Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winter at the Beach

While winter is not the most desirable time to visit the beach, there are still things to do and beautiful scenery to enjoy.  Sometimes finding a good day for a beach walk becomes something of  a challenge, but there are times that Mother Nature will smile upon you.

You can luck into some great winter beach weather.  The winter of 2008, I kept track of temperatures during the month of January.  We only had 19 hours below freezing for the whole month, and we managed 11 days when we hit 70 degrees or better.

While I did not keep track during January 2010, I know it was much colder. Every year has it cold spells and warm times on the beach.  The temperature reached 75F on February 9, 2009. It prompted me to write an article about the great weather.

That day was just a couple weeks after a late January dusting of snow along the beach.  Winter time at the beach is actually a huge war between warm and cold air masses. You never quite know which one is going to win.

While in the late fall, we often have the benefit of warm waters to protect us from the cold.  By the middle of December, our area waters are cooling off just at the time Canadian air masses often invade the US.

This year, the whole east coast has endured early cold weather that is much colder than normal.  Normal December temperatures for the Crystal Coast in December are 58F for the high and 35F for the low.  The first week of December 2010 we saw a couple of days when our high temperature barely made it to 35F.

We have seen a year when we did not have a day when the high temperature was lower than 40F.

Considering parts of Maritime Canada were higher than ours last week, the weather the first week of December was a little upside down.

We have not let the cold weather get us down.  With a gas fireplace, it takes only a few minutes to warm up a home to the point of it being very toasty.  The cold weather is always a great time to get a bowl of stuffed pepper soup from Mike's on the Island or some of the delicious chowder at Nicky's of Swansboro.  One day last week, we had a great bowl of vegetable beef soup from Yana Mama's in Swansboro.

Even during this most recent period of cold weather, we have had plenty of sunshine.  With the power of the Carolina sun, all you have to do is find a spot out of the wind, and you will likely find some heat.

Even this week, I managed to stop at one of the many beach accesses and take a few pictures of the waves to go along with the ones that I had of the icy gut behind our home .

I had planned to do more than take pictures this weekend, but rain fell all day Saturday, December 11, and we are supposed to have showers all day Sunday.  Our Sunday temperature of 61F likely would normally tempt me to run down the river in my boat, but a boat ride in the rain at 61F is not very appealing even at the beach.

Still there are things to do besides boat rides. This is a great time of year to watch some of the birds.  Today we had a great blue heron fishing in the gut behind our house.  He was very successful.  I think he managed four fish in just a couple of minutes.  When the rain stops, and we get some warmer days, it will be a great time to hit area trails.

People often fail to consider some of the wonderful indoor activities that are always available here along the Southern Outer Banks.  Three of the most popular are the Maritime Museum at Beaufort, the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, and the Core Sound Museum on Harkers' Island.

So while it might not be a great time for a beach walk, a boat ride, or some fishing, winter is still not a bad time to visit the beach.  There is plenty of easily accessible scenery.  Most of our businesses and restaurants are still open, and you certainly won't have to wait in line.  Even our department stores are not as crowded as you would find in a large city.  We recently had visitors who did much of their Christmas shopping in Morehead City.

When you come to the beach in the winter, there is no question the weather is a gamble, but it is highly unlikely that you will run into a blizzard, and you might just luck into one of those 75F days.  A few of those and winter seems a lot shorter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Standing Tall in Adversity

Even the most fortunate of us go through some tough times.  Sometimes it seems like you cannot win for losing.  Yet it is in those most challenging moments that we actually find out who we are.

My wife and I are very fortunate, but since my exit from Apple in 2004, I have worked far harder for less money than I ever have.  I feel no bitterness for having to work hard.  I actually feel great pride in my ability to work long hours.  I am proud deliver creative work that makes a positive contribution to the world.

My first career after college was that of cattleman selling purebred bulls and cattle to others raising cattle.  I long ago learned that your reputation was worth far more than any quick sale.  I have never tried to trick anyone into a sale.  I have always prided myself in walking away from potential business if the business would not be a good thing for both parties.

Over the years of selling farm equipment, computers, email services, ultra high speed networking, and real estate, I have seen no reason to change the way that I do business.

I try to help people achieve their needs.  If you have people's best interests at the forefront of your mind, then you really do not have to worry about having enough business.  People will find you eventually even in tough times like today's real estate downturn.

We recently had clients who commented that I was unlike any real estate agent they had ever worked with in their lives.  They were surprised that I did not try to pressure them to buy a particular property.  They were very pleased that I tried to present all their options objectively and without bias.

That is the way I operate, but there are plenty of others who treat people just like I do.

I sometimes feel sad that people distrust sales people.  When I am trying to buy something, there is nothing that I would rather have than a really good sales person who knows their product inside and out.

The last four years have been very tough for real estate agents.  Even the well established agents have felt the pressure.  I have found that getting a real estate career going during a down period in an area where you know few people is almost an impossible challenge.  However, I have never let the near impossibility of it stop me from trying or from doing an outstanding job.

I have managed a few real estate sales in each of first few years, but I also supplemented my income by writing a blog for a real estate company.  I had to be very careful to not draw clients to me personally.  The pay that I received was about what I needed to cover my real estate expenses.

This summer the company made the decision to discontinue the blog.  It was an immediate loss of income to us, and a fatal shot for my real estate career.  However, I made the decision to buckle down and work even harder.

I had been working extremely hard to deliver Internet traffic to the company.  I had links from all of my many websites flowing to my company.  When they gave up on my blog, I pulled all the links and focused them on delivering traffic to me.

Three months after seeing the blog cut, I am getting more leads than I ever got when I was writing the blog for the company.  I have resurrected the blog on my own site, and I finally feel like I am on the way to building some momentum in real estate.  Unfortunately real estate is still a career where financial success looks to be too far away.

So perhaps the fatal blow has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.  I could have moaned and complained,  but I just refused to let the bad news pull me down.  I have worked harder than ever, and the web results that I am seeing have convinced me that I have talents which can make be successful once again.

With that in mind I will wind down my real estate career within the next year.  It is the right move for me.  It will take time, but I will get to that next success.

I think it was Dennis Waitley, a famous motivational speaker, who once said, "Bad news is opportunity riding a dangerous wind."

I have taken the position that I am responsible for my own success or failure.  It will be my efforts that lift us back to success.

It helps to be living in a wonderful place like the Southern Outer Banks where the weather and the people make life much more enjoyable than it would be in a big city.  I can draw strength from my natural surroundings and the people around me.

A bad day never seems as bad after a boat ride on the river or a walk on the beach.

Firmly believing that who you are is much more important than what you are or how much stuff you have will pave our road to success.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Fall Pleasures on the Carolina Coast

Living on the coast is a wonderful experience.

That is especially true in the fall of the year.

Fall, which hardly seemed to be on the horizon ten days ago is treating us well.

I love fall and will readily admit that Fall is great season almost anywhere.

The Roanoke Valley where we lived for years can be especially beautiful.   However, there is nothing like the wonderful warm days and cool nights that you find on the North Carolina Coast in October.

Like other places, the weather can be variable, but we have just finished a near perfect first week of October, and from the forecast, it looks like we have another two great weeks in store.  Beyond two weeks, it is anyone's guess.

Living along the coast has some challenges,  but there is no other place that I would rather be. With water right at my back door, fall is the best time of year to enjoy it.  We are passed the heat and humidity of summer, and we usually do not have the winds of spring.  It is just a great time to be outside and enjoy the beach and area waters.

Even the fall chores like getting my yard ready for winter are a pleasure in the fall.  I enjoy working in the yard with a light breeze and a warm sun on my back.  Our centipede yards stop growing early so usually that works out to give us some extra time for fall fishing.

Of course the beaches are less crowded, and during the week the waterways are almost empty except when the spots are running.  A boat ride we took one evening this week reinforced my belief that is a truly beautiful area.  The clear skies of fall provide us with some wonderful sunsets.

Just to add a little excitement we have our fall festivals.  This weekend is the 56th Annual Swansboro Mullet  Festival, and we are headed off to eat some Episcopalian Lobsters for lunch.

For the latest information visit my Crystal Coast Life Blog.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

August on the River

Each summer has its own pleasures and challenges. Years ago, I spent an August camping in the mountains of North Carolina. Another August just before I graduated from college, I was coming back from a summer long cross country trip to Alaska.

In the summer of 1971, I bought a farm on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. I moved there in August of that year. I spent many nights camping in a tent along the shore and feasting on steaks cooked over driftwood.

This August has been different, while we have walked the beaches over on Emerald Isle when the opportunity presented itself, we have not spent as much time on the beach as we normally do.

Some challenges have conspired to keep our beach trips down to only one or two a week. Many people would consider that lots of time on the beach, but when things are right we usually are over on the beach four or five evenings a week.

A hotter than normal summer, and my wife not feeling so well this summer were the main culprits.

Last summer we spent a lot of time in our skiff wandering around the ocean just outside of Bogue Inlet. This year Bogue Inlet has proved to be something of a challenge so we have stayed on the inside of the Inlet.

Fortunately we live in a world of dazzling water so if one avenue to the water is closed off, there are still other options. In our case water leading to the White Oak River is just by our back door. That easy access presents an opportunity is hard to resist. In fact I don't try to resist. I take advantage it whenever I can.

It has taken me a few years to learn the White Oak River, but now I am pretty comfortable with it. That turns out to be a good thing, since this summer the White Oak has been the water that I have enjoyed the most during the month of August.

Even on the warmest of days, an early morning ride down the river can be like a breath of fresh air that sustains you all day.

My most recent trip was one of the nicest. I managed to be on the river before sunrise, and I was back home by 7:30 AM. There is nothing quite like seeing the river smooth and quiet in the morning.

In early summer, a sunrise ride down the river can be a chilly enterprise. This week, the warmth of the river water took away any thought of chilly air. It actually felt good to get moving, and even the 30 mph that I hit on the trip to Swansboro felt just like a nice summer ride.

One of my favorite rides down the river I call Mackerel Morning. I did not give my most recent trip a fancy name, but it was right up there with my favorites. You can check my recent August 2010 trip out at my Picasa Web Albums site.

I was even out on the river a recent evening in my kayak, but the water was a little too warm for my taste. I will save my kayaking energy for September.

Spending more time on the river has helped keep my beach lust in check. I am sure the pendulum will swing in the other direction one day soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer in Full Swing

There is no doubt we are in the middle of summer. All along the east coast, you can find heat and people seeking ways to cool down.

I took this picture just east of the Point at Emerald Isle, NC. It is one of the places you can almost always find a breeze. In the winter time, there is more of breeze most days than I want.

While we are in the middle of summer here on the Southern Outer Banks, we are actually on the downhill slope for beach visitors. In three or four weeks, those visiting will drop sharply as school children and college students head back to school.

There will be a wave of folks without children and with children too young for school. Then we will see the fishermen for a couple of months, and by early November, the beaches are mostly empty except for hardcore fishermen.

This has been an exceptionally warm summer in a number of spots. I have grown much more tolerant of the heat since we moved to the US from Canada in 1987. When we were fresh out of college and living on the farm in Nova Scotia, it was neat to hardly ever see temperatures above 75 degrees. I did not even mind the cold winter temperatures of Atlantic Canada.

Now I much prefer the warmth of coastal Carolina and the eighty-degree waters off Emerald Isle to the Bay of Fundy which seemed to hover in the mid-forties for much of the summer. Summer is about heat, and I like to absorb as much of it as possible.

There have been a number of what I like to call Crystal Coast days. Those are days when you get to fully savor summer by doing everything you love like biking, swimming, boating and walking on the beach. To make those days even more special, we have seen some days this summer when the water is indescribably beautiful. There is nothing like visiting the beach and being mesmerized by the colors of the waves, water, and skies. Each season at the beach has its special palette of colors. The emerald waters of summer are the ones that sustain me through winter.

These days only when the temperatures climb past the mid-nineties do I feel some pain and wish that I was wading in ocean waters. Most of the time wading in ocean waters is a desire that I can fulfill with a short trip to the beach from our home along Raymond's Gut. This particularly hot weekend I am in the slowly simmering mountains of Southwest Virginia at least six hours from the coast.

By the time I get back to the beach sometime in the next week or so, you will just be able to see fall on the horizon. For the last couple of years being on the road has been part of my life in July. Getting back to the beach in August gives me just enough time to contemplate my approaching favorite season. Fall is a magnificent time to live at the beach. The waters are still warm, the humidity drops rapidly, and the fish are biting.

While I love a nearly perfect July day on the beach or even better on the water, time on the water in September is truly special. The holiday crowds are long gone, and we mostly have the waters to ourselves until some of the fish start running.

Most of us at the beach do not mind our summer crowds since our economy depends on them, and for the most part, if you can time your grocery store shopping trips, and stay away from the bridge during a couple of short periods on the weekend, you will hardly notice our visitors. Usually, even during the summer, our world of dazzling water is empty except on weekends.

While visitors might stand in line for meals on the island in the evenings, usually places on the mainland are much less crowded, and we natives can usually get almost immediate service at some of the lesser-known restaurants.

Having summer in full swing and some crowds at the beach actually give our area a very festive atmosphere for a couple of months. The ice cream shops are busy, the beaches have some people on them, and for the most part, everyone is having a good time.

Sometimes it seems like the peak of summer is a fleeting kiss that comes but once a year and too quickly dances away until next year. I will certainly miss summer, but we likely have some more heat waiting for us in August and even September.

By February, we will all be dreaming of summer once again, and hoping that we get another fleeting kiss that will warm our souls and bodies.

Monday, May 24, 2010

That first hint of summer

There is no doubt that as you get older the years speed up. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend how fast time flies.

There is one exception to that rule. Time moves slowly when waiting for that first home grown tomato of the season. Of course the wait is a lot longer in some places than it is others.

I have grown tomatoes in Canada's Maritimes, in Virginia's mountains, and in few spots in North Carolina. In Nova Scotia, we were lucky out on the shores of the Bay of Fundy to get tomatoes by the end of August. The inland Annapolis Valley did much better at tomatoes. In New Brunswick on our farm north of Frederiction, we could expect to see tomatoes in early to mid-August.

Moving south, we found that our tomatoes in Roanoke, Virginia would ripen sometime after the Fourth of July, but they often did not make it until the second or third week of July. My mother grew many tomatoes in North Carolina's Piedmont. There you were considered a good gardener if you could produce a ripe tomato by the Fourth.

When we moved to the Carolina coast the equation changed drastically. On June 1, 2008, I recorded a ripe tomato and easily crushed my fellow competitors in the annual tomato contest. Last year, it took a little longer, but we still had tomatoes before the first week in June was out.

This year I took a risk and put my tomato plants in the ground on March 24. Yesterday I was rewarded with my first ripe tomatoes. They are the cherry type, but what this has taught me is that I should probably move the location of my early plants so that they get more sun.

I am still expecting to have ripe sandwich size tomatoes in a week or so. That is about three months early compared to Nova Scotia. Of course a lot will depend on the weather. If we get some good hot days, we will be in good shape.

This time of year hot weather is a good thing. It allows us to get out on the river, walk the beaches, and grow some great homegrown tomatoes.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Disappearing Footsteps

By the time you reach the age of sixty, you probably have long ago decided how to live your life. I am not exactly sure in which decade that I found my life plan.

It likely happened before I went to work for Apple Computer in the eighties so I have been mostly on course since then.

I did not sit down one day and decide to start living a certain way, I suspect that I had been living that way for a long time and only managed to put the pieces together over time.

What dawned on me was that if I could leave the places and people that I touched a little better off than they were before I touched them, my life would be richer. It would be even more rewarding if I could do so without leaving a lot of traces.

If my footsteps could disappear and people were better for my having passed their way, it seemed to be a good way to live.

I knew people who were fond of burning bridges, but I have learned that life has enough twists and turns, that it is hard tell what bridge you might have to cross in the future.

Having decided to follow my own golden rule, I have tried to not leave any unhappy relationships in the past. It has turned out to be a noble but impossible goal. Some people it appears are just happier when they are miserable.

Giving them a chance to bury the hatchet is often giving them another chance to bury it in your back. Still I have found it important to make the effort to make peace.

If you have extended the hand of friendship, and it is rejected, there is not much more that you can do except move on with your life.

At a certain point in your life, you look back and take stock of your mistakes. We all make mistakes. Some impact others and are quickly forgotten. Other mistakes fester and cause hard feelings. It is those that are nice to heal.

I sometimes wonder how executives at large companies manage to sleep at night. When you look at the lives they have changed and turned upside down, I am pleased to only have a couple of people whose relationship to me is in need of repair.

Even correcting a few mistakes makes you play the game of what if with your life. It can be an interesting diversion, but the future is happening so fast that it is hard to spend much time in the past.

The older I get the better I get at not stepping on the toes of people around me.

I enjoy it almost as much as I do watching the seasons change.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Life near the beach

A lot of folks go through life with the hopes of retiring near the beach. It is a dream that gets under your skin.

You feed the dream by going on vacations to those same beaches. When retirement gets near, you start looking and trying to figure out if that summer love can become a year around one.

We managed to make it from the dream to the reality. There are some things that we have learned which everyone should consider before making a permanent move.
  1. Is you dream beach home area so different that you will end up making major lifestyle adjustments?
  2. Are you willing to roll with the punches as your favorite beaches become everyone's favorite beaches during the summer?
  3. Does your chosen area have the services and shopping to keep you happy?
  4. How do you feel about making new friends?
  5. Can you find enough to entertain yourself after the novelty of walking the beaches wears off?
I often recommend that people visit their potential homes during at least three of the four seasons. Life at the beach is more seasonal than it is in many places. You need to understand those seasons, and how they might impact your life.

Some beaches almost close up shop during the winter. Then there are beach communities with significant year around communities. Make sure you know what your community is like in January and are happy with those winter differences.

Some beach areas have a lot of traffic in summer. Others have very manageable traffic. If you have been visiting the same beach area for years but have only gone in June, you should make a trip in July just so you can see the traffic and people at their peak.

Residents usually appreciate the visitors since they keep the economy going. Along the Crystal Coast where we live, for a half dozen weeks during the summer, we avoid doing our major grocery shopping on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

We also tend to eat out at unusual times in order to avoid crowds. Beyond that our behavior changes very little. We usually hit the beaches later in the afternoon. Most visitors have headed for the showers by then.

When we decided to move to the Crystal Coast, we had already looked at some areas where shopping required driving long distances. We knew we did not want that. We wanted competitive grocery shopping and at least the basics of shopping available within a twenty minute drive. We found that in Carteret County.

We also came to our new area determined to make some new friends, and we have. It is always an effort when you move, but it is well worth it. We have seen couples move and end very unhappy because they have not reached out to neighbors or found activities to occupy their time.

Before we picked this area, we knew we wanted a place to boat, fish, hike, bike and walk the beaches. We clearly understood that this area was no Myrtle Beach. It actually was exactly what we wanted. We were not looking for night life beyond beach walks.

Life at the beach can be a lot of fun. You end up being much more aware of the weather since it impacts your life so much. Our move from Roanoke, Va. to Cape Carteret, NC has been a successful one. Any move has challenges, but we have managed to work our way through them.

I highly recommend beach life to those who want an active life in beautiful surroundings.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Igloo Snow in Southwest Virginia

One of the important tools for life that I had before I met my wife was a snow saw. We have been married for over thirty years, and she maintains that I have never used it even in our many years living in a snow belt in Canada.

Being a very practical lady she has never figured out why I needed a snow saw, but I am certain many fellow adventurers will agree with my decision to have a snow saw before moving to the Canadian wilderness for ten years. It might have been used as much as my felt lined boots, but one never knows when the right tool will be needed.

Perhaps my wife is exaggerating, but those of us who have been married over thirty years know better than to seriously challenge any of our wives' long held beliefs. Given the challenge to my credibility , this most recent snow offered an opportunity that I could not pass up.

Any readers living on the east coast north of North Carolina, probably would agree with my assessment that much of that area, especially Virginia, meets the definition of a winter wonderland. Snow is everywhere and has taken on qualities not often seen in these parts.

In describing the snow that has been on the ground in Roanoke, Virginia for the last several weeks, I have recently used the term igloo snow. I came to that description after a lot of moving snow which involved cutting blocks of snow and then shoveling it.

Yesterday my wife mentioned that my allegedly unused snow saw was downstairs if I needed it in my snow removal efforts. This morning I decided that the time had come to put to rest the unfounded rumors about my snow saw's work history.

Since snow is everywhere in Roanoke, all I had to do was open our deck door and cut a block of snow. I will admit to using a dustpan to extract it, but that perfectly sawed block of snow is still a fine block of snow which I am sure could be used as a first building block for an igloo.

If my granddaughter happened to be here for this adventure, I might head out into the front yard and start cutting blocks two through one hundred. I have no doubt that we have plenty of snow for the job.

So let it be recorded officially that on February 17, 2010, nearly forty years after its purchase, there is conclusive photographic evidence that my snow saw has cut a block of snow.

With this being a winter where snow is even being seen on North Carolina's Crystal Coast, I hope that these unusual conditions are not part of a global cooling trend. However, if that is the case, I have the right tool for the climate change. Be sure to click on the image for a better view of my snow saw.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The desire to work

Wanting to be productive in society is part of the nature of most of us. I have grown up with people who keep being productive long after they have supposedly retired. In these challenging times, it is often no longer an option but a necessity for many people.

I have always enjoyed working with people and trying to help people achieve their dreams. Usually if I could help someone get closer to their dream, it ended up being financially rewarding. Sometimes in companies politics get in the way, and it is hard to find win-win situations, but being customer focused has almost always helped.

I am proud that working hard is part of my nature. I have spent the last three years trying to be the best real estate agent that I could possibly be. I have become an expert at helping people find the right kind of property near water on the NC coast. I have written countless articles and viewed literally hundreds of homes. I have become a boater who enjoys the local waters, and it has helped me to really understand the needs of my clients and also catch my fair of fish.

I have built a substantial Internet presence which starts with my Southern Outer Banks site, includes my Crystal Coast site, and a site designed to be an electronic town square. Of course I have a real estate site and a few more Internet presences including Crystal Coast Living, a blog which I am paid to write.

A lot of what I have done is area promotion. I have done travel guides for several spots including Emerald Isle and Beaufort. Through my writing and Internet sites with lots of pictures and area information, I have tried to make it easy for people to decide if the Crystal Coast of NC is the right place for them. Many people have written to thank me for all the information.

On top of that I have been successful in attracting people to the area. Some have packed up and moved without even seeing the area other than through my eyes. Others have come and found that what I have written and shown with my photos is a reality that is appealing to them. Unfortunately with the challenging real estate environment, a number of people who have wanted to make the move have been unable to do so.

My three years at real estate have proved to be a great learning experience, and I recently paid my dues for another year. However, with the continuing inactivity in the market, I am beginning to look for something to keep me busy until this real estate slump ends.

I love technology, photography, and writing. I am not sure what the order of my passions should be other than I am determined to keep family first. Real estate today is tremendously high tech which is one of the reasons I enjoy it. The amount of information that can be provided to a client is truly amazing.

Finding new ways to help people learn an area from a distance has intrigued me for a long time. I have recently starting using GPS and trip mapping of photos to help with the process. This trip from Bluewater Cove to Swansboro and Emerald is a good example. By taking the 3D view, you end up flying along in Google Earth with added pictures that I have taken.

Sometimes it possible to innovate your way out of a slump, but real estate has contracted so much that even many of the very established players are finding it difficult to survive much less innovate.

As I move forward in the next year, I expect to work hard. It will be interesting to see if real estate ends up recovering enough to eat up my time, or if I find another challenge which might be more rewarding and could possibly steal me from real estate.

As always time will tell the story, and the journey will be a substantial part of the reward. I can also count on the beach still being there when I need it.