This Is Amaranth Month

The first time I knowingly tried a dish containing amaranth, was during a meal at a small vegetarian cafe in San Francisco in 1992.  It was billed as a tabbouleh style salad.  Because I enjoy preparing and eating tabbouleh, I knew I had to give it a try. Amaranth-01 The server advised that the salad was hearty enough to stand alone as an entire lunch.  The simple dish was not only quite filling, I really enjoyed the flavors and satisfying textures.

Naturally, I wanted to find out more about this arcane food, so I researched it at the public library when I returned home to Nebraska.  I found several recipe books listing amaranth as a main ingredient for various types of dishes.  I also discovered that amaranth is not only a grain, it is also eaten as salad greens.  Why hadn’t I heard about this interesting food before?

I later found out that amaranth is often used in commercially available “natural” food products.  I checked out the local health foods store and found various granolas and musli type breakfast foods that use it.  The whole seeds are available in bags and the ready-ground flour is a popular product.

As is the case with many of today’s staple foods, amaranth is a plant that is native to the Americas.  I found out that amaranth was used by the native peoples as a protein-Amaranth-02rich grain and as a leafy vegetable for thousands of years.  Amaranth was particularly useful in Central and South America.  Apparently, the largest known cultivation of it happened during the height of the Aztec civilization in the fifteenth century.

Ever since the indigenous peoples shared amaranth with the European explorers and settlers, the food is now grown in scattered locations across Asia and Africa. There is even some limited production of it in parts of the United States. The markets for the grain are still relatively small, but continue to expand, each year. Research is still ongoing regarding amaranth’s use as forage for livestock animals.

The current public interest in amaranth is linked to the grain’s purported nutritional value.  US grown amaranth contains more than 15-percent protein and contains high amounts of the essential amino acid, lysine. Amaranth is a high fiber food and is low in saturated fats. Some studies, such as one at Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, have linked amaranth to cholesterol reduction in laboratory animals.Amaranth-03

Even though the green parts of the amaranth plant are not readily available to most people, the seed grain is available for purchase in most parts of the world.  Most commonly, amaranth seed is ground into flour that is used in breads, cereals for cooking, granola, cookies, noodles and as a supplemental ingredient in several baked products. One way to eat it, that I have not yet tried, is to pop it like popcorn.

Apparently, amaranth is relatively easy to grow and is fairly maintenance free once it passes the initial growth stage.  There are some USDA bulletins regarding amaranth as a crop, available to people who are considering it for their farms.  Prospective growers can also find many other resources on the Web.

All this information about amaranth has stimulated my appetite, so I’m going to prepare some amaranth and quinoa porridge now.

bluejaylandingThe Blue Jay of Happiness found an obscure verse by John Milton.
“Immortal amaranth, a flower which once
In Paradise, fast by the Tree of Life,
Began to bloom, but soon for Man’s offence,
To heav’n remov’d, where first it grew, there grows,
And flow’rs aloft shading the fount of life.”

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The Soviet SST

When most of us think about supersonic airline service, we instantly think of the Anglo-French Concorde.  Likewise, most people think the Concordes were the only supersonic transport (SST) planes ever put into commercial service.  Actually, the USSR got a two-month jump on the Concorde with their own SST, the Tupolev TU-144.


The first ideas for SSTs were hypothetical projects proposed on both sides of the Iron Curtain. There were design prototypes intended for military use as possible bombers and transports.  Aircraft manufacturing companies proposed their own designs in the pursuit of lucrative military contracts. It was from these efforts that the possibility of building a civilian SST were realized. The Soviet SST concept began in the early 1960s. Journalists in the West first received official Soviet reports about the TU-144 project in 1965.

The Soviet SST design relied upon earlier research for the USSR’s TU-125 and TU-135 bombers. The design experience enabled Russian engineers to study and experiment with large aircraft that could fly at Mach 2 speeds (twice the speed of sound).  The preliminary design plans were conceived under the supervision of Alexei Tupolev, the head of the Soviet Design Bureau.  Those plans were publicly released in January of 1962. Tupolev-02

The go-ahead for further development and ultimately the manufacture of a civilian supersonic airliner became official policy with the Resolution of Council of Ministers of the USSR and the Decree, both of 1963.  Soon, the SST project was elevated to one of the main, priority efforts of the Soviet Ministry of Aircraft Industry.

By late 1968, prototype “044” was ready for its maiden flight.  After preliminary ground rolling and engine tests, the craft lifted off on December 31st from the air field at Zhukovskiy, near Moscow.  The initial flight lasted just less than an hour.  It was the first time an SST airliner had ever flown.  The Soviet milestone was matched on March 2, 1969 when the prototype of the Anglo-French Concorde flew its maiden flight.

The first public appearance of the Tupolev TU-144 airliner, in the West, was at the 1973 Paris Air Show.  This event proved disasterous to the Soviet Aeronautics industry.  During the TU-144 exhibition flight, the French Air Force sent up a Mirage fighter jet to photograph the Soviet airliner in flight.  Unfortunately, the French failed to tell the Russians about the French fighter plane. The SST crew immediately found itself on a collision course with the fighter.

While trying to avoid crashing into the French airplane, the TU-144 pilot stalled out the airliner.  As the pilot tried to recover from the stall, the radically steep climb overstressed the SST’s airframe, causing the TU-144 to break-up.  The pieces fell to the ground as television cameras recorded the entire event.

It was back to the drawing board because the production model of the TU-144 was judged not-airworthy for passenger use.  Modifications were made, including retractable canard mini-wings just behind the cockpit to improve sub-sonic flight, a longer fuselage, and larger wingspan.


The improved TU-144S was placed in service by Aeroflot in 1975 for cargo and mail flights. In 1977, passenger service began between Alma Ata and Moscow. Passenger service was shortlived because a second fatal mishap resulted in the end of TU-144 commercial operation.  After the accident, the last commercial flight was on June 1, 1978.

That was not the end of the Tupolev TU-144. An improved TU-144 was introduced for use as a research airplane. The last one built was the TU-144LL. That airplane was operated jointly by the Russian Republic and the United States. NASA flew it several times as a part of their “High Speed Civil Transport” research project.

Do sveedaniya
Tupolev-04iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness thanks The Russian State Civil Aviation Administration and NASA for much of the background information used for this post.

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The Gateway Arch

The simple appearance and design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri hide some complex mathematics, geometry, and technology.  It should be a geek mecca. When I visited the monument, the stark elegance satisfied my love for modern forms of sculpture.

The geometric basis of the Gateway Arch is readily apparent to anyone who views it. The monument is described as a “weighted catenary”.  Imagine a length of chain Arch-03handing from its two ends under its own weight. The resulting curve is the curve of a hanging chain. “Catenary” is derived from the latin word for chain.  If you could invert that hanging chain, you would have the basic outline of the Gateway Arch.  By the way, this is not a “catenary arch” as it is often mistakenly called.

The catenary design is ideal for a freestanding arch of consistent thickness.  Because the actual monument’s cross-section varies from thicker at the bases to decreasingly narrower toards the top, it is sometimes called a “modified catenary”.  The design was adopted so as to create an optical illusion.  The eye of the viewer senses that the arch is much taller than its width.  In reality, the structure is approximately as wide as it is high.

The actual monument consists of equilateral triangles that measure 54-feet per side, at the bases. The triangles’ measurements become gradually smaller along the height of the legs. The very top segment is an equilateral triangle that measures 17-feet per side. Each cross-section unit is double-walled, with each wall constructed of carbon steel panels.  The outer walls are finished with quarter-inch thick stainless-steel panels.

Both legs of the Arch are embedded in 23,570 tons of concrete, 18-metres (60-feet) deep. The material was reinforced with 252 high-tension rods. All of the materials work together as a single unit.  The entire loading is described as “orthotropic”. That is, the external surface and the support system are “one and the same”.

The Gateway Arch is the main feature of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park, located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The park was conceived as an early urban renewal project to beautify a blighted area of St. Louis. The old industrial area had deteriorated to its worst state, following the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The US Park Service contract was won by Earo Saarinen, in 1947. His team refined the original, massive arch design, into the more sleek, triangular cross-section design.

The ground breaking ceremony took place in 1959.  Actual construction began in February of 1963.  Macdonald Construction of St. Louis oversaw the construction work. The panels of the triangular sections were pre-fabricated in Warren, Pennsylvania. The “walls” were shipped to the construction site by railroad train, then were assembled into sections.  The sections were then attached together to build the arch.Arch-01

Each leg’s hollow inner core houses a specially designed elevator, transport system.  It’s a combination of an elevator with a Ferris-wheel like train of capsules. Each tram consists of eight, five passenger capsules.  It takes four minutes for each tram to climb to the observation room at the apex of the Arch and three minutes for the descent.

On October 28, 1965 the top or “keystone” section was welded in place during a ceremony attended by school children, local citizens and dignitaries. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey oversaw the activities from a helicopter.

Work continued to complete the visitor’s center which opened in June of 1967.  Finishing touches and testing of the trams were completed as well. The first trips to the top began in late July of that year.Arch-02

On May 25, 1966 the Gateway Arch was officially dedicated.   Rainy weather caused the outdoor ceremony to be cancelled.  250,000 people were initially expected, but the cancellation meant that an indoor ceremony in the visitor center could only accomodate 500 individuals. Vice-President Humphrey returned to officiate the dedication.

This year, is the 50th anniversary of the Arch’s completion.  Meantime, upgrades and added features to the surrounding park are being finished for the 50th anniversary of the Gateway Arch’s dedication celebration, next year.

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness found this quote by Seneca: “Human society is like an arch, kept from falling by the mutual pressure of its parts.”

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Such Cruelty

It’s a very rare individual who has not been the target or witness of cruelty. This evil act and state of mind has infected human relationships since time immemorial. Our history, literature, psychology, and human relationships have dealt with it for as long as humanity can remember.  Religious texts are filled with examples of cruelty.  Political entities employ it as an effective tool. Our prisons are filled with people who have used it. Scholars have studied it for ages.

What good does it do for me to write about it? Perhaps nothing at all. So many others have pondered it, philosophised about it, preached against it, and written about it that

WCENTER 0LGBACHZWY - bullismo  -  carlino

it seems like only a futile effort.  I think that to criticize cruelty is as primal an instinct as it is to commit cruelty. It would be very irresponsible not to share my sense of frustration and outrage about cruelty.

The world is awash in cruelty, it seems to always have been the case.  It is the control against cruelty that nurtures civilization.  When cruelty erupts to the surface and becomes socially acceptable, civilization is debased and dies. Cruelty is the main tool of superstition and fear.  In turn, fear is the strategy of dominneering, self-centered people.  There is plenty of fear in politics and religion, perhaps that is one reason those two subjects are impolite topics of dinner conversation.

Martin Luther King, Junior once wisely said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”  He was right. Our history books and current media are full of examples of when good people failed to speak out and act against cruelty.  Cruelty in the forms of harming animals, racism, homophobia, misogyny, police brutality, war, and never-ending greed, festers and grows when “good folks” choose not to get involved.

When we seriously investigate cruelty, we find its disturbing, personal roots. We find that much of what fuels cruelty is socially acceptable.  Competition is glorified in today’s world. There’s no getting away from it.  Jealousy is the fuel of competition. I might find myself envious of your newer car, fancier house, beautiful family relationship, career.

Jealous competition manifests in greater society, as well.  Our sports team competes against its rivals to attain the championship. One corporation goes against another for dominance in the market.  One nation subjugates others in the pursuit of international dominance.  Sentimentality and emotions thus enable cruelty.

In my ponderings, I’ve come to the conclusion that cruelty is the most detestable of human sins.  Cruelty that is justified by political and religious goals is certainly the worst of the worst.  I’m certainly in good company when I rant about the use of ignorance by power hungry people. We have become enslaved to superior weaponry to serve their ultimate cruelties.cruelty-03

Today’s newscasts are dominated by reports of terrorism, more stupid wars, prejudice, racism, homophobia, domestic violence, and other acts of mayhem and murder.  All this aggression, bigotry, and cruelty are excused in the name of one ideal or another.  After awhile, we become worn down by it all.  We only want to hear “good news”. We escape into the bread and circus world of entertainment. We want to put on the rose colored glasses and let someone else deal with the cruelty.

All forms of cruelty are wrong. Whenever we see cruelty take place we must never succomb to the temptation to be silent. Silence only encourages cold-hearted people to express hate speech and commit ever more heinous acts of cruelty.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca famously said that all cruelty springs from weakness.  Those of us who have been victimized by cruel people want to agree with this judgement.  This statement seems to fall apart, however, when looked at more critically.

Was Ghengis Khan a dithering fool?  Was Maximillien Robespierre really a wuss? Was Adolf Hitler really weak?  These historical figures were quite clever, influential, and very harmful people. Their use of cruelty was enabled by the massive power they owned. I still need to ponder longer about Seneca’s statement.

I think cruelty stems from many sources.  Most insidious is group conformity. When we were children, we fell under its influence in school.  It further manifests in most of cruelty-03kindnessour other institutions, from the sacred to the secular. The results are mental, spiritual, and physical cruelty towards anybody who doesn’t fit in.  James Russell Lowell reflected on conformity in a backhanded way. He said, “There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates.”

What do we do about cruelty?  I don’t have any big solutions about this ages-old evil.  Personally, all I can do is be mindful of my own inclinations towards envy and moralism. I can also write and speak out about cruelty when I witness it taking place or starting to take root. I know I risk disapproval by some friends and family members in doing so.  This is far better than rationalizing my own inaction.

moi1986bThe Blue Jay of Happiness has one more quote. “Gentleness is the antidote for cruelty” –Phaedrus the Epicurian

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Personal History Awareness Month

Yesterday, on Facebook, I saw a captioned photo that claimed most people, today, cannot name their great-grandparents. That statement made me pause and think of my own great-grandparents.

I do know all eight of their names. In addition, I personally enjoyed knowing my maternal grandmother’s parents, my great-grandma Gnirk and I had many memorable moments together when I was a little boy. On dad’s side of the family, both great-grandfathers had died before I could know them. I remember both great-grandmothers as aging matriarchs who smiled often but seemed rather distant to their many great-grandchildren. I have the best memories of great-grandma Anderson.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to visit my great-grandparents, their grandparents and their great-grandparents.  I’d have to travel to Europe before Germany was ever a united nation, and to Sweden during its heyday. The historical journey would be utterly fascinating.

Thankfully, some of my relatives have made efforts to preserve family history.  On mom’s side, a distant relative outlined the family tree several years ago.  On dad’s side, one of his cousins has travelled to Sweden several times in her efforts to document our ancestors. One of my cousins is also doing ongoing work on our family tree.


Given Nebraska’s draconian state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, along with the provision that excludes unrelated, unmarried adults from being adoptive and foster-care parents, I will likely never have grandchildren nor great-grandchildren. These restrictions were not lost on me, so I have made tentative efforts to record my own personal history for anyone in the future who might care to read it.

Each May, the Association of Personal Historians celebrates Personal History Awareness Month. They remind us that May is a great time to continue or begin a genealogy project of your own. You might wish to only do your own history or embark on a grand family project or collaborate with a family member who is already working one up. The time is right, this month, because procrastination is one of the biggest killers of personal historical data collection.

There are many ways to present your own and your family’s history.  A scrapbook is probably one of the best forms. Next, a written family story or biography that is printed by a vanity publisher is good because it is more likely to remain  preserved for posterity. Audio, video, new media, and the Internet are good alternatives, but they do need to be backed up because electronic media constantly changes and can be easily corrupted or totally lost.

Where to start?  I began my own outline by reminiscing as far back into my childhood as possible, taking notes as I did.  I looked over my childhood scrapbook and photos from my childhood photo album to jog my memory. I then looked over my notes and made sure they were as accurate as possible without revising them to make my life appear better than it actually was. Because of my great-aunts’ efforts, I don’t need to re-author their work.  However, I did look over the histories to see where and how I fit into the larger picture.PersonalHistory-04

To enhance my efforts, I listened to some favorite music I enjoyed during childhood and adolescence.  I also dug through a box of old love-letters from former beaux.  I then brought out a copy of my resume’ to help me recall significant career milestones. I don’t have enough material to write a gripping autobiography; however, I do have a decent outline of my life.

Most areas have genealogy clubs or writing groups.  There are also certified, guided autobiography instructors available in many cities, or you can look for one on the Web.  The family tree pasttime is quite popular.  Check your public library or online for more information about a local organization you can consult or join.

At the very least, you can investigate and write your own personal history.  This will preserve your legacy and enable you to pass down your knowledge and stories.  Shake off your procrastination and get started for a better understanding of you and your family’s lives.

1958aThe Blue Jay of Happiness knows his family tree is a few branches short of full bloom.

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Some Collectables …Floral Friday

I’ve sometimes wondered why I enjoy collecting so many different kinds of things.  At times, I justify some of my collectables because they have some monetary value.  One FF052215aof my friends, who is into pop psychology, says I might be trying to relieve some sort of sense of incompletion brought on by unfulfilled childhood needs.  I’m not so sure these are the main reasons I like collecting stuff.  I just enjoy things for their aesthetics.  Most collectables are just fun or unique.

I gave away most of my old “Beanie Baby” collection, long ago but have kept just a few of the zanier ones. “Frills” the bird keeps watch over a 1940s vintage pink vase by an unknown maker.  The vase provides grounding for the wild, informal arrangement.FF052215b

A friend discovered a lamb planter at an auction this month and thought of me, so she brought it home. Of course, McCoy pottery is very collectable. The blue lamb was originally intended as nursury decor, but I adapted it for general use. The blue and purple theme will enable it to fit in just about anywhere.FF052215c

The hand blown colored glass vase is a niche collectable. There is certainly a feel of artistry and quality about this type of glass.  A small bunch of spring colors accents the piece quite well.  “Bob” the “Bearfoots” figurine is right at home nearby.  The Jeff Fleming creations are irresistable.

Go ahead, showcase one or more of your own array of collectables.  Dust them off and display them with joy.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness says to beware of anyone who says she is manufacturing antiques.

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The First Solo Atlantic Fliers

The two solo flight “firsts” across the Atlantic Ocean in aircraft from the US to Europe, were completed on the same date in different years.

Charles A. Lindbergh was born February 4, 1902, the third child of Swedish immigrant Charles Lindbergh and his second wife Evangeline in Detroit, Michigan. The elder Atlantic-02Lindbergh was elected to the US Congress in 1907 two years before he separated from his wife.  The young Charles spent his childhood in several locations, from Minnesota to Washington D.C. He enrolled as an Engineering major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison but dropped out as a sophomore.

In the spring of 1922 Charles Lindbergh began flight training at the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation flying school in Lincoln, Nebraska. His very first flight, as a passenger, was in April of that year in a “Lincoln Standard Tourabout” biplane. Lindbergh didn’t solo at the school because he couldn’t afford to post the required bond.

Later, in 1922, Lindbergh earned a living by barnstorming across Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana as a wing-walker and parachutist. In 1925, he was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri where he eventually became the chief pilot for the company’s contract Air Mail route between St. Louis and Chicago.

Lindbergh had been forced to parachute to safety four times during his flying career. Once as an army pilot, once during his barnstorming days, and twice as an airmail flyer. The close calls earned him the nickname “Lucky Lindy”. Lindbergh remained employed by Robertson Aircraft until February 1927 when he moved to San Diego, California to supervise the construction of his “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane.

His goal was to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize to be awarded to the first person to cross the Atlantic in either direction. Attempts had been made several times by famous, experienced pilots, but none of them had succeeded; six of them had died.

Lindburgh was able to put together the then princely sum of $18,000 by way of a $15,000 bank loan, a $1,000 gift from Robertson Aircraft, and $2,000 of his own savings. The high wing monoplane was jointly designed by the Ryan Aircraft Company and Lindbergh.Atlantic-01

The Wright Whirlwind powered Ryan airplane took off from a muddy, rain-soaked runway at 7:52 AM Friday morning of May 20, 1927. It was burdened with 451 gallons of gasoline, four sandwiches, two water canteens, and Charles Lindbergh.

After a lonely, sleepy flight, sometimes through fog, the Spirit of St. Louis landed at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France at 10:22 PM on Saturday May 21st. A crowd of about 150,000 French spectators stormed the field and carried him above their heads for about 30 minutes before Lindbergh and his airplane were rescued by French authorities.

Waiting for her chance to do the same thing was Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 2, 1907 the second child of Samuel and Amelia Amy Earhart. She was first home-schooled in Kansas, then, after the family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, Amelia began public school at the age of twelve. The rest of her childhood was spent in various cities in Minnesota, Missouri, and Illinois. Following her high school graduation in Chicago, Earhart began junior college at Orontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania, but later, dropped out.

During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, Earhart worked long shifts at the Spadina Military hospital in Toronto, Ontario. She was hospitalized, too, due to pneumonia Atlantic-03and severe sinusitis. The next year, she enrolled in a medical program at Columbia University, but dropped out a year later.  During Christmas break in Long Beach, California, Earhart was given a ride by air racer Frank Hawks in his small red airplane.  The flight inspired Earhart to take flying lessons.

In 1922, Earhart purchased her first airplane, a yellow Kinner Airster biplane she named “The Canary”. In October, that year, she flew “The Canary” to an altitude of 14,000 feet to set a world record for a female pilot.  In May of 1923, she was issued an international pilot’s license.

Earhart worked a few years as a teacher and social worker in Medford, Massachusetts.  At the same time, she was a member of the Boston Chapter of the American Aeronautical Society. While serving as vice president of her chapter, Earhart was also a sales representative for Kinner Aircraft Company. She also wrote newspaper columns about flying.

Following Charles Lindbergh’s successful flight to Paris, Earhart participated in her first trans-oceanic flight.  On June 17, 1928 She flew as a passenger with pilot Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon from Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland to Burry Port in Wales, UK in a Fokker F VIIb. Earhart had become the first female passenger of a trans-Atlantic flight. After much public acclaim, Earhart decided to make the trip by herself, alone.

Wealthy socialite Amy Guest wanted to be the first trans-Atlantic female pilot, but found out she wasn’t qualified.  Instead, Guest bankrolled Amelia Earhart because Earhart had the right image as part of the three person crew in 1928.  A specially prepared Lockheed Vega 5B was outfitted for the flight.  Norwegian American flyer Bernt Balchen helped prep the airplane at the same time he was preparing his own plane for an Arctic flight.

Earhart took off from Saint John, New Brunswick in the early morning hours of May 20, 1932 with a brief stopover in Newfoundland. During her flight, Earhart encountered icy, windy weather, a small gasoline leak into the cockpit, and a broken altimeter. At one point, the airplane broke into a steep dive. She had to pull out of a 3,000 feet spin.  Due to all the problems, Earhart had to change her planned landing in Paris, to a field in Northern Ireland.Atlantic-04

The landing, on May 21st, into a pasture near Londonderry, Northern Ireland was witnessed by two rural men.  Reportedly, one of the area residents asked Earhart if she had flown very far, she replied, “Yes, from America”. Her solo flight had lasted 15 hours and 18 minutes. Earhart had traveled more than 2,000 miles. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, and the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from France.

The flight of Amelia Earhart and that of Charles Lindbergh are the two major historical highlights of May 21st.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Amelia Earhart saying:  “Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”

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