summer 2017 in wisconsin

I just finished a five-week visit back home to Wisconsin, and it may have been the best summer I’ve had… ever? I had more fun than a person should be allowed to have. I didn’t want it to end!
Early in the trip Nick and I spent a weekend in Chicago, where we had burgers at the metal-themed Kuma’s Corner with a cousin of mine and his girlfriend. After that, we stopped by Chicago Music Exchange to drool over all the amazing guitars, and later had cocktails at Reno where another cousin of mine works, to say hi to her. The next day, we brought our nephew to the Shedd Aquarium. He loved the sharks best! And of course we had to have Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza while we were there. I also hung out in Chicago later, the day before I flew back to Singapore, visiting the American Writers Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art, which had an amazing Takashi Murakami exhibit, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.

It’s really, really hard to beat summer in Wisconsin, specifically Madison. I’m honestly not sure there’s anything better. (I realize I’m completely biased!) I don’t think I was bored for even one minute. I went for a hike around Devil’s Lake, something I haven’t done in years, as well as biked around Madison a lot, including the Monona Lake Loop twice. I played my own bass again; I missed it so much!! I spent a bunch of time on State Street and at the UW Memorial Union Terrace, went to the Dane County Farmer’s Markets and Concerts on the Square, and had a great time reconnecting with high school and best childhood friends. Not to mention enjoying all the Wisconsin food I’ve missed terribly—cheese curds, fish fry, dumplings and sauerkraut, ice cream, brats, the beer!! The gloriously cheap local craft beer. Sigh.

My dad retired the last day of June, and I was so happy to be there for him. His coworkers pulled out all the stops, throwing a big party and making special shirts, “baseball cards” with my dad’s “career stats,” a huge poster with all his signature workplace sayings, and a 10-minute farewell video that had my mother and me in tears. They gifted him a very nice new bike and two sunburst chairs you see at the UW Terrace. It’s just heartwarming to see someone you love so appreciated and loved by others.

Another highlight of my trip was framing and delivering three of my drawings to their new owners, my cousin, nephew, and niece. I’ll write another post about my drawings soon, but it was a pleasure to pick out a spot in my nephew’s bedroom for his transformer drawing, and my niece lit up when she saw the horse drawing, even “petting” it and giving it a kiss on the nose. D’aww. 

My best friend Lee and his husband Thomas came to see me in Madison, and they were a sight for sore eyes! We did all sorts of classic Madison stuff, including checking out the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, having a boot at the Essen Haus, and making a little trip down to the New Glarus Brewery, which is something I’ve wanted to do forever!

Two of the best weekends I had back home were in Green Bay and Antigo, for my family reunions. In Green Bay, I went to the Packers Hall of Fame and took the Lambeau Field tour, which I had done before but the HoF was all updated and redone—it’s incredible. I could do a whole post alone on Lambeau Field. Also in Green Bay, I visited the farm one of my cousins manages, and of course went to my mom’s side’s family reunion. I talked to extended family I hadn’t met and/or seen in a long time, and some great stories were shared. I hadn’t been to this side’s reunion in several years (I always had a gig in Kansas City the same weekend) so it was wonderful to finally make it this time.

My dad’s side’s family reunion is held at my grandparents’ farm just north of Antigo, which is a small city in the north-central part of the state. My dad’s immediate family (my dad and mom, his siblings and their spouses, my cousin and her son, and me) went to the farm a couple days early to enjoy some “us together” time and prep for the reunion. We biked around the country roads, went berry picking, had a fish fry, went swimming at Jack Lake, and of course held our reunion. This year’s theme was Disco (for the adults) and Toy Story (for the kids). I wore my new “Disco Demolition Night” shirt and played two songs on guitar for the skit show, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and my own original “Back to Antigo,” which I sing every year now. People go all out with costumes, we crown a new “Potato Queen,” and sometimes roast a family member. We always finish up the festivities with a softball game, bonfire, and fireworks.

I really needed to see my family and feel like I’m at home where I belong after all these months abroad. I just felt awake and alive, and I got a vital dose of love and attention that I’d been craving. Singapore is nice and I’m happy for the adventure, but it can be a little lonely for me here sometimes; I’m not used to being apart from family for so long. And besides, there’s no place else on Earth quite like Wisconsin. I already can’t wait to return.

virtual advent tour: holiday concerts

Virtual Advent TourWelcome to Day 19 of the 2013 Virtual Advent Tour! I’m pleased to be a part of the tour this year. Special thank you to hosts Kelly and Marg for including me (visit their blog for all the posts, and my fellow Day 19 poster Heather @ Capricious Reader today).

For my advent post, I’d like to talk about holiday concerts. Confession: I’m not too much of a “Christmas person.” My favorite holidays are by far St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Super Bowl Sunday (what? 🙂 ). But one aspect of the holiday season I do have a lot of fun with is participating in holiday concerts around the Kansas City metro.

For the past seven or eight years I have been a member of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra (currently as principal bassist), and we always have a holiday concert titled Sounds of the Season. This one has grown and grown every year, so much that now it’s a two-concert series (Friday and Saturday). We typically play a wide variety of holiday favorites:

  • Leontovych: Carol of the Bells
  • Traditional: The First Noel
  • Anderson: A Christmas Festival
  • Anderson: Sleigh Ride
  • Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a
  • Holcombe: Festive Sounds of Hanukkah
  • Reed: Russian Christmas Music

I always liked Russian Christmas Music because it has a great bass part, and I appreciate our music director’s acknowledgement of other religious holidays as well (Festive Sounds of Hanukkah). This year, we only played Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite—trading off movements with our guest the Washburn University Jazz Band playing Duke Ellington’s arrangement of Nutcracker. It was really great to experience two strikingly different versions and the crowd loved it!

Kansas City Civic Orchestra

(That’s me—the bassist in front, wearing yellow.)

I’m also in two more local orchestras, Heritage Philharmonic and Kinnor Philharmonic. Heritage’s holiday concerts usually include a children’s choir, and we’ve also played familiar classics (Silent NightO Come All Ye Faithful, etc.), even ranging into medleys of holiday movie music (Home Alone theme, A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.).

Kinnor Philharmonic is the premier Kansas City Jewish orchestra, now in its third year. Kinnor has an annual New Year’s Day concert to start of the year with inspiring, hopeful music. This time around we’re playing Strauss waltzes and marches (The Blue Danube, Kaiser Waltz, Egyptian March), Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Weber’s Oberon Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, and the Allegretto (last movement) of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (which you’d recognize from Disney’s Fantasia film).

Outside of these orchestras, I’ve taken gigs playing bass for various churches around the holidays, most recently for Handel’s Messiah (on my birthday, December 8!) and I’ve played Fauré’s Requiem around this time of year in the past, too.

In addition to playing concerts myself, I also end up reviewing holiday performing arts offerings in the Kansas City area for my online arts journal, Here are a few favorites over the years:

I have found so many great, fresh twists on holiday standards every year attending local arts organizations’ holiday events, and I urge you to do the same in your town!

Happy holidays and a merry musical new year! 🙂

bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts

I have been enjoying Rory at Fourth Street Review‘s bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts lists for a while now (credit to Christine at Bookishly Boisterous for originating it). Since I’m coming up on several days with nothing to post and even less time for blogging, I thought I’d jump in with a bookish/not-so-bookish post of my own. Basically, it’s just a list of what’s on your mind lately, what you’ve encountered this week, random plans, or whatever you want to mention!

1. OF COURSE when I have a big concert weekend and my parents are coming in and I need new tires on the car, naturally Kansas City gets a winter storm and I have to drive through it a bunch. Of course! I love winter weather but for real, errgh.

2. Okay this is SO college-studenty of me, but one of the reasons I love it when my folks come to visit is so we can try new (to us) restaurants, like this weekend we might check out the Farmhouse in City Market. Or whatever we want!

3. Speaking of my folks’ visit, they are taking the train and when I went to check the status on its departure (because of the weather here), I discovered Chicago Union Station’s magic piano—it “responds” musically to what’s happening around it. So awesome!

4. I recently (finally) got some new CDs: John Legend‘s Love in the Future, Daughter‘s If You Leave, and Mandolin Orange‘s This Side of Jordan. They’re very different and I love them all! I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a new CD.

5. I cannot wait until our trip up to Wisconsin for Christmas. Counting down the nights (8 more). We’re going to see my mom’s family and go to a Packer game, hang out in Madison, and it’s going to be amazing and much needed time off. (Did I mention I can’t wait?)

6. I’m on a brownie kick lately. Made smitten kitchen’s favorite brownies twice, and I think I might make them again for a party on Sunday and for my coworkers next week before the holiday, too.

7. I almost bought a book today… saw one I’ve had on my radar for a while now on sale at the school bookstore for $7. Very tempted, but proud of myself for resisting. I have way too many on my TBR right now! One day…

8. I haven’t really gone out to do any holiday gift shopping yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot (and looking online) for ideas for the new kids in my life—20-month-old nephew and friends’ new babies. It’s so much fun buying for the little kids! Grown-ups are tough, including me 😉

9. Not sure I’ll accomplish my reading goal this month now… I feel like time is going so fast and I know I won’t get much reading done this weekend or while we’re up in Wisconsin. Oh well, I am probably (likely) being too hard on myself.

10. I’m looking forward to seeing jazz pianist/author/fellow Madisonian Ben Sidran speak on Sunday in Kansas City at the JCCKC’s White Theatre. (Confession: I’ve had his 2003 memoir for years and still haven’t read it!)

first friday look forward: september

Hey there, dear readers! Well, I waited all day yesterday for the Booking Through Thursday prompt, but didn’t see a new one. So I was thinking about what I could possibly post instead… but I haven’t finished a book lately and no new concert reviews at Hmm. What to do?

So I figured today I will talk about a few things I’m looking forward to in September. In no particular order:

1. Rehearsing with Kansas City Civic Orchestra
We just started rehearsing again a couple of weeks ago after summer break, and this year we have SEVEN BASSES. Seven. I can’t believe it! We are lucky to get four, usually. This is truly unprecedented for a community orchestra around here! Our first concert on October 12 we are playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which I haven’t played before. It’s a workout, for sure! (That’s me, principal of the section: front right)

2. Concert season has started!
[Check out all the performing arts happening for the fall at, including my previews for large ensembles and jazz and world music. I wish I could go to everything!] After a long semi-boring summer, I’m really excited concert season has started up again and I can get out to some shows. The last couple of nights I’ve attended Charlotte Street Foundation events, since my husband got a 2013–14 studio residency from CSF. On Wednesday CSF had an event to introduce all the residents, and last night at Paragraph Gallery was the opening night of one of the resident’s projects, an eight-week new music festival. For the rest of the month, I have planned seeing the Uptown Mandolin Quartet at the Lawrence Arts Center, newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and Owen/Cox Dance Groups performing Petrouchka, at the very least. I’m also checking out what to see on my…

3. Trip up to Madison, Wisconsin
My mom is hosting a little family gathering later this month and Nick and I will drive up for it. I haven’t seen much of my mom’s side this year—I had to miss the other family events for various other obligations, so I’m glad we have a chance now. AND my best childhood friend just had her first baby a couple weeks ago, a little girl, so I’m excited to meet her little one! Also, it has been a while since Nick and I just hung out in Madison anyway. Usually when we go up we make the rounds all over the state to see my grandmothers and other family. That weekend in Madison it looks like there are some great local artists playing around town too like Paul Cebar, the Cash Box Kings, the Madison Symphony Orchestra season-opening concerts, and also some…

4. Festivals!
I LOVE festivals. Didn’t get to nearly enough of them this summer. In Kansas City this month, though, I plan to hit up Art Westport this weekend and the Plaza Art Fair in a couple weeks, and possibly also McCoy’s Oktoberfest (McCoy’s is one of my favorite restaurant/pubs in KC). The festivals we might have a chance to go to in Madison include the Monroe Street Festival and the New Glarus Oktoberfest (New Glarus Brewing Co. Spotted Cow… <drool>). [ETA I just learned that KC is holding its first-ever Cyclovia Festival tomorrow, right near Art Westport. I think I’ll stop by that one, too!]

5. Reading plans
I feel like I’m short on leisure time for reading a bit lately—just getting back into the rhythm of the school year and concert season amping back up—but I do have some reading plans for September that I hope to accomplish. I would like to finish the two I just started, A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison and Big Brother by Lionel Shriver (audio) in the next week or so, and then I have my KC Library Stranger than Fiction book group September pick, About this Life by Barry Lopez to read before our next meeting on Sept. 25. I also bought Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam, which I should get in the mail soon… of course I have to read The Year of the Flood first. AND I am three books behind on my TBR Pile Challenge and one behind on my Eclectic Reader challenge… starting to think I might not complete them :-/ oh well, it’s all about having fun anyway, right?

So that’s what I’m looking forward to this month. Do you have anything fun and exciting planned for September?

bobby mcferrin

KCMetropolis.orgOn Friday night I was fortunate to see Bobby McFerrin perform on the Harriman-Jewell Series in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center. Known for the mega-hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” McFerrin is actually a musician of many talents and projects beyond pop music. I had no idea he loved bluegrass music so much! It was an unforgettable, enjoyable show. I wish I could have brought everyone I know! Full review at KCMetropolis: Musically and joyfully spirited away

I had two more wonderful weekends in April, too. The weekend after our New York City trip I went up to Chicago and further up north in Wisconsin to celebrate my cousinephew’s first birthday (so much fun!!), and last weekend, after seeing Bobby McFerrin on Friday, I had my final Kansas City Civic Orchestra concert of the season on Saturday. We played “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Grieg, Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 2 (“Mysterious Mountain”), von Suppé’s Poet and Peasant Overture, and Haydn’s Farewell Symphony. Throughout the Haydn, orchestra members are supposed to leave the stage at designated times, when their part is over, so at the end there are just two violinists in duet to conclude the work. Right before my exit, I had a solo that I totally rocked! I was nervous, but it turned out great (I’m not really much of a soloist!). Otherwise, the school year/season is finally winding down, and I’m finally catching up on reading my books (two review posts coming soon!). I love playing in my orchestras and being busy, but I think everyone can agree that a break is in order!

snow day

DSC03104Hello everyone! The last few weeks have been very busy but I’ve been cooped up for
a couple days due to Winter Storm Q.
I expected to get more reading done during the two snows days I got off from work, but ended up napping and shoveling a lot instead. Here at my house in Kansas City
I think there was at least a foot of snow.
I’m a little sore now, but I have a concert
Heritage Philharmonic to get through tonight!

Books Feb 23Anyway, I also got new books this week: The Painted Girls, The End of Your Life Book ClubThe Round House, and The Love Song of Jonny ValentineJonny Valentine I won as a giveaway last month from The Relentless Reader and it just arrived, and the other three I bought for myself. In April my husband and I are moving and the new place won’t have internet, so I expect to get a lot of reading done in the evenings and weekends once we’re over there. Currently I’m back down to a one book per week and I’m hoping to ramp back up my pace soon!