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!!

8 Traits of an Inner Beauty Queen

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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This past month, I’ve been watching a huge dream of mine come true right before my very eyes. The “Miss Inner Beauty Pageant” kicked off this month and it’s my new baby!

I’ve dreamt of a pageant that’s all about INNER beauty for years. In all my years in the pageant world I can honestly say I’ve been wildly and abundantly blessed because I’ve met some of the most beautiful people (not JUST women by the way) that the world has to offer.

And I’m not talking about the physically beautiful people; I’m talking about the people who radiate from within. From genuine pageant fans and supporters from all over the world (shout out to John Baker!), to outstanding pageant directors and contestants. I gravitate towards the good ones. Thank you, God!

Sometimes though, the women competing who naturally and effortlessly possess that sense of INNER BEAUTY don’t always “win” the big crown in the pageant. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone with so much of that inner beauty I love so much, walk away empty handed.

So that’s why The Miss Inner Beauty pageant means the WORLD to me. The girls range from 7- 18yrs old and are part of the Department of Children and Family Services foster care system. This pageant is an opportunity to increase their self-esteem and encourage them to focus on their inner beaut traits throughout their lives rather than the outer. How awesome is it that they are learning these things at such young and impressionable ages!?

And even though I was coaching and mentoring them this week, I think I was the one who walked away with some new valuable lessons.

In watching and listening to THEM, I came up with this list of 8 traits of an inner beauty queen:

1. She accepts herself just as she is. – The girls were each given a compact mirror to look into and then tell everyone in the group what they loved about themselves. One contestant said, “I love my glasses,” and, “I see a happy girl.” Another said, “My front teeth have a gap, but I like it. It makes me unique.” She’s 8.

2. She doesn’t compete with others. – It may be a pageant competition, but there was absolutely no sense of competing amongst this group. I watched as they made suggestions to one another on how to walk and even offered ideas to each other for the talent competition. I heard, “I love that song! I can’t wait to hear you sing that!”

3. She’s fun to be around. – There was a clear bond and friendship amongst these ladies. They were having fun playing dress up together and even more fun giggling as they learned how to deliver their introductions.

4. She sets goals for herself. – One girl is designing and making her own dress for the pageant because she wants to go to FIDM (Fashion Institute) after high school. Additionally, several of the older girls expressed a desire to go to college and talked about steps to making it happen.

5. She has a generous heart. – I watched one girl give up her dress to her friend simply because it was the only one that fit her.

6. She has an open mind. – The ladies listened to every word I said, eager to learn and apply it. One contestant couldn’t find a gown that fit her body type. Instead of stressing or pouting, she let it roll off her shoulders and said “it’s ok, there’s a dress out there for me, I just know it.”

7. She walks in confidence. – Obviously, part of the pageant entails walking on stage in their pageant gowns. I loved seeing them carry themselves with a new sense of confidence after our self-esteem workshop. (And it appears that the girls are actually most excited for the talent competition! Some will sing, some will dance, and one will even be sharing a poem that she wrote. That takes confidence!)

8. She supports and encourages those around her. – It was a joy to watch the girls cheering each other on as we practiced walking on stage and even help one another try on their pageant dresses. They were complimenting each other like sisters would.

As you can see, nothing on this list was about who had the prettiest face or the best gown or the most money. In the end, none of those things matter. How you treat yourself and others does.

I can’t wait to watch this pageant really take off for years to come. It may be a small ripple in the water now, but I envision it becoming a huge wave later.