Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Weekend Visit to Magical Serenbe

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 in Dogwood 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:

St. Patty's Day Fun!

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 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:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A magical Night in Fairhope

A Magical Fairy Tale Night in Fairhope, Alabama

The Dogwood Trail Pageant & Scholarship Program

 I had the pleasure and honor to attend the 56th annual Dogwood Trail Maids pageant in Fairhope, Alabama this past Saturday evening. It is THE event where the next Dogwood Trail Maids are picked to represent the Eastern Shore throughout 2016-2017.

This is not a beauty contest. Quite the opposite.

When I attended last year I was a judge of the written essays. Their essays did not count for anything except entering the pageant. What I discovered then shattered my preconceived views on Southern women and their role in the community.

This year’s event was even better. Forty-six contestants, from five different high schools between the ages of fifteen and seventeen participated. More than half had GPA’s of 4.0 or BETTER!

And the theme could not have been more relevant: American Made!

These young ladies displayed an inordinate amount of talent, smarts and courage. More than I had ever viewed in my home state of California (sorry beach girls). From the opening dance number to the individual creative skits (with costumes - picture a duct tape formal, or a sequined Krispy Kreme Doughnut), they displayed a self-assurance and class that was well beyond their years. There were also segments of poise in evening gowns, their individual interviews with the judges, and the narrowing down of contestants to twelve.

The final questions for these finalists was the basis for 25% of their total score, and six of them were honored to become next year’s Dogwood trail Maids.

The winners were:
Hannah Smith

Emily McCrory

Anna Walding

Madelyn Warner

Taylor Pierce

Annabelle Algiers

Something new was introduced this year: the written essays now count toward 10% of their score.

Various women also received scholarships and many other awards for participating as well.

The emcee was Kenny Graves, who has held this position for 28 years, and it showed in his professionalism and ability to seamlessly move through the program with grace and humor.

Angela Cocke was the managing director, and Natalie Anusiewicz was the pageant director. Two knowledgeable and wonderfully patient women who are essential cogs in the wheel that made this show great. They are also past Dogwood winners.

Choreography for the young ladies was by Susan Harrell, who created beautiful dance numbers and oversaw the skits.

Elizabeth Denham wrote the script and all the participants’ bios, and also helped backstage with the girls’ costume changes and jittery nerves. Elizabeth, along with Karyn Tunks and myself, were also judges of this year’s essays.
Another essential part of the pageant was Chris Finerty, who is the Executive Secretary and Program designer.

However, the driving force behind this entire pageant is JoAnn Broadus, whose tireless energy and clear vision for the pageant have kept it running since the early 1990’s. She has demanded and implemented a level of professionalism that courses through the entire pageant and continues throughout the year as the young women go out into the community. As part of their commitment to being a member of the Dogwood Court, they are required to perform 170 hours of volunteer services. They are held to high moral and ethical standards, including grades and their standing in the community.

I also want to mention how impressed I was with the volunteers who helped to make the night glide so smoothly. Although there were forty-six young women, the show lasted only about three hours. The volunteers helped make this possible.

And a special thanks to Joseph Tarrabela for helping with the filming

What did I take away from this year’s magical event?

The future is in good hands. 

Many of these young ladies want to (and I predict will) become doctors, nurses, teachers ,lawyers and business people. They all volunteer to help make their community a better place to live. They all have causes they are passionate about and devote time and energy toward. And they do this while maintaining their grades and their wonderfully positive attitudes.

Before coming to the event last year and learning the depth of what the program was about, I simply thought they were cute girls who attended events in colorful antebellum dresses, smiled, waved and made the people around them feel better.
What I discovered was the real purpose of the Dogwood Court: to display to the community the future leaders, the future role models, and the future hope of women throughout the Eastern Shore.

I have been inspired to film a documentary, through my production company VERITAS Entertainment Group, LA (which stands for Lower Alabama), about the whole process of the pageant, from when the girls applied almost five months ago to the night of the pageant. One thing is clear: all the participants have grown in self confidence and self esteem, and are the better for going through the program whether they win or not.

The real surprise, the ‘aha’ moment for me, came when the current court came before the Rhodes Scholars annual meeting, wherein they appeared before them and were questioned by these very esteemed and intelligent persons. By the end of the evening, they stood up and applauded them. Not a perfunctory act, but a genuine show of respect for their intelligence and charm.

That about says it all.

It was a magical and fairy tale evening that culminated with the next six women being chosen to be the 2016-2017 dogwood Trail Court. They will go to various events throughout the Eastern Shore. One of their appearances will be before these same Rhodes scholars, and I am positive they will get a standing ovation, for they are a part of the best and smartest of the Eastern Shore, and through their commitment to service provide role models for the rest of the young girls and woman who meet them.

John O'Melveny Woods is an Author, Publisher and Filmmaker living in Fairhope, Alabama. His web site is

Wonderful Lunch Today - Homemade

Well, after muh thought and decisive contemplation, I decided to try and cook my lunch at home. The main reason is to see if it would be better than many of the places i eat lunch at currently, which will remain nameless for fear of them blocking me from eating in the future, or worse!
The choice was roast beef and tater tots. I grilled the tots (yes, in a basket) and also the bread and finally the cheese.

It turned out delicious... really tasty. And, surprisingly, less expensive and healthier.
This doesn't;t preclude me from such iconic destinations as the Fish River Grill, but I am now going to supplement my gastronomical cravings with some home made food -- at least once in a while.

Visit me at