Friday, December 29, 2017

Urban Winter Wear for Frigid Weather

With most of the eastern half of the U.S. swathed in frigidness, there's more reason than ever to layer up with lightweight, but warm, fabrics. These (below) are some of my favorite items most from Smartwool that's noted for its Merino wool products -- many of which I've been wearing the past week when the temperatures in Manhattan hovered around 10 degrees at times.
Men reading this article can scroll through the Smartwool inventory as well as that of Stio, the other company I mention to find warm wear that looks good and performs well.

Smartwool Cascade Valley Asymmetric Tunic Sweater

What's especially great about this tunic is that the zipper on the neckline converts into a thick, cozy turtleneck. So it looks fashionable when paired with leggings but it also performs well in the cold.

I like to pair this dress with a fleece vest, like one sold by Toad & Company.

Smartwool Flip Mitt gloves

Smartwool neck gaitor

Smartwool Marble Ridge cap

Smartwool leggings or tights

And, because I get exceedingly cold, I pair these leggings with fleece tights that are sold by a number of manufacturers.

Smartwool underwear

As to all the additional outwear, I favor jackets made by Stio, a company many people are not familiar with.

This is their Sweetwater Fleece Jacket

I often double this jacket with the insulated Azure XT Hooded Jacket

And if I need even greater body coverage to protect me from the elements, instead of the insulated jacket I'll wear the Hometown Down Parka

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Book Review: Painting Outdoor Scenery

Aside from writing about my travels, taking photographs, and sometimes even recording sounds, whether I’m listening to indigenous music or just the ambient tweeting of birds, I also occasionally paint outdoors, something that’s referred to as plein air painting. I tote a set of watercolor postcards and a micro-size travel watercolor kit. So, when I recently received a copy of The Art of Plein Air Painting: An Essential Guide to Materials, Concepts and Techniques for Painting Outdoors by M. Stephen Doherty, I looked forward to reviewing it. However, I wouldn’t call it an actual guide to the techniques and nor does it provide a wealth of specific tips on plein air painting. Instead, I found it to be of historical interest, with lovely images of Edouard Manet and Claude Monet painting in the woods or in a boat, as well as their works and those of other artists, such as the American Impressionists. There is information provided on the techniques of various painters and schools of painting, including Jean-Baptise-Camille Corot, considered one of the most renowned landscape painter, and The American Hudson River School, most famous for its dramatic images of New York State’s mountains and rivers. However, again, these chapters are now a “how-to,” but rather simply provide inspiration for the budding painter. The back of the book does include some helpful resources, such as additional books on the topic, blogs and a Facebook page that may be worth checking out.

I don’t take my watercolor kit with me on all my trips because there often isn’t enough time to sit quietly and paint. But, among the places that I’ve visited where I have painted outdoor is New Hope, Pennsylvania that’s noted for what’s often referred to as Pennsylvania Impressionism.


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Monday, December 25, 2017

Independent Art Fair - Video

I and a fellow artist, Oliver Correa as well as additional artists: Ash Fox, Cadence Hooks, Ari Fraser, Bibi Tran, Vanessa Burkly, and Marine Naotika recently showed our contemporary paintings, collage works and photography at two independent art fairs that we set up in New York City.  (Oliver showed several paintings of his dad, Alfredo Correa, a prominent Venezuelan artist.) It's something we hope to do several times a year. The fair was a big success, both for the congenial vibe as well as the networking options, and being able to get the word out about independent artists.

My photography prints that are mounted on board are for sale all year on my website . And, any additional photos from my Instagram feed are also available upon request.

This short video shows off some of the varied works from our art fairs.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Modernist Villa in Turks & Caicos

When I visit the Caribbean, whether I'm hiking, visiting a spa, or lounging in my accommodation, I prefer to be connected with nature. So while driving in Turks and Caicos, I visited Sol y Luna, a luxe villa, and immediately fell in love with it, not because of it's architecture -- though there's much to love, given it's modernist sensibility -- but, rather, the fact that no matter where I roamed on the property, I was connected with the sky and sea. I recently interviewed the owner of this stellar property for ForbesLife.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Gear Review: Tiny Convertible Backpack

Unlike most people, I didn't immediately jump on the Fjallraven bandwagon. Fjallraven is a Finland-based manufacturer of sturdy gear that now has a loyal following, including customers who would never set foot on a hiking trail or a ski slope. Nonetheless, I recently got ahold of one of their products, the Kanken Mini that, like many of their products, comes in a rainbow of color choices. I didn't choose this to make a fashion statement, however, but I wanted to test it out as a small convertible bag/backpack to tote along on the plane for the bare necessities as well as once I land as a backpack to carry a beverage, lunch and sunscreen once I hit the trail. It's exceedingly light (barely 8 ounces) and small, measuring just over one inch by five inches by just under eight inches. It's waterproof, which is more than I can say for most packs where you're still forced to wrap everything inside in a plastic bag to keep things dry. I wore it recently during a snowstorm in New York City, and found that it kept everything completely dry. The only downside I found: I literally had to watch a short video in order to figure out how to convert it from a hang bag to a backpack! But, once you follow the directions, you're all set.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Avoiding Extras on Budget Flights

A budget airline may sound like a great deal, until the extras pile up, whether it's the pricy food options or the minimal free carry-on baggage allowances. I get around all of these add-ons by doing the following:

1- I bring my own healthy snacks, such as hummus dip with red pepper and unsalted pretzels; shelled unsalted pistachios, low-fat cheese, high-fiber low-sodium crackers, non-fat plain Greek yogurt, red grapes.

2- I don't check any luggage. Instead, I have a small carry-on that fits the airline's dimensions. I wear my bulkiest clothing and, aside from the shoes I wear, I only pack one additional pair.

3- I don't pay extra for choosing a seat, opting, instead for the seat I'm given.

I was recently interviewed on this topic and my one of my biggest tips is gaining access to an airport lounge without having to pay the day rate. American Express gives its Platinum members free access to lounges all over the world. Not only are lounges a prime place to de-stress but they also have numerous food and beverage options. In some, you're able to take a shower, which is a real perk when traveling across numerous time zones internationally and then having to deal with a long layover. And you can check email without paying a surcharge. Of all the lounges available, its AmEx's own Centurion lounges that are some of the best. The image below reflects just one of the many placid spaces in their lounge at the otherwise horrid LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gear Review: Micro-Sized Toiletries

How much space in your luggage do your toiletries take up? I traveled with someone recently who had full size bottles of shampoo, body wash and conditioner, despite the fact that I told her to take travel sizes because we would be carrying everything on our back as we walked a trail day after day for a week. When I want to significantly cut down on the size of toiletries -- because I'm on a long-distance bike, hike or bike trip --  I can go even more minimal than travel sizes. I use products that fit in the palm of your hand. These are not liquid but rather dry leaves -- like the pages of a book -- and they come as shampoo, laundry wash, body wash, conditioner, and hand wash. I also can pack a small bottle of concentrated liquid soap that does triple duty as a body wash, laundry detergent or dish washing liquid. Trek & Travel or Sea to Summit are some of the brands that you can find on Amazon, REI (including in their stores) or in other outlets that specialize in sporting goods/camping gear.
When I'm on a trail, carrying gear in a backpack for 10 miles or so, every ounce counts.

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Enjoy A Flower-Centric Menu in Bangkok

Anyone who has a love affair with flowers and gardens as I do will want to visit a new restaurant dedicated to edible flowers. Midnight Moon recently opened in Bangkok on the property of the Museum of Floral Culture. The latter museum is ringed by a stunning garden, and the museum honors Queen Sikirit of Thailand who has long been a proponent of preserving gardens. Reserve a table at Midnight Moon for the multi-course, flower-centric menu and you'll also be treated to a guided tour of the garden at night. Find out more about the Museum and Midnight Moon in the article I recently wrote for ForbesLife.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gear Review: Performance Socks

For many travelers, socks are very much an afterthought. But, since many of my journeys involve biking, jogging, hiking or Nordic skiing, socks are a key item that make the difference between a pleasant trek and one laden with misery. Wearing socks with seams, those that are not able to wick away sweat, or that don't fit well or provide adequate cushioning means you may be suffering from blisters or other foot-related aches and pains. I recently tried several different pairs of Feetures, socks designed by a family-owned company in North Carolina. The company offers a lifetime guarantee for a replacement or a refund. And they give back to the community by sponsoring Let Me Run, a nonprofit based in Charlotte that coaches pre-teen and teenage boys not just in a running programs but also in other aspects of well-being and wellness, such as having respect for self and others. The socks, which have wickable fibers so sweat dissipates from the skin, come in different levels of cushioning, depending on your activity and needs. And, when I tried out the pair with max cushioning recently on a run, I found the compression on my arches quite comfortable. I’m bringing three or four pair on my next journey.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gear Review: Slick Looking but Non-Slip Water Worthy Shoes

When I do a restaurant review, I’ve found that even top-tier restaurants often fail on the desserts. Everything from appetizers to entrees are creatively prepared with surprising flavors and textures, but the desserts almost always revolve around the tried and true: cheesecake, creme brulee, molten or a dense chocolate cake, and ice cream or sorbet. This analogy seems to hold for shoe manufacturers. Everything about shoe aesthetics, form and function seem to hold up until you deal with the sole. Specifically, I’m referring to soles that are constructed of materials with no traction whatsoever, making it unsafe to walk across a slick, wet surface. This can be a metallic embellishment on a pavement, or a marble floor in a hotel, or a wooden floor that’s just been mopped. In all these cases, even a good-looking, high-priced shoe fails, leaving the consumer off balance. As a traveler who walks exceedingly briskly, I’m always in the market for a fashionable, functional shoe with a sticky sole. Astral to the rescue.

I just found out about this company that manufactures shoes. which all have a sticky outsole made with a rubber that provides significant grip. And that’s the case even for their stylish Mary Janes and even their flip-flops. In addition, Astral’s shoes are designed to hold up even in a drenching rain. Another plus is that the company is committed to sustainability.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Chattanooga, Tennessee in Pictures

Say "Chattanooga" and the first thing most people think of is Choo Choo. Not me. I think contemporary art, beyond the Hunter Museum of American Art. Two sculpture gardens: one in the Bluff View Art District and the other is a short bike ride away: Sculpture Fields in Montague Park, are both worth a visit. But there's art whether sculptures or murals along Main Street or MLK Boulevard or in several smaller galleries all over town. This YouTube video slideshow is a window into Chattanooga's edgy art scene.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Artisan Chocolates in the Finger Lakes

Wherever in the world I happen to be, there are several things I make it my point to find: parks or gardens, coffee shops, wine bars and chocolate emporia. The Finger Lakes region of New York State has all of these. But, one of the most memorable experience of my visit was sampling the artisan chocolates Claire Benjamin creates at her shop: Rue Claire Lavender Farm & Artisan Chocolates.  It's such an atmospheric place inside and out that I felt I had momentarily been transported to France. This is my article I recently wrote for ForbesLife.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

More Travel Health Myths

When I travel, I’m often shocked by the myriad old wives tales, myths and down-home health advice that persist, even among some of the savviest people. On one of my recent trips, when I sat down to lunch with my guide, I was a little surprised to see him order a shot of whiskey, something he ended up doing before every meal! I finally asked what was up with this? He replied: “I do it to prevent getting a stomach flu from eating bad food.”  I recently wrote an article for Berkeley Wellness, a collaboration with the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health on travel health myths and misconceptions, including whether drinking alcohol can prevent gastrointestinal woes.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Gear Review: Lightweight + Organic Cotton Tunic

When I pack for a trip, I want clothes that are lightweight, perform well and look good. Anything to do with sustainability would be a bonus. So I’m happy to have just discovered Aventura Clothing Their ethic is revolves around using cotton that’s organically farmed and doing as much as possible to reduce their carbon footprint. I recently tried their Newberry shirt, a comfortable flannel fabric that’s actually a tunic, and one that pairs well with a pair of leggings. (It’s 100% organic cotton.) This works well as a practical outfit on the plane. If it gets too warm, you can roll up  the sleeves, fastening them with the buttoned tabs. And, though many women may wear their male partner’s flannel shirt around the house, this tunic has a feminine silhouette, complete with decorative buttons on the back.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

How to Choose a Biking/Hiking/Walking Tour

Who wants an unexpected and unpleasant surprise on a biking, hiking or walking tour? I’ve signed up on numerous active adventures, some solo, others with a friend, and sometimes with a group and a guide. But, on any of these, untoward things can occur, including finding out that the roads are in poor conditions, the bikes don’t have low enough gears, the terrain is more mountainous than you imagined, wildlife roams free on the roads, the list can go on. A romantic hiking tour in Italy may leave little time for stress-free romps through wildflower-laden meadows or espresso breaks with the locals because of the hair-raising and heart-pounding treks up precipitous paths in the Dolomite Mountains. How do you assure that the tour you signed up with is what suits your needs and interests? Check out this article I wrote for Berkeley Wellness so that you’re not unpleasantly surprised on your next adventure.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gear Review: Yeti Rambler Mug

Whether you're going car camping, headed to the beach, or an outdoor event, this mug -- the Yeti Rambler -- can keep cocoa and coffee hot or water cold for some four to five hours or so. A lot of people may already be familiar with the ever popular Yeti coolers that are over-engineered in a good way. (No wonder they're so pricey.) The mug runs around $24 and it weighs some 14 ounces, not light. But any mug that performs so well -- and looks good -- may be worth it. It's comfortable in your hands, has a wide mouth so it's perfect for soups, stews or chili, is durable and can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher. It's made from heavy gauge steel and has a double-wall vacuum insulation.

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reykjanes, Iceland in Pictures

Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula is a magical place that few visitors ever really see because, after arriving at Keflavik Airport and maybe stopping at the Blue Lagoon, they zoom into downtown Reykjavik. Too bad, because they're missing dramatic scenes. Reykjanes is rife with plumes of steam and bubbling mud pools, from geothermal activity, as well as otherworldly craters, fissures and stacks of lava. Even a sandy beach! And a "ghost" ship that had long washed ashore after the violent surf hit the rocky coastline. This YouTube video slideshow provides a window into this under-appreciated landscape that's worth many days of exploration.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Packing Light for Winter Travels

Visiting Greenland in the fall with only a carry-on weekender tote bag for five days of travel seems impossible. But not for someone like me who never checks luggage. I simply wore  my heaviest clothing -- including boots -- on the plane. (I removed these as soon as I was seated; rolling them into an ultra-light tote bag that I then used as a pillow. Below are some of the heaviest items, including a wool hoodie, two jackets -- one fleece and one insulated -- and the snow boots that have cleats. I also wore black leggings, a Merino wool sleeveless dress and a Merino wool long-sleeved shirt. In my bag I packed one pair of winter pants, two tee shirts, a rain jacket, several pair of wool socks, two pair of Ex-Officio underwear, three wool skirts, and two Merino wool long-sleeved shirts. Aside from the clothing, I packed my first-aid kit, a zip-lock with liquids (shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, deodorant). My small personal bag -- a tiny backpack -- contained my iPad, camera, notebook, and all of the personal in-flight items I recently blogged about here. When my flight landed, I was the only passenger who didn't have to wait at the carousel for my luggage.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Greenland In Pictures

This is the Greenland beyond the iconic sights that visitors associate with this grand country, beyond the sled dogs, fishing trips, polar ice cap, and treks to glaciers and fjords. This is the colorful Greenland that's rich in contemporary art and design, and dramatic beauty - all in the capital city of Nuuk.
This YouTube video slideshow presents a window into my recent trip to charming Nuuk.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Personal In-Flight Items - What to Pack

Whenever I fly, I'm observing the behavior of the passengers around me. It's often surprising to see how many get up -- often when the seatbelt sign is on because of turbulence -- to open the overhead bin and rifle around in their large bags for some item they need. Many times, because of their disorganized packing, the item is no where to be found. Opening the overhead bins during turbulence puts them and the people around them at risk for injury, should something fall out. I keep everything I need for the flight in a small backpack under my seat. These items can deal with most anything that will occur on the flight, whether it's the noisy passengers or stomach upset, chapped lips or motion sickness. Here are the essential in-flight items I pack:

  • Ricola natural herb lozenges for a dry or sore throat
  • Tummydrops  for motion sickness
  • Bonine also for motion sickness
  • chewable Rolaids or Tums
  • Aleve for a headache
  • EarPeace earplugs
  • Bucky eye mask
  • dental supplies: floss, foldable toothbrush, Stim-U-Dents (a special toothpick that softens in your mouth so it won't injure gums), mini toothpaste tube
  • Charmin wet wipes
  • Purell hand wipes
  • dark chocolate
  • lip balm
  • Altoids mints

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Kids First-Aid Kit Organizer - Only 2 Left

A well-stocked first-aid kit is often an afterthought when packing for travels, whether it's a short road trip or a journey to far-flung lands. But, if you're traveling with children, it's especially important to pack items that can tackle anything from a simple skin rash to an insect bite. A well-stocked first-aid kit certainly doesn't preclude visiting a pediatrician should your child develop a fever or have an allergy reaction. But it can take away the worry for minor cuts, bruises or ills.

My Kids Doc-in-a-Bag is not stocked with first-aid supplies. Rather, this is a zippered vinyl sac that comes with a comprehensive laminated list of what you need to include in your kids first-aid kit. On the list are things such as child-safe sunscreen and insect repellent, topical cortisone for rashes or insect bites, as well as kids Benadryl (antihistamine) for mild allergic reactions.

There are only two Kids Doc-in-a-Bag left in stock.
I'm including samples of Tummy Drops, a natural product containing ginger created by a gastroenterologist. (Perfect for motion sickness, whether on the plane, in a car, or on a ferry.)

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Safe Street Crossing Tips

As a New York City resident, I know firsthand that Manhattan is experiencing a street and sidewalk congestion that we've never seen before. And, here as well as across the nation, both motorists and pedestrians are seriously distracted -- whether it's from staring at their cell phones or plugged into their headphones. Numerous agencies and reports -- here and here -- document that distraction is a major cause of pedestrian accidents and, more importantly, fatalities.

I'm not one of those distracted pedestrians. Whenever I am in a crosswalk, my head is rotating left and right the entire time I'm crossing, making sure someone, whether a motorist or cyclist, isn't about to cut me off, despite the fact that I have the right of way. But, I've found that despite my contentiousness, whenever I'm in the crosswalk, drivers and cyclists making a left or right turn appear to not see me or perhaps choose not to. Recently, I was walking across the street with two out-of-town friends who just assumed if the light was green, they could barrel ahead. A truck turning left almost struck both of them, if it wasn't for me pulling them both back.  So what's the solution?

Over the past two years, I've been using a tactic based on what traffic control officers have long used: I hold a brightly-colored object in my hand and, using my outstretched arm that's facing any potential oncoming traffic, and I wave the object. It might be an umbrella, book, scarf, shopping bag, newspaper still wrapped in plastic, and so forth. You get the idea. I use this method each and every time I cross the street and I can't tell you the number of times this colorful arm/hand motion has piqued the driver's attention.  And, if those off times when I don't have an object to hold, I extend my arm with my hand flexed, palm out and fingers outstretched in the well-known "stop" signal as seen below.

At first my friends and colleagues thought these gestures looked fairly odd. and too embarrassing to mimic. But they saw the results as they crossed busy Manhattan streets with me. Cars stopped when they saw me waving a purple umbrella or a bright green scarf or using the "stop" hand signal. Of course, none of these gestures obviates me from still looking right, left and all about as I cross, just in case the driver still missed me.

This is hardly a controlled study. But it's worth a try. I've used these strategies when I'm traveling all over the world. After all, NYC doesn't have a monopoly on out-of-control drivers.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: New York's Hudson Valley

If I were forced to pick one area in New York that I would have to visit again and again, it definitely would be the Hudson Valley. Stretching 150 miles from the northern reaches of New York City to Albany, this area is dotted with numerous quaint villages that ooze history and are peppered with contemporary art galleries, and placid green spaces that are perfect for walking, hiking or cycling. I've written several blog posts about the Hudson Valley, here, here and here. 
Now I received a beautiful, and enticing coffee table book focusing in on this region: Hudson Valley Reflections by Michael Adamovic. It's divided by seasons of the year and is replete with close-up images of the flora and fauna as well as historic features, and panoramas of the bucolic landscape anyone who has visited the Hudson Valley may be familiar with but will still delight in seeing these again. And, anyone who has never visited or not heard of the Hudson Valley, this will tempt you to get on Metro North, one of the ways of conveniently visiting many of the villages, and stop in Beacon, Cold Spring -- two of my favorites -- and others. Though the cover of the book refers to it as an "Illustrated Travel and Field Guide," I would've loved to have seen more information that was travel focused. Though the very back of the book includes 44 spots with natural, historical and architectural features as well as other venues that you should put on your "list" as well as an accompanying map indicating their location.

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