At The Biltmore Mansion

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A man’s house is

his castle–

until the Queen arrives.

Anonymous

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Diligently skirting airports since PCR tests became de rigueur, I had not realized how my eyes have been starving for grandeur until I visited The Biltmore Estate, a gilded treasure ringed by the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains in Asheville, NC.

George Washington Vanderbilt was a 25 year old bachelor in 1889 when he commissioned a French Renaissance chateau for friends and family to escape New York winters. Can you imagine how those 16th-century castles in the Loire Valley must have wished that they, too, had 125,000 acres to frolic in?

While distant neighbors hemmed their britches by candlelight in the six years it took to build, the Biltmore engineered the latest in electricity and plumbing with its 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool that featured underwater lighting. This was back in the day when outdoor swimming pools were a mere curiosity. Architect Richard Morris Hunt (designer of NYC’s Grand Central Station) wired the house for both AC and DC currents through thick stone walls while Edison and Tesla wrestled for the industry standard.  

Among the estate’s attractions are The Inn, a winery (Most Visited in the US,) an equestrian stable, an art house with a revolving video installation (Beyond Van Gogh is more worth the money than Van Gogh Alive!), and a quaint village with a small hotel, tavern, an elegant gift store, a woodworking shop and a chatty metalworker. 

Frederick Law Olmsted (the genius behind NYC’s Central Park) designed its garden with a tropical glass house, as well as the idyllic drive that feels like five miles of wilderness, meadows, lagoons and creeks from the estate’s gate to the dramatic reveal of the mansion you won’t see coming. I admire how Olmsted pioneered forest management in developing this property in an era when all believed lumber was inexhaustible. Rolling hills and farmlands yellow with nature’s wintry mood instead of the verdant chemical evergreen a golf course insists upon.

After George Vanderbilt passed away in 1914, much of the land became part of Pisgah National Forest and the estate is now a more manageable 8,000 acres. A century plus later, the Biltmore House still keeps its title as America’s largest home with a glass-domed garden atrium to take your breath away upon entry, a banquet hall’s 70-foot cathedral ceiling with three giant fireplaces to impress, and my favorite room out of the 250: a two story library of Circassian walnut crowned overhead by The Chariot of Aurora mural from a Venetian Palace. Each of the 23,000 volumes was handpicked by GWV himself. On our drive over, my husband was certain that “grandma architecture” doesn’t do anything for him. On our drive home, he recanted.

The 1,500 mile round trip flew by with overnight stops to poke around DC and Virginia while listening to Anderson Cooper’s Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty as a welcome distraction that made us feel like intimates of those who inhabited the Biltmore’s 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. The night before we left, a fellow guest at The Inn inquired, “Did you take the rooftop tour?” Alas, we had not. But that sounds like the perfect excuse to return with my favorite women and wear long dresses to do justice to this glorious estate!

Until then, a couple other books on the Vanderbilt saga:

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss and American Royalty by Denise Kiernan

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Mother and Daughter in the Gilded Age by McKenzie Stuart

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your most memorable (and/or glamorous) destination ever!

xoxox

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xoxox

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

Text 201 697 1947

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Makeup and Make Not

My mother’s idea of

natural childbirth was

giving birth without makeup.

Robin Williams

Comedy Central’s Amy Schumer parodies our beauty standards in this video “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup.” We’re in on the joke if we admit how compulsively we submit to the judgment of others, particularly to the itinerant male gaze.

“You look better without makeup,” my husband used to tell me as a young bride and I’d stare back at him incredulously. I was blind to his point of view so his compliment bordered on ludicrous.

Having been raised with Western beauty as the ideal, my small eyes were the biggest thing I wished I weren’t born with. Kids with “normal” eyes teased, “Do you see half as much as we do?” My grandmother offered the best use of my first paycheck, “You should have slits done on your eyelids!” Too chicken for a cosmetic procedure my paycheck could not have covered anyhow, I piled on five layers of eye shadow each morning in a futile attempt to make my eyes look wider, bigger, less Asian. Several women in our family wore a similar patch of black eyeliner on the eyelids, mimicking that fold of skin our slanted eyes forgot to have. For most of my youth, no force on earth could have convinced me that almond eyes are beautiful.

Then my kids started rolling in. The second child was enough to make me feel sufficiently outnumbered and spread thin. Only two hands to get two kids dressed, fed and rushed to school? Something had to give! I lay down those makeup brushes in surrender.

Sixteen years later, it is now a mystery how I thought starting the day with heavy makeup was a bright idea. With three teens testing parental boundaries, small eyes see enough for me to handle. And will I swear off makeup completely?  Not likely! What’s the point (and the fun) of being a woman if we didn’t have options, my dear–and plenty of them!

In behalf of those who eschew makeup because they can, this Powerful Goddess glamorously bares it.  She is of that rare breed who firmly believes she is most beautiful without it.  Why, even the blind can see that! Ah-men.

Click on “Leave a Comment” to share how you honor your natural beauty. xoxox

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Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

with a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

xoxox

 © Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Talent and Greatness

The caterpillar does all the work

but the butterfly gets all the publicity.

George Carlin

Excerpt from Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write”:

Who knows if you are great or talented?  No one.  We don’t even know what we are or what our lives are like.

Van Gogh wrote: “Who will be in figure painting what Claude Monet is in landscape?  I would be heartily glad if a kind of Guy de Maupassant in painting came along to paint light heartedly the beautiful people and things here… But this painter who is to come–I can’t imagine him living in little cafes working away with false teeth as I do.”

Chekhov did not know that he was a great writer.  Or to put it another way:  van Gogh and Chekhov and all great people knew inwardly that they were something.  They had a passionate conviction of their importance, of the life, the fire, the god in them.  But they were never sure that others would necessarily see it in them, or that recognition would ever come.

This is the point:  everybody in the world has the same conviction of inner importance, of fire, of the god within.  The tragedy is that either they stifle their fire by not believing in it and using it, or they try to prove to the world and themselves that they have it, not inwardly and greatly, but externally and egotistically, by money or power or more publicity.

We should all feel as Blake did.  He knew about his inner fire and had faith in it. He wrote and drew and painted with enthusiasm and joy what his vision and imagination showed him saying, “He knows himself greatly who never opposes his genius.”  He never hindered or discouraged it or let anyone else do so.  He cast out all prudence:  “Prudence is a rich, ugly, old maid courted by incapacity.”  As for moderation, caution, measuring, weighing, and comparing, he said, “I will not reason and compare.  My business is to create!”

Work to hone your skills because it is impossible that you have no creative gift.  In addition, the only way to make it live and increase it is to use it.  Third, you cannot be sure that it is not a great gift.

This is what I urge all of you and myself to do:  work and shine eternally.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share your talents that have been wanting expression.

© Sharon Birke

Celebrate the butterfly that you are!

201 697 1947

http://www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Photography for the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Makeup by Kristen Pickrell

xoxox

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