January happened in the blink of an eye so here I am two months into the year posting my highlights of 2019. You won't see too many wedding pictures here. This is a personal post and since 2019 was a huge game-changer, you'll hear about most of it.
My first wedding of last year was my sister Vanesa + Robert's elopement. Nothing too fancy, just a legal document. Of course, this meant she'd now have to live with the boy. I'm an emotional girl and I'm not very good at hiding how I feel, but I think I held it together pretty well up until right after we took our last picture in the apartment. It was bittersweet because it was a sign that time had passed.
At first, this place didn't feel like home. The first few nights of stormy weather, we caught one another trying to sneak into the other's room. We grabbed our pillows and like a scene from a sitcom, we met in the hallway "Your room or my room?".
We filled the space between these walls with inspirational quotes, images of our adventures, intense conversations, and wine. Lots of wine. We celebrated the little victories like when a photo of mine was published in a magazine or when she enrolled in College. We talked-out the pain of separation and divorce. It's a topic no one likes to talk about, but anyone that's been through it knows that it feels like two steps in one direction and one step back. Some days were made for bra-less livingroom dancing and others for sleeping and relaxing. After a while, this place didn't feel so cold and it started to feel a lot more like home. I left the gallery wall up until the very last minute and as I was taking it down, I felt another chapter of closing.
It wasn't until after feeling the sudden bite of the Swedish winter while walking the bridge to Gamla Stan that I realized I MADE IT TO STOCKHOLM IN ONE PIECE!! This is a big deal for a person like me who had an irrational fear of flying over water because of sharks. (It's too long of an explanation to write). The Swedes are some of the most beautiful people I've ever seen and are proud -- yet humble. I immediately noticed how underdressed I was to be walking the town. The streets are a runway and they walk with their favorite high-fashion coats and attractive scarfs. I fell in love with the soft sounds of walking on cobblestone and the lively flare of Viking culture. I departed Sweden with a joyous heart and a new stamp on my passport. I can't wait to revisit this beautiful place. There's so much more to see than what I experience in only 4 days.
I called my sister and told her about a seminar that was happening in Egypt where two of my favorite photographers would be. Her response was, "Do it now before you think too much about it". So on a whim, or call it a manic episode, I booked the seminar and I booked the flight.
I wouldn't even have recovered from the jetlag from Sweden before I took off to Egypt. I was only in the U.S. for four days. I couldn't even tell you what day it was.
Anxiety gets the best of me so I made sure to share my itinerary and location from both my phones with my family, and I made sure to get all the shots I needed. Friends warned me about travel advisories and my brothers told me to kick anyone in the balls that came at me. I went through the motions of getting my bags checked and it wasn't until I realized I had made a mistake on the time I'd arrive that I started to panic! A taxi was supposed to be waiting for my arrival to take me to the hotel but silly me told them I'd arrive at 5 pm instead of 5 am. I called the hotel and they told me to get money from the bank at the airport and get a taxi. I later realized they wouldn't open for another 5 hours, so I tried the ATM instead -- which was in Arabic. It sounds ridiculous, but in an empty terminal, I caved under a table with my bags and just sat there for a while. I felt defeated. Eventually, I saw a man walk up to the same ATM and I watched from a distance as I tried to memorize the buttons he was pushing to withdrawal money. As soon as he was done I immediately walked up to the ATM and withdrew.... the button on the bottom right? That looked like enough.
I knew walking out of the airport I'd find a crowd of men that spoke another language, guiding me to their cars so I knew I had to mentally prepare myself. This happens quite a lot when I'm alone. Just as I suspected, people were grabbing my bags and pulling me in one or another direction. I found someone that spoke English and hopped in. I told him where to take me but along the way, he kept asking me if I wanted to go to the Bazaar or another area. "No thank you, my husband and brothers are waiting for me." Here's a picture of my driver. He has 5 daughters.
My anxiety had me thinking, "Well, this is where I die" so I loudly had my GPS on to make sure we were going the right way. On this 20 minute drive, I saw hungry kids and soldiers with rifles on the streets. It was definitely a culture shock after having just visited the place IKEA was born. The hotel had guards at the front with more rifles and when I walked into the lobby I was welcomed with open arms by Lelia. I was expected to arrive 2 hours earlier after I called, but as I mentioned, I needed to gather myself. "I thought you had been kidnapped!" That was shocking to hear, but I was glad to be where I needed to be. I walked into my room and cried out all the built-up emotions. This was my OH-SH**-what-did-I-just-do moment. My how-did-I-get-here-and-what-as-I-thinking moment. I was so hungry but too tired to care, so I passed out on the bed.
Here are a couple of photos of the hotel:
I love this photo because I think it describes our friendship perfectly. I actually met Beth at a 10-person seminar in Washington, DC back in August 2017 and although she only lives 6 hours away, here we are across the globe meeting once again.
The following day I and two other ladies woke up before the sun came up to get a lift on a hot air balloon. I guess I didn't wear the proper clothing because I was freezing in the desert and our driver let me borrow the scarf on his head.
The Egyptian sunrise was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen and I was amazed by there was a clear distinction between the farmlands and the entrances to the desert.
After the hot air balloons, our driver decided he'd be our personal chauffeur and took us to have coffee and falafel.
Our newly-found chauffer called himself "Mr. No Problem" because whatever we asked, he would make it happen. Mr. No Problem chartered us a ferryboat to Banana Island (Gezira el-Mozh) where we walked through the farmland and ate bananas straight from the trees.
I was in awe to be in the very waters my favorite bible story mentions where Moses was found in the Nile River.
Of course, the seminar with Lelia and Jose was a dream.
I made a new very talented friend from Germany and connected with a curly-haired Puerto Rican.
I regret not visiting the Bazaar but I did do some shopping and even met the lady that made the scarfs I purchased.
On our last day, we entered the desert at sunrise where we were advised to hide below the dunes so that we weren't seen. There were many reasons for that.
After the desert shoots, we visited The Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu where we ran into a class that was on a field trip. They politely asked for selfies and to touch my hair.
When I was a little girl, I would flip through National Geographic or watch the travel channel and learn about places like this one and wonder what it would be like to discover an ancient tomb. It turns out there are still over 400 tombs to be excavated. Sadly, many of the burial items have been stolen throughout the years, but what a historic treasure!
I did everything the CDC says not to do. I drank the water, I ate the food from the street and I dipped my feet in the Nile River. It was an unforgettable experience and the friendly Egyptian people along with the people I met while I was there are what made this trip as amazing as it was.
My second elopement of the year was also in the family -- the goofball of all the Moreno's and my big brother that always makes sure my car is running as it's supposed to. Gamaliel (aka Gumby) looks complete and happier than ever. I gained a sister that loves to facetime and keeps me in check when I'm starting to look sloppy. Most importantly, they love Sunday brunch as much, if not more.
I left Kyle behind and moved back to Austin! This is where I belong, near the greenbelt and blocks away from downtown. Being the boss of my own domain is a great feeling but it also means learning I had to learn to kill my own creepy-crawlers when they tried moving in. Somehow living alone taught me my strengths showed me my uglies.
I spent countless hours at IKEA, Target, and HomeGoods just to get my place the way I wanted. I put up a new arrangement of my gallery wall, started patio gardening and binge-watched episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I made it my safe-haven and tranquil place to decompress.
The past 3 years have been rolling hills of highs and lows. I'm proud to say I'm more open with my family about my mental health, and it's not uncommon to be asked uncomfortable questions by them like,
"How are you feeling today?"
"Have you been taking your pills?"
"Have you had suicidal thoughts lately?" "How are you dealing with it?"
"Are you still going to therapy?"
Being more open about this topic has moved people to reach out to me privately via social media. For me, it was no longer acceptable to keep quiet when I realized how many people suffer from mental illness and never get help. It's been helpful to surround myself by those who either don't understand but won't judge or those who do understand. They get that some days "I don't feel well" can mean I have diarrhea or that I don't feel emotionally stable.
I've learned to stay away from sugar and caffeine because they make me swing from one side to another. The same goes for alcohol.
I've learned to say "No" to the things that I know will have me emotionally triggered.
When I get too anxious, I focus my mind on something else like Sudoku.
Not everyone understands the difference between being sad and being depressed, and even less understand the difference between being unipolar and being bipolar. In addition to that, mental illnesses come in bundles which means they include anxiety and even those lovely panic attacks. I'm no one to coach others, but I'm available to anyone that feels lost.
I'm thankful to have such a large and supportive family. We don't always agree, but there's always unconditional love there.
Love you all,