1st Anniversary of A Farmhouse Revisited

November/December marks the one year anniversary of our blog! What started out as a need for a little distraction from the day-to-day stressors has turned into a full-fledged fun hobby of mine. I’m still a newbie at this, but I’m having a ball learning how to do things on the blog and adding new gadgets etc. I’m hoping to be able to expand my repertoire of skills so I can make it the best it can be. There are so many great blogs out there and they have inspired me to really work at this.

One thing I’m hoping to finally add is more information on what Larry and I have planned for the house in terms of projects, as well as more recipes etc. I think I was actually putting it off because I want to add pictures etc with those topics and I’m just slow – I’ll admit it.

What I learned this year is that all of this blog-learning business definitely had a steep learning curve! I was originally thinking I’d be able to knock out posts after posts on a daily/weekly basis, but life (work/home) tends to get in the way. :) So I’ve learned to pace myself and in doing so I think I was able to pick up the pace a bit, plus I’m getting a little more techy and maybe just more comfortable in general with learning new things. It’s funny, as a kid, I’d be all over this, but learning new things as an adult, you realize your limitations and sometimes that can be frustrating. But I suppose when you just throw caution to the wind and just relax and have fun with these little projects/hobbies…well it all falls into place.

So I hope you continue to enjoy what we are sharing. We love to have comments and suggested on our projects etc, so please keep the comments coming!

Thanks & Happy Holidays!

Ladies Night Out on the Square – December 3rd

For the past 4 years Mom and I have taken part in the Ladies Night Out on the Woodstock Square in Woodstock, IL. Woodstock, for the non-locals reading this, is where they filmed the movie Groundhog Day - completely cute town with so much charm. Ladies Night Out basically it’s a night out just for women to shop, eat and enjoy themselves and presumably do a LOT of shopping. The merchants typically have specials, and appetizers and wine tastings etc. We’d been going every year except for last year when I believe the area was just pummeled with snow and cold – so Ladies Night Out went out the window!

The event always seems to draw a nice crowd, but I swear this year was a banner year – there were a ton of people on the square. It was really nice to see everyone just having a nice time.

As an added bonus several of the stores in Crystal Lake had open houses that night, including my favorite, The Perfect Pear (more on that in the next post), so Mom and I bolted to downtown Crystal Lake first, then headed to Woodstock for some shopping and dinner and then back to Crystal Lake to do a little more shopping before everything closed.

So we headed to Woodstock, parked and shopped in high gear because we were starved.

We went to dinner at Le Petite Creperie (www.lapetitecreperie.net). We've actually gone there a couple of times for this night - it's this great french bistro right on the square - I think the owners even have a vineyard in the area - fabulous food. Mom had swordfish and I had Coq a vin - so good!

One of my favorite spots on the square is Cobblestones on the Square (www.cobblestonesonthesquare.com)- a bevy of womderful finds: ice cream, candy, gourmet food, housewares, wine, candles, clothes etc. Love it!

After dinner we stolled around a little more, but then headed back to Crystal Lake to do a little more shopping - a whirlwind night and we were probably a littl eworse for the wear but so much fun!

Turkey, Football & Great Conversation - November 27th

Thanksgiving always seems to come up on me, but this year I was prepared. You should have seen me…I was a planning/decorating/cooking/baking whirling dervish!

Unfortunately, after all the whirling I was doing, by the time the turkey was ready and I was actually ready to entertain, I was exhausted! Actually my downfall was due to me running around on Wednesday looking for water goblets – never found the right kind – and paid the price for running around like a chicken with its head cut off!

We had Mom and Dad V and our cousin Eric (who’s a senior at the University of Notre Dame) for the festivities. They arrived early so Mom and I could work on the food prep. Thankfully, there was football on and I could “kick” the guys out of the room – too many people/cooks in the kitchen and you’re asking for trouble! :)

Honestly, the day/evening was just perfect – great conversation and yummy food. Mom made green beans with onions, butternut squash, her wonderful cranberry relish, and fabulous apple and pumpkin pies. I made the turkey, gravy, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, mini pumpkin cheesecake and some quick appetizers.

Of course we always plan for leftovers, because the Vassallo side of the family (me too!) love to make sandwiches the next day with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Larry and I love to entertain (OK maybe I like it a little more than him, but I think Larry still loves it) and our little Thanksgiving was just a wonderful day at the May household. On top of that, you can’t beat the fact that we had a long weekend, which Larry and I used to head to Madison for Friday, Saturday and Sunday – what a great weekend!

A note about the centerpiece: This was very simple to do...found a fantastic vase at TJMaxx for just $10 (and it was huge!). I put some mixed nuts in the base and then placed a plastic cup filled with water in the center. Place the nuts around the cup to disguise the cup and fill the cup with flowers and twigs - very simple and I think pretty elegant. Voila!

Sgwotts & The City - October 23th - October 25th

The weekend was a flurry of activity – all good, but I wish it was longer – we did manage to pack a bunch of fun into 2 days and no one was worse for the wear!

After running around Connecticut Larry and I wanted to be in New Jersey before the explosion of traffic hit since it was Friday night – oddly enough, we managed to zip down into the city I think in little over an hour – not the case for the other side of the highway…

Since we arrived early Larry and I decided to see a movie, “Couples Retreat”, which we both got a kick out of. The nice thing was our timing was perfect, because as soon as the movie ended we just had enough time to meet Scott and Gwen (the “Sgwotts”) at their favorite Italian restaurant, La Veccia Napoli (www.lavecchianapoli.com), which we were going to surprise Gwen at for a belated 40th birthday surprise.

La Veccia Napoli was just perfect and I can see why Scott and Gwen love it – the owner Mimo, was so nice and his wife is the chef, who made these phenomenal dishes. My litmus test lately with Italian restaurants is ordering linguini in clam sauce – this place did not disappoint – yummm!

After dinner we headed to the “Sgwotts” and met Buck/Bear the cat for the first time – what a cutie – although, yet again, the cats always seem to like Larry over me – what gives???

I think I was a little worse for the wear with having wine that night, so I can’t recall if we actually did our usual Dominoes game. However, I do remember a comfy bed, so I think that’s where my night ended.

On Saturday were going to head to China Town in NYC to buy some purses – I’d been chomping at the bit to do this for sometime, so I was pretty giddy that morning. Unfortunately, it was pretty crappy that day because it was drizzling, so that put a slight damper on things.

We went to breakfast at the great diner in Hoboken, NJ, which is my new favorite area. We were in this area that is being completely redeveloped with lofts, shops and restaurants and just looked like the place to live if you gave up your first born!

I love NYC. Love it. Love everything about it. So anytime I’m there, I’m just happy as a clam.

When we went to China Town, which I haven’t been to probably since I was little, it was already raining pretty hard, which didn’t making the purse purchasing process very easy. The funny thing was, and I’m not exaggerating, everyone, and I mean everyone, said to us as we were walking buy “Gucci? Prada? Louis Vitton?” It was hysterical!

The four of us managed to probably hit about a hundred shops, back room included, and I walked away in a state of euphoria with my two “Gucci” purses in tow, this time a little worse for wear because my negotiating skills were pitiful, but hey, I’m a newbie at this!

We probably would have stayed late in the city if the weather was nice, but I think we all felt that being soaked and walking around the city wasn’t that particularly fun. So we stopped at a bar Larry and Scott like to got to, St. Mark’s Place, and then headed to La Palapa for dinner (www.lapalapa.com) – love this place. We’ve been to it before and it’s just really cozy and has great food, particularly the “guac!”

After stuffing ourselves with delicious Mexican fare and fabulous wine, we headed home to play Dominoes – always fun, as you can see – unless of course Scott or Gwen beat Larry or Jill!

One thing I wanted to point out is a sculpture Larry did years ago and gave to Scott – isn’t it great? I wish my better half would create some more of these – I love it!

The next day we all went to breakfast at the local diner and then Lar and I headed out some we could make our half-way point stop in Youngstown, OH.

What a great trip – looking forward to coming out east again in the spring!

Breakfast with Veronica & Tooling Around CT – October 23rd

On Friday morning Larry and I met my wonderful friend Veronica and her new husband Michael for breakfast.

I found on the Internet that The New Station House was opened again in West Redding where the original Station House was before it moved to Ridgefield and then burned down. Gail’s Station House was hands down one of my/our favorite breakfast stops, so I was thrilled that it was opened again and suggested to Veronica that me met there.

Unfortunately, The New Station House is not the same as Gail’s Station House – no connection to each other at all except that they were in the same location at different times. Not that it was bad, but really didn’t come close to Gail’s. Gail’s always had wonderful homemade breads and treats and yummy breakfast and lunch – I hope someday she’ll consider reopening in Ridgefield because it really was wonderful.

Anyway, I digress…I hadn’t seen Veronica in quite awhile, so I was chomping at the bit for a get together – we were way overdue! On top of that, this was the first time that Larry and I had met Michael – even though I’ve heard fabulous things about him for years and felt I knew him already – I was actually the first time we met.

Well we were all very chatty with each other and Veronica and I were able to catch up while Larry and Michael were talking work shop - programming – over my head – which they both do, at least I think they do! :).

Time flew by and we had to go, but it was so nice to visit with each other and catch up. Looking forward to hopefully seeing Veronica & Michael in the spring!

The rest of Friday morning and afternoon we zipped all around the area trying to pack in as much as we could see – actually this was Larry appeasing me on my need to see everything I could of the area and show him my and my family’s old stomping ground.

First we checked out the old neighborhood – traveling up Mountain Road and then Pine Mountain Road and seeing all the old haunts: pointing out to Larry the old white house that was owned by a photographer and used for Playboy shoots; the beautiful stone manor that was owed by this famous composer and had this great pond behind it and sadly has now been added on to; “Glass City” a place where Brett and I used to play on Mountain Road (actually it’s just one of those beautiful old Connecticut stone walls that Brett and I played by and found some very old bottles and trinkets etc. and just generally liked how we could conjure up various play scenarios to keep us occupied for a while before we needed to come home); the blackberry bushes we would pick berries under the very large power lines (which now I’m thinking was probably not a good idea, but we sure did have fun!); the drainage tunnel under our road (Pine Mountain) that we would run through and yell and take in with glee the general delight of hearing our voices echo as we ran through the tunnel; seeing the Glennan’s house, Veronica’s house, the Anderson’s, Lavalla’s the Vassallo’s (our cousins) and then our house.

I had Larry pull over just to take in the view of the house. We hadn’t been back to the house since our honeymoon (10 years!) and I just wanted/needed to see it again. I loved our house – just a nice normal house with a great woods in the back that we would play in for hours, the front “woods” which I at one point tried to convert into a trail so I could convince the folks that we certainly could have a horse on our property – and at the time thinking it was just his long trail and now in reality seeing that it was about 200 feet long (that’s what happened when you’re a kid, the world seems so much bigger!).

The thing that made me sad was that I noticed that the house appeared to not be kept up as when my parents had the house (they built the house in the 60s and always maintained everything perfectly). But overall the house was the same and I just sat there just taking it all in and wishing I could see the inside to see what has changed.

After my little reunion with my childhood home, the next stop was Branchville and Georgetown: a stop at the Whistle Stop Café (where I worked in high school) for a carrot pecan muffin (best muffins in the world, hands down!); a stop in Georgetown to see what’s changed (a “new” tapas restaurant and market, an ice cream shop, sandwich shop, what appears to be the now shuttered development that was supposed to redevelop the Gilbert & Bennet Wire Mill property with shops, entertainment and housing, and “my” lovely little church, Sacred Heart).

I’m realizing as I’m directing Larry to go here and there that he’s just letting me rattle off a mile a minute about everything that I’m seeing and telling him what’s what etc. Finally getting a word in, Larry points out how much he loves the area (except for the ridiculously narrow and twisting roads). So I’m glad he was able to see some more of the Vassallo’s old stomping grounds.

We basically were working our way down Route 7 in order to pick up the Parkway to head towards NJ to see Scott and Gwen for the weekend and to surprise Gwen at dinner that night for her 40 th birthday, so I/we managed to get in a few more stops to pass the time before we met them for dinner: South Norwalk (SONO), which is the great area right on the water which has nice shops and restaurants and where my family used to have our boat; a stop for lunch at SONO Restaurant which my family used to go to and has yummy seafood.

Then we moved on to Stamford (actually Darien) to visit Nannu’s grave at the cemetery. Unfortunately, Larry never got to meet Nannu, but I just know that they would have loved each other – I could see the two of them talking with Dad about baseball etc. and just having a good old time.

And of course, since we were in Stamford, I had to have Larry see Nannu and Nanna’s house – still looking great and bringing back all the wonderful times I had at the house – the great attic I loved to go in; the wonderful meals Nanna would make; how Nannu would say “give the kid something to eat”; the great front porch where I would sit out on and listen to Dad and Nannu listening to the Yankee game on the radio, hearing Phil Rizzuto announcing the game, having no idea what was going on, but just enjoying that we were together on this great porch and just lying on the lounger and enjoying the day. Just a great time enjoying the simple things in life.

What a great way to spend the day – visiting my past and sharing with Larry the great place I grew up in.

As we got on the Parkway, I just had this great feeling, not sad because I didn’t live there anymore (I love where we are), but just a nice homey feel of “familiar” and it just made my day.

Eastbound Visit (Connecticut) - October 22nd

On Wednesday Larry and I hit the road to head to CT and NYC to visit family and friends. We arrived on Thursday, took a quick nap and headed on down Route 7 to visit Nana, Aunt Tessie and Uncle Walter. Yay!

We were staying in Danbury because the next day we were going to meet my friend Veronica and her husband Michael for breakfast, so it was nice to work our way down to Norwalk and see what has changed and not changed in my old stomping grounds.

With my face glued to the window – Larry was driving :) – I was rattling off to Larry all the things that were familiar to me: the Danbury Fair Mall (a regular spot for me), Heibeck’s who has/had THE best lemon ice, Georgetown, the Wilton YMCA, the Parkway etc. Honestly, I was tearing up – everything came flooding back to me just how beautiful Redding and the surrounding areas are – obviously, you can’t take the CT out of the girl!

When we arrived at Aunt Tessie and Uncle Walter’s house, we did a hug exchange – everyone looked fabulous. Then the mini-reunion was expanded because Lynette and Steve came for the evening!

Larry and I received a tour of the recent updates to the house – the new wood stove (we’re jealous!) and the gorgeous Epay wood deck that Uncle Walter and Aunt Tessie built off the back of the house – just beautiful.

Nana made her famous stew (yum!) and we had this tremendous salad, which was fabulous. Larry and I had a great time catching up with everyone at the table and just filling in each other about who’s doing what etc.

After dinner, we watched a little of he Yankee game and headed back up to Danbury for the night.

Thank you Nana, Aunt Tessie, Uncle Walter, Lynette and Steve for a truly relaxing and fun evening!

We’re planning on coming out again in the spring, so hopefully we can see everyone for another get together!

Non-Surprise Party for Larry - October 3rd

Larry turned 50 on September 29th and after celebrating 10 years of bliss with my wonderful hubbie, I KNOW he doesn’t like surprises. I’m a surprise kind of gal, but you just can’t push a surprisephobe. So for Larry’s 50th I needed to go straight to the source and get the lowdown on what he wanted. First thing was “no surprise party.” I of course took this very seriously because, again I know my sweetie – wouldn’t want him foaming at the mouth or passing out if I sprung a party on him. So the birthday boy wanted to go out to dinner with no fanfare etc.

Well even though I had the above parameters to work with, I did manage to sneak in a surprise.

Larry knew we were going to dinner with Mom and Dad V. and Brett and Carol at Enzo and Lucia Ristorante (www.enzoandlucia.com) in Long Grove. We had been to this yummy Italian place before with Mom and Dad and this was Larry’s pick – I of course wasn’t going to object because I love this place.

So we met everyone there and had a wonderful evening – great food, wine and company - this seems to be a consistent trend with us. :)

The surprise was the cake. Larry actually isn’t much of a sweets guy, but you can’t have a big birthday and not have a cake – so he would just have to deal with it!

One of Larry’s favorite things is Rolling Rock Beer, so when I went to this great bakery in Algonquin ( ), I had them decorate the cake with a graphic of the Rolling Rock bottle – turned out great don’t you think? What I didn’t tell Larry until later, and I think he would actually say that what I did was “sacrilegious”, I needed a Rolling Rock bottle as a template for the bakery, and since I don’t drink beer and needed to act quickly since he was home at the time, I poured out the contents of the bottle – wasteful I know, but I was desperate!

So even though Larry hates surprises, I think he was pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed the non-surprise party.

Ladies' Night Out - October 2nd

On Friday, I met some friends for a Ladies’ Night Out at El Tapatio (in Roscoe Village) for my friend Linda’s birthday. It’s always great to get together with my friends Linda and Gini – we’ve been pretty good about getting our schedules together for a meet-up, and to add a dinner party to the mix is always fun. The added bonus for this evening was that I got to see old friends from my days at AMTA – Cheryl and Susan.

Needless to say, it was a great group of chatty women: Linda, Gini, Susan, Cheryl and Amy, Molly and Carol (Gini and Linda’s friends). And to top it off we had the pleasure of “christening” Gini’s daughter Olivia to a girl’s night out experience – she had a blast and kept up!

Great conversation, food and drink and I managed to make it home within an hour – pretty good for suburb-bound on a Friday night!

Ladies – this was so much fun – hope we can do another night out again soon!

Milwaukee - September 13th

On Sunday we awoke to another fantastic sunny day. We walked to breakfast (found another diner - can't remember the name, bu it was grea) and then walked "home" along the lake.

On the way back to IL, we stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market (www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org) - similar to Pike Street Market in Seattle, but on a smaller scale. This was our second time here - it's just great to walk around and check out all the vendors - everthing is fresh and organic - again, wish we had something like this year round in our area.

The other great thing about the Public Market is it's location - in the historic Third Ward (www.historicthirdward.org) - lots of artsy shops, restaurants and lofts - great area to check out if you visit downtown Milwaukee.

It was a great weekend and very relaxing - looking forward to our next trip back to Sheboygan.

Hanging Out in the Loo, Pedis & Trattoria Stefano - September 12th

OK, I wasn’t really hanging out in the bathroom all day, but on this day I must admit I was lurking a tad bit longer than one normally does...and it was actually for art’s sake!

As I began writing this post, it occurred to me all the names we use to describe the loo: powder room, restroom, lavatory, toilet, water closet...so many names for just one room!

Before we planned our trip to Sheboygan, Mom V. was saying that she read in a magazine that in Sheboygan, at the art museum, was apparently the best bathroom in the country because it was outfitted by the Kohler Company (you know, Kohler, the bathroom geniuses who manufacturer all the fabulous, but expensive bathroom accessories), headquartered in nearby Kohler, WI.

I remember Larry and I made a trip a few year’s ago to Kohler’s Design Center and I specifically went to their museum’s restroom to check out this bathroom that Mom was talking about, not realizing that I was reviewing the wrong WC which is actually at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. I actually remember standing in the room thinking “what’s so great about this? It’s got stalls, a sink and grey tile! Do I not have any design sense where I am completely missing the minimalist design wonder in front of me????” My bad.

Before I get into the specifics of me hanging out in the restroom, I should begin with the start of the day...

It was nice that we were able to sleep in and leisurely get ready for breakfast and to top it off we awoke to a beautiful sunny day, which lately in the Chicago area had been missing. We had heard about this local breakfast joint, Yumes, which was written up on Yelp.com (a great review site) and also raved about by several Sheboygan locals we had been talking to the night before.

We had a full day ahead of us: breakfast together, then Larry and Dad were going to golf and Mom and I were going to check out the aforementioned fantastic bathroom and then go for a mini-spa treatment with pedis (my idea of heaven!).

So we went to Yumes, initially thinking it was right up our alley in terms of greasy spoon with fabulous food. We even had high hopes as we were walking in because two people leaving said “best breakfast place in the city!”

I guess, my review would be just “OK.” The food was fine and the server was very nice, but the food was just OK. My big gripe was that usually with a greasy spoon, it’s good and cheap. This was OK and everything was ala carte – hash browns and toast was extra – which really ticked me off because...you know...that should be included! OK maybe I’m just testy right now because I’m hungry...but really, sheesh!

So we ate and the “boys” dropped us off at the art museum. The museum was just beautiful – it actually had the Kohler family’s original house incorporated into the museum structure – a lovely brick mansion with beautiful details that just aren’t used any more in construction – which in my opinion is a pity.

So, right away Mom and I wanted the scoop on the fantastic bathroom, the suspense was killing us. And to our surprise...there just wasn’t 1 bathroom...there were 6! And actually the 6th was off limits for viewing, but with the heavy persuasion of the Vassallo women, we were able to talk are way into seeing all of them.

To explain in a nutshell, the Kohler Company commissioned artists to design the 6 bathrooms of the museum. And I actually can say that the art in the bathrooms was equal to the art on the walls in the museum – it truly was incredible! The craftsmanship of each room was just amazing – after you see the pictures below, you can see why we were hanging out and taking pictures I might add!

The funny thing was that visitors were able to peek in the 5 rooms, regardless of whether you were male or female, which I suspect might be a bit precarious if you actually needed to use the facilities.

Suffice it to say, we were in awe and after seeing these water closet wonders, Larry and my bathrooms appear to be somewhat underwhelming in comparison...maybe I should write to Kohler and ask to participate in the bathroom design program!

The rest of the day continued to be fabulous. Mom and I went to Jomaji Salon & Spa (www.jomajisalonandspa.com) for our pedis and a last minute haircut for Mom. I must say that this place rocked! Great spa and staff and phenomenal prices. Mom’s haircut was just $20 bucks, something which I almost messed up because my jaw dropped when I heard the price (because it was so inexpensive – I pay $45) and I actually said aloud (much to Mom’s dismay) “Really? $20 bucks? Is that a mistake?” Not my brightest moment that weekend. Yes, it was that price and I was just stunned.

The pedis were fabulous and very relaxing and we walked away with great looking toes and a chic new hairstyle; we’re already planning a return trip next time were in town.

Our dinner local was already planned out way in advance: Trattoria Stefano (522 S 8th St, Sheboygan, WI 53081. Phone: 920-452-8455) – hands down one of the best Italian restaurants I have ever been to and that saying a lot since I’ve been to a ton of Italian restaurants! We actually stumbled upon it on our first trip to Sheboyga, but never actually ate their, just heard great things about it.

I wouldn’t be overstating that if you are in the general area of Sheboygan and even if you are not, you need to go here. The owners, Stefano and Whitney Viglietti actually have 4 restaurants in Sheboygan: Trattoria Stefano (dressy and a bit on the pricey side, but beyond worth it), Il Ritrovo (casual - great pizza place) Field to Fork (casual organic restaurant and market) and The Duke of Devon (an English Pub). And if you are feeling hungry the beautiful thing is that 3 of the 4 are located right next to each other/across the street in downtown Sheboygan (The Duke of Devon is located down on the water front).

Now back to Trattoria Stefano. :) The atmosphere is cozy and the service is fantastic. I think Larry and Mom had trout, Dad had lamb and I had linguini with clams. Add to that yummy appetizers, a fabulous bottle of wine, great dessert and we were all giddy, literally! Actually Mom and I, lightweights that we are, were really giddy!

Needless to say, by the time we got back to the condo, there were no Dominoes for us...I think I immediately crawled into bed and dreamt about my yummy meal. Why oh why can’t we have a restaurant like this in Crystal Lake or even in the general Chicago area!!! It’s just not fair.

Seriously though, if you can go to this restaurant, you would not be disappointed – make the trek north and you will be one satisfied customer with a smile on your face and a full belly.

Cedarburg – September 11th

For awhile now, Larry, Mom and Dad V. and I have been planning a weekend away to Sheboygan, WI. Well, we finally got our acts together, set a date and booked a weekend in Sheboygan – the brat (as in bratwurst, not the ornery kid kind) capital of the world to anyone not up on brat history. :)

Mom and Dad came early and despite the threat of a tire that was losing air, we headed out to breakfast at the Cubby Hole in Richmond – a great little breakfast/lunch joint if you are ever in the area.

The plan for Friday was to head to Cedarburg, WI (a great little quaint town North of Milwaukee) so Larry and Dad would plan 9 holes of golf and Mom and I could window shop (read: shop).
So the ladies were dropped off on the main street, credit cards in hand, and we were on our way.

It was so nice for Mom and me to just walk, go to the farmer's market, check out the stores, browse and chat. It was a beautiful day and it didn’t even matter if we found anything to buy, we were just having fun.

So we actually just went in and out of the shops and stopped for lunch at this great little sandwich shop right next to the river. Lunch was pretty tasty and it was nice to just bask outside in the sunlight. Our "entertainment" during lunch was this awfully bold chipmunk, who literally came within an inch of me begging for food. Me being a giant next to him, I probably shouldn’t have been intimidated, but boy was he fast – I was a bit paranoid throughout lunch, because I was just waiting for him to walk up my leg or something!

After lunch we went to one of my favorite places in Cedarburg, the Downtown Dough (www.downtowndough.com), which is this fabulous specialty shop that has all the cookie cutters, bakery supplies etc. you could imagine. They also have frozen cookie, bread and pizza dough that you can buy. So we stocked up on some cookie cutters and sprinkles and were just in awe at the choices of cookie cutters. If you can’t make it to Cedarburg, check out their website, they ship nationwide.

One thing that we didn’t do this trip, but I wanted to plug, is a place that Larry and I have dined at before: Morton’s Wisconsin Inn (N56 W6339 Center Street, Cedarburg, WI 53012. Phone: 262-377-4779). This is truly a wonderful local Wisconsin tavern/supper club – large portions and really reasonable prices. I was in heaven when I had their petite filet, with sautéed mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes – yum! I’m actually getting hungry as I write this!

We met up with Larry and Dad around 3:00pm – they had a great time and Larry informed us that Dad completely trounced him at golf!

We worked our way up to Sheboygan to check into the condo we rented for the weekend. It was in a fantastic location, right by Lake Michigan and directly on the canal that leads out to the lake - you can watch the fishing boats go by etc. Although, note to self for next time, we failed to realize that when we booked the place we were facing a parking lot and not a nice view of the canal. We technically had a "lake view", but the Blue Harbor Resort was directly in front of the condo, so really all we were able to see was a nice sea of black top and a big white hotel!

The condo building itself was nice, but I will say they chintzed out on the decor - circa 1980 even though a new building.

When we went to dinner we were able to walk along the canal and watch to boats come in for the night - it looked so much like a New England fishing town, the Vassallo part of the party was in heaven.

Dinner was at the Mucky Duck (www.muckyduckshanty.com)- love the name! - which is this cozy restaurant right on the water - located in one of the old fishing shanties. It was Friday Night Fish Fry - can't go wrong with that!

We were hoping to play Dominoes when we got back to the condo, but we were all wiped and went to bed. Somehow our Fridays always tend to end early because we pack so much in during the day.

Johnny Turns 7! – August 30th

On Sunday we celebrated Johnny’s 7th birthday (his actual birthday is September 1st). Mom and Dad Vassallo hosted the festivities which included a fabulous BBQ, great music and games - what a great day to get together with family!
Dad manned the BBQ and Mom made all the wonderful food. The kids played ladder ball and basketball, while the adults chatted.
The festivities were topped off with the opening of presents and dessert: Crazy Cake, cupcakes and cookies – yum!
Happy Birthday Johnny - We love you!!!

10th Wedding Anniversary! – May 22nd

Note: For some reason this post was never published, so it’s a little out of order.
On May 22nd Larry and I celebrated our 10th anniversary! I don’t know where the 10 years went – they just flew by.
To celebrate we went to our favorite weekend getaway…Madison, Wisconsin. Here are a few photos of our weekend – which included our typical standbys of “fun”: Dinner at Sardines, hanging out on the Square going to Larry’s favorite bar Genna’s and a pedicure for me (yay!)

To my wonderful husband Larry – you are my best friend and always make me feel that I am exactly where I am supposedly to be – right next to you. I love you with all my heart.
Here’s to us Sweetie!

Summer BBQ - July 11th

During the beginning of 2009 Larry and I decided that we needed to have a big family and friend BBQ this summer. We were always "threatening" to have one, but never did - so this was the year when we finally pulled the trigger and entertained!

The nice thing was that Scott and Gwen were going to be able to come to the party and planned on staying the whole weekend, which was great because we'd get to see them not too long after our South Carolina vacation.

Well after several months of planning, we had our BBQ on July 11th. It was great to get the Mays (Larry's Family), the Vassallos and Ellmans(my family and Carol's family), and our friends together. When it was all said and done, I think we had around 40 people.

I had so much fun planning and coordinating how I wanted the back yard to look and planning the menu. I love to entertain and other than the fact that I never sat down during the party, I think everyone had a great time.

Most people left at dusk, but Scott, Gwen, Vern, Joann, Joe and Caroline stayed late, which was nice because they were able to see the beautiful party lights Larry strung up along the fence, gazebo and tree - it looked great - very cozy.

I will tell you that although the party was wonderful, it knocked me out - best to do these shindigs not too close together, lest one has a nervous breakdown!

Everything went off without a hitch. We might do it again at some point - always good to get family and friends, food and drink together!

Atlanta & A Visit with Meg - May 3rd

Pretty much right after our wonderful vacation, I had a week long trade show in Atlanta that the association I work for puts on - so much for maintaining a zen-like bliss after vacation!

My friend Meg, whom I have known since high school, lives NE of the Cobb Galleria where the trade show was, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to visit with Meg, have her meet Larry (he was able to come and enjoy Atlanta while I was at the show), I could meet her husband and 2 kids and we could catch up - perfect plan!

Thankfully, Larry and I were able to get to Atlanta several days before I needed to be on-site and set up for the show and we were able to stay at Meg and Sam's house.

What can I tell you...it was like Meg and I had just seen each other yesterday - we were able to catch up immediately. We talk on the phone, but actually having "face time" really was great. It was so much fun because I kind of felt like I was at a sleepover at her house like we did in high school.

Meg and Sam have two beautiful daughters - Riley and Mackenzie - too cute!

Unfortunately, we were only able to stay 1 night, but we had a blast! We definitely need to visit more often - the last time we saw each other was about 13 years ago in Chicago. But again, we talk often, so at least we keep each other in the loop with each other. Hopefully we'll see each other soon - Meg...you "owe" us a visit to Chicago!

Port Royal, Bateaux & What a Sunset! - April 17th

After dinner we walked around Port Royal a bit - we wished we discovered it earlier in the trip - just a lovely and sleepy town on the water.

We then headed to Bateaux(www.bateauxrestaurant.net)for drinks and to watch the sunset, which no one was on, so we thought it would be nice and quiet.

We went inside and asked the maitre d' if we could sit on the porch for drinks - he just kind of "sniffed" yes, which kind of threw us. Bateaux really is a lovely place and based on the reviews the food is apparently phenomenal...but the attitude on this man! Manners, or lack thereof, is a huge pet-peeve of mine...particularly in the service industry.

We went upstairs, which had a good number of people, and sat on the porch - just 4 of us - all to ourselves.

Our server took our drink order and I swear he had the same personality as the maitre d' - with lock-jaw voice to boot! Well, when he was bringing out our drinks he couldn't get the door open, so I see that he is struggling and get up to help him and he very curtly said "no!" to me and very sternly told another server to open the door. We were all kind of in shock. I was just being polite and quite frankly, whether it's appropriate of not for a guest to offer help, the man needed help...so I tried to help!

He finally warmed up to us and we figured out that the cranky maitre d' seemed to have everyone on pins and needles, so no wonder our server was acting so stiff and panicked.

So we relaxed on the porch, sipped our drinks, sampled strawberries and enjoyed the beautiful sunset - truly a great last night on vacation! I definitely would have dinner at Bateaux if we were in the area again - the menu did look quite delicious.

Back at the house it was a packing fest! But of course, we left enough time for some last night games and wine!

On Saturday, we packed up and dropped Scott and Gwen off at the Charleston Airport before Larry and I continued on to IL - however, not before we stopped in Knoxville at our new-favorite Cuban restaurant, Little Havana (www.lhknox.com).

This was a fabulous vacation - it's always a blast when we travel with Scott & Gwen!

Now back to reality and on to Atlanta for a business trip in May - I definitely will need a nap somewhere - I feel that I will be running on empty shortly.

MoonDoggies & Boo II - April 17th

When we reached Port Royal we decided to get a quick bite to eat to tide us over until dinner, which we decided would be a BBQ place that looked pretty good.

So we went to MoodDoggies Cafe, which was a sandwich shop. There were hardly any people inside which was a shame because the owners could not have nicer - although we were there at an "off" time, so I'm hoping it was just the time.

The wife/owner is apparently is related to someone who provides the peppers to the Tabasco Company and she made her own homemade hot sauce from these peppers - she gave us a sample and Larry and Scott said it was phenomenal. The "boys" then decided to order fried pickles, which I have to tell you, turned my stomach at the thought of it - and I like pickles!

Fried pickles...tasty!

But you know what? Oh my gosh...were they spectacular! I only took 2 because I can see how'd they'd be addictive and one could eat a basket before you know it - and where would that get me? Chubby!

The owners cat was hanging around the porch, so animal person that I am, I went to pet it. But as I was going towards it it went outside on the porch and saddled up to the skinniest raccoon I have ever seen!

Boo II (yes, apparently there was a Boo I) was a raccoon that showed up on the restaurant porch one day as a baby and the owners fed it and it kept on coming back.

Honestly, if I could have hugged this thing, I would have because it was that cute.

Boo II actually takes food out of his "owners" hands (I think he actually lives in a tree or something on their property and comes in for food), so I guess he/she is pretty domesticated. And I guess since Boo II lives in their back yard, they weren't really concerned with him/her getting sick with rabies - so they felt pretty comfortable. But I still wasn't going to go there.

Anyway, as you can see, Boo II is quite cute!

I think Boo II looks like a little bear cub - don't you agree?

MoonDoggie's was yet another place we loved - mostly because of the owners being so nice and hospitable - another great moment on vacation!

The BBQ place on the other hand was only OK and no alcohol because they let their liquor license expire (???) But we were all in such a good mood, it didn't really matter.

Flippin' Fripp Island - April 17th

Friday was our last full day of vacation and we wanted to make the most of it.

When we rented the house the owners mentioned they had another house on Fripp Island and if we would like, they would leave us guest passes at the gate (it's a private island) so we could go to the beach - that's all the instructions they provided us.

We were planning on going to the beach earlier in the week but it was never really warm enough - quality "beach weather." But Friday was looking pretty good, so we thought we'd go for it. Fripp Island is one of the islands located near Beaufort. Honestly, I thought it was right around the corner, but I guess circumventing all the water and the particular road we were on - it took a good 45 minutes to an hour to get there.

As we were driving along the only road that would take you to Fripp Island, I kept thinking "where would people do their food shopping???" I think the closest store was near beaufort - what a pain!

We were passing the time by stopping at a couple of shops - it seemed we'd never get to Fripp Island.

So when we finally arrived at Flippin' Fripp Island (it's new name christened by us, since we were now a little punch drunk in the car and annoyed) - we got to the gate and gave the guard the owner of the rental home's name. Unfortunately the guard said that they had no record of us coming from the owner and therefore we couldn't enter. Apparently if we did have a pass they only last one day - which we didn't know, but again, they never told us anything.

So we were miffed because the owner never said when we had to visit on a particular day and we were upset because this was another thing they did not follow through on. Again, the house was wonderful, but you tend to get a little cranky when things fall through the cracks: unclean house, no bikes, filthy grill, Flippin' Fripp Island - need I go on?!? So we turned around and left Flippin' Fripp Island.

Just over the bridge was a state park that Larry and I had been to a few years ago with Vern and Joann, so we thought since we drove all the way down this rediculously long road...we should at least do something!

We walked out on the pier to see the water and to mock Flippin' Fripp Island (do I sound bitter???) - it was just beautiful; we then visited the on-site museum.

The park had some trails, so we thought we'd get a little exercise before lunch.

As you can see, the scenery was just beautiful.

As we were headed back towards Beaufort we thought we'd grab some lunch at one of the roadside seafood shacks, which looked fabulous - but unfortunately they were all closed for lunch because it was after 1pm - can't seem to catch a break!

The game plan was to then go to Port Royal for a snack, dinner and later for drinks at Bateaux, which is this beautiful restaurant near the water that has this great upper porch we thought we could watch the sunset.

So we headed up the ungodly long road to hopefully food and drink hevean.

A Night at the Lanes & Some Miffed Bowlers - April 16th

After the highlight experiment and a day at the spa...we were ready for some action Thursday night...bowling.

OK, maybe it's not THE hot spot at night in Beaufort, but we thought it would be fun to go bowling on our 2nd-to-last night in vacation.

So we headed to the bowling alley. When we parked, and this is important, there were only a few cars in the lot.

We walked in and headed for the rental desk. This very tall and menacing woman waited on us and we told her we want to buy individual games. She said, "you should do the special for XX dollars and you get unlimited amount of games." So due to her recommendation we went for it.

Then she assigned us to one lane, which we thought was odd because there was a couple next to us that had 2 lanes and we had 4 people.

We were having fun until half way through our second game, she announces the lanes are closing and we had to close out within five minutes.

We then realized we were completely ripped off because there was no point buying unlimited games if we were only going to make it barely through 2 games. They didn't even let us finish our second game!

We tried to complain, but honestly, you would NOT want to mess with this woman. So we were muttering under our breath all the way out..into the parking lot..out on the street etc. The only thing of course that would cure this was a trip to Friendly's...which managed to cure our frustration.

Things NOT to Do on Vacation…And the Spa to the Rescue! – April 16th

I like to think of myself as somewhat of an intelligent woman, but I’ve decided that I have this uncontrollable (and perhaps not so smart) urge to alter my hair while I’m on vacation or away for the weekend.

Without fail, if I’m away somewhere, anywhere, I will decide that I need a bang trim/hair cut/color treatment etc. And almost always without fail, the end result is not a pretty picture. Again, not sure why I subject myself to this torture…maybe I am some sort of hair-masochist?

Anyway, I decided while on this vacation I was going to highlight my hair and I was going to talk Gwen into doing it for me. Now, I should point out that I have very dark hair, which should be a GIANT WARNING SIGN to NOT do on your own hilights and instead head right to a salon. And I knew Gwen was very nervous that I was doing this and on top of that talking her into being my partner in crime on this little adventure was probably NOT the thing to do to my wonderful friend.

For some odd reason, despite the fact that I have had several hair disasters with my spur-of-the-moment-out-of-state-hair experiments, I always believe that if it turns out bad, I can always fix it – unless of course, it was fried off or shaved – that might be “harder” to fix!

I guess I had it in my head that after having my hair highlighted several times at a salon and “carefully” observing the stylist, I of course would expertly know how to foil my hair or anyone else’s for that matter! AND…the model on the highlighting kit box looked great…so why on earth would I not look just as great?!?

So on Thursday before our previously scheduled day at the spa (massages and pedis), I thought now is a good time as ever to try this foil-experiment-thing.

So I sat in a chair in the bathroom as Gwen was a foiling-wiz around my head – it actually looked quite professional and I was having fun, so I/we threw caution to the wind and continued with the process.

Well…I/we learned several things that day: 1) You will NEVER look like the model on the box and 2) It takes you so long to finish the foils that by the time the first set of foils are ready to come off, apparently the later ones are still processing and they are not ready to be taken off at the same time.

So when it was “go time” I removed the foils – I was by myself so I didn’t stress out Gwen – and completely started to laugh in hysterics. My hair was literally dark brown, yellow and orange! When Gwen came upstairs I think she was in a panic, but I said this was all my doing and I made her help me. Honestly, I really was OK with it because I could slap on some dye over it and fix it.

So I called the spa we were going to later in the afternoon and begged them to fix my little experiment – thankfully they could fit me in after the spa treatments.

So we walked over to the spa – with me looking like some 30-something punk chick and laughing about my hair disaster!

For our spa treatments we went to an Aveda salon (love Aveda!). It was really cute – a quaint house turned into a spa. My massage was fabulous and my pedicure was even better. And I learned a great trick from Gwen – keep your fingernails and toes a light color and they’ll go with everything and any chips will go relatively unnoticed! I always have dark polish on my toes and getting the light color made all the difference – great tip Gwen!

After the spa treatments I had my hair color corrected by this fabulous stylist, who used a dark brown/chocolate permanent color to correct my rainbow look. It looked great and even picked up some of the highlight color only this time they actually looked like real highlights…not a crayon box!

So I think I finally learned my lesson with experimenting with my hair on vacation – fortunately I walked away this time with a great new color…albeit with a slightly lighter wallet.

Savannah & More Buttah! – April 15th

On Wednesday, the four of us headed to Savannah and probably testing poor Gwen’s car-riding tolerance to the limit!

Now I have been to Savannah 2 other times in my life and I will say it is a nice city. But over-all, I’m not sure I see the “draw.” The last time the four of us were in Savannah was several years ago when we ended up doing a last minute road trip from Folly Beach, SC. At the time we thought we “missed” something in general about Savannah, so we wanted to give it another shot. In a nut shell though, yes, I think it’s a nice city, but hands down I’d go to a larger city such as Charleston any day. But I will say, each time we were there, we were there for a short amount of time, so we very well could have missed many areas worth seeing.

This time, we at least embarked relatively early – after breakfast – and drove directly to Savannah’s River Street to park. The River Street area is the first street in from the Savannah River – it’s pretty touristy, but the building are old an beautiful and if you have a hankering for a beer, popcorn, a t-shirt or candy…this is the place for you! Actually, what we all thought was pretty interesting is that in Savannah, you can walk around with alcohol (it just needs to be in a plastic cup) and you are good to go. So when in Savannah…do as the Savannahites do!

We strolled down River Street with our cups in hand and pretty much determined that yet again, we’d zip through the city. But it was a nice day, so we figured just take it all in and enjoy.

After River Street we headed up (literally, it looks like River Street is at the bottom of a cliff) to walk around the city and check out the various squares that Savannah is known for. The city has a ton of Weeping Willows (at least I think that’s what I was looking at!) and everyone is dressed nice and it was just nice to take it all it.

Gwen and I made sure we directed Scott and Larry towards a favorite little shop of ours previously discovered during the last visit that has handmade concoctions of creams and oil perfumes, including my favorite Savannah Rain. The owner actually works in the store and she is so helpful.

This time however, Gwen and I hit the jackpot! The store at one point was selling Lancome and Perscriptive brand cosmetics. I guess the owner decided to discontinue selling these products, so they was a table full of stuff with everything costing $5.00. I almost fell over because one of the items I purchased, a face cream, would have been about $70 bucks in a department store! But of course, being me, I was waffling about buying, so I just bought the Savannah Rain body lotion.

We headed out for lunch and then I was saying to Gwen that I should have bought from the $5.00 table.

So back to the store we went! I grabbed what I could for my Mom and I and headed to the check out.

I actually believe we did this scenario of leaving and coming back in one more time because I am a goofball who can’t make a decision…but I was a happy camper after it was all said and done.

We then went to City Market, which is an area of several blocks of shops and restaurants that is cornered off for people to walk around – cute area!

The day in Savannah was nice, but we needed to head back to Beaufort for dinner so we weren’t driving the back roads in the dark, which gets a little tricky between Savannah and Beaufort.

On our way back, we thought we’d check out one towns near Beaufort for dinner. People had mentioned a place on the island of Port Royal that we thought was right the bridge from Beaufort, so we thought we’d check it out. Apparently, the place we thought we were supposed to go to wasn’t the one we saw over the bridge, which turned out to be this crappy restaurant with pseudo-seafood meals. We stayed for a drink and then bolted. I had snuck out just before we left and asked some people coming in where we could find a good seafood place. They recommended 11th Street Dockside Restaurant on Port Royal (apparently we weren’t even ON port Royal yet) – so we quickly left and headed for Port Royal.

It was too bad we saw Port Royal for the first time at night because nothing was really open…but what a cute town! But we DID find the restaurant, which was right on the water. You could see the restaurant’s fishing boats tied up and the sun was going down and it was just a beautiful evening – fortunately, we were able to get a seat after a short wait.

Over all, pretty good food, although, fried seemed to be a staple and I suppose you really can’t screw up friend food. I’ll also, point out that they served hushpuppies yet again accompanied by a large scoop of butter – sheesh…we couldn’t seem to get away from the butter!

Afterwards, we drove around Port Royal promising to come back during the day when we could check it out better.

As we were headed to dinner I had noticed one of my FAVORITE places in the world…Friendly’s Restaurant – know for it’s great ice cream, burgers, fries and New England Clam Chowder (at least that’s what I love about it!). So immediately after we left Port Royal I chirped up that a Friendly’s pit stop was in fact a must.

I’m not sure if my travel companions saw the draw of Friendly’s…but frankly I did not care…I was like a kid in a candy store, since Friendly’s is not in the Midwest.

We all had our scoops and went back to the house for another round of beer, wine and Dominoes!

Beaufort, Mrs. Bubba Gump & Boykins! – April 14th

On Tuesday we checked out Beaufort a little more by walking downtown and exploring the surrounding neighborhoods.

There are a couple of nice shops and restaurants, but overall not a huge tourist draw. I do see how people would like this area when they retire because it does have things to do, but not too much where you would get annoyed by tourists.

We went to lunch at a local joint and sat outside and enjoyed the view of the water while we waited and waited for our food – the place had great views…but horrible service.

After lunch Gwen and I hit a couple of shops while Larry and Scott trailed behind – probably muttering to themselves wondering how shopping always seems to be involved during our trips. Although, I suppose I could equally argue that the Cubs (games, stats etc.) always seem to sneak into our vacation one way or another. :)

We did have one freaky/Kismety thing happen – Gwen and I went into this she she store and were walking around when Gwen noticed that on this one bookshelf displaying creams and perfume there were 2 stickers stating "Gwen Loves..." and "Jill Loves..." Apparently there were 2 employees with the same names as us and the point was that they were recommending products. Gwen and I, of course, thought this was some cosmic alignment of the stars that this happened & that we saw it, so we pointed it out to the saleswoman who apparently did not see that this was not some cosmic alignment of the stars...Oh well.

Shopping downtown did not take that long at all, so we walked around the various neighborhood, even seeing a secession house.

We then were walking along a frontal road so we could see the water and admire the mansions facing it, when we came across a woman and her dog as she was weeding on her property.

Her dog came right up to us and dog lovers that we are...we all "pounced" on the cute dog to pet him/her.

The woman came up to us and started talking to us. She was so nice and gave us all these tips on local restaurants etc.

I couldn't help myself, so I mentioned how beautiful her house was.

It turns out that she and her husband had purchased the house and fixed it up. Unfortunately, her husband had passed away and it was just her and her dog Bay living in the house.

I just felt so bad for her because she was probably 50 if that and was now a widow.

We then chatted about her dog Bay, who was a Boykin - apparently SC's state dog - so cute!

She also shared that she and her husband owned quite a few houses in the area, including Bubba's house in the movie Forest Gump! The thing that really struck me was that her was this very nice woman, who apparently was very well-off and she was so down to earth - just a pleasure to talk to.

I can't believe we didn't ask the woman her name because we were talking quite awhile. She then completely floored us by inviting us in for a tour of her house. Again, such a nice woman - she didn't know us from Adam and here's she's inviting 4 strangers into her house.

What can I say...her house was stunning! In her study, she told us that she used a hand heater and scraper to scrape all the paint off the wooden walls - they might have been cherry - the room just glowed.

She had lovely-period piece furniture that I suspect was from her family heirlooms.

We went from room to room with Bay apparently acting as our guide.

Honestly, I wish I could have asked the woman her name because I would have loved to send her a note thanking her for her hospitality.

What a nice day in Beaufort!

Stepford, Hilton Head & Buttah! - April 13th

On Monday, we decided to venture out of Beaufort for a day trip and head down to Hilton Head. I had been there years ago, but only vaguely remembered it - lots of golf courses and Palmetto bugs - granted, I was a kid, so that's pretty much what I would recall.

I thought today's trip would be an excellent way to finagle a trip to Habersham (www.habershamsc.com), which a planned community in Beaufort that I had read about in Southern Living and always wanted to visit. The houses are cottage-style and they revolve around a downtown. So I figured, since I had Larry, Scott and Gwen captive in the car, I could talk them into a quick pit-stop before heading to Hilton Head.

I had originally thought that Habersham would have been built right near downtown Beaufort, but it's actually situated on the outskirts of town, a bit out of the way, but I suppose with good reason because the development is huge! The nice this is that there is more land than houses, so you really feel like your plopped down in some land preserve with lakes, walking trails and shops and restaurants - pretty much ideal if you ask me.

We first went to the "downtown" of Habersham, which had a few stores and restaurants, however, the odd thing was - and this was consistent with all that we saw while driving through Habersham - we couldn't find any people. Granted it was duirng the week, but no people. OK, maybe 1 or 2.

As my travelmates pointed out, it was a bit Stepfordish. I, of course, refused to accept this because the houses were so beautiful. I mean, if Larry and I suddenly won the lottery, I would love to have a house here or by one of the plans and build it in Crystal Lake.

We drove around for awhile and headed for Hilton Head.

When we arrived in Hilton Head, I was struck with how developed it was since the last time I was there. Yes it was golf course after golf course, which is what I expected, but the odd thing was it seemed like one strip mall after another! I guess I thought there would be a downtown Hilton Head or something for us to walk around - nothing...nada...zip. To each his own. but I think we were all happy that we didn't pick Hilton Head to be our vacation house spot.

First we went to the Tanger Outlets, which is pretty much a given with Gwen and I - who can turn down an opportunity to shop?!? I managed to get a few things - mostly at the cosmetic outlet which had some great deals on Bobbi Brown - love her stuff, but even at the outlet, she's pretty pricey.

It was already a bit late when we found the winery, Island Winery (www.islandwinery.com). I think we were a somewhat disappointed at first because 1) it started to pour, 2) the winery was closing in 10 minutes and 3) it was just a big metal building. I guess after visiting wine country in California I was expecting to see grapes growing in a field etc., not a building in a business park with a small store. On the plus side, we were able to do some quick tastings and Scott and Gwen bought some delicious wine.

So now it was about 6ish and we had a problem: although I found lots of restaurants on the Web for Hilton Head, they were all spread out and in god-knows where strip malls, so we had no idea where to go for dinner. Thankfully, one of the winery staff did point us in the right direction on some good options. So we hopped in the car and checked out a couple.

As it continued to downpour we decided it was ridiculous to search aimlessly for a place to eat, so we decided on The Old Oyster Factory (www.oldoysterfactory.com).

It was right on the water and looked great – packed – but great. So we headed inside and unfortunately had to dodge the rain as we bolted inside.

The restaurant reminded me of the seafood restaurants in Connecticut and it just made me happy because it had such a familiar feel to it – can’t take the East Coast out of the girl! I was just praying that we’d have good food since we seemed to be on a roll of great restaurants on this trip.

We had a great, albeit rainy, view of the water – we were pretty lucky with our table because even though this place was huge, it was still packed with people. We ordered our food (I ordered the petite fillet – yum!) and settled in with our drinks.

The waiter brought us a complimentary basket of hushpuppies (deep-fried balls of cornmeal - what's not to love!) and what I thought was a bowl of ice cream – having tasted HPs only once before, I wasn’t sure what the local custom was.

We were actually all staring at said bowl as the waiter set it down. We then realized that it was not ice cream but one “honkin’” bowl of BUTTER! We were actually all muttering that it was a huge amount of butter and the waiter said “You’d actually be surprised how many people ask for more butter.”

Now I LOVE butter – I have the hips to prove it! - but I know when to say when, and this was just an obscene amount if it. I felt my arteries clogging just by looking at it!

The food was pretty tasty and we all left stuffed and happy – thankfully, we only sampled the HPs and sans butter, so our arteries were left relatively unscathed.

Unfortunately it was still raining when we left to head back to Beaufort, so we napped in the car (except for Larry!) on the way “home” in order to rest up for an evening of wine, Rumicube and Dominoes.

The evening was topped off with several rounds of Dominoes, with Scott and Larry “arguing” over moves and Gwen and I just laughing, sipping wine, and laughing some more.

Easter - April 12th

Apparently the Easter Bunny likes to vacation in Beaufort, because when we came downstairs on Easter Sunday all the eggs we had decorated the night before had "mysteriously" disappeared and there was an Easter basket on the dining room table! No one would own up to it...but we eventually discovered that Gwen hid the eggs and Scott, unbeknownst to all of us, had purchased Easter goodies at the Walgreens we had stopped at the night before. Scott was very "sneaky" because somehow he pulled this off right in front of the 3 off us without anyone realizing it!

We managed to get ourselves ready for church relatively quickly and went searching for a church for Easter Mass - I didn't look up local churches because I thought the Catholic church a block down the street was going to have Sunday mass - later I found out that they built a larger church on the outskirts of Beaufort - unfortunately after the fact.

So we hopped in the car for when we thought would be when churches would be having service (10ish) and went searching for a church. We tried to go to several Catholic churches (all the churches seemed to be on one road) but each one we went to either was completely full or already in service. We were able to find a Lutheran church, which I felt good about because Scott is Lutheran.

I had never been to a Lutheran service and it was just lovely - very welcoming with fabulous bell ringers (not sure of the proper name) who played beautiful music throughout the service - it was just all around a nice thing to be able to experience a different church's service. You realize, of course, that if you are a person of faith, that regardless of what religion you may follow, we really are very similar and we all are a part of something larger - and that's pretty amazing.

After church we headed to downtown Beaufort and ate at what would be our "regular" breakfast place - the name escapes me now - but it was very good.

The rest of Sunday was spent just puttering, and checking out the neighborhood - of course, we also managed to go to Walmart again because we kept either running out of things or forgetting we needed something - pretty much what we did for the whole week - Walmart was a regular jaunt!

Heading to Beaufort & Sleeping at the Aquarium - April 11th

The day was beautiful as we headed to Beaufort. We took the back roads (actually we didn't have a choice) which we love, but unfortunately we might have overwhelmed Gwen with the long drive, but Gwen was a trooper!

The "problem" with the area is that it's not that the distance from Charleston to Beaufort is long, but because you are dealing with inter coastal areas, you are weaving in and out of waterways and can't go in a straight line to your destination.

But I did get in another one of my "fixes" - there's a roadside stand/store that we've been to before that sells homemade pies, spices and peach cider (yum!) - I just love anything "foodie." So when I walked in I did my typical once-around and grabbed what I could, especially the peach cider. I wish I could buy the cider in IL because it is so good - it makes you think of summer!

Sometime later we arrived in Beaufort, which is a small "city" on the inter coastal - just beautiful. I wouldn't necessarily plug it as a full-fledged destination area even though it has certain aspects - restaurants, nearby beaches etc. It's just a quiet and beautiful area that we picked that was near Charleston and Savannah. However, it was where they filmed The Big Chill, Forest Gump and The Great Santani, so if you remember the scenery, you'll remember how beautiful the area is.

The house we rented is a historic house - apparently Beaufort's 1st aquarium, which we couldn't figure out because it's a house, but I suppose in 18-something that's where you'd have a 1st aquarium.

So we parked and started lugging all our luggage to the front door. Unfortunately when we walked inside we very quickly realized that the house wasn't clean - full of dust, the bathrooms had toothpaste spray on the mirrors - it was just gross. Which was very odd since before we went to the house we did a drive by and saw that the cleaning service was there to clean because the house was rented the week before.

Now I can be messy at times, but I'm pretty neat in general - when I clean...I clean! And hey, if it's your mess, it's not as off-putting as someone else's!

We were just annoyed because you pay a lot of money for a vacation rental and you expect it to be clean.

Well unfortunately I went into some sort of ocd-mode because I just couldn't get it out of my head that it wasn't clean - poor Larry, Gwen and Scott had to see me running around the house muttering "I can't believe they didn't clean...we need to clean."

We called the owner of the house and they were apologetic and said they'd send out the cleaning service again. Unfortunately we didn't realize there was only one key to the house, so when we left to buy stuff (including cleaning supplies, natch) at Walmart the cleaning service couldn't get into the house! So basically when we returned we discovered the house wasn't clean except for the filthy outside table.

After running around an hour or so cleaning, we were all calm because the house was clean and we could relax - and I became "normal" again and no longer was flipping out about cleaning - OK I'll fully admit that I got a little scary...but come on...the house should have been clean. Hopefully Larry, Gwen and Scott forgave me for my goofiness - I'm usually more relaxed about things, honest :).

Adding insult to injury we then discovered that the bikes that were promised for the house weren't there and the grill I do believe had never been clean - not really off to a good start!

But the evening ended well. First we colored Easter eggs (who doesn't like Paas Easter Egg Coloring and using the metal egg dipper!) and then we grilled after Larry and Scott scoured the grill. We had wine, a fabulous meal by Larry and Scott, great music and Dominoes - it was a fantastic evening, despite the earlier "bumps."

The Dress Mystery Continues & The Hunley - April 11th

Saturday was check-in for our house rental in Beaufort, SC (about 45 minutes North of Savannah, GA), so we wanted to get up relatively early to have breakfast, visit the H.L Hunley We went to the continental breakfast at the hotel and ironically...the men who were dressed up in Alice-in-Wonderland garb were still in full garb, so we concluded that is probably wasn't a costume party the were headed to the night before - my only pet-peeve is that if you are going to wear it, you might have picked a more flattering outfit!

We then hit the road to see the Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley Museum (www.hunley.org)in Charleston - something that we had all heard about for sometime and thought we should check it out.

In 1864, the Hunley, was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in combat - the same night it was unfortunately lost at sea.

It's kind of an "odd" museum in the sense that there's a huge waiting area with information and displays about the Hunley that you get to walk around and view while you wait to see the actual Hunley - which only takes about 15 minutes and you couldn't take pictures, so we were a bit disappointed in.

Our one big gripe was when we arrived and went to purchase the tickets the cashier charged our credit cards, gave us the tickets and then proceeds to tell us that the next 3 tours were sold out and we had to wait 1.5 hours to see the Hunley!

Realistically the waiting area/museum would take about 45 minutes tops, so we were miffed, but made due. Hey, we did learn that they made a movie with Armand Assante about the Hunley - so that was worth it!

When we finally got to view the Hunley it was obviously sad because the entire crew perished and you saw how small the sub was and subsequently the crew were in tight quarters.

The gentleman who gave the tour was quite a character, named "Pappy", who was a WW II veteran. He was pretty amusing, particularly when, half way through his spiel he went on a 2 minute diatribe about how the federal government was ridiculous to close the Charleston Naval Base and that they were in fact morons. It was a little touch-and-go for awhile, but then Pappy recovered and finished his speech.

I'm glad we went to the museum, but we decided that once was enough.