2005. Loving the area, they purchased a small farm for relaxation and “getaway” purposes, never dreaming of starting another business here. But by 2009, they had purchased half a block of beautiful but neglected historic buildings on the square. Soon they had begun brainstorming to come up with a business that would be enough of a draw to start the process of reviving the town square. From many past trips to Ireland and the UK for both business and fun, they were well acquainted with the charm and comfort of a pub as a community social center.  Learning about the area they had fallen in love with, they were delighted to discover the extent of Celtic roots across Appalachia, and in the Scottish and Irish names and faces of so many living in Jackson County.  Suddenly, it all clicked.

Loui Silvestri, co-owner of The Bull and Thistle with Diana Mandli

This is how The Bull and Thistle was born.

Mandli and Silvestri had just finished renovating their old farmhouse in the Free State community and still had their hands in all kinds of entrepreneurial endeavors when they started researching a business that was totally foreign to them: restaurants. With the dream of the Bull and Thistle already in their heads, they spent months in the learning stage. Mandli bought textbooks used in Cornell’s Restaurant Management courses. Silvestri would find her lying on her back in the empty gut of the historic square building, “looking at it from a different angle” and making plans to transform the place into a little piece of Ireland.

They began researching beer and alcohol laws to find out whether Jackson County, which had been dry for many decades, could ever become wet. They presented renderings and sales projections to the county government, making the best case they could for bringing beer by the glass into the area. A few months of elbow-grease later, with essential guidance from Town Alderman John Cassetty, they were delighted to learn that all they needed was a vote from the three city commissioners. This vote passed. They put twenty beers, ales, and ciders on tap. (“Why not?” explained Silvestri.)

Then they began the process that was so very crucial to the vision of the restaurant. “We knew we needed a chef from Ireland or England,” says Mandli. “The authenticity of the building was such that our food absolutely had to rise to that same standard.”

Chef Barry O’Connor works the grill line.

They advertised in the culinary circles of the UK and Europe at large, looking for experience, determination, accolades, and—of course—a willingness to move. To Gainesboro.

This is where Chef Barry O’Connor found them.

Chef O’Connor has 25 years of experience in English, French, and Italian cuisine. He has extensive formal culinary training (including an additional, advanced degree in charcuterie; this means, if you were curious, that he’s an expert in butchering and curing meats). Both he and Chef Gordon Ramsey apprenticed in one of the finest restaurants in London (“I recall Gordon as quite a mild and mannerly young fellow,” say Chef). Chef Barry went on to found and run five award-winning restaurants in Ireland, one of which, the Victoria Cross Crow’s Nest, was named Ireland’s Pub of the Year in 1999.

But the crash of 2008 in Ireland “made ours look mild,” said Silvestri, and Chef O’Connor lost his restaurants in one fell swoop. He began working for other entities, as a chef and consultant. That was until Mandli and Silvestri contacted him.

IMG_2953smallAs a test, he came to Gainesboro and cooked two community meals, each a group of 14 people.  The lucky diners were friends of Mandli and Silvestri, community leaders, and local business owners.  The group sat around a billiards table converted to a dining table, and sampled every dish on the menu developed by Chef Barry and Mandli – all cooked by the Chef, working by himself in a home kitchen because at the time, there was no Pub.  (All this was early in the construction phase, and the interior of the Pub was mostly rubble.)  The food was a clear hit, although when he came out to bow and accept their praise after the meal, his colorful Irish language shocked a few of them. (“That’s just how we speak in Ireland; we punctuate everything that way,” concluded O’Connor when telling his side of the story.)  Then he had to come back to Gainesboro and do yet another meal, “for the 14 friends who didn’t get invited the first time,” laughed Silvestri.

But the Chef had always wanted to come to the U.S. and work. He described the first morning he woke up in Jackson County, and watched a next door neighbor walk by in nothing but overalls. Used to European cities and the fast pace of feeding hundreds or thousands in a day, the pace here was “something different,” he said archly. “All I’ve ever done is work in Michelin restaurants.”

So what kept him from boarding the next plane home? Well, he didn’t have a car to get him back to the airport, he quipped. Then he answered seriously: “Truly? I think the people [here] are fantastic.” He had originally agreed to come for six months and get things started, then hire a replacement. He’s now been here for three years as presiding chef.

IMG_2970smallOnce the Chef was selected, Mandli and Silvestri were full steam ahead to finish the construction. Almost all of the work at the Pub, inside and out, was done by local contractors, artisans, craftsmen, and tradesmen. The entirety of the bar and most of the tables in the restaurant came from a single tree dating back to George Washington’s time, at the end of its life and discovered locally. Quite a bit of the décor in the restaurant came from O’Connor’s own stash of things he salvaged from his restaurants, loaded into a single shipper and brought over. O’Connor mostly approved of what had been done in the restaurant, although when he first saw the kitchen layout, as the story goes, he let out a string of expletives and said ‘no, no, no’… then proceeded to set it all straight.

The result is that the kitchen is divided neatly into four quarters—a main cook line/grill area, an appetizer/prep area, a baking/dessert area, and a dishwashing area.  Everything is state-of-the-art, and Silvestri proudly showed off the neatness and precision with which cleanliness and food prep codes are observed by O’Connor’s staff.

IMG_2983smallAfter the restaurant served its first plate—in March of 2013—they worked to get liquor and wine by the glass into the county, knowing that they couldn’t compete with city restaurants if they weren’t a one-stop-shop. They also started hiring bands for the weekends, many of them playing Irish music or Bluegrass. They most recently knocked a wall down between the Pub and its next-door neighbor, a boutique and bakery called The Vault – which was opened by Mandli and Silvestri in 2012 – so that people can shop while waiting for tables.

Passionate about the local economy, they’ve been regularly in talks with local leaders to see about bringing a larger vision to local development. Silvestri listed five major things he sees as vital to further growth: overnight accommodations such as B&Bs and boutique hotels, other quality restaurants, other entertainment (movie theaters, bowling alleys, venues, etc.), public or private transportation from major cities, and community beautification.

Chef O’Connor pours all his past experience into the menu, which changes from season to season to incorporate local ingredients at their peak times. Although most of the offerings come out of the United Kingdom, there are some Italian and French elements, and seafood features heavily (Chef recommends that seafood be served rare for full flavor). At the same table, you can get Bangers and Mash (homemade sausage glazed with onion and Guinness gravy served on a bed of colcannon), baked Maine Oysters (stuffed with bacon, crab, shrimp and garlic butter gratin and served on a wood platter), or Cashel Leeks and Walnut Pasta (Italian strozzapreti pasta with leeks, spinach, asparagus and wild mushrooms cooked in a light walnut and Cashel blue cheese sabayon).

Chef O’Connor sees to it that bread and other goods are made fresh baked on the premises, and these can be purchased in the mornings at The Vault next to the restaurant. He is also developing a line of cured meat to be sold at The Vault (presumably so that the rest of us can get a taste of what charcuterie means).

IMG_2788smallThe restaurant is now three years young. I asked myself, while politely groaning over a plate of Pork Tenderloin Le Luibheanna—will this place be in business next year? Three years from now?

In answer to this question, Silvestri directed my attention to the weekends—come on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night, he said, and you’d better have a reservation. Wait times can get over an hour. He also mentioned that the restaurant is currently self-sustaining—on schedule with their original business plan.

“People still call us crazy when they hear about us for the first time,” he said. “But we’re business people. We know what this takes. We know what we’re doing.”

The next move, though, is to deliver a lunch menu that draws local people from places immediately surrounding the restaurant. People are willing to drive an hour to spend the evening with them on a weekend, he said, but now it’s time to focus on their daytime traffic of people from Smith, Trousdale, Wilson, Putnam… and yes, Jackson County.

“This is our town,” he said, looking at Mandli, who nodded. “We care about what happens to it.”

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Five Degrees from Michelle Obama

Smith County’s Stewart family shares same great-great-great grandmother as the First Lady



As they witnessed the Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama, Doreen Stewart and her three siblings had no clue about their kinship to the new First Family.

Five years later, in October of 2014, Doreen, her sister Anne Waggoner and their father Tom Stewart attended a funeral in Kingston, Ga.

“After the funeral of an uncle, our Aunt Jeannie Lovingood told us that we ought to take a look at the memorial in the same graveyard,” recalled Doreen, who lives in the Smith County community of Lancaster.

Engraved on a tall black granite tombstone they read the following words about the great-great-great grandmother they never knew.



1844 – 1938












Doreen and her sister were astonished to find they shared the same great-great-great grandmother as the First Lady of the United States.

Tom Stewart, 85 (center), who was wed to the late Jennie Elliott Stewart for 59 years, poses with his four children, (from left) Anne Waggoner, Dennis Stewart, Debra Smith and Doreen Stewart, who share the same great-great-great grandmother, Melvinia “Mattie” Shields McGruder, as First Lady Michelle Obama. They discovered the fact in the fall of 2014.

“When I read she was born a slave, that was a moment so defined for me. She had no idea her great-great-great granddaughter was going to be First Lady of the nation,” said Doreen. “Knowing my ancestors’ stories allows me to see how far God has brought my family. For me, God had a hand in it, from a slave to the White House.”

The bloodline from Doreen and her siblings goes through their late mother Jennie Elliott to grandfather Robert Elliott to great grandmother Alice Shields to great-great grandfather Talley Shields (a brother to Michelle Obama’s great-great-great grandfather Dolphus) to Melvinia, who died in 1938 at age 94.

“We just found out about a year ago that they were related. We’re just stragglers. We didn’t have a clue,” smiled Doreen.

Sister Debra Smith laughs, “We went to both of President Obama’s inaugurations, and we didn’t know it. We could have gotten closer.”

“My immediate reaction,” said Anne of the news about their ancestor, “is that I was impressed with her life history. It had no association with the new president. She had a legacy she never knew. I don’t know how she would have reacted. I like to think she would not have taken on airs. This was a personal connection for me to a woman who had been a slave and survived to live a long life.”

“I wish my mother had been alive to know this,” said Doreen of her mom, who died in 2011.

Tom and Jennie Stewart. Jennie’s was the direct blood line to the former slave from whom Michelle Obama also descended.

Born into a family of 10 children, Jennie Elliott moved to Smith County when she was 9 years old. She met Tom Stewart, her husband to be, when they were students at Turner Junior High School in Carthage.

The two married in 1952 as Tom pursued a 23-year career in the U.S. Air Force and served in the Korean War and Vietnam War. Their first three children were born in Austin, Texas, while Doreen took her first breath in Columbus, Ohio.

Anne, a retired Los Angeles school district administrative assistant, and sister Debra, share a home in Stewart Hollow. Debra was the first black cafeteria manager in the Smith County school systems and then became the first female black letter carrier in the county and had a 19-year career with the U.S. Postal Service in Hickman and Lebanon.

Dennis lives in Nashville and works for the state of Tennessee, while Doreen, who has compiled four cookbooks and won blue ribbons for her fried pies, is a health assistant and lives in Lancaster.

Tom lives in Stewart Hollow near his two oldest daughters on the same piece of land his father Will Stewart bought in 1945 in Elmwood. After retiring from the Air Force, Tom worked for 10 years at Smith County Memorial Hospital as a materials manager and then became the first black letter carrier in the county, a job he held for 15 years.

The military veteran also knows his way around the kitchen, garden and grill. At last summer’s Smith County Fair he captured blue ribbons for his jams, jellies and canned green beans and earned best of show for his smoked meats and first place for his ham and bacon.

About 20 relatives from Georgia came to Carthage for his 85th birthday celebration in November, and the Stewart-King family plans another reunion in Smith County on Memorial Day weekend.

Shields Monument VerticalAs for their famous ancestor, Melvinia Shields was born a slave in 1844 in South Carolina, and sent to work on a farm owned by Henry Shields in Rex, Ga., when she was 8. She gave birth at the age of 15 to her first child, Dolphus, in 1859 or 1860, with the father being Shields’ oldest son Charles.

The house slave labored as washwoman and maid. She bore four children, all of whom she gave the last name of Shields, and she lived on the Shields farm into the mid-1870s.

A second monument was dedicated to Melvinia in Rex, 21 miles southeast of Atlanta, on June 26, 2014, to honor the five-generation journey of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ancestry from slavery to the White House.

During the last 60 years of her life, Melvinia lived in Kingston (Bartow County), 55 miles northwest of Atlanta, where she changed her name to Mattie McGruder and worked as a midwife and seamstress and helped raise her grandchildren and other children in the community. She was once described as “a loving, spiritual woman seen often with her Bible and singing hymns.”

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington's 1789 inauguration. (DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force/Released)
With Michelle by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. The Stewart Family was among the thousands of people who gathered to watch that day. Photo public domain.

Bartow County historian and writer Sheri Henshaw is in the midst of composing Shoutin’ Down the Silences—A Folk-Life Play Based On and Around the Life of Melvinia Shields and the War-Torn Community of Kingston and Surrounding Northwest Georgia, circa 1844-1920. It will feature songs from the post-Civil War era that span Melvinia’s journey from slavery to freedom, using her story as the central theme.

Henshaw says, “Melvinia Shields was born a slave and became a free woman after the Civil War and lived much of her free life in Kingston, Ga. She left an amazing legacy—a family of accomplished, educated, and illustrious descendants, including her great-great-great granddaughter Michele Obama, First Lady of the United States. This incredible and complex woman has been silent for too long. Now she speaks.

“I hope to have the project completed for a work-shopped performance sometime in 2016, possibly as a part of the local Juneteenth celebrations in the area.”
That’s something Melvinia’s great-great-great grandchildren in Smith County, Tennessee, would have to see. Neither though they nor their late mother ever met the woman who connects them to the First Family, although they feel they are getting to know her better as more segments of her life are coming to light.

“‘From the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ These words speak such truth about my great-great-great grandma Melvinia, my great-great grandmother Rose, my grandmother Lula, and my mother, Jennie Bell Stewart,” said Doreen.

“She prevailed. She went on to raise her family, provide a living, a religious woman, often seen with her Bible. She was strong in her faith. It had to have brought her through. We had strong women in our family. Our mother, our grandmother, they may not have had a lot, but what they lacked they made up by loving their family.”



IMG_1969marshIn mid-January 2009 Doreen Stewart, her sisters Anne and Debra, brother Dennis, nephews Perry and Thomas and a friend made the 630-mile road trip from Carthage, Tenn., to Washington, D.C., with one goal in mind: They wanted to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black man elected president of the United States.

Doreen recalls that on that cloudy day, moments before the new president took his oath of office, the sun broke through and shone upon the thousands of people gathered.

“It was so amazing,” she said of the historic event, “we were all one.”

“We were about 300 feet away from the president,” Anne said, “close enough that we could see him without monitors.”

Doreen kept a journal during the trip as she wanted to preserve her memories for a lifetime.

“People near us were telling their stories,” she said, thus she put her journal into the hands of family members and strangers and invited them to record their thoughts.

The words below were penned in her memory book between Jan. 18-20, 2009.


“I stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to Queen Latifah speak about how the famous opera singer Marian Anderson sung on these steps because she had been denied access to an inside venue. Later, another entertainer reminded the crowd that Dr. King, Jr. spoke to thousands from these steps and encouraged people to learn to respect each other and treat everyone as equals. Tomorrow our nation will swear in our first black president. To be able to be here and see this historical event is proof that anything is possible because this is America and change really happens.” —Doreen’s sister Anne Waggoner


“A very great historical moment. To be here, to see it, to hear it, and to live it. Words can’t put it in the right place. “The Dream—Yes We Can!” —Doreen’s brother Dennis Stewart


“Although very surprising, this day is a day very memorable moment in history, not only just for African Americans or myself alone but for all people everywhere.” — Jason Scott, a black man who worked at the American Historical Museum in Washington, D.C.


“What a monumental moment. It’s so incredible to see how far our country has come, and Obama truly gives us more hope for the future. Seeing all these people come together is unbelievable. Blacks, Whites, Asians, etcetera. No more — WE ARE ONE” — Katherine Freniere and Chad Samijan, who flew from Orlando, Fla., to Dallas, Texas, to Boston, Mass., to Washington, D.C.

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Lebanon Animal Hospital

Welcoming pets into a no fear zone

By Sue Siens

Photos by Kindred Moments Photography

Lebanon Animal Hospital has a long history of loving and caring for small animals, with primary treatment for dogs and cats.  Founded in 1971 by Dr. Jim Hundley, the practice was purchased by Dr. Allen Craig and Dr. Amanda dsc00708_23172354802_oWesson in 2014.  Located at 1613 West Main Street, the clinic was renovated to enhance the treatment and care of our pets.  The hospital features separate dog and cat lobbies (to lessen kitty’s stress and anxiety), with new treatment, surgery and dental care areas. Dr. Craig, Dr. Wesson, and Dr. Kelley Brown, who joined the practice in July, 2015, and their wonderful employees, recognize that visiting the doctor can be scary for our pets (just like it can be for people).  This team of professionals aims to provide an inviting and comfortable experience for our cats and dogs, and the highest level of treatment and care available.

Their promises to pet owners and their pets are:

  • We will evaluate each individual pet’s stress level.
  • We will assess each patient for pain at every visit.
  • We will be mindful of anxiety triggers within the hospital.
  • We will use appropriate fear-free techniques individualized for your pet.
  • We will use appropriate drug therapy to maintain the safety and well-being of the patient, owner, and staff.
  • We will continually strive to improve the emotional health of your pet at each visit.

One way to create a no fear zone for your pet is to start bringing them to the animal hospital as soon as possible.  Dr. Craig explained, “Our goal is to provide life-long care for your pets.  When pets are brought in young, as puppies and kittens, and then come regularly for veterinary care, they become accustomed to the visits.  They know they are safe, and have less fear and anxiety about coming to see us.  We also send information packets home with tips for pet owners to help them know how to care for their puppies and kittens.”

dsc00661_22653527553_oDr. Craig recommends twice-a-year wellness checks for all dogs and cats.  He said, “We emphasize preventative care, so our pet patients have the healthiest and longest lives possible.  Owners no longer bring their pets in only for vaccinations, but also for overall health screening.”

Dr. Craig noted that regular dental exams along with periodic cleanings and dental x-rays are also very important. This is what we expect for ourselves and it makes a huge difference in the pet’s life.  Regular visits and preventative healthcare are particularly important for our senior pets, age 7 and older.  “Identifying and treating problems early, and ensuring comfort and pain relief for older pets will give them a longer and happier life,” he said.

For our feline pets, the animal hospital takes extra care to help cats feel safe and comfortable.  Dr. Wesson said, “The kitties have their own private lobby, so they aren’t scared by barking dogs.  We use mats on the exam tables so they have something to grip, and we spray a safe hormone in the air, that only cats can detect, which has a calming effect for most cats.”  When pet owners have an appointment to bring their cat in for a visit, they can come by ahead of time and pick up a packet of the calming hormone, to wipe inside their kitty’s pet carrier.  For most of the cats, it soothes and calms them for the trip to the vet.

dsc00744_22912660129_oLebanon Animal Hospital provides the full range of pet healthcare services including diagnostic blood and urine testing, digital x-rays, ultrasound, endoscopy and digital dental x-rays for their teeth.  They also perform laser surgery, dental treatments and complex oral surgery.  They can also assist with behavioral issues, nutrition assessments, pain management, and boarding for pets needing ongoing medical care.

To ensure compliance with the highest standards in pet care, Lebanon Animal Hospital is voluntarily accredited with the American Animal Hospital Association.  They are currently the only facility with this accreditation in Lebanon.  AAHA has stringent quality standards for all aspects of pet care, in nearly 1,000 different areas of quality of care and operation of the animal hospital.  According to the AAHA, only about 12% of veterinary clinics in the U.S. are accredited.

Meet the Doctors

Dr. Allen Craig, Dr. Amanda Wesson, and Dr. Kelley Brown, have dedicated their lives to excellent and loving care and treatment of small animals.  All three of the veterinarians at Lebanon Animal Hospital received their Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of TN.

dsc00684_23172386082_oDr. Allen Craig began working at Lebanon Animal Hospital immediately after graduating from UT in 1999.  He purchased the animal hospital in 2012.  Dr. Craig and his wife Valerie live in Mount Juliet, with three children, and pets Daisy, a Walker Coon Hound, cats Captain Cuddles and Max, and three water turtles.  Dr. Craig enjoys family time, gardening, and playing tennis.  He is also an alumnus of Leadership Wilson.

Dr. Amanda Wesson is a native of Smith County, TN.  She began working at Lebanon Animal Hospital in 2007, and became an owner of the animal hospital in 2014.  Dr. Wesson and her husband Anthony have a daughter named Autumn, a dog named Cricket, and a cat named Festus.  Her hobbies are spending time with family, church, and cycling.

L-R: Dr. Wesson, Dr. Craig, and Dr. Brown

Dr. Kelley Brown joined the team at Lebanon Animal Hospital in July, 2015.  She and her boyfriend Nathaniel reside in Hendersonville.  Dr. Brown has a dog named Cade, and two cats, Alli and Layla.  In addition to working at LAH, she is an emergency vet for Nashville Pet Emergency Center.

Drs. Craig, Wesson, and Brown regularly answer pet questions for our Wilson Living Magazine readers.  To submit a question that may be featured in an upcoming issue, send them to:

For more information about Lebanon Animal Hospital and their pet care services, visit their website at, or call (615) 444-4422.

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