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!

Why I’ll never be a travel blogger and other lessons from failure

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When I looked at my bank account this week I felt a pang of despair.

After successfully paying all my bills, my new car payment and stashing the amount Mint.com says I need to put away each month to meet my savings and travel fund goals, there wasn’t much leftover to have fun with.

It made me realize that the traveling and adventures I’ve had over the last year won’t be continuing on the same scale.

My story about putting all my financial resources into this blog and ending up with a broken down car was featured on The Financial Diet last week, one of my favorite websites for financial advice. While I was honored that my story gained traction, it was an embarrassing omission—but it was the truth.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few weeks about what the hell I’m trying to do as a writer. And I know one thing:

I will never be a travel blogger.

Not because I tried and failed but because it doesn’t fall in line with the work I want to create in the long term. Being a travel blogger seemed like a viable option for someone like me with decent writing skills and a hunger to explore the world, but in some ways it feels like a shortcut that would veer me off the path of becoming a respected writer. At the end of the day I couldn’t figure out how to monetize my blog without subjecting readers to diluted content created by affiliate marketing, sponsorship campaigns and advertisers.

This new realization has me switching gears here at Parachute Journalist. My goal is to write first-person journalistic narratives from my own life experiences—and I want these stories to have a shelf live beyond the deluge of web content most of us passively scan through while multitasking with a hundred browser tabs open.

And if this doesn’t become the thing that supports me financially, I’m OK with that. Because for me, having a creative outlet to express myself is what keeps me sane and gives me purpose in this life.

In the midst of my new financial reality, I’m learning how to continue living an adventurous life closer to home. I’m spending more time on my bike—seeing local places in a new way and stumbling across the unexpected. These, I have learned are the moments I feel most alive and the core reason why I travel in the first place.

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These unexpected moments include encountering an abundant orange grove during a bike ride in Edgewater, Florida, with no one else in sight.  Or when I stumbled into the Cummer Art Museum in Jacksonville before a bike ride and found out the museum offers free admission on the first Saturday of each month.

It was at the Cummer Museum’s gardens where I discovered a 200-year-old oak tree that made me feel small and in awe of the beauty of things that flourish when given the time, space and nurturing they need to grow.

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Not one for Baroque art, I almost passed up the gallery’s permanent collection on my way out—but was drawn to a particular still life called “Vanitas,” by Jacques de Claeuw. This painting is over 300 years old but the lighting and details of a half covered globe, wilted flowers, hour glass and other objects are so realistic I wanted to reach out and grab them. The term “Vanitas” is Latin for emptiness and the objects all represent the brevity of life or the emptiness of frivolous concerns.

My favorite object, the half-covered globe, represents man’s inability to predict the future. This painting would later be looted by the Nazis from a Jewish art dealer who died while fleeing the Netherlands for his safety in 1940. The museum later purchased it from a New York art gallery in 1962 before the painting’s history was uncovered.

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The idea that a painting could have such a poignant impact more than 300 years after it was made, struck me and moved me to tears. Three centuries later, in a high-tech world so very different from the one that Claeuw lived in, this painting is still relevant and spoke to me in a profound way.

I couldn’t help but think, what will we create that will move museum goers to tears 300 years from now?

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong reaction to a painting, but it stuck with me. I spent the rest of the afternoon biking 30 miles on Jacksonville’s Baldwin Rail Trail, and thinking about all the things I want to create and promising myself that no matter how burdensome life gets, I’ll always make space in my life to discover new things.

Five things I’ve learned as a serial dater

Note: This is part of the series “31 Dates Before 31” in which I will attempt to go on 31 adventure dates before my 31st birthday and raise money for the Domestic Abuse Council of Volusia County. 

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In the last five weeks I’ve been on 20 dates, which is more than I’ve gone on in an entire year. While I still have 11 more dates to go on, I’ve learned a lot about myself and dating in the process.

Our phones have become game changers in the world of online dating. Never before have we had so many options at our fingertips. And while there are dozens of potential suitors in the palm of my hand (literally), why does it feel so hard to find a compatible partner?

This challenge has given me more insight into how I’ve approached dating in the past and why it hasn’t worked. By setting up fun and adventurous dates, I’ve taken the focus off of finding “the one” and instead just had a good time. When you take away expectations, dating actually become enjoyable instead of demoralizing.

I’ve used Tinder for 80 percent of my dates, and I’ve found it to be the best tool for setting up dates on the fly, but it can also feel like a game of musical chairs in which everyone has shiny object syndrome.

While it’s still too soon to draw any hard conclusions or say for certain if there’s any real romantic possibilities with any of the guys I’ve gone out with, here are five things I’ve learned so far:

  1. People flake, a lot

If I had to guess, I’d say that every 1 out of 3 dates I’ve planned has fallen through or been canceled. What’s frustrating is that it means I am spending a lot of time texting and conversing with guys, coordinating schedules and planning fun dates only for them to be canceled last minute.

Take for example a guy from Jacksonville who I will call Jim. Jim and I hit it off on Tinder and after we bought tickets for a paranormal ghost tour at the St. Augustine Lighthouse I realized that we had booked them on the night of the city’s 450th year anniversary celebration, which presented a logistical nightmare because of traffic and road closures. Being the type A person I am, I broke out maps, consulted with a friend who lives there and picked the brain of a travel blogger to determine the best possible way to navigate the area and avoid crazy crowds.

Just a few hours before we were set to meet, I texted Jim to make sure he knew where to go. Apparently he had come down with a stomach bug and couldn’t make it.  He assured me he still wanted to meet and felt horrible to break off the date but he just wasn’t feeling well. I moved our tickets to the following Friday and we rescheduled. The day before our rescheduled date I reached out to Jim to set a meeting time. He canceled our date again, this time for “personal” reasons. When I pressed him for a better excuse, it turned out that he had met someone else who he really hit it off with a few days earlier.  I may have not reacted as gracefully as I should have because at that point I was BEYOND FRUSTRATED with the amount of time I had wasted.  Unfortunately this has become somewhat of the norm in the dating app world, at least in my experience.  At least Jim responded though. Most just go silent.

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  1. Tinder is not just for hookups

The first question I get when I tell people that I’m using Tinder for the majority of dates is: Isn’t Tinder just for hook ups? Swiping yes or no to match with a guy based on a few photos and one or two sentence descriptions, does make things more surface level but It’s easy to weed out the guys who are looking for hook ups because they make it pretty obvious. I’m always clear about my intentions and I think more people are using Tinder to find meaningful connections.

I for one do not have time to write a cover letter to every person I want to go out with and “pitch” myself to guys on online dating websites. Because I live in a tourist destination, I’ve found that a lot of guys who are in town are looking to meet up with locals to explore the area and because the dating pool  is so small in Daytona Beach, Tinder helps me meet up with guys I otherwise wouldn’t come across.

  1. Profiles don’t fully represent someone

I’ve gone out with guys on this project that I may have turned down based on their profiles but after meeting them in person they are a lot more attractive or interesting than their profile suggests.  Online dating is so one dimensional and based on looks that it’s frustrating. And we often forget that sometimes voice, mannerisms, intellect and personality are what makes a person attractive.

And this works both ways. I still feel the sting of a guy who canceled a date with me last year because he couldn’t tell if “I was fat or not in my profile photos.”  (To be fair he didn’t offer up this excuse off the bat, I had to press him on why he was canceling.) I felt like that was such a rip off because while I may not be a size 4, I think I’m pretty fun and interesting.

Through this project, I’ve learned not to make snap judgements. Because it’s the guy who looked a little nerdy in his profile photo who was actually sweet and fun. The guy who appeared to be a snob and fake was actually down to earth and genuine. And the guy I thought I’d have no attraction to, was the one with a great smile and personality.

  1. If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point?

Prior to starting this project dating went something like this: I googled the hell out of my potential date, stressed about how the date would go for days/hours leading up to it, got so nervous on the date I had a habit of using alcohol to calm my nerves (never a good idea). If the date went well, I stopped pursuing other options and crafted strategic responses that played out in a texting conversation more akin to a chess match. If the date went bad, I felt hopeless and took it as yet another sign from the universe that there just wasn’t someone out there for me. Dating had the potential to create so much anxiety for me that it didn’t seem worth making the effort.

But this project was meant in a way to get over my dating hang ups and just have fun. As a solo traveler I have no problem doing things alone but I’m realizing how much more enjoyable new experiences can be in shared company. By planning fun activities on dates, I’ve realized that most people want to have fun too. I think we often want to feel someone out before jumping in a kayak with them or engaging in any activity that requires us to get sweaty or dirty or go out of our comfort zone on a first date.

But when you are staring at a person across a table or bar, dating can feel like a job interview. I’m at my best when I am experiencing something new and being in my element has taken the anxiety out of dating. It’s also been a test of sorts: can you hang on my level?

  1. It’s not me, it’s you

When we have a constant portal into the highlight reels of others’ lives, the first thing you tend to ask yourself is: Why don’t I have that too? I’ve felt this more as my Facebook newsfeed seems to get filled with more engagement announcements, wedding photos and baby pictures by the day.

But instead of seeing myself as the problem, I’ve realized that where I’m at is a result of taking a different path. I have worked really hard over the past decade to establish myself in a career that I love, buy my own home and make traveling a priority.  I’m happy where I’m at but it’s a bit more difficult at this age to find someone who is in the same place.

As my friend Barb put it, all the guys who are established and have everything together in their 30s are usually already married. Couple that fact with the demographics of Central Florida (Looking for a single man over 60? We’ve got plenty!) and it really it isn’t a surprise that I’m still single.  So instead of seeing my singleness as a “problem,” I’m starting to see it as an opportunity.  I have the freedom to create the life I want and hopefully at some point that will lead me to someone who is on a similar path.

To find out more about my dates, sign up for the newsletter at the right. In effort to promote healthy relationships and help victims of domestic violence, I’m asking for donations to the Domestic Abuse Council of Volusia County in lieu of birthday gifts this year, which you can make by following the link below.

 

 

[Date Night] Geocaching and tacos in Daytona Beach

Note: This is part of the series “31 Dates Before 31” in which I will attempt to go on 31 adventure dates before my 31st birthday and raise money for the Domestic Abuse Council of Volusia County. 

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Derek was visiting from Atlanta and looking to explore Daytona Beach last week. I matched with him on Tinder, drawn by his robust beard and single profile photo that said “I’m outdoorsy and soulful.”

When Derek suggested that we go geocaching on our date, I got excited. Geocaching is something I’d never done before, mainly because I’ve never known anyone who was into it.

We also planned to grab tacos at my favorite taqueria before heading to see fireworks on the roof of Joe’s Crab Shack at the Daytona Boardwalk. But our plan for watching fireworks got side swiped by a storm that brought buckets of rain. But the unexpected change in plans brought us to a comedy show at Tir Na Nog, something I didn’t even know was going on.

It can be tricky dating guys who don’t live here but for the sake of the project, I find that visitors are eager to discover Daytona and it’s always fun to show someone new around for the first time.

So here’s how date no. 2 went down:

Hunting for Treasure

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If you haven’t heard of geocaching, it’s a basically a user-supported treasure hunt where you use GPS tracking to find small canisters containing trinkets and logs signed by fellow cachers. For $10 you can download an app on your phone to see all the geocache sites in your area. The app also provides hints for finding the caches and notes the level of difficulty of each search.

I brought a small bottle opener to leave behind for when we found our geocache. We decided to start at Tuscawilla Park where a blue dot on Derek’s app showed our treasure in the center of park. We soon realized, however, that a software company had hidden the geocache and required us to download their product to find it.

“That’s a bad geocache,” Derek said when he realized the requirements. So he suggested we walk half a mile to the next geocache, which was just off a neighborhood along Orange Avenue.

As we walked and talked, I noticed how beautiful and diverse the trees were. Live oaks, palm trees and palmettos fought for space along the quiet streets and we stumbled into a giant opening that the app claimed contained a geocache near the remnants of an old tree house. The branches of huge trees fawned over the earth and we looked up to find the small planks of wood nailed into the branches, signaling that we were in the right place. We searched the surrounding trees until we found a small black film canister that contained a log for us to sign. Sadly, however, we hadn’t brought a pen. But we did leave my bottle opener in the hiding spot.

I realized that geocaching was more about the journey than the destination. Though I had driven past this neighborhood many times, I had never really stopped to look at it. It reminded me that I should never think I know everything about a place I live. There’s always something new to discover.

Tacos, Pool and a Comedy Show

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As a storm descended over Daytona, we ran into Tia Cori’s Mexican Restaurant. I’m convinced that this over-the counter Mexican restaurant has some of the best tacos in town. For $1.50 you can get a Mexican-style taco with meats such as carnitas (pork), al pastor (marinated pork) and barbacoa (slow cooked beef). They also have fresh made guacamole that is worth going for alone. Sadly we missed out on the Mariachi band that plays on Friday nights but it was a laid-back and fun atmosphere to hang out at.

Derek’s approach to life was refreshing. He’s in pursuit of many of the same things I am: a life filed with experiences rather than things. But we also had our share of differences— He smokes cigarettes (I don’t). He loves String Cheese Incident (I barely know what that is).

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We scrapped our plans to watch rooftop fireworks at Joes Crab Shack near the boardwalk and instead headed to Tir Na Nog, a rustic Irish pub that draws young locals. Tir Na Nog is a bit of a dive but with a great selection of craft beer. It’s been known to draw its own rag tag crowd of characters such as a chocolate lab that loves to drink Guinness.

We played a close game of pool, in which I ultimately lost my temporary title of pool shark. I also realized how awkward playing pool can be on a first date. There’s a lot of strange positioning that requires you to stick your ass in the air. There’s also a lot of innuendoes that the game lends itself to (which I’m going to refrain from pointing out.)

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The Last Laugh Open Mic Comedy features local comedians usually on the third Wednesday of each month but the group held a special comedy showcase last Saturday featuring tag team comedy. The Last Laugh gives aspiring comedians a chance to get on stage and try out their best stuff. And there’s a good bit of profane and vulgar humor that could make a first date awkward depending on the person. But perhaps the best act was two guys (who’s names I did not get) in Hawaiian shirts that gave a ridiculous and absurd stand up performance that involved a story about fake babies from a home economics class that clashed with a brawl at a party. These guys bounced jokes right off each other and their absurd storytelling had everyone, including myself and Derek, laughing.

We weren’t quite ready to end the date yet so we hung out for a while longer as the evening died down.

My favorite part of the date was geocaching and it really started things off with good vibes. And adding tacos, an awkward game of pool and some comedy made it even more of an adventure.

Interested in following all of my dates and getting ideas for your own? Sign up for my newsletter on the right or check out this project’s Facebook page. 

 

 

 

Date 1: Waterfront dining, alligators and a meteor shower

Note: This is the first post in the series “31 Dates Before 31” in which I will attempt to go on 31 adventure dates before my 31st birthday and raise money for the Domestic Abuse Council of Volusia County. Read more about the project here. 

I’ve had a soft spot for gingers ever since I can remember, so I was looking forward to going out with a redheaded entrepreneur and public speaker visiting from Los Angeles this week.

I’m not sure what it is about gingers. Maybe it’s novelty or the fact that they are used to standing out in a crowd. Whatever it is, gingers have a track record of bringing out my fun loving and thrill seeking side.

My date, Bob, impressed me by suggesting a gator feeding as our post-dinner activity, something I had no idea was even a thing in Daytona Beach. I’m always striving to see my familiar world with fresh eyes so his suggestion started the date off with good momentum.

Here’s a recap of date 1:

Waterfront Dining

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I’m the most at ease whenever I’m on the water so I suggested we meet at Our Deck Down Under, a causal restaurant in Port Orange with a wrap-around dock that offers stunning views of the Halifax River and Dunlawton bridge at sunset. The Deck is usually laid back with no thrills over-the-counter service and reasonable priced seafood platters but when we showed up the line to order food was out the door and large tables of children filled the inside.

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It was clear that this was going to be a tough place to have a quiet adult conversation. So I suggested we drive around the corner to Boondocks, a little restaurant tucked into a marina near the quaint Wilbur-by-the-Sea neighborhood. This little place is such a gem. It was busy but quiet and laid back enough where we didn’t’ feel overwhelmed or rushed. We split an order of cheese garlic bread, a pound of spicy steamed shrimp and drank a couple of beers while the sun set over the Halifax River. Bob was easy to talk to and he laughed at my stories. He also had his own share of interesting stories from his eight weeks of traveling around the U.S.

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Gator Feeding

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Congo River Golf in Daytona Beach is a mini golf course that offers the opportunity to feed and hold baby alligators. It’s definitely a tourist spot but I’m not above an alligator encounter—no matter how small. For $3.99 you can get a small bag of cut-up hot dogs you thread through a tiny sword-like spear attached to a small fishing pole. And for $5.99 you can actually hold one.

There’s something about dangling a hot dog over a pit of baby alligators that brought out my inner menace. I wanted the alligators to jump, claw and snarl at my offering. I wanted them to learn what it meant to be survival of the fittest. “Who wants it the most?” I yelled. Bob, on the other hand, was more gracious—giving a few upward tugs before dropping the coveted hot dog bite down to his new friends.

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When it came to holding a gator named Spidey, I was on my own. What I didn’t realize is how much bigger these reptiles look when they are in front of you, rather than down in a pit below. The black tape keeping Spidey’s snout shut suddenly didn’t seem so reassuring but a staff member promised me that he wasn’t strong enough to rip it off. So I grabbed hold of him like he was a delicate piece of China and he felt like a leathery beanbag filled with bones. With the reassurance that my limbs had not been severed, Bob made an attempt to hold the gator but before he could, Spidey started squirming and contorting his body in a way that said: “Aw hell nah.”

And with that we abandoned our gator expedition.

Watching a meteor shower

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I’m a sucker for stargazing, full moons and really any astronomical event that can be viewed from earth. So when I suggested we drive up toward Flagler Beach to watch the Perseid meteor shower, I was jazzed when Bob’s excitement met mine.

The meteor shower wouldn’t peak until 2 a.m. but we hoped to see a few glimmers of it when we drove north on Atlantic Avenue to escape light pollution. We found a beach approach with a few other meteor shower seekers and headed down to the beach with a blanket in tow. The moment we got there, a star or meteor shot across the sky but it would be one of the few we’d see all night.

We rolled out the blanket and looked up to see a sky full of stars as the sound of the crashing waves serenaded us. It was a perfect awe-inspiring sight for approximately 60 seconds. And then an army of tiny sand fleas launched a blitzkrieg. One after another, these ruthless beasts the size of a pencil point sunk their microscopic daggers of teeth into our skin. Despite our best efforts to ignore the pain we were defeated, packing up and heading back to the parking area to watch the shower. But the fleas followed us and we tried everything to escape their wrath to no avail. I had broken a coveted Florida commandment: don’t leave home without bringing your bug spray.

The sand fleas didn’t totally ruin our meteor gazing but they did add some comedy and pain to the experience. We finally had enough of flesh-eating fleas and decided to take off. And that’s when I stepped on a cactus with my barefoot. I yelped in pain as I tried to pull the cactus out of my foot. Bob expressed concern and tried to help. Somewhere in between the pain and confusion, we couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Because it’s not really an adventure until something goes wrong, I can say with certainty that adventure date no. 1 was a success. Starting off with dinner on the water set a laid back vibe. No one lost their limbs to an alligator attack. And even though my legs are now covered with tiny red bites, stargazing on the beach was well worth it.

Want to follow my adventures and get ideas for fun dates you can go on too? Sign up for my newsletter below.

 

 

[Q&A] A Life on the Road

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Keith Reed and Jessica Phillips rolled into my driveway in their adorable white Volkswagon bus named Pearl earlier this spring. We had found each other through couchsurfing.com and I was happy to host them for an evening while they were on an epic roadtrip from their home in Millville, New Jersey.

They were only a few months into their trip when they stopped by but what I remember is how giddy and energetic they were about life and their new adventure. I decided to catch up with them recently and see where their journey had led them nine months after hitting the road.

Where were you working before your trip?

Keith: Worked as a massage therapist and as kitchen help at Wildflower Vegan Café. Previous to that, I worked as manager of Affordable Tire in Vineland, NJ for 15 years.

Jessica: For the past 6 years, I was working as a server at Winfields Restaurant in Millville, NJ. For the last 3 of those years, I was promoted to Headwaiter and Banquet Coordinator.

Tell me about how you got the idea to do this trip and what you did to plan for it?

Keith: I was working in the tire industry and feeling very at odds with my life, I had bought Pearl in 2006, and it was 4 years before I got her on the road. In that time, anytime I’d be having a bad day at work, I’d think to myself, ‘I just want to quit my job, sell everything I own, jump in my bus and head West!’ It remained a favorite daydream for years, when I picked Jessica up for our first date, in 2012, I told her about it. A year later, I proposed the idea to her. I was in school at the time for massage therapy, (having already quit my tire shop job) and started getting my house ready to be put on the market. Some of the proceeds from the sale of my house are what is financing this trip. The main impetus of this journey, for me, is to not only reinvent myself, but to downsize and add more meaning to my life. I wanted to get out of the rat race, and find work that I believe in to fill my days with.

As for the planning, the last winter we spent in Jersey was pretty nasty, so I hunkered down and made a set of custom Google maps with points of interest along our chosen route. I spent hundreds of hours, no exaggeration, researching everything from camp grounds and hostels to parks, trail heads, cultural points of interest, restaurants, scenic drives, waterfalls, best swimming holes and top-rated beaches. The map-making was a fun lead-in to the trip, it really built our excitement with all the cool things I was finding! I also did a lot of upgrades to the bus to get her ready for us to live in her full time.

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What have been the highlights so far of your journey?

 

~ Jessica’s dad totally randomly behind us on the Highway out of town as we left NJ

~ “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison coming on as we were crossing the bridge out of Jersey

~ Ghost Tour of Harpers Ferry, WV

~ Riding the back roads of Northern Virginia Horse Country

~ Skyline Drive in the fog in Shenandoah National Park

~ The ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. Camping among the dunes and stargazing in the darkest night sky in the Outer Banks, NC

~ Making friends in Charleston, NC

~ Experiencing the majesty of the Angel Oak Tree outside of Charleston

~ Picking up a hitchhiker named Billy Ray on our way to Georgia

~ Buying the freshest, best tasting shrimp we’ve EVER had at some hole-in-the-wall fish market in the marshes of Georgia

~ Exploring all of Jekyll Island, GA by bicycle

~ Driving the A1A down the East Coast of Florida

~ Picnicking in the shade of the ancient Fairchild Oak Tree

~ Scoring a last minute campsite at the beautiful Sebastian’s Inlet, FL

~ Haulover Beach in Miami (wink wink)

~ THE KEYS (where to begin…)

~ Celebrating Thanksgiving with new friends we met on the internet thanks to a broken down VW Bus

~ Seeing the sunning American alligators in the Everglades

~ Naples, FL spa day with Jersey friends (not too shabby for a pair of homeless people)

~ Boat ride around Lover’s Key with wildlife sightings courtesy of Keith’s high school buddy

~ Manatee sightings in Tampa

~ Celebrating Christmas just the two of us on a Florida Panhandle beach in Grayton Beach

~ Exploring the food, architecture, history and music of NOLA for NYE 2015

~ Visiting Janis Joplin exhibit in her home town of Port Author, TX

~ Breaking our vegetarian vows to eat Texas BBQ off a 100+ year old BBQ pit in Lockhart, TX

~ Encountering the WORST winter weather that Austin, TX has seen in years.

~ Driving from Austin to San Antonio through Hill Country

~ The missions of San Antonio and the River walk

~ Driving along the Guadalupe River in the back of a convertible

~ Going to see a friend play country music in a real Texas Roadhouse in Bandera, TX

~ Enjoying the western landscape through the vast West Texas plains

~ Hiking down through the natural entrance into Carlsbad Caverns (Highly recommended)

~ Hunting for rocks at Rock Hound State Park in New Mexico

~ Living in a VW Garage & Junkyard for 3 weeks while Pearl got a new engine

~ Hiking among the Saguaros in Tucson Mountain Park in Tucson, AZ

~ Southwest food. My god, we miss the food.

~ The month long madness that is The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

~ Daytripping in Tubac, AZ

~ Camping, stargazing, hiking and enjoying the sunsets in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, AZ

~ Starting our love affair with dates and all things date related at Martha’s Garden Yuma, AZ

~ ‘Estimated Prophet’ playing as we entered California

~ Having our first soak at a natural hot spring in Holtville, CA

~ Crossing the Great Dunes into California

~ Taking the scenic route along the Mexican border into San Diego

~ Seeing our first sunset over the Pacific in Pacific Beach, CA

~ Mealing on fish tacos in San Diego, CA ( We loved the smoked fish tacos at Oscars best of all)

~ Camping and taking the waters at Agua Caliente in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

~ Eating at THE cheapest and THE best sushi at Sushi Deli in San Diego, CA

~ Living like true surf bums in our Bus on the streets and beachside parking lots of Ocean Beach, CA

~ Starting the epic drive north up HWY 1 (or just “The One”)

~ Exploring Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA

~ Eating Ethiopian food for the first time in LA

~ Spending the day wondering around the exhibits and grounds of The Getty in LA

~ Touring around Hollywood and Studio City

~ Hiking to the original set of M.A.S.H in Malibu, CA

~ Catching up with East Coasters in Los Angeles, CA (Barry, Aldo & David)

~ Camping at Joshua Tree National Park and making new friends there

~ Having The Fountain of Youth Hot Springs Resort in Niland, CA (practically) all to ourselves for 5 perfect days (Also highly recommended)

~ Camping at our first west coast music festival in Apple Valley, CA at Dead on the Ponderosa

~ Then heading back through the mountains to the coast and camping in the beautiful (and expensive) California State Parks that dot the Central Coastline

~ The Mission Trail of California

~ Hiking rugged terrain in flipflops with a beach towel UP UP UP to the hidden natural hot spring in Gaviota, CA

~ Daytripping in Solvang, CA

~ Hanging out at the Thursday night Farmers Market and daily free yoga in the park in San Luis Obispo, CA

~ Sunsets and tide pools of Montana D’Oro State Park in Los Osos, CA

~ Soaking in the private hot tubs in the trees of Sycamore Springs Resort and Spa in Avila Beach, CA

~ The tranquility of Morro Bay and the ancient solitude of the strong hold that is Morro Rock

~ Our first Helpx experience at The Lavra, a commune in Arroyo Grande, CA

~ Milking a goat at the commune

~ Awing at the marvel of the Pacific Coast Highway as we wound around & through the mountains on our way to Big Sur

~ Camping on the edge of the world with the Redwoods in Big Sur, CA

~ Finding our own hidden waterfall in Los Padres National Forest

~ First time backcountry camping on the banks of the Little Sur River for 2 days

~ Checking out the UC Santa Cruz Grateful Dead archive exhibit

~ Biking Santa Cruz, exploring the waterfront and the downtown, and camping at Bob’s Pine Grove (hidden little mom and pop joint for wholesome urban camping). We loved Santa Cruz and enjoyed a lot of time there.

~ San Francisco for Keith’s birthday

~ Hanging out in the Haight and chasing the ghosts of our favorite Beat poets in North Beach, San Francisco, CA

~ The pilgrimage to Terrapin Crossroads in San Raphael, CA to see John K and The Golden Gate Wingmen (No Phil sightings)

~ Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in a 1969 VW Bus (whoop! whoop!)

~ Picking up hitchhikers on the way to see the last Grateful Dead shows on Santa Clara

~ Having Pearl the Bus on lot at the Grateful Dead Santa Clara shows where she was in all her hippie mamma glory

~ Arriving in Northern California and starting our new work exchange lifestyle

 

What are some of the stranger things that have happened on the road?

Jessica: We had one freak incident back in the beginning, when we broke down in Bonita Springs, FL. We had to get Pearly towed by AAA, and the tow truck driver arrived 2 hours late and completely inebriated! Keith wound up loading Pearl onto the truck (thank god he had some experience from working in the tire industry for all those years) and even driving the tow truck all the way to Sarasota while the driver was passed out drunk next to me! Of course AAA was completely freaked out when I called them to report the incident. They took care of the driver and hooked up my membership!

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What have you done to save costs?

Keith: We try to cook as many meals as possible. (We bought a 12-volt fridge to make living in our vehicle more practical.) While we both enjoy eating out, and trying new restaurants and cuisine, it will kill a budget. When we do eat out, we use apps like yelp! and Trip Advisor to help us not waste our money on a bad dining experience. We use Gas Buddy to find the best deal on gas.  We try to stay with friends and family, when we can, especially in urban areas. Otherwise we stay at hostels or find last minute deals on the internet for a hotel room. In rural areas and National and State Parks, we camp, which is not really an option in most urban places, but is cheaper. Staying out of the cities is a great way to stretch the budget. But we can’t always resist the lure of the city!

Jessica: We slept in a lot of 24-hour Walmart parking lots too.

Tell me about work exchange. Who would you recommend this for?

Jessica: I would recommend work exchange to the whole wide world!! It’s an amazing way to travel and live for free! We are members of a website called www.helpx.net but there are other work exchange sites such as www.wwoofinternational.org  It’s almost like an internship. We give our time, skills, and positive attitudes to our hosts in exchange for not only room and board, but a whole new set of skills. At our current “X-er” situation, we are helping a young couple who bought a large homestead property, turn their farm into a certified organic farm and collective. Some of our tasks include, watering and weeding, picking and processing organic fruits and vegetables, harvesting and drying healing herbs, using a broom and playing with the dogs. Hanging out in the hammock when it gets too hot during the day is also expected of us. The hosts were very thorough in choosing us. We sent resumes and references and spoke on the phone several times, and when it felt right we made our way north up HWY 1 to Mendocino. Follow Sun Roots Farm & Collective’s journey from amateur to authorized on Facebook at Sunroots Farm & Collective.

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What’s next for you guys? 

Jessica: As we continue to reinvent ourselves, and learn new skill sets we’ll see where this adventure leads. We’re hoping that through Helpx, we’ll be able to stay traveling for a long time. We feel the work-trade lifestyle has the potential to open many doors to adventurous souls like us.

 

 

 

 

When you get the damned hurt

 

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There are many quotes by Ernest Hemingway that have guided me through writing and life but there is one quote in particular that I’ve always turned to when facing life’s setbacks:

“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start. And you have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it. Don’t cheat with it.”

I absorbed those words as I drove around aimlessly last week, grasping the reality of what had just happened. There were a lot of things I could have done to prevent this side-splitting pain, but the fact was I was fully unprepared for it. In just a matter of days I had gone from absolute bliss to feeling like I had been hit by a two-ton truck.

I write this as an attempt to define the big hurt–those moments in life where the music stops and the rug gets pulled out from underneath you all at once. Those moments you can pin point as when your life charted a different course.

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When I got home that evening lightening and thunder cackled in the sky as a storm rolled in. And then the power went out. Now it was just me with my thoughts alone in dark and as someone who is prone to anxiety, I knew that these are the moments I’m most likely to be my own worst enemy.

It was in that moment I tried to think about all the people I know of who had gone through hell and made it out on the other side. I texted a friend: “Please tell me I will feel better.” He advised me just to focus on getting to day four. In four days I would feel better, he predicted.

I don’t think four days is a hard and fast rule for coping with disappointment. But I was determined to be happy again and not let this setback put me deep into a hole. But in order to be happy again, I had to feel miserable for a few days.

If there were a guidebook to getting through life’s storms I would have devoured it. I was hungry for any word of comfort, any piece of advice and every story of perseverance I could get my hands on in those four days. So I write this blog post for the woman I was a week ago and anyone else who’s ever gotten the damned hurt.

DAY 1

I prayed straight up “Eat Pray Love” style—and I’m not talking about the chapter where Elizabeth Gilbert meditates in India. I’m talking about the hunched-over-on-the-bathroom-floor-raccoon-eyes style of prayer. While I consider myself a spiritual person, I’m not a religious person. And because of that I feel like it’s not totally fair if you only pray to God when you have a problem. So I left things a bit more open ended by praying to the universe and instead of asking for the situation to change, I just asked for strength to get through it. I’m not sure if it helped, but I considered this my only option for blocking out thoughts of self blame and despair.

DAY 2 

I was determined to make it to Body Combat Class (AKA Fight Club for women) at 8:30 a.m. the next morning to find some constructive release for my negative energy. Instead I found myself sitting in the gym’s parking lot unable to get out of my car. I looked in the mirror at my puffy eyes. I had no fight left in me. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. The thought of punching and kicking the air hurt. Instead I called my parents. My dad suggested I ride my bike and keep my heart rate at 160 beats per minute for an hour straight for maximum endorphins. He also told me it wasn’t until his 50s when things finally fell into place for him and he would never have arrived at that place if it weren’t for all the setbacks he suffered earlier in life.

I found myself moments later at the beach, attempting something that looked like a run but was really a combination of running for a few minutes and then stopping to cry, write sappy messages in the sand and watching as the waves erased them.

I decided that feeling useful was the best way to get through the rest of the day so I volunteered to help a friend move. That night, before watching fireworks explode over the beach I called a friend from elementary school who is weathering a storm in her own life with resilience. “Whatever you do, don’t let this jade you or make you cynical,” she said. “That’s not who you are.”

DAY 3

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I decided to wake up at 6 a.m. and volunteer at a triathlon. I watched as the sun came up over the Atlantic Ocean and for the first time in two days I felt a sense of peace. I thought about how each day is a chance to start over and create the life you want–that your mistakes and setbacks do not define who you are. The triathlon was overwhelmingly positive with bystanders cheering and athletes pushing themselves to the limit.

Sunday afternoon was my first day on my own working as a bartender at a local brewery. Working gave me the opportunity to feel proud of myself for putting in a hard day’s work. I also got to connect with some of the patrons and hear stories about their lives.

When I came home I tucked some of my tips into an envelope marked “Central America 2016” and felt satisfied that I was making a tiny step closer to my goals.

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DAY 4

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to go to back to work. I felt a renewed sense of focus and was relieved to have work to take my mind off things. I plowed into my to-do list.

That evening I swam a mile during an open water swim practice in the Atlantic Ocean. By the time the swim was over, I was exhausted and gagging from all the salt water I had swallowed. But I had reached a new milestone–it was the farthest I had ever swam in the turbulent ocean before.

 

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I started to see a clear path for reaching a lot of my goals—a life of freedom and creativity in which I’m not confined to a cubicle or constantly staring at a computer screen. It’s a life that allows me to connect with others and travel without restraint. This chapter started coming into plain view as I found myself with time to reflect and be alone with my thoughts.

I started working on a new project, picked up a new book and decided that I’m going to try surfing as my next hobby. Suddenly my life was wide open to new possibilities.

I wrote in my journal that in life every time things fall apart, it gives us the chance to put them back together even better than they were before. How pain is an opportunity to create a new chapter and re-examine our heart’s desires–the ones we often put on the shelf while we are busy seeking acceptance from others.

I’m not 100 percent healed but I’m moving forward and sometimes, that’s the only thing you can do in life.

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