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Back in Riyadh

When I was in high school, my family lived for a while in Saudi Arabia. My father was working for Bell Canada, a Canadian telecommunications company charged with setting up Riyadh’s telecommunications infrastructure. I was too old to go to SAIS-R, (the American International School in Riyadh, now called AIS-R), where my sister spent a few years, so instead I continued at my high school in Toronto. Which was cool, because I got to use the car!

I did, however, spend my summers and Christmases in Riyadh. And it was in Riyadh where I worked my first job – as a lifeguard at the olympic-sized swimming pool on the Bell Canada compound.

A gold souk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

My mother and I at one of the gold souks in Riyadh – an open stall dripping with gold necklaces, bracelets, and charms. If I’d been a late 80s/early 90s rapper, I would have been set.

I was in Saudi Arabia a few years before “the war and stuff”, and I always felt comfortable there. We of course had to abide by Saudi religious laws, and I’m pretty sure any fooling around would not have been tolerated by the authorities. But the people we encountered in the market were always friendly, and I never felt in any danger while in town. At one point my father and I took a trip to Jeddah to do some snorkeling and fishing on the Red Sea. We stayed with a group of Saudi men on the coast (we were the only non-Saudis), and were invited to participate in one of their feasts, where lamb meat was served on a huge blanket on the sand and eaten by hand. Knowing we were not used to their customs, our Saudi hosts were gracious and helpful, and made sure we felt welcomed.


Me being awesome in Jeddah.

Nowadays I wouldn’t take my family to Saudi Arabia. A lot has changed in that region since we lived in Riyadh, and the Department of State currently warns its citizens to “carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia”. But I’m glad I have the memories I do of my time in Riyadh. Living overseas was what got me interested in different languages and cultures, which eventually led to my living in France and Ireland. And it got me wanting to teach my own children about different people who live in different parts of the world, so that as they grow up, acceptance and understanding of people of all varieties will come naturally to them.

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Today I took my camera to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

I should mention that I put on the most touristy clothes I could muster – my Hawaiianest shirt (which is admittedly not very Hawaiian looking – I’ll need to find a better one), a straw fedora, button-up cargo shorts with more pockets than I’ll ever need, and of course, dark socks with running shoes. Bam!

As soon as I arrived at Animal Kingdom, I went on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride and took some pictures (pro tip: do the ride as early as possible in the morning, when the animals are still relatively active and not lethargic from the Florida sun), then went on some of the nature walks (the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek). I had a Fastpass for Expedition Everest, but I skipped it. I was more in the mood for walking around and taking pictures.

A giraffe at Disney's Animal Kingdom

A young giraffe, taken from my seat on the Kilimanjaro Safaris truck.

An elephant at Disney's Animal Kingdom

An elephant, taken from the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.

Three zebras at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Three zebras.

Kangaroos boxing at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Boxing kangaroos.

A monkey at Disney's Animal Kingdom

A monkey of some sort. Wish I had paid more attention so the signs…

Simba, the Lion King

I also got this up-close picture of a lion!

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Birds and dragonflies

My father got himself a new DSLR camera just before his cruise along the scenic rivers of Germany and the Netherlands with my mother (they’re over there now). As a result, he gave me his old Nikon DSLR, including a telephoto lens, for which I am very grateful. Let the fun begin!

This afternoon I went for a walk around Lake Rianhard in Celebration, where there are usually plenty of birds and insects native to Central Florida, some turtles, and occasionally a few alligators. I didn’t see any alligators today, but I did see plenty of herons, egrets, and dragonflies. Naturally I brought the camera along and popped on the telephoto lens to try my hand at taking a few pictures. The telephoto doesn’t have an auto-focus, which made it more challenging to use, but also more fun to play around with.

Green dragonfly

A green dragonfly on a plant stem.

Blue dragonfly

A blue dragonfly in the marsh.

Dragonfly on a root

A dragonfly on a tree root. You can see a little ant crawling along the root in front of him.

Little Blue Heron

A Little Blue Heron in the reeds.

I’m certainly no professional, but hey, it’s a start. I’m looking forward to getting out there again with the camera someday soon. Maybe there’ll be some alligators next time…!

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An avocado treeAvocados are a terrific addition to shakes and smoothies. They’re very good for you, and they turn a shake frothy like a milkshake even if there isn’t any dairy in there (I make my shakes without). They’re also great in sandwiches, wraps, and of course, tacos.

Callum decided to plant one of the big spherical seeds from one of the avocados I used in one of my shakes, and over time it’s grown into a little avocado tree. It took a few months for it to sprout. First, it took its sweet time forming roots; then, after some consideration, a little stem popped out of the soil. Since then it’s grown to nearly a foot tall.

The only problem I have with avocados is that you have to experience them on their time. Open one too early and it’s firm and bitter-tasting. Too late and it starts to feel squishy like a water balloon. Get the timing right and its green goodness.

Happy blending.

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06. Jun, 2014
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First draft completed – check!

It’s time to edit my book.

Editing is tough. When you’re initially writing your manuscript, people will tell you, “Just write. Don’t worry if you write garbage. Just get words down on paper. That’s what’s important right now. You can go back and fix it later.” So you throw words on the paper like they told you. If you can’t think of anything to write, you write anything. Anything at all.

When your first draft is done (yippee!), you go back over your manuscript and wonder what the heck you might have been on when you were writing it. That part of the story where you couldn’t figure out how to make your wedding scene poignant, so you had a bunch of pirates and ninjas jump through the window and attack your wedding party? That has to go, and now you have to make your wedding scene poignant. You don’t gain anything by writing a ten-line paragraph containing nothing but the word “gurgleshnortz”. You’ve only delayed the inevitable.

The benefit you receive from this process is clarity of purpose. Your first draft tells you what’s happening and where you’re going with your plot and character development. Once you know that, through a quickly hashed first draft, you can fill in the blanks with useful, well-written prose and cut out all those flowery words that don’t contribute to the story. You can ignore and remove the parts you don’t need and spend your precious time perfecting paragraphs that count.

I’m looking forward to concentrating on my edits and building a solid story as I go. I’m not looking forward to fixing that paragraph full of gurgleshnortz. No idea what I’m going to do with that one.

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31. May, 2014
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Running Disney

In a previous post, I mentioned that we’ve been getting into running as a family. It’s a great way to get outside and do some exercise.

One of the ways we’ve been getting into running is by participating in Disney runs. The runDisney program is a series of races throughout the year: 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, full marathons, and even a 10 miler that Yvonne and I are going to be running at Hollywood Studios later this year, in early October.

While the Disney races can be costly (January’s Dopey Challenge, which involves running a series of back-to-back races – including the 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon – costs over $500), working toward those medals (and the tech shirts you also receive at registration) can be a great motivator. It will get you – and keep you – training for upcoming races months in advance. And considering the rising costs of health care, in my opinion it is money well spent.

The runDisney races

In November of 2013, we participated in some of the Disney races during the Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend. While none of us ran the actual half, Yvonne and Callum did do the Jingle Jungle 5K (something that they trained up for while living in Spain), and Amelia completed her first ever Mickey Mile at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Disney Wine and Dine Mickey Mile

Amelia high-fiving Pluto at the finish line of the Wine and Dine Mickey Mile in November.

Jingle Jungle 5K

Yvonne and Callum running the Jingle Jungle 5K last November. They made frequent stops to take pictures with characters.

In January of this year, Disney hosted its annual Marathon Weekend. Amelia completed the Mickey Mile, again at ESPN Wide World of Sports. It was crazy crowded.

Marathon Weekend Mickey Mile

Amelia gearing up for the Marathon Weekend Mickey Mile in January.

The Disney Princess 10K and Half Marathon took place in February. Yvonne ran both of these, completing a challenge called the Glass Slipper Challenge. I was thinking of completing this challenge next February, though Yvonne mentions that I will have to dress up as a princess if I do.

Princess Half Marathon sign at ESPN

Amelia and Yvonne flexing in front of the Princess Half Marathon sign at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Amelia brought Saige, her American Girl doll, with her to the registration.

Getting ready to run the Princess Mickey Mile

Amelia getting ready to run the Mickey Mile at the Princess Half Marathon at Epcot in February.

Princess Mickey Mile at Epcot

Amelia mid-run during the Mickey Mile at Epcot during the Princess Half Marathon weekend. I was there running with her.

Part of completing the Disney races involves registering for each race at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, on Disney property. During the registration period the complex hosts an exposition, featuring a variety of different booths set up downstairs where different merchants sell mostly running-related stuff. Upstairs, a series of speakers come to speak about running, health, and nutrition.

The runDisney Health and Fitness Expo

One of the most popular of the official Disney speakers is Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian who now promotes interval-based long-distance running (30 seconds running, 30 seconds walking, and so on, until you finish the race). He qualified for this year’s Boston Marathon using a program of 15 second intervals. We got to meet him at the most recent exposition, and it was great to talk to him about running. He’s going to be hosting some of his own races in Atlanta later this year (though we’re not going to be able to make them).

Jeff Galloway at ESPN Wide World of Sports

Meeting one of Yvonne’s running role models – Jeff Galloway.

Our next run

Speaking of runDisney races, Callum and I are going to be running the Expedition Everest Challenge this coming weekend. It’s a race around Disney’s Animal Kingdom, involving a variety of different challenges. We’re looking forward to it – wish us luck!

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29. Apr, 2014
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Ukrainian Easter eggs

Today is Easter Sunday, and Yvonne and the kids have been busy decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky). Creating them is an involved process involving candles, wax, and plenty of colored dye. I think they turned out really well.

Ukrainian Easter eggs

Ukrainian Easter eggs.

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20. Apr, 2014
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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, “┬íHola!”

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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