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

Take Me to Queens at Once!

The title of this post is a line from a movie.  Can you name it?  Bonus points for character, actor, and scene.  You have until the end of this post to guess your answer.

Six weeks of the WordPress Post-A-Week challenge has been very good in getting me to blog regularly this year!  While I did say that would I write about travel, culture, food, New York City, and bikram yoga, I have yet to figure out the common thread(s) that would pull all these disparate interests together to make an interesting and worthwhile read for visitors.  Ultimately, I am trying to figure out what my unique contribution will be to the online community.

Last Thursday, I saw travel blogger Vagabond3‘s tweet on a current weekly blog feature:  a 12 week challenge centered on the theme of  traveling within your own hometown.  Immediately, I thought this challenge would be a perfect way to complement my Post-A-Week challenge and the goals I hope to accomplish!  So once again, I declare to the world my intent to participate in this excellent idea to write about New York City…but with a *TWIST*.   I’m going to focus all future articles for this challenge on only 1 of the 5 boroughs of New York City:  Queens.

A Manhattan-ite once wrote on her Facebook status update, “Only reason to go to Queens is the airport.”  While the borough does house the city’s two airports, as a Queens native, it absolutely PAINS ME to hear this statement!  Yes, Queens gets very little love in the hearts and minds of many people when compared to limelight-stealing Manhattan and trendy, hipster Brooklyn.  While the Bronx gets little attention too and Staten Island is barely on the radar for most tourists and New Yorkers alike, I believe Queens to be a real gem as New York City’s most ethnically diverse borough and arguably, the most ethnically diverse county in the United States.

So if you are a tourist visiting New York City interested in getting-off-the-beaten-Manhattan-path or a city resident hesitant to cross the river, check back here every week as I spotlight Queens.  I hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone and explore another layer of this wondrous city.  And as much as I love the westernmost neighborhoods of Queens — Astoria and Long Island City — that border the East River and are closest to Manhattan, I’m going to do my best to focus on lesser known neighborhoods in the borough that are equally interesting but don’t get very much publicity.

Eddie Murphy & Arsenio Hall in Coming to America* (Paramount Pictures)

“What better place to find a queen than the city of Queens?” Prince Akeem asks Semmi, his friend and cousin in the 1988 movie “Coming to America”.  In fact, this movie holds a special place in my heart.  McDowell’s Restaurant was, and still is, a Wendy’s restaurant in Elmhurst, where I grew up.  Filmed in 1987, I will always remember my elementary school classmates coming into school one morning excitedly talking about their bus ride home the afternoon before.  Apparently, they hollered and frantically banged on the bus’s windows to get the attention of Eddie Murphy & Arsenio Hall as they filmed on the street.  Little did I know that in 6 short years, I would hold a part-time job in high school at this Wendy’s.  The hallway was lined with black and white photos of the cast.  Heck, I eventually dated my first boyfriend who also worked there and took him to my prom.

Personal tidbits aside, name me another borough that has a major thoroughfare with the coolest street name ever.

*Movie still picture found on Slowly Going Bald.

A Wedding by the Sea

I love all the things there are,
and of all the fires
love is the only inexhaustible one;
and that’s why I go from life to life,
from guitar to guitar,
and I have no fear
of light or of shade,
and being almost earth myself,
I spoon away at infinity.

— Pablo Neruda

The Cooking Anthropologist & her husband, the Computer Scientist sharing their first dance.

I was honored to be asked to read at their wedding. I read a poem by Neruda, an excerpt I included above.

A German tradition, where the new bride and groom have to saw a log in half to represent teamwork and unity. You can see these two were having fun.

Below is JK & me. I haven’t seen her since her Vermont wedding in 1999. Now she has two beautiful boys!

The obligatory MHC shot below.

African drummers at the reception.

I spent time with the Cooking Anthropologist & the Computer Scientist in Tanzania when she was doing her year of fieldwork. We went snorkeling off the coast of Kigombe and lunched on a sand island only exposed during low tide.

A double-date weekend at the Cape, this time with Mojo in tow.