Vote Early…or Late…Just Vote

Maryland’s early voting opened today, and I just returned from casting my vote at the Silver Spring Civic Center – along with hundreds of my neighbors.

The line stretched back to the Whole Foods store, but moved briskly.  There was a festive feel in the air. Of course, when I got inside the Civic Center and saw the tabulation for votes at 1 p.m. – over 500 registered Democrats and less than 30 registered Republicans – I realized that most of the people in this line were going to vote the same general ticket. No wonder they were festive!

Our presidential contest is assumed to be no contest, but we do have a few national/local issues on our ballot – the most important being the state’s Marriage Equality initiative.  Maryland, along with two other states, is attempting to become the first state to support marriage equality by popular vote.

Waiting for 90 minutes also means you have a lot of time to talk with others in the line. I was in a typically diverse segment, with a 20-something long-hair, a young African-American man with bright orange shoes, a 70ish grandmother type who was smart enough to bring her camp stool (remember that for future years), and two delightful Latina women. We all talked about the issues, chatted with the poll workers, and read our smart phones/tablets.  I also took out time to plug-in to some music, and the following tune by Patty Griffin came on as I was nearing the voting booth.  I love Patty’s version of If I Had My Way (recorded at Nashville’s historic Downtown Presbyterian Church), and it seemed appropriate in these days of Citizens United.

As the lead says, vote early, or late…just vote!

More to come…


Guitars and Baseball

James Nash once gave some good advice to aspiring guitarists:

Rule #1 for learning to play fast:  don’t practice while watching the ball game. 

Well, tonight…I’m guilty.  Two hours after starting, I’ve finally put the last instrument back on its stand.  I was watching baseball the entire time.

However, I suspect that the San Francisco-based Nash would approve of my choice of ballgame, as the hometown Giants are in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. And while I didn’t get any real practice in tonight, it sure was fun to multitask around two things that I love.  (Note to regular readers:  Candice, who has become a baseball fan this year with the emergence of the Nats, is out-of-town. I wasn’t ignoring her.)

I grew up as a Giants fan.  The Braves hadn’t moved to Atlanta, so we didn’t have a MLB team in the South.  And Willie Mays is, to my mind, the most complete player in the history of the game.  He was so much fun to watch as a young kid in Tennessee. In those pre-internet days, I had to resort to calling the sports department of the local paper, the Daily News Journal, to get the west coast Giant scores off the wire. But it was worth it to find out if Mays and the Giants won.

Since my Nats couldn’t make it past the Cardinals this year in the postseason, I’m solidly behind the Giants in this World Series. And, at the risk of jinxing them, they’ve had a great start in Game 1.  How about the Panda!

Multitasking isn’t helpful to living in the moment, but tonight I’ve lived in two great moments simultaneously! I’ve just loved wrapping my hands around my Running Dog.  And I have so enjoyed seeing the Giants get off to a great start in the World Series.

Being the superstitious baseball fan I am, if the Giants win I’ll have to multitask again tomorrow night!

Go Giants!

More to come…


P.S. – If you want to hear Nash give his advice first hand, go to the 4:30 mark in this video and you’ll hear it from the mouth of the master.

How Many Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report?

Thomas Boswell deserved better.  But another well-educated baseball fan with a way for words said it best:

It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

I was at Nationals Park last evening to the bitter end.  The spring promise of the 3-0 lead after the first three batters inevitably (it seems in retrospect) led to the chilly fall loneliness of five potential game-winning last strikes that never came.

To sum it up, Thomas Boswell had one of his classic columns in this morning’s Washington Post. Boswell has been writing intelligently about baseball for decades.  But this past week, for the first time, he’s been able to write about playoff baseball where his hometown team is involved. And the bitter pill of last evening’s Game 5 loss in the deciding game of the NLCS series was captured perfectly in his opening line:

You don’t get the whole feast in the first course. But Washington and its baseball fans, in their first visit to baseball’s postseason banquet, didn’t expect to be served arsenic in the appetizer.

Boswell deserved better…and the fans in Washington so wanted to see the Nats keep winning and to keep reading Boswell’s columns about this magical season. But it wasn’t to be.

Get used to it. That’s the nature of the baseball beast. The trek to a pennant, to World Series visits, even to a title, usually take years and, almost always, pass through dark, cold and unforgiving nights like this.

I took at least five pictures last night, hoping to get the glorious final pitch that would take the Nats to the battle against San Francisco for the National League championship.  But the strikes were never called.  It simply wasn’t to be.

A friend and I were among the largest crowd ever at Nats Park.  It was electric (and I have the rally towel and playoff hoodie to prove it). And even with the loss, I wouldn’t trade a minute.

After hours of standing and cheering, the crowd finally found itself more in the mood for kneeling, and perhaps praying.

But in the fashion of a true baseball fan, Boswell ends up looking ahead:

In the last two days, an entire city has grasped why baseball — the October version for the highest stakes — produces millions of baseball fans. And, as Washington has also learned, those fans end up in three categories: incurably fanatic, temporarily in remission or still recuperating in intensive care.

This week, the Nationals ended a season but probably began an era. After generations of competitive starvation, the District hosted three playoff games with the Nats holding the best regular-season record in the sport.

There will be other seasons. But, for the Nats, none so thrilling, so shattering, so moving, as the first — the first, that is, that really mattered.

And we’ll give Giamatti the last word at explaining why it matters:

It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times.  They grow out of sports.  And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts.  These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion.  I am not that grown-up or up-to-date.  I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles.  I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Thanks Nats.  Thanks Jayson, Bam Bam, Zim, LaRoche, The Beast, Ian, Danny, Suzuki, Jesus, Chad, DeRosa, Lombo, Shark, Wilson, Tyler, Ankiel  and all this year’s position players.  Thanks Stras, Nat Gio, Jordan, Edwin, Ross, John, Ryan, Craig, Michael, Christian, Tom, Sean, Clip, and yes…thanks Drew.  And Davey – even though I was dying through the pitching changes in the middle of the game and on the decision to pitch to Kozma with the game tied – a special thanks to you.  This was a hell of a year and we’ll be back for many more.

More to come…


Sunday Brunch…A Lifesaver

Last October, Candice and I inadvertently started a tradition of eating brunch out every Sunday.  What a lifesaver…in more ways than one.

It began as a way to get Candice out of the house after her fall.  Since she wasn’t able to drive at the time, I was concerned that being home was making her stir crazy. Church was one of the initial places we ventured and that first Sunday I suggested that we add on brunch. My motives were probably less than pure.  Sure, Candice would get out of the house.  But I’d also get to eat great food…without having to cook! (I was doing a number of chores I don’t normally assume last fall.)

Our pattern became pretty consistent. We’d begin to talk about our choices mid-week.  In the process we’d check out the “best brunches” in the restaurant lists for the DC area.  By Saturday, we go on Open Table and make our reservation.  Candice would often study the menu and go to the restaurant knowing what she wanted. I’m not that disciplined.

The brunches had their intended effect…and then some. Candice began to feel more and more comfortable being out of the house. We found great places to eat (and a few not-so-great). Our new-found tradition carried over into the summer, where Andrew and Claire joined us for brunch whenever they were home. We saw the rhythms of our Sundays change, as we would leisurely sit and talk over food and coffee. These times together helped us adjust to our new-found status as empty nesters. We’d plan our week, trips, and holidays over brunch. And did I mentioned that we found some great food.

Why am I writing about this today?  Because we’ve just returned from another new find that we loved. One of the twins’ favorite brunch places this summer was Graffiato, an Italian restaurant where the innovative offerings are cooked with locally grown ingredients. Candice suggested chef Mike Isabella’s other DC restaurant, Bandolero, in Georgetown. Technically we had lunch (they don’t serve brunch) at Isabella’s Mexican restaurant, but we’re not quibbling.  The lobster quesadilla, crispy cornish game hen, and crazy corn (chile, cheese, and corn nuts around small bites of corn-on-the-cob) were all terrific. Bandolero just opened in May, and Isabella – with a new book out named Crazy Good Italian – is becoming a bit of a franchise in the city.

You may be thinking, “What else do you like?” Well, I was going to tell you.

Our favorite for special occasions is Blue Duck Tavern.  For Easter brunch, the menu is extensive and so tasty.

The local favorite is 8407 Kitchen Bar…located a block and a half from our house in Silver Spring. I’ve become fond of the Andouille Sausage and Shrimp Grits, topped with poached eggs from our favorite local grower, Evensong Farms. Yum, yum!

We’ve also enjoyed Matisse a couple of times this year, where I always order the beignets.  Cashion’s Eats is on our list of regulars. Try Sammy’s Scrapple.  (We know the Sammy in question. He’s a great cook and has a wonderful wife to boot.) And finally, I really enjoy Black Salt restaurant in Palisades. The Louisiana Poached Eggs are to die for!

We’ve been to many other restaurants this year…but these are the ones we’ve put on our “to be visited again” list.  So tell us, DC-area readers, where should we go next Sunday?

More to come…


The Sound of Genius

I opened the paper this morning to the wondrous news that Chris Thile – celebrated l’enfant terrible of the mandolin – was one of the 2012 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship grants.

You gotta love it when a kid who starts off in bluegrass ends up being recognized as a MacArthur “genius” – the popular term for the winners of the $500,000, no strings attached annual award.

Here’s the description from the MacArthur Foundation website:

Chris Thile is a young mandolin virtuoso and composer whose lyrical fusion of traditional bluegrass with elements from a range of other musical traditions is giving rise to a new genre of contemporary music. With a broad outlook that encompasses progressive bluegrass, classical, rock, and jazz, Thile is transcending the borders of conventionally circumscribed genres in compositions for his own ensembles and frequent cross-genre collaborations. Although rooted in the rhythmic structure of bluegrass, his early pieces for his long-time trio, Nickel Creek, have the improvisatory feel of jazz; his current ensemble, Punch Brothers, evokes the ethos of classical chamber music even while adhering to the traditional instrumentation of the bluegrass quintet. The Blind Leaving the Blind, a song suite on Punch Brothers’ first album (Punch, 2008), extends the sound of bluegrass in its range of harmonies and polyrhythms. Thile further explores the symphonic dimensions of the string quintet in both the improvised and elaborately composed works of Antifogmatic (2010). Among his many collaborations, Thile has expanded the reach of the mandolin in Ad Astra per Alas Porci (2009), a three-movement mandolin concerto, and in his solo mandolin interpretations of Bach’s works for violin, which showcase his technical mastery and fluid, soulful phrasing. Through his adventurous, multifaceted artistry as both a composer and performer with various ensembles, Thile is creating a distinctly American canon for the mandolin and a new musical aesthetic for performers and audiences alike.

Chris Thile studied music at Murray State University (1998–1999). From 1989 to 2007, he was a member of the trio Nickel Creek, and in 2006 he formed Punch Brothers. His additional recordings include Here to There (1997) and Why Should the Fire Die? (2005) with Nickel Creek; Who’s Feeling Young Now? (2012) with Punch Brothers; and the solo albums Not All Who Wander Are Lost (2001), Deceiver (2004), and How to Grow a Woman from the Ground (2006).

That’s all true.  But for those of us who have been listening to this phenom for a decade or two, he’s simply otherworldly.

There are many musicians who paved the way for Thile’s genius to bloom. His current band, Punch Brothers, plays with the same configuration of instruments – with the mandolin at the center – that the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, established in the 1940s. Traditional music virtuosi such as Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs showed that roots music could include branches outside the strict confines of bluegrass and folk.  Monster string players such as Tony Rice and Mark O’Connor demonstrated that traditional musicians can play with a speed, tone, touch, and musicality that raised the bar in the acoustic music world to levels once thought to belong only in the jazz and classical genres. Dobro master Jerry Douglas and Newgrass pioneer Sam Bush bring a physicality to their playing that helped shaped this key aspect of Thile’s music. Composer and bandleader David Grisman almost single-handedly took the traditional string band instrumentation and showed how gifted players could play a wonderful blend of jazz, world, bluegrass, and classical.

Thile combines all of these talents, and more, in one incredibly energetic and creative individual.  Take, for instance, the Nickel Creek live classic, The Fox. In this version from a Merlefest performance that Claire and I saw a few years ago, Thile and his band mates take off on a traditional tune, and then find all sorts of ways to venture out into other music and genres, before meandering back to the original.

But Thile doesn’t have to be in a band setting to shine.  Listen to this wonderful Bach E Major Prelude, which Thile takes to the mandolin:

Jerry Douglas’ We Hide and Seek is a tune known to most fans of Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.  However, in this trio version with Thile on the mandolin, you get more space to hear (and see) Thile’s work with one of the masters of Nashville.

Why not show TWO MacArthur genius grant recipients together?  Because, the talent here might just blow you away.  But if you are game, take a look at Thile and double bassist Edgar Meyer playing Farmer and the Duck.

This could go on for days.  So to wrap things up, let’s end with a fun tune by the Punch Brothers, Brakeman’s Blues, where Thile gets to channel his inner Jimmie Rodgers.

Congratulations, Chris Thile.  Well deserved!  And congratulations to the folks at the MacArthur Foundation for recognizing genius in some of the hidden places of American life and music.

More to come…


2012 N.L. East Division Champs!

Like Michael Morse – shown here grinning as he steps to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 9th in a 2-0 Nationals loss to the Phillies –  I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun in a ballpark after a loss.

Best. Losing. Night. Ever.

Candice and I were at Nationals Park on Monday, October 1st, hoping to watch the Nats clinch their first ever National League East Division championship.

It didn’t happen the way we hoped, with a Nats victory. But since they played so well from April through September, this loss on the first day of October didn’t keep our boys from clinching. About 10 minutes before our game ended, the Pittsburgh Pirates (bless their hearts) defeated the Atlanta Braves. With a magic number of one, the deed was done and the outcome on the field was anti-climatic.

For the third time this year, I made the big screen, this time holding up a pair of Champs banners that our seat mate had brought to the park.

Let the celebration begin!

To help, here are my photos from tonight:  My scorecard from the game (with my new N.L. East Division Champs t-shirt). Bryce Harper high-fiving the crowd. (Best interview line tonight with the 19-year-old Harper – Radio interviewer:  Bryce, are you drinking cider? Harper: That’s a clown question, bro!) Fireworks at the stadium. DJB wearing his new Division Champs hat!

And listening to SportsCenter tonight, they just say, “How about a Beltway World Series?” How about it!

Woo hoo!!

Go Nats!!!

More to come…