There are really only two things to look at when I take the dogs for a walk: the dogs and the trees. Most of the hardwoods are bare now, so I can see into the woods. The bare trunks and limbs are gray spotted with patches of near white and the occasional green from moss or some kind of fungus or lichen. The ground is covered with the fallen leaves. As I walk down the road, my brain builds up a scene with the angular tree trucks contrasting with the brown surface that is hard to capture with a camera, much less my iPhone, which I have to hold with one hand as I hold the dogs’ leashes with the other.

Most of the hardwoods up on Lavender Mountain are oaks, and most of those are chestnut oaks, if my identification is correct. There are scattered poplars, hickories and some other oak varieties. Still, it’s mostly chestnut oaks, which often take not particularly pretty shapes. But I like those awkward shapes.

Lower down the mountain there is a small ridge that forms a valley with the side of the mountain that the road follows. There is a line of bare rocks that cuts downward across that ridge.

In the photo the line of rocks cuts diagonally from top left towards the lower right. It’s much harder see in the image than it is in real life.

And that, in an acorn shell, is my problem with photographing these scenes. I can never quite get what I see. I think it’s because what I “see” is not really there. I look at the scene while I’m in motion, and build up the image from a continually-changing vantage point. It’s like pasting together a series of images. I can see a particular tree from one point, but not from another point. In my mind, it’s still there. Unfortunately the camera doesn’t have that kind of memory. I also filter out everything I’m not interested in and focus in on what I am interested in. But not the camera.

No, the camera sees what’s there, not what my mind thinks is there. But I’ll keep trying.

After Christmas

We had a very quiet Christmas. It was so quiet, in fact, that it didn’t occur to me that it actually was Christmas until I was walking the dogs down the mountain.

It was foggy, as it has been so often in the last week or so.

It had been even foggier a little earlier in the morning. I could barely see the closest trees when I looked out from the bedroom window.

For Christmas dinner we had turkey, dressing and gravy we had frozen after Thanksgiving. It still tasted pretty good to me. Neighbor John called just as we were sitting down to eat and offered us some leftover ziti that his wife had made for Christmas dinner. I declined politely.

The buyer of our old house brought her two kids and a container of sweets to our new house on Christmas Eve. They are very nice people.

One of my favorite foods for the holidays is bread pudding. Back when I was working, the company held a potluck Thanksgiving lunch. Bridgett, one of my coworkers, often brought bread pudding with two sauces, one made with rum (or some other alcoholic beverage) and one without. She assured everyone that the alcohol had cooked out, but it hadn’t. Since I retired, I don’t get bread pudding unless I make it. So I did.

I used a loaf of French bread cut into squares and toasted slightly, rather than allowed to go stale. I also used a cup of raisins soaked in rum for a couple of hours. One of the major failings of some bread pudding I have eaten is too few raisins, so I made sure I had enough. Some bread pudding is more pudding-like, but I like it more bready. This turned out pretty much just the way I like it. I also made some buttered rum sauce, using a whole lot of sugar and a quarter cup of rum, all according to the recipe. And then I added more rum.

Leah thinks I might have to make more sauce. She’s not eating bread pudding, but she is tasting the sauce a little. I think we have enough rum left. I have eaten about two thirds of the bread pudding. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.

We strung some lights on the front porch for decorations, as you can see in the previous post. We didn’t do anything inside. Aside from the numerous Christmas trees we saw at the Biltmore estate, our closest approach to a Christmas tree was at the bar in a Mexican restaurant where we ate while in Asheville.

It some ways I miss Christmas, but it slipped away slowly, gradually over the years as grandparents died, and then aunts and uncles, and then parents.

At least we’ll have bread pudding.

‘Twas the night before Christmas …

… and all through the house


not a creature was stirring, not even a …

Dusty? What are you doing inside?


Sam and Zeke are worried that Santa won’t come if you watch for him. Everyone go to sleep now.

Zeke, that won’t work. Close your eyes.


That’s better.



Good dog, Sam.


Sylvester, finish your bath and go to bed!


Now that’s a relaxed cat.


Chloe, you can’t keep even one eye open.


Good kitty.

chloe asleep

You, too, Smokey.

smokey asleep

Lucy, I think you’re the last one awake.


Pull up the covers and close your eyes. Good doggie.


Now I think everyone is in bed and asleep.

And soon, we’ll be visited by that right jolly old elf …

st dogolas

St. Dogolas!

And so, from Leah, Mark, Zeke, Lucy, Chloe, Dusty, Sylvester, Smokey and Sam,

happy christmas

and to all a good night!

In memoriam: Zoe, gone since Fall 2014,


and Rusty, gone this year.


Cold and fog

Wednesday morning, the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter, was cold but clear. There was a strong inversion down in the lower areas. The view to the east was almost whited out, except for the top of the mountain.


When I took the dogs out for their walk, we went down into the fog you can see lapping up into the valley just behind the near treeline. It got noticeably colder as we went into the fog, but the sun was trying to stream through the trees.


The sunbeams always fascinate me.

On the way back up, we saw an armadillo. The dogs were very interested.


The armadillo is above Sam’s head about midway up the bank.


I had some second thoughts about taking this picture. In the past, Zeke would probably have gone wild and I would have needed both hands to hold the leash. If that had happened, I would have probably dropped my phone. Fortunately, Zeke maintained his cool. I guess he’s getting old.

The inversion was long lasting. It persisted through noon, when we went down for our regular Wednesday huevos rancheros. By the time I went to Lowes for some material around 4:30, the fog was gone and a cloud bank had moved in.


Some waves were visible near the sun (on the left side of the image) as well as further to the north, but they are nearly impossible to see in this image.

Inside the Biltmore

On the day of our tour we waited in the Biltmore house stables until our 1:30 entry time into the main house. The stables were more impressively constructed than most mansions today. They were crowded, but not with horses. Apparently, Christmas is so popular for visitors that groups of tourists have to wait until their appointed times.

Just off the main entry, which I showed in yesterday’s post, there is a sunken garden area with a glass ceiling. It’s called the winter garden.


I showed the exterior of this space in yesterday’s post.

The temperature in the entry area was distinctly cool. With the original central heating, I suspect that the temperature of the house would have been kept higher back when the Vanderbilt still lived in the house.

We proceeded into the banquet hall.


Every room open to the public had at least one Christmas tree.

The billiard room is off one side of the banquet hall.


A stuffed eagle overlooks the games.


The ceilings were pretty impressive in most rooms.

I think this is the music room, directly behind the entry hall. The piano looks right, but several other rooms also had pianos. I suspect that there was a need for large quantities of large furniture to fill the large rooms.


This is the main stairwell, one of the most prominent features of the front exterior.


The first room on the second floor off the stairs is a sitting room. Then you come to this hallway.


If you go to the left in this image, you find yourself in George’s bedroom. He had a nice fireplace.


This is one end of the room.


Turn to the left and here’s his bed.


There is a bathroom behind the wall, apparently with two doors. Present-day guests are not allowed to use the house’s bathrooms; they must use restrooms in the stables.

To the left of this image there is a door into a sitting room.


It’s actually called the oak sitting room. Nice paneling. It is set up as if for breakfast. The door in the center of the wall leads into the hallway. I presume that would allow servants to bring a meal into the room without going into the bedroom itself.

Just beyond this room is Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. Hers is smaller, but there is a maid’s room just down the hall.

On the third floor there is yet another sitting room.


I think this is the third floor sitting room, based mainly on the slope of the walls, which indicates that the room is tucked up against the roof. There is a hallway off the sitting room which leads to several guest bedrooms.


You can see the slope of the roof here as well. It so dark that it was hard to get a decent shot. The guest rooms are much smaller than the Vanderbilts’ rooms. I suppose you wouldn’t want to encourage guests to stay too long.

This room had a fireplace with a distinctive and significantly different hearth and surround. It might have been the Gainsborough Room, but I’m not sure. When I look at a floor plan I find it hard to figure out exactly where we were at any given time.


From here we had to descend to the second floor so that we could descend yet again down towards the bowels of the building. The fourth floor, where the Vanderbilts stuffed many of their servants safely out of sight, was not open to the public.

The servants’ stairwell was much more modest than the main stairwell, but still impressive.


Down in the basement we went along a castlesque passageway.


The walls are stone set in cement. The ceiling is a series of barrel vaults formed of brick. The Vanderbilts’ kept the exercise areas down on the first basement level. First, the swimming pool.


Small, since George didn’t swim, but you have to have something for the guests, you know. And then here’s the bowling alley.


I presume servants stayed at the far end to reset the pins.

The exercise room was sparsely furnished.


That’s a rowing machine. There are parallel bars just to the right.

There was a second basement level not open to the public. I think it was mainly storage, so probably not very interesting, except perhaps the wine cellar.

There was a display of historical photographs in the basement, where we found evidence of either fraud or time travel. Look carefully at this photo of a photo.


Here is the caption.


Look back at the photo; do you see anything that looks, lets say, anachronistic? It’s just to the right of dead center. Here:


This is one of the few things I can remember, or at least think I can remember, from a tour of the Biltmore back in the early ’90’s. To me this looks like a modern automobile, possibly an ’80’s model Ford Fiesta or a Volkswagen Rabbit. The only problem is that it appears too large to be a car. I have no idea what it actually is.

And with that, we ended our tour of the house. I was left with an overwhelming impression of conspicuous consumption. I suspect that the $90 million adjusted cost of the house and estate is significantly less than it would cost to actually build such a structure today. Even buying the 125,000 acres today would probably cost more than $50 million, if you could find a tract of land like this.

If you look back at the previous post showing an overall exterior view of the house, you can see a wide, long flat area in front. The land was not originally like that. There must have been the equivalent of many hundreds of modern dumptruck loads of fill dirt to bring the land up level with the front of the house. That alone would cost a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars today, at least at retail.

I have no idea what George Vanderbilt would have paid to bring back the huge collection of European furniture and fixtures he used in the house.

I have to admit that this estate qualifies as wretched excess, but the one difference I noticed in comparison to what I have seen of, for example, Donald Trump’s lavish homes, is taste.