Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this time in New York in November and December.
After my journeys to Israel, Mexico, Florida and Illinois, I arrived back in New York State in mid-November — just in time for full holiday fervor to be setting in.
To be honest, I felt extremely ambivalent about it doing so. It was a season marked by “first withouts” — first birthday without my mom, first Thanksgiving without my mom, first Christmas without my mom, etc. And I admit that I did pretty much everything I could think of to try to basically skip it entirely.
Grasping for a place where I thought I could get as far from the sentimental pain of the holidays as possible, I looked up flights to India, tried to cajole others to join me, and came close to simply booking to go solo. But when I couldn’t find a partner in crime, and realized the sadness of a Christmas without the distraction of a familiar face by my side was probably too much to handle, I pretty much just braced for impact.
I had a gentle landing with my bestie Amanda accepting my invitation to spend Thanksgiving with us in Albany, and a big reunion with local family and friends at Dove and Deer when we arrived Upstate.
Little did I know, it was a surprise belated thirtieth birthday party for me — I guess a new decade deserves a month of celebrations, no? — with my sister Olivia having Cricut-ed an array of decorations and our honorary sister Ashlee bringing a Milk Bar cake up from Manhattan.
For more of my New York State capital favorites, check out The Wanderland Guide to Albany.
If you’re a longtime reader, you know Thanksgiving was probably the most treasured holiday in our house growing up — and there’s a lot of competition. Despite my ambivalence about Christmas, I was actually incredibly comforted by the tradition of having the family friends we grew up spending this Thanksgiving day with, who loved my mom very dearly, by our sides.
As we took out her elaborate collection of fall decor, looked through the creative crafts we’ve saved years of, and set out puzzles and old photo albums, I really felt her spirit everywhere.
We focused too on creating new traditions as well as honoring old ones. While I campaigned hard for a gratitude aerial yoga class at Good Karma Studio to start the day, the Troy Turkey Trot won out with the group. And actually, I’m kind of glad it did — it was such a fun way to start the day together.
Our fabulous team sweatshirts were again courtesy of Olivia and her new best friend Cricut, and while I think we were the best dressed crew in town, we certainly had competition from those in turkey hats, full blown bird costumes, and a full array of Christmas-themed costumes.
While most in our group blasted away, Olivia and I finished the 5K hand-in-hand (you can get an idea of our condition by zooming in on our LOL-worthy expressions above) at 36:55. Considering how not a cardio queen I am, anytime I get myself through a finish line, I’m thrilled. Especially the morning after a belated birthday party where champagne was served.
Back at the house we threw on the Macy’s Day Parade and got ready to eat!
One of the best decisions we made that year? We ordered the bulk of our beautiful Thanksgiving meal from a caterer. Everyone brought or made a little something — I made a seasonal cocktail and ordered pies from the adorable Forts Ferry Farm for my contributions — and the rest, no one had to stress about. I know to some that will sound shocking to some cooking purists, but it was incredible.
With the stress of cooking stuffing aside, we could focus on the good stuff — catching up, drinking hot wine, heckling each other over puzzles, fighting over watching football or the Westminster Dog Show, and more.
Post-Thanksgiving, friends reached out to see how the milestone had gone, and I replied honestly that I thought we had made the absolute best of what could have been a very difficult year. And what to be thankful for was an easy choice: I was at a table surrounded by them.
That weekend, we had rough weather, but I was determined to make the most of having a built in explorer buddy with Amanda in town with me. So, hiking and other outdoor pursuits ruled out, we decided to tackle a few new stops on the Capital Craft Beverage Trail and beyond.
Our first stop was one just moments from our front door — Capital Distillery.
Small and incredibly quirky, I’d had Capital Distillery on my radar for a while after randomly spotting it on my Google Maps and thinking it must be an error. I know the Warehouse District pretty well — how could there be a distillery there that I’d never been to, seen, or even heard about?
Well, Amanda and I went knocking on the hidden little door I was amazed to find, and after a warm greeting from the personable owner, were given an unexpectedly fun tasting that included a shot scooped straight from a vodka vat on the production floor. Cocktails and other local beverages were also available, and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of his rosé vodka. A one-man show, Capital Distillery also has an adorable little back deck that I can’t wait to visit someday when the sun is shining. I love this place!
Next up? Royal Meadery in Delmar, another spot I was suspicious of for the mere fact that I hadn’t heard of it before. How had all these cool things materialized without my knowledge?!
It turns out New York State’s first farm meadery was right under my nose. Mead, a wine-like boozie treat made from honey, is a favorite of mine. And Royal Meadery, with branded tasting glasses and a cute honeycomb lighting structure hanging above the bar, would be a great introduction to it. Another serious hidden gem, discovered!
Speaking of new discoveries, the following week I trudged out in the freshly falling snow to check out The Daisy Troy, which replaced the restaurant The Little Rice Ball I blogged about in a previous Capital Region post. It’s a cute, modern spot serving up fresh tacos and creative margaritas — a great addition to the area’s emerging trendy dining scene.
That week, it was like a memo went out that fall was over, and winter could officially descend. The snow ramped up significantly, and while I was busy transitioning back to working full time and going through my mom’s things, I was also kind of bummed I never got it together to go out and take magical winter wonderland photos! I guess I just wasn’t feeling overly creative at the time.
That said, I was thrilled when some family friends invited me out for a quick sledding session at a local park — it quenched my thirst for a bit of snow play time.
The emotional toll of dealing with my mom’s estate was starting to wear on me, so I made a point to try to rest and recharge a bit with indulgences like a massage at Om Shanti Yoga — if there is anything more soothing than a heated massage table on a cold winter day, let me know — and was thrilled to accept when the opportunity for a weekend away with a cute Israeli guy popped up.
Tagging along on a work trip to a new city in Texas seemed like the perfect mental break from the overwhelming task at hand.
Post-Texas — which, fear not, earned a post of its own! — I landed in New York City for a few days. First on the agenda was tearfully helping Amanda with a move out of her apartment so she could head out west (sob) as well as as many reunions with friends as possible.
When we realized that four of our Mexican Isla Mujeres amigas were in town, Steffi immediately booked us a dinner at Jajaja, the hottest vegan Mexican around.
Fabulously, Steffi’s design firm Clear Studios were responsible for the design of the space, which we ooh-ed and aah-ed over every detail of. I have to admit I was suspicious of vegan Mexican food — as was Amanda, who is allergic to nuts, which many vegan replacements derive from — but we were both blown away. Don’t miss the addictively good nachos or the many botanical-infused cocktails on the menu.
What’s more fun that celebrating the work of your incredible friends? I’d say doing so while drinking an avocado-infused creation with a cactus dust-brushed garnish is one few things to make the cut.
New York was where I kind of accepted that like it or not, Christmas was coming. And I was going to have to go along for the ride. Maybe it wouldn’t even be so bad. The mental block around it had been gripping me since October. Whatever was coming, I was ready to just getting it over with.
It turned out that Gil’s meetings in Florida, where he’d headed to post-Texas, wrapped in time for him to spend the weekend in New York with me before heading back to Israel. Playing tour guide made New York come to life for me again, as we warmed up with an indulgent morning at AIRE Ancient Baths, brunched at cute cafes huddled from the cold, and hopped around only-in-New-York museums on a rainy afternoon.
As a spa addict, finally checkout out AIRE was a huge highlight. We did the The Ancient Thermal Bath & 45′ Relaxing Massage package, and I can’t think of a cooler morning splurge than heating up in these subterranean waters. For obvious reasons, photos aren’t allowed — so you’ll have to add it to your New York bucket list and see it for yourself.
When I need a fun night out in New York I know exactly who to call — Steffi! She pointed us in the direction of an event that evening at ZeroSpace, where her boyfriend Oliver was working on a visual projection on one of the stages. This 25,000 square foot immersive art playground feels like something you’d find deep in Brooklyn, but in reality is smack dab in Midtown Manhattan.
Like an urban Burning Man camp, it’s home to an adult playground of a digital canvases for projection mapping, geodesic dome shows, neon-drenched photo booths, and interactive surfaces.
New York is the city I never seem to want to leave, but as I was walking back from an aerial arts class at The Muse in Brooklyn one night I looked at the view of the city skyline over the Hudson and I thought, is this the moment I move back? I looked up at the coziest looking apartment building and just had this really warm feeling flood over me like maybe this was meant to be my home, again.
With a busy calendar of retreats and trips stacked through the winter, spring, and summer (or so I thought — thanks COVID!) I started toying with the idea of coming back to apartment hunt the following fall.
And then I was back Upstate. I’d finally made the last-minute decision to spend Christmas in California with my dad, and so, in full resignation that the most poignant, emotion-inducing day of the year was happening whether I liked it or not, I even got lured in by the fun at my new hometown favorite, June Farms.
This place does the best seasonal programming and Christmas, it turned out, was no exception.
Me, my stepdad Miller and our neighbor Emily went over for a cozy winter lunch complete with Christmas cocktails, a little local maker’s market, and even the chance to meet Santa (and, according to Emily’s insistence, sit on his lap too.)
After a few eggnog, apple cider, and hot chocolate based cocktails, I didn’t see why not.
I always can’t wait to see what June Farms does next — there was even ice skating and Christmas trees for sale!
The night before I left for California, Miller and I couldn’t resist our favorite Christmas in the Capital Region holiday tradition — ice skating at the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany. So one clear, frigid night, we grabbed our skates and ran down at sunset.
Bonus — we got a glimpse of the state tree, all lit up in front of the Capital. And, thanks to the arctic temperatures, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Grief, especially in those first reeling months with it, is so weird. You’re up, you’re down, you’re numb, you feel everything. It’s hard to even try to convey the experience of.
So, here were a few happy moments in the midst of it. And I’m grateful for them.
Next up: Texas and California!
So very nice and such a good post
Thanks for always reading, Jo!
I’m taking notes for the post-pandemic parties… thanks for sharing…
Let’s hope that day is coming soon.
Love seeing the tidbits into your life outside of “travels” especially after meeting you. Your mum would have been proud of your fully seated (and beautifully decorated!) thanksgiving table – we always hosted the big family celebrations at ours and I tell my dad every year we have to continue to be that open home my mum created (even if we get some help with the food side too). Also think it’s so special the bond you and Miller have. Looking forward to Texas and Cali (does Tucker feature????)
I hope you were thrilled at all the Tucker coverage 😉 I’m glad you guys have kept the traditions alive too — even if it’s virtually for this year ahead. Thinking of you!