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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things That've Gone, Things To Come

YIKES! It's been just over 3 months since I last emerged from the darkness with any kind of update. Hope this will suffice in catching everyone up for the moment. Yay, more pictures!

October 30
There is a Peace Corps tradition of challenging the US Embassy in Uganda to a friendly football match. Despite their team being comprised of/stacked with mostly male Ugandans in their early 30's, our rag-tag coed team of fresh-out-of-college hippies manages to fair quite well. Final score 3-3, followed by delicious American-style BBQ at an embassy house, and of course all-night Halloween party in Kampala following day! Stay classy PCVs! Next to me in the photo is a good friend, Brian Stock.

November 24
Who is this cute little rascal you're asking me? Well, thats Bongo! About 3 months old in this picture, he's a terror to the neighbors' children, animals, and belongings! Bongo = somewhere between sour milk and yogurt type dairy product here in Uganda, and absolutely delicious. He no longer lives with me, but rather with the neighbor who he will "belong" to when I leave. Updates on this mutt are most definitely to come.

November 27
I ended up taking a 15hr bus ride across the country to a town near Bushenyi (in western Uganda and where the picture was taken) to celebrate Thanksgiving. Rolling hills backing up to grand mountain ranges and spotted with beautiful lakes abound in this region. Thanks to an energetic 17 PCV turnout (who happen to be quite the bakers and chefs), an abundance of turkeys in country, and some canned cranberry smuggling from the US by BoyDevon, the holiday was a HUGE success! However, all of you at home were obviously greatly missed, but there will be many more T-days to come! PCVs in this picture include: BoyDevon, Renee, Brian, Natalie, and me.

November 28
Hmmmm, Ensenene!!! (or grasshoppers for the layman) In central and western Uganda every fall, swarms of these buggers emerge from their resting places to selflessly offer themselves up to the "Fluorescent Gods". As they fill the night sky, many inevitably crash into the vertical metal sheets just below the lights and slide into large metal drums where they get stuck as layer upon layer of more ensenene pile on top. Early the next morning, they are sold by the kilo to merchants who meticulously pluck their back legs and wings, fry them in a pan, and sprinkle with salt (no additional oil is needed though as fat from the insect provides more than enough). Absolutely delicious (as long as you don't look into its eyes as you pop the snack into your mouth). Comparable to french fries, somehow...

November 29
Another view of the absolutely beautiful Western Uganda, this time just outside of Fort Portal near GirlDevon's site. As you can tell, I tried to make the most of my visit out west. PCVs in this picture: Elizabeth, Natalie, Arwen, GirlDevon, and BoyDevon.

Adult male circumcision: an extremely interesting (and one of the few remaining unadulterated) cultural traditions in Uganda. Unique to the Bagishu people located around Mbale, this tradition only takes place during the last couple months of every two years and signifies the transition into manhood. On the left is the aftermath of the traditional event, which usually includes only one to three "patients". Here, the boys are kept awake for the two days prior to the cutting and partake in multiple "parades" throughout the village gathering supporters. The boys are denied any drugs for the pain (alcohol included), while everyone else gets plastered and continually dances (probably until they pass out). Despite the extreme inebriation of most participants, we were warmly welcomed and quickly assimilated into the festivities by the sheer energy of everyone. In fact, they encouraged our documentation of the event by forcing us to the front of the crowd to enable the best photographs possible, and the boys (sorry, men) are anything but shy... The picture on the right is the modernized (and religious) version of the circumcisions. Here, large groups of even younger boys are gathered for a church service, then taken for the cutting in a more sterile environment (knives are not shared). Almost all of these boys are given injections beforehand to dull the pain, although this is purely optional. Obviously much calmer of an atmosphere, but still interesting.

I figure that's a fair amount for now. Hope you enjoyed and maybe even learned a thing or two. Now that I am done with traveling for a while and resumed my "regular" working schedule, I hope to be able to update more often. Hope everyone had an amazing holiday season, and that 2011 is an extraordinary year for all!

Thanks for your continued support, it truly means a lot!
Take care

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PICTURES... at last!

I know I've been promising these forever, and now they are finally here! I am still somewhat camera-shy, as I am trying to identify myself as part of the community rather than another tourist. Therefore, normal day-to-day life is not photographed but only exceptional happenings (sunsets!) and PCV get-togethers. However, as I am feeling much more comfortable these days, more and more of my pictures will be of neighbors and more common scenes, and I hope to include them more regularly in my posts. With this, I'll leave you alone to peruse my life in Uganda thus far. Enjoy!
(Note: you can click on the images to view them independently, and then click on them again to enlarge. They are fairly high resolution shots.)

View of eastern Uganda from atop a mountain in Mbale. Everything north (including my site) is completely flat, with the greatest elevation change not exceeding 10ft... yay.

A typical street in Kampala (capital of Ug): dirty, crowded, and ever busy.

The main means of transportation upon Lake Victoria, powered by a whopping 2Hp lawn mower engine. Locals of the fishing village enjoy grabbing tourists, hoisting them onto their shoulders, and then charging anywhere from $0.50-5.00 to carry them to the boats.

Typical village kids. Picture taken in Wakiso (central Ug, some 40km or so north of Kampala)

Sipi Falls in Mbale. Nothing too spectacular, but a great day hike.

Feeding monkeys in the Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Apparently popcorn is the equivalent to crack for monkeys... who'd of thunk?

My Ateso language group. Yours truly, Joe, Susan (our teacher), Stacey, Tony, and David Chi. Ya, we're pretty cool.

My house and storage shed with Gweri Primary School in the background.

Gweri Primary School at sunset. I took the picture to capture the sunset, but you can get a glimpse of a nicer school in my sub-county.

Two of my next-door-neighbor boys. Again, taken to capture the sunset (this is a common theme for me). No photoshop enhancements; Ug sunsets are just that amazing (with the help of a prodigy photographer of course!)

My counterpart (male on the dirt bike) and another coworker (female behind) along side my beast of a bicycle. Today we are the bad guys, assuming the role of school inspectors. My counterpart likes to tease me about how much faster he gets to the schools...

The local bike wash, or just some calves in front of a cool rock formation... you choose. Looks like there's some decent climbing in Ug after all!

Rafting the Nile! Need I say more?

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the 141st day, Fay said “Let there be light…”

…and then there was light, and it was good!

(Note: post written on September 15, 2010)

I got solar! It’s nothing fancy, but it does take (some of) the edge off at night. In fact it is quite a small system: 5W panel (measuring about 1’x1’), which charges a 12V 5Ah battery, and can be connected to four separate LED lights as well as a phone charger. Although the light is great, if I am to be honest with you, there is another, more influential motivator for purchasing this system: MUSIC! If you have ever lived with me, visited me, or even know who I am, you probably know that music is a BIG part of my life. Although I can not even best Mr. William Clinton on the alto sax, I can listen to music like none other! The only electronics equipment I brought to Uganda (besides my wrist watch, which coincidentally also has built-in mini solar arrays for charging) is my Zune, an Mp3 player. I used to bike 13km to Soroti town just to charge my Zune, but not any more! Thanks to my new solar kit (and a few nifty adapters) I can convert the all-too plentiful sunrays baking Gweri everyday into juice for my Zune; it is literally music to my ears!

Another little groovy gadget I recently acquired (about a month ago from a PCV returning from the states) is the X-mini “sound beyond size”. Basically it’s a very small battery-powered speaker that still manages to put out surprisingly good sound quality. The best part: it's rechargeable via a USB cable, just like my Zune! No more earbud headphones, which are extremely uncomfortable to fall asleep with and have forced down your ear canal while tossing in your sleep, subconsciously fighting off those pesky mosquitoes. So even though I am currently using one of the lights supplied with the solar kit, as well as charging my cell phone about once a week, the dominant energy zapper is my “sound system”. We all need something to keep us grounded and sane while abroad, and one of mine happens to be music. (I feel this is also helping keep my neighbors sane as they no longer see a headlamp floating around my residence, “dancing” to inaudible noise, but rather just a tall goofy white guy jumping spastically to-and-fro while strange music blares from a tennis-ball sized object) I’m happy.

After talking to my parents this morning (they hadn’t heard my voice for about seven months), I realized that I hadn’t painted a correct image of my living conditions to those of you back in the states. The romanticized jungle/bush life that many initially imagine when they hear Africa (including myself) is far from accurate. For example, I do not have to dig a hole and bury my “business”, as someone once asked me. I would compare my living situation to long-term cabin camping. I have my own three-room house, made of cement with tin roofs (bring it on Big Bad Wolf!). Averaging around 10ft by 12ft each, the three rooms are used accordingly: one is my bedroom, one my kitchen, and the last... ummm... I guess it can be called my “dirt and lizard-feces collecting room”. In my “backyard”, I have two small cement sheds: one stores my tools and beast of a bicycle, while I bathe in the other. Lastly, even further into the backyard is my pit latrine. I’ll spare you the details of this last one, but if you ever think about visiting, be forewarned that I share it with others of the non-humanoid type. Example: taking care of my “business” at night can be dangerous for my leather-winged latrine-mate, who likes to flap up between your legs and say hi while you’re “assuming the gargoyle”; very unprofessional of him if you ask me. (If you are confused by all the terms in quotes, they are used in an attempt to keep this blog G-rated for the younger readers out there) I also have a one acre garden, which has produced more headaches than results though, and is actively being destroyed by weeds and neighbors' animals simultaneously. Light (prior to this solar system purchase) was provided via a small rechargeable reading lamp (also solar powered) or a kerosene lantern. Water is fetched 40 liters at a time (via two 20L jerry-cans) from a borehole no more than a couple hundred yards from my house. All in all, it’s not a bad setup and has even begun to feel like home, somehow. New house and yard remodels/additions are currently being discussed, but the homeowner(me), contractor(me), workers(me), etc are not cooperating at the moment, and delays are expected. I’ll keep you posted.

Of course, if you can’t bear to wait, you are all most welcome to visit anytime and learn the true secrets about living in a Ugandan village (ie the correct technique for how to slap-shot a frog out of your house). Enticed?

Future posts to look forward to:
-"Grabbing the Cow by the Horns"
-Common Ugandan phrases that might make you say "Whaaaat???"
-Revelations and poem(s) written by yours truly while daydreaming during mind-numbing meetings/workshops...

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Mango Trees are in Bloom!

(Note: post written on August 28, 2010)

Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, the mangos are coming! It’s a beautiful sight to see the hundreds of trees around my village start to flower; not because it is appealing to the eye, but rather to the stomach! With each tree having the capability of producing hundreds, if not thousands of mangos, there will be a plethora of this delicious fruit in the upcoming months for all to enjoy! I doubt whether or not you are truly grasping the magnitude of the upcoming fruiting (I know its not a word, but it feels right so I’m leaving it). I’m told there will be such a surplus of mangos, that one won’t even be able to purchase them at the local market! This is due to the fact that anyone can pick a basin-full within minutes, while many more fruits will lie rotting on the ground due to the lack of takers. Now how did these mangos earn the prestigious and coveted title of my post (besides the fact that they are delicious)? Three words: GLOBAL climate change. Close to the time I arrived at site in April is the normal peak of mango season. However, for reasons unknown to the Ugandans, the seasons here are shifting, making life unpredictable and just that much harder (especially since a vast majority are sustenance farmers). I conveniently forgot to chime in about how back at home I, along with much of the “developed” world, drive a personal car everywhere, use an exorbitant amount of electricity, fill large bins with trash every week, support numerous unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly industries/companies/products... (the list goes on and on). Even though this 21st century buzz phrase has been on the tip of everyone's tongue for awhile now, living in a comfortable city/suburban setting doesn’t directly expose you to the consequences. Therefore, I find it quite interesting to see the affects happening to such an extent all around me. Alright, its time to take off my little hemp hippie hat and get back on track.

Now I’m sure all (two) of my loyal blog followers (thanks mom & dad!) want an explanation for my sorry excuse of a blog, and the lack of posts. Well, one critical factor is I’ve been gone from site (home) for three of the past four weeks. First week was due to illness; anybody heard of Rickettsia? Tick-bite fever? No? Me neither, until three weeks ago. Supposedly it’s a much tamer cousin of Lime’s Disease, contracted via the bite of an infected tick (surprise surprise). It consists of fevers (and the chills/night sweats that come with that), entire body aches (especially head), a rash, an infected lesion, and possibly more. I’m assuming I had a milder case of it (which I attribute to my superbly in-tune and strong physical body…), but Peace Corps was nervous because none of the local health centers could diagnose me. Therefore I was called into Kampala, where two health centers and two days of testing later, Doxycycline was prescribed and I was on my way to a full and quick recovery. However, only a couple days after returning to site, I was off again for two weeks of “In-Service Training”. Although somewhat boring, I was able to see many of my American friends, as well as have another bout with Giardia (that persistent punk). After popping some more pills, I was “A-Ok” just in time for probably my most epic weekend yet in Uganda: RAFTING THE NILE!!! That’s right baby, a full day of chasing hippopotami and crocodiles over class 5 rapids on one of the most famous rivers in the world! (For the sake of my mother’s heart, I’m going to come clean and admit there are no hippos or crocs on that part of the Nile, but it was still EPIC!!!) Just another incentive for any/all of you to spontaneously hop on a plane, fly across the world, and say hi!

So as you can see, I've been quite busy running around and fighting off disease. However, I'm thinking things might slow down now and I'll be able to regularly update this blog. So, a sincere thank you for all your patience in bearing with me. Please keep reading (and hopefully enjoying)!

Take care all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Still Alive and Kickin

So its around the 5 month mark since arriving in Uganda (2 ½ months at site) and I figured I better get a second blog post started. Now I am unsure how to approach this blog since its my first and I never really read them back stateside, so unless I get directional feedback from you the reader(s), I will continue to ramble along aimlessly. Here it goes:

Blog Post #2

Hello friends and foes, yes I’m still alive and kickin (despite the recent Kampala bombings). There is no need to worry about my safety as I am a good 300km from the capital in a small village, and no body cares about bombing the bush! While on the topic of my site, here’s a little update. The pad is coming along slowly, and will be host-worthy in about a month or so; that means now is the time to start looking for tickets! New additions are made monthly, and its beginning to look like a permanent residence, FINALLY. What to look forward to: dresser/armoire, floor cabinets, bigger & badder bed, chicken coop, patio (with mosquito netted "lounge" area), botanical gardens, and possibly thatch roof hut. And all constructed by yours truly; lets hope this goes better than the simple latrine door latch where my hammer introduced itself to my thumb, and quite rudely I might add. I’m hoping to be able to upload pics of the place around the middle of august, so keep your eyes peeled!

So, house done, moving on to job. This is also moving along very slowly (after being in Ug for some time, one discovers that time actually moves slower here; I think it has to do with being on the equator…) It doesn’t help that my counterpart is often MIA, and he is solely in charge of training me. Really cool guy, but also really busy (supposedly). Thus far we have mostly been doing “support supervision” of P1-P4 teachers (roughly kindergarten-third grade) who recently attended a teacher proficiency workshop. We are checking to see if these teachers are putting into practice the skills they were taught; basically teach like developed countries’ teachers (ie thematic curriculum, pupil interaction/participation, use of
instructional/teaching aids, attendance & performance registers, scheming & lesson planning, etc). Unfortunately, the ministry of education is demanding this of all teachers without considering individual circumstances. Example: most of the schools in my jurisdiction (rural village) have at least one class outside under a mango tree, with hacked up tree trunks for the students to sit on and a sorry excuse of a “chalkboard” being the only teacher’s aid. Sure the teachers could put more effort into teaching (to be honest, much much more), but with such overwhelming obstacles, I don’t blame them for getting so easily discouraged. Alright, enough ranting about crappy school system, what next…

FOOD! Always a popular topic here, although a touchy one since it inevitably turns into lamenting over delicacies lost. Now that I’m on my own, I can finally cook and eat what I want, and its great! I'm still doing the whole vegetarian thing, but its actually quite simple here. A typical day might start off with a breakfast of oatmeal with bananas, plus some passion fruit and oranges on the side. Lunch tends to be a more intricate dish of beans/lentils/peas, often served in a sauce comprised of a tomato base and any other veggies lying around (greens, carrots, onions, bell peppers, etc). This is almost always served with rice for two reasons: I love rice, and rice helps keep you solid, a very real and daily concern here. Lunch is also supplemented with passion fruit and oranges. Dinner, if eaten, is either leftovers from lunch or what the Ugandans would call a simple “tea”: milk tea with bread and bananas. However, due to irregular schedules and unforeseen events (along with pure laziness), the ordering of these meals is always variable; oatmeal tastes just as good at night, and those leftovers are screaming to be eaten in the morning before they go bad. Now, back to this milk; this isn’t your run-of-the-mill dairy! Its fresh whole milk, still warm from the cow’s tit and delivered nightly by a neighbor. Sure I have to boil it to kill all those nasty bacteria looking to wreak havoc on my digestive tract, but damn is it delicious (especially with a little honey)! Now you're asking why such a small dinner? Reason being, I go to bed so early here. The sun sets at 7pm, and since there is no electricity, the world around you slowly starts to shut down and your bed looks more and more intriguing (plus the mosquito net provides a safe haven from all those nasty mosquitoes).

Lastly, I have some updated contact info for those interested.
Address: Brennan Fay
PO Box 176

Cell Phone: +256703651398

If for some strange reason you miss the melodious sound of my voice, you can always hit me up via Skype or with a calling card. However, I'd recommend texts as they are fairly cheap and I’m usually pretty good about responding (just remember the time zone difference: I’m 10hrs ahead until daylight savings, then back to 11hrs).

This has far exceeded my promise of short posts, so I'll end here. Again, feel free to comment or ask questions, as this will actually help me with future blog posts.

Over and out peeps. Miss you all!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


So here it finally is, my first blog post! I know it has taken forever (about three months since I stepped foot in Africa), but alas your prayers are answered! Enjoy, and feel free to comment or ask questions, but be warned that they will most likely not be answered in a timely fashion, and possibly not at all. No offense, but internet is slow and not readily available for me.

I figured it best to start with a short info session on the country for those who don’t know much about Uganda (ie me 3 months ago):
-it is about the size of Oregon
-has a population around 30million (which I believe is close to that of Los Angeles)
-equatorial and therefore tropical, having only two seasons: wet and dry (each occuring twice a year).
-temperature is fairly moderate and is usually in the 80's, but this can differ by maybe +-10*F depending on time of day, weather, and where in the country you are.
-EXTREMELY humid; you wake up in the morning and are already sweating. Although very uncomfortable at first, you get used to it and arriving home with damp clothing every day has become the norm.
-very beautiful; described by Churchill as “The Pearl of Africa”. This is due to the fact that Uganda might be the most diverse country in Africa; there are lush hill regions in the southwest, dry desert regions in the north and east, and any other environment variation in between. Many varieties of animals are present as well, including about 1/3 of the world's population of mountain gorillas, I think around 3 times as many bird species as the entire US, and much much more.
-there are around 53 different languages in Uganda! English is one of the official languages and a surprising percentage of the people are conversational in it. Makes my life much easier!
-the source of the Nile River is Lake Victoria, specifically in Jinja. There is suppose to be some of the best white water rafting in the world on the Nile; who’s coming with me?
-the capital is Kampala, the largest city both in size and population, where you can basically find anything you are looking for, or a cheap knockoff from India/China. Many of the used goods from America (especially clothing) are sent to Africa where they are haggled over in large open-markets; it is actually quite fun although usually a workout.
-public transportation is absolutely chaotic and composed of: matatu (minivan taxis that are only seated for 14 but packed with around double that number), boda boda (motorcycle & vespa taxis), bicycle boda boda (human powered), large commercial buses (which travel at breakneck speeds on horrible roads), and special hire taxis (compact sedans that seat 5, but force fit up to 10 travelers). If you want an image, picture Mexico, but about 10x worse.


A majority of our 10 weeks of training took place in the town of Wakiso; it is just north of the capital Kampala. I lived with the Kanakulya family, who were fortunate enough to "have" electricity (blackouts far outweighed the times that power was supplied). Running water was lacking, but we had a huge storage tank that collected rain, enabling us to not have to trek to a borehole for water. Living with a Ugandan family was actually really easy, although having a curfew again was strange.

For training, we were lectured to on such topics as: the culture of Uganda, logistics of the education system, safety & security in Uganda, medical information, language lessons, and much more. At the time it was kinda intense and dreaded (6 days a week from 8am-5pm), but I appreciate it now and definitely miss hanging out with other Americans everyday. One major benefit though was living with a family that took care of you, while still being able to relax with friends basically everyday, really aided in the transition to life in Uganda. Baby steps.

This is probably the most common topic discussed among volunteers (with illnesses, especially of the digestive tract, coming in a close second; don’t worry, I’ll update you on that topic later). I really wish that peeps back at home could sample some of what we are eating here. The following offers a little insight.

First off, Ugandans have a very standard meal which is always comprised of a starch and “soup”, what we would call a sauce. The starch usually consists of either matooke, posho, sweet potatoes, or rice (unfortunately this last one is my favorite as well as the least common). The soup is either beans, ground g-nuts (aka very watery peanut butter), or fish/meat in some sauce. The starches are EXTREMELY bland, and need much soup to make them edible. Most Ugandans hardly eat breakfast, but normally eat huge lunches and dinners late at night, which is directly followed by bed; horrible. The following are brief descriptions of some of my favorite, and least favorite foods:
-Matooke; ugh! Think unripe plantain-type banana that needs to be peeled with a knife and steamed. It has little to no flavor, is horrifically dense, and served by the ton (or so it seems to me). It is also the Ugandan staple, and I loathe it. As a side dish, covered in g-nut sauce it is manageable, but unfortunately it is the main (and often only) course.
-Posho. Basically mix maize flour and water, then boil and stir until it forms a squishy solid. Also very bland, but with enough seasoning and sauce can be choked down.
-Jack fruit! Oh my, this comes close to making up for the matooke and posho. Look it up online; it is the largest tree-bearing fruit, and has been recorded as weighing up to 80lbs! Basically a very sweet fruit that is very alien-like in appearance: spiked outside and tentacled inside with this ridiculously sticky white paste that will only come off with petroleum jelly or other oil. You basically remove pods that encase kumquat-sized seeds and eat the surrounding pulp. Very rich, sweet, and addicting.
-Sugar cane. I am assuming most people know what this is, but many have not tried it. A great snack to tear apart with your teeth and gnaw on. The more "animalistic" you attack it, the more enjoyable. Delicious, but then again its basically the equivalent of drinking sugar water, although I heard it has come cancer-fighting properties...
-Beer! I know many of you are extremely curious about this topic, so I did some extensive research so that I could help you all out. There is beer, and you can often find it chilled! Imported beer is VERY rare and expensive, but there are around 10 local brews that I have come across. They are nothing special, and I probably only truly enjoy the taste of two, but they provide a great means of relaxing with the other volunteers after a long day of training. If you want to know more, fly on over here and I’ll buy you drinks to your liver’s content.

Some other interesting food-related experiences:
-my language group slaughtered and prepared two chickens during a cross-cultural cooking exercise (however, we were not able to actually kill the birds since we were dining with Muslims and we are not religiously qualified to perform the killing, or something like that)
-white ants = somehow related to the termite. They come out in force during certain seasons, and the locals scoop them up by the cupful and eat raw or fry them with a little salt. Have tried them raw but had a hard time differentiating it from grass, and I much rather eat inanimate greenery than a squirming winged insect. I guess grasshopper season is coming, and they sell those by the kilo; I'll let you know how that goes.


-I am a coordinating center tutor, which is basically a primary teacher trainer. This means I will be teaching part time at a primary teacher’s college (where students study to get their "teaching credentials"), but I will mostly be doing field work, which includes: observing already credentialed teachers at their respective schools, putting on workshops to help teachers in various categories as needed, and improving community involvement and support of the local schools. Ugandan primary school is basically equivalent to America’s elementary schools educationally, but the age can vary greatly as some kids fail, some start years late due to economic reasons, and many other factors.
-I will be working in the Teso region of Uganda, which is located somewhat centrally-east. My town/village is called Gweri, but it does not show up on GoogleMaps and there aren’t even any websites that provide any info about it. You can get the general location by first finding the city Soroti, and heading about 13km southeast. I am told it is more of a dry, hot, Savannah-ish region, although right now we are experiencing the rainy season so things are still lush and beautiful.
-In the Teso region, the local dialect is Ateso and therefore that is the language I am studying. Although all volunteers learned “Survival Lugandan” during training, most of us will be learning different languages.

*Much more to come on my site (where I live and work) in the weeks to come as I get more settled in

Well I think this provides a good foundation for the blog, and I am sure your eyes are starting to get sore so I will end here. Take care all!