Simple Ways To Make A Big Difference In Your Local Community

There are loads of reasons why you should get involved with your local community. Firstly, it is a great way for you to get to know your neighbors and others living in your neighborhood. It is also a great way to give something back to society and help out people who are in need and going through difficult times. Not only that, though, but it can also allow you to build on your current skills and knowledge. You may even pick up some cool new skills that can help you in your professional or personal life! 
Ready to dive straight in and help out in your community? Here are some great ways to do so.

Volunteer With Local Charities

There are various charities that work at a local level in communities. For instance, you might have a charity on your doorstep that supports women who have recently come out of abusive relationships. There may also be an organization who host support groups for those who suffer from drug and alcohol addictions but don’t have the means of getting to one of the top rated centers for addiction treatment. These charities and organizations are often on the lookout for volunteers who can spare a few hours each week to help them out.

Work With Local Schools

Most schools often look for volunteers as well. Sometimes, schools will look for people who already have experience working in the education industry, such as retired teachers or teaching assistants. These people who already have some experience working with children will be given positions with quite a bit of responsibility such as supervising lessons. However, you will still be able to volunteer at your local school even if you have never worked in one before. Some schools often ask parents and other volunteers if they could spare a few hours each week with reading with pupils or supervising during lunch and play times. One thing to remember is that you might need to get a police background check before you volunteer at a school, as anyone who works closely with children needs to get one of these.

Tidy Up

You don’t need to do big gestures or extensive tasks to help your local community. For instance, doing small things such as tidying up the neighborhood and doing a spot of gardening can make a real difference. This will help your whole area look a lot more presentable and respectable. This doesn’t have to take up too much of your time, as you could simply spend an hour walking around picking up litter. If you like the idea of this, you could even consider organizing a Big Tidy Up event to get even more people involved.


Raise Some Money

You will no doubt have noticed people out on the streets collecting money for charities. Whenever you can afford to, think about throwing a handful of change into their buckets. All of this cash will go towards the charities that are working wonders in your local neighborhood and community. If you want to do a bit more, you can make a big difference and raise a large amount of cash by planning a fundraising event. One great idea is to organize a fun run. This is very easy to do, you might just need to check with your local authorities to see if you can close some roads in your neighborhood one day so everyone can run without being troubled by traffic. Alternatively, you could hold your run in a local park. You might like to choose a community that works within the community who will get all the cash that is raised. Or, you could simply tell all the competitors to raise money for a charity of their own choosing. Even if people aren’t taking part in the race, you should still encourage them to come out and watch. This is a great way of bringing everyone from your community together.


Help Your Neighbors

If some of your neighbors need help, offer to assist them. Maybe an elderly neighbor needs someone to walk their dog every day for them. This could be a great thing for you and your kids to do together. Not only will it be a great help to your neighbor, but it also gives you a chance to get some fresh air with the family. You could also see if any other elderly or disabled neighbors need help doing their weekly shopping. One great idea is to create a neighborhood group which people can sign up to in order to offer their services to those who might need them.

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2017 San Francisco Visitors Planning Guide

Those of you planning to visit San Francisco this year should pick up the latest copy of the San Francisco Visitors Planning Guide.  It’s always a good idea to plan ahead when visiting this busy city both to avoid looking too much like a tourist (as if that’s a bad thing), and to not waste too much time walking around aimlessly.  I’ve been to San Francisco dozens of times and I still always try to make a plan before visiting.

The guide opens with a brief profile on San Francisco Travel’s Visitor Information Centers. Before visitors make that all essential stop for some face-to-face planning with San Francisco Travel’s local information pros, they can check out what’s new in San Francisco, learn more about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, check out some suggested neighborhood strolls and scope out a list of annual festivals and events for 2017. Tucked in between these stories are some tantalizing features for foodies including an interview with one of the city’s top chefs, Mourad Lahlou and some shopping tips from Cynthia and Jennifer Huie, sisters-owners of the popular boutique on San Francisco’s eclectic Clement Street.

Published annually the guide includes fold-out maps of the city showing major transit lines and the Greater Bay Area, and interviews with local experts including artist Max Gunawan whose Lumio light is making everyone’s “must have” list and Linda Harrison, the charismatic executive director of Museum of the African Diaspora. There are also suggestions for San Francisco’s “most shareable photos” and Facebook fans weigh in on their favorite event in San Francisco.

Each of San Francisco’s major neighborhoods has its own culture and charm and the guide offers brief profiles and “must sees” for 19 areas from Bayview to Union Square.

For regional expeditions there are suggested road trips and an entire section dedicated to “beyond the bridge” with some suggestions for exploring National Park sites in Northern California and wine country expeditions.

The “Getting Around” coverage in the guide includes tips on public transit, driving distances to more than 30 destinations and information on San Francisco International Airport.


To receive a visitor kit, which includes the 96-page San Francisco Visitors Planning Guide, a map and a 20 percent discount on gift items at the Visitor Information Center located at 900 Market St., order online at www.sftravel.com or view online
 San Francisco Planning Guide

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YOU’RE INVITED: HALL’s Cabernet Cookoff, St. Helena – Saturday April 29, 2017 | Pop a Corn & Grab Your Fork

My fellow Northern Californians — if you’re looking for something fun to do in April, come join us at the 8th annual HALL Cabernet Cookoff on Saturday, April 29th at HALL St. Helena from 11am to 2pm.

This event is hosted by Vintner Kathryn Hall and HALL Wines and will feature an impressive lineup of renowned Chef teams vying for a chance to win proceeds for a charity of their choice by participating in a food and wine pairing competition.


100% of ticket proceeds benefit Napa Valley non-profit organizations, so come eat, drink and donate for a good cause.
If you love people, great food and Cabernet, I encourage you to be there.

Chef Teams present perfectly paired seasonal bites with HALL Cabernet to an all-star panel of celebrity Judges who vote for the top dish. Chef teams are also judged by the guests in attendance who select the top two pairings for the title of People’s Choice Award.

Participating Chef teams include The Grill at Meadowood, One Market, Harvest Table, The Patriot, Ca’ Momi, Winery Chefs Napa Valley, Goose & Gander, Paula Le Duc Fine Catering, Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, Shakewell Oakland, Harris Ranch, Feast Catering, Brix, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, Kara’s Cupcakes and Sift Dessert Bar.

The Judges

The 2017 panel of judges include Celebrity Chef Duff Goldman from Food Network’s Ace of Cakes; 12-Time Olympic Medalist and Dancing with the Stars Alumni, Natalie Coughlin; Wine Enthusiast Critic, Virginie Boone; Michelin-rated Chef, Ken Frank of La Toque.

Tickets

Two ticket options are available for guests: General Admission as well as a VIP Sky Loft Ticket. The VIP Ticket allows guests early access to a VIP Media Preview from 10a.m to 11am featuring all four Judges and Kathryn Hall sharing insight into what they will be looking for in a food and wine pairing dish during the event. The VIP Sky Loft Ticket also includes full access to the historic Bergfeld Building during the entire event featuring HALL Artisan Cabernets, hosted small bites, and cheese boards prepared by Cypress Grove.



WHAT:
8th Annual HALL Cabernet Cookoff

WHO:
HALL Napa Valley

WHEN:
Saturday, April 29, 2017
10a.m. – 11a.m. (Media/VIP Ticket Preview feat. Kathryn Hall + Judges)
11a.m. – 2p.m. (Main Event)

WHERE:
HALL St. Helena – The Great Lawn
401 St. Helena Hwy. S
St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 967-2626

TICKETS:
General Admission: $90 (Early Bird Ticket: $80 before 3/31/2017)
VIP Sky Loft: $150 (Includes Media/VIP Preview)
Tickets Available: www.hallwines.com/cabernetcookoff

The 2016 HALL Cabernet Cookoff drew more than 750 attendees for a sold-out crowd and raised $59,000 for local charities. The 2016 Judges took on the impressive task of choosing a runner-up and first place winner from dishes like “Cherry Marinated Skirt Steak with Broccolini, Point Reyes Blue, Chive Blossom” or “Black Currant and Rose Macaroon with HALL Cabernet infused Geleé”. Mark Dommen from One Market Restaurant in San Francisco took first place with his mouth-watering “Pancetta Wrapped Passmore Ranch Sturgeon Du Puy Lentils, Smoked Garlic, Thyme Jus” benefiting non-profit Collabria Care of Napa. Ca’Momi placed runner-up with a delectable “Heirloom Pork & Veal Agnolotti, Savoy Cabbage, Napa Valley Cabernet Pan Jus and Parmigiano Reggiano” aiding the organization Do It For The Love of Napa. Restaurants also had the opportunity to raise money for their charity through People’s Choice, a voting system with corks serving as the tallies. First place for People’s Choice was Napa restaurant, Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, preparing “Fried Chicken with Spring Succotash” with the winnings benefiting Napa Humane. Paula LeDuc Fine Catering of San Francisco took runner up of People’s Choice with the “HALL Cabernet Roasted Strawberries with White Chocolate Crumble and Mascarpone Cream,” partnering with non-profit St. Helena Hospital.

Since inception in 2011, the HALL Cabernet Cookoff has raised $300,000 for Napa Valley charities. For more information, please visit www.hallwines.com/cabernetcookoff or via social channels using #cabernetcookoff.


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All Kinds Of Weekend Family Fun That Won’t Cost A Thing


We live for the weekends when we can turn off our alarm clocks and forget about work for a couple of days. Weekends are for lie-ins, meeting up with friends, and having long leisurely brunches. They’re about gathering together family and having fun. Check out these cool family activities that won’t cost you a thing.



1. Park Life


Check out what’s happening at your local parks and spend the day there. Pick out some versatile weekend wear, pack the car and off you go. Many parks and open spaces put on festivals, open air performances, markets, and entertainment. Walk around, get involved, and have fun. Take a picnic with you so you don’t have to spend money on lunches.
2. Community And Library Events


Keep an eye on your local newspaper for events happening near you. Many libraries, museums, and art galleries put on free events for kids. They can get involved in all sorts of activities including, storytime, art, making, and sports.


3. Throw A Garage Sale


Not only is this idea free of charge, but it may also make you a little money. And it’s a great way to get rid of unwanted clutter. Kids love getting involved in garage sales and turning some of their old toys into pocket money. You could also sell homemade cupcakes and tray bakes. Put up some signs on the day to increase footfall.


4. Be More Danish


Throw an impromptu get-together. Make it a small affair and use up what you have in the house already. No need for fancy food and decorations. Embrace the Danish concept of hygge and enjoy simple pleasures. Don’t worry about serving coffee in mismatching cups. So what if your sofa is a little old and your cushions have seen better days. Toss on a colorful throw and make a cozy and comfortable space for the people who mean the most to you.



5. Learn A New Skill Together


Pick a new skill and learn it together. It will need to be something that you can fit into a few hours and something that is achievable. For example, origami, dancing, or knitting. It’s much more productive than watching TV or playing computer games.


6. Family Trophy


Take the traditional games night one step further and compete for the coveted family trophy. Dig out all the old board games from the attic and make a night of it. Vary the games you play and keep scores. The winner gets to keep the trophy until the next competition.



7. Start A Family Newsletter


Start a family newsletter to keep family and friends informed. Let everyone contribute with their own stories, photos, and artwork. They make great additions to holiday cards and mementos to look back on in years to come.


8. Make A Time Capsule


Create a family time capsule to be opened in twenty years. Focus on your everyday life. Add things like grocery receipts, photos, messages, ticket stubs, etc. Then hide it in the basement or attic and open in the future.

There is no end to the things you can do that cost little or no money. The only limitation is your imagination. What do you like to do with the kids at the weekend?

Fun with AT&T Go Phone

This article is sponsored by AT&T, but all opinions are my own and are based on my personal experiences.

Everyone loves a good festival or fair; but oftentimes if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.  Having never been to the California State Fair, I really had no idea what to expect, what the must-do’s were, or even where to start.
I began with the California State Fair app, which was an amazing guide through Cal Expo.  The app allows you to browse the entire calendar of events, create your own schedule for your fair visit, view more details about each activity going on, etc.
Typically when I enter something like a grocery store or a building, I immediate go to the left, so naturally that’s exactly what I did at the fair.  Heading to the left led me to some amazing booths, the food area and the kiddie zone, which took us about half of a day to get through.


AT&T GoPhone

I was very impressed with the AT&T GoPhone booth this year.  Not knowing much about the GoPhone service, but being an AT&T customer, I just had to check out their booth.  The staff was super cool and inviting, and the booth had so much to offer.

Aside from learning about the GoPhone program, there was also a fun hands-on activity to try.  Virtual reality (VR) is all the rage right now and the AT&T GoPhone booth allows you to try out this amazing experience for free.  Put on a VR headset and explore a new land, all while standing at the fair!  This was such a fun thing to try since I had never done it before.  The staff was super helpful and I felt very comfortable.


Also, just for snapping a picture of our experience in the AT&T GoPhone booth and sharing it on Instagram with the #ATTGoPhone hashtag, they made me my very own customized screen print t-shirt.  Like the GoPhone program, these shirts were completely customizable to fit your needs.

The whole idea behind the customizable freebies at the GoPhone booth is to help you understand that with AT&T GoPhone you have more freedom to do what you love, instead of focusing so much on your phone bill.
I’m quite impressed with how much money the GoPhone program can save versus a traditional phone plan.  I’ve been an AT&T customer for over 10 years and have consistently paid over $175 each month for two phones.  With their highest priced tier of $60/month you get unlimited talk, text and data usage in US, Canada and Mexico – so it’s great for people like me who travel to Mexico on vacation quite often.

I was also lucky enough to get to try out an AT&T GoPhone during my visit to the State Fair.  I tried out the Samsung Galaxy Express Prime, which has a great camera and all of the features you could ever want in a smart phone.


If the GoPhone service sounds like it might be a good fit for you, but a Samsung Galaxy Express Prime may not be your preferred device,  AT&T will let you use a variety of other phones with their GoPhone plans.  Check out all the details at www.att.com/shop/wireless/gophone.html.

Giveaway

We’ve teamed up with AT&T GoPhone to offer you the chance to win GoPhone-compatible 4G LTE smartphone and a $45 AT&T GoPhone refill card!  Simply use the Rafflecopter form below to enter, and we will choose our winner after 8/11/16.

Abbreviated Rules

No purchase necessary.  Giveaway ends August 11th, 2016 at 11:59pm EST.  Subject to complete Official Rules.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

We were hosted by the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.

pretty purple flower standing alone.

When I was planning my itinerary for my latest trip to the northern California coast, the Mendocino Botanical Gardens were not on my radar, but I am so glad I was able to visit.  This is a very family-friendly activity that makes for some great photo opps.


During our visit, our goal was to make it through the 47 acres all the way down to the beach, but we ended up getting rained on about 3/4 of the way through and had to turn back.  The rain started as a light mist and turned into a thick, heavy drizzle that soaked us to the bone.  I had to protect my camera with my life and book it back to the car.

I was really hoping to be able to eat at the little gourmet cafe at the Botanical Gardens, but because of the rain, everyone used the outdoor eating area as a shelter and we weren’t able to find a table.  The menu looked delicious, though.

There were so many different plants and flowers, and various trails to take through the gardens.  Some trails were easier than others, but all of them were beautiful.


About Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a unique natural treasure located just two miles south of Fort Bragg and seven miles north of Mendocino. Their mission is to engage and enrich lives by displaying and conserving plants in harmony with their Northern California coastal ecosystems. This magnificent 47-acre site is one of the few public gardens located directly on the ocean’s shore. The unique environment on the Mendocino Coast makes the Gardens a wonder year-round. They welcome visitors and their local community to experience the rugged beauty of the Mendocino Coast mixed with the peaceful tranquility of their garden by the sea.

Visiting the Botanical Gardens

Location:

18220 North Highway Fort Bragg, CA 95457


Hours:


The Mendocino Botanical Gardens is open every day of the year except for the Saturday after Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
March – October: 9am to 5pmNovember – February: 9am to 4pm


Admission:

$14.00 General (18 and older) $10.00 Seniors (65 and older) $ 7.00 MCRPD Resident (Gualala to Westport) $ 7.00 Active Duty Military Personnel$ 5.00 Juniors (aged 5 to 17)Group Rates  $7.50 each person (12 or more)Children aged 4 and under are free.

Learn more at www.gardenbythesea.com

Monterey Bay Aquarium – Viva Baja Exhibit

We were hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  All opinions are my own.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is always surprising me.  Last year, I was completely enamored by their Jellies exhibit which was psychedelic and colorful.  This year, the aquarium has introduced their brand new Viva Baja Exhibit inspired by the unique sea life on the 800 mile long peninsula of northwest Mexico.


(I apologize for the quality of the images.  I had a camera malfunction during our visit and had to rely on my iPhone for photos)
See if you can spot these critters in my pictures:

  • Bluespotted Jawfish
  • Cortez Rainbow Rasse
  • Desert Tortoise
  • Golden Trevally
  • Lookdown
  • Mountain Kingsnake
  • Pacific Seahorse
  • Green Moray
  • Staghorm Hermit Crab



If you aren’t familiar with the Baja peninsula, it’s home to one of my favorite vacation destinations – Cabo San Lucas.  More importantly, it’s home to a variety of plants, reptiles, fish and animals that the Monterey Bay Aquarium has done an excellent job of highlighting.
From the mangroves which help to filter the earth to the coral reef which houses the beautiful Cortez Rainbow Wrasse fish to the desert which is home to the Desert Tortoise, Baja California has much more hidden beauty than I ever imagined.
Visit www.montereybayaquarium.org to learn more about their current exhibits.

Carmel Mission – Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo


On our way home from our stay at the Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel, Ca, my husband and I decided to stop at the Carmel Mission for tour.  I remember touring some of the California missions when I was in elementary school but I’m not sure if the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo was one of those.
Missions probably aren’t super exciting for kids to visit, so we probably wouldn’t have taken the kids there.  I really enjoy photographing architecture and details of each place I visit, and I love learning more about our state, so the mission was a nice place to visit.
Visiting hours at the Carmel Mission are 9:30 am until 7:00 pm every day. Admissions for upkeep and restoration are $6.50 for adults, $4.00 for Seniors, $2.00 for Children ages 7 and up (admission is free for Children ages 6 and under).

Murphy's, Ironstone Vineyards and Calaveras Big Trees State Park

My in-laws were in town last weekend so we went on a little day trip to Calaveras County to explore the cute little town of Murphy’s, Ironstone Vineyards and Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  

My husband had to work so the girls, my mom and I met the in-laws at Ironstone where we explored the grounds.  We then headed out to the town of Murphy’s and had a great lunch at Firewood Restaurant (I recommend the fish tacos).  From there, we headed to Big Trees.
Big Trees is such a great little daycation activity for the entire family.  I was able to take my jogging strolling along the entire walking path which made it a whole lot easier with a toddler.
Here’s some of our captures from our trip:

If you would like to learn more about Big Tree State Park, visit GoCalaveras.com.

Insider’s Guide to Halloween in Southern California

pumpkin moon, haunted house, cemetary

Insider’s Guide to Halloween in Southern California
1. Avoid Long Lines
As one of the premier destinations for Halloween events, many of Southern California’s biggest attractions bring out people by the thousands. To save time, purchase front of the line passes like Universal Horror Night’s Front of Line Ticket, the Queen Mary’s Fast Fright Pass and the Fright Lane pass for the largest and longest running Halloween event, Knott’s Scary Farm. For early entry and complimentary Fright Lane pass, book a package deal through the Knott’s Hotel. 
2. Don’t Spend a Terrifying Amount on Tickets
Save a scary amount by purchasing your tickets at the California Welcome Center-Orange County. Visitors will find killer deals from Southern California Ticket & Tours on tickets to Universal Horror Nights, Knott’s Scary Farm, Mickey’s Halloween Party and discounted hotel packages. For additional savings, go on a Thursday or Sunday which tend to be significantly less expensive.
3. Little Ghouls and Boys
Dress up the little monsters for a day of fun at Knott’s Spooky Farm, the kid friendly event offers trick-or-treating, Halloween shows and a costume contest. At Disneyland’s night time event, Mickey’s Halloween Party features a special fireworks show and rarely seen characters. At the Irvine Valley Park Pumpkin Patch, the whole family can hop onboard a train through a field of pumpkins, take a hay ride or get their face painted. In Pasadena, the Kidspace Children’s Museum hosts their annual Pumpkin Festival that includes a petting zoo, carnival games, crafts and live music.
4. Rest in Peace with Discounted Hotel Packages
With most Halloween events running until 2:00 am, get a killer night’s sleep with affordable hotel packages through Dream Vacation Builders located inside the California Welcome Center. Packages include hotel accommodations, discounted tickets and transportation to local Halloween attractions.
5. Scares from Beyond the (Amusement Park) Gates
For an eerie history of Los Angeles’s most famous ghost sightings, take Starline’s Haunted Hollywood Tour. In Griffith Park, take a haunted hay ride, brave the scary-go-round, and watch live performances. For those who prefer less haunted experiences, sink your teeth into Pirate’s Dinner Adventures Halloween show, Vampirate’s. 
VISIT BUENA PARK
Located just 5 miles from Disneyland®, 10 miles from Huntington Beach and 20 miles from Los Angeles is the charming town of Buena Park. A vacation hot spot, the city is home to world-famous entertainment, interactive dinner shows and one-of-kind shopping. For more information please contact Visit Buena Park at 800-541-3953 or VisitBuenaPark.com