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What’s My “What’s My Line?”?

How’s that for an awkward-looking title?

Over the years, I’ve become very familiar with a group of folks who, although certainly famous in their day, probably aren’t well-known to anyone in my age group. Their banter was charming and laden with humour from the 1950s and 1960s – and while there are, naturally, many cringeworthy moments (which you could easily anticipate, as a socially conscious twenty-first-century viewer digging in the mid-twentieth-century crates), I love that they were quick to laugh at their own on-air mistakes, and some of my favourite moments to watch them in were thoroughly unscripted. Their names are Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, Bennet Cerf, and John Daly – they were the primary panellists and the host, respectively, of the show “What’s My Line?” which Wikipedia tells me is the longest-running US primetime network television game show.

Here’s the thing: even though I’ve probably watched (or at least heard) hundreds of episodes, if it weren’t for the obligatory introductions at the beginning of each one I wouldn’t know much about the occupations of these four people, outside the show. Most of them, probably, first arrived on set seeing this show as either a new thing they hoped would go well, or a fun side gig, or maybe both; but I only know them as participants in this specific project.

I doubt any of them could have told you at the beginning that this would be the thing they were best known for forever after.

And that’s naturally got me thinking … what’s my personal version of this show? Is there something I’m involved in (or will be later) which will eventually overshadow everything else I’ve done, or will do? I’m very well aware that this is a case where knowing the answer would negate or ruin the question, but it’s an interesting thing to ponder just the same.

Although I see myself as a writer first and foremost; I doubt the rest of the world agrees with me so far, since so much of my career has been spent performing. Maybe, in a hundred years when I’m not physically here, I’ll be better known for something else entirely aside from arts and entertainment. Maybe the beginning of the 2118-version-of-Wikipedia entry about me will talk about my humanitarian work, or the awesome people I’ve helped to raise, or my abduction by and eventual return from a group of alien nomads who needed a human guinea pig. I don’t know at this point, and I shouldn’t know. And neither should any of us.

What I am sure of is that being aware of this question takes a huge amount of pressure off of me, and maybe you’ll feel the same way. All we can do right now is work on what we’re already working on, begin work on what we want to begin, and stay open to opportunities.

So I’ll continue to get more comfortable with having no idea what my “What’s My Line?” is, or is going to be. And with that … if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to get back to. Because even if my writing does happen to be forgotten one day, that’s no excuse to slack off now ;-)

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Haïti 2018 with TWA

As promised!

Last month I took my sixth trip to Haïti with an incredible group called Third World Awareness. It was a short trip – only one week – and yet it was filled with some of my favourite memories from these six visits, along with some positive changes. (Quick note: my first time visiting was in 2011, more than a year after the huge devastating earthquake, so I don’t have any firsthand info on how things now compare to pre-quake conditions. Before this year’s trip, I hadn’t been back since 2016.)

Couronne with a splash of Barbancourt ;-)

Couronne with a splash of Barbancourt ;-)

Almost immediately – like, leaving the airport – I noticed that the roads were in much better repair than I remembered. Traffic, I would realize within a couple of days (I landed on a Saturday), was arguably worse, but the surfaces of most roads I travelled on were smoother and had fewer potholes, apparently due to the government having spent a good chunk of change on infrastructure repairs. There is better access to electricity now, neighbourhoods with power lines which didn’t have them during my other trips there, more streetlights and traffic lights. There are also – bizarrely – numerous electricity towers which have been built in such a way that they partially obstruct traffic, forcing the roadways to become more narrow (possibly because to put them further back from the road would mean that houses had to be demolished?), and this increased traffic noticeably, as did the number of intersections which were being controlled by police officers instead of by the aforementioned traffic lights.

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There did seem to be an increased police presence; twice during my stay I was in (or on) a vehicle that got pulled over for seemingly random police checks. The first was at a roadblock but there wasn’t much to be nervous about as I was in a van mostly full of Canadians; the second time, when I was en route to the airport and riding a motorcycle with the driver I’d just met and a friend of mine, was jusssst a bit more unnerving.

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In addition to better roads and more cops, I noticed that the air quality was vastly improved. It took me awhile to pick up on this … after all, how often do we really think about the air we breathe except when there’s something wrong with it? It must have been five days in that a truck or van went by belching black smoke which hung around in the air for a bit, and I had a sudden flashback of wearing a bandanna around the lower half of my face because that thick lingering haze used to be how the air seemed to feel all the time. Not out in the country, of course, but in the city and its suburbs, where we spend most of our time, it was a problem. I’d constantly feel grit in my eyes, making contact lenses even more irritating; I’d blow my nose and what came out would be grey. So this was another welcome improvement, although it may be due to the weather: on most of my trips, the air has been hot and heavy, and this time there was always a breeze blowing. So. Very. Grateful.

So what were some of my specific memories? I’ve got a few pictures to help me out. (One thing I should probably point out, though, is that my photos decrease in number every time I go. Photography/videography isn’t allowed in most of the areas where we do our volunteer hours, isn’t polite or appropriate in many of the other places we go to, and the novelty started to wear off after my third visit.)

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This. On my first full day there, we visited a resort with this beautiful – rocky, but beautiful – beach. Little boats like this one took turns anchoring nearby, playing music, hoping to entice guests to go for a ride up and down the coast.

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So we did.

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On the same day, we visited the Ogier-Fombrun Museum in Arcahaie, birthplace of the Haïtian flag. This museum is wonderful – it’s a restored sugar plantation with many original artifacts and even though I’d been there before, this was the first time I was able to take in most of its displays.

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For whatever reason, although I knew a good deal of Haïti’s history even before my first visit, I was really struck this year by how ludicrous it is that the first country to throw off chattel slavery is still imprisoned in so many ways. I zeroed in on the hatchet (centre, in the above photo), which was used to amputate slaves (I forget now whether the example given was as punishment for slaves who weren’t working fast enough, or as a potentially life-saving measure for slaves whose hands got caught in the machinery; both occurred in different places throughout history). There was – and is – this deep, brooding reminder about how unjust it all was – and is – and a sort of helpless feeling that I’ll never be able to make any difference at all. It’s such a monstrous wrong, I don’t know how it could ever be made right.

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I guess it’s as part of an effort to right this wrong that I and many others do humanitarian work. I’m keenly aware that had my grandparents not emigrated to Canada, I could be on the receiving end of this work. (That’s not an exaggeration. Frankly, most of us living in “the first world” are just one disaster or personal crisis away from being on the receiving end of similar work, but that’s a topic for another day.) So pictured just above is the first school that Third World Awareness built in Haïti, in a part of a “slum” called Cité Soleil, on the edge of the water. Upon visiting the school this time around I noticed that even in CS, the roads looked better than I remembered; they were certainly cleaner than what I was used to seeing here. (Don’t get too excited, though; near the end of this blog you’ll see the sitee of some cleanup work we hope to do next.)

Most of the places where we do work forbid photography, but photos are always welcome at this school. The smiles of these children never fails to warm me up, no matter what’s going on.

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Two moments really stood out for me on this day. One was an event that half the school, it seemed, celebrated together: during games of soccer with the students in their schoolyard, there was intense jockeying for a position near whichever adult was handing out pinneys ahead of each round. In a sea of waving hands, pressing bodies and yells, a teacher looked down and picked out a small boy to get the last blue pinney. He scored the last goal of the game – the smallest kid on the field – and the whole place went crazy. They mobbed him, cheered, applauded, lifted him up in the air; it felt like something out of a movie! I was too caught up to get a photo before everything died down, but I did capture this shot of him still beaming, and I had a moment of intense gratitude for every teacher or leader everywhere who has ever given the underdog a chance. It was so wonderful.

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On a more personal note, I came to the school bringing a particular set of gifts – prints of photos that I had taken in the same place in 2016 and 2015.

Cite Soleil schoolyard smiles

That’s one of my fave pictures that I’ve ever been in, period; and since there are 16 students in it with me, I brought 16 prints back with me and gave them all out. (Not all of them are still students here since that photo was taken three years ago, but it made sense to prepare for the best-case scenario.)

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There’s more of a story behind this one.

In 2016, I was able to teach dance classes to the students at this school and it was a high point in my adult life. I was keenly aware, however, that I wasn’t able to share the joy of that dance class with every child nearby. These two boys from the area, who weren’t in school (I presume because their families weren’t able to afford it, or perhaps the school was just too full), climbed up to the second floor to see what was going on, and even though I knew it was dangerous for them to be there,  I snapped this photo of them before they were chased away. (Terrible role model over here.)

I printed two nice black-and-white copies of this photo too, hoping against hope that I could find these kids in 2018 … or at least someone who knew them and could pass on the prints. And as I sat at the back of the school watching one of the aforementioned soccer games, I realized that one of the students looked very familiar. Turns out the boy in the red shirt – Nelson – is now a student at our school, and I was thrilled to have his teacher call him away from the game so he could get the photos. Although I didn’t see the other boy on either of the days I visited, Nelson says he knows where to find him. I’m not quite clear on whether he still lives in Cité Soleil; a lot can change in a couple of years, and his family may have settled somewhere else. Wherever he is, I hope he’s safe and healthy and cared for. I want that for all of these kids, and it’s heartbreaking to know that many of them … maybe most of them … are not, despite the best efforts of the school and of many other people who care about them.

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Maybe next time I go, they’ll both be in uniform.

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Ayiti cherie!

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Recap: The Big Birthday

Now that it’s May, I can look back at my most recent birthday, which was in early March.

Allow me to explain.

My birthday is on the 3rd, which means my champagne birthday happened when I was 3 and barely knew what “birthday” meant. Womp. Other significant birthdays ranged from very good (Sweet 16) to verrrry stressful (Quarter-Century), and overall the birthday to beat was March 3rd, 2014 (spent living it up in Dubai, shopping and fly boarding and going up the tallest building in the world). For my reverse champagne birthday (someone else can think of a cool name for it) I decided to go all out, celebrating 3 decades of life in 3 different countries over a span of 3 months.

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I already had my ticket for Trinidad Carnival, so I kicked off the celebrations there and you can read all about it in my last post.  I came back home and danced the night away at a fete with a few of my girlfriends, then released the trailer for my new webseries-to-be and released a radio single. I celebrated my actual birthday by leaving work early to go to 2 auditions before taking myself shopping.

Almost showtime!

Almost showtime!

The birthday fell on a Thursday; that weekend I got to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre perform with the added bonus of watching it with my little cousin. This was our first show together! And she’s the same age I was when our Grandma took me to my first concert, which I think is awesome. There was a family dinner after that, and then I went to my curlfriend Nicole Stamp’s place to learn how to work natural hair magic like she does. I’ve been in love with my hair ever since. I got to show off my curls the next day at a delicious and hilarious brunch with a bunch of friends and cousins.

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Harlem Underground

Harlem Underground

The next weekend I was reshooting sections of my Digital Dossier, and then I had new headshots taken by Denise Grant. It did rain that day, which ruined my plans for my hair, but MUA Christine Cho waved her magic wand and the pictures look pretty damn good in my opinion ;-)

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I almost ran out of time to squeeze in my third country, but in April I went to New York City (where I hadn’t been since 2012, and where I definitely need to be more often). Just looking at Manhattan, or walking up and down the streets there, feels like celebrating to me. Even better that I got to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. And I got some good buys in on the way home, tee-hee!

Haven't "seen" her since she was in her mom's belly!

Haven’t “seen” her since she was in her mom’s belly!

So I did it: celebrated in 3 countries, between the beginning of February and the end of April, and the good times keep rolling. Other things have added to my birthday celebrations over the 3-month time period: I left my day job, auditions have picked up, I’ve booked a play in Peterborough and one in Toronto for this summer, and I’m leaving for Haiti in a week!

Happy Birthday to me, and Dirty Thirty is looking exquisite so far . . .

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10 Goals, 12 Months – My Year-End Blog

So I’m back to the blog – and before I write anything else, let me alert you that this here post will make more sense if you’ve seen that there one first.

July seems like a crazy long time ago! But if you know me, you know I had to check back in on the aforementioned goals before closing out the year.

Remember, 2 out of my 10 goals for 2015 had already been completed by July 2nd: returning to Haïti with Third World Awareness for their 2015 trip, and being a model in the Carnival Nationz band launch.

1 out of the remaining 8 goals was already a Nope, since I did not make it to Las Vegas in May.

Now, what about the remaining 7?

I said I would book and complete at least 6 singing gigs this year; I’d done a handful by July 2nd, but 1 of them was unpaid; by now I’ve done 6 paid engagements.

Me with Jerome, one of my (singing) partners in crime who I met this year!

Me with Jerome, one of my (singing) partners in crime who I met this year!

Out of the 4 acting gigs I decided to book and complete this year, 1 was completed by the midway point . . . and although I’ve had auditions and callbacks since then, I haven’t actually booked any others. (Yet.)

How about those lofty financial goals? Will I celebrate my birthday by having zero remaining debt and playing mas in Trinidad Carnival? HELL YEAH!!! I’m officially debt-free, having eliminated more than $21,000 worth of debt in just under 3 years; I’ve already bought my plane ticket and I’m playing mas too! Stay tuned to my Instagram account for nufffff pictures…

Salamander, one of my early faves

Salamander, one of my early faves

My trip to New York? My friends bailed on me and I didn’t go.

My road trip? I didn’t organize anything in time; but there’s always next year.

My reintroduction into the world of dating? Well yeah, actually, that did happen. Next question =)

#datenight

#datenight

Re-qualifying for the first promotion of my network marketing business? Nope, I didn’t hit that goal. Keep nudging me for 2016, okay?

 

The final tally? 5 out of 10 of my 2015 goals were completed in 2015.

50%.

Half.

I’m not sure if that’s good or bad . . . if I got a 50% grade on any course I took I’d be furious about it . . . but then again, the point of personal goal-setting is to go big or go home. Right?

 

Anyway, time to take a look at the year ahead and figure out what I’ll be getting up to next. ;-)

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… unless I manage to complete another one in the next 5 days … hey, anything’s possible!

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Midway Blog – 2015

July 2nd marks the midway point of a 365-day year.

I always have multiple achievements in progress, both long-term and short-term, in multiple areas of my life. This year I selected 10 specific ones to reach by year’s end and 10 more to achieve within the next 10 years, and since we’re halfway done 2015 I figured it was time for a quick check-in…

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2 of my Goals for 2015 have been successfully completed.

I returned to Haïti with Third World Awareness; and I modelled in the Carnival Nationz band launch for 2015.

Ayiti cherie!

Ayiti cherie!

Finally!

#finally

 

 7 of my Goals for 2015 are Works In Process. Specifically . . .

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3 Goals are In Process – Stage 3 (the work has started, but isn’t complete yet):

I said I was going to book and complete at least 6 singing gigs this year; I’ve done 5.

Many of my performances so far this year have been with the wonderful, beautiful Sunset Service Choir.

Many of those performances have been with the wonderful, beautiful Sunset Service Choir.

I said I was going to book and complete at least 4 acting gigs; I’ve done 1.

The stage. Sonnets for an Old Century was my first acting gig of the year.

The stage. Sonnets for an Old Century was my first acting gig of the year.

I said I’m going to celebrate my next birthday by being debt-free and playing mas in T&T Carnival 2016; in terms of saving up money and securing accommodations, I’m on track and on schedule.

hopefully with my cousin Kari!

hopefully with my cousin Kari!

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3 Goals are In Process – Stage 2 (the planning is underway):

I said I was going to take at least 1 trip to New York . . . it looks like it’ll happen in August.

I said I was going to take at least 1 road trip (probably to New York, if I’m being honest) . . . so if New York in August happens and I don’t fly there, that’ll be two goals crossed off with one stroke of the pen.

I said I was going to start dating again *gasp!* I decided it was time to reboot my non-platonic social life, and since I don’t want to jinx anything, let’s just say it’s looking like it’ll be a fun summer =)

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1 Goal is In Process – Stage 1 (I need to get on it):
I said I was going to promote to the first level of management with my network marketing business . . .I’ll be re-qualifying this month!

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Finally, there is one goal I set for this year that I know I’ve missed: an event in Las Vegas in April which I wanted to attend and ultimately chose not to, in keeping with the achievement of my next-birthday-related goal listed above.

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And as for my next-ten-years list? More than half are already works in progress.  :)

Cheers!

Cheers!

Commuting home from "work" one day.

Ayiti 2015 =)

Some of you know that I’ve recently returned from a trip to Haïti where I do humanitarian work with Toronto-based charity Third World Awareness. I’ve posted some of my favourite pictures from the trip already, but I thought I’d also write up a little something to answer questions some of you may have about the country itself, or this specific trip, or how you can get involved with similar work.
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This year's group of volunteers.

This year’s group of volunteers.

First, the basics: TWA takes a group of volunteers to Haïti every May for a 12-day stay. It’s a pretty awesome story: John Callaghan (the one in orange, hiding his face), a high school teacher, started taking his students on trips to poor areas of Kingston, Jamaica to show them how differently some people live in different parts of the world. (My future children will absolutely receive similar privilege checks before they’re out of school.) When he retired from teaching he didn’t plan on continuing the trips; but by then some of his former students, who were college-aged or older, joined with Callaghan to form a registered charity and keep the tradition going. TWA has now travelled to Haïti 14 times. Check out their site to donate or learn more about them. Or, you know, keep reading.

Where We Go
We stay in Pétion-ville and work mostly in Port-au-Prince. On a weekend we might travel for a bit, like to a beach in Montroui like we did this year.
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What We Do
Volunteers have a choice of working at a malnutrition clinic for children (my usual spot), a healthcare facility for adults, or a school TWA has funded, which is almost complete, in a very poor section of Port-au-Prince called Cité Soleil.
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Cite Soleil from above.

Cite Soleil from above.

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How We’re Funded
Any money donated to TWA goes directly to projects on the ground in Haïti and to the people who will benefit from them. This organization pays no salaries to its board of directors, and volunteers raise our own funds to cover things like airfare, accommodations, food, medical expenses, etc.
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A night out.

A night out.

High Point of 2015 in Haïti
I’m so predictable. I always fall in love with the kids. We aren’t permitted to take pictures at the malnutrition clinic; here’s one from the first day I visited Cité Soleil this year.
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Love.

Love.

Worst Part of the Trip(s)
I’m a pretty good traveller, and I’ve been to Haïti 4 times now, but I’m still prone to a bit of stomach trouble and mosquitoes love me. The other physical discomforts (dust in the air, heat, occasional torrential downpours) are pretty minor.
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Post-Earthquake Progress
Having never been there before the massive earthquake of 2010, I’m a bit hard-pressed to say whether the changes I see are the results of specific post-quake reconstruction or just general progress. I do know that there are hardly any quake ruins left in the areas I saw, and that there continues to be lots of construction and increased/improved amenities, which from what I can tell are benefitting everyone and not just certain groups of people or neighbourhoods.
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One of our volunteers and one of our guides with some future students of a school we're helping to build in Cana'an.

One of our volunteers and one of our guides with some future students of a school we’re helping to build in Cana’an.

What about Language?
Fortunately I speak French, and a bit of Kreyol; but every time I go to Haïti I’m resolved to get better at both these languages. You don’t need to know either to get along in the country, but it doesn’t hurt to learn a few key words.
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Why?
Because I love travelling and it doesn’t always need to be under glamorous circumstances. Because I love reuniting with my friends there, including my “big brother” Serge, and meeting new friends too. Because there are far too many people who “wish they could” or “always wanted to” and I want to be one of those who is glad and grateful that I’m doing it. Because going to a country loaded down with luggage and coming back with little more than the clothes on your back is great for your soul and your closet as well. Because Caribbean sun. Because Haïtian food. Because we can.
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Mesi anpil =)
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Off the Clock

So today I’m giving myself a day off at home. This almost never happens. And at 2:29pm on this, my Friday of rest and relaxation, I’m starting to see why it doesn’t.

I’m that girl you went to school with who refused to be separated from her agenda book, and as an adult I cling to it even more obsessively. It tells me where I need to be when, what needs to get done at what time, helps me prioritize and helps me plan ahead to my  next trip or vacation.

After realizing that my workaholic ways were at risk of stressing out myself and the people around me, I started to make a few changes. I don’t beat up on myself when I need more sleep than my alarm clock  thinks I do. Catchup sessions with friends are given the same priority as business appointments. I insist that my dad and I have one movie date every month. And, this month, I decided I needed a whole day to just chill.

Originally the do-nothing date was Tuesday August 20th. Other than a family dinner, that day stayed blank in my dayplanner for awhile, until I forgot about my decision and booked two business meetings plus a bunch of errands and some time to prep for an audition on Wednesday (which I’d found out about on Tuesday afternoon).

So I tried again: Friday, August 23rd would be a me day. I would jog, read, wish two people a happy birthday, and just hang out, whether alone or with other people, at home or somewhere else.

Except, now that I knew I had a day off coming up, other things kept popping up like dandelions in a perfect green lawn. A meeting from Thursday required some follow-up the day after. A call to a hairstylist yesterday resulted in having to try him yet again today. Ditto with an attempt to confirm a tomorrow-afternoon meeting, an invitation to an acquaintance I saw yesterday for an event on Monday, a letter I haven’t finished writing yet, a bunch of music I need to learn by tomorrow, finalizing plans for tomorrow evening, emailing some people, and emailing some other people back. I also need to get on doing the dishes. Oh, and tonight I’m going to a club for one of the aforementioned birthday people. Then I realized, hey, it’s a been a full week since the last thing went live on my blog! I can’t neglect you guys like that.

So instead of a lazy wake-up-whenever-and-maybe-get-a-mani-pedi kind of day, my Fun Friday actually looks much the same as every other day this week:

This week in the life of Chattrisse

This week in the life of Chattrisse

And while one or two of the things I want to do today can probably be shuffled to this weekend or next week, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed at giving myself time off.

What can I say, I’m good at doing stuff! For the week that I blogged about as being one of the best weeks ever because so many amazing things happened, my agenda looked like this:

Busy does not always mean productive, but this week I was ultra-productive and loving every hectic minute of it

Busy does not always mean productive, but here I was ultra-productive and loving every hectic minute of it

And the only time it’s ever been basically empty is when I take my yearly trip to Haiti. Mind you, I’m there working, but the work is different and I unplug from phones and internet while I’m in Ayiti.

Breathing room.

Breathing room.

I think this is pretty strong evidence that for me to take a vacation I need to remove myself from my home. Or from the GTA, even. I spent some time at my grandmother’s house recently and started my first day there by sleeping for eleven amazing hours. Since Grandma lives in London (Ontario), there were fewer opportunities for me to be a workaholic even with my laptop on.

So I guess all that remains to be seen is when and where my next actual vacation will be.

That, and how quickly I can get these dishes done.