Season’s greetings: Let the star guide us to brotherhood and peace
December 24, 2017

Just over 2,000 years ago a bright star shone in the East, and Christians believe it led, not just wise men, but everyday people to understand the dignity of and brotherhood of humanity.

Whatever your religious views, it is worthwhile to pause to appreciate the dignity of man and the value of peace — two ideas celebrated by religions throughout the world.

We have so much to appreciate at this time of year: Our families, country, and the fruits of our labors.

It is worth taking a moment to be grateful for all these things and rededicate our hearts to kindness, peace, and brotherhood.

Merry Christmas and

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Don’t stay home alone during the holidays
December 20, 2017

Make the holidays a special occasion this year by getting out to the local senior center, volunteering, or just enjoying activities in your area.

According to the AARP, the number of Americans who say they’re lonely has doubled since 1980 from 20 percent to 40. What’s more, about one-third of citizens over the age of 65 are living alone while half of those over 85 do so.

Social isolation has been linked to immune system issues, depression, disrupted sleep, higher levels of inflammation and stress hormones, and even increased risk of heart disease and stroke. All of these issues are serious on their own and some of them, such as depression, can lead to other problems like cognitive decline and dementia which contribute further to a cycle of poor health and isolation. All told, according to a recent study at Brigham Young University involving 3.4 million people, isolation and loneliness showed about a 30 percent increased likelihood of dying from any cause over the next seven years. This effect was most pronounced in middle-aged people and carried over into the aging population.

Health issues can affect whether a person gets out and about. So can changing friendships and social status.

Participating in activities is important. Even if you can’t participate for a long period, do what you can. Vow to take advantage of the activities offered at church and senior centers.

You’ll feel better for it!

New looks for Christmas trees
December 19, 2017

The centerpiece of many homes in December, the Christmas tree is often decorated with sentimental ornaments and a style beloved by each family.

If you want to mix it up a bit this year, try these tips from

New colors: Try black and white, especially with ribbons. Also: ice blue and silver, pink bows and gold ornaments, white bulbs with brown extras like pine cones, or bulbs that make a rainbow of color.

Ornaments: Among the possibilities are spray-painted birdhouses, toy soldiers or nutcrackers, large glittering letters, or small flag garlands.

Materials: How about burlap for garlands, scrapbook tags, triangular flags made of burlap, or feathers.

Tree stands: Why do you have to get a conventional stand with a skirt? Try colorful vintage buckets for smaller trees or re-purpose objects. Use baskets or tree pots.

New places: Have a kitchen tree? Want to make one? Try decorating with cooking items from cookie cutters to flatware.

See Country Living’s 67 tree suggestions at:

Holiday serenity is achievable
December 17, 2017

Soon the turkey will be roasting in the oven and the sound of holiday music is heard throughout the land.

This is a time often pictured as chocked full of conviviality, cheer, warm heartedness, and a reaching out in love to those around us.

But sometimes, when we are burdened with too much to do in too little time, the holidays can become a time of anger and frustration.

To help keep your feelings of good cheer, peace, and serenity, you might want to try some of these ideas.

* Realistic goals: Compile a list of what needs to be accomplished during the holidays. Eliminate what you can and formulate a game plan that allows you to do a little at a time so the holidays are not a burden but a blessing. Don’t be afraid to evaluate family traditions and change what needs to be changed.

* Restraint: Don’t become carried away with spending money on gifts and decorations, racking up huge bills that make reading the mail a dreaded experience. The guilt you will feel if you spend wildly will be enough to spoil any holiday. Stick to your budget.

* Share: Remember not everyone has the ability to have a pleasant holiday season. Pick one or two charities and give of both your time and treasure.

* Time for yourself: Sometimes we become so wrapped up in making sure everyone has a wonderful Christmas that we forget about ourselves. Take time each day to be alone and enjoy a quiet moment.

*Empathy: You might become agitated while stuck in traffic or feel impatient with an inexperienced salesclerk but remember the people around you may be dealing with frustration too. A smile can be contagious.

Nutcrackers have origins deep in human history
December 13, 2017

 Nuts have been a staple of the human diet for millennia and where there are nuts, so there are also nutcrackers.

Nutcrackers, today one of the symbols of Christmas, have a long evolution from simple stones to elaborate, and mostly decorative, figurines.

The oldest existing metal nutcrackers were made about 300 BC and were levers. By the 13th century, iron and brass nutcrackers began to take on shapes, and after the 15th century wood carvers began to make lovely, intricate figures.

The colorful wooden soldier figures were first seen in the Erzgebirge regions of Germany during the 1800s. In 1872, Wilhelm Fuchtner, known as the “father of the nutcracker,” initiated the first mass production of nutcrackers in the shape of human figures. Sometimes those figures were of real people such as queens and kings. That tradition continues today when you can buy nutcrackers wryly made into the likeness of politicians.

Nutcrackers became associated with Christmas during the Victorian era when children began to receive small nutcrackers in their Christmas stockings.

Today, their popularity has been enhanced by the traditional performances of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” ballet during the Christmas season.

While some decorative nutcrackers can still crack nuts, most are decorative pieces brought out as the tree goes up and the wreath goes on the door.

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December 9, 2017

STAUNTON –Snow was falling on many parts of the Shenandoah Valley early Saturday morning and was forecast to continue through the afternoon. Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson Sandy Myers says VDOT has crews deployed throughout the Staunton District to plow or treat roads as needed.

While roadways are primarily reported to be wet, some areas of snow or slush are possible – especially on elevated surfaces such as bridges and overpasses.

Myers said in a Saturday morning email that VDOT performed anti-icing operations on Shenandoah Valley interstate and some primary roads during the day on Friday.

The Staunton District, according to Myers, has a $15.6 million snow-removal budget, which is part of the district’s overall maintenance budget this fiscal year of $130.5 million.

While VDOT is responsible for clearing all state-maintained roads, interstates and major highways, such as U.S. Routes 340/522 have priority over lesser-traveled roads and streets. Myers said the VDOT goal is to make all roads passable within 48 hours of a storm’s end.

The Town of Front Royal is charged with clearing its own streets.

Clifton Balderson, VDOT’s Edinburg residency administrator, said in a recent visit to the Stephens City VDOT facility that snow removal crews work 24/7 to keep the commonwealth’s roads safe and passable under wintry conditions.

A salt brine mixing tank at the Stephens City VDOT yard. 12 tanks hold the prepared brine until it is needed.

At the Stephens City location, VDOT produces salt brine, which prevents snow and ice from sticking to the pavement when used as a pre-treatment before the storm.

Salt is VDOT’s primary snow-removal and ice-control chemical, but it works at 27 degrees or above.. If the temperature dips below 27 degrees, the salt will not melt the frozen precipitation, and abrasives and calcium chloride must be used.

For winter weather road conditions go to 511 VIRGINIA, on the orange bar at the top of the page, click on “Text Views” and then click on “Road Condition Table”. Look at the pull-down box that lists all jurisdictions, then select a county to check road conditions.

VDOT offers a free 511 app for android or IOS mobile phones. Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Go to Free Virginia 511 Tools to get your 511 app.

The VDOT Customer Service Center can be accessed through its mobile-friendly website at VDOT website. Agents are on site 24/7 365 days a year to assist the public. Motorists can also call the VDOT Customer Service Center at 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623).

The Staunton District Snow Page is on the VDOT website under Travel Center Snow Emergency Pages. The Staunton District Twitter feed is at @VaDOTStaunton.

The VDOT Web page  is located at VDOT website.

The top toys for Christmas, according to retailers
November 30, 2017

The hottest toy in 2016 is coming your way again.

A new Hatchimal, the toy egg that hatches a magical creature, is expected to be on the top of shoppers’ lists this year, according to Walmart. Order early if you want this item. The toy was gone from shelves in December 2016.

Most popular again this year are toys based on movies and television.

The Star Wars franchise keeps pumping out toys. This year, Littlebit company is introducing the Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit, featuring a very talented R2D2 robot. Shoppers will also find tons of Lego and other kits for Star Wars characters.

Barbie debuts for the holidays with the DreamHorse and Doll, a pricey toy pushing $90. For $298, two kids, up to age 7, can fit in the Disney Frozen 12-Volt Ride-On Sleigh with speeds up to 2.5 mph. Flashing lights and magical tune included.

If the family enjoyed the pie-in-the-face game last year, try Soggy Doggy board game. The game centers around a spongy toy dog that gets increasingly wet as players move around the game. The key is to avoid being the one to make him shake and, naturally, get everyone wet.

Disney Princess fans might like the Enchanted Cupcake Party game. Fans of the book Flight of the Jaquins can also buy the board game.

Fingerlings are supposedly hot items. These little characters hold onto fingers and other objects.

Toys for boys feature lots of the usual cars and blasters.
Among them:
* Adventure Force Light Command Light-up Motorized Blaster
* Disney/Pixar Cars 3 Ultimate Florida Speedway
* Nerf Rival Nemesis MXVII
* Monster Jam Grave Digger

Fisher-Price Zoom ‘n Crawl Monster leads crawlers on a merry chase, spitting balls and zig-zagging around.

FurReal takes stuffed animals a step further by making the toys interactive. The new Roarin’ Tyler, the Playful Tiger responds to sounds and motions. It even has its own play toy. The tiger retails for $117.

Recognizing the Plymouth Thanksgiving: How the Pilgrims became America’s forefathers
November 23, 2017

In American lore, Plymouth, Massachusetts, holds a singular place.

It’s known as the site of the colony founded in 1620 by the Pilgrims, passengers on the iconic ship, the Mayflower, and host to the first Thanksgiving feast.

The town has not always been well known. The town and the Pilgrims who created it were largely forgotten for 200 years until December 22, 1820.

On that day, the great orator Daniel Webster traveled to Plymouth from Boston to take part in the bicentennial celebration of the Pilgrims’ landing. So great was his speech that it became known as the “Plymouth oration.”

Before 1,500 people seated on wooden benches in the meetinghouse, he said, in part:
“We have come to this Rock to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labors, our admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety, and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty…

“We listen to the chiefs in council … We are filled with reverence and admiration for the mild dignity of Carver and Bradford, the decisive military air of Standish, the devout Brewster, the enterprising Allerton…”

Webster’s oration started the elevation of the Pilgrims to the status of forefathers of the nation. At that time, the recently independent America needed an event and a place that rooted the country to its founding history.

They needed a founding location. Jamestown in Virginia was a candidate as was Plymouth in Massachusetts. Jamestown had an advantage because it was founded 13 years before the Pilgrims landed. But Plymouth offered a moral authority, thanks to the words of Daniel Webster.

Though the great Thanksgiving feast occurred 396 years ago, we still follow the Pilgrims’ lead in being thankful for our blessings on Thanksgiving Day.

Joyful and thankful Thanksgiving Day
November 22, 2017

One nice thing about this holiday is that it has no political theme and can actually be celebrated by everyone. In fact, almost all countries around the world observe a day of thanksgiving, which could be for a successful harvest or even a victory in war.

Though many people thank God for various parts of their lives, Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday as such. But it is still the one time that the many faiths we have in the United States can be united under one common theme: gratitude.

On Thanksgiving Day, be thankful for family, friends, work, food, and shelter, whether you have a religion or are content with not having one.

Gratitude is a quality in itself, even if it’s just being thankful that you can watch a football game after

General Mattis urges young veterans to fight cynicism
November 11, 2017

Tough talk. Tough soldiering. These are the qualities for which Retired Marine General, and current Secretary of Defense, James Mattis is known.

But his comments at one Memorial Day ceremony in 2014 highlight a message to veterans of modern wars: You are stronger for your service.

“For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned-take our post-traumatic growth-and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.”

In comments to USA Today, Mattis emphasized this point:

“I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods,” Mattis said. “I don’t buy it.”

“There is also something called post traumatic growth where you come out of a situation like that and you actually feel kinder toward your fellow man and fellow woman,” Mattis said.