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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sixty One Degrees on New Year's Eve

It was so nice this morning that we headed over to Emerald Isle to check out the beaches. I wanted to visit one of my favorite spots, Third Street Beach. It has a small parking lot, but I like the the shape and slope of the beach there. In the summer we find it a great place for shell collecting. I checked the temperature when we got out of the car. I was not surprised to see a reading of sixty-one degrees Fahrenheit. It had to be warm. Even with a light breeze, I was comfortable in just a tee-shirt with long sleeves. I walked down to the water to take a few shots. I had the beach to myself for several minutes before a couple with a small dog walked by the spot where I was trying to catch the sun on the waves. As I was standing on the beach with the sun warming my back, I could not help but remember the weather forecasts that I read earlier this morning.
The reports were calling for heavy snow from northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey through New England into the Canadian Maritimes. The weathermen at Accuweather had this to say this evening. "The addition of cold winds wrapping around the low has turned the storm into a full-blown blizzard that could paralyze Cape Cod New Year's Eve and Canada's Maritimes overnight and Thursday."

Having lived through a number of those blizzards during my years in New England and Canada, I can vividly remember how cold and nasty a true blizzard can be. I also know that many of the areas adjacent to ground zero of a blizzard also do not fare very well. They usually have winds almost as strong and temperatures nearly as cold. The snow might be a little less, but even with all my years in the north, I never did figure out how to measure how much snow you are getting when it is snowing horizontally.

Given that this December has turned out to be a brutal introduction to winter for the northern part of the country, I was not surprised to see a higher than normal number of vehicles from New York and New Jersey in the parking lot at the grocery store. Our sixty-one degrees today must have felt pretty good.

In fact the temperature was so nice that we went for a walk on the Tideland Trails at the Croatan National Forest Access point in Cedar Point. There were a fair number of people trying to walk off some of their holiday meals. As we got out to one of the exposed areas on the trail we could feel the northerly winds begin to increase.

I guess misery loves company so we will have to take a shot of cold air tomorrow. At eleven PM as I am writing this in Bluewater Cove just a couple miles up the White Oak River, the temperature has dropped to thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

That is a pretty substantial drop, but as I glance at some of the temperatures up the east coast, that thirty-five degrees looks relatively warm.

My friend in State College, PA is looking at nineteen degrees and snow. My college roommate in Forked River, NJ is thirteen degrees cooler at twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. In my Boston, another college friend is enduring a balmy nine degrees with blowing snow. She had to clean snow from her roof after the last storm so I am pretty sure this one was not a welcome visitor.

Even here in North Carolina, my hometown of Mount Airy has cooled to twenty seven degrees. Some relatives in the area called to say that Boone had seen winds as high as seventy miles per hour.

Then there are our poor Canadian friends in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They are under an official blizzard warning with about one foot of snow expected and winds of fifty miles per hour. I did my tour of duty in the north so I know the only true escape from the cold is to head south.

I think tomorrow we are scheduled for our sympathy cold weather. We are only going to make it up to the upper forties. However, New Year's Day seems to be the only really cold weather we will see for the next week. We should almost make it to sixty on Friday. By Sunday we are back into the sixties.

If the winds stay calm, I am hoping for a nice bike ride which is a lot more fun than shoveling snow.

At this point in my life, the snow that I enjoy the most is what I see in the pictures my friends send me. Living on the Crystal Coast has been the best protection against snow that I could imagine.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Warm Green Christmas Day

Years ago I can remember saying that a particularly warm Christmas morning just did not feel like Christmas because of the temperature. Perhaps growing up in North Carolina at the foot of the Virginia mountains made snow seem magical, and something to wish for each Christmas. However, a number of years in Canada dealing with snow and cold made a green Christmas look very nice. Today as I look at a Christmas morning temperature of nearly sixty degrees Fahrenheit, I actually feel sorry for my friends in State College, Pennsylvania and Boston. They are trapped by geography. State College is nearly thirty degrees cooler than on the coast. While Boston has warmed to only twenty degrees cooler than the Crystal Coast, the walk for the morning paper at forty degrees Fahrenheit will require a coat. Perhaps shedding my coat is what I have grown to love the most about a green Christmas.
Bundling up is a fact of life in the north when the snow flies. With children you often feel like life is a continuous dressing and undressing. Perhaps the greatest freedom gained on the coast is the freedom to not wear a jacket.

We recently got to taste some seriously cold weather. We were visiting Roanoke, Va early the week before Christmas. One morning we were greeted with a low temperature of ten degrees Fahrenheit and winds gusting to forty miles per hour. It was weather where you could not ignore a coat. It was cold enough that your coat stayed on when coming back to your cold car after a quick dash to a store. I even had to dig out a pair of gloves for the cold Roanoke weather.

The cold even turned shopping for groceries into a test of wills. It was hard not to think back to the previous week weekend when it had been warm enough to wear shorts and take the boat for a ride down the river.

While the cold weather seems to make us want to hunker down in our homes, the warmth seems to draw us out of our homes. It is funny how you adjust the triggers that prepare you for the seasons. While seeing snow used to make me ready for winters and the holidays, now the yard turning brown and temperatures in the forties are all I need to feel like the holidays are just around the corner.

I am certain that getting ready for the holidays is a lot easier without having to fight the cold. Going from store to store loses the pressure of getting to a warm spot. Just the fact that hurrying to beat the cold is no longer important takes some stress out of the holidays. Then there is the pleasure of putting up decorations without your hands freezing.

Even the walk to get the morning paper becomes more of a stroll with perhaps the opportunity to chat with a neighbor. My willingness to have a morning chat at the mailbox is more than doubled at sixty degrees. Exchanging holiday pleasantries does not become a test of who can stand the cold the longest.

The one thing I do miss about a green Christmas is that it is too warm to wear my Santa hat.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Fine Sunset and Warmer Weather

If you are dropping by Crystal Coast Living from a northern state, you probably are not very sympathetic to any complaining about our "winter" weather. Fortunately we are back into some better weather which means warmer temperatures. Still we have seen some ups and downs. Yesterday we went over to the beach at Emerald Isle to take some pictures. Since the temperature was over seventy four degrees Fahrenheit at our home about eight miles from the beach, I had followed my dress code and switched to shorts. It was great to get back in my standard uniform. It was still warm when we got to the beach, but I when I looked up the beach, I was a little concerned that Bogue Inlet Pier was disappearing into the fog.
Then I remembered the weathermen saying that a cold front was going to work its way through the area. When we lived in Canada, a cold front could mean several days of declining temperatures when your low temperature today became your high temperature tomorrow.

Fortunately on the Carolina coast, cold fronts are not nearly as serious, but they can bring substantial temperature drops. The one yesterday certainly surprised me. When we got to the beach, there was a little blue sky just off shore. As the cold front came down the beach, things got darker, then much cooler and foggier. Then the pier reappeared, and we started to adjust to the new temperature.

When we got back to the car, the temperature was fifty six degrees Fahrenheit. In just a few minutes, the temperature had dropped eighteen degrees. My shorts no longer felt so great much to my wife's amusement.

The good news is the temperature only dropped down to about fifty degrees last night. We managed to get back up in the mid-sixties today. Since my friends in Edmonton, Alberta endured temperatures of thirty four degrees below zero Fahrenheit this weekend, I am not going to complain very much about our highs only being in the sixties instead of the seventies.

I have also noticed that much of the country to the north of us seems to be enduring a series of winter storms. Our biggest problem to date has been the fog generated by the warm air over our cooler than normal waters. This morning there was an advection warning. I have heard of convection, but advection was a new one on me.

It turns out that it means horizontal movement of weather properties. In other words fog forming off the coast was going to be blown across the water to the shore.

We should be in the mid to upper sixties through the weekend. That qualifies as great weather in my book especially considering I will be waking up to snow on the ground Sunday morning just over three hundred miles from the coast.

If I could make it happen, December, January, and February would be months when my body never left Carteret County.

When I am down here on the coast, I know the odds are that we can see some seventy degree days even in January or February. When I am up in the mountains, I know there are even better odds that I can see freezing rain, sleet, or snow.

I would rather be betting on sunshine and blue skies.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Emerald Isle Christmas Parade

Finally we got to enjoy the Emerald Isle Christmas parade which had originally been scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving when it was rained out. I love the Emerald Isle parade. It is just a great old fashioned Christmas parade with something for everyone. To me it is the kickoff for the holiday season here on the Crystal Coast. It has been a great week for parades. Beaufort had theirs earlier this week, and on Saturday morning Morehead City had their parade. It was nearly a perfect afternoon for a Christmas parade. The temperature which was forty eight degrees Fahrenheit as we came across the bridge was just cool enough to remind us of the holiday season.
One of the reasons I find Carteret County so wonderful is that it is such an unpretentious place. People just try to have fun and include everyone in the fun. There are not a lot of rules which make it hard to participate in most events. As a result everyone does have fun.

You could certainly tell everyone is included by watching the Emerald Isle parade. This was the fifth annual parade and people really do enjoy it especially the children.

I really enjoyed seeing the Wells Fargo stage coach with its team and beautiful boxer riding atop the coach. I think Bluewater's float was the best in the parade, but I might be just a little biased.

There really was something for everyone. I saw vintage Corvettes, beach buggies, golf carts, the Croatan High School Marching Band, horses, miniature horses, dogs, boats, fire trucks, motorcycles, and a number of floats. There were some important people in the parade. Unfortunately in my excitement I missed some of them, but I did get Santa who was there in a horse drawn carriage.

I posted lots of pictures of the event at my Picasa Web Albums site.

Also I managed to get movies of the parade up on the web. I have a short Quicktime movie of the beginning of the parade. If you do not have Quicktime, you can download and install it.

Or on the same web page as the movie, you will find in the right side bar links to three YouTube movies which cover the whole parade. Check the bottom of my web page for browser suggestions. Watch the YouTube movies in high quality if you have the bandwidth.

I loved seeing the Marines with their giant truck and the Toys for Tots advertisement. It is good to get a reminder since the last day for Toys for Tots drop off is December 16. All the Bluewater Offices are accepting the donations.

After the parade was over we stopped by Merchants Park for some hot cider and cookies. Then Mayor Art Schools showed up to light the town tree. Shortly before that Santa had been delivered to his red chair by the tree. He had switched his mode of transportation from horse drawn carriage to an Emerald Isle Police Department SUV. I guess he knew the children were growing restless.

Given how much candy was thrown towards the children lining the streets, I am glad that I do not have any little ones to tuck into bed tonight.

There were also several big children who managed to stuff their pockets with candy.

A great time was had by all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Comfort Food on the Coast

Even paradise has to endure some rain and cool weather once in a while. It is easier for me to talk about it with the knowledge that next week our temperatures will be in the mid-sixties. Recently our weather choices have been cool and clear or warm and wet. Those are not my favorite choices since the wet is rain instead warm salt water on my toes. We did finally get back to warmth today in spite of dodging rain showers all afternoon and evening. Around 5 PM a particularly strong band of showers had darkened the sky, and convinced my wife and I that it would be a great night to find a cozy restaurant over on Emerald Isle.
A December rainy night often makes one want to curl up on the sofa, but rain at sixty five degrees is not much of a threat. That is especially the case when your uniform is almost always beach casual.

When you have lived away from your home turf most of your adult life as we have, comfort food takes on a special meaning. When we were younger, I think we leaned more towards what our mothers cooked when we came home on college breaks.

Our children, who are grown, still enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich with Campbell's Tomato soup when the pantry is almost empty and the kitchen is about to close. That is often the case on their visits since they never seem to arrive before 9 PM.

As we were driving over the bridge to Emerald Isle, we knew that the area favorite for comfort food, chicken and pastry, would be hard to find since it is usually a lunch item.

While we have moved around North America, I have always adapted my comfort food to the region where we were living. In Nova Scotia, I became very partial to homemade clam chowder. Sometimes I even give in and make it myself.

When I worked in northern Virginia, I enjoyed a particular ethnic kabob restaurant as a spot to warm my soul and stomach.

In Roanoke, Va we have a neighborhood diner that serves a pot roast dinner every Thursday night for $4.99. That is an evening meal at a price that would be hard to find here on the coast even in December.

As I am thinking about that particular meal, I am reminding myself that the weather forecast for Roanoke on Friday December 12 is for some snow. I long ago decided that avoiding snow was worth the cost.

One of our new favorite foods since moving to the Crystal Coast is grouper. I love it cooked just about every possible way that it can be prepared.

Once we had decided on grouper, we headed for Chowdaheads, a small sandwich shop on the Island. Since the rain was pouring down, we had the restaurant to ourselves.

Our grouper sandwiches were delicious, and I will also admit to getting some of their homemade potato chips or Chowdafries.

As we headed home in the rain,I decided that a grouper sandwich qualifies as an evening comfort food on Emerald Isle.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Changing Coast Line

It should be no surprise to anyone that the sand here on the Southern Outer Banks moves around some each year even without storms. There are strong currents along our shore in certain areas. Some of those areas loose sand and some of them gain sand each year. One of the places along the Crystal Coast that is the most special to me is the Point over on Emerald Isle just off the intersection of Inlet Drive and Bogue Court. I first fished there around forty years ago as a teenager. At that time getting there required driving on the beach for a long way. In the fall of 2007, I decided that I was going to take my four wheel drive truck out on the Point and surf fish there once again. The easy part was going to get my beach driving permit from Emerald Isle.
After paying for the permit, we drove down to the Point to scope out the beach. Since it was perfect fishing weather, the area was packed with trucks. On top of that I had been so excited about the potential of driving on the beach that I had forgotten to bring any fishing tackle. I decided that my first efforts of driving on the beach could wait until it was a little less crowded.

We headed home, I got busy with some clients, and it was a couple of weeks before we got back over to the Point. In fact it was November 4, 2007. The Point was basically under water. As you can see from this picture, the only parking was for boats. The ramp eventually was damaged by high water, and part of it washed away.

I was pretty disappointed, but I heard much talk about how the beach around the Point was actually healing itself. I had great memories of how beautiful the area was in January of 2007 when I took the pictures in this web album.

All summer long we walked the beach in the area. The area which stayed dry at high tide gradually expanded. It was with great interest that we read in this week's newspapers that the ramp had been repaired. Some sand had also been piped in to fill the last spots remaining under water.

Early this afternoon before I retreated to my chair for the last afternoon of regular college football, we drove over to the Point to investigate. While the vehicle ramp was not open when we got there, the pedestrian access was officially open. As far as I can tell the ramp has been completely repaired. There is plenty of sand at the Point once again.

Though today was not a great day for pictures, this photo album shows how quickly the beaches can heal themselves. Click on any picture for a larger version.

I think the beaches running along Inlet Drive down to the Point are some of the nicest ones on Emerald Isle. I am glad to see them healthy again. One of favorite beach walks is to park at the small parking lot on the right on Coast Guard Road just before it runs into Inlet Drive. We then walk down to Inlet Drive and take a left until we reach the CAMA beach access boardwalk. It just takes a few minutes, and the beaches are well worth it.

These pictures from walking on the beach will give you a good idea of the area and why I think it is so beautiful.

I am looking forward to that surf fishing trip at the Point once again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Almost Empty Beach

The Thanksgiving holiday has passed, and now we are on the downhill slope to Christmas. This is perhaps the quietest time in beach communities. Since many people living here on the Crystal Coast are transplants, a significant number travel back to their home turf for the holidays. Perhaps they are hoping to see a white Christmas or just want to visit with family and old friends. It is almost as if December brings us a new level of peace and quiet to the coast. For those of us who stay here during the holidays, it is an extremely pleasant time. People seem to be happy to see each other, and there is plenty of time to visit since our area mostly manages to avoid the holiday rush.
We drove down to the Eastern Regional Access on Emerald Isle this afternoon. After a rainy morning, the skies had cleared, and the temperature briefly rose to fifty degrees Fahrenheit. There was no wind, and we had sunshine. That is usually a recipe for checking out the beach.

When we got to the parking lot, we were surprised to see it completely empty. I can only remember one other time in January or February of last year when we found the lot empty. Of course the weather this fall has been much cooler than either of the two falls we have lived here on the coast. Last year on December 2, the high temperature was sixty-eight degrees, and on December 3, it managed to make it to seventy degrees.

Unfortunately we are not going to see that this week. We have a forecast that shows mostly low fifties for high temperatures with only one day getting into the sixties.

The cool weather has made a difference in beach traffic. After we walked over to the boardwalk leading down to the beach, I was not surprised when I only saw a couple of people to the east of us and a few fishermen to the west.

It is the time of the year when you come to smell the ocean and listen to it instead of swimming or wading in it. Being on the beach is still a wonderful tonic for the soul. We stayed for several minutes soaking up the brief afternoon warmth of the sun. Just listening to the waves and smelling the salt spray helped to clear my mind.

By the time we were ready to leave another car had pulled into the parking lot, and the driver had wandered down to the boardwalk. As we passed, I felt like we were handing over temporary ownership of the beach to the new visitor.

We headed back down Emerald Drive and marveled at the gasoline prices being about half of what they were last summer when the roads were filled.

Our last stop before leaving the island was the grocery store at Emerald Plantation. It too was almost deserted. There's always a different feeling to the grocery stores this time of year. In the summer, sometimes the shelves look like they have been ravaged. In December, everything is orderly and the selection is fantastic. You even find locals taking the time to stop and have conversations in the aisles.

As we drove back across the bridge, the sky was beginning to turn golden just as it often does this time of year just after sunset. It was the end of another peaceful day here on the Crystal Coast.

It is nice to be in an area where things seem to slow down during the holidays. I certainly do not miss the hyperactive holiday rush of the cities.

There is plenty of room for visitors here along the blue waters of the Atlantic if you want to try a different kind of holiday this year. It just might become a tradition.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Being Thankful on the Coast

Thanksgiving seems to be one of the favorite holidays of everyone that I know. It is a magic time which somehow has been able to survive with minimal commercialization. Most people take Thanksgiving as a holiday to get together with family and friends and enjoy a good meal together. While plenty of food is involved, even more effort is expended on being together. People drive hundreds of miles to be with loved ones. First and foremost, if we are lucky, we can rejoice in everyone being healthy enough to make the celebration. While family dominates Thanksgiving day, there are plenty of things for which we can say thanks here along the coast.
When I go down my list of what to be thankful for beyond my family, often the first thing I come up with is the privilege of living in such a scenic area. I always take a short detour to my dock each morning as I head out to get the newspaper. The view of the water always amazes me. Sometimes I will get fussed at by one of the big Blue Herons. Other mornings, there are White Herons flying overhead, and in January, I can be surprised by Pelicans in the neighborhood.

Similarly when I have had a tough day, I always find an excuse to drive across the bridge to Emerald Isle. Riding across Bogue Sound around sunset can cure almost any case of disappointment. The colors on the sound are truly something special. The view from the bridge brings great beauty into the life of all who are fortunate enough to see it.

Next on my list of things to be thankful for is Carteret County. First and foremost, it is a safe place to live and raise a family. We have little crime and plenty of great people who make it a friendly area. We have a moderate climate, wonderful seashores, Croatan National Forest, and even low taxes with great schools and almost no traffic. It is a hard to beat combination.

Similarly I am thankful for the wonderful waters that are a part of Carteret County. I cannot think of an area where you can have more fun boating, fishing, and just relaxing on the water. We have waters which are safe for swimming and for our marine creatures.

Also I would add to my list the many people here in Carteret County whose jobs and lives touch my life. The list includes my business associates, the members of our church, the people who live in our subdivision, and the many hardworking people who provide the services which make our lives so pleasant here on the Crystal Coast. That includes everyone from the fishermen who catch our shrimp to the many waiters and waitresses who somehow always have a smile on their face even during tourist season.

While many places close up during the winter, that is not the case here in Carteret County. The Crystal Coast just becomes an even closer community. By mid winter, most locals are easy to spot in restaurants. I am thankful that we are small enough to be a friendly community but still large enough to have all the basic services and shopping that we need.

As other areas of the country get covered by snow, I am very appreciative of our weather which allows snow only as a very rare occurrence. The lack of ice and snow is one of the prime reasons that my wife and I are living here in Carteret County.

The Crystal Coast is a great place with much for which to be thankful, and of course it is even better if you can surround yourself with all your friends and family who can help you enjoy all the bounty of our area.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Never Scrimp on Your Bait Shrimp

We have faced some cold weather here on the normally warm Crystal Coast. It has made fall fishing a little more challenging. Between the winds, rain, and cold weather, most fishermen have not been out on the water nearly as much as they had planned. Today the weather moderated somewhat, and this afternoon we even saw the temperatures make it back into the sixties which is near where they should be this time of year. With that background, one of my fishing buddies and I decided to try our luck at one of our fishing holes which happens to be just a couple of minutes by boat from my dock. This morning I went out to get shrimp for bait. For some reason I decided to buy really nice medium shrimp. It turned out to be a wise decision.
It only took us a few minutes to load my boat and get underway. My wife's last words to us as we pulled away from the dock were "do not bring any fish back for dinner." While I am sure she meant that as a funny parting comment, I think it turned into a curse.

Since my boat had not been out in a couple of weeks, I wanted to run it down the river at a pretty good clip just to get the motor warmed up. We turned at the red sixteen buoy near Bluewater Cover and headed towards Swansboro with the boat planing nicely.

It only took a couple of buoys for us to figure out that we did not have enough clothing on to make a comfortable run down the river. I slowed the boat down quickly, and we started working our way close to some oyster rocks where we had enjoyed some great success on our last two fishing trips.

We anchored in about nine feet of water with a slope of deeper water near enough for our casts to reach. The tide was just starting to come up in the river. In a short time we both had lines baited with shrimp in the water waiting for our initial bites. The last time we were at the same spot only a couple of weeks earlier, we had on shorts and tee shirts. Today we both were wearing jeans and jackets. The last time we also had gotten bites almost as quickly as our baits hit the water.

Just as we had anchored I had noticed a couple of nice fish on the fish finder so we were hopeful that the fish would be interested in our baits.

Within about five minutes we trying different spots around the boat with no bites of any kind. After about twenty minutes of no interest from the fish, we decided to move to some deeper water.

We pulled up the anchor and moved fifty yards up the river to a spot where the water is twenty feet deep. My theory was that perhaps the fish were holed up in warmer and deeper water. It did not take us very long to decide that the deeper water was not the answer to our problem.

We both switched to artificial lures and flailed the water for another hour while checking our shrimp baited bottom rigs regularly. About an hour and one half into the trip, I picked up my camera and started snapping some pictures of clouds reflected on the water. I figured if I could not catch any fish, I would at least come away with some nice pictures.

Despite our best efforts, we did not get a single bite. Just before five o'clock, we pulled up our anchor and headed back to my dock. It had gotten cool on the water, and with no action, we figured that we would save our efforts for a warmer day.

Still we had a great trip, but what happened to the shrimp? Since we had only used five or six shrimp, and they had been nicely packed in ice for the trip, I took them inside and cleaned them. My wife did her magic with the quick dip that she gives shrimp in boiling water, and we enjoyed a nice shrimp cocktail before dinner.

Now if I had bought bait shrimp, the only creatures getting to enjoy shrimp would have been those neighborhood crabs that live a very good life at the end of my dock.

So rule number one is buy good shrimp, they might be the only thing edible that comes back from your fishing trip.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Beach Trip

It is only in recent years that coming to the beach for the holidays has become popular. It has become a tradition with some families. I suspect the holiday beach trip has a lot to do with how easy it is to drive to the beach. The four lane highways with fast food available at almost every interchange is far different from the experience that families faced years ago. I can remember the preparations for trips to the beach made it seem like we were going on an expedition.
The North Carolina of the fifties was a very different place than it is today. There were just a few four lane roads, and none of those went anywhere near the beach.

A trip to beach from western North Carolina required careful planning and preparation. There were few if any restaurants east of Raleigh where once a year visitors could count on finding good food. With a trip to the beach taking much of a day from our home turf near Mount Airy, much of the preparation for the trip involved cooking food to be enjoyed along the way.

My mother was an expert at packing picnic lunches. The meals on the trip down to the beach were a highlight of the trip. The meals always had some combination of country ham biscuits, fried chicken, and pimento cheese sandwiches. The only beverages that I can remember were those small bottles of Coca-Cola.

In addition to the food for the trip down, much of the food for the week at the beach was carried down in the car. I can even remember taking jugs of water along with us. It is a good thing we did not need a lot of clothes since there were no giant cars back in the fifties and sixties.

There were also no by-passes in those days, and even gasoline stations were a challenge to find. The trip to the beach was a tour of many small towns and villages.

There were a few things that we watched for to indicate that we were getting closer to our destination.

One was the first Spanish moss and the other was the first sign of the mosquito ditches along the roads. Then we would look for that first long bridge over water. I do not ever remember being bored in spite counting cows being one of the few games, but I am certain we were normal kids anxious to get into the water.

Spending time on the beach and in the water pretty well summed up the activities. We often had a couple of my older cousins with us. They were teenage girls, and I can remember them going to dances and having a lot of fun on the boardwalks.

Meals were not a big deal though I can remember some seafood restaurants. It was really all about the beach and enjoying the water.

Much of the coast shut down after the summer season years ago. That is no longer the case especially along the Crystal Coast. Most of our services are year around since there are plenty of us who spend all of our time here.

Today's holiday visitors often come to the beach to get away from excessive holiday celebrations. The uncrowded fall or winter beach attracts people who are seeking peace and quiet during the holidays.

With four lane roads leading right to the Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach bridges, travel from anywhere on the east coast to the Crystal Coast is much easier than it was during those early expeditions that our family made.

In looking through the recent local papers, I am amazed at how many restaurants in the area are doing Thanksgiving dinners. There are plenty of choices so that you can come to the beach and enjoy a holiday meal without even cooking.

It is a short trip to a different perspective on your usual holiday celebration.

We recently drove from Charlotte to Emerald Isle. The driving part of the trip only took five hours even though we mostly stayed off of the Interstates until we got to Raleigh.

Along the way there restaurants of every type. There was even no challenge finding gasoline priced below two dollars a gallon.

Even so I sort of miss the picnic we used to take with us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Enjoying the View

Today was a cool day here on the Crystal Coast. Tomorrow our high temperature is forecast to be almost fifteen degrees lower than our normal November high of sixty-five degrees. While western North Carolina has received some light snow in higher elevations, most of us on the coast take little pleasure in knowing that other places are colder. We would rather have our nice warm weather. While today was cool, it was still a day when we enjoyed the out of doors, we just picked our places and took pleasure in the warm sun.
While this unusual cool spell has kept all but the most dedicated fisherman onshore, it certainly has not driven us all inside. I was in shorts and working outside on Saturday. Today I had on blue jeans and a sweatshirt.

The winds were fairly quiet, and the sun was shining brightly through our clear blue skies. When that happens, it is pretty easy to find a nice spot along the Crystal Coast. Since we had been over on the beach yesterday, we decided that our daily outing would be on the mainland.

As we were driving through Cedar Point, I noticed how nice the White Oak River looked so we decided to take a quick walk on the river walk that Swansboro has installed just across from First Citizens Bank.

As you can see from the photo in the post, the view from the river walk is one of the nicest water views that you can find. The walkways are well done, and it is great place to get some fresh air with very little effort.

There was a fair amount of traffic on Highway 24 so I suggested we find a quieter spot to enjoy the water. One of my favorite sheltered areas is Hammocks Beach State Park. This time of year the ferry to the beach is not running but you can still enjoy the mainland area of the park.

It is only a short drive from Swansboro to the park. The road into the park is one of my favorite spots with live oaks providing a canopy for the road.

If we had been facing rain, we might have taken advantage of the museum, but with cool temperatures and a warm sun we walked down to the dock and enjoyed the view of the Intracoastal Waterway and beyond that Huggins Island.

The dock where we enjoyed the view is probably the best kayak launch point in the area since it has two specially designed floating launch points with rollers to make it easy to slide your kayak into the water.

We then took a short hike over to another pavilion where we could see the pontoon boats used to ferry beach goers to Hammocks Beach during the summer. It was pleasant spot to enjoy the setting sun.

As we got back in the car which was parked near another beautiful live oak, my wife commented that the sun warmed car felt especially since we cooled ourselves along the water.

On the way back home we got to enjoy yet another golden Carteret County sunset. It was just another pleasant afternoon here on the Crystal Coast.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fulfilling the Dream To Be Near Water

We all have dreams that we chase. One of my first ones was to live close to the water. As a youngster wandering the quiet woods of Forsyth County several decades ago, I had visions of being able to walk outside and fish from my backyard. As close as we could get in those days was damming up a small stream or riding our bicycles to one of the local farm ponds. Those waters were ones where we had great fun, but I knew from our annual trips to the North Carolina coast that there were waters which dwarfed those small ponds. Some magical memories were made during those weeks we enjoyed lazy summer days in those early beach cottages. Yet life can and often does lead in different directions from your dreams.
After college I managed to live for a few years along the shore in Maritime Canada, and later we spent a couple of years in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I could see the harbor from our bedroom. It is likely that those sojourns along the water combined with those early beach trips made it nearly inevitable that I would try to find a spot on North Carolina's coast.

It was a trip to Beaufort for our thirtieth anniversary that really got me interested in living by the water once again. The charm of Beaufort's waterfront and the easily accessible water all through Carteret County were two powerful arguments for finding a spot along the Crystal Coast.

We did want to make certain we were settling in the right spot. We ventured up to Virginia's eastern shore, tested the communities all down the northern Outer Banks to Ocracoke and even looked as far south as Southport and Oak Island.

None of the other spots had what we really wanted in a place to live. However at the time, it was hard to define what type of home we wanted along the Crystal Coast. Before we had our priorities settled, we looked at beach cottages and homes on the mainland even in the same day.

It took us a while to figure it out, but we finally decided that we really wanted to be on the water. We also wanted to have our future boat on a lift behind our home. With that thought to guide us, we were able to focus our search. We ended up in Bluewater Cove on the White Oak River since a soundfront home with a boat lift was out of our price range.

It has turned out to be a great location in an area that offers much to people like my wife and I who love a small town atmosphere and really want to be part of a community that stays active all year.

Having easy access to the river is something I enjoy almost every day. Being able to reach the Intracoastal Waterway in ten minutes by boat has really been a treat.

In different circumstances we might have ended up over on the beach. Being on the river has turned out to be a good decision for us . A fishing trip is something that I can do almost any morning or afternoon when the winds and water are cooperating. We often catch fish less than five minutes by boat from our home.

I have had the rare pleasure of catching fish, cleaning them on my dock, and cooking them all within an hour or two of when they were swimming in the river. Those are fish so fresh that are easy to remember.

While being on the water and fishing from the boat has been my passion, I do know others whose love for surf fishing makes living close to the beach more important.

One of these days, perhaps the surf will win my soul, and we will have to find a spot over on the beach where I can take my rod and walk to a fishing spot.

The beauty of the Crystal Coast is that I will not have to go far to find that spot.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beaufort, a Favorite Spot To Visit

Beaufort was the area that first attracted us to the Crystal Coast. As a special treat for our 30th anniversary, I booked a weekend at one the best B&Bs in town. That was several years ago, and I think the handwriting was on the wall even after that first visit. There was something special about Beaufort and Carteret County that kept drawing us back to the area. Beaufort is still a favorite spot to visit. We often take visitors for an afternoon of Beaufort dock walking. While we live on the other side of the county near Swansboro, it still only takes us thirty-five minutes to drive down to Beaufort. It is a great place to visit because you can park your car and walk to everything.
Almost everyone who visits Beaufort falls in love with the beautiful white homes along Front Street. Walking down the street, you get the feeling that they have survived many storms and seen a lot of history. In some respects Beaufort is all about history.

From the historic site with its restored buildings to the grand homes whose exteriors look much as they must have in colonial times, Beaufort exudes history. I love the old court house surrounded by live oaks. Beaufort's wide main street takes you back to a different time.

The one thing we always do when we visit Beaufort is walk along the boardwalk by the docks. I am always amazed by the variety of boats that range in size from small skiffs to large research vessels.

I have never been to Beaufort when Town Creek did not have several sailboats anchored in it. Part of the attraction of Beaufort is that the town and its harbor are a popular stopping point along the Intracoastal Waterway. There is always someone new wandering the docks or eating in the restaurants.

Of course when it comes to restaurants, Beaufort has some great ones including Beaufort Grocery, Blue Moon Bistro, Front Street at Stillwater, Sharpie's, Spouter's, and Nethouse. There is something for every taste preference among the Beaufort restaurants.

We also enjoy the shops along Front Street. I have a couple of favorites where I can kill some time while the ladies get serious about shopping.

When we get bored with walking especially in the summer and on warm weekends, you can catch a boat tour or a boat trip to Cape Lookout. We have enjoyed tours on the tiny Waterbug and the much larger Mystery.

My of favorite spots is the Maritime Museum. It is the only museum that I have seen which could entertain my son who is almost thirty. It is a great place to wander around especially if you need a break from the warmth of summer. The shell collections are amazing.

If you need a first introduction to the Crystal Coast, Beaufort is a great place to get it. As I watched the sun slide down behind the Duke Marine Research Laboratory, I am pretty sure I could still hear some sails flapping in the wind.

For some of the recent history of Beaufort read my article, Beaufort, An Unforeseen Rebirth .

For a few pictures of Beaufort visit this Picasa Web Album from our recent visit.

Friday, November 7, 2008

This Is Why We Live Here

If you could have been with me today, you might well say, yes, this is why one might want to live here. I have a hard time imagining that there could be any nicer weather than we had today. We spent the first few days of November up in the Virginia mountains. While the leaves were magnificent (click here to view) we did have to run the heat for a couple of nights, and I did change from my standard uniform of shorts to bluejeans. We managed to come back to the coast just in time for a nice warming trend. This afternoon, my fishing buddy and I were out on the river. Tonight my wife and I enjoyed fresh from the water trout and black sea bass for dinner. If you can fish on the river in November with just shorts and tee shirt, you have probably found paradise.
Our weather is not always perfect, but it is very good most days. This fall except for a couple of cool days is shaping up to be just as nice as last fall when I can remember it seemed like summer would never end.

When we got back from the mountains, I noticed we had gotten a couple of inches of rain. We needed the rain while the grass in our yards is slowly going dormant. Even after the rain we had a cloudy, nasty day, but after that one day, it almost seems like each day is trying to out do the previous one.

With few yard chores left, there is not much to get in the way of fishing. Last night some friends went with us over to the beach to enjoy another spectacular sunset. It was a fantastic sunset as you can see from the attached picture.

People were strolling on the beach, and I could see a few folks surf fishing. It was a great evening for a walk. After leaving the beach we decided to grab dinner at one of the many family run restaurants in the area. I love going to these restaurants because you are treated like family, and the food is usually very good.

While having dinner, my fishing buddy and I decided the weather for this Friday looked too good to miss so we made a date to go fishing.

We have gone enough together now that it takes us almost no time to load the boat and head out into the water. Part of the convenience is that my boat lives on a lift behind my house.

With the cooling of the river waters, lots of fish have moved into the White Oak River so now we do not even have to go very far from home to fish. In fact we cruised out to the first buoy on the channel to Swansboro, but we never made it to the second buoy. We only went about another one hundred yards before anchoring and starting to fish. Our total travel time was under five minutes.

It was probably quarter after one this afternoon when we settled into our fishing routine. It took us a while to catch our first fish, but after that we caught them steadily. We caught a lot of small bottom fish, but we also caught three nice black sea bass and two trout.

I kept the biggest trout and sea bass. As the sun was setting over the river, we headed back into the quiet waters of Bluewater Cove. It only took minutes to get my boat on the lift behind my house and unload it.

I rinsed down the boat and as the last light of the evening faded, I cleaned our dinner. It did not take but a few minutes to have a quick shower and then fry up some fish which had been swimming less than three hours previously.

If you have never had really fresh caught fish cooked for you, you should put it on your to do list. There is a big difference.

Now I am upstairs in my office enjoying the cool breeze from the river and thinking about our next trip. I do wonder what we will catch the next time out. It is a very good way to end a great day.

For those who love the water, beaches, a mild climate, and blue skies, Carteret County is just about paradise. Just ask those of us who have chosen to live here.

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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why We Love Living Here

Carteret County residents are a very satisfied group of people. While other areas are filled with people who had no choice but to move to the area, we are lucky in that almost everyone living here on the Crystal Coast is here by choice. Aside from the military, we have no large organizations who move people to the area. People come to the Southern Outer Banks because they find the area a compelling place to live. Part of that attraction is the water which is so much a part of our lives. What the water brings us is an opportunity to enjoy an active life in gorgeous surroundings. Water is our neighbor, we do not have to get in a car and drive hours to find it. There are very few places along the Southern Outer Banks which are more than a few minutes from the water.

I have written about it before, but it is worth repeating that Careteret County is all about water. Houses are priced based on where the house is in relation to the water Recently a friend and I spent much of the day on our own private Iow-tide island half way between the Point at Emerald Isle and Bear Island.

We fished in peace and quiet for several hours. The closest civilization was a glimpse of house at the Point at Emerald Isle. We had a wonderful time, my partner caught a few fish, and I took some great pictures since the fish were ignoring me.

It was not a sunny day, but I am always amazed had how many different colors can play across the are. Our waters and the sky can be any number of subtle colors. They are rarely the same every day, and they changed several times that day. We even had blue sky and sunshine on the way home.

While fishing I got to watch a couple of Herons looking for something too eat. Other than the Herons and the few fish, we really were not bothered by another boat or person.

It was a truly peaceful and isolated place less than twelve minutes by boat from my house. It was our own world insulated from the challenges of modern life.

As I sat there feeding the fish some fresh shrimp, I wondered about one of my friends who still lives in Northern Virginia. I worked in the same environment for twenty years. Usually for those in these intense jobs, the first week of your vacation is unwinding enough so that you can really enjoy the second week.

When we made the decision to come to the Crystal Coast, one of the main reasons was the wonderful lifestyle that people manage to enjoy here. While I am an avid fisherman, I have friends who golf even more than I fish. If you can do your favorite thing and still manage to get some work done in wonderful surroundings, it truly is a dream come true.

While you cannot get away from stress at work, it is pretty easy to leave it at work in Carteret County.

With little traffic to bother us and a way to enjoy whatever outdoor activity strikes our fancy, This area is pretty hard to beat. From the Beaufort Board Walk to walking the beaches of Emerald Isle, I can guarantee you will not be bored.

I have achieved a couple of my initial goals. You can no longer tell that I ever wore a watch. My tan has taken care of that. Secondly I cannot remember if my sports coat is down here or at our second house.

That works great for me. You cannot wear something that you cannot find.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sometimes the Best Days Are a Suprise

Most of this last week of Septermber 2008, we have listed to weather reports of a storm forming off our coast. First there were reports that the storm had tropical characteristics and might be a really bad nor'easter. While no one seemed to panic, people did keep a watchful eye on the storm. At the middle of the week we even drove over to Bogue Inlet Pier to see if there were any exceptional waves. We did not find any great waves, but I did learn that the Bluefish were showing up regularly at the pier. Finally Wednesday night we heard that the rain would soon be upon us within hours. That night we got some wind and showers but nothing very exciting. Thursday morning I woke up to more showers, but the rain gauge only showed one quarter of an inch of rain.
Thursday initially looked like not such a bad day. The wind was blowing pretty hard, but there was almost no rain for most of the day. I was surprised that Carteret County and many other counties canceled or delayed school on what seemed like a pretty normal but windy day on the coast.

Then about four pm, the skies opened up and buckets of rain descended upon us. By the time I got home a little after five pm my rain gauge was already showing an additional inch of rain. The rain continued to pour down during dinner. Just after dark, I checked the gauge and we had surpassed two inches of rain.

By that time we were nearing high tide and the water was approaching the bottom of my boat which was on our lift. The extra high water had come as a surprise to me. Since the winds had died down, I put the plug in my boat, checked the lines, and decided it could float a little above the lift if necessary.

Once the tide started going down around 10 pm, I came out and pulled the drain plug on boat just in case we had another downpour before morning.

Friday morning was partly cloudy and windy, but the weathermen were promising stellar weather for the weekend. After a week without our standard blue sky I was beginning to need some beach time to catch some rays, so I remained hopeful that the weathermen might be right.

We actually got a shower during Friday night, but when we woke on Saturday morning the sky was the beautiful Carolina blue that we often see at the coast. The weathermen apparently were on target. The storm was gone and had pulled in some great weather.

Before we headed out for the day we talked to friends in Mount Airy, NC and Roanoke, VA. Both areas were cool and rainy while we were approaching 82 degrees Fahrenheit by lunch. Enjoying that summer which extends into the fall is one of the things we do best down here on the coast.

When we finally got to the beach, we were surprised by the number of people who had also come out to enjoy what had become a stellar late September summer day.

After enjoying the beach, we headed back to our subdivision, Bluewater Cove, to enjoy an evening, outdoor birthday party for one of our neighbors. The evening weather could not have been nicer. It was a warm evening under a beautiful canopy of stars.

On Monday I would have never guessed that we would go through all sorts of cloudy, windy, and rainy weather only to get to an amazingly beautiful Saturday.

The nice thing about today is that it put me in the mood for another great day. Fortunately having a beautiful day on the Crystal Coast this time of year happens regularly. In fact Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday look great.