Newest Buonassissi Family Member | Jake the Morkie

Jake The Morkie: Our New Boy

I’ve been able to pull off a few epic surprises for Tara but this Christmas present tested my surprise gift-giving mettle like never before.  Although we hinted around the conversation of the “next step” in our marriage relationship, we hadn’t officially made any decisions in that regard.  However, over the last few months, I’ve seen Tara gravitate towards having a dog (albeit a small one; remember we live in a place with less than 500 square feet).  With me on the road a ton over the last few months, the thought of having a dog had been amplified.  Being a dog-purchasing novice (I’ve actually never purchased one before; my brother had one for a couple of years when I was 16 and I moved out at 18), I had no idea on the process or pricing.  That said, I knew this was the year we were due to bring a dog (a morkie) into our family.

I  researched a few different breeds and then went dog shopping. I found a dog store called citipups, a NYC chain that specializes in small City dogs. After a few visits, I found one I really liked. Call it naiveté or what you will, but I assumed a small dog would be about $100-300. I asked the guy at the counter how much and he said, “17 plus another 35 bucks for registration, etc.”. I thought to myself, “This is amazing! I’m going to get out of here for under $100.” He then asked me if I wanted to leave a deposit. Deposit on $52? Are you kidding? I told him I was ready to pay it all. When the register rang up $1,735.00, I about had a heart attack. What kind of cruel joke was this guy playing?? This was way beyond my budget.

I checked with my NYC buddy, Derek, who was also in the market for a pup. I was hoping he was in the same situation as me as far as pricing goes (NYC isn’t cheap folks). Luckily, he was and he had done his own research and found an online dog store called affordablepup.com that also specializes is small dogs. You can see pictures and read up on a dog and they charge about 1/3 of what citipups was selling them for and that included the shipping! I found an 8 week old Morkie that they called Jacob. Because I waited so late to order and hadn’t officially owned a dog prior, they wanted to make sure I was “compatible” with the dog so they set-up a “Skype” date with the dog and myself. What the? I’ve never done this before so I went back to Google and searched for etiquette and questions to ask on a “puppy date” but that turned up with a whole lot of nothing. I did what I could do – I took a shower, shaved, and dressed up before I got on the video call. It was the weirdest thing I had experienced in my dating life. I logged on and it was just the puppy and me. He’s in a big room by himself and I tried talking with it. It didn’t respond much. After about 2-3 minutes of awkwardness, the person from the store finally showed his face on the screen and said he felt we were a match and all was good. Whew!  I passed.

The dog was coming 4 days before Christmas and I had to figure out how to hide this thing. I called a few boarding places and they wouldn’t take him because he was too young and didn’t have his rabies shot (they don’t get that until the 4th or 5th month). I found an amazing dog hotel in Chelsea. I went in and the dogs get their own 12X12 room, full-size bed, TV with doggy movies, plush sheets and pillows, and even room service, etc. all for $85 a night! Classic NYC!  This dog would be living larger than I was. Alas, they too would not take him due to his age. I scoured the internet and came across rover.com, a private dog sitting service. It is similar to airbnb.com, where you can see reviews and the sitters can review you as well. I put in a few requests and one came back from Claudia saying she would totally help me out. She ended up being amazing.

So I went and picked him up on Monday from Delta Cargo in Terminal A at LaGuardia airport. What a crazy situation that was. Again, I’m cheap so I took city transportation but it doesn’t drop you of at Terminal A. That would have been nice information to know. I literally circled through the entire airport back out to the subway stop and I had to go through it all again, get off at Terminal B and take a shuttle to Terminal A. Upon arrival there, they tell me Cargo is actually about a mile from Terminal A. Come on LaGuardia – get your act together! Some nice lady gave me a ride there as she was in route to the same place. I picked him up and he was shaking. I didn’t know if it was because I was delayed an hour in getting him, if he was hungry (they tell you to feed him every 15 minutes for the first 2 hours), if he was cold or if he was just stressed because of the day’s activities. Because I was out in the boonies, I had to have Uber come pick me up and take me to the sitter’s place. I tried feeding the dog on the way with a syringe they provide by just sticking it in his crate and he didn’t take to it. Then I see puke in the crate. Dang it! Am I killing this dog already? At this point, I’m totally freaking out and can’t wait to get him to the sitter’s house.

Like I said, Claudia was amazing.  She showed me how to use the syringe to force feed him. He was shaking because he was nervous and stressed out. I had to leave him with her but I knew he was in good hands. Claudia sent me pictures and updates every couple of hours. This totally put my mind at ease. By Christmas Eve, he was eating hard food! She kept him until Christmas Day and I picked him up at 7AM. This was a huge win because I have no idea how I would’ve kept him a surprise otherwise.

To surprise Tara the day of, I bought a doggie FSU jersey which ended up being the last present I gave her with no explanation. The dog was just outside our door. Her reaction to the shirt was priceless. Then I had her close her eyes as I brought in Jake. It was love at first sight. We’re so pumped to have him and I can’t wait to see how this all plays out. I made a little video of the surprise journey. Enjoy and Merry Christmas everyone!

New York City Public Library

One of my friends, Beth MacLane, who has given us a ton of local NYC ideas in the past – whether it’s been places to eat, things to do or places to go – has always been on point.  So when she said she always tries to stop in at the New York City Public Library whenever she’s in town, I knew we probably needed to check it out.  She said it’s so peaceful and something you can’t experience anywhere else.

The initial doubts were there for me…I mean, the library?  Really?  A “must go to” spot?  I had been to the Costa Mesa, CA branch and trust me; you wouldn’t want to experience that one. I’m kinda kidding.  Anyway, we had a Saturday free (rare for both Tara and I) so we decided to take full advantage of it and make our way to midtown and check out the main branch.

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A few fun facts:
*It opened in 1895
*It’s the 2nd largest library in the US (3rd in the world) behind only the Library of Congress
*It houses 53 million items (45 million research items and 8 million branch items)
*While this is the main branch, there are 87 branches in all
*It’s independently managed as a non-profit corporation with both private and public financing

This place is massive – 3 levels to be exact.  When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the ceiling and architecture.  It’s pretty incredible.  It reminds me of my trip to Europe and just feeling like you’re back in time with some of the structures.  The first level has mainly exhibit items about the library history.
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The 2nd level has a few reading rooms and a few exhibit literature items like this first edition Reader’s Digest.  The reading rooms are decorated with amazing paintings.

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The 3rd level houses all the books and more reading rooms.  I was surprised that they had all the tables updated with power supplies as well as laptops for check-out (as long as used in the library).  Technically, you weren’t supposed to take pictures in these rooms but you know…I went stealth / ninja mode and took some images…all in the name of blogging.
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We wanted to get a library card but you had to have certain documentation showing that you lived there.  Tara had that documentation on her so she got a card. I, of course, did not and will have to wait to get mine the next time we go back. Tara actually got the card, in part, because she wanted to check-out a book that she’d had her eye on but didn’t want to pay $12 to buy it on Amazon.  Come to find out, this is 1 of 4 NON-LENDING branches where you can check it out but you have to read it in the library.

Later, we found out that if you have a kindle, you can get it electronically and check it out that way for 30 days.  To give you an idea of how many people use this library, all electronic copies of the book she wanted were checked out and she was in the “600 range” of people on the waiting list.

All in all, it’s a great visit!  I can see why Beth goes there often.  Oh and once again, it’s free!

HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

Tara and I lead what our church calls a “community group” (other churches call it a connect group, small group, life group, etc.).  Our particular group is for married couples. As we were going into the Summer season, we changed the format from the Spring semester to a more social and less study feel, taking advantage of all the things NY has to offer in the Summer.

We designated one night for going to the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, which is absolutely free!
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It runs from the middle of June through the middle of August and they show some classic films.  Each week it’s a different film and you can see all the options on their website.  We picked “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” because it’s a classic and frankly seemed easier to follow then most of the others.

Here’s how it works.  The green lawn is closed to the public all day until 5PM.  Unlike Shakespeare in the Park, there are NO tickets needed.  Instead, you line up on the gravel surrounding the lawn at 4PM.  Then at 5, they open the lawn and it’s a free for all to make your claim to the best view of the big screen.  People bring blankets and chairs to mark their territory.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/61iDCXlw838]

Once again, because of my flexible work schedule, I was designated as our group representative to grab our seats.  Surprisingly enough, with my one blanket, I got us perfect seats.  All that half marathon training paid off in the mad dash.  So cool having the cityscape as your backdrop behind the screen.

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Tara HBO Film Festival spot

The only problem is that you then have to WAIT until 8:30PMish for the sun to go down and the film to begin.  People bring books, mess around on their phones, eat dinner, etc. until the film starts.  In our case, Tara met me there after she got off work and we watched flying cameras and played a few rounds of thumb war (which I dominated..duh).

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Our group mates made their way to finding us before the film started and everything worked out perfectly.  Here are a couple tips:

#1: Try to secure a space as close to the middle of the lawn as possible.  For one, all the speakers are located in the middle so if you’re on the sides, you catch the echo and it’s hard to hear clearly.  Also, if anybody leaves, you’re less likely to have people walk over you being in the middle.  If you’re on the edges, you’re subjected to it all movie long (much like having an aisle seat on a plane).

#2: Bring 2 blankets if securing for a large group.  Looking back, I wish I would’ve brought a second one.  They don’t allow “sheets” so don’t bring those.

#3: Bring an umbrella!  Summer showers in NY are subject to happen at any time and there is no covering on the lawn.  In fact, a slight drizzle DID come down for about 2-3 minutes before the movie started. The nice thing is it cleared out a few folks who did not bring umbrellas, which allowed us to spread out a bit.

#4: You can bring your own food and drink but they do inspect bags again, so don’t bring professional cameras.  There are a couple food places outside of the park that are good and relatively cheap.

#5: Use the restrooms before the film.  It is pitch black once the films start and trying to make your way to a restroom at that point is tough.

They showed a preview and an old school Bugs Bunny cartoon before the film started.

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I forgot how good the original Willy Wonka is.  Gene Wilder is the man!  So glad we picked that one.
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We caught this on the perfect night.  The humidity was extremely low, because of the rain, the temperature actually dropped a bit and we actually had a slight breeze.  All in all, this was a total win!  Highly recommend this in your NYC summer plans!

Shakespeare In The Park

Since it’s been forever and a day since we last blogged, it’s time to take my friend, Lisa, up on her blog challenge and give it a shot of a full week of blogging to get some 2013 posting momentum started (better late than never).  So why so long between posts?  It’s a sad excuse but we’ve been extremely busy.  I’ve been gigging a lot recently (most of which has been out of town) and Tara has been working a ton holding things steady in NY while I’ve been on the road.

For this week of posting, I thought we’d highlight some NYC bucket list items we’ve checked off our list over the summer.  We’ve tried to make a point of doing a lot of local things this year and surprisingly enough, we’ve made a ton happen.  Living in this City sure does have its advantages and the summer gives you so many things to do.

Shakespeare in the Park was something my wife read about in an e-mail from the skint last year. So when we recently watched a DVR’d episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jessie Tyler Ferguson was a guest and he was plugging his involvement with Shakespeare in the Park and Tara remembered reading about it.

So what exactly is it? Throughout the summer, the public theatre sponsors free showings of various Shakespeare pieces with a few Holywood headliners lending their talents to them.  This has been happening for the last 60 years.  The first play (of 6) this summer was The Comedy of Errors and it starred Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater. We talked our friends, Cameron and Leslee, into going with us.

This is how it works with tickets.  Every show day, they release tickets at noon at the ticket booth in Central Park.  They only allow 2 tickets per person and seating preferences is a crapshoot…first come, first serve.  With my more flexible work schedule, I got there at 11AM and held a spot for us then Cameron came down and met me at noon and we scored 4 tickets.  The line moved quickly and wasn’t too bad at all.
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You return at 8PM when the amphitheater opens and you can bring your own food/drink or buy it there.  With Leslee, we knew she would have plenty of snacks so we took care of bringing the coffee mugs 😉

The amphitheater was very intimate and there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  The set design was incredible, the lighting/production was top notch, the central park backdrop was surreal and the weather was phenomenal.
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I think our only regret was not having read up on the play ahead of time…talking in old English and in this particular play, some of the actors playing multiple roles, made it tough to follow initially.  Don’t even try to bring professional cameras in there as they don’t allow any photos to be taken and they were stopping people at the door.  Of course, being the sneaky photographer I am, I took a few stealth photos.

Added bonus was that one of our friends from Liberty Church, Adrienne Weidert, was dancing in the show.  Dancing in a Shakespeare play?  Yes!  They used it in such a creative way.
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If you get a chance to come to the City in the summer and you appreciate Shakespeare (or just enjoy live theatre in general), put this on your to do list. It is such a great experience.  And the price (free) makes it all the more worth it!
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Brunch Tour: Freeman’s

One of the best things about NYC is the cuisine…duh.  But when there are no shortages of the best of the best in that department, that is a food connoisseur’s dream.  If you live here for any length of time, you quickly find out that NY knows how to do brunch.  So Tara and I have embarked on a brunch tour where every Saturday for the last few weeks, we’ve checked out a different place.  This post is a review of our favorite brunch spot (so far) – Freeman’s.

It was a Saturday in February, the morning of my 35th birthday to be exact, and we had a good friend of Tara’s in town.  We were going to take her to what was our favorite brunch spot in the City, Peels.  But there was something in me that just wanted to venture out and try something different and since it was my birthday, Tara had me pick the place.  So I went to Yelp, Open Table, Immaculate Infatuation and then looked to a few local friend’s blogs.  After seeing it on my friend Gracie Gordon’s blog, I decided to give Freeman’s a try.

The first thing I loved about this place was that it’s definitely a “locals” kind of place.  It’s not an eatery the  tourists would find…or find very easily.  The address is 191 Chrystie Street.  However, when you go to Chrystie Street, it’s not there.  The street numbers on the buildings aren’t shown, so the building where Google said it was had a “For Lease” sign and a “D” rating sheet in the window.  Tara started cursing my name as it was a rainy morning, we had to take the subway a few more stops than we usually go, and we were all pretty hungry. I couldn’t believe it was closed because the latest review was literally just a few days  ago.  I called the restaurant and of course it was an automated message but when giving directions, they said it was in “Freeman’s Alley”.  This was certainly no alley. So we went around the corner and I saw a sign for the restaurant next to the  alley. I thought there was no way a restaurant could be there but low and behold there it was.
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We got there at 10:30AM which is well before the NY’ers typically start brunch.  It gets busy around 12:30PM and stays that way until about 2 or 3PM.  It looked to be a house turned into a restaurant and was much bigger on the inside than it appeared from the outside.  They have a private room upstairs (which was actually hosting a wedding brunch when we arrived) and then plenty of little rooms throughout the downstairs area.  We got sat near the bar.  The décor was very rustic – it was a cross between a cabin feel (tons of animal heads on the wall) and a country barn.
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The brunch menu looked amazing!!  We started with mimosas/hibiscuses, coffee and then split a stack of roasted pear pancakes with whipped cream.  The pear was in the pancake dough…unbelievably good.  Loved the old school syrup bottle.
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For my entrée, I ordered the skillet eggs, bacon, spinach and gruyere buttered sourdough toast.  Pretty much anything served in a skillet is bound to be amazing.  This dish did not disappoint.  The cheese in the eggs was incredible.
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Tara went with the roasted root vegetable & mushroom that is served with two fried eggs, herbed crème fraiche and fried corn cake.  It looked scrumptious.  She had zero complaints about her dish!
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Leah (T’s friend from Alabama who was visiting) got the scrambled eggs with roasted potatoes and thick-cut bacon.  She loved it.  Unfortunately, I did not snap a pic of that one!

I had read that the stone-ground cheddar cheese grits were killer so we ordered that as a side that we all shared.  Tara and Leah were skeptical because who does grits well in the northeast?  Not many.  But these were phenomenal (and that’s coming from a guy who is not a grits fan)!  Again, the cheese they used (the same cheese used in my skillet dish) was to die for.
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The only thing we missed out on was the hot artichoke dip.  I read about how good that was after we had already eaten but there’s always next time.  I’d rank this place as my favorite brunch spot so far in NYC and we will definitely be back!

Brian Approved: Downton Abbey

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So I had been hearing about Downton Abbey for a while (especially after this year’s Golden Globes) but never had the time or really the desire to check it out.  How many tv drama series are really worth watching these days?  Well, that all changed for me after viewing the 1st episode of this show. I was actually about to start my travel/event season and wanted to start using the video feature of my Kindle Fire HD.  One of the perks of Amazon Prime is that you can stream movies and certain TV shows for free.  So after streaming the first episode, I proceeded to download the first 2 seasons before I got back from my first trip.  I just got completely caught up and finished season 3.  Even Tara is hooked.  She had a separate flight the same weekend and texted me as soon as she landed that she’s now a Downton fan.

What makes this show so compelling?  For starters (without giving away any of the storylines), the cinematography is incredible.  Based in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, the shots of England are just amazing.  Add to that multiple storylines, great twists, and phenomenal acting and you’ve got a recipe for a show that is a “can’t miss”.  I’m not a fan of the heavy accents that typical British shows seem to have.  This show has a slight accent with most of the actors/actresses (to be expected) but not enough to turn you off and/or miss funny punch lines.

I’ve been told that Sherlock (also a PBS aired show) is a great series to check out as well.  That’s next on my list.  Get on the Downton train ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.  For those that have seen all three seasons of Downton, you’ll totally understand this next statement.  My biggest takeaways so far is that you should never have kids and the way Edith feels at Downton is the way I feel at McDonald’s: Judged 😉

Looking for an awesome airline?

If you’ve followed me for any bit of time on Twitter or Facebook, you know I fly…and I mean fly a LOT (usually once a week).  Rule #1 in flying is to use 1 or 2 airlines regularly so you can keep getting miles and build up for free flights.  Even though I try to stick to that, I also own a small business…which means I’m usually on the hunt for deals on flights so my expenses stay low.

Although I’m still living part-time in Destin, FL (with limited airline options), my other residences in New York and Orlando give me an ample supply of airlines from which to pick.  With another division of our company in California, I also go to the west coast a lot.  Two weeks ago, my wife and I took a little weekend mini-vacation to SoCal (no business on this trip).

I started looking at airlines for the trip and one airline I’d heard a little about was Virigin Airlines.  I hadn’t flown them yet and I was actually under the impression that they only flew to Europe and Australia.  Low and behold, they have a domestic wing of their company that handles US flights.   Although I didn’t have a frequent flyer account with them, I thought I’d give them a shot.   As I searched NY to LA flights on their site, they had a non-stop that was at a reasonable rate.

Here’s another admission…I hate connection flights!  Too many problems can arise…weather in the connection city, flight delays, plane mechanical issues, etc.  So whenever I can, I try to take direct flights. My wife, on the other hand, prefers connection flights so it breaks up the flying time a bit.  Somehow, I convinced bribed her to try this non-stop flight to Los Angeles (see Sushi Sho on previous blog post).

Upon arriving at the tickeing counter, it’s as if you’re in a different VIP wing of the airport. The flat screens showing flight updates and the low purple and neon pink lighting (a theme of the airline as you will see) gives the airline an immediate impact starting at at the ticket counter.  No ticket kiosks here.  All wireless computers.  They have plenty of agents as well so you’re not waiting a long time for someone to help you (if it’s needed).

Ticketing Counter at JFK Airport

Even printing the tickets make you look like you’re rollin’ “baller” status.  It’s a lot smaller than the typical ticket size (looking more like a like concert backstage pass) and it’s printed on a heavier card stock type paper.

Once you start to board the plane, again they keep the theme with the low purple and neon pink color lighting.

I didn’t get a picture of the flight attendants but it’s as if they recruit them from Abercrombrie.  Not one bad looking person worked on either flight I took.  They all seem to love their job as well – no bad attitudes that I could see.

The seats are leather, plush, and have a head rest.  They sell more upgradable seats (with supposedly more legroom and such) but the coach seats are so good, there’s no need to spend more money.  Additionally, each seat has its own individual TV and removable remote control.

The inflight entertainment interface is really easy and there are a ton of options: Movies, Direct TV, XM Radio, Audio Books, Games, chatting with different seats (which Tara and my conversation didn’t last long) and wifi on every plane.

Tara and I's short-lived chat session. Quality conversation going on here 😉

Check out the demo of the inflight entertainment interface:
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Before the flight starts, the FAA requires the airlines to give a standard safety spiel.  Most of the bigger airlines are moving away from the LIVE announcements and displaying it on the monitors with pre-recorded videos.  These are usually boring.  I either tune it out or am sending out last minute text messages before I lose signal.  Virgin Airline’s video, however, is HILARIOUS.  It’s as if they hired a sitcom writer and director to put this thing in every day speech and disney cartoonist to create the accompanying images on the screen.  It’s like a more sophisticated Southwest Airlines script.

Here’s what the safety video looks like:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6ixjc5yeMU]

Once the flight starts, they only offer soft drinks complimentary (no snacks).  But ordering food is simple.  You do it all from your TV and pay from there as well.  How about the food options and quality?  Way better than the typical airline.  If I have to pay for food, at least there is value here – healthy and tasty food from which to pick.  After you’ve ordered, they deliver it to you like a server at a restaurant.

The only negative I see with this airline?  They don’t service enough destinations.  On the way there, we flew from JFK to LAX.  On the way back, Tara went back to JFK and I flew this airline to Orlando direct.  Unfortunately, there is no NYC to Orlando or vice versa so I was stuck flying another airline (eventually) home.  I guess they really like to service coast to coast and not too many on the same coasts.

I think my friend Beth said it best: “When you fly Virgin Airlines, you just feel cooler.”  I think  that sums it up perfectly.  I highly recommend this airline to anyone (and no they didn’t pay me for this review).  Tara has actually been converted to a “direct flight” traveler (on this airline only 😉 ).  In doing some research on this airline on YouTube, I ran across 2 videos worth sharing.

Love this commercial:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ3dEhQusfs]

The airline media event announcing their Palm Springs route.  They throw parties as well as they run their airline.  High class.  Wish I was DJ’ing this party (hopefully soon).
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkN2EjG1_Ek]