Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon

Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon

Shanghai DiaryFor those who wanted out of  Nazi Germany in the Spring of 1939, the options were limited,  dangerous,  and expensive.  The only country who had not closed their doors to refugees was Shanghai.

Thus in March of 1939, eleven-year-old Ursula Blomberg and her parents set sail for Shanghai aboard the German steamship Gneisenau.

Shanghai Diary  is Ursula Bacon’s fascinating if a bit unpolished memoir of her family’s eight long years in China.

Just because Shanghai  was open to refugees (some 20,0000) didn’t mean the Chinese were especially welcoming.

The so-called “Shanghai Jews” were confined to “Designated Areas ” basically filthy ghettos with limited electricity and primitive plumbing.  Disease was rampant; food was scarce. Multiple families lived in one dank room for which the Chinese landlords  charged a fortune.

The Blombergs  adapt, however, and in a few months they move to a slightly  better section of town, the Concession Francaise.  Ursula tutors wealthy Chinese girls, and her father’s  painting business flourishes.

Then the Japanese invade. And things go from bad to worse.

What Shanghai Diary lacks in literary style,  it more than makes up for in authenticity and spirit.  Prior to reading this book, I was unfamiliar with the story of the “Shanghai Jews.” Ursula Bacon’s memoir brought it memorably to life.

I unearthed this book while remodeling my library this summer. No idea where or when I bought it, although  I imagine Crawford Doyle in NYC. It is no longer in print, but you can probably find a used copy.

(I  also highly recommend another memoir of the refugee experience,  The Hare With Amber Eyes, the story of five generations of the Ephrussis family. )


Ursula Bacon married another  young refugee in Shanghai and came to the United States in 1947 where she settled in Denver, raised two children and lived the American Dream. She was  a frequent keynote speaker at women’s conferences and other educational events.  She is the author of The Nervous Hostess Cookbook and Eternal Strangers. She died in 2013.


Jewish Book World “While there are several memoirs of Jewish refugees in Shanghai during WWII, none are as personal, insightful, or delightful as Ursula Bacon’s Shanghai Diary. Bacon is a gifted storyteller.


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Being MortalOur book club selection this month was Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, author of three bestsellers, Complications, Better, and The Checklist Manifesto.

Described by one reviewer as the Malcolm Gladwell of medicine, Dr. Gawande’s latest work of nonfiction tackles aging and death.

Heavily anecdotal and drawing on his personal experiences with his parents and patients, the first part of the book concerns caring for the aged, specifically nursing homes.

The second half of the book concerns caring for the dying, specifically the uncaring.

Gawande’s two main points are

  • Nursing homes are unsatisfactory solutions and run for the benefit  of desperate adult children and staff. 
  • Dying gracefully is a rarity because fear (lawsuits, loss, lack of knowhow) has stymied dialogue among all parties.


Nothing new here, but it doesn’t mean that there is nothing to learn.

Without getting bogged down in extensive discussion of the legislative, legal, and financial issues, Gawande writes a comprehensive but accessible book that will stimulate some hard conversations.

It certainly did at my book club.

Just so you know—Being Mortal should come with a warning label:  Not for the Faint of Heart.


Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, is a surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Samuel O. Thier Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School..

Atul has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1998. He is the winner of two National Magazine Awards, Academy Health’s Impact Award for highest research impact on healthcare, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Award for writing about science.


Oliver Sacks: “We have come to medicalize aging, frailty, and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome. However, it is not only medicine that is needed in one’s declining years but life – a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances. Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving, it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.”

September Home Sales

September Home SalesSeptember Home Sales (2015)



Davidson County September 2015

In Davidson County, there  have been 7549 home closings year-to-date. This figure represents an increase from the 6717  closings reported for the same period last year.

The average sales price increased to $297,647 from $265,534.

Williamson County September 2015

In Williamson County, there have been 3973  home closings YTD versus 3536  closings reported for the same period last year.

The average sales price of $475,266 is almost 4%  higher than last year.


Davidson County September 2015

In Davidson County, there have been 2193  condo closings reported YTD versus 2014 closings reported for the same period last year.

The average sales price increased to  $206,370  from  $197,964.


If you’d like more information about single family home sales in Davidson County, Area Two (I-65 to Charlotte Pike), Williamson County, or condominium sales in Davidson County, I’m happy to email you a comprehensive report.


Musings on Moving

Dakota House ext

Barb’s new home in Sylvan Park!

Having recently moved into a new home, I asked my friend Barbara Dab to share her hard won wisdom on relocating! No. 1-  despite your best efforts and endless to do lists, moving is more exhausting than you think!

Barb’s wise suggestions will help make your next move (mostly) trouble-free.


It is widely known that moving is one of life’s most stressful transitions.

I sit here now four months after one such transition and I can safely say that is true.  Just last year my husband and I decided to sell our big suburban home and move into a more urban, close-in neighborhood.  We’ve been married a long time and have moved several times and it does not get any easier.  But over the years I have learned a few things that make moving a smoother process and one that can even be exciting and fun.

Technically our move began with the decision to list the house.  We met with my Realtor and good friend Elizabeth Colton Walls of Fridrich & Clark Realty, to discuss a strategy, time line and to look at the comps in the neighborhood where we lived, where we wanted to look and what our priorities are.  Then the real fun began…NOT!

The next step was to de-clutter our home to get it ready to sell.  I learned that while our house wasn’t cluttered for living, it was cluttered for selling.  Living is about us, selling is about strangers who come to look and dream about living in our house.  Confusing stuff emotionally.

Dakota House Red Front Door

A red front door says “Welcome Home!”

After a whirlwind few weeks of cleaning, packing (yes, packing), organizing and photo shoots the house was ready for its first open house. In the meantime, our realtor began taking us out to look at potential new homes.  To me, that’s the fun part.  My creative juices really start to flow when I envision a new environment and a new lifestyle to go with it.

After several months of both showing our house and house hunting, we found our new home and within 6 weeks we were ready to close and move.  This was actually the scariest part of the process.  We lived in a nearly 4500 square foot house with a full basement and were moving to a 3300 square foot house with a small basement.  Aack!

I confess to having a meltdown but afterwards, I took a breath and started calling movers.  This is a very tricky job involving different information from each moving company.  When it comes to movers, comparing apples to apples is nearly impossible.

Along the way, though, I came across a company Home Transitions that offers project management and organizing services along with packing and unpacking.  It’s a bit pricey, I admit, but in our case it was a lifesaver.  The project manager,  Debbie Keller, oversaw the planning, packing, unpacking, organizing, billing and follow-up of the entire move.  She even coordinated repairs to a large piece of furniture and made sure things were handled in a timely fashion.

Dakota House DR Table

Interior designer Vallie Baldwin (615.300.3592) worked closely with Barb. “Indispensible”

Emotionally the process took a toll I did not expect.  While I simply love my house, at night I just can’t seem to get comfortable with new surroundings.  And even though I am enjoying my hip new neighborhood and short commute, I mourn the big beautiful home in the ‘burbs just a bit.  I guess the point is what I’ve known all along: change is hard no matter how many times you’ve experienced it.  Heck I’m still mourning my move from California to Nashville eight years later!  But I have learned to embrace the change and keep an open mind and heart.  I have gained so much more than I gave up and finally feel connected to my new city.

I’ve been asked to share tips for making a move go smoothly.  I really only have one tip:  figure out what you need to make it work and DO THAT!  For some it is hiring a decorator or organizer, for others it is using friends and family to help while others prefer to do it themselves, enjoying a walk down memory lane as they de-clutter, pack and unpack.

One more thing, my Realtor likes to use the term, “right-sizing,” rather than, “down-sizing.”  This concept may seem simple, but it is revolutionary!  When considering a move really think about what you need, where you need or want to be and manage your expectations.  In the end when it comes to a home, size may not really matter.  As we’ve begun to entertain again my favorite comment from our friends is, “This house looks just like you!”  I guess I really am home now.

Barb Head ShotBarbara Dab is a journalist, news reporter and award winning PR consultant.  Most recently she hosted a public affairs program on NASH FM 103.3 and WGFX 104.5 The Zone in Nashville.  She relocated to Nashville from Los Angeles, where she was  a reporter and News Director for public radio station KPFK 90.7 FM.  She has also worked extensively in nonprofit communications.  Barbara has (finally) escaped the suburbs and is happily residing in Sylvan Park, a stone’s throw from Café Nonna, the Produce Place and her fave watering hole, McCabe’s Pub.


What You Need to Know About Short Term Rental Property (STRP)

What You Need to Know About Short Term Rental Property (STRP)

Turnkey House 1Have you ever considered listing your home or another property on airbnb or VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner)?

I bet you have.

Considering Nashville’s current popularity, renting your home for a few days a month seems pretty enticing.

Short term rental can be lucrative, but there is more to it than just slapping together an on line posting.


(For more information, check out the surprisingly easy to read Metro STRP website)

Turnkey House 5Get A Permit

First you need a  permit. Yes, really. I know your neighbor/ mother-in-law/best friend/ dog walker doesn’t have a permit for their short term rental property, but do you want to be a good citizen or a cheat?

Metro started accepting permit applications in March of this year. Enforcement to have a permit began on July 1.

A short term rental property is defined as “a residential dwelling unit containing not more than four sleeping rooms that is used and/or advertised for rent for transient occupancy…” Rental period is more than 24 hours and less than 30 days. Owner occupied or non-owner occupied properties.

As of this writing, you have to apply for a permit in person. Metro Codes Dept, 800 2nd Ave S.


  • Contact information
  • Floor plan
  • Location of smoke alarms
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof that you’ve informed your neighbor with whom you share a common wall of your intent (if applicable)
  • Proof of residency (owner occupied property only)
  • $50 fee


Turnkey House 6Know Short Term Rental Caps

This is why every house in Germantown isn’t on aribnb. As a way to keep your neighborhood from turning into Daytona Beach, the powers that be in Davidson County have capped the number of permits issued.

The limitation is 3% of the single family or detached two family residential units within each census tract. (The cap only applies to non-owner occupied units.)

It’s easy to check permit availability on the handy map on the metro website. For example, when I last checked there were 43 permits available in my neighborhood, but none in parts of Germantown.

Pay the Government

  • Hotel occupancy tax (a/k/a tourist accommodation tax)
  • 6% of the fee plus $2.50 per night
  • Business license fee and annual business tax
  • Sales Tax


Follow the Rules

There are lots of rules, among them no feeding your guests! So skip the welcome basket of homemade cookies!   (I consider this a plus actually.)

Turnkey House 7QUESTIONS

Is The License Transferable?


So if  you are considering buying that darling property that gets rave reviews on airibnb, know the permit doesn’t convey with the property.

This is not too much of a problem if you plan to live in the house, as owner occupied properties are not subject to the 3% cap. But if you are buying an investment property, you should check the permit availability before you put in an offer.

Can Someone Manage The Process and The Property For Me?

If this sounds like waaaay too much work, you can hire someone to manage your STRP.

One such company is Austin, TX based TurnKey Vacation Rentals which opened a Nashville office less than a year ago.  TurnKey will take care of it all –on-line marketing, property management, and the guest experience.

For more information check out their website or contact local manager Bobby Bruecken 615.525.7962

(all photos courtesy of and listings from TurnKey Vacation Rentals)

The Visitors by Sally Beauman

The VisitorsThe Visitors by Sally Beauman

The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923 was the single most important Egyptian archeological find of the 20th C. Not because King Tut was a legendary ruler, but because Tut’s tomb had not been looted, unlike the tombs of his fellow pharaohs in the famous Valley of the Kings.

The opening of the tomb was huge news. Dozens of reporters from around the globe camped outside the entrance to the tomb in the blistering heat hoping for a glimpse of glittery treasure or a juicy quote from one of the archaeologists.   The relentless media coverage made Lord Carnarvon, (of Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey) who financed the dig, and his lead archaeologist, Howard Carter, world famous.

The opening of the tomb also led to deception, death, and disagreements.

This is the backdrop of Sally Beauman’s meticulously researched and enchanting novel The Visitors featuring eleven-year-old Lucy Smith.

Lucy, recovering from a recent bout of typhoid fever, and her guardian, Miss Mackenzie, arrive at Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo in January 1922. They are immediately introduced to Carnarvon, Carter, and the other members of the British and American archeology community, a passionate and competitive group.

Lucy’s first friend is Frances Winlock, the daughter of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s excavations. Her other companions are the children of Poppy d’Erlanger, described in the Cast of Characters as, “a beauty, bolter and divorcee.”  (Love a book with a “Cast of Characters!”)

Lucy and Miss Mackenzie occupy front row seats for the Tut drama, which is as life changing for Lucy as it was for the field of Egyptology.

I highly recommend this suspenseful and moving novel.

What Other Reviewers Think

Booklist “A book of astounding scholarship on Egyptology and the 1920s, The Visitors never loses sight of its compelling characters’ search for that thing –-a great achievement, financial independence, and a kindred soul– that will give their lives meaning. The novel’s …writing and characterizations are golden.”

Who Wrote it

Sally Beauman is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. Her internationally bestselling novels, including Rebecca’s Tale, her sequel to Daphne du Maurier’s iconic work, have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With GunGirl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Inspired by true events,  Girl Waits With Gun is the first work of fiction from Amy Stewart, author of six nonfiction works including The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants.

In the summer of 1914, the three Kopp sisters’ horse-drawn buggy is rear ended by an automobile driven by wealthy Henry Kaufman.

Kaufman, owner of one of the many silk-dyeing plants in Paterson N.J., not only refuses to pay the fifty dollars  compensation to the sisters, but initiates a campaign of intimidation and extortion.

At first glance, the reclusive Kopp women are no match for the nefarious Kaufman. But they toughen up fast.  With some coaching from the local sheriff, they press the authorities for an arrest, learn to shoot a gun, manage the media, and finally testify at Kaufman’s trial.

None of this is easy for the unmarried Kopp women who live quietly on a farm. As the eldest, tall 35-year-old Constance takes the initiative. But Norma, the second eldest who raises carrier pigeons, and flighty 16-year old Fleurette  are active participants as well.

The investigation and Kaufman’s trial were exhaustively covered by the local media, who appreciated the melodramatic story. (“Girl Waits With Gun” is an actual newspaper headline.) But after that, the sisters disappear from history, until Stewart brings them vividly back to life in this charming novel.

As the-real-life Constance goes on to run a detective agency with her sisters, I suspect this is the first of a series featuring the sleuthing sisters.  As Stewart says, “the latter half of 1915 and all of 1916 were very interesting times for the Kopp sisters so there’s lots of rich material…”

I look forward to seeing what the Kopp girls get into next!

What Other Reviewers Think

Elizabeth Gilbert: “I loved every page of this smart, romping, hilarious novel.”

Who Wrote It

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books, including the bestsellers The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants. She and her husband live in Eureka, CA, where they own a bookstore called Eureka Books.


Nashville Home Sales August


Nashville Home Sales August

Sales Up/Prices UP/Inventory Down

Williamson County

Average sales price year-to-date $478,592.

The number of closings is up 12.5% over this time last year.

Buyers are paying 98.7% of the list price.

Homes for sale under $1,000,000, inventory is low, low, low.

Davidson County

Average sales price year-to-date $296,290.

The number of closings is up 14% over this time last year.

Buyers are paying 98.4% of the list price.

The supply of homes for sale under $500,000 is low, low, low. Over $500,000, inventory is generally over six months (a balanced market,) but varies by price.

Area 2 (I-65 to Charlotte Pike)

Average sales price year-to-date $545,788.

The number of closings is up 7.7% over this time last year.

Buyers are paying 97.5% of the list price.

As in Davidson, for listings under $500,000, the supply of homes is low, low, low. For higher priced homes, the inventory varies from six months to several years.

Condominiums Davidson

Average sales price year-to-date $203,815.

The number of closings is up 11.8% over this time last year.

Buyers are paying 97.8% of the list price.

Inventory is low to lowish for condos in all price ranges.

What is the Significance of Inventory?

The significance of inventory is related to a measurement real estate professionals call absorption rate, which is the rate at which the market is selling properties. How long would it take to sell the current inventory if no other homes came on the market?

A balanced market is five to six months. Absorption rate pricing is rapidly replacing CMA’s (Competitive Market Analysis) as a more accurate measurement of market value

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell

FlappersFlappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell

They drank, smoked, took drugs, had multiple sexual partners, earned their own money, wore short skirts, and rejected traditional female roles.

1960s feminists?

Nope, 1920s flappers.

In Flappers, Judith Mackrell tells the story of six stylish women who broke barriers and lived large in the 1920s, decades before the feminist movement.

As benefits the “flapper” label, these women partied (seriously!) and primped, but underneath it all was the desire or the necessity to forge an independent life.

After years of two-bit vaudeville productions, Josephine Baker hit is big with  “La Revue Negre,” the hottest ticket in Paris in 1925. At the height of her popularity, there were dark- skinned Josephine Baker dolls, Josephine postcards, and Josephine inspired hair products.

With only a smattering of formal art training, Polish-Russian refugee Tamara De Lempicka  worked tirelessly on her craft.  Through aggressive promotion, she became a rich and fashionable artist of the Paris avant-garde and the sole support of her unemployed husband and daughter.

English aristocrat Diana Cooper, much to the dismay of her family, married an impoverished politician. Her earnings as the lead actress in the theatrical production The Miracle supported his political career. For years Diana toured the United States at a time when actresses and unchaperoned women were still considered “fast.”

In 1923, the Alabama born Tallulah Bankhead traveled to London to pursue her career as an actress and professional provocateur.

British heiress Nancy Cunard settled in Paris where she created a distinctive personal style, embarked on countless love affairs with members of both sexes, and worked as a journalist and poet.

And Zelda Fitzgerald, the quintessential flapper and her husband’s inspiration, also left Alabama behind for a life as muse and writer.

A global depression and looming political unrest contributed to demise of the flapper era.  By the 1930s, with the exception of Diana Cooper, who effortless transitioned into her role as a conventional political wife and mother, Mackrell’s women were emotionally and financially exhausted.

But in their prime, these six women burned red hot, laying the groundwork for a later generation of liberated women.

Loved this book!

What Other Reviewers Think

The New York Times Book Review: “Mackrell, a dance critic, loves a romp and tales of her high-flying subjects lose none of their adrenaline in the retelling. Her writing is bright and nimble, but she’s also astute enough to delve beyond the flash and dazzle, the public illusions cast to hide private insecurity, pain, and frustration.”

Who Wrote It

Judith Mackrell is a celebrated dance critic. Her biography of the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, Bloomsbury Ballerina, was short-listed for the Costa Biography Award. She has also appeared on television and radio, and is the co-author of the Oxford Dictionary of Dance. She lives in London.