Family Journal: Start of a Utah Holiday – June 30, 2022

My morning view of Herriman, Utah from the hills of Juniper Canyon

We are staying with good friends this week in Herriman, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Utah is one of my favorite places on the planet because of its climate and natural beauty. This is my family’s second visit to the state. In the summer of 2019, we stayed for a week in the southern Utah city of St. George and explored the national parks of Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon while we were there.

The Wasatch Range provides a dramatic backdrop for suburban Herriman, Utah.

Herriman is a southwest suburb of SLC of just over 55,000 people. It was a small town with modest homes and small ranches/horse stables and fields. Developers came in the late 90s and early 2000s and started building suburbia. The construction continues today as homes are getting bigger and bigger as they make their way up Juniper Canyon. The population of Herriman in the 2000 census was just over 1,500 people. I visited SLC in the early 90s several times and I do not recognize the place. The views of the Wasatch Mountain Range are spectacular! The Wasatch Range is both the eastern edge of the Great Basin and Range of Nevada and the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Although it lacks the character of older cities, it fits with the desert and mountain topography, and the homes, malls, and streets are pristine. It feels like an uncrowded and richer Japan and much cleaner and an upgrade from the infrastructure in other parts of the USA.

Oquirrh Mountain LDS Temple (the angel Moroni is on top, and is often facing East, which symbolizes the Second Coming of Jesus)

Modern Utah was founded by Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) pioneers seeking religious freedom. SLC has become much more diverse since I visited in the early 1990s, but “the Mormans” still are a central part of life in Utah. Overlooking the valley, you can see the lit LDS temples dotting the city, much like the towers and domes of mosques in Islamic cities. The industriousness and family values of the LDS church in my opinion have made SLC and the state of Utah one of the best places to live in the USA. There is a civic spirit of giving to the greater community here that you don’t feel in other American cities. The result is a low crime rate, less income inequality, and less of the modern societal ills plaguing America right now.

The Kralovecs with Spencer and Mariah in front of the temple Oquirrah Mountain

Our friends are a practicing LDS family and I was reading the Book of Morman to learn some more about the background of the faith. Although I am not a believer, I admire that it is a truly American religion. I also need to hand it to the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith to start one of the fastest-growing religions (over 16 million members from over 30,000 congregations) on earth in upstate New York in the early 1800s. He was martyred in Illinois while leading his congregation to find a safe place to practice their faith. They were persecuted because the early LDS church believed in polygamy and the fact that Joseph Smith was divinely inspired to translate/write a new book of the Bible. Here is my summary of the dogma of the LDS faith.

The angel Moroni appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1820 at his farm in Palmyra, New York. Moroni received the story of the ancient tribes of Israel from his father, the Prophet/Angel Morman. The prophecy was inscribed on tablets of gold in an ancient language and tells the story of the lost tribes of Israel (the People of Nephi) that left Jerusalem around 500 BC and settled in the Americas. It is an epic tale of four tribes making their way into the New World. By the time European settlers arrived in the Americas, all that was left were the indigenous Americans, ancestors of one of the groups, the Lamanites. Moroni buried the tablets in 421 AD and waited for over 1000 years to reveal them to Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Smith translated the tablets into English. At the start of the scripture, 11 witnesses testify that they handled and saw the tablets. LDS members believe that the Book of Morman belongs in the Canon of the Christian Bible.

Sylvania Wilderness Canoe Trip

Beau, Oliver, Ocean, Owen, Tony (back row) Uncle Jimmer (front row)

My brother Jimmer and I led the kids on a canoe trip through the Sylvania Wilderness, a National Forest Preserve about 30 miles west of my home. The US Forest Service purchased the 7,417 hectare plot saving 34 lakes and old-growth, northern hardwood forests in 1967. Thanks to a Wisconsin lumberman, A.D. Johnston who purchased 80 acres in 1895 on the south shore of Clark Lake, he thought the area was so beautiful that it should be preserved. I am very thankful that the lakes were not developed like many of the lakes up here. There are no cottages or roads going through the wilderness and very few of the lakes permit motorized watercraft. Instead, it is canoes and kayaks and the quiet of the Northwoods! The lakes straddle both the Wisconsin/Michigan state borders and the Lake Superior/Mississippi River watersheds. The lakes are deep and pristine and spring-fed and fragile due to low flush rates. The natural forest habitation around the lake preserves the beauty and the water quality. We saw several loons and bald eagles, but couldn’t see any of the park’s wolves or black bears.

One of my big takeaways from the experience was understanding the privations experienced by early French explorers to the Great Lakes. Once we got away from the lake and into the woods, the mosquitos were all over us. Thankfully, the owner of Sylvania Outfitters advised us to hear face nets to protect us. I made our route through the park, traversing three lakes which meant 3 portages. The last one was probably about 400 meters through thick hilly forests. I underestimated the size of Crooked lake the kids were a bit cranky on the way back, but the 4-hour trip to me was pure heaven. It was a cool windy day but typical for summer in the UP. The strong winds caused white caps on the exposed parts of Crooked Lake, but other than that, it was a safe and enjoyable day out.

I highly recommend visiting the preserve which is part of the Ottawa National Forest. Sylvania Outfitters, located just outside of the park near Watersmeet, Michigan has everything you need for a day on the water including transport of canoes/kayaks, paddles, and advice on where to go. We did a cross-country ski trip with the kids years ago with them.

Family Journal: June 28, 2022

We are finishing our first week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before embarking on a week in Utah. Due to costly flights, we are flying out of Chicago and will be making the 6-hour drive south today. Before I go, I wanted to highlight some of the best aspects of our week of vacation.

Owen likes to go to driving ranges and is getting into golf. I took the boys to the George Young Golf Course that is located 6 miles from my house on the shores of Chicagoan Lake, The lake is one of the largest and most popular in southern Iron County. I’ve been going there since I was a child, from the summer afternoon “Beach Bus” run by Iron County Community Schools to camping to visiting friend’s cottages on the lake. The history of the George Young Resort is interesting. George and Margaret Young owned the Chicago Fire Brick Factory and vacationed in Iron County. Margaret’s father was an industrialist and upon their deaths, they donated their 3000-acre estate to the people of Iron County. It was to be developed into affordable year-round recreation. Today there is a gorgeous 18-hole golf course, cross-country ski trails, indoor pool and sauna, fat-tire biking, fishing, etc. It is so nice to have a world-class resort in Iron County. They also have a really good bar and restaurant! I highly recommend it. I supported Oliver, Beau, and Owen by renting clubs and hitting drives.

Nadia, Ocean, and I also completed a DIY project. We rearranged and painted a trophy case. My mother was an outstanding bowler, softball player, and basketball coaching legend. My parents also displayed my cross country running and basketball trophies and medals, my brothers’ trophies in football, kick-boxing, etc Sports were a big deal in my family growing up and it is nice to have a permanent display of our sporting accomplishments. Nadia and I learned we have a long way to go to hone our home improvement skills. We couldn’t close fully the glass doors on the trophy case or door. We don’t know how to adjust the hinges and we decided to wait for my construction-genius brother to come next week to help finish the job.

We would like to renovate our home over the next few years as we are looking to use it in our retirement. We like the quiet, peaceful nature of my home village of Caspian and for me, it oozes with nostalgia and fond memories of my childhood and adolescence. The UP is also great for outdoor recreation which I love. The house is quite dated and really needs some TLC. We hope to keep the Kralovec family spirit and memories while modernizing and making it more comfortable.

Yesterday we traveled to Marquette to meet our property manager and shop at Target. We also watched Top Gun: Maverick. It was a great movie, with everything that you want from the franchise; thrilling flight scenes, pilot rivalries at the Top Gun school, and a heartwarming ending.

I’ve been enjoying cycling the Apple Blossom Trail and the new bike trail between Chicagoan Lake and Caspian. The late sunsets (9:00 PM) allow for more time outdoors. I snapped this photo of the old Caspian Iron Mine shaft head at the Iron County Museum.

Family Journal: June 25, 2022 “Nelson Field”

Oliver and Owen do battle on the courts

One of my favorite places in Iron River is Nelson Field. This is a public park that is used by West Iron County Schools as a football, track & field, and tennis venue. I spent many hours of my youth running around the track, playing football, and spending time in the playground. Some of my earliest memories are of the Ford Motor Company’s”Punt, Pass and Kick” competition. On a Saturday morning, all the kids from the local towns gathered on the Nelson football field to see who could punt, kick off a tee and pass a football the furthest and straightest. I don’t remember winning anything, but I do remember practicing with my parents and brothers in preparation for the event. The NFL sponsored event ran from 1961 to 2017. I also remember going up to the field with my dad and watching a football scrimmage of the junior varsity team. One side was wearing the black & gold of the old Stambaugh Hilltoppers High School uniforms while the other side was wearing the blue & white of the consolidated West Iron County High School. That must have been in the early 1970s.

The facility goes back to 92 years ago when the Charles Nelson Family donated land to be used as an athletic field to the city of Stambaugh. The field was named after his family on October 7, 1933. During the 1930s landscaping and improvements were made to include tennis courts, an American football field, baseball field and backstop, shuffleboard courts, trees, etc. I found some historic photos of the field below.

It was with great pleasure that I spent yesterday afternoon playing tennis with my sons Owen and Oliver. My high school friend, Toby Brznowski donated funds to refurbish the courts and they are so nice to play! We were amazed that on a gorgeous summer Friday afternoon that we were the only people in the park. My hometown continues a population decline that started in the early 20th century when the iron ore mines and logging industries were at their peak. Slowly over the century and now into the 21st century, fewer people are living in Iron County, Michigan. It makes for a quiet, peaceful environment. There are no traffic problems or pollution and for young children and married people, it is a great place to visit. It is difficult to make a decent living, however, and for young adults making their mark in the world and starting careers, opportunities are limited. Most of my graduating class from West Iron County (WIC) High School in 1985 (112 students) moved away for jobs and spouses. I saw the Class of 2022 from WIC had 45 students, which is less than half of when I graduated. West Iron County Public Schools was a consolidation of three school districts in 1967 (Stambaugh, Iron River, Bates Township) due to declining enrollment. I can see another consolidation of the two school districts left in the county. Forest Park Public Schools was the consolidation of Alpha, Amasa and Crystal Falls schools and their Class of 2022 had 26 students. Together, they don’t even reach 100 students. The problem is distance. Iron County is larger than the island of Samoa (population 203,000) but with only 11,000 people.

I do think the long-term future of Iron County and the entire Upper Peninsula is good, however. I predict that with climate change and the digitization of work and the economy, people will find abundant fresh water, forests, and cool temperatures attractive. It has already started with the city of Marquette and Houghton, and today, they are too remote to grow, but 50 to 100 years from now, the Great Lakes will experience a rennaisance.

Family Journal: June 20, 2022

Storm clouds in downtown Tashkent

We’ve experienced an unusual amount of rain this spring in Tashkent and on the day before the summer solstice, it rained again! The ominous storm clouds were beautiful and were harbingers of the two deluges that hit the city. Nadia and I were caught in the first storm when I drove her to the bank to get cash out for our trip to the USA. The second storm hit later in the afternoon, exactly when I took out my bicycle for a final ride on the canals. I had to abandon my ride and I did a session of yoga instead. 

Traffic Circle – Presidents of Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan

The president of Azerbaijan is visiting Tashkent today. The Uzbek government went all out in improving the Azeri section of the city. They mobilized hundreds of workers to renovate the traffic circle. They added plants, sidewalks and bike trails, ornate lamp posts, friezes on the overpass and re-did the facades of the apartment buildings facing the circle. Quite remarkable! 

Layover in Chicago / Arrival at the UP

Nadia and Jimmer at Buffalo Wild Wings in Marquette

It took us over 1 hour to go through immigration at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The line was good in the fact they spread people a long way down the hallways and we were walking the entire time until we got close to the immigration kiosks. I thought it was a good strategy for weight loss for Americans returning to the USA. 

The air conditioning system at our hotel, the Double Tree by Hilton was out last night. Our room wasn’t too bad, but with hot temperatures on the summer solstice last night, they must have received a lot of complaints. The hotel desk was nice about it and gave us complimentary breakfast and a late check out to make up for the uncomfortable night. The pool was not working either, which causes me to think it might be a more systemic problem.  

I still love traveling with the kids!

The best thing about staying close to the airport is the Des Plaines River Trail, a forest reserve along the Des Plaines River just east of the airport. Oliver and I went for a walk in the morning and saw quite a few deer. You can hear a lot of traffic and planes landing, but they have some big trees and I spotted a woodpecker and a kingfisher. Later in the afternoon, I went for a run and it was delightful to be running in the shade on a hot, summer day. We also took an Uber in the morning to the Trader Joe’s in Park Ridge, a tony suburb of Chicago in the far northwest of the city.  Nadia and Ocean love new grocery stores and Trader Joe’s is a boutique supermarket with lots of interesting products.

Oliver on the Des Moines River Trail

I love the long travel days because our family is together. It is so nice to spend time with our teenagers as we go across the world. The flight to Istanbul was 5 hours and then another 11 hours to Chicago.

Deliya is watching the house and Obi while we are away.

I am writing this at our gate in O’Hare Airport to take the final flight of our travel home to Marquette. The views from the plane were spectacular as we flew north along the shore of Lake Michigan. I noticed the Upper Peninsula is mostly forest compared to the farmland of southern and central Wisconsin.

Lots of trees in the UP (view from the plane window)

Family Journal: June 19, 2022

Illy Cafe Opens in Tashkent

Tashkent’s infrastructure and businesses are growing at an astonishingly fast rate with upgraded roads, intersections, office buildings, apartment blocks, restaurants, shopping malls, skyscrapers, etc. Our neighborhood near the school is no different. A retail building about 500 meters towards the school on Sarikol Street was recently completed. Behind it is several apartment blocks. The first business to open is illy Coffee an Italian coffee chain that in some ways rivals Starbucks. The Kralovec family and school community are excited to have an upscale cafe and restaurant open so close to the school.

Navoiy Street Bike Path

I am not a big fan of the all of the housing developments, but one facet of the development I do like is additional bicycle paths. The Soviets made wide streets and sidewalks and the government is taking advantage of this and adding designated red cement bike paths next to the walking paths. There is not a coordinated network yet but they are growing. It would be a really good project to map all of the paths in the city and provide to interested cyclists.

I took this photo from the bridge overlooking the Bo’rjar Canal. A Korean/Uzbek joint venture is constructing a retail/real estate development along the banks for the canal. The Russians made this canal in 1936, and it still produces electricity today for the city. The canals in the city are really lovely in Tashkent, which has a hot, dry summer climate. I would be concerned about the stability of the steep banks along the canal. I found this interesting website with information about the history of Tashkent while looking up the canal.

Nukus Street

I end this blog post with a photo from the ninth floor of an apartment overlooking Nukus Street northwest. We had a nice dinner party with friends in their new apartment and it had nice views overlooking the city. It rained a couple of times this weekend, interspersed with hot, sunny weather. The summer storms cooled down a hot city.

Asian U23 Cup Fever!

Our family is following the biennial AFC U23 Asian Cup “Uzbekistan 2022”! The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is the governing body of soccer for 47 countries in Asia and Oceania. Uzbekistan is a serendipitous host because China was originally going to host the tournament but due to COVID restrictions there, the Cup was moved to Uzbekistan. It was initially going to be in January, but with the Omicron wave hitting Tashkent about that time, it was moved to June. 

The U23 is an age restriction and this competition develops the future men’s national soccer teams. I spoke with the Australian Public Relations Manager at one of the games and he mentioned that most of the teams selected players they are considering for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Olympic men’s soccer moved to have the Under 23 teams compete so the youth team could play in a global tournament between World Cups. In the Olympics, however, the U23 team can have three players over the age of 23. 

Tickets in the VIP section cost a reasonable 50,000 UZS ($4.75) and other than the Uzbekistan games, the stadiums had few people in them. It was easy to bring the family, and we attended three games.

Australia 1 – Turkmenistan 0 (Quarterfinals – Milly Stadium) 

It was a bit of a surreal experience being the only native English-speaking fans of probably 20 people total in the prime seating section. The tickets were about $4.50 each and I convinced Nadia and Ocean to go. We were behind the benches and could shout and be heard by the Australian team. The Turkmenistan section of approximately 500 people was on the other side of the stadium. Turkmenistan’s strategy of “flopping” and wasting time was frustrating to watch. I think they believed they were over-matched and the goal was to get to penalty kicks. Fortunately, Australia scored in the 70th minute. Turkmenistan started playing aggressively after that and actually had several good chances to score goals. They should have done this from the start! 

My wife Nadia was born and raised in Melbourne and she was excited to cheer for the Australians. There were no Australian fans at the game and many of the supporters were with the senior team. Australia defeated UAE and Peru to qualify for November’s World Cup in Qatar this week.  

Japan 3 – South Korea 0 (Quarterfinals – Pakhtakor Stadium) 

This game was much more entertaining than the first game we attended. There is a large Korean population in Tashkent and their section was full. We sat in the Japan section because we used to follow the team when we lived in Osaka (2014-2019). It was a great atmosphere and we were singing along with the “Nippon” cheers. I felt sorry for the Korean delegation because Japan was much faster than the Koreans. Their counter attacks were difficult to defend and they could have scored more than the 3 goals. Korea put in a good effort and looked good in their pink/red uniforms. 

Saudi Arabia 2 – Australia 0 (Semifinals – Pakhtakor Stadium) 

The only tickets that were on sale were a section of mixed Australian/Saudi fans. Of course, we were the only Aussie fans, surrounded by about 150 Saudi supporters. Saudi Arabia was a much better team. They were faster and more robust and the Aussies couldn’t get much going against the dominant Saudis. Most of the Saudi team were Africans rather than Arabs which was surprising. In researching at the demographics of the country, it is 90% Arab and 10% Afro-Arab which I didn’t know. It makes sense with the kingdom being so close to Africa. The highlights of the game were the two penalty kicks that were saved by both teams. We had a bit of fun with the Saudi fans and despite the dominant performance of the Saudis, we had a good time.

The finals are Sunday with Saudi Arabia taking on the host Uzbekistan who defeated Japan 2-0 in the other semifinal game. Japan and Australia square off today in the consolation game.

If you can’t beat them, join them!

Student-led Conferences

Nadia and I really enjoyed the student-led conferences on Thursday morning. The secondary school scheduled 1-hour sessions for every student with their parents. The teachers set up the framework for them to reflect on their learning and share what projects were most impactful on them. We loved the fact that it forced our teenage children to talk with us for a full hour! Oliver would not let me film his conference, but thankfully Ocean did! It was such a special morning for us! We are so proud of the adults our children are becoming.

Oliver had a really good year overall. He has taken a leadership role in the school’s Model United Nations program, was the captain and a star player on the volleyball team and he designed unique Pokemon cards for his MYP Personal Project exhibition. Nadia has been outstanding as a mother, “guiding” Oliver to spend more time on assessed projects. Oliver’s challenge next year will be entering the IB Diploma Programme. He will need to develop research and writing skills, analytical thinking, time management and organization. I think he is up to it and hopefully,Nadia and I will have enough time and energy to support him.

Ocean is also maturing and she had a stellar academic year. She too played volleyball and basketball and participated in other extracurricular activities. She has an eye for art and design and is very creative.

Uzbek Tennis Professional Dennis Istomin

Wednesday night my son Owen and I played tennis on the outdoor hard courts of the Olympic Tennis School. He of course beat me 6-3 and we had a good time working on different aspects of our games. We were walking to the front gate after playing and we noticed on one of the clay courts a tall player hitting the ball extremely hard. It is easy to spot an elite athlete immediately because we both had that “wow” reaction. ATP professional tennis player Dennis Istomin was getting a workout at the school, just a couple of courts over from us. Istomin was born in Russia but moved to Tashkent when he was 3 years old and plays for Uzbekistan. Seeing professional athletes up close is always a thrill. Watching him for just a few minutes makes you realize how difficult it would be to return a serve from a professional. He is on the tail end of his career, but he still moved well and at 6-1 with long arms, he seemed to be able to cover both sides of the court effortlessly.

It was interesting reading through his career overview as he was a mid-level professional player and that earned him $6 million dollars in prize money over the past 15 years or so. This despite have an overall losing record on the ATP Tour (230-266). He reached a ranking high of #33 (August 2012) in the world and won two ATP tour singles titles and 3 doubles titles. Another career highlight for him was beating Novak Djokovic (2017) in the second round of the Australian Open. He also won 25 Challenger and ITF tournaments earlier in his career. He participated in 251 ATP tour events, winning 2 titles, and losing in finals 3 times. In Grand Slams his career record was 35-45 and he made it to the fourth round three times. He is currently ranked 310 in the world.