Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Hotel Stays and Travels (by car) in the time of COVID - Strategies

For the last many months, I’ve been renting a car and visiting scenic (and peaceful) locales within two hours of my home in New York City. That mostly meant small towns and villages in Connecticut and New York’s Hudson Valley. Here are some of the strategies I used in the time of COVID to deal with the car rental and the accommodations.



Here’s the COVID kit I pack for the trip:


— Clorox wipes


— DIY bleach disinfectant: two tablespoons of bleach to one quart of water in a spray bottle


— paper towels


— two-ply face masks and three-ply surgical masks


— polypropylene face mask filters


— goggles


— alcohol swabs


— alcohol-based hand sanitizer


— a bottle of 70% alcohol


— latex-free gloves


— detergent to wash face masks and washable polypropylene filters



Strategies with the Car Rental:


— Rent at a small location, not an airport. 


— I rent mid-week, hoping it’s less busy than a weekend


— All transactions are done outdoors


— Even though the car has been cleaned/disinfected, I disinfect all contact surfaces myself with bleach


— I keep the windows open for the first hour of the journey to allow for fresh airflow


— I choose a destination that’s short — more than 2-3 hours or from home — so there are no need for bathroom breaks



Strategies with the Accommodation:


— I choose only small hotels/inns where I can speak with the person in charge — preferably the owner — and directly assess their COVID consciousness


— I assess their COVID strategies for disinfecting and cleaning, as well as whether the staff (and guests) must wear masks over their nose and mouth 100% of the time in public places


— I ask them when was my room last occupied by a guest. I prefer a room that was unoccupied for a minimum of 24 hours. 


—  I request that they leave at least one window open for fresh air


— I choose a room that doesn’t require navigating through the building to get to my door, preferably a room in the rear of the accommodation with a separate entrance.


— I ask if I can eat in the room or, if it’s good weather, if there is a place outdoors to eat where I will not have to interact with other guests. After all, I’ll be getting take-out meals only. (I don’t eat indoors nor do I eat meals at outdoor venues near other patrons.)


— Check-in is best done contactless


— I request that no one enter my room during my stay, in other words, no room service


— if they serve breakfast, I ask if it can be delivered outside my door


— Once I’m in my room, I disinfect all contact surfaces with bleach


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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

COVID Protection: Goggles and Face Masks - Which Materials Are Best


As the year comes to an end, wearing a face mask is more important than ever. I wear one 100% of the time when I’m outside and most certainly when I’m forced to go indoors to buy groceries or go to the pharmacy. I’ve noticed many people who do wear a face covering but they either don’t wear it properly — not placing it over their nose and mouth — or they wear a neck gaiter/buff which is not considered adequate in terms of significantly reducing the transmission of aerosolized droplets from being expelled when breathing, speaking, sneezing or coughing. Not only is it important to wear a face mask properly and to wear an actual mask, but the material that it’s made of is equally important. I’ve included links at the bottom of this post on face masks and the materials that seem to be the most efficient at reducing droplets transmission. Not everyone has access to N95 masks. Many epidemiologists, public health physicians and pulmonologists recommend what’s being referred to as hybrid masks, aka a mask made of multiple different fabrics rather than a single one. So I wear a double layer cloth mask and between the outer and inner cotton layers I place a polypropylene rectangle in the filter pocket. (It can be washed in warm water with detergent.) This makes for a three layer cotton-polypropylene-cotton mask. I got the breathable poly — it’s non-woven, spun-bond polypro — by cutting up a reusable tote/conference/grocery bag. 


(You’ll recognize it by looking closely at the fabric where there are lots of little dimples.) 


Also, because rates are climbing all over the country, when I’m indoors (to shop) I wear a 3-ply surgical mask on top of this, which makes for 6 layers! And it’s plenty breathable.


Not only do I wear a mask (masks), but when indoors I always wear goggles atop my glasses.

I know I must look like a freak, but I don’t care. And this is how I’ll be dressing until I get vaccinated. After the vaccine, I may not wear the goggles, but I still will wear my cloth mask and still social distance and wash my hands regularly. 


For more information on masks and mask materials, check out these sources:


Source 1


Source 2


Source 3


Source 4



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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Gear Review: Mega-Pod for Outdoor Shelter

 I’m a designer, writer and photographer who is accustomed to traveling all over the world. And, when I’m in town, which is New York City, I write in coffee shops and other venues that provide ample natural light through spacious windows. The pandemic lockdown has changed all that, where I’m forced to work in a small, dark dwelling. 





A few months into the pandemic, I started researching some sort of outdoor tent or canopy structure that would allow me to effectively deal with weather while enjoying natural light. That’s how I came upon the company Under the Weather. They make the Mega 4-person Pod.


It’s supposed to be great — as the name states — for dealing with “weather.” (The product was even on Shark Tank.) To me that should mean rain, snow, sleet, wind and so forth. It’s a product that doesn’t need any set-up. No need to rely on tent poles or even stakes, though it comes with several stakes. I read the reviews and they were, for the most part, favorable. The only negatives I saw were a few that said the zippers stuck or failed, that it was too small for 3 or 4 people, or that it was difficult to fold back up.


But I was desperate so I purchased this product. Am I happy with it? Definitely not. In fact, how much do I dislike the Mega Pod, let me count the ways. But, will I return it — the company offered to refund my money? No, I will not because, as I said, I’m desperate.


Here’s my review of the Mega 4-person Pod and all that I like — they are only a few things — and all I dislike, which are multifold.


I never watched the Shark Tank presentation before purchasing my pod. But I recently did. According to the inventor’s (owner’s) Shark Tank presentation, the pod is great for outdoor spectator sports — soccer, winter football and so forth.


In the presentation, he asks: are you tired of freezing your butt off, getting poured on while watching the game, dealing with wind, boiling in the sun in the summer? 


So, the pod will deal with all of this, supposedly. And, it’s claimed to be 35-degrees warmer inside than outside when it’s cold.


This is what the company says on its website: “From countless soccer games and game day BBQs to once-in-a-lifetime road trips, wherever life may take you, bring along our WeatherPod™ tents. Incidental downpours, frigid temps, and creepy crawlies will have nothing on your timeless family moments.”


I’ll start with what I like about the pod, since that’s a short list:


1- No insects or spiders or other creatures can penetrate the pod when it’s all zipped up.


2- On a cold, sunny day when there’s direct sunlight, it’s nice and toasty in the pod.


3- When it’s barely drizzling, everything is fine. 


4- Should there be a gentle breeze, there’s no problem.


5- If there are just a few snow flakes, again, no problem


But, when I use the pod, I’m not sitting in it for 7 hours a day. I go inside the house for 30-minute breaks, whether to make lunch or a snack or for a bathroom break. And that’s when I noticed all the troubles with the pod. (I would expect that if someone is watching a game, they also would stand on line for a burger/hot dog or the rest room, so going into my house for 30 minutes hardly sounds extraordinary.)


What I don’t like:


Most of my dislikes come from the pod design. You see, unlike any tent I have ever owned — and there have been many — the pod’s roof is concave, not pitched or convex. Doesn’t sound like a great idea for wet weather now, does it? Here’s what I found:


1- When there is moderate rain or, as the website stated an “incidental downpour,” the rain collects like a lake on the rooftop. Now, if I’m sitting inside the pod when this occurs, I can certainly stand up and push my hand up to allow the water to drain, doing so every 15 to 20 minutes or so. But when I went into the house for half-an-hour and then returned to the pod, I found that the weight of all the water puddling on the roof was so great, that one end of the pod collapsed! This happened twice since I bought it months ago. And, those other times when it didn’t collapse, there was so much rain puddling on the roof, that I had to gingerly enter the pod and attempt to push my hand up before it all did collapse.


2- The same thing happened with wet snow/sleet. It collects on the roof and its weight presses down. When I’m in the pod, I can, again, stand up and press my hands up to allow it all to drain — though this was more difficult than with rain water. 


3- How does the pod deal with wind? If it’s a gentle breeze, no problem, as I mentioned. But in the last couple of months we had some 25-35 mph gusts. Of course, I had the pod staked. And, of course, trouble again started when I went into the house. Thirty minutes later I returned to find that the pod — which contained my chair, blanket and tiny table — unstaked itself and blew into the neighbor’s property. It would’ve kept blowing down the street if it weren’t for her tall fence. Ever since that happened, I make sure I remain in the pod when there are any wind gusts but I found that when the wind hits the lightweight pod, it feels like it’ll take off with me in it. Of course, that couldn’t happen but it hardly feels stable. And the stakes are not very functional. Rather than a typical tent stake, these are in the shape of a number “7” without any curve. So, it’s very easy for the pod to unstake itself in the wind.


4- How does it do in very cold weather when it’s cloudy? Well, today the temperature outside is 30 degrees F. And the temperature inside? It’s 35 degrees. So it’s hardly 35 degrees warmer. Then again, maybe if you crowd 3-4 people shoulder to shoulder inside, it might be warmer. Who knows?


5- How does it do in the heat? I sat in the pod in the summer and it felt like a sauna. It was unbearably hot when the sun beat down directly on it. And unzipping three of the four sides a bit — just enough to let in the air but not enough to let in creatures — did not help. It was still sweltering. 


6- What about the size? I can’t imagine 3 or 4 people with chairs being able to fit in this pod without being shoulder to shoulder. It would fit 2 people comfortably.


What has been my solution to these myriad problems?


I just installed a tall tent-like stake in the middle of the pod, which turns the roof from concave to convex.


I’m surprised that, after reading so many reviews of this product, not one person has mentioned any of the problems I’ve discussed here. I wonder why? 



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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Luxe Properties in Scotland Connecting Guests With Nature

At most any posh accommodation, pampering is de rigueur. But, I look beyond the spa features and wine tastings, craving myriad outdoor experiences. Two luxe properties in Aberdeenshire, Scotland are not only set in bucolic surroundings, but both are rich in activities that connect guests with the natural environment. This is my latest for Forbes on Glen Dye & Cottages and The Fife Arms. 






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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Holiday Gift Guide - Local, Sustainable, Fair Trade

I’m so happy to be part of the New York City Faire Trade Coalition’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide. Here you’ll find gifts that are from small businesses and women-owned businesses that make it easy to shop fair, sustainably and local. (My products are in the Made in New York section.)

Even better, each of the creatives in the Gift Guide is offering a gift card — $25 off — that you can use yourself or you can give it as a gift. https://www.nycfairtradecoalition.org/holiday-shop

In the guide, you’ll find my any-occasion greeting cards, cross-body bag and, of course, my quirky AngryJ plush dolly. (She may be angry but she’ll make you laugh, something we all desperately need now.







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Friday, November 27, 2020

Wearing a Face Mask with Eyeglasses - Fogging No More

 Sadly, many people come up with all sorts of reasons not to wear masks, including that their glasses fog. Of course, I’ve been masked up since mid-March, whenever I’m around other people outdoors and, of course, indoors when I go shopping. (No indoor dining or bars for me.) But, I’ve had to (unsuccessfully) deal with major lens fogging. Eyeglasses fog because the warm exhaled air migrates through gaps in the mask. I’ve tried everything to de-fog my eyeglasses, from applying liquid soap, shaving cream, an anti-fog spray, and so forth. I ordered more than half a dozen different sorts of masks that fit my face differently. Nothing worked. That is, until the manufacturer of Cabeau Tape sent me a sample to test. Now, this sounded like no way would it work.

It’s pre-cut small pieces of medical-grade tape that you stick around your nose, under your eye and in front of your ears to “seal” the gaps in your mask. The first time I tried it, it didn’t work. The fogging persisted. But, then I was more diligent in how I applied the tape under my eye and nose area. Success. Fogging be gone! And the tape was comfortable, easy to apply, and adequate stickiness so that it did not lift off from my cloth mask.

Here’s a video that helped me figure out how to efficiently use the tape. I found that using a mirror assures that you properly applied the tape to “seal” any gaps.

I’m so happy with this product that I just ordered two more rolls of tape.










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Sunday, November 22, 2020

New Collection: Any-Occasion Photo and Art Greeting Cards

 


After so many months of social distancing, giving an any-occasion greeting card with your personal message may be more important than ever before. I’m introducing my new collection of photo and art cards.

Each of my more than 2 dozen different any-occasion notecards (they’re blank inside) features one of my nature/landscape photos or paintings from my around-the-world travels. They are in limited supply — some images only have a quantity of 1 or 2 available so why not make it a surprise gift not knowing which image you’ll receive — and can be purchased singly or as a set of 5 or 12 different images, or as the entire collection. The note cards can be purchased here. 

















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Sunday, November 15, 2020

My Short Comedy Film

 I’m so excited to share my short comedy film, “Such A Deal,” that I co-wrote. 








“Having just arrived in NYC, a mishap leaves Grace without a place to stay for the weekend. Finding a temporary room in a pinch, only to find out that it’s not the “charming tiny room she expected it to be.”



Everything about the making of this film was magical, from start to finish! I feel amazingly lucky to have worked with such a cadre of creative, supportive and inspiring people. 


It’s streaming here.


🎭

Starring: @ebonyobsidian

Co-starring: @damianemcee


Addt’l cast: @clifftycent

@danceasaur


✍️ 🎬

Story by: @jcreaturetravel

Written by: @jcreaturetravel/@dionnafilm

Directed by: @dionnafilm

Produced by: @kenziemcheather

Casting: @angeliea


🎥

1st AD: @sarahakinsey

DP: @barbieleungdp

AC: @jgowesky

Stedicam: @eddielebron

Gaffer: @mdlcsquared

Sound Recordist: @mariyachuli

HMU: @softglam.py

Set Photography: @shimel_photo


🎼 🎞️

Score: @cathjoymusic

Color Correction: @neptunepost

Post Sound: @oddly_enough_productions



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Sunday, November 8, 2020

A Creative and Comfy Inn in Connecticut

A stay at the Homestead Bed and Breakfast, a family-owned inn in Madison, Connecticut, couldn’t be more comfortable and comforting, especially in these stress-filled days of the pandemic. During my recent stay, I was swaddled in a large, white-on-white guest room with nothing but views of nature. It’s what my soul required.


The public spaces are able to meld the vintage (an array of vintage cameras, typewriters, stereoscopes and other objects) with the whimsical. I’m a big fan of this playful display.


There are so many artistic surprises at this inn. I found this table and wee gourd on my patio.




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