All posts by zieak

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.

More cost comparisons for Chennai

Here is a collection of some recent expenses compared to some regular US prices.  I posted some a few weeks ago and continue to be curious about what things would cost in the US.

So… we should definitely stop buying Lego at the store in the mall.  And no more beer.  But the savings on our beef prices more than make up for the bacon expense, so we can keep doing that.

The comparative savings on fruit and vegetables here is incredible, especially compared to what I’m used to paying in Alaska or what we were willing to pay in Mongolia.

We splurged on a Blendtec blender

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.

Music of 2016

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.

But there were two artists that made my 2016.

Just a few more one-off (so far) artists.


The US National Parks I have been to

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).

  • Acadia, Maine
  • American Samoa
  • Arches, Utah in 1988
  • Badlands, South Dakota in 1996
  • Big Bend, Texas
  • Biscayne, Florida
  • 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
  • Everglades, 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
  • Haleakalā, Hawaii
  • Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii
  • Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Isle Royale, Michigan
  • Joshua Tree, California in 2004, 2011
  • Katmai, Alaska
  • 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
  • Pinnacles, California
  • Redwood, California in 1998
  • Rocky Mountain, Colorado in 2006
  • Saguaro, Arizona
  • Sequoia, California
  • Shenandoah, Virginia
  • Theodore Roosevelt, North Dakota
  • Virgin Islands
  • Yoyageurs, Minnesota
  • Wind Cave, South Dakota
  • Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska in 1994
  • Yellowstone, Wyoming, in 1988, 1998, 2017
  • Yosemite, California
  • 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!

Happy birthday dad!

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.

The C-47

The C-119

They are just what I like to give in a gift:

  • Personally relevant
  • Hand-made and even one-of-a-kind
  • Purchased from a person, not a corporation


Cost of living comparison for Chennai

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.

I am worried about education in the US

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.

My travel in 2016

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.

Our gaming table

A little over three weeks ago I stopped by a place that I have wanted to stop at for a few years.  It is located less than 10 minutes away from us but isn’t usually open when we drive by.  I asked about having a table made for us to use as our dining room table that also could serve as a gaming table.  They gave me an estimate given my specifications, I gave them a $90 deposit (well, 6,000 Indian rupees) and then I headed home to draw up plans.  The next day I stopped by and talked more with one of the carpenters and my sketches in hand.

I stopped by twice to check on the progress and today they delivered the final product.  The table top measures 45 inches by 69 inches.  It is in three pieces, two at about 28 inches and the center leaf is 14 inches wide.  This was intentional — I wanted the top to be versatile and my parents let me know that one huge table top is very heavy to lift and cumbersome to stow.  We can take just one of the larger pieces off and have enough space for three people to play and not have to clear the table.  Or remove one end and the center piece for a larger area.  Or take off the two large ends and use the center leaf to separate areas like a game master and the adventuring party.  Or just leave it on one end for the popcorn bowl and drinks.

The play area itself is dropped four inches from the four inch wide railing.  The surface is 39 inches by 63 inches and is covered in a dark red fabric with a bit of texture which I hoped would allow for cards to be picked up easily.   The size is intentionally big so that we can play even our largest games (or Pepper could do a large puzzle) and still have room without feeling like the table is too large.

The entire thing is made of solid teak except the plywood bottom.  Aside from the dimensions being slightly larger than a 3×5 foot dining table, the other thing that pushed the cost up a little was that I had these carved legs made.

There are two things that are not excellent.  First, the three table top pieces don’t fit well together on the seams so there are gaps.  I should have suggested that they make one big table top and then cut it apart before finishing it.  Second, the table legs make a strange corner where they protrude through the floor of the playing area and up to the rail.  In hindsight I would have had them either move the rail to cover it, make a larger rail, or added wood to the inside so the rail doesn’t overhang the play surface.

In total it cost us $575 (39,000 INR) plus $5 (300 INR) for delivery.  We hope that this becomes a family heirloom and that our boys are fighting over it (civilly) many years from now.  Or maybe we should order another one now just to head off the family feud.

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