November 2014 in Pictures

Creativity Strikes!

As poor a job as I am doing with the last few months of the #365infocus project, I still manage to have enough photos for the November 2014 recap.

November 2014 in Pictures

November started out with a Trail Mavens camping trip to Point Reyes. It would be my very first backpacking type camping trip, so I made plenty of mental notes. I would be going on another a few weeks later, so I wanted to be as prepared as possible.

The following weekend, we caught Interstellar at its earliest IMAX showing – 8:30am! There’s something about watching movies so early in the day; I really enjoyed it. After the movie, we still had the rest of our day (a going away party and a wedding)!

We were lucky enough to attend the Tech Awards again this year where we heard from plenty of inspiring individuals making change with technologies across the globe.

November 2014 in Pictures

The week ended with my second Point Reyes camping trip for the month. There were oysters, cheese, and beer at the end of this trip.

Midweek, we went to the grand opening of Best Lil’ Porkhouse in Alameda. Got our BBQ on.

November 2014 in Pictures

With Thanksgiving approaching, it was time for the Spinnie Potluck. It’s one of my favorite member events of the year because it’s a much more intimate experience, and not just another random happy hour. There’s good food, wine, and chatter.

November was a productive month. I spent an entire Saturday at Workshop SF, learning to sew. Some of the projects I finished in the boot camp – a beer koozie, a zippered pouch, and a tote bag.

November 2014 in Pictures

Crabsgiving season began, and we hosted our first dinner on Black Friday. We had quite a few guests, so I made an Ikea run earlier in the week in search of more seating. I found some red stools for $5/pop. Not too shabby, but it did require dedicating some time to assembly.

I wrapped up the Thanksgiving weekend by volunteering at the Guardsmen Tree Lot. Spending the weekend amongst the noble firs, garland, and holiday music gets you in the holiday mood, plus the proceeds from tree sales support at-risk youth in the area.

November 2014 in Pictures

With the way the rest of the year has flown by, I’ll be posting a December recap very soon!


Passports with Purpose 2014


Passports with Purpose - Sustainable Harvest InternationalPassports with Purpose 2014 has begun! It is an annual online fundraiser put together by travel bloggers across the globe. Each year, a nonprofit partner is selected to receive the funds raised to help areas in need. Participating bloggers procure a prize to give away and then promote the fundraiser on their blogs and social networks. The prizes are then raffled off to donors (like YOU!).

The goal for 2014 is to raise money to support Sustainable Harvest International’s efforts in Honduras. SHI has worked in the region to help family farmers grow their own food and to understand their impact on the environment.

Each $5,000 raised can help a family in Honduras for five years. The beauty of this fundraiser is that one can make a difference without very much – just $10. With our dollars combined, we can change the lives of communities.

Passports with Purpose - Sustainable Harvest International
Photo courtesy of Sustainable Harvest International

So here’s how you help. There are 52 prizes this year, and it works like a raffle. Each entry is $10, and you can put your entries towards whichever prizes you’d like. You can also just donate cash.

There are quite a few awesome prizes donated for this cause. Take a look at the list here!

Here is my Passports with Purpose wish list to hopefully motivate some of you to put your name in the hat. All proceeds go towards providing farming families in Honduras with the training and tools to preserve our planet’s tropical forests while overcoming poverty.

These would make the perfect getaway for those of us in California! A hop, skip, jump away, really.

* Westin Verasa in Napa, California – Two nights in a beautiful one bedroom/suite, breakfast for two, and more.

* Wine Train Gourmet Dinner in Napa, California – Three-hour train ride through Napa Valley with a welcome wine tasting and multiple-course meal.

* Weekend of Wine and Chocolate in Lodi, California – Two nights at the Wine & Roses Hotel, two tickets to Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend, dining and more!

Some of the other prizes that I want so badly:

* A Sensational Week in Provence – A full week in France?! Likely the most popular prize this year.

* Four-Day Guided Backpacking Trip at the Grand Canyon – Ever since I’ve started camping and backpacking more, these trips seem much more appealing to me!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are 48 other possibilities. You have until December 17th!

What are some of the Passports with Purposes prizes that you have your eye on?

Passports with Purpose Projects of the Past

2013 – $84,000 for two schools in Mali
2012 – $116,000 for
2011 – $90,000 for two libraries in Zambia
2010 – $64,000 to build a village in India
2009 – $28,000 for a school in rural Cambodia
2008 – $7,400 for Heifer International


Old Factory Candles Review + Giveaway


It’s Thanksgiving week! I’m always amazed at how quickly time passes. As a “thank you” to followers, readers, friends, and everyone in between (and to give you some gift ideas for the upcoming holidays), I’m hosting a few giveaways over the course of the week (possibly the following week as well). First up:

Old Factory Candles

Old Factory CandlesI was approached to give these candles a whirl and review them on Amazon. I took it a step further to see if I could share the love with my readers if I ended up loving the product myself. So you’re only seeing them here because I liked what I saw.

Old Factory Candle Gift Sets are sold exclusively on Amazon. Each gift set contains three hand-poured soy candles of different scents, all corresponding to the theme of the gift set. They’re all USA made.

The packaging is quite simple. Each two ounce candle comes in a small jar with a black screw top lid. The scent is labeled on the bottom of each.

Old Factory Candles

Each candle is supposed to be able to burn for over 20 hours. However, I haven’t set the candles out for that long, so I can’t confirm or deny the claim. I do like that the candles burn cleanly. The cotton wicks are self-trimming, so you never have to worry about them.

Even though they are small in size, their scent does get through the room. I’m sensitive to strong scents, and these candles are subtle enough not to irritate me. I thought that the sets of scents were fun, creative and in some cases, quite unique. There are a wide variety of scent collections, so there is something for everyone.

Old Factory Candles – Scents

  • New Born Baby – Baby Powder, Baby Shampoo, First Blanket
  • Coffee Shop – Coffee Bean, Hazelnut, Chai Tea
  • Fall Harvest – Pumpkin Spice, Cranberry, Autumn Leaves
  • Fresh & Clean – Lemongrass, Olive Blossom, Fresh Linen
  • Happy Holidays – Christmas Tree, Candy Cane, Gingerbread
  • High as a Kite – Cannabis, Incense, Bag O’ Cookies
  • Man Cave – Straight Razor, Leather, Mahogany
  • Romance – Rose Petals, Champagne, Dark Chocolate
  • Spa Day – Cucumber, Lemongrass, Green Tea
  • Vacation – Sea Breeze, Hawaiian Lei, Awapuhi
  • Winter Wonderland – Hot Cocoa, Roasted Chestnut, First Snow
  • 50 Shades – Leather, Vanilla Sex, Jasmine Bubbles
  • Old Factory CandlesIn my review of the Old Factory Candles, I selected the more conventional Spa Day set, which came with Cucumber, Lemongrass and Green Tea. Of the three, my favorite was the Lemongrass. I’ve used them on my desk in the guest room, as well as in the bathroom. So far, I’ve only used one at a time, but I have a feeling if I light all three, I’ll get a really good spa day feeling.

    Old Factory Candles – Giveaway

    Want your own set of Old Factory Candles? You’re in luck! One lucky winner will win a set of their choosing. This giveaway is only open to USA residents, unfortunately.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Full Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, except for the Old Factory Candles gift set I reviewed. All opinions shared are my own.


    Saving on Energy Bills

    Homeowner's Journal, Partners

    There’s no question that I have a love for travel and new experiences. In order to fund those trips and experiences, it helps when we can cut down on our other bills, especially the unavoidable utility bills.

    In our teeny tiny household of two (plus two animals), it is fairly easy to monitor everyday energy use. Based on our monthly PG&E bill, Ryan and I are fairly energy efficient. We had a guest stay with us for a month earlier in the year, and because she left a space heater on all day for days, our electricity bill more than tripled. She used more electricity than the two of us combined.

    Aside from not allowing house guests to stay over if they do not care about energy efficiency, here are some tips for saving on energy bills, so you can channel your funds to doing what you love (in my case, travel):

    Get Out More:

    Saving on Energy Bills
    Ryan and I hiking in Point Reyes

    Our lowest PG&E months have been when we have spent time away from home, whether on a trip away (YAY travel) or spending time outdoors with the pup or friends. We aren’t really gymgoers, so doing other outdoorsy things keeps us in shape. These days, we have been camping and hiking quite a bit. It’s good for the body, soul and electric bill!

    Energy Efficient Appliances:

    In order for “getting out more” to reduce electricity bills, you’ll need energy efficient appliances. Ideally, while the fridge just sits there keeping your food cold, it’s not racking up a huge bill. If you’re looking to replace appliances, Energy Star ratings are worth looking at as it’ll help you determine your usage over time. There are some rebates out there that might help with the cost. Do some research to see what you could be saving on your next major appliance purchase!

    When we first bought our fridge and stove (and washer & dryer in another instance), we definitely took advantage of available rebates. We didn’t buy a new dishwasher when we moved in since the existing one works. However, it’s time to check out the efficiency and determine if we need to replace it.

    Saving on Energy Bills
    Hey dishwasher, are you energy efficient?

    Window Upgrades:

    Windows are the largest source of wasted energy. Even though the weather doesn’t get crazy cold or hot like the rest of the nation, we are still conscientious of our heating/cooling costs. Our largest windows in the front of the house are double pane, but we still have some single paned windows in the back. That’s a project that we’re saving up for, so good thing we’re lowering our costs elsewhere!

    Change Your Bulbs:

    Saving on Energy BillsWith LED and CFL technology so prominent, there’s no excuse for using incandescent bulbs that not only have a short life span, but are also energy vampires. We bought efficient bulbs in bulk and haven’t looked back since. Since they last so long, who knows when the next time we’ll have to change a bulb will be?

    It also makes forgetting to turn off a light much less painful, even though still not encouraged.

    Unplug, Hibernate, or Get an Awesome Surge Protector:

    Because our living room doesn’t have a light source on the ceiling like most of our other rooms, we invested in a few surge protectors that were remote operated. That way, we could turn on a light on the other side of the room with a push of a button. In addition to the convenience, these surge protectors also completely eliminate wasted power. With a click of a switch, you can essentially turn everything off. Like really off.

    Even when electronics are off, if they are plugged into the wall, it’s likely they are draining electricity. It’s funny how something we originally purchased out of convenience became an energy conservation tool.

    Direct Benefits of Being Energy Efficient

    • Financial: saves money
    • Productivity: saves time
    • Comfort: improves quality of life

    Indirect Benefits of Being Energy Efficient

    • Puts less strain on the grid (reduces outages)
    • Puts less strain on other natural resources (like water)
    • Reduces emissions that can harm the environment

    More energy saving tips: here!

    Being energy efficient = saving money on utilities = more money for fun moments like photobombing your sister and her boyfriend during your weekend camping trip!

    Saving on Energy Bills

    I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


    Overnight on Alcatraz

    Life in SF

    About half way into our New Mexico trip in early October, I began checking my email obsessively. I’d entered a lottery around mid-September, and “winners” would be announced that day. The prize? A chance to stay overnight on Alcatraz!

    Overnight on AlcatrazI was intrigued and of course, very interested when I first heard about the overnight opportunity. Fewer than 600 people get to stay overnight at the landmark federal penitentiary each year, and only nonprofits can apply. There are about 18 overnights on an annual basis with 200 to 400 nonprofit groups vying for a spot. Selected groups work on a community service project on Alcatraz and are rewarded with a tour and sleepover. Luckily for me, not only did Friends of the Golden Gate (FOGG), the young professionals branch of the Golden Gate Conservancy of which I am a member of, win the lottery for an overnight, but I won a spot for me and a guest! It is so worth it because the fee you pay gets you on Alcatraz, a ranger guide for the duration of your stay, and access to parts of Alcatraz you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

    The day of, we nearly missed our ferry to Alcatraz. Thankfully, I rechecked the email about ten minutes before the official meeting time, and we hightailed it to the pier. Our group of about 30 or so landed on Alcatraz at about 4:30. While we were initially greeted by a raindrops, the cloud did eventually lift. We didn’t encounter more than a rainbow the rest of the evening. Definitely lucked out on the weather.

    Overnight on Alcatraz

    Our park ranger and expert in all things Alcatraz, Wendy, led us up the hill to watch some videos about Alcatraz and @Large: Ai Wei Wei on Alcatraz. After getting the general overview in the videos, Wendy showed us to Block D in the Cellhouse where we would be spending the night. Block D is the only one suitable as accommodations because the lead-based paint and asbestos have been treated.

    Overnight on Alcatraz Overnight on Alcatraz

    Ryan and I picked out our cell of choice (#32), left our belongings on the cots and followed Wendy out of the main building for a tour of the grounds. In addition to the best sunset views, she showed us the ruins of a warden’s house, the prisoner gardens overlooking the beach where Doc Barker was shot and killed trying to break free, and the walled-in recreational yard.

    Overnight on Alcatraz
    The Warden’s House

    Overnight on Alcatraz
    In the Recreation Yard

    After spending some time outside, the group went back inside for the cellhouse audio tour. It’s improved quite a bit since the last time I was on Alcatraz in 2006; it was super confusing back then, and I remember getting a little lost. Before heading down to the dock for dinnertime, we had some time to check out parts of the Ai Wei Wei exhibit, including Stay Tuned in Block A, Blossom and Illumination in the Hospital and Yours Truly in the Dining Hall.

    Alcatraz Overnight Overnight on Alcatraz

    After dinner and once all the regular park visitors had all gone home, Wendy took us on an after-dark tour. We visited the parts of Ai Weiwei’s exhibition in the New Industries Building, including Trace, With Wind and Refraction.

    Overnight on Alcatraz
    With Wind

    Overnight on Alcatraz
    Viewing Trace in the dark

    Ryan and I had picked out two prisoners of conscience to write postcards to in the Yours Truly exhibit. We sought them out in the darkness and found their Lego photos in Trace.

    Alcatraz Overnight Overnight on Alcatraz
    Overnight on Alcatraz Overnight on Alcatraz

    While it would have been nice to see the pieces in the light of day, there’s definitely something about going through the exhibit with only flashlights. It was nearly impossible to capture the experience of viewing Refraction through the half-broken windows in the darkness.

    Overnight on Alcatraz Overnight on Alcatraz

    We meandered around the buildings, through tunnels, and even made a stop at the morgue. We were learning about Alcatraz from the time it was a fortress to the time it was occupied by Native Americans.

    Overnight on AlcatrazIt was nearly midnight when Wendy checked to see if the group was ready for bed or if we wanted more. She’d had coffee during dinnertime, so she was ready to dish out more Alcatraz knowledge. Her usual tour groups consisted of scouts, so I think she was ready for that level of energy. Even though I was pretty tired from all that walking, I knew we had to forge on. This was an opportunity that wouldn’t come along easily again.

    Another hour or so was spent outside in the gardens originally planted by the wives of officers and inside in the kitchen and up in the gun galleries. Eventually, our aching bodies were telling us that it was time for lights out. After brushing our teeth, Ryan and I headed into cell #32 for the night. I slept on the cot, while he took the floor beside me. The green foam pads (both on the cot and on the floor) were surprisingly comfortable, but the sounds of sea lions, snoring, and footsteps kept bringing me in and out of consciousness.

    Around sunrise, Ryan and I headed outside for photos. We weren’t the only ones out there capturing the experience.

    Overnight on Alcatraz
    The Warden’s House at sunrise

    Overnight on Alcatraz
    The Bay Bridge at sunrise

    When it was time to head down to the dock for breakfast, we packed up our sleeping bags and strolled down the hill. By 8:30, visitors from the first ferry over were already arriving at the park. Our group, along with our ranger guide Wendy, were the only folks taking the return trip. And just like that, we’d spent the night on Alcatraz. It will be one I’ll not soon forget.

    Overnight on Alcatraz – View of San Francisco at Sunrise

    Overnight on Alcatraz

    Overnight on Alcatraz

    Overnight on Alcatraz

    Overnight on Alcatraz