Home & Family

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My family and I have enjoyed a week in my hometown of Caspian, Michigan and getting back in touch with family, friends and my roots in my beloved Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I wish my mom and dad were alive to see their grandchildren and us. Jimmer, Andy and I took a photo in the doorway of our house, the first time all three of us have been together in a long time.

This is the first time we’ve been back in over 5 years and the visit reminded me how beautiful, quiet and remote the region is. For those non-Michiganders reading this post, the state is divided into two peninsulas, with most of almost 10 million people located in the southern, mitten-shaped peninsula. The northern or Upper Peninsula is the size of the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined. The population of the entire peninsula is 303,181. That is a lot of land for few people, which, after living in Osaka, Japan, is a welcome change.

I am concerned with the declining economy and population of the Upper Peninsula, especially the six western counties. The “boom time” for the region was from 1870 to 1920 when iron ore and copper mining were at its peak. It has been a slow decline since then. The 2010 census population of 82,668 is almost 50% less than the peak of 153,674 in 1920 of the six western counties. Overall, the UP has gone from 332,556 in 1920 to an estimated 303,181 in 2016, a 9% decrease. Only the city of Marquette has seen significant increases and has a population of over 20,000 people today. You can really see and feel it in many of the smaller towns, with main streets mostly shuttered buildings or vacant lots and abandoned houses dotting neighborhoods. With not much economic opportunities, young people move to more populated areas of Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, etc. and do not come back. The death rate is also higher than the birth rate, with many retirees coming back due to the outdoor beauty, scenic outdoors and low cost of living, but not young families coming in. I see a continued slow, steady decline in the short and long term future. A few small towns will be fine. Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie and Houghton will thrive due to universities and hospitals being located in them. Menominee will also be OK due to its proximity to Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Fox River Valley.

However, I am still optimistic about the Upper Peninsula. Because there are so many forests, lakes and snow to support outdoor activities, tourism will grow. I also think that technology will keep getting better and allow people to be more flexible in where they live. Although there are places with more dramatic wilderness areas in the American west, the outdoors of UP is just as refreshing to the soul for me and I guess many others. I am concerned about the role of climate change. What will the great lakes and the many smaller lakes and rivers become with increased temperatures?

I am glad to have been born and raised in a place so distant from major metropolitan areas. Thinking back to the pre-internet and pre-cable television area, it was even more distant culturally, from the rest of the USA. Hopefully, I will always maintain a connection to the Upper Peninsula.

 

 

 

 

 

Porcupine State Park

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My brother Jim and I and our children with the Lake of the Clouds in the background.

The Porcupine State Park, with 93 square miles of protected forests, small mountains and a big piece of Lake Superior lake shore is one of the nicest places in the Upper Peninsula (UP). We spent the afternoon and early evening exploring the park and had a delightful day. It was a bit sad to drive through Ontonagon, White Pine, Bruce Crossing and other small towns to see how the area is economically depressed and depopulating. With so much scenic beauty, I am surprised that there are not enough ways to make a living in this part of the UP. However, for those people who do get up there, they have the place to themselves and after living in Japan and spending summers on the east coast of the USA, it is nice to have so much quiet and room to breathe.

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Ocean does her best Matthew Stafford impression.

After a few bouts of rainstorms on the drive up near Lake Gogebic, the skies cleared as we parked the car just inside the park border for an afternoon swim. The water was clear and relatively warm and the long beach almost empty. We tossed around the football and buried Owen in the sand. It was so nice even Nadia got in. She only does the turquoise, sandy bottom warm water if it is not a pool, so it must have been good conditions.

Hike to Lake of the Clouds

We followed that with a hike down to the Lake of the Clouds. The mosquitoes were formidable, but it was a pleasing walk down to the lake through some old growth forests. The porcupine mountain state park protects a pretty large forest of old growth trees, especially the hemlock-maple type forest. Absolutely beautiful! I think on our next visit we’ll spend the night and maybe do a Porcupine / Apostle Islands / Duluth – Lake Superior Super Tour!

We finished the day by hitting the buffet at the Lac Vieux Desert Casino on the Ojibwa Indian reservation just north of Watersmeet.

 

Visit to Marquette, Michigan

We drove 90 minutes up to one of my favorite places on the planet, Marquette, Michigan. We wanted to see Lake Superior and to also talk to the admissions office of Northern Michigan University to check out in-state versus out-of-state status of our family. With Owen starting high school next year, we are already looking at universities and with the world to choose from, we need to consider the possibilities starting now.

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I love Marquette because of its progressive culture and intellectual might of a university, while still being in the rural Upper Peninsula. Lake Superior, the pine forests and fresh air are absolutely refreshing to one’s spirit and it is a very peaceful lifestyle. The one drawback is the cold weather, but with lots of snow due to western winds coming off Lake Superior, it is ideal for cross-country skiing. I find the people of Marquette not as friendly as other towns of the UP, it might be because it is the unofficial capital of the UP, although it only has around 20,000 inhabitants.

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The gale force winds created huge waves on Lake Superior which made swimming a lot more exciting. The water was warmer than the air. The video on the top of this post shows the Kralovecs swimming and the lifeguards in blankets. We hiked to the top of Sugarloaf to take in the views. Stunning! We also toured Northern Michigan University, including running in the Superior (Yooper) Dome, the largest wooden structure in the world. All in all another fun day in the UP!

Boys sprinting at Superior Dome

Indians Defeat White Sox

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The Kralovecs at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago

The entire family went to Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago to watch AL Central Division foes, the Cleveland Indians defeat the Chicago White Sox 9-3. It was the Indian’s eighth consecutive win.  Indian second baseman Jose Ramirez was the hero with four hits and 3 RBIs. Cleveland has a solid lineup from top to bottom and is well-managed by Terry Francona and it showed. They had runners on base the whole game.

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We had good seats on the first base side

My big takeaway from the game was realizing that baseball is healthy and its popularity is not lessening. It was a fantastic night out for the family! Most of the people in attendance are not really into baseball, but they are there for the food and beer, the between inning entertainment and just an excuse to sit outside on a cool summer evening. Baseball at the stadium is really a restaurant and bar business, supplemented with clothing sales, parking, etc. The kids were loving trying to catch a foul ball. At the end of each inning, they sprinted down to the first row, hoping the first baseman would flip them the ball as he trotted to the dugout. They were not in luck.

We took the train from Andy’s apartment downtown and it was quite convenient. We are Detroit Tigers fans, but it was our only chance to see an MLB game this year. I wanted to see the Cubs game the previous evening, but tickets were too expensive. It was “Christmas in July” theme night and after the game, fans enjoyed a firework show to Christmas music.

Kids trying to get a ball

I hope Cleveland does well in the playoffs since we watched them. Francisco Lindor was smaller than I expected. He is also extremely flexible and several of the Cleveland players performed some pretty amazing stretches before the game. Danny Salazar pitched five no-hit innings. The first place Indians are 2.5 games ahead of Kansas City in the AL Central and should hold off the Royals to win the division, but we’ll see. The Astros and Red Sox will be tough competition.

 

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Post game fireworks

 

The Mysterious Paulding Light

 

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The boys and Uncle Jimmer are awed by the Paulding Light

 

This past week I spent the week visiting my hometown of Caspian, Michigan for the first time in over 5 years. I will be uploading posts from the week as I get them completed. We had slow internet at my house and I am working on a project for my doctorate and had limited time to write. I hope to get several posts up reflecting on our trips this summer.

One of the attractions that everyone should see when they are in the western part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is seeing the mysterious Paulding Lights.  This is a natural or unnatural phenomenon, depending on who you believe. The lights were first reported by teenagers to the police in 1966, and ever since, it has been a tourist attraction. The lights were featured on a SyFy channel program. They are similar to the Marfa lights in west Texas.

Paulding is a tiny, unincorporated village located about a 40-minute drive north west of my hometown of Caspian in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Mysterious lights, hovering and bouncing in the distance horizon above the trees could be seen at the end of a side road off Highway M-45. We have been there several times, both in summer and winter and there are always a few people there. Paulding is not exactly easy to get to, but tourists and locals from northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. On this trip, some guys in a truck were getting stoned and another family was recording the lights with their phones.

the light

This time my brother and I took the kids for the first time, so we played up the unnatural phenomenon theory. A train employee was run over while working on the lines and ever since then, his ghost swings his lantern to warn others. Others speculate UFOs or I heard some other stories. We had the kids good and scared when we approached the dead end, marked by a roadside metal fence. There is an ATV trail that leads towards the lights, so we hopped the barrier and walked to the lights. About 200 yards from the barrier, there is a small bridge above a beaver dam and after about 30 minutes, we turned around. We saw the lights, but couldn’t work out with the naked eye, what exactly was causing them.

Michigan Technological University researchers discovered that the lights are car headlights and tail lights from passing cars on M-45. An atmospheric inversion has a magnifying effect and allows people to see eerie lights hovering above trees in the distance. I am not sure how that works.

It was a classic UP adventure and the kids loved getting scared and walking through the refreshing pine forests at night.

Tribe: On Homecoming & Belonging – A book review

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I read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, on the trip from the east coast to Chicago. He is famous for his book The Perfect Storm which was made into a movie in the late 90s. I saw his excellent Afghanistan war documentary, Restrepo. The book is almost a long essay at 158 pages, perfect for a day of travel. The book resonated with me and gave me plenty to think about. Although a bit simplistic, he does make a strong argument for his point of view and the writing is clear and concise.

My big takeaway is the importance of community for our happiness. It is fundamental to our happiness to have a greater interest than ourselves and have intimate, close relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, customers, etc. Junger asserts that our modern, Western lifestyle disrupts community and relationships. He takes the point of view of returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. He spent a year embedded with troops and experienced the intense camaraderie that comes from living together in a stressful situation.  The affluent and urbanized society the troops come home to is nothing like they experienced in the military.

Junger goes on to give many examples and statistics, things like the high incidences of mental illness (depression, loneliness, poor health) that are symptoms of us putting extrinsic values over intrinsic ones. Our long evolution of communal, tribal living, sharing our life with extended family in dangerous environments, has shaped what makes us human.

The book details American colonists preferring to live with the Native Americans over staying in their rigid societies, or despite seeing their community being destroyed, the residents of Sarajevo missing the intensity and close connections the siege created during the breakup of Yugoslavia. (Junger was a war journalist for many years.) He sees the current Republican versus Democrat divide as the tribe wanting all members to contribute to the common good of all balanced with the need to help those who cannot take care of themselves.

The book inspired me to promote closer relationships in my work as the head of an international school. Teachers sharing ideas, frustrations, accomplishments with each other in what can be an isolating profession. Teachers going beyond the normal classroom instruction and truly getting to know their students and their parents. Reaching out to parents to help them raise their children in this age of personal technology and access to so much information, good and bad. And most importantly, all school stakeholders keeping the interest of others and the school community first. If we are all looking out for one another, all of us individually will be happier.

 

 

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Lakeshore Bike Path near Adler Aquarium 

 

The highlight of our second day in the city was riding bikes along the Lake Michigan trail. We rode over 25 kilometers round trip south to the University of Chicago campus. I love the Great Lakes and swimming in the cool, fresh water was invigorating. We stopped at one of the numerous beaches for a quick dip. In the summer, in my opinion, Chicago rivals Miami and other coastal cities with its proximity to the water. Beaches do not come to mind when one thinks of Chicago and perhaps they should promote them and invest more into developing them. There were not a lot of people using them. A beautiful summer day in a city of 7 million people, I would have thought there would have been more people on them. I love bike paths and parks and this part of the city abounds with them. The rental bikes were good quality but expensive. We stopped heading south in part due to the amount of crime in the south part of Chicago.

We stopped heading south in part due to the amount of crime in the south part of Chicago. The city has the largest number of gangs in the USA and a murder rate much higher than LA or New York, but not as much as other smaller cities like Detroit or New Orleans. In reflecting upon the crime statistics, it is a symptom of poverty and lack of opportunity. Most of the victims and perpetrators are African American young adult males. Lowering the crime rate would need a huge investment in the poor neighborhoods to make a whole-scale culture and economic change. NPR’s This American Life did an excellent podcast on Harper High School, which is close to Hyde Park, where we stopped our bike ride yesterday. They really define the daily challenges faced in the crime-ridden sections of Chicago.

 

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Ocean with the Chicago River in the background

Last night we had dinner at the Saigon Sisters which is owned by a childhood friend of mine. His family belonged to our parish in my village and it was great to see him after such a long time. We had a delicious meal and I recommend it. Thanks to Dan for the special treatment! It was another example of people from my village moving to cities and doing quite well. It is sad that economic opportunities are not available in small towns anymore.

 

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Caspian Reunion at the Saigon Sisters