Chennai floods 2015

The cyclone that hit Chennai, India in November saturated the ground and filled area reservoirs.  It continued to rain through the month, nearly beating a record set over 100 years ago.  Then on December 2nd, Chennai got more rain in 24 hours than it normally gets in the entire month of December.

Our home was alright.  We actually had power more often during the four days that our school was closed than we had during a break in early November.   We had no internet service but hadn’t had any for a month anyway.  (In fact, we’re now going on three full months without wired internet access at home.)  A matter of poor timing, the pump that supplies water to our rooftop cistern that is used for showers, toilets and sinks was being repaired.  We had a full cistern but no way to refill it and didn’t know how long we’d be without it.

Our generator had plenty of fuel (though the gas stations were rationing sales) and the local grocery store let us buy food on an IOU since credit card machines wouldn’t work and ATMs were out of cash.  But we had plenty of movies, crafts, games, LEGO and puzzles to hole up for as long as needed.

We took in a friend and her newborn for a few days.  We also had a family move their boxed up things into our home while they transitioned from the hotel into their new home.  Their apartment ended up with about two feet of water inside so they had to relocate.

We got out bike riding and running a little too…

My 42nd birthday gifts

It is still more than a week away, but I have to work all of my birthday weekend so Pepper and the kids decided to give me my birthday presents early.

First was a Wallet Ninja which is a credit-card-sized tool made out of a single piece of metal. It has screwdrivers in the corners, wrench cutouts, a can opener, bottle opener, and ruler. It’s gimmicky but I’ll probably use the screwdrivers (especially the eyeglass one) and openers as long as I remember that I have it in my wallet!

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The other gift was a Fitbit Surge exercise tracker. I’ve been intermittently using a Fitbit Flex for two and a half years. But I have had increasing difficulty with getting it to charge. Also, in the line of work I’m in, I really need a stopwatch function and also really need to have the time available. So in time came the right watch. Well, almost right. There are a few features I’d still like to see, but I’ll write about that last.

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Here is what it offers… Time and date for the default screen. Tracking of steps, distance and floors climbed. It also monitors my heart rate and even has a GPS for tracking runs. It is supposed to also interface with my phone by being able to control music or notify of incoming calls or text messages. I have not played with those functions yet.

Having worn it for just a day I can say that it is very comfortable. I found that my resting heart rate when I woke up was about 50 BPM and I slept for 6 hours and 36 minutes. Today I walked 6.23 miles in 13,377 steps. The tracker says I climbed 20 floors – which I think is about right. Though it says I had 113 active minutes and I’m pretty sure that’s not quite right. According to the tracker I have burned 3,727 calories.

I’m hoping this helps me stay motivated to climb a few extra flights of stairs, walk a bit more and track my runs and bike rides.

Video logging as an expat

In the first few days of our vacation we decided we shouldn’t just be taking photos of our trips. We really should be shooting more video. Then we also realized that there must be people that would be more interested in watching a few minutes of expat life instead of reading about it. So we’re going to try and do a bit of both. Here is our first “episode” about the things we drank on our winter break trip to Serbia and Romania.

Reflections on a half of a year of work

After a little encouragement, I opted to use blogging as a self reflection tool for my professional development assessment this year.

I have a lot to write about.

First, I feel like I need to acknowledge that I feel outclassed.  I have referred to myself as a new teacher.  This is only my 5th year as a full time teacher.  Sure, I’ve taught things for a long time but I didn’t go to school to become a teacher and despite my ever-present cynicism about the disconnect between higher education and the working world I’ll always feel sub-standard.  To further undermine my self-confidence, about two years ago someone at an all-faculty meeting pointed out the very high percentage of staff with advanced degrees at our school.  There is also the constantly present awareness that “it’s just PE” that I teach.  As much as I believe in the importance of health and long-term recreational activity I know that in a school that is clearly focused on college preparation that the content that I deliver isn’t as critical as core subjects.  I felt similar about my role as a Parks and Recreation Director where my peers were the Chief of Police, Fire Marshal, Public Works Director, Harbormaster… the services I provided, while important to many people, were not critical.

So then, and now, I make up for that self-perceived lack of necessity by committing myself to other organizational needs.

My first year at AISC, in addition to my “day job” I also coached three sports.  Last year I added a few committees.  This year I dropped down to two sports, but have added a large number of other roles ranging from easy occasional meetings of a group of people looking to improve the music at staff social functions, to being the Head of the PE Department.  Other pies I have my finger in include leading the Design Thinking Innovation Team and serving on the Head’s Round Table.

I know I am over-committed.  I know that every additional role I take on robs from my effectiveness in some other role — perhaps that as a husband or father, but often that of a good teacher.

Speaking of being a good teacher, this year we made huge changes to the PE course offerings.  Inherited was a course list that was PE9, PE10, Personal Fitness and Team and Individual Sports.  We eliminated PE10 and the team and individual sports classes and added semester-long classes that include Health (a graduation requirement), making separate personal fitness classes for each gender, Yoga and Flow Arts, Endurance Training, Racket and Batting Sports, and Adventure Activities.

Before, our PE9 and 10 classes were largely the same.  The prep for one was nearly identical.  Same location, same equipment, and often almost identical lessons.  Adding these electives has made for many more venue and equipment changes, entirely new lessons and a whole lot less shooting from the hip.

I have the luxury of teaching one less class than most of my peers to give me time to coordinate the Discover India program.  This year, for scheduling reasons, instead of one class less for the whole year I had two classes less during the first semester which was great since that’s when our Discover India trips happen.  But in the spring semester I’ve got a full course load of four different classes to prep for — three of them that I am teaching for the first time this semester.  Planning for the Discover India trips for next year all has to happen in the next few months too.

Making some of it easier is that Holly taught Health last semester so she has shared plenty of great material to work with, though I need to modify her materials because I want to use a lot more Adaptive Schools protocols in the classroom.

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It is great working with Holly.  We really work so well together.  In fact, our office is remarkably high functioning considering that there are 9 of us in there amidst the chaos of students coming in for band aids or borrowed PE uniforms.

I felt pretty positive about my classes and other commitments through December.  I know things can always be better.  I’m always trying to improve my teaching, grading, and practices and I’ll write more about those.

Reflections on Discover India 2015

One of the really neat things that I get to do as part of my job is to go on trips with students.  I often travel with student athletes for sports tournaments.  But the trip I returned from was different.  Once a year, the entire high school (students and faculty) go on our week without walls trips which we call Discover India.

My trip was 12 students from a mixture of genders and grades (9-11 — there were no seniors on my trip).  We ended up with four German students (one of whom is half Filipino), three Koreans, two French, two Americans and one Indian.  Our trip was the only (of the 16 that left Chennai) with three staff members (all American) and we had the three because there was supposed to be an early departure of one of the staff members.

Our trip involved hiking, biking and rafting along with a high ropes course.  Here is a video I made using footage from my GoPro.

As the coordinator of the program, I am quite critical of my trips.  I’ll focus my reflection here on the changes that were made to the program for this year and not the actual trip I was on.

One change was limiting groups (except the local trip) to 12 students with two staff members.  Previously groups were usually about 20 students — up to 24 — with up to three staff on each trip.  Faculty were asked in the post-trip survey how they felt about the group size and 89% responded that the group size was just right.

group size

I’d agree that the size was ideal.  Part of the reason for making this decision was because on my trip the previous year we had a number of students drop off because of an SAT test making our group about 12 students.  Both years I was amazed at how the barriers of gender, nationality and grade level broke down much quicker with the smaller group.

Perhaps the most significant change was shifting to an application procedure for student (and staff) assignment to trips and not doing a lottery.  This was a lot more work for me.  I read through every word of each student’s application to four different trips.  Some write just a few words.  Some wrote a few paragraphs.  And a few put together video applications!  Overall, despite the additional work I feel that this change was well worth it.  The informal feedback from operators and staff has been that the students were much better suited for the trips.  One example that I have is the 12 students from my trip all completed the entire high ropes course.  Two years ago on my first Discover India trip less than half of the 22 students on our group finished the same course.  Some of the students didn’t even attempt it.

Another change was that previously we allowed students to select another student to be paired with and I would guarantee them being placed on the trip with their friend.  That was changed, though I still asked if there was a student they would prefer to be placed on a trip with.  In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t asked.  There were a number of students that were resisting going on their trips because they were not in a group with their friends.  In the end I think only one didn’t go because of that concern.  In the future I won’t even ask.

More of the trips were geared toward service opportunities and creative exploration than in the past.  By reducing the number of students on each trip we had to add five trips and this allowed greater diversity in what was available.  For 2015, only 6% of students thought there wasn’t a good range of trips to choose from.  In 2014, that percentage was 16.7% (30 students).

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One other significant change is making it part of a larger Discovery program with year-round meetings.  I’ll have to write a separate post about my reflections on that part of the program.

Last, I have come up with a few new ideas for the future.  First, trips will be required to have separate sites for each group.  The campsite that my group used as our base camp was used by two other groups and the larger group was, overall, a distraction from what we could have accomplished as a 12 student group.  Second, some trips will be designated (from the very first advertisement) as technology-free.  Many students had cell phones and could get service so were calling other students, being distracted by social media, and isolating themselves because of their access to personal tech.  I want to have some trips with clear expectations that devices (or perhaps sim cards) will be set aside after planes land to encourage a more meaningful personal experience.

Day five of Winter Break 2015-16

Date: Wednesday, 23rd of December 2015

Highlight: “Christmas morning”

We didn’t bring all of our gifts.  We opened most Christmas presents in Chennai and brought most of the stocking contents to Serbia to celebrate Christmas with Brooke.  We decided that it wouldn’t be practical to carry all of the stockings and gifts through Romania so opted to celebrate Christmas at Brooke’s.

The mystery of Santa is eroding, but Jacob did put cookies out for him.  We opened stockings and the few gifts exchanged with Brooke. Some of the things were nice travel additions so were great to have just before we set off for two weeks in Romania.  We had a nice breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches.

We called a pair of taxis (drivers won’t take five passengers, even if one is tiny) and then headed to the Belgrade Fortress.  We brought along Jacob’s scooter this time and it proved to  be a great way for him to get around without complaining or asking to be carried.

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We looked at the tanks, torpedoes and other military equipment, did a walk through a museum of torture and walked around the fortress a bit.  We found the church with light fixtures made from weaponry and another beautiful church before we headed to another few sites within the city.

We called it a day before heading to bed because we had a morning flight to Bucharest to catch!

 

 

Oh the Places I’ve Been 2015

Here is a summary of my travel in 2015.

In February I went to Nepal to coach our school’s team for boy’s soccer. I didn’t get to see much of the country but did get to walk around Kathmandu a little and even spend a bit of time in a hospital with a player that broke his ankle.

In March I went to an Adaptive Schools training in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While I didn’t get to see much of Malaysia, I did get to walk around KL a bit before the training started and in the evenings.

In early April, Pepper’s mom came to visit during our spring break. We flew to Delhi and visited sights there including getting down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Later in April we had our track meet in Muscat, Oman. I have already been to the city last year for soccer so it wasn’t a new place but still nice to go there for a new reason. It was extra special because Pepper and I both were coaches and Jordan was on the team. We brought Jacob along too, so it was a trip for the whole family.

Once our summer break began, we returned to the US, but made a stopover in London on our way. We spent a few days seeing sights in the city and really appreciated breaking up the long flights with a few days of vacationing.

We then headed up to Alaska were we rented an RV and drove around parts of the interior and even got some spectacular views of Denali.

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We spent time in Petersburg and Pepper and Brooke did a trip through Southeast Alaska and saw most of the larger communities there. We spent time in Washington and New York seeing friends and family before heading straight back to India.

For this year’s volleyball tournament we went to Sri Lanka.  Like most of the sports trips, I wasn’t able to see much of the city other than the area near the school and my host’s home.

For my Discover India trip, this year I returned to the Rishikesh area for a hiking, biking and rafting experience.  We had a great time and I was able to see some new sights in the area.  Here is a little video clip I made from the trip.

For our winter break we spent a few days in Doha then went on to Serbia.  We have ended the year in Romania.

Overall a good year of travel!

New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2016

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

  1. Mexico City
  2. Bordeaux, France
  3. Malta
  4. Coral Bay, St. John
  5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  6. Mozambique
  7. Toronto, Canada
  8. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  9. Skane, Sweden
  10. Vinales, Cuba
  11. Guadeloupe
  12. Park City, Utah
  13. Aarhus, Denmark
  14. Cesme, Turkey
  15. Road of the Seven Lakes, Argentina
  16. Hangzhou, China
  17. Korcula Island, Croatia
  18. San Sebastian, Spain
  19. Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  20. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  21. Garzon, Uruguay
  22. Dublin, Ireland
  23. Todos Santos, Mexico
  24. Tamil Nadu, India [We live here!]
  25. Vaud, Switzerland
  26. Washington, D.C. [2007, 2008]
  27. Brno, Czech Republic
  28. Saint Helena
  29. Barcelona, Spain
  30. Dalat, Vietnam
  31. Turin, Italy
  32. Isla Holbox, Mexico
  33. Providence, Rhode Island
  34. Mosel wine country, Germany
  35. Pyeongchang, South Korea
  36. Tyrol, Austria
  37. Colmar, France
  38. Kansai, Japan
  39. East Bay, California
  40. Île de Ré, France
  41. East coast, Sri Lanka
  42. Rosine, Kentucky
  43. Málaga, Spain
  44. Guizhou, China
  45. Phnom Penh, Cambodia [ 1, 2 ]
  46. St. Louis, Missouri
  47. Salonika, Greece
  48. Marfa, Texas
  49. Ubud, Indonesia
  50. Southern Gulf Islands, British Columbia
  51. Sydney, Australia
  52. Beaufort, South Carolina

Interestingly, some of these places are on our radar for the coming year.  Specifically, Abu Dhabi and Dublin.  We’re thinking about stopping by Abu Dhabi to look at a college for Jordan and then stopping over in Ireland on our return the US for the summer.

Music that made my 2015

I’m behind.  Ever since I stopped being a regular DJ, I have been out of the music scene.  But in 2015 I really started to try and find some new music.  Here is stuff that I have found most interesting in 2015…

  • Dillon Francis – Not Butter (Mom, this one isn’t for you.)  I ended up finding Dillon Francis via DJ Snake.  I love that this music video is a parody on the entire electronic dance music genre’s music video scene.  Give me more of a DJ willing to poke fun at his own musical style.  That’s what my “band” in high school was all about.
  • This version of Fetty Wap’s – Crank Dat (I have no idea what a Fetty Wap is, but at one time had no idea what a Lady Gaga or Hannah Montana was either.)
  • David Guetta and Nicki Minaj’s – Hey Mama ’nuff said
  • Fifth Harmony’s – Worth It – which I will take for the empowering message to women.
  • Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s – Lean On which has certain Indian influences which makes it very appealing to me right now.
  • Tove Lo’s – Talking Body – She’s a new artist to me but I love her stuff so far – such as Habits which I somehow missed earlier.

Here are more that I found in 2015 but are older tracks.

  • Ape Drums – Overload which I found through this great live set (skip to about 29 minutes into it for the best ten or so minutes (in my opinion).  I was also introduced to notable Choppa Dunks’ Piter and Stomper by Chris Lake and Anna Lunoe.
  • Dillon Francis – When We Were Young which I love for the sentiment and the music as well as the fun video.  Need ledd feel good and more bass from Francis?  Or want a singing frosted doughnut with sprinkles? Check out I can’t Take It.
  • I can’t help being a sucker for some Skrillex tracks and Try It Out is perfect.  So is Summit.
  • Somehow I missed this great track from Basement Jaxx.  Never Say Never has a nice hook and a fun video.
  • I also finally discovered Clean Bandit which put Extraordinary,
  • Rather Be, Dust Clears, and other tracks of theirs on my radar.  Dad, I think you’d like this band.
  • David Guetta’s – Play Hard seemed familiar but the video’s craziness has me hooked.  Get me some of those boots!
  • Going way back, Swedish House Mafia’s – Don’t You Worry Child makes me wish I was following these guys well before their going away shows.
  • Finally, TC’s simple Do You Rock makes me wonder how much other great talent I have missed in my life.

Day four of Winter Break 2015-16

Date: December 22, 2015

Highlights: Nikola Tesla Museum and a street art scene!

Bacon and eggs on English muffins for breakfast.  Yum.

We spent the day stomping around (and getting taxis) downtown Belgrade.  First we saw the bombed out remains of the Yugoslavia Army Headquarters.  It is fascinating to go to historical sites.  Sometimes the sites that are from memorable history are more interesting.  Seeing the buildings made me want to learn more about what happened.  It also made me reflect more on war.  This building was stuck by NATO forces in 1999.

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We then went on a nice walk to seek out street art and Brooke knew the right area and we were soon documenting some of the Belgrade street art scene.

While walking around, Brooke pointed out a park that a few months earlier had been full of refugees passing through.  Nearby was a makeshift distribution center with boxes of donated clothing and other items.  We saw some Syrian refugees walking into and out of the entry, some carrying bags of food and clothing.  I reflect more on war.

Soon it was time for the restaurant and bar Brooke wanted us to try for lunch to open.  We gorged on pretzel, sausages and fries.  Their beer list was dizzying.

Then we hopped in cabs to go to the Nikola Tesla Museum.  This is another definite stop when in Belgrade.  We watched a short clip about Tesla’s life and then were shown some of his inventions — both reproductions and originals.

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We then went to the Church of Saint Sava which is an incomplete Serbian Orthodox church.  Construction began in 1935 and is not complete yet.  Most of the exterior is done though.

Finally, we went to a great little place with an amazing assortment of beer.

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Out of well over a hundred different beers I have only ever tried about 15 of them.  We’re loving the Eastern European winter beer selection.

We had to head back to get to bed because we were to celebrate Christmas with Brooke in the morning.

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