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Hiking in Florida

Cypress trees at the Disney Wilderness PreserveSince we’ve been back in the States, we’ve been venturing outside for frequent family walks. We’re big fans of nature (especially Callum – he loves checking out interesting plants and trees, and growing his own garden at our place) so we will often hike into the wilderness to explore interesting ecosystems or go on a search for one of Callum’s favorite things – carnivorous plants!

Here in Central Florida there are some really nice wetlands areas to visit. I’ve written two blog posts on Mixminder documenting our visits to two of them. In February we visited the Hal Scott Preserve, where we managed to find numerous different carnivorous plants in the wild. And this past weekend we visited the Disney Wilderness Preserve, an 11,500 acre mitigation project owned by The Walt Disney Company and managed by The Nature Conservancy. We nearly got caught outside in a massive electrical storm, but fortunately we managed to escape unscathed.

It’s been great getting outside to explore and learn more about Florida’s natural ecosystems. We’re looking forward to heading out there again soon.

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Out and about with the mouse

How often can one family go to Disneyworld? We may be in the process of finding out. We live quite close to Disney’s massive expanse of property here in central Florida, and Yvonne got the family annual passes to the parks even before I arrived back from France! So we tend to hit up a Disney theme park at least once a week.

Part of the fun of living so close to Disneyworld is letting yourself get wrapped up in it. We’ve got Disney “cast members” for neighbors, participate in many of the runs that Disney hosts, and often go for walks along the Disney boardwalk or at Downtown Disney.

Dapper Day

March 9th, 2014 was Dapper Day at the Magic Kingdom. The idea is to dress dapper for an outing to the park… the way a family might have dressed for a day out at Disneyland in California when it first opened in 1955. We didn’t have a whole ton of clothes that looked like they were from the 1950s, but that didn’t stop us from dressing up to the best of our abilities for the day and parading around the park a bit.

Visiting Snow White on Dapper Day

Amelia and Callum with Snow White on Dapper Day.

Magician Mickey Mouse

Me and Magician Mickey.

Brian on Dapper Day

Me riding the carousel on Dapper Day.

International Flower and Garden Festival

Currently, the International Flower and Garden Festival for 2014 is taking place at Epcot. Callum is really into plants – he cares for quite a few of his own, and loves to learn about the various varieties of plants and how to grow them. It’s fun to visit Epcot during the festival to see the various character topiaries and to check out the different types of food they’ve got available (like the Dole Whip at the Pineapple Promenade, for example).

Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot

The topiaries behind Spaceship Earth at the Flower and Garden Festival.

Sunset at the World Showcase

I managed to catch a really nice sunset at the World Showcase. I think this was right next to the China pavilion.

While at the Flower and Garden Festival we did something I’ve always wanted to do – eat at the San Angel Inn Restaurante. That’s the restaurant located inside the Mexico pavilion, right at the back overlooking the water and the Three Caballeros ride that meanders past it. We managed to get a table right beside the water (can’t hurt to ask, can it?) so it took a while for us to finish eating… the kids spent most of the time waving to people passing by on their little boats and calling out, “¡Hola!”

Overlooking the ride at the San Angel Inn Restaurante.

Waving at people passing by at the San Angel Inn Restaurante.

At the San Angel Inn Restaurante

Callum and I at the San Angel Inn Restaurante. It was pretty dark. But I guess that’s the idea…

Hanging out at the parks

And finally…

The kids with Pluto

Callum and Amelia with Pluto. I don’t even remember where this was from.

Hollywood Studios hat

Amelia in front of the Hollywood Studios Sorcerer Mickey hat.

Riding Space Mountain

Amelia rode Space Mountain for the first time. She was brave enough to do it, but I don’t think she liked it very much!

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Celebration Half Marathon

Lately, Yvonne has really been getting into running. A few years ago she ran a half-marathon in Alaska with Team In Training, a group that raises money for cancer research through sponsoring race participants. She has also completed numerous 5ks and 10ks, and she ran the Space Coast Half Marathon in Cocoa, Florida a few months ago. Now that we live near Disneyworld, there are plenty of really fun Disney runs that she’s been signing up for – as have the kids. I am very proud of them! It’s a great way to keep in shape by working toward a series of running goals.

I’ve been a runner for some time now, but I normally just run to stay in shape. I haven’t historically run a bunch of staged runs – 5ks, 10ks, and the like. That said – with Yvonne and the kids getting into amassing medals, how could I not want to join in the fun?

Last week, Yvonne and I ran the Celebration Half Marathon. This was part of an inaugural (that’s a fancy word that means “first”) marathon and half marathon event in Celebration, Florida. I was happy to be a part of this inaugural event. It was a nice run, that took place on a nice, not-too-hot not-too cold morning, that meandered its way around the town of Celebration. The marathon that accompanied the half ran a similar route, but twice… so I was much happier running the half and not the full. If I’m going to run an actual marathon I don’t want to have to see people completing their races and going after the drinks and snacks, knowing that I still have another 13.1 miles to go!

The medals for the race were quite nice (picture below), and I was impressed by the t-shirt they gave out… it is more than a simple white t-shirt; it is made of a nice meshy material that is good for running in (that I don’t know what it’s called), and is multicolored green and white. I’d post a picture of the shirt if I had one, but I don’t – you’ll just have to catch me wearing it one day.

As for recovery – Yvonne and I were both pretty sore after the race, but not overly so. We had prepared for the race beforehand, so aside from some limping around with sore calves for a day or two after the race, there were no problems with completing it and recovering from it. In fact, I was surprised that it was not more difficult to complete than it was.

And now, predictably, I’m looking for more races to sign up for. Maybe the Tower of Terror 10 miler? I hear that’s a fun one. Bring it on!

Celebration Half Marathon finish line

Me after the race. My dad took this picture – he watched the kids while we raced, and walked with them to various parts of the course to cheer us on.

Celebration Half Marathon medal

Yvonne and I after the race with our Celebration Half Marathon medals. Go us!

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When we were in Spain

There are a few pictures of the family that I meant to post to this site late last year, but never got around to doing it… so here they are.

Back when we were in Spain, we took a series of pictures by the pool at our place in Isla Plana, Murcia. We took a bunch of pictures in various locations at our condo complex as hopefuls for the back cover of our book; the top one is the one we up with and now graces the back cover. The second picture is one of Amelia and Yvonne hanging out that we also took during that session.

Yvonne and Brian in Spain

Yvonne and I by the pool in Isla Plana.

Amelia and Yvonne in Spain

Amelia and Yvonne. Amelia is pretty fabulous.

And here is a picture of Callum and Yvonne, taken inside our apartment in Isla Plana. I post this because I love Callum’s joyful expression in this one.

Callum and Yvonne in Spain

Callum and Yvonne inside our condo in Isla Plana.

It is hard to believe it’s been a full three months (and then some) since we returned from Europe. While it’s great to be back in the United States, we definitely had some tremendous experiences in France and Spain, and getting to experience different languages and cultures was great for the kids!

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More people live in California than in all of Canada

The other day someone shared a post showing a list of the various states (and overseas territories) of the United States of America, ranked in order of population, highest to lowest. I find this sort of thing fascinating. I found out that I currently live in the fourth most populous state – Florida. Fair enough.

Being Canadian, I naturally wondered what this sort of ranking might look like for the Canadian provinces and territories. I already knew that my home province (Ontario) and the province where I was born (Quebec) topped the list in that order – but what I didn’t know was by how much. My Calgary and Vancouver friends often mention their frustration that people from Toronto (like myself) feel that Toronto is the center of Canada, if not the universe, but check it out – Ontario is home to almost 40% of Canada’s population.

The natural progression from this point was for me to start comparing American states and Canadian provinces. Where do those Canadian provinces slot into that big list of American states? So I made a chart to check it out.

Here’s what I found, with American states in black and Canadian provinces in blue:

US and Canada population ranking

Some points of interest:

  • The 2011 census estimated that the population of all of Canada in July of 2013 would be 33,476,688. This means that there are more people living in California than in all of Canada. How crazy is that? And Texas isn’t too far behind.
  • Out of all provinces and states, Canada has the bottom five in terms of population. That’s five provinces and territories with fewer people than Vermont, Wyoming, or even the District of Columbia.
  • Aside from Ontario and Quebec, most Canadian provinces and territories are well down the list. I didn’t realize that British Columbia has fewer people than South Carolina? That doesn’t seem to make sense to me. And if you add up the populations of both British Columbia and Alberta – home to largish cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton – that still doesn’t equal the population of North Carolina or Michigan?
  • Ontario is up there with the heavyweights (go home team!)

At any rate, an interesting study!

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Prioritizing your daily goals

The Starbucks in Celebration, FloridaI’m a goal-setter. I’ll admit that. And my goals have to be concrete.

Some people can make vague or abstract goals, and succeed with them. For example, some people can say, “I am going to lose weight this year”, and will adjust their eating habits and exercise regimens accordingly. Other people might say, “this year, I’m going to write my autobiography”, and come December 31st, it’ll be sitting there completed and bound in leather atop their desks, ready to gather dust.

I’m not one of those people. I can’t make abstract goals like that – I’ll never succeed with them. I think it’s because I’m largely a creature of habit. If I’m going to run for exercise, I have to create a set schedule for when I’m going to run, and how far or for how long I’m going to go. If I’m going to cut down on junk food, I pretty much have to cut out junk food in order to adjust my habits. Now, people who know me know that I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of guy who is big into change – I’ll gladly take on new challenges, move to new countries, and push the envelope with my comfort zone. But when it comes to achieving my goals, I find I am much more likely to see long-term success if I come up with a strong plan for completing them.

Time-boxed productivity

One of the ways that I find success with achieving goals is by time-boxing the things I want to do each day. For example, let’s say I want to write a book. That’s a great goal, but without a concrete plan for achieving this goal, it’s probably not gonna get done. But if my goal is important enough for me to allocate just half an hour a day to it, then eventually, unless I die or give up the goal, it’s practically guaranteed to get completed at some point in the future.

The only problem I’ve found with this sort of approach has been prioritizing my time boxes. If you guarantee to yourself that you’re going to get something done every day before you go to sleep at night, you can do it… but if you’re not prioritizing that work within your 24-hour day, you might find that you’re not your optimal self when getting it done. For example, if it’s 1:30 AM and your body is groaning for sleep, you’re likely to spend the half hour you want to spend writing your book staring at the screen and writing stuff like, “brruffmurff.” Or maybe that’s your face landing on the keyboard.

Prioritizing your time boxes

The solution I’ve come up with is to prioritize your time boxes. This means that you know exactly which pieces of work are most important for you to complete on any given day so that you can allocate time to them when you are most productive or at your freshest. For some people, this is during the afternoon, and some people are most productive late at night. For me, I find that in the morning just after breakfast is when I am most productive – and I think a lot of people are the same way. This is after I’ve gone for my morning run, had a fruit smoothie for breakfast, and already have a few sips of coffee in me. That’s when I’m pumped and ready to go.

So here’s my plan: in order to prioritize my daily goals, I’ve decided that I’m not going to use the Internet until my important daily goals have been completed (unless their completion involves using the Internet, of course). I’m also not going to watch any TV before my goals are done – though this shouldn’t be a problem for me as I only watch an hour or two of TV during any given week, and sometimes not even that.

The result of this is that if I don’t get my daily goals done, I’m not surfing the Internet, checking Facebook, reading online forums, watching Walking Dead, or any of that stuff. Maybe I won’t complete all of my specific goals for a given day – stuff happens. But if it does happen, it means I’ve spent a day disconnected from the Internet… and even if I don’t complete my daily goals, how bad could that be?

This is still a relatively new venture, so I haven’t figured out how successful it will make me in the future, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be a great motivator when it comes to helping me complete my daily goals. In fact, my sitting here at my local Starbucks typing up this blog post on the Internet means I’ve already completed my goals for today! And since it’s a concrete thing to say “no Internet or TV until your goals are completed”, as long as I understand what my goals for the day are, it’s going to be an easy habit to fall into.

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Walking in Auvergne

Back in 2005 and 2006 I completed a Masters program at ESC Clermont in Auvergne, France. This week, I’m back in town. It’s quite something to be back here after almost eight years.

While I’ve been in the region, I’ve been doing a lot of walking around and exploring, both in Clermont-Ferrand and its neighboring towns, and in the surrounding countryside. On Sunday I went on a hike with my friends Anthony, Maya, and their three year-old daughter. We started at the Clermont-Ferrand Golf Club and hiked up Le Pariou. Le Pariou is a “puy”, which is a term used in the region of Auvergne to describe a volcanic hill (an inactive volcano). Le Pariou sits next to the Puy de Dôme, the largest of the inactive volcanoes in the region. As I climbed the Puy de Dôme back in 2005, it made me feel somewhat accomplished to hike up yet another one. Le Pariou is also less toured than the Puy de Dôme, so it had more of a natural feel to it than its bigger brother.

It was rather cold and somewhat windy on Sunday, so we were relatively bundled up for the hike. Anthony carried his daughter on his back in one of those child carrier backpacks almost the whole way – he’s a pretty fit guy. Once we reached the top of Le Pariou, we were able to look down into the crater and see some of the volcanic rocks which people often use to write names or messages that can be seen from the lip of the volcano above. It was extremely windy at the top, but it afforded some great views of Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding area.

Here are a few pictures from our hike.

Climbing Le Pariou

Looking back while walking up Le Pariou, near the base of the volcano.

Overlook from Le Pariou

Looking out from the rim of the crater at Le Pariou.

The Puys of Auvergne

Overlooking the range of volcanic hills. If you click to zoom in, you can see the crater atop the hill on the right.

Overlooking Clermont-Ferrand from Le Pariou

From here, you can see Clermont-Ferrand in the distance.

The crater of Le Pariou

The crater of Le Pariou, where you can write words using volcanic rocks.

Clermont-Ferrand from above

Viewing Clermont-Ferrand from a stop along the road that leads to the Puy de Dôme. You can see the cathedral in the center.

And here are a few pictures from a walk I took last night in Clermont-Ferrand with a couple of friends. We started at Place de la Victoire, where the cathedral sits, and walked around the old town for a bit. We also visited Place Jaude. It was somewhat rainy and cold, but the rain seemed to make for some cool, moody pictures.

Place du Terrail in Clermont-Ferrand

At Place du Terrail. I didn’t apply a filter to this picture; with the wet ground from the rain and the ambient lighting, it looked just like this.

The Cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand

The cathedral at Place de la Victoire.

Avenue Marx-Dormoy

Here’s where we lived in Clermont-Ferrand back in 2005 and 2006.

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05. Nov, 2013
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What’s your favorite number?

Some people have a strange obsession with the number 23 (thee number ov Psychic TV). Some people favor lucky number 7. My friend Mike has a thing about the number 529. My favorite number is 76.

You might wonder why I like the number 76. You might think it is the year I was born (it’s not), or that I like it because that’s how many trombones there are in the big parade (maybe there are, but that’s not why). Philadelphia’s basketball team called the 76ers, so named because the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia in 1776. There’s a chain of gas stations called 76. Wikipedia helpfully informs us that “76 (seventy-six) is the natural number following 75 and preceding 77″. All good stuff.

However, none of these are the reasons why I like the number 76. When I chose the number as my favorite number, I had never heard of Philadelphia or the Declaration of Independence; in fact, at that point, I’d never even been to the States. So what gives?

When I was 6 years old, my favorite number was… 6. I thought it was the perfect number, because it was my number. I had a cardboard box house in my basement, and my house number was 6. When I drew pictures – race cars, kids with numbers on their shirts, and so on – I’d use the number 6 in my drawings. When people asked me how old I was (and this sort of thing happens a lot when you’re 6), I would speak my favorite number with pride. We had a great year, me and the number 6. But then one day in late January, something dreadful happened.

I turned 7.

At that point, I faced a conundrum. I no longer felt the Zen of 6. I had fallen in with the 7s. But I had spent such a great year favoring 6, and when you’re turning 7, one year out of your life is a long, long time. So at that point I decided that instead of choosing 7 as my favorite number, I’d use a wacky combination of 7 and 6… 76. A year later, when I turned 8, maybe I’d grown too old to care too much if my age wasn’t featured prominently in my favorite number, so 76 it remained. And it remains to this day.

While favorite numbers don’t have a great deal of impact on a person’s everyday life, the effects are there. If you ask me to pick a number between 1 and 100, I’m likely to say 76. If for some reason I need to come up with a make-believe house, phone number, or license plate, 76 will probably be in there somewhere. I hope I live to see 76! After that, 77 and beyond would be gravy. Maybe I’ll even shoot for 176.

I find it interesting how a choice I made when I was 7 still remains relevant today.

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26. Oct, 2013
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Sailing southern Spain

Back in college I took a sailing course. Yup, I got college credit for cruising around Charleston harbor on sunny fall afternoons in a J/22. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a bunch about boat safety, coastal navigation, and of course how to tack and gybe. Since then I’ve gone sailing with friends a time or two, and taken out the occasional dinghy when I’ve had the rare chance, but for the most part I haven’t done much sailing.

In August, some British folks who have a condo at the same complex where we’re staying in Isla Plana recommended a husband and wife team who have a 37-foot Jeanneau sailboat and do day sails in the area. Shane and Debbie, the couple, are from England, but they have lived in southern Spain for the past eight years. I checked out their web site, thinking it might be fun to go out for an afternoon sail, and noticed that they also offer sailing courses through the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) in the United Kingdom. One of these courses is for Competent Crew certification, and involves spending five days on the boat traveling to various ports of call in the area while learning how to sail. In a spur of the moment decision I decided that it would be a great idea to take this course as a family so that they, too, could learn how to sail and get a taste of life aboard a sailboat.

Mar Menor

The harbor at La Manga

So early last Sunday morning we headed to La Manga (east of Cartagena) and started the course, eventually spending five days aboard the couple’s boat along the coast. We learned the basics of how to sail the boat to the point of gaining competency at crewing a sailing yacht (hence the name of the credential).

Helming the boat

At the helm

Drawbridge at Mar Menor

The drawbridge masted boats needed to pass through to get in and out of the lake (Mar Menor) and into the Mediterranean Sea

Shane and Debbie cooked for us while we were on board (very well I might add, especially considering the size of the galley); we ate our meals on the boat, spending lunchtime anchored somewhere on the water and dinnertime and breakfast at berth. Nights were spent at port, which is great on the Mediterranean – in many places the port of a city is right near the city center, meaning you can leave your boat in a protected area and go for a walk downtown.

Jeanneau 37 cabin

The cabin of the Jeanneau 37 – it was pretty tight in there, but a lot roomier than we thought it would be when we first saw the boat at harbor. It was kind of nice spending a few nights rocking on gentle waves

There is a very nice lake connected to the Mediterranean at La Manga called Mar Menor that was nice and smooth and perfect for learning how to sail – plus for some reason the wind in there during the afternoons seemed ideal (to me anyway) – and we also headed out and along the coast to Cartagena and berthing at the port by the town center. There is currently a Romans vs. Carthaginians festival happening in Cartagena that goes on every year in town that we got to see parts of – that was quite something.

Port of Cartagena, Spain

Arriving at the port of Cartagena

Spanish Navy

Spanish navy vessels in port. There’s a submarine at the back. The presence of the Navy was quite evident along the coast

Cartagena shopping street

A pedestrians-only shopping street in Cartagena

Romans in Cartagena

Some people dressed up as Romans for the festival. In the evening there were hundreds of people dressed as Romans and Carthaginians wandering about town – some of them had some amazing costumes! They were all camped out in tents to the north of the town center

Head statue in Cartagena

And you thought you were having a bad day. I think this is supposed to be the head of Hannibal’s brother, Hannibal being the Punic Carthaginian military leader who left Iberia and traveled over the mountains with a herd of elephants to attack Italy

Fine print

It pays to read the fine print – at a store in Cartagena

After five days of sailing, the family was successfully certified as Competent Crew. We had a great experience on the water. I’m glad the kids got to learn a bit about how to prepare a sailboat for sailing and to use wind for power – sailing has a long and storied history, and I’m pleased they had a chance to experience it. They worked very hard helming the boat and working the sheets. It was also great to spend a few days sailing on the Mediterranean, something I’ve always wanted to do. As for the act of sailing itself, Amelia summed it up pretty nicely when she declared that it is “all about pulling ropes!”

Feeding fish

The kids feeding fish while anchored near a small island between La Manga and Cartagena

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29. Sep, 2013
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running when you aren’t even being chased

For the past few years I’ve been running for exercise. I try to get out there every day, or at least every second day… and failing that, I make it a go to run at least more days during the week than I don’t. I find it helps to keep me alert during the daytime.

September marks our third month staying in the south of Spain, and while we’ve been staying here I’ve been taking my runs down to the seaside at Isla Plana. Well, the other day, Yvonne found an even better location to run (she’s been running, too) – and it’s also a great place to take the kids for an evening walk. Apparently, there is a really nice walking/running/biking path between Isla Plana (where we are) and La Azohía, the neighboring town along the coast to the east. The path runs between the beaches of the Mediterranean and the desert-like landscape common to this part of Spain. Murcia, while not as hot as some places, does not have much precipitation… we’ve been here since June and have only felt a few drops of rain (I remember that day well… I think it might have been two Thursdays ago). Apparently most of the region’s precipitation falls during several days of the year.

Anyway, I took a few pictures of the new running spot with my phone, and here they are. I guess I should probably try to take more before we leave this place, since I only took the pictures from one spot (near where I started my run), but I didn’t feel like running around with my phone in my pocket!

Running trail

The running trail between Isla Plana to La Azohía


The other side of the running path… not much there, other than some “reverse greenhouses”

Costa Cálida

This is the view of the coast when you don’t have those orange signs in the way

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