It's breakfast at Hampton Inn, and you know what that means...DO IT YOURSELF WAFFLES!
(I'm skipping ahead, but while we were driving to our first concert the hotel for our second night called to confirm our checkin. Now, while I was making our initial reservations with this hotel, I mentioned how much I enjoy the diy waffles. The group sales manager said, "I just wanted to let you know we are out of waffle batter." She got me. It was not the first time I would be duped on Monday. In fact, before the day was over our bus would be hijacked by the bus driver, and one of the youth would straight up pull a fast one. But first things first...let's not get ahead of ourselves.)
Most everyone was down for breakfast on time. As usual, there were good choices, and folks seems to be in good spirits given it was a somewhat early morning. I didn't realize how spoiled I was by last year's extra morning sleep!
After breakfast we boarded the bus to head to our first concert. I observed basically two different behaviors on this shortish bus ride. First, many people make up for the sleep they missed the night before, often in unique ways...
Others find solace in the screen. Here are two in their natural state...
When we get to a venue, Katie and Curt come in with me to scope out the venue, decide how to arrange the choir, and figure out what equipment we need while Cindy offers a devotional on the bus. Then Katie brings the choir into the room and lines them up. She's been doing this for a few years, and she's good at it. Also (new this year!), I spent some quality time creating a lineup before we left the church, so they have a specific place they are supposed to be when we stand to sing. Caroline, if you're reading this, you thought memorizing before we left was crazy...what about this?
Then we started singing! We have a few solos throughout the program. They come forward and stand in front of the group when it's time.
Kelsey Beal is taking pictures for us. A number of folks contribute pics, actually, but all the concert shots are hers. Like her dad, she can't resist taking artistically interesting shots...like this one where the caught the choir in the mirror.
Our first concert was at 9am, which is admittedly a little early. The schedule said they were planning coffee and donuts with music. But the activities director resigned on Saturday, so there was nobody to put all that together and talk it up with the residents. As a result, we gave a concert to 5 folks plus a couple of folks in the hallway. It can be hard to do a concert for a small audience like that, but across the years I've learned that these can be the most important concerts, because it's often more rare for folks to visit there. And it has a fringe benefit! We outnumbered the audience 12:1, each person in the audience essentially held court with a bunch of the singers.
After the concert we went to a mall for lunch. Cindy bought me a sugar cookie, which I don't have a picture of because I ate it immediately upon receipt, and it was all she said it would be. Taylor and I also happened on this fancy pair of kicks for sale, which if you can't tell is a golden snitch shoe. I told him to get a pair so he could wear them when he drives his gold PT Cruiser that he calls the snitch. Like he could change into them Mr. Rogers style. For the record, he did not purchase the shoes.
Here comes trouble...(they'll know we're in choir by our shirts, by our shirts, yes they'll know we're in choir by our shirts). Curt, Chris, and Paul are definitely up to something.
After lunch we headed to our second concert. Holy cow, man. The campus of this place was huge. We walked through their own private YMCA (that's just what they call it, I think) on the way to some kind of garden district before we wound up in the chapel. The audience was larger here, both in the room and also via closed circuit TV to their entire facility of 850 residents, more than half of which are in a healthcare facility and unable to leave their rooms. We couldn't visit with them, but it was pretty cool. We'll experience that again on Friday.
And the artistic shot again...
We were spread a little more thinly for visiting, but visit we did. I met a man who was a retired high school music teacher. He worked with Fred Waring when he was younger, and he told me all about his experience there...and how much he always enjoyed working with the youth. I can relate. And isn't that the point?
When we got on the bus, Mark said, "We're not on a really tight schedule now, are we?" I said, "Not really...just need to get to the hotel and dinner."
"Ok. I'm kidnapping the choir for about 20 minutes or so."
I trust Mark to take good care of us. He took us to what they affectionately call "Touchdown Jesus." Pictured below, from a distance it's just Jesus with his arms extended to welcome you. But apparently if you walk up to him, his arms appear to extend over his head, indicating a touchdown scored. I had to get someone to explain what that looks like to me, because as a Razorback fan I almost never see it.
It's not possible these days to get the touchdown picture because Jesus is standing on a lake, presumably inviting us all to go swimming?
Remember when I said the lineup was helpful? It's also helpful for taking pictures. Here's one with all the chaperones and Mark playing the role of Andrew Brinson in front. (That's an inside joke, and I'm sorry...Andrew is always the one who lies down in front of a group picture.)
Mark said he wanted to take a picture with me in it. I wasn't quite sure what to do because he had already done the lie down in front one. So I went to the side and then jokingly (I thought) asked who was going to put me on their shoulders. Tait, hereafter known as He-man, said, "Come here." That dude hoisted 213 pounds of choir director up on his shoulders without dumping me backwards into the lake! Have I told you how impressive our chaperones are?
Some of the youth were amused at how I had to sit to take the picture above...so here's a picture of a picture...
We checked into he hotel and then headed for downtown Cincinnati. If you've ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me, I'm livin' on the air... We walked past the home of the Reds (they aren't in town this week).
Then we walked across a pedestrian bridge to a mall to eat dinner and chill for a bit. This next picture is on the Kentucky side of the bridge. It's a picture of the levy, and for the record the levy is in fact dry. I cackled when I looked at this picture. Can you guess why I did? I already gave you a hint. I'll give 35,000 Cowden points to anyone who correctly identifies in the comments why I find this picture of the levy funny.
Virginia has been helping me plan tours for a few years now. This is her last one. She has visited 46 of the 50 states. Wait. 47. We checked off Ohio on Monday!!! Does that constitute payment in full for the tour planning services?
Took this panoramic picture on the pedestrian bridge. Technology.
And now a picture just for my children. Wesley and Lucy, this rat trap is for you!!! I miss you! Also, Wesley, if you're reading this, I'm sorry to tell you the surprise I had for you didn't work. I took a video of the whole bus calling the hogs, but my phone messed it up. To everyone else, if you're wondering why Wesley and I are calling the hogs, it's because our Razorbacks have made the College World Series!!!! Woo pig sooie!!!!
I ate dinner with a bunch of folks at this restaurant that serves grilled cheese and tomato soup. They really know their grilled cheese here. It was maybe the best grilled cheese I've ever eaten. Also the most expensive.
And this...is where it happened. The grilled cheese place serves grilled cheese donuts. That's a donut split in half and then grilled with cheese (I did try one, though I didn't buy one, and it wasn't my thing...but you know you do you, man). Anyway, they have a challenge...if you can eat 13 in one sitting with no break and no bathroom, they're free if you don't throw up (and full price if you fail).
After a long conversation and process (during which I said in a firm tone that she should not under any circumstance undertake this challenge but should instead get one donut and enjoy it), left the table and came out with this receipt.
Maya just graduated from high school, and I thought she understood cause and effect relationships. But I've been surprised before. I'm not sure if you can read that. It says "Challenge: 0.00. Good luck: 0.00"
The guy delivered her first donut and said, "We'll bring out 1 more every minute until we're done." And with that, Maya got to work...
Addison was mortified that she had done it. In fact, Addison campaigned very strongly against her taking the challenge.
And in fact I'm not sure what upset Addison more: when Maya informed us she was taking the challenge or when she subsequently (and after eating her first donut) informed us the whole thing was a prank and she had only ordered one donut.
That's right. She had gone in and asked Christopher (the cashier) to create a receipt to prank us, and in fact he loved the prank so much that he actually gave her the donut for free. She got me. I believed she had done it. I was relieved that she hadn't. Curt, as the cleaner of puke on the tour, was relieved in absentia.
Maya, if you're reading this, you have just fallen victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia. I once wrapped a Christmas present in concrete, and I will have my revenge.
On our way back to the bridge and the bus, the sun was setting behind Cincy, and it was an amazing picture.
Here's a panoramic of the entire skyline from across the river.
After we returned to the hotel we had our devotional. The youth once again wrote about moving moments. I invited them to think one level deeper than they did the night before...and they did. They did. I had them practice write a thank you note while I went through them and selected a few to share. I couldn't share all of them because they were longer!
I talked to them about how to write a good thank you note before they started writing. We talked about how the best thank you notes connect you with the reader by way of this thing they did for you. Notes build relationships. Their practice note could be to anyone they wanted, and they didn't have to send it or anything. Some of them wrote chaperones or the bus driver or me. Some of them wrote their parents or friends. I love watching our youth learn how to write good notes and then practice that art. It is truly an art. And by the time they graduate from this choir, they will be skilled.
But some of them don't need this choir to be skilled in the art. Some are just straight up gifted. I mentioned before that we are leaving notes to the housekeeping staff with tips included. Last night when I was checking the youth into their rooms, I saw one of them, and it blew my mind. Blew. My. Mind. I asked for permission to share it here.
Friends, that is a hand-drawn picture of the Cincinnati skyline, drawn from a phone photograph. The top portion is some locks left on the bridge. A note is an investment of time. It's saying, "I appreciate you so much that I'm willing to invest my time in letting you know." What could send that message louder than taking the time to draw such a magnificent note?
The person who drew that...who so clearly understands what these notes are supposed to be about? Not a senior. Not someone who's been in the choir for ever. A rookie. On her first tour. Addison, if you're reading this, this note is spectacular.
Also, if you're reading this on Tuesday, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!! I hope it's a special day!