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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reports of my Hometown's Death have been Greatly Exaggerated

Wonder if a major news magazine---let's just say, Newsweek---announced to the entire world that the very city in which you live, love, work and enjoy was "dying". Death throes. Stagnant. No pulse. Hopeless. Drained of life. Flatlined.  How would you react? Would you feel sad?  Worried?  Accepting? Upset?  Stick a for-sale sign in your yard and start packing? If you live in Detroit or Florida or several other sections of the United might heave a forlorn sigh, shed copious tears and let the bank take your house because you know first-hand that the article bore some truth.

But if you live in Grand Rapids, Michigan and some lousy magazine published an asinine, baseless, demeaning article about your'd shout WTF and break into a song and dance video! On YouTube, no less. Of course, you'd question what on earth the magazine based their erroneous calculations on. You'd feel insulted and offended by their egregious misrepresentations. You might even be embarrassed and humiliated that people around the world would read their derogatory obituary about your beloved town. You'd be worried that people would never visit you again. You'd be concerned that jobs would be lost. Tourists would never vacation here. You'd be disappointed and angry because...your city is not dying. The magazine's coup de grace for Grand Rapids is absolutely, positively untrue. False. Lies. Wretchedly wrong conclusions and misleading inconsistencies. Not exactly something to sing about. But more about that later.

Back in January, 2011, Newsweek Magazine listed Grand Rapids as one of ten dying U.S. cities. If you have ever been to Grand Rapids in recent years, you would know for certain that the city is alive and well and exploding with energy, enthusiasm, art, culture, new job growth, optimism and excitement. Grand Rapids is a beautiful, mid-size city on a grand and scenic river with many tree-shaded neighborhoods that evoke a Norman Rockwellish small town charm. Yet you can feel the sizzling pulse of a bustling, big city every time you go downtown. Every year in the fall for two full weeks, Grand Rapids celebrates art with an amazing ART PRIZE, art exhibit extravaganza---with artists from all over the world displaying their monumental creations around the entire downtown area...inside and out.  If you've haven't been to Art Prize, Google it. And make a point to visit. Even if you're not an art fan, you'll be astounded at Art Prize. Not only is art abundant here, it turns out Hollywood has discovered our town. A-list actors, directors and producers have been closing down city streets and pumping out movies for over five years now...bringing new vitality, income and jobs to the city. Add to that, world class museums, acclaimed hospitals, colleges and universities, 5 star hotels, parks and green spaces, stunning scenery (we're not far from 4 of the 5 Great Lakes) and even a lunkhead can see that Grand Rapids is reaching for the stars; not digging its own grave.

But I digress. Grand Rapids is not without it's problems. Like nearly every single town in the United States...businesses have closed, people have lost jobs and the public school system sucks big time. But unlike many other communities...the residents of Grand Rapids have revived their city with astounding philanthropical generosity and community spirit.

Now finally, here's the song and dance part. Thanks to the brilliant, social-networking genius of a twenty-something local resident and event promoter with the cheerful real name of Bliss...Rob Bliss....Grand Rapids was able to smack back at Newsweek in a friendly, fun way and promote the city around the world at the same time. Bliss orchestrated an epic lip-dub video to the song, Bye Bye Miss America Pie. (Not exactly sure why he chose that tune but it works.) Nearly 5000 residents participated. The video has gone viral on YouTube. News channels around the world have picked up on it. Newsweek, itself, backed down on the "dying city" thing and their editors are now claiming they're big fans of our town. In the process, the people of Grand Rapids have again come together to show the world their civic pride and to let everyone know we are indeed alive and kickin' and just plain awesome!  Come and visit my home town and see for yourself.

And now, sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of this way-cool video that made the world take notice of my hometown.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Get Your Groove on With....Tai Chi

It's not LSD. But it's still mind-blowing. You don't even have to smoke it. Yet you can quickly inhale yourself into a state of ecstasy. It will render you blissfully high but it's not against the law. It's been around for centuries. Today, it's gaining worldwide popularity as the go-to alternative for natural mind, body and soul enrichment. It's like a triple threat combination of expensive psycho therapy, killer aerobics and weed. Only you don't have to spend a fortune, work up a sweat or gobble down a pan of brownies afterwards.

It's Tai Chi (tie chee). This ancient Chinese art uses gentle, flowing movements to improve health, reduce stress and provide physical and spiritual serenity. The renown Mayo Clinic describes tai chi as "meditation in motion" and touts its effective stress relieving and health improving benefits.

I discovered tai chi about twenty years ago in San Francisco. During my early morning walks around the city by the bay, I came across groups of mostly elderly Asian people exercising in slow motion in beautiful public gardens and parks. They appeared so serene. It looked like they were pantomiming catching butterflies with very deliberate, delicate, ballet-like movements. A sweet old gentleman with a neatly trimmed silver beard, stopped his routine and sat down with me on a park bench. He explained to me in broken English what tai chi was about. I've never forgotten.

However, it wasn't until just recently that I had the opportunity to take up tai chi. I love it. There are many variations of tai chi but most forms involve a series of precise postures that flow into one another ensuring that your body is in constant motion. The concentration required for tai chi forces you to live in the present moment and put aside all distressing thoughts. It is a very effective stress reliever. The movements are coordinated with precise breathing to help you achieve a sense of inner calm. Indeed, it's a beautiful thing.

The great thing about tai chi is that it's not expensive and it doesn't require any special equipment or clothing. It can be practiced indoors or out. Alone or with a group. Because it's a low impact exercise, tai chi is suitable for just about any age or physical ability.

Ironically, tai chi was originally developed in ancient China as a swift, deadly martial art form of self defense. Think: killer ninjas. Over the centuries, it has evolved into a peaceful, gentle form of meditative exercise that relieves stress, clears the mind of negative thoughts and brings harmony to your well-being. Medical studies show that tai chi promotes better balance control, muscle strength, joint flexability, cardiovascular fitness and can actually reduce the pain of certain physical ailments such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Best of all, you feel happy and relaxed after every session.

Another wonderful bonus of joining a tai chi group is that you meet a lot of cool, interesting, mellow people. In my various tai chi classes, I've encountered a lady who plays the mandolin in an Irish rock band; a 91 year old woman who can ying and yang like nobody's business; a nun who dresses like a fashion model in chic crop pants and huge sunglasses; a 50 plus gal who races motorcycles; a rocket scientist turned cupcake baker; and a former lady of the evening who now grows prize-winning roses. Put them all together and they spell: Funky Party!

And that my friends, is how I get my groove on with tai chi. Try it yourself and feel the joy.

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