Closing a chapter and parachuting into the next!

 

This blog came to me during a time in my life when I felt really lost.

I knew I loved journalism, but I wasn’t writing the type of stories that made me excited in my job as a newspaper reporter. I knew I loved sharing my experiences with the world and needed an outlet.

 

I was on the cusp of turning 30 and there was a huge void in my life. My life lacked fulfilling and meaningful relationships and experiences. While many of my friends were getting married and starting families of their own, I felt stuck. I had a lot of extra time on my hands and wanted to fill it with creativity.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself about what my life lacked, I decided that I would embrace where I was in life and do things that forced me to go outside my comfort zone. And knowing that I was writing about these things gave me more of a purpose and reason to do them.

I can you tell without a doubt that I never would have been brave enough to go skydiving if I hadn’t decided that it was an experience that I wanted to write about for my blog.

Whether it was running a half marathon, petting wolves, going on 31 dates, working as a sign spinner or hiking to Machu Picchu, Parachute Journalist became my alter ego. Lacey McLaughlin was full of self-doubt, lost and wimpy. But Parachute Journalist was brave, witty and adventurous. Parachute Journalist was my hero. She was willing to put herself out there, share her struggles and laugh at herself along the way.

 

Somewhere along the way though, I stopped putting on my parachute journalist cape and going out into the world. I became her in every faucet of my life. I no longer needed to jump in from the sidelines and live life on a case-by-case basis.

Parachute Journalist gave me a voice and an outlet for discovering who I am and what I want out of life. While dreams of monetizing this blog never came to fruition, this blog gave me the confidence to take bold steps. Since starting Parachute Journalist I have launched a venture hosting dinner parties in my community for creatives, a community for women in boss roles, an annual weekend retreat for women and countless projects with creatives. I’ve jumped out of my comfort zone and made friends with amazing entrepreneurs at conferences and mastermind retreats. And I’m working on several projects that fulfill me like a collaboration with Venture Pop Conference  in New Orleans this fall.

 

But most of all, I have so many amazing and supportive people in my life. I have countless deep friendships and I’m part of a community that empowers me. In three years my life has transformed from a lonely, self-limiting existence to one with endless possibilities and new friendships. I still have days where I struggle, second guess myself and revert back to self-doubt. But I hope this blog can help give others hope and inspiration for taking big steps in life.

 

For me, it’s officially time to close this chapter. And while I’m hoping to use this blog as a platform for future travels and adventures, right now I’m focusing my creative energy on my new ventures and helping creatives turn their own ideas into reality. Instead of writing about my own experiences trying new things, I want to share what I’ve learned in my first year starting a business and empower others to do the same.

 

For everyone who read this blog and encouraged me to keep going, you have such a special place in my heart. Knowing that my stories and experiences resonated with others gave me so much fulfillment at a time when my life felt dark and small.

As for what’s next, stayed tuned for another blog and website devoted to all my latest projects and resources for creating a marketing and content strategy for your own business! Contact me at laceyemc@gmail.com and let’s collaborate!  Thank you for being part of this journey.

Breaking out of the Bubble: The Ultimate Political Act

 

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I was quiet this election season and it was something I wrestled with. There’s the part of me who can’t let go of my journalist hat, and with good reason. In October, my dormant journalism career got revived when I got an opportunity to freelance for The Washington Post.

Yea, don’t even get me started. The thing I wanted most—to be a journalist for a national publication—came exactly a year after I officially hung up my press pass.

And because of this I worked hard to keep my political opinions to myself. So much of political involvement has become messy and divisive. We are encouraged not to rock the boat at dinner parties by engaging in political debates. More often than not social posts on political issues will result in the loss of Facebook friends or potential business clients. It is often more comfortable to stay in our own bubbles and participate in echo chambers. The general consensus is that you shouldn’t engage with family members over politics if your beliefs do not align.

But this quiet suppression is destructive to the very core of democracy and a key reason I believe the outcome of this year’s election brought so many of us to our knees. A few years ago when I visited pubs in England, I marveled at the boisterous political debates that were taken as seriously as soccer matches—both sides eventually settling their score with a friendly handshake or round of beers.

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I have never been more emotional about an election outcome as I was at 3 a.m. on Nov. 9. The sheer volume of my sobbing was on par with the news of a loved one’s death. And while I was alone in this moment, I would learn in the next week that my response was similar to millions of others. Suddenly I did not recognize my own country. Suddenly the values I cherished were at stake. The comfort and malaise of the last eight years had made me quiet, complacent and disconnected with so many of my fellow Americans.

By not speaking up for the values that were important to me, I had failed. By not speaking out about injustices I was witnessing, I had allowed for inexcusable behavior to become normalized.

A few days after the election, I found solace in the very heart our democracy’s core, Washington DC. I had planned the trip for months but the journey took on a new meaning given the pivotal point in our nation’s history. And in a place where 94 percent of voters shared the same values I do, an amazing thing was happening all around: people were connecting and reaching out to each other. Suddenly I was surrounded by kindness and sincerity everywhere I went. I connected with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I talked to strangers who shared the same concerns and fears about the future. I realized that we have power in numbers, even when we feel most alone.

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I saw someone in a photo carrying a sign after the election that read: “Are We Awake Yet?”

Yes, I am awake. And this election has sparked a fire in my heart. But I realized that just hitting the streets wouldn’t solve the real obstacle at hand: uniting with my fellow Americans, sharing ideas without alienating others, only speaking to echo chambers and gaining a better understanding of perspectives different from my own.

There’s a lot of work to do and I made a vow to myself that I would take my civic duty more seriously by participating in all forms of government, holding elected officials accountable, voicing my concerns with friends and family and most importantly, traveling as a political act.

“Travel as Political Act” is the title and premise of a book by travel guru Rick Steves, which hits home the idea that travel connects people, helps us understand the world and will help us work together to create new solutions facing our nation and world.

We have to get outside of our bubbles and talk to each other if we are truly going to change anything. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

How did this election impact you? Comment below and share your story. 

My Spinster Manifesto

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Sometimes I get down about being single.

Maybe not so much the state of being single, but I get down about going on bad dates, the ridiculous amount of time dating requires and the demographics of a small Florida coastal town that make the dating pool even more difficult.

I was feeling particularly unsettled by my prolonged single status with the arrival of my 32nd birthday this week. Over the past few years I’ve watched friends close to me form strong partnerships and take the matrimonial plunge with their significant others. As they start families, I’ve often felt like I’m floating on my own little island where the membership continues to decline.  For the most part, I love my single life and I feel genuinely happier than I’ve been in years but holidays, special occasions and weddings often bring that absence to the surface.

As a result I usually try to get ahead of milestones like birthdays by taking the reins and planning something epic to eliminate any chance of feeling sorry for myself. The last few years on my birthday I’ve gone skydiving, hiked to Machu Picchu and thrown a 1920s prohibition-era party to raise money for charity.

This year was no different. I had embarked on planning a dinner party that was the equivalent of a small wedding, transforming the backyard of a friend’s waterfront home into a magical scene out of my Pinterest dreams. The guest list was small so that I could have a personal chef create a four-course gourmet menu. I designed and sent out invitations two months in advance.

And then Hurricane Matthew hit.

The guest list shrank. A vendor canceled. Everyone was emotionally exhausted after a week from hell. And when I saw images of people in Haiti who lost everything I couldn’t justify hosting a decadent affair.

So I canceled and decided to host a fundraiser for Haiti instead, partnering with a local restaurant and brewery. I opened the event up to the community and I got more than I could have ever asked for: an outpouring of donations and friends who came to wish me a Happy Birthday. In the end I was able to raise $850 for the nonprofit REBDUILD Globally.

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I got a lot of kudos for this, but really this was my way of turning lemons into lemonade. When I am feeling disappointed about any aspect of my life I find that giving back, feeling useful and helping someone who needs it usually takes my mind off my own problems. And if I’ve learned anything from my travels the last few years it’s that the world is so much bigger than my own little problems.

I think we all have some kind of disappointment or struggle that lurks in the corner no matter how amazing other parts of our life are going. Just like a splinter, it’s small but annoying enough to remind us that it’s always there.

On my 32nd birthday I resolved to make the most out of this era of my life because I’m certain I won’t be here forever. I made a promise to myself that I would embrace the advantages of uninterrupted time, absolutely no compromises and the opportunity to redefine myself however many times I want and really just the freedom to ask myself what I want and do just that.

Inspired by the book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick, I felt the imperative to write my own spinster manifesto.

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It goes like this:

  • I will take all the risks and opportunities that come my way because they impact no one but myself.
  • I will not compromise for any guy until he shows he’s willing to do the same
  • I will not fall prey to the rabbit hole/time suck that is Tinder
  • I will take advantage of the alone time I’ve been given by reading, writing, traveling and learning new skills
  • I will not go on dates just to feel better about myself.
  • I will focus on building my own financial wealth so that I can always remain independent.
  • I will use the time I’ve been given to give back to others, help my community and give others a voice who need it.
  • I will use holidays as an opportunity to reach out to others who lack families of their own.
  • I will make every attempt to form new relationships, expand my social network and connect with old friends.
  • I will support my single ladies, my boss ladies, my sisters, my mother and all the women in my life in a way that I can only do as a single woman with no other attachments or obligations.

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So here’s to my 32nd year and embracing this time in my life. I can’t wait to see where this year takes me.

 

 

I’m a 31-year-old woman running for prom queen. Here’s why:

promYou couldn’t pay me to go back to high school.

It’s not that I was bullied or the nerdiest teenager, but I spent my high school years feeling completely out of place. I wasn’t part of any cliques. I didn’t play sports or join extracurricular activities. And while I did go to prom, I recall it as an anxiety-inducing experience where my hair, make-up and dress selection seemed like the most important life decisions I would ever make.

So when I got an e-mail from Center for the Visually Impaired Development Director Jessica Melakian announcing that I was one of a handful of “community leaders” nominated to CVI’s prom court, I briefly reverted back to my awkward high school self.

As prom court nominee, I have been tasked with raising funds for CVI through an online fundraising page. The prom court nominee who raises the most funds by June 25 will be crowned king or queen at the CVI’s prom that night at the Shore’s Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach Shores.

I am all about creative fundraising strategies that think outside the box for a good cause and while I might have my own hang ups about proms of the past, I’m hoping that by participaing I’ll get a shot to create the prom experience I never had. (For me that would be big hair, puffy dresses and a date who can dance like Kevin Bacon).

I have a rule of thumb I try to live my life by: If I am in a position where I can help others, and I am asked to help I will always say yes. I may not follow this rule 100 percent of the time, but it’s how I try to live my life. I firmly believe that when you step up to help others, it comes back to you tenfold.

The Center for the Visually Impaired in Daytona Beach serves over 500 blind and visually impaired individuals through programs that promote independent living and help build confidence. CVI embraces cutting edge technology that helps these individuals find meaningful careers and perform day-to-day activities. I think it’s important that as a community, we help everyone reach their full potential. And this is a mission CVI exhibits every single day.

A few years ago, while working as a reporter at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, I wrote a story about a 61-year-old woman named Jennifer who lost her sight due to a degenerative eye condition. After traveling for her job as a medical sales representative for years, Jennifer lost the ability to drive, cook or perform daily tasks on her own. But after a doctor referred her to CVI, Jennifer was able to rebuild her life with the help of rehabilitation and vocational classes. She was eventually hired to work at CVI.

“I went from being completely dependent on others and not knowing what to do, to learning how to adapt my skills and live a normal life,” Morgan said when I interviewed her in 2012.

The nominees have been broken into teams and I have the honor of being teamed up with Jenelle Codianne, director of marketing and public relations at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, who has already raised $1,205 for the cause.

Photo by Luisa Alvarez Photography/ courtesy of CVI
Photo by Luisa Alvarez Photography/ courtesy of CVI

Jenelle and I sat down and hashed out some fun and creative ideas to fundraise in the community and by doing so we hope to raise not only funds but awareness about CVI and these inspiring individuals in our community.

How you can help

Donate to Lacey’s fundraising page here.

Donate to Jenelle’s fundraising page here.

Pancakes & Mimosas Breakfast

June 11 at Dunn’s Attic in Ormond Beach 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Tickets for all-you-can-eat pancakes are $5 and are available in advance and a limited number will be available at the door. Mimosas will also be offered for $1. To get a ticket in advance, e-mail laceyemc@gmail.com.

Raffle at the Daytona Beach Tortugas Game

A 50/50 raffle for team Lacey & Jenelle will be held at the Daytona Beach Tortugas game on June 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets to the game are $8.

Tip for a Cause

On June 18 from noon to 9 p.m. I will donate 100 percent of my tips while bartending at Tomoka Brewery in Ormond Beach. Come have a beer or pizza!

When disaster strikes your travel destination

Chimborazo sunrise

As I watched the footage of towns reduced to piles of rubble and people searching for their families after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador, I wasn’t sure if the trip I had booked a month later would happen.

The earthquake hit about a month before I was scheduled to depart on a 5-day mountain bike tour on the Cotopaxi volcano. It was a bit surreal to think about how close my trip came to when the earthquake hit, but my first thought was about my family and how worried they would be had I been there. (And an important reminder of why you should always leave loved ones with a detailed travel itinerary.)

It’s a reality check for any traveler. The world is fragile and disaster can strike at any moment.

I felt a range of emotions about my trip to Ecuador. I felt overwhelmingly connected and sad for the people who had lost everything. That feeling compounded with my own personal struggles and how much I had relied on this trip to get me through a rough patch in my own life. I also felt guilty for even thinking of my own problems when it was nothing compared to the Ecuadorians who had lost everything.

I e-mailed Ana Lucia Noboa, manager of the Quito-based mountain bike tour group I signed up for, Biking Dutchman. Quito had experienced very little damage, she said. The tours had not been impacted at all but the coast was nearly destroyed. She was sending tents, food, clothes and supplies to the people there and planning a trip to deliver the supplies to the worst areas.

“I have never lived such a tragedy,” Ana said “Even though we had had many earthquakes before and volcano eruptions and floods, this is by far the worst tragedy I have ever witnessed. The only thing that gives me comfort is when I am helping.”

I sent Ana a small donation via Paypal to assist with her efforts and I’ve decided to go ahead with my trip because so many Ecuadorians depend on the tourism industry for their livelihoods. It’s the one small thing I can do in the midst of a tragedy. The news often shows us the worst damage and gives the impression the entire country is in ruins, when that it not the case. This is what happened in Nepal, where tourism dropped 30 percent in 2015 after two earthquakes killed 9,000 people.

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I considered volunteering and due to limited time, I’m not sure if I can make it to the coast after my bike tour. But I am leaving a few days open after the tour if a volunteer opportunity presents itself.

My trip to Ecuador has taken on a new purpose and meaning. Since the earthquake, I’ve met several Ecuadorian students at the university I work at who are raising money to help their families and friends who have been impacted by the earthquake. Several of them have offered to help me learn Spanish as I prepare for my trip.

It’s taught me that even though events in the world can feel so far away and that they have little impact on our daily lives, the world is a lot smaller and connected than we think.

How you can help:

Donate to Biking Dutchman’s relief efforts by sending any amount via Paypal to biking.dutchman@gmail.com

World Vision has teams on the ground delivering water and temporary shelters to victims.

The Ecuadorian Red Cross also has teams on the ground providing first aid and rescuing victims.

 

Why I’m traveling solo after a breakup

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Over the last few years, I’ve gotten pretty good at break ups.  I’m not really sure if that’s something I should be proud of—given the fact I’ve had so many. But what was once a disastrous melodrama with months of heartache and pining, is now something I look at as the start of a new chapter.

My dating life has been full of unexpected twists and turns and I wrote about some of my hang ups during “31 Dates Before 31” in which I went on 31 dates to raise money for charity before my 31st birthday.

My dating resume is a decade-long novel, and sometimes I wish I had a clear answer for why I can’t figure this whole thing out. I’ve met the right guys at the wrong times. I’ve also met the wrong guys at the right times and it just took me a while to realize it. Through it all, I’ve learned that you need to be solid with yourself before you can really be with someone else.

“I just really thought this time it was going to work out,” I lamented to a friend after my boyfriend and I broke up last month.

My friend’s response:

“When you get into a relationship you always have to believe it’s going to work out. You can’t go in expecting it to go bad.”

I think part of the disappointment we feel when a relationship fails is how wrong we were. We go back and re-examine those red flags or try to identify ones we may have missed.  How can I trust myself with the next person if I was so wrong about this one?

In order to make a relationship work, you need suspension of disbelief. The term, coined by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge means that if a writer could infuse “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement and overlook the implausibility of the narrative. (thank you, Wikipedia)

I think relationships are just like this. Divorce rates prove that more often than not, they don’t work out. But you have to have a willing suspension of disbelief to give it a chance.

Getting over a break up is about regaining my optimism. It’s about picking myself up off the ground. It’s about climbing over a mountain of disappointment to get to back to that deliriously intoxicating view at the top. It’s about making peace with the past, acknowledging what that relationship brought into my life and closing that chapter so I can start another one.

And for me, nothing expedites that process like taking an epic trip abroad.

There are a lot of reasons I shouldn’t have bought a ticket to Ecuador the day after my break up. Like that whole goal to beef up my savings and be a responsible adult before booking another trip after my car bit the dust earlier this year.

But for me, this is what I need.

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Taking a solo trip in the midst of a break up is not a way to escape reality. As I ride a mountain bike up a volcano for five days in May, I’m looking for a physical and mental challenge that will force me to dig deep into myself and find the perseverance to overcome obstacles in my life.

I want a tangible reminder that joy and self-reliance can be found when you go outside your comfort zone.

If I’ve learned anything it’s that relationships come and go, but there will always be mountains to climb. And the only way to get to the top of them is to keep climbing.

 

Finding Christmas in the chaos at St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights


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For me, there are two versions of Christmas. There’s the season of traditions, gratitude and warm memories with those who are dear to me.

And then there’s the season of financial strain, family drama and the pressure to make each and every moment merry and bright.

It’s that latter version of Christmas that seemed to prevail in the last few years and one that I decided that I needed to make a break from once and for all. I know I’m not the only one who has mixed emotions this time of year. I decided I could focus on my holiday hang ups or I could get into the damn Christmas spirit and make the most of it.

But if you’d have told me I’d be skipping around St. Augustine like a giddy child, yelling “Merry Christmas” to strangers and singing Christmas carols this weekend, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s exactly what happened during a trip to Nights of Lights, where the nation’s oldest city glows like a million fireflies.

St. Augustine is a beautiful city, with a historical walkable downtown filled with stone walkways, Spanish architecture and a nostalgic ambiance against the back drop of a giant fort. But in the past I’ve dismissed it as an overrated tourist destination that felt more like Disney. And Nights of Lights just seemed like a more chaotic version of that.

But there’s really something magical about St. Augustine this time of year and it’s more than just the lights. It’s the sound of trolleys rolling down the street blaring Christmas songs. It’s the bars and restaurants filled with couples and families laughing. And it’s the overall good cheer that permeates as strangers say “Merry Christmas” to each other. We are talking about a real life Dickens novel here people.

The highlight of this event was a 30-minute trolley ride through the heart of St. Augustine, and it’s something you don’t want to miss. But a trip to Nights of Lights can easily turn stressful because of the hordes of people during the weekends. When I came last Saturday, the trolley line had a two hour wait because of the crowds. I decided to go back for a second trip on a quieter week night and avoid the long wait. The best way is to make a night of it: ride the trolley, grab some dinner and walk around so you can take your time seeing the sights.

I recommend planning ahead before the lights come down on Jan. 31. Here’s some pro-tips to get the most out of your trip to see Nights of Lights:

PARK SMART

If you don’t have an idea of where you are going, you can easily spend an hour downtown stuck in traffic or waiting for the drawbridge to come down on the Bridge of Lions. On my first trip I drove up from Atlantic Avenue and parked in a restaurant parking lot about half a mile from the bridge and then walked to downtown (note, if you park on private property, park at your own risk). The walk took less than 20 minutes and I arrived at the bridge just in time to see a gorgeous sunset. There’s also a parking garage on West Castillo Drive next to the Visitor’s Center where the trolleys depart but its $12 to park. Street parking in downtown is free after 5 p.m. When I returned, I parked a few blocks away in a nearly empty parking lot of a church.

RIDE THE TROLLEY

There are two trolley operators that will take you to see the lights. I rode on the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley that departs from the Visitors Information Center, 10 W. Castillo Drive, from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly for $12 for adults and $5 for children. Our driver looked like Santa, who let out a hearty “Ho Ho Ho” on several occasions. The trolley ride also includes 3-D glasses that turn the lights into mini snowmen. The best advice is to arrive early if you are going here on the weekends as the line starts around 5:30 p.m. But on a weekday I was able to hop on the train within 10 minutes. At the end of the ride hot cider and sugar cookies were waiting for us, which was a nice touch. I recommend buying your tickets online here to save time.

EAT

St. Augustine is really becoming a foodie mecca and The Floridian is where you’ll find farm-to-table southern dishes in an eclectic, casual atmosphere. I love the creative and fresh dishes such as waffles topped with bbq pork or the lemon sage fried chicken. Seafood lovers should check out Catch 27.  If you are in the mood for Latin food, check out Casa Maya Seafood and Tequila Bar.

DRINK

Sangria’s Wine and Piano Bar is directly on the trolley route and you can watch the action from the balcony, while sipping sangria or craft beer. It’s also got a porch with cozy couches, making this the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the holiday crowds. Sangria is $8 or $20 for a pitcher and I had the Mantanza’s Sangria: cranberry, apples, peach liqueur. The bar also has a tapas menu with dishes you can share.

Located inside the Casablanca Inn, the Tini Martini bar is the most festive option for grabbing a cocktail. The outside patio glows with white lights that hang from the roof to the ground. The cocktails are a bit pricey (there’s a beer and wine menu that’s cheaper but you usually have to request it) but it’s well worth it for the atmosphere.

Nights of Lights continues nightly through Jan. 31. To see a schedule of events, visit here. 

What gets you into the Holiday spirit when all else fails? Comment below and share!