We Like Chop Suey

Chop suey, made from scratch, is one of my “comfort foods”, one of my guilty pleasures. I like chop suey because it tastes yummy and is easy to prepare. It was not always one of my favorites, because I used to associate chop suey with the soggy, canned version. ChopSuey-03

When mom was having one of her super busy days, she dumped a can of it into a pan, heated it, then spooned it onto a plate. Bagged, chow mein noodles were sprinkled on top to provide crunchy texture.  A bottle of soy sauce was mandatory. The canned chop suey was so bland, that I had to splash a lot of it on top to make the lunch palatable. It wasn’t very hearty, either. A couple of hours later, I was famished again. Because of its association with blandness I never ordered chop suey in Chinese restaurants.

This aversion was swept away after I ate some, prepared by my step-mom, Tippy. Her chop suey was so good, that I sometimes daydreamed about it. One afternoon, Tippy taught me how to prepare it from fresh ingredients. Because she never used recipe cards when preparing Asian dishes, I scribbled down some notes during Tippy’s chop suey lesson.

Tippy’s Vegetarian Chop Suey

First, she gathered the ingredients. The amounts were approximations of what I observed. 
a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil, whatever’s on hand
a handful of sliced scallions
one or two cloves of chopped garlic
a couple of heaping handfuls of shredded cabbage or boc choi
one stalk of chopped celery (I don’t like celery, so I often eliminate this.)
one small can of sliced bamboo shoots, save the juice for later
a handful of sliced mushrooms
a tablespoon, or so, of tamari or soy sauce
a couple of generous splashes of toasted sesame oil
a tablespoon of (Thai) chili paste
exactly one and a half tablespoons of cornstarch disolved in one tablespoon of Japanese cooking wine
a cup or so of cubed, baked tofu  (If you are not vegetarian or vegan, you can substitute chopped beef, pork, chicken, or shrimp in place of the tofu.)
a couple of cups of cooked jasmine rice

Heat the vegetable oil in your wok or a large skillet over medium-high temperature. When the oil is hot, fry the garlic and scallions until soft. Toss in the cabbage or boc choi, bamboo shoots, and the mushrooms, stir-fry it until the cabbage wilts.  Carefully add the bamboo shoots’ juice, chili paste, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  Bring the liquid to a boil. Next add the dissolved cornstarch as the thickener. Mix in the cubed tofu and stir-fry until everything is piping hot.

Serve the chop suey on a plate, alongside of some jasmine rice. Or, if you don’t have cooked rice handy, serve the chop suey in a bowl and top it with store-bought crunchy chow mein noodles.ChopSuey-02

You’ve probably heard that chop suey is not a traditional Chinese dish, but is an American invention.  One favorite story about it’s first preparation says that it was made by the Chinese ambassador’s cook to serve his American guests at a state dinner, August 29, 1896. The ambassador, Li Hung Chang, had asked the cook to prepare a dish that would satisfy both American and Chinese tastes.

Regular Americans were interested in China, after the ambassador’s visit.  Soon, a chop suey fad swept over cities like New York and San Francisco where there were already several Chinese people living.

Left coast residents prefer another chop suey legend. In 1849, during the Gold Rush, Chinese workers flooded San Francisco because of their part in the booming economy. Naturally, Chinese restaurants sprang up. Macao & Woosung was the first one to open its doors.ChopSuey-01

The San Francisco tall-tale alleges that late at night, just  as Macao & Woosung was about to close, a gang of drunken gold miners arrived and demanded something to eat. The cook supposedly took leftovers, then stir-fried everything together in a vegetable gravy then served the mixture alongside some steamed rice. He named his specialty “tsap seui” (mixed pieces). The English pronunciation of the Canonese name sounds like chop seuy. The miners enjoyed the slap-dash dish so much, that they came back the next evening for more.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this saying by Confucius.  “The honourable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table.”

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A Visual Brainstorm …Floral Friday

I decided to break free of the hum drum August Doldrums by indulging a creativity streak.  I was itching to do some projects that break convention.  You might say that it was time for a visual brainstorm.


An old fancy cornucopia vase triggered the old Cole Porter song “Anything Goes” to play inside my mental jukebox.  Soon, I thought, “Why not a trio of red sunflowers?”


I don’t have a pair of old draught horses to hitch my model farm wagon to, but I quickly came up with an idea to use the wooden toy as a funky window planter for small flowers. Why not?


An old orange and cream colored slag glass cereal bowl usually serves as a catch-all for small items I pick up during the day.  How about using it as the base for mums and a big water lily?  It works for me.

So, if you have an crazy idea, go ahead and experiment with it.

mini-meThe Blue Jay of Happiness has this reminder. “Crazy ideas pop into our heads every day. Creativity is putting those thoughts into action.”

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In the early days, they weren’t called zippers, nor were they “morally acceptable” to a certain crowd of self-righteous critics.  Moral crusaders proclaimed that the convenient fastener was a corrupt invention that made it too easy to remove one’s pants.  However, the handy mode of fastening gained popular acceptance after the United States military ignored critics and used them in uniforms and field gear during the first World War.

A rudimentary fastening system was introduced to the American public on NovemberZipper-00 7, 1891 by Whitcomb Judson. His invention was called the clasp-locker. The “Judson C-curity Fastener” was a somewhat cumbersome, complicated arrangement of hooks and eyes which engaged with a guide to close and open it.

The common fastener we know and love today had its beginnings in Hoboken, New Jersey, thanks to an immigrant from Småland, Sweden. Otto Fredrik Gideon Sundback was the son of a prosperous farmer. Following his basic education in Sweden, Gideon Sundback studied at a polytechnical school in Germany.  In 1905, he passed his engineering examination, then Sundback emigrated to the US.Zipper-GideonSundback

Following a short employment at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing in Pittsburgh, Sundbeck was hired by the Universal Fastener Company, the company that made the “Judson C-curity Fastener”. After several unsuccessful attempts to replace the cantankerous hook and eye system, Sundbeck invented the “Hookless Fastener No.1”.   It had two rows of metal teeth that faced each other. The rows were pulled together and separated by a “slider”.

Sundbeck also came up with the design for the machine that manufactured the hookless fastener. The device enabled the company to make about 100-metres of fastener per day.


In 1923, the B.F. Goodrich rubber company decided to use the Hookless Fastener for a line of premium galoshes. Legend has it, that an employee, who was trying on a pair, exclaimed “Zip ‘er up!” after he heard the sound of the hookless fastener as the slider engaged the teeth. Company bigwigs made the next logical step and coined the name “zipper”. B.F. Goodrich registered the name “Zipper” as a trademark in 1925.

Just as later products like “Kleenex” and “Xerox Copiers” had difficulty controlling their trademarks from use as popular names, the catchy name “Zipper” suffered the Zipper-02same fate. It’s much easier to say “zipper” instead of “hookless fastener”.  The Canadian Supreme Court heard and dismissed a challenge by the Lightning Fastener Company to the exclusive right of B.F. Goodrich to the name “Zipper”.  Eventually, Goodrich’s trademark was limited to the tradename, “Zipper Boots”.

These days we find zippers in use for various articles of clothing, accessories, and for decoration. The most successful zipper manufactures include Opti, Olympic, and YKK.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness doesn’t want to see the zipper on the movie costume. He wants to believe the depicted character is real.

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Be Kind To Humankind, Another OpEd

As the perpetual US political campaign season has heated up again, I now want to send the bevy of presidential hopefuls into a corner to don dunce caps and take a long time -out.  Every four years, the public is subjected to a barrage of egotistical meanness as (mostly) men jostle about to capture the highest governmental post in the land.

This year, the levels of jingoism, misogyny, racism, and homophobia have been cranked up to unbearable heat.  Some of the candidates advocate ever more intolerance, scapegoating, and  violence towards certain “out groups”. Even when I purposely tune out the unkind hatred, some of it seeps through anyway.  Never in my idealistic mind did I ever imagine that such uncivil, unkind speech and behavior would remain socially acceptable in this day and age.kindness-01

I’ve never lost that basic childhood feeling that unkindness is a great human wrong.  Harboring unhappy wishes towards other people is sure way to cultivate resentment and is the foundation of an unfulfilling life.  On the other hand, another childhood lesson says that honest, sincere kindness towards every single person and living thing guarantees deep, abiding happiness. These lessons come not only from personal experience, they are strongly reinforced by ancient wisdom teachings that anybody, anywhere can access.

There is already way too much negativity, anger, and violence in the world.  I do not care to be drawn into the circle of people who advocate more of these things. I wish such persons well, mentally send them love, then focus my attention on more positive, loving concepts as best as I can without denying the “real” world. This must be done frequently because of the strong power of the dark negativity that is lording over the world these days.

Because this week is Be Kind to Humankind Week, I have a legitimate excuse to get on my soapbox, again, and write about kindness as opposed to unkindness.  I hope that my little writings will somehow seep into some of the public consciousness and counter the tsunami of hate that is washing over our civilization.kindness-02

One of the wisdom teachings that appeals to many of us is “lovingkindness”. Basically, this is an attitude or a mental state that is consciously cultivated and maintained by practice.  Lovingkindness is the perfect antidote to anger, fear, and selfishness. The state of mind is much more than wishful thinking or prayer.  It is an active direction of attention concerned with the genuine happiness of other living beings. Instead of brushing off unhappiness with a wish and a prayer, active attention is the stronger approach.

When a person concentrates her or his full attention on the happiness of others, our physical actions then are directed by these thoughts.  This is a basic law of behavioral science. We act out exactly what we think about. The idea of lovingkindness means that when we sincerely love humankind in our hearts, kindness will naturally, spontaneously direct our interpersonal actions.

When we have low opinions of someone, any “love” we direct towards her is insincere and dishonest. When we have a high opinion of a loved one, the love we feel about him is sincere and honest. If “helpful” advice and aid is of a condescending nature, the aid kindness-03will be rejected because it is, at its heart, insulting.  Sincerely offered, loving aid is readily accepted by others without question.  This is why authentic, unconditional lovingkindness is so very effective.

If there is one takeaway for Be Kind to Humankind Week, it is an often spoken saying from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”  Sometimes he distills it down to “My religion is kindness.”

Lovingkindness is tricky.  We might decide to be a “nice” person. We’re all smiles and friendliness, until we’re really tested.  How do we react when we encounter a rude person on the street?  What is our mental response when we meet someone who does not conform to our personal, deeply held standards?  Is there some emotional friction?  If so, it’s time to practice some lovingkindness.

Being authentically kind is easier said than done. That is why we need to purposely practice it on a regular basis until it becomes habitual.  Even so, lovingkindness will fade away if we take it for granted.  Every so often, we need reminders to practice it.  That’s one reason we need to make Be Kind to Humankind Week an international, actively celebrated event.

buddhism-flagThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes another famous saying from the Dalai Lama.  “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

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Let Go

I awoke naturally at my normal, early time a couple of Saturdays ago, then sat down at the desk to check emails and then post something new for bluejayblog. That’s when I discovered my Internet connection was broken. letgo-02

I called my ISP in Omaha, Nebraska to ask if there was an Internet outage.  The employee said that even though there had been storms in Nebraska overnight, there was no reported Internet outage in my area.  She informed me that a repairman would be in Norfolk on Monday morning and could help me at that time. I involuntarily groaned, then I thanked her and hung up the phone.

I indulged in a small temper tantrum then sat down to analyze this unpleasant surprise.  I remembered that I had a few, short-term alternatives. Then I realized that I have allowed myself to become overly attached to the Web. To let go is one part of my life philosophy, but I’d neglected this aspect. How did this happen?  I had to remember how to again let go of the need to always be connected to the Web.

letgo-03Here I was, resisting a circumstance that I had zero control over.  By resisting and demanding things should go a certain way, spontanaity and effectiveness vanished. Life is just as it happens to be. Resisting life generates anger and resentment.

I thought of the old Buddhist wisdom teaching about letting go of attachments. Anything you cannot let go of, holds you back.  In this case, I was attached to reliably being able to access the Internet.  When the Internet was not available, I felt frustrated and sad. I even noticed a temper tantrum coming on.

My only choice was to let go of this attachment, at least for now. My anger and upset was a sign that I was not allowing life to be just as it naturally happens. Hanging onto my resistance was getting in the way of being happy and productive in other ways.

So, I sat back in my chair, took a few deep breaths, and observed my emotional state.  There was some resentment present. I had had some “issues” with my present Internet Service Provider earlier this year. This time, I felt frustrated that the company didn’t provide an instant resolution to my current problem.  As I reflected on the situation, I remembered that the ISP has hundreds of thousands of customers. Furthermore, they had to deal with some real storm-caused outages in western Nebraska. I needed to take personal responsibility for my attitude.

This realization led to me examining where else I may have failed to let go.  There are some resentments of perceived and real slights by family and acquaintences. It’s time to address these issues and forgive these people. Meantime, I’m not Mr. Perfect, either. I’ve made some mistakes. I might not even be aware of some of them. In the process, somebody may be harboring resentments about me.

I needed to perform a reality check and find out what I’m holding back. It was again time to clean up the skeletons in my closet. I needed to reveal my misdeeds and make amends.  Plus, was there anything good that I was also hiding from myself and others? I know that being honest and being your true self leads to a “lightness of being” and a happier life.  This is what we gay folks discover after coming out. We’re no longer OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAheld back by fears of who will reject us and who will accept us. When we let go of the fears, we gladly accept ourselves as whoever we are and just let the chips fall wherever they happen to fall.

Fear and resentment cause us to hold back.  When we hold back, we withdraw from fully participating in life. Withdrawal causes people to start reacting to life and to refrain from creating happiness for themselves and others. When we fail to let go of fears and resentments, we cause suffering for ourselves and other people. Letting go of fear and resentment allows us to live life more fully and causes more smiles to appear naturally on our faces.

In other words, because my ISP was unable to kowtow to my self-centered demand for an instant fix to the broken Internet situation, I suffered an outbreak of anger and resentment.

When I let go of the demand and remembered that life unfolds in unexpected, frequently inconvenient ways, I was able to calm down and work on some of my own “issues”.

I had to laugh at the ironic way the Internet caused me to remember the wisdom of letting go. This happened because I had to let go of my home Internet service for awhile.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this snippet from Raymond Lindquist: “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.”

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Speak Now (Review)

Now that marriage equality is a legal right in the United States, it is finally time to take a breath and look back at the long, arduous journey.  What has been called one of the country’s major civil rights trials, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is the subject of Kenji Yoshino’s latest book, Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial.

Proposition 8, was the same-sex marriage ban that was approved by Californians in 2008. The highly controversial referendum was disputed at trial and appellate courts, then on to the US Supreme Court where it met it’s final demise.

Yoshino translates the complex, highly technical legalities of the trials and proceedings into a cogent story that the average reader can understand and relate to.  He writes as an expert through his background as professor of constitutional law at New York University. His story is seasoned through his personal life as a gay man who weds his partner in Connecticut in the summer of 2009. His marriage took place nine months after same-sex marriage was legalized in California but then outlawed by California’s Proposition 8.SpeakNow-02

Even though I had only a peripheral, personal interest in Proposition 8, I picked up Speak Now with some trepidation. I half expected to be intimidated by lots of legal jargon. This turned out not to be the case. Yoshino only used legal terms when needed and in context with his narrative.  I was able to understand the progress of the trials through his skillful use of words. The story retains interest partially because the legal proceedings are unpredictable with outcomes that affect millions of people’s intimate lives.

Even though we already know the outcome of the trials and even the final verdict of this year’s blanket legalization of marriage equality, it’s the telling of the struggle that makes a compelling story.

The author gives credit to Proposition 8’s proponents for effective cross examination of opposing witnesses. He also lays bare the reasons that Proposition 8 was doomed from a strictly legal constitutional standpoint. The lead defense counsel, of the marriage ban, weakened his own closing arguments by telling Federal Judge Vaughn Walker that “You don’t have to have evidence” to justify limitation of marriage to one man and one woman.SpeakNow-03

Thanks to Kenji Yoshino, I better understand the anti-minority legal term, “animus”. This is deep-seated social resentment and hostility towards certain minority populations. The US Supreme Court has found that animus is not outright bigotry, but is prejudice as the product of insensitivity and ignorance. The presence of animus in a law may invalidate that law. In the end, animus was clearly present in the wording of Proposition 8.

The story of the legal battle is seasoned with references to Yoshino’s reflections regarding the growth of his new family. He legally marries his husband and begins to raise two children.  The warm vignettes add  welcome, personal touches to the book.

Advocates and students of civil rights, in general, and members of the LGBT community should find much to learn and enjoy in the pages of Speak Now.

{ Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino; 374 pages, published April 2015 by Crown/Penguin-Random House; ISBN: 978-0-385-34880-5 }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness highly recommends this book.

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Adults Can Be Such Children

Our obsession with youthfulness and childlike behavior has probably enabled more of us to enjoy life and find pleasure in simpler things. The downside is that we tend to disparage old age.

Despite all the growing pains and hard lessons of youth, being young is fun.  As we become older, we remember more of the fun and less of the painful times.  Apparently, we’re somehow programmed to put a good spin on our youth.  At least, most of us do.adultchild-02

I have mixed feelings about middle-aged folks wearing superhero themed tee-shirts and collecting comic books. These are fairly harmless activities that don’t hurt anyone. I’m a huge advocate for personal freedom, but sometimes I wince when I witness people acting out their childhood.  I cannot point fingers without pointing back to some of my own quirks. I have a small teddy bear collection that I’m in the process of downsizing. There’s probably some sort of psychological message in that.

It makes sense that we focus so much social attention on youth.  Younger people are a huge market for our retail corporations. Parents love to lavish attention on their kids. Teens have their own subcultures, and young adults are in the process of starting their own families. This translates into a perpetual gold rush for business. Naturally, we’re going to be exposed to plenty of advertising and products aimed at youth.

Add to this, the fact that all of us are destined to get old. We look in the mirror and notice that we don’t look like glowing, pretty adolescents anymore.  Even though we have grown-up responsibilities in our families and our work, we want to keep a young appearance. Getting old and dying is scary. This is not new information.

By and large, if someone tells us that we don’t look as old as our chronological age, we receive it as a compliment.  On the other hand, if someone says, “he doesn’t act his age”, we know that is a jab at somebody’s character.

Where is that fuzzy boundary between childishness and maturity?  Why is it that little kids can hardly wait to grow up, but once grown up, the resulting adults wish they were kids again?  Maybe we know this in our hearts, but find it difficult to translate it into words.  Youth is the driving force behind nostalgia. It’s why we don’t like to give up the music of our youth.  It’s why some of us drive replica muscle cars.  It’s why some of us dress up like Batman. It’s why we buy wrinkle creams and dietary supplements.

Childishness becomes a problem when it manifests as interpersonal behavior in adults.

We know about the “terrible twos”, the toddlers who scream with temper tantrums because they think they deserve to get their own way all of the time. These little kids hurl abuse at anybody who thwarts their desires.  When the terrible twos appear in grown ups, we have real trouble.  Temper and entitledness show up as verbal and physical abuse in adults.  This is most serious when our business and political leaders indulge these childish traits. This can set the tone for society, at large.

Little kids are infamous for being selfish. Some kids don’t play well with other kids. They hog all the good stuff for themselves and are reluctant to allow even scraps for their peers. These little kids consider it an imposition when other kids receive an equal share of nice toys and treats. Selfish children are unhappy because they believe that they are losing favor. Oftentimes, first-born children become upset when a new sibling adultchild-03arrives in the home. The first-born no longer is the focus of parental attention.  This type of childishness in adults manifests in the “one-percent” as well as people who oppose universal civil rights.

Closely related to the selfish brats are the children who coalesce into cliques. These exclusive groups decide that they’re the special “insiders”. They limit membership privileges to just the few “special” individuals such as themselves. We see this type of behavior in high schools.  Unfortunately it carries on, later in life, for too many of us, as the “chosen ones”.

Children and many teens are attention junkies. Generally speaking, they crave adulation.  When adults remain attention junkies, we find them annoying and rather pathetic. Certainly, we all have a healthy desire to be recognized for our accomplishments. All of us deserve respect and well-earned praise.  It’s when a person refuses to share the limelight that childishness manifests. We’ve all had to endure people who go on and on about their problems and illnesses. Some attention junkies believe we can hardly wait to hear them brag about their latest accomplishments or those of their kids. Self-absorbtion is one of those childish habits that is hard to break.

Perhaps the most troubling childish behavior is whining and complaining.  I realize that I’m skirting the boundaries of this trait as I write this post. However, the chronic crybaby is a different matter. This type of childishness manifests as consistent naysaying. There is a lot of finger-pointing, blaming, and scapegoating. Whiners don’t like to take personal responsibility when events and people don’t conform to their adultchild-01preferences. It’s easier to gripe about what’s wrong rather than to affirm what is right about other people. Talk radio and cable “news” is brimming over with people who blame and complain. Gloom and doom is the message of crybabies who preach their negative beliefs.

It’s easy to pinpoint childish behavior as it occurs in other people.  The grown-up practice is to look within to see how these childish traits appear in one’s own lifestyle. If we’re honest, we can see many, if not all, of these aspects present in ourselves, to some extent. As I acknowledge my own childish behavior, I can take a slice of humble pie. Without indulging in self-condemnation, I can self-correct my childish behavior.

It’s wonderful to have a youthful attitude and approach towards life and one’s fellow humans.  It’s annoying to others to retain childish thinking and misbehavior. It is possible to have too many teddy bears.

1955maybeThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Janet Jackson. “A lot of people who start work at a very young age never grow up because they never got the opportunity to be a child, so they hold on to that and still do a lot of childish, silly things.”


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