Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Road Home

Many of us were treated to yummy breakfasts on this temperate sunny morning, and all made it back to the church in time for the 9:00 service. Once again, the coffee shop within walking distance of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa was frequented by DUMC & ASCYO members. Alan delivered a wonderful sermon as usual, and our group did a nice job participating in the service. The kids are loading the buses, and we are looking forward to napping on the long drive home. Parents, we will see you this evening! Everyone, please join us for the Homecoming Concert on Monday June 25th at 7pm at the Damascus United Methodist Church, 9700 New Church St, Damascus, MD 20872. Thanks for all your prayers & support. A special thank you to Rosalyn Bowman for the multitude of snacks (including, of course, her famous White Trash mix). Thanks be to God!!!

Blog Master's Note  -   The group is on their way home now and is expected to arrive in Damascus between 8 - 9 PM tonight.    There are more pictures to post and I'm sure there will be a final blog entry after the homecoming concert.   Thanks for following the 2012 Tour.

Click Here for Some Early Photos of Day 10

Reunion in Ballston Spa

After meeting back at Centenary UMC this morning, we rode to Lake George, a popular tourist destination in the Adirondacks. As soon as we arrived, the heavens opened up, forcing us to seek shelter in the tourist shops. Many of us opted to eat an early lunch during the rain after purchasing our umbrellas & ponchos. And we thought we were poncho-free after leaving Niagara! There was a street craft fair, right on the water, and when we weren't hiding in the tents from the downpour you could see the lovely lake. The chaperones were very grateful we had not visited here 2 weeks earlier, when there was a massive motorcycle rally. On our way to our next stop, we saw wind turbine farms. It is an awesome sight, as each blade is 100 feet long, making the the wingspan of a single turbine over 200 feet! Some are within 100 yards of the highway, and their grandeur was humbling as we stared up at them.

We arrived in Ballston Spa, NY about 4:30 today, and were warmly greeted by our beloved Alan Rudnick (for those of you who do not know, he was previously our youth pastor and moved on to his own church 3 1/2 years ago). It was wonderful to see Chrissy, Rowan (he's grown so much!), and their latest addition Evangeline (who will be 3 next month). They are all thriving and have been embraced by this lovely small town in which they are currently raising their beautiful family. There is a fabulous coffee shop in walking distance of their church (First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa), and a thriving main street with many shops. Sue C, Susan J & Cathy D were able to obtain much needed caffeine while the kids rehearsed.

We were treated to another wonderful meal and all the lemonade we could drink. We hope we made clear to the kitchen volunteers our gratitude for their preparation of another fabulous meal. We were pleasantly surprised to be joined by Rick & Nina Hacker (Rick was the DUMC organist before Steve), Don Cosman, and Sarah Pinto's parents. The concert was well performed despite the heat and humidity. The men's septet sounded wonderful as usual and everyone got a standing ovation following the last anthem. Unfortunately for the choir, it was too warm to sit in the sanctuary during Bacchanale and most missed Mrs. D's performance outside the entrance to the church. Peggy's niece Jill lives in Saratoga Springs, so Aunt Peggy and Uncle Walt were able to spend some time with this delightful woman. Poor Jill spent much of the evening ferrying people about.

Click Here for Photos of Day 9

Goodbye Montreal - Hello USA

What was omitted from the Thursday (late night) blog was the fact that the huge coolers filled with bottled water had nowhere to spend the night. Of course the instructions from Mr. Motter & Mr. Marshall were very clear: DO NOT leave the coolers outside anywhere. Because of a space problem in the van (not all our hosts had cars), we quickly determined the coolers had to stay. They were hidden behind some lilac bushes on the property of the basilica opposite the boy's oratory in the dark of night. The perpetrators were stealthy, and hid from the roaming security guard. The first order of business this morning was to retrieve the abandoned coolers. They were fine, minus some grass stains on the bottom, and managed to survive the night alone. Amazingly, Mr. Motter & Mr. Marshall were unable to determine the provenance of these stains.

After saying au revoir to our host families, we had another opportunity to shop in downtown Montreal (it was too hot to play in the park as we had originally planned). We had to leave Montreal an hour earlier than planned to avoid the protests scheduled for this afternoon. If you haven't been following the news, a 5% tuition increase is apparently too much for the students to bear (that would be an increase of $150).

A noteworthy fork story (ask your child if you are not familiar with this tradition) told today was about 3 young men who got lost in the Basilica and could not find the men's dressing room or even a washroom. They decided to use the elevator to change into their concert clothes. Needless to say, they startled at least one family when the door unexpectedly opened. Parties on both sides of the elevator door were horrified. After our bag lunches which our host families so graciously provided, we loaded back up on the bus to head for Malone, NY.

The border crossing went without a hitch, although several females (adult & youth) would have been quite willing to be pulled off the bus by the quite attractive border guard. The scenery changed into rolling hills as we drove further south into NY. It's amazing how much a glacier can flatten an area.

We arrived in Malone (a small quaint town) and were warmly greeted by the Centenary UMC folks. The kitchen brigade served us fabulous Italian casserole dishes and an abundance of salad filled with fresh vegetables (yea!). The concert was very well attended, our largest crowd this tour, and they were very generous in their offerings. Reverend Billy Bonds and the members of 3 churches in the area welcomed us into their homes, and we were scattered among several small towns. Unbeknownst to us, we were in Amish country. No horses or buggies spotted, but we did see several Amish homesteads.

Click Here for Photos from Day 8

Friday, June 22, 2012

Photos for Day 6 & 7 Are Ready to View

Blog Master Note -  After experiencing sub-par internet connectivity the past few days, the group uploaded a couple hundred photos last night.    We are working through them to get them posted to the right day.   Please check back on Saturday....we should have it figured out by then.  Thanks.

UPDATE  -  The links are available for day 6 and day 7.   

Day Seven - Montreal

Stay tuned, you are about to be fascinated by what we have learned and experienced today. Beginning with this fun fact. Did you know Montreal is actually an island, connected to the mainland by 27 bridges and 4 tunnels? The city's name came from Mount Royal, so called for the royal view from "the mountain" located in the heart of the city. Translated to latin = Montreal. Mount Royal park is loved by its residents and has campuses of two universities, as well as two historic cemeteries. Two million people are buried in these cemeteries, including some of Canada's most important politicians and cultural figures, as well as many from Montreal who perished on the Titanic. From the top of Mount Royal we could see much of the city, including the Olympic stadium with a very unique profile. It has the tallest inclining tower in the world - quite a sight on the skyline!

We saw many, many churches - there are over 500 in Montreal. Sadly, because of the decline in the number of people involved in organized religion, a lot of the churches are being converted to condominiums (how many nuns live at the convent? "none"). But the structures are still lovely. We saw many different parts of the city, like the theater district, which is growing by leaps and bounds. Many festivals are held there - most recently the jazz festival and the "Just for Laughs" comedy festival. So much to celebrate. We also saw a bit of the Quartier International, including Chinatown (and the building voted "ugliest in Montreal," with its towering pagodas on top). We then crossed over to Ile Notre Dame, a totally manmade island built for the 1967 World's Fair, built using dirt dug up from the construction of the subway system. Sue Constantinides actually went to the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal with her mom, what great memories. Most of the original structures are gone, and in their place stands a large casino. We crossed back over to the port of Montreal, one of the largest in North America, and into Vieux Montreal (which you will remember from yesterday's lesson means Old Montreal). Here is another fun fact. Montreal was actually an American city for one year, when Benjamin Franklin and his troops took possession in 1776. We strolled for a bit in this area, had lunch and traveled on to our next venue, the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal.

Entering the Basilica was another OMG moment. This is a very famous church, with a 3 year waiting list for weddings (even for Celine Dion, who was married there). The architecture is "Gothic Revival," with grand works of art and ornate decor. It was even more incredible when our choir performed a 20 minute concert, singing One Faith, One Hope, One Lord and several other favorites. Our tour guide explained to us the importance of the magnificent works of art, especially important at the time it was built because many parishioners in the 1800s did not read. The art provided a universal message, depicting the religious mysteries. The smaller and more modern chapel was breathtaking, with its lindenwood panels and 20 ton bronze artistic representation of the walk of mankind to reach God. The pictures you will see will be beautiful, but please ask your children how it felt to be in this magnificent place, and especially to sing in the Basilica in the midst of this glory.

We headed out of the city and on to our next venue, St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount-Royal. It was founded by Br. Andre, who is said to have brought miraculous healing to many by guiding them through prayer to St. Joseph. Soon, many were flocking to the Oratory, and the building expanded time and time again. It is quite spectacular, and thousands of pilgrims visit each day, some following the tradition of climbing the 282 steps up to the oratory on their knees, symbolizing their prayerful beseeching to St. Joseph. Ouch, that's got to hurt! We decided not to try it.

So, it turns out Montreal is having a record-breaking heat wave. How hot is it, you ask? So hot our hosts opted to serve our supper at the ice rink. Not kidding, we ate at the ice rink! How cool is that? Well, we were cool for a short while, then climbed the 282 steps up to the sanctuary. This concert was a little different because our hosts were from the Boys School, where the kids go through a 2 day audition just to be accepted into the school. They are schooled in music theory and practice 4 hours per day - and next year they will be singing at the Vatican. So performing for them was a little intimidating. But the acoustics were fabulous, and once again the CWS just sang their hearts out. Our audience and hosts were very appreciative. Another amazing opportunity. Our hearts are full, our bodies are weary, our spirits are uplifted.

As a side note, our command of the French language is coming along . . . though our confidence was a bit shaken (OK, maybe our feelings were a little hurt) when we learned people did not realize we were singing in French during Cantique. We learned a new and very useful expression, though. When asked "how are you doing," you reply "Tigidou" (te-guh-doo). Meaning something like "everything is fine." No matter the weather, the sleep deprivation, the little glitches in the schedule, we can truly say tonight, Tigidou. And bon soir.

Click Here for Photos from Day 7

Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 Tour - Day 6 - Quebec - Day 6

Bonjour, tout le monde! Now that we are in Quebec, we have all begun speaking French.  Well, that may be a stretch but we've about mastered bonjour, merci and the lyrics to Allouetta, gentille alouette.  After a quick breakfast and check-out in Kingston, we caravaned up the road and enjoyed a picnic lunch at a park along the St. Lawrence River.  Eager to become acquainted with Montreal, we found ourselves with a few obstacles along the way.  First was the dreaded mechanical malfunction with the Gold bus.  Our leisurely picnic became an even more leisurely stop as the drivers worked to get the bus up and running.  We finally got back on the road, only to be met with detours, construction and more detours.  The good news is we finally reached our destination in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal, the historic downtown area); the bad news is we had so many delays along the way that we didn't have time to get off the bus.

Onward we marched to Verdun, an area on the outskirts of Montreal.  Now we're certainly not complaining, but just as an FYI, it is really hot here!  We understand, it's hot there in Maryland, too. One wee small difference is, in Maryland we are spoiled with air conditioning, while here it is just not commonplace.  But the show must go on.  Unloaded and rehearsed at the Notre-Dames-des-Sept-Douleurs, a magnificent church with great architectural detail, beautiful stained glass and art work (and, as previously mentioned, no air conditioning).  After rehearsal we strolled down to the Montreal Korean United Church, where we enjoyed some of the best pasta we have ever eaten, along with delicious salad and fresh fruit.  What a treat, and our hosts were so gracious.

On the way back to the concert a few folks made their way to the dollar store, looking for any excuse to enjoy a few minutes of A/C!  And then it was showtime.  These kids are such troopers.  It was a challenge, but they just persevered and not only performed, they dazzled!  Stunning performances of all the pieces, plus the addition of a new number - mais oui, it was in French. Cantique, with Cam soloing on cello.  The audience was most appreciative, especially of the anthems which sounded just amazing, and the guys a cappella performance of Prayer for the Children.  Chill bumps despite the heat!  Another wonderful night, with these amazing young people singing to the glory of God.  No matter how many times we hear it, it touches us to the soul and reminds us how grateful we are for this opportunity.

After the concert we traveled over to the Boys School, La Maitrise des Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal, which looks something like a huge castle on a hill to which the kids exclaimed upon seeing it "We are staying at Hogwarts!" After a little confusion we met up with our host families and departed for the night.  Hot, tired, weary but holding on to that feel good moment when they hit the power notes at the end of "He Shall Rise"!  On that note, Bon Soir!

Click Here for Photos from Day 6

Click here to hear Prayer of the Children from the concert at St Mary's Cathedral in Kinston ON, 6/21/12.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

2012 Tour - Day 5 - Halfway / À mi-chemin

Day 5, halfway through our tour!

We had a change of plans today.  After finding out the following facts about the beach we had planned to go to, we made a change:  Poison ivy EVERYWHERE around the beach.  No running water.  No shade.  Two pit toilets, about a mile apart.   A bacterial advisory for the beach.  And no place to clean up after 3 hours on the sunny sandy beach before we head to the cathedral for our concert.

Our new plan:  a lovely park in Kingston, with a scenic waterfront path along Lake Ontario.  The wind blowing off of the lake was refreshing on a warm sunny day.  We had sandwiches with chips & fruit for lunch, played frisbee, and went window shopping.  A few intrepid souls got into the largest lake in Canada and went swimming.  In their clothes.  Look for pictures on the blog.  There was a windmill farm across the lake from the park, and windsurfers and a para surfer blew by us.

After a lovely afternoon, we headed to St. Mary's Cathedral for a chinese food dinner before our concert. The fortune cookies had bilingual fortunes in them.  Somehow even the silliest fortunes sound beautiful in French.  It was another huge lovely church, lots of beautiful stained glass.  The men's sextet sang  "Prayer for the Children" for the first time on tour.  It was moving, and many tissues were being used.  After the concert, our hosts rewarded us with ice cream.  They have ice cream with Smarties in it here in Canada!

On the way back to the hotel, we had to give a talk about personal hygiene.  On the gold bus, Cathy Dobrzanski put the lecture to music. When you come to the homecoming concert & hear the song "I Gotta Robe" you can imagine her lyrics:  "I gotta plan, you gotta plan, all God's people gotta plan...when you start stinking, it's time to start thinking bout showers, deodorant..."
We head out to Montreal tomorrow, and French speaking Canada.  The two fluent French speakers in our group are looking forward to using French. We are looking forward to Jackie & Shannon Perry joining us tomorrow in Montreal.  And many of us are excited to finally be lodged in a host home.

Click Here for Photos from Day 5

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012 Tour - Day 4 - Niagara Falls - Then Will The Very Rocks Cry Out

Day 4 of tour

Today we left Toronto, and spent the afternoon at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. The entire group rode the Maid of the Mist boat through both the American and Canadian falls - and if any of you have been there before, you know why they give you the souvenir poncho! The blue plastic wrap was less than form-fitting, but it kept us dry! Some of us considered keeping one for future adventures, but most were bent out of shape by the heavy "mist." The view was breathtaking, and saturated. Spontaneous choruses of song broke out while we were on the boat; we sang "Then Will the Very Rocks Cry Out," and our old chestnut, "Siyaa-Humba" (aka We Are Soaking in The Light of God).

We also had the opportunity to walk behind the falls. All agree that the yellow slickers for this attraction were far more slimming.

It was a glorious warm sunny afternoon. We discovered the amazing Tim Horton's coffee shops...better than Starbucks and a third of the price (even after the 13% Canadian tax).

We joyfully welcomed Sue Con and the twins today, and praise God that Sue immediately started taking beautiful pictures. Dan James left the tour today and walked over the Peace Bridge to the U.S. He had to pay a 50 cent toll to cross the border! Pastor Paul from Trinity church came to pick up Dan and drove him back to his car (thank you Pastor Paul!).

How remarkable that we visited just a few days after the famous circus performer, Eric Wallenda, walked over the falls on a tightrope! Our last view of Niagara was of a stunning double-rainbow in the mist, reminding us of God's promise and our purpose in our mission trip!

Click Here for Photos from Day 4

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 Tour - Day 3 - On to Toronto

We had muffins and juice for breakfast, then headed out to Metropolitan United Church in Toronto to join them for worship.  We sang three anthems in this old beautiful church.  It houses the biggest pipe organ in Canada with 8,300 pipes.  We were wishing Steve had been with us to play some of his amazing improv.  We have noticed something, with our scientific sampling of 2 Canadian churches:  they don't have air conditioning!  Our van drivers have been making multiple trips to keep us stocked with water.

The affirmation of faith at Metropolitan today was really nice:

We are not alone, we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence, to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

We left Metropolitan and drove 20 minutes to visit Casa Loma.  Built in the early 1900's, it has cool things like an 800 foot long tunnel, beautiful gardens, and amazing rooms.  We enjoyed the BIGGEST hamburgers many of us had ever seen, and the little rain that fell did not deter those of us who like to dine outdoors.

After Casa Loma, we visited Eaton Centre.  It is the largest mall in Canada, 4 stories of retail madness.  Some of the girls bought cute new outfits to wear to our nice italian dinner at Joe Badali's Ristorante.

The hotel pool finally got some use tonight, and some of us learned what constitutes a full moon cannon ball (yes, it is as bad as you imagine).

Medical update:  more FFBS cases, sore arms (string players) and a few headaches.  The chaperones are keeping us supplied with vitamin C and hand sanitizer, so hopefully there won't be any illness going around.

Click Here for Photos from Day 3

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2012 Tour - Day 2 Eastman House and a Border Crossing

Our second day of tour...Chip and Erin fed bagels, coffee and juice to those of us who slept in the dorms at Lycoming.  In case anyone is wondering, returning to dorm life as an adult isn't the joyride you might think.  The Edmonds had to go back out to buy more coffee...our chaperones didn't receive instructions on caffeine withholding so it was "Attack of the Caffeine Fiends."   Those of us that had host families were treated well, and we didn't really have any "funny" stories about our accommodations, which is great but not much entertainment material there. Jake and Luke Edmonds blew us kisses, but weren't too happy when they found out they weren't going to ride on the bus.  We rode in the bus, and got to visit The George Eastman House in Rochester N.Y.   35,000 sq ft, 50 rooms, built 1902-5, at the grand cost of $350,000.  Beautiful gardens, and we were given our first meal allowance to eat where we liked. 

Concert at Trinity UMC in Amherst NY.  As in Lycoming, the Edmonds knew many faces in the audience.  Our chaperones liked the space, because they could see nearly all of our faces at once.  Mrs. B  is thinking of instigating a "joyful countenance" award since some of the faces in the choir are so joyful when they sing.  We were fed pizza and wings for dinner, with birch beer (no worries, it's a soft drink akin to root beer). Colborn and Mansfield family members came to listen.  Dan James joined up with us for a few days.  Once back on the bus, we were very happy to find that two of our adults had acquired fruit for us!  There was some rioting on the silver bus when the green apples ran out, but in the end red apples were deemed acceptable by most riders and those who complained were crammed in the tiny overhead compartment (JK!).

We waited a LONG time for our turn at the border crossing, but were quickly dispatched into Canada.  The border guard mostly wanted to know we all had the proper documents to leave Canada at the end of our trip! The noisiest moment was when Beth Taylor announced roommates for the next 2 nights.  So noisy that several riders on both buses missed hearing their room numbers.  The squealing after they heard who their roommates were sorta drowned out the room numbers.
It's midnight, and we are still en route to our hotel.  Mrs. Taylor is applying lovely long fingernails as a way of mourning her lack of violin playing for the next 8 days.  The gold bus was super silent when we checked in on them at the border.  Not sure if they were threatened or drugged but it is apparent that the silver bus leader (Cam) needs to step up his game if the silver bus is to meet these high expectations.  Highway signs are now in English & French, so maybe we will learn a few French words.  I now know Nord means North (okay, maybe we won't learn any useful French from road signs, but I'm trying...).

Wound count to date:  2 skinned knees (the worst one obtained by one of our trusty chaperones who shall remain nameless although Mark Bowe could tell you who was most likely to have taken a spectacular fall on the sidewalk in front of a crowded cafe) & one case of mild and non-terminal FFBS (flip flop blister syndrome).

Click Here for Photos of Day 2

Saturday, June 16, 2012

2012 Tour - Day 1 We're off on our first day of tour!

We were only delayed 30 minutes during our departure, and driving was smooth. We had bag lunches at City "Park" in Harrisburg PA. Only 2 people forgot to bring their lunches! Mrs. Bowe threatened to make us wear her goofy (ugly) hat if we got sunburned, so most of us are highly motivated to use sunscreen (really, we're not even sure why anyone would wear that hat!). The newbies among us were amazed at how tired one can get just riding on a bus. Cameron discovered the wireless microphone on the silver bus, and now he can make announcements while wandering the aisle. The jury is out about this is good news or bad news for the silver bus riders ;).

When we got to Lycoming College in Williamsport PA, Walt's son Chip made us feel at home. We got to tour the campus of this small liberal arts school, kick around soccer balls and throw frisbees. They fed us pizza & wings for dinner, and since lunch was a long time ago some of the chaperones mentioned "horde of locusts" while they were waiting their turn in the food line.

Our first concert on tour was FABULOUS! We sounded even better than this past Sunday. The audience was treated to something we didn't play on Sunday, a violin trio piece played by the Mansfield sisters & Judith Tsoi. Everyone is in the dorms or host homes now, although the dorms are not quiet yet. We'll check in again tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who is praying for us.

Click Here for Pictures of Day 1

Click Here to Listen to Hallelujah He Shall Rise on YouTube

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Six Days and Counting!

This morning the Charles Wesley Singers and Academy of Saint Cecilia Youth Orchestra performed at both the 8:15 and 11:00 services at Damascus United Methodist Church.  This has always been a favorite Sunday for me.  The service started and ended with wonderful selections from the orchestra.  The morning message was "Feel the Spirit", a collection of spirituals arranged by John Rutter which was up-lifting.  Carly Colborn sang the many solos beautifully.    The offertory was another Rutter arrangement, For the Beauty of the Earth, which was full sounding and very moving for me as I watched my wife, daughter and two sons present this cherished CWS favorite. 

The folks who will receive our tour group are in for a wonderful presentation of heart felt spiritual messages and an absolutely beautiful presentation of God's work through others. 

The tour leaves this Friday, 6/15/12.    We are working on who will write the blog posts from the road, but please be sure to check back often for posts and links to daily photos and even some videos.