Category Archives: Holidays

My Secular Holidays

This has been one of many three day weekends that dot the calendar for workers. In addition to the ten federal holidays, many public school calendars are peppered with other holidays, including the aptly named “Spring Holiday.” It’s the weekend which I find myself in the middle of – straddled by yesterday’s Good Friday (which I spent doing chores) and tomorrow’s Easter Sunday (probably big meals and egg decorating). Early in my schooling years I remember being told that every month had at least one day off except April, which is where Spring Holiday comes in. This holiday is also conveniently on Good Friday. Every. Single. Year. (Except 2005, which brought about this protest at my rival school).

As an atheist, I don’t have many holidays to observe, and I usually get pushed into quasi-celebrating the major Christian holidays around me. But while I don’t believe, I do so like tradition. My parents raised me with little in the ways of religious tradition – everyone assumed I was Protestant, while I was rarely if ever aware of that fact. And so I find myself settling in by re-appropriating all of the pagan traditions that were stolen by the Holy Roman Empire. While Easter might signify some major events in Christianity, to us non-believers it’s a time filled with the most fertile things nature has to offer: eggs, bunnies, and spring time. And chocolate. My traditions don’t include fasting and morning mass – I usually just blow up Peeps in the microwave.

Every year I hear a lot of people lamenting the commercialization of their favorite holiday, but I can’t help but think it’s awesome. The only thing I find significant about Christmas is spending time with family and decorating the house (and gifts, of course). So if Target’s annual explosion of decor makes this easier, I’m for it. If it becomes easier to find winter-themed plates and reindeer salt and pepper shakers, then I suppose I’m happy. For me, virtually all of my holidays are comprised of shopping for things, helping my wife bake something awesome, and then hanging out with people. Plus, I’m sure one of those actions helps the economy or something.

Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting up with a number of people who will be celebrating Easter. I’ll be celebrating warmer weather by decorating eggs and seeing who wins Peep Fight 2012.


It’s Christmas time in the Ross-Smith house!  Last week we got out all of the decorations in preparation for the big holiday season.  This week (and some of next) we’re wrapping up school work and we’re officially a month out from the BIG DAY, so it’ll be a busy month.  I’m taking a break from the first of four papers to toss up some pictures of our winter-themed house! I’ll be putting up quite a few posts soon, so take this as a preview of sorts.

Happy Holidays, everyone!


Typed on the evening of the 5th back home in Lira.

Yesterday was a busy, busy day.  I tried to see everyone I could, which resulted in saying hi to George when I woke up before flying across the city to Nando’s, a food court I had never visited while in the city before.  After having a bite to eat, I walked to Garden City – a big shopping mall, and called Tony on my way to meet up.  Wandered a little bit before meeting up with Tony for a drink.  Tony is one of the Rough Cut boys from Invisible Children, and I hadn’t seen him since he came to ASU as a part of the Legacy Tour last fall, so it was really nice to catch up.

From there I got a call from Alison, who also happened to be in the city, and Tony and I went to a cafe next to Nakumatt to meet her and her friends (a group of girls from Jefferson University who were staying with the same mutual friend as Alison).  From there I made my way back across town to Wandegeya and met up with Morris for a bit.  All in all a very back-and-forth day but I’m so glad I got to see everyone – the only people I didn’t get to see were the NACWOLA group in Nsambya but I will do that before I leave!

In the evening I joined up with Alison, Ross (her friend in Kampala), Tina, Anne, Shari (Jefferson group), and a girl named Kristin from Minnesota (all staying with Ross) and made our way to the American Recreation Association for the 4th of July party.  We laid a blanket out on the lawn and saw some local tribal drummers which was pretty cool.  After that we grabbed a bite to eat – and that was small boiled hot dogs which was a little disappointing.  Regardless, I still had three hotdogs and my fair share of soda.  Then there was a presentation by a crew of children, presumably of expats.  Not only did they do the Virginia Reel (a variation of the square dance, apparently) and sing “God Bless America,” but they also recited their oath and their code.  It was surreal.  The fact that the oath included a praise to “our lord and savior” didn’t help.  It seemed really out of place.  Afterwards they brought out the expected giant American flag cake, which turned out to be less than savory according to Anne but I didn’t have any. That said, I had a lot of fun hanging out with the girls (Ross inexplicably vanished and then would return with a drink and then vanish again) and getting to know everyone.  Kristin was doing a data study on (i think) meningitis.  The girls from Jefferson were working on a project (Rotary-funded!) to bring motorcycle ambulances to a small village in the country.  And after some so-so performances, a group of local dancers and drummers came out and put on a really good show.  My camera was dying I was able to get a few gems:

Finally, the big show!  At 8 o’clock (which seemed early to me but it was definitely dark enough) the fireworks started firing.  I was pleasantly surprised at how long the show lasted and how big some of the firework displays were.  I used up my camera in the final minutes of the show:

My friends, enamored by fireworks!

The gals: Shari, Tina, Kristin, Alison, Anne

Why is July 4th Important?

On our way to the 4th of July party yesterday, a friend-of-a-friend was explaining to our driver why the 4th of July was important.  The driver was trying to figure out why we celebrated a day that we signed a paper on not the day the the Revolutionary War ended.  A few hours later I saw a friend’s facebook status explaining that we didn’t become an independent nation until years later.  So, why is July 4th, 1776 so important?

Yes, the Revolutionary War didn’t end until late 1781 with the Battle of Yorktown.  Correct, the Constitution (the law of the land) was not ratified until 1787.  True, George Washington didn’t take office until 1789.  But on July 4th, 1776 we made a statement that meant more than just “we’re independent.”  Even though it would be a decade before our country had a real government and decades still before this government could stand up on its own, 1776 was the birth of our nation in a totally different sense.

The Declaration of Independence isn’t like any other out there.  Many declarations simply cite that one group of people no longer wish to be under the rule of another and wish to separate and be, well, independent.  But our Declaration didn’t say the people in the thirteen colonies were claiming independence from Britain.

More than that, our declaration states that when any government mistreats its people, that it is the right (and duty) of the governed to fix or change that government.  Only after making this bold statement does the declaration go into why the colonists sought separation from England by listing grievances “to a candid world.”  Maybe it’s the freedom-loving side of me or the historian side, even the human rights side, but I’m pretty sure our declaration brought about a sea change in the relationship between the government and the governed and I think it is great that we can celebrate that – it’s not just the literal independence from a foreign ruler, which didn’t take place for another five years.  It’s the celebration of a new idea for the world.  I’d light a few fireworks for that.

Rwanda: Take Two

So, today was my second try and doing things in Rwanda, and it turned out to fail just as much as yesterday did.

Yesterday, I was delayed several hours and planned poorly in regards to money.  Today, well I planned poorly in regards to today being National Day.

My plans for today included a post office, two hotels, a couple of matatu rides and two memorials.  I did almost none of these things.  After stopping off at Bourbon Coffee Shop for some internet and eggs, I headed to the post office.  First of all, the post office is no longer there even though my map is relatively new.  Second of all, the post office – had it been there – was closed for National Day.  So, giving up on mailing things, I walked down the street to see if a well-regarded bookstore, the Libaire Caritas, was where it should be.  It was, but it wasn’t open.

Not to be bested by a public holiday, I set out to… wander.  I was going through the sort of second-guessing bad-thoughts about what could’ve been had I left Gulu earlier or taken a different bus from Kampala, but after some moping I sucked it up and went to a tourism center to ask if the Kigali Genocide Memorial would be open on a public holiday.  The tourism guy told me it was definitely closed, but said if I wanted to try I could go and monetarily persuade them to let me in.  Tried, but never even got around to it before being told to come back tomorrow.  Bummed, I thought about the odds of the Nyamata or Natarama church memorials being open and instead decided to visit the Hotel des Mille Collines (of Hotel Rwanda and An Ordinary Man fame).  After sipping an expensive soda at a really fancy hotel, I talked to one of the clerks who told me the churches might be open since they were out of town.

So, I set off to check in at a hotel and drop some weight off before heading out to Nyamata.  I had originally been unsure about how many nights I’d be in Kigali, and when I decided on staying another night I thought I’d try the Hotel Kigali instead of the Auberge les Caverne (where I stayed last night) because it seemed just as nice but a lot cheaper.  Except it didn’t exist anywhere along the road it was supposed to be on.  Defeated, I headed back to Auberge…. which was full.  I ended up finding accommodations at the Hotel Garden City, which cost even more than Auberge – ironic. no?  After checking in I pretty much collapsed on my bed and fell asleep after about 5 hours of walking with two bags on my shoulders.  Woke up annoyed by my nap, but determined to make it to Nyamata.

I was determined and juzzed for the trip, and booked it to the bus park at Nyabugogo.  Arrived, tracked down the matatu I needed, and got in.  It was less than half-empty (see that pessimism there?).  So I waited and waited.  While waiting, I started playing out numbers in my head.  It was almost 5.  It takes 30 minutes or so to get to Nyamata.  I didn’t know how frequently buses went from Nyamata to Kigali.  I didn’t even know if the church was open.  After racking my brain of scenarios that included waiting for a matatu in an unfamiliar town where nobody speaks English after dark, I lost my mojo and bailed.  Went to a fancy restaurant run by a Belgian expat and then booked it over here to the coffee shop.

Tomorrow has been planned thus: Breakfast.  Bank.  Kigali Memorial.  Bus to Nyamata or Natarama.  See chosen church memorial.  Bus back to Kigali.  Lunch at New Cactus.  Bus to Uganda.  I sure hope it all works out.  At least I got to sip a coke at the Mille Collines today.

A year in review

It took me less than 72 hours to realize that my intentions of declaring ten goals for 2010 were misplaced.  Why?  I’m not one for New Years resolutions.  I tend to resolve to do things as I think of them, and I decided at the last minute that coming up with ten things on New Years Day just wasn’t right for me.  I’ll try to do plenty of things in the next year, for sure, but I won’t be starting on day one but adding to what I’ve already got in the works.  However, I will make it up to you (as I’m sure you are all tuning in for my resolutions).  Instead of making resolutions, I am going to take one last look back and revisit my old tradition of reviewing the year.  No restrictive numbers or formats, no rules or audience – just remembering.  A lot of this may look like the last post, and I’m sorry for that.  This is just me pouring everything into a post.

This year started off between semesters at school and a couple of months into independent living.  I delved into what would be a very momentous year, but I had no idea at the time.  Kim and I rang in the New Year at the Tempe Block Party.  It was our first New Years together and it was quite a bit of fun despite quite the crowd.  Starting there, the following have happened:

-The Rescue hit.  I joined about a thousand people in a march where we abducted ourselves to raise awareness for the abducted child soldiers in Uganda.  We proceeded to sleep on a field in a makeshift camp alongside 100,000 others in 100 cities in 10 countries.  Several of my friends moved on to Albuquerque, then Wichita and finally Chicago while I called public servants all over the country to help them out.

-Kim and I celebrated seven great years!  Just one big step in a long line of getting closer and closer.  The celebration weekend was a lot of fun and we got to enjoy a lot of things we had wanted to do for a while – a concert, a museum, a zoo and painting.

-I went to LA with Kim, Cristina, and Zach.  The trip definitely had its ups and downs, but it was really nice to be on a trip with Kim again and it was pretty fun running around with Cristina.  California is always fun, but it was especially nice to see Los Angeles, which I don’t see too often.

-I flew to Washington, DC for something huge.  I joined 1600 people in the biggest lobbying effort for an African issue in American history: the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.  For me this was a huge reunion with dozens of great friends and a chance to meet some of the coolest people.  In the end I had a great time and am stoked to do more lobbying.

-Kim and I took a huge leap in buying a townhome in Tempe.  After months of saving and discussing, we have settled down in our very own home and are enjoying it very much.  It’s roomier than our quaint apartment and we’ve got a little garage to match our little patio.

Final statistics are thus:

Places visited: Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC.

Places lived: Mesa, AZ; Tempe, AZ.

Concerts attended: No Doubt.

Altruistic/Political events: Project CURE; Rotary River Rally; Malawi Dinner; The Rescue; How It Ends; Gulu Walk; Rock ‘n’ Roll Paint-a-thon; Hometown Shakedown; Schools For Schools.

Anniversaries: Seven years dating; twenty years alive; one year engaged.

Courses taken: History Methods in the Community; France in WWII; Human Development; SEI Endorsement II; Intro to Violence, Conflict, and Human Rights; Teachers and the Law; Technology in the Classroom; Physical Geography; SEI Endorsement; The Vietnam War; Content Literacy; Religion, Nationalism, and Ethnic Conflict; Global Trends; SGS Internship; Inquiry into Religion and Conflict; Facing the Past.

Blog posts: 14.

People annoyed: Probably whoever reads this and the previous post.  Whoops.


Recapping nine important things that happened to me in 2009.  It was a great year, and I am ending the decade by starting what I hope to be a couple of new trends – first by summarizing a year with that year’s number of events and then by forecasting the next year with that year’s number of goals (the two will not be linked).  So, without further ado, here are nine important things that happened in 2009.

Twitter. Let’s be honest, getting on Twitter was a big thing for me this year.  It got me back in touch with a lot of friends and reinvigorated my thirst for news via New York Times.  Also, I got to join in on The Rescue and the Iranian Election via trending topics.  Also, Twittertracker!

Fellowship. This fall semester I was one of eight undergraduate fellows at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.  It made for a very interesting semester with many fun debates and some pretty cool speakers as well.  I got some experience, and a resume-booster, in working for a DoD grant studying conflict in Thailand too.  It also marked a corner around which I never thought I’d turn – religious studies.  I learned quite a bit about religion in the context of conflict, and I got to meet some very interesting people among fellows, staff, faculty, and guests.  I’m hoping to intern with them if possible.

The Golden Gate. I went on a trip with my parents to San Francisco this summer.  In the old days, our family tradition was a triangular trip to San Diego and Las Vegas.  For the passed few years, this has been replaced with a long haul to San Francisco where we do a variety of things.  This year we did the usual and wandered Chinatown, walked the Embarcadero, visited the Haight, and trekked the Golden Gate Bridge to see my grandpa.  New ones were the Pier 1 Farmer’s Market (lots of fun and delicious food), hung out in Sausalito, and walked through part of Golden Gate Park.  Lots of fun with the family and it was nice to be in the coldest city ever one more time.

Los Angeles. Kim and I went on our first friend-filled road trip this summer.  It turned out to be a love-hate occurrence with quite a few ups and downs.  Regardless of any low-points of the trip, including getting lost multiple times, enduring cold beach morning weather, and dragging dead weight across town, there were a number of great things.  Kim and I got to experience Six Flags together, which was an amazing thing.  Cristina, Kim, and I almost achieved our goal of riding every roller coaster.  And it was hopefully the first of many friend-filled, fun-filled road trips.

The Rescue. This April, Invisible Children embarked on a massive endeavor.  100 cities in 10 countries on 1 night.  I joined 100,000 people that night in abducting myself to help the abducted child soldiers in east-central Africa.  At the Phoenix camp I met up with a lot of friends and helped set up the abduction site around old Hayden Mill.  From there, I photographed the march and subsequently was rescued and spent the night on a field.  I was unable to join some of my friends on what turned into a seven-day trip that went Phoenix-Albuquerque-Wichita-Chicago and ended at Harpo Studios, but I did call my way to rescue sites all across the country.  In the end, all cities were rescued and it was a successful and amazing event.

Lobby Days. In June, I went on a lonely flight to our nation’s capitol.  After a half-day of isolation, I met up with Heather and Kristi.  The next morning I met dozens of friends.  The two days I spent in DC were a great lesson in lobbying and politics and were a reminder of why I am involved in the type of things in which I am involved.  It gave me a tingly feeling that I hadn’t felt in about a year and a half – like I was an integral part in something huge.  Oh, and I got to see Luis Moreno-O’Campo and John Prendergast speak in addition to getting to hang out with Jason Russell, the Resolve Uganda crew, and the Keeseys. In the end I made even more friends and completed three lobbying meetings, plus there was a lot of fun had.

Anniversary. The seventh anniversary of our first date was marked by a weekend full of fun.  I took Kim to Cricket Pavilion to see No Doubt.  The show was great and a lot of fun, and it was nice to finally have Kim see one of her all-time favorite bands play live.  We also took a short trip to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and got to see some pretty cool stuff before heading to the Wildlife World Zoo.  This zoo has some funky, exotic animals and it was really neat to see so many things.  I also got to pet a stingray for the first time in my life!  That was a weird thing.  We ended the weekend with a sit-down at As You Wish, and Kim made a really cool cupcake-shaped sugar bowl while I made a waffle cone-shaped ice cream cup.  All in all, a great way to celebrate a great occasion!

Winter Wedding. A little while ago, we made a checklist.  We talked through two topics and made a choice: winter wedding.  The timing, while moving things up a bit, makes for better planning for us with school.  Honeymoon would be more achievable.  More family and friends could attend.  Mixes her parents’ winter feel with my parents’ holiday feel.  It was just one decision, but it’s essentially the precursor to all other wedding decisions including venue and color and whatever else.  Now we just need to make those decisions! Oh and get married.

The Townhome. Kimberly and I became homeowners in November.  After a lot of talking, money-inspecting and talking with my parents, we decided to seize an opportunity and buy a townhome.  Now we are partially unpacked in a roomy unit, with plans to bring in pets and get truly settled.  It’s a little two-story place with a tiny garage and a no-yard small patio.  The neighborhood is a cute one with little lakes and flower patches.  We have plans for painting, bringing in some furniture, and decorating more as we get time and money.  This will be our home for the foreseeable future, including the rest of our undergrad years, the wedding, and maybe subsequent career-maneuvering.  It’ll be a great place to stay for the next few years and I’m very happy to be here :D

And that’s a year in review.  Stay tuned for ten goals early in the new year, and have a happy celebration while you wait.

’tis the Season

Christmas has come and passed.  Kim and I have gotten close to calling the first floor unpacked, and have had a couple of guests over to check the place out. Still have some boxes down here to sort through, and a room full of boxes upstairs.  But, in the spirit of secular gift-giving, we spruced up the place a little bit and put up a pretty (fake) tree.

Our holiday tree, with a few of the gifts for giving

We had a work party in the middle of the month, but I was forced to miss the family parties.  After not getting sick for probably a year and a half, I got a cold on Christmas Eve Eve and it has carried through to now. Yesterday I felt well enough to at least be in people’s company and got to see Kim’s family for Christmas Part II and a few of my family members for dinner at my aunt’s restaurant.  Hopefully I’ll be rearing to go with another night’s rest and can get through work just fine.

This week, Kim and I will be looking at some venues for the wedding.  We are still in the far off beginning stages, but need to at least figure out the basics (i.e. venue and date) since we’ll have some out-of-towners and the holiday-season.  Hopefully we’ll fall in love with an inexpensive, easy-to-work-with venue that’s willing to be lax on house rules.  We’ll see! I’ll update after the first few visits.

Turning 20

Tomorrow, I’ll be turning 20. So long, teenage years!  I don’t feel any different yet, but I still have a couple of hours before I officially get older.

So far, the birthday celebrations have been pretty nice.  Last night I had a tasty dinner with Kim, Cristina, Alli, Julia, and Alex (Julia’s boyfriend).  After a decent Mexican meal and some delicious cupcakes, Cristina, Alli, Kim and I stood around in the parking lot for a good three hours chatting.  I love the long talks, so it was nice to just be with my friends for an evening.

Today, Kim and I went to my parents’ house for what turned out to be a small gathering.  With my birthday always being on or around Columbus Day, there are routinely some families missing – this time there were several. But, it was all good! Kim’s parents joined us; I figure we’re getting married soon so our parents should be together more.  Overall a nice couple of days leading up to my birthday!

We’ll see how the move from adult teenager to young adult goes.