I spent the last weekend in the San Bernardino Mountains, just on the other side of Big Bear where the Technicolor blue sky meets majestic peaks enveloped in snow. I would have been happy gazing at the blue expanse through the pine branches alone, breathing in the crisp and sharp mountain air, listening to the gurgling of streams and feeling the strain in my leg muscles as I climbed yet another hill covered with pine needles.
But I was not alone. I shared this beautiful spot with more than 100 fellow food bloggers attending Camp Blogaway, a brainchild of our own Patti Londre who orchestrated every little detail perfectly. Yes, some girls had to sleep on upper bunks (do not get me started on the VIP treatment of our several token boys!), the beds squeaked, we had to leave the water in the sinks dripping to avoid freezing, and they warned us that there are real bears roaming the property. But this was the best all-inclusive vacation I have had in a long time.
What was included?
Clumsy and not so clumsy attempts at making the most photogenic Bloody Mary with an amazing array of garnishes provided by Duda Farm Fresh Foods (Where can I find some of those celery straws?).
Networking table displays that challenged bloggers to come up with the theme that represented them the best.
Wine tasting by Wente Vineyards that continued barely interrupted throughout the weekend.
Standing in line waiting for meals and gabbing happily to people in front and behind.
Leaning back on the couch by the fire, browsing through a pile of cooking magazines, ripping the best ones without feeling guilty.
Controlling the urge to be the first one to spoil a perfectly arranged platter of Jarlsberg cheeses, fruits, and crackers, deciding what to try first: triple-cream Brie or SnÃ¸frisk, a mild, Norwegian goat cheese unfamiliar to most of us.
Getting up at 6:30 to make it to the walk around Jenks Lake, cutting through the forested hills and standing in awe at the indomitable beauty of the calm sparkling surface of the mountain lake, surrounded by silence, interrupted only by pebbles that rolled under your feet.
A warm bowl of Bob’s Red Mill cereal topped with steaming stewed fruit right after that morning walk.
Making the best lunch combo using CravOn “never fried French fries”, hangar steak, carnitas, and a dozen complementary condiments for a chance of winning a $250.00 gift certificate to Sur La Table.
Zumba class that started with first rays of sun, with reggaeton and salsa tunes blasting from a boombox waking up squirrels (Yes, we were eternally grateful that there were no mirrors anywhere in sight!).
Uncontrollable giggling while making our way back to the cabin past midnight, warmed by cabernet and limoncello, our cheeks flushed from excitement and our step somewhat unsteady.
A tightly-packed pink swag bag whose contents inevitably spill all over the trunk on the way back…
I have been writing my blog for three years and this was not my first food bloggers’ conference. I don’t consider myself a novice, but after each session during the weekend, little bubbles of inspiration settled in my brain and I felt energized, motivated, and empowered. At any other conference you have to pick the sessions that interest you, as many are scheduled at the same time. But at Camp Blogaway everyone gets a chance to learn everything, and this year again we were treated to some truly talented and creative speakers.
What’s Wrong With My Shot?, Denise Vivaldo.
How Bloggers Trip Themselves up and Savvy Tips to Avoid Traps, Sarah Henry.
Inside Scoop on How PR Agencies Work, Dee Munson.
Patti wanted us to mingle, and we mingled. She encouraged us to talk to strangers, and we discovered that most of the strangers are genuinely warm, nice, and sincere people, eager to open up and share their lives and experiences. There wasn’t one of us who did not lament the lack of time and wished for another couple of hours devoted to forming friendships. We laughed, we giggled, we screeched, and we cried.
We recognized our similarities and praised the differences. We shared, learned, discussed, and questioned every aspect of our blogging lives. And as the afternoon on Sunday approached, we said our hasty goodbyes, hugged each other, waved through the car windows, and promised to keep in touch. The weekend was magnificent. The farewells were emotional, with a tear or two hidden between the smiles.
As we were driving down the mountain, the reality was slowly coming toward the horizon. But I realized that no matter how many hills I have to climb and descend, I know that I can do it, propped by the smiles and kind words of my friends.