Materials …Floral Friday

This week’s projects utilize containers constructed from three basic materials. Part of the beauty of these materials is that the use of them is very traditional. Also, one of this week’s tests for attractiveness is that the piece should look great on a shelf, unfilled.

The most ancient material for containers is earthenware. The round bottomed “Navajo” pot is constructed from red clay. Taking a note from earthiness, I placed a variety of dried stems inside to give the piece a timeless appearance.

The large vase has been carved from marble. It’s a heavy piece with a simple elegant shape. A spray of small flowers balances the look with lightness of form. The toothpick holder size cornucopia vase is formed from slag glass. The “Vogue Mercco” container was manufactured in New York City.

The art glass compote came from Slovakia and is one of my favorite containers. The mottled, random pattern suggests motion yet the bowl has a traditional shape. The formal greenery design features small moss roses.

The Blue Jay of Happiness contemplates this from California artist Mark Bradford: “I look at art as a container. You can’t get inside it, so you have to ask all of these questions.”

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Thinking About Loyalty

The ancient Roman historian Suetonius documented the fate of Julius Caesar. He wrote that the soothsayer Spurinna warned the ruler in mid-Februarius (February) that 30-days hence were to be perilous and that the danger would end on the Ides of Martius (March).

On the day of the Ides of Martius the soothsayer met Caesar again. The Emperor said, “You are aware, surely, that the Ides of Martius have passed.” Spurinna replied, “Surely you realize that the Ides have not yet passed.”

Later that day in 44 BCE Caesar was assassinated. The ruler was betrayed by Marcus Brutus and several other senators. From that date onward, the Ides of March has been linked to betrayal and loyalty.

As an aside, let’s remind ourselves about what the Ides of each month were. The ancient Roman calendar counted backwards instead of forwards from three times in lunar months. The times were called “Nones”. The first None was on the 5th on 30-day months and the 7th on 31-day months. The Ides fell on the 13th on 30-day months and the 15th on 31-day months. The Kalends was on the 1st of the following month. So the Ides were not restricted only to Martius, all of them had Ides. For instance the Ides of Augustus (August) was on the 15th.

So today is the Ides of March, the day we can think about the concept of loyalty. For the most part loyalty is regarded as a positive ideal. We think about people who are loyal to their country, form of government, cause, and duty. Personally, we can have dear friends upon whom we can depend for loyalty to us. True friendship is based upon mutual loyalty.

Obviously Marcus Brutus and his colleagues were not loyal to Julius Caesar. They were jealous of his status, and fearful of his tyrannical, absolute rule of Rome. The Senators conspired to commit the ultimate act of betrayal–murder.

What is the state of loyalty in the year 2018? This is the age of social media. We can “friend” someone in an instant and “unfriend” them the moment we disagree with something she posts on Facebook. Such friendships are based only on hyperlinks and not unselfish sincerity.

We have world leaders whose patriotism and allegiances are questioned because of their possible loyalty to foreign powers. In the United States, we question the loyalty of our elected Representatives, Senators, and Chief Executives. We should not place our trust in these people naively. Some of our leaders betray us due to their love of money and power.

Without basic loyalty there is no concrete foundation for society, communities, and nations. This is why treason and coups d’etat are fundamentally destructive to society and civility. Betrayal by one’s family and friends strike at the heart of humanity.

The writer Algernon Charles Swinburne said, “The highest spiritual quality, the noblest property of mind a man can have, is this of loyalty … a man with no loyalty in him, with no sense of love or reverence or devotion due to something outside and above his poor daily life, with its pains and pleasures, profits and losses, is as evil a case as man can be.”

Of course, loyalty has its limits in even the most ethical people. When a friend shows that he has no true appreciation for you, it is time to question his loyalty to you. Likewise, when an ideal or belief does not serve to help make you a better person it is time to question why you remain loyal to that point of view. Mark Twain wrote, “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”

So we understand that while loyalty is a matter of black and white allegiance, loyalty is also a very fragile thing.

I hope you have an auspicious Ides of March today.

The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks about this anonymous saying: “The only people I owe my loyalty to are those who never made me question theirs.”

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Happy π Day

Q: What do you get when you cross a stone with a sphere?
A: Rock and Roll

Gather together with your circle of friends, or circle the wagons, tap into your inner geek, and have fun with Pi today.

Prepare to watch eyes roll if you share this pun: “What do you get when you take an Alaskan’s igloo and divide its circumference by its diameter? Eskimo Pi.”

My old friend Paul was a punster who could cause a roomful of people to groan with his utterances. Choose a topic, and he’d have a pun for it on the tip of his tongue. One of his mathematics gems was this one: “The roundest knight at King Arthur’s Court was Sir Cumference. He ate too much Pi.”

Pi day is the brainstorm of physicist Larry Shaw who works at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. This brainiac’s holiday long ago became an international day of note and is also an Internet favorite among the numbered set.

People have been pondering circles for ages. Ancient mathematicians have been working on calculating the areas of circles for at least 4,000 years. In Babylon, the area of a circle was approximated by multiplying the square of its radius. One ancient Babylonian tablet gave a Pi-like number of 3.125. Ancient Egyptian priests used the number 3.16 to reach the approximate value they needed.

One of the most famous ancient mathematicians, Archimedes of Syracuse, arrived at his number by using the Pythagorean Theorem to determine the areas of two regular polygons that were inscribed within a circle. Through some mathematical gymnastics Archimedes understood that he had not found the actual number, but he did determine the number he needed was between 3.10 and 3.17. Mathematicians have been working on narrowing down Pi ever since then. Today we approximate it as 3.14159…, etc.

In 2010 researchers had calculated π to the 2-quadrillionth digit–2,000,000,000,000,000. A year later, Australian researchers put a super computer to work on the project and came up with a number down to the 60-trillianth digit. This mysterious number continues to fascinate people and will likely remain puzzling for many years to come.

π is an irrational number so it cannot be exactly expressed as a regular, common fraction. The approximation can only be further approximated by 22/7 or thereabouts.

Mathematicians started to use the Greek letter π in the 18th century. It was proposed by William Jones in 1706 then popularized by Leonhard Euler around 1737.

So why is today π Day? By the U.S. date format for March 14th, we have 3-14 or 3.14. The perfect Pi day was in 2015 when the day was 3/14/15. Of course, perfect Pi days are once in a lifetime events.

Comparisons of Pi with pie are inevitable, so let’s wince at this oldie but goodie: “The worst thing about getting hit in the face with Pi is that it never ends.”

We also have several variation on pie, including: “What do you get if you divide the circumference of a bowl of ice cream by its diameter? Pi a’la mode.”

Enjoy some nerdy fun and have a Happy Pi Day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness asks his own Pi riddle. “What do you get when you take the Moon and divide its circumference by its diameter? …Pi in the sky of course.”

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Open An Umbrella Indoors

One of the most enduring superstitions we have is the opening of an umbrella indoors belief. Many people still believe that if an umbrella is opened inside of a building bad luck will be the result.

This belief is thought to have originated back in Ancient Egypt. Parasols or umbrellas that provide shade were only to be used by the Pharaohs, other royals, and scribes. In addition to protecting the royal skin from the Sun, the Egyptians believed that parasols protected the high ranking people from evil spirits. To open a parasol indoors or beneath any shade might offend Ra, the Sun God. I wonder how the Egyptians rationalized these contradictory beliefs.

There’s another opinion that links the superstition to England in the 1700s when rain resistant umbrellas with metal struts became widely available. The devices were rather large and difficult to deploy. The umbrellas posed a hazard to people and things within range of an opened umbrella. Because of the possibility of injury and damage from the spring-loaded, fast opening accessory, it seemed like common sense to keep an umbrella folded indoors, even without the superstition.

Oddly enough, it was not considered bad luck if the umbrella was opened upside down to allow it to dry following use after the umbrella had been first opened outdoors in the rain.

One of my cousins is a strong believer in the opened umbrella indoors curse. She says that opening an umbrella inside the home upsets the benevolent spirits that protect the home and results in attracting poltergeists. She says that an umbrella opened indoors also insults her guardian angels, thus allowing misfortune to occur.

My cousin also claims that using black umbrellas reminds people of mourners in a cemetery. Witnesses of such a sight think about the deaths of loved ones which brings about unpleasant emotions. There may be some merit to this because death is a taboo subject.

This old superstition is powerful and resilient because it is widely still believed by people in general society even if the origins of the belief are not known. I’m guessing the most practical skeptic still feels a twinge if she sees somebody opening an umbrella indoors.

Even though a practical, rational person thinks the notion of bad luck umbrella opening is silly, a part of her mind reacts reflexively. Many of us also flash on a similar thought when we first encounter a black cat.

The human mind is a powerful entity. Once we become attached to an idea or concept, it’s hard to let go of it. This is especially true if the belief is socially reinforced by folk wisdom.

Have you noticed that today is the 13th day of the month? There is the very popular notion that 13 is a highly inauspicious number. This is also March, the month of the Roman God of War and Power. There are a lot of beliefs surrounding Mars. It was thought that if Mars was happy that peace would occur. It is during peacetime that civilizations grow and prosper.

My cousin believes that when Mars intersects with the number 13, that people should beware of bad luck. This is an arcane superstition. I’m not sure where my cousin learned about it or if it is a belief she deduced by mentally linking Mars and 13. In any case, it could be a compelling notion for those who believe it.

I can only guess that the Mars and 13 hypothesis might be a reason that Thomas Knibb chose this date for the obscure holiday, Open An Umbrella Indoors Day. Supposedly Knibb created the commemoration as a way that people can disprove this and other popular superstitions.

In order to celebrate the holiday, you need to open an umbrella inside of a building or your house. Keep a journal of any unusually inauspicious events that happen to you during the rest of the month.

Do you believe something unfortunate will happen to you because you dare to open an umbrella indoors?

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a line from writer Gertrude Stein. “The deepest thing in anyone is the conviction of the bad luck that follows boasting.”

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So Clever

One of the more ambiguous words I like is cleverness. It can be used as a compliment or as a subtle put-down. It can be a tool or a weapon.

You might think of a new kitchen gadget that efficiently performs several useful functions without being too complicated and it really saves time and effort. There might be another kitchen gadget that does cooking tasks very well, but takes longer to disassemble, clean, and reassemble than it takes a cook to perform the task the conventional way. I would describe the first gadget as clever in the positive sense. Then I would say the advertising pitch for the second object was clever in a negative way.

The modern type of cleverness is the ability to create a solution to a problem that people didn’t realize they had.

I prefer the satisfaction of being able to use the word clever in its older, positive sense. That is cleverness that is brilliant and utilizes quick, sharp intelligence. For instance, a stage magician, through the use of everyday items as props in a simple presentation that astounds the audience, is a positively clever performer.

Another form of positive cleverness is revealed in the ability of a great author to keep the reader entranced through every plot twist of a story and provide us with a stunning, surprise ending. When we have finished reading the story, we are left feeling delighted and satisfied.

What brought the topic of cleverness to mind was an Internet meme printed on a pale blue background. It was a quote from Plato. “Ignorance of all things is an evil neither terrible nor excessive, nor yet the greatest of all; but great cleverness and much learning, if they be accompanied by a bad training, are a much greater misfortune.”

The immediate takeaway that came to mind was cleverness in a social context. Combine the ignorance and naiveté of the “general” public with the cleverness of a leader who was nurtured on bad training and we have the recipe for disaster. This formula has been tried and tested many times throughout history into the present day.

Thus the ability of our social institutions to be powerful is largely based on manipulating the fear of the public by the cleverness of a few. This is the main reason why tyrants oppress the intelligentsia and education in favor of indoctrination and propaganda. The clever simplicity of dogma is what makes it so very palatable to us.

An effective way to survive and thrive, while living under a clever tyrannical regime, is to exercise more cleverness. We can take a page from the history of the French Resistance’s clever fighting against Nazism during the Second World War. To survive, the Resistance had to play a better game than Hitler’s minions did.

In the end, it is not superficial cleverness that wins the day. It is when we employ our hard-earned wisdom that we truly flourish.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes Hermann Hesse’s thought. “Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is good, patience is better.”

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Thinking About Dreams

If you ask a friend what comes to mind when he hears the word “dream”,  you may get a definition of the word, or he might tell you about the latest dream he dreamt, or he might share a special goal he has.

A dream can be that series of images, colors, and emotions you have when you are sleeping. It could be the imaginary life of a little girl who dreams that she is really a princess in a far off land.

Dream might be an adjective used to describe an ideal object that may or may not be attainable, such as my neighbor’s dream home or that the Ferrari F40 is my dream car.

A dream can be a strong altruistic vision of an ideal future for humanity. One might think of the famous dream of Martin Luther King, Junior.

If you press your friend to describe the dream he has for himself or the future he envisions for the world, he may reveal a sacred place he holds close to his heart.

Sometimes the entire world finds out about the dream as it unfolds before them. Think of Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, the young man who revealed his lifelong dream of becoming a champion athlete and his dream of becoming a role model for young people struggling with their identities. Another part of Rippon’s spirit was revealed when he claimed the title of “America’s Sweetheart”.

We have a fuzzy idea about something called the American Dream where folks get married, have a few children, live in a tidy suburban house, own a couple of cars, and do work they enjoy in order to pay for it all.

The United States was built by immigrants who dreamed of leaving their impoverished existence and starting anew in North America. My own ancestors came from Sweden and Germany. They settled in the heartland planting crops, making do with odd jobs, and educating themselves to fulfill new dreams they imagined once they became settled into the land. They wanted a better world for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren.

There are people who enable other people’s dreams. I’m thinking about the public school teacher who nudges, pushes, and leads her pupils to learn and become the best adults they can be. Teachers seem annoying when we’re kids, but the best teachers are the ones we love because they see our special dreams.

Sometimes I visit cemeteries, not out of morbid curiosity, but to ponder history. There are monuments inscribed with the names of the founding families of the city. The names of some of the streets were once their names. There are monuments that declare the deceased were war veterans. They fought for the dream of their beloved country. They also had more personal dreams they sacrificed for–what were those dreams?

As I stroll through the acres of tombstones I wonder how these people lived their daily lives. What did they hope to accomplish? Did they attain any of their dreams, or were their dreams buried along with them? What sorts of hardships killed their dreams or motivated some of those people to try harder?

While driving home, I notice the sub-developments of houses and wonder about the people living there. Are they living their dreams or are they sleepwalking through life? Are they fulfilling their dreams or are they living in a nightmare?

All of us have dreams. As we shape and alter our dreams, they have the power to shape and alter us.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes what science fiction writer Ray Bradbury had to say about dreams. “Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

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The Day Of Awesomeness

Even though I think the word awesome has been used so much that it has lost much of its original meaning, there are times when it is somewhat appropriate to use a form of it. Today is one of those times because today is the International Day of Awesomeness.

This is the day when we can put humility somewhat on hold as long as we don’t cross into the realm of delusions of grandeur. We’re allowed to remember ways we have been and continue to be awesome human beings. It does a person’s self-esteem good to realistically list what we do exceptionally well.

What is even more effective is when we remember what our friends and loved ones do that makes them awesome. It’s OK to be a mutual admiration society for the day.

What makes your significant other so positively attractive to you? How about your family? What about your best pal? Today is a good time to remind them why they’re so awesome. These people must be awesome because you choose to think of them as more than mere acquaintances.

You might remind friends on social media about their attributes or send them an email. Better yet, tell them face to face, because that is the most awesome way to compliment them. Make sure the praise is authentic and not mere brown-nosing nor with the intent of receiving compliments in return.

So, why is March 10th the International Day of Awesomeness? It was selected because this is Chuck Norris’ birthday. His fans consider Norris as the epitome of awesomeness. A web app developer and his coworkers came up with the idea as a company inside joke. They let their commemoration out to the world at large, and voile’, a new holiday was born.

What makes today’s bluejayblog post awesome is that it’s short.

Be awesome and stay awesome.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a reminder from jazz musician Charles Mingus. “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

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