Category Archives: Thoughts

Terrirists

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…

A struggle with equality

I remember realizing that the environmental movement was hindered by people that took up the cause without being critical thinkers.  I hated that my high school environmental club used paper that wasn’t recyclable (at the time) for their posters.  I’m experiencing similar frustration with the public nature of social media and the things that friends post.  Take these two that different female friends posted within a short time of each other.  Here is the first one.

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I’m sure that this friend, who I respect, would probably be offended if I posted something similar with a couple of scantily clad women depicted.

Here is the other from a different friend that I highly respect.

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These are the kinds of things that I would normally laugh at if in a very small group of close friends.  But recently I have been struggling to balance a sense of humor with sensitivity to the issues of equality.

At work I have had a few conversations with female coworkers about things they have said about male students (around me — not to the students themselves) to remind them that the same things are not permitted to be said by male teachers about female students.  They are coworkers that I really admire and consider some of my best friends at the school.

These online posts and in-person comments come from strong women with a good sense of identity.  It is disheartening to have experienced so many years of cautious sensitivity to racial, gender, sexual orientation, or other differences and have them turned around.  This reminds me a little of when I was in eighth grade and some peers were excited about the day that had been declared “seventh grade slaughter” where the 8th graders hazed and harassed the 7th graders.  I recall asking friends that were excited to have their turn if they remembered how much it sucked to even just worry on that day.

So men shouldn’t objectify women.  And we shouldn’t hold up unrealistic ideals of beauty.  We need to be aware of the media’s influence on our paradigms.  I know, I teach this stuff in mt health classes.  But now that we’re getting closer to equality it is time to turn the tables?  I think that will just lead to a vicious cycle.  Search for #menimism for some of the push back that men are having.  I read an article about the term Lumberjacksexual this morning that got me to further processing this.  But I have plenty to say about lumberjacks that I’ll save it for another post.

As a counterpoint, it is worth noting that in the same span of time of the two above posts that one of my male friends posted this video of women dressed in cowboy outfits (that is, cowboy themed outfits, not outfits that would protect from the chafe of a saddle or shield from the sun like the big hats are supposed to).  It is further strength to the need for a bit more awareness about what we post is more than  a private conversation with just a few friends.

A sampling of our medical costs as expats in India

One of the benefits that I documented in my extensive spreadsheet when we were considering moving to India was the price and quality of the medical care.

Last weekend the whole family went to the dentist for our six-month cleaning.  It cost under $25 each for Pepper, Jordan and I, and under $12 for Jacob.  It was under 90 USD for all four of us to have our teeth cleaned.  I’m submitting the receipts to our insurance company right now.   I suspect that in the US we would have paid about $90 for each of us while in the US.

This is significant.  If we can save money from out of pocket for our medical bills — especially now that we have four of us — we’re better off.  Unfortunately, our insurance provider (Global Benefits Group or GBG) denies coverage for pre-existing conditions for one year for adopted children.  That’s been against the law in the US for many years.But in about six months, when Jacob is eligible,  I’m sure we’ll be spending a bit of money on determining if we can do anything to help Jacob with his symptoms from cerebral palsy.

Pepper has had and been ignoring pain in her shoulder and back for many months.  a week and a half ago she finally got in to see a doctor.  Four and a half hours later, with blood work, x-ray and multiple MRIs conducted, she had created a medical bill of just under $500.  In the US, that $500 might pay for half of one of the MRIs she had done.   We submitted the bill for that work to our insurance carrier and they paid all of it.  Every cent.  The prescriptions she purchased cost a total of $12.44.  It really almost isn’t worth the 20 minutes that it takes me to file a claim!

I have been pretty disillusioned with medial insurance for a long time now.  I don’t know how much my employer pays for our insurance, but I suspect that I would rather have that money in my pocket rather than paid to an insurance company even with as much as we seem to be using insurance right now.  I think it is probably better off that I not know how much they pay.  I know that for 12 years while working for the city that I came nowhere near 1/10th of the benefit out of the fees paid by the city for the insurance.  The insurance company was being paid at least two thousand dollars a month for coverage for the three of us.  The policy in Mongolia was so restrictive that nothing we had done in those two years was covered.

Would I rather be uninsured?  Honestly, probably not.  At least, not with the insurance that we have now, it does seem to cover much of the things we need covered.

10 reasons to not crawl back

The consultant that hired Pepper and I for our jobs in Mongolia was in town for graduation.  He told me twice in a few hours that I would be “crawling back” to Mongolia because of how miserable I’ll be in India.  Here is the list of reasons I will not be miserable or crawling back.  I’m going to be a bit of a jerk and lay out just why this move is excellent for us.

  1. That attitude.  The attitude that I currently have the best possible position in the best place in the world.  I was always happy to lose good employees.  Not happy as in “good riddance” but happy as in “good for you.”  As long as they were bettering themselves, I was happy for them.  Better pay, better benefits, more responsibility, closer to family.  Whatever it was that made things better for them.  Caring about the people that work for you will make everyone happier.
  2. The air pollution.  Mongolia is regularly ranked in the top five cities of the world for the worst air pollution.  We’ve seen our son sick for weeks at a time in the past few years.  We’re horrible parents for exposing his developing lungs to this place.  But if you just visit Mongolia for a few days a couple of times a year you probably wouldn’t notice it.  The summer is certainly wonderful.

    Ulaanbaatar air pollution
    Ulaanbaatar air pollution
  3. The weather.  He’s fond of telling me how horrible it will to be there when it is 42 degrees Celsius (107 F).  Again, spend a winter here when it is -40 (F and C meet at that temperature) and then talk to me about weather tolerance.  I doubt he visits when it is that bitter cold.  I spent 15 years in a place that rained over 10 feet a year.  I know I’ll be hot there.  I sweat.  But I’ll survive and adapt.
  4. The pay.  Let’s just say that I am miserable because of the weather.  The paycheck could sure help convince me it is worth it.  Next year, Pepper and I would make about $66,000 combined if we stayed here.  That includes stipends for coaching, the tiny annual step increase, signing bonus, everything.  Instead, we’ll make $94,329 next school year.   The following year that will go to $97,561.
  5. Retirement.  Currently our school believes that they pay enough that we should be able to put significant money away for savings.  Our school in India will deduct 12% from our pay (effectively lowering our paychecks to a total of $83,010) to go into retirement.  They then match that 12%.  We’ll be putting over $22,000 into retirement each year and half of the amount will be from our employer.  That account will earn 8.5% in interest.  It’s Indian law.
  6. Our son’s education.  He hasn’t been welcomed by many of his peers.  Our school is composed of about 90% Mongolians.  By middle school cliques are formed and the social caste system is established.  With a fairly high retention rate of students (unlike many international schools with perhaps a quarter of the kids leaving annually) the opportunities to actually forge new friendships is limited.  Plus, our new school will offer AP courses as well as the IB program.  He’ll have language options, chorus and instruments available, a wide variety of arts options, and a more expansive sports program for middle and high school.  (Meanwhile, our present school plans to cut one high school sport next year!)
  7. Our own education.  In two years we have not received continuing education benefits.  Pepper has no incentive to even pursue them – she’s at the absolute top of the pay scale.  But in India, they allow us annual professional development money of a thousand dollars and pay step increases that make self-improvement valuable.  They have policies that clearly value investing in employees.  They even host training that can be applied towards a Master’s degree.
  8. The cost of living.  As if the income difference wasn’t significant enough (nearly $20,000 better), the cost of living in Chennai is much lower.  According to Numbero, our groceries will cost half of what we pay now.  Dining out at restaurant will be 64% lower than we pay here!  I have another post about the lower cost of labor that relates to this.
  9. It will be home.  When we moved to UB, they allowed us a total of $400 for excess baggage.  Then we were given a $500 advance on each of our first paychecks.  For India, they are giving us up to $4,200 to relocate and giving us each $500 when we arrive – but not as an advance, it is on top of the pay we’ll receive the next month.  They are supportive of bringing our cats.  Here, we were prohibited from bringing them.  So we’ll have our cats in addition to some furniture, our artwork, games, toys, tools, books, bikes and anything else we want to pack into our container.
  10. Insurance.  We had considerable medical costs that were not covered at all by the insurance company.  Our school was supportive in allowing leave for Pepper and I to deal with it.  But advertising that we “…are also provided with a fully funded group medical and health insurance plan”  is pretty deceptive.  I’m cynical about insurance in general.  But the insurance that I had for 12 years and never needed for any major medical expense would have covered this.  In fact, we’re pretty sure we don’t have insurance at this moment.

None of this is to say that we’ve been unhappy about the great opportunity to live and work here.  I am very grateful for the school taking a chance by hiring me.  I will always owe a debt of gratitude to the school.  This was an opportunity to get experience as a teacher.  I’m thankful for the learning opportunity, the foot in the door, and the chance to improve the lives of hundreds of kids.  We made a very careful decision in our acceptance of these jobs.  We considered far more than just the criteria above.

A few days after he got me all riled up about “crawling back” we had an exit interview.  We didn’t get into this list of reasons we’re leaving.  We gave a few when we said we were not leaving.  But we did detail many suggestions for improvement for the school.  He took our input well.  Then before we left he told us both that we would make great administrators and hinted that if we ever wanted jobs in that capacity to contact him.  There may be a day somewhere down the line where we would consider that… but it will be a few years away.

 

Quartz

One of the things we did last weekend was find cool quartz crystals while hiking.  I found this huge block with a resemblance to a crystal shape.

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I grabbed a much smaller piece of smoky quartz too.

Jordan found this excellent piece with quartz crystals.

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I will never forget the science classroom that I had in 7th and 8th grade.  It was like a natural history museum.  There were skulls and feathers and rocks and posters.  There were models and mounted animal heads and seashells and animal skins.  It naturally generated curiosity and brought the world of earth science, astronomy and biology to life.

I found a dog skull last year and it was in Pepper’s classroom for a few months.  She said her students constantly picked it up and examined it.  The art teacher requested it so I hope it will have a home that inspires students.  She also took our collection of great seashells that we gathered last year on a beach in Thailand.  Now I have a few horns that I collected while we were in the Gobi in Pepper’s class.   And the huge quartz crystal that I carried down the mountain will have a home in the new elementary library thank you to Leanne.

 

We’re joining the Boy Scouts

Jordan was in Cub Scouts when we were in Petersburg.  He participated in the food drive, the Space Derby, the Pinewood Derby, cake making contests and a few other events.

I was active in scouts from Bobcat through my 23rd birthday when I was a scoutmaster.  Since then I have only  served on Eagle Scout review boards and working with scouts on service projects.

I believe strongly in the organization.  It taught me much.  I met many great people.  Nearly all of my friends that are gay I met in scouting.  Now that the organization will no longer ban youth from participating if they announce they are gay, I feel like it is the right time to become active in the organization again.  I still have my issues with other positions BSA takes.  But at least at this point the organization will not kick out youth because of something that isn’t a conscious choice.

Unfortunately, there are no scout troops here in Mongolia or in Chennai, India.  So Jordan will be part of the Lone Scout program.  Perhaps in India we will find a few other youth interested in getting a troop started.

I look forward to being as active as we can.  Last night we looked at the schedule for the National Jamboree this summer.  Sadly, we’ll probably be too busy to even stop by as a visitor.  The 2015 World Jamboree is in Japan…

Books, books, books

We love books.  Our whole house does.  Pepper devours novels.  Jordan likes to read for pleasure but also collects books about ancient weaponry and mythological monsters.  I like guide books, how-to guides, coffee table books… We definitely prefer the physical books.  We seem to collect them.  I know I have boxes of them in Alaska and we’re conscious of the weight we have to haul around when we leave Mongolia.  Pepper used to plan for one 50 pound bag of just books when she was living in China.  Travel for a holiday came with a couple of books for long airport layovers, flights, and down time.

Now, we’ve leaned toward ebooks.  Not always.  But certainly for travel pleasure reading, they work very well.  Pepper has a Kindle and Jordan and I use Kindle apps on Android tablets.  We have tried using ebook guidebooks for travel but they just don’t work well for our style of travel.  Our travel guides end up flipped through frequently, with business cards, tabs, feathers and other treasures tucked in to mark passages, tips, or sites we want to hit.  So we rely on the e-readers for pleasure and still pack around paper guide books.

Fortunately, there are plenty of sources for free ebooks.  Amazon provides a few, Archive.org has historical sources, but Project Gutenberg was my first source for free books.

We’re looking forward to getting back to Alaska and going through our book collection to see what we should ship to our new job.  Since weight will not be an issue we’ll finally be able to have out library available!

Who am I?

Two friends of mine met back in December.  Mike, a good friend from middle through high school and Jay, a good friend from Mongolia.  They met in Korea during a long Layover Mike had on his trip here.  Hearing them talk about their meeting and discussing the few things they had in common – Korea and me – showed me just how much you can change yourself and people’s perception of you.

Our hobbies and interests change over time but by moving to a new place you can reivent yourself.  Jay knows me as athletic and someone that likes beer.  Mike has never known me to be either.  I didn’t participate on any sports teams in high school.  I bought my first six-pack of beer when I was 25.  Now I coach two varsity sports, work out occasionally, and love to try any beer I have never seen before.

If they had talked about me being crafty I suppose I wouldn’t have been surprised if they found common ground.  Yesterday I was remembering my 13th birthday party which involved everyone making their own decorated clipboards.  My birthday parties my not be crafty any more but I do like to make stuff still.  They could have agreed that I like to travel.  Mike was great about writing to me and even sending care packages when I was in Brazil during high school.

With many of my major moves I have been able to reinvent myself a bit.  At least externally.  Jay seems surprised when I describe myself as introverted.  But I think if he had seen me 20 years ago he might agree that, at least then, I was.  You can change the clothes that you wear.  You can cut your hair.  You can work out or let yourself go.  But inside we feel like the same person.  I don’t feel like I have made a massive personality shift from who I was during high school.  But perhaps, if you compared perceptions of me 20 years ago to those of today there would be a big change.

We change where we live, what we do, how we act, what we like, and who we are with yet often feel unchanged.

I am the new me – which is the old me with a few changes.

Why I coach

coachingThe truth is, coaching sucks.  Much of the time…  It means much longer hours than most peers.  You might drag yourself to a practice more than an hour before most of your peers were even in the building and end up having two players show up.  You often have to deal with athletes with low commitment that don’t put in effort or always have excuses for missing practice.  You might not have the talent to have a “good” team.  Perhaps the most skilled players have really bad grades and are not eligible.  Sometimes players you want on the team are more interested in hanging out with the opposite sex.  You might coach a team and have them never win a game.  Or even score a point.  Decent players might get injured, or sick, or have a family emergency that prevents them from making an important game or tournament.  Or cuts off their entire season.  Players that could really make a team succeed sometimes just can’t participate because their parents won’t pay for them to go on a trip or the athlete has to take care of younger siblings.  On top of all that you probably often feel like the drills don’t work, the players don’t “get it” or that you’re just doing an awful job.

I have dealt with almost all of these.  And I have only coached for two years.

And every instance of one of these detriments… I wonder why I do it.  Why put in the extra time for just a tiny amount of additional money?  (Or no extra money!)  Why deal with the weather, equipment shortages, or trying to teach something that seems like it is forgotten as soon as a referee blows a whistle?

Yes, I partially do it because it is an expectation of the job.  PE Teacher = Coach of Something.  I want to do it for selfish reasons – to make myself more marketable for future positions.  But the real reason shows every now and then.

Like at the last soccer practice of the year earlier today.  The girls at practice were heading the ball.  They were heading the ball off of throw-ins.  They were heading it off of kicks.  They were even scoring goals by rebounding the ball off their head.  Four weeks ago only one was willing to try.  Today there were many more willing to do it.

Or at the game we had last Friday… We scored a goal.  Yes, one.  And we lost by quite a few.  But we scored.  During a game – against another team!  That’s an improvement from last year.

Seeing friendships forming beyond grade levels is wonderful to see too.  The seniors on the team have made the single 8th grade player very welcome.  The team is mixed nationalities and they settle on their common language to communicate – English.

Tomorrow I leave for my last coaching trip to China.  I’ll watch some of the girls make friends on other teams that they may stay in touch with for many years.  I’ll see the team really develop by the final whistle of their last game.  I’ll have a team of committed, tough, athletic girls that will be sad that the season ends even if they lose every game.  Every single one of them will have improved their skill, understanding of the game, technique or athleticism.

There won’t be coolers of Gatorade dumped over my head.  The team won’t carry anyone around on their shoulders, and there won’t be any slow-motion last-second game winning moments.  This will be real sports – not the movie version.  It will be the little victories like the player that keeps her feet planted when doing a throw-in, the girl that charges in defensively instead of waiting for the ball, the goalkeeper throwing herself at the ball, the players that head the ball yet were afraid of that just a few weeks ago…

I coach for those moments.

Happy birthday, Dad!

dad
My dad, photographer, naturalist, tinkerer, and inspiration.

Today is my dad’s birthday.  I have been reflecting a lot on the impact my family has had on my upbringing, my perspectives on life, my morals and everything that shaped my adulthood.

At an early age, certainly too early for me to appreciate it, he instilled an appreciation for the natural world.  Lying on a blanket on the hill behind our house during the peak of a meteor shower, trying to sit quietly in the woods to see what birds might approach, and exploring the forests near our home sealed my future as someone excited about the outdoors.  From those early experiences to week-long remote canoe trips, long hikes, and many nights drifting to sleep in tents after a hard day of play, he shaped my career choices and has driven my interest in travel and outdoor activities.

He is a handyman.  I recall him challenging me with math used in carpentry projects.  He often asked for my help with projects that he probably didn’t need a pair of disinterested and inexperienced pair of hands involved in.  And now I absolutely love to create.  When I’m squirming through a crawlspace to repair plumbing I am channeling him.  From working with leather to finger-destroying power tools, my mindset of being able to do it instead of hiring someone to do it comes from his keenness in figuring out how to do it himself.  He’s still beyond my abilities – be it repairing small engines or building and  programming Arduino bots.

He has set the bar far and above any minor computer successes I have had.  I remember the day in the mid 80s when he tried to get me to sit down and learn how to program a computer.  I told him I’d have a job that didn’t need computers.  Here I am on a computer typing up my recollection.  I have dug into PHP and HTML and fiddled with CSS.  I have been paid small sums to repair computers for people.  I have made large sums playing music from my computers.  And it has been over 15 years since I had a job that required only touching a computer for time sheet calculations.  Certainly my earliest recollection of eating my words.

His accomplished photography and artwork, developed over the more than 30 years of my memories, continue to inspire me.  His patience in the field with his medium or large format cameras and now his diligence with his editing put my point-and-shoot approach to documenting my world to shame.

I may have also adopted his ability to string together profanities when things go amiss.  It may be genetic that I bleed the darkest blood you’ve ever seen from my knuckles during even the least dangerous project.  And, left unchecked, my brother and I have definitely the makings of World Record contenders for the longest eyebrow hairs thanks to our dad and his dad.

He really has influenced so many areas of my life – from the music I like to the way I sneeze.  (I still can’t say “rabbits” when I burp though.)  We may be far apart but I see pieces of dad every day in everything I do.

Happy birthday pops.  I love you.