First Day of School

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We managed to get a photo despite it raining most of the day today. The Kralovec family took our annual first day of school photo. Nadia and I are so lucky to work at the same place as our children, one of the perks of international school life. Ocean was the most excited for day one and was the first awake of the kids. I made pancakes for Owen and Oliver and Ocean had her favorite –  cold watermelon. Oliver is in fifth grade this year and looked forward to seeing all his friends again. Owen the grade 8 teenager was also ready to go this morning, and I saw him preparing his daily planner the night before. We made a trip to Daiso (the 100Yen shop) yesterday in the afternoon to finish school supply shopping.

As the years go by, the kids are catching up to us in height! This is the last year we will not have a high schooler in the house for awhile, as next year, Owen starts high school and then the other two will go quickly in succession. I will continue to try to live everyday to my fullest and enjoy my time with my family.

 

 

 

Shower Climbing in the Kanzaki

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Owen is about to jump into the clear waters of the Kanzaki River on Saturday. We went with two other families for a day of “shower climbing” (canyoning / river hiking) as the Japanese call it on the Kanzaki River in Shiga prefecture. With deep swimming holes, jumpable cliffs, a brisk but not too fast current, clear cool water set in a verdant green ravine, we had a refreshing day in nature. The kids had so much fun walking through the river, jumping off the cliffs and rope swings and swimming. There was plenty of food and good conversation as the afternoon light faded, and we put a full day on the banks of the Kanzaki. Osakans would be surprised that the Kanzaki is so clean near its source in the mountains of Shiga, just east of Lake Biwa. The river flows all the way through Osaka into the bay, and by the time it gets to the urban center, it is quite tamed.

A special thanks to Naoki and Tara for taking us up and Art and Mariah for joining us. There is nothing I like more than an active day outdoors.

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Quirky Japan: Political Campaigns

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Local elections in Osaka were held this past Sunday. Our arrival to Japan was marked with politicians driving around the neighborhood announcing their virtues as a candidate with loudspeakers. On my way to school, I shot this short video of a typical candidate van. Several acknowledged me on the street while driving by saying hello (konichi wa). I wish my Japanese was better to understand what they were saying. I am not even sure what the elections were about.

In looking at the election board in my neighborhood, if I were eligible to vote, I like Hideo Takeuchi from the One Osaka party pictured below. One Osaka is a movement to reduce redundancies in the metropolitan government structure through mergers, which I favor. I don’t know who he is or what his policies are, but I like his originality in promoting his candidacy by highlighting his love of dogs. I wonder if he walks his two dogs in a suit all the time?

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Book Review: “Everybody’s Fool” by Richard Russo

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I finished Richard Russo’s novel Everybody’s Fool on the flight back to Japan. The book follows the lives of people in the small fictional town of North Bath in upstate New York. Having grown up in a similar small town in northern Michigan, I could relate to the characters, although I realized it has been a while since I’ve been home and my friends today are different to the people I grew up with. Although not as pronounced as Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, my life has taken a similar trajectory.

Everybody’s Fool takes place in a 48 hour period and is a sequel to Russo’s 1993 “Nobody’s Fool”, which was made into a movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Newman. The story gains momentum throughout and I eagerly read the last third to find out what happens. I couldn’t help but have the picture of the actors in my head while reading the book. A great casting job! It also reminded me of the plight of small towns in America in a time of economic globalization. The book is not life-changing, but it is an entertaining read.

I spent the last part of our summer holidays in the small Poconos mountain town of Freeland, Pennsylvania, which is probably quite similar to Russo’s North Bath. I saw plenty of signs of Trump support in Freeland. I agree with Vance that he appeals to whites in small towns because of his blunt way of talking, which differs from the polished and privileged speech of Hillary Clinton. One of the reasons Bernie Sanders appealed to me was that he was not a multimillionaire and I think could relate to average Americans. He has a lot of support in middle class urban areas similar to Trump in more rural areas.

 

 

 

Visit to Washington DC

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Nadia and Kim reunited with their families visit the Pentagon

On our final weekend in the USA before our return to Japan we visited our dear friend Kim in Washington DC. The nation’s capital is a 3 and 1/2 hour drive from the Lehigh Valley. We saw some of the iconic sites like the White House and the Pentagon, toured the National Geographic museum and just spent time with Kim and her daughter. It is always a thrill to see the center of the US government, driving by the Federal Reserve, the Capitol building, etc. Despite the heat, we managed to see a lot. We even got a taste of Bolivia, stopping by a restaurant for saltenas. Around 250,000 Bolivians live in the Virginia side of the DC area and it felt like we were in Cochabamba!

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Ocean and I check the bees

Kim allowed us to check on her bees. She is a conservationist and works for the US Forest Service and is an avid beekeeper. It was quite an experience for the kids and me! It is sad the plight of bees worldwide and through the efforts of people like Kim, hopefully they will continue to pollinate and keep our planet’s environment healthy. The bees were doing OK, but we didn’t find much honey. We have been friends for a long time and it was such a pleasant visit. Thanks to Kim for her hospitality!

We are packing in preparation for heading back. I am refreshed and ready to go for 2016-2017!

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Nadia poses with the boys in front of the White House

Family Journal: August 12, 2016

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We are wrapping up our summer holidays in the USA with a weekend in Washington DC visiting our longtime friend, Kim. We have known her since Nadia and I were in Bolivia.

Last night the Washington Nationals were hosting the Atlanta Braves so I took the opportunity to take Owen to his first Major League Baseball game. A father taking a son to his first MLB game is one of those experience people don’t forget. It was a wonderful night for me, regardless of the score or quality of play. The Braves have the worst record in baseball, but they played like champs, defeating the Nationals 8-5. Everyone at the game was sweating profusely with temps in the mid-90s and high humidity. Since it was Owen’s first and only MLB game this year, I splurged and we got tickets very close to the Braves dugout. We were disappointed that Bryce Harper was not in uniform (strained neck) and Max Scherzer (ex-Tiger) was not pitching. The game was highly entertaining and the size and power of MLB players was on full display in contrast to the smaller Japanese players. My big takeaway from the evening was the play of the infielders. On television it looks so easy to field a grounder and throw out the runner, but with the fast players, the catch and throw need to be perfect. I admired their skill. Nationals Park is right downtown near the Potomac and the Navy Yards and it is a fantastic night out. I can see why they have such strong attendance, plus the team is in first place. Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was going for his 14th victory with only two defeats, but led by Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman’s three-run homer, he exited the game in the sixth inning as the losing pitcher.

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On the negative side, in MLB’s quest to maximize revenue, the average cost of attending a game for a family of four is $326. It would be nice to half this and have everyone in the league, make 1/2 the money they do, owners and players. When a player contract reaches over $300 million dollars, that should be a sign that why put the cost ultimately on the consumer. I know that television revenue play a part in these high salaries, but when you look at the game experience, $5 for a bottle of water, $30 for parking, $92 for a baseline seat, it adds up for the fan attending a game.

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On the way from the Lehigh Valley to Washington DC, we stopped by the Gettysburg battlefield in southern Pennsylvania. This was the furthest the Confederate reached in the war and the second day was the decisive battle of the Civil War. I see the are huge differences between the Republicans and Democrats in today’s politics, but the idea of a war between Americans is hard to believe. It was a young country then, (4 score & seven years), and I guess they needed to work out a governmental system for the continent. It was extremely hot and humid so we walked a bit of the battlefield near the climatic battle of the three-day conflict. There is a huge amount of interest in the Civil War and Gettysburg is one of those places every American should visit. Much of the battlefield has been preserved and there is much to be reflected upon while visiting. I recommend watching Ken Burns’s 1990 PBS series, Civil War, which is available and digitally restored on the PBS website.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

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Upon our return to Pennsylvania, we continued our summer of hiking in the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, near the small town of Kempton. The 1,400 acre forest was an area that local hunters came to shoot hawks in the 1920s and 30s. Over the fall and spring migrations, thousands of raptors fly over this ridge in the Appalachian mountain chain because of favorable winds and updrafts on their journey between Canada and Florida and Latin America for the winter.

This being early August, there were no migrating raptors. We did see three black vultures soaring over the ridge. Besides migrating raptors, the non-profit association in charge of the center has an education center with many environmental initiatives. They developed a trail system and so we did a 5-mile loop from one ridge to the other ridge. I hiked the trails in July 2013 and I was so happy to have my children climb the many rocky hills. Oliver had the quote of the day as he was ahead of us on the walk and called back, “Mom, you are not going to like this, but for me it is cool!” As you can see from the video, there were some parts of the trail that required minor rock climbing. It was a good total body workout.

I am encouraged reading the history of the sanctuary. The thinking in the 1920s was to get rid of all predators including hawks and other raptors. Local hunters used to shoot them in hundreds during the migration. In 1931, Richard Pough, an amateur ornithologist, collected the dead the birds and photographed them. When a wealthy New York activist named Rosalie Edge saw the exhibition, she leased the mountain and put a warden in to stop the hunters. She eventually purchased the land and formed the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association. Through the forward thinking of a couple of individuals, the area today supports raptors in the their migrations and is flight of these majestic birds are enjoyed by thousands of people. I only wish she would have purchased more land to preserve even more forests, instead of the numerous farms that grow corn to feed cows.