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What I Learned in Mexico

I have recently returned from Food Blogger Camp 2011, which took place near Cancún at the amazing Grand Velas Riviera Maya all-inclusive resort.  It was my first time to the area and my first time staying in a resort of any kind.  It was also my first Food Blogger Camp.

It’s hard to believe that it actually happened, but there I was in the middle of paradise surrounded by a fantastic group of food bloggers that I respect and admire.  Good people.  Warm people.  The kind of people you want to surround yourself with all the time.  It was so much more than a vacation (though I really needed that, too).  It was an inspiring week filled with learning, sharing, blossoming friendships, and laughter.

I learned about food photography, food styling, business, finding my voice, and finding myself.

When I first read about Food Blogger Camp 2011 and learned who the seminar leaders would be, I knew I had to go.  I’ve been a food blogger for almost five years, but recent changes in my life have left me floundering, not sure which direction to turn, not confident in my ability to continue this as a career.  I knew that if anything could help me find my path, this “camp” would be it.

The seminar leaders were Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, David Lebovitz, Todd Porter and Diane Cu of White on Rice Couple, Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites, and amazing food stylist Adam Pearson.  You see?  I just had to go.

Left to right: Elise, Todd, Jaden, Matt, Adam, David, and Diane.

The problem is that I have a tendency to talk myself out of things like this.  I am extremely shy in groups of more than a few people, and get so nervous about the thought of blogging conferences that I usually come up with excuses to keep myself from going.  Luckily I told my Aunt Kathy about Food Blog Camp before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, so once I did start making excuses, I had my aunt pushing me to go.  Not only did she make me go, she sent my cousin Corinne along with me.

Corinne and I have both had a rough year.  My marriage ended and I moved back to my hometown to be near my family and get some help picking up the pieces of my life and figuring out a new way to put them back together.  Almost immediately after I arrived, my Uncle Jim (Corinne’s father) passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  Looking back, most of 2010 is a blur.

I needed some direction in my life while Corinne, I knew, needed some time away from the life that doesn’t slow down to help you deal with the loss of a parent.  I knew the kind of people who would be at Food Blogger Camp.  I knew that it would be good for me and good for her, even as a non-blogger.  I was right.

The Food Blogger Camp sessions were so inspiring that Corinne attended every single one of them with me.  She loves photography and was blown away by Todd and Diane’s food photography session.  So was I.  In fact, I was blown away by every session.

But it wasn’t just the classroom learning that made this trip so meaningful.  It was once again finding the sense of community that first made me fall in love with food blogging all those years ago when I was a military spouse living in Sicily searching for others around the world who understood why I was so excited about the food.

Being around this wonderful bunch of people, new friends and old, made everything come into sharp focus.  Somewhere between a quick but meaningful pre-session conversation with the lovely Brooke of Food Woolf and an afternoon margarita with David Lebovitz at the swim-up pool bar, something hit me.

I am a food blogger.

I cook.  I bake.  I write.  I develop recipes.  I photograph food.  I share.  This is what I do.

This is my future.

I am so grateful to have spent that week in Mexico.  I am grateful to my family for helping me get there and I am grateful for each and every person who took the time to talk to me and make me feel welcome in this community that I need so much to be a part of.

And thank you, Corinne, for going on this adventure with me and for the daily text messages since, reminding me to stay focused and keep working.

To any food blogger who has considered attending Food Blogger Camp 2012 and is wondering whether the experience is worth the time and expense.  Just go.

And to anyone who is in need of the ultimate, luxurious, relaxing vacation, I can’t say enough about Grand Velas Riviera Maya.  I have never felt so pampered in my life.  One of my new goals in life is to be able to return to the resort for a week-long vacation with my sister, who I wish could have joined us on this trip.

Enjoy the photos!