May 2009


Here in my hometown of Orlando a funny thing starts to happen around this time of the year. It’s the start of tourist season. Thousands of tourists descend upon the city to visit the theme parks and other attractions the area has to offer. The thing is- summertime is the worst time to come visit central Florida. The weather is quite hot and humid. Temperatures often get into the mid-90’s. Then there are the thunderstorms that start up at 2pm like clockwork nearly every day. The lightening often shuts down outdoor rides for hours and closes down the water parks. Plus with so many people packing into the parks, the parks reach capacity and stop letting people in. The crowds also mean that line wait times can soar into the 90+ minute range. Even away from the parks, other attractions like the beaches still tend to be crowded. To top it all off, it’s also the middle of hurricane season, so it only takes a hurricane or a strong tropical storm to rain out a trip.

The reason I find the whole “tourist season” so strange is that I can’t understand why families would spend thousands of dollars to come at the worst time of the year when they could come in the fall, spring or winter instead and tour Orlando under much more pleasant conditions. I went to Epcot in Febuary for my birthday and was able to ride my favorite ride, Soarin’, 4 times that day and never waited more then 15 minutes for it. I also rode other rides multiple times and finished off the night with a nice dinner in France, all while enjoying the pleasant mid-60’s temperatures. If I had gone in the middle of the summer, the day would have been more misery then enjoyment for me.

That day proved to me the importance of choosing when you go traveling someplace can be just as important as where you’re traveling to. If you go somewhere during a major holiday, you may be facing large crowds, overbooked lodging, or arriving and finding that most businesses have shut down. Or if you time an outdoor trip for the springtime, you might arrive just to see everything in the peak of blooming. There might be special events going on at certain times of the year that are worth seeing. Things like that can have a large impact on how enjoyable a trip is.

Of course, it may not be possible to avoid crowds if a special event is going on. For example, one of my life goals is to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Since that event draws large crowds, my stragedy for going there will be to book things like flights well in advance of the trip. This will help avoid getting shut out entirely or having to pay high prices at the last minute.

So what is the best way to figure out the best time to go? I find google searches tend to turn up answers pretty quickly. Guide books are another good resource. Knowing specifically what you want to see will help get more detailed answers- ie “When is tulip season in Holland?” (March to mid-May).

One twist on this is to go to a place at a time of the year that you might not normally visit it. I went skiing in Whistler, BC last year and was surprised to find out that during the summer much of the ski resort is turned into a place to do lots of scenic biking and hiking. Going at the low season can also yield bargains. For example, cruises to the Caribbean are often marked down during the wintertime due to lower demand, even though the boat and other services are the same as during the summer.

In the end, the when is just as important as the where when it comes to trip planning. The difference in dates could mean the difference between an average trip and an amazing one.

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I’m on day 14 of my vegetarian adventure and so far, it’s been quite easy. Almost too easy. Every resturant I’ve visited in the last two weeks have all had multiple vegetarian options. The grocery store is chock-full of vegetarian items, from frozen dinners to raw ingredients that can be used in various reciepes. Even the American tradition of the Memorial Day barbecue hasn’t posed a problem for me.

Until this week, I hadn’t mentioned to any of my friends that I was going vegetarian for a month. I didn’t want them to go out of their way to accommodate me since I wanted to see how difficult it would be to maintain the diet. In fact, none of them even noticed my change in diet until I brought some garden burgers to the holiday barbecue.

The only downside of the diet so far is that I’m a little more prone to eating junk food since I’m eating less protein which tends to give me a case of the munchies. I’m trying to cut out the junk food by keeping more fruit and veggies around and drinking more water.

The ease of maintaining this diet has me debating whether I should go vegetarian for good after the 30 days are up. On one hand, it would be good for the planet. On the other hand, there’s a lot of good dishes out there that I would miss, especially around the holidays or when I’m out traveling. What I may end up doing is when I cook at home, I’ll be vegetarian but enjoy meat dishes on special occasions. That would reduce my meat consumption considerably, which would be good for the planet, but I wouldn’t be completely depriving myself either. I still have two more weeks to go, so I still have a lot of time to think about it.

Lately I’ve been doing long weekend trips to big cities that I haven’t been to before. Last month I decided to go to Boston to visit a friend there and to go see all the historical sites there and to see the final results of the Big Dig project.

I got there late on a Thursday night where my friend met me at the airport. We rode the silver line, which is not a traditional subway line. It features buses that can run on both gas or overhead electric lines. Above ground, the buses run on gas and travel on roadways shared with other cars. But when it goes underground to connect with the subway system, it stops and switches to the electric line, presumably so that bus exhaust doesn’t fill the tunnels. It was a cool introduction to the city.

The next two days my friend and I took a walk around the city, following the uquibitous “red line” that marks out the historical trail in the city. It goes by sites like the Old North Church, Bunker Hill, the USS Constitution, and burial grounds where many early patriots were laid to rest. The trail also ran by many modern-day spots like the Boston Commons.

One of my favorite areas in the city turned out to be the North End. It’s the Italian part of town, filled with blocks of resturants from low-key pizza joints to high-end bistros. Throughout the trip I stopped in for lunch, dinner and dessert. One pastry shop called Mike’s Pastries served outstanding cannolis that I’m still craving today.

Another area that I enjoyed was the Public Gardens. It has a beautiful pond, gardens and statuary. It’s a great spot to take pictures. One of the highlights of the park was a set of brass ducks based off of a favorite children’s book of mine, Make Way For Ducklings. The city also has many educational institutions, the most notable being Harvard. MIT is also located right next to Boston in Cambridge.

The timing of my trip turned out to be a bit serendipitous. The Boston Marathon was taking place on the last day of my trip. I didn’t realize the marathon was happening that weekend until I got into town. I was able to get a viewing spot along the last mile and cheer on the runners for over two hours. The marathon really brought out the best in people. The crowd cheered endlessly for hours. If someone came up on the sidewalk to catch their breath, everyone encouraged them to keep going.

What surprised me was the variety of runners coming through. The front of the group were the elite runners with rippling muscles and high-end gear. But as the race went on, all kinds of personalities showed up. Some of the runners were US soldiers, running in full military fatigues, combat boots, and 100-pound backpacks. Some were amputees. One runner was blind and had a guide running alongside her. Many runners were running on behalf of charities. One runner stopped, gave his sweetheart a long smooch and then ran to the finish line. Another did cartwheels. Others cheered the crowd on. It was just a wonderful experience all around.

Boston is well-worth the visit. The highlights of the city can be easily covered in about 3 to 4 days.

Boston is also quite easy to get to. The airport is served by most major carriers and Amtrak provides train service from destinations throughout the northeast. Boston also has several interstates running through it, but it will be hard to find parking inside the city.

Lately I’ve been doing long weekend trips to big cities that I haven’t been to before. Last month I decided to go to Boston to visit a friend there and to go see all the historical sites there and to see the final results of the Big Dig project.

I got there late on a Thursday night where my friend met me at the airport. We rode the silver line, which is not a traditional subway line. It features buses that can run on both gas or overhead electric lines. Above ground, the buses run on gas and travel on roadways shared with other cars. But when it goes underground to connect with the subway system, it stops and switches to the electric line, presumably so that bus exhaust doesn’t fill the tunnels. It was a cool introduction to the city.

The next two days my friend and I took a walk around the city, following the uquibitous “red line” that marks out the historical trail in the city. It goes by sites like the Old North Church, Bunker Hill, the USS Constitution, and burial grounds where many early patriots were laid to rest. The trail also ran by many modern-day spots like the Boston Commons.

One of my favorite areas in the city turned out to be the North End. It’s the Italian part of town, filled with blocks of resturants from low-key pizza joints to high-end bistros. Throughout the trip I stopped in for lunch, dinner and dessert. One pastry shop called Mike’s Pastries served outstanding cannolis that I’m still craving today.

Another area that I enjoyed was the Public Gardens. It has a beautiful pond, gardens and statuary. It’s a great spot to take pictures. One of the highlights of the park was a set of brass ducks based off of a favorite children’s book of mine, Make Way For Ducklings. The city also has many educational institutions, the most notable being Harvard. MIT is also located right next to Boston in Cambridge.

The timing of my trip turned out to be a bit serendipitous. The Boston Marathon was taking place on the last day of my trip. I didn’t realize the marathon was happening that weekend until I got into town. I was able to get a viewing spot along the last mile and cheer on the runners for over two hours. The marathon really brought out the best in people. The crowd cheered endlessly for hours. If someone came up on the sidewalk to catch their breath, everyone encouraged them to keep going.

What surprised me was the variety of runners coming through. The front of the group were the elite runners with rippling muscles and high-end gear. But as the race went on, all kinds of personalities showed up. Some of the runners were US soldiers, running in full military fatigues, combat boots, and 100-pound backpacks. Some were amputees. One runner was blind and had a guide running alongside her. Many runners were running on behalf of charities. One runner stopped, gave his sweetheart a long smooch and then ran to the finish line. Another did cartwheels. Others cheered the crowd on. It was just a wonderful experience all around.

Boston is well-worth the visit. The highlights of the city can be easily covered in about 3 to 4 days.

Boston is also quite easy to get to. The airport is served by most major carriers and Amtrak provides train service from destinations throughout the northeast. Boston also has several interstates running through it, but it will be hard to find parking inside the city.

So I’ve started working on another goal of mine late last week- going vegetarian for 30 days. I’m not being a very strict vegetarian. If a critter had to die to create a dish, I won’t eat it. Everything else is fair game, including dairy and eggs (hens lay sterile eggs in commercial production, so no chicks die if I eat an egg).

I’m on day 5 right now and so far things are going smoothly. I’ve gone up to a week without eating meat before, so I’m not expecting any problems yet. One thing that makes this no-meat diet easy is that I prepare most of my own meals. I don’t eat out often- usually once a week- and it’s to places that I know have some vegetarian items on the menu. The challenge is making sure that I eat a wide variety of veggies, fruit, legumes, nuts and grains to meet all my dietary needs. I did some research into this by reading various books on vegetarian diets that I checked out from the library.

The reason that I want to do this is because I’m concerned about the impact that meat production has on the environment. Raising a herd of cattle for slaughter uses many more resources then just raising plants alone. For example, in the book Diet for a Small Planet, it says that a cow must consume sixteen pounds of vegetation to produce one pound of beef. It would be so much easier on the environment to just eat the veggies themselves.

I’m also curious to see what effect the diet has on my health. While I’m in good health now, I’m wondering if cutting meat from my diet would have any changes in how I feel or how much I weigh. I’m also curious to see if cutting meat out will have a positive effect on my wallet. Finally, this diet will help me be more creative in my cooking since I need to find good alternatives to cooking with meat.

At the end of the 30 days, I don’t expect to switch over to being vegetarian all the time. But I hope this will help me reduce the amount of meat that I eat on a regular basis and move towards a more organic, earth-friendly diet. After all, there’s a big world out there that I want to explore and I want to do my part in taking care of it.

Yesterday, I was able to cross off another item on my life list. I paid off my car! It gave me a great sense of satisfaction as I logged into my bank’s website and made the final payment that cleared the loan off. As I got into my car later that day, it was like driving it for the first time. My car is completely mine now. Paying off the car loan also means that I’m once again debt-free. Being debt-free is important to me because it represents freedom. Not only freedom from creditors, but also the freedom to spend my money in whatever way I choose.

Having financial freedom is critical in pursuing my life goals. Many of the goals on my list carry a large price tag and it will be hard to achieve them if I can’t save up the money to do them in the first place. This goes beyond just paying off debt. It forces me to think about every expense that I have and whether it is something that will ultimately lead me to my dreams or not. It often means sacrifice.

For example, a friend of mine wants me to get annual passes to a local theme park. While going to the park would be quite fun, it would also be expensive- not only in the cost of the pass but also the expense of gas, parking and food that would come up with every visit  there. So while I could afford it, I’ve decided not to get the pass and save up for a grand adventure instead that I won’t find in any theme park. Sure, it means that sometimes I’m at home while my friend is off having fun, but I’m one step closer to achieving what is really important to me. Whether it’s visiting some new states like I did last month or taking a dream trip overseas, those will be the things that I will treasure and remember at the end of my life- not just some other trip to a theme park that I’ve been to many times before.

The process of gathering financial resources to go after my dreams will take some time, but it will be worth it. And now the process just got a little quicker without that debt.

April was a good month for me. I knocked off my goal of running a 5k at the beginning of the month. I then traveled to Boston to visit a friend. I had never been to Massachusetts or Rhode Island, so those made states #18 and #19 on my goal of visiting all 50 states.

The other goal that I hoped to do this month is pay off my car. I wasn’t able to do that in April due to some other financial stuff that came up. But I did make the penultimate payment and will have it paid off in May.

Finally, I made progress on my photo project where I’m printing and framing 10 pictures of friends and family to hang around the apartment. I’ve filled most of the extra frames that I’ve had sitting around the apartment, but will need to get a few more to bring the number up to 10. Working on the project has brought back a lot of happy memories for me and is inspiring me to create more.

I admit that at times my slow progress in accomplishing things on my list is a little frustrating. But I’m glad that I”m moving forward each month, even if it’s just one goal at a time. Onward to May!

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