This is my first time visiting Chicago as a tourist. My previous visits were for transit purposes, as the city is a hub for flying to my birthplace of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My brother and his wife live downtown, close to Lake Michigan in the heart of the city and we are here for a few days to see the sights and spend time with them.
The population of the Chicago metropolitan area is 9.5 million people and includes from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Gary, Indiana. It is the third largest metro area in the country, behind only Los Angeles and New York. However, it is one of the slowest growing (0.55% growth), and will probably be passed by Dallas, Houston and Washington, DC in my lifetime. It is an anomaly as most of the large cities in the USA are in the Atlantic or Pacific coasts or in the south (Texas/Atlanta/Miami). In thinking about Chicago, it is the capital of the Great Lakes, with cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toronto being some of the other population centers. You could also include Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Buffalo as an outer tier of cities. The region is growing slowly and has lost many manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. Several cities are slowly depopulating in favor of better economies and nicer weather in other parts of the country. Chicago, like Detroit and Cleveland, is racially and economically segregated. I am curious on how climate change will affect the region. Walking around Lakeshore Boulevard and Michigan Avenue yesterday, my family remarked that it feels like New York City, with the sky scrapers and historic buildings. It differs in being cleaner, more spacious and less diverse racially.
Our first day we spent time with my brother and sister-in-law. The kids tried rock-climbing in the Maggie Daley Park and we soaked up the atmosphere of the city. We are staying in an Art Deco style building developed by the family of the department store magnate, Marshall Fields. We finished the evening sampling the world famous, Chicago-style pizza.
During our stay in Poconos mountains, we have enjoyed spending time in the Hickory Run state park. The large park is about 30 minutes from Freeland and has 40 miles of hiking trails. It also has a disc golf course and small reservoir for swimming.
The Fireline trail has some nice views over the Lehigh River. You can combine with Skyline and Gould’s trail to form a loop that takes about 2 hours. We noticed many trees down due to the recent storm. The Poconos are similar to the forests of northern Michigan, although with fewer pine trees and some different species of plants and birds.
Owen is still enthusiastic about disc golf so we play any chance we get. It is a great way for me to get outdoors and spend time with him. Below is a video showing one of the typical holes.
We had a pleasant long weekend in the nation’s capital, my fifth visit to the district. The amount of history and power concentrated in one place is impressive. The city is special to me because my wife Nadia loves politics so much, it is like me going to a professional sporting event. Seeing in person the sites of the American political system in person is exciting. I enjoy watching her delight as much as seeing the sites myself.
Summer evenings are delightful and walking around the National Mall during a beautiful sunset is a great way to spend a night in July. The founding fathers did a good job of portraying the power of this nation. The Roman classical building architecture, the wide expanse of green space and the Potomac River flowing past, it really sets itself apart from European capital cities. There are always a lot of visitors, but it didn’t feel crowded. The Lincoln Memorial captures the spirit of the great president. It was moving to read the words of the Gettysburg Address with his statue just to the side of me. The American Civil War was not all that long ago and keeping together the union has made a better life for Americans today. There are still cultural, economic, social and racial divisions in this huge country, but keeping together is better than splitting apart.
The World War II memorial, next to the reflecting pool is also a fitting monument to the people impacted by the war. Both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters are featured and with quotes by generals and presidents, it stirred patriotic feelings in all of us. We made it to Washington obelisk, and it is fitting General Washington received a Pharaoh’s treatment. On a tour of the Capitol Building, Washington is featured on the fresco on the ceiling of the Rotunda, and the Italian artist Brumidi, pictures Washington ascending to heaven accompanied by angels representing liberty and victory. He didn’t conquer the world like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, but being the first president of the future American empire, puts him in that same group.
DC is a very busy city and although we avoided rush hour traffic, the amount of entrance and exit ramps, bridges, multi-laned highways, it was a bit confusing navigating the city. I also don’t like any place with a median house price of over half a million dollars. The amount of culture and intellectual energy in the place is great, but I don’t know how educators could live there. Driving through neighborhoods reminded us of Japan because the homes were so close together and streets were narrow compared to the rural Pennsylvania. Space is at a premium in the city.
We took a short tour of the US Capitol Building. It was interesting to see congressmen walking out of the building into waiting Chevy black Suburbans with secret service drivers. I didn’t realize how vast the space for the inauguration ceremony actually was. The photos from the air during Obama and Trump’s ceremonies were controversial regarding crowd size and it was fun to stand there. On our way home, we made a stop at Chatter, the restaurant owned by ESPN commentator, Tony Kornheiser. I occasionally listen to his podcast and so I wanted to see the restaurant and new podcast studio on the site. The food was reasonably priced and pretty good, so I do recommend a visit.
We also visited an old friend of Nadia’s in Alexandria, Virginia. City officials developed the water front and combined with the historical buildings and lots of restaurants and bars, it was a lively atmosphere. We had a good Thai meal and walk along the water.
I finish this post with a video of Ocean taking part in a street performance. A busker (Aussie term for street performer) called her up to set out the tip hat. I guess using a cute little girl would generate more sympathy from patrons. She of course loves the spotlight and was hamming it up for the crowd.
I have not been blogging much this month due to my energy being devoted to my doctoral study. We did have a nice 4th of July here in eastern Pennsylvania. We are staying with my uncle in the small town of Freeland. The town has the highest elevation in Pennsylvania and is located in the Poconos Mountains, which is part of the Appalachian chain.
My son Owen’s latest interest is disc golf and there are a couple good courses in a nearby state park. The disc golf course at the Hickory Run State Park is challenging, picturesque and well-marked. I am not a fanatic of disc golf, but it is a nice way to spend 2 hours with the family, in nature, and without screens.
We purchased a bunch of fireworks at a “super store” near Tannersville. The kids and adults loved the explosions. Fireworks have come a long way since I was young. Nadia and Jack cooked a delicious meal, and overall, it was a nice way to spend the anniversary of our independence from Britain.
I am writing this in the Hong Kong International Airport. It is an interesting time to be traveling through Hong Kong as this is the 20th anniversary of the turnover of the island from Britain to China. In 30 more years, it will officially become part of China. There is no reason Hong Kong should be part of the UK and reflecting on the history of the British in China, lots of damaging things occurred. It is right that this colonial legacy is ending. However, it is sad that Hong Kong is slowly losing its different character from the rest of the country.
We are on our way to the USA for summer holidays. It is always hectic and emotional to end the academic year at an international school. I am continuing work on my doctoral studies at Lehigh University which start next week. Outside of school, I did find some time to make some observations.
I wish my Dad was alive to see a Japanese lawn crew. They were using “weed wackers” at Osaka University when I was biking through the campus earlier this week. The Japanese pay attention to the details and it was great to see these guys holding screens to protect pedestrians from twigs and rocks that shoot up from the machine. Notice too that they are perfectly dressed and taking such care in their job. No matter how menial the job may seem, they take such great care to do it right. This is a prime example. A very professional job!
My latest addiction is cycling and I can’t get enough of it. I want to bike every day in the Minoh Quasi National Park which is near our house. The views are splendid and going up and down the hills is relaxing, despite being exhausting. I can’t wait for a full year of cycling when I return in August. Japan is up there with Netherlands and Germany for cycling and it is my favorite aspect of living in Osaka.
Oliver completed his elementary career this week. On Monday, the school held a promotion party to mark the occasion. All of the grade 5 students made a short speech and we also heard from the principal and grade 5 teacher, Mr. Jones. Oliver’s speech is above and it was very cute. He has a bit of charisma and charm, which will probably get him a long way in life.
After the party, the parents provided a potluck dinner and the kids danced and played with balloons. It was a really enjoyable evening. It was fun the night before riding our bikes to the mall to buy Ollie a pair of dress pants and belt. He looked pretty good in his tie as well. The school gives many opportunities for the students to speak publicly which really helps their self-confidence and presentation skills. That too will serve him well in the future.
Congratulations Oliver, you made it to middle school. All of us love you very much and look forward to your middle school years. We are very proud of you!!!!
We are nearing the end of our school year, which runs longer than most international schools. It is a busy time for teachers and admin as we close the academic year for summer. I am trying to find time for doing family stuff as I realize the kids are growing quickly and it is important to find a balance among the competing demands on my time in my life. School, jobs around the home, exercise and my health, my relationship with my wife, helping the kids with homework, reading, etc.
I had almost the perfect Father’s Day last Sunday. I got up early as I do most days and got some work done with a cup of coffee. Writing relaxes me and starting my day with some time reflecting and thinking is good for my psyche. Unfortunately, it is the peak performance time for my brain and so it is all downhill the rest of the day. Owen’s father’s day gift to me was a ride up into the hills of the Minoh Quasi-National Park. I am doing more and more cycling lately and really want to get a good road cycle. The forests and hills of the park which is about 10 minutes from our home are such a refuge from the megapolis (Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe) of 20 million people. As you can see in the video above, the calming green and dramatic slopes make it an ideal place for cycling.
Waking up from an afternoon nap, Nadia prepared a delicious dinner in my honor. The highlight was a glass of “noble rot” (a late harvest botrytis grape) dessert wine from South Africa, accompanied by a raspberry pie. After dinner, the kids and I played a game of baseball in the park. They love baseball and I am so pleased we can enjoy the Kralovec family tradition of Sunday afternoon batting practice/baseball game. My coaching of Ocean in an elementary baseball club really helped her appreciate the sport. We are hoping to catch an MLB game while in the US this summer.
Oliver’s team won the intramural soccer league this week. The final game went to penalty kicks and Oliver’s shot in the top part of the goal, was the first goal during penalties. He enjoys soccer immensely. I am looking forward to coaching him this winter on the middle school basketball team.
Nadia was so happy with the professional cleaning done on our house yesterday. Inside, the kitchen and shower room were cleaned and outside, the walls of the house. The change is amazing, as the stove looks new. The support wall looks great after years of mold and algae were taken off the rocks.
Finally, I am posting a video of Ocean singing with her friends. Elementary music teacher, Daniel Ligon gave the kids a performance day in the class on Thursday. My daughter Ocean is in an informal after school singing club with her friends. She loves performing and a special thanks to Daniel.