Timbuk2’s Jet Set Backpack x Phoebe Dahl is fraught with Pure Imagination

I can’t make your travel bag decisions for you, but when I’m looking for one that combines style, functionality, and city-commuting appeal, I’m all in!

Leila Stern Grove Timbuk2 Bag
One of my first days on the job as a House Production Assistant for the 81st Annual Stern Grove Music Festival!

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of trying out Timbuk2’s Jet Set Convertible Travel Backpack while I worked as a Production Assistant for the Stern Grove Music Festival in San Francisco. Full Disclosure: Timbuk2 provided the bag for my review gratis. 

While the bag is currently sold out online–– further proof that the demand for great all-in-one bags is still alive and well–– I hear there’s already an effort underway to release another Timbuk2 x Phoebe Dahl collaboration. Dahl is the granddaughter of iconic British author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, Matilda) and American actress Patricia Neal (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

I wanted to make sure I put the bag through real-life scenarios so I could give an honest review. After all, how can you really know how a bag works out if you don’t put it through daily wear and tear so you know it’s worth your money? So for two months, it was shoved into a cabinet with 30 other backpacks, walked throughout the Bay Area without the ease of a car, and traveled to and from San Francisco to Detroit underneath the shrinking legroom and undercarriage of domestic airline seats.

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I had to capture this beautiful image of the bag next to a vulnerable banana slug on the ground. Hope your journey was safe little one!

What I loved

Versatility: Timbuk2 says the bag can be worn eight different ways–– as a backpack, tote, purse, shoulder bag–– with two detachable pouches that can be worn crossbody style or around your waist as a stylish fanny pack. 

Timbuk2 Screenshot

Style: I loved the luxurious leather and metal hardware of the bag. The seatbelt-style straps were also perfect for city adventures and traveling. The bright blue color is very eye-catching and bright but I can see how the olive/tan (leather) and black (leather/nylon) would be great neutral-colored options as well. 

Space: With all the things I was able to fit into this bag–– giant 40 oz. Hydro Flask water bottle, eco-friendly bug spray that didn’t smell like gasoline, band-aids, sunscreen, wallet, makeup, lotion, handkerchiefs for all the physical labor, hat, extra clothes and jacket, sunglasses, phone, chargers, protein bars, Shinola planner, employee badge and concert maps–– it can also fit up to a 13″ laptop with an internal padded pocket.  

Comfort: I was pleasantly surprised to find the bag didn’t weigh down on my lower back when I used it as a backpack. 

What Could Have Been Better 

Closure Snaps: The two snap-closure buttons were often tough to secure when the bag was full, and I had a hard time keeping the bag closed. I don’t think the next version of the bag should make it lock up like Fort Knox but unless you use the snap closures AND the front belt loops to keep your stuff inside and out of view, you’ll likely find it difficult to control.    

Options: I would also like to see more versions of the bag with the leather/nylon combination. While I love the beauty of all-leather, I understand the needs of people in the city who want the bag to be a little lighter and more affordable (the leather/nylon combination is $50 less).

Interior Compartments: I love extra storage space for things you’d like more secure and out of sight. This bag didn’t come with a zipper compartment where I like to keep my keys and wallet for easier access, and I did end up using two of my own makeup bags to keep things from getting lost and/or buried in the main part of the bag. A nylon zip closure bag would be a nice addition for smaller accessories. 

Water Bottle Holder: While I loved having a detachable leather pocket for my passport when I travel, I couldn’t help but miss Timbuk2’s popular mesh sleeve for water bottles the company usually includes with its backpacks. Perhaps an interior mesh pocket could work if Dahl is not a fan of having water bottles displayed on the outside. 

Own this bag? Love it? Hate it? Let me know!

I’m Legit! Global Travel Website Recognition (and new Cuba content)!

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I’m overwhelmed and honored to say that my writing about traveling to Cuba has been recognized by FlightNetwork.com! Check out the article about the World’s Best once-in-a-lifetime Journeys for 2018 that just went live. I’m featured on the Judges page among esteemed global travel writers like National Geographic, Forbes, and USA TODAY!

I also wanted to share with you some unpublished pictures and unseen video from Havana and Matanzas, Cuba. Enjoy!

 I'm a sucker for a classic car in hot pink! Our guide introduced Drew and I to the local escuela community, and Havana's deep ties to artistic Afro-Cuban expression and Santeria. I’m a sucker for a classic car in hot pink! Our guide introduced Drew and I to the local escuela community, and Havana’s deep ties to artistic Afro-Cuban expression and Santeria.  We met this fantastic man JuanCarlos at a random cafe in Habana Vieja. He's been to Silicon Valley and said the invitation was open for us to stay with him at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica! We're tracking you down and taking you up on that offer JC. We met this fantastic man JuanCarlos at a random cafe in Habana Vieja. He’s been to Silicon Valley and said the invitation was open for us to stay with him at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica! We’re tracking you down and taking you up on that offer JC.

 Soooo many cats roaming in and around Havana. They're super friendly and chill! My tabby cat in San Francisco, CA is much more plump and is kind of a big jerk! Soooo many cats roaming in and around Havana. They’re super friendly and chill! My tabby cat in San Francisco, CA is much more plump and is kind of a big domesticated jerk!

 There's no denying the rich history and complicated political dissonance that deeply impact the people of Cuba. This mural was painted in recognition of the late Fidel Castro when he was freed from prison during the 26th of July movement.  There’s no denying the rich history and complicated political dissonance that deeply impact the people of Cuba. This mural was painted in recognition of the late Fidel Castro when he was freed from prison during the 26th of July movement.   One of the best snacks I have ever had! Fried chickpeas in the town of Matanzas–– a community which was virtually untouched by tourists when we stopped by.  One of the best snacks I have ever had! Fried chickpeas in the town of Matanzas–– a community which was virtually untouched by tourists when we stopped by.   Bookmaking still done by hand in Matanzas for more than 100 years!  Bookmaking still done by hand in Matanzas for more than 100 years!   Drew was called a Viking by the artist who drew this up while we ate dinner and listened to music al fresco. 

Drew was called a Viking by the artist who drew this up while we ate dinner and listened to music al fresco.   Delicioso Camarones y aguacate fresco anyone?! Yes please. Por supuesto!  Delicioso camarones y aguacate fresco anyone?! Yes please. Por supuesto!   This is just one of several great artwork exhibits I was in awe of at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. A must see!  This is just one of several great artwork exhibits I was in awe of at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. A must see!   The breathtaking view from the highway between Havana and Varadero! The breathtaking view from the highway between Havana and Varadero!

 A lovely server near the Mayabeque province lended us her lighter for those strong Cuban cigarettes. It was a beautiful design! A lovely woman near the Mayabeque province lent us her lighter for those strong Cuban cigarettes. It was a beautiful design!

High Anxiety: Why killing people with niceness isn’t always the best approach

I have to remember that I am not talking to a woman who is mentally well. For nearly her entire life, she’s suffered from debilitating anxiety, paranoia, mistrust, and depression. A “sad salad” if you will. Normally, a conversation like this wouldn’t affect me as much, and I can safely say that I can walk away from a tough conversation nowadays pretty unscathed. But the person I have been chatting with for the past ten minutes is my mother.

She started the conversation on an unassuming Monday morning yelling into the phone with her Filipina-American accent, “WE JUST CALLED TO MAKE SURE YOU WERE STILL ALIVE! YOU HAVE TO CALL US TO ONCE IN A WHILE!” Little does she realize, I can go without talking on the phone with her or my father for months at a time but it’s not a two-way street. I have to pick up the phone, post on her Facebook timeline, make an effort to calm her down so she doesn’t freak out and jump to conclusions about me being raped, conned, given a terminal diagnosis, and heaven forbid, eating too many carbs and meat!

I worry about my parents a lot- Mom more so these days. My Mom always, always tells me, instead of getting angry, just “kill them with niceness”. While that motto has served me well sometimes–– I’ve been able to get out of tense conversations about subjects like politics and racism with the phrase, “Well, if we can all learn to just see past color and be open to new ideas I think we would be okay as a society”–– I can’t help but think it could also adversely bury the anger and resentment you are feeling at the time. That frustration then builds and builds and builds and could eventually become the impetus for dealing with unaddressed, pent-up emotions.

As I quickly approach my 40’s, I find solace in the fact that I am just now starting to understand why people act out or say things the way that they do, including my elusive parents who worked their whole lives to pursue the “American Dream” and have American-born children. It doesn’t mean I am an expert on social understanding by any means. I just wish there was a class for that back in the 90’s. I have a working title–– Life Management. Or wait–– Not Killing Them With Niceness: A Field Guide to Life. I think I might just be onto something…

Burger Review: It’s Tops — A San Francisco staple since 1935

March 4, 2018

Cruise down Market near the U.S. 101/I-80 Exit to Octavia Street and you will rush right past it but it’s there– been there since 1935. It’s Tops Restaurant and Coffee Shop has managed to stay in business despite the inevitable developments surrounding the once Bohemian-thriving city by the bay. The guy who runs the joint today, Bruce Chapman– along with his wife and partner Sheila– watched his father Richard Chapman build the business since he came back from the Korean War in the 1950s and yes, you can still see Bruce greeting customers and making old-school milkshakes at the counter to this day!

Life definitely slows down inside this historic San Francisco diner. Tightly wrapped around luxury condos, overpriced bistros, $5,000 bike shops, It’s Tops shares a wall with one of the most eclectic record stores in the city– Grooves, where we picked up The Best of the Everly Brothers, The Doors eponymous first album, and a snappy ragtime jazz album, all on vinyl.

But you’re not reading this entry for the history lesson. You want to see the burgers! C’mon, Leila, get to the damn burgers!

Okay, okay.

It’s Tops has a pretty decent menu for carnivore-loving burger fans.

Since the blog has been on hiatus for a few years– sorry but we have bills to pay and life happens– there were only two of us this time around. Still, the hunger was real and Drew and I were ready to gorge!

After much pondering and lots of oohing and ahhing, I went with the “California” burger with cheese, avocado, and Feeeex-ins!!! (mayo, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions– not too shabby) Drew– who continues to be well-hung and deviously charming to the point of danger (his words, not mine)– went basic bitch and opted for the “S.F. Giant” burger sans tomato, with cheese and fixins. We both got cheddar cheese– because nothing is better than a classic– although you could get Monterey Jack or processed American cheese cuz well, ‘Muhrica. I grew up on the plastic wrapped Kraft ™ slices of goodness with the generic Oscar Meyer ™ brand of bologna between two slices of white Wonder ™ bread! Don’t judge me. By the way, folding the American cheese over and over again until it resembles a sticky Jenga ™ tower was a fond pastime for my brothers and me in suburban Detroit.

 The  California  burger with crispy fresh-cut fries The California burger with crispy fresh-cut fries  The S.F. Giant burger with cheddar cheese, fixins (no tomatoes because Drew turns into a Gremlin if he has them on a burger), and awesome cripsy, cooked-to-perfection fried onion rings The S.F. Giant burger with cheddar cheese, fixins (no tomatoes because Drew turns into a Gremlin if he has them on a burger), and awesome cripsy, cooked-to-perfection fried onion rings

For sides, Drew chose the crispy onion rings and I went with the fresh-cut fries.

 Ooh, those onion rings are still super hot! Ooh, those onion rings are still super hot!

The verdict: Excellent. The fixins, which were very fresh, didn’t overwhelm the patty which is key to quality and taste. Nothing is worse than biting into a beautifully-assembled burger and you can’t taste the damn meat! You know who you are past burger blog offenders! The patty was juicy, not too overdone, pink in the middle, and perfectly seasoned!! Brava It’s Tops. The bun is a simple sesame bun and while I tend to favor a nice potato bun, this one didn’t bother me since it really let the meat be the star.

 Drew: Me am in happy place. Drew: “Me am in happy place.” Me: This is a burger. Yep! 

The piece de resistance? Mint…. Chocolate… chip… milkshake!

Assembled the old-school way via homemade milkshake machines from the 50s, I was entranced by the whirring of the mixer as the waitress carefully watched it reach the perfect consistency of thickness and iced cream yummery. Yes, that’s a word now. I’ve decided. The list of flavors is plentiful and next time, I totally want to get down on a Root Beer Float.

The Highlights:

Cost: $$ Two out of four dollar signs.

I’m sure the items on the menu used to be much more affordable– we paid $35 for two burgers, fries, onion rings, a milkshake, and a Coca-cola and water– but it’s San Francisco y’all. $3,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. This is a deal for the food and the experience!

Napkins: 1 out of 3

Might not be first-date worthy because of the messiness that will end up on your lap or favorite t-shirt, but this place is a classic diner and exudes a feeling of romanticism from the early 50’s and 60’s. Take your wife, husband, spouse, partner, cisgender friend, parents, grandparents, whatever!

On the Jukebox:

Yaaaaaaasssss! A personal jukebox on every booth and table!

I believe what’s playing in the background at a restaurant can either make or break your experience. Drew and I had to listen to some awful techno music that was blaring in the background while we enjoyed some delicious Thai food at a well-known Mission District restaurant. DM us if you want to know which joint this was.

Here’s what was playing at It’s Tops while we noshed.

Ain’t No Sunshine by Al Jarreau

Lawdy Miss Clawdy by Llyod Price

Splish Splash by Bobby Darin

Cathy’s Clown by The Everly Brothers

Cut Across Shortly by Eddie Cochran

No Particular Place to Go by Chuck Berry

Lollipop by The Chordettes

Service: 2 out of 5

While the lovely ladies manning the fort were very nice, they weren’t super attentive and we had to go up to the counter a couple of times to get noticed. I get it. It’s a diner job that attracts customers who just want a quick bite and might leave a buck or two next to their messy plate. On a positive note, one of the waitresses took her break enjoying a burger from the kitchen (photo above). Points for servers who eat and actually like the items on the menu!

Disclosure: The staff didn’t know we were there to do a burger review. It helps with the authenticity of the experience. We don’t want special treatment! Okay, maybe we could use another sponsorship with Chevrolet but that was years ago and I realize we have to build the brand back up!

That’s it. What do you think? Have you been to It’s Tops? Did you like it/hate it? Where should we venture off to next?

Thanks for reading and happy burgering errbody!

 Important to note: You pay for your bill at the register by the entrance. This ain't no fancy joint where you get your bill in a glass container delivered to you by an even fancier dandy fop or foppess! Important to note: You pay for your bill at the register by the entrance. This ain’t no fancy joint where you get your bill in a glass container delivered to you by an even fancier dandy fop or foppess!

Bonus photos:

 Drew pointing out the cover of the SF Examiner. He did a few stand-up comedy sets at Oakland's Feelmore adult sex shop and the place is struggling to stay afloat because of the high cost of living and sky-high rent. Support local businesses!   Drew pointing out the cover of the SF Examiner. He did a few stand-up comedy sets at Oakland’s Feelmore adult shop and the place is struggling to stay afloat because of the high cost of living and sky-high rent. Support local businesses!    I met a dude who wolfed down this awesome-looking plate of goodness (Buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup, corned beef hash, two breakfast sausages, and two eggs over easy) in TEN minutes! Well done, sir! Well done.  I met a dude who wolfed down this awesome-looking plate of goodness (Buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup, corned beef hash, two breakfast sausages, and two eggs over easy) in TEN minutes! Well done, sir! Well done.    California  burger:  It's Tops  best-selling burger according to our waitress.  California burger: It’s Tops best-selling burger according to our waitress.   The goodness inside!  The goodness inside! 

365 Covfefe Days Later: Comedy with a Cause

 The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis  The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis

Now that all the turkey and leftovers have been digested, it’s time for a little reminder of just how fast this year has flown by. I’m so not ready for Christmas yet!

For many of us, myself included, 2017 has been a tough, trying and super political year. So to keep the momentum of community organizing going, I wanted to update you on the results of Organizing for Action San Francisco’s free comedy show and donation drive for our friends at Hospitality House.

 Comedian Samantha Gilweit Comedian Samantha Gilweit

The Nov. 9th event raised an impressive $190 in cash donations and a big pile of in-kind donations to help those living on the streets get through these cold winter months.

 Comedian Joe Gorman  Comedian Joe Gorman 

Nearly 40 people came out to PianoFight for a night of laughs with our fantastic guest comedians Drew Harmon, Joe Gorman, Samantha Gilweit, Valerie Vernale, and Matt Gubser. The comics kindly donated their time but OFA made sure to give them each Participation Ribbons to celebrate their special comedy snowflake-ness.

 Comedian and Host Drew Harmon  Comedian and Host Drew Harmon

We also want to send out a special thank you to Tess Davis, Development Manager at Hospitality House for collecting all the donations, and Development Director Allan Manalo for stopping by to support us!

 Comedian Valerie Vernale  Comedian Valerie Vernale

For those of you who still want to donate new basic necessities, click here for more information. Since Hospitality House does not take used items, you can still drop them off at the nearby St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco.

 Comedian Matt Gubser  Comedian Matt Gubser 

Until next time…

Dare to Know. Tedx San Francisco

The world is a very messy, confusing place right now. So in the spirit of finding peace and inspiration, I thought I’d share my experience after attending the incredible TEDx San Francisco.

It should be noted that every person’s experience is different. After spending nearly 20 years in the business, I quit my television news career and began one of the most revealing and scariest journeys of my life.

But I had to work on one thing first– rebuilding my self-confidence. While I worked hard compiling an impressive news resume and Rolodex (analog and digital) of contacts, I was completely starting over and had no idea what I wanted to do! Not only that, I left the business with a sorely bruised ego. I spent the first three months relaxing, traveling (Havana, Cuba), sleeping, and re-energizing.  The next three were spent on giving back and volunteering. I volunteer for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture or CUESA for short. I also graduated from a rigorous, six-week Organizing for Action fellowship that has changed my outlook on life. I’m now the Director of Coalitions and Partnerships for OFA SF! Of course having mentors, a close circle of friends and family, and a therapist who can help me see through all the mess have been essential.

This last month or so has me back in busy bee mode. I am going out more, talking to more people, and just… connecting.

This is where TEDx San Francisco came in. The big event, which takes so much time and an army of people to plan, is intended to inspire, inform, and share personal stories of struggle, success, and hope. It was broken into four categories: Precision, Currencies, Empathy, and Intelligence. For someone looking to make a big career or life change, I figured this was a good place to start.

The popular event easily sold out but I was one of the lucky ones to grab a seat at the impressive Herbst Theater. It’s a modern space that also pays homage to San Francisco history.

I spent the entire day here so I can safely say I stayed for the whole experience that included laughs, tears, and inspiration. There were nearly 30 speakers at this event so rather than go through each one, I am detailing the Top 5 speakers who simply blew me away.

1. Gabe Zichermann: CEO/Co-Founder of Onward

In our massively connected world, technology has always been a part of addiction and Zichermann knows all about it. He says from birth, we are wired in our brains to be addicts in order for us to stay alive. The Toronto native saw addiction in everyday life, from the massively popular Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Double Down sandwich (I’ve never tried it but it looks damn delicious) to the late politician Rob Ford’s crack adventures (there are plenty of videos and news about his downward spiral that eventually cost him his life). But addiction does not have to be a death sentence and with the assistance of good mental health programs, we can clear our minds and live our best lives. Zichermann goes into detail about ways to overcome your addictions using the Onward Method which seeks to spread low-cost, mental health care to balance your online obsessions with your offline life.

2. Mar Cabra: Head of Data and Research for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

No matter what I end up doing in my career, responsible journalism will always have a big place in my heart. What I didn’t know after spending years in the newsroom is that those piles of papers and documents that reporters have stacked on their desks can be pure gold. Mar Cabra is looking to archive that gold especially with the disappearance of newspapers and popularity of digitalization around the globe. This impressive journalist from Spain led a team of reporters to expose a network of corruption known as the Panama Papers. The investigation could not have been possible without the painstaking task of having to go through 11.5 million financial and legal records. Cabra says we have to reframe the way we look at sharing by creating a searchable database that we can have access to, forever. Kudos to you Mar!

3. Elaine Fong: Art Director for Blue Bottle Coffee

All right. Get that tissue box ready. You may also want to call your mom after seeing this talk. While I have my own opinions about Blue Bottle (why did you have to sell to Nestle BB, why?), Elaine Fong had the most beautifully tragic story to share. While she found great success in her career in design, she never thought she would have to take on such a personal challenge… helping her mother end her own life. Fong’s mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer and even though she was in remission for 12 years, the disease came back and this time it was terminal. But rather than become a vegetable with a tumor behind her ear, her mother wanted to leave this world knowing who she was. Death with dignity. After a long and painful discussion, Fong says her mother died peacefully by drinking a lethal medical cocktail on her own terms. No matter where you stand on the issue, Fong left us with this question to ponder: If you could design your own death, what would your experience be like?

4. Fran Guijarro: Creative Director/Filmmaker, and Moses: Witness/Storyteller/Musician

It is absolutely true that San Francisco has a homelessness crisis on its hands. After organizing two recent events on the issue, I am wholeheartedly trying to be more knowledgeable about the problem. Filmmaker Fran Guijarro also wants the public to have a better understanding of what and more importantly, who are affected by homelessness. Guijarro spent over 10 years and captured more than 600 hours of footage to create “Moses“, a film that tracked the life of one man who lived on the streets of San Francisco after creating music with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The movie is now in post-production and still needs help getting distributed! After the talk, Moses went on-stage and performed “Peek A Boo”, a song written 40 years ago that tells people that while they may not see the homeless, the homeless see you.

5. Catherine Hoke: Founder/CEO of Defy Adventures

Now this woman was not only well-dressed (I loved the plaid dress that she sewed herself, the hair, the shirt, everything), she knows how to hustle and she wants you to transform your hustle. Catherine Hoke spends much of her time teaching formerly incarcerated men and women how to re-enter society and tap into their entrepreneurial spirit. Hoke admitted she had troubles of her own with the law and that too often, people don’t judge you by what you’re trying to accomplish now, but by what you did in the past. Her main question… What if you were only known for what you did?

So that’s it! What did you think? Of course, there were so many other inspiring talks from this day. You can see all the videos here. Let me know by commenting on this post, on Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media connections. Ciao for now!