Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | December 21, 2015

The Five People You Meet In Heaven

Five PeopleIf you want something to read that will really oil the gears in your brain, pick up a copy of “The Five People You Meet In Heaven.” I read this with the my grandkids in Texas over Thanksgiving break. Then tonight my wife and I watched the movie on Netflix. The movie is very faithful to the book, and I recommend them both, but I would read the book, then watch the movie.

Be forewarned that, regardless of your religious background, you will find this to be horrible theology, but don’t get hung up on that. Theology is not the point of the book. It is a fantasy constructed to get you to think about the things that are really important in this life, and to think about your place in the grand scheme of this grand adventure that we are all on.

It is not a book about death and the afterlife; it is a book about affirming life, here and now.  I think it is a wonderful read, especially during Christmastime when we really pause to consider the people in our lives and the importance of our relationships.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | October 31, 2013

Reggie’s Woods

It was many years ago on a Halloween eve.  My friend Paul and I volunteered to scare the living daylights out of some kids—small groups of middle school students, I think—as they neared the end of a church-sponsored, haunted trail out in the expansive woods behind a church member’s home, what I like to call “Reggie’s back 40.”

Dense autumn woods

We spent a good chunk of the afternoon with fellow high school teens setting up a walking path through the woods—a path that contained all sorts of Halloween horrors for anyone who dared to take the challenge.

Now it was time to lie in wait, prone on the ground, hidden out there in the dark and cold of a moonless late October’s evening.  As soon as a group of kids got near us, we jumped up from the brush and the leaves and started yelling bloody murder and running toward them quickly!

As part of our preparation, we had strung a line between two trees so that we could travel along it, thereby avoiding running into any other trees in the densely wooded area.  (I remember that we had trouble even finding the line in the cave-like, black darkness.)

We must have been dressed as zombies or ax murders or something—I don’t remember; maybe Paul does.  What I do remember is that the final joke was on us, or on me anyway.  When we emerged from the woods, I found that I was covered nearly head to toe with large welts—hives!

I’m not sure all of these years later whether or not Paul shared my fate.  There must have been something in the brush or the leaves or along the ground that got to me.  It was actually a bit scary, and it made for an unpleasant end to a very memorable evening.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | October 18, 2013

Cursed Sports

Detroit_tigers_alternate_logo_tigerI am not a big sports fan.  About the only time I ever watch sports is at the end of a season, and then only if my team of choice is making a run at a championship.

So if the Lions or Tigers or Bears—oh my!—or Red Wings are playing for all the marbles, I’ll sit back in my easy chair and watch a little of the game.  Inevitably, my team starts to lose as soon as I begin to watch, even if they were way out in front when I sat down.

Usually, I won’t watch a whole game.  Rather, I’ll flip back and forth between the game and something more interesting—say, a documentary on the migration of the arctic tern on PBS.  Whenever I change the channel back to the game, the opposing team immediately hits a home run, scores a touchdown, or lands a puck in the net.  When this happens, I get out of there as fast as I can and return to my bird watching.  Sometimes this works; other times, it is too late to lift the curse, and the opposing team goes on to trounce my team.

Late in the season, and late into a game—say the 7th or 8th inning of a baseball game—I might start watching, and hang in there to its bitter end.  This happened the other day with the Tigers.  In game 2 of a playoff match with the Boston Red Sox, Detroit was ahead 5-1 in the 7th.  That was when I picked up the game.  In the 8th, the Red Sox went on a rampage, scoring 4 runs.  I sat there and watched it all happen.  In the 9th, the Sox scored another run and walked away with a 6-5 win.  I brought the curse to the game the moment I started watching; I rained down the Black Death upon the Tigers.  It just had to be me, cursed wretch that I am.  Who or what else could it possibly be?

I don’t much like sports, and sports have a distinct distaste for me.  We get along best when I stay away from sports; I avoid them, and they, in turn, leave me alone.  Today the Tigers are down 3 games to 2—yes, I watched a little of the game again last night.  Now they must win 2 games in a row to advance to the World Series.  Whether that will happen, depends in large part on me.  Do I have the discipline to stay away?  Or will I succumb to the 11th hour enticement of America’s grand pastime?

Tomorrow night is game 6.  It’s all on the line for the Tigers.  Tiger fans will urge me to read a book, I’m sure.  They know as well as I do that I am just plain bad for sports.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | October 6, 2013

See Sharp?

sharp signWhen I was a kid, telephones had rotary dials, and the “#” sign was a purely musical symbol, a “sharp” sign.

As a young man, technology gave us the touch tone phone, and along with it the “#” sign took on a whole new meaning as the “pound” sign.

As I increasingly become a throwback to an earlier age, and telephones no longer have dials or keys of any type, the “#” forges ahead with yet another identity. It is now known as a “hash” tag.

The simple little “#” symbol wields great power. As a sharp sign, it can alter the course of a music score; as a pound sign, it can connect you with your bank, your pharmacy, your office voice mail; and as a hash tag, it can facilitate instantaneous, worldwide communication—it can organize revolutions and topple governments.

O little “#” sign: you have come a long way. But as for me, I think I’ll just keep you on my page of music. Things are safer for me that way.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | July 8, 2013

Not A Frequent Flyer . . . Or Even An Occasional One

NoPlanesWI always thought it was interesting how airlines could just cancel flights out of the blue, for no good reason except that they weren’t able to sell enough seats to make the run profitable.

If you are a flyer—and I’m not—I imagine it goes something like this: “Yeah, well, we don’t have enough people flying, so we’re just going to cancel the flight. Good luck to you now.”

It seems to me that the purchase of a ticket should be something akin to a contract, and it should be honored by both parties.  After all, they have your money, and you have a bought-and-paid-for ticket.  Just try canceling or changing the ticket after you’ve bought it.  See how that works out for you.  I’m guessing you will be opening your wallet wide and watching as the 50- and 100-dollar bills fly out like ducks in a marsh following a gunshot.   But then, I don’t know.  Like I said, I’m not a flyer.

On the other hand, when the airline cancels your flight do you get a discount on a new flight?  Do you get an overnight stay at a hotel—courtesy of the airline?  What about a free dinner or breakfast?  What if the canceled flight means that there is no way to get you to your destination in time for whatever meeting or event that was the whole purpose of the flight.  Do they even refund your money?  These are questions I don’t know for sure.  Like I said, I’m not a flyer.

All that I do know for sure is that when I sell something, I need to deliver the goods or I am committing fraud.  Do that enough times, and I’ll eventually end up in jail!  Why isn’t the same true for airlines that commit fraud by taking your money for their goods and then not delivering?

I don’t get the whole air travel thing anyway.  To me, it goes something like this: Pay a small fortune for a ticket; drive an hour to an airport; get there two hours before the plane leaves; spend an hour getting radiation treatments and a complimentary colonoscopy; contend with rude and impersonal ticket agents and gatekeepers; finally board the plane (if you are lucky), but then have your overhead luggage sent to the cargo hold because it is too large or there is no more room in the overhead bins or they need the space for a backup black box or something; have a flight attendant (steward or stewardess, if you are from my era of flying) use their official aviation shoehorn to get you into your seat, whereupon you are wedged like a 2″ round peg in a 1″ square hole between two overweight former NFL players whose last showers where taken at the end of the last game they played . . . in 2003; pay 9 bucks for a stale turkey sandwich with half an ounce of turkey hidden somewhere behind a well-preserved, oversized leaf of lettuce; or don’t pay 9 bucks for the sandwich, because you have quickly realized that you will never be able to eat it as your arms are now crossed in front of you, locked in place by the NFL players on either side who are each at least a third of the way into your seat; find yourself along for the ride as your plane taxis out and sits motionless on the tarmac for two or three hours, waiting for clearance to take off even while the air-conditioning somehow manages to break down (as it always does when planes sit out on the tarmac for more than 5 minutes)—you could complain and ask to be let off, but you know that doing so would bring men in blue suits with badges who would accommodate your request, but then take you to a basement room in the airport where they would administer another round of radiation and a second colonoscopy;  finally endure (which is putting it mildly) your flight, if you are one of the lucky ones, and arrive at your destination—hey, you could have been rerouted to Greenland!; then, of course, find that your luggage didn’t arrive with you, but that it was sent to China—and six weeks after you arrive safely home, your luggage arrives via FedEx at your house, but you are missing some valuable jewelry and electronics, even though you find a set of chopsticks that you are sure you didn’t pack.

Now you have gone through all of this and taken a full day to fly from Grand Rapids to Atlanta.  In the same amount of time, you could have had a nice road trip, stopping along the way to see a few sights and eating a couple of nice meals in a couple of nice restaurants—and all on your own schedule!  If time were not a factor, and you really wanted to enjoy your trip, you could have traveled by camel—in much more comfort than an airline seat and breathing better smelling air, too!

As I’m writing, I’m getting excited to take another trip.  I think I’ll quit right here . . . and go saddle up my camel.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | March 7, 2013

It’s A Wonderful Life!

GrandmaThe year was 1913. On March 4, William Howard Taft left office as President of the United States, and Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as the 28th President. Three days later—100 years ago today—my grandmother was born.

Grandma passed away at the age of 98, a mere 16 months away from reaching the century milestone. For years, we had thought that she had a good chance at getting there. To her last breath, she was physically active and mentally as sharp as a tack! The last day of her life, she made her way alone to the Meijer mega-store near her apartment—she still lived alone, without assistance—and then stopped at Burger King for coffee. And then, sometime in the late afternoon, God called her home. She was alone at her death, which is one of the saddest things in life that I can think of. But she lived her life as she wanted, on her own terms, and independent right up to the end; that is one of the most fortunate things in life that I can think of, and something that we all hope will be our lot as we near the end of our days.

Since her death in November of 2011, I have missed my grandmother every day. But I have the hope of a great reunion with her someday. Until then, she will live on in wonderful and precious memories that I will hold for the rest of my days. But I also see her legacy all around me every day. I see her in all of those family members who were touched by her in so many ways, particularly my own children and grandchildren. What a remarkable thing that she got to know a couple of her great-great grandchildren during her lifetime. And not just nominally, but she really got to know them, for they were already 9 and 7 years old at the time of her death. During their formative years, these children were privileged to sit on her lap and listen to her talk about how things were long ago and how things are today; they had opportunities to sit with her at a table on a New Year’s Day or an Easter afternoon and play board games; they were able to share birthday cake and ice cream with her at numerous birthday parties. Her great-great grandchildren where able to engage her in so many ways and on so many occasions, enjoying the company of their great-great grandmother to the fullest over many years. What a special gift this was for these children, my grandchildren. And what a special gift this was for me to see and to be a part of these special years.

So my hat is off to my grandmother on this day, what would have been her 100th birthday. She lived well, and she loved well. And she was loved in return, and will be forever remembered. You can’t ask more from life than that.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | March 1, 2013

PointPlus Addendum

pointscalculatorThese questions where posed this morning on a Facebook Weight Watchers group page of which I am a member:

Are you still doing that which helped you to lose the weight?

How do you stay positive?

During your weight-loss journey, how did you keep going during the “rough patches”?

Did you ever feel like giving up?

I responded to the post, and I thought I would also post my response here as a follow-up to my recent post titled, “Points . . . Plus!”

I am working through the roughest spots right now.  It has been a yo-yo for me for months, but I have generally maintained my weight, though about 5 pounds heavier than I was a year or so ago.  Those are the most stubborn 5 pounds I’ve had to deal with yet.  For me it is just a matter of getting back to the basics.  It is easy to drift off plan over a period of months, even years if you have been at this for a while.  Sometimes I don’t see the drift (it can be ever so subtle), but it becomes apparent on the scale.  This is one reason why it is important to weigh myself regularly, and especially to “officially” weigh in every week at my Weight Watchers meeting.  The scale is where reality sets in.  If you catch the drift quickly, it is so much easier to get back on track than it is to suddenly have to deal with an extra 20 or 30 pounds.

I am convinced that both weight loss and weight maintenance are 90% mental.  If you get the mindset right, doing the nuts and bolts of the work is easy.  And because so much of effectively working the program is mental, I have found that there is a snowball effect: the more you lose, the brighter your outlook, the greater your confidence, and the more you will continue to lose (or maintain).  But this snowball can travel in the opposite direction, too: the more you gain, the less you want to pay attention to what is going on (e.g., avoiding the scale, becoming sporadic with tracking, unbalancing your diet in various ways), and the more you will get discouraged, disillusioned, and even depressed—an there will be no stopping the snowball in the wrong direction.  The snowball running out of control in the wrong direction is the thing that scares me the most because I know where I once was, and I never want to go back there again.  This fear is probably the single biggest thing that keeps me vigilant.

So the challenge for me is not in working the plan; the challenge is in staying sharp mentally, keeping a positive attitude, doing things that brighten my outlook, and getting back to the basics of the program as soon as I notice that I have begun to drift.  The rest then just falls into place.  To be honest, I don’t have the mental thing completely figured out.  But I know if I force the issue for a few days or a week, stoked by a healthy dose of fear—even though I may fight with myself about it—I’ll see the weight loss the next week, and that will get the snowball moving—in the right direction!

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | February 22, 2013

Never Enough Pickles To Go Around

Trust me. It’s a wasteland out there this morning.  No redeeming quality that I can see.  Not fit for man, beast, mouse, dog, or aardvark—let alone the groundhog, who is in the middle of his six more weeks at this point.  I must truly be insane for living in Michigan in the winter.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course.  I could pull up stakes, head south.  But if I did, I’d be back for the summer.  I don’t know which is worse: the winter wasteland of Michigan, or the summer heat and humidity of Florida or the gulf coast.

Lake Michigan 5I used to be tougher than this.  As a school kid, I walked to school three miles in a blizzard (one way), without shoes, with gloves with holes in them, carrying only a half of a ground bologna sandwich for lunch (always light on ground-up pickles), and nothing but well water to wash it down when it came time for lunch (if the well didn’t freeze up).  That’s my story.  Or maybe that’s my dad’s story.  I think it is everyone’s dad’s story, actually.

Let’s face it: there is no good place to live year around.  Maybe that’s why God created mobility, and transportation to facilitate it.  Now if I can just find those car keys.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | February 19, 2013

Points . . . Plus!

bad cookieEvery year on Presidents’ Day, they give out a free cookie at the Subway chain of restaurants. And every year I decline the cookie, even though I get a funny look from the cashier.  I can almost hear her thoughts: “What?  You are turning down something free?  And not just anything.  But one of our yummy cookies?  What’s with you, man?”

So this year, I thought I’d go ahead and graciously accept the cookie.  Now for those who know me, I have been on the Weight Watchers program for over four years.  The program assigns certain points values to foods, and the participant is allowed a certain number of points each day.  So I took the cookie, and I ate it—and it was SO good!  I figured it was one of those little indulgences.  I would work it into my daily points (or as Weight Watchers now calls them, PointsPlus) allowance.  I was thinking this one cookie might be 3 points or—worst case—4 points. I can handle that.  I’d go ahead and splurge a bit.

After thoroughly enjoying my little extravagance, I went online through my Weight Watchers e-tools, and looked up the cookie’s points value.  To backtrack a bit: One thing that is taught early on in Weight Watchers is that you should always figure out the points value of a food before you eat it.  Ideally, you should figure your entire meal before you take the first bite.  I was once religious about doing this.  I would make up my dinner tray with a good idea of the points on the tray, but then calculate everything and enter it into my tracker before taking a single bite.  Most of the time, I would have to reheat the food after this process.  But as human nature would have it, the rigid structures we build around ourselves tend to become more elastic as times goes on.  And so this time, I ate first and calculated later.  Imagine my surprise when this Subway cookie logged in at a full 6 points!  I had to check this twice.  It couldn’t be.  Maybe 6 was the value for two cookies.  Nope.  I’d been had—by me!  It was a cold, hard, cruel 6 points indeed!

Now to backtrack again: Those who know me, also know that I am Dutch, very Dutch.  I will pick a penny out of a gutter every time I see one.  I won’t buy anything until I’ve done a dollar-versus-value assessment, a bang-for-the-buck judgment, if you will.  I am the same way with my Weight Watchers points.  I need to see the value, the tradeoff of quantity and nutrition for the points spent.  If the value isn’t there, I simply don’t eat it.  I allow myself daily treats, but usually with foods that have low points values, and at least some nutritional value, that can be worked into the daily allotment without too much trouble.  But 6 points for a cookie?  No way!  The value versus the points hit is a horrible tradeoff.  And every one of those points was completely devoid of any nutritional value.

So there are a few lessons driven home from this experience, lessons that I learned long ago, but lessons that lose their punch until an experience such as this brings them to the forefront once again:

  1. No matter how much you think you have mastered the system, it is very easy to get tripped up now and then.  Having said that, though, I know from experience that it is much easier to pick yourself right back on and continue on your way than it is to lie on the ground and get stiff and out of shape and then try to get back up and walk.  More simply: when you mess up, put it behind you and continue on your way.
  1. It is also easy to forget the lessons learned, lessons that you thought you knew very well, such as figuring the points before you eat the food.  You have to stay on guard always to be successful.  The “slippery slope” analogy is a good one here.  Remember this: You are only one bite away from your next bite . . . and your next bite . . . and your next bite.
  1. It is easy to become complacent.  It is much less easy to stay intent and focused.  I have now done the Weight Watchers program long enough that I can see how, over time, little indiscretions with food can quickly turn into a complete disintegration of the program and the good, healthy habits developed early on in the program.  I have seen this happen with others who, having lost a lot of weight and thinking that they were in control, quit Weight Watchers and gradually regained all of the weight they lost, and then some.  And I have seen these tendencies in myself, so much so that I’ve gained 5 or 6 pounds from my lowest point a couple of years ago.  And where I once could have taken 5 or 6 pounds off in a month, I now go month after month treading water, gaining a pound one week and losing it the next.  The watchword: vigilance.  You must be ever vigilant to be successful.

And so we have the saga of the Subway cookie.  I think that I am actually glad that I accepted the free cookie and ate it, every good bite of it.  But not because it was a really good, satisfying treat; rather, because it brought me back to the lessons that need to be learned, learned well, retained, and practiced daily.

Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | February 9, 2013

The Train Of Life

This train called “Life” hurtles down the tracks toward us.  It slows to a crawl, we jump aboard, and it then picks up steam and continues on at full tilt.

We are welcomed by many fellow travelers as we board.  Along the way, passengers get on, others get off.  We get to know many of them quite well as we journey together.  But all too soon, and all too often, we find ourselves bidding farewell to a beloved fellow sojourner.  Sometimes, we may not even have the chance to say a proper goodbye.  We may simply happen to glance out the window as the train leaves the station and catch a glimpse of a long-time traveling companion, standing alone on the platform, waving goodbye.

ImageOne of the passengers on my train stepped off onto the station platform last week.  Russell Page, my great uncle, was one of those people who was larger-than-life, a presence with which to be reckoned.  From my earliest memories, Uncle Russell and Aunt Virginia were a part of my life.  But our relationship was at a distance because they lived several hundred miles away along the east coast.  So it was always something special when Uncle Russell and Aunt Virginia came for a visit.  We would typically have a small family reunion.  The Michigan contingent of the family would gather for a picnic, or go out to eat at a restaurant, or gather on someone’s deck or patio and enjoy one another’s company around the grill.  It was always a fun, festive time.

My Uncle Russell was born in Washburn, Wisconsin, in 1917.  He was my Grandmother’s younger brother.  The family moved to western Michigan at some point, and eventually my Uncle married a southern gal, my Aunt Virginia, and made his home in the state of Virginia.  Now firmly planted in the south, he and his bride raised a family, one son and one daughter, and he eventually saw two grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren enter his world.  The south was a great fit for him because, among other things, it was home to NASCAR racing, and Uncle Russell loved the world of NASCAR.  He was a part of Junie Donlavey’s #90 racing team for a number of years, and he knew his way around probably every racetrack in the south.  The stories he told would often include colorful tales straight from the racetrack.

Uncle Russell was not only a great storyteller, but also a great jokester, often weaving his sense of humor into his stories.  It was sometimes hard to tell when he was kidding around and when he was serious.  He was usually both at once.  I’m sure I got a lot of my own joking ways from him.  Even into his 90s, it was hard for me to keep up with him when he got on a roll.  I had to be quick on my toes to provide an adequate retort to his one-liners and zingers.  Sometimes, I just stood there, speechless; when I did reply, my comment would often be wholly inadequate.  He was that good!  At my grandmother’s funeral a little more than a year ago, Uncle Russell arrived for the visitation, I said hello to him, and we walked together toward the casket.  He walked slowly, relying on his wooden cane for a little support now and then, his face quite stoic.  As we neared the casket, he quietly and in all seriousness said, “OK.  You can get on up out of there now.”  That was vintage Uncle Russell!  It was humorous, it was serious, and it was just the right thing to say at the time.  For him, it was a way to deal with great grief; for me it was a comfort to know in those few words just how much his sister, my grandmother, meant to him, how much she was loved by all, and how much she would be missed. His words were double-edged: They were a coping mechanism for him; but they were also meant as a comfort for me, I believe.

One of my earliest memories includes Uncle Russell.  It is from a trip to Mackinac Island when I was a very young child.  I remember riding around the island in a basket suspended from the handlebars of a bicycle.  This was back in the late 1950s when such things, I’m sure, would have been quite common.  As I recall, my mother was pedaling the bike, and I distinctly remember arriving at Arch Rock, one of the major landmarks on the island.  From there, I honestly don’t remember much, but I am told that I somehow tumbled down the side of the steep embankment, through the middle of the arch, and landed at the bottom of the hill.  Uncle Russell, who was along for this trip, leaped into action, and without hesitation scurried down the hillside and retrieved little old me.  He saved the day!

Uncle Russell would never miss an opportunity to call me “cue-ball.”  He gave me the name because, having no hair as a young child, I resembled a cue-ball.  As I got older, I sported a “butch” haircut, and it wasn’t until later elementary school that I started to grow my hair out a bit.  So cue-ball was very fitting.  He continued to call me the cue-ball up until the last time I saw him back in 2011.  Now that I’ve come full circle, and no longer have much hair to display, the name cue-ball is as fitting as it ever was.  Uncle Russell surely would find humor in the cue-ball once again living up to his name.

Uncle Russell waved goodbye from the station platform last week, one of many loved ones to do so in my 56 years on this earth.  There is great comfort in knowing that he is now at peace, at rest, in his eternal home.

Time, which knows no constraints of man, passes unchecked.  The train of “Life” rumbles down the track, seemingly faster and faster coming out of each station stop.  Even so, the stops themselves are becoming more frequent.  One by one, well-worn travelers exit the the train, and we are left with empty seats where once a dear fellow traveler sat, where—if we should have our way—he or she should still be sitting.  The great consolation, if there is one, is that we pick up new passengers along the way, passengers who in time will mean as much to us as those who we leave at stations along the way.  And one day, those passengers will bid us farewell.  For eventually the train pulls into our appointed station and stops just long enough for us to step off onto the platform, the platform of the station marked “Eternity.”  And then the train continues on.

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