Thursday, December 4, 2014

High Design in Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL ~ I try to visit several art museums and galleries every year. It's a chance to slow down, be still and reboot, creatively. I always wrap up these excursions with a visit to their accompanying gift shop. To be honest, it's often the highlight of my trip. One of my favorite shops is here, on the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets in the heart of Chapel Hill (UNC)—the Ackland Museum Store, an offshoot of (obviously) the Ackland Art Museum. 

The store is bright and airy. The walls, ceiling and shelving are all white—a blank canvas if you will—allowing the products to shine. Natural light streams in from two walls of windows. The store showcases the talent of local, national and international artisans and crafters.
A great range of products are sold here: wooden bowls and gift wrap to checkerboards and winter hats; plates, paper, prints and pottery; cups and cards; stationery and stoneware. And if that's still not enough, check out their everyday objects like tape dispensers and water bottles, which are all taken to a new (higher) level of design. Just because something is functional, doesn't mean it can't be beautiful! 

Some of the products here are whimsical. There are stuffed animals throughout the store, each with their own personality. Picture books, for both kids and adults, line cubby shelves; intricate painted deer heads (made from cardboard) emerge from walls; and delicate paper lanterns and slow moving mobiles hang from above. 
The curators of the store do a wonderful job seeking out unusual products made with impeccable craftsmanship. In a day and age where it seems everything is mass-produced, it is nice to be reminded of the talented artisans that live among us. The prices are reasonable as well. Everything in here gets high marks from me. I love this place! Go check it out.

For more information on the Ackland Museum Store, click here.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Day at the Vineyard - Muscadine Grapes in Zebulon

ZEBULON - No, I wasn't sipping wine at a vineyard on Friday morning, but rather picking grapes for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. (More about them in a moment.) The kind farmer who opened his vineyard to us was there on site, helping us navigate the various fields, answering any questions we had, and offering his first-hand knowledge on all things Muscadine. 

We were there to "glean" the excess harvest after the commercial picks were done for the season. Picking in late October was quite an anomaly since harvests are known to wrap up in September. There was more than enough left on the vine though, enough to fill the back of a pickup truck. And with the help of a couple dozen volunteers, ages 5 to 55, we did just that. 

We picked the Nesbit variety when we were there. I had never tried ANY Muscadine grape before, I had only seen them in the grocery store. These were the color and size of black olives. There was definite discussion on how one goes about eating these fruits. I got a first-hand lesson in the field. The "guts' are similar in texture to an oyster or hard jello, semi-sweet and full of tiny seeds, which you need to filter out - like a watermelon. Most spit out the outer skin, which can be tough. The grapes are used in wine, juice and jams.

The Inter-faith Food Shuttle is a non-denominational, hunger-relief organization headquartered in Raleigh, NC. I checked them out online a couple years ago after seeing their box trucks all over town. Although I personally focus my energies on the gleaning aspect of the organization, they do so much more—from recovering millions of pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste, to educating and training individuals in the kitchen and on the farm. The following video explains all that the Food Shuttle does -- why and how -- much better than I ever could (Click here.) I couldn't be more honored to work with these folks. Not only are these good people, they are clearly making a big difference in the community. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Find Your Cool! Durham

How does one approach a blog post about Durham, NC? The same way you approach the city itself. Carefully. With eyes open and with an open mind. I find I can't pin down a city's personality until I've met with it at least three or four times. (I should probably apply this same logic to meeting people, since my initial impressions have often been proved wrong).
I still have so much left to explore. The city has captured my attention for sure. It remains a mystery even after a half dozen visits. These photos were shot in downtown Durham, but do not include images from the famous Tobacco Campus and Durham Bulls Stadium. That will come at a later date.
Historic mills are being converted at a swift pace into posh condos, office space and commercial hubs. Brightleaf Square is one such hub (click here for more info).

The architecture of the Durham County Human Services buildling is in stark contrast to the historic brick tobacco mills all over town. It's a hint of what's to come in Durham.
Where the nine-to-fivers go, Monday through Friday.
Murals can be found all over town, highlighting its passion for baseball, its pride in racial diversity, or just replicating the advertising of yesteryear. 
And fish...Sometimes a blank wall calls for giant painted fish.
One does not need to make much of a leap to imagine what Durham looked like fifty or...
one hundred years ago...
...but block-by-block the city is being transformed into this current century.
I end this post with a photo of this one lone city block. If the painter Edward Hopper were alive today, perhaps he would find inspiration here. (Early Sunday Morning, 1930.) Perhaps he would even find "Durham Cool." 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pisgah Covered Bridge

ASHEBORO ~ The Pisgah Covered Bridge is one of only two covered bridges still standing in North Carolina. I drove quite a ways, down several country roads, following the signs for this historic landmark. And there it was, standing humbly in the middle of nowhere—on the outskirts of a forest, below a two-lane road, above a babbling creek, the likes of which we all played in as kids. It's within a tiny park with walking trails and a few picnic tables. There's room for 10 or so cars to park. A neighborhood dog walked around freely, checking out the day's visitors. I wasn't sure whether or not it was happy to see me.

I found out later that this bridge was built for $40 in 1911. It was washed away in 2003 by a flood, but volunteers were able to retrieve 90% of the original structure, and rebuilt it. 

I took a few photos (pretending to be Robert Kincaid in Bridges of Madison County, on assignment for National Geographic). I took shots from every angle and made my way back and forth through the 54-foot long bridge. On my way back through, I looked up to admire the woodwork and found something hanging from the rafters. (You can barely see it in the photo). I guess I have yet to embrace the country girl in me, because I distinctly remember asking myself, I wonder how a kid got his rubber snake up there? 
AND THEN IT MOVED! How soon I had I forgotten that I was, in fact, in the middle of the woods in North Carolina. The largest snakes we'd see in CT were garter snakes and those were nothing to write home about. This certainly was NO python : ) but the idea it could have dropped down on me, gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it.
I wouldn't necessarily make a special trip to see this bridge, but if you're near the Asheboro Zoo, and you have half an hour to kill, check it out. If you'd like to find out more about the bridge online (sans snake, of course), click here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Milling About

HUNTERSVILLE, NC: Okay, I admit it. I LOVE mixed use communities. It makes me sad that somewhere in our history we decided to separate the places we live from the places where we eat, shop and congregate. I long for the cities of Europe where everything can be accessed from outside your door.
Perhaps I am spoiled having spent ten years in Arlington, VA, considered one of the most walkable communities in the US, or having lived in Newport, RI, where within a mile of your home you could find yourself on the doorsteps of numerous restaurants, shops, a library, movie theatre, several churches, grocery stores, art galleries, and a marina. Birkdale Village may not be its equivalent, but it's impressive none-the-less.
The village is laid out fairly simply. Most of the parking lots are on the off-shoot side streets. Two parallel streets loop around to form the commercial center of the complex. Shops and restaurants line the outer permeter, a heavily shaded green space lies in between where visitors can catch a break from the hot, mid-day sun; rest up on one of the many available benches; or, catch some live music during the summer.
Apartments and offices are on the upper floors, shops are on street level. Condos, town homes and single family homes can be found just outside the main commercial hub. The shops are not necessarily upscale. They are more middle of the road...the shops you'd find at most malls in the country. To see a list of the shops, click here.
Golf carts toot around the village. I suspect they are associated with the leasing office just up the street. 
The architecture of the complex is a bit reminiscent of the cape style homes in shoreline communities. I realize that there are plenty of communities across America of a similar nature, but I have to say, this is one of the nicer ones I seen in a long time in terms of how it's laid out. I hear it's especially beautiful during the holidays. 
The leasing office is no less impressive. Residents here are within walking distance to Lake Norman (see my previous post), a golf course, a grocery store, gym and movie theater ~ in addition to all the shops and restaurants seen above.
My visit occurred in early spring of 2014. There were lots of people milling about, eating outside, picking up produce at a farm stand, shopping and reconnecting with friends and family. If your sole mission is to shop, I can't vouch for whether or not this is THE place to go. What I CAN say is that if you wish to stroll, browse and spend a day outside milling about, this place is worth the trip. Just make sure it's a nice day. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lake Norman - The Water's Just Right!

Fifteen miles outside of Charlotte is Lake Norman, the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. It's a popular hotspot for jet skiers and boaters alike. Spectacular homes line the 500+ miles of shoreline. I saw the lake for the first time from Blythe Landing in Huntersville. In an online search I stumbled upon a site that gives the current water temperature. I wasn't looking for that information, but thought it was interesting none-the-less. Click here before you're next early evening cool-down.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Replacements, Ltd.

I've travelled to the central part of North Carolina several times now, and each time I've gone, I've seen the Replacements Ltd. retail warehouse from the highway. The other day I saw an intriguing photo from inside the store (online, not pictured here) and knew I had to check this place out the next time I was in Greensboro. This shop is a museum, a retail shop, warehouse and distribution center. The focus of this store is dishes, silverware and collectibles.

It's important to note right off the bat, that I'm really not into china. I never understood the wedding tradition of purchasing 16 sets of formal china and silverware that you use only twice a year and need large pieces of furniture to store it in. (I love the everyday, crisp white plates in unusual shapes that you'd find in upscale Asian restaurants. But I digress.) I can, however, appreciate the artistry that goes into creating these pieces of art. This was NOT the reason I stopped in though. I'll get to that shortly.

I ended up taking the tour, which is offered every half hour. I was the only one on the tour so I had the chance to take a lot of photos and ask a lot of questions. The tour was quite interesting. Here are a few of the things I saw and learned about the place: The owner, Bob Page, started collecting dishes at garage sales and stored them in his attic. In 1981, he opened his shop. It grew! Today, Replacements Ltd. has more than 265,000 china patterns. and it can now boast that it has the largest collection of dinnerware in the world. If you cracked that rare plate from 100 years ago, chances are they can repair it, find a replacement for you onsite, or track it down somewhere in the world. They can even carve custom designs into existing silverware for you, using their special equipment in the back.

In the back portion of the shop is the museum where items are not for sale. Did you see that Wedgewood on the heels of the shoes pictured at the top of the page? Certainly, this cash resister isn't going anywhere. 

Perhaps a matador lladro is more to your liking? No? There's also an entire room devoted just to Christmas collectibles. And speaking of a bull in a china shop, Replacement, Ltd. is dog friendly. Dogs are actually welcome inside this shop where a single item, worth thousands, can sit exposed on top of a glass cabinet. Is that crazy or what!!!!

Okay, then. So if I'm not into all this, why did I stop in? And why did I take the tour? 

Because I wanted access to the back (behind the storefront and museum). 

I wanted to get inside the warehouse, the distribution center. And that I did. My mouth hit the floor when I first stepped through the doors. I've never seen anything like this before. I've been to IKEA, of course, but this seemed to be in a league of its own.

According to the Replacement, Ltd. website, the facility is 500,00 square feet, equal to eight football fields. It went on FOREVER! I'm personally fascinated how places like this store and ship so much merchandise so quickly.

On the tour I was able to see: where 12 million pieces of inventory were stored; where it was prepared for shipping; where it was reviewed, cataloged and repaired. I got to see where the employees spent their lunch breaks. I passed through the call center and the resource library. 

Perhaps I am just a geek, but I'd rather spend my time in the back of a retail shop learning how this "little guy" to the left got here and how he might find a new home. Fascinating. It was well worth my stop off the highway. For more information on the shop (they buy and sell), click here.