My Antique Tintypes

The small cardboard box kept in the file drawer along with old owner’s manuals, instruction sheets, and letters caught my eye yesterday. I store the box in that place in order to keep track of it and keep it safe from exposure to light.

Inside of the box are several antique photographs, just a few inches in size. Half of them are conventional pictures printed on paper and the other half are the most fascinating photographs in the collection–tintype images. None of the pictures portray any of my ancestors or people my ancestors may have befriended, as far as I can determine.

All the photographs were taken in the late 1800s by what could be called the “instant photography” process of the day. The tintype, aka ferrotype process, produced a positive image onto a thin iron sheet. It was invented in 1856 by Hamilton Smith in Ohio as an alternative to the ambrotype which used a similar chemical process except that its emulsion coated the surface of glass plates.

Tintype photos became popular because they were considerably cheaper to make and they were not fragile like ambrotypes. The tintype sheet, coated with collodion (a thick, yellowish flammable light-sensitive substance) was exposed in the camera. The exposed tin sheet was immediately placed into developing chemicals while the collodion was still wet. The finished image was snipped to size and mounted into a pre-cut cardboard mat or cheap frame of some sort.

The reverse side of one of the mounted tintypes. The photographer taped the picture onto the cardboard mat.


Due to the inexpensive, durable nature of the technique, it was used by traveling photographers and by some journalists during the US Civil War.

I bought this particular box of antique photographs because the previous owner believed he had a collection of Daguerreotypes. It turned out that none of the old photographs are the highly collectible Daguerreotypes. Even though I felt some initial disappointment at the discovery, I’ve come to greatly appreciate these tintypes as the historical relics they truly are.

The Blue Jay of Happiness feels a touch of wistful nostalgia while studying antique portraits of anonymous people.

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Inserts …Floral Friday

It all began with a hand full of fragile glass flower stems.  They had to be taken care of soon in order to avoid breakage. I didn’t want to wrap them up in bubble-wrap, paper, or Styrofoam popcorn. They should be displayed so that they stay out of harm’s way yet are visible enough to be enjoyed.

I considered using some sort of vase, but the glass flowers are very top-heavy, so that idea was nixed. Perhaps a flower pot with a craft-foam mechanical would do. Just as I was getting ready to search for a suitable pot, something else came to mind.

A heavy marble flower frog flower arranger (They don’t usually resemble actual frogs.) turned out to be the ideal solution. It has seven drilled holes–exactly the number needed for the seven glass stems I have. Since the frog is marble, it’s quite heavy and not prone to tipping. I placed the frog on the window shelf and inserted the glass stems.

A green vintage seedling planter was brought out of storage in order to accommodate two cacti and one succulent. The result is a whimsical blend of symmetry and asymmetry.

A modernistic cast pot-metal vase has three compartments. A bold treatment was needed to enhance the strikingly peculiar container. A trio of sunflowers fit the bill. Two are in bloom, and one is a half-opened bud.

The Blue Jay of Happiness inserts this tidbit from Mark Twain: “Whatever a man’s age, he can reduce it several years by putting a bright-colored flower in his button-hole.”

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So Much Stress

Here’s a quick reminder before we get started on today’s topic: this is not a personal crisis self-help blog, there are already many other places to check out for advice. However, if my words help you in some small way, I’m glad.

Every generation has at least one major stressor. In the previous century it could have been the Great Depression, one of the World Wars, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War. This century has already witnessed various conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, radical political strife, and macro-economic shifts. You can probably come up with more examples.

Add to these, the stuff we go through on personal and familial levels–the events that don’t warrant banner headlines, but are still tough. To be a living organism is to be subject to at least some amount of stress. It’s been said that if one doesn’t experience some level of stress, one isn’t alive.

We are told by psychologists, religious leaders, and popular writers that stress doesn’t happen because of what is going on in our lives, it happens because of our thoughts about what’s going on in our lives. That’s a very broad statement to make. This opinion triggers my skepticism.

We can examine an Eastern view of suffering or dissatisfaction by way of the Four Noble Truths: 1. There is suffering. 2. There is the cause of suffering. 3. There is the cessation of suffering. 4. There is the path to the cessation of suffering.

These truths basically boil down to our belief in permanence. We tend to view ourselves as permanent entities. Because of this, we can easily become unhappy with the ways of the world. The ways of the world are constantly changing, interrelated, interdependent, and usually unpredictable. We cling to the myths of tradition or permanence. It is the desire for the ways of the world to stop shifting that causes so much unhappiness and strife within ourselves and with other people. In a nutshell, a person can learn to accept life as it appears and as it happens then living becomes more joyful.

While the constant business of acceptance goes on in our heads, life events continue to happen. We have all been born from our mothers. We have all been infants and children. The life-cycle hopefully includes growing into adulthood and maturity. Then it all comes to a screeching halt. At every step along the path of life we will continue to encounter stress regardless of what we believe about life and the Universe. Our predominant opinion can make these changes more bearable or less bearable.  Regardless of this, we will still encounter more stress.

Even the most “holy” or “spiritually advanced” people experience a range of reactions to stressful, trying events and circumstances. There may be a general feeling of unsettledness underlying the mindset of the happiest of people. Sometimes we become impatient or irritated about something or someone. Frustration and disappointment pop up from time to time. At another level, tension and anxiety appear. We hope for less vexation and desperation in our lives. Most of us wish to experience as little sadness and anguish as possible.

The main fact of life is that each person will feel some types of pain or stress at various times in our lives. It could be as mundane as a stubbed toe or indigestion. All of us hope to avoid serious and traumatic injuries. There are the mental pains we’re bound to discover within our minds like resentment, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, aggression, and grief. We can put on a happy face for awhile, but eventually we will choose to deal with these factors or default to suffering.

This topic came up because I’m experiencing some fresh stresses related to aging right now. These are mundane, run-of-the-mill changes that I don’t like. I’m used to having superb, vibrant health. That seemingly permanent physical state is devolving a little bit, as is normal. Writing about stress and dissatisfaction is one way of meeting these changes head on. Perhaps something similar is happening to you?

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders the wisdom of Lily Tomlin. “Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.”

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Happy Columnists’ Day

After scanning the front page headlines of the Omaha paper every morning, I flipped to Ann Landers’ column. This was the daily routine I enjoyed during my adolescence. In fact, after reading Landers’ words of wisdom, I made sure to check out “Hints from Heloise” on those days her column appeared–which was not every day. Only after the columnists were read, did I finally turn to the comics pages.

Since today is National Columnists’ Day, we can salute the newspaper columnists we like to read. In fact, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, themselves, have expanded the scope of the celebration to bloggers and serial story writers on the Web and every medium. So, if you fit this description, hurray for you. If you like to read such writings, kudos to you, too.

Columnists and bloggers are still my main source of daily reading material because they provide a lot of good content. Ever since my youthful days of reading Ann Landers, newspaper columns and blogs have stimulated my mind with information about the daily business of living.

Among some of my favorite writers have been the old school editorialists and commentators. Herb Caen comes immediately to mind. His home paper for about 60 years was the San Francisco Chronicle as he kept his finger on the pulse of the City by the Bay.

For a humorous take on life, I used to read Pulitzer Prize-winning Dave Barry. When I couldn’t keep up with his column, one of his books filled in.

The one contemporary columnist I regularly read and hear is Paul Krugman. His pragmatic, very intelligent observations are well worth taking in. His main field is economics but has expanded his writing to include political issues. His voice is an important one in today’s fast-changing world.

One of the most famous, if not popular columnists steered his commentary writing skills towards the broadcast media. Andy Rooney was most widely known for his commentary slot at the end of CBS’s “60 Minutes”. Millions of viewers looked forward to Rooney’s curmudgeonly commentaries each Sunday evening until late 2011 when he finally retired. The nation mourned his death a month later.

Among the past “must read” columnists was Molly Ivins. The Texas transplant was a lady who used her sense of humor to call out injustice wherever she found it. Her powerful writing inspired a generation of activists. Her intellect is greatly missed in today’s expanding world of corruption and unfairness.

When a history of columnists is compiled, it will have to include the illustrious Mark Twain. What more can I say about this legend that hasn’t already been said? It’s hard to find any more prolific commentator than Twain. He remains my all-time favorite.

With these giants of journalism and others in mind, I hope you have an educational and happy National Columnists’ Day, today.

The Blue Jay of Happiness cites writer and journalist George Packer. “The difference between a reporter, a newspaper columnist, a paid speaker, a television personality, a radio talk show host, a blogger, a movie producer, a publicist, and a political strategist, is growing less–and not more–distinct.”

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Contemplating Coins

Last month I separated a couple of hands full of coins from the stash drawer in my desk. (See the bluejayblog post from March 17th.) Well, I finally got around to looking up their values. It turns out that the U.S. coins are only worth slightly more than their face values. The foreign coins are pretty much worthless on the open market. In other words, it would cost more to sell them than they’re worth.

While sorting through the coins, I thought about how important coins and money have been to humans throughout the ages. Coins were originally invented as tools of exchange or trading. It’s when coins and currency are used for their intended purpose, we obtain the most value. It’s the hoarding of cash that causes a great many social evils. The moral issue is finding the right balance between spending and setting funds aside for necessities, retirement and emergencies.

I held the old “Morgan” silver dollar in my left hand and thought of some of what it represents.

First of all, it’s a very hefty coin made of silver. Silver, along with gold, are the precious metals many nations, including the United States,  that once backed the monetary systems. The date on the dollar coin is 1886. This not only represents when the coin was minted, it is a reminder to posterity of its history. It’s a vital relic from our shared past.

What was the US like in 1886? The 49th Congress was in session and Democrat Grover Cleveland was in the Oval Office then. Lady Liberty was very special in 1886 because in October of that year her famous statue in New York Harbor was dedicated. Earlier that year, pharmacist John Pemberton invented the carbonated drink that was later named Coca-Cola. The Haymarket Riot happened in Chicago, this ultimately brought workers the eight-hour workday. In late Summer of 1886, Apache leader Geronimo and his band of warriors surrendered to the US Army in Arizona.

The national bird, the bald eagle, spreads its wings on the reverse side of the dollar coin. Not only have eagles represented the power and authority of nations, the American bald eagle represents independence, strength, and freedom. In its talons are an arrow and an olive branch. The symbol is framed by a portion of a laurel wreath. Inscribed, is the perennially controversial, “In God We Trust”. Around the perimeter is, “United States of America” and “One Dollar”.

I picked up an ancient Roman coin and went on line to try to figure out what it represented back in the day. I discovered their money was categorized into Aureus, Quinarii, Denarii, Sestarii, Dupondii, Asses, Quadrains, and Unciae. Yes, they had ass coins. 400 Asses were worth one Aureus. So, evidently, if a Roman had an Aureus, she might be rich.

This again brought thoughts about the origin of coins. The first coins came about to represent labor. Farmers traded the fruits of their labor for coins that could be traded for other goods in the marketplace. The same went for other workers. Their work was rewarded in coins that could be traded for goods in the same way farmers could do. It was only much later in human history that silver and gold came to be minted into coins valued mostly because of what the precious metals represent.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Money, not morality, is the principle commerce of civilized nations.” By casual observation, we see that this is still the main motivator for domestic and international relations.

The subject of money is a loaded topic. In fact, one of our society’s idioms about wealthy people says that “they are loaded”.

Other popular phrases include descriptions of cars that can “stop on a dime”. Benjamin Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Can you have a penny for your thoughts? A worthless item isn’t worth a “plug nickel”. Be sure you don’t take any wooden nickels. If a friend calls to talk, you can say, “It’s on your dime.”

That’s my two-cents worth.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes comedian Steven Wright. “If it’s a penny for your thoughts, and you put in your two cents worth, someone somewhere is making a penny.”

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Another Distracted Driving Commentary

My friend Mark took me for a drive in his brand new car this past weekend. It’s a sporty, dark blue Ford with a raft of bells and whistles. Mark says he is generally pleased with the car except for the fact that he is now saddled with monthly loan payments for the next few years.

As we sped down the highway, Mark wanted to adjust the heating controls to a cooler temperature and run the fan slower. He asked me to make the adjustments so that he wouldn’t  drive the car into the ditch.

That’s when I had to confront the touch-screen control center. I didn’t know where to begin. After fumbling around for several minutes, I asked what I needed to touch in order to find climate control. Mark said he couldn’t remember, but he managed to find it by reading the car’s owner’s manual.

Eventually, I found the corresponding page in the book then tapped the appropriate area of the screen. When the heating and a/c controls appeared, there was a confusing mess of options.  After a minute or so, of trial and error, I found the right controls and settings.  Mark said the complicated screen is why he wanted me to adjust the heater.

Then Mark asked me to turn on the sound system so he could demonstrate the car’s speakers. So, I reversed the order of screen manipulating to get to the radio function. From there, running the radio was more intuitive, yet still far too complicated.

I wasn’t able to enjoy the ride in Mark’s car until I had adjusted the accessories to his liking. That’s when he confessed that he has to set everything up before he backs out of his driveway. It’s even too risky to try and adjust controls while stopped at traffic signals because drivers behind him could get impatient waiting for him to go when the light turns green.

“Honestly, the car controls are worse than a cell phone. I miss the nice tactile controls in the old Subaru.” The frustrating experience made me feel very thankful for the simple dashboard controls in my old Toyota. Unfortunately, regardless of car makes these days, practically all the new models have some sort of touch screen in the middle of the dashboard. So when it comes time to replace the ol’ Camry, I’ll have to deal with the risk of distracted driving, too.

After Mark dropped me off at home, I decided to investigate Nebraska’s distracted driving situation. According to the Nebraska DMV, 160 traffic mishaps in 2015 involved cell phone use. Over the prior decade, the state had 3,600 distracted driving accidents. These are considerable statistics for such a low-population state as Nebraska.

Distracted driving is considered to be a type of negligent driving and is punished as a misdemeanor with points taken off one’s driving record and will go onto the driver’s criminal record. If distracted driving is a contributing factor in an accident, the repercussions are much worse–especially if injury or death results.

If the driver is doing something as innocuous as nibbling a snack or sipping coffee or water when involved in an accident, a criminal violation has occurred. Yes, distractions include adjusting the sound system or the climate controls. Most US states have similar statutes to those in Nebraska.

Even if there were no distracted driving laws, my friend Mark would still risk getting into a serious crash if he is distracted while trying to adjust the fan controls on his non-tactile dashboard screen.

Thankfully, Mark is a cautious person who doesn’t do anything but drive when he’s behind the wheel of his new car. The last time I visited with him, he wanted to see if he could have the dashboard screen removed and retrofitted with simple, tactile switches and knobs. I have a feeling Mark is experiencing a severe case of buyer’s remorse.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Christopher Columbus. “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”

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What A Bummer

A popular saying is, “The only things in life that are certain are death and taxes.” This is also the theme of today’s unofficial holiday, “That Sucks Day”. The name of the commemoration is quite unfortunate because it’s an epithet derived from an insult regarding a sexual act. When something unfortunate happens, I prefer to use the older expression, “What a bummer” because it seems wrong to compound something bad by using a crude response.

Why was today chosen to recognize unhappy events? First, April 15th is the usual date when US Income Tax Returns come due. Secondly, this is the anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. Thirdly, It is the anniversary of the sinking of the ocean liner Titanic. Because of the very dire nature of the historical events it seems insulting to dismiss them with a crude sexual innuendo. Since the 15th falls on a Sunday this year, tax day is the 17th, so that bummer will be on Tuesday.

The noun “bummer” is derived from the German word “Bummler” which is a person who is a failure or a flop. Bummer, in that context became popular in the mid 1850s. More recently, in the 20th century, “bummer” became slang for an unpleasant experience such as an unfortunate reaction to an illicit drug. However, most people just think of a bummer as an unhappy result or event.

The ancient Roman Emperor/philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself, “Here is the rule to remember in the future, When anything tempts you to be bitter, not: ‘This is a misfortune’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune'”

The point of honoring our bummers has been made many times. Mourn your misfortune appropriately, then contemplate it to find an important, helpful lesson you can use to improve yourself.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from the ancient Roman poet Virgil. “Myself acquainted with misfortune, I learn to help the unfortunate.”

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