Tag Archives: vermont

calmed by community

3 Jan

Written 12/28/15

I find airports bewildering and entertaining. Both weary- and bright-eyed travelers represent a spectrum of individuals coming from or heading to an adventure of some sort. Overwhelmed, curious, rude, oblivious, excited, seasoned, and determined. Airports are strangely neutralizing; they are international arenas through which such an array of passengers navigate systematically, and where one has the choice to interact with, observe, or neglect his/her immediate surroundings. Today, in the wondrous community of the Miami International Airport, I am one of these travelers. Stimulated yet calmed, I am sitting at the same gate where I had been intensely people watching just over a month ago while awaiting my flight to Boston. It had been two years since I was last home in Vermont, and now, as I wait to board my flight back to Santo Domingo, I have some time to reflect on the whirlwind vacation I just experienced.

Between November 23rd and December 28th, I traveled over 10,000 miles, visited three major US cities, spent two holidays in my hometown, attended my grandpa’s 98th birthday party, gave six 50-minute Peace Corps presentations, watched my sister graduate from Auburn University, reunited with my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer (check out mom’s blog here), got two massages, ate all the food I’ve been longing for, spent quality Auntie Kati time with my five sobrinitos, took the 5:20am Dartmouth Coach to the Logan Airport too many times, and reconnected with a healthy number of family members and friends. I owe the majority of these ‘accomplishments’ to my parents, particularly to my dad. Generous with his time, feedback, humor, and goodwill, Tom has become an active, integral part of the local Woodstock community; he not only made my homecoming possible, but also humbly heartwarming.


Turkey Trotting

photo 1

Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler and his granddaughters 🙂


Chicago with my college roommate, where we watched Clemson make it to the Orange Bowl!  


Tree decorating in Chicago



One of my favorite activities?  Catching up with a fellow Tiger.  

photo 1

snuggle seshes in Denver


So happy I was able to catch this guy’s holiday concert!


Tree decorating in Denver


Reunited with my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer


Carrie graduated from Auburn!


War Damn!


Weschler sisters and the Mister

photo 2

Long weekend with mom = awesome bike tour in Atlanta


Grandpa turns 98!


*Merry Christmas*

This sense of community – bumping into classmates at the gas station, alumni hockey games, celebrating the holidays out on the dance floor of the only bar in town, sharing my Peace Corps experience with the local schools, exchanging motivational cheers with both tourists and Vermonters alike during the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, an unspoken yet shared appreciation for good beer and local food – is what I missed most about Vermont, and is also one of my favorite parts about the Dominican Republic. It seems almost paradoxical that one has to leave a place to be able recognize what makes it so special in the first place.


hungry -> Worthy -> blessed

During my trip home, I came to several realizations. The three that reoccurred the most were: 1) I am excited for these next 6 months of work in the Dominican Republic. 2) I am excited to start preparing for what might come when it’s time to leave the island on June 15th. 3) How will I bridge 1 and 2 to close this chapter that has shaped some of my most intimate beliefs and experiences to date?

These next six months have a lot in store to keep me busy in the mean time – site development, volunteer visits, arrival of a new CED group, training sessions, hosting Stateside visitors, planning the national conference of Construye Tus Sueños, and soaking up all the time I can get with mi familia dominicana. My mind races with to-do lists. I consider the thought that I’ve lost the ability to speak Spanish. But as the passengers begin to arrive for our flight to Santo Domingo, the familiar vibrancy (read: loud colors and voices) assures me that I will finish out this service how any traveler can choose to embark on an adventure – curious, stimulated, and determined.


Since writing this post, I’ve realized that I still do know how to speak Spanish. I celebrated this New Years in my home away from home, surrounded by mosquitoes and blaring bachata music, and watching my Tigers make it to the National Championship.


Reni and I on New Years Day

photo (1)

my home, my heart. omailin.

photo (2)

Hungry hippos, happy campers


Watching the game in my Dominican family’s house.  ESPN in Spanish!  

Love knows no boundaries.




“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

love thy neighbor

26 Jul

As a little girl, I fondly remember my mom baking banana bread for the new families that would move into the neighborhood. To this day, I consider this a classy, warm, and pragmatic gesture.  When we moved to Vermont in 1998, this tradition continued; interacting with our neighbors was both common and crucial, especially because of the infamous ice storm that hit the northeast that winter – coordinating snowplow schedules, sharing batteries or candles when a trip to the store was impossible, letting us park our car in their driveway when we couldn’t make it up ours, etc.

Needless to say, my childhood would have been much less entertaining if it hadn’t been for that small cluster of houses at the end of a remote dirt road. We were an adventurous but sane assortment of kids who bonded over outdoor activities and who cherished our tight-knit families – The Grassy Lane Gang. I know our parents appreciated it too – carpools, after school play dates, medical support (the neighborhood dubbed my mom “Nurse Ratchet” for her interest and ability in healing any sort of ailment), and an unspoken accord regarding healthy snacks and limited TV time.

Grassy Lang Gang, crankin' apple cider at the house down the road

Grassy Lang Gang, crankin’ apple cider at the house down the road

Grassy Lane Gang

Grassy Lane Gang

members of the Grassy Lane Gang, circa 2013

members of the Grassy Lane Gang, circa 2013

I’ve lately been reflecting on how much neighbors mean to me. While I appreciate my alone time (of which I get quite a bit of here in Santo Domingo compared to in the campo), I’m recognizing how much I strongly value and enjoy human connection. This seems like a basic realization, but accepting a certain vulnerability that befriending the unknown requires has ultimately led me to experience tremendous humility, laughter, confusion, gratitude, frustration, and friendships.  Enjoying this sort of enlightenment in the company of people who share spaces makes the experience that much richer.

Happiness is only real when shared.

Here in Santo Domingo, I live in an apartment building comprised of about 20 or so separate apartments. Though I wish I could say I know all of my neighbors like I did in Pescadería (where it was common for me lend my clothespins or toilet plunger to one of them), I know the occupants of only 3 apartments here. But nonetheless, these bonds have been helpful and genuine, and reliable sources of human connection for which I am appreciative.

Today for example, I was headed out to do a few errands when I locked the door to my apartment then realized that I had left my phone inside. Frustration (read: slight panic) struck when I went to unlock the door and part of the lock fell off into my hand, leaving another part stuck in the door. Without hesitation I knocked on my neighbor’s apartment next door, Angela, who lent me a hammer, wrench, and knife to try and fiddle my way back inside. To no avail, she volunteered her youngest child to see if he could squeeze through the bars of the iron gate. We decided instead that it was better to go downstairs and look for Leo, another neighbor who, in addition to being the fiancé of a fellow PCV, happens to be quite the handyman. Less than 5 minutes later, Leo was at my doorway, equipped with safety glasses and sawing his way through the stubborn lock. Meanwhile, Angela had provided me with a chair to sit in, assuring me not to worry and that tomorrow she would call her friend who happened to be an ironworker. In a short period of time, Leo gave one last yank on the weakened metal and I was granted access into my apartment once again (no worries – got plenty of other methods to keep my apartment secure in the mean time!). As neighbors united in a time of need, we briefly celebrated then soon went our separate ways, almost indifferent to the naturalness of the exchange.

Pescadería, where my house wouldn't have been home without a hammock and around-the-clock watchmen. and by watchmen i mean tight-knit neighbors fond of rum, story telling, old bachata, their grandchildren, and power sitting.

Pescadería, where my house wouldn’t have been home without a hammock and around-the-clock watchmen. and by watchmen i mean tight-knit neighbors fond of rum, story telling, old bachata, their grandchildren, and power sitting.

I end this post with a tribute to my favorite neighbor of all time, Pepelo. He adopted me into his home with grace, in yet another unspoken accord between neighbors. From the moment I moved across the street from his house and built-in colmado, Pepelo cared for me as a daughter. He used the land behind my house to cultivate and provide us with the south’s infamous plantains, took care of my cat when I traveled, and never forgot to save me my share of the day’s meal. In light of it being Father’s Day here in the Dominican Republic (yet another reason why a neighbor rather than locksmith solved today’s dilemma), I encourage you to befriend your neighbors – friendly waves might one day make you family.

Pepelo and plantains

Pepelo and plantains

Reina, Pepelo's wife and undeniably reliable neighbor

Reina, Pepelo’s wife and undeniably reliable neighbor

So thankful for both of these stand-up guys; blessed that they've been able to meet, bond, and recognize each other's indispensable role in my well-being

Happy Father’s Day!  So thankful for both of these stand-up guys; blessed that they’ve been able to meet, bond, and recognize each other’s indispensable role in my well-being


9 Dec

Not too much has happened since my last update.  Oh wait, I VISITED HOME!!!!  10 days sure did fly by, especially because 2 of them were spent traveling, but catching up with so many friends and family was priceless.  Some highlights include:

–       Speaking at Woodstock Union High School to various students and teachers about Peace Corps, culture in the Dominican Republic, and my life as a PCV in the DR so far – very rewarding, and I was thrilled to share my experience with so many eager listeners.  Thanks guys 🙂

–       Sharing all the Dominican goodies I’d brought home with my family.  Before I left, my neighbors and I made pan de yuca and pan de maíz, both of which I fit in my suitcase; they totaled about 20 lbs.  I also brought various dulces home – banana, coconut/pineapple with raisins, and tomato (yes, you can make tomato dessert, and it was actually the favorite of the three!).  Lastly, I brought home three big bags of tasty sweetened cacao seeds made by a women’s association where my friend Sam is living and working.

–       Seeing my family and friends after so long, but particularly my niece and 2 nephews.  It had been almost a year since I’d seen them, and they’re growing up so beautifully!

–       Thanksgiving dinner.  Who doesn’t love it?  Plus it had been 9 months since my last bite of turkey.

–       My dad got married!  Congrats Tom and Mary – love you both very much.

–       Visiting Oak Knoll farm in Windsor, VT.  This place has over 800 goats (!!) and they produce milk and yogurt.  I took advantage of living so close by and took a tour of the farm.  I plan to share pictures and what I learned with members of La Cabrita

Oak Knoll's Goat Yogurt

Oak Knoll’s Goat Yogurt

I got back to site on Tuesday, realizing that I’m thankful for an infinite number of things.  Visiting home was such a blur of mixed emotions.  Culture shock.  Hugging family and friends that I hadn’t seen in way too long.  Freezing my butt off.  Being able to plug in my electronics whenever I wanted because I didn’t have to worry about there not being luz.  Speaking in English.  Nature.  Mescaline lettuce, and not having to soak it in bleach before eating it.  Trash cans.  Realizing how great my high school education was.  Drinking pure Vermont water from the tap.  Wearing a seatbelt.  Having all my friends telling me that I look pretty because I’m so tan.  Coming back to the DR and having everyone tell me that I’m prettier because I’m whiter.  Culture shock.

burgers are good and I missed them.

burgers are good and I missed them.

But I’m thankful for it all, and I decided that I’m really happy with what I’m doing.  Not every day is comfortable or uncomplicated, but that would take the adventure out of this whole experience.  Overall, life here is pretty dang good, and I’m thankful for so many things every day…How easy it is to clean cement floors.  How badass I feel while riding a motorcycle, even if I’m always the passenger.  My health and safety.  The kids’ eagerness to learn, play, and give hugs.  Fresh fruit, and the infinite number of tasty juice combos one can create.  Saludar-ing.  The determinedness of the members of La Cabrita.  Having my neighbors bring me lunch every single day and not expecting anything in return.  My mosquito net.  Recognizing how much less water I use by taking bucket showers.  The crunch of perfect tostones.  The fact that no one does anything when it rains.  Bachata.  How accomplished I feel after finishing my laundry.  The stars on a luz-less night.

Catching up with friends and family :)

Catching up with friends and family 🙂

One thing that I don’t express enough though is how thankful I am for all the other volunteers.  It’s one thing to go home and “explain” to people what your life is like.  That’s even what I’m trying to do by writing this blog.  But no matter how many details you give, gestures you make, or pictures you share, you just can’t do it justice.  Life here is too different.  Good and bad different.  So that’s why I’m thankful for other volunteers.  They’re living here too.  We all have different sites, but we share similar frustrations and break-throughs, failures and triumphs, goals and dreams, and digestion problems.  And from Day 1 we’ve been able to talk about it all.  And I mean everything – I’ll spare you the details 🙂

Jackson, my nephew, and I

My nephew, Jackson, and I

So here’s a list of some fellow PCV-DR bloggers, most of who arrived with me in March (more than nine months ago!)  All of them are doing great and very different things, and are those who make this whole experience that much better.  Thanks guys!



http://skinneypeacecorps.wordpress.com/   – who I bought the cacao seeds from!






Really important P.S. – Two weeks from today I receive my first stateside visitors!!!  Can’t wait to see you Mom and Carrie, and to show you what life here is really like 🙂

Mio and I decorating for Christmas while anxiously awaiting Carrie and Mom's arrival!

Mio and I decorating for Christmas while anxiously awaiting Carrie and Mom’s arrival!

me queda una semana!

26 Feb

A huge GRACIAS to all who came out to my party!! It was low-key, snowy, and a great mix of food and people – I genuinely appreciate all of your kindness and support.


Hard to believe I leave in a week! I first applied to the Peace Corps in March of 2012, so needless to say it’s been quite the process. Mom and I did some serious shopping on Saturday, so aside from the fact that I haven’t started packing, I’m feeling ready to go. HAH, more or less anyway – I mean, how does one prepare for something like this? Who really knows what I’m in for, but what I’ve learned from other experiences is this: keep expectations low and your mind open; observe; get comfortable out of your comfort zone; make friends; be respectful, confident, positive, and humble; and perhaps most importantly, ask questions. Oh, and breathe.

Today my dad and I drove down to Mystic, CT (where I’m writing from now), to visit and bid farewell to my grandparents. I showed them pictures from my cross-country trip, and they flattered and spoiled me like any grandparents do their grandchildren 🙂 Tomorrow I’m heading to Portland, ME to visit two friends from school. Thursday, packing begins…or maybe that’ll start Friday.

Ultimately, this time next week I will be in a hotel room in Washington D.C., probably reviewing the names of my fellow volunteers and the overwhelming amount of new, introductory Peace Corps information, all while enjoying my potentially last hot shower and sip from a tap till who knows when.


you are cordially invited

19 Feb

…to my going away party!

when?  this sunday, 2/24

what time?  12-3

where?  my dad’s house (1957 prosper road in woodstock)

we’ll provide light snacks and refreshments so POR FAVOR – come one, come all… really, the more the merrier!  


also, since it’s really getting down to the wire (t minus two weeks!!), i figured i’d share a bit more information about what i’ll be doing for the next few years.  this is pretty much all that i’ve been told, and clearly i’ll learn more once i get to the DR, but here are the details to my assignment:

program: community economic development

title: community economic advisor

orientation: march 5th

pre-service training: march 6-may 15

service: may 16, 2013-may 14, 2015

and here’s a vague summation of my volunteer assignment description:

  • improve living conditions by empowering communities, families, and individuals to make informed financial decisions
  • help develop business administration skills, financial management, and organizational efficiency of community-based NGOs
  • support entrepreneurs to strengthen business practices and better manage financial conditions
  • develop and assist with income-generating projects



let the countdown begin…

8 Feb

YAYYYY all of this is starting to feel very real! It’s been getting more and more exciting to read Peace Corps emails, especially because a few recent ones contain details regarding my MARCH SIXTH departure to the DR. That’s less than a month away people. Nerve-wracking? Yes. But, since the application process has not necessarily been the quickest of experiences, it’s a bit of a relief to see some kinda light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

So as of now, the plan is to fly on the 5th of March from Boston to Washington D.C, and then from D.C. to Miami to Santo Domingo on the 6th. In D.C. I’ll meet up with about 30 other volunteers that are also going to the Dominican Republic. At the staging event, we’ll get a brief introduction to Peace Corps’ expectations, policies, and operations; I’m just excited to start meeting all the people I’ll be serving with!  We’ll get more pertinent and specific information in pre-service training, which starts once we’re in-country. During the three months of PST, volunteers live with host families and attend technical, cultural, operational, and language training sessions. The next step would then be the swearing-in ceremony, where one becomes an official Peace Corps Volunteer. As of now, my term of service is scheduled to start May 14th, 2013 and end May 15, 2015. Yowzahs!

Soooo, given that that pretty long period of time is quickly approaching, my parents are throwing me a going away party!!! Details as follows:

Sunday, February 24th

1957 Prosper Road
Woodstock, VT


More info to come, but I’d really like to see you there 🙂

Hello from Vermont

27 Jan

I am back in Vermont for the first time since October 15!  That day, two good girlfriends (also from Woodstock) and I departed for a road trip in my car, Susan the Civic.  Our goal was to drive, eat, sight-see, and explore our way across the great country of the United States of America to California.  We took two weeks to visit various cities, national parks, foodie destinations, and family members and friends.

Inside the Bean; Chicago, IL

Inside the Bean; Chicago, IL

Sidebar: This has been a dream of mine for quite some time, but especially since I studied abroad in Argentina.  When my dad came to visit me there, we took a trip to Mendoza – on the border of Chile, beautiful, cobblestone, wine country, sigh, I’ll go back there some day.  Without a doubt, it was a very special father-daughter bonding experience.  Long story short, we ended up having to rent a car because our flight didn’t work out, and what we originally thought was going to be a 4 hour car ride turned out to be one close to 10.  Oh, and we didn’t bother to get any map what so ever, except for one of Córdoba where we had rented the car.  But we eventually made it to Mendoza!  The next day, after riding horses along the foothills of the Andes (picturesque, right?), we gathered with some gauchos and other tourists around a bonfire.  I started a conversation with a guy from Rosario, and among other questions, I asked him if he’d ever been to the US.  Even despite the several cups of Tinco (awesome red wine + Coca Cola) that I’d consumed that could have potentially affected my memory, I will remember his answer forever: “No.  And it’s not like I don’t want to.  But it’s important to me that I explore my own country first.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

Me, Courtney, and Zoe at the Grand Canyon

Me, Courtney, and Zoe at the Grand Canyon

Anyway, so I eventually lived up to that guy’s thought- and adventure-provoking words, and our cross-country trip was freaking awesome:

10/15: Woodstock, Vermont –> Chicago, IL

10/18: Chicago –> Denver, CO

10/21: Denver –> Boulder

10/24: Boulder –> Sante Fe, NM

10/26: Santa Fe –> Flagstaff, AZ

10/27: Flagstaff –> Grand Canyon –> Kanab, UT

10/28: Kanab –> Zion National Park –> Las Vegas, NV

10/29: Las Vegas –> Encinitas, CA

10/31: Encinitas –> Los Angeles

While we had secured a sublet apartment in West Hollywood, Los Angeles for the month of November, we had pretty much no game plan (read: no jobs).  But that’s OK!  Given that we were in a prime location, and also had Susan to drive around, we did our fair share of exploring the greater LA area, which by the way is huge.  Farmers’ markets, museums, internet cafes, strolls, food trucks, neighborhood tours, happy hours, even a concert!  We certainly found ways to occupy our time, and I will remember those weeks for the rest of my life.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

When I got my invitation to the Peace Corps shortly after Thanksgiving, the three of us began to realize that we actually needed to figure out what we were going to do with our lives, at least for the month of December.  My family was going to be spending Christmas in Denver, and given that I was not ready to go back to Vermont just yet, I opted to continue exploring California until the holidays came around.  I had about two weeks to kill, so I paid $30 to access the WWOOF directory.  Short for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (http://www.wwoof.org/), WWOOFing offers volunteers food, accommodations, and agriculture knowledge/experience in exchange for their help on the farm.  Having found one I liked (a vineyard/olive grove called Le Vin), I left LA on December 4th to begin my trek north to Cloverdale, CA.  Serious rain storms and power outages delayed my arrival a few days, but I eventually got to spend probably the most interesting four days of my life picking olives, tasting wine, playing guitar, and conversing with some of the funkiest people I will ever meet.  I think I’ll just leave it at that.  But here’s a tip: don’t eat an olive right off the tree – they are very bitter and must be cured before consumption 🙂

December 11th I left Susan in Pleasanton, CA (thanks Frank and Luann!), and headed to my sister’s house in Denver, CO.  While the whole Weschler clan came to Lauren’s for about five days at Christmas, I managed to stay there for nearly one whole month!  It was truly priceless to have been able to spend so much time with my family before having to leave for two years.  But eventually, it was time to resume my vagabond ways.


Seaweed on Route 1, California

Given that my car was still in California, I figured I’d stick with the road trip theme and make my way back to Vermont.  This way, I could continue seeing the US and spend at least a month in Vermont before I left for the DR in March.  Despite it being just Susan and I this time, I started my journey back across the country on the 7th of January, and I have zero regrets…

1/7: Denver, CO –> San Francisco, CA

1/10: San Francisco –> Los Angeles

1/11: Los Angeles –> Phoenix, AZ

1/13: Phoenix –> Amado, AZ

1/14: Amado –> Abilene, TX

1/16: Abilene –> New Orleans, LA

1/17: NOLA –> Clemson, SC (GO TIGERS)

1/20: Clemson –> Greenville

1/21: Greenville –> Washington D.C.

1/24: D.C. –> Mystic, CT

1/25: Mystic –> Woodstock, VT

Golden Gate Bridge; San Francisco, CA

Golden Gate Bridge; San Francisco, CA

So after over 8500 miles of driving, it feels very good to be home.  Without a doubt though, these last few months have been some of the most eye-opening, tastiest, worthwhile, and humbling that I’ve experienced to date.  Endless advice, support, and hospitality, AND no flat tires, break downs, or accidents – all in all a very positive trip, and I feel very blessed 🙂  Still, I have so much to see!  We live in a beautifully vast country filled with incredible cities, food, culture, landscapes, opportunities, and individuals; I can only hope that others realize how lucky we are to live here.  I encourage everyone to explore, to ask questions, to step outside of your comfort zone, to take the path less traveled, and to be positive.  There are just way too many people/places/things to experience not to.  And as elementary as it sounds, make new friends and keep the old!  It’s been priceless to meet, see, and/or reconnect with so many friends along this journey, especially because I’ll be leaving for two years!  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

The Trip

The Trip

Peace Corps Update: I’ve received final medical clearance and am waiting for my plane ticket to come in the mail!  Bought a book about the DR, and must do lots of research regarding everything.

do i have the best hometown or do i have the best hometown?

17 Dec

I couldn’t be more proud or lucky to have grown up in such a picturesque little town like Woodstock, Vermont.  Click here to see places Martha Stewart recommends visiting – shout out to the Woodstock Farmers Market because I’ve worked there for many years, and it’s THE best place to visit on that list!

Woodstock’s Middle Bridge


Lord knows I’ll miss this place…