My Focus for 2020

I’ve kept exactly one New Year’s resolution in my life. One year in high school, I vowed to make my bed every day. I’m still pretty good about doing it on the mornings I don’t go to the gym before work. Other than that, my resolution track record is not great.

This year, I want to try something a little different (for me). Just like a million other bloggers and Instagrammers, I’m choosing a word to focus on this year, rather than one hard and fast resolution. I’m incorporating this word into my life in multiple ways, all with micro-steps that will, hopefully, make failing pretty difficult.

So, without further ado, let me introduce my focus in 2020: investing.

My focus on investing this year is a reflection on how much time and effort I put into working and saving in 2019. I spent a good part of last year feeling burned out, thanks to a lot more freelance work than I should have committed to and more weekends away than at home.

While I love being busy, last year felt like being busy for the sake of being busy. I never felt fully present. I was either at home writing for a client while battling FOMO or spending time with friends while stressing about getting everything done for the end of the month.

In 2020, I want to focus on thoughtfully investing my time and money into things and experiences that make life better, not busier.

Investing in My Skills

I love working. That’s part of the reason it’s so hard for me to see burnout coming, even if everyone around me can spot it from a mile away. This year, instead of spending all of my creative energy on other people’s projects, I want to save a little bit of it for myself.

I’m excited about investing in these professional-ish skills in 2020:

  • Learning basic Photoshop and Lightroom skills
  • Opting for manual camera settings once in a while
  • Writing for fun, not just because it’s on my to do list
  • Upgrading and expanding my blog’s footprint

Investing in a Home

This is a big one! It’s also a big reason I said yes to one or two too many projects last year. It’s going to take a lot of time and energy (and money) to find the house that becomes our forever home but I’m really, really excited to tackle this investment in 2020.

Investing in Experiences

In 2019, we didn’t take a real vacation. There were a lot of wonderful weekends away, but they’re just not the same. We’re in the midst of planning our first week-long vacation since our 2017 trip to Costa Rica and it feels so good.

We’ll watch more than a few of our favorite people say “I do” this year and I want to have the time and energy to truly enjoy these celebrations. The same goes for concerts, brunch, beach days, family time and a lot of other things I wasn’t 100% committed to last year.

4 Can’t-Miss Murals on Hertel Ave.

It had been a little while since Julia Jornsay-Silverberg (who you may remember from our adventures at The Grange and Buffalo’s secondhand book stores) and I explored Buffalo together. We decided to change that this fall. On a chilly October afternoon, we headed to one of our city’s hotspots to check out the growing collection of murals the neighborhood has to offer.

Hertel Ave.’s street art is an impressive assortment of big and little, broad strokes and detailed imagery, and whimsical and methodical. According to Hertel Walls, you can see all the murals the street has to offer in a half-hour walk.

With me taking a million photos and Julia vlogging about our adventure, we took double the time and didn’t quite make it to some of the furthest pieces. That was okay; we did fit in all of our favorites and saw some of the newer additions to Hertel Ave.’s walls too.

In our opinion, these are four murals you can’t miss on Hertel Ave.

1. Hertel Postcard

Hertel Postcard by Vincent Alejandro

Local artist Vincent Alejandro’s mark is visible on both ends of the street. On the east end is Hertel Postcard, welcoming visitors to the historically Italian neighborhood. At the other end of the neighborhood is the alley that Alejandro’s Hertel Alley Street Art Festival calls home.

This mural is across the street from both Lake Effect Ice Cream’s Buffalo location and Daily Planet Coffee, making it the perfect background for Instagramming your sundae or morning brew.

2. Lookin’ Good

Julia Jornsay-Silverberg vlogging in front of Lookin' Good by Casey William Milbrand

Some of Western New York’s most colorful murals are the work of Casey William Milbrand, including Lookin’ Good on the side of CRaVing. This retro rainbow of a mural was even vibrant on the cloudy fall day Julia and I stopped by.

3. Magic Buffalo

Magic Buffalo was one of the first murals to grace Hertel Ave. when it was completed in 2017. It’s at the corner of Colvin and Hertel, where it greets many of the neighborhood’s visitors arriving from the Northtowns. This magical piece of public art, by Bunnie Reiss, is a beautiful fusion of our city’s namesake animal and Eastern European folk art.

4. We Are Here

We Are Here by White Bicycle on Hertel Ave.

This geometric interpretation of the neighborhood’s streets satisfies my need for neat lines and crisp corners. This might just be my favorite mural on Hertel Ave. It’s not big, but there’s something about the five-color palette, the scale and the message of unity I really love.

To see our afternoon on Hertel Ave. through Julia’s eyes, check out her vlog!

On the Water in October with Brookdog Fishing Co.

Last time my dad, sister and I were out on the water with Ryan of Brookdog Fishing Co. it was a beautiful 90° day on Lake Erie. He assured us there’s more to fishing in Western New York than catching smallmouth bass all summer long. We took his word for it and booked a fall fishing trip with Brookdog this year.

We met Ryan at 7 am, just as the sky was beginning to turn from grey to pink. As the sun rose, the fog lifted from the water and the trees, just beginning to change from green to brilliant yellow, lit up. If nothing else, it was a gorgeous day to be outside. Of course, simply hanging out on the water is not Ryan’s style. After a fish-filled trip last summer, we knew we’d see some rod-bending battles throughout the day.

Fishing for salmon in Devil's Hole

A bent fishing rod as fog rises over Niagara River

The original plan was to fish for salmon (among other things) in the lower Niagara River. This year’s salmon run isn’t as impressive as in years past, at least not in this Lake Ontario tributary. After a couple of beautiful early morning drifts in Devil’s Hole left us empty-handed, we headed downstream for some native species.

We weren’t disappointed, and it wasn’t just because we broke into the delicious breakfast sandwiches Ryan packed for us. Over the next five hours, Ryan coached us through catching smallmouth bass, lake trout, a gorgeous rainbow trout and a huge walleye. We also thoroughly enjoyed drifting along in the calm water, soaking in one of the last warm(ish) days of fall.

The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge as seen from the Niagara River

Holding a lake trout caught in the Lower Niagara River

After a day like this one, I’m sunburned, sore, and thinking there’s no way Paige and I will ever be able to top this Father’s Day gift.

Why I’m Dining Out for Life (and You Should Too)

There are few mottos I connect with more than Casa Azul‘s “Work hard. Be kind. Eat tacos.” That’s why I’m so excited to be partnering with the team at Casa Azul, led by Zina Lapi, for Dining Out For Life this year. Thanks to the generosity of local restaurants like Casa Azul and local corporate partners, when you dine out with me on October 1, 2019, 25% of the cost of your meal goes straight to Evergreen Health.

Dining Out For Life at Casa Azul

Chef Zina passing tacos out of the kitchen at Casa Azul

So what is Dining Out For Life, exactly? Dining Out For Life raises funds to support people affected by HIV across the country. Here in Buffalo, those funds go Evergreen Health’s initiatives, like HIV prevention and complete care for individuals living with HIV.

If you’re unfamiliar with Evergreen Health, they provide chronic illness support; HIV prevention, treatment and care; substance user healthcare; LGBQ and transgender services; and more from their locations in Buffalo and Jamestown. As you can probably imagine, it takes a lot of money to do that much good.

Dining Out For Life has raised over $1.2 million in Western New York, just one of the reasons it was named Best Food and Drink Fundraiser by Buffalo Spree this year!

Eating tacos at Casa Azul

Not that you need an excuse to eat tacos, but Dining Out For Life does happen to fall on a Tuesday! If you’re not sure what to order, let me suggest the Potato & Poblano and Carne Asada. With a classic margarita, of course! For all the details on the big day, check out the event on Facebook. I’d love to see you at Casa Azul for dinner on October 1st!

Thank you to Caitlin at Reilley Photography for squeezing this session into her incredibly busy fall schedule for me!

Eating (& Drinking) our Way Through Harrisburg

My favorite way to see a city is eating my way through it, which is exactly what we did on a trip to Harrisburg last month. Harrisburg probably isn’t on your list of must-see destinations, but, just like my trip to Tampa, these days our destinations are determined by which friend we’re missing.

It turns out that Harrisburg, which is an easy 5-hour drive from Buffalo, has more to offer than you might think. We easily filled a weekend – mostly with good food and locally crafted drinks.

After a Friday night that ended early Saturday morning, we needed a big brunch to get us ready for a day of exploring. We opted for Cafe 1500 for their mimosa carafes, rating as one of Harrisburg’s best brunches, ability to seat a group of 9, and location within walking distance of our Airbnb.

Walking into Zeroday Brewing

We happened to be in Harrisburg for the first few days of Harrisburg beer week, which meant tons of cool events at local breweries. Our first stop after breakfast tacos washed down with mimosas was Zeroday Brewing Company.

The taproom was packed and their The Office-themed trivia was in full swing, so we ordered drinks at the bar and headed outside to sip them in the sun. After the longest Buffalo winter everrrr, the sun felt incredible. I honestly could have stayed for hours soaking up those rays and listening to some of my oldest friends laugh together.

When our drinks ran dry, it was time for our next stop, also a short walk away, Millworks. What was once a lumber mill is now a bohemian downtown oasis. A brewery and restaurant, artist studios, rooftop space and eclectic event calendar make this feel like you’ve left Pennsylvania for somewhere much, much cooler.

Gose at Millworks Brewery in Harrisburg

We grabbed drinks and wandered through the works resident artists had for sale. There were earrings, cards, wall art and coasters I seriously considered bringing home, but this weekend was the epitome of experiences over things, so I kept my wallet safely closed.

By this point, we’d burned off our huevos rancheros and chicken and waffles, so we walked across the street to Broad Street Market for lunch. Just like good markets everywhere, this was a melting pot of fresh produce and every cuisine imaginable. I opted for a simple hearth-fired pizza from Knead HBG and drip coffee from Elementary Coffee Co.

Broad Street Market sign in Harrisburg

Pizza from Knead HBG in the Broad Street Market

Our last stop before a pre-dinner nap was Midtown Scholar, an independent bookstore with a reputation. Seriously. The New York Times called it “an essentially religious experience.” Let me say that this giant building, filled from floor to ceiling with beautiful books, lives up to its reputation.

Midtown Scholar's shelves of books greet visitors

We walked home, full of market goodies, books in hand and a little sunburned. Our first order of business after that nap? Dinner. Duh. We took a Lyft to SpringGate, a farm vineyard and brewery just outside the city. This was the one place we couldn’t walk to, which is pretty impressive considering we didn’t have an itinerary when we booked our Airbnb.

SpringGate is a little paradise, with beer, wine, food trucks, string lights and fire pits. It was the perfect place to hang out for a couple hours as the sun set. Their huge selection of wines, varied draft list and food truck lineup were exactly what we were looking for. My pulled chicken sandwich from Piper Belle’s BBQ sure hit the spot.

On Sunday morning, we prepared for our drive home with a classic diner breakfast from Roxy’s Cafe. It was exactly what we needed before saying goodbye and hitting the road!

Shuffle Off to Buffalo with WNYBAC

On a grey April day, the lovely staff at Western New York Book Arts Center welcomed the Buffalo Bloggers into their eclectic space. The Center is dedicated to sharing the art of “printing and book-related arts,” which to be honest I didn’t know a whole lot about. As a writer and reader, even a primarily digital one, that’s a mission I can get behind.

Nicole and Melissa, our guides for the evening, gave us plenty of time to flip through posters printed at the Center and other goodies in the first floor retail shop. If you’re not in the market for new wall decor, head for the card racks to find the right message for your special someone, mom or newly engaged friend.

Then came the good part: heading downstairs to see the printing presses in action. Nicole set up a design on the Center’s huge Vandercook 219 proof press, affectionately referred to as Olga. Us bloggers took turns printing posters that every Buffalover can get behind.

Printing on "Olga" at WNY Book Arts Center

Printing on "Olga" at WNY Book Arts Center

After laying out my very own poster out to dry, I poked through what seemed like thousands of type fonts used by artists at the center. They seem to have everything you could ever need, from itty bitty serif letters to huge ornamental pieces. And if you want to make the Richardson Olmsted Campus out of the alphabet, as one member had laid out on a table, you can do that too.

Shuffle off to Buffalo poster printed at WNY Book Arts Center

If you want to learn more about the book arts for yourself (and you should), the Center offers workshops in letterpress, screen printing and more!

Taking on Tampa Bay (for Less than $50 a Day)

There are two things that are true about traveling at 25:

  1. You don’t really have money to do it.
  2. You’re often traveling to see friends who scattered after high school and college.

As it turns out, number 2 usually really helps with number 1. My latest trip to Tampa was no exception. Melanie, who I also had the pleasure of visiting in Boston a few years ago, was the perfect Tampa Bay host and tour guide.

We had an amazing long weekend in the sun without spending a lot of money! It was everything I could have asked for to make it through the last few weeks of Buffalo’s never-ending winter.

Day 1: Downtown Tampa

We kicked off our weekend like any girls’ trip should start: with brunch. American Social offers free bottomless mimosas with any brunch entree on Saturdays, which is a deal we couldn’t pass up. The food was delicious and they were served in portions that tided us over until dinner. (And by dinner, I mean ice cream…)

After brunch, we spent our afternoon walking along The Tampa Riverwalk. This is a great way to see a pretty big chunk of downtown – without spending a penny. I wasn’t used to the 85° heat, so we stopped halfway for iced coffees and air conditioning at Kahwa Coffee.

We wandered back to The Riverwalk and made it to the light at the end of the tunnel: the gorgeous food hall, rooftop bar, event space and park that is Armature Works. With zero planning we happened to step into the line for the new rooftop bar M. Bird just as it was forming at 4 pm.

The entrance to Heights Public Market in Tampa's Armature Works

Drink at M. Bird, the rooftop bar in Tampa's Armature Works

This place was an Instagram dream, Florida style. The breezy, open air bar and lounge were paired with quick service, a cool river view and a good list of options from local breweries. After 1 drink the space was beginning to feel crowded – and we were on a budget, after all.

Walking back downstairs, we grabbed a couple of chairs in the shade to chat as families and friends enjoyed the beautiful weather around us.

Tampa happened to be hosting the NCAA Women’s Final Four the weekend I visited, so there was tons of stuff going on. We weren’t as interested in Sunday’s basketball game as we were in the free Gavin DeGraw concert Saturday night.

So, we headed back down The Riverwalk to the stage at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, which is very conveniently right along the river. We even saw a few dolphins playing in the river on our way, which was completely unexpected.

The sunset was beautiful, Gavin was great and I was dead tired after a day of walking in the sun. We headed back to Melanie’s apartment to rest for another busy day in Tampa Bay!

Day 1’s Total Cost: $48

  • Brunch at American Social: $20
  • Coffee at Kahwa Coffee: $5
  • 1 Drink at M. Bird: $7
  • 2 Drinks at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park: $9
  • Ice Cream from The Pineapple Shack Island Creamery: $7

Day 2: St. Petersburg

If a free barre class on the waterfront in the Florida sunshine is your jam, then Sunday morning Wellness at the Wharf is for you. That sounded pretty good to us, so we dragged ourselves down to Sparkman Wharf to get our ex-dancer butts kicked.

We briefly considered smoothies from one of the Wharf’s vendors for breakfast, but they were a little pricey. Instead, we walked just a few blocks to Victory Coffee for bagels and iced coffee.

After much-needed showers, we made the 30 minute drive to downtown St. Petersburg. The low buildings along Central Avenue were cute and compact. We wandered to the water before backtracking to The Mill for a late lunch. We couldn’t quite kick our smoothie craving from the morning, so our next stop was Karma Juice Bar, just a few blocks away.

Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida

Posing in front of a mural in St. Petersburg, Florida

Juice, sunglasses and a book in the sand at St. Pete Beach

We fended off the Sunday scaries with a late-afternoon trip to St. Pete beach. The public beach was busy without being overwhelming, perfect for a couple of hours of reading in the sand as the sun started to set.

My one regret from this short trip (if I had to name one) would be not doing more research about what St. Pete had to offer. There are tons of coffee shops, breweries, museums and waterfront views throughout the city that we didn’t check out, simply because we didn’t really have a plan.

Back in Tampa, we stopped in beautiful Ybor City for takeout pad Thai and people watching before calling it a night.

Day 2’s Total Cost: $46

  • Breakfast at Victory Coffee: $7
  • Lunch at The Mill: $17
  • Juice at Karma Juice Bar: $6
  • Parking at St. Pete Beach: $6
  • Dinner at Asiatic Street Food: $10

Day 3: Pool Day

Melanie headed to work, leaving me to enjoy my last day in Tampa on my own. I took the (very) long way to Ginger Beard Coffee. The incredibly kind co-owner who made my chai tea does, in fact, have a ginger beard.

Chai tea at Ginger Beard Coffee in Tampa

Knowing that I’d be headed back to the cold sooner rather than later, I spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool with a good book. Of course, it was only after I was showered and packed that my flight home was canceled.

The extra 12 hours in Tampa meant Melanie had time to show me one more corner of the city. We dodged raindrops in Hyde Park while waiting for a table at bartaco. A locally-brewed grapefruit IPA and fish tacos took the sting out of waking up for an early flight the next morning.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to love Tampa Bay for anything more than its well above-freezing temperatures. Both Tampa and St. Pete really surprised me with their cute neighborhoods and delicious food. I couldn’t have asked for a better mix of exploring and relaxing or better weather!

Day 3’s Total Cost: $30

  • Coffee at Ginger Beard Coffee: $5
  • Dinner at bartaco: $25