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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dreaming of summer days at the beach

This has been a good day for dreams. Even with the rain, it has been warm enough to kindle some thoughts of summer days. The daffodils blooming in the parking lot of the grocery store this afternoon helped my imagination farther down the path to summer and the beach. Then there was the quiet afternoon nap where it was easy lose myself in a dream world of hot sand, warm waters, and light breezes. I think everyone is ready to see this winter end. If thoughts of summer days on the beach can do the trick, we should all concentrate very hard.
I know my Canadian friends have had enough winter. Last weekend, central New Brunswick, where we lived for eleven years, had what the local newspaper described as an "once in a generation storm." Some areas got close to three feet of snow in what was their eleventh storm of the season. Now this weekend another storm is headed up the coast. A friend who does maple sugaring told me that he has measured over eight feet of snow in the woods.

This storm has been given the name of the I95 storm and will blanket areas of central North Carolina, western Virginia, and northern Virginia that have so far escaped significant snow this season. I hope the snow lovers get what they want, but I also hope the snow quickly disappears so we can get on with spring.

Winter has had its season, we need to focus on the weather needed to allow beach lovers to have their day in the sun. Unfortunately one the first things we need to do is get rid of the northern snowpack so we can forget about snow chilled winds whipping down from the north.

Our waters have cooled so much this winter that when we went over the Cameron-Langston Bridge to Emerald Isle today, the top of the span disappeared in a fog which had formed because the air temperatures in the sixties were so much warmer than the Bogue Sound water temperatures which were likely in the upper forties.

Some weather statistics are in our favor. We normally warm up fairly quickly. As our temperatures hopefully move back to normal after this last gasp of winter, we can feel good that the average daily high here on the Crystal Coast goes from sixty-seven degree Fahrenheit in March to seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit by mid-April when the low temperature approaches fifty degrees.

As surely as there will be some days in August that are almost too hot to be outside, I can also guarantee that by June, this winter will have faded in our memories. Last year, I did my first swim in the ocean on June 3. The water temperature was close to eighty degrees.

We have a long way to go, but I know from experience the Carolina sun always wins the battle with winter. We will be warm sooner rather than later. As these next few days of cool weather hold us in their grip, I will be warmed by memories of great beach days from last year and dreams of even better ones coming this summer.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

At the Center of Family Memories

There are lots of reasons for wandering off from the home where you have lived for the last twenty or more years. The house can be too big. The city might have lost its charm. Perhaps the old neighborhood is too crowded, or your friends have all moved away. Maybe you just need a change. Perhaps you have an unfulfilled dream that still is calling you. Or it could be that you have consciously decided in this time of never ending entertainment on television that you want something different than a media room as a backdrop for your family memories. There is no one reason that gets a family thinking about a place on the coast, but one of the reasons that is often there is the desire to have a place where a typically widely dispersed modern family can get together and spend some quality time making real memories. The Crystal Coast is just that kind of place.
So what makes the Crystal Coast a great place for making memories? I think it is a long list beginning with the unique local events that draw people from far away to our county. Perhaps the first one of those special events that I attended was the Swansboro Oyster Roast. I doubt that I will ever forget my first Oyster Roast.

I had the privilege of standing next to an older gentleman who had driven several hours to be with his daughter and her new husband at their first roast. He had previously lived in Swansboro for many years, and I still benefit from his expert instruction and sage advice to "stop eating oysters when you feel like you can eat just one more."

Last year we had some friends from Roanoke, Virginia down for the Oyster Roast. They went away amazed at how the whole community from teenagers to the elderly get involved and enjoy the event.

We have a whole list events from the Mullet Festival to the annual Christmas Parade and Saint Patrick's Day Festival on Emerald Isle. Even the town birthday parties turn out to be special. Last year was Emerald Isle's 50th, this year is Cape Carteret's.

Beyond events, the magnificent natural area that is home to the Crystal Coast provides an environment that draws people out of their homes into activities they might never try in another area. Just think of how many people who ride a bike at the beach each year but never ride one at their own homes. Then there are the magical beach walks, jumping waves, or those visits to one of the unique local restaurants. Special memories are not very hard to create here on the coast.

While the beaches and restaurants are special, the local people are just as unique. People who have lived here for years take on a special attitude that helps others to enjoy and appreciate this area. While people might not appreciate their own environment, a boat ride with a local who loves the area waters can really open the eyes of people to the importance of our marshes and shallow waters as the ocean's nursery. People can come away from the Crystal Coast with a better appreciation of the web of life that is on display here on the shores of Bogue Sound.

Then there is the weather. While we have had a cooler than normal winter, there is little doubt that our climate here on the coast encourages people to get out on the beach or on the water. From late spring until late fall, the out of doors is a paradise here on the coast. When the water turns those beautiful shades of blue, it is hard to resist. In fact people do not even try, they find a way to get on the water. Families load up their skiffs and head off to their favorite piece of private sand.

Finally, I think even our topography helps make this an area that facilitates the making of memories. While it might not be apparent at first glance, consider where you would rather wade on the beaches, along Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy where the tides are 28 feet and the shores are rocky or here on the Crystal Coast with our shallow water and generally gentle tides. Getting off a skiff onto one of our beaches and anchoring the skiff is not a huge challenge. Even the miles of shallow water and marshes provide great kayaking in an environment which is relatively safe.

These are just some reasons to look at the Crystal Coast if you are looking to find a place that makes creating memories easy and fun. Most people who visit the Crystal Coast know from the memories that they carry home with them, that this is fertile ground for building reminders of the great times that families can have.

The chance of building those memories is one of the big reasons that we moved here. We already have some great ones. I still remember our first father's day boating trip in 2007. Two of our three kids made it down, and they still talk about the fun we all had.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Having Fun While Waiting for Spring

Nice weather has paid some brief visits to the Crystal Coast, but it has been a little like riding a roller coaster. There can be cloudy, gloomy weather when you go in a building and sunny, warm weather when you come out fifteen minutes later. I guess that is the mark of spring weather. We stopped to view some exhibits at a local museum the other day. Our plans were to go hiking when we came out. We only tarried in the museum for an hour or so. In that short time whitecaps had formed on Bogue Sound, and the wind started blowing at twenty miles per hour. In spite of the impossibility of out guessing the weather, we have had an enjoyable few days. Visiting some of our favorite places while we wait for spring to make our beach walks pleasant excursions is a great way to finish out winter.
Our first choice for fun was a visit to the Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. It has been one of our favorite places since we moved here. This time we decided to take the plunge and buy a family membership so we could enjoy visits even more frequently.

We were lucky to catch a presentation on North Carolina snakes as we walked into the building. My wife was very impressed with the corn snake that managed to crawl around the presenter's neck. I just wanted to get on to the fish.

After having all my Boy Scout snake knowledge refreshed, we got to the large aquarium tank just in time to see the divers descend. I actually only had eyes for three Red Drum that were swimming around the tank, but I will admit to enjoying the Goliath Grouper. I would like to see him when he reaches his maximum size of five hundred pounds. I would need more than a shark guidance pole before I went swimming with the sharks.

After the inside exhibits, we headed outside to check out the boardwalk and trails. The wind had picked up and kept us off the trails, but we saw a very cooperative juvenile Blue Heron who was quite happy to pose for pictures. I was very happy about that since the Great Blue Heron who lives behind our home in Bluewater Cove is telepathic. I know he knows when I start thinking about trying to sneak out to get a picture of him.

I posted some pictures of our trip to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. I can highly recommend a visit.

Saturday it was warm enough for us to go on a short hike. Aside from the 1.5 inches of rain we got last Monday, we have had very little precipitation so the waters are very clear in the rivers. It was easy to see some oysters growing on the bottom along the dock at Bluewater Cove. The oysters reminded me that we have the annual Oyster Roast coming up soon on March 21 from 5 to 8 pm at the Swansboro Rotary Civic Center. Now there is an event no oyster lover should miss.

Sunday afternoon we decided to visit another of my favorite museums, the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Not only is the Maritime Museum a great place to spend an afternoon, but it is also so free. They just ask for a donation. It is interesting to drop into the Museum on a windy cool day because we have used it as place to retreat from the August heat in Beaufort. Beaufort usually has a breeze, but when it does not and the heat is on, it is a good idea to find a cool spot like the museum.

It is hard to say what is my favorite part of the Maritime Museum, but I think it is all the different models of boats that have had such an important part in the history of North Carolina. Of course I love all the old motors and the exhibit of the life saving tools.

There are lots of interesting things on display from a few Blackbeard artifacts to whale bones. It is just a great place to visit. This is the only museum which has even entertained my son who enjoyed it even at the age of 29.

I also posted pictures of our visit to the Maritime Museum at Beaufort. The pictures do not do it justice, so take my suggestion and plan a trip there soon.

Just to finish our spurt of activities to distract us from the weather, we drove up to Harkers Island today. That is where I took the picture in this post. Of course the picture is of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse taken from the shore parking lot.

If you are interesting in seeing more of my pictures and having them placed on a map, visit my Panoramio site.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Choose the Crystal Coast?

I often get notes from people asking me about the area. Some are worried about their potential neighbors or the school systems. Often there are questions about flood zones and the weather. As someone who sold Apple computers for years, handling objections is second nature to me. However, long ago I figured out that there are legitimate concerns, and then there are convenient excuses which allow you to avoid doing something that you did not want to do in the first place. While there are reasons to move one place or the other, the biggest challenge most people face is whether or not to move at all. At this time when we are seeing perhaps the best opportunity in many years to acquire coastal property at reasonable prices, a lot of people are stuck with that move or not move decision.
As I have learned over the years, finding the perfect new house will not fix the decision to move or not move. It is more likely that somehow the perfect home will become not so perfect. As a Realtor® I am happy to show people properties if they are serious about moving, but I know the perfect home can be very elusive.

I even spend a fair amount of my time writing about the virtues of the Crystal Coast because I think it is a great place to live. I write about it with the full knowledge that there is no danger of a stampede of people to the area. This area does not fit everyone.

It is, however, a great sanctuary for those us who love the water, appreciate small towns, and value quality of life over access to the latest and greatest shopping experience.

Access to the water is one of the main reasons that people move to the Crystal Coast. In my case that was the driving motivation. I had tired of slinging a kayak on top of my car and driving thirty minutes to get to water. I wanted the water at my back door and was willing to live in a home built up seven feet in order to enjoy walking on my dock every morning. Seeing the water every morning renews my soul.

Climate is another reason that people come to Carteret County. While you can read my posts to see that this has been a much cooler winter than my first two down here on the coast, it still is a climate that is easy to love. I have yet to see a day when a down parka was in order, and I can remember a down parka feeling good at a soccer game in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July.

Because of geography Carteret County is a little isolated. That slight isolation has been something of a friend to the county over the years. For one it has prevented over development. Second it has meant that the people coming to Carteret County really wanted to be here because it was not easy in the early years. I think more than anything that has shaped the character of the county. People who live here, love it fiercely.

At the same time, there seems to be mutual respect between most newcomers and long time residents. It is as if people are proud in the knowledge that both groups have chosen to live here and face the challenge of coastal living together. That atmosphere makes the county a place that welcomes newcomers. Carteret County has never seemed to me a place where people are trying to be the last people to move into paradise.

As I like to say, "Carteret County, it is a secret to share."

When all of this is taken into consideration, perhaps it helps to move the needle one way or the other on the decision to pull up roots and head to another location. Yet often it boils down to this, if you want to move and if what I have described above sounds good, then you will likely find Carteret County a great place to live. We might even find something very close to a perfect home or lot for you.

Still it is likely not the perfect home that makes the move successful, it is the attitude going into the move. If you want to be successful with your move, you probably will be.

If living in one of the most scenic areas anywhere sounds appealing, then you should visit the Crystal Coast. We might just have the elements to tip the balance in favor of a move that could give you a new perspective on life and especially life very near the water.

Life is different here, and most people love it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Midwinter Statement

It is often said that February is the cruelest of months. We certainly found it that way when we lived in the north. February there would crush all of your hopes of warmth. Here on the Carolina coast the second month of the year often teases us and makes us think that spring is already here. Just when we are convinced that there were will be no more cold temperatures, some will show up. This February has been the reverse. We saw the cold temperatures earlier, but our warm coastal weather returned in force this weekend. Many of us were convinced that it was time to wear shorts again. I found out quickly that the cool water over at the beach will continue to limit beach walks in shorts. Still the warm weather is infectious, and today a fishing buddy and I decided to make a midwinter statement. We went fishing.
While some ladies that I know go shopping to get their minds off of things, fishermen often go fishing to do the same thing. In both cases success is not measured by what you bring home, but by how the activity clears your mind.

When I got up today, I was sorry to see clouds as I had hoped for sunshine for our first fishing trip of the season. The weather did not seem to be heading for the predicted high temperature either so early in the morning I called my fishing buddy and told him that we would wait until later in the day to see how the weather, winds, and tides were cooperating.

We were both hoping to get on the water. Our hopes were not based on the expectation that we would catch anything. It was just important for us to put a stake in the heart of winter thoughts. Going fishing even without catching fish would accomplish that.

By 1 PM we had reconciled ourselves to a less than perfect day on the water, but we were pulling away from the dock at that point. Given the cool water temperatures and the open nature of my skiff, we decided against a run down to Swansboro. We often stay up in the White Oak River and catch plenty of fish for entertainment. We are mostly catch and release fishermen though once in a while I will decide to take something home for the pan.

Today there was no danger of taking a fish home. We fished for over an hour and one half with almost no results. Our first catch of the season turned out to be an ornery blue crab.

Finally as the winds picked up and the sun refused to come out from behind the clouds, we headed back to the dock. The scenery was not nearly as pretty as it was Monday when I snapped the picture in the post, but sometimes just being out on the water is all that you need to clear your head.

We accomplished just what we wanted to do today. We managed to banish winter from our thoughts. We will work harder on catching fish the next time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Warm Weather Returns

It is hard not to be excited now that our normal weather has returned. Sunday over on the mainland our high temperature was seventy five degrees Fahrenheit. That is within sight of perfect weather which I define as about eighty degrees. I opt for the slightly higher temperature because I like to spend a lot of time either in the water or on the water. Everyone took advantage of the great weekend weather. After we got back from church, I washed both our vehicles. I am happy to report that it was so warm in our driveway that I ended up wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. It was so nice to be back in my normal coastal uniform. I did get a little carried away. We decided to drive over to Emerald Isle and go for a walk on the beach. We got over there just before four PM. I was surprised at what I found.
Most of the people walking on the beach were wearing jackets and long pants. Some people even had the hoods of their jackets up. It only took a few seconds outside the car to understand why. The temperature on the beach was twenty degrees cooler than it was on the mainland. Our car thermometer registered fifty five degrees.

I refused to be defeated and had my wife drop me off at the eastern most Inlet Drive beach access. I hustled out to the beach and took a few pictures before hurrying back to the car.

We headed back to Bluewater Cove where I did a quick bike ride while my wife went for a walk. It had cooled some, but the temperatures were still much warmer than they were over on the beach where I am sure being surrounded by cold water made most of the difference.

Sunday evening I posted some photos from the day including a shot of our window thermometer for anyone doubting my observations of the warmth.

This morning was so nice that I dropped our skiff in the water and took a quick spin out on the river. I often mount one of my cameras on the console of the boat so that I can take pictures of my trip. It you click through the shots quickly, you can almost imagine yourself on a boat ride.

When I came back it was nearly 11 AM and the temperature was already well above sixty degrees. Our home is south facing and has lots of windows on that side so it warms up nicely when the sun has some power. The cat followed me up to my office for my morning writing. It was so warm that I opened the windows, and our cat curled up on the warm windowsill.

Getting back on a normal weather track is going to improve the mental health of everyone in the area. With the surprise snow storm people were beginning to question their memories of previous winters.

I knew if we could just get into February that the Carolina sun would rescue us.

With February the Crystal Coast starts its festival season. We made a quick visit to the Chocolate Festival in Morehead City on Saturday. Based on the attendance there is no doubt in my mind that the ladies like chocolate more than men.

After the festival we decided to visit Beaufort to check out any new visitors to the harbor. There are always some interesting boats tied up. There was one that reminded me of a modernized and larger African Queen. Of course there are always some great Hatteras yachts tied up there. These are my photos from the Beaufort waterfront.

After a car tour of some of our favorite Beaufort neighborhoods, we decided to head home by way of the beach. In Morehead City we crossed the bridge over to Atlantic Beach and headed towards Pine Knoll Shores. The sun was dropping in the sky so we stopped at the Iron Steamer Beach Access so I could take a sunset photo.

Taking sunset photos is always a balance between catching the right amount of light without burning out the photo and letting it get too dark. I estimated that if we hurried I might get another sunset photo slightly farther down the beach.

We made it just in time to the Roosevelt Beach Access in Salter Path. I hurried out the boardwalk and took another couple of pictures which I posted with some photos of live oaks at Carteret Community College in Morehead City.

Saturday, Sunday, and now Monday have been wonderfully warm days, and it looks like the great weather will continue with even warmer temperatures on Tuesday. With temperatures this warm, the strawberries will be ripe in less than two months.

I would love to play hooky on Tuesday, but I know that Wednesday is also supposed to be nice so I guess that I will report for duty without any second thoughts.

Actually many of my thoughts will be out on the water, but that is normal. It will not be long before we are out on the river fishing.

There is nothing as nice as returning home after the fish have been biting. When we have some fish in the cooler as we turn to slide the skiff on my lift, I will be one very happy fisherman.

You can actually follow part of my latest trip on Google's Panoramio which places pictures on an aerial photo or map.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One More Day of Cold Weather

It is with some relief that I read the weather forecast indicating that we just have to survive one more day of cold weather before some warmth descends upon the Crystal Coast this weekend. This morning I got up and checked the window thermometer only to do a double take at the twenty four degrees Fahrenheit that it registered. I have only seen it that cold on the coast a few times in my three winters. It is little comfort to know that London, England recently got several inches of snow, and several spots in the United States barely made it into double digits for their highs today. Cold temperatures into the thirties penetrated well down into Florida, and even along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi there were temperatures in the twenties. This is obviously a siege of cold weather that will long be remembered. Tonight just before midnight, we are already down to twenty two degrees Fahrenheit. It would not be a good night for one of the ducks to fall asleep in the water.
It is times like this, that training as a Canadian becomes very valuable. When February rolled around in the north, one of the first things that we started doing was reading seed catalogues and dreaming of our vegetable gardens.

That is a whole lot easier to do in North Carolina than it is in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. We were lucky to get our gardens in the ground by mid June in Canada. Here on the Carolina coast, we are usually enjoying the first fruits of our gardens by then.

In fact just tonight I was thinking about my tomato plants which will need to be in the ground in less than eight weeks in order to be competitive in our annual great tomato race. Last year I won the contest with a ripe tomato on June 1.

If June 1 tomatoes are not enough to take your mind off of our cold temperatures, you can focus on guessing when we will see the first ripe strawberries this year. Last year they were ripe before the end of March. In 2007 the berries were ripe on April 14.

I am betting on a quick warm up in March so I think April 2 would be a great day for a taste of fresh strawberries.

While strawberries and tomatoes can get me thinking about warmer temperatures, thoughts of fishing and boating can certainly bring back pleasant memories of sunny, warm summer days on the sound. Since this is an extraordinary winter, I may be forced to take some exceptional measures such as going fishing this weekend if the temperature and winds cooperate.

Last year my first fish of the season was caught April 21. I know that I can do better than that this year. Perhaps a little pan fried fresh flounder from one of the local markets would create even more motivation to get out on the water early this year. Flounder is very easy to cook and cannot be beat fresh from our local waters.

Now that I have forgotten about the cold temperatures, I wonder when I will first get into the ocean this year. In 2007 we had friends from Boston go wading in the ocean on April 23. Compared to the foot of snow they left behind, we were like a tropical paradise.

Last year my first dip in the ocean was June 3. It was not long after that in June when I declared it a perfect beach day.

I cannot wait.