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.

Be a good neighbor on Halloween
October 30, 2017

Many people enjoy handing out candy to their little visitors on Halloween.

To make sure your visiting trick-or-treaters stay safe in your yard:

* Clear away lawn equipment and any clutter from the yard, walkways, and steps so kids don’t trip over them.

* If you have lighted jack-o’-lanterns, position them far enough away from where kids will stand so their costumes won’t catch on fire. Better yet, use glow sticks instead of candles.

* Make sure paper or fabric decorations can’t blow into the flame of a jack-o’-lantern.

* Keep all of your outside lights on during the evening.

* If you are driving during trick-or-treat time, watch for kids.

Before sending your children on their rounds, make sure they eat so they won’t be tempted to dig into their goodie bags before you can examine them.

Check to make sure no parts of their costumes drag on the ground. Kids could step on them, trip, and fall. If they are wearing masks, be sure they have a good field of vision. Face paint is better.

Tell  them to walk, not run, stay on sidewalks, and cross streets only at intersections, not between parked cars.

Advise kids to approach only those houses with outside lights burning. Never go inside a house. They should wait at the door for their treat.

Young children should be accompanied by an adult. Older kids should travel with a group of friends.

Watch out for Belles and superheroes Oct. 31
October 29, 2017

As you might imagine, superheroes and other movie characters take the spotlight for 2017, especially for kids.

Topping the list for girls, there is Belle from Beauty and the Beast. You knew that. And for boys, that means the beast. Naturally.

Belle should be followed closely by Wonder Woman impersonators, or so the seers in retail predict.

For adults, Game of Thrones themes abound. For women, Daenerys, mother of dragons, is a natural and easy costume that mainly requires a white wig and blue dress, even a daring one, if so inclined.  For the guys, Jon Snow’s leather duds or black cape with ever-present sword make a manly presence.

According to the National Retail Federation, the last decade of children’s costumes has been ruled by a throng of princesses spurred on by Disney movie re-releases and kept afloat by the 2013 hit Frozen.  It was hard to keep track of how many Annas and Elsas were running around trick-or-treating that year. In 2016 the top spot for kids was occupied by superheroes and other action stars from Batman, Deadpool and Spiderman.

As for adults, superheroes ranked high last year.  But witches, vampires and classic slasher movie villains were also plentiful and are expected to do well in 2017. Video game characters rank high for adults while kids seem to like characters from fantasy movies.

Preparing fall mums
October 19, 2017

Lovely mums are in their full glory in October. Some late blooming varieties will make it completely through the month.

If you have planted garden mums (as opposed to container or florist mums), help ensure their survival by mulching heavily after the first frost, according to

Mulch at least four-inches deep around the plant and in-between branches. Pinch off old blooms, but keep the branches in tact until spring. When spring comes, you’ll want to pull away the mulch to allow new shoots.

One note: Only garden mums will overwinter. Florist mums or container mums will not make it no matter how lovingly they are tended. They don’t develop the stolons necessary for survival.

Don’t plant mums in the fall.  They rarely survive.