Dramatic …Floral Friday

Spring has been more rainy than usual this year in Northeast Nebraska.  The dark, drab days tend to bring me down a bit, so some dramatic statements are what have been needed, instead of the subtle, pastels we normally associate with this time of year.


Brilliant poppies and gilia compliment a small bud vase by Ukrainian Heritage Ceramics of Canora, Saskatchewan. The complex folk designs of the small vase are exactly perfect to add interest to a dreary day.


A large department store planter with matte white glaze barely contains the excitement of large, tropical leaves and brilliant flowers of various shapes and sizes. It was lots of fun to put together, too.


It was time to dust off, literally, the 1950s era black panther planter.  Because the container is so complex, a simple floral design is called for.  In this case, simple doesn’t need to be subtle.

These just go to show that out of the box thinking is one way to halt blah, overcast feelings of enui from crashing your springtime party.

FF052716iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this idea from educator, activist Parker J. Palmer:  “Avoid the bad habit of domesticating the prophet of your choice, turning him into a cheerleader for your way of thinking and way of life. Remember that all the great prophets were courageous and outrageous folks who railed against the powers-that-be, challenged self-satisfied piosity, threatened the prevailing social order, and would find you falling short in some significant ways.”

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A Few Old Vacation Snapshots

Snapshots do not pretend to be objects of fine art.  They are primarily evidence artifacts we shoot in order to prove that we have done something or have gone somewhere.  In the case of vacation snapshots, we take them in order to share our amazing, happy experiences with others and to keep as souvenirs for posterity.

We see our own vacation pictures in a much different light than those that have been shot by other people.  Anyone who sat through travelogue slide shows, in the past, knows the presentations could get boring, quickly.  Much the same is true, now in the digital era, with images posted to social media. We look at our own vacation pictures with wonderment and feelings of nostalgia; our acquaintences flip through them quickly, if they bother at all.

As Photograph Month draws to an end, soon, I decided to rummage through a couple of boxes of old vacation snapshots that were never placed into photo albums. Some are extra duplicates that didn’t get sent to friends. Some were just weeded out because they were extraneous.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of today’s images were taken on inexpensive, hand-held, film cameras that seem very quaint by today’s standards. There is a lack of sharp, crisp focus due to the limitations of unsophisticated lenses and the graininess of photographic film and papers.  However, these images have aged reasonably well.  I think they have some small bit of artistic merit.  Most of these were shot, simply as experience evidence so that I could look at them in later years in fond remembrance.  Well, those years are dawning right now.

I was eleven years old when I got my very first “real” camera as a birthday present. It was a basic “Ansco Cadet” roll-film camera that required 127 size film.  There was only enough film on a roll for twelve exposures, so I had to be very choosy and careful about each photo.  I also had to pay for development and printing out of my own pocket.

I still had that Ansco camera when I was 15-years-old and our family drove to Yellowstone National Park. I don’t remember the circumstances around the picture of the black bear, but it looks like the stereotypical snapshot people take when wildlife is sighted along the side of a road.  I’m glad that the month and year of the photo’s printing is stamped on the edge of the snapshot, because I failed to record any technical data on the back of the picture. It reads, “JUL 68”.


Many years later, I visited Yellowstone frequently. By 1991, I had a Canon Sure Shot point and shoot camera to take along on trips so I didn’t have to lug around my SLR and a bag full of gear.  During a hike, that summer, I came across a shallow stream and decided to capture it.  The image was shot on Kodacolor ASA 100 negative film and processed at a “Fox Photo” outlet.


The Golden Gate Bridge is the world’s most photographed bridge, and is also one of my favorite subjects.  The western view of the bridge was shot on Kodacolor ASA 200 negative film with the Sure Shot set on “panorama” mode. It was developed and printed at a local Walgreen’s photo department.

Several years ago, a friend and I rendezvoused in Mumbai, India.  We took a southbound train to Karnataka State to meet our Tibetan Monk friends at Sera Je Monastery.  This was when travelling light was a very smart choice.  Yet, I wished I had brought my SLR in order to capture the amazing sights of India.  The Sure Shot was a reasonable compromise because of the difficulties of journeying through that country.


I wanted to capture a view of a residential building on the monastery grounds and aimed upwards. At the moment the shutter clicked, a kite appeared in the frame. The bird is what makes the snapshot noteworthy.  This is the building where His Holiness the Dalai Lama stays during his visits to Sera Je.P4090788Fujifilm200

The film was getting short in the Sure Shot so I tried to get as much into a frame as possible. There were many fascinating artifacts inside the Golden Temple at the same monastery. In the foreground is the dais that is used by the Dalai Lama when he teaches at the monastery. A very large Shakyamuni Buddha statue overlooks the spacious room. I noticed the portrait of His Holiness later, after I got home and had the film developed. Both of the monastery pictures were shot on Fujifilm 200 then processed and printed at the Norfolk, Nebraska Walgreen’s photo department.


During one of my visits to Los Angeles, I decided to hike through Griffith Park. I brought along my trusty Sure Shot in order to take some views of the city.  I stayed past sunset and found an amazing vista of L.A. at night, but I didn’t have a tripod.  I improvised by placing the camera on the top of a stinking garbage can.  As steadily as possible, I squeezed off a few exposures.  Only one of them didn’t suffer from camera shake. The photo was shot on Ektachrome ASA 100 slide film and was sent in to a Kodak processing location for development.

I hope my pictures have inspired you to raid your own vacation snapshots stash, too.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes professional photographer Terry Richardson. “I like using snapshot cameras because they’re idiot-proof.  I have bad eyesight, and I’m no good at focusing big cameras.”

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Pushing The Envelope

During a lull in our conversation, I smiled at Jorge in a mischievous way and asked, “So, have you read any good books lately?”

“As a matter of fact, I finally got around to reading that biography of Elon Musk that you reviewed several months ago.”

“What did you think about it, Jorge?”envelopepushing-03

“The book motivated me to investigate more about Mr. Musk and the guy he named his car company after. Musk and Nikola Tesla are two people who really pushed the envelope.”

“What do you mean by saying they really “pushed the envelope’?”

“Well, both men used their extreme intelligence in ways that expanded the horizons of technology. Tesla had countless far-fetched fantasies that he turned into practical concepts and inventions. Musk is also very smart.  He has taken some of his fantasies and turned them into reality, too.  I am amazed how someone can take the dream of electric cars and turn it into a successful auto manufacturing company.”

I added, “Don’t forget ‘Space X’. Musk’s fantasy of travel into Outer Space has not only become the reality of rocket flight, but a successful aerospace company, to boot.”

“Yeah, Musk is sure pushing a lot of envelopes.  How did the English language get such a weird saying as “pushing the envelope”, anyway?”

We decided to look it up on the Web.  The first entry on the search brought up the Urban Dictionary. It said, “‘[S]tretch the limits’–to go further (in any field) than anyone or any group has done before, perhaps doing something that wasn’t previously thought possible.” envelopepushing-01

That confirmed the standard definition of the phrase, but it didn’t say anything about its origin.  For that, we decided to check Wikipedia. There was a short, but enlightening article on it.

“In aviation and aeronautics the term ‘flight envelope’ had been in use since WWII, as here from the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 1944:

‘The best known of the envelope cases is the ‘flight envelope’, which is in general use in this country and in the United States… The ‘flight envelope’ covers all probable conditions of symmetrical manoeuvring flight.’

That envelope is the description of the upper and lower limits of the various factors that it is safe to fly at, that is, speed, engine power, manoeuvrability, wind speed, altitude etc. By ‘pushing the envelope’, that is, testing those limits, test pilots were able to determine just how far it was safe to go.”envelopepushing-02

We still wondered how such an arcane term became a popular idiomatic phrase, so we searched further. Apparently the public adopted it after 1979, following the release of Tom Wolfe’s popular book about the US space program. In The Right Stuff were dialogues about test flights using the phrase “pushing the outside of the envelope”. The idiom became a bigger part of everyday usage after the 1983 release of the movie based on Wolfe’s book.

“Jorge, you’ve done a lot of envelope pushing. Do you think of yourself as a maverick?  Did you relate much to the Elon Musk bio?”

“Well, the most obvious case is my marriage to Jose’. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined such a reality.  So, in a way, both Jose’ and I pushed the envelope together. There are other things, too.  From my impoverished childhood, I now enjoy a very good income from my job.  I share a very comfortable home and have a wonderful family life.  It all seems like a miracle.”

I told Jorge that he is an inspiration to me and that he should never forget that fact.  We then went on to discuss more instances of people, we know, who are pushing the envelope.

It’s funny how the off-the-cuff question, “Have you read any good books, lately?” pushed the envelope in an unexpected way.

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer/comedian Louis C.K. “Pushing the envelope sort of implies that you’re inside the envelope with everyone else, and you’re trying to find the edges on the outsides.”

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Happy Brothers Day

There are plenty of official and unofficial commerorative days set aside to honor members of our families.  We celebrated Mothers’ Day earlier this month. Fathers’ Day is next month. Grandparents Day is the first Sunday after Labor Day in September. Aunt and Uncle Day is July 10th. April 10th was Siblings Day. Sisters Day is the 1st Sunday in August. Brothers and Sisters Day was May 2nd. Brothers Day is either in September or today, May 24th.

To avoid confusion, I celebrate Sisters Day in August, and Brothers Day in May; it’s just easier to remember them this way.  When we discovered there is such a holiday as Bros-01Brothers Day, my brother, Mark and I liked to celebrate the May holiday because it is betweeen Mothers Day and Fathers Day.  The two official holidays brought with them, nostalgic memories of family life and growing up together.

Brothers Day wasn’t the only day we celebrated together. Since our birthdays are within a few days of each other, once we grew up, our family alternated the shared celebrations alternately. We celebrated our birthdays on Mark’s birthday one year, and on mine the next.  However, decade birthdays were celebrated individually.

Mark was born on August 21, 1955.  I barely remember the day my parents brought him home from the hospital, but mom said I liked him right away.  During our childhood, Mark and I were best friends as well as brothers.  There was little of the natural hierarchy with me as the oldest and Mark as the youngest. Ranking is more evident regarding my sister; she has more typical middle child issues. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That said, I had to be mindful of my brother because Mark told me he looked up to me as sort of a parent figure. It’s both flattering and daunting to have somebody look up to you when you’re still a child yourself.

When I displayed a strong interest in something, soon, Mark would try to emulate me.  When I started to sketch cars, Mark soon followed suit. When I begged for a skateboard, so did Mark. This trait continued, at least through his high school years.  Because I studied and enjoyed high school German, he took a year of it when he reached high school.

Some of the emulation went the other way, too.  Mark often behaved in stereotypically youngest sibling ways. He often pushed past behavioral boundaries.  I sometimes felt challenged to follow him into unsafe territory, because he piqued my curiosity about dangerous things. These explorations strengthened the bond between us.

The one area I wish he had never entered was cigarette smoking.  He began smoking over a year before I finally followed in his footsteps. The habit was very difficult for me to shake.  Mark never did quit smoking.

Mark and I often rode our bicycles all over the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. We usually packed sandwiches because our day-trips took us several miles from home.  Our OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAexplorations of the outer limits of Lincoln were another covert activity we shared.  Mom and dad never guessed how far we bicycled each summer.  After I was old enough to legally drive, Mark and I took many vacation trips together, just the two of us.  These shared adventures reinforced our bond well into adulthood.

Even though we eventually took different career paths through life, we remained close friends as only brothers can.  Mark managed to explore his own, inate interests and talents and no longer emulated me.  This newfound autonomy was good for both of us.  We were able to share our own experiences in new ways.

Lately, Brothers Day has become nostalgic in a more painful way.  A few days after New Years Day in 2011, Mark fell victim to an acute Aoritic Aneurysm and died during a seven hour surgery.

Being a brother and having a brother brings about priceless experiences.  If you have a brother, I recommend that you get in touch with him today.  If you can, have lunch or dinner with him and relive your family memories.

blja_gt_lThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the ancient Greek philosopher, Antisthenes. “When brothers agree, no fortress is so strong as their common life.”

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Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

All of us share certain hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, and fellow Americans.  This statement is the heart of the ideal as the United States being a “melting pot” of people and cultures from around the World. While we work to find common ground, we also celebrate our various ancestral roots and diversity.

I wish I’d known, years earlier, that there is a month set aside for the celebration of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Then, I would have had an extra reason to P4060760honor friends and family who hail from those parts of the Earth. I know fellow school alumni of Pacific Island ancestry whose families settled in the US generations ago and I have familial ties to Southeast Asia.

One Thai family, who settled in Oregon and Louisiana, was destined to become part of my life.  One member of that family found her way first to Omaha, then to Wayne, Nebraska in the 1980s.  Tippy was eager to make a productive living for her son and herself.

Tippy was born in the “Golden Triangle” region of Thailand in the late 1940s.  Even though she toiled in her family’s rice paddies, Tippy excelled in school.  She remained focused on her dream of leaving the harsh, rural farmland of her birth and making a living in Bangkok.  After awhile, Tippy expanded her dream and decided to immigrate to the United States. She worked hard in the city and set aside her earnings so she could comfortably and safely make her move.AsianAmerican-01

While in Bangkok, Tippy met the American man who was to become her first husband. The couple moved to the US and had a son.  Years later, the couple divorced and went their separate ways.  This is when Tippy found her way to Nebraska.

After my biological mother passed away in 1989, dad found himself single and on his own again.  Whenever he tired of his own cooking, he took his meals at restaurants.  It was at the Pizza Hut where he met the manager of the restaurant, Tippy.  Soon, the two began dating and she was introduced to the family.  Tippy and I became instant friends.

I remember Tippy struggling to constantly improve her English-speaking skills.  At the same time, she diligently studied her citizenship lessons so she could become a fully naturalized citizen.  I still remember the day when she announced that her course work was complete and she was eligible for citizenship. Dad and I accompanied Tippy to Omaha and witnessed the naturalization ceremony. It was a special day when she retired her “green card” and framed her naturalization document to hang on the wall.

Tippy and dad soon “tied the knot” and our family was changed forever.  It was amazing to see the shift in dad’s attitudes and his eagerness to explore Tippy’s Thai background.  He even tried to learn how to speak and read the Thai language, but P4060761never was able to pull it off. Throughout the years, Tippy and dad flew to Thailand for family visits.  The extended vacations brought out a part of dad’s personality I’d never witnessed before.

Most of the time, Tippy worked at a small, local factory, because she insisted upon a certain level of independence.  She once told me that she didn’t want to be thought of as some sort of “gold-digger”.  Tippy didn’t really need reassurance because she had won our hearts by her love and devotion to the entire blended family.

Several years ago, Tippy suffered a massive stroke and became nearly totally disabled.  She spent her last few years fully dependent upon the skills of medical workers at a nursing home.  Dad continued to visit her each day until Tippy’s death.

So, yes, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month holds special significance for me.  I’m thankful to have become related to Tippy and her extended family.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness hopes all Americans will take time to learn more about Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans, and Native Hawaiians along with their roles in the history and culture of the USA.

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Good Carkeeping

Sometimes while cruising down the highway, I’ll spot a disabled vehicle abandoned at the side of the road. Many times it is a car or pickup that is much newer and more expensive than my ol’ Camry.  I’ll wonder what happened to the car.  Did it run out of fuel? Did it suffer a flat tire and the spare was flat, too? Did the engine or transmission fail?

Other times I see a reasonably new vehicle ahead of me on the street with oily smoke coming out of the tailpipe or it has nearly bald tires, or the transmission makes a GoodCarKeeping-03whining noise.  Didn’t the owners learn how to care for things?  Perhaps they take out their emotional problems on their vehicles. Maybe there isn’t enough money in their transportation budgets. It might be simple ignorance about mechanical things.

Just like good housekeeping keeps a home attractive and sturdy, good carkeeping keeps a vehicle safe and dependable.  Even if you have the means to buy a brand-new car every year or so, it pays to be mindful about the state of your car or truck.

I’ve learned a few good habits from people who have driven their cars for a quarter of a million miles and more.  I’ve also learned some lessons the hard way.

First of all, do your homework and buy the most dependable car you can afford.  The first brand new car I ever bought was a Chevrolet Vega Kammback wagon.  The new car euphoria was eclipsed the first day with the sinking feeling I had just bought a serious lemon. The bright side of being a Vega owner, was that I learned a lot of practical things about engines and car body integrity.  Both aspects of that car were horrible.

Four car purchases later, I let my eyes overrule my smarts. I found a beautiful tornado red VW Quantum Synchro on a used car lot.  I traded in my perfectly dependable Datsun 310 and signed a two-year payment plan for the car.  While I loved how the car performed and handled, I hated how expensive it was to maintain and repair.  The repairs were frequent. I vowed to very carefully research my next vehicle.

Because of the repair expenses of the Synchro and my dread of car payments, I learned to put aside some money into an interest-bearing repair account. That way, if a major problem develops with my car, I can more comfortably pay the mechanic’s bill.

I purchase a shop manual for the specific car when I get a different car.  This is a good investment because I can learn a great deal about how the car works and anticipate potential problems it may develop in the future.

Even if you don’t buy a shop manual, be sure to read the owner’s manual that the manufacturer provides. You’ll find basic maintenance schedules for the important GoodCarKeeping-02parts of the vehicle. There are times to change the oil, rotate the tires, replace the coolant, and replace the timing belt.  Never, but never neglect to have the timing belt replaced. This replacement is expensive, but a broken timing belt will cause much worse expenses.

A good way to keep up to date with car care and research is to go online. All the major makes and most models have forums and websites devoted to them.  If you need to change the dome light in your car, you’ll find the answer.  If something major comes up, you’ll find information about it, too.  It’s a good idea to check out the specific website before a problem arises, so that you can find out about common problems with vehicles like yours.

Pay attention to sounds, and smells that seem wrong.  Turn down the stereo once in awhile so you can listen to your vehicle to make sure it sounds OK.  As soon as a problem arises, have it fixed ASAP, even if it’s just a trim item.

When it comes time to repair something, don’t be a cheapskate.  Get the genuine original manufacturer’s parts. On a non-critical repair, ask your mechanic  about a used, original replacement part. GoodCarKeeping-01

Don’t forget to wash and wax your vehicle regularly, especially if you live in an area where it snows.  Regular washing maintains the painted surfaces.  Good paint protects the metal underneath of it. When rain or wash water no longer forms “beads” on the car finish, it’s time to wax. Waxing and detailing a car is one of life’s pleasures.  This helps your car stay showroom-new looking.

Finally, pay attention to your driving habits and style.  You don’t need to drive like the “little old lady from Pasadena”, but refraining from jackrabbit starts and stops will lengthen the life of your engine, drivetrain, and brakes.

Best of all, good carkeeping gives peace of mind.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness says the best time to repair a car problem is when the car still runs.

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To:   Readers
From: JJ
Date: May 21, 2016
Cc:   The Internet
Re:   National Memo Day

Back in the day, I used to come to work early so I could get through the memos that were delivered to my inbox. This was before the age of office automation and computers.  Each desk was supplied with a typewriter and a physical stack of metal trays. The trays included a holding box, an outbox, and an inbox.

A big problem was that the manager was confused about what a memorandum was and what should have been miscellaneous private routing.  I needed to sort through the daily stack of onionskin carbon copies of company policy memos from the fyi remininsces, casual reflections about current events, and political fodder from the Republican Party. The boss seemed unaware of how much company time was wasted by employees having to skim documents and sort through stacks of paper in order to find the essential nuggets we actually needed to know.

On the average day, there might be only one or two bonafide memos.  Once they were found, we could usually digest the content quickly then go about our duties. If a reply was required, a note could be typed or hand printed on a standard office memo form. Memos that were read and any replies were placed in the outbox for internal office mail.  If the memo was important, carbon copies of the memo and reply were filed away for future reference.

As you can imagine, having to skim through stacks of irrelevant paper, which frequently included radical political diatribes, was a terrible way to begin each workday.  After the manager retired, the inter-office memo policy was streamlined and became more relevant to the actual needs of running the business.

Actual paper memos are still in use by corporate and governmental offices. They are most useful when text messages or e-mails are not suitable. Physical memos are necessary when office or agency policy is stated for legal reasons.  Memos are also useful as a covering message to attach to books or documents that need to be signed. The memo is used to explain what the recipient is supposed to do.

The word “memo” is the abbreviation of the word “memorandum”. It is derived from the Latin term which means, “It must be remembered that….” Strictly speaking, a memo is a short document that aids the memory by recording relevant observations and events.  Memos have particular formats that are usually style specific to agencies, companies, or other institutions.  Nowadays, memos often arrive in e-mails.

National Memo Day is an unofficial commemoration of memoranda.  This is a good time to read, write, and send memos.  Remember to keep memos brief and to the point.

Thank you for reading.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Miss Manners. “E-mail is very informal, a memo. But I find that not signing off or not having a salutation bothers me.”

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