Biltmore Does Decorations

IMG_1525 (640x480)A few years ago, my husband and I splurged on season passes to the Biltmore Estate. It’s an easy drive from our house, and we like to walk or bike on the extensive grounds as weather permits. In recent years, the Biltmore has had special costume exhibits—Dressing Downton in 2015, Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film in 2016, and, in 2017, Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics. So we keep renewing our passes in November, figuring we’ll regret it if we don’t. Coming in 2018: an exhibit of costumes from Titanic in February and, in the spring, Chihuly glass in Biltmore’s gardens!

My husband had a day off this week, so we gathered the children who were willing to go and went on a daytime tour of the Biltmore. There is also a Candlelight Christmas tour, but it costs extra, even for passholders, and we were already paying for our two college kids, who don’t have passes. The evening tour features musicians performing in various rooms; apparently, a Victorian-style Santa makes an appearance. Still, I was satisfied with strolling through the beautifully decorated mansion while sunlight filtered in through the windows. Happily, someone was playing Christmas music on the organ while we were in the Banquet Hall, which showcases a 35-foot live Frasier fir that is replaced twice during the Christmas season!

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Posing with the lions in front of the Biltmore is a long-standing tradition.

Since I’m really supposed to be shopping today—Christmas is in three days! Yikes!—I’ll go straight to sharing the pictures that I took on Tuesday. Cameras used to be off limits inside the Biltmore House, but perhaps the power of social media changed that ruling. Visitors are now permitted to take non-flash photos inside George Vanderbilt’s mansion. Inveterate shutterbug though I am, I have mixed feelings about taking pictures in the house: inevitably, there is a logjam in the line moving through the rooms as people stop to take pictures. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have these pictures to share with you if pictures were still banned.

In deference to my college son, who claims that as a small child he was dragged through the Biltmore House on numerous occasions, I tried to keep my picture-taking to a minimum. I will tell you, though, that every single bedroom or sitting room had at least one tree, not to mention the garlands and wreaths festooning mantels and doorways. But, at a certain point, I put my iPhone in my purse and tried to leave it there. Here is a tiny glimpse inside the glimmering magic of the Biltmore House in its Christmas glory:

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Since it was a pleasant day, we strolled out onto the Tennis Courts and down to the Conservatory. Then we headed over to Antler Hill Village, which has been gorgeously decorated with lights. On our way, we spotted some deer grazing—not an uncommon sight at the Biltmore Estate.

Fortunately, it was just starting to get dark as we left, so we got a partial experience of the lights at Antler Hill Village at night. Happily, passholders can bring non-passholders onto the Antler Hill part of the Estate after 5 p.m. Maybe we’ll make it back before the holidays are over—but maybe we won’t: we still haven’t seen the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum or gone to see the gingerbread houses from the annual competition at the Grove Park Inn this year. Asheville is an awesome place at Christmas-time!

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Trees with a Twist of NaNoWriMo

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North Carolina Arboretum (11/4/2017)

I hope this opening sentence doesn’t make anyone click away, but I’m not quite done posting fall photos. Remember how I’ve taken more than 400 fall photos this fall? I wanted to share a few more. This is likely to be my last “fall photo” post, so please come back if, like my son, you find fall color a bit ho-hum. If you like fall color, this post is dedicated to “Fall Color around Town.” When I couldn’t resist, I would snap a photo or two of a particularly brilliant tree. The reds were remarkable at the end of October; the oranges were slower coming along, but they got there.

Originally, I had thought of doing a series of posts on fall in different locations: fall at the Carl Sandburg House, fall at the Biltmore Estate, fall in the neighborhood—you know the kind of thing. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I delayed it until the first day of November, and I made no plans whatsoever for this novel that I was planning to write. But I did commit to NaNoWriMo, and, much to my astonishment, I am still “in the game.”

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Waynesville, North Carolina (11/2/2017)

What kind of person commits to writing a full-length work of fiction as part of a game? Yet the worldwide count for NaNoWriMo participants in 2016 was a staggering 384,126. Even the language on the NaNoWriMo website speaks of it as a game: “How do I win NaNoWriMo? What are the prizes? Is there an entry fee?” There’s a WikiHow article on how to win NaNoWriMo (I ought to bookmark that). It may be hard for WordPress readers to believe, but there are people who don’t know about NaNoWriMo. I had to explain this writing phenomenon to a woman at my son’s basketball game on Monday. She had never heard of NaNoWriMo, but she was curious as to why I was sitting in my van, typing furiously away on my iPad, during the 30 minutes or so before the basketball game started. (The coach likes players to arrive 45 minutes ahead of time. Thanks to my son’s choice of a less traveled route that GoogleMaps advertised as nine minutes faster, we did arrive 45 minutes early on Monday—which gave me more time for NaNoWriMo.)

To my surprise, she seemed very impressed that I was writing a novel. Were she to read my draft, I suspect she would be less impressed. I find little that is impressive about pursuing this objective: I did it more out of peer pressure than anything else. Last year, my daughter, along with a few of my nieces and nephews, participated in NaNoWriMo. I advised her against it, but she persevered anyway. We have this strange relationship in which she encourages me to do things (some creative, some housekeeping-related) and I discourage her from doing things: she knows I need encouragement, and I know that she tends to overdo. On the whole, I have been helped more by her encouragement than she has by my discouragement—okay, I haven’t seen much improvement in the housekeeping arena, but that has taken on the status of a lost cause, so I am not surprised.

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Biltmore Park (11/3/2017)

She has “won” NaNoWriMo twice, but I have not been allowed to read her novels. This saddens me, as I feel that my gifts really lie more in the editing department than in the creative department. (You won’t be able to tell that from this post, into which I am determined not to put much time, since I am supposed to be busily at work in the housekeeping arena today. A prolonged dentist appointment changed my mind: I felt that I deserved a reward for having an unexpected procedure. What better reward than writing an impromptu post? But the housekeeping needs aren’t going to go away just because I’m ignoring them. The piper must be paid eventually.) My daughter’s novels belong to the potentially lucrative genre of science fiction, and she is a good writer. Maybe one day I’ll persuade her to let me have a look.

Now that I’ve written a third of my own novel, though, I can see why she doesn’t want to let anyone read hers. I am literally making it up as I go along, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone could be edified by a perusal of my 15,881 words to date. Technically, I haven’t quite reached the one-third mark: 50,000 words is the official goal. Here’s the teaser from NaNoWriMo’s site that got me hooked:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Three phrases did it:

  1.  “seat-of-your-pants.” I am the original fly-without-an-outline writer. I can make outlines because my high school teachers forced me to, and my writing is better when I do, but I so much prefer to hit the ground running.
  2.  “goal.” I doubt if I would play the piano today if my mom hadn’t offered me the incentive of a new Nancy Drew book if I practiced every day for a month. I cannot seem to successfully meet my own goals, but I have a decent success rate of achieving goals that others set for me. Sad but true.
  3. “anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” My thoughts of writing a novel have mostly been motivated by my desire to earn filthy lucre. I much prefer writing essays, but I never heard of anyone who made money writing essays. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’d even make outlines if that would help my essays make a bit of money. I did submit an article speculatively to a magazine back in my college days and received a small sum when the article was printed, but that was a fluke. I tried that blind submission tactic a few times as a new mom and met with rejection.)

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Barn at the Carl Sandburg House (10/14/2017)

But, sure, I’ve thought about writing a novel. I had no idea how difficult novel-writing was until November 1. I lifted a plot from a suggestion a Facebook friend had made and tweaked it a little, but finding ways to advance the plot has not been my problem. My difficulties have been technical. How do I move my character from the commuter train (which I stupidly set in a real location), down the sidewalk, and into the Boston Public Library? (Oops, I gave it away there. Yes, a visit to Boston and its suburbs would help me right now, but there’s that filthy lucre problem that I mentioned earlier.) Do I need to tell every thought she’s having? Every text she’s receiving on her phone? What if the owners of the actual house that I’m writing about have a problem with their address appearing in my novel? I’m getting ahead of myself there and assuming that this assortment of words will be published. Why would it be?

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Asheville, North Carolina (11/5/2017)

Also, I find myself borrowing from every person or situation I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always wondered how novelists manage not to alienate their family members or friends. There is Thomas Wolfe’s well-known example—and he was a resident of Asheville, North Carolina, too! It would be a little too neat if the book that offended people from Wolfe’s past were You Can’t Go Home Again; that book was published posthumously, so it didn’t matter how many folks he offended. Wolfe’s earlier book, Look Homeward, Angel, reportedly resulted in his receiving death threats from residents of Asheville, which he had fictionalized in his novel. As an Asheville transplant, I am aware of the angry local reactions to Wolfe’s novel. Perhaps that’s why I chose Boston and its suburbs instead as the physical setting for my “novel.” (The quotation marks are necessary.) But, oh, how much time I am losing, zooming in on maps of Boston and images from the library, looking up schedules on the MBTA’s website—and all for what? So that I can claim to have won a game at the end of November?

For the moment, I am trying to ignore all the reasons that I shouldn’t keep writing and forcing myself to try to meet the daily quota of words. (Even my encouraging daughter told me that I shouldn’t expect to “win” the game on my first try. I think she’s concerned about the cluttered condition of the house. Or maybe she’s concerned about my sanity.) But, if you see me here on WordPress a little less for the next couple of weeks, you’ll know why.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, if I disappear until December 1!

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East Asheville (10/18/2017)

Ginger All the Way

My children's Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house, November 2006

My children’s Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house (November 2006).

For 22 years, the Grove Park Inn has sponsored a gingerbread house competition: these edible creations take gingerbread architecture to a new level! Many hours of planning, baking, assembling, and decorating go into the construction of each gingerbread “house” — and, usually, some heartbreak as well. Aside from the base, all components of the house must be edible.

Little House in the Big Woods gingerbread cabin (November 2002)

Little House in the Big Woods gingerbread cabin (November 2002)

Despite my lack of domestic skills, my kids have entered houses in the competition three times. I learned the hard way that, yes, you can get food poisoning from Royal Icing. My older daughter’s Little House in the Big Woods cabin even made it to the Top Ten in the children’s category one year!

As you can see from the photo taken in our kitchen the last time a Fleming entered the Grove Park Inn competition, making a gingerbread house wreaks havoc on your actual house. The kitchen chaos is more than repaid by the fun of finding creative ways to use candy, crackers, pretzels, cereal, and, of course, marzipan.

My daughter's rendition of the arrival of Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarfs at Beorn's Hall

My daughter’s rendition of the arrival of Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarfs at Beorn’s Hall from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (November 2010).

She ran out of time, so several plans for embellishing Beorn's Hall had to be abandoned.

She ran out of time and had to abandon plans for embellishing Beorn’s Hall. All 13 dwarfs are rendered with correctly colored capes, however.

Beorn's bee hives, on the other side of the hall.

Beorn’s bee hives, on the other side of the hall.

With several out-of-town guests here to see my younger daughter in The Nutcracker, we decided to make the trek to North Asheville to view the winners — and the non-winners, which are often just as impressive — of the 2014 Gingerbread Competition.

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My photos are a sampling of the teen, adult, youth, and child entries in this year’s competition. If you’d like to see even more gingerbread houses, you can watch a video of the Grand Prize winner or check out photos from the judging at the 2014 competition. The wonderful smell of gingerbread permeated the Grove Park Inn!

And now, back to wrapping those presents . . .