Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren

Monthly Archive: September 2016



September 2016



Spirit Sisters, Part 1: Spano at Serenbe

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For years, I’ve had a not-so-secret crush on Robert Spano — the six-time Grammy Award winning music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The music director of the Aspen Music Festival.  One of the top five maestros in the world. One of only two classical musicians inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

It’s not like I want to make out with him in a parked car. I’ve admired him from afar for a very long time for his incredible talent, what he’s done for the ASO, his passion for music and devotion to mentoring young artists. He humbles and inspires me.

Atlanta is silly with celebrities and I couldn’t care less. But for years I’ve asked people, Do you know Robert Spano? And if so, can I meet him? 

Nothing ever came of it, but I have faith in timing. I knew the universe would send me what I was supposed to have, when I was supposed to have it. And recently it sent me spirit sisters who’ve been showing up and shaking things up in a big way.

It all started with Lauri Stallings, my friend and the founding artist of glo — the movement group that defies description. What that woman creates is not of this world. She is not of this world. Lauri read Kierkegaard when she was 11. She wears these big, clunky shoes that I’m convinced keep her on this earth and not floating above it.

Turns out, Lauri and Robert Spano are two peas in a pod. Robert commissioned her to do a collaboration between glo and the ASO. And Lauri, in her infinite magic, had honest-to-God sod brought in and laid on the stage of symphony hall. Instead of walking in from the usual entrance, patrons had to enter from backstage and walk across the sod to their seats. After everyone was settled in, the symphony sat down and played on the grass.

img_7099Their latest collaboration, cloth field, was set to open September 7. One day, Lauri called and said, “Hey Marie. I’d like to do a fundraiser for glo and thought I’d bring Robert Spano to do a preview of cloth field at Serenbe.”

To say that my jaw dropped is an understatement. You want to bring Robert Spano to Serenbe? Really? 

And so it was that the Sunday before the debut, Robert Spano played a Steinway. In a skirt. On the grass. At Serenbe.

Robert arrived early; he’d heard of Serenbe but had never been. We had dinner. Oh my.

Afterwards, he went out into the meadow and played a Steinway. In a skirt. On the grass. At Serenbe. I thought I was going to levitate.

We were sitting where, exactly one year before, Micah and Kara had their wedding dinner. Twelve months later, Micah held my grandson, Amos, and sat right beside the piano. Later, Micah said Amos went into a dream state while Robert was playing. He must’ve been remembering when he was in utero and Kara played classical music to him every day.

While glo was moving, fireflies appeared and danced with them. When the performance was over, Lauri opened it up to questions. John Graham, executive director of the Serenbe Institute and, in his former life, the executive director of the Florida Philharmonic and the Boca Pops, asked Robert if the music he was playing was Debussy. Robert replied that it was his own original composition.

I audibly gasped. Robert Spano played a piece he’d written himself. On a Steinway. In a skirt. On the grass. At Serenbe.

What Robert and Lauri did was church. Magic and beauty was there, all in one. And my heart overflowed because Robert Spano was there, all my children and my grandson were there and it was a gift beyond words.

After they finished, I hugged both Lauri and Robert and cried over the exquisite beauty I’d witnessed in my former backyard. It was breathtaking and in my top five best things that have ever happened at Serenbe.

I invited everyone in attendance back to my house for libations, savories and sweets. I had wine and Robert’s favorite vodka, Tito’s, served cold. And there was Robert Spano. In my house. Talking to me. Blowing my mind.



September 2016



Seeds of Change: New Hands in the Soil at Serenbe Farms

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Photo by J Ashley Photography

Some people call it coincidence. Some people call it fate. But when one door closes and another opens around here, I call it a Serenbe Moment.

Over the years, Serenbe Moments have resulted in new neighbors, new businesses, new relationships and so much more. The most recent one resulted in our new farmers, the husband-wife team of Matt and Kali Clayton.

“We’d been following Serenbe for quite some time from our living room at our old farm in Wisconsin,” says Matt, who’s a fourth generation vegetable farmer. “Then, when we landed one road over from the community, it felt like fate — or as Marie calls it, a Serenbe Moment.”

Kali’s family lives in Georgia and, with two children under the age of two, she was eager to be closer to her mother. They leased some farmland near Serenbe but had a challenging relationship with their landlord. So Matt called Alice Rolls, the executive director of Georgia Organics, for help. And Alice called Steve.

One week before that, Ashley, Serenbe Farms’ manager, gave her notice.

View More:“As farmers, getting to have a fully established brand behind your produce is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Matt says. “Farming is a business and building a client base can be one of the hardest parts. Farming can also be very isolating as you are often out on a large piece of land. So for our family, getting to plug into a community that celebrates and supports our farming goals and personal philosophies was a dream come true. We get to work on a farm, then play in the woods with our kids in a safe community — the best of both worlds.”

Matt and Kali’s farming philosophy is to work smarter, not harder — one I took to heart while turning the intern house into the farmer house and vice versa. While I cleaned out years worth of stuff, they made plans to implement water wheel transplanters and beautify the look of the farm.

So this season, in addition to the radishes and rutabaga, we’ll have a new crop of farmers in the fields. I wish Ashley well at her new farm and, with Matt and Kali’s plans for a Serenbe orchard already taking shape, I’m excited to enjoy the fruits of their labor.



September 2016



Rite On: A Baby, A Bris, A Brunch

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bris-3When Michael Taylor, my bonus child and family Jewish expert, heard I was hosting a bris for my grandson Amos, he said, “Oh Mama Marie, I am so excited to have some whitefish salad.”

I was like, whitefish what?

I was raised Catholic and Kara converted to Judaism before she married Micah, so these traditions — and the foods that go with them — are unfamiliar to me at best.

Turns out, Costco has a section dedicated solely to Jewish foods. I texted a picture of their whitefish salad to Michael and said, “Is this good?” He replied that it was and I was so relieved. I could make an arugula and herb salad or shrimp and pasta salad with my eyes closed. But whitefish salad? No clue and — because I’m not a fan of smoked fish — no desire.

bris-2So I bought that, along with smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, capers, red onion, tomato and the whole bit. Then I asked Michael, “Can I include a salad? Eggs?” He said I could, so I did a green salad and a fruit salad. Micah’s mother, Kristen, made a vegetable frittata and Uncle Matt made challah so good it stopped the rabbi and mohel — a professional trained in circumcision — in their tracks.

I offered Steve’s mother’s silver challis to hold the wine used in the ceremony and some of Steve’s ancestors’ silver platters for the food. We broke the bread together, drank wine together and though the ritual itself was new, some parts felt very familiar. I love that we’ve added a new layer of tradition to the family.

In the Jewish religion, the bris has to happen 8 days after the birth of the son. Amos was born two weeks early on June 27, so his bris fell on July 4th. Micah’s father, brother Bo and his family had planned to celebrate the fourth at Serenbe, so they were all in town for the bris. It worked out beautifully.

That morning, we attended Serenbe’s annual Fourth of July parade, then the family came to our house for the bris and brunch. After that, everyone went swimming in the new swimming hole created for Kara’s summer camp. We had it all to ourselves and, now that I think back on it, it was like the Nygren family version of a baptism.