Late November Projects …Floral Friday

This week’s projects began with me wondering about eaglets. Yes, the connection between ornithology and floral arts seems odd. In this case, the question came up while examining a vintage animal planter at the Goodwill Store.

It’s a nicely detailed piece that was manufactured in Japan, probably in the 1960s. The proportions suggest that the bird is not a fully grown adult bald eagle. It’s obviously not a hatchling. I have not found a satisfactory answer to the question, but I’ll say it’s an eaglet anyway.

The eaglet continues the odd, old practice of creating floral containers that depict animals. They have openings for arrangements in their backs, so something needs to go there. Otherwise you just have a figurine with a gruesome hole. In this case, I tried to be as subtle as possible because the eaglet is the primary focus, not the flowers. Also, since the rose is the official national flower of the United States, I included three small roses.

This old jardinière has been taking up storage space for quite awhile. The turquoise glaze doesn’t work well with many potential projects, so it’s been neglected until this week. Why not use it for an autumn display? The bright pot is an unexpected base for somber, understated grasses and blooms.

The small pottery vase contains a simple contemplative study of cone shapes. There is an expansive appearance here that is not cluttered with excess.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a saying from Lakota elder Black Elk as quoted by John G. Neihardt. “The soldiers did go away and their towns were torn down; and in the Moon of Falling Leaves (November), they made a treaty with Red Cloud that said our country would be ours as long as grass should grow and water flow.”

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Happy Thanksgiving

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Henry David Thoreau

In the United States, today is the official holiday set aside for gratitude and togetherness. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Every one of us is precious in some way. This is a primary reason to be thankful. Today is a special day we can take the time to sit quietly and reflect on the many circumstances that have happened during our lives, pleasant and unpleasant in the spirit of thanksgiving.

We have very good reasons to be sincerely thankful for the good and wonderful things that happen to us and the nice things we own. On the other hand, we generally overlook the reasons to be thankful for the bad things that have happened to us. Both the good and the bad have made us who we are.

Because gratitude for the good things comes naturally, let’s think about gratitude for the difficult things for a moment. A teacher once advised that it is wise to do so. He said we can acknowledge the difficulties by saying something like, “I am thankful I have a discerning mind that has learned to deal with life’s difficulties. I am grateful that I have become a stronger, more resilient person because of life’s trials.”  There is no need to dwell on difficulties to the extent that you relive them and become sad. Simply and honestly know that everything in the past has led up to who you are.

Then it will be the time to smile and celebrate the blessings that you have received in the past and those that you have right now. As the philosopher Epictetus once taught, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” All of us can remember when things have gone well and have enjoyed beautiful events.

One of the greatest impulses that gratitude inspires is generosity. A truly thankful person feels compelled to share her or his auspiciousness with others. This is a feeling that is not taught to us, it springs forth spontaneously.

I think of the people who visit military bases overseas and serve the troops their thanksgiving dinners. They hope that their simple acts help alleviate some of the loneliness felt by service members spending the holiday away from home.

We can remember the many volunteers who spend their Thanksgiving Day distributing care packages to needy families or serving traditional Thanksgiving meals at homeless shelters.

Whatever you do, wherever you are, I hope you can experience the joys of gratitude today on Thanksgiving Day. Today is the greatest holiday of all.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes W. Clement Stone. “If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.”

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I think it’s a holiday that needs to be officially observed every month in our consumption based social culture.

There are a couple of reasons we are told to be grateful. The first is to express gratitude for the life and things we have. Often, this is practiced in a religious context, but not always. Second, many people claim that people who feel gratitude will be rewarded with more of what they want.

There is a third reason to practice gratitude that is rarely expressed in our society. In my opinion, this third reason is the most powerful one. I am thankful to my step-cousin, Golf, for pointing this out to me a few years ago. He sent a small greeting card that contained the Kataññu Sutta. Golf, who spent several years as a Buddhist monk, said he considers this Sutta to be one of the most powerful teachings of all time.

“The Blessed One said, ‘Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by
civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.'”

How does gratitude bring about and reinforce integrity of character? On the surface, this seems peculiar if one has never contemplated such a notion. If you already regularly practice gratitude, the Sutta makes perfect sense.

If we are lacking in the gratitude department, this means we’re not paying full attention to life and that we take life and what we have for granted. If we only give lip service to gratitude, we lack integrity.

This will be demonstrated this week by the commercial orgy of consumption called “Black Friday”. Millions of Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving feasts and express feelings of thankfulness for their lives, loved ones, and the things they own. The very next day, perhaps even tomorrow night, many will then hurry out to wait en masse for the retail stores to open so the best bargains can be theirs to own or to give as Christmas gifts.

This fairly new “holiday” is aptly named because it seems to bring out the worst behavior of many people. We find many examples of rudeness, overt violence, and even deaths. At the root of this is greed.

So, what is greed? Basically greed is the lack of gratitude. Greed is the strong attitude of believing we are lacking. That might be expressed as thinking there’s not enough money, stuff to go around, or lusting after certain people. Greed is the catalyst for envy, expectations, entitlement, resentment, regret, hatred, and other negative drives.

On the flip-side, gratitude is the antidote to greed. Think about those times when we feel gratitude. This emotion enables deep satisfaction with our lives and how they are unfolding. When we are thankful for all that we have, greed is a non-entity. We feel good about ourselves and about the world. This satisfaction overshadows any lingering feelings of envy, regrets, hatred and other destructive urges. This is the pathway to integrity of character.

Integrity is the partner to contentedness with life. When we feel integrated with life, we are connected and fully present. Isn’t contentment what we really want in life?

Why would we not want to practice gratitude?

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a saying from John F. Kennedy. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

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Veggie Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving coming up the day after tomorrow, it’s time to take care of a few last minute menu items. If you have invited a vegetarian to your feast, or if you are a vegetarian who has been invited, remember to think of an alternative dish or two. It’s awkward at meal time if you have not planned ahead.

My worst case scenario happened several years ago during my company’s holiday dinner. Granted, that although this happened at a restaurant, it does illustrate what can happen when the vegetarian in the group is forgotten.

A couple of weeks before the dinner, we employees received an RSVP that if a spouse or partner would be attending with the employee and there was a short checklist for preferred entrée. One of the choices was vegetarian. That was a nice touch because I was the only vegetarian employee.

On the night of the dinner, the wait staff served everyone their beautifully prepared plates. That is everyone but me. I was left with an empty place mat while everybody else was tucking into dinner. To say this was embarrassing is to put it lightly.

The host of the event, the company owner, noticed my predicament and summoned a waiter. About 15-minutes later, which seemed like an eternity, the waiter brought me a plate and some condiments. My “dinner” was one head of iceberg lettuce, divided in half, the condiments were cellophane packets of various salad dressings.

Not only did I feel embarrassed, but I felt sorry for my boss, who did his utmost to smooth over the situation. I did my best to divert the travesty of this dinner disaster into something humorous. One of my coworkers remarked that at least I would never forget this particular meal. She was correct. If there was one important result of the chef’s carelessness, it was that the company no longer booked that restaurant for any future holiday dinners.

There are other pitfalls for vegetarians who have been invited to holiday dinner or any meal. That is dishes containing meat or meat drippings. If the dinner is the standard pass around the serving bowls style meal, it should be easy to gracefully forgo non-veggie foods. That is until you discover such traps as green bean casserole destroyed with bacon or ham mixed into it. The same for potato or pasta dishes containing chunks of meat.

Inevitably somebody will suggest that you at least try a small portion and you can just pick out the meat bits. The problem with that logic is that meat juices have seeped into the rest of the food. There are also very small fragments of meat that blend into the mixture and you don’t discover them until it’s too late.

So, what’s a polite vegetarian supposed to do if there are no spare heads of iceberg lettuce to be sliced in half?

The solution is to plan ahead. One can follow the example of my late step-mom. She prepared a few vegetarian dishes that everyone could enjoy. She also allowed me to bring one or two vegetarian dishes or casseroles to share with everyone. Oftentimes, I also provided one of the desserts. These meals were very pleasant and there were no awkward moments about the food. I never had to ask, “Does this have meat in it?” Nobody ever felt the urge to tell me to pick out the meat bits.

The same considerations apply to vegans, only the advice is supercharged.

What can you serve or bring to Thanksgiving dinner? That’s the beauty of the Internet. Do a search for vegetarian holiday food options and a wealth of amazing ideas come up. Simply select the ones that appeal to you.

I realize that ideally, Thanksgiving is not about the food, but in actuality, the holiday is about the food. A little foresight will make the meal much more gratifying for everyone involved.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this good timeworn snippet: “Vegetarian: A person who eats only side dishes.”

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The Company We Keep

One of the earliest lessons we learn in childhood is that we are judged by the company we keep. If our parent taught us this, she was probably concerned about how we would develop our ideals, morals, and ethics. Literature regarding this parental concern is more ancient than the Christian Bible.

It’s wise to reinforce values like this throughout our youth and adulthood. An aunt gave me a book of Aesop’s Fables when I was nine or ten years old. One of the short lessons Aesop wrote was “The Ass and His Purchaser”. Here is the complete story:

“A man wished to purchase an ass, and decided to give the animal a test before buying him. He took the ass home and put him in the field with his other asses.

The new ass strayed from the others to join the one that was the laziest and the biggest eater of them all.

Seeing this, the man led him back to his owner. When the owner asked how he could have tested the ass in such a short time, the man answered, ‘I didn’t even need to see how he worked. I knew he would be just like the one he chose to be his friend.'”

If a person wishes to be judged by others as good, you hang out with good people; if you’re careless, you might fall in with bad people. Of course we must be careful not to exclude people who are simply shy or are members of a group that is discriminated against.

Because a lot of people who read this blog identify as Christians, I’ll include this short Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 15:33 says “Do not be deceived, ‘bad company corrupts good morals.”

Whether or not we accept ancient literature as good guidance, there is plenty of anecdotal, subjective evidence that seems to prove that we are like the company we keep.

Time after time it has been proven that our personalities are strongly influenced by our environment and by different situations. Throughout our lives our nuclear family, extended family, friends, and colleagues are our behavioral models. This is one reason why it seems valid to be judged by the company we keep. Our closest associates and friends reflect who we really are, deep inside.

We can take note of popular sayings about this topic such as:  “If you run with wolves you will learn how to howl, but if you associate with eagles you will learn how to soar to great heights.” and “Introduce me to your best friends and I will know who you are.” and “It is better to be alone than with the wrong company.” Honestly, don’t we use some of these sayings to judge celebrities, politicians, religious leaders, and others?

Just because some folks behave kindly towards us or seem to be interested in us doesn’t mean we should be quick to associate with them. It’s easy to forget this warning in the current age of social isolation and dehumanization.

We can well afford to take our time to observe people who are drawn to us or we to them. Over time, people can’t help but reveal who they really are. Some of them will be negative, and plenty of others will be people who will enhance our lives.

By the same measure, we need to be mindful that our relationships are two-way streets. Do we harm or do we help the people in our lives? How does what we say and do affect our partners, our families, our coworkers, and strangers we meet?

A childhood friend’s mother once reminded me to bring out the best in others by being the best I can be. I hope to be able to always follow that advice because that’s not always very easy to do.

The Blue Jay of Happiness loves this old saying: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

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Have A Bad Day

You’ve been in this scenario:  You awakened late. You rushed through your morning routine. You didn’t have time for breakfast, so you grabbed a granola bar and coffee. On the way to an important day at work, you had to wait through slow traffic. You finally arrived at the job and encountered your angry boss.

You have my permission to have a bad day.

No matter how many happy affirmations you’ve repeated over and over, the day is just one face palm after another. Your emotions snowball, and what begins as panic about the late start, becomes endless grumpiness, irritability, and unhappiness.

There’s an old idiom that applies to you. “You got up on the wrong side of the bed.” Did you violate the old superstition that says it’s inauspicious to put your left foot down first when getting out of bed?

The day has been wrong from the beginning. No matter what you do or what you tell yourself to think, you find yourself trapped in a fiendish, frustrating place where everything seems to be conspiring against you.

Well fear no more, today is one of those inane holidays you can celebrate for this condition. This is Have A Bad Day Day. To make matters worse, this is one of those holidays that has been copyrighted. Can you believe it?

Before I find myself in hot water, I’d better attribute it. Have A Bad Day Day was dreamed up by the people at Wellcat dot com. To make matters worse for me today, Google couldn’t find their DNS address during this morning’s search.

Apparently, today’s holiday honors folks in the service industry who encounter ill-mannered members of the public. Despite any poor treatment, the employees must parrot, “Have a nice day.”

The folks at Wellcat claim that today is the day you can tell bad people to “Have a Bad Day”. They do advise you to say it with a smile on your face and to say it in the most pleasant way possible. Supposedly, this will lead to a great deal of bewilderment for the nasty customer.

The skeptical side of me thinks that this is terrible advice. Personally, I would never say such a thing to a customer, a coworker, and especially not to a boss. Telling someone to have a bad day, with a pleasant smile, could lead to an even worse day for the teller. But that’s just my opinion. You should use your own better judgment about this matter.

To any self-centered, ill tempered people, all I can say is to be careful today. Such individuals might be on the receiving end of, “Have a bad day.” They won’t be sure whether or not they’ve been insulted.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a snippet from author Richelle E. Goodrich. “I’ve had the kind of bad day no quote can fix.”

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While making my bed Monday morning, a thought about an acquaintance popped into my head. Ricardo is someone who used to converse with me nearly every day. Anyway, Ricardo moved to Indiana a couple of years ago, and hasn’t bothered to keep in touch with many of the people he knew here in Nebraska. Oh, and by the way, Ricardo has an uncanny resemblance to the young version of Fidel Castro except that Ricardo doesn’t smoke cigars, he vapes.

As I went about my early morning routines, I wondered what ever happened to Ricardo. Did he marry his girlfriend? What kind of work was he doing? Did he even live in Indiana anymore? At the time, it seemed odd that Ricardo would appear in my mind because we were not close friends or buddies.

As the early morning unfolded, thoughts of Ricardo drifted away and I focused on writing an unrelated post for this blog. The rest of the morning happened in a normal, unremarkable manner.

Then, while my friend Jane and I were chatting, Ricardo walked through the doorway. Even though he was wearing a hoodie over his head, his Castro-like features were still evident. Soon, Jane and I began interrogating him and he started filling us in about his current situation. During our conversation, I remembered thinking about Ricardo earlier in the morning.

No, I do not identify as some sort of psychic or a clairvoyant. In fact, I’m quite skeptical about such matters. However, when I was much younger, I was an avid true believer in New Age spirituality. Those beliefs went away after never having any authentic first hand experiences with anything involving extrasensory perception, telepathy, nor visions of fifth, sixth, or any other dimensions of awareness.

I had been living at the epicenter of the New Age movement in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of its highest popularity in the 1970s. I was familiar with the culture of the psychic community because friends and some family members were deeply into it. New Age culture filled a void in my young mind. Despite this immersion, it never felt authentic to me.

The most important instance of insightful intuition happened in San Jose in 1977. I knew that I had to make a clean break from my beloved Bay Area, family, and friends. It was necessary to leave the world of woo behind and recapture what was left of my sanity while I still was able to do so. This was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make. I’m glad I listened to that inner voice.

Obviously, “alternative spirituality”, sixth sense, ESP, UFOlogy, and other forms of “second sight” hold no sway over my life. Skepticism has been a boon to my happiness.

For these reasons, Monday’s experience with an apparent precognitive thought and Ricardo’s appearance was especially fascinating. I understood that there is no proven technique to distinguish direct mind to mind communication. There are no vibrational frequencies or whatever to enable such phenomenon.

We average folks can sometimes predict the future but this happens through mental processes that take into account our surroundings, awareness, knowledge, and previous experiences. Most of the time we have thoughts about people, places, and events but we don’t pay attention to them. It is when an event coincidentally intersects with a memory of one of those thoughts that that thought feels special.

Our minds like to make note of interactions that seem supernatural. For instance, we frequently, unconsciously look at digital clocks and watches to note the time. It’s when we see 11:11, 2:02, 10:10, or 1:23 that we take notice. We might ascribe special meaning to such readouts. My mind especially likes to isolate both 11:11 and 1:23 whenever I notice them on my wristwatch or wall clock. This is just a biological part of  pattern recognition. It’s not really anything special.

Regarding Ricardo, in retrospect, I realized that because Ricardo used to be a daily feature in my life, I have thought about him frequently. Just as frequently those thoughts vanished into the thought stream. They came and went just as any other thoughts. It wasn’t until I saw Ricardo walk into view, did I remember my latest thoughts about him. My apparent anticipation did not happen until after the fact, when the mind had time to synthesize the scenario.

So far, there have been no recorded instances of anyone who could provide regular, routine, pin-point accurate, detailed descriptions of future events. Such people would be famous as authentic psychics. Right now, people who claim to be able to forecast events really have no better luck than any regular person rolling the dice and predicting outcomes 100-percent of the time. When a prediction and an event intersect by pure chance, the prediction stands out from the rest.

It was this happy coincidence that helped make my reunion with Ricardo more memorable and noteworthy.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes an old zinger from Jay Leno. “Here’s something to think about: How come you never see a headline like ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?”

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