My husband Travis’ birthday is in January. This year, it fell on a Thursday, a day when our schedule forced us to divide and conquer, driving one child to dance class and picking up another from basketball practice.
Not the most fun way to spend a birthday, but Travis didn’t complain. He’s such a trooper.
Did I mention that I’m his number one fan?
Miraculously, the weekend following his birthday we had no obligations with the kids. I don’t know how this happened, but from the moment I realized it, the wheels in my head started to spin. We had an entire weekend of free time, and I wanted to plan special activities that I thought Travis would like, things that he normally doesn’t get to do in a household of all females.
You know, guy things.
I came up with a jam-packed itinerary, and thanks to offers from the grandparents to watch the kids for us, we were ready to kick off Travis’ Epic Birthday Weekend.
Sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures greeted us on this January morning. “Nice day,” Travis commented, looking longingly out the window of our home office.
I grabbed his shoes and placed them at his feet. “Put these on. We’ve got a tee-off time in 20 minutes,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows. “Really?” He looked at his computer screen, then out the window. Then he clicked the keyboard feverishly as he typed a message to his business partner, reached for his shoes and said, “Let’s go!”
All epic birthday weekends start off with playing hooky from work on Friday, right?
This one started off at Schifferdecker Golf Course. “It feels great to be outside,” said Travis, placing this ball on his tee. “Golfing was a great idea.”
“Aw, thanks,” I said. Then he swung his driver, whacking the ball and sending it straight down the fairway.
“Your turn,” he said, gesturing for me to tee off. I lined up my driver, took a deep breath, then swung. But the only thing that went flying through the air was a piece of turf. “I guess I’m a bit rusty,” I said tamping down the grass to fix the divot that I’d made in the ground.
Over the next couple of hours, my game didn’t improve, and on the eighth hole, Travis said, “Why don’t we stop after the next hole? I’m not feeling up to doing all 18 today.”
I sighed in relief, grateful to him for granting me mercy.
We packed up our clubs and headed downtown for lunch at Instant Karma. Known for its gourmet hot dogs, inventive burgers, and wide selection of local and craft beers, this eclectic restaurant is a favorite lunch spot of ours. I ordered the vegetarian Bio Diesel, a meatless hot dog covered in homemade blue cheese slaw and Sriracha sauce.
Travis polished off his Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as a bun. “I’m ready for my nap now,” he said.
“Let’s go home and rest up,” I told him. “You’ll need your ninja reflexes for laser tag this afternoon.”
A few hours later, we were refreshed and ready to do battle at Lazer Force. Placed on opposing teams, we mentally prepared for our game of indoor hide and seek with laser guns.
The last time we’d played here, I scored over a hundred points more than Travis. Today, he beat me by 300 points. But that’s okay because he’s the birthday boy.
We emerged from the laser tag darkness and into the still-mild winter afternoon. “Let’s not let this gorgeous afternoon go to waste,” I said. “Let’s go to Tropicana.”
Tropicana is a two-story bar and grill with outdoor seating and over 20 beers on tap. We sat on the patio and drank our beer until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the air grew chilly.
We found a table inside near the warm fire and placed our dinner order: Fish tacos for Travis and the Buddha Gouda Burger (with Tropicana’s signature sauce) for me.
While we waited for our food to arrive, we watched as a local band warmed up for a show. Tropicana often has live music on the weekends, and tonight happened to be one of those times.
It was great timing for us: dinner and entertainment. Today’s schedule had worked out well.
When the server brought us fresh drinks, I raised my glass. “Happy birthday, Travis.”
With nowhere to be Saturday morning, we slept in. When we finally got up and dressed for the day, I told Travis that I needed to go to the mall to return a shirt.
Travis groaned. “I thought this was supposed to be a fun weekend.”
“It will be. I promise.”
I knew we’d be eating out the rest of the day so I got two breakfast bars out of the pantry for us to snack on during our drive to Northpark Mall. After we got out of the car at the mall, Travis looked at my empty hands and asked, “Where’s the shirt you need to return?”
“About that…” I began. By that time, we had made it to the entrance of Tilt Studio.
Then it hit him.
“You don’t have anything to return, do you?” he asked. “You just brought me here to challenge me at air hockey, didn’t you?” he asked.
I grinned sheepishly. “Come on!” I said, pulling on his arm. “It’ll be fun!”
He rolled his eyes. “You just can’t stand the fact that I beat you last time, can you?”
I hated to admit it, but the man was right.
We played two games of air hockey, each of us winning one.
Then came the tiebreaker.
And everything was right in the world again.
To prove that there were no hard feelings, I took Travis downtown to one of his favorite restaurants: Hackett’s Hot Wings.
While I don’t care for chicken wings, I do love Hackett’s homemade sauce, so I ordered a salad with sauce-covered grilled chicken breast on top. It was like eating a boneless version of Hackett’s well-known wings.
Afterward, we wanted to get outdoors and enjoy yet another mild January day, so we drove a few blocks to the trailhead for the Frisco Trail to take a hike.
“Hey, let’s see if we can find a cache on the trail,” I suggested. Sometimes Travis and I like to combine our hikes with geocaching, which is like an outdoor scavenger hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find caches. There were several located on the Frisco Trail, and we ended up finding one close to the trail head.
Worn out from our day of play, we went home to rest for a few hours (this involved some Netflix binge watching, of course). Then we freshened up for our night out with friends.
We met two couples for dinner at Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, a cozy place to chill out with friends. Blackthorn offers a variety of beer on tap, and each of us ordered something different.
And what tastes great with beer? Pizza. We ordered The Iconica, which was topped with blackened chicken, Italian sausage, bacon, garlic, and jalapenos. It was mildly spicy and very tasty.
After an hour, I said, “Let’s head over to JB’s to get some good seats for the show.” We settled our bill, then walked a couple of blocks to JB’s Downtown Joplin to watch the dueling piano show.
The room was already crowded with people enjoying their pre-show drinks and conversation, but we were able to claim a table off to the side, which gave us a good view of both the pianos.
Billy Joel’s crowd-pleasing “Piano Man” kicked off the show, with people joining in the chorus.
It was going to be a fun night.
A few songs into the show, I walked up to one of the piano players and requested a song.
“What did you request?” asked Travis when I came back to the table.
“You’ll see,” I said.
A few minutes later, one of the piano players leaned toward his microphone and asked, “Where’s Travis Smith?”
“Right here,” I said, pointing to my blindsighted husband.
“This song’s for you, man” said the piano player.
The familiar melody of the song “Happy Birthday” filled the room. I sang along, loud and proud, while Travis turned red and gave me the evil eye.
But secretly I knew he enjoyed the attention. At least, I hoped he did.
After the late night out with our friends, we were moving rather slowly on Sunday morning. The rhythmic pounding of the rain on the roof didn’t exactly help motivate us get up, either. But once the grumbling from our stomachs started, we were dressed and out the door within ten minutes.
“The last meal of your birthday weekend,” I said wistfully, as we pulled up to the tiny brick building which houses The Bruncheonette. I had to admit that this weekend’s break from cooking was just as much a gift for me as eating out at his favorite restaurants was for Travis.
And eating at The Bruncheonette is always a treat. Serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch items, this restaurant combines locally sourced ingredients in wildly inventive ways. Today, both Travis and I ordered different variations of Eggs Benedict. Travis had the Cuban B, with tender pulled pork, ham, and gruyere, and I ordered the Garden Benny, topped with fresh asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, local micro greens beet Hollandaise.
As I swirled the last bite of my poached egg in the creamy sauce, I looked out the window and saw people dashing from their cars to the door of The Bruncheonette with their coats over their heads, protecting themselves from the sudden torrential downpour. “We’ll have to take a raincheck on paintball today,” I said. Playing paintball had been our last activity in our birthday weekend schedule.
Travis pushed away his empty plate and leaned back in his chair. “That’s no big deal. I already had a great weekend,” he said.
“There’s just one bad thing about it though,” he added.
My heart dropped. “What?”
“I’m going to expect this much fun every birthday from now on,” he said playfully.
“Done,” I promised.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.