Snow, Winter and Other Random Things

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The Laughing Cabin. Photo by S.R. Williams. Copyright 2017.

 

It’s the first snowfall of the season here in north Georgia — just as it is for many who are living in the southeast. The first snowfall always seems to be the most magical. However, after only about 30 minutes of walking around to take some pictures and absorb all the beauty, I am ready for it to be over. My attention span, when it comes to snow, lasts only about that long. I am and always will be a bare footed, sandal-wearing Florida girl at heart and have never truly learned to enjoy winter weather of any kind — even though I have been living here for more than 20 years. You would think that I would have adjusted by now, huh?

Even so, I love poking the camera through a window or standing out in the yard or on one of the porches to take pictures. I am sharing some photos that I took this morning after the sun made a dazzling appearance in the brilliant, blue sky. It truly is a winter wonderland here at The Laughing Cabin.

In this photo below, I was standing inside our shop building and noticed how the doorway created a picture frame around the scenery outside, so I stopped to take this picture to attempt to capture what I was seeing.

 

Photo by S.R. Williams. Copyright 2017.

 

There were icicles hanging from the workshop building (see photo below), and they were sparkling in the sun. I just had to take a picture of those, too — after I took a broom to sweep the snow off the path and then sprinkled some salt on each step. I wasn’t anxious to take a fall on the ice not even for a chance to take a picture of some icicles — which would be my favorite thing about winter if I did have a favorite thing about winter.

 

Photo by S.R. Williams. Copyright 2017.

 

Hubby — also known as Big D — decided it was a great day to light a bonfire to burn off some brush and debris that was collected from the yard over the past summer. He always waits for safe weather conditions before doing so. A bonfire is one way to get me out of the house on a cold day. Actually, it’s the ONLY way to get me out of the house. Marshmallows, anyone?

 

Photo by S.R. Williams. Copyright 2017.

 

Our dogs have seen snow before, but for whatever reason, the younger of the two decided she wasn’t having it. I think Roo may have been born in Florida, too. I’ve always said she was a smart dog. Mokie did not hesitate to get out in the snow, but it was the fastest trip that I’ve ever seen a dog make. That’s saying a lot for her because she is old and arthritic and tends to walk slowly, bless her heart.

Hubby surprised me by bringing a cup of coffee and a sausage and cheese biscuit out to the office while I was writing this post. I think this sweet gesture deserves a picture of it’s own. He doesn’t do much cooking or baking, but no one can beat him when it comes to making homemade biscuits or cornbread. There is a particular biscuit that he makes that is his own invention. He mixes cooked pork sausage and shredded cheddar cheese right into the batter.

No matter what type of biscuit he makes, he always takes a portion of the batter to bake a special one just for me. This one was made into a braid. Don’t you love the mug he chose, too? Be still my heart.

 

Photo by S.R. Williams. Copyright 2017.

 

It’s been fun sharing this random moment with you. I am going now to cuddle up under a blanket on the couch and find a good movie to watch. I’ve got a few craft projects to keep me occupied, and as you can see, a cabin full of love, biscuits and coffee to keep me warm.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it…. okay, maybe I do like snow. Just a little.

Until next time! ~ Susan

 

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7 Tips for Kicking Off the New Year

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Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto/Konstanttin

 

I don’t know about you, but I get really excited with anticipation as another year approaches. Something happens – in a psychological sense – that makes it seem as though the slate has been wiped clean, and it’s time to dream new dreams, set new goals and experience new adventures. I’m like the proverbial “kid in a candy store,” with my imagination filled with all kinds of possibilities. Even at the ripe “old” age of 54, I still love to dream… BIG… and nothing inspires my dreams more than a fresh start.

Here are seven things that I do at the start of each year to kick things off in the right direction:

#1: Take Time to Honor and Remember

My grandmother Mae lived to be 92 years old, and I spent many New Year’s Eves in her company where she taught me about the importance of taking time to remember and honor family members and friends who have passed on before us. As old as she was, her list of remembrances was very long, but she was faithful to tell each person’s name and share a story or two about their significance in her life. It was the only day of the year when she would indulge in a small glass of red wine and would lift her glass in a toast of remembrance and offer a brief moment of silence along with a few precious tears.

I have kept this tradition in the 15+ years since she has passed, and her name is now spoken each year on my own list of remembrances. As I have gotten older, I now understand how good it is for my soul to observe this yearly tradition. There is a deep sense of connectedness that knits itself to my being when I think upon the many people who have drifted in and out of my life and the deep impressions and impacts they have left, each in their own way. I am also reminded that many have taken their places in heaven as part of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who are watching over the progress of my life. Speaking their names and honoring them at the start of each year reminds me that I am not alone and brings me great hope for my own eternal future.

#2. Take Personal Inventory

I take time at the start of each year to examine my life, habits, relationships and health. I try my best to make an honest assessment of how my life has been during the previous year. I ask myself, “What needs to change? What do I need to do more of? Where have I grown? Where do I need to heal?”

I look at each of the relationships that are important to me – starting with my relationship with God and moving onto my family and friends. Sometimes the year moves along so quickly that I forget to show appreciation, ask for forgiveness or spend more time with the people that I should. I also look to see if there are any toxic relationships or people who are creating unnecessary drama, hurt or distraction in my life. A new year is a good time for setting new boundaries or for pruning activities and relationships that are not adding value to my life and vice versa.

I ask myself how my health is doing and what I can do to make positive changes. One year, I made a point to quit smoking, and I did. Another year, I made a goal to get more exercise and joined a local gym and kept a commitment to go at least 3-4 days per week. Last year, I made an effort to eat more vegetables and began juicing an average of 2-3 days a week. This year, I want to do more walking, so I am going to set monthly goals – 5 miles a week to start — and gradually increase the amount of walking that I am doing as the year progresses.

In terms of personal inventory, I also stop to ask myself what I can add to my life that will increase the fun factor and contribute to my level of happiness and joy. This year, I am going to do more swimming. I love to swim! I will have to wait until the public pool opens in May, but I plan to go there 2-3 days a week, weather permitting, until it closes in September.

#3. Take Time for a Household Fiscal Review

Within the first two weeks of January, my husband and I take time to review everything having to do with the business end of running our household. We review our finances, check our credit scores, talk over our spending and savings plans for the year ahead, look over our expenses to see if there is anything that needs to be adjusted. We check to see if we are doing enough to prepare for retirement. We usually schedule an appointment with our financial planner and accountant to make needed changes to our investment strategy and to review our taxes. Every couple of years, we also meet with our lawyer or insurance agent to update our will or to revise our insurance coverage.

It’s good to get this situated at the beginning of the new year because it not only provides peace of mind, but it gives us a clear picture of where we are in terms of the overall business end of running our household. This picture is necessary for setting new goals as we look ahead… which leads me to Tip #4.

#4. Write the Vision

Years ago, I learned that writing things down is SO important. Most of us know that the best way to stay on track and ensure that everything gets accomplished is to make a list and write it down!

There is further encouragement to do so from Habbukuk 2:2 that says, “And the Lord answered me and said, ‘Write the vision and engrave it plainly upon tablets so that everyone who passes may be able to read it quickly and easily as he hastens by.’”

You can also think of your “vision” as a mission statement for 2017. This is when you should look ahead at your personal goals and dreams from every area of your life. Include your most fervent prayer requests in this vision, too. Write them down. But don’t stop there! Spend time each week to pray over your vision and to watch for ways that it is beginning to manifest in your life. A vision of any kind has to be nurtured and birthed through prayer or else it becomes nothing more than wishful thinking.

It’s also fun to buy or make a journal just for documenting your personal vision and prayers over the course of the year – and even more fun when you look back at the end of the year to see how your vision has progressed and how prayers have been answered.

#5. Make a 12 Month Bucket List

This is one of the more fun ways to kick off a new year. I make a one-year bucket list that contains a minimum of three things that I have always wanted to do. Then, I make a plan for when, where and how to do them – and who will be there to do them with me. I even take time to pencil in a date according to what time of year would be best for doing whatever it is.

Last year, my bucket list included a 3-day cabin vacation at a local state park. I planned it for June, and it ended up being a wonderful time – and we created some wonderful memories that I will long treasure. I had also included a horseback ride on my list 2016, but did not put forth the effort to actually see it happen – so I am adding it to my bucket list again for this year with more determination than ever to see myself sitting on a horse! (I have not ridden a horse since I was 5 years old, but I have always dreamed of riding a horse on a trail somewhere with beautiful scenery.)

#6. Spread a Blanket of Love

Usually on New Year’s Eve – but anytime within the first few days of a new year – I spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and have a personal time of communion. I pray for my entire family and all of the relatives in my bloodline who are still living. I ask Jesus to cover us with His blanket of love, forgiveness, protection, provision and guidance. Most years, I participate in several weeks of fasting especially during the month of January. I’ve seen major breakthrough and healing in my life in the years where I have taken time to do this. Not only is my body cleansed, but so is my spirit. When I do any of these things, I envision God spreading out a blanket of His love over my entire family and blessing us in the coming year.

#7. Wave Goodbye to the Old, Celebrate the New

It’s really fun to take a sheet of paper and write the names of each month from January through December. Then, I go back in my memory to the preceding year – in this case 2016 — and pencil in all of the memorable highlights that occurred during each month. After I spend a few moments reminiscing, I take time to reflect upon the gratitude, joy and love that poured out on our family in many different ways. I allow the good memories to saturate my thoughts and enter into my heart. Those are the things I want to carry with me into the next year.

After saying goodbye to the old year, I now turn my focus toward the new. Each person celebrates differently, and for me, celebrating happens in different ways. Sometimes I stand out on the front porch and throw my arms open wide and offer a simple prayer. Other times, I turn on some of my favorite music, crank up the volume and just dance… or “bust a move” as my kids would say. Celebrating can be a quiet dinner, a family party or just simply sitting and enjoying the glow of our gas logs in the fireplace and the Christmas decorations if they have not yet been put away in storage.

Yes, I believe that 2017 is going to be a year filled with some very nice surprises for many of us. These 7 Tips will hopefully inspire you to embrace the coming year with arms wide open and with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. Let’s do this!

Until next time!

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Encounter with a Black Bear

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Photo credit; BigStockPhoto/Bgsmith

 

As you already know, I live in a cabin in the northeast Georgia mountains. It’s a small and cozy cabin with glass doors and lots of windows all around to provide us with a panoramic view of the woods surrounding our property. We live within a quarter mile of the southern border of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and are treated to many visits from the wildlife there. This includes deer, coyotes, wild pigs, bears, gray foxes, wild turkeys, rabbits, skunks, ‘possums, flying squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, snakes and the occasional bobcat. We’ve seen them all, at one time or another.

My favorites of all of these wild creatures are the black bears. We do not see them every year, but there have been several summers where we began seeing them almost daily. The younger bears tend to show themselves in the daytime, so it seems, and the larger, older bears usually restrict their activities to the nighttime.

Our bedroom is in a loft that overlooks the living room, and at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bedroom is a glass door that looks out on our back deck. Whenever I get up during the night, I always stop to look out to see the moon and stars or to see what the weather is doing. After years of doing this, I’ve gained a familiarity of the landscape and the outline of the trees even when the moon has gone to sleep and the lighting is very poor.

One night, after I had made my way down the bedroom stairs in the dark, I made the usual stop at the glass door. I knew the skies would be clear, so I was hoping to get a good view of the stars. To my complete surprise, the skies were pitch black, and there was not a star to be found. For that matter, I could not even see the streetlight off in the distance. It was SO unusual for it to be this dark, and many thoughts were going through my mind. “Has an unexpected storm moved in?” I wondered.

I leaned forward and pressed my face against the glass and cupped my hand around my eyes to be able to peer more intently into the darkness. Still nothing. “This is really odd,” I thought to myself. By this time, my two sleepy-headed dogs noticed that I was gone from the bed too long. They made their way over to investigate and were very soon standing at my feet, staring up at me in curiosity.

I peered forward one more time with my hand cupping my face which was pressed against the glass, and reached over to turn on the porch light. With the flip of a switch, a very large black bear suddenly appeared before me! It was seated on its rump facing my direction so that we were literally eye to eye. His nose and my nose were mere inches apart with only the 1/2″ of glass separating us. Now it all made sense. The bear’s massive size, which filled up most of the doorway, is what had been blocking my view of the nighttime sky!

As soon as the porch light came on, several things began to happen all at once. The dogs immediately saw the bear and began to bark and jump at the door. The adrenaline flow through my body was so instantaneous that I made an effort to run, but with the dogs blocking me into a corner, all I could do was stand in one place and pump my legs up and down with jack hammer force. I pulled my hand tightly over my mouth to muffle the sounds of my screams. Meanwhile, the bear’s mouth opened, and his lips curled back. I was pretty sure the bear was responding with a scream of his own though I could not have heard it above the noise of the dogs. Considering the view he must have had from his side of the glass I would not have doubted it. The bear was just as surprised as I was! Maybe he was laughing?

Even through all of this commotion, my brain was taking mental notes. I saw that his right paw was feeling around inside a metal box that was attached on the wall of our back porch. It had once been used as a cat food dispenser years ago and apparently still had the smell of cat food which possibly attracted him. The bear was sitting on his rump with his back legs splayed out in front of him, encircling his chubby belly.

It was at this point that I calmed down a bit and realized what an incredible gift I was being given. This massive black bear was the most beautiful creature I had ever encountered, and here we were standing inches apart, caught up together in a very unusual moment. The image of this unlikely encounter is forever fixed in my memory.

After the excitement died down, the bear gradually began to lift himself from a seated position and turned to walk away. He glanced once more over his shoulder to give me a final look, and then walked away into the dark. It struck me how wide was his body and how thick was his fur. The pads of his paws were black, and I could see his claws when he lifted them and took a step.

We have not had any bear visits at The Laughing Cabin in a couple of summers, and that’s okay with me. Bears can surely be dangerous, and we do what we can to discourage their visits by not leaving out any trash or food. Even so, they are beautiful creatures, and I feel blessed and privileged to see them whenever I do… always from a safe distance. I’ve got my camera handy, just in case.

Until next time! ~ Susan

The captioned photo is from BigStockPhoto/Bgsmith (used according to their terms of use), and it represents the general size and shape of the bear that visited our cabin that night, just to give you an idea.

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God’s Gift of Heavenly Peace

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john-banner

 

My day had ended with a heart wrenching phone call. My husband, who had gone ahead of our family to prepare for our move to a new home 1500 miles away, had called to tell me that he didn’t want to be married any longer. He had decided to move on with his life without me. It was something that I did not anticipate, and hearing his words was like getting punched in the stomach.

I had already rented out our home in anticipation of the move and was staying with family and had already quit my job for the same reason. We had two young children under the age of 5, and just a few days before, I had learned that I was nearly five months pregnant with our third child. I did not have the usual symptoms, so it came as a surprise to find out the pregnancy was so far along.

Earlier that week, I had already spent time on the phone with my husband sharing the joyous news and discussing what name we would give the child. So, when his phone call came a few days later saying that he “didn’t love me any more,” you could have knocked me over with a feather. There weren’t enough tears to express how devastating it was, and the sense of abandonment that it brought seemed deeper than any darkest pit.

I suddenly understood the severity of my situation, and it was overwhelming to consider. In one phone call, I had become husband-less, homeless, job-less and penniless with two young mouths to feed and another baby soon on the way. This news could not have come at a more vulnerable time in my life.

I was 25 years old at the time, and did not really know God. My prayers did not seem to make it past the ceiling, and I wondered where God could be found in the middle of this family crisis. I felt so unloved and definitely rejected and assumed that God felt this way about me, too.

My personal situation deteriorated even further when the little bit of money ran out and every last ounce of hope went with it. Now that I was pregnant, potential employers did not eagerly seek to employ me. I eventually lost my home to foreclosure and my car to repossession. My beloved stepfather also died during this time, and this was further grief to endure.

Somewhere around the eighth month of pregnancy, I was laying in bed with my two young children beside me as they slept. I cried out to God for the first time in my life and asked Him to please show mercy upon me and my children and to help us. During this prayer, I felt an inexplicable wave of peace come upon me, and the baby in my womb seemed to feel it, too, because I could feel him gently roll in response.

Weeks later, I welcomed little Jeffrey Matthew into the world. Because of the baby’s size of nearly 10 pounds, the pregnancy was hard on my body, and the labor was unusually long — lasting nearly 60 hours. It was also an emotionally draining time for me because of the loss of my marriage and the stress of being able to provide for my children under such dire circumstances.

Earlier in the pregnancy, well meaning “friends” had encouraged me to seek an abortion or put the baby up for adoption, and this produced an even greater discouragement at a time when I should have been celebrating this brand new bundle of life. The emotional toll was so great that it was all I could do to make it through each day. It was probably one of the lowest times in my life.

It was a long walk out of this situation, and the struggles along the way were difficult. It wasn’t until many years later, when our family had crossed the threshold into better times, that I understood how God had answered my prayer that fateful night. By now, I had begun to read my Bible on a regular basis, and it struck me how important names were to God — to the extent that He changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Jacob’s name to Israel, and so forth.

Out of curiosity, I began to research the meaning of my children’s names, and this is when a light turned on in my spirit, and I felt my knees go weak. Tears began to roll down my cheeks, and I was immediately transported to that night of despair when I had called out to God and had felt His peace come upon me. Imagine my surprise to discover that the name “Jeffrey Matthew” means, “Heavenly Peace, Gift of God.”

I began to understand how God had not only sent His supernatural peace during that period of intense despair, but He had also provided a sign of His peace through the gift of this child. Heavenly peace was indeed with us throughout our long journey for only God could have brought evidence of answered prayer through the naming of a child in a season of despair.

Jeffrey Matthew 25 years later with one of his own sons
Jeffrey Matthew 25 years later with one of his own sons

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you, not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 KJV

Until next time! ~ Susan

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A Visit to the Biltmore Mansion

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A view of the front of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo credit: Big Stock Photo | Stargirl
A view of the front of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo credit: Big Stock Photo | Stargirl

 

We could not have asked for a more beautiful day as we drove our way north and then east through the Blue Ridge Mountains on our way to Franklin, North Carolina. The sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue, and the autumn leaves had not yet dropped from the trees, so colors of gold, orange, red and green blanketed the mountains. It was truly breathtaking for most of the drive, and an immediate sense of relaxation and peace overtook us by the time we entered the Tennessee River Basin as we headed east on Hwy 64.

Our plan was to travel on to Asheville the next day with a side trip through Franklin to explore the historic downtown and then stay the night at a hotel while we were there. Visiting the downtown was the highlight of the day and we explored the many places to shop or stop for a coffee or a slice of fudge. The old brick buildings took us back in time as we made our way along the sidewalk, and the view of the surrounding mountains was a sight to behold. The sidewalks were decorated with corn stalks and pumpkins, and there was an air of welcome and festivity all around. With gorgeous weather, and a pocketful of vacation money waiting to be spent, we did not waste any time picking out trinkets and treasures to bring home.

 

Photos: (Left) Scenic overlook on Hwy 64 looking east toward Franklin, NC; (Center) Historic downtown Franklin, NC; (Right) View of the mountains from downtown Franklin, NC

The next day, we were on the road toward Asheville, North Carolina, to spend the afternoon touring the Biltmore Mansion. A cold front had swept in during the night, so the day started out rather rainy and dreary — and about 20 degrees cooler than the day before. The rain cleared out by the time we parked our truck, but the wind stayed with us for the rest of the day.

During the fall season when leaf viewing is at its peak, the Biltmore Estate is packed with tourists. The parking lots filled quickly, and we were amazed by the hundreds of vehicles within our range of vision. With literally thousands of people descending on the Estate at one time, the parking attendants and shuttle buses did an excellent job of moving people along very efficiently. This impressed me quite a bit because I wasn’t expecting things to flow so smoothly with such a large crowd.

Susan standing in front of the Biltmore House waiting to start the tour
Susan standing in front of the Biltmore House waiting to start the tour

The Biltmore Estate has so much more to offer visitors than we were able to explore in one afternoon. We knew that our time would be short, so our main objective was to tour the Mansion and Gardens. The cold, blustery wind that day caused us to have a change of plans, so the tour of the Gardens would have to wait until a future visit.

Our self-guided tour started at 12:30 pm, and we arrived right on time. We were ushered into a grand entrance hall, and the glass roof of the Winter Garden to our right immediately caught my eye. There were lush green plants, a fountain sculpture and beautiful lanterns hanging from the wooden beams above.

The next turn of the corner opened up a view of the Banquet Hall which was very magnificent. It reminded me of a castle because of the gray walls that rose seven stories above. Massive tapestries were hanging from the walls that at first looked like wall paper or paintings. It wasn’t until I took a closer look that I realized they were actual wall hangings which the guide book informed were Flemish tapestries from the mid-1500s.

On the right side of the Banquet Hall rose a giant tower of organ pipes from a 1916 Skinner pipe organ. Later in the tour, we could hear the organ being played for a few brief moments. It truly was a lovely sound. The left side of the Banquet Hall boasted a humongous fire place. High above were flags of many colors that no doubt represented family crests, countries of origin or nationality that held meaning for the Vanderbilt family.

The tour moved along at this point, and we entered a much darker space that turned out to be a Breakfast Room. I later learned that the lighting was kept very dim to protect some of the antiquities that were displayed in many of the rooms. For this reason, visitors are asked not to use flash photography. I did not learn this until farther along in the tour, so the first dozen of my pictures were taken using a flash. Oops.

On and on we went through the Mansion on a self-guided tour that took about 2-1/2 hours. There were only a few places to sit and rest along the tour, and a lot of standing and waiting for the lines to move along. Most visitors were using a hand held audio device that they could listen to while they toured, so there were often clumps of people standing in doorways blocking others from entering while they listened to the audio recordings. This was the only part of the tour that was frustrating.

Hubby particularly enjoys studying architecture, surfaces and the finer details in the construction of a building. The perpetual line of visitors forced us to move along when he would have rather stayed and explored. If you are this type of person, you will definitely want to plan your visit during an off-peak time of the year where you can more freely explore. Better yet, take one of the additional behind-the-scenes guided tours where they will guide you through portions of the Mansion that you will not see on a self-guided tour.

(Left) Glass roof of the Winter Garden; (Center) Banquet Hall; (Right) 1916 Skinner pipe organ.

I was not able to take good pictures of the Library due to the dim lighting, and I did not include any of them there, but this room was one of the more fascinating. It was filled with more than 10,00 books and included a chess set and games table that had once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. There was a walkway along the top third of the 2-story Library for which I could not seem to find a set of stairs that would allow access. One of the tour guides explained that the walkway was accessible through doorways that opened up to guest rooms on an upper level. Very clever. Guests could venture into the Library from their rooms, pick out a book to read and then go back to their rooms to enjoy a few pages of reading before bedtime.

Another stunning feature of the Library was a ceiling mural titled, “The Chariot of Aurora,” which was painted in 1720 by Italian artist Giovanni Pellegrini and was transported from its original place in the Pisani Palace in Venice. Truly beautiful.

The ceilings in the Biltmore Mansion were just as awe inspiring as the furnishings and architecture. (Left) The ceiling in the Breakfast Room; (Center) The ceiling in the Music Room; (Right) The outdoor porch along the back of the house also known as the Loggia.

I was very intrigued when we reached George Washington Vanderbilt’s bedroom. It was a very large suite that was furnished with gold wall coverings, red tapestries and dark walnut furniture. The room was so large and so tall that it made the canopy bed seem smaller than it was. On the other side of a very long sitting room — so large in square footage that our entire cabin could fit inside of it — was Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. Her room was equally nice but was furnished in purple and gold silk fabrics which reminded me of the leopard print fabrics that are popular today.

I have to confess that the Third Floor was somewhat claustrophobic because it caused the line of people to be funneled into a hallway where we could peer into bedrooms but could only do so one at a time. This created a bottleneck, and it seemed like an eternity before we could break through to another level and into some fresh air.

After going through the Third Floor hallway, we followed a stairway back down to the second floor where we enjoyed the view of several elaborate guest rooms known as the Damask Room, Claude Room, Tyrolean Chimney Room and the Louis XV Room which included a bathroom. It was at this point that I had wished that I had brought a bottle of water. The wait in the hallway was stuffy and had left me feeling very thirsty. Thankfully, the next room provided an open window that was funneling a blast of cool air from the outside. That is when I was grateful that it was such a cool and windy day. I don’t know how it would have felt if we had been in that hallway during the heat of summer. This had me wondering how guests would have tolerated sleeping on the Third Floor at certain times of the year.

(Left) George Washington Vanderbilt’s bed; (Center) A beautiful and ornate fireplace located in the sitting room that connected the bedroom of George Vanderbilt to the bedroom of his wife Edith; (Right) The stables and courtyard which now contain shops and food concessions.

The room that I found to be the most curious — and that seemed most out of step with the rest of the House — was located in the Basement. On its walls were painted scenes that included a village with a black cat, full moons, bats and a ghoulish looking creature or two. The guide told us that they referred to this as the “Halloween” room, so named for the Halloween-like theme of the paintings. We learned that the room was painted this way in preparation for a New Year’s Eve party back in 1925.

(Left) The Basement holds a room that is known as the “Halloween” room where, in 1925, the walls were painted by family and friends for an upcoming New Year’s Eve party. The painting includes bats, black cats and full moons which is what gave it its nickname. (Center) A two lane bowling alley that was manually operated with servants who reset the pins and returned the balls after each throw; (Right) An empty 70,000 gallon swimming pool that still has the original lighting.

The next part of the tour wound its way out of the Halloween room and carried us past an indoor bowling alley and a series of changing rooms that led to an indoor swimming pool. The indoor swimming pool was huge even for modern day standards, and I could imagine how much fun the family and guests must have had there over the decades.

As we passed through the swimming pool room, we came into an indoor gymnasium and then wound our way through servants’ quarters and the kitchens, laundry room, storage pantries and more. We took a longer stop in the laundry room — which was impressive with all types of different 1920s era machinery and many sinks and drying racks. It was clear to see that laundry, along with cooking and cleaning, was a primary occupation for the household servants and probably required a sizeable number of people to handle the workload.

 

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My favorite room was the main kitchen which held this collection of the original copper pots.

The final leg of the tour took us through the Bachelor’s Wing where we found rooms for playing billiards, smoking cigars and for storing guns which guests could select for their use. Then, it was a matter of a few steps, and the tour was finished. We stepped through one last elaborate doorway and found ourselves outside near the stables and courtyard blinking in the afternoon sun. We sat down to rest our feet and then ventured toward the variety of shops that now occupied the stalls of the stable that once held horses and hay. Once we realized that shopping was going to be a near impossibility due to the numbers of people trying to fit into very tiny stores, we decided to call it a day.

We took the hour long drive back to our hotel room in Franklin, and I spent an hour before bedtime doing more research about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. My imagination and curiosity had been fully captivated, and this came as a further surprise. I found myself wanting to know the story behind the story, and I have been doing my own reading explorations ever since.

There is so much more to see and discover at the Biltmore Estate — with more than 8,000 acres of Gardens, shopping, restaurants, activities and lodging. It is not possible to take it all in on a single day’s visit, and we would not even attempt it. That’s okay with me. I wouldn’t mind going back. Next time, I will be armed with more knowledge of its history so that I can better experience it through the eyes of those who lived it.

Until next time! ~ Susan

The photo of the exterior of the Biltmore Mansion is from BigStockPhoto/Stargirl and used according to their terms of service. All other photos appearing on this page are by S.R. Williams. Photos cannot be used, reproduced or sold for any reason. The following items contain affiliate links. Please read the DISCLOSURE page to learn more about our use of affiliate links.


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Share the Love Shoe Box Challenge!

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Two of the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes created by S.R. Williams in recent years. Copyright 2016.
Two of the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes created by S.R. Williams in recent years. Copyright 2016.

 

I get very excited around this time of year because this is when the Operation Christmas Child program starts getting underway. Of all the holiday activities that find themselves on my calendar throughout the year, this one is my favorite — and one that has become a personal tradition.

If you have never heard of Operation Christmas Child, it is a program that is organized by Samaritan’s Purse which has a decades long reputation of helping to “meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.” Most recently, they provided more than 40 tons of disaster relief supplies to the island nation of Haiti and another 20 tons will soon be airlifted to the Bahama Islands in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Through the Operation Christmas Child program, individuals, businesses and groups are invited to contribute shoe boxes full of unwrapped toys that are distributed world wide to more than 100 countries. These shoe boxes are used to bless young children and families and share the love of Jesus perhaps for the very first time.

The first year that I participated was a very tough year for me, personally speaking. I was not feeling much joy and was merely going through the motions as the holidays approached. I am not quite sure how I learned about the Operation Christmas Child program, but I remember being captivated by the idea. With shoe box in hand, I went to my local Walmart and spent an hour to consider and choose what to pick out.

The instructions that I found on the Operation Christmas Child website said that I should choose a gender and age so that it would be easier to select appropriate and compatible items to fill the shoe box. That first year, I chose a 2-4 year old girl. Choosing the items to fill the shoe box made her become very real to me. I found myself praying in the middle of the toy aisle. I wanted to bless this child with things that she would love — and only God could know that, so I had to trust Him to guide my selections. I chose a life-like baby doll and other smaller items. I was so surprised by just how much could be packed into a shoe box — and how much love was being poured out of my heart as I chose and carefully packed each item.

According to the instructions, I was encouraged to write a note or card to include in the shoe box. I decided to do so and wrote a heart felt letter to the precious little girl who would be receiving my gift. I prayed for her and her family and asked God to fill her with joy when she opened her box. It was a very personal and private moment for me, and I could even then feel the blessings being returned to me. I began to feel a return of joy.

Drop-Off Deadline November 14-21, 2016

The Operation Christmas Child has drop-off centers located in most cities and towns. A church in my community serves as the drop-off center for our region. Drop-offs are accepted only 7 days out of the year during the month of November just before Thanksgiving. This year, the drop-off deadline is November 14-21, 2016. That’s why I am writing this post in October — to give myself and anyone else reading this plenty of time to prepare. I’d like to fill more than one shoe box this year, and getting an early start will help me to do so.

I am writing this to encourage you to consider participating in this year’s Operation Christmas Child. If you are not able to get out and shop — or prefer not to do so — you can donate money or Build a Shoe Box online. I have also noticed a new feature this year — a means of purchasing a shipping label that will allow you to track your box to see which country it was shipped. How awesome is that?

Shopping for and putting together a shoe box is so fun to do with your children or grandchildren — and with other family members, friends and groups. If you would like to organize a group event to fill and collect shoe boxes, you can find resources for doing so on the Resources & Ideas Hub.

There are general rules and guidelines that must be followed in terms of what types of items you will be including in your shoe box. Reading the What Goes in My Shoebox page will help you to make the best choices. And yes, they accept handmade items that adhere to the guidelines, so if you love to make and share your crafts, here is an ideal opportunity.

Until next time! ~ Susan

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