Sunday, December 31, 2023

Guilt and Gratitude

Charity can be complicated.

I feel as if it shouldn't be, since even a small good deed adds good to the world, and if I have any philosophy about how to live my life, it's to try to make things at least a bit better for someone each day. I try to lead with compassion along with reason and fairness.

But the world can be cruel. The unfairness and vast disparities run rampant.

A lot of what I know about charity I learned from my grandmother. She was a social worker in an upscale community in Ohio, and her stories were fascinating. Some people's struggles are exposed for all of us to see, and other's can be hidden behind the facade of a fancy house. She ran a food pantry out of her basement, and she'd fill in the gaps from her own cupboards when donations fell short. 

She told me it was common during the annual drive to provide Christmas presents to families in need, that someone would withdraw their donation when they discovered they didn't get to watch the recipient get the gift. My grandmother was unwavering about keeping people's identities confidential because she believed they should be allowed to maintain their dignity, not put on a show to make people with more means feel special. That made a big enough impression on me that most of the giving I do is never something we could get a tax deduction for. It's all pretty much under the radar, helping people as I come across them in an average day. I don't need anyone to see me doing it. Most of the time, no one does.

I struggle with where the line is between living my life the way I want, and providing more to people in need. I saw someone online once describe how the problem with improving the situation for the poor was never going to be solved by people who thought it was more important to give their kids braces than to feed the hungry. I'm not sure what to do with that concept, but it stayed with me. Because I have three kids who all needed braces, and I provided them as part of my desire for my kids to have healthy, decent lives. 

I don't think the average person would argue with that decision, but what if we move the line a little? My kids have more than they need. They don't ask for much. And I know for certain if I'd told them instead of presents this year I was giving that money to someone in need, they would be happy about it. But I still liked surprising them with some gifts. Doesn't mean I also didn't provide something to someone less fortunate, but should it have been more? 

My grandma didn't seem to struggle this way. She liked keeping a nice home and doting on her grandchildren. She helped people and also lived a comfortable life. I wish she were still around to have a conversation on the topic, because it wasn't something I'd thought to ask her about when she was alive. I have a sense she would say that if I gave away everything, I'd have less ability to continue to give over the long haul, than I would if I invested as I need to in my health and business and family to keep all of those things functioning well.

Guilt and gratitude sometimes feel like two sides of the same coin. So much of where I am is luck, but I work hard. I try to remember when I see people in different circumstances that it wasn't just that I made good choices, but I had good choices. I know to appreciate what I have, but wonder how much of it I should be giving away for a greater good.

There are a couple of homeless people in my area that I have tried to give assistance over the years, but it's never enough. How could it be? Their needs are so huge. I've learned a lot recently about what kinds of resources are in our city for the homeless, and where the system falls short. I think about how grumpy and awful I feel when I don't get a good night's sleep in my nice bed and warm house, and then wonder what kind of wreck I'd be if I had to try and sleep on the ground in the cold. A week of that and I imagine it would be hard to climb out of a very sorry state. Then I look at spare, warm spaces I own and wonder how I could do things differently, but it's hard. I'm not really equipped to handle certain problems, especially if there is the possibility of putting my business or children at risk. I think about instances where men I know have been able to offer rides or a place to shower to people in need, and how foolish many would think it was if I as a woman tried to do the same. I try to find other ways to help where I can still be mindful of certain boundaries.

There were other things I was hoping to write tonight, while looking back on one year and looking forward to the next. But this is where my mind is lately, wondering what is selfish and what is earned. I am so grateful to be here in our home with my husband and all three kids and our sweet dog tonight. We did a repeat of our Thanksgiving meal and watched Dr Who. When I'm done with this post we're going to play a board game inspired by a drawing my mom made several years ago, with rules that my oldest worked on all week. We'll drink sparkling grape juice at midnight, and hug, and eventually crawl into beds with clean blankets and special pillows. I'm grateful I got to spend Christmas with my mom who is healing well. I'm grateful for incredibly smart, kind, and funny friends. 

I love my life. It just breaks my heart every day that for so many life is more struggle than joy. I want to make it better, but there's so much to be done I get overwhelmed. And ask myself if I simply lack the courage to do more because maintaining this life I'm lucky enough to have, requires so often looking away.



Thursday, November 30, 2023

Updates, Fall 2023

Does anyone else feel like everything has been in crazy crunch mode this fall? More than usual? Because I am honestly getting a bit overwhelmed and not seeing a lot of relief ahead.

My Aunt Lila went into hospice and died last month. Both my uncles had surgery this month. I played a funeral for the mother of a friend. All of those events have left me to ponder a bit about which relationships we tend to and which we don't and why.

My only Halloween update is that Mona made a costume that she wore while handing out candy at the tattoo shop, and it made one child cry! Apparently several small kids were scared, which made her feel both bad and good at the same time.

And there is only one cake to share this birthday season. Quinn wanted to be surprised, and I wasn't going to be around in time to make her cake, so I came up with a concept, bought all the supplies, then turned it over to Mona. Quinn turned 17 on the 17th, so since it was her golden birthday, we wanted the most golden cake possible. My original concept was to make two cakes in the shape of a one and a seven, and just go crazy with the decorations. Mona had a different idea, and it was amazing to behold, but not wildly edible.

The reason I couldn't make Quinn's cake myself this year was that I was in Baltimore to give a joint presentation at the Violin Society of America convention. I teamed up with my friend Robyn Sullivan and we did a talk called "Interpersonal Mistake Management." It essentially boiled down to the fact that luthiers are famously sort of rude in their shops, so I made suggestions about how we can do better when working with customers, and Robyn addressed how luthiers can do better working with one another in a shared space. I didn't think I'd be able to attend in person because I had a scheduling conflict with a rehearsal and a concert, but Robyn was kind enough to do all the airport pick-up and drop-off driving, as well as put me up in her hotel room down the street from the convention.

The whole thing was so much fun! When I think back to my first couple of VSA conventions, and how intimidating I found all of it and how alone I felt, this was a whole different experience. I got to meet--in person!--many people from my Women In Lutherie group whom I've only interacted with online before. There were people excited to meet me! And I was excited to meet them! My book (My Violin Needs Help!) was for sale in the vendor room at the International Violin table, and I got to sign copies. I bought so many good tools (including a small saw that doomed my carry-on bag to checked status when I got back to the airport), and met people from suppliers I buy from. I got fed lunch both days I was there (one was for the annual Women's Luncheon, and one was a lunch for vendors and speakers). I caught up with old friends and made new ones. Not to mention the fun of playing pick up ensembles in the new instrument room. We had enough violists to do the third Brandenburg Concerto with all three viola parts! What a great time. Plus hanging out in a hotel with Robyn was good, because with her it's always the perfect combination of quiet chill time and talk too much time.

Getting ready for our talk as people start filing in!
On top of it all, our talk went really well. People really enjoyed the whole presentation, and thought the topic was long overdue. We've been invited by Strad magazine to turn it into a pair of articles, so if you read luthier trade magazines, keep an eye out for that!

I left not only feeling like I belonged, but that I could have an impact. I'm confident that if I applied to do another talk in the future that they would welcome it. That's not a place I expected to reach. How cool is that?

The Pumpkin Pavilion was fun as usual. Carving day was cold and rainy, so I didn't contribute as much as usual, but I loved going to the park with Mona.

Work in the store has been insanely busy. So much so that I haven't had any time to work on my own instruments at home. I can't rehair bows until midnight and then hope to carve scrolls, so I need to make time somewhere and get back in my home shop. People are waiting for those instruments! Which is wonderful, but a lot of pressure sometimes when my schedule is packed.

At least one thing is getting accomplished that I don't actually have to do myself. We've been having some landscaping work done. Finally. When we bought our house about 13 years ago, we did make a few weak attempts to occasionally plant flowers here and there, but for the most part, we were lucky to simply keep up with getting the lawn mowed. (And about half the time our next door neighbor went and did chunks of it for us when she was done with hers. Because Julie is the best neighbor ever.) We only have so many resources, and it's made sense to fix things inside the house first, which left the outside sadly neglected. But this was the year to do something!

After replacing the deteriorating deck last summer, we needed to finish the back yard with paving stones and grass to pull it all together into a usable space. This summer we did that, and then decided to extend the paving stones around the rest of the house. We had lots of yard that was always just mud and weeds, and now we have clear paths that are a big improvement. We have a new extended retaining wall that I love! Far better than the blocks that were starting to fall into the driveway and sidewalk. The last bit (that should be done in the next week or so) is to have stairs installed on a bit of hill that everyone insists on walking up. No one who parks in front of the house wants to walk down to the corner to use the steps there, they want to make a straight line to the door, and that slope is usually a muddy mess. Steps! Very excited to have steps. And the landscaper promises to come back in the spring and plant things that I shouldn't have to do much with. So all of that has been nice, because even as I'm behind on everything, every once in a while I glance out the window and see work happening and can feel happy there is progress somewhere.

The music for Festival City Symphony has been challenging lately. The last concert was all Russian composers, and that's a lot of notes. There's also been some tricky things to learn for the mandolin orchestra, but it had to wait until I was done with the Russians, and now I'm buckling down on those parts.

The most jarring thing to happen recently is my mom had a fall. (At what age does it change from someone "fell" to someone "had a fall"? Because I know I am now in the "had a fall" demographic, but did that switch when I turned 50? 40? What a weird milestone.) My mom--on her birthday at the end of October no less--fell down her front steps and broke her heel, busted her glasses, and bruised up her face. Not pretty. But damn my mom is tough. She crawled back into the house and found a phone and called a friend. She had to stay a night in the hospital but is home now. I drove out and spent a few days, and tried to troubleshoot how she could manage on her own without being able to put any weight on the bad foot. Her house is all stairs, but on the second floor she's able to get from a guest room to the bathroom, closet, and her work studio using a walker. I set her up with water and snacks so she wouldn't have to venture to the first floor more than once a day to eat. My brother went out next to stay a week and help. She's doing okay, but it's frustrating for her to not be able to do everything she'd like on her own, and it's frustrating for me to be so far away.

Because of my mom's injury, we decided to take Thanksgiving to her, since she couldn't come to us and we certainly didn't want her to be alone. We bought food, made plans, and then I got Covid. It wasn't terrible. I mostly felt too hot and too cold at the same time one night, and really sniffly and tired. I went on Paxlovid right away and it cleared up my symptoms almost immediately, but I didn't test negative in time to join the group road trip. Aden came down from college and stayed a night in her sister's apartment, and my brother and nephew came over and stayed in the teaching studio, which we figured would keep them all a safe distance from me. Then everyone in my house took a Covid test the day of the drive to Detroit. I was the only one who tested positive, so Ian chose to stay home with me, and everyone else went to visit Mom. What a weird holiday, though, not knowing who was going to be where until the last minute!

It was an odd holiday, but nice. On the kids' end, I think it was good for them to do a road trip with their uncle, and spend time with relatives without us there. Aden got to make a whole Thanksgiving meal (with a little help on the side), and by all reports did a great job! My brother got to check in on Mom, but also got see how my kids interact with one another and was impressed with all of them in new ways. I know my mom loved having her son and grandkids around.

Ian's and my quiet turkey day was a throwback to before we had children, because I think it's the first time we've been alone together in our house for a couple of days in a row in over twenty years. Isn't that crazy? There's been a lot going on for a very long time. But with just Quinn living at home now, we're heading toward empty nester status soon, and it does get you looking at your partner and wondering how that will go. The rhythm of a house with kids is very different from one without. Thankfully, Ian and I had a lovely time. We grocery shopped the day before the holiday (since we'd sent all the food out of state), and that could have been awful, but we had a good time. We only picked out stuff the two of us liked, and did wacky things like buy pie instead of making it. Thanksgiving day was low key and nice and I finally tested negative. Cooking that meal is low stress when you only make it for two. We cooked everything early so we could eat it for lunch, and then again hours later for dinner. We ate off good china in front of the TV and watched a bunch of odd numbered Star Trek movies, which were terrible, and it was a blast. We walked the dog, chatted with the bird, and took a nap in the middle of the day. I loved it.

When everyone returned from Detroit, they were able to stay at the house and hang out for a morning of board games and crepes. Aden even decided to ditch her one Monday class and stay an extra night, so we got to curl up on the couch and watch the season finale to Lower Decks twice and just enjoy having her be part of our home again. 

Quinn has her first college tour coming up this weekend. That's almost too much for me to comprehend, so I will share what I think about that later once I've figured it out myself.

Domino is still cute. We've had her a bit over a year now, but it's hard to remember life without her. I love that dog. She's even a good companion on a long car trip. She traveled with me to the cottage in mid-October when I met my friends there for a girls' weekend before I shut the place down for the winter. And she was with me when I had to unexpectedly go help my mom and was good company there, too.

Domino in Detroit

I have four concerts left to play before the year is up, and I need to start thinking about Christmas, but just thinking about thinking about Christmas makes me tired.

But despite feeling like there has been a bit too much happening this fall, I've recently found myself increasingly appreciative of many mundane things. When I drove Quinn to school the other day, the traffic didn't bother me because I was really enjoying the basic act of operating a car. I love our little Nissan Leaf, and now that we have a car that I'm not scared is going to break down any minute, driving is really enjoyable. Any time after being sick, I'm aware of how amazing it is to breathe easily. I like moving without pain. I never used to bother with scarves, but I have one now that makes all the difference in walking in the cold. I enjoy the way the sunlight slants at this time of year.

And I never tire of beautiful leaves.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Moving On and Up and Out

There's this funny sense many people have that parenting means getting your kids to 18, and then you're essentially done. Sure, there's usually college to get them through, and being available to help get them on their feet out in the world, but otherwise, you know. . . Done.

Not so much though. Legally, I guess if I thought of any of my kids as a burden or a menace, I could wave goodbye when they technically hit adulthood and not look back. But that's insane. There are still things to teach and hugs to give and traumas that wrench at your heart as if their suffering is your own. 

My oldest is 21, and she delayed starting college because of Covid, but she's now a couple of years in and her new life living in dorms has its ups and downs even though she likes her school. Last year she worked at a summer camp over break and wasn't home much, but this year she came home for nearly the whole summer break.

My middle kid is 19, and until recently was living at home since graduating high school a semester early, and she wasn't interested in college. She's spent the last year or so applying for jobs and working on sewing plushies for her Etsy page, but she recently began an apprenticeship at a tattoo parlor that is opening up across the street from our violin store and is excited about having real direction.

My youngest is 16 and in her junior year of high school. Although she's technically the only kid at home we're responsible for, often she's the one that seems to need us the least right now. 

When my oldest left for college a couple of years ago, the room she shared with her sister essentially ceased to be her room. It's not a big room, so the idea of expecting its remaining occupant to be limited to just a small part of it when nobody was on the other side was unrealistic. But that meant when my oldest came home from college in June, the best place for her to stay was in a small guest space on the first floor that we call "the nook."

By the mid-summer, however, the middle kid with the room to herself upstairs, moved into our Airbnb above the violin store. She wants to be more independent, and we still want to support her while she's working on her education (even if it's unconventional), so we figured this would work out well. She'll be living across the street from the tattoo place, and in lieu of rent we're putting her in charge of all the building chores (shoveling, mowing, weeding, cleaning the halls and teaching studio, etc.) and she'll get experience paying her own utility bills and budgeting for food. I'm glad she'll be close for a bit.

With the room at home empty, I offered to paint it and help rearrange it to the needs and tastes of the oldest kid. I know she'll only be there during school breaks, but it made me sad that she has been feeling less a part of our home. We picked out a nice new color for the walls, and I got the whole room finished over a couple of nights. We found a new dresser, rug, and curtains, and moved over a couple of bookcases and a desk from her youngest sister's room. And we hung art! That's always my favorite part of setting up a new room. We even got a print by one of her former teachers framed as an early birthday present. The room looks great, and it feels like her own.

(Here are the girls helping paint their room when we first moved into the new house. I split the room and let them each pick their own color for their half. The new single color is a very pale blue that helps open up the room a lot.)

The youngest kid turned down my offer to paint her room, too, but did need a new light fixture, and agreed to some new furniture. She requested a night stand, and a better system for storing and displaying her things, so we ended up assembling one of those walls of cubby box shelves that looks nice. Those things, along with a new small bookcase that better matches the other furniture and a new rug, have given her room a nice update.

We did a whole musical chairs thing with the beds. When the oldest went to college we threw away her mattress and replaced it with one guests would like better. She didn't like the new mattress, so she kept her bed frame and took the middle kid's mattress, while the youngest kid didn't like anything about her bed, so she got the middle kid's bed frame and the newer guest mattress. 

We also sorted all the stuffed animals. That was more involved than you might imagine, because the oldest kid is deeply sentimental, the middle kid is practical, and the youngest is somewhere in between. The piles of what to keep, what belonged to whom, what to give away, etc. got some people rather teary, to the point where I offered to simply scoop up some things to put in storage for another time. The emotional line between being an adult and a child is as fuzzy as a stuffed bunny sometimes, especially when standing in a space where you've experienced being both.

All the shifting about and moving things around has been interesting and odd. Dropping my oldest off at her dorm for the first time a couple of years ago was hard. I was leaving her somewhere far from me for the first time, and I didn't like it, even though I knew it was good for all of us. We found a new way to live that didn't include her being around. But then she was back for months and we developed a whole routine with her being involved in daily life again, and with her at school once more I've had to get used to her being gone all over. 

By comparison, the middle kid completely moving out with little chance she'll ever live under this roof again, has barely been noticeable. During the summer she was over to continue binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel with me and her sister each night as usual. She sometimes makes her own meals out of our fridge when she visits. So far she's got the best of both worlds, where she can hang out with her family like a kid when it suits her, and then go home to her apartment and do things her own way when she wants to be an adult. I'm jealous. I've always thought it would be ideal to be able to visit with my relatives without the complication of someone needing to be away from home to do it. I would love to go to dinner with my mom at her house, but still sleep in my own bed that night. I'm glad my own kid gets to do that.

With the oldest back at college, and the middle kid in her own space, we're down to one child at home. And she's the quietest, least conspicuous of the three. She's had an uptick in after school activities, so there is some chance to talk as we drive her places. She's still in charge of making dinner for the family from a meal kit a few nights a week, and sometimes she'll use the computer in the dining room, but otherwise we don't see her much. I feel as if the transition in a couple of years to me and my husband being empty nesters won't be as much of a shock as I feared. 

In the meantime, there is always another thing to manage with kids whether they are home or not: Trouble with health insurance and prescriptions, banking questions, arranging rides, coordinating errand schedules, figuring out dental appointments, replacing lost retainers, helping start a car that won't run, etc. Not the most warm and fuzzy bits of parenting, but all ways of being connected even after kids technically become adults. We can still be helpful. We can still be a safe place to land.

The lovely thing is to learn that my kids still want that connection even when they have other choices. My oldest was recently back for a few days because she was homesick, and our neighborhood is really fun at Halloween. She was happy to be in her updated room. She drew out both of her sisters and I was able to spend time with all three kids together. I used to worry that when my middle kid moved out that we'd seldom see her, but she regularly invites me along when she makes a run to the fabric store or Home Depot. This gives me hope that even as we don't see the youngest much at the moment, that we will still warrant visits when she moves on in the future. 

I'm kind of excited to imagine the next stage of our lives where Ian and I can make plans primarily around just each other again, without kids as the primary focus. It will be interesting to use our house in a different way, and figure out what we eat when we're only two people, and travel places without kids. 

But not quite yet. (I'm glad it's not quite yet.)

Saturday, September 30, 2023



I am finally getting around to posting about my trip to Austria with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra back in May!  I shouldn't have waited so long, but I am enjoying reliving this trip again. It was great. And apologies now for lots of details that may not interest anyone but me, and this is long, but there are some pretty pictures here and there. 

Oh, and this post mentions a lot of nuns.

I went on this trip with my mom, like I did to Venice when the orchestra traveled last year. No masks this time, though. We had some in case it seemed necessary, but it never did. Which is good, because trying to sleep with a mask on a long plane flight is not fun.

We flew from Milwaukee to Chicago, where there was a lot of confusing shuffling around and a bus ride at O'Hare before we were on our plane to Vienna. (There was also a tense bit of time in Milwaukee on the tarmac where we waited for a part to be replaced on the plane, and I started to wonder if it would be quicker to drive to Chicago and not miss our connection, but it all worked out.)

Getting on the plane to Austria involved the flight crew telling us our bags had to be checked (so I recently bought a new bag that definitely conforms to European size requirements for future trips, because I really hate checking my bag), but I hold firm on not letting anyone check my instrument. I've repaired too many things that got damaged on flights to ever hand something like my mandola over.

The Austrian plane had the weirdest in-flight safety video yet. I wish I could have shown it to my kids, because they would appreciate the glitchy bits. This guy had a terrifying smile and was flying all alone. The only movie I remember watching was Tar, and didn't like it. (Happy to discuss why, just not in this post.)

Upon arriving in Vienna, we had to figure out a train to Graz. We ran into other MMO people making their own decisions about venturing into the city to eat first, etc., but I'm a nervous traveler when I don't speak the language and am unfamiliar with how things work, so I just really wanted to get us checked in to where we were going to sleep before we did much exploring. We found a train to Graz, on which it was hard to decide between dozing a bit, and simply admiring the view out the window.

Most of the orchestra (including us) was staying in a church space run by nuns, and it was an easy walk straight from the train station with one left turn. (Unless you were using whatever GPS map thing we were using, then there were many many turns that looped around and added several blocks before winding up within sight of where we started. Super fun on little sleep!)

I have to say, I loved my little nun room. My mom and I had single rooms next to each other on the third floor, our own showers, lovely view. There was a sheet/bedding situation that I never figured out, but we had wifi and breakfast included, so it was all good. The weird thing about the building in general was it was simultaneously the quietest and the loudest place I've ever stayed. We seldom ran into anyone on our floor, so there was no one else making any sound. But the ceilings were high and the surfaces hard, so everything echoed like you wouldn't believe. Putting my key in the lock seemed like it might wake all the neighbors. 

The place was in an interesting spot. There was a kindergarten across the street, and a creek/canal that ran behind the churchyard. 

But the grounds were all behind a plain wall that ran right up against the sidewalk, so opening the door to all the greenery was like a hidden surprise, with greenspace and flowers.

Entry door
Behind the entry door!



Evening view from inside the walls

The nuns were all very nice but didn't interact with us much. Our buffet breakfasts consisted of simple pastries, meats, cheeses, fruits, and cereal. There were place markers on the tables based on our room numbers that we routinely ignored so we could all sit together, and I wondered if that annoyed the nuns or if they even noticed.

One of the confusing things to me in the nun hotel was the art on the hallway walls along the stairs. Most if it was pretty scenes of the Austrian countryside, and charming cottages, and flowers, but then there was this, and I never figured out an explanation,

Our first day we just walked and tried to get a sense of where things were. Graz is not big. But then, Austria is not big. I think the population of the entire country is comparable with New York City. It is impressively clean. I only saw maybe three pieces of litter on the whole trip, and they were all in heavily tourist-filled areas of Vienna. Graz had some graffiti which all seemed political in nature, but otherwise was neat as a pin.

Things on our walk: This weird contraption that I think had something to do with water? I was mostly entertained by the fact that it had MKE lettered on the top.

There is an art museum/space/something that we never got into, but was certainly interesting to have squeezed in among much older buildings.

Art building on our first evening in Graz
Back of the art building on a sunny day


Bronze sculpture of crazy art building

In the river (Mur) was a building that had a cafe and a gathering space and some art installations. There was a walkway that connected it to either side of the river, so that was a fun way to cross.




One bridge over the river was covered with love locks.

There is a clock tower you can climb to, but we were content to admire it from below. Lots of beautiful architecture.

The trains are frequent and utterly quiet. It took practice to be aware of the bike paths and train tracks that were all densely integrated with the streets and the sidewalks. The sense of the city was busy but not fast.



Among the things that surprised me in Austria were the cigarette machines, and the amount of smoking in general. For a rather health conscious looking populace, it was a crazy amount of smoking! We saw kids smoking in the park and no one cared. I was also unprepared for how unnerving it felt to have nearly everyone be white. (Last time I was that conscious of such a crowd was at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Detroit in the 80s.)

We couldn't tell if this tree outside of the colorful school was some kind of palm tree, or simply trimmed to look that way.

We saw several buildings with sliding "shutters." I didn't think it was the most attractive thing, but it seemed practical.

That first night we eventually found food. We split a pretty good burger in an outdoor cafe that was near a lot of smokers. The menu looked similar to what you would find in Milwaukee, lots of beer, not a lot of vegetables.

The next morning, a very small group of us decided to rehearse a little outside by the canal under a tree. That was lovely. Although during a brief calamity I lost my pick in the grass, but that forced me to try some different kinds of picks I happened to have along, and discovered one I liked better anyway.

There was some interesting signage that amused me in Graz, including an odd elevator sign where they look like they are sinking (or they are just strangely short), and what I think is a meeting place? Except that I wish I'd gotten the larger context because it was in a weird spot where there was nowhere to stand. The walking dude who looks like he's in a hat and mittens. Lots of signs with matching backs and fronts where on one side things were fine, but forbidden on the other. And the guy who is dragging around a child who looks broken. (Plus he looks like he has a foot going either direction.)

Meeting place? But in an awkward spot.


So much pretty architecture in Graz, along with odd things here and there.

These details floating above the windows were weird.

On that second day we enjoyed gelato! I had the Raffaello I think? It's a kind of fancy white chocolate with coconut we don't have here apparently.

And that night we wound up eating at an Italian restaurant somehow, mostly because we were hungry and tired of walking and it was there. It was good, but not what I was expecting to eat in Austria. It was a nice mother/daughter evening with another mother/daughter pair.

On to some mandolin things! We rehearsed the in a room at the end of the hall on the first floor of the nun house, both on the first night with those of us staying there, and the next day with everyone.

One of the pleasant surprises of this trip was there was rain predicted the whole week, but it really only rained during a couple of times we were scheduled to be indoors anyway. One of those times was during the first full rehearsal and the storm was impressive outside the windows! The downside to so much otherwise pleasant weather was that I packed all wrong.

Our mandola section from Venice was reunited!

The rehearsal later in the church space was interesting. We were performing with the Austrian mandolin orchestra that had invited us, and this was our first opportunity to play with them. The program was them performing a set, then inviting us to the stage to play three pieces they had selected for us to all play together, and then the second half was our set, and ending with their group joining us for the pieces we had selected for everyone to perform.









After the rehearsal, it was late, and we needed to eat. The streets in Graz roll up really early, and I had a feeling by the time we walked home and dropped off my instrument, we wouldn't be able to find anything, and I was very hungry. So we found a restaurant down the street from the church that was still open and decided to simply eat there. And not long after, many other MMO people found the same spot! It was good. Not great. But we were hungry and it was food so it was fine. Good company goes a long way for any meal.



The next evening was our concert!

I packed up my gear, and a group of us walked from the nun hotel to the train stop and to the church.

We were able to run through the pieces with the Austrian group's conductor who wasn't available the day before. Very different from Rene's interpretations when he was conducting everything! That was fascinating for my mom to hear, since like most people it's hard to fathom how much difference different conductors make.

The contrasts made for a well-rounded show. The Austrians played music primarily from the Baroque era, like Vivaldi, and the pieces they had invited us to play with them included music from the movie The Third Man (which is set in Vienna) and a Japanese composition called My Homeland. (Mandolin orchestras have a long history in Japan, since Suzuki brought the idea for them from Italy as an accessible method for teaching classical orchestra music in schools.) After the intermission (where everyone left to purchase wine in the courtyard), we performed a set of American music mostly from the 1930s, and our group pieces were a challenging Mexican suite, and a Brazilian tune. The Austrian audience seemed delighted by all of it.

We were told by the Austrian group that after the concert there were reservations at a restaurant where we could all eat together. Sounded fun! Until we realized that it was the same place we'd eaten the night before, and that we did not actually have reservations, so the staff had to scramble to find room for everyone. I didn't want the same thing I'd gotten the night before, and I really wanted some crunchy vegetables, so I asked if the fried chicken strips on lettuce really came with just lettuce. They said just lettuce, and I asked if it were possible to add more vegetables. They said sure! I'm not sure what all the vegetables were that they tucked under the lettuce, but the best word to describe them was soggy.

We wandered home afterward in a small group through the deserted town, got some good rest, and thgen Mom and I wandered to a different section of Graz to admire more architecture before finally meeting up with everyone at the train station to head to Salzburg.

These crazy chimp/monkey lamps are little hard to see in this window, but they won the weirdness prize for us among all the things we saw for sale in Graz.

And I loved this little bike repair kit just available on a wall for people to use as needed.

Some architecture was better than others, but none of our walks were boring.

The view on the train ride to Salzburg was spectacular. Mountains, and picturesque little towns in valleys, and every yard was perfect and tidy, and the skies were blue with fluffy clouds. I have no pictures that come even close to capturing how lovely this 4 to 5 hour train trip was.

When we arrived in Salzburg we were met by some friends of one of our group who were so helpful and kind to us! They loaded their car with our things to make getting to where we were staying a lighter trip, and even gave my mom a ride so she didn't have to do extra walking.

Bikes. So many bikes!

The bulk of the group was staying in another nun hotel, but Mom and I were a short walk away at a hotel this time. This was my first encounter with an energy saving system of needing your key card in order to turn on lights in the bathroom and parts of the room at large. It took me a long time to figure this out, and I had to pee in the dark before I did.
This was the view from our window (which we could open!).

And this was our fancy "mood clock" setting on the TV in front of the bed. I'm not sure what mood it was supposed to be.

 And this was the floor to almost ceiling art. I'm not clear what mood this was supposed to be either.

This was the somewhat disorienting carpet in the hallways.


After settling in and getting our bearings, we met up with friends for lunch, which was some very good Italian food (my gnocchi was delicious) by a little fountain/water feature that was fun to watch children play in as we ate.

(Tonia took this picture)


Salzburg is beautiful.

In the afternoon, we met at the church hotel (where most people were staying) to hear Rene Izquierdo run through the set he was working on for a concert in Puerto Rico that immediately followed this trip to Austria. He was feeling pressure about the limited amount of time he had to work on that music, and he practiced during every spare moment, including all our train rides. It was quite a treat to get a small, private concert. (Pull up any recording of his you can find on YouTube and you won't be disappointed. Also, unsurprisingly, the performance in Puerto Rico went very well.)


The next morning (after a nice breakfast in the hotel) we rehearsed in the church hotel. The concert in Graz went well, but things can always be better, so we spent a good amount of time reviewing everything Rene thought could use improvement. (Which would be most things.) It was a fun rehearsal, even though the space was somewhat awkward for arranging ourselves because of columns in the middle of the room.

After the rehearsal we had the afternoon to ourselves, so we wandered with friends first to the interesting cemetery space on the church grounds behind the building, and then to the gardens and fountain that most people would recognize from The Sound of Music. (My mom had somehow in 80 years never seen The Sound of Music, so we watched it before we left on our trip. I think she was annoyed that I broke her perfect streak.)


Before we reached the gardens, we did stop for a basic lunch of soup, and we walked in some inefficient circles for a while, but everything was beautiful, and it didn't really matter where we walked.

After heading home to change, we tried to meet up with people who knew how to catch public transit to the concert location. But we were lucky enough to catch a ride in an Uber with a couple of players who decided to go that way, and that worked out very well.

Our concert was in the building that was used for the outside establishing shot of the home in The Sound of Music! The inside is nothing like anything from the film, but it was genuinely amusing to pull up in front of this place that was so recognizable. (This was in good keeping with our nun theme, seeing as the main character in that musical/film was a nun.)

We were a bit concerned about how everyone was supposed to crowd into the small room that was chosen for this performance, but in the end it all worked out somehow. Although the people in the first row of the audience were close enough for me to touch if I had wanted. Again, a very appreciative audience. And I think we played very well.

Our imported audience!

I love this picture so much.
Milwaukee mandolas in front, Austrian mandolas in back!

A successful concert! 

And we were assured this time by the Austrian group that afterward they had reservations at a restaurant back near where we were staying. Great! But then, no, it was a sports bar kind of place that served drinks fairly late, but the kitchen was about done for the night by the time we got there, and our choices were a white sausage, a red sausage, or the potato goulash. Lots of potato goulash all around! And someone gave me a pretzel they weren't going to eat. Not the kind of dining experience I was hoping for, but again, the company was great, so that helped carry the goulash. For most of us, this was the last big goodbye before we headed our separate ways on the journey home.

The next morning, after one more hotel breakfast, it was off to the train station and on to Vienna. We ran into a few people we knew at the train station headed that way as well.

My mom and I did not have reserved seats on the train, so we ended up having to sit apart. I got to spend the ride with this lovely person! She was originally from Sicily, and told me she missed the comforting glow at night of the volcano there, but enjoyed living in Austria and doing administrative work for various theaters. I had expected to nap the whole way to Vienna, but we found too much to talk about to want to rest. (She had a violin with her, so how could I not?)

Vienna is just stunning, and if I had it to plan again, I would have made sure to schedule a few days there with my mom so we could really do things. But as it was, we arrived at our airport hotel at an inconvenient time in the early afternoon where there was a lot of time to use, but not enough to really get anywhere to actually use it. With more time I would have figured out how to get us to the Palace where the museum is, but tickets were timed, and I just didn't feel competent at that point to get us there. I had done all the navigating and decision making, and by Vienna I was feeling burned out, because I'm not good at most of that when it's all in English, but I was not confident about any of it in German, Although, we did take a tram as far as a station where I felt we should get off, which is good, because it was headed off into some kind of suburb.

My rule of thumb when lost is to talk to a person with a dog. People walking dogs tend to know their way around because they have to walk a lot, and there is always an easy entry point of conversation by simply saying how much you like their dog. We found a guy with a cute little dog, told him generally where we wanted to go, and he gave us detailed directions that was convinced I would forget, but no! We did it! And I'm still very proud of us for managing to go into the train station and figure it out.

We wound up on the main drag where there was lots of activity, tourists, and shops. We also grabbed dinner at a Turkish restaurant which was probably our best meal of the trip. (Leaps and bounds above the potato goulash.) 







Only place I've ever been with multiple crystal stores of the same brand.

Crystal display


I like the little love couple crossing

We decided on tickets to the opera as our Vienna activity. We didn't care what, and it turned out what was playing was Dialogues des Carmelites (Dialogues of the Carmelites) by Poulenc. It's an opera about martyred nuns! So this trips was nuns all the way down. 

The opera house is almost too beautiful. And we bought our box seat tickets from some sketchy looking little table outside the theater that we were skeptical about, especially when I didn't have enough cash for two tickets, so he just settled for what I had. Which was fine, because it was not expensive, and I used up the last of my euros.

There were doors leading to the individual boxes, and a little coat area, and then the seats. And we figured out quickly why our seats were so cheap! We were the second row in, from which you couldn't see the stage. Luckily the family in front of us (a mother with two teenage children) said they didn't mind if we stood behind them occasionally to see what was happening. (Which turned out to be not much every time we checked.) And luckier still, they left after the first act and we got to have a real view for the rest of the show. Unfortunately the people in the box to our left were obnoxious. They were actively filming the whole thing and talking as if they were at home. At one point when I was tired of not being able to see around a woman who was leaning out on her elbows, I tapped her, and she at least looked chagrined about having blocked my line of sight. But overall, it was fine! We got to see an opera in Vienna! The singing was beautiful.

I loved the little pads they had available that would translate the libretto for you!

We struggled a little to get back to the hotel by the airport, mostly because it was late enough that the normal places I would ask for help were closed. Luckily there were enough people out and about willing to help guide us the right direction, but I was worried for a bit that my mom and I were going to end up sleeping in the train station if I couldn't figure out the schedule.

It worked out really well to be in a hotel right next to the airport the morning we departed, so I would definitely splurge for that again in the future. The plane ride back over the Atlantic included an open seat between us, which was nice for spreading out ourselves and our stuff.

The last really funny thing was that the tiny little plane we took on the last leg back to Milwaukee had the special first class people separated from us with a teeny curtain just over the tops of the seats! So fancy.

A great trip! I've been so lucky to get to travel with my mom. Fingers crossed she's free for wherever next year's mandolin adventure takes us.