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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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

 

 

 

Visiting Chicago

 

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Chicago River

 

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.

 

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Michigan Avenue

 

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.

 

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Maggie Daley Park

 

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.

 

 

 

Hickory Run

Hike on Fireline Trail

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.

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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.

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Visiting Washington DC

 

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Nadia on the steps of the Supreme Court

 

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.

 

 

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Catching up with friends on the “Poto-Mac” boardwalk in historic Alexandria

 

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.

 

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We had to do a “drive-by” of the Trump Hotel

 

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.

 

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American Apotheosis on the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda

 

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.

 

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A beautiful summer evening on the National Mall

 

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.

 

ocean with busker