A Month of Sundaes

I seem to have an affection for the hyphen. The humble horizontal line appears regularly in my posts. The “dash” is more formal than the “dot-dot-dot” yet more relaxed than the semi-colon – perfect for blog pauses, don’t you agree? My hyphen habit may be the result of formative moments in my life, like Hanna-Barbera cartoons (hello, Yogi Bear) and Hewlett-Packard, where I worked most of my professional career. But if I had to pick just one – or should I say, thirty-one, I’d go with my favorite hyphen of them all.  Baskin-Robbins.

The next time I write a post, remind me to have something to eat before I sit down to the keyboard.  My last four entries cover graham crackers, doughnuts, waffles, and now ice cream.  Might be my anticipation of Easter Sunday (when my Lenten sweets sacrifice comes to an end).  Bring on the jellybeans, Peter Rabbit!  But today is about ice cream – and not just any.  It’s about the one you grew up with; the one you still identify with.  For me, it’ll always be Baskin-Robbins.

“B-R”, as they’re now called, has a quaint beginning worth a few sentences here.  Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins got into the ice cream business independent of each other.  Then Burt married Irv’s sister.  The now brothers-in-law decided to combine “Burton’s Ice Cream Shop” (10 flavors) with Irv’s “Snowbird Ice Cream” (21 flavors), and there you have it – the birth of “31 Flavors”.  B-R was a single shop back in 1948; today, how about 8,000 parlors in 50 countries?  Their new slogan – Seize the yay – has more to do with “celebrating small, joyous moments” than ice cream.  Even the rebranded logo removes the nostalgia of the B-R I grew up with (though the embedded “31” is clever).  But I get it – B-R needs to appeal to younger generations as well.

Dad’s favorite

Baskin-Robbins is inextricably tied to my childhood memories.  Our local B-R was one door over from my mother’s hair salon.  It was also right down the street from our church.  So ice cream for me was often the reward of patience with Mom or simply going to church with Dad, who often couldn’t resist a stop at B-R on the way home.  You could always find a container of B-R Rocky Road in Dad’s freezer, all the way up to the last day of his life.  He was fond of saying while he enjoyed a bowlful, “Nothing beats Baskin-Robbins’ Rocky Road.” (I beg to differ with B-R’s Peanut Butter ‘n’ Chocolate, but hey, we all have our favorites).

A lot of my posts mention ice cream yet I’ve only mentioned Baskin-Robbins once in all my blogging (in The Sweets Life three years ago).  Kind of a crime there because B-R deserves a post of its own, as does your favorite ice cream parlor.  Wikipedia has an article called List of Ice Cream Parlor Chains (of course they do).  Your favorite is on that list.  I may be partial to B-R but I’m familiar with several others, including Braum’s in Oklahoma and Texas, Carvel to the Northeast, Farrell’s to the West, and Lappert’s in Hawaii.

Of course, with Baskin-Robbins I’m talking “ice-cream-parlor ice cream”.  Back at home, you won’t find any B-R in our freezer because Häagen-Dazs (ice cream) and Talenti (gelato) earn the shelf space instead.  H-D goes a whole lot higher on the butterfat scale so naturally it tastes better.  H-D even has a hyphen!  And Talenti, well, it’s gelato.  Need I say more?

If you live in a bigger city than me, you have better ice cream options than Baskin-Robbins.  Big cities have wonderful local places (follow Lyssy in the City for some of the best in New York).  But do they have hyphens?  Mine does (as does this post – 48 if I counted correctly).  Yes, B-R may be updating its brand, but I’ll always insert the rainbow-sprinkle “dash” between the initials, returning me to those ice-cream parlor memories of old.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “This 77-year-old ice cream chain is getting a makeover”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #13

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We passed the ten-hour mark with the build today, which amounts to a very long piano concerto. (Good thing you’re not being asked to sit and watch, eh?) Bag #13 – of 21 bags of pieces – added another five keys to the board for a total of fifteen.  Eight more next week will complete the entire set.  Maybe we’ll be installing them into the piano as well!

Here’s a stop-sign warning if you take on a project like this.  Pieces can easily be installed backwards.  For all my “practice” building keys these past few weeks, I got a few tiny pieces reversed today and had to disassemble to make things right.  Mr. Instruction Manual includes warning-like diagrams to make sure you don’t do this. In other words, the piano student must pay attention at all times!

Running Build Time: 10.2 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Strauss’s The Blue Danube waltz. Leftover pieces: 3

Conductor’s Note: The Blue Danube is familiar from the very first bars (especially if you saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and remember the scene with the rotating space station).  Strauss was fond of waltzes and this one is his most famous.  With its repeating theme, I thought The Blue Danube would be appropriate this time around since I’ve been building key after key after key.

Strange Bedfellows

Welcome to Masters Week, sports fans! Even if you don’t know the first thing about professional golf, you’ve probably heard of The Masters.  The tournament begins again this Thursday (for the eighty-sixth time) at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. If you have nothing better to do this weekend, you can watch a dozen mind-numbing hours of the television coverage. While you’re at it you’ll discover the Masters traditions, like the champion’s green jacket, the clubhouse top-story “Crow’s Nest” (where the amateur golfers reside), the famous pimento cheese sandwiches, and of course, Waffle House. Wait, Waffle House?

Question: When do waffles and golf belong in the same sentence?  Answer: When it’s April at The Masters. Why?  Because alongside the golf hats, shirts, and commemorative this-and-that for purchase at the souvenir shop, you can buy a limited-edition pair of Adidas golf shoes for your long walk along the course.  The shoes will set you back $200 – a little pricier than most – but hey, they’re limited-edition.  You’ll be among the select few advertising Waffle House on their heels.

Before you think waffles and golf shoes are the most random “pairing” (ha) in the history of merchandising, remember; The Masters is in Georgia.  So is Waffle House.  Their headquarters is right down the road in Atlanta and they have over 400 restaurants across the Peach State (way more than any other state).  In other words, a pair of Waffle House Adidas at The Masters may earn as many thumbs-up as strange looks.

Speaking of strange, Adidas took the breakfast look of its limited-edition shoe to an extreme.  Besides the rear-facing logo, a square-after-square print runs along the side, in a muted tone meant to represent waffles and syrup.  Adidas calls it “batter-like colorway” (a phrase you’ll never hear again, ever).  Including syrup in the design and labeling it “batter-like” might be how Adidas keeps distance (and lawsuits) from competitor Nike, which famously created its first shoe using a waffle iron. Whatever. Shoes and waffles still make strange bedfellows.  I mean, look at the marketing photos spaced throughout this post.  Clever yes, but isn’t your first thought, “Get your dirty sneakers off my dining table!

[Props to Adidas, if you have buyer’s remorse with your breakfast kicks, at least you also get a shoebox looking exactly like a teeny, tiny Waffle House.]

I’m not on my soapbox to knock Waffle House; quite the opposite.  Any restaurant keeping the doors open sixty years after the very first plate deserves my respect.  So does a restaurant where waffles are the main event because I love waffles.  If they’re on the menu, I’ll order waffles whether at Waffle House, Belgian-style, or made-to-order at the finest champagne brunch.  I’ve even been known to eat an Eggo or two.  Ideally, top your grids with strawberries and Chantilly cream, with syrup on the side for dipping.  Heaven on earth.

I’ve only been to Waffle House twice in my life.  Was it a memorable experience?  NO.  Both times I perched on a backless stool at the counter.  Both times I sat next to characters I’d never, ever choose to dine with.  Finally, the Waffle House kitchen is right there in the wide-open so you can watch your breakfast being prepared.  Wouldn’t say it was the most sanitary process I ever saw.

Waffle House does have its charms, however.  The original menu had just sixteen items; today, well over a hundred.  Each location is open all-day-all-night, which has some customers believing Waffle House doors don’t lock.  Each location also has a jukebox, including favorites from the “Waffle Records” label (Ex. They’re Cooking Up My Order by Alfreda Gerald, released in 2006).  Finally, two percent of all restaurant eggs in America are cracked at Waffle House.  Two percent is rarely a big number but in this case, it’s got a lot of zeroes.

Waffle House did make a famous mistake once.  In the 1960s, the chain was approached by one S. Truett Cathy, looking for an outlet for his proprietary chicken sandwich.  The sandwich was added to the menu for a short time, but sales were so strong Waffle House worried its waffles would lose the spotlight.  So Cathy moved on, and of course, Chick-fil-A soon became an even more popular place to eat.

Note the Waffle House shoebox

To be fair, the Adidas shoe isn’t the first time waffles and golf crossed paths. In 1996, Kevin Costner starred as a down-on-his-luck golfer in Tin Cup, which included a memorable scene at a Waffle House just before the U.S. Open.  Somehow this worked better than waffle-golf shoes.

According to its website, Waffle House has 10 locations in my home state of Colorado versus 439 locations in Georgia.  Do the math.  If a hundred Georgians order two waffles a day in each of those restaurants, Waffle House is cooking up over 600,000 Peach State waffles every week. WHOA. Now there’s my excuse to go to The Masters!

Some content sourced from the ESPN.com article, “Waffle House and Adidas team up for waffle-themed golf shoes”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #12

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We’ll be “playing” the keyboard for the next few weeks. Bag #12 – of 21 bags of pieces – added another seven keys to the five I constructed last week, which puts us not quite halfway across the board.  I’m showing the complicated mechanical action in the photo because once the keys are installed it’ll be hard to see.  Notice how pressing the piano key down makes the rounded counterweight to the left go up.  The weight strikes the piano string above it (once inside the piano), and Voila! Music.

When you work on one of these Lego projects for almost ten hours you notice things. Little things. Today I realized, for the first time ever, Lego imprints its logo on every one of the thousands of raised “bumps” on its pieces (like the beige bumps just to the left of the black piano keys here).  A perfectionist would have all of those logos facing the same direction. Nope, not gonna happen; we’re on a one-way street here.

Running Build Time: 9.6 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Handel’s Water Music. Leftover pieces: 3

Conductor’s Note: Water Music is a collection of short pieces for a large orchestra.  Because Handel wrote the set of suites for King George I for a concert on the River Thames, Water Music is often performed outdoors.  Next to his choral work Messiah (“HA…lle-LU-jah!”), Water Music is Handel’s best-known composition.

This is Dough-NUTS!

Earlier this week, Krispy Kreme held the grand opening of its newest store just a few miles from my house. You’d have thought the first customers through the doors won the state lottery. I’ve never seen such an amped-up bunch of doughnut-lovers, at least the ones who stepped up to the television cameras. Even the news anchors caught the fever, practically giddy with their coverage, which in turn had me thinking, “Hello? Isn’t there anything more important going on in Colorado Springs?” Welcome to America, where the opening of a fast-food restaurant makes headline news.

Full disclosure: I’ve had a Krispy Kreme doughnut and they’re positively scrumptious.  Put a box of the original glazed in front of me and I’ll polish off at least half of ’em.  But that was years ago, back when Krispy Kreme was new and novel.  Today?  I take ’em or leave ’em, and apparently I leave ’em because I can’t tell you the last time I ate any brand of doughnut.  Regardless, doughnuts aren’t really my topic today; doughnut customers are.  Specifically, the ones who would get up at oh-dark-hundred just to say they’re among the first through Krispy Kreme’s doors on opening day.

Why?

Maybe these nuts for doughnuts are the same people who purchase tickets to the opening of a feature film; the ones who wait hours in line, watch the sold-out midnight show, then fall into bed bleary-eyed at 3am.  I want to get down on my knees and plead with them, “Hey you, the movie will be shown a hundred more times and will be just as good as the first showing”.  Why give up a good night’s sleep to say you saw it first?  Krispy Kreme will sell their doughnuts for years and they’ll taste just as good next year (and the year after that) as they do on “Grand Opening Day”.  Why the rush?

Here’s something else I don’t understand.  This same fast-food frenzy applied to Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, and two weeks ago, Whataburger when they opened their first stores in town.  The local news gave us updates for months until their “big days”, then cars backed up by the dozens through the drive-thru, then all you’d hear from neighbors was, “Did you hear what just opened?” like it was the juiciest bit of gossip ever. I can think of a dozen local, family-owned restaurants opening in the past several years, and not one of them earned the same hype as these national-chain fast-food commoners.  It’s like we Americans are addicted to fast food.  Which of course, we are.

Why again?

If I’d kept the local news on all day Tuesday, I would’ve seen the same on-the-spot reporter at Krispy Kreme, giving updates every two or three hours on the progress of the grand opening.  Instead, I just pulled up the news channel website and watched her short videos, one after the other after the other.  This reporter was at Krispy Kreme the entire day (that’s 5:30am-10:00pm for those who are counting).  She managed to look as fresh and bubbly with the first interview as with the last.  Probably hyped up on doughnut sugar.

At least she was getting paid.  Those first customers chose to be there voluntarily, which leads me to this question: what does the rest of your day feel like when you’ve been up since 3:00am?  One customer thought to pack pillows and blankets into her car for her three (pajama-clad) kids, so they could sleep while her husband waited in a line so long, the camera couldn’t find the end of it.  Another customer looked and talked like he’d just received his U.S. citizenship from a very faraway land, espousing the merits of the Krispy Kreme over the lesser doughnuts of his homeland.  A third customer, several dozen-doughnut boxes stacked carefully in her hands, boasted how popular she was going to be when she showed up at work (and between you and me, she looked like she’d had plenty of Krispy Kremes already).

Here’s my favorite part of this “news story”.  This isn’t the first Krispy Kreme to open in Colorado Springs.  Years ago, when KK doughnuts were a new rage, Colorado Springs got its first store.  A few years later it closed.  After that, you could only get pre-boxed Krispy Kremes at a few convenience stores around town.  After that you couldn’t get them at all.  Then several years pass.  Now we’re doing it all over again, with the same amount of hype.  To which I conclude: What does it say about your city when headline news that doesn’t deserve to be headline news becomes headline news all over again?

Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

Some content sourced from the Krispy Kreme website.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #11

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

Today’s build stepped away from the body of the piano (again). Bag #11 – of 21 bags of pieces – started out as a bit of a mystery.  If I’d looked closer at Mr. Instruction Manual, I’d have known what was coming.  At some point in the thirty-five-minute assembly it became obvious.  Keys, Francis Scott.  Piano keys.

I put the Bag #11 keys side-by-side with the piano in the second photo so you can get a sense of scale.  They’re kind of a “module”, which should insert comfortably into the front of the piano later.  My next several builds may be more of the same.  Remarkably, the keys are weighted just like a real piano.  Press one down and the red-tipped weight way at the other end brings it back up.  Think see-saw.  Lest this photo has you thinking “easy build”, Bag #11 contained well over 200 pieces.

Running Build Time: 8.7 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Ravel’s Boléro (twice through). Leftover pieces: 2

Conductor’s Note: Boléro is one of my favorite classical pieces and Ravel’s most famous work.  Listeners either love it or hate it.  It’s a fifteen-minute variation on two themes, with the orchestra building slowly to its crash-bang finale.  The repeating themes are so simple I could probably play them with just the few piano keys I built today.  Ravel composed Boléro as a ballet (it does sound like a dance or a march) and predicted most orchestras would refuse to play it.  He was wrong.  Boléro also gained considerable notoriety as the theme music for the 1970s movie 10, starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sweeter Than Honey

We all have favorite name-brand products, and crackers are no exception. I grew up on Nabisco’s Wheat Thins. Years later I developed a taste for the more sophisticated shredded-wheat Triscuit. When I first met my wife, she introduced me to Kellogg’s buttery Club Crackers. Each of these products is a little different (and today we prefer healthier versions of all three). But I think most would agree, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a graham cracker.

As I put graham crackers under the spotlight today I wonder what comes to your mind first.  For me, it’s two things.  First, I’m taken back to childhood mornings at Sunday school, where the preferred snack was honey graham crackers and pineapple juice.  I can’t think of another time or place where I ever had that combination of foods.  Maybe the sugar overload was a strategy to keep us awake during the Bible stories?  Second, I endlessly debate whether a graham is a cracker or a cookie.  If you’re at all familiar with the ingredients, grahams lean towards “cookie”.  They’re called a cracker, they look like a cracker, but nine out of ten stores stock them in the cookie aisle.

Graham cracker or “graham cookie”?

It’s appropriate my first memory of graham crackers is at church.  They’re named after Sylvester Graham, a nineteenth-century preacher whose constant message was temperance.  In Graham’s time, temperance was a movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but also encouraged what may have been the first vegetarian diet.  Wheat was its cornerstone, and wheat (flour) is the primary ingredient in graham crackers.  To be clear, Sylvester didn’t invent the graham cracker (we’re not sure who did) but his preaching inspired its name.

“Blackstrap” molasses

The sweet ingredient in graham crackers used to be molasses, one of my favorite items in the pantry.  Inevitably, molasses gave way to processed sugar.  But as I discovered recently, honey is a key ingredient in today’s best-tasting grahams.

For you, maybe graham crackers taste best in s’mores (which I wrote about in Toasty of the Town), or the crust of a cheesecake, or even Moon Pies for you baby boomers.  But for me, grahams taste best all by themselves.  They play like a “cheat” to the more sugary options out there, and I can pretend I’m just snacking on a “cracker”.

I keep a stash of grahams in my office drawer to satisfy my occasional sweet tooth.  I only need a couple of the 2″x 5″s and I’m back on track.  The other day however, I pulled open the drawer to nothing but crumbs.  Horrors!  Grahams have been my go-to since the beginning of Lent because I’ve given up chocolate and “sweets”.  So I quickly added them to my store list and vowed to shop later in the day.

But as so often has been the case during the pandemic, I immediately paused and thought, “Wait a minute. Why buy graham crackers?  Maybe I can make them from scratch?

Here then, I present what is the best graham cracker recipe I’ve ever tried.  (Okay, it’s the only recipe I’ve ever tried but it doesn’t matter; I don’t need another one.)  Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking takes grahams to a way higher rung on the cookie ladder (including a helpful video if you’re baking-challenged like me).  I’ve eaten a million Honey-Maids yet it took me sixty years to realize grahams can be SO… MUCH… BETTER.  Why?  Because these contain a lot more of the good stuff and a lot less of the nasty chemical flavorings and preservatives.

You should expect these homemade grahams to taste better when you see the ingredients.  The ratio of flour to brown sugar is 2:1 (emphasis on the “1”).  Now add another 1/3 cup of honey.  That’s a lot of “sweet” for a cracker, er, cookie that looks like a thin cardboard rectangle.  But I’m talking delicious with a capital “D”.  Think chewy instead of crunchy, with a rich “graham” flavor lingering much longer than store brands.  They’re almost too good to be called a graham.

My grahams

Okay, let’s close the box on graham crackers with a quick review:

  1. They were invented as an alternative to unfavorable indulgences.
  2. They’re a cookie by definition but a cracker by name.
  3. They make you want to try Moon Pies (if you haven’t already).
  4. They satisfy a craving for sweets without being “a sweet” (disregard earlier comment about brown sugar and honey).
  5. They are unquestionably better made from scratch than store-bought.
Yum!

If I haven’t sold you on how much better the humble graham cracker can be, consider this.  They’re simple to make and you already have all of the ingredients you need.  So, what are you waiting for?  Go bake some crackers, Graham!

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #10

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We worked entirely underneath the piano today, with the instrument flipped onto its back. Bag #10 – of 21 bags of pieces – contained an intimidating pile of tiny parts. I didn’t realize what I was even building until somewhat magically, pedals, legs, and castors appeared before my eyes.  That’s right folks, this baby-baby grand now rolls.

I also took a deep breath and tackled the “loose piece” I’ve mentioned with the last two builds.  Sparing you the heart-stopping details, let’s just admit I installed a tiny piece ninety degrees wrong.  Correcting meant removing all the piano strings and working in a deep, dark corner, with the assistance of an X-Acto knife, eyeglass screwdriver, and pliers.  Like I’ve said before, don’t get any part of this performance wrong.  It’ll cost you later. Dearly.

Elevated!

Running Build Time: 8.1 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Satie’s Gymnopidies 1, 2, and 3 (a deliberate choice to soothe me while I repositioned the loose piece). Leftover pieces: 3

Conductor’s Note: The tiny pedal to the right is called the “damper”. It’s used to sustain the notes you play after you take your hands off the keys.  Remarkably, the Lego Grand Piano has the same mechanical action you’d find with this pedal in a real piano.  Sit down at a keyboard some time, press the right pedal with your foot, and (with the piano lid raised) you’ll see just how many moving parts it takes to sustain notes.  You’ll find those same moving parts in the Lego Grand Piano.

In-Spired Music

Last Friday, I walked out of the downtown salon where I get my monthly haircut to the makings of a beautiful late winter afternoon. A few cars motored by on the street, yet nobody blared the horn or blasted the radio. Pedestrians kept their conversations to a low tone.  Songbirds made melody, willing the next season to an early debut.  Above all (literally), the nearby Methodist church bells rang out the hour of the day from the steeple, followed by a cheerful rendition of… “The First Noel”?

Found the culprit on Google Street View!

Last time I checked Christmas was well over two months ago.  Decorations are boxed and returned to the closet, lights are taken down, and Starbucks no longer offers my seasonal favorite Chestnut Praline Latte.  Yet here I was, a block from a downtown church in March, with happy steeple bells daring me to burst into Christmas song. 

Talk about a case of bats in the belfry.  You think I’d pause for such a strange moment.  Instead, I simply took in this carol of the bells with a smile, got behind the wheel, and went on my “merry” way.

So it is with church bells, especially the ones in steeples big enough to broadcast their melodies for miles around.  I find church bells comforting, so much so they can play anything they choose and I’ll be happy to listen.  Even a tune that sounds so three-months-ago.

The church I grew up in, on the far west side of Los Angeles, had a tall steeple with bells.  If you pulled up to the parking lot within ten minutes of the start of the service, the bells were making music.  More importantly, they were telling you (as they’ve done for centuries in older churches) it’s time to get yourself inside for worship, buddy.  I didn’t watch every episode of Little House on the Prarie but I watched enough to remember the steeple bells summoning the people of the small town to church.  Believe me, you didn’t want to be the last parishioner in Walnut Grove to pass through the sanctuary doors, earning a steely-eyed stare-down from Rev. Alden.

Here’s another memory from childhood church.  In “Sunday School” they taught us how to lace our fingers together, tips pointing down, palms face-to-face below, and thumbs side-by-side in front.

Church! Steeple! Doors! PEOPLE!

[Go ahead, I’ll wait while you make your little “church”.]

Then you’d look at your hands and say, “Here’s the church…” (now raise your two index fingers into a point), “Here’s the steeple…”, (now separate your thumbs a bit), “Open the doors…”, (now flip your hands over and wiggle your fingertips), “… and see all the people!”  That little ditty was clever enough to recollect all these years later, the moment I heard “The First Noel” from the downtown steeple.

At least in America, the appeal – ha – of steeple bells is probably because you don’t hear them all that often (unless your neighbor is a church).  Most modern churches can only afford the structure of the steeple, not the complicated mechanism of the bells within.  Just like train crossings, today’s “bells” are often an electronic equivalent, and so realistic you can’t tell the difference.  But you can with steeples.  If the church was built in the last fifty years, the steeple bells probably don’t ring true (ha again).

Charleston, South Carolina is known as the Holy City because you’ll find over four hundred churches in its rather compact downtown streets.  You can’t look in any direction in Charleston without seeing a steeple, and many of them are hundreds of years old.  That means bells; hundreds and hundreds of bells.  Take a walk in Charleston on a Sunday morning and you’ll be “treated” to the overlapping competition of steeple bells.  They’re summoning you to church, of course (but which one, exactly?)

The Sound of Music has a brief but charming steeple scene in the movie, just before or after Maria weds Captain von Trapp at Mondsee Abbey.  The camera points to the very top of a steeple, where the abbey bells are visible just below the cupola.  In the era of the story, steeple bells were rung by hand.  In this scene, the “ringer-boy” is shown holding on for dear life as he clings to a rope, the weight of the bell dragging him up and down like a pogo stick.  The moment always makes me laugh.

One of these days you’ll be walking down the streets of your own town and church bells will ring.  Stop for a second and give them a listen.  You’ll probably hear a melodic hymn.  You might even be gifted with an “unseasonal” Christmas carol.  Doesn’t really matter.  Those big, happy bells make beautiful music no matter the tune.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #9

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We are closing in the piano’s insides now, as you can see by the almost complete black frame in both photos. Bag #9 – of 21 bags of pieces – contained a good chunk of the frame curves, including the graceful “S” you can see just beyond the right side of the (future) keyboard.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was just about the perfect length for today’s build, with a couple of hold-your-breath moments where pieces from previous builds snapped off and skittered away. They’re back where they belong now,

Running Build Time: 7.5 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G-Minor. Leftover pieces: 2 (tiny unnecessary extras for the frame).

Conductor’s Note: We have a hinged trap door built into the frame now, for access to the battery pack and on/off switch.  When it’s closed, the frame is seamless and you’d never know the door was there.  They have clever people at Lego.

Small Fly

Whenever we travel to our favorite little town in South Carolina, we have the option of a connecting flight through Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) or Atlanta (ATL) to get there. DFW is the fourth-busiest airport in the world, with five terminals, seven runways, and 164 gates. The airport property covers twenty-seven square Texas miles, with its own zip code, police, and fire departments. Meanwhile, ATL is merely the busiest airport in the world, hosting 300,000 passengers and 60,000 workers every day. One of ATL’s runways is so long they hold an annual 5k running race on it. DFW and ATL are mega-ports and can be mega-stressful to pass through, which is why landing in little Augusta, Georgia, our final flying destination, is like a breath of small-town fresh air.

Augusta Regional Airport (“…at Bush Field”, or simply “AGS”) is the smallest airport in the world.  Okay, that’s not even close to true (especially if you consider landing strips in cornfields) but it sure feels like it.  AGS sits quietly on the banks of the Savannah River, just west of the Georgia state line.  It’s served by the smallest aircraft of Delta and American.  Its tiny terminal building is shaped like a capital “T”, with two little ticket counters at the top, followed by a quick stroll down the middle to a boarding lounge the size of an oversized living room.  If you average out the flight schedule, AGS has a single plane touching down every two hours.  They should hire the Augusta High School marching band to welcome each landing (“Go Orioles!”)

The first time I realized AGS was big-time-small was after a late landing on a weekday night.  Walking down the brief concourse the airport was noticeably dark.  The rental car counters were already shuttered for the night.  At baggage claim, the single attendant (literally, the only employee in the building) announced bags would be hand-delivered to the curb instead of circulating on the belt.  Yep, they just lined ’em all up by the waiting cars.

Watch the planes from the “front porch”

My other AGS big-time-small moment was the first time I saw the parking lot (free for 30 min, $8/day).  Half the lot was given over to rental cars.  Think about the number of rental car spaces you need for an airport where just a handful of planes land each day.  Now double the number.  That’s the size of Augusta Regional’s parking lot.

The design of AGS, boasting one-story red brick, proud white columns, and suburban landscaping, reminds me of the clubhouse of a golf course.  In fact, Augusta Regional bears the nickname “The Country Club Airport”, entirely fitting since The Masters professional golf tournament is held every April just twelve miles from its runways. 

Lounge outside (past security) before you board…

AGS reminds me of my first small airport experience back when I was a freshman in college.  Flying from Los Angeles (LAX – second-busiest in the U.S.), I deplaned in a modest midwestern town, and for the first time ever descended stairs onto the outside tarmac instead of through a jetway to the terminal.  I happened to be the first passenger off the plane, which meant leading a line of people to the glass doors of the boarding lounge.  Only I couldn’t open the glass doors.  They wouldn’t “push” despite my best efforts.  Several greeters on the other side of the glass (this was pre-9/11) gestured to “pull” instead of “push”.  Took me just a little too long to figure that out.  Believe I heard the words “city boy” as I was on my way to baggage claim.

When we landed in Augusta most recently, we were the last flight of the night.  As we sat on the park-like benches at the curb waiting for our daughter to pick us up, I watched one of the few remaining employees bring in the trash cans and turn out the lights.  She made sure we had a ride, then locked the terminal building doors.  Only one other passenger was waiting to be picked up.  It was a little strange to be among the last couple of people on the property.  I mean, most airports don’t even close.

… or play a little golf.

At Dallas/Fort Worth, you can rent private rooms at the “Minute Suites” for naps or freshening up right there in the airport terminal.  There’s even a full-service spa.  In Atlanta you’ll find a Starbucks in six of the seven airport concourses.  Augusta Regional? How about a soft pretzel at the one concession stand, or an overpriced unofficial souvenir from The Masters?  Doesn’t matter.  You can show up less than an hour before your departure, and you can take in the take-offs from a comfy rocking chair.  Yep, this little small-fly is a pretty sweet landing pad.

Some content sourced from the Augusta Regional Airport website.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #8

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

Last week

Our instrument really came together this week, as you’ll see in the second photo. Bag #8 – of 21 bags of pieces – not only connected both large pieces, but also added strings!  We now have enough of the black frame in place to where our little gem is finally starting to look like a piano.

I went with Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony” today because I completed this section in the early morning hours and needed the famous jolt the orchestra gives you at the end of an otherwise piano movement. (Yes, “piano” can be an adjective).  Haydn was famous for these little “jokes”, placed randomly the middle of his compositions.

This week

Running Build Time: 6.75 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G Major. Leftover pieces: 4 (including a couple of piano strings).

Conductor’s Note: We’re getting very close to boxing in the complex mechanics of the instrument… and I’m nervous.  We have a couple “loose ends” in there which must somehow attach so they’ll do something productive (like make music).  Hoping next week’s Bag #9 addresses this concern.

Not-So-Sweet Jesus

If you take a stroll down your supermarket’s greeting card aisle today, you’ll find Valentine’s Day cards long gone and Easter cards in full force. It’s only the start of Lent, yet the aisle is bursting bright with pink bunnies, yellow chicks, and painted eggs. I won’t be sending Easter cards this year (haven’t done so since my kids were little) but I will give up something for Lent. I’m thinking “foods with added sugar”.

I know what you’re thinking.  We live in an age where giving up tempting foods isn’t as difficult as it used to be.  Whole foods are so available we have an entire chain of stores called “Whole Foods”.  Sugar has so many alternatives I should revise my sacrifice to “foods with added sweeteners“.  Even processed foods have matured to where “healthy snacks” are pleasing to the palate.  I have options.

Doesn’t matter.  Dropping added sugar will still be a challenge.  My desk drawer (second one down on the left if you’d like to help yourself) is replete with black and red licorice, and some form of chocolate, be it a bar, a cookie, or those little baking morsels straight out of the bag.  Giving up licorice for forty-six days and nights won’t be a stretch, but NO chocolate for all of March and half of April sounds like an eternity.  What can I say?  Everyone has a weakness and mine is chocolate.  It speaks to me from my closed drawer with “come hither” seductiveness.

Straight out of the bag…YUM!

I’ll bet you’ll find thousands of blog posts about chocolate with a quick search.  I’ll bet you’ll find entire blogs about the sweet stuff.  I just checked my blog’s history and unearthed a dozen takes on chocolate (including this one from a year ago talking about the things people give up for Lent.  Chocolate tops the list).  So let’s make it a baker’s dozen because I invented a chocolate challenge.  I call it the “85 Percent Ascent”.

Let me explain.  There was a time when I liked my coffee sweeter than a Starbucks Sugar Cookie Frappuccino.  Together with artificial creamer I’d dump in sugar cubes or pour the white stuff straight from whatever you call those pourable glass containers.  That was a long, long time ago.  At some point (probably, er definitely my college year abroad in Italy) I realized coffee tasted pretty good all by itself.  I started to wonder why you’d “taint” coffee by adding the other stuff.  But let’s be real: it’s not like you go from Frappuccino to Americano cold turkey.  You’ve got to ease into the one extreme from the other.  Slowly I backed down the sugar (like years-slowly).  Slowly I backed down the creamer.  One day I eliminated the sugar altogether.  Today, I still go with a tablespoon of (almond-coconut non-dairy no-sugar) “creamer” but otherwise it’s straight dark-roasted coffee for me. I even fancy an espresso shot every now and then.

It’s a good analogy for my Percent Ascent challenge.  85% cocoa content is seriously dark chocolate (meaning not sweet at all).  If your go-to is a Hershey’s Bar or a Milky Way you’re down below 50%.  And moving from 50% to 85% is a serious ascent with chocolate.  It’s like standing on top of Kilimanjaro and seeing how much further you have to go to summit Everest.

A recent article on chocolate lists nine criteria for the healthiest and best-tasting bars in the world, including:

  1. The first ingredient must be cocoa, cocoa mass, or chocolate liquor (not sugar or milk chocolate).  In other words, put down the Nestle’s Crunch; it’s not even close.
  2. Ingredients must include real cocoa butter instead of (cheaper) vegetable oils.  95% of America’s chocolate manufacturers just dropped out of the race.
  3. The cocoa must come from an “Equator country” like Ivory Coast, Ghana, or Peru.
  4. The bar should be labeled “Organic” and/or “Non-GMO”.
  5. Bonus points: should be fairly traded and ethically harvested.

As if the search isn’t already difficult, NOW you have to go with >85% cocoa content.  Not so hard to find actually, especially if you go online.  I purchased a bar from five different manufacturers meeting every one of the above criteria, including Green & Black’s from the UK, and Theo from Seattle.   All five bars fall between 85% and 90% cocoa content (and yes, 100% is an option).  All five use scary words like “strong”, “super black”, and “extreme” to describe their product.  Not gonna lie; I’m a little nervous to take a bite.

As bitter as these chocolates are sure to be, I still have to give them up for Lent.  Every one of them has “added sugar” (albeit way down on the ingredients list).  So let’s just agree – I’m not going to break my Lenten covenant on a food that doesn’t even taste sweet.  Think I’ll opt for a piece of fruit instead.  I just hope it doesn’t come from the Garden of Eden.

Some content sourced from the “Experience Life” / Life Time article, “How to Find the Healthiest Dark Chocolate”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #7

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

Last week

I worked outside of the box again this week. Bag #7 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled a second layer on top of the section I can’t yet attach to the bigger section behind it.  From “Last week” to “This week”, you can see I worked almost entirely in black, which suggests I’m creating more of the outside of the piano.

Despite the majestic wash of Debussy’s “La Mer”, Bag #7 was completed in less than thirty minutes, with only one heart-pounding moment where I thought I’d left out pieces in the Bag #6 build.  Thank goodness I was wrong. Still on track.

This week

Running Build Time: 6.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Debussy’s La Mer and Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un Faune (try and say that ten times fast). Leftover pieces: One (clearly an extra, whew!)

Conductor’s Note: Today’s build wasn’t very exciting, so it helped to have Debussy booming in the background.  However, as I turned the page of Mr. Instruction Manual in anticipation of Bag #8, I saw pictures of… long, thin, reed-like pieces.  Holy buckets, Maestro, it’s time to make this piano a stringed instrument!

Look What the Catfish Dragged In

When I consider my options at a seafood restaurant, I go for halibut or sea bass. Both are offered wild-caught (a healthier approach than farmed). Both have a distinctive flavor and pair well with a variety of sauces. But once in a great while I come across catfish on the menu.  I confess to never having tried it. The jury’s still out on whether catfish is a good choice vs. utterly lacking in flavor. Probably depends on the prep. All I know is, a catfish is a bottom feeder. If it’s anything like con man Ali Ayad, it really is lacking in flavor.

Bottom-feeder

In the world of tech, catfishing is a disturbing practice.  The “fisher” creates a false online persona (photo, bio, accounts), then trolls social media looking to establish relationships, usually for financial gain.  The victim is lulled into a false sense of security through casual texting and email conversations, until he or she unwittingly hands over the money or even worse, gives access to personal information.  Favorite catfishing targets: senior citizens and those looking for love.

Manti Te’o, aka “prey”

A well-known example of catfishing involved former American football player Manti Te’o (a graduate of my alma mater, I’m embarrassed to say).  Te’o developed an online relationship with a woman at Stanford University just as his name was starting to make headlines as a Heisman Trophy candidate.  Te’o pulled heartstrings when he revealed to the sports media his girlfriend had leukemia.  It took a full-blown investigation to determine not only the false persona of Teo’s girlfriend but also the con behind it: a childhood friend of Te’o’s who was in love with him.  The resulting embarrassment undoubtedly affected his future NFL prospects.

Ali Ayad is our latest example of catfishing and his story is a whole lot more disturbing than Manti Te’o’s.  Ayad started digital design company Madbird in 2020, from nothing but clicks on the keyboard.  He invented a corporate website and claimed a random London street address as his office.  He created a fake co-founder, stole photos of real people to build the rest of his executive staff, and developed a resume of high-profile clients he never worked for (complete with testimonials).  Then he went in search of real people around the globe to put in the long hours to get Madbird off the ground.

It almost worked.  Ayad hired fifty employees in a matter of months, convincing each to walk away from real jobs to work from home on commission, with the promise of a fixed salary after six months.  One employee pitched the company to over 10,000 contacts, becoming Madbird’s “Employee of the Month”.  Others in other countries uprooted their lives, anticipating Madbird as their ticket to eventual relocation to the UK.  No client deals were ever closed and no commissions were ever paid.

The catfish himself

Then Ayad made a misstep.  He hired Gemma Brett, a designer from West London.  Two weeks into her employment Brett innocently mapped the commute to Madbird’s offices.  The street address turned out to be a building of residential flats.  Suspicious, Brett engaged another employee to dig further into the company, and Madbird’s inauthenticity started to reveal itself.  The BBC got wind of the story and conducted a thorough investigation, which you can read about here.  The extent of Ayad’s charade will have you shaking your head.  If nothing else, watch the on-street interview towards the end of the article where reporter Catrin Nye catches Ayad off-guard.  Even in this confrontation Ayad believes he’s done nothing wrong.

Ayad reminds me of Rumplestiltskin spinning gold from straw; he’s just a lot more attractive and charismatic than the old buzzard from the Grimm fairy tale.  Ayad’s also tech-savvy enough to convince perfectly intelligent people to go for his gold, which leaves me with two questions.  Why did Ayad go to such lengths to start a company whose foundation was destined to crumble?  And what are the consequences of his actions?

Nature’s catfish are typically harmless but there’s also a particularly nasty one, nicknamed the striped eel for its markings and shape.  This catfish has hidden poisonous stingers in its fins.  Handle with care; in rare cases, people have died from its venom.  Maybe our man Ali Ayad is not just catfishing; he’s a bona fide striped eel.  A bottom-feeder, still lurking, ready to poison his next victim.  Watch out.

Some content sourced from the UK Insight article, “Jobfished: the con that tricked dozens into working for a fake design agency”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #6

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

I worked outside of the box this week – literally. Bag #6 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled into a portion of the piano I can’t attach to the section I’ve built so far.  Its width suggests it’s part of the front of the instrument (just behind the keyboard) and it has a few moving parts, but darned if I can figure out how it’s going to connect.

Despite the furious background rush of a Prokofiev piano concerto, I completed this section with calm and confidence in just forty minutes.  Either I’m getting better at this or the bags of pieces are shrinking.

Detail of the mechanics

Running Build Time: 5.6 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major. Leftover pieces: Zero (again!)

Conductor’s Note: The Prokofiev Concerto and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto No. 5 (accompanying the Bag #2 assembly) were both included in the soundtrack of “The Competition”, a 1980 film starring a young Richard Dreyfuss and even younger Amy Irving.  If you’re a fan of classical piano, it’s a must-see.

The Time of My Life

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk thinking, “Hey Dave, time’s a-ticking. Gotta come up with a topic for tomorrow’s post”. I stared at the clock, considering a few interesting ideas. The slender second-hand edged ever closer to the next minute, to the next hour, time literally passing before my eyes. Suddenly it hit me. My topic. Time.  More to the point, clocks.  To which I lob an interesting question your way: analog or digital?

The Seth Thomas “Promise”

My house is full of inanimate objects screaming for attention. When I’m lost in thought and staring into space, a certain something in the room starts to say, “Pick me! PICK ME!” in a desperate attempt to become a blog post. Today my desk clock actually pulled it off. I was dead set on a couple other topics until my clock somehow ticked its way to the top of the list.  Perhaps today’s title should’ve been, “A Moment in Time”.

We’re not talking about just any desk clock, mind you. The little guy you see here (all of 2.5″ wide by 3″ high) is a Seth Thomas “Travel Carriage Alarm Clock”, a quartz analog model made by the hundreds of thousands in China. You can find one online for $14.99, the affordability belying its simple elegance. I chose this clock as a gift from Hewlett-Packard (HP) on the fifth anniversary of my employment back in 2002.

I had better choices than an analog clock, but the Seth Thomas somehow captivated me. Even twenty years ago when I got it, a desk clock waxed nostalgic, especially with arrow-capped hands and Roman numerals. The “Promise” model also makes a pleasing little tick-tock-tick-tock sound as the second-hand sweeps the minutes away.

German AND Swiss-made…

If my four-year-old granddaughter were reading this post she’d ask her dad what analog means.  Let’s face it; my granddaughter’s growing up in a wholly digital world.  Her watch, her smartphone, her computer, and the clocks she displays in her future house will exhibit squarish lifeless numerals instead of graceful minute and hour hands.  She’ll “tell time” the way McDonald’s cashiers push the hamburger key instead of entering the amount.  No interpretation required.

I took a stroll around my house and counted three analog clocks, each with sentimental value.  Besides my Seth Thomas, we have an intricate cuckoo clock we purchased in Germany (with the mechanics made in Switzerland), and a horse-head clock we’ve had forever (which no longer works but still graces our bedroom wall).  Our digital timepieces are many more in number yet I still prefer the soothing tick-tick of analog hands, as well as the lazy swing of the cuckoo clock pendulum.

When I was a kid, I grew up in the presence of a formal grandfather clock, standing guard in the curve of our entryway staircase.  I can still hear its chimes, with a higher pitch than you’d expect from its heavy-framed stature.  My bedroom was close enough to hear the bells of the hour in the middle of the night, a gentle reminder it was time to get some sleep.  Whenever I wind our cuckoo clock today, I remember my dad doing the same thing with the grandfather all those years ago.

Since we’re talking about analog, I owe my wristwatches a few words.  I have eight of them and most stopped ticking a long time ago.  Two are also from HP anniversaries (What the heck, were timepieces my only choices?) but three others have more significance.  One carries the logo of my father’s seafood restaurant.  I still have the Snoopy watch I believe was my very first timepiece (my granddaughter wouldn’t know Snoopy either, sigh).  I also have my first “big-boy” watch; a gold Pulsar with matching hands on a cream-colored face.  Yes, I may be wearing a sleek digital Fitbit as I type but I always wear one of my analog watches on special occasions.  At least, one that still works.

[Author’s Note: I’m a little unnerved to see each of my wristwatches in the above photos is stopped at the exact… same… time. I didn’t do this! Why would I do this? Either someone’s been playing in my watch drawer or my house is haunted. Maybe both.]

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

I can’t decide if my granddaughter will miss out with the lack of analog in her life.  She’ll take trips where she’ll see quaint clocks high up in the steeples of New England churches.  She’ll take a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus through London, passing under the shadow of Big Ben.  She may even make it to the Old Town Square in Prague to see the famous Astronomical Clock, still operating since 1410.  But will she know how to tell the time?  Time will tell (ha).  More likely, her grandfather will teach her how.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #5

Last week

I describe this week’s movement as “allegretto”, or “light and cheerful” (read about my hesitant warm-up in Let’s Make Music!).  I completed the build of Bag #5 – of 21 bags of pieces – in a cool 46 minutes.  Maybe I’m finding the rhythm of this piece, though I did have a tense moment where two critical blocks were installed the wrong way and I had to disassemble several steps to get them right.  Whew – that was close!

Dare I say, we’re starting to see hints of the finished product.  Those four circles in the “this week” photo are part of what you’ll see when the piano lid is open.  All those little yellow “grabbers” will cradle the piano strings.  To the rear, we’re seeing some of the graceful curves of the instrument’s black body.

This week

Simple math tells us we’re approaching 25% completion of the build.  To put it another way, our concerto is about to wrap up the first of its four movements.

Running Build Time: 5.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Leftover pieces: ZERO! (Holy cow – how did that happen?)

Conductor’s Note: I’m about 700 pieces into the build and this instrument is getting heavy.  Now I understand why you need special movers to relocate a piano.

Triple Booked

The Oxford University Press, a publisher for more than 700 years, churns out 6,000 physical titles a year despite today’s electronic alternatives. Oxford focuses on educational materials, including dozens of dictionaries. At one time the Press had the exclusive right to print the King James Version of the Bible. I know Oxford for one other reason, however: their 21-volume illustrated collection of the works of Charles Dickens.


I’ll bet you have a collection of something yourself, where the number of items in the lot goes beyond pure necessity. We have more Christmas ornaments than any reasonably-sized tree can hold. We have more mugs than we’ll ever use for coffee or tea. My brother seems to collect cars (or maybe he really does drive them all). Whatever feeds our need to collect also fuels our stubbornness to ever let these items go.

Such is the case with my Dickens collection. When I was in my twenties I got a mailer from Oxford Press advertising “a Dickens book a month”.  Must’ve been inexpensive back then, and somehow the collection spoke to me even though I’d never read a lick of Dickens.  Maybe I envisioned my future dwelling with shelves of classic literature (never happened). Several decades after I purchased the last Dickens I still haven’t read a page, but the books sure look nice all standing in a row.  I’ll never get rid of them.

This talk of Dickens and collecting is just a preface to my real topic today.  I’d like you to meet PixxiBook.  Maybe you don’t collect books (outside of those you purchase on your e-reader) but ask yourself: what if you could have your blog posts pressed into books worthy of your coffee table?  That’s what PixxiBook does, and they do it well.

PixxiBook is one of those I-wish-I’d-thought-of-it businesses.  The husband and wife behind the scenes did what most startups do: create a business based on a personal need.  “Tim and Sabrina” wanted to convert their travel blog into a book but realized the process takes more time and effort than most people are willing to invest.  So they designed a computer program to do the work instead.  Then they partnered with a printing press, aligned with WordPress and a few other blogging hosts, and a business was born.

I’m not sure whether Tim or Sabrina gets the credit, but here’s the marketing genius of Pixxibook (and the point where you’ll stop reading this post).  You can create your PixxiBooks from your blog now… and instantly preview the finished product.  No charge.  Just go to Pixxibook’s website, enter your blog’s URL, and watch the computer program crunch through your posts to create your books.  If you like what you see, you can purchase the real thing.  When my wife ordered my PixxiBooks as a 60th birthday present, they were printed and shipped so quickly I’d only written two new posts by the time I got them.  Seven years of weekly posts published in three elegant volumes.  Life In A Word is now a “triple-booked” anthology.

I wrote this one three years ago.

Earlier I mentioned your coffee table, and how PixxiBook is worthy of its surface.  Not quite true.  Some of you – especially you non-bloggers – are thinking, “Nobody’s gonna leaf through old blog posts, Dave”.  Hey, I agree with you.  Blog posts are read and digested, and then we move on to other things.  So why pay for books?

Go back to my Dickens’ collection for the answer.  Those Oxford Press gems are mine.  Not my wife’s, not my dog’s, not someone’s who we invite over for a dinner party.  Mine.  I can admire them from across the room, leaf through one every now and then, or maybe finally start to read Oliver Twist.  Doesn’t really matter what I do with them.  Just like my PixxiBooks.  They’re a nice collectible and worthy of my shelf space.  I’m never getting rid of them.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #4

Today’s portion of the concert was legato or “smooth” (read about my hesitant warm-up in Let’s Make Music!), though I won’t go so far as to say “effortless”.  The only real drama with Bag #4 – of 21 bags of pieces – was the one little piece that skitted off my desk and tried to escape the room.  Caught the little bugger before he got too far.

All Bag #4 pieces assemble to a single structure: the light-colored “deck” you see here with the red pieces towards the top and the grey pieces to the right.  Those little yellow grabbers will eventually secure the piano strings.

The second photo is a good look at the piano “mechanics”.  This view would be as if you were sitting at the bench looking directly at the keys.

Running Build Time: 4.2 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Leftover pieces: 3

Conductor’s Notes: Mr. Instruction Manual included a couple extra pages today; pictures to show me how to “turn on” the piano by pushing a button on the battery pack.  Once I did, the battery pack started flashing.  Had to disconnect a cable to make it quit.  Wish I knew what that was all about.  Patience, maestro, patience.