Happy Thanksgiving!

(photo credit: Priscilla du Preez/unsplash)

We’re feeling very grateful and blessed this Thanksgiving – in spite of a load of change, Brett and I have had a very good year, with more to be thankful for than we can count.

Wishing all a very happy Thanksgiving, and may the blessings of the season fill your hearts with love, joy, and gratitude.

Sunday Morning 11/20/2022: Figuring Things Out

This past week has been one of going back and forth whether it’s time for me to stop writing here or not. I struggled for days with writing my Sunday post, and finally realized maybe it was sign that after 13 years of blogging, it’s time to let it go. I’ve taken breaks before, but this time things feel different.

However, after some thought, and rather than acting hastily, I’m going to stop posting until the end of the year. I need to figure out whether it’s time to quit blogging for good, or whether I’m just restless and only need to step away for a while. My muse has been missing these days, but I know from past experience she often just needs some time away to come back full of ideas and inspiration.

Life is good right now, and we have much to be thankful for. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how things would go when Brett and I came to Nashville, but in less than four months we have settled in and find ourselves happy and satisfied with our life here. We’re busy with our granddaughter, and see her and our daughter-in-law enough without it being overwhelming. We are in love with our little puppy and so happy he is a part of our lives. We are in good health, we have a simple but comfortable home, and we’re looking forward to our entire family being together this year for Christmas. We have goals for next year, and we know where we will be going when we leave Nashville and know it’s the right decision – we can feel it. We have time to read, to walk, and learn more about the area where we live. I may be adding a couple of days of work outside the home each week this coming year. We’re in a very good place emotionally, financially, physically, and spiritually and yet writing has become difficult.

So, it’s time to step back for awhile to think and reflect about the direction I want to go with The Occasional Nomads. I will continue to maintain and update the Occasional Nomads Instagram page with what we’re doing but otherwise there will be no regular posting on the blog other than holiday greetings as I try to sort things out.

I don’t say it enough, but I have the best readers. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for being so faithful. Whether you’ve been following for a long time or just arrived recently, whether you comment frequently or remain silent, I am always grateful for your presence and still am awed that people take the time to read what I write. I treasure the connections I have made, of the friendships that have formed, both online and in real life. If I had to pick one word to describe my readers it would be kind. Over the years, you’ve offered good advice, shared your own stories, and in doing so enriched my life. Thank you.

My Not-So-Big List of Goals for 2023

I know these lists of goals usually show up at the end of the year, but I’ve been working on this for the past couple of months and thought, Why not post it now? What are you waiting for? since things are going to become very busy around here in the not too distant future.

I don’t have many goals for next year, but enough I think to keep me (and Brett) motivated and busy:

  • Save enough to pay cash for our Big Family Event in early January 2024. Beyond our usual saving hacks, we’re going to continue putting away $5 bills as well as $1s, and we plan to collect natural items in the area during the fall (pine cones, Osage oranges/hedge apples, acorns, etc.) to sell on Etsy – I was surprised to find there is a demand for this stuff. I am going to apply for a part-time job at Trader Joe’s, but that’s still an unknown for now so we’re mostly going to save the old-fashioned way. If I do end up working, that income will go into other savings for the time being.
  • Buy only handmade items, either through Etsy or local venues. We don’t plan on buying anything more this coming year, either for us or the apartment, but if we do we’ll choose handmade or locally produced.
  • Source all clothing purchases from thrift stores, eBay, or Etsy (except for socks, underwear, and shoes). Neither of us need anything thing right now, but if we feel like we do, thrift stores and Etsy will be our sources.
  • Try one new recipe each month. I don’t cook much these days, and usually stick to favorite recipes, so trying one new dish a month should be enough.
I will be making this sweater pattern that I purchased on Etsy. Yarn is a 50% wool/50% acrylic blend, and I’m thinking lavender gray for the color.
  • Crochet a sweater. I haven’t crocheted in years, but I found a pattern I like on Etsy, will purchase the yarn next month, and WenYu (a master crocheter) will help me get started when she’s here in December. I can do this! I can knit, but those skills are even rustier than crocheting.
  • Stay in shape through continued walking, healthy eating, and tracking my calories on MyFitnessPal. I let MyFitnessPal go when we were in Mexico, but it was very helpful before and I want (and need) to get back to it.
First up on next year’s reading list is this classic.
  • Reread 52 books. My theme for 2023 will be to read books I’ve read before, including some from high school, college, and beyond – I want to see how I feel about them now. The first book up in the new year will be Gone With the Wind, which I read when I was 11 years old (I expect I may find it rather sappy now). I’m going to be very picky because I’m pretty sure the books I disliked back in the day I will dislike just as much now, but I’m looking forward to giving some of them another chance.
  • Visit 12 historical or natural sites in our area. At the top of our list is a visit to Mammoth Caves National Park, but there are Civil War battlefields and other historical buildings in the area to visit, the Shaker village, and loads of natural areas worth seeing while we’re in the area. We are hoping to do some camping with M and K this spring and summer, if possible but haven’t figured out yet how we’ll pull that off.

Some of these may change or more may be added as the year goes along, depending on how things play out. I also want to post a monthly list of goals here and see if that helps us stay motivated as well to accomplish more through the year.

Sunday Morning 11/13/2022: An Unexpectedly Busy Week

What the coffee table looked like for most of last week

This past week unexpectedly turned into a busy one for Brett and me, with K staying with us not for one but for three full days. The original plan was for her be here all day Tuesday (schools closed for Election Day) and spend the night and then go to school on Wednesday, but she arrived on Tuesday with a slight cold and fever and by evening the fever had climbed to 103 degrees. I stayed awake almost all night with her making sure she was comfortable, and trying to keep her cool. The fever thankfully broke early in the morning, and she woke up cheerful and feeling better but because the district requires 24 hours fever free before a student can return to school we kept her home with us again on Wednesday (M picked her up in the evening when she got home from her trip). K’s fever came back a couple of times on Wednesday so she ended up spending another day with us again on Thursday, although she was in good spirits (and back to her very active self) and able to walk with us in the afternoon and go with us on a couple of errands as well. Needless to say, Brett and I were very tired by Friday and took that day and yesterday to rest and recuperate, and do our food shopping. K will be staying with us again for two nights next week when M has yet another trip to make for the consulate. We saw K and M yesterday and K is well and going back to school on Monday, so things shouldn’t be as intense as they were this past week.

Bundled up and watching TV with a cool washcloth on her forehead.

On Thursday I had a chance to talk with a 73-year-old Trader Joe’s employee. She has worked for TJ’s for over 11 years, and told me it is a great and fun place to work. She explained the shifts, how things are done, the benefits (20% employee discount!), etc. and said if I only want to work two days a week then that’s all they’ll give me. Shifts are 7 1/2-hours, and she says the first couple of days are hard but it gets easier after that. I told her I didn’t want to work until after the new year and she said that was fine, that they hire year round. After talking to Brett and giving it some more thought, I’ve decided I will apply in early January and see what happens!

We are very relieved the election is over. There were some disappointments throughout the evening but overall we are very happy with the results, both locally and nationally. I still don’t think I’m over having to vote (in 2022) for whether Tennessee should ban slavery as a form of punishment or not. Slavery! The measure thankfully passed here, as is did a similar measure in three other states (Alabama, Vermont, and Oregon all had a similar loophole in their constitutions), but Louisiana voted to keep the slavery loophole. Just unbelievable to me in this day and time.

This morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished: 1) Brett hung a second set of Command picture rails in the bedroom in preparation of our freshly matted prints being ready either this week or next. He put two side by side to create one long rail which involved quite a bit of measuring to keep them together and level. Next job will be to move our Japanese fabric banner across the living room in preparation of our big print being hung where the banner is now. 2) Taking care of K required us to call back up a lot of parenting experience. Caring for her was tiring and worrisome at times, but she bounced back and we’re glad we could help M attend her events (two Japanese companies are opening plants in Tennessee; this is her area so she was required to attend the opening ceremonies). We’ll be ready for more K-care next week!
  • What we’re looking forward to this week: 1) If it warms up a bit we’re hoping to visit nearby Radnor State Park this week. It’s located nearby to us and is filled with great walking trails, wildlife, views, etc. 2) Most of this past week was warm, almost summer-like at times so we were looking forward to things cooling off. Be careful what you wish for though: winter arrived yesterday with temperatures at or below freezing, and barely reaching 40 degrees during the day.
Last week we went from “looks like fall, feels like summer” to . . .
. . . “looks like winter, feels like winter.”
  • Healthy eating and exercise: 1) Last Sunday turned out to be a rainy day, so no walking, and I didn’t walk on Wednesday due to exhaustion after being up all night with K, but otherwise I walked three miles on Monday and Tuesday, then two miles on Thursday and Friday, and yesterday was just too cold to walk outside. 2) Healthy meals this week were cheese and pepperoni calzones; leftover pork chops with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes; an election night dinner of samosas, broccoli with curry dip, and naan bread; mandarin orange chicken (without the orange sauce), sweet potato fries, and four bean salad; beef Polish sausages with sauerkraut in rolls and sautéed green beans; roasted red pepper and tomato soup with onion and cheese focaccia; and Trader Joe’s turkey stuffing fried rice last night (recommended and it was good!). We did a good job during the week of cleaning out odds and ends from the freezer in preparation for refilling it with more things from TJ’s and ALDI. I ate too many pieces of shortbread on Election Day, mainly from nerves, but thankfully that only happened on one day.
We were able to clear the table for our election night dinner that we enjoyed as we begin watching the election results come in.
  • The ways we saved: 1) We didn’t put anything into the change/$1/$5 bill jar because we used my debit card last week. I did my regular bi-monthly shop at Trader Joe’s on Thursday, and Costco and ALDI on Friday, and went $92 over budget but we have enough food on hand now for another month, including everything for Thanksgiving. I’m still surprised when I see the total each time because everything here is still always less than I expect for so much and I always think the total is going to be much, much, more. 2) Lots of leftovers were eaten and no food was thrown out. 3) We had three no-drive days this past week.
Home Alone was released 32 years ago this year. It’s still fresh and funny.
  • Good things that happened: 1) The best thing all week was K’s health improving especially after a long, difficult night on Tuesday. She was thankfully back to her sunny (and active) self on Wednesday and Thursday. 2) K and I watched Home Alone on Thursday afternoon (first time for her), laughed a lot, and she said it’s now her favorite movie ever. It really is a classic. 3) The new season of The Crown started, and our favorite baker made it to the finals on the Great British Baking Show. 4) The frame arrived from Walmart (and it’s huge!) so we’re ready to get our new print hung once we get it back from the frame shop.

Last Sunday evening I was awakened at around 2:00 a.m. by a very loud, strange, and unidentifiable sound right outside our bedroom window. The sound happened four times and I couldn’t tell if it was coming from an animal or a human. Brett of course slept right through it. The sound eventually moved away but I could still hear it in the distance for a while. When I woke up Monday morning I wasn’t sure at first whether I’d dreamed what I heard or not, but the experience was too vivid to have been a dream, and I spent the day on YouTube listening to animal sounds trying to figure out what I had heard, if possible. It took a while, but I finally came across a video of a male deer going after a female and the final set of the sounds he makes before he’s ready to hook up with her sounded just like what I had heard outside our window! I never imagined for a moment when we moved here that I’d have to identify animal calls, or end up knowing what a horny male deer sounds like, but here we are, living next to the woods and hearing nature close up.

We will continue to enjoy our fall decor for another few weeks before changing over for Christmas.

I almost couldn’t believe it when we shopped this past week how strong the push is now for Christmas; Thanksgiving barely seems to register at all. All the holiday hoopla is hard to ignore, and while we’re preparing for a busy December, we want our house to stay Christmas free for at least another three weeks: no poinsettias, trees, or other decor until then. After our years living in Hawaii, Brett and I are enjoying the change in seasons and just don’t want to move things along any more quickly than they seem to be moving now.

We had a busy week that ended on a good note, and although we know next week will be busy again we hope it proves to be less stressful than this past one. So, here’s to good health, more good food, good books, good friends, and more good things happening next week!

Home Cooking: Oatmeal Shortbread

K gives these cookies two thumbs up – easy to make and delicious!

I used to bake a LOT of cookies. A LOT. I baked them for the holidays, for our kids’ lunchboxes, to send to Brett when he was deployed at sea, to have at home. However, with just Brett and I around to eat them these days, I rarely bake any more – we just don’t need the calories, and both of us can easily go through a batch of cookies in record time. However, I’ve recently started baking with our granddaughter and last week I thought these shortbread cookies would be easy and fun to make with her. I had everything we needed on hand, including a small amount of leftover chocolate chips.

Well-blended but still somewhat crumbly dough
Pressed into a jelly roll pan, ready for the oven

This easy recipe comes from Sunset Magazine’s Favorite Recipes cookbook. I like this recipe it because it makes a very tasty, buttery cookie, and because it uses only four ingredients, ones that are almost always on hand in the pantry and refrigerator. The finished cookie is thin, and slightly almost like a cracker, but it melts in the mouth. Many years ago, this shortbread was my go-to recipe when the cupboards would be almost bare at the end of the month, but we enjoyed them so much that they became something I made fairly regularly. They always disappear quickly.

Chocolate mini chips growing soft and glossy on the hot cookies, ready to be spread

While the shortbread is delicious all on its own, it can be kicked up a notch with the addition a few chocolate chips, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Right after the pan of cookies comes out of the oven, immediately sprinkle the chips over the not, uncut cookies and let them set for around a minute or even less. The chips will become glossy and soft and can then be spread over the cookie as a thin frosting. Cut the shortbread as soon as they’re frosted; the chocolate will harden as the pan cools.

Still warm shortbread topped with chocolate, cut into pieces and cooling in the pan.

OATMEAL SHORTBREAD

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup quick-cooking oats

1 cup softened butter or margarine (2 sticks)

2/3 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the four ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well-blended, but still somewhat crumbly. Press firmly and evenly into a lightly greased jelly roll (10″ x 15″) pan. The batter will be thin. Bake for 45 minutes, and then cut into squares or bars while still warm; let shortbread cool in the pan (I cannot stress this enough – trying to cut them when they’re cool creates a BIG, crumbly mess!).

Working Again: Yes or No?

A couple of weeks ago, when I was checking out at our local Trader Joe’s, I was asked if I might be interested in filling out an application – the young crew member scanning my items said she thought I might be a good fit. Employees at our TJ’s run the gamut from young to old, and all work part time. For example, one employee I met this past summer lives in California, but comes to Tennessee every summer to visit family, and works a few days a week at TJ’s while he’s here. The woman I chatted with said I could pretty much set my own schedule; that is, how many days per week I wanted to work and she asked me to think about it. I thanked her and said I would, thinking in fact though I would walk out of the store and never consider it for another moment.

The funny thing is that over the past couple of weeks I have found myself actually weighing the pros and cons of working there.

Neither Brett nor I have ever needed to work or supplement our income since we retired – careful budgeting, saving, and living within our means has seen us through even when our daughters were still at home or going to college. We will be able to put all of next year’s Social Security and Brett’s military retirement pension increases into savings. I enjoy our current relaxed lifestyle; it’s what I always hoped for when I thought about retirement. However, the idea of having something to fill a couple of days a week while we’re in Tennessee has got me thinking, maybe it might be a good idea to work for a couple of days of week? Trader Joe’s treats their employees well and many consider it a great place to work and fun as well. There’s no dress code other than wearing a store t-shirt. I am a big fan of their products and would have no trouble promoting them. I have retail experience and mostly enjoyed it.

Plus, our Family Big Event in early 2024 is going to cost a bit, and some extra income would be a nice way to cover those costs so we don’t have to dip into other savings. I’d also be able to save extra for potential relocation costs when our time in Tennessee is over.

But, I also wonder whether I want to be on my feet for eight hours, even if it’s only twice a week? Do I still have the energy to put in a full day’s work (and it would be actual physical work)? I already dislike appointments – do I want to have to be somewhere on someone else’s schedule twice a week? Do we really want to pay any more federal tax than we already do (Tennessee fortunately has no state income tax)? Those are some of the negatives that constantly come to mind. And, is Trader Joe’s really be interested in hiring an older person like me, especially after all the current holiday hubbub dies off?

The idea of working a couple of days a week at Trader Joe’s is tempting, if they want me. I have no desire in starting until after the new year because of our holiday plans, but I can see advantages in waiting until the first of the year anyway. I can also clearly see the negatives, especially getting hired and discovering I can’t cut it after only a few days or weeks.

I don’t have to work, but part-time at Trader Joe’s might be fun as well as rewarding beyond earning a small amount. It could also be a non-starter or pure misery. I am fortunate to have a choice, and the time to think about whether the choice would be a good one or not.

What do you think?

Sunday Morning 11/6/2022: Last of the Fall Color

There are still fall colors on some trees, but most of the leaves seem to be on the ground now. Three days after I took the pictures of trees above, all had dropped all their leaves.

November has arrived! Following our weekend getaway, this last week was positively peaceful but boy did it go by quickly! I enjoyed having time to read, to get things caught up with things, and walk for a longer stretch almost every day, but time feels like it’s speeding past these days. There are more leaves on the ground now than in the trees but temperatures were still in the 70s for most of the week, perfect for walking, although it was nearly 80 degrees on Friday. Winter will be here soon so I’m trying to soak of as much of these days as I can.

Coming up this week is Election Day and I’m already biting my nails. Brett and I will set up our typical election night dinner of small bites to eat while we watch the returns come in – this year it will be samosas from Trader Joe’s (because they’re already in the freezer). And of course, Thanksgiving is coming this month as well. We’re looking forward to celebrating with M and K this year, and I plan to serve a full traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, a couple of sides (pretty sure it will be roasted butternut squash and green bean casserole), and K and I are already planning to make another pie for dessert (apple). My thoughts are also turning to Christmas and the end of the year. I’ve been menu planning for Christmas, or at least trying to, and thinking of what I can buy early to be ready without having a huge cash dump for food right before everyone arrives. With several dietary restrictions in our group this year meals are going to be a challenge so I’m grateful for the opportunity to start early on this. I also want to do some more baking with K this month, mostly cookies and muffins as well as our Thanksgiving pies. One final goal we have is collecting a full year’s supply of toiletries so we can keep those off our shopping lists next year. We have four shopping sessions left in 2022 and will add items each time to complete the stash.

Brett and I are also starting to think and talk more about goals for the coming year, although any sort of list is far from complete. Besides having annual goals, I’ want’d like to again set monthly goals like we did before we moved to Hawaii. Those lists greatly helped us to stay focused, get things done, and kept us moving forward.

Anyway, this morning I am thinking about:

When I went into vote there were about 10 people in line; when I finished and came out the line wrapped around the building!
  • What we accomplished this past week: 1) I voted early on Wednesday. The line at our polling place was quite long, a good sign I hope. Brett voted week before last and had the same experience. 2) We dropped our new print off with a local frame shop to be matted as well as four other smaller pieces (photos and art) we had sent from Hawaii. We purchased a commercial frame for the print, but the other pieces will be left unframed and set on a picture rail. 3) I roasted two pumpkins and froze the puree to use later. 4) Brett and I made our budget for next year. There will probably be a couple of tweaks in January, but overall it’s pretty solid and covers everything.
Our two small pumpkins produced seven cups of puree! We have two big pumpkins left but they are still providing fall decoration for the time being.
  • What we’re looking forward to next week: 1) I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to Election Day or not. Actually, I’m quite nervous about how things will turn out and what the future might hold for our country. I encourage everyone to vote, no matter who or what you support, if you haven’t done so already. 2) K will be with us all day and overnight on Tuesday (schools closed on Election Day) as M has work and than has to attend an early morning event in Knoxville. I am planning for the two us to make a pan of oatmeal shortbread and Brett and I are thinking up another couple of projects for her to do while she’s here.
This section of woods that we pass by on our walks changed color over the weekend.
  • Healthy eating and exercise: 1) We kicked up our walking distance this week to three miles around the complex Tuesday through Friday (we only walked two miles on Monday, and it rained all day yesterday). It was tiring the first couple of days but we’re into it now. 2) Healthy evening meals this week were barbecue pork sandwiches and coleslaw left over from our getaway along with corn on the cob; tuna noodle casserole; cheddar broccoli soup; pasta with red pepper sauce, meatballs, and roasted green peppers; fish sandwiches, tater tots, corn on the cob, and apple slices; and slow cooker pork chops with sauerkraut, apples, and bacon, along with mashed potatoes. 3) K and I baked a cherry pie on Thursday and we had that for our dessert on Friday (M & K eat dinner with us on Friday evenings).
K cut out all the pie crust leaves and arranged them on top of the pie!
  • The ways we saved: 1) Brett bought gas on Monday morning, and we paid in full for the picture matting and a commercial-produced frame (from money set aside for it), but otherwise we had a no-spend week and put $9.02 into the change/$1 bill jar. 2) We had to hunt quite a bit for a commercial frame for the print because of the size needed and a requirement for acid-free acrylic, but we found one for the right price at Walmart.com which came with free shipping. Buying the frame online saved us over $100. 3) We used what we had on hand to create all our meals, ate all our leftovers, and didn’t throw away any food.
There’s lots of sunlight streaming through the trees and into our apartment these days – I love it!
  • Good things that happened: 1) Leaves falling off the trees behind us is allowing more sunlight into our apartment during the day, something we really noticed this past week. 2) K enjoyed her first trick or treat experience on Halloween. M took her out to a nearby neighborhood, and although she was was initially hesitant and a little scared, she ended up impressed by how kind everyone was and how much everyone seemed to enjoy the holiday and meeting the trick-or-treaters. 3) K and I had a great time making our cherry pie. She did all the cutouts for the top and arranged them. She says she is excited about our next baking experience. 4) Brett and I are thinking that next year we might start selling some of the natural items we find in the woods here on Etsy, things like acorns, pinecones, hedge apples/Osage oranges, and so forth – there seems to be a market for them. There is an abundance of these items right on the complex property and plenty more if we increase our range.

Brett and my thoughts are starting to gel around one post-Nashville location. We’ve been ranking the items on our list, assigning them to different locations, weighing needs and wants, and this location in particular has risen to the top of our list. That said, another couple of places are still contenders, and I think our final decision will depend on what is going on in the U.S. in the coming year or so. Meiling and her partner are thinking of moving from Massachusetts and YaYu may leave Pennsylvania for graduate school, and those two things have the potential to affect our decision as well. In the meantime we’re going to settle in here and make the most of our time in Tennessee.

And that was the week that was! I’m happy to have reached the end of another good week and am looking forward to the next, hoping it will move along as smoothly as this past one did. I hope everyone had as good week as we did, and that this week coming up will be filled with good things for you as well.

North Carolina Mountain Getaway, Part Two

The second day of our getaway was all about visiting Biltmore House in Asheville. Brett and I have long wanted to visit and moving to Nashville provided the opportunity. We all got up early once again on Sunday morning and were packed, checked out, and on our way to Asheville before 10:00 a.m., arriving at Biltmore House a little before noon. M, K, and I had tickets to tour the house at 12:15, and Brett had a 2:00 admission. Dogs are welcome at the Biltmore Estate but are not allowed in the house, so the two shifts allowed at least one of us to explore outside with Kaipo while other toured.

It had been scheduled to rain all day Sunday, but while it was overcast the rain never showed up so we were able to make the most of our visit.

Through the main gate and on our way up to the house. The overall estate is huge – it’s a three mile drive from the gate to the house. Leaving the house, it took us over a half hour of driving to get off the property. The landscapes surrounding the house were the work of Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park, Vanderbilt honored Olmstead and Richard Morris Hunt, the house’s architect, with full size portraits, permanently hung in the upstairs living room. Both were painted by famed American portrait artist John Singer Sargent.

The approach to Biltmore House was dramatic. We walked about eight minutes from the parking lot, turned a corner, and this beautiful sight greeted us. I can imagine how exciting it must have been for guests to arrive back in the day. The entrance to the house tour is over on the right, next to the white bus. Behind and to the left of it is the former stable courtyard, now a classy food court with the stable containing a variety of gift shops (all currently selling Christmas items).
One of the first rooms on the tour, and my third favorite, is the dining room. The ceiling sits seven stories above the floor and yet everything in it, from the three fireplaces to the tapestries to the dining table is perfectly proportioned. It was a gorgeous room.
The two views above, from the loggia, are of the Biltmore Estate deer park and looking out to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I loved Olmstead’s use of open space to define and enhance the views.
This is the tapestry gallery, my second favorite room, is a 90-foot long space that served as a formal living room for guests of Biltmore House. Three large tapestries hang from one wall and the other side looks out to the loggia. The change in our visit to late October meant we were able to see all the interior Christmas decorations without paying the increased holiday ticket price.
My favorite room of all was the library. The proportions, the design, and the decor was breathtaking (and I’m not crazy about red).
The Tyrolean Chimney room is one of 33 guest rooms at Biltmore House, and although beautiful it was not the fanciest guest room in the house! Each guest room had its own bathroom (although not all with running water). There are 43 bathrooms in the house, built in a time when most homes did not have indoor plumbing. However, there were no washing machines. Laundresses still stood over sinks and washed items by hand.
One of the colorful murals in the Halloween Room, a large brick storage room located in the house’s basement. The slightly eerie murals were painted in December 1925 by Cornelia Cecil and her husband John for a New Year’s Eve party. Cornelia was the only child of George and Edith Vanderbilt, born in the extremely luxurious Louis XV guest room which overlooked the grounds. She inherited the house upon her father’s death in 1914.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Another amazing feature of the house was the huge 12-foot deep, lighted indoor swimming pool in the basement. The house also had a two-lane bowling alley and a fully equipped gymnasium, complete with massage showers. Guests of the Vanderbilts could also enjoy horseback riding, hunting, croquet, tennis, and other outdoor sports while staying at the Estate.
The main kitchen in the basement was like something out of Downton Abbey. The stove in the back is eight feet long, and the copper pots were original to the house. Besides the main kitchen there was also a separate pastry kitchen, a modern roasting kitchen with two giant electric rotisseries, walk-in refrigerators, and multiple pantries.

M, K, and I walked the Biltmore gardens following our house tour. They were filled with colorful plants in fall colors including beautyberry, giant chrysanthemum arrangements, and Japanese maple. The gardens provided all the flowers used in the house as well as vegetables.

The Conservatory

Walking through the conservatory with its abundance of tropical plants was like being back in Hawaii.

Looking up to Biltmore House from the gardens.

Visiting Biltmore House is not inexpensive, with ticket prices ranging from $69 to $99 per person, depending on the time of year one visits (November and December are the most expensive, January through March the least). We were initially put off by the price, but after visiting Brett and I both felt we more than got our money’s worth – days later we are still talking about the things we saw there. Some might feel the place is too over the top, too ostentatious, etc. but George Washington Vanderbilt had money to burn, and the lasting quality of Biltmore House, from the architecture to the artworks and furniture inside to how its employees were treated, still surpasses any private rocket trip into space or vanity purchase of a social media site.

North Carolina Mountain Getaway, Part One

Our weekend trip to North Carolina was a busy one, but we had a grand time and exceeded our expectations. Beyond getting to experience fall in all its glory, our visit to western North Carolina helped connect me to some of Brett’s family roots and gave me the chance to visit some of the places he has talked about since I’ve known him.

Our cozy Airbnb cabin in Banner Elk – we enjoyed having a fireplace!
The view from the cabin on a chilly Saturday morning. We started the day afraid we might have come too late to see much fall foliage.
Grandfather Mountain was our first stop on Saturday. Most of the foliage was off the trees because of the elevation . . .
. . . but when we looked closely, there it was.
The mile high swinging bridge at the top is a must do at Grandfather Mountain, although I could have done without the scary drive up to the parking lot (narrow two-lane road of twists and turns and no guard rails).
The far side of the bridge is higher than the entry, and the mile high point comes in the middle of the bridge. There was no wind while we were there, but the bridge still swung a bit so K and I held hands and went over and back together.
A view off the side of the bridge.
Wind and weather doing their thing on the top of Grandfather Mountain.
We all enjoyed most amazing ice cream sandwiches at Blue Deer Cookies in Blowing Rock. They offer five cookie flavors and five ice cream flavors at a time and customers can mix and match flavors however they like (our combos were snickerdoodle with apple pie ice cream, oatmeal raisin with pumpkin ice cream, and double chocolate with chocolate ice cream). The bakery also offers a wide range of coffee drinks. The town of Blowing Rock was packed solid with tourists, so we didn’t hang around (or take pictures).
Breathtaking views of the Great Smoky mountains from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blowing Rock. It was named for the fierce winds that usually blow up it from the valley, but there was no wind blowing at all while we were there.
The valley below the Blowing Rock provided the most spectacular view of autumn color.

Following our visit to the Blowing Rock we headed back to our cabin for dinner and to get ready for the next morning’s drive to Asheville and the Biltmore Estate.

Monday Morning 10/31/2022: Happy Halloween!

(photo credit: Szabo Janos/unsplash)

Happy Halloween! Long gone are the days when we used to decorate the house as well carved pumpkins, purchased, recycled, or created our own costumes, walked the neighborhood with the kids for trick or treat, bought bags of candy, etc. This year Brett and I will be enjoying a quiet evening at home and watching a scary movie (Dan Curtis’ Dracula, a favorite adaptations). The apartment complex usually holds a trick-or-treat event for the kids so that no one is knocking on doors all evening, but not this year so K will be trick-or-treating in a nearby neighborhood with friends.

Day One: A chilly morning at our Airbnb; then on to Grandfather Mountain to walk across the mile-high swinging bridge, followed by views of the Smoky Mountains from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a stop at the Blowing Rock to view spectacular fall foliage in the valley.

We had an absolutely wonderful getaway and a fabulous fall experience in North Carolina. The leaves were just lightly past their peak, but still lovely and had enough color to have made the trip worthwhile. M picked up K early from school and we set out around 3:00 to make the drive over to Banner Elk, arriving there a little after midnight. It took over an hour to get clear of the traffic in Nashville, and we also made a stop for dinner, took bathroom breaks, and then wind our way through the mountains in the dark. The Airbnb, a cabin style condo, was very nice and cozy, complete with a fireplace. We all fell asleep soon after we arrived but were up early Saturday morning to visit Grandfather Mountain. Afterwards we went to the town of Blowing Rock for lunch and ice cream (the place was packed with tourists) then took a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and finished our day with a stop at the Blowing Rock for a few more spectacular views of fall foliage and the Great Smokies. Other than at the town of Blowing Rock, we seemed to arrive at the right time to miss the hordes of tourists that were also visiting the area. We ate dinner at our Airbnb and went to bed early.

Day Two: Biltmore House in Asheville.

Yesterday morning we were up early again and had breakfast, got everything loaded into the car, checked out of the Airbnb, and headed west to Asheville to visit to Biltmore House. The drive over was easy, the scenery and foliage gorgeous, and we arrived at Biltmore House at 11:30. Biltmore House was nothing less than amazing – we all talked about how glad we were that we went, even K! M, K, and I toured the house first while Brett walked Kaipo around the grounds. When we finished we got (really good) sandwiches at the snack bar, then met Brett in front of the house and took Kai so Brett could take the house tour while we visited the gardens. We left Asheville just a little before 3:30 in the afternoon for the drive home, much easier than the ride over because it was interstate the entire way. Rain had been predicted for all day Sunday, but thankfully never showed up and was instead quite warm and the roads clear. We ate our sandwiches in the car on the way back and got home just a little after 7:00 p.m.

Kaipo was a great little traveler although he chewed right through his new sweater on the first day – sigh. For mostt of the car ride he sat on my lap and slept. We learned quite a bit about traveling with him though to file away for future reference. Otherwise, we are happy to be home and unpacked, and it was nice to sleep in our own bed again (the Airbnb mattress was too soft for us).

Kai’s first big adventure! He was a great traveler.

This morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished: 1) Our trip to NC involved an ambitious schedule over a short period of time but we did and saw everything we hoped to and we had a great time. 2) I finished two more books and have started two more. After these ones I just finished I was hoping to slow down a bit and catch my breath, but no – three more books came off of hold in a two-day period. The past few weeks have been intense trying to make sure I get books finished on time before they have to be returned (while still enjoying them) and it looks like this will have to continue for another week or two. 3) Brett set up our post-Tennessee spreadsheet and we’ll begin evaluating different potential locations/ideas soon.
  • What we’re looking forward to this week: 1) K and I are going to make a cherry pie this week! We will be using a refrigerated crust and canned cherry pie filling, but we’re going to do something fancy with the top crust. 2) We again have no appointments on our calendar but will do half of our monthly shopping at Trader Joe’s and Costco toward the end of the week.
The aroma from the pine needles as we walk by these days is intoxicating.
  • Healthy eating and exercise: 1) We did five two-miles walks in the apartment complex last week and then two days of walking (at least four miles each day) in North Carolina. 2) Meals last week were Chef Tom Colicchio’s one pan pasta with broccoli and bacon; spinach and onion pizza with fresh mozzarella; lobster macaroni and cheese and wedge salad; kalua pork spring rolls, steamed pork buns, and peanut coleslaw; Mandarin orange chicken, steamed rice, and leftover coleslaw; Sonic cheeseburgers and small milkshakes on the road; barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, traditional coleslaw, and potato chips; and a Cuban sandwich from Biltmore for lunch/dinner last night in our drive home. While I’m normally very careful about portion size, I truthfully ate too much on our getaway.
Operation Overeat on Day One: bespoke (and huge) ice cream sandwiches from Blue Deer in Blowing Rock. From top to bottom, snickerdoodle with apple pie ice cream (Brett); oatmeal raisin with pumpkin ice cream (Laura). and double chocolate cookie with chocolate ice cream (M & K). We ate these right after lunch, and then had dinner later. Too much! The ice cream sandwiches were a highlight of our getaway though.
  • What we saved: 1) We replaced Kai’s harness last Tuesday and received a 10% discount because it was the pet supply store’s Senior/Military discount day. 2) We brought along our own food to the Airbnb in NC for two breakfasts and one dinner; otherwise, our DIL bought our all our lunches and paid all our admission fees on Saturday as well as half of the Airbnb cost. 3) We put $33.04 into the change/ $1 bill bag this week. It’s way more than usual because we decided to start putting $5 bills away as well as $1s this past week. 4) Our efforts at saving energy this month paid off: the combined total for electric, water, and Internet was $47.70 under budget. 5) No food was thrown out and all leftovers were eaten.
Our new piece of art. This photo really does the piece no justice because it’s hard to see the abstract detail in the drawing.
  • Good things that happened: 1) A friend I have known since childhood is a gifted abstract artist, and it has been one of my life goals to own one of her works. I’ve been wanting to buy one of her paintings, but Brett doesn’t particularly care for abstract art, so we could never agree on anything. However, this past year she did a series of ink drawings of the woods behind her Massachusetts home, and we decided to purchase one we both love. It arrived this week so goal achieved! 2) We had a great time traveling with M & K and are looking forward to doing it again in the future!

Brett and I had talked before we left about possibly adding Western North Carolina to our list of post-Nashville locations. The whole area was stunningly beautiful, and we loved being in the mountains, but it just didn’t feel right to either of us, mainly because of the isolation. We drove through so many towns that didn’t have a market, or much of anything else, and we couldn’t see ourselves having to drive on winding roads in the winter to buy food, etc. We did like Asheville though, and it’s big enough to have everything we want and need, so we’re adding it to our list of potential locations.

That’s all from last week! It was a very good week, but we’re happy to be home and are looking forward to what should be another great week coming up. Happy Halloween!