It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Andrew and Claire with DadOn a bright, clear, and wintery Sunday morning – December 20, 1992 – two infants, each barely over 5 pounds in size, entered and forever changed our world. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time, because we wouldn’t learn of their birth from the adoption agency until the next morning. But when I heard that they were born around 11:50 a.m. (and Claire will know who came out first and how much older that twin is than Andrew), I recalled that at the  very moment of their birth I was singing the ancient carol There Is No Rose of Such Virtue on the last Sunday of Advent.

Knowing that their birth mother could deliver at any time, we were certainly – in that Advent season – looking forward to those births. And we’ve been singing ever since.

Claire and Andrew came home with us on January 14, 1993. They received a royal welcome from friends and family, who decorated the house with balloons, left strollers and diapers on the front porch, and brought food over by the boat load. It was a good thing, because we were outnumbered.  Twin infants and two adults…thank God the reinforcements arrived soon!  (Candice’s mother was on the scene within the week, followed quickly by my Mom and sister Debbie.)

Baptism  with the Godparents1993

A good friend – and mother of twins – told us the story that on her girls’ first birthday, she took her nightgown – which she had rarely taken off over the past 365 days – and burned it in a rite of passage ritual on the backyard grill. We didn’t do anything so drastic in December 1993, but we certainly understood the impulse. What a handful twins can be when they are young!

A meal in Staunton

Through the years it became obvious that we were blessed with two wonderful, talented, beautiful, and intelligent children.  I can say all of that without sounding boastful because they don’t share my genes! But I can’t imagine loving any child – biological, adopted, step, or otherwise – anymore than I love these two beautiful people.

Andrew's first haircut

Claire at Kanuga 1995

To watch them grow into the wonderful adults they’ve become has been the joy of my life. I remember each phase of that growth, knowing that it wasn’t always easy (for them or for us), but secure in the knowledge that they were surrounded by love.

Baking Cookies

Claire on her slide...a favorite activity when she couldn't get outside

Andrew and Mom dance at Uncle Andy and Aunt Robin's wedding

Our traditional birthday celebration – once we got past the “invite over the entire pre-school” phase – was to go to a Japanese steak house for dinner.  This began in elementary school, when Andrew and Claire visited their local restaurant while studying Japan.  They thought it was the neatest thing in the world to see the chef toss an egg in the air, break it with his spatula, and then cook it right before their eyes. And the great thing about these guys…they were still clamoring for the traditional celebration when they were 18 years old. They have a wonderful way of holding on while still moving forward.

Hiking at Wintergreen with Dad

Hiking at Wintergreen with Mom

From day one, Andrew and Claire had their different personalities and interests. We always called Claire our “outdoors girl,” because she loved being out of the house. We still call her that today. Claire, the swimmer, is up at 6 a.m. to get in two hours of practice with her college swim team in an outdoor pool in Southern California before breakfast. As for Andrew, I always said that he had perfect pitch coming out of the womb. He loved music, melody, and rhythms, and we spoke of his “math/music” mind that got the theory but also the art.  Every time he opens his mouth to sing – and he’s doing a lot of that in college – I am transported by what comes out.

First day of kindergarten

When they headed off for kindergarten, I somehow knew that college wouldn’t be far off.  But the time has flown by even faster than I could have imagined. My advice…hug, laugh, cry, savor every chance you get.

The Dancer and Harry Potter

The Brown Family 2004

Claire and Andrew will be thankful that I’ll spare you many pictures of the middle school years.  I’ve just included the one above because it captures us in 2004 – when they were 12 – with our old girl Lilly. Claire was the instigator of getting a dog, and Lilly – a Sussex Spaniel – was a big part of all our lives for about 9 years. Saying goodbye to her in 2009 was one of those life lessons that every child works through, but it was especially hard on Claire and Candice. Everyone loved Lilly, but they had special bonds.

Andrew 2010 by Claire

Claire Self Portrait 2008

Claire took up a strong interest in photography when she entered high school, and one of my favorite pictures of her is the self portrait above that she took in 2008. She has always had the most expressive eyes.  As an infant, friends and family would comment on how those eyes would fix on you and capture you with their intensity and beauty.

Claire &  Andrew at the Cappies 2009

At Mohonk Mountain House 2010

Andrew at the Ocean in South Africa

Claire in Stockholm Ice Bar 2012

I’ve often said I want to change lives with my children. Before they reached 20, they had traveled to South Africa, Sweden, Spain, Northern Ireland, Mexico, Costa Rica, and all over the US. Hell, I’d never flown in an airplane until I was in college! Life is different these days, and I’m so glad we were able to give them the opportunity to learn more about some of the other people who inhabit this planet.

So here it is, twenty years later. And guess who won’t be home for their birthdays. Yes, the crunch of exams and the desire not to fly cross-country on her birthday pushed Claire’s arrival home back a day.  Once he heard that his sister wasn’t going to be around for their birthday, Andrew bailed as well and went to visit a friend in Boston.  We’ll see them both on Friday, and who knows, we may even find ourselves in a Japanese steak house over the weekend.

As I was lamenting my fate of having the children out-of-town for their 20th birthdays, a very wise friend told me the quote, “When they’re little, you can manufacture quality time. When they’re older, you just need to be there when it happens.” This is a passage for Candice and me.  But I do know that they will appreciate it when we are there for them.

So Happy 20th Birthday Andrew and Claire!  You can’t imagine how you’ve enriched my life over the past two decades.  I love you and can’t wait to see you on Friday – the 21st.  I’ll apologize now for putting up these pictures you’ll hate and for telling the world how wonderful you are, but I don’t really mean it (the apology, that is).  And I’ll end this post with the same song that brought you into the world.

I love you.


Claire on the Chesapeake Bay

Lesson and Carols at the Washington National Cathedral 2010

First Day of School Senior Year of High School 2010

Andrew's High School Graduation

Claire's High School Graduation

Andrew and Claire on the Front Porch

A December Celtic Tradition

IMT Holiday Concert with Robin Bullock and FriendsIf it is early December, you can count on “Celtic Guitar God” Robin Bullock heading up a holiday concert for the Institute of Musical Traditions. So tonight, Candice and I joined about 150 other traditional music fans for the 2012 edition of the IMT Celtic holiday concert.

Bullock was joined this year by Scottish champion fiddler Elke Baker and hammered dulcimer player Ken Kolodner. The evening was filled with traditional Christmas carols as well as Scottish and Irish old time music, all played with great enthusiasm and musiciaenship.

Baker and Kolodner played several beautiful duets, including two of my favorite holiday tunes:  the haunting In the Bleak Midwinter and the French carol Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.  All three joined together for extended sets of Cape Breton, French Canadian, and Celtic fiddle tunes.

However, my favorite parts of this concert each year focus around Bullock’s solo guitar work. Tonight he had beautiful arrangements of The Wexford Carol and a great mash-up of classical carols as played in the style of Mississippi John Hurt. But one of the most moving arrangements was of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, where Bullock quoted the seldom-used fifth verse and opined that while it was perhaps seen as harsh, it still fit in these times:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long; Beneath the angel-strain have rolled two-thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

A wonderful night of great music. Enjoy the video below of Robin Bullock playing the Irish tune Lord Inchiquin at last year’s IMT Celtic holiday concert.

More to come…


Robin  Bullock

Honoring Mike Auldridge

John Starling and Tom GrayTonight was bittersweet.

Three of the founding members of the pioneering urban bluegrass band the Seldom Scene gathered this evening in Silver Spring to pay tribute to their ailing partner: dobro master Mike Auldridge. Original Scene bassist Tom Gray, shown at left onstage with fellow alumnus John Starling, alerted me at this morning’s Farmers Market that the folks at the Maryland State Arts Council had added the tribute to their annual ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Awards show as a way to honor Mike’s 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellowship.

The tribute came at the end of an entertaining and informative night.  The Old Bay Ceili Band from Baltimore opened with a spirited Irish set in memory of former ALTA award winner Joe Byrne, the late proprietor of J. Patrick’s Pub. Flutist Laura Byrne told of hearing the master traditional flute player Chris Norman while she was studying classical flute at the Peabody, asking him where she could learn to play that style of music, and being told to go to J. Patrick’s.

Old Bay Ceili Band

Other ALTA award winners honored this evening were the community members of the Sparrow Point Steel Mill, the traditional family bluegrass band The Carroll County Ramblers, and the nation’s second oldest almanac, the 236-year-old J. Gruber’s Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack.

Then the current members of the Seldom Scene, led by founding member Ben Eldridge on banjo, took the stage to kick off the tribute.  The first tune began with a recorded version of one of Mike’s beautiful Dobro instrumentals, with the live band and dobroist Fred Travers taking over on the second pass. Starling and Gray soon joined the other members on stage for a heartfelt tribute to their fellow band mate – who played with the Scene for 24 years – and the ground-breaking music they made together.

Starling’s voice was strong as he took the lead on Scene classics such as Dark Hollow. Mandolinist and fiddler Rickie Simpkins added his always tasteful licks throughout the set. Gray told the story of Mike’s slide guitar playing uncle Ellsworth Cozzens, who performed with Jimmie Rodgers in the 1920s, and then sang the Cozzens’ composition Treasure’s Untold. The full band ended the evening with the first tune the Seldom Scene played in public, the Vic Jordan instrumental Pickaway.

Auldridge was too ill to attend tonight’s tribute, but his presence was in the auditorium throughout the evening. His old band mates recreated the magic of his music onstage, musicians such as Mark Schatz were in the audience to pay tribute to his influence, and fans from across the region came together to honor a master musician and a real gentleman.

Thanks to the Seldom Scene – past and present – for a moving, meaningful, and music-filled evening. And to remember Mike’s playing, I’ll end with Auldridge, in a backstage moment, playing – what else – Pickaway. 

More to come…


Ben Eldridge, Rickie Simpkins, John Starling, and Ronnie Simpkins

Mike Auldridge Tribute