Friday, October 14, 2011

Lakeview Farms Pumpkin Patch

Since there was no school on Friday and it's that lovely time of year when pumpkins are big and leaves are turning colors, we decided to go with our friends the Istooks to the Pumpkin Patch. We drove out to North Plains and wend to Lakeview Farms because we love their little train around the field and boat across the lake. Becca wouldn't go near the lake, so she and I rode the train to the patch and back.

I got this picture of her while waiting for the boat to deliver the rest of our crew.

When the boat arrived we went into the field and picked out the best pumpkins ever. We really liked the warty ones this year. I can't wait to carve them...

After getting our pumpkins picked out, we climbed with them onto the train and rode back. The kids had a blast. It wasn't too cold and it wasn't raining. It was a perfect day for the pumpkin patch!

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Prague July 16

We started this day with more random driving through the streets of Prague in an effort to find the Dvorak Museum. It seems several of the main roads were closed for construction, so we ended up driving more than we would otherwise have had to do. We found this bilboard explaining how things work, in case anyone was wondering.

The Dvorak Museum was a nice looking 2-story building. Kip and I headed up the stairs skipping the shop on the main floor. Up there we found the most amusing museum activity ever. They had white sheets of paper with Dvorak's head photocopied onto them and a set of colored pencils for us to make our own Dvorak-headed drawings. There were several hung around the room. We all especially liked Dvorak with a 6-pack in a speedo. Jae (clarinet-tootelary) made her own version of that one.
We next visited another Mozart Museum, I think it was the home of one of his girlfriends. It was a beautiful building, but not a very extensive museum.
We were then given some time to wander downtown. We ate lunch at another cafe, then wandered the streets with Kara and her daughter looking for souvenirs. I found some scarves I really liked.
Eventually we went into a chocolate/candy shop. I bought some hard candies I recognized from my youth. They're hard candies, circular, with bright colors outside and pictures inside, sometimes even words. They are incredibly strong flavored (we just finished them tonight). The picture shows the guys making them at the candy shop. They start out wide and fat, like saltwater taffy in consistency. Then the guys roll them thinner and thinner and finally cut them into rounds and I guess they let them dry then. I wish I'd bought more. The candy shop also sold chocolate, so we bought some. Unfortunately, the bassoonist's daughter bought and ate some too. She was hit with a violent allergic reaction. (Who knew there were nuts in hers? They don't lable things as well there as we do here.) She ended up in the hospital.
We went from there to Dvorak Hall for our dress rehearsal.
It is a beautiful place. I was thrilled to get to perform there. But as a real, professional performance hall, the rules for using it are more strict than they would be at a local cathedral or church building. Our rehearsal time was fixed. We could not go over. For our concert that night we were performing with a vocalist. He is an opera singer originally from Portland who lives now in Prague. Our rehearsal was spent entirely on rehearsing his pieces, which made sense because we hadn't played them at all before. But I was a little sad that we didn't get to run any of our other pieces and get my head out of tourist mode and back into performance mode. At the end of our allotted time, we were kicked off the stage and sent down to the dressing rooms.
We dolled ourselves up in our concert blacks and got ready for the performance, even the percussion section. The Bassoonist (Kara) rushed back from leaving her daughter at the hospital just in time to join us as we got onstage. She left our hostess Julia with her daughter. We were all amazed at her ability to come play under such stressful circumstances. The concert hall was packed as we went onstage. And the whole hall erupted in applause. Just because we walked onstage. This wasn't Kansas anymore, was it?! We walked in in little groups, and each group got more applause. It was kind of nice. They were very enthousiastic with applause after our performances, also. It almost seemed like they would have stayed all night if we'd had enough music to keep playing for them. But at last Liz in the violin section got the hint and walked off after our second encore and the rest of us trailed after. We didn't want to leave such an adoring audience, but the time had come.

Back at the hotel we had a late dinner and then wound down with an impromptu dixie-land-band practice. They were practicing for the concert scheduled the next day, but the hotel staff convinced them to come down to the piano in the lobby, by the bar, to play. We all sat and ate pretzels and drank pop and enjoyed the music.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Prague July 14

We were supposed to be outside loading the bus at 6am, followed by a 6:30 breakfast and then 7am departure for Prague. Kip and I pushed the limits, of course, and showed up to drop our luggage at 6:20. Martin the bus driver wasn't pleased, having already built a puzzle of luggage under the bus and closed up the compartments. Oh well. Someone else came right after us and got the same dirty look.
Off we went to Prague. More sleeping on the bus, of course.
And trying to take pictures of scenery through the bus windows. More joking and goofing off from the back of the bus, also. We had a lot of fun back there.
As we pulled into the city of Prague, we stopped at a corner and two men waiting there jumped onto the bus. It was pretty unusual. It turned out they were our tour guides for Prague. Otto and Charlie. Charlie was hilarious. Otto wasn't bad, just not quite as funny. Charlie would say things like, "the roads we want to drive on are closed so we are going to drive all around until we can find a way to where we want to go." Or, "there are some men marching. I don't know why they are marching but they are marching." He gave us a great description of Czech food, dumplings in particular, and we were all sad when there were no dumplings available at dinner that first night.
After picking up our guides, we headed out of the city to tour a former prison called Terezin.
There had been over a thousand Jews imprisoned there. Hundreds died there, the rest ended up sent to other prison camps. The town near the fortress was used to house thousands more Jews in a sort of limbo state before being shipped to places like Auschwitz.
We toured the fortress prison first. It was sad seeing the way the prisoners were treated. As we got back on the bus I said that I felt like I should hug a Jew. Guy said he felt like being hugged. I was glad we could be there for each other.
Next we went to a building that had been a home for Jewish boys ages 10-15. We watched a movie in super-comfortable seats and most of us fell fast asleep. I woke up coughing about half way through and stayed awake for the rest. It was very sad to see the children, so young and full of life, and to know that they had had everything taken from them, their homes, their belongings, even their families. And that for the majority of them in the film, their lives would be taken from them, too. After the film we walked around the building a little. The wall of the rooms on the main floor were covered with lists of names of the people who had come through there and where they had died. One of our clarinet players found several relatives' names. There were also pictures the kids had drawn there. They looked so much like what my kids would draw, it really got to me. And then I read a poem a boy there had written about how the roses had buds on them and when they bloomed he would already be gone and I just lost it. This isn't what a 10-year-old kid should have as his reality, the knowledge that his life was going to be taken from him. It was a tough tour for me.

When our time was up there I got myself under control and climbed back onto the bus. We weren't as crazy in the back as usual. We probably fell asleep again, though. We found our hotel and got our instructions for the night. Most of the orchestra was going to a PROMS concert at Smetana hall. Most of the back of the bus was skipping it.
Those of us in the deviant group got to relax in our rooms for a bit. Kip checked out the height of the shower. Then, we got to eat dinner at the hotel at 7pm then head over to the metro station to ride the train into the center of the city.
To get to the train, we rode down a super long escalator. It made me dizzy.
When we got downtown, Guy, Mihail, Kip and I split from the main group of Deviants, and headed to the Astronomical Clock which Guy remembered from his previous visit to Prague (I think he's been pretty much everywhere).
We found a cafe on the square near the clock and ordered drinks. The host of the restaurant didn't seem to like us. He stood at the entrance to the outdoor seating and gave us dirty looks periodically. But it wasn't like the restaurant was full. He just didn't seem to like us. Then one of the drinks got spilled all over the table and splashed onto my pants. We asked him for napkins since our server was nowhere to be seen. We motioned to the spilled drink dripping off the table. He grunted and went into the main part of the restaurant. We waited. And waited. He didn't seem to be coming back, so I pulled the cloth off the empty table next to ours and used it to dry my legs and chair, then clean the table. We had a good laugh about that. He never did come back. Eventually our waitress reappeared and we got our check and left.
We wandered from there all around downtown Prague. It was much colder here than it had been in Vienna. A storm had come in that morning and rained on us as we drove north. At this point it was sprinkling and chilly. We tried to find the main bridge that Guy remembered (the Charles Bridge) but overshot it and ended up outside Dvorak hall, where we would perform the following evening. It was a beautiful building. Down the street from there we found a pizza place and slipped in for something warm to drink. We got hot chocolate, and Guy got something fun to spike his with. The chocolate was so thick it was chunky. It was absolutely delicious. And they had wi-fi which was nice. We thought we'd go back after the concert he next night, but ended up not doing it.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Vienna, July 13

We rode the bus to Schonbrunn Palace. The place is huge, modeled after Versailles but, of course, much smaller. Yet still overwhelmingly large. It was a no-picture kind of place, so instead I bought some postcards with pictures of the most famous princess of the Habsburg family, Elizabeth or Sisi. She was lovely and I knew Anna would enjoy pictures of a real-life princess.
The grounds behind the palace are amazing.
After Schonbrunn, we got back on the bus and headed back into the center of Vienna to the musical instrument museum. Also nice, but there was a lack of piccolo representation. And not enough percussion instruments in Kip's opinion.
We opted to skip the afternoon tour of a Beethoven museum and instead went on a hunt for souvenirs, dragging Mihail along again although you'd think he'd have learned by then. We walked all over the city and found nothing like what I had seen in Salzburg and ended up back at the opera house to meet the others. We were a little early and had been unsuccessful in our efforts, so I darted into the opera house gift shop and found a shirt I knew Anna would absolutely love, pink with a sparkly silver ballerina silhouetted on it. Could have saved a lot of walking if I'd just bought it there first...
From there we headed to the Minoritenkirsche, an old cathedral tucked in among a bunch of government buildings in Vienna. Part of the church was walled off with an exhibit of Da Vinci artwork and as we had a rehearsal, I enjoyed an only slightly-obstructed view of a life-size copy of "The Last Supper" commissioned by Napoleon in 1809. It was really amazing. To think it just happened to be there and we just got to sit and stare at it through our rehearsal! The concert that night went very well. But at the end, we had to be shooed off the stage because the bus driver had a time commitment we couldn't break, so off we went with only one encore and the crowd still clapping happily, although later we realized that that's just kind of how they are in Europe. They clap as you come on, they clap until you leave. They don't just get up and go like Americans.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Vienna July 12

We bussed out to Eisenstadt that morning (obligatory bus nap). We got to see the Esterhazy Palace. We took a tour. It was a beautiful place. No flash on the cameras but they did let us take pictures. There was a group rehearsing in the Hydnsaal inside the palace. They had a soprano with them who was amazing. I wished we could have stayed to hear them play.

Here's a detail of the ceiling of the Haydnsaal. We performed there when the other group were done - some of our small groups did anyway. They did great. Kip and I got to watch - and help set up and take down. Unfortunately we couldn't use flash in the room and most of my pictures didn't turn out.

After that tour Kip and I wandered down the pedestrian street outside the palace in search of some quick food - a lot of the orchestra members had gotten expensive sack lunches for the day from the hotel, but that didn't work for me. But we couldn't find anything portable on the street - just cafes to sit and eat in. Poor Mihail was dragged along with us. When we rejoined the rest of the group we were supposed to tour 2 important Haydn places, his church and his home. Guy, Lou and Jae opted to sit in a cafe right near where the bus parked and skip one of the 2 tours and we opted to join them, earning the distinguishing appellation "deviants". Our waiter was an Italian named Alessandro. Guy befriended him quickly. We had a great time sitting and talking and enjoyed a break from walking quietly through historical buildings learning about things from the past.

After our lunch, we joined the orchestra group visiting Haydnshaus.

On the way back to Vienna proper we stopped at a cemetery to visit the grave sites of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss. It was impressive to have so many celebrated musicians buried in one place. Kip and I were impressed with some of the less-famous grave sites and their sometimes-freaky embellishments.

The night the city was hosting a concert in the park with Mahler's 8th shown on a big screen near city hall. A bunch of the crew opted to attend that and ride the train home. Guy, Lou, Jae, Kip and I opted to hang out downtown and ride the train home but not attend the Mahler. We walked through the touristy part of downtown to a cafe on the fringes. There, we talked and enjoyed drinks for an hour or so, then headed to a cafe Guy remembered from his visit to Vienna 5 years ago. It was a block from the Opera House. It had red awnings and a hammered dulcimer player inside. We loved it right away. Guy had apparently had a conversation with the manager during his last visit which had really impressed him. So, Guy tried to find the old manager, but he works mornings now, so we made friends with our waiter. He ended up bringing us strawberry sparkling wine for free, which was nice - especially for Lou and Guy who got to drink Kip's and mine and learned the value of hanging out with Mormons--you get their coffee and alcohol, of course! Eventually, we headed for the train that would return us to the hotel. It was about 10:15 when we got there and tried to figure out the machine. A transit employee walked by and we begged his help. He pointed to the appropriate buttons, we bought our tickets and headed home. Guy was convinced we were headed the wrong way, but Kip was pretty sure about it. We ended up just fine. As we walked to the hotel from the bus, all the entrances to the Pyramid portion to the side of the main hotel were heavily guarded by police with large weapons. I wasn't brave enough to ask what was going on, though I did say hi to one of them.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Salzburg/Vienna July 11

After an early breakfast in the hotel, we rode the bus with our amazing bus-driver Martin to the town of Mondsee which has a beautiful church. That was where the wedding scene from "Sound of Music" was filmed although the actual wedding took place in Salzburg at the convent where Maria had wanted to become a nun. It's the only wedding ever to have been performed there. But Mondsee was more film-worthy and the convent wouldn't let Hollywood in.

Yes, there are 5 dead people in boxes at the front of the church. Our conductor suggested that that was where they put percussionists who messed up during concerts.

Kip and I stopped into a Spar (supermarket) to buy chocolate. We were a little late getting on the bus and got reprimanded. But not as much as a few other orchestra members who had decided to buy the traditional Austrian dress - dirndl (as shown in the picture of our guide at St Florian's above--all the guides wore them). They were about 3 minutes behind me and Kip and our illustrious leaders were a little upset. I kind of wished I'd gotten dresses for the girls, but they were expensive and the kids grow so very fast!

We drove some more and most of us fell asleep - we normally did during bus rides in spite of the tour guides talking or the beautiful countryside trying to keep us awake.

Our next stop was St Florian Monastery. It was a very large place with a lot of beautiful things. It has a central square with ornately decorated balconies surrounding it. They have frescoes painting on their ceilings. In the harsh northern winters they have to be completely sealed off from the weather. They were designed by an Italian who didn't think about snow and freezing temperatures.

Anton Bruckner is buried there under the cathedral so he can listen to the organ for eternity. Unfortunately, all we heard of the world-famous organ that day was the tuning and it wasn't entirely pleasant.

Some of the angels on the walls were a little creepy-looking--perhaps because I've watched too much Dr Who.

St Florian's has an excellent library with lots of impressive old books. To preserve them you can't use flash on your cameras. We learned that that's pretty much the norm in museums, at least on this tour.

From there we headed farther north to Vienna. Our hotel there was called the Hotel Pyramid Austria Trend. It had a multi-story glass pyramid beside the main hotel, offering a meeting area and dining area where we would have our breakfasts. We checked in and rushed up to our rooms with just enough time to change into something a little nicer before heading to dinner with Jutta. She is an excellent vocalist and philanthropist in Vienna and had invited us to her apartment in the heart of the political district for a dinner she prepared herself.

We were warned that she had 4 cats. I took a Benedryl before we left and ended up pretty wiped out, but I didn't have an allergy attack. Our percussion-friend Guy was quite happy with the cats. Jutta (YOU-ta) made a lovely meal for us, including some great GF options. ;)

The view from her apartment was amazing!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Salzburg, July 10, 2011

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel then headed out on a walking tour of Salzburg. It's a beautiful city. We headed through the tunnel through the mountain. On the other side was the old stables for the royal family. They have been turned into a concert hall. The fountain with the horse statue and horse pictures and ramps into either side was the horse bath. I loved it. We saw the concert hall where the VonTrapp family sang before escaping into the mountains in "Sound of Music" and in real life. Although in the movie they climb the mountains on foot. In reality, they rode the train.

We went through a monastery with one of the oldest restaurants ever and looked at their cemetery.

We went up the cable car to the Fortress on the mountain in the middle of the city. The view was great from up there.

Next, we went back down the cable car and through the city to the Mozarthaus. It was where Mozart was born. He only had 4 rooms in the building and most of his brothers and sisters died as children.

We had a few minutes for lunch. Kip and I joined Jo (clarinet), Mihail (flute), Cara (bassoon) and Emily (her daughter) and went to the Mozart Cafe. I had a salad with turkey and a great dressing. With another few minutes to spare, we ran off to find an ATM and bought a bunny backpack for Becca.

We made it back just in time to join the group on the trek back to the bus to ride to Bad Ischl. The countryside around Salzburg was absolutely gorgeous! There were pristine deep blue lakes surrounded by lush green fields and trees. I think Intel should build a site there and transfer Kip. As we drove, Julia told us things about the countryside. One of the little towns we went through was the birthplace of Mozart's mother, so he vacationed there a lot as a child.

Bad Ischl was a cute small town. We found the St Nikolaus church and set up for rehearsal. It was a tough venue because of the echo from the high ceilings and stone walls. But it was a lot of fun. The church was beautiful.

We had another group dinner at a local restaurant. Most people had some sort of meatball and fries. Barbara and I had the GF version - a pork loin and fries. It was OK. We skipped out before dessert - I gave Kip mine.

Before performing our concert we helped in the presentation of mass. We sat in our seats through the ceremony, the pastor standing behind me and Phyllis. Guy and Kip said the pastor stood with his hands outstretched just above Phyllis and my heads like he was blessing us in particular. We have no idea what he was saying - it was in German. They said a few things in English for our benefit, but other than that the only thing we could understand was the "Lord's Prayer". And we all kept falling asleep. My head jerked down once and I was embarrassed enough to keep me awake for a while after that. Then, I resorted to pinching myself to try to keep awake. I wasn't the only one.

I think I look very attentive in this picture. This was from the rehearsal, before we ate dinner and started falling asleep in the service.

The concert went really well. It was a ton of fun to play there and the audience seemed thrilled with us. At the end of the concert the people clapped and clapped. We ended up doing 2 encores. But the second one was a little rocky. We hadn't planned on playing it that night (I think it was American Salute) and a lot of people didn't have it on their stands. The cellos were making it up the whole time. And someone's stand fell apart during the performance. It was pretty funny.

After finishing, we packed up and headed out in a thunderstorm. The lightning was amazing and I got soaked running back and forth between the bus and church in the rain.