florida

I’m falling and I can’t get back up

Have you ever done something risky and dangerous? So risky and dangerous that at the time it doesn’t cross your mind how crazy it is? That is exactly how I feel today, four days after jumping 14,000 feet out of a tiny airplane with no seats and a man strapped on to my back.

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For our anniversary, my boyfriend took us skydiving in Lake Wales. When I initially told my friends about what we were going to do most of them reacted the same way, “That’s insane! If my boyfriend/husband/significant other asked me to go skydiving, I wouldn’t do it!”

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Skydiving has always been on my bucket list but I’ve always been either too broke or too scared to go. Luckily there was a Groupon available and my boyfriend snatched it. Now I had no excuses.

The whole drive over there was nerve-racking. The craziest thing that’s ever happened to me was getting detained in a Detroit airport on a work trip for having pepper spray in my bag (that’s a story for another day). The fog on the highway was terrible thanks to the insane weather Florida has been experiencing so the thought of jumping out of an airplane with limited visibility was on the top 5 dumbest ideas I’ve ever had.

We finally got there and began signing our lives away upon our arrival. I’m not sure how many times I read this sentence, “This is an important legal document. By signing it, you are giving away important legal rights,” but I’m pretty sure I baby-barfed every single time. I initialed my name about 30 times and agreed that if I die, my family, friends, next of kin, creepy stalker, etc. cannot sue the airplane, airplane engine manufacturer, skydive center, skydive instructor, parachute maker, and so on and so forth.

Enter my instructor. He tells me his nickname is Baglock.

Bag lock: This malfunction occurs when the deployment bag is extracted from the main container, but fails to release the canopy within. The correct procedure to clear the malfunction is to cut away the main and deploy the reserve.

A little skydiving humor. Get it? Ha. Ha.

He went over the procedures with me and told me everything would be fine. He’s jumped out of a plane over 4,000 times and that day wouldn’t be any different.

Baglock: “Any questions?”

Me: “How many people have thrown up on you?”

Baglock: “11 out of over 4,000. I think that’s a good ratio.”

Before I knew it, I was inside the plane at 14,000 feet, getting ready to be number 12 on his throw up list. Baglock strapped his  harness to mine and we began to inch our way to the door. I looked down and half my foot was sticking out of the plane. I closed my eyes and gave in.

Everyone asked if falling from an airplane gives you the same butterflies as riding a roller coaster for the first time. It’s not and it is really hard to explain what I went through to someone who has never done this.

Initially, my eyes were closed and we tumbled into the open air. I felt helpless, like I was falling and I couldn’t stop myself from doing so. I immediately threw my legs and head back since it is the proper position when tandem skydiving and opened my eyes.

Baglock: “That’s the airport! You see it? That’s Lake Kissimmee! There’s your boyfriend and his instructor!”

I couldn’t believe how wonderful everything looked. The fog had cleared up right before we went on the airplane and I couldn’t have asked for a more clear and beautiful day. That’s when I forgot I was falling at 120 mph. That’s when every fearful thought of our parachute not opening faded. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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After one minute of free falling, our parachute was deployed and I was even allowed to steer for a bit. We practiced our landing while we were still in the air, but since we all know I’m awkward, you can safely assume that I didn’t gracefully land on my butt. Instead, I dragged my legs like a broken Raggedy Ann doll, laughing the whole time.

Four days later, I sit on my bed looking at pictures of our skydiving adventure and I can’t believe I did it. I never thought that I had the guts to do it. Then I get scared because I could’ve died for participating in such a dangerous activity. But then I laugh because I did it.

Basically, skydiving turned me into a bipolar maniac but I can’t wait to do it again! Skydiving has now officially been checked off of my bucket list. Many thanks to my boyfriend for making this possible and to my stomach for staying cool while being flung thousands of feet to the ground.

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One Year Of Feeding Children

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It amazes me how 2013 came and went in the blink of an eye and how things change. A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was because I was offered a job as a communications coordinator at a local nonprofit. I was also in my senior year of college, living with my parents and with big plans ahead of me.

Right now, I sit in my room at my house listening to my roommate talk to her friend on the phone. My other roommate is in her room, screaming because she can’t sleep over the loud phone conversation.

To my left, on a pile of gold glitter I should’ve cleaned a while ago, sits my graduation cap. To my left sits a document titled “How To Do Everything by Veronica Figueroa.” This document holds every procedure that a communications coordinator at Feeding Children Everywhere could ever need. It was my holy book and I am now revising it and polishing it up for my new coworker who will be replacing me in March.

I never would’ve thought that a month after graduation I would be revising my resume and heading into the post graduation job search, but I guess everything I do is backwards.

Looking back on 2013, I can say I have been blessed to have been a part of the Feeding Children Everywhere team and I have experienced many wonderful things, as well as some scary ones that have now become life lessons. I loved that behind my job was a mission to raise awareness of the hunger epidemic around the world. I am proud that what I did for a living mobilized thousands of volunteers to package 7 million meals that were distributed to numerous food pantries across the nation as well as the Philippines, Africa and Haiti. And as proud and happy as I am of my accomplishments, I do not feel fulfilled and passionate about these things but I do believe that I was there for the season that I need to be. All the social media, press, marketing and campaigns, communications, fundraising and stepping into an intern manager role definitely helped shape me for my future career, whatever it may be.

It is now that I ask myself the question, “So, now what?”

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in such a place of uncertainty in my life so this is new to me. Next month begins the job search and whether it may be marketing, social media or writing that I end up doing, I hope that it is something that I feel passionate about. I hope that I find something that if it were taken away, would break me.

I’ve been praying about this for a few days now and I have left this on God’s hands.

Until then.

Planning and God’s timing

Most of those who know me know that I write everything down on my planner. I can’t live without it and I feel lost when I leave it at home.

When I graduated high school in 2009, I sat down during the summer before college and planned out my life for the next two years. I worked hard, graduated on time and figured I’d do the same at UCF. I’ve worked hard, but I’m behind on classes because of my past internships so instead of graduating in May, I’ll be graduating in December, God-willing.

[Quick update: I didn’t get the St. Petersburg Times summer internship that I had applied for. I wrote back to Nancy Waclawek, the Director of Corporate Giving, as well as Drew Harwell, a reporter there, and they both told me that I needed more breaking news experience. It was pretty saddening but I moved on.]

Now that I look back, I thank God that I didn’t get the Orlando Sentinel internship or the St. Petersburg Times internship because it wouldn’t have led me to Feeding Children Everywhere. I was taking social media classes while I was a social media intern there and I feel like these things went hand-in-hand.

I was recently offered a position there as a communications coordinator and I took it. I had been praying about job offers because I was so unsure about my stalled “career.” What was I going to do when I graduated? I had a small panic attack during the winter break and I was constantly anxious about my future. Thankfully, I got the answer to my prayers a month into my internship. They said that I worked hard and I made myself invaluable to them. Now I get paid to do something that I love (the internship was unpaid, for those of you who keep Google’ing if its paid or not)!

It’s just really funny that to me that I planned out my life at UCF and things didn’t go the way I wanted to. Then I planned out getting these internships and building my portfolio but that didn’t happen. Then I finally decided to let go, keep praying and focus on being the best that I can be. God works in mysterious ways so before questioning his timing, just let it be. Something good will work itself out.

Habbakuk 2:3 reads, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” God won’t make you wait for something that will suck. He is just waiting for the right moment to give you His gift.

Anyway, I’m really thankful for my new position at Feeding Children Everywhere and even though I just started there and I may feel overwhelmed by certain projects, I know that I can put all my trust in the Lord.

Taking I-95 to the #DeathRace

What’s an Orlando student journalist have to do to get some innovation and inspiration in her writing life?

Drive three and a half hours to Fort Lauderdale (thanks for sucking, Mid Florida SPJ. But more on that later).

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This weekend I was able to be a part of Death Race, an event held by SPJ’s South Florida Pro Chapter. I first became associated with them through the Will Write For Food 2012 program that I was a part of this past Labor Day weekend (and I urge everyone to sign up for).

Death Race was a kind of hands-on training on writing obituaries. It’s rare the case when a j-school professor goes in depth about writing obituaries, since it’s not such a popular beat for reporters to want to cover.

Miami Herald obit writer Elinor Brecher, talked to us about her career writing obituaries and advised us on how to write them. The prize? An urn with the newspaper ashes.

Oh, and three journalists died.

Well, not really.

But these three South Florida SPJ board members volunteered to die for the day, you know, for authenticity: Gideon Grudo (managing editor at South Florida Gay News), Mariam Aldhahi (an art director with Forum Publishing Group) and Cassie Morien (web editor at Boca Raton Magazine).

And if that wasn’t eerie enough, their family, friends and colleagues were invited to speak about them in a creepy chapel, in front of a coffin, two urns, floral arrangements and pictures of the young journalists.

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Here are some of the obit writing tips that I wrote down when Elinor spoke:

1. Be sensitive to the nuance of people grieving. Be patient and compassionate.

2. Know your audience. What may fly with one family, might not fly with the next.

3. Writing obituaries IS journalism–get the right facts (research).

4. Figure out why the person you’re writing about is obit worthy? The 5W’s aren’t enough.

5. Watch out for cliches (“He was so nice. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”).

6. Listen carefully for nuggets of info. The person sharing their story might not think its important, but that could potentially be your lede.

I decided to write my obit on Mariam, but the problem was that her family lives in freakin’ Dubai. Just yesterday (I’m not even kidding) I was telling my friend that I don’t know anyone that has even lived or been in Dubai. I called her uncle in Cali and we spoke for a bit and he gave me enough information about her that I could use.

Long story short: I didn’t win the obituary contest, but I realized that writing them isn’t easy. I was originally going to approach it like a feature story (which I should have done), but I doubted myself and wrote a basic boring skeleton of an obit. Its really hard to approach a story about someone dying and make it into a nice piece that people can reflect on. So much pressure!

I am interested in continuing to practice writing them (weird) so friends: Beware. You’re all my next targets.

On another topic, I quickly want to touch on the SPJ Mid Florida Chapter run by interim  president, Bobbi O’Brien. That’s the chapter that Orlando falls under and unfortunately that includes me.

Whenever I am interested in expanding my career as a journalist or simply just learning something new, I don’t have the luxury of having a good pro chapter. Our student chapter at UCF, run by journo professor Rick Brunson, is great. We get a lot of guest speakers and internship fairs, which I’ve benefitted from. But our pro chapter is ridiculous.

I decided to look up our pro chapter on Facebook and this is what I got.

That is probably the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The 23 member open group (so that means I can see their SPJ chapter plans) lacks creativity and innovation. It doesn’t pull and attract potential journalists.

The last post was on January 9th about the “revival” of the chapter in which O’Brien invited everyone for appetizers and drinks. If I had the option of going to this or driving three hours for free food and actually learning stuff, I’d do the latter (oh wait, that’s exactly what I did this weekend).

One of O’Briens’ posts from November 28, 2012 reads:

“Looking Long range: A workshop on social media bringing journalists up to speed on Twitter, Facebook, Storify, Pinerest, Tumblr, etc […]. Boots camps… on computer assisted reporting [and] social media […]. Create a local public records event to incorporate Tampa Bay media and SPJ college chapter students.”

I could probably give O’Brien a lesson on social media so that we could do something about that terrible group, lack of Facebok fan page, lack of website, lack of Twitter, etc. It’s ironic that these are all her ideas for journalism workshops but our chapter doesn’t implement any of these things.

All these ideas were suggested because on November 19, 2012 she posted:

“URGENT: All Mid-Florida SPJ members past, present and hopefully future!

Michael Koretzky, former president of the South Florida SPJ, current president of the Florida College Press and SPJ Region 3 director, has sent me several emails this morning demanding that I close the Mid-Florida Chapter account and mail him the check.

The Mid-Florida chapter received no prior notices of Mr. Koretzky’s intentions or this demand. The National SPJ membership officer and president have been copied on Mr. Kroetzky’s emails. But I have not heard from them yet.

I ask for input IMMEDIATELY and a meeting to review Mr. Kroetzky’s emails and demands.

Please share this information with all the journalists in the Mid-Florida Chapter region. So we can formulate a response and show that the Mid-Florida Chapter is still viable.”

First… see, Koretzky? I’m not the only idiot that misspells your name.

Second of all,  they SHOULD have taken the money because previous to that post, on October 3rd, 2012, someone posted: “Does this chapter hold meetings? Trying to find information but it looks outdated.”

AND PREVIOUS TO THAT POST, THE LAST POST HAD BEEN MADE IN JANUARY 2012. 

Holy crap my brain just imploded! What does this chapter do all year? Where exactly does the money go to? Appetizers and drinks? It’s so outdated I almost heard a dial-up tone going off.

After I graduate and become and alumna, I’ll probably still be a part of UCF’s SPJ, but I can’t attend internship fairs forever, so that’s why I wish our chapter was more active. It’s important for someone like me, who just decided to become a journalist not so long ago, to have a chapter to keep me active and current with things I should know.

I’d rather have this Mid Florida Chapter be closed than continue in mediocrity.

It’s embarrassing.

Wedding Season is never over

As always, I begin my blog with an apology because I don’t blog often and a fake promise that I’ll try to keep up with the blog (by the way, I haven’t blogged since mid-December I believe, and the new WordPress layout looks awesome. I’m a little confused, but it’s awesome).

Anyway, I love the terms “wedding fever,” “wedding season,” and “Pinterest weddings.” A lot of people think that there is a specific time for weddings, but last year was definitively the Wedding Year. Wedding season never ceased for me.

1. January: I started off the year flying to Puerto Rico to my cousin Vivi’s wedding to Rafael. It was an elaborate Catholic service (which I had never been a part of, so that was interesting) followed by the reception, dinner and awesome party at La Concha Hotel. It seriously ended around 1 or 2 a.m. Best wedding, hands down.

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That’s my sister, my niece, my sister, myself, my sister and some girl whose name escapes me. 

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Myself, my stepmom and my two nieces. 

2. March: My boyfriend’s best friend Ben got married at the Windermere Town Hall. It was a nice, quiet family affair.

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That’s our friend Ryan, myself and my boyfriend. I was having issues with my bangs… 

3. April: My boyfriend’s high school friend Kyle got married at Dub’s Dread Golf Club. It was a fun wedding, but I felt weird because a teacher I disliked in high school was sitting in our table and I couldn’t tell her how much I loathed her because my boyfriend is friends with her. If we ever get married, she’s not invited. Just saying.

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My boyfriend and I. 
4. August: My former coworkers, Emily and James, tied the knot this past August, lakeside at a private home wedding. It was a morning wedding too, which was a new concept for me. It was so lovely. We’ve all known each other (there’s a little group of us) for a couple of years now because all of us got hired at a new Chick-Fil-A together back in 2007.
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 Myself, Emily (the bride) and Carrie (another one of the Chick-Fil-A clan). 
5. December: My old high school friend got married at the Shades of Green Disney resort. It was such a cute but elegant wedding. From the rage faces to the Star Wars wedding march to the high-five after kissing: It really captured the essence of what Danika and Alex are. I reminisced with old high school friends and had a blast dancing to Gangnam Style with a bunch of Asians (Danika’s family is from the Philippines.)
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 Young, myself and Tommy remembering the good ol’ days. 
 Now it’s 2013 and tomorrow I’m headed to my first wedding of the year, followed by the first bridal shower of the year on Saturday, followed by Carrie’s wedding in February… I hope none of my friends get engaged soon because I can’t afford to be buying any more bridal shower and wedding gifts.
Best part of weddings: Spending time with family and friends, dancing, eating, drinking and dancing some more!
Worst part of weddings: Being called out to catch the bouquet because since I’m not married, I’m technically single. Even worse, having to go up to the “Single Ladies” song.
Nightmare part of weddings: People asking me when I’ll be settling down and getting married. I feel like I have so much stuff to do including graduating at the end of the year, finding a job, saving money, that I don’t have time to think about marriage. Yes, I have a wedding pinboard on Pinterest but I only did it because “everyone else was doing it.” And yes, if all my friends were jumping off of a bridge, I’d do it too.
Hopefully “wedding season” will be over soon. Here’s to not catching the bouquet!

Meet me at Marlow’s: Seriously, I can’t move from the food coma

Georgia-based Marlow’s Tavern, Orlando’s new gathering spot, opened its first location in Orlando on Oct. 9.

The 4,500-square-foot, 200-seat restaurant is located in Pointe Orlando on International Drive (tourist land).

Marlow’s Tavern features the “Best of the Best” in classic American tavern fare, in a modern atmosphere including communal tables and an intimate outdoor patio. The bar straddles the interior and the exterior of the restaurant, uniting the two spaces.

The menu offers a diverse combination of classic dishes that are updated to a gourmet level as well as an extensive beverage menu, including wines from around the world and hand-crafted cocktails. Their dishes and drinks have local and seasonal ingredients.

Restaurant industry veteran Alan Palmieri, co-owner, will be in charge of the day-to-day operations and future sites of Marlow’s Tavern in the Orlando market.

It is important to Executive Chef and Co-Founder, John C. Metz, Jr. that Marlow’s Tavern partners up with a local charity to support and give back to the community. In the past two weeks, they’ve raised $6,000 for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, a private nonprofit organization that collects and distributes donated food.

Marlow’s Tavern is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. until 12:00 a.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

My picks: (May induce a heavenly food coma)

Starter:

Shrimp & Crab “Nacho” Plate ($11): rock shrimp, crab, pepper Jack cheese and fresh jalapenos.

Why it’s good: It’s not extremely spicy and they are very generous with the shrimp and crab. Also, the nachos aren’t soggy. No one likes soggy nachos.

Entrée:

Open Faced Tenderloin Steak ($12): Marinated bistro filet, garlic kale pesto, crumbling gorgonzola, caramelized onion confit, roma tomato, grille ciabatta and balsamic glaze.

Why it’s good: The steak was so tender and the asparagus as a side was amazing. Need I say more?

Dessert:

Fried Apple Pie ($6): Warm apple filling, toffee, cinnamon sugar and caramel.


Why it’s good: They are individual pies in the form of turnovers or “empanadas” filled with apple filling, covered in sugar and you can pour the warm caramel on top.

Drink:

Blueberry Buck: Hanger blueberry, fresh lime, Fee Brothers almond orgeat, Barrutt’s Ginger Beer, Candied ginger and fresh blueberry.

Why it’s good: Have you ever popped a blueberry in your mouth after going blueberry picking? That’s exactly what this tastes like, with a kick.

Marlow’s Tavern has made me a happy girl. The staff was excellent and very knowledgeable about the drinks and the ingredients used. This restaurant is completely different from most chain restaurants because the feel is intimate and the ingredients fresh.

Sidenote: Oh! Also, the Queen of Versailles, Jackie Siegel, was there. It was so weird. This is the second time I’ve seen her at a restaurant opening. She invited us to her Halloween party. I thought she was joking. I forgot to ask her for info so I guess I’ll never get to visit Versailles. The life of the poor working intern.

Craig, Booper, Bernie and the mansion.


It really IS a Society of “Professional” Journalists (Photo cred: Chris Whitten).

Chris Whitten and I just finished writing our joint Outreach article.

The only hints I’m giving you are:

1) There’s a man named Craig,

2) There’s a cat named Booper,

3) There’s a man named Bernie,

4) There’s a $15 million mansion built by the state of Florida

I’ll link the actual article when it comes out.

Outreach basically consists of going out into the town, talking to the homeless and telling them about the shelter so that maybe they’ll decide to come back to the shelter.

We rode in an ambulance, a cop car and vans and went with the COSAC staff.

Whenever we met people, we’d offer them water and/or cigarettes.

It was pretty crazy to be walking around in the middle of the night, by the railroad tracks with our phone “flashlight” apps lighting the way.

At the beginning, I was super overwhelmed. I walked away from the first interview, because the state of the homeless was sad. The two guys had this toy chest, similar to one that my sister and I had when we were little. I remember complaining that things never fit in that toy chest, but everything that they owned fit into the chest.

Their beds were an old dirty mattress and a sleeping bag in front of a mural with a giant heart. I wish I had taken a decent picture of it but it was too dark and the picture came out like crap.

(Photo Cred: Either a WWFF12 staffer or COSAC employee, not sure). 

After talking to most of the homeless people, during outreach and throughout the day, I noticed that divorce was a big trend. Someone would get cheated on, keep the money and kick the other to the curb. It’s pretty sad. Disabilities, whether they be mental or physical, were a big trend as well.

We were riding the ambulance to our next spot, when the ambulance broke down on the highway. We had to pull over and wait for the rest of our crew to come and pick us up.

My crappy view from the back of the ambulance. 

(Photo Cred: Mark Targett).

While we were waiting for our ride back to the shelter, I was talking to one of the security guards, Patrick Russell. He is 19 years old and the youngest member of the shelter. He’s been living at the shelter for a few weeks. I scolded him for smoking (which by the way, I feel like everyone and their mother smoke’s here). He’s too young to be cutting his life short this early, I think.

His parents kicked him out of the house because he wasn’t contributing anything. He ended up at the shelter that he now calls home as well as his job. He is currently finishing school and plans to go to college for his A.A. and then enroll in the Army or Coast Guard.

“Every night I text my parents ‘Goodnight,” he said. “They never really text me back.”

I really hope they take him back. He’s such a sweet kid.

I didn’t really think about whether I was going to see everyone again, so I forgot to bid the shelter staff farewell and thank Sean Cononie & Mark Targett for allowing us to be super intrusive for a whole weekend. It’s been a pleasure working with everyone.

And of course, I’d like to thank everyone that put this event together, all the talented journalists I got to meet and lastly, Michael Koretzky, for only being scary via email, but not in real life.