Christmas Morning

I woke up at home this Christmas morning, and with Jose Marie Chan’s “This Beautiful Day” playing in the background that I am enjoying this sunrise.

On a beautiful day that I dream about,
In a world I would love to see,
Is a beautiful place where the sun comes out,
And it shines in the sky for me,
On this beautiful Christmas morning,
If my wish could come true somehow,
Then the beautiful day that I dream about,
Would be here and now.

Merry Christmas to all!

(*photo taken with an iPhone; lyrics from Jose Marie Chan’s “This Beautiful Day”)

A Candlelight Tour at the Biltmore House

Last week we drove to the Smokey Mountains and wandered to Asheville, North Carolina. We visited the Biltmore Estate, a historic house museum and a popular tourist attraction. Biltmore House, the main residence, is a Chateauesque-style mansion, built between 1889 and 1895 for George Washington Vanderbilt II. It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States with a floor space of 178,926 square feet. Let’s just say it is too big for me to clean.

George Vanderbilt opened his opulent estate on Christmas Eve of 1895 to invited family and friends from across the country. There were notable guests to the estate over the years including famed novelists, ambassadors, and U.S. presidents. Today it continues to attract tourists from all over the world to tour this beautiful mansion.

For Christmas season, they have a special evening tour called Candlelight Christmas Tour to view the mansion that is fully decorated for the holidays, and that’s what we did.

Above photo is the 35-foot tall Christmas tree in the Banquet Hall which is the estate’s grand holiday centerpiece. It took a lot of planning and real work to place this tree in this grand hall. Note that there’s even a pipe organ in this Banquet Hall.

They have more Christmas trees though all over the house, like this one below.

Here’s another dining area decked for Christmas.

Below is the Tapestry Gallery, again with several smaller Christmas trees.

Here is the grand staircase. That’s my wife in the yellow(ish) coat going down the stairs.

There are many rooms, in fact too many, to entertain guests in this house. Below is the piano lounge.

There were live musicians playing Christmas carols during the Candlelight Tour. Below are videos of a violinist in the library and another musician playing dulcimer in a large hall.

Photo below is Mr. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. In vogue during those times are canopy beds. Though many Filipinos also sleep under a canopy – of mosquito net.

Across the hall is Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom, photo below. Why do they not sleep in the same bedroom? My thoughts exactly.

There are lots of activities to entertain their guests in this house. Here is the Billiard room.

Yes, that’s a bowling alley inside the house (photo below).

There is also a gym.

And an indoor swimming pool. Though there was no water as it now leaks. Too bad nobody can swim anymore in this large swimming pool.

The tour even took us to the basement to showcase the very solid foundation of this enormous mansion, see photo below. Were you expecting some kind of a Batcave at the basement of this large mansion? This is not Bruce Wayne’s house.

The biggest Christmas tree though was not inside the mansion but it was outside at the front lawn. That is one giant Christmas tree. However, there’s no gift for me under the tree.

From the Biltmore Estate,

Pinoytransplant.

(*photos and videos taken with an iPhone)

Snowy Smoky Mountains

We recently traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains, a mountain range rising along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The Smoky Mountains got its name as the native Cherokee people traditionally called the mountain range Shaconage, which translates to “place of the blue smoke.”

If you want a nerdy explanation, here it is – the “smoke” is actually an optical result of a natural photochemical process. The trees, shrubs, and other plants of the dense and diverse southern Appalachian forests emit natural hydrocarbons which then react with the ozone particles. When moisture condenses on these aerosols, this scatter the light in the blue-violet spectrum producing the signature haziness.

However, when we visited the Smokies it was not smoky at all. Instead, it was snowy. Here are sample photos of the snowy Smoky Mountains.

From the Smokies,

Pinoytransplant

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(*photos taken somewhere in Tennessee)

Four Deer and a Fence

Few days ago while I was out for a run, I saw four deer jumping over a fence. They cleared that more than 3-foot fence so easily. Experts say that deer can jump even an 8-foot fence.

The next time that I cannot sleep, I’ll picture this in my mind and I’ll count deer instead of sheep.

Maybe next time around I’ll see a cow jumping over the moon.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

On This Together

I was again on-call this last weekend, and to say that it was busy is an understatement. We have not seen this many COVID patients in the hospital right now, ever since this pandemic started early this year. The health-care system is really stretched out thin.

There are members of the medical staff that had contracted the virus, and I know some of our hospitalists had come down with the illness, most likely getting it from the very patients that we care for. There was even a colleague that got so sick and he became our patient in the ICU. Scary times indeed.

But I have a few days off since my last weekend call. I have sufficient time to unwind and recover. We need to take care of ourselves first so we can take care of others, right?

This morning, as I was out for my 3-mile run around our neighborhood, taking advantage of the out-of-season relatively warm weather, I happened to see this (photo below):

I don’t know who Parker is, nor what illness he has. But it put a smile in my face to know that even in these times that we cannot be physically there for somebody due to this pandemic and the mandate of social distancing, yet we can still show in one way or another that we care. We are all in this together.

Stay safe everyone!

Turkeys on the Run

Thanksgiving is around the corner and we will again stuff ourselves with turkeys. According to the National Turkey Federation, they estimate that 45 to 46 million turkeys are killed each year for the Thanksgiving feast.

During our recent long drive, we spotted some turkeys on the move. They are even causing traffic to stop.

These birds are leaving town. They are on the run (or walk) as they don’t want to end up on your dinner plate this coming holiday. I suggest they move faster or else the carving knife and fork will overtake them.

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Question: Why did the turkeys cross the road?

Answer: To prove that they weren’t chicken.

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(*photos of roaming wild turkeys taken at a small town somewhere in Wyoming)

Imposing Landmark

For about 10 years of my life I was looking at this imposing mountain everyday as a source of motivation. Except that this landmark was on a poster, plastered with a clear tape at the cement wall of my room in Sampaloc, Manila. But that was many many years ago. Today, I am staring at it from its bottom, and it is surreal.

When I was in high school and was still living in the Philippines, I placed posters in my room, not much for decoration but more for inspiration. They are not pictures of famous movie stars or sports personalities. Instead, my posters are photos of beautiful nature landscapes with motivational messages in them.

One poster is a photo of a hang glider sailing in the vastness of the Grand Canyon. In that poster are these words: “You are only limited by the boundaries of your mind.” I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon a few years ago, which in itself was a fulfillment of a dream (see previous post/link here).

Now, I am standing underneath another monumental landmark that was also in one of my posters. It took me all these years to finally visit it close and personal. What I am referring to is the Devils Tower.

This elevation is a butte, composed of igneous rock, that towers over the plain in Crook County Wyoming. It rises 1267 feet above the surrounding grassland. One of its most striking feature is that it has columnar striations, as if a giant bear clawed on it. This site is considered sacred to some tribes of Native Americans.

The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, when his interpreter reportedly misinterpreted a native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower.” When registering the name, the apostrophe was dropped from the “Devil’s,” so it became officially known as the “Devils Tower.”

On my poster, written underneath this rock mountain are these words: “Faith moves mountains.”

During the times of my life when my dreams seems to be getting out of my reach, this landmark with it’s message kept my hope and faith alive. For faith really moves mountains.

I was only entering medical school when my father died. He was barely 50 years old. He was the sole bread winner of our family and I thought I had to stop my studies for there was no way we could afford it then. Not too long after that our family experienced another big blow. We lost whatever little we have, including our good name. The problem was too sensitive, that I am not going to divulge it here. Yet, I kept my sight on my ambitions and clung to my faith in God, for there is no mountain big enough that the devil can throw in our path that our God cannot move.

The rest is now history, and I have gone farther than what I could even dream of.

Today is cold and blustery. The gusting winds are strong enough to blow away my thoughts. Perhaps not a perfect day to tour this national natural landmark. But still a perfect time, which is about 30 years in the making to finally see this geologic wonder. It was actually my wife who urged us to take a long drive to visit it after she heard my inspirational message that I recently gave to my aunt’s virtual church service in California (see previous post/link here). As I have not been to this place in real life, so the time has come to see it.

And as the wind is blowing wildly, I’m waiting here for this mountain to move.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Canyon Drive

I had a few days off. So just to have a breather from dealing with this daily hysteria from COVID-19 at the hospital, my wife and I went for a long drive. Our plans were hastily devised, as we only decided where to go a couple of days before the trip, and we booked our accommodations just a day before we ventured out. Of course with some places having travel restrictions and with somes states requiring mandatory quarantines when you arrive there, so that limit the places we can visit.

The trip was a butt-hurting 10-hour drive. But it was well worth it, and we were pleasantly surprised at the place we stayed in. Actually we were going to visit a national natural landmark (I’ll write a separate post on this) and we just searched for a housing that may be close to it.

The lodge is nestled inside a canyon, deep in the heart of the Black Hills National Forest. Near the lodge is a flowing stream, and if you follow it upstream and hike for about a mile, you would end up on this waterfall (photos below).

Inside the lodge was warm and cozy. If you look closely at the photos below, that was snow falling outside the window, for it rained and it snowed during our brief stay there, making our visit more interesting.

But the best part of this place was the drive going to this lodge. As there is a saying that goes – it’s the journey, not the destination.

Below is a short clip of our drive on this scenic canyon road.

(*photos and video taken with an iPhone at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota)