All I Smell is Smoke

For almost an entire week, my brain has been telling me that I smell strong cigarette smoke. Not the sexy waft of some fancy Turkish tobacco with a highball of whiskey or a cup of coffee. A room full of Marlboro reds and Pall Malls, half put out into a wet ashtray, still smoldering.

During the first few days, I thought this lingering scent may be from nearby construction workers or neighbors smoking on their back patio, somehow drifting into my home’s AC system. However, no one else smells it, just me. And it is everywhere.

After a quick search online, it appears that this may be a symptom of COVID recovery. A recent article in the Washington Post cites that 7% of over 4,000 respondents to an international questionnaire published in the June edition of Chemical Senses reported distortion to their sense of smell. Many reported that familiar foods and scents now smelled off, rotten, or foul. However, in my case, its simply that ambient air just reeks of cigarette smoke and ashtrays. The article also cites this Twitter thread in which the author, a young Pheonix-based funeral arranger, reports the same symptoms. This thread opens into a vibrant discussion of shared experiences, recovery windows, and short-term remedies.

While there isn’t an easy way to tell if these symptoms are related to COVID-19 in my case (or perhaps any other number of respiratory/sinus infections), they are real and they are at times overwhelming. From what I have read, a few possible treatments include using Flonase to subdue the effect (this hasn’t really worked for me), or Essential Oil treatments to retrain the senses by inhaling a number of unique familiar scents periodically.

As a former smoker, the silver lining of this experience is my renewed gratitude for quitting the habit a long time ago. As a smoker, I became nose blind to the awful odor that my habit caused and that I brought with me on all of my clothes. As cigarette smoking has fallen more out of popularity, it becomes striking when someone walks into a room after a quick smoke break. Imagine smelling this intensity all of the time–that’s what I’m going through right now, and I’m hopeful that within a few weeks my neurons will figure out “that’s not right” and plug the scent of ambient air back into the same pleasant socket it had before. Until then, it’s more Vick’s Vapor Rub for me!

Have you been experiencing these symptoms? Do you have any treatment that works? Leave your comments and experience below.

My First Adventures in Gardening

At age 36, the most experience I’ve had in gardening has been a pot of cilantro and a few other potted flowers that I grew on the back deck of an apartment. However, being a homeowner of over three years, I decided it was time to give the “builder basic” landscaping an upgrade–something with color, depth, and variety.

For our recent birthdays, my wife and I each received a little cash (thank you, Aunt Meghan!) and we wanted to make the most out of it that we could, so we thought investing it in our home would be the way to go.

With absolutely no idea of what I was getting into, I went to my front yard to take “Before” photographs and attempted to identify the existing plants. I was confident that the crepe myrtles in my flower bed were, in fact, crepe myrtles, but I was (and still am) less confident that I have positively identified the other shrubs. Laying dormant, I learned, were a nice collection of yellow daylilies.

Next, I used a Google Maps satellite image to draw out a map of the flower bed and mapped out my current assortment of vegetation, giving me an idea of the canvas I had to play with once we arrived to the nursery. Here’s a look at the before image:

Next, I piled the family into the car to head to home depot to select some flowers. There we found a beautiful array of choices. After a half hour of exploration, we decided on a bright and bold palette of white petunias, yellow miniature marigolds, vibrant pink cyclamen, and deep blue pericallis. These selections were modestly priced and helped us to stick to our budget of <$150 for flowers. Next, I’ll breakdown the cost and our haul.

Home Depot Haul Breakdown:

4x Flats of 12 (48)White Petunia$12.48$49.92
2x Flats of 12 (24)Yellow Marigold$12.48$24.96
5x 1.63 PtPink Cyclamen$4.98$24.90
3x 2.55qtBlue Pericallis$7.98$23.67
2x cu ftGarden Soil$3.97$7.94
1x Hand Trowl$4.97$4.97
1xGardening Gloves$5.98$5.98
Everything fit nicely into the cargo area of my Volvo XC40

After Returning home around 5PM, I began the task of planting. This involved digging large and deep holes for the Cyclamen and Pericallis, and a long and narrow trench for the pentunias and marigolds. As I removed some of the Texas clay, I filled holes with a layer of the garden soil, planted each flower, and then filled and covered with additional soil. During this process I found a good layer of top soil from years of decomposed mulch sitting atop a layer of clay that reminded me of my high school art class, almost the exact same color and viscosity.

Darkness fell as I was rounding out my planting, but I adjusted my floodlight so I could finish the task. As I was finishing, I realized my spacing had yielded a few extra pentunias and marigolds, so I used an empty flower pot sitting in the garage to add some color to our front porch. I filled the bottom with some of the clay I had unearthed, and filled it with the remaining garden soil. Once finished, I watered it all generously with a handheld watering can. The flower bed in which these flowers reside is equipped with a soaker line from our automated sprinkler system, so keeping them watered should be a breeze once I am able to dial in the appropriate watering pattern (if you have any pro tips, please get in touch or leave them in the comments below).

The Results

This morning, after making coffee, I was able to inspect the fruits of my labor as I went to pick up the Sunday paper. Here are a few photographs as well as a before/after composite of my crude PowerPoint landscaping map.

Here’s a Before and After of the landscaping map and curbside view of the house:

With the planning and planting of these flowers complete, my gardening adventure has just begun. I’m excited to see what I learn through the spring and summer!

I quit.

I was about halfway through the book when my mind was drifting. As many times as I tried to read the passage again, the content just wasn’t resonating with me. So much of what I had been reading wasn’t anything new or interesting to me. While the book was one I hadn’t read before, the content was a bloated series of facsimiles of the same ideas over and over. The different names and situations were almost indistinguishable.

So there I was, halfway through the book with a critical decision: do I keep on dredging through in hopes of finding value? Or do I just quit? The indicators were obvious that I was unlikely to gain value worth my time if I invested in in suffering through the next 150 so odd pages, so I quit.

It’s okay to quit. In fact, it’s healthy to do it quickly. Too often, in life, and business, we fall pray to the sunk cost fallacy that we somehow owe it to ourselves, other, or the universe to finished whatever it is we’ve started. But, the truth of the matter is that while we can never have back the time or money that we’ve already invested, we can choose where every minute or dollar that follows goes.

When the going gets tough, keep on going. But when the going gets pointless, go somewhere else.

Put an End to Zillow Listing Spoofing

In recent years, Zillow has become one of the most ubiquitous platforms for homebuyers. When passing by a house with a for sale sign, we no longer get out to “grab a brochure” instead, we just look to our smartphones and “Zillow it” for quick information on pricing, taxes, and schools. Never before have buyers had so much information available at their fingertips.

For sellers, Zillow is a great platform to get out in front of millions of prospective buyers for little or no cost. Technology enables people to virtually tour your house from their smartphones without wasting any of your Sunday afternoon with unnecessary showings. It even gives you an early idea of what you can expect to receive for your home based on your “Zestimate,” which I gather is the floor of what you could expect on the open market, or the minimum price in which you should feel confident receiving for your home, in many cases.

Whenever an “open” platform offers so many benefits for little to no cost, there will always be people that take advantage of it, bending the rules to further their agenda. My wife and I call this “Zillow spoofing,” and it’s a real nuisance for homebuyers.

Spoofing is a nefarious act of creating communication to make it appear it came from a different source, hoaxing or tricking someone into believing they are receiving communication from someone else. This tactic is used often in social engineering, making you believe you have received an official communication from someone of importance. In phone networks, this can be called phreaking, and makes it appear that you are receiving a phone call from a disguised number.

In Zillow, I consider spoofing to occur when a builder or listing agent intentionally misrepresents the address or coordinates of a home or homesite in order to appear in the search results of popular or desirable areas in a metropolitan area. Today, I came across a listing for a new subdivision 30 minutes away from the area in which I was looking. This is a nuisance as homebuyers must sort through the listing to determine if it is “really” where the map says it is.

What’s tough about this grey area is that the listings are real–the houses or homesites are for sale/contract, and they could be easily corrected to show their “true” location. And, more often than not, they’re being posted by legitimate brokers and builders. Unlike other scams and fake listings, these are seemingly benign. However, in aggregate, they can really waste time homebuyers’ time “vetting” each listing to see if it is location accurate.

So what can we do about it? Unfortunately, there is no easy way to report spoofing on Zillow. Users are given a menu of options to report listings, although I don’t think that these categorically fall under spam. Perhaps that’s how I should report them. In either case, this behavior needs to stop and Zillow needs to create a system of accountability for builders and listing agents that abuse the privilege of using their platform.

Do you work for Zillow and have any positive assurance? Are you a homebuyer bothered by this? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading.

Rudolph the Blacked Out Reindeer

15.446 Million

That’s how many families weren’t able to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer when it was blocked on CBS via streaming providers this evening, according to the latest subscriber counts for the six largest streaming providers (e.g. YouTubeTV and Hulu) and CBS All Access.

I’m curious what led to the decision to block this programming from streaming by CBS. In 2020, media companies should be prepared and equipped to distribute content equally across multiple platforms while maximizing revenue through channel optimization. So what really happened? Are antiquated rights agreements to blame or just corporate greed? In either case, bah humbug, I say!

(source: and #rudolph #christmas #advertising #streaming #TV

The Universe Winked at Me

We all have different beliefs about coincidences, divine messages, friendly spirits, simulation theory, and other ways to rationalize the coincidences that happen in our lives. But, despite the rationalizations, sometimes you’re forced to smile when they continue to pile on.

In my last blog post, I wrote about a sample that appeared in a song from one of my favorite albums, Kids by The Midnight. A sample from a an interview young computer enthusiast is featured in the opening song, and the source video of that sample recently appeared in my YouTube queue. Pretty cool, right?

Well, it went a step further yesterday. For some reason, I had delayed watching Street Light Stories: Chapter II, based on characters from the “Pittsburgh Dad” show written and produced by Chris Preksta & Curt Wootton. In the Pittsburgh Dad series, Curt plays an all-too-familiar and relatable blue collar father from Pittsburgh.

Street Light Stories, which was originally released in July of 2019 pulled at my heart strings. It was set in a suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood in the summer of 1987. The film included a stunning soundtrack, opening with Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday by Stevie Wonder whilst neighborhood kids were playing “ocka bocka soda poppa” and running around having fun.

The first film goes into the “Pittsburgh Dad” household and gives you an all-too-familiar glimpse of their home and family dynamic, filled with lots of “Pittsburghisms” and Pittsburghese that will resound with anyone from Western Pennsylvania.

In the end of the film, the kids are in the yard catching fireflies as the closing number, Just the Way You Are, by Billy Joel fades in. It really pulled at my heart strings as I remembered my childhood growing up in Pittsburgh.

Fast forward more than two later, and I finally decide to watch Chapter II, which also fast forwards to the summer of 1989 where Pittsburgh Dad’s kids host their first sleepovers. This episode took all of the funny nostalgia of the first short film and merged it with heartwarming portraits of adolescence from the perspectives of a young boy, his teenage sister, and two parents learning to adapt to their growing kids.

As if the episode wasn’t great enough, it ended a perfectly wistful, but uplifting and aptly named anthem, Memories, by who else, but The Midnight from their 2016 album (also appropriately named), Endless Summer.

Just maybe, as the song says, “All of this was planned when the world was started.”

When is the last time the universe winked at you in a big or little way?

You’re about to get a check. How you spend it could save our country and your neighbor.

Friday was a tough day. Many of my friends and colleagues were dealt a hard blow as their careers and livelihoods were put on pause through layoffs, furloughs, and reduced work schedules. A large number of these talented leaders have industry-specific jobs that will be difficult to transfer into other industries, especially in a saturated labor market.

Word on the street is that Uncle Sam is going to help by sending some of you a check in the mail. Deciding what to do with that money could be overwhelming. Stocks are on sale, and you could probably use the extra money to invest in your future. You could use the money to pay off a bill. You could save the money for Christmas, or a rainy day.


Restaurant workers, hoteliers, retail, and the aviation industry are counting on you spending this money to save their jobs and keep their doors open.

If you receive a check from the government and don’t need the extra cash, please think of your friends and neighbors filing for unemployment or your corner sandwich shop struggling to pay its rent.

Book that trip at the fancy hotel. Order from your local restaurant. DM your small town store advertising on Instagram to see if they’ll ship your purchase.

Whatever you do, when you receive this check, please, spend it or share it with those in need so we can all feed our families and get back to what we love doing best, taking care of you as you explore the world.

Life’s a little messy right now. And that’s okay.

It’s the second day of working from home with our handsome, brilliant, and energetic one year-old. After days of talks of the COVID-19 impact on the airline industry, news reports finally hit home for many hospitality workers. Restaurants and bars are closing around the country, and hotels are experiencing record low occupancies. Retail stores are now shuttering until it’s safe to re-open. It’s too early to tell how long the damage will last, but millions of people in the travel and hospitality industry will soon be (at least temporarily) without jobs.

Collateral damage is likely. Suppliers, intermediaries, service providers, contractors, and supportive infrastructure will all soon feel the effects.

For those of us on the fringe, still hanging on, life isn’t easy. Guilt of watching housekeepers, restaurant servers, store clerks and bartenders lose their hours while we struggle through difficult projects and conversations is overwhelming. Added to that: the prospect of furloughs, financial uncertainty and no telling when this will all get better. And even more: many of us are finding what it is like to work at home in isolation from our friends, extended family, co-workers and neighbors as we take on the new roles of caretaker and homeschooler.

“If something happens, how will we pay the bills?” “What if he screams during a conference call?” “Do we have enough in savings?” “Should we refinance the house?” “When will we ever do the dishes?” are common questions.

It’s a lot.

We’ve just entered a period of uncertainty, discomfort, and unrest all while trying to stay six feet apart from everyone else in the world.

So what can we do about it? Here are three ideas to start:

  1. Enjoy time with your family. There will never be another opportunity like this in your life to spend so much time together.
  2. Take the news in daily doses, not a constant drip. There won’t be much good news, so why not consume something you enjoy?
  3. Use social media as your balcony. Sing, play music, share a funny (but not misleading) meme. Interact with your friends and neighbors and remind everyone that we’re all going to be okay.

This isn’t going to be easy, but neither was 3rd shift, back-to-backs, opening after you closed, managing a tight turn in the ballroom or at the front desk, or covering that extra shift when you needed to be somewhere else.

Together, as an industry, we’ve been through some crazy things, too. There was 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, Avian Flu, and countless hurricanes just to name a few. Despite all of these setbacks, we always emerged further ahead. Hotels are chicer. Retail is more luxurious. Restaurant food is better than ever. Craft cocktails raised the bar. Planes are greener. Technology is converging, and career paths are more promising.

What’s different about the service culture is that we do everything in service of others, and that spirit is what will carry us through.

Many people in the world outside of the hospitality industry don’t know the lengths that workers will go, or sacrifices that workers will make to ensure their guests feel safe, welcome, and well-taken care of. And that’s exactly what we’ll do for each other right now.

Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side.

Danny Meyer

5 Ways for Couples to Cope While Working at Home with Small Children

If you’re reading this, you’re either one of my three e-mail subscribers or have found yourself working at home amidst a pandemic while your little one(s) have been sent home from school for two or more weeks. In searching for solutions, you’ve probably found plenty of examples of couples where one parent works from home and the other keeps the house or cases where a nanny or Au Pair are present. If you’re reading this, it’s probably just you, your partner, and your little one(s) and you’re looking for things you can do to survive the next several weeks. 

Continue reading 5 Ways for Couples to Cope While Working at Home with Small Children

Reaching New Heights

I didn’t plan on climbing the wall at at The St. James during our recent team off-site meeting in Northern Virginia. However, after many of our team members had climbed up and down several times, my Vice President yelled out, “Hey Peter, you’re up!”

Now, a hardworking new father in my mid-thirties, physical fitness had not been my primary focus for 2019. Alas, I had been challenged in front of a group of peers to do something that others had jumped the at the chance to do, some more successful than others.

My hands quickly sweat, my heart raced, and the apprehension of failure pumped adrenaline through my veins. My fight or flight had been activated, and I had nowhere to go but up.

It had been 20 years since the last time I climbed a wall, and the only advice I remembered from that boy scout retreat was “use your legs, not your hands.” Armed with only that advice and 30 of my closest leaders and colleagues standing behind me, I strapped into my harness and took my first step. I glanced up and down, quickly finding my next foot and hand hold. With each move forward, I analyzed which foothold would give me the most upside, worrying not where I’d hold my hand next, but how I would allow my legs to propel me up the wall.

In less than a few minutes, I had ascended to the top of the 40 foot wall with nowhere to go but down. From here, it was a leap of faith and a lot of slamming into the wall as I awkwardly twisted and repelled down like a flopping fish tired after a long fight with a talented fisherman.

According to Newton’s law of universal gravitation, every mass attracts every other mass in the universe. Therefore, if my fears weren’t strong enough to pull me down, there must be something much greater that I’m reaching for.