If there was a way to stretch the holiday season another three months, I'd be all over it. In anticipation of family visiting from NY this Thanksgiving, the holiday lights at our house went up earlier than usual and have been shining brightly ever since. It seemed a shame to let the lights sit dark for another couple of weeks, so I flipped the main switch well before Thanksgiving and basked in an instant joy that only something magical can create. I just love seeing holiday lights, too bad they disappear after such a brief time.
Another reason I'd like an extended holiday season - the plethora of special events happening throughout the state. Flotillas, tree lightings, special Christmas evening events, parades, daytime events. Who has time to shop, wrap, and send out cards when so many fun things are going on?
With so much to choose from, and not a lot of time to do everything, here are a few suggestions for holiday happenings around the state that you should experience at least once (I'm betting you'll want to go back for more after you do). Please note that dates listed are for the 2014 season. Click on the links for more info.
NC Mountain Region:
Cherokee Lights & Legends Christmas November 28 - January 3
A new holiday event worth a look. Featuring interactive displays telling Cherokee Christmas legends, carnival rides, ice skating, Santa, and plenty of holiday lights. Location: Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds, Cherokee
The Polar Express Train Ride November 21 - January 4
A 1¼ hour round-trip train excursion through the beautiful countryside to the 'North Pole' where Santa climbs aboard for a special visit. Along the way, riders will enjoy a snack and listen to the beloved holiday story. Location: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City
Candlelight Christmas Evenings November 7 - January 3
Biltmore House is grand at any time of the year, but it becomes pure magic when decked out in its holiday finery. While daytime tours of the house and grounds brilliantly showcase the beauty of the majestic estate, seeing it in the evening takes your visit to a new level. Location: Biltmore House, Asheville
Christmas Town USA December 1 - 26
An entire town decorates for the holiday season. Need I say more? Enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas while driving or strolling along in this delightful holiday setting. Location: McAdenville
NC Piedmont Region:
Holidays at the Garden November 21 - December 31
One of several Gardens on my list because holiday lights in a nature setting is pure magic. Highlights include holiday lights throughout the garden, special holiday displays, a fire pit, nature-based family crafts, and Santa. Location: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Belmont (Charlotte area)
Candle Tea at Single Brothers House December 4, 5, 6, 11,12, & 13
This Moravian tradition of sharing with family and friends celebrates the spirit and meaning of Christmas. Visitors can enjoy Moravian coffee and a slice of sugar cake, sing Christmas carols while accompanied by a 1797 Tannenberg organ, see candle making demonstrations, and hear what life was like for the settlers of Old Salem. Location: Single Brothers House, Old Salem, Winston-Salem
Tower Lighting and Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge December 5 - 19
Durham's American Tobacco District is a series of renovated tobacco factories in the downtown area that now host trendy restaurants, stylish shops, creative space and businesses, and condo living for those who love the hip, downtown lifestyle. Each year, the original Lucky Strike tower is decorated with lights and lit, along with the rest of the holiday lights throughout the quad. Next door near DPAC, beautiful trees, decorated by local non-profit groups, line the walkway as part of the Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge. Check them out and vote for your favorite. Location: American Tobacco Campus, Downtown Durham
Winterfest December 6 - February 1 *Outdoor ice skating rink opens Nov. 22
Downtown Raleigh comes alive with an array of events and displays celebrating the holidays and season. Enjoy ice skating at an outdoor rink, pop into one of the many restaurants and bistros for a nosh, visit with Santa, check out the museums - so much to do at this popular annual event. Location: Downtown Raleigh
NC Coastal Region:
Enchanted Airlie November 28, 29; December 5-6, 11-14, 18-22
Another garden setting that is pure magic during the holidays. See the beautiful Airlie Gardens at night with their holiday lights shining bright during Enchanted Airlie, an annual event that frequently sells out fast, so get your tickets early. Location: Airlie Gardens, Wilmington
Christmas By the Sea and Island of Lights November 28 - December 31
Pleasure Island really knows how to celebrate the season. Enjoy the holiday lights and festivities at Carolina Beach along the boardwalk, or take walk around the lake with its holiday decor. Then take a short drive south to Kure Beach for more. It's fun to see the sea and nautical themed decorations mixed in with traditional offerings. Location: Pleasure Island
Tryon Palace Holiday Tours and Events November 28 - January 4
Celtic Christmas concerts, holiday tours, demonstrations, events for kids, candle-light programs, and fireworks are offered during the holiday season. See the Governor's Palace, Stanly House, and Dixon House decorated in traditional finery for the period. Location: Tryon Palace, Historic District, New Bern
Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens December 2 - January 3
Holiday lights in an Elizabethan garden setting in North Carolina's Outer Banks region. Really. As if that isn't enough to make you go there now, they also have special holiday events, tours, classes, and other seasonal offerings to choose from. Location: Manteo, Roanoke Island, OBX
Share an experience you had at any of the events on my list, or recommend something new by leaving a comment below. Have a safe and happy holiday season!
North Carolina is a hotbed for writers, and women authors are knocking it out of the ballpark when it comes to literature. Seasoned authors and newly published writers looking to make their voices known are currently making the rounds at bookstores, libraries, and a variety of other venues to discuss their latest books. Here is a taste of where I have been when out and about on an author quest:
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a reading at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, by NC author Judy Hogan for her new releases Farm Fresh and Fatal - the second book in her Penny Weaver mystery series, and Beaver Soul - her latest book of poetry. Judy is a great storyteller and quite a colorful character herself. A true Renaissance woman, Judy currently lives on a small sustainable farm in Chatham County, is the founding editor of Carolina Wren Press, and was responsible for a Writers Exchange between the cities of Durham, NC and Kostroma, Russia that began with a chance meeting in 1989. Judy also offers writing classes, and editorial, critiquing, and writing services. Learn more about Judy and her books HERE.
At McIntyre's Books in Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, I caught another notable NC author making the reading rounds - Nora Gaskin Esthimer, author of Until Proven: A Mystery in Two Parts and Time of Death. The first is a novel that grew from a seedling thought planted in Nora's mind about a true crime - a murder in idyllic Chapel Hill in 1963. The second book explores the real story about the crime that inspired Nora to write her mystery. Nora also founded Lystra Books & Literary Services, located in Chapel Hill. Learn more about Nora and her books HERE.
If the name Nancy Peacock sounds familiar, you probably have heard or read about her new release The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson, a riveting novel that hooks readers with the first sentence and continues to generate a good deal of positive buzz. I attended her book reading at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. Nancy has written several other books, the first was published in 1996. In addition to writing, she teaches writing workshops in the Triangle area. Learn more about Nancy and her books HERE.
NC author Sarah R. Shaber, who can count authors Margaret Maron and Alexandra Sokoloff as writing buddies, also is making the reading rounds. I caught her at Barnes and Noble in Cary discussing her new book Louise's Gamble, the third in her Louise Pearlie series set in Washington, D.C. during WWII. Sarah is also the author of the Professor Simon Shaw murder mysteries. Take a look at some of Sarah's books HERE.
Last, but certainly not least, I have to give a huge shout out to the independent booksellers in North Carolina for tirelessly supporting and promoting our NC authors and their work. If you're interested in attending an author reading and want to know who is going to be where, check out Reader Meet Writer, a website that lists indie bookstores in the southeastern states. Click on your region and one of the independent bookstores there for a schedule of NC and visiting author events. Please continue to support the independent, small business booksellers - and check out our North Carolina Ladies of the Write!
I mean well, really I do, and when I promised to bring back the ncgypsy.com Blog, I had good intentions. Then life got in the way, and... well... I realized that it has been awhile since I posted anything. Imagine my shock when I looked and saw the last post was more than a year ago. Sorry about that. Thoughts came and went, the action to follow through didn't happen. So, time to get cracking and what better subjects to move forward with than holidays and food?
It's my favorite time of the year (late July through the end of December actually), and things are in gear for an early Hanukkah (Nov. 27 - Dec. 5), a late Thanksgiving (Nov. 28), and what promises to be, in my house, a scrambling Christmas season (I won't go into details, just trust me here). At the center of it all is food.
North Carolina is fast becoming a foodie paradise, a destination that rivals the best of other states known for fabulous cuisine. Here you can find culinary artisans creating palate pleasing works of edible art that are made with locally farmed or regionally obtained ingredients.
The masters behind North Carolina's culinary revolution are young, hip, creative, and excited about what they're doing. Even better, they are supportive of each other's efforts. Gone are the days of chef rivalries, this generation knows a good thing when they taste it. I'll be writing more about the food in North Carolina in future posts, but to whet your appetite, click HERE for a great article on StarChefs.com about Rising Stars in the Carolinas...
Now don't think for a second that the seasoned restaurants are taking a back seat to the new kids on the block. Many are changing the menus and adding special events to spice things up. One event, a personal favorite, happened recently at The Weathervane in Southern Season, Chapel Hill. An Afternoon Tea that was positively scrumptious and gave this native New Yorker a chance to feel like a Southern Belle. I am a huge fan of English tea time, but southern Tea has a different feel to it - and a different taste.
Unlike the English offerings (which are increasing in diversity), some of the tea options at Afternoon Tea included Organic Jade Cloud, Creme Caramel Oolong, and Nutcracker Suite, a 'nutty, sweet tea w/ flavors of candied nuts and pineapple'. My friend, Tingmei and I opted for Nutcracker as one of our pots - now one of my 'must haves' for the holiday season (it can be purchased at Southern Season).
Afternoon Tea is a Weathervane special event, not offered on a regular basis. If you are - or will be - in the Triangle area, get the scoop on Weathervane and Southern Season special events (that include visiting celebrity chefs like Curtis Stone - positively scrumptious in his own right) by signing up for their newsletter HERE.
For more Tea offerings in the state, check out Tea Map.
Anyone who answered open casting calls for "Caged Heat" in April soon realized that it was a production code name for "Iron Man 3", now filming in North Carolina. Today, the stars in the NC Triangle are a lot brighter as the cast and crew move from Wilmington to Cary where they're taking over a portion of the Epic Games building (look for the Christmas tree).
North Carolinians are accustomed to seeing stars out and about as the state has hosted location and studio shoots for many films past and present, but when Gwyneth Paltrow tweets that she's looking for a good restaurant in Raleigh, people take note. The food in the Triangle is as good as it gets anywhere else in the world with options to choose from that include all variations of ethnic fare, fusion, southern specialties, and everything in between. With many restaurants using local, regional, and state supplied ingredients, it's a good bet that wherever they choose to dine, it's going to be a win-win for everyone - delicious meal and Robert Downey, Jr. at the table!
Diverse location options, great weather, experienced film industry workers for hire, production studios located in various NC cities, and a 25% tax incentive for filmmakers bring film companies to the state - and jobs to NC residents. Plus, it's fun to be part of the production, whether you're working on it or watching the action unfold. And who doesn't love seeing a finished film with familiar locations transformed into something new for the reel world?
To learn more about "Iron Man 3" and Marvel Entertainment, click on the photo above. For more about the NC Film Office, click HERE
Second Saturdays aren't the only thing that's back! After a long, self-imposed hiatus, I'm giving in to the many requests to bring back the NC Gypsy Blog. Not that the masses were waiting with bated breath for me to start writing again, but there were enough of you kind souls suggesting I bring the blog back so I thought I'd do just that.
And what better way to make a comeback than with a plate full of Yana's fruit fritters? Is there anything closer to Heaven - and sugar shock - than this? I mean that with the utmost sincerity. I absolutely LOVE them, but you have to be ready and willing to share because the fritters come fully loaded with hot fruit, topped with a load of powered sugar and the creamiest whipped cream. Did I mention this plate is actually a bowl? Yeah, they're piled in there and if you're not drooling by now, check your pulse.
Yana's Ye Olde Drug Store Restaurant is a pip of a place located in Swansboro, an artsy, picturesque waterfront town built on the remains of an Algonquian Indian village located on North Carolina's Crystal Coast in Onslow County. If you're a fan of Elvis, Marilyn, James Dean and the hotties of yesteryear, then you'll love the decor. And the food - comfort at its best, all cooked fresh from your order and beyond worth the wait. Yana's fruit fritters are made with fruits in season and there hasn't been one that I didn't adore. Highly recommended are banana, peach, and strawberry - although any variety will satisfy (I'm an apple fan).
After you sate your palate with Yana's finest, check out Yanamama's 50's Memorabilia Shoppe adjacent to the restaurant (enter from the outside). Like the fritters, the store is fully loaded. Delightful bits and bobs of retro nostalgia from Hollywood's Golden Years take up the limited wall and counter space. Shoppe capacity is four customers at a time - it's small, but impressive and fun to peruse.
Yana's is located at 117 / 119 Front Street, Swansboro, NC. Contact them at: 910.326.5501. Click on the photo above for a link to Yana's web site featuring their restaurant, menu and Memorabilia Shoppe.