Monthly Archives: January 2012

Phoenix Project Connect – A Chance to Relate

About a week ago I had a unique opportunity to get involved with a great event called Project Connect.  The point of Project Connect is to not only connect people in need with services (food, housing, medical care, clothes, haircuts, etc), but also to establish a genuine human connection.  Asking for services and going through service agencies’ processes can sometimes be demoralizing.  This event humanizes the process of asking for and receiving help.

I signed up to be a Guest Guide through the Phoenix Philanthropists.  I was familiar with how Project Connect works, because I was the Volunteer Coordinator for the first ever Project Connect in Flagstaff Arizona almost four years ago.  I jumped right in as a guest guide, getting oriented to the room and the services available and then getting in line to be matched with two individuals who had come for help.

The church building was packed with people.  The turn out was huge and they did not have enough volunteer guest guides to match with all of the guests.  When I was matched with two people, Samantha and Jess, we headed outside to find a quiet place to talk.  As a guest guide I was responsible for getting to know Samantha and Jess and finding out what their needs were.  I had an intake form for each person and filled it out on their behalf after asking them questions.  Most of these questions are very personal.  You have to ask where they slept last night and if they have housing you ask how stable it is.  The form asks if they are transgender and you go on to ask about if they are interested in having an STD test or talking to a mental health counselor.  Even trying to act more like a friendly neighbor and less like a social worker, it was uncomfortable to ask someone I just met very personal questions.  Of course, since both Samantha and Jess were on long term disability, they had been in the social work system for a long time and were used to disclosing all of this information to perfect strangers.

I found it ironic that out of the three of us, I was the only one who was technically homeless and unemployed.  In fact, before I walked into the event I tried to open up my mind to who I might meet by reminding myself that I qualified to get in line as a guest instead of a guide.

Once I had gotten to know Samantha and Jess a little better, I led them inside to meet with some of the agencies who were available to offer them assistance.  It was great to see the times when they actually got tangible help.  Samantha was able to fill out everything she needed to have a copy of her birth certificate sent to her residence.  She also got reading glasses.  Jess was able to be checked out by a doctor and speak to a representative from the VA.

The most touching moment for me was when Samantha and I went to wait for her to get an HIV test.  We sat next to each other on couches in the waiting room and shared stories.  I lightened the mood with my ridiculous tales of fainting at the sight of my own blood and she told me about how she used to work in construction in Colorado Springs before she went on disability.  She was very open about how she had been homeless for years and was finally in an apartment of her own.  She was curious about my lifestyle, how I slept in a tent most nights and traveled from town to town.  She asked if I preferred to sleep outside under the stars or inside a home.  I said that I liked both, and then realized that what I really liked and was grateful for was that I had the choice.

Samantha’s face lit up as she came out of the nurses office and announced that the test was negative and as a bonus they had given her a $5 Sams Club gift card. She had confided in me earlier that she had already run out of food stamps for the month and was concerned about not having a way to pay for milk and meat (items you can rarely get at a food bank).  I was both impressed and saddened by her in depth knowledge of the social welfare system and what services she could get.

One thing that disturbed me was how pervasive the us and them behavior is.  This event is intended to breakdown the divide between those who came for help and those who are offering it.  I noticed how the volunteers were almost always standing while the guests were sitting.  The volunteers often kept a distance from the service tables and were unlikely to sit down with the guests to eat or sit next to them at a service provider table.  I found myself standing in the corner in the room in the clothing area until I realized that was ridiculous.  I am the queen of thrift store shopping!  I should be in there searching for sizes and the best brands.  I left the safe corner next to the other volunteers and jumped in the fray, searching for the best deal for Samantha, just as I would any other friend I had gone to the thrift store with.

At the end of the day we were exchanging hugs and wishing each other well.  I was really glad I had come.  It was alarming to see such a high turnout of guests and such a low turnout of volunteer guest guides, but I felt that I had made a difference in two people’s lives, and I know they made a difference in mine.

Find out about upcoming Project Connect events in Phoenix.


Phoenix Area Breweries


Four Peaks Brewery –

Sampler at Four Peaks

Four Peaks is one of the most well known breweries in Phoenix.  We have been drinking Four Peaks beer for years even though we had never before visited the brewery.  The brewery is in Tempe and as a brewpub it is a nice place to hang out and get a good meal with some hand crafted beer.  Personally I wasn’t wowed by  any of their choices, but all of them were decent and I would be happy to visit again.  Jay, who is more fond of bitter hoppy beers, really enjoyed their 8th Street Ale, Hop Knot IPA and the Kilt Lifter.  If you like beer that bites back, you should visit Four Peaks.

San Tan Brewing

San Tan is another brewery whose beer we had been drinking for years, because they distribute in cans.  Well, even more so than Four Peaks, it is worth visiting the brewery in cute downtown Chandler.  The Brewpub is large and inviting and visiting in person will give you a chance to try their cask ales and the stout on nitro as well as seasonals that they do not distribute.  They have quite a large selection at the brew pub and all of the ones we tried were good.  Jay and I agreed that the Gordo Stout was our favorite, though I also really loved the seasonal winter warmer.

Sun Up Brewery


SunUp was a really pleasant surprise.  It is one of the closer breweries to where Jay’s parents live and we hope to go back when we are visiting.  SunUp has actually been around a long time, but they used to be called Sonoran.  When we were there they were offering a regular porter instead of their usual vanilla porter, and we really enjoyed that.  Jay was also fond of the Stinger Pale Ale, where as I preferred the Horizon Hefeweizen.  We also had the opportunity to taste the seasonal barley wine and it was excellent.

Phoenix Ale Brewery


Phoenix Ale is a new brewery, focusing on creating quality consistent brews that can be widely distributed.  The manager has over 20 years of experience from Pyramid Brewing Company in Seattle.  This place is around to stay and I look forward to seeing how they expand their tap selection and cask options.

As a brewery rather than a brewpub, Phoenix Ale is a great place to fill a growler or pick up a keg.  It’s also a nice place for happy hour.  Sharon particularly likes the fact that they have a foosball table  in the tasting room.

Sharon’s favorite was the Fretzky, followed closely by the Imperial Porter.  Jay really liked the Camelback IPA, which was a classic IPA with great flavor and color.  All of their beers are unfiltered and seem to fill you up more than filtered beers.  The Fretzky in particular is just a good solid beer.  It doesn’t have anything added or a pumped up alcohol content, it is just well balanced and tasty.




BJ’s Brewery & Restaurant


BJ’s was another pleasant surprise.  We were not expecting much since this brewpub is in a shopping area with a bunch of chain stores and no character.  However, the Nutty Brewnette and PM Porter were very good.  This is also equal to San Tan in terms of size and being a nice place to bring a date.  There is a movie theater nearby, as well as the Musical Instrument Museum, so this would be a great place to grab a pint and some grub before or after.

Papago Brewery

Papago is known to have terrible service (we have experienced it personally and everyone that we have talked to about Papago has agreed).  If you want to try their beer I would recommend picking it up in bottles and just avoiding the brewery altogether.

North Mountain Brewery

North Mountain is a “coming soon” brewery with big plans for the Sunnyslope neighborhood.  We attended their open house and were excited for the prospect of a brewery in that part of Phoenix, but concerned with all of the hurdles they still face to actually opening and serving us a pint.  If they are able to open this year we will make sure to check them out when we are in Phoenix.

Special shout out to Tops Liquors in Tempe where you can get the best selection of craft beer in the Valley of the Sun.

Bisbee: A Town with Grit and Charm

We’ve had a lot of changes going on here, which you will read about soon, so I am just catching up on blog posts from where we were a couple of weeks ago.  We stayed with Melanie, who we met through CouchSurfing and spent three days exploring the funky little town of Bisbee.

Bisbee is a great spot for a Beer, Bikes, and Bacon lover like Jay.  Where else do you find a bicycle brothel?


And frankenbikes leaned up in the alleys?


And have a great local brewery to hang out in with seven beers on tap?



Bisbee once thrived as a mining town.  There were underground mines and an open pit mine and plenty of bars to support the local workforce.  At the turn of the last century, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.Sharon and Jay at copper queen mine

After the mines shut down in the 1970’s, Bisbee became a haven for a thriving artist community.  It became one of those towns where artists outnumber all other professions and so there are art showings in every building and public art throughout the town.


We happened to be there on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, so they were having a photography exhibit with photos from the march on Selma which one of the local artists had been present at.

occupy bisbee

Occupy Bisbee

Bisbee has a delightful mix of residents.  As the owner of the Bicycle Brothel told us, Bisbee retains that small town community feel even with a lot of recent residents.  They do not have mail delivery so everyone meets at the Post Office where they go regularly to get their mail.


If you go to Bisbee, you have to be prepared for the hills.  We stayed close enough to walk to downtown.  It wasn’t a long walk, but it was all up or all down and some incredibly steep sections.


There’s the house as seen from the stairs we take at the very end of the walk to get home.


In a town full of artists it was fitting that this house was filled inside and out with art.  I particularly liked this depiction of a sandhill crane on the front door, since we had the chance to see the colony of sandhill cranes that winters near Bisbee.


The colorful and welcoming kitchen.


The colorful and imaginative bathroom.


And of course, our new BFF, Rochester.

Thanks again to Melanie for allowing us to stay comfortably in Bisbee and experience all of its charms.  We can’t wait to go back.

Technical Riding in Phoenix or Gnarrr

View Irregular Link video by clicking HERE or viewing below

The riding in Phoenix is the reason I am a good technical rider. It was here that I learned to ride and honed my skills. I have since expanded my skills and learned to deal with forest  terrain, dirt jumps and real weather.  Still, every time I am in Phoenix for a while I feel the need to mostly avoid all the well traveled and smooth (by comparison) intermediate trail. It’s not that it’s too easy or that it lacks fun. A lot of trail 100 is fast and flowing. It’s just that the outcome is so certain due to so much practice. I can ride trail 100 on the darkest night without so much as a flash light because I know where every rock is. This is why I am drawn like a moth to the Gnarr. Here the trails don’t even have formal names, and narrow to things that look like goat paths. Sometimes they are seldom traveled old abandoned roads.

View video by clicking HERE or viewing below.

On some of the really steep stuff I just know that if I try it one more time on the next ride I may successfully ride over it with out any walking or even a dab (putting a foot down). Of course out here the stakes are high, exposure, jagged rocks and all manors of spiny plants are the consequence of failure.  I have at times experienced all of these consequences. Keeping both feet firmly planted and cranking on the pedals is the name of the game. Over the years the repeat it until you ride it strategy has panned out.  South Mountain is the Phoenix park most known for its technical challenges, but lurking down unnamed trails in humble Dreamy Draw park you will find just as much challenging terrain. It’s all there if you look for it. You have to venture off into the difficult stuff to stay sharp. Piestewa (formerly known as squaw peak) is where a lot of it also lurks. Local riders know certain trails well, like the irregular link, and the VOAZ loop because they offer up a lot the Gnarr. Here is a ridge I only just noticed and successfully rode on the first attempt because failure is no option here.

Ridge O doom – view by clicking HERE or seeing below

51st Week in Review: Heading In Opposite Directions

laya painting

Our niece Laya learning to finger paint

As regular readers know, Jay and I got engaged last spring and have been in a very slow wedding planning process ever since.  Planning a wedding while also planning where to set up the tent every night and where we can volunteer is not easy (though from what I can tell, wedding planning is never easy, even if you elope).  Well, this week we had some wedding planning challenges, so we came back to Phoenix to regroup and now I am flying back to Virginia to do some in person planning (and visit family and friends of course).  Jay jumped at this plan because it comes with the opportunity for him to join his dad on a trip to Grand Junction, Colorado to go skiing.  Jay hasn’t been skiing in over a year and he is so excited.  I haven’t been home since August so I am also incredibly excited.  Win win!

Jay painting with Laya

Jay was in charge of the paint, he would ask Laya which color and where and how much, I think Laya liked picking colors as much as actually painting

Product of the Week:

Video of the Week: view below or click HERE to view on YouTube

Hours volunteered:  Sharon volunteered as a StartingBloc mentor (5 hours), Sharon volunteered as a Guest Guide at Project Connect (3 hours)

States: 3 – Arizona, Virginia (Sharon), and Colorado (Jay)

Budget: I got my final paycheck from UPS this week, so I think we actually came out even

People Visited: Cindi and Morgan Holt, Nate, Nicole, & Laya Holt, Melinda Bloom and John Tewksbury

Nights under the stars: 0

Best meal: Family dinner with the Holts, featuring cedar plank salmon, popovers, corn stuffing, green beans, and salad

Best beer: thanks to Matt who pestered us into buying the Anderson Valley Winter Solstice.  I really, really liked it and Jay just regular liked it.  We also got to visit the Phoenix Ale Brewery, which was great.

Please Register as a Bone Marrow Donor

Last year at this time, I wrote on the blog about my sister Nora’s 25th Anniversary as a cancer survivor.  Nora fought acute lymphocytic leukemia as a baby, and at four years old received a bone marrow transplant from me.  The bone marrow saved her life and now you have a chance to save someone else’s life by registering as a bone marrow donor.  All it takes is an online form and a cheek swab – no blood drawn or painful procedures.  If you’re already registered, thank you, please update your contact information and spread the word.

My friend’s friend, Janet Liang, is currently battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  She has only two months left to find a donor, you can not wait to register, especially if you are Asian American.  Bone marrow is trickier to match than blood type and the best matches are those with the same ethnic background.  Asian Americans are underrepresented in the registry, so if you know someone who is Asian American, please encourage them to register (after registering yourself of course!).

This is Janet, she needs you to register TODAY

Ways You Can Help:
– Join the Registry. You can do this for free with Janet’s special promo code- it’s quick, painless, and you could potentially be saving a life.
– Host a Drive. Hosting a bone marrow/stem cell donor drive is one of the most effective ways to reach the local public. Only 7% of Asian Americans are registered in the National Registry. These in-person drives are essential to finding potential matches for patients in need like Janet.
– Donate. All generous donations will be used towards furthering the goals of “Helping Janet,” such as helping fund bone marrow drives.
– Help Spread the Word. You could spread the word through emailing friends and family, spreading the word to someone influential to save Janet, promoting her through Facebook or Twitter, or blogging or writing articles about her.
– Volunteer. You can help volunteer at a bone marrow drive and raise awareness about Janet or one of the other 6,000 patients looking for a match.


Birds in Southern Arizona

We spent about two weeks in southern Arizona, an area known for bird watching.  In addition to spotting birds at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, and Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, we also delighted at all the birds around our campsites.  Here are some pictures featuring the birds who were willing to stay still long enough to have their portrait taken.  If you can identify a bird, please do so in the comments.  Thanks!


1. Picture taken in Tucson Mountain Park

bird on yucca

2. Cactus Wren? - Picture taken in open area of Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

bird on cholla

3. picture taken at Tucson Mountain Park


4. Juniper Titmouse, Picture taken at Tucson Mountain Park

bird on cholla

5. Picture taken at Tucson Mountain Park


6. Picture taken at Tucson Mountain Park

cactus wren

7. Cactus wren, picture taken in open area at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

bird in aviary

8. Black headed grosbeak, Taken in aviary at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Harris Hawk on Saguaro

9. Harris Hawk perched on a Saguaro during the raptors in flight program at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum


10. Photo taken in aviary at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum


11. Kestrel in captivity at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

red and black bird

12. Vermillion Flycatcher, Photo taken at Tumacacori Mission

Pinyon Jay

13. Mexican Jay, Photo taken in Coronado National Forest near Sonoita

heron in flight

14. Heron, Photo taken at San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area


15. Photo taken at San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area


16. White crowned sparrow, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

sandhill cranes in flight

17. Sandhill Cranes, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area


18. Shoveler, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

ducks in flight

19. Ducks, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area


20. Sandpiper, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

wading bird

21. Killdeer, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area


22. Ladder backed woodpecker, Photo taken at Cochise Stronghold


23. Hummingbird, Photo taken in aviary at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum