Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Sunday, February 28, 2021

New Historic and Stylish Hotel in New Orleans

 The French Quarter in New Orleans hasn’t seen a new hotel in decades. No surprise, considering the city wants to keep this district historically significant. Now there’s a new player on the block that manages to meld historical significance with contemporary stylishness. This is my latest for Forbes Life on ONE11 Hotel. 







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Saturday, February 27, 2021

An Abundance of Nature in Ridgefield, Connecticut

 I’ve continued my explorations in Ridgefield, Connecticut, revisiting some sights and learning more about the landscape.



In Connecticut, the short, mostly suburban Ridgefield Rail-Trail takes on a sylvan vibe along the section where it intersects two trailheads that veer into dense nature preserves.




I hiked in a still woodland dense with mountain laurel, red maple and hickory, occasionally passing a running brook and boulders left from the last Ice Age. Impressionist painter J Alden Weir once owned and farmed this Connecticut property (Weir Preserve-Weir Farm Art Center) that’s traced by stone walls and has long inspired artists.




One of many old barns and other original structures sitting among the boulders and fields at the Weir Farm National Historic Site. This stunning landscape, where Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir lived, has an active artist-in-residence program








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Sunday, February 14, 2021

Wearing a Double, Well-Fitting Mask

Two months ago when I began wearing a double face mask many people thought this was overkill. I also began using tape along the edges of the mask that’s closest to my face to assure a good seal. Finally, also to assure a good fit, I began knotting the ear loops of the surgical mask. Imagine my surprise when I just read that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends double masking and well-fitting masks in order to significantly reduce the spread of SARS-CoV2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.






 
Here’s what I’m wearing face mask wise:


1- two-ply cotton mask with a filter (with a nose wire) made of non-woven, spun-bon polypropylene


2- three-ply surgical mask


3- Cabeau Tape that I use to secure the mask under my eyes, along my cheeks and under my chin


4- goggles

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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Green Spaces and Art in Connecicut

 Just one hour from my home in New York City, Ridgefield, Connecticut is blessed with abundant green spaces.




On my recent visit, every morning I jogged through the historic district populated by grand properties, with some houses dating to the 18th century.


In addition to lush expanses, Ridgefield also is known for its creative institutions. Near the trailhead for the two-some-mile rail-trail — a converted rail corridor— I spotted this photo mural outside the Ridgefield Guild of Artists. This is Miles Davis by Anton Corbijn. 





The Weir Farm National Historic Site and the adjacent nature reserve is a bucolic expanse of emerald fields, rugged stone walls, serene wetlands and shaded trails. Named for Impressionist painter, J. Alden Weir who lived here, this stunning venue has long been and continues to be an inspiration to artists.





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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Sale: Innovative and Creative Products That I Designed - Locally Made


Winter already seems particularly long this year. So I decided to hold a Winter Sale. (Kind of a way of celebrating the days growing longer.) Anyone using this discount code 17F47WX when shopping in my store will get 20% off on any of my products. (The sale is on until the last day of Winter, March 19.) They are all locally made, mostly in the New York/New Jersey area. Shopping locally and favoring small businesses — especially those owned by women — is important to me. That’s why I joined the New York City Fair Trade Coalition. To find out more about my products that I designed and created, click here for my interview with the NYC Fair Trade Coalition. You’ll learn about my 7-in-1 wallet, cross-body bag, fashionable multi-pocket vest for women, any-occasion photo greeting cards and, of course, the quirky AngryJ. Find out why AngryJ is a hit with adults. 


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Saturday, January 16, 2021

My Interview: Hiking An Awe-Inspiring Trail in Spain

I’ve hiked all over the world. And, by far, the trail that always puts a smile on my face when I think back to my journey is the Camino dos Faros (Lighthouse Way) in Galicia Spain. A streaming Spanish program recently invited me to talk about my experiences on this trek and why I adore this trail. This is my 10-minute interview with Cristina Alonso.





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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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