Bowls …Floral Friday

I’m not much of a convenience foods kind of guy, but once in awhile I want to have a sample of what’s available these days in the frozen foods department at the local supermarket. A “Healthy Choice Unwrapped Burrito Bowl” looked appetizing. A “steamer bowl” was featured in the package’s labeling.

I brought the food home and prepared it according to directions. The bowl’s perforated insert separated the food from a puddle of sauce. After cooking the dish, I combined the dinky portion of food and the sauce. Since there was not very much food to eat, I was still hungry after the snack-like meal.

My opinion is that the food is mediocre and most of the retail cost is the plastic bowl and insert. Instead of getting angry, I washed the gimmicky plastic artifacts and decided to save them for a project. Hence, the topic of today’s Floral Friday.

I used the “steamer bowl” as the base for a small rock garden. A couple of cacti, sandy soil, and a handful of river stones arranged on top of the insert make a reasonably handsome display. The insert helps keep the soil from becoming saturated if I accidentally over-water. I don’t know how practical this is, but at least I got my money’s worth out of the bowl.

For the next project, a fancy ceramic bowl made in Sweden contains an array of purple ranuculuses (or ranuculi). This is an elegant counterpoint to the first project.

A conventional planter bowl from a clearance endcap at the Target store holds an avant garde variety arrangement of striking blooms.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi. “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

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So Powerful

As I leafed through one of my old books last night before sleep, I came across a quote from Don Miguel Ruiz that I had jotted onto a Post It Note as a book-marker. “Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

I remembered using this quote in an earlier bluejayblog post. There is still a lot of wisdom to unpack from this pithy quotation, so I’ll touch upon power today.

We human beings are the dominant animal species on this planet because we possess great individual and collective power. We have evolved to respond to change and we have the power to consciously choose our response to change. These are not our only assets, but these are key to our species’ ability to thrive. What is important to remember is that we have the necessary creative imagination and self awareness in order to exploit our talent to respond to change.

We are the only creatures we know of that can consciously choose self-actualization and create purpose for our lives. We have the ability to improve our mental states and to steer the strength of our youth through the years towards wisdom that can come with age. We can build greater wisdom upon the foundation stones of previous generations’ wisdom. To consciously learn and exploit knowledge and wisdom is to exploit this grand power.

Just like other known sources of power, our personal power can be exploited for evil or for good. We remember the warning of Lord John Dalberg-Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” On the other hand, we have this positive thought from Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

One of the greatest sources of personal power is our species’ unique ability to mentally visualize things and situations that do not actually exist, yet. As far as we know, we are the only creatures on Earth that have the gift of imagination. This great power enables us to transform our environment with inventions and new cultural norms. In addition, it is our imagination that enables us to share our experiences with others. One of the greatest aspects of imagination is the ability to empathize with other humans and animals.

Our imagination is possibly the strongest, most mysterious power we possess. Through imagination we have created religion, ideology, and philosophy. Imagination brings us weapons of death, sophisticated electronic technologies, literature, art, and music. As we look around us, we notice that our civilization is filled with artifacts that were created out of the power of imagination.

Something that singer/songwriter Jim Morrison of “The Doors” once said continues to haunt me in a good way. “Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” This advice recommends one of the most powerful ways to expand personal power.

The universal question remains. Will we use our power for ill or for good?

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor/director Chadwick Boseman. “The only difference between a hero and the villain is that the villain chooses to use that power in a way that is selfish and hurts other people.”

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Appreciating Dragons

I don’t remember when or why I first became fascinated by Asian dragons, but it was a long time ago. It was before a friend did my Chinese astrology chart and discovered I’m a Dragon.

The dragon is the only creature among the twelve signs that is not an actual animal. A dragon is an hybrid creature that has the physical characteristics of other animals. It is revered as a symbol of long life and good fortune. Some people believe that displaying dragon symbols attracts blessings and repels bad luck.

European dragons are placed in different roles–usually inauspicious ones. Oddly enough European dragons are used to represent authority and nobility. They are sometimes used on military and heraldry insignia. The dragons were more important in pre-Christian Europe.

It’s interesting that dragons are a part of the cultures around the globe. For instance, Toltecs, Hurons, Paiutes, and famously, Aztecs admire some sort of dragon. There are even mythological serpent-like figures in Aboriginal Australian cultures.

It’s not known how and why the dragon is an almost universal symbol. Aside from the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia, the Monitor Lizard, crocodiles, and alligators, there are no true dragon-like creatures on Earth. Some people posit that early people discovered dinosaur relics then imagined that the bones were the remains of dragons. It’s safe to say that dragon-lore is very ancient. It’s interesting to note that one of the most beautiful, graceful insects is named the dragonfly.

Among the plants with dragon in the name is the dragon tree that originated in Madagascar and is popular with some gardeners. A type of fruit called dragon fruit is a special treat. There’s a plant resin called dragon’s blood. A very popular flower is the snapdragon.

Dragons seem to also be a fascination for Elon Musk. He named his Space X reusable cargo spacecraft vehicles “Dragon”. Last spring Musk announced that he wants to create a cyborg dragon. This is puzzling because Musk was born in the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Boar–1971. (By the way, February 5th of this year is the beginning of another Year of the Boar.) Musk’s apparent fascination with dragons is seemingly unrelated to Chinese Astrology.

Anyway, I have several dragon icons around my little house. A few were gifts; I also bought a few. These dragons are not used as Feng Shui icons. It’s just pleasant having dragons in the home environment. There are even a couple of dragon-themed neckties hanging in the closet.

My favorite is a phosphorescent Chinese dragon that is displayed bedside near the nightstand. One of my bedtime rituals is to charge the dragon with a flashlight before slipping into bed. It’s a quirky, yet harmless habit. It is comforting to see the dragon glowing in the dark room after switching off the lamp.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the avant garde artist Yoko Ono. “I’m kind of honored to be a dragon lady. The dragon is a very powerful, mythical animal.”

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Embrace Being Ordinary

Today is an ordinary day of the week in the middle of an ordinary month, in an ordinary season. Hopefully, it will be an ordinary year in my ordinary town in the middle of the nation. Some folks might interpret this description as being mediocre. Perhaps, in their mind, that may be true. In my mind, today is not mediocre despite it being ordinary.

After all, mediocrity can be found during special days, in event-filled months, in a favorable season, in a splendid city located in an amazing locale.

It’s good to feel grateful for ordinary days because we are less likely to become distracted by the hoopla surrounding special days. Also, ordinary days enable us to appreciate the specialness of days like holidays and birthdays. Ordinary, not lack-luster, days are times for steady, solid joy.

Ordinary is the foundation for everything. Ordinary is the root word of extraordinary. Ironically, appreciating the ordinariness of life is an extraordinary occurrence in a population that is sold on the ideal of having countless peak moments. What is not shown in the advertisements is the fact that ordinariness makes the peak moments noteworthy. We have been sold on the idea that ordinary equals mediocrity.

I’m like most people when it comes to food. The delights of a gourmet meal presented in an elegant place are wonderful and delightful. Superlative dining is a marvelous experience for which I’m grateful when it happens on a very special day. On the other hand, an ordinary meal on an ordinary day of perhaps macaroni and cheese with an ordinary side salad served on my utilitarian dishes in my pleasingly ordinary kitchen is wholesome and pleasantly satisfying.

If we take some time out to observe a fine painting or photograph, we notice that some of the most agreeable images are of ordinary people or things in ordinary places. Some of the most fascinating visual subjects to me are ordinary rooms with ordinary furniture with regular people captured decades ago during unremarkable periods of history. The famous artist Norman Rockwell had this appreciation for the ordinary. His ordinary paintings of ordinary situations of the day remain steadily popular.

Some of the most pleasing photographs show regular, everyday people doing normal, ordinary chores. I love to see pictures of regular, everyday folks in their ordinary surroundings in any historical or non-historical context.

We learn more about a particular nation, not by concentrating on the extraordinary and well-heeled, but by paying attention to the ordinary culture of the people who populate it. The ordinary is the engine of a civilization.

Some of the most memorable literature has ordinary characters. Mark Twain told tall-tales about regular, “everyman” people. Think of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. They were not the children of royalty and privilege, they had family backgrounds that were unremarkably ordinary for their era. In a similar vein, we have the poetry of Walt Whitman.

A satisfying exercise that anyone can perform is to make a mental list of all the regular people we know as friends and family. It’s satisfying to ponder the beauty they show when they’re relaxed, living their ordinary lives.

All of this is not to say that we should not set remarkable goals and reach for the stars. I’m basically saying that we are able to dream of great things because our sustenance and lives come from ordinary roots. It’s good to remember that in order to achieve extraordinary goals, the ordinary values of perseverance, hard work, and honesty make dreams come true.

I hope you enjoy something ordinary today.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from the novelist Mary Anne Evans, aka. George Eliot. “If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence.”

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The news reporter stopped me on a busy Berlin street and asked if I had seen her missing O-umlaut. I told her that my Umlaut detector was malfunctioning. Perhaps she should ask the police investigator across the street. I pointed to a traffic signal at the intersection where I had just been conversing with the investigator. He was gone. That’s when I realized the investigator was a fraud.

Then I woke up. Not only had the dream been bizarre, I was flummoxed by the fact that I had been dreaming in the German language. The last thing I heard the reporter ask was, “Wo befindet sich die fehlenden Umlaute?”

Dreaming in German hasn’t happened since my high school years. Even then, the experience of dreaming in German always mystified and amazed me. I shouldn’t have been surprised then, because German class was my favorite subject as an eleventh grader.

I have not taken any formal German language courses for at least 40-years. In fact, I’ve been concentrating on rudimentary Russian and have been brushing up on long-neglected Spanish. I wish I could dream in Russian and Spanish, but those dreams haven’t happened yet.

I love the mental state of being positively bewildered. It’s the flip-side of the frightening state of being confused or disoriented. Being bewildered and mystified is a gateway to learning and growth. Besides that, being perplexed is challenging in a fun way.

Perhaps neurologists can tell me why I had a dream in German and why such dreams are so infrequent. Why have a German dream when I’m trying to learn Russian? Do German skills get filed away in the same parts of the brain that Russian skills go? Why don’t I ever dream in Spanish or Japanese even though I’ve invested a great amount of time with them, too? All of these questions leave me even more stupefied.

“The actual tragedies of life bear no relation to one’s preconceived ideas. In the event, one is always bewildered by their simplicity, their grandeur of design, and by that element of the bizarre which seems inherent in them.”–Jean Cocteau

Curious people and scholars have studied the arbitrariness and randomness of life for ages. In their attempts, humans have invented religion, astrology, numerology, plus “isms” and other “ologies” along with philosophy and science. While many things about life have been explained, many of those explanations are seeds that grow into more puzzles.

I love meeting people who are positively bewildered and awe-struck by the world around us. The most interesting folks are the misfits who want to converse about more than the inconsequential chit-chat that fills our daily lives.

The Universe is filled with countless astonishing, bewildering phenomena. These big and small things will keep us thinking until the end of time. Among them are the questions about this morning’s German dream. Why did it happen? How did it Happen? Can we dream about any subject on purpose? These are mystifying questions.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Nobel Prize winning poet Saint-John Perse. “Astronomers have been bewildered by the theory of an expanding Universe, but there is no less expansion in the moral infinite of the universe of man. As far as the frontiers of science are pushed back, over the extended arc of these frontiers one will hear the poet’s hounds on the chase.”

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Mechanical Sympathy

I always put on and remove my wristwatch by holding my arm over upholstered furniture like my bed. This came about several years ago when I fumbled with the strap on my favorite watch and dropped it on the floor. The impact knocked the seconds hand off of the movement and the mechanism wouldn’t run for more than a few minutes. To have the watch repaired cost half as much as the watch was worth to replace.

The watchmaker repaired the piece and had it ready for me to pick up within a week. He passed along some gentle advice about caring for a watch. He included a term that I love for it’s sheer elegance. He said something to the effect that owners who have mechanical sympathy, automatically take good care of their timepieces. The watchmaker recommended putting on and taking off a watch while positioning the arm directly over a table or desk. Ideally, a nice watch should only be put on and taken off over a bed. Remembering the bill for the watchmaker’s services motivated me to make caution a habit.

The term, “Mechanical Sympathy” was coined by three-time World Driving Champion Sir Jackie Stewart. The race car champ compared how average drivers with how the best race car drivers think about their vehicles.

The average, normal drivers we encounter every day on the streets and highways have the basic mechanical knowledge. We know that pressing the accelerator pedal causes the car to speed up and pressing the brake pedal causes the car to slow to a stop. The mental image becomes more sophisticated when driving on slippery road surfaces when tires spin upon acceleration and slide when braking. The mental image becomes more nuanced when we mentally picture the effects of friction and inertia.

Drivers of vehicles with manual transmission have a little more knowledge about the workings of their cars because another element of mechanical interaction is necessary to control the vehicle. There is the subtle mental image of the clutch engaging and disengaging to enable gear shifting and to keep from stalling the engine when applying the brakes.

Taking the interaction between car and driver up several notches, is what race car drivers do. To successfully compete, they must drive their vehicles to the limits of their abilities, the mechanical capabilities of the racing car and the physics of car versus road. The best drivers have practiced this interaction to the point of it all coming together reflexively.

World champion drivers take these mental concepts even further. They intimately understand the suspension system and its characteristics on various types of tarmac. They picture not only the effects of the acceleration, braking, and clutching, they “become one” with the car as an interdependent unit. This interdependent unit becomes a sort of living creature that skillfully maneuvers around the race track. It is this synergy that Stewart called “Mechanical Sympathy”.

Mechanical Sympathy manifests in many other forms. For instance, a world class organist understands how the bellows provides air to the instrument’s pipes; the materials used in the pipes’ construction, how the various stops and trackers operate, the instrument’s limitations, along with the characteristics of the keys and pedals at the console. This mental attitude enables the organist to truly become one with the instrument when playing music.

These days, mechanical sympathy is an aspect of computing. By having an intimate knowledge of the hardware, software creators can design systems for maximum performance. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of both the hardware and the software enable designers to come up with new solutions for more efficient computing systems.

Anyone can cultivate mechanical sympathy. If you’re interested, a good start is to read the owner’s manual for your vehicle. Better yet, download a copy of the vehicle’s shop manual. Open the hood of the car and learn about the various things located in that part of the car.

If cars aren’t your cup of tea, mechanical sympathy can be improved by learning more about the workings of the things that you work with each day like your phone or computer or whatever.

Mechanical Sympathy is a beautiful feeling.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Sir Jackie Stewart. “I would have been a much more popular World Champion if I had always said what people wanted to hear. I might have been dead, but definitely more popular.”

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Don’t Hold Back

Two of the biggest drawbacks to being shy are holding back and not being assertive. I was a painfully shy boy. Climbing out of the prison of shyness has been a lifelong process of not wanting to hold back on living my true life. Holding back is a dishonest way to live. Honesty just feels better and freer than dishonesty.

To say, “Don’t hold back” is not to default to crude speech and questionable actions towards others. I’m thinking of not holding back in the sense of personal, vulnerable honesty. It is not being dishonest about who one is in the deepest sense. Of course, there will be times when it is inappropriate to reveal your deepest self. Common sense informs us of these.

To not hold back in living one’s life in order to not lose out in life’s most valuable moments, is what I’m getting at. Holding back in our primary interpersonal relationships creates a major life deficit. A lover always loses by holding back. The chances of maintaining the relationship are much better when the partners don’t hold back their honest love for each other.

It can be a daunting experience to be that open. Some people never fulfill the dream of being so close to someone and having him see all of you with no holding back. When a person holds back, the partner feels compelled to also hold back. The relationship suffers and doesn’t grow.

Getting “cold feet” can limit life. Self-preservation and prudence have their place, but being overly cautious cuts us off from potentially rewarding experiences. When we recognize what may be holding us back, we can work towards overcoming it so we can resume the business of moving forward and excelling. This is true in interpersonal relationships and other aspects of life, such as career and public service.

One of the most frustrating scenarios is to have the skills, to know you have the skills, but to not take the steps to apply those skills. Hesitation is a hard nut to crack, but the habit can be broken. To hesitate is another way of holding back. So saying, “Don’t hold back” is like saying, “Don’t hesitate”.

To get this new year off on the right foot, I’m going to hesitate less and take more calculated risks. As I get older, the truth of the saying “Life is short so don’t hold back” becomes more and more apparent. In the end, the only one who is holding me back is me.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from Friedrich Nietzsche. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

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