For World Photography Day

There is a tie-in between yesterday’s topic of serendipity and today’s topic of photography. It is that a couple of weeks ago I was driving on the street near our town’s pawn and railroad salvage shop. On a whim, I stopped in to look for a new mattress.

They didn’t have a suitable mattress set, so I walked over to the pawn shop area of the store. There, I discovered the only new camera, with hang tags. It had been pawned by its owner but was not  reclaimed. It was similar to a camera that I have been considering for about a month. I bought the pawn shop camera on impulse because the price was cheap and the warranty is still in effect.

The following photos were shot with the Sony DSC H-300. They were taken by utilizing only the very basic features and settings of the camera. These are my contributions for today’s salute to World Photography Day.

After installing the batteries, I brought the camera outdoors to take a few test shots. One of my favorite subjects is the sky, so I pointed the camera up and clicked away.

These days, I am most curious about close-up or macro photography. What kind of performance can be expected?  For this shot, the camera lens was about twelve inches away from the 1939 aluminum commemorative souvenir coin. The camera could only zoom about a third of the way before going blurry. This photo was shot with that parameter, then I cropped the frame later on my laptop.

My old trusty, abused Citizen watch has earned the glamor treatment. Under improvised bounced lighting from an LED flashlight the results were much better than expected. Even the chips and scratches on the crystal are visible.

The pièce de résistance of the close-up shoot is the Chinese book mark that was taken with the same improvised lighting technique as used for the wristwatch. The colors and textures of this object are totally accurate.

The newly completed portion of the riverside walking/bicycling path passes beneath the brand new downtown bridge. I admire the artistic architectural style of the structure so I photograph it often.

Yesterday, the tripod mounted camera captured this view of the downtown bridge from the perspective of my front yard. The lens was zoomed out about one-quarter from maximum. There is some haze due to the noon-hour direct sunlight, so it appears that there is little if any UV filtering on the camera lens.

Here is that same bridge view taken last night. This image is cropped to eliminate some of the blank black space.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Ansel Adams. “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

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Some Serendipity

One of the best parts of life is surprise. We do not know exactly what lies ahead of us each day, so serendipity can be a regular part of our lives. Certainly, unpleasant stuff happens often enough, but very pleasant surprises pop up seemingly out of nowhere, too.

Those of us who prefer to think or act outside of the box have active imaginations and experience pleasant surprise at what life brings our way. The most popular form of serendipity these days springs from the minds of people who bring us “life hacks” on the Internet.

Just yesterday, I found one that I’ll begin using regularly. Someone suggested using one of the pillowcases from a bed sheet set to contain the rest of the sheets. You just fold up the two sheets and one of the pillowcases into the right size, then slide them inside the remaining pillowcase. The set remains intact and neat. It’s much easier to store.

Somebody has discovered that if you arrange leftovers in a donut shape by spacing out an empty circle in the middle that the microwave will heat the food more evenly.

A week ago, while skimming over the racks at the Goodwill Store, I noticed a chartreuse plastic bowl. It was injection molded into a bi-level shape. I examined it and thought that it was some sort of flower planter or arranger.

My friend, the store manager, noticed my interest. She said the peculiar bowl had puzzled her, too, so she had done a Google image search. She learned that the bowl is for cold cereal. The cereal goes in the top compartment and the milk in the bottom compartment. When eating, you just push each spoonful of cereal into the milk compartment. Then you can enjoy crispier cereal with each spoonful.

Of course, I had to bring the bowl home. My Wheat Chex eating experiences have been brought up to a new level. However, I still want to use the bowl to create a floral arrangement someday.

For many of us, life itself is a string of serendipitous events. Despite the best laid plans, life unfolds in unplanned ways. You carry on your regular weekly routine of running errands, then, by chance, you meet a mew friend who enhances your life. You browse the Internet and discover an article with advice that can change your life for the better.

When it comes to a life well-lived, a lot of it comes down to luck and recognizing opportunity that has landed right in front of us. Much of life is serendipity and it improves if we harness surprise.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Nobel Prize Laureate chemist Akira Suzuki. “The concept of serendipity often crops up in research. Serendipity is the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things that were not being sought. I believe that all researchers can be serendipitous.”

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Improvised Simplicity …Floral Friday

Some jazz improv was playing on the radio as I gathered the materials for today’s projects. There was no announcing of who the artists were or when and where the music was recorded. It was an uptempo blend of electric piano and flute. The tunes certainly influenced the direction of my floral improvisation. All three arrangements are based on one central bloom with some simple complications.

The black vase in a black frame spoke to me from the cluttered thrift store shelf so I brought it home to use as soon as possible. Twigs and constructed elements frame and compliment the daisy.

The enameled solid brass Indian onion vase set just the right tone for this time of year. Variations of yellow continue the theme in modernistic style.

The bird of paradise is rooted in a heavy studio vase. The resulting statement is bold and assertive.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes filmmaker Ken Burns. “The genius of our country is improvisation, and jazz reflects that. It’s our great contribution to the arts.”

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A Growing Friendship

I’m in the process of beginning a new friendship. Having written that sentence, I just want sit here and ponder its implications, and meanings. When you’re fully aware of the process of making friends with another human being, you feel yourself expand.

When a friendship is new and fresh, it is the result of the meeting of heart and mind. In the heart sense, friendship nourishes a deep primal need for human connection. In the mind sense, friendship feeds the necessity to share ideas and interests with another person.

Getting to know someone beyond the stage of acquaintanceship is a process of discovery and vulnerability. There is a lot of intellectual discussion. There is also a fuzzy boundary that is crossed when subjects of discussion are those that are most meaningful to the heart.

In our culture, it is still quite rare for men to talk heart to heart with each other, even if they’ve known one another for several years. In the case of this new friend and me, we’ve put a foot into each other’s door to the heart. It all started innocently enough by engaging in standard polite conversation about the rainy weather in that we both wished for a dry spell.

He prefers to be called Jonathan, not Jon, not Johnny. It’s important to respect someone’s desire to go by whatever name they prefer. In his case of preferring the full, formal name of Jonathan, he reveals an aura of respectability and dignity. Jonathan likes the history of his name. He reminded me that it goes back to ancient Hebrew culture. The Biblical Jonathan was the eldest son of King Saul. He also mentioned the scholar named Jonathan Edwards and the famous writer Jonathan Swift. I mentioned my favorite comedian Jonathan Winters.

At first, it seemed like the relationship would be that of mentor and protégé because Jonathan is much younger than my other friends. He also has asked for my advice about several matters. However, the relationship has developed into more of an equal give and take. It is not as formal as it was in the earlier stages. We learn from each other.

The friendship is still in its earliest stages because it has not yet had to withstand any serious adversity nor challenge. We’re both still observing and carefully testing each other. The important thing is that we are very similar in heart and mind; which can either make us blind to each others faults or help reveal them.

The point of writing about this new friendship is to simply share a few observations. Perhaps these words will help you see your own friendships from different perspectives. Maybe you have a new friendship in its budding stages, too. I hope so.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Paramahansa Yogananda. “There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first. When you learn to live for others, they will live for you.”

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When I had free access to dad’s small acreage in Wayne County, Nebraska, early mornings were set aside to enjoy the dawn. Even though the place was across the road from a truck trailer manufacturing factory, the atmosphere was silent and peaceful before the arrival of the first assembly shift.

On clear or partly cloudy mornings I sat on the elevated concrete slab that served as the house’s front porch. With coffee mug in hand, I contemplated the eastern horizon. Each sunrise was different in some way from the others.

I was happiest if scattered clouds were present in the East because partly cloudy skies enable the most spectacular visual displays just before, during, and shortly following dawn. The most dramatic sunrises are those in December and January. The sky appears more crystalline in deepest winter and clouds have a different character. The chill in the air enhances mindfulness towards the surroundings.

On August mornings before the oppressive heat and humidity settles in, the sounds of crickets and other nocturnal insects provide musical accompaniment to these informal meditations. As the eastern sky begins to brighten, robins’ bold chirping provide counterpoint to the overnight insect symphony. The presence of the insect and bird songs is one of the main aspects that differentiate summer early mornings from winter early mornings.

Very early mornings are not the only times for profound relaxation. Breaks in late morning and mid afternoon provide opportunities to observe daytime phenomenon. Often, these times can be spent with someone else. So, daytime relaxation can be more social, even if it is with a cat.

Complications with dad’s estate forced us to sell the acreage to a neighbor. He has dismantled the little farm and will be moving the house to a different location. That particular place of peacefulness is no more. It is a perfect example of the impermanent nature of life and things.

Of course, it’s not necessary to retreat to a rural locale in order to relax. We can take time-outs nearly anywhere. Whenever I feel rushed I look for a place to pause. It’s time to take a few long breaths, concentrate on them. If there is more time, a body scan is in order. That is paying close attention to every part of the body in sequence from head to toes and then toes to head. It’s amazing how refreshed and relaxed one feels after doing a simple body scan.

Most of the time I feel more relaxed alone, but at other times, being with friends and family makes me feel more at ease and comfortable. It all depends upon who is providing the company. There is no faking the authentic comfort of being near a lover or close confidant. Relaxing moments with such a person are incomparably beautiful.

Each person has their own unique ways to unwind and relax. Some are more physically active than others. We all need to defuse and to contemplate. At least once each day we need to reconnect with that special place and have a look inside and outside. When we can find moments to relax during the day, we are better able to relax into sleep at night.

Go ahead and take a few deep, mindful breaths right now.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Dr. Michio Kaku. “When I get bored, or get stuck on an equation, I like to go ice skating, but it makes you forget your problem. Then you can tackle the problem with a fresh new insight. Einstein liked to play the violin to relax. Every physicist likes to have a past time. Mine is ice skating.”

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The Long And Winding Road

Once in a blue moon I slip my old vinyl copy of The Beatles album “Let It Be” onto the turntable. I don’t listen to the songs of my youth very often anymore, but when I do, it’s usually Beatle’s music. That mood hit me yesterday.

I have a love/hate relationship with the slow, sad song “The Long and Winding Road”. What I don’t like about it, is Paul McCartney’s choice of vocal delivery of his song. What I like about it is the search for deeper meanings in the lyrics.

“The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door….” (Lennon/McCartney)

Beatles fans know the tune was inspired by the road on Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula that leads to Paul’s home. He used the house as a getaway from the rush of being a Beatle.

McCartney, himself, once said, “I was a bit flipped out and tripped out at that time. It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of.”

McCartney’s own interpretation runs parallel to the meanings the song I harbored before I learned about his meaning of it. To me the words were about not being able to change the past, yet still traveling down the road of life towards some sort of unattainable future ideal. It meant being aware of life’s promises and disappointments we all eventually face.

The song is relatable to how my path has changed since the spring of 1970. (The “Let It Be” album was released in May of that year, the same month I graduated from high school.) I will always associate the break up of the Beatles with letting go of the paraphernalia of youth.

It was time to let go of the concept of “blending in” or conforming with peers. It was time to find myself by going into the world at large to meet people from different cultures and ethnicities. It was the beginning of the process of really growing up and zeroing in on an adult identity by earnestly embarking on a life path.

The end of adolescence signals new circles of friends and new, scarier versions of trial and error as we become accustomed to the fresh experiences of independence and thinking for ourselves. We learn the value of having to do things we do not want to do, but must do in order to survive.

We meet some people who help guide us towards our goals and others who hinder our way. Part of the growing up process is figuring out what and who are helpful from what and who are harmful. Hopefully this becomes easier as we get older.

“Walking through life, we spend most of our energy choosing the right shoes.”–Ljupka Cvetanova

As we fumble our way along the path, we try out various beliefs and perhaps even belief systems. Do they feel right to us? Are they flexible enough to allow for further growth or do they squeeze our attitudes closed against further exploration? There are countless choices so it is wise to maintain a general focus yet be open to new possibilities that come up with the passage of time.

One usually evolves due to experiences. We adjust as our goals and needs shift or arise. We even alter our main belief system as we delve deeper into our existential truths. We can choose the default highway of victim-hood because of our experiences or we can walk the path of compassion because of our empathy. This is how we create some sort of purpose or personal destiny. How far do we travel? How often do we stop to admire the flora and fauna along the way?

As we pass along the path we will encounter many scary and threatening things and ideas. We learn that fear limits our vision and blocks us from many rewards. There is an alchemy our minds can harness that transforms fear into freedom.

We are often distracted and wander away from the path yet mindfulness will lead us back to our ultimate journey on the long and winding road.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a teaching attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

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The word “pretending” is paradoxical. A person who pretends to be someone else in order to hijack a bank account is fraudulent. A person pretending to be someone else in order to play a role in a movie or play is a highly esteemed, admired actor.

At some stages of our own lives we have pretense to camouflage ourselves, to engage in childhood play, or to imagine changing a personal situation. Some behaviorists say that pretending you are in a good mood will often lead to you actually being in a good mood.

I came across a quip on social media yesterday from writer/producer Diablo Cody that hit the spot. “There’s something magical about spending a Sunday night watching real people at a deli, then watching fake people pretending to be real on teevee, then engaging in (arguably) false interaction with (arguably) real people on the Internet. Never at any prior point in time has this been possible.”

It’s incredible that humans can do and be so many things through the act of pretending. There are politicians who pretend to stand up for the “little guy” but are actually in office to enrich themselves. Too often, gay people pretend to be straight in order in order to get social acceptance. How often do we hear about straight people pretending to be gay in order to be more socially acceptable? Then there are people we meet who pretend to be our friends but we later discover their intention is to betray us for some unsavory purpose.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, the self-help guru, confesses to having telephoned book stores, using different accents and intonations, pretending to be customers in order to increase orders for his first book. This rubs me the wrong way because it strikes me as unethical behavior. It makes me question the general validity of his advice.

Meantime, somebody who wants to present a persuasive speech is well-advised to “dress the part” and believe in your own abilities even if you are not yet fully confident in them. You pretend to speak in front of a crowd by practicing in front of a mirror. This works through the same principle as pretending to be happy causing us to be happy. There is nothing unethical about this.

Have you noticed that the people we most enjoy spending time with are the folks who are not pretentious but are openly themselves? They save the pretending for Halloween costume parties and games of charades. Each of us has only one life to live–why squander it by pretending to be someone else?

Life is complicated. Sometimes it pays to pretend, but usually, honesty is the best policy.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes entertainer David Letterman. “There’s only one requirement of any of us, and that is to be courageous. Because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior. And, I believe–because I’ve done a little of this myself–pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.”

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