Nothing Better than the Outside of a Horse

“I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” – Ronald Reagan

These words are incredibly true, and have been since my first horseback riding lesson at age 9. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed a recent increase in the number of horse pictures. There’s kind of a lot of them. The last year, I’ve been back at the barn and it feels good.

There’s nothing quite as therapeutic as a couple of hours at the barn; not necessarily riding – sometimes that goes pretty badly – but brushing, bathing, grazing and feeding endless carrots. These hours are special and after 4 horseless years, I’m still feeling extra thankful I get to have them.

This year, I’m spending those hours with Johny. He’s possibly the happiest, sweetest, cuddliest lesson horse on the planet. Johny was the first horse I showed, and while we were never going to win a class, we both learned a lot about working as a team.

Nothing Better than the Outside of a Horse | Succulents and Sunnies | Niagara County 4H Show

Nothing Better than the Outside of a Horse | Succulents and Sunnies | Niagara County 4H Show

Last weekend, Johny and I broke out the hoof polish and saddle soap for an open show. After we both got over a little bit of nerves, we had so much fun! Horse shows are kind of like dance recitals. Practice is fun, but also hard. When you get to a show, all dolled up, you do your best, but it’s not the place to make any big changes. You just get to ride and hope nothing too terrible happens. And nothing did – we couldn’t ask for anything more!

Thanks to our personal show photographer Katheryn Krawczyk for the pictures!

Love Ya Like a Sister

My sister and I are close, bonded by our love of cute coffee shops, affinity for new adventures and the misery of both not understanding what your parents are talking about and simultaneously becoming them. Despite this, Paige and I haven’t lived under the same roof in years. Some of that time, we were both in Ithaca, meeting up for Saturday morning coffee dates when we were both free. Others, we were hours apart, one of us home and the other in Ithaca.

Cody and his siblings are incredibly close, and when Cody’s brother moved to Rochester last month, we knew that we’d be gathering often, thankfully only a few Thruway exits apart. This weekend we celebrated the first of many “Siblings’ Weekend,” full of family updates, breweries, boating and ice cream sundaes.

Love Ya Like a Sister | Siblings Weekend | Succulents and Sunnies

Love Ya Like a Sister | Siblings Weekend | Succulents and Sunnies

Love Ya Like a Sister | Siblings Weekend | Succulents and Sunnies

While Cody’s sister and his brother’s girlfriend aren’t my sisters, they do a pretty good job of filling in when Paige hasn’t been home in a while. This weekend, my heart was so full of love and laughter, fueled by a sunset boat ride, flatbread pizzas on the patio, trail mix and Impractical Jokers. Many thanks to Patrick and Shannon for making this weekend happen. Can’t wait for next time!

4 Tips for Perfect Cold Brew

Walk into your local coffee shop or neighborhood Starbucks and you’ll likely see cold brew on the menu – and if you’re an early customer, you might even get a cup. When my sister texted me a few weeks ago to tell me that she made her own cold brew and it was both delicious and easy, I decided to try it for myself.

Is it really as easy as Paige and Instagram make it look? Paige sent me The Ultimate Guide to Cold Brew Coffee from Wellnesting, which she used to make her version. All the details on how to make cold brew are in the guide, as are a few delicious drink ideas. Here’s 4 more little details you need to know to make the perfect cold brew:

1. You can use pretty much any coffee and it will turn out just fine. Most guides online will tell you that you need to buy whole beans from your local roaster – and if that’s your thing, go for it. It’ll taste great. But if all you have is Maxwell House grounds (that’s my whole family’s go-to), that works too. The beauty of cold brew is that it makes any coffee taste delicious.

2. Use cheesecloth to strain your grounds. Trust me on this. A paper filter just doesn’t do this job. The coffee drained slowly and I managed to rip a hole straight through the filter while trying to make the coffee strain faster.

3. This stuff is strong. Like really strong. I filled a glass with ice and had 1 part cold brew with 2 parts almond milk, and I was still bouncing my legs at lunchtime. If you’re sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, be careful with your first few cold brews and experiment to find what works for you!

Cold Brew Coffee Tips | Succulents and Sunnies

4. Make more than just a single batch. Cold brew stays fresh in the fridge for a week and it’s perfect for summer – no need to turn on the coffee maker and use a million ice cubes cooling your hot coffee back down to a refreshing temperature. Plus it just tastes so good.

Cheers to the Weekend at 12 Gates Brewing Company

I’m not going to lie, when Google Maps told Cody and I we had arrived at 12 Gates Brewing Company, I thought Google was experiencing a glitch. That was the only reason I could think of that would explain why we were looking at the entrance of an industrial complex just minutes from the Buffalo Airport. After double checking the address with the brewery website, we turned into the parking lot and followed the signs to the back of the complex, where the brewery did in fact await us.

Cody and I were looking for a new brewery to try without driving to the Southtowns on a Friday afternoon (we still need to check out Hamburg and 42 North, but this wasn’t the day). 12 Gates fit the bill. It’s in Williamsville and serves a good variety of bar snacks that would tide us over until dinner with Cody’s family.

12 Gates Brewing Company | Succulents and Sunnies

After getting over our initial shock about the location and passing the door to a machine shop on our way to the tap room, we settled in with a flight and nachos inside. The bar was packed with a Friday afternoon happy hour crowd from surrounding businesses and everyone was happy to be there.

I tried the coffee porter, which was good in flight form but would likely get overwhelming in a pint. Instead, I went for the seasonal wheat, which was still the spring apricot variety. After polishing off our nachos we moved outside to enjoy the sunny day. The patio might just be a collection of picnic benches on a corner of the parking lot, but the tall wooden planters filled with hops and bright flowers help you forget that fact. There’s also corn hole and we saw four little bunnies hopping around behind the asphalt.

Because of the proximity the the airport, a plane approaches the runway every 15 minutes or so almost directly overhead. I rather enjoyed this added entertainment, but I can see it being a little bit anxiety-inducing for some.

The atmosphere, outdoor space and very nice bartender more than made up for the initial shock about the location. We thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to 12 Gates and we’ll definitely be back!

How To: Using Instagram to Plan the Perfect Trip

I love social media and I love to travel, so it probably isn’t much of a surprise when I say that I always use social media when planning a getaway. Instagram is particularly helpful, because people share the most beautiful place they saw during their day, which usually means it’s worth your time as well. This was really helpful in Costa Rica (check out all the highlights in this post) because it was a shorter trip, which meant less time to wander and happen upon the coolest places on our own. Here are 3 ways I used Instagram to make our trip extra-amazing:

1. Research Local Hashtags Before You Go

Start with basic location-based hashtags (like #costarica, #sanjose and #manuelantonio) and let Instagram’s suggestions lead you down a rabbit hole. Collect a list of 15 or 20 of the the most promising, based on how the photos look, how many posts there are and how relevant they are to what you want to do on your trip.

How To Use Social Media to Plan a Vacation | Succulents and Sunnies
There are 3 reasons you should do this:

  1. Take a look at what people are already posting to discover unique must-dos and restaurants.
  2. Post pictures of your own trip with these hashtags for more likes AND to help future travelers.
  3. Help local attractions find you. Cafe Milagro in Manual Antonio commented on a photo I posted and we ended up going 3 times. We would have never chosen it on our own, but the craft beer, live music and local coffee were all amazing!

2. Search the Cities You’ll Be Visiting

Instagram’s “Places” are also really helpful when you’re looking for things to do. I like this feature because it not only lets you scroll through all the photos tagged as in that city (Quepos, Costa Rica for example), but also at locations within that city (like Playa Manuel Antonio).

How To Use Social Media to Plan a Vacation | Succulents and Sunnies
This really helps when you’re trying to figure out which must-dos are where, especially when they’re not in a book or on Google Maps (like the can’t-be-missed Playa Biesanz). Plus, Instagram’s new location stories make this easier than ever!

3. Follow Local Attractions You Want to Visit

This goes for local businesses you’re planning on patronizing too. To stay up to date on hours, special events and even coupons, give places you really want to visit a follow. Their posts could help you decide what day you stop by or other nearby stops you should make. This tip can also be applied to Facebook and Twitter, depending on where the attraction or business is most active. If you’re visiting a country where you don’t speak the language, Facebook’s native translation will do a good enough job to get the point across.

Now go and plan a killer vacation! And let me know how you use social media to find the coolest places on your next trip.

Staying Informed

In today’s world, riddled with political battles, religious extremism and frequent natural disasters, it’s incredibly important to find news sources that present facts and challenge “truths.” In the past year, so much has changed the way I find and digest news. Most obviously, the election of President Trump, and the questionable statements and decisions he has made in his months as our country’s leader. Secondly, moving from the liberal oasis of Ithaca and the Ithaca College campus to rural upstate New York.

This year, I have more time to devote to finding news stories and comparing different sides of the story. Thank goodness, because news is more complicated and time consuming than ever.

My top news source is probably Twitter. I like how immediate both the original message and the feedback are. For current events and updates directly from politicans’ offices, this is a good source. Of course, anyone can say anything on Twitter (or any other social media), so vetting this information is important.

I recently subscribed to TheSkimm, another source for quick news. Everything is very easy to read and understand, which is good in a lot of cases. Sometimes though, I’m left wanting (a lot) more.

My household still subscribes to The Buffalo News’ print edition 7 days a week. Crazy, I know. This is how we keep up on local news. There’s also a varied collection of New York Times and Washington Post articles I wouldn’t otherwise read. Despite Buffalo being the second largest city in the state, it often feels like a small town, and sometimes The Buffalo News treads lightly so as not to step on any WNY toes, at the expense of in depth news coverage.

I also love NPR. Not necessarily for the factual news, but for the human interest they add to the headlines. On air interviews with activists, journalists, immigrants and witnesses are not only informative, but touching.

Where are you finding informative, balanced and factual news coverage? How has this year’s political climate changed the way you view news? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Cornell Plantations

Last weekend our family was in Ithaca for Paige’s graduation from Ithaca College. We had a delicious meal at Madeline’s on The Commons and needed to walk off our dessert. Ithaca has a plethora of hiking options, but we were staying near Cornell’s campus so we chose The Plantations.

Cornell Plantations | Ithaca, NY | Succulents and Sunnies

The Mundy Wildflower Garden and Herb Garden were beginning to bloom and looked downright magical in the golden hour light.

Cornell Plantations | Ithaca, NY | Succulents and Sunnies

Cornell Plantations | Ithaca, NY | Succulents and Sunnies

We spent a long time watching the dozens of turtles and goldfish in the Houston Pond from the bridge. There were some massive creatures living in there!

We were far from the only visitors, with students having picnics and local high schoolers taking prom pictures in various picturesque locations throughout the grounds. For anyone looking for an Ithaca hike that doesn’t involve hundreds of stairs or slippery slate, I highly recommend The Plantations!