Travel in the Time of COVID

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Traveling during the covid epidemic offers several differing perspectives and our family seems to have lived through all of them. Should we go? Should we stay home? Stay local? Visit another state? For the better part of last year, we planned our August vacation to Canada. It became apparent that would not be an option. The Canadian border closed in the spring and remains closed.

We couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the country was not exactly cooperating in “flattening the curve”. It didn’t take long to make the decision to remain in New York State. We live here and we felt safe with the covid policies that the state has put into place.

Now that Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas not far off, if you are traveling, I hope you will benefit from our experience.

If you’ve decided to stay home, these will hopefully help you the next time you venture out.

Vacationing on COVID-time is *different*.

First, have a plan, have a second plan, and be flexible in all things. We decided on a location we’d only visited for a couple hours last year – Niagara Falls, located in western New York. We would spend one week; it would be an adventure. Customarily, we would change hotels mid-week. We did not. This was a direct result of covid.

We did many things outside: Niagara Falls State Park and the Falls, Broderick Park at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. Though I prefer indoor dining, we ate outside at restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops. We also visited three monuments that we may not have seen if I wasn’t looking for outdoor things to do.

Masks. You need more than one mask. Ideally, you should have one cloth mask for each day or at least two: one to wear, one to wash (and hang to dry).

Hand Sanitizer. Though you’ll find more hand sanitizer than you can ever imagine everywhere, a travel bottle of hand sanitizer is a must.

Hotels. I was very happy with our hotel. The prices did not seem to be any higher than a regular end of summer week. However, several amenities were not available or drastically changed. The pool and fitness center were closed, but vending machines and ice machines were available. I think they suspended the airport shuttle. We were required to wear masks in the public areas, hallways, elevators, and walking through the lobby. There were hand sanitizer stands next to every elevator on all the floors to use prior to pressing the elevator buttons.

The included free breakfast was a menu to choose items from, and then bring to your room, microwave, and eat there. It usually included a muffin, a fruit, water, milk, or juice, breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and other related items. There was no housekeeping unless you requested it. We did not. We chose to ask for necessary items at the front desk. These included new towels, shampoo, cups, toilet paper. They were extraordinarily nice and very accommodating. Considering the circumstances, I thought they did an excellent job.

Attractions. Many places were closed. Those that were open had restrictions. Masks required, hand sanitizer stations, 25%-50% capacity, 6ft. distancing between groups. Some displays – where placing your face close was necessary in order to see the item – were temporarily out of order. At interactive displays, we were provided with a sanitized mini stylus to use instead of our fingers. We returned them for cleaning when we were finished with the tour.

Due to reduced capacity requirements, several locations issued timed tickets. This combined with lower capacities meant that every day about mid-afternoon tours were sold out for the day, so this required going early, getting your ticket for later in the day and then coming back. Some places preferred that you buy tickets online and show the attendant the ticket on your phone.
Many places used directional arrows on the floor directing so people weren’t intersecting with each other. Many places would not accept cash. The Niagara Falls (NF) State Park as well as the NF Visitor Center only accepted credit/debit cards.

Contact Tracing. Many hotels, attractions, and restaurants asked for our name and phone number for contact tracing.

Restaurants. We felt comfortable at each location we ate at. One place, the Hard Rock Cafe, took our temperature. Due to lower capacity, we were required to wait…outside. If we got up to use the restroom, masks needed to be worn. Some restaurants had no menus and a QR code on the table allowed for viewing the online menu on our phones.

Shopping. Only some places offered samples, like chocolate or ice cream. Fitting rooms were closed as were some public bathrooms. A few places did not take cash.

One of the good things that I noticed was that as crowded as it was, it wasn’t that crowded. There was room to stand and move around on the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which is typically wall-to-wall people.

Because the Underground Railroad Heritage Center limited two at a time in the small gift shop, I was able to have a somewhat lengthy and very educational conversation with the attendant while I waited my turn.

People were both wary and friendly at once. There may have been a glare when you got too close to someone but it turned into a smile and a laugh as we both said “oops, sorry.” It was a delicate dance.

I didn’t know how much we needed to be out of our house. Overall, even with the changes and the restrictions, we still had a great vacation, and it was nice being out and about and almost-kind-of “normal”. Niagara Falls is one of those places that never gets old; we’re thinking about returning next year, although a trip across the border would also be welcomed.

Inspire. October.

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New Experiences from Summer. (c)2020

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Try new things and discover yourself every single day.”

– Bhavya Choudhary

“TSN”

(Try Something New) – My Husband

For the past two years, my husband has been offering this mantra: TSN, which stands for Try something new. He tries to try something new at least once a month.

I do like to try things, but I try them hesitantly.

I am inherently extraordinarily polite. If I am at someone else’s house and they offer me something that I’ve never had before or am even lukewarm on, I will take it, eat it, and thank them for it.

When we go out to dinner, I prefer tried and true food for the most part, but when I’m on vacation, I will beeline for the local specialty as well as trying new things.

Examples of this are poutine in Canada, tea in the UK, a proper British breakfast in Wales and England, Welsh cakes in Wales, chicken wings in Buffalo, cheesecake in NYC, pretzels and chocolate in Pennsylvania, lobster in Maine, crab cakes in Maryland, beignets and gumbo in New Orleans. Anywhere you go will have a specialty food to try.

On our recent visit to Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Plattsburgh, New York, we tried many things that were new to us, but were common to the North Country and Western New York.

In the above photo, you will see:

  • Pizza Logs (from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY)
  • The Mighty Taco, chicken quesadilla
  • Chicken Caprese Mac & Cheese (from Our House Bistro, Plattsburgh, NY)
  • Amazing orange peeler for 69¢ (at Vidler’s 5 & 10 in Aurora, NY). I’d never seen this before and it worked like a dream. If I had known how well it worked, I would have bought a dozen and given them out for Christmas!
  • Sponge Candy (from Platter’s Chocolate in Niagara Falls, NY)

This pandemic has given us many things that are new, not all of them exciting and wonderful, but we’ve hopefully taken them in stride, and will try to move forward embracing the new, the different, the exciting, and even the challenging.

“Friday” Food. August.

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It seemed as though all we ate were chicken wings, mac & cheese, soft pretzels, ice cream, and donuts! Everything was amazing! I’ll have several posts in future days with information if you travel to the western New York area. Some things can even be ordered through the mail!

Listed in clockwise order:

  1. Roast beef and gravy on a weck roll. (Say Cheese! The Comic Book Cafe.)
  2. Pizza Logs. (Anchor Bar – the home of the original Buffalo Wings.)
  3. The Mighty Taco quesadilla with sour cream.
  4. Niagara water.
  5. Char-BQ chicken wings. (Duff’s Wings)
  6. Bavarian Pretzel with mustard and cheese. (NY Beer Project)
  7. Manhattan Mac & Cheese with garlic bread (NY Beer Project)
  8. Small (really! small!) Birthday Bash Ice Cream. (De-Dee’s Dairy)
  9. Angel cream donut (like Boston Creme with vanilla cream inside). (Paula’s Donuts.)
Some of the regional and delicious foods we had while on vacation last week in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and its environs, NY. (c)2020

Inspire. August.

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August’s inspiration posts were delayed by the entire month, but I am determined that this post tonight at the latest. It is the last day of August and there is still inspiration to be had.

August began with my being sick, some days quite ill, and I went to the Department of Health to take a covid test, which fortunately came back negative.

We’re still receiving updates from my children’s school and they are almost ready to return; one virtually and one in an in-person hybrid model.

We also were able to take a much needed family vacation, which we understand is a privilege in these uncertain times. I credit that to many things, not the least of which is the seriousness that New York State took in combatting the coronavirus. We remained in New York, and that gave us the ability to travel and to do so without a fourteen day quarantine anywhere else we may have gone. It wasn’t our original plan, but we were all together and we had a great week.

I mention this because the one thing I want to share with you for the August inspire post is a museum that we visited that I would encourage everyone to visit. I will write more about it in later days, but here is a small glimpse:

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is located at 825 West Depot Avenue West in Niagara Falls, New York. It has only been open for about two years, and was reopened on July 18th after Covid closures.

It is very reasonably priced: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors (62+), $6 for children 6-12, and Free for children 5 and under.

There is limited parking shared with the Amtrak station and it is on the Discover Niagara Shuttle, a free service in the city of Niagara Falls that operates May through October. They’ve recently reopened after Covid closures.

The Heritage Center is a beautiful balance of the heartbreak of slavery and escape from bondage and the people who helped them flee. It is at once inspiring and emotional. In one instant, a story caused me to weep while others made me feel joy at their new lives in Canada.

It is a small venue, but well worth the time. I would return again to enjoy the few things that were not available due to covid restrictions.

Inside the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020
We are *this* close to freedom.
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020

Labyrinths Heal; The Rain Reflects

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Early on in the pandemic, when we’d just begun the lockdown with work places shutting down, restaurants closed, and schools closing, we were only just getting used to having the kids at home, shopping once a week, avoiding people as much as possible, including even our son who lived on his own, plus being in a constant low level state of anxiety, keeping ongoing lists in my head, living, breathing, reading, and writing everything I could about coronavirus 20/7 with four hours leftover for sleep. Often, I couldn’t get through that minimum of four hours. I tried watching the White House’s coronavirus briefings; I thought they would be useful and informative. I thought they would quell my anxiety of those early days of unknown. My priest called them “dark days of confusion,” and they truly were. We’re still in them sometimes now. Those briefings didn’t help; they left me with higher levels of anxiety.

Continue reading

Domestic Violence and Abuse

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Nine years ago today, my friend was murdered by her ex. Up until that point, I was mostly unaware of the enormous domestic violence problem we have in this country.

I was unawware that 1 in 3 people are abused in their relationships.

I was unaware that women go to jail more for defending themselves against their partners than their partners do for abusing them.

I was unaware that I was part of the problem by not believing my friend when she did talk about her experiences in our mutual friend circles.

I was unaware.

We can no longer live in the darkness of ignorance; of platitudes; of living in our own bubbles.

If you know someone who is being abused, reach out. They may not accept your overtures, but they’ll know that you will be there when they are ready.

If you are being abused, there is help.

Contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-700-7233 or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

or online at The Hotline

In New York State, there are new options available related to an uptick (30% higher in this past April than in April 2019) in the domestic abuse incidents and reports since our pandemic related isolation began.

Coronavirus and Domestic Violence (NY Times)

New Yorkers in Need of Help or Assistance Can Text 844-997-2121 

or Can Go to the New Confidential Online Site to Reach a Professional on http://www.opdv.ny.gov

Office of Prevention of Domestic Violence in NY

Happy Birthday Susan B!!!

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Happy Birthday!

It’s been 100 years since women were given the right to vote, and as I’ve written previously we’ve come so far, and yet, not so much.

Susan B. Anthony was born today in 1820 in nearby Adams, Massachusetts. I say nearby because I live several hours from her birthplace and her final resting place in Rochester, New York. Last year, in fact, my family and I were able to visit her grave site, something that felt very meaningful to both my daughter and me in part of the run up to one hundred years of women’s suffrage and women receiving the vote.

Susan B. Anthony’s grave site along with other Anthony family members in Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York. (c)2019-2020

Hers was a family of activism and social reform, from abolition and women’s rights and suffrage to opening their homestead up to meetings of many, including Frederick Douglas. She and Douglas were close friends and anti-slavery collaborators (and are buried in the same cemetary), and she is known to have helped some with Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad. Tubman’s homestead is nearby in Auburn, New York.

In 1872, Susan was arrested at the house she shared with her sister in Rochester, for illegally voting. She was convicted and upon refusing to pay the fine, the authorities ceased any further action.

She became the first woman citizen to be featured on a US monetary coin when her image was portrayed on the dollar coin in 1979. I believe I still have one or two somewhere.

If she were alive today, I imagine she’d be astounded that we still haven’t gotten an Equal Rights Amendment in our Constitution. Perhaps, not astounded as much as disappointed. Hopefully, that can soon be rectified as well as ratified before another one hundred years passes. After all, we are more than half the citizenry; we should have at least the equal rights of men.

September 11, 2019

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September 11th is one of those days that will remain with people for as long as they live. To me I imagine this is how witnesses to Pearl Harbor felt in those first few decades. My witnessing was on television, and knowing friends who were there and who survived as well as personally knowing someone who knew someone who didn’t woven with my own history of life in New York and Long Island (who disproportionately lost a significant amount of firefighters) really affected me in ways that I believe the rest of the country can’t even fathom.

On that day, we had just returned home from New York and Long Island. We traveled under a similar clear blue sky and looked from the bridge towards the Twin Towers which could be easily seen. The next morning the television was on, and our door was open to the neighborhood; to anyone walking by who wanted to glance in at our TV and get a quick update. It was surreal.

We spent days, weeks even, glued to the television, at that time thinking that more survivors could be found. We watched and mourned, tears easily coming without warning all throughout that time. I remember that entire first year of suddenly breaking into bouts of crying and flinching every time I drove by the nearby airport when a plane was taking off or landing, fear paralyzing my driving for a split second that the plane was low in the sky.

That first anniversary was my son’s first year of public school: kindergarten. I felt that they schools, especially New York schools, should have taken the first anniversary off. We kept him home that day. The three of us went to the State Museum in the capital of Albany and looked at the exhibit with other likeminded, numb, silent except for some quiet weeping New Yorkers. We stood by the chain-link fence with missing posters signs and ribbons, photos and other memorials. We stood in horror and sorrow at the fire truck crushed under the collapse and debris of the formerly magnificent structures known as the World Trade Center. We moved from one thing to the next until we’d seen all we could.

In subsequent years, we’ve done different things. Our kids continue to go to school, and this is the first year that our children will learn about Nine-Eleven. My daughter who wasn’t born in 2001 is in her last year of middle school. My oldest son who was there with us at five years old is now a volunteer fire fighter.

I did not want the nonsense of this present Administration to have anything to do with yesterday. I stayed off of Twitter, and avoided any political content until the evening and after hearing what happened in North Carolina, I was very glad that I made that choice.

Instead, I began my day with Mass, where our priest was celebrating a couple’s sixtieth anniversary of marriage. They renewed their vows. There was one woman present who lost her son on 9/11. The tollling of the church bells at the moments the planes hit the Towers was profound and solitary and emotional. Fr. J gave me two words to take with me yesterday morning: peace & justice.

I drove from there to the Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville, New York to walk and pray the labyrinth there. It was a wonderful experience. As I sat in the middle of the center and prayed, again I knew I had made the right choice. On the way out, I was in time to see the Erie Canal Lock #5 in action as the lock filled with water, raising what appeared to be a small boat but wasn’t. As the couple rose to my eye level, we greeted each other and talked briefly before the gates of the lock opened and they sailed north.

From there, I went to Cracker Barrel for no other reason than it was on the way home, and I enjoyed a quiet lunch by myself and did some writing.

In my small ways, I honored the day, and kept it solemn in a way that worked for me. On my way home, I felt blessed. I hope others did the same and got through the day in ways that felt blessed for themselves.

Hudson Crossing Park Labyrinth at The Play Garden, Schuylerville, NY. (c)2019


Lock 5 at Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville, NY. (c)2019


Lunch at Cracker Barrel: Homestyle Chicken Sandwich and Pecan Praline Bread Pudding. (c)2019