2011 Review: Best/Worst of Twenty-Eleven

I know I said I was hoping to post 1-2 times a week when we rolled out the blog but the holidays and moving got in the way (hate it when that happens).  So…sorry about the “no show” last week on the blog.  The good news is we’ve got a ton of blog post material to write about from the last couple weeks to keep us busy posting and you busy reading.  Since we are coming to a close of 2011, I thought it would be fun to make our picks for best/worst of 2011 (keep in mind these are just for this year..not necessarily the best picks of all time).  So I’ll list mine first, as it relates to me and my interests, and Tara’s picks will follow.  By the way, this is one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog in the first place…to keep a log of things that I can look back on later in life.  Hope you enjoy.

Best Music Album of 2011

BB/TB – “21” by Adele: This was, by far, my favorite album.  I know you might think I’m jumping on the bandwagon here (since she has so many award nominations coming in) but I really liked the music diversity of each track. The different producers I’m sure helped, but her vocal ability made each track sound unique not to mention she penned some great lyrics which made me want to listen to it all the more.  I’ve had this on my iPod since it came out.

Runner Up:

BB/TB – “New Acoustic Sessions Volume 1” by Boyce Avenue.  This album I stumbled across when they played their cover of “Just The Way You Are” by Bruno Mars on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance.  I then proceeded to download all of their cover albums.  The lead singer knows how to stay in his vocal range and they take a good creative approach on each tune musically to make it their own.

Honorable Mention:

BB“Smooth Jazz Summer” by Smooth Jazz All Stars:  Thanks to Mike Wieder for showing me this one.  Great cocktail hour music.  They do a ton of jazzy covers of current tunes and they have older albums with more of the classics.  They’ll make you laugh cause they sound a tad cheesy  but they’re somehow cool at the same time.

BB –“For The Honor” by Elevation Church.  These guys put out great records and this one is no exception.  Great worship album with powerful lyrics.

Best Music Single of 2011

BB – “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull feat. Ne-yo, Afrojack & Nayer: Dance music made a huge comeback this year.  You see it’s influence even with the hip hop being released.  This song is a combination of it all.

TB – “Out Of My Head” by Lupe Fiasco feat. Trey Songz: I just love this song, makes me want to dance, everytime!

Runner Up:

BB – “Levels” by Avicii: Great feel good track.  You can’t help but want to dance and fistpump to this track.

Honorable Mention:

BB –“Rolling In The Deep” by Adele

BB –“Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People  

Best Book I Read in 2011

BB – “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson: Thank you Eric Partin for the recommendation.  This book is awesome for small business owners and entrepreneurs.  It really made me rethink a lot of what we do and how we do it.

TB – “Hunger Games” Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: My friend, Emily Rogers, has been trying to get me to read this series for over a year.  I finally did and finished it in no time.  I couldn’t put it down!  It’s fiction and has a really crazy story – I don’t even think I can try to explain it to you.  The movie comes out in March and you know what they say, the book is always better than the movie.  So, read this now!

Runner Up:

BB – “Decision Points” by George W Bush: I really liked this book.  It felt like I got to see a more personal side of the president.  Whether or not you agree or disagree with his political stance, I think you’ll see a genuine guy who gave it his all and looked out for our country’s best interest.  I have more respect than ever for him after reading this book.

TB –If You Have To Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You” by Kelly Cutrone:  This made Brian’s Honorable Mention category, but I loved it!  It’s a funny book and had some great tips, especially as I got ready to head to NYC.  Brian felt her religious takes were a little too out there and thought it hindered the book, and I agree.  But, if you can get past the far-out religious references, it has some great tips, especially for young women in the business world.

Honorable Mention:

BB/TB –“Storehouse Principle: A Revolutionary Good Idea for Creating Extraordinary Financial Stability” by Al Jandl: Whether you are a Christian or not, this a great book about the power of saving/giving with regard to your finances.  It was a timely read for us.

BB –“Running A Multi Op” by Michael Walter: This book is definitely geared towards my occupation.  I picked up a few things but more than anything, it opened up my eyes to the fact that we are doing a lot of things well.

Best Travel Destination of 2011

BB – “Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay” (Jamaica)

I travelled a TON this year but this category made picking a winner a no brainer.  First time to this country and I stayed in one of the top resorts on the island.  I was there for a gig for 2 days and the client put us up.  I’ll definitely be back for a personal vacation when I start bankrolling 😉 {last minute BB edit: with my beautiful wife of  course…whew!}

TB – “Las Vegas, NV.”: This was a mini-vacation for Brian and I in July.  Definitely not the coolest month to checkout that city, but so much fun!  It was my first time there, but Brian made sure I saw and experienced all of the Las Vegas things you have to do.

Runner Up:

BB – “Chicago, IL: I know this seems pretty boring AND we went in July (when usually it is SCORCHING hot and the humidity is unbearable).  But, we caught it on the perfect weekend (we got there on a Friday morning and stayed through Sunday).  The weather was like SoCal every day (75 degrees and a slight breeze) except Sunday (the day we left).  It’s a great town to hang out in and visit.  We stayed at the Hard Rock, saw a Cubs game, did the tourist thing (thanks Schae Lewis for the tips) and it was a blast.

TB – Another surprise trip to Germantown, TN. to see my sister and brother-in-law.  Brian surprised me for Valentine’s Day with a trip to Memphis to visit my sister, who had just moved in January.  Best present ever!

Honorable Mention:

BB/TB –“Casa Tropicana” in San Clemente, CA: I was there for business in October.  I absolutely love this city.  We stayed at this bed and breakfast (below it is a former nightclub I worked at for 8 years ) which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and it was one of the most relaxing stays I’ve ever had.  One day, we will retire in this city…it has the best sunsets in the U.S., hands down.

BB – “French Lick, Indiana”: Just kidding 🙂  But I really did go here this year for a gig. As a diehard Lakers fan, it was hard not to grafiti the whole town (which as small is it is would’ve taken about 15 minutes) and burn any and all Larry Bird paraphernalia.

Best Breakfast Restaurant in 2011

BB – “Cheeky’s” – Palm Springs, CA: I found a review of this place on Yelp while I was there doing a gig and it lived up to the billing.  It still is not my #1 breakfast spot of all-time (that would be Plums in Costa Mesa, CA) but I really liked this place because it was different and had a ton of amazing choices!

TB – Hash House A Go Go” – Las Vegas, NV:  This is on Brian’s Honorable Mention list, but I thought it was super fantastic!  The portions were beyond big and so delicious!  I had their Chorizo House Hash.  I love chorizo in the morning!

Runner Up:

BB/TB – “Peels” – New York, NY: Great atmosphere, food and vibe!

Honorable Mention:

BB –Hash House A Go Go” – Las Vegas, NV:  Huge portions.  They have a few different locations.  We went to the one off the strip on Sahara.

Best Dinner Restaurant in 2011

BB/TB –Hot Chocolate” – Chicago, IL: We went to this place in July and it’s awesome.  It’s won restaurant of the year in Chicago for a few years running.  Definitely get a hot chocolate for desert!!  The Mexican hot chocolate is TO DIE!

Runner Up:

BB – “Fish Bones “– Lake Mary, FL: Going to Orlando so much this year, I ended up eating at this restaurant for business meetings a lot!  Get the filet.  You won’t be disappointed.

TB –Sushimoto” – Destin, FL:  Best sushi place in Destin, hands down.  With a lot of sushi places, the best rolls can’t be found on the menu.  My non-menu favorites are: Cookie Monster, Fairmont, and Asian Persuasion.  If you can handle the XXX Tuna (I’m looking at you, Lisa Tuttle!), the flavor is amazing, but it is so hot I can only eat 2 pieces, max.  Brian’s favorite rolls are: Urban Queen, Asian Persuasion and This Is How We Roll.  I don’t even know what is in most of these rolls, I just know they’re amazing!

Honorable Mention:

BB –Takara”– Port Orange, FL:  Best sushi place in Port Orange area.  My favorite rolls are: Volcano Roll & The Hollywood Roll.

Best TV Show in 2011

BB – “The Voice” – NBC: Way better than American Idol (IMHO).  Loved the mentoring and the talent/arrangement of tunes were awesome!  It was great getting to see the personal side of Blake Shelton and Cee-Lo Green.  Can’t wait for next season.

TB –“Modern Family”– ABC: How great is Phil Dunphy?!  This was the only non-reality show on Brian’s list – it made his honorable mention.  There is such great writing on this show!!  Some of the jokes literally leave me in tears, they’re so funny.  I love that the writing is so witty.

Runner Up:

BB – “Bethenny Ever After “– Bravo: Bethenny Frankel is hilarious and I loved seeing her New York type attitude/approach to everything.

TB – “The Rachel Zoe Project” – Bravo: This show is Everything.  I just love Rachel and Rodger, and the fashion – obvs.  You can all thank this show for my obsession with wedge boots before I even had a pair.  I DIE. (And if you’ve never watched that show, you probably have no idea what that means.)

Honorable Mention:

BB/TB –“Flipping Out” – Bravo: This show took on another look after the real estate market went in the crapper.  Zoila (the maid) was the best part of this show!!  Loved her.  Jeff Lewis was funny as always.  Can’t wait to watch next season.

Best Movie in 2011

BB – Limitless: This was a great movie!  This was a “make you think” type movie.  I absolutely loved it.  Highly recommend.

TB – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1: Duh.  Hate all you want, I love the Twilight books and movies and this one was amazing!

Runner Up:

BB – Moneyball:  I was expecting a dumb sports movie.  Totally surprised me (in a good way).  Jonah Hill did an awesome job.  Loved the storyline as well.
TB – Bridesmaids: Absolutely hilarious!  Kristen Wiig is the funniest female alive.

Honorable Mention:

-Lincoln Lawyer

Biggest Movie Disappointment: Hangover 2:  It sucked.  ‘Nuf said.

Best Blog in 2011

BB – MichaelHyatt.com: this is a great blog – tons of great tips for leadership and marketing. I tend to check it daily.

TB – Pinterest.com: I don’t know if this is really considered a blog, but it was definitely my best online find this year.  If you don’t know about this website; be warned, it is very addictive if you’re a creative, food-loving, fashionista type.

Runner Up:

BB – joeboydbog.com: Joe is a good friend of mine.  I love his writing style…it hooks you in and his stuff makes you think!  I really started reading this more actively this year.

Honorable Mention:

BB – Dontevenreply.com:  For some comedic relief, this is a great one (be warned it’s not family appropriate).  The guy doesn’t post as often as he used to but it’s still funny.

TB – Damnyouautocorrect.com: I remember reading this on my lunch break, completely alone, crying from laughing so hard.  Like, needed a tissue from the tears running down my face!  So funny!

BB/TB – A Cup of Jo:  NYC blog.   Thanks to Ginny Wosak for sending me this. It’s an awesome one.

Best Gig of 2011

Wade Benz/Natalie Roebuck Wedding – WaterColor, FL (8/6/11):   It was HOT, HUMID & the event was OUTSIDE with NO tent!!!  All of those things I despise (especially considering the heat index was the highest of the year on this day).  But this did NOT faze this group.  The crowd (and the couple of honor) were AMAZING!  So many storylines from this wedding:  from 3 trips to the hospital for the guests to the best man being a professional dancer for Britney Spears, to me playing an after party for this group till 2AM in an adjacent room, etc.  For a snippet video recap, go here: http://youtu.be/KfL3FDcnouw

Runner Up: Gavin Back/Katie Marasco Wedding – Palm Springs, CA (10/22/11): This event was so fun.  To start with, the bride/groom were some of the coolest folks I’ve ever met.  They actually live in NYC so I’m sure we’ll be hanging out a ton shortly.  They loved to dance and so did their crowd.  I was able to reconnect with a ton of past brides/grooms that I had the honor of Dj’ing for (friends of this couple) that were in attendance.  Almost ALL of them now have babies.  Crap, I’m getting old.  The venue was SICK!  The crowd danced their fannies off and we had a good time hanging out with Graeme and Christen Cowgill, and Michael Kuhn.  Video promo coming soon!

Honorable Mention:  Celebration Hall Showcase Event – Santa Rosa Beach, FL (9/13/11):  I liked this event for many reasons but mainly because it was so different from what we typically do.  It was a Havana Nights theme. To see some pix go here: http://www.facebook.com//thecelebrationhall#!

Best Experience of 2011

Taking Tara to Chicago in July and surprising her with a visit of her college roommate, Deborah Kaminsky, and their newborn baby:  This was planned out months in advance with the help of Deborah’s husband, Steve.  We surprised both Tara and Deborah.  It was awesome.

Runner Up:

NYC in August:  This was where our NYC dream from almost a year prior was starting to become a reality.  We sat in Central Park praying and dreaming for a few hours.  It was such a great experience.  We’ll never forget those moments as long as we live.

Honorable Mention (SOOO many this year):

Surprising Tara with a trip to see her sister in Memphis in February: This was awesome because I didn’t tell her where we were going…just pack your bags.  We were at the airport and I sat at the NYC gate on purpose.  She was so stoked and took pics and posted on Facebook that we were going there.  Then we went to the Memphis gate.  She was even more stoked (and a little pissed that I let her get to the point of posting where we were going on FB) because her sister had just moved there!

-DJ Expo 2011 / August 2011: Although I’ve gone for years, this was the first time ever taking a bunch of people from our company.  It was a very expensive investment on our part but the return was SO worth it.  Great memories!

Kate, Christen and Tara met Jasonnnn Deruuulo

Tara’s Birthday / July 2011: I couldn’t do a whole lot (gift-wise) as we were trying to save money for our move to NYC.  So instead, we made it about friends.  The week of her birthday, I surprised her with a night out every night that week with a different group of our friends who love her to death.  It was a blast.

-Shoreline’s Crappy Love Song Series / March & April 2011: This was the last series I put together while on staff at Shoreline Church and it was one of my favorites ever.  It tried incorporating every element that I could concieve of and the messages were some of the top ones of the year (IMHO).  Nothing like going out with a bang.

Fantabulous / October 2011: This was the Crossing’s (my Cali church) building dedication event.  I was asked to be a part of it with a host of old timers who I served with from the time I started going to this church back in 1996.  It was a great event and I was honored to have been involved.

Valentine’s Day @ Henderson Park Inn and Anniversary at WaterColor Inn / February & October 2011: Anytime I get to spend time with just my wife, I’m in heaven.  She’s the best looking, most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life and the fact that she decided to marry me still boggles my mind.  Both these trips had to be local for various reasons but we had such a blast.

Toughest Experience in 2011

My middle brother’s car accident / February 2011: This was and still is a hard thing to cope with.  What initially appeared to be a fatal accident for my brother Mark ended up not being one.  My brother burned 90% of the skin off his legs and without the power of prayer, God’s divine intervention, some Good Samaritan individuals who helped drag him out of the wreckage and a few skilled physicians, he would have had his legs amputated and not be walking today.  I’ve been going to visit him almost weekly since September and although his recovery is slow and painful, he’s in such a good place.  I’m proud of him and the way he’s handled this unfortunate ordeal.

Runner Up: Rotating off staff at Shoreline / April 2011:  This was bittersweet for me.  I absolutely loved working at Shoreline church and the staff members were (and still are) some of the best friends I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know.  This church changed my life and I found it at the time where I really needed them more than they needed me.  I was able to help them in the Creative Arts arena and somehow worked my way to having the create a position for me on the staff.  Eventually, I ended being a part of their lead team.  Working at a church is one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences a person can have.  You are changing lives for eternity.  That is something not to be taken lightly and I tried to keep that in mind as I used every ounce of creativty in me to put together the best services I could each and every weekend.  Rotating off staff was tough but I felt like that was where God was leading Tara and I so we took a leap of faith in doing so.  My last Sunday (Easter 2011) was a surreal experience and I’ll never forget how weird it felt not to go to the staff meeting the following Monday.

Honorable Mention:  House A/C unit in Niceville, FL biting the dust for good / September 2011: This A/C was always a problem from the beginning of our time living here.  We put several hundreds of dollars into keeping it running but eventually it died after suffering for quite a while.  Typically, September is a “cool” season…NOT this year.  We ended up spending another $1200 in portable fans to make the place livable.  A new unit was not even considered since the cheapest we could get one for was about $6500.  Big picture, not a big deal, but it was definitely tough at the time!

Biggest Accomplishments  in 2011

Losing 23 lbs / Healthy Lifestyle: Thanks to Bob Bulgarella and his selfless persona, he helped me, Tara, and others get back to living a healthy lifestyle.  It was a tough 4 month program but I’m so grateful for him and Shoreline Church (who put together the series) for what this did for me.

Runner Up: Moving to NYC 5 months ahead of schedule:  You wouldn’t think this is a big accomplishment but it is most certainly is!  If you haven’t heard, moving is expensive.  Moving to NYC….multiply that to the zenth degree.  We had been saving and planned on moving in May of 2012.  But due to various reasons beyond our control, we had to move that date up to December.  I’m so proud of the way we were able to come up with additional ways to save money (giving up a ton of “wants”) to make this happen.

Honorable Mention:  Creating a financial system for my company that allowed us to run efficiently and with margin: For the last couple years, it was tough trying to figure out how to deal with a business model that dealt with deposit and final payments and how to save/ invest /spend money.  I took 2 weeks in isolation after leaving Shoreline and spent time working out with our accountant a model that I now believe will sustain us for years to come.  This is the first year of working under this model but it has given both Christen and I (as well as our spouses) a little bit of breathing room going into slow season.  We’ll make some minor tweaks in 2012 but we are in a MUCH better place than previous years.

Whew!  Thanks for reading all that.  2011was awesome but I’m looking for to 2012!  Each year, although I get a bit older, I also seem to gain a little more wisdom.  Money can never buy that for you…only time provides it.  Happy New Year every one!!

Christmas in Memphis

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas!  My lovely sister, Megan, and her husband, Chad, hosted Christmas this year, so Brian and I were in Memphis, Tennessee, along with my parents and grandparents.  Brian and I had the added bonus of driving a 12′ Penske truck from Florida to Memphis and then to NYC.  There will definitely be a post on that road trip coming up!

One of my Christmas presents from my amazing husband was a Canon SLR camera, so I figured I’d share a few photos from my new toy!  I’m still learning/re-learning some tricks, so forgive me, these were taken on the automatic setting. *gasp*

Megan and Chad's house

Megan and Chad's dog, Milli

Megan and me

That amazing husband I was talking about!

My Granddaddy and Me. Christmas Eve was his 82nd Birthday!

Check out this awesome gem - Mom and Dad's awkward photo recreated by Megan and Chad!

Again, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  Stay tuned, Brian and I are counting down our favorite things of 2011 on tomorrow’s post!

Brian Approved…

I’m starting a re-occurring post called “Brian Approved” aka BA.  These are just some of my recommendations for things having to do with…well, anything really.  Today, I’m going to give you 6 things to help you get started with City living.

*Daily Candy
My good friend, Kelly Rimler, who was one of the first of my friends to move to the City from Cali about 10 years ago sent me this site.  It’s a daily e-mail that you can sign up for which gives you “the insider’s guide to your city”.  From restaurant  recommendations, to entertainment, to fashion and good deals; its chalk full of good tips.

*Open Table
One thing you’ve probably noticed from this blog so far is that food is one of my favorite things.  Speaking of food, who hates having to call a restaurant to make a reservation?  Or worse, who hates going to a restaurant without a reservation and finding out that you have a 1 hour wait?  This guy!!!  Open Table solves those problems.  This isn’t exclusive to NYC but definitely is helpful there since almost every restaurant in the City requires reservations.  Most of the “quality” restaurants are on this site.  It’s free, easy and iPhone users can download the app.  Most cities have at least a few restaurants (even in small cities).  Thank you to my friend, Schae Lewis, for turning me on to this one.

*Immaculate Infatuation
Food app AGAIN!!  This is one of the best restaurant reviews apps/websites I’ve ever seen/read/used.  Most restaurant reviews are boing and they all tend to be the same.  That is not the case with this one.  The reviews are humorous, worded with everyday language and are spot on in their assessments!  Take a quick read of a partial review of a restaurant called “Hospada”:

If there’s such a thing as “fine dining for dudes”, we’ve just discovered it. Welcome to Hospoda, an upscale Czech restaurant that’s just as much a beer hall as it is a culinary destination. There aren’t many places in this city where a guy can order a light beer with his three course meal and not get treated like a redneck that just won the lottery. But at Hospoda, they actually encourage such behavior. As a matter of fact, half the point of this place is to educate you on the nuances of drinking fresh Pilsner Urquell with varying amounts of foam, just like they do back in the Czech Republic. No wonder we liked it so much.

Hilarious writing that hooks you in immediately.  Almost all their reviews are like this one. If you like to read creative writing and want your food cravings aroused, this is as good of a resource as they come.

The subway system is the cheapest most effective way to get around the city.  But how do you know which one to take?  This app helps you get from point A to B and isn’t exclusive to NYC.  It has directions for over 100 cities.  Thanks to my friend, Eric Partin, for hooking me up with this app.

Another ground transportation option if you’re a local in a big city and don’t want to store your vehicle is Zipcar!  This is a fantastic service.  It’s basically like a rental car service but you sign up for a monthly membership and they have cars parked all over the city which you can grab and drive around.  They give you a credit card looking key that allows you to get into any of their vehicles.  You can rent by the hour or by the day.  The only negative is that there are no 1 way trips…all most be roundtrip.  Still, this is a way cheaper option than a typical rental car especially in NYC.

Living in a tiny place, you have to be super organized and pack your closets well.  Because your clothing may be stuffed in a container on top of 3 other containers, you might forget what you have to work with.  This app allows you to inventory and catalog all your clothing (by taking a picture of it) and tag it where it’s stored.  And for the ladies (or the stylish fellas for that matter) that want to take it to a whole ‘nutha level, you can “styleboard” your clothing looks so you can plan out what you want to wear and try new looks on your phone before wasting time digging through clothes.  This is ideal for someone like my wife!!   Get the app, whether you live in the city of not.

Random Photos – Week of 12/11/11

Here’s a bunch of photos I captured this week.  Not really blog worthy on their own but worth sharing as a group of photos.

Getting to and from the airport and into the City can be expensive. Save where you can.  Found this ad on my boarding pass.  Definitely keeping this for future trips.  10% saved is better than 0% saved.

When a single pizza slice takes 2 plates, you know it’s gotta be good.  It lived up to the hype for sure!  This was $2!  This place is called “Bruno’s” and it’s in Farmingdale, NJ.   Stopped there for lunch in route to some meetings.  Tara got the “everything” pizza while I got the chicken/bacon/ranch. It ranks in the top 3 pizza places I’ve ever been.

Back in the day, I used to work for a non-profit car donation company. “Kars 4 Kids” was our competitor.   They’re big in the NY area.  Crazy to think that that type of donation still exists and makes sense for people, considering all the tax restrictions these days.

This restaurant is called “Rolf’s” and it’s located on 3rd and 22nd.  I can’t take credit for this photo. My friend Katie Back took it.  I think they’ve embraced the holiday spirit.  Can you say crazy holiday decor?!?!?  Always crowded and festive.

This is at restaurant where we had breakfast called “Balthazar” (it will be reviewed shortly).  Isn’t my wife beautiful? No matter what time of day, she is always smiling and looking good.

This is a picture of a deli called “The Corner” that apparently has an ‘off da chain’ Mexican food restaurant called “La Esquina” right below it.  It’s been recommended by Cory and Hillary, our friends in Destin, but we haven’t made it there yet (it was in route to Balthazar).  We’ll definitely check it out soon.

These two stores are a DJ/Musician’s best friend and they just happen to be a block from our pad.  Can you say that God was looking out for us?  I can!

This lifesize gingerbread house was in a store called “Dylan’s Candy Bar” off W 42nd street.  It piqued our interest from the window while we killing time in between meetings that day.  Tons of other goodies there as well…and no we were NOT tempted to buy anything (on this trip anyway).

Side View of Gingerbread house.

Ice Skating at Bryant Park.  We were once again killing time in between meetings and found this to be a great place to people watch!  It was like watching human “car wrecks” about to happen.  So hilarious.  It’s mind-boggling to me that parents would put their toddler out on the ice and teach them to skate risk their life when you’ve got a ton of people out there trying to skate.  Nice call parents.

The “White Horse Tavern” was recommended by Eric Partin, our good buddy from Destin, but we were already eating nearby at the “Spotted Pig”.  We’ll be sure to check it out soon.

And that’s this past week in photos!

Coffeehouse Review – Stumptown Coffee Roasters

I love Sunday mornings in New York.  None of the tourists are out shopping yet; the locals haven’t gotten out of bed.  It’s just you and the few crazy avid runners who think that 27 degrees is warm enough for shorts.  Meanwhile, under eight layers of clothing, I was sure I would cave and have to take the subway one stop uptown.  One stop!  But, I’m no sissy.  I soldiered on.

This particular Sunday, I went to check out another church on 23rd St. called Forefront Church.  Afterwards, I had to pick up a few more Christmas presents.  One, for a coffee drinker on my list – I can only say that because I know Granddaddy isn’t reading the blog until I show it to him… after Christmas.

On a recommendation from Brian, I decided to try Stumptown Coffee Roasters at 18 W. 29th St.

Originally based out of Portland, this is their only cafe in New York.  They must be doing alright because the line was out the door and spilling into the lobby of an adjoining hotel.

I bought two different types of coffee, the Holler Mountain and the Hair Bender; mostly because I liked the names, but also because they smell AMAZING!!  The Holler Mountain is a syrupy, heavy bodied coffee with dark toned notes of blackberry, hazelnut and toffee.  The Hair Bender is comprised of coffees from every major producing region and provides the individual components of this complex sweet and savory blend which yields flavors of milk chocolate, caramel, jasmine, meyer lemon, apricot and pineapple.  It’s also Stumptown’s most popular blend.  Yum!

And since this wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t try anything, they give you a free small cup of coffee when you buy the beans!  Because I bought two bags, they sweetened the deal and sprung for a free medium cup of coffee.  If anyone knows about Brian’s love affair with Kean Coffee in California, then you must know that I have found it’s New York twin sister!  This coffee was gooooood.  Real, real good.  Like you could drink it black, kind of good.  They also do the really cool designs in the foam of the lattes.

I love that.

So, if you’re in the area and you want a really great cup of coffee, skip the Starbucks and go to Stumptown!  Seriously, do it.  They’ll make you a heart in your latte.  Or a leaf.  Or something else pretty.  Starbucks doesn’t do that.

– Tara

Brian’s Travel Tips

If you’ve seen my Facebook and/or Twitter updates over the last few months, you’ve probably noticed how much I’ve been on the road lately.  I’ve always loved traveling, although lately it’s been a bit on the excessive side.  It’s gotten to the point now where I get antsy if I’m not traveling every 3-4 days.  Jet-setting in and out of cities forces you to learn some tricks to get through it all.  I’m going to share a few of mine with you.

Luggage:  My black Samsonite bag goes with me everywhere.  It’s a good size and can work for a 1 day trip or a 3 week trip.  Samsonite products come with a lifetime guarantee on any parts.  I actually had a zipper break off a few years ago and they fixed it and had it back to me within a week.  Totally worth the money!   Also, as a side note, I always carry on…I never check luggage.  The very few times I’ve checked my bag, inevitably, something has gone wrong.  You never want to be without your bags.  It has rubbed off on the wife and she’s been converted from a “check 1-2 bags” passenger to a bonafide “carry on” passenger.


Travel Wear:  With all the TSA regulations, you want to get through that process as quickly as possible.  My typical get-up isn’t going to win me many style points but it is the most effective and comfortable travel wear that I’ve found.  It’s the black track suit and Nike tennis shoes (loosely laced).  This wardrobe means no belts to take off, the shoes are easy to get in and out of and for the planes where the temp is a little cool, you can stay warm (they only give blankets and pillows now in first class).

Preferred Airlines:  For me, it’s Delta and Southwest.  I have to fly Delta because that’s where I have most of my frequent flyer miles and it doesn’t hurt that they fly to pretty much every destination.  I’m not a huge fan of them since they’ve taken over the airline industry (or so it seems).  Customer service can be a pain to deal with and they seem to nickel and dime you for everything.  Southwest has worked out awesome!  They have cheap rates and you get to pick your seat upon boarding.  If you start flying, pick 1 or 2 airlines max, get a frequent flyer account (might as well earn some points for flying which can eventually translate to a free flight), and stick with them.

Check-In:  If you have a smart phone, search for the airline app of the company you’re flying with.  You almost always can check-in right from your phone and with some airlines (like Delta) you can download the boarding pass on your phone instead of having to print the boarding passes from home or worse yet at the airport – easy and convenient.

This is your boarding pass!

Pre-Flight Meal:  I usually always go with my standard Starbucks oatmeal and tall drink (type of coffee depends on the season; right now it’s the Caramel Spice). Both will be low in calories, warm you up and keep you full for a long flight or two (sometimes those connections can be really tight and you won’t have time to get anything in between flights).  Plus some airlines don’t even give you snacks (I’m talking about YOU, American Airlines) so definitely eat before you board.

In-Flight Entertainment: For me, it’s the Kindle and movies.  I’m an avid reader so I’ve got  a ton of books as well as newspaper subscriptions on my Kindle so I can read something for work, pleasure or stay up on the news.

If you’re a weekly frequent flyer, I’d recommend the InMotion Entertainment rental account.  You can rent DVDs (up to 2 at a time) and return them to  almost every major airport.  I’ve actually watched a movie on 1 flight and on my connection flight turned it in and rented another.  You can have them out as long as you want (30 day limit before you end up owning it).  It’s an awesome service.

Personal Care: I always have gum, hair product and deodorant on me at all times.  Especially if you’re taking an early morning flight, you tend to want to sleep on the plane (in my case, it’s where I do the majority of my sleeping) and bed head is inevitable.  So you definitely want to have some product with you.  If you’ve had a coffee pre-flight, gum is a must (especially if you’re running into a meeting right off the plane not to mention that you can chew it on the altitude decent so your ears can pop easily).  Deodorant is for those emergencies.  You never know when you might need it.

Travel Accessories: I always travel with my car charger, aux cable and brown extension cord with 3 outlets.  Most rental cars now have an aux hook up so you can talk on your phone handsfree through the stereo as well as listen to your own tunes from your phone or mp3 player instead of trying to search for a FM station that suits your musical tastes. The brown extension cable goes in my carry on and has come in handy more times than you know.  Sometimes I’m at an airport and there’s only 1 outlet that somebody else is already using.  I’ll just plug this bad boy in and all of us can share the power.  Also, in a lot of hotels, the nearest outlet isn’t always close by.  Having the extension cable makes it possible for you to use your devices where you want to use them.

That is the Brian B travel Bible for 2011.  Hope it’s been helpful.  See you at an airport soon!

Restaurant Review! – The Spotted Pig

Our first (of many!) restaurant reviews.  This particular place was recommended to us by some locals when we came out in August but we just didn’t have a chance to check it out until now.  It’s located at 314 W. 11th Street…which is a good 15 minute walk from our pad.

One of the few negatives is they DON’T take reservations.  Lucky for us, we got there around 6:30PM and were seated right away.  As we were finishing dinner, however, the place was packed and there was a line out the door (and this was on a Wednesday night!).

The place is relatively tiny on the first floor.  They also have an upstairs (which we didn’t get a chance to view).  As with most NY restaurants, “table for 2” means you get sat relatively quick but you’ll be at a small table, literally 12 inches away from the tables next to you.  So you’ve got to talk loud and inevitably you’ll hear a little of everyone else’s conversation.

The beer selection is decent.  I had a Pale Ale (closest thing they had to a wheat beer) and I can’t remember what type of beer Tara had but it was way better than mine (of course).

(This is Tara – It was a lager brewed in Brooklyn called Six Point.  Very tasty.  A little sweet smelling but then a hoppy taste – delicious!  Gotta try the local flavor, you know?)

The menu is one page and reprinted daily with the chef choices for that day.  My best description of the food style would be “high end bar food” with an obvious “pig” bent and British flair.  Some of the food names will require your waitress to interpret.

The appetizers are pretty cheap and not bad at all.  Tara and I shared:

The Marinated Olives 

The seeded olives are served in olive oil.  If you like olives, this a great dish.

Devils on Horseback

Bacon Wrapped Prunes with a Pear

Holy cow were these good.  They give you 5 bacon wrapped prunes with pear in the middle smothered with some type of glaze sauce!  It sounded a bit weird at first (who chooses prunes for an app unless you’re over 65 years of age?) but you know my motto — everything tastes good wrapped in bacon!

They had a bunch of other apps like devilled eggs and the crispy pig’s ear.  We didn’t venture to try anything else but we definitely will if we come again.

For the entrée, I went with what all the reviews I’d seen recommend and that was the Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort cheese and shoestring fries.  I’m not a fan of Bleu Cheese so I went sans Roquefort.  (This is Tara, again: I think it would’ve been 8,000 times better with the Roquefort, just saying.)  The bun starts it off right.  It’s lighty toasted with some type of buttery delight sauce.  There are NO condiments, tomato or lettuce necessary.  The price for this bad boy is steep ($17) but wow is it good!  It’s a bit salty so make sure you have a drink nearby.  Mine was prepared medium rare and it was to die for.  You’d think the fries would be just an “extra” thrown in there to compliment the burger.  Guess again….these competed with the burger for top honors.  The fries couldn’t have been cut any thinner which makes it feel as if you’re barely eating but I was definitely clearing the plate.  They were tossed with thinly sliced garlic and whole rosemary leaves for some extra flavor!

Look at that big, beefy beauty!

Tara got one of the daily specials: the white bean soup.  It wasn’t a broth and bean soup, but more of a creamy, pureed bean soup.  She said it had a slight spicy kick but she loved it.  If you know Tara, you know she loves her beans.  (Tara, again: I DO love beans!)

We weren’t going to have dessert but they had a few options that piqued our interest.  We went with the Popcorn flavored ice cream topped with caramel corn  sounded interesting.  I don’t know if I was expecting more but the ice cream was bland with really no flavor.  Luckily, the caramel corn made it worth ordering.

Overall, I give it 3 out of 4 stars.  The final bill was a bit much for the quantity of food and amount of options you’re given so I don’t foresee coming back for dinner.  I might, however, come back for the apps.  There were plenty to choose from and the price was just right.  So if you’re looking for a cool, trendy bar with some better than average beer selections and upscale appetizers, this would be the place.

The House Hunt

You would think looking for your new apartment would be so much fun… think again, my friends.  This was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I would like to compare it to childbirth, except I have no idea what that’s like, so I’m going to say it is like having your toenails ripped off by a vampire in the dark. (Because, obviously, I’ve had this happen…)  The pain, the anxiety, the band-aids you would need are identical in both situations.

My first day with my first real estate broker went something like this:

Him: “What area of Manhattan are you thinking about living?”

Me: “Well, I love the Upper West Side, but…”

Him: “Okay, great!  Let’s see if we can get you in some places on the Upper East Side.”

Me: “Wait, is there nothing on the Upper West?”

Him: “No”

Wow.  Talk about deflating.  After it was explained to me, I understood they were just trying to get us more space (1 bedroom) for our money.  So, I hit the streets with he who must not be named.

The next day, I couldn’t move.  Not only was I adjusting to the faster pace of the city, but my broker was literally 8 ft. tall.  One of his steps was 12 of mine, and daddy long legs stopped for no one.  Saturday was a day of waiting – good thing, because I seriously couldn’t walk due to the blisters on my feet.

Sunday.  Ah, Sunday.  Another day where I was directed to wait by he who must not be named.  So, I decided to go to the Hillsong Church downtown.  They are very Shoreline-esque; this particular Sunday, it was even held in a bar in Union Square.  It was such a natural fit, I was pumped to check it out.  Now, this is where things get awesome!  I walk in and it’s standing room only, so I head upstairs to the balcony.  Directly across from me is this sign:

All weekend I had been asking begging God to be direct with me.  Making a decision like this was going to be hard for me to do by myself and I needed a clear yes or no from Him.  How’s that for a sign?

The church service was amazing!  The worship?  Outstanding.  The message?  It could’ve been titled, “Tara, are you listening?”.  It was “Occupy All Streets” and was given by the lead pastor, Carl Lentz.  The Big Idea was to use where you are to bring glory to God, but one of the things the pastor said hit me hard.  He said, “You are exactly where God called you to be.”

I’m gonna let that sink in for a minute.

You are EXACTLY where God called you to be.

The wheels started turning.  I’m in Union Square, God, so what?  Do you mean, I’m literally where you called me to be?

I got new sense of determination and jumped on the phone and called a new broker with a new company and began searching for apartments, albeit smaller, in Union Square!  The new broker, Gabriela, was a dream!  She met me, on a Sunday, and showed me three apartments.  Her boyfriend, Kevin, was also a broker and had found one more apartment that he wanted Gabriela to show me.  He loves downtown and was excited to find a place for me too!  He even said to Gabriela, “This is her apartment, we have to get her in there.”  Only one hang up: this apartment wouldn’t allow Sunday showings; it was Monday through Friday only.  So, we met at 9:30, Monday morning, in hopes that we would be the first showing of the day.  I saw it, loved it, sent Brian one photo, called him on the way to her office, and put in an application!  Poor Brian, he really had to trust me on this one.  But Kevin was right, this was my apartment!  Then began the torturous application process, but I was ready.  I had every piece of documentation possible, including tax returns, security deposits in the thousands, and a waiver to hand over our first born when the time came.  We knew this would be tough because we were both self-employed and proving that you make 40 times the rent is exactly the opposite of what you try to do the other 364 days of the year for tax purposes.  Once everything was in, there was more waiting.

The next day, my mom came into town.  She got in late, so we dropped her bags and went to dinner at Vincent’s in Little Italy.  Pretty amazing red sauce, but very heavy.  We shared the eggplant parmesan – good thing, because it was huge!  It was good to venture out a little bit.  For the most part, I had stayed close to the hotel because I had so much anxiety about the apartment, I couldn’t justify doing anything but house hunting.

The broker told us to expect an answer Wednesday with a possible move-in date of Thursday.  So, another day of waiting.  But, mom and I used our time wisely and did some sightseeing.  It was hot and rainy, but we made the best of it and saw Times Square

Radio City Music Hall

Rockefeller Center and The Tree

And Mom’s mecca, Fox News

Wednesday night, at 4:30pm, I got a call from Gabriela that our application had been accepted and we got the apartment.  I cried.  Then, I thanked Jesus, because there was no other way to explain how we got this apartment.  Over and over, I kept focusing on Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Ain’t that the truth?!

Here’s some pics of our new home – as soon as I finish building our furniture from Ikea (I hate that place, but that’s another story!), I’ll post some more photos.

The Entryway

From the Front Door

Kitchen - it has a dishwasher!!

Looking back from the balcony (that's right, the balcony!)

Give me a few weeks to get it setup and I’ll post some more pictures!


NY… The Why

If you didn’t get my sentiments in the last blog posting, I’m a pretty private person.  I’ve never been a person who likes to share.  If we ever get in a group situation where everyone is required to do so, I typically will be the last one to volunteer and my hope is always that someone before me will use up all the time and that my sharing will be postponed.

The problem with that is that when you make a major life change (like moving to NYC), no one knows why you’re really doing it and it can cause people to draw their own conclusions (which in many cases are inaccurate).  This blog is my tool to work on that part of my life and start to open up a bit.

So why NY?  Why leave a stable environment where things are going pretty well to jump into something that is as polar opposite of our current situation as possible?  Let me try and answer that for you.

#1: WE WANT TO BUILD A FUTURE WHERE WE CAN HANG OUT ALL THE TIME…Tara and I love each other more than you can imagine.   We can’t stand being apart from one another.  We love working together (not too many couples can say that).  If and when the time comes for children, we want to be able to spend as much time together as a family as we possibly can.  That said, we need to be able to have the financial freedom to do that.  So we’re preparing for that now.  Our current situation wouldn’t allow this.  I’d be working my tail off to support a family and a lifestyle we desire and not be able to enjoy it.  It’s going take some initial work/growing pains over the next couple years but eventually our #1 goal is this one!

#2: IT’S PART OF MY COMPANY’S BUSINESS PLAN…My business partner and I feel we have a phenomenal product and business model.  Our goal all along has been to take it to the biggest markets and solidify ourselves as one of the top entertainment and event companies nationwide.  We feel we’ve done all we can do in Florida for now.

Southern California was naturally a great fit since I had so many connections there.  So when my partner wanted to move out there, I was all for it.  We are already seeing some good results in the short time Christen (my business partner) has been there.

New York, while a hard market to crack, will be a huge win for us once we get it up and running.  It’s really the mecca of entertainment as far as our industry goes.   I feel very confident that we not only can do it but do it soon.  Once we establish ourselves in those two markets, the rest should be fairly easy to replicate in the other markets we have on our radar (Chicago and Hawaii).

#3: IT’S HEALTHY FOR OUR MARRIAGE…I truly believe that every newly married couple needs some time to develop their relationship by doing life together in a place that requires them to start from scratch and depend solely upon each other and God.  True character within a relationship start to develop in that type of setting.  New friendships are made together, life decisions are made together, etc.  I’ve always wanted to move away for a little while and go through this pruning process with Tara.  We want to knock this out before kids come into the picture and the opportunity passes us by.  I’m actually blessed that both of us are in a position to be able do this.  A lot of people don’t ever get the chance.

#4: BOTH OF US HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO LIVE IN NEW YORK…It’s “THE” city, the heartbeat of the world.  Looking back on my childhood, one of the things that I wish I would’ve done more is travel and live in different places.  Trust me, Southern California, in my opinion, was probably the greatest spot in which to live and grow up.  There’s a ton of culture there and so many things to do.  But this country is so vast and I love seeing all that this nation has to offer.  New York has always been on my bucket list as a place to live.   On our honeymoon, I discovered that it’s also been a place on Tara’s bucket list.  To get this chance and opportunity is something that we both feel like we’ve got to jump on now before it goes away.  It’s not a place we want to live in forever.  While nothing is in stone, I foresee a 1-3 year commitment as of now.

So there you have it.  Now you know why we’re headed to the city that never sleeps.

The Blog

Those that know me well know that given the choice, I look to shun the spotlight by default.  Although the jobs I’ve had and now hold require the “extrovert Brian”, I simply put that hat on when I need to “clock in” and then put it back down when it’s time to “clock out”.  I say all that to say that I’m a pretty private person.  I share little and the things that I do share, I typically keep inside a small group.  My wife, on the other hand, is my perfect match.  I joke with her often that she’s the “face” of our family.  She loves to be out with people, host parties, be out on the town, while I am content just staying in the house, shades drawn, watching the Laker game or working on music.

So, this blog is being done for a few different reasons.

#1:  We want to share our NY experience (and other life experiences) with our friends and family.  It’s hard to stay connected with everyone over the phone, through e-mail and over Facebook so we felt like a blog is the best way to mass communicate.  Plus, living in NYC gives us the ability to share much more than we could if say, we were living in Idaho (no offense, Idaho).

#2: We want to have an archive of recorded events for our family.  Although I’ve not been one to journal, I love the concept.  Recording your thoughts and feelings and then being able to go back and look at that stuff later is like going back in time and reading history.  It also helps being in the industry I am in and traveling as much as we do.  There are always a TON of stories that I wish we’d written down that we have now forgotten.  I don’t want to lose out on those memories.  If and when the time comes for kids, if they’re anything like me, they might want to see what mom and dad were thinking back in the day.

#3: We want to write.  I love writing and feel I have a decent story-telling ability.  I want to start to really hone that skill.   My wife has a degree in Communication so whether she likes to or not, she’s extremely gifted in writing.  She blows me away with her writing ability and I want her to showcase it.

So there you have it.  I hope to write at least 1-2 times a week and hopefully Tara will post the same.

Welcome to NYC (by proxy)!