Thursday, August 21, 2008

How did this get missed?

Levy Mwanawasa, President of Zambia, died on August 19.  

I have yet to see a single mention of this in North American or European news.  And I get daily RSS newsfeeds from CBC, BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and I read the Globe and Mail online every day (yes, I'm a news junkie).  Not even a one-line sidebar.

Mwanawasa was an important figure in African politics.  As President of Zambia, he took a zero-tolerance approach to corruption and even charged former President Frederick Chiluba (who had Mwanawasa as Vice-President) with theft.  He was chair of the Southern African Development Community, which is a complementary body to the African Union.  He has been cited as a champion of democracy in the region, and was an outspoken critic of Robert Mugabe (who does seem to make a presence the North American and European press easily).  He called Mugabe an embarrassment to Africa as a result of the 2008 elections and likened Zimbabwe to the Titanic.  He recently had been focusing on agriculture policies and improved Zambia's ag production by over 60 %.  The policies helped produce a surplus of maize by 2007 - pretty important considering the rising cost of food and food shortages in Africa.

While I'm sure there are plenty of things to be found not-so-great about him (Wikipedia says there were a lot of problems in the 2001 election he won), the fact remains that he stood out in Africa.  How is it that not a single news source outside Africa (and the Reuters alert I just found) has decided this is a newsworthy item?

Since I have been here, it is easy to see the distinct bias that seems to leave Africa out in calculating what is important in the world.  It IS true that to most of the rest of the world, Africa is synonymous with poverty, famine, suffering, and disease.  Sure, those things are here, but there is a heck of a lot more too.  As long as the rest of the world regards Africa as a hopeless write-off and unimportant, things will never get better.

To anyone who has been involved in advocacy campaigns, I know that this is nothing new.  The predictable "bleeding hearts" and commercials at Christmas say things like this all the time.  But the problem with a lot of those messages is that they use stereotypical images and data to beg for help.  It seems so unhelpful, though.  It even has name: hunger-based advocacy.  It irritates me.

While the name of this blog may indicate that I have a bit of a cynical view on life, there is a part of me that believes that it is possible for positive change to happen in the world.  I think that humanity itself will someday be the basic common denominator among us, rather than divisions based on skin color, income, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, gender, age, or place of origin (and I'm sure that list could be greatly expanded).  Sadly, I just don't think I will see it happen in my lifetime.  

This is not to say that this condition doesn't exist anywhere.  There are plenty of people and places who hold humanity as the common denominator - they're just not the majority and if one happens to get to a place of power, he/she often gets killed or has a tragic accident.  A surprising upside to the HIV and AIDS epidemic is that the only approach that DOES seem to work in reducing infections and improving care for infected people is to ignore all the divisive factions and focus on people's value as human beings.  It is hard to go back to hating people for all sorts of reasons after that.

I seem to have gone a bit off topic.  My basic complaint here is that an important figure for Africa and the world, not to mention a head of state, has just died and no one outside Africa seems to think it is of note.  It underscores a Euro-American bias and stereotype.  Maybe if he had been horribly corrupt or killed a bunch of his citizens, the Euro-American-centrist world would think it was important that he died.  But he seemed to have the best interests of his country and his region at heart (fully recognizing here that no politician is altruistic), and his country is on the Africa continent.  So who cares, right?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Volunteerism or Voluntourism?

Judith Timson wrote an article in the Globe and Mail on-line on July 29 about what she calls "voluntouring." (I'm not providing the link because there seems to be a cut-off point for accessing back articles for free - if you want to read it try searching for it on the G&M website to see if you can still access it - I cut and pasted the text to save it for myself).  Basically she says that most international volunteering is done by recent high school or university grads, is short-term, and almost always incorporates a few weeks of holidays in an exotic location, completely or at least the majority paid for by mommy and daddy.  She cites the upsides as bragging rights for parents, and learning and resume boosts for the kids.  And she laments the unfairness that less affluent youth don't have the same opportunity and corresponding benefits.

She's not really wrong.

And she's hit on an issue that many people are starting to be interested in.

A recent study by an Irish volunteer organization, Comhlámh, explored the impact of international volunteering on host organizations.  The organizations involved in the study (half of which were from Tanzania), echoed Timson's position that many volunteers are more interested in being tourists in the country they are working than in devoting their time to their host organization.  The study also confirmed that most volunteers are short-term (less than 3 months) and come from Europe and North America.  Comlámh has developed a Code of Good Practice for volunteer sending organizations and a Volunteer Charter for volunteers to help avoid common mistakes and problems.

Another site, Ethical Volunteering, "offers advice and information for people who are interested in international volunteering and want to make sure what they do is of value to themselves and the people they work with."  It was started and is still run by a woman who did her PhD on gap-year volunteering.  

A researcher at Dalhousie is also currently conducting a study on the impact of learning/volunteer abroad programs.  The title of the study is "Creating Global Citizens?"  Yes, with a question mark.

This is all amid a wave of discussion on ethical and green tourism.  The Briarpatch ran an issue in late 2006 on Fair Travel and I even reviewed a couple of special travel guides for the issue, including one by a giant in the industry, Lonely Planet.  The idea The Briarpatch put forward is that fair travel is looking to apply "fair trade" principles to the tourism industry.  One of the suggestions most put forward by the guide books and implied in discussions on the subject as a way to diminish the exploitative effects of tourism is a volunteering vacation.  The Briarpatch even provided 4 links to organizations that could arrange ethical vacations.

But this is just what Timson, and host organizations themselves say is unfair and unhelpful.

In the past year and a half in Tanzania, it is one of the issues I have been trying to get my head around.  I have some questions.  What is volunteerism anyway?  It seems that volunteering is supposed to incorporate some kind of sacrifice - should volunteers suffer?  If so, how much?  Does suffering make the volunteer or the work more noble?  How?  What if suffering affects the quality of the volunteer's work?  What kind of financial and benefit support should volunteers get who devote their volunteering efforts full-time for a long period?  Should doing a job as a volunteer be any less credible or important than doing a job for pay?  What, exactly, are the negative aspects of incorporating vacation time and volunteering time?  Why is it different (and worthy of disdain) if parents (or anyone else) pays?  What about altruism? Solidarity?  Does/can international volunteering contribute to international development? How? 

I've collected in a folder on my computer articles and ramblings to try and sort out the issue.  I'm not convinced I have a good handle on it yet. It is kind of connected to the question of what am I doing here, anyway?  People are motivated to volunteer for all sorts of reasons.  I was recruited for a specific position and given a 2-year contract with a small stipend and modest benefits package.  The kind of volunteering I am doing is very different from short-term stints that the volunteers fund themselves.  I'm not sure if my situation can be compared to the other kinds.  I'm not ready to draw a lot of conclusions yet (but maybe a few).

One of the biggest issues is money.  The stipend I receive is just enough to live.  My organization does this very deliberately.  We are volunteers - not paid workers - and in no way are we given enough to save. It is hard to feel valued for many reasons with my organization, but especially because they discontinued an allowance they used to pay on return to Canada to help volunteers get re-settled. (Sorry, a small rant there).  Should altruism or solidarity expect nothing in return?  

But the potential benefits ARE huge.  Let's face it, international volunteering looks great on a resume.  There's a significant amount of learning a person does - about themselves, about problems of development (for lack of a better word), about cultures and lands different from their own.  Personally and professionally, volunteering provides amazing opportunities for advancement.  Is it going too far to say it could be called a university of life? (Notice I didn't say THE university of life - I'm sure there are plenty of other experiences that confer similar knowledge).  It is unique, however.  

Is it fair, though, to expect that volunteering should be 100% altruistic?  And is altruism, or can it be, condescending?  I get so irritated by doe-eyed  people with their heads tilted to one side who say they just want to help.  Fine, but be realistic about it.  And realize that if it's help and not solidarity, the problems are not really being addressed.  

So, back to the issue of being a tourist, a volunteer, or a hybrid.  I agree with Timson that international volunteering is of huge benefit and it is not fair when only the affluent can take advantage of the opportunity.  But do we outlaw exclusive private schools in Canada? That is essentially the same thing.  Of course we don't.  But many people still feel snide about that kind of privilege.  The reality is, it's unfair because it's not accessible to everyone.  And organizations like the one which sent me theoretically should help with balancing out the playing field since they offer a stipend and modest benefits, and even some shorter term placements.  But when nearly all the volunteers need a university degree to be competitive candidates for placements and it is now nearly impossible for most students in Canada to finish university without taking a student loan, reality trumps idealistic theories and we are back with only the affluent being able to afford volunteer opportunities.  After all, only having enough money to live means that it's not possible to pay student loans, or a Visa bill for that matter.  The student loan people don't like it when they have to wait or don't get paid at all (the Visa people either).  Long-term volunteer sending agencies need to incorporate this reality into their recruitment and programming plans.  No one can live for free - someone, somewhere has to pay.  How nice if mommy and daddy can do it.  It only adds to the credibility when the volunteer pays for him/herself.  

In sum, I see a few distinct issues in the argument:  
1. The work involved in the volunteer placement.  All volunteers have a responsibility to be realistic about the work they are doing, be aware of the context in which they are working and their own motivations.  While working in a host organization, a volunteer should give it their all - the same as a paid position. For sending organizations - they also need to provide adequate professional support to volunteers.  If we have to be professional, why not the sending organizations?    

2. The financial implication of international volunteering.  Volunteers who must provide their own funding ensure that their needs are met.  The same should be true for organizations that provide stipends - and volunteers in those organizations should be involved in determining the needs.      

3. Taking in the sights while away from home.  Anyone who doesn't take advantage of seeing and learning from a new country - or anywhere that isn't home - is a fool.  There's a lot to learn by observing beach tourist destinations, and safaris, and ruins, and getting off the beaten path.  In my opinion - who cares who pays?  And I don't think touring takes away from the work done as a volunteer, unless of course it actually does take away from the volunteer work (see point 1 above).    

4. Left out of Timson's article is the point of view of the host organizations.  Comhlámh has started to explore this, but there's a lot more to know.  

As for the rest of the issues around volunteering, it seems to me there's still a lot to be sorted out.

Shift in Focus

As I've mentioned, I'm not so sure that I like blogging about my life.  I know I'm far away from home and it's nice to update people, but I just don't think I can do it on a blog.  I'm sure I will still let you know the big things from time to time, don't worry.

Rather than let this space go to waste and languish as it's been doing lately however, I've decided to use it for some ramblings and thoughts on relevant issues while I'm here.  

The reading list will stay.  I'm sadly STILL reading Collapse.  I read fiction very slowly and I think I've been so preoccupied with frustration, and to be honest, depression over the state of my placement and all the issues that go along with it that I have hardly been reading at all.  It's not the fault of the book.

I have some ideas for postings and if anyone out there is actually still reading this blog, feel free to suggest your thoughts too.  

Thursday, July 24, 2008

So maybe this blogging thing isn't going so well at all.

I thought it would be a better alternative to mass emails, but now I'm not so sure. I feel so shy about putting my personal life out there for EVERYONE (literally everyone - with just my friends and family, I'm not that shy at all). I'm probably way overestimating the number of people interested in reading about my life, but a blog is like a permanent record out there - maybe not as bad as The Truman Show, but it's still pretty open.

Maybe if everything was good, it wouldn't be too hard to write about it. But if I want to tell the important people that I care about what's really going on in my life, I can't only put in the good things. And there are some really good things, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I don't suppose anyone really wants to hear my detailed list of woe, so I will just sum it up. Maybe the best way to explain it is to make a list of what I have learned. The hard way. In fact, this experience as a volunteer in Tanzania has been an extremely intense learning time - it's just that I'm learning about how things are supposed to be by things being the wrong way around. Here's what I have learned:

1. Even the most respected of volunteer sending agencies can have some massive organizational dysfunction.
2. Just because an organization or anyone, really, claims to adhere to social justice principles doesn't mean they do.
3. Glossy brochures do not mean anything.
4. Hypocrisy is loathsome.
5. People will lie to your face. And you will probably believe them.
6. Self-interest and the pursuit of money will make people do anything and compromise all ethics, principles, and laws.
7. Corruption is almost always NOT about needing money. It is a state of mind.
8. Without proper oversight, almost all people will take advantage.
9. People with power will do almost anything (and some people will do literally anything) to keep it.
10. It's really, really hard to be different and have everyone point it out. Every single day. And I'm not exaggerating.
11. It's really, really hard to listen to other people's mistaken assumptions about you. Almost every day.
12. Being stuck in a bad situation really, really sucks (ok, I already knew this one, but it still sucks)
13. Trying to work in solidarity for change highlights a lot of assumptions that need examination. Not that the assumptions were wrong, but they should be examined. And it can seem hopeless.
14. The shock of disappointment with no likelihood for improvement is really depressing.
15. My professional life is intrinsically connected to my overall contentment (this is actually a positive thing to learn).


And now for the good things in my life.

I'm getting married. Can anyone believe it? I don't know that I can myself. Of all the people I never thought would get married, I'm at the top of the list. What can I say?

I met the right guy.

And here's where I feel shy about putting my whole private life out for the whole world. So I'll give you the Reader's Digest version and anyone who really wants to know more can send me an email.

We met right after I arrived last year (and half!) and we took it one step at at time. I once had a conversation with a prof about not being sure if I wanted kids (hey now - don't freak out yet!). Her advice was that I had to find the love of my life first. My cynical self thought that was pish posh. But I found him and I wasn't even looking. My gut told me it was right at the very beginning and even though I preferred to let my level head make that decision later, my gut was probably gloating and telling my head "I told you so!" when we decided to get married. And really, don't freak out about the kids - I so need a stable job and we need a house before we can think about that.

What about him, you ask?

His name is Aziz. He's my friend and my...well, my mom is probably reading this, so I'll censor myself a little. He's a tour guide and is an expert in cultural tourism. I met him while doing a batik-making workshop. Cosmic forces were involved I think because we randomly ran into each other the next day and exchanged numbers. And the rest is history. I could just gush on and on, but I know what you're all thinking - "is he really all that?" And the answer is YES!! And to the worriers out there (I know who you are and what you're thinking too) - NO! There's nothing to be worried about.

The wedding is planned for August 31. There are a million details, like all weddings. My plan was to go simple and casual. But he's the one who wanted fancy. I find it very amusing - it's so the opposite of gender stereotypes. So I'm getting a dress made, and he's getting a suit. I have dangly earrings and silver shoes! And I'm flouting some traditions that I don't like the history of. My dress will be dove grey. We are negotiating the wedding norms of two cultures and trying to do things the way we want, but it can be complicated sometimes. I'm not completely in love with the Western tradition of marriage and he's not in love with the Tanzanian style either. We're doing our own thing - as much as we can without offending people.

Most weddings are serious all-out affairs here. People will forgo paying their rent, their utilities, and even their kids' school fees to put on a wedding. They usually throw a before-party or print up cards asking for donations to help them pay for the wedding. We think that's kind of tacky, so we're not doing it. But it's helping reduce expectations.

The one thing that is sad about all of it is that almost none of you will be there :( My brother and another friend are coming - yay! But don't worry too much. I am planning to have a second party when we get home (whenever that will be...) so that I can celebrate with all the people I love. I once commented to a friend that I wished I could have all the people I love in one room together at the same time. She replied that was what weddings were for. So, even though it won't be the official wedding, it will be close enough and I promise to serve cake.

So, to sum up the last 5 months, it's been the full spectrum from happy to very, very bad. So, thank god for the happy stuff.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Reading List

I'm going to start a new reading list for the next year. In all I read 27 books over the last year, which averages out to about one every 2 weeks. Of course, I read 4 books over the Christmas holidays which were only 2 weeks long, so it didn't quite work out evenly - I'm finding that I read non-fiction much slower than fiction.

I'm putting my reading list from the last year here for reference.
  • - The Exalted Company of Roadside Martyrs - Warren Cariou
  • - Assata - Assata Shakur
  • - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
  • - The Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith
  • - Ten Thousand Lovers - Edeet Ravel
  • - Blue Shoes and Happiness - Alexander McCall Smith (Africa)
  • - The Kalahari Typing School for Men - Alexander McCall Smith (Africa)
  • - Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
  • - Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond
  • - When a Crocodile Eats the Sun - Peter Godwin (Africa)
  • - The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories - Ernest Hemingway (Africa - slightly)
  • - 28 - Stephanie Nolen (Africa & HIV/AIDS)
  • - A Great Feast of Light - John Doyle
  • - The Constant Gardener - John le Carré (Africa)
  • - The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger
  • - State of Fear - Michael Crichton
  • - The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver (Africa)
  • - The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
  • - The In-between World of Vikram Lall - MG Vassanji (Africa)
  • - The Book of Secrets - MG Vassanji (Africa)
  • - The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
  • - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling
  • - The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. - Sandra Gulland
  • - In the Company of Cheerful Ladies - Alexander McCall Smith (Africa)
  • - Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith (Africa)
  • - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith (Africa)
  • - Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One Year!

Wow! I've now been in Tanzania for a whole year. It doesn't really seem like it - it's hard to believe.

In some ways I feel like I've adapted, but in other ways not at all. I can get by with my basic Swahili and I can pretty much navigate day-to-day life without any problems at all. But in other ways I don't feel like I completely fit in. The politics of race are certainly alive and well here. I will always be an outsider because of the color of my skin. The history of colonialism is still quite fresh. I sadly heard someone (a white guy) just today saying how much better things were during the days of colonialism.

In terms of my job, things are going as well as possible under the circumstances. I have reflected quite a bit about how my position was set up and what kind of support is provided by the organization that sent me and I had been a bit depressed by the reality versus the intent. Things are not perfect. In addition, a merger is coming that will mean I do not have the option to extend my contract and stay a bit longer. Despite all of that, I have looked at my limitations and decided what is possible to do within them. I think that there is still a lot I am able to do and I think I might even be able to make a small difference before the end of my contract.

This past year has taught me many things about myself and about what direction I want the path of my life to take. In a general sense, I want to DO something with my life - I always have. I hope that through my professional and personal life I can make a contribution of some kind to making the world a better place - toward moving humanity toward a more fair existence. I had thought that doing a volunteer placement like I am now would mean that despite all the things that present barriers to making change, I could be in control of my environment and do something worthwhile in my own little sphere. This has not been very realistic though, and it has been a big learning experience for me. There were a hundred things that preceded my arrival that I had no control over. In addition, I don't have control over the knowledge, attitudes, work and personal practices, and willingness to accept my contributions at my work. These things have consequences that affect me now and are affecting what I can do in my placement. It means that the onus is not 100% on me to make things work. I think that learning this has been both a bit disillusioning, but also very valuable. Overall, I don't necessarily want to change the path of my life, but I feel like learning this and other things will help me make better decisions about what to do next.

What to do next continues to be a big question mark for me. I still have a year left, so there is some time, but for probably the first time in my life, I'm not sure what it will be. I am a consummate planner, so this feels a little unsettling. I'm trying to just breathe deep and relax and hope that it will become clear.

As for the next year here, I plan to design and facilitate some training sessions for my organization. They have expressed a desire to have more individual level capacity building trainings, so that is what I want to try to do. I just have to convince them to stop throwing all the reports and grant proposals in my directions, so I can get the trainings ready to go.

Everything else is pretty ok. My stitches from the New Year's accident came out about a week after I got them and the nurse was really impressed with how it looked. The ER doc had said that he had a lot of experience with plastic surgery, so now it is difficult to even see the scar when I try to show people. My hair is growing back quite quickly as well. The ER nurse who shaved it was kind enough to leave a bit around the side of my head so that my other hair covered it up and now it's hardly noticeable at all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Late Beach Pictures

So, I promised beach pictures, and here they are. For Christmas we went to Bagamoyo, the former capital of Tanzania (then Tanganyika) during colonial times. For New Year's we went slightly south to Dar es Salaam, the unofficial current capital (technically it's Dodoma, but Dar is where everything important happens).

Here's me on the beach at Bagamoyo.

We only swam in the ocean one time during our whole vacation. Unlike Zanzibar, the beach on the mainland is a bit dirty (lots of seaweed and regular ocean dirt) and the tide goes out forever. I'd had no idea it would be like that. In the mornings, the tide would be out the length of a football field. We could literally walk on an empty ocean floor. We found lots of beautiful shells that way. The tide would fully come in about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and by that time we would often be sleeping by the pool or swimming there. The beach was slightly cleaner in Dar. In Bagamoyo there were lots of fishing boats and large mangroves, which also made swimming hard.

Walking along the beach when the fishermen came in with their catch was really amazing, though. One guy brought this:

There was a big group of women bidding on it and the winner let me take a picture.

Here are a couple of pictures of boats in the water and fishermen pulling their boats to shore when the tide is high.

There was also something on the beach that was clearly not seaworthy anymore, and I thought it looked like a boat skeleton

Bagamoyo was once a major hub for the slave trade run by Arabs. There are ruins of the old Customs House attached to the current Customs House that is still in use and right on the beach.

There are also some interesting ruins from the 1400's of old Arab settlements. The major structures are graves, which were built around the burial spot, and ruins from a mosque.

There was a museum at the ruins site that showed some old art depicting common images from the slave trade times:

One more thing that was really cool to see in Bagamoyo was a tree on the way to our hotel that is literally called a Christmas tree - it's a poinsettia (the whole tree)!

In Dar, we stayed just outside of town in a compound-like hotel (almost like an all-inclusive). We couldn't really walk along the beach since each hotel had blocked off their own section. There were some perks though - we got to watch TV and movies, had good air conditioning and a free shuttle ride into town everyday. We probably spent half the time roaming around Dar and most of the rest of the time (that we weren't lying on the beach or in the pool) watching movies and TV. In town, we went to the national museum, the botanical gardens, and near our hotel we saw more ruins and went to a small island about 15 minutes away by boat.

Here are a few selections from the National Museum:

The museum had an old part and a new part. In between they had a couple of exhibitions, including a shattered window and a completely mangled motorcycle that were recovered from the bombing of the US Embassy in Dar in 1998:

The botanical gardens are described in the Lonely Planet guide as "languishing" and it is true. But there were some beautiful peacocks making their presence known with their loud calls. Here is a great picture of one of them in a tree:

The ruins that we went to see were similar to the ones in Bagamoyo with the exception that for some reason they weren't protected as a cultural site. There were more graves and in better condition and less destruction to the mosque. I have no idea why the Tanzanian government hasn't protected them.

It took us forever to find them because no one seemed to know they were there - except this guy:

I just have a couple more pictures to post about some enormous trees. There is a children's book here called "A Baobab is Big" and are they ever! This first picture is from a museum at a Catholic church in Bagamoyo. There was a sign that said it was last measured in 2000 with a circumference of 12 meters. It was planted in the early 50's. I can only imagine how big it is now. The second picture is at the ruins near Dar and is WAY bigger than the first tree.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy New Year.... I mean happy new stitches

I got in a wreck on New Year's Eve. I got to say "Happy New Year" to everyone in the Aga Khan Hospital emergency room in Dar es Salaam. Yippee.

We were on our way to meet another CUSO cooperant just a short distance from our hotel. We decided to take a "pikipiki" also known as "bajaji." (Bajaj is the Indian company that makes these things and Swahili seems to add an 'i' to the end of all in bedsheeti or is never ending amusement)

They are relatively new to Dar es Salaam (there are none in Arusha), are cheaper than taxis and can get around traffic better.

A minibus was trying to enter traffic from a side road and our driver decided to just swerve in front of it at the same time that the minibus driver decided to gun the engine.

Crash. On my side.

I ended up with three stitches in my head (my first stitches ever), a chunk out of my forearm, and large bruises, but nothing more serious. My boyfriend was thrown out and had bruises and a few scratches. We were really really lucky. We even found his wallet and the camera that had been thrown too.

I had to get a section of my head shaved so they could stitch me up.

I now have a mini-Britney.

Note to self: pikipikis may be useful in heavy slow-moving traffic, but probably best to avoid them at night on a national holiday when everyone is probably drunk.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry New Year and Happy Christmas

I hope that everyone has a nice Christmas and a good New Year. As a fan of "How I Met Your Mother" (thanks Allison!), I agree that New Year's is often the most disappointing holiday of the year. I hope that is not the case for any of you - I wish for all of you to be fulfilled and at peace with yourselves.

Me, I'm going to the beach - it's hard to be disappointed there.

I won't be back near my computer for posting-related activities until after January 7. I promise to post pictures of said beach upon my return.