Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Thank you!" wanderlust ATLANTA is 5!

I'd like to offer my sincerest gratitude to friends, museums, attractions, fellow bloggers and so many others for your wonderful support of wanderlust ATLANTA over the last FIVE years. 

It was five years ago today that I published my very first blog post. What started as an endeavor to reacquaint myself with Atlanta, after being away for nine years, has turned into a passion, and many dear friendships.

Travis S. Taylor, Founder & Author, wanderlust ATLANTA
Travis S. Taylor, Founder & Author of wanderlust ATLANTA

In a spirit of gratefulness, may I share something that is quite personal to me, and a bit fun. As I thank my supporters from over the years, I'd also like to "salute" you. The most personal salute I can give is one that is near and dear to my heart, that being the Vulcan Salute

For those who do not know, the Vulcan Salute is one offered in greeting and farewells, but don't worry...I'm not quite ready to depart my writing. The customary Spock salute is coupled with, "Live Long and Prosper", which is what I wish for all who I care about, all who have wished me the same in my creating and continuing wanderlust ATLANTA.  

The above photo is one of my favorites in the five years I've been writing wanderlust ATLANTA. It was at an event at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where I started volunteering when I first moved back to Atlanta—one of the best decisions I made when I moved back.

May I offer a piece of advice: If you've just moved to Atlanta, or just moved to any city for that matter, become a volunteer. It's one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the city you're now living in and you feel good about contributing! I did exactly that when I first moved to Washington, DC, after living in Atlanta for 15 years, and again when I moved back to Atlanta. 

I highly recommend volunteering, especially if you can get a position working an information desk or serving as a tour guide. You're putting yourself in a position where you must learn about your new home, and it's usually quite fun. From personal experience, it's the best way I know to learn a new town. Or, you could start a blog.

Again, THANK YOU to my friends, fans and all the followers of wanderlust ATLANTA. I've had more fun in the last five years than I ever thought I would have...thanks to YOU.


Cheers! wanderlust ATLANTA is 5!
Cheers! wanderlust ATLANTA is 5!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

There are ROBOTS at Fernbank!

"Walking is controlled falling."

That’s one of the epiphanies you'll glean when watching National Geographic's ROBOTS, released summer 2015 and now playing at Fernbank Museum of NaturalHistory.

At first, I wondered why a natural history museum would be showing a movie about robots, but quickly reconciled that in my mind. Natural history is the study (particularly observational) of origins, evolution, and interrelationships. In this particular instance, it's an exploration of the progress and potential of robots...created by and for humans. I for one and ecstatic that this is being shared at Fernbank!

National Geographic's "ROBOTS" | Poster courtesy of National Geographic
National Geographic's "ROBOTS" | Poster courtesy of National Geographic

Have I ever told you that I cried myself to sleep after witnessing the fate of Huey, Dewey and Louie, the robot stars of the sci-fi classic Silent Running? It was a film that my family watched one evening when I was only seven years old. It's true I was a sensitive child, but also I was already an established sci-fi enthusiast!

You can only imagine my excitement for the new IMAX film, ROBOTS, now playing at Fernbank Museum of Natural History!

Building my excitement leading up to seeing the movie, it's narrated by Robo Thespian whose voice is that of none other than Simon Pegg himself—star of Shawn of the Dead (LOVED that one), and even more so as the star, Scotty, in the last two Star Trek films!

You're going to meet robots from all over the world and the film highlights the featured aptitudes of each of those robot. You'll also be introduced to many humanoid robots, including: 
  • "ASIMO": Honda's famed humanoid can jump and run up to 5 mph.
  • "HERB THE BUTLER": Thanks to this helper, we may never have to clear the table or do dishes again.
  • "ROBONAUT": NASA’s space handyman helps astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
  • ANDROIDS: The human face has over 40 muscles to express emotions like fear, anger, surprise, happiness — and these androids are programmed to simulate these human-like behaviors. One day, they may be built to think, act and react like us.
That's only a few of them! And watch the credits for a mention of Georgia Tech as a film advisor!

By the way, the freighter ships in Silent Running were later used in an episode of the original Battlestar Galacica, which was a childhood favorite series and featured the human-created robotic race of Cylons!

A quick reminder...as a young child, I wanted nothing more than to be an archaeologist, long before I wanted to be an astronaut. I find it pretty awesome that as an adult I get to write about both fields from time to time. 

If you're visiting over a weekend, I invite you to consider adding Martinis & IMAX to your Friday night itinerary. You have the opportunity to enjoy food, drinks, dancing with the dinos AND an IMAX film!

If you're a local, check out Martinis & IMAX and keep an eye on Fernbank Museum of Natural History's website for announcements of new films, events and exhibitions...there's a LOT of fun coming up! 

ROBOTS is running now through Thursday, October 29.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Diana, Michael, Marvin...MOTOWN!

Seeing MOTOWN the Musical was so incredibly exciting! Not because I knew the story, but because I grew up with so many of the stars. That I learned so much about the history and connections within the Motown family was a total bonus...but seeing the music performed live and onstage, at the Fox Theatre, was the BEST!

MOTOWN the Musical | The Supremes | Photo: Joan Marcus
MOTOWN the Musical | The Supremes | Photo: Joan Marcus

This show starts with the 1983 Motown 25: Today, Yesterday, Forever tribute, then flashes back to the founding of Motown and finishes in a grand finale back in 1983. Wonderful, wonderful story!

Of all the stars signed by Berry Gordy (performed by Josh Tower), the founder of the Motown record label, I'm a fan of The Supremes and Diana Ross (brilliantly portrayed by Allison Semmes) the most. I didn't know about the relationship she and Berry had, nor the background of Lady Sings the Blues and Mahogany, both of which are fantastic! 

By the way, if you're visiting Atlanta and see MOTOWN the Musical, make it a double-feature and also see Bruce Monro: Light in the Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. One of the six installations in the exhibition, Three Degrees, was inspired by The Supremes! Check out my post about Atlanta Ballet's Wabi Sabi performance at the Garden this summer, which includes a photo of Three Degrees (and a description about how it got its name). 

MOTOWN the Musical | The Jackson 5 | Photo: Joan Marcus
MOTOWN the Musical | The Jackson 5 | Photo: Joan Marcus

I had no idea that Berry Gordy signed The Jackson 5, although I remember their early music quite well! And of course, like billions of others in the world, I followed Michael Jackson's career throughout his life. 

What I didn't know, and was awesome to experience in MOTOWN the Musical, was that Diana Ross made the very first introduction of The Jackson 5 after they were signed by Motown! 

It wasn't discussed in this performance, but I sat there wondering if Berry's cinema deals for Diana had anything to do with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson starring together in The Wiz.

One of the other major players in MOTOWN the Musical was Smokey Robinson, (played by Jesse Nager), which I didn't know much about, but definitely know his music! The show totally nails his speaking voice, as well as many other nuances of other Motown stars...brilliantly played!  

MOTOWN the Musical | Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye | Photo: Joan Marcus
MOTOWN the Musical | Marvin Gaye | Photo: Joan Marcus

One of history's more profound singers, Marvin Gaye's music has long been a favorite of mine...so soulful. What I didn't know was how strong an activist he was. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I liked his music so much. 

We had the wonderful pleasure of hearing Jarran Muse (Marvin Gaye) perform Mercy, Mercy Me...I never thought I'd hear that live! That one song has so many levels to it...listen to the words, again. 

MOTOWN the Musical | The Temptations | Photo: Joan Marcus
MOTOWN the Musical | The Temptations | Photo: Joan Marcus

Get ReadyI'm not sure how The Temptations got their name because their music is irresistible! Yet another group whose music I loved as a kid. They had some cool moves, too. 

One of the things that is so incredible about this show is that there are not only nine scenes in Act I and nine scenes in Act II, but there are multiple songs in many of those! And the set design is AMAZING! Allow me to say it again...the set design is AMAZING!  

MOTOWN the Musical | Berry Gordy & Cast | Photo: Joan Marcus
MOTOWN the Musical | Berry Gordy & Cast | Photo: Joan Marcus

There is an incredible amount of talent represented in this show, including The Marvelettes, Stevie WonderJackie Wilson and Rick James! The entertainment value of this show surpasses every expectation I had...and I had high expectations! The acting, dancing and singing talent on stage is brilliant...this cast represents Broadway in the finest form. 

Once again, I find myself writing the tip of the iceberg...there's so much going on in this show, so many wonderful things, you have no idea you're about to be hit with such a wonderful performance! 

A huge "Thank you" to BRAVE Public Relations for the tickets (Kellie, you're awesome!) and a reminder to my readers that the opinions expressed in my writings are my own. If I don't enjoy something, I won't write about it. THIS I enjoyed...toe tapping, clapping and singing the whole night! 

MOTOWN the Musical, part of the Broadway in Atlanta series, is at the Fox Theatre now through Sunday, August 23. Go, go, go! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hockadoo! MEMPHIS is in Georgia!


That was Huey Calhoun's calling card, invented during his debut as a radio disc jockey. Refusing to listen to society's, "That can't be done!", Huey enthusiastically brings 'Rock-n-Roll of the South' to white listening audiences, and eventually television. And he falls in love.

MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre
MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre

MEMPHIS: The Musical is on stage at Aurora Theatre now through August 30, 2015. I'd been wanting to experience Aurora Theatre for a few years and what a magnificent performance for my debut in their audience. If you've not been, make time to see MEMPHIS and enjoy the fantastic Aurora, celebrating their 20th season!

MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre
MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre

The wonderfulness of this performance, of a show that's a four Tony Award-winning musical, is exponential from curtain to close that a singular writing cannot express. It's without doubt a must-see, must-experience show.

I will share, with enthusiastic applause, that Suzi Bass Award-nominee Naima Carter Russell (Felicia) is magnificent! Her performance transports you to another time, to another place, on a melody that will float your soul. This is her fourth show at Aurora Theatre and I hope she's back for many, many more!

There are so many incredible actors/singers in this show whose performance I thoroughly enjoyed. They collectively bring to the stage a Broadway-caliber performance. Allow me to name a few: Eric Moore (Bobby) has perhaps the most electrifying voice on stage—beyond brilliant, as an actor and singer! Cecile E. Washington, Jr. (Delray Jones) was incredibly convincing as his character—highly impressed! Eugene H. Russell IV, I feel like I've seen him perform seen before, yet this was the most delightfully surprising character—what a voice! Megan McFarland, (Gladys) who also I feel like I've seen perform before, is brilliant—so convincing that you don't like her character until the end! Xylina Stamper was my favorite (they're all magnificent) in the ensemble...enthusiastic and believable. Oh, and Edward McCreary, who I recently saw in another play not long ago, is also awesome.

MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre
MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre

Have you ever known an egosurfer? Someone who Google's themselves...Google's their name to see if they're on the Internet? Perhaps that was an early Internet term, but yes, I've been guilty of it myself. The results are much more rewarding when I couple my name with "wanderlust ATLANTA". Ego-surfing can be great fun! Just sayin'.

But the reason I mention this is because—and this was after I already had tickets—I learned just before the show that the leading man's name is Travis! Travis Smith. What I didn't expect was that the character, DJ Huey Calhoun, felt like one of your most endeared friends even before intermission. I was so caught up in everyone's performance, I didn't want an intermission. Don't you love it when brilliant acting and hip-swaying singing wholly engulfs your attention?

MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre
MEMPHIS: The Musical | Aurora Theatre

A co-production with Theatrical Outfit, the Tony Award-winning (2010, Best Musical) MEMPHIS: The Musical is running at Aurora Theatre through August 30, 2015. There will be a one-week break between performances, but do visit Aurora Theatre!

Here's another great reason to see it at Aurora. I went with my best friend Barry and we met in Lawrenceville before the show. It was the first time in downtown Lawrenceville for both of us. What a quaint and charming town! We'd planned on grabbing a bite before the show and did we ever pick the right place!

Barry was texting local friends for restaurant recommendations and I was checking out the storefronts (I totally want to go back to visit the comic book store Galactic Quest) with a grumbling belly. We went in one place that we quickly decided was too loud for catching-up conversation and went instead to Dominick's. Their tagline—Little Italy. Lotta Food.—is an absolute truth! I wholeheartedly recommend them for your dinner-and-a-show excursion!

Quickly, speaking of food, when I was in Memphis, Tennessee, many years ago, another friend and I went to the legendary Charles Vergos' Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs for some of the best BBQ I've ever had. We ordered a few slabs via mail-order not too long after we returned home. Yes...it was that good! I wish I'd experience the contemporary music scene in Memphis, but alas, that's something to look forward to. In the meantime, there's MEMPHIS: The Musical!

So that you see what an amazing treat you're in store for, here's a clip of the Broadway cast of MEMPHIS: The Musical at the 2010 Tony Awards:

I want to offer a heartfelt "Thank you" to BRAVE Public Relations for the tickets (Chelsea is awesome!) and to Aurora Theatre for the incredible hospitality (especially Jennifer, who looks remarkably like Jeri Ryan), even though they didn't know I would be writing about the experience. You guys rock!

Go see MEMPHIS: The Musical at Aurora Theatre by August 30...you're going to love it!

Keeping it real: While the complimentary tickets are greatly appreciated, all opinions are my own...I will not write about anything I don't enjoy. THIS show I wholeheartedly enjoyed!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blogger Brunch at The Cook's Warehouse

I've been cooking since I could reach the stove, so I naturally have a special love for kitchen and culinary stores. I used to get in trouble for using so many groceries in failed cooking "experiments". I've learned a lot since then and, to my delight, culinary technology has advanced quite considerably. And I'm happy to share that my cooking these days is more expertise and less experiment, although I still find myself often trying something new.

Having never taken a cooking class, outside of a Home Economics class in school approximately a bazillion years ago, I learned most of what I know of cooking by watching my mother and grandmother cook...some of those memories go back to before grade school. I don't remember a lot of my childhood, so that tells you a little bit of how special those particular memories are to me.

Mary Moore & Chef Jennifer Booker | The Cook's Warehouse
Mary Moore & Chef Jennifer Booker | The Cook's Warehouse

Since I've been back in Atlanta, I've had the awesome pleasure of meeting quite a few of our celebrity chefs and culinary celebrities, including the  Mary Moore,Founder and CEO of The Cook's Warehouse, Atlanta's premier gourmet store and cooking school. Mary recently invited me to a Bloggers-Only Champagne BrunchLet it be known that Mary knows how to throw a party!

In the photo above, that's Mary on the left with Chef Jennifer Hill-Booker, who was there to not only prepare brunch for us, she made the whole experience a cooking demonstration! Many of the dishes we enjoyed were from her cookbook, "Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent."

Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse
Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse

Before I go much further, I wanted to let you know why I'm blogging about a gourmet store and cooking school, not an obvious tourist destination, but I think it should be!

As much as I'm a lover of all things tourism, I'm also a foodie--no surprise to those who know me or to those who have read wanderlust ATLANTA for a while. To tie the two together, I want to offer The Cook's Warehouse as not only a destination, but also as a magnificent source for souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home, wherever that might be.

I'ts definitely a destination when it comes to treating yourself or gift-giving for ANY friend or loved one...their selection is brilliant!

When I travel, "the" souvenir I get for myself is a book about the city I'm visiting. They not only make for an awesome collection, they allow me to revisit that city any time I want. Some in that collection are also cookbooks, which makes for a whole other way of reminiscing a vacation. I love that The Cook's Warehouse stocks so many cookbooks written by local chefs, and we have some awesome chefs in Atlanta! 

Black-Eye Pea Hummus | The Cook's Warehouse
Black-Eyed Pea Hummus | The Cook's Warehouse

One of the dishes we enjoyed early on was Chef Jennifer's Black-Eyed Pea Hummus. Having lived in the Mediterranean for more than two years, I have a special relationship with hummus. I'm not a hummus snob mind you, but when you've had the real thing, it's ridiculous to eat something sub-par. There was nothing to fret on this occasion...Jennifer's hummus is magnificent!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our other hosts, David Dunford, Corporate Sales and Events Manager at The Cook’s Warehouse, and Jim Brams, Public Relations for The Cook's Warehouse. Both were and have been awesome to work with...thanks, guys!

Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse
Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse

I love spicy olives! But the best thing on this hors d'ouevres plate—we made our own plates from dishes Chef Jennifer had prepared earlier—was her homemade pimento cheese! That's another dish that can be worst-in-the-world -or- make you want to grab the bowl and leave the other guests to fend for themselves. I was of course in polite company, so the bowl snagging wasn't an option, but based on comments I heard from other bloggers, I wasn't the only one who entertained the notion.

Part of the program was a presentation of new or popular in-store products, quite a few of which caught my attention. I've never mastered the art of grilling, but a Big Green Egg might encourage some experimentation—or I could take a class! They also showed us a bowl-at-a-time ice cream maker—love that one! While I've never met a cool kitchen gadget that I didn't like, I'm particularly fond of a good cast iron skillet, thanks to all the amazing dishes my mother created with hers, which belonged to her father.

One of the features that make The Cook's Warehouse such a popular destination is its cooking classes. And there are a LOT to choose from. I seem to remember that the knife skills class is the most popular. A quick scan of their class listing reveals that some sell out, so plan ahead. Then again, there are so many to choose from you're sure to find one you'll enjoy, even when planning last-minute.  

Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse
Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse

This salad (above), as simple a salad as it may appear to be, is one of the absolute best that I've had in...I don't know how long it's been! I love arugula and oranges, but the vinaigrette Chef Jennifer made in real-time was perfection. In case you're wondering, I do believe it was this early in the meal that I knew without a doubt that I'd be buying her cookbook that day. She autographed it and included a lovely inscription. Thank you, Chef!

Chef Jennifer's "Orange & Arugula Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette" is truly brilliant! I want more! More, more, more! I could eat that dish every day.

Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse
Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse

I love eggs. Always have. So I've had a lot of them in my lifetime. One of the greatest, and fun, challenges with liking a food so much is coming up with new ways to enjoy it. I can honestly say that I've never had my eggs quite like this...Chef Jennifer's Spring Omelet Roll. And again...delicious! This was also a recipe from Field Peas to Foie Gras.

Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse
Bloggers-Only Champagne Brunch | The Cook's Warehouse

In Chef Jennifer's cookbook she says that Blackberry Cobbler (recipe in the book) is her favorite, even though when she was in Paris, she mostly made cobblers with strawberries or raspberries, which were more readily available. I've shared before that my personal favorite dessert was my mother's Blackberry Dumplings—I could eat my weight in that dish!

I hope to soon be recreating that recipe with my mother (that's going to be a special day), but in the meantime, I'm going to give Chef Jennifer's Blackberry Cobbler a try...I know it'll be amazing! There's also a recipe for Coconut Cake, which was my grandmother's favorite, so I'll be trying that one as well.

There was a LOT packed into this two-hour event, and "delicious" doesn't even begin to describe the food and drink and camaraderie with fellow bloggers and the presentation of what's newly available at The Cook's Warehouse. This was our menu for the brunch:
  • Black-Eyed Pea Hummus
  • Black Pepper Biscuits with Pimento Cheese
  • Roasted Olives with Preserved Lemons
  • Spring Omelet Roll
  • Orange & Arugula Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
  • Roasted Gazpacho Soup
  • Chocolate Brownies with Georgia Pecans
And our bubbles were Private Label Guyot Choppin Brut from Sherlock's Wine Merchant...quite delightful!

Cookbook Author Signing Events | The Cook's Warehouse
Cookbook Author Signing Events | The Cook's Warehouse

The Cook's Warehouse is one of the most incredible gourmet shops I've ever been to, and I've been a customer of their Midtown/Ansley Square location for years! I've yet to attend a cooking class, but understand that their Knife Skills class is the most popular. 

When it come to gift-giving, when the recipient, I'm all about Star Trek and/or kitchen gadgets, or kitchen counter appliances...I'm not that picky, but a top-grade mixer would be awesome! Especially in laser red. Actually, my friend Mike, who has an awesome singing voice, has ALWAYS gotten the Star Trek gifts exactly right. He knows I'm a foodie, but indulges the Trekkie in me.

One thing about The Cook's Warehouse...allot yourself ample time to browse. They have an incredible amount of inventory! And whoever is doing the purchasing for the stores (there are several locations around town), they're sourcing only top quality, cooking gear that you'll actually use. 

If I recall correctly, Mary started the store after going to numerous stores to find a particular item, but couldn't find it...and it wasn't that rare a cooking item. I seriously doubt that's going to happen to you at The Cook's Warehouse...they have everything!   

Travis with Chef Jennifer Booker | The Cook's Warehouse
Travis with Chef Jennifer Booker | The Cook's Warehouse

I first met Chef Jennifer at the event when she was inducted as a Georgia Grown Executive Chef. Georgia Grown is a program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Georgia Grown Executive Chefs are ambassadors for buying and using Georgia-grown and Georgia-made products. I personally have great admiration for the program.

Chef Jennifer is also a relatively new member of Les Dames d'Escoffier International - Atlanta Chapter (LDEI), an invitation-only nonprofit organization of professional women in the hospitality and culinary arts. They're also very active in philanthropy.

I knew that Mary Moore was also a member, but it wasn't until this brunch that I learned that Mary was Chef Jennifer's sponsor—the member who nominated Chef Jennifer for membership. It's a small world we live in!

I'm a HUGE fan of LDEI, and will be writing more about the wonderful work they're doing and the opportunities they afford Atlanta tourists, visiting and local.

Chef Hugh Acheson, Book Signing Event | The Cook's Warehouse
Chef Hugh Acheson, Book Signing Event | The Cook's Warehouse

Chef Hugh Acheson, you know him if you're an Atlanta local and you know him if you'rea fan of Top Chef, was at The Cook's Warehouse for a book-signing event (The Broad Fork) immediately after the Bloggers-Only Brunch. He graciously let me make a photo. "Thank you, Chef Hugh!"

You can have your own photo of Chef Acheson by picking up one of his cookbooks and/or getting a free copy of the official Georgia Travel Guide for 2015—he's on the cover! You can also view the Guide online. It's an excellent resource for planning vacations and finding things-to-do in Atlanta and throughout Georgia!

Speaking of vacations and sightseeing, I wanted to remind everyone that foods, cookbooks and and kitchen gadgets make great souvenirs, for yourself or friends and family back home. So, skip the cheesy shot glass and t-shirt that they'll never wear, and get them something that they can cook from or cook with for a lifetime or savor for a special occasion.

The Cook's Warehouse is certainly a perfect stop for such a thoughtful and fun souvenir. I'll be talking more about The Cook's Warehouse in a future post when I'll be sharing ideas for an Atlanta Culinary Vacation!

In the meantime, you can sign-up for their newsletter at their website (lower left corner).

Thank you again, Mary Moore! I've long been a fan of The Cook's Warehouse and am so glad to get to know your store better. See you around town!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!

In 1984, on everyone's lips was, "Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!" It was the same last night.

Part of this year's Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival at the Fox Theatre, I just saw Ghostbusters! Awesome, awesome time! Even as I was walking up to the Fox, I heard from across the street, "Travis!" I turned around and from her car my friend Jan yells, "Who ya gonna call?!" I already knew it was going to be a fun night, but that totally set the tone for a definite fun night!

Ghostbusters at the Fox Theatre | Georgia Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters at the Fox Theatre | Georgia Ghostbusters

Adding to the festivity, there were quite a few members of Georgia Ghostbusters in attendance...in costume! It totally made the whole experience all the more exciting. They graciously posed for photos for me and my friend Perry, and immediately we checked-in at the Fox on Facebook (of course we did). I'm totally looking forward to seeing Georgia Ghostbusters again at Dragon Con!

As you can see, I wore my slime green shirt for the occasion! I only told a few people that it was pure happenstance, due to the fact that my pressed shirts were at the cleaners and I didn't want to iron that morning. Thank you, my friend, Serendipity!  

One of the things that I love most about seeing a classic film with a large crowd is the mutual understanding—and the collective laughter—of punch lines, oftentimes with a more grown-up understanding making them even funnier than they ever were before...particularly the jokes about politicians, which are timeless. Sorry to my friends who are elected officials, but even you get it.

The Fox has such great fun with their film series. Coming up soon they'll be screening "Braveheart", starring Mel Gibson. Although perhaps best-known for Mad Max, one of the first films I saw Mel Gibson in was the 1979 "Tim", which of course I saw many years later, because I'm so young. He won an Australian "Best Actor" award for it, which as I recall was very deserving.

For Braveheart, the Fox is hosting a costume contest AND they've partnered with local brewery Monday Night Brewing (one of my personal favorites) for a tasting event, featuring their Drafty Kilt brew. 

Being a Star Trek fan, my personal MNB favorite (based on name alone) is Nerd Alert...just sayin'. I've met a number of the staff, and at least one owner, at Monday Night...they're AWESOME! I highly recommend their Tour & Tasting events, and if you're visiting Atlanta, they're a very short ride from downtown.

Before the movie started, they held the customary pre-show program, which includes a sing-a-long. One of this particular evening's selections was "Peachtree Street" by Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. She was a rather famous singer and actress, and you may have seen her nephew in a movie or two—George Clooney

The organist in residence at the Fox, Larry-Douglas Embury, added a line to the end of the song that speaks to seeing a show at the Fox. The audience loved it!

"Strollin' along Peachtree Street, I'm as happy as can be..."

Speaking of strollin' on Peachtree Street, honoring my typical pre-Fox-show tradition, I visited Livingston Restaurant+Bar for a pre-show libation and dinner, and my friend Perry met me there (we've not attended a Fox show together since The Lion King!). 

I enjoyed one of my favorite dishes there, the Seasonal Roasted Beets, which is AMAZING! A visitor from London sitting a couple of seats over asked about the dish. I described it and he ordered it as well. For my main course, I enjoyed another favorite, their Shrimp & Grits—so incredibly good! 

That was the first time I've had their Shrimp & Grits since my excursion with Peachtree Food Tours...and it was even more delicious than I remembered! I meant to take photos of dinner, but was too distracted by the anticipation of jubilee my belly was about to experience.

The Fox Theatre, Atlanta
The Fox Theatre, Atlanta

Did you know they're making a new Ghostbusters, with women Ghostbusters? I'm so excited and the cast is looking awesome! So far they've cast Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth! It's slated to premiere in July 2016.

Ghostbusters was the first movie in this year's Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival I've seen, which is unfortunately almost finished. There were quite a few others I'd wanted to see (and a couple more that I want to see), but I just got busy. 

I need to make more time for fun.

Speaking of more fun, there are still a few movie events remaining in this year's Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. Check them out here and then go make some memories at the Fox Theatre!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Paradise Garden is a Folk Art Paradise

Many have seen Howard Finster's art at the High Museum of Art or the World of Coca-Cola or any number of other venues, but until you experience Howard Finster's Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia, I don't think you've truly experienced Howard Finster. At least I hadn't.

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden | Travis & Summer Loftin

I and my best friend Barry were guests of my beautiful friend and brilliant interior designer Summer Loftin, whom I first met in 2011 and interviewed in 2013. The sponsor of our Atlanta Bus Tour group was Jim Thompson of the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. "Thank you", Summer and Jim! What a wonderful day of making incredible memories.

The day—and it was a full day—was magnificent! Here's a quick rundown of the day's events and then I'll share more about the Paradise Garden experience.

We arrived at ADAC and were greeted with leis made of Jim Thompson fabrics, which we immediately donned and then joined our new found friends in a champagne toast to our sponsor and host, and to what we already knew would be a fantastic day!

We enjoyed a Victory Sandwich Bar lunch on the bus on the way up to Summerville (the onboard activities were so well planned that the drive went very quickly).

We arrived at Howard Finster's Paradise Garden, where we spent a few hours (I'm totally going back to explore more!) and just before left, we installed the projected we'd worked on on the way up.

We then rode to Finster Fest! The festival has grown so much since its inception in 1992 that it's now held in Dowdy Park. In previous years it was held in Paradise Garden. Finster Fest, which was great fun, is an art and music festival—a fundraiser for Howard Finster's Paradise Garden.

From Dowdy Park we walked to the Couey House, built in the early 1840s, where there were a number of fantastic music groups performing. We sat in the shade with Summer and others from our group and relaxed and listened for a while.

Now evening time, we went over to the nearby Summerville Depot, built in 1889 and now fully restored, where there was yet another music concert—"Tunes on the Tracks"...and Barry and I ate our BBQ on railroad tracks! That was awesome. 

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden | Prayer Flags on the Folk Art Church
One of the things that we did on the way to Finster Fest and Paradise Garden was to make prayer flags, something I can honestly say I never thought I would do. What an amazing opportunity to honor departed loved ones and recall beautiful memories while doing so. 

Our group made hundreds of them, which were installed on the World's Folk Art Church at Paradise Garden while we were there. 

I made flags in memory of my grandmother, Evelyn Dockery (my mother's mother); my recently departed Great Aunt Kathy Burrell (my grandmother's sister and an award-winning poet); and one for one of my best friends who passed away in 1993, Todd Cleveland. Thank you, Summer and Jim, for the opportunity to memorialize family and friends I love. 

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

Finster's famous Cadillac, which I've shown only the front of in the above photo, features drawings of a number of well-known stars, so even as a Baptist minister, Howard was versed in pop culture. 

Why did Howard Finster build Paradise Garden? It was started in 1970 and originally called Plant Farm Museum. Here's what Howard himself said about the reason he did it:
"I built the park because I was commissioned by God. I started the Garden in 1970 about one hundred feet into the backyard, built a cement walk and put up a haul shed and started to display the inventions of mankind. My park is a memorial to inventors. The inventors don’t get recognition. They don’t have an Inventor’s Day. To represent them, I’m trying to collect at least one of every invention in the world."
As it turns out, roadside museums were an influential part of Howard's childhood. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid, so they were a favorite distraction for me as well. They might even have influenced my own love for tourism. I wouldn't be surprised to make that connection, however I've never had a desire to create an attraction such as Howard's. Although this blog has become a collection of experiences, a collection I treasure.

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

You can imagine how excited I was to discover that Howard had incorporated the Millennium Falcon, from Star Wars, into one of his works, right along with a "KEEP ON TRUCKIN" belt buckle from the same decade we first met Han Solo.

When you visit, I think you're going to make many, many memory-eliciting discoveries. I can't imagine there's anyone who can't find something that is personal to them, whether it evokes a memory of childhood, life experiences, faith, or even seeing a painted face that resembles your Aunt Mildred.

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

Speaking of Aunt Mildred, I do have one, but, I didn't see her likeness in any of Howard's paintings. But his people paintings are certainly distinct. Once you've explored his work, you'll recognize it anywhere. In his lifetime—starting at the age of 59—he created nearly 47,000 works of art, so it's quite possible that you've already seen some of it. 

Howard was one of 13 children, as was my Aunt Mildred (on my biological father's side) and my own mother was one of 13 children that my grandmother raised. That's a LOT of kids. I sometimes still don't know how mother raised a grand total of three children!

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

My first glimpse into the Mirror House, seeing all the green and gold, immediately evoked memories of The Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art, a magnificent Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. The Mirror House is considerably smaller and it's folk art, not the majesty that the Freer offers, but it's still mesmerizing. 

If you've ever seen "fun" mirrors at the county fair—the ones that make you skinny, fat, big headed, etc.—you know that they really are fun. They do not, however, prepare you for the experience of the Mirror House at Paradise Garden. I'm not sure what its intention was, except maybe to let you see things in a different way...it's spectacularly dazzling. 

Warning, LADIES in dresses: The mirrors reflect to/from every direction!

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

The Giant's Shoe is a visitor favorite. It's in nearly all the reviews of Paradise Garden that I've read and even when I was there, it was a popular photo-op locale. 

When we first arrived, I didn't know just how large Paradise Garden really is. I had assumed it didn't go beyond the Folk Art Church, but I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover that it goes on and on and on. I actually panicked a little when it started dawning on me how much there was to see and we only had a few hours to see it. This can totally be an all-day excursion, and a great place to bring a picnic!

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

One of the surprises that I found shocking, remarkable and delightful was the discovery of so many cultures being represented in Howard's art. Having had certain conversations with Baptist ministers when I was a kid, this was the last thing I expected to see (the shock), but it gave me hope (the remarkable). It was indeed a true delight to see that perhaps Howard truly was inspired by ALL of the world.

I even saw dinosaurs, spaceships, Elvis and Santa Claus! What Finster did with other people's junk and trash is beyond astounding...and curiously mesmerizing. (There's that word again..."mesmerizing"...because it truly is!)

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

The story is that this (photo above) is Howard Finster's casket. A local funeral home had asked him what they could do for him and his clever answer was to give him his casket. Howard, being the man he is, invited people to write a note on a 2" x 2" piece of paper, sign the other side, and he would put all of those in the casket with his cremated remains (his reasoning for cremation are quite profound. I encourage you to look it up.).

Unfortunately, his wish for his corporeal remains were not honored—having wanted to be cremated. Instead, he was buried in a nearby graveyard, later exhumed and moved to Alabama, where he was born. What a shame what he wanted for his remains wasn't respected.

That's not the only nod to earthly remains you'll see at Paradise Garden. There's a crypt that Howard himself made that supposedly has the remains of an "unknown body" of Chattooga County, which is the county you're in when visiting Paradise Garden.

The experience can't compare, but having visited the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" in Arlington, Virginia, Athens, Greece, and Moscow, Russia, this wasn't a new experience for me, but a rather unexpected one. But you'll get a lot of the unexpected in Paradise Garden, of the pleasant sort.  

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

I'm a major proponent for recycling, but perhaps Howard was one of the greatest recycling and repurposing masters of our time: 

There was also live music when we were there! A younger man and woman were playing for visitors. He was playing guitar and drinking from a mason jar and she was playing violin and had silver toenails. They were quite charming...I wish I knew if they have a CD or play for a band. They were fantastic and I enjoyed listening to them.

The restoration and preservation efforts of the Paradise Garden Foundation is in its infancy, but you can already tell that there are many great things in store for the increasingly popular Georgia tourist destination.

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

Paradise Garden is a place to relax, reflect and explore...lots of exploring! It's also a place of fun. That's Andrea and Teresa who we had the pleasure of chatting with later at the train depot just before the Tunes on the Tracks concert.

This post may sound like a lot, but it's a mere fraction of what we did on our excursion to Paradise Garden. I think you'll enjoy the experience when you go.

Howard was an interesting man, to say the least. Some might say he was a "divinely inspired artist and devoted man of God". Howard called himself "Man of Visions", and I'll leave that research to you. Personally, I have enjoyed his artistic legacy and find myself lost in the awe of it all. I can hardly wait to get back to Paradise Garden to continue the exploration!

If Howard Finster's message and Paradise Garden resonate with you, the Paradise Garden Foundation will, with great appreciation, accept your help in their multi-year plan to renovate, preserve and restore Paradise Garden, be it a contribution, becoming a volunteer, buying a membership, shopping in the online store, or the best...visit Paradise Garden and tell all you friends how awesome it is!

I'd like to again thank Summer Loftin for being such an awesome host (and friend) and Jim Thompson for his sponsorship of our day. I can hardly wait to go back to Howard Finster's Paradise Garden and spend a whole day exploring!