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I’m always shocked to see that adorably-small towns like Utica, New York still exist. I grew up visiting my grandma every summer, but since I, as well as my brothers, have hit young adulthood, the visits up north have been few and far in between. Plus, she comes down to Florida to steer clear of the blizzards every January through March, so it’s probably been about 12 years since my entire family’s been reunited in upstate New York. Well, my fabulous grandma, aka GMJ, turned 80, and if that’s not an occasion to celebrate, I don’t know what is!
Our laborious traveling adventure started late Wednesday afternoon… with the help of Starbucks, of course. Even after my boss showed me a magnificent cloud of red congestion on the New York weather forecast, indicating extreme blizzards and dangerous winds, our plane landed without delay. It was actually the first time I’ve ever heard passengers applaud a flight pilot.
The first thing my grandma gave us, aside from a dozen hugs, of course, were hand knitted booties to keep our freezing Florida feet warm. Needless to say, I didn’t take mine off the entire trip.
Did I mention my family is half Polish and half Italian? I oftentimes complain about my skin, but you’ll never hear me gripe about our choice in food and/or desserts. I grew up downing the world’s best miniature cannolis and pastaciotti (aka pusties) from Florentine Pastry Shop, half-moon vanilla cookies from Hemstrought Bakery, and Napoli’s Italian Bakery tomato pie, which is supposedly different from regular pizza, although I’ve yet to formally substantiate such a statement. I may or may not still think tomato pie is just really fresh pizza with a more authentic-sounding name.
I think it goes without saying that my first orders of business were a) putting my brand new original red Hunters to good use in this winter wonderland playground and b) nailing my older brothers in the head multiple times with snowballs. My plan backfired, but I had a lot of fun dodging their tag-teamed frozen artillery in style.
I realized my monogram obsession had turned manic when I started drawing “sZk” in the snow.
The next stop on our family fun-filled agenda was an afternoon visit at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, where you’ll find one of the most breathtaking Tiffany glass exhibits known to man. I spent over an hour drooling over their newest exhibition, In Company with Angels: Seven Rediscovered Tiffany Windows; I had no idea Tiffany glass had such a prominent presence in art history. Ugh, gorgeous!
We were also lucky enough to visit during the holiday “Tech the Halls” Annual Victorian Yuletide Exhibition in Fountain Elms, which showcased the “modern” inventions found under Christmas trees in the 19th century. Call me a nerd, but it was really stinkin’ cool, especially since all the rooms in the former mansion were decorated in fabulously classic holiday decor.
And then there was Tiny’s. This was always my favorite place to eat as a kid, and that really hasn’t changed for both culinary and decorative reasons. They’ve assembled the most impressive collection of nutcrackers, both classic and themed, in the Northeast, and they’ve mastered the most delicious classic cheeseburger in the state.
Next, the Knight-Ziajkas made our way to the F.X. Matt Brewery at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Utica, New York for a brewery tour and good ole fashioned beer tasting. Not only is their Saranac beer a regional treasure (I could drink their pale ale for dayyys, but my trainer wouldn’t like that too much), but they’re the only brewery in the region that survived the prohibition era thanks solely to their root beer. Needless to say, even their soft drinks are delicious.
And when it was time for the lady of the hour, GMJ, my family rented out a banquet hall at the gorgeous and scenic Valley View Country Club, where we celebrated her 80th in style. She was serenaded with a barber shop quartet, shown an emotional 200+ picture slideshow of her favorite memories, and surrounded by 50 of our favorite loved ones– all under one roof for the first time in over a decade. She cried, of course, which made just about every one of us cry, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate this milestone with her.
That view! Why can’t we have snow and mountains in Florida?
And in keeping with the adorable small town Christmas theme running rampant throughout the rest of the city, Valley View was as preciously decorated as its neighbors.
My brothers and I got a private photo session with the birthday girl! 80 never looked so good!
Our last outing had me understandably excited, as I was told we’d be having breakfast at “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which is the cutest little diner in all of upstate New York. The waitresses were all dressed in matching Santa uniforms, and the atmosphere alone was enough to put this place on my Must Go Back list.
Then it was straight to the airport and back to reality. At least I got good use out of my favorite Zara blanket scarf and Express peacoat before the end of the year!
Next stop? DC for New Year’s! Can’t wait! To each and every one of you and your families, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May your holidays sparkle with moments of love and laughter, and I pray that 2015 brings nothing but joy and prosperity!