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!

Thirty One.

Tara’s birthday is one of my favorite times of the year.  It’s an opportunity where I get to celebrate her entirely.  Because birthdays are a big deal for her as well, it always extends for the entire week.  It also stretches me to be unique and creative with each one that I get to be a part of.  To read about last year’s birthday, click <<<here>>>.

Her actual birthday this year fell on a Tuesday (July 30th) which was good and bad. With it being in the middle of the work week, we had to wait till Friday to really do something BIG with friends. It did, however, give us an opportunity to do some small little things throughout the week.

This year I feel like we’ve hit a new stride personally as true NYC locals.  Last year, our first in NY, we hadn’t really developed any close friendships in the City so we ended up planning a big birthday bash with her FL friends and family.  Thanks in large part to the small group we started at our church, our “network” of close friends has grown quite considerably since the beginning of 2013.  This is how the birthday week unfolded.

Monday
It just so happened that it was the closing night of our small group season.  We had almost everybody at the group that night (which has grown from 12 to 20 people).

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Last year for Tara’s 30th, I had a cake made by the fabulous KaraBoo Bakery and we
included on the cake 30 things that defined Tara.
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Karaboo always hits it out of the park.  I was bummed that I couldn’t fly in a cake
from them.  In an interesting twist of fate, I ended up meeting a cake maker, Amy Noelle of Sugar Flower Cake Shop, on the Friday prior to Tara’s birthday week at a networking meeting in the City.  She is extremely talented, creative, uses local ingredients and does not use fondant on anything.  She was showing pictures of her work on her iPad and after I left the meeting, I e-mailed her to see if she could take on making my wife’s cake.  She accepted and we came up with a local NYC cake idea.  As I said earlier in this post, I feel like this year we’ve really settled into our NYC life.  We don’t feel we’re tourists anymore and we’ve embraced this City as our own.  So here’s the cake we had made to represent our “local” status in the Union Square area and I surprised Tara by bringing it out on that night to share with our group…our NYC friends.
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As for the cake ingredients/flavor, here’s the breakdown.  We decided on a Champagne Cake with chocolate buttercream filling and NYC Honey Icing.  Champagne cakes are all the rage this year plus that’s one of her favorite drinks!  The honey is sold in the Union Square farmer’s market (Andrew’s Honey).  Andrew has hives all around Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and keeps the harvests separately.  The variety they are using right now is the Chelsea honey.  The chocolate was Valrhona dark chocolate.  Since chocolate doesn’t grow in the state of New York, she had to look outside and use one of the best quality French chocolates (which was great because Tara has a personal affinity for all things French!).  The champagne is a pink champagne which fit in with the purple and green color scheme.

Her gift that night was a mophie phone case/charger…a real game changer as a NY’er.  More on that in a future blog post.
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Tuesday
This was the actual birthday.  I got up at 5:30AM to wait in line at Dominique Ansel’s Bakery, the inventor of the Cronut (more on this in a future blog post as well).  I was able to score 2 cronuts when the bakery opened at 8AM and deliver them to the wife at work as my “surprise” gift that day.  The cronut had a blackberry glaze with bits of pulverized berries mixed in and it was rolled with a mix of coarse sugar and lime zest. It was filled with blackberry-swirled vanilla cream. Every month they change flavors.  It tastes every bit as good as it sounds!!
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I had some flowers delivered at work a few hours later.
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We went and ate at Pierre Loti, a wine and cheese bar in Union Square – one of Tara’s favorite things to do.  It was great to spend some time with her out on a date – just the two of us.  We tried a few different plates and shared a bottle of wine.
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Wednesday
We had dinner scheduled with some friends of ours from a few weeks ago, so before we went, I gave her a card with 2 plane tickets to the Dominican Republic.  We have not taken a vacation at all this year.  So this will be a great break for us in the Fall (even if it is just for a weekend) before my travel/gig season gets crazy and hopefully we can come back with some good looking tans for the winter!
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Thursday
Finally a night at the house just to chill and catch up on some DVR shows.  But to make the night a little special, I had ordered some ZD wine (T’s favorite) to be shipped in from Napa and it came in that day so we enjoyed a bottle with dinner.
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Friday
I had a DJ gig on Saturday so this was our night to live it up!  We went out with our good friends, Cameron and Leslee, to Beauty and Essex on the lower East Side.  I will do a separate blog post on that location later on but let me just say, this place blew our mind!  From the outside, you wouldn’t have any idea what the vibe is like.  You actually walk THROUGH a pawn shop (the front door) and it opens up to this massive 3 story space.  It’s very trendy.

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beauty inside
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They are known for their FREE “champagne bar” that is INSIDE the ladies restroom and you better believe that Tara and Leslee took FULL advantage of that.  Did I mention that it was FREE?
*NOTE: The men’s restroom, was not at all furnished with that type of amenity.
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The food at B&E is very tapas style.  We hung out there, shared some amazing food, drank some quality wine and had great conversation.

Afterwards, we went out to a hole-in-the-wall bar called Nurse Bettie for a night cap and then finished eating tacos out of a taco truck called Tacos Morelos (Cameron and Leslee’s first DATE night spot in the NYC -TRUE story and yes, this is one of the many reasons why we love them)!
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Great way to cap off 31 in the City!
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13.1: First Half Marathon Recap

It was January 1, 2013 at about noon and I had just awoken from my NYE gig with an epiphany.  Looking to start the new year fresh, I decided to push myself to do something I thought I’d never do.  That thing…run a half marathon.  When I tell you that I’m not a runner, I’m dead serious.  I think the longest I’d ever run was 5 minutes on the treadmill and when I got off, I felt like I’d been to hell and back.  There were opportunities in the past to run 5Ks and 10Ks and fortunately for me, work always seemed to get in the way. This would be different.  Looking for support and accountability, I somehow talked the wife into doing this “fun” activity with me.

We found a date in the middle of April when I wasn’t DJ’ing and thought that would be a great time to take a break and do this.  Looking for a reward for the run, we decided to do it in SoCal (no humidity) where we could leave the City for a weekend, visit friends, possibly catch a tan, run the race and then eat some amazing food at our favorite spots afterwards.  I found a race called “The City Challenge Urban Race” in Huntington Beach, CA  on a running website.  We paid the $45/ea and signed up.

To train, we used the Couch to Half app. It was really helpful.  Our biggest training hurdle, however, was the fact that the winter weather in NYC was rainy and cold with a few snow days thrown in there for good measure.  This made running outside tough.  We ran on the treadmill for the majority of the training period but knew we needed at least a few outside runs before the big day. I luckily had a gig in CA 2 weeks prior to the race so I got to run in CA twice and then Tara and I ran twice more in the City a week prior.

About a month before the race, Tara and I were sweating bullets because both of us didn’t feel ready.  Then an e-mail came from the race organizer with a link to the actual race website.  I get so much e-mail every day that I just filed this one and thought I’d look at it closer to the race day.  Tara, however, asked me the evening it came in, “Did you go to the website and read about the race?”  She then proceeded to read me the details.
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We thought this was PERFECT!  This would be a great beginner race (Amazing Race style) with no real pressure.  We now were REALLY looking forward to it especially since we signed up as a team and could run it together.

Fast forward to race day.  We both were feeling good and were hoping to post some good times.  Neither of us had yet to run the full 13.1 miles (the furthest we’d gone was 10 miles).  So the unknown of our time was kind’ve exciting.  Anything under 2.5 hours and we’d be ecstatic.  There were probably 200 runners, which, come to find out, is a small race.  About 3/4 of them were running a 5K or 10K.  The other 1/4 of them were running the half marathon.

The race structure and rules were interesting.  When the race started, we were given an envelope that had 12 puzzles and riddles that led to 12 items.  Those items were spread throughout the city. You had to photograph your teammate with each item.  None of the 12 items were in order geographically.  So not only did you have to figure out the items, but you had to map your route to get to them.  There was a strict 4 hour time limit.  You couldn’t place if you weren’t at the finish line in 4 hours.  Also, you were judged not only on your time but also on how many items you got correct!  Lastly, there were no waters or energy packets being handled out at any of the 12 places.  It was available only at the starting and finish line.

The race started and we spent the first 45 minutes at the starting line figuring out the puzzles and mapping our run.  Considering that neither of us had great knowledge about the City, we (I mean Tara) figured them out pretty quickly.
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We found the first 2 items pretty easily.
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We got tripped up on the next 2, spending about 30-45 minutes in the vicinity of the items until we finally found them.
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What we realized was that this race was HARD!  A lot of these items were 1-2 miles apart except for 2 of them that were 3 miles apart.  In training, we started to get into a rhythm about 4-5 miles into the run.  But this race never allowed for that.  So it was definitely tough.  We got 9 items in and realized that we were NOT going to make the time limit.
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We decided to forgo the other 3 and just run to the finish line.  We finished at 4 hours and 4 minutes…just late enough not to be able to place.  They still graded our clue/item sheet anyway and we found out that we got all 9 items correct.  The “grader” said that only a few people were able to complete all 12 and even then, the majority only
got about 9 of them right.

I had started the “Map My Run” app once we solved the clues and took off running and according to that, we did the run portion in 3 hours and 17 minutes.
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But even that is misleading, because, for a few items, we were running around in circles slowly (which lead to a slow average pace) trying to locate them.  So I know we could’ve posted a better time had we just been running in a normal race.
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Also, the adrenaline you feel at most races totally dissipated after the race started because no one was running the same routes.  We saw maybe 4-5 teams in passing the entire day.  Here are some of our mile splits below. As you can see, we had moments where our splits were really low compared to the rest (at mile 6, 9 and 11) but I know we could’ve been at around 10:00/mile or so throughout the majority of the race had it been a bit more straightforward.
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13.1 miles is no joke.  Here’s a pic of us post race!
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We did end up eating some amazing sushi at the end of the race at our favorite sushi spot on the planet, Sushi Sho, which made the race and trip worth it.
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After that, we hung out with good friends and drank wine before crashing out.  We headed to the airport the next morning.  How did we feel?  We were a little sore but recovered pretty quickly.

Overall, this was not a good first race to do.  This was more like a fun adventure for a family than something to mark progress.  We probably won’t be doing this race again.

In fact, Tara and I, who, before the race, had sworn off running any other races once we finished this one (this race was as a bucket list item), decided we needed to put a real race under our belt. So we’re going to do the Wine and Dine NIGHT race in Orlando November 9th (bonus is that my mom and one of my brothers are going to run it with us).  Not only do we have confidence that we can do it, but now we have a bit of an idea of what all goes into it (both the training and the actual race), so we’re looking to train harder and post some really good times.  Stay tuned.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Habana

cafe-habanaI’m obsessed with the NYC Food App Immaculate Infatuation.  The writing is the most hilarious and wittiest food review stuff I’ve ever read.  I’m really open to any cuisine but Cuban is one of my favorites (my amazing wife actually makes a few “off the hook” Cuban dishes).  So I was looking for cheap, Cuban spots and ran across Cafe Habana.  I mentioned it one evening to our friends, Cameron and Leslie, and we made a plan to go check it out soon.  Next thing I know, I get this text a few days later from Cameron.
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I couldn’t be upset with them at all…I would have done the same if I was in town instead of traveling all the time. Here’s a close up of that food pic that he sent me.
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Needless to say, this was definitely on our “hit list”. Tara’s friend, Brady, who just moved here on Sunday for a few months, wanted to do lunch with us and when we were throwing around lunch locations, I suggested we try this place.  Located in Soho, we went at 12:15PM and we got seated as soon as we walked in (impressive considering we had heard the wait is typically 30-45 minutes).  Seating is a bit tight so not ideal if going with a large group.  The first question out of the hostesses’ mouth was, “Are you here for just corn or lunch”?  You know when they ask that, that the corn has to be pretty good.   I had read rave reviews about the corn so I had to give it a try as I don’t believe I’ve ever had grilled corn before.
cornEnter one of the most amazing pieces of corn I’ve ever had.  I have no idea what the corn is breaded with but holy cow is it amazing.  They serve 2 pieces per order so with three of us, we ended up getting 2 orders and I had an order all for myself (no complaints there). It was succulent and the seasoning had a slight kick to it.  A++++.

 

Brady got the Corn salad as her entrée (sorry no pic).

Tara got the Cuban sandwich with fries. $9 dish.Cuban sandwichI went with the steak sandwich and salad.  I must say, there was ton of STEAK!  Usually, steak sandwiches fall woefully short of my expectations.  Not only was there a ton of it, the flavor was amazing.  I don’t know what sauce they used but it was incredible…not too much, but just enough to give it even more flavor!  The salad was quality and complimented the main course really well!  All this for $9.
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We also ordered some plantains.  Just as good as the entrée.
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All of us LOVED our dishes.  The portions are pretty large…so much so, that we took half our meal home with us for leftovers.  It heated up well and was just as good a few hours later as it was eating it in the restaurant.  This place is phenomenal and we will definitely be back.  They also have a location in Brooklyn.  Highly, highly recommend!!

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.

Tara’s 30th…surprise 2 of 3

Yesterday I blogged about gift #1 for Tara’s 30th.  While that was the first of three gifts given, it was not the first one I had planned.  Herein lies surprise gift #2.  First, the backstory.

Tara has been a trooper with our move to NYC.  It is the first time that she has really lived away from home.  Granted she lived in Tallahassee during her college years; that was still only a little over 2 hours away (a quick commute home if needed).  If you’ve spent any time with her, you’ll pick up on the fact right away that she is a social butterfly.  She loves being around people and people love being around her.

Since she works with me in my business and we work from home primarily, the opportunities to meet new people in our new City are vey limited.  Plus, for the first couple months we lived here, I was traveling non-stop so she was really by herself 90% of the time.  She probably wouldn’t admit it, but I could see it had defintely taken its toll on her.  The thought of spending her birthday (and one of such significance) away from her closest friends was slowly looking like reality.

Luckily, she had a work trip to Destin, FL (our previous hometown) planned the weekend before her birthday.  That was when I decided to throw her a surprise party.  The details weren’t totally worked out but the initial idea was that I would fly in to surprise her at a dinner with some of her Destin friends and we’d get a birthday cake designed in the style of the new shoes.  Then at some point, I’d pull out the real ones.  The last part of that plan got nixed when I had to give her the shoes early.  So I had to go to plan B.  Here’s some of the details of this surprise party.

Because it was her 30th birthday, I wanted to stay with a “30” theme throughout.  In Florida, there’s a beautiful stretch of highway along the gulf called “30-A”.  So I thought we could have it at a restaurant on that road.  We made reservations at 723 Whiskey Bravo.  It has a cool rooftop, very affordable food and a private room.

Another themed idea was to invite only 30 of her closest family and friends.  I called some of her college roomates to see if they could make it, one of her best friends from Jacksonville and of course her family.

We secretly sent out E-invites and then her sister designed a cool 3D paper reminder invite that went out as well.

The cake was the toughest part.  I had no clue what to do with the design since the shoe thing would be anti-climatic at this point.  So I put together the brains of Bob and Leslie (2 of my business partners) and the fantastic pattisier, Kara Enache, from Karaboo Bakery and we came up with something in no time.  We decided to go with “30 Things about Tara”.  While I was able to come up with the majority of the 30, I had to call in some recruits like her mom, sister and one of her best friends to help me compile the list.  Honestly, it was such a fun process.  We ended up having so many things that we had to start eliminating things to get to 30.  We left it with Kara to figure out how to incorporate everything.  Since you can’t see all 30 things on the picture of the cake, I’m listing the 30 below.

  1. Church/God/Faith
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Sunbathing
  5. Wine
  6. Beer (Miller Lite) {God only knows why that brand – Eww!}
  7. FSU Seminoles
  8. Ballet
  9. Cheerleading
  10. NYC
  11. CA
  12. FL
  13. Sushi Sho (CA Sushi Place)
  14. Bert’s Chili (Waffle House)
  15. Airplane
  16. Kean Coffee (CA Coffee Place)
  17. Shoes
  18. Chi Omega (sorority)
  19. Stationery
  20. Dresses
  21. Crab Island/Boating/Backdown / Billy Bowlegs {Boat she goes on every year}
  22. Bruiser (her dog)
  23. Chanel (her smell)
  24. Ruby (her birthstone)
  25. Justin Timberlake / N’Sync {the OG celebrity crush}
  26. Beans
  27. Stuart Weitzman
  28. 10/2/10  (Wedding Date) {Duh}
  29. SOTER (licence plate of her first used car) {was a running joke/nickname of car}
  30. 9:24AM (time she was born)

The result was this.

Her favorite color is purple so although my camera doesn’t do it justice, that is the color of it.  She loves red velvet so that was flavor inside the cake. Kara killed it!  Amazing job.  The restaurant charged ZERO for a plating fee.  So we were able to bring it in, keep it in one of their refrigerators and and have it served after dinner.

One other small thing I added at the last minute was ordering a few bottles of her favorite wine for the party.  She loves ZD wine so I had that shipped in.  The corkage fee at this particular restaurant was very minimal and was the perfect last minute touch.

I got there the day of the party.  I remained in hiding most of the day, then arrived at the restaurant a little bit prior to the event happening.  She was finishing a wedding rehearsal and we had her assistant coordinator take her to the restaurant.   At the restaurant at that time was just our work folks (we had her believing that the work folks wanted to have a drink with her).  As is usually the case in July in the panhandle, it was muggy and humid.  She loves Martinis so I had one waiting at the door in my hand for her.

She was happily surprised and we went upstairs on the deck to hang for a little bit while the other peeps we had invited filed in downstairs to the private room.  There were a few close calls of the surprise being thrawted.  Tara ran into her grandparents on her way into the restaurant but her grandmother spun a great story as to why they were out there.  Then a few of our friends came upstairs and again another story was made up. Whew!

I took her downstairs once I got the word that everybody was in the room and the surprise came to life!

This was definitely something Tara needed considering the week she had been having (more on that in the next blog posting).  I’m so thankful that so many of her family and friends drove out to be a part of this.  Major thanks go out to Bob and Leslie for helping me make it all come together.

There still was one last BIG surprise for her birthday.  #3 will come out on the blog tomorrow!

Tara’s 30th…surprise 1 of 3

Tara and I have been married almost 2 years but we’ve been together more than 3 years.  We had been dating exclusively for about 4 months before we first celebrated one of her birthdays together.  If you know Tara at all, you know that her birthday is a BIG deal.  I caught on to this fact rather quickly.  You either have to go big or go home.  So the 1st year, I surprised her with breakfast before work, balloons, gifts, an airhorn, etc.  Here’s a little recap.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxwyQnZIpKQ]
Since then, I’ve matured (slightly).  I still like to surprise her but the gifts have slowly gotten better.  Last year, as we were saving for our NY move, instead of extravagant gifts, I treated her to a birthday week of going out to dinner with some of her favorite people. Each night we went out with a different group of friends.  It was the perfect thing to do before our move later that year.

This year, I had no clue what to do.  It was the big 30…not only was she entering a new decade but it was going to be her 30th on July 30th which meant it was her once in a lifetime GOLDEN birthday.  I had to step up my game for this one.  So I kept my ears open to any clues or hints that she might throw out.  At the beginning of this year, we somehow got in a conversation of her birthday and I asked her if she had anything she wanted to do or cross off her bucket list before she hit her 30s.  She mentioned that when she was in college, she had hoped to have a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes by the time she turned 30 but that that would never be a reality.  BOOM!  There it was. I tucked that idea away for the next several months.

I started saving any and all tip money from my DJ gigs throughout the beginning of the year and put it aside.  It’s a good thing I did because I was not familiar with the cost of these shoes.  I went to the boutique store in NYC one weekend while she was away and the sticker shock hit me square between the eyes.  I was guessing $200 or so for a pair….WRONG!  That was about 1/4 of the cost (that price tag blew my Air Jordans from back in the day out of the water).  So I continued saving and on my last gig before I needed to buy them, I got a very generous tip from one of our clients that got me to the magic number.

The NYC store was out of the particular style of shoe I wanted to get so I went to their boutique in California while I was there for an event.  With the help of Tara’s sister, Megan, and one of my business partners, Leslie, I got the right shoe.

The only catch was that they had a 30 day return policy.  I was headed to Florida from Cali and we were still more than 30 days out from her birthday so I was going to have to give them to her early to make sure everything fit just right.

Leslie made a killer gift box.

When we were leaving our Florida office at the conclusion of a work day, I gave them to her.  In my nervousness of wanting to get it on video, I didn’t realize I had a ton of gum in my mouth (that for some reason I was chomping on while filming) and I forgot to rotate my iPhone to get it full screen so you’ll note the black bars on either side of the video. Nonetheless, here’s the reveal of the surprise caught on camera.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBwkPIBZZfM]

I was so stoked to be able to give that to her.  For most, that would have been enough of a gift for her birthday but I still had another surprise or 2 up my sleeve.  Surprise #2 of the birthday is coming tomorrow on the blog.

Brian Approved: The Bitter End

So a few posts ago, I introduced you to my friend Beth.  Well, she happened to be in NYC recently and when Tara and I joined her for dinner, she mentioned that she had gone to a place called The Bitter End to watch some live music a few days prior.

Not familiar with the spot, she quickly gave me the low down.  This club is located in Greenwich Village and is a cultural icon in New York.  Fred Weintraub opened the place in 1961 as a no-alcohol talent showcase where he presented up-and-coming acts like Peter, Paul and Mary (who made their debut there that year), Joan Baez and Woody Allen. Paul Colby became the club’s manager and talent booker and eventually, owner. The club has given some other little known artists their start….folks like Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and more recently Ingrid Michaelson, Norah Jones and Lady Gaga to name a few.

Last weekend Tara and I went out to dinner with some of our new friends, Cameron and Leslee.  After dinner, we were looking for something to do and I suggested we check this place out.   We arrived pretty early by “clubbing” standards (8PM) and it turned out that we got there just before the first band was to go on.

The cover was only $5 and the night featured 6 bands (they are open 7 days a week and feature that many bands nightly).  Despite the low cover, there is a catch.  Each person must buy at least 2 drinks per band performance (while that may not be a problem for my wife, it is for an alcohol lightweight like myself).  Although there is a sign on each table stating this policy, we found out that it is not heavily enforced.

The décor inside definitely makes it feel like you’re in an old school rock n’ roll club.  That said, the stage lighting and  sound gear are up to all the latest standards.  They’ve even got streaming video on their website (they’ve positioned a studio mic in the center of the room used exclusively for the streaming) so you can preview the talent before you even get there.  No celebs at this particular show that we went to…just bands trying to get their big break.  I was pleasantly surprised by the talent level.  According to the door man, each band performs about 6 or so songs and then the next band gets set-up to play.

If you’re looking for a live music spot, this is a great spot to go.  Here’s a couple quick snipets below of a band we saw (unfortunately, we didn’t catch their name).  They did mostly their own original music (kinda bluesy) but also sprinkled in a few covers as well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuOoq_Uo68s]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zkutDOQXw0]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Kmxsn3TeiM]

The best 4th Of July ever…NYC style

The wife is away for a week on business (usually it’s the other way around) which means I’ve got some time to catch up on some much needed blogging.  I’m not at all insinuating that she keeps me from writing blogs…in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  It’s more that we have been through such a crazy season over the last couple months with the few different businesses we’re running and traveling for those businesses that we’ve desperately needed time to just unplug from the computer, hang out with each other in the evenings, settle in to this new city that we’re loving more and more, and start forging friendships with some new folks.

Speaking of new folks, meet one of our new friends – Timothy Reese.


He’s got the coolest glasses on the planet and a personality to match.  Not to mention he’s a video editor, bassist and recently started DJ’ing.  He also happens to go to Liberty Church.  With that much in common, he and I instantly became friends.  Tim has lived in New York a long time and is pretty well connected with different groups of people and events going on in the City.

Because of some crazy stuff going on at work, Tara and I had to stay in Florida a whole week longer at the end of June than we had anticipated.  The way things worked out, we ended up having to go back to NY on July 3rd just to catch our original flight to Chicago on July 5th.  That meant we were spending July 4th in NYC!!  This being my first year doing so and us not having ANY view from our balcony, I texted as many people as I could to see if we could figure out a place to watch fireworks.

Tim wrote me back and his text was this:
“Have a spot for July 4th, we’ll be at a studio on 26th.  We’ll have a front row to the fireworks.”

This sounded cool but was so cryptic.  Would this be a studio apartment?  One as small as ours?  Was there gonna be a ton of people packed in like sardines?  None of this info was mentioned but we thought even if it sucked, it would be a chance to hang out with new friends and it was definitely a way better option than chillin’ by ourselves at our pad with no view of the City.

Tara, I and one of our new friends, Leslee, ventured out to the party but stopped about halfway there for a “pre-fireworks” drink at the White Horse Tavern.  It was ridiculously hot on our walk so this pit stop was perfect.  We hung out there till about 6PM and then started walking again to the party.

On our way, I got a text from Tim with a photo of the invite to the party.  The text read:
“Show them this to get past the police line at 10th Ave.”

As we got closer and closer to the “studio”, the security was tighter and the police barricades became more frequent.  In fact, at one point, I ended up having to text a picture of the invite to everyone in my party because everyone had to have it or they weren’t going to let us through. I started thinking this probably isn’t gonna be your typical house party.

We met up with Tim, got to the building, took an elevator to the 14th floor, and realized we were in no standard home studio.  We had entered one of the most incredible PHOTOGRAPHY studios I’d ever seen in my life.  It literally was 4 studios spaces that were joined together (I later found out that they’d shot a ton of music videos here for Rihanna Jay-Z, etc).  The panoramic view was breathtaking.

This was the view from one of the windows. You can see a few of the barges from this very spot.

There were probably about 300 people in attendance when all was said and done but all those people would have barely made a dent in ONE of the four studio spaces….that’s how large the space was that I’m talking about.  It was potluck style (we brought wine, of course) and there was food for days.  Tons of grilling out, snack foods and drinks along with great tunes playing throughout the house.  Because we were up so high, we actually had an awesome breeze and got to watch the Macy’s Fireworks display (yeah, I’m talking about the televised one – slightly a big deal) on the balcony of this “Studio”.

It was the best July 4th party I’d EVER been to.  I wanted to do my Wayne’s World, “I’m not worthy” dance (I came to find out later that all the other folks down below on the street level had to pay for tickets and arrive by 12PM to be there ALL DAY in the brutal humidity with less than desireable bathroom options to watch the fireworks at 9PM….and here we are in the life of luxury).

Of course, I had to ask Tim, “What do these people who hosted the party do for New Year’s?”  He chuckled and then said that they do a repeat of July 4th (with more of a formal dinner type feel) on NYE at the same venue.  If I don’t have a gig, I will definitely be here for it!  The only thing I kept thinking was, if this was year 1 of celebrating Independence Day in NY, how am I EVER gonna top this?

Here’s a little video footage.  I have NO idea what Leslee and Tara were talking about.  Hair maybe???
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh6dPNFdzA0]

We were on a rooftop on TOP of a rooftop. That's when you know you've arrived :) We were on a rooftop ON TOP of a rooftop.  That’s when you know you’ve arrived 🙂

One of our new friends, Leslee, and Tara.

All 4 barges were sync’d up to the same display. Pretty awesome being able to see all of them at once.

A meal idea from 1912…

I’ve been going to Orlando on almost a weekly basis to assist my youngest brother Michael (aka Vince) with his business on the marketing & operations front.  That has also allowed me the chance to see and support my middle brother Mark as he continues his ongoing recovery from his near fatal car accident last year.  It’s been great to not only help them both but also to see them as often as I have….that hasn’t happened since I was in high school.  Before this, I was lucky to see them 1 or 2 times a year.

Michael runs a medical practice with 4 locations (Orlando,  Kissimmee, Sanford and Fort Myers) and an operations location in the Daytona area.  Because the locations are so spread out, they both have 2 residencies that they mutually share with 1 other roommate (who also happens to be Michael’s business partner).  One of the places is a sky rise condo in downtown Orlando.  It’s fully furnished and has a killer view and they are there about 20% of the time.

The other is a 4 bedroom house in Port Orange (near Daytona).  The house’s owner’s son (who goes to Embry Riddle) lives there as well.

With 4 bachelors living there at the house, it’s an interesting environment when I go visit.  There’s a lot of open space, the typical bachelor pool table, recreational guns, flat screen TVs, surround sound in almost every room, a screened in porch for BBQ’ing, and a killer outdoor pool.  The fridge is pretty much stocked with liquids 24/7 and not much else.  Not one of them is really into cooking so there’s a lot of eating out.

My brother Mark chillin' otuside on the patio with the pool behind it.

The fridge....with the liquid essentials.

One of the "recreational" guns...it's a 6.8 spc. The scope alone is $4K. This thing is pretty ridiculous and could definitely do some damage.

Keeping the places clean is tough to make happen with as many long hours as they all work.  Enter in the house maid, Angel. She comes in 2X a week to clean, handle the laundry and do the grocery shopping.  She is really nice and does a good job.  With 4 extremely smart entrepreneurial type guys there, a lot of ideas get thrown out there and talked about but only the good ideas come to fruition which leads me to this particular blog posting.

As a gag gift, someone gave the owner’s son a book on the “Meals of the Titanic”.

The fellas got in their head one day the idea of paying the maid to cook out of the book until they had sampled every meal.  She quoted an extra $40 a day for 3 meals (actually 3 sepeate meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – with 4 plates worth at each meal time so a total of 12 meals a day; which breaks down to a little over $3 a meal) plus the meal supplies.  They decided to try it and are now on week 3.  The maid makes out the menu schedule on a weekly basis and posts it on the fridge on Sundays so they know what they’re having each week.

Tara didn’t believe me when I told her about it…that is until she came out to visit me 2 weeks ago.  She woke up to a beautiful aroma (we slept in late) and it was the maid getting ready to prepare lunch.  This particular meal was a “first class cabin” rated meal.   I can’t remember the exact name but it was steak with an interesting (but very tasty) flavoring/spices on top, veggies and some type of mashed potatoes.  It was absolutely amazing!  And this was just a LUNCH!

The finished product (sorry I had already eaten some of it before I took this pic).

I’m still awaiting the verdict on the “top 3” meals.  They’ve been keeping a rating card so as soon as they finish all the meals, I’ll keep you posted on the results.  I’m thinking this one has to be in the top 10.

This was too good of a story not to share.  The things the mind can come up with boggles me 😉  Meanwhile, I’m back to eating my PB&J as I finish typing this blog post 🙁