Oh, the places you’ve slept

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It is hard for me to not take photos of Jacob sleeping.  Right now we are waiting to check in for a flight from Muscat,  Oman back to India.  We have a while before I need to disturb him and Clifford by checking in his bed.   The moments before he passed out he was humming and singing Pharrell’s “Happy” which I think he says “because I’m happy bummm da bummm da bummm.” 

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Jacob crashed in the cool down room at the track meet.

We are returning from Oman where we have been since Wednesday for the three day track and field meet.  I have been coaching the shot put and discus four days a week from 6:15 to 8 in the morning since the middle of February. I had throwers place in almost every age group,  many personal bests and a 13-14 girls shot put record for the school set by a half meter. 

Pepper has been coaching the high and long jump events and had some great successes including three gold medals and a new high jump record for our school in the 15-18 boys.

Jordan had a good meet and was even on the 4×400 and 4×100 relays which earned third and second place respectively.

Our team of four coaches also put in a performance at the expositionary 4×100 event where we won our heat.

Speaking of heat,  it was warm.   We usually had a four hour break in the middle of the day to avoid the 100 degree heat.   There was plenty of dehydration,  cramping,  exhaustion and collapsing.  

It is nice to be done with the season.  I am done with coaching until August so I will feel like my work days are much shorter for the rest of the school year.  But I am sure I will miss working with the kids and after seeing so many of them perform so well over the past few days it is bitter sweet to be at the end.

We are heading to Oman for a track meet

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If I told you a story about visa hassles leading to having to change flights you might think I was retelling a story from last fall when Jacob and I had to trail behind the rest of the family by a few days.   Or maybe you thought I was telling a story from the year before when we were held up over a week because of visa problems… 

Nope.  I am telling a new story about visa problems leading to police clearance letters for a 9 year old and a flight missed by 12 hours…  but things are all working out and Jacob and I are on the next flight to Muscat,  Oman to catch up with Jordan,  Pepper,  and the rest of the track team.

We have all been practicing since mid February at 6:15 in the morning (sleepily hitting the snooze button at 4:45) and this is the season-end meet.   Pepper has coached the long and high jumps.   I have coached the discus and shot put.   Jordan has mid distance events as well as jumps and even is throwing shot put.   Jacob gets to miss school for three days and be a cheerleader.

Jordan was the February athlete of the month

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Jordan was pretty shocked when he realized that he was receiving the athlete of the month for high school boys.  

The award was presented this morning and came with a t-shirt and a small delivered pizza that he can request for lunch some day.  

Neither Pepper nor I had anything to do with nominating or selecting him so it was with pride that we watched him be recognized.

Jordan really has developed an ability to focus and work hard during practice.   He stays on task and while able to have fun can still maintain a great deal of respect and direction.   Since he is just a fresh man we look forward to seeing how he does in the coming years!

Congratulations Jordan – we are proud of you!

Saint Petersburg, Russia

At the end of our first year in Mongolia we took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow.  After a few days there we then caught a quick flight to St. Petersburg where we hit the sights hard.  We spent almost an entire day in the Hermitage museum.  We stomped around and entered every church we could, peered in the cannons we could find, and marveled at the tops of buildings and wonderful architecture.  Here are some of my favorite snapshots from those few days.

Antigua, Guatemala

About two weeks into our honeymoon in 2010, Pepper and I rolled into Antigua, Guatemala. We were largely connecting Mayan historical sites but the lure of cooler weather of the mountains drew us to Antigua as soon as we arrived in Guatemala. We checked into a nice hotel thinking we’d spend two nights and then move on. We spent four nights there — we loved the city that much.

It turns out that the whole city has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are historic buildings everywhere.  A number of earthquakes has damaged many of them so some lie in ruins or have portions that are ruined.  There is ample tourism, but much of the city retains the charm of an undiscovered Central American gem.

Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays

Last Monday school resumed after a two week spring break.  That means many of my co-workers were back from their vacations.  I endured stories about South Africa, Brazil and Italy.  Having been to those places may have made my jealousy even worse.  I avoided the lunch room though politely asked people about their breaks when I saw others in the hallway.

Staycations are great – but when you go back to a workplace full of people buzzing from their great locations and activities it isn’t easy to compare.  We went to some really great places and saw and did wonderful things.  But it wasn’t Rome or Rio.  There wasn’t great wine or diving with great white sharks.

But on the bright side, on Monday Tommy gave me a single bottle of beer he carried from Italy for us…

McFarland Beer
McFarland traditional red ale!

 

Agra Fort in Agra, India

After we spent the morning at the Taj Mahal, Pepper, Jordan, Jacob and I continued on to see the Agra Fort.  In some ways I felt like this fort was better than the Red Fort in Delhi.  The layout was more compact so walking through a doorway lead immediately to a courtyard or Mosque.  I felt much more like we were exploring the complex even when surrounded by many other visitors.

From the book The World’s Heritage – a complete guide to the most extraordinary places

Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the sixteenth-century Mughal monument known as Red Fort of Agra.  With its walls of red sandstone rising above a moat and interrupted by graceful curves and lofty bastions, the fort encompasses within its enclosure walls of 2.5 km the imperial city of the Mogul rulers.  It comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal; audience halls,such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and two very beautiful mosques.  Like the Delhi Fort, that of Agra is one of the most obvious symbols of the Mogul grandeur which asserted itself under Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.  Several of the builfings are made from pure marble with beautiful carvings; all of these monuments mark the high point of an Indo-Muslim art strongly marked by influences from Persia.

Here are our photos, mostly by Pepper and Jordan.

Red Fort in Delhi, India

Another of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that we visited while on our spring break was the Red Fort Complex in Delhi.

From the book The World’s Heritage – a complete guide to the most extraordinary places

The Red Fort, completed in 1648, represents the zenith of Mughal creativity.  The palace plan is based on standard Islamic designs but each pavilion displays architectural elements typical of Mughal building — a fusion of Persian, Timurid, Hindu and Islamic traditions.

Emperor Shah Jahan established his capital at Shahjahanabad and built the Red Fort Complex as his palace fort, enclosing it in ornate red sandstone walls that stretch for 2.5 km.  The innovative planning, gardens and architectural style of the fort complex strongly influenced later building and garden design in Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra.

The Red Fort has been a powerful symbol for the Indian nation since its construction.  The British Army captured it after the Indian mutiny of 1857-8 and held it until India gained Independence in 1947.  It has remained at the centre of national independence celebrations ever since.

Here are some photos that wee took there.

Tax service for expats

For my entire “adult” life I have done my own taxes.  I have dealt with marriages, a divorce, buying and selling homes, sole proprietorship and partnership business taxes, moving expenses, dependents, college expenses, owning rental properties, foreign earned income… I feel like I have become pretty adept at dealing with the IRS codes and figuring things out.  I’m sure I have made mistakes along the way, but all I have ever paid for is the $10-$30 for tax filing software.

This year I used the services of H&R Block.

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I used their portal for expats in India to upload my tax documents and pay records and to answer some pretty basic questions about our circumstances.  I had a number of followup emails with the staff member that was working on my account — our situation with Jacob’s adoption is a little tricky since we do not yet have a Social Security Number for him.

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After everything was uploaded (it was a long wait for my forms from my mortgage) I pretty much just had to wait, answer some questions, and then print, sign and send back to H&R Block the second page of my return.

Was it easier than doing my taxes on my own?  Definitely.

I can make it a little easier on myself in the future by naming our payslips better and storing them in the same place… since they are emailed to us I had to search through plenty of old mail and then download the slips only to then upload them all individually.  Next time I will store them all in a spot and then combine them to make one payslip file for me and one for my wife.  I’ll also keep better track of any expenses for the rentals we have because trying to find them amid our credit card statements is tough.  I might use a feature in Mint to label them all.

I would definitely recommend H&R Block for expat tax services.

Ryan McFarland's travel, thoughts, projects and more.