Anna’s Day

February 20, 2010

Another example of Grandma Lu's art work

Anna Grayce Knight will soon be three years old. That means today is PARTY DAY!!!

If you look closely at the cake, you’ll see Anna peeking out at her domain. But, rather than strain your eyes, I’ll make it easier for everyone.

Anna sure looks happy!

And here’s one of her wearing her crown.

While slaying a dragon... or is that a dinosaur?

Today is her day to be a royal princess. Hopefully she’ll love her castle even after her royal subjects tear it apart and eat it.


The Beach is Always on my Mind

February 19, 2010

Edisto Beach, South Carolina

I have taught numerous classes on the art of listening. I have taught those classes at our church – for Stephen Ministry – and for Quick Start.

Quick Start is a function of the Georgia Department of Labor. To encourage companies to move into, or expand in, Georgia, Quick Start will provide free training for the newly hired employees. In addition to their required job skills, we include topics that would help them deal with customers, management, and other employees.

Listening is an art. Hearing is a natural ability – for most of us. Listening is an art for all of us.

One of the groups I’ve taught are employees of Hamilton Relay in Albany, Georgia. Their job was to accept calls from people with hearing impairments and relay the information to whomever the caller was trying to reach. They would read what the deaf person wanted (the hearing impaired used keyboards to communicate) and recite it to the person called. They would then have to listen very carefully to the speaking person and type it word for word (EXACTLY) so the deaf person could read the response.

That is one of the most difficult job skills I can imagine. Listening is extremely difficult. (Men! Take note. Here is what you can tell your wife!)

The human brain is capable of hearing and understanding more than 250 words per minute. The average speaker talks at a rate of 150 words per minute. Thus, the brain has free time.

During that free time, we might find ourselves grabbing onto a word or phrase that we hear and begin formulating our response, or it might remind us of something we forgot to do. A word or phrase might even bring back a long repressed memory that causes us to get angry. We may begin to stifle thoughts that make us feel uncomfortable. We may…

Do you see what just happened? We stopped listening.

In one ear and out the other is hearing. Getting the sound to stop at the brain and be processed is listening. As soon as we begin to process more than what we are hearing, we are no longer listening.

Like I said, listening is an art and a very difficult one to master. One must truly work at it.

In Stephen Ministry we practice what is called reflective or active listening. Instead of simply sitting and soaking up what the talker is saying, we interrupt (shameful!) from time to time and paraphrase what the person has said. We begin by saying something like, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly.” Then we tell the person what we think we heard.

That does two things. First and foremost, it lets the person know that we truly are paying total attention to him or her. Second, it allows them to correct us if we didn’t get it right.

So, what does all this have to do with a beach?

When I stop listening to anything and allow my mind to wander, I call it “Going to the beach.” I’ve heard others refer to it as “Going to the mountains.” In any case, anytime our brains wander away from whatever, we have gone away. Notice I didn’t say we have gone astray, we have simply gone someplace else.

I often do that while watching television. My bride will ask me what I think of something that was said on the news or what I think will happen based on the latest evidence uncovered by the CSI group, and I have no idea what she’s talking about. I was at the beach.

If you don’t mind, I think I’ll head that way now.

A scene that could be found at any beach

Hodgepodge for a Thursday

February 18, 2010

I’m going back to my photo files and demonstrate the sort of things a pack-rat collects over the years. We’ll begin with the Florida Biker Bar.

Beware of the rowdies inside.

Next we have a billboard from Canada.

Has Lu been brainwashed?

I’m guessing they’re advertising the fact that they don’t use Peter Cottontail to test their new cosmetics.

Then there is the cartoon that was sent to me this morning.

Perhaps someone can tell me the artist who should be credited.

How many of you have ever eaten lunch at Woolworth’s?

My, how prices have changed!

I should add that, in some parts of the country, plumbing methods have also changed dramatically.

Each fixture has its own hoses

Blue for cold and red for hot… or is that the other way around?

Here’s what soldiers used to do in their spare time…

18,000 officers and men

That was taken at Camp Dodge near Des Moines, Iowa. I can’t find a date on the photo, but the men appear to be wearing WW I uniforms.

In addition to pictures, my friends send me lots of jokes. With April 15th fast approaching, the following seems apropos to share.

Father O’Malley answers the phone. ‘Hello, is this Father O’Malley?’

‘It is!’

‘This is the IRS. Can you help us?’

‘I can!’

‘Do you know a Ted Houlihan?’

‘I do!’

‘Is he a member of your congregation?’

‘He is!’

‘Did he donate $10,000 to the church?’

‘He will.’

With that, I’ll remind everyone that if we can get our representatives to Congress to pass the Fair Tax bill, we’ll be able to treat April 15th the same as any other day of the year.

Father O’Malley answers the phone. ‘Hello, is this Father O’Malley?’

‘It is!’

‘This is the IRS. Can you help us?’

‘I can!’

‘Do you know a Ted Houlihan?’

‘I do!’

‘Is he a member of your congregation?’

‘He is!’

‘Did he donate $10,000 to the church?’

‘He will.’

Is there a Family Resemblance?

February 17, 2010

An ancestor of mine was the first Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Cousin Chalkley Steelman Leeds

At the same time, his brother was that city’s first Post Master.

Cousin Robert Barclay Leeds

And then there is me.

Do I look as serious as my ancestors?

I have yet to be elected to any city or county office and I let my brother do the Post Master thing. But you’ve got to admit it. We could pass as triplets!

Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.

It’s All About Me – Isn’t It?

February 15, 2010

I recently attended a Stephen Ministry continuing education session presented by Dr. Kerry Maurer, the Senior Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia. His topic: “The Crazy Makers in Our Lives”.

Dr. Maurer’s main source for his talk was the book written by Dr. David Hawkins, “Dealing with the Crazy Makers in our Life”.

My bride and I were both really impressed with the topic… and independently decided to go on-line and by the book. So we are now the proud owners of two copies.

When it comes to books dealing with psychology and personality types, I believe there are two types of people: those who look at themselves and try to decide where they fall into the spectrum of the traits being examined; and those who reflect on their friends and relatives to see if anyone they know falls into the spectrum.

Is that a nice way of saying some people can read books like that and fail to reflect on their own shortcomings? Of course, in my humble opinion, those are the folks who really should look at themselves more closely. But what do I know? I might be an egotist!

Dr. Hawkins describes several types of personalities that have a habit of driving the rest of us crazy. For example, he discusses what he calls the “sufferer” – the person who goes around saying, “Woe is me.” I think most of us have met someone who never has anything go right – they are constantly depressed and if you spend any length of time with them, you too will be depressed.

A sufferer cannot be helped by anyone other than a professional, and even that is difficult. If you offer solutions to their problems, they’ll give you a hundred reasons why nothing would work. What they need is someone to go in and say, “You think that’s bad, let me tell you about the time I…”

Speaking of I, that’s another type Dr. Hawkins describes – the egotist. Every time I read a book describing an egotist I find myself questioning myself. Am I too self-centered?

I like to think I’m not. I devote a lot of time to my church and my family. I’ve spent countless nights at homeless shelters, and devoted many hours to community service projects.

As for my church work, I often ask myself – “Am I doing this for the Glory of God, or the Glory of Jim?”

My bride (God bless her) tells me I do not exhibit any of the outward signs of the egotists described by Dr. Hawkins. She insists she does not see me as a self-centered person.

However, I recently helped judge an oratorical contest at Coal Mountain Elementary School that causes me to disagree with my bride. At the completion of the competition, the teacher who organized the event, Ms. Dottie Culver, introduced me and the other judges to the parents, students, and other teaches in attendance. I was surprised at how much she knew about me! She had not asked me to submit a bio – she just knew!

Ever since, I’ve been asking myself how much I know about my friends and my children. I think I know quite a bit, but I have my doubts.

While discussing this with Lu, (my bride for the uninitiated), I told her that growing up as the youngest of six children I was often chastised for being too nebby. (Nebby is a Pittsburgh term for nosey.) I can’t tell you how many times I was told to mind my own business.

As a result, I feel awkward asking people about themselves… even though I know that talking about ourselves is a favorite topic of many people. I think we all feel comfortable talking about ourselves because it is the one subject about which we are the only world-renowned expert.

If someone volunteers to tell me about him or herself, I’ll gladly listen, but I find it difficult to ask probing question. If you tell me you’re under the weather, I might ask for a more detailed explanation, but I’ll worry the whole time that I might be asking questions you find embarrassing.

If it’s none of my business, just tell me so. I’m used to hearing those words.

Am I an egotist? I’m sure some people see me as a self-centered jerk. I would hope those people are part of a minuscule minority.

However, I did just write a post to my blog that is all about me. Perhaps they’re right!

Maybe I should read Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, or something else that doesn’t go into personality types. Do you think I act like Captain Ahab?

At the beach with Emma

If you don’t mind, I will now mentally go to the beach. I don’t want to dwell on my problems any more. Otherwise I might be seen as a sufferer.

On some days, you just can’t win.

A Shortsighted Computer Company

February 13, 2010

I just heard a commercial that got my blood boiling. It was for a computer company. The message was simple — lay off some expensive employees and replace them with low cost computers.

Years ago when I was installing computers for IBM, that very notion is what I found most disturbing. Any time I was asked about “automation” replacing humans, I – perhaps lying to myself – referred to it as “dynamic reallocation of resources”.

In truth, when the economy was running smoothly and business was booming, most companies I worked with simply moved people to other departments and gave them different responsibilities. Jobs that had been sitting on the back burner could be addressed by people who had been removed from the drudgery jobs taken over by the computers.

In almost every case, the company expanded and hired additional workers.

At one time, my branch manager asked me to go into sales. It was at a time when the economy had slowed and people were being laid off. Our sales figures were down and the branch manager was hoping more bodies trying to sell our systems would help him meet his quota.

I thought and prayed about it and came to the following conclusion:

I could honestly believe that the solution I was offering to a customer was, without a doubt, the best way to keep his or her business profitable, but if the customer looked me in the eye and said, “I like it, but I’ll have to lay off a few workers to afford it.” I would’ve told him or her to forget it.

I guess I never had the “killer” instinct.

I liken it to the insurance salesperson who likes to remind folks of their mortality. I do not wish to be reminded and I will promptly show such a salesperson to the door.

I once had an insurance man try to sell me a one million dollar whole life policy. I told him that there was no way I could afford the premiums. He assured me that the payments would start out small and increase as my income increased.

I then asked him what the top premium would be and when the policy would be paid in full. He told me those were stupid questions.

He did not make a sale that day and I didn’t bother to return his calls.

I may have gotten away from the subject at hand; so let’s return to it.

Considering the state of the economy and the number of people who have lost their jobs, I believe it is unconscionable to encourage companies to lay off more people just so a company can sell more computers.

Perhaps a better approach would be to develop a software package to help people write resumes, search for possible employers, and take self-study courses to improve their chances of finding a new job. Then, convince the government to include subsidies in the next stimulus (oops! I mean “Jobs”) bill.

Give every unemployed person a computer and help him or her get back to work.

That’s my opinion and it’s my blog. So there!