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The likely suspects June 26, 2015

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Why would 25 people from six different countries descend upon the tiny English hamlet of Henton Nr. Chinnor every summer solstice? What do they all have in common? 

It’s the annual fan meeting and tour by the Midsomer Murders Society.

The group’s home is The Peacock Country Manor located in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Surrounded by lush farm pastures and lovely village homes, it is not unusual to open your curtains in the morning and have a friendly cow staring you in the face. Walking paths are abundant leading you past dog breeder kennels, horse and dairy farms, and through fields of all kinds. 

We first attended Midsummer in Midsomer in 2010 and returned in 2013 and this summer to share in the fun. So what does one do at a Midsomer fan convention? Tour locations and eat – lots.

Sabine Schreiner and Joan Street have written the book Midsomer Murders on Location outlining many of the locations used in the filming of this popular, long-running British murder mystery series. We have traveled to Thame, Long Crendon, Bledlow, Oxford, Hambleden, and various other small villages in search of post offices, churches, train stations, manor houses, and pubs.

Highlights of the tour include a quiz night including questions based on episodes from the series, a Midsomer store featuring merchandise ranging from mugs to t-shirts to coasters and bumper stickers exclaiming, “I’ve been to Midsomer … and survived,” and “rubbing out the blood stains.” 

And the food — don’t let anyone tell you that English food is boring or bland. The Peacock has some of the best food around with large portions as well. Our host Martin kept trying to convince us that we should order the full English breakfast on top of our cereal, yogurt, fruit, juices, and coffee/tea. Somehow, white or brown toast, eggs, bacon (ham), beans, sausages, and tomatoes is a bit much on top of all the other meals throughout the day. Especially when dinner isn’t started until 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. each night.

The best part of the convention is the people. The committee works hard to put together the three and a half day tour, arranging for everything from transportation to menus, itineraries to entertainment and even a keynote speaker. We enjoyed Douglas Watkinson’s talk in 2013 and his stories of writing some of the screenplays for the series, even though he doesn’t like including a high body count. This year, we listened to Ron Dowling, who had designed props for many years and showed us up close how someone can have a knife drawn across their forearm with a convincing flow of blood coming from it. It was a fascinating talk. He now uses his props skills to work with troubled teens and show them what could happen if they continue with gangs.

Will we return to Midsomer? I certainly hope so. The beauty of the countryside is definitely enticing, but the friendships will be the returning factor.

And There I Stood with My Piccolo August 1, 2010

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No, this isn’t about me and my piccolo playings of the summer concert season. But about a book that I’ve been waiting to read for probably 30 years since I first heard about it during a Legion Band concert.

I was playing piccolo in the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas (NY) and the piece on the program was selections from my all-time favorite musical The Music Man by Meredith Willson. Our announcer, Brad Steiger, always came up with the most interesting tidbits of musical trivia to introduce the pieces on the program. During this concert, I learned that Meredith Willson had not only composed two truly wonderful musicals (The Unsinkable Molly Brown being the other) but he had also played piccolo with the Sousa Band.

And the title of his autobiography was, you guessed it, And There I Stood with My Piccolo.

The tome had been long out of print since its publication in 1948 and a copy was not to be found. So I kinda forgot about tracking it down although it remained in the back of my mind for all these years.

Until July 3rd when I heard the Blossom Festival Band play under the direction of Loras Schissel and he told a story about Willson which ended with “and there I stood with my piccolo.” So the pursuit began again.

This time, I was armed with tools that didn’t exist 30 years ago – the Internet, Amazon.com, an iPhone, and most importantly, SearchOhio. On the way home from the concert, I got out the iPhone, headed over to Amazon.com and discovered that the book had been republished in 2009 by the University of Minnesota Press. But before I took out my credit card I thought I’d give the libraries another shot.

So, off I went to SearchOhio, a borrowing network of public libraries in Ohio offering over 10 million volumes. Lo and behold, there was ONE copy of the original edition at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. I immediately ordered it and in a few days, I was finally reading the memoirs.

I learned more about Willson than I ever realized – not only did he play with Sousa’s band for several years, he also played principal flute with the New York Philharmonic, studied with Georges Barrere, and became one of the top composers and conductors for radio programs in the ’30s and ’40s.

The reminiscences read like a veritable who’s who of musical circles and Hollywood celebrities. It’s a great look at the humble life of a kid from Mason City, Iowa who got started with a mail order flute and took off for New York City to make his fortune. Not content to just play in orchestras and bands, he headed for San Francisco to take a stab at radio and landed in Los Angeles to finally host his own musical radio show. He most definitely had a knack for landing in the right place at the right time.

Snowfall in Ohio March 9, 2008

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It started out to be a normal March day. The sky was overcast, the ground was bare, and the streets were dry. About an hour after I got to work, the skies opened up and started dumping this white stuff all over the place. I think it was that old Groundhog’s fault – “Six more weeks of winter,” he warned back in Punxutawney. And sure enough, he was right.

For two straight days, the snow continued to fall and our small city was brought to its knees with not a car to be seen on the streets.

Snow Goose

But, being from Western New York, we were used to it and in a strange way a bit homesick.

Groundhog Day 2008 February 2, 2008

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Ever since we met, my husband has always wanted to go to Punxsutawney to see the groundhog. Then Bill Murray came out with the movie in 1992 and it became one of our favorites. Today, the dream finally came true and at 3 A.M. (yes, 3!) the alarm went off and we made our way into Punxsutawney to see what all the fuss was about.

Jim’s life dream

After driving around town we finally found a spot to park on the street not too far from a shuttle bus stop. The line moved quickly as bus after bus filled and left for Gobbler’s Knob.

The Knob had opened at 3 a.m. for the festivities. By the time we finally made it there at 5:45 a.m. the field was filled with people. DJs, live radio broadcasts, and yes, Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” were playing over the airwaves.

Even with all our layers of clothing, heavy socks, and boots we were still pretty cold. The temperature was about 28. The crowd, estimated at about 20,000, helped to block the wind. The line for coffee and hot chocolate was about 15 minutes long but was well worth it just to get something warm in us.

Puxsy Phil Makes His Prediction

At 6:30, the pre-dawn skies lit up with fireworks. Around 7:30 it was time for the Inner Circle to make their way to the stage with Phil for the moment we were all awaiting. But, with that many people in the crowd, it was impossible to see the prognostication. However, we could still hear – he saw his shadow – six more weeks of winter.

And with that, the crowd dispersed quickly and we were able to get close enough for a couple good shots. It’s amazing how much Phil’s handler looks like Bill Murray. Coincidence?

We made our way back into town on foot (about a mile and a half and all downhill!) with the rest of the crowd and finally got some blood flowing to get us warmed up. We took in the breakfast buffet at the Eagles and a couple other events before hitting the road.

It was a fun experience and definitely worth it but not one we expect to fulfill again – or will we? (cue the Sonny and Cher music …)

Adventures in Flying September 8, 2007

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Yesterday was a VERY long day. My trip from San Francisco back to Ohio included 2 layovers which meant 2 connecting flights – or did it?

I got up at 4:00 a.m. in Emeryville but kept reminding myself that it REALLY was 7:00 a.m. back in Ohio so my system wouldn’t be in too much shock. The shuttle bus trip to SFO was uneventful, probably because it was so early in the morning. I got checked in and through security quickly and even was in the concourse before the See’s Chocolates wagon opened for business. It’s a well-known fact that if you go to California, you are not allowed to enter Ohio unless you have See’s Chocolates.

The first leg to Salt Lake City went off without a hitch – smooth and early arrival. I had 2 hours before the flight to Chicago so I went in search of a restaurant to get lunch (at 10:30 a.m.!) I had the world’s best cheeseburger at a brewpub called Squatters . Everything they use is organic and healthy so you don’t have as much guilt from eating a burger. We’ll be back in Salt Lake in November and I look forward to visiting their full service restaurant in downtown.

Back to the saga…

When I arrived at the departing gate, we learned that there would be at least an hour delay due to backed up weather-related traffic at O’Hare. After an hour, we all got on the plane and waited. Then we were asked to taxi out for an opening when we were OK in Chicago. We waited again. The wind direction changed and we had to taxi to the runway at the opposite end of the airport. And we waited. O’Hare closed down again because of thunderstorms. We waited. About 20-30 planes of various sizes took off and landed. And we waited. The flight attendants even served the snacks and beverages – twice!

After about 3-3.5 hours of sitting in the warm, stuffy  plane, we took off – and everyone cheered.

However, I was only to have 45 minutes to get my connection in Chicago. I had little hope of that happening. In fact, the flight to Akron-Canton had been canceled. So, I went to Cleveland (arriving around midnight) and my bag had a free night in Chicago.

This morning, I met my bag at the Akron-Canton Airport and we had a happy reunion. I even got to bring my car home.  What an adventure!

Oh, it’s good to be back in Ohio 🙂

Hello World! July 17, 2007

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After several years of putting this off, I’m finally jumping into the blog world. Topics will include some of my interests such as music, librarianship, and web design.

This blog will follow the progress of some of my web design endeavors as my skills develop and I explore usability aspects of the designs.

Music topics may include band music, playing in an orchestra, and the flute world.

And then there’s librarianship – well, we’ll just leave that one alone for now. Let’s just say that they never taught me most of what I now do in my job when I was in library school. But then again, searching a database involved a 300-baud dial-up coupler modem on a DecWriter and the PC was still a concept…