Celebration With Much Zoobilation!

Everyday Adventures

If you’ll indulge me as I stray from the 64 Arts, I’d like to share my wonderfully awesome birthday adventure with you! If you’re just here for the creativity and projects, check out the Arts So Far and the Projects pages and come back next Tuesday when we start the Art of Perfume.


Running Away Isn’t Always a Sign of Weakness

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, to relax and unwind. Todd and I had been feeling that need more acutely than ever this year (usually we’ve done a convention or 2 by the end of April but I’m on “restrictions” until I finish the book so we’ve not gone anywhere or done anything except work–even the holidays were full of moving and unpacking and stuff).

Wanting to harness the childlike fun of birthdays (I really dislike the way we train kids to expect fun and celebration on young birthdays and then tell them it’s over at some point in their teens) I announced, one night as we were just going to sleep, that I wanted to go to the Zoo for my birthday and see the monkeys (I have a serious thing for monkeys).

Reservations made for 3 nights at the Hampton Inn in downtown Jacksonville (on a 3 for 2 offer, hotel points +1), we knew Saturday (my actual birthday) would be spent at the Jacksonville Zoo with dinner plans flexible depending on how tired we were–as much as I love a nice dinner with wine, etc. I was totally cool with the idea of Chinese take-out in the hotel room if we were worn out–and no real plans for Sunday or Monday (we’d both gotten the day off) except to relax and hang out together as much as possible.

Pack Your Monkeys and Let’s Go!

We both managed to scoot out of work a little early on Friday to get a head start on traffic. Just before leaving Todd posed a rather difficult question:

Do you want your presents now or tomorrow?

Oh, what’s a girl to do?!

Turns out it wasn’t too tough, after all: there were 2 presents in play and I asked if I could have 1 now, and 1 on my birthday. The first present (the one that would stay home, he said) turned out to be a DVD of Up–probably our second favorite Disney movie (Meet the Robinsons coming in first, hands down).

Watch out World, Monkey at the Wheel!The birthday fun well-begun and the bags loaded in the car (Todd played chauffeur all weekend–it was wonderful having absolutely 0 responsibility!) we set out on I-10 East and, immediately, felt the ease of vacation settle upon the whole car.

And just as I wondered if it was just me, Todd pulls one of the Georges* from the back seat and gives him a turn at the wheel. (Don’t worry, the cruise control was on.) He got bored quickly, though, and left the rest of the 2.5 hour trip to Todd.

It’s almost unheard of for us to get to our destination with daylight left but this time we did (and a good thing–the construction going on might have made finding our destination in the dark a bit more challenging). After unpacking it was time to decide on dinner.

Being 2 foodies on vacation, grabbing fast food or a bland bite from a chain just wasn’t going to cut it–we wanted something local and good! So, with the help of jax-dining and yelp, we settled on a couple of possibilities on the same street (in case the first didn’t look as good as it sounded or had too much of a wait).

Of course, first we had to get the guys settled in for the night…

Chilling in the hotel room

They’re not going to get up to any trouble while we’re gone, are they? Of course not!

The back-up restaurant wasn’t necessary. We found European Street Cafe with no problem and had one of the best meals we’ve had in quite some time. (At least until the next night, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.) And thanks to their delectable bakery counter we knew where we could come for birthday cake the next night. (More food details available soon over on Nibbles n Bites)

Rueben from E Street Cafe

my Rueben from E Street Cafe


The Birthday Officially Begins

We hadn’t mean to, but we ended up awake past midnight and, just before falling asleep my curiosity got the best of me and I asked for my other present.

Sparkly Monkey Necklace

Isn’t it just the cutest sparkly monkey necklace ever? It’s a monkey… with BLING! I was tickled pink and it was the best way to start my official birthday-day. (It’s being modeled by one of the Georges, of course)

The next morning I was up before Todd (a rare occurrence, I assure you!), eager to get our day started (breakfast included in the reservation–more than just the usual continental, hotel points +2).

First things first, I wanted to start our day at the Jacksonville Zoo by finding another George to add to the collection. It was a tough choice–there were about 6 different monkeys to choose from but, after much deliberation, we settled on Mandy George, and headed out to the platform to catch the train that goes around the perimeter of the Zoo. Todd offered to buy more than 1 monkey that morning but I honestly didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity, at least not overmuch. (I had booked the hotel room for the long weekend away but Todd was covering meals and entertainment–I didn’t want it to be too unbalanced, does that make any sense?)

Our Newest Family Member

There’s something incredibly… freeing about letting your grown-up guard down and letting the inner child run loose for a day at the Zoo. Not only that, there was no conflict, no tension, no tears and perfect accord between Todd and I. Not that that’s rare with us, but it’s something I’m still so grateful for with him and it just made the day all the more sweet.

We made our way through each and every exhibit (even the creepy crawly ones), stopped for lunch at the Trout River Grille and made our way clear to other end of the Zoo just before 4pm (closing time was 5 and we started at 10–it’s a full-day attraction). I took far too many pictures to share them all here but I a lot of them over on Flickr for the curious. Of course our favorites were the monkeys, though the sleepy otters, gliding penguins and the goats in the kid’s area were quite fun to watch.

some of the sights

More Zoo Fun

The idea was to take the train back to the entrance, rather than walk, and while we waited we stopped into one last gift shop. And my intention not to take advantage of Todd’s generosity failed miserably when I saw dancing monkey pens. And more possible George’s. There was one little guy, up on the top shelf, with the perfectly coiffed fur and a somewhat sardonic smile–he had to come home with us.

Dean George and Todd

So we had TWO monkey’s to introduce to the two at the hotel.

The Meeting of the Monkey Minds

After a day like this, what kind of dinner can top it?

Surprisingly enough we weren’t absolutely exhausted (so no Chinese take-out in the hotel) and we’d been given some restaurant recommendations from a local webcomics friend so we weren’t quite so aimless as the night before (even though–kudos  to us–E Street was one of the recommendations so we blundered into a local fave then, too!).

After looking through the suggestions, comparing menus, reviews (and ruling out a fun-sounding hookah bar on account of my lungs needing to stay smoke-free), we settled on 13 Gypsies, a tapas and more restaurant on Stockton Street that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.

Now, we didn’t have a reservation–we didn’t know we needed one–and would have happily taken the one free table on the sidewalk but, due to a group calling in a different number for that night we were granted a corner table, as long as we’d be done in 90 minutes. About an hour later, as we were finishing up, the couple at the next table asked if we were enjoying our dinner as much as they were–turns out they’d been trying to get a reservation for MONTHS (13G is a rather small place–intimate!–something like 10 tables, tops)! Birthday luck on our side, I suppose.

And it was delicious–we ordered half a dozen items from their tapas menu and everything was amazing. I’m so glad we didn’t just order entrees as it would have been a shame to miss out on the variety the tapas menu afforded.

Quixote Style Beef from 13 Gypsies

Just one of the lovely dinner bites: Quixote Style Beef

The day had been so wonderful–not just because of the multitude of monkeys or being spoiled and indulged by Todd–it was the feeling of utter and complete contentment, like we hadn’t a care in the world except to spend the hours as together as possible and nothing more. I felt loved, cared for, cherished. And I told Todd this, holding hands across the table, there were even tears in my eyes from sheer joy–then my hand cramped and we dissolved into giggles. I swear, I can’t do the white romantic stuff for very long at all.

Happily full, we declined dessert and headed back towards our downtown home.

But what about the birthday cake?

Oh, we didn’t forget. We both had our sights set on the Chocolate Beast cake we saw in the case at E Street. Back we went for two large slices to enjoy in the hotel room, later, in pajamas. And, yes, Todd (and the monkeys) serenaded me. Todd doesn’t very often, but it was the best Happy Birthday I’d ever heard.

Chocolate Beast from E Street

And then there was the rest of the weekend.

Saturday being so full and focused, we kinda dilly-dallied Sunday morning, getting up with just enough time to throw on some clothes and head downstairs for breakfast, then slow-poking through showers and such. Then it was off to St Augustine to tour the Castillo de San Marcos (a place I hadn’t been I was a toddler), sticking our noses into various shops in the Old City and heading up to San Sebastian Winery for our second wine tasting of the day. Monday morning ran the same way–a slow start, a late breakfast, and taking our time packing up to leave (noon check-out, hotel points +10)–and we didn’t even mind going home.

One things really stands out to me about the weekend. Well, one thing that isn’t birthday-related, that is. We never once needed to read before bed to wind down. We read for fun whenever the mood strikes, of course, but at night both Todd and I read before bed as a way to relax, to unwind from the day, from staring at screens and worrying about work. The entire weekend we were away? No books before bed. We were completely unwound the whole time and it was glorious.

Another thing? The weird worries that plague me in the moments between waking and sleep? Nonexistent. I didn’t even notice they were gone until we were home and they came back! I’m working on ways to keep them at bay, too.

We’ve decided we need more of these sorts of weekends. Maybe not a long weekend out of town–our budgets aren’t really built for that–but at least one day a month we’re going to blow off everything else and spend the day in a vacation-state: find a local festival or take a drive somewhere, tour a museum, something!

Because that was the best part of any birthday or any other day: being together, no strings, no worries.


*Monkey notes: All of our monkeys are named George; it’s like the George-Borg. On this trip we started out with Curious George (CG for short) and Pillow George (likewise known as PG–yes, I have a pillow pet, he was an anniversary gift, he stays on our bed and frequently causes us to giggle just before going to sleep), most of them stayed home to guard the house, though.

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