Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vaycays and Birthdays

September has been a pretty taxing month around here. A week in Grand Cayman, toes in the sand, ocean breezes, and then a return to Charlotte for another week or so of birthday hoopla. There's been gifts, decorations, multiple cakes, and multiple celebrations. Hey, we get by.

The Sunday before Labor Day, we left for our annual vacation. This year's travel was a little unique in the facts that a) due to all our house renovations, we typically wouldn't have taken a trip anywhere, but b) Clint was turning 40 and the occasion clearly called for some type of destination. Preferably tropical. And so we went.

For those of you who haven't been to the Cayman Islands, the beaches were, aside from Hawaii, the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The water was crystal clear and the sand was as fine and white as sugar. Thankfully, the wave of tropical storms came and went before we got there, and we enjoyed gorgeous sunny days, warm temperatures, and plenty of time at the pool and on the beach. Someone has to do it, right?

I brought along some decorations and made our hotel room festive for the occasion.

And, because this is me we're talking about, I also brought along some props for pictures.

 After all, how can one get into the proper celebratory spirit without novelty sunglasses?

Now, because of all that clear, gorgeous ocean, water activities are a main attraction in the Caymans. Ever the active adventurers (go ahead and laugh when you read that, I did), we took part in a few excursions around the island to take full advantage of our location.

Clint went paddle boarding. I really would have joined him, except for my lack of balance, hatred of salt water in my nostrils, and need to take pictures and snicker at him while standing firmly on the shore. But he looks good doing it, which is all that matters.

Stingray City is one of Grand Cayman's biggest tourist draws. It's a sandbar, out in the middle of the ocean, where the water is only about three or four feet deep. Boats full of tourists pour in with buckets of food for the stingrays, who are so tame they swim right up and eat out of your hand. We were told we simply had to go. On our way to Stingray City, we stopped for some snorkeling.

What can I say, except we are clearly in our element. Well, we were way better than the Canadian cruise goers who were snorkeling for the first time, I can tell you that. We would also like to thank Moby Dick Tours for the completely state-of-the-art equipment we were provided. I'm not sure I've ever had the opportunity to inflate my own life vest.

After an hour or so of fish watching and snorkeling, it was our turn at the Stingray City sand bar. There were boats and excited sightseers everywhere.

If you remember what happened to Steve Erwin several years ago, you will understand why my first reaction was that I was not getting off the boat. But Clint reminded me that this was the premier attraction, there would be plenty of great photo ops, and that he would ridicule me openly for the rest of my life for chickening out. Into the water I went.

I did blatantly refuse to handle the squid that the stingrays eat. I know that's the way to their heart and all, but I could not bring myself to reach into that bucket of raw slime while stingrays swirled around my feet, ankles, and legs. I would have to rely on charm alone. Well, that, and our tour guides. Clint, however, reached right in.

It wasn't long before my heart had stopped beating in my throat and I settled down enough to hold a ray. The smaller ones are the males and are about 18 inches in diameter, so Clint warmed up with one of those guys. Then the females came around and they are large and in charge. We held a 60 or 70 pound stingray and were told the largest one there is around six feet across. They were tame and extremely calm and gentle.

The family that "rays" together, stays together. Am I right? And so ends the sporty portion of our exploits.

I'm sure it goes without saying that we also ate some excellent food while we were there. We feasted on lobster rolls, lobster tacos, lobster quesadillas. The last night we were in Grand Cayman, we enjoyed more wonderful lobster at the Lobster Pot Restaurant, which has been family owned for over 30 years. We had a table right by the water and our meal was delicious (I'm still thinking about you, lobster mashed potatoes).

After dinner, and because we are powerless to resist a gimmick, we stopped by Coconut Joe's. As the name promises, we got an after dinner drink served in a coconut, and were all smiles. It was a nice way to cap off a wonderful trip.

Once we got back home, it was time to get down to business. The business of more celebrating! After all, 40 is a milestone, and I love an occasion to celebrate. Once our suitcases were unpacked and the mountain of laundry was conquered, I finished my birthday shopping and put up yet another round of birthday decor.

Balloons, yard signs, champagne, ice cream cake--aren't those the things that make the world go 'round? And gifts. Let's not forget the gifts.

Now, I forgot to take pictures of the nice presents that I gave Clint to commemorate the occasion--including an engraved pen, a belt, and a pair of suede boots--but I did think to photograph him opening luxuries like small batch bourbon and a t-shirt, so please enjoy.

The Clemson shirt was a must-have, for the Georgia Tech alumnus who sportingly cheers for my Tigers in every game except one (when our teams play each other), who willingly wears orange on game day, and who enthusiastically sets up and takes down each and every tailgate.

After all the gifts were open, we went to the restaurant he chose for the occasion: Beef and Bottle, a steakhouse here in Charlotte that has been serving locals and celebrities since the 1950s. It's wood paneled, candlelit, and well, they serve steaks.  At the end of our meal, there was a special birthday cake and candle for the man of the hour.

We devoured that cake and ice cream combo, and managed to wait a whole day until we broke out his Ben & Jerry's ice cream cake, complete with one layer of Cookies and Cream and one layer of Cherry Garcia. There's fruit involved, so it's clearly healthy.

The t-shirt, for those of you who are laughing, is one of his favorites. I will admit that I covet that shirt, and should I ever find it in my size, he and I will both be proud owners.

The rest of birthday weekend was low key, with some exciting activities like staining the deck and patching dry wall, and then Sunday we took one final victory lap with a fantastic birthday brunch. Friends brought balloons, gifts, and yes: one more cake and some candles. We topped off eggs Benedict, grits, prime rib, biscuits and gravy, french toast, and bacon with some very delicious triple chocolate cake.

All good things must come to an end, but we gave celebrating all we had for a solid two weeks. A good time was had by all--especially those of us who didn't have to get a year older in the process! I suppose now it's time to get back to some real world least until the I Love the 90s concert on Friday night.

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