Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Cupcake, a Massage, Thai Food, a Party and a $3 Tinkle

Yesterday, Kenji and I ventured into NYC once again - this time to attend a birthday party in Brooklyn. Although the party didn't start until 9:00 p.m., we took the Path train into the Village at around 4:00 p.m. just to poke around and have some dinner.

We got off at the 9th Street station and wandered south a few streets in search of a cafe where Kenji could enjoy a cup of coffe, and I a cup of hot chocolate, and that was not full of a bunch of people hogging all the tables, surfing the 'net on their laptops. We turned down some street and saw a sign for "the best damn cupcake in New York!" How could we refuse?

The cupcakes were good - mine was called Chocolate Kiss, and Kenji has a Lemon Top. The hot chocolate I got wasn't so hot. Tasted good, but probably should have been called luke-warm chocolate instead.

While we sat at our relaxing little table by the window, I noticed there was a Chinese massage parlor next door to the cup cake shop. They had their prices listed on their door, which we could see from where we sat. We had a good four hours or so left before the start of the party, so in a moment of sheer spontenaiety we decided to each get a 46-minute massage. I think my massage was too short - she poked at a whole bunch of crunchy stuff in my shoulders for quite a while, but I think I had too many because they didn't really go away. Also could be that it wasn't a very good massage. But I enjoyed it anyway.

Next we wandered around looking for food. Although there was a Thai place that was also on cup cake street (no this isn't the street's *real* name, hence the lowercase letters!), we decided to go to a different Thai place that was several streets and avenues away instead. This was not for any reason in particular, in fact, we didn't know the other Thai food place was even there until we saw it. And it's a good thing we went to it too, because if we hadn't, we would not have seen the Forbidden Panet store that was along our round-about way.

This was the first time Kenji and I have had Thai food since we moved here from Hawaii. I really missed Thai sticky rice and curry. The food was really yummy, and I think we'll have to make it a point to go out for Thai food more often. I'd tell you which Thai restaurant we went to, but I can't remember the name of it, or where it is exactly.

After Thai food, we backtracked a bit to pay a visit to the Forbidden Planet store just to look at all the toys. My favorites were the Ugly Dolls, and this other one that's called Booted Glamour Cat. I was disappointed, however, that Forbidden Planet did not have any Totoros.

With all that eating and other activity out of the way, it was finally time to go to Kenji's friend's birthday party. Kenji's friend, Gene, really knows a whole lot of people, because his apartment was packed! I think the last time I was in an apartment so crowded was when I was in college.

The party was fun considering we really didn't know many people there at all. One of the rules of the party was you had to wear a name tag that contained both your real name as well as the name of a person who you think other people would think you might look like. I naturally wrote Marcia Brady, since I hear "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!" at least three times a day. Kenji wrote "$50 bill" on his name tag (actually he had me write it for him), which is some reference to the movie Goonies which I have not seen, so I don't get the reference. Anyway, we met a funny chick at the party named Lana who wanted so bad to "get" the reference, but couldn't figure it out even though she's seen the movie before (and owns it too). Kenji wouldn't explain it to her, and insisted that if she wants to know, she'll have to watch the movie again. When we left the party at around midnight, Lana gave us her business card so that we can get together in the city sometime - maybe we'll have a Goonies movie night.

Ok, so we covered the cup cake, the massage, the Thai food and the party... now it's time for the $3 tinkle. Not much of a story really, just that the moral of it is to make sure you go to the bathroom before leaving a party in Brooklyn and taking the train all the way back to New Jersey in the middle of the night. No, I didn't pee my pants - but I darn well near busted a kidney.

I didn't start to really feel it until we were on the F train, coming into the 14th street station, where we met the Path train. While on the Path, it just got worse and worse. And because it was a weekend, the Path doesn't go directly to Journal Square - you have to go to Hoboken first, and then backtrack a bit before it pulls into the Journal Square station. All the while on this segment of our journey, I was trying really hard not to think about peeing. But that 80's song by Foreigner, Urgent, kept playing in my mind. I kept trying to change it to Ella Fitzgerald singing Jersey Bounce, but before I knew it, Urgent was back. Arrrgh! Then I saw a bottle of water rolling on the floor towards Kenji's foot. With the sight of the water sloshing around as the bottle rolled along, I had to look away. The the train kept slowing down for no apparent reason, then speeding up, then slowing down...

Finally, we got to Journal Square, where we needed to catch the train to Newark. For some #@$%! reason the Journal Square station had no good signage to help us figure out which track we needed to catch the next train, which would have only been a couple minutes wait. At this point, I was certainly in no condition to be rational about figuring it out, so I insisted we go upstairs and look for a bathroom, which of course meant we'd have to pay another $1.50 each to get back on the Path. And no, I was not going to go wander around the Journal Square station at 1:30 a.m. all by myself just to save the $1.50 for Kenji's fare. Of course Journal Square station has no toilet facilities, or at least none that are open at 1:30 a.m., so we were forced to go outside the station in the hopes of finding an all-night McDonald's or maybe just a nice big bush.

Well, there was no McDonald's in sight, nor was there a nice big bush. But fortunately there was a pub across the street, with neon signs in the window, though none of them said "open." On the other hand, none of them said "closed," so I pretty much ran as fast as I could to find out what the deal was. To my extreme delight, it was indeed open, and they did have a ladies room and it was not occupied! Releif at last! I had it so bad that as I ran from Journal Square station to the pub, my kidneys really did begin to hurt, and for a few moments after I finished, I even felt slightly nauseous. But those feelings passed, and we paid our $3 to wait another half hour to catch the next train back to Newark Penn Station. Yep, last night I think I felt that was the best $3 spent ever. =)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Joys of Home-Ownership, Part III

Today we made a decision regarding which tree service company will get our business.

Since my last post, I met with both Guy from Trusty Tree and Jeff from Tree Tech Inc. to obtain revised estimates for taking down both the leaning tree (our original concern), and the decaying tree next to the garage. Tree Tech Inc. won out.

Aside from the $600-700 difference in price (depending on whether or not we have the tree stump ground out), I feel more comfortable having Tree Tech Inc. do the job. Jeff impressed me as being very professional and friendly in his manner. For the most part, I could say the same for Guy. But Guy struck me as being a little bit too chummy, and something about that rubs me the wrong way.

So Jeff has taken my signed estimate back to the office with him, and he's going to try to set something up for a couple Tuesdays from now, or earlier, depending on whether he can get use of Tree Tech's small crane before then. In the meantime, I still need to mail all of our neighbors to let them know we are taking the trees down.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Joys of Home-Ownership, Part II

This week I've spent some time obtaining estimates for tree removal. As I mentioned in my last post, during last week's snow storm (of which, by the way, almost no more snow remains), we noticed a tree in our back yard that is leaning over in such a way that it could easily fall the next time we have an ice storm. So we have received some widely varying opinions and estimates, which I will share below:

Orange Valley Tree Experts
Rene from Orange Valley Tree Experts was the first to come take a look at our demising tree on Tuesday morning. His opinion was that the tree was just "growing for the morning sun" rather than looking ready to fall. He suggested crowning the tree, basically taking off a huge chunk off the top to get rid of some of the weight, which he estimated would cost $600 - $700.

Tree-Tech Inc.
Tree-Tech sent Jeffrey out to survey our tree. Jeffrey is an ISA Certified Arborist #NE6288A. He disagreed with Rene's assessment, and said that the tree should come down. He did note that it was difficult to tell whether the tree's root system was starting to bulge due to all the snow on the ground. He also identified another tree in our yard, the one right next to our garage that stands tall and straight, but looks a little haggard in the upper half, as needing to be pruned. Like Rene, Jeffrey agreed that the leaning tree would have to be cut down by hand, since they would not be able to fit a crane into our back yard. Jeffrey gave us a written estimate of $1,115 to remove the leaning tree, and $180 to prune the other tree.

Tree King
I spoke with someone from Tree King over the phone that same day. I already knew I wouldn't want to hire these guys just because the guy's attitude rubbed me the wrong way. Someone from Tree King did stop by later the same day to look at the tree, and he left a written estimate in our mailbox - $2,750. Yikes!

Maplewood Tree Experts, Inc.
Bobbie came to see us bright and early on Wednesday morning. Bobbie was very courteous and informative. He also agreed that the tree needs to be removed, and that due to space limitations, it would need to be done by hand. Bobbie also mentioned that the tree next to our garage would need to have something done with it, but said for now we'd focus on the tree I called him about.

One thing I liked about Bobbie is that he also explained to me how to go about making sure whichever company we select is properly insured for the job. He asked me what kind of estimates I've been getting so far, and said we should probably go with the folks that estimated $1,115, provided they have the proper insurance. Bobbie said that he'd mail us a written estimate, but that it would likely be between $1,800 and $2,200. We received Bobbie's written estimate in the mail yesterday - it was $1,950 to take down the tree, and $225 to grind out the stump.

Bobbie also shared an interesting tidbit, which I have not yet confirmed, that because the tree, a silver maple, was still alive, so if it fell, by law it would be considered an "act of God", which apparently means that anyone's property it landed on would be responsible for that portion of the tree. Based on where the tree is located, and the direction in which it's leaning, we'd only be responsible for about three feet of it if it fell! Bobbie wasn't really suggesting we do that though, and we certainly don't want to be bad neighbors like that. But it did make me feel a little bit better, should anything happen before we get everything sorted out for it's removal.

Trusty Tree
Late Wednesday afternoon, Guy from Trusty Tree stopped by to take a look at our tree. Guy says he has a small crane that probably could fit between our house and our neighbor's fence, so he wouldn't necessarily have to do the job by hand. He also identified the tree next to our garage as needing to come down sometime soon, since some of the main branches appear to be hollow. Guy made a verbal estimate of $1,400 - $1,500 to remove the leaning tree. I didn't ask for an estimate on the second tree at this point.

The Township
I should also mention that on Monday I contacted the town via their web site, asking whether there were any ordinances we should know about concerning the removal of this tree that may fall over onto our neighbors' property. It took two days for me to get a response, which said we needed to have the town forester come inspect the tree to determine how much the permit would cost. The woman who responded, Toni, also said that the forester only comes in on Mondays, and that he woulnd't be able to come out until the 27th because this coming Monday is a holiday. Toni closed by also stating that we need to notify, in writing, all of our contiguous neighbors that the tree is being removed, and we need to prove to the town that we did so.

So I responded to her email with a few questions. As I expected, Friday rolled around and I still did not hear back from her or anyone, so I called the town to follow up. It turns out Toni was out of the office until next week, but the woman I spoke with, Tina, turned out to be very helpful. First of all, she said she would try to get the forester to come look at the tree that same afternoon. Also, she told me we would be able to get all of our neighbor's names and addresses from the tax assessor's office, and that to prove we notified our neighbors, we'd just need to send the letters by certified mail. Why Toni was unable to relay any of this informaiton to me in her first message is beyond me.

And kudos to Tina for her helpfulness because John the forester did indeed come out to see our tree on Friday afternoon. At first, John thought we had meant the tree next to the garage - when I showed him the leaning tree, he said we really needed to have both of them come down because they are both dangerous. Our town is also very fussy about trees being cut down... in exchange for getting the permit for free, we need to plant two new trees to replace the old ones.

So anyway, that's the latest installment of the saga of the trees - now it's not just one, but two trees that need to come down!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Farewell Del Courtney

I saw today in the Honolulu Advertiser the obituary for Del Courtney, the little old guy who led the big band that we used to dance to at Blue Tropix on Kapiolani Boulevard in 2001 - 2002, and also on occasion in the Royal Hawaiianʻs Monarch Room. I think the last time I danced to his band was probably at his 93rd or maybe even 94th birthday, which would have been one of the Monarch Room performances. Del was 95 when he died of pneumonia on Sunday.

A cute memory I have of Del Courtney was the time at Blue Tropix when his band just finished up playing Night Train, and then Del introduced Night Train as the next song in the set, to which the band responded, "We just played that!"

Another thing I remember about going to dance to the Del Courtney and his orchestra is this other little old guy - I donʻt know what his name is - who would always do some kind of wierd dance performance during the band breaks. These were not performances that were arranged with Blue Tropix or anything - he just took it upon himself to "entertain" everyone by bouncing around the dancefloor with his cane and a hula-hoop. He would get mad at anyone who tried to dance to the recorded break music that might be playing while he was performing.

Oh yeah, and another memory I have of dancing to Del Courtney and his orchestra was getting to dance with Frankie Manning, the granddaddy of the Lindy Hop! :)

Monday, February 13, 2006

His Name is Kenji!

A couple weeks ago, the Seattle Mariners introduced their new catcher, Kenji Johjima, the first Japanese catcher in Major League Baseball. Russ's middle name is Kenji, so today it occurred to me that he should go by his middle name from now on. Actually, I was going to start calling him Kenji instead of Russ like six months ago, but I forgot. This time, I put up little stickies everywhere reminding me to call him Kenji.

So all you four or five people who actually read my blog, you have to start calling him Kenji too!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Joys of Home-Ownership

As you all probably already heard, the NYC area was hit this weekend with record snowfall. So much for our mild winter! 26.9 inches of snow were measured in Central Park late this afternoon. In our own yard, and much earlier in the day, we measured only 16 inches. Russ took the picture of the tape measure when he started shoveling snow - I would guess that at least another two inches fell after that. I've seen bigger blizzards than this one - after all, I was there when the blizzard of '78 hit Massachusetts, though I can't say I really remember much of it. But bear in mind that I'm a Hawaii-girl now, and I don't think I like all this white stuff everywhere!

The next two images below were taken by Russ from our front door, about twenty-four hours apart. He took the first one yesterday at around 10:30 a.m., and the second one was from this morning.

No, that's not the same car parked there in front of our neighbor's house.

As you can see, nobody on our street had even begun to dig out yet.

So anyway, of course probably the greatest joy of home-ownership is getting to shovel your driveway when it snows, or at least paying someone else to do it, which our two able-bodied selves are too stubborn and/or cheap to do. Between the two of us, Russ and I must have put in a total of eight or nine man-hours shoveling the driveway and cleaning off our cars.

Russ got started on the driveway first while I made a whole bunch of cookie dough. I was afraid he might not be able to get into the garage to get the shovels, but since he was able to take this photo from inside our garage, I guess it wasn't a problem. :)

When I finished making the cookie dough (I still haven't actually baked the cookies yet), I thought the kitties should experience snow. I tried to get them to peek outside the back door, but they were too scared and ran away. So instead I brought the snow inside for them. Of course, Spammy wasted no time taking it out of the bowl and getting it all over the floor.

After a couple hours of shoveling, Russ came inside for some rest, so I got bundled up and went outside to continue.

Our driveway is somewhat difficult to shovel. It's not that it's espeically long... Instead, it's because for a good fifteen or twenty feet, our driveway is surrounded immediately by our house on one side, and our neighbor's fence on the other. My parents' house has a much longer driveway, so when I used to shovel it as a kid, I could just make a path down the middle, and then push the remaining snow off to either side. Not so with this driveway. We have to push all the snow in the middle stretch all the way to either the front or the back of the house, and when there's a foot and a half of snow, it makes for a rather time-consuming task.

The other issue with our very narrow driveway is figuring out the best way to park our cars before a storm hits. We've tried parking both our cars near the end of the driveway, but it's very difficult to get the snow off the cars when there's so little room to move, and so little space to put the snow. This time, we both parked our cars on the street. Perhaps that would have worked just fine if there were only six or so inches of snow, but with the foot and a half we got, it was a real pain to dig out the cars in addition to to shoveling the entire driveway. Oh, and I thought the picture of our garbage can was kind of cute, but I don't have anything in particular to say about it.

Russ says he likes to shovel snow, that it's fun (at least he's said that up until today). Of course, I think that's crazy talk. At the very least, it's the talk of someone who hasn't had to shovel out of a blizzard before. When we finished, I took this picture of Russ standing next to the nice big pile of snow we made in our back yard. He doesn't look as excited as he should for someone who likes to shovel snow...

In this pitcture you might also notice a tree in the background that doesn't seem to be doing so well. I don't think that tree was leaning at such an angle before today, and we're worried that it might fall right down onto one of our neighbor's back yard chimney-oven thingies, and maybe even our other neighbor's garage, not to mention all the fences in between. So now we have to look for a tree-removal service. Mmm... the joys of home-ownership!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Funny Japanese Translation

This is the wrapper from the chopsticks I used for eating supper at Wegman's (click on the image if it's too small to read):

Ok, so it probably wasn't translated by some guy in Japan, but it's funny in the same way.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Extra Large Super Bowl

This is the first year that Russ actually cared about the Super Bowl, because the Seattle Sea Hawks were in it. But they lost, so now Russ is depressed. :(

Mission Impossible, Day 32

So we're still at the same step in the process of kitty cat potty training as we were in our last post, and will likely remain there for another week or so before removing the next ring from the center of the CityKitty.

There are two reasons for this delay. First, it seemed that one of the kitties was not very excited about going unko. I was pretty sure it was Spammy though, because earlier in the week I noticed that some unko was on the CitiKitty after Musubi used it. I also noticed that the kitties didn't seem to go unko until shortly after they eat their triangles in the morning (um, that's the shape of their food...), so on Saturday morning I fed them and then went down cellar to see who was going to be the next one to use the potty.

Sure enough, Spammy followed me downstairs, hopped up on the potty, walked around in circles, and then hopped down. Then he wandered around the floor next to the wall, sniffed where he'd left his last unko (which I'd already cleaned up), looked at me, and then wanderd out of the little bathroom. Next he wandered over to the washer and drying, and hopped into a box. Following him over to the box, I could see that he was getting ready to make unko in the box. I quickly picked him up and put him on the potty - again he walked around in circles on it, and hopped off. He went to play with Musubi, and after a couple of mintues, went under my sewing table and started to squat next to the wall. So I scooped him up again and brougt him to the potty. By this time I realized he just wanted more privacy for making unko - for some reason, making shi-shi on top of the toilet doesn't bother him, nor did making unko before we put the first hole in the Citi Kitty.

So this time, before Spammy ran out of the little bathroom, I grabbed the top to their old litter box and held it over the top of the toilet. When Spammy saw this, he climed right up onto the toilet, turned around in circles a couple of times, squatted down and made unko. :)

Since the litter box top isn't really tall enough to sit on the toilet, this morning I cut the side off a box and affixed it to the toilet seat with some tape. After Spammy had some breakfast, he came running down the stairs, hopped up on the toilet, and made unko again. Good kitty.

Oheah, and the second reason for staying at the same step in the kitty cat potty training process is because little Spammy is scheduled to get neutered on Tuesday. Poor little kitty. I tell him he's going to visit the doctor all day on Tuesday because he's going to get a manicure. Which is partially true, since they do trim his claws before the surgery! =) But I figure that will be enough changes for the poor little guy right now.