Cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see

13 03 2012

The International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, GA – rated a top event by the Southeast Tourism Society – is a must-do for festival-goers and flower lovers alike. Combine the efforts of citizens to decorate seemingly every surface with something pink, the festival’s variety of activities & entertainment, a vast ocean of flowering Yoshino cherry trees, and you have a recipe for what may truly be the “pinkest party on Earth.”

The discovery of cherry trees in Macon dates to 1949, when local realtor William A. Fickling, Sr., noticed an unusual tree with beautiful spring blooms in his backyard. In 1952, Mr. Fickling visited Washington, D.C., and spotted one of that city’s famed Yoshino cherry trees. Later, Mr. Fickling returned to Washington with a cutting from his own tree and saw that the two trees were a perfect match. Soon thereafter, Mr. Fickling began sharing cuttings from his tree with friends and neighbors.

In the early 1970s, a newcomer to Macon, Carolyn Crayton, was inspired by the trees’ beauty. She had an idea to transform Macon into an idyllic vision in pink with thousands of Yoshino cherry trees blooming throughout the city. With the help of Mr. Fickling, the first mass planting of trees was organized in the Wesleyan Woods neighborhood. In 1982 the International Cherry Blossom festival was launched to celebrate spring, the trees, and city beautification.

Today the festival is a major event spread over two weekends that draws thousands of visitors and pumps much-needed millions of dollars of revenue into the economy. The trees are beautiful, as are the flowering azaleas, dogwoods, and Bradford pear trees that make springtime so enjoyable. Unless you suffer from allergies.

An interesting fact is that the number of cherry trees in Macon – 300,000 – far exceeds Washington, DC’s, 6,000-7,000 trees planted around the Tidal Basin. During the short-lived cherry blossom season, Macon is literally awash in pink blooms. Sadly, though our home is in the middle of cherry tree central, we only have pink azalea blooms to show off to the neighborhood. Thankfully, there are plenty of photo opps in the neighborhood and close by.

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Spring is in the air

8 03 2012

The daffodil’s bright yellow flowers bring cheer around the world. When you see daffodils in bloom, you know longer, warmer days are ahead and winter gloom will soon be a dim memory.

(Or, they may remind of you of times past. I think of sorority girls in college who sold them to raise money for charity, but it always seemed to be snowing or raining and in the 30s during their sale. The girls looked so unhappy on the street with their little yellow blooms.)

Grow

The flower a favorite of gardeners and non-gardeners alike because of its low maintenance requirements, dependable and exponential blooms, and ability to grow seemingly anywhere. The hardy plant, found in a range of climates worldwide, is a member of the lily family, genus Narcissus L. (source: USDA). Other daffodil varieties in the family include jonquils and narcissus flowers.

The specimen above was shot from a low angle at Green Park in London, UK. In England, the flowers bloom during Lent so are known as lenten lilies. Parks throughout London are carpeted with green shoots and yellow flowers. It’s a common sight to see families and children sitting among the flowers to have their portraits taken with this most photogenic of flowers.





The store with nothing for sale

27 02 2012

Situated in downtown Greensboro, NC, is a vibrant store chock full of antiques, unique finds, and who knows what else. The selection is mind-boggling, and you’re encouraged to handle the merchandise or let your kids play the afternoon away. Just don’t expect to walk out with anything because nothing here  is for sale.

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Passersby are welcome to sit for a spell at the Elsewhere Collaborative

Known as the Elsewhere Collaborative, this living museum is the collection of inventory remaining in a store operated a husband and wife team of entrepreneurs, George and Sylvia Gray. The collection reflects seven decades’ worth of styles, tastes, and excesses. The Grays were in business from 1937 until Sylvia’s death in 1997 (George died in 1955), when the store closed its doors.

At first glance, Elsewhere may seem like nothing more than dusty piles of junk. But after learning the story of how the collaborative operates, you’ll understand that the entire facility is a display of visual art that envelopes you. It is a collection constantly curated by staff, interns, in-residence artists, and visitors who handle the merchandise and create their own arrangements. Collaboration and shared experience is the norm here; you’ll relive childhood memories and share many “hey, look at this!” moments with your travel companions and fellow visitors.

Elsewhere is open Wednesday-Saturday 1p-10p with special events on Fridays and playshops on Saturdays. Entertaining, informative, and truly an experience like no other, Elsewhere is a window-shopper’s paradise.





A vibrant home to African American history in Macon, Georgia

21 02 2012

For African Americans living in Macon and central Georgia in the early 1900s, entertainment options were few. For entrepreneur Charles Douglass, this was an opportunity. In 1912, the successful African American merchant, banker, and investor opened the Douglass Theatre. It quickly became a popular destination for blacks in the region and is today a popular destination for all.

The original theatre – with 350 seats – opened in 1912 as part of a complex which also included the Douglass Hotel. Vaudeville acts and other live performances were offered as well as film screenings. In 1921, a new theatre opened adjacent to the original, bringing seating capacity to 750-800 and offering a visually stunning space for patrons.

Douglass Theatre exterior

A Macon landmark, the Douglass Theatre offers a range of entertainment options for residents and visitors

The Douglass was an entertainment mecca. Bessie Smith and Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, the Mother of the Blues, performed here, as well as the vaudeville comedy duo Butterbeans and Susie. Other shows included sacred dramas, church benefits, and “handcuff king and escape artist,” M. Martinelli.

Movies, first silent films and later “talkies,” were a staple of the Douglass’s schedule. The films of Oscar Micheaux, the first African American film maker, were shown at the Douglass. Filmgoers were treated to a gold fiber screen, which gave a warmer sepia hue to images rather than the plain black & white tones of most movie screens of the day.

Well into the 1960s the Douglass Theatre remained true to its roots as a showplace of African American talent. Untold numbers of theatergoers witnessed the performances Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Little Richard. In 1958, disc jockey Hamp Swain introduced a live Saturday morning talent show broadcast from the Douglass. It was on this show that Otis Redding, born in Dawson, GA, and raised in Macon, was discovered.

The Douglass Theatre closed its doors in 1973, after the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Douglass. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and remained vacant for many years. In 1997, after years of restoration, the Douglass opened its doors and is once again home to a variety of stage & screen offerings for patrons of any race and culture. Jazz, blues, opera, 3D films, dramatic plays, and family-friendly fare await visitors to this treasure of African American history.

For more information and performance schedules, visit the Douglass Theatre’s website. The theatre is located at 355 Martin Luther King Blvd. in downtown Macon.





Cemeteries are places to honor loved ones, learn history, and celebrate life

31 10 2011

Cemeteries range from small, simple church yards with little adornments to well-manicured & perfectly symmetrical national military sites to elaborately outfitted and whimsically-designed Victorian affairs. In Macon, GA, the city’s historic Riverside Cemetery is an example of an elaborate affair where life is meant to be enjoyed. The 125-acre park on the banks of the Ocmulgee River is the ideal setting for a walking tour of Macon’s history and even a peaceful picnic under the shade of a large tree.

Macon, GA

The full moon peeks over distant trees to the right of a family mausoleum

Home to nearly 18,000 residents – 77 of whom are buried standing up – the grounds of Riverside Cemetery were designed by Calvert Vaux, architect of New York City’s Central Park. The private cemetery was established in 1887 and was intended to be a place full of life as opposed to the more common burying grounds of 19th-Century America. The cemetery is designed as a park, with gardens, rolling hills, and magnificent views. The monuments, markers, and mausoleums throughout are architectural & design masterpieces that provide context and information for visitors.

At the main gatehouse, an original half-timber structure, maps may be obtained and cars parked; the grounds are best explored on foot. An extraordinary tale is that of Hugh Smalling (#69, 1919-1943). Smalling was a World War II hero who died when the U.S.S. Nausett was struck by enemy fire off the coast of Italy. His brother dreamed of the ship’s sinking that night and woke his fellow soldiers in the German countryside by screaming, “Swim, Hugh, swim.” Smalling’s body was never found.

Areas of special interest include Babyland, which was established in the 1950s, and Educators’ Row, where many professors and college presidents are buried. Other affiliated groups are represented as well, commonly by special symbols or architectural elements; the markers of the 76 Woodmen of the World buried here are unmistakable for their tree trunk-like form.

A number of structures dot the cemetery and occupy prominent places on its grounds. The Macon Public Mausoleum is the largest with 300 crypts. It sits at one of the highest points in the park and is often home to special events and activities. Near the Ocmulgee River sits Pine Fort, a Confederate redoubt during the Civil War and place where troops once waited for General Sherman on his famous “March to the Sea.”

Riverside Cemetery’s landscaping includes many specimens of trees and flowers, many of which are unique to Middle Georgia. The giant arborvitaes planted throughout were once common features in cemeteries since their name means “trees of life.” Trees from Central Park and places such as Newton, Massachusetts, were part of the landscaping scheme. Flowers such as rose, daffodil, and magnolia are a few of the many species planted here.

The cemetery is operated by a private, not-for-profit corporation. The non-profit Historic Riverside Cemetery Conservancy is the public relations and preservation arm of the cemetery. The grounds are open for public enjoyment year-round, and many events are held on its grounds. A unique night-time photography session, Full Moon Euphoria, is a popular spring activity as is the cemetery’s Spirits in October tour and activity series in the fall.

Across the United States, many cemeteries offer historic tours and events to connect residents and visitors to local history. To find information about a historic cemetery in your area, search for “historic cemetery (city name)” or the city’s visitor’s information bureau.





Learn how the Fed works by visiting a money museum

15 08 2011

The Federal Reserve – aka the Fed – is the central bank of the United States. Established by Congress in 1913, the Fed is responsible for the stability of the nation’s banking system; managing monetary policy with an eye toward a sound & stable U.S. economy; and providing services to the U.S. government and financial institutions, such as check & electronic payment processing. At times, it may seem the Fed is acting in strange & mysterious ways, but much of its practices and the methods by which it conducts its business is quite open and readily accessible in the form of visitor’s centers and online information.

Atlanta, GA

The bronze eagle sculpture outside the visitor's entrance to the Atlanta Fed weighs more than 2,800 pounds

There are 12 Federal Reserve banks and 24 bank branches in the United States. Many of the banks and branches have visitor’s centers with informative money museums inside. The museums’ exhibits range from displays of older forms of money no longer in circulation to interactive multimedia displays which allow visitors to test their own skills at managing monetary policy. Exhibits also provide a history of banking in the United States covering topics such as the country’s earliest experiences with private banks that issued their own currency or how the Federal Reserve influenced & managed policies during the Great Depression of the early 20th century.

To help visitors understand the business of the Fed and its impact on everyday lives, displays cover topics such as inflation’s impact on prices and the economics of supply & demand. The centers also explain the face of the Fed – its Board of Governors – and each banks’ Board of Directors as well as what the Federal Open Market Committee is and how it operates. A favorite exhibit at each museum is seeing millions of dollars of currency on display, being moved by robotic forklifts, or physically sitting in the bank’s vaults.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s money museums are free – taxpayer money at work – and generally open during normal business hours. Group tours are generally available with advance reservations, and visits by scholars studying economics & finance may be possible, too. For school groups, banks may offer special tours to satisfy curriculum requirements and study publications may be available. The Chicago and Richmond Federal Reserve banks operate virtual money museums online.

When visiting a Federal Reserve bank, ask if they are giving away any money today: You might be rewarded with a bag of shredded currency no longer in circulation.





Overcoming jet lag

2 08 2011

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Overcoming jet lag does not have to be complex. First, understand the difference between jet lag and being tired. A long travel day is likely to be exhausting just because of the change in routine and the stress & hassle associated with air travel. That’s not jet lag, though.

Jet lag comes into play when you’ve traveled across multiple time zones in a relatively short period of time. Your body behaves as if it’s still operating on your home time. If you live in the Eastern United States and travel to London, United Kingdom, your body will be off by five hours. So, when it’s time for bed at 11pm, your body is telling you it’s time for dinner (or cocktails, maybe).

The key to overcoming jet lag is to put your body on a sleep/wake cycle that fits with the local destination. Ideally, you schedule your travel so that you arrive in the evening at your new destination. When you arrive, head to your hotel, check-in, then grab dinner and get to bed. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which have stimulating effects and interfere with sleep.

The first night in your new destination: get a good night’s rest and wake up in accordance with your typical wake-up time at home. Continue your normal sleep/wake cycle throughout the trip and you’ll minimize jet lag’s effects.

If you can’t arrive in the evening and must arrive in the morning or afternoon at your destination, fight the urge to take a nap. Instead, take a shower and change into clean clothes after you arrive. Get out into the daylight and take a stroll around town or take in a museum or interactive attraction. When fatigue sets in, visit a restaurant or cafe for physical nourishment. Stay hydrated and minimize caffeine and alcohol intake.

Use your first travel day for mental nourishment, too: watch the world go by while sitting on a park bench, or read your guide to the city and plan your itinerary or route. If you take pictures, start photographing! It’s time to immerse yourself in your new locale.

After a full day, have an early dinner and go to bed early. It’s better to overcome jet lag on the first day with an early bedtime rather than sleeping in on day two. Again, stay true to your normal sleep/wake cycle and get yourself on it as quickly as possible.

Throughout your journey, keep yourself on a normal schedule as much as possible. And, for your return, follow the same general guidelines: arrive home in the evening so you can go to bed straight away or, stay up all day and go to bed early if you arrive in the morning or afternoon.

Do you have other tips to share on how to overcome jet lag? Leave a comment below. Safe travels!








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