Bloomin’ Marvellous

Apple Blossom 2013 kicked off for Richard and I last Wednesday morning at the Bloomin’ Business Lunch, held in a big tent on a parking lot out the back of our local hospital. We were there as guests of  the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission – something of a mouthful but as you can probably guess they support and advise new business ventures in the area. Richard could only stay for an hour which left me holding the fort for Taura. Fortunately no one asked me any curly questions about ultra rapid concentration or emerging snack markets in Asia, so I could relax and enjoy my lunch and the presentation by Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. He was a great speaker and the story of how he started his business was very interesting, but the thing I liked the most about Tim League was his oh so subtle and uber cool apple blossom outfit – slightly minty green, 1970’s cut suit with coordinating pastel pink shirt and interesting green tie. Very much the outfit for someone in the movie biz.

Nice suit Mr League! He's being interviewed by the head of the business school at Shenandoah University - one Miles Davis!
Nice suit Mr League! He’s being interviewed by the head of the business school at Shenandoah University – one Miles Davis!

Thursday night saw us all heading over to the Apple Blossom Carnival which the girls absolutely loved. We ate awful fried food and spun around on a few rides then dragged the girls off home to bed.

Edie and I snapped this view of the carnival as we took a ride on the ferris wheel.
Edie and I snapped this view of the carnival as we took a ride on the ferris wheel.
"Mmmm - what shall we do next?"
“Mmmm – what shall we do next?”
We resisted the urge to try one out - and I thought Scotland was bad with its deep fried Mars Bars!
We resisted the urge to try one out – and I thought Scotland was bad with its deep fried Mars Bars!

Friday was a big Apple Blossom day for us with the coronation of Queen Shenandoah and the kids Bloomin’ mile run. The girls and I got ourselves suitably pink and green and joined a packed crowd at John Handley High School to take in the coronation. It was incredibly formal and English and  pink and I was expecting to hear the theme song from the Tiwghlight Zone at any moment! Olive and Edie loved it and I later learned that a couple of English kings were crowned at Winchester cathedral in England which is one of the reasons why a coronation is reenacted as part of the festival.

This really was the highlight of the show for the girls: Olive's good friend W holding the Queen's train and looking very dapper!
This really was the highlight of the show for the girls: Olive’s good friend W holding the Queen’s train and looking very dapper!
All hail Queen Shenandoah.
All hail Queen Shenandoah.

At the conclusion of the ceremony we were treated to a performance by the Handley High School Glee club and it was just like on tv – I half expected Rachel and Finn to emerge from the back and start belting out Don’t Stop Believing!

Lots of jazz hands!
Lots of jazz hands and surprisingly lots of young men.

I got in the usher’s bad books by leaving before everything was finished – apparently noone was supposed to exit before the queen, but after all that processing and crowning and knighting, this little colonial had had enough. It was very strange to watch such an overtly royal display in a country that fought so hard to become independent of a monarchy.

We switched our attention to the Bloomin’ Mile which was conveniently located in the grounds of the high school. It was huge – over 1300 children aged between 6 and 14 raced around the one mile course with the fastest boy finishing in 5:03 and the fastest girl in 5:53.

Olive and her first official race bib. Ever the fashionista you will note the requested side ponytail.
Olive and her first official race bib. Ever the fashionista you will note the requested side ponytail.

Richard and I were thrilled Olive was taking part but were a little unsure as to how she would get on. She had been doing a little extension class at school called Run 4 Fun but at no time had they ever actually completed a one mile circuit. She ran a one kilometre race in Belgium and found that pretty challenging even with Richard running alongside her, and had refused all our offers to go out for a few practice runs with Mum and Dad. We talked lots about how great it was that she was taking part and that it would be okay to walk if she needed, but all our well meaning words were met with slight eye rolls and “yes I know Mum!”. So it was me who was a bundle of nerves as she lined up with the other 6 and 7 year old girls. She dashed off when the horn blew and I proceeded to start chatting to my neighbour, not expecting Olive to emerge for a good while. But then out of the corner of me eye I caught a glimpse of the side ponytail and there she was sprinting for the finish line whilst I stood there with my mouth hanging open – fortunately I had the good sense to give the camera to Richard or we would have had no pictures.

Storming to the finish line - 9 minutes and 7 seconds and no stopping at all!
Storming to the finish line – 9 minutes and 7 seconds and no stopping at all!
One of the many proud Mums in Winchester on Friday.
One of the many proud Mums in Winchester on Friday.

After I had dried my tears we joined our neighbours at the home of one of their friends to watch the Firefighter’s Parade. This was a collection of vintage fire trucks, interspersed with the marching bands from the surrounding middle and high schools, and all the celebrities who had been invited to the festival.

Refuelling with pizza and cotton candy. Most houses along the parade route set up chairs ouf front from which to view the parade.
Refuelling with pizza and cotton candy. Most houses along the parade route set up chairs ouf front from which to view the parade.
A very Addams family looking fire vehicle.
A very Addams family looking fire vehicle.
Marching band from Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Marching band from Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Washington Street is a beautiful tree lined road with many grand old homes. Here are the grand marshals of the Firefighter's Parade - Jep and Jessica from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality tv show.
Washington Street is a beautiful tree lined road with many grand old homes. Here are the grand marshals of the Firefighter’s Parade – Jep and Jessica from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality tv show.

When the sun went down Richard took the girls back down to the high school for the fireworks display. Old Nana Croad stayed home and went to bed – am finding being outside in the sun for long periods of time really exhausting and not great for my sinuses which have decided they are a teeny bit allergic to all the Winchester blooms!

Richard was up early Saturday morning to take part in the Apple Blossom 10k race. Unfortunately the chilli dog he ate at the parade the previous evening did not have the desired carbo loading effect so he didn’t do as well as he would have liked – for him that means a time of 47:39 – 224th place in a field close to 1500 runners. Pretty poor effort really!!! Plus on the official results he was recorded as being 58 years of age!

We decided to bike into the city to watch Saturday afternoon’s grand feature parade. It was great to back on my bike – even though the terrain in Winchester has somewhat more of a gradient than the lowlands of Antwerp. We got lots of looks and friendly comments – Olive biked the whole way there and back, showing no signs of tiredness from her race the day before.

All ready for the big parade - Richard's new office in the background.
All ready for the big parade – Richard’s new office in the background.

The parade consisted of princesses, queens, marching bands, beauty queens, tractors, beauty queens, military, beauty queens, community floats, beauty queens, steam engines, beauty queens, a few celebrities…and did I mention the beauty queens?!!

Queenie!
Queenie!
Cotton candy, stars and stripes...my little kiwi is turning American!
Cotton candy, stars and stripes…my little kiwi is turning American!
Pink, pink and yet more pink.
Pink, pink and yet more pink.

We headed home after almost three hours  – the parade was still going – but Edie had called time on the proceedings and we were all quite happy to disappear home. On Sunday we spent a couple of hours at a family fun day held in one of our local parks – food, face painting, craft stalls and classic cars.

What have they done to those apples?!
What have they done to those apples?!
The finest local cuisine was on offer.
The finest local cuisine was on offer.
No sign of Michael J. Fox but his car was there.
No sign of Michael J. Fox but his car was there.

By Sunday evening we were all exhausted and completed bloomed out. Now that we have pretty much experienced everything the Bloom has to offer, next year we can be a bit more selective about what we do or maybe we’ll just go away for a long weekend! Somehow I don’t think that will go down well with Olive and Edie 🙂

There are a bloomin’ ridiculous number of Apple Blossom photos if you click on the Flickr link and I have done captions for all of them. Just in case you need to see a few more beauty queens!

Take care everyone. Missing you all and sending our love xxx

Get your bloom on!

For many cities and small towns across the South, agriculture was the backbone of the community and annual harvests provided opportunities for work and play. People came together to gather and then celebrate the year’s bounty. As the years went by, many of these events were formalised by town governments into large scale fairs and festivals which brought adults and children into the town to join in the celebrations.

Winchester, with its long history in the apple growing industry, chose to honour the beauty and the bounty of the apple blossom.

Official logo of the festival.
Official logo of the festival.

On Saturday May the 3rd, 1924, the first Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival was held. It was a one day event which culminated in the crowning of Queen Shenandoah, Miss Elizabeth Steck.

Unfortunately I couldn't find an image of Elizabeth Steck. This is Miss Genevieve Garner, Queen Shenandoah 1939, with her court.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find an image of Elizabeth Steck. This is Miss Genevieve Garner, Queen Shenandoah 1939, with her court.

Since 1924 the festival has grown in size, extravagance and national acclaim. During the 1930s,however, there was a loss of interest in the festival. This led to the hiring of one Tom Baldridge to the position of festival director. Baldridge was employed in the publicity department of MGM, responsible for promoting careers of young actors. He was able to schedule the appearance of celebrities at the festival and this lead to a huge renewal of interest in Apple Blossom.

Ponch was here in 2009! (This pic is just for you Helen :))
Ponch was here in 2009! (This pic is just for you Helen xxx)

Winchester has a population of around 24,000 people but during the six day Apple Blossom Festival, anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 people descend on this little city to watch and take part in a wide range of activities and parades. There is a wine festival, Miss Apple Blossom Pageant, golf tournament, apple-pie baking contest, disco dance party, prayer brunch, business luncheon, Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon, Stag Luncheon, Coronation of Queen Shenandoah, kids one mile fun run, fire fighters parade, fireworks display, 80’s dance, Queen’s Ball, sports breakfast, 10k race, the Grand Feature Parade, square dance, oldies rock’n’roll dance, kids fun day, bluegrass festival…and that’s not all of it!!!

Last year's Queen with her float.
Last year’s Queen with her float.

Every year a Grand Marshal is chosen to lead the parade and this is where the celebrity factor comes into play. Former Grand Marshals have included Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Anson Williams aka Potsy from Happy Days, Robert Wagner, Mary Tyler Moore, Dan Ackroyd, Sean Astin, Larry Hagman, Ponch (!), Val Kilmer and Debbie Reynolds. Last year Mario Lopez took up the Grand Marshal duties and this year 2011 American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery is in charge. ( The name meant nothing to me when I heard it announced – American Idol is not really big on Belgian television !)

Mario Lopez getting his bloom on.
Mario Lopez getting his bloom on

Here’s a taste of what to expect from this year’s big cheese…I mean Grand Marshal!

The Apple Blossom Festival would not be complete without a Queen and here again is where as much celebrity as possible is injected into little old Winchester. Former Queens have been daughters of Governors; granddaughters of Presidents; daughters of NFL legends and other sporting superstars; and daughters and granddaughters of actors and actresses.

This year will be the fourth time that a relative of the iconic Michael Landon will serve as our Queen. Two of his daughters and one of his grand daughters have previously had the honour and this year another grand daughter, Rachel Lynn Matthews, will  be crowned Queen.

Coronation of 2011's Queen.
Coronation of 2011’s Queen.

Unsurprisingly apple green and pink are the official colours of the bloom and we even have a dedicated Apple Blossom store where one can immerse oneself in a sea of hot pink and apple green – the girls loved it and chose a very bright pink and green flag emblazoned  with the word “Bloom” which is now fluttering from our flag pole. Many of the houses in Winchester are currently sporting some little piece of bloom bling – a flag (think the Irish flag but with a pink stripe in place of the orange), some softly draped bunting, a tasteful floral arrangement on the letter box – and all the gardens are looking pretty spectacular.

Ooooooo...pretty.
Ooooooo…pretty.

And so this week we will experience for the first time the “grandeur” that is the Apple Blossom Festival.  Those of you that know my husband well, will not be surprised by the news that he is approaching the bloom with as much enthusiasm as would be mustered for a tooth extraction. I, on the other hand, am doing my very best to get my Bloom on. This involved insisting Richard accept his invite to the Bloom Business Luncheon, promising to be his plus one and finding myself a suitably pink and green outfit to wear. The girls will get their bloom on when we go and watch the coronation of the Queen and then Olive is going to take part in the kids Bloomin’ Mile race.  Richard very conveniently shifted into new offices this weekend, which happen to sit right on the parade route, so we are hoping for a great view of … well to be honest I’m not quite sure, but I thinks it’s safe to say there will be apples, blossoms, tiaras, lots of pink and green…

Thomas the Tank Engine!?
and Thomas the Tank Engine!?

When we talk to people about Apple Blossom we get a whole range of responses – from eye rolling, to being told to leave town if possible, to enthusiastic gushes about how beautiful it is and how much the girls will enjoy it, to my favourite thus far – upon striking up a conversation with a resident of his new work neighbourhood, Richard was told that the bloom is “Winchester’s gift to West Virginia” – I’ll leave you to make of that what you will!

Check back in at the end of the week for my Bloomin’ Update!!

Take care everyone xxx