Smoky Mountain Views Ode to 2014

2014, you were a very good year.  It’s a quiet New Years for me.  Tom and Brian took a road trip to Orlando, FL to watch the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on Missouri.  Happy for them and very content to stay back with Kevin who has basketball practices and games.  Go Gophers!  This gives me a chance to reflect back on 2014 and share with family and friends.

I could write blog posts more often but the darned technology of getting pictures off my iphone on my PC and then uploading to wordpress, well I’m a bit ashamed of my lack of tech skills.  When my PC came with Windows 8 over a year ago, I never really figured it out and it all feels very clunky and not intuitive.  I texted with some friends yesterday and mentioned to Terry I might post here, she said “please blog”…so let’s see what I can do here in a few hours before the bowl games begin (UPDATE: this is a loooooong post, sorry friends!)

Winter 2014 brought a few snow storms to Knoxville.  There were more missed school days here due to ice and snow than in Chicago (7 or so?)  But the snow melts away quickly and it’s green again in a matter of days.  IMG_1997 Kevin took his sweet girlfriend Laura to the high school winter formal and enjoyed playing freshman and JV basketball. IMG_1981 IMG_1942 I enjoyed a weekend getaway with book club friends to Atlanta to see the play “Book Club.”  Very grateful for this bright and funny group. IMG_2053 Then the big trip of the year was a family cruise over spring break, where we joined up with friend Diana and her kids and had Brian’s girlfriend Maddie and her mom Stephanie join us.   We were a very happy group of travelers, and should really do this again soon. IMG_2196 IMG_2192 IMG_2189 IMG_2185 IMG_2184 Could have been one of Tom’s hardest working years and he was very deserving of all the rest and relaxation he enjoyed! IMG_2155 One other winter getaway was when I flew to MN to visit Brian and take his friends to lunch at Brits Pub, then drove to Eau Claire, WI to watch Brian’s University of Minnesota club volleyball tournament. IMG_2084 IMG_2112 IMG_2104 Travel fun continued following the cruise, when Kevin and I flew to Naples, FL for Tom’s extended family reunion at the magazine worthy home of Jaye and Joe.  Tom had to return to work and Brian was away at college, but I will be sure they are there next time…an amazing destination with the funnest bunch of people I know. IMG_2252 IMG_2343 IMG_2389IMG_2356 IMG_2395IMG_2312 Spring brought AAU travel basketball fun with a talented group of boys with fun families. IMG_2470 Blooming gardens around my home bring me exercise and pleasure. IMG_2469b I hacked out a ton of ivy from a birch tree garden.   Here’s the before:IMG_2469 Here’s the after, the azalea bushes were never so happy! IMG_2469a My parents visited in the spring and we enjoyed brunch at our favorite Lakeside Tavern as well as hanging out in our candlelit backyard. IMG_2460 IMG_2450 Brian enjoyed taking his sweet girlfriend Maddie to her senior prom.  She started at University of Minnesota in the fall. IMG_2515 I sent him a batch of “congratulations” cake pops, as he took a summer marketing internship position with the University of Minnesota and will continue working part time during the school year.  We missed having him home all summer but way to go Brian, we are proud of him! IMG_2475 Summer brought us home to Chicago for a couple of visits.  Kevin hung with buddies for a great day at Great America.  Social media is certainly good for staying in touch and close with friends even though you are 9 hours away!  I met college girlfriends for a relaxing lunch and watched my godson Christopher in the play Oliver.  Really nice visit but too short.IMG_2553c IMG_2553b

IMG_2929We helped my parents get our family home of 46 years ready for sale and it payed off…sold in two weeks and they settled in a lovely condo in Des Plaines. IMG_2553 IMG_2547 IMG_2553a Mid summer we traveled back north for a family picnic at Tom’s moms, then she joined us as we traveled to Rhinelander, WI to my sister Sue’s for a week of relaxation.  Brian joined us midweek and we loved being together for family, fun and good food. IMG_2761 IMG_2845 IMG_2839 IMG_2824 IMG_2807 Bond Falls about an hour north of Rhinelander.  Beautiful and great place to hike around.IMG_2774 Late summer brought visitors, and there’s nothing we love more than visitors in Knoxville!  Brian and Maddie came down for a week, and we enjoyed visiting the Smoky Mountains (saw The Sinks and Surgarland Visitor Center) and doing some school clothes shopping at the discount mall in Pigeon Forge.  Enjoyed downtown and they did some golfing as well. IMG_3057 IMG_3054 IMG_3028

Then, my fabulous college girlfriend Vicky came for a long weekend of FUN.  We hiked Alum Cave which was a wonderful hike along a stream and a cool arched rock with steps to climb.  We chilled at the pool and pretty much agreed this was a first annual. IMG_2996 IMG_2984 Summer was coming to an end with friends overnight and nighttime swimming.  Kevin enjoyed time with a friend at Norris Lake where his cool swan dive off the second floor of the houseboat was caught on camera.  Tom and I took a day to rent a boat and fish Norris Lake….beautiful scenery….no fish.  Then it was back to school, sophomore year.IMG_2875 IMG_3095 IMG_3081 IMG_3068 Time for Tennessee Football!  The first picture below is my friend Diana (son Kyler is starting offensive lineman) and me ON TV during the amazing win by the Vols in South Carolina.  We had a ball watching an overtime WIN and am hopeful for a bowl win vs Iowa tomorrow. IMG_3284c IMG_3284b IMG_3284 Sunrises are my favorite way to start the day.  I keep imagining having a real camera to catch them on, vs. my iphone.  Which I found out in December is missing the glass over the camera lens, so that explains many of the fuzzy photos in this post. IMG_3269 A handsome group got together for pictures and dinner before the Homecoming Dance at Lakeside Tavern. IMG_3218 I loved having book club friend Meredith join me to see The Avett Brothers concert, with cold refreshments downtown at Calhoun’s beforehand. IMG_3166 Tom’s sister Sandy welcomed a new grandson into the family, as our niece Kristin gave birth to baby Grady.  His big brother Colin is so happy to have a little brother!  I told Kristin two boys is amaaaazinggggg! IMG_3497 My baby Kevin turned 16 and got his drivers license. IMG_3326 He joined me for a Columbus Day drive to the Smokies, where we hiked up to Clingman’s Dome in crazy foggy weather, the temperature really does drop at that elevation.  Pictures from Newfound Gap below don’t do justice to the beautiful colors. IMG_3302 I like to put on some relaxing type music CDs as we drive along the winding curves of this spectacular national park. IMG_3297 The Karl family boys and friends stayed over a couple nights and we enjoyed a TN football game followed by the guys all going to an Atlanta vs Bears football game in Atlanta.  And of course a round of pass the trash cards for $10. IMG_3289 Tom’s mom joined us for a delicious Thanksgiving weekend.  In addition to too much food, we bummed around Market Square shops and visited Fort Dickerson on our way back from Sweet P’s barbeque. IMG_3551 IMG_3546 IMG_3539 Thank you God for fun girlfriends in Knoxville, here we are enjoying a girls night out at an Irish pub. IMG_3520 And before we knew it December was here and it was time to deck the halls with boughs of holly. IMG_3634 IMG_3630 IMG_3601 Enjoyed a lovely work lunch at my owners home with a super bunch of coworkers. IMG_3666 And finally Jesus’ birthday, Merry Christmas!  My parents came to town and we relaxed with poker games and basketball games. IMG_3699 IMG_3696 IMG_3692 We spent a little time at the Knoxville Museum of Art, my first time there.  It was sensational and I can’t wait to go back and spend some more time. IMG_3706 My favorite piece of art is shown below.  See if you can figure it out. IMG_3702 It looked like some sort of upside down Mona Lisa…zoom in and you will see it is made of spools of thread…then look closely at that little glass ball, which shows the Mona Lisa right side up.  There were many impressive pieces throughout the museum.

The year ended with a trip to the Atlanta Hawks arena where Kevin’s varsity basketball team was playing an exhibition game, followed by the Hawks vs Cavaliers game.  And the Knoxville Catholic Irish won, great way to close out the year! IMG_3720 IMG_3723 Thanks for hanging in there for my recap of a year I am very grateful for.  I shared all the joys, but life always brings both joys and struggles…I’ve focused on the joys here.  May the new year bring you more joy than struggle, and health and happiness to each of you and your loved ones.  Knoxville doors are always open, so come on down and you just may be featured in my next blog post! IMG_3724

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

New Year of Smoky Mountain Views

Greetings from Tennessee, it’s been awhile since I posted.   I checked my last few posts, and noticed I wrote a fairly steady stream of posts for the first year after moving to Knoxville from Chicago.  Which helped keep friends and family in touch with our comings and goings, cuttings and growings, and gave me a chance to share the beauty of the state of Tennessee.  I’m a sucker for sunrises.

IMG_1709But once that first year of blog posts passed in July 2013, we got busier planting our roots and living our lives, and it became trickier to find time to sit down and gather thoughts and pictures for a fresh post.  Like many people who blog, I’d find myself ruminating a blog update in my mind while driving, or taking a fun picture while thinking of a clever caption…but unlike committed bloggers, free time would open up in my schedule and I would blow off putting pen to paper (or thoughts to keyboard.)

But then I got my whole family on a Smoky Mountain hike last weekend.  And I had a stranger (nice lady) from University of Alabama take a nice picture of us at Laurel Falls.  And it is the New Year and I miss my dear family and friends so instead of calling each of you individually, I’m posting here more thoughts and scenes from Knoxville.


Last Saturday, we drove about an hour to the Smoky Mountain entrance in Townsend (actually the entrance off 321 and Lyon Springs drive near Metcalf Bottoms) then about 20 minutes to Laurel Falls parking area.  It was crowded with cars last weekend, but the hike wasn’t overly crowded.  Definitely plenty of people out enjoying the mild weather and walking off some holiday meals.  It was an easy (though clearly uphill) paved path hike up about 35 minutes, we enjoyed the falls area for 10-15 minutes, then headed back down and were back in our car in just over one hour.  Add a half hour or so if you’re taking a more leisurely walk.  Perfect, and maybe a new family tradition?  I found the weekend after Christmas (after pulling off all the holiday magic) was a great time to ask (beg) my family to join me for a hike.  It worked and made for one of the nicest days of the year.

Here’s some more updates to the second half of 2013, specifically, our beloved visitors.

Sweet visit from the Karl family, our dear bowling partners of many years, Vicky and Joe and kids.  Loved, loved, loved grilling dinner and playing cards with them, kids swimming and all playing rounds of Pass the Trash, tour guiding them to Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg for a day, then a round of golf.

IMG_1325The boys enjoyed the Smokies more than me taking pictures.  Excellent guests and friends for life!

IMG_1339Next up were high school buddy and college roomie Julie and husband Jim.  This dynamic duo (and Tom of course) beautifully displayed how getting older does not have to mean loosing steam or good looks!

IMG_1517They stayed a night with us with poolside cocktails then grilled dinner. then I joined them for a day in the Smokies after which they stayed two nights in Gatlinburg.  We tackled a new lovely hike, moderately strenuous Abrahm Falls.  Moderate hike mostly because of an unlevel, rocky path with roots here and there.  It was about a 3 hour round trip hike.

abrahms falls hike

Big payoff at the end with gorgeous Abrahm Falls, and many stream side pretty points and some mountain vista views along the way.


We laughed hysterically as we were stuck in crawling traffic trying to exit Cades Cove (Abrahm Falls hike begins halfway around the one way cove drive.)  We anticipated what all the drivers were gawking at…perhaps a mama bear and cub feeding or a large group of grazing wildlife?  As we approached we could see tourists with tripods pointed, and drivers pointing out their window.  Finally the big payoff…we viewed a squirrel holding an acorn to it’s mouth sitting on a fencepost.  Causing a 30 minute backup.  Really?!  The backup was worth a laugh that we will remember forever.

We joined up with Julie and Jim for one more visit and meal at Double Dogs before they headed home.  It’s a great place for a tall beer and watching sports.

IMG_1534 IMG_1533I enjoyed hearing about their more challenging hikes the second day, including the Chimney Tops in the morning (Julie said guide books said strenuous, she suggested they add “for Navy Seals” for some of the particularly steep sections) and stunning Alum Cave in the afternoon.  Each were about 3-4 hour hikes.  She said they walked to dinner in Gatlinburg that evening, but were happy to hit the hot tub and relax after that.  She sent me a very sweet and appropriate thank you gift from Pottery Barn, including this priceless squirrel with a nut wine stopper.  Imagine her joy spotting this after her trip!index

Next visitors were mother in law Jan, her sister Lynn and husband Bruce in October.  We first met them in Louisville, KY with daughter Kim and husband Scott for an awesome day of horse racing at beautiful Keeneland racetrack.

IMG_1639Then Kim and Scott returned home, but the others headed to a nice Gatlinburg timeshare for the week (and some nights with us.)  On the way back from Louisville, we hit the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, TN.  This is a nice collection of buildings and artifacts from pioneer days, and is great for a nice day to walk around and learn about life before our time.



A very interesting exhibit is there from a man named Harrison Mayes who built huge cement religious signs and spent 70 years putting them up on highways across the country.  Who knew?!  Go Harrison.


We enjoyed getting together with Jan, Lynn and Bruce throughout the week, and loved that they came to watch Kevin’s high school football game.  They commented the crowd and atmosphere was akin to a college game, and that’s what you get in SEC country.


By the way, it was a successful, albeit long, football season as they surpassed expectations with a great new coach, making it to the quarter finals and losing to the Fulton High School team (named in the top 100 high school teams in the country.)  We spent a day together in the Smokies viewing some fall leaves.  This was just a few days after the government shutdown impacting national parks ended, and we could still see evidence of the shutdown (cones on side of road.)  So glad they missed it!  We headed up to Newfound Gap and views were wonderful.  Fall colors probably peaked a couple weeks later, but nonetheless, we were all inspired by the scenery and smoky mountain views.


We were happy to have Jan back at Thanksgiving, along with son Brian (he’s not a visitor, though we missed him while he was at University of Minnesota since Labor Day!)  This was a relaxing visit, including good food, playing cards, having a few good meals out, and watching lots of football.  Tom/Kevin’s team won regular season fantasy football first place and Brian’s team took second place, so every fall weekend involved lots of Redzone football and couch time.

IMG_1765photo 2

Final visitors included my parents for a week at Christmas time, and a lucky strike extra visit from my sister Sue and husband Randy, who like roadtrips and did the 14 hr. drive back and forth from Rhinelander, WI just before Christmas.  They arrived just in time to see Brian back from college and to catch a JV basketball game Kevin’s school team won in the final seconds of the game.  They all enjoyed the mild 70 degree day Saturday where we ran errands and did some last minute shopping without heavy coats, hats or mittens.

IMG_1893 IMG_1892 IMG_1891

IMG_1916My parents saw some colder weather for Christmas (mid-30’s) but around here, the sun will come out in the afternoon and temps rise to the 40’s or 50’s and fortunately it was warm enough for my dad to get the itch to trim a few bushes (yes!)  We enjoyed doing puzzles indoors and going downtown Market Square window shopping and a delicious meal at Tupolo Honey.


A final event was viewing Shadrack Christmas Wonderland light show at the Smokies Baseball stadium, “the worlds largest drive through fully synchronized LED light and music show.”  Very amazing, I’d recommend it!



And that sums it up.  Peace on Earth!  Goodwill to Men!  Thank you God for a good year, and bless my family and friends that have had their owns highs and lows in 2013.

Maybe you’re thinking about some travel in 2014?  Come see us, our guest room is open and we are taking reservations!  The price is right (free!) Happy New Years dear family and friends.  Hope to see you soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Front Garden Makeover

I love having Brian home from college.  For many reasons.  He is a positive person, funny, like a parent to his younger brother (sometimes,) likes playing games, and last but not least, he does discounted landscaping.  He’s not afraid to work hard, takes direction well, adds his viewpoint, and enjoys a little extra cash.  I knew while he was home this summer I wanted to tackle the overgrown front garden that greets you at my front door.

This all started once we removed a huge evergreen tree in the spring.   The tree on the far left below is a magnolia tree and stayed.  The tree second to left was removed by a tree removal company.    That made a big difference and lightened the front view of our home as well as let more light into the dining room.  Here’s the before, notice you only see three upper level windows:


Here’s the front of the house without the extra tree, wow there is another window up top!  And the limelight hydrangeas I planted are beginning to bloom nicely in the front of the picture.

IMG_1298[1]But back to the front garden project.  From the view above, you see the birm garden in the middle of our front yard.  That’s another story for another day, and the massive mounding round bushes do provide privacy to the front garden.  Here is the front garden “before” shown below:

IMG_0985Thick, heavy mondo grasses that have not been trimmed or cleaned annually (at least that’s my guess) lined the front garden area.  Sorry mondo grass, but I prefer my beloved hostas lining a garden, but let’s see if we can forge a friendship if we clean you up.  Yes, I talk to my garden plants. I think I heard somewhere it helps the plants grow and while I’m still building friendships here…hey, don’t judge me!  I think it’s working.

IMG_0987Several groups of bushes exist somewhere between dead and overgrown.  Woven through these are tons of weeds, ivy and other invasive plants.  I started the cleanup process early in the mornings before the sun got too hot, lopping the bushes down close to the stumps.  Leaving some short branches to help pull out the stumps.  A few stumps came out easy.  A few were left for Brian’s strength.

IMG_0989Slowly we were clearing out the jungle and working toward a blank slate to rebuild the garden.  Picture above shows first group of bushes on the right removed.  I made a list of all the 2-3 hour tasks that Brian could handle to get this garden closer to where it needed to be:

  • Lop off first bush branches and remove ivy from along brick
  • Thin out mondo grasses creating an entry and remove bush stumps
  • Relocate or remove second bush group (ended up removing)
  • Clean out all weeds, misc. plantings, and magnolia leaves and level dirt area
  • Lay down 6 bags dirt to fill holes, lay down 10 bags of black mulch ($40 total investment)
  • Bring chairs and table from backyard, along with a couple ferns

IMG_1285[1]Progress!  Kevin helped move the bags of dirt and mulch and after laying a landscape fabric along most of the dirt, it was time for some furniture.  Voila, an inexpensive garden makeover and a lovely place to sit and watch the sun come up.

IMG_1294[1]This is still in progress.  I’ll be thinking about what bushes I will bring in to run along under the windows.  With all the leaf trimming required in this yard I am definitely thinking slow growing evergreens.  And need to update the spent planter flowers.  Maybe some paver stones.  The mondo grasses are still heavy, but for now, this clean palate will do the trick.

IMG_1295[1]A nice place for morning coffee and sunrise views.  Brian doesn’t head back to school till after Labor Day, but I’ll remember the work he did to clean up this garden long after he’s gone!  Thanks for looking.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Knoxville Summer

Well, I had the last date I last blogged in the back of my mind, April 23 (Happy Birthday Sue.)  I’ve had plenty to blog about but many excuses why I haven’t sat down to share the goings on around here.  Number one excuse, my laptop screen is shot and I have to use my laptop hooked up to an external monitor and sit in one place.  I don’t like sitting in one place!  I’m determined not to let two months go by without an update!  But, if I had sat down, here would be the things I would have blogged about…and I hope to come back and share more soon.

Colonial Williamsburg 8th Grade Field Trip

– chaperoned Kevin’s class, what an amazing group of kids.  Visited Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg, learned a lot and saw lots of inspiring gardens and decor

IMG_0560Noakes Sisters Do Knoxville

– would say the four of us had more fun together than we’ve had in a long time.  Lots of touristy adventures, beautiful Smoky Mountain wildflower walk, plenty of laughs and games and memories


Springtime Gardens

– it’s been a blast seeing what comes up in the gardens here, but parts of the yard are a real jungle!



– from visiting grandparents to final dance to graduation breakfast to graduation ceremony to last day of school, it was one quality event after another

IMG_0880Knoxville International Biscuit Festival (do not miss 2014)

– this tops the year’s list of best value entertainment and dining downtown Knoxville.  We went with the grandparents on a whim thinking we’d kill some time and it ended up being delicious and a lot of fun

IMG_0903Memorial Day Visit to Cincinnati Reds/Cubs Game and Churchill Downs

– We did a four-hour drive to Cincinnati overnight with Cubs game, then 2 hour drive to Louisville, KY for Churchill Downs racetrack (we miss Arlington but this was an awesome racing day), then 4 hours back home.  F-U-N


Summer Recipe Favorites

– grilling outside more and of course enjoying my sister Kathy’s poor man margaritas poolside (1/2 pitcher ice, add one light beer, add one can concentrate limeade, 1/3 can tequilla, 2 T. orange juice, serve in rocks glass with lots of ice and crushed limes)


Yes, Pool’s Open

– my job as pool girl never ends, we actually never covered our pool this “winter.”  So I’ve been keeping things clean and inviting pretty much round the clock.  Had a few lifesaving opportunities (chipmunks) unfortunately, not all successful.  Really had to wait until early June for the unheated water temperature to get to 78-80 degrees and now that it’s about 82 degrees it feels great on a warm day


Summertime Visitors do Knoxville 3 day Tour

– Brian’s girlfriend from MN visited and they did the rounds of the area and had a blast, including dining on Calhoun’s patio on the TN River


Knoxville Botanical Gardens

– Not quite the caliber of the Chicago Botanical Gardens but anytime you put this many paths, stonework, perennials, grasses, trees and benches in one area you can not go wrong and it was a lovely and free place to spend an hour or so


Crazy About Bee Balm

– I’ve been patiently waiting for the plants I transplanted from Arlington Heights to come back and bloom, and thankfully most of them made it.  My beloved bee balm that has gorgeous, tall red blooms just popped this week and I am crazy about this fast growing, spreading perennial (is it just me or should this iPhone photo I snapped be entered into a photo contest!?  Or am I indeed a little bee balm crazy?  Crap, I cut off the left edge, oh well, so much for photographer career)


Before and After

– Been working on plenty of outdoor gardens, hacking, whacking, dividing, trimming, watering and waiting.  Started with corner garden but making my way around the yard.  Our parents visiting in spring was a very positive experience for my garden.  My dad has never met an errant branch he’s afraid to lop off and my mother in law cut my first rose bouquet of the season.  Latest project are these overgrown bushes next to my front door…wouldn’t that be a nice place to sit and watch the sunrise?  I removed the bushes this week and the “after” is in progress, stay tuned!

IMG_0985So, I promise to be back before another two months go by, with some details of these blog posts that have been swimming around in my head.  Until then, happy summer!


Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Gardens and Good & Plenty

What a great day.  I’m preparing for my three sisters to come visit me in Knoxville TOMORROW through Sunday.  Woo-hoo!   I ran some errands this morning and picked up some treats for the weekend, and couldn’t resist a bag of fresh popcorn and a bag of fresh Good & Plenty from Mast General Store downtown.  I had to sample some and yes, that was my lunch.

Spring has sprung here, and I should be doing housecleaning but I can’t stay inside.  It’s more fun to get outdoors and sweep a patio, spray paint an end table or throw some more mulch in a corner.  Yes, the laundry room is calling me, but I’m wiping down the porch furniture and watering the flowers.

This past month, I had garden inspiration from a couple of trips.  I went and watched Brian play for the University of Minnesota in Dallas at the national club volleyball tournament (awesome experience) and went on a field trip to Williamsburg, Virginia with Kevin’s 8th grade class.  Gorgeous gardens!

Pictures from the Dallas Farmers market, beautiful nurseries:




Pictures from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg:

IMG_0602 IMG_0618 IMG_0625 IMG_0547 IMG_0555


I’ve been gardening away down south.  There was a dead corner in the back yard that needed some TLC.  Some old bushes and dead trees were removed, creating a blank slate.


A trip to the local nursery and Home Depot, along with some grasses from elsewhere in the yard that I divided and transplanted, resulted in an updated backyard corner.


It’s all a work in progress and not quite on the same standard of Monticello, but it’s coming along smashingly.  And, oh, so much more fun than laundry!

Hence, my lack of blogging.  The weather here is something else.  I’m sorry if I’m a broken record on that topic and hope none of you had damage from the heavy midwest rains.  For my friends in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, hang in there.  As my sister Sue says, she is still optimistic about getting the snowed under outdoor Christmas decor down by 4th of July.

Here, the dogwoods and redbuds are in bloom, and the azaleas are just firing up.  Japenese maple pretty purple leaves are here.  Fifty shades of green are everywhere with lots of white, pink, purple and yellow sprinkled all around.


I may have mentioned earlier, about 50 years ago, a travel reporter declared Knoxville the ugliest city in the country.  City leaders went about a beautification project, with emphasis on planting blooming trees and public gardens.


Then came the annual April Dogwood Festival, where designated streets and neighborhoods are marked with dashed pink spray painted lines running down the middle of the street as you follow along the Dogwood Trail and enjoy lovely blooms and gardens.

OK, time to put away the snacks and head up to the laundry room.  Hope to be back next week with updates of some fun.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Laurel Falls on Valentines Day

Now I’m backtracking, but just realized I’d started a post about hiking on Valentines Day and never finished it.  Well, here you have it!

Knoxville had great weather for Valentine’s Day.  After a little breakfast of pink chocolate chip pancakes for Kevin and a short stack of “red” treats, it was off to school.


I had not been to the Smoky Mountains since our last visitors in November and was overdue for a visit.  I didn’t have a lot of time but drove to the park entrance near Townsend 45 minutes away and had a peaceful drive along Little River Road.   The park was very quiet, only passing occasional cars and a couple of bikers.  My destination was Laurel Falls, one of the most popular hikes in the park that was about 20 minutes from the entrance.


On past trips to the park, I noticed as I passed the Laurel Falls parking area it was packed with cars, and there were many cars parked alongside the road before and after the area.  This time, the lot was just full, with a few open spots.  Hikers were heading up and down the 1.3 mile walk to the falls at regular intervals, so I was comfortable walking solo (had mace in my pocket just in case.)  Unfortunately, I realized as I approached the area that the temperature was 40 degrees (versus the 54 degrees on my weather app which was scheduled for later in the afternoon) and I had left the house in just a t-shirt and red sweater.  No fleece.


I saw some folks in winter garb getting out of their car.  I figured I’d give it a shot, it was a beautiful clear, sunny day.  Once I got walking, there was no issue with the cold and with the sun at my back, I was sweating just a tad.  So glad I’d left the winter garb in the attic!


The walk was a smidge more uphill than I ‘d anticipated.  I read it was a good walk for families with strollers, since though there are over 800 miles of paths in the Smokies, Laurel Falls is one of only a limited number of miles that are paved.  It warns of steep drop offs though.


A path was paved back in the 1960’s when a fire lookout was built nearby and erosion was taking it’s toll on the path.  I was walking at a good pace and made it to the falls in 30 minutes.   A more relaxed hike would probably be 45 minutes or so.  Not saying I’m wonder woman, just saying I was not dawdling.

Beautiful Laurel Falls.

IMG_0098 IMG_0099 IMG_0100

Along the way there were tons of rhododendren which I imagine will be gorgeous when they bloom in June.  I got corny and looked for heart shaped nature things and came across this rock.  How artistic!


Totally worth the walk! You can continue on for Cove something up to an 8 mile walk, but after 10 minutes of enjoying the falls, I headed back as I needed to be at the school by 2:30 for an event.  I was back in the car exactly one hour after I arrived, and while this was a quick trip, I loved it.


On the way back I stopped at a Country Store and saw an inscribed valentine frame that I jotted down to deliver in a homemade card to my sweetheart Tom who was stuck at work…while trying to keep a straight face…

“I know it is love when I can’t sleep because my reality is better than my wildest dreams.” 

Sounded like something my brother in law Randy would come up with, but it certainly was a lovely day in the Smoky Mountains!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

March Madness


Sorry for delay in fresh content on smokymountainviews.  My advertisers have been starting to complain (kidding) so lets see if I can get back on the blogging track.  Last time we were all together I was talking about the Biltmore Estate and Downton Abbey.  Since then, we’ve enjoyed both snow days and some nice weather in Knoxville, hiked Laurel Falls on Valentines Day, hosted mother in law Jan, Uncle Bruce and Aunt Lynn for a visit, Kevin got his braces off and started playing with a competitive AAU basketball team, Tom and I did a mini-25th anniversary getaway to Nashville, I started playing in a USTA tennis league, Brian is home for spring break and I’m in the early stages of college basketball overload with a Noakes family NCAA bracket and a $100 prize at stake.  And I made a spring wreath for my front door.  How’s that for an update!?

Late February and early March we had visits from Tom’s family and had fun sight-seeing in Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains.  One of my new favorite things to do is hit the daily Blue Plate Special at the downtown Knoxville Visitor Center.


There is a daily live performance from two bands at noon at the WDVX radio station.  You can get a two-hour parking pass and enjoy live music then grab a bite to eat or shop a bit on Gay Street. We enjoyed some music then hit Mast General Store across the street and indulged in some popcorn and a bag of candy from their old-fashioned section of candy in a barrel (must have–bag of Good and Plenty, very fresh.)

Uncle Bruce got me fired up in the kitchen and shared a couple of traditional family favorites, crepes and fudge!  We went from this…..


to this in 30 minutes!  Delicious fudge.


We had to visit the Smokies while they were in town.  It was a sunny day but cold and as usual, the scenery was breathtaking.


We left for the park about 10am and did the usual…entered park at Metcalf Bottoms between Townsend and Gatlinburg, drove along gorgeous Little River Road (never disappoints, beautiful rushing water over huge boulders, lovely in every season especially when there is no traffic,) video at Sugarland Visitor Center (partially under construction now, small museum inside is closed but still nice video, gift shop and rest rooms,) then we drove up to the Rockefeller Memorial at the Newfound Gap Overlook, the gorgeous location where Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park in September, 1940, saying:

“...It is good and right that we should conserve these mountain heights of the old frontier for the benefit of the American people. But in this hour we have to safeguard a greater thing: the right of the people of this country to live as free men. Our vital task of conservation is to preserve the freedom that our forefathers won in this land, and the liberties that were proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and embodied in our Constitution…”


The Appalachian Trail weaves through the park and now Lynn and Jan can say they’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail.


We saw a couple of hikers warming up along the base of the Memorial and I joked we should give them some fudge.  Leave it to Bruce to hop out of the car and offer these guys a bit of our homemade sunshine.  They eagerly accepted and told him they’d been in 80 mile per hour wind and frigid cold the night before trying to keep their tents from blowing over.  Nothing a couple of pieces of Bruce’s fudge couldn’t cure!


We stopped for some pictures on the way up and down the road, including a frozen runoff waterfall


We also stopped at the 0.5 mile loop walk at Sugarlands Valley Self-Guiding Nature Trail and saw plenty of downed tree limbs and the impact of the recent heavy winds.  It’s a pretty walk and gives you a nice chance for a photo opportunity along the rushing river.


What wonderful guests that we hope come back again and again.  We’re thrilled that their daughter (cousin Kim) and family will be here for a few days on Monday.  I need to pull out the crepe pan.

After Bruce and Lynn left, Jan stayed on through the weekend so Tom and I could getaway to Nashville.  I’ll be back with more pictures and stories of that fun soon.  Until then, enjoy this morning’s sunrise, the rest of your weekend and may your favorite teams make it to the Sweet 16!


Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Biltmore Estate and Downton Abbey

I blame my sister Karen and her friend Donna Booshay (blogs at Quiet Life for getting me hooked on watching the British TV drama on PBS, Downton Abbey.  I caught up watching episodes on Netflix, hulu and  They say the TV drama is addictive and I agree.


Watching the show, I feel like I’ve been in the estate featured on the show.  Because over the holidays, we visited Asheville, NC and toured the Biltmore Estate.  Before I knew anything about Downton Abbey, I learned about how the Vanderbilt family and their servants lived in the Biltmore Estate back in the early 1900’s.   The Biltmore took six years to build and was America’s largest home to George Vanderbilt.  He married Edith and had one daughter Cornelia that was raised in the home.


Photo Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

We visited the Biltmore on a spur of the moment “what do you want to do today” weekend in December, and it was Tom’s suggestion (bravo, well done!)  We poked around downtown Asheville on Saturday (another story for another day, great city,) stayed overnight then visited the Biltmore on Sunday with a 10 a.m. reservation.


It’s quite a production.  We purchased tickets for the four of us at the hotel and popped for the extra $10 audio tour.  Driving into the estate includes miles of roads, and you end up parking and taking a bus to the actual estate.  The grounds sprawl over 8,000 acres and over the years they have expanded the property to include a wine village, shopping center, garden shops, antique car museum and more.  Bill Cecil is the great grandson of George and is president of the family run business.   We had exactly 4 hours to see what we needed to see before we had to hit the road to be back in Knoxville (2 hour gorgeous mountain drive) for must see football games.  Just enough time to complete the home tour and do a little wine tasting and exploring.  I must go back.


The estate is magnificent.  And I appreciate it so much more now that I’ve watched Downton Abbey.  May I say Biltmore is much grander than Downton Abbey; it must have something to do with the size of the Vanderbilt fortune.  From the Biltmore website (

“The celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France. It would feature 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The basement alone would house a swimming pool, gymnasium and changing rooms, bowling alley, servants’ quarters, kitchens, and more.”


The headset tour had you wear a little audio device around your neck and the accompanying brochure had corresponding numbers to enter for each room, to hear the history of the space and stories of the family’s life at the Biltmore.  What a treat!  It was a busy December weekend, so we followed a snaking line of tourists from room to room, but that was fine.  I had my chance in each room to step up to the cordon line and punch in the code to listen to stories from the early 1900’s, like in the master bedrooms, his and hers.



I observed the gorgeous home décor in each space, the colors, the textures, and yes, it was over the top but fabulous.


They would have loved having me as a guest I imagined, meeting in the gathering spaces for a before dinner drink, then retiring back to the library for an after dinner drink.  Oh, I could only imagine.


Tom and the boys were sports and seemed to enjoy the tour, though they moved a little quicker than me.  I really enjoyed seeing the servant quarters, which were also quite lovely, but very simple.


We wrapped up our visit by checking out the Antler Hill Village and Winery for some wine tasting.  We’re not big winos (like so many readers of this blog) but are wise enough not to pass up a free drink.


While the boys explored the large wine and food shop with samples of cheese, ciders and snacks, Tom and I waited in a short line to begin wine tasting.  Very nice, efficiently laid out form with various wines you could sample and make notes of.  We enjoyed a few varieties and then were on our way.  Last stop was a beautiful fishing hole on the property, of course we had to stop and take a look.



I’m looking forward to returning for another visit to the Biltmore Estate.  I imagine they are doing a bang up business with the popularity of Downton Abbey here in the states.  I expect Biltmore’s marketing department is working on tie-in promotions and exclusive rights to the Biltmore – Downton connection.  I can see busloads (and plane loads) of Downton fans traveling to Asheville for their very own royal experience.  My enterprising mind is running wild now.  Certainly all of my Knoxville guests will be encouraged to consider a Biltmore visit and a trip to Asheville.  You know I’ll join you!

p.s. after writing this, I found this link on Biltmore website with connection to Downton Abbey…off to read it now….

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Knoxville Snow

What a joyful day!  The novocaine is still working but I gleefully had a root canal this morning.  I bit on an avocado stem oh, about 5 months ago, while eating some homemade guacamole and chips when we first arrived in Knoxville.  I won’t bore you with the dental details involving multiple dentists, temporaries, crowns, and an endodontist, but it’s been a wait and see situation, and I got tired of eating advil and waiting.  The endodontist thinks he solved the problem with the root canal today.  Fingers crossed!


Lots of excitement around here last week…snow!  After 4 days of lots of rain, the forecast was for temps to drop and a winter snow storm (southern style.)  Tom made a Walmart run for salt for our (steep sled hill) driveway.  With 100% chance of snow starting at 3pm, school was let out early at 12:30pm.  Sure enough, snow came at 3pm and fell for about 4 hours.  Lovely.  Better yet, it only accumulated on my patio chairs, and did not stick on the driveway.  Boys were thrilled, no shoveling of the sled hill was required.


And, announcement came out that school was cancelled the next day, Friday, making it a 4+ day weekend (MLK holiday Monday.)  Woo-hoo!  Tom made it home with a long, slow drive.  Apparently downtown Knoxville did get 3-4″ accumulation, and there is NO snow removal equipment in town.  Not a single snow plow from what I hear.  I commented to Kevin as we drove home from school before the big snow, in Chicago we would have seen snow plows camping out on the side of the road or in lots revving their engines and waiting for action.  Here I was surprised the bags of salt weren’t all lined up by the exit at Walmart, you had to go back deep into the garden section to find it.


The next morning, Tom texted that he had just slid down our street and straight into the intersection, which was fortunately empty, though he caught one small patch of pavement and turned just in time to avoid ending up in a lawn.  We now know what they mean when they say everyone freaks out when driving in snow around here.  Everything is hilly and there is no snow removal or formal road salting plan.  No wonder people are a tad panicked, it’s like going down a tobaggan hill in a car.  Sort of gets you a little on edge.  I thought everyone was just going to be poor drivers, slamming on breaks without any consideration of snow conditions.  I had not anticipated the impact of driving slowly and just sliding on down icy hills.   And yes, we are still uncertain of our plans to put away the patio furniture and umbrellas.  May not happen.

That afternoon the sun was out and all the ice melted.  We ran some errands and Kevin smiled and said “and this is a snow day.”  Sure, all the snow was gone, but there was no way the school buses could have been out safely that morning.  By Saturday morning, the sun was rising and by Sunday, temps were in the high 50’s.


We enjoyed a Univ of Tenn basketball win at the stadium on Saturday night.  Then Sunday dropped Brian off at the airport for his return to college after a great relaxing break.  Despite heading back to single digit temps in MN, he was happy to head back to school which was a good feeling for all of us.

I’m crocheting away on the striped afghan I started in Chicago and am enjoying watching the random pattern emerge.


We all learned to crochet from my dad’s mom, Grandma Alice, and I’ve picked up and put down projects over the years.  My two older sisters are committed knitters (Karen also crochets and quilts) and I’m not sure about my youngest sisters yarn skills (she’s got many other talents though.)  When my sisters guided me on buying 20 different skeins of yarn and did the starter row on this for me, I planned to lay them all out and number them in a pleasing pattern before I began.  No way, Jose, they said the only way to go is a completely random pattern.  Wise elders!  So far, so good, I dig into the bag without peeking for my next color.  Though I won’t deny the “controller” in me was a bid uncomfortable with those two mustard and gold colors among the last in the bag, meaning they would be close together.  But, as they say, Let Go and Let God…in the big stuff and the small.  Have a good week to all.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Our Chicago Pit Crew

I read Anne Lamott’s “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” on my mom’s recommendation.  A quick read, she is a favorite author (witty and spiritual) and it was a great book.  I read it while cruising through Chicago for a holiday visit, and a passage jumped out at me:

” The circle of family and friends ― “the lifesaving gift that your pit crew of people has been for you” ― is often at the heart of the “thanks” prayer.  The marvel is only partly that somehow you lured them into your web 20 years ago, 40 years ago, and they totally stuck with you,” she writes. “The more astonishing thing is that these greatest of all possible people feel the same way about you ― horrible, grim, self-obsessed you.”

Wow, what a great theme for our trip back to Chicago.  It was as if we’d headed for Knoxville back in the summer, and were heading back to the Chicago “pit” for a quick change, refresher, refill, and reload.  Notice I did not say relax.  What a whirlwind trip, surrounded by family and friends we loved being with. People who filled our tanks both physically and spiritually.  And, for the record, we use “Chicago” loosely to describe Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Wheaton and the surrounding area.  Around Knoxville, we are from “Chicago” to keep things simple and not get into “suburbs about 25 miles northwest of Chicago.”

The family – loved seeing everyone, including a holiday gathering with Carol’s family on Saturday and a get together with Tom’s family on Sunday.   Inspired by sisters, we shopped for yarn for a lovely striped afghan I’m crocheting.  Played games and ate too much.  Watched football and connected with aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and then ate some more.  We sat in circles sharing stories and catching up.  Of course, everyone missed Tom who was back in Knoxville working hard.  While we were at the party at his mom’s house, Tom was clever to send us a couple pictures from his Sunday…first a picture of an attic shelving unit he assembled to organize all the boxes of stuff (nice surprise!) followed by a few pictures of him fishing that afternoon on a lovely lake.  We missed having him with us, but truth told, at the pace we were moving he would have had a hard time keeping up!


The friends –the boys and I started off with a neighbor brunch hosted at Mary’s.  Wow again, I got choked up driving down our old street and then the tears were on full force greeting my old chums.  I mumbled through my tears, “really, Knoxville isn’t that bad, we are enjoying it there, but I’m just realizing how much I’ve missed all of you!” Russell’s champagne toast was sweet (“…In the words of Kotter…Welcome Back.”)   This party was too cool…with make your own omelets in a baggie that had two mixed raw eggs, you add your toppings (cheese, onion, mushroom, sausage, bacon, peppers), then let out the air, seal the bag and 6 of them at a time go into a large pot of boiling water for 13 minutes, then voila, perfectly cooked custom individual omelets.  Fun!  For dessert, Sharon and I were surprised with feathered tiaras and a large birthday cake with the number candles “110,” our combined age.   All this and we’d been in town for less than 18 hours.

–          Boys hooked up with friends throughout the weekend, dropping by homes and fitting in a couple sleepovers.  I had the pleasure of catching up with a few of their moms.

–          Brian enjoyed watching sports and eating out with high school friends.

–          We met the SJS basketball team and parents at Sports Page for a great night of togetherness.   We really miss hanging with the parents in the stands and Kevin was in his glory, back in with his bunch.


–          Kevin dropped by SJS during the lunch hour on Friday to say hi and got the best greeting from teachers and students alike.  Not sure who missed who more…so nice to see so many familiar faces that helped shape who he is.

–          I went to a lovely Bunko party with my college girlfriends and spouses at Laura’s home.  This group always pick right back up where we left off and is a good source of laughs, feedback and encouragement.  Adding in the guys upped the laugh quotient, a clever bunch of spouses.

–          I had no time, but squeezed in a friend for coffee (and an oil change while we hung out at Starbuck’s…hmmmm…ties in with my theme) and dear Terry totally filled my tank.  We have a mutual admiration society going (if you don’t have one, I highly recommend it.) We laughed, traded lifestyle tips and quickly caught up on the goings on in our lives. So glad I found that time!

Finally, faith – we made a point to hit 10:30 mass at St. Edna and it was a treat to hear a favorite deacon’s sermon.  He spoke of Herod and the Magi (wise men), and asked people to think about who they identified with more.  He said invariably, people respond the Magi.  But when pressed a bit to consider that it was Herod that preferred to stay in his comfort zone and keep things the way they were, versus the Magi that were not afraid to shake things up, drop everything and travel to a new land to search for a King… most of us may really be more like Herod, resistant to change.  We discussed on our car ride after mass our family probably qualifies as having a touch of the Magi in us at this stage.  We left a comfortable surrounding that we loved, and embarked to a new land.  In many ways, we’ve had to adjust, rely on our wits, reach deep into our faith, and carry on.  While we’ve missed so many familiar faces and places, we’ve survived and maybe soon can say we’ve thrived.  The book is still being written. ( And man, this is quite a book I’m writing here, thanks for the encouragement to keep blogging by a bunch of you.)


Heading back to Knoxville was all good.  We were glad to be back home as a family, have new friendships developing, sports to play and good events ahead of us here.  Plus, it was nice to put away the suitcase and slooooooowwww back down to the southern pace of things.  My word, you all move a lot faster up north than we southerners are used to!  Wink-wink.   Thanks for being part of our pit crew.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments