mutteringhousewife

What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: November, 2012

Minor creations

I’ve spent most of the morning calculating and paying super for musicians, and that makes me cry with boredom, so I can imagine how you’d feel about it. Instead of going into that I’ll give you two things that I’ve made this week that I’m rather pleased with.

The first was inspired by a key holder I saw on the ThinkGeek website. I really cannot believe I’ve never thought of making household objects out of Lego before. We have about ten kilos of the stuff, although in these decadent days it’s a lot more specific than the primary coloured bricks of my youth. I decided to raid the Horror’s stash because his was less organized than the Moose’s, but I knew I’d get in trouble. To circumvent this I thought I’d tidy it up a little. I tipped out a large boxful, procured three smaller boxes and sorted it into specific (weapons, leaves, mini figs), difficult shapes and general shapes. There was a fair amount of washing and drying going on too, a neglected bag of lollies had met its doom in there quite some time ago.

What I wanted to make was a rack of utensil hooks. I have a large glass splash back surrounding my stovetop and a goodly number of utensils with holes in the handles. I have some suction cup hooks which work well, but are outrageously expensive. I bought some of those stick on hooks which are also fairly expensive for what they are, which is completely useless. Apparently their formulation is such that if you ever want to remove them in the distant future they will come off leaving no sticky residue. Sadly, they just don’t stick on in the first place. Too politically correct. At least you can get robust double sided tape, which was all I needed to mount my Lego creation.

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As expected, I did get in trouble. “Mummy, I might have had plans for that.” . “Well, it was all a sticky mess, and I’ve sorted it for you”. “Hmm. Thank you for sorting it for me, but next time you want something built out of Lego, you ask me.”. I might have to get my own Lego.

Then there’s decorating the ankle brace. I had some left over glitter felt from the Costume Making Experience and what better use could it be put to than sprucing up the ole boot.

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I even sewed some tiny bells on in the devout hope that I would be shot of the damned thing by Christmas and could reuse it as neckwear for the doggies. I also have in mind a white fur cuff, but you’ll have to wait for next week for that.

Passionfruit Muffins

I didn’t actually kill our passionfruit vine. It was a combination of strangulation by a virulent bougainvillea (that we had to pay someone to dig out before we lost a child in it) and a lawnmowing man with a short attention span who kept whippersnippering it at the base. In the fullness of time I shall pick a spot and plant another and possibly even water it occasionally, but until then I’ll just have to wait until the fruit shop is selling nets of them for five bucks a pop.

To make passionfruit muffins, one must first locate a recipe. You can skip this step, there’s one happening further down as you may have surmised from the blog title. Many recipes with fruit in the title are misleading, the fruit goes on top as decoration or in icing. I’m as happy as the next person to make passionfruit icing, but I like my flavour to go all the way through, and you shouldn’t be putting icing on a muffin anyway, that turns it into a cupcake. I’ve adapted this recipe from one I found in a slightly stilted article published in a range of New Zealand newspapers. My researches indicate that cooking with passionfruit may be a bit of a New Zealand thing.

Mix in a bowl the wet ingredients, which are one egg, sixty grams of melted butter, sixty grams of softened cream cheese, three quarters of a cup of milk and three quarters of a cup of passionfruit pulp. Today, that was six passionfruit. Add the dry ingredients, which are two cups of flour, four teaspoons of baking powder and three quarters of a cup of sugar, and after tasting these guys I’d also add a pinch of salt. Mix lightly, then fill up a twelve hole paper lined muffin tray. One day I must see how using squares of baking paper works, so I can pretend I’m running a cafe, but I still have about fifty of those accordion style cups, so I’ll use them up first. Get the batter in quickly, it seemed to be starting to react with the baking powder as I was spooning it in, I’m guessing because of the acidity of the passionfruit. Resist the urge to go and hang out the washing halfway through. Bake at one hundred and eighty degrees for twenty five minutes.

These have come out fairly cakelike, probably because of the extra fat in the cream cheese. I added the cream cheese in mainly because I thought it would be a nice flavour combination and I actually had some. They’re very light and not too sweet and I don’t expect them to last long.

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Enough Black and White Jewellery – for the moment

I could just put up the photos of the final three, but I thought I should share some of the agonizing and carry on that goes on behind the scenes.

First, the music teacher. I was going to bestow upon her that black and white beaded bead on a black cord. But it looked a bit plain by itself, so I made a couple of smaller ones to go with it, and that’s all very nice, but then I realized this woman was much less involved in the Horror’s school life than his class teacher and would also probably cop a gift every year, so it was too fancy. Too fancy, I tell you. It has gone into the private collection for the moment. Here’s what she’s getting instead, and it will have to go in bubble wrap as that diamond shaped stone is actually stone and a little fragile. Perhaps she’ll break it, so she can get exactly the same next year.

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Now for the Horror’s class teacher. For a while there she was going to get gingerbread men, as we haven’t actually seen her wear any jewellery. Then the Horror suggested that was possibly because no one had ever bought her any. Then we spotted her with a gold chain on, so jewellery was back on again. She had only been a casual appointment this year, so did we go and black and white? It may not be as useful to her as to everyone else. However, she does wear a lot of black, despite having more autumnal colouring, so she will get a herringbone spiral necklace, a pattern that has gone down rather well with teachers in the past.

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It’s quite delicate, and will have a magnet clasp if I ever get around to finishing it. Those herringbone ropes are all middle.

Finally, the redoubtable Head of Year 7. She’s quite a flamboyant dresser, which is a shame because my stuff tends to be on the light and airy side. She should really be getting something from Six in a Row, but I can’t go around buying other people’s jewellery. I’ve gone with a star pendant which hasn’t turned out quite as I’d hoped. I usually use colours that are quite close together for it, using black and white makes it look rather pixelated. I’m happy with how it’s strung, I found a length of tubular mesh in the archives while digging around for black velvet ribbon, even though I knew velvet wasn’t quite right. I’ve done one in pink on a rosary chain coming out of two of the points, but that wouldn’t have been right for this teacher. I’ve also just sewn a bail onto the top point of a red and grey one, but that didn’t work at all. This works for me, I just have to figure out what clasp to use and I’m done.

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Once I’ve finished that herringbone spiral, I can go back to decorating my ankle brace. I wonder how annoying little bells would be?

Internet Shopping for Beginners

I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who are worried that if they open up the Amazon site a hand will extend from the screen and start going through their pockets.  I’ve just finished a whole lot of online Christmas shopping and am in the mood to give those of you with the collywobbles about the whole thing a helping hand.

First of all, most people I know who’ve had their credit card done over have had it copied in a physical shop, like a restaurant.  I know you’re still worried, so there are a few things you can do.  First, if your home has a wireless setup make sure it is password protected.  Now there’s a whole other blog.  If you’re really having trouble with this step, send me a personal message of some kind and I’ll come ’round to your place (if feasible) and fix it.  If you’re very worried, you could set up a card just for internet purchases, but it really isn’t necessary, the card companies are pretty good about refunding you if you’ve been genuinely defrauded.  Another important thing is to make sure your virus software is up to date and isn’t just freeware your son-in-law installed one night after dinner.  Then once you have held your breath and actually typed your credit card details into the computer and purchased something, check for the bit that asks if they can keep your information to make your future shopping easier.  I don’t mind them keeping my address, but I’d rather they didn’t have my card details on file.

Now the fun bit.  What do you want to buy?  It’s all out there.  Spend a bit of time browsing to see what prices are like and if they’ll ship to Australia.  To get you started, here are some I’ve bought from more than once.

Australian online shopping is generally woeful and embarrassing, but there are some exceptions and more are either popping up or getting their act together all the time.  Peters of Kensington has been terrific for years and I’ve often done my Christmas shopping there online rather than drag myself over to Kensington, find a park and lose myself in their baffling store layout.  The only other Australian site I regularly buy from is Nespresso.  I’d really like to buy from JB HiFi (badly laid out) or Spotlight (catalogue scans OMG are we in the nineties??), but they just suck too much.  I am keeping a close eye on The Iconic, that looks like fun.

I buy all my underwear and quite a few clothes from Victoria’s Secret.  I popped into a shop when we visited the US a couple of years ago and really couldn’t believe how comfortable and attractive the range was my dears.  Even with their horrendous postage, the value is terrific.  When buying clothes just remember to take your Australian size and divide it by two.  If in doubt, buy something stretchy.  I bought two pairs of leggings at the same time as I bought a pair from Target at the same price, and the Target ones are now see through while the VS ones are going strong.

I used to buy the kids’ school shoes from endless.com, but they were recently consumed whole by Amazon.  I had only ever bought ebooks on my Kindle through Amazon (I do love buying a book while lying in bed, then reading it straight away), but took the plunge this morning to get some Christmas presents.  I really wish they’d put some kind of filter on their site to only display items they’re prepared to ship to Australia, it’s such a tease.  You can get there by choosing Amazon as the seller and Amazon Global Eligible as the shipping, but you need to do it each time you perform a search.  Perhaps I should send them some strongly worded feedback.  The shipping wasn’t too bad, and just look at those prices!  I shall be back in January for school shoes, I’m certainly not paying a hundred smackers in a local shop for black leather shoes, especially considering the current parkour craze going on in this family.

Then there’s ThinkGeek.  I spend hours window shopping there, and this morning did quite a bit of Christmas shopping.  Their shipping is also horrendous but goodness me they carry a lot of merchandise that is pertinent to this family.

 

See, right there, I got a Tardis keyring and a handy gadget that clicks onto your keyring that’s a Philips head screwdriver, a pocket knife and a bottle opener.  I was sorely tempted to get for the Moose’s science teacher the tshirt that said “Non-flammable? Challenge accepted”, but it won’t get here in time.

None of these websites have ever ripped off my credit card, so you may want to start with those.  Go on, online shopping is fun, there’s no parking problems, you can do it in your pyjamas while eating breakfast, and there’s none of that unwanted social interaction that so often interferes with actual shopping.  But you’ll have to do it now if you want it at your place by Christmas.

Pizza

If you’re going to be watching Rush Hour 7 with the family on a Sunday night, what you need for dinner is pizza. One problem with making the bases yourself is that once you’ve done it once, your family won’t accept shop bought again and they’ll even get a bit fussy about which pizza restaurants they’ll eat in. Fortunately our suburb abounds in excellent pizza joints, but I’m certainly not dragging myself out to pick some up, not wearing this ankle brace, even if it is now adorned with a fur cuff. Easier to make your own.

This is a forgiving recipe and will turn into pizza bases even if you start the whole thing with an hour to go. It’s better to start it earlier in the day for the yeast to do its thing, so whenever you get a moment. In a bowl place eight grams of fresh yeast, three hundred grams of water, ten grams of sugar and five hundred grams of flour, half of which should be farina per pizza if you’ve been to the deli recently, which I haven’t, so it isn’t. Mix it all up. My yeast looks like it’s on it’s last legs, I’m going to have to get up to the IGA this afternoon and fork out another sixty cents for some fresh stuff, but it doesn’t matter for this recipe.

Grind some salt over it and slosh a bit of olive oil on it, then knead it in. Every ten minutes or so, repeat with the oil maybe three times. Then leave it alone with its thoughts for a few hours. If you’re looking for international pizza certification you use less yeast and hard flour and it should rise over at least twenty four hours. That’s nice to know, isn’t it? Moving on, once it has risen a bit start pinching off bits and rolling them into circles. I go with a chunk that’s a little smaller than a tennis ball, that works for a thin crust on the pizza trays I have. You can use baking trays if you haven’t got pizza trays. Let these rise for a bit, and if you haven’t got the bench space, stack them separated by baking paper. I rarely manage this step, but it’s nicer if you get it in.

Spray your pizza trays or what have you with olive oil spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Heat your oven to about two hundred degrees Celsius, and if you’ll be using a pizza stone, you should have done this half an hour ago, come on, the natives are getting restless. I do have a pizza stone, they’re only about fifteen bucks and they make a nicer pizza, but you can only do one at a time and I like to circumvent that who’s pizza is coming out first argument by putting three in at a time.

Then there’s toppings. Salami or bacon and cheese for the Horror, tomato paste and cheese for the Muffet and for the Moose, salt. I do seem like the type to grate my own cheese, but have you ever tried to grate mozzarella? It’s very squishy indeed, so I buy a pregrated pizza cheese mix. These bases also make a very nice flatbread, which is how the Moose eats it, so I often roll out a baking tray full and he’ll take it for lunch the next day. The grown ups get tomato paste, pepperoni, mushroom, celery and capsicum, anything that’s not wet. Fresh tomato on pizza is a bad idea, it makes it soggy and burns your mouth, leave it off. My favourite pizza is goats cheese, baby spinach, mushrooms, cauliflower, pepper and celery topped with cheese, but that’s a bit girly for my husband, so sometimes we get a different one each if we’re very hungry.

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This recipe makes between six and eight 25cm pizza bases. It turned out that the DVD was covered in someone’s sticky fingerprints, so we never did find out if Chris Rock managed to keep his eyeballs in for the entire movie.

My New Summer Accessory

There are many joys to getting older, your children need less picking up, you’re more comfortable in your skin, you saw Tom Baker’s Dr Who episodes as they were freshly minted, you are more able to express irritation to those in need of correcting. One of the less appealing aspects is the slow degradation of your body. This year I’ve twisted my knee, hurt my back and been banned from running by three different health professionals. And now, to cap it all off, there’s the Sprained Ankle.

Once upon a time if I had careened down a snow covered hill and attempted an elegant stop beside my prostrate husband I a) would possibly have actually stopped or b) if I had cartwheeled over him I’d be able to leap up with a merry laugh and been on my way. Not so for this over forty mother of three. Months of physio followed, including some stuff that included standing on one foot on a cushion throwing a rubber ball at a cupboard door and occasionally falling over that I’m pretty sure my physio invented purely to amuse herself and possibly put on YouTube.

Four months later it’s still swollen and painful. That means X-rays and MRI scans and an escalation to a sports doctor. One of the other peculiar things about aging is that medical professionals get younger. This one I’ve drawn has just done his Achilles playing footy, so understands my angst about not being able to exercise – I’ve put a lot of work into getting fit – and is a serious young man with a straight brow that rests gently on his eyelashes. His great idea, after quite a lot of muttering over my scans and pointing out all the white bits, is to plunge five millilitres of cortisone into my ankle joint with an enormous hypodermic needle and to confine me to an ankle brace for one month. In case you think that’s something petite involving whalebone and a touch of French lace, here’s a picture

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I’m to wear it continuously except for sleeping, showering, swimming and spin class. And, presumably, except for washing it, though perhaps wearing it in the shower might take care of that. I have to go down steps sideways. I’m looking enviously at elderly ladies zooming past on their Zimmer frames. If you see me soon without a glass of champagne in my hand, please procure one for me immediately, it’s going to be a tough month.

Kangaroo Pie

Ah, the kangaroo, such a versatile animal. Enticer of tourists, chastiser of small children – one once gave a two year old Muffet a well deserved slap for squeezing its nose, I should have gone to help, but I was too busy crying with laughter. Its claws mounted on a stick make an excellent backscratcher or a hit TV series, and its scrotum may be fashioned into a handy coin purse. It also makes a rather terrific pie.

I like to make individual pies, especially for nights like last night where a fair amount of coming and going for sport around dinner time is involved. You can just hand a pie to whichever child is heading out the door and they can eat it on the way.

First, remove your pastry from the freezer. Yes, I am using frozen pastry, I am certainly not making puff pastry on a school night, or possibly any other night either. It’s on my to do list. I find the only problem with frozen pastry is I can’t tell whether it’s shortcrust or puff if I’ve thrown the box away. Fortunately this was puff. Tradition has it that you use shortcrust on the bottom and puff for the lid, but suit yourself, we prefer puff all over.

Chop about 600 grams of kangaroo into small dice. Much though I loathe the mega supermarkets, they do stock Macro Meats range of kangaroo and what I use for pie is the bush plum marinated kangaroo steak. Stick the kangaroo dice into a small saucepan with about three teaspoons of cornflour and stir about over high heat until browned. I find the marinated meat doesn’t need extra oil, but if you’re going with plain kangaroo from the back of the ute I’d advise adding a little butter. I then add half a cup of chicken stock straight from the freezer (remember when we made that a couple of weeks ago?), the leaves from a stick of rosemary and about a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger, but you can really suit yourself. Normal people might also add finely diced carrot, celery and/or mushroom, or even shredded beetroot goes well with kangaroo. Of course, then I would have a lot of leftover pie, so I desist. Simmer it covered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.

When you’re having a break from stirring, get out your muffin tray and start spraying liberally with olive oil. There’s no way your muffin pans are non-stick, whatever they say on the label, unless they’re silicone, and I still feel a bit odd about using that. Cut out twelve large circles from your pastry and line the muffin cups with it. You don’t need to blind bake it. When the meat is ready, ladle it in. If the gravy is a bit runny still, take the lid off the saucepan of meat and turn up the heat for about five minutes, stirring a lot. You can then cut out neat smaller circles to use as lids, but I, being a thrifty housewife, just pile on the scraps leftover from cutting out the circles. You don’t even have to cover the meat completely. You could also cover the meat with mashed potato.

Bake in a hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes. You’re only cooking the pastry, so you can blast it at 220 degrees C. Take it out when the pastry is browned, then spend the next ten minutes cursing them out of the pans with the aid of a large fork, vowing to use more oil next time. The Horror asked if he could have a pie with no meat inside, but ended up eating two quite happily. I’m going to have to make more than twelve next time, especially as they’re rather good for lunch the next day.

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Black and White Jewellery

The Moose’s school wears its colours proudly. Parents wear black and white to Saturday sport, teachers wear black and white to school events, the president of the Junior School P&F seems to wear nothing else. I like it, it helps you feel more like part of a big happy family. Muffet’s school doesn’t have this going on at all, possibly because it’s difficult to wear red green and white without looking like it’s Christmas all year ’round. So I’ve got years and years of teachers presents sorted, who wouldn’t want some black and white jewellery?

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I haven’t made this style of necklace for ages, not since I made one for a wedding. That one was a lot more densely packed with brown and cream pearls and crystals, and from memory had seven strands rather than the five seen here. Actually, I tell a lie, I made a three strand one for the Muffet to wear to her social, where she was the belle of the ball, naturally. It’s a very versatile style, especially considering that you can now get the wire in almost any colour. I really should make them more often. Yes, that is a bag of coconut it’s resting on, why do you ask?

Snuggling beside the coconut is a black and white beaded bead. I haven’t given up on them! That one is destined for the Horror’s music teacher, with whom he is very taken, especially as she shares his views on punctuality. I should really just string it on some black cord and forget about it, but I’ll bet I can’t. Maybe just a couple of small cylindrical beaded beads, one on either side. That won’t look like something that’ll end up on Regretsy, surely?

Peanut Butter Cookies

My pair of Pillsbury cookbooks from the early 1960s could constitute a fully formed blog in themselves. I’ve really only looked into them in the past to laugh at the jellied salad recipes, but I’ve been trying to expand my biscuit repertoire lately and these books are a treasure trove. For my American readership, your cookies are our biscuits. Your biscuits are, well, who knows, we definitely don’t eat that kind of thing here and certainly not with chitlins.

I’m working out of the Pillsbury Family cookbook today, and I’m going to make Peanut Butter Cookies. I’m ignoring the blandishments of the more imaginatively titled Holiday Riches, Cherry Winks, Cinnamon Dandies and Starlight Mint-Surprise Cookies, and am going for something that may kill one of my children’s fellow students if they breathe on them inappropriately, I like to walk on the wild side. It may be for this reason that my children have discouraged me from trying this recipe whenever I suggest it, but they’re at school so what are they going to do?

Cream together 160 grams of butter with half a cup of peanut butter. I’m using that freshly ground peanut butter from the health food shop. That stuff has some fascinating rheological properties that would interest the chaps studying particulate flow at the Department of Theoretical Chemistry, but possibly not you, so I won’t go on about it. Any peanut butter would do, really. Beat in a cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Actually the resulting bowl of deliciousness would work very well as the filling in some kind of roll. Mental note for another day.

Mix in an egg. Add a cup and a half of plain flour, a teaspoon and a half of baking powder and about five turns of the salt grinder. Mix it in good. I’m going to quote now. “Shape dough into balls, using a rounded teaspoon for each. Place on ungreased cookie sheets”. Not me, I’m a firm believer in baking paper. “Flatten balls with fork tines, crisscross fashion. Bake at 375 degrees for ten to twelve minutes”. Of course, in SI units that’s 453 Kelvin, but that’s not much use to you either, so let’s go with 180 degrees Celsius.

I tried baking one sheet for ten minutes, or until just golden, and one for twenty minutes, or until well browned. I think the kids will prefer the slightly chewy just golden version, but the man of the house will choose the crunchy ones then sigh that they’re not gingernuts. See, I did do the crisscross, that kind of low level decoration I can do.

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A Day at the Town Hall

Well I couldn’t call this blog The Messiah, could I, that would be giving entirely the wrong impression. It’s a wonderful thing to attend a big concert at a beautiful venue like the Town Hall. It’s much more amazing to be in it. I thought I’d give you some behind the scenes snippets.

Firstly, view from the choir. From where I was sitting I had a terrific view of the harpsichord, I’ve never seen one up close before. Because I’m living in the future, when the Muffet asked what it looked like, I could show her exactly, it looked like this:

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We had hundreds of guest singers to bump up our numbers from our base of a measly hundred to a massed choir of over five hundred, so we made many new friends. The tenor sitting next to me had a score written in sol-fa notation, something I’ve never seen before. It looked like shorthand. It looked like this:

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You learn something new every day.

I’m endlessly fascinated by our soloists. The orchestra are fun too, but you tend to focus more on the soloists by the nature of what they do. I was particularly entertained by the bass, who looked about fourteen. When I came in from lunch the alto was rehearsing and the bass was sitting on a chair beside him holding onto his knees and looking like he was trying not to vomit. The impression of youth was strengthened by the tailcoat he appeared to have borrowed from his dad. And yet the voice that came out of this red headed round faced infant was strong and vibrant, and while singing he seemed to be having the time of his life.
Then there was the alto. He has sung with us many times before and I’m always delighted by him. He’s a chunky Chinese guy with a shaved head and a goatee who looks like he’d slip a knife into you, steal your wallet, knock off your phone and use it to reprogram the Pentagon to delete Taiwan. Yet he sings like an angel. The Muffet tells me that an elderly lady sitting near her exclaimed “he sings like a girl!”. Of course, he doesn’t, male altos have a sweet unearthly quality to their voices that is richer than the female alto, alas. Here he is rehearsing:

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The young tenor soloist was much better behaved than tenors usually are, despite the filthy looks our conductor was giving him for not keeping an eye on the timing. I especially warmed to him after the show. I was writing him a cheque (I’m the treasurer) as he was disrobing backstage and I offered to tuck it into his waistband, which he thought was a terrific idea. The perks of being on the committee.
Of course the soprano was lovely too, but I have nothing amusing to say about her, our sopranos usually cause us no dramas at all.

My fantasy that the alto soloist will sprain a tonsil at the last minute and I’ll be plucked from the choir to sing “A Man of Sorrows” to great acclaim didn’t come true, again. Not that I would be picked anyway, especially as the young lady singing on my left used to be a professional opera singer, but one can dream. The whole thing went off without a hitch, and I managed not to sob when the whole audience rose to sing the Hallelujah Chorus with us. Nobody noticed the soprano and the orchestra coming in at different times to one of her solos. The first violinist managed not to crack up too badly after putting in about eleven extra trills at the end of one piece and nearly giving the conductor apoplexy. The extremely enthusiastic tenor behind me was drowned out by the more practiced voices in front of him. A wonderful time was had by all. You should have been there.