Just Off the Podium

This time of year I find myself doing a little cyber “spring cleaning”. I know, it’s not spring yet and I could simply busy an alcohol wipe on the keyboard or fog the monitor with Windex, but I’m talking about electronic purging here: files, emails, photos, and the like.  I even reset passwords.  When I’m done giving the Delete button a workout I pick up my laptop and hope for something more light-as-a-feather.  Nope, but at least my digital house is in order for another year.  Just like my blog.

The Winter Olympics start tomorrow, did’ja know? (You didn’t? Shame on you! Pay more attention!)  With the fifteen-hour time difference to Colorado I’ll be lucky to catch ten percent of the action, but I still seek out the good stuff.  Downhill skiing and figure skating are my favorites.  So much skill and grace there, with the occasional feel-good story thrown in for the heartstrings.  But skill and grace only matter if they amount to medals, right? We hang our hats on gold or silver triumphs, even bronze. As for the poor lass or lad in fourth place? Hardly a mention. Fourth place is swept harshly into the performance dustpan, to be dumped on a heap of lesser statistics seldom referenced again. Fourth place can be a mere hundredth of something from the medals podium. Inches. Seconds. Points.


Fourth place at the Olympics is an apt way to describe a lot of topics I consider for my weekly blog posts.  You see, part of my writing madness method is to cull interesting bits from my daily newsfeed; fodder for future posts.  I store these bits in an electronic folder and then pull back the curtain when I need a topic.  But not just any topic, loyal readers.  Heavens no, my topics don’t make the medal stand unless they successfully sift through five filters:

  1. Is the topic substantial enough for an entire post?
  2. Is the topic somewhat off the beaten path of “breaking news”?
  3. Is the topic worth a little more research (or as I like to call it, “continuing education”)?
  4. Is the topic an easy target for grins and giggles?
  5. Can I weave a personal memory or two into the topic’s fabric?

Take away just one filter and the topic isn’t a winner.  No medal… er, post for you, little news story.  Instead, the topic sits idle in the folder gathering cyber-dust until I decide it’s never going to make the cut.  Then I “Delete”.  Before I do this time, however, I thought you’d enjoy a smattering of the near misses; the fourth-place finishes if you will.  Here are ten interesting-but-not-quite-good-enough topics sitting just off the podium:

  • Asparagus.  A recipe for the healthy, non-cruciferous vegetable was published smack dab in the middle of an official Belgian law database, side-by-side with national legislation and royal decrees.  Food for thought?
  • Mercury (the planet).  A European-Japanese space probe passed within 124 miles of the Mercury’s 800°F surface on its seven-year mission, collecting images and sending them back to Earth.  Now that’s what I call “hot shots”.
  • Qantas.  Last May the airline offered a “flight to nowhere” for travel-starved Australians wanting a better view of the late-month supermoon.  Tickets ran upwards of $1,000 USD and sold out immediately.  Travel-starved indeed.
  • Cannabis.  If you live in Ontario, Canada, Uber Eats will be happy to deliver an order of recreational cannabis to your front door.  I’m sure this new service makes the country’s rampant illegal pot producers very happy.
  • Robots.  The world’s first living robots (or “xenobots”), each less than a millimeter wide, can now reproduce.  They could already move about, work together, and self-heal before this more disturbing evolution.  In a word, YIKES!
  • Style.  Billionaire heiress Ivy Getty got married last November at San Francisco’s City Hall in a wedding dress covered with mirror shards.  She referred to her dress as “… just like everything I could’ve dreamed of and more.” Really?  I don’t think I want to meet Ivy Getty.
  • Taco Bell.  The Bell now offers a monthly taco subscription for those who join their rewards program.  $10 gets you a free taco every day of the month.  The Bell saw a 20% increase in rewards program membership when they began offering the subscription.  Confirmed: we Americans are hopelessly addicted to fast food.
  • Bees.  May 20th is World Bee Day.  You can find a lot of interesting trivia about bees on the Web.  They communicate by dancing.  They use tools.  They get mad if they haven’t eaten in a while.  The more you learn about bees, the more you realize they’ll probably take over the world one day.
  • Contact Lenses.  A company has designed the first “smart” contact lens, capable of delivering real-time information to the eye.  The lens connects to your smartphone and generates an image similar to what you’d see on your screen.  So the next time you see someone with “eyes glazed over”, don’t be so sure they’re falling asleep.
  • Millennium Tower – A 58-story building in downtown San Francisco has been leaning to the northwest at a rate of 3 inches per year, for a total of 24 inches so far.  If I were one of the owners of the building’s 419 luxury apartments I wouldn’t be sleeping so well.  I say get ahold of engineers in Pisa, Italy.  Their world-famous leaning tower is predicted to remain standing for another 200 years.

Maybe one of these topics grabs your attention and you want to learn more.  Go for it.  In fact, write a blog post about it.  I’ll read your version of the story and maybe say, “Crud; missed a good one there.”  But probably not, because I didn’t consider the topic podium-worthy.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the Olympics (fifteen hours after the fact).  I don’t want to miss those medal ceremonies.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #3

Today’s portion of the concert was difficult (read about my hesitant warm-up in Let’s Make Music!).  Bag #3 – of 21 bags of pieces – was smaller than the first two so I figured this step would go quickly.  Wrong.  Bag #3 contained tiny, tiny pieces and I don’t have nimble, nimble fingers!

The picture here is the “before Bag #3” while the picture below is the “after”. Notice the difference? There’s now a series of posts running upper left to lower right like a fence.  I can make the posts move up and down with my finger.  Inner workings of the piano keys!

Running Build Time: 3.3 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A. Leftover pieces: 2

Conductor’s Notes: I’m starting to get comfortable with leftover pieces.  I’ve ended up with a few after each bag so far.  Doesn’t mean I don’t go back and check my work to be sure I didn’t overlook a step.  Also, I couldn’t find a piece today.  I thought Lego forgot to put it in the box.  Took me three scourings of my Bag #3 pile of pieces (and a little sweat) before I realized it was sitting there right in front of me.  Utterly unnerving.

Purple Mountain Majesties

Aspen – the upper-crust alpine village high up in the Colorado Rockies – is a beautiful place to visit. Make that a stunning place to visit, if you wipe away everything you find on the surface. Aspen is for the obviously-wealthy, whether a night at a hotel ($350 and up, just about anywhere), dinner for two ($250 and up – the finer restaurants), a slope-side condo rental ($2,000/night), or any purchase in any of the village shops; the kind of retail you only find in London-Paris-Rome-New York.  You won’t see any of Aspen’s residents (probably because they don’t care to see you).  Drive past the nearby airport and you’ll see an impressive line of commercial planes… er, make that private planes.  Aspen is made of money – no different than its silver-mining days of old.

Aspen, Colorado (photo courtesy of blog.whatahotel.com)

Now, as instructed, take the chalkboard eraser and wipe, wipe, wipe away all of that excess.  Dust off your hands and stand back.  What remains of Aspen is its incomparable natural beauty, whether the towering Rocky Mountains on all sides, the rushing Roaring Fork river through town, or the stately aspen and bristlecone pine trees forming an umbrella over most of the residential area.  Speaking of Mother Nature, let’s talk about her most majestic contribution, just on the outskirts of town.  No visit to Aspen is complete without a trek to Maroon Bells.

Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells – common knowledge to us Coloradans – are twin peaks in the Elk Mountain range, fifteen miles to the west of Aspen.  They get their name from their mudstone composition (a bright purple when the light is right) and from their broad profiles.  The Bells are “fourteeners” – two of the fifty-three mountains in Colorado with elevations +14,000 feet.  The approach to the Bells, through the Maroon Creek Valley with Maroon Lake in the foreground, lays claim to one of the most photographed locations in North America; no matter which direction you look.

Maroon Creek Valley

Remarkably (or maybe not – we all do this), we’ve lived in Colorado twenty-five years and never been to nearby Maroon Bells – until this past weekend.  Despite the must-see endorsement of many friends, I was immediately suspicious when I learned we had to buy “tickets” for the place.  Why tickets?  Because the U.S. Forest Service (bless them) won’t allow cars – and their harmful exhaust – into Maroon Creek Valley.  Instead, $8 gets you a twenty-minute propane-fueled bus ride from Aspen to the valley.  The bus ride adds to the experience for two reasons.  One, your driver gives an overview of the place, with just the right amount of history and sightseeing to keep your interest.  Two, you don’t see the Bells – not even a passing glimpse of them – until just before you’re dropped off at Maroon Lake.


Photographs don’t do the Maroon Creek Valley justice, let alone words.  Breathtaking, jaw-dropping, heart-stirring – take your pick. Everywhere you turn looks like a doctored picture postcard.  Everything looks undisturbed and peaceful – almost a sanctuary where you don’t belong.  I lost count how many times I just stopped and stared.  Add to that the brief late-summer window when aspen tree leaves change from green to a fiery shade of yellow, orange, and red, and the whole scene becomes surreal.  The stuff of dreams.

Kudos to the Forest Service for getting this experience right (score one for the U.S. Government!)  As I was reflecting on the Bells, I couldn’t help but think of the very different approach to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.  As majestic as the carved-in-stone presidents may be, they’re compromised by the several “sights” on the highway up the mountain (“Reptile Gardens”!  “Very Berry Winery”!  “Big Thunder Gold Mine”!).  You won’t find any of those traps on the way to the Maroon Bells.  Only Mother Nature at her most impressive.

Someday you’ll visit Aspen, bypass all of her excesses (or at least most of them) and ride the bus through the White River National Forest and on up to the majestic Maroon Bells.  You’ll hike around the lake, pause on the bridge over the stream, stare up at the mountains in every direction, and take a gillion photos – every one of them worthy of a jigsaw puzzle on your coffee table back home.  Then you’ll climb back on the bus, poised to add a check mark to your bucket list.  But you won’t make that mark.  Instead, you’ll be thinking, “When can I come back?

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