A Few Old Roadmaps

It’s fun to go through boxes of old stuff and wonder what the owner was doing when she or he used it. In this case the items were sandwiched between the covers of a couple of neglected photo albums. I had glimpsed at them last autumn but postponed examining them due to working on other projects with higher priority.

Last week the car was in the shop to have its clutch replaced, so I was stranded at home looking for something to occupy my time. That’s when I rediscovered the old road maps. They are artifacts of a man whose life was literally all about roads. His working life was devoted to the betterment of highways and streets.

The reason dad kept the map of the Southeast area of the United States will probably remain a mystery forever. Perhaps he wanted to keep it as a souvenir of a small, independent oil company. Today, Lion Oil is operated by Delek US Holdings of Tennessee.

I had trouble trying to determine the date the Lion map was published. The only dates to be found were in fine print on the city index. There was a footnote that mentioned a “Special Census” taken between 1943 and 1948. The only flaw about the map is the cigarette burn.

The other two maps were probably kept for sentimental reasons. Both were issued the Nebraska Department of Roads–his employer. He began his career with the agency in 1949. There’s a short notation in his own handwriting explaining the map was presented to him by the highway department.

The 1949-50 map illustrates the types of roads and highways in existence at the time dad was hired. The map shows that most of the state’s highways were gravel covered roads. Highways that were paved in concrete or asphalt were less common. There were many stretches of road that were rudimentary bladed dirt with no other improvements. That means the roadmap would have been important if you were traveling during a rainy spell and wanted to avoid getting stuck in the mud.

All the state-issued Nebraska highway maps I’ve seen feature photographs of places of possible interest to tourists or places that are deemed worthy of bragging rights.

The 1956 map is particularly interesting when it’s compared to the 1949-50 edition. There are many more highways depicted as paved with concrete or asphalt. There are still many gravel covered highways because the previously unimproved highways were finally graveled by 1955 when the 1956 map was approved.

For dad, personally, this comparison is important because he was part of the working team of civil engineers who designed the paved highways and oversaw the improvement of the gravel covered state routes.

The reverse side of the map again features places the state government wanted tourists to visit.

If you’re planning to visit Nebraska soon, you may wish to use this new resource: http://nebraska-map.org/road-map.htm .

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes personal improvement expert Earl Nightingale. “All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”

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The Friendly Man

Last evening, I encountered a very friendly man. He was so friendly I was taken aback. In appearance, he looked like any 40-something “average Joe” working man. I was about to enter the supermarket when he greeted me with a hearty “Good evening sir. I hope you’re doing well.”

Such a level of friendliness from a stranger is unusual, even from a small-town Nebraskan. We tend to be more reserved. A smile and a nod of the head are the usual greeting between men who don’t know each other.

The cheerfulness of the friendly man reminded me of the cheeriness of panhandlers or of confidence men, so I became watchful while returning his greeting.

Was he going to ask me for something? Did he have a scheme he wanted me to buy into? Worse, was he going to entangle me in a sales pitch for his religion?

The friendly man did none of these things. He and I separated and simply went about selecting grocery items from the store shelves. As he pushed his cart through the aisles, I heard the friendly man greet store clerks and various shoppers with the same hearty greeting.

At the end of my short errand while waiting at the check-out line, I noticed the friendly man had also finished and was directly behind me in the queue. As I placed my items on the conveyor belt, he flashed a smile but didn’t say anything. After I finished paying and grabbed the bags containing my food, the friendly man wished me a good evening one final time.

In this day and age of cynicism, selfishness, and hate, people like the friendly man, who are not buttering you up in order to get something from you, are exceedingly rare. In fact, as I earlier listened to him greeting random grocery shoppers as he went about his errand, I wondered if there was something wrong with him.

However, the more I think about his easy smile and pleasant demeanor, the more I feel there might be something wrong with the rest of us. I could see the friendly man wasn’t being friendly as some sort of social experiment. He certainly was not a con man. His friendliness radiated spontaneously and sincerely from his heart.

His friendliness and kindness seemed so unusual that the memory of it still brings a smile to my face and makes me feel warm inside. His kindness was contagious. I can close my eyes and visualize how he looked and how he displayed his kind behavior. My reaction can be summed up by saying I was flabbergasted.

I don’t know if the friendly man is a Buddhist, but in retrospect his words and actions are as kind hearted as those of a monk. The encounter was so moving that I decided to consult the subject of kindness in the Itivuttaka (Words of the Buddha). I found this excerpt from Sutta 27:

“Bhikkhus (monks), whatever kinds of worldly merit there are, all are not worth one sixteenth part of the heart-deliverance of loving-kindness; in shining and beaming and radiance the heart-deliverance of loving-kindness far excels them.”

The friendly man’s behavior was certainly a pure manifestation of the power of deep, abiding kindness of character. He spread kindness wherever he went last night. His innocent friendliness probably inspired all the shoppers and clerks he encountered last evening.

The friendly man is certainly a rare and wonderful treasure.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Lucius Annaeus Seneca. “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”

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Dark Medium Light …Floral Friday

While waiting for the bread to pop up, I stared at the toaster’s adjustment knob marked “Dark Medium Light”. That’s where the idea for today’s theme came from. After breakfast, I gathered the containers and flowers to work with the concept.

The earthy, handcrafted four-inches tall vase compliments the purple blooms it holds. The dark tone of this combination pushes the envelope.

For the medium shade, we have a simple brass goblet featuring a selection of orange and yellow flowers.

The light end of the scale utilizes a small carved onyx vase. The pink tinged white blooms compliment to hints of light blue in the stone container.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders an idea from writer Charles Baudelaire. “Color…thinks by itself, independently of the object it clothes.”

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Gently Used

One of the best descriptions of items at consignment or thrift stores is the phrase, “gently used”. The thing could be a shirt or an office chair. If it is described as gently used, the implication is that the previous owner took proper care of the item.

In my experience, a store that displays a sign that mentions gently used merchandise, has products that are fairly nice. In fact, much of my wardrobe is from second-hand sources. I’m reasonably fashion conscious and keep track of trends, fabric integrity, and brand names that represent excellent quality, so gently used is what I buy.

The beauty of gently used clothing is that it is plentiful and very inexpensive. It’s probable that one trip to a thrift store will yield at least one attractive, tasteful, sturdy outfit for the cost of one item you might buy at a regular retail store.

For instance, last month I found a pair of Dockers khaki slacks in like-new condition, a conservative Arrow button down dress shirt, and an understated Ralph Lauren pull-over sweater. The entire ensemble cost just under $12. It looks great and feels very comfortable. Each item can also be combined with other clothes in my wardrobe for variety.

You never know what gem of an item you’ll discover while browsing the racks of clothes in a second-hand shop. Once in awhile, I’ll notice the holy grail of thrifting–a brand new article of clothing with the hang tags still attached in exactly my size, style, and color preference.

Last week, I stumbled across a never worn pair of Carhartt work jeans in my size with the hang tags and size strips still attached. I brought them to a changing room to verify that they fit. (Always try things on before buying.) They fit perfectly, so I brought home a spanking new pair of my favorite brand of jeans for $7. This was a savings of over $50.

One amazing fact about gently used clothing, is that there is so much of it available to buy. If you’re a busy person, you can find tons of selections on-line at eBay, Etsy, Amazon, and elsewhere. In addition to the standard clothes for everyday wear, there are collectible vintage categories.

I used to have an itch for cowboy hats. I got most of them from on-line sellers for a fraction of retail. Although I eventually lost interest in hat collecting, there are still two excellent Stetsons and one Bailey hanging in the closet that I didn’t resell.

There is one almost ironclad rule I follow about gently used articles. Never buy used shoes. You’re asking for trouble if you do. Shoes that are broken in to accommodate someone else’s feet and weight distribution may cause medical issues. Besides that, a stranger’s sweaty feet spent a lot of time in those shoes, and you can’t wash shoes to get rid of the funkiness.

That said, a friend pointed out a pair of brand new, never worn Hush Puppies oxfords on the shoe rack. I picked them up and noticed they were my size. Miracle of miracles, they fit perfectly. They are now a frequently worn part of my wardrobe.

One more practice that I do is to re-donate clothing I get tired of wearing. This keeps the cycle moving. Naturally, I wash, iron, and fold my own gently worn clothing before bringing it back to the thrift store.

The Blue Jay of Happiness agrees with English actor Orlando Bloom. “The best way to look stylish on a budget is to try second-hand, bargain hunting, and vintage.”

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Lone Wolves

I have an unsettled attitude about Valentine’s Day. A big part of me loves the idea of romance. The candlelit dinner, snuggling with my lover, or a starlit walk on the beach, or the flowers all appeal strongly to me. On the other hand, I don’t like the fact that Valentine’s Day is just another commercialized holiday. It’s a Christmas wannabe sort of day. The hype around Valentine’s Day and Christmas can cause unattached people and lone wolves to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Even though, years ago I made peace with the fact that I’m a lone wolf, there are times I wouldn’t mind fitting in with a small pack, just on holidays like Valentine’s Day, but just for a few hours.

My boyfriend is also a lone wolf. He’s even more of a loner than I am. He’s not much into holiday celebrations and sentimentality. He’s not a cold person, but is simply a more reserved person than most folks are. He has a ton of love to give, but just doesn’t feel comfortable making a public show of it.

Lone wolves get a bad rap in society. Perhaps it’s because many people don’t understand that we’re most comfortable being alone most of the time. There are a couple of major categories of lone wolves that other people use to describe us.

The lone wolves most people think of is the first category, the loser loners. They’re the kids who don’t have social skills and don’t fit in with their peers in school. They’re the people who haven’t dealt with their jealousy issues and haven’t worked on improving their self-confidence. They aren’t bad people, but they are the “invisible” people nobody wants to hang out with. Often they are thought of as outcasts.

The other type of lone wolf is the person who does his or her own thing and makes no fuss about it. They are not losers nor do they have the traits of unpopular people. These lone wolves don’t care much about other people’s opinions of them. They reject most people, yet others find them attractive in some way. This type of lone wolf is the one who marches to the constructive, positive beat of a different drummer.

There is another category that is infamous and thankfully relatively rare. This is the loner who suffers from pathological mental disorders of some sort. This is the person the media labels as the “lone wolf killer” or “lone wolf terrorist”. These are the men, or rarely the women, who are not part of an insurgent group or gang who commits violent acts. I wish the term “lone wolf killer” had never been coined at all.

Average lone wolves are quite happy with their lot in life. Most lone wolves feel happiest when they are alone. Instead of finding comfort in partying and large circles of friends and family, they like solo pursuits best. Although lone wolves prefer alone time, they do appreciate touching base with family and friends. They just want that sharing time to be short and sweet.

When lone wolves find ourselves in domestic relationships, we generally need much more private time than most people. Two lone wolves make good partners because we respect and understand that aspect about each other very well.

One way lone wolves are similar to socially gregarious folks, is that all of us cannot be pigeonholed. When all things are considered, none of us fit into any easy stereotype.

While some folks crave the limelight, lone wolves prefer their own private inner light. The world needs lone wolves as much as it needs outgoing types.

Whether or not you are a lone wolf, I hope you enjoy a happy Valentine’s Day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from Brad Pitt. “I’m a bit of a loner, you know? I’m more quiet by nature. And coming from, you know, hillbilly country, I’m probably more reserved.”

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Do You Like Your Name?

Sometimes I allow myself to click on clickbait when I need a quick smile. The topic in one instance was, “What is your Superhero Name?” The name is the answer to, “What is your second favorite color and what is your favorite beverage?” That day’s response was “Green Coffee”.

The silly, little game reminded me of times when I contemplated a name change for real. My first name and surname are both very common and somewhat generic. While I never seriously considered changing my surname, plenty of idle moments were spent trying on various first and middle names. In the end, I decided not to change my name. Instead, I went along with what my pals called me–Jay Jay (J.J. are my initials).

This kept everybody happy. My family felt relieved; my friends kept calling me by my nickname; and I was happy to adopt initials as my name because it sounds pleasant to the ear. It’s also similar to the call of my favorite bird–the blue jay. As time went by, I dropped the one of the Jays and now go by only one of them. It was a slow and easy evolution. Even most of my family uses it to address me.

During the sophomore year of high school, some of the jocks thought it would be amusing to insult my lack of athletic ability with the taunt, “Jimmy Jet”. I did my best not to show my hurt and dislike of the name, but sometimes their chants brought me to the edge.

One day, the physical education teacher pulled me aside to give me advise. Basically, he recommended that I “own” the name and be proud of it. After all “Jimmy Jet” is not a bad name, in fact, it’s kind of catchy. Eventually, I took the teacher’s advise to heart and adopted it as an alternative nickname.

Even though there was no Hollywood ending to the story, adopting the nickname changed my attitude and disarmed the bullying jocks. When the jocks shouted “Jimmy Jet”, I’d just smile at them and go about my business. The name felt so positive that I even used it throughout my college years.

I’ve encountered a few other people who are known by different people by different names. Their immediate family calls them by their given birth names; their coworkers use a suitable nickname; and close friends have other nicknames for them.

What is the deal about parents who name their children with awkward or just plain terrible names? Why would the parents do such a nasty thing to an innocent baby? A flippant name might cause deep psychic harm to a person.

Do you remember the old Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue”? The fictitious character was so scarred that he sought out revenge. After finding the father who abandoned him and left the legacy of the name, Sue makes peace with his father after a physical fight, the father says the name was given as an act of love. The father said that the ridicule of Sue’s peers would cause the kid to become tough or die trying. The song ends with Sue’s vow to name his own son “Bill or George, anything but Sue”.

Have you pondered your own name? Would you or have you changed your name?

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from President Theodore Roosevelt: “The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name.”

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Clean Out Your Computer

Yay, it’s the second Monday of February already. That means it’s Clean Out Your Computer Day today. This the day to focus on maintenance of your PC, laptop, tablet, and other devices.

Even though our anti-virus programs may have extra-cost options that perform many clean up tasks automatically, they sometimes miss files that should go and remove some that should stay. It may be wise to do some of the clean out manually or closely monitor automatic clean-up functions.

I have the pay version of AVG Internet Security on my old Toshiba Satellite laptop. It’s the latest iteration of the AVG Anti-Virus that the device has had since I bought it in 2009. While I wouldn’t want any other anti-virus program than this, I’ve become less pleased with the company because of their major redesigns lately.

Last year, their latest release yielded a program that was unrecognizable from AVG’s prior product. There are some aspects I like and some that I hate. To be specific, the extra -cost options are the ones that trip me up, the system speed up option in particular. I tried the free trial version and let it go to work. Apparently it removed some hidden programs it deemed unnecessary. Ever since then I have had a dialogue box appear at each subsequent boot up that says my ISP loading program is missing a component.

I haven’t found a fix for this on the Web and the speed up program had no “undo” feature. I called the AVG service department and they helped me remove the trial version of the speed up program by remote control. There was nothing they could do to recover the lost start-up program. So now, the dialogue box remains as an annoyance each day to cancel at boot ups. So, in my opinion, avoid free trial computer clean up programs, even if they’re offered by the pay version of your anti-virus software.

What has worked for my laptop is to utilize the clean-up utilities built into the operating system. You can configure them to run automatically or manually to fit your personal preferences and needs. These standard programs run smoothly and seamlessly, they do not cost extra, and they are more than sufficient for most of us. Part of computer clean out day is to check if you have the clean up programs activated, then reconfigure them, if needed.

The main part of most computer cleaning out is file organization.  In my case, I take dozens of photos each week. That means my temporary files are jammed full of images. Oftentimes, I procrastinate sorting them because doing so can be tedious. Today, I’ll bite the bullet and catch up on this organizational chore.

The remainder of the computer clean out consists of deleting junk files, duplicate files, along with files and programs that are no longer being used. I strongly recommend that you back this data up before beginning this phase, otherwise you may lose a program that you later learn is actually necessary. Be careful with the deletion process or your computer may develop a problem like mine has, or worse. Make sure what you clean out can be reinstalled if needed, so back up your system.

From time to time it’s good to maintain your keyboard. I use a dry small paintbrush to gently dust between the keys. About once a month, I take a very slightly water dampened micro-fiber cloth to clean the surfaces of the keys. Make sure the cloth is only barely damp and be sure the computer is powered off. I use a similar process for the display screen, strictly following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

While you’re at it, be sure to clear away dust from any ventilation slots. If you have a desktop computer, you can also clean the fan so as to improve airflow to prevent overheating.

Observing Computer Clean Out Day is great because cleanliness will allow your device to run faster and more efficiently. It will also help prolong the life of your device.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Internet meme: “A clean house is the sign of a broken computer.”

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