Archive for: December 2017

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Everything you need to know about snowflakes
December 31, 2017

Ten facts about snowflakes

1. The word snowflake is often used to refer to what’s technically a snow crystal. Snowflakes can be made up of hundreds, or even thousands, of individual snow crystals.

2. Snow crystals grow fastest in temperatures around 5 °F, but no one knows why.

3. Almost all snowflakes are six-sided, or hexagonally symmetrical.

4. It’s virtually impossible for two naturally occurring snowflakes to be exactly alike.

5. The shape of a snowflake is determined by atmospheric factors such as temperature and humidity.

6. Sticking out your tongue to catch a few falling flakes is fine, but eating snow off the ground is a bad idea, as it may contain pathogenic substances.

7. In the 19th century, an American named Wilson Bentley developed a method for photographing snowflakes in great detail with the help of a microscope. He took more than 5,000 photos during his lifetime, many of which are now on display in various museums.

8. In 1951 the International Commission on Snow and Ice devised a system for categorizing snowflakes according to their shape. The seven main shapes according to this classification are plates, stellar crystals, columns, needles, spatial dendrites, capped columns, and irregular forms.

9. Individual snowflakes form when water vapor freezes around a tiny airborne particle (e.g. dust or pollen).

10. The largest individual snow crystal ever photographed was 10 millimeters (a little over 3/8 inch) wide.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Looking for something to do in 2018?
December 31, 2017

Here’s the list for January:

1 – New Year’s Day.
1 – ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA. 84th annual.
Web: 98th annual
1 – CANADA: POLAR BEAR SWIM 2018 English Bay Beach, Vancouver, BC. 98th annual.
1 – ROSE BOWL and PARADE, Pasadena, CA. Since 1902.
2 – JAPAN: KAKIZOME. Traditional Japanese festival.
3 – EARTH AT PERIHELION At about 12:35 a.m., EST, planet Earth will reach the point in its orbit when it is closest to the sun (about 91,400,000 miles). The Earth is closest to the sun during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
5 – NATIONAL BIRD DAY. 16th annual. Web:
6 – EPIPHANY or TWELFTH DAY. Epiphany of Our Lord, one of the oldest Christian feasts, is observed in Roman Catholic churches.
7 – GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS. Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA. 75th annual.
7 – ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS. Observed by those churches using the Julian calendar.
10-14 –  ENGLAND: LONDON BOAT SHOW. ExCeL, London’s Docklands, London. 64th annual. Web:
11-21 –  CHICAGO SKETCH COMEDY FESTIVAL. Chicago, IL. 17th annual. Web:
11-14 – ULTIMATE FISHING SHOW–DETROIT. Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi, MI.
12-14 – ART DECO WEEKEND. Miami Beach, FL. 41st annual. Web:
12-14 – LOOP ICE CARNIVAL. St. Louis, MO. 13th annual. Ice slides, zip line rides, ice carving demos, more. Web:
12-Feb. 3 – SOUTHWESTERN EXPOSITION AND LIVESTOCK SHOW. Fort Worth, TX. Western extravaganza. Web:
14 – CHEVRON HOUSTON MARATHON. Houston, TX. 46th annual citywide race.
17-21 – CAREERBUILDER GOLF CHALLENGE. La Quinta, CA. 59th annual. Established in 1960, formerly Bob Hope Classic. Web:
18-28 – SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. Park City, UT. Since 1985. Web:
19-21 – MILWAUKEE BOAT SHOW. Wisconsin Expo Center at State Fair Park, Milwaukee, WI. Web:
20-21 – ICE FEST. Ligonier, PA. Ice-carving demonstrations. Web:
23-27 – SIOUX EMPIRE FARM SHOW. Sioux Falls, SD. Web:
25-Feb.10 – SAINT PAUL WINTER CARNIVAL. St. Paul, MN. Web:
26 – AUSTRALIA: AUSTRALIA DAY COCKROACH RACES. Brisbane, Queensland. 37th annual.
27 – BROOKFIELD ICE HARVEST. Brookfield, VT. 39th annual.
28-Feb. 3 – CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK. Since 1974, the annual celebration of Catholic education in the US. Web:
28 – 2018 PRO BOWL. Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL. Web:
30 – SCOTLAND: UP HELLY AA. Lerwick, Shetland Islands. Norse galley burned.
31-Feb. 4 – US NATIONALS SNOW SCULPTING COMPETITION. Lake Geneva, WI. 23rd annual.

Cruises go for virtual reality
December 31, 2017

Cruise vacation fans will soon be in for high tech treats as companies go big for virtual reality.

You might say cruises are already a kind of virtual reality, a world where everything happens seamlessly and without effort; from food to fun to cleaning.

But there is more in store.

Royal Caribbean recently showed off its new virtual reality plans, among them virtual reality dining.

According to CNet, the experiences are weirdly theatrical. You put on a visor and suddenly you are in an authentic Japanese tea house. In front of you glows a blue orb for you to eat. You put it in your mouth and the paper doors of the tea house explode into paper cranes. Now, as you chew, you are in a garden with a stream. The scene suits the bite of tuna tartare you just consumed.

And with every glowing bite, your surroundings change to suit the taste and mood.

Virtual reality experiences in entertainment, as well as dining, are coming to every cruise line. Swiss-based MSC will offer virtual reality shopping, letting guests see how they look in different outfits without the bother of actually having to try them on.

And how about those inside rooms, which are cheaper, but don’t offer ocean views? Royal Caribbean has rolled out LED options for staterooms that let you project the ocean or turn your room into a rainforest.

Other technologies offer phone-based location services that let you order a drink on your phone from a waiter who finds you wherever you are. There are also self-driving cars to shuttle people down the long walkways at ports.

Are you dreaming of Caribbean Getaway?
December 30, 2017

Caribbean Night – Photos/ Roger Bianchini

With temperatures dipping into single digits, even here in Virginia and points south as 2018 approaches,* what’s not to like about “Caribbean Night in December?!!?

It didn’t take much arm-wringing to get this reporter to the event hosted by Passages Travel & Cruises’ Maria Dutton on the second floor of the Main Street Mill on December 19.  The event was co-sponsored by Sandals Resorts and featured, not only Dutton’s recently refurbished “Road Warrior” vehicle sporting art advertising balmy Sandals resorts throughout the Caribbean, but a slide presentation and literature on those destinations and their many distinctive amenities.

Maria Dutton’s Passages Travel/Sandals Resorts mobile ‘Road Warrior’ billboard

“Romance” – we like to emphasize the Romance equation at our resorts, the Sandals representative said in opening his presentation.  And speaking of “romance”: “the best beaches, whitest sands, bluest and calmest waters” – I am already IN LOVE with all these things (see the Sandals power point art attached below).

Snacks warmed would-be vacationers up for Sandals Resorts show-time.

For more detail on seasonal vacation offers through Sandals Resorts, contact Maria Dutton at Passages Travel and Cruises at (540) 636-1402 or online at

Mike, Norma Jean – we need a travel writer don’t we?!!? Maria, can you hold a spot for Montego Bay or Negril, Jamaica or …


Local News
Mother of 2010 Warren County High grad Glenn Mikulak offers scholarship in his memory
December 30, 2017

Glenn Mikulak built a replica cruise ship after a trip to the Caribbean

– Glenda Mikulak was mother to a most extraordinary son. In sprite of the challenges of having Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and being confined to a wheelchair, Glenn Mikulak lived his life as fully as any other boy—right up until he died at the age of 18.

In his short life, the 2010 Warren County High School student touched many lives, including his late grandmother, Linda F. Hogoboom, as well as the students and teachers at his alma mater.
In fact, Glenn’s model of an eight-foot, six-inch replica of a cruise ship on which he sailed, is housed in the library at WCHS. Glenn was inspired to build the ship—dubbed the “Glennship” — with 10,000 K’NEX pieces while still on a cruise with his family.

Everyone who met Glenn knew he had a brilliant future ahead one him; he had planned to become an engineer. His mother is certain he would have achieved his goals, had he lived and gone to college.

That is why Glenda Mikulak decided to create the Linda F. Hogoboom Memorial/Glenn Mikulak Scholarship—to provide a $500 award to one college-bound senior at both Warren County high schools who has helped special needs peers and has a desire to contribute to society. Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw chatted with Ms. Mikulak in front of her son’s creation, the “Glennship” recently…

Click to download application.

Local News
Snow covers roads throughout Shenandoah Valley
December 30, 2017

File photo / Royal Examiner

STAUNTON – (6:00 a.m.) Up to two inches of snow has fallen since Friday night in parts of the central and northern Shenandoah Valley, blanketing roads and creating dangerous driving conditions early Saturday morning. Snowfall is expected to taper off over the next several hours, but temperatures in the teens and low 20s will prevent snow from melting. Motorists are urged to check road conditions before driving and use extreme caution on snow-covered roadways.The Virginia Department of Transportation has crews plowing and treating roads as needed throughout the 11-county Staunton District.

Here are the conditions as of 6 a.m. Saturday:

Interstate 64 – Clear in Alleghany, Rockbridge and Augusta counties.

Interstate 66 – Moderate conditions in Warren County.

Interstate 81 – Moderate conditions in Rockingham and Frederick counties. Minor conditions in Augusta and Shenandoah counties. Clear in Rockbridge County.

Primary roads – Moderate conditions in Rockingham, Page, Shenandoah, Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties. Minor conditions in Highland and Augusta counties. Clear conditions Alleghany, Bath and Rockbridge counties.

Secondary roads – Moderate conditions in Rockingham, Page, Shenandoah, Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties. Minor conditions in Highland and Augusta counties. Clear conditions Alleghany, Bath and Rockbridge counties.

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

Studies: Smart phones drain the brain
December 30, 2017

As phones get smarter, people get dumber; at least that is what recent studies conclude.

Smart phones make people less capable of focusing, learning, and problem solving. People are relying on the phone, and not their brain, to store and analyze information, according to a recent ABC News report.

In fact, Apple says their users unlock their phones an average of 80 times per day.
Attention is a precious commodity for the human brain and a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that hearing a phone’s buzz or beep while engaged in a challenging task causes people to lose focus and produce sloppier work.

Further studies, like one in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that hearing a phone ring without the ability to answer it caused a spike in blood pressure, a quickened pulse, and a decline in problem-solving ability. These findings support the claim that phones can diminish focus, logic, learning, and problem solving by distracting users even when the devices are in the background.

When it comes to intelligence performance, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, formed an experiment to see how the presence of a smart phone would affect scores on an IQ test among their subjects. During the test, each third of the subjects were asked to either leave their phones outside the testing room, leave them in their pockets, or place them on the table in front of them while taking the test. The results showed that performance was highest among those who left their phones outside and lowest among those who left them in view on the table. Secondary tests by the same team revealed that performance dropped the most among subjects who relied on their phones the most in their day-to-day lives.

A big part of the reason for this mental decline, according to the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, is that phones force the mind to work harder at paying attention. When a person tries to suppress the need to check a smart phone, it actually diverts cognitive resources to that task and leaves less on the table for the work at hand.

Community Events
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center invites public to Jan. 13 Open House
December 29, 2017

The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Clarke Co. will host an Open House Jan. 13. Photos/Dara Bailey Design

The two-year-old, state of the art, Blue Ridge Wildlife Center at Boyce in Clarke County will be open to the general public for the first time on Saturday, January 13 from noon to 3 p.m. Members of the public are invited to the Open House to learn about what goes on day-to-day behind the scenes of this amazing new hospital, only the second of its kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A full time veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Riley, treats some 1,000 animals each year. While most are returned to the wild, those whose injuries are more severe are provided permanent shelter at the center. The facility has a $400,000 annual budget and occupies 17 acres of grass and trees immune to the traffic noise of nearby Route 50.

Waiting to welcome visitors to the Open House will be Wildlife Ambassadors such as Jefferson, the American bald eagle; Beeker, a striped skunk; an eastern screech owl named Dopey; Arctic Fox Snow; and a variety of other foxes, squirrels, turtles, possums; and even a black snake called Slim.

Above, Jefferson, the American Bald Eagle; below Rocket, the flying squirrel (he thinks he’s an eagle) – the pair will be among animals ‘meeting and greeting’ the public at Open House.


Jefferson is one of several raptors housed at the facility that were injured by collisions with vehicular traffic and left unable to fly after their treatment. All, or most, of the animals are used in an extensive educational program conducted in the Bradley Learning Center, as well as off site at schools and clubs in Clarke, Warren and other neighboring counties.

Hillary Davidson, the newly appointed executive director, who boasts an injured owl as a family pet, advises to call ahead (540) 837-9000 if the weather looks dicey, and for directions; or online visit Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.

The wildlife center/hospital is about a half-hour drive from Front Royal.

Education is a big part of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center – here, Heather Sparks shows young visitors an Eastern Screech Owl.


Local News
Official: Osage Street fire under investigation, seeking public’s help
December 29, 2017

Warren County Fire & Rescue personnel tackle a camper fire Thursday afternoon on Osage Street. / Courtesy photos.

FRONT ROYAL – Investigators from both the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Front Royal Police Department are seeking information regarding a Thursday afternoon fire on Osage Street that destroyed a mobile camper and damaged a nearby parked vehicle and apartment building.

In a media release Thursday evening, Fire Marshal Gerry R. Maiatico said that on Thursday, (December 28) at 4:38pm, first responders were alerted to a reported camper fire in the 300 block of Osage Street in town.

Arriving units found a mobile-type camper fully involved with fire which threatened a nearby apartment building. Maiatico said crews were able to quickly contain the blaze, but not before it destroyed the camper and damaged a nearby vehicle and apartment building.

Firefighters worked in bitter cold temperatures Thursday to contain a camper fire, before it could spread to a nearby apartment building.

Maiatico  said bystanders, along with Front Royal Police Department officers, helped evacuate the apartment building.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Maiatico stated in the release, saying that “while the fire was quickly contained, this fire incident could have quickly spread out of control and could have easily posed a serious threat to the occupants of the neighboring apartments.”

No one was injured in the incident.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office at (540) 638-3830 or Detective David Fogle, with the Front Royal Police Department, at (540) 636-2208 or

The nut that is never sold in a shell
December 29, 2017

It may never have crossed your mind: In the bags of mixed nuts in the shell, none of the nuts are cashews.

In fact, cashews are never sold in the shell — for a very good reason.

The cashew nut is actually a seed surrounded by a double shell. The shell contains oils related to the same chemical in poison ivy that causes skin rashes, according to The Nutcracker Museum. The toxic oils are easily roasted off, usually in outdoor settings since, like poison ivy, inhaling the burning oils causes severe lung irritation.

The toxic exterior of the cashew is not the only thing that makes it unique.

A cashew tree first flowers with a small, delicate green, then pink, five-petaled flower, less than an inch long. The cashew nut grows on the flower. Above the nut grows a juicy, pear-shaped, red or yellow pseudo-fruit up to four inches long. The cashew apple is popular in tropical countries where the cashew tree grows, but its waxy outer layer does contain skin irritants that must be steamed off then washed.

The cashew apple has never been suitable for export since its skin is easily damaged.
The evergreen cashew tree can grow up to 46 feet tall. The oldest and largest cashew tree in the world is found in Brazil. It covers an area of about 2 acres. The branches of the tree bend to the ground under an immense canopy of leaves. Each branch takes root where it touches the soil, making it difficult to see the main trunk of the tree. Thought to be about 1,000 years old, the ancient cashew tree produces about 60,000 fruits each year.