Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20, 2012 - The First Day Of Summer for Nomads Everywhere

Hot Summer Time and The Livin' Is Easy
According to Wikipedia, the summer solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet's semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. Earth's maximum axial tilt to our star, the sun, during a solstice  is 23° 26'. This happens twice each year, at which times the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole respectively. The word solstice derives from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). For those of us more pedestrian in our thinking - Summer is finally here!! And the longest day of the year is viewed around the world in many different ways. Most cultures hold many significant holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals and celebrations during the summer. Woodstock just wouldn't have been the same had it been held in, say, November. Summer holds great promise for great times and even greater expenditures.

A Little Advice for NOWK's
Fall - done. Winter - done. Spring - done. Summer - not done!!! No more grey skies, the summer, peaches are in and the kids are out of school. So what's a Nomad to do? If you don't have kids, it's pretty simple. Just pick a place and go. Even though flights haven't been slashed and gasoline is still north of $3.00, you simply must go. Travel is the physical and mental balm for what ails you. If you have kids, you have a much bigger challenge. My kids are grown, so na na na na na! If you have young kids, it's virtually impossible to avoid places like Disney. The most important piece of advice for  NOWK's (Nomad's With Kids} who dare to go to Disney, Six Flags, etc. -  Be cool and be smart. If you show up at the gate at 8 AM and stay until after dark, it will NOT go well. So, the word for all theme park trips with kids is moderation. And select some down time, usually in mid afternoon for the kids and mom and dad to R&R. For a hilarious take on Disney, check out comic Jim Gaffigan On Vacationing In The Magic Kingdom.

First You Have To Have A Plan
With or without kids, it has always been the contention of this Nomad, that, while serendipity is always welcome, you must put in some planning time to ensure that you will indeed get the most out of your travels for your hard earned money. I love a surprise as much as the next guy, but no self respecting Nomad is going to just hit the road without a map, unless you are twenty something and just don't care. I've done that too and the results were always mixed. To assist all summer vagabonds in achieving that trip that you will talk about for years, I have assembled a list of my favorite hotel search web sites. Each link takes a different approach to places of unique character and there is very little overlap or redundancy. Most are backed up with numerous reviews. There is also great variety both geographically and economically. You don't always have to go to a five star hotel/B&B/health spa/eco-resort for rich people in Estonia to find places that you and yours can drop anchor and enjoy life on your terms. So happy hunting and pack light!

The Nomad Architect's Top Ten List of Web Sites for Places To Sleep Before You Die

TABLET - I consider this to be the best hotel / B& B search engine available to the discerning Nomad. It offers tremendous variety of very cool places in the States and Europe with prices to fit every budget.

AVANTE GARDE - It's tag line says it best - Hip Hotels, Design Hotels, Boutique Hotels Worldwide. This web site contains many edgy, well designed places for people who want to hang out in places that are not on the tourist map.

i-escape - From Spin & Margie's Desert Hide-A-Way in the Mojave Desert for $125 per night to Chateau Marmont in Hollywood at a sinful $800 per night, this site has thirty seven places for restless vagabonds in the US alone, not to mention hundreds more in Europe and elsewhere.

EPOQUE HOTELS -  A great site for unique and innovative hotels. It contains a vast array of small, boutique hotels worldwide located mostly in cities In addition, it has apartments for those who need a little more room.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith - Not only is this a great site for cool hotels worldwide, it puts forth the proposition that Nomad's With Kids don't have to settle for mediocrity at a characterless chain.  The site contains a special section devoted to family and kid friendly hotels and houses.

Great Small Hotels - Very interesting site specializing in very small boutiques. Offering gems like The Spring - A Natural Hot Spring Resort & Day Spa, located in Desert Hot Springs, California, starting at a paltry $139 per night. Now that's worth a look.

Unusual Hotels of The World - If you want to hang your hat at a place and "sleep with a story", then this is the travel site for you. From Tree Hotel, a red tree house in Sweden, to The Wigwam Motel in Arizona, this site has some of the most unusual places on the planet for the Nomad that needs a change of venue. And the site comes complete with reviews by adventurous Nomads.

Chic Retreats - Great site for exclusive hotels and out of the way B &  B's. One feature of this site is their Collections links. You can click on Beach Chic Retreats or Budget Chic Retreats or Eco Chic Retreats or other specific places with different attributes to assist in zeroing in on the vacation of a life time.

Boutique Homes - A recent find in the world of hotel search web sites. And the most intriguing. This is a comprehensive site displaying very small, intimate hotels and architecturally interesting houses. In addition to specific locales such as By The Sea, City, Country, etc., this is the only hotel / B&B site that lists properties designed by specific architects. So, if you want to stay in a place that really does it "Wright", look no further.

air bnb - This site boasts thousands of places to sleep all over the world. It's a great site to search for unique places, some of which are very affordable. The only caveat is that you must do some research, as they list a very broad range of properties from couches to mansions. They don't really use any quality thresholds, so you must perform your own due diligence. A great resource none the less, because of its variety.

So go north, south, east or west to that place that you have been dreaming about. Travel gives you insight into the world at large and a better understanding of yourself. And if you go to a place that is off the beaten path, you just might find out something that will change you and enlarge your view of the ever shrinking world we live in.

Video Artist of  The Week - The Beach Boys - Who better to head into summer with than the band that invented Beach Music and kicking off a 50th Reunion Tour this summer?

Travel Quote of The Week - “Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year.” – Unknown

To All of You Vagabonds - Just Go!
D.L. Stafford

All photgraphs from referenced web sites, except Summer from

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A New Millineum Wedding In God's Country

At This Place - Joy Comes In The Morning, The Afternoon and The Midnight Hour

Sorry I lost a week. It has taken us this long to come down from the good vibrations experienced after three amazing days in the cradle of the confederacy. Participating in a happening that you can only imagine until you are there is an experience that only comes along a few times in one's life. Other than when I married my bride of thirty nine years and when my son and daughter were born, I simply cannot recall any time in my life when I have felt more one with that spiritual thing that only comes when something profound occurs. 

One aspect of being a Nomad is the appreciation of what we call, in the design profession, "context". It's impossible to separate travel from the effects of  history and culture that give a town, region or country its own sense of place . The south, so eloquently captured by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Margaret Mitchell in the epic story of love and civil war Gone With The Wind, is not just a geographical location but a "place of the imagination". Because of its history and its contribution to American culture through its literature, cookery and music, the region has a unique place in the American consciousness. And Southerners take comfort in the knowledge that they live in places partitioned by the Almighty as ante rooms to the Promised Land. It is the land of milk and honey, or at least, sweet iced tea and peaches. Our destination for the new millennium wedding,  Vinewood Plantation, just outside of Newnan, Georgia, captures both the real and the imagined  old south with a new, vibrant vibe that makes old things  new and history still relevant. If you are going to get married, where better to do it than in one of Heaven's earthly parlors?

A Cool House In A Cool Town Makes for A Very Good Place To Get Together

As we headed for Newnan, the location of most of the events for the weekend, we could feel the pre-wedding jitters begin to build, even though our role was not nearly as involved and complicated as those of the bride and the groom. One thing we learned over the course of the last few months -planning a wedding, especially a "destination" wedding, is the logistical equivalent of a mission to Mars. All of the details, decision making and stress associated with any wedding requires great resolve, intelligence and creativity. Having a seasoned, detail obsessed pro like my niece,  Susan, helps as well. I was not there, but I was told that the negotiations for the wedding hotel would not have happened without her intervention on Tara's behalf. It's always nice to have a fellow Nomad in the family that knows the ropes.

Driving into Newnan, I was struck by its vibrant quality. Having seen so many southern towns fade away in the modern world, it was refreshing to see one that has managed to keep its local, small town character while still remaining new and relevant. One sure sign that Newnan is very comfortable with itself was the presence of an art exhibit in the downtown area. Known as "A Horsey Affair", twenty five brightly painted horses appear in various locations throughout the downtown area. And any town that boasts southern writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard as a native son must be placed on any Nomad's List of  Places To See.

As we pulled up to the Major Long House to drop off the arrangements of giant sunflowers for the rehearsal dinner, we were met by the first of many wonderful people we interfaced with to create the perfect wedding. Georgia Shapiro is a southern woman in every sense of the word. With a casual grace, she is one of those people that always seems to be in complete control of all events in her sphere. With a quick wit and conversational skills that make you feel right at home, she explained the details of how this grand old house came to be the happening place that I was immediately drawn to when I was dispatched several months ago on reconnaissance to find a venue for the rehearsal dinner. As an architect, I always.look for the real thing in a house. With rough pine board floors, exquisite plaster detailing, period wall coverings and hand painted black and white checkerboard floors in the grand parlor, this classic southern house is the perfect place to bring family and friends together for any event. Finally, Susie told Georgia that we needed to go and that, if left unattended, I would be there for the next several hours discussing the history and minutiae of this great old place. The hospitality continued into the next evening at the rehearsal dinner as Georgia, her more than helpful husband and her champion bartender, flower arranger and woman of unlimited party skills assisted us with the details of preparations for the kickoff event.

And if your going to have something catered, you might as well go with a legend - Sprayberry's Barbecue. Started in 1926 in the back of a gas station, it is simply the best barbecue I have ever tasted. And the reviews of those in attendance confirmed this food critic's opinion. Plus, Alan Jackson waited tables there. A weekend trip to Newnan and Sprayberry's must be added to every Nomad's List of Places To Eat Before You Die. You can thank me later!

Friday morning. The guys headed to Atlanta to pick up rental tuxes. All right thinking men know that weddings are about the bride. That is one of life's immutable truths. That premise is confirmed by the simple fact that the groom and his groomsmen wear rented tuxes or suits that are usually grey and understated, whereas, the bride wears a dress of uncompromising beauty and detail, while her bridesmaids wear dresses that have been painstakingly selected from an endless selection of dresses from Nieman Marcus, Saks or any number of boutiques to ensure just the right coordinated look.  After picking up the tuxes, we all headed over to one of the best burger places in Atlanta - Yeah Burger!! Serving only locally grown, grass fed beef, the burgers are to die for. And as you might expect, while the men were eating burgers, as good as they were, I am told that the burgers didn't compare to the luncheon for the ladies at The Veranda B&B in the nearby community  of Senoia, Georgia. In addition to the excellent food in the dining room of a vintage southern house, the town of Senoia is one of the locations for the hit television series The Walking Dead. The mental image of well appointed ladies enjoying strawberry shortcake, while hordes of flesh eating zombies stroll by is at least an interesting concept to ponder. I was told that all the zombies were kept at bay while the ladies enjoyed their late morning soiree.

We arrived late at the Major Longhouse for the rehearsal dinner. In addition to setting all of the tables and placing the flowers, Georgia and her staff helped us unload the ice and refreshments for the evening and the doors opened on time at 7:00 PM. As the place began to fill with the laughter of numerous friends and members of both families, we began to relax and enjoy the vibe of the first official event of the weekend. The evening went off without a hitch. Great food was had by all and great conversation continued well into the night as people enjoyed the fellowship of each other's company. And I must give kudos to my one and only, Susie. She has spent most of her professional and personal life planning events and telling other people when to show up and be ready, and this event was no different. She is the single most unflappable person I know. And everyone adores her. As I would listen to her questions and directives concerning various details for a party for seventy in a house and town she had never visited until that weekend, I knew all would go well. And it did. 

Another Grand House, a Barn and The Biggest Pecan Tree I Ever Saw

The big day. As I walked to the car from the hotel to get some morning joe at the nearby Starbucks, I pondered the events that were coming our way on the most important day of the lives of my son and soon to be daughter-in-law. There was not a cloud in the sky. This was not surprising, given that Susie had had many one on ones with the Almighty concerning the weather. Weather prayers are a critical component of any wedding that is going to be outside. However, before the main event, there was work to be done. Enter Tara's uncle Cecil. Like Will Rogers, Cecil  never met a man he didn't like.  Without hesitation, he offered himself and his SUV to help load, transport and deliver what seemed like a ton of ice and refreshments for the post ceremony reception. My hat goes off to this southern gentleman for his help and humor.

Because Susie had to go with the bridal party early to prepare for the ceremony, I was left on my own to get dressed and get myself to the wedding on time. As I arrived, the essence of this unique venue became apparent. The main house at Vinewood  is an exquisitely restored example of all that is expected in great vintage residential architecture. And the old pole barn has been lovingly restored as well. As we made last minute preparations and took photographs, I realized that these people at Vinewood know what they are doing. From Jamie, one of the owners, to Maria, the wedding coordinator, everyone seemed to be in more places at more times than you could imagine. As the guests began to take their seats under the waning afternoon sun, it was evident that this special place, on this day, under a blue Georgia sky, in the shade of a massive pecan tree, was the only place on earth for holy nuptials to be expressed by two people ready to begin a new life together.

As the dashing groom came in, followed by his groomsmen, I could see the pride on his mother's face. And then the bridesmaids, dressed in elegant, light blue dresses, including the bride's best friend and bridesmaid, my lovely daughter and resident humorist, Lauren, took their rightful places. Then there she was. Tara. This beautiful, petite, young woman, known to her friends as Munchkin, dressed in a gown meant only for her on this day, walked in the cool grass, accompanied by her proud father and mother, to take her place under the shade of the big tree next to her soon to be husband. As the ceremony began, her father  effortlessly caught her veil as a brief zephyr disengaged it from her beautifully coiffed hair, leaving not a strand out of place. As  the songs were sung and the vows exchanged,  this most sacred  of ceremonies became perfection in God's country.  And I understood, once again, what my mother meant when she told me - One day you will understand. Now I know.

And Let The Good Times Roll

After the post ceremony photographs, it was time to eat, drink and be merry. And when you have food from Taqueria del Sol, one of Atlanta's top purveyors of  southern, mexican and southwestern cuisine, the eating part is all good. And with a band like Rustic Charlie, fronted by lead singer Eric Blackman, nailing great tunes from Rolling In The Deep to old and new R&B, Soul and Dance Music, a great time was had by all. Even The Nomad got in on the act with a knock 'em dead rendition of the classic Wilson Picket tune Mustang Sally, with a little help from his best friend and brother, Errol. And what a crowd! As the party rocked and rolled its way toward closing time, it became apparent that this is what you are supposed to do at a wedding - Rejoice and be Glad!! And where better to do it than under a hot, starry Georgia spring                                                                     
night sky?

And finally, Sunday morning. As the lingering guests came in to enjoy an outstanding breakfast served up by The Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center on another blue skied Georgia day, it was great to share stories and goodbyes with all of the great people that came to be a part of this wonderful event. Looking back on the previous three days, it seemed  that every Nomad there, for a brief period of time, simply dropped anchor and let the good times roll. Now that's the way to travel!

Video Artist of The Week-  The British Folk Rock Indie Band Mumford & Sons . "She Said Yes" is worth a serious listen for a fresh take on love and life.

Travel Quote of The Week -   A first-rate marriage is like a first-rate hotel: expensive, but worth it. -Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966 . Spoken like a true Nomad in love.                   

Love and Kisses

D.L. Stafford


Photo Credits - Charlotte Fristoe, Susan Stafford & Anonymous.