Winter holidays around Rochester, NY.
December 2, 2012 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Lighten up my dour winter holidays spent with family in western NY.

I plan to spend 8-10 days around Christmas and New Year's with my mother and younger brother (17) in Rochester, NY. My family has no holiday traditions, no local friends or relatives to visit, doesn't cook holiday meals, doesn't decorate trees, doesn't travel, etc. Help me not feel like crap before the barrage of happy holiday media.

We're in Rochester, NY. I'm not necessarily asking for regional tips, but post 'em if you got 'em! General brainstorming tips are very much appreciated as well. My holiday trajectory typically involves flipping through the events section in the paper and going, "Oh, this one is sold out," and "Tickets to this one are $50 per person." On New Year's Eve, we sit around and watch the ball drop, and then we go to sleep.

Oh, and we've been to the George Eastman House approximately a hundred thousand times.

Budget: I'm not a poor student, but I'm close. I'll be funding pretty much everything.

Also! Anticipating suggestions of "cook them a nice holiday meal": I'm not a great cook, and my mother's apartment kitchen is tiny, cramped, and poorly equipped (for example, she likes her knives to be very dull). Every time I've attempted to entertain with a NYE dinner, I've been met with confusion and protestations ("why are you doing this," "this is money wasted," "no one is going to eat this").

Many thanks for your help.
posted by Nomyte to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oof, do you really need to be there the full 8-10 days?

A lot of my family lives in Rochester, and the thing I like to do to get away from it all for a bit (and this is going to sound sad) is spend a good 1-2 hours at the Pittsford Wegman's. It is the Disney World of supermarkets. While you're there you can pick up some really delicious food for the family from the to-go area (which is approx the size of ten football fields, slight exaggeration).
posted by imalaowai at 12:57 PM on December 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I suppose this is implied in the post, but do you enjoy spending time with your mother and brother? I spend lots of time with my family where we just like... hang out. Sometimes for a week or so at a time with vacations to the middle of nowhere. Play cards or board games, sometimes, or watch TV together. Go for walks. Go get coffee and snacks in the afternoon. We're not much into food or traditions, but we, you know, like each other, so it's fine. Are you looking for activities to do with your family, or activities to do to avoid your family?
posted by brainmouse at 12:58 PM on December 2, 2012

Wow, I so hear you on the holiday events portion of your stay. Seems like a lot of places in the Northeast U.S. don't actually have holiday events ON HOLIDAYS - it's always the first couple of weeks of December and then it's assumed that everyone is having Family Holiday Fun.

Is it necessary to stay for 8-10 days? Could you just do 3-4, maybe make that the Christmas visit and head home well before New Year's? I don't know how far you're travelling, so 3-4 days may not be feasible, but I keep my family visits to 3 nights for the most part.

It sounds like you're surrounded with Debbie Downers, frankly, but maybe you could suggest movies? Can you take a portable DVD player or tablet to plug into the TV? Board games?

If they don't want to do anything, just make sure you have a lot of good reading on hand; take work home if you have to. I load up my tablet with tons of stuff before I go visit family.

Seconding Wegman's, anywhere. That store is a wonder.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:01 PM on December 2, 2012

Do you want to do stuff with your family? Or are you mostly looking to keep yourself entertained while you endure the 8-10 days (and as imalaowai says, do you really need to do the full 8-10 days)? What do you like to do?

Over my Christmas break, I'm probably going to read a lot of books, watch some movies, go hiking (or snowshoeing). If I feel like I need to get out of the house I might go out to the movies, or cruise through neighborhoods with pretty Christmas lights, or go hear some Christmassy music (maybe even at church - they don't sell out and the tickets aren't $50).

The parts I spend with my family, we'll probably mostly just hang out like brainmouse's family does (there are more of us, which makes it easier). Some of the book-reading, snowshoeing, and movies will be with family.
posted by mskyle at 1:02 PM on December 2, 2012

If you can sneak out for some time to yourself, to have a nice drink and a little bite, we love the Owl House. They make really, really fantastic and interesting cocktails. If you can all go there for a meal, even better.

We liked the Public Market, found through this previous Ask and there was this one with other good recommendations.

There's skating at Manhattan Square Park and Ice Rink right near the Strong Children's museum. The interactive part of the museum was not our favourite part - we loved the arcade area and the section of Antique Toys, and spent way more time there.

If you drive, taking a little trip to a small town in the Finger Lakes like Skaneateles for a bite to eat and a walk around, because they do charming festive things, could be something to try.

We like to find little train rides - there are some in the area and they're not terribly expensive and pretty fun, even for adults.
posted by peagood at 1:04 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's true, it's a challenge for me to enjoy spending time with my family. My mother works at a physically demanding and relatively low-paying job. At her age she's tired a lot, and she has a pretty down demeanor. My younger brother doesn't always speak or act with the greatest consideration, and has some troubled tendencies. But I feel (and they definitely try to make me feel) like I owe it to them to spend at least some of the holidays in Rochester. I do already visit them so seldom, and their lives are ever so dreary. I just skipped out on spending Thanksgiving with them, and since I usually avoid spending New Year's with them, I kind of feel obligated to make it up this year. To be honest, there isn't really anyone out here I'm looking forward to spending the holidays with, so it's not like I'm missing out on anything by staying with family.
posted by Nomyte at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2012

Is Syracuse too far to travel? There's Lights on the Lake.
posted by knile at 1:17 PM on December 2, 2012

What do you eat? Can it be more festive? It doesn't have to be a turkey dinner, with trimmings. The rotisserie chicken from the grocery is tasty, and you can add cranberry jelly, or even cranberry ice. I make it with 1 can cran. jelly, 3 cups cran juice cocktail, and the juice of 2 limes, blended, frozen, and mashed as it freezes. You can buy mashed potatoes, bake a sweet potatoes as you would white potatoes, etc. Chinese food is fun for New Years. Make something yummy for Christmas breakfast, even if it's cinnamon rolls from the freezer section. Or make holiday cookies and decorate them.

Bring cards, a stash of pennies, a book of rules, and play penny-ante poker. This brought out the card shark in my Mom, which is a fun memory. Board games are fun, as are puzzles. Every time somebody tries to squelch your fun, ignore the negativity, and invite them to join you. Do you like to do crafts or projects? You've got tons of time to do some.

Go for a walk every day, and there may be interesting things in the area. Find out if there are any art exhibits, concerts, etc. NYE is usually over-booked, but maybe there's some good music other days.

You can start fun events that may become tradition. Watch as many Oscar-nomination-likely films as possible. Or watch the best 100 films or the Imdb's top 250. Go to the big dept stores and check out the decorations, or drive around and find the best streets with lots of lights. Niagara Falls is close.

Get books from the library, and ask your family to read them with you, and have a mini book club. Or read War and Peace, or any other hefty book that might be on your list. Do you play an instrument, or have you ever wanted to? You've got time to get a good start.
posted by theora55 at 1:22 PM on December 2, 2012

I like Theora's idea of a mini film festival with a theme. Or buy (or take from the library) DVDs of a couple of seasons of a cable TV show and have a marathon.
posted by BibiRose at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: My mother's English isn't great, and my younger brother doesn't speak my mother's language very well.
posted by Nomyte at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2012

Yeah, we don't really do Christmas terribly well in Rochester, do we?

It might be outside your price range, but Geva's doing A Christmas Carol again and you can get student and senior discounts.

If you're here the weekend of the 14th through the 16th and any of you are interested in history, Genesee Country Museum has a neat holiday thing going on (called Yuletide in the Country).

If you feel like being active and are on the west side of Rochester, sledding at Northampton Park on Rt. 31 towards Brockport is pretty good and is free. There's a ski hill, too, which is hilariously undersized and involves a tow rope instead of chairs. Head into Brockport for a cute main street with holiday decorating. Get a coffee at Java Junction and admire the mustache of Harvey, the surly owner, from afar.

If you're interested in looking at lights, here's a list of good places to check out. I can vouch for the lights on Rahway in Gates. People there take it very seriously. Bring hot chocolate and tune into WRMM 101.3 for Christmas music.

Not Christmas-related at all, but the Strong Museum of Play (mentioned by Peagood) now has a butterfly garden, which is really awesome for adults and is also a delightful break from Rochester's grey skies and sleety weather. We're taking our kid there for her birthday this month, actually.

Also not Christmassy, but always good: the Public Market (get an empanada from Juan and Maria's!) and yes, the Pittsford Wegmans. (Although your profile says you're in MD, so you might be familiar with the phenomenon of upscale Wegmans stores, Pittsford is the Holy Grail.)
posted by SeedStitch at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2012

Rochester in winter -- goodness, I feel for you. It is the sort of place that feels like nothing if you don't have a big family to keep you aloft. It's like being stuck in a small town or suburb, but it's a city and you can't shake off the feeling that there should be some big-city fun to go along with the urban decay.

The key to having a decent time is getting out of the house a good amount and connecting with other people. A few non-holiday things that come to mind:

1. Organize a Metafilter meetup!
2. You're an academic, right? See if you can set up an "informational interview" or two with someone (professor or grad student) in your (desired?) field. I know it seems odd, but people do like to talk about themselves and their work.
3. Volunteer. Food banks are usually busy this time of year and could use an extra set of hands to unload boxes.
posted by stowaway at 2:03 PM on December 2, 2012

(seconding Stowaway's suggestion of a meetup. We can all use a little extra cheer, right?)
posted by SeedStitch at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: We did A Christmas Carol on rush tickets a couple years ago, it wasn't bad.

I went to high school in Rochester (go SOTA!), so I'm very aware of the public market, the Wegmans, Strong Museum, etc. My mother gets anxious and somewhat confused if I take out to eat out ("hey, let's drive across town to eat some empanadas!"), but I can definitely convince my younger brother to do this sort of thing. Most holidays kind of end with the two of us going around town while my mother stays home by herself.
posted by Nomyte at 2:08 PM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Meetup proposal posted!
posted by Nomyte at 2:23 PM on December 2, 2012

I mean this in the kindest way possible, but nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen, and you are coming at this with a sort of defeatist attitude. There is no kitchen in the world too cramped to make a batch of cookies and a few bowls of popcorn. Your mother may resist this. Do it anyway, and explain to her that you are doing it for your brother. You have the right to insist that your mother's problems do not dictate your world.

You may not be able to offer your mom much cheer, and for that I am very sorry for you both. But do these things for your brother, and for yourself, and for the future. Joyeaux noel.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 2:41 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Spend some time browsing rocwiki, starting here - - during the depths of winter, we take visitors to feed the birds by hand at mendon ponds park, we go sledding at cobbs hill or behind school # 1, we hit artisan works for more art than you can imagine, we take them to stever's candies for a willy wonka type experience, we eat brunch at Mario's via abuzzi if they have $$, we take them skating at manhattan square park, we take them to the strong museum of play if they have little kids, or if they like old school video games, we leave town and take route 96 to Ithaca if they are tired of Rochester....
posted by chr1sb0y at 4:44 PM on December 2, 2012

If you're looking for something awesome to do, Rochester's hottest club is Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at The Strong. It's got everything...

1000 kinds of butterflies... tortoises... a toucan named Socrates...

(Seriously though, top it off with a milkshake at Tom Wahl's, next to the carousel.)
posted by Wild_Eep at 5:36 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Took the family to the Strong Museum of Play and the butterfly garden exhibit. At $17 per person, ouch! We spent a few quarters at the old-timey video game arcade, but there just isn't very much there to justify the steep ticket price, unless you have young kids.
posted by Nomyte at 8:06 AM on December 24, 2012

Response by poster: I asked for the proposed meetup to be taken down for lack of interest. Rochester is now 0 for 2 in IRL.
posted by Nomyte at 9:25 PM on December 26, 2012

Response by poster: OK, follow-up time: my brother and I walked some trails around the area (e.g.). It was muddy and wet. Later that week it snowed and it turned out that I just don't have the clothes/shoes to walk in a foot of snow, so the outdoor outings stopped. Our mom spent most of Christmas week working the graveyard shift, so she was in no condition to go out and make merry. We did take her out for Indian, which she didn't like. She also developed a cold with constant cough, and her hospital job doesn't come with any sick leave at all. I did go to the science museum with my brother to see the Sue exhibit, but it was frankly underwhelming compared to the DC Smithsonians, especially given the ticket price. All in all, kind of a washout Christmas.
posted by Nomyte at 12:24 PM on January 2, 2013

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