I love cold weather. I remind friends and acquaintances of this fact whether or not we’re going through a Summer heat wave or a Winter cold snap. I found another person who feels the same. He’s one of the clerks at the neighborhood Hy-Vee supermarket. I discovered this fact while he reloaded the receipt printer with a new roll of paper–a perfect time for weather related small-talk. The conversation was natural because the outdoor temperature was 97° Fahrenheit and the relative humidity felt like it came from the Amazon rain forest.

One of the announcers at an Omaha radio station mentioned record cold temperatures during his weather report update about the current seasonal Nebraska heat. He stated that the lowest recorded temperature in Nebraska was minus 47° Fahrenheit (-43.8°C) on December 22, 1989 in the tiny town of Oshkosh. He went on to mention that the lowest temperature directly measured by humans since weather data has been collected was minus 128.6° Fahrenheit or minus 89.2° Celsius. This took place on July 21, 1983 at the Soviet Union’s Vostok Base in Antarctica.

Of course, I had to verify this information on-line. Wikipedia verified these figures with probable exceptions. On August 10, 2010 in East Antarctica, satellite analysis showed a possible temperature of minus 135.8° Fahrenheit or 93.2° Celsius. This was never visually confirmed by a ground measurement. So today is the anniversary of the 1983 event as experienced by humans in the modern era.

The clerk at the supermarket said he likes cold weather for various reasons including wintertime ice-fishing, and that he is able to get more work done at home when the temperatures are nippy. Even though I do not go ice-fishing, the work aspect is true for me, too. Hot, muggy weather makes me feel sluggish and tired.

Although it’s a muggy Nebraska weekend, I plan on sharing large portions of home made iced coffee with friends this afternoon. I combine strong brewed coffee with Eagle Brand or store brand sweetened condensed milk. (Not Nestle’s, because I don’t buy anything from them.) I pour the coffee mixture into large mugs, allow it to cool awhile, add plenty of ice cubes, and serve.

I used to share home-made ice cream, but most of my friends and I are cutting back for health reasons. So I sold my ice cream freezer on the Facebook buy and sell page for our city last year. If we get in the mood, there’s always the supermarket or we can order it for desert at the local eatery.

The supermarket sells dry ice from a special containment at the frozen foods section of the store. On particularly hot days, I sometimes think about buying some. I haven’t brought any home yet.

Have you ever wondered about those stores that have Christmas in July sales? One of our downtown gift shops used to go all out with decorated, lighted trees, Santas, and sparkely decorations. They kept these things displayed all month long. Some people take advantage of Christmas in July to buy gifts early to give away during the December holidays.

Thoughts about brisk January days are comforting while I slog through the heat and humidity mowing the yard in July and August. However the dripping sweat always brings me back to the reality of the present season.

The Blue Jay of Happiness wistfully ponders something from fashion stylist Brad Goreski. “Scarves, mittens, and hats are a great way to express your personality in the cold weather.”

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Shape …Floral Friday

Aside from color, shape is a major ingredient in flower arranging. Today I combined differently shaped containers and paired them with interestingly shaped floral elements.

I began the exercise with an inexpensive department store vase patterned after the classic Roman style. Radical, bright, pointy, star-shaped day-lilies make an eye-catching statement.

A standard “onion” vase from the local Target store reflects the shape of poppy pods. The end result is somewhat futuristic.

The Napco planter is patterned after the 1948 Cadillac convertible that featured a groundbreaking shape for its era. The subdued color of this container calls for the bushy shapes, and bold color of this variety of gerbera daisies.

I had a left-over spider mum from another project this week. I paired it with a primitive, small globular vase. The overall shape of this bonus arrangement somewhat resembles a figure 8.

The Blue Jay of Happiness is contemplating something from programmer Jack Dorsey. “I fell in love with flora of all types, especially ferns. Loved the sparse structure and repetition of shape – almost fractal.”

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Beyond Words

The young man stood in front of a darkened window, smoothed back his hair, and adjusted his necktie. He turned away, glanced at his designer wristwatch, and leaned against the wall.

While waiting for Jorge to get fitted for a new pair of shoes on Tuesday, I had relaxed into observing passing shoppers in the mall. The preening young man had caught my eye because of the impeccable way he was dressed. These days, most men and women dress very casually in street clothes.

The young man in the mall wore an obviously tailored navy blue suit paired with a crisp light blue shirt. The tie was dark blue. He had conservative black loafers on his feet.

I wondered why he was dressed so perfectly. He showed no signs of self-conscious shyness, even though he was clearly the best-dressed man in the entire mall. Then the young man adjusted his shoulders back and straightened his posture. He glanced back at his reflection in the dark window and placed his left hand in his trouser pocket.

Next he lifted his head a bit higher, and began smiling and removed his hand from the pocket. He walked towards an equally well-dressed older man. They shook hands and walked together to the exit doors and departed.

Jorge had been observing me observing the gentleman in the mall while my friend waited for the shoe salesman to get some shoes from the store’s back room. “What do you think about that dapper pair? Too bad for you that both of them are spoken for.”

I smiled at Jorge’s little joke. “I think they’re meeting to discuss business or they’re going to someone’s wedding.”

Jorge laughed, “or their own wedding.”

The salesman returned with two shoe boxes. Then Jorge adjusted his attention back to shoe-buying mode. I turned my attention to the mall again for more people watching entertainment.

The parade of shoppers betrayed their emotions by the manner they walked, the expressions on their faces, and their clothing choices. If they were in groups, you could figure out who was the dominant person or leader and who was subordinate just by their body language.

A teen-aged girl was seated on one of the mall’s benches. She had her arms crossed, her head tilted upwards, and a frown on her face. An older woman, probably the girl’s mother, was telling the girl something. I guessed that the girl was being reprimanded for some sort of wrong-doing. The scene was unpleasant, so I averted my gaze.

An elderly gentleman ambled into my field of vision. He was dressed in blue jeans and wore a white tee-shirt emblazoned with “Cancun” and a stylized picture of the Sun. On his left wrist was a black plastic fitness monitor. On his feet were pure white, chunky walking shoes. The old fellow was obviously a “mall walker” out for his daily constitutional.

Back in the store, Jorge had decided on a pair of grey and red sneakers from an Australian brand I’ve never heard of. Jorge slipped his credit card into the checkout counter’s reader. Jorge and the salesman smiled at each other while the credit card was being verified. Judging by both men’s “open” posture and friendly smiles, the sales transaction was mutually satisfactory. Jorge picked up the shoe box that now contained his old shoes, then marched with me into the mall.

I decided to buy us lunch, so we strolled towards the food court to have some Chinese stir-fry. Jorge joked that we should have a race so he could test his new sneakers. I shook my head, “no” and laughed.

Our outing had turned out well for both of us. Jorge scored a pair of comfortable shoes, and I had fun enjoying the “sport” of people watching.

It’s amazing how much we can learn about people simply by observing what they’re saying beyond words.

The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks that nonverbal communication is fundamental and more rich than communicating strictly through words.

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Do Nothing

We are a very fidgety species. Apparently this is true physically and mentally. We can see this when we observe people who are closest to their unsocialized state–children. When kids aren’t physically checking out everything and anything, they’re busy asking questions. If this curiosity isn’t forced out of them, they grow up to be adventurous, inquisitive, happy adults.

There is another aspect of childhood that is frequently overlooked by we adults who are eager to mold children into people who act and think as we do. It’s the natural ability to do nothing.

Do you remember that part of your childhood?

Either out of sheer exhaustion or a sudden urge to just halt all the fidgety stuff for awhile, kids will just plop down. They stop doing and thinking. Kids have the skill to simply be alive. The English language has a great absence of adverbs and adjectives that describe this state of being. So we might pigeonhole this state of being into the category–do nothing.

By the time we grow into late adolescence and then adulthood, many of us attempt to rediscover the primal state of doing nothing. Sometimes it is thought of as another goal to achieve, like finishing one’s education, achieving a successful position at work, dating, and having a satisfying hobby. There are many people whose search for rediscovering that simplicity has become an avocation.

Maybe, for many of us, this search comes about from a desire to pause the neurosis of daily life for awhile. Modern life is full of stress, anxiety, and the social pressures for us to do more and be more. This search transcends the concept of letting go of one’s struggle in order to gain more productivity in an economic sense. The true sense of doing nothing, in the childlike manner, is about rediscovering our humanity for its own sake. The “do nothing” we’re inquiring about is not the kind of doing nothing as in giving up effort to accomplish a task. Nor is it apathy nor indifference towards responsibility.

There are many triggers that cause us to search for this do nothing state of spirituality. (I hesitate to call it spirituality, because that implies doing something, not doing nothing. I use the word spirituality as a convenient place holder word.) Maybe we have encountered death through the loss of a loved one or a brush with our own death. Maybe we feel the state of ennui or depression. Perhaps we’re tired of the frustrations of life so we want to “connect with God”. Maybe we feel powerless when facing times and events we can never control. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of vaguely remembering the do nothing times of childhood.

Many people search for this state of mind by practicing a religion. Other people follow a guru, or take up esoteric meditation practices. Others may become nihilistic. There are upsides and downsides to all of these. The catch is, these are searches for “the other”. We may discover that these practices are sophisticated techniques to re categorize ourselves.

We might succeed in shifting our philosophical, theoretical, “spiritual”, or mental frameworks. At best, we see things from different points of view. Yet there is still a lingering need to enhance love, bliss, state of peace, and unity with perfection.

Eventually, some of us observe that all this searching, studying, believing, and paradigm shifting have become mental fidgeting and stopped being tools that enable letting go. We discover we are tilting at windmills. We notice that we are attempting to live life according to the ideas we have inherited from our families and our social culture.

Is there a way to pause this mental conditioning? To ask the question is to find hope in yet another technique to engage us with still more mental fidgeting.

The “answer” is something that we knew when we were young kids. Just plop down for awhile and do nothing.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes simple, profound ideas like this one from Albert Einstein: “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

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There is much to be said for a certain amount of institutionalized structure, strategic planning, and discipline. Without these, our society would be chaotic. However, the sweetness of life comes about because of spontaneity. Spontaneity is the essential spark of life.

Perhaps this is literally so. There is an hypothesis that a primordial soup of essential chemical solutions and compounds had formed over aeons. Then, perhaps a spark of lightning provided the burst of energy to trigger the formation of the first one-celled lifeforms.

The connection between human vitality and spontaneity came to mind yesterday through an encounter with a very young boy. He was standing in line with his father who was waiting to pay for his purchases at the drug store. I was right behind them, absent-mindedly skimming the covers of the magazines and tabloids near the check-out counter.

Suddenly the little boy yelled, “Hey!” I reflexively looked at the child.

He then pointed at my Hawaiian shirt and asked, “Tree?”

I replied, “Yes, that’s a palm tree.”

He smiled and giggled, then ran over to his parent. The father caressed the boy’s head and smiled at me, saying somewhat apologetically, “He’s at that curious stage.”

I responded by telling the father that his kid’s curiosity made my day.

Short conversations like this happen thousands of times each day around the world. One of the accidental roles children play, is to barge through the walls that we grown-ups have built to insulate us from each other. Yesterday’s innocent incident, not only provided some friendly happiness for we three individuals, some of the other drug store customers also smiled at the spontaneous behavior of the toddler. Not only that, but the little kid inspired today’s blog post.

Humans value spontaneity so much, that we manufacture artificial spontaneity in our society. Back in the days when mom and pop stores were the predominant retail establishments. Shopping for groceries and dry-goods was more of a free-form activity. Now, we have Internet algorithms and widespread consumer polling that triggers customized advertising to individuals. We no longer just go shopping. Now we have a predictable, data guided “shopping experience”. Instead of buying what appeals to us personally, our shopping trips are becoming more manipulative. To take an excursion through a big box store is to subject oneself to faux-spontaneity.

That little boy’s giggle and our moments of authentic laughter are spontaneous events. We witness something that delights us or tickles our funny bones and real laughter bursts forth. An episode of honest laughing is an act of letting our hair down. Laughter is the spontaneous spark that shocks our learned restraints.

I hope you’ll forgive my name-dropping here. Someone I knew only through an Internet Buddhist discussion group, Chade-Meng Tan, once said, “If the mind is calm, your spontaneity and honest thoughts appear. You become more spontaneous.” Meng lives according to his own spontaneous nature. He is the former motivator, software engineer, and greeter of celebrities at Google. He has gone on to further international acclaim.

Someone once remarked on a radio talk show that formal Washington state dinner parties have all of the spontaneity of a Japanese Imperial funeral. I wonder if that observation was spontaneous or contrived.

I see symptoms of being grown up in myself. I’ve become somewhat accustomed to routine and the inner child must yell a little louder at the passing of each year. What spontaneity is still possible, I treasure. I try to keep it alive by engaging in creative pursuits. After all, spontaneity is the spark of life.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this simple statement from Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: “Only in spontaneity can we be who we truly are.”

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There is a fine line that separates assertiveness from bossiness. We think of assertiveness as a positive, helpful type of behavior that exudes a person’s confidence. Bossiness is an abrasive mode of behavior that is characterized by domination and ordering other people around.

Balanced behavior is assertive in the way of being confident about one’s right to be oneself without threatening the rights of other people, particularly of people with whom you disagree. Assertiveness also works to affirm a person’s rights without being aggressive or threatening other people’s rights, or permitting anyone else to deny or ignore one’s own rights or points of view.

Bossiness is unbalanced, aggressive, over-confident, threatening to the rights and consideration of other people. It assumes that other people are subordinates and should bow to will and authority. Bossiness assumes that other people’s rights and points of view can be readily dismissed as invalid by way of referring to some sort of authority or hierarchy.

A passage from The Tao by the sage Laotse, as translated by the late, great Alan Watts, describes a mellow form of assertiveness that rings true.

“The great Tao flows everywhere,
 —-to the left and to the right.
All things depend upon it to exist,
—-and it does not abandon them.

To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things,
—-but does not lord it over them.”

Take a few moments to reread the verse and contemplate it.

The statements are beautiful and elegant. They define a state of being without being dogmatic. You might say they convey the quality of live and let live.

There is a very disturbing trend going on today towards abridgment of liberty. It is marked with the promotion of authority, theocracy, and submission to the will of high ranking individuals. This trend of bossiness is anathema to our democratic republic and personal freedom. This iron-fistedness is unAmerican in spirit and is dishonest at its core.

There is a cacophony of aggressive speech and behavior in the world that is not conducive to human survival. It seems like it will become more strident in the near future. We need less bossiness and more assertiveness.

It’s easy to be bossy. I’ve caught myself in the act of being bossy. I’m guessing that most of us have some measure of bossiness inherent in our personalities. All primates seem to be bossy to certain degrees. The trick is to keep bossiness in check without becoming submissive and passive.

In an ideal world, we could all speak for ourselves and act in our own self-interest without the need for a statement of affirmation or declarations of independence. In this Utopian world we could be ourselves without threatening the same rights of our fellow inhabitants. Domineering attitudes will have gone the way of the dodo bird. We could advocate for ourselves and the downtrodden among us without playing the victim card.

If we’re honest, we know the United States has a checkered history of being aggressive and not living up to the high ideals upon which it was founded. Now, this bossiness is being turned inward upon ourselves to an unprecedented degree. The country and the world is engaged in a shouting match of bossiness from every quarter and point of view. This bossiness is not just annoying, it is dangerous to the survival of our nation and others.

In my opinion, we need a time out from bossiness. It is high time for respectful assertiveness. I hunger for a beautiful world of live and let live.

The Blue Jay of Happiness is contemplating an idea from the former Mormon leader Joseph B. Wirthlin. “The word ‘seek’ means to go in search of, try to discover, try to acquire. It requires an active, assertive approach to life.”

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Unrequited Love

My first celebrity crush happened at the tender age of ten. I couldn’t get over the fact that I would never meet Opie Taylor (Ron Howard) from “The Andy Griffith Show”. In my young mind, since he is two years younger than me, it should be possible to meet him and become very close friends.

I pined for him like a long-lost best pal. He appeared in my daydreams that merged into imaginary episodes of the famous television show. After I finally faced the reality about his life and that Opie was an imaginary character, the crush subsided somewhat. The unrequited love remained in a more subtle form. I realized that I was just another invisible kid who fell in love with a star.

Regarding famous depictions of unrequited love in popular culture a lot of folks think about “Peanuts” character Charlie Brown and his love for the “Little Red-Haired Girl”. She never appeared in the newspaper comic strip but was still an important character in the comic. Charlie Brown was head over heels in love but never gathered the courage to talk to her. I wonder how many school boys have ever related to Charlie Brown’s dilemma.

To be the unrequited lover is to be one of life’s most frustrated people. The emotional swings can be dramatic because the emotions cannot be authentically fulfilled. The unrequited lover feels euphoric, then depressed, then falsely confident, then suffers from low self-esteem, then the cycle repeats on and on.

Unrequited love is such a powerful force in human life that it has inspired great literature through the ages. Examples are found in the works of William Shakespeare. Here is a grand passage from “A Midsummer  Night’s Dream”:

“Why should you think that I should woo in scorn?
Scorn and derision never come in tears:
Look, when I vow, I weep; and vows so born,
In their nativity all truth appears.
How can these things in me seem scorn to you,
Bearing the badge of faith, to prove them true?”

Other literary examples of works that include a theme of unrequited love include Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Dickens puts a more upbeat spin on the subject than the others.

One of the most poignant sentences I’ve read about unrequited love is from writer Rashida Rowe. “The worst feeling is falling for someone and knowing that they won’t be there to catch you.”

Of course, to feel unrequited love is not limited to romantic interpersonal relationships. Some of us feel attachments to geographical places like cities or places in nature. For instance, I have a deep and abiding unrequited love for India. The idea of living there is beautiful, but the practical logistics of actually doing so don’t seem to be workable at this stage in my life. India is a place I can only visit as a tourist.

One of the best aspects of unrequited love, is that it presents itself as an endless source of material for writers. Thanks for reading my writings today.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes film and stage star Daniel Radcliffe. “People do incredible things for love, particularly for unrequited love.”

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