There’s so much crazy, impulsive, unknown (but good) stuff happening in my life. I’m excited to start sharing some of it with the internet.
There’s so much crazy, impulsive, unknown (but good) stuff happening in my life. I’m excited to start sharing some of it with the internet.
It’s the first weekend of a new year, and I’ve got that chronic nostalgic feeling, mixed with the hopefulness that things can and will change.
I only wrote two blog posts in 2015. A lot happened in the past year, I suppose, because life happens, but in a way, many things are still the same. I still struggle with the same things I’ve written about here time and time again (namely, my job and a lack of any real sense of life purpose), but I won’t go into too much detail about all that right now.
I’ve been struggling to come up with new year’s resolutions. Part of me knows that change is an ongoing process that must be continually worked on, and so I hesitate to write down goals and then forget about them until January of next year. The other part is hopeful and wants to share something publicly, check back in often, report on progress, and be held accountable.
Because it’s been floating around in my head for a few days (and because I’ve been attuned to these things for years), here’s a brain dump of my goals. Not necessarily for 2016, but things to focus on because they’re important to me.
So there we have it. A list of things to aspire to, now and in the future. I have some ideas for things I’d like to start blogging about, so I hope to be back here more than twice this year. See you soon, internet!
I’m closing on my house next week. My very first house. The one I’ve dreamed about for 20 years now. The first house that I will be solely financially responsible for. The first house in which I’ll get to make all the decorating choices – for better or worse. Oh em gee!!!
After what feels like the longest process of all time, I’m finally starting to get excited. I walked through the house for the first time on November 21, and made my offer shortly thereafter. It might have been November 25? (It’s crazy that I’ve already forgotten the details!) We were worried that the seller might not respond to my offer before Thanksgiving, but she did, and on Thanksgiving day, I made the announcement to my extended family that I was under contract. I had my home inspection on December 3, and then waited a long time to hear back from the seller. Finally, she decided that she would fix all the items I requested, and they were all addressed by this past Tuesday, January 21. (Hopefully. I’ll see for sure during my final walk-through next week.)
Now, nearly two whole months after making my offer, the loose ends are being tied up and I’m preparing to close. At which point all my hard-earned money will vanish from my bank account, and I’ll start to wonder if it’s worth it. Kidding. Kind of.
There are SO MANY little details in my head: things like inspection items that I didn’t ask to be fixed and I’ll want to follow-up on, the major purchases I need to make in order to have the bare minimum required for living (this will be the first time I’ve ever lived totally on my own as an adult – I need to buy my first silverware set!), and then things like getting all my utilities set up and paid on time each month. Plus, changing over my address, ordering new checks, getting familiar with a new oven/thermostat/bathroom/routine, and on and on.
I’ve been stalking craigslist and pinning like a madwoman to my House Inspiration board on Pinterest. I have so many ideas! I just need to prioritize and save money over time. I dropped $813.92 on a brand-new washer and dryer this past Sunday, which will be delivered and installed once the house is legally mine. After that, I plan to have a plumber take a look at replacing my Quest piping and my original-to-the-house hot water heater. THEN, I should be able to move on to the frivolous things, like non-essential furniture and lots of accessories.
I’m hopeful that my excitement, the process, and this whole new adventure will inspire my return to blogging more regularly. I’ll certainly have things to write about!
Ay, yi, yi… I’ve been home for nearly a month, and yet I still haven’t finished recapping our Finger Lakes Vacation.
We began Day 2 of our Finger Lakes Vacation with a scenic drive through the fork of the ‘Y’ of Keuka Lake. (This experience had been suggested to us by the kind gentleman at Lakewood Vineyards the day before.) Since we couldn’t get enough of staring at the lakes and gawking at the beautiful scenery, we were all for it.
Here’s roughly the route we took. (I borrowed this map from http://www.hws.edu/fli/explore.aspx and edited it in MS Paint… holla!) We started at our Inn in Himrod (the red dot), drove north then west to the village of Penn Yan, then down through the Y of Keuka Lake. The red is our morning drive; the purple was the afternoon/evening.
Since P and I both got our Master’s degrees in Higher Education, we were tickled to learn about Keuka College, a small liberal arts school also at the tip of Keuka Lake. We drove through their campus and daydreamed about what it might be like to work there (at least, I did. P’s lucky enough to be super happy with his current job).
Here’s some of the scenery from that drive.
And here’s what we saw when we reached the north tip of Keuka Lake. Simply gorgeous:
Once we were on the west side of Keuka and it was after noon, we stopped at a few wineries. (Part of the reason we sought out non-wine-tasting activities in the mornings is because of my preference not to start drinking until after noon. Since I tend to get tipsy after 3 or 4 tastings, I knew I’d be a complete mess if I tried to go at it all day from 9-5. Plus, since P was driving, it was better for him not to try, either.)
First up was Hunt Country Vineyards, where I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos. It had been so cloudy and overcast on our first day, but by Day 2 the sky was clear.
We had seen vine after vine after vine from afar, but I think these were the first grapes we saw close-up on our trip.
Yum! (Not that we ate any of these. I did steal one off a vine from a different winery later. Shh!)
After Hunt Country, we headed to Stever Hill Vineyards, which we learned had recently changed management and had built a brand-new tasting room. I liked that they were decked-out in fall decor, especially since it was still pretty hot here in Charlottesville at the time.
Continuing my trend, I purchased a bottle here, as P and I were the only people in the tasting room.
Next up was Yates Cellars, our last winery before we headed back to Seneca Lake. Yates was in a big old house on the Historic Register, which of course I instantly liked. When we walked inside to find an elderly, half-deaf, sleeping German Shepherd, I liked it even more! (I realized he was deaf when he didn’t stir from his nap when we walked in the door. The owner confirmed my suspicion.)
After these three wineries, we got back in the car and took the shorter route back to the western side of Seneca Lake, where wineries were more densely populated. (See the purple route on my homemade map sketch above.) Here’s a sample of the roadside scenery:
Once we were back on Lake Seneca, first up was Anthony Road Wine Company, where I remember not particularly enjoying any of the wines. I’m thinking this means they must have been on the dryer side. (I think I had also started to feel a little full, and kind of wanted a break from drinking.) Even though I didn’t love the wine, I loved the view. I never got sick of seeing row upon row of grapes with that deep blue lake as a backdrop.
The woman who poured our tastings was telling another group about the barge in the middle of the lake, which was clearly visible from their tasting room. (That big white thing in the middle of the lake on the right of the photo below.) We learned that the U.S. Navy uses the barge to do sonar testing in the depths of the lake from this barge, and that alarms go off if a boat gets too close!
Our next stop was at Serenity Vineyards, which literally shared a driveway with another winery (Seneca Shore; up next). I can’t repeat enough how freaking close all these wineries are to one another. It was insane. I opted not to taste here, because my belly was full of wine, and because when we walked in, the guy who greeted us told us that they only did dry wines. P did a tasting and loved their Chardonnay; he even bought a bottle–his one and only purchase of the trip.
At Seneca Shore Wine Cellars, there was a kitty outside, so I liked it right away. (Apparently I am to animals as Rain Man is to Jeopardy!–especially when intoxicated.) I remember this winery specifically because the woman who did our tasting was so terse. Not the best impression to leave on people, but actually, their wine was good. I bought a bottle of their Forbidden Apple wine.
It must have been getting close to 6pm closing time, because Fox Run Vineyards was our last winery of the day. I was fairly sloshed at this point and don’t really remember any of their wines or whether I liked them, but P convinced me to buy a bottle of their Arctic Fox (because it’s funny to make your drunk girlfriend spend money she doesn’t need to, yes?). I do remember seeing lots of t-shirts and posters for their Garlic Festival, which I think we had just missed by a few weeks. I so wish we had been there for that–garlic and wine, YUM!–but there’s always next year! I took these pictures in their tasting room:
After leaving Fox Run, we headed north to find a restaurant that we had chosen earlier in the day. At this point, I can’t remember how we had heard about it, so I’m guessing that it was probably on one of our maps. The restaurant was at the northeastern tip of Seneca Lake, and when we got close, I had to stop for pictures. P obliged, and took some of his own. (He rarely takes photos of anything, so you know something’s pretty noteworthy when he’s willing to stop.) These photos were taken from the northwestern tip–Geneva. We didn’t spend much time at all in Geneva (we only stopped for these photos, and then drove through again in the dark later that night), but Geneva was probably my favorite of all the towns around the Finger Lakes. The streets were tree-lined and had lots of beautiful old row houses and historical buildings–I wish I had pictures!! It’s also the home of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where I’d also happily accept a job. Preferably in an office with a water view.
Like the anonymous runner below, I’m pretty sure I could deal with running next to this backdrop.
After a few u-turns, we found the restaurant and had dinner, after which, P continued to oblige me — we continued north to the Waterloo Outlets! (See the final destination on the purple line on my map at the start of the post.) I was somewhat disappointed once we got there, since all I ended up buying was a dress from Rue21 and a pair of tights from Old Navy (and it was kind of a hike to get there). The outlets closed at 9, at which point we headed back home to the Savannah House Inn. It was about a 40 minute drive, which took us back through Geneva in the dark. If we ever visit again, I’ll remember to walk through town with a camera.
Once we got back to the Savannah House, it was the end of our first full day on the Finger Lakes. We had covered a lot of ground, consumed a lot of wine, and were pretty dang tired! This night (September 23) was the premiere of The Voice (which I wanted to watch), plus Monday Night Football (P’s choice), and the series premiere of The Black List (also P’s choice). So we flipped back and forth between football and The Voice blind auditions before settling in to watch The Black List, which I found to be far too much action shoved into one episode. After that, we passed out in our cozy bed, resting up for day #3!
I wanted to continue my “Wine 101” series, for anyone who happens to stumble across my blog and wants more info on the amazing deliciousness of the Finger Lakes grapes. (Find Part I of the series here.)
When I left off, I was complaining about the grape varietals of Central Virginia. And… enter the good stuff. At our very first tasting (see our Day 1 itinerary), we were presented with a tasting list that was more diverse than any we had seen before. After a few days, we were becoming experts. It turns out, there are more categories in the world of grapes than just “those that make red wines” and “those that make white wines.” Here’s what we experienced* (with my commentary in bold italic):
Native American Varieties
The Native American varieties are hardier and better adapted to the New York climate. Many Finger Lakes vineyards grow these and sell them to Welch’s for grape juice! Almost every winery described their Native American varietal wines as “grown-up grape juice.” And it was accurate.
These grapes were all new to us. I LOVED them. P hated them. His reaction to these grapes was basically the same as my reaction to every beer I’ve ever tasted. Think grimacing, squinty eyes, and puckered lips. It was funny how strongly he reacted to his first few tastings of these; then he steered clear for the rest of the trip, while I made sure to include these in my tastings.
The French-American hybrids offer some interesting combinations of wines that are less grapey than the native American varieties but tend to be a little more hardy for the climate in the Finger Lakes. We learned that Cornell University is responsible for developing several hybrids, which have led to some delicious wines!
*Descriptions borrowed from http://www.stayfingerlakes.com/wine/grape-varieties.htm.
In the end, I bought 10 bottles to bring home! (One bottle of Chardonnay is P’s.) I have no idea how I’m gong to drink all of it – I haven’t started yet. Just waiting for the right time, I guess…
So for anyone who followed all that, maybe now you know a little something more about Finger Lakes wines. My advice is: visit, and don’t be afraid to try some new things. Although I prefer the sweet stuff, there’s a huge variety of wines to taste — from the dryest of reds to the sweetest of dessert whites. There’s a perfect fit for everyone at the Finger Lakes. (But seriously, try the sweet stuff. You can thank me later!)
Has anyone visited the Finger Lakes to experience the wine? How does it compare to what you’re used to? What’s your favorite wine grape?
I still haven’t really settled on the “best” way to recap our Finger Lakes Vacation. But time is ticking, and I just want to get something out there to the blogosphere.
For me, the trip started on September 21, the day after my 25th birthday. At 11:13 am, I boarded a train here in Charlottesville, headed to NYC. I arrived at 5:46 pm, and settled in to Penn Station to wait until 7pm, when my next train was scheduled to depart. Unfortunately, it was running late, so I watched the minutes tick by until about 7:15, when it finally arrived. P was in New London, Connecticut for work (a football game against the Coast Guard Academy), so the plan was for him to pick up a rental car, grab me in New Haven, and we’d officially be on vacation!
One thing I realized during my research of Watkins Glen is that it’s not the easiest place to get to. There’s no airport and no train station, so we couldn’t easily just meet there. I figured that with the race track at Watkins Glen, it would be more accessible by means other than driving, but it’s not. So I settled for an all-day train ride and then 5 additional hours of driving. (To be clear, we chose this route because P was already in New Haven, not because it was the most direct or simplest way to get to the Finger Lakes from Virginia.)
P was at the New Haven train station, ready and waiting when I arrived. Since my train was about 20 minutes late leaving NYC, I didn’t arrive at 8:36 pm as planned — it was closer to 9 pm. So we hopped in the car and started the first leg of our journey. That first night, I had booked us a hotel room in Liberty, NY, about halfway between New Haven and Watkins Glen.
We made the trek from point A to point B on the map above, which was a 2.5-hour drive. I fell asleep toward the end, so I’m lucky that I had a driver who was so dedicated to our safe arrival! But we arrived at the hotel around 11:30pm and crashed into bed. (The bed, by the way, was king-sized and incredibly comfortable, as far as hotel beds go. I still think about the wonderful pillows.)
On the first official day of our vacation (Sunday, September 22), we started the morning with continental breakfast before checking out and getting back on the road. After all, we still had another 2.5-hour leg to drive!
Since it was still September and the weather had just barely started to cool off here in Virginia, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the leaves would have already started changing up north. But they had! We enjoyed the drive this day, as we got to experience all the fall foliage we had missed in the dark the night before. (We spent a good deal of the drive saying things like “look at that tree!,” “look at that river!,” “look at that mountain!”) It was interesting that the highway paralleled the Susquehanna River for nearly our entire drive.
We didn’t have any real itinerary for most of our vacation, which is surprising for me — a compulsive, Type-A list-maker. Our goal was just to get to Seneca Lake, go wine tasting, and enjoy our time together. So when we started seeing signs for Tioga Downs Casino and P wanted to stop, I was initially paralyzed with that “we-didn’t-plan-for-this-OMG-what-do-we-do” feeling I’m prone to, but after several minutes of driving and several additional signs, he convinced me that we should stop and check it out. (Actually, he wanted to stop and gamble, the thought of which set off all the warning bells in my head that accompany the thought of doing something new for the first time.)
In the end, I’m super glad we stopped, because it was a really funny experience. To start, we were the youngest people there (aside from employees) by a good 30 years. P convinced me that we should at least try the slot machines, so I nervously watched as he gave one a spin. We never really got the hang of that first machine, but then we moved on to a pair of machines called Joker Poker, which we both played! I preferred to keep my bets low ($1 a hand), but P got adventurous and started changing up his bets. When I decided I wanted to be braver with mine, he accidentally pushed the “Max Bet” button on my machine, which resulted in me losing all my money on one play. What a punk. But at least he felt bad about it for a few days! As for our total winnings, we spent $4 ($1 in a slot machine, plus $3 on Joker Poker) and walked away with $20. A $16 profit! At least it was enough to pay for lunch.
So we left Tioga Downs and continued our journey. We arrived in Watkins Glen just before 4 pm and decided to drive around a bit before hitting up our first wineries (see more on that in my previous post). It was pretty cloudy that first day, but the view of the lake was still pretty breathtaking – and everything I had hoped for.
Castel Grisch was our first stop, although I can’t remember now how we wound up there. I don’t know if we had stopped somewhere and picked up a map, or if we used my GPS to locate it. (Actually, it must have been by GPS, because now I remember picking up the two maps that served us for the rest of the trip while we were there.) The wines were a huge surprise, as this was our first-ever experience with such a huge variety of sweet grapes. We were the only two people in the tasting room, and there were only about two tables of people in the attached restaurant, which led to me kicking off a trend that continued for the next three days: feeling pressured to buy a bottle if there were no other customers in sight. We exited to their porch to take the first of many photos of the impressive combination of vineyard + lake view that we’d continue to encounter:
Since we wanted to maximize our time, we referenced our newly-acquired map and headed off to our next stop: Lakewood Vineyards. It was at about this point in the trip that we realized how incredibly densely packed the wineries are at the Finger Lakes. We’re used to having to drive a good 20-30 minutes just to get from one vineyard to the next here in Charlottesville, so we were shocked by the fact that you can drive 1,000 yards down State Route 14 up there and pass no less than 5 wineries. We started exchanging “this is awesome!” sentiments that still haven’t really faded.
At Lakewood, there was a very helpful wine pourer who took it upon himself to chat with us about where we were from and what kind of wines we like, and he circled several wineries on our map that he thought we would enjoy–across several of the lakes. Bonus cool-person points for him; I thought this was a really nice thing to do. He explained a lot to us about the different grape varietals they’re able to grow in that region, and he also told us a lot about other surrounding wineries. Another thing that stuck out as a major difference between Virginia wineries and those in the Finger Lakes is the complete lack of competition. Everywhere we went, they referenced each other and praised each other, and encouraged customers to “make sure to visit so-and-so and try their x, y, or z!” Very different than what we’re used to, and I really liked it.
Since we realized that our time was short (as most wineries close at 5 on Sundays), we hopped back into the car and consulted our new guide book and map. The guide book contained the operating hours and descriptions of the wineries, so we relied on it heavily for the duration of our trip. We arrived next at Magnus Ridge Winery, which offered artisan cheeses paired with each of their wines. There was one cheese that was infused with strawberry, and it was delicious!! I don’t remember really loving any of their wines, and I think that’s because they leaned more toward the dry side. The one thing I did love, though, was this amazing wine glass chandelier, and the shadows it cast on the walls:
We left there and knew we had to move fast, because it was probably about 5:15 at this point. We hopped back in the car for what was likely less than a 2-minute drive before arriving at Rock Stream Vineyards, where we were once again the only people in the place. Here’s where I’ll sheepishly admit that the wine from the previous three tastings had already started to catch up to me, and my memory isn’t all that perfect. I don’t remember particularly loving any of their wines, either, but P coughed up an extra dollar to taste one of the vintner’s beers, so I felt less pressure to purchase a bottle.
Our last winery stop on Day 1 was at Glenora Wine Cellars, where we arrived no less than 5 minutes prior to their 6 pm closing time, after doubling back to Rock Stream because P was convinced that he had left his cell phone there. (We actually found it under his seat in the car.) Thankfully, there were a few other people still milling around, so they let us in for a tasting. I remember this as being one of the places where they handed you the full list of all their wines, and let you choose any 6. This was my favorite way to offer a tasting, as everyone gets to choose a completely unique list for him- or herself. Glenora had an amazing view of Seneca Lake from the west shore, and P and I both captured nearly identical photos:
As we pulled out of their parking lot, I snapped a photo of their wine bottle tree, because it was so cheerful:
At this point, all the wineries in the region had closed for the day, so it was finally time for us to check in to our Inn. We stayed at the Savannah House Inn in Himrod, and we were delighted with our choice. The Savannah House is close to a handful of wineries, and is situated basically halfway between Watkins Glen at the south end of Lake Seneca and Geneva at the north end. The Inn is owned by Pat and Brenda, who took great care to make sure that all of their guests were comfortable. Brenda led us to our room, the Mint Julep:
Our room was cozy and warm, and proved to be the perfect place to return to each night of our stay. We even arrived on Sunday just in time to catch the tail end of the sunset on the eastern shore of the lake (yes, this was the view out of the window above!):
Unsurprisingly, our jam-packed afternoon of wine tasting caught up to us, and we both crashed onto the bed for an unplanned evening nap. We woke up well past dinner time and decided to venture out for some food. Brenda had recommended a restaurant in nearby Penn Yan, the village at the northernmost tip of Keuka Lake — one lake over from Seneca. We hadn’t anticipated visiting more than one lake during our trip, so this was a neat surprise!
After dinner, we drove back to our room, where we tucked in for the night. Day 2 was just as jam-packed, so stay tuned for my next installment!
Although we only had 2 full and 2 partial days on our Finger Lakes Vacation, we did our best to visit as many wineries as we possibly could (while still managing to keep P able to drive safely & legally).
We arrived in Watkins Glen probably around 4pm on Sunday, 9/22. I wanted to drive through the little town a bit, so we did that, as well as driving very slowly alongside Seneca Lake and just ogling.
But we quickly realized that wineries probably weren’t open late–especially on a Sunday–and that snapped us into gear. We made our first stop at Castel Grisch, where we had our first Finger Lakes wine tasting. I mentioned back in April that P and I were interested in the Finger Lakes wine region because of what we had read about the abundance of Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, but I don’t think it had really occurred to us just how different the wines up there would be from the ones we’re used to here in Virginia.
Spoiler alert: It was epic. As two relatively new wine-drinkers who prefer the sweet stuff, we’re constantly looked down upon by snooty, holier-than-thou red wine guzzlers here in Central Virginia. The Piedmont region of Virginia (that’s where Charlottesville is) is known for our red clay soil. As it turns out, that red clay lends itself well to much stronger-flavored, overbearing (in my opinion), gag-inducing wines. (I can’t even count how many times I’ve been tasting and literally had to choke a red or two down my throat.) In this area, we see a lot of the following grapes (with associated flavors + my commentary)*:
Reds (I normally get to this point in a tasting and wish I could just stop)
*information borrowed from http://www.virginiawine.org/learn/wine-varieties
We also have some Rosés, sparkling wines, fruit wines, and Meads up in this joint, but again, since we’re already working with a pretty dry set of ingredients, you can only get so sweet.
Anyway, to get back to the point, and to summarize a bit: Virginia is for dry-wine Lovers. I’ve learned that when I see the words ‘smoky,’ ‘earthy,’ ‘cherry,’ ‘leather,’ ‘tobacco,’ ‘chocolate,’ ‘toast,’ ‘black currant,’ etc, as descriptors, I’m going to be gagging. In my opinion, the sweeter, the better. I like Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, and Moscatos. And nearly any fruit wine. ‘Fruity,’ ‘floral,’ or ‘honey’ flavors? Bring it on.
So picture us at the counter at Castel Grisch, being faced with our tasting options. (That’s right; there are so many freaking grape varietals up there that you actually get to choose which tasting you’d like to do–typically it’s ‘Sweet Whites,’ ‘Dry Whites,’ ‘Sweet Reds,’ ‘Dry Reds,’ or some combination of those categories. IT WAS AMAZING. It was a whole new world.) There were grapes on this list that we didn’t recognize, and many of the ones I listed above were mercifully missing from the list (or if they were there, I didn’t notice, because my eyes were on the sweet lists only). Talk about a great start to a vacation.
Sorry ’bout the cliffhanger, but this is getting a bit dense, and I’ve got to get to work. I’m calling this “Part I” of a soon-to-be-completed series on our Very Finger Lakes Vacation!