Monday, December 22, 2014

Where to see Christmas lights

North Carolina has long been known as the "Variety Vacationland." It could also be known as the "Christmas Lights Variety Land." No matter where you are in the state this time of year, there are noteworthy light displays for your enjoyment.

I am biased toward the Meadow Lights because I grew up not far from there and we tend to make an annual pilgrimage with the kids due to its close proximity to Raleigh.  

"Out west," McAdenville, N.C., is actually known as "Christmas Town, U.S.A."  And then there is Biltmore Estate in Asheville, which has established itself as a national draw when it comes to holiday decorating.

What are some other notable Christmas light displays we should all be aware of? offers some potential places to visit. Among the list are Chetola's Festival of Lights in Blowing Rock, Speedway Lights in Concord, Beary Merry Christmas in New Bern, and much more. 

Images courtesy of and

Thursday, December 04, 2014

No. 2 in Christmas tree sales, but No. 1 in your hearts

We like to pat ourselves on the back here in North Carolina this time of year -- and for good reason. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, Tar Heel State commodities do quite well, thank you very much. Turkeys. Sweet potatoes. And Christmas trees.

Our state is second in Christmas tree production, after Oregon. But when you compare the sales of trees to the number of acres needed to produce them, it is quite astonishing how we "make do."

According to this fact sheet, Oregon produces some 6.4 million trees to our 3.5 million -- but Oregon boasts 63,000 acres to our 32,000. In fact, an astonishing 20 percent of the nation's Christmas trees come from our state, with sales around $75 million.

Not too shabby, North Carolina. Happy holidays, indeed.

Photo from WUNC.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

N.C.'s best food tourism spots?

This may come off as snooty, and it's really not meant to, but since I live in Raleigh, I don't necessarily have to leave my city to enjoy great restaurants. The Capital City has come a long way over the past two decades or so in offering a veritable cornucopia of culinary delights. But that doesn't mean I don't look for those hot spots or "must-hit" spots around this great state. And there are plenty. Some are a short drive away, while others ... not so much.

In fact, a random conversation among coworkers a couple of weeks ago about favorite haunts around the state got me thinking: Just how far will you go for "food tourism?"

My grandparents, many moons ago, used to fly friends (in a small plane) from Clinton to Raleigh, just to have an evening at the Angus Barn. These days, I know a fair number of folks who can make a day or two out of heading to Kinston to see what Vivian Howard is cooking up at The Chef and the Farmer. People also sample the goods at Mother Earth Brewing as well. (Both of these are on my own personal "food tourism" bucket list.)

WRAL's Scott Mason, the Tar Heel Traveler, recently put out a map of some of the more popular restaurants in the state. Not surprisingly, many of these would qualify, in my mind, as food destinations: Britt's Donuts in Carolina Beach, the Roast Grill in Raleigh, Sherry's Bakery in Dunn (a personal favorite of mine).  We ARE in North Carolina, so BBQ places also made the cut (thank God!). And I know of people who have made the trek to Siler City just on the off-chance that they can enjoy a burger from Johnson's Drive-In before they run out of beef. Another place that I don't think made Scott's list but seems to be a sort of Mecca for some is the Beefmastor Inn (note the 'o') in Wilson County.

So a couple of questions .... what are some of your favorite food tourism sites in North Carolina? And how far are you willing to drive JUST to enjoy food? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Johnson's Drive-In image from Our State; Beefmastor image from

Monday, July 07, 2014

Hey, it's White Lake on the big screen!

North Carolina has been the filming location for its fair share of Hollywood movies over the years. Just off the top of my head I can think of the following:
Last of the Mohicans
Dirty Dancing
Nights in Rodanthe

And this barely scratches the surface.

The latest Melissa McCarthy film, Tammy, was filmed almost exclusively in the Old North State, with good old White Lake as the setting for the Jet ski scene that has made it into the trailer.

I haven't seen Tammy, so I can't speak to WHERE the movie actually takes place (aside from the fact that the protagonist is apparently en route to Niagara Falls). Maybe the movie takes place in North Carolina. But, as Brendan Szulik recently pointed out at Raleigh & Company, probably not. Very few movies filmed in North Carolina actually take place in North Carolina -- unless you count (egads) some of Bad Grandpa. And maybe that's for the best. Otherwise we'd probably come off looking like hicks and hillbillies.

The one movie that I feel like truly captured the essence of N.C. -- particularly RURAL N.C. -- was Junebug. I can remember watching scenes and thinking, "I know those people!" or, "I've been in a house just like that!" But even that film featured a crazy, perverted artist out in the sticks.

I guess you win some and you lose some.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Here's to the land of the long leaf pine ...

On the way to work recently, I drove past a small patch of woods and I noticed the long leaf pines that dotted the landscape. It made me realize how beautiful those trees are. And it also reminded me of the State Toast.

A couple of months ago, to earn a feather for Y Guides, my daughter memorized and recited the State Toast in front of her tribe. (Well, the first stanza, that is.)  She learned it quickly and with gusto; I was extremely proud of her.

Here, as a reminder of this great state, is the toast. Enjoy!

Here's to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the 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," in 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!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The ACC Tournament still holds sway in N.C. classrooms

Media reports are saying that the Atlantic Coast Conference is on the brink of playing its marquee event, the men's basketball tournament, at the Barclay's Center in New York, as early as in 2017. It's an inevitability of massive conference expansion that will -- not unlike NASCAR's major boom of the past 20 years -- leave some long-timers feeling passed by while the powers that be hope the move will broaden the event's appeal. (I'm not a NASCAR fan, so I can't speak as to how that actually worked out or not.)

And while this move is likely to rub some Big Four fans the wrong way, take heart: it appears that even today, after years of expansion moves and enlarging the ACC's footprint to the point that it's almost unrecognizable, the good people of North Carolina still give a flip about the ACC tourney.

Case in point: yesterday, my first grader told me that they "studied" the ACC tournament in school.

It made me smile.

"When I was a kid," I said, sounding like the old man I've become, "we actually watched the games in class."

"We did watch it!" she said.

I smiled even larger.

Yes, I know in these days of budget cuts and Common Core and EOGs, watching basketball is probably not the most efficient use of time. But the fact that this is still done, even in some parts of North Carolina, makes me proud. The ACC tourney is a big part of who we are; it's a major part of our identity. Heck, I remember teachers using the tournament as a way to enhance teaching. One teacher -- in the days before Google Maps -- had her students determine how far it was from College Park, Md., to Tallahassee, Fla. (Ah, the old, "new" ACC.) And I may be reaching here, but if for a couple of days each March, some students in some rural N.C. schools actually got interested in the idea of going to college, then what is wrong with that?

Yes, this probably honestly nothing more than nostalgia that warms my heart. But so be it. As my buddy James Curle said over at Riddick & Reynolds a few years ago, "If you're a teacher in one of these pockets who insists on still watching the tournament in class. God bless."


Thursday, February 06, 2014


To quote Charles Barkley, this is just "turrble."

Dump trucks and backhoes filed into Duke Energy’s Dan River power plant Tuesday as officials worked to plug a leaking storage pond that dumped enough coal ash into the river to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools [according to the Charlotte Observer]. 
Pond water continued to leak from a 48-inch stormwater pipe that broke Sunday, washing at least 50,000 tons of ash carried by 24 million gallons of water into the Dan. Coal ash contains metals that can be toxic at high concentrations.
It’s not clear why the reinforced concrete pipeline broke. Built in the 1960s, it runs beneath the unlined ash pond – the only one of Duke’s 14 North Carolina ash ponds with such a pipe beneath it. A power plant in Indiana also has a pipe under its ash pond. 
While Duke has said no downstream problems have been reported, at least one water customer of the Dan River watershed took immediate steps to protect its water supply from any contamination. 
Virginia Beach, Va., cut off all pumping from Lake Gaston, a massive downstream reservoir that straddles the state line. The lake also supplies water to the Virginia cities of Norfolk and Chesapeake.

It certainly sounds like it could be much worse; however, you never want to hear of a river being described as "ugly gray," as Tiffany Haworth, the executive director of the Dan River Basin Association, told the Observer

“It is a very, very sad day,” Haworth said.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Heavenly North Carolina

Back before Halloween, we piggy-backed on the work of Jonathan Hull, who compiled an interesting map that showcases "devilish" or "hellish"  places through the United States.  Here in North Carolina, we can chuckle at place names such as Kill Devil Hills or Seven Devils or even Hell Swamp.

Well, Hull is at it again. He put together a map (aimed at the Christmas holiday season) to capture the "Heavenly" or even "Christmasy" places throughout the country. Again, N.C. shows up strong, according to The Atlantic Cities.

Hull has now release a map "of place names inspired by all things heavenly -- from New York's Christmas Knob to Illinois's Christian County to North Carolina's Holy Ghost Drive."

A quick zoom in of Hull's map shows the following in our fair state:
  • Eden
  • Edenton
  • Edenhouse Point
  • Santa Claus Lane
  • St Clair Creek
  • Angel Ridge
  • Temple Terrace Lake
  • God's Blue Bird Lane
  • Heaven's Door
  • St Pauls
  • St Andrew's College Lake
  • And several more, I'm sure.

BTW, here is a shot (via The Atlantic Cities) of Holy Ghost Drive, right here in North Carolina.