Thursday, December 28, 2006

Slopes welcome cold, snow

After some unseasonably warm days (some might say "Spring-like"), the North Carolina ski slopes are finally getting what they need: cold weather and snow.

"The warm spell that came over the last two weeks wasn't very kind," Kristin Hull, a customer service agent at Hawksnest ski resort in Seven Devils near Banner Elk, told the Associated Press. "It really looks like our luck is changing. It should be getting pretty crazy around here."

The National Weather Service reported one to three inches of snowfall around Banner Elk on Tuesday night. The resorts said there was even more up on the mountains.

And it could just be the start of "good" (read: ski) weather. According to the AP, forecasts call for daytime temperatures around 45 to 50 degrees for the rest of the week, with nighttime lows near-freezing levels. There's another chance of snow and rain in the area on Sunday.

"People want to get pumped up," Eric Huston, manager of Alpine Ski Center in Charlotte, told the AP. "The cold, Christmas, has snapped everyone's fingers to say, 'It's time. Let's go.'"

Here's to the Old North State ... in 2007!

Well, 2006 is coming to a close, and the Society wishes you all a healthy, productive and enjoyable 2007. And here's just a little "ditty" (also known as the State Toast) to remind us that we've been fortunate enough to spend 2006 in such a wonderful state.

Here's to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and strong grow great,
Here's to "Down Home," the Old North State!

Here's to the land of the cotton bloom white,
Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,
'Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!

Here's to the land where the galax grows,
Where the rhododendron's rosette glows,
Where soars Mount Mitchell's summit great,
In the "Land of the Sky," the Old North State!

Here's to the land where maidens are fair,
Where friends are true and cold hearts rare,
The near land, the dear land, whatever fate,
The blest land, the best land, the Old North State!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Make good use of those Christmas trees

Discarded and forgotten Christmas trees can have better afterlives than just curbside decorations while awaiting the trash man.

According to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, trees can have a myriad of uses after that most important one of filling your home with joy. Among them:

-Turn your tree into mulch
-Use it for landscaping. "Officials with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources recommend throwing leaves over the tree to provide cover for birds and small mammals," says the Hendersonville News. "You also can prop the tree in the yard and hang suet or other birdfeeders from the branches. Remember to remove tinsel, plastic and anything else that is not recyclable."
-Turn your tree into a beach erosiong protector
-And offer your tree to a farm pond owner. "By sinking and anchoring a Christmas tree in a pond, it makes habitat and nesting ground for fish," says the paper.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Take that, 'Joizy'

"We're No. 10! We're No. 10! We're No. 10!"

According to the U.S. Census Board, North Carolina is now the 10th most populated state in the Union, passing New Jersey to vault into the top 10.

According to the News & Observer, last year, "North Carolina grew by 184,000 people, roughly the size of Winston-Salem."

"Everybody in my neighborhood is from somewhere else," former New Jersey resident Mary Johnson, now of Wake Forest, told the paper.

Of course, between 1994 and 2003, some 32,000 folks from New Jersey have moved to N.C., thus helping the population boom.

The Census burea expects North Carolina to pass Georgia, Michigan and Ohio by 2030 in population rankings with nearly 12.3 million people.

The Charlotte Observer does a better job with analysis on this subject, including a section on "Why They're Moving."

The reasons?
-Retirement. "In the 1990s, many retirees who moved to the Carolinas started in the Northeast, moved to Florida and then came halfway back -- to the Carolinas, earning the nickname 'halfbacks,' said the paper. "While that's still a factor in recent growth, many of the newer retirees never made it to the Sunshine State."

-Growth breeds growth. "Recent arrivals are coming here to join friends or relatives who moved here in earlier waves."

-And, finall, the economy. "Research Triangle Park near Raleigh-Durham and the financial sector in Charlotte drive job growth. New companies continue to start up in the Carolinas because of their location halfway along the Eastern Seaboard."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gift ideas for those 'outdoorsy' types

Today's the first day of winter, and the Asheville Citizen-Times has an article on gift ideas for those people who take advantage of North Carolina's High Country outdoor amenities.

"When it comes to fashion on the ski slopes this winter, it’s more about what you hear than what you see.

"Don’t worry, your Burton snowboarding pants and Columbia ski jacket from last season won’t get you laughed off the slopes.

"But if you’re trying to get a leg up on the winter fashion scene or find a last-minute gift for the snow sports aficionado in your life, tune in to high-tech snow sports gear.

" 'It’s all about the audio,' said Craig Friedrich, owner of Ski Country Sports in Asheville."

Having access to your iPod is important, the article notes.

"There are a lot of items that can make your time on the slopes more enjoyable — from rubber-soled ski boots to snowboard-accessible backpacks. ..."

Also noted in the article are walking accessories from WalkEZ called Revolutions, "which clip to the bottom of ski boots. They also come with a lock.

" 'It allows for a more natural gait,' Friedrich said. ..."

Click here for more innovative ideas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

T'is the season for Old North State-related gifts

Ok, Ok, I know: Hannukah has already begun, and Christmas is just days away. But if you're still in need of gift ideas, look no further than our own state.

North Carolina magazine tauts some great N.C.-related items that would make nice gifts this holiday season.

Among them are a few things the Society has noted in the not-too-distant past, such as Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier and Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer.

Also noted are:

-Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holliday by Durham's Nnenna Freelong
-Fudge from the Orchard at Altapass
-Aunt Ruby's Peanuts
-a 100-stem bouquet of lavender from Sunshine Lavender Farm
-A Carolina Hurricanes "sweater"
-An ultimate flyer sled by Raleigh's Great Outdoor Provision Co.
-and much more.

Click here (and then go to page 48) for the rest of the holiday ideas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Schools get creative when teaching non-English-speaking students

Michael Abernethy with the Kinston Free Press has written a fantastic piece on how teachers statewide are dealing with a growing non-English-speaking population. The article focuses on teachers who appear to be just fine with the challenges.

"Like many teachers, Ramon Jones has adapted to teaching students who speak multiple languages," says the article.

"The La Grange Elementary second-grade teacher routinely uses hands-on activities and pictures to help students with vocabulary and concepts. He also pairs native English speakers and students who speak English as a Second Language (ESL) together for class work, play and other activities.

" 'Teaching ESL students isn’t a huge challenge. Sure, it’s something: It’s a barrier if they don’t know any English,' Jones said. 'But I’m up to the challenge.'

"State and federal law requires public schools to educate all students, regardless of language barriers. In recent years, No Child Left Behind has placed significant importance on educating students identified through testing as Limited English Proficient (LEP) by measuring schools on LEP students’ performance on state tests.

"This year, North Carolina added 14,000 LEP students, bringing the state total to 97,000 students. Most of that growth can be attributed to the growing Hispanic population. Between 1990 and 2004, 57 percent of public schools’ enrollment growth came from Hispanics. ..."

Read on for the rest of this fascinating piece.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

N.C.'s Yellow Poplars: The Redwoods of the East

Typically, each fall, I have the chance to venture to the western part of our state for work. It gives me a great opportunity to see the mountains in their autumnal glory.

Not this year. So, alas, I must rekindle memories of trips past.

One trip, several years ago, led me to Robbinsville, and to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, named for the "Trees" poet. (You know the one: "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree...")

Within the Joyce Kilmer forest are Yellow Poplars that rise up to 115 feet, making them the largest trees east of the Mississippi and the third largest trees in the United States (behind the Redwoods and Sequoias).

Natural Adventures in the Mountains of Western North Carolina by Mary Ellen Hammond and Jim Parham is a book that every North Carolinian should own. It it, it features a chapter on Joyce Kilmer forest.

"A two-mile loop trail winds its way through a virgin forest where trees reach over 20 feet in circumference," says the book. "If you have enough people, see how many it takes to link hands and stretch around the largest of the trees. You'll be amazed as you find yourself dwarfed by one after another of these monsters."

Although, "monster" is probably not the right choice of word. These trees are magnificently beautiful giants.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quick hits: Chimney Rock and the State of the Military

Still negotiating on Chimney Rock
"At this point in the game, the cards are played close to the vest," said the Asheville Citizen-Times.

" 'The negotiations are still going on — and they’re very active,' said Charlie Peek, spokesman for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, which is negotiating with the owners of Chimney Rock Park to buy the 1,000-acre property in Rutherford County.

"Chimney Rock Park Co. President Todd Morse declined to comment on negotiations but did say he has set no deadline for the state.

" 'Our desire is to keep this moving forward and take the time to make sure we’re satisfied with the decision,' said Morse, whose family has owned the park for a century. The public has access to about 550 acres of Chimney Rock Park, including the 315-foot-high chimney, a 404-foot-high waterfall and miles of hiking trails. ..."

New group is ready to fight for more military contracts
"North Carolina, which touts itself as the most military friendly state in the nation, is going after more military bucks," says the New Bern Sun-Journal.

"The state, which puts more boots on the ground than all but two other states as a result of its military bases, isn’t willing to settle for being 38th in the nation when it comes to military contracts. So Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue on Monday announced the formation of the N.C. Military Foundation, a group made up of high-ranking military retirees and business executives whose goal is to grow the state’s military economy.

" 'Thirty-eighth is simply not acceptable,' Perdue said.

"North Carolina ranks No. 38 in terms of military contracts as a percentage of the state’s economy, said Tim Crowley, Perdue’s spokesman. In actual military contract dollars spent, North Carolina ranks 25th, he said. ..."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Effort aimed at saving the reefs

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries wants your leftover oyster shells.


"Shuck them, add a spritz of lemon juice or hot sauce if desired and slurp them up, but don't forget to recycle what's left," writes the Greenville Daily Reflector. "That's the message to local oyster lovers from the state Division of Marine Fisheries, which is pushing an oyster shell recycling program."

The program began in 2003 and continues to grow. More than 10,000 bushels have been collected so far this year, and those involved with the program hope increased public awareness will increase that number. ...

To encourage people and restaurants to drop off their shells, a tax credit of $1 for every bushel of shells will go to those who recycle.

The article goes on to give terrific information about how to get involved.

New tax credit: Starting this year, a $1 tax credit will be offered for every bushel of shells dropped off for recycling at the county's transfer station.

If you are planning a large oyster roast: Contact Sabrina Varnam at (252) 726-7021, 1-800-682-2632 or to arrange for a trailer to collect the shells.

Help wanted: Volunteers are needed to maintain collection sites and pick up shells. Contact Varnam for more information.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A nice tradition: Christmas tree shopping

More "good vibes" about Christmas tree shopping in North Carolina ...

"The experience is what's most treasured when shopping for a Christmas tree, buyers and sellers say," according to the Greenville Daily Reflector.

"The experience has given 8-year-old Marian Robbins the expertise to know a good tree when she sees one.

" 'This one has a straight top,' Robbins said as she helped her family Friday at the Boy Scouts tree sale adjacent to Colonial Mall on Charles Boulevard.

"It's important to look closely at the tree's top branch, 'so it won't be tilted when we put on the angel or star,' she explained. ..."

New law may have everyone buckled

According to Barry Smith of Freedom Press, the "days of adults legally riding in the back seat of a car without wearing a seatbelt are numbered — at least in North Carolina."

A new law taking effect Friday requires all passengers, no matter what age, to be securely buckled whether in the front seat or the back seat. Currently, backseat passengers who are 16 or older are not required to wear seatbelts.

The new law is all about saving lives, said state Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland, the sponsor of the bill.

“In car crashes, persons unrestrained are 10 times more likely to have a severe injury and 20 times more likely to be killed than someone who is buckled,” Purcell said.

Purcell added that in some car crashes, an unbuckled backseat passenger can be thrown forward and become “like a flying missile.”

There is disagreement with the new law.

“There are just some things that the government ought to leave up to the individual,” said Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “Adults in the back seats, it seems to me that individual ought to have the ability to make those kinds of decisions without the government making them for them.”

To me this seems like a no-brainer: it's one way to "make" people do things to save lives. I have no problem with it, just like I have no problem with the state's motorcycle helmet law. It's one of the few cases where Big Brother really does look out for us.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The holiday season, or, the time when North Carolina becomes the center of the universe

I've always found it somewhat fascinating that beginning with Thanskgiving, millions of Americans will indulge in goods that are dominated by the state of North Carolina.

The Winston-Salem Journal stated today that North Carolina is the second-largest turkey-producing state after Minnesota. (By the way, Sampson County led the way in N.C. with 11 million gobblers last year.)

And then there are the sweet potatoes.

"North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the United States," according to the Department of Agriculture. "Today more than 40% of the natinal [sic] supply of sweet potatoes comes from North Carolina."

And, finally, the holiday season closes out with Christmas trees.

"The North Carolina Christmas Tree Industry is ranked second in the nation in number of trees harvested and first in the nation in terms of dollars made per tree," according to the N.C. Christmas Tree Association.

"The North Carolina Fraser fir has been judged the Nation's best through a contest sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association and chosen for the official White House Christmas tree nine times (more than any other species) 1971, 1973, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2005, and 2007."

Quick hits: Encyclopedia Powell and new coastal rules

N.C. from A-Z
William S. Powell's tome, Encyclopedia of North Carolina, has been getting a lot of press today.

"There's not much of yesterday in the 'Encyclopedia of North Carolina,' a 15-year project that has resulted in a comprehensive history of the Tar Heel State written in small essays on various topics. The $65 book goes on sale today and is the third major historical reference book written or edited by the professor emeritus of history at UNC Chapel Hill," wrote the Associated Press.

" 'Whereas most of us might go read the latest best-seller novel, he'd rather spend his time working in his study on some kind of North Carolina puzzle that he's trying to solve,' said Jeffrey Crow, deputy director of the N.C. Office of Archives and History. 'It's just part of him. He's devoted his whole life to it.'

"More than 550 researchers, including scholars and reporters, contributed to the project, and Powell edited each submission. He also wrote dozens of entries. ..."

Building farther from the sea
"A committee to the Coastal Resources Commission agreed to a basic principal to guide the rewriting of oceanfront setback rules for the state," according to the New Bern Sun-Journal.

"That is, the bigger the building the farther it should be built from the sea, regardless of whether it is a single-family home or a hotel.

" 'Coastal hazards do not discriminate,' said Jeff Warren, coastal hazards specialist with the Division of Coastal Management.

"Current CRC ocean setback rules require commercial beachfront structures greater than 5,000 square feet to be built a distance of 60 times the erosion rate landward of the first line of stable, natural vegetation. Since most North Carolina beaches have an annual erosion rate of two feet, the commercial setback is usually 120 feet. ..."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

N.C. could get toll-happy

According to the Associated Press, some six proposed toll roads could be in existence soon all across North Carolina.

In addition to the proposed stretch of Interstate 540 near Raleigh, the other prospective toll roads that the N.C. Turnpike Authority could build are, according to the AP, "the Triangle Parkway, which would go through Research Triangle Park; the Cape Fear Skyway, a proposed bridge and road connecting Wilmington to Brunswick County; the Gaston East-West Connector, which would connect Interstate 85 west of Gastonia and I-485 in Mecklenburg County; the Monroe Connector between the U.S. 74 bypass in Union County and I-485; and a proposed bridge linking mainland Currituck County to the northern Outer Banks."

How those tolls will operate is still under discussion.

"James Eden, the Turnpike Authority's chief operating officer, recommended an automated charge system to help keep traffic moving," according to the AP. "That program reduces the cost of collection for the state, but it likely would increase the number of people who violate the toll system.

"A manual pay program would cut down on violations. However, it would slow traffic. ...

"Several toll roads are expected to open over the next several years. Those self-financing roadways are designed to fill a gap in the state's transportation financing -- a projected $65 billion shortfall over the next 25 years."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Welcome, y'all!

According to a poll conducted by the Charlotte Observer and WNCN News, the majority of newcomers to the Carolinas state what we already knew: People are friendly here.

The poll, according to the Observer, found that "1 in 5 of the Carolinians interviewed said they considered themselves newcomers."

"Among those newcomers, 57 percent gave their communities high marks for being welcoming," according to the article.

"Here, people definitely seem to have more manners. I'm finding it that way so far, anyway," said Heather Lazette, who moved to Rock Hill from Wilmington in June after living in New Jersey, Colorado, Texas and other states.

Unlike most of her previous homes, neighbors have been active about greeting her and making her feel welcome, she said. "Neighbors will drive by and wave. I just find that particularly friendly," she said.

Poll respondents said a better lifestyle was the most common reason for moving here, with 59 percent naming that as their motivation. The next-highestreason was a job or other economic factor. Being close to other family members came next, and a better climate was fourth.

Francois Brown, a newcomer to the Matthews area, lived in Charlotte for a few years following time in Fayetteville and his upbringing in New York. As he built his house on a private road in Matthews last year, neighbors stopped by during construction to ask how it was going.

"Considering I'm a black man moving into a lot of white neighborhoods, it's been pretty welcoming," he said.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Friday, November 10, 2006

ECU dental school approved

"A $90 million dental school at East Carolina University won unanimous support Friday from the University of North Carolina's Board of Governors, who will next ask the General Assembly for money.

"The project will include the dental school at ECU's campus in Greenville and up to 10 clinics in rural and underserved areas statewide. The clinics will be staffed by students in their fourth and final year of dental training.

"Supporters say the school is needed to ease a chronic shortage of dentists in North Carolina. The only other public dental school in the state is at UNC's main campus in Chapel Hill. ..."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Easley presents seven with North Carolina Awards

Gov. Mike Easley and first lady Mary Easley presented North Carolina Awards to seven people on Wednesday in Durham.

The annual awards, created by the General Assembly in 1961, are the highest civilian honor bestowed by the state and recognize individuals for their contributions to the arts, public service and science. The winners were selected from citizen nominations.

Former Gov. James E. Holshouser Jr. was one of the recipients.

"Holshouser, who lives in Southern Pines, became the first Republican governor of North Carolina in the 20th century when he was elected in 1972," said the Fayetteville Observer. "During his tenure, the state university system was consolidated under the board of governors. After leaving office, Holshouser was elected to the board, where he still serves as member emeritus."

Another Fayetteville-related winner was Roy Parker Jr., who writes a military history column for the Observer.

"Parker, who writes the Military History column for the Observer’s weekly Military section, has been covering news in North Carolina for more than 50 years. He served as the Washington correspondent for The News & Observer of Raleigh from 1963 to 1972.

"Following that job, he returned to North Carolina as the press secretary for Hargrove 'Skipper' Bowles’ gubernatorial campaign. After that, Parker became the first editor of The Fayetteville Times in 1973," wrote the Observer.

The other winners of North Carolina Awards were:
-Thomas K. Hearn Jr., of Winston-Salem, who served as president of Wake Forest University for 22 years.
-Charles Sanders, a retired Glaxo chief executive, recently finished a one-year term as the first chairman of the North Carolina Education Lottery Commission.
-Artist William Williams of New York, a Fayetteville native who has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, was honored along with writer Emily Herring Wilson of Winston-Salem, whose poetry, nonfiction writings and university teachings have examined the importance of women.
-Writer Michael Parker, an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, also was honored. Parker has written novels such as “Hello Down There” and “Virginia Lovers” and more than 20 short stories, according to the Observer.

Quick hits: Shuler finally wins, and more on the dental school in the east

Shuler going back to D.C. a winner (a News & Observer Q&A)
"Former Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler is returning to the nation's capital as a congressman representing Western North Carolina. Shuler, a conservative Democrat from Waynesville, defeated veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, a banker and timber producer from Brevard. ..."

UNC board to discuss ECU dental school (Greenville Daily Reflector)
"In four appearances before University of North Carolina system agencies, East Carolina University officials have yet to hear a 'no' vote on their latest proposal to start a dental school.

"The most crucial UNC votes occur this week, and an ECU alumnus on the UNC Board of Governors cautiously expects the positive trend to continue.

" 'I really don't want to jinx this because our battles are hard-fought sometimes to gain things like that, but my belief right now is everybody is feeling pretty good about it,' said Greenville attorney Phil Dixon, a member of the UNC Board of Governors.

" 'I would be surprised if we didn't have approval,' Dixon said.

"Dixon serves on the Board's educational planning committee, which will vote today on ECU's request to begin offering dentistry degrees. The committee meets at 1 p.m. at the UNC General Administration in Chapel Hill. ..."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ski season opens early in Carolina

The first ski trails in North Carolina opened this past weekend, beginning with the Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley. The earlier-than-normal cold weather meant that Cataloochee could begin making snow for the slopes.

"I come from Tennessee every week (of the season). It's that good up here," Kendall Clark, a youth ski coach from Newport, Tenn., told the Associated Press.

"People are definitely excited. We've only been closed for seven months," since April 1, general manager Chris Bates told the AP. "We hope to ski until the end of April."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Quick hits: EI pier update and the Hispanic influence

Bogue Inlet Pier deal falls through
"Bogue Inlet Pier and its surrounding property is back on the market, and Emerald Isle is back at work on its efforts to buy one of the last public fishing piers on the island," according to the Jacksonville Daily News.

"The town announced Tuesday that its previous agreement with Mid-Atlantic Real Estate and Development of Raleigh to acquire the pier and 3.8 acres of land around it has fallen through.

" 'It’s frustrating; but we tried as hard as we possibly could to make it work, and we’ll keep trying,' said Town Manager Frank Rush.

"Mid-Atlantic held a contract to purchase a total of 15 acres, and the town had developed plans to buy the pier and improve water quality in the vicinity by removing three stormwater outfalls that drain into the ocean.

"The deal was contingent upon the town receiving a $3 million N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant and Mid-Atlantic finalizing its purchase from the Stanley family of Emerald Isle.

"Rush said the contract between the Stanley family and Mid-Atlantic has been terminated, thus also terminating the town’s agreement."

Hispanics have role in state economy
"The influx of Hispanics, both authorized and unauthorized, has created a complex economic give and take within North Carolina, members of the business community and others discussed Tuesday at a seminar in Greenville," according to the Greenville Daily Reflector.

"The seminar, Exploring the Economic Impact of North Carolina's Hispanic Population, was the sixth to be held across the state. It was sponsored by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in conjunction with North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry and the North Carolina Bankers Association.

"The luncheon session revolved around a study by the University of North Carolina's Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. ...

"Ultimately, the study concluded the fiscal impact to the state of Hispanics through education, health services and corrections totaled about $817 million in 2004. Direct and indirect tax contributions by Hispanics for the same year added to $756 million, resulting in a net cost for the state budget of $61 million or approximately $102 per Hispanic resident.

" 'People say Aha, they're costing us, but before you Aha, think how much you cost us,' the study's co-author, James Johnson Jr., told seminar attendees Tuesday."

Monday, October 30, 2006

New York Times discovers N.C. writers

OK, that's a little bit of hyberole. But this Sunday's New York Times book section did feature reviews on three books written by North Carolinians -- three very different North Carolinians.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated new books is Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (of Cold Mountain fame.)

"Frazier’s first novel, 'Cold Mountain,' distilled the Civil War into the alternating stories of a lone Confederate deserter, making his slow and dangerous way home through the mountains of western North Carolina, and the young woman awaiting his return," writes the newspaper. "That 1997 book won both critical acclaim, including a National Book Award, and huge popular success, with more than four million copies now in print in the United States and a film adaptation that has grossed more than $160 million worldwide. Readers and critics (including Alfred Kazin, in one of his last published reviews) embraced the novel as an American epic, much as a previous generation had embraced another book that set doomed love against a Civil War backdrop: 'Gone With the Wind.'

"Almost a decade later, Frazier revisits the same mountains to evoke another epic 19th-century journey: the forced expulsion (then referred to as the Cherokee Removal) of some 17,000 Native Americans, who set off on what came to be known as the Trail of Tears. But, as their titles should suggest, while 'Cold Mountain' was a trip across the physical landscape, 'Thirteen Moons' is more of a passage through time. When we first encounter its narrator, Will Cooper, it’s the early 20th century and he’s in his 90’s, surviving incongruously amid a world of automobiles, telephones and moving pictures."

"Kudzu" cartoonist Doug Marlette has quite the reputation as a "tell it like it is" Southern storyteller when it comes to his tomes; he pulls no punches. Marlette is back with Magic Time.

Writes the Times: "Doug Marlette, a self-aware Southern journalist and a promiscuous position-taker ... doesn’t turn tail and doesn’t have much respect for those who do. Styling himself an 'equal opportunity offender,' he’s spent decades attacking hypocrites and blowhards with his Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoons, in his 'Kudzu' comic strip and most recently in fiction. 'My talent is like a pit bull on a very long leash, and each day when I take it out for a stroll I hold on for dear life,' said the cartoonist-protagonist of Marlette’s first novel, 'The Bridge' (2001). There’s no question Marlette was talking about himself.

"In 'Magic Time,' Marlette’s second novel, he’s trying to put that dog on the scent of something big: his own vision of the South and Southerners, and, indeed, of America. Marlette wants to hunt out and attack the seminal issues — race, history, shame .... So he walks the trail back to the same moment, the early 1960’s, in a place, Mississippi, where choices were stark and, yes, very much required, yet many Southerners tried like hell not to make them."

And then there's Amy Sedaris. For quite some time she's held the title of "David Sedaris' sister." Well, after some great acting roles (both on TV, movies and on stage), Sedaris, who grew up in Raleigh, takes on the book world with I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.

"Amy Sedaris has written a book on entertaining. To my mind, the most entertaining thing this writer-actress ever did was to perform Off Broadway (in plays she wrote with her brother David) in roles for which she would tape the tip of her nose up against her face. The effect was porcine. Moreover, the elongation of Miss Sedaris’s nostrils, combined with the actress’s feral energy and freshets of filthy dialogue, was comedically intoxicating: I laughed so hard that I tasted my own bile," writes the Times.

"Sedaris’s wonderfully dizzy new book has a less galvanizing effect, but to hold anything up to her former nasal-comedic heights is only to make it look saggy and distended by comparison — less Amy Sedaris’s nose and more Nora Ephron’s neck. No, the more apt comparison is the interior designer Dorothy Draper’s 1941 classic, 'Entertaining Is Fun!' As Draper did, Sedaris starts out by telling us what her book is not, and also by acknowledging that parties don’t need to be formal or extravagant. On the first subject, Sedaris writes, 'This is not a joke cookbook.' On the second: 'Don’t think of pony kegs and loud Southern rock or cigarillos and businesswomen. Don’t think of pools and diving for loose change. Don’t think about cockfights — even though it’s hard not to.' Instead, she urges us to 'think simplicity. Because if there is one thing that I am, it’s clinically simple.'"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

You're studying what?

We all know that some colleges have historically "created" curriculums designed for, well, the "student athletes." You know the ones; those are typically the majors that make you go "really? You can get a degree in that?" when flashed below a basketball player's name on TV.

But here's the thing: Apparently there are other people who actually want to take some of those quirky classes.

North Carolina magazine, in its October issue, has an article entitled, "Unique and Unusual Courses Abound," about the "dazzling array" of courses offered at N.C. schools of higher learning. They either sound really cool ... or really made-up.

Among the offerings?
Canadian Studies -- Duke University
Boating Skills and Seamanship -- East Carolina
Witchcraft and Magic in European History -- UNC-Greensboro
Legal Issues in Film and Entertainment Law -- UNC-Wilmington (naturally)
Presidential Rhetoric -- Wake Forest
White Collar Crime -- Wake Forest
Forensic Anthropology -- Western Carolina University

And the best of all? My alma mater, of course: The Dinosaurian World -- North Carolina State University.

Go Pack! Or, rather, Go T-Rex!

'Oh, (N.C.) Christmas Tree'

Gauging by the decorations already up at local malls, it's clear that the retail industry doesn't think it's too early to begin looking ahead to Christmas, so neither do I.

That being said, it's also never too early to start thinking about your Christmas tree. (After all, Halloween is almost here ... and then Thanksgiving.) We tend to get ours from the N.C. Farmers Market in Raleigh, though we would love to eventually make the trip to the mountains -- saw in hand -- and choose and cut our own. Someday ... someday.

Nonetheless, the N.C. Christmas Tree Association offers an online guide to choosing the right tree for you. The association's website also offers folks the chance to find growers and sellers in your area.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Update: Fall colors hitting peak

This weekend (not last) is predicted to be the best for viewing peak fall colors in the North Carolina mountains.

The Asheville Citizen-Times has a great article (and photo gallery) about the various ways to best see the tremendous colors. You can do so by horse, foot, bike or even raft.

"Why would you want to suck exhaust fumes on the parkway when you can float peacefully down the river?" "French Broad Rafting Expeditions owner Michael Hampton asked the paper.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ECU dental school a good idea

From a purely philosophical and social perspective (and without getting into the financial implications), the thought of a dental school at East Carolina University is a noble one -- and the right one. The region would be well-served with a teaching facility for dentists -- dentists that may very likely remain in Eastern N.C. to practice.

But, of course, there is backlash. And just like when ECU was trying to establish a medical school, that backlash is coming from Chapel Hill (or those associated with that school there).

"Some say dentists in the state -- most of whom trained at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry -- may not want to see an upstart challenge their alma mater for students, faculty and scarce state resources," writes the News & Observer.

"There also appears to be a more practical reason for the lack of enthusiasm: A new dental school would eventually pump as many as 50 new dentists a year into the existing market, creating competition for patients and, over time, making it harder to earn a good living."

Harder to make a good living? With the exception of a few, most dentists I know only work four days a week and do very well. And my assumption is that those that are concerned are worried about a glut of new dentists into the Triangle (where people are pouring into the area) and not ENC (where the dentists are needed). So what if there are more dentists in the urban areas? They are needed there as well. But not nearly as much as they are needed in the east.

Dr. Rex Card, a Raleigh dentist who is president of the N.C. Dental Society, told the N&O that the dental school could be a bad thing.

Card "said when he started practicing in the early 1980s, North Carolina and many states had an oversupply of dentists. Many did not have enough patients and left the state, he said.

"Card said some dental society members are concerned a new ECU dental program could bring back those conditions, even though it wouldn't admit its first class until 2010 or 2011, under the most optimistic timeline.

" 'For the first few years it might be a good thing,' said Card. 'But after that we might be producing too many.'"

Are Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and ECU producing too many doctors? (Oh, no! There's no such thing!)

It should surprise no one that the dental society supports expanding UNC's program. But that's not the real issue.

"There's little argument that residents of the state's poor and rural areas have a difficult time getting dental care. Ann Lamm, 64, can't remember the last time she had her teeth examined, cleaned or otherwise tended, but it has been years. She can't afford a dentist and none work at the free health clinic in the Halifax County town of Roanoke Rapids where she gets medical care.

" 'I need my teeth looked after just like anyone else,'" Lamm told the N&O, "noting that older people who don't qualify for Medicaid or who aren't old enough for Medicare are especially vulnerable. Children, too, have had trouble getting care."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spectacular colors on tap for Western N.C.

A good number of my good friends are going camping in the North Carolina mountains this weekend, and I am unbelievably jealous. Not only will they have a good ol' time, the fall colors should be as spectacular as ever.

"They would be looking at some particularly vibrant yellows and rich maroon reds," Crae Morton, the president of Grandfather Mountain, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "The berries of the mountain ash are gorgeous this year; it's a very rich red that really stands out on a lot of trees. I'm noting a lot of apple-colored reds and some really bright yellows with just a hint of orange in them. It's just a real pretty leaf season."

Gary Walker, a biology professor at Appalachian State University, said that a cold and dry spell in September helped create particularly good colors.

"That's good because it stresses the trees to shut down early before all the sugars are transported out (of the leaves)," Walker said.

Cool weather now will help lock in the colors, he said, while pushing those leaves that are still green to move into their colors.

So, you can see why I'm jealous. Perhaps this last comment, however, will put my mind at ease.

"Forecasts even call for possible snow flurries at the highest elevations today. The National Weather Service predicts lows in the mid-30s tonight in Boone and a low of about 30 on Friday."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The scenic subtext of the Blue Ridge

A great piece on CNN's Travel page (written by the Associated Press) details writer Anne Mitchell Whisnant's work on the "scenic subtext" of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the frontier-like atmosphere of its inhabitants.

"On a postcard-perfect Saturday at the Heffner Gap Overlook, Anne Mitchell Whisnant reads from one of the scores of informational signs -- known as 'gun boards' for their frontier rifle logos -- posted along the 470 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway," says the article.

" 'There were few homegrown products more useful to the mountain farmer than apples,' she reads. 'Cuttings from favorite trees were often taken from place to place when the family moved or children left home. Today, old apple trees often indicate the location of a beloved but abandoned mountain homestead.'

"The gun board's evocation of a simple, pre-industrial mountain lifestyle is part of the grand, immensely popular illusion created by the National Park Service, Whisnant writes in her new book 'Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History.' The book strips away decades of such myth-making fostered by tourism officials and the park service, and details the social, economic and political battles that shaped a two-lane road that's the most visited place managed by the park service. ...

" 'The park service loves to talk about the landscape architects and their vision and the design,' Whisnant said during a recent drive along a 40-mile stretch of the road, from Julian Price Park south of Blowing Rock to Little Switzerland. 'What there hasn't been attention to are these other forces -- historical, cultural, social ... political -- that also shaped the way the thing looks.' ..."

Click here for the rest of the intriguing story.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sylvan Heights could be a cultural, economic boom to NE N.C.

I had the pleasure recently to visit the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center in Scotland Neck. It is the world's largest waterfowl sanctuary, with birds representing the entire world. Quite simply, it's a gem in our own backyard.

Sylvan Heights will soon be open to the public; leaders hope it will be a tourist destination for thousands. And it should be.

"On Saturday, the nonprofit conservation organization will host a day of ceremonies to commemorate the grand opening of the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park & Eco-Center, a 9-acre zoo that will exhibit the many species of birds previously kept behind the scenes," said the Rocky Mount Telegram.

" 'It's a unique facility,' said Mike Lubbock, executive director of Sylvan Heights. 'There's probably not another one in the world quite like it, and certainly not one in North America.'

"Out back, they can walk around a series of netted aviaries holding 200 different species of birds from every continent except Antarctica. Park administrators said the center is a way to give the public a glance at the organization's efforts.

" 'People started hearing there was this great center here for birds and they wanted to see it,' said Jocelyn Wright, the park's operations assistant. 'This place was too special to keep a secret any longer.' ..."

Hopefully Sylvan Heights will not remain a secret, and visitors will make the trek to Halifax County to enjoy what the center has to offer.

Fayetteville museum opens 'Hall of Giants'

On Wednesday, the Special Operations Forces Exhibit at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville was dedicated. The exhibit highlights key special operations events and missions since 1980.

"The new displays include 29 figures, full-scale dioramas and audiovisual presentations about Special Forces, Rangers, civil affairs, psychological operations and special operations aviation," said the Fayetteville Observer.

"Among guests Wednesday were Brig. Gen. John Mulholland and Col. Dave Fox, who relied on close-air support while leading forces during early operations in Afghanistan."

Kurt Muse on Wednesday had a chance to critique a display that shows his 1989 rescue from a Panamanian prison by U.S. special operations soldiers.

“It’s very, very real, except that it’s compressed because of space requirements,” Muse said. “But the wall was like that. The cupola was like that. ... That’s how the operators dressed that evening when they came in to rescue me.” ...

Muse was jailed in April 1989 for activities against the Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega. The rescue took place during the U.S. invasion of Panama in December.

“When you walk in there, you walk into a hall of giants,” Muse said. “Americans risked their life to give me life.”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Frazier's back with 'Thirteen Moons'

My title as a native North Carolinian may be stripped, but I'm just going to go ahead and say it, damn the torpedoes.


I didn't like Cold Mountain.

Actually, I must rephrase that: I didn't finish Cold Mountain. Heck, I couldn't get past the first dozen pages or so. There's only so much I can read about a fly buzzing around war victims.

Having said that, there's no doubt that Cold Mountain by North Carolina's Charles Frazier is one of the most important books of the past 20 years or so.

"I thought if Cold Mountain was ever published, 10,000 people in the South or the Appalachians might be interested in it,” Frazier told the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"Four million copies later, with translations into 30 foreign languages, a National Book Award and a slew of literary prizes and the inspiration for an Oscar-nominated movie, Frazier had created a phenomenon," says the article.

" 'I tried to make it as local and true to Western North Carolina as I could, but it seemed to touch something universal,' admitted the Asheville native who grew up in Andrews."

Frazier has taken his time working on his follow up, which is called Thirteen Moons.

"It seems blasphemous to even consider the possibility of a sophomore slump for a writer as hugely talented and important as Frazier," writes USA Today. "But comparisons are inevitable, in no small part because Frazier invites them.

"Like Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons is set in 19th-century North Carolina. Like Cold Mountain, it's a love story — although the love object is a lot more slippery than Ada Monroe. And like Cold Mountain, it's about a changing America, an elegy to the loss of a beloved way of life. Even the dust jackets, with their misty images of distant mountains, are similar.

"But there are also significant differences, which give Thirteen Moons its own distinct and sometimes magical life.

"Gone is the omniscient narrator of Cold Mountain, who like a hawk followed the riveting, dangerous journey of Inman back to his true love. In its place is the first-person voice of orphaned Will Cooper, who as Thirteen Moons opens is an old man baffled by a new invention (the telephone) who has decided it's time to tell the story of his life. ..." (Click here to read the rest of the review.)

Frazier's lastest is once again linked with the Tar Heel State -- perhaps even moreso than his first offering.

"Turning his meticulous research and elegant style from the Civil War setting of Cold Mountain, Frazier found inspiration for Thirteen Moons in the rich heritage and often tragic history of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians," says the Citizen-Times.

" 'The Eastern Band is very pleased that such a notable author as Charles Frazier has undertaken the daunting task of conveying intricate stories typical of our Removal Era history,' said Principal Chief Michell Hicks in the tribe’s official statement on the book. ...

"If Frazier’s first book is any indication, Cherokee can expect a boom in business. More than a book, Cold Mountain became a kind of travel guide to many fans. Many have tried to trace the physical route of Frazier’s hero, Inman, as he walked from Raleigh to Haywood County. The community of Cold Mountain itself existed only in Frazier’s imagination, but the novel’s name came from the lonely 6,030-foot peak visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. ..."

Kudos to Bowles

UNC System President Erskine Bowles has proposed a plan that would "create a way to predict tuition and fee increases over four years" for UNC schools, accoding to the Winston-Salem Journal.

"The plan would be tied to new funds from the General Assembly and would cap in-state undergraduate tuition and fee increases at 6.5 percent a year if the legislature appropriates at least a 6 percent increase a year."

Said Bowles: "It is a ceiling, not a floor."

If this was the only thing Bowles accomplished during his tenure as UNC president, then it would be enough. North Carolina has long been lauded for its affordable higher education; in recent years that reputation has taken a hit. Something needs to be done, and Bowles deserves kudos for attempting to do something.

More from the Journal:

For every 1 percent more the legislature hands out, campuses would have to decrease their tuition increases by 1 percent. For example, if the General Assembly gave the UNC system 7 percent more in financing, campuses would have to limit their tuition increases to 5.5 percent.

A 6.5 percent annual increase could put Winston-Salem State University's tuition and fees at a maximum of $4,019 by 2010-11. They are now $3,108. The N.C. School of the Arts could increase from $4,679 to $5,962.

Campuses would have to use much of the additional money for financial aid and faculty salaries, UNC officials said yesterday. They would also be able to appeal for larger tuition increases but would have to prove extreme hardship to get them.

Bowles said that the cap comes from the average tuition increase since 1972, the year the UNC system was created by merging the state's public campuses. But for many years, tuition increases have been all over the map, from none to as high as 24.7 percent.

He said that a four-year plan would give students and the UNC system predictability but maintain revenue to deal with inflation. "These chancellors aren't particularly happy with me," he said. "I don't think you'll find any of them (who) think I'm a hero today.

"I am a low-tuition man. I admit that readily. But low tuition without high quality is no bargain for anybody."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Quick hit: Elizabethan Gardens a showplace

From the Washington Daily News ...
"Where early colonists once strived to make a new lives, a living memorial of flowers and towering live oak trees now draws visitors to this majestic spot on Roanoke Island.

"The Elizabethan Gardens, created by the Garden Clubs of North Carolina, along with the adjacent Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Waterside Theatre, home of “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama, pay tribute to those first English settlers in the New World, who journeyed here as part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Voyages of 1584-1590.

"Construction on this 16th century-inspired garden began June 2, 1953, the day Elizabeth II was crowned queen of England. But it was the inspiration several years earlier of a group of philanthropists, including noted North Carolina author and historian Inglis Fletcher, who felt that such a garden would be the perfect complement to Fort Raleigh.

"The proposal was presented to the garden clubs in 1951 and the organization, comprised of thousands of women from across the state, set a modest goal of erecting a 2- acre garden budgeted at $10,000. However, the gift of priceless statuaries, bird baths, stone steps and benches, and a fountain from the Georgia estate of John Hay Whitney, ambassador to the Court of St. James, resulted in the more elaborate gardens that can be viewed today.

"The Elizabethan Gardens formally opened on August 18, 1960, which was the 373rd anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first child born in the New World to English parents. Since then the attraction has expanded and is considered a “must see” for gardening enthusiasts who visit the area each year."

New Morton book of photos available

A new book of photos by the late great Hugh Morton will soon be available to purchase.

"Before his death June 1," says the Wilmington Star-News, Morton was "working on a second coffee-table-sized album of his photographs, a follow-up to his 2003 book, Hugh Morton's North Carolina.

"That second book, Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer, is now out from the University of North Carolina Press. It will officially be released Oct. 12 ($30).

"This volume focuses primarily on the Tar Heel State's natural wonders. Many of the color prints were taken near Morton's home at Linville or around his beloved Grandfather Mountain. Included, however, are striking images of a nesting osprey on Orton Pond in Brunswick County, a flock of pelicans nesting on a spoil island in the Cape Fear River and one of Orton Plantation's spectacular live oaks."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Coastal waterfront access the topic of panel

According to the News & Observer, each week a commercial pier, campground marina or fish house is sold along the North Carolina coast. But a legislative panel that began work yesterday is looking into protecting public access to the coast "before it disappears."

"Land values on the coast have soared in recent years, making the idea of selling out ever more tempting for people whose businesses may be earning only modest profits," says the paper.

"A News & Observer tally last spring found that more than 34,000 homes in more than 100 subdivisions and condominium projects were planned along the mainland coast, where the state's crab processors and most of its fish houses -- wholesale and retail operations that buy fishermen's catches -- are located.

"The legislative panel, called the Waterfront Access Study Committee, was created by the legislature this summer. It has 21 members, including representatives of the commercial and recreational fishing industries, marine trades, environmentalists, state agencies and local governments."

Click here for more on the panel.

Update: Wilmington growing, but losing some too

Yesterday, we linked to a Wilmington Star-News article about just how much that city is growing and how some (depending on perspective) think Wilmington is getting too big.

Well, today's paper has an interesting piece on the flight of some African-Americans from the Port City.

"When Nakia Byles leaves Wilmington on Saturday she doesn't plan to come back," says the article.

"She'll make trips to visit relatives, but living in the Port City isn't for her anymore.

" 'I can't stay here,' she said.

"Byles, 26, moved to Wilmington from Brooklyn, N.Y., when she was about 5 years old.

"She's decided to move somewhere that's a little more city, but not too much, where there is more for young blacks like her to do and more job opportunities. She's moving to Charlotte."

The Queen City is quickly becoming a very inviting place for African-Americans. Unfortunately, Wilmington does not appear to have that same cache.

"Charlotte - voted one of the Top 10 cities in the country for blacks to live, work and play in 2003 - has experienced a 16.5 percent increase in its black population from 2000 to 2005, according to new census data," says the Star-News.

"The same data show Wilmington losing more than 2,000 of its black residents.From 2000 to 2005, Wilmington's black population decreased from 19,579 to 17,302, an 11.6 percent drop. The city's Hispanic population grew 92 percent, and the number of whites increased by 28.4 percent. The 2005 American Community Survey questioned Wilmington residents, though people living in universities, long-term care facilities or prisons were not included."

Click here for the rest of the article.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Quick hits: Ladies and links

Wooing women to golf
Ashley Brooker seemed oblivious to the silver-haired men teeing up next to her on this humid North Carolina afternoon[, writes the Associated Press]. She raised a golf club over her right shoulder, swung and watched the small white ball disappear in the sun.

"You have to concentrate. When you think about other things it can mess up your swing," the 15-year-old said as the ball landed on the driving range at Pinehurst Golf Resort, bouncing beyond many of the men's hits.

On the course for the fourth time in as many days, the teenager from nearby Southern Pines is part of a surge in female interest in golf in recent years. More and more, young women are picking up the sport in high school, where the number of players increased by 1,000 last year. Some then go on to play in college, where Title IX has helped fuel a boom in women's golf programs. ...

Though women remain a relatively small part of the multibillion dollar golf market, the upward trend in female interest has caught the attention of resorts looking for new ways of attracting customers. A number of them, including Pinehurst, are courting women through gender-specific classes and programs designed to introduce golf as a fun challenge.

Women make up just 18 percent of what the National Golf Foundation defines as "core" golfers -- the 12.5 million golfers who play at least eight times a year and average 37 rounds annually. At the same time, the number of occasional female golfers -- women who play between one and seven times a year -- jumped from 2.6 million in 1997 to 4.3 million last year.

From Arizona to North Carolina, golf resorts are taking the advice offering everything from multi-day getaways that combine golf and spa time to daylong crash courses. ...

Port City really is a big city

It's probably happened since the day began, but the next person who calls Wilmington home will up the city's population to 100,000, meaning the Port City truly is a big city.

At least, it is depending on your perspective.

"The answer likely depends on your frame of reference," says the Star-News

"[New Jersey transplant Catherine] Fox, for example, said that the pizza was better in Jersey, but Englishtown didn't have festivals every weekend, a vibrant cultural arts scene or a university. 'I have a sort of list of things I'm going to do' in Wilmington, she said.

"But to David Carnell, a retired DuPont employee who moved from the Philadelphia area to Wilmington to retire 26 years ago, Wilmington can't be compared to large northern cities, like the City of Brotherly Love. 'It's a medium-size city at best, I would say,' Carnell said.

"According to the U.S. Census, reaching 100,000 residents will put Wilmington in a category with 254 other U.S. cities with populations of at least that size - from Cambridge, Mass., with 100,135 people, to New York City with 8,143,197. ..."

Perhaps newly-named Mayor Bill Saffo puts it best: Wilmington is a "big town growing into a city."

Monday, September 25, 2006

N.C. blues guitarist Baker dies

North Carolina lost one of its great musical treasures on Saturday when blues guitarist Etta Baker passed away at 93.

Baker died in Fairfax, Va., while visiting a daughter who had a stroke, according to the Associated Press.

"She just had to go; she just had to see my sister," Darlene Davis, another daughter who lives next door to Baker's house in Morganton, told the AP. "She was a great mother and a tower of strength for the family. We always looked up to her."

Baker was raised in a musical family in Western North Carolina [according to the AP]. She made her first mark in music in 1956, when she appeared on a compilation album called Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. The recording was very influential on the growing folk revival, especially her versions of "Railroad Bill" and "One-Dime Blues."

She worked for 26 years at a textile mill in Morganton before quitting at age 60 to pursue a career as a professional musician.

Baker became a hit on the international folk-festival circuit, playing Piedmont blues, a mix of clattery rhythms of bluegrass and blues.

Baker raised a family that eventually numbered nine children. She also suffered great losses. Her husband had a debilitating stroke in 1964. That same year, she was in a serious car wreck that killed one of her grandsons. In the span of a month in 1967, her husband died and one of her sons was killed in the Vietnam War.

"She embodied everything we love about the South," said Tim Duffy, who worked with Baker through his Music Maker Relief Foundation.

"She was strong, warm, witty, gentle, a gardener and also the world's premiere Piedmont-style blues guitarist," he said. "Like B.B. King and single-string blues, anybody who has picked up acoustic finger-style guitar has been influenced by Etta whether they know it or not."

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Passion of the Sweet Potato

Whether it's a casserole at Thanksgiving or a hand-held "pie" from Bojangles, the sweet potato is one of North Carolina's most versatile staples.

The Wilmington Star-News' Wilmington Magazine has a great feature article about various sweet potato recipes.

"The question down South is not 'Why would people want marshmallows on their sweet potatoes?' but instead 'Why would they not?'," the publication correctly asserts. "In an area where sugary iced tea pours like syrup and cake is but a vehicle for the frosting, something sweet with something even sweeter on top is a pure delight.

"Still, every year as fall stirs Thanksgiving thoughts, celebrity chefs bemoan marshmallow-topped candied yams and endorse sweet potato casserole covered with Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs or, heaven forbid, nothing at all. Even the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission tells readers at its Web site, “And just so you know, sweet potatoes and marshmallows are not married.” And well, perhaps they’re not, but they’re a darned good couple. ..."

Well, said.

Clicking on this link (and scrolling down a bit) will lead you to recipes for Contemporary Candied Yams (with streusel topping) and Cornwallis Yams. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Main Event: Lexington vs. Eastern-style

If there's one topic that just will never go away when discussing N.C. heritage, it is barbecue.

And, in N.C., there are basically two "parties" when it comes to the delicacy: eastern-style or Lexington.

A recent event in Lexington gave food writers from across North America the opportunity to sample both.

"Cecil Conrad of The Barbecue Center on North Main Street provided the Lexington-style portion of the menu: chopped sandwiches, red slaw and hushpuppies," writes the Lexington Dispatch. "Ed Mitchell, a well-known barbecue caterer from Wilson, provided eastern North Carolina-style barbecue, coleslaw, corn sticks and Brunswick stew. Barbecue expert Bob Garner, author of the book 'North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time,' presented a short history of barbecue in the state and explained the different traditions.

" 'What you're eating is sort of North Carolina's official food of celebrations, whether it's East or West,' he told the crowd. 'It has always been that way. ... Why? Because it was a cheap way to feed a big crowd.'"

Of course, I'm partial to eastern-style. But Garner goes on to make a great point: people think the best barbecue comes from wherever they grew up.

"I think North Carolinians like to talk about barbecue even more than they like to eat it."

Update: More on the IBX parkway

A couple of weeks ago we discussed the proposed IBX scenic parkway. The New Bern Sun Journal has a newer article about the project; not much new information is provided, but it does further illustrate how such a project could gain momentum.

"Paint a picture of eastern North Carolina for posterity, let the world drive by and enjoy: Cypress knees knobbing up at the edges of strong, sleepy rivers; bridges crossing and flat roads winding through pine forests; open farmland dotted with classic tobacco barns; and byways leading to the surging shores of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds," says the article.

Some of the peaceful picture could generate some controversy before a two-lane, 55 mph road is paved, however.

As proposed, it would eliminate the Cherry Branch-Minnesott and Bayview-Aurora ferries and replace them with bridges, and bypass some developed areas with potential ill effects. And, another regional branding effort claims the name “Inner Banks” already with a different map of a larger region.

Giving credit for the concept to Ron Toppin of Washington, N.C., spokesman Dean Stephens told commissioners the proposed parkway from Gatesville to Havelock offers eastern North Carolina an opportunity to provide a north-south artery for tourism development and local traffic.

It would use current highways N.C. 32, N.C. 45 and N.C. 306 in Craven and Pamlico counties to form a corridor to connect with the parkway.

“It would allow easy navigation of a key tourist area that focuses on history, natural resources and environmentally desirable development in a relaxed, small town environment,” Stephens said of the plan that also proposes state parks associated with the road.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The most colorful time of the year

Fall has always been my favorite time of the year -- and it has less to do with it being football season as it does with it just being autumn. The crispness in the air ... the smell of smoke coming out of chimneys ... the knowledge that Thanksgiving (and then Christmas) is right around the corner ...

... And, of course, the colors.

North Carolina is normally blessed with a beautiful and radiant fall. The western part of the state, in particular, is famous for its fall vistas.

And this year could be particularly beautiful -- which could be a boon for tourism.

“We should expect brighter color than last year,” Kathy Mathews, assistant professor of biology at Western Carolina University, told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “Overall, it should be a colorful fall.”

In 2005, a warm fall led to late and muted color, with many leaves turning brown in lieu of their normally vibrant palette.

“This fall, it seems more on track to have typical colors start at the beginning of October and peak in the middle of the month,” she said.

With the varied elevations, temperatures and rainfall in the mountains, color arrives at different times and with varying brilliance.

Sounds -- or rather, "looks" -- good to me.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Quick hits: War boats, wild horses and wetlands

State group wants to move CSS Neuse
"The State Historic Sites will be asking for more than $3 million next year to renovate and move the CSS Neuse from Vernon Avenue to a museum on Queen Street," according to the Kinston Free Press.

"Keith Hardison, director of state historic sites and properties, said Thursday at a tourism conference in Lenoir County that $250,000 was awarded by the state to start infrastructure and remedial construction on a museum, which will soon become the new home for the gunboat.

" 'This is priority of the division to execute this project because of the fragile nature of the artifact,' Hardison said. ..."

Challenges face Corolla wild horses chief
"The Corolla Wild Horse Fund's first-ever full-time executive director is no stranger to horses or to challenges," according to the Elizabeth City Daily Advance.

" 'I have been a horsewoman all my life,' Karen McCalpin says. 'That's pretty much my passion. I have owned horses, showed horses, trained horses and given riding lessons.'

"In her new job as head of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, McCalpin will be around horses again. She'll also face a number of challenges, including one that's already presented itself.

"A recent aerial survey indicates Corolla's famous herd of wild horses is almost twice as large as it should be. With the help of the Virginia Beach Police Department and one of its helicopters, Steve Rogers, the Wild Horse Fund's herd manager, counted 119 horses — nearly double the 60 the group's management plan is set up to handle. ..."

Mine plan would erase wetlands
"A massive Beaufort County strip-mining operation wants to expand its extraction of phosphate ore in one of the state's most environmentally fragile areas," according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

"The proposal by PCS Phosphate, if approved, would represent the single largest destruction of wetlands permitted in the state -- 2,500 acres including the headwaters of seven creeks near the Pamlico River.

"The rich deposit of black phosphate rock, left by ancient oceans and buried 100 feet beneath the surface, has been extracted from the site by various companies for about 40 years. PCS has worked the mine since 1995 to get phosphate for fertilizer and for use in food additives. In food, it's turned into phosphoric acid -- a flavor enhancer in such products as Coca-Cola, jellies and vegetable oil. ..."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

EI one step closer to purchasing pier

The town of Emerald Isle is one step closer to preserving one of North Carolina's fast-vanishing resources: ocean piers.

"The town of Emerald Isle’s efforts to acquire Bogue Inlet Pier and improve water quality in the area have taken a major step forward," said the Jacksonville Daily News. "The Board of Commissioners took action Tuesday night approving a purchase agreement between the town and Mid-Atlantic Real Estate and Development of Raleigh that will allow it to acquire the pier and remove three nearby stormwater outfalls that drain into the ocean.

"The $3 million contract is contingent upon the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund’s approval of the town’s grant application for the proposed project.

"That decision is expected at the trust fund’s board of directors meeting Nov. 12-13.

" 'We think this is a very strong project and believe we have a good chance,' said Town Manager Frank Rush, who presented details of the agreement at the town board’s meeting. ..."

" 'The town is extremely pleased to announce this agreement, as we believe it is a major victory for water quality, public beach access and the preservation of the ocean fishing piers in Emerald Isle and North Carolina,' said Mayor Art Schools in a news release on the agreement. ..."

This agreement is a major victory for a number of Crystal Coast residents and visitors who joined together in an effort to preserve the pier.

"Emerald Isle wouldn’t be the same without it," one Raleigh resident told the Daily News recently.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lake Lure 'Dream Home' becomes a nightmare

HGTV's coveted "Dream Home" may be more of a nightmare for the man who won it.

Donald P. Cook was one of 40 million who entered the contest to win the beautiful new home in Lake Lure. But according to published reports, the house has become a "tax nightmare."


"Cook won a $3 million-plus house in HGTV's Dream Home promotion in April. While the 5,700-square-foot house was free, Cook has to pick up the tax bill.

"He said taxes on the North Carolina lake house run $19,396.64 a year, plus maintenance costs.

" 'It's a dream that anyone would love to have — owning a house like the Dream Home,' he told HGTV. 'But then reality sets in.'

"He said the electric bill on the dream home is more than 10 times what he currently pays."

The article goes on to say that Cook will sell the house even though he loves the area. He plans to take the money from teh sell and buy a house "a little more his style" in the area.

Friday, September 08, 2006

N.C.'s best pizza?

Anchor Bill Leslie of WRAL has an interesting discussion going on on his blog about the best pizza joints in North Carolina.

Among the locations Leslie lists:
-The Loop (Cary)
-Amedeos (Raleigh)
-Cinelli's (Raleigh)
-Mellow Mushroom (various locations)

"I hear Lilly's at Five Points in Raleigh is top notch although I have never had the pleasure of tasting it," writes Leslie. Bill, you don't know what you're missing.

What are some other great recommendations? I would add Moonlight Pizza in Raleigh and Big Oak in Salter Path. Tell us what are your favorite pizza places.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

N.C. scores low when it comes to college affordability

North Carolina has long been considered a beacon of light in the nation when it comes to affordable higher education. That light appears to be dwindling.

"North Carolina is a solid B student when it comes to college preparation, participation and completion, but it is failing in its ability to provide affordable education," according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

That is according to the latest report card on the state of American college education being released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonpartisan research group. The center issues such a report every two years. It examines states' secondary-school preparation and the cost of two- and four-year private and public schools.

Affordability was just one factor, but it's the one on which states did most poorly overall. Of the 50 states, 43 scored an F in keeping college costs down and providing financial aid based on need. Utah and California received C-minus, the best grades.

States that did best tended to balance tuition increases with financial aid based on need, Callan said, or have low-cost community-college alternatives. Despite a rise in both in North Carolina, the state does not offer "low-priced college opportunities," the report said. But Callan couldn't give a number to clarify what that amount might be.

Click on the link (above) for the rest of the article.

Proposed scenic parkway would link the IBX

They're still not as prevalent as the "OBX" stickers, but you're starting to see more and more "IBX" stickers -- honoring the increasingly-popular Inner Banks of North Carolina.

A proposed $185 million scenic parkway would link the IBX and allow for people to better enjoy them.

A new term relative to its Outer Banks counterpart, the “Inner Banks” were loosely defined in the Plymouth presentation as the “western areas of the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds,” including the banks of the Chowan, Roanoke, Pamlico and Neuse rivers[, according to the Washington Daily News].

A scenic parkway, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, is defined as a two-lane road separated from private land upon which a constant speed is maintained, by natural land, according to the presentation.

The proposed parkway will stretch from N.C. Highway 158 near Gatesville to N.C. Highway 70 near Havelock with a speed limit of 55 throughout, and will predominately use existing state highways 32, 45 and 306. The parkway would, however, bypass towns along its path, including Plymouth and Bath.

This idea has legs -- as long as this type of parkway does not impede on the fragile environment that already exists.

Quick hits: Collards and Patriots

Ayden's Collards Festival begins today
"Packed with excitement from collard greens to pageant crowns, the 32nd annual Ayden Collard Festival kicks off today," according to the Greenville Daily Reflector.

"Rides will open on West Avenue at 6 p.m., followed by the first free musical performance. Festivities will run through Sunday when the festival wraps up with a gospel concert.

" 'Our town rolls out the red carpet for the festival,' said festival organizer Don King. 'We're a very tight knit community. Businesses roll out. The police department is in full force. All the volunteers and the town helps. It ends up being a community effort and event.' ..."

Hillsborough to celebrate Revolutionary roots
"Much of the town is stepping back into the 18th century this weekend with a Revolutionary War re-enactment and a celebration of colonial life," according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

"The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough is hosting the 225th anniversary of Col. David Fanning's raid and capture of Gov. Thomas Burke.

"Re-enactors from the Brigade of the American Revolution are expected to set up camp in Cameron Park Saturday morning. The re-enactment of the capture will be at 11 a.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of Cameron and King streets and St. Mary's Road.

" 'We're very excited that we can bring all of that together, the education, fun and economic benefit,' said Cathleen Turner, executive director of the Alliance. Turner said she didn't know how many re-enactors will be attending this weekend. ...."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Red Wolves could affect Navy decision

You don't have to go to Beaufort County to see that people are against the Navy building a proposed outlying landing field (OLF) in Eastern North Carolina. Even here in Raleigh you will occassionally see "NO OLF" signs and stickers.

Now it appears that the anti-OLF folks may have an ace in the hole.

"The latest force in the fight against the proposed outlying landing field for the border of Washington and Beaufort counties is an entity that can’t speak: endangered red wolves that roam Site C and the neighboring proposed site in Hyde County," says the Washington Daily News.

“Several packs of endangered red wolves now inhabit two of the Navy’s proposed (OLF) sites in northeastern North Carolina, including the Navy’s preferred site,” reads a press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Chapel Hill-based firm handles the case against the Navy’s proposed OLF, representing groups such as the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the N.C. Wildlife Federation.

“Consequently, if the Navy plans to proceed with the project, it must formally consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and take no action that will jeopardize the species’ continued existence,” the firm’s release states.

The Navy plans to put a concrete practice pad, which would be used to train its pilots, on Site C. The project encompasses 33,000 acres. The bulk of the acreage is in Washington County, and about 5,000 acres are on Beaufort County’s tax books. The land is about halfway between military air bases in Cherry Point and Virginia Beach, Va.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Report: Retirees expected to 'flock' to the N.C. mountains

This just in: the mountains of North Carolina are old.

And they're getting older.

Actually, it's the population of Northwest North Carolina that is getting older, according to a report from the Winston-Salem Journal.

"The elderly population in Northwest North Carolina mountain counties is growing markedly, according to recent census estimates.

"The numbers support a common perception that a lot of retirees are moving to the area. Experts say that improved medical care also promotes longer life spans that account for part of the increase.

"Census data in a statistical area made up of Ashe, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties show that 17.6 percent of the household population now is older than 65. That compares with 11.7 percent of household population older than 65 in North Carolina as a whole."

A recent study that ranked states according to the number of new elderly residents showed North Carolina in third place, after Florida and Arizona, said Ed Rosenberg, the director of the gerontology graduate program at ASU.

Census estimates show an 11.8 percent drop in ages 35 to 44 in Ashe, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties. Those figures are more a reflection of cycles of births and the age groupings of the statistics than an exodus of young-er people leaving the mountains, Rosenberg said.

He said, however, that the aging mountain population will more than double in the coming decades. ...

What the mountain counties look like now gives a window to what the state as a whole will look like in fewer than 20 years, when the number of North Carolinians 65 and older will make up about 17.5 percent of the population, he said.

And to see what North Carolina will look like then, visit Florida.

"In about 20 years, North Carolina is going to have a higher percentage of older people than Florida does now," Rosenberg said. "That's what we're going to look like."

'Slice of Americana' going bye-bye

Again, I realize Myrtle Beach's Pavilion is in South Carolina, not North Carolina; but too many folks from the Old North State have fond memories of the landmark to not comment on it.

"On a fading afternoon as summer wanes, a small girl looks anxiously into the Haunted Hotel, trying to decide whether she will risk entering the ride where a sign promises 'Doom Service Available,'" writes the Associated Press.

"A cool breeze brushes in from the ocean as a middle-aged woman waves to a friend snapping her picture as she rides a zebra on the Pavilion Carousel. Down the way, past lemonade stands, the log flume and ring toss games, teenagers shriek as they spin on swings high in the air. And across Ocean Boulevard, older folks, seeking quiet and reliving memories, sit on a balcony overlooking the street.

"These are the sights and sounds of the final summer of a piece of Americana. After nearly a century, the Myrtle Beach Pavilion is closing, and along with it the amusement park that has been part of the fabric of this oceanside resort for more than 50 years."

R.I.P, Pavilion.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Apple Fest is ripe, ready

If it seems to you like this blog focuses a lot on the town of Hendersonville, then you're right. But that's because that wonderful town in the mountains always seems to have something going on.

This time around it's the Apple Festival. This year's N.C. Apple Festival is the 60th version.

"Thursday afternoon, downtown's Main Street began the annual transformation from business as usual to party mode," according to the Hendersonville Times-News. "Parking was banned on Main Street after 3 p.m. so vendors could set up. ...

"Setting up the Main Stage in front of the Henderson County Historic Courthouse, Tim Petty, with Seriously Sound, of Landrum, S.C., said festivalgoers will have a few new things to enjoy about the entertainment stage this year. ..."

Click here to read more about Apple Fest.

Canton does Labor Day right

The town of Canton is going all out to celebrate Labor Day. In fact, the town has been going all out for a month now.

"In most towns, Labor Day is nothing more than a day off from work," says the Asheville Citizen-Times. "In Canton, it’s an obsession.

"The town is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its annual Labor Day celebration and parade, an institution in this proud, self-proclaimed blue-collar town. The town is now immersed in a monthlong celebration, climaxing Monday with the Labor Day parade.

"It’s one of the oldest continuing celebrations of Labor Day in the Southeast, perhaps the nation."

To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Federal grant will go toward translation computers for Cherokees

According to the Associated Press, a federal grant will help the Cherokee Indians "maintain a major part of their ancient culture" by purchasing hand-held computers to translate English into Cherokee.

"The effort is meant to help tribe members learn the Cherokee language, which fewer and fewer people speak," said the AP. "Renissa Walker, manager of the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, said 72 percent of the population fluent in the language is older than 50, and an average of three Cherokee speakers die every two months.

"Since 2004, the Eastern Band has operated two language immersion classrooms where children speak only Cherokee."

Smokies rank high for fall travel

Coming in at No. 2 just behind Florence (that would be Florence, Italy - not South Carolina) are the Great Smokey Mountains in's Top 10 Fall Destinations. (And for the record, the Smokies just edge out Marrakesh.)

"Cloaked in a shroud of blue mist, the Great Smoky Mountains are a breathtaking sight all year round but really come into their own come autumn, when the mountain foliage turns to brilliant crimsons, oranges, and purples, for a sight that's nothing short of spectacular," writes MSN. "The most-visited national park in the US, the Smokies boast over 500,000 acres of pristine forest and valleys laced with picturesque rivers, streams, and waterfalls. Nestled between North Carolina and Tennessee—with common entrances through Gatlinburg (TN) and Cherokee (NC)—the park hosts plenty of camping grounds and over 800 hiking trails tailor-made for horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and mountain biking. ..."

Not too bad -- especially when you consider that the other seven selections are Munich, Napa Valley, New England, New York, Provence, San Francisco and Shanghai.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Museum will honor black rescuers on the Outer Banks

Very few know the story of how African-American men patrolled the waters of the Outer Banks between the 1880s and 1947, saving the lives of many shipwreck victims. A living history museum in Manteo hopes to tell their story.

"A weathered cookhouse salvaged from a remote lifesaving station will help preserve the heritage of black lifesavers who once rescued shipwreck victims off the Outer Banks," said the News & Observer.

"The cookhouse will be a focal point for the Pea Island African American Heritage Center in Manteo. ...

" 'It's such a great story that needs to be told,' said Kermit Skinner, Manteo's town manager."

Click here to read more about this fascinating story.

Update: Art of the Vine fest draws a crowd

It appears that Lexington's Art of the Vine festival was a success.

"Hundreds of people strolled through the courtyard at Childress Vineyards Saturday, sipping wine as they admired artwork by local talent at the first Arts United Art of the Vine Festival," according to the Lexington Dispatch.

"Dancers from the High Point Ballet performed to sounds of live jazz as people looked on." ...

"Emily Moore of Greensboro said she attended the festival because she had never been to an event like this. 'I think it's really nice, very pretty,' she said as she sipped one of Childress' white wines. ..."

Read more about the festival here.

Update: Ghost Town spirits rise

From the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Gunfighters swaggered out into the streets for staged shootouts as Ghost Town opened Monday for a sneak peek crowd and for the first time in five years.

Hundreds of people packed the saloon that once showcased cancan dancers to applaud the amusement park’s new owners and regional business leaders for working to reopen the park.

Beyond offering 285 jobs, the park is expected to improve the regional economy with more tourism.

Maggie Valley Mayor Roger McElroy said the packed house, and the estimated 1,000 people who did not get a ride to the hilltop attractions because of problems with a bus, showed how much the park means to his town.

“This is a testimony on how large an impact Ghost Town has had on Maggie Valley,” McElroy said. ...

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Katrina evacuees still calling N.C. home

A year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, many of the storm's evacuees -- who originally relocated to North Carolina -- have decided to remain in the Tar Heel State.

Waldeen Mitchell keeps a scrapbook in her office that she thumbs through when a rare unoccupied minute allows her to reflect on the chaotic journey that tore her from her beloved New Orleans [according to the Associated Press].

The book could be a reminder of loss. Her mold-covered house, the destroyed European clocks collected during her military service, the series of strokes her elderly mother has suffered in the year since Hurricane Katrina changed their lives.

But for Mitchell, a former Marine with an unwavering trust in her divine path, the photographs illustrate a time of healing, growth and education.

"I can tell you 100 bad things that came out of Katrina, but I can probably tell you 102 good things that came out of it," said Mitchell, who now lives in Raleigh and works for the Capital Area Workforce Board helping fellow hurricane evacuees find work and rebuild their lives in North Carolina. ...

Mitchell and her college-bound son are among hundreds of families that have stayed in North Carolina since fleeing the strong Category 3 storm that battered the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines last August.

Thousands sought shelter in North Carolina: More than 5,000 applications from evacuated individuals, couples and families listed a North Carolina address when asking for hurricane-related assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Renee Hoffman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

The state didn't track how many evacuees came through and it is unclear how many have stayed, though public safety officials guess hundreds remain scattered throughout the state. About 200 families are still living in and around Raleigh, Wake County community health director Gibbie Harris said. ...

In Charlotte, which along with Raleigh took in the bulk of the state's hurricane evacuees, the Red Cross helped about 1,400 displaced families and received about 200,000 hurricane-related calls in the weeks after the storm, Red Cross spokeswoman Elaine Spallone said.