Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…

DJB

Beware the Asides of Summer

Off Speed

Off Speed by Terry McDermott

When I write I often fall in love with my own asides.  (Aside: a remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion.)  I believe that what I want to say is so fascinating that it doesn’t matter if it fits the topic.  Nope, I’m going to interject it simply because I can.

I’ve just read a book that may—if not cure me—get me to think more deeply before heading down some rabbit hole.

Terry McDermott’s Off Speed:  Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception comes close to being a wonderful book. Using the framework of Felix Hernandez’s 2012 perfect game, Seattle Mariners fan McDermott takes the reader through a nine-inning/chapter history of pitching, pitches, and—naturally, given the subject—deception.  Hernandez is one of the best in the game and a terrific subject for this fan’s dive into the deep end of baseball.

McDermott is a life-long lover of baseball, having been reared in the rural Midwest in “Field of Dreams” country.  And that is where the trouble begins.  McDermott finds his upbringing fascinating, and he drops in stories, footnotes, phrases (parenthetical and otherwise), and all matter of stuff that simply distracts from what could have been a terrific little baseball book.

Let’s take those footnotes denoted with an asterisk and placed at the bottom of the page that McDermott overuses throughout the book.  He can’t even get past the second page of the preface without a long footnote about obscure Mariners relief pitcher Bobby Ayala and a call with his daughter.  These footnotes occur so frequently that you feel compelled to read them, yet when you finish, 9 times out of 10 you have the thought “this book could have used a better editor.” And the use of a different pitch for each of the 9 chapters “almost” works…until you get to chapter 5 and the knuckleball—which Felix Hernandez doesn’t throw.  That gives McDermott almost an entire chapter to chase down different stories, some of which are interesting and others of which are trite.

Which is all too bad.  When I read in that same preface that reliever Brandon League “is a pitcher with a great arm, two great pitches, and apparently no brain” I thought I had latched onto a book both interesting and fun.  And for the most part it is.  The story of Hernandez’s perfect game, told inning-by-inning and almost pitch-by-pitch, is fascinating.  McDermott does a good job of describing pitches, and for those who want to know the difference between a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a cutter, this book provides that information in  different ways that are almost all illuminating.

McDermott is a gifted writer, but he let’s his love get in the way of tighter editing.  I’ll still recommend Off Speed, but—with apologies to William Shakespeare—beware the asides of summer.

More to come…

DJB

Opening Day

Teams on Opening Day

Nats and Marlins line up for Opening Day Introductions at Nats Park

Today saw a near-perfect opening day for the Nats and their fans.

Strasburg pitches seven strong innings and gets the win.

Harper homers.  Adam Lind – in his first swing as a Nat – pinch-hits the game-winning two-run homer.

Blake Treinen gets a 3 up, 3 down ninth for his first save as the new closer.

Andrew and I had good seats along the third base line and enjoyed a cloudy but mild spring afternoon.

A beer.  Some brisket. A win.  What could be better?

Old Glory at Opening Day

Old Glory at Opening Day

More to come…

DJB

 

Seeing Opportunity in Every Difficulty

NLDS 2016

Ready for Opening Day

Today is opening day for the Washington Nationals.  If the president really wanted to make America great again, he would declare opening day of the baseball season a national holiday.  It could be a celebration of optimism and new beginnings.

I find that a clear-eyed optimism is an important element for a balanced outlook on life.  While former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson spoke for one approach when he said, “I’m an optimist, but an optimist who carries an umbrella,”  one of his predecessors as prime minister – Winston Churchill – probably did a better job of hitting the nail on the head. Churchill, who governed during some of the darkest days of civilization, said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Circling back to baseball, fans for every team in America are optimistic (clear-eyed and otherwise) on opening day.  They know that in years past teams have gone from “worst to first” in one year (see Atlanta Braves, 1991), so it could happen again.  Heck, even the Cubs won the World Series last year after a drought that may have seemed to their fans like a millennium (but was only a century) in length.  New players blend with familiar favorites – just like old and new buildings in a thriving, vibrant city – as we look expectantly to the future.  The fact that opening day takes place in the spring when the trees and flowers are coming back to life makes the symmetry that much better.

When I was at the Mayors’ Institute on City Design last month, I was struck by how many of the cities represented had minor league baseball stadiums.  A recent survey by the National Trust’s Forum Research Desk found 33 historic ballparks still in use in cities represented by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  All of this led me to think that perhaps the reports of the death of baseball as America’s game have been – to paraphrase Mark Twain – greatly exaggerated.  My favorite minor league park among the ones I saw at the Mayors’ Institute was Modern Woodman Park in Davenport, Iowa.  The city has made the conscious decision not to build a flood wall on the nine miles of the Mississippi River that boarders Davenport and to build in a sustainable, resilient way that respects nature instead of trying to tame it.  Yet the baseball stadium sits within sight of the river.  In the floodplain.  When the river floods (as many as several times per year), temporary walls go around the stadium, a floating walkway is set up to the parking lot on higher ground, and baseball is played on a field surrounded (literally) by the mighty Mississippi.  Who says American ingenuity is dead!

Modern Woodman Park

Modern Woodman Park on game day…during a flood. (photo credit: MiLB.com)

No matter your thoughts about baseball, enjoy this spring and the time of new beginnings.  And let’s look for opportunity in difficulties.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

Annual Super Bowl Rant

NFL Brain Diagram via SportsPickle.com

NFL Brain Diagram via SportsPickle.com

I thought I would just be upfront about it, and title this post accurately.  No alternative facts here, folks – just truth in advertising!

Ever since Super Bowl 48, when I famously (at least in my mind) declared it to be my last, I’ve gone back and explained why it is time to give up on the NFL.  Surprisingly, they still play the thing, and here we are at Super Bowl 51.  (Reason #10 I gave up on the NFL was those stupid Roman numerals.)

So, here we are on Super Bowl Saturday, and I’ll just give you a few more reasons you may want to go to your local theatre and watch Hidden Figures – my early front-runner for Best Picture of the Year.

(And since I gave you ten perfectly good reasons back in 2014, I’ll begin with reason #11.)

11.  It’s the damn Patriots.  Again.  Is there anyone more insufferable in sports than Bill Belichick/Tom Brady? (Wait, I’ll answer that.  Maybe Coach K. But that’s another post. And I know that Belichick and Brady are actually two people, but I’ve grouped them as one because they synch their grating to perfection.)  They push rules up to the line and over, and then act like their sainthood has been challenged when they are caught.  I hate Roger Goodell – he of the $40 million+ salary as a nonprofit executive (seriously) – but even I don’t wish for a Patriots victory so he has to eat crow and give them the trophy the year after Deflategate.

12.  The game is on FOX.  OMG.  You will recall that the last time FOX carried the Super Bowl, fans were subjected to Bill O’Reilly’s Gift for the Ages – otherwise known as the highly disrespectful “interview” of President Obama by the FOX News blowhard and original spinner of alternative facts.  So this year, will we be treated to the coronation of King Donald by Sean Hannity?  Will we learn that the most recent jobs report (the reporting period of which ended prior to Trump’s inauguration) reflects what a tremendous job Donald is doing?  (The Best!) Will we also learn that jobs report reflects the 76th consecutive month of job growth – the longest on record?  (That’s a trick question.  Of course we won’t.)  And once the annual game begins, will Donald finally get his military parade?  (That’s also a trick question, since FOX has been militarizing sports for decades.)

13.  It is all about the concussions.  Troy Aikman, who is providing color commentary for the game on FOX, says he cannot remember a playoff game that he won, due to a concussion that he suffered during the game.  Concussions are serious.  ‘Nuff said.

That’s enough ranting for this year.  And by the way, pitchers and catchers report in 9 days.

Winter bad.  Baseball good.

More to come…

DJB

Clarity

John Schuerholz was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.  (For those who don’t care about baseball, stick with me…this really isn’t about baseball.)  Schuerholz, as general manager (GM) of both the Kansas City Royals and the Atlanta Braves, took both teams to World Series titles.  GMs are the puzzle-masters of baseball, hiring the talent both on and off the field while negotiating with the owner to build a successful franchise.

Schuerholz began his career as a high school grammar, composition, and geography teacher. It was there – according to writer Joe Posnanski – that Schuerholz learned the importance of clarity. “This was the great gift of John Schuerholz, the commanding instinct that helped make him one of the most successful general managers in baseball history. He sought clarity. He demanded clarity.”  Posnanski notes that great teachers seek clarity.  “There is the well-reasoned answer and the chaotic flood of words meant to obscure the fact that the student didn’t do the work.”

Last week I wrote about the wandering mind while today I’m focused on clarity.  Both, I believe, are critical to success.  (As F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”) The wandering mind helps foster creativity. At the National Trust, we use one-page plans as we seek to provide clarity in defining organizational, departmental, and personal success.

Clarity is so important to understanding.  Friedrich Nietzsche once said,

“Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom: the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.”

In looking ahead to 2017, let’s strive for clarity.  Have a good week.

New glasses

Clarity is more than a pair of new glasses, but they help: Andrew and Claire with new perspectives on life, December 2016

More to come…

DJB

Our Year in Photos – 2016

Browns at the Cathedral

Andrew, Candice, Claire and DJB on December 20, 2015 (Photo by John Thorne)

As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I continue my tradition of posting family photographs from the past year on More to Come… We have much for which to be thankful in 2016.

During a year when our country has seen much distrust, hatred, and focus on the worst aspects of our common life, we – like so many of you – are working hard to recognize the many blessings we have shared individually, as a family, and within our communities.  Not everyone in our families and in our group of friends agrees with our outlook on life. But no matter where one stands on the political divide, it is clear that we have a profoundly broken country at the moment. Our family will try and be advocates for a loving, inclusive country that recognizes the gifts of all and the bounty available if we will only embrace the “we” as well as the “me” in our communities.  I know we have to do more.

Last December, I gathered with all my brothers and sisters in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Not only was it a time when the family could come together to grieve the loss of Carol’s husband Raouf, but it was also the last time I would see my father – although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Brown Children - Advent 2015

DJB with his brothers and sisters: Debbie, Steve, Carol, and Joe

 

Daddy and Steve

With my father, Tom Brown, and brother Steve in December 2015

December is also the time when we celebrate Andrew and Claire’s birthdays.  Now that they are adults, it is always fun to enjoy a nice dinner (with wine pairings!) at wonderful restaurants such as the Iron Gate.

23rd birthday celebration

Celebrating 23rd birthdays at Iron Gate Restaurant on December 20, 2015

2016 was the year Andrew’s professional focus shifted towards music.  In January, he sang his first gig as a sub at the Washington National Cathedral, where he once sang treble as a Boy Chorister.

Andrew at the Cathedral

Andrew sings with the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys

With the children grown, Candice is able to travel with me for work on occasion.  In late February I had a speaking engagement in Bedford, New York, and we took the opportunity to spend time at the Marcel Breuer House on the grounds at Kykuit, a National Trust Historic Site.

Candice at the Breuer House

Candice enjoys a morning coffee at the Marcel Breuer House, a National Trust Historic Site

In early March, Andrew was invited to join Lady Gaga and other survivors of sexual assault onstage at the Academy Awards as she performed “Till it Happens to You.”  Among the many people he met on that emotional trip was Vice President Joe Biden.

Andrew with the VP

Andrew with Vice President Joe Biden following the Oscars

The family’s biggest 2016 adventure was my six-week sabbatical at the American Academy in Rome during March and April, and an additional two weeks of sabbatical during August in Maine.  Candice joined me for the entire sabbatical and both Claire and Andrew came for visits of several days while we were in Rome.

Chiaraviglio Apts

My home away from home – the Chiaraviglio Apartments at the American Academy in Rome

Claire’s visit was early in our stay, and we used the occasion to explore Tuscany, as well as some of the very familiar sites in Rome.

CCB and DJB in San Gimignano

Candice and DJB in San Gimignano

 

San Gmignano

Claire and Candice in San Gimignano

 

CCB, CHB, and DJB at the top of Florence

At the top of Florence: proof that we made it!

 

First day in Rome

Claire on her first day in Rome

We were lucky to be able to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary during my time on sabbatical.  The evening brought back many memories.

34th anniversary

Celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary at Ditirambo in Rome

In addition to wonderful food and wine, Rome was full of beautiful architecture and new adventures (for us), such as Holy Week in the Eternal City.

Pantheon ceiling and light

The Pantheon ceiling and light

 

Palm Sunday

The priest leads the Palm Sunday procession at the Basilica di San Pancrazio

Andrew arrived in Italy after Easter, and we took advantage of his visit to travel to Venice.  What an incredible city.

Andrew and the cutaway

Andrew goes bonkers after catching a glimpse of the magnificent cutaway model of the basilica

 

DJB on the loggia

DJB on the loggia of the basilica, overlooking the Piazza San Marco

 

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs in Venice

 

Enjoying lunch with Andrew and Candice in Murano

Enjoying lunch with Andrew and Candice in Murano

All of us made like Italians and drank caffe at every chance we could get.

ABB at Sant Eustachio

Andrew at Sant Eustachio il Caffe

Throughout my visit, I posted pictures and observations from some of the most beautiful places in the city.  The Protestant Cemetery and Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane were among my (many) favorites.

Angel of Grief

Angel of Grief by W.W. Story

 

Dome of San Carlo

Dome of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

We returned to the states in late April, in time for me to welcome musician Ben Folds to the National Trust’s headquarters in Washington.

Ben Folds at NTHP

With Ben Folds at the Washington Offices of the National Trust

In May, we said good-bye to the most wonderful father, father-in-law, grandfather that one could hope for.  Daddy passed away as he was nearing his 91st birthday.  It was a joyous celebration with hundreds of friends and family members.

Tom Brown

Tom Brown

 

Daddy's Funeral

Remembering Tom Brown

2016 was a good year for baseball in the Brown household.  I checked off two more stadiums from my bucket list, including Anaheim Stadium with Claire, and Candice joined me to cheer for the National League Eastern Division Champion Nationals as they closed in on the division title in September.

With Claire at the Big A

With Claire at the Big A

 

CCB and a Half Smoke

Candice with her “Half Smoke All the Way” at Nats Park.

Our summer was filled with celebrations and time with friends.  In June we all descended on Philadelphia for the wedding of Julia Pentz and Barry Katz.  Candice and I also joined friends Oakley and Margaret Pearson at the 2016 Red Wing Music Festival in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

Claire and Andrew ready for the wedding

Claire and Andrew ready for the wedding

 

Sierra Hull at Red Wing 2016

Sierra Hull with Justin Moore at Red Wing 2016

Claire wrapped up her year with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program in Los Angeles, but stayed in Pasadena to work for a second year at Hillsides Educational Center.  Her EUIP experience was fulfilling and life changing.

Claire's EUIP housemates

Claire with her housemates from the Episcopal Urban Intern Program in Los Angeles

August took us to Maine for the second part of my sabbatical, and then to Murfreesboro, where Andrew and I brought back a truck of furniture, books, and other memories from Daddy’s house.

Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

 

Packing with Aunt Debbie

Andrew and Aunt Debbie prepare Daddy’s furniture and keepsakes for the ride to our home

 

Andrew in Bristol

Andrew (and his Beyonce shirt) have a foot in Tennessee and a foot in Virginia on Bristol’s famous State Street

I was lucky to take a second trip to Italy in 2016, this time to Milan and Lake Como with the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO).

Villa del Balbianello view

Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como

 

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

This fall has seen Claire and Andrew stretching their wings.  Claire has been exploring Southern California, and took a hike up Mt. Baldy on the day the Supermoon was at its height.  Andrew was on a plane to Norway that evening, to join a singing ensemble, Trondheim Vokalensemble, for a tour of the country.  We lived their adventures through their photographs!

Claire on Mount Baldy

Claire on Mount Baldy

 

Mount Baldy Super Moon

Claire and friends climb Mount Baldy in California with the Super Moon in the background

 

Trondheim

Trondheim – home base for Andrew’s Norwegian choral tour in November

 

Roros, Norway

Roros, Norway

 

Andrew in Norway

Andrew in Norway

As you can see, it has been a busy and fulfilling year.  During this Thanksgiving season, we give thanks for you, our wonderful friends.

Family in Philadelphia

With Candice, Andrew, and Claire (clockwise from bottom left) in Philadelphia last June.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving holiday with friends and families.

More to come…

DJB