Custom bookcase set

The major project we hired a carpenter to do for us was to make four bookshelves.  We love books.  We also love games and Pepper loves puzzles.  Our collection of all three had really outgrown the single bookcase and two cabinets that we have from the school and the landlord.  So we decided to order our own.

I knew I wanted them to not be too large individually.  I wanted some versatility — stackable is what I guess I was looking for.  So I designed two components.  The bottom one has three compartments.  The bottom is 16 inches tall and the next two are 12 inches tall.  Yesterday the carpenter finished those two units so we moved them inside and loaded them up with our games and puzzles.

We’ll probably be able to move some things around after the top two pieces are done.  The bottom two shelves on them are 12 inches tall and the top two are almost ten inches tall. In total the four pieces will be eight feet wide and just under eight feet tall.


Custom shoe rack

One of the many things that Pepper has been wanting is a larger shoe rack for next to our front door.  Our first year in India we bought a metal one that is less than 3 feet tall, about two feet wide and has five wire shelves.  It has been full of shoes and had piles of shoes around it just about since we bought it.

Last week I hired a carpenter to make us our own shoe rack and this one is over three feet tall, exactly 4 feet wide and had five shelves plus the top surface.  Made out of hardwood plywood with teak facing here it is loaded with our shoes and some helmets.

The cushion on top is for the cats.  They love watching out the window.  The shelves are all 6 inches apart except the bottom which is 8.  They are also 12 inches deep whereas the old one we were using was just 10.

It cost around $100 to have made.  Probably a little pricey.  But we knew we didn’t want doors on it because, well, we’re honest about how likely we would be to use it then.  I do like the look of this one but it is considerably shorter and costs three times as much as we spent.

Doorsteps decorated for Pongal

This is a long weekend because of the Tamil festival of Pongal — the winter harvest festival.  Friday morning (Boghi) people burned their old and unwanted items which creates quite a heavy amount of smoke throughout the area.  On our drive in to the school we could see the smoldering remains of the fires people lit early in the morning.

Considering that the air in Chennai is generally very good we’re fine with dealing with a half day of bad air pollution.

Here is a video of part of our drive in that morning while an appropriate song played on our stereo.

On Saturday people decorated their doorsteps with elaborate kolams to celebrate Pongal.  These were a few from my neighborhood.

UNESCO World Heritage sites through the end of 2016

A few years ago I started keeping track of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that I have visited.  Here they are through the end of 2016.  (I moved Yellowstone down the list to reflect re-visiting it.)

  1. Mesa Verde, USA
  2. Grand Canyon, USA
  3. Redwoods, USA
  4. Pueblo de Taos, USA
  5. Changdeokgung Palace Complex, South Korea
  6. City of Cuzco, Peru
  7. Machu Picchu, Peru
  8. Lima, Peru city center
  9. City of Quito, Ecuador
  10. Chichen-Itza, Mexico
  11. Banff & Jasper in Canada
  12. Great Wall, China
  13. Imperial Palace, China
  14. Temple of Heaven, China
  15. Longmen Grottoes, China
  16. Angkor, Cambodia
  17. Historic Center of Prague, Czech Republic
  18. Antigua, Guatemala
  19. Tikal, Guatemala
  20. Historic Center of Rome
  21. Holy See, Vatican City
  22. Copan Ruins, Honduras
  23. Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
  24. Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, Mongolia
  25. Victoria Falls, Zambia
  26. Lake Baikal, Russia
  27. White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Russia
  28. Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow, Russia
  29. Saint Petersburg historic sites, Russia
  30. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
  31. Dambulla, Sri Lanka
  32. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
  33. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
  34. Kandy, Sri Lanka
  35. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
  36. Galle, Sri Lanka
  37. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, India
  38. Taj Mahal, India
  39. Red Fort, India
  40. Humayun’s Tomb, India
  41. Agra Fort, India
  42. Qutb Minar, India
  43. Westminster Palace and Abbey, London
  44. Tower of London
  45. Churches of Moldavia, Romania
  46. Historic Centre of Sighișoara, Romania
  47. Medieval fortified churches of Transylvania.
  48. Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand
  49. Historic Town of Sukhothai, Thailand
  50. Banks of the Seine, Paris, France
  51. Yellowstone, USA
  52. Olympic National Park, USA
  53. Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland
  54. Saint-Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine
  55. Pechersk Lavra, Kiev, Ukraine
  56. Historic Centre of Tallinn, Estonia
  57. San Antonio Missions, USA (added to the list in 2015)

Again, still lots of blog posts that need to come up to bring this list even close to up to date.

Lego Minifigure Shelf

In August we made shelves for our collection of Lego Minifigures.  Not all of them – just the ones from the collectible series.  I wrote the project up on Instructables here.

Next we’ll make some shelves for holding Jacob’s extensive collection of cars and perhaps one for Jordan’s collection of castles!

New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2017

As in the past few years, the New York Times has published a list of places to go in 2017.  I have written blog posts from the lists from 2016, 20152014, 2013 and 2012 in the past.

Here is their list with places in bold that I have been to along with links to my relevant blog posts for sites I have been to the exact place on the list.  I start out pretty strong on their list and then fizzle out!

  1. Canada
  2. Atacama Desert, Chile
  3. Agra, India [Agra Fort, Taj Mahal]
  4. Zermatt, Switzerland
  5. Botswana [Safari]
  6. Dubrovnik, Croatia
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  8. Tijuana, Mexico
  9. Detroit, Michigan
  10. Hamburg, Germany
  11. Marrakesh, Morocco
  12. Greenville, South Carolina
  13. Pedregal, Ecuador
  14. Penzance, England
  15. Osaka, Japan
  16. Stockholm, Sweden
  17. Sikkim, India
  18. Île de Porquerolles, France
  19. Madagascar
  20. Sanya, China
  21. Cyprus
  22. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  23. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  24. Kingston, Jamaica
  25. Comporta, Portugal
  26. Kazakhstan
  27. Gabon
  28. Athens, Greece
  29. Northwest Puerto Rico
  30. Chiang Mai, Thailand
  31. Napa Valley, California
  32. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
  33. Sedona, Arizona
  34. Madrid
  35. Ketchum, Idaho
  36. Maldives
  37. Calabria, Italy
  38. Antequera, Spain
  39. Lofoten Islands, Norway
  40. Iberá Wetlands, Argentina
  41. Istria, Croatia
  42. Placencia, Belize
  43. Langtang Region, Nepal
  44. Bozcaada, Turkey
  45. Birmingham, Alabama
  46. Sacred Valley, Peru [Sacred Valley, Chicha, Machu Picchu]
  47. Laikipia, Kenya
  48. Busan, South Korea
  49. Portland, Oregon
  50. Budapest, Hungary
  51. South Bronx, New York
  52. Ryukyu Islands, Japan

Yesterday was one of those “best days”

School starts back up tomorrow after our three week winter break.  So on Saturday I set out to try and have a really great day knowing Sunday would have a lot of things going on that I had to do instead of wanted to do.  Sunday wasn’t all bad though…


  1.  Slept in
  2. Watered my plants and did some repotting and pruning
  3. Went on a walk and did some beach combing and came back with two handfulls of treasures
  4. Ate pancakes, sausages and muffins that Pepper cooked.
  5. Got cash!  (See: India demonetization.)
  6. Picked up totes (actually Indian milk crates) to use to sort Lego.  (For a future project.)  Spent more than an hour with the boys scrubbing them clean.  Then went about filling them with Lego.
  7. Worked on a video from our summer travels.
  8. Went to a friend’s for dinner and drinks and to catch up on their travel during the break.


  1. Woke earlier
  2. Went on a walk and beach combed again.  Saw one dead sea turtle.  This time brought home two small grocery bags of treasures including a dolphin skull.  Yes, a dolphin skull.  (Perhaps a porpoise?)  I’m sure that it will excite our biology teacher as much as it did me!
  3. Cooked potatoes, bacon and eggs for brunch.
  4. The family got haircuts.
  5. Went to Amadora for ice cream.
  6. Wrote up a project on Instructables and entered it in an appropriate contest.

UNESCO World Heritage sites I have been to so far

A few years ago I started keeping track of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that I have visited.

  1. Mesa Verde, USA
  2. Yellowstone, USA
  3. Grand Canyon, USA
  4. Redwoods, USA
  5. Pueblo de Taos, USA
  6. Changdeokgung Palace Complex, South Korea
  7. City of Cuzco, Peru
  8. Machu Picchu, Peru
  9. Lima, Peru city center
  10. City of Quito, Ecuador
  11. Chichen-Itza, Mexico
  12. Banff & Jasper in Canada
  13. Great Wall, China
  14. Imperial Palace, China
  15. Temple of Heaven, China
  16. Longmen Grottoes, China
  17. Angkor, Cambodia
  18. Historic Center of Prague, Czech Republic
  19. Antigua, Guatemala
  20. Tikal, Guatemala
  21. Historic Center of Rome
  22. Holy See, Vatican City
  23. Copan Ruins, Honduras
  24. Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
  25. Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, Mongolia
  26. Victoria Falls, Zambia
  27. Lake Baikal, Russia
  28. White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Russia
  29. Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow, Russia
  30. Saint Petersburg historic sites, Russia
  31. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
  32. Dambulla, Sri Lanka
  33. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
  34. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
  35. Kandy, Sri Lanka
  36. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
  37. Galle, Sri Lanka
  38. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, India
  39. Taj Mahal, India
  40. Red Fort, India
  41. Humayun’s Tomb, India
  42. Agra Fort, India
  43. Qutb Minar, India
  44. Westminster Palace and Abbey, London
  45. Tower of London
  46. Churches of Moldavia, Romania
  47. Historic Centre of Sighișoara, Romania
  48. Medieval fortified churches of Transylvania.
  49. Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand
  50. Historic Town of Sukhothai, Thailand

As expected, still lots of blog posts that need to come up to bring this list even close to up to date.

Jacob has been with us for two years

Writing the names on the invitations to Jacob’s two-year (anniversary with the family) party made me realize what an inclusive community he has joined.  Sure, there are three that sound like they are from the US, UK or Australia, one Italian, and then there is the Malaysian, Indian and two Koreans that help me realize that he is accepted even though he’s the only full-blooded Chinese kid at the school.  Though ask him and he’s every bit a full-blooded American.  …and he’s right.

I heard the sister of one of the boys ask her mom the other day “Why does Jacob walk that way?” which was the same question a girl in his class asked me almost two years ago. “He was born that way” is about all I can manage to say when kids ask.

He’s behind almost all of his classmates academically.  He struggles with reading and writing.  He’s improving.  Two years ago he couldn’t add together single digit numbers.  He has a loose grasp of multiplication, fractions and division now.  Somehow I don’t worry about his opportunities in the world.  If you’ve ever interacted with him you know that he’s full of positivity and energy.


He’s fitting in really well.

He has now been to 11 countries.  Aside from the US and China he has been to…

Great Britain
Sri Lanka

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