Yippie! It’s Summer

The calendar says that it’s Summer today. It’s the time when people expect life to be at its peak. There are the swimming pools, the smell of fresh cut lawns, and the luxury of barbecued food for dinner. For most children, this is the time of school vacation. Many families pack their bags and head out on road trips.

These are in store the next few months, here in the Northern Hemisphere. I remind myself about these things as I try to get into the spirit for my least favorite season. I used to love this time of the year; I really did. That was until I suffered two bouts of serious heat stroke and got older. Now, I just wait things out until the glorious chill of wintertime.

I honestly try to put a good spin on summertime, but the mental vision of my parents’ and grandparents’ stories about their hard tackle summers was drilled into my mind when I was just a child. The deprivations they suffered just to raise my parents through the long desolate summers in South Dakota and Nebraska during the Great Depression.

I was weened on heartbreaking stories about years of no crops to harvest because of the long drought of the Dust Bowl. Lots of stories about waves of grasshoppers invading to devour everything in sight. They even ate pitchfork handles made of wood. I heard of the days in southern South Dakota when mom lived in a sod house and she had to collect cow chips from the dry prairie to use as cooking fuel.

Dad remembered that the Summer break did not mean rest and relaxation. He and his siblings had to spend their days helping to run the family’s struggling northeast Nebraska farm. Everyone had to pitch in just to survive another week.

Dad had one story he enjoyed telling about one summer night of his young adolescence in rural Wayne County. It was a larcenous incident regarding a neighbor’s watermelon patch and youthful temptation and mischief. He was caught redhanded by the neighbor. Instead of asking for payment, which was impossible anyway, the neighbor had the miscreant sit at the kitchen table and eat every scrap of the melon that could be humanly consumed.

I hope dad had more fun than that one thrill of stealing the watermelon. The farm was far from any shady stream, so there was no chance of sneaking away for quick swims. Of course, if there had been a creek, it would have been bone dry, due to the drought.

Midwesterners did take summertime car trips. Those that mom and dad knew about were one-way journeys in beat up black sedans. The travelers were not in search of vacation memories, they only sought a second chance in California. I can only imagine the drudgery of an overloaded pitch-black old Dodge, making its way on dusty dirt roads. There was no air conditioning, so the trek would have been hot and

I keep asking myself, “Why did Detroit cover most of the cars in those days with black paint?” Black readily shows the slightest amount of dirt, and black is the most heat absorbent color of them all. No wonder there were so many more convertibles in those days. Roof up or roof down, a ride down a dirt road in Nebraska or South Dakota, during the Dust Bowl days, would be no picnic–literally.

Those bleak stories about the Dirty Thirties colored my own happier Summer breaks. I felt thankful that my siblings and I didn’t have to toil away on a farm. We lived within easy bicycling distance of the municipal swimming pool. If we weren’t swimming, my brother and I went exploring the city of Lincoln on our bikes, most days.

What was really a treat was when the family loaded the beige Buick with our gear and took vacation trips to places like the Black Hills, Yellowstone, or Yosemite. Even though the car wasn’t air conditioned, the trips were still pleasant and took place on modern, paved highways.

There are lots of things about Summer to hate and to love. I’m doing my best to try to like this time of the year.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author Sarah Dessen. “In the summer, the days were long, stretching into each other. Out of school, everything was on pause and yet happening at the same time, this collection of weeks when anything was possible.”

Posted in cultural highlights, History, Hometown, Meanderings, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unwholesome Speech

Today’s concerns about “fake news” and “alt-facts” are not misguided. Untruthful statements are part of the problem of the degradation of modern communication. We notice that gossip is rampant in our culture, and the language is polluted with profanity everywhere we turn. A great number of us do not like this state of affairs.

The problem is that unwholesome communications have become the norm and not the exception for a large portion of society. It’s not only acceptable to use unwise communication, but it’s often encouraged.

This is not an attempt to place myself on a pedestal or present the case for being a goody two shoes. There have been times I’ve been guilty of all the above complaints. If I accidentally hammer my thumb, an expletive will probably burst forth from my mouth. I’ve also found it necessary to use little white lies to salve an awkward situation. I know I’ve gossiped, too.

I should give you some personal background as to why unwholesome speech makes me cringe. My parents were very stern regarding all matters of talking. If my siblings or I uttered a swear word, we were firmly scolded. Mom sometimes threatened to wash our mouths out with soap. If we repeated gossip about our peers, dad would ask if we knew the information was actually true. The most severe reprimands came if we were caught in a lie.

During my years in broadcasting, accurate, skillful communications were foremost in the company’s standards of ethics and our mission statement. Our listeners depended upon us as their source of news. Our reputation as a trustworthy source of information had been carefully nurtured throughout many decades. That reputation was very carefully guarded. Our news stories were based on verifiable facts and never on gossip nor hearsay.

Cursing was absolutely prohibited on the air. Profanity was strongly discouraged in the office area as well. It was more than just station culture. Management did not want cussing to become a habit of speech…a habit that might accidentally show up in an adlib or an on-air conversation. Regarding good communication skills, management ran a very tight ship.

The disciplined communication habits of my childhood and career became second nature. It was just a matter of course that I rarely used unwholesome language in any situation.

These habits have continued to be assets in daily life. Unwholesome or unskillful speech does not help us to be taken seriously at our words. It’s rather uncomfortable to be in the company of a braggart or a name-dropper. Acquaintances will put up with heroic stories of past exploits for awhile, out of politeness, but they really find such talk tiresome. There’s a difference between using an example of ones experiences and the telling of an epic, embellished tale. People just don’t like to be around bores.

The subject of profanity has become controversial. To swear like a drunken sailor used to be considered a negative character flaw. Now, it seems to be a mandatory requirement for stand-up comedians and talk show hosts. In social media, memes I want to share because of the message, I scroll past them if they contain the “F-word” or the “S-word”.

Some users of course speech say that rude words bring emphasis and force to their statements. Actually, there is no need to embarrass others in order to effectively communicate an idea. Being crude does nothing to elevate a monologue, an interview, or a conversation. Entertainers who gratuitously slip foul words into their acts leave me cold.

The “F-word” is not a good substitute for actual wit or a great sense of humor. A good entertainer knows how to use a strategically placed euphemism without coming off as priggish or sanctimonious. A truly hilarious joke is actually funnier
without swear words.

Overuse of a nasty word diminishes its strength. I think there is a useful place for a strong swear word. In my subjective opinion, to use it once or twice in an evening to emphatically state a strong opinion is plenty. Too much chili pepper makes the stir-fry unpalatable.

The point of this rant is unwholesome speech is ineffective speech. Skillfully crafted, accurate communications are more effective and keep their relevance for a longer period of time. The absence of boastfulness, inaccuracy, gossip, and strong language enables effective communication and better interpersonal relationship with more people. If a person is seeking to communicate in a more passionate manner, wholesome speech is the most effective way to do so. When will the entertainers and politicians understand this?


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the writer’s former broadcasting instructor. “Never say anything you wouldn’t say in front of your own mother.”

Posted in Controversy, cultural highlights, Entertainment, Friendship | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Day For Sauntering

I like to go for walks on the Nebraska Cowboy Trail. It’s a very long area of real estate that used to be railroad right of way. The actual trail stretches through several counties, so people rarely go for regular walks or bicycle rides along the entire trail.

The part of the Cowboy Trail I regularly use is the eastern terminus that begins at “Ta Ha Zouka” city park just south of Norfolk. Here is where the Elkhorn River meanders from West to East alongside the trail. It’s a beautiful hiking-biking stretch that has been paved in concrete. Using the trail is pleasurable through all four seasons.

Because this segment has been paved, people who must use wheelchairs sometimes take advantage of the trail. It’s common to see photographers taking serious pictures of the flora and fauna and the river itself. This is a popular place for families on weekend outings. The trail is often used by fitness oriented runners and bicyclists.

If you’re observant, you’ll even notice that some of us use the Cowboy Trail for sauntering. Count me among this group of walkers. Once in awhile, I put away the camera and just go for a slow, peaceful walk in the Northeast Nebraska environment.

Even though I’m retired from the traditional workforce, I’ve noticed that it’s very easy to get into a daily routine. It’s still very easy to get caught up in the daily round of news. Blame the Internet for that. So an occasional saunter is welcome respite for the mind.

Unlike speed walking, jogging, or fitness cycling, sauntering is pointless and free. The mindset is not productivity, it’s simple presence. A person could set out to walk the 190 miles from Norfolk to Valentine on the Cowboy Trail. The journey would be a planned hike, not a saunter. A person doesn’t pack provisions and severe weather gear to go sauntering.

Sauntering through a park or wilderness is more like meditation. Sauntering is a soul-nourishing, peaceful activity that takes a person out of the toxic, modern, 21st century cult of constant productivity.

Sauntering is not a vacation nor an ocean cruise. There are no airline, train, or ship schedules to meet. There are no hotel or campground reservations to make. The beauty of sauntering is that it can be done during a vacation when you want to get away from the act of vacationing.

While it’s lovely to saunter on a trail at Yosemite, it’s just as wonderful to saunter through a city park, or an undeveloped parcel of land out of town. It’s more difficult to get into the spirit of sauntering in a busy city, but it can be done by experienced saunterers.

Still, sauntering is best enjoyed where the pace of life is still.

Anyone who is weary of the conformity of our civilization filled with pre-packaged entertainment and diversions can take a break from it all. Sauntering costs little or nothing. All one has to do is find a peaceful path and let go.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Henry David Thoreau. “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man–then you are ready for a walk.”

Posted in Environment, Health, Hometown, Meanderings, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Memories of the AIDS Epidemic

Sometimes on weekends, I get a nostalgic urge and pull out one of my photo albums. The kind of albums that are actual cardboard and paper with plastic sheaths to protect actual paper and emulsion photographs.

Yesterday, the photos from the late 1970s and early 1980s were those that just happened to come up. The pictures of my friends from back in those days triggered memories of the health epidemic and how it would affect my circle of friends and acquaintences. What eventually came to be known as AIDS hit close to home.

The late 70s and early 80s were heady times in the gay community. Many advancements in civil rights were beginning to fall in place and were accompanied by vehement backlash from the religious right. Personally, I came out at work in 1979. The acceptance by my coworkers and grudging tolerance by management gave me great peace of mind. I felt very lucky, happy, and excited by what looked to be a promising future.

In those pre-Internet days, I kept in touch with the community by reading magazines like The Advocate, and Christopher Street. It was in 1980 that news stories began appearing in these magazines about unusual diseases and infections cropping up in the gay ghettos of major cities in the US. One noteworthy, rare cancer began showing up in homosexual men, drug addicts, and a few heterosexual women.

In June of 1981 scientists and doctors looking for the cause of the malady began piecing together various cases of the peculiar, very deadly syndrome and began calling it an epidemic. They gave it a name that would strike fear into the hearts of people in the community. Mainstream newscasts began informing the public about GRID or Gay Related Immunodeficiency.

Soon, people became aware of the Centers for Disease Control and Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. News reports about this new epidemic told of new cases of GRID and that health officials feared that tens of thousands of homosexual men may have the condition. They could be at severe risk of developing diseases like Kaposi’s Lymphoma, pneumonia, and autoimmune disfunctions.

GRID developed rapidly in each victim. Thousands of patients suffered severe weight loss, debilitating infections, and died for lack of effective treatments and cures. As the epidemic was discovered in non-gay populations, the disease was renamed from GRID to AIDS–Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

The blowback from adversaries of the gay community was fierce and hateful. There were calls for rollbacks of recent civil rights gains. Radical religionists cruelly insinuated that AIDS was a punishment from God.

The combination of a mysterious, deadly disease without a cure, the attacks by outsiders, and the lack of a meaningful government response caused a seige mentality within the community. AIDS had become a crisis in a purely health-related sense, and a civil rights sense. It was at the root of many sleepless nights when people like me worried if or when we might come down with AIDS and suffer a painful, disfiguring death.

The fears were justified because nearly everyone knew at least one person who had come down with AIDS. The fate of many victims was worse because of rejection by their own families. Ad hoc support groups sprung up in cities that were most affected by the epidemic. If the AIDS epidemic had a silver lining, it was the galvanizing effect on the community.

Where families of birth failed us, the lesbian community stepped in and took charge and provided care and compassion for their dying male comrads. It was around this time that the various factions of the community coalesced into something like its present form. We began to call ourselves members of the GLB or LGB (Lesbian Gay Bisexual) community.

It was amazing to be a small part of this newly re-energized community of activists. This was a stark demonstration of the power of unity. The community was no longer under seige. It was taking the first baby steps of assertiveness.

The community captured the initiative to battle the epidemic and to advocate for proper treatment and care of individuals who suffered from the disease. We became united in the good fight. From adversity came strength.

There is still no cure for HIV AIDS and people from many backgrounds in many nations continue to become infected. Fortunately for those who receive early diagnosis and treatment, the outlook for a healthy, longer life is bright.

The epidemic still rages on in many developing nations. Social stigma and inadequate treatment present obstacles. Education about and prevention of HIV AIDS are foremost in importance. Further research into treatments and possible cures must continue. Compassion and care are especially needed for people who are afflicted by the condition.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Congressman Elijah Cummings. “African-American women account for 67-percent of all newly diagnosed female AIDS cases.”

Posted in Controversy, Health, History, Politics, religion, Science, Youth | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment


I contend that it’s not the “movers and shakers” that forge history, it’s the “movers and makers” that really do so. When we think of American History, we had people like Frederick Douglass a mover and Alexander Graham Bell a maker. There was also Benjamin Franklin who was both a mover and a maker.

When I think of those who contributed to the greatness of America, I think of those who built the trans-continental railroad, the bridges of San Francisco Bay, and the rockets to the Moon.

The real point is, that people of all backgrounds and ages have been and continue to be the movers and makers who have collectively pushed the nation forward. People who have thought up creative solutions to major and mundane challenges in life. For the most part, the people who make things are ordinary Americans and they are those who dream and tinker.

Each of us probably can think of people whose lives revolved areound making. In my world, one of those people was dad. As a householder, he spent weekends in his basement work room or in the garage fashioning things out of wood or metal. Many of his projects were repurposed from worn out items.

Dad’s profession was civil engineering. He spent all of his professional life as an engineer and project supervisor for the Nebraska Department of Roads. His office space was filled with blueprints that he drafted for highways, intersections, and small bridges. Sometimes he brought me or my siblings to construction zones where makers with heavy machinery paved the highways and intersections. They constructed the bypasses and bridges that dad helped to design.

There are countless people like my dad, who continue to do this work. There are also the many workers who do the heavy lifting to make those projects a reality all across the country. This is so commonplace that we take our highways and streets for granted. Sometimes the only time we notice the makers, is when we are “inconvenienced” by construction and repair crews.

Our highway system is only one aspect of the nation in which makers are of prime importance. If you glance around your area right now, you’ll see plenty of things that people have designed, or invented, and made. You might be sitting on a
chair or sofa that was designed and made. The house, apartment, or office building you’re in was the result of making. Makers designed and assembled the device on which you’re reading or hearing these words.

In order to maintain the momentum of progress and improvement, the nation must not fall down in our efforts to provide quality, scientific, factual education to our pupils and students. We need to encourage people of all regions, genders, age groups, and ancestry to share their innovative ideas and the things they make.

It will take everybody’s ingenuity, skills, and rational knowledge for us to remain viable and relevant in today’s highly competitive international market of movers and makers.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Orson Welles. “I don’t believe in learning from other people’s pictures. I think you should learn from your own interior vision of things and discover, as I say, innocently, as though there had never been anybody.”

Posted in cultural highlights, History, Science, Youth | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Three Approaches …Floral Friday

I often haphazardly gather three different empty containers and place them on my desk. I enjoy simply looking at them and wondering what the artisan was thinking when the vases’ molds were created. One of the most amazing things about flower vases, is that there seems to be an almost endless supply of shapes and colors of them.

It’s fun to find a vase made of a material other than ceramic sometimes. A shapely vase made of pot metal with a faux wood finish is the right place for a fancy orchid display.

A favorite vintage Weller vase is pleasing to look at unfilled. I often use it to display yellow blooms to reflect its artful flower detail. This time I resisted the temptation and went for a posy of chrysanthemums, instead.

A decorated contemporary vase presented a similar situation. Instead of following the lead of painted on tulips, I went for a more sophisticated shaping of other various flowers.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Jean Cocteau. “Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.”

Posted in Floral Arts, Hobbies, projects | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Phenomena Are Indifferent

It’s very tempting to believe that when something happens, it does so as a way to reward or to punish people. We see this when someone claims that a hurricane destroyed a city because of “sinful people” living in that city. At the individual level, there is the belief that if someone was mugged on the street that he or she deserved it. People have faith in such notions because we see the world through individual lenses. We’re subjective thinkers.

When we let go of our subjectivity for awhile, and study why things happen, we see that phenomena are indifferent to our beliefs and practices. Hurricanes occur because of global weather conditions and the natural tendency of the troposphere to spawn storms. Hurricanes and Typhoons just happen. A similar situation happens when there are muggings and robberies. There are some people who steal stuff from
other people. Thieves and muggers generally attack at random not because of some divine instruction. If blame is to be placed, it should be on the criminal, not the victim.
We like to view things or events as auspicious or inauspicious. Society used to interpret the appearance of comets in the sky as symbols of divine displeasure and as signs of impending doom. These days, we understand that comets are simply physical objects that have highly eliptical orbits around the Sun. Their appearances can be predicted through observation and mathematical formulae. Comets are
just comets.

A phenomenon happens regardless of our opinion of it. It is our interpretation of an event that causes hope or fear in our minds. The unscientific mind selectively chooses “signs” that back up and justify its opinions and beliefs. If something happens to us we automatically personalize it.

If something fortunate happens, I might say, “I am lucky”. When something bad happens I might bemoan the fact by saying, “I’m an unlucky guy.” Maybe another person will claim that my misfortune is “a judgment from God.” The temptation arises every day to attribute meaning to random phenomena. A better approach is to be mindful of a phenomenon. What is the actual cause of it? What naturally happens because of it.

When the weather service predicts that a hurricane will collide with your city, you don’t need to worry if a divine being is angry with you or your neighbors. You can make preparations to better help you survive the extreme winds and flooding.

While you wait out the storm, perhaps you may wish to examine possible motives of doom-mongers who attribute special meaning to the natural event.

Understanding phenomena as indifferent does not mean that we must react with indifference to them. Indifferent events often act as catalysts that reveal compassion and our inate humanity. Most of us feel moved to provide aid and comfort to victims of natural disasters or violent crime. We can pay attention to this reaction and follow through to help in ways that we are able.

On a personal level, seeing phenomena in their natural light helps us avoid unskillful thinking, elitism, and spiritual pride. When some unpleasantness happens to someone, we don’t need to assign blame to them. The same goes for when something pleasant happens to oneself. The happy phenomenon doesn’t necessarily mean it came about because that person is a member of a select, exclusive category or belief system.

What it may mean is that what occurred was the result of hard work or by the means of random selection. Understanding that phenomena are indifferent is one way to prevent lazy thinking, greed, fear, heartlessness, and cruelty. Knowing that phenomena are indifferent reveals that all of us are in this life together and we all deserve sensitivity, kindness, sympathy, and compassion.

Understanding that phenomena are indifferent can be the great equalizer that helps to level the playing field for everyone.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this statement from the Zen sage, Bodhidharma: “All phenomena are empty.”

Posted in Contemplation, Health, religion, Science | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment