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Friday, October 31, 2008

Holidays at the Beach

While most people might not thing of coming to the beach for Halloween, it is an idea that bears some consideration even if Halloween is not the holiday you really need to escape. Getting away from home on a holiday can end up being a great way to break up the routine. Halloween is one of the simpler holidays and does not involve lots of cooking. However, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Perhaps a trip to the beach would be a good way to get mom out of the kitchen, and let everyone relax while charging their batteries for the upcoming holiday season. One of the great things about coming to the beach during the off season is that we move to a different pace.
We all have things that wear us out during our day to day lives. Many of us who are living along the Crystal Coast have come here because some of those modern day stresses are absent here along the shore.

If you are coming from a major metropolitan area, the first thing you will notice is that the speed of life is a little slower here. It may take a little time to adjust, but it is a heart healthy adjustment. Time has a little more stretch to it here. Lines at the grocery store are a lot more casual. Even the restaurants are easier to get into during the off season. We also do not do traffic jams this time of year.

Most days in the fall, our beaches are absolutely fantastic for walking. The air is clear, the sun is bright, and the skies are blue.

If your fall has been stressful, a trip to the coast can be a good tonic for everyone. Sometimes taking people to a new place lets people assume new roles. You might even be able to cook a Thanksgiving dinner and get some people involved that might not have a history of helping at home.

Many of our rental homes have kitchens with views that inspire the soul. We also have some fantastic trails like the Tideland one off of old VFW road in Cedar Point. It is a great place to walk off a holiday dinner.

Of course there are those wonderful Emerald Isle bicycle trails that are great for bike riding or just walking. It is also a perfect time of year to explore Fort Macon Park or hit the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. The heat is gone. The fall is the time when it is fun to stroll down Front Street in Beaufort or Swansboro and take in all the shops.

Not surprisingly we have some unique things along the coast during the holidays. One set of events which we enjoy a lot are the annual Flotillas. This year Swansboro's is November 28 and the Beaufort-Morehead City one is December 6. The Flotillas are when boats are decorated with holiday lights and have a parade.

My favorite event is the annual Emerald Isle Christmas parade. It is a great old fashioned parade which children of all ages enjoy.

Down here on the coast we even make decorating for the holidays easy. You can buy a crab pot Christmas tree at many locations. It is already wired with lights and sets up in less than a minute. When you are done with it, you can fold it up and take it home for use in your yard or home. I can guarantee people will start asking you where you got it.

Last year was our first year to do Christmas on the coast. We started some new traditions like a Christmas eve boat ride and the crab pot tree on the second floor deck.

Another great reason to spend some holiday time on the coast is that if you are considering retiring to the area, it gives you a great chance to see what life is like outside our busy vacation season.

Those of us who are locals live for this time of year. The fishing is great, the beaches nearly empty unless the fish are biting, and the weather is perfect for being outside.

So when you start to get stressed about the holidays, think about coming to the beach. It just might be something that makes the holiday season a lot more pleasant and a lot less stressful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some Cool Air on the Coast

While I have been told that snow is a rare visitor to the Crystal Coast, we do get some cool air. On Monday we were out on the White Oak River fishing. A strong cold front pushed its way through. The waters were choppy, and we got some wind and a little rain. The weathermen warned that trailing behind the front by a few hours would be the coldest air of the fall. Sure enough this morning our temperature was down to forty degrees Fahrenheit in Bluewater Cove. By the time I went out for a morning meeting in Emerald Isle, the temperature was well over fifty degrees. However, our average low in October is usually in the fifties so a day when we didn't quite make it to sixty this time of year is very cool for the area.
We still haven't turned our heat pumps over to heat this year. When I got up this morning, the temperature in our home had dropped to sixty-six degrees. Since I knew we were going to have a sunny day, I chose to turn on our gas fireplace logs for a few minutes. By the time I had my two cups of coffee, the temperature in the down stairs living area and kitchen had risen to seventy degrees. My wife turned the logs off as she came into the kitchen for her coffee.

We enjoyed the sunshine all day, and the winds eventually dropped down. The warmth from the thirty minutes of gas logs was all the heat we needed today. Tonight as I am working up stairs in my office, the temperature is still seventy two degrees inside in spite of it being forty six degrees outside.

We still will not turn on the heat tonight. We will go through the same ritual tomorrow unless it is a whole lot cooler in the house tomorrow morning.

Actually our average high temperature for the month of October is in the mid-seventies. Even in January our average high temperature is fifty-seven. So an October day with temperatures in the upper fifties is like a taste of winter here on the coast.

Our high temperature of fifty nine would have been a little more tolerable without the wind which we had for most of the day. Fortunately the winds seemed to weaken. They were more continuous and seemed to be stronger before the front went through yesterday.

We did have gusts of twenty miles per hour today which made that under sixty degree temperature a little cool.

So what impact did the cooler temperatures have? I did wear blue jeans today. I even put a coat on this morning when I went to get the newspaper, and the temperature was hovering near forty degrees.

I still grilled some chicken outside on the grill late this evening. The wind had stopped, and I was rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the river.

Considering places in Pennsylvania got eight inches of snow today, I will not complain too loudly about having to wear a jacket to get the paper. Even my college roommate on the New Jersey coast will barely see fifty degrees tomorrow and will have to contend with forty-five miles per hour gusts of wind. There are even flurries in the forecast for our second home of Roanoke, Virginia.

Actually our weather here on the Crystal Coast looks pretty good even if it is a touch of coastal winter. We will be back to the sixties by Wednesday. I even see that Saturday has seventy degrees on the forecast. More importantly next week we are back to the mid-seventies and shorts for a string of several days.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Making Memories

A few years ago when we were talking about moving to the coast, we decided that we really wanted a place where our family could make some wonderful memories. We investigated a lot of areas from the mountains to the coast. Then we checked out the coast from Assateague Island to Oak Island. We ended up settling along the Crystal Coast because it looked like the best place to make memories without investing a fortune. It has turned out to be a fantastic place for our family to get together. While we have only been here a few years, we already have some wonderful memories with family and friends.
Perhaps the neatest thing about living in Carteret County is that you do not have to travel far to enjoy the area's wonders.

In our case we can be walking on the beaches of Emerald Isle in less than ten minutes. Our friends who live south of Myrtle Beach have to find street parking with a meter. We just drive to one of several public access points with parking.

We often stop by the Tideland Trails of Croatan National Forest in Cedar Point. They are actually on the way to the grocery store for us. With them being five or six minutes from our house, the trails are our afternoon exercise when we don't have time to go to the beach.

I am especially lucky in that I can slide my kayak in the water just behind our home. It means if I want to go for a late evening paddle, I do not have to load the kayak on the car. This evening after we got back from the beach, I went out for about one hour. It was a nice way to relax after a busy Sunday.

Last Friday afternoon I noticed the water on the White Oak River had quieted down. I called a fishing buddy of mine and asked if he wanted to go fishing for a couple of hours. I did not have to twist his arm, and he was at our house in ten minutes. We were on the water in my skiff by two p.m. and managed to get in a couple of hours of fishing before the rain started. We even caught fish.

My wife and I often go biking just from our home. We have not managed to get the bikes over to Emerald to try their bike trails, but we did take some visiting friends to Emerald Woods Park to catch the sunset last Monday evening. I bet that beautiful clear sky sunset will be in everyone's memory for a long while.

Since moving here we have gone by boat from our home on the White Oak River to Shackleford Banks. We have explored the shores of Bear Island with our skiff and trolled down the ocean side for Spanish Mackerel. I have surf fished in Bogue Inlet with a friend on an island that disappears at high tide.

Last spring we had friends visit us for the Swansboro Oyster Roast. We ate steamed oysters until we dropped. It was unforgettable. One of my favorite memories was going over to Beaufort to view Blackbeard's cannon just after it was raised. Even my son who is twenty-nine loves the Martime Museum in Beaufort.

Last year we had Christmas at the beach. The kids loved it. There was plenty to do from walking their dogs on the beach to taking a Christmas eve boat ride. We even had a crabpot Christmas tree.

This past Saturday we attended the annual Lobster Fest at Saint Francis by the Sea in Salter Path. Today we drove up to catch the end of Kite Festival in Atlantic Beach.

Then I finished the day chasing fish and the sunset in my kayak. It was another gorgeous Crystal Coast day full of great memories.

Our spot in the sun has turned out to be perfect place to make those memories. I continue to believe it will also be a good long term investment for our family.

I certainly do not regret finding a place in Carteret County for making memories.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Makes the Crystal Coast a Good Place To Retire?

More and more these days we are meeting people who have very definite ideas about where they want to retire. They have worked hard in their lives and have gotten to the point of knowing what they want in place to retire. Still there are always trade offs when deciding on the "perfect" place to live. Some people want lots of night life, and others would rather have plenty of options for having active fun during the day. The Crystal Coast has become a very popular place for retirees. Many who have moved here are enthusiastic about their decision. Yet everyone has different reasons for loving this part of North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks.
So why did my wife and I choose the western end of Carteret County after considering all of the east coast from Chincoteague Island to Oak Island?

1. The area, especially from the water, is one of the most beautiful spots on the east coast.
2. Outsiders are welcome and even encouraged to come to the area.
3. It is a chance to live once again in small town America.
4. The climate is remarkably temperate. We can play outside all months of the year.
5. The recreational opportunities are almost limitless if the outdoors is your playground.
6. Property taxes are low.
7. Property values are reasonable and have grown over time.
8. Access to services, shopping, and medical care is very good.
9. Many people in the area care about the environment.
10. The area is safe with generally low crime and few disastrous events.

Of course I can and often do expand on these points when talking to potential newcomers. While the area does not have as many good full time jobs as it needs, most retirees have little trouble finding a part time job to keep themselves occupied.

The period just before you retire is a wonderful time with the chance to make some choices that might not have been available during your career.

Along the way to retirement lots of other concerns and questions need to be answered. Sometimes we find out something that suggests another area might be better for someone. It is part of our job to explain the trade offs so that everyone ends up happy.
No area is perfect, but over two years after moving to the Crystal Coast, I have no regrets. I think we came as close as possible to finding our perfect spot in the sun. Being able to drop the boat in the water and be in the Intracoastal in ten minutes has not hurt nor has having the swimming pool across the cul de sac.

It is pretty hard to beat an area with almost no traffic, lots of services, great beaches and plenty of places to fish.

Pansy Time and a Southern Winter

I can still remember the time when my northern colleagues heard me talking about planting pansies so my mother would have some outside flowers to enjoy during the winter. It mystified them that you could plant flowers and watch them bloom during the winter. Mother lived at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina near the the Virginia border. Still her pansies thrived. She would sit at the kitchen table, read, and look outside at her pansy patch. It was a spot of color in an otherwise drab winter landscape. Having blooming flowers during the winter is just one of the many positive changes that northerners coming to Carteret County get to enjoy.

One of the first changes you notice as you come from the north to the Crystal Coast is that sneakers are our winter shoes. Needing boots for snow is something you can push out of your mind. Snow is very rare on the Crystal Coast and often disappears quickly if it does come.

If you want snow, you have to go looking for it. You might find some on North Carolina's highest mountain peaks, but often you might have to venture to West Virginia to find any serious snow.

This year we have already had some cool days, but I still expect that we will have some nice warm days that stretch into December. We have too much blue sky and sun for the temperatures to get cold very early.

Having spent years in Canada, I have a hard time calling our coldest months winter. The reality is that a cold day on the Crystal Coast is when the temperatures do not get out of the forties. We have some of those in January and a few more in February which is usually our coldest month. Fortunately they are usually interspersed with lots of warm days.

In January 2007, I kept track of temperatures. We had a grand total of 19 hours below freezing for the whole month. In addition we had eleven days when the high temperature went over seventy degrees.

What we called cold in Canada was when today's high temperature was yesterday's low temperature, and none of the temperatures were anywhere close to being above freezing. You know you are in a cold spot when you can unplug the freezer in the garage and not worry about it thawing for a month.

The other major change that northerners might notice on the Crystal Coast is that heavy coats are not required. I wore my "heavy" coastal coat twice last year. Most of the hikes that we did even in January required only a hooded sweatshirt.

A typical winter morning along the Southern Outer Banks might require that you turn your gas logs on for twenty to thirty minutes to take the chill off the house. After that the sun often takes over and warms our houses. Last year there were a couple of weeks where the heat pumps ran most of the time, but we only saw a few days when the temperature briefly touched the mid-twenties for a few minutes.

With weather like that, it is no surprise that getting the pansies planted is an important fall activity. One of the fun things that I did last year was drive around Swansboro in the middle of December and take pictures of all the flowers blooming. Then I stuck them up on a web site for my northern friends to enjoy.

It is a great way to get the attention of your friends up north.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Pride of Living Here

When you move to a wonderful spot like the Crystal Coast, you can expect your old neighbors to come for a visit. Having visitors was one of the things we thought about before moving to Carteret County. We were certain we would have not trouble entertaining our friends. That has turned out to be the case. The neat thing is that our coastal county has so much to offer that having visitors can be a real treat instead of a headache. It is actually easy to have a number of visitors and not have to do the same things over and over. There are so many unique places and events that it is very easy to be proud of living in Carteret County.

Of course all visitors are different. Our first friends to visit came to us from Boston. We had not seen them in years. Actually it had probably been over thirty years. When they last visited us, we were still running a cattle farm in Canada in late seventies. Still we had stayed in touch and were excited about having them visit. I mapped out a suggested route for them which took them from Assateague Island across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and then over to Nags Head. From there they traveled down to Hatteras and took the ferry to Ocracoke and eventually caught the other ferry to Cedar Island. It took them less than an hour and one half from Cedar Island to Cape Carteret.

They had chosen to come visit us in late April when there was still snow on the ground in the Boston area. I had hoped the weather would warm as they drove south. Unfortunately it was in the forties on Assateague and only in the fifties on the Northern Outer Banks.

Luckily by the time they got to Ocracoke temperatures had warmed to the sixties, and when they got to Cape Carteret, we were firmly entrenched in the seventies. When you come from snow covered lands, the first thing you want to see is the beach. While they had driven along a lot of beaches before they reached us, the beaches on Emerald Isle were the first where the weather had been warm enough to enjoy. They were enthralled with shells, so we took them to Third Street Beach on Emerald Isle where we find the shelling a little better most times.

Since one of our visitors continues to love history, we decided a visit to Beaufort was in order. There is nothing like wandering the streets of Beaufort to give you a sense of history. There happened to be a crafts fair that weekend so things were even more festive. Of course there are plenty of shops in Beaufort. If you are clever, you can only take your visitors to a few stores so you don't have to go in the same shops all the time.

Any time you have visitors, food ends up being part of the equation. While we enjoy eating out, we also like sharing meals made with some of our area's bounty. One of our favorite cook at home meals for guests happens to be lump crab cakes. I buy some lump crabmeat from one of the local seafood shops. I pack it in ice even in the refrigerator since someone told me that crab needs to be kept very cold. My wife just follows the recipe on the Old Bay seasoning and broils them. One can of lump crabmeat makes enough crab cakes for four adults. If we can get it, we like to serve asparagus with it. We will often have some fresh Carteret shrimp as a cocktail before the meal. With our friends from Boston we were able to add fresh strawberry shortcake using fresh berries from one of the local farms.

Sometimes we get visitors who would like to enjoy the beaches like they were before they became developed. It is then time to take a trip up to Harker's Island and take one of the ferries over to Cape Lookout. It is a very inexpensive ride and lots of fun.

My daughter came to visit this spring, and we had a wonderful day up at Tryon Palace in New Bern. The flowers were unbelievable.

We had one set of friends who had heard us talk about the spring Swansboro Oyster Roast. They came to visit just so we could go eat as many steamed oysters as possible. I had to teach them how to efficiently separate the the oyster from its shell, but we had a great time.

Then there were friends from Oklahoma who wanted to go salt water fishing. They did not have to twist my arm on that one. It only took a few minutes before my friend was catching croakers while we drifted through Swansboro Harbor.

One of the popular things that we do with visitors is to go hiking on the Tideland Trails at the Cedar Point Croatan Park access point. It is sheltered enough that hiking in the cooler months is still a lot of fun. Sometimes we also take people to watch the sunset over Bogue Sound from Emerald Woods Park on Emerald Isle.

Often we will grab breakfast at Yana's in Swansboro and let the ladies wander the shops there. There are just enough shops there to walk off a meal.

There are lots of other favorite spots that we enjoy sharing with our visitors. Among the favorites are Maritime Museum in Beaufort, the Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Macon, and the Museum at Hammocks Beach.

Since I am a real estate agent, a fair number of our guests are interested in looking at homes in our area. With many of them thinking about downsizing and moving to a low cost area for their retirement, I am always glad to oblige.

We often save for last our favorite stretch of beach which is over near the Point at Emerald Isle. The wide flat stretches of beach there are almost intoxicating for people who have just come from a snowy area. In fact when we took our friends from Boston to the beach the day before they left, I thought they were never going to leave the beach. It was one of those warm spring afternoons that we get so often get along the Crystal. I think we were there for over three hours.

It was a perfect afternoon and as they waded in the water, I was proud of living in such a special place like Carteret County. It just happens to be one of the neatest spots to live on the east coast.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Wonders of North Carolina

The ocean is never far from my thoughts these days, but being a native North Carolinian, I know that our state has much more to offer than just our coastal paradise. While some of us are not very interested in snow, those who want cold weather and snow can easily find it in the North Carolina mountains or in neighboring states. My wife and I have a second home in the Virginia mountains which are less than six hours driving time from coastal North Carolina. We get to see the change of seasons across the Piedmont region and up into the Blue Ridge mountains. One of the reasons the Crystal Coast is such a great spot for retirement is that North Carolina and its neighboring states have so much to offer residents.

I was very fortunate one summer in college years ago. I did not have to work, and I got to spend the summer going between the beach and the mountains. We were living in Mount Airy, North Carolina which is just a couple of miles south of the Virginia border. I would drive down the Outer Banks and pitch a tent in the Ocracoke campground. After five or six days of sun and sand, I would head back home to restock and grab some different fishing tackle for a camping trip to the Pisgah National Forest and the Black Mountains.

It was a memorable summer, including the one night I spent in the only motel on Ocracoke at the time so I could see man's first step on moon.

It is not unusual to find coastal folks with second homes in the mountains. The Boone and Blowing Rock area which is less than six hours by car is popular with many people. Then of course there is Asheville which is around one half hour farther west. It is a North Carolina tradition to visit the Biltmore Estate and see their Christmas decorations.

Of course there are plenty of other places to visit in North Carolina, like Old Salem in Winston-Salem, the wonderful museums in Raleigh, or the wilderness of Linville Gorge.

There is never a shortage of things to do. We have a great tradition of college sports, both football and basketball. There was a rumor when I was young that your favorite basketball team had to be declared on your birth certificate. Fortunately I discovered that was not the case.

As a youngster in North Carolina, I enjoyed Tweetsie Railroad, the Great Smoky Mountains, Linville Caverns, Chimney Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and multiple trips down the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also ventured into Gatlinburg, Tennessee many times.

Since we lived so close to the Virginia border, it was easy to take advantage of all the history that Virginia offers. Even from the Crystal Coast, Lexington, Virginia and its wealth of Civil War history is less than seven hours by car. Williamsburg and all that it has to offer is under five hours from Carteret County.

Still you could be like my wife and I who have found plenty to do right here on the coast. Whether it is visiting Tryon Palace, enjoying the Maritime Museum in Beaufort, or watching a Civil War battle at Fort Macon, we have found lots of fun things without traveling hours.

That is especially true during the fall festival season. I was very impressed by the crowds at the Swansboro Mullet Festival this weekend. We were not here for the rainy Saturday, but Sunday was definitely a success.

I like to think the North Carolina has something for everyone, from the Appalachian Trail to the Historic Barbecue Trail. It is a great state with plenty to keep you busy during an active retirement.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Kind of Schooling

Sometimes it is so obvious that the Crystal Coast is one of the best places in the United States to live, that I am very surprised that we are not overrun with newcomers. Yesterday was one of those days. First the weather for the last few days has been as close to perfect as you can get. The temperatures are in the upper seventies and low eighties during the day. At night the temperatures are dropping into the fifties. On top of the great weather, I got to do something that has eluded me for a long time. I went to a seminar about fishing. Just how wonderful can it get when you are living on a great river in an area famed for its fishing and then you get to go learn how to catch more fish?

October is arguably the best fishing month on the Crystal Coast. This year October is rolling around after a summer of less than stellar fishing. That means all fishermen have high expectations for the fall fishing season.

In my case, I have decided to really focus on Speckled Trout and Red Drum. When I heard that our most famous local surf fisherman, Dr. Bogus, was giving a free seminar on Speckled Trout to coincide with the annual Speckled Trout Tournament, I had to attend.

I had missed the registration deadline, but I called Dr. Bogus, and he told me to show up anyway. My arm did not have to be twisted, and I was at the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation building ten minutes before the seminar started.

I was not surprised to see that others at the seminar had come with note pads. This was obviously a group of serious fishermen.

Dr. Bogus did a great job. We learned how to pick the right water to fish and the right tackle and gear to use. I was especially impressed with the information about how each fish takes the bait differently. I saw many artificial baits which were new to me. I was especially impressed with Dr. Bogus' float rig for fishing a fly and another lure on a dropper leader.

In fact I went to bed thinking that I might get up early and go Speckled Trout fishing in my kayak. Unfortunately I had far too much morning and afternoon work to do so it was about 5:30 pm by the time I got my kayak on the river after creating one of Dr. Bogus' special rigs.

By the time I had paddled out to my chosen oyster rock, it was clear that finding the exact spot that I wanted was going to be challenging since the tide was staying pretty high.

I really did not have much time left for serious fishing, but I stayed as long as I dared. I did get somewhat distracted by the amazing sunset we had.

Still I knew that if I was not back by dark, my wife would have the neighbors organize a search party so I headed back, fishing a little along the way, but mostly paddling pretty steadily since I had managed to get over half way across the river.

While I did not catch anything today, I am convinced that the tips that I learned from Dr. Bogus will be instrumental in helping me have a very successful fall fishing season. I am very impressed with the new rig that I created based on Dr. Bogus' instructions. I am convinced it will really help me fish some of the shallow waters that often have fish but are a challenge to work properly.

If you get a chance to go to a Dr. Bogus seminar, do not pass up the opportunity.

Life does not get much better than fishing seminars in the midst of our coastal paradise during what we all hope will be a great fishing season.