Spring Break Biltmore Visit

On Monday we visited Biltmore in Asheville, NC to see the Downton Abbey costumes exhibit and the early spring gardens.

In all my years visiting museums and viewing exhibitions, rarely have I seen a more excellently curated display. The already fascinating and intellectually stimulating indoor tour at Biltmore House and Gardens has been made even more so with the addition of “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” which runs through May 25th, 2015.

Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.
Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.

The more than 45 costumes from the wildly popular television series Downton Abbey have been arranged throughout the house tour to correspond with the rooms in which those outfits might have been worn at the time. With the clothing brought more to life by the locations, their real connection to the people of the time period becomes much more evident.

Although I was expecting the show’s pieces to be limited to the highly refined gowns worn by the female stars of the show, I was pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of men’s suits as well. Nor has the downstairs staff been ignored; kitchen maids and footmen are also represented, allowing for a more accurate portrait of the wide social range of the setting.

Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.
Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.

The exhibit includes changing fashions from the first four seasons of the show, a time period of major social change running from 1912-1923. These changing fashions are correlated with the events of the era, including World War I and the Women’s Suffrage movement. The shifting cultural values and social mores are most evident in the shifting hemlines of the ladies’ gowns.

Be sure to take your notebooks and sketchpads as photos are not allowed in the building. The self-guided tour is included in the admission price.

New Year’s Resolution Revisited

Three Months of Living Up with the Jawbone Up 24/7 Fitness Bracelet

iphone Jan 22 2014 459Up to my mid-thirties, I felt like I did not need to prioritize the activity of exercise because I would rather accomplish two things at one time…like gardening was bending and stretching, picking up toddlers was weight lifting, and running up and down the stairs to swap out loads of laundry should count for step aerobics. If the doctor said I could stand to lose a few pounds, then I just chalked it up to being “fat and happy” — I was not going to give up cheesecake and be miserable just to fit in the same dress size as I did 20 years ago.

At some point, I noticed I was the only fool in the neighborhood shoveling my truckload of mulch and eventually the kids got too big to pick up. So I started out exercising on a regular basis as a running partner for a friend who was training for a half-marathon. For a couple of years straight we walked and talked for 5 laps and then jogged for 5 laps around the indoor track at our church. These were my friend’s “easy days” of training, using a different partner for her long runs, since I was not interested.

My friend met her goal but we agreed to keep our schedule which devolved into just walking and talking. This was great friend “therapy” time, saving our husbands from hours of listening! Some days we walked for 7 miles, and our average was around 4 to 5 miles.

Work, kids and volunteer projects got busy for both of us, and we weren’t able to meet anymore. I didn’t want to give up my new healthy habit, so I went by myself a couple of times, but didn’t put in near the miles. So my next step was to join the grown-up exercise world at the local gym. I was familiar with the machines, but it is still a little intimidating to see people so focused on their workout routine.

It turned out that my favorite part of exercise was talking. I tried to buddy up with another friend at the gym, but it is really hard to talk over a treadmill and there are a lot of awkward looks from the rest of the folks in the gym.

Let’s just say that I didn’t sprain my ankle on purpose, but I sure didn’t mind having a great excuse not to go to the gym, which basically resulted in a 9-month financial donation.

My New Year’s Resolution 2015 was to wear a fitness bracelet, which was heavily advertised during the Christmas season. I bought a Jawbone Up 24/7 Fitness Bracelet on sale at Dillard’s on New Year’s Day, which by the way is the best unadvertised bargain day of the year the sales clerk told me. I was looking for a bracelet that would be discreet, so I thought I picked out the black one which would blend with a lot of my work clothes. In daylight, though, it turned out to be dark navy…should have read the packaging better.

iphone Jan 22 2014 466My goal was just to wear it so that I could be more aware of my daily movements. But, when you sync it up, it tells you that your base minimum goal should be 10,000 steps per day. There’s no real scientific evidence that your life is better or that you are healthier with the magic number of 10,000 steps, but there was some pretty good research that said it was a good general goal for people to shoot toward.

In January, I was very dedicated and checked it almost hourly to make sure I was getting credit for every step. I worked really hard to make it happy and earn the rays of light that shoot out from the measuring bar. My daily life is very, very sedentary. I didn’t know just how sedentary until I wore this bracelet. I knew it felt like I spent all day in front of a computer screen, but I didn’t realize that I really only take breaks every couple of hours, not once an hour like is recommended. (Staring at a screen this long has to be bad for my eyes too.)

So, for me the first month was figuring out the new toy/tool and gaining awareness of my regular habits. I also downloaded a free app called “Lose it!” to log my calories. I have never counted calories before and this was as much an eye-opening experience, if not more of one, than the fitness bracelet. By February, I didn’t have the initial urgency to beat my step record or compete with my best calorie score (but did see big improvements here in self control so I could save all my calories for cheesecake) and by March I forgot to wear it a couple of days and practically quit logging meals, which are rather cyclical, and I now have a better sense of what I am eating.

The average New Year’s Resolution is broken by the end of January, so even if I don’t make it to December, I am still on a better path than I was. And now I have confirmation from my “glorified pedometer” that everything is more fun with friends, which, of course, everyone already knew.

How the Numbers Break Down:

1,500 = if I am on deadline with a project and basically sit at the computer all day
5,000 = if I go to the gym by myself and use the treadmill to walk 3 miles
9,000= if I clean house (this was a little disheartening to realize)
11,000 = if my family walks all over Biltmore Estate or some other big attraction
12,000+ = if I walk and talk with my friend at the indoor walking track

What Do I Like About It?
1) It made me face reality and helped me understand that my habits of being active are in spurts, rather than consistently.
iphone Jan 22 2014 6002) I love, love, love the trending graphs that show activity by the day, by the week, and by the month.
3) I love the daily tips and words of coaching encouragement. I know these are pre-loaded messages, but they are triggered by my accomplishments or lack there-of, so they do feel like personalized messages.
4) I set it to vibrate every 30 minutes of non-movement from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. so that I would be aware of how long I had been sitting still while working. I don’t always immediately get up and take a break, but I try to come to a stopping point and go get a drink of water.
5) It also tracks sleep, not in a super scientific way, but in a general way that monitors motion during sleep. I got really high scores on sleep almost every day for all three months. This is not a problem area for me, so it was a nice reward to see how happy the app was with my consistent “accomplishments.”

What Don’t I Like About It?
1) You have to wear it every day and night, which means you have to remember to take it off when you get in the shower and put it back on after the shower. (It is water resistant, but not water proof.) You also have to remember to push the little button telling it you are going to sleep mode, and then in the morning you have to remember to wake it up. However, it does a good job of knowing when you forgot and correcting the data.
2) It doesn’t actually force you to walk/run more, but then again, neither did my gym membership.