Unmasking Bias: Overcoming Subjectivity in Neurological Diagnoses

Handsome medical doctor

By Sai Mattapalli and Rohan Kalahasty, Founders and CEOs — Vytal

The medical field is full of technological innovation, with plenty of exciting new technologies that could improve patient care. One of the most exciting innovations in the medical industry is gaze tracking. This technology is based on the concept that the eyes are a window into the mind, meaning they can provide a comprehensive and — most importantly — quantitative evaluation of the patient’s brain health. This data can then be used to create an exciting new approach to neurological diagnoses and brain health.

Part of what allows gaze tracking to stand out compared to other tools is its ability to be calibrated to the patient’s specific needs and environment. Many tests used to be generalized, which works when identifying outward, common symptoms, but fails to recognize the nuance of brain injuries. Because of the unique nature of each individual’s brain anatomy, it stands to reason that brain injuries and neurological disease will affect each person differently.

Gaze tracking and concussion care

One of the reasons why AI-powered gaze tracking is such an exciting tool is that it can provide a powerful alternative to traditional concussion tests. Not only are concussion tests time-consuming, but they are also highly subjective and inconsistently applied. This is particularly the case if athletes underreport their symptoms or the medical personnel administering the test are insufficiently trained. 

On the other hand, advanced screening tools that integrate gaze tracking can detect concussions much more quickly, efficiently, and reliably. This facilitates immediate action, significantly reducing the potential for an undetected concussion to escalate into something more serious. Untreated concussions can cause undesirable effects like headache, confusion, and nausea, or even cause one to become more susceptible to future traumatic brain injuries.

Gaze tracking to test for neurological disease

However, it’s not just the diagnosis of concussion that this exciting technology could help with — it has also shown the potential to be used to screen for the early signs of neurological disease. With gaze tracking, patients’ conditions can be identified and diagnosed early, ensuring they receive timely treatment, and ultimately preventing the onset of large-scale permanent damage. 

One of the main benefits of this approach to testing for neurological disease is that it is quick and entirely non-invasive. This is a stark contrast to the traditional methods of testing for these diseases, such as CT scans, MRIs, electrodiagnostic tests, or spinal taps — which can be uncomfortable for the patient and often take days or weeks to deliver actionable results.

In contrast, gaze biometrics can give results to patients and their medical providers almost immediately. The readouts given by these tests are quantitative and interpretable, giving medical professionals actionable data to work on. Additionally, this technique allows the condition to be identified at earlier stages of the disease. The characteristic symptoms generally used to diagnose neurological disease often appear too late — after the damage has already been done — while gaze biometrics can show signs of disease in its earliest stages.

Gaze biometrics have also proven useful for longitudinal tracking beyond the initial diagnosis. Medical personnel can use gaze tracking to monitor cognitive decline, evaluate treatment responses, develop personalized medicine, or help maintain patients’ mental health. These capabilities could allow the technology to become an integral part of the treatment of patients experiencing cognitive decline.

Technological advances in the medical industry, such as gaze tracking, are paving the way for a future where patients can receive better, more personalized, and quicker care for brain injuries or neurological disease. With these new developments, care providers will hopefully be able to treat these conditions before they cause any long-term effects for their patients.

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AutomobilesDining in Los AngelesTravel

The Summer of Loving LA 

ruyan view

The New Normal in LA is Back to Normal

In the same way that you don’t notice your kids growing up day-to-day, but others exclaim how much the kids have changed when they haven’t seen them in a while — the people living in LA are not as keen to how dramatically the city has transformed over the past few years, like I am, as a visitor a couple times a year. Vacationing in LA this past summer, I was delighted to find that the city had emerged from its unruly phase after the pandemic, and now acts like a nice, well-mannered city.  

One obvious difference is the shrinking number of tent encampments. Though they still dot the freeway underpasses and median strips along the side streets, the sprawling bivouacs of campers across the city have vanished. Also, traffic is significantly lighter at all hours as a byproduct of the new remote work culture. Likewise, the streets, stores and restaurants are less crowded. Around town, very few people sported masks, and generally, people seemed kinder and more relaxed. The tiny cookie shop where last year I was barked at by the masked clerk when I entered because I did not see the sign, “one customer allowed inside at a time,” had a short line inside, and the unmasked clerk was cheerful and buoyant.

For a tourist, these are good changes overall, though some of the pandemic fallout has diminished LA, such as permanent closures of restaurants or businesses and others that still struggled to make a comeback.

A favorite restaurant of mine in the Valley, Sun Café, an oasis off Ventura Blvd near Universal Studios, used to be a thriving spot for vegans in the know. After the parking lot across the street was commandeered by homeless and drug dealers during the pandemic, patrons stopped going to the eatery. The proprietors were forced to sell, and sadly the new owners continue to experience sparse crowds.

Other of the old haunts I frequented when I lived in LA for nearly two decades were back to normal. The WeHo Bistro was again serving their to-die-for garlic truffle fries and the gorgeously colored Aperol Spritz drinks to a full house. Trejos Tacos was back to dishing up their inventive bad-ass street tacos. And the Michelin Plated Restaurant, The Lobster, at Santa Monica Pier, is back to packing in locals and tourists for incredible sunset views and outstanding lobster bisque.

Enjoying Aperol Spritz at WeHo Bistro
Plentiful chips and salsa at Trejos Tacos.

Otherwise, most attractions around town have recovered well. A year ago, when we toured the Peterson Automotive Museum, we had to make reservations, submit to a screening that included taking our temperature, and wear masks. This year, the experience was completely carefree. My son and his cousin, both aged 16, who initially balked at the idea of going to a museum, were marveled by the expansive collection of vehicles. They snapped dozens of pics posed next to one-of-a-kind antique cars along with famous rides like the time-traveling DMC-12 DeLorean of Back to the Future, Scooby Do’s van, and the Honda S2000 from “2 Fast 2 Furious.” As a special treat, we toured the Vault, a vast garage of priceless and historical cars parked end-to-end. We were regaled by the docent’s stories of the bulletproof Mercedes owned by Ferdinand Marcos that could produce an oil slick to escape pursuers, and a 1998 Cadillac De Ville Parade Phaeton, more commonly known as the Popemobile.

Another attraction that rebounded with vigor is Cinespia, arguably the greatest outdoor movie event in LA, or anywhere. With thousands gathering blanket-to-blanket on the lawn of Hollywood Forever Cemetery to see films projected on Rodolph Valentino’s mausoleum, this exciting night of picnicking, music and movies has provided memorable film fan experiences for more than 20 years. My teen tourists where thrilled to see Fight Club under the stars, surrounded by patrons wearing black-eye make-up and dressed in flamboyant fur coats and torn and bloodied button-down shirts and ties, like Brad Pitt’s and Edward Norton’s pugilistic characters in the movie. As with every classic and modern classic film screened at Cinespia, the event featured a photobooth recreation of the set, in this case a boiler-room fighting ring. As a generous perk, the photos are posted for viewing on Cinespia’s site for free.

Of course, no trip to LA is complete without cruising Hollywood Boulevard. Compared to the near-empty streets with shuttered shops during 2021 and 2022, the place was buzzing during our visit. On a lively Saturday night, the strip was best explored in the luxury and grandness of a Ford Expedition, the vehicle that served as our crib on wheels for the week.

The boys loved rolling down the windows and opening the enormous sky roof and cranking up the bass on their Apple Music playlist, aptly named Mosh Pit; and I loved that they could sit in the 3rd row and adjust the stereo to play as loud as they desired on the rear speakers without splitting my eardrums in the driver’s seat.

Living large in LA, in a ride that was a trip in itself.

They had a prime seat to sightsee around Hollywood, and I won Mother of the Year by driving them around town in this impressive ride. At first, I was intimidated to drive such a wide-body vehicle through the streets of LA, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to maneuver; plus, when other drivers saw me coming, they would pull to the side to let me pass. It was almost like a parting of the crowd for the guest of honor. It seems when people see a car like this approaching, they show deference, perhaps because of its large size, or perhaps to get a better view to see if there’s a celebrity passenger in the back.

Ready to roll, on a midnight cruise in Hollywood.

After day after day of tourist-ing and partying into the wee hours of the morning — which for the adults in our group included some curiously strong drinks at the Abbey in WeHo, leading to a search party and a missing person’s report, which is a whole ‘nuther story – we departed LA feeling feted, entertained, and well hosted. Our trip was like a lovely dinner party, with a guest list of people you actually like, good food, enjoyable conversation, and a few antics to make the experience memorable. Our week stay was just the right amount of time too. Los Angeles is again a great place to visit, and in fact, one day, I might just want to live there, again.

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Finding Your Way to Peaceful Parenting

Mother and child in a warm embrace, conveying a sense of securit

Parenting expert Kiva Schuler looks at a radically different way to parent, where we examine our behaviors, expectations, and values as parents and stop asking so many questions about how to get children to behave

To raise happier humans with the courage and self-image to be risk-takers, change-
makers, and creators, we need to redefine our roles as parents. Because, let’s face it, traditional parenting suggests to most young people that their feelings don’t matter, they should play it safe, and that many of their dreams are impractical. This is not the way to raise future adults who believe in the endless possibilities of being alive, who desire to—and do—effect positive social change.

Just because something’s “traditional” or “normal” doesn’t mean it’s right. I used to be apprehensive when speaking about parenting. I didn’t want anyone to feel badly or judged. And I didn’t want to be perceived as some sanctimonious know-it-all telling other people how to raise their children. But, I came to understand Peaceful Parenting. And its universality. And freedom from sanctimony and judgment.

Many years ago, I told my team at The Jai Institute for Parenting that we only needed to reach people who already knew, or felt in their souls, that they wanted to parent peacefully but didn’t know how. “Families know what’s best for their children,” was the thinking. If someone chooses a more traditional approach, “Well, ok, but I guess they just aren’t our crowd.”

But no longer. Peaceful Parenting is, we believe, for everyone who cares about children and our collective future.

Recently, we overhauled our Parent Coach Training curriculum and dove into the most contemporary psychological and developmental research. We interviewed dozens and dozens of parents. We heard stories from their childhoods. Stories that sometimes broke our hearts.

It’s the rare person who wasn’t somehow wounded by their parents. Not because our parents didn’t love us or want to do right by us, but because of pervasive, long-held ideas about good parenting. For example, that good parenting has children meet some prescribed standard of behavior. This means kids are scolded, admonished, shamed back into line, and if they don’t comply, punished or even physically harmed.

Our culture tells us this is good parenting, which causes an internal struggle in parents like us who long for something different. We’re uneasy with the commonplace truism that we need to parent our children authoritatively while feeling—and ignoring or suppressing—the strong instinct that it hurts them and us. When children experience harm, even unintentionally, from the people they love the most, it impacts their self-image and self-esteem.

So when we yell at kids or withhold affection because they’re “too much,” or if we punish them or compel them to stop crying, we’re doing the same thing to our kids that our parents did to us, who were doing the same thing done to them. And back through the generations we go, one after the next, getting bruised, inside and out. Ouch.

Children today face seismic instability, born into a world that, through a constant barrage of news and media, instills in them the idea they’re not safe. Whether it’s climate change, media, the pandemic, etc., the culture is doing a number on our kids. They need us to transcend “normal parenting” now.

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AutomobilesDining in Los AngelesEntertainmentThe Left CoastTravel

Loving LA Despite Itself

cinespia screen

How a Black Eye Made Me Remember Why I Keep Going Back to LA

I usually visit Los Angeles a couple of times a year, returning to the hangouts I frequented when I lived in the city six years ago. I also make it a mission on each trip to discover new places and adventures. My most recent trip didn’t disappoint, as the good and bad of the town never fails to bubble up, like the ooze of La Brea Tar Pits.

It had been a year since my last trip to LA in summer 2021, which had started well with COVID’s dissipation but then ended badly with an unexpected surge in infections that sealed up the city once again. This time, the pandemic was almost a memory, as masks were the exception, tent encampments were fewer, and crowded public events were back in swing.    

Not knowing what might happen with the COVID situation, I planned a lot of outdoor and open-air activities, which I figured were a safer bet for avoiding rubbing elbows with the unmasked masses. I also found a way to avoid waiting in line to buy tickets for attractions like Universal Studios and the Van Gogh exhibit by using Tiqets, an online booking platform. The service offers a flexible cancellation policy, in case circumstances change, and they offer special deals and packages, like express access passes for Universal Studios Hollywood, perfect for short vacations so you can skip lines and enjoy more of the rides and shows.

The incredible surround-sight-and-sound Van Gogh Experience was pleasantly uncrowded, especially since my group took advantage of the VIP access tickets with an hour early entry. Plus, we all got a cool poster and $10 for the gift shop, which I applied toward a Starry Night jigsaw puzzle, which I will put together, someday.

As I always do on my LA visits, I explore the touristy attractions. It only makes sense when you’re in one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations to enjoy cruising the Sunset Strip and strolling the Hollywood Walk of Fame — but also to do the things that makes LA LA, like hiking Runyon Canyon, and going to Cinespia, my favorite outdoor movie event, where thousands of movie lovers flock with their blankets, coolers and LED votives for an alfresco dinner to DJ tunes followed by a modern classic movie. While the Cinespia enterprise has grown exponentially since I first started attending 20 years ago, expanding into multiple cinematic locales, I still gravitate toward the original venue of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There I have enjoyed beloved films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Point Break, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard (yes, in December, because it is a Christmas movie), and Dirty Dancing (the latter on July 4th, complete with fireworks timed for Patrick Swayze’s climatic lift of Jennifer Grey, projected on Rudolph Valentino’s Mausoleum.

As has been my LA story, when I am in LA, something dramatic, and sometimes traumatic happens. This time, I had a bad fall, breaking and spraining my fingers, suffering a concussion-inducing face contusion, and banging and bloodying my knee, thanks to the dark alleyway and awkward steps leading to my Airbnb accommodations. After a trip to Cedars-Sinai Urgent Care, I was wrapped in a cast and doped up on pain killers. This is when my perspective became a little foggy yet clearer about what was different in LA this trip.

While many of my plans – like my favorite bike ride on the path from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach — had to be scrapped due to my injuries, I carried on, as the show is apt to do in Hollywood. So I did what I could, which was eat and drink, at least a few times a day, at some of my favorite restaurants and bars, like Hugo’s in West Hollywood, Real Food Daily (where I never fail to see a celebrity enjoying the city’s finest vegan menu), WeHo Bistro (for to-die-for French onion soup), Sun Café on Ventura Blvd., (best vegan smoothies around), and the Abbey (where the burgers and fries are passable, but where else can you drink and watch nearly naked men dancing on the bar, surrounded by statues of saints?).

In a couple of days, I was cleared to drive, so my friends were relieved of taxi duty. Luckily, I had the next best thing to a chauffeur, which was a Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4. Of course, I was doing the actual driving, but it hardly seemed like it. Despite busted fingers and my hand bandaged up like Rocky, I was able to navigate the side streets like a champ. I’ve been driving SUVs for 16 years, so I am used to sitting up high, which is a definite advantage driving LA streets, otherwise known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. For instance, I was easily able to steer around a guy dancing in his underwear in an intersection (an actual event during my trip), and quickly react to the usual entitled LA drivers cutting me off to get one car length ahead. I felt insulated and protected by the heft of this car, such that if, heaven forbid, someone pulled out in front of me, I would probably plow through them War of the Roses style and be just fine. I was also thankful for driver assist and auto parking features that helped compensate for my compromised dexterity.

During every trip back to LA, I take account of what got worse, what stayed the same, and what changed for the better. For instance, my old go-to grocery store in Santa Monica, formally a Lucky’s, then an Albertson’s, is now a Gelson’s. Chalk one up for improvements. Other upgrades include my son’s old playground in WeHo by the public library, which is now the home of a spanking-new aquatic center; and new green bike lines that sprouted up throughout Santa Monica and West Hollywood – though even with these dedicated bike lanes, motor vehicle drivers still encroach on biking right-aways, but it has it helped improve biker safety by a degree. Another sign of progress was that almost every public bathroom was all-gender.

Things that have changed and stayed the same can be summed up in an incident that occurred when I was leaving T.J. Maxx in Santa Monica. A security guard tackled a homeless guy stealing a purse. That’s the usual thing. The new thing was that the guard was wearing latex gloves, presumably for COVID.  Another stayed-the-same thing was that the Abbey was packed. The new thing was large screen TVs behind the bar flashing, “Warning. Beware of pickpockets. “Again, I presumed this was due to the COVID-driven pre-recession climate ratcheting up crime rates. There were fewer tent cities, especially at the beaches, though there were plenty of the usual vendors selling sage and crystals.

Despite my spill at the Airbnb, I felt lucky for the rest of my trip. Maybe because of my injury and not in spite of it, people treated me nicely. Like the woman at the Walgreens who looked at my broken fingers and my blackeye and whispered quietly to me, “Are you OK?” Others stared sympathetically at me, held doors, smiled and otherwise extended kindnesses to me, possibly assuming I was a victim of domestic violence. I experienced this kinder-and-gentler LA all the way to my gate at LAX, when the United Airlines boarding agent took a look at me and invited me to board early, gave me an entire row to myself despite a full plane, and checked my carry-on for free.

As I clicked my seatbelt around me, I realized I had forgotten my scapular, a religious amulet I wear on flights for the protection of the Virgin Mary. Usually, I would’ve considered this a bad omen and freaked out; but as I reached into my jean pocket, I found a scapular patch, which I had found lying on a bench during my visit to Universal Studios. I pinned the scapular to my shirt, over my heart, and I relaxed into my five-hour-10-minute flight back to DC. So went another typical, atypical trip to LA, where good, bad and the surgically enhanced come together in a way that happens “Only in LA.”

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Three Essentials for Easy Riding


Crank it up your biking experience with these must-haves


When enjoying a bike ride, besides the scenery and company, your gear makes up a large part of a bike riding experience. Here are a few must-haves for the road or trail rider to make your outing on two wheels carefree and pleasant.

Smart conversation

Cycling with a friend doubles the fun, though trying to communicate while you ride can be a challenge. The Bluetooth-enabled Sena pi ($99) headset allows you and a companion to converse while you ride with a range up to a quarter of a mile, with a six-hour talk time. The 2-way intercom system features a pair of devices for you and your biking buddy. Two components about the size of thin thumb drives fasten with clips onto your helmet straps. The components house the Bluetooth technology, microphone and speaker and are strung together with a cable that you tuck into your helmet. The system, which works with an app on your smartphone, can convert almost any sport helmet into a smart helmet. A huge advantage to connected riding is that you can watch the road instead of turning around to talk to a fellow rider, which is not just more convenient but safer. Instead of catching up with your pal after the ride, you can chat, give directions, and check in with each other for the duration of your ride.

Vibe with vibrant earbuds

If you enjoy listening to tunes while you ride, pump up your audio experience with JVC’s Gumy Mini True Wireless earbuds ($30). These comfortable small-sized, sweat-and-rain-proof earbuds feature Bluetooth 5.1 technology and a battery life of up to 15 hours with the included USB-C-powered charging case. They conveniently auto-connect right out of the charging case, and they can be controlled remotely and are voice assistant compatible. For the cycling fashionista, you can wear a color to match your jersey with five colors to choose from: black, white, red, blue and green.

Carriers with coolness

How cool is the brand that describes its product’s fastening power as “Secure AF?”  KOM Cycling is the epitome of the cool cyclist brand with products designed by and for cool cyclists. Among their large assortment of accessories, they carry the ultimate carrier, a frame strap ($29.99) for tube and tools that is almost non-existent, but fully functional, durable, and built for speed and performance. The sleek and minimalistic design keeps the weight low and your necessities – tube, CO2 inflator and canisters, tire levers and tube repair tool — streamlined to stay out of your way, Velcroed in a bundle, with a soft nylon lace facing to protect your frame. If you need a bit more capacity, the KOM Cycling Tool Roll ($39.99) features three pockets and is large enough to accommodate your multitool, larger-sized tubes and other essentials, neatly and securely with the ATOP knob lacing system under the seat. Like its accessory-keeping cousin, the roll features non-abrasive materials that won’t scratch your ride.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleTravel

Almost unmasking LA before a summer surge sent us packing


Trying to stay ahead of the curve during a pandemic vacay to LA

I went back to Los Angeles this summer, taking a vacation from my new hometown of Washington, D.C. My second trip to the city since the start of the pandemic started much better than when I visited over spring break, in April 2021. LA had made huge strides toward reopening. Restaurants welcomed diners indoors, attractions and theme parks re-opened, and stores removed mask mandates for the vaccinated. But then that all changed.

How it started, and how it ended

When I arrived in early July, all over LA, there was an aura of optimism, from Hollywood to the beach cities, the populace was eager for a return to pre-pandemic life. Then, a few days before the end of my three-week visit, things took a turn. Just like that, COVID-19 case numbers went up by 60 percent in a single day, and city officials renewed mask orders for indoor public spaces.

After two weeks of feeling a new sense of freedom in the air and sunshine at the end of the tunnel, a stop into the Insomnia cookie shop in WeHo took me aback. As I donned my mask and entered the store, a vigilant employee loudly ordered me outdoors because only one customer was permitted in the store at a time. The tide had turned, again.

Mask, and mask again

Over spring break, masks were still ubiquitous, and tensions remained high between the cautious and the anti-maskers who felt face coverings were unnecessary — or an encroachment on their freedom. As the city readied for July 4rth Independence Day celebrations, it was rare to see a masked face anywhere, except for those behind the register or prepping and serving food, and most businesses had taken down signs regarding masking.

Shopping at Bay Cities Deli
Customers were not allowed inside to eat at the counter at Apple Pan

The only hold outs for masking I visited were the Apple Pan, the historic luncheonette on Pico Blvd., and Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica, where their vigilant masking enforcers put the Soup Nazi to shame.

Most of the “hygiene theatre” had faded away. At store entrances, gone were attendants whose job it was to politely screen patrons for masks and offer a squirt of hand-sani. While most people maintained some semblance of social distancing, the six-feet directive was six-feet under.

A rare sign of the times, before the renewed masking edict

Nobody puts LA in a corner

At Cinespia, LA’s longest-running outdoor movie event, the July 4rth screening of Dirty Dancing hosted a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees, sitting blanket-to-blanket, across the Hollywood Forever Cemetery lawn. As patrons dined al fresco and grooved to the tunes of the pre-show DJ, they were as high as Baby’s triumphant lift, without a mask or any other reminder of the pandemic in sight. When post-show fireworks exploded, the throngs cheered wildly. It was a true celebration of freedom.

Cinespia picnic before the show
The throngs at Cinespia, a welcome reprieve from social distancing, and masks
Mingling before “Dirty Dancing” started at Cinespia, like old times
The exhileration of freedom, celebrated with fireworks at the July 4 Cinespia event

At Knott’s Berry Farm, it was child’s play as usual. Despite reservation-only admission, the park seemed as busy as any pre-pandemic summer. Early in the day, patrons wearing masks were sprinkled about, but as the sun rose and temperatures hit 85 degrees, masks came off. Social distancing was almost nonexistent. Picnic tables were more spread apart than usual at eateries, but lines of closely packed-in kids were the norm. Even in indoor settings, such as the in-park restaurants, it was rare to see a mask. The good part was that kids seemed oblivious that there ever was a pandemic, as they squealed with abandon on the thrill rides.

Cool kids enjoying a sunny day at Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, without a pandemic cloud over their heads

Museums along the Miracle Mile were open, though operating at a reduced crowd capacity. Petersen Automotive Museum offered pre-purchasing of tickets and required an online wellness check and masks for visitors. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also featured reservations-only entry for specified time blocks plus on-site wellness screenings and temperature checks before entry for indoor exhibits. Outdoor public art exhibits, such as the Urban Light lamppost field, and dining at the Resnick Pavilion were free and open.

Checking temperature at LACMA
Mask required at Petersen Museum
Social distancing but mask-free at the outdoor public art “Urban Light” installation at LACMA

Pandemic after-party

Nightlife continued to pick up where it left off when lockdowns started in March 2020. Cooped up for nearly a year and half, clubbers were out in droves. In West Hollywood, the world’s most famous gay bar, The Abbey, was crammed with people, though there were slightly fewer tables than usual, spread out on its expansive patio.

In Hollywood, with COVID case numbers falling midway through the summer, The Hollywood Partnership (THP), an organization dedicated to promoting patronage of the district center, ramped up its efforts to attract more visitors.

“By all accounts, domestic tourism is thriving,” said Kristopher Larson, President and CEO of THP.  “Hotel occupancy is back into the 60th percentile, a figure which already exceeds previous recovery projections for the year. We’re also seeing continued growth in pedestrian vibrancy on the Walk of Fame, and our pedestrian counts through June 30 have already reached levels comparable to fall and winter of 2019 pre-pandemic.”

Many Hollywood establishments, like The Dudes’ Brewing Company, did their part to help revive the strip by appealing to its lifeblood of tourists the good old-fashioned way: great happy hour prices for drinks and food, along with offering expansive fresh-air patio seating. Art Paz, a Dudes’ manager, also doubled down on providing attentive customer service, despite the fact that most restaurants remain understaffed due to many service workers staying home during the pandemic. “Good drinks, good food and good service will keep them coming back,” said Paz.

Hanging with Gus the manager at the Dudes’ Brewing Company in Hollywood
Happy Hours made happy again, with spaced-out outdoor seating at Dudes’

Sheltering space

Starting early in the summer season, tourist draws like Marina del Rey were flourishing. The newly renovated Marriott Courtyard Hotel on the harbor welcomed a steady flow of guests through July, and its upscale waterfront eatery, Brizo Bar & Restaurant, was fully committed nightly, requiring reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Like many of the properties across LA that saw a precipitous drop in clientele during the pandemic’s worst surges, the hotel took the opportunity to remodel as well as revamp its offerings, including expanding its outdoor dining and contactless mobile room-service, enhanced cleaning protocols, reservations for the pool, and 24-hour turnarounds on rooms.

An empty pool at Marriott Courtyard Inn in Marina Del Rey
The gym to ourselves at the hotel
Lucky to get a reservation at Brizo to enjoy the scenic outdoor patio overlooking the Marina
Lots of open space around the hotel grounds
The deep cleaning procedures showcase on the hotel’s private channel

Enhanced cleaning throughout the hotel are intended to help pandemic-stressed guests sleep well at night

Glossing over deep cleaning

If the sparsity of available accommodations in July was any indication, tourism was on track to surpass pre-pandemic occupancy levels. Hotels across LA maintained premium season pricing, and even reasonably priced Airbnb places were rare to find, partly because many hosts who bought investment properties were driven out of business when COVID hit, and guests canceled in droves.

For our family’s extended stay, I opted for a no-frills two-bedroom, two-bath Airbnb rental in Beverly Hills for $250 per night. But despite promises of “deep cleaning,” the wipe up after the last guest was cursory at best. Even if there were no pandemic, I would’ve appreciated a quick sweep under the bed, which would have netted a previous guest’s credit card along with medical papers indicating the person was being treated with antibiotics.

Boom or bust

No one needs to tell anyone in LA, whether they are a tourist or a full-time resident, about the high cost of housing there. While many Californians are suffering the economic impacts of COVID-19, wealthy buyers have capitalized on low interest rates, driving elevated prices even higher. In September 2020, California’s median home price reached $712,430 — outpricing homes for working families.

This fact hit home when I took a trip down memory lane to my old residence in South Carthay from which I moved five years ago. I met the new owner of my duplex, a 29-year-old retired adult film actress. She was one of the lucky ones who bought early in 2020, landing a deal of $1.6 million for my former 4,000 sq.-foot duplex, complete with a pool and four-car garage. In today’s market, it would be at least $2 million. Ridiculous home prices have driven people onto the streets and are the reason many Airbnb hosts don’t give a darn about meticulous housekeeping, because rentals right now in LA can demand a premium price without grand offerings.

The mean streets of LA

One major visible consequence of COVID-19 remains the tent towns of homeless people, who have encamped along highways, beaches and the even borders of some of LA’s most affluent neighborhoods. With the lifting of eviction bans expected at the end of summer, putting more people out of their homes, surely these homeless camps would have grown, but due to Biden’s recent stay on the ban, this explosion of homelessness may be abetted a while. For now, LA has adapted to their new living situation, such as when I got directions from a seller on Craigslist who advised, “You can park beside the building, next to the homeless camp.”

Tent cities along the beach and across LA highlight a depending housing crisis

Social distancing disorder

While they may be a few feet farther apart, people are once again all up in other people’s faces in LA. After an 18-month hiatus from normal socializing, it’s no wonder people have forgotten their manners. Servers at restaurants, where a labor shortage has impacted their ability to properly service customers, told me that patrons have become more demanding and have less patience for slow service, ironically blaming those who are working – and not those sitting out the pandemic and collecting unemployment.

A usually decorous friend who lives in West Hollywood told me she was shushed twice in one week, at a hair salon and then at a nail salon, because her voice was disturbing others. She surmises either she has forgotten how to use her indoor voice after many months of quarantining, or other people have become less tolerant. From my own observations and experience, it seems to be a little of both, not just for her but for many of us.

Traffic signs

Indeed, both the good and the bad of LA have re-emerged post pandemic. Traffic has returned across the city. While I enjoyed quicker travel times over spring break, it was exciting to see the activity on the roads again, including an only-in-LA experience of being caught in the middle of a literal Ford-versus-Ferrari drag race on the 405 when a Mustang and an 812 GTS blew past my Lincoln Nautilus at a minimum of 100 miles an hour.

One drive I have always loved in LA is along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. On a quiet Monday night, I cruised up the coast to see how my old favorite hot spots had weathered the pandemic. As I turned onto PCH in Santa Monica, an overhead sign flashed a warning to any covidiots still undecided about what they should do if they wanted to get to the end of the pandemic. It read, “This Is A Sign to Get Vaccinated.”

A sign to help those who are lost find the way out of the pandemic

On a Monday night in Malibu, the Gladstone’s crowd was not applauding the sunset like they had done for 44 years, because the restaurant was closed up tight – a casualty of the pandemic, but other hotspots like Moonshadows, Geoffrey’s, Dukes, Malibu Seafood and our ultimate destination, Paradise Cove, were hopping, proving that you cannot keep a determined tourist down and out, in Beverly Hills, or the beach cities.

Masks are the new black

Midway through my visit, Mayor Eric Garcetti called for people to mask up again indoors. With the revived orders, the rancor of the arguments about them resuscitated, casting a pall on LA once again. But while LA was the first, they were not the last to call for a reshowing of face coverings. In the weeks to follow, one by one, as the Delta variant surged, cities and states asked people to once again mask up indoors, vaccinated or not, based on their area’s incidence of COVID-19 cases.

Ebb and flow

With a wave of new COVID cases sweeping across the city, there was a sudden and sad turnabout in the lightness and liberty that I had experienced during the first part of my visit.

Perhaps as a cosmic analogy to the changing tides in hopes, a massive dump of 17,000,000 gallons of raw sewage off the shore of El Segundo closed down the beaches for the rest of our trip. It was too stinky to even get out of the car at the Blue Butterfly Preserve, which we hoped to visit on our way to LAX.

As our plane soared over the ocean, I looked longingly at the City of Angels beneath us, with great optimism, on a wing and a prayer, that our next trip back in a few months will be maskless, carefree, and coronavirus free.

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Eat & DrinkEntertainmentLifestyle

Los Angeles reopens to a new normal, Hollywood style

As the pandemic fades away, LA prepares for what’s next

When I checked into the Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach, I saw a sign in the lobby that said, “Stay safe, start living.” That set the tone for my first trip to Los Angeles since the pandemic started.

The Portofino Hotel website says it all

I had previously canceled two trips — one last summer, and one over the winter holidays, due to severe upticks in cases in LA. I had posed the question to friends on Facebook, “Is it safe to visit,” and my LA peeps immediately and resoundingly warned me, “Do not come.”

But with the reopening of outdoor dining in March, with some trepidation, I planned a trip for spring break. I am happy to report, while things are not the way they used to be, the city is ready to welcome back visitors.

The Mask Question

Coming from our new hometown in rural Virginia, where the majority of people but not all are conscientious about mask wearing, I was a little taken aback by the militant masking in LA, even when people were riding bikes and jogging at the beach. A friend told me people are so insistent about mask wearing that when she sat in a parked car with her window down a passerby ordered her to mask up.

When I wandered a little further outside the city, to Redondo Beach, masking was a little laxer. Maskless people strolled on the beach and chatted at outdoor cafés, but all had their masks dangling from an ear or worn under their chins, just in case.

Openings and Closings

One thing I did notice that was strikingly different from the last time I visited was the number of tent cities across LA. Even on median strips along surface streets, there were tents filled with homeless people, which I had to believe were in much greater numbers due to COVID.

Of course, they were also many shuttered shops, businesses and restaurants that one year ago were open and thriving. Among the casualties was our family’s old go-to Soup Plantation at the Beverly Center, the elegant date-night spot Fig & Olive on Melrose, and one of my favorite eateries to take out-of-town friends, Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills.

Also gone was the hipster Standard Hotel in Hollywood, famous for The Box art lobby installation featuring live barely clothed models. Even my old neighborhood Walgreen’s had closed, and I was particularly sad to see that Joeys Gym in Robertson Boulevard, where my son and I did his first mommy and me classes, had closed its doors. They do have a Go-Fund-Me site, so hopefully, they will come back when the pandemic is over.

Viva Los Angelenos

L.A. is not a city to, as Winston Churchill puts it, “Let a good crisis go to waste.” New stay-at-home enterprises have popped up, such as Pineapple Express, a service that will deliver cannabis products lickety-split. Nail salons have set up mani-pedi stations on the sidewalks, and yoga classes have moved outdoors to the parks. Other inventive pivots to make up for closed theme parks were new drive-through attractions, such as the Stranger Things Drive Into Experience, held in a converted parking structure, which got decent reviews from fans. While these pop-up attractions are good placeholders, there’s truly no substitute for the happiest place on Earth, so tourists will be thrilled that Disneyland has opened its gates – masks and temperature checks required.

The perpetual 69-degrees-and-balmy weather in LA has many advantages over other cities, where the outdoors is almost always an option for whatever you want to do.

The plethora of parks around LA are thankfully opened reopened, such as one of my favorite hikes, Runyon Canyon, the only place I know where you can see an assortment of shirtless, sleek physiques and designer dogs in Bjorn carriers, and hikers wearing Yves Saint Laurent fanny packs.

This is one of my favorite hikes, not just because of its choice of either the easy paved fire road or the challenging steep, rocky walk-climb up the hill, but also because of its vicinity to Hollywood, which draws a lot of interesting industry people. I continue to mull my idea of creating a book of haikus consisting of snippets of conversations I’ve heard walking the hill, such as, “What do you think of Timothee Chalamet for the lead, blah blah blah.”

With nary a mask in sight at Runyon, the only sign of the current health crisis was a new sign for a “chat bench,” where strangers could strike up a conversation six feet apart to combat social isolation during COVID.

A Winery Oasis in LA

While many attractions are still closed or operating on a limited capacity basis, there’s still plenty to do in LA during its re-opening phase. Looking for something different to do off the crowded and beaten path, a friend and I went to the center of downtown LA and found an unexpected oasis, the historical San Antonio Winery.

This family-owned winery, in operation since 1917, is a remnant of the once-thriving winery businesses that used to occupy the middle of DTLA. The current facility is used to ferment and bottle the wines and features a number of lovely gathering spaces for private events, along with a gourmet restaurant. Like many restaurants in town, the winery has expanded its seating into the parking lot, which has become so popular that the management plans on keeping the outdoor space even when COVID has been corked.

Sol or Sombra Seating

An unmistakable advantage LA has over many cities when it comes to dining is the plethora of options for outdoor seating. With patio heaters, you can dine alfresco year-round. Many hole-in-the-wall restaurants are now getting their moment in the sun, taking over sidewalks and parking lanes, adding tables and chairs, lattices and flower boxes.

While no one can say the pandemic has been a boon to business, some restaurants have made the best of it, like Lanea in Santa Monica, voted at one of L.A.‘s top 10 for outdoor dining. Previously known for their flights of delicious spicy margaritas and awesome gourmet tacos (You say Pollo I say Asada), now they are also known for their open-air seating, where people-watching — a block off of 3rd Street Promenade – is at its finest. But if even with touchless QR menus and strict masking policies, you’re too timid to imbibe on the premises, they offer all of their margaritas canned and ready to go. They can also box up your favorite entrées, like their surprisingly tasty cilantro rice, and their signature guacamole, that like their cocktails, pack a kick.

Deli Delight

In Hermosa Beach, the family-owned neighborhood landmark, Mickey’s Deli, is thriving with its hybrid model of delivery, take-out, or outdoor dining options – at socially distanced tables on its patio. The 53-year-old Italian deli institution is doing its part to relieve social isolation with its renowned warm and friendly service, along with its hearty Italian comfort food palate pleasers. Some of the most popular menu items are the legendary bulging breakfast burritos, beefy sandwiches like Italian Beef or Chicken Parmigiano w/ eggplant, and hot pasta dishes like Mostaccioli Deluxe, along with plenty of generously portioned salads. Besides the outstanding deli offerings, the eatery remains a destination for tourists and locals alike – especially kids – for its old-fashioned mini-mart of candy, snacks and knick-knacks.

Now That’s Italian

An area that until the pandemic was building momentum over the past few years as a popular hotspot of eateries, Culver City, got a bit quieter, partially due to the Arclight Cinemas going dark, but the tree-lined Main Street atmosphere has proven conducive to outdoor dining.

One mainstay restaurant that is still going strong after 18 years is Ugo, which holds a special place in my heart as the very first restaurant I went out to with my newborn son, carted along in his baby seat carrier.

The restaurant is beloved by the community, and the feeling is mutual, such as was evidenced by the restaurant giving 50% off to the community during shut down, well they had to resort to carry out orders only.

Besides being a favorite industry lunch spot with executives at the nearby Sony Studios, it is also a favorite with the nearby Police Department, who I’m told favor the Conchiglie Rossi primi pasta. My own favorite is the popular Portobello Fries, a plate of lightly fried frites topped with grana padana.

The restaurant is also renowned for its Neapolitan pizza, certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association to be prepared and served according to traditional standards, with authentic ingredients in the same way the first pizza was created hundreds of years ago in Naples, Italy. While the preparation may be traditional, the varieties are inventive, such as the Figo, consisting of fresh mozzarella, dry figs, goat cheese, Parmesan, arugula, and truffle honey. Lastly, the restaurant is famed for its delicious cannoli, which during a recent Carnevale of Conoli celebrated in LA was named “the best cannoli in LA.’

Life’s a Beach

Of course, one of the main attractions of LA is the beaches, which after nearly a year of strict social distancing rules and even closures, except for active swimming or running (no sunbathing allowed), are open for visitors. Nearly every day of my visit to LA I loaded my bike into the back of my Lincoln Corsair and headlined for the shore, where I would ride the trail from Venice, through Santa Monica, to the end of the path at Will Rogers State Beach.

Other than most people wearing masks in crowded areas, you wouldn’t know there was a pandemic. The path was packed with bikers, runners, skaters, and those pesky pedestrians on the wrong side of the trail, just like a typical summer day. Most of the souvenir shops and food vendors were open, though a few were boarded up.

One very different optic was the pop-up tent cities, especially in Venice, where campers had taken up residence for some time — furnishing their tents with mattresses and sofas. This is due to the LA City Council suspending municipal codes during the COVID-19 outbreak, so that campers did not have to take down tents and night and limits of 60 gallons of possessions per camper were not enforced. It was a sad reminder of the thousands of people who lost jobs and housing during the pandemic.

LA’s New Normal

For anyone considering a trip to LA, I would not let lingering worries about COVID-19 get in the way. Because the metropolis was so hard hit by the virus, the city responded swiftly and strongly, with determination and ingenuity, finding ways to keep the city up and running, for residents and tourists. Its pandemic response has been no less than you would expect from Hollywood, and the town is now ready for its close-up.

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Getting a TikTok-loving tech-obsessed teen outdoors

sena ride 1000×750

A ride on the wild side

Like many ‘tween and teen boys, my son played a lot of Fortnite. Okay, too much Fortnite. Hours and hours of Fortnite, sometimes through the night. When he wasn’t playing Fortnite, he was on group chats with his friends or watching TikToks.  I tried to get him involved in other activities, from power tumbling to unicycling, but at the end of the day, nothing beat screen time, until he got a minibike.

His dad bought him a Monster Moto Classic 105cc. It looked like the same minibike our neighbors the Wireman’s used to ride around the campgrounds of Westmoreland, Virginia, in the 1970s. It sat low to the ground, so when his dad rode it, he looked like a Shriner clown in a parade. But when my son was on it, he was a king.

My son loved this minibike, despite the fact it had no suspension and shook him like a rag doll on the muddy ruts of the fields behind our home. After long rides he’d come into the house bent over like an old man, complaining of back pain, but he still loved riding, and he became the kid to know on the block, giving rides to the other kids on the back, or even letting them take a spin, if they were lucky, and their parents said it was okay.

Scream Time vs. Screen Time

With his new-found outdoor hobby, I thought my son would lose interest in technology, but actually, he just began to use it in a different way; and this is when I learned to stop worrying and love the web.

He learned on YouTube how to tweak the governor to make the bike run faster.  According to an odometer app he installed on his iPhone, he reached speeds of 35 mph, which seemed way too fast for this little bike, but as I watched him zip around the trails, he seemed to handle the pace deftly.

Since he was approaching 13 years old, he felt he had outgrown the Monster Moto, and he wanted a more powerful bike, with suspension. He searched for weeks on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist until he found a pre-owned Coleman CT200U-EX CT200-EX Minibike with a camo paint job, and it seemed like a nice little bike. The seller offered to bring it on a trailer to us from Maryland, about an hour and a half away. When he arrived, I stood with my mouth agape looking at the size of this supposed minibike, which looked like a man-size motorcycle.

My son was jittery with excitement as the seller backed the bike down the trailer ramp onto the street. I hated that I hoped it wouldn’t start, so we’d have a good reason to not buy this enormous bike. With one kickstart, the motor roared, and then it purred. My son’s face shone like he had just won a Battle Royale.

Getting Geared Up and Plugged In

As I watched my son immerse himself in his new pastime, I realized how technology was not the enemy.  In fact, it was our friend.  My son learned about safety and basic maintenance by watching YouTube videos, and we looked up trails and the local ordinances and found where he could and couldn’t ride legally. He also read online reviews and shopped online for just about all the gear he needed.

Even the gear itself was high tech. After reading about smart helmets, we chose the Sena Momentum EVO; in fact, we got two of them. My son was thrilled with the idea that he could listen to music or talk on the phone or in real-time with a biking buddy over the built-in microphones.  It also has a mount for a Go-Pro, which he uses to make TikTok videos on his rides. His dad and I have even gotten into the action, as camera operator and on-camera comic relief, such as his dad’s whiskey throttle that rocketed him into my car bumper in the garage.

As with any diversion for the modern teen, an integration with tech keeps them from tiring of it. In my day, the putter of a minibike bumping along a woodsy trail was entertainment enough. Today’s teen rides fully loaded, with connected devices that enhance their enjoyment, and safety. By the same token, tech has made our lives as parents more stress-free, as the Life360 app I put on his phone allows me to track his whereabouts in real-time and even monitor his speed, and with Waze to help him navigate, he will never get lost.

My son still plays the occasional round of Fortnite, usually when the sun goes down, or it’s raining and he can’t ride. Then he entertains himself with YouTube videos of minibike racing and extreme minibike challenges, which we enjoy watching together.

In today’s connected age, parents must accept that banning tech is futile. The best solution is to embrace it in the most positive way. If you can beat it — which you can’t, join it, and go along for the ride. In fact, we just got a couple of road scooters for the adults. The family that rides – and connects by Bluetooth-enabled helmets – together, stays together.

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5 Gifts for a Pandemic Holiday


We’re all ready for 2020 to end, but the reality is the pandemic will linger into 2021. Give your loved ones a gift that helps them get through these tough times and prepares them for the new normal, which we all hope will be a wonderous New Year!

Zoom in on Work Posture

It’s important to look presentable on Zoom calls, but low-lying laptop cameras leave much to be desired when it comes to capturing our best self. The obVus Solutions  Minder Laptop Tower Stand ($74.99) raises your screen to the proper eye-level height that gives a flattering view of your face. When not propping up your virtual visage for video calls, this sturdy and quality-bult stand elevates your laptop from 2” to 21” to the perfect height for stand-up working, to prevent poor posture that leads to fatigue and hunched-over stances that can lead to chronic musculoskeletal problems. Sitting is the new smoking, so stand up against sitting, and look pretty doing it.

Wave Off Germs

As we head back into the office and ease into public life again, a handy device to tote everywhere you go is the Sharper Image Travel UV Sanitizing Wand ($79), to wave over items and kill germs. This compact cordless device uses powerful Ultraviolet-C light to significantly reduce microscopic germs, mold and other health hazards. It can be used to sanitize bedding, towels, chairs, doorknobs, light switches, bathroom fixtures and remote controls, killing up to 99.9% of bacteria, including E. coli. For those worried about potential dangers of eye exposure, it features an auto safety shutoff in case it is accidentally overturned.

The Case of the Dropped Phone

Our phones have always been our lifeline, but during the pandemic they not only keep us connected during social distancing, they literally can provide life-saving information, from alerting us that we have been contact traced to keeping us and our loved ones informed and safe. Protect your phone with top-rated made-to-take-abuse Catalyst Cases. The feather-lightweight Impact Protection Case ($39.99) protects your phone from drops up to 9.9 feet. Or if you are out in the elements, get full protection with the Waterproof Case ($89.99), which keeps your phone dry at 33 feet plus is 6.6 feet drop-proof – and it can be washed with soap and water. For those who love to listen on iPods, Catalyst also makes an indestructible Total Protection Case for iPods Pro ($49.99)

Now We’re Cooking with Air

Shuttered restaurants means eating home a lot, but the Aria Teflon-Free Ceramic 2-Quart Retro Air Fryer (Macy’s $62.99) makes meal making quick and easy.  This powerful cooking capsule can fry, grill, reheat, roast and toast your favorite meats, breakfasts, desserts, vegetables and more faster than ever. It reaches 400° in seconds to cook faster than a traditional, convection, or microwave oven, without oil or grease – reducing fat in your food up to 80%. The lightweight, compact size of this Air Fryer conveniently fits on your countertop without taking up much space and easily stores in your cabinets when not in use.

Your Bag for Day Tripping

The pandemic has changed the roadmap for travel, as more of us take trips closer to home. Solo New York has the perfect luggage collection for your daytrip or weekend getaway. The Vive Mini Backpack (Macy’s, $60) has 10L storage capacity for all you essentials, along with comfy adjustable straps, a handy zippered front pocket and a wipe-clean exterior. For an overnight, the Treat 22-inch Carry-on Rolling Case (Macy’s, $260) features an interior organizer section, easy-glide wheels, a push-button telescoping handle system and two-front zippered pockets. For when you take to the air again, this compact carry-on meets requirements for most airlines.  A bonus: these Solo bags are made from recycled PET bottles, helping reduce waste.

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Home for the quarantine


Make the best of being stuck at home with these five cabin-fever killers

Maybe you once dreamed of how great it would be to cut your commute and work from home full time. Perhaps you imagined the domestic bliss of home-schooling your kids and having more quality time with the family. Now, that’s your reality be default, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and living-working-schooling at home is not all you expected. Well, here’s a few ideas to make your home life more liveable and comfortable while we all ride out this current crisis and look forward to the day when we can leave the house without worry of COVID-19.

A DIY Pillow

The first thing many of us think of about homebody life is sleeping in and nestling in our beds — sleeping in, taking a mid-day nap, or hitting the hay early when you’ve binged watched every great series on Netflix and there’s no place to go out.  Make your snooze time especially cozy with a Coop pillow. This stuff-it-yourself pillow comes with a plushy quilted case that you can fill to your heart’s (or your head and neck’s) desire.  In fact, it came with so much shredded foam filling that I made a smaller travel pillow out of the remainder after I fluffed my pillow to the perfect size.

Good Scents

After being cooped up in the same house day after day can make you miss going places,  and if you’re quarantined with a houseful of people, the air quality can get a bit stuffy. That’s when Moodo can be a mood saver. The electronic air freshener features unique pods that can be dropped into a diffuser to spread a variety of aromas around your indoors environment.   A smart version of the Moodo dispenser can accommodate up to four pods in which you can mix-and-match scents and control with an app on your phone. A smaller, more portable Moodo one-pod diffuser fits discreetly wherever you want, even a car cup holder, to fill the air with exciting fresh fragrances like beach party, lawnscape or classic vanilla.

Smart Switch

Now that you have time at home to do all those chores and fix-ups, finally you can smarten up your living space with Treatlife smart switches. With these sleek switches you can control lights remotely with the Smart Life app on your smartphone, IFTTT, Alexa or Google home devices, so you don’t even have to get out of bed to turn on or off the overhead. You can even schedule lights to come on and welcome you home, or turn them off if you forgot and left them on, when you make a rare venture out of the house, to social distance with friends.

Soft Walls

Designers often advise painting walls a new color to refresh a space, but Vant panels are a way better way to make your space go from blah to brilliant in an afternoon. These cushion-like panels snap into place on a aluminum bracket that can be installed on a wall in minutes. The assortment of colors and textures can accommodate the decor in any room, from the bedroom to a wet bar. At my home we used them for a special ambiance in a home podcast studio, where the panels provided excellent sound-proofing in addition to looking fabulous.

New Old Photos 

Those boxes of old photos and slides have been gathering dust for years, so use your lock-down leisure time to digitize them and make them look like new with Vivid-Pix, a software program that restores photos with artificial intelligence that can improve scanned photos in seconds.  Suddenly sepia-tones and muted colors appear bright and crisp. Our family historian, my cousin, used Vivid-Pix on more than 1,000 photos that he uploaded to a family Facebook page in a single day, to the delight of family and friends who joyfully pursued these once-lost and forgotten photos — keeping precious memories from literally fading away.

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