Mountains from molehills: What we did for vacation
Jul 06, 2011 | 1798 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This is a true story, but let me preface it with this question. Have you ever had a good idea that you put off to the last minute and then didn’t have time to do it justice?

That’s kind of describes this column. It’s a good idea, but by the time I got around to it, I had one opportunity to write it and just flat out missed what I wanted to say which is: Go to the Whitestone Country Inn in Kingston if you ever get the chance.

Carmen and I liked it so much, we’re buying a mattress.

OK, here is my column.

My fourth-grade teacher used to give me grades when I wrote about what I did during summer vacation — now I get paid for it. The evolution of vacations (not the evolution of species) is truly amazing.

Vacations used to mean driving halfway across the country: staying a minute here, another minute there, looking at this, looking at that and driving home just in time to drag into work Monday morning just hoping to survive until next year when I could do the same thing over again.

Carmen and I went on vacation the week of June 20 with the loosely planned aforementioned schedule in mind. We had not quite decided whether to delete looking at this or looking at that, but not spending just one minute here or there looked very appealing as vacation time approached.

I decided that instead of driving across Tennessee and Arkansas just to show Carmen my depressing hometown in Oklahoma, I decided we should do something I have never done before. Go somewhere in East Tennessee. Carmen selected the itinerary. Our first stop was in Kingston where we stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Whitestone Country Inn on the shore of Watts Bar Lake.

Calling Whitestone an inn is a little bit of a misnomer. It is built around 600 acres that includes a AAA 4-Diamond bed and breakfast, restaurant, wedding chapel, and conference facilities. Guests drive through the center of a big, red barn and check in at the red schoolhouse. We stayed two nights in the Purple Martin Room in the Rose Cottage.

After breakfast, we drove to Oak Ridge for no other reason than I had not been there before. It was raining so we didn’t get out of the car except to ask where the traditional downtown was. I guess I’d still be driving around in the rain looking for an historic downtown Oak Ridge if I hadn’t stopped at the information center, where I learned America’s Secret City does not have an historic or traditional downtown.

We drove back to Kingston for a late lunch and then back to the inn where we occupied ourselves until the five-course supper was served at 6:30 p.m. A sample menu begins with baked brie with a warm apricot sauce as an appetizer, followed by a classic Caesar salad, a small sorbet, which leads to the entree with a choice of Hawaiian barbecued chicken, baked red snapper topped with a mango coconut sauce or smoked beef tenderloin covered with a portobello demi glace.

It was delicious and the servings were the correct size.

Before each evening meal, innkeeper Paul Cowell greets everyone for supper and begins the meal with a prayer.

Paul opened the country inn after leaving a busy corporate pace in Knoxville in 1994 where he was chairman and chief executive officer of Shop At Home, a TV home shopping network. He also founded and served as president and CEO of Book Warehouse, a 90-store discount book chain.

Paul and his wife, Jean, have been involved in Christian ministry for many years. They often travel to Third World countries where he speaks at Christian businessmen seminars. Plans for Whitestone began in 1963. The Cowells’ years of travel, planning and dreaming resulted in the resort facility.

We checked out Thursday morning to go to Cades Cove, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and onward to Pigeon Forge. Leaving the Whitestone Country Inn was the first time I have ever felt sad about checking out of a place to stay.

The inn is not a place for people seeking urban activity. It is just as Paul purports it to be: “sanctuary for the soul.”