Family Journal: June 22, 2021

Oliver and Ocean got their first Pfizer vaccine from the local CVS pharmacy

After learning I don’t need surgery this summer, I am very relieved and starting to enjoy my holiday. I am moving a bit better each day and love spending time with my family and relaxing. The USA’s efforts in vaccines makes me proud to be an American. Oliver and Ocean received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine today. By the end of the summer, the entire Kralovec family will be vaccinated!

It was nice to see my mom again after two years away from the USA. She made a delicious egg salad sandwich and we had a good talk. Her voice is soothing to me and it is always nice to connect with her in person. Owen and I in the afternoon went for a round a disc golf at the Hickory Run Disc Golf Course located in a state park near Freeland. It rained most of the day with temperatures in the 50s F, which was a delightful change from Tashkent. The Poconos Mountains, one of the many ranges that make up the Appalachians, go right through Freeland and Hickory Run State Park preserves a small section of the typical Applachian forests. This part of Pennsylvania is mountainous and forested which reminds me of my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Walking with Owen through the quiet and wet woods was so relaxing.

Owen tees off from the 13th hole

Cycling Accident

Last Tuesday, June 15 I was hit by a car while cycling at 6:10 AM. I was on my way to meet up with friends when about a block away from our meeting point, a taxi struck me from behind. I fell off my bike and hit the road pretty hard. While sitting on the road, I was thankful I was alive and well. I managed to call a Yandex taxi (the Russian Uber) to take me home. The driver stopped to see if I was alright. I locked my bike to a fence and hopped in the cab. I realized I was injured when I got home, I couldn’t get out of the seat with the driver’s help. Nadia and Ocean took me over the school’s clinic and eventually, I was checked into the Nano Medical Clinic. An x-ray showed that I had no broken bones. They kept me overnight for observation while doing blood tests, urinalysis and ultrasounds. Thankfully, there was no internal damage but as you can see above, I did tear my acromioclavicular ligament which holds together the collar bone and shoulder blade. Besides my shoulder, I had bad bruising of my hip and back. Advil was helpful in making me feel better and as I write this a week later, I am moving almost normally.

Feeling better the day after my accident!

The doctor in Tashkent suggested that I get surgery to repair the ligaments. I waited until I went to the USA to get a second opinion. Fortunately, my orthopedic doctor here is a former professional cyclist and the current medical director of the Trexlertown Velodrome. He has had the same injury as mine and has seen hundreds of these through the years as it is a common cycling injury when people go over the handlebars and come down on their shoulder. Dr. Stansbury said my tear was a category 2 out of 6 after looking at the MRI and therefore, did not recommend surgery. He recommends not to intervene and let it heal on its own for 4-6 weeks. Studies show better long term results by letting it heal on its own instead of surgery. I will go back towards the end of my holiday to check in. I was so relieved to know that I didn’t need surgery!

It is now one week since the accident and I am finally getting to move normally as besides my shoulder, I also came down hard on my hip and back and it is bruised. The right side of my back is still stiff but last night I slept on my side for a while, something I couldn’t do earlier.

Latest Reading: World III and Talking to Dead People

During the school year I struggle with sleep sometimes as my mind goes through problems I encounter leading an international school. Reading calms my mind and going over the stories puts me to sleep. This post features two recently released books.

2034 is the story of the next world war between USA and China. James Stavridis is a retired US Navy admiral and many of the war scenes take place at sea with air craft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, etc. He wrote the book with author Elliot Ackerman. Ackerman is a former marine and war hero, CIA employee, political fellow and now author. I think he is a good role model for young men, combining service to the country and academics. I would love my sons to have a similar career.

The book is a page-turner that has lots of action and good story lines. It jumps from following US and Chinese military commanders leadership teams in the Pentagon and Beijing and a war hero fighter pilot. I was a little depressed with Stavridis’ view of the recent developments with the Chinese military. On a podcast interview, he pointed out despite the US military having a big advantage in traditional warfare (tanks, air craft carriers, drones, etc.) China is gaining the advantage with their focus on cyber security. Both China and India can inflict damage on the US by shutting off the communication and utilities at will. He also points out that our divided congress cannot form a coherent and effective long-term foreign policy and military strategy towards China.

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. He is such an incredible story teller. An early novel of his, Salem’s Lot, was the first book that I really loved when I was in ninth grade and jump started my adult reading. Previously, I read many of the Hardy Boy Detective stories, but Salem’s Lot pushed me into bigger books. I’ve read many King novels through the years, The Stand, Thinner, 11/12/63, etc. All of them engrossing and not able to put down. Later is no exception. The boy featured in the book can talk to dead people who recently passed away. He can see them for a few days after death and then they fade away. His family finds ways to use this power, especially his book editor/publisher mother. The book takes place in New York and has lots of good details. It is a highly entertaining read.

Family Journal: June 8, 2021

Nadia and I attended Student-led Conferences last week. It was a nice format, each student had 45 minutes to talk to their parents about their learning. The teachers did a nice job of preparing a packet to guide the conversation. I most appreciated that the school carved out this time and forced teenagers to talk to their parents in a quiet environment. Both Ocean and Oliver were so cute!

Ocean, Nadia and Obi in the Istiklol Palace Gardens

Summer weather has returned to Tashkent with temperatures in the 40s (C) / 100s (F). The pool has been a godsend! It is so refreshing to dive in after a hot day at work. I am getting up in the mornings before school to bike for 60-90 minutes which is my favorite way to start the day. We also are taking Obi (our dog) out for walks in the early evening. I love summer nights and Tashkent in my opinion, is a pleasant city to walk dogs. There are many parks and walking streets to take out the little guy.

Owen feels no pain with his second dose of vaccine!

We also got the second dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Saturday. That means in we will be fully vaccinated by the time we leave Uzbekistan for our summer holidays! Thanks again to the Tashkent International Clinic

Owen Graduates!

Owen Graduates from High School

It was a special night on Friday, May 28 for our family. Owen graduated from the Tashkent International School. It was a touching ceremony and an emotional day for Nadia and I. You can see from my speech below, how I felt about the day.

I am honored to open the Tashkent International School Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2021. This is the 23rd TIS graduating class and the 33 seniors graduating today will bring the total number of TIS graduates to 470, joining our illustrious and very successful alumni. Shout out the Class of 2020 who made it today! 

Rudy, Max, Owen and Arseniy

The first thing I want to acknowledge is that we are here, in-person, together as a school community. I see this as the one of the first glimpses of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. COVID challenged us all and I think of all of the uncertainty and isolation this once-in-a-century, global pandemic has caused us. There were many days I wondered if this Class of 2021 would make it here today. They showed resilience to get through having ⅓ of the Diploma Programme online. They were one of the few international schools in Eurasia to take the IB exams and they’ve been staying safe, together, on-campus since October! 

I am so thankful the pandemic taught me to savor life’s moments, and what a moment this is. The setting sun coming through our glorious trees. These young people on the stage, bursting with dreams and possibilities. Proud parents,  siblings and TIS staff members, who have given them so much support to help them to complete their high school education. It is wonderful for us to be together as a community again, deepening our relationships and human connections with each other, not through Zoom, but as it should be, face-to-face (although, of course, adhering to our protocols of physical distance, wearing a mask, spraying our hands, checking our temperature, etc.  not too close) 

Proud Mom!

I’ve had a long career in international education and have attended or led many graduation ceremonies. However, this graduation ceremony is different from all the others I’ve attended. This time, not only am I an international school leader, but I am also a father of a graduate. As with the parents, guardians, siblings, grandparents, in the audience today, this is a bittersweet event for me. In many ways, I see my son is ready to go.  Late adolescents get a bit tired of their parents and the routine of K-12 schooling. He wants to make his own way in the world.  I am happy for him. In other ways however, I am breaking up inside that he is leaving our family. Where did the time go? I can still remember very clearly the first time I saw him in the delivery room. The doctor lifted him up to cut the umbilical cord and my  first thought was wow, he is this big, fat, red round ball with a full head of blond hair.  As you can see on the stage today, he has grown quite a bit and is no longer a big, red, fat ball, although he is still blond. I think many of the parents have some of the same thoughts, wondering how we so quickly got to this milestone and can we slow down the steady tick of time. 

Graduation speakers are supposed to give you sage advice or give some high-minded quote in graduation speeches. I am only going to say to you, on behalf of the many of the parents in the audience 

#1) When you are at university next year, remember that money is a finite resource. You do not have an unlimited bank account. Maybe parents can track your spending. Say goodbye to your daily Express 24 or that sandwich and coffee from Paul’s. And, taxis in other countries cost a bit more than Yandex. It adds up and give your parents a break. 

TIS Faculty Children

#2 Call your parents! Call them often! And not just when you have a problem with #1 and need more money.  Thank them often for everything they do for you. 

Class of 2021, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know many of you inside and outside of school. As parents, my wife and I appreciate that you treated our son who really just arrived here, with kindness and helping him through the DP journey. You have survived the great pandemic of 2020-2021 and after starting out your adult life in the midst of COVID, you can meet any challenge that awaits you. You got this!  I can’t wait to see how you can clean up the mess (climate change, income inequality, media misinformation, etc.) that my generation and generations before me have left you. Young people like yourself give me hope for the future! 

Family Journal: May 23, 2019

It is hard not to have a good weekend with the weather being so gorgeous in Tashkent. Today’s big event was Ocean’s hair coloring appointment. She wanted to dye her hair a different color and so Nadia and her decided on purple. As you can see, she is so beautiful, she looks great with any color. She is growing up and wanted to express herself. Her and Nadia had a nice afternoon together. I was the support team with meal prep and driving them to and from the appointment.

Owen and I really enjoyed the TIS student-teacher softball game on Friday evening. Thanks to Sione and the PE department for organizing the game. It was the last time I got to watch Owen play sport as K-12 student. He hit a home run and played first base and his team beat my team, 11-8. He played a lot of baseball in Japan and unfortunately here in Tashkent due to COVID, we couldn’t play much. There is not a high school team, but there is an intramural club that plays in the spring. I’ll be helping coaching next spring for sure.

Sometimes I feel like an Uber Driver (Yandex here in Russian-influenced Tashkent). Saturday I took Owen to play tennis and Oliver and Ocean to sleepovers. The kids have an active social life here and are starting to get over leaving Japan. Owen and I got in a tennis practice with coach Igor at the Olympic Tennis Club on Saturday morning. Igor taught us where to position ourselves in anticipation of opponent’s shots. It really was an epiphany for me and it will improve my game. We are planning to buy new racquets this week.

I saw this delivery to my neighbor on Saturday.

One of the crazy things about Tashkent is I often see people driving around with furniture, equipment, supplies, etc. strapped to the top of their cars. Pickup trucks are rare here so the Uzbeks make due. You would be amazed at how much stuff they can secure to the top of an old Lada car. I end this post with some some sunset photos from my walk with Obi. I love spring and summer evenings and often take the dog out for walks around the city close to sunset.

Family Journal: May 13, 2021

Ocean on some of the last snow of the year

This is our first spring in the mountains of Uzbekistan. Last year at this time, we were under pandemic induced lockdown in the city and unable to leave the city limits. This is the most beautiful time of year to be Tien-Shan mountain range. The spring run-off and rains make for deep green grasses and wild flowers. It contrasts with the snow-capped peaks and patches of snow in the high altitude areas. It looks like the Swiss Alps or Colorado Rockies. Later in the summer the greens turn to browns and the snow melts. However, just being in the mountains anytime of year is refreshing for me. The Ugam-Chatkal National Park is my favorite part of living in Tashkent and is a short drive out of the city.

Top of Amirsoy

This morning I took Obi on a walk to the 12 Pools, a small series of waterfalls on the eastern side of the Amirsoy Resort. It was so nice to be walking through forests in the valleys between two ridges. I eventually climbed out of the ravine and to a grassy meadow. The Sound of Music was in my head as Obi was running around. He really loved the forest and he even crossed a small stream. He doesn’t like swimming in our pool and it was surprising.

Mountain Meadows

In the afternoon, we all went to the top of the resort on the ski gondola. We walked down “Papa” ski trail to the first station and then went up and around on the gondola. There were lots of people heading up the gondola as Thursday was Eid al Fitr and a public holiday in Uzbekistan.

The evening sunset was stunning with Chimgan peak turning a glorious pink for a few minutes before the sun went behind the ridge. A nice day indeed!

Oliver and Ocean pose in front of Chimgan.

A Russian Banya

I took the kids to the Red Rock Hammon and Spa last night for their first Russian баня banya experience. My friend the general manager of the resort gave us a complementary visit to the recently opened spa. The Russian banya is similar to a Finnish sauna. It is a wooden room (парная) with benches and a large, wood-heated stove in the corner. The banya master (ба́нщик) threw water on the stove to create hot steam. We wore traditional, elf-like bell-shaped felt hats. The felt cap is traditional and insulates the head from heating up faster than the body. The banya master, a Russian guy, waived bundles of oak or birch branches call ве́ник (venik) to push hot air on us while we sat on benches in the steam room. He later gave us massages with the leaves, gently hitting our legs, arms and torso. He also pushed the leaves against our skin and gave a nice massage. The leaves are supposed to improve circulation, metabolism and make the skin softer.

After the massage, we went outside an dipped ourselves in a cold pool (ушат) to cool off. Then it was back in for a sprinkle and waive from the venik. It reminded me of my adopted mother’s stories of swatting their backs with birch branches in the Finnish sauna when she was a child. The experience reminded me of the Japanese onsen or the spas of the Baltics. It was really relaxing and we talked quite a bit on the grounds, drinking tea and listening to New Age relaxation music. It is such a nice social experience going to the baths. I read where they are making a comeback in the USA. Public baths are great for building community. In Japan we used to go with friends often and it is usually followed by beers and a meal. I am a big fan of the experience.

A “boogy” ride to the spa has a list of proverbs about the banya that I now understand better after the experience:

Ба́ня здоровит, разгово́р весели́т.
The banya makes you healthy, it stimulates conversation.

Ба́ня – мать втора́я.
The banya is like a second mother.

В ба́не помы́лся — за́ново роди́лся.
Washing up in the banya is like being born again.

Вы́лечился Ва́ня — помогла́ ему́ ба́ня.
Vanya has recovered from sicknesses – thanks to the banya.

Приста́л, как ба́нный лист!
Stuck like a limpet! (literally: Stuck like a banya’s leaf.)

В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег.
A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.

“The day you spend in the banya is the day you do not age.” (В кото́рый день па́ришься, тот день не ста́ришься.)

Russian Banya Vocabulary

ба́ня – banya (Russian sauna and steam bath)
парна́я – a steam room
ве́ник – a bath-broom (bunches of dried or fresh branches and leaves)
уша́т – tub
предба́нник – the entrance room
ба́нщик – a banya’s service person
пар – steam
вода́ – water
здоро́вье – health

I will definitely go back again, especially in the winter. I see the appeal and after day on the slopes, a hot steam bath and relaxing with friends will be the perfect ending for a day of winter activity. I was proud of my daughter Ocean who was apprehensive of the experience but fought through her fears and did the whole experience with me. Thanks to Inaki for the kind gesture!

Family Journal: May 8, 2021

Matt, Jimmy, Simon and I yesterday went on a 60 kilometer bike ride north of Tashkent. We headed out from the Hotel Uzbekistan towards the Kazakhstan border. We then did a loop through agricultural areas and villages. Going with a group is much better for me than by myself. I had to push myself to keep up with them. We ended the ride with coffee and breakfast at a Turkish Cafe. My perfect Saturday morning!

Ramadan is coming to an end next Thursday with the breaking of the fast celebration called Eid al Fitr The weekend prior to this, the mosques at night are quite busy. People pray in the evenings at mosques throughout the city during Ramadan after the first evening meal. Last night Ocean and I were driving around to see how many people were coming out. She just took video from the car because it was hard to find parking and there were so many people. I am glad they were outside, but I wonder with what the impact will be on COVID numbers in a couple weeks’ time.

Ocean with Mom’s flowers

We also went shopping for Mother’s Day which takes place tomorrow, May 9 in the USA. Here in Uzbekistan May 9 is commemorated to honor the soldiers of World War II.

Happy Birthday Oliver

We celebrated my son Oliver’s 15th birthday Friday at his favorite restaurant, City 21 at the Hilton. It is on the 21st floor and overlooks the Tashkent City development. His girlfriend came with and we all enjoyed a delicious meal style. Afterward we came home and went for a swim. We ate so well that no one had an appetite for cake.

Oliver is completing grade 9 and passed me this year in height. He loves socializing with friends, Japanese anime/manga, gaming and playing volleyball. Happy birthday Oliver, we love you!