Academy Awards Here We Come (Again)

Film ReelLast year I broke a 57-year-old tradition and decided to see all the films nominated in  the Academy Awards Best Picture category.  We had a blast, updating More to Come… when I thought we’d seen the winner, as well as on the night of the awards.

This year, Candice and I are back at it again.

We thought we had an early start. Over the summer and fall we went to a couple of movies that, to our eye, had Best Picture possibilities.  We both loved The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Moonrise KingdomShows what we know.

But we quickly hit our stride, and after tonight’s viewing of Beasts of the Southern Wild at AFI Silver Theatre, we’ve now seen four of the nine Best Picture nominees.

Since it is our most recent viewing, I’ll just say that Beasts of the Southern Wild is an interesting film, but best picture quality…ummm, I don’t think so.  And I’m sorry, but Quvenzhané Wallis did not deserve a nomination above Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Knowing that you, dear reader, are waiting with bated breath, here’s how I rank the four I’ve seen:

1.  Lincoln

2. Life of Pi

3. Les Mis

4. Beasts of the Southern Wild

I just asked Candice for her rankings, and she has:

1.  Les Mis

2.  Lincoln

3.  Life of Pi

4.  Beasts of the Southern Wild

In the other categories, I think Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Best Actor (and I don’t even have to see the others). I haven’t seen enough of the Best Actress nominees to have an opinion.  I loved Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field in their supporting roles in Lincoln, but I have no idea if they’ll win.

So there you go…feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section.  I’ll update you again as we get a few more viewings under our belt.

More to come…


Standing on Shoulders While Looking to the Future

Photo by Suzy Mink

Photo by Suzy Mink

Every four years, when the country gathers to inaugurate a president, some of the nation’s most historic buildings take center stage. From the Benjamin Latrobe-designed St. John’s Church where the First Family attends a morning service, to the White House where the President meets with his successor or the leaders of Congress, to the U.S. Capitol where the Chief Executive takes the oath of office under a magnificent dome largely completed during the darkest days of the Civil War—our nation’s peaceful transfer of power occurs in and around stately buildings that are cherished witnesses to history.

And the inauguration ceremonies end the following morning at yet another historic building – Washington National Cathedral – where the nation’s secular and religious leaders gather for the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service.

I have attended many different services and ceremonies beneath the Cathedral’s soaring vaults. I remember Evensong services in the great choir where I heard young trebles sing a Pie Jesu that lifted the congregants—all twenty of them—to another level of grace. The sanctuary worked surprisingly well as a backdrop for this intimate gathering. But when the sanctuary is filled to capacity with thousands of guests and visitors gathered in common cause, the transformative power of the Gothic structure atop Mount St. Alban becomes self evident.

What do historic spaces such as the Cathedral—where National Trust president Stephanie Meeks and I were privileged to attend this morning’s 57th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service—have to offer that other buildings do not?

Washington National Cathedral, like any important historic building, reminds us that our lives are built on the shoulders of those who came before and that we have a responsibility to those yet to come. When the Children of the Gospel Choir sing the traditional spiritual Way over in Beulah Lan’ and we think of those who struggled to see beyond this time and place, their voices rise and linger in a building that holds a piece of lunar rock in the Space Window. Beautifully sung calls to prayer from the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions remind us that the Cathedral was built as a House of Prayer for all people, not just the privileged and powerful. When The Reverend Adam Hamilton of Leawood, Kansas, builds a sermon around the emancipation story, the Walter Hancock statue of Abraham Lincoln bears silent witness to those who have made great sacrifice for the good of the nation.

These special places cannot serve the nation without the love, care, and support provided by countless stewards. Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Washington National Cathedral a National Treasure to help those stewards recover from the damage of an unexpected earthquake and develop a vision forward for the preservation of this magnificent landmark.

It was clear again this morning why we need historic places such as Washington National Cathedral.  During the service, The Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, asked everyone to join hands for the final prayer in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He did so in front of the pulpit where King gave the last Sunday sermon of his life.  In that sermon, King said, “We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will all perish together as fools.”

Throughout this weekend of the inauguration of a president, Washington’s historic buildings reminded the country that we have often disagreed—and even fought—as a nation.  However, they also speak to the fact that we have come together more often than not to focus on the ideals that make us Americans.  In the extraordinary, and yet also humbling, space of Washington National Cathedral, Dr. Warnock’s final prayer called us again to those ideals.

Let us recommit ourselves this day to one another and to the work of building together the beloved community. May God transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of the human family. And through us may all the families of the earth be blessed.

More to come…


(Note:  This blog post was originally written for the PreservationNation blog of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.)

R.I.P. The Earl of Baltimore and Stan the Man

Musial Stadium at Busch StadiumBaseball lost two members of the Hall of Fame this past weekend:  Earl Weaver and Stan Musial.

There’s much that could – and has – been written about these two baseball greats.  I’ve linked to Joe Posnanski’s blogs above, but I could just as easily have sent you to read Tom Boswell’s column on The Earl of Baltimore or George Vecsey on Stan the Man.

I won’t go on about Weaver’s baseball genius – decades before Moneyball made his theories all the rage – or Musial’s quiet consistency – to the point where he was widely considered to be the best ballplayer of the postwar decade. No, I’m going to focus on their nicknames.

Baseball has the best nicknames. Period.  In Why Is Baseball So Much Better Than FootballBoswell touches on the topic in multiple ways, but he sums it up here:

Reason #85:  Baseball nicknames go on forever – because we feel we know so many player intimately.  Football monikers run out fast.  We just don’t know that many of them as people.

Then Boswell provides examples.

Reason #6 (close after “bands” (#1) “half time with bands” (#2), and “cheerleaders at half time with bands” (#3)): Baseball has Blue Moon, Catfish, Spaceman and The Sugar Bear.  Football has Lester the Molester, Too Mean, and The Assassin.

Reason #35:  Football has Tank and Mean Joe.  Baseball has The Human Rain Delay and Charlie Hustle.

Reason #51:  Football has Hacksaw. Baseball has Steady Eddie and The Candy Man.

Reason #59:  Football has the Refrigerator.  Baseball has Puff the Magic Dragon, The Wizard of Oz, Tom Terrific, Big Doggy, Kitty Kaat, and Oil Can.

In The Earl of Baltimore and Stan the Man, we have two more nicknames that have stood the test of time.  They brought so much pleasure to so many (except, in the case of Weaver, the umpires). May they Rest in Peace.

And Reason #99 that Baseball is so much better than Football? Most of all…because spring training is less than a month away.

Play ball!

More to come…


Inaugurations: Here’s to the Optimists

InaugurationToday is Inauguration Day 2013.  Cue the oh-so-tired Washingtonians.

Here are some real quotes from my “Facebook Friends” (before I deleted my account last evening).

“OMG, the tourists are clogging up the Metro.”

“I’m not going, that’s oh so 2009.”

“The return of the economic destroyer in chief” (this obviously from a disgruntled Republican who has rewritten history).

“Limousine gridlock.”

The newspapers also get into the act. “Experts” who see the world through their lens and no other, have all the answers for what ails President Obama, the political parties, or the country as the second term begins.

Well, I refuse to play that Washington game.  I have a son and four of his college classmates down on the mall today, and they are excited to be a part of history. Andrew and another friend from Washington have spent the last four days touring one friend from California and one from Vermont all around the city – hitting the hip neighborhoods, going to Evensong at the National Cathedral, watching the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery, viewing the L’Enfant plan for the city from Arlington House, seeing the museums. They’ve had a wonderful weekend, and they left early this morning – Candice’s turkey sandwiches in tow – to work their way through the crowds to get to the mall to be a part of history.

Inaugurations in the United States are amazing events, and not because of the spectacle. After one of the most expensive, nasty, and divisive elections since…oh, I don’t know, Andrew Jackson vs. John Quincy Adams (at least for the divisive and nastiness parts)…we have a peaceful transfer (or in today’s case, continuation) of power. When one thinks of how power transfers in many countries of the world, it is amazing that we’ve kept this going for more than 200 years.

So I join Andrew and his friends in their excitement today.  There will be plenty of days when we can rail against the problems in this world. Today is for the optimists.

More to come…


Farewell Facebook

facebookBefore the weekend is out, I will have deleted my Facebook account. I’ve contemplated this change for months.  It is time.

Facebook has been great in making initial connections with people I haven’t seen for years.  However, I’ve moved quite a bit from how I felt about Facebook three years ago. I will miss hearing from certain friends from across the world. But the changes Facebook has made to their privacy, news feed, photo – you name it – policy have made this a very different platform than I signed up for.  I don’t like how Facebook now asks me, “How are you feeling, David?” Really?  None of your damn business, frankly. In the end, it is more important that I be present in the moment.

I’m not going to write a long list of reasons why I’m saying farewell to Facebook.  There are enough of those online, like here, here, and here.

And I’m not leaving the online world.  Many of you know how to reach me at work or home via email (and my phone still works!) I will continue to write on the More to Come… blog, for those who want to know what I’m thinking in more than short – occasionally snarky – updates. You can reach me there if you wish.  My wife, Candice, is still on Facebook and she promises that she’ll post my blog writings to her page.  I’m keeping my own Facebook page up for the next few hours  just so I can post this blog so some of my online friends can see it.

So, see you in the post-Facebook world.

More to come…


Guitar: An American Life

Running Dog Guitar Ought 3 Top Detail“You start off playing guitar to get chicks and end up talking with middle-aged men about your fingernails.”

This is just one of the dozens of truisms, cogent observations, and laugh-out-loud lines found in Tim Brookes’ 2005 Guitar: An American Life. Candice gave me the book for Christmas, and though I finished it shortly after New Year’s Day, I’ve only now found the time to say how much I enjoyed this “part history, part love song” to the guitar.

I learned of the book last summer when I met Rick Davis, the builder of my two Running Dog guitars. Rick – along with a new guitar he built for author Tim Brookes – are featured in Guitar. After baggage handlers broke his Fylde guitar, Brookes turned to Davis to build him a new one.  In alternating chapters Brookes chronicles the building process while taking the reader through an idiosyncratic yet compelling history of the guitar.

Since the book has been around for a few years, it is easy to find good book reviews online. I’ll content myself with simply repeating some of the great lines from this delightful read. Let’s begin with that fingerboard.

“I’ll often feel intimidated just by looking at the fingerboard.  A fingerboard is a curiously disturbing thing, and not especially inviting, a combination of inscrutable rectangular geometry, strings one way, frets perpendicular. What about those inlays on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, fifteenth, and eighteenth frets, refusing to conform to any regular sequence, more perplexing than a Fibonacci series? ‘This is perfectly easy,’ the fingerboard says, ‘but you will never understand it.'”

Brookes, on a day when he has to have his snow tires taken off and his summer tires put on (he lives in Vermont), takes his guitar to the shop’s reception area and plays Django Reinhardt and Scott Joplin for the receptionist.

“When the tires are done and I stop playing, the two women break into smiles. ‘Very relaxing’ is the verdict. I’m tempted to hear that as ‘very boring,’ but I think, no, live instrumental guitar music probably is relaxing in the context of work, artificial light, the smell of artificial carpet and Naugahyde, oil and gasoline drifting in faintly from the shop. They agree that it beats canned music.

‘I’ve never had someone come in and play music in all the years I’ve worked here,’ says the receptionist, and I think, ‘What good is a guitar if you leave it at home?'”

And a final excerpt, this time around the question, “How do those guys play those chords?”

“Playing guitar is as much about the hand as it is about the guitar, perhaps more. Which is one reason why it’s a conservative art: the hand wants to conform to the shapes it knows. Advanced classical and jazz guitar ask the hand to make shapes it only ever makes during electrocution or in the last contortions of strychnine poisoning, which is why those guys develop spidery fingers – long, thin, oddly spread apart. The rest of us stick with the shapes we know, shapes that feel right.”

The guitar is an amazing instrument – simple, complex, versatile, fascinating – and I’m fortunate to have three wonderful guitars made by two luthiers of the highest order. If you have a life-long love affair with this instrument, or are just getting to know it, you’ll enjoy Guitar: An American Life.

More to come…