My new bike – Novara Ponderosa 29er

For Father’s Day of last year, Pepper bought this bike from another teacher.  He bought it new and brought it to Chennai when he moved here in 2012.  Because of the craziness of the traffic and roads here it just sat in his home for the past few years.  For a number of reasons, we didn’t pick it up until earlier this week.Novara Ponderosa 29er


He’s tall, so the frame is a bit too large for me.  It is supposed to fit people that are 6′ to 6’3″.  The wheels are 29 inches instead of the 26″ that most mountain bikes I’m used to riding come with.  The tires are a nice hybrid that are good for the not-so-perfect streets.  The front fork has a lockout on the handlebar so I can lock or unlock the fork while riding.  The saddle and grips are comfortable, the Shimano components are slick (note the disc brakes) and my only dislike are the pedals that came with the bike though I think I will get used to them.

I’ve been riding it on the streets around our home which have little traffic but are torn up because of utility work.  Jacob likes to ride around on weekend evenings just before the sun goes down and the temperatures are a little cooler.  Earlier today I took it for my first ride outside of these backstreets.  I rode out to the ECR and down the street for some veggies.  I need a helmet and a bike lock and probably should get flashing lights if I every ride at dusk.

Having spent quite a bit of my life riding bikes it is great to have one again.  Thank you to my family for the wonderful gift!

In related news, I took the training wheels off of Jacob’s bike just an hour ago and he already rode down the street.  He has trouble starting but after he gets going he balances, turns and stops well.  He got the bike just one month ago!

Re:Start in Christchurch, New Zealand

In mid-February of last year I was in Christchurch for a few days.  We had an afternoon available to stomp around and came across a pedestrian street where all of the shops were converted shipping containers.  Since many of the downtown buildings were damaged in the earthquake a few years ago and had to be demolished, using containers as a quick building was smart.





I have found out since visiting that the project is called Re:Start Container Mall on Cashel Street.  I would highly suggest anyone looking for a feel of the real Christchurch to wander through.  Even if you’re not doing any shopping it is great to see the vibrant side of the city.

Mike V. the recipient of the oldest active friendship award

I recall telling someone in the sixth grade cafeteria that some girl in our class liked Mike.  The person I was talking to said something like “Duh, all girls like Mike.”  That was in about 1986.  How is it that he still is (usually) single?  Probably because he loves me so much and all the ladies get jealous.

We were often partners for skits at campfires in the summertime.  I bet we could play off each other today just as well as we did then.

Aside from many weeks spent in the same tent during camping trips and summer camps, Mike and I also shared a locker in HS.  Well, it was his locker.  Mine was on the outskirts and best used for winter coats.

Mike sent me care packages and letters often while I was in Brazil in 10th grade.  He sent me books that I devoured in my thirst for English.  We can still both quote a book about sharks that I read twenty five years ago.

Mike moved to Colorado for college.  I eventually ventured to Alaska.  We each visited the other a few times over those years.  I was lucky enough to be Mike’s furthest west friend for a while and the person he would call while he laid out on the lawn of his home late at night recovering from his broken back.  I think it was during one call that I had to cut off because my girlfriend’s dog showed up at the sliding glass door with porcupine quills buried deep in her nose.


Mike visited Mongolia and we went to China, Sri Lanka and Thailand together.  I have no doubt that he’ll visit me in India some time.  I spent time with him a few summers ago in Boston.  He’s another of the friends that I have that we seem to be able to reconnect immediately regardless of how long we’ve spent apart.




He’n not usually been so bearded, but he’s one of my brilliant friends that I’m always seeking to connect with when we’re in the same hemisphere.



I have been a little jumpy lately.  Not because I live in a country that has experienced terrorism (see the Mumbai attacks) or because the second most prolific religion is Islam (at about 13%).  It is because some people I know are so incredibly anti-Muslim.

I just had an interaction with three guys down by the beach.  One was clean shaven and looked like a “normal” Indian.  His two friends, as he explained, were from Kashmir.  They looked every bit the stereotype Muslim with their clothing and facial hair.  We briefly talked about the car that was stuck in the sand and I lent a hand to push it out.  We all turned to the ocean waves for a bit.  Then one of them asked of Jacob, “whose child is this?”

“Mine.”  I said.

“He’s different than you.” One of them quickly said as another said “He isn’t begotten to you.”

“We adopted him.”  I said as I wondered if I had ever heard the word ‘begotten’ used in a sentence outside of biblical quotes.

“Adopted?”  One confirmed.  They shook my hand.  We had a little more small chat, took some photos, and then went our own ways.

That wasn’t typical of my experiences with Muslims here.  Most of my interactions are pretty superficial, though I am extremely grateful for the Muslims.  They are the butchers and without them we would have much fewer options for chicken and other meats.     I wave to the guy that sets up a shop at the end our street each evening.  The owners of one of the grocery stores have become more and more chatty with us.  We hear the call to prayer regularly from the two or three Mosques within earshot of our home.  Today I was on the roof waiting for burgers to cook, sitting in a lounge chair and listening to Adhan over the bark of the street dogs and the blare of the bus horns on the main road.  There is a woman in my office that prays when she is able.  They are every bit a part of India as Hindus are.

I think most Americans are accustomed to seeing a Jewish person wearing a Yamaka (though less than 2% of Americans are Jewish) but not many women wearing burkas (Muslims constitute over 15% of India’s population).  I see women in them most days on our drive to work.

You don’t like that women are forced to cover up?  Well think how strange it is that businessmen in America have to wear a suit and tie.  A tie?  How is that functional?  It is stifling to wear and yet the unwritten commandments of the unofficial religion of business and money makes men wear them.  If you want to question another’s practices, first clean up your own culture’s.  Something about throwing rocks in a glass house applies here.

You also are not begotten…

Third annual beer tasting

One of the things that we did during the Thanksgiving visit by my cousin Rachel and her husband Brian was to have a blind tasting of some of the really bad beer that we can find here.


Brian, Rachel, Pepper and I tasted small samples of the following beers.  Each went just against the other beer for single elimination.  We then voted to determine which would continue.

First up was 10,000 Volts vs. Kingfisher Superior super strong beer.   The KF won and moved on to the next round.  Then we had Zingaro against Black Knight Maxx.  Zingaro won.  How could it not against a beer that sounds like a condom brand?

Then we had Druk 11000 which is a beer from Bhutan up against plain old Kingfisher – the staple of beer in India.  The Bhutanese beer won.  Then we had Vorion 12,000 against 20,000.  The 20,000 ruled that battle.

A long evening of trying beer short, Zingaro emerged as the tastiest of the bad beer we had to sample.  20,000 came in third and the beer from Bhutan probably came in third with Kingfisher Strong not too far behind.

Sports day for Jacob

When I tried to explain to Jacob that his upcoming sports day was going to be fun I used the running race as an example.  He said that he didn’t want to do it.  Fortunately there were many other events that he found fun…

Foot fishing…

The sack race…

Scooter races…

And of course, the tug-o-war…


I know what I did last summer – I built a greenhouse

I have wanted one for a while.  I like to garden.  I also like to build with scrap materials.  So the last week that we were in Alaska last summer I started to work on a greenhouse and this is where I left it.



I started off by adding on to the garden shed that I built a few years ago.  Originally I was thinking about making four separate sheds that were beside or faced each other so create the greenhouse.  But I ended up with this.  The roof panels were a last minute purchase and set me back $80.  They were formerly covering the stained-glass windows of the Lutheran Church.  The clear glass windows were reclaimed form the dump and were from the elementary school.  The corrugated clear pieces were scraps removed from my home’s roofing a number of years ago. greenhouse2

Most of the lumber was reclaimed from a pile of scrap at a friend’s mill a few years back and had sat in our shed for a while.  The small vinyl sliding window next to the door was given to me by a friend that saw that opening and said she had just the right window for that spit – and it fit perfectly.  The door was also reclaimed from the burn pile at the dump.  I put in a new window out of plexiglass that I had kicking around in my piles of materials.  The siding was also reclaimed from construction sites.

greenhouse3This panoramic photo of the interior shows windows at the back of the greenhouse that I snagged from the dump, a number of tables to use (temporarily) for raised beds, and the flooring.  The flooring was our one major purchase for the project.  It is 1″ solid boards on top of 6×12 inch beams (the scraps from the shed project) at about 2′ spacing so the floor is pretty stout.  The yellow sink in the center was also salvaged and will have a rain-barrel plumbed in to it and a hose to make watering easy.

While I’m pretty happy with the outcome, I had framed much of the roof before getting the roof panels so I will probably redo that this summer so that the roof dimensions match the panels better.

I really loved the space.  When I was wrapping it up the day before we left I suddenly wished that I had a similar space to work in.  It is incredibly light and using my power saws in it didn’t leave sawdust all over my more delicate tools.  Maybe I’ll be building a small saw shop this summer?  Or a sauna with my collection of red cedar?  I also would like a small building to store things like the scrap aluminum and copper that I collect along with things like cable, chain, small wheels, large bolts and other tools and equipment that are not for gardening and are not used for most of my other typical projects.


Some of the cool gifts that extended our Christmas

Having most of the Christmas gifts from far off family and friends arrive after Christmas isn’t much of a bummer.  It really extends the season — in the opposite direction of the holiday displays being set up on November 1st in retail stores.  Yesterday we received two packages.  One from my family and the other from Brooke.  Here are some of the cool new things that are sitting on my new desk thanks to those two packages.

A green LED glow stick.  With the frequent power outages, this will be nice to have on hand.  A cup that looks like a telephoto lens.  A LEGO minifigure USB drive.

There were plenty of other gifts — puzzles, snacks, and things for the boys.  But these are the ones that have found their way to my new work space.  Thank you!

New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2015

The NYT list of 52 places to go in 2015 came out this week so I’ll look at their list and how I have done in making it to some of these places already.  I have looked at the lists from 2014, 2013 and 2012 in the past.  As I have previously, I will put in bold the locations I have been to and would consider counting because I have spent enough time there.

  1. Milan, Italy
  2. Cuba
  3. Philadelphia
  4. Yellowstone National Park
  5. Elqui Valley, Chile
  6. Singapore
  7. Durban, South Africa
  8. Bolivia
  9. Faroe Islands
  10. Macedonia
  11. Medellin, Columbia
  12. St. Vincent & the Grenadines
  13. Orlando, Florida
  14. Zimbabwe (lots of posts)
  15. Burgundy, France
  16. Lower Manhattan, NY
  17. Tanzania
  18. North coast of Peru
  19. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
  20. Oman
  21. Cleveland, Ohio
  22. Sri Lanka (just a couple)
  23. New Orleans, Louisiana
  24. Adelaide, Australia
  25. Republic of Georgia
  26. Manchester, England
  27. Campeche, Mexico
  28. Greenland
  29. Papua New Guinea
  30. Bend, Oregon
  31. Rabat, Morocco
  32. Squamish, Canada
  33. Seoul, South Korea
  34. St. Kitts
  35. Shikoku, Japan
  36. San Antonio (The Alamo)
  37. San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
  38. Alentejo, Portugal
  39. The Catskills, New York
  40. Quebec City, Canada
  41. Canton Valais, Switzerland
  42. Ile-de-France
  43. Danang, Vietnam
  44. Chengdu, China
  45. Miami Beach, Florida
  46. Shanghai (plenty of posts)
  47. Tulsa, Oklahoma
  48. Rome, Italy (my posts)
  49. Caceres, Spain
  50. Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
  51. Baku, Azerbaijan
  52. Kas, Turkey

Since Shanghai is on the list this year, Chennai was on last year, and Mongolia the year before, Pepper has lived in a location on each of the past three years.

I have been to 10 of the locations — or 21% — which is my best result from the previous lists.

The desk I built in our pooja room

Here is my new home office space made inside the pooja room within our dining room. For over a year we have used the pooja room as storage for our recyclables. Now It serves as a desk so I can conceal my messy work space (it isn’t going to stay this clean for long) instead of having to clean off the dining room table when we eat as a family, play board games or people visit.  Of course, now I need to find a new place for our recyclables!

I hope it isn’t sacrilegious.  Especially with my Stormtrooper bobble head and my oversized LEGO minifig desk pal (produced in 2002 and no longer available) next to our Indonesian Buddha.  I just added my Space Invaders erasers too.

I have a nice spot to work which is easy to stow away, out of the way of the other things the family does and yet still in the heart of the house so I don’t feel like I’m isolated while working.

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