Ryan "Zieak" McFarland dabbles. Beards. Making things. Travel. Genealogy. Frugality and excessiveness. Fitness and fatness. He's a PE teacher in India, usually calls Alaska home and is a happy father to two boys and the husband to a suddenly crafty wife.
For the second December in a row, Chennai had disaster strike in the form of a natural calamity.
For a week I watched this low pressure system build up over the Bay of Bengal using this wind visualization tool (use your mouse to move around and scroll in and out) and this cyclone and hurricane mapping site. It ended up ramming right into Chennai. Our home was just south of the center so the winds were actually coming from inland and heading to the sea, which I had never considered a possibility.
The cyclone rolled into Chennai on Monday the 12th. School was closed by mid-day, but we were not able to leave until the Head of School because our car was being repaired and we were getting a ride with them. Fortunately a neighbor took Jordan and Jacob home before we were able to leave. We were without power before we arrived home and water on the roof had pooled and was coming in under the door. I’ll let my video tell the story…
Almost every weekday for almost six years straight, Pepper has made smoothies for breakfast. Summertime and vacations we usually take off from that routine, but it still probably comes to well over 1,000 uses of a blender. With no sign of that changing, we decided a long time ago that we needed a blender that made the task even better.
The problem is that finding a high quality blender was difficult because we needed one that runs on 220 volts. I finally found a commercial restaurant supply company that imports from the UK and bought the Blendtec EZ600. We’ve used it for a week now and are really happy!
Things that frustrated us about our other blender (a Panasonic):
Cleaning the jar required disassembling. Then when reassembled sometimes it would leak.
That leak poured over the base which had a number of spots where milk and yogurt settled and festered.
Cleaning the blades was a little dangerous. (The Blendtec has blunt blades.)
It had a short cord which frequently came unplugged.
The jar cracked. It didn’t leak, but like having a functional phone with a cracked screen, it is annoying.
Things we didn’t know we would like so much about the Blendtec commercial blender:
One button operation. Pepper puts in the ingredients, presses a button and walks away. It stops automatically.
Power. Oh gosh, what power. If you’re not familiar with their YouTube channel where they put things like iPhones in the blender then check out how it pulverizes things.
If you’re looking for a place to buy a Blendtec blender in India, I suggest Kiwi Bar.
Here are the songs that I used to get me through long nights of work, the commute to the school and the occasional workout. See my 2015 list here.
There are ancient tracks (from 2011) that I did not know from Rusko called Everyday. and plenty of more modern tracks.
Duke Dumont’s songs with video story telling like Won’t Look Back (about pogo stick jewelry store robbers), The Giver (about a Jesus figure granting wishes to people’s detriment. Or Need U (100%) which has a miserable Duke Dumont with an old school tape deck in his abdomen.
With my other measures of my travel (countries and UNESCO World Heritage sites) I realized that even though I have been to almost all the US states (I think North Dakota and Hawaii are the only ones I have never been in) there are other great measures of my travel — US National Parks. So here is a list of all the parks along with when I was there (many are estimates).
Arches, Utah in 1988
Badlands, South Dakota in 1996
Big Bend, Texas
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado
Bryce Canyon, Utah in 1988
Canyonlands, Utah in 1999
Capitol Reef, Utah
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Channel Islands, California
Congaree, South Carolina
Crater Lake, Oregon
Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Death Valley, California/Nevada
Denali, Alaska in 1994, 2015
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Gates of the Arctic, Alaska
Glacier, Montana in 1996
Glacier Bay, Alaska
Grand Canyon, Arizona in 1988, 1998, 2008
Grand Teton, Wyoming in 1988, 1998, 2016
Great Basin, Nevada
Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, North Carolina
Guadalupe Mountains, Texas
Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Isle Royale, Michigan
Joshua Tree, California in 2004, 2011
Kenai Fjords, Alaska in 1994
Kings Canyon, California
Kobuk Valley, Alaska
Lake Clark, Alaska
Lassen Volcanic, California
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mount Ranier, Washington in 1994, 2017
North Cascades, Washington in 2017
Olympic, Washington in 2017
Petrified Forest, Arizona 1988
Redwood, California in 1998
Rocky Mountain, Colorado in 2006
Theodore Roosevelt, North Dakota
Wind Cave, South Dakota
Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska in 1994
Yellowstone, Wyoming, in 1988, 1998, 2017
Zion, Utah in 1988
That’s 17 out of the 62, just over a quarter of the nation’s National Parks. New goal: add at least one new park each summer we’re back. Looks like Florida and California should be in our plans!
I’ve not ever been very good about giving gifts. I really want to be better though and finally feel good about one here so have to share it.
One of my grandfathers was a pilot. A student at our school likes to make scale models of airplanes. I asked my dad what kinds of planes my grandfather flew and commissioned the student to make a series of them. Here are the first two.
I ran to the close and convenient store to pick some things up tonight. Many of their items are imported though there are plenty of local items. We like that it is close, never too busy, they let us charge all month and then just pay after payday, and most of the staff say hello to us. They even do free home delivery. We know that shopping there is probably resulting in slightly higher grocery bills than if we were a bit more frugal. I wondered how their prices compared to similar items in the US and was able to price check against the Wegmans in Fairport, NY.
Note that the Wegmans prices do not include any applicable taxes, while the 5 Stars does. I did not expect so many things to be less expensive than they would be while not on sale in a big American grocery store.
Jacob put together the Batmobile from the new Lego Batman movie and the gaming table was great for corralling the pieces, keeping them close to the instructions, and giving some good contrast for all but the clear red pieces.
On the surface, “school choice” sounds great. “Yay! I can send my kid to a school that matches his interests and will cater to his talents and he will succeed. I can use this handy voucher to send Federal money that I paid into the system through taxes to help pay for his education at a nice private school!” One of the arguments for this is that “failing” schools will be put out of business. But here is my problem. I have a son with special needs. He’s reading far below his grade level. He struggles with math. Science and Social Studies are not even possible for him to do alone. He has CP but is able to get around great, though his movement easily makes him stand out among peers. Private schools would be under no obligation to accept him. So with a voucher system siphoning off funds from public education, the services that would be available to him in his “failing” public school would be minimal. His low performance on standardized tests no doubt would help ensure that the school continues to “fail” and as he and others with difficulties push the average test scores down the spiral of reduced funding continues.
You’ll notice that I keep putting fail in quotes. Because a lot of the argument about the need for vouchers is that public schools are “failing.” The truth is that they are not. One of the indicators used to point out America’s “failing” education system is that we’re behind many (mostly Asian) countries in our math and science test scores. Again, on the surface we should all be worried, right? But if you’ve ever seen the process of education in most of these countries that are besting Americans at math tests you’ll know that they drive in rote memorization instead of critical thinking. Students seek only the correct answer instead of the meaning or understanding how to get to the answer. Students spend hours every evening, on weekends and during breaks at private academies further driving in the correct answers to try and score better on standardized tests. I’ve had students from Japan and Korea pick up a badminton racket or Frisbee and not know how to use it. That’s not the US system. We value a well-rounded student. Art classes, PE, music… Students work in groups, learn collaboration, focus on communication skills and problem-solving. So those same “failing” schools might compare differently if instead of comparing standardized tests there was also a creative writing or poetry component. Or if there were representation by the arts or even a simple tug-o-war.
American schools are not failing. They are different. We can’t compare our system to Finland or Singapore. There are huge cultural differences, value differences and even a big range of purpose. If you want to send your kid to a school and just have them score well on math tests then yes, public education may not be the right place for your kid. But it is the right place for my kid. I see him on the soccer field surrounded by friends that don’t see his disability. His friends actually come to the pool to cheer him on as he swims. A parent praises his behavior when they drop him off after a sleepover. The elementary councilor comments about how everyone in his class seems to like him. He’s invited to birthday parties of the siblings of his classmates. I’m so grateful that he’s at an American school — one that follows American standards which give him opportunities to succeed. If he was in the US attending a school I fear that those opportunities would quickly disappear.
I wrote the above paragraphs a few days ago. Since then this chunk of news has come to light. Just days after the confirmation of the new Secretary of Education a website dedicated to providing information about the rights to education that children with disabilities have has disappeared. I fear we will “make America great again” — by going back to about 1950 when children with disabilities were sequestered or lobotomized.
DeVos as Secretary of Education could be the worst thing to happen for the educational system in the US. Period. America will not advance in our scientific achievement by teaching creationism next to evolution. Our public schools can not withstand further erosion of funding by directing it to private schools. As many have pointed out, public education is not for individual children, it is for all of us. We all benefit from living around intelligent people. But America has begun to prove that we don’t deserve to be surrounded by smart people. Perhaps public education has failed us after all. I mean, Trump was elected somehow. How can a population of critical thinkers possibly be so badly duped? No matter. I’m sure that other countries will value both of my sons and their creativity and interpersonal skills. Skills they learned at a “American” school — a private school doing hard work to educate children, just like all those public schools in the US do.
As a further motivator to get caught up on some blogging, here are the times I traveled in 2016…
Early January we were in Romania and then Serbia for our winter break.
Spring Break in March was spent in Thailand.
In late April we had to go to Sri Lanka for a visa renewal for Jordan.
In mid-May we went to Bangalore for Jacob’s swim meet.
For summer break we flew to Seattle where we stayed for a while before renting an RV and driving through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon. Then we spent time in New York before returning to India.
We went to New Delhi for a long weekend in September.
I had an overnight volleyball trip to Sri Lanka in September.
For our fall break we went to Paris.
In October I had our team’s volleyball tournament in Oman.
In November I went rafting with a group of 12 students for four days on the Mahakali River which separates India and Nepal.
We flew to Madurai for Thanksgiving break.
Winter break we went to Ukraine, Finland and then rang in the new year in Estonia.