Check Off Another One!

With Claire at Church and State

Celebrating week’s end with Claire at Church and State in Los Angeles

My goodness, it has been a busy week of travel!

  • Attend the Main Street Now 2016 conference on Monday and Tuesday in Milwaukee and get energized by all the work going on in downtowns across the country – check.
  • Stop by and visit the amazing Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes in Milwaukee – check.
  • Catch a bad head cold and endure a 4 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco – unplanned, but check.
  • Have lunch in Carmel with one of the elder statesmen of preservation – the indefatigable Knox Mellon and his wife Carlotta – check.
  • Celebrate the beginning of the construction phase of our work at Cooper-Molera historic site with more than 100 people from the city staff, California State Parks, our local stakeholders, and our development partners in Monterey – check.
  • Over a wonderful dinner celebration in Monterey, talk baseball with the wife of one of our partners at Cooper- Molera, who has the perfect marriage…she’s a Red Sox fan and her husband is a Giants fan…so on the west coast with the MLB package they can start watching the Sox games at 4 p.m. and follow that with the evening Giants game (how amazing is that!) – check.
  • FINALLY begin to shake the head cold and take off to Los Angeles for two days of family R&R with my Claire, where we celebrate on Friday evening with some of her housemates in the Jubilee Consortium at the wonderful Church and State bistro – check.
  • Make a return visit to the Huntington Gardens with Claire, and spend all day wandering through that amazing landscape – check.
  • To top it off, Claire and I take in a LA Angels game in Anaheim (after finding a great local craft beer brewery) to check off another stadium from the old bucket list – check.

Let me hit a few highlights:

The Shaw Neighborhood in Washington, D.C. was one of three Great American Main Street Award winners in 2016.  They were featured in this amazing video, which I encourage you to watch.  Congrats as well to Audubon Park, Florida, and Dahlonega, Georgia, the other GAMSA winners.

Mitchell Park Domes

The incredible Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee

While I was in Milwaukee, I made a stop by The Domes.  Located in Mitchell Park, these three conoidal (bee hive shaped) glass structures are the first and only domes to house plants in different climates. The shape allows for an excellent angle for efficient solar heating and it also gives more height for taller plants.  The Domes were designed by local architect Donald Grieb and drew accolades from around the world when completed in the mid 1960s.  No less than Lady Bird Johnson – then the First Lady of the U.S. – officially dedicated The Domes in 1965.  It just goes to show that  Calatrava wasn’t the first to design amazing modern architecture in this Midwestern city.

Interior of the Show Dome

The interior of the Show Dome


Show Dome Ceiling

Show Dome Ceiling

Speaking of modern architecture…

I’m staying at the historic Biltmore Hotel while in LA, which is just a few short blocks from the new Broad Museum and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I took a stroll down the street after arriving to check both out up close.

Broad Museum detail

Detail from the Broad Museum on Grand Avenue in LA

The Broad is a new contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The museum is designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler.  It sits next to the already iconic Disney Concert Hall, which has won accolades from its opening in 2003. The mix of landmark contemporary and historic buildings (such as the LA Central Library) has helped revive this part of downtown in a city that is not known for a strong core.  I don’t have time here to go into all the different aspects (positive and negative) of this new development in LA, but I’ve tucked these images and thoughts away for future mulling.

Church and State with the Jubilee Gang

Caroline, Edgar, Claire, and Gracie (l to r) at Church and State Bistro

Claire and I also explored another part of LA – the revitalized Arts District – when we went with friends for dinner at Church and State bistro.  Good friends and good food – always a treat!

For my last full day in Southern California before heading home, Claire and I decided to revisit the beautiful Huntington Gardens, which we first visited a couple of years ago. As usual, Claire captured some wonderful scenes with her camera.

Desert Garden

The Desert Gardens at the Huntington (photo credit: Claire Brown)


Huntington sculpture

Huntington Garden sculpture (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Claire and I wrapped up our weekend by taking in a baseball game at Angels Stadium in Anaheim – which allowed me to check off another MLB stadium from my bucket list. On the drive down, Claire went online and found a microbrewery within walking distance so we could sample some local IPA.  We succeeded – drinking IPAs at Noble Ale Works and making new friends in Brooks and Jen.

Angels Stadium

Angels Stadium (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Then it was off to the stadium.  We found a local favorite food – the grilled cheese sandwich – at The Big Cheese.  Though not traditionally a ballpark food, the grilled cheese is hugely popular with fans. I had mine with short ribs, while Claire had arugula and tomatoes with her sandwich.  The home team looked to be on a roll when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back jacks (or homers, taters, four baggers, dingers, you name it) in the first inning, setting off an impressive fire display in the waterfall just beyond the center field fence, but that was about it for the offense and the local nine fell to the Houston Astros 4-2.

With Claire at the Big A

With Claire at the Big A

We realized that with her joining me tonight at her seventh stadium, Claire has been my companion at more stadiums that anyone else.  (By my count, I have been to five stadiums each with Candice and my former work colleague Dolores McDonagh.)  For those keeping score, here is the list of ballparks visited:

  • Atlanta Braves – Fulton County Stadium (multiple visits in 1980s; never got to Turner Field before they tear it down, but this counts given my rules)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s)
  • Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park (1988)
  • Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012)
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (2013)
  • Cleveland Indians – Progressive Field (2014)
  • Colorado Rockies – Coors Field (2008, 2013)
  • Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium (2009)
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angels Stadium (2016)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park (2005)
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field (2014)
  • Oakland A’s – Oakland Coliseum (2008)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park (2008)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park (2013)
  • San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park (2012 and 2014)
  • Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (2009)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Busch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012)
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field (2012)
  • Washington Nationals – RFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group since 2012)

And here is the ballparks remaining to visit list:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park (Another park I’ve seen but haven’t made a game.)
  • Houston Astros- Minute Maid Park (Which I am planning on visiting later in June)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium (This is the only park that a family member – Claire – has seen before I have had the opportunity. Three or four times, no less. That’s just not fair!)
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • New York Mets – Citi Field (I think this is an easy one to do, but it never works out.)
  • New York Yankees – Yankee Stadium (I know – how can I not have made it to Yankee stadium yet?!  Just goes to show I’ve never been a big Yankees fan)
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Park (our new friends Brooks and Jen were raving about this stadium)
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

Hopefully, by the end of the season I’ll be at 10 or less left to go!  If I keep traveling as much as I have this week, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Heading home on Sunday, and ready to check off another Memorial Day holiday.

More to come…


I Do Love a Good Historic Hotel!

LA Biltmore

Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles

After a long week of travel, it is good to land in a wonderful historic hotel for a couple of days of family time with Claire.  This beauty is the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, one of my personal favorites where I’ve stayed in the past when in Southern California.

Stair detail at Biltmore

Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel stairway detail

Have a great Memorial Day weekend.  As you kick off the summer, take the time to remember those who have sacrificed for our country.

More to come…


Look Beyond Borders

Look Beyond Borders

Look Refugees in the Eye (credit: Amnesty International)

Amnesty International has posted a powerful video experiment to help all of us think about refugees as people, and not just as someone different from us.

The video “is based on a theory that four minutes of uninterrupted eye contact increases intimacy.”  The theory, developed by psychologist Arthur Aron in 1997, was applied by Amnesty International to the refugee crisis, sitting refugees from Syria and Somalia opposite people from Belgium, Italy, Germany, Poland and the UK, with overwhelmingly positive results.  Here’s how the group describes its work:

We decided to conduct a simple experiment during which refugees and Europeans sat across from each other and looked each other in the eyes. We recorded these very human encounters and the short film speaks for itself.

Indeed it does speak powerfully for itself.  Do yourself a favor and watch these four minutes.  It is a good reminder of our common humanity, which seems to be in short supply in this political season.

More to come…



I was thinking about cheerfulness recently while putting together a long to-do list – which is how I feel prepared, if not always cheerful.  Garrison Keillor – the soon-to-be-retired host of A Prairie Home Companion – has written that,

“Cheerfulness is a choice, like choosing what color socks to wear, the black or the red. Happiness is something that occurs, or it doesn’t, and don’t hold your breath. Joy is a theological idea, pretty rare among us mortals and what many people refer to as “joy” is what I would call ‘bragging.’…Euphoria is a drug.”  Keillor suggests that cheerfulness is a…“habit you assume in the morning and hang on to as best you can for the rest of the day….that spiritual awareness that Buddhism holds up as enlightenment, in which one does not covet more than one’s small lot, one is free of animosity, and one lives in the immediate present, day by day, without dread of what might befall.”

That sounds about right to me.  And while I’ve written this as a reminder to myself, it strikes me as a good habit that others may want to cultivate when that to-do list is too long for the time available.

Have a good week.

More to come…


A Blessing for our Children

Thanksgiving 1982

Our first Thanksgiving together, at my parents’ home in 1982

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1982. Candice and I were spending our first married Thanksgiving with my parents. After the meal, Dad gathered us all together and gave the following blessing to his children, daughters-in-law and son-in-law.  (He later expanded it to include his grandchildren.) The blessing was read at his funeral last Wednesday, and it was hand-written in my father’s Bible that we brought home with us. It says all you need to know about how my parents thought about their responsibility in raising children and their release of us as adults to find our own path to grow into the people we are.

Blessing for our Children

Your mother and I give you:

Unconditional love, and to each one of you we give all our love.  Love expands to meet the need.

Unconditional acceptance based on who you are – our sons and our daughters – our sons-in-law and our daughters-in-law and our grandchildren. Not on what you do or don’t do.

Release to be the person God intends for you to be.  Release to do what you think God would have you do – to try and to do and to be free to fail and try again.

We give you our affirmation and support as you work out your understanding of God’s purposes in your life.

We love each of you and thank God for you.

Dad took the emotional risk to express this blessing to our family.  However, my parents not only said this one time, they lived it everyday.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

The knowledge that we were loved and accepted unconditionally certainly shaped the person I’ve become and – I hope – the way I approach my life with Claire and Andrew.  Of course I’ve fallen short, but I’ve had the freedom to fail and try again.

I can’t begin to express my thanks.

More to come…


My Favorite Tom Brown Stories

Tom Brown

Tom Brown

We celebrated my father over the past four days before his burial next to my mother in Evergreen Cemetery.  Tom Brown was well-loved, and over those days we heard many stories full  of love, support, and humor.

In the four-hour receiving line on Tuesday evening, the family was strategically stationed so that Joe and Carol – who live in Murfreesboro – could introduce people to my older brother Steve who lives in Sarasota.  Then Debbie and Mark, also from Murfreesboro, were at the end of the line so they could give Candice and me a heads up on who was on the way.  The grandkids (especially the older ones) then set up another receiving line near the casket.

Every person from First Baptist Church (it seems) came, along with a good number of people who worship at my brother Joe’s church and my sister Carol’s church.  (These are Baptist – they are never content with just one church!)  The entire Murfreesboro Water Department, where my sister Debbie has worked for decades, came (leading me to ask after a while, “Just who is watching the water supply in this town right now?”)  Librarians came by the score, as my mother was a long-time librarian at Linebaugh in Murfreesboro and the Smyrna Public Library, and my sister Carol has followed in Mom’s footsteps at Linebaugh.  Employees past and present from the Tennessee Valley Authority, where my father worked for 35 years, came to pay their respects. Former teachers (of me and my brothers and sisters, along with all our nieces and nephews) and current teachers (who work alongside our nieces Ashli and Rachel and teach their children and more) were there. People flew in from Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and Florida, and drove in from throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. So many people came from the YMCA, that I began asking, “Are you from the swimming group or the coffee and doughnuts group?” since my Dad did both every morning six days a week for about 29 years.  I received a call during the visitation from 91-year-old Paul Brown, Daddy’s first cousin and the last surviving Brown of that generation. It was a great recognition of life and family.

Nearly everyone who spoke to me during this time began with the line, “I just loved your Daddy (or Tom, or Uncle Tom by his nieces and nephews, or Mr. Tom. Never Mr. Brown.)  Many would add, “And your mother, she was such a saint.”  Then many would launch into a story or three.  I can’t recall them all, but here are a few of my favorites.

  • From his dentist – who happened to be my best friend growing up in Murfreesboro:  “Your daddy came in one day a few years ago and said, ‘I’ve learned a new exercise.’ I asked him what it was and he replied, ‘I just watch the ladies take Zumba class and that gets my heart rate up and I don’t have to do anything else!'”  We laughed and I told Ben, “I always knew when Daddy was feeling better after a hospital or rehab stay, because he started flirting with the twenty-something nurses.  He’d be discharged soon afterwards!”
  • So many people told me “I just had dinner at church last Wednesday with your Dad.  He sat at the same table he always does, and we were there with him.”  After about the 25th person told me that, I said to Debbie, “That must have been some table!”  She replied, “You know Daddy and how he shouted to compensate for his loss of hearing.  When Daddy was in the room, everyone knew it!”
  • When Debbie was going to pick up his mail at Adam’s Place, the retirement community where he had moved about six months ago, one of the residents came up and said, “I’m so sorry to hear about Mr. Tom’s death…because we lost another Democratic Party voter!”
City Cafe

Daddy at Murfreesboro’s City Cafe

  • Candice, Andrew, and I went down to City Cafe on Monday morning for breakfast.  My father ate there just about every day for the 18 years since my Mom died.  We told the waitress that my Dad had been a regular there, but that he passed away on Saturday morning and she cried out, “Oh, Mr. Tom!” (We hadn’t mentioned his name.) “We loved Mr. Tom.  When is his funeral?”  When we said it was 11 a.m. on Wednesday across the street at First Baptist Church, she said, “Good, I get off at 10 a.m., and although I’ll be in my work clothes I’ll be there.”
  • My father hosted a small group of teenage boys on Sunday evenings at his house for Bible study and pizza for several years.  One of them identified himself to me in the receiving line.  I said, “I bet you guys loved it.  You had a house that wasn’t your parents, where you could eat pizza and talk, and he couldn’t hear a word you said!”  He laughed and said that was true.  But later someone came through from the YMCA and she told the story of how a group of people were gossiping about someone and thought Daddy couldn’t hear them, because of his loss of hearing.  After they left, Daddy turned to the receptionist at the Y and said, “Those folks were talking about so-and-so, and yet they are the ones who are crazy.”  She continued, “I never said anything again around Mr. Tom that I didn’t want him to hear.  I think his being hard-of-hearing was very selective!”
  • Many years after Mom’s death, Daddy had a lady friend who would go to the theatre or to dinner with him when he was more active.  She continued to take him out to eat and run errands when he moved to Adam’s Place.  She told me that Daddy told her, “We’re both known all over this town, so I think we can just go out and do what we please.”
  • Steve reminded me that Daddy always said, “There won’t be any inheritance.  I want my last check to bounce!” Well, he almost got his wish.  Daddy didn’t keep a lot of money in his checking account, so when my sister went to pay the cemetery and the funeral home, she found she had to cash out a few stocks to get enough money in the account to pay off those bills.  We all laughed.  But true to his engineering ways, Daddy had actually arranged things incredibly well for those of us who had to take care of his affairs.  Debbie and I were originally the co-executors (which I relinquished to her about a year ago so that she wouldn’t have to hunt me down to get signatures on time.)  Daddy had all his computer passwords and links written down.  He long ago had put everything he had in a trust, so we wouldn’t have to deal with probate.  And his house sale closes on Friday – which was the last big item in his estate.  When I hear about friends with difficult estate issues with their parents, I am thankful for Daddy’s incredible foresight.
Pocket Protector

Daddy, the TVA engineer, at a substation with both his head and pocket protected

  • Daddy’s suspenders and pocket protectors were often a topic of conversation.  He was so comfortable in his skin that he’d wear suspenders with outrageous colors or designs.  A favorite for everyone were the pair that looked like measuring rulers, which Andrew and Claire gave him many years ago.  And the pocket protectors were legendary – always full of pens and pencils.  (He was an engineer in the pre-CAD days).  My sister Carol reminded me that when we cleaned out his house, we found five brand new pocket protectors, still in their wrapping.  I think they were becoming harder to find in stores and he began hoarding them.
  • Daddy was a member of the Circle of Friends Sunday School class.  Several of its members told me that on Sunday, they decided to ditch their regular lesson.  They put his coffee cup on his chair and spent the hour telling Tom Brown stories.
  • My father was a terrible – but enthusiastic – singer of hymns in church.  If you had any musical sense at all you did not want to sit next to him.  It only got worse when he got his hearing aid.  Daddy also sat in the second pew, right in front of the pulpit.  Several people told the story of how Daddy would sing about half a line behind the congregation, because his hearing aid was off and he couldn’t hear anything.  Debbie said that once he got a new hearing aid and began singing on the beat (if not on key) and she turned and stared at him.  But that soon went by the wayside and he went back to his own personal version of singing in rounds.
  • I was telling another long-time friend who lived across the street from Mom and Dad on Main Street and was active in Democratic politics about the 20 or so magazines I spent Monday morning cancelling on-line.  What was my Dad reading as he entered his 10th decade of life?  Oh, just Mother JonesThe Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Sojourners and The Christian CenturyThe Hightower LowdownThe Washington SpectatorThe Nation.  The New York Times and The Washington Post (the latter, I suppose, was to get his dose of conservative commentary). Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek. I mentioned to these friends that I had called Daddy after Tennessee was considering naming The Bible as the State book, and telling him his work on earth was not done, as he needed to write a letter to the editor.  The friend’s wife said, “Oh, he did write, and it was a good one.  Your father was always trying to set people straight in Tennessee about the importance of the separation of church and state!”  Some people do like lost causes.
  • A friend who recently lost his own father mentioned that five different men who had been real mentors for him – including my Dad – had passed away in the past year.  He noted that it was a bit scary to know that we were now that generation that others looked up to, and he said, “You know, David, they didn’t cut us a lot of slack.  They just said, ‘Get out there and do it’ and they would add a kick in the pants or a pat on the back, whatever you needed.”
  • Finally, a cousin who had gone through a difficult first marriage, told us the story that, “Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen always seemed to know when I was down and needed a visit.  Uncle Tom would call and ask if they could come by, and they would stop in to talk, bring food, and always a book.”  She said they helped her get through many a rough patch.  Once she showed Daddy a book she was reading and he said, “Oh, that’s okay, but I’ll send you a better one!”  Sure enough, about five days later a different – and better book on the subject – showed up in her mailbox.  Giving…it was what Mom and Dad were all about.
Celebrating Tom's 90th

Claire, Candice, Tom, DJB, and Andrew celebrating Tom’s 90th birthday

When people told me that were sorry for my loss, I would thank them and then deliver this standard line – which has the added advantage of being true.  Daddy lived a long and full life, he gave love and was surrounded by a circle of family and friends from around the world who loved him back, he had his mental capabilities until the end, and he died the way he wanted.  You can’t ask for much more from life, I suppose.

Daddy, thanks for all the love.

More to come…


A Good Measure of a Life

St. Albans School

St. Albans School

Last week I was fortunate to join the most remarkable retirement celebration I’ve ever attended.  Paul Herman, the Head of the Lower School at St. Albans here in Washington (where my son is an alum), was celebrated for 44 years of service.  There are many wonderful things I can share about Paul, but I’ll stick to one example.  Each day he stands outside the school and greets every student by name, gives them a firm handshake, looks them in the eye, and offers up an encouraging word (or a reminder to tuck in a shirt tail).  If he doesn’t remember a name after the first week, he pays the student a dollar.  Suffice it to say he rarely has to pay.  Candice and I hadn’t seen Mr. Herman in at least four years, but as we were next in the receiving line he looked up and said, “Great, here come the Browns” and gave us a warm greeting.  He has an amazing gift to make people feel included and welcome.

The center nave of Washington National Cathedral was packed with those saluting Mr. Herman, and the service for thanksgiving was filled with exceptional readings and reflections.  The one that struck me the most was the final reading, from “On Light and Worth:  Lessons from Medicine,” by Bernadine Healy, M.D.  It was given on May 29, 1994 as part of a commencement address at Vassar College, and I would like to share it with you.

“As a physician who has been deeply privileged to share the most profound moments of people’s lives, including their final moments, let me tell you a secret.  People facing death don’t think about what degrees they have earned, what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated.  At the end, what really matters is who you loved and who loved you.  The circle of love is everything and is a good measure of a past life.  It is the gift of greatest worth.”

At this time when we are too often reminded that life is short, look for a way to share your gifts, and have a good week.

More to come…