This is my 11th annual review on this blog. I don’t write as often on this personal blog since the food blog is more than I can handle these days. But, I am a sucker for annual traditions, and 11 years is such a long streak to abandon.
2018 was our first full year living in North Carolina. I worked hard in 2017 to make North Carolina feel like my home. I’ve succeeded because home now feels equal parts North Carolina and Texas. 2018 was my third year owning my photography business, and I doubled my income from 2017. I still struggled to feel financially secure, but doubling my income from the previous year made me feel empowered and motivated going into 2019!
I have mixed feelings about this year. As I started writing this recap today, I was going to simply say 2018 sucked. But going through it month by month, I was reminded that it’s never that simple. 2018 broke my heart, but there were many moments of beauty along the way.
So here goes, my annual month-to-month review of the year.
In January, I experienced my first snow storm! We had about a foot of snowfall in a day. This Texan learned that snow seeps into zippers and that snow boots are worth an investment. I made my first snowman! Also in January, I spent a good chunk of the month planning my first event with my friend Danae for February. We had weekly meetings over drinking chocolate and churros. The meetings were basically friendship dates which were so lovely.
That event was a Galentine networking event and Danae and I were excited to sell out our tickets. I met a few great friends that day. I have no idea if we can pull it off it again, but I’d love to make this a yearly event. (Finding a venue and keeping it affordable are our biggest challenges.) Also in February, I took Valentine portraits of my doggos. And lastly, my podcast that I shared with 3 of my long-distance girlfriends ended after 2 years and 100 episodes. As I’m writing this, I still miss meeting these girls once a week via Google Hangout to talk about pop culture.
In March, I visited Duke Gardens twice. The first time because I overate at dim sum and needed to walk off the food baby. The second time, one of my best friends had a job interview in North Carolina and we had a couple of days to play! She didn’t get the job, but it was for the best as now she’s in an awesome role in Austin, her favorite city. On a silly note, I read about a fun trend of taking portraits at ugly locations. So I roped my friend (also named Danae, I have two friends named Danae!) into being my model at Hobby Lobby. My only regret was I forgot to take behind-the-scenes photos. It was so funny to see her crammed inside of floral displays.
I started the month of April with an April Fool’s joke that bit me in the butt. I posted photos from a styled wedding shoot and said that Sugarface and I got married. I didn’t think it was that convincing of a prank but I fooled some of my closest friends and had quite a few people upset with me.
I had set aside money years ago when my parents still worked at their convenience store. One of my worries was them not being able to travel at all when they had given me such a privileged life that included the ability to travel. So many years ago, I started squirreling away money specifically to treat them to a trip. I had visions of taking them to Vietnam when they retired. They retired 5 years ago, and the trip they requested was Vegas, much cheaper than what I had wanted. So some time after Vegas, I treated them to a trip to Miami because my bestie made it very affordable by letting us stay with her. This year, I still had the last of the money left in that gift fund and thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to take mom and dad to North Carolina?
So I did! I flew to Texas twice so I could literally and physically escort them to and from North Carolina. I spent nine days with them in North Carolina, which was the longest amount of time I had spent with them thus far. (Little did I know, I’d be spending weeks in the hospital with both of them later this year.) It was such a special trip to me. Before my dad immigrated to the states, he was a high school teacher in Vietnam. He was actually sent to UNC in the 70s for an extended stay to learn how to teach birth control to high school students. I was able to take dad to some of his previous haunts and recreated a few photos from his first trip here almost 50 years prior.
Because of all the traveling in April, I also quit my part-time job and became 100 percent self-employed.
In May, Sugarface and I and the dogs experienced one of the North Carolina beaches for the first time! Our friends Cassie and Justin invited us for a weekend at their beach house. It was such a wonderful treat. They were perfect tour guides and travel buddies. I was shocked to see Neva, our lab who usually loves swimming, not enjoy the ocean. I guess she’s more of a lake dog. You can read more about that weekend on my food blog. I also joined a few bloggers on a day trip to Fayettevile.
I started the month of June in Texas working photo shoots. I am forever thankful for my Texas clients! Finding work in Texas made moving to North Carolina easier for me because I could also see my parents and friends. This was also the month that one of my heroes died. I spent a full day crying over Anthony Bourdain’s death.
In July, Sugarface and I hosted his mom for a few days. The three of us went to see the lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center on Fourth of July. My friends Aaron and Gloria visited the Carolinas and I met them up at a great Kusama exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Arts. Mid-month, I drove down to Charleston, South Carolina to go to a blogging conference with my friend Jane. It was fun to see a few Austin bloggers in South Carolina. Finally, I turned the dreaded 35 and had mixed feelings. On the day of my birthday, I had dim sum with a few North Carolina darlings and then officiated a wedding for strangers I met on the internet.
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â€œOh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn't go swimming in those warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen.â€ â€•Â Anne Lamott
August and April of this year tie for my favorite months of 2018. In August, one of my old Texas coworkers and friend hired me to shoot her family reunion on the Outer Banks. While I was there, I also photographed a collaboration with Red Bull Organics soda. It was one of my favorite branded collabs of the year. As part of that same collaboration, I also went with Danae to Asheville for a day. It was her first time in Asheville and I couldn’t have picked a better partner in crime. It rained all day and she walked around the gardens of the Biltmore barefoot, practically singing in happiness because she loves rain.
Mid-August marked living in North Carolina for a full year. That year flew by so fast!
I closed out the month of August by going to Mexico with my friend Hayden of Austin Food Magazine. He went for a press trip and so generously invited me as his guest. During that trip, we stayed at a wonderful new resort called UNICO. I ate cerviche and drank pina coladas while taking a bubble bath outside. I know. Ridiculous. It was this trip that made me decide I want to save up for a drone.
In September, Sugarface and I took a mini trip to Asheville with the dogs. We stayed the night and spent a day hiking Catawba Falls. It was our first time and now I can’t wait to take our out-of-town visitors to this park in the future! Hurricane Florence was supposed to hit the Triangle really hard. The day before, Parlor Blow Dry Bar treated me to hair and makeup. It felt a little wasteful because I went home to work and prep for the hurricane. At least there is a photo to commemorate and prove that I can clean up nicely with professional help! I also spent a few days of September stalking a big red ball around town.
October was the turning point this year. October turned what was a good year to a terrible year. Still, I couldn’t deny the amazing thing that’s tied to my dad having a stroke. I typically plan my work trips to Texas when I get at least two inquiries for photography work. I had Texas trips planned for November and December and wasn’t going to come for October, but coincidentally two of my previous clients inquired about family sessions. I will always be grateful to these two families because they essentially saved my dad’s life by being the reason I was in Texas. I finished my last shoot in Austin on a Monday morning and had lunch with my good friend Jane. She snapped that photo of me before I headed to my parents’ house in Houston to spend one night with them before flying out the next day. It was that very night, that my dad showed signs of a stroke. It was the scariest 48 hours of my life and the only thing that could have made it worse, was if I didn’t happen to be there in Houston. My mom’s instinct was to put him to bed early. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but there was also something incredibly lucky about that night.
In November, I left for North Carolina on the 5th after extending my trip from October. While I was feeling helpless in North Carolina, I channeled some of my helpless energy trying to support my parents from afar. I created a Go Fund Me page for my dad to help with the financial strain of serious health issues. I shyly published it to my Facebook late night on a Monday, something I wouldn’t recommend if you’re actually trying to get eyes on an online post. I was so humbled to see within a week, we raised $10,000 dollars to help with my dad’s care. I was able to spend another 10 days with my parents mid-November. We were lucky to have exactly ten days approved at this amazing rehab hospital, the fourth best in the nation. The level of care my dad received during his short stay here was so wonderful, and I miss it every day. My dad suffered some complications and was readmitted to ICU towards the end of my trip. We never made it back to that rehab hospital which is one of the many small heartbreaks I find myself nursing.
I flew back to North Carolina and spent Thanksgiving with Sugarface and his mom. His mom made us duck confit for Thanksgiving. It was the first time for me to experience this famed dish of hers. I have vivid memories of Sugarface back when we were just friends raving about her duck confit. Life is funny sometimes. I had no idea when he was just a cute co-worker and friend telling me about his mom’s duck confit, that years later, I’d be dating him and have a relationship with this wonderful human being who is his mom.
At last, December. I attended a wedding of a couple of my dear friends in Austin. I flew into Houston the week of their wedding, to spend most of my week with my parents. Dad’s facility required a lot of micromanaging to get dad good care. He lost a lot of weight since his discharge from that beloved rehab hospital. I found out he lost about 20 lbs in just a few weeks. I’m still worried about his weightloss. Sugarface flew into Houston the day before the wedding. It was so nice to have him physically there with me in Texas. We drove to Austin for the wedding and spent just short of 24 hours there. It was our first time back there since moving a year and 4 months ago. We squeezed in two meals at places Sugarface missed, and I took him to one of my gigs early in the morning. We drove back to Houston for his flight, but his flight got canceled because of snow in North Carolina. Which meant Sugarface was at the mercy of my packed schedule of a full day of photo shoots. I flew back to North Carolina mid-December. During the week of Christmas, I was heartbroken because my dad was put in a nursing home a few days after Christmas. I spent a few days stomping around because I wanted to put off his nursing home admittance so he could have more days of therapy. I’m finally less angry. My next trip to Texas is in a couple of weeks and I cannot wait to see him.
Tonight on New Year’s Eve, I’ll be doing what I did last year. Eating dinner with Danae. I’ll be home before midnight to ring in the year with Sugarface and our doggos.
At the end of this year, I’ve felt disheartened, defeated, and scared. But I’m glad I took the time today to write out my traditional month-by-month recap. It was a good exercise to see that nothing is all bad. I’m praying hard for my dad’s recovery in 2019 and my goal is to double my photography income in 2019.
If you made it through this whole post, thank you so much for all the support. Be it by sending me kind words and vibes for my family, hiring me for photos, helping me fundraise for my dad’s care and medical debts, engaging with my content, recommending books and restaurants, letting me vent and rant, or simply reading what I put out there. Just thank you for every little thing. I appreciate it and am so grateful.
I wish you a Happy New Year filled with love and light!