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.

Supernatural Lists: Geography

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The Winchester Brothers travel back and forth across the country in Baby, their 1967 Chevy Impala. I never much paid attention to some of the place names until in one episode Dean mentioned that he was going to Buffalo, New York because his Dad’s old storage locker was broken into. He was in Queens, New York, and said he’d be there in two hours.

I stared at my screen.

I’ve lived in New York my whole life, including spending my elementary years in Queens, and I’ve been to Buffalo. It is not a two hour drive, I don’t care how fast you’re going.

It’s almost 400 miles! That’s six hours and fifteen minutes IF, and that’s a big if, you’re going the speed limit, don’t stop off in any small towns where the speed limit is lowered drastically, don’t need to get gas, and there is no traffic.

Oh, and four hundred miles in a 1967 Chevy? You will definitely need to get gas. At least twice!

Here is a list of fifteen places the Winchesters visited during the series. I’ve included the episode when they first went there. Some places like Kansas, South Dakota, and Fall River, Massachusetts they’ve been to multiple times over the years.

Note: The notation: 1.1 is Season 1, Episode 1.

  1. Lawrence, Kansas [Pilot, 1.1]
  2. Lebanon, Kansas [As Time Goes By, 8.12]
  3. Buffalo, New York [Bad Day at Black Rock, 3.3]
  4. Lily Dale, New York [The Mentalists, 7.7]
  5. Ankeny, Iowa [Hook Man, 1.7]
  6. Sioux Falls, South Dakota [Devil’s Trap, 1.22] *
  7. Las Vegas, Nevada [Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!, 7.8]
  8. Vancouver, BC, Canada [The French Mistake, 6.15]
  9. Grants Pass, Oregon [Mommy Dearest, 6.19]
  10. Hollywood, California [Hollywood Babylon, 2.18]
  11. Cicero, Indiana [The Kids Are Alright [3/2]
  12. Sturbridge, Massachusetts [Malleus Maleficarum, 3.9]
  13. Monument, Colorado [Jus in Bello, 3.12]
  14. Fall River, Massachusetts [Mamma Mia, 12.2] *
  15. Windom, Minnesota [Jump the Shark, 4.19] *

* A couple of fun things:

Sioux Falls, South Dakota is where Bobby Singer lives. It’s like a home base for the Winchesters. The sheriff is Jody Mills, who becomes a close friend of Bobby and the boys.

Fall River is also where the Lizzie Borden House and Museum is, and Sam and Dean go there in a later episode.

Windom is where Sam and Dean meet their up until then unknown half-brother, Adam Milligan.

Which was your favorite place that the Winchesters traveled to?

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.

Thoughts On An Overcast Day

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I keep a planner. The monthly part of the calendar is my personal calendar of appointments and scheduling, birthdays and anniversaries to be remembered, and the weekly pages are where I plan my writing for Griffins and Ginger Snaps. This year, writing has been a struggle.

I have been more or less reliable in the publishing of posts, but these last few weeks have certainly been more difficult. There was so much going on in August and when I looked back on it, it seemed that they were all mental worries.

Not that they were all in my head, but it wasn’t that my feelings of busyness was having a lot of appointments or places to go, but it was all mental gymnastics – getting dinner planned, communicating with the school for my kids’ return, planning our vacation while simultaneously planning on not going, keeping up on election news, and so many other things. It’s been rough, and I know I’m not alone in this.

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“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.

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World Otter Day

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Today Wednesday is was World Otter Day. Everyday should be World Otter Day!

Apparently, I had the wrong date in my planner and this makes me sad. My kids, my son especially have had an obsession with otters for several years now. There is a beaver near where we live, and for the longest time, my son called him an otter. When we explained that it was a beaver, he continued to call it an otter….or a skinny beaver. We see him throughout the spring, summer, and part of fall.

When my daughter and I went to Florida a couple of years ago for my aunt’s 95th birthday celebration we went to Flamingo Gardens where we saw real, live otters. We were so excited. They were enthralling.

Two years later, this past February, right before the pandemic, my son was able to go their with my husband and see the same otters. He was thrilled.

I thought I would share this video that I took in 2017, and I also wanted to encourage everyone to check out the work of the International Otter Survival World Fund (IOSF) and donate if you can.

Video of Otters at Flamingo Gardens, 2017. (c)2017-2020

What to Do in Isolation/Quarantine (Updated 4/29/20)

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We’ve got our milk, bread, toilet paper, and kids home. It’s only been a few days, and we are in it for the long haul: two weeks, four weeks, six. We just don’t know right now. What can we do from the sanctity of our homes without risking our health or the health of others? Here are a few suggestions.

Imagineering in a Box – Free online course where you will “go behind the scenes with Disney Imagineers and complete project-based exercises to design a theme park of your very own.” (In collaboration with Khan Academy.)
Good Night with Dolly Dolly Parton will read weekly bedtime stories beginning on April 2 at 7pm ET. The first book will be The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper. The rest of the ten weeks of books will be: There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake by Loren Long, Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, I Am a Rainbow by Dolly Parton, Pass It On by Sophy Henn, Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen, Max & The Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, and Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton

Children’s Book Authors Read-Aloud

National Aquarium in Baltimore – Livestreams of The Blacktip Reef, Jellies Invasion, Pacific Coral Reef

New York Public Library – (for NYC residents with a library card) (CONTACT YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY ABOUT THEIR E-BOOK PROGRAMS)

NASA makes their entire media library publicly accessible and COPYRIGHT FREE

33 National Park Tours You Can Take Virtually

15 Broadway Plays and Musicals You Can Watch on Stage from Home (best filmed and where to find them)

FREE Coloring Books from 113 Museums

Virtual Field Trips – including San Diego Zoo, Yellowstone National Park, Mars!!!, Animal Cameras, Virtual Farm Tour, US Space and Rocket Museum in Hunsville AL, Discovery Education, The Louvre, The Great Wall of China, Boston’s Children’s Museum

12 Museums Offering Virtual Tours – including British Museum (London), Guggenheim Museum (NY), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Musee d’Orsay (Paris), National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul), Pergamon Museum (Berlin), Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), The J. Paul Getty Museum (L.A.), Uffizi Gallery (Florence), MASP (Sao Paulo), National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City)

14 Beautiful, Dramatic Waterfalls in North Wales (this is primarily a travel article, but they’re still pretty to look at! And Wales!

Metropolitan Opera offering Nightly Met Opera Streams – see the link for details and limits.

Five Gardens You Can Virtually Visit – Waddesdon Manor (Waddesdon, England), Claude Monet’s Garden (Giverny, France), Chicago Botanic Garden (Chicago, IL), Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden (Papaikou, Hawai’i), Kew Gardens (Richmond, England).

Hogwarts Digital Escape Room

Ivy League Courses Online for FREE

How to Be Happier in Your Daily Life (popular Yale University course – ONLINE FREE (Source: Business Insider)

Tour New York State Parks (virtual)

Activities at The Spy Museum

Twitter for Voice Actors Read. There are many voice actors reading books aloud to you and your children.

Tour The Winchester Mystery House (virtual tour)

Tour the Paris Catacombs (virtual tour)

I Love NY Landmark Coloring Pages

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
The Parents’ Guide to Google Classroom

What to Do with your Kids When Schools are Canceled

Harry the Dirty Dog read by Betty White

The Very Hungry Caterpillar read by author, Eric Carle

Outdoor Scavenger Hunts from Buttonwood Park Library

Easy Toilet Paper Roll Crafts (when you use up your stash of toilet paper!)

Outdoor and Indoor Scavenger Hunts from Leicester Library

Home Safari at the Cincinnati Zoo

50 Ways to Keep Kids Engaged at Home During the Coronavirus Shutdown

Miniature Bookshop DIY – cost $36.99

NASA Space Station STEM Activities

Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY (Safe at Home Program)

Virtual Tour of Auschwitz

Hen Galan

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Today marks the celebration of Hen Galan or the Welsh New Year. This has been celebrated in Wales on 13 January since 1752 when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar from the Julian one, making the new year begin on January 1st. This is the Gregorian calendar which we use today. At that time, many people believed that losing those eleven days from the calendar coincided with losing those eleven days from their lives.

The village of Cwn Gwaun continues to celebrate this holiday in modern times. If the day falls on a weekday, school is closed. The town gathers with each other, in houses or more likely in the pub in town. It’s festive, filled with fun and feasting in celebration. Children go door-to-door or farm-to-farm around the valley parish (about 18 miles) singing traditional Welsh songs and receiving calennig from the grown-ups, sweets or money. It was like having two Christmases.

Enjoy the following links and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Hen Galan: Welsh village celebrates new year on 13 January (first published 2019)

The tiny Welsh village that celebrates New Year’s Eve on this night every year: In Cwn Gwaun they party like it’s 1699! (first published 2018)

Gwaun Valley children mark old New Year (first published 2012)

Snowdon Mountains, North Wales. (c)2020