Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A weekend in Fayetteville for holiday shopping -- and honoring veterans

Holly Day Fair

 Care to get a jump on the holiday shopping season? If you're heading over to Fayetteville Nov. 7-9, expect roughly 21,000 others at the Crown Expo Center for Holly Day Fair, one of the largest pre-holiday marketplace-style events in the Southeast.

It's staged by the Fayetteville Junior League, and the vendors are juried: Organizers say they select the 200 vendors with an eye toward creating an event that has appeal for all ages of shoppers (and all ages of people they're buying for) and which offers items not readily available in stores

Items include  holiday decorations, handmade crafts,  jewelry and clothes, children's toys and specialty food. (The photo at the top of this page, from the Fayetteville Area CVB, shows a previous Holly Day Fair.)

Admission is $9, at the door or, in advance, via Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 7, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 8-9 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 10.

To avoid crowds, head there Nov. 7 -- a Thursday -- from 9 a.m. to noon. There's a price for getting an early look at this less congested time: Tickets are $13.

Heroes Homecoming

Note that  Nov. 8-11 is also the long Veterans Day weekend -- and Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg, takes it seriously, with the third annual Heroes Homecoming.
 It begins Friday evening (Nov. 8) with a Candlelight Tribute at N.C. Veterans Park, followed by a an 8 p.m. screening of the final episode of the ever-popular TV show "M*A*S*H."
There's a 10 a.m. parade the following day.
Among the Nov. 10 events is a 3 p.m. meet-and-greet at N.C. Veterans Park with some of the people who starred in "M*A*S*H."

For details on Heroes Homecoming events:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Forecasting fall color? An every-fall hassle

It never fails: Every year when late summer temperatures are in the 80s in Charlotte and the forests of Quebec are utterly green, editors here start to whisper, "What are the leaves like? Are they turning?"

These hard-working people don't get out much.

The first leaf story this year was published Sept. 7.

The Observer's Sunday Travel pages, which go online the Friday before at, offers weekly foliage updates. They kicked in the weekend of Sept. 29 this year, with leaves being "Prime/Peak Now" in parts of Ontario, Quebec, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire.

How did I know what leaves are like elsewhere? I called the tourism people at these and other provinces and states.

 And in the weeks that follow, I touch base weekly with every state as far south as Virginia -- and with 15 tourism organizations in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. Updates continue through Oct. 27.

Some states have remarkable prognostication tools: Click to their leaf page, select the dates and  you'll know  how the following week is shaping up, leaf-wise.

The biggest hassle is having to call tourism people at state and provincial agencies to ask, "How are the leaves going to be next week?"

"Well, it depends on where you are."

Yes, I know.

"And it varies from year to year."

Yes, I know.

"And it depends on elevatiion."

Yes, I know.

"And the temperature and other stuff."

Yes, I know.

"So it's kind of hard to say."

We're only looking for "Prime/Peak Now," "Prime/Peak Soon" or "Coming Later" status: Pick one. We're not doing an investigative piece about their mother's pancreas nor asking where they buy their lottery tickets. We're looking for an educated guess, for pity's sake.

The last resort is to say, "Will you just look out your window?"

Wednesday after Wednesday.

The tourism people in the Carolinas are easier to deal with, possibly because they don't have the large staff turnovers that often afflict state agencies. There's little song and dance about what I seek. Over the years of doing this, they've become leaf-line lean-ons.

"Oh, hi!" one told me the first time I called this year. "When October rolls around, I knew you'd be calling. How's the headache this Wednesday?"

These people, from North Wilkesboro to Brevard, Mars Hill to Marion to Oconee County, S.C., are glad I call: It helps reduce the number of calls they get from people wanting to know how the leaves are.

Observer colleague Steve Lytle runs a leaf update that publishes Fridays in the Observer; a main source for his what's-turning information is Appalachian State professor Howard Neufeld, an authority on leaf coloration. Neufeld, in fact, was featured in the Observer's Sci-Tech pages on Oct. 14.

(You can scroll up to the top and see a photo of Neufeld published with the Sci-Tech interview.)

That said, Neufeld is in the leaf-changing business: While he might honestly report that leaves are at "peak" right now atop Mount Whatever, leaves might still be still utterly green down down the slope at the county seat.

Elevation certainly complicates when "peak" is in season in Western North Carolina. On the other hand, the great variance in any county's elevation makes for additional leaf-peeping weekends there.

Try your hand at what I do Wednesdays in October.

Got a friend in Burnsville? Hendersonville? Forest City? Call and ask how the leaves are likely to look next week.

If he or she says, "Well, it depends on where you are..." just cut to the leaf chase and say, "Will you just look out the window?"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The joys of a long, leisurely drive

There's an upside to the transportation technology that allows travel on demand: You can be just about anywhere you wish, when you want. But there's also a drawback: Things you'll miss -- things you might have seen had you made your trip a more old-fashioned way.

Sept. 27, I flew out of CLT at 6 a.m. and by 4 p.m., was sitting in Madison, Wis., at the University of Wisconsin's Memorial Union terrace, with a mug in my hand and Lake Mendota in my view... after having brunch in Milwaukee, and then stopping at a state park en route to Madison.
Two days later, after making side trips to Mukwanago and Edgerton, and tooling around Madison and Milwaukee, I was back in Charlotte.

It was fun. It was also fun-in-a-flash.

In contrast, I made a similar trip in July that took 10 days. Sure, there was more time at my assorted destinations in Wisconsin, but there was also the plus of simply making the drive.

With kids now grown, flying somewhere is easier and less expensive than it was when family travel required mountains of suitcases and additional tickets.  Back then, we would just drive.

This July's drive -- I-77 North to Charleston, W.Va.; northwest on U.S. 35 to cross the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, W.Va., and on to Dayton, Ohio; then Interstates to Wisconsin -- was a slow-motion visual treat. Along the way, I enjoyed

* the morning fog that wrapped I-77 in Virginia, and which parted on occasion to reveal stunning valley views.

* stopping for lunch in Nitro, W.Va., at the Biscuit World, where the sign advertised the "Politician Biscuit"...  made of baloney.

* the rolling hill country of southeast Ohio, which I'd never seen before.

* the amazing growth of wind farms, notably between Indianapolis and Chicago, where 600-some turbines lined both sides of  I-65. An out-the-window shot is at the top of this page. (The sprawling facility, Meadow Lake Wind Farm, has its own page on wikipedia).

* downtown Elgin, Ill -- far enough west of Chicago to sport a picturesque downtown, but close enough to the metropolis to lure slickers to the Grand Victoria Casino boat permanently moored on the Fox River.

There were also serious things to view. Since 2011, Wisconsin has been in the throes of political turmoil not that different from what North Carolina has experienced since the 2012 elections. After two years, the acrimony among Badger citizens is visible on bumper stickers, yard signs (both hand-out and home-made) and -- on the Capitol grounds in Madison -- official signage.

If time is not an issue, I'll always prefer driving to flying. You see the country closer.

After all, car windows are so large and windows on a jet are so small.