Welcoming a new year, and a a little life update!

image9 (1)Welcome 2020! It’s been just over a week into the new year, and I already know it’s  going to be an exciting one. Last year was filled with so many life changes, and I am so ready to take on this new year and the next chapter that is coming with it.

I’ve been working on my “end of year post” along with my 2019 video for a couple weeks now, and I promise I’ll post it soon. But, before I share my final farewell to 2019, here’s a little update of the last few weeks, because boy have they been exciting and eventful.

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image5 (3)Like I mentioned in my previous post, last month Derek and I joined Ali and Josh in a road trip to Tuscon to visit mom and Adam for an “in between holidays” weekend. I was going to write a separate post about our time in Tucson, but I’ll spare us all an extra novel, and share those photos here. 😉

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image8 (1)Even though it was 70 degrees, and felt far from Christmas time, we enjoyed exploring the city of Tucson. My favorite thing about mom’s new city was the tall cactus’s and all of the street art!image4 (5)image4 (6)image5 (4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
We also indulged in way too much yummy food, spent a lot of time in the sun, and enjoyed each other’s company. I know growing up sometimes means distance and less time with family, but I am glad that between all of our crazy lives, we were able to visit and spend time with Mom, Adam, and of course Luna and Texie.image11.jpegUnfortunately Texie went to doggy heaven since we visited. She was such a sweet old soul and I am so glad we had a few days with her (and I took this photo) before that heartbreaking day.

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On a more positive note, Shara and Axel welcomed sweet baby Nico into the world on January 4th, making Derek and I aunt and uncle to our first nephew! Even though the countdown to him getting here felt long, I have been in complete awe since meeting him. It is such a surreal feeling that he is finally here and that our baby girl will be joining her cousin in just 7 and a half weeks! Transitioning  into parent and grandparent hood has already made this year so exciting for our Dursteler side of the family.

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Speaking of baby girl, my pregnancy is cruising right along and baby and I are doing great. After getting Christmas all put away, my nesting has kicked in more than ever, and we’ve been busy getting her nursery together. It has been so fun preparing and decorating the space that she will soon call her home.

I will post nursery photos in the future, but for now enjoy these cute framed photos of Harvey that my grandma water colored and gave to us for Christmas. Mr. handsome is very proud. 😉

image10.jpegA couple pregnancy updates for anyone who cares, but mostly my future self:

  1. Today, I am 32 weeks and 6 days.
  2. My symptoms are now mild compared to what they once were, other than  experiencing sciatica pain that gets worse at night. (She’s not even here yet, but she’s already on my nerve and keeping me up at night. 😉 )
  3. Baby girl is super active and I already know that I am going to miss feeling her movements in my belly.
  4. I am still working part time serving tables at the resort, but have definitely felt myself slow down with each week that passes.
  5. We have a name, and most of our family and friends know it, but I won’t share it until she’s here and it’s official.

Other than that, I have just been enjoying planning the baby shower and soaking up these last final weeks with her in my belly. Parenthood feels closer and more real every time we check something off our to do list, but Derek and I are feeling more excited than ever before.

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image2 (11)Between the house projects, and welcoming our nephew into the world, Derek and I still celebrated New Years. Is it even a holiday if I don’t get a chance to celebrate? 😉 Our friends were snowboarding in Brian Head for the day and rented a condo up there, so we went up New Years Eve to welcome in the new year with them.

image7 (1)Even though I couldn’t indulge in celebratory drinks, enjoy the hot tub in the snow, or spend time on the slopes this year, we still had a fun night! Derek and I dressed up in 1920’s attire, danced the night away and enjoyed a perfect last “holiday celebration” we had with our friends before we become “mom and dad”. It was the perfect welcome to a new year and this next chapter that is going to come with it.image0 (11)Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving always make me so thankful for family, New years left me feeling extremely grateful for our friends. We’ve spent the holidays with most of the same people for the last 5+ years. Some even going on 10! Between weddings, graduations, careers, moving away, traveling, and now babies…our lives are all constantly changing, but somehow it still always feels the same when we’re all together. image5 (2)

image1 (15)image6 (2)We spent time with so many loved ones in the last couple of months, and even though I didn’t capture each moment, or get photos with every person, I can’t help but feel extremely lucky. I know it’s uncommon to have a large amount of friends in your mid 20’s, but this time of year always make me realize just how lucky Derek and I are to have such a big support system and so many people who fill our heart.  Baby girl is so loved already by family and friends, and I am so happy to be welcoming in a new decade and a new chapter with a lot of the same people who were apart of the last one.image8Other than New Years, welcoming our precious nephew into the world, visiting mom and Adam, losing Texie, and preparing for baby girl, Derek also started his last semester of school this week! I am so proud of him for accomplishing something that is going to bring him closer to fulfilling his dreams. In the next few months, he will graduate and hopefully find a career all on top of becoming parents, and to no surprise, our lives are going to drastically change again.

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But that is okay. Since this time last year, life has been full of constant change and I’ve learned to accept it. I’ve learned to go with the flow, and I’ve learned to trust the timing of things more than ever before.  (More about that on my farewell to 2019 post coming soon!)image1 (16)And even though it always makes me sentimental and emotional saying goodbye to another year, I have never felt more ready for the next chapter- this new year, the last half of my 20’s, this new decade, and all of the adventures, change and growth that are going to come with it. Hello 2020, and goodbye to life as I once knew it. I am so ready for you!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

Lessons I Learned From Spending the Summer Abroad- #4

image0 (4)I was planning on sharing 5 lessons that I learned abroad this summer like I did for our experience in China, but instead I decided to combine the final two since one wouldn’t have been learned without the other. (And to save you an extra novel!)  I would say this is my last post of the Dominican Republic, but knowing my nostalgic and reflective self, I can’t promise you that 😉 So instead, here’s the last and final lesson I learned abroad this past summer, and to me, the most important. In fact, this lesson is the most important I learned not only this summer, but for the whole year- which is why I waited until the middle of December to share it.

Lesson #4 I learned from living abroad this summer- Emotional fulfillment comes from yourself, and yourself only.

From my observations, humans go through life trying to find what their “purpose” is, or what fulfills them. We are constantly searching for connection, adventure, fulfillment, and genuine happiness, whatever that may look like to you. If we weren’t constantly needing and looking for these things, life might feel pointless. I’ve learned over the years that some people seem to find “it” easier than others. Some people don’t ever find it and give up, while others spend their life searching for it to either be finally fulfilled or constantly let down. I know now that whatever it is we are looking for, it exists within us. And we will never find it if we are constantly looking for it elsewhere.

(Yeah I did just get that deep) image6 (1)If you haven’t already noticed through my posts or knowing me on a more personal level, I spent the last couple of years digging deep into myself and what I wanted out of this life. I focused on many different aspects including; learning to love and accept the type of person I am, making an effort to surround myself with people who bring genuine connection to my life, searching for the things that “light the spark” and learning to remove the things that don’t. These small practices and positive life changes brought many beautiful things for me. The year of 2018 was full of close connections with friends, family, and co workers, beautiful adventures, self love, new opportunities, and many days that I felt were the “best day” of my life. And on paper, or from the outside, my life looked “perfect.” I finally had everything I ever wanted. The problem was, something was still missing.

It wasn’t until this summer in the Dominican Republic that I realized that most of the happiness I was feeling was coming from outside sources. My purpose was coming from my dream job position that I worked so hard to achieved. My validation and connection to myself was being fulfilled by other people. My happiness was coming from the days that were filled with “happiness highs”. And my overall emotional fulfillment was coming from the things I was constantly looking forward to, and not the moment that I was presently in.image2 (5)I think it’s natural for most of us to get our genuine happiness, fulfillment, or purpose from outside sources. In fact, if we all knew how to do this on our own, our lives would be quite boring and lonely. The problem for me was when one of these things didn’t exist anymore, or when one of these chapters ended, I would crash. I would get extremely down, insecure, and have minor episodes of depression. And I would just look for the “next best thing” to fill the void. I didn’t really realize this was a problem, until I moved out of the country and suddenly all of those outside sources didn’t exist anymore. And boy, did I crash.

I struggled more emotionally in the Dominican Republic this summer, then I had for quite some time. I spent the first few weeks there wondering why we chose to leave our beautiful life back home, and felt frustrated that I was feeling sad when I “should have been” feeling happy.  I woke up each day missing the summer of the year prior. I wasn’t spending my summer doing the things I suddenly missed-drinking too much wine, night swimming with our best friends, attending concerts, traveling with our family and loved ones. I also wasn’t working my dream job, and felt like I wasn’t fulfilling a purpose for my life anymore. I felt like I lost connections to others due to the distance, and had difficulties connecting to the strangers who surrounded me. And even though I had Derek with me, I felt more alone than I felt in a very long time.image7

I quickly learned that I was feeling down because I suddenly didn’t have the outside sources that were temporarily “filling my void” or “giving me purpose”. And it was then that I realized the thing that was “missing” couldn’t be filled from outside sources. It couldn’t be filled from happiness highs, connections with other people, breath taking moments, or beautiful views, because those things don’t always exist or eventually come to an end. I had to learn how to fulfill it within myself, and that is exactly what I did.

I remember going to sleep on a night at the end of May. We had been in our new home for a couple weeks and I was feeling nostalgic for our life prior to this chapter, scrolling through old photos in my camera roll. Tired of feeling sad, I decided to put my phone down and take in the surroundings that I was currently in. We didn’t have air conditioning, so our room was hot and humid, I got frustrated…tossing and turning. But then, I listened to the tropical rainstorm outside and Derek snoring next to me. Our only plan for the next day was to go to the beach for the third time that week and find a yummy new restaurant. I missed Harvey, I missed my AC, and I missed the comfort of our home and my job, but I reminded myself there was once a time when all I wanted was to live in a tropical place near the ocean, and only hoped that the boy I was in love with at 15 would be experiencing that with me…and that is exactly what I was currently doing. How lucky was I?image4 (1)I decided that night that I would spend the whole summer not looking forward to what’s next, not looking back with nostalgia, but consciously soaking in every single moment that I was presently in, no matter how exciting or mundane it seemed. Whether it was when I was high on adrenaline cliff jumping off waterfalls and hiking tropical green mountains, or hunched over our crappy toilet with the broken seat from morning sickness, I would enjoy every single one. Because these moments were something I once dreamed about and wished for, and even though it didn’t feel like it at the time, I knew there would eventually be a time that I would miss them.  (Surprise…here I am writing about it, missing them.)

It’s quite interesting, once I decided to change my mindset and put my focus into learning to fulfill myself emotionally and enjoy every current moment, life started to test me. I started to get really sick with morning sickness, and I hardly left our apartment the last 6 weeks we were there.

There would be days that I would go without interacting with others besides Derek, who was suddenly extremely busy since I was slacking on our head teacher duties and he was picking up all of the slack for both of our work. I would spend the whole day inside, not soaking in the Caribbean sun or swimming in the ocean. I listened to everyone else talk about their adventurous weekends or the fun things they did that day, while I laid on our crappy bed with 5 ice packs on my head, hoping that the spinning would stop and that I wouldn’t throw up AGAIN.image3 (3)

And boy did I learn my lesson.

I learned to be okay with being alone all day since it was the only option I had. I practiced more yoga and meditation than I ever had. I found so much beautiful new music that I blasted through our walls. I enjoyed my cold showers and our crappy bed more than ever since they were the only two places that made me feel half alive. And on the days that Derek forced me out of the house, I soaked up every minute in the Caribbean sun, the ocean, and the saltwater air for as long as I possibly could before feeling sick again. I definitely didn’t feel a “happiness high” for a good 6 weeks. I felt disconnected from everyone, in the house, and even back home since I was keeping my real feelings and pregnancy a secret. I felt pointless not doing any work or helping out. I felt guilty for not being able to have an adventurous last few weeks there, but above all else, I finally felt genuinely happy. And I know it’s because I learned to to fill whatever “void” I had in the months prior, and be that way completely on my own.image5 (1)I am not saying that life isn’t meant to be filled with happiness highs, moments that remind us we’re alive, and genuine connections. I am the biggest believer that these things are what make life beautiful and purposeful. But this summer, I learned to accept that chapters eventually end, connections fade, and time changes just about everything. And even when these things do come to an end and life feels a little mundane or ordinary, life is just as beautiful and happiness does still exist. I know now that it is possible to lose just about “everything” (or at least feel that way) and still be happy because the only source that genuine happiness can come from, is myself. And all of those other beautiful outside sources just add to that happiness that is finally already there.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

 

Lessons I learned from spending the summer abroad- #3

image0 (3)Between holidays, celebrations, work, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying every minute of this chapter of life, I haven’t found the time to finish writing my lessons I learned in the Dominican Republic this summer.

We’ve almost been home for the same amount of time we were gone, which is just insane to me. I feel like time went slow much slower while we were away, probably because we were on island time, hardly working/ had a routine, and I was counting down the days until I had my warm bath and A/C again. (haha, oh the good ol days. 😉 )image8Even though it’s been a while since we lived abroad, the lessons I learned this summer are still affecting my every day life. And that is why I continue to write these posts. So, here is number 3 and a ton of cute photos of the Dominican babies that I miss seeing everyday. (and one of my favorite DR baby of all) 😉 image0 (5)

Lesson # 3 I learned from living abroad this summer:

This world isn’t a bad place. 

When we first broke the news to our family and friends that we decided to spend 3 months in the Dominican Republic, we had a lot of responses like “are you sure?” and “is it safe there?” Like anywhere Derek and I have traveled, we expected this response. We knew that these reactions come from loved ones caring and worrying about us, and wanting the best for our safety and health. But we also knew that we would never purposely put ourselves or each other in situations where we didn’t feel safe, and our friends and family should know that we’re not THAT dumb. 😉

We obviously did our research before packing our bags and temporarily leaving reality behind, which is one of the reasons we decided to go with the same program that we did in China. ILP’s main concern with their volunteers is safety, which is why they have such strict rules. (No alcohol, no beaches after dark, in the house by 9PM, etc.) If you want more information on this program here is their website —> http://www.ilp.org

image6 (1)In addition to choosing to go with ILP again, we researched the safety of the country, which areas to stay away from, which beaches to avoid, what health concerns came with the bugs and food there, and so on. But I have since learned that no amount of research and preparation can affect the outcome of certain situations, or bad ones from happening.

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While were away this summer, the news back home broadcast-ed that a few Americans had passed away while visiting the Dominican Republic. Most of these deaths were from being poisoned at a certain resort by a Dominican local who worked there. Of course, news like this is going to spark concern in our family and friends. I had a total of 8 people reach out to me that week asking if “we were okay, if we felt safe, or if we had heard the news of the deaths.” Again, I know this was coming from their hearts, but we had to remind our loved ones that just because 4 american people got poisoned at a resort 6 hours away from us, while drinking alcohol late at night, didn’t make Derek and I any less safe. In fact, this situation left us feeling more safe and thankful of the strict rules of our program and our concerned neighbors in our community.

 

image2 (5)With this certain situation and a few others I experienced, I started to realize that a lot of people have the mindset that this world is out to get them. That traveling is scary, foreign countries are unsafe, and seeing the most beautiful sights, and experiencing different cultures isn’t worth the risk of getting sick with a virus or putting themselves in unsafe/ uncomfortable situations.It is perfectly okay if you think this way, but you most likely have this mindset due to things you’ve seen on the news, have read on social media, or have heard from your paranoid family and friends. I know this because I used to have this same mindset. I used to get overly anxious while leaving home, and think of every bad situation that could possibly wrong, even though I knew bad things happened close to home too. (Why is it that our minds naturally jump to every bad situation while traveling, and not just living our every day life?)

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My mindset didn’t start to change until I got over those fears, took the risk, and actually experienced traveling for myself. I eventually learned that the world is not out to get me. It isn’t scary, it isn’t unsafe, and the experiences I’ve had while traveling have always been worth the risk of something bad possibly happening.image5 (1)image7image5 (2)

Bad things happen everywhere, to random people. Whether you git hit by a drunk driver on your way home from work, experience a mentally unstable man shooting a gun at a concert in Vegas, get kidnapped in Europe and traded into sex trafficking, or get poisoned at a resort in the Dominican Republic, bad things happen.

But just because these bad things happen, doesn’t make this world a bad place. I believe, and I personally have seen, that there is so much more good than bad in this world. For every uncomfortable or scary situation I’ve experienced, I’ve experienced hundreds (hell maybe even thousands) of good ones. And if I am being completely honest, a lot of those thoughtful, genuine experiences have been while I am traveling.image4 (1)

For example, in the Dominican Republic, we lived around people who had close to nothing. Their homes were built through charities, their few outfits that they owned were donated, and their food was mostly scraps or leftovers (sometimes even from our group). But they were the most unselfish, giving people I have ever met. One week, they shut down all of the neighborhood shops and streets for a couple days to mourn the death of a neighbor and provide food, love and support to the grieving family. They would go out of their way to make sure their neighbors and community were taken care of, no matter how big or small the situation was. And they didn’t stop at their loved ones, because they did the same to us. We were complete strangers from a foreign country who didn’t even understand their language, and I have never felt more love (OR SAFETY) from a community.

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And this kindness doesn’t just exist in that ghetto community of the Dominican Republic. In fact, I can think of a experience with a thoughtful gesture from a stranger in each country we have visited.  From my experiences of living abroad, I have learned that overall this world is a good and safe place. Kindness and love exists everywhere, even though the news and media doesn’t always show it.image1 (7)So with that, here is a little reminder. You can live your life being cautious and paranoid that bad things will happen to you, or you can take the risk and do the things you want to do, even if they seem insane, or unsafe to other people. The choice is your’s, just make sure you aren’t putting your dreams on hold, or not visiting certain places because of that one time you heard about something bad in the news.

Because I promise you, no matter where you go, you will find love, kindness and safety.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

Our Magical Night at Rise

image0 (4)At the beginning of this month, Derek and I attended the Rise festival. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is an annual lantern festival held in the Mojave desert that promotes letting go of the past and setting new intentions for the future. It is a 3 night event with live music, food trucks, and a total of 6 lantern releases. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in or you want more information on it, here is the link:

https://risefestival.com/image1 (9)I’ve been wanting to attend this event for years, especially because it is so close to our home. Derek surprised me with tickets for my birthday back in March and to be honest, after our crazy summer, I totally forgot we were going until we got the “your event is coming up” email. Of course after being reminded, I felt like it was my birthday and got so excited again!image4 (2)image1 (7)

image1 (11)image0 (9)We attended the event Saturday evening/night. We drove down to Vegas that morning, checked into our hotel and ate dinner at a cute little diner. We even made it to 7 magic mountains along the way. I’ve always wanted to visit this spot as well, and even though we’ve passed it probably 100 times, we had never been. Isn’t it funny how we don’t take advantage of all the cool things and landmarks that surround us so close to home? It wasn’t anything too special, but it was cool to see nonetheless.image1 (8)image2 (5)image4 (1)

image2 (6)The event itself was amazing. We had such a fun night together in the desert surrounded by beautiful music, bright stars, no cellphone service, and thousands of like minded people. It was such a peaceful experience and such a nice little break for us to have together.image4 (4)image1 (10)image7image8 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image9Our tickets each came with two lanterns to release. I wrote my absolute favorite things on one, and new intentions I’ve set for myself on the other. Derek wrote things that fill his heart on one, and drew his Aries symbol on his other one. (Since when did I convince him to be so into astrology 😉 )image5 (4)image2 (9)

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image4 (5)The actual lantern release was magical to say the least. I’ve seen plenty of photos and videos of these things, but I was blown away by the beauty of it all. Derek and I were both at a lost of words for a while and I may or may not have even cried. 😉  It was such a beautiful moment that I highly recommend every one experiencing at least once. We’ve already talked about going again next year!image3 (7)image0 (6)image4 (3)image3 (5)We ended the night binge watching cable TV and eating way too much pizza in our hotel bed, slept in the next morning and headed back home. I love all of our extravagant travels and adventures, but something about our short weekend getaways together fill my heart in a way that airports, beautiful beaches, and fancy airbnbs could never.image5 (1)

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image3 (3)Side Note: Since I am on the topic of travel and a lot of people have asked… Yes, we have a couple travel plans before baby comes. We will probably leave for the holidays, and hopefully have one more “vacation” before her arrival. We don’t like the idea of a “baby moon” because we plan to still travel a lot with our future little ones. The main difference being, we’ve both agreed to never leave Harvey again for longer than 2 weeks, so looks like we won’t be gone too long for the next 10ish years. 🙂image6 (2)image5 (3)

And with that, I’ll leave you with the words I wrote to the stars…

Here’s to: Adventure, Change, Memories, Happiness, Growth, Beauty, Gratitude, Love, Feelings, Being aliveimage2 (7)

Onto the next adventures (grand and small), Wren

 

 

Lessons I learned From Spending a Summer Abroad- #2

image0 (1)Like I mentioned before, Derek and I both had a lot of growing and life lessons learned while we were away for the summer. I’ll never be able to explain how temporarily leaving reality for a few months changes you, but I try to do my best to give you an idea through my words and these posts.

The second lesson I learned from living in the Dominican Republic this summer was,

Disappointment can not exist without expectations.

This lesson can apply to just about every single thing in life, but after being in charge of a group of 30 volunteers, and listening to constant complaints, this lesson became more apparent to me, and I took it to heart. Since being home, I’ve thought about this certain lesson a lot, and my whole perspective on life and my “problems” have changed.image6While we were in the Dominican Republic, one of our duties as a head teacher was to act as a “counselor” for the volunteers that needed it. This meant to constantly check up on each volunteer, listen to their personal problems, keep it all confidential, and try to help them in the best way we could, so that they would enjoy their experience abroad.

To be honest, I absolutely LOVED this part of my “job”. If you know me personally, you know I am always willing to provide a listening year, a shoulder to cry on, and any advice, even when I know it may not help.

But as I listened to each volunteer talk about the experiences, their complaints, and their expectations, I learned that the volunteers that were struggling the most had very HIGH expectations going into this experience, which led them to feel disappointed, let down, and even depressed. Some of them even went as far as breaking the rules and sending themselves home because this experience was “just different than they thought it would be.” I constantly found myself thinking “well what did you expect?”

image5I am not trying to say that having expectations is a bad thing. I think it’s important to have them when taking an opportunity, forming and connecting relationships, and starting something new. However, like with most things, I think there is a fine line that can be crossed when having too high of expectations can lead to unfulfillment and unhappiness.

After observing this all summer, I started thinking about my own personal expectations and exactly where they are with the things in my life. My own experience abroad, my marriage, my relationships with family and friends, my career, myself. I think It’s important for all of us to know where our expectations are, so that we can prevent ourselves from feeling let down or like we “settled” for something we didn’t want.image3 (2)For example, if you have expectations of being comfortable, having a set schedule, and feeling like all things should always go as planned, I do not recommend moving out of the country for a few months, or even traveling out of the country, unless it is on a guided tour.

If you have expectations of having a love story like every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, and finding a real life guy or lady that looks good 24/7, doesn’t have any personal issues, and always treats you like a queen/king, I do not recommend dating and just sticking to watching those romantic comedies. 😉

If you expect to start a new job, move out of state, or meet new people and be completely comfortable without any learning curves, I promise you you will be disappointed or let down at one point or the other.image2 (4)My point is, I think it’s important for us to find what expectations we have, and do our best to avoid situations that will not meet them. Obviously, we will all be let down or disappointed from time to time. And sometimes, we don’t learn what our expectations are until this happens (like when we move out of country for 90 days and think WHAT THE HELL DID I DO). But on the other hand, I also think these experiences can teach us to lower our expectations, and we can learn to find happiness and fulfillment in even the shittiest and uncomfortable of situations.image4I’ve personally applied this lesson a lot since being back home and I feel way less disappointed by the things that would normally stress me out. Yeah my check engine light is on, but what do I expect from a car that is 15 years old? Yeah my dream job didn’t want me to come back to work, but what did I expect after leaving them to travel out of country for 90 days? And yeah, I can’t do the yoga pose that I had a goal of accomplishing by this time, but my body is growing another human, so its OKAY… And so on. I am all about living my life with the less amount of stress as possible. And even though stressful situations will always be there, I’ve felt a lot more content after learning to lower my expectations of things.

If you personally find yourself in a lot of stress, or stressful situations, try finding where your expectations are and either lower them, or do your best to avoid situations that you know won’t meet them. I promise it will help!image0(this selfie was taken at the Rise festival, that post will be next!)

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

Lessons I Learned from Spending a Summer Abroad- #1

IMG_8296We’ve been home for almost a month now, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. Yes, I still have ocean withdrawals, but I can’t think of a time in my life when I haven’t wanted to be on a beach, so I am slowly getting used to not living within walking distance again.

Like our first experience abroad, Derek and I spent this summer focusing on our ourselves and each other. Time away from home means unfamiliarity, being uncomfortable, and a lot of changes in perspective and mind set. With all of these changes, comes a lot of life lessons learned. I think learning these type of lessons and having the personal growth that I’ve experienced is my absolute favorite thing about traveling, or living in a different place. I absolutely love coming home with a new outlook.

Like my China experience, I am going to share the five main lessons I brought home with me from living abroad this summer. Each lesson is just as important as the others, but knowing myself, I have a lot to share,  so I will be posting each one separately.IMG_8292

Lesson #1- You never realize how great your comfort zone is, until you don’t have it

I think most people go through life feeling quite comfortable. Obviously, there are the occasional moments that bring us all discomfort: public speaking, job interviews, learning something new, the first day at a new place or school, meeting our in laws, etc.

And then there are the more serious things that bring us discomfort: being laid off from a job, going through divorce, dealing with physical and mental health issues, totaling our cars, natural disasters, death of loved ones, etc.

But overall, I think most people are able to live a comfortable life even when they are dealt with uncomfortable situations. They may think “my life is horrible” or “I have bad luck” but I hardly ever hear of someone saying “I am constantly uncomfortable” because I think as humans, we tend to make things work, and find comfort even in the most unfamiliar situations, or we eventually find our way back to the things that make us comfortable.IMG_8291IMG_8290And that leads me to lesson #1. I knew that moving to a different country would force me out of my comfort zone. I knew I’d have to live without the things I was used to like my car, my house, my favorite foods, and being in close proximity to family and friends. I expected to not have hot water or air conditioning, and I obviously expected to be uncomfortable.

see lesson #4 from my China experience—> https://thestellarstories.com/2018/01/24/lessons-i-learned-from-living-abroad-4/

I’ve always been one to like change and unfamiliarity, so I jumped into this opportunity expecting a lot of feelings of discomfort. Like I mentioned before, I personally enjoy the self growth and lessons that come from those situations. What I did not expect is to have such a strong realization of just HOW comfortable I was back home.

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IMG_8294I didn’t have this realization until about our half way mark, when all I wanted was something familiar and to feel comfortable again. I was over not having air conditioning, living off food I didn’t love, and not being able to take a hot bath. These are all little things, but for the first time in a very long time, I longed for the feeling of my comfort zone. After spending a good 7 weeks out of it, I really started to miss it and I had the realization that comfort zones aren’t always a bad thing, most of us just tend to take them for granted.

Since being home, I have enjoyed every single minute of being comfortable again and I have focused on the appreciation of all of the little tings I missed while I was gone. The sounds of Harvey’s feet on our hardwood floor, the creaking of our air conditioner. The smell of my candles, and our coffee pot. Driving in my car alone with the windows down, the feeling of my own bed and my bath tub! Practicing yoga in my yoga room with Harvey breathing next to me, cooking in my kitchen while blasting music. Even pulling my weeds and planting flowers. I’m usually far from a homebody, but stepping away from all of these ordinary, every day things gave me a new appreciation of them, and I’ve enjoyed doing each of them more than I ever have.1

I had this similar realization when we came home from living abroad the first time and I learned to not take these little things for granted, but it was much stronger this time around. It took me being VERY uncomfortable, for a long period of time. It took every ounce of my mental strength, patience, and “my first world problems” to disappear completely, before I realized that I actually enjoy being comfortable, and I have it so good at home.

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IMG_8287Since being home, I have enjoyed the simple things like being surrounded by people who I love. I’ve enjoyed driving on familiar roads, and having a routine. I’ve enjoyed the places and the little things that I missed so badly, and I have finally consciously enjoyed the feeling of being comfortable in my comfort zone. Even though I know I will eventually crave stepping out of it, I’ve learned to never take it for granted again.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

The People of the Dominican Republic: AKA a huge part of my heart

image6 (3)Since being home from the Dominican Republic, I’ve had a lot of people ask me my absolute favorite thing about my experience. While I can think of and type a long list of things that I absolutely loved, one specific thing comes to mind that fills my heart a little more than the beautiful sunsets, and living within walking distance from the ocean.

And that is: the people.image2 (6)Since we’ve been home, we’ve been in contact with a few of these wonderful individuals, but that doesn’t make me miss them any less. Derek and I both bonded with them in a way that I didn’t think was possible with a language barrier. They all welcomed us with open arms, showed us love, and taught us that it is possible to have close to nothing besides human connection, and still have genuine happiness. Only a couple of these people speak English, but I love each and every single one of them as if they were family. So this post is to them! (and to my future myself as a promise that I will see them again one day.)

image7 (2)Amarillis-

Our local coordinator. This lady was our go to person for questions regarding the schools, health issues, the culture, and pretty much a shoulder to lean on anytime we felt uncomfortable, unsafe, or homesick. She worked directly with ILP, made sure that we were doing our duties as head teachers, and always double checked that all of the volunteers were having a good time.

She also set up our service projects, taught us Spanish lessons, and occasionally checked in on the house to make sure the power and water were working correctly. She was our local coordinator, but to me, she was so much more than that. The first time we met Amarillis at the airport she hugged me and said “Welcome to the DR, I love you very much.” And even though I knew this lady for 5 seconds, I never felt anything less from her than love.

The day that our house got engulfed by smoke from a wild fire was the same day that I found out I was pregnant. Since we had to evacuate our house, Amarillis found a different house for all of us 30 volunteers to sleep at, but I told her I wasn’t comfortable staying there because I was very sick that day. She looked at me with worry and asked “what are you so sick with?!” And that made her the first person Derek and I told. She jumped up and down for 5 minutes with joy, saying “I am going to be a grandma again, but this time to an American baby!” She then let us stay in her home, made sure I slept okay, and even woke us up with Dominican breakfast to say “congratulations.”

Amarillis was the most busy person I’ve ever met. She workd with our volunteer group, taught adults English, had 9 grandkids of her own, and was constantly giving back to her community with service projects. Between all of this, she has checked in on us and “baby” 3 times since we’ve been home to make sure we are doing okay and to let us know that she misses us. I’ll never be able to repay her for the love she showed us in the 3 months of knowing her, but I am so thankful that I had the chance to meet someone like her.image5 (2)Tamari-

Also known as a literal angel. This lady was the cook at our house. She made our group lunch and dinner every single day, in a small little kitchen that didn’t have AC or even a fan. She didn’t speak a word of English, but she was constantly showing us love and laughs by giving us hugs, flashing her bright smile, and dancing to her loud Dominican music. She couldn’t pronounce our names correctly, but she always called us her son and daughter.

On our first day in the DR, Derek and I really wanted our usual morning cup of coffee, and since the volunteer program is mostly LDS, not a lot of people in our group drank coffee, so our house didn’t have a coffee pot (until we bought one later.) We walked down to the kitchen to ask Tamari if she had any coffee, or where to get some, and to our surprise, she acted so excited that we asked! She pulled up two chairs, directed us to sit down, and then proceeded to spend 40 minutes making us Dominican coffee from scratch with a manual coffee pot. And that was only the first act of love she showed us.

When I started getting my daily morning sickness, I had to stop going to the kitchen as often because the smells would make me nauseous. Derek would still go visit her every day, and loved helping her (since cooking is one of his favorite hobbies.) He also practiced his Spanish, and she practiced her English while they cooked together. Since I wouldn’t see her as often, she would ask Derek what specific food I wanted every day, and would go out of her way to cook me something completely different than the rest of the group. Derek once told her that a hard boiled egg sounded good to me, and she made me 5 eggs every day for the week!

The day before we left, Amarillis came to tell us goodbye and told us that she’s never seen volunteers get so close to Tamari, and that Tamari was so sad to see us to leave back home. It made Derek and I sad, but also feel so good, knowing that we changed this lady’s summer like she had changed ours.

image4 (2)Papi-

Oh, Papi. Where do I even begin? This man was our next door neighbor, and he was also our go to taxi driver. Any day that I saw Papi was a good day. We bonded over our weekly grocery store runs, and practicing Spanish while driving around in his beat up taxi that didn’t have a working door or any AC.

Just like Tamari, Papi didn’t speak any English and couldn’t pronounce or remember our names. So a month in, he renamed Derek and I. And from then on out, we were known as Pedro and Mari by all of our neighbors and community. Most mornings I’d wake up, and go outside and there Papi would be yelling “Hola hola hola Mari!! como esta!” It was always followed by “where’s pedro?” He loved both Derek and I, but could speak to Derek better, so he always wanted to talk to him and he always worried when I was alone without Derek, in case I wasn’t feeling good.

Papi lived in a little 2 bedroom (seperated by a sheet) shack, that was painted bright pink and didn’t have any AC. He lived there with his wife, Frecia (she’s next!) his son Davey, their two dogs Toby and Bronco, and his grand daughter, Denise, who occasionally stayed with them. They had close to nothing, and as a taxi driver, he was the provider of the household. Frecia was in and out of the hospital all summer getting surgery on her legs, and he would tell us all the time that he was stressed with money, but he was one of the happiest person I’ve ever known.

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image2 (5)Frecia-

Frecia was the sassiest, most hilarious person, and the definition of a Dominican woman. She was Papi’s wife, our neighbor, and she was also in charge of the school that was in the lower level of our house. She would walk around the school with curlers in her hair, and smack the walls with a fly swatter or a ruler to get the kids to behave. Some of the kids found her “scary and strict”, but she really had a heart of gold.

Frecia loved dancing, but would tell us that she couldn’t dance good anymore because she had to have leg surgery. That never stopped her from trying though. She would rock back and forth on her front porch whenever the neighborhood would play loud music, and laugh at Derek and I for dancing (because she knew she could once do so much better).

My most favorite thing about Frecia was that, much like Papi, she would always greet me with a “buenos dias Mari, como esta?” But before I could ever answer she would ask how the baby was. She was so excited for us, so much that she would tell all of her friends and family who visited her house, that I was pregnant. Frecia always cared about how I was feeling and how the baby was. And when we left, she begged for me to visit in the future with the baby, so that she could meet the human she already loved so much.image3 (3)image6 (2)Colasa-

Colasa was another neighbor of our’s. If I could think of one word to describe this woman it would be, giving. Her whole life revolved around serving others, and giving way more than she personally had. She was always in and out of our house to visit with us, but to also clean our toilets, mop our floors, and help us with our laundry. And even when we told her no thank you, she persisted to help. She was always so happy to do it. Just like Papi, Colasa lived in a small little house with close to nothing, but she was always welcoming us into her home to visit, and loved to show off photos of her sons, who she was so proud of.

When Colasa found out I was pregnant, I woke up to fresh fruit on my kitchen counter every morning, even when I told her I didn’t need anymore. She would insist, because “the baby needed it.” She would always leave my room with a “I love you, Mari” because I love you was the only thing she knew how to say in English. And I loved her right back!image2 (7)Marteen-

Marteen also lived in our neighborhood, and he sold handmade jewelry out of his little house. He lived with his wife, and his autistic son, who was always so shy when we came around, but would randomly break out with the best dance moves. Other than constantly trying to sell us jewelry, Marteen invited us to his home for dinner twice. His wife spent all day cooking for a large group of us, and they never let us leave hungry. Even though, we knew they didn’t eat much themselves, they always gave us seconds and even thirds.

Marteen offered us a certain flavor of soda once, and when all of us politely declined, he went all the way back to the store, to buy us a different flavor, just to make us happy! He was always so fun to visit, and like most of the people we met, was always so willing to give.image2 (4)image7Jose Luis-

Even though Jose Luis is a kid, he deserves to be mentioned, because he taught me so much and holds a huge place in my heart. He lived with his grandparents just a few blocks from our house. And every time I saw him, he was either smiling the biggest grin, or making the most angry face. His facial expressions were my absolute favorite, because they always made me laugh.

Last year, Jose Luis walked on his mother who committed suicide, and after this heart breaking incident, his father stopped coming around, which is why he lived with his grandparents. Sadly, just before we were leaving to come back home, his grandfather passed away. This kid had been through more in his lifetime than any kid (or even adult) should go through, especially at his age. He always acted out in school, and had a hard time listening to his teachers and Frecia, but watching him act that way just made me want to love him more.

He just needed some extra attention and love, and Derek and I were always happy to give it. He was so sad when I told him Derek and I were heading back to the US, but then he quickly smiled and said “yay that means new teachers” in his perfect English, that he loved to pretend he didn’t know. I know he didn’t mean it though. 😉image1 (5)image3 (4)I apologize for the long post, but if I’m being honest, I could probably write a whole novel for each of these people. I’ve never felt so welcomed, and so loved by a community in such little time. They always told us volunteers that the work we were doing was so incredible, and how thankful they were for us, and for what we do. But I don’t think it would be possible to do any of it without them.image5 (3)image6image5image1 (6)I learned a lot this summer (lessons learned posts still pending), but my greatest lesson of all, was this:

You can meet complete strangers, who have a completely different life than the one you have back home, who speak a different language, and believe in different cultures and lifestyles, but love is universal, and it is the one thing that connects us all as a world. Even though I’ve always known this, I will forever be thankful for the people of the Dominican Republic for showing me it.

Onto the next adventure, Wren