After work, the family went to see Jackson’s new counselor and received his diagnosis (that was the sad part of the birthday). Afterwards, Dan took us out to dinner at Outback (did you know they have a gluten free menu?) and home for cake. My sister Skyped to say happy birthday, and that’s when Dan gave me my big birthday surprise: tickets to fly to North Carolina and see my sister! I asked what we would be doing so I could pack accordingly, and she wouldn’t tell me. Fine by me! So the next day once I was finished with work, Dan drove me to the airport and dropped me off. I only knew where I was going (North Carolina) and who was picking me up (my sister).
My flights were delayed, but I didn’t care because I had time to read and chill out alone in the airport. (Pure bliss for a mom of young ‘uns!) I arrived in NC and was so very happy to see Mary. We drove to her house and went to bed. My only instructions were to be ready to leave the house at 9:15 the next morning. I was and we did. She drove me to one of the nicest spas I’ve ever been to: the Spa at Pinehurst.
We were spoiled with private hour-long baths, hour-long massages, lunch by the pool (with chocolate-covered strawberries), and an hour-long facial. (My breath slowed and my eyes closed in peace simply at the mention of that memory again!) It was all splendid, but my favorite part was sitting in a fluffy robe in a chaise lounge and talking with my sister throughout the day. My spirit was refreshed and so so so happy!
We were complete noodles after the pampering, and went home to Mary’s house to relax on her couch. I love her house because it’s on a tiny lake. I really enjoy sitting on the couch and looking out the window at the lake and scenery… which is what we did when we got home. Mary fell asleep beside me, and I sat with her sweet puppy on my lap and watched the ripples on the lake. Serene and perfect!
And while I’m showing the scenery, I gotta share this picture of the pine trees my sister hates (and I adore) that surround every street in her town. Being in the middle of these trees makes me feel such awe and peace.
So, back to the sitting on the couch part. We are being couch potatoes and I’m looking out the window at the pretty lake when out of the blue, my favorite Aunt Lucy starts walking up my sister’s steps. I did a double take and my jaw fell open, and then I ran to hug her with tears in my eyes! My second surprise of the day had arrived. I was so very happy to see more of my family. Lucy joined us on the couch and we talked and talked and visited. After a while the dogs started barking. My sister stood up and I stood up, and I saw a car on the driveway (that wasn’t my niece’s). I asked who was here, and Mary just shrugged. I stared and then it hit me: my favorite cousin Catherine had come! I ran down the steps and screamed the whole way, and hugged Catherine. Whew! How happy I was to be with even MORE of my family! Catherine brought margaritas for us to enjoy while we gabbed and got ready for a special dinner out.
Mary took us to this incredible little restaurant called Elliotts on Linden, where we had some of the freshest and tastiest food. Appetizers were a crab and corn fritter and seared scallops. My entrée was the grain finished filet (yum!) and everyone else had the salmon special (also yum!). For dessert, we literally ordered one of everything. There was a mini chocolate mouse birthday cake, molten lava chocolate chili cake (with salted caramel gelato! Yes!), cheese cake, plus this amazing little pear and apple tart thingy. I thought that tart thingy would be my least favorite, but it was to-die-for good and turned out to be my favorite. We were so stuffed, we didn’t even finish all the desserts. (I don’t think that’s EVER happened to me.)
Afterwards, we went home and stayed up talking even longer, then hit the hay for the night. The next morning I got to sleep in a bit and we ate my sister’s breakfast casserole. The only thing I knew about the plans for the day was I was flying home late that afternoon, and I should be ready to leave for lunch at noon. When the time came, we all piled in to cars (with my luggage too, darn) and ended up at this restaurant called the Pik N Pig. It’s very near the tiny town where another of my favorite aunts lives, so when we pulled into the parking lot I asked, “Is there a Prius in the lot?” (She drives a Prius.) My sister knew I figured out the last surprise. We had lunch with my aunts, my cousin, my sister, my nieces, and my niece’s friend. Oh, joy! Lunch ended way too soon, and we had one group photo in the parking lot (which is beside an air strip) before saying goodbye.
My sister drove me to the airport and said goodbye. I didn’t even cry. Well, that’s not true. My eyes got wet, but nothing spilled over! I settled in and read while waiting for my flight, and filled my heart a little more by taking photos while on the plane. I had a layover in my hometown of Atlanta, GA… so the photos of Atlanta from my airplane brought me more joy.
I arrived back home that night, happy to be there but also wishing I lived closer to North Carolina. I’m so grateful that Dan and Mary gave me a soul-filling birthday gift. I have missed my extended family so much this past year, and hated being far apart from them. Seeing some of them for my birthday made the ache a little less dull, and helped refuel me until the next time we gather.
There’s only one problem: how will Dan ever be able to top this birthday gift?! (A note to my honey: please don’t even try! This was beyond wonderful, and a gift that will be cherished as long as I live. Thank you!)