There are few things as infuriating than finding litter on the yard. At a minimum, each morning, I discover a beer can, or liquor bottle, or fast food packaging. Picking it up has become so routine that I crafted my own litter spike. Using it keeps me from having to stoop over to pick up the trashy items.

Each year, new college-age neighbors move into the four-plex next door. In many instances, the apartments are their first homes away from their parents’ homes. As often happens with college students, they throw parties. Frequently, those parties overflow onto the street. The aftermath yields the red plastic Dixie cups, beer cans, cigarette butts, and other forms of assorted debris.

I try my best to be an assertive, yet friendly person as I request that the new neighbors keep an eye on their party guests. I carefully explain that I don’t appreciate the extra chore of picking up after them.

The resident litterbugs are nothing new to the neighborhood. I’ve been chasing trash and bringing it to the attention of young neighbors for over 30 years. I feel like I have taken the role of “homeroom instructor” for each new crop of recent high school graduates.

One of the ironies of such blatant thoughtlessness is that I must be thoughtful about how I interact with the miscreants. If I’m too stern, future incidents of littering will be worse and done out of spitefulness. If I’m too lenient, no remedy will happen. Frequently, I just shake my head and wonder about the parenting skills that were exercised during my neighbors’ childhoods, or not.

The fact is, there are thousands of people in similar situations. This type of thoughtlessness is common in many neighborhoods in hundreds of towns and cities everywhere. We see this careless disposal of trash along the roadsides and on top of the road surfaces in rural areas. It is a manifestation of the disregard people have towards one another and our surroundings.

I could mention other forms of thoughtlessness here, but I don’t want to be thoughtless and dump all of my frustrations into this blog post.

Why do we become thoughtless? The reason lies in the definition of the word.

: lacking concern for others : inconsiderate rude and
thoughtless behavior : a thoughtless remark
a : insufficiently alert, careless
b : reckless, rash thoughtless actions
: devoid of thought

One might say that thoughtlessness is the opposite of mindfulness.

Thoughtlessness is a product of habits. Settled patterns are things we do without having to put any thought into them. Some are good habits, like thoughtlessly fastening seatbelts before driving away in our vehicles. Others are harmful, like mindlessly checking ones phone for messages while driving.

Why do we thoughtlessly develop habits? It’s because thinking is sometimes painful. Thinking leads us away from established patterns and towards unforeseeable consequences. In a deeper level, habits are rituals. Our rituals lull us into a sense of comfort and familiarity. We go along with socially accepted opinions because it is painful to go against the stream. Orthodoxy is a more sophisticated way of saying “comfort zone”.

The mind is fearful of the unknown, so it reflexively returns to the mentally comfortable familiar, known ways of thinking and behavior. By resisting the painfulness of thought, the mind retreats to the less painful cycle of patterns. The patterns are habits. Just as driving through heavy downtown traffic with the car’s cruise control activated, our habits can create serious problems when dealing with other people. Instead of crunching other vehicles’ fenders, we crush other people’s feelings.

To eliminate thoughtlessness is simple but not easy. It’s difficult to change our own habits. It’s even more difficult, if not impossible, to change other people’s habits. It’s easier and more probable that we and others will usually revert back into the comfort zone of habit. The best we can do is remember to be mindful because mindfulness is the enemy of thoughtlessness.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a saying from the sage Bodhidharma. “People who don’t see their nature and imagine they can practice thoughtlessness all the time are liars and fools.”

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The Rabbit On The Moon

Yesterday morning I decided to sit outdoors to enjoy my coffee and the outdoors at the same time. I noticed one of the young rabbits that visits the yard sometimes. The little creature appeared to be checking me out, too. Its nose twitched and its ears adjusted towards me. The rabbit made no effort to leave. So, it nibbled on grass while I sipped coffee.

Just then, I thought about the old Buddhist Jataka Tale about the Rabbit in the Moon. It’s one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s parables about virtue. The fable tells about a revered teacher that was born as a rabbit with three friends, a monkey, a jackal, and an otter.

The rabbit was the wisest of the four creatures, he regularly preached that among other moral precepts the alms should be freely given.

One night of the full Moon, always a special time on the Buddhist calendar, the rabbit reminded his friends to keep the precepts and offer food to any beggars who approach them.

Later, the otter found fish, the jackal found a roasted lizard, and the monkey found some mangoes. The animals saved the food to eat later on. Meanwhile, the rabbit realized that his food, grass, would be unacceptable to a beggar, so the rabbit would have to offer himself as food.

When the pledge to sacrifice himself occurred to the rabbit, one of the Buddha’s protectors, Sakka, decided to test the rabbit and his friends. He disguised himself as an old Brahmin who needed food so he could perform his priestly duties.

Sakka went to each animals’ lair and requested nourishment. The otter, the jackal, and the monkey offered the food they had found. Sakka thanked each and said he might return for the food later.

Finally, Sakka went to the rabbit’s abode and requested food. The rabbit happily replied that the Brahmin should build a fire and the rabbit, himself, will jump into the fire and become roasted as a meal for the holy man.

Sakka built the fire. The rabbit willfully jumped into the center of the flames. However, the fire did not harm the little creature. The rabbit asked the holy man why the fire did not kill or hurt him. The Brahmin revealed his true identity as Sakka. The rabbit reaffirmed his willingness to sacrifice himself to any alms seeker, regardless of identity.

Sakka was so satisfied with the rabbit’s behavior that, he extracted the living essence from a mountain and drew the image of the rabbit on the surface of the Moon. This was done to remind people about the great virtue of the rabbit.

After the Moon was decorated, the four animals continued to live together practicing the precepts in harmony and Sakka returned to his heavenly realm.

As I finished mentally visualizing the story, I noticed the rabbit in my yard was still wiggling its nose and munching grass. I thanked the bunny for reminding me about the Rabbit in the Moon.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes from The Dhammapada book of wisdom. “Conquer anger with non-anger. Conquer badness with goodness. Conquer meanness with generosity. Conquer dishonesty with truth.”

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Small Touches …Floral Friday

There are a lot of small flower pots and containers around my house, so perhaps I should use some more of them for quick and easy projects. That’s the idea behind today’s post.

The little McCoy flower pot is perfect for a planting of sage for the kitchen. As an added touch, tiny flowers fill the center.

To celebrate today’s equinox, a small bright orange vintage cream pitcher sports a handful of orange blooms…pure and simple.

The small Haeger centerpiece bowl is the home for my favorite tiny fake flowers. This was created just for the fun of it.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this tidbit from Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset: “For the person for whom small things do not exist, the great is not great.”

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International Day Of Peace

One of the most disturbing, non-peaceful things about today, is that the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants are not aware that today is the International Day of Peace.

At the very most, major news organizations may have a short featurette at the end of their newscasts about today’s commemoration. The stories will probably tell about politicians saying all the nice things about peace. Maybe they will show images of children making posters about peace. Then, tomorrow or sooner, the nations get back to non-peaceful business.

In our civilization, people working towards a peaceful world are thought of as members of some sort of subculture, like hippies, who aren’t taken seriously. History has timelessly shown that when the drumbeats of war are sounded, the advocates of peace are ridiculed and pushed aside.

“Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”–the 14th Dalai Lama

Today needs to be a red letter, official holiday like New Year’s Day. Today’s holiday could be a holiday not dulled by a hangover from the previous night’s festivities. It could be a time when we contemplate ways to live peacefully together, all the time. The resolutions would not just be peaceful nicey nice proclamations by parliamentary bodies that are quickly disregarded within hours.

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” This is not a new idea. Humanity has known about this wisdom since antiquity. Still, all we can accomplish is very temporary peace. If we keep doing the same things over and over expecting different results, what we’re doing is literally crazy. The world needs to try something different, much more effective, and sane.

We see the results of old fashioned thinking around us. Economic imbalance causes 15 million American kids to not have enough wholesome food. Multiply that number many times over to include the global totals. At the same time, there is a sizable minority that have such abundance that they feel entitled to waste. Fascists march through the streets with impunity in several nations ready to impose their vision of social order on us all. Religious fundamentalists and radicals of many types share physical and spiritual terror. The merchants of war have many, many customers.

We need to transform our lives to end the madness. We need a new culture that endures. We need to come up with a peaceful solution to ensure peace as soon as possible. The old paradigms simply do not work. We need to view conflict and peace from a different perspective.

A big part of the problem of peace is enforcement. Can international peace be enforced the way we enforce local, domestic peace? If an individual plots and commits mass murder, social institutions are in place to arrest, try, convict, and imprison the offender.

Here’s a thought experiment: Could we arrest, try, convict and sentence world leaders to life in prison when they plot officially sanctioned mass murder? We already do this in limited ways, to a select few “rogue” dictators and generals. Why not include all nations under this penalty? Why not really do it, not only in spirit? Is this a viable solution, or is it too unrealistic?

Is there a way to keep the peace without the various nations on Earth threatening each others’ safety, integrity, and security. Is there a better way of keeping the peace without the threat of war and/or mutual nuclear destruction?

Our presidents, premiers, parliamentarians, and other leaders don’t know. My friends and neighbors don’t know. I don’t know. Just because we don’t know, doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and give up.

We need a completely new approach. The answers can only be found through much thought and compassion by and for our fellow sentient beings. Peace is a serious topic for thought and discussion that is initiated on days like today.

Have a meaningful International Day of Peace.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this thought from Martin Luther King, Junior: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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Copy Your Photos

In a couple of days, we’ll have the second equinox of the year. Not only does that signal the change of seasons, but it is my reminder to archive photographs to save for posterity. I choose this time of year because it is between the activity of summer and the busy portion of the calendar that begins before Halloween, next month.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been archiving carousels full of slides since last year. I haven’t mentioned that some standard photographic prints are also on the agenda. Most of them are stored in albums. There are a few that I want to back up to digital format in order to have ready access for on-line purposes. Many of them are “postcard” size prints from regular processors like the photo department at Walgreen’s.

Most people don’t have professional duplicating equipment for such work. Folks who want to copy their own photos have to improvise. That’s my situation, too. I put the most basic tools to work.

To keep images flat and in place I utilize a frame or document clips because photos tend to curve or slightly curl. Cheap frames suffice because they’re available in standard sizes. I make sure to remove the glass so as to eliminate the chance of glare ruining the copies. A small lap-desk works as a makeshift easel. A standard tripod eliminates any blurriness due to camera shake.

The antique image of my grandpa J was originally taken in the early 1920s when he was still in college. It reflects his lifelong love of music and cars.

This copying method is nearly foolproof. Regarding lighting, I prefer to use natural daylight illumination filtered through a window into a room. In darker conditions, conventional “warm spectrum” lamps placed at both sides of the easel allow even lighting without glare or hot spots. Use any digital camera and download as files for storage or enhancement as you wish.

Obviously this makeshift technique is best for those of us who only want to save a few special photographic prints. There are professional services and supplies designed for more serious photographic archiving and preservation of antique and especially treasured images.

I recommend my technique to anyone who just wants to copy a few snapshots but has no desire to invest in professional equipment. These images can be stored on thumb drives or other locations such as the Cloud for easy access.

The Blue Jay of Happiness says it’s important to save and share some reminders from the past. Doing so, doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

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Some Personal Recollections About Classical Music

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

A couple of record albums were the seeds for my appreciation of classical music. The soundtrack for “2001: A Space Odyssey” (a movie I still enjoy) and “Switched On Bach” by Walter (Wendy) Carlos.

As far as spine-chilling music goes, nothing matches the climactic opening of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss. This short opening became a cliché for several years after 1968. Most noteworthy on the record was “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. The entire “2001” LP became my favorite record for several months.

Then, Carlos’ “Switched on Bach” came along. Aside from its Baroque/Classical roots, it also introduced me to electronic music–the love of which has continued and grown to this day. The carefully constructed album was the first serious use of the Moog synthesizer for anything beyond avant garde.

Both of these albums were released and ranked high on the music sales charts while I was a high school student. From 1968, forward my record buying budget included pop/rock and classical in almost equal measure. By the late 1970s I was obtaining classical albums through a mail order classical music “club”.

Another major factor in my love of classical music was when a friend Paul moved in as a room mate for a few years. His favorite major composer was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We often discussed the merits of his favorite versus my favorite major light, Ludwig von Beethoven. These discussions led to frequent trips to the turntable to play portions of music to validate our arguments. To this day, I’ve never met a more passionate lover of Mozart’s music than Paul.

In 1978, the record club introduced me to Isao Tomita. Here was an artist who combined classical music with the Moog synthesizer. Tomita stepped up Carlos’ game by several notches because his work was an early attempt to synthesize the sound of a full symphony orchestra. He used multitrack recording for astonishing results. There are many passages that I like to crank up the volume for full effect. It’s hard to select a favorite Tomita album. There are probably more “crank-up-able” passages on “Pictures at an Exhibition” than on any other Tomita album.

Electronica aside, the best way to enjoy classical music is to take in a live concert if you can do so. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small chamber group or a full orchestra, there’s the pleasure of seeing the music happen. A televised or movie version is OK, but the best music is up close and personal.

Happy listening.
The Blue Jay of Happiness agrees with author/librettist E.M. Forster. “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man.”

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Ceiling Fans In My Life Or Not

The central air conditioning in dad’s empty old house does not work at all. The windows are few and inefficient in design. So while doing routine cleaning chores, I must resort to two ceiling fans to circulate the air.

If I need to cool down, I sit under the fan in the living room. It’s the one that can be used at full speed. The ceiling fan in the breakfast nook, can only be used at low speed because it’s out of balance. At medium speed, the unit wobbles, forget high speed, I’m afraid it will rip itself out of the ceiling. The four light fixtures on the unit are the main reason for keeping the fan.

I’ve tried cleaning the blades, tightening them to their mounts, and adjusting the angle of tilt as much as permissible. The problem is that the spinning of the fan creates harmonics that vibrate through the downrod pipe mounting. The fan is probably safe, but the wobble is very annoying. This might be why I sometimes find old disassembled ceiling fans abandoned at thrift stores.

The idea of getting a ceiling fan for the house I rent appealed to me until I found out that a stronger electrical junction box, rated for ceiling fan use, was necessary. The landlord is unwilling to allow this alteration to the house. So, to cut back on air conditioning use, I have a couple of basic pedestal fans to stir the air during the summertime.

I like the idea of having a ceiling fan in the bedroom, because of the noise factor. A ceiling fan would be much more silent than the pedestal fan I currently use. I think a three bladed fan would be better than a four bladed fan because it would be less prone to wobble. I also prefer the looks of a three bladed fan.

I’ve noticed there has been a revival of ceiling units that have two or more small fans on a central mount. They look great and retro, but there is the whooshing noise factor problem that is present with small fans.

While I’m at it, maybe we should salute the developer of the first electric ceiling fans. Singer Sewing Machine Company engineer Philip Diehl adapted the sewing machine motor to the already existing water driven ceiling fans. The device was patented in 1887. He is also responsible for adapting light fixtures to ceiling fans to increase their versatility.

The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers one of those groan worthy redneck jokes. “You might be a redneck if your wife’s hairdo was once ruined by a spinning ceiling fan.”

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