Why I Still Drink (Just One) Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks

This morning, I woke up and it was suddenly autumn. An evening storm cooled the air down to a crisp breeze, and my open windows let the chill drift beneath my blankets. I’ve never been so excited to shiver. Something felt different – special somehow – but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I noticed that today is basically a national holiday: pumpkin spice lattes are back! I immediately put on a beanie, flannel shirt, and leather boots, then skipped my way to the nearest Starbucks.

Enjoying my first (and only) Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of the season!

Here’s the thing: I know Starbucks isn’t the best. I am fully aware there’s no pumpkin in their lattes. I also understand that in lieu of pumpkin, they pump their flavored lattes with cancer-causing, questionable ingredients – but for the duration of this grande pumpkin spice latte I have in my hands, all bets are off. (After today, it’s back to my homemade pumpkin spice latte recipe, with real pumpkin).

So why did I spend $3.26 on a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks this morning?

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Trip Report: (Epic, Beautiful, Strong) Climbing at Hound Ears during Triple Crown Bouldering Series

I don’t know about you, but ever since handing in my score sheet on Saturday afternoon after crushing all day at what easily qualifies as the most beautiful and bountiful bouldering crag I have ever visited, I have been obsessively refreshing the Triple Crown Bouldering Series website, eagerly awaiting to see the final competitor listing – and it’s finally here: The results from the Triple Crown Bouldering Series competition at Hound Ears are officially posted!

But before I reveal how I placed, let’s take a look back at my amazing weekend out at this unbelievable crag:

The adventure began early on Friday morning, as Niko and I left Tallahassee at 6:00 AM on the dot. We wound our way through Georgia and South Carolina before crossing the North Carolina state line early in the afternoon. After a few wrong turns, thanks to my newfangled Apple Maps app, we finally landed at Grandfather Campground.

I was expecting a huge crowd of climbers to be milling around already, but we ended up arriving before registration even began. We set up camp, feasted on delicious Indian food provided free from Triple Crown, and swiftly retreated to our tent to rest up for the big day.

Holy mother of climbers – I have never seen so many folks gathered at a single crag on a single day. Since Hound Ears is only open for public climbing during Triple Crown, the event was sold out. That means a total of 300 climbers were bussed from camp to the peak of the Hound Ears boulder field on Saturday morning. Epic.

Despite having spent the previous evening pouring over our printed guidebooks, Niko and I would have been completely lost without the guidance of an old Tally Rock Gym climber, Ben Wiant, who joined us for the competition with his wife. Along with two other Tally Rock Gym regulars, Monty and Sara, we trekked through the trails towards our first stop of the day: the Air Jesus boulder.

The group warmed up on a row of V0-V2s, and then we dove into a grueling day of crushing. Despite being slightly intimidated by the height of the magnificent Air Jesus boulder, I decided to hop on the V5 version of this classic climb, and sent it within three attempts. I immediately knew it was going to be a great day.

I also quickly realized that it wouldn’t be such a great day for photography. When you’re scurrying around an enormous crag trying to send 10 problems within less than seven hours, whipping out your camera loses priority, very fast. So excuse my not-so-epic pictures, oops.

Niko jumped on a sweet V9 called Air Satan (Low Start), but kept slipping off a slick foot on the top-out. He coulda, woulda, shoulda sent it, but it was early in the day, and we decided to come back to the climb later (which we never did, naturally).

The second part of the day day my favorite send, Bleed Me Out (V5). I was working another set of V5s called Satan’s In The Tires and Body Disposal when one of the Triple Crown judges saw me climbing and insisted that I hop on Bleed Me Out. Frankly, I had already crossed that one off my list of problems I wanted to attempt, purely based on the wretched name.

The route starts on a very solid ledge, with not so great feet. You have to launch out and cross over to a microscopic crimp knob, which you have to match before delicately swinging your feet over and hurdle up to the next tiny crimp. My crux came at the last crimp before the top-out; it was literally invisible from the two non-existent crimps I was already on. I was terrified, but somehow reached up, locked my tiny fingers on the equally tiny hold, and cranked up to the top-out lip. The highlight of my trip was a feeling of absolute elation, which was amplified when I looked down and realized the judge was watching me the whole time. (Thank you wonderful lady for encouraging me to make the send!)

Our next little hike took us to one of the ultimate classics at Hound Ears, a highball V3 called Heretic. I took a little rest while watching the boys crush the huge moves on this towering problem, and cheered Niko on while he sent Unforgiven (V7). Yet again, the Triple Crown judges lent a helpful hand in revealing a hidden crimper that Niko hadn’t been using during his first attempts. With this new bit of beta, he was able to quickly make the send. (Thank you Triple Crown for having such fantastic folks running the event!)

The last truly hardcore session was at the Lost and Found boulders, where I sent two V3s while Niko worked on a vicious V9 called The Brady Problem. It wasn’t a send for him, but he did get to watch Jimmy Webb nonchalantly stroll up to the boulder, send the problem, and merrily stroll away. Pretty neat.

At this point in the day, we were wrecked from the sharp stone. We retreated to the main area in search of burritos (which we missed out on) and easier climbs to finish the day. After getting whooped by a V2 called Evil Slug, Niko convinced me to hop on a lippy V4 called The Anchor, which I miraculously sent despite an overeager spotter who literally talked me off the wall during my first attempt. I loved his enthusiasm, but couldn’t focus on topping out the problem while he was shouting “Come on, come on, get it, get your foot up, crank up, crank over, let’s go, do it!” relentlessly in my ear.

After that, I was completely drained. Who knew climbing 10 V3-V5 problems could be so daunting? I ended the day attempting a few V3 and V4 problems, but couldn’t even lift myself off the ground – so I settled with my 10th score sheet listing, a V1, appropriately named “Lard Ass.” I scored my signatures, surveyed my score sheet, and turned it in to the judges. 

At the end of the day, I had no idea how my performance stacked up against the other lady competitors, but I had already won the battle against myself. With two V5s, a V4, and a handful of V3s, I had rocked my strongest day of climbing to date. I pleasantly enjoyed the remainder of the evening sipping beer and tequila/lemonade cocktails, gorging myself on barbeque provided by Triple Crown, and laughing at the wipeouts during the crash pad stacking contest.

When the winners were finally announced, I knew my name wouldn’t be in the top 3 for women’s intermediate, but my notions of where I might place were instantly crushed when the called out the name of the top climber, Alexa Russell. I had watched her climbing earlier in the day, and she crushed every V5 and V6 she got her hands on (keep in mind, we were competing in the V3-4 category) – and apparently, she’s only 13! I didn’t stand a chance.

Final verdict? I placed 15th in the Women’s Intermediate.
Not too shabby for my first competition.

Overall, I am so satisfied with how the competition turned out. My month of training truly paid off, and I felt incredibly strong throughout the day. The biggest improvement I saw was with top-outs. I have never fearlessly mantled over a flat ledge before, and my confidence was sky-high during Hound Ears. Even on the V2s, I felt like a champion as I rocked my body over the boulders – I only beach whaled twice! 

Next time, I’m going to incorporate more endurance training into my pre-competition workouts. Seriously, sending 10 problems (in seven short hours) at your limit is no easy feat folks.

PS: WHY OH WHY ISN’T HOUND EARS OPEN EVERY DAY? It’s my new favorite crag, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be attending every single Triple Crown there for the rest of my climbing career. Hound Ears 2013, anyone?

Oh! Have you entered my giveaway for your chance to win a sweet, BPA-free, 100% recyclable Eco-Bottle? Click here for your chance to win – all you have to do is leave a comment telling us why plastic bottles suck! Giveaway ends on Friday!

How to Make a Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte (in a mason jar!)

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte (in a mason jar).This week, I wore my favorite flannel shirt for like 3/4ths of the day without dripping in sweat – and therefore, it is totally autumn.

While long-sleeved shirts and knit scarves are both worthy reasons to get stoked about the fall season, we all know the real reason folks get hyped once the temperatures start dropping:

Pumpkin spice lattes! 

As always, I woke up extra early and bolted to the nearest Starbucks to get my first fall-flavored latte on September 4th – the first day they appear back on the menu – but I must admit, it was a bit painful to shell out the $5 for my tasty treat.

So I decided to make my own.

After testing out a few different recipes, I nixed a few ingredients, made a few tweaks, and came up with my own (slightly) healthier version of this pumpkin-flavored drink.

And when I say ‘healthier‘, what I really mean is that I used 2% milk instead of whole milk, and only refilled my whipped cream once instead of five times. Baby steps, right?

What could be better than a homemade pumpkin spice latte served in a mason jar?

Here’s how to make your own homemade pumpkin spice latte
(with unlimited whipped cream refills, of course):

What you need:

For the pumpkin-y mixture:

½ cup 2% milk
1 teaspoon brown sugar (I use light brown)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin puree (I use unsweetened)

To complete the latte:

1 cup coffee (the stronger, the better, if you ask me!)
3 cubes of white sugar
half & half creamer (to taste)
whipped cream
ground cinnamon (optional)

How to make your pumpkin spice latte:

  1. In a microwavable bowl or cup (OR MASON JAR!), mix together the pumpkin mixture ingredients (milk, brown sugar, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin puree). It’s best to use a whisk, but for us dirtbags, a thorough mixing with a regular ‘ole spoon will do.
  2. Microwave the mixture for about 1:45 (minutes). The timing may vary, so keep an eye on your milk – you want it to get nice and frothy.
  3. Pour the frothy mixture into a tall glass (ahem, MASON JAR!), and add your coffee. Stir in half & half, and sugar. I use sugar cubes to control my outrageous sugar portioning, but a spoonful or two should be fine if you use it in non-cubed form. It’s all about personal taste!
  4. Load up on the whipped cream. And feel free to continue loading up on the whipped cream! Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, if you so please.

Note: Personally, I tend to take forever to finish my coffee. I like to let it sit around and get a little cold before I drink my coffee – disgusting, I know. If you’re like me, be aware that the pumpkin puree tends to settle on the bottom after sitting around for too long – so drink up quicker, or be sure to stir your latte so you don’t get a mouthful of pumpkin at the bottom.

This recipe will provide the yummy goodness of one fairly sizable latte. I usually end up making one for both Niko and myself, so I just double up on the ingredients for the mixture, then let Niko add cream/sugar as he pleases – he likes his coffee more bitter, so he adds way less sweetener than I do.

There you have it folks, a homemade alternative to your favorite Starbucks drink. This do-it-yourself pumpkin spice latte is way more budget friendly than the Starbucks version, and you don’t have to change out of your pajamas to enjoy one! I’ve been drinking them in the mornings out in my garden, and it’s become my favorite way to begin chilly fall days. Plus, everything is better in a mason jar.

Do you love pumpkin spice lattes as much as I do?
Have you tried any other homemade versions of Starbucks drinks?

For more foodie fun, check out my “For The Foodies” board on my Pinterest.
And if you liked this recipe, add it to your boards, too! 

It’s official: I’m moving to DENVER for fall, baby.

Let’s play a little game – You’re going to pretend that you didn’t see the answer capitalized above, and you’re going to guess where life has decided to take me based on five clues/photos.

So, at this stage of my life, I clearly need to high-tail it out of Florida. My tan lines can’t get any deeper, I’ve nearly had my fill of Cuban food, and the mountains are calling my name with earnest. The option to move to San Francisco was looking like the best plan for a while, and then something unexpected fell onto my plate. Shall we solve the no-brainer mystery?

I’ll be shipping off to a city where the springtime brings fat bundles of delicate blossoms sitting right in front of your door step. Even the weeds that cover kitchen windows glow with the glory of living in such fresh, elevated air. Except I’ll be living here during the fall, so it’ll look a lot more like this – and I’m certainly not complaining. Celebrating my 23rd birthday in an autumn wonderland? Yes, please.


When it’s rainy outside, this city still delivers climbing. I can head to a local playground for some sweet artificial bouldering in Central Park, or I can head to the indoor rock gym(s), Rock’n & Jam’n – yes, there are even two different locations to chose from. Of course, I’ll be toting a sizable supply of Tally Rock Gym rubber in my chalk bag to keep the mojo flowin’. Oh shoot, I need some new outdoor gear – no worries, I’ll just take a little drive down to the Boulder Sports Recycler to snag some discounted swag.


Better yet, when it is sunny outside in my new city, I’ll have a buffet of options for outdoor climbing. Within an hour’s reach, I’ll be able to travel to more crags than I could ever possibly conquer. The above photo was taken in Chautauqua Park, better known to climbers as the Flat Irons. Then, there are places like Boulder Canyon and Lincoln Lake – which my future housemate keeps torturing me with photos of, like this one (that she didn’t take) – but I am now determined to find myself a goat while I’m out there. The best part is that my darling housemate is a local whiz when it comes to the best climbing spots in the area, so I won’t be a fish out of water when I move up.

After all the climbing I’ll be doing, mama’s gonna work up an appetite – and my new city is bursting with edible options. Take the kalamata olive bread I scooped during my last visit in May. Do you see that beast? These folks don’t skimp on the olives, and that is something I can stand behind. Not in the mood for baked goods? That’s alright, I can just stuff my face with green chili and mash from Bull & Bush Brewery, or perhaps I’ll cool down with a scoop of homemade frozen flavors from Sweet Action Ice Cream. In the mornings, I’ll take a stroll down the street to Cafe Europa and sip on black tea while I do my daily writing tasks.


Excuse me while I get sentimental, but one of the greatest parts of my move will be the people I’ll be fraternizing with, like my dearest, most beloved McGoo – when he’s not too busy jet-setting all over the country. Skype is simply not enough to quell my need to hang with my Colorado boys, so it looks like I’ll just have to relocate and join in on the fun. There’s McGoo, and Rob, and my new housemate Sara, and it’s going to be a glorious experience to dive into a new social scene and experiment with all sorts of new people.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m moving to Denver! Thanks to a very conveniently-timed sublease opportunity, I’ve decided to pack my Scion up with the bare essentials, and I’ll be residing near Wash Park from September through December. I plan to head out a few weeks in advance, and spend my time meandering up to colorful Colorado during the last bits of summer. The entire fall season will be spent playing in leaves, sipping on espresso, writing religiously and taking thousands of photos that will clog my hard drive with autumn hues and Denver discoveries. Then, just in time for the real winter to set in, I’ll retreat back to Florida for a few months of hibernation before my next big adventure.

Can I express again just how incredibly excited/anxious/amazed I am? Life threw me quite a curve ball, but I think I’ve come back swinging. Not to mention the fact that it takes less than one beer for me to get lifted up in those Colorado mountains – it’s going to be a good season for this spud, and I expect everyone to visit.

Image of the Day: Bouldering Perfection at HP40

I am dedicating this entire weekend to climbing. Yesterday at the gym, I realized I have really dropped the ball in my strength/technique. My climbing was utterly pathetic for the first two hours, until I started projecting a new route and got on ropes with my buddy Marlin. To keep the progress flowing, today’s image is a beautiful shot by Cealey Godwin. This photo was taken during our recent trip to Horse Pens 40, and the featured climber is a super strong girl from our gym, Montana.

Everything about this image expresses the overall vibes of our trip to Horse Pens 40 – showers of falling foliage, stunning rock formations, loads of climbing and superb lighting that streamed through the autumn trees. The photo is an inspirational double-whammy. Not only does it get me pumped for another day of hardcore climbing, it also serves as motivation to continue saving up for a real camera, like the Canon EOS Rebel T2i Digital SLR. Mm, drool worthy.

If anyone wants to join me today at the gym, give my phone a buzz. I’ll be there all day until my fingers fall off. Also might try to develop my film today from the pot luck/Chattanooga/HP40 – if you’re lucky!

The Tribe Has Spoken – We Love You, October.

My mood could not be any better today. The sun is shining, the breeze is cool, birds are chirping like today is a fairytale. Across social media sites, everyone is expressing their love for this beautiful start to October. Here is a sampling of what people are all about on this gorgeous Friday –

“Laying on my bed, barefoot, Windows wide open, the first fall breeze filling up my apartment, and a grin on my face from ear to ear. Today is a great day.” – Josh W.

“Today’s too beautiful to waste, I will study when the sun sets. But for now? I’m going to enjoy the weather!” – Michael C.

“I love you October!” – Chelsea W.

“Today’s a prime day for sitting on my porch watching the smoke get carried away by the breeze. Some old school ska jams on and my October is starting off righteous.” – Alex Q.

“First day of October…that means 30 days until Halloween and 31 days until Christmas music dominates KC radio.” – Michelle H.

I love knowing that everyone is in equally high spirits. Not a single complaint to be found today. My Friday is going to be spent between Railroad Square and Florida State University campus; couldn’t ask for a better start to my favorite month. Come down to the Tallahassee Rock Gym during First Fridays, I’ll be giving $5.00 belays all night!

Happy October!

Happy October, everyone! May your month be filled with pumpkin carving, open windows, rock climbing adventures, cinnamon scented candles, falling leaves, and lots of cuddling. October is filled with exciting ventures, and lots of birthdays.

To celebrate the beginning of this stellar month, everyone in Tallahassee should come out to Railroad Square’s First Friday event tonight! There will be heaps of delicious local food, a crazy costume showcase, rock climbing belays for only $5.00 (and I might be belaying you – doesn’t get better than that!), great vintage shops, art galleries and more. Come check it out, and get a refreshing beer from Skyla over at StarSea’s Cafe.

Other October festivities to look forward to:

  1. The Foals playing at Club Downunder on October 6th.
  2. Yeasayer playing on the Green on October 8th – free for everyone!
  3. My birthday potluck on October 9th.
  4. Matt & Kim playing at Club Downunder on October 13th. (Sleeping Spiders featuring my buddy Phil Andre will be opening for them!)
  5. Roadtrip to Chattanooga with Niko October 15-17th.
  6. I’m turning the ripe ‘ole age of 22 on October 16th!
  7. FSU Climbing Club trip to HP40 October 22-24th.
  8. Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity in Washington, DC on October 30th.

I hope everyone gets outside to enjoy this beautiful weather while it lasts! Go explore, get lost in the woods somewhere, find a new local eatery and try something you’ve never sampled before. Get out there, and LIVE!