Year In Review: Best/Worst Of 2013

Year in Review 2013

It’s “year in review” time.  Last year at this exact same time we said our goals for 2013 were to scale things back so we could bring down the stress level, blog more frequently, and try to really immerse ourselves in NYC life as locals – we managed to hit two out of three with those goals.  The “blogging more frequently” proved to be a bit of a challenge. Tara and I are both perfectionists so if the blog post isn’t perfect we just don’t post it.  This coming year (2014) the goal will be to double the blogs posting from 2012 and 2013 combined.  Hold us accountable people!

This is our annual “best/worst blog post” for 2013.  Again, this just pertains to the current year, not necessarily, our all- time picks.  So I’ll list mine on this post as it relates to me and my interests and Tara’s picks will be noted by her initials.

Best Music Album of 2013
BB: “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk: I absolutely loved this entire album.  It definitely had a throwback feel to it.  I just felt like this album brought more of that mid tempo dance feel back to radio and it was sorely needed.  The guest appearances by Pharell, Nile Rodgers, etc. fit great.

TB: “20/20 Experience” by Justin Timberlake: Duh.  I mean, were there any other albums released this year? I think this was the only one.

Best Music Single of 2013
BB: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke:  I played this song as soon as it hit in April and just knew it would be a hit.  It is still a dance floor filler 8 months later.    That is a sign of a good song!  Every age group loves to dance to it.  Thank God for some great remixes that makes it playable still all these months later.

TB: “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake:  Again, duh.

Best Book Read in 2013
BB & TB: “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas: Tara and I led 4 semesters worth of marriage groups at our church in New York this past year.  By far, this was the best book we’ve ever read. It’s got a different spin on marriage than what you typically hear and it is invaluable no matter what season you are in. I’d definitely recommend this to any engaged couple as well as marriage couple.

Best Travel Destination of 2013

BB: “The Hamptons” / September 2013
Tara and I didn’t get a chance to travel together much in 2013 due to her day job and my insane gig schedule.  However, I got a chance to DJ in Montauk in September and Tara was able to come towards the end of the gig.  Though I was only there for not even 2 days, it was still pretty amazing.  The drive from the City was awesome that time of year.  All the “Fall” colors were in full effect but you still had some lasting “Summer” weather.  I had the beach chair out and was getting a little “Fall tanning” in before the gig.  We definitely will go back next year and make a weekend out of it.

TB: Southampton: July 2013
 The Hamptons really are all they’re cracked up to be.  See my blog post on that trip <<HERE>>.

Best Breakfast Restaurant in 2013
BB & TB: “Freeman’s” – New York, NY: We stumbled on to this place on my birthday this past year.  I wanted to check out something different and we went to this place and it’s been our top brunch spot all year.  The skillet dish is the “go to” and is only available during weekend brunch.  The artichoke dip is a MUST no matter the time of day!! Décor is off the chain as well.  Best breakfast find of 2013!

Runner Up: “Swami’s Cafe” – Encinitas, CA:  One of my CA clients suggested we meet there for a breakfast meeting.  I didn’t have high hopes but this place blew me away.  In typical CA style, all the seating was outside.  The food was amazing (tons of avocado options) and it just feels like a “locals only” type of place.  Highly recommend!

Honorable Mention: “Dominique Ansel Bakery” – New York, NY: This isn’t really a complete breakfast spot but this place is amazing.  Known for being the place where you can find the original cronuts, that isn’t all they serve.  They have a ton of seasonal dishes and some standard things as well.  Here’s a blog post I wrote about the spot <<CLICK HERE>>.

Best Lunch Restaurant in 2013
BB: “Cafeteria’” – New York, NY: I recently got a chance to check this place out and it IS all it’s cracked up to be.  Lunch time wasn’t packed at all.  Best dishes…Mac N Cheese and the Original Burger.  One of the best burgers I’ve ever had. I’ll do a review on this place soon.

TB: “Dig Inn” – New York, NY:  Since getting my job in Midtown, this is my go-to lunch spot.  They also have additional locations around NYC.  Great, seasonal, home-cooked foods that are at an awesome price.  A grain or salad, protein, and 3 veggie sides for $10!  (My fave: the Spicy Meatballs and Lentil and Edamame Salad)

Runner Up:  “Kori Tribeca“ – New York, NY: I went here for a lunch meeting and have continued to go back time and time again.  The Skillet dishes are the best.  There is never a wait…even at dinner.  It’s a little off the beaten path but so worth it!

Honorable Mention: “Tommy Lasagna” – New York, NY:  This Italian spot has an incredible lunch special. $10 for any pasta dish, salad and a drink.  Hard to beat it!

Best Dinner Restaurant in 2013
BB: “Juliette Kitchen + Bar” – Newport Beach, CA: Leave it to some of my good CA friends who have excellent taste in food to introduce me to this spot.  Hands down, my favorite spot this year.  I took Tara later in the year and then I went again with some of my Florida visiting friends.  Tapas style and super good!!  Get the pork cheeks.

TB:  “Beauty & Essex” – New York, NY:  Two words: Free Champagne.  Besides that, this place has great tapas-style food, glamorous décor, fun atmosphere, and did I mention free champagne?  So enjoy the seasonal tapas (if there are grilled cheese and tomato soup dumplings on the menu, please for the love of God, get those and thank me later), and then head downstairs to the ladies restroom (sorry, fellas).  They have a lounge area where you can relax on the sofa and chat with the girls over a glass (or two!) of champagne.

Best TV Show in 2013
BB: “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” – NBC:  This was my #1 show last year and continues to be.  We DVR it nightly and love his different games and skits he throws in there. He also has such a genuine/authentic spirit when interviewing people.  I love that about him.

TB:  “Scandal” – ABC: We stumbled on to this show and are still a season behind the current one.  We watched the first season in a “marathon week” and are hooked!  Great writing, acting and witty humor.

Best Movie in 2013
Promised Land: We didn’t get a chance to see many movies this year but it ended up not being a big blockbuster year anyway.  I always love movies that have a realistic twist to it and this one was definitely one of them.  Matt Damon was phenomenal in it.  See my review <<HERE>>.

TB: Hunger Games: Catching Fire:  Again, we didn’t see a whole lot of movies, but I still think this would have been up there in the ranking, for me.  I loved the book series and the first film, so this second installment, of course, I loved.

Best Blog in 2013
BB: Miller Mobley Blog: I found myself checking this blog quite regularly.  Miller and his wife, Jana, were in our small group at Liberty Church.  He won’t admit it but he’s one of the more famous photogs in the US!  His story reminds me of myself a bit with the struggle and determination of making it in NYC.  It’s inspiring to me as I’m not quite there yet.  His work is incredible.  Check it out!

TB: Little Green Notebook: It may just be because we just moved, but I’ve been reading this a lot lately.  It has a lot of beautiful design inspiration as well as a ton of DIY décor ideas.

Best Gig of 2013
Sam Quigley/Erin Swain Wedding – Palm Springs, CA (11/16/13):   Out of any year, this was the toughest category to pick winners for.  I DJ’d more events this year (primarily weddings) than ever before and I had a ton of great parties.  Two years ago, I DJ’d an event in Palm Springs for one of this bride/groom’s friends (one of about 7 I’ve done for this group of friends) and that one ended up being in my top 2 as well.  There is just something about this group and Palm Springs.  This event took the top honors because everything just lined up perfectly.  The weather was insanely good, the décor was extraordinary, the crowd was unbelievable and the bride/groom added some unique touches to it.  This group needed no prompting to dance.  It was “on” from the moment I hit the decks and literally no one left the dance floor (or so it seemed) for 6 straight hours!!  Though their official video wedding isn’t done yet, here’s a sneakpeak!

Runner Up: David Walker/Courtney Brennan Wedding – Alys Beach, FL (4/20/13): I usually never get nervous DJ’ing.  It’s like second hat to me.  However, I was extremely nervous at this one.  The bride and groom, who live in NYC and are both pretty hilarious, had seen so many bad wedding DJs that they actually had me doubting myself before I even got to the event.  Two songs into the cocktail hour, their crowd was dancing and I knew this was going to be a good event!  This one also stood out to me because of how chic the bride and groom looked!  The bride was stunning beautiful and did a fashion throwback to the 1920’s.  Such a cool event!  Check out their highlight reel!

Best Experience of 2013
BB: Liberty Church Community Group Season(s):  This past year Tara and I had the privilege of leading a married couple’s small group through our church.  We finally feel like we found our place in the church through this.  With my crazy gig schedule this year, I wasn’t able to serve much on the weekends but this group gave me the creative outlet I’ve been looking for and Tara (a total extrovert) a place to feel like we were not only giving of our time and talents and but actually building strong relationships that we know will continue beyond our time in NYC in addition to growing healthy marriages.

TB: New Job/Feb 2013:  The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 was by far our toughest period we’ve ever gone through both business-wise and personally as a married couple.  We had gone down a path that ultimately ended with us being behind on our rent (among other things) and questioning whether we should continue in NYC.  After praying through it, we felt this is exactly where we were supposed to be and ended up adjusting our game plan a bit which entailed Tara looking and getting a full-time job in the City.  God’s hands were all over this and not only did she get one quickly, she’s in a role where she is thriving. God has continually blessed her (and us) through this job.  We couldn’t be more thankful as it has allowed us to be more localized in the City as well as give us some financial breathing room while I continue to build my own company in the City.

Toughest Experience in 2013
BB: Family Issues: Since it’s a public blog, I don’t want to get too detailed here for privacy sake but let’s just say both of our families went through a ton this year.  Fortunately, Tara and I didn’t have any hiccups individually or together in that regard.  We feel blessed that God has us right where he wants us to support our families however we can.  We hope 2014 brings many blessings to them as well!

TB: Interviewing In NYC: I was so lucky to have a relatively quick interview process that did not drag on for weeks and weeks, but interviewing in New York City proved to be
extremely tough.  Explaining why I wanted to work for someone else after owning our own business is hard for people to understand and I had a few interviewers who were not very good at hiding their confusion and annoyance. Some people were just rude, and some I knew would not be a good fit for me, personality-wise.  I definitely walked out of one interview and told my recruiter not to ever send me back to that place or any place that had mean people like that.  I desperately did not want to be miserable in my job.  I was leaving a job I loved and the opportunity to work and travel with my husband.  If I was going to give that up, it better be worth it.  And then there’s the pantyhose and pulled back hair; neither one I’m fond of.  All in all, I ended up exactly where I needed to be and got there relatively quickly, but while I was in thick of interviewing, it was a pretty tough experience.

Biggest Accomplishment of 2013
BB: Moving / December 2013: There is nothing quite like moving in NYC.  Seriously, nothing compares to it.  You earn your stripes with the initial move but with this being our 2nd move in 3 years, we felt like seasoned veterans on how to go about it.  We made a list of the things we wanted and did our due diligence.  We found what we believe to be the perfect spot for us and while we are still retro-fitting things for the new place, we are so grateful that it went as smooth as it did.  No broker fee, no long drawn out approval process, and we’re still relatively close to the same neighborhood we came from with big windows, a view, and a nicer overall building.
TB: I have two: Disney Half Marathon: Crossing that finish line was one of the greatest feelings!  I’ve never been one to run.  Anywhere.  I hated it.  Even running a mile seemed out of my reach.  But we got a training plan, buckled down and did it.  And after it was over, I did feel insanely proud of myself.

Raise/Bonus Season:  End of year bonus and raise season was something completely new to me.  First of all, there was nothing corporate about any of my jobs in Destin, FL.  Also, most of my earning years have been in a down economy.  Raises and bonuses were like Bigfoot.  People sometimes talked about them, but you really kinda questioned their existence.  But this year, I went through a legitimate raise/bonus season where I had to do my research and negotiate my raise and bonus – with the owner of the fund.  This guy manages a quadrillion, sprillion dollars  It was extremely intimidating but I was really proud of myself for asking for what I thought was fair and not taking the first thing that was offered.

Runner Up: NYC Bucket List: We were able to cross off a ton on the list.  From Movies In The Park to Shakespeare In The Park, Manhattanhenge, to The Met, MOMA, Weekends in The Hamptons, the Nutcracker, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, we really got a chance to explore this amazing City!  SNL and Jimmy Fallon are 2 of the biggies we hope to cross off in 2014.  Tara and I have truly embraced and are thankful for these NYC experiences we are able to have.  You never know how long your time is here so we’re trying to take in as many things as we can!

In conclusion, 2013 was a year of becoming localized in NYC!  We feel like this is just the beginning of our time here and we’ve set the ground work for some amazing breakthrough in 2014.  We’re thankful for our friends and family and hope to have you live 2014 with us vicariously through our blog next year.  Happy New Year every one!!

Tara’s 30th…surprise 3 of 3

Towards the end of the last post, I alluded to the rough week that Tara was having.  Let me elaborate a little more on it.  About 2 weeks before Tara was supposed to be in Florida, we received word that our Florida place was in the midst of escrow and we needed to be out by August 1st.  We had 90% of our stuff STILL in that Florida house.

When we got that call, we hadn’t bought Tara’s plane ticket yet.  We booked her to come out a little earlier in the week so she could pack up the house.  My “surprise” plane ticket had already been purchased and I had a full week of work/meetings in NY that would’ve been tough to rearrange so we recruited her parents and grandparents just in case we needed the help.  At the time, we both thought packing up the house wouldn’t be a big deal.  That is, until Tara got there and saw how much stuff we had.

She worked her fingers to the bone packing it up (as did her family).  I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you there were a bunch of 12-15 hour days.  After the party Friday, I had to jump in and help as well until our flight Sunday night. Believe it or not, we somehow managed to get it all done before we flew out.

We got back to our place in NYC around 1AM Monday morning, the day of Tara’s birthday.  We obviously slept in that day (well deserved…did I mention that we also had a wedding to work on Saturday night?).  When we got up, I informed her that she had to be done with her work by 2PM.  We were going away for a couple of days.

Surprise #3 was actually the first thing I booked.  At the end of this post, I’ll explain the secrets to booking all these gifts because it may appear that I’m a mini mogul to be able to make all of this happen and that most certainly is NOT the case.  The Florida surprises came to fruition months after this one was already finalized.  We hadn’t been on any sort of vacation or mini-break since last July and this couldn’t have come at any better of a time (especially now, considering the hellish move we — or should I say mainly SHE — just endured).  We rented a car and started driving. I didn’t tell her where we were headed.  She figured it out when she saw the sign.

Atlantic City, NJ is about a 2 hour drive from NYC and since we were headed there again a few weeks later for the DJ Expo, this gave me an opportunity to try the commute once via car before heading there again when I would be under a time crunch.  If you’ve never been, Atlantic City is like the little step brother to Las Vegas.  Currently, they’ve launched a new branding initiative called “DO AC” to market the place as a way to get out of the City for a break.  A “break” is exactly what we needed.

I booked us at the Borgata, a posh casino hotel that is one of the nicer ones in the area, even though it is almost 9 years old.

They recently finished a $50 million remodel to the rooms.  Inside the room, gray dominates the color palette with pink touches. Each one has a 46-inch, LED, high-definition TV, a shower big enough for two and ours had an incredible view.

I had called in earlier that morning to make sure that birthday champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were awaiting our arrival in the room upon check-in. Way to come through Borgata.

When I booked the hotel package originally, it included dinner at Bobby Flay’s steakhouse.  The ambience and food were amazing as you might imagine.

We slept in again the next day and then went down to the hotel’s Spa where I had a stone massage scheduled for both of us right before lunch.  It was pretty incredible.

After the massage, we hung out at the Spa for a while longer.  They had a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, showers, and snack food.  R&R was in high gear.

That evening, I decided to give her the rest of her “New York” gifts.  Nothing too crazy as far as those go. Just 2 small things.

#1: Over the last few months, we have begun watching (and now truly look forward to) Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. His sketches are hilarious and he’s really grown into his role as a late night host.  I called and got us 2 tickets to go see a taping in late August.

#2: Then I gave her 4 New York Mets tickets (NY Yankees tickets were outrageously priced) to go see a game with some of our new friends in the City, Cameron and Leslee, sometime in mid-September which should be a blast.   I love the fact that there is no social outing that Tara isn’t willing to try.  Even baseball.

Wednesday we checked out around noon and headed home.  It was a short trip but boy was it perfect timing.

Earlier in the post, I mentioned I’d reveal some secrets to my gift giving.  This may knock me down a few notches for showing you my tricks but I think authenticity is important.  If you see the way we live, we’re on a tight budget.  That means creativity is essential in finding gifts.  On the surface, it may appear that I spent about $3-4K on this birthday but the truth is, it was under $1500 with the shoes taken up $800 of it.  Even that is a little misleading as the shoes were bought with tip money so really the birthday cost was $700.  The $700 is STILL a bit deceiving as only $300 of it was out of our normal budget.

The shoes: Unfortunately, no tricks or hook-up for that one. I knew I was going to have to pay hard, cold cash for them.  But like I said above, it came out of tip money that we don’t count in our normal budget. So that really was a cost of $0 as far as I look at it.

The restaurant/surprise night: My plane ticket was bought with mileage points so no cost there.  The restaurant initially told me I’d have to pay $1200 for a private room.  I, of course, took my chances showing up the “day of” and putting in a reservation for 30 in peak tourist season.  The trick is making the reservation just early enough so you don’t hit the dinner rush.  By making it at 6:30PM, we avoided the normal dinner peak hours (between 7-8PM) so the cost was free and there was no wait to be seated.  No plating fee for the cake and a small $20 total overall corkage fee for unlimited wine bottles were huge!  I had to call in a favor for the wine…getting it through a distributor.  The cost was almost half of what it would normally be.  The fact that the food prices were so affordable really made it work for all the people who came so no one really had to come out-of-pocket too much for the food.  We have a “going out to dinner” budget and I purposefully skimped throughout the 2 weeks prior to make this one work.  So while we did spend money to eat, it was already budgeted for.  My “outside the norm” costs for the night were the wine and cake.

Atlantic City Getaway: Casino type towns make their money on the weekends.  To get business during the week is gravy for them.  The great thing about my line of work is while my weekends are typically busy and hard to take off, my weekdays are way more flexible.  I subscribe to a few travel sites that send me “daily deals” and to be honest I can’t remember which one was used to book this trip.  But they had a “romance” package for 2 days at $300.  It included the dinner at the restaurant ($100 dinner tab), the massages, and the 2 night stay (which came with the champagne and chocolate covered strawberries).  Normally, that would be in the $800-1000 range.  But because it was the weekday, they have crazy low deals!  Places like Vegas and Biloxi have similar specials.  We also have a “vacation” budget so this fit no problem.  Again, no out of the ordinary budget costs except the rental car.  Thanks to being a USAA member, we saved 25% off that as well.

New York Gifts: Jimmy Fallon show tickets are free…score there!  The NY Mets suck  (and have since 1987) so their tickets are ridiculously cheap…about the same as a movie ticket.  For both of us, it’s about the experience of those 2 things.  I could care less about where I sit in the stands…I mean it’s not like we’re talking about Dodgers or Lakers tickets 🙂

So there you have it.  Her birthday was a success and I’ve got some time before I need to figure out #31.