It was a no-stress travel day on Sunday as we made the long journey back from the USA to Uzbekistan. NYC Limo service packed the SUV to get us to JFK in 2 hours and 15 minutes. It was a cool, rainy morning, in stark contrast to the Tashkent inferno temperature of 104F and sunny. I was impressed with the airport as it was recently renovated. We spent the morning in the AirTips Lounge because of our tickets. Both Nadia and I flew business class which I usually don’t. I got a business class ticket because of my shoulder and it is so much nicer flying when one can lay flat. The economy class was full with many children running up and down the aisles while on our side, peace and quiet. It will be hard to go back to economy… The JFK-Tashkent direct flight is convenient for us when we want to spend some time on the east coast America.
It is nice to be back home. We unpacked, I went into the school office and walked Obi in the evening. He was a little shocked to see us but has been following Nadia around all day. It was a great morning because everyone was awake at 5:30 AM because of jet lag. Owen is at my uncle’s and a bit bored before starting university so we talked for a long time on Telegram. Ocean/Oliver/Nadia and I watched the Tokyo Olympics. We love the Australian – USA rivalry in swimming.
Much of the summer was spent getting Owen ready for university. We bought a Nissan Rouge SV used car for him (and us when we visit in the summers). Hopefully soon he will get a drivers license so he can take it all the way to Michigan. We purchased the car from a CarVision Nissan dealer in Hazleton, PA. Our luck would have it that used car prices are up 43% in the USA this summer due to the pandemic. We did get a pretty good price on a car with low mileage. Most importantly, the 2019 model has many safety features including the blind spot warning and a warning system when the car crosses the centerline or edge of the road. This is important to us for a male, teenage driver. The car handles well and is much better than the car my parents bought me for university, a used 1980 Ford Zephyr.
We played some tennis and golf in our last week in the USA. There are good public courts in Freeland and I was the ball boy for Nadia, Oliver and Owen. Our family loves tennis and we are following Novak Djokovic’s quest for the golden calendar slam. For those non-tennis people, the calendar slam is winning all four major tennis tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) in the same season. He already won the first three and the US Open in September is his final hurdle. The “golden” part is the summer Olympics gold medal. Novak has his second round match tonight in Tokyo. I took the boys to the local driving range in Drums, PA. They have a nice mini-golf course and I defeated both Owen and Oliver. Owen then borrowed my uncle’s clubs and hit buckets of balls on the driving range. He can hit much further than me.
My shoulder is feeling much better and Dr. Neil gave me the green light to try to do as much as I can. He said if it starts to hurt, to ease up. I still have 2 to 4 months of healing, but I am slowly getting back to normal. I think I may even try to go for a morning jog this week when I return to Tashkent. Being hit by a car puts things into perspective regarding my cycling. I didn’t see or hear the car coming and I worry that as I get older, my reaction time and coordination are slowing. In a city with reckless drivers, it may have been a matter of time that an accident occurred and I am lucky I didn’t fall on my head or had a more serious injury. Then this week the tragic death of New York Jets assistant football coach Greg Abbott, age 58 (above) also shook me up a bit. He was killed in the middle of the afternoon while riding close to his home in California. He was in a designated bike line and like me, was struck from behind by a car going in the same direction. Doing some more research, I read of the high number of deaths from cycling and I also have friends that have had more serious car collisions than me. I have decided to stop cycling in the city and will only ride my bike on less traveled country roads and trails. I am sure I’ll blog more about this in the upcoming months.
We finished up packing and on my last full day in the USA, Owen and I hiked the “mountain trail” in the nearby Nescopeck State Park in Drums, Pennsylvania. The 4 mile hike was insignificant regarding scenery or landmarks, but it was just nice to spend a quiet time walking and talking with my son through the woods. We were the only people on the trails in the late afternoon. I cherish the times I shared with my eldest son and it was a good way to say goodbye as he heads off to university next month. I am already counting the days until he comes back for Christmas in December.
The Hershey Company is headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It is an idyllic small town with beautiful old houses, tree-lined streets, new schools, etc. Milton Hershey began manufacturing the first Hershey chocolate bars in 1900 and the company has been successful ever since. It is one the largest producers of chocolate and it is a huge, multinational company. The Hershey complex in the town includes besides a chocolate production plant, a school for underprivileged children, a museum, an ice arena, outdoor stadium, and most importantly for the Kralovec children, an amusement park. Followers of my blog know how much I loathe amusement parks (see Universal Studios Japan). They are $500 days for families of 5, parking kilometers away from the entrance and a crowded day mostly spent waiting in line for the rides.
I can throw all that aside when I see the joy and amazement on the faces of my kids. They loved the roller coasters and all the waiting time and crowds were worth it. Hershey Park is a typical amusement park with many large rollercoasters, smaller carnival-style rides and plenty of over-priced restaurants. We discovered the lines shortened in the late afternoon on this particular day, going from 1 hour plus waits to 15-30 minutes waits on the most popular rides. We arrived as the park opened at 11:00 AM and took full advantage of what the park had to offer. We were a bit nervous about being around so many unmasked people, however, we spent the entire day outdoors and wore our masks when we neared people. We ended up with negative PCR tests two days later before we left for Uzbekistan.
My middle son Oliver suffers from motion sickness like I do, but overcame his apprehension to go on the big rides with Ocean and Owen. I was proud of his courage. However, both Oliver and Owen experienced vertigo when they tried to sleep upon our return to Freeland that evening. My daughter Ocean, as you can see on the lead photo on this post, absolutely loves the rides and went on a few more than the boys. I went along with her on the water ride and loved to listen to her laughter.
It was a good, bonding family day as we celebrate the last few days of us together as five, before Owen heads off to university. Owen did a good job driving us back on the 90-minute journey back home. The park and town is worth a visit. Perhaps in the future we’ll go to the museum, although I really feel that sugar and the chocolate industry might someday be viewed similarly to tobacco because of its detrimental health effects on Americans.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am appreciating the simpler things in life more as I get older and it was perfect summer day in my opinion.
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.
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!
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.