WASHINGTON - Most of the cherry trees circling the Tidal Basin should be in peak bloom when the National Cherry Blossom Festival begins later this month, according to the National Park Service.
Park service chief horticulturist Rob DeFeo said that most of the 3,700 trees will be bursting with pink and white blossoms from March 27 through April 3. The entire blooming period lasts for several weeks.
More than 1 million people are expected to attend the two-week festival, which begins March 29, organizers said.
Highlights include a kite festival, fireworks, and a 10-mile run. A parade will be held April 12 featuring giant balloons, floats, marching bands, and a performance by Miss America Kirsten Haglund.
Details at www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.
NEW ORLEANS - Organizers of the annual Essence Music Festival have announced some of the acts that will take part in the 2008 festival, July 4-6.
The acts will include Kanye West, Chris Rock, Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Morris Day and The Time, and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.
Essence is billed as "the nation's largest annual African-American event celebrating black music and culture." An estimated 200,000 people attended the festival last year when it returned to New Orleans.
Details at www.essence.com/essence/emf.
NEW YORK - You don't have to be rich to plan a beach vacation. Travel + Leisure's March issue profiles 27 affordable beach resorts, each one charging less than $250 a night, from the Puako Bed & Breakfast on Hawaii's Big Island ($98 a night) to the Hotel della Baia in Italy on the volcanic island of Ischia, known for hot springs and therapeutic mud ($183 a night).
On St. Martin in the Caribbean, the Sol e Luna Inn on the French half of the island is $125 a night, while on St. Thomas, the Bellavista Bed & Breakfast is $175 a night.
Closer to home, Azul del Mar, in Key Largo, Fla., is a six-room Art Deco villa with private beach for $189 a night. The Breakwater Inn & Spa in Kennebunkport, Maine, has 34 rooms on a pebbly beach lined with Adirondack chairs, $159 per night.
For the complete list, visit www.travelandleisure.com/articles/27-affordable-beach-resorts.
BERKELEY, Calif. - If early retirement and an empty nest have you yearning for a new adventure, consider taking your next cue from The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away From Home: Making a New Life Abroad by Rosanne Knorr (Ten Speed Press, $14.95).
The book, now out in its second edition, can help you think through the logistics, risks, and potential pleasures of living in another country for a year or longer.
The book offers advice on downsizing, budgeting, packing, staying in touch, handling health issues, dealing with guests from back home, and settling in to your new locale.
"As we reach middle age, it's our children - the students in high school or college - who participate in a year abroad," writes Knorr in her introduction. "We see them and say, 'I wish I could have done that.' Then one day, my husband I asked, 'Why can't we do it now?" '
They ended up living in a French village and used their new home as a base for other adventures exploring Europe. "After spending years raising our kids, we became the kids we wanted to be," Knorr said.37.86988 -122.2705