Raising Nashville

Raising Nashville

Who is Raising Nashville?

I am a mom. A mama. Without giving away my actual age I will share that I was considered of “advanced maternal age” when I got pregnant with Littlest. The birth of my child and my journey into motherhood has undoubtedly shaped my values, my vision for the future and my passions. Littlest was due on my birthday but didn’t start their journey Earthside until the Women’s March began on Saturday January 21, 2017. I believe that the energy of the millions of women who united and raised their voices loudly in protest of the 2016 election sustained my labor and the birth of this tiny new human into the world. I remembered this when I finally emerged out of the haze and heavy weight of the fourth trimester and the knowledge that I wasn’t alone has driven me day in and day out to build a better tomorrow for my child and their peers.

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Midweek Adventuring: Lebanon, TN

Midweek Adventuring: Lebanon, TN

A friend recently asked me how I accomplish so many adventures mid-week. I had to stop and think about it because – at first – I didn’t really have an answer.

One part of my answer to how (and why) comes down to logistics. Which is typical of how my very practical and logical brain works. J has drop off duty and I have pick up. At Littlest’s new school, I have to be there by 3:30 or we’ll incur aftercare charges. On top of that, J has some late days on campus a few times a week. This means that I’m pretty bound to filling time for Littlest and myself between 3:30-5:30 every weekday.

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Porter Flea

Porter Flea

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Nope, not Christmas. It’s PORTER FLEA SUMMER MARKET!

oh just dandy, rabbit stuffy, toddler backpack, nashville, handmade, maker
Oh Just Dandy
stuffed animal, toddler backpack, nashville, handmade, maker
Oh Just Dandy
toddler backpack, nashville, handmade, maker
Oh Just Dandy

Porter Flea was launched in 2011. Katie Alexander and her husband Matt Alexander have been hosting two markets every year since – summer and holiday – that highlight handmade and modern goods. There is definitely a focus on Nashville area makers which is great – I can support local businesses (that I can frequent with repeat business when it’s not Flea time!) but also support the handmade maker movement with vendors from other states, too!

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The Nashville Children’s Theatre

The Nashville Children’s Theatre

Did you know that right here, in our backyard, we get to call the nation’s longest-running children’s theatre Nashville’s very own? Hip hip hooray for The Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT)!

The Nashville Children’s Theatre has been staging productions since 1931 thanks to an effort by the Junior League of Nashville and has been performing in its current space since 1960, with a renovation recently completed in 2007. It is a not-for-profit charitable organization that reaches “more than 90,000 annually”, according to their website.

We went to our first NCT show in August of 2018 for a performance of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star at the Copeland Studio Theatre. This performance was part of a new series called The NCT Snuggery: Theatre for the Very Young. The Snuggery programming is “designed to overcome age, language and development barriers” and “is a safe environment for focus and creative thinking to be nurtured, or even discovered for the first time!” There is a helpful privacy suite close to the Copeland Studio Theatre with comfortable chairs and a changing table in the building where you can go with the youngest of the bunch to nurse, feed, diaper change or just soothe away from the crowd. Kids under 2 years of age are usually free at non-Snuggery shows but all individuals attending a Snuggery show just pay $10 for a ticket – a steep discount from non-Snuggery ticket prices (ranging from $15-$21 depending on any eligible discounts (Military, Educator, Senior and College Student)).

Twinkle took place in a space many would be familiar calling a black box theatre – a variety of chairs, benches and pillows were available for seating with the littles encouraged to sit right on the floor in front of the performance area. The performance was short – maybe 30 minutes? – and highly interactive. It even began out in the lobby so that the littles would become engaged before marching into the theatre space and spend the time waiting for the show to begin in anticipation of the performance to come. The littles are encouraged throughout the show, and in various ways, to help two starkeepers in their quest to find missing little star with props, movement and vocal participation. Littlest was *enthralled*, to put it simply. Though she’s not much of a performer, particularly around unfamiliar faces, she was happy to interact with the props and get up and dance with her Dada when it was time to celebrate.

The show page for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star also curated a great list of activities to extend the experience and learning outside the Theatre. The activities included a recommended playlist with stellar themes, creating a sticker star constellation and making magic star wands. We did a lot of singing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and played hide and seek/peek-a-boo with stars we shaped out of dough for weeks after the show.

Why I am finally getting around to writing another blog post, though, is because of the most recent performance we attended at NCT – just two weekends ago, March 2019. We returned to the building on Middleton Street to watch The Very Hungry Caterpillar – which is really a play made up of four shorter performances. It begins with Brown Bear, Brown Bear (one of our earliest and one of our longest readloud favorites, especially thanks to Mr. Andrew from the Inglewood Library’s Wonder Baby program) which is then followed by Mister Seahorse, The Very Lonely Firefly and wraps up with the title piece – The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Though we personally were only familiar with the first and last stories written and illustrated by Eric Carle, Littlest loved the middle two performances so much we will be adding those books to our home library shelves soon!

There are only TWO more weekends of this show so please, consider getting tickets soon/now so you can enjoy this performance before it closes!

This performance takes place in the Hill Theatre (named for benefactors George R. And Ann Stahlman Hill) which seats 540 people. The seats are adult sized (perk!) and are quite comfortable. There is also a Comfort Room at the back of the Hill Theatre with adjustable light and sound so you can still follow along with the performance while tending to your littlest’s needs.

As a former teacher and parent, I personally find great value in the various tips and resources the NCT team makes an effort to share on their website for every show. The “Themes for Social and Emotional Learning” for The Very Hungry Caterpillar included “creativity, teamwork, perseverance, friendliness, helping, hard work.” While I won’t be creating lesson plans and activities centering on these themes post-performance I am making an effort to introduce these vocabulary words in conversation with Littlest when recalling the show as well as while talking about other subjects. The only other note for this very kiddo- and sensory-friendly show was that “this production uses 75 puppets, many of which are very large.”

The puppets. The puppets! I, as a nearly-40-year old, was probably equally as thrilled and engaged as Littlest was throughout all four mini performances because of these puppets and the puppeteers. The colors were bright and stunning, the visuals perfectly approachable without sensory overload – and the soundtrack whimsical and bright. The puppeteers, Isabella Karina Coelho, DéYonté Jenkins and Kristin McCalley, all recite while manipulating puppets that galumph across the stage, peek out of windows and seemingly float through an underwater world. They were phenomenal. There is an opportunity to line up after the performance to meet the actors, have your playbill autographed by them and pose for a picture with the puppet – highly recommend this. We initially were about to walk out the door to our cars with our friends but Littlest was just not ready for her theatre experience to be over so we lingered in the lobby. It was then that we noticed the set up for the meet + greet and decided to push our luck and join the line. Littlest, normally shy, was even willing to hop up on the bench and perch next to the puppet masters and their furry little friend.

Before the show we were able to create our own caterpillar headband and play some caterpillar-themed games (matching photos of Eric Carle’s iconic illustrations from the stories presented in the performance, for example) before finding our seats. These pre-show activities typically begin up to one hour prior to a performance’s start time in the lobby of the theatre building. This time was perfect for Littlest and her 2 year old pals to get some wiggles out before sitting in their theatre seats. When the weather is nice, the small green space surrounding the NCT dragon mascot outside of the building is another wonderful place to run, play and be active before settling in for a performance.

Even with a very active 2 year old in tow at a traditionally structured (think: in a large theatre, chairs in long rows, stage at the front, etc.)  show, the littlest audience members were welcomed and invited as they are! They were encouraged to participate (vocally!) in the performance (echoing “..and he was STILL HUNGRY!” during the performance of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for example) and wiggly bodies weren’t made to leave the theatre. Some families clearly made a big deal out of the performance and arrived in their Sunday best while others arrived in their every day wear – both end of the spectrum and everything in between were invited to sit next to one another and enjoy a few minutes being whisked away into a world in our imaginations. We apparently had a similar idea as our friends and the littles arrived rocking their rainbows to celebrate the bright and bold illustrations Eric Carle’s books are known for.

The Theatre generally makes an effort to include and encourage attendance at performances from little ones and their families that may typically not have theatre shows as part of their regular repertoire for one reason or another. For those with special needs and/or sensory concerns there is one public performance of each production designated as a “Sensory Friendly Performance” where the audience members are “free to speak and move in reaction to the story being told on stage”. During these shows the performance volume is lowered and ushers will raise a light to indicate when something potentially exciting or disturbing is about to happen on stage. One (different) public performance of each production is also interpreted for theatre fans that are deaf or hard of hearing. Finally, families for whom tickets to a Nashville Children’s Theatre show might normally be cost prohibitive are invited to complete the Family Access Membership form where ticket and camp/class prices are reduced on a sliding scale based on a family’s income level.

Each program also offers Parent Tips and Show Information covering “themes for social and emotional learning”, “language”, “violence and scariness” and “potentially anxious moments” so you can make the most informed choice possible when choosing to take little ones to the theatre. The Theatre also invites you to connect personally with one of two staff members to discuss individual needs in greater detail. I love that as a parent/caregiver you can be cognizant of your littlest unique needs – particularly if they have recently undergone a trauma or challenging situation and are sensitive to specific things – and make fully educated decisions about what shows may work and what shows may be better to avoid thanks to this information.

I am already excited to consider enrolling Littlest in one of the Theatre’s summer camps for 4-5 year olds. The 2019 summer camp schedule features Drama Makers (described as an opportunity for students to play with their favorite stories and books “through theatre, crafts, song, and dance”) as well as a Mini-Camp focusing on Eric Carle! Just 2 more years to wait before Littlest is old enough to join the drama fun.

2019-2020 shows go on sale April 5th. Our family is most excited about both Snuggery productions – The Itsy Bitsy Spider (currently in high rotation during car rides and meal times at our house) and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (who can resist an adventure with the Darling Bear family!).  Call the box office at 615-252-4675 (8:30 am – 4 pm Tuesday-Friday) or visit the website to learn more! Maybe we’ll see *you* at the theatre!

Find them:

The Martin Center

25 Middleton Street

Nashville, TN 37210

615-254-9103 (Main Office) | 615-252-4675 (Box Office)


Follow them:

Twitter: @NashChildThtr

Instagram: @nashvillechildrenstheatre



More reads about The Nashville Children’s Theatre:




Raising Empathic AND Hilarious Littles (with the help of Swanky Shank)

Raising Empathic AND Hilarious Littles (with the help of Swanky Shank)

Where do I even begin with my love of (slash borderline obsession with) Swanky Shank? Jen Shank and her team check aaaaaall of the boxes (and then some) for where I feel best about spending my money.

Mama(parent)-run business? Check.

Handmade deliciousness? Check-ity check.

Puns? Diversity? Empathy? Makin’ it RAAAAAAAIN checkmarks over here.

I happened upon the goodness that is Swanky Shank by chance. An old friend (old meaning she + I were pals back when the O.G. My Little Ponies were cool and velour sweatsuits were rocked by the toddler set (a.k.a. The 80’s)) and I reconnected over the last few years and pretty much every time she shared a picture of her spunky, smart and sassy twin girls they were rocking some Swank that made me go “oooh!”.

Once Littlest arrived I had all the excuses in the world, wrapped up in one chubbeh baby body to fork over all my cold hard cash into the hands of Swank + team. And in the wise words of that very, very unfortunate tattoo-turned-meme, all I can say is “no regerts”.

First Swanky loves. We used to live in a motorhome pre-Littlest so the camper was a natural choice. Raccoons (trash pandas) and flamingos were Littlest’s first favorite animals. And the matryoshka is a personal nod to my maternal Russian heritage! I mean, this Swank couldn’t be more perfect, could it?First ever Swank Haul, 2018.St Patrick’s Day 2018 flat lay.Fall 2018 haul. Can you tell it’s my personal favorite season? I mean, I love pumpkin spice (#basic) and Littlest is SUPER into Itsy Bitsy Spider, soooo,. Yeah. Christmas 2018 and prep for Littlest’s 2nd birthday. (Yep, that’s me bawling in the corner already.)I mean, even the packaging is unique and hand made and obviously done with lots of care and love!

I’m a Club Swank 2018 member (more on this later on in the post) and got to know Jen through the exclusive Facebook group for members. We became friends, though, when Jen recently came to Nashville on a trip with family. Though we didn’t get a chance to meet up in person I sent her some recs (mostly for places to eat because, well, I love to eat and you can eat really, really well in Nashville) because she couldn’t come to my city and leave without having bonuts or hot chicken. Jen is a hilarious person who loves fiercely and cares greatly – and that’s evident in every aspect of her business.

Each piece is hand-dyed, hand-stamped and the designs – you guessed it – hand cut. (I highly recommend you read the “Like..how handmade are we talkin’? highlights in the Swanky Shank Instagram stories for great visuals!) My personal #swankstyle is if there’s an option for sleeves + elbow patch upgrades, I do it. Who can resist the adorable professor-esque, patterned elbow patches on a toddler? I, for one, cannot.

Olympics 2018. Go Team USA! (Also perfect for July 4th celebrations.)Valentine’s Day 2018.Easter 2018.Post-turkey day feast 2018 walk around the neighborhood.First (of three) Christmas Swanks for 2018.

If you celebrate a holiday, you can pretty much guarantee Jen + her team have magicked up something for your little to wear to celebrate. The year-round-friendly puns and phrases are just the sweet and tasty cherries on top of the delicious (mint chocolate chip – my faaaave) ice cream sundae that is Swanky Shank.

Littlest and mama are both obsessed with flamingos. You can’t live in the South and *not* have the sweet-tea shirt in your little’s wardrobe! We call Littlest the nickname “bug” so we got a custom Swank with her name custom stamped with a ladybug on it to remember one of many nicknames we have for her.“Totally sloth-some.” We often call Littlest “goose” so this is one of two custom Swanks we have – it says “I’m your wing woman” (referencing Goose from Top Gun).

Want to know more about Jen + the stories behind Swanky Shank and what inspires her? This article in the LaDue News (Swanky Shank is based out of the St. Louis, MO area) is great – as well as this blog post from Every Little Season.

I did manage to snag a few minutes from Jen in the wee short hours she had between finishing up the last of the Christmas Swank shipments and the launch of Club Swank 2019 memberships to ask her these important questions:

raising nashville: what’s your favorite part of raising your family during this time of the year?

Jen: We hang snowflakes from our ceiling each year. The kids and I make them and it really gives the whole house a different vibe. (rn note: totally stealing this idea for next year! imagine how dreamy it would be to wake up each December morning to a house full of snowflakes?) Home Alone is a sacred movie. We only watch it once a year and everyone is quiet and we all enjoy the heck out of it. I’m personally obsessed with how there’s green and red in almost every scene. Go look-see! (rn note: Ummm, totally rewatching Home Alone stat. Also, we do this with Christmas Vacation every year. It’s a sacred viewing buuuuut you’re absolutely allowed – encouraged – to join in on the lines you’ve memorized! (which in this family is practically the whole movie.))

raising nashville: how do you and your family “raise” your community? donate to your local public radio station? volunteer at a soup kitchen? pick up litter while hiking or playing in a park?

Jen: To be honest, this year my community is doing much more of the raising of me and my kids than we are doing in return. For example, I came down with an awful stomach virus the day we were moving to a new house and ELEVEN people showed up and moved our whole house for us. (rn note: I’m so glad to know your community’s showing up for you when you need them most. We all go through seasons and cycles where sometimes we need to receive more than we give – and that’s absolutely a-ok and nothing to be ashamed about.)

raising nashville: finally, and maybe most importantly: cheese, pepperoni or supreme (pizza rolls, duh)?

Jen: I have moods! Sometimes I’m like Kevin in Home Alone and I just want me a plain cheese. Other times I’m like “nah, gimme a pepperoni and pineapple.” But mostly I love me some kalamata olives if they’re available!

The Etsy shop is mostly closed right now as it’s year-end and the team is gearing up for 2019 Club Swank memberships to go live. You can still get your hands on the amazing 12 month sets – perfect for snapping the monthly pics of a little (and tbh a huge reason why I kiiiiiind of want to have another little) – and the Hello My Name Is onesie – the most amazing gift for a baby shower. You can hand write the name in a permanent marker, or if the name is known the Swank crew can hand stamp it before they ship it!

Oh – you’re probably wondering what the heck Club Swank is. Well, it’s basically just the best thing ever. (Scratch that. Second best, only to hot and cheesy pizza rolls, straight out of the toaster oven.)

Club Swank is:

  • A private online group receives exclusive Club Swank-only discounts that change from month-to-month over a whole calendar year.
  • Where you can snag original Swank flash sales at rock-bottom prices.
  • An encouraging, safe and supportive parent community.
  • A place for sneak peeks galore!

Cold Hard Truths about Club Swank:

  • Membership isn’t free. The prices for the various membership levels vary from year to year because the perks can/do change from one year to the next! (But let me tell you, the membership pays for itself within a few months – even without the same level of Swank obsession as I have.)
  • Memberships reopen in December.
  • Follow Swanky Shank on Instagram and Facebook to know as soon as Club Swank 2019 memberships go live!

I’ll be renewing my Club Swank membership for 2019 and I hope you’ll think about joining the Club, too! Set your alarms and reminders because Club Swank memberships go LIVE Friday December 21 at 10:00 a.m. CST!

Because Jen is awesome she stuck some awesome Swank in my last shipment to share with readers as a giveaway! Look at these awesome handmade wardrobe upgrades just waiting to be rocked by your littles! “Beautifully Brave” is a 6 mo tee; “Merry & Bright” is a 2T l/s tee; the bison skull print is a size 6 baseball tee. Want to get your hands on one of these Swank specials? Here’s the scoop:

  • Giveaway is open until Sunday 12/23 midnight CST.
  • Giveaway open to Nashville/Davidson Co. residents only (for local pick-up/drop-off purposes).
  • Required entry: Comment below with your favorite holiday and which Swank you want!
  • Bonus Entry #1: Follow @raisingnashville on Instagram and follow the instructions in the latest post.
  • Bonus Entry #2: Follow @raisingnshvl on Twitter and tweet me your favorite pun!
  • There will be three winners, drawn at random on Monday 12/24.