Our Summer in the Dominican Republic- Video

Here it is, Finally!

Our video of our most adventurous, most life changing, and most beautiful summer yet.

3 things about this 3.5 minute film:

It makes me so emotional to watch it. Like most videos I make, they make me nostalgic for the moments in them, and also so happy and thankful that I live this life that I do.

I can’t believe that at one point our days looked like that.

And…I really miss the ocean.

“Run with the feeling of being alive while we’re still young.”

Thanks for watching, xo

Onto the next adventure, Wren


Second trimester update and some exciting milestones

Happy October!IMG_8555I am officially down to the “5 more months” mark of this pregnancy, and I am finally starting to feel like myself again! I know it is different for everybody, but it has been true for me when they say that the second trimester is easier on the body than the first. To be honest, I think most things that I experience will be/ and are easier on my body than experiencing the first trimester I had. 😉IMG_8533In the last week, I’ve experienced some amazing milestones. One of them being receiving my blood test results back to confirm baby’s sex. Since I announced it on my social media accounts today, I wanted to write a little second trimester update on here- for anyone who cares, and for my future self, of course.

  • First things first, and one of the most exciting… It’s a girl!!

IMG_8545IMG_8587Growing up with only sisters, and having only nieces so far, I always pictured myself as an “all boy mom”. I always thought that I’d be completely content having all sons, but the second that pregnancy test came out positive, I knew my little one was going to be a girl. I just had a strong intuition that I was going to have a daughter.IMG_8544When the doctor told us at our 14 week appointment, I wasn’t at all surprised. Derek was actually more excited and shocked than I thought he would be, probably because he was surprised at how right my intuition had been. 😉 Since it was still early, we told family and close friends, but didn’t announce it. But I got my blood test results back yesterday, and baby is still a girl. And we are so excited!IMG_8557

A few other fun milestones and updates in the last couple weeks:

  • I can’t remember the last time I threw up a meal, and I can make it through a day without a 2 hour long nap, meaning I haven’t felt this good since June. Now that I finally feel better, I can’t believe how sick I actually was!
  • With that exciting milestone, I am finally starting to gain some weight back and am very proud of it. Right now, I am one pound away from my pre-pregnancy weight and I am happy that baby is finally starting to grow at a faster pace.


  • I felt baby girl kick for the first time, and my belly finally started to pop. Both of these things have made the pregnancy, and the fact that I am going to be a mama, feel more real.
  • Baby girl’s official due date is February 29, 2020. Meaning she is due on leap year! But if she arrives 5 days late, she will be born on my 26th birthday. Whatever day she arrives, she will be an emotional, sensitive Pisces like her mama. (sorry Derek 😉 )


  • We have a name that we really like, that we occasionally call her, but we will probably wait to meet her before we make it official. PS-why are names for dogs so much easier than they are for humans?


  • Derek’s sister, Shara, is due with a baby boy in January, meaning she will have a cousin just 8 weeks older than her, and I finally get a nephew! It’s been so fun being pregnant together.


  • Derek is obviously very excited to have a little girl. He always greets me with a kiss, a kiss on my belly and a “how are my girls?” and I can’t wait to see him become the best daddy.


  • Harvey is still just as obsessed with me as ever, he loves resting his head on my stomach and is already the best big brother. I just hope he loves her this much when she keeps him up all night and takes his spot on the couch.

IMG_8560IMG_8559IMG_8547And with that, I want to say thank you for all of the love and support we’ve received with this new chapter. Our lives have changed so much this year, and to bring this adventure into the mix of it all makes me think even more that things do happen for reasons and that timing is always right, even when it doesn’t always feel that way.IMG_8554Here’s to this beautiful changing body of mine, the rest of the wonderful second trimester, and to officially being parents to a daughter!

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.


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.


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



Using Social Media in a Healthy way, so it Doesn’t Have to Become a Bad Thing

Two words: Social Media.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

We all have our different opinions on this topic, and I think most of us would agree that like anything else, it can be a good thing if we use it correctly and in moderation. But what is the “correct” way to use social media? And how much is considered too much before it becomes a “bad thing.”

I think about this topic just about every day. And after spending 90 days living abroad with a group of 18-24 year olds (mostly girls) for the second time around, I decided to share my opinion on the matter. Because, as you all know… I really like sharing my point of view on things. 😉

I’ve loved social media since I first got my Bebo account at the mere age of 12. After that, it was downhill spiraling effect of Tumblr, Myspace, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest. Not all of these accounts are still active, but I have loved them all at one point in my life, some a little too much. They’ve brought me new hobbies, new friends, inspiration, and sometimes embarrassing to admit, self worth and validation.

So…what’s wrong with loving social media?

My answer is nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having social media as a hobby, just like there is nothing wrong with having video games, or binge watching episodes on Netflix as a hobby. But like I’ve mentioned before, and like most of you will agree, there is a line that can be crossed when a hobby becomes unhealthy, and I’ve personally crossed that line.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to teach myself over the years how to get away from that line as soon as I find myself using social media in an “unhealthy way” or having an unhealthy mindset about it. In good ol’ Wren fashion, I want to share some of those lessons I’ve learned over the years, so that maybe you can change your perspective of thinking social media is a bad, unhealthy thing. Or change your mindset because you feel like you’ve personally crossed that unhealthy line. Because just like most things, it can be a really good thing if you use it correctly.

1.Post because you WANT to, not because you NEED to.

I’ve heard it many times “I need to post that photo that I took today. I need to edit that video, so that it is up in time. I need to post something right now, because it is a certain time of day, and the algorithm will mess it up if I don’t.” Unless you have turned your social media accounts into your career, there is no reason to feel the pressure of having to post. Wouldn’t it sound silly if you said something like I need to watch my Netflix show today, instead of wanting to? Just like any hobby, posting and using social media should be a fun thing that you do in your spare time. I’m guilty myself for thinking this way, but I’ve learned to remind myself that there is no timeline, or restrictions on when I post. I post for the sake of posting. Because I want to, not because I need to.

2. Ask yourself if you would be “doing this” if there wasn’t anywhere to post it.

Another helpful tip I’ve learned to get out of the unhealthy social media trap is asking myself if I would be doing the thing I am currently doing, if I didn’t have anywhere to post it. I think of this a lot as I am taking pictures, or recording videos. Would I be eating this same meal if the food didn’t look as pretty? Would I be wearing this outfit today, whether it matches my feed or not? Would I even be taking this photo or capturing this moment?? Or I am just doing all of these extra things for the sake of pretty content and likes…?

I can remember a time in my life when my friends and I would get all done up, and take pictures for fun. We would spend hours doing our hair and “re- doing” our make up just to go outside to take a million photos of each other. But that wasn’t the fun part. The fun part was editing the photos, uploading them to our Myspace profiles and watching the notifications flood in. We would spend hours reading photo comments, comparing the number of likes to each other’s, and telling our selves that we could do better next time. This was very fun… until it wasn’t.

None of us were interested in pursuing careers in modeling or photography, so there became a point when we stopped “taking pictures” for fun. Obviously, I continued to capture my life, and pose for photos in the days and moments I want to remember. But my mindset changed when I started asking myself, would I be doing these things or capturing these moments even if I had no where to post them? Most of the time, my answer is yes. I am glad that I have photos of my vacations, my birthdays, my holiday parties with my friends. Even though I post a lot of those photos, I know that I would still be capturing those moments even if I never had social media to post them on.

3. Ask yourself if you would take this picture even if nobody else saw it.

A lot like the prior, I ask myself would I be taking this photo if I was the only person who would ever see it? If you think about the million of selfies you’ve taken just to get that one “good one” this question might make you laugh.

There are so many photos I have that bring me back good memories, remind me of good moments, or just make me genuinely happy looking at them. And if I was the only person to ever see those photos, I’d still be very happy to have them.

On the opposite end, I could do without the hundreds of bad selfies so I don’t waste time taking those anymore. Because if they aren’t making ME happy, then why spend so much time taking them? However, I am not saying I am not for a good selfie. If you are feeling great about yourself, or your having a good hair day, capture it. Just remember to ask yourself if you’d be happy with that photo if you were the only one to ever see it.

4. Post for yourself, and nobody else

In addition to tip number 2 and number 3, this tip is to remind you that in order to get in a healthy mindset of using social media, post for yourself. And yourself only. Not for anyone else. If you are spending hours getting ready, finding the perfect outfit, getting frustrated with your friends for not getting the perfect angle, and taking hundreds of “not good enough” photos, just to delete them for not getting enough likes… you are crossing the line of using social media in an unhealthy way.

5. Connect to connect.

This one may be difficult for some of you, but it shouldn’t be. Social media was created for connection. Which is why it is called SOCIAL media. I come across so many accounts that are filled with beautiful selfies,  and people who get their comments and likes, and that’s that. If that’s how you want to use social media, so be it. I just think after awhile you’re going to be spending time scrolling through beautiful photos of beautiful people and wasting time feeling sorry for yourself and your life because you didn’t get a similar amount of likes as a super model.

Personally, I like to use my social media accounts to connect to others. I like to follow accounts that communicate with others, ask questions, do polls, etc. because if I am not connecting or getting my point across to others, what is the point of spending (or wasting) time on these apps? I’d rather spend all that time connecting, then feeling sorry for myself and I think you would all agree.

6. Unfollow non thought provoking, uninspiring content.

I know I know, you don’t want to offend that girl that once sat by you in 8th grade by hitting the unfollow button. But this tip is probably the most important! Do you listen to music that you don’t like? Do you watch movies that you don’t like? Or listen to podcasts you don’t like? Exactly. My point is, social media is a hobby and if you are scrolling through content that isn’t speaking to you in a way that you enjoy, then why are you even logging on?

A little thing I do that has helped me, is keep those “friends” of mine from middle school on Facebook, but only follow accounts on Instagram that really inspire me. This way they are separate, and when I care to see how the babies of my middle school peers are doing, or who is getting divorced, I scroll through my Facebook. (which is rare). My Instagram is filled with content that gets me excited for future travels, makes me think, inspires me to get off my phone and practice yoga, redecorate my house, dive into a new hobby, or that simply just makes me happy.

I am not saying all of the content you follow should be thought provoking and inspiring, but a majority of it should be. After all, you are choosing to open these apps, spend time on them, and look at this content. You should at least enjoy what you’re looking at.

7. Like posts because you actually LIKE them

Just like choosing the content you follow, you can choose the content you see the most. I understand liking posts because you’re supporting your favorite photographer, or because your sister’s selfie deserves more likes. But you actually like that content right? (I hope you like your sisters face. 😉 ) I’ve never understood liking photos just to “like” them.  Again, you get to choose what you fill your feed with, so why not choose things you enjoy?

If you are constantly liking videos of pig slaughter houses, just because you want to support your vegan friend who constantly shares them, then your feed is going to slowly become filled with pig slaughter houses. And I don’t think anyone would enjoy logging into social media if it was filled with those horrid videos. Personally, I stopped following super models and girls who had “perfect bodies” because those posts weren’t inspiring me, they were making me feel bad about myself and I didn’t like seeing them.

So, only double tap or thumbs up the posts that speak to you in a healthy way. Do you enjoy looking at this post? Does it inspire you? Can you relate in some way? Or does it simply just make you happy? Go ahead and like it, sis. If not, keep scrolling. Fill that feed with joy.

8. Remind yourself that every post is “good.”

I hear it way too often. “that picture isn’t good enough” “I need a better caption” I won’t post this one because it’s not “instagram worthy.” What does that even mean??  We already live in a world that makes us feel not worthy, and the pressure of being “good enough” shouldn’t come from a dumb little hobby that we share online. If you find yourself thinking these thoughts about your self, or your content, take a step back from that fine line. (you know, the unhealthy one.)

If you capture a beautiful moment, or a memory from a special day and you want to share it, DO IT. Whether it’s your best head shot, or the worst angle you’ve ever seen of yourself. If you want to share it, it is good enough.

9.  Don’t look for validation and self worth through social media.

Ahhh the most difficult tip of all. This is so much easier said than done. And if I wasn’t guilty of this one, this blog post wouldn’t even exist. You may have read number 6 and thought “no Wren, it isn’t good enough” and if I heard you say that, I would ask you “why do you think that?” And your answer would be “well because the people of social media didn’t think so. I only got this many likes.” And that’s what brings us to number 7.

Once you start to change your mindset and tell yourself that it doesn’t matter how many likes or views you get, because this is just a dumb online hobby, and not the deciding factor of your whole self worth, you will stop caring how many likes or views you get. Once you change your source of validation from social media, to other real life things (genuine connections, accomplishing goals, etc.) you will stop caring about getting likes from social media, and your self worth won’t be affected by it anymore.

And let me tell you, it is the most freeing feeling once you do this. I remember getting 40 likes on a post that I really liked, and do you know what? I didn’t erase it, or tell myself it “wasn’t good enough” I just looked at the photo, reminded myself of that great day, and felt happy about sharing it on my feed. The post I posted after that one, got 180 likes. And I felt the exact same way about that one as I did the prior.

I finally taught myself to stop looking for validation and my self worth in numbers and through this online hobby. And even though it took about 10 years of practice to do so, I have never felt more free to post what I want, when I want to, because I want to.

10. Disconnect when connecting.

This is the one I focused on most this summer. I constantly notice that people (mostly the younger generations) are so attached to their phones that they don’t know how to make genuine connections in real life, which is why I think of the topic of social media so often. I understand that things change, and times are different now, but this tip is a simple reminder to disconnect from your phone while connecting in real life.

I could sit with someone over coffee, tell them everything I love about them as a person, thank them for being a great friend, etc. But if they leave that coffee shop and log into their social media and see that their post didn’t get the likes they were hoping for, or that cute guy didn’t snap chat them back, suddenly they’re not enough. Which leads to blaming social media for depression, suicide rates, etc. I don’t think it’s social media’s fault at all, it’s the fact that this person didn’t feel good enough through a real life connection and their self worth is based off their life online.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I personally think human connection is the most important thing in this world, and I think it is the stem for all self worth and validation.

Maybe you need this small reminder, or maybe you don’t. But next time you’re with a loved one, listen to them, pay attention to them, communicate with them. Next time you’re with your grandparents, don’t take a photo of your food, or scroll through memes. Instead pay attention to their old hands, and their stories that they love to share with you. Next time you’re in bed with your lover, put your phone down. Pay attention to the way they breathe, and the way you feel curled up to them. Nothing is going to give you more validation or the feeling of being enough like genuine connections and love do.

I hate to see a world that people don’t understand this, and it’s happening so fast. So, I hope this small tip gets through to at least one of you.

Some of you may have read this novel (really, that’s what this is at this point) and thought to yourself, I don’t need any of these tips, I do all of these things. But most of you who are reading (and are still reading) clicked on this post for a reason. Maybe you want more out of your social media accounts, maybe you feel as if you’ve wasted a lot of time online for nothing, or maybe you feel yourself close to crossing that line and thinking that “social media is BAD” or that you need a break.

Take a break if you need to, but eventually you will get back to using social media, and get back into the bad habits and unhealthy mindset. And it’s not going to take long before it becomes a bad thing in your life again. Instead, take these tips into consideration and try to change your mindset and habits while using social media. After all, it is just a dumb online hobby. 😉

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.

image4image3 (2)










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





Adjusting Back to a New Reality

image3 (2)We’ve been home for just over a week now, and it’s been quite the exciting and emotional 10 days! I’ve been having ocean and beach withdrawals, but other than that, I am so happy to be back home.image4A lot like the first time we came home from being abroad, most things feel the same, but after the summer we had, Derek and I feel much different. The culture shock and the jet lag wasn’t as bad this time around, so adjusting back to America has been quite easy for us. But even though it’ been easier adjusting this time around, we still came back with new perspectives, mindsets, appreciations, and so much love for the people we missed while we were gone. Like I did with my China experience, I am planning on writing out a few lessons I learned in the last 3 months, but I will save those posts for a different time because this post is about something much bigger than some lessons learned. 😉image1 (6)image2 (5)

For those of you who don’t follow me on social media, and just on word press…SURPRISE!

The most exciting thing we came home with was this surprise and we FINALLY got to tell our family and friends the secret we were keeping while we were away. We only told one friend, and the group that we were with that we were expecting, but wanted it to be a surprise for everyone else. We are so excited for this next adventure and I am overwhelmed by the love that this little babe has already received this week!BASo far, pregnancy hasn’t been a “walk in the park”. I have been so sick, and have just about every symptom that you can think of. But after being that sick in a foreign country with no hot water or AC, I feel like I can accomplish anything. We thought about coming home early, but with the support from our volunteer group, and all of our sweet Dominican neighbors, we made it through. ( I am still working on my “people of the DR” post as well, and I will post it once I can get over my emotions of missing them to finish it.)1111image1 (4)I am feeling a little better now that I am heading into my second trimester, and I think being back in the comfort of our own home with AC and american food has helped a ton. We also got to hear babe’s heartbeat yesterday, and the moment made all of my sickness worth it.

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image15I have to say, I thought I loved Derek a lot before, but after having him take over the group of 21 girls, catering to my needs, helping me keep the secret, and waiting it out until the end of summer to leave, (because my heart wasn’t ready to leave the ocean just yet), I love him more than I ever have. All summer I was reminded subconsciously, and by many other volunteers how lucky I am to have him, and I can’t wait to watch the boy I’ve loved for the last decade become the best daddy.

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As expected, our reality is obviously different than it was when we left in May, but I think with the circumstances, we’ve adjusted great. Even though Harvey seems a little confused with not being the only baby anymore, he is so happy to be back in our home with us. Him and I are both very happy to be inseparable again, I missed him way more this time around because my emotions and anxiety were more out of my control than the first time around. I told Derek to punch me if I ever mention leaving him again. 😉image3 (4)I have a lot of posts to catch up on, and my Dominican Republic video to finish, as well as a million other things on my to do list, but as of right now we are just taking things slow, and spending as much time as we can with each other before work and school hits us next week. Hooray for island time, and soaking in the final days of summer! (our last one alone!)image4 (2)

Onto the next adventure,





Our calm weekend in Cabarete

IMG_7689Between a big service project, not feeling very good, enjoying our last weeks here, and not having the best wifi…it’s taken me a while to get to this post.IMG_7708About a week ago, Derek and I enjoyed our last “vacation” time while we’re here in the Dominican Republic. All of our vacations have been so adventurous and go go go, so for this one we wanted to just take things slow and relax. We decided to go to a surf town called Cabarete, which is only about 45 minutes from our house.IMG_7711IMG_7712We splurged and stayed in a very nice Airbnb called Seawinds. It had hot water, AC, views of the ocean, a very nice swimming pool, and it even had an american washer and dryer. (Like I’ve said before, it’s the little things.)IMG_7696IMG_7699IMG_7694IMG_7709IMG_7698

As always here is the link to this wonderful airbnb:


We spent our weekend binge watching Netflix, finding yummy food, spending time at the pool, and enjoyed watching the kite surfers. The beach we stayed on is called Kite Beach for a good reason.IMG_7714IMG_7724IMG_7684

IMG_7719IMG_7723IMG_7717On our last day of our vacation, we celebrated our 10 year “anniversary” of being together. A whole decade of him by my side, and I am still in awe of how I got so lucky.  (here’s a cute throwback 😉 )

To celebrate our special milestone, we visited Playa Alicia, which is a beach that was about 20 minutes away from our Air BNB. We’ve been wanting to go there since we’ve been in the DR, but hadn’t made it yet. It was a little more touristy, and most visitors are on the beach were from Europe, but the sand and the waves were perfect. I could’ve stayed there all day, so we did. 😉


IMG_7702IMG_77001We ended our night with dinner at a  restaurant that was right on the beach, with one of the most beautiful views of the ocean that I’ve ever seen..and that’s saying something! Unfortunately, I didn’t snap a photo because my camera died and my iphone didn’t do justice, so that view is just in my memory. Sometimes not capturing a moment makes it more special. IMG_7710Derek and I talked a lot about how our time here is coming to an end, and how bittersweet it feels to be leaving this chapter behind, but also looking forward to going back home to the lives we love there.2IMG_7718IMG_7713IMG_7580













IMG_7720With only less than a week left here, I can’t help but feel grateful for the growth we’ve both had this summer. It’s been such a beautiful experience for us, and I am already looking forward to reading these posts, and looking at these photos with nostalgia in the future.3I am hoping to write one more post while we are here, but with the way life (and the wifi) has been lately, my next post might be written cuddled up to Harvey in my air conditioned house. (hooray!)

Onto the next adventure, Wren