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. ;)
 

5.05.2013

missing tea + moving boxes.



This morning, just like every other morning, I opened the kitchen cabinet and reached for a small, red box of tea.

It wasn't there.

It wasn't there because we're moving back to the US with 8 days notice. (Yay, bring on our new home in California! Seriously, I welcome the crazed timeline.) And although I may be a procrastinator in almost every aspect of life, I am a fantastic mover who has already emptied the cabinets and placed everything in sorted, labeled boxes.

But something struck me in that tea-less moment. Our life has felt anything but normal, and yet this year of homesickness and occasional adventure has still managed to breed routine. Certain things go in certain places, the days flow in such a way, and the tea is always right above the stove.

Leaving is everything I've wanted for months, but it feels strange to leave behind our new normal. Gabe and I didn't live together before we were married; our entire relationship was long distance. This was our first home together--the only "normal" we've ever known. And so, our move feels a little more bittersweet than expected!

I will not miss:

...the way our kitchen floor floods every time I wash dishes.
...the tiny washing machine that always makes my clothes smell funny.
...the dryer that shrinks everything it touches.
...$18 broccoli.
...Skyping in for birthday parties.
...drawing snowflakes on my windows and pretending it feels like Christmas.
...paying a cab every time I want to go somewhere.
...130 degree days.
...a life without wine.
...constantly fearing I'm showing the tiniest bit of boob. Or shoulder. Or knee. Or the bottoms of my feet.

I will miss...

...sunrises over the Gulf right out my window. Our beach view is insane.
...my neighbor friend who has been a source of sanity, even if we don't see each other for a few weeks.
...our checkerboard floors, which I used to loathe but now love.
...the passing feeling that we're on an adventure.
...random camel sightings and calls to prayer.
...funny stories or weird experience from simply stepping outside our door.
...interacting with people who are so different than me.
...my side trips to Europe in an effort to stay sane.

Mostly, I'll miss the way this experience has brought lots of introspection. I've learned so much about myself, my husband and my marriage. We've never fought more than we did the first 3 months in Kuwait. It was ugly, but given the circumstances + our newlywed status...it was probably quite normal. But, that has passed. We've never been more in sync than we have in the last 5 months. It's as if life plodded forward enough for us to be retrospective...to appreciate how much we both gave one another this year: I loved him enough to leave behind a comfy life at home for his job in Kuwait...and he loved me through my lowest, most depressed days when I felt particularly unlovable. And we both fell in love with a little helpless kitten who has turned our world upside down more than a few times.

Not to be a cheeseball, but in hindsight...it has been quite deep and beautiful for two people who didn't expect to find deepness or beauty in the desert.

My only true sadness in leaving is breaking this awesome marital period. While I haven't been creatively or intellectually fulfilled in Kuwait, I've felt so safe and loved. It's like one glass was empty, the other full...and it forced me to learn a few lessons. I've discovered that my husband loves me even without my usual Pollyanna personality, and with a larger pants size. And, I've learned that life still goes on even if your apartment doesn't look like a Pinterest board. If there were any lessons I desperately needed to learn in life...discovering I am loved + worthy of love and learning to let go of perfection were at the top.

So for that...for this year of learning...I am so grateful.

For the ability to move forward, into a new normal...my heart is overwhelmed.

I cannot wait. Home, home, home. Here we come.

5.01.2013

one word wednesday: morning.

If there's one thing I could use more of, it's inspiration...so I jumped in when my blogging girlfriends emailed about starting a new photo challenge: One Word Wednesday. It's not about elaborately staged, perfect photos. (Whew.) But rather a simple challenge to keep one word in mind throughout the week, then pick up the camera when inspiration strikes.

I hope you jump in, too. Join us every Wednesday by sharing a snapshot that celebrates a real scene from your life. You can share via your blog or Instagram...or both! Each word will be announced one week in advance, so you'll have plenty of time. Just leave a link or add hashtag #onewordwednesday to your photos. Next week's word: PINK! 
 



Morning. When we first moved to Kuwait--to our tiny ghetto apartment--I hated mornings. Gabe was off to work by 5am, and while I'm not one to easily feel lonely, he wouldn't be home until nearly 7pm. So it was just me, the tiny apartment and a long, long 14 hours. I'll fully admit that once I cried and begged Gabe to stay home with me. Alright...more than once.

In time, we moved. We got a kitten, a better view and a more stable internet connection to help fill those hours.

Now, mornings usually commence like the photo above. Kitty snuggles up on the desk, where she demands I place her favorite pink blanket near the window. I make a latte, read the news and we both watch the sunrise over the Persian Gulf. Those early days of loneliness feel so far gone. No more tears, and I now relish the few hours of quiet before the world beneath my window is overtaken by an overwhelming amount of street noise.


bloghop from left to right...these girls are great: 1. Bethany 2. Leslie 3. Jessica 4. Jenna 5. Amanda  6. Briana
 
If you'd like to participate, next week's word is: pink. So, run wild with that...and post your photo on your blog or Instagram (#onewordwednesday) next week! 

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