Category Archives: stories

A Plum Ending

plumsI’ve got one more thing to say about Plums, then I’ll be quiet (unless I think of something else).  I admit that I went a little overboard with the thanks, but I couldn’t help myself.  You see, I was really worried where Danae would wait for me for five hours while I drove from Charlotte.  I had visions of her at best sitting in an uncomfortable fast food joint and at worst wandering the streets.  When I found out that she was in a safe place, I was able to stop worrying and focus my attention on getting there.  When she told me that Michael offered to wait with her no matter how long it took me to get there, I was beside myself with grattitude.  He treated her kindly and with respect all day long.  What a gentleman!

I have told this story many times this week and many have responded with statements like,  “You just don’t see things like that anymore.”   I do not agree.  I believe that there are many decent people doing nice things for no other reason than to be gracious.  Most of us miss it most of the time.  Don’t get me wrong, Michael is one in a million (and so are the other million).  It doesn’t diminish his kindness at all.  The actual thing we don’t see much of is thanks.  We expect people to treat others with respect.  It’s the way things ought to be.  When someone is disrespectful, we feel angry and rightly so.  But the opposite does not hold true as often.  When we are treated courteously and respectfully, we ignore it or dismiss it.  We don’t say thank you enough.  That’s what’s missing.

I think there are biological roots for why we are not as thankful as we could be.  The book, On Intelligence explains from a logical standpoint how the mind works (intelligence).  In short, the authors explain each of us is constantly “predicting the future”.  We constantly receive sensory information from our eyes and ears and nose… We know what’s going on and we expect things to continue like they always have.  Driving down the road in traffic, we expect the cars to stay in their lanes going the right direction, or change lanes slowly and hopefully with a signal.  If someone darts out or passes us like a bat out of hell, we are startled because we didn’t predict that.  As I write this, the ceiling fan in moving the air about in the room.  Until I stopped to think about it I was unaware of the feeling of the air blowing my bald spot.  I was also unaware of the sound of a plane flying overhead.  My mind was used to these sensations and predicted that they would continue.  Here’s the kicker… When the predictions come true, our minds simply throw the information away.  It is not needed.

As humans, we can intentionally stop and pay attention to details that we would otherwise miss.  A fun exercise in Improv Wisdom is to close your eyes and describe the room you are in in as much detail as possible.  Then open your eyes and see what you missed or what you just got wrong.  Clearly we can override our automatic intelligence systems sometimes, but we cannot do it all the time.  It takes effort.

Back to thankfulness.  We miss the gifts that others give us.  Carl Sagan said, “In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” We are all dependent on the work and gifts from others present and past.  It would be impossible to be completely present and aware of everything that we could possibly be thankful for at any one time. But it is a wonderfully eye opening experience to stop and thank someone for what they did for us… even if it was their job.

My final act of thankfulness to Plums (until I get a chance to visit them) is a letter to the editor of the Bryan County News (click to read online).  Facebook messages are nice, but I’m willing to bet that the owners of Plums didn’t go into business to get nice compliments.  They surely did it as a financial investment.  My sincere hope is that one day soon, they are able look at their financial statements and say, “On June 19th, when we were nice to Jim Anderson’s daughter, everything changed for the better.”

Thank you.

P.S.  I just realized today that the letter to the editor will not remain online forever, so I have captured it here…

Bryan County News (Wednesday, June 23, 2010)

Dear Editor: My daughter’s car broke down at exit 87 on her way to Charlotte, N.C. from Orlando, Fla., on Saturday.

I drove the 5 hours from Charlotte to get her and was worried about where she could wait for me. Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop was where she chose to wait. Michael, the manager, was so very helpful and friendly to her. He even let her stay there after closing time until I could get there!

Since we returned home, my friends have been filling their business’ Facebook page with thanks. As satisfying as that has been, none of us live near Richmond Hill.

The Richmond Hill community needs to know what a jewel they have in Michael at Plums. He went above and beyond.

If Michael had been rude or worse, I would have taken the opportunity to blast the restaurant and the people of Richmond Hill. I want to be just as intentional about shining a light on our positive experience. Would you help me go overboard with lavishing thanks on Michael at Plums?

This was my personal blog entry asking my friends to help… http://jimazing.com/blog/2010/06/a-plum-day/

Thank you,

Jim Anderson

A Plum Day

The kindness of a stranger can make the difference between a totally rotten day and a tolerable one with pleasant overtones… A “Plum” Day.

plumsThis morning after mowing the lawn, I was fixing or breaking my edger (depending on whether you consider my intentions or the results) when my phone rang.  Danae was driving to Charlotte from Orlando, FL after a week of Music Therapy training.  When she got to Savannah, GA (well… almost) she stopped for a bite to eat.  When she exited I-95 the engine cut off and wouldn’t restart.  Google and I helped her find a place that would look at it today. She was towed in and the news was not hopeful.  It looks like the timing belt broke, which could be very expensive to fix.

I drove from Charlotte to get her and bring her to our house where her baby girl and dogs were waiting… in fact we are on the road as I type this (Danae is driving). I was very concerned about where she would be for the 4.5 hours it would take me to drive to her.

When the repair shop closed, she walked down the street to a little sandwich shop and made herself at home.  She didn’t know what to expect.  It was, after all, a local place hidden in the back of a little shopping center.  What she found was a gracious store manager named Michael who treated her like royalty all afternoon.

On my way down, I-26 (or as Danae says, “I-twenty-sux) was a parking lot.  I took a longer route around the traffic, which was faster than sitting in it, but slower than I anticipated.  It was clear that I was not going to make it before the restaurant closed at 7:00.

Michael told her not to worry.  Even if he had to close the restaurant for the evening, he would let Danae stay there until I arrived. When I got there around 7:20, Danae was safe and sound and full of terrific stories from her adventure at Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop. Michael was a wonderful host who gave my daughter a safe and pleasant experience in the midst of a pretty horrible day.

I have three little requests for you to consider…

First: I would like to overwhelm Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop with Facebook Fans.  If you are thankful and/or impressed with what they did for Danae, would you go to their page (click here) and click the button to join them?  They had 92 members before me.  Wouldn’t it be cool for their kindness to be the start of a wave of positive attention and new customers for them?  Let’s do it!

Second: Would you share this story with your friends and ask them to become a fan of Plums?

Lastly: If you find yourself traveling south of Savannah in the area called Richmond Hill, please get off I-95 at exit 87, head East on Hwy 17 for a little over a mile.  They are hidden in the shopping center right behind the Verizon store on your right.  Stop in for a sandwich or the best blueberry cheesecake ice cream you ever had.  Tell Michael, “Thanks for watching over Danae and making her day a Plum day.”

See also A Plum Ending

Mollypops and the Rain

It was rainy all weekend when Molly came to visit.  On Sunday I took her out on the porch where I introduced her to the rain.  It was so very cool to see her scanning everything around her and taking it all in; the sound of the gentle rain, the smells, the splash of the raindrops as they hit the ground… we even stepped out and felt the wetness of the rain.  With the inspiration of Danae, I even made up a little rain song for her.

While we sat there I explained it all to her.  I told her that she wouldn’t remember our time together, but I would.  I got Danae to take this picture (and now I have a blog post) to make sure I won’t forget.  I began wondering what difference it really does make.  I feel certain that Mollypops time matters.  I am just sure that sitting quietly watching the rain and singing a little song makes a positive impact in her life, but how specifically?  It isn’t as if this is the kind of thing one can do an experiment to determine.  I can’t love up on her in one life and neglect her in another life and then compare the results.  It makes me wonder… Does this kind of time help a 5 month old shape her values in life.  Will she like the rain because of our Mollypops rain time?  Did she actually did learn some things about the world from our time?  There are so many things that I know, but I don’t know how I know them.  Where did I learn them? How old was I?  Is this how one receives that kind of learning?

Although I can’t be sure how it specifically matters to Molly, I can tell you that our time together impacts me in a deeply.  While we were together on the porch, I felt a warmth and a real sense of purpose.  I am feeling it now as I remember.  I have a sense that it really matters.  I dearly love being the grandpa.

Danny’s Ride

Most of my friends know I am a musician.  A lot of people have influenced me (musically) through the years.  None more than a band director from my high-school years, Danny Leonard.  Danny had (and still has) a music school in Charleston, SC where I grew up.  My junior year of high-school, I joined the school.  As a member of the school, I took private music lessons and was part of the concert band and the jazz dance band.  Every year we had a week long intensive music summer camp, took a tour and made a record.  What a wonderful experience!

Danny was an exacting and demanding music director.  One of my favorite memories (although it was terrifying at the time) was how he would occasionally stop the rehearsal abruptly and point to someone and ask them to sing the part of another section in the band… usually when you were playing too loudly.  So I and the rest of the trombone section would be playing our parts proudly and loudly only to have him stop the band, point and ask one of us to sing the flute part.  The flute part!  Are you kidding?  You mean those quiet little woodwinds way over on the other side of the room!?  He wanted each of us to be able to hear the whole piece; to be aware that our part wasn’t everything.  There was actually other music happening right in the same room.  What a great life-lesson!  Each part is important, but the music of the band is all the parts together.  I could tell you a hundred more stories just like this one.

Last November, Danny and I met at the new music school and caught up on more years apart than I care to admit.  I learned that in recent years Danny had not one, but two battles with cancer and beat it.  If you have ever met Danny, you know that he has a passion that just draws others in.  As he told me about his plans to make a second bike ride across America to raise awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I was hooked and ready to join him.  I offered to help by creating a web site for the trip.  I’m happy to say that they web site is live and the trip begins next week!

Please check it out and subscribe to join me in following their progress as they journey from San Diego, CA to Charleston, SC.  If you are in Charleston this Friday night (April 17th), check out the Blues Brew & BBQ send off bash.

Women!

   Isabelle Allende opened her talk with an old Jewish saying; “What is truer than truth?”  “Stories,” she answered, and began to tell some stories that stirred up a blog entry…  Listening to her stories, I found myself stirred in a way that she probably didn’t intend, but then again, she doesn’t know my story.  Isn’t that the power of a story?  Each of us hears the same story, but we hear it from our own perspective.  Stories don’t lead us all to the same thoughts or the same behavior.  They have the power to stir fires of passion that already exist.

   reading-1986.jpgIsabelle’s told stories about women throughout the world who are making a difference, or sadly, who cannot make a difference.  The 18 minute video is at the end and I hope you will give her a listen. Her stories fanned the flames of a passion that I didn’t even realize was smouldering in my heart.  She told three stories of women making a difference and women who have no voice whatsoever.  She told stories of women who were (and are) raped and beaten for no reason at all.  Shoking and saddening!  She mentioned Wangari Maathai, whose story I heard on Speaking of Faith a few weeks ago… about how she made a difference in Kenya teaching the village women to plant trees which led to changing the livelihoods and even the very climate of her home.  Inspiring!  But that is not what stirred in me.

   I am the proud father of four wonderful daughters (who are very much grown up despite the implications of  this photo).  Without ever really articulating it to myself or to them, I always wanted my daughters to be strong, independent women.  I wanted them to be able to think for themselves and to have the power to follow their passions. I recognized that they were all beautiful and smart, but they were each so unique.  They have gifts, strengths and abilities that no one else on the face of the planet has.  I knew my life was better because they were in it.  Now that I see who they are and who they are becoming, I realize that the whole world is a better place because they are in it!

   My daughters have a voice!  I want a world where their voice is heard… free of preconceived notions about what women can (or should) do.  I have every confidence that they can overcome these obstacles, but it is unnecessary friction.  The friction limits what they can accomplish with so much energy wasted just making heat.  Let’s make the world a better place for my daughters (and all daughters) to succeed.  We need them more than we know.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/isabel_allende_tells_tales_of_passion.html

The Day of the Office Chair

cimg4427.gifIt was just another day in my geeky programmer life.  I got up and rode my bicycle to work.  At that time, my work location was such that I could ride the 4 miles to work without riding on any streets.  When I arrived, my boss asked me if I wanted a nice office chair for free.  I must have had a look of bewilderment on my face because he began to explain.  “You see, I got this nice chair a while back, but my wife doesn’t like it.  You can have it if you want it.  It’s in the trunk of my car.”  I said, “sure.”  So we went to his car and drove out to my house to drop off the chair.  I am sitting in the chair as I type this.

Along the way, we chatted about this and that… nothing important.  When arrived back at the office, the guards in the lobby were all looking at a small TV screen and talking about something that had captured their attention.  They said a plane had flown into a buildng in NY.  I dismissed it thinking that was a strange accident and how silly it was that folks got so engrossed in something just because it was unusual.  It didn’t have anything to do with me, for sure.  As we entered the workplace, I noticed that folks were huddled in little groups.  Someone had a little black and white TV and several were gathered around it.  By this time they were saying that a second plane had flown into a building.  My first thought was that this was no accident. My interest was piqued.

I tried to find something on the internet news sites, but they were all jammed up and unresponsive.  So I thought I would try one of the newsgroups since most people didn’t know what they were, I expected them to be accessible.  They were accessible and a flurry of activity.  I began reading the news and opinions about what happened, whether it was really an attack and by whom.  I was taking everything with a huge grain of salt because of the nature of an unmoderated newsgroup and then I saw a post from someone saying that the pentagon had been hit.  I thought to myself that the alarmist crazys had taken over the newsgroup and decided that it wasn’t reliable enough to be worth reading.  I returned to my work.

Somehow, I got news that they Pentagon part was true and that it was definitely some sort of attack, but I continued to emmerse myself in my work.  Jeanie was was sleeping in. She had been up the wee hours of the morning delivering newspapers and had returned to bed.  She woke to the local talk radio station going on about the events assuming that all of its readers understood the context.  She was completely in the dark about the events.  She called me to find out what in the world was going on. An hour or two later, I got an email telling me to go home due to the events of the morning.  I had an appointment to give blood that day and my first thought was that I should keep that appointment because they were going to need blood, so I went to the collection location, but it was deserted.  So I went home.

I remember feeling shell shocked.  It wasn’t long before I had seen enough of the news on TV.  The repeated images and the incessant talk about the same thing over and over was getting to me.  I needed a diversion.  A few weeks earlier, I had started a project to create two large natural areas in the front yard.  So I methodically walked to the garage, picked up my tools and started mindlessly raking and digging.

Seven years have passed.  The natural area is part of the yard now and looks pretty nice, I think.  It was several months before I gave blood again.  There was such an outpouring of donations from folks who wanted to be a part that  I thought (correctly) the Red Cross wouldn’t be able to handle it all.  After donations started to drop off again, I began donating again regularly (and I still do). The office chair still holds my butt up off the floor.  The world is upside down from the repercussions of the events of that day, September 11, 2001.  My heart still aches for those who lost loved ones.  I still love hearing the stories of what folks remember about that day.

Thanks to my “Dull Geek ” friend.   His story prompted me to write my story.

Growing From the Edges

broken-jim.jpgIn my last post, The San Francisco Trip , I wrote…

We had a great time and a few adventures ; some planned and some not so planned. I am learning that the unplanned adventures are where growth occurs… or not. These are the places where it is possible to get un-stuck.

This is about the unplanned adventure…

The Adventure

The night of the Alcatraz tour, Jeanie and I drove into San Francisco in the car while Justin and Erin came from Berkely on the BART (subway). We parked in a garage and they walked from the BART to Pier 33 where the Alcatraz tour meets. The tour was awesome and afterwards, we had dinner. We offered to drive Erin and Justin to the station because it would save them a mile long walk and also because it was getting close to the last BART run for the night. When we arrived at our garage, the doors were locked and the garage was closed for the night! We couldn’t believe it. In a big city like San Francisco, the garages close? We were without a car.

My feelings were running strong right then. I felt very tired; I was ready to stop walking and go to bed. I felt foolish for having parked in a garage that closed while we were out. I felt confused because I was tired and forced to make a decision that I had never been faced with before. I didn’t know what to do. We quickly discussed what to do next and came to the decision that we were all going on the BART to Berkeley for the night. We quickly realized that we no longer had the luxery of a drive to the BART, we had to walk… FAST to get there AND buy tickets for Jeanie and me before the last train.

We walked and walked and walked some more. Finally arrived at the station and there was a line to get tickets! ARGH! While I waited in line, Erin tried to buy them on the other side of the gates, but that didn’t work. I finally got to the ticket machine and called Justin over to me. I said, “Tell me what to do.” I didn’t have the luxury of time to figure out what to buy or how to tell the machine. He told me which buttons to push and everything was going just fine until the machine rejected my ATM card. I froze momentarily then decided to use the credit card. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t using the card I thought I was. I thought I was using my debit card, but it was a credit card. I said, “Oh, I used the wrong card,” as I put the right one in and typed my PIN. While I was doing that, Jeanie asked me, “Which card did you use?” I’m afraid, my response was not what I wished it had been. In the moment I snapped at her, I don’t remember the words, but the message I sent very strongly was, “It doesn’t matter which card I used, just leave me alone and let me do this!”

I got the tickets and we hurried down the escalator. Just as we stepped off the escalator, the train came to a stop in front of us. It was literally that close of a call. Had we missed the train, I am not sure what we would have done next. I am grateful that we didn’t have to make that decision. After we settled in for the ride, I apologized for snapping at her, but it was clearly not the right time to resolve the issue. We were both just too tired to think clearly. It was a very quiet ride to Berkeley.

When we got to their apartment, Erin was so wonderful. She got on the computer and printed out the instructions for us to ride the BART back the next morning and what bus to catch to avoid the long walk on the other side too. It was just what we needed and I was too sleepy to understand it the night before. We got back, got the car, complained to the garage attendent (who was sorry for us, but charged us the overnight fee regardless). We drove back to the hotel and begged for a little extra time to check out, which they were very gracious to allow us. (Thank you, Holiday Inn Express in Redwood City). Lastly, we checked out of the hotel and drove back to Berkeley to really visit with the newlyweds.

What I Learned

I was not happy with my behavior that night. I was feeling emotions very strongly for good reason and I couldn’t seem to control myself. The next day I was better able to articulate what I learned. On the way to the hotel, I asked Jeanie if I could tell her what I learned about myself. She listened as I shared my heart. I shared with her how I have a tendency (maybe even a need) to focus on a single thing at a time. When I am concentrating on a task, nothing else matters. If someone interrupts me when I am focused, I feel irritable because the thing I am focused on is all that matters to me. That ability to focus is a strength, but if I am not careful, I can run roughshod over people I care about all for the sake of a task. I feel like I want to be left alone and yet, I recognize my need for community.

Mostly what I took away from this experience is a feeling that I am in a bubble with a very thick skin. I try to keep my heart and emotions well within this skin where I have control over them. I imagine others living in similar bubbles. When we move close together, our skins rub agains one another and wear thin. It feels like the emotion escapes as I begin to lose control. It is in the connections, the places where the bubbles touch and rub agains one another that we have the ability to understand ourselves better and to grow. When I feel, and I know I am feeling, I can examine the emotion and ask what belief or desire is causing me to feel that emotion. In this way, I learn what my heart of hearts truly believes and what I really desire from my core being. Let me try to explain…

My friend, Curt used to say, “We say what we think, but we live what we believe.” I think that is true. The heart-belief I am talking about is from the core of our being rather than an intellectual belief that we talk about. It is the belief that is so much a part of us that it controls our behavior. shakerchair.jpgIt is the difference between saying, “I believe that chair will hold me up,” (intellectual belief) and sitting in the chair (heart belief).

What will happen on an emotional level if I sit in the chair and it works just like I expected it to? Nothing. What happens if the chair breaks beneath me as I sit on it? I will feel strongly. I may feel angry or embarrassed. Whatever the emotion, it is easy at that point to blame the chair, but the feelings don’t come from the chair. They come from my core belief that chairs are supposed to hold people when they sit on them.

My friend, John has taught me that if I can stop myself (while I am feeling strongly) and ask, “What am I feeling?” Then I can follow it with the next question, “What do I believe or desire that causes that feeling?” The belief may be true or not. The desire is probably good on some level although it may be expressed in an unhealthy way.

The cool thing is what I can learn from my emotions. When I feel, I can learn what my own desires and beliefs are! I can know myself better and as I know better who I am, I know better who God made me to be.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. –Psalm 139:23-24

The night of the adventure this is what I learned that I believed and desired…

  • I felt irritated because I believed I was the cause of our stressful situation — A false belief. I didn’t cause the situation.
  • I had a desire to fix the ticket problem and get to the train — A good desire.
  • I felt frustrated because I believed I should be able to answer Jeanie’s question and finish buying the ticket too — A good desire, but based on a false belief. I was unable to do that. I need to know my limitations.
  • I felt frustrated and pressured because of a fear that we were going to miss the train — A very likely possibility that fortunately did not come to pass.

I am thankful that I have a sweetheart who loves me in spite of myself and who is willing to listen to me and truly hear my heart. I am also thankful for a God who pursues me as if He really loves me. What a concept!

Back on the Horse

When I was a little guy, about 5-7 years old, I was visiting my grandparents in Southside, West Virginia. Their house was right across the road from a farm owned by the Hopson’s. I honestly don’t know what drew me to Hopson’s farm beyond the fact that I was not from the country, but I was drawn to it for sure. They had cows and pigs… probably a lot more animals than that, but cows and pigs are what I remember. The cows would graze near the road and “look in our eyes”! I don’t know if it was me or my brother who was scared of the cows “looking in our eyes”.

jim-on-pistol.jpg One day, I went for a ride on their horse, Pistol. Someone led me because I was not an experienced rider. I don’t know for sure who was there. What I do know is that they walked Pistol and me across the pasture to the other side, near the highway. What I didn’t know at the time (that would have been extremely valuable information) was that Pistol had a habit of running as fast as he could to the barn. That’s it. No particular reason, but to run as hard as he could to the barn where he would just stop running. Sounds like Forrest Gump.

Somewhere along the ride, the person who was leading Pistol had either let go of the reigns or didn’t have a tight grip. Pistol decided to take advantage of the situation and go to the barn. He wasn’t interested in a leisurely stroll, but bolted for the barn and I didn’t know what to think. Here I am, a little boy on the back of this horse running like his tail was on fire. Panicked and not knowing why he was running or how far and long he would run, I began to reason that I must jump or fall off. I started scooting to the side so I could get off. Fortunately, falling off of a running horse is much scarier than staying on, so I stayed put. Pretty soon, Pistol reached his beloved barn and stopped.

The whole ride couldn’t have lasted more than two or three minutes, but it was indelibly marked in my memory. I am so thankful that I was not successful at getting off while he was running. If I had been, that day might well have been remembered for something else.

Family, do you remember that day? What do you remember? Who was there? What time of year was it? How old was I? Did you see me on the horse? What did you feel in that moment? Afterwards?

The House that Ken Built

My brother, Ken, built a miniature mansion for our mom. That is no exaggeration. He started with one of the standard floor plans that his company, Jessco, builds and then upgraded it to the max. The extras and the details he put into it are beyond anything that she could have imagined. She said, “I am going to be living in luxury the rest of my life!”

  • Nine foot ceilings
  • 6 foot tall windows
  • Decorative Concrete all the way around the house
  • Landscaping Upgrades
  • Crown Molding everywhere
  • Chair rail molding in every room
  • Privacy fence
  • The prettiest patio you ever saw made with decorative concrete with a curved edge.
  • much more…

As I was walking through the house last weekend, I thought about the 80/20 rule… you know, you get 80% of the benefit with 20% effort. But if you want to get that last 20% benefit, it will take 80% effort. I believe mom’s house is what you get when you give 100%. Please take a look at the photo slide show of the house, and check out the video.

Continue reading The House that Ken Built

A Dangerously Good Story

From the book To be Told by Dan Allender, PhD. (all emphasis is mine). (Thanks for loaning it to me, Curtis.)

Death is Not the Ending

We all believe we can’t die because we simply have too much left to do. We have children to raise and goals to achieve and appointments in our PDA for next week. There is obviously a natural resistance to considering one’s own death, but what i am saying is far more than “I don’t want to face the fact that life will not last.” The harder question by far is, “Does my life really have meaning?

Continue reading A Dangerously Good Story