The Deep Rhythms of Life

If you are a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

I try and remember that old adage when I consider things I read or hear.  Given my career, training and perspective, I often see historical overtones, even—perhaps—when they don’t exist.  So with that grain of salt, I’ll note that over the course of a recent weekend, I took part in three conversations that all struck me as narratives somehow important and related.

The first was not really a conversation. But it felt as if I was on the listening end of one as I went on a Friday night to hear Lucinda Williams and the Drive By Truckers in concert.  Both were great, but it was the music and between-songs patter of Lucinda Williams—her stories, if you will—that made me think about the way in which we can break out of our pasts and stand out from what is expected. Williams has been writing and performing emotionally devastating lyrics for four decades. But she also takes courageous stands against racism, sexism, and hate in the context of a history (Southern) and a musical genre (country) where such political points-of-view can get you ostracized. The next afternoon, I was at Politics & Prose, our local independent bookstore, to hear Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr.  Pitts is a powerful writer who regularly calls on history—and our willful ignorance of much of that history—in both his novels and his weekly columns for the Miami Herald.  He did so recently when noting that a willful ignorance of black history is directly responsible for some of the recent headlines coming out of Virginia.  I had a conversation with Pitts after his talk, and we discussed the challenges and benefits of writing for different genres while still rooting his work in history and story. Understanding history, deeply and fully, is critical to Pitts for an understanding of life today.

It was the conversation held between these two encounters that I found most intriguing. I was in a Takoma Park coffee shop for our regular Saturday morning family coffee/catch-up.  We sat at the common table and soon a young woman in her early 30s sat across from us.  In the course of conversation we learned that Brittany was a Unitarian Universalist chaplain for Hospice.  In response, I told her what hospice had meant to our family when my mother passed away, in her own home, after a two-year battle with cancer.  Sitting at that common table, we had a long conversation that ranged across millennials’ spiritual practices, living in community, and the changes over time in how society treats sickness and death.

When describing her past, Brittany mentioned that her family’s home in Rockford, Illinois, had been a type of hospice, as both her great-grandmothers, her grandmother, and her great aunt all died there.  Brittany fully expected to follow the same course, but another aunt sold the house and it went out of the family’s hands.  That aunt remained active as a local hospice volunteer, and was surprised one day when a 16-year-old came to her office. This teenager was the youngest volunteer, by far, in the local hospice chapter.  When asked what led her to step forward, the young girl said she had always felt a special calling to this work.  As the girl’s mother was paying for a training course, Brittany’s aunt happened to look at the address on the check.

It was their old family home.

When Brittany told this story, I immediately said, “place matters.”  I fully believe that in this particular case, the love and care that permeated the home—the fullness of life—carried forward to a new family and new generations. Writing in Two-Part Invention, author Madeleine L’Engle speaks of such an attachment to place when she says, “I get to Crosswicks (her country home) whenever I can, to relax in the deep rhythm of the house, filled with the living of over two centuries.  That richness of experience permeates the rooms, life lived to the utmost, birth and death, joy and grief, laughter and tears.” And even when death arrives, none of the fullness of life is lost.  It simply becomes part of the rhythm of the house.  Emotions flow through places, and saving those places is a little understood key to our emotional health as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.

Northern Ireland Farm

The Rhythm of Life (credit: Claire Brown)

A Southern country singer with a history and a strong literary bent* that leads her to call out our transgressions as a nation. An  African American writer who calls on history to remind us that in troubled times—as theologian and rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel notes—“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”  And a young hospice chaplain who calls on a personal story of the power of place and people to heal even in the face of death.  All three are saying, in different ways, that places from our past—and the stories they tell—matter.

Have a good week.

More to come…


*Lucinda Williams’ father, Miller Williams, was an American poet who passed away in 2015.  One of his poems was read at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.  Throughout that Friday evening concert there was a conversation ongoing about the connection between history, what we’ve been given, and how we chose to take that past and live our lives today.  Storytelling is clearly in her genes.  You have to love a performer who, playing before a huge crowd of millennials (and the occasional out-of-pocket fan like me), takes the time in an introduction to a song to riff at length on Flannery O’Connor and give a shout out for Wise Blood—O’Connor’s first novel which was turned into an eccentric and acclaimed (yet seldom seen) film by John Huston.  Enjoy this video of Lucinda’s classic Drunken Angel.

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…


Flying Fish, Hipster Neighborhoods, and Wonderful Friends – We Must Be in Seattle

Buskers at the Pike Market in SeattleAfter the long and draining drive on Sunday in our Not All Who Wander Are Lost tour, we spent Monday resting, meeting up with friends, and simply enjoying Seattle.

I always love my trips to this Northwest city, but none more so than this visit when I was able to share some special places with Claire, who was seeing it for the first time.  On recent business trips I have discovered a new favorite hotel in Seattle – the Paramount – and so we woke up Monday morning smack in the middle of Seattle’s downtown.

But we didn’t wake up too soon.  We needed the morning to catch up on sleep and exercise and to finish up the previous day’s blog post, so we had a leisurely morning. And – as you can see – my late nights have caught up with me and these posts are now coming out the following morning.  (I know that a few folks are reading, because at least one family member called Candice to make sure we were okay after not seeing a post early yesterday morning.  Sorry for the scare!)

Yelp came through for us again, as we began walking the streets in search for a breakfast venue.

Seattle Waffles

Sweet Iron was a great start to our day, but it wasn’t the last time we encountered tasty Washington State peaches.

Suitably fortified, we spent a couple of hours looking at fountains, stores, and buildings downtown. I recommended we run through a fountain that – in design – was supposed to have a dry passageway between the walls of water.  In execution…well, we experienced some dampness.  Luckily, Monday was the day Seattle topped its high temperature for the year – at 96 degrees – so we dried out before we hit the original, downtown Nordstroms and a few other stores.

As lunchtime grew near, we checked out of the Paramount and headed up to the Pike/Pine neighborhood of Seattle.  Not for Tourists describes the area as

…the epicenter of Seattle hipster culture, where twenty-something bohemians waste their youth in assorted tattoo parlors, carefully-designed dive bars, and vintage clothing stores.

Now, while somewhat true, that seems a little harsh. In fact, the National Trust has an office in Pike/Pine and there are wonderful restaurants and stores, beyond the dive bars and places for vintage clothing.

Seattle's Plum Bistro

Claire met up with her college friend Gailyn at Plum Bistro in Pike/Pine…which I chose because it is conveniently located above the offices of the Preservation Green Lab, so I could have lunch with my Seattle colleagues at the same restaurant. The food and company (at both ends of the room) were terrific. Then we wandered over to one of the great independent bookstores in the country – Elliott Bay Books – for some shopping.  As I was checking out, the man behind the counter – finding out I was from the DC area – asked what was my bookstore.  I replied, “Why, Politics and Prose, of course.” He quickly agreed, and said that they had a friendly competition over which store had more – and the more interesting – events.  I love independent bookstores…and later today Claire will get introduced to one of the granddaddy’s of the genre: Powell’s City of Books in Portland. We skipped Stumptown in Pike/Pine (my favorite coffee shop)…but maybe we’ll catch that today in Portland as well.

We were in a bit of a rush.  I wanted to show Claire “The center of the known universe” – aka Fremont. For those who know DC, think Takoma Park with more restaurants and dreadlocks.

Seattle Fish Market

Then we had to take in Pike Place Market before heading south. Claire captured a flying fish on camera at the Pike Place Fish Company (a bit hard to do, as there are many more of us tourists trying to take pictures than there are people actually buying fish that the guys can toss back and forth between the counter and the folks working the floor). Nearby, The Slick Skillet Serenaders were busking to an appreciative crowd (photo at the top of the post), and the shops were brimming with people, flowers, and so much more.

Flowers at Seattle's Pike Place Market

We stopped by to look into the original Starbucks (where we saw our second Nats hat of the trip) and then we bid good-bye to Seattle and headed out for the short drive to Gig Harbor, Washington, where we spent the night with our good friends Shari and Bruce Shull.

Shari Shull playing their home organ

We got to know the Shulls in Staunton, where I sang with Shari in an early-music ensemble called Canticum Novum and Bruce was an organ builder with our friends at Taylor and Boody Organs. Nine years ago, Bruce and Shari moved west where Bruce joined the organbuilders at Paul Fritts and Company. I have written about my love of tracker organs in the past, so as soon as I saw this sweet little organ in their living room, I asked Shari to play some really old-time music for us – which she did with great skill, given that she is a professional organist.

Gig Harbor photo by Bruce Shull

Bruce and Shari Shull with Claire and DJB

After catching up on family, business, quilt making, planes (Bruce is also a pilot), and the like, the four of us headed down to Gig Harbor (shown above in the photo by Bruce), where we enjoyed a delightful seafood dinner at Anthony’s…and, yes, we did split a sinful peach and ice-cream dessert. It was a wonderful evening.

Today…we’re off to Portland, Oregon which is another of my favorite cities (do you see a theme here?). In fact, Claire mentioned last evening at dinner that she was using this trip to check out places where she might live after college!  Be still my heart – a real chance to come to the Pacific Northwest on a regular basis?  I can just hear Candice sigh all the way across the country.

Oh well, I have a couple of tunes for yesterday.  First, the Old Crow Medicine Show is one of the few bands on both Claire’s playlist and mine, so when Wagon Wheel came up on our drive south yesterday, I told Claire I was going to add that video in honor of the buskers at Pike Place Market.  But then, after hearing Shari play the organ, I decided it was time for a second video, this time of Leon Berben playing on a historic Arp Schnitger organ…which happens to be a favorite organ builder of the Shull family. (I can’t tell how I know this secret!)

Enjoy them both.

More to come…


From the Bookshelf

Lawrence in ArabiaDespite a busy fall schedule of work and travel, I’ve managed to finish several books that have sat on my bookshelf for various periods of time. Some are hot off the press, others have been waiting for me to pick them  up for more months than I care to admit. All were worth reading, and two were terrific finds.  So here are a few thoughts on a season’s worth of reading – beginning with the one I finished earlier this week, and working backwards from there.

Lawrence in Arabia:  War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. This new work on the Middle East of World War I falls in the “terrific finds” category. Obviously much has been written about the exploits of T.E. Lawrence – the famous “Lawrence of Arabia.” In this book, however, the veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson weaves in Lawrence’s story with those of three spies from the era (German Curt Prüfer, American – and Standard Oil employee – William Yale, and Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn) to create a complex yet highly readable account of the miscalculations, deceit, and – most of all – hubris that led to decisions by the Allies that haunt the region today. Anderson knows war and doesn’t sugarcoat the awful impact on everyone involved.  He also calls a spade a spade when it comes to the reasons for WWI (petty arguments among Europe’s ruling classes – who were often kin), the imperial designs of all the major participants, and Woodrow Wilson’s naive approach to dealing with the Allies and the complex history of the Middle East (“…the American president’s almost comic fondness for tidy enumerated lists…”).  One especially illustrative comment comes near the end of the book, when Anderson is discussing a top-secret report sent to U.S. military intelligence from Middle East attaché William Yale.  Anderson writes, “With that dispatch he was establishing a tradition of fundamentally misreading the situation in the Middle East that his successors in the American military intelligence community would rigorously maintain for the next ninety-five years.”

Lawrence in Arabia is informative, thoughtful, illuminating, and a real page turner.  Not a bad combination.

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan.  I’ll admit that I bought this book simply because I think Timothy Egan is one of the smartest voices writing today in the New York Times.  I enjoy the fact that he is not part of the Boston-to-New York-to-Washington chattering class and provides that paper with its only regular western voice.  But I’ve also found several of his other books – especially The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl  and The Big Burn:  Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America – to be wonderful reads about topics that are not often explored in modern American writing. So even though this 2012 book about a Northwest photographer’s obsession with Native Americans wasn’t what I was looking for when I found it at our independent bookstore Politics and Prose, I bought it solely on my admiration for Egan’s work.

The story of Edward Curtis’ rise from poverty to the top of Seattle society, to – at great personal sacrifice – the nation’s chronicler of a fast vanishing Native American life, is fascinating in Egan’s expert hands. Take a few minutes to look at the iconic photographs of Native Americans from the turn of the 20th century, and you’ll instantly recognize the at once proud and haunting images that are well-known – even if the photographer is not. But as Egan shows, Edward Curtis was so much more than the “Annie Leibovitz of his time.” At age 32 he gave up his lucrative career to capture the old ways of the Native Americans in photographs, audio recordings, and film (making the first narrative documentary film.) This short biography tells it all – the heights found through the backing of Teddy Roosevelt and J. P. Morgan, the amazing feats of mountaineering and travel to locate the tribes in their native lands, the never-ending fight with the “experts” who disparaged his work for many years, and the perpetual state of being on the edge of bankruptcy.  When the 20th volume in his masterwork was published in 1930, it was virtually ignored.  But now, a century later, Curtis’ reputation is intact and rising.  Timothy Egan’s most recent work helps ensure that this very positive state of affairs continues into the future.

Midnight RisingMidnight Rising:  John Brown and the Raid That Started the Civil War by Tony Horwitz.  John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry set in motion events that reverberate today. Master story-teller Tony Horwitz captures the events and the man behind them in this 2011 book that has been sitting on my side table for over a year. I’m glad I finally found the time to reconnect with this turning point in American history that has few equals.

John Brown was a troubled soul willing to die for his beliefs.  Horwitz paints in the background of Brown’s Calvinist upbringing, his joining the fray in Bleeding Kansas, and his gathering of a small band of idealists to attack the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry from where he hoped to lead a slave uprising.

This is a riveting story, which Horwitz handles with his usual skill. I appreciated the lengthy “Immortal Raiders” epilogue, where the author lays out the multiple effects of the raid, from the 1860 presidential election, to Lincoln’s presidency, to the town of Harpers Ferry itself.

For fans of Confederates in the Attic, I think you’ll enjoy Horwitz’s next entry into the Civil War.

Roosevelt's Second ActRoosevelt’s Second Act:  The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War by Richard Moe. Full disclosure:  I worked with Richard Moe for 16 years at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I have always appreciated Dick’s political knowledge and his style as a writer, so I am not an unbiased reader.

In his most recent book, Moe looks at one of the most consequential presidential races in history, the 1940 election which took place at the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s second term amidst the backdrop of war in Europe and Asia.  There’s much to like here for the lover of politics and history.  The story of the Chicago convention is riveting, especially in comparison to the made-for-TV staged political conventions of today. Roosevelt never made an appearance in Chicago (can you imagine a candidate today not attending his or her own nominating convention?) but he was still pulling strings – and remaining opaque as to his true desires – throughout it all. Then Roosevelt’s involvement in the selection of the Vice Presidential candidate – which was seen as the purview of the delegates – continued the break with tradition that exemplified this entire election.

Dick Moe returned to his love of politics and history in this work, and we’re all the beneficiary.  Recommended.

Thinking,_Fast_and_SlowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  In the late summer/early fall, I began this amazing 2011 book by psychologist Daniel Kahneman.  Thinking, Fast and Slow takes Kahneman’s groundbreaking research over several decades and brings it together in this tour of how our minds work.

There is so much here to absorb that it is impossible to do this book justice in a couple of paragraphs. Kahneman begins by explaining our two systems for thinking – one fast, highly intuitive, and emotional, and the other slower and more logical.  Of course we use the first system for most of our decisions, and Kahneman demonstrates again and again how our unwillingness to push ourselves to the more systematic – but harder – system of thinking drives bad decisions.  As just one example, he shows how when faced with a difficult question, we’ll often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.

Yet another section of the book  explores “our confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.  We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events.  Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.” In example after example and test after test, Kahneman explores this facet of the human condition.

There is so much here to challenge what you think you know.  As the New York Times book review said, ” It is an astonishingly rich book: lucid, profound, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching….”

Just read the book – you’ll thank me for it later.

So what’s next?  Well, I’m on to Witold Rybczynski’s new book How Architecture Works:  A Humanist’s Toolkit.  Yes, I heard him speak at Politics and Prose (support your local independent bookstore!) and have always enjoyed his work.

Keep reading!

More to come…


How College Students Can Lead to a Wonderful Holiday Weekend

Baseball Prospectus at Politics and ProseWhen a colleague asked about our plans for the upcoming holiday weekend, I told her that Andrew and Claire each had friends from college who were in town and would be staying with us.  I assumed our role was “To stay out of the way.”

Thankfully, I was wrong.  Jason, Jordi, Jackie, Kelsey, Claire, and Andrew were delightful guests and hosts, sharing some of their time with us and also giving Candice and me the space to enjoy our weekend with each other.

We began with our “traditional” July 4th celebrations – and all the twins’ friends joined us (rather enthusiastically, I think).  While the Takoma Park July 4th parade didn’t have quite the pizzazz of a presidential year (I miss the “Mutts for Mitt” floats with dog puppets on top of cars and there wasn’t anything to reach the level of last year’s “precision grill team”), we still had a great time laughing at the floats and enjoying the world music you always hear at our little slice of Haight-Ashbury here in DC.  Afterwards, it was off to our neighborhood pool for the July 4th cookout.  It was my first time at the pool this year, but not the last time for the weekend.  We enjoyed catching up with old friends while the kids all hit the water on a very hot and sunny day.

Claire's July 4th in 2013Afterwards, Claire, Andrew, and their friends all took off to watch the fireworks on the mall with other friends from college – Andrew from the waterfront in Georgetown, and Claire from a roof at George Washington University (see photo of her great vantage point). After dropping them off, Candice and I found one of the few restaurants open on July 4th (a Mexican restaurant) and ate dinner…which we immediately wished we had skipped.  The resulting heartburn put us both on the couch for the evening to watch the fireworks at home.

By Friday we’d recovered and generally had a leisurely day of rest, exercise at the gym, and an early dinner with Jordi and Andrew.  Candice had noted that the Bethesda Big Train – one of our local wooden bat league teams – had a home game that night, and we made the decision to head out for a night of small-town baseball.  As I’ve written before, we love the feel of these league games, so we joined a sell-out crowd of 700+ at Shirley Povich Field for a terrific night of baseball and a tight, 3-2 Big Train win over the Rockville Express.  Both teams wiggled out of bases-loaded jams with less than two outs on a night where pitching and defense were a priority.  As we walked back to the car, I opined that this was the best baseball I had seen all season.  (The Nats are still hovering around .500, although they are just starting to get healthy.)

Saturday morning began bright and early, as Andrew had a singing “gig” at Franklin Knolls.  The team rep had asked if he would sing the National Anthem before the swim meet where the graduating seniors would be recognized.  The four of us went (we let our guests sleep in) and we all had a great time catching up with more old friends from swim team days past.  We even set a dinner date for later in the summer with a family we enjoy but don’t get to see that often.

Then last evening was the icing on the cake of a very rich weekend.  Candice had noticed that the stat geeks from Baseball Prospectus were going to be speaking at Politics and Prose on Saturday.  We went early, I had a seat near the front, and I wallowed in 90 minutes of OPS, “bat missing” pitching prospects, and “five tool” players.  As you can see from the picture at the top, these guys aren’t pretty, but they are smart (and Candice would add “opinionated”). As one P&P regular put it, these guys are the Nate Silver of baseball.  And since Silver started as a stat geek in the sports world, the analogy is apt.  Important points from the BP guys:  they haven’t given up on the Nats this year, they don’t think Harp is as good as Mike Trout (and they think that the O’s Manny Machado, who turned 21 yesterday, will soon be added to that list of phenoms), and most of them are picking the Cardinals and Tigers for the World Series.  Candice and I came home and brought out the steamed crabs we’d picked up late in the afternoon for a good old-fashioned Maryland crab feast with Jason and Claire, followed by a trip to Dolci Gelati in Takoma Park to cleanse our palettes.

Today will be for relaxing, catching up, our 5:30 service at St. Albans, and then dinner with Jordi, Andrew, and Claire.  But I was reminded once again of how much I enjoy being with our children when – after dropping Jason off for the bus ride back to NYC – Claire and I enjoyed a Starbucks and the ride home talking about life.  When the subject dipped into the environment, Claire spoke passionately about why corn-fed cattle made no sense from an environmental, animal rights, or health care perspective and she went into all the reasons to feed cows grass – which they can actually digest without the use of chemicals!  I was reminded of the “Grass is Good” sign at our friend Julie’s wonderful Evensong Farm which – when placed next to the bluegrass band featuring Julie’s dad Tom Gray and the late Mike Auldridge, had a terrific double meaning.

Off to a busy four days this week before Candice and I leave on Friday for three days of “Good Grass” at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival near Staunton.

Happy Independence Day holiday everyone!

More to come…


Bluegrass in the Barn 101010 019

Hope Springs Eternal

Bottom of the 33rdWith less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report (11 days to be exact, but who’s counting?), it seemed like a good time to get into baseball shape…with a visit to the bookshelf.

I had picked up Dan Barry’s 2011 book Bottom of the 33rd:  Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game while on a recent trip to Politics and Prose bookstore (home, by the way, of one of the best baseball sections of any bookstore in the Washington area).  I thought it looked like a fun read – a story about the longest game in baseball history. But what I found was much more – a little gem.

The game began at 8 p.m. after a 30 minute delay due to faulty lighting on April 18, 1981 – Holy Saturday – and was extended until 4 a.m. on Easter morning, April 19th, when the game was suspended after 32 innings and 8 hours with a 2-2 tie.  Two months later, on June 23rd, the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox resumed the game at the top of the 33rd. In 18 minutes it was all over, a 3-2 Pawtucket win.

One of my favorite titles is Tom Boswell’s How Life Imitates the World Seriesand Dan Barry’s book is full of the intersections of baseball and life, told against the backdrop of the holiest day of the Christian calendar. There are two future Hall-of-Famers in the lineups – Pawtucket’s Wade Boggs and Rochester’s Cal Ripken, Jr. (known in those days as J.R.). But since this is Triple A minor league baseball, the intriguing stories are about the men who have devoted their lives to baseball and yet – except for the occasional “cup of coffee” stint in the big leagues – won’t make it to the next level.

The game would have never achieved notoriety if the rule book that umpire Daniel Cregg was using wasn’t missing the section on an automatic curfew after 12:50 a.m. – a slip up in the International League offices that year. This book is full of such “you won’t  believe this” stories. Pawtucket pitcher Luis Aponte is permitted to head home after pitching three innings in relief, yet when he arrives his wife won’t let him in the door because she doesn’t believe his story as to why he was out until 3 a.m. Rochester outfielder Dallas Williams went 0 for 13 in the game – a “bad month.” Pawtucket’s Sam Bowen hit a ball so hard that it left the field…but the nasty wind blowing straight in blew it back into play and into the glove of the outfielder.

And because baseball is life, there is the bittersweet and sad to go along with the merely funny. The most touching story focuses on Red Sox first baseman Dave Koza and his new wife Ann, one of only 19 fans to stay to the end of the 8 hour marathon. Koza was a strong but inconsistent power hitter who happened to be in the Boston farm system when the team had an abundance of slugging first basemen. Koza got the winning hit in the longest game, a loopy single over Cal Ripken’s head, but he never made it to “the show.” After leaving baseball he struggled into alcoholism, and his devoted wife finally left with their three children. But in the touching final chapter, entitled “Thirty Years Later,” Koza and his former wife let Barry tell their story of hitting bottom, and then being rescued through the help of AA.  Koza now visits with his wife and her husband and takes his children to Cooperstown, where he mentions to the officials that he played in the longest game and is immediately escorted to the exhibit of the game. Hope and redemption permeate the story from start to finish.

I try to stay to the end of baseball games, but don’t always succeed.  After Bottom of the 33rd I might think again as I rise up to leave before that final out.

More to come…


Exploring the Empty Nester Life

Abe at Big Train Quick test:  What do leisurely strolls through Politics & Prose bookstore, dinner in Adams Morgan, two days in a row working out together at the gym, almost no time spent in the car, naps, no early Saturday morning swim meet, dim sum, and a racing President all have in common?

Answer:  Things we do when Andrew and Claire are out of town.

Friday afternoon we put Andrew and Claire on a plane with a group of teenagers from church and their chaperons for a week-long pilgrimage to Northern Ireland.  (I think my high school church group went to Opryland for our pilgrimage!)  While we’re not eager to see the empty nest years arrive, this was the first extended time when Candice and I were here and the children were elsewhere.  We weren’t sure how we’d react, but we’ve taken to it nicely.

After that stroll through our favorite bookstore (Candice picked up an Alice Waters cookbook while I bought the new Richard Wolffe book Renegade on Obama’s candidacy), we went to a Mexican restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood – Mixtec – that we’d wanted to visit for a couple of years.  We’ve had their food at parties and wanted to try out the full menu.  It was great authentic Mexican food and we’ve added Mixtec to our list of favorites.

With two teenagers we often have evenings to ourselves, but having an entire Saturday without swim meets, teenage taxi, and multiple schedules was the real switch.  After the gym I was able to start whittling down a five-week backlog in my home in-box (who knew there were checks in there to be cashed).  But Candice pulled me away by suggesting we go to Oriental East, a Silver Spring restaurant famous for its dim sum.  You have to get in line early to snag a table when the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday, but the wait was worth it.  We’d been talking for six years about going for dim sum (think small appetizer plates of wonderful Chinese food served from rolling carts passing through a very full restaurant) but never found the time.  We shared a table with a couple (he was a retired Navy Seal turned grape grower and she was Asian and a powerhouse – we suspect they met during the Vietnam War) and their friend (a National Trust member and lover of travel), who helped us navigate the various offerings.  Oriental East’s dim sum is famous (our table partners said you’d have to go to Toronto to get better), and we certainly were impressed.  Add another to the list of favorites!

Finally, after working around the house, I decided that I’d had only two live baseball games this week and needed a third…so we took off for a Bethesda Big Train game, complete with Abe, the Nats racing president (see photo at top).  I wrote about College Wooden Bat baseball earlier this month…I’m sure that’s why Bethesda had a full house last evening!  Unfortunately for the Big Train, my bad luck this week held out and the home team lost again.  Nonetheless, it was a picture perfect night, with the temps in the mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky.

Books, good food, baseball…While we REALLY miss the children, Candice and I have decided that we can survive the Empty Nester Life when it finally arrives in a few more years.

More to come…