8.09.2016

my favorite souvenir.

(Left: Reflective birthday cat, "What does this birthday MEAN?" 
Right: Spirited birthday cat, "Screw this birthday hat.")

Four years ago today, I slammed my laptop shut and demanded Gabe drive us out into the Kuwaiti desert...immediately.

Why, you ask? An orphaned 3-week-old kitten in Kuwait had caught my attention on the internet, and if we didn't go pick it up right now, life wasn't worth living. Gabe rolled his eyes, assuming my pleading was all a bit hyperbolic. (It usually is.) It was nearing 9pm, and he was less than pleased about spending the remainder of the evening attempting to navigate our way to one of the thousands of identical sand colored address-less apartment buildings in Kuwait to pick up a feral street cat. I pled my case:

"He's only three weeks old, and doesn't even have a mom or siblings to keep him warm! How can you say no to something that small and helpless? I promise, it won't change anything in our house. Cats are so easy!" (Hah. Sweet, sweet naivety. Also, "he" turned out to be a "she".)

Gabe slowly started putting on his shoes, while I shoved the keys at him and impatiently flapped my hands in the "COME ON ALREADY!" gesture that wives have oh-so-lovingly used for centuries. Out into the desert we went, and hours later we returned home with the teeniest little kitten I've ever held.


(We had a killer view of the Persian Gulf. I used to write inspirational quotes on our window.)

The past four years have flown, and along the way we've learned that feral kittens will change things in your house, and no, they will not be "easy". (Whoops. Sorry, Gabe.) In so many ways, we see her feral roots show through...like the fact that she has not let a vet touch her for the past three years, or that she'll willingly have a hissing , swiping showdown with an adult human male sitting on her corner of the couch.

She's a feisty one, and has taught me so many great life lessons.

Lessons I Learned From My Cat

 Don't buy a gift if you could amuse the recipient with only an empty box.
You can't have nice things anymore.
Always check your luggage for stowaways before leaving the house.
Act like you own the world, and people will start to believe it.
Cat snuggles > therapy.
Never buy in bulk: taste preferences will change as soon as you do.
Just because you're little doesn't mean you don't matter.
Don't be afraid to speak up our swat out if something doesn't feel right.
You don't own a cat. It owns you.

In hindsight, we realized we brought home very few souvenirs from our time in Kuwait: a cheap scarf from the Souk, a few seashells collected from the Persian Gulf, and an adorable rag-tag street cat with a real attitude problem. The latter is clearly the best souvenir we could have bought (er, picked up curbside near a nameless apartment building in a foreign country). 

Happy Fourth Gotcha Day, you magnificent beast. We can't imagine life without you.


Welcome to the World, Lucky Bear. from bethany wuerch on Vimeo.

8.08.2016

nine hundred and forty four days later.




Yesterday, my phone buzzed with a text from Gabe:

"Your blog domain is about to expire. Do you want to renew it again?"

I set down my phone, and let out a whooshing, melodramatic sigh. This is annual conversational territory for us, usually responded to with a half-hearted "I guess I should"...but after 943 days of my blog gathering dust, I knew I needed to either retire this space or return to make use of it (which would include deleting all the spammy love spell and fortuneteller comments I've passively allowed to populate the comments section for the past three years).

"Let me sleep on it," I typed back. Having known me for years, he deciphered my code: I'll procrastinate on making a decision and toss a coin in the morning.

My main dilemma was this: when I blogged regularly, it was an exciting season of life. Mysterious pen-pal, turned boyfriend, turned fiancee! Romantic trips overseas! Parisian proposal! Wedding planning! Becoming an expat! Solo trips to Rome and Prague!

But, life for the past 944 days has not been particularly full of those top-of-the-roller coaster, highlight reel moments one would take time to photograph and write about. Life now is a 6am goodbye kiss on the way out the door, a walk with the dog around our quiet neighborhood. It's the daily shooing of the cat off my laptop while I respond to work emails, it's dinner eaten while watching The Daily Show. And, if we're having a particularly wild month, a wine-tasting date night squeezed in between book club meetings and family birthday parties.

Gabe and I often talk about the funny contrast between our lives just 5 years ago, and our lives now. There are days we miss the excitement of not knowing exactly where life was headed, of genuinely needing to have our passports handy at all times. Honestly, I'm not even entirely sure where my passport is these days. Is it underneath that pile of crumpled papers from the DMV? Perhaps it's tangled among that ridiculous ball of outdated iPhone cables in the junk drawer? God only knows.

Note to self: suss out my passport situation, should life ever become exciting and sexy again.

But here's the real truth: while I miss the excitement of those days gone by, I like the predictably of this season in life. The way Gabe comes home every day between 3 and 5, and that he often has a bottle of wine tucked under his arm. That our pets run--meowing and barking--to meet him at the door. The way he sings that silly little greeting song we made up to sing to our pets while we kiss them "hello". How he clips a rose from the blush-blossomed rose tree he brought home one weekend, and brings it inside just to make me smile. Or the way he makes pancakes every Saturday morning, and knows exactly how I like my latte.

Or the fact that after nearly five years of marriage, we've just created a mutually agreeable laundry-folding system. If that's not a memorable moment, then I'll be damned.

These little memories deserve to be tucked away too, I decided last night. Someday I'll want to return to revisit them, to smile over these simple yet sweet days. After all, there's beauty to be found in even in the simple moments that others would rightfully view as fairly mundane, and I've missed taking the time to preserve life beyond just an Instagram photo and an attempt at a witty caption.

So, in an effort to succinctly update you on my now 30-something life, here's a rundown.

Life moments, in numbers, since early 2014

Moving trucks packed: 2
Pets adopted: 1
Jobs accepted: 3 (Gabe-2, Bethany-1)
Squabbles over boring married couple issues, like whether crockpots are safe enough to be left running while gone, or what date is appropriate for setting out fall decor: 17
Books read: 23 (approximately)
Cars purchased: 1
Peaches harvested from our backyard: Innumerable
Jars of peach jam I made: 11
Jars of hot jam dropped on the floor: 3
Businesses launched: 1
Laptops killed: 2
Children had: 0 (maybe someday we'll get around to it?)
Friends made: 9
Times I felt genuinely grateful to share a life with someone I like and love : 944

Well, then! That catches us up to speed quite nicely doesn't it? 

All that to say, hello again...and I'll be back soon. :)

1.08.2014

where i was when i wasn't here.


Throughout the course of 2013, my friends, family and the occasional kind reader would comment on my blog's radio silence...and ask if I planned to start blogging again. I never knew what to say, since the answer was not definitive, concise or logical. 

When we left Kuwait, I assumed that somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, a switch would flip and I'd be old Bethany again...ready to take photos, make stuff and write about regular ol' life in the US. I tried to start again, but just wound up staring at a lot of blank screens. In time, that creative self would simply click back on...right? 

But months passed and it just didn’t happen.
Instead of eager to start my creative life again, I felt confused about what I was supposed to do next. Frustrated that I'd lost a year of my life to a place most people can't find on a map. Disgusted with myself for gaining a bunch of weight. Nervous about being apart from my husband for seven long months, while he returned to the Middle East for work.

My mind just churned in one destructive circle as I attempted to restart life in the US, sans Gabe, and make sense of the life we'd quickly left behind in Kuwait.

Lesson learned: It's hard to restart when you haven't forgotten the past. 

Looking back at the whole year, it seemed like a failure, and so many negative messages snuck into my head. It happened slowly over the course of the year abroad and continued when I returned to the US. With each tiny perceived failure or flaw, a little note wriggled its way in:

“These pants don’t fit…because I am fat and ugly."
“I haven’t crafted or taken photos in months…because I’m not creative."
“I don’t write anymore….because I’m not interesting.”
“I just ate a cookie…because I cannot control myself.”
“My husband is working in Afghanistan, and I forgot to take care of this little errand he asked me to do…because I am a terrible wife.”
“I didn’t send a birthday gift…because I am an awful friend.”

Every aspect of my life played into these messages, and in time they became a chorus of self-fulfilling prophesies. Even if I had the best intentions to change, my mind would talk itself backwards with a, “Why start, when you’ll quit anyway? Save yourself the disappointment.”

Then, those little messages stopped manifesting themselves as attacks on character attributes or unfulfilled goals and instead became one big overarching refrain about who I was. Like a song on repeat, it was always playing, always rewriting any positive thought that happened to sneak through my dark mind.

“I am worthless. I am nothing. I am and will always be a failure.”

Oof.

That’s a hefty message…with a whole lotta baggage behind it. 

After a few months back in the US, my reaction to all this was to toss my feelings into a dark corner, even the few happy ones that were left, and operate as a numb robot for a while. Instead of processing all that muck, I threw every ounce of energy at losing the weight I’d gained abroad. Those 40 pounds followed me around every day…a nasty physical manifestation of where I had gone wrong, taunting me with every glance in a mirror. A constant reminder that I’d failed. 

I had to lose it...and I just knew that when the scale read 135 pounds, I would be whole. And so I walked. And sometimes jogged. I walked until the sun went down, peddled my bike anywhere I could. I ate healthily, hippie food and re-veganized myself. I wore yoga pants to real yoga classes. (I think my pants were confused.) All that control and all that movement felt so good.

One day, the scale read 135. But there was no magical feeling that life had begun anew. Or that I’d erased all my missteps from the previous year. I still felt all mangled up, tangled up inside.

One-thirty-five didn’t feel like enough, so I kept going. 133. 131. 130. 

And finally, the scale read 129. I rejoiced at the smallest number I’ve ever seen on a scale in my adult life, and that I'd done it all quite healthfully...but took note that once again no confetti dropped from the sky announcing..."a brand! new! Bethany!" It was just the same old me, same problems, same struggles, staring at my startlingly naked self in the mirror. And 129-pound-me still winced at her naked reflection, and at her lack of having life figured out.

I slowly began to realize this:

No number will ever make my life complete, allow me to love myself or solve all other problems I’ve created. There will never be a "perfect time" to change....and work on one’s self will never be finished. My body will never be perfect, neither will my personality, relationships, home or hobbies. There will always be room for growth and improvement, but growth can only occur long term when you have the grace to forgive yourself and the continued desire for something better.

It's time to forgive myself for falling down. Time to let it go. 

So, I made three resolutions for 2014. Two are unrelated to this topic. But, one of them is to forgive myself for my failures, perceived or real, and to stop negative self-talk. Thus far, it works. I acknowledge the negative message when it occurs, but attempt to replace it with a positive or realistic message about myself.

This sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s something I’ve gotta do. I am better than a life full of negative messages. I am worthy. I can be a success...if I get out of my own damn way.

So, now that I’ve shared where I was when I wasn’t here blogging…I’m nailing shut the 2012-2013 door. 


Here’s to 2014, friends. To starting new. To dreaming big and loving thyself…and other hippie mantras I learned in yoga. ;)

11.18.2013

a long distance advent calendar.


A few years ago, I made an intense advent calendar for Gabe. It involved 24 separate gifts, a mini-Christmas tree and lots of wrapping. Oh, and arranging it all in a box which could be shipped to Iraq for less than $50.

Ahem, overachiever.

But....now that we've been married for nearly two years, there's less pomp and circumstance in our relationship. Isn't that the way it goes? :) He'll be back in the US four days before Christmas, but will spend most of the holiday season in Afghanistan...so, I wanted to send a little cheer and make him feel remembered.
 
While perusing the local craft store, I stumbled on a burlap bag garland...24 bags on a lengthy string. The perfect little advent calendar. So, I popped down a few aisles to grab some faux greenery for $1.50 and a pack of scrapbooking numbers for $2.39.
 
Can you believe that $5 of sequined trim found it's way into my basket? So unexpected, I know. :)

 
The bags were dressed up quickly with a hot glue gun, the few items I'd picked up at the store and some ribbons from my craft hoard. Then, rather than spending money on tons of different candy or gifts...and since holiday activities aren't an option given distance...I decided to fill each little pocket with love and memories. I trimmed cream cardstock to fit the 2"x 3" bags, and then wrote out twelve things I love about my husband + twelve of my favorite memories together.
 
I kept most of my "memories" holiday related, and my "loves" were simply his most endearing qualities.

 
Into each bag, I slid one note and a tiny candy cane or mini Ghirardelli chocolate bar. (Ghirardelli has a special place in our hearts since we spent our first New Years Eve at the Fairmont Ghirardelli in San Francisco. And also, it's delicious.)
 
 
It's mushy. But it's such a quick craft and a great way to make someone feel remembered...especially if they're far away this holiday season. So long as you can list a handful of favorite memories and their endearing qualities, you could gift this to a far-away friend, your at-a-distance mom or even your kid who's off to college until right before Christmas.
 
A few suggestions:
 
If you can't find a burlap bag garland at your local craft store (I've spotted them at Beverly's and Michaels), but still want a rustic look...check Amazon for small muslin or burlap bags like these. The top of the back side of the bag can quickly be hot glued or sewn onto a piece of twine!
 
If you're a girl on a budget and fabric bags are too pricey, try a pack of small glassine envelopes or pretty kraft paper bags...both of which can likely be found at Paper Source, Michaels, etc. Decorate + number the outside, then just attach to twine with glittered clothes pins.
 
 
Also, this baby was a breeze to ship since nothing was perishable or breakable, and all the materials were very light. I just coiled the garland around a piece of cardboard and taped down both ends of the twine.
 
Ta-da.
 
Now to shop for a real gift for my husband. (Is it just me, or are men hard to shop for?)
 
P.S. Hi again. Thanks to the kind people who gently (or not so gently) nudged me to start blogging again. And to the person who called my mom to make sure I was still alive. ;) I attempted to write a post to explain my 5 month absence, but it was just so long. So very, very long. Eventually, I just said "Screw it, let's start by 'doing' rather than talking about 'doing'."
 
So...that's that. How are you?

6.04.2013

i'm home. and happy.


Over the years, I've written about my struggles with depression, an eating disorder and all the traps that came with living an ocean away from  home. When I was in that place, Kuwait specifically, there were some incredibly murky days. Days I never wrote about because the thoughts were too scary and private to put into words...but days where I almost gave up. I was so lost and exhausted with fighting to want to be alive. Although the words never crossed my lips, my husband seemed to know instinctively. And he carried me.

Then three weeks ago, I came home...back to the United States. And I am so happy. So happy that sometimes I just cry because I'm inspired or fulfilled...experiencing those emotions again always surprises me, since there were days I thought they were gone for good.

But all this happiness has left me thinking about the time I almost gave up. I remember being so ashamed that I wasn't living up to every inspirational quote that told me I was just a smile away from a good day. Or a well-intended but less-than-helpful reminder that someone else has it worse. Or a new article or book preaching that we all choose happiness. (Really? I tried to choose it. A lot. It lasted about two hours.)

I'm just going to say it: screw that. Because at some point, many of us walk through dark waters that are deep and murky enough that we might drown. We're just barely keeping our head above water and BEING! HAPPY! is such a far away thought--maybe not even a hope anymore. When the waves are battering you from every side, they can't be calmed by your choosing for them to stop. The only thing keeping us from slipping under are friends or family members holding our hands and telling us that ceasing to paddle is just NOT an option.

To anyone who is in that murky place: please don't feel ashamed...just keep paddling. Cry out for help and cross your heart you'll keep fighting. And when you can't paddle anymore, let someone else carry you. I know it's hard to believe, but there's a gorgeous shoreline in your future. Don't cheat yourself out of it...you want to get to shore, I promise.

Because when you do, it's pretty freaking amazing.
 

5.09.2013

no longer expatriated (as of tomorrow).

Before we knew about our upcoming move back to the US, Jay over at From There to Here dropped a line asking if I'd participate in her Expatriated series. Jay is a super fun expat in Norway...I love clicking over to check out her life. Her Expatriated series is fascinating for the wanderlusty girl like me. She features bloggers who have found themselves in a country other than their own...and they seem to have amazing expat stories...they've spent time in Belgium or Malta, India or England...and they loved it.

Sidenote: Jay and I have never met, but discovered that we stayed in the exact same hotel room in Prague. Small world, eh? :)

Anyway, I was flattered, but my first thought was, "Uh-oh. I'm going to have to say no, because I don't want to be a downer. Or, I'll have to write something super chipper and inspiring, but not at all true." But thankfully Jay, being the cool expat that she is, was actually interested in sharing my somewhat-mixed experience in the Middle East...and in drawing on the less-than-glamorous side of life that expats sometimes stumble upon in their quest for adventure.

Cue a sigh of relief. So, here it is!

Tomorrow is my last day as an expat, so it's fitting to sneak in this last little bit: In the past year, I've become increasingly grateful for the ability to express my honest feelings about my experience abroad. From the first post in which I dared to say, "I don't love it" to my last post in which I pretty much said, "I'm so over it"...I always expected to get a nasty comment or email. I'd understand if it happened...it's hard to stay engaged with a blogger who is trudging through an unhappy time, and tricky to understand the complexity of expathood if you've never dealt with it. But nastiness never happened. I always flooded with so much support. From expats. From friends. From family. From people I don't know at all.

Incase I haven't expressed this yet, I just want to say...thank you for sticking around. Most of my readers began following right before I got married. Life was full of pretty projects and wedding details and romance. And then...suddenly it was full of dust storms and homesickness and mind-bendingly awful depression.

But you all told me it was okay to feel and express. And that everything would be alright in time.

You were so right. Thanks for reading and cheering me on, even when the forecast showed no chance of glitter anytime soon. It meant more than I can truly express. It was a lifeline.

And...I'm no weatherlady, but I feel like sunshine and glitter will return again soon. Very soon.

Maybe even next week. ;)

PS: Check out From There to Here on Twitter (@theretohereblog) and Instagram (@cjstjohn). She's heading to Santorini soon, so hop over in time to take a little virtual vacation with her. :)



5.08.2013

one word wednesday: pink.

pinksquare


Finally coming up for air from a world of boxes and piles to join in One Word Wednesday! Everything has been shipped, including our computer...so blogging on a mobile device is proving to be a bit frustrating. Do forgive any funky formatting, and a short post. My brain is on overload and my patience level is quite low. ;)

This week's word was pink...nothing fancy here. Just a cute pink sucker my sis sent overseas for Valentine's Day. I found them stashed in a cupboard during my big clean up, then hemmed and hawed, wondering if these were still safe. 

They were not only safe, but totally delicious. And cute. Win, win, win. ;)

Next week's word is "project". Feel free to share a photo next Wednesday that reflects this word! You can share via your blog, or on Instagram using #onewordwednesday.



5.06.2013

who/what/where/when and why.

one of my kuwait camel sightings

I've been sitting pretzel style on my bed for 45 minutes, dazing off into space. It is safe to say I've hit a "moving" wall.

We found out about this move on Thursday, it's now Monday morning. Three fourths of the house is packed or just awaiting more boxes. We've already locked down a home in California, and our plane tickets are booked. Somehow we've packed up our life almost entirely in four days.

That's wild.

Whenever you make a big life change, you wind up explaining what/where/why about a thousand times. It was that way when I moved to Kuwait...there's this awesome human reaction to excitedly ask for details when a loved one is going through positive changes. I love it. But given that we've got four more days to get our proverbial crap together...I know I won't call/text/email everyone I'm supposed to tell about major life changes.

So, apologies in advance family and friends. I'm just going to be the Millennial that I am, and lay it out there on the internet for family + friends + inquiring minds.

Here you go, pals. :)

Why are you leaving Kuwait? Don't you looooove sandstorms, heat and not drinking wine?
Hey, we enjoyed this year of adventure. But our real goal in living in Kuwait was to pay down our debt + travel a bit. That was pretty near impossible given the high cost of living + US mortgage we paid until our house sold in January. On Thursday, Gabe was offered an amazing short term job in the Middle East, living + working on base. We crunched the numbers and realized that simply by leaving Kuwait, we'd save thousands of dollars every month. Thousands. If Gabe took this new job while I returned to the US, it meant spending a few months apart...but it would eliminate the 2 more years of living in Kuwait that we'd need to reach our financial goals.

We chose distance + sanity over staying here for two more years. I can't say I'd recommend the same for a couple who has never been apart. But, we've done distance. A lot. And while it's a little difficult, it has never negatively impacted our relationship. The time flies by (after the first week), and soon you're planning what you'll wear to pick your guy up at the airport.

After this short term job...we will both be planted in the US for good. Like normal people. :)

Where are you moving?
Santa Cruz, CA! We love Santa Cruz. It's a little hippy...a little weird...but totally loveable. It's right on the coast with beautiful beaches and pretty hiking spots. I'm fond of the blend of small businesses + community vibe, but close access to bigger cities with just a short drive. Our best friends live in Santa Cruz with their 1 year old boy, so we're excited to have built in family awaiting us!

We already have a little place lined up...a few blocks from the beach...with a guest room! So give me a month to get settled, and Casa Contreras is totally open. :)

When are you leaving Kuwait...and is kitty coming, too?
We leave this Friday, and wind up in Santa Cruz on Monday! And yes, absolutely Lucky is coming too! We're so nervous about that. The travel time from Kuwait to California is crazy long...something like 36 hours with all layovers included. Leaving a cat in a tiny carrier for over 20 hours was unfathomable to us. So, we're taking a one night break between flights once we arrive on US soil...holing up in a hotel so Lucky can stretch, play and eat for 24 hours before climbing back in her carrier for the second half of the trip.

Incase the above paragraph didn't make it clear...we are those weird cat people now. Here's the clincher: we used miles to purchase an international seat for our cat. Her ticket reads "Lucky Cat Contreras".

Yeah. That happened. ;)
 

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