Where we’re at: I’m jumping ahead to share my time in Upstate New York in October and November. I’ll jump back into chronological time next!
PS: Did you see we’re holding a retreat in Upstate New York in the fall of 2021? Sign up here — it’s 50% sold out already!
In 2020, I felt home state pride in a whole new way. With wanderlust being a valve not easily shut off, but the world shrinking smaller, I looked around my Upstate New York backyard in a whole new way. And from cute towns I’d never heard of to sweet cities I know like the back of my hand, I had some really special moments.
Often, my blog is filled with exotic tropical destinations and dreamy, faraway places. And gosh, do I love those. But the past few years have invited me to share with you a more intimate portrait of a life closer to “home” — the one I grew up in, anyway.
I used to be so insecure about this — did anyone care to read about my adventures in Albany? But I think the last year has given all of us a greater appreciation for the small things, the under-rated destinations, and even the feelings of connection a blog can bring.
Anyway, with that rambling intro, it’s time for a drum roll! For I present, one final look at my fall adventure upstate…
Owego, I reminded myself. Not Oswego, the small college town I’d visited an old boyfriend at once, many moons ago. Owego was the last stop on our road trip through Finger Lakes Wine Country, and it was a new one for me. We’d already passed through some of my old favorites like Corning and Hammondsport, and I was looking forward to getting to know the heart of Tioga County.
A rainy stroll through town, breakfast at The Owego Kitchen, and a stroll along the waterfront were a wonderful, if wet, introduction. At the cafe, the staff greeted regulars by name and jovially inquired about our trip. Around every corner we found local businesses rather than big box chains. The river was calming and scenic.
We were starting to get a feel for the place, already.
Veering slightly out of the downtown center, colorful house fronts caught my eye. And we were lucky enough to be staying in one.
The Belva Lockwood Inn might be one of the most unique accommodations I’ve stayed in — because I really learned something here that was shocking… mostly in that I didn’t know it before.
It was here that I learned the story of the first woman to run for president in the US — and no, it’s not Hillary Clinton! Mind blown. So it turns out that in 1830, a woman named Belva Lockwood was born. She went on to teach in Upstate New York schools for years before she decided to study law, a boundary-pushing choice for a woman of her time. She would go on to become the first woman to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar, and the first woman to argue a case before them.
She also, more than a hundred years before my girl Hil, ran for president of the United States, the first woman in history to run a full campaign to do so. She did so, knowing she would not win, but because she could. She was a groundbreaking feminist who paved the way for the first female Vice President to make her way to the White House today (that the inn owner and her husband greeted us in this t-shirt won me over immediately).
So I can see why this beautiful inn is dedicated to this groundbreaking feminist, the owners sweet and sincere in their mission to preserve her story and convince the world to #belikebelva. Travel continues to be my greatest teacher.
And it’s not just non-stop history lessons around here, mkay. They also have premium snacks. But let me backup. Each of the five rooms at this cozy inn are distinct and designed with love. Little touches like a complementary local snack bar, an honor bar with Finger Lakes wines, and a nightly bonfire out back left me swooning.
The hosts could not have been more welcoming or fun, and we can see why this place is such a hit with young couples from New York and nearby Pennsylvania — it’s part of a new generation of bed and breakfasts, for sure. I read one review in which the guest said that they had inquired about if there was a crib rental available and the hosts said oh don’t worry about that, we’ll ask around and get one from our neighbors, which totally tracked with the vibe we felt when we arrived and the neighbors were over having a drink on the front porch. When you stay here, you are treated like family.
Gems like this keep me coming back to the Finger Lakes over and over again. It was the perfect note to end the trip on.
Whenever work brings me to the Finger Lakes, I can’t help but add on a few days to go visit my older sister Margaret, a Rochester resident.
This trip in particular turned out to be a double family whammy. My dad, who hadn’t seen my three sisters all year, was antsy to do so before what he anticipated would be a tough, long and locked-down winter (sadly, he was right.) So negative COVID test in hand, he flew to the East Coast to shuffle around all visiting all his daughters before heading back to California to isolate again. I made sure to line up our time in Rochester for at least one night.
When we visit Margaret, we all love taking the opportunity to relax and chill out in her cozy and comfortable home. I always vow I’m going to do more Rochester exploring, since Instagram in particular has turned me on to what a cool city it is, but what can I say — the lure of her cozy couch and cuddling her cute dogs is too much to take!
We did pull it together for one outing, this trip, for breakfast at the uber-trendy Locals Only. With mimosa flights, hip hop brunches, and an airy loft-like space, I swooned (and was glad they welcomed us as admitted non locals.)
After brunch, we couldn’t resist a quick stroll down South Street in South Wedge, where there are too many cute boutiques, colorful murals, tea shops, independent bookstores and beyond to name.
It was a short and sweet visit, one I try to make annually — and felt especially lucky to do in such a strange year.
Home sweet home. Albany was a pretty great place to be for most of 2020, which highlighted its access to the great outdoors, excellent sense of community, and well spaced population.
While Gil and I only briefly passed through and back on our way to our road trip, we did squeeze in an outdoor movie night at City Beer Hall (where they passed out popcorn and blankets and made liberal use of space heaters) and had dinner at the gorgeous new Rosanna’s in Albany (where the Italian food was on trend and tasty) and at the hip new The Nest in Schenectady (which left me drooling and was divinely designed.) I need to return to all to better document!
However, by the time we returned upstate in November for Thanksgiving, the COVID situation had escalated state and country-wide, and with family having driven in from Chicago — after testing and isolating and following all New York State guidelines, of course — we all agreed we were having a Thanksgiving lock-in.
No eating or drinking out for the week, just home-cooked meals and take-out splurges. With one meal in particular standing out above them all, of course.
It was an amazing week, and I’ve never been more grateful to see my cousin Kirsten, who is more like a sister, really, and her husband Steve and their baby Beckett. And I’m sure after thirteen straight hours in the car, they were never more happy to see us, too!
After I snuck off to a morning gratitude class at my home studio Good Karma, we started the day with seasonal doughnuts from Cider Belly, one of my beloved traditions, then dug into a puzzle in front of a broadcast of the Macy’s Day Parade.
Kirsten and I had planned this week long prior not just to celebrate Thanksgiving but also so she could help me with one of the major projects I had lingering since my mom passed — cleaning out the basement. I made so much progress over the week and it really meant a lot to have someone there who also cherished all the family heirlooms I was finding and could help me sort through and organize, sell, donate, gift and toss appropriately.
Part of the basement mess was going through all my mom’s mountains of holiday decor — she loved getting festive — which made for some very special moments as we decked out the house. My mom always used Thanksgiving as an excuse to craft epic name cards with my sister and I, and after finding a huge stash of them I sorted through, repaired, and displayed them in a Thanksgiving retrospective. It was so fun!
It was an untraditional year, so we did things a little differently. Typically, we have up to thirty people at our house and do a huge, traditional dinner with a flower-festooned table, laboriously cooked courses, and more. This year we ordered a catered dinner, I set the table with an assortment of candles and vases I’d recently organized, I made a “pie” out of rice crispies, and we did a Zoom call with the families we’ve celebrated with since I was born.
Well, 2020, we will certainly never forget you.
And while it was a strange year, it was also a special one. I think I felt more grateful than I ever have for the simple fact that even some of us were able to be together, even if I missed the others terribly.
And while in many ways it was a strange note for Gil’s first Thanksgiving, I think we showed him what’s really important: gratitude, family, processed sugar, and photobooth accessories. No?
And while the weather and the news were turning more bleak by the day, as I left New York to hopefully relocate for a winter in Mexico, I found myself somewhat wistful for a beautiful bunch of memories I left behind. I have loved reliving them all with you here.
Thankful for all of you, every year, too.
Send me those donuts, Alex. USA-centric content is always welcome. Don’t be shy Alex. We want to see USA through you too.
I’m glad to hear that because I’ve got plenty of it coming up!
Thanks for sharing this. Those places are all wonderful.
Thanks! Proud to share them.