Exploring the Empty Nester Life

Abe at Big Train Quick test:  What do leisurely strolls through Politics & Prose bookstore, dinner in Adams Morgan, two days in a row working out together at the gym, almost no time spent in the car, naps, no early Saturday morning swim meet, dim sum, and a racing President all have in common?

Answer:  Things we do when Andrew and Claire are out of town.

Friday afternoon we put Andrew and Claire on a plane with a group of teenagers from church and their chaperons for a week-long pilgrimage to Northern Ireland.  (I think my high school church group went to Opryland for our pilgrimage!)  While we’re not eager to see the empty nest years arrive, this was the first extended time when Candice and I were here and the children were elsewhere.  We weren’t sure how we’d react, but we’ve taken to it nicely.

After that stroll through our favorite bookstore (Candice picked up an Alice Waters cookbook while I bought the new Richard Wolffe book Renegade on Obama’s candidacy), we went to a Mexican restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood – Mixtec – that we’d wanted to visit for a couple of years.  We’ve had their food at parties and wanted to try out the full menu.  It was great authentic Mexican food and we’ve added Mixtec to our list of favorites.

With two teenagers we often have evenings to ourselves, but having an entire Saturday without swim meets, teenage taxi, and multiple schedules was the real switch.  After the gym I was able to start whittling down a five-week backlog in my home in-box (who knew there were checks in there to be cashed).  But Candice pulled me away by suggesting we go to Oriental East, a Silver Spring restaurant famous for its dim sum.  You have to get in line early to snag a table when the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday, but the wait was worth it.  We’d been talking for six years about going for dim sum (think small appetizer plates of wonderful Chinese food served from rolling carts passing through a very full restaurant) but never found the time.  We shared a table with a couple (he was a retired Navy Seal turned grape grower and she was Asian and a powerhouse – we suspect they met during the Vietnam War) and their friend (a National Trust member and lover of travel), who helped us navigate the various offerings.  Oriental East’s dim sum is famous (our table partners said you’d have to go to Toronto to get better), and we certainly were impressed.  Add another to the list of favorites!

Finally, after working around the house, I decided that I’d had only two live baseball games this week and needed a third…so we took off for a Bethesda Big Train game, complete with Abe, the Nats racing president (see photo at top).  I wrote about College Wooden Bat baseball earlier this month…I’m sure that’s why Bethesda had a full house last evening!  Unfortunately for the Big Train, my bad luck this week held out and the home team lost again.  Nonetheless, it was a picture perfect night, with the temps in the mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky.

Books, good food, baseball…While we REALLY miss the children, Candice and I have decided that we can survive the Empty Nester Life when it finally arrives in a few more years.

More to come…


Five in a Row Too Much to Ask of Nats

Nats Fathers Day 2009After an amazing streak where the Nats won four in a row from the big bad American League East – including a shutout against the Yankees and two walk-off wins in extra innings against the Blue Jays – they reverted to form today in losing 9-4 in front of a Father’s Day crowd that included the Browns.  Yes, Andrew and Claire sprung for Nat’s tickets for the old man (well, there’s more to the story which I’ll get to in a moment) and we all went for a day of baseball and fried food at Nationals Park.

Even the Nats reverting to their old ways of bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching, and untimely disappearances at key moments by the team’s 3-4-5 hitters couldn’t put a damper on a very nice Father’s Day weekend.

I saw my “celebration” of Father’s Day actually beginning on Friday, when Andrew did some community service work at the Whitman-Walker AIDS clinic and then met up with Claire for time with friends.   I picked them up on Friday evening and we had a fun conversation about life on the drive home.  Saturday brought the first dual meet of the season for the Gators.  Andrew and Andrew Out of the Blocks in the Left LaneClaire swam a bunch of races and did okay – although the late night with friends didn’t help when they hit the pool at 8:30 on Saturday morning.  Claire was in a relay that finished first and they both dropped time but both said later they felt the effects of the damp weather and high humidity.

Saturday evening the fun continued when we had three couples over for pot luck dinner and home made music.  It was great fun and even though the players came from various backgrounds (folk, rock-and-roll, bluegrass) the music came together surprisingly well.  Having a great blues harp player and a solid acoustic bassist in the bunch sure helped!

Which brings us to today’s game…and the story of the tickets.  We’ve given the twins credit cards (with their picture ID included) for their use when they travel later this week to Northern Ireland with their youth group.   They’ve become pretty good at using them only for essentials, but they decided to go online and buy the Nats tickets themselves.  They chose what looked like great seats, paid for them with their credit card, and then proudly presented the results to Candice.  She gulped when she saw the price and asked me how much baseball tickets should cost.  I told her there was a wide range and her eyebrows just rose silently.

When we arrived today and were escorted to the “stadium club” level with its private dining areas, nice clean bathrooms, and cushioned bottom seats, I finally understood Candice’s comment.  It later dawned on me…Claire goes to Nats games with a very good friend whose family has season tickets right behind the dugout.  The last time I took Andrew, we were guests through work of Bank of America and enjoyed one of their suites.  These seats were just in line with what they were use to!  Oh well, we’ll have a little talk (after Father’s Day is over) about how baseball games look just as great from the half-price seats.  But the sentiment meant a lot to me and we simply decided to laugh and have a great time…which we did.

And if five in a row is too much to ask of the Nats, it still has been a fun week to be a Washington fan.  Next up:  the Red Sox on Wednesday when I’ll go (in much cheaper seats) with a group of die-hard Boston fans from work.  Goooooo Nats!

Few things could be more wonderful to this father than to see his two beautiful and talented children healthy and living lives where they grow, learn, and contribute to the world around them.  I’m lucky that I get to see that every day, but it was especially nice to have the chance this weekend.  Then, to get to play music AND enjoy a baseball game with the family – that just made this a terrific Father’s Day!  It is a good reminder that I”m a lucky man.

More to come…


Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky ThunderNext week begins the summer Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman series at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium.  Known as the Mother Church of Country Music and the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 through 1974, the Ryman bills this series with the line, “Experience the best in bluegrass on the very stage where bluegrass was born over 60 years ago.”  That would be the evening where Earl Scruggs stepped on stage with Bill Monroe.  Here’s how Richard D. Smith describes that night in Can’t You Hear Me Callin’:  The Life of Bill Monroe:

For Earl’s first night on the Opry, Monroe picked out a fast number that would show off the newcomer’s dazzling style – “White House Blues,” an old song recounting the 1901 William McKinley assassination.  It was a perfect selection.  Scruggs stepped up to the microphone with apprehension, knowing that nothing like this had been heard to date on the Opry or even over WSM radio.

Use to the banjo as a country comedian’s prop, or hearing it picked or strummed in one of the quaint old styles, the audience was totally unprepared for the speedy, leaping avalanche of notes that issued from the five-string in the hands of the twenty-one-year-old from North Carolina.

They went wild.

For those in middle Tennessee, there’s a strong line-up for this year’s Bluegrass Nights, including Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Ralph Stanley, Jim Lauderdale, Rhonda Vincent, Dan Tyminski, and more.  For those coming to Nashville for the National Preservation Conference in October, the opening plenary will be  held at the historic Ryman, which has a great preservation story.  Both events come highly recommended.

Thanks to the Bluegrass Blog for the note about the Ryman series.

More to come…


Wooden Bats and Summer Nights

Big Train BaseballOne of our joys of summer is watching and supporting college wooden bat baseball.  This is baseball for college players to help them learn to hit with wooden bats after years of hitting with aluminum bats.  (Don’t you just hate the “ping” of the aluminum bat on ball?)

We’re lucky to have one of the top wooden bat leagues in the country here in the DC area – the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League – with two teams within easy driving distance.  We’ve had season passes to the Bethesda Big Train for a number of years and we also catch some games of the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

Candice helped organize a special event for her employer – Christ Episcopal School Night – at the Bethesda Big Train game on Friday.  It was great fun.  Some 80 CES parents, staff, and students came out as part of a 700+ crowd on a beautiful summer night to see the Big Train absolutely crush the Alexandria Aces.  When we left after 7 (we had children to collect), it was 14-0.  The games aren’t usually that lop-sided, but it was still a great deal of fun, made even more so with the Friday night crab cakes available at Shirley Povich Field.

College Wooden Bat League baseball is small-town baseball that is hard to beat.  As I wrote last summer, one of the best Last Best Leaguebaseball books ever is called The Last Best League, a wonderful tale of the Cape Cod Wooden Bat League.  Written by Jim Collins, it tells you about how college players who are working to make the major leagues travel across country to play in small town ballparks, stay with local families, and live their dreams.  As the website Curled Up with a Good Book says:

Author Jim Collins, himself a tremendous high school talent when an injury crushed his dream of playing professional baseball, spent a season with the Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod League. The book focuses on the players, the coaches, and the many volunteers as they go through the trials and tribulations of a season filled with losses, injuries, self-doubt, and personal triumphs. Set amidst the backdrop of the many small towns that grace the Cape Cod area, Collins captures both the quintessential charm of baseball and its strong links to the community, as well as the drama that occurs on a regular basis when a talented group of young men battle their opponents, each other, and their personal demons.

For those who are really captivated, let me recommend another book.  The founder of the Bethesda Big Train and its driving force for the team’s first decade, Bruce Adams, is also the author of Fodor’s Baseball Vacations. In this book, Adams and his wife tell you about all the MLB parks, but their real love kicks in when they are talking about the minor league and – yes – wooden bat league parks in the small towns around the country.

So for the Browns, summer has really started now that we’ve taken in our first Big Train game of the year.  Check out the Cal Sr. League games if  you’re in the Washington area, or the Cape Cod league if you’re in Massachusetts, or the Valley League if you’re in the Shenandoah Valley…you won’t regret it.

More to come…


Kate Wolf Albums to be Reissued

Kate WolfCalifornia singer-songerwriter Kate Wolf died of leukemia at the age of 44 in 1986, but her songs continue to live on today.

Dirty Linen, the folk music website, had a recent post reporting that Wolf’s catalog of folk albums will be reissued this July.  Here’s how Dirty Linen describes Wolf’s work and influence:

Her blend of folk, country and pop helped pave the way for artists like Nanci Griffith and Mary-Chapin Carpenter. Wolf never had a hit single, and in fact the All Music Guide points out that “her style is one that tends to grow on listeners over time, as Wolf is not about flash. Her songs, characterized by a strong narrative thread, are about the ebbs and flows of adult life, in terms that are neither overly sentimental not mundane.” As late singer-songwriter Utah Phillips once introduced her, “I’d like you to meet Kate Wolf. She owns herself.”

For those of you in California, check out the 2009 Kate Wolf Memorial Festival on June 26-28.  There’s a strong line-up headlined by Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, and Mavis Staples.

I wrote a post about a wonderful Kate Wolf song, Sweet Love, in March of this year.  If  you don’t know her, she’s worth discovering.

More to come…


9:45:00 GMT

Schooldays Frenzy Clock

Andrew wrote the following essay for an English class and it was accepted for the literary magazine at his high school.  So – from today’s guest blogger Andrew Brown – I’m proud to present 9:45:00 GMT.

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Today’s society uses time as its matrix. Everything we do commences at time x and concludes at time y. Every person who wants to live in our urban environment needs some way to tell time if they wish to function properly in our world, whether by wristwatch, cell phone, or computer. We use time as the basis for everything we do. My day begins at 5:45 every morning, classes begin at 8:00; lunch is at 1:30 p.m., and sports begin at 3:30; I arrive at home anywhere from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., depending on what I do after school. I eat dinner, finish my homework, and go to bed any time from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. This schedule has become more than a routine: now it’s more a state of existence.

I first began thinking about time’s role in our world over Spring Break while in rural Tennessee visiting my uncle, aunt, and four cousins at their farm. My uncle works as an artistic blacksmith with his forge just aside the log cabin that they built themselves. My aunt Kerry home-schools their children (my cousins Erin, Joseph, Samuel, and Isaac). This world-within-a-world is pretty far from Washington, DC, to say the least.

As we were catching up over the last few years, this difference of lifestyle arose in our conversation. They had come to DC in the autumn of 2006, and we discussed what they had witnessed on their trip with regard to human interaction.  As onlookers in a pretty brisk rush-hour, my Aunt Kerry noted, “People seen so rushed. They have to be somewhere at some time and don’t take much notice to what’s around them until they arrive there.”  Later, I asked what time it was. Aunt Kerry said offhandedly that she didn’t know because she doesn’t wear a wristwatch.  And then it hit me: here I was, in a completely separate place where time was no object; it merely occurred without need to know exactly how many hours and minutes and seconds had elapsed.  I took a moment to remember how that felt, because I knew it would be a while before I felt that again.

As a result of thinking about time, I began thinking about how it fits into all the particular parts of my life.  Its role in school is obvious: classes run for fifty minutes, each separated by five minutes.  We really do run on a clock.  I always knew that but didn’t think of the consequences of how time rules my life.  But then I started thinking about my activities outside of school and their relationship to time.  Why do I enjoy certain sports, especially rock climbing and figure skating?  My first thought was just the “well-duh” response that I climb and skate because I like doing them.  However, upon reflecting why I like these sports —why I connect to them— I came to a more revealing answer: when I climb or skate, I feel liberated. They are an escape from the rushed, frenetic world outside their boundaries.  When figure skating and rock climbing, I get lost in them and I am no longer there. I find myself in a place where there is no time.  Of course, the irony is that at 5:30 my climbing partner and I need to start packing up to leave; after an hour and forty-five minutes the Zamboni drives onto the ice, and everyone must skate off.

Music, both performing and listening, has a similar effect. When I sing, play piano, or listen to music, the matrix of time melts away and suddenly the clock no longer has a purpose. When I would sing Bach’s Johannes Passion or Handel’s Messiah with the National Cathedral Choir, two and a half hours would elapse. But once the pieces began, the word “time” would never pass through my train of thought. It’s not unlike the peculiar experience of becoming enveloped in a riveting book, but the music occupies your soul in its entirety. The sensation of freely traveling over ice or scaling a vertical face also invokes that wonderful exhilaration of leaving everything else behind.

I truly enjoy all these things: rock climbing, figure skating, and music. Simply put, I feel free. I need to feel free within this time-enslaved world, if only for an instant. I need to experience the sensation of merely existing, that fleeting moment of inner peace fixed within a hectic society. I yearn to achieve a timeless solace with my soul and to get lost doing something where the clock runs, but no heed is taken to it.

Speaking of which, it’s getting late and I need to wake up tomorrow morning at 5:45. I’m going to go get some sleep.

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More to come…


Tiger Stadium Going, Going…

Yet another baseball icon may soon be history.  The City of Detroit began demolition yesterday on the last remaining – and most historic – parts of Tiger Stadium.  This in spite of the fact that the city had agreed to maintain the stadium until an appropriate adaptive reuse of the stadium or a viable new use of the site was in place.   Neither has happened.  With the city’s commencement of demolition, Detroit is moving towards having yet another vacant piece of land with no plans for redevelopment in place.

A court injunction is in place this weekend, stopping the demolition for a short time.  To read the story – and find out how you can contact the City Council and Mayor’s Office in Detroit to oppose the demolition plans – visit PreservationNation’s blog.

Tiger Stadium was built in the same year as Fenway Park.  While Boston figured out how to save its iconic ballpark and make it one of the most beloved places in America (except to Yankee fans), Detroit went with the allure of the new and now can’t even save one small piece of the city’s – and the nation’s – history.  As one protester’s sign said earlier this week, what’s needed is “More Vision and Less Demolition.”


More to come…