Reflecting on a Week of #FuturisticFebruary

Since 2017, the couple behind Sustainable Duo has encouraged the Instagram universe to collect their trash for the month of February. The idea is that after 28 days of hoarding what would normally go straight into the garbage can and recycling bin without thought, you look at the small mountain you’ve collected. You multiply what’s in that pile by 12 in your mind. Only then do you have an idea of what you, one single person, are physically contributing to landfills every year.

My cousin invited me to join the challenge, which is called #FuturisticFebruary, this year. I took some serious liberties with the guidelines. Instead of a month, I opted for a week (I’ll just multiply by 52…). And rather than physically keeping the garbage I created, I wrote down each item I tossed in the trash or recycling. But even with my reduced commitment, I still feel like I learned a lot about my (lack of) sustainability habits.

My First Thoughts

I went in confident. I don’t drink out of single-use water bottles. I bring my lunch to work in glass containers. I make coffee with a reusable filter. During my week of #FuturisticFebruary, I even made some simple swaps to be more sustainable. I composted, which I hadn’t done in our apartment until now. I also brought a hand towel to work so I didn’t have to use paper towels to dry my hands. Easy stuff, but I still thought it would make a difference.

I was so, so wrong. Wow, do I use (and dispose of) a lot of stuff every day. I kept separate lists for garbage and recycling and I honestly thought my recycling list would be the longer of the two. Not so much.

Food Has Sooo Much Packaging

Eating local, packaging-free food is really hard in the middle of winter in Buffalo. Pretty much everything I bought during our weekly trip to the grocery store had a wrapper on it. Some of it was recyclable,  but a lot of it (like the pretzel bag and meat packaging) went straight into the garbage.

Thinking about how much energy and material went into containing each item I bought (let alone getting it here) has me very committed to shopping at the farmers’ market for as long as I can this summer and fall. And instead of heading to the store for a six pack, I’ll try to hit the brewery with a growler more often.

A Week Isn’t 100% Representative

In my defense, neither is a month. There are a lot of products I use every few weeks, every other month, or a couple of times a year. During my week of tracking, I did order a few things online, which meant a box, packing tape and bubble wrap were added to my lists. But I didn’t wrap any presents, go to the mall or get takeout, among other things.

Junk Mail is the Worst

Junk mail is the worst, and that’s before you consider what all those credit card offers and Tim Hortons coupons you never remember to use are doing to the environment. After realizing just how much of the stuff I throw out, I submitted these three forms, which will hopefully keep the mailings to a minimum.

The Moral of the Story

I’m never going to eat 100% local, or give up travel, or live without electricity. But I can be more thoughtful on a daily basis about how my food, clothes and beauty products affect our planet.

While “stuff” is a privilege many Americans feel lucky to have, it’s also a privilege to think about sustainability. It takes time, money and preplanning to attempt something even close to a “zero-waste” lifestyle.

As I work toward a life with less waste, I’m going to keep that in mind, as well as these wise words:

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We are Carly & Brenden, the Sustainable Duo🙌 We ARE NOT perfect, sustainable human beings. That’s almost impossible in the world we live in (and we are here to change that!!!) We do not strive for “perfection” in the zero-waste movement. We still fly planes occasionally, we share an electric hybrid car that still uses energy, we have electricity in our apartment, we eat fruit that isn’t always local… We have been called hypocrites for traveling to give zero-waste talks while using fossil fuels to get to one place to the next. But we are SO PASSIONATE about inspiring millions of people to make sustainable swaps that will change the 🌍 We have decided this is what needs to be done on our end, this is our calling. All of our actions are based on the bigger picture- to educate the world on zero-waste, veganism, and mindful living. We strive to be as morally consistent as possible & we do the absolute best we can for the situation we are currently in. Yes we want a zero-waste tiny home, yes we want to grow our own food and travel sparsely.. but that’s not our reality right now and we are doing our best and we truly know that. ♻️ Do the best YOU can and don’t let people discourage you by talking you down ✌️ For all of you getting into this vegan & and/or zero-waste movement- we are here for you and will never judge you. We are here to help and inspire you & assist with your growth. Keep making those sustainable swaps and evolving. This movement is about internal expansion and saving the planet ♻️🌍🙌✌️ Graphic via @ukonserve @zerowastechef

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3 Stops You Need to Make after Brewery Ommegang

Whether you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or you just like good beer, you’ve probably thought about making the four drive from Buffalo to Brewery Ommegang’s campus in Cooperstown. With a friend in nearby Oneonta with bedrooms to spare, we headed east to spend an afternoon on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail. Ommegang is certainly the most well-known stop on the trail, but it’s not the only one worth stopping at!

1. Bear Pond Winery

We started at Bear Pond Winery, located northeast of Oneonta. It was a nice halfway point between our home base in Oneonta and Ommegang, which is technically in Cooperstown. The winery is a cute building and pretty patio that must be beautiful in the summer.

Tasting at Bear Pond Winery in Oneonta, NY

Once inside, we opted for tastings at the bar (6 for $3), which were led by a lovely employee who wasn’t offended by our lack of wine knowledge. (If she was, she did a good job of hiding it.) While the two wine drinkers in our group opted for the drier whites and reds, the rest of headed straight for the sweet whites, rosés and dessert wines. Most wines were made by Bear Pond, but there were a few other local options included on the tasting menu, which was already pretty big – before you considered the list of spirits that are also an option.

Would an actual wine drinker enjoy this stop? I don’t know. Did I? You bet.

2. Red Shed Brewery Taproom

Red Shed Brewery is located in Cherry Valley, about 15 miles northeast of Cooperstown. Their taproom opened in late 2017 right across the street from Ommegang. It would honestly be silly not to stop here on a trip to Ommegang.

The beer garden was absolutely adorable but it was too chilly to enjoy our beers outside, despite the roaring fire. The rough boards lining the walls, fun atmosphere and friendly staff made up for it though. I tried the XO Sour and was completely satisfied. This was certainly my favorite stop of our little adventure!

XO Sour at Red Shed Brewery Taproom in Cooperstown, NY

Beer garden at Red Shed Brewery Taproom in Cooperstown, NY

Next up was Brewery Ommegang itself, which was just as impressive as I expected it to be. We hadn’t planned far enough ahead to catch a tour, but we spent an hour enjoying each other’s company (and beer) in the cafe.

3. Roots Brewing Company

After pizza back at home base, we headed to our last stop: Roots Brewing Company. This small brewery has more of a beer bar feel, thanks to its location on Oneonta’s Main Street, exposed brick covered in art and expanded beer menu. It reminded me a little bit of Gulu-Gulu Cafe in Salem.

There are a handful of other options on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail we didn’t make it to. Some didn’t quite fit into our quick trip and others are closed for the winter. Someday we’ll make it back in the summer to experience the pretty patios, growing hops and seasonal breweries!

LEGO Dreams Come True at The Art of the Brick

This weekend, The Art of the Brick opens at the Buffalo Museum of Science in all of its brightly colored LEGO glory. Cody and I were invited to check out the exhibit, which is the brainchild of lawyer-turned-LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya, a few days early. We headed to Buffalo’s East Side on Thursday night, excited to not only see the LEGO masterpieces but wander through a few of the Museum’s other exhibits, since we hadn’t been inside since a school field trip a dozen or so years ago.

The Buffalo Museum of Science’s collection of artifacts is incredible and reason enough to spend an afternoon wandering through the exhibits, no matter how old you are. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is as cool as LEGOs. Especially when they’re being used to recreate iconic works of art and portray human emotion.

Nathan Sawaya's The Art of the Brick at the Buffalo Museum of Science

The exhibit is split roughly into 4 sections and the first is where you’ll find Sawaya’s reimagining of well-known works of art. He’s got everything from Michelangelo’s David to van Gogh’s Starry Night. Every piece was incredible, even disregarding the fact that it’s made from thousands of LEGOs. Some of my favorite works of art were recreated for the exhibit, including Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (Edgar Degas) and The Great Wave (Katsushika Hokusai), which was pretty cool.

Nathan Sawaya's The Art of the Brick at the Buffalo Museum of Science

Next are the original models Sawaya is most well known for. These are mostly human forms, as well as kid-approved crayons, castles, jacks and a giant dinosaur. If you think LEGOs aren’t an excellent medium for sharing your point of view on human emotion and expression, get ready for this exhibit to prove you wrong.

Part 3 is a wonderfully minimalist collaboration between Sawaya and photographer Dean West. I still can’t believe the incredible attention to detail that made a building material as simple as LEGOs so lifelike.

Nathan Sawaya's The Art of the Brick at the Buffalo Museum of Science

What fun is looking at LEGOs if you can’t build with them? To be honest, just looking was pretty fun. But this is the Buffalo Museum of Science, so of course, there are lots of cool ways to use LEGOs for yourself in the fourth and final section of the exhibit, appropriately called The Science of the Brick. We opted not to build the Great Wall of China or the Colosseum out of LEGOs, but we did design some cool race cars to try on the timed (!) track.

The Science of the Brick at the Buffalo Museum of Science

We probably spent 30 minutes in The Art of the Brick and if you’re really into building the best LEGO race car there ever was (among other cool challenges), you could probably spend another 30 creating your masterpieces. The Museum is predicting some pretty big crowds this weekend, but you can check out the exhibit any time from now until May 5th!

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I received an invitation to the VIP preview reception of The Art of the Brick at the Buffalo Museum of Science. The thoughts I share here are always my own!

6 Winter Self Care Rituals I Can’t Live Without

It’s that time of year when the air hurts your face and you can’t get through the pile of snow at the end of your driveway without stepping (pretty hard) on the gas. I would never trade a year without a winter for Buffalo’s summer and fall. However, making it through these chilly months (which usually lack any meaningful amount of sunshine) takes a lot of purposeful self care.

Everyone’s idea of taking care of their body and mind is different; as long as it works for you, just about anything can be called self care. And, as much as Instagram will tell you otherwise, it doesn’t have to happen on Sunday. Keep reading for my favorite ways to stay happy and healthy through Buffalo’s never-ending winter.

1. New Places

Our summers are usually filled with weekend trips to Rochester, Boston and the Finger Lakes. Our quick trips usually fizzle out sometime after our annual weekend in Allegany State Park in October. That doesn’t mean we’re not still exploring new places. Winter is a wonderful time to get to know your own city. Coffee shops, breweries and museums are all great places to spend a couple of hours. Honestly, even trading our weekly trip to Aldi for Wegmans or Whole Foods cheers me up.

Fresh coffee from Rowhouse in Buffalo, NY

2. Exercise

Getting up to go to the gym before work seems like an impossible task some mornings. Especially when it’s literally 0° outside. But a regular workout schedule makes me feel so much better, mentally and physically.

3. A Skincare Routine

Taking care of my body helps me survive the winter. This means eating healthy, working out and helping my skin survive the moistureless air. Lots of natural cleansers, masks and lotions are my best friend this time of year.

4. Reading

While I’m the first to talk about how great social media is, it also makes you sad. And impacts your self-esteem. And affects your physical health. So when you cut down your social media use, what do you do with all of your free time? Read!

Good books for wintertime reading

I have a Barnes & Noble gift card burning a hole in my purse that I’m saving for a late-winter Saturday when I’m so sick of being stuck inside I might just lose it. Last year I loved Bel Canto and Born a Crime. This year, I’m looking forward to picking up Becoming, Educated and a few cheesy romance novels.

5. Horseback Riding

Most girls outgrow the pony thing, but not me. There’s just something about brushing a horse (and giving it treats, kisses and ear rubs) that makes everything okay.

6. Setting Goals

My resolutions don’t usually last past February, but a few intentional, manageable goals help me stay positive in the winter. Staying on top of my to-do list, whether it’s keeping the house clean or publishing a blog post every week, motivates me to keep working toward the bigger stuff, even when it gets dark at 5 pm.

The Complete Guide to 48 Hours in Ithaca, NY

I spent four amazing years at Ithaca College, which means I also spent the majority of those four years (and a summer) in Ithaca, NY and haven’t stopped telling people about it since. It’s been a while since my last weekend in Ith and I’m seriously missing the small city at the foot of Cayuga Lake.

Every few months, someone asks me what there is to do in Ithaca because it’s close enough to Buffalo that a weekend trip is totally doable. There are plenty of Airbnbs and hotel rooms (as long as you’re not trying to go during graduation or family weekend – check the Cornell and Ithaca College calendars!), and the number of parks and public spaces make for an affordable getaway.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Buttermilk Falls State Park

It’s to the point that I have a giant message that I copy and paste into conversations with friends. There’s a lot on that list, but it’s probably not the most organized way to share all of Ithaca’s must-dos. In its place, I created a 48-hour itinerary for my ideal weekend in Ithaca.

This is by no means a complete collection of everything Ithaca has to offer. It’s also best completed during the summer or fall when it’s not -5°, windy and sleeting. Hopefully, I’ll be following this exact schedule for my next trip to the Finger Lakes later this year!

Friday

Taking a half day on Friday means getting to Ithaca early enough on Friday to fit in a few fun things before calling it a night. Coming from Buffalo, I like taking the Thruway to Exit 41 for Waterloo/Clyde and heading down Route 89 along Cayuga Lake. This way, you have to pass Taughannock Falls State Park before getting to Ithaca.

Park in the lot on the right side of the road and head to the trail to stretch your legs. Take the Gorge Trail for a quick walk (less than a mile) to the base of the falls. You can also start the weekend off strong with the South Rim Trail to the North Rim Trail, which together are just over 3 miles. This route will take you up and around the falls. You’ll also pass the overlook (you can drive there using Taughannock Park Road instead) on this trail for that Instagram-famous view of the falls.

Hopefully, you’ve worked up an appetite by now and are ready for burritos and margaritas at Viva Taqueria. Order from the counter (walk in the front door and turn right) and take your haul (make sure you add chips and salsa) to one of the tables outside to watch as people enjoy dinner at the row of restaurants along Aurora Street. If the weather isn’t as nice, ask the hostess for a table on the full-service side of the restaurant.

After dinner, window shop your way through the Commons and make your way down either West State Street or West Green Street to end up at Liquid State Brewing Company. Liquid State is a newcomer and I haven’t tried it yet, which is why it’s a high priority on my weekend itinerary.

Saturday

I love starting the weekend at Carriage House Cafe in Collegetown. Carriage House was, in fact, once a carriage house; it’s been restored beautifully into a cute, cozy and delicious brunch spot. Like a lot of restaurants in Ithaca, the menu depends on what’s in season.

Since you’re already in Collegetown, head to Cornell University for some Ivy League vibes. Here, you can simply drive through campus and take in the beautiful architecture and views of Ithaca and the surrounding hills. Walk around McGraw Tower (the Cornell Chimes ring three times a day) and duck into Uris Library.

These beautiful structures will look familiar to Buffalonians because they were built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, whose namesake designed the buildings within the Richardson Olmstead Complex. Within Uris Library is the A. D. White Library, which gives off serious Harry Potter vibes.

If you’re into art museums, check out the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art next. There’s a little bit of everything here, from African artifacts to modern mixed-media. Even if art isn’t your thing, the view of Cayuga Lake from the top floor is gorgeous.

When the weather’s nice, skip the museum and head straight to the Cornell Botanic Gardens for a nice walk. Start in the gardens surrounding the Nevin Welcome Center before heading to either the Mundy Wildflower Garden or Beebe Lake Loop Trail.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Cornell Botanic Gardens

By now, you’re probably ready for lunch (which, because it’s Saturday in Ithaca will technically be brunch at most restaurants), so drive to Avaga, a farm to table southwestern restaurant in an old train station near Cornell. Go for the frittata; the black bean burger is good too. If you’d rather, check out Agava for dinner. Start with guac and order a couple of wood-fired flatbreads before live music starts.

Get over your mimosa-induced slump with an afternoon pick me up at Gimme! Coffee. I personally think this is the best coffee in Ithaca and their Cayuga Street location is my favorite. Sit inside or out with your coffee, or take it to go and wander down quaint Cascadilla Street until you get to Cascadilla Gorge. This pretty trail is short, making it a nice post-lunch walk.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Cascadilla Gorge Trail

Drive to the Upper Park Entrance of Robert H. Treman State Park and take the Rim Trail to Lucifer Falls. Cross the bridge and walk back up to the parking lot on the Gorge Trail. You could substitute this hike for Buttermilk Falls State Park just across Route 13. If you want to see falls without any walking (there’s a good reason the tour guides at Ithaca College tell you about “Itha-calves”), check out Ithaca Falls Natural Area at the end of Falls Street.

For dinner, head to Ithaca Beer Co. If you’re done with nature (or the weather isn’t great) come to the taproom early for a brewery tour before dinner. They’re fun, informational and indoors. There are lots of seasonal ingredients grown nearby on this menu too. Pizza’s a good bet, and so is the burger with fries (made better by the house-made ketchup). I’m partial to pairing them with a Flower Power and Apricot Wheat, but I’ve never had a bad brew here.

Another great dinner option is Coltivare, a farm to table restaurant that’s part of Tompkins Cortland Community College’s culinary program. It’s the priciest option in this itinerary, but I think it’s worth it.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Ithaca Beer Co.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Sunset at Stewart Park

After dinner, head to Stewart Park, right on the southern end of Cayuga Lake. It’s my favorite place to watch the sun set over the hills.

Sunday

Depending on whether or not you’re still full from all the food you ate on Saturday, eat breakfast on Sunday morning at either Waffle Frolic or Collegetown Bagels, both located in the Commons.

During the school year, the line for Waffle Frolic can reach out the door. It’s worth the wait. Your imagination is the limit here, where you can top four different kinds of waffles with everything from bacon and eggs to Nutella and locally-made ice cream.

Collegetown Bagels has, you guessed it, awesome bagels. My go-to CTB breakfast is the pizza bagel on a sesame seed bagel. There’s nothing better after a busy Saturday or late night. There’s also a Collegetown location. That one is open late, so if you want dessert Saturday night, it’s a good option!

For your morning caffeine, walk to Press Cafe in Press Bay Alley. This row of shops was once home to the Ithaca Journal’s offices and printers. The back side of this airy cafe’s building is where you’ll find the “Ithaca is Amusing” mural you may have seen on Instagram.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Farmers' Market

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Farmers' Market

A weekend in Ithaca isn’t complete without a trip to the farmers’ market. Stock up on fresh fruits, veggies and flowers along with a good part of Ithaca’s population. Sunday hours start later in the spring and end earlier in the fall, so make sure you check the hours before driving down to Steamboat Landing.

Before you head home, make a quick stop at Purity Ice Cream. One of my favorite features here is the ability to split a single scoop between two flavors. The old-timey feel and homemade ice cream cannot be missed. Unless you plan to stop at Cayuga Lake Creamery, which is another delicious option.

Cozy Corners at Hotel Henry

Hotel Henry opened at the Richardson Olmsted Complex almost two years ago, but I didn’t have the chance to explore until a few months ago. I met Andrea just inside the impressive glass entrance for an early morning photo shoot on a grey day perfect for exploring.

The Complex as a whole and the building that houses the hotel have a long, complicated, emotional history. Hotel Henry has been beautifully restored and is now home to wedding receptions, Sunday brunch and weekend retreats.

Andrea and I took advantage of the beautiful nooks and crannies throughout the first few floors of the hotel for some cozy photos. I’m pretty happy behind the camera, but letting someone else be the photographer for the day is outside my comfort zone. Andrea was so easy to work with and we had a great time, helped by delicious coffee from Henry’s adorable espresso counter.

Check out some of my favorite shots from the morning:

Cozy photo session at Hotel Henry in Buffalo, NY

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Cozy photo session at Hotel Henry in Buffalo, NY

Cozy Date Night at Black Button Distilling

Cody and I are really bad at date night. We go out with friends, and always celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with dinner, but when it comes to trying something new together “just because,” we stink.

But it’s a new year and time to try new things. Plus, it’s January in Buffalo and the winter blues are a very real thing. So we ventured out to spend Saturday night at Black Button Distilling‘s Buffalo Cocktail Bar and Bottle Shop. Black Button has the coziest bar inside the Apartments @ the Hub, with a patio for fruity summertime cocktails. Inside, the big windows let in lots of light, even on a late afternoon in January. The tall tables are made out of well-worn wood from bourbon barrels.

Date night at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

A NYS Farm Distillery

We started with a drink from the bar, choosing from a long list of seasonal cocktails and local craft beers. Because Black Button Distilling is a NYS Farm Distillery, they can only serve New York-made products at their distillery, which is near Rochester’s Public Market.

Their Buffalo bar isn’t bound by the same rules, but supporting local business is part of their DNA (over 90% of their spirits’ ingredients are grown or produced in NYS) so their draft list was filled with Buffalo brews. I had a Bespoke Bourbon Cream-based cocktail (more on that later) and Cody opted for a White Bronco IPA from Lewiston’s Brickyard Brewing Company.

Craft beer on draft at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

We probably could have been content sipping drinks and nibbling on the meat and cheese board other couples were enjoying, but because this was date night, we opted for Black Button’s Hands-On Seasonal Cocktail Class. We started with a tasting of the distillery’s flagship spirits: Citrus Forward Gin, Straight Bourbon, Apple Pie Moonshine and Bourbon Cream.

Spirits tasting at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

Apple Pie Moonshine from Black Button Distilling

Every one was incredibly smooth. As a bit of a lightweight, I only finished the two I really enjoyed: Apple Pie Moonshine, made from cider fresh-pressed from Lynoaken apples (grown in Medina!), whiskey, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar, and Bourbon Cream, a mix of Black Button’s bourbon and farm-fresh cream.

Seasonal Cocktail: Cereal Party

This cocktail tastes like a coffee milkshake and to be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Maybe a little more complicated than pouring a beer from the kegerator, but definitely easy enough to make at home. Crafting this cocktail was the most fun part of our date night, partly because our Black Button Ambassador loved helping us figure out what, exactly, we were supposed to be doing.

We started with the Bespoke Bourbon Cream, adding cold brew coffee (also from Rochester) and house-made nutmeg simple syrup before topping with nutmeg and its namesake ingredient, Lucky Charm marshmallows (!).

Cocktail class at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

Making Cereal Party at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

This concoction went down soooo smoothly and it’s definitely easy enough that I’ll be making it again at home. We sipped our cocktails and tasted some of Black Button Distilling’s other delicious (non-alcoholic) products, including Bourbon Bacon Ketchup and Apple Pie Moonshine BBQ Sauce. Both were incredible and would make really good gifts, no matter if your significant other or friends are more beer drinker or liquor lover.

Apple Pie Moonshine BBQ Sauce from Black Button Distilling

Black Button Distilling’s Swan Street location is conveniently near a lot of other cool places to spend a few hours with your favorite person, which makes a cocktail class a great way to start a downtown date night!

I received a cocktail class at Black Button’s Buffalo Cocktail Bar and Bottle Shop in exchange for a review on Succulents and Sunnies. The thoughts I share here are always my own!