Strike That Chord

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This Friday was Beni’s piano recital and, wow, did it send me back to, well, my entire childhood. The sweating hands, the nervous shake of my legs, and the daunting possibility I would completely forget all of my music, even with it right before my eyes. It’s truly amazing that now I love playing the piano for fun; it’s even a great stress reliever. How ironic.

Beni playing Bach's Musette in D

Beni playing Bach’s Musette in D

Anyway, Beni did a wonderful job as did the other children and teenagers in the studio. I was shocked by how small the group was: maybe ten students in all? My first studio had to be at least 15, but maybe it just seemed big because I was so young (and, yes, small. I was always the smallest). And my second studio had 20 or more students. So, going to Beni’s recital was a little weird.

Also, I remember getting very dressed up for my recitals, my hair always pulled away from my face so everyone could see the profile, and my fingernails free of any polish-a big no-no. This recital was like going to a school concert. Some of the kids actually wore jeans and shirts not tucked in! Not to mention the hair falling in front of their eyes making me wonder how they could even see their own hands while playing. Oh, and the bowing. My childhood: hands at your sides or clasped in front of you, down for three, up for three, smile. This recital: quick drop of the head, long hair falling in front of your face, run to your unassigned seat somewhere in the hall.

In comparison, my piano-playing childhood sounds pretty strict. But in all honesty, I never saw it that way…unless it was one of those times I was begging my mother to quit.

California Rolls in Vienna!

California Rolls in Vienna!

Regardless of the memories that washed over me like a tidal wave, the recital was charming and the teacher seemed to be a great fit for Beni and the rest of the students. He was gracious and encouraging, while also offering the students individual advice at the end, making sure to conclude with something positive. I loved the music and looked forward to searching for some pieces myself once back at home. Unfortunately, my program was used to make a paper airplane in a Japanese restaurant and has not been heard from since.

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Heart bleeding with happiness

And, the recital was held in a piano gallery where I played a Bösendorfer piano for the first time!! eek! What a beautiful, expensive sound it makes. There were also a few Steinways from the 1920’s in the gallery, which made my little nerdy, history-obsessed little heart bleed with happiness. Fun anecdote: Henry Steinway built 482 pianos in Germany before moving to New York and starting his company where his first piano built and sold in America in 1853 was then called “483” in honor of the pianos previously built. It was also sold for $500, which today would be over $15,000. Many pianos, like a Bösendorfer, cost much more today, but that’s still a hefty investment.

Side note: I did the calculation of what $500 in 2014 would equal in 1853; $16.50. Depressing.

Truly, it was a great evening spent with the family. Nici seemed to like it too, especially the two four-hand Latin-American pieces at the end. He was so excited, waiting with his hands held apart to begin clapping, grooving in his seat next to mine to the fun, jazzy beat. Adorable!

All in all, a great family evening, reminding me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be a part of a family here. It definitely makes me miss my own, but helps me to realize how important the familial bond is in my life. Love you, Mom, Papa, Sarah. And thanks for not letting me quit piano so many years ago. It’s now a skill I have grown proud of and grateful for every day. Sometimes, parents do know best 🙂 Leslie Knope

Christmas Markets, Birthdays, St. Nikolaus, and Colds

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It’s been a big week for me here; I am now on my own each day, as it should be, as Teresa has officially gone back to work. This week was also Beni’s birthday (he turned 10!) and St. Nick, not to mention there seemed to be many birthdays in their extended family this week, all being celebrated this weekend. So, it was a great week full of celebration.

Unfortunately, I got a cold and am now writing this from the couch in my room, covered in blankets, Christmas music playing, and a bottle of orange juice next to me. But, it didn’t keep me from celebrating, which is probably why today I don’t want to move from this spot.

To kick off the week of celebration all six of us had a “Family Day” last Saturday, including a Kinderkonzert at the Musikverein, a late lunch at TGI Friday’s (the only one in Vienna), and fun at the Weihnachsmarkt (Christmas Market) at Karlsplatz-a beautiful park area in front of Karlskirche. TGI Friday’s was a huge hit; the kids had so much fun coloring before our lunch, watching soccer on a tv while eating (Crazy!) and eating Hamburgers. I told the family a little about the restaurant back home and somehow got onto the subject of restaurants in my hometown, of which there are basically none. They were shocked when I told them, asking if we at least had a Gasthaus (a typical Austrian family owned restaurant with regional food) and I could only laugh as I shook my head at their confused faces.

Karlskirche in the background of the Christmas Market

Karlskirche in the background of the Christmas Market

After the enlightened lunch, we went to the Christmas Market. Hanging string lights connected each stall, illuminating the hand-made ornaments, soaps, scents, and food in a special Viennese tradition. There was even a central area for kids, which included tents for making candles, traditional Christmas scent pouches, coloring, and so much more. Oh, and like four carousels.  It was like Apple Holler times 10. The kids had a

Beni's making an Advent candle!

Beni’s making an Advent candle!

ton of fun and we were all exhausted at the end of the day.

Then this week came Beni’s birthday-I gave him a Young Sherlock Holmes book, which he will no doubt devour in the next week. We celebrated his birthday with a delicious and fluffy cream cheese raspberry cake and presents, mostly books-he’s my kind of kid :).

On Friday we celebrated St. Nikolaus instead of Saturday, the real holiday, because of the many celebrations the family has this weekend. It was quite an experience for me. My family has always celebrated St. Nick back home. It’s a special holiday for my mom; she loves it and seems to have more fun choosing small gifts and things for St. Nick than at any other time. She always finds a way to make it a really special holiday, especially since not too many people celebrate it in America.

St. Nick has arrived!

St. Nick has arrived!

But St. Nick in Austria is much different from how I have ever celebrated back home. St. Nikolaus actually comes to the house!! He comes with a sack, a staff, and his red book that includes all the information on the children present in the house. The children perform music for St. Nikolaus-we had a wooden flute player and two pianists with Leonie reciting a cute little poem about St. Nick-and then St. Nick reads from his book calling out each child’s name and saying the good things they have done and some bad things they need to work on for next year. Then, one by one he retrieves smaller brown sacks from his bag and hands them to each child and adult in the room. After that, the kids are a little too preoccupied with the candy inside their bags and St. Nick leaves wishing all a happy St. Nikolaus.

Michi plays the flute for St. Nick

Michi plays the flute for St. Nick

Lilli Plays the piano for St. Nick

Lilli Plays the piano for St. Nick

It was an incredible thing to watch. Once again the Austrians caught me off guard with the public discussion of behavior. (that would honestly be my worst nightmare) But the way the family came together, playing music, reading stories, and truly being a part of the holiday, in a sense, was touching. Also, I think they got more candy in their individual bags than most children in America get on Halloween!

Leonie opens her St. Nick sack

Leonie opens her St. Nick sack

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Raphi opens his treat from St. Nick!

 

I, too, received some chocolate pieces in my shoes on Saturday morning from good old St. Nick. That was nice, since being away from family during this time of year is tough. I miss being able to celebrate the holiday with my family and I won’t lie, I miss my mom’s incredible St. Nick stocking. But that’s ok, I’ll be with them soon.

In all, it was a pretty high energy week, especially from all that candy! I am the opposite, sitting here in lounge heaven, my cough continually interrupting my typing. Darn cold.  Where’s that orange juice? Ooo, I wonder if there’s any chocolate left…that helps to coat the throat, right? Yeah, science. Or medicine. Whatever. I think the cold has taken over my brain. Until next time!!

 

Everyone loves their treats from St. Nick!

Everyone loves their treats from St. Nick!

Thanksgiving

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My first Thanksgiving away from home wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be. While it was simply a normal day here in Vienna-the kids went to school, parents to work, me to my daily routine-I still tried to make it a special day.

The kids and I spent the afternoon drawing Christmas trees, Churches, Mary and Joseph; all Christmas all the time until the actual holiday. We listened to American Christmas music, something with which the kids are enthralled, and I drew at least four different Christmas trees. (the kids like their drawings to be just like mine-exactly, so I have to draw mine, then the same on the other sheets of paper) Younger me would be shocked with the fact others want their drawings to look like mine. I was a horrible drawer. If we had actual grades in Montessori school I’m sure I would have failed. Or been recommended for “needs improvement.” I always hated that saying. I find it a passive aggressive way of saying “you suck.”

Anyway, I wanted to share this holiday with my family here in Vienna. Beni, the oldest, has been learning about American culture in his English lessons at school and has such an inquisitive mind. It was fun to answer his questions and tell him all about this holiday in the days leading up to the celebration back home. So, cooking Thanksgiving dinner was the natural way to bring the holiday into an Austrian home.

Before you ask, no. There was no Turkey. I can’t imagine actually cooking a turkey by myself. That would have been a disaster. No, we had a pork roast instead, which I still made myself. (I’m not going to lie, I am pretty impressed with myself) I also made mashed potatoes; green beans with olive oil, salt, and pepper; and an apple pastryThanksgiving Dinner. The last one was a bit improvised as I had no time to make pie crusts from scratch and was desperately looking throughout the grocery store for pre-made crusts. Alas, they were not available, but I used pastry dough instead and experimented.

Nici is really excited to eat!

Nici is really excited to eat!

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It took a while to cook everything and a lot of thought about when to cook what and for how long to have everything on the table hot and ready at once. Also, I took intermittent breaks in order to draw more Christmas-themed objects the kids desperately wanted to color.

Regardless, it was an incredible experience. It truly felt like a holiday for me, even if my family was so far away. The Christmas music playing, the joyful voices of excitement at a particular song or drawing, the sizzling smells from the kitchen (that I made. Ha!), and the beauty and deliciousness of the final product culminated in  a rather festive Thanksgiving in a country foreign to the ideas of what the day celebrates.

It was an evening full of laughter, sharing of cultures, and eating delicious food (everyone’s favorite was the Apple pastry-we all had multiple servings with ice cream-what a hit!). A successful Thanksgiving in my book. This year I am thankful for my family’s wonderful support back home, the chance to explore, and a wonderful second family in my favorite city in the world. Thank you, all, for a wonderful beginning to the holiday season.