Handmade Candy Canes at Hammond’s Candies

After TBEX2012, I made the most of my remaining time in Denver by visiting Hammond’s Candies.  This place has been making candy since 1920.  What’s truly remarkable is that the hard candy — candy canes, candy ribbons, lollipops, pillows, and sticks — are still  largely made by hand.  See how they make candy canes in my short video below!

Hammond’s Candies
5735 N. Washington Street
Denver, CO 80216
(888) 226-3999
Free factory tours are available.  See website for details.

TBEX 2012 in Keystone, Colorado

I attended my very first TBEX, Travel Blogger Exchange, last year in Vancouver.  During the conference, I attended a writing workshop where we were assigned homework for the next day.  We were instructed to write a short piece, no more than 500 words, on our journey to TBEX2011.   Here’s what I wrote:

The rising sun awakens me each day.  Even if my eyelids are heavy, they are forced open by the harsh morning light.  I blink several times and my eyes wander to that one paint scab on the ceiling, a patch of yellow exposed in a sea of white.  “I really need to repaint this room.  Maybe that shade of blue that reminds me of the waters of Bermuda,” I think to myself.  I push aside the thought and swing my legs off the bed.  Other things take precedent.  Phone calls, emails, reports, projects.  My mind churns out the ticker tape of today’s to-do list at work and I know I will execute these tasks with perfunctory efficiency.  I can do this in my sleep.

Today, I am not at home and the light here in Vancouver is different.  Perhaps it is a function of the time of day.  The afternoon sun casts a warm yellow glow on me as I sit by these windows that are triple my height.  It easy to feel connected to the world outside the Convention Centre.  There is a Holland America cruise ship docked next door.  From here, I see housekeeping staff cleaning the exterior balconies in preparation for the next cycle of passengers.   I am reminded me that boats are not meant to be tethered.  They are meant to sail.

Rick Calver, CEO of BlogWorld

On year later, in June, I landed in Denver, Colorado to attend TBEX2012.  Traveling from sea level to approximately 11,400 feet above sea level in less than 24 hours proved incredibly difficult.  I suffered from severe altitude sickness (symptoms included: pounding headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, throwing up, lack of sleep) during the entire conference.  It was difficult to focus, learn, and network when I was not on top of my game. Despite this disappointing setback, TBEX 2012 served as a useful benchmark to look back on what I accomplished within the past year.  It was also great to catch up with old travel friends and make new ones.

Me with Scott Jordan, CEO & Founder of Scottevest. Thank you so much for my complimentary red Scottevest! I love it!

With fellow petite friend, Jodi Ettenberg (Legal Nomads)

With Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt). I love that he’s happy to see me!

My roommates at TBEX: Irene Lau (@i_on_food_drink) & James Clark (NomadicNotes).

TBEX2011 confirmed what my heart had been telling me for some time: take the leap of faith, leave my office job, and start the path to self-employment. Three months after Vancouver, I followed through with my decision and went to LA to become certified as a Bikram yoga teacher. In the 9 months since I left the comfort of a steady paycheck and amazing benefits, I sometimes get discouraged and berate myself for not being 10 steps ahead of where I currently am. Am I not organized, disciplined, creative, or good enough? James Clark of Nomadic Notes reminded me that this feeling is normal among self-employed people no matter how long they have worked for themselves. “Do you know how many people do what you did?” he asked. “Many people spend their entire lives dreaming and talking about pursuing their passions but almost all of them never do it. The step you took was the biggest and hardest one.” When I catch myself being too hard on me, I remember his sage advice.  Thank you James.

It’s been more than a year that I’ve actively blogged under ActionJoJo, focusing on my three main interests:  1) the NYC borough of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States and my home; 2) my travels; and 3) Bikram yoga.  Despite these broad topics, I still need to work on branding ActionJoJo.  Chris Gray Faust (@CAroundTheWorld) and Janice Waugh (@solotraveler) offered excellent advice in their session “The Branding of You”.  They suggested to examine the interests and talents that make you unique.  Check.  Then, identify your primary niche and focus on it to eventually be considered an expert in your field.  Hmmm, must make a decision on what my primary niche is.  Develop trust between you, your readers, and sponsors.  Working on it by sticking to a regular blog post schedule.  Market your brand and benefit from it.  Needs work.  Set goals and create a strategy to achieve said goals.  Needs work. 

The picture below inspires me to work through these issues.  It was a joy to see fellow travel friends wear t-shirts with my logo on it at TBEX this year!

Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere (r) fulfilled his promise last year to wear my t-shirt to this year’s TBEX! James Clark (l) got a t-shirt too for being a great friend.

The path ahead has yet to be defined yet I am excited to come up with creative answers to who ActionJoJo is and what my website strives to be for the world at large.  At the very least, I hope people come to know ActionJoJo as someone willing to try new experiences.  Despite the altitude sickness, I couldn’t give up the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull for the first time at the Expedia-sponsored, cowboy-themed BBQ dinner.  As I climbed onto the machine, a young boy helped me by giving me an important tip: engage the inner thighs and never stop squeezing them together.  I was encouraged!  As a yoga student, I know how to engage these muscles!  I am proud that I managed to stay on that bull for 31 seconds as it spun and bucked.

Photo courtesy of Irene Lau

I suppose riding a mechanical bull is a metaphor for my life right now:  get on a ride you want to try, utilize rarely used muscles to make them strong, and get back on or try something else if I get thrown off.  For now, I’m going to stay on this ride despite the bucking and spinning.  I’m going to learn to flex new muscles, grip tight when I’m about to fall off yet know when to let go when the time is right.  My goal?  Smile during this whole process and enjoy the ride.

Photo Courtesy of James Clark

The House that Ben Built: American Philosophical Society

Benjamin Franklin’s name is scattered all throughout the city of Philadelphia, from a major thoroughfare to a science museum. Indeed, it is difficult to forget that this man — writer, inventor, diplomat, and so much more — contributed so much to the city he called home and to the newly formed nation of thirteen former British colonies. Franklin, popularly known for discovering electricity with a key and a kite, was a prolific thinker who cared deeply about the development of learned thought in the colonies and later, the new nation. In 1743, he created the American Philosophical Society [APS] to cultivate such knowledge among men.  Today, the APS remains an active learned society whose members range from astronaut Neil Armstrong to writer David McCullough. I took a private tour, which allowed me to view rare items from the Society’s private collection.

Standing in a brightly lit room surrounded by library card catalog cabinets of the past, the oldest artifact presented to me was in a large frame.  It held the only known copy of the US Declaration of Independence printed on vellum. Seeing this simple object in front of me yet remembering what this document symbolizes, I imagined myself reading this manifesto nailed to a wall in a public square during the colonial period. What would it have felt like–either as a colonizer or a colonized–to read this blatant act of political defiance?

The next artifact was embedded within a series of boxes, like the inner-most doll of a matryoshka set.  The protective boxes revealed a red leather book bound at the top with the following label:

Lewis and Clark Codices
Codex J. – Clark.
January 1, 1806 – March 20, 1806

I laid eyes on William Lewis’s daily journal, one of the greatest and oldest travelogues of the United States.  President Thomas Jefferson, an APS member, commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the land west of the colonies and the Mississippi River.  His diary was neatly written, covering every inch of paper in his legible penmanship and sketches.  Looking at this object easily made me imagine the various circumstances Lewis wrote in his journal.  Even after long and tiring days of exploration, perhaps sitting outdoors by a fire, he still diligently wrote his daily observations with a steady hand.

The final paper object moved from handwritten words to typewritten words; it was a transcript of the words uttered by the first man on the moon. I discovered that Neil Armstrong’s now popular evocation, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.“ was captured incorrectly. Garbled through the radio transmission, what he actually said was, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Below, you can see Armstrong’s revision to the text (look for a lightly written “L” symbol between “for” and “man” in the 3rd line and look to the right margin where it says “L a”).

Thanks to support from its members and major philanthropic foundations, the APS today continues its commitment to scholarly advancement and knowledge production. One project is the organization and digitization of its collection on Native American culture. Photographs, diaries, and audio captured on old formats (like the wire recording in the picture below) need to be upgraded so as to preserve and make them accessible not only to the scholarly community but also to the Native American tribes whose cultures these items capture.  Native American tribal elders or experts serve as consultants to the APS.  Some artifacts in the collection offer previous knowledge or information that no longer exists.  For example, some Native American languages are no longer spoken today but the APS has late 19th or early 20th century recordings of these languages.

The APS recognizes its role in educating the public. Its museum allows visitors to see revolving exhibits that highlight items from its collection.  While the APS library is only available to scholars, the public can see a few small exhibits in the library foyer such as copies of Lewis and Clark’s diaries during their US northwest expedition and a copy of Ben Franklin’s editorial mark-ups of the Declaration of Independence.

A visit to Philadelphia should definitely include a visit to the APS. After you wait on the long line to visit the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall, be sure to cross the street and check out the Society’s museum to learn unique aspects of American history.

American Philosophical Society Museum
104 South Fifth Street
Philadelphia, PA  19106-3387
$1 Donation Requested

Sunday Signs & Symbols: US Declaration of Independence

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This sentence is arguably the most recognized sentence in the US Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, the words of this document were approved. The thirteen American colonies publicly asserted their desire to separate from Great Britain and the rule of King George III.

The success of the American Revolution and the subsequent creation of a new republic based on the principles of democracy and liberalism affected the entire world at the time. Notions of equality and liberty espoused in the Declaration of Independence fueled revolutions in the late 18th century such as the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution, and in the early 19th century, the revolutions in Latin America. These ideals were used as the basis for change during periods of American history when the rights of a certain group of its citizens were contested namely, the abolitionist movement, the civil right’s movement, and the women’s suffrage and women’s rights movements. Even in the mid-20th century, these ideals were embraced by African and Asian colonies seeks independence from their colonizers. In America today, individuals and their respective political parties seeking election will appeal to voter sensibilities through the utilization of these ideals.

Happy Independence Day America! Read more this coming Tuesday on my trip to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia where I got to see the only known printed copy of the US Declaration of Independence on vellum.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Denver International Airport


This weekend I am in Keystone, Colorado for a conference called TBEX, Travel Blogger Exchange. When I attended TBEX last year in Vancouver, it helped solidify my decision to take a leap of faith, leave my job, and follow my dream.

This year’s TBEX location had me flying into Denver International Airport. I’ve seen airports offer a lot of amentities but this option is something new to me.

In your travels, what unique things have you seen in airports? Leave a comment below!

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

New York City elicits images of an urban jungle:   concrete sidewalks, honking horns, yellow taxicabs, tall skyscrapers, and seas of people moving with determined purpose.  This frenetic energy makes the city attractive to locals and tourists alike.  People seeking an escape from the Manhattan jungle head to Central Park, a haven from the asphalt and glass.  While Central Park may be the most highly recognizable park in town, it is only the 5th largest park in New York City according to the Parks & Recreation department.

In 1938, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses put much of the Jamaica Bay area in southern Queens under the supervision of the Parks Department because of his interest in preserving the region’s wetlands.  In particular, he was interested in building a freshwater bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay.  By 1951, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was formed and in 1972, the park fell under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service.  The refuge along with 10 other parks in Queens, Staten Island, and New Jersey comprise the Gateway National Urban Recreation Area (indicated in green in the map below).

Cross Bay Boulevard bisects the refuge and a large fresh water pond (unimaginatively named East Pond and West Pond) exists on each side of the road with an adjacent trail.  Register first at the Visitor’s Center and learn more about the park from the current exhibits and public lectures.  Park rangers can also inform you which wildlife can be seen that day.  For approximately 60 years, the refuge has served as a rest stop for migrating birds such as the brown osprey and orange tree swallow during the spring and autumn seasons.  Some birds remain in the area all year long such as the green-mourning doves, cardinals, and robins.  There are many birds to encounter along the trails but binoculars will come in handy should you be interested in seeing smaller, rarer birds in the brush.

Just as the NYC urban jungle assaults your five senses, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge also does the same.  As you walk along the marshes, you see cactus plants and holly bushes.  Broken clam shells reflect sunlight as they litter the ground creating a shimmery path.  Birds dig up the clams and drop them from the sky, allowing gravity to crack them open for consumption.  Constant squawks, squeals, and chirps can be heard overhead as the ground crunches beneath your feet.  The wind rustles leaves and makes surrounding tree branches squeak.  Scattered throughout the park are birds nests and birdhouses offering refuge for adult birds and their offspring.It is easy to relax in the refuge’s serenity even though the distant Manhattan skyline peeks above the marsh tips, cars whiz by on Cross Bay Boulevard, and humanity’s constructed jumbo birds take off and land at nearby John F. Kennedy Airport.  Despite these urban reminders, you can taste the salty smell of the ocean on your tongue and hear the rhythmic lapping water of the freshwater ponds.  I visited on a sunny yet windy day so the sun gave me welcome warmth against the cold ocean wind.  I passed a group of birders in their tell-tale khaki vests and hiking boots carrying their huge binoculars, long tripods, and expensive cameras.  Led by a park ranger, the group participated in one of the park’s free tours.

A Single Swan in East Pond with the JFK Control Tower in the Background
West Pond with the Manhattan Skyline in Background

A peaceful calm descended on me and I took a moment to acknowledge the human intervention needed to make this place possible.  This refuge would not exist without the foresight to preserve and create a natural bird habitat as land increasingly developed in New York City.  It is hard to believe that this haven for both birds and humans exists approximately 15 miles away from downtown Manhattan.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Cross Bay Boulevard
Broad Channel, Queens
(718) 318-4340
Trails:  Open daily, dawn to dusk.
Visitor Center:  Open daily, 8:30am-5pm

Take a Queens-bound (Lefferts Boulevard) A train to Rockaway Boulevard and transfer to a Rockaway Park-bound Q53 bus from Cross Bay Boulevard & Liberty Avenue to Wildlife Refuge stop.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: In the Event of a Tsunami

In College Point, a NYC neighborhood on the northern shore of Queens, this sign is in the town center (14th Avenue & College Point Boulevard) away from the shore.  No other sign with this image can be found in the neighborhood so I am left to wonder what it means.  Is this location where people are to gather OR escape from in the event of a pending tsunami?  What do you think?  Leave them in your comments below.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Gardens

The annual Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Garden ended on April 22nd.  In case you missed it and need to wait until next year to see it in person, check out some of my favorite orchids from the exhibit.

The Garden hosts fantastic exhibitions throughout the year!  Future exhibits include Monet’s Garden and the extremely popular annual Holiday Train Show.


The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY  10458-5126
(718) 817-8700
For directions, click here.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Harmony, CA

After visiting Hearst Castle near San Luis Obispo, California, I was driving on Highway 1 and came upon a sign for a town called Harmony (population 18).  What a unique name for a town so I stopped to strike a pose!  Tree posture strengthens the legs and improves balance.  When you practice tree pose, your standing leg remains strong and rooted to the ground as you stretch your spine up towards the ceiling, growing taller like a tree.

Beginning today, Sunday Signs & Symbols will be a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it. 

Maui III: Piko

The Navel, The Center

I was drawn to this necklace when I first saw it on the road to Hana.
Carved out of cow bone, the artist explained that this symbol is the piko.
The navel connects us to the source of life; it is the center.

It reminds me of my spirituality.
I have learned to trust my gut, to trust myself.
I am beginning to feel the connection between my mind & body & spirit.

I am still patiently learning how to be unafraid of my emotions.