We are so happy to share our recent bloggers' retreat trip to Aurora, New York, with MacKenzie-Childs for #CampCourtlyCheck. When we were first invited to attend this once-in-a-lifetime trip, we were humbled and confused...why us? We knew other bloggers would be attending but did not learn who they were until a couple of days before the trip. Though neither of us owned any MacKenzie-Childs pieces at the time, we knew that those who did were passionate about the brand. We messaged a couple of our blogger friends who attended a previous trip to MacKenzie-Childs, and they both told us, "You are crazy if you don't go." We already knew in the backs of our minds they would give us the validation we needed, but for us to leave our families for a week, we needed to be certain our trip was worthwhile. Never did we dream that the experience would turn out to be so much more than what we could EVER dream. We would drop everything to go back if given the chance!
Arrival in Aurora, New York
When we first landed in Rochester, New York, we met Laila of Designs by Laila and joined Ali of Little Voice PR for our drive to Aurora. Though we had never met in person, both ladies felt like longtime friends.
The beautiful countryside, with views of farmland outlined by the finger lakes and small town charm, led us into Aurora, population 500. We quickly dubbed the quaint town "Pleasantville" because it honestly felt like a Utopia and too good to be true. Pulling up to the E.B. Morgan House, with its wrap around porch and lake views, we felt transported in time and were thrilled to learn we would call this place "home" for the next several days.
The back porch of the E.B. Morgan House offers the most gorgeous views of Lake Cayuga, one of the finger lakes. Each morning, we would wrap in blankets and sit here drinking our coffee and enjoying each other's company in true serenity.
The views of Cayuga Lake off the back patio were breathtaking and so peaceful.
These adirondack chairs were perfect for drinking coffee in the mornings and for gathering around the fire pit and sipping wine in the evenings.
Visiting Aurora felt like stepping back in time...something out of a Norman Rockwell painting or a movie. The amazing views, the friendly people, the historical places, and the impeccable town made it all so surreal. Even the bank seemed too perfect!
Inns of Aurora
Meeting Lily, Ali's business partner, along with other bloggers attending Camp Courtly Check: Kristy Wicks (Kristy Wicks); Nicki (A Tufted Life); and Mysha (Remington Avenue), felt like meeting people we knew our entire lives. To say our personalities "meshed" is an understatement. Our laughter began the minute we were introduced and never stopped the entire trip.
Every detail of the trip made us feel like royalty. We each had gifts from Ali and Lily, of Little Voice PR, waiting for us in our rooms, filled with goodies from MacKenzie-Childs and local boutiques, along with personal notes and even more gifts from Alex Schloop, the Inns of Aurora Creative Designer and our tour guide for our first official outing: a historical tour of the inns and town. Before heading out on our tour, we met Renee', the E.B. Morgan House Inn Keeper. She was such a delight and always made sure we felt at home.
This house sat next door to the E.B. Morgan House. We wanted so badly to go peek in the windows because it just looked too perfect.
This inn, with its modern decor, was one of our favorites!
The courtly check pattern on the walls is not wall paper but instead hand painted! Can you imagine the detail and time that went into this one room?
Though we loved touring each of the inns, we felt so special to stay in the Morgan House. A portrait of E.B. Morgan hangs in the library of the house he constructed in 1857 at a cost of $50,000. Morgan, who was born in Aurora, maintained a house there his whole life. He was an early investor in Wells Fargo and the American Express Company as well as a founding investor in The New York Times.
Each of our rooms at E.B. Morgan House had a fireplace and was uniquely decorated. We were spoiled every evening with wine and cheese at 5:00 P.M. and at nightly turn down, we were treated to chocolates on our pillow and classical music softly playing in the rooms and throughout the entire house. After dinner, we girls would gather together to bounce ideas off one another or to just laugh our heads off. We certainly felt at home.
We would have been honored to stay in any of the Inns of Aurora, but our experience at the Morgan House would be hard to top.
After touring the inns and town, we had a floral arranging class with Whitney Nichols, a local florist. She shared the most beautiful blooms from her own garden and encouraged us to clip trimmings from foliage outside to create our own unique arrangement. Our vessel was a pumpkin, the perfect fall piece!
Whitney taught us well!
Throughout the week, we loved seeing our arrangements displayed in the dining room of the Morgan House.
After floral arranging, we enjoyed the most delicious dinner and had the pleasure of meeting John J. Ling, CEO of MacKenzie-Childs. He asked for each of us to share our passions and what drives and motivates us, and it was evident that he is the kind of leader anyone would be honored to work for.
Highlight of Trip
The highlight of our trip was touring the entire barn property at MacKenzie-Childs, where we saw the creation of pieces from beginning to end. We learned about the company's start in 1983 as a tiny pottery business and how the brand took off once Neiman Marcus gave them their first large deal. To see the process each piece goes through prior to its completion made us appreciate the final product even more. We saw first-hand every detail of production from formation in the molds to the final steps. The fact that each piece is a unique work of art made by hand and not mass produced gave us an added appreciation.
Today, the brand is known and loved all over the world as not only a pottery company but also as a company who sells ceramics, tableware, furniture, home and garden decor, plus so much more.
There is not enough time to take in every detail of the Farmhouse. Each room features the most whimsical decor imaginable and is filled with artistic extravagance and features. One would have to tour the home multiple times to take in everything!
Two of the days we had lunch in the dining room in the Farm House. The table settings were always decorated with the most beautiful florals, and the dinnerware was too pretty to eat on. The food, too, was beyond delicious, and we often wondered what made us deserve such royal treatment!
The grounds and the production side of the property were both immaculate. As artisans craft their wares, the atmosphere is peaceful and nothing like we have ever experienced on a job site. What would appear to be tedious or stressful work instead looked relaxing and enjoyable! In fact, we made a point to ask every person we came in contact with about how long he/she had been with the company. It was important for us to find out if the employees felt the same passion for the product as was displayed. We could not believe that time and again, employees sang their praises for the brand. Of the people we asked, none had been there fewer than 12 years. One artisan even explained that she had been with the company for 32 years! Knowing that employees were obviously invested in the brand made us love MacKenzie-Childs even more.
Creating our own MacKenzie-Childs mugs was an experience we will cherish forever!
We went through the process of preparing the unfired clay mugs by first trimming the rough edges and then by smoothing the clay. What the artisans make look so simple is actually an art and talent in itself because it was so easy to take off too much clay in the process.
Placing the official MacKenzie-Childs stamp on the bottom of the mug was so special.
The Highland Sheep were so beautiful. Seeing them on the farm looked like seeing something in a painting. We all had to stop to pet and feed the sheep before moving on with our tour.
Besides floral arranging and pottery making, we enjoyed wine tasting at Bet the Farm tasting room on Cayuga Lake. Here, we experienced not only the best wines from the Finger Lakes winemakers but also selected cheeses and gourmet cookies which are sold in the boutique-scale winery. The couple who own Bet the Farm winery share the story behind finding the perfect name for their company on each bottle of wine:
SHE SAID: "I don't know if I can do this."
HE SAID: "Don't worry. I'll help you. You can bet the farm on it."
Thus, a winery was born...
Kristy and Shalia share a glass of wine and a great conversation before Kristy has to leave.
Before saying our final goodbyes, we lingered on the porch and tried to savor our final moments in Aurora. These girls are no longer "insta friends" but lifelong friends whom we think the world of. Once again, we believe it was "a God thing" that we were chosen to be a part of the MacKenzie-Childs Camp Courtly Check Bloggers' Trip, and we are so grateful that each of these women has been placed in our lives and for the opportunities that we have been given.
Every person we encountered along our journey valued our input and even asked our opinions about product development. They made us feel as though we had been a part of their team for many years. Though it sounds cliche to say we "felt like family," the truth is, we did.
After seeing first hand the passion driven brand, meeting with the CEO John J. Ling, the Creative Director Rebecca Proctor, the Vice-President of Marketing Larry Shaw, and every other person we came in contact with, we understood the joy each piece brings to its customer. We have always been motivated by working hard, being nice to people, and striving to inspire others. We have never experienced a brand quite like MacKenzie-Childs that exudes these same passions. We will forever cherish our pieces because we have an appreciation for the products and the company. We are beyond grateful for our opportunity to meet life-long friends and to be connected with a brand as remarkable as MacKenzie-Childs.