Family Journal: July 17, 2021

Nadia, Ocean, Oliver, Mila, Owen, Kim and Mark (Hickory Run State Park)

Our good friends, Kim, Mark and Mila came up to Pennsylvania from their home in Virginia to visit us. We have known Kim for many years from her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia. She works at the US Forest Service in Washington DC and we always try to connect with her while we are in Freeland. It was a short visit and despite the rainy weather, we enjoyed each other’s company and had a good time.

Conyngham Brewing Company

On Friday evening we stopped at the Conyngham Brewery to sample their craft beers before a Mexican dinner at the Brass Knuckle. Conyngham is a small town down in the valley close to Freeland. Being from Michigan, European settlement happened many years after the east coast was settled. Conyngham was founded George Drum who served in the Revolutionary War. The town today is a bit sleepy but they have done a good job at restoring some their historic buildings. My favorite beers were the Grodziskie (ancient Polish recipe) and the Better Together Sour Ale.

The next day we hiked through the Hickory Run State Park and did the “Shades of Death” trail. It is my favorite state park because of the variety of terrain, disc golf course, lakes and the proximity to Freeland. We had a nice morning walk before they packed up and headed back south to DC. We always have lots to talk about and it was good to reconnect with them.

Oliver Climbs the dam

A Fascinating Day in Amish Country

We had a fascinating day exploring Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania. Owen, Nadia and I drove 2 hours southeast from our base in Freeland to experience the substantial Amish/Mennonite/Brethren or “Plain People” population. It is amazing to me that these groups came to Lancaster in the early 1700s and 300 years later, they maintain their unusual lifestyle. The religious groups left Germany and Switzerland to be able to practice their faith, free from prosecution like many other groups in America. They are “anabaptists” which believe in adult baptism, which at the time, was highly controversial. They also believe that some forms of technology and modern culture keeps them away from worshiping god and living their best life. Hence, many shun cars, television, internet, mobile phones, etc. We were excited to see them go about on the horse and buggies. They must get tired of being photographed all the time!

Amish Mode of Transportation

In some ways I admire them and am happy that there are different ways of looking at life. They are hardworking, care about family and treat others with kindness. Lancaster County has a huge tourism industry thanks to the approximately 40,000 Plain People farming there. Amish jams, vegetables, quilts, furniture and other crafts are irresistible to many women. After seeing so many dying malls in other parts of Pennsylvania, I can say retail is booming in Lancaster! There are hundreds of shops in the small towns of the county. In looking at some of the bums/hobos/mentally ill/addicts in the streets of the county seat of Lancaster, I think all of them could benefit from an Amish lifestyle. In others ways it is sad that they do not have access to all of the improvements of human society. They miss out on global travel and communication, ideas/information on the internet, activities like scuba diving, etc I also wonder how women are treated in their societies.

Main Street Intercourse

The landscape reminded me of a hilly Wisconsin. Amish homes are modern and from the outside, they look like any other home, with the exception of no car in the driveway or electric lines running into the house. They look European with many of the tow-headed kids looking like our children when they were young. We visited the towns of Bird-in-Hand and of course, Intercourse. And being slightly immature, I had to stop and take a picture of the town welcome sign! We also sought out a couple examples of the historic covered bridges. I wondered why they put covers on them and from my limited research, it was to protect the wood in the bridge and give them a longer life span before they needed to be replaced.

Nadia and Owen enjoying smoothies at the Lancaster Central Market

We had lunch at the Central Market in downtown Lancaster. The city has done a good job in renovating the historic center and there were lots of coffee shops, restaurants, apartments, etc. Many of the stalls were run by Plain People and they are perfectly comfortable, selling food to non-Amish customers.

Typical Country Road in Lancaster County

Farewell Caspian

Jimmer, Oliver, Owen, Beau, Andy (back row) Ocean, Nadia (front row)

I was raised in the town of Caspian, Michigan because my father took a teaching position at the nearby Stambaugh Public Schools. He was originally from Menominee, Michigan another Upper Peninsula town southeast of Caspian. He served in the occupation of Germany in 1954-55 and used the GI Bill to earn a Master’s degree in education at Northern Michigan University.

The headframe of the Caspian Iron Mine in the background of the Caspian Pit.

Caspian developed around six iron ore mining sites in the early 1900s. It was always a very small town, peaking in 1920 at 1,912 and street car lines connected villages Stambaugh and Iron River. Today the population is under 900, with the biggest declines in the 1970s and 1980s. My brothers and I still own our childhood home and it is pretty much preserved like it was when my parents were alive. Eventually, Andy and I would like to renovate it in stages. The town brings back so many memories and it is a quiet and beautiful place, especially in the summer.

Common Loon on the water of the Caspian Pit

Even though the town is depopulating, the environment is improving. When I was a child, the rivers, streams, fields and paths were always red. This was a remnant from the iron ore mining era. Today, much of that is gone. The city has done a nice job protecting the Caspian Mine open pit. Once a mine closed, groundwater rushed in and turned them into small lakes. Walking by the Caspian Pit during my visit, I saw two loons and lots of other birds. The old railroad line was converted to a walking/biking trail. The trail now goes all the way out to Chicagoan Lake.

Caspian water tower overlooking the sledding hill

I love going home and spending time in Caspian. Many fond memories and it is a quiet and relaxing place for a vacation. I hope to return next summer.

Owen to Attend Northern Michigan University

Owen, Ocean and Oliver in the lobby of the Woods Residences

Earlier this month our family attended Northern Michigan University’s “Experience Northern”. The idea of the event was for future and prospective families to stay in the dormitories, tour the campus and see all what NMU and Marquette have to offer. We have been to Marquette, the city where NMU is located many times and my dad and two brothers attended NMU so I am very familiar with the university and the city. I was impressed with how much building has taken place on the campus and the development of Marquette. It is one of the few towns in the UP (Upper Peninsula) that is growing.

Presque Isle Park

We were happy that Owen liked the school and decided to study there! The NMU admissions office was friendly and helpful and the university is a good size, not too big and not too small and has a lot of different programs to offer. Owen is undecided with his major and I think that he is in a good position to find a major. We also feel he will be protected. The Northern Lights Dining facility has a solid meal plan and living on campus his first year, he will make friends and feel part of the community. NMU is accepting Owen’s IB scores of every grade 5 and above, so he passes out of several of the required freshman courses. The UP will be a new cultural experience for him as well. We have lots of friends and family who can help if he runs into trouble or needs something.

Lake Superior

Marquette’s population has been holding steady since the 1960s, which is rare in the Upper Peninsula. Many of the small towns are losing population. The university, a good hospital and the scenic beauty of the forests and Lake Superior are helpful to attract people. I think that with climate change, it will continue to slowly grow over the decades. The challenges of Marquette are its distance from other population centers, the still cold and long winters and the lack of career opportunities. It is in the “snow belt” and receives almost 4 meters of snow per winter. Summer temperatures average around 19 C and winter -8C. We are looking for homes here to have as our US base. With such cold winters, we want to keep our place in tropical Santa Cruz, Bolivia. 🙂

UP Scenic Beauty

We had some good meals in the dining room, took the tour and spoke with lots of students and employees. I think we got a good feel for the university. My brother came up on the second day and we had a nice dinner at Vango’s, a Greek/Italian restaurant downtown. We walked to the top of Sugarloaf mountain just outside of town to soak in the beauty of the lake and those endless UP forests. We also visited with David Gregory, Jim’s former roommate at Northern and a long-time family friend. We drove back to Caspian in the evening. It is about a 90-minute drive from my childhood village to Marquette.

We are excited for Owen’s next step and are working this summer to get him ready. I would like to thank everyone at NMU for their kindness and support and all of my friends and family who offered their guidance and care for Owen while he is in Marquette and we are in Tashkent.

McCarty’s Cove

Paint River Adventure!

One of my favorite rivers in the world is the Paint River. The north and south fork of the river go right through Iron County. I spent a lot of time on the river while visiting our good family friend, Don McDonald’s camp on the river. All of my dad’s West Iron County teacher friends spent a lot of time there. I remember drinking directly from a spring near the river. Mr. McDonald used to have a coffee cup hanging on a nail over the creek for people to drink. Later as a teenager, we used to go to a section of the river called Horserace Rapids east of Crystal Falls, Michigan. So it was special for me to take my kids earlier this month to go for a swim on the river. As you can see in the video above, we had a nice time. Later in the day we visited the nearby beaches of the Michigamme Reservoir on Way Dam Road. I forgot that the UP has lots of horse flies and mosquitos, but going underwater is a way to escape them. It was such a delightful summer day outdoors! Next summer we will plan to do a long canoe paddle down the river. This summer with my shoulder, it was impossible.

Family Journal July 11, 2021: Ottawa Lake

Nadia relaxing on the public beach on Ottawa Lake

One of my favorite places in Iron County is the Lake Ottawa Recreation Area. It is 5 miles southwest of Iron River and has kilometers of hiking/cross-country skiing trails, a deep undisturbed lake and there are several other lakes (Hagerman, Bass, Bennan). I’ve skied all the Ge Che trails many times in the winter and it has been awhile since I visited the park. It was a peaceful and warm Sunday afternoon so we drove out to the public beach. I took the boys (Oliver, Owen and Beau) on a hike up to the Orville Lind’s Bench, which is an overlook with views towards Lake Ottawa. We then went for a swim and the kids loved the steep drop-off, just beyond the swimming area. The lake has no cottages on it and has plenty of loons and wildlife.

We used to hold parties in high school and college at the old Ottawa Boat Landing. Many fond memories! We also held several school and family picnics through the years there. There is a nice softball field, playground and a volleyball court, or at least there used to be. I didn’t get over to the campground and those areas this time.

Oliver, Beau and Owen in front of Orville’s Bench Overlook

After we got back from the lake, we had a cookout. My brother Andy and Ocean grilled Angeli’s Italian sausages and hamburgers. Ocean was so cute learning how to grill from my brother. They bonded during our visit as both are fans of anime and science fiction.

Andy and Ocean at the grill in our backyard

I am appreciating the simpler things in life more as I get older and it was perfect summer day in my opinion.

Family Journal July 9, 2021: Chicagon Lake and Tennis

I am catching up with blogging about our recent trip to Caspian, the town I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I grew up on Iron County Michigan. It is located on the Wisconsin/Michigan border and is one of only two counties in the Upper Peninsula that is land-locked. However, the county has around 50 inland lakes to enjoy. When the glaciers slowly receded in the last ice age roughly 3000-4000 years ago, besides the great lakes being formed, thousands of rivers, ponds and lakes were also formed. When I am in Iron County, my family tries to make it a point to visit as many of them as we can.

Mark tows Ocean

One of the most popular lakes is Chicagon Lake because of its size (1100 acres and the third largest in the county), proximity to town and an 18-hole championship golf course and resort (George Young) and its excellent fishing. I grew up taking the Iron County Community Schools “Beach Bus” every summer that would drop local kids off the public beach, Pentoga Park on the lake. We were generally unsupervised with a lifeguard on duty from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Later on in high school and college, I had many friends with cottages on the lake and spent many cherished days and nights with them. It was my first experience in meeting people from cities and I am still friends with them today. One of my best friends, Mark Bonetti, and his family invited us out to his cottage last week. His family was so gracious to my children and Mark pulled them around on the inner tube and taught them how to drive the boat. The temperature was perfect with little bugs and not a cloud in the sky. It made for a delightful afternoon. Thanks to Mark, Danell, Lauren, Jane, Beth and the rest of his family for their hospitality!

Old Friends! Good to see Scott Bociek at the Nelson Field Tennis Courts

The first part of the day we played tennis at Nelson Field. We were inspired watching Novak Djokovic win his 20th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. Owen, Oliver and Beau played a lot of tennis this week. Oliver is rapidly improving and I hope he can replace Owen as one of my tennis partners. He only needs to improve his serve. The courts are looking spectacular thanks to an old high school friend who donated the new surfaces to the courts.I was so impressed with my old high school’s sport facilities. They are much better than when I went to school there. Unfortunately, there are much less students with the high school being about half the size of when I graduated in 1985.

Oliver Serves

Family Journal: July 2, 2021

Billy’s Diner – downtown Bethlehem

We had a day of medical appointments in Bethlehem and Allentown. The kids had their wellness checks and Nadia is looking at her left ear. Bethlehem has a beautiful historical district of shops, restaurants and colonial buildings. The city was founded by Moravian settlers. Count Zinzendorf during a “love feast” named the place Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, 1741. I walked through the Moravian cemetery while waiting for Ocean’s appointment to be done. There were lots of graves of children and younger people from the original colony. It was a hard life before antibiotics and when Pennsylvania was the frontier of the country. The Moravians are one of the oldest Protestant denominations, dating back to Bohemia (western Czech Republic) of the 15th century. The name comes from a group that fled religious prosecution from Moravia (eastern Czech Republic). Many religious groups found freedom to worship in America. The Moravians are still around today with about 1 million members. I see on the Wikipedia page that “lovefeast” is basically a good meal with prayer and singing. I also like their motto, “Unity in necessary things; freedom in doubtful things; love in all things”.

Moravian Chapel

The highlight for me was our breakfast at Billy’s Diner. Our table was on the sidewalk and the cool breeze and overcast day were perfect for a leisurely brunch. I had a pulled-pork eggs Benedict that was delicious. I finished off my day with a long walk through the forests surrounding Freeland.

Departing ABE for Detroit

Family Journal: June 28, 2021

It has been so nice to have all five of us together this summer. We are combining shopping, outdoor adventure, doctors’ appointments, helping Owen, etc. Reconnecting as a family is the best aspect of summer holidays. This weekend we dropped Ocean and Nadia off at the mall in nearby Wilkes Barre and Owen, Oliver and I did a round of disc golf on the course along the bank of the Susquehanna River. The large trees and grassy areas make for a pleasant environment. The flowing river and downtown skyline make for delightful views.

We used the same strategy yesterday when we visited the town of Jim Thorpe. We drop the girls off for shopping and the boys go out and do something. Jim Thorpe is a beautiful town nestled in the Lehigh Gorge and is quite touristy. The main street is filled with unique little shops which they enjoyed. We drove across the river and hiked up to Glen Onoko Falls. Park officials closed part of the trail because they were receiving too many distress calls of injured hikers. The steep sides of the gorge combined with slippery rocks and flip-flops, caused many accidents and even deaths through the years. We did the 3 kilometer ascent quite rapidly. The falls are beautiful and I wish we had more time there to explore. We’ll definitely visit Jim Thorpe again and I’ll share some photos of the town. We like to cycle the trail which goes over 25 miles between White Haven and Jim Thorpe, but with my injury this year, we are confined to walking.

I listened with interest to Dr. David Buss from the University of Texas Austin being interviewed by Sam Harris. Buss is a psychologist with a background in evolutionary biology who researches human mating behavior. Harris and Buss were pointing out the differences between men and women when it comes to finding and keeping a mate. It is obvious because of the physical differences between the sexes, there will be differences in mating strategies. For example, women invest much energy in producing a nutrient-packed egg and the 40-week pregnancy and birth. For men, fertilization and gestation takes place inside of the female and this is not as big of a physical investment. There is a social movement to play down these differences. Because this is such an important, emotional topic for almost everyone, much of the common perceptions of differences between men and women can be backed up by evolutionary differences. However, both Buss and Harris are not excusing bad male behavior (cheating, sexual harassment, etc.) but by understanding natural tendencies developed over long periods of time, humans can overcome this to be fulfilled mates and parents.

I especially enjoyed the concept of mate value. Males are valued for traits such as income earning, kindness, emotional stability, empathy, intelligence, height, prestige/power, looks, etc. The higher one is on these continuums, the higher one’s mate value. Women are valued for much of the same things, but youth and beauty do get higher values than in men. Evidence for this is in the average age gap between men and women with marriage. In the first marriage, an average age gap of 3 years, the second marriage is 5 years and the third marriage is 8 years. As men age and gain income and prestige, they value youth in women. I was thinking on how mate value applies to my children and I think all young people should read Buss’s work to assist them in finding the right partner and maintaining a healthy marriage and family. It must be more challenging today with the internet and the many more possibilities of meeting people and comparing oneself to others. I always say that who you marry is more important than what your career field is when considering satisfaction in life. The other concept of interest covered in the conversation was the “dark triad” of personality traits that are associated with male sexual harassment and abuse. Men that rate high in Narcism (self-centered), psychopathy (lacking empathy) and Machiavelliasm (manipluating others) are dangerous, serial offenders. Most men do not exhibit the dark triad of personality traits.

Family Journal: June 26, 2021

Owen learns how to use an ATM

My oldest son Owen continues to learn the skills of being on his own this summer. On Thursday we opened up his own checking account. He now has a debit/credit card and is learning how to manage his money. Once he gets his driver’s license, he plans on getting a job. There are lots of employment opportunities. It seems like every place we go into, restaurant, store, business, there are help wanted signs. The other day we went to Walmart and there was no one working on mobile phone plans. Service has been slow in other stores and restaurants because of a lack of employees. He should have a good choice of jobs during his gap semester.


His brother and sister have been supportive and also learning what it takes to be on your own. We all are helping him become a more confident, safer driver and Ocean and Oliver patiently waited for him to complete his banking. After the bank, we spent the afternoon shopping for shoes and clothes for Ocean before heading back to Freeland.

Luzerne County is definitely Trump Country! We see signs promoting Trump and supporting the police. Rural Americans found a connection with him and are passionate supporters. Coal country Pennsylvania is one of the many strongholds of as George Packer describes in his new book Our Divided America, “Real America”. These are the working class whites that feel passed over by our economy. They have a lot of resentment and have turned to nativism, Christian nationalism and right-wing populism. You can really see it in the many political signs in yards around the town and throughout the countryside.

To end this post, I put together a video of a hike Owen, Ocean and I did last week. We completed a 12 kilometer loop through nearby Hickory Run State Park.