3 Ways To Cope

by: Carolina Guzman

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It’s normal to feel anxious on occasion. That’s just a part of life. Maybe we have an upcoming event we are in charge of, an important deadline, or we’re anxious to hear back from a potential employer after an interview. But imagine feeling anxious most of the time out of your day… or out of your life. That’s what most of my life has consisted of.

I remember one of the very first times my anxiety started bothering me. I was 7. I remember sitting down in my room and thinking “what’s going to happen when I die? Who will take care of my stuff? Can I come back to visit?”  It seems innocent enough to have an imagination like this as a child, but I clearly remember feeling excruciating tension in my muscles and shortness of breath from these thoughts.

At thirteen, I had my first real anxiety attack.

I completely broke down. I felt so much fear and did not know why and as a result, my breathing became more and more difficult and my body felt out of control. It was one of the most traumatic nights of my life.

A few months later, I started suffering from OCD and feeling the need to organize things a certain way and touch certain things before leaving a room, (or else everything would fall apart!) In my mind, this was reality.

At one point I was given homeopathic medication, which helped, but only temporarily. The OCD went away, but the anxiety always remained. Knowing it could surface at any random moment in time also gave me anxiety too! What a trap.

Finally, as an adult, I sought out professional help and even went to a few workshops addressing mental health, illness and disorders in hopes of getting some more answers. It was there that I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and was given options to take prescribed medications.

But by now I had suffered enough and been under the control of my mental illness. The last thing I wanted was to develop a dependency on medication and be under its control too. Right then and there I committed to change my lifestyle and see if I could take my control back on my own. (Note: I am NOT against taking medicine with mental illnesses especially. I just knew that for ME and my illness, I wanted to control it myself if i could.) It was my one last shot.

Here are the 3 ways I naturally gained control of my anxiety and decreased the amount of anxiety attacks I suffered from:

1) Working out regularly. – This should come as no surprise. When you exercise regularly, your body releases endorphins which interact with the receptors in your brain and reduces pain, stress and anxiety levels. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, too. The more positive I became, the less I felt compelled to over analyze and worry… this meant less and less anxiety attacks!

2) Eating healthier/changing my diet. – Once I started working out, my diet changed too. I began feeling so much happier as I sought out different diets to follow and recipes to try. I largely contribute using my brain creatively and with so much excitement to the infrequent amounts of episodes I suffered with.

3) A change of music. – “Music…can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”  – Martin Luther  “Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono  “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

I began listening to more soothing and tranquil music regularly. It really helped me to pause and relax my mind and body more frequently throughout the day.

During this journey, I decided to compete in a pageant. It was hard preparing for it. Some days my mindset was very positive, and other days it would bring me down. People have no idea about the days I used to spend crying and contemplating death. I had come so far and wanted to use the illness to shape me into a better woman that I could showcase proudly. This was hard for me to write, but I hope it can inspire others to not let anxiety get the best of them either.

People associate anxiety and depression with being crazy. I’m not crazy. I may have severe anxiety, but I have accomplished a lot at my 25 years. My advice for anyone going through any sort of mental illness like mine is to know that there are ways to cope with it NATURALLY and medicinally that are incredibly effective. These are the ways that helped me, so I encourage you to find what soothes and elevates you. Seek a hobby that gets your mind off of it, read a new book, be responsible with your health regime.. and remember, there is nothing wrong with being different.

8 Things I Learned From Bruce Jenner

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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17 million people watched the two hour interview with Diane Sawyer – many with fascination and curiosity, others with disgust and confusion. I’m know I’m late, but I just watched it myself and I wanted to share my thoughts.  As most of you know, I am a Christian woman, however, my thoughts on this matter may not align with Christianity at all. In fact, most of my opinions on controversial issues don’t really line up with Christianity, but thats a different topic for a different day.

Here are 8 things I learned from the Bruce Jenner interview:

1. ) God makes no mistakes. –  I realize how controversial this statement is, concerning his big reveal, (and en lieu of Christianity and all) but I firmly believe Bruce was designed by our creator for this VERY unique and specific purpose. We all are. I think his purpose was to open our hearts and minds. It’s to shock us. Can we still be the loving and accepting human beings we claim to be to someone if they live a completely different lifestyle than we are ‘comfortable’ with? Will we gossip and complain behind the backs of others who live differently than us? God is very intentional and we are all placed in this world with tremendous purpose. Even the tough stuff is meant to shape us and inspire others.

2.) This interview was bigger than the Olympics. – “I was very proud of you when you stood at that podium in Montreal. I never thought I could be more proud of you, but I’m learning I can be.” These are the words of Bruce’s mother following the news of his decision to come out with his secret. His son Brandon was quoted saying, “I saw a sense of bravery that, for all your previous accomplishments, I think far exceeds all of them.” He was referencing his fathers Olympic success in 1976 but made it clear that it’s his bravery to be honest that deserves our respect and admiration even more. He was America’s superhero then, and i’m hoping he can be treated just the same today.

3.) Kanye West doesn’t suck all the time. – Let’s face it. Kanye isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea. But I caught myself smiling with his thoughts on the matter. “He said to Kim, ‘Look, I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am. I can have the most beautiful little daughter in the world; I have that. But I’m nothing if I can’t be me.” FACT. WE ARE NOTHING IF WE CAN’T BE TRUE TO OURSELVES- no matter how annoying or controversial that person might be. Cough.

4.) Suicide is a very REAL consideration for many… and that’s scary as hell. – As he looked back at his many encounters with the paparazzi he revealed how he contemplated suicide very recently. We live in a world where suicide seems like the only way out of humiliation, insecurity, confusion, anger, pain and everything else in between. This is why it’s SO imperative to always be kind to everyone you encounter. You never know what someone is going through and how one more thing can push them over the edge and trigger suicide.  “Fix society, please.” These were the closing words in an transgender teen’s suicide note she left just before taking her life.

5.) Being a transgender does not mean you have a mental illness. –  Many people link homosexuality, bisexuality, and the entire trans-community with mental illness. I find this incredibly ignorant and offensive. I can’t stand it when people try to belittle or disesteem different lifestyles as an illness.

6.) Be yourself – and do it ASAP. – Bruce spent six decades covering up his secret because he didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Imagine how miserable that must’ve been! To live a dark, private and tortured life is not really living at all. I am happy for him now that he can start living his life as he truly desires, but mannnnnn, (no pun intended)… I can’t imagine spending over sixty years with such a consuming secret- and all out of fear of what others will think. I think that says a lot about the judgmental world we live in- that someone would rather spend most of their life in secrecy and misery than to be themselves out of fear of being judged. That’s tragic. How can we change that?

7.) Open hearts and open minds can change lives. – Bruce asked that people have “open minds and open hearts” as they hear his story. Have compassion and embrace change with an open and receptive spirit.  Ex-wife, Linda Thompson Instagrammed images of her ex-husband after the interview premiere along with the caption, “Once a champion of Olympian magnitude…now a champion for those who share the struggle to just be who they are. #compassion #acceptance #tolerance #education #evolution #kindness #inclusion #freedom #peace.” It’s incredibly admirable and courageous to open up on such a large stage and equally admirable and courageous to have an open heart and open mind in a world full of haterade.

8.) Kindness is vital for one’s health. –  Being kind to yourself is just as important as it is to exhibit kindness onto others. Bruce’s story proves that by not being kind to yourself, it’s basically like slowly killing yourself. I truly feel that kindness has tremendous power. It’s like magic. It can make things disappear, like hatred, insecurity, and even suicide. I believe good energy can also help cancel out problems in medical statistics too. The kinder we are, the better this world will be..and the healthier this world will be, too. I envision a world where people are living their authentic lives. Happier people. Less fear, more courage. Less lying, more honesty. Less judgement, more acceptance.  Physically I just feel better when I am being a better person and contributing to society. And I know for damn sure that I feel like a million bucks when people are kind to me, too. Life is just so much more pleasant and runs more smoothly as I attract and manifest this goodness. I have so much more energy to do things (like work out) and it doesn’t feel like I have to force myself to get going everyday. It’s pretty amazing how much kindness can truly change everything.

Congrats Bruzer! In all my years of watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians (guilty pleasure) I never knew it was you who had the best “reality TV” story of them all. You go girl.

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3 Ways Focusing on Inner Beauty is Healthy For Your Heart

by: Zera McMahon

After battling with an eating disorder for several years I’ve learned how giving more attention to one’s own inner beauty is healthy for the human heart in several ways. Here are three main ways you’ll benefit from giving more attention to your inner beauty instead of focusing on the way you look.

1) Inner beauty is not only nurturing for your own heart, but for the hearts of others as well.

I have always felt that the two {inner beauty & the heart} are largely connected; perhaps a direct reflection of the other. One of the greatest ways to delight an empty heart or soul is with acts of gentleness
and love. Help yourself by helping other people, and be instantly rewarded with an immense sense of gratification and love. Your inner beauty will flourish with selfless acts of kindness, as this is one of the best ways to pass the love around and welcome it back with an open heart.

Within the last year, Iʼve made it a habit of reaching out to complete strangers by involving them in conversation. For example…a couple of weeks ago I was in HomeDepot trying to get a swatch of paint matched for our living room. It was late in the evening, and the lady who was helping me behind the counter was exhausted and just being a total grouch. As much as I wanted to walk away from her negative attitude, Idecided to talk to her anyway and ignore the menacing glances she was giving me. So, I set a mental challenge for myself and made it my goal to lighten her mood. I began asking her questions pertaining to work and showed compassion for all of the un-paid overtime she was putting in. Before I knew it, we were sharing stories about our families, the holiday season, and even exchanging tips on our favorite nail polishes, etc.

My plan had worked! Just from acknowledging this individual whom I had never met before and by striking up a conversation, I was able to help give her laughter and enjoyment, and improve her overall state of mind.

Not only did this lady walk away with a smile on her face, but so did I. Lets face it, the last thing I wanted to be doing at 10pm was hanging out in Home Depotʼs paint department. This challenge I set for myself gave me almost instant happiness and fulfillment. It feels incredible to have such a positive impact on another individual!

Too often we obsess about our own physical beauty, and critically measure our “beauty”against other women. The mainstream media is constantly trying to sell us illusions of the “perfect body” and lifestyle that we can achieve only if purchasing their products.

They really think we can be fooled, but I know that as women we are stronger and capable of more. We donʼt need to strive for a perfect body or prettier face. When we do this, we are not truly in touch with our inner beauty. What we genuinely need is each other. Coming together peacefully with open hearts, appreciating others (and ourselves) for more than physical appearances; that is when we create and promote inner beauty that is infectious.

The media is failing to communicate the importance of nourishing the authentic self. Instead of measuring our self worth on physical traits, genuine self worth is measured from the inside out. When you cherish and manifest your inner beauty, your physical appearance is sure to be positively influenced when your heart radiates from within.

2) You’ll discover your inspiration & creativity…

When we realize and cherish our inner beauty, we are consciously granting ourselves the permission to be open and accepting to the beauty and talents around us.

Speaking from experience, I understand that the search for that “magical something” to ignite our inspiration is not always so simple. When I find myself in a mental slump, it can be really tough to pull myself out of it. One thing I have learned though, is that the inspiration I crave will always emerge when I least expect it. This sometimes take days to happen, but when it does I am shaken out of my slump and my spirit is instantly lifted and renewed with a sense of hope.

Sometimes, deviating from my typical routine can help ʻcureʼ me of the blues. Itʼs so easy to get ourselves caught in routine, stuck in the same motions day after day. I have to almost force myself out of it at times. What I like to do when this happens is to go somewhere ʻspur-of-the-momentʼ; somewhere I donʼt typically make the time to visit. I like to call these, ʻmini adventure daysʼ. This can be anything from checking out a museum downtown, taking a walk around a nature preserve to feed the ducks, treating myself to a movie (by myself), or indulging in an Oreo blizzard from Dairy Queen. These things may seem a little ridiculous, but itʼs what helps me to get outside of myself and the destructive thinking patterns.

Inspiration stimulates our heart and soul. It can be that mini miracle we need to get us back on track to creating opportunities and realizing our dreams.

3) It builds a beautiful and healthy life…

Its been said that positive attracts positive, and negative attracts negative. The same goes for people holding onto positive and negative thoughts. I am a total believer in this theory, and I have applied it as a general rule to my life, involving the people I surround myself with.

Have you ever felt completely empowered and delighted by something, only to then have that excitement be ripped away from you by someone with a negative mindset? I have definitely experienced this, and at times would find myself powerless and unable to shed myself of those negative feelings.

This is not only counteractive to strengthen your confidence and inner beauty ʻpowerhouseʼ, but is also very toxicant. After feeling depleted time and again from seeking outside approval, I decided that this
was not how I wanted to live my life and I was done with it.

This realization became my fundamental building blocks for a powerful inner beauty. Through this change in my thought process, I was able to create a mental barrier against negative energies that had previously blocked my inspiration and happiness. I made the conscious decision to choose my happiness and health, and to live my life through an authentic, and beautiful inner soul.

I donʼt believe we were intended to live our lives carelessly at the expense of others. Rather, I believe we have been gifted a heart and soul to nurture and love so that we can fulfill a truly gratifying existence.

Tip to block out the negative vibes:

Creating a mental bubble around myself is the easiest way for me to create an impervious blockade against negative vibes that are bound and determined to lower my positive energy. By establishing this kind of forcefield, you are preparing yourself to confront negativity without allowing your inner peace to be sacrificed in the process.

There is a beautiful quote by Audrie Hepburn that Iʼd like to share. Itʼs incredibly inspiring and respectful, and I feel that it reflects the pursuit of inner beauty quite perfectly….

‘For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed. Never throw out anybody. The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows, and the beauty of a woman with passing years only grows.’ – Audrie Hepburn

The 3 Resolutions You Should Make for 2015

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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New Year’s Resolutions have sort of lost their appeal don’t you think? I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of people have gotten really lazy about making them and even worse about keeping them- myself included.  On one hand I fully understand why people aren’t as pumped about making a new year’s resolution anymore – it’s because after so many years of broken and unmet resolutions, we don’t want yet another opportunity to let ourselves down again by not following through with fulfilling our set goals.

So I made a little list that will hopefully make keeping your resolutions more organized, concise and most importantly: attainable. I feel like these three resolutions below encompass a range of the typical resolutions we tend to make year after year, but in a more meaningful way. Hopefully this will make them easier to remember and stick to. If we can commit to these three things below, I think we’ll see how all of our other more specific resolutions (i.e. work out more, help out more around the house, eat less junk food, etc.) flow from these three.

In 2015, I will:

1) Love and Honor God more. – I am not the type of person to force my beliefs onto others. It’s just not something I feel comfortable doing. All I can do is live my life and if anyone ever asks me about God, I tell them what I believe. For me, I find that when I love and honor God more, great things happen in all areas of my life. My relationships improve, my opportunities increase, and my problems seem to disappear. When I spend more time with Him in ways such as journaling, attending Bible studies and church regularly and surrounding myself with solid company, my life just seems to have a more steady yet exciting tone to it. It’s as if I have something bigger to look forward to every single day. I am kinder, more relaxed and certainly more loving. I feel like I give better advice when I’m doing things God’s way and exhibit way more patience. I also find that I can refer to scripture to solve my problems. So much significance stems from this single resolution so I really I want to strengthen and build my relationship with God and believe that when I do, many more doors will open in 2015 because all good things come from Him.

2) Love and Honor Myself More. – Of course this includes committing to working out more, eating right, and drinking more water throughout the day. But loving and honoring SELF also means appreciating who you are right in this very moment and giving yourself some more credit. Caring less about what people think, letting go of grudges, forgiving others more quickly; all of these things will SERVE you.  Loving yourself also means accepting yourself as you are. Be confident! It means seeing yourself in the way God see’s you (or the people who love you see you.)  It means saying “thank you” when you receive a compliment rather than disregarding it. Own it! Loving yourself also means not comparing yourself to others, because sitting and scrolling through social media can drive anyone crazy. You’ll start to wonder why you don’t look a certain way or have the lavish lifestyle someone else has or why your partner isn’t as fill-in-the-blank as your friends’ partners are. The list goes on. All of that is destructive and leads to self-pity and unhappiness. That is no way to love yourself. And when it comes to honoring yourself it means learning how to say NO sometimes. It’s ok to stay in more, drink less, have more alone time and partake in some R&R. You don’t have to attend every single party or night out or work event. You’ll wear yourself out if you don’t honor yourself by saying no and letting go of the fear of missing out. (FOMO) Besides, missing out isn’t thaaat bad.

3) Love and Honor Others More. – Well this is my whole mission with this blog – to encourage more kindness onto others in hopes that it can change the direction of someone’s story and maybe even their life. (Specifically the lives of people who are really struggling with their life.)

I’ll never forget this one time when I was in Vegas with my girlfriends and we were out to eat to celebrate our friend winning Miss Nevada USA. Our server brought out the wrong pizza and it took him forever to come back to our table so that we could tell him. We probably sat there for a solid 20 minutes before anyone came over to our table. I am really big on customer service, so I got a really bad attitude and decided that we should not only eat the wrong pizza anyway, but that I would also complain to the manager so that we wouldn’t have to pay for it AND that they would still bring us out a brand new pizza too. Boom. I felt so big and bad for like five minutes as I listed off my demands in an angry tone. Once I did this though, I felt really dark inside. I felt so bad knowing that our server was probably being scolded in the back. What if this was his only job and he has kids at home depending on him? What if this guy was having the worst day ever and was just waiting for just one more thing to go wrong for him to snap? What if, what if, what it. I started to imagine the worst. It sounds small but it really tore me up inside. I couldn’t enjoy my meal or leave the restaurant until I apologized to the server and complimented him in front of his manager.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we should let people be lazy or walk all over us, but I am saying we should be more careful with our words and attitudes.  We can still get our points across in a kinder way. Surely you’ve heard Mother Teresa’s quote, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting some sort of battle.” …And there are so many people who are suffering silently with their various battles. Whether it’s mental illnesses, depression, addictions or other forms of abuse, there is clearly a dire need for more love and kindness to be poured onto OTHERS, just because. You just NEVER know what someone is enduring or facing alone. One act of love and kindness can be a game changer.  I know I’ll never forget that waiter’s face.

Hopefully, in many of the articles that people have shared on my blog, you can see how all of them have this point in common. We live in a world where so much focus is given to beauty, image, money, fame, followers… all such insignificant things.  Inner beauty is what matters. How we treat people is what matters. How we serve and encourage others is what matters. When I put more energy into making someone’s day, my day gets better and brighter too.  A few suggestions to make someone’s day:

Give out more compliments.

Complain less.

Invite someone eating alone to sit with you. No one should have to eat alone.

Ask someone, “are you ok?”

Avoid gossip.

Buy the coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks.

Leave a nice tip for your server.

Be patient with your server.

Write a thank you card.

Have a conversation with a homeless person.

Smile at someone.

Be more LOVING, period!  And if you need a quick reminder of what love is, here you go:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Thanks, Corinthians!

All of these are such easy gestures of basic love and kindness that can move mountains if they spread. I believe we have the power to save lives with this. Since starting this blog I’ve heard too many stories of people who reveal that it was a total stranger who made them feel “seen” or a kind gesture that made them rethink poor decisions. I’ve received messages from people who say it was a single pleasant and unexpected phone call that completely changed the direction of their day or a simple handwritten thank you note that helped them see people differently in the world.  The “pay it forward” campaigns all around the world are onto something. It doesn’t take much to love and honor others more and I hope you’ll make this part of your new year’s resolution too.

So go out and love and honor God, yourself and others (in that order) and everything else will fall into place.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 2015 IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!!! Thank you for being part of my blog and supporting this mission. 2014 will always be special to me because of it.

How To Have Happy Holidays When You’re Sad

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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I’ve been receiving several messages lately from people who want to know how I stay so happy during this time of year. It’s supposed to be a season of celebration and joy but in reality, it’s a season of heightened depression for many.

At first I was confused how anyone could RESIST happiness during this time of year because Christmas (and this entire season in general) is when I’m in total bliss. I’m like a big kid; I’ve had my Michael Buble Christmas CD playing in my car since October (I know…), I get giddy when the mall starts to decorate and set up for Santa, and even though I don’t drink coffee, I get excited knowing Starbucks is in the season of their famous red cups and holiday themed drinks. I can go on and on but I think you get it- I am obsessed with this time of year. The only thing I find depressing is that I have to wait a whole year for it again as soon as it’s all over.

But as more and more messages came in asking me for advice on how to “endure” the season, I started to really think about why people might feel so anxious or unhappy when the holidays come around.

First off, the media bombardment of smiling family and friends can be overwhelming and annoying.  I get it! Nonstop commercials on TV are showcasing these perfect happy model looking families and groups of good looking friends going shopping and spending money without a care in the world.

While we all know these are entirely staged productions intended to attract consumer spending, some people may start to compare their lives to the lives of others- even more so on social media. They begin to question the relationships in their lives as well as their financial situation. It’s a huge stressor! They also might reflect on another year coming to an end and think about what they DON’T have.

One individual who wrote me said the reason she struggles with staying happy during the holidays is because she never had a father figure in her life and her mother struggled immensely to afford the basic necessities.  She grew up really resenting the process of exchanging gifts and even associates the holidays with guilt for receiving anything.

Its even been said that suicide rates and mood disorders increase in this season due to triggers of loneliness, financial stress, inadequacy, and lack of belonging.  How can we fix this?

If you’re feeling down about the holidays, here are 8 ways I stay happy through them:

1. DON’T COMPARE: I am as guilty as anybody for comparing what I have to what others have, but the less I do this, the happier I am. Keep in mind what you see on TV is not real and what you see on social media is just the same. I came across a great quote the other day – “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steven Furtick – Super true.

2. I CATER TO THE 5 SENSES- I decorate my home beautifully so what I SEE is visually appealing and stimulating. I eat want I want – it’s not bikini season, it’s cookies and milk season! Treat yourself to eating what you know TASTES amazing. You earned it! Also, my home SMELLS like vanilla cookies, cake and pumpkin spice – anything that’s reverent of the season. Next, I almost always have music on that makes me feel good to HEAR. It doesn’t have to be Christmas music, (mine is) but I’m such a lover of music year-round and even fall asleep to a playlist.

3. BE A KID AGAIN- I embrace an intense sense of childlike wonder and dive into the season as if I were a little girl again. In fact, I need to get myself to Disneyland ASAP. Rafael if you’re reading this, let’s go.

4. I strive to make new MEMORIES – this one would be especially helpful for those of you who associate the season with a bad memory. Clean those up and replace them with new and uplifting ones starting today!

5. BUILD TRADITIONS – make those memories you created truly last by establishing them as rock solid TRADITIONS. This should be something you know you’ll eagerly anticipate year round whether it’s shopping for a Christmas tree with your nephew or decorating the house with your boyfriend with your favorite movie on – set something up in stone as “yours” and “ours.” Ever since I was a little girl, all the women in my family get together a week or so before Christmas and make dozens (and dozens) of tamales. We laugh, cry, joke around with each other, have deep conversations, and have mariachi music playing in the background while we work because that’s what my Nana likes – It’s something we all look forward to every year. It’s messy and hilarious. It’s tradition.

6. I’M AROUND THE ONES I LOVE- you really should do this all year round but during this season it’s all the more imperative. My boyfriend and I will be spending two weeks in Arizona in a couple weeks with my family and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that. Being around the ones I love and who love us means the world to me…

7. On that same note, pay attention to people. FOCUS ON OTHERS more than yourself. By now you know I’m a huge advocate of random acts of kindness in hopes that it will impact someone who might be struggling with depression or just having a bad day – so I really step it up even more during this time of year and in return, I’m happier for it.

I find that the less I focus on myself, like what I have or don’t have, and instead use all of that time and energy for others, the happier I am. I have no time to get sad about my circumstances if I’m more focused on improving the circumstances of others. I’m distracted in the best way possible.  I strive to demolish statistics in depression and suicide by being kinder – especially during this time of year when people might need it the most. Try it!

I encourage you to keep in mind that although the year is coming to an end, it’s your opportunity for a new beginning. If you really struggle to embrace the season, ask yourself why. Recognize the root of any issues you are having with this time of year and completely release it all. Give the negativity zero power.

If all else fails, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear!” Elf is on TV right now as I’m writing this, so I had to do that. Cheesy me!

And I’m taking my puppy Romeo to go visit Santa at the mall this week too… yes I am.

Happy Holidays!

Eat, Pray, Love // Part 2

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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Now that I’m back in LA and able to really reflect on my “Eat Pray Love” adventure (and can FINALLY talk about the details) I feel really overwhelmed. It seems like it may be nearly impossible to express how emotional I’ve been.  So enjoy the pictures! Hopefully they will better describe what my writing simply can’t.

EAT.

The food in Israel was nothing short of amazing. On the first day that we went out for lunch, I think I ate enough for the rest of the week, for a family of four. I had four pita breads all to myself and an endless supply of hummus, chicken, falafel, vegetables, French fries… you name it. But it was the way in which all of our meals were presented to us that was especially magnificent. We were made to feel like royalty! They took such great care of us and presented each meal in such a detailed, ornate, elaborate and artistic way.  These pictures truly don’t do it justice.

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What an indescribable feeling it was to eat to our hearts content and in such a lavish setting. Thank you to Susie Castillo, Miss USA 2003 for capturing most of those AMAZING pictures of our meals!

Literally, every single meal was fit for a royal court and dignitaries, ambassadors, VIPs… so of course we felt overwhelmingly appreciative, gracious and ate like Queens. On this particular night we were joined by former Israeli Ambassador of the UN, Gabriella Shalev.


PRAY.

I felt closer to God than ever before in the week I spent in Israel. For me, being in the holy land was cleansing, healing and the biggest learning experience of my entire life. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit with me everywhere I went.

I felt closer to God than ever before in the week I spent in Israel. For me, being in the holy land was cleansing, healing and the biggest learning experience of my entire life. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit with me everywhere I went.

From the Western Wall (also known as the wailing wall in the Old City of Jerusalem where I was honored with the task of praying for several of you - THANK YOU to my bestie Kristen for capturing this picture of me leaning against the wall and praying!!!) to the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee...it was all just so magical and stunning to pray on an entirely different level. It truly left me so speechless and I felt like I was emotionally melting away any grief, pain, confusion, hurt or any other ailment holding me back in my life.  Such an intense wave of emotions.

Praying along the Western Wall (also known as the wailing wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.)

I was honored with the task of praying for several of you – THANK YOU to my bestie Kristen for capturing this picture of me leaning against the wall and praying!!!) to the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee…it was all just so magical and stunning to pray on an entirely different level. It truly left me so speechless and I felt like I was emotionally melting away any grief, pain, confusion, hurt or any other ailment holding me back in my life. Such an intense wave of emotions.

Lighting candles in prayer at The Church of the Holy Sepulchrer.

Lighting candles in prayer at The Church of the Holy Sepulchrer.

This is the exact spot where Jesus Christ was crucified. I was able to kneel down and pray over the shrine. It was incredible!

This is the exact spot where Jesus Christ was crucified. I was able to kneel down and pray over the shrine. It was incredible!

I bought some rosaries and other gifts in the Old City of Jerusalem and prayed over them at The Church of the Holy Sepulchrer. This is the actual stone slab where the body of Jesus Christ was cleaned off after he died.

I bought some rosaries and other gifts in the Old City of Jerusalem and prayed over them at The Church of the Holy Sepulchrer. This is the actual stone slab where the body of Jesus Christ was cleaned off after he died.

Praying with Susie.

Praying with Susie.

This was a level of prayer i will never forget. I will be thankful for the rest of my life for this experience.  And I pray you feel something stirring up inside of you simply by reading about my experience and seeing these pictures.

This was a level of prayer I will never forget. I will be thankful for the rest of my life for this experience. And I pray you feel something stirring up inside of you simply by reading about my experience and seeing these pictures.

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It was such an honor to be interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network about my blog! Speechless! I was able to talk about the Inner Beauty of Israel. Too cool!

It was such an honor to be interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network about my blog! Speechless! I was able to talk about the Inner Beauty of Israel. Too cool!

Swimming in the Dead Sea

Swimming in the Dead Sea

Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee

I remember one moment in particular when we were on our boat ride in the Sea of Galilee listening to some praise and worship music- I felt like I was literally floating in the clouds. The power of prayer is simply priceless and to be able to say that I prayed in Israel is truly a dream come true for me. I pray to go back to Israel again very soon.


LOVE.

SHE SAID YES! After a whirlwind trip of eating and praying in Israel, I got to spend the weekend in New York City with some of my very best girlfriends for a “girls trip” – yet little did our girl Nia Sanchez know that we were REALLY there for her surprise engagement!!! Extra exclamation marks for that!!!!

SHE SAID YES!

After a whirlwind trip of eating and praying in Israel, I got to spend the weekend in New York City with some of my very best girlfriends for a “girls trip” – yet little did our girl Nia Sanchez know that we were REALLY there for her surprise engagement!!! Extra exclamation marks for that!!!!

Nia is the reigning Miss USA and she’s been dating her man, Daniel Booko, for about a year and a half. It has been so much fun watching their love story unfold. So when Daniel called all of us ladies going to NYC for the weekend to inform us that he would be proposing while we were there, we got so much more excited about our trip.   We were so honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of tricking Nia into joining us for a “rooftop dinner and some drinks” that night (as well as making sure she got all dressed up and got her nails done that day too, etc.)

Nia is the reigning Miss USA and she’s been dating her man, Daniel Booko, for about a year and a half. It has been so much fun watching their love story unfold. So when Daniel called all of us ladies going to NYC for the weekend to inform us that he would be proposing while we were there, we got so much more excited about our trip. We were so honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of tricking Nia into joining us for a “rooftop dinner and some drinks” that night (as well as making sure she got all dressed up and got her nails done that day too, etc.)

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I am so blessed to have such a loving group of girlfriends. My time in NYC was all about LOVE!

I am so blessed to have such a loving group of girlfriends. My time in NYC was all about LOVE!

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

This was just minutes after it happened. We were so happy and overflowing with LOVE!

This was just minutes after it happened. We were so happy and overflowing with LOVE!

If you know me well, you know I’m a huge fan of fairytale love stories, romance, relationships, being swept off your feet, the whole nine. I just love Love so much. I’m totally and completely a relationship type person. And just as much, I’m also totally and completely a family oriented person. I am really attracted to men with strong relationships with his family. I’ve even been known to encourage boyfriends in my past to send flowers and/or a random call or text to his mom and sisters, if applicable.  I love that stuff.

I also dream of my future husbands’ family being so in love with me and being excited to welcome me into their family.  This is why being part of Nia’s engagement completely solidified the importance of being embraced and accepted by your partners’ family.

This is Daniels sister. She is the cutest!! I think this picture really captures the love the Booko family has for Nia. She was tremendous help to Daniel on this unforgettable day. She drove out from Boston to NYC the day before to help set up the rooftop with candles, flowers, pictures, balloons, champagne, and a candy bar. Too sweet. She also made sure the happy couple called up the rest of the family to share the exciting news right away. Hearing how happy his family sounded with each phone call was so beautifully overwhelming. They love Nia so much. I was bawling.  It’s so important. Love and support from family is priceless.

Nia hugging her soon to be sister-in-law, right after the proposal.

This is Daniels sister. She is the cutest!! I think this picture really captures the love the Booko family has for Nia. She was tremendous help to Daniel on this unforgettable day. She drove out from Boston to NYC the day before to help set up the rooftop with candles, flowers, pictures, balloons, champagne, and a candy bar. Too sweet. She also made sure the happy couple called up the rest of the family to share the exciting news right away. Hearing how happy his family sounded with each phone call was so beautifully overwhelming. They love Nia so much. I was bawling. It’s so important. Love and support from family is priceless. Ironically, just hours before the engagement, Nia shared with us how much she wanted to be part of Daniel’s amazing family one day. I took all of this as just validation and confirmation for my heart. Family is everything.

Ironically, just hours before the engagement, Nia shared with us how much she wanted to be part of Daniel’s amazing family one day. I took all of this as just validation and confirmation for my heart. Family is everything.   I can think of no greater way to wrap up my Eat Pray Love journey than to witness my friends dream love story become a reality so whimsically. Nia has such a GLOW to her now that she is so madly in love. I think most women would agree that when we are loved like never before, then we are unstoppable and can't help but to reciprocate that love right back to our man. And that’s the way love should be…

I can think of no greater way to wrap up my Eat Pray Love journey than to witness my friends dream love story become a reality so whimsically. Nia has such a GLOW to her now that she is so madly in love. I think most women would agree that when we are loved like never before, then we are unstoppable and can’t help but to reciprocate that love right back to our man. And that’s the way love should be…

A little sidenote about this picture of me in front of the L O V E statue... I honestly didn't even go looking for it! We just so happened to stumble across it on our way to dinner. I saw it and immediately started to cry. I felt like it was God concluding my Eat Pray Love journey so poetically. I repeat, I wasn't even looking for it! And yet BAM, there it was...and it found me.

LOVE.

A little sidenote about this picture of me in front of the L O V E statue… I honestly didn’t even go looking for it! We just so happened to stumble across it on our way to dinner. I saw it and immediately started to cry. I felt like it was God concluding my Eat Pray Love journey so poetically. I repeat, I wasn’t even looking for it! And yet BAM, there it was…and it found me.

And that’s exactly how I promise to live the rest of my dating life.  I won’t go looking for it or try so long and so hard to make something work. I know in my heart that when I’m least expecting it, it will find ME. He will pursue me, court me, protect me, and never give up on me.  I know it won’t be easy, love never is, but I also know it shouldn’t be so hard either.  #love

That’s another thing I learned while in Israel – life is so precious and tomorrow has no guarantees. In the event of a bomb threat, everyone has fifteen seconds to get to a bomb shelter. Fifteen seconds. When I heard that, I promised myself to enjoy every second of my life.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

I love you all for reading this!!

3 Things Israel Confirmed For Me In Just One Day

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After my first 24 hours in Israel I can honestly say my life will never be the same. Imagine where my mind will be after my full week here!? It’s hard to put into words just how amazing this experience has been so far, but I will try. (Please excuse the typos – We are about to run out for the day but I wanted to get this posted before I left!)

Day One was spent on a tour of the Barzilai Medical Center which treats many of the injured from Gaza and Israel. We were privileged to visit and hand out toys in the children’s ward. Afterwards we were off to a high school in Sderot which is right on the frontline of Gaza. Yeah, I was scared. But when I realized that these kids live in this fear every single day, I recognized how truly privileged I am and suddenly felt fearless, and really damn thankful too. Saw my first bomb shelter ever on campus…

We also visited a Police Station in Sderot where we saw firsthand just a few of the remains of rockets fired at Israel.

Lunch was amazing… (so that’s what hummus is supposed to taste like…) Hey #Merica, just so you know, our hummus is no Bueno compared to the real thing!

We ended day one on a tour of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Base where I met the most extraordinary people in my life. In particular, my conversations with the women on the frontline were the most compelling.

Here are the 3 Things Israel Confirmed for me in just One Day

1)     Being educated is so sexy – As we sat in a conference room at the IDF and listened to the personal stories of these young men and women in the military, it became clear that even through a thin language barrier, these were extremely educated people… I mean, kids. They knew e v e r y t h i n g in great detail about their country, its history, statistics, facts and everything else in between. It was really powerful to be amongst such intelligent individuals who were as passionate about defending their country as they were about knowing every single thing about it. Also notably impressive was that there was no sense of “man vs woman” or women being treated differently just because they were women. Nope. All equal here.

Dinner later that day with former Israeli Ambassador of the UN Gabriella Shalev was equally significant of the importance of obtaining a higher education. Her resume was miles long and I just felt so honored to be in her presence. There is something soooo attractive and alluring about a beautiful and educated mind. She didn’t have to say much for all of us to feel how powerful she was.

2)     Loving your job is as important as drinking water every day. – On the bus leaving the base, a few of the female soldiers got to ride back with us. My friend Kristen who is also on this amazing adventure with me asked one of the women, “how do you stay so happy?” – Her response was that she wakes up every single day “so excited” about what she does. HELLO BRAVE AND SELFLESS WARRIOR… I found that to be absolutely incredible. This woman in particular is 24 years old and has been serving for five years. She said, “I promised myself that every day I would be excited and to never let go of that promise.” Five years later, and I can honestly say its been a while since I’ve seen someone light up so when talking about what they do. This is a woman who risks her life that I’m talking about!!! So the next time I want to complain about work in America, I’m just gunna shut the heck up… wow.

3)     Never judge a book by its cover. – If Israel had a “cover” title based on what the media portrays, it would be “danger” “warfare” “disagreement” “pain” “death” “conflict”… and yet after just one day I’ve come to realize that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. When I told a few people where I would be going for a week, I got a lot of responses like “but why?” “have you been watching the news?” “don’t you know what’s going on over there?” “why Israel? Now? Really? Are you crazy?”

And I would lying to you if I said that these same thoughts didn’t cross my mind too. They certainly did. However, I think this is what life is all about – getting out there and seeing the world firsthand, not just the exotic and “safe” places, but also the places that are seemingly in trouble. If God presented this amazing opportunity to me, I know it’s with great purpose and I trust He will protect all of us throughout the journey. There is a reason I am here. Reasons I haven’t even been able to fully process quite yet. (I’m honestly still a bit in shock that I’m here. Thankful is an understatement though.)

At the welcome dinner receptions, all of us were presented with necklaces that read, “One nation” on them. The presenter explained how significant it was that we always remember that despite all the things we “see” and “hear” about Israel, that there is still an immense sense of inner beauty all around this place. It’s within the hearts of the innocent children and families who really just want a quiet and peaceful lifestyle. It’s in the hospitals which despite ample difficulties, still manage to perform lifesaving operations and provide treatments. It’s in the selflessness of the military and their passion to serve their country. It’s everywhere and it’s so clear you can almost touch it with your bare hands. Never judge a book by its cover. As a former reporter I cant tell you how much the news annoys the crap out of me…

It’s important to stay informed but don’t get sucked into believing every little last “detail” that gets dragged on and fabricated in the media. That’s annoying and stupid.

Time to head out for Day Two! We are going to The Old City of Jerusalem and visiting the prayer walls! I am in shock that I get to experience something so amazing as this. Thanks to everyone who sent prayer requests to me on social media. I read each and every single one of your messages and will take them with me today. STAY TUNED FOR MORE POSTS LIKE THIS! 🙂