Monday, March 28, 2016

Magical Serenbe on Easter Weekend

About 25 miles south of Atlanta sits a 1000 acre parcel of land that embodies the creative vision of entrepreneur Steve Nygren and his lovely wife Marie. The couple discovered the property now known as Serenbe on a weekend outing to introduce their children to the Georgia countryside in 1991. Weekend visits for the family transformed their lives, and three years later they sold their Atlanta home and relocated full-time to Serenbe.

Their vision was to create a community where you could live and yet enjoy the beauty of the countryside. Their plan for the area was to build homes and businesses in 30% clusters, leaving 70% of the land for agriculture and open space.

 When you enter Serenbe, passing by the original farmhouse and Inn on the way to the center of town, you sense something quite different - a sort of serenity that pervades the road past the little burros on the right and the heron filled lake to your left. Continuing down the fence lined road you pass a sign that welcomes you to Serenbe, and states its purpose and goals. On its website it states:

At Serenbe we value nature, passion, creativity and community. We believe people can live more fully when connected to the 
wonder of nature.
We value people for who they are, not what they are or what they do.
This is a community where people live, work, learn and play in celebration of life’s beauty. A place where connections between people, nature and the arts are nourished.

We stopped and had lunch at the Hill restaurant, the center point of the first of Serenbe’s communities,  which first we visited in 2005. They serve a lot of their own locally grown vegetables, and the meals were wonderful. In the restaurant we met Steve Nygren. He shared what has transpired since we were last there -- apartment buildings, new homes, and more businesses. He also shared something that struck me as the real heart of Serenbe. When we asked him about rentals, he responded. “John, you can come visit, stay for a day, or a month, or a lifetime.”

We met Emily when we needed a new leash for Daisy (forgot it at home), and she was very helpful and enthused about her new business. “We offer all sorts of services here,” she stated. “We’ll walk your dog for you, groom them, even pick them up and deliver them. She can be reached HERE.

We had come originally that day to learn about the musical Carousel they were performing as part of the cultural series. Steve told us they actually rented an amusement park and placed it in a field near the farmhouse to present the play. WOW. It rained opening night and they were unable to use it, and rain was scheduled for the evening we were there. I love the play and the music by Rogers and Hammerstein, and hope to see it again someday - and better if it is at Serenbe!.

We visited the Bosch center, which shows how you can make your house completely energy self sustaining. Info HERE.

And we walked through the general store where information about all that is going on in the community is posted and available for everyone to see - a throwback to the past of the general store being the focal point of the local community.

 On the way back home we stopped at the Inn at Serenbe, which was the original farmhouse that drew them there,  and bought my favorite Blueberry jam, which is made from local berries. 

 We turned left onto Hutchinsons’s Ferry Road, and as we drove away, reality slowly reappeared -- we were transported back to the rest of the world as it is.

Steve and Marie's vision for Serenbe has matured over the years, but never wavered. It is a magical place, showing what can be accomplished with a clear vision and ideals. They have created a community in which you can live in conscious cooperation with nature, and a place in which you can be proud of being a contributor.
A magical place where each of us can stay for a day, a month or a lifetime.

I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Check  HERE for events, activities and more info about Serenbe.

John O'Melveny Woods is an author and publisher living in Fairhope, Alabama. His email is, and his web site is HERE

Newnan Georgia, a town in (slow) transition

Driving into Newnan, Georgia (30 miles south of Atlanta on I-85) you discover that there are actually two towns - the one from the past and the one representing the future. The future has all the vices of modern society; from dozens of trendy and not so trendy restaurants to major shopping and medical centers. And the accompanying problems of a modern growing city - most notably traffic congestion. It is the birthplace to, among others, Alan Jackson, who’s first job was working in Spayberry’s BBQ, a local iconic restaurant.

The past dates back to 1828. It was originally slated to be the capital of Georgia before Atlanta. The heart of which is the downtown square surrounded by businesses and restaurants. However, they are mostly tired. And it looks tired. It is not distressed like some of the older southern cities; rather, it feels like most of the establishments are happy the way they have been and content to keep them that way.

There are exceptions, most notably the coffee shop which serves everything from lattes to homemade Reese’s peanut butter cookies..

On the whole, the old part of Newnan feels transitional - not new, not old. Much like I suspect my new home town Fairhope, Alabama felt in the 1960’s, before Mayor Sims decided to take actions that resulted in the rebirth of our wonderful little city.

There appears to be no Mayor Sims in Newnan with the same vision. 

However, the city is not without it’s positive attributes. Most notably the arts. There are little trains placed throughout the downtown area painted by artists that are both whimsical and truly works of art. A few years ago they provided the same program with horses. It adds color and charm to an area that needs a smidgen more of both.

It was also enlightening to walk around the central courthouse square (think back to the future) and read the signs about this citie’s past, a testament to the courage of its citizens and the community.

All in all, it was a fun visit. And although we could see the potential of this town (based on our living in Fairhope), it has not yet been realized.

Our hope is that someday it can be transformed into a vibrant and magical destination that is deserving of its heritage and place in history.

In the meantime, it is a nice place to visit.

John O'Melveny Woods is an author and publisher living in Fairhope Alabama. He can be reached at johnwoods7@hotmail. His web site is located HERE.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Winners of the Dogwood Trail Maids Essay Contest

I had the great pleasure of being chosen to be one of the judges in the Dogwoods Trail Maids essay contest.

This program is headed by JoAnn Broadus, through the Optimists Club of Fairhope, Alabama.

This year's winner and two honorable mentions were announced at the pageant in January.

In addition to entering the Fairhope Essay contest, the young women were also encouraged to enter the Daphne contest. This was also open to all students in the area.

We attended that event at the Daphne Civic Center (on a rainy, stormy night) where they chose the winner. Although it should have been, it was really not surprising when a current member of the 2015 Dogwood court, Meghan, won. They are all very talented young women.

The coincidence of it was that her sister, Emily, won the Fairhope contest, and she was also chosen to be on the 2016 Dogwood court.
In fact, all thee winners of the Fairhope Optimist Essay Contest were subsequently chosen to be 2016 Dogwood Trail Maids.

Congratulations to all.

But all was not well with JoAnn and me.

When we attended the Daphne ceremony, they gave the winner and two runners up medals - a gold, bronze and silver.

Wow! They were beautiful medals.

I immediately thought we needed to do that, and JoAnn did also. We ordered the medals straight away.

We decided to present them yesterday at the breakfast for the incoming Dogwood Trail Maids, and after that I felt pretty good.

 John O'Melveny Woods with Hannah Smith, Emily McCrory and
Madilyn Warner

Next year, we will present the medals at the pageant.

That should be pretty spectacular.

Again, congratulations to the amazingly talented young women who entered the contest and to those that won.

John O'Melveny Woods can be reached through his web site:

Saint Patty's day with Friends

A magical Time Had By All!

One of the unexpected surprises of moving to the South, was the friendliness and openness of the people who live here.

Being from the the South myself ('Southern' California) I was used to some degree of people saying hello, smiling, etc. But here in Fairhope, Alabama it is an epidemic of which their seems to be no cure. Nor would I encourage research into finding one.

Everywhere I go, people wave, smile, say hello, and ask me how I am doing. It is infuriatingly wonderful.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Friends of Fairhope.

A group of us have gotten together for the past couple of years and met weekly for dinner - mostly on Tuesday evenings. At first we always went to Pelican Porch, but they changed their menu and we decided to try new restaurants, which was fun... for about six months.

Then we thought about once or twice a month going to each of our houses and bringing dishes... pot luck on steroids.

On St. Patrick's day we all went to Paul and Debbie's home, which is an astoundingly beautiful house they had built that is adjacent to a little forest on one side, where they are starting a vegetable garden.

Debbie and Paul were not feeling 'top of the mornin'', (I think they both had colds) but played the part well. Debbie even wore a hat!

Paul had made a game - I kid you not - called cornhole... You throw little bags of beans (or maybe corn) into little holes on the boards. All built to regulation size, whatever that means.

Bob became the champion of it after a few games.

But the star was the food - all traditional fare like potatoe soup and shepherds pie.

Me, I stayed near the desert area which was aplomb with all kinds of delectable delights.

It was a fun evening and seemed to end too soon.

And that's what I mean about Fairhope and friends. Firstly blessed to have moved here, and doubly blessed to make so many interesting and wonderful friends. I look forward to and treasure meeting these friends every week, and couldn't imagine living here without them.

Now we are back to our restaurant schedule - but looking forward to having everyone over to the beach house soon.

John O'Melveny Woods can be reached at his web site.


We are not the Stones... but we had a great time

We had a great time playing a gig at the Fish River Grill last Friday Night.

This followed the tremendously exciting Thursday evening at the American Legion in Fairhope, Alabama wherein a storm brewed outside for a while with thunder and lightening, and then all heck broke loose as we were diving into our last set of the evening.
I have never seen rain come down as hard as it does in the South, and this rain came down even harder.
And sideways.
The windows were behind us as we belted out our tunes, and then lightening struck a power pole outside and flashed into the bar. Like a light show at a Pink Floyd concert, with sparks and flames shooting up in spirals.
Soon blue police lights were flashing, making their way through the rear windows at the bar, and then the door flew open, inundating us with rain.
Finally, we were asked to shorten our last set and get the heck out of there.
I guess that was a good thing. I think we still got paid.

The next night we started at Fish River Grill in Gulf Shores at 5pm.

It was still raining, but not so hard.
We were dry, and played a great three sets.
My band mates are Tim, Holly, Mark and Mike on the drums.

It was a fun time.
One note.
Yes, that is me on bass.  When Tim asked me to join, all that was available was a position for bass. So I jammed a few times, liked it, and then bought a bass guitar.
I kid around that I am the Ringo of the band... since that was the last and only position available for him too.
Not sure I am giving up my day job, but it is a lot of fun.
And at Fish River grill we did get a free meal, which is already one of my favorite places to get a burger in the whole South.
But I do have a gripe. 
They also give free drinks (Alcoholic), and the other members of the band were getting pretty happy. My gripe is, what about us band members who don't drink?
Seems I gave up drinking too soon (at 18 actually). I explain in my memoir The Crusaders.
It is a pretty funny book, and I am told a great read.
Not sure when the next gig is, but the Stones are in no danger of being outplayed anytime soon.

John O'Melveny Woods can be contacted through his web site: