Musicians from a Faraway Land

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the St. Petersburg Philharmonic perform at the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, and they were pretty phenomenal! I attended with a friend who had lived in Russia for a few years, so she was able to provide fascinating insights about how different the concert would have been if it was performed in Russia rather than in Rochester. Apparently, in Russia, audience members often go up to the edge of the stage at the end of a show and have the chance to shake musicians’ hands. At that time, they usually bring the musicians a flower that they’ve brought with them to the show specifically for that purpose. Pretty interesting!

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic performed Brahms (Piano Concert No. 1, Opus 15) and Shoshtakovich (No. 5 in D Minor, Opus 47). Both were fabulous! Nikolai Lugansky was the featured pianist, and he was really fun to watch. He was incredibly animated in his playing, with such powerful gestures they were almost violent at times! And his expression was always grave. It was generally fun to people watch on stage- the dress and mannerisms of the musicians were a bit different from an American philharmonic orchestra. For example, I noticed the string section waving their bows to applaud the pianist, and I had never seen that before!

Shoshtakovich 5 was probably my favorite part of the evening- the booming of the drums was badass and exciting after the more emotional and moving sections of the piece. All and all, it was a really fun night, and I’m so glad we got to see the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Rochester! The last time they were here was 55 years ago, so it definitely felt special to be able to see them right here in ROC.

Next week, I’ll be attending Savion Glover: STePz, and I’m pretty excited about it! I’ve loved the variety of the “Eastman Presents” series this season. Such a diverse array of talented performers! From Norm Lewis to Garrison Keillor, from the St. Petersburg Phil to Savion Glover, it’s been an awesome season.

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Image via Eastman Theatre.

Savion Glover is a renowned choreographer and tap dancer who has even performed on Sesame Street! If you don’t believe me when I say this dude is insanely talented, check out his Instagram for some crazy videos. The guy can move! I’m so excited to watch him perform live next Tuesday.

Good news for you, my friends! I’m giving away tickets again! This is the last show in the current season of the “Eastman Presents” concert series, and it’s sure to be fantastic. Leave a comment below telling me why you’d love to attend, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the show! Winner will be announced by the end of the week.

Best of luck, everyone!

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Working Downtown: A Whole New World

I started a new job back in November (hence the blogging hiatus for a few months) and one of the many perks of said new job is the opportunity to work downtown for a few days each week. Having worked on a college campus for four years while also working on a passion project about the city of Rochester, I longed to spend more time in the downtown area and less on an island of a campus. That’s why I’m overjoyed that I now get to spend significantly more time in downtown #ROC!

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The view from my office window during the golden hour.

My office is located in the historic Sibley Building, which used to be a department store in the heart of downtown. It has recently rebranded as Sibley Square and is going through some serious changes. Currently, the only tenants are a store called Rainbow, the Damon campus of Monroe Community College, and the nonprofit I work at, but the developer is working on bringing numerous new tenants on board. I’m excited to be there as the place evolves!

So what’s so cool about working downtown? For one thing, the food! When I worked on a college campus, you could eat at one of the dining halls pretty easily, and the food was pretty respectable. However, if you wanted to go off campus for a bite to eat, it was a long haul. You had to schlep to your car (usually parked about 15 minutes from your office building), drive somewhere (about 10-15 minutes away), eat super quickly, drive back, park, and hike in again. It was a pain in the butt. Now, I can walk to tons of awesome eateries! It’s so exciting.

I’m always a big fan of delicious and diverse food, but I’m perhaps an even bigger fan of excellent coffee. And working in the Sibley Building means Fuego Coffee is only a short walk away, just across Parcel 5! If you’ve never been, you should get your booty to Fuego ASAP.

Okay, so there’s coffee and food, but what ELSE is great about working downtown? Walkability is a big factor too. I can leave my car in a parking garage all day and still get around easily. I even learned about a system of tunnels connecting various buildings downtown thanks to my Twitter buddy, @MimZWay! As a kid growing up in the suburbs, I never spent much time downtown. It’s been fun getting to know the area more as a result of working right in Center City.

Last but not least, I’m lucky that in my job, I have the opportunity to get some sneak peeks at historic parts of Sibley. It’s so cool to see glimpses of a bygone era, and to have a hand in shaping what the future of downtown ROC will look like.

If you ever have a chance to take a job in downtown ROC, I’d highly recommend it! A nice walk or some good food nearby is a great way to maintain your work-life balance. Plus you really feel like you’re a part of things when you’re right in the heart of the downtown area. It’s pretty darn cool!

Jazz & Stories with Garrison Keillor

Last week I was lucky enough to get to go see Garrison Keillor, the renowned storyteller, at the Eastman Theatre! I was so excited to have the chance to see him live. My family wasn’t an NPR family growing up, but many of my college friends are fans, and they had always raved about good old Garrison. After a long week, “An Evening of Storytelling with Garrison Keillor” seemed like just what we needed!

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I wasn’t feeling well the night of the show, so I forgot to take pictures. Here’s a photo of the beautiful program on my beautiful coffee table!

Being a bit of a Keillor n00b going into this show, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I was pretty delighted, though, when he kicked off the evening with a singalong! It was an eclectic mix, everything from “This Land is Your Land” to “I Saw Her Standing There.” Another delightful factor? I spotted the president of my alma mater, Joel Seligman, seated in one of the boxes near the stage, blowing his nose frequently and singing along. (I was under the weather too, Joel. It’s okay. Hope you’re feeling better!).

Garrison Keillor performed with an incredibly talented jazz sextet from the Eastman School of Music, and they blew me away. Garrison would chat and joke for a bit, then have the musicians play a little bit. They played Gershwin, New Orleans jazz, and much more! The clarinetist was so fantastic it made me really want to pick up my clarinet again. And I haven’t played in 4 years!

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Credit where credit is due: that was a damn good jazz sextet.

They closed out their set with a number I was very pleased with myself for recognizing: The St. James Infirmary Blues.

While the song’s origins are unknown, Louis Armstrong made it famous with his recording in 1928. I actually knew it from my visits to Fritzel’s, my favorite jazz club in New Orleans! I’ve visited NOLA enough to love the city, but definitely not enough to count myself satiated. I can’t wait to go back sometime!

Anyways, this jazz sextet from Eastman performed a phenomenal rendition of this fantastically depressing song and it brought the house down. And then they came and sat next to us in the crowd! So that was pretty cool.

Garrison has such an interesting style. He’s understated, calm and mellow, but manages to include a level of depth and detail in his stories that’s both astonishing and impressive. My mind caught on details of each story more so than the overarching story arc. The strawberry shaped change jar his parents kept in his home growing up. The French’s mustard he squirted on his burger on his sneaky trip out of the house. A memory like that is bound to make you a good storyteller!

My favorite story that he told was about the insane murder ballads his grandma used to sing him. So strange and so hilarious! I couldn’t believe how he remembered every single word of the ballad. They were bizarre and hysterical.

Up next in the fantastic Eastman Presents concert series? The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is coming to town! They’re featuring Nikolai Lugansky as the pianist and are performing Brahms and Shostakovich. I’m sure this will be an amazing concert and I’m psyched to see it!

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Photo via eastmantheatre.org

Good news for YOU! I’m giving away a pair of tickets to this concert too! To enter: 1) Follow @eastman.school on Instagram. 2) Follow me on Instagram (@servemethesky). 3) Leave a comment on my photo about this post telling me why you’d love to see this concert. If you’re not feeling competitive (or don’t win but are still dying to see the show), you can purchase tickets here.

Best of luck to all!

Norm Lewis Lookback

Last week I had the opportunity to see Norm Lewis perform at Kodak Hall, and he was pretty fantastic. That guy can sing! You were probably expecting that, though, if you know anything about Norm Lewis. He’s basically a Broadway superstar- he’s been in practically any show that comes to mind when you think of Broadway classics. Les Mis? Yup. Phantom of the Opera? Yup. Porgy and Bess? Yup. He gets around!

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Ready for an evening of incredible music!

His show at Eastman included highlights from many of the musicals he’s been in. My personal favorites were the huge show stopping numbers like “Music of the Night” from Phantom and “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” was particularly moving, as he prefaced it with a story about a fellow cast member who died young in an accident. I may have been a little misty-eyed by the end of that one, if I’m being honest. Norm’s voice filled up the whole theatre; it was clear that every audience member was listening raptly.

Norm was a very personable performer. He loved interacting with the audience and included lengthy anecdotes between each song. At the beginning of the night, he mentioned reading the local paper and seeing we “had a lot going on,” then referenced catching himself on Scandal while watching TV in his hotel room. This was the start of a long night of humblebrags. We heard all about his friendship with Audra McDonald, that time he went to a house party at the White House, and how he got to meet Barack Obama. I suppose humblebrags are warranted when you’re as talented and experienced in show business as Norm Lewis is.

Things did get a little weird, though, when he performed a Marvin Gaye number and interspersed his passionate singing with yells of “ISIS!” and “Black Lives Matter!” My boyfriend and I looked at each other in total shock and confusion. Never have I ever been to a concert at Eastman where I’ve heard a musician scream “ISIS” in the middle of a performance! I totally get artists standing up for what they believe in during turbulent political times. The song was called “What’s Going On,” and while it is super important to discuss what’s going on, especially in 2017, this seemed like a bizarre, jarring, and superficial way to approach the topic. I wanted to yell back to him, “Dude! You’re just saying names and phrases!” Yelling nouns is not a particularly effective way of engaging in political discourse.

Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable evening and I’m glad we got to see this talented man bring down the house! Just thinking back on the night, I’m getting some serious feels thinking about his rendition of “Bring Him Home.”

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World-class music right here!

Now, you may recall that the Eastman Presents concert series was on my list of 7 Things I’m Psyched About in 2017. There are three shows remaining in the series, and up next is Garrison Keillor. Apparently I’m out of the loop on the whole Garrison Keillor thing; I’ve heard he’s pretty amazing,  and I’m excited to see him when he comes to town on February 17th!

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Garrison Keillor is coming to ROC! Photo via Eastman Theatre.

Even more exciting for YOU, is that I’m doing another ticket giveaway! Love the idea of seeing Garrison Keillor IRL? Comment below telling me why you want to see him. Winner receives a pair of tickets to the show on 2/17! I’ll announce the winner on Friday, February 10th.

Best of luck to all!

Museum Memories

I recently had the chance to catch the Matter of Memory exhibit at the George Eastman Museum, and it caused me to pause and reflect on my memories of museums. I’ve become a more frequent museum-goer as I’ve grown older; while I didn’t visit the Eastman Museum much as a kid, I do remember going in elementary school, when my Girl Scout troop made a gingerbread house that was displayed there.

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My Girl Scout troop did not make this.

Matter of Memory was extremely unique- it featured numerous artists with different styles and media, all addressing the theme of memory and how we capture it through photography or otherwise. It made me think about how I capture and preserve my memories. While I take many photos, the way I curate them on social media and then write about them in this blog is a big part of how I process my experiences and shape the narrative that then becomes a memory.

My words may never hang in a museum like the gorgeous art that comprised Matter of Memory, but they’re still purposeful and meaningful to me.

After that Girl Scout visit, I didn’t make it back to the Eastman House until my senior year of college, when I went with a friend to check out a Norman Rockwell exhibit. Since then, I’ve been to the Eastman Museum (which settled on its new name, Museum instead of House, in 2015) for several events and exhibits, including a U of R alumni holiday party, a staff retreat, the National Parks exhibit, and most recently, a talk by photographer Richard Renaldi.

It was cool and interesting to hang out at the Eastman Museum with college friends- although Eastman had huge ties to the University, the Museum was never part of our world while studying at U of R. There’s so much history here, and we college students were typically far too busy to go learn about it.

As a U of R employee, I visited the Museum again on a work retreat. It was remarkable how many U of R employees had never been before! Without George Eastman’s philanthropy, the University of Rochester would be a very different place. On this visit, we were were treated to a guided tour with an extremely knowledgeable docent. I learned so much on this tour that I’m now eager to show off all my knowledge whenever I bring someone to the Museum!

When my dad and I visited the National Parks exhibit last fall, I enthusiastically rattled off fun facts to my dad. “Have you seen the view from Mrs. Eastman’s bedroom? Have you seen this letter about why Kodak was such a great name? Did you know this painting is a fake and the real one is in the MAG because the Museum used to be free and someone literally plucked it off the wall and walked out with it?!”

Not only did I have a chance to show off my new plethora of fun facts, but the exhibit was super cool too, especially since our family has so many National Park memories. We visited Yellowstone, Canyonlands, Arches, the Grand Tetons, Mt. Rushmore, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, and Crater Lake over the course of two summers! Logging 300 miles a day in the car wasn’t unusual, and it was worth it for the chance to explore these phenomenal parks. The exhibit brought it all back for us and reminded us of how grateful we are to have the Parks in our country.

The newest exhibit, Manhattan Sunday, by Richard Renaldi, is also fascinating. While on the surface, it’s quite different from Matter of Memory, there are parallels. Renaldi strove to capture individuals between the hours of 12am and 8am. This collection of photos includes scenes inside and outside of clubs, up and down the streets of New York when almost no one is around. Some of the photos date back to the ’90s- so they’re capturing memories through Renaldi’s own lens. Who and what he chose to capture at various stages of the night are an interesting lens of memory to look through.

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Wish I had snagged more photos, but this is all I’ve got. 

You might think museums are relatively static. On the surface, there are permanent collections and only a handful of rotating exhibits. However, if you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that museums are constantly evolving. How can they best serve their audience? What do people want from museums and how can they deliver it? The Eastman Museum does a fantastic job educating its followers on Instagram, for one. And there’s a Spotify playlist for the Renaldi exhibit- how cool is that?! Constantly evolving, I tell ya.

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George is all around town!

Long story short, the Eastman Museum is a gem and we’re lucky to have it. If you’ve lived in Rochester your whole life and have never been, pay them a visit. And if you haven’t been recently, you should probably head back there- it may not be exactly the same as you remember it. ROC owes a lot to George Eastman; you’ll come away with a greater appreciation for our city’s history having learned his story and explored his home!

7 Things I’m Psyched about in 2017

While many people are eager to call 2016 a dumpster fire of a year, it was actually a pretty darn good year for me. I traveled to New Zealand, visited my BFF in Texas, saw amazing live music, and even bought a house! Oh, and I swam with manatees too. The downside of all those wonderful things is that it’ll be a tough year to top. Hopefully these 7 things I’m psyched about in 2017 will contribute to it being an equally awesome year:

    1. Axe throwing at Hatchets & Hops – My friend Chris of Exploring Upstate has gotten me totally on board with the idea of checking out this new place in Buffalo where YOU GET TO THROW AXES. How cool is that?! We’re planning to make a day trip to Buffalo soon, and I’m stoked to try something totally new and different.
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Photo courtesy of Hatchets & Hops Instagram

    1. Snowshoeing – This year, Tim and I received snowshoes for Christmas from my parents! We can’t wait to hit some local trails and try them. Now I’ll just sit here patiently waiting for snow…
    2. Chicago – For years, I’ve been meaning to take a trip to Chicago. This year may finally be the year. I’ve always heard such great things about the art and culture in Chicago, and I’ve only ever flown through. Now that Hamilton is in Chicago, I have some extra motivation to get there! Maybe I can even see Wayne Brady…
    3. Meliora Weekend – It’s my 5 year college reunion. I can’t believe it, but it’s true. Usually I don’t get too psyched for Mel Weekends, but this year, I’m guessing many of my friends from college will be back in town, so that will be fun! Plus, I no longer work on the campus of my alma mater, so it will actually feel a bit more special to visit.
    4. More Sofar shows – Sofar Sounds puts on tons of great concerts in unique venues in Rochester. I love the surprise of a quirky venue and interesting live bands every time! Last year we saw shows at a motorcycle shop, the Public Market, the Brainery, a thrift store, and many more neat spots. I interviewed local Sofar leader Kelsey Delmotte for I Heart ROC last year, so if you’re curious about Sofar, that’s a great place to learn more!
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Megalodonis at the Public Market

  1. A trip West – Shockingly, my boyfriend and I have never traveled together. We’ve both traveled plenty separately, but we’ve never gone on a trip together! We’re hoping to make a trip out west this year since Tim has never been to some of the national parks out there.
  2. The Eastman Presents: Winter Spectacular – The four remaining concerts in the Eastman Presents series are sure to be amazing and delightful in totally different ways. There’s a Broadway star, a public radio figure, a philharmonic orchestra from Russia, and an incredible tap dancer. Damn!
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Photo via Eastman Theatre

Now time for some really exciting news… YOU, my loyal readers, have the opportunity to win tickets to each of these concerts in this fantastic series! I’m giving away a pair of tickets to each of the four remaining shows, so be sure to check back every couple weeks for the next giveaway.

The first concert of the series is Norm Lewis, who is known for his role as the first African American phantom in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I love Phantom. I listened to techno remixes of the soundtrack in high school- yes, I’m a nerd. I’m psyched to see him perform live next weekend!

To enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to Norm Lewis: be sure you’re following me and the Eastman School on Twitter (@servemethesky and @eastmanschool) AND tweet me what your favorite concert is that you’ve ever seen. The winner will be announced Saturday morning!

What are you excited for in 2017? Any places I should check out? Let me know! And keep following along for more chances to win tickets to phenomenal performances in the Eastman Presents concert series.

Not a Doubt about Doubtful Sound

For a long time I’ve been wanting to write about the 20 hours I spent with my family on a beautiful boat in an insanely remote part of New Zealand, one I would highly recommend you visit if the chance ever comes your way: Doubtful Sound. Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos that capture this bewilderingly beautiful place, but I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in words.

My family traveled to New Zealand to visit my younger brother, who was spending the semester studying at the University of Otago, in Dunedin. Dunedin is located on the South Island, and we spent our entire trip traversing the island in a big loop. Towards the end of our journey, we embarked on an overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound- and it was no ordinary cruise.

Doubtful Sound is so remote that to say “there’s no easy way to get there” is an understatement. We drove to a port and left our car in the car park. We took a boat ride to a remote little terminal, where we boarded buses and took a lengthy bus ride to the dock where our cruise would begin. So, nearly two hours of journeying to get to the start of our journey.

When we were finally aboard the Fiordland Navigator, operated by Real Journeys,  we saw an unusual itinerary laid out for us. Not only did the cruise include a naturalist on board to provide tons of insight about the fiord’s wildlife, but there were awesome activities to enjoy. This sounds like I’m describing a bad Carnival cruise, right? I don’t mean bingo and lounge singing. I mean kayaking and visiting a fur seal colony on the Tasman Sea.

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Recipe for an ideal trip.

When we boarded the ship, we first checked out our accommodations. Tiny AF for a family of four, but suitable for the night. The close quarters and uncomfortable beds didn’t matter much given the wonder we had in store.

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Our cozy room

Once we were settled in, we headed to the top deck to check out the view. Though it was rainy and gloomy, as is typical of Fiordland in fall, we were amazed to find dolphins playing in the surf of our ship! Several huge dolphins were frolicking alongside us, and it was a total delight to watch.

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OMG A DOLPHIN

Back inside the dining area, we played cards and met a shy British woman who was taking six months off from real life to travel through Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, spending two months in each. Pretty amazing, right? She’d never been kayaking before and joined us for the excursion, sporting a knit unicorn hat. Gotta love making new friends while you travel!

No photos from kayaking, alas, but let it be known that it is totally awe-inspiring to paddle through enormous fiords in virtual solitude (if you can ignore the fleet of 19 other people paddling in your wake), regardless of how gray the day may be. I raced ahead of our guide and got in trouble for it a few times, but how can you not just want to explore and drink it all in, feasting your eyes and saving up that beauty for later? Apparently only four boats operate on Doubtful Sound, so it’s incredibly peaceful and seems untouched by humans. You feel lucky to be there.

Once we returned to the ship, we quickly chose to depart again…for a swim. In the 13 degree (Celsius) water. Invigorating!

Chilled to the bone, we desperately tried to restore warmth to our system by bundling up and checking out a fur seal colony on the Tasman Sea. Then of course, excellent wine and delicious, authentic New Zealand food.

The following morning, it felt far harder to leave the Navi than it should have. We hadn’t even been on the boat for 24 hours, but it still didn’t feel like a long enough stay! We were grateful to conclude our time on board with something special: “The Sound of Silence,” conducted by the ship’s naturalist. It felt gimmicky at first, sure, but when they turned off the engine, refused to let anyone move around, and just let the silence settle all around us for a full 5 minutes, it was pretty amazing. It’s just you and the nature, all around you, for miles.

So that was that. 20 hours in Doubtful Sound, and not a doubt in my mind that it’s a spectacular gem on this Earth. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it.

Also worth mentioning: Real Journeys is a pretty amazing company. They’re family-owned and really care about people and conservation. While in Te Anau, we went on a Real Journeys tour of the glowworm caves, which was pretty fantastic too. Yelp review here. I’d highly recommend Real Journeys if you’re ever traveling in New Zealand! You can learn more about the company here.

For more on my New Zealand travels, check out this post about the city of Christchurch.

North Winton Village 4 life

Please forgive my hiatus, folks! Not only did I become a first-time homeowner in the fall, but I also started a new job in November, and then the holidays came along. Needless to say, things have been busy! But here I am, eager and excited to tell you all about my new neighborhood.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I formerly lived in the well-loved Park Ave neighborhood of Rochester. Parting with my apartment of three years was tinged with nostalgia, but honestly, no regrets. My new ‘hood is awesome.

After seeing many many houses, we ultimately chose to buy in the North Winton Village. This neighborhood is considered relatively up-and-coming, with the real estate market starting to pick up considerably each spring. House hunting was a stressful but fascinating process- our realtor, Sue Ververs, was a delight to work with and kept our spirits up during our lengthy search!

One of the things I’ve really been enjoying about the North Winton Village is the abundance of small businesses, with more popping up all the time. I’ll highlight a few of my new favorites here.

The Green House Cafe is a wonderful place with a great mission. It’s a coffee shop…in a green house…that provides employment for women recovering from addiction. That’s three great things in one! The food is pretty tasty too- the panini I had there recently was awesome.

We also recently discovered Tryon City Tavern. It had been on our list to try, and we’d heard good things, and I’m so glad we made it there! While the ambiance is lacking, the food is pretty incredible (and affordable). We had some seriously outstanding burgers and delicious apps last time we were there.

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Delectable.

Another favorite is the Ginger Lion. You may have heard of this joint- they got a fair amount of buzz when they opened in 2016. The ginger-haired owner makes all his own ice cream, and it is damn good. I even indulged in a sundae last time is there and it was worth every yummy calorie. I’m sure we’ll visit more in the summer once it’s a more weather-appropriate treat. For now, I’ll stick with the leftover Christmas cookies.

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Celebrating our first night as NWV residents!

And of course, the consistently tasty BBQ joint Sticky Lips is right up the road from us. It should be interesting to see what’s added to the micro-mall (though I’m not a fan of the new Burger King on Humboldt, tbh).

ARTISANworks is another local gem. It’s walking distance from our house, and full of tons of eclectic art! Even the ceilings are covered. It’s definitely a sensory overload when you visit, but that can be a good thing- it necessitates future visits to immerse yourself in the art!

Also, the Winton Library is like a 3 minute walk from our house, so it’s been pretty great to become a library patron again! Other perks of the neighborhood? It’s quiet, the neighbors are friendly, and the street parking is less chaotic than in other areas of the city.

Plus, it’s still super close to downtown and walkable to many local establishments- we’ve walked to Maker’s Studio and the Rochester Brainery without any trouble- it barely takes 20 minutes. We absolutely love where we ended up. If you’re thinking about buying a home in #ROC someday, I’d highly recommend the North Winton Village!

Eating Stuff in Texas (And Other Adventures)

I recently took a trip to Dallas, Texas and I ate so many delicious things! I’m not a food blogger, but this trip inspired me to indulge this one time in sharing some food pics and stories. If you don’t like food (who are you?), then stop reading now.

Over the past four years, I’ve traveled to Texas several times, usually to Austin. This was my first trip to Dallas! I was visiting my college BFF and was super excited to go on an adventure of noms with her.

On my first night in Dallas, we kicked things off with tacos. Tacos are something I really miss in Rochester. While we do have one taco truck, it’s just not the same as tacos in Texas. So much more variety and flavor down there! My reunion with Texas tacos was at an interesting joint called Velvet Taco. It’s a pretty small chain with locations in just a handful of cities. The big thing with Velvet Taco is how unique and creative they get with their creations. For example, I tried a bahn mi taco while I was there, and a cuban! Both were pretty tasty, but totally out there. My friend and I also split some delicious elote. I hadn’t had it before, but I found it comparable to creamed corn, with a bit more kick.

Up next? With hardly a break for our stomachs, we were off to Milk & Cream! This place was a novelty for a Rochesterian like me. Milk & Cream specializes in hella delectable buns. Yes, you heard me. Buns. Pretty similar to a doughnut, actually. I went with the non-glazed option (just to avoid an overly sweet concoction) and chose coffee ice cream with chocolate chips (you can select one topping). They roll it all together (similar to Cold Stone), then you get to bite into a heavenly, fluffy warm bun full of cold, creamy ice cream. Perfection. I would definitely advocate for brining one of these to Rochester (hey, we’ve got plenty of froyo. We could swap one out. Just sayin’).

Our stomachs rested til morning and then we were off to the next foodie adventure! Armoury D. E. in a neighborhood called Deep Ellum! I absolutely loved exploring this neighborhood- it felt like it had far more personality than any other part of Dallas. Apparently the neighborhood was originally known as Deep Elm; it was one of the first areas in the city where African Americans lived. They pronounced Elm more like “Ell-um,” and it stuck.

I’m not much of a bruncher, but this was a brunch for the ages. I went out on a limb and tried a drink they called “Shimmy Ya,” which involved bourbon, beer, cookie crisp, and an egg. Surprisingly good (though quite strong!). Being the big eaters we are, my friend and I split some Count Chocula French toast prior to our entrees. You could say we’re hardcore. The French toast came with nutella and marshmallow to spread on it (and fruit, so you could pretend it was healthy). The restaurant had Hungarian roots, so I tried the Hungarian crepes and my friend had the hash. Both were phenomenal. My crepe had incredibly fresh veggies in it, so I was thrilled. Dana (about time she has a name in this post) loved the hash. I’d say our favorite part was the potatoes that were served with both of our meals- they were seasoned and cooked perfectly. All in all, the brunch was outstanding.

We got a little touristy in the afternoon. We paid for CityPass ($45) which got us into four major Dallas attractions (worth it!). Saturday afternoon we hit up the Reunion Tower and the Dallas Arboretum. The Reunion Tower is attached to a hotel; you ride an elevator up and get stellar views of the city. Also, a kitschy photo of your party above the Dallas skyline. The Arboretum was lovely! Crawling with children and at least three separate weddings, but lovely.

Beer was also a necessary component of this day. We visited a fantastic brewery called Peticola’s. $10 got you in the door, plus a pint glass, 3 drinks, and a brewery tour. Not too shabby! They’re a small operation, so they only open twice a month for two hours each time. If I were a Dallas resident, I’d be there every chance I got! They had a great food truck outside, Jenga, foosball, air hockey, a handful of other games, and really friendly staff and interesting patrons. Plus, the beer was super tasty! My favorite was called “Great Scot!”, and they also made a yummy kolsch.

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Kolsch (& souvenir pint glass)

After such a yummy brunch and A+ beer, we had to go easy for dinner…so of course, burgers, shakes, and truffle fries were just about the only option. I had my first Hopdoddy experience! Dana had raved about it to me, so I was pretty psyched. There was an overwhelming array of delicious-sounding burgers on the menu. I went with one that included goat cheese and pesto, and I was not disappointed.

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Look at that glory

I really appreciated how fresh my burger was at Hopdoddy! You could tell the meat was really high quality, and the lettuce and tomato did not seem like they had been sitting in a freezer/fridge for awhile before use. Plus, the goat cheese was hella good. The truffle fries were even better than I was expecting! We shared a nutella pretzel shake, and that was on point too.

We took it a little easy the following day. We spent the morning at the Dallas Zoo, where Dana works! I got a super extensive tour and got to see lots of adorable animals. Dana was an awesome guide since she had tons of insider knowledge.

From there, we headed over to Klyde Warren Park, built over a highway and located in the middle of downtown Dallas. It was a lovely oasis in the heart of the city! Tree-lined walkways, tons of food trucks, board games and sports equipment for rent, and books to borrow- what more could a citizen ask for? It did make me think about Parcel 5 and the #ThisIsNotAPark movement a lil bit…

I really enjoyed spending time there on a beautiful fall (well, Texas’s version of fall) day! First, we got a brisket grilled cheese from Ruthies (yes, it was as good as it sounds). Afterwards, we downloaded a cool app called Kwest and went exploring in downtown Dallas! We answered questions about our surroundings, checked out sculptures, wandered through cool museums, and I caught tons of pokémon along the way. A win-win! The kwest returned us to the park, where we promptly cooled off with amazing popsicles from Steel City Pops. Mine was pumpkin and was an abundance of creamy goodness. Dana had butter pecan and loved it. Yet another foodie win!

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Nomming the day away!

Fast forward a bit to dinner that night: Torchy’s. Hell yes! Visit their Instagram if you want to experience strong and sudden urges to move to Texas for tacos. I visited Torchy’s frequently in the years I was traveling to Austin often, and developed an affinity for the fried avocado taco. So naturally, I had to have it!

I would rave about a play called Constellations that we saw at the Dallas Theatre Center, but I did promise this would be a food blog. Sidenote: if you have the chance, GO SEE CONSTELLATIONS. You won’t regret it for a single second. Life, time, choice, fate, mortality. It’s #deep.

Monday was TEXAS STATE FAIR DAY. And let me tell you, the Texas State Fair is a BIG DEAL. Allow me to show you a visual of just a few of the things we ate that day:

My poor, poor body. So many fried foods. I don’t know how I’m still standing here today. Each year, they host the Big Tex Choice Awards, where eight unique items are selected as best tasting, most creative, etc. We managed to sample four of the eight in ONE DAY. Foods we ate not pictured in the above photo include: injectable BBQ balls, pulled pork mash, and chili-smothered nachos.

We saw a lot of things that day: a pig race, a museum exhibit on Taylor Swift’s outfits through the ages, marines playing patriotic music, gigantic stuffed Squirtles, the Terminator’s head made out of cans, soap made out of beer, teenagers spooning (I do mean cuddling) hogs (literal hogs), and the infamous Big Tex statue. Quite a day! I’ll cross it off my bucket list. If you manage to make it to the State Fair of Texas, I’d highly recommend the chicken pot pie pocket with mac and cheese dip. I’m biased, since chicken pot pie is one of my favorite foods, but it was a beautiful pairing. The funnel cake ale with powdered sugar rim also exceeded my expectations- it was a great beer, not too sweet, and the powdered sugar really added something special to it! And, fried jello? Surprisingly good!

Sadly, my last day in Dallas arrived. I wasn’t about to take it easy on my stomach. The morning consisted of delicious and filling breakfast tacos from Tacodeli (seriously, Rochester, we need one) and a visit to the famous Pecan Lodge. We had to wait outside in a line to be able to get in and order our lunch, but it was worth the wait! I tried the brisket, pulled pork, and mac and cheese. Dana and I discussed the mac and cheese at length because something is just not right about it. And by just not right, I mean, we could not understand how it could possibly be so good. Her coworkers brainstormed and concluded that it must be cooked with bacon grease. The meat was flavorful, tender, and juicy too. I’ve never seen brisket fall apart so easily! And the portions? Huge! Yay Texas! Stomach stuffed, I nearly died. Then I got on a plane and flew home to Rochester.

In between all the eating, we saw a lot of cool street art (who knew?! Good on you, Dallas!), caught up, discussed our jobs, boys, and the future, and watched a ton of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, aka my new favorite show! I’m lucky to have Dana as a friend (and, of course, am delighted that she lives in a city full of so much awesome food). I’ll leave you with a few photos of street art in case your eyes are tired of #foodporn.

A Much-Needed Break of Reality

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the opening of the Eastman Presents concert series, featuring the talented cello rock group, Break of Reality. I’ll let you catch up- I know that’s a lot to take in. Yes, a cello rock group. And they’re amazing. If you need convincing of that fact, check out their semi-famous (and by semi-famous, I mean 12 million views on YouTube semi-famous) cover of the Game of Thrones theme.

The group was founded in 2003 when the original members were freshmen at the Eastman School of Music. It was a very special night for them to return to Eastman to play a kickass show for a huge, appreciative crowd. Ivan Trevino, their percussionist, did most of the talking that night (because, as he joked, his instrument doesn’t require nearly as much tuning as the rest of the group’s). I was struck by how incredibly humble and grateful he and his bandmates seemed- it was pretty moving to witness.

For one piece, Trevino brought his friends on stage, Michael Burritt and Aaron Staebell, who performed with the group a marimba duet that Trevino himself had composed. It was so cool to see teacher and student performing together- a true testament to a) the relationships built at Eastman and b) the talent cultivated there.

I really didn’t know what to expect when seeing this group perform, but damn, they exceeded whatever expectations I may have had in my brain. I loved their original stuff as much as (if not more than!) their covers. Helix and Star were some of my favorites. I became such a gushing fan that I even had to buy their album! Peruse their YouTube and Spotify pages if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into their epic music.

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This wasn’t the first time I attended a show as part of the Eastman Presents Series! Last year I saw the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and they killed it. If you’re curious about what other shows Eastman Presents is bringing to town this year, be sure to check out their website! Break of Reality was pretty stoked to be featured in the same concert series as Renee Fleming (! she’ll be here in November). Personally, Savion Glover has piqued my interest!

 

Whenever I’m in the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, I look around and try to remember how lucky we are to have this beautiful gem in Rochester. Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted, but when I’m physically in that space, I just sit in awe and take in the beauty and the luxury. It’s gorgeous. Sometimes I can’t believe that I performed on that stage in both high school and college, or that I walked across it to receive my master’s degree. I’m so grateful for Eastman, for music, and the vibrant arts community in Rochester.