Organizing a gift exchange is a great way to kick off the holidays. However, it can be difficult to buy the perfect gift when you don’t know who will receive it. This is especially true if your group has folks of various ages. Here are a few things that will please most people.
1. An insulated water bottle or coffee mug
2. A locally made spirit, beer, or wine
3. A unisex beanie or scarf in a neutral color
4. Nut-free chocolates
5. A recently released board game
6. A warm, cozy blanket
7. A nice set of wine glasses
8. A set of reusable straws that includes a cleaning brush
9. A sturdy apron with several pockets
10. A wrist or cell phone strap
If necessary, ask the gift exchange participants what they like so you can buy an item related to their common interests.
The tragic tale of the CIA’s spy craft cat
In what sounds like a kid’s movie plot, the Central Intelligence Agency once tried to turn a fluffy cat into a secret agent feline.
In the early 1960s, the CIA spent around $20 million on “Project Acoustic Kitty,” rigging a poor cat with a radio antenna in its tail, a microphone hidden in its ears, and a transmitter installed at the base of the skull.
The hope was that the cat could get close enough to unsuspecting people to eavesdrop on them. Perhaps the most important skill for the typical spy is to blend in. Yet no matter how inconspicuous a person is, they’ll still draw some attention. The guy delivering flowers or the janitor mopping up a spill could be a spy eavesdropping. Is the cat sitting on the windowsill? No one expects Mittens to engage in spycraft.
On paper, cats might sound like the purrfect spies. They’re stealthy, can see in the dark, can easily surmount high walls, and perhaps most importantly, people tend to ignore them.
In practice, it turns out that cats make terrible spies. Ever heard the expression “herding cats?” While felines can be trained to understand some basic commands, whether they actually listen and perform those commands is another matter. Cats are also easily distracted; sadly, they don’t have nine lives.
Ultimately, Project Acoustic Kitty ended on a sad note. During an early trial deployment, the CIA released the spy cat from an unmarked van and directed it to spy on two people in the park. Tragically, the spy cat was struck and killed by a taxi while crossing the road.
Technology has both grown more powerful and become much smaller since the 1960s. If a modern intelligence agency decides to rig up another spy pet, it would probably be much easier these days.
A sweet history of breakfast cereal
Is the best part of waking up cereal and milk in your cup? It turns out dry cereal has quite a fascinating history, and while it’s common today, it’s also a surprisingly new invention. Before modern times, dry cereal wasn’t really a thing. Folks might enjoy warm porridge or oatmeal, but not the cereal staples that now fill the breakfast aisle.
Cereal offers a relatively nutritious, easy-to-make breakfast invented as a digestive aid.
In 1863, a diet guru, James Caleb Jackson, invented a kind of granola that is often considered the first manufactured cereal. Before being eaten, however, it had to be soaked in milk for several hours. In 1877, John Harvey Kellogg devised a similar cereal, which he dubbed Granula, which is not the same as granola. Kellogg also developed and patented a tempering process vital for making flaked cereals. Thus, Corn Flakes were born.
One of Kellogg’s patients, C.W. Post, also jumped into the nascent cereal market with Grape Nuts. To this day, Post and Kellogg’s rank as two of the largest breakfast cereal producers in the world. More cereals were imagined in the early 20th century, including Wheaties and Rice Krispies. Cheerios, another classic cereal, was invented in the 1940s.
Demand for kid-friendly foods skyrocketed during the baby boom that followed World War II. Further, more people were leaving farms and heading to offices and factories for work. With folks pulled away from home, demand for quick, easy breakfast cereals rose.
As modern society unfolded, cereal companies continued to expand their lineup. They also targeted kids with sweeter cereals like Count Chocula. Despite cries that cereals have too much sugar, revenue in today’s breakfast cereal market is enormous, amounting to about $21 billion in 2022.
According to Food Manufacturing, National Cereal Day occurs on March 7, but the highest cereal consumption is in January and February.
In 2021, the top ten kinds of cereal were:
1. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
2. Rice Krispies
3. Frosted Flakes
4. Lucky Charms
5. Honey Nut Cheerios
6. Raisin Bran
7. Fruity Pebbles
8. Special K
9. Corn Flakes
10. Life Cereal
The top four of these were nearly equal in demand.
Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil ignores the experts
Groundhogs have been said to predict spring weather for hundreds of years, but Punxsutawney Phil (and his predecessors) has been doing it professionally for 136 years.
He isn’t all that accurate, but what do they know?
According to Live Science, Pennsylvania’s star of the Feb. 2 festival has been right about 39 percent of the time.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil cast a shadow 108 times on Feb. 2, which heralds six more weeks of winter. He has also predicted 20 early springs. The club doesn’t have records for Phil’s predictions for some years before 1899, and Phil didn’t make any predictions in the war years of 1942 and 1943.
However, checking Phil’s prediction against weather records indicates that his predictions have been correct about 39 percent of the time. But if you take his predictions for an early spring (when he doesn’t cast a shadow), he has a 47 percent accuracy rate. Human weather analysts claim an accuracy rate of 60 percent.
However, Punxsutawney Phil’s Inner Circle claims a 100 percent accuracy rate.
Hibernating animals have been associated with Feb. 2 and the length of winter for centuries. The special date of Feb. 2 is known as Candlemas, a celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. According to ancient lore, you don’t need a hibernating animal to predict the weather. The date alone will do it. Here is a common rhyme that describes the scheme:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings clouds and rain, winter won’t come again.
Why you should try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Praised for its practicality and efficacy, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is simultaneously a sport, a self-defense system, and a fitness program. It’s an accessible sport that provides the benefits of staying in shape while improving your ability to react to an adversary if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
Unlike other disciplines that rely primarily on brute strength, Jiu-Jitsu relies on leverage and technique to subdue the opponent. This approach makes it accessible for men, women, and children. It’s no wonder this martial art continues to grow in popularity.
Total body workout
Jiu-Jitsu is a full-body workout. It improves overall health, fitness, flexibility, muscular endurance, and strength. It also helps burn fat to promote weight loss.
On top of being good for your physical health, Jiu-Jitsu has many other positive benefits, including:
• Improved confidence
• Elevated mood
• Increased energy
• Better concentration at work or school
• Healthier lifestyle
• Deeper sleep
What are you waiting for? Find a martial arts school that offers Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in your area.
February Celebrity Birthdays!
Do you share a birthday with a celebrity?
1 – Big Boi, 48, rapper (Outkast), born Antwan Patton, Savannah, GA, 1975.
2 – Christie Brinkley, 70, model, Monroe, MI, 1953.
3 – Isla Fisher, 47, actress (Wedding Crashers), Muscat, Oman, 1976.
4 – Oscar De La Hoya, 50, former boxer, Los Angeles, CA, 1973.
5 – Roger Thomas Staubach, 81, Hall of Fame football player, Cincinnati, OH, 1942.
6 – Kathy Najimy, 66, actress (Hocus Pocus), San Diego, CA, 1957.
7 – Gay Talese, 91, author, Ocean City, NJ, 1932.
8 – Dawn Olivieri, 42, actress (Yellowstone), Seminole, FL, 1981.
9 – Joe Pesci, 80, actor (My Cousin Vinny), Newark, NJ, 1943.
10 – Jim Cramer, 68, financial analyst, television personality (Mad Money), Wyndmoor, PA, 1955.
11 – Brandy, 44, singer, born Brandy Norwood, McComb, MS, 1979.
12 – Robert Griffin III, 33, football player, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, 1990.
13 – Kim Novak, 90, actress (Vertigo), born Marilyn Novak, Chicago, IL, 1933.
14 – Meg Tilly, 63, actress (The Big Chill), Long Beach, CA, 1960.
15 – Matt Groening, 69, cartoonist (The Simpsons), Portland, OR, 1954.
16 – The Weeknd, 33, singer, born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, Toronto, ON, Canada, 1990.
17 – James Nathaniel (Jim) Brown, 87, Hall of Fame football player, St. Simons Island, GA, 1936.
18 – J-Hope, 29, rapper, born Jung Ho-seok, Gwangju, South Korea, 1994.
19 – Benicio del Toro, 56, actor (The Usual Suspects), Santurce, Puerto Rico, 1967.
20 – Trevor Noah, 39, talk show host (The Daily Show), comedian, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1984.
21 – Jack Coleman, 65, actor (Heroes), Easton, PA, 1958.
22 – Vijay Singh, 60, golfer, Lautoka, Fiji, 1963.
23 – Naruhito, 63, Emperor of Japan, Tokyo, Japan, 1960.
24 – Wilson Bethel, 39, actor (Hart of Dixie), Hillsborough, NH, 1984.
25 – Ric Flair, 74, former professional wrestler, born Richard Fliehr, Memphis, TN, 1949.
26 – Teresa Palmer, 37, actress (A Discovery of Witches), Adelaide, Australia, 1986.
27 – James Ager Worthy, 62, Hall of Fame basketball player, Gastonia, NC, 1961.
28 – Ali Larter, 47, actress (Final Destination), Cherry Hill, NJ, 1976.
Rev. Frank A. Strother, preacher, pastor, leader, erected forty churches
Frank Strother served with the 43rd Regiment of Virginia Cavalry – Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, in Company A. When his parole was issued at Winchester on 5 May 1865, he was eighteen years old. Strother was converted and joined the Methodist Church in 1866. He attended Clifton Preparatory School at Markham and Randolph-Macon College from 1868-71. Strother was admitted on trial to Baltimore Methodist Episcopal Church South (MECS) at Warrenton in 1872. He became a Deacon in full connection in 1874, and was later ordained an Elder.
As a church planter, Rev. Francis (Frank) Alexander Strother was a pastor who invested his time and energy to till new soil, plant fresh seed, foster new growth, and reap a new harvest. Rev. Strother was a determined and faithful pastor who sought to evangelize the lost and shepherd God’s people. He took the responsibility as the primary leader and principal evangelist. Rev. Strother did most of the heavy lifting when it came to sharing the gospel and invited people to believe in Jesus, not only from the pulpit, but out in the community as well. As a church planter he led in a hands-on and deliberate way, involved in nearly every decision, meeting and activity.
Rev. Strother would successfully make the transition from planter to pastor, watching the church mature, and gradually delegating the necessary tasks, empowering others to lead. He understood the principals of community evangelism, acting in partnership with citizens and local businesses to promote each new church build.
Rev. Frank Strother, for most of his long career, was an appointed preacher in the area of the Winchester District: Piedmont-Linden (1872-73), Piedmont (1873-74), Linden (1874-75), East Rockingham (1875-79), Berryville (1879-83), Brucetown Circuit (1885-87), Brucetown (1887-88, 1911-15), Winchester (1889-91), Stephens City (1890-94), Hamilton (1903-07), Fairfax (1907-11), and Edinburg (1915-18). He is given prominent attention at Duncan Memorial, where he is considered one of its founders, and also at Crums UMC, both churches in Clarke County. He is also credited with founding or revitalizing Refuge, Relief, Fairview and Macedonia UMC in Frederick County and Bethany UMC in Loudoun County. 
He was appointed to Stephens City Circuit 1889-93. Strother pastored Stephens City UMC from 1889-1892. He served 46 years under MECS appointment (1872-1918). His other appointments were Linganore, Md, Shepherdstown, WV, Fincastle, and Jefferson, WV. He retired in 1918 and died Aug. 22, 1925, in Stephens City (age 78). Strother is buried in Green Hill Cemetery in Berryville, VA.
One of the last of the Circuit Riders, Rev. Frank Strother was assigned to Berryville ME Church (now Duncan Memorial Church), in 1879 and helped establish funding to build a new two-story brick building constructed between 1882 and 1884, replacing the outgrown wood frame 1871 meeting house. Rev. Strother is honorably mentioned on the church web site history as an individual who served long and faithfully by preaching at five other churches on his circuit while serving the Duncan congregation.
According to Middletown historians and sisters, Lillian May and Lula Lauck, a cow was essential to rebuilding Fairview Methodist during the 1890s. Fairview was an old, small, and dilapidated church house (built 1861) between High View and Canterburg. The Rev. Strother, at a revival meeting, so stirred up the crowd as to the need of a new Fair View church (now Fairview), that an old lady started the new church fund by selling her cow. Miss Lillian May and Miss Lula, as young girls, worked ardently getting subscriptions for the church. It was built on the site of the old one, close to Friendship U.B. Church—both churches are still  there, at a road intersection and this corner is now known as “The Double Churches.”
Encouraged by the success at Fair View, the Rev. Strother held a six- week revival in a big tent near the Fairfield School, a location then shown on county maps as “Fairfield” but which was far better known locally as “Lost Corner.” Rev. Strother said that this place should be known as “Lost Corner” no more—that he would build a church of refuge for the “Lost Corner” people. Subscriptions came in fast after the revival, the Lauck sisters said. The church was built and renamed “Refuge”; and Lost Corner is now known to everyone as the town of Refuge.
Again, in the 1890s, Rev. Frank Strother, then pastor of the Stephens City Methodist Church, held an evangelistic meeting in a grove near the schoolhouse. The meeting resulted in the organization of another Methodist church. George Thomas Massie, one of the converts, donated the lot, and the present church building was started in 1891. It was dedicated, free of debt, in 1892, and was named Relief Church.
Miss Lillian May and Miss Lula wrote in 1950 that there was a settlement known as “Lickspittle” on Middle Road about three miles west of Stephens City, an area part of Stephens City Methodist Circuit. There was no church at Lickspittle, said the sisters, and Rev. Strother set out to raise money to build one there. Again, he was successful; money came in, and soon the church was built. Rev. Strother said the church would bring the people relief from “Lickspittle,” so the new church was named “Relief,” which became the settlement’s name, and “Lickspittle” has been forgotten except by a few of the older residents. 
Another story tells how Rev. Strother prevented Macedonia Methodist Church from closing. Although the church was founded in 1843, and a new church was built in 1879, services were becoming infrequent there in 1894. Rev. Strother, the Stephens City MECS pastor at the time, declared the need for keeping the church open by having regularly scheduled services.
Rev. Strother began holding tent revivals, attracting around forty new members. The increased membership allowed the church to become part of the Stephens City Charge. By 1896, a church school was organized and the good Rev. Strother preached there two Sundays each month. Macedonia then went under the White Post Charge of the Methodist Church where it began to flourish.
Bethany Church was founded July 2, 1903, and from then until 1929 it was known as the Purcellville Methodist Episcopal Church South. Rev. Frank Strother, who was pastor of Hamilton Circuit, founded Bethany, and it was originally one of four churches served by pastors of that circuit. The others were Harmony at Hamilton, Trinity at Rock Hill and The Grove at Woodbury.
When Rev. Strother came to Hamilton as pastor in April 1903, he found churches all around Purcellville, but none in the town. Noted as a planter of churches, he lost no time in organizing a church in Purcellville with 36 charter members, most of who were transferred from Harmony Church at Hamilton. That fall the new church bought the property of the now closed Presbyterians, which they occupied until the present church was completed in 1929. Under Rev. Strother, the original membership of 36 increased to 64 by 1907. 
In a letter to Inez Steele in 1905 (published in her book, ”Early Days and Methodism in Stephens City, Virginia, page 75), Rev. Strother wrote, “I followed Rev. J. H. Du Laney on the circuit and found it in a healthy, prosperous condition. After two years administration, the circuit was divided and Middletown and Stephens City Circuits were formed. I was continued in charge of the Stephens City work and remained there two years, during which time two new societies were formed and thirty-eight hundred dollars were expended in building and repairing churches and four hundred paid to Middletown for interest in parsonage and the circuit was absolutely free from debt when I left. Truly much was accomplished and under God, it was due to universal and perfect unity and cooperation of people and pastor.
While it has been my privilege to serve in all my charges an exceptionally good and kind, generous and devoted people, Stephens City has equaled, if not excelled, any one of them.”
19 October 1925, page 7
Hold Memorial Service.
WINCHESTER, VA., Oct. 18. –
A memorial service for the late Rev. Frank A. Strother was held today in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Stephens City, where he died about a month ago. The principal address was delivered by Dr. H. P. Hamill, Washington. A tablet unveiled during the services contains the inscription: “Rev. Frank A. Strother, 1847-1925, Soldier, 1861-65, Mosby Ranger, Preacher, Pastor, Leader. Erected forty churches, Friend of Man, Servant of God, Teacher Golden Rule Bible Class.”
 History of United Brethren and Methodist Churches in the Winchester and Harrisonburg Region, 1777-2017, Volume Three-Churches in Frederick County, dated July 2017, page 979.
 Bill Garrard, “Scrapbook of Correspondents Who Have Been Writing for The Star for 54 Years, The Winchester Star, July 1950.
 History of United Brethren and Methodist Churches in the Winchester-Harrisonburg Region, 1777-2017, Volume Two—Churches in Loudoun County, dated July 2017, page 154.