May 2024

F1, Finals, Florida…& Fifty is Fabulous!

Let’s just say that May was a month of non-stop surprises to celebrate the most important man in my life, Trent. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to celebrate him even more than we normally do for his milestone 50th birthday. It started off by us heading to the airport and unbeknownst to him, we were headed to Miami. I showed him a video in the airport of what we were doing, which was that we were going to the F1 race, something neither of us had ever done. We’ve been avid fans of the show, “Drive to Survive”, for a couple years now and I had been researching when the races were for the past year. I actually bought the tickets in the summer of 2023 and it was really hard to keep it such a secret, especially when I was so excited as well. We checked into the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale and enjoyed an amazing dinner al fresco by the ocean that evening. The next day, we kicked off the festivities for what would be three chock-full days of engines roaring, delicious food, and incredible people watching. When we rolled up to the Hard Rock Stadium Autodrome, he was in awe, like a kid in a candy store, mouth gaping wide open as his head turned back and forth watching these incredible sports cars zoom by. The entire complex is like a small city of sorts with different villages and areas. I had another surprise in store for him as well…I had bought us “beach club” passes for the first day. This meant that we had access to a VIP area complete with a pool, daybeds, and special performances by incredible DJs and other artists. We got to see Steve Aoki up close spinning on the ones and twos and he had the whole crowd hyped up. There were go-go dancers and everyone around was super bougie and had that typical all-white Miami vibe going on. We were also able to watch a lot of the action up close, which consisted of the F1 Academy (female drivers) and Porsche races. Later in the afternoon, we made our way to our official seats for the weekend, which were probably some of the best in the complex. We had a view of a very long straightaway that goes straight into a hairpin turn, followed by the last portion of the track before the finish line. The amount of time we could view a car on the track was pretty amazing. We watched the F1 Sprint qualifying races in the afternoon and then joined everyone else and their mothers to try to get an Uber back to our hotel. It was pretty crazy, but we made it. That night, we had dinner at El Vez, a Hispanic restaurant in our hotel. Day number one in the books and it was a success!!!

On day two, Saturday, we did more exploring around the Autodrome then went to our seats to watch a Sprint race, a qualifying session for the Porsche Carrera cup, the F1 Academy first race, and hot laps (which is basically where rich people pay a lot of money to ride in a sports car with an experienced driver around the track). That afternoon, Ed Sheeran performed at the beach club, but we did not have passes for that day. However, we were able to watch him from our seat on a large screen, so that was really cool. We made our way back to the hotel just in time to grab a cocktail at the bar and head to our room to watch the Kentucky Derby. I even predicted the winner! That evening, we had a late dinner at The Boathouse at the Riverside. It was delicious and we had an amazing view of the gorgeous boats cruising down the waterway!

On day three, Sunday, we watched the second Porsche Carrera cup race, some Ferrari parade laps (which is my jam, because that is my favorite sports car!), and another F1 Academy race. We used a break in the action to explore even more of the complex that we had not seen yet. This included champagne tents with DJs in them and a garden-like vibe that was reminiscent of the Bottlerock festival. Very bougie and amazing. I’m pretty sure my mouth was wide open most of the weekend, just in awe of everything. We headed back to our seats and watched the driver’s parade as they were escorted around the track on an open bed semitruck where the media conducted interviews and they waved at the crowd. The Red Bull parachute team landed at the start line and the national anthem was sung. Shortly after that, it was “lights out and away we go!”…and the race began! The race is 57-laps long and full of non-stop action. Even though the track 3.3 miles in length, you don’t have to wait very long before the next set of cars come speeding by. The whole vibe gives you goosebumps and the crowd goes pretty crazy when they rush past your seats. It’s loud, wild, and amazing! Lando Norris won the race, which is awesome because Max Verstappen is pretty much the winner all the time. This was Lando’s first ever F1 win and I was glad we were there to see it! Although, we would have preferred that Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) or Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) win. It was fun to see the champagne-spray celebration to cap off. Such an amazing weekend! We wrapped up that night with another waterfront dinner at Shooters before making our way back to the hotel. What a bucket list experience for someone who completely deserves to be in their element, surrounded by amazing sports cars!

While we were in Miami, Brayden took the SAT for her final time and Hanleigh had a soccer game. When we returned, we jumped right back into the swing of things with more flag football games, dinner with Kendall, and then a family dinner at Middle James Brewing Company on Trent’s actual birthday. It was great to see everyone! That weekend, we went to my good friend, Julie’s, daughter’s graduation party at a beautiful home on a lake. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a fancy graduation party before. They had lanterns floating in the pool, Instagram-worthy balloon displays, and a light-up dance floor with a DJ down by the lake. I told Brayden not to expect that level of decor for her graduation party, but it will still be amazing nonetheless. Brayden took her AP Environmental Science exam, of which we’ll find out the score sometime this summer, and she also continued to help one of her elementary school teachers by volunteering. Both of the girls wrapped up their final exams for the year, including EOG testing.

Surprise number two culminated after many months of planning with a party at Carolina Butcher and Beer Garden. There were so many wrenches thrown in the plans that could have sabotaged the surprise, but I stayed one step ahead of them. Hanleigh had two make-up soccer games that same afternoon that I had to figure out how she was going to get out of going to them. At first we thought that she could play sick, but that wouldn’t explain how I would need to get her out of the house to go help set up for the party. The only thing I could think to do was to email her soccer coach and have him send a fake email to just Trent and I saying that her games had been canceled. I had told him earlier in the week that I was happy to go to the game and he could meet his friends out for beers that day, but he wasn’t having it. Just like the good dad he is, he said he was going to go to her game, which is why I needed a good solid plan B. The coach did me a favor and the game was “cancelled”. So, I lied and told Trent that the girls and me were going over to my mom’s house to hang out with her while he was having beers with his friends. This was only somewhat true. We did see her for a brief moment and then went to set everything up with her help. We had a private area rented out along with some food. Everyone was there to surprise him when he walked in. He was shocked once again. We spent the next few hours laughing and cutting up and having a great time!

The next day was Mother’s Day and we went to Culinary Dropout in downtown Charlotte and enjoyed an amazing brunch, followed by attending Hanleigh’s soccer game. The girls gave me the best homemade cards ever with the sweetest messages. Brayden mentioned that I am one of her best friends, which meant so much. That week, I went to Tampa for a work event that I had been planning, which was very successful. Meanwhile, Brayden took her AP Calculus exam and I returned just in time for us to watch Hanleigh’s dance showcase at school. Trent and I had a fun night out with Mom and ate at Rosemont Wine bar, followed by attending the play “Next to Normal” with Kyle and Cammy. Early the next morning, I scooped up Kendall and one of her friends, Dana, to head to Atlanta for a concert. We checked into the hotel, grabbed a delicious lunch at bartaco where we met up with Kendall’s best friend, Jennifer, and then headed on to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to see Megan Maroney, Zac Brown, and Kenny Chesney. Of course, the concert was amazing and we had a blast! 

Hanleigh’s soccer team made it to the playoffs, which was awesome. They have done so great over the season and just really developed as a team in the best way. She celebrated the end of her flag football season as well with a social event at Spare Time. Her coach, Sarah, was so thoughtful and gave each of the girls a picture of them in a frame and talked about how special each of them were in their own unique way. Later that week, we sat in our kitchen and streamed Emilia’s graduation in our kitchen. We were all a bit emotional just watching her grace the stage and receive her high school diploma. It’s very moving to see someone, who you have known since they were born and who you consider to be like a daughter, mature and take the next step in her life. Needless to say, there were not many dry eyes in our house that evening. The next morning, the four of us flew to Fort Lauderdale where we picked up a car and drove to tour the University of Miami. This is a school that is on Brayden’s list, so we figured that while we were down there, we might as well check it out. The campus is gorgeous and meticulously landscaped. Palm trees are everywhere, there is a big lake in the center of campus which everything surrounds, but it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly large. Brayden is interested in enjoying a sorority, however, they did not have sorority houses at University of Miami…they have Greek offices, but nowhere for the ladies to live as a group. There also isn’t a main college street like there is at other universities. Perhaps this is because it is in Miami and that is such a big city already. After touring the university on our own, we drove across the state to Naples where we checked into one of Leslie’s client’s homes, who was gracious enough to let us stay there for the long weekend. We went to the Mazzola’s house for dinner that evening with extended family and friends to celebrate the graduate. It was very special to have this quality time with her. The next day, they hosted their larger party with all of her high school friends as well. I would say there was probably 50 people at their house. Brayden and Hanleigh had so much fun meeting new people as well. The high schoolers were playing water pong on the lanai and we continued the party throughout the evening at their house, long after people left. The next day, we had brunch at Joe’s parents house, which was absolutely lovely. This again, was the same smaller group of people that were there on Friday night. After the brunch, we made our way to Vanderbilt Beach to relax for a little bit before going over to Buzz’s Lighthouse for some requisite painkillers. That evening, Joe and Leslie had treated everyone to a gorgeous catamaran sunset sail for a few hours. It was absolutely beautiful and the weather was perfect. 

The next day, the four of us headed back east to the Fort Lauderdale airport where the final 50th birthday surprise kicked off. Trent thought all of us were headed back to Charlotte, but I had other plans. When we went to check our luggage, the girls notified Trent that he would not be going back to Charlotte with them, but rather the two of us would be flying to Marsh Harbor in the Abaco Islands for some fun! He was definitely very excited. When we landed, there was another surprise: I had invited Abby and Justin to join us and they picked us up from the airport. Justin yelled out, “Jones, party of two!” and Trent just started laughing. He was definitely surprised! When we got to the Bahama Beach Club, they had decorated the room (they arrived the day before) with some supplies that I had sent Abby earlier. That night, we dined at The Pavilion on site (conch fritters, yummy!), and the next day, I had rented us a half-day private boat charter with Captain Mark. He took us to No Name Cay where the swimming pigs are, but we didn’t see any of them swimming. We only saw one and he was in his pig house. We then went snorkeling, followed by swimming with stingrays, turtles, and lemon sharks. It was definitely one of the coolest things ever. The turtles were super friendly and so were the rays. They all got super close to us! The rays were a bit unnerving and Abby was having a hard time getting back on the boat because there were so many around her. It was pretty funny watching that happen. We stopped at a bar called Pineapples on Green Turtle Cay and we were the first ones there. Apparently, as the day goes on, it gets much more busy. We made our way home to do some relaxing, but little did Trent know, there was just one final surprise. While he and Justin were laying out on the beach, Abby and I went to go pick up dinner, however we were up to something else sneaky: we picked up Joe and Leslie from the airport. The surprise was amazing! They crept up behind him while he was on a beach chair and Joe asked, “Anybody know where I can get a good painkiller?” Trent heard his voice and just started laughing and turned around and saw them both. It was the best. The six of us were all together and Abby and Justin made an amazing dinner for us in the condo and we just stayed up late laughing and talking. It was incredible and everything I imagined. Thanks to the four of you for taking the time away from your crazy lives to help celebrate Trent. I will never forget it and it was so special. You all mean everything to us. 

I dropped Abby and Justin off at the airport the next morning so they could get home in time for Landon to head off to Paris with Aunt Patty and Uncle John. The rest of that day was a lazy beach day and then we went to dinner at the Jib Room which was in Marsh Harbor, about a 40-minute drive from our condo. That’s the one thing that was a bit tiring…anytime we wanted to go to civilization, it took quite a while. Dinner was just okay, but we got to see a really beautiful fishing boat, so that was nice. The next day, I had rented a full-day private charter with Captain Alton. We gallivanted from island to island. We went to Man-O-War Cay and saw where they made boats, hiked up the Hopetown Lighthouse, went to Tahiti Beach where there are swings in the middle of the ocean near a sandbar, drove past the beautiful homes on Elbow Cay, had amazing food at the Abaco Inn, and ended our day on Guana Cay at Nippers bar, where we didn’t have nearly enough time. That place was absolutely incredible, had the best painkillers and the best view. I could spend an entire day there bouncing between the ocean and the bar. Definitely on the list for the next time we go! We came back and had dinner at the condo to cap off an amazing day. The next day, we did an all-day excursion through Brendal’s. While Joe, Leslie, and Trent snorkeled, I went scuba diving. It was amazing. The coral was beautiful, but we also saw lots of Caribbean reef sharks, lobster, and your typical marine life. Life. However, the coolest thing was that we were told about a large grouper, named Reggae, who likes to be hugged and petted. I didn’t know how in the world we would actually get to see him because you can’t control what is under the sea, but we found him. I was able to hold him and hug him and lay on the bottom of the ocean floor and pet him. And when I stopped petting him, he was like a dog and would follow me and look at me like “Why aren’t you petting me?” It was incredible and one of the coolest experiences ever. After the diving and snorkeling, we went to a private beach where they grilled us some fresh fish for a delicious lunch, and then we fed some stingrays and went looking for turtles. Our final day was intentionally spent with zero plans. However, it was so windy that we couldn’t spend the day on the beach, so we just hung by the pool and laughed and listened to music and just reminisced on the entire week. Leslie and I had hyped up a delicious grouper dinner that we were going to have from a place down the street, but we had it in the oven too long and it dried out and our tasty dinner wasn’t so tasty. We laughed about that a lot as well. We made our requisite bathroom video, which what did not make the video post here for obvious reasons. The next day, we dropped Joe and Leslie off at the airport and since Trent and I had a couple hours to kill, we went to the Abaco Beach resort for brunch and walked around looking at the pretty boats. The trip was absolutely amazing and I highly encourage anyone to go check out the Abacos. The water is breathtaking. The next time we go, I think we would stay on Elbow Cay because there’s a lot more to do there and activities are closer to the hotels, which cuts down on transit time. Plus, we want to spend more time at Nippers. While we were gone, my mom and Trent’s parents watched the kids, so thank you all so much for doing that and allowing us to take this amazing trip for his birthday. Brayden had her rising senior parent night where my mom learned everything for the upcoming year in terms of important dates, college application preparation, etc. Hanleigh had her reading and math EOG tests as well. So, it was such a busy month, but everything about it was absolutely incredible and most of it was to celebrate such an important man, which all of us love dearly. Happy birthday, my love!

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