Halfway Point: Knoxville - April 9th

Several of our trips have led us through Knoxville and although it has been a "stopover" night for us, the term truly doesn't serve Knoxville justly - it really is a great little gem of a city.

We arrived at our hotel around 4:30pm, checked in, and took a much needed nap. After the refresher we headed downtown.

Our hotel was actually on the outskirts of Knoxville and we could have easily just hopped back on the highway to go downtown, but Larry and I always like to take the back roads in - you never know what you'll discover. Knoxville has some wonderful rolling hills and all the vegetation seemed so plush. And of course, house-obsessed that I am, I was focusing on all the cute and normal-sized houses along the way - maybe, hopefully, Knoxville hasn't been touched by the McMansion trend?

We made it downtown within 15 minutes and as you come into the city, you can see that, perhaps areas of the city have been struggling and personally I'm not a big fan of the Sunsphere (looks a little too dated for my tastes), but in general, I get the sense that this has a very artsy/sophisticated vibe to it - you can feel the "current." The downtown has great stores, Yee Haw for example (www.yeehawindustries.com), restaurants, and a push to redevelop areas of the downtown with lofts/condos etc. Plus, there's of course the University of Tennessee - and right there, having a university in your city - you can't go wrong; college students provide such a nice buzz of life in a city.

We headed to the Market Square District (right in the downtown) to figure out where we were going to eat.

The "problem", we soon discovered, was for the 2nd year in a row, we arrived in Knoxville on Thursday, and Thursday evenings April - June, Knoxville has its Sundown in the city - a free music festival with music, food and crafts. So basically that translates to lots of people and cars. We didn't mind because we love seeing the buzz of people walking around and sitting out al fresco at the restaurants,

We managed to find a parking lot in front of the Mast General Store (www.maststoreonline.com). It looked right up my alley, so the shopper that I am, I persuaded Larry to make a detour.

Well this place said "Jill" all over it! Gourmet food stuffs, clothes, candy etc. If you remember the general stores/ 5 & dimes of yesteryear, this was pretty much the same thing (minus the soda fountain counter) with a more up-to-date approach - quite the place!

We were headed to the Old City District to go to The Crown and Goose (www.thecrownandgoose.com), an authentic English gastropub that we went to the list time we were in Knoxville, which was great, but then we decided to ask someone at Mast General if they could recommend some good restaurants in the area. They actually recommended The Crown and Goose, plus a Cuban restaurant they said was excellent. Well, all we needed to hear was "Cuban" and we were there!

So we went to Little Havana (www.lhknox.com) on Gay Street. Let me tell you, this place was fabulous!!! The restaurant itself with warm and cozy decor: warm colors, cool bar, hardwood floors - you pretty much felt that you were in Cuba.

Larry and I just made it in under the wire for the appetizer and beer special (Larry's eyes lit up!), so we ordered cervechi - very good and a decent portion size.

But it was our main meals that took the cake: I had Pollo Al Ajillo (grilled chicken with garlic sauteed in olive oil and white wine) with sides of black beans, saffron rice and maduros (sweet plantains). Larry had Lechon Asado (roasted pork marinated and roasted with white mojo sauce).

At first we thought maybe we were just tired from the long drive when we deliriously declared (yes, out loud, and maybe even slurping) "this has got to be one of the best meals we've ever had!" But honestly, I think it was one of the best meals we've ever had and that's saying a lot since we love to travel and go to a lot of restaurants and Mom V. is hands down one of the best gourmet cooks I know - so we've experienced a lot of wonderful food - so the compliment is worthy!

Then we realized that Crystal Lake doesn't have a Cuban restaurant and we'd have to trek to Chicago to find a hopefully, a relatively comparable one; not that that's bad, but is it asking to much to have fabulous restaurants within a 10 mile radius? (Actually there are in fact great restaurants around the area - I'll post on them later)

After we scarfed down our food, we pretty much were useless for the night. So we took our full bellies back to the hotel to hibernate.

South Carolina Bound: Hitting the Road - April 9th

At 4am Larry and I headed for Charleston, SC to begin our much needed week of relaxing and hopefully nicer weather than here in Illinois. Does it really need to snow in April??? Because the week before it didn't and then it did...I've hit my limit with snow!

Anyway, Larry and I have this trip ritual of getting up ridiculously early to hit the road before anyone else does and arrive at or 1/2 way point (Knoxville, TN) with enough time to enjoy the area - for us, the drive is part of the vacation, so we want it to be as enjoyable as possible.

Our other trip ritual (read Larry's "requirement") is for me to immediately go to sleep upon entering the car because 1) if I wake up I instantly start chatting a mile-a-minute and 2) I avoid needing to use a rest stop if I'm asleep. By doing this Larry avoids sensory overload and the added benefit of not stopping before breakfast. But I'm convinced that at least with 2) that Larry just doesn't want to admit that he needs to stop for the bathroom and will use "breakfast" as an excuse. I'm thinking this is some vast male "conspiracy" that all men are apart of - never wanting to stop for the bathroom and never asking for directions. Sweeping generalization? Perhaps, but I'm convinced I'm right.

The problem with leaving from upper IL is that there are very few places to stop on our route for breakfast along 41 in Indiana other than a truck stop - if anyone knows of any good spots...let me know.

We ended up stopping in Attica, IN - at a greasy spoon - not too bad, and I was impressed that they had sugar-free syrup, which is a gauge of mine lately - seems it's the "normal" spots that have it and not the more fancy places, which I kind of thought the opposite would be true.

The first leg of the 2 day drive was relatively uneventful: taking turns driving and me watching a DVD or two - keeps me from using the rest stops!

I will say we love to drive because it gives us the opportunity to stop at any cute town/site/shop we come across. On most of our trips we typically find great little towns, but I will fully admit that occasionally we get suckered in by a sign saying "historic downtown..." and end up being disappointed. Luckily, we didn't get duped on this leg of the drive...

On the Move...And a Bit of a Vent

April and May have been utterly crazy schedule-wise: our vacation in April, and then in May my business trip to Atlanta for my association’s biennial trade show and our weekend away for our 10th anniversary – I believe I’m actually running on vapors!

I’m trying to keep up the posts on a regular basis, although admittedly, I’ve fallen behind. I really enjoy the blog as this has become a creative outlet, as well as being very therapeutic for me.

Therapeutic, because, honestly, I come home from work most days and all I want to do is lie on the couch. And then I’m hit with the reality that...ugh...we need to figure out what we’re eating for dinner...then make sure I get all the crap I wanted to get completed that night: obliterating the ever encroaching dustbunnies, telephone calls, emails, Law and Order and HGTV, :), and then actually ticking off all my “to do” post-its that I write all the time, lest I forget (and never do) so I can actually get rid of them because they are everywhere! And then on top of that, I keep placing a book I want to read on my nightstand so on the off chance I might actually read an actual book rather than a magazine! And then the weekend comes and goes and...I’m right back on Monday backpeddling.

My point here is that I’ve been wracking my brain lately wondering how I see some women who appear to have everything together – work/home life, body, mind, clothes etc. – and I feel like I’m treading water just to stay afloat. Do you know what I mean? Don’t you know someone who always seems perfect in everything she does and perhaps you want to throttle and you feel like you are just trying to keep up or are wearing those comfy sweats entirely too often???

So this blog is my way of trying to organize my thoughts and talk about the things that I love to talk about: my husband Larry, renovating/decorating our house, our trips, particularly those with Scott and Gwen, what we do around town and cooking – because when I do that...suddenly all the immaterial things I stress about, suddenly goes away.

So that’s my little vent for the day...needed to get that off my chest...and yup, I feel better. And maybe, I’ll work on easing sweats out of my wardrobe...